Protecting David-Finding Christopher 10
The weather, if anything, had gotten worse, the clouds were much lower and were a boiling dark gray. When I pulled my car out onto the street the wind rocked it and pelted the windshield with cold rain that felt like it was ready to turn into sleet. I was headed to the airport but somehow twenty-five minutes later found myself driving by the Presler house. The neighborhood was just out past the more heavily populated urban center, a decent neighborhood, but just. I had needed to see it, to somehow make it real. It didn’t look like much, just a typical row house, tan brick about halfway up and then wood. No sign of life, no lights but then it was fairly light out, no sounds, no movement, just rain pouring off of the roof. It didn’t seem possible that Chris was living here, that anyone was living here. No sign of Mr. Tam’s guys but I knew they were there. What did I expect to see? What did I think that I’d do?
I worked my way back to the freeway and headed to the airport. It would have been hard to miss their hangar, the name Transtell was spelled out in three-foot high letters across the front of it. I parked about thirty feet from the door and by the time I got to it I was soaked and cold. The door from the parking lot opened onto a small vestibule with gray tile floors and a coat rack bolted to one wall with four raincoats hanging on it. The door that led on from there was gray painted steel and had a serious looking Medico lock. There was a button next to the door. I pressed it and heard a bell go off loudly somewhere in the interior.
I heard footsteps on what sounded like concrete and then the door was opened by an attractive woman with dark hair. She flashed me a bright smile and stuck out her hand.
“Hi, I’m Linda Gibbons. You must be the man whose office called about the plane.”
I shook her hand. It was small and warm. “I’m Alex…Chavet-Kerry. Connie called…Wilder…Connie Wilder.”
She held the door open. “We’ve been expecting you. Well c’mon in and I’ll get you a cup of coffee. You look cold.” Again the thousand watt smile. She was wearing a dark blue flight attendant uniform and looked...perky. I could smell her perfume, something light and barely there at all and I could smell jet fuel too.
We walked thru a small office area and then thru another door. And then it was right in front of me, the plane. Big, bigger than they look outside—white with two small stripes, one gold and one black, that ran the length of the fuselage and then fanned out up on the tail. The Gulfstream G550 looks predatory, a bird of prey powered by oversized Rolls-Royce engines.
There was a tall blond guy in a captain’s uniform walking down the stairs from the plane. Linda said, “There’s Mike. I’ll introduce you guys and then get your coffee.” She glanced up at me again and said, “We’re very glad to see you.”
Mike Beverton had bright blue eyes, a slim hard body and a firm dry handshake. I was guessing his age at mid-thirties. His voice was deep. He said, “Billy’s says that you’re a good guy.”
I laughed. “He’s being kind and I could say the same about him. He saved my life at least once.”
Mike grinned broadly and it lit up his face. “Well he didn’t tell me about that but then he can be pretty closed mouthed, at least about some things. He sure likes working for your dad.”
“My dad likes him a lot too.”
He jerked his thumb towards the plane. “Well, let me show you around.”
We climbed up into the plane and to our left in the cockpit a dark hair young guy in a uniform turned around and smiled. Mike said, “That’s Jared, copilot. He was Air Force then United.” I smiled and nodded at him.
I own a lot of things, big things, around the world and every time the first time I step into them I always think, “How is it possible that I own this?” I felt the same thing with this plane, although I hadn’t yet bought it, I was pretty sure that I would.
Mike gestured at the cabin furnishings and said, “None of this was off the shelf. They spent another seven million after they bought the thing to decorate it. Didn’t want it to show up in the purchase price, afraid the board would go crazy. There’s an outfit that just does that. You know…deocorates these things. For awhile there I was wondering if they’d ever complete it.”
It was beautiful, luxurious and yet somehow restrained. Dark rich woods, soft leather, you could see where they had spent the money.
“Billy said I should ask about the number of landings.”
Mike grinned. “Less than three hundred. This was one of their last flings. And the maintenance has been the best. Everything is the best. The very best avionics too.” He shook his head. “For a time there it was just like the management would buy anything…spend anything. Basically when they ordered this they just said, “We’ll take it all.”
We sat down in the lounge, facing each other. Mike said, “You’re wondering how much.”
I grinned. “Just about to ask.”
“Forty-two. That includes everything in the hangar too, test equipment, parts and then all the office stuff. It’s a steal.”
It was that. “How come so little? I’ve looked around, everything is over fifty.”
He nodded. “They start there. Then the lawyers get involved and if it’s a major corporation they set up a committee to look into it and then lawyers are brought in to negotiate. Billy said that you could make the decision yourself and that I should make sure you got the bottom line price.”
He continued, “Frankly, most of the buyers are on the coasts, New York, L.A.. I would dearly love to see the plane stay here. For one thing, if it went to the coasts or to a big company, I’d probably be out of job. Lotta time big companies have their own crews. For another thing, I really want to stay here.”
It hadn’t occurred to me until that moment that there were jobs at stake, that real people would be worried about how they were going to pay their mortgages.
I smiled at him sympathetically. “Family here?”
He shifted uncomfortably and looked at his hands and then back up to my face. “My partner is here…a guy.” He shook his head. “I’ve never told that to anyone that I’ve worked for. Billy said that he was sure you’d be good with it. I’m hoping he was right.”
I looked him in the eye and smiled. “Billy knows I’m gay.”
Mike’s face was frozen for a heart beat and then he smiled broadly. “That shit! That total shit! He coulda warned me!”
I laughed. “Well I do agree, he can be a shit!” I looked around. “Why don’t you call your boss, find out who we transfer the money to.” I held out my hand to him. “I’m gonna trust you to see that they don’t screw me on some little shit.”
He looked a little skeptically. “There’s four of us, we’re all gonna be working for you?” I nodded yes. “And what about pay, benefits, all that crap?”
“Same pay, probably better benefits, totally free health care, match twenty-five percent of what you put into your 401k, like that. You won’t be unhappy.”
He still looked skeptical. “You know, just the rent on this hangar is ten grand a month? And there’s fucking insurance and all kinds of other stuff. Like a million bucks a year before you even take off.”
He cocked his head. “You’re sure?”
I laughed and said, “I’m sure.”
He slapped his hands on his knees and said, “I could kiss you!”
I grinned at him. “Better call your company first and make sure that they haven’t already sold it.”
But they hadn’t. It took a couple of hours to get everyone on the same page but then late in the afternoon, very late in Europe, the IBM 2094 in the Monte Carlo office of the Bank Haussman exchanged slightly more than thirty one million Euros for forty-two million U.S. dollars in the account of Krueger et Cie and then wired that money to the First Colorado account of the Krueger Corporation which in turn sent the money on to Transtell. Stanner’s people were going nuts because we hadn’t consulted them. As far as I was concerned Stanner could go fuck himself but, as it turned out, at four in the afternoon we really needed him.
I hate wind, most people do, so do animals, it stirs them up. The ride back to my office almost made me rethink the whole idea of living in Colorado, it was miserable. The wind was driving the rain like shotgun blasts and I almost just went home instead of back to the office but I wanted to be sure that everything went well with the money transfer and that Connie was starting the process to bring Mike and his crew into our employment.
As soon as I walked in the door and headed for my office a tense looking Connie poked her head out of her office and said, “Damn, I’m glad you’re back! Lyle just called! He said we gotta get Stanner over to Judge Samonsons court. They’re gonna review the whole damn thing. We got a shot at turning the thing around!”
I stopped dead in my tracks and started to shrug my raincoat back on. “Call Stanner! Get him over there! I’m gonna go there now! Tell Stanner I’ll see him there. The son-of-a-bitch better not fuck this up!”
The cold rain had just started to hit the hood of my car when my phone rang and a tense Randy Meyer from the detail of men watching the Presler house told me, “The kid is gone, Alex! We just got the microphones in place an hour ago and picked up Presler yelling at him. It was about that minister! He was coming over! Then five minutes ago the kid comes rocketing outta the house, running like a fucking deer! Nobody had time to react! The little shit can really run!”
Fuck! “Call the cops, Randy! Get people looking for him! There’s no place for him to go! And stop that fucking minister. I’ll be right there!” I quickly called Connie and told her what was happening and told her to get someone over to the courthouse to see what Stanner did. Then, sick with worry for Chris, I drove as quickly as possible to the Presler house. The only thing that I could think of was that I was somehow to blame for this that somehow I should have seen this coming and done something. That and I wanted to kill Presler.
Turning into Presler’s street I saw a car at the house across the street his and Randy Meyer standing on the front porch out of the rain. As soon as I pulled up he ducked his head against the rain and ran out to the curb. Dripping wet he slid into the passenger seat of my car.
“Alex, we set up a line of guys in cars about six blocks out and they’re working their way back in.” He shook his head. “Gonna be hard to spot him if he doesn’t want to be though.” He pointed back down the street. “Three blocks that way and you got the beginning of a commercial area. A million places to hide.”
“Did you talk to Presler?”
He shook his head. “Wouldn’t talk to us and then the cops showed up. They’re talking to him now.”
“Where’s that fucking minister?”
Randy grinned. “He had an accicdent. Car rammed his car a couple of blocks from his house. He’ll be okay…in a few days. Maybe he’ll limp for awhile.” He grinned. “Good thing we bought the insurance package with these rentals.”
“Good! That son-of-a-bitch! Have somebody call him and tell em we’re watching him and that if he keeps messing with little boys he just might never walk again. Now what do we do with fucking Presler, how do we get information out of him?”
“Nothing we can do right now, Alex. Maybe when the cops leave we could put some pressure on him. The thing is, with the cops knowing about this there’s not much we can do unless we could prove he was doing stuff to Christopher.”
I shook my head. “No way we’re proving that now. Unless….maybe when the cops leave we could try bribing him. Might be worth a shot. But I can’t imagine Chris telling him where he was going or even giving him any hints.”
The rain was beating down so hard on the car it was hard to hear and the street in front of us was a dazzle of fractured lights. “Okay, it’s gonna be hell finding Chris and we sure as fuck don’t have enough guys and I’m guessing that Mr. Tam doesn’t have anything like enough guys anywhere near us.”
Randy was nodding his head in agreement. “Alex, we could maybe get a couple more but the only way to get a significant number is to bring em in from other areas. We got quite a few in Chicago and then over on the coast, L.A. and San Francisco. The thing is that then you got a bunch a guys walking around not really knowing the area. You can give em maps but it’s nowhere near the same as them having lived here.”
“Okay, Randy, the only thing that I can think of then is the cops. But they’re not gonna assign many guys to this right now, not as many as I want anyway. Call the union, tell em you want to hire as many off-duty cops as are willing to work. I’ve got no idea how much money to offer but it’s probably gonna need to be a lot. They’ll probably want eighty maybe a hundred bucks an hour but I want you to offer two hundred an hour to the men that are out looking in the next hour. Tell em we’ll guarantee six hours and tell em that we’ll pay cash, that oughta get them. Nobody’ll declare it but who gives a fuck? Make em come over here and sign in with you so we’ve got some control. I guess we better give them some incentive to actually find him too, so make it twenty thousand to the guy that actually finds him, also in cash and make it clear that we won’t report it to anyone. Call Connie at my office and have her send whatever cash you need, we’ve got it in the office. In the mean time I’m going over and start walking through those strip malls. That’s gotta be where he’s headed.”
Randy nodded and said as he started getting out of the car, “The two bills’ll bring em out.” He already had his cell phone out and was punching in numbers. I pulled away from the curb and headed over to the strip malls that began a few blocks away and ran for miles. Pulling into the first one I sat for a minute and called Larry.
After swearing he said, “I’m coming over, Alex. We’ll look for him together.”
Until nine o’clock that night we searched store by store. The first store that we went into was a drug store and we bought umbrellas for five bucks each but ended up tossing them after a half an hour. We were soaked, totally soaked. No one had seen him but we didn’t let it go at that but actually physically checked every store ourselves. The owners didn’t hassle us, they seemed to understand and maybe had their own kids that they worried about. We figured that the way Chris had to be feeling he certainly wouldn’t be checking in with the store owners and asking for permission to stay there and he was small enough that he could tuck himself in almost anywhere, so we checked every corner.
Forty-five minutes into it we started being joined by lots of cops. They were going up and down the residential streets knocking on every door and asking if anyone had seen him and finally they were ahead of us checking the stores that we hadn’t yet reached. They fanned out so that we were like a ten block wide sweep of manpower slowly making our way out from Presler’s house.
At nine I pulled Larry over to the car and said, “Well what I was wondering is do you think there’s any way that he could have made it to that place he was talking about? That place that he kept asking us to drop him off in instead of taking him back to the area that CC was in.”
“Geez, Alex, that must be twenty blocks from there. I dunno. You want me to check it?”
“Yeah. You go there and I’ll check the old apartment where we found him.”
He nodded and yelled against the sound of the wind and rain, “I don’t see how he coulda made it to there but if you think there’s a chance. But if you’re going there call Mei and have her go with.”
I shook my head and yelled back, “Not much risk tonight. Bad guys don’t like to get wet.”
When I got back into my car I could feel the water running off of my clothes and onto the leather seats. I shook my head and thought, “This can’t be good for leather.”
As soon as I started the engine and pulled out into traffic my phone went off. It was Connie. She was ecstatic.
“He did it, Alex!”
Connie sounded like she was bouncing off of the walls. “He was brilliant, Alex! Chris is yours! God! You’ve gotta find him! You’ve gotta! And that son-of-a-bitch Eddie Monroe was there representing Presler. There’s no way that Presler can afford Monroe! Family Services was there pretending that they were really being impartial but even the judge didn’t believe that. Stanner just kept coming! He nailed them! Lyle was out in the hallway but I didn’t see him in the court. We’re gonna owe him, Alex. I dunno what but we’re gonna owe him.”
“I’m sure it’ll be money, Connie. Find out what he wants and pay him. I’d rather not have it hanging. Right now I’m heading over to the apartment where Chris’s sister lived, where we found him. I don’t really see how he’d get this far but it’s the only place he knows. Did Randy call you about money for the cops?”
“Yes. It’s taken care of. He’s got over thirty cops out looking.”
“I know. We’re practically running into each other. Did Stanner tell the judge that Chris took off?”
“No. He was waiting to see how it went and I thought a couple of times that he was gonna use it but he didn’t. Then later he told me that if it had looked like it was going against us he would have used it but he didn’t want to muddy the waters. He gave me the feeling that he thought Chris had just run next door or something. Like nobody was taking it too seriously.”
“Well, everyone has to take it seriously now.”
Fifteen minutes later I turned into the street where Charlene’s old apartment was located and my heart sank. What a fucking place. How could Chris have survived in this place? There seemed to be so many people plotting, to one degree or another against him, people who treated him as an object to be bought and sold. It was the kind of street where the weak became prey.
The rain was no heavier here but it seemed somehow so much worse. The atmosphere seemed so leaden, just one more weight crushing people down.
I was trying to think like a kid. Where would I go? Probably try to get in the building, he had done it before but that was when his sister was still living there. I looked up at their old apartment, it was dark but then it would be. How would he get in? Wait for someone to come along and try to get in with them…maybe. Maybe they’d let him in and take him to their apartment. Help a soaking wet little kid to dry off and warm up. Hypothermia, another thought, how long could he last soaking wet with it as cold out as it was?
I got out of the car and ran with my head down to the front door. Locked. I looked through the side lights but there was no sign of anyone. I started pushing buttons and finally a light came on in a unit on the third floor. Seconds later a hoarse voice came out of the speaker next to the door.
“I’m looking for a boy whose run away!” Even while I was saying it it sounded incredibly stupid. This was what boys ran away from!
He yelled, “Get the fuck away from here!”
I knew he was gonna hang up if I didn’t get his attention. “I’ll pay you a hundred bucks if he’s inside!”
He was quite for a minute, then, “How do I know you even got a hundred bucks?”
“Come down and I’ll show you.” Then I began to wonder. What if he had a gun? I could probably handle him without a gun but what if?
I saw him almost stumbling down the stairs, dirty jeans and even dirtier tee shirt. He stopped at the closed door and looked out at me. I held up the money and he opened the door.
“What’s the kid look like and why would he be here?”
“Short, up to maybe the bottom of my chest, dark hair, skinny. His name is Chris. He used to live here. His sister, Charlene, lived here too.”
The guy looked frustrated and turned in a circle and waved his arms. “There’s nobody here! Look! Fucking empty!”
“I’ll give ya the hundred if you let me come in and look!”
“Buddy, there’s nobody here! I knew her, that Charlene chick and she’s not here. Neither is the kid. I lock this place up as tight as a drum cause of the fucking neighborhood!”
“It’s a fast hundred for you. Gimme five minutes inside!”
He gestured me impatiently inside and then pointed a finger at me. “Five fucking minutes!”
I gave him the hundred and he took off. I shot up to Charlene’s old apartment and tried the knob. Locked. I reached up and the key was still there. I opened the door slowly and then called Chris’s name. Nothing. I walked in and even two feet in I knew he wasn’t there. It felt empty. I checked every corner but he wasn’t there. I went out and checked every hallway and every door that would open. There was a laundry room that was trashed and a room that held mechanical stuff that had a serious lock on it but that was all. Dead end. I went back outside and ran to my car, the streets and sidewalks were still deserted. The leather of the car seat felt like a wet sponge.
I started the car and sat there wondering. This feels right. There’s no logical reason that he should be here but it feels like he’s here. I turned off the car and ran for the building again. If not in the front, maybe the back. I circled around and almost broke my leg on a low chain link fence but managed to hobble around to the back. Garbage cans and the back porch of the building. I walked over to the porch, which was dimly lit by a single bare light bulb. Eight maybe ten steps up to the door and then where the concrete steps met the building a bundle of newspapers down on the ground in the corner but then I heard the sound, a low cry, a fading faint cry. I bent and pushed the newspaper away. He was so white, ghostly white, waxy white, he looked dead his dark hair plastered to the deadly white of his face by the falling rain. But he was making a sound and shivering with his knees up tight to his chin.
My heart almost stopped and I dropped to my knees next to him in the mud. “Oh fuck. Oh, Chris.” He didn’t open his eyes when I reached out and touched his shoulder.
I gently picked him up amazed again at how little he weighed. His clothing was drenched and I could feel his bones thru the cloth but now I could also feel him breathing. This time I stepped carefully over the fence and then quickly to the car, he hadn’t moved and his shivering seemed almost like a vibration. I knew that I had to get him to a hospital.
In the car I called Mei and got direction to the nearest hospital. She told me that she’d meet me there and that she’d notify everyone that Chris had been found.
I told her. “Bring some guys, Mei.”
“No, no problem. I just don’t want anything to go wrong.”
“I bring mens. I nah let nothing go wrong.” I smiled to myself as I hit the gas, Warrior Princess mode, locked and loaded.
Community General was only ten blocks away and I made it in a couple of minutes. Pulling up to the Emergency entrance two guys came running out with a gurney and scooped Chris up out of the passenger seat and took him away.
I parked in the Emergency parking area and followed them inside where a nurse led me over to a counter where they wanted to know if we had insurance. I told them yes but then when I filled out the form for Chris they saw that he wasn’t my son and wanted to know how I was going to pay because he wasn’t covered by my insurance.
She had gone from being nice to glaring at me. I was trying to be patient.
“I can give you a check.”
“Sir, we really don’t know how much it will be yet.”
“Or, I can give you a credit card. Visa, Mastercard, American Express…name it.”
“You can see why we prefer insurance.”
“I have insurance but you won’t take it.”
“Christopher isn’t your son, Mr. Chauvet-Kerry. He isn’t listed on the policy.”
“Well just charge the credit card for whatever you think it might be. Or do what the car rental places do and reserve some of my credit limit.”
She shook her head. “This will definitely be more than renting a car.” She shook her head slowly. “It’s not unusual for the Emergency Room to be $5000 if things get complex.”
This was all just too much after what I’d been through. “Look, just charge the fucking card for more than you think it will be. If it isn’t used, give it back. I don’t care!”
She looked at me skeptically. “Your card will take that?”
Just then Connie called me and I told her about the problems at the hospital. She said that she’d call the hospital and get it straightened out and five minutes later the woman behind the counter was my best friend.
Then Larry showed up looking just as tired and wet as I did followed thirty seconds after that by Mei and four security guys that looked like they were eight feet tall.
Larry said, “How is he?”
“I dunno, Lar, I’m still waiting to hear. Coming in here he wasn’t really awake but really cold…bad cold.”
He looked around. “I’m gonna find a doctor.”
Larry was headed to find a doctor just as the nurse came over and told be that we could see Chris and I waved Larry back. She led us back into a warren of rooms behind the Emergency room.
Halfway down a hallway a young doctor stepped out of a room and said, “He’s good. We’re warming him up and right now he’s really worn out.”
Larry said, “How soon can we…….”
The doctor smiled and interrupted him. “You’re not the Presler guy I take it? Chris said he was old and fat.”
Larry nodded and gestured towards me. “We’re Larry and Alex. We’re his foster parents…now. The judge just gave him to us tonight.”
He grinned and seemed to relax. “Gimme an hour and if the tests I ordered come back okay, you can take him home. I was gonna keep him here overnight but he’s anxious to get outta here. At least he’s anxious to get outta here with you guys.”
I asked, “Is he gonna be okay?”
He smiled and looked from Larry to me. “Yeah, now that you’re here. He was asking for you guys.” He looked at me. “He said that he thought that you found him but he wasn’t sure if it was a dream or not.”
I heard some movement coming from the room and looked around the doctor to the doorway. Chris was standing there wearing nothing but a hospital gown. I stepped towards him and he rushed forward and buried his face in my chest. Larry stepped quickly behind him and wrapped his arms around him.
Chris had tears in his eyes but he wasn’t crying and he wiped the tears away with his fists and said, “I knew you’d come.” Then he laughed and buried his face again.
Larry’s hands were on Chris’s shoulders but he brought them down and pulled Chris’s gown closed. He said, “Dude, you’re shootin a moon at the whole world.”
Chris looked at him and laughed. “I tried to tie it closed but it didn’t work.” He looked up at me. “Are we gonna go to Disney World? You said we’d go if I was back.”
I couldn’t think of a reason not to and one very good reason to do it. “First thing tomorrow, Chris.”
Larry looked at me. “It’s not too soon?”
“He can rest in Palm Beach. Then we can fly on to Orlando on Sunday. And it gets us outta here in case anyone starts having second thoughts.”
“It that possible?”
“I don’t think so. By Monday I’ll know….but I don’t think so. I’m gonna make the governor and [an] offer he can’t refuse.”
But I didn’t relax until we were tucking Chris into his own bed at home. We tried to get him into the pajamas we had bought but he made the argument that we didn’t wear them and neither did anyone he had ever known and in the end we were all just to tired for it to matter.
Larry said, “You sure you don’t want to wear em. They’re nice…and blue.”
Chris laughed. “How come you guys don’t wear em? You just wear boxers.”
So he went to bed in his briefs and a tee shirt. He looked angelic and happy but Larry and I, at least on some level, were waiting all night for the screaming to begin but it never did.