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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Failings of the Fathers: 47

"Good afternoon, Mrs. Manning?"

She looked at the man, and then realized who he likely was.  Blair said, "Yes, are you Malcolm Carlisle?"


"Pleased," he said, and she noticed how gentlemanly he was.  Todd was right: refined.


"I'm Blair.  Welcome to Unforgettable," she said, stepping to the side.  He walked into the lobby.  He surveyed the house.  "Madame, this is a beautiful estate.  You keep it perfectly."


"I'll admit, I have help.  We have a maid, she cleans once per week.  I have quite a few young children, and they take up my time."


"Yes, Todd mentioned that you just had your fifth child, a baby girl?"


"Yes, actually, she's napping right now, in the nursery.  Why don't we cross through the house and go out the back doors, so you can see the area of the job."


"Certainly, that is a fine idea."  He followed her.  His car, the one he rented, was parked in the area designated for the worker's vehicles, and they passed it as they walked.


She opened the glass sliders, and first, showed him to his cabin.  It was about the size of Shaun's, but a little smaller, and a little further away.  "Here's your residence.  It's simple but warm and cozy.  I'm sure Todd explained that room was included."


"Yes, he did."  He carted along his luggage.  "It's perfect, thank you," he said, peeking in.  It was a modest but well furnished and attractive cottage.  


"I am glad you like it.  Did you want to get settled first, and then tour the grounds, or tour and then settle?"


"I'd prefer to tour now, and settle in after that, if you don't mind."  He followed her again.  Passing Shaun's cabin, he said, "Now, whose is that?"


"That belongs to Shaun, our security man.  And, this one across the way toward the back is for Perzno, our copter pilot."


"A copter?  Todd didn't mention that.  I know of the jet, of course, but not this."


"He's very protective of us, and has made certain there are ways into town quickly."


He nodded.  Alongside the house were some traces of snow.  The largest remaining pile was over both of their heads.  It was the one that Sam had jumped into.  They passed it, and she explained as they went.  "The gutters all need cleaning, and I believe one needs repair.  And, along here, I'd like an herb garden."  


Around the gazebo, were the roses.  "They've long died off, but we've had good luck with them.  In a few weeks, you can assess which ones need replacing.  And, there's space for a vegetable garden, as well.  As you can see there's a pool, that needs opening, probably not until late April.  It is heated, and we do utilize it often.  You're welcome to swim as well.  I think that covers it, aside from the other things you have probably noticed as we went."

"Well, there are a few dead bushes here and there, easily replaced.  These are beautiful grounds."  Malcolm said.


"Not quite up to par with what you are used to, I suspect."


"Excuse me?"


"You know, Kensington Palace.  That's where you used to work, right?"


"Oh,yes, of course.  It's been so long, I was confused.  Please accept my apology.  I lost my wife there, and it's a difficult subject."


She swallowed, and said, "I'm very sorry for your loss."


"Thank you," Malcolm said, and displayed the first smile she had seen from him.  


Remember, Todd said he's agoraphobic and on specialized meds . . .

"Mrs. Manning, I hope you'll forgive me.  I'm feeling rather anxious, and I need to get inside.  May I return to my quarters now?"


"Of course, and if there is anything I can do, please don't hesitate to ask.  There's a direct line to the house in your cottage.  It was nice to meet you, Mr. Carlisle."


"Malcolm, please.  Your husband is a very gracious man."


"Gracious, well, yes, I suppose he is.  Make yourself at home." 


She turned and walked back to the house.  Shaun was coming into the kitchen, heading to his cottage.  He said, "I left something.  Was that the new groundskeeper?"


"Yes, it was."


"How does he seem?"


"Nice, reserved.  Sort of nervous.  It's what I expected after hearing about his life from Todd."


"Okay, I'll introduce myself when I get a chance.  Be right back, going to get my stuff."


"Shaun, are you sure you really need to stay here?  I mean, we're okay.  Don't you miss your own place?"


"I am starting to love pink.  I can't leave, Mr. Manning's orders."


"Mr. Manning's orders," she repeated. 


***


Colin, William, Darren, Owen, Jimmy, Miguel, Todd, Timothy and Tina were waiting in the solarium for Aiden's surgery to end.  Tina was beside herself, and Todd hung close, to lend support.  The RA21 boys had been telling Aiden stories all day.  Some were very amusing, and Todd enjoyed listening to the exploits of his new brother.  


After several hours, Dr. Vigo made his way to the sunroom, and walked into the midst of them all.  He pulled his surgical mask down and said, "I have news."  Tina and Timothy both stood.  Todd was still sitting, but positioned behind them both.  "I'm sorry.  It was very difficult.  Mr. O'Farrell has lapsed into a coma."


A hushed "no" came from Tina's mouth, and she reached behind her for the arm of the chair, and found Todd, standing to catch her in case she fell, instead.  He helped her to sit, and she buried her face against his shoulder and cried.  He held on to his stoic best, as the others reacted.  The men from Rialto all became silent, except old Owen, who said, "But he's alive."


Dr. Vigo said, "Yes.  He's alive.  We don't know much, until he wakes.  The longer he's out, the more danger he is in, I'm afraid."


Timothy walked away from them all and went to the window in the back of the solarium.  Todd, handed off Tina to Miguel, and went after his father.


"Dad?"  Todd said, softly.


"Yes, Lad."  He didn't turn, or make a move to look in Todd's direction.


"He's not gone.  There's still time."


"I know."


"But I think you have to call Sister Rebecca Katherine.  Or I can do it for you."


"Son, ya're right.  She needs to know.  Will ya send the jet for her?"


"It's already there.  I sent it with Malcolm."


"I appreciate it."


"Dad . . ."


"Todd, please.  I can't . . . I can't think of anything but losing him again.  I just found him . . ." his voice trailed off.


"I understand.  I'll make the calls.  If you need anything, I'll be right over there."


Taking out his phone, he dialed the nun.


***



"Ray, I'd like to come and see Bitsy, soon."

"That's fine, Blair.  Just be sure to realize she's not communicating.  That is, not the way she usually does."


"What do you mean?"

"Well, I had told you about the visit to the nun's room, to leave a drawing.  It's happened again, twice.  And, the other day, when Sister was talking to her, she rested her head on Sister's shoulder.  Nothing else, and then reverted back to her catatonic state."


"I see.  Well, I still want to come and see her.  I promised Todd.  She needs to see a familiar face from home."


"I agree.  Whenever you like."


"I'll see when I can get Starr and Jack both here at the same time to babysit.  Shaun's here, but it's still a lot for him on his own, and besides, he has other things to do.  He can't constantly be chasing a baby around.  I think it's good for them to spend time with the kids."


"I agree, it would be good for Jack and Starr to share some family responsibility.  It helps develop closeness, and keep it that way."


"That's true.  I like that.  Well, as soon as I can find a time where they both are around, I'll be showing up there."


"Great.  I'll look forward to seeing you, Blair."


"And you."  She ended the call.  She examined her calendar to choose a date, and was interrupted by a small bang and an outbreak of tears.  She ran to the living room, and Ray was crying, in the middle of the floor.


"What happened, Little Man?"  she said picking him up.  She kissed his cheek, and he wailed.


"I was playing with the doggie and he ran away and I fell down."


"Were you trying to ride him again?"


The little boy looked guilty, but shook his head no.


"You can't get on the doggie's back.  He's a doggie, not a horsey.  It's not nice."


"I want to wide."


"He's not that kind of pet.  You can pet him, and you can throw a stick for him to chase, but you can't ride him."


"Why Mommy?  Want to wide."


"It hurts the doggie.  He's not strong enough to carry a big boy like you."


"I want Daddy.  When can Daddy come home?  Mommy, tell him.  Now."


"You miss Daddy?"


Her youngest son rubbed his eye, and his breath caught in his chest.  He nodded.  She kissed the side of his head.  "Daddy will be home soon, and he will put you on his shoulders, and ride you all around the yard."


"Yay," he smiled through tears.  "Yay, Daddy is a good horsey."


She laughed.  "Daddy is a good man."


"Daddy is a good man," he said.


"When Daddy called, what did you tell him?"


"I said, I wuv you, Daddy.  He said, 'I wuv you too, Buddy.'"


She smiled, and her eyes moistened.  "That's because he really does.  He loves you very much.  He'll be back soon.  But Ray, you cannot ride the dog, anymore.  It's not nice, okay?"


"Yeah."


"Okay.  Now, go and play."  She put him down and looked at the time.  It was almost time for Jewel to wake from her nap, and Blair knew that she had to call Todd either before Jewel woke, or after dinner when Jewel went down.  "Shaun?"  She called up the staircase.


"Yeah, Blair?"


"Can you come and watch Ray for a bit?  I need to call Todd.  It's already 9:30 there and I want to report in and see how Aiden's surgery went."


He came down the stairs, carrying Sam under his arm like a bag of potatoes.  He said, "Sam here finished his homework in only thirty minutes."


"Did we check to see if it was neat?"


"Yep."


"Great," she said, "I'll be back, I need to call Todd before Jewel gets up."


She raced up the stairs into her room, and realized she couldn't Skype him, if he were at the hospital, because he would be without his tablet, so she called instead.


"Hey, Babe," he said.


"Hi, Todd.  I miss you."


"I miss you."


"Malcolm came.  He seems to be settled in.  He toured the grounds today, and I told him everything."


"Was he okay?"


"Yes.  He did ask to go inside toward the end, but he was fine most of the time."


"That's good.  Seems things are moving along for him."


"Yes, it seems so.  The kids are great.  Ray started crying earlier, because he tried to ride Mixie, but mostly because he misses you."


"Yeah, I miss him, too.  All of you."


"Any word on when . . ."


"Blair," he interrupted.


"What?"


"Blair, Aiden's in a coma."


"Oh, no, Todd.  That's terrible.  How's Tina, your father?"


"Both are a mess.  The longer he stays under, the worse it is.  There's nothing anyone can do.  I feel . . . helpless.  Like, my money, it means nothing, I can't buy a way out, I can't fix it. . ."


She heard his frustration.  "I wish I were there, to hug you and love you, and just be there for you."


"Me too, but the kids come first.  They need you, especially Jewel.  How is she?"


"Perfect.  And I am going to see your mother one of these days."


"Good.  She'll like that.  Even if she doesn't show it."


"Todd, I'm sorry about Aiden.  Really.  I just want to believe it's going to be all right.  You should, too."


"I'm trying.  I love you, Blair."


"I love you, Todd."


"I'll call you later.  Maybe on Skype."


"Okay."  She hung up, and tears stung her eyes.  Jack, who had heard the ending to the conversation, came into her room.  


"Mom?"


"Yeah, Jack. Hi."


"Mom, what's wrong?"


"Uncle Aiden is in a coma.  We don't know if he will make it."


"I'm sorry, Mom."


"I know.  Thank you, Jack."


"Is Dad okay?"


"He will be."


"He must miss us.  Especially you."


"He does.  But he'll see us soon."


"Mom, let Jewel stay with me tonight?  I'll take care of her, I promise.  You can stay on the phone with Dad for a few hours.  Be together."


"Jack, that's very thoughtful."


"You got any bottles left, you know, of your, you know, your milk?"  he was embarrassed to ask.  


"Yes, I do, actually, I have one.  Do you remember how?"


"Of course.  Let me take care of it.  Tomorrow's Saturday, and I know you miss each other.  He probably needs to talk."


"I will.  That's very kind of you Jack, and I'll do just that, thanks."


"You're welcome.  I don't mind.  Me and Sam can camp out with her."


"Okay," Blair said, feeling very fortunate.


*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Failings of the Fathers: 46

A soft knock was heard on the door, even though it was ajar.  "Aiden, are you receiving visitors?"

Aiden was awake.  "Sure," he said, "come on in, Malcolm."


"Aiden, I have to tell you something."


"Y'ar leaving."


"Yes.  I . . . want to try this.  I want to try and move on with my life."


Aiden smiled broadly, "Who could stop ya from wanting that?"


"I just, don't want you to think that I'm deserting you.  But I think it's time for me."


"How is that deserting me?  And why should it matter, when y'ave waited all these years to be able to do it, eh?"


"I just . . . wanted to make sure you knew . . ."


"I do.  I understand.  You'll see me again, sometime soon.  I'll probably be back in the states, once I'm well.  And frankly, if I can't make it, ya don't need to be dealing with another death.  Not now.  Ya have to heal.  So let's just say, 'I'll be seeing ya.'"


"Then you know?"


"Yes.  Todd told me, before he told ya, I'm pretty sure.  He wanted to test it out, since Tina had originally thought . . ."


"Yes, me, a terrorist," he smiled.


"Yes.  I think it's a beautiful thing.  The Mannings are a special bunch.  Ya will certainly enjoy them.  The children are all beautiful."


"I know you will come through this.  I believe that."


"I do, too.  Too much wasted time.  Not ready to meet the maker yet!"


"Well then, I'll see you soon."


"Are ya leaving, now?"


"Yes, Todd's plane is set to take me, well when . . . something I can't say, but trust me, it will be soon."


"Sounds ominous.  But with Todd, ya have to let it be."


"I'll agree.  He's quite an amazing man."


"Don't let him hear ya talk that way."


"Hmf.  How will I ever repay him for the medication?  It's expensive."


"He doesn't care about that.  He never has.  He doesn't spare expense on anything.  To him, it's nothing."


"He said he was filthy rich, I assumed he had a bit of a small fortune."


"Small?  No.  He's a multimillionaire.  Very wealthy.  Originally an inheritance, later, he made it multiply over and over.  A wise businessman, and to him, y'ar medical bills are not all that much.  Besides, once ya work for him, y'all have insurance and it will be paid for."


"I can't thank him enough."


"Take care of his home and his family, and he's y'ar friend for life."


"Well, it's a new adventure, that's for certain."


"Ya will be fine."


"Good bye, Aiden, for now.  I'll be seeing you."


"Yes, I'll be seeing ya."


Malcolm shook his hand.


Calvin, outside the door, backed away and went to his room.


***

"Morning, Sis.  What's going on?"  Todd said, sitting by her in the cafeteria.  He noticed that nothing on her tray was touched.  


She sipped her coffee.  "Todd, what time is the surprise arriving?"


"In a few minutes, probably.  They touched down at the airport about an hour ago."


"It was kind of you to give that man a job, and to help him like that.  I don't remember you ever being this way."


"You don't remember me being tortured for eight years, away from my family, either."


"I guess that's made you see a few things."


"I guess."


"I don't want to ask anything of you, and I know how you are about emotional stuff, but, I . . . please don't leave me, Todd.  Not until Aiden's all right.  Please."


He finished chewing his egg sandwich.  "You're really in love with the guy."


"Yes, I am.  But aside from that, please.  I just . . . I'm scared," she blurted, and tears followed.


He reached across the table and took her hand.  She looked up at him, as if shocked.  He said, "What? You're my sister, right?"


"Right," she sniffled.


"I'm not planning on going.  Things at home are all right.  I'll be here through the surgery.  Okay?"


She nodded.


He said, "But, if you don't eat something, I'm out."


She picked up her spoon and ate some of her cereal, that was now getting soggy. 


He offered, "Should I go get some more?  It's wilted."


"No, I can just eat the yogurt and fruit.  That's plenty.  I want Aiden to get some rest, so I'm purposely taking long.  I guess I'll eat something."  


She did.


***


He opened his eyes, and he was lying on a bed.  It wasn't a soft bed, like the one at home.  He couldn't move his arms, and he called out, "Pappy?"


He sounded far away to himself.  His ears were ringing.  The pain in his head was still there, and something felt . . . hot, near his eyes.  He closed them again, and when he opened them, his mother was standing over him.  She had on all white as well, and she carried a needle.  She said, "Hello, Eric, it's y'ar Mam."


"Mammy, y'ar alive?"


"Yes, my son."


"Mammy, untie me.  I can't move me hands."  He felt wet, in his pants.


"I will, Son."


"Mammy, I thought ya died.  I thought ya got shot, in the city.  We were going to Burdock's, to meet Pappy.  I thought . . ."


"Shhhh."  Her hand was cool on his forehead.  "No, Eric, I'm here."


She moved closer, with the needle, and leaned over, picking up his shirt on one side, and putting something cold against his skin.  It smelled like Pappy's aftershave.  He said, "Mam, please hug me, I'm scared and something hurts."


"I will, Son.  Just close y'ar eyes now."  She leaned in and he felt a painful prick in his side where the cold stuff had been, and then, he closed his eyes.  After a few moments, he opened them again.  He saw colors, flashes and swirls all around him.  He looked up to find her and she was gone.  "Mam!  Mam!  I want my Mammy!"


He cried.  She never came back.  It was just the colors all twisting and moving, and the pain, in his head, oh it hurt, something horrible, and the memory, of . . . where was he again?  He was at the parade . . .no, he was . . . they were meeting someone . . . Leo Burmuss . . . cod and chips . . .


Aiden woke with a start, and sat up.  Sweat covered his brow, and he still could not see.  He swallowed, and realized he needed water.  Just as he reached for the call button, Todd came in, and saw his distress.  "Hey Brother of Mine, what's going on?"


"I . . . had a dream.  I . . . they brainwashed me, Todd.  As a child."


Todd fixed his lips tightly.  "You sure?"


"Yes, I'm sure.  They . . . used drugs and I think electroshocks.  I'm not sure on the last one, but something had . . . "


"Burned your temples?"  Todd said, interrupting.


"I think so, near my eyes.  I was only six."


"That's what it was.  On your wrists, too?"


"No.  Is that what they did to ya?"


"Among other things, yeah.  Wrists, ankles and head."


"Maybe I was too small for all that."

"Maybe.  The goal of mine was torture.  The goal of yours was forgetting."


"I don't know why I'm remembering now."


"Me neither.  I can't explain that, it happened to me, too.  All of the sudden, I was remembering what my father did, and before that, nothing."


"The mind is strange.  A complicated instrument."


"Yeah, it is.  I've learned that the hard way."


He got quiet, and reached for the water, and Todd helped.  He handed Aiden the cup, and he sipped.  Then he said, "What ya did for Malcolm . . ."


"No biggie.  I owe the world a lot of debt."


"When do ya think ya'll stop that?"


"What?  Paying back?  I don't know, it's habit."


"No.  Excusing your kindness as some sort of penance?"


Todd didn't answer.  Instead, he checked his phone for the time.  He said, "Surprises on their way."


"Really?  What kind of surprises?"


"Would that be a surprise if I told you?"


"I guess not, no."


"Then you have to wait, but only a few more minutes."


"Fine, then."


Todd took out his phone, and texted Blair:  The guy I told you about, Malcolm?  He's on his way.  Has had a lot of trauma in his life, as I explained.  Might seem a little cold at first, but then again, he's had troubles.  Let me know how it goes.  I love you.

Just then, Tina walked through the door and said, "Aiden, someone here to see you."


Around the corner came Colin, William, Darren, Jimmy, and Owen.  "Aiden, ya louse!"  Colin called out.


He perked up in his bed and laughed, "Ya can't be standing here, all of ya?"


"But we are, Lad," Owen said.  "We are."


"How . . . who's running Courtown Demesne?"  Aiden wondered.


"It runs itself, Boy," William said.  "We'll go back soon enough for the rush!"


"How are ya?"  Darren asked.  


The freckled kid who took the bullet for me.  He looks . . . well, he looks great.


"I'm better now, me friends.  So glad ya came."  He turned to the side he knew Todd was standing on, "Todd, this was just what I needed."


"No problem.  That's what private jets are for," he said, moving into the hallway.  Timothy followed him.


"Son," he started.


"You know, Dad, don't go into it.  Okay?  I did what I did, and it's done."


"Fine.  But it meant the world to y'ar brotha."


"Yep, I guess it did."


"Ya want to do things for people, that's obvious.  Ya like to spread your wealth around.  No expense is too great for ya when someone deserves something."


"Maybe," he said, folding his arms and slightly smirking.


"I'm very proud of ya.  Instead of wallowing in the past pains and how much hurt has been done to ya, y'ar moving beyond it and bringing good to y'ar life."


"Sorta."  This time he did smile.


"Hmf.  Such a stickler.  Stubborn as a mule, with y'ar blood on fire, are ya sure y'ar not Irish?"


"I don't even know.  Sorry, I guess we could ask my sister Viki about that."


"Ya must be Irish in there somewhere.  A heart of gold," he said, and embraced his son. 


Todd, taken aback, threw his arms out, and then finally found his father's back.


***

Calvin was in his room, packing his bag.  He didn't have much, but whatever he left behind he'd leave behind without looking back.  He continued throwing items in the suitcase, and then, picked up his phone.


"It's all set.  I've found a way to get out of here, and have an idea for the plan.  What?  No, there's not going to be any of that.  But, it will be payback, and land us in a large amount of money.  Did you do as I asked?  Good, you had better.  I'll be there soon."


Hanging up, he slipped the phone back into his pocket.  He was certain they wouldn't miss him.  Malcolm had already left, and Miguel, well, he wasn't worth the worry.  They'd certainly had their moments, the three of them, but now, it was onward and upward to the future.


He changed his shirt, noticing again the scars on his chest, one directly down the middle of his ribs, and ignored it as he buttoned the clean shirt.  The worn shirt, he threw into the hamper, and had no intention of taking with him.  It was soiled, and he didn't need it.  Where he was going, there would be plenty of time and funds to replace it.  He would just have to carry out his plan, and make it work.


"I don't think they believed me, when I said I'd get revenge or that I was cured.  But, both are true, aren't they?"  he asked the reflection in the mirror.  


He lifted the bag.  He had waited until lunch hour, so that the halls would be clearer, with most people in the cafeteria, and a lot of staff on breaks.  He knew, also, that Malcolm had been gone for less than thirty minutes, and he wanted to space out their exits from each other, as to go less noticed.


He took the bag, straightened his tie, and headed out the door.  


His escape, as he phrased it, was uneventful and, as he thought, unnoticed.  He boarded a cab, and sat back, breathing a sigh and flicking his lighter, until he realized he had no more cigars.


"Want a cigarette?"  the cabby offered.


"No."


"Okay, Buddy, just being friendly."


"Don't.  I don't have, want or need friends," he said, as they passed the left half of the clinic and moved forward into traffic.


*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

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Saturday, January 24, 2015

Todd's Saga 32: Mission Accomplished

         Todd stood across the street from the warehouse where the drugs had been delivered earlier that week.  He noted a florist delivery truck waiting at the loading dock.  He crossed the street and saw a number of gift baskets sitting in the back of the truck.

“Hey, you by the truck?  Quit dawdling and get back to work.  We’ve got over five hundred of those baskets to get delivered in the next two days,” yelled a man standing on the loading bay. 

Since his back was to the man, Todd pulled his cap lower, nodded, and headed into the warehouse.  As he had hoped, the uniform had given him the in he needed to see what was taking place in the warehouse.  He walked over and joined the assembly line filling the baskets.  There was a loud crash as several bottles of expensive wine were jostled and fell to the concrete.  All activity came to a halt.  Todd watched as the man responsible was being held firmly by two other guards as he struggled, then a lab technician brought a syringe and injected it into him. The man stopped struggling and was led away. The foreman looked at the Todd and the rest of the men on the line. “The next man to drop a bottle will find himself back at the compound, making himself useful as a guinea pig.”  

        Todd’s eyes narrowed as the technician went back to his job of inserting the syringes and their contents into the bottles of wine.  He lowered his head and went back to work filling the basket he was working on.  There was a tap on his shoulder and he turned to find himself face to face with the foreman.

         “You, get a mop and clean up that mess.  We can’t afford anyone slipping and breaking more bottles. The boss will have a field day with all of us.” The foreman looked at the mess, shook his head, and walked away.

         Looking around, Todd spotted the broom closet and headed to get what he needed to clean up the bottles and the spilled wine.  He mopped up the wine and carefully pulled out strands of the mop.  Then he swept up the glass and carefully cradled the bottom of one of the bottles that still contained a small portion of the wine and carried it to the broom closet.  Spotting a couple of plastic bags he wrapped the bottle and its contents, along with the strands from the mop into one bag.  He made sure the bag’s extra bulk cushioned the broken edges of the glass and put the first bag into another bag and set it out of sight in the closet where he could get it when he got ready to leave.  

          Todd then walked over and joined the line of men wrapping the baskets.  Every chance he got he used his cell phone and filmed the names on the baskets he was wrapping.   By the end of the afternoon, the truckload for the first deliveries was loaded.  Todd was carrying out his last two baskets and sticking them onto the bed of the truck, when his eyes caught sight of a very familiar name.  Before he could check it out further, he was shoved aside and the door to the truck was closed.  Todd felt a chill go down his back as the truck pulled away. 

****

Clint leaned against the doorway of Victor’s room watching Dorian and Viki go at it once again. Dorian in her pink silk suit was fussily tugging at her jacket and looked about ready to spit fire as she watched Viki put a second pillow behind Victor’s back.

“Oh stop coddling him.  He’s just milking your attention.  See, look at that smirk.” Dorian waved at Victor who was sitting up in the bed being waited on hand and foot by his sister.

“Hey Dorian, can I help it that she loves me.  Besides. I didn’t ask for these wounds.” Victor touched his shoulder and grimaced as if in pain.

“Oh please!  You can stop with the melodramatics.  Your wounds are healing and the pain medication you’re on is surely keeping you pain free.  I’d also like to point out you were all set to go to Washington, D.C. with your miscreant of a brother.  It stands to reason you’re in much better shape than you’re making out.” Dorian said sarcastically.

“Dorian, how can you say that?” Viki looked at Dorian with a frown  “You know how close he came to dying.  I’m grateful to you for helping him but maybe as his doctor you should check his wound before assuming he’s just playing you.” Viki looked at her brother.  She knew he was acting out but she couldn’t stop herself from responding to Dorian.  The woman just grated on her sometimes.

“I knew it!  You’ll defend your brothers, no matter what.  You haven’t changed Viki.  You’re as gullible now as you were when you were under your father’s will.”  Dorian said, waiting for the rise she knew she was going to get.

Viki whipped around and angrily faced Dorian.  “Enough!  We all know how you hated my father.  If we can live with the monster he was, maybe it’s time you learn to live with it too.”

       “Why you...If it wasn’t for me, you never would have found out what your father was and what he did to you?” Dorian was livid. “For the life of me, I can’t believe I agreed to help your brothers or you.  All of you with your high and mighty Lord attitudes of being so much better than others.  You all think you’re the only ones who have suffered.  I could tell you horror stories about Victor and about my own childhood.” She looked like she wanted to say more but stopped herself. She took a slow breath and faced Viki directly. “Victor found out that I wasn’t his lap dog.  I’m a Cramer woman and no one will get the better of me ever again.” With those words, Dorian turned and exited the room, angrily pushing Clint out of her way.

****

“Alright you guys, you have one hour to get something to eat and then you’re to report back here.  The boss wants the rest of the baskets ready to go first thing in the morning.” The foreman looked over at the technicians and moved to talk to one of them.

  The other men around Todd began to put down what they were doing and headed for the door.  Todd walked to where he had left the broom and dustpan standing just outside the closet, picked them up and opened the closet to put them away.  Then he reached down and surreptitiously picked up the bag he had left inside the door and tucked it carefully inside his jacket and followed the last of the men out of the warehouse.  Once inside his car he took the time to breathe again.  He took the bag out and set it on the seat and then pulled out his phone.

“I did it, Sam.  Where are you at right now?  Did you find a lab that will do the job?....Great I’m headed there now.” He put the car in gear and pulled out.  A short while later Todd drove into the parking lot of a private lab.  Sam Vance was standing outside waiting for him.

Sam felt relief as Todd exited his car.  She had tried to talk him into letting one of her men go into the warehouse but he had been adamant that he do the job.  Determined not to show him how worried she had been, she said. “Your sister will be glad you made it in and out of that place unharmed.  You sounded satisfied on the phone.  Did you see the drug?” 

“I did better than that.”  He reached into his car and grabbed the bag.  “In here is a sample of what they’re doing in that warehouse.  I need you to get it analyzed.  Also, give me your phone.”  

Sam was puzzled but she handed her phone to Todd and in a few moments he had transferred all the pictures and film he had taken with his phone.

Handing it back to her, he said, “I need you to make copies of all of that and then once you get the results from the lab you send everything to the people we discussed.  Listen, I’m headed back to New Orleans.  Keep me informed.” With that Todd turned and left Sam. 

****

Viki took a tray into Victor.  She watched amused as he dove in and started eating like he was starved.  “Slow down Victor.  You’ll choke.”

        “After all the soups and broths, Dorian insisted I keep eating for the last few days, I want to get all of this in my stomach before she comes in here and protests again,”  that said, he picked up another chicken leg and continued eating.   

        Viki shook her head and looked around.  “Has Dorian been here since this afternoon?”

       “Nope, haven’t seen her.  I figured she was off pouting or something.  You know I can’t  stand the woman.” 

        “Oh come on Victor, we all know what she’s like but she did save your life.”

        “Well realistically, Todd saved my life.  She just provided the means.”

         “I better go check on her and see if she’s coming down to dinner.”

          “Fine,go ahead, but I’ve been enjoying the peace around here without her.  Hell, she never stops talking about how I and Todd are the worst men around and she doesn’t see how Tea and Blair keep wanting us.  Besides, she could stand to miss a meal, she’s getting a little hippy these days.”

         “Victor!” Vicki said with a raised eyebrow.

         “Hey, it’s the truth.  Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed.  I thought all women talked about that problem.”  

          Viki laughed.  “Maybe but it’s still impolite of you to say it.”

          “Who said I was polite.” Victor turned his attention back to his plate and smiled to himself as Viki left the room laughing. 

           Viki knocked on Dorian’s door.  “Dorian, dinner is ready.  You better make an appearance before Clint and Ms. Vance’s men eat it all up.”  She waited for the door to open and when no one answered, she peeked into the room to discover it was empty.  She turned and headed downstairs.  Walking into the kitchen she saw Clint and the men eating.  “Have any of you seen Dorian?”  They all shook their heads no.  “I don’t understand it, she’s not in her room.” She looked directly at Clint.  “You don’t think she left because of the argument this afternoon, do you?”

        “Viki, with Dorian you never know.  If she left I’m sure she’s headed home to David.  Victor’s on the mend and it’s obvious that the two of you can only co-exist in the same household for short periods.” Clint replied and then went back to eating.

       “I don’t like it.  She was mad but not overly so.  This isn’t good.  I hope she has the good sense to keep Todd’s and Victor’s whereabouts a secret.  If Carl Peterson finds out we’re on to him before Todd can gather the evidence he needs, all of this could come tumbling back down on us.  Maybe she just went out to cool off.  That could be it.  She’ll probably be back later."  Clint nodded in agreement.  Vik looked around then shook her head. “No, it’s just a feeling but I’m going to go back up to her room and see if any of her stuff remains.”

       Clint reached up and took Viki’s hand before she could leave again. “Sit down and eat, Viki.  Dorian’s a big girl.  There’s not much you can do if she did leave but wait for her to get home, and if she did just decide to go cool off here in town, she’ll be back when she’s good and ready.” 

      Viki sighed. “You’re right.  Dorian’s going to do what she wants to do no matter what.”  She picked up her plate and walked to the stove top, filled it and sat down next to Clint and began to eat.  

       A few hours later Viki was putting away the dishes and just cleaning up in the kitchen when she heard the back door open.  “Oh Thank Goodness, I was afraid I was going to have to start calling around the hospitals.  Dorian, the least you could have done was called.” Viki walked out of the kitchen and came to a sudden halt. “Todd, I thought you were Dorian.”

       Todd’s eyes narrowed.  “So I gathered. What happened?  Where’s the head witch of the Cramer Coven?”



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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Failings of the Fathers: 45

"I want my Mam," the little boy in white said.  Saliva was dripping down his chin, and tears were all over his face.

"Shhh.  No, they're gone.  I'm your new father."


"Y'ar a bad man, ya are.  Ya hurt me.  Pappy!  Pappy!"


"Stop carrying on, Little One.  I'll be back later, when y'ave calmed y'arself down."  The man left.


He was all alone.  His head hurt.  Something was wrong with his head.  Why did it hurt so much?  Where was Pappy?  Mam . . . he was with Mam.  He was holding her hand, and then . . .


Those noises.  They were like firecrackers at the St. Patrick's Day parade.  He had loved the parade.  There were colorful floats and everyone in the crowd had green hats on, and green clothes.  Pappy would take them over to Leo Burdock's after for cod and chips . . .


Mam was there, they were going to get chips and cod and see Pappy.  No, Mam!  No!


A while later, he opened his eyes, his head leaning to the side, and a woman was standing by the chair.  "Hello, Little One.  Would ya like some soda bread and tea?"


"Yes, thank ya, ma'am.  I would."  His voice sounded so small.


She handed him the soda bread, which was extra soft, and the tea.  He ate and drank quickly, and she said, "Don't eat that way, ya will get a belly ache, ya will."


He didn't listen.  He felt as if he did not eat in weeks.  How long had he been there?  He wasn't sure.


He finished eating and slurping his tea, and she said, "I'll let the slurps go this time, but in the future, there will be no lack of manners, ay?"


He nodded, and finished the tea.


***

"You went outside,"  Calvin said.  Malcolm and Miguel both looked up from their snacks.  It was almost midnight.


"You saw me?"  Malcolm asked.


"Yep.  Watching you, from the solarium."


"Well, my own stalker."


Miguel laughed, and Calvin leered at him in a way that made him uncomfortable.  Calvin said, "Who was that American?"


"Todd Manning.  A brother of Aiden"


Calvin's eyebrow raised.  "I didn't know Aiden had a brother."


"He's adopted, by Aiden's father.  Recently."


Calvin shrugged.  "Weird."


"Well, there's circumstances.  I guess, well, Aiden believes Todd needed a father, and Timothy needed a son, and it worked out."  Malcolm said.


"We Americans have too much freedom to do stupid things," Calvin said.


Miguel hadn't said anything.  He just watched the two of them banter.


Malcolm said, "So, yes, I was outside.  With a friend."


"So, you cured?"  Calvin asked, rubbing in the fact that according to him, he was.


"No.  I can tell you that I am not.  Not yet."


"Manning's rich.  Maybe he'll foot the bill for your meds," Miguel said.  "He offered you that job, in the states, at his mansion."


Malcolm didn't respond, and neither did Calvin.  But it was clear the eldest wasn't amused.

  
Malcolm said, "It makes you angry when someone has money.  You don't have any.  That's what your revenge is about?"

"Shut up," Calvin said.


"Why?  Hit a nerve?"


"I said, shut up.  You wouldn't understand my kind of revenge, or my reasons."


"Whoa, hit a nerve, definitely."  Miguel chimed in.


"You should shut up, too.  I'd like to see you out on a boat with all of your kind, sent out to sea.  Permanently."


Malcolm was incensed.  "That's quite enough.  You've gone too far, this time.  Stop it, your hate is showing."


"Why not?  He's useless."  Calvin sneered.


"You know what they say, men who have to belittle and bash have a lot of self doubt in their own manhood, if you know what I mean," Malcolm prodded.


Calvin's face took on an expression neither of them had ever seen.  It was a cross between the most hateful, burning stare and a vicious, thunderous undercurrent, and Miguel became afraid.  Calvin's eyes rested on Malcolm and didn't flinch.  This caused Miguel to speak up.  "It's okay, he can say whatever he wants, I don't bother with it.  It doesn't mean anything.  Just words."


Neither Calvin and Malcolm moved their eyes.  They both stared the other in the face, without moving.  Miguel marveled at Malcolm's ability to not be deterred by Calvin's face.  It was pure evil, in his eyes, and comparatively, Malcolm appeared to be angelic.  It was a moment indelibly placed in Miguel's memory.  He knew then he would never forget it.


"Hey, guys, the cafeteria is closing.  It's midnight," a custodian called to them.

"Sure, okay," Miguel said.  Malcolm was not moving his eyes from Calvin's face.


In response, Calvin said, "Sure, Benny," and got up, still staring at Malcolm.  He picked up his lighter and cigarillos, and still keeping his eyes on Malcolm until the last second, left the cafeteria.


Miguel said, "What the fuck were you thinking, Man?  That bastard looked like he could kill you."


"If he did, what exactly would I lose?"



***


"So, get yourselves to the airport, as soon as you can.  I'm hoping you can get out here before morning, and I'll get you a hotel.  You can be here when he wakes up, before he goes in."  Todd said.

Colin said, "This is fair play to ya, Todd."


"He needs his family, and you all have been that to him for years now."


"And his real family, is ya and y'ar fathar, Timothy."


"Let's not waste time, get to the airport.  My private jet will be waiting."  He hung up.


Timothy, walking into the hallway, overheard the end of the conversation.  "Y'ar doing this, for y'ar brotha."


"Yep.  They'll be here when he wakes up, before surgery."


"Todd, I know it will mean everything to him."


He nodded.


"And, what ya did for that man, Malcolm."


"I didn't do anything, Old Man.  I just shared with him what I know."


"All right, I won't waste my time trying to show ya the good in y'arself."


"Not worth it.  He needs them, and they need him.  Easy.  They've been his family for a long time."


"They have.  Family is very important to ya."


"Yeah, I guess it is.  After that first one I had, can you blame me?"


"I'm sorry for it.  Every child deserves better."


"Not me, I'm indestructable," he said, shrugging.


"No.  Y'ar not.  But ya want to think ya are."


"I'm giving Malcolm a job.  And, I'm paying for a medication regimen, expensive, to keep his anxiety down so he can function outside of this place."


"That's generous."


"Well, he'll be my employee.  In the states, it will be part of his insurance and he'll be able to get proper treatment.  Introduce him to old Ray, and he's golden."


"Considering ya grew up with that header, y'ave turned out pretty well."


"Header.  I like that one."


"Traditional Irish jargon."


"I'd just say he was nuts, or fucked up, or something."


"Probably."


They both sat a moment, looking into the empty hall.  "It's late.  Shit, I have to get to the hotel and Skype the fam."


"Skype the fam.  I like that one.  My love to Bridgette, and Sam and Jack."


"I'll do that," Todd said.  "See you tomorrow, Dad," and he walked away.  Timothy watched him go down the hallway.


After a few moments, Miguel made his way to his room, via the same hall.  Timothy was still sitting in the wallchair, and he looked up.  "Ay, time for bed, is it?"


"Yeah, I guess. I need to sleep this one off."  Miguel said.


"What is it, a mean brownie at snack?"


"No, a mean staring contest between Calvin and Malcolm.  Glad I wasn't in it."


"I thought they were friends?"


"Maybe not, anymore.  A lot of it is because of me.  Old Calvin's a gay basher, and Malcolm defends me."


"Ah."


"Well, night."


"Night, Miguel."


"I'll be praying for your son.  He's a good man."


Timothy got up and walked the hallway to the elevator and pressed the lobby button.

***

Todd was back at the hotel, and one thing was clear:  he sorely missed his family.  He needed Blair, so much, after what happened with Malcolm.  Watching the man break apart, while trying to complete the process of accepting his wife's violent death, had taken its toll on Todd.

It had taken Malcolm, a man with a previously simple life and no abuse or rape in his past, over four years to try and near completion to the journey of acceptance of his loss.  This made Todd wonder, throughout the whole taxi ride, what would happen to him if Blair was gone.  Not if she left him, or found someone else, if she were gone.  She'd been apart from him, arguing with him, in custody and financial battles with him, and still she was his.  He'd taken off; she'd found other men.  And still, she was his.  


But if she were GONE.  Really gone, never to argue with and hate and love again?  


He knew the answer.  It would take the remainder of his life, whatever that turned out to be, to ever let go.  And, then, he came to the realization that Malcolm was a much stronger man than he ever could be.


He tossed the cardkey on the table, and flopped onto the bed.  He turned on his tablet, and brought up Skype, and called.  In a few minutes, Jack was on the screen, and Todd felt a pang of longing, just looking at his son's handsome and taking-on-manliness face.  "Hey, Dad."


"Hey, Jack.  How are you?"


"We're okay.  Runty's weird, as usual, Jewel's like the freaking best.  Ray's nuts."


"Sounds like a typical Manning day."


"Yep.  Mom's good, too."


"That's what I like to hear.  You taking care of her?"


"Yeah.  And Puny."


"Who's got Ray, then?"


"Shaun, who else?"


Todd laughed a little.  "So, who's in line to Skype me?"


"Everyone."


"Okay, then move aside.  Love you."


"Love you, Dad."


Little Ray's face popped up on the screen, and he put his finger on it, to touch it, and said, "Daddy, home, now.  Mommy said."


"I will be home soon, Buddy.  How are you doing?  Are you being a good boy?"


"No," he said, sing-songy, and shook his head.


Todd almost laughed, "No?  Aren't you supposed to be a good boy?"


"Yeah."


"Then you be a good boy for Mommy."


"Daddy, going on the plane?"


"Yes.  I went on the plane, and I'll go again when I come home."


"Can I go on plane, too?"


"Not this time."


"Bye, Daddy.  Love you, Daddy."


He choked up, slightly, "I love you, too, Buddy."


For a moment, he closed his eyes to feel the little boy's hands in his hair, like holding reins, and sighed.  When he opened his eyes, Sam was there.  "Dad, are you sleeping?  It's only 6:30!"


"It's not 6:00 here, Pal.  It's past midnight here."


"Wow.  That's weird."


"Yeah, it is weird."


"That means that it's tomorrow there."


"Yeah, that's what it means."


"That's cool.  I'll share that at show and tell."


"Sounds good.  Hey, Sam?  What's this I hear about nightmares?"


"Oh, those.  Yeah."


"Are you okay?  You want to ask me anything, Bud?"


"Don't be mad.  I did something bad.  I went into Grandma Bitsy's room without asking, and I went through her stuff and I saw her art.  Then it just gave me bad dreams."


"When was that?"


"A long time ago, before the bear."


"Okay.  You shouldn't do that.  You don't go into other people's stuff without their permission.  You know that."


"Yeah.  Jack said I got what I deserved for snooping."


"He did, huh?"


"Yeah."


"Go ahead, Sam.  I know you want to ask me something."  Things got quiet, and his son's face was pensive.


"Dad, is that man real?"


"He was real, once, yeah."


"Once?"


"He's dead, Sam."


"He is?"


"Yes, he's dead.  He can't hurt you, or your mom, or anyone."


"Dad, who was the little boy in the pictures?  The one who was so scared."


Todd controlled his response the best he could, and knew that he had to be honest with his son.  "Well, that little boy was me."


Sam's eyes got very big.  "You?  Dad, I don't get it.  Who was that guy?"


Todd took in a large breath.  "That guy was my father."


Sam looked very sad, and said, "No, Dad."


"Yes, that was my father.  He wasn't very nice sometimes, to me and Grandma Bitsy, and she draws it because it helps her remember, and then, it helps her forget."


"You didn't have a good dad like I do."


He cleared his throat, "No, I didn't."


"That's not fair."


"I know, but you know what?  I have you, and your brothers and sisters, and your Mom.  And I have Grandpa Timothy now, right?  I am really lucky."  


He was wishing that Sam would lose interest and move on, and that Blair would come to the screen, just so that he could stop pretending.


Sam said, "Yeah, I guess.  I don't like that man, Dad."


"That's okay, Sam," he struggled with his composure, "I don't either."


"So he's not like the Green Goblin?"


"No.  The Green Goblin is not real, and never was real.  He's made up, like Sponge Bob.  But that man is dead."


"What was his name?"


Todd paused.  "Peter."


"Okay.  Peter is dead.  I'm okay with that, Dad," he said.


Todd smiled at him, "I love you, Sam."


"I love you, Dad.  Here's Mom."


For a few moments, he saw the computer screen lose focus, and then could tell she was moving with it.  After a few minutes, she said, "I'm taking this upstairs to the bedroom, so we can talk.  You need a break from that.  I knew it about halfway through."


He still couldn't see her, because she was carrying the basket in one hand and the notebook computer in the other, so he waited.  Her voice was enough at that moment, and he pulled himself together.  Finally, she put the machine down and adjusted the webcam, and lifted Jewel into view.  "Well, there she is.  Say, 'hello, Daddy, I love you so much!'"


"Hi Jewel, baby, how's my littlest girl?"


The baby cooed and chewed her hand.  Blair removed her from the screen, and then came back to it.  "Are you all right, Todd."


"This was a tough day, Blair.  A lot has happened."


"Tell me everything.  I have plenty of time to listen.  You don't have to pretend with me."


With that, he covered his eyes with his palm for a moment, before telling her the day's events.


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Sunday, January 18, 2015

Failings of the Fathers: 44

After a few minutes sitting in silence with Todd, Malcolm said, "I'm going to go and try this.  I'm not saying I'd accept your offer, but perhaps it's time I try.  Been thinking about it for a while now, and mentioned it just today, as a matter of fact.  Calvin, one of the patients here, who was a friend of ours until recently, is also leaving soon.  It may be time to move on.  No time like the present."  Malcolm sounded as if he was trying to talk himself into it. 

Todd looked at the man, and realized he was not much older than Todd was.  He said, "Sure.  That sounds great.  And, if you want the job, then, you get the job."


"Will you come with me?  Out there?"  Todd could tell the man felt awkward asking.


Todd was somehow expecting the request.  There was some kind of camaraderie, he'd felt it with Aiden, and even with Zeus and Thornhart, after being tormented by The Men of 21.  He had expected that Malcolm would ask him, a virtual stranger, to be the one to be with him outside for the first time in years, if it could not be Aiden, which, at this time, it could not.  He said, "Yep," and stood up.


The two of them walked to the elevator, and then straight through the lobby, Malcolm in the lead.  When they got to the door, Malcolm said, "This is hard."  He looked to Todd.  "Maybe not as hard as being electrocuted?"


"Maybe."  Todd said, absently pulling the sleeve cuffs over his wrists.  The man looked at him, searchingly.  


"Why does what you've been through and just told me suddenly make my fears seem so much less?"


"They don't.  They just make you realize you're not alone.  I'm not going to do anything here, you have to take the lead.  I'll follow, for support, whatever, but I'm not going to make you do it."


Malcolm abruptly turned and went back to a bench in the lobby and sat.  "I'm a coward."


"Nope.  Not buying it."  Todd said.  "If you can't you can't.  But you're not a coward."


"You're stronger.  I can tell."


"You don't know how wrong you are.  I couldn't even face the truth, about my own life, for like forty years.  I was abused as a kid, too, my whole life, every which way you can think of someone being abused.  This didn't start with The Men of 21.  It's a lot bigger of a story.  I couldn't face what my pervert of a father did to me, until just this past year.  Does that make me a coward?"


Malcolm physically shuddered, and Todd saw it.  The man said, "No.  I'd say it makes you brave, to go on living.  Try and have a life."


"Right.  Like you.  You went on living, even though she didn't.  What would she think if she saw you pent up in here?"


The man considered Todd's words.  Then, Malcolm got up and headed back to the door.  He put his hand on the knob, and stood, almost frozen.


Then he said, "Todd, what happened when you faced it?  The first time you did?"


"I puked.  I cried.  I almost blacked out.  I sat in a shower, on the floor, in a hotel, until the water ran cold, and my wife had to help me out of it.  I worked on it, for a long while, with my therapist.  Then, I moved on."


"Just like that?"


"No, I won't say 'just like that,' but pretty close.  It's been easier since I faced it and dealt with it all.  Just the facts."


Malcolm's hand was still on the knob.  He turned it, and the door opened.  The sun was still there, in the sky, just touching the edges of the world.  He took a large, audible breath. 


Todd waited.


As the man walked out into the fading sun, Todd kept his distance, but followed.  He was two paces behind Malcolm when the ex-gardener went down.


***


"Mom, can I talk to you?"  Jack asked, standing at the door of the master bedroom.


"How did you get home?"


"I got sent here.  Bomb threat."


"Oh, wow.  Did you call Perzno?"


"Yeah.  Figured it would be hard for you, with Jewel."


"You figured right."


"God, I love her, Mom.  She's so awesome."  He was mesmerized by her little face and hands.


"I know.  Jack, why didn't you tell me about your brother's nightmares?"


"He made me promise, I thought I could handle him, plus, same thing, Jewel."


"You should have."


"I guess, yeah.  I'm sorry.  Mom, I wanted to ask something."


"Sure, go ahead."


"Did all those things in Grandma Bitsy's drawings happen?"


She put Jewel in her basket.  "No, Jack, obviously not the ones about you kids, or me.  But the others, yes, they're real."


He gulped.  "Dad's life freaking sucked."


"It did, yeah, until he had us."


"There's one where she kills Peter."


"Yes, there's one where she kills Peter."


"Is that why she can't talk, Mom?  Because of all that?"


"No.  She was beaten and left for dead by him.  They believe the talking thing is brain damage."


"I'm not a doctor, but I don't believe it."


Blair was puzzled.  "Why not?"


"I just don't.  I think she can't talk because she's all screwed up.  I think he scared her silent."


"I . . . don't know what to say to that, Jack Manning."


"Why can't it be true?"


"I think the doctors would know."


"Grandma Addy was sick a long time, and the doctors were wrong about that.  I just . . . think so, that's all."


He turned to leave and she said, "Jack.  Take care of your brother, like you have been.  But please, tell me in the future if he needs us."


"I will, Mom.  Sorry."


He went to his room, and she heard the music go on, and the door close.  She settled back for a short nap, but somehow couldn't fall asleep.  Her mind was on Bitsy.


***


It was nearing lunch hour, and Ray Martino was in his office, panning through Bea's file.  Hers was a larger folder than the others, because of the drawings and notes.  He went through all of them, stopping to review a few of the written items, until he came to her most recent drawings.  They were the ones that Todd had brought with him when they brought his mother in this last time, catatonic.


He looked at each one in succession, studying them carefully.  A small, frightened boy, being held off the floor by his neck, while a menacing figure held a bat in one taut hand.    A boy, older than the last, crying in a dark room with a single lightbulb.  Bea, killing Peter.  Peter, attacking Blair.


What am I missing in this?  Can she be right?  Todd came to see me . . .


He opened his drawer and pulled out Todd's file.  Searching through it, he found record of Todd's visit to him, in which he said that he remembered being burned with a lighter by Peter in Switzerland.  Both had pawned it off as confused memories.  What if Bea were right, and Peter had been alive, all this time?  The implications were impossible.  But, he questioned himself, for the better part of an hour.  


Can you be sure, Martino, that the guy's NOT living??


He cleared his throat, and searched through Todd's file again.  The photo of Peter Manning was staring up at him.  How could a well-dressed, seemingly acute businessman and clean cut guy have done these things?  And if he had, which Ray knew he did, could he have done more, like fake his death?


You are listening to Sister Rebecca Katherine a little too much.  This is not logical, Martino.  Not logical, and not human behavior.  This is human fantasy.  Bea Manning is delusional.  She's depressed, suicidal and brain damaged.


But the nun?  


And what about the burn.  The scar, it was there.


He picked up the phone to call Todd.



***


Todd caught Malcolm before he hit the ground, and the man was clutching at his chest.  Todd said, "Breathe in, deep," and then ordered him, "now."


The man tried.  After a few gasps, he was able to get his breathing under control.  He said, "I'm trying."


"I know you are.  Just keep breathing.  Breathe in deep, until your chest loosens.  It feels like someone's stepping on it, right?"


"Yes," the man said, still regulating his breathing slowly, but holding his chest with his hand, finger-splayed.


"Go ahead and keep doing that."  Todd just then wondered what had made him agree to do what he was doing, but something told him to keep on.


"I . . . am."


"Good.  I mean, we're getting to know each other the fast way, here.  Usually, I wait until at least a nice dinner before this."


Malcolm's stress broke, and he laughed, lightly.  Then he was finally able to stand up, on his own, without leaning on Todd.  He was still pressing his hand to his chest, and his skin was pale.  Todd said, "Now, what are you going to do?"


"Go back," he said, as he began trembling.


"You sure?"


There was silence.  Then he said, "No."


"I'll wait.  I have time.  Lots of it."


"Aiden told me . . . about what you did for him.  Bringing him . . . to see his childhood home. . .helping him . . . to face his demons."  The man struggled for breath between words.


"Yeah, I guess.  So, what are you going to do?"


"Walk over there."


"Okay."


He took a few steps, and then froze.  "It was sunny, it was beautiful.  She was beautiful.  She was . . . in the doorway, beautiful."  He took three more small steps, and Todd followed, keeping a short distance behind.  Malcolm said, "She . . . smiled, and I looked up from the soil, and smiled.  And . . . and . . ."


Todd moved closer, instinctively.  Malcolm became very quiet.


Up in the cafeteria, Miguel looked out the window, and then stood up, excitedly, telling Tina, "My God, Malcolm's outside!  With that guy, your brother!"


All of them stood and went to the window.  Timothy softly said, "Todd, what have ya gone and done now?"


"No, no, this is good.  This is . . . good.  He's an agoraphobic.  Chronic and severe.  Since his wife.  This is good."  Miguel repeated.


The three of them watched as Malcolm, walking very slowly, stopping every few steps, neared the park bench that faced a small garden area.  


Todd found himself nervous with concern.  What if I did the wrong thing, agreeing to this, and the guy has a heart attack and croaks?


Malcolm said, "We looked at each other and smiled, and her smile was the most beautiful one I'd ever seen her make.  I wanted to keep that in my head for the rest of my life.  I painted it into my heart over and over.  And then . . ."


"Then?"


"I heard noises.  They sounded like hollow pops, almost like firecrackers or exploding balloons."  He had taken a few more steps toward the bench.  


Todd was right behind him, close enough to reach out and touch his shoulder.  He said, "I know those sounds.  I was shot, three different times.  Once, I was shot five times in the back.  By the same guys you're talking about.  I know.  Believe me, I do."


"I looked around," he said, and his breathing was escalating.  "I looked all around me, to the street, to the roof, to the house, to the neighbor's houses.  I looked everywhere, and couldn't see where the sound was coming from."


Malcolm was no more than two steps from the bench.  Todd hadn't realized it, but tears were streaming down the man's face, and his nose was running onto his clothing.  Finally, Malcolm pushed himself, and landed, with a thud, on the bench, sitting.  He glanced into the garden, and said, "I looked back," he broke down, "and the flowers were spotted with blood.  It was thick and sticky.  She was on the ground,"  His face twisted with grief, "my Genevieve, and her face . . . was gone."


Todd felt immediately cold through to his bones, as the man cried into his hands.  Unsure of what to do, he slowly and gently put a hand on the man's shoulder.  After a few minutes, Malcolm sat abruptly back, as if exhausted and had completed a monumental achievement.  


And he had.  


Todd looked at the guy, his face completely flushed now, and wet with tears, his nose dripping onto his shirt, and pure exhaustion written into his face.  Todd simply said, "So.   Nice garden, huh?"


At first, Malcolm side-eyed Todd, and then he smiled.  "Yes, nice garden.  Or, what do you Americans say, 'awesome?'"


"Eh, sometimes we say that,"  Todd said.  "Other times we say, 'great job, you finally did it.'"


Malcolm looked around him.  "I did do it.  I did."  He looked to the sky.  "It feels good out here.  For the moment."


"For the moment.  And that's about all there is.  One step at a time, right?"


"Right.  What was your garden, Todd?"


"My father's house.  The basement.  A secret room."


Malcolm seemed disgusted again.  "I'm sorry for all that happened to you.  I'm glad that you came through it, and that this day came."


"I'm sorry for all that happened to you, too.  You're going to come through it, like I did.  I don't waste my time for nothing when I could be eating."


The two sat in silence for a while, with Timothy, Tina and Miguel watching from above.


From another window, a way down the hospital front, another man was watching, lighting a cigar and taking a puff.


***


"Blair, it's Ray Martino."


"Hello, Ray, how are you?  Your namesake has just finished wiping chocolate ice cream on my refrigerator and finger painting in it."


"I'm fine, thanks, and that sounds like him."


"Yep.  He's experimenting in the fine arts.  What can I do for you?  I plan to see Bea, very soon."


"That would be great, I am sure she would like that."


"Any change?"


"Slight.  Seems she made a trip to Sister's room and left a drawing and a note."


"Really?  What was that about?"


Ray thought better of telling her that it was a threat to her children.  Instead, he said, "Oh, Blair, excuse me, I called to speak to Todd, and I'm short on time, if that's okay?"


"Sure, but he's not here."


"He's not."


"No.  He's in Switzerland.  His brother, Aiden, may be dying, I'm afraid.  He had a brain hemorrhage."


"That's very sad news."


"You can call his cell phone, he's usually expecting calls from us."


"Thanks, I will.  And Blair, send me a picture of that little doll soon."


"I will.  Take care, Ray."


He hung up, and thought about it.  Not wanting to disturb Todd when his brother was so ill stopped him from dialing.  


"Come on, Martino, Dr. Martino, Todd will laugh you off the planet if you tell him you're calling because of an impressionable elderly nun and his delusional mother."


He pushed his chair back and went to lunch.


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