Sidebar Interlude

This story is also from Parts of the Whole, the free ebook available at Smashwords. This was one of my favorites to write, and I hope you all like it, too. This is a story featuring Tom’s sister. Though she only gets a brief mention in The Sincerest Form of Flattery, this story shows how much family affects Tom, and what he will do for them. It’s also a pretty sweet story. Leave a comment!
Sidebar Interlude

I love my brother. I really do.

It’s the only reason I’m not killing him right now.

“Yes, I understand that Mr. Statford was present at the fire. That doesn’t mean he had anything to do with starting it.” I listened to the man on the other end of the phone for about three minutes as he meandered through four different versions of what happened at the warehouse before I jumped in. “Do you have any real proof? Anything at all besides the ramblings of three accused murderers who were,” I checked the notes, “stoned to the gills on a hallucinogen?” Another ten seconds of stammering. “That’s what I thought. You try bringing any of that to court, and I’ll have your license on my wall and you in jail for wasting the court’s time and impersonating a lawyer and possibly a human being. Are we clear?” I hung up, not waiting for the answer. Forty-seven minutes was enough with that slime.

It had already been a long day in my office, and that was the third call about my private detective brother in the last two hours. Though I was glad he kept me on retainer, I wondered if he knew just how much trouble I kept him out of. I had always thought it was the other way around, but he was family, and he never really did anything technically illegal, and it really was fun sometimes ripping apart some big time corporate attorney with a few well-placed precedents.

Leaning back in my chair, I closed my eyes, letting the oak-paneled walls, the desk that sometimes was clear of work but was usually elbow-deep, the certificates of appreciation and my degrees from college and law school with my maiden name, Jennifer Statford, just disappear so I could relax for just one moment.

The peace was shattered within seconds as the phone rang. My eyes snapped open, and I let it ring, taking in a picture of my kids I kept near the phone so I wouldn’t eviscerate the poor idiot who was calling me right off the bat. The picture was a shot from our picnic last fall, just after Tommy and Susy got back together. My daughter was the oldest and had inherited my husband’s lighter-brown hair while getting my dark eyes and somehow mixing our smiles into something that got more adorable every time I saw her. She was wearing the shirt Tommy had gotten for her, proclaiming her a self-rescuing princess. Hanna was my daughter, but she was her uncle’s niece through and through.

Screw it. I have voice mail. I could call them back.

My heart as always ached when I saw little Jacob. He was three in the picture, and he was still very small. His hair was darker, but his eyes were light, and he had the same smile as his sister. So very small, but full of life as Hanna posed with him, his arm around her neck. The necklaces they wore mirrored each other.

Fourth ring coming up, then off to somewhere I didn’t have to listen to it for awhile.

The pregnancy hadn’t been easy, and he had been premature by almost eight weeks. I remembered how tiny he was, how frail, when I saw him in the nursery. He didn’t cry. He couldn’t cry because his lungs weren’t developed enough. The doctors had given him one chance in two million that he’d survive, and I only got that information after I had threatened to sue them into bankruptcy.

The phone stopped ringing.

Jacob had been in an intensive care unit for nearly three weeks, not getting worse but not getting better, either. My mother had been with me the entire time, and my husband Arthur Gage had spent days looking for some other doctors who might give us a bit more help to save my baby. They couldn’t even tell us what was wrong, what was causing him to just not grow stronger as he got older. All they could do is tell me if he didn’t get better soon, his body wouldn’t be able to sustain itself as it grew. My baby boy would die, and there was nothing I could do about it.

Hanna and Jacob, such a pair of jokers. Where one was, the other wasn’t far behind. Hanna was fiercely protective of Jacob, as any big sister should be to her baby brother. His piping voice was always laughing as Hanna would joke with him, and she was always careful to include him in playtime. She kept him safe and he kept her smiling with his own laughter. They were so much my heart, and I didn’t know what I would do without them, and I never wanted to know.

At the end of the third week, the doctors had said there was nothing else they could do, and that my Jacob was going to die. They were blunt with me because I had begged them not to give me false hope, and my husband, being a trial lawyer himself, had badgered the doctors for treatments, experimental or otherwise. They had nothing, and knew nothing, and my baby was going to die.

Looking at him in the picture and remembering him hooked up to the respirator that was helping him breathe, it was almost like two different children. I had hated seeing him like that, and knowing I couldn’t do anything to help him. So helpless and defenseless, I broke down and cried the day I was told that he had less than a week to live. I cried for hours, trying to figure out just what I had done that was so bad that I couldn’t have two beautiful children, and why one had to die before his life was even fairly begun. I was glued to the window as the nurses changed his diapers and his linens and everything else, and I cried because that was my job. That was my baby, and I couldn’t touch him.

The phone rang again. Four rings, then voicemail. I wasn’t ready yet for another round of idiocy.

My eyes closed again and I remembered Tommy coming to me, his own eyes red from tears. I almost snapped at him that this wasn’t his child, but that was just anger and he had been watching Hanna while we were in the hospital. He took me to one side and asked me if I could watch Hanna for a couple of days. When I asked him why, he became guarded and told me someone named Larry had an idea, and it would be dangerous. He told me it was better I didn’t know exactly what he was doing, but if he was right, it could help save Jacob.

I didn’t even think about it. I said yes.

The picture of Hanna and Jacob was one of those high-definition glossy ones, where every detail jumps out at you, every twinkle of the eye, every emotion of the face, every wrinkle on a t-shirt, every grass stain on jeans. Their smiles were so full of life, and the camera had caught them both in mid-laugh, Jacob holding half a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich, Hanna with a salami and cheese sandwich. She was half again as big as her brother, and the way she doted on him, even at the age of five, showed how full of love she was.

Tommy just disappeared for two days. I heard nothing from him, and his voicemail filled up the first day. I was getting worried; as if I needed more to worry about, my brother had gone missing trying to help my son. I was going to lose them both, and I hadn’t even thought about going with him. I couldn’t stand the idea of not being there for Jacob, just in case.

For Mother’s Day, Hanna and Jacob had made me a card. It stood in pride of place on my desk, and it was the most beautiful thing I had ever been given. “To the best Mommy in the whole wide world,” it said in sparkles and glue and stickers and stars. “We love you.” That’s the word that always brings the tears close: “we”. I almost didn’t have a “we”.

Tommy showed up and he looked terrible. The coat he wore was torn in several places, and looked to have actually been on fire. There was a scratch down his left cheek, and it looked like he was shaping up for a black right eye. He moved with a limp, and his pants had dried blood on them. The small velvet pouch in his hand trembled a bit as he made his way to me. I hadn’t moved from the window since I had woken up fourteen hours prior. Arthur was with me, and had been holding me while we watched the machine no longer breathe for Jacob as it was removed. We both had cried until we thought there could be no more tears, and then we cried some more.

And here was my brother, looking like someone had run him through a meat grinder, and he was smiling.

“Let me go in there,” he said. “I can fix this.”

Arthur stood first and just said no. Jacob was already delicate and there was still a chance he could pull through, he said. If Tommy went in there, it would make things worse. Arthur was trying to be reasonable, but there was nothing in his words that were any more than knowing he was losing his son. Tommy just stood there, favoring one leg but not saying a word as Arthur put together one of the best arguments for going into our son’s room. He had argued before the Supreme Court before and won; this would be no contest. My brother wasn’t a Supreme Court justice. He was just some gumshoe who talked to himself and got caught up in messes I would always get him out of.

I stood also, and was about to echo Arthur’s words when I saw Tommy’s eyes.

His eyes were like both Jacob’s and Hanna’s eyes. Expressive and full of life. There was something else, though: confidence. Tommy knew what he was doing, and he knew this would work. I had seen looks like that before, usually on Arthur as he was getting ready for closing arguments, and always on me when I was dealing with some slimy corporate scum who gave attorneys a bad name. It was the look of someone who, even if you said no, would do it anyway, because they were not just right, but Right.

When Tommy smiled a crooked smile at me, I couldn’t say no. I put my hand on Arthur’s arm to get his attention. When he looked at me, I smiled and nodded. Arthur started to say something, then stopped talking and acknowledged defeat. Tommy put his hand on Arthur’s shoulder and pulled him close in a hug, which brought me close as well. I heard Tommy whisper something to Arthur, who nodded sharply several times. To me, my brother said, “Keep the nurses off me until I finish, and we’ll get Jacob good as new. Cool?” He could have asked me to capture the sun and moon for a chance to save my boy, I would have done it.

The nurses tried stopping him as soon as he walked in, hissing that he was filthy, that he needed to be dressed properly, that he couldn’t bring anything in with him. Tommy didn’t say a word as he pushed right past the two duty nurses, the velvet pouch jingling in his hand. He said something to one of them to the effect that if some ancient demon stabbing him couldn’t stop him, she didn’t have a prayer. When her partner put her hand on his shoulder to stop him, Tommy spun out of her grasp. “Touch me again, lady, and they’ll be picking your teeth up off the floor. That’s my nephew.” I had never heard him so serious, and I knew he meant it. Arthur took her to one side, his hands on her upper arms. I did my part by echoing my brother’s sentiments to the other one. The nurse outweighed me by twenty pounds, but I was a mother, and there was no way I was going to screw up the one chance Jacob had.

Tommy got to the little bed they had for Jacob and stopped. He looked like he was listening to something. “You’re sure?” he asked no one. “Latin?” He pulled the pouch open and pulled out a small necklace with a charm on it. It looked something like an eye. It couldn’t have been bigger than a bottlecap, but it looked made of gold and had the smallest pearl I had ever seen in the center of it. “Shouldn’t it be Egyptian?” Tommy said as he set the pouch down on a tray and opened Jacob’s incubator. “Gods, Larry, if this is wrong…”

He reached in gently, to the hew and cry of the nurses. They were trying to get to the nearest call button to bring in a doctor, security, or both. I wasn’t about to let anyone mess this up, so I took a nearby bedpan and smashed it down onto the call button. It shattered into a hundred plastic pieces, the cable now dangling uselessly. The implied meaning was very clear. “Larry,” I said, and I could feel the tears starting again. “Please save my son.”

My brother looked at me, then looked to his left. “You heard the lady. Let’s do it.” With a gentleness I had never seen before in my brother, he placed the necklace around Jacob’s neck. I didn’t know how he did it, but it was a perfect fit. From where I stood, my weapon in hand, I saw the winking of gold against my son’s pale skin. Tommy pulled another necklace from the pouch, identical to the first one except it had a ruby no bigger than the tip of my little finger in place of the pearl. He held it above Jacob, who was starting to cough.

“Rock and roll,” Tommy whispered. Then he spoke in a deep melodic chant, and I watched a warm golden light flow from the ruby to the pearl and back again.

“Horus, salutem dare ad hoc puer.
Tuum oculus vigilate super eum.
Protegam vestra nota mali.
Exaudi cordis placitum,
Hoc pueri vita
Ut semper amor.”

He said the chant again, the volume rising on each word until he was shouting it. Wind started to blow, sending papers flying into the air, different pieces of medical equipment falling to the floor and cracked and shattered. It was like a tornado as the nurses were thrown into us and we were all four driven back against and away from the crib.

It was completely still around my brother and my son. Tommy held his left hand up to the roof while dangling the ruby amulet over Jacob. His head was thrown back as he screamed the words again, tears pouring down his face. Whether from pain or something else, he was crying, but his voice was strong, even above the wind shrieking, and he finished the chant. On the last word, there was a huge flash of light from the ruby and a clap of thunder. Tommy flew back off his feet into the viewing window, cracking it into a spiderweb of glass. He crumpled to the floor in a heap.

The wind gone, I ran to my brother, trying to see if he was okay, or even breathing. Arthur came with me, the nurses behind us. I knelt down beside my brother, afraid to touch him since he now had a head wound that was bleeding. He looked like he was breathing, and the blood flowed into his shirt collar. His right hand still held the necklace; somehow he had kept hold of it after being thrown ten feet.

I touched his face, trying to get a response. There was none. I said his name, barely a whisper the first time, then again louder. Nothing. My brother had tried to save my son, and now he was probably dying in front of me and all I could do was kneel down next to him and do nothing to help.
That was when I heard a small cry from behind me. I turned around, as did Arthur. It came from Jacob’s crib.

Jacob raised his small hands, so thin, so fragile, and he started to cry, long and loud. I stumbled and fumbled and ran ten feet that seemed like ten miles. The crib was wide open and I gripped the side, looking down on my baby.

He had kicked his blanket away, his legs moving in time with his cries, and they were healthy cries. So very loud and healthy. His little arms waved, and he looked so mad with his face crying. I cried right along with Jacob, and gently touched his hand. He gripped my finger with surprising strength and I let him shake my hand as he caught up on his crying.

Arthur put his arm around me and we watched our son give a belated but welcome introduction of himself to the world.

The nurses were beside themselves, completely flabbergasted. One of them checked Jacob’s vital signs while the other left to bring a doctor. I heard a grunting from my brother, and the nurse’s eyes went wide. She put down the thermometer and went to Tommy, grabbing up a bandage. He pushed past her and said to me, “Is he okay?” When I nodded, Tommy began weeping. “Cool,” he smiled through the tears. “Give this to Hanna,” he said, handing me the necklace with the ruby. “Don’t let them take that necklace off him.” I asked him what these necklaces were, he answered, “The Eyes of Horus, a gift from someone who owed me big time.” Tommy pointed at the ruby, “This is the sun,” then pointed at the pearl, “and that’s the moon. They’ll protect them.” He breathed in deeply, then exhaled, saying five final words with a beatific smile.

“He’s going to be fine.”

And then he passed out.

Over three years later, and Jacob had gotten so much better. He was walking and running like kids his age, and though still smaller than the norm, he was strong. Jacob was my bouncing baby boy, and I never let anyone take the Eye of Horus off. Hanna loved the necklace, especially when I told her who gave it to her. She never took it off, even when swimming. The necklaces never interfered with anything, and always seemed the perfect length to not get in the way.

The doctors didn’t know what to say or do other than beg me not to sue them for giving up on my son and removing the respirator. I offered that I wouldn’t if they forgave any damages that might have happened in that room. They accepted without question.

Tommy was treated and released the same day, the cut on his head stitched, the three stab wounds disinfected and closed, and the bruised ribs bandaged. He refused to stay any more than he had to, but he at least allowed Susy to drive him home after getting dosed with Demerol. Tommy always was hard-headed.

My cell phone rang, and I saw my brother’s name. I answered it, a bit softer than I probably would have had I not been reminiscing. “Jennifer Gage, attorney-at-law and saver of your ass.”

Tommy laughed. “Ah, Counselor, I tried calling your office phone. You must have just gotten off the phone with Morris Haverman.”

“Yeah, I did. Tell me the truth: Did you set that warehouse on fire?”

“Would you believe they had already set the fire, and I happened to accidentally kick a plastic can of gas into it?”

A smile tweaked my lips. “No.”

“Oh. Well, how about on purpose?”

“That I can believe.” I laughed in spite of myself.

“Hey, they were shooting at me,” he said. “Said I was some great destroyer. Stoned off mescaline, they were.” I could hear him shrug and completely forget that he had helped destroy a million dollars of merchandise in a warehouse. “So how are my favorite niece and nephew?”

I love my brother.

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~ by Walker on February 6, 2013.

One Response to “Sidebar Interlude”

  1. It sounds great. Can’t wait to read the book.

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