Protecting David-Christopher Grows Up 14
The engines had been cut and spiraled down as an SUV with Jeff and his security guys pulled up.
Nick looked out at the tarmac; the sky was deeply overcast and the wind was blowing wispy tendrils of snow around the vehicle. He shook his head, “Well, that’s depressing.”
“You could come with me to Florida. We could stay for a week.”
He grinned at me. “Don’t tempt me. Anyway, this meeting has got to happen. Just be careful and keep Jeff with you. I’ll see you in a couple of days.”
I could hear and then feel the door at the front of the plane open, like the seal being twisted off slowly on a tight-lidded jar. The warmth in the plane disappeared as a blast of cold air swept in and drifted around our feet.
Nick stood up and then leaned over the table and kissed me. “At least maybe this whole thing with your sister will be worked out.”
I nodded. “Maybe. I hope so.”
Jeff appeared, stripped off his winter coat and came towards us. “I almost brought your dog. He’s going crazy. But I figured it’d be worse for him to see you and then have you leave right away.”
Nick grinned at me. “I’ll give’m a big wet kiss for you.”
The kiss hadn’t been enough and I got up and hugged him. I mumbled into his neck, “With Puppy all the kisses are big and wet.”
Minute’s later Nick’s suitcase was being loaded into the SUV while he was hurrying down the stairs. I sighed.
Jeff slid into the seat Nick had been in. “We still haven’t been able to get anything concrete on your sister. Those emails are being sent, not only from different hotels, that’d be easy, but from every place you can imagine.”
I shook my head and felt the engines starting. “Doesn’t matter. I told her I’d be at the hotel. You got local people you trust?”
He nodded yes. “We’ll have the place covered. Do you have any idea yet what she wants?”
I shook my head. “She sounds like she’s gotta get outta town. But that’s meaningless with her. We’ll just have to wait and see. My dad thinks it’s money.”
The plane began to move. “Did Jack tell you we’re closing on our building in a couple of weeks?”
Jeff nodded. “He did mention it.”
“You’ll need to work with him on parts of it. We need another floor and I have no idea how complicated that might be. I suppose we’ll need to move tenants. Will it mess with security?”
He tilted his head a bit. “It could, but probably not. Who will be on the extra floor?”
I shook my head. “No clue. But we’ll need more people. We’ll be expanding. The olive oil company will be growing and we’ll be changing it some, including other stuff. It’ll be up to Jack how he wants to do it.
What does the farm look like? I mean they sent me some grainy pictures, but what does it feel like?”
Jeff tilted his head. “Expensive, but in a low key way. Lots of white fences and horses. What a wealthy society lady’s idea of a farm would be. I haven’t seen any plans but my guess is that the house was originally much smaller. I think you’ll like it, it looks like the interior got a major remodel a few years ago. It’s peaceful in an elegant sort of way. We changed the front gate and have adjusted some of the fences. A good place for the dog.”
“What about the cows?”
Jeff smiled. “Those pretty tan ones. That’s about everything I know about cows, well besides that there’s lots of them.
The place seems well run. The guy who runs the cheese end of things seems to be the guy running everything. Everybody seems happy. That’s always hard to achieve. They’re curious of course. There’s jobs at stake. People worry. We ran checks on everyone, well, preliminary checks. No red flags.”
“Who takes care of the house? You know, cleans and stuff.”
“An older couple. Not really old though. She’s Doris Crowly and he’s Ted. She runs the show and is the motivator. Ted does the heavier stuff and doesn’t talk much. They’re both in their fifties, she early and him late. Seem to be nice people.
Armin is the cheese guy. His mom and dad moved here from Germany thirty years ago. A very neat guy. Neat as in clean. Actually, as in immaculate. Good guy to have when it comes to making things you eat. And a nice guy. He just likes things to be perfect. But he's good-natured and he laughs a lot. Not in a creepy way though, more in a self-deprecating way.”
I thought about my sister, about the bad stuff, and when I was very little about the good stuff. Believe me, the bad stuff far outweighed the good stuff, but still, there were some memories that weren't so terrible, times before she started with boys and while she still liked me. I wondered why, why it all happened and how crazy it all was. How do you make sense of going from a normal life to living in garbage cans to this, a private jet flying to see what scam she was working now. I hoped it was just money. I'd give her money, as much as she needed. I’d buy her a nice house somewhere and she’d have enough money to live the life she wanted.
But I knew it wouldn’t be that easy, it never was with her. She would be doing something disreputable and she’d want me to help her do it. Or maybe she’d killed that guy she was with and needed to get outta town before they found the body.
I could not for the life of me remember that name of our flight attendant who was walking towards us.
She handed us menus and said, “Gentlemen, would you like some lunch?”
Thankfully she had a nametag. Carla.
“The crab salad is wonderful or if you want something a bit heavier we’ve got filets with scalloped potatoes.”
Jeff and I glanced at each other and said at the same time, “The beef.”
I added, “Thanks, Carla. When do we get to Palm Beach?”
She leaned towards us and whispered like it was confidential, “Well, we’re going to be running into some weather but it’s looking like three o’clock their time. Hopefully, no later than that.”
I looked at Jeff and shrugged. "That oughta be okay." For some reason, I was worried that my sister would get to the hotel and we wouldn't be there. This was stupid because I'd never even received an email telling me that she knew I was coming. I bit the corner of my thumbnail.
Bad weather coming down out of Canada made the flight longer and for a while, we considered landing in Atlanta to wait it out. But in the end we pressed on. As we came out of the cloud cover around Palm Beach it was raining and dark out. The city, despite the bright lights, looked heavy and somehow forbidding. I felt very bad about being here, like somehow this was all somehow not right.
As we were coming down I watched the bright lights of the cars on the wet streets. I decided that I didn’t really like this place, nothing much good had ever happened to me here.
We drove directly to my dad’s hotel. I wasn’t sure if Charlene would already be there, maybe she left a message or just never planned to show up.
As we walked into the hotel, Victor Chegas, the manager, was standing just inside the entrance looking tan and distinguished in a dark gray suit. But one thing he didn’t look was relaxed.
He hurried forward and said, “Chris! Thank God you’re here! The police are waiting! “Then softly, “It’s about your sister.” I knew it would be something like this!
A uniformed police officer came forward quickly and said, “Sir, you’re Christopher Bending?”
“Yes. What’s she done?”
He looked confused. “Nothing. Your sister’s being held hostage. The lieutenant wants you to come.”
With one cop car in front of us, and one behind, we followed them into West Palm Beach. Eventually, we came to an upscale looking street with restaurants and coffee shops. It appeared to be shut down and there we wall to wall cop cars with lights flashing. Floodlights were all pointed at one unit in a series of townhouses. They had us park well back and then led us on foot to a protected area right in front of the townhouse. The cop that brought us told us to wait while he went in search of his boss.
Apparently, Chatlene's husband had taken her hostage and was threatening to kill her. We didn't know that because anyone told us, it was just the general cop talk we overheard on the way from the SUV.
Somehow I was having trouble taking this seriously. This was the sort of shit she got herself into all the time. It happened twice with her drug-dealing boyfriends when she lived in Denver. But she had always been able to turn it around. She even got one guy to turn himself in to the police while she walked away looking for the next jerk.
I stared at the front of the townhouse and noticed that the front door was open a fraction of an inch and I wondered if he was watching us through that space. In my mind, he was crouched behind something with a gun, waiting in the dark for someone to attack. I wondered where Charlene was, tied up in a bedroom, dead, I didn’t know. My sister, why can’t she be a normal person.
I guy in a suit walked over to me and started to explain, “Mr. Bending, we’re doing everything we can do. We got officers everywhere, swat team guys everywhere. In a couple of minutes we’re gonna try talking to him again. We gotta find out about the kid.”
I said, “Huh? Kid? Whatyamean, kid?”
He gave me an odd look. “Your nephew, Oliver. We tried to get him to tell us about the boy but….”
I couldn’t get my head around it. For one thing if Charlene had a kid she probably would have beaten me with the fact while she conned money out of me.
“You mean she’s got a child?
He looked at me like I was crazy. “Of course! The husband has them both in there and we’ve already heard one shot.”
I leaned back against the cop car and tried to get my mind around this. A kid. Why didn't she just tell me? This felt like it couldn't be happening, my sister, with a kid, being held hostage. Why hadn't she told me?
The sound of the shot made everyone jump and some of the cops drew their guns.
It wasn't a plan or even a conscious thought. It was just a reaction, like a pulse of autonomic energy. It seemed like the cops started yelling before I even did anything, but then it was like I was in another world and time wasn't one second after another, time was in slow-motion. I heard Jeff yell at me to stop, but I’d started running with all my strength, my eyes fixed on the slight opening by the door. Then all the cops were yelling. Yelling at me to stop and at each other to not shoot me.
It was about a hundred feet away and halfway there the Saint Christopher medal around my neck bounced out of my shirt, I grabbed it and squeezed it over and over, and over, until I crashed through the partially open door.
It was like still images, photographs, horrible, horrible, photographs. It didn’t seem possible, they didn’t look like real people, they looked like nightmare people, like people out of a Salvador Dali painting, melting. My sister lying by the door like she had been trying to make a break for it, and the guy, I didn’t even know his name, sitting in a recliner with a bottle of bourbon spilled between his legs, the gun in front of the chair, his arm dangling down almost pointing at it. And the blood on the wall behind the chair, slipping slowly down, the blood everywhere, a red glow, like they had thrown buckets of it around.
I guess I knew I was crying, but I had seen horrible before and I was looking for the boy. I started to head for the bedrooms just as about a hundred cops filled the building and grabbed me. Everybody was screaming, mostly at me. I tried to pull away from them and I succeeded for a split second, but then they grabbed me again. Then I heard Jeff say, “It’s me, Chris, it’s me!”
Then the cop right in front of me yelled, “Get him the fuck oughta here! For God’s fucking sake! You’re crazy! Get’m oughta here!
Jeff tried to pull me away, but I fought him. Then he said, "The boy's not here, Chris! They gotta find him."
Jeff pulled me out of the building my legs barely keeping me up. Outside, the street was lit up with floodlights. My heart was pounding and upchucking was a definite possibility. I looked up and down the wet street. I felt like I was crazy. God, how I hated this town! But I should have come sooner. This changed everything.
All of the activity was in the house but then, two hundred feet away down at the end of the area the cops had cordoned off, I saw a small Asian woman wearing a white smock and black trousers hesitantly go up to one of the cops standing guard. She was holding the hand of a small boy with dark hair. The cop grabbed his radio and spoke animatedly. A moment later the lady and boy were engulfed in police officers.
I started to trot over to them but Jeff grabbed me and said, “Give them a moment to figure it out. But there’s someone here who can help.”
I looked up and there was a tall man about fifty years old wearing a dark blue suit looking concerned but utterly composed. He held out his hand and said, “Christopher, my name is Ralph Forrester. I’m an attorney; your grandfather said you needed me.”
I pointed at the scrum of cops. “Please do something! I think my nephew is with those police officers. His mother and father have just been killed and I don’t want them taking him to the police station. I’d rather they talked to him at my hotel. Oh, and they’re not too thrilled with me.”
He squeezed my shoulder and said, “That shouldn’t be a problem. You’re staying at your father’s hotel?”
I nodded. “Yes. His apartment, not in the hotel.” All very civilized. Do you come here often? No, I’m afraid I’m just here for the season. Blood on your living room walls? Yes, but the help will get it.
He glanced around at the flashes going off. It was like everyone in town with a camera was here. “Best that we try to stop the photographers. Well, you can’t stop them but let’s not give them too many chances.”
Jeff said, “We’ve got a big Suburban. I can fill it with security guys, that should make it harder for them.”
Ralph walked over the cop who looked like he might be in charge and then everything changed. After that, they couldn't do enough for us. I didn't know what Ralph said to them but it sure worked.
We ended up being surrounded by cops and security guys, making a wall of them to stop the photographers. Oliver looked small but the only sign of his being afraid was that his left hand was twisting his right index finger.
I quickly hunkered down in front of him and said, “Oliver, I’m your Uncle Christopher.” I never dreamed of saying those words.
I held out my hand for him to shake, his hand came forward hesitantly and we shook hands. His voice was deeper than I expected.
He said, “My mom said you were coming.” His blue eyes were glistening.
I explained, “The thing is, we gotta get outta here right away, but we wanna do it so nobody gets pictures of you. So I’m gonna pick you up and carry you to the SUV. But when I do, I want you to wrap your arms around my neck and bury your face against my chest so they can’t see you.” The thought that made me crazy was the thought of him being haunted by pictures of this appearing everywhere. Pictures that people would be publishing for the rest of his life. I wasn’t going to let that happen if I could help it.
He said, softly. “Okay.”
“Don’t be afraid. Nobody’s going to hurt you.” I couldn’t tell if he knew his parents were dead. But I figured he had to have suspected it.
When I picked him up his arms immediately went tightly around my neck and his face was pressed into the side of my neck. I called to Jeff, “Okay, Jeff, let’s do it.”
When I stood up with Oliver in my arms the wall of guys had tightened to the point where I couldn’t see how anyone would get a photograph. But I was pretty sure I’d be wrong.
They got us into the back seat of an SUV in between two huge guys both of whom were holding their jackets up against the windows while the flashes went off like a fireworks display.
I stuck my face down against Oliver’s ear and said softly, “How are you doin?”
He nodded and said, “Okay.” Then, “My mom and dad are dead, right?”
I whispered, “Yeah. I’m sorry.”
He said, “I knew they would be. I knew this time was gonna be bad.”
“How did you know to go to that Asian lady”
I could feel his warm breath on my neck. He said, “My dad sent me there. He said it was gonna be really bad and that I should run to Mrs. Liu. She’s nice.” Charlene didn’t send him away, his dad did, he wanted him safe.
I thought I’d take a chance and ask him a painful question. “Was your dad nice?”
He nodded yes against my neck and said, “When she left him alone. We used to go fishing.” For the first time, his voice had choked up a bit. I wasn't going to ask any more questions. I had a hunch I knew in a general way what happened.
I said, “We’ll be at the hotel soon and maybe tomorrow we’ll get outta here.”
My dad’s apartment is huge but I never thought so many people were accompanying us there. It was more like a cocktail party. The mayor of Palm Beach was there, the mayor of West Palm Beach and the respective chiefs of police of both cities were there along with the sheriff and innumerable plain cops and detectives. There must have been twenty-five people in the living room. They weren’t really there for me or even for Oliver. They were there for the publicity and because of my grandfather and my father.
I got Ralph to ease them all out while Jeff had taken Oliver to the master bedroom and posted a security guy at the door to stop anyone except the detectives actually working the case to enter. They brought in a doctor to make sure he was physically all right. He was. Mentally, ah, that might be another matter.
I spent twenty minutes talking to Nick, my dad, and my granddads. They all wanted to come, I told them not to, we weren't going to be here long. Nick was supportive and said that anything I decided he’d back.
I was in my dad’s office with Ralph.
He sat down on the sofa and crossed his legs. “Chris I have people out at the ranch where your sister and her husband lived. They’ll be bringing back clothing for the boy to wear. They’ll probably be here soon. I’m assuming you’ll want to get out of here.
From what we’ve seen so far it looks like Mr. Carr and your sister owned some used car lots and a Jeep dealership. By the way, they were definitely married. The ranch isn’t much but it’s a hundred and twenty acres of land pretty near to West Palm Beach. They also owned the townhouse. We don't know yet about any bank accounts. With things like this, there will always be lawsuits so I advise you to engage counsel."
I said, “I don’t know anyone. I’d like you to handle it.”
He nodded and said, “We’ll take care of everything, and if I say so myself, we’re the best. I’m assuming you’ll want us to engage with your attorneys in Milwaukee.”
He continued. “Apparently they fought a lot and from what I’ve heard so far your sister seemed to have been the aggressor. But there’s always two sides to these things.”
I said, “My sister was a monster.” I grimaced at my own words. I shook my head. “I wish that weren’t true, but, unfortunately, it was true.”
Ralph said, “Well, the police say that he shot her and then killed himself. It’s important, legally, to establish that, and I believe it won’t be an issue.”
I said, “Why would it matter?”
He sighed. “It’s the sort of thing we have to think about to protect our clients. Insurance and estate things.”
“Ship the bodies to Milwaukee. I’ll bury them next to each other so that Oliver can visit and pay his respects.
I was exhausted but wanted to talk to Oliver before I went to bed. When I entered my dad’s bedroom was dark except for the light being reflected up from the city, he was lying with a light blanket covering him. He looked up when I came in.
I whispered, “Still awake?”
He nodded yes. I walked over, kicked off my shoes, and lay down on the bed next to him. I said softly, “Try to think of other things. When we get to Milwaukee you’re gonna have a puppy.” I smiled. “His name is Puppy. I guess cause I don’t have much imagination. You can give him a name. Whadya think would be good?”
It took a while before he said anything, but then, “Is he a nice dog?”
“The best. He came from a place that was really mean to dogs, but we fixed him up and he’s good as new.”
“Why did they do that?”
“Some people are just like that, Oliver. But he’s fine now and he loves everyone, and he’ll love you.”
Oliver rolled over on his side facing me. “What color is the puppy?” He reached out and touched me with his fingertip like he was trying to see what my reaction would be. A test.
I raised my arm and said, “C’mere.” He scooted over so that his head was on my chest and his arm was bent with his fingers by his mouth. I kissed the top of his head.
I said softly, “Puppy is kinda white with maybe a little light tan, but mostly white.”
As I wrapped my arms around him he said, “Okay.” But his body was shutting down and he was dropping off to sleep, I didn’t say anything more. More than anything he needed sleep.
We hadn’t talk about what happened because I figured he needed a break from that. It was just too overwhelming for a little kid to come to grips with it. I was still fully dressed but I didn’t have the strength to get up. I pulled the blanket up over us both and drifted off.