Anything We Want
I had no sooner dozed off than I felt a hand on my shoulder, and Lisa’s voice said, “Time to wake up, Paul.”
“Come on, Paul,” she pleaded.
“I don’t want to.”
“Please?” she asked in her sweetest voice.
I opened one eye a micro-millimeter, and the room was bright. It was daylight already. “What time is it?”
“It’s three-thirty. Come on, time to get up.”
I was on my side, and could feel drool leaking from my mouth. Let it. “Five more minutes,” I bargained.
Suddenly my blanket was gone, and I was instantly chilly. “Why’d you do that?” I asked, as I attempted to turn myself into a ball to stay warm.
Lisa sat on the edge of the bed and tickled my back with her finger. “Wake up,” she said, more sweetly than before. “Wakey, wakey, or I’ll show you what else this finger can do.”
I giggled, “What if I want to know what that finger can do?” I opened my eyes and looked around, only to find her knee pretty close. “Wanna see what my fingers can do?” I asked, stroking said knee ever so lightly.
I couldn’t have gotten a bigger reaction if I’d hammered a nail into her leg. She jumped violently, emitting a little screech, and came back down two feet away.
“I’m awake now,” I said.
“I noticed,” Lisa said dryly. “You have company, and it’s time to be a good host.”
“More company?” I asked. “Who’s here now?”
Lisa stood and pulled me into a sitting position. “Everyone, I think. Six grandparents, some uncles, aunts, and cousins. Mr. Sutton has something he wants to show you, and you missed lunch. Want some clean clothes?”
My clothes had been clean that morning, but they were rumpled and had stains when I looked, so I nodded. “Will you help me?”
Lisa’s look was seductive, but she shook her head. “I don’t think so. My father’s here too, and he has that sixth sense. Anyhow, I have two brothers, and boys in their underpants aren’t quite the turn-on they might be to an only child.”
Damn! If Lisa and I ever became a real pair, the world was in trouble. I started laughing at her words, and got to my feet on my own, still snickering. “What’s it like downstairs?” I asked.
Lisa looked at me and said, “Somber, I guess. I mean, people are glad to see each other, then they remember why they’re here. They’re talking, but it’s pretty quiet.”
She was at the door. “Dana?” I asked. “Where’s he?”
Lisa grinned and pointed across the bed, to where the other bed was closer to the floor. I couldn’t see, but I could hear Dana’s breathing, and I turned sheepishly back to Lisa.
“He’s your job,” Lisa said, and she stepped out into the hall, closing the door behind her.
“Dana?” I asked tentatively.
“I heard,” his voice said, then his impossibly rumpled head popped up. I had to smile because Dana’s hair usually stayed pretty neat, even in sleep. Now it was out wildly, like he’d skied a downhill without his helmet on, then impaled himself on a high-tension line. “What?” he asked as he put a hand to his head. “Shit.”
The bathroom was my priority right then, and I took a washcloth to my face after using the toilet, and decided I was okay otherwise. I picked out a shirt and sweater from the closet, and a newer pair of chinos, then pulled on brown, soft-side shoes. Dana had disappeared, so I walked to the top of the stairs. I stopped there, because the quiet voices coming from below sounded too many for that house to hold. I walked down to where I could see, and the place was literally crammed with people: all of them people I knew, and many of them people I was related to. I felt suddenly shy, but my grandmother’s voice caught me.
“There he is! Come on down, Paul Did you get some rest?”
I started down the stairs hesitantly, somewhat awed by the number of faces. I spotted Lisa and caught her eyes, and that made me smile.
“I told you he’d be smiling,” a voice that I recognized as Ally’s mother sang out. “That boy is always smiling. He knows this will turn out well.”
Her husband snapped, in a loud whisper, “That one is always up to something, that’s why he smiles. He probably put pudding in our galoshes.”
I smiled their way and kept going toward Lisa. I was distracted, though. My father’s other brother, Ted, stood right in front of me, a nervous smile on his own face, his hand out to shake.
I took the hand, and he said, “Hey, sport. You hangin’ in there?”
“Yes,” I said, and it came out like the hiss he deserved.
He put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed, “Good. That’s the old team spirit. Stick with it, kid.”
I smiled a smile that I didn’t really mean to him. Ted is my uncle: my father’s brother, so he’s a blood relative to me, but I’ve never really liked or trusted him. He has a job and earns a good income, but only because that came as part of some deal Dad made. If my father hadn’t done that, I think Ted would have been selling machine-gun BBs at a carnival somewhere, five hundred shots for three bucks.
I was about five minutes into hugging and greeting people when Dana came down the stairs, and I started introducing him around, too. I surprised everyone who I told that Dana is my brother, but never got too deeply into it, no matter what they asked.
I suddenly found my mother beside me, and she tugged my arm a little. I broke off my little talk with Ally’s sister. My mother looked serious. “Paul, Dana, follow me. Bernie has something.”
She looked at the people there and said brightly, “Excuse us for just a moment or two. I need these handsome young men now, but I promise to bring them right back.”
Mom didn’t take any questions, but rather led us back upstairs and into Dad’s office, where Elenora was waiting, and Bernie Sutton was staring intently at a laptop screen, while the police in the room were also engrossed in whatever they were doing.
Bernie noticed us, smiled brightly, and motioned us over so we could see the screen. “We made it!” he announced. We’re over the top now, and it’s still coming, but take a look.”
He pointed at one little cell on his spreadsheet that read 101112871.19. I gasped, and Dana asked, “What’s that?”
Bernie said, his voice proud, but soft at the same time. “It’s money, Dana. Your father’s ransom, and then some.”
Dana held his hand to the screen, and I could see that he was counting backwards from the right side, getting the commas. “That’s over a hundred million?” he asked, sounding astonished, but speaking in his softest voice.
Bernie nodded and said, “Too much over. I wanted you to see that. Now I’ll start diverting that overage into another account.” He had the mouse in his hand, and his attention was again rapt on the screen. “I don’t want to go making these scum-buckets rich or anything,” he mumbled.
I heard that, but it was my mother who laughed first, and she had a good chortle. Like a hundred million isn’t rich, but anything over that, then you’re loaded. I laughed myself, and when I bopped Dana’s shoulder he laughed, too.
He was more interested in the numbers on Bernie’s computer, and when my mother stood to leave, Elenora turned with her, and I started to follow them out, looking back over my shoulder at a rapt Dana. I decided to stay with Dana for a few minutes longer.
It seemed clear that Dad hadn’t actually told Dana anything about the scope of his wealth, and there was no reason that he would have. In a weird way, it’s probably better that Dana learned the way he did. There was nothing that might seem like boasting when he read numbers off a computer screen, and those numbers he was seeing were just a ransom being met, only a fraction of the money behind it.
He watched what Bernie was doing, then turned to me and said, “I don’t get it. If Dad really has that much money, why’s it so much trouble to get the hundred million? Isn’t three billion thirty times that much?”
Bernie looked up and smirked at me. “You want to take a crack at that, Paul?”
‘Not me,” I replied, making a face.
Bernie shrugged and said, looking at us in turn, “First, that three billion is kind of an old number. It’s grown some.”
I said, “Don’t tell me.”
“I didn’t intend to,” Bernie replied.
He focused on Dana. “There’s a lot to it, Dana, but I can tell you in a nutshell. Most of the money is invested, which means it’s not in cash at this point in time. It’s still money, but it may be in the form of a shopping mall, or a downtown development, even a launderette in Vermont.” We all smiled briefly at that.
Bernie went on, “There have been times when people in this country have gone almost crazy with their investments. The most recent were the years from about 1995 to 2001, what’s called the dot com bubble. That’s actually when your father earned most of his money. He was a pioneer in Internet marketing, going back to around 1990. When investors started thinking seriously that the Internet would be the next big thing, they looked around and found Franklin Dunn in the middle of almost everything. He was involved in some going companies and in other start-ups, and was looked on in many quarters as a real guru of the period.
“He had the credence, and investors couldn’t throw money at him fast enough. Your dad didn’t want a million partners, so he sold his own shares in things he owned for many, many times their book value. The bulk of the money you have today was made in a three year period. Frank wasn’t done though, not by a long shot. He looked at his personal marketability and began selling his various marketing plans to companies large and small, and he wrote two books that are still in wide distribution.
“You father’s business models work to this day. Unfortunately, the dot com bubble got out of hand, with well-funded companies looking for market share before profits. As more people invested, more companies became over-valued, and a series of events caused about five trillion dollars in corporate value to literally vanish in a matter of months. A huge number of people lost everything they had, and it changed how a lot of people look at investing.
“In the years leading up to the bubble, people invested more and more of their net worth in the market. Even among careful investors, people were investing ninety-percent and even more of what they had, and for a long time it looked like it would never end, it and was indeed a profitable thing to do.” Bernie shook his head sadly and added, “When the bubble burst, a lot of companies, and a lot of people were simply wiped out financially, and an even vaster number of people were severely damaged. There were a lot of accusations and lawsuits, and a lot of prosecutions. It was all too late, though; the fox had already ravaged the henhouse.
“After being so burned, investors became more cautious, at least those wise enough to learn their lesson. People reduced their portfolios, often dramatically, lowering the percentage of net worth they were willing to put at risk. During the boom, ninety percent was fairly common. These days, the wealthiest may put eighty percent at risk, except that rare breed whose fortunes were bred from enterprises they, themselves created, and that they still control. Those few we would call ‘fully invested’, because their net worth, as well as that of their shareholders, rides squarely on their own shoulders. Most people are risking well under fifty percent these days. And putting more of their money into safer, less exciting things”
“Such as?” Dana asked, and I realized he was eating this lesson up.
“Oh, there are a lot of other instruments. Simple bank accounts, certificates of deposit, municipal bonds, corporate bonds, personal real estate; the list goes on and on. Central American bearer bonds are good these days.”
“And Dad?” Dana asked.
“Dad?” Bernie asked. “Oh, I understand. In your father’s case, he’s a wise man. He went to a sage, old investment attorney and said he had a lot of money, then asked what he should do with it. I told him to bring it in and put it on my desk.” He grinned, “He was back the next day, and we set up what was the first of many accounts.” He leaned closer, “Let me tell you, the last thing you want to tell an investor who just put three billion in your hands is that he’s now worth less than that.” He looked up to make sure Dana was listening, and shot a glance at me as well. “We put a very careful strategy together, but even on the razor’s edge that kind of money earns ten percent in a bad year. In fact, the worst year we’ve had returned just under eight percent, and that’s still damn near a quarter billion dollars.”
Dana looked perplexed, “Then why is it so hard to get a hundred million? I don’t get it.”
Bernie nodded. “Dana, it’s really not that hard. The money is there. Over time, initial investments morph into a lot of things, and take a lot of forms. It might surprise you to learn that, through bonds, your dad owns a major stake in a dam being constructed in Brazil.” He smiled, “I think that might surprise your father, too, now that I think of it. That’s how it happens, though. That money is real, and the project is real, but it’s a pile of twenty year bonds that I’m sure these kidnappers aren’t interested in.”
Dana frowned, “So, where’d it come from. You said you have enough.”
“And I do,” Bernie said brightly. “The opposite of an investment is a divestiture. Say you’ve funded development of a shopping mall somewhere, and now that it’s nearly complete, it’s time to sell to an operating company. Problem is, there’s nothing very tantalizing on the horizon right now: no place to put that money if you sell. Suddenly there’s a buyer to meet your price of thirty million, so you take that cash money and stick it in the account you opened just for that mall. That’s not your only pile of cash, either. You’ve been pulling in funds to invest in a new hedge fund. That fund has a fifty-million dollar buy-in, and you have thirty million of that together. Suddenly you have sixty million in cash, but there’s more. A cash account with about a million in it, certificates worth fifteen million, a former wife with sixteen million available, and plenty of little stashes to make up the balance. That’s a lot of work, though, and why do it if your friendly, neighborhood investment attorney is willing to chip in, knowing he controls plenty of collateral?”
I got what Bernie was saying, but Dana may as well have had a comic book question mark over his head. I poked his arm and whispered, “Bernie came up with the rest.”
“Oh. Oh! I get it. Thanks.”
Bernie winked and said, “It won’t be long before people are investing in you, Dana.”
“They’re called sponsors. The better you do, the more they’ll pay to see you win with their product.” He smiled kindly, “It’s up to you to choose the best product, not the first one in line. Give me a call when you have an offer.”
“For real?” Dana asked.
“Of course for real,” Bernie said, then he glanced at his laptop and his eyes went wide. “You guys go socialize, I’m getting behind here.”
We both thanked Bernie and left. In the hall, I asked, “Did you understand all that?”
“Not every word, but I understand. We’re really loaded, huh?”
“For now,” I replied.
Back downstairs, I got my arm around Lisa, and that made me feel less like I was in some side-show. Mom and Ally had decided to not even try cooking, and had called a restaurant that also did catering to provide food, and they were outside preparing to serve up food from mobile things like you might see at a fair.
“Only Mom,” I giggled when Lisa seemed awed. “Man must eat. Woman must eat twice!” I laughed. “Is your mother like that?”
“Oh, yeah,” she said, and we sat in a dark corner of the kitchen, alone and unwatched. “Can I ask you something?”
“Uh-oh,” I said.
She socked my arm. “No uh-oh, I just want to know how you feel. How you really feel.”
I swallowed my laugh and said, “Scared,” I said honestly. “Scared, and there’s not a thing I can do about it. I feel so helpless …” I let my words end there. Not because I didn’t want Lisa to know how I felt, but I didn’t know how to describe the feeling of despair that had deepened by the hour.
“I’m so sorry,” Lisa said softly.
“You know,” I said, “I think you’re a kind person, a gentle person. I’m really grateful that you’re here with me right now. I’m ready to fall apart.”
“You won’t. Not you,” Lisa said, and she planted little kisses on my cheek and neck.
“You don’t think so?” I asked, smiling and squirming at her attentions.
“I know you won’t. You can’t. I don’t think it’s your nature to cave in, to give up. I … I can’t imagine the stress you feel right now, but there hasn’t been one harsh word all day. I like that. I admire that.”
I was about to say something, when Lisa added, “I think you’re pretty handsome, mister. Very handsome.”
I said, “Really?” with a little smile. “Rich doesn’t matter?”
She smiled and shook her head. “Not if you don’t want it to. I’m not rich now, and if I never am, so what? We’re not poor either, and in-between is a pretty nice place to be. Don’t think your dollars matter to me.”
I smiled, “Not?”
Lisa smiled back, “No way.”
We kissed then, and would have forever if the caterer outside didn’t send an envoy to announce that the eats were ready.
Hunger took over, and we were near the head of the line. First choice was fried chicken, meatloaf, or baked fish. Next was roasted potatoes, mashed, sweet potatoes or rice, then various vegetables.
I didn’t take a lot. I had a fried chicken thigh, mashed potatoes, and some corn, and that was it.
The chicken was really good, and I took a few smaller pieces when I went back. I tried some sweet potatoes, and put some green beans on my plate, then a roll and a pat of butter. That filled me up, and I picked up a piece of carrot cake to eat later. Carrot cake is my father’s favorite sweet, which I’m sure is why my mother ordered it.
With all the new faces and so much activity, I hadn’t really felt anxious. When I noticed that it was nearly six o’clock, a million worries popped into my head all at once. Six o’clock would officially be ‘tonight’, and something would happen. Best case, we’d transfer some money and they’d release my dad, and I hoped atop hope that it would happen that way.
I must have turned as white as a ghost, because Mr. Timek, who’d been standing near me, turned and put a hand on my shoulder, a worried look on his face.
“What is it, Paul? Do you feel okay?” When I shook my head, he asked, “Nerves?”
“Yeah,” I admitted. “I’m freakin’ scared to death.”
“Want to talk?”
I nodded, and stood when he gestured. I looked at Lisa and asked, “You don’t mind?”
She shook her head slowly and sadly, then smiled her nervous approval.
We passed her father on the way to the door, and Mr. Timek gave his arm a tug. “Come with us, Joe. We need your ideas.”
Mr. Mongillo followed without question, and we walked out the back door into the yard, which was now full of haphazardly parked cars, some of which were already sinking in mud.
Mr. Timek found a little Toyota pickup that looked clean, and he opened the tailgate and invited me to sit there, while he and Mr. Mongillo stood there looking at me. Tom’s father is the taller of the two, and he kind of leaned against Lisa’s dad as old friends will, a hand on his shoulder. From there I could see people still getting food from the caterers, who were cleaning up as they served them.
Mr. Timek said, “Joe, Paul here is nervous about all this.”
“I don’t doubt that.” Lisa’s father looked at me kindly. “I don’t know, Paul. You’re at an age where you must already know your dad ain’t invincible.”
He waited until he saw my nod. “Still, it’s not average for anyone to see his father taken down like this. I suppose you feel as helpless as I do.”
He reached out and put his hand on my knee. “It’s tough not knowing. We’re here with you, though. Looks like half the state is here.” He patted my knee with his hand, “It’s nice to have friends, isn’t it?”
I nodded again, and he said, “We all know what the worst that could happen is. Why don’t you tell us of some good outcomes? How do you see it?”
I looked at Tom’s father, who was eying his friend with admiration, and then smiled benignly at me. “Paul?”
“Well,” I said, swinging my feet. “I guess the best thing is that Dad gets the upper hand somehow, and overpowers those people. He could throw them out the window onto long, pointy spikes. Time magazine could come and photograph them all impaled there, and they’d have headlines that say, “Don’t mess with Dunn!”
Both of them looked like they were trying not to laugh, so I gave them a toothy little grin to put them over the edge, and they did laugh.
Mr. Mongillo finally managed to ask, “Okay, maybe second best is good.” He was still snickering, and I already felt better. Keep ‘em laughing.
I got serious, “I hope this is the most likely. We give them their money, they send my father home, then all these police and FBIs come down right on their heads. They go to jail forever, and we get our money back. We give the money away and go open our little laundry. That was kind of the plan before all this crap.”
The men were looking at me, apparently without much to say, so I went on. “You know, if these assholes called first and said what they were gonna do, I think they could already be enjoying a bunch of money. This is not worth it.”
The guys sat on the tailgate, one on each side of me, and both put a hand on one of my shoulders. I felt better. Their presence was protective, yet I felt at one with them, suddenly one of the big guys.
Mr. Timek looked off over the house and said gently, “I don’t know of anything I can say or do that will change what happens, Paul. Just know that you won’t have to face it alone. Look at all the people here. They’re here for you and your family, for your father. I think … I think in our hearts we all fear what might happen, but in our own ways, we also all pray for a good outcome.” He tightened his hand on my shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. “You’re not alone. You’ll never be alone, hear me?”
I looked down at my knees and nodded, tears forming once again in my eyes. We all fell silent.
It wasn’t long before I heard a voice yell, “There he is! Paul! They’re looking for you!” This was an older cousin on my mother’s side. His name is Anders, but I didn’t know him well, and had grown up thinking he was Andres.
I’d just started to look around when Bernie’s voice cried, “Just stay there, Paul. Look at this!”
He was in front of me in another second, holding out a faxed photo. Well, holding it in front of my face was more like it. “Do you know him?”
I was pretty sure I was looking at the tall, dark haired guy they’d shown me a sketch of, but he was unfamiliar. “No. Should I?”
Bernie didn’t flag. “His name is Yves St. Pierre. Do you know that name? Think, Paul.”
I thought, and I looked at the picture all the while, but said, “Nothing’s coming to me. I don’t know him.”
Bernie said, “That’s okay. This guy worked in the kitchen at Barents. He hasn’t reported to work in a week. Your Mr. Charmont is still there, and he’s on the job. He lives at the school, and hasn’t been off the campus since the winter break.”
“So we’re nowhere?” I asked, feeling despair creep in again.
“I didn’t say that,” Bernie said. He held out another faxed photo. “Know this guy?”
I had to look twice, but said, “He looks like Mr. Charmont.”
Bernie smiled. “He is Mr. Charmont. Mr. Louis Charmont, Maurice’s younger brother. He also works in the kitchen at Barent’s, and he hasn’t shown up in two weeks. His family has been looking for him. Maurice remembers telling both his brother and St. Pierre about an insufferable little twit who didn’t appreciate the education he was offered, and boasted of his father’s billions instead.” He winked at me, “He apologizes, by the way.”
My mind was trying to absorb that when my cell phone, which Bernie had in his hand, went off. He looked stricken for a moment, then said, “Don’t make a sound.” He flipped the phone open and said, “Sutton here.”
I found myself holding my breath as he said, “Yes, okay. Yes. Listen, you’ll have to give me two minutes on top of your five.” He paused, then barked, “Because you caught me on the toilet, that’s why! Thank you!”
Bernie was sweating, but turned around and raced back into the house, yelling “Coming through! Out of the way!”
I chased behind him, calling out to my mother and Dana loudly enough to silence everyone else. I didn’t look for them and I didn’t wait for them, and chased up the stairs in Bernie’s wake. I was only two steps behind him when we went into my father’s office, and Bernie said breathlessly to the police in there, “This is it! I need silence after this phone rings, please.”
My mother and Elenora materialized beside me in just seconds, and they heard Mr. Sutton’s request for silence. Dana ran in just as the phone rang, and started to say something, so I spun around and put my hand over his mouth. He got the idea and nodded, so I let him go.
Bernie had already answered, and was saying, “Give it to me slowly, and let me repeat each number. I have a phone in my hand, and only one finger to type with. And I hate laptop keyboards.”
There was a pause, and then he said, “Okay, six …” and he repeated what seemed like an endless stream of numbers. Bernie finally said, “It’s there? Congratulations, you’re a very rich man. Let me tell you one thing. If you don’t subscribe to your end of this bargain, I can guarantee you that you will die wishing you were poor: very, very poor. Where will we find our Mr. Dunn?” He frowned, then said, “I see. You know, if you’d just called and asked first, we might have avoided this crime. Yes. If we find Mr. Dunn where you say we will, then this family will stay out of the matter.”
Bernie frowned and made a face. “Yes, yes. Nice doing business with you, too. Remember what I said.” He flipped the phone closed, looked at it, and said, “Suckers.”
He turned to the police there, who were all watching him. “Brattleboro train station. He’s in a stall in the men’s room, drugged, but supposedly unharmed.”
The police response was almost comical. They all pulled out either radios or cell phones. I couldn’t make out one conversation from another, but couldn’t imagine they were much different.
Not two minutes later, the lone Brattleboro beat cop in the room cried, “We have him! An ambulance is on the way.”
I yelled, “So are we! Tell them not to leave!”
The cop smiled and nodded, while the others got back on their laptops, phones and radios. I looked at Bernie and asked, “Coming?”
He frowned again, then smiled, and he dropped back into his chair and shook his head. “This one’s yours, Paul.” He smiled, “Tell your father to give me a call if that money turns up missing. I’m taking a nap, then back to the city. I have important matters to attend to. Just tell your dad that he’ll see my bill by the end of the month, and he better pay up on time.”
I laughed and grinned, “I think that’s bullshit,” I said out loud, “But I’ll keep it to myself.”
I stepped forward and bent to give Mr. Bernard Sutton a hug, leaking a tear on his shoulder. Dad always said he’d trust Bernie with his life, and it had just come to pass.
There wasn’t a lot of time for emotion, though. I turned around to see Dana’s teary, smiling face, and held a fist out to him. He smacked it head-on, and said, “Let’s go.”
We hurried down the stairs, and there was a celebration going on, but we just plowed our way through it. I saw Ally by the side door, motioning frantically to us, and we turned her way. Her Audi was right there, lights on and doors open. Mom and Enenora were already inside, so we climbed in back with Elenora. There was a police car in front of us, lights flashing, and when Ally touched her horn he took off, and we were on the way. When we got on the road, we went fast, and it was just a few minutes before we pulled up to the Emergency entrance to the hospital. We were out of the car when Dad’s ambulance arrived, and stood back while the attendants opened the door in back.
“That’s your man,” the officer who’d been driving said, and when I ran over there, it sure was. The ambulance people took my father out on a gurney My heart stopped in my chest when I saw him, I swear it. He looked white and dead, but the guy at the back end of the gurney said, “He’s good. These lights make everybody look dead. He’s just coked up or something.”
“He’s really okay?” I asked desperately. “Don’t call him a doper! He was kidnapped.”
The guy looked at me stupidly. “Why?”
“For money,” I said, then looked at the guy again. “Just forget it, okay? Forget what I said, you’re holding up progress here!”
The guy apparently remembered his job. “Okay, no problem.” His eyes took a ride and he mumbled, “Kidnapped, huh? Kidnapped.”
That exchange only took a second, but I had that second to get another look at my father, and I didn’t like what I saw. My father isn’t particularly athletic, but he manages to work out in one way or another almost every day, at least for a few minutes. He’s also careful about what he eats and drinks. He normally has the so-called ‘look’ of good health about him, and that was completely missing.
Drugs, they’d said, and that much was obvious. He’d never had any gray hairs before, but he was unshaven, and his whiskers were decidedly gray looking. His normally ruddy skin looked all wrong, too. It was pale and sallow looking, almost yellow, and the side of his neck that I could see looked quite dark in the odd light of the parking lot.
I chased in behind when they wheeled Dad through the doors, but was physically held back when they brought him to the door marked Trauma. In another moment, I was standing with Mom and Ally, Elenora and Dana, and we all stood close.
Almost immediately, a kindly looking young woman said, “Please, you can wait in here. Follow me.”
We did, and it was just a few steps to another door, which she held open. The room it led to looked at first like a little living room, but once I looked around I realized it was a chapel, and I panicked all over again. Ally must have realized at the same time I did, because her hand was instantly on my shoulder, doing this grip thing of hers that calms me down.
She pushed me toward a little sofa and we sat down. “Calm down, Paul,” she whispered loudly. “We’re only in here because it’s private, and the staff knows your father is an important man.” She let the intensity go from her voice and plugged in a note of humor while she pulled me to her. “I think,” she said, “That step nine of your twenty step program to normalcy is to stop imagining the worst. Would you prefer the regular waiting room?”
I sat quietly after that for probably five minutes, my mother on my other side by then. I said, “I think I’d prefer regular” I looked around at our little sanctuary and added, “This is gloomy. Can we?”
My mother kissed my cheek and whispered, “Of course. I thought you’d want that.”
I looked at Dana, and he seemed grateful, too.
Ally stood and walked to another door, tried it, and it opened. She turned to us and gestured for us to follow her, and just steps away we found the regular emergency room waiting area. It wasn’t to be a social evening because the place was dead empty, but it was bright and cheery, and had cafeteria-type tables. We sat at one, and with our faces all right there looking at each other, we started to talk.
I voiced my concern about how Dad looked to me, and Elenora, my mother, and Ally each tried to tell me and Dana that, with drugs involved, looks didn’t always mean a lot. Dana enjoyed that little conversation a lot more than I did, and began a line of questioning about their knowledge of drug symptoms that had the three of them squirming.
I was snickering myself when a woman with a clipboard approached us. “Who should I be talking to here? I have questions about insurance.”
She got five stares in return, and I held up my hand meekly. “My insurance card is home. I know we have it.”
She glowered at me while Elenora fussed in her purse, saying “It’s here somewhere. Here!”
She produced a white card the size of a credit card, and it looked like mine. I didn’t wonder that Dad would add Elenora and Dana to his policy, and the card appeased the woman at first. Then she looked around and asked, “Who can sign this?”
“What is it?” my mother asked.
“It’s the insurance release,” the woman said unkindly, and I’d had it.
I stood and said, “Give me it. I’ll sign it.” I reached for the clipboard when she held it out, but she pulled it back.
“How old are you?”
I reached and snatched the clipboard from her hand, asking, “How old are you? That’s my father in there, and I’m the only one allowed to sign for him,” I lied, scribbling madly. I handed the board back and said, “There! It’s signed.”
I leaned closer to her, really angry for the first time during the entire ordeal. “When will we know something?”
She looked ready to pounce right back on me, but she held back, saying, “As soon as the doctor has a diagnosis. She’ll come out and talk to you then.”
I calmed down with her change in demeanor and just nodded.
My mother was behind me by then, and had just grabbed me by both shoulders, but she began stroking them when I calmed down. “You’re good, Paul,” she whispered in my ear. “In control; that’s good. Very good.”
We all sat again, but there was to be no more silence. By ones, by twos, and in bunches, people started joining us. They were mostly family and friends from the house, but others came too, to wait with us, and the room was soon filled with caring people. People I wasn’t used to thinking of as actual friends came: The Jenks family, the Pateneros, teachers from school, our school bus driver, the man who takes care of our yard. I saw them all there, and felt very humble in their presence.
My mother and Ally took over as hostesses, leaving me to sit with Dana and our friends. Then Lisa came in, not just with her father, but her entire family. I was more than touched by that, and when I looked around I realized that other whole families were there, too.
For the most part, it was a quiet place, but not really somber. Hope seemed to be the prevailing feeling, but the longer we didn’t see a doctor, the more my sense of alarm grew.
When the doctor finally did show up, I didn’t recognize her as a physician. She was this tiny Asian woman who, even up close, looked to be barely twenty. She said to nobody in particular, “I’m Doctor Wang. May I speak with the Dunn family, please?”
I stood with my mother and Ally, and Dad’s parents and two brothers came forward. When Dana didn’t follow, I jabbed his ribs and motioned for him to come with us. When he sat sullenly, I said, “Come on, Dana. The name doesn’t matter.”
Dana stood hesitantly, and I noticed my mother coaxing Elenora to her feet, which absolutely made my day. From the first, Mom had been as accepting of Elenora as Dad was of Ally, and that made it easier for me to think differently of Dana’s mother. She is really bright and eager, and most of the things I like in people. Just young.
When we approached Dr. Wang, she seemed surprised at our number. She pulled herself up easily to sit on a table, and began with a little smile.
“Don’t be alarmed by my words, because nothing is life threatening. Mr. Dunn, Franklin Dunn, has injuries, serious injuries. He has also been somewhat anesthetized, and we don’t yet know with what. I’m sure he’ll be fully awake by morning, but let me run this down.”
I held my breath.
“First,” the doctor said, the worst injuries are two broken wrists, and they were violently broken. The right hand is a clean break … more like a crack in the scaphoid bone.” She held up her own arm and pointed at it, just above her thumb. “This bone right here.”
It was almost funny to see all of the people around me touching that bone, just as I did.
“The left arm has a compound fracture of the radial styloid,” She said, again indicating that joint on her own arm. ”Both have been set for now. His right wrist is in a surgical brace and the left may require surgery. For now it’s in a splint.” She frowned, “This will take some time, probably a few weeks for the right hand, a month or more for the left, where he will need to convalesce.”
God, it hurt me to hear that. It was so totally unnecessary for his kidnappers to commit violence like that on my father. I could see from looking around that everyone, especially my grandfather, felt like me, and we would gladly break some bones ourselves, given a chance at those people.
“Next,” Dr. Wang continued, “There is a lump on his head, but it’s just a … a … um, it’s a bonk. There’s no damage to the skull, no concussion, just a lump.” She smiled, “Other than that, it’s just some contusions, a big black and blue on his neck. If anything else hurts, we’ll know when he wakes up.”
“When will that be?” my uncle Ted asked, like he was suddenly in charge.
Dr. Wang’s expression didn’t change a bit, but I could tell she was familiar with people like Ted. “That will be when he wakes up. Most likely in the morning, but we won’t wake him before noon. He’ll need some natural sleep after the drug wears off.” She looked around, “More questions?”
“Can I see him,” I asked immediately, then immediately rephrased it. “Can we see him?”
“You realize he’s sleeping?” she asked, and I nodded.
“Of course, then. Let me get him upstairs, and we’ll call you, okay?”
I nodded, and took a step back.
“How long will this take?” Ted asked, sounding sarcastic.
I turned and faced him, “It’ll take what it takes, Ted!” sounding just as sarcastic, which I regretted. “You don’t have to wait if you don’t want,” I added, a bit more gently.
“Of course I’ll wait,” he grumbled.
I turned to Lisa, and she was at my side in a second, and she took my hand in hers. “Be strong,” she whispered, a sad little smile on her face.
I felt a little hand take my other one, and looked to find a tearful looking Lou there. His lower lip was quivering, and his look was positively angelic. “I’m sorry,” he said, “Paul, I mean.”
“It’s okay, Lou,” I replied.
“No it’s not,” he said in his little boy voice. “They … men hurt your daddy, and it’s not okay.”
I looked at Lisa when I dropped her hand, then I fell into a convenient chair with Lou on my lap. I put my arms around his middle and said, “I mean I’m okay, Lou. Bad men did this, and they’ll pay”
He twisted to look at me and asked, “Promise?”
I didn’t get a chance to respond, because Aldo was there looking at us. His look to me was sad, but he turned a bright smile to Lou. “Come on, brother. Leave Paul alone.”
“He’s fine,” I protested as Aldo scooped Lou up off my lap.
Al smiled at me then. “I know, but it’s school tomorrow, and we won’t get the day off.” His look became a little serious, but still friendly. “I hope your dad gets better. We all do.”
I stood and gave Lou’s shoulder a stroke, then I did the same to Al, since his hands were full with Lou. “Thanks.”
Al smiled, then gave Lou’s backside a little smack and he said, “Come on, big guy. Time to go.”
I didn’t want Lisa to go, but she left with her family anyhow. As gradually as people had shown up, they left, and they all left encouraging words and promises with us.
There were only a handful of people left when a young guy came in and announced that he could take us upstairs, only two at a time. Ally took charge then, and prodded me to go first, with my mother. We followed the guy into an elevator, and up one floor. The room was the first one along a hall to the right, and the door was open. Our escort stood by the door and said, “I’ll wait.”
The room was private, but typical hospital, with equipment and monitors everywhere. In the middle of it all, my father lay in a bed where he actually looked comfortable. Light came in from the hall, and there was a small lamp on his bedside table that was on. His wrists were both wrapped in what looked like pieces of tumbling mats. I couldn’t see anything wrong with his head, but the bruise I’d seen on his neck was now accentuated with shiny stuff.
I went right next to the bed, afraid to touch his hand, so I put my own hand near his shoulder. God, he’d looked so white, so pale, in the parking lot, but his color was coming back, his arm was warm, and I could feel his heartbeat. I leaned forward and kissed his forehead, and I whispered, “I love you, Dad. I think you need a vacation.”
I backed up to let my mother get close, and she stroked his hair while she talked softly. “Oh, Frank. Who could do this to you? To you? I’m just …” She swallowed whatever she thought to say, and kept stroking his hair, then she leaned in and kissed his cheek. “You’re my prince, you’ll always be.” Then she snickered kind of thickly, “Do what Paul said. Take a nice, long vacation. I love you, Frank. I have since we met, and I always will.” She kissed his cheek again, then backed away hesitantly.
“Ready?” I whispered, and on her nod we turned to go.
We sat back in the waiting area downstairs while, first Dana and Elenora, then all the others took turns looking in on Dad. Each and every one of them came back looking happier and more hopeful than when they left. Ally went last, and she went alone. She was gone longer than most, and when she came back she was smiling, like a private smile. She winked at me, then said, “Let’s go home.”
Nobody argued. It was late. Dad was injured and out cold, and us losing sleep wouldn’t do anybody much good.
The house looked normal when we got back, like there hadn’t been fifty or sixty people there just hours before. I didn’t perform an inspection, but there didn’t seem to be a dish, crumb, or footprint anywhere.
People were still in Dad’s office when I went up, and they were still working. I noticed them, but didn’t ask anything because my destination was bed. I leaned against the wall with my eyes closed while Dana used the bathroom, then went in when he came out.
If I was more awake, I’d have taken a shower, for I surely needed one. Fear really does stink.
Instead, I settled on a pee, a cold, wet washcloth on my face, and my toothbrush. Then I went to my room, only to find Bernard Sutton, fully clothed, stretched diagonally across my bed, snoring like a thunderstorm.
I didn’t see Dana until his head popped up from the trundle. He grinned, “Can we sleep downstairs?”
I smiled back, then looked at Bernie. “Good idea,” I said “I think we can do anything we want. It’s kind of loud in here.”
We took blankets and pillows with us, and went to the living room. Dana made his bed on the sofa, at my insistence, while I made my bed on the floor by the fireplace. There was no fire, but it was warm without one.
While Dana got comfortable, I went back upstairs and stood at the open door to my room. Bernie was out cold and still snoring, but I know he doesn’t miss much.
“Thanks,” I said. “Dad’s hurt, but he’ll be okay. If you leave without stopping to see him, then forget about being paid. I just wanted you to know.”
I noticed my cell phone on his ample stomach, rising and falling with his breath. I picked it up, saw there were no messages, and plugged it into the charger on my desk. Then I turned back to Bernie and pulled his shoes off, put a comforter over him, and closed the door behind me. I was back in a second, to take a little sack of marbles from my desk and drop a handful into his shoe. It didn’t matter which shoe.
I’d know in the morning.
… no more