We like to think of our bodies as amazingly sophisticated eco-systems.
It’s enough to make a rational person blush.
We like to think of our bodies as amazingly sophisticated eco-systems.
It’s enough to make a rational person blush.
Hart spent the night at his house and woke before dawn after a fitful rest. He’d slept in his and Sonia’s bed for the first time since her death and his sleep had been plagued by eerie, disconnected dreams. Now he puttered around the house, coffee in hand, walking from room to room with no apparent direction, a wide-eyed somnambulist. He looked at each room as if seeing it for the first time. After about an hour, he took a nap on the couch.
He awoke in the still early morning with a start, a vivid image of a pregnant Sonia emblazoned in his mind’s eye. He drank two full glasses of water from the kitchen tap then stood exactly over the spot where he had found her. He lay down there, hoping to embrace what remnants of her spirit were still caught in the tiles, but felt no trace of her, only the cold floor, more unsettling than a ghost. He turned over, folded his hands across his stomach and stared at the ceiling. He didn’t move for an hour.
“That’s it.” He stood up and blew his nose. He dialed the number for a cleaning service and asked to speak to the manager. For an exorbitant sum, he arranged for a cleaning team to come that day to scrub and shrink wrap the house. Then he called his father-in-law.
Bicky showed up a few hours later and scanned the place like a realtor performing an appraisal. The cleaning crew was well into it and some of the rooms had already been “sealed off,” vacuumed and dusted from floor to ceiling with the furniture draped as if the occupant would be absent for the season.
“What the hell’s going on?”
“I’m catchin’ a red-eye back to Philly tonight. I got an oil cleanup to close down.”
“I know that. What’s all this?” Bicky’s arm arced out elaborately, a gesture that reminded Hart of float riders during the Thanksgiving Day Parade. “It’s only going to take a couple more weeks, right?”
Half a dozen cleaning people scurried around, dusting and draping. Hart had promised them double pay if they finished in four hours.
“Then what are they doing?”
“Come.” Bicky followed Hart into the kitchen. Hart closed the door behind him.
“Do you want something to drink?” Hart asked. Bicky shook his head and sat down, but a second later changed his mind. He pulled a bottle of Dewar’s out of the cabinet and poured himself two fingers. He made a face, but took another swig.
“How do you drink this stuff?” Bicky walked to the fridge, tossed a couple ice cubes in his drink and poured a swig from the bottle to freshen it. Then he sat down on one of the bar stools around the island. “I’m all ears.”
“I’m not coming back.”
“What do you mean?”
“What word in the sentence didn’t you understand?”
“You have to come back. You have two more years on your contract.”
“So sue me.”
“Now how would that look if I sued you?”
“Is it always about appearances?”
Bicky shook him off and turned to look at the window. “What did you do last night? Catch a ghost or something? You sound like Sonia talking.”
“She’s been talking for a long time. It’s only now that I’ve stopped to listen.” Hart pulled up a stool. “I’ll finish the job and I’ll leave that river clean as technology can get it. But after that, I’m done.”
“Hey, you listen to me. You can’t just…”
Hart raised his hand to silence his father-in-law. “Don’t give me any grief about this, Bicky, and maybe I’ll come back as a consultant. But it’s a six-month sabbatical, at least, or no deal.”
Bicky rolled his head around, stretching the tension out of his neck. “Fine,” he said. He rubbed his temples. “I guess you finally figured out you’re rich. If you sold all the Akanabi stock Sonia left you on the open market, you’d be very rich. Stinkin’ rich.”
“You think that’s why I’m doing this? Because I suddenly have money?”
“Why else? You’re not much of the power-broker type, although you have your moments. You’re more of the ‘how can I serve you?’ mentality. It doesn’t do much for me personally, but I can see the necessity of it. We can’t all be boss, right?”
Hart scoffed: “Your single-mindedness never ceases to amaze me.”
“You’re not going to find whatever it is you’re looking for, you know. Not if you searched for a hundred years.” Bicky drained his glass and rose to go.
“Where can I reach you if I need you?”
“Cell phone,” Hart said.
Bicky sighed and stared at the spotless tile floor. “I still see her there, much as I try not to. I guess you do, too.”
Hart thought he saw Bicky’s eyes begin to water, but the old man turned before he could be certain. “You’re trying to save a world that has no interest in being saved,” Bicky called over his shoulder. “You’ll call me when you realize it.”
Hart watched him walk, stiff but proud, to the front door, an elegant man, even on the verge of defeat. Hart poured himself three fingers. The day was already turning out to be much longer than anticipated.
to be continued. . .
click here to see what came before
The funeral had been a splendid affair as funerals go, and Bicky personally greeted each of the four hundred mourners that had been appearing at the house since mid-morning to pay their respects. Now, twelve hours later, with the mourners gone, the caterers packed up, and the musicians disbanded, the house took on an eerie quiet, punctuated by the occasional clanging dish Mrs. Banes loaded into the dishwasher. Only Bicky, Hart and Jerry Dixon remained.
“Was anyone there when it happened?” Hart asked. They were alone in his study.
Bicky sat brooding in the study where he’d come often during the day to escape the crush of people with their endless outpouring of sympathy. Now, he stared at the fire’s glowing embers, sipping a Chivas on the rocks, the distant look in his eye tipping Hart to the possibility that Bicky might not be home at present.
“When I was young, this was years before we discovered oil on our land, when we didn’t have two nickels to rub together, that is, my father used to take me and my brother, Mason, trout fishing in the back country. I don’t know if you’ve spent much time in West Virginia, but it had some of the most pristine and diverse ecocultures of all our fifty states, California and Florida notwithstanding. We’d fish for two or three days, eating to fill our bellies and stashing the rest in the mountain stream. That water came flowing down just like nectar from Mount Olympus and was colder and clearer than any spring water you’ll find on the market today. The fish stayed better there than in a fridge. We’d bring back what we caught and my Mom would cook it up with some potatoes and kale from her vegetable garden. You can’t buy fish like that today. Not even in the high end food markets. They just don’t exist anymore. So many things don’t exist anymore.” Bicky shuddered.
Hart grabbed a blanket off the couch and made to cover Bicky with it, but stopped short by embarrassment, left the blanket sitting on the arm of the chair and returned to his seat.
“Sonia used to do that all the time when she was a little girl,” Bicky said. “Cover me. But that was before she learned to hate me. Of course, she always liked my money.”
Hart had shot his emotional wad during the course of the day and didn’t want to talk about Sonia now. “Maybe you need to go back to West Virginia for a visit. Some trout fishing might help with the…with all this.” Hart waved his hand toward the study door where the sounds of dishes being stacked sliced through the silent hall.
“The West Virginia of my youth is gone. Just like everything else.” Bicky sighed and took a big swig of whiskey. “Did you know they blow the tops off of mountains there now, just to get at the seams of coal nestled underneath? They smother miles of streams with the rubble, pristine mountain streams, and call it progress. All together, in West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, a couple others, the coal companies have buried over seven hundred miles of headwater streams with their little extraction business. Headwaters. That’s where the stream starts. And they say oil kills wildlife.”
Bicky gave a short, jagged laugh, drained his glass and threw it against the back wall of the fireplace where it exploded in a shower of sparks ignited by traces of whiskey. “Oopah,” he said, deadpan, turning to Hart for the first time since they’d be sitting there. “That’s what the Greeks say.”
“What the hell was that?” Jerry Dixon came running into the study, followed by Mrs. Banes. Jerry’s eyes were bloodshot. He was drunk.
“Are you alright, sir?”
“Yes, Mrs. Banes. I’m fine. I regret, however, that I’ve made a mess in the fireplace.”
“Glass is it?” She stepped forward and gazed into the fire. “Shall I clean it out now?”
Bicky shook his head. “Tomorrow’ll be fine. Why don’t you go home now.”
Mrs. Banes nodded in weary gratitude. “If you’re sure you won’t be needing me.”
Bicky nodded. Mrs. Banes had been in the Coleman’s employ for over thirty years and although Kitty had come to treat her like family, Bicky rarely said a word to her unless giving an order. Mrs. Banes was wary of his silences, and his temper, having seen both in action.
“Well then, I’ll take you up on the offer. Thank you, sir.”
“Is anyone else still here?”
“No, sir. Last ones left about half an hour ago.”
“I’ll walk you out then,” Bicky said. Mrs. Banes’ eyebrows shot up, but she covered it over nicely by scratching her forehead.
“Goodnight, Mr. Hart. Mr. Dixon.”
“Goodnight, Mrs. Banes,” Hart said. He watched her move stiffly out the door, a baffled look on her face. Jerry sat down opposite Hart.
“How you doing, Jerry?”
“I’ve been better.” Jerry pulled a much-used hankie out of his back pocket and gave a full-throttled blow. Deep circles hung like end-of-the-party streamers under Jerry’s eyes and the creases in his brow appeared etched in stone. Apparently, Bicky wasn’t the only one feeling the pain of Kitty’s sudden demise.
“Of all things to go. Her heart was bigger than anyone I knew.” Jerry blew his nose again, a resounding effort culminating in a silence broken only by the crackling of burning wood.
Hart felt the hollowness of his own muscular organ, its ineffectiveness. That his eyes were dry and his breathing passages open came as no surprise. Given the sheer volume of bodily fluids that had passed through his nasal and ophthalmic cavities in the months following Sonia’s death, he wondered whether he’d ever shed another tear.
There was something now, about Jerry’s body language, about the way he rubbed his eyes, so hard and rough they might pop out of his head, that seemed scary, familiar. They sat in silence, Hart circumspectly watching Jerry, puzzling it out until he was struck with an analogy more solid than any wood iron. He stared at Jerry in disbelief until Jerry wiped his nose, stifled a sob, and confirmed it for him.
“I loved her.” Jerry coughed, covering the words that had escaped. “Too long. And yet not long enough.”
The confession hung in the air like skunk spray, fetid and impossible to ignore. To Hart, Jerry appeared caricature-like, the undeniable look of guilt spread thin across his face. Jerry swallowed hard – Hart watched his Adam’s apple wobbling under the strain – before continuing.
“I’ve been in love with her for over thirty years. There was nothing I wouldn’t do for that woman.” His eyes trailed off after his voice and Hart could almost see time winding backwards to the point that even Jerry’s voice changed, losing the throatiness, the slightly harder edge that comes with years of use.
“We met at a party Akanabi had for all its customers. In those days, they really knew the meaning of customer service. It was this swanky affair and I was handling security. I was pretty new. Only been with the company six months. Kitty gave a little toast to honor all those customers that kept Akanabi in business and then one to honor all its faithful employees. Later we chatted over the hors d’oeuvres. She was just beautiful. I made it my personal goal to find out everything I could about her. Even without digging, you could already see the cracks forming in their relationship.” Jerry took a sip of whiskey and stared at the bottom of the glass straight through to the last few decades. “For over thirty years, I loved her. And I’ll keep on loving her long after that bastard has taken a new wife.”
“So that was when they were first married?” Hart asked. “Before she had Sonia?”
Jerry stiffened. “Go ahead. Ask me,” he said.
“Did you . . . did she love you back?”
“Yes,” Jerry said, his voice smaller than a minute. “But, I didn’t know until it was almost too late.” His face contorted. “God, it feels good to finally tell someone.”
Hart heard footsteps behind him and jerked around to see Bicky walk into the room.
“Tell someone what?”
Jerry stared, wide-eyed at Bicky, but said nothing.
“About his Golden Retriever,” Hart offered. “He was saying how he hasn’t felt this bad since his Golden Retriever died.” Jerry’s look said he would lick Hart’s boots clean with his tongue next opportunity he got.
“That’s just like you, Jerry. Likening my wife to a dog.” Bicky poured himself another Scotch before dissolving in his chair. Hart could almost see Bicky’s energy draining from him, running in rivulets across the hardwood floor.
“Come to think of it, you always did enact a certain aloofness around her. Something I could never quite decipher. Bordered on downright rude, I thought.” Bicky took a big slug of his whiskey without so much as a glance in Jerry’s direction. “You couldn’t say it was justified. Kitty might have been a lot of things, but rude was the least of them.”
“I was never rude to her,” Jerry replied. “I just…. Bicky, I want to tell you something.” Hart looked at Jerry whose face had become an expressionless mask. “I…. It’s just….”
Bicky shot Jerry a withering look. The confession died in Jerry’s throat, leaving a gaseous trail in its wake. He coughed again, emitting a puff of anxiety and guilt as obvious to the casual observer as a passing cloud. But Bicky was staring into the fire, dousing his own sorrow within the prescribed confines of his cerebral cortex and his whiskey glass. He had not a brain cell to spare for observation.
Jerry stood up, wavering. “I’m gonna head out.”
Hart sighed, relieved. The male need to be territorial was pronounced even when the grand prize was six feet underground. The last thing Hart wanted was to watch a pair of middle-aged men go at it on the floor of Bicky’s study.
“I’ll see ya’,” Jerry said. Bicky sat stone-faced without taking his eyes off the fire.
Hart walked with Jerry as he stumbled down the hall to the foyer.
“How about I call you a cab? You don’t look like you’re in any shape to drive.”
“Death might be a welcome change.” Jerry said, managing a weak smile.
Hart gave Jerry’s shoulder a squeeze. “It’s not you I’m worried about.”
“I know. Always the other guy.”
Hart punched numbers into his cell phone, but Jerry grabbed it and disconnected the call. He looked Hart dead in the eye for several moments before handing the phone back.
“You didn’t know, did you?”
“The last time you saw Kitty she had just had a stroke.”
“Jesus. I thought something was strange, but…. Why didn’t anybody tell me?”
“You know, Kitty. Doesn’t want anybody knowing her business.”
Hart noted the usage of the present tense as if Kitty were still alive. Jerry wavered and Hart reached a hand out to steady him. Jerry grabbed the door frame.
“Her right leg was gimpy after that. Little bit of paralysis. Bicky wanted her to fly to Europe – bastard that he is, he still loved her – to see this neurosurgeon. Top guy in the field. She wouldn’t go. She didn’t leave the house much… after Sonia died.” Jerry croaked.
“I saw her everyday and he never knew. Probably the best months of my life.” Jerry pawed at his eyes and studied the toes of his cowboy boots. “Now she’s gone and I’m lost.”
Hart squeezed Jerry’s shoulder and was surprised when Jerry’s arms encircled him and held on for a long, fierce hug.
“I’m really sorry.” Jerry pushed Hart away and called over his shoulder: “For everything.”
He staggered to his car, leaving Hart standing in the open doorway, alone with his questions.
Hart returned to the study, heard Bicky’s stifled sobs and took a reverse step, intent on backing out quietly, but bumped into an end table instead. One of Sonia’s baby pictures rattled and crashed on the hardwood, shattering when it hit. Hart froze.
Bicky started, then rose as if the movement caused him pain. He dragged himself over to survey the damage while sixty years of promises broken and lies lived, of the shadow side of dreams, of futures never realized, now all congealed, weighing down the sleeves and the collar and lining the pockets of Bicky’s rumpled Armani suit. Grief, noticeably absent when his daughter died, now cloaked him in full regalia, aging him exponentially and adding decades to his countenance. In the months following Sonia’s death, Hart had often wondered how Bicky hid his grief so well when Hart himself had been rendered debilitated. Perhaps Bicky hadn’t cared about his daughter, as some had suggested, or perhaps he was just being brave for Kitty. But whatever threads had held him together, they’d all snapped now. Bicky was a wreck.
He stooped, picked up the picture and brushed away the broken glass cutting his finger. He flinched, but didn’t say anything. Instead he rubbed his finger across his baby’s face, caressing her over and over as if the repetitive motion might raise the dead. Hart saw the blood oozing onto the photograph and left the room.
He returned a minute later with a wet towel and a trash can. Bicky knelt, crouched over the blood-stained photograph.
“I just hope that by the time I find the bastard, life hasn’t wrung all the vengeance out of me. I’m getting old, you know.” As if to prove it, Bicky grabbed the table and hoisted himself up, ragged and slow. Hart took the photograph, so stained with blood you could no longer make out the subject, and wrapped his father-in-law’s finger in the wet towel. Bicky nodded once, acknowledging the gesture, and squeezed Hart’s arm before shuffling over to the wet bar.
Bicky picked up a tumbler and filled it. “It’s the least I can do for my favorite son-in-law.” He tried out his famous scowling smile. It still worked.
“Bicky.” Hart picked pieces of glass off the floor and threw them in the trash can. “I’d say vengeance is overrated.”
“Ah, but the momentary relief is as good as anything I’ve ever experienced.” Bicky laughed, a dry brittle cackle. “Besides. Don’t you want to know?”
“I do know,” Hart said. “It was an accident. You saw the body. She slipped and fell. Hard. Hard enough to knock herself out. If I would have been home…” Hart dumped a big piece of glass in the trash can and it shattered. He reached for a couple shards under the table.
“You said yourself you had the feeling that someone else had been there.”
“I said a lot of things. You can’t bank on anything I said then. If you remember, I wasn’t very lucid.” Hart was still smarting over Bicky’s decision to dope him up for the two days following Sonia’s death. The lost days. Hart dumped the last bits of the glass into the trash and stood.
“I’d tell Mrs. Banes to go over this with a vacuum in the morning.” He looked over at Bicky, but the man wasn’t even in the same stratosphere. A profound feeling of fatigue settled over Hart. “Hey, Bicky, unless you need me, I’m gonna get going. I’ve got a bunch of stuff to settle at the house before my flight back to Philadelphia tomorrow night.”
“You don’t think I knew she was having an affair?”
The question startled Hart. “Who?”
“My wife, that’s who.”
“Jesus, Bicky. Ease up, would you?” Hart was not inclined to share the information Jerry had imparted. It wouldn’t do any good. That Kitty chose to share the last months of her life with a man who obviously adored her over a man who rarely gave her the time of day did not come as a shock. What came as a shock was that she waited so long to do it. He was happy that Kitty had found a bit of happiness at the end.
Bicky shook his head in defeat. “I don’t know. But if I find the son-of-a-bitch I’ll kill him, too.”
“Well, that’s two people you’re gonna kill. But hey, the night’s young.”
Bicky grimaced. “That’s why she moved across to the other side of the house, you know. So I wouldn’t catch on to her shenanigans.”
Hart sighed, tired of arguing. “Enough. Kitty loved you, otherwise she would have left your flat ass a long time ago. Cause the way I see it, you had absolutely nothing to offer her.” He smiled with the last words, meaning it as a bit of sarcasm, but immediately wished he could retract them. He searched Bicky’s face to gauge a reaction, but there was none.
“I gotta go.” Hart squeezed Bicky’s shoulder. “Call me if you need me.”
to be continued
click here to read what came before
sharing the publishing success of our friends
is just one perk of having our own blog.
OIL IN WATER
After checking the perimeter of the house, Matheson and Traecy crossed the backyard to the barn, their flashlights sweeping the yard like spotlights. The barn door was open.
“Hhmphh,” Matheson said.
“What?” Traecy asked.
“Nobody’s here.” Matheson’s raised eyebrow said: “I told you so.”
“And your point is?” Traecy asked.
“These kids are messin’ with us.”
“You know, I think your brain’s fried like those donuts. The house is lit up like the 4 th of July, the barn door’s flapping in the breeze, and you think these kids are messin’ with you?”
“There’s no signs of a struggle, is there? I’ve been out here half a dozen times responding to that alarm. Each time it was a different excuse.”
“Yeah, well, we’d be remiss if we didn’t at least look around.” Traecy flashed his light inside the barn before walking in. Matheson followed. They scanned the empty room.
“What’s that?” Matheson said. He strained to hear something off in the distance. The partners walked outside. A noise from beyond the copse was drawing closer. Matheson and Traecy pulled their guns and crouched down, tigers at the ready.
The ATV burst threw the treeline, groaning and whining with the effort. The frame was bent and only one headlight worked, but it was running.
“Stop,” Matheson yelled. Avery’s eyes were dead-set ahead, and he would have zoomed right past had Matheson not jumped in front of the vehicle. Avery hit the brakes and stopped. The motor wheezed like an emphysema sufferer. Max yelped. Gil’s head lolled on Avery’s arm.
“Cut the engine,” Matheson yelled.
“I can’t. I have to get him to the hospital,” Avery said, his voice gravelly and full of bravado. Matheson reached over and turned off the ignition.
“No! We have to go now!” Avery roared.
Matheson grabbed Avery’s hands and held on tight. “Tell me what happened, son.”
Avery recounted the story as quickly as possible, ending with their escape from the woods on the crippled ATV. When he was finished, Matheson grabbed his shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. Avery began to shake.
Traecy shined his light at the trees. “He’s long gone by now.”
Matheson agreed. “Do you know what’s wrong with him?” he said, nodding at Gil.
“Concussion, maybe,” Traecy said.
“He’s got epilepsy. He might be on the verge of something.” Avery gave Gil a worried look and touched the lump on the back of his head. “He’s been holed up in the barn most of the week so I’m not sure about his meds.”
“Go get the car,” Matheson said to Traecy who took off running.
“Where’s your sister?” Matheson asked.
Matheson checked his watch. “Kinda late, don’t you think?” he asked, and shook his head. “I got daughters. Let me tell you, I’m not looking forward to these late night vigils.” He looked back at the house. “Maybe you want to leave a note or something in case she comes home. We don’t need another call to the precinct tonight.”
Avery nodded, looked at Gil and then at Matheson. Matheson took Avery’s place behind the wheel, allowing Gil’s head to rest on his shoulder.
“Thanks,” Avery said, and ran off toward the house.
Five minutes later Avery, Gil and Max were speeding to the hospital in the back of the patrol car.
It had been a slow night in the emergency room and the boys were home in less than three hours, stitched up, wrapped up, and already on the mend. They both had several cuts on their faces and arms, but nothing that required stitches. The ER Doc dressed the wounds with salve and put bandages over them with instructions to keep them dry for twenty-four hours. He even treated Max, completely against the rules, but Matheson had intervened, telling the ER Doc that, but for the noble canine, the boys might not be sitting here tonight. Matheson admonished to doctor to report any patient arriving with teeth marks in his leg. The doctor agreed and sent the boys home with packets of Tylenol with codeine for the pain.
Avery sat cocooned in a blanket on the couch. Despite the medication, he couldn’t sleep and decided to wait up for Kori. He had a spectacular view of the sunrise as it gained, then overtook the horizon, the explosion of color seeping into the dozens of smokey vapors dotting the sky, lending its luminescence to their whiteness, and adding to the overall brilliance. When you looked at a sky like this, there could be no questioning the existence of God. Although physically, Avery felt fine, it was the pain in his heart that was causing him grief, and this view, all orange and red and resplendent, was doing its damnedest to alleviate that ache.
As if drawn by the intense beauty, Gil padded down the stairs in his stocking feet, looking reasonably alert under the circumstances. He had a bandage wrapped around his head, looking like the revolutionary war boy who played the flute and marched without proper footwear. Avery stifled a laugh and turned back to the magnet that was pulling all the angst from him.
“You hungry?” he asked Gil. Gil nodded, but Avery didn’t even look. He knew what the answer would be. He began to rise, but Gil put a hand on his arm to stop him.
“Just wait until this is over,” Gil said.
Avery flopped back down and offered Gil part of his blanket.
Gil sighed at the ongoing show out the window. “Did ya’ ever notice how you stare and stare at something and it just blinds you? It’s like you can’t see it at all. But if you look away, even just off to the side a little, then, you can see it clear.”
Avery tucked the blanket up under Gil’s chin. Max jumped up and sat on both of their legs. The last vestige of color wrote its name in the sky.
“Kori should be home soon,” Avery said. Gil nodded.
The sunset faded, reminiscent of life’s impermanence, into a new, blue day while Avery and Gil, stretched out on the couch side-by-side, their heads and shoulders touching, fell fast asleep.
It was early morning when Kori came home to find her brothers sitting up and sound asleep. Max’s massive head was curled up on Gil’s lap, his body on Avery’s. Two things were strange: the T.V. wasn’t on, and Gil had a large white bandage tied around his head. She stood there, appraising the situation when Avery awoke.
“What the heck happened to you?”
“A lot. Where’ve you been?”
“Well, that’s helpful.” Avery yawned and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. Kori moved in for a closer examination of Gil’s contusions and abrasions.
“What’s going on?”
Avery drew a breath. “Somebody tried to break into the barn in the middle of the night. Gil chased him down, flipped the ATV and suffered a minor concussion. Max picked up where Gil left off and had him pinned up in a tree until he got shot. I just picked up the pieces until the cops got here and took us to the hospital.” Avery stretched his neck, sore from sleeping sitting up, and sat back matter-of-factly. “How was your night?”
Kori stared at him, silent and agape.
“I said how was your night?”
“Is this some kind of a joke?” Kori asked. Avery shook his head. Gil yawned, wide as Max ever could, and opened his eyes.
“No joke, sister,” Gil said. “This is the stuff movies are made of.”
“Oh yeah?” She studied Gil’s ashen-colored face, touched the bandages to see if they were real. Gil flinched for effect. “What would you give it?”
“Four stars,” Gil said.
“Four? You’re kidding me.”
Gil shook his head, slow and serious. “It was really scary.” He pinched himself on the arm. “And we weren’t even dreaming. We could have died, huh, Avery?” He looked at Avery and then rubbed noses with Max. “If not for Max, we could have.”
Avery shuddered involuntarily.
“Is somebody going to tell me what the hell’s going on?”
“I’ll tell you if you make us breakfast,” Gil said. “A big breakfast. I’m starving.”
to be continued. . .
Harold never set out to be a hero, but that’s generally how it happens, isn’t it?