Second Dead

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Chapter 20: Winford’s last

Click click, tick. Click click, tick. Click click, tick.

The woman behind Winford drew a sharp breath.

Anthony said, “Father, now we can--”

“Enough. My decision is final. You will do well to remember I am your father. You will honor my last wish.”

“But, Father,” Phillip pleaded before he too fell silent under Winford’s gaze.

“Children, we all have our final hour. Although it is not given us to name our last hour, the Good Lord has blessed me with the grace and wisdom to spend my remaining days as I see fit. You must survive. I, for my part, must let you fulfill whatever destiny lies before you.”

Winford turned to Dad. “You see, Dave, I am a medical wonder.”

Winford passed his hand over a table filled with pill bottles. He tapped the blanket on his legs and said, “Gout, particularly bad just now.” He put his fist to his heart. “Bad ticker. I take four different pills to keep the blood pumping through my veins.

“Diabetes, high blood pressure, and a failing kidney all require copious amounts of medicine to keep this body alive. I have already started to run out of my meds. It is a matter of days before the toxins fill my body and extinguish the life the Lord has seen fit to impart upon this, his humble servant. Now that you have arrived I will bow to the inevitable and stop taking what medicine remains.”

Dad sat in his chair motionless. A sad look of comprehension crept across his face.

“Do not be sad, Dave. My time has long since been at hand. I have, by the grace of God, been living on borrowed time as it were. Several days ago, I had a major heart attack. My daughter here tells me I was clinically dead. By the power and majesty of the Almighty, I survived, for a while longer at least. Dave, I do not fear death. Quite the contrary.”

Click click, tick. Click click, tick. Click click, tick.

Dad didn’t respond but sat in his chair, looking morose.

“Mmm, perhaps you are not a believer.” Winford sighed.

“No, I believe… something.”

“Well, something’s better than naught.” Winford chuckled. “Faith is not necessarily a two-way street, Dave. Take heart in this if you can. The Power and the Glory loves all his children; even, those who have forgotten him.”

Dad stirred in his chair about to say something. Winford turned his attention to Klara.

“Why, hello, Klara. I didn’t see you there in the shadows.”

“Good morning, Mr. Spell. Did you ever find what we were looking for?”

“Regrettable, but no.” He smiled at Klara. “I must take this opportunity to thank you again for your help. I did so enjoy our talks.”

He turned to Dad, who seemed to sense Winford wanted to ask about Mr. Bulger. He shook his head and nodded toward Klara. Winford stared at him for a moment, then let out a quiet, sad, sigh.

“I pride myself on being able to judge a man’s character, Dave. I believe you to be a good man.” He broke away from Dad’s gaze and addressed his oldest son. “Please, go and prepare the truck. Time is indeed short.”

“Yes, Father,” Anthony replied.

“Anna, take Klara and help them,” Dad croaked in the dim candlelight.

Klara left with the two men. I, however, did not move. I preferred not to leave Dad alone with Winford, afraid of what he might ask of him. Winford gazed at me, bemused. Dad followed his eyes and smiled at me before he returned his attention to Mr. Spell.

“Sorry, Winford. I don’t think I can make her leave.”

“Understandable, and commendable. I too have my guardian angel.” He patted the young woman behind him on the hand. “She forgets from time to time I am her father and ought be obeyed.” Winford smiled.

“Dave, I have a week to live at most. At least my passage to the afterlife will be much easier now I know my children have a chance. It is entirely unreasonable of me and unnecessary perhaps; but I must ask you anyway. Mr. Wallis, would you please lead my children away from here and do your best by them?”

Click click, tick. Click click, tick. Click click, tick.

Dad hunched in his chair misty eyed, straightened up and replied, “I’ll keep them safe.”

“Never promise what you cannot guarantee,” Winford said. “All I ask is for you do your best by them.”

“You have my word,” Dad whispered.

“Excellent. The formalities are settled,” Winford said, to all appearances put at ease by Dad’s oath.

“So tell me, I’m curious. How is Klara with you and yet the rest of the Bulger clan is absent? I assumed they left right before the walkover. At least that’s when our communications with them stopped. My children reported the house empty, the garage door open and a vehicle gone. I figured they high-tailed it out of there when the herd came through. Perhaps I was mistaken?”

“They’re dead. We found Klara in one of the cars. She had a pretty rough time of it.”

Click click, tick. Click click, tick.

“Well, can’t say I’m surprised. Mark acted the fool more often than not. I’m amazed he made it as long as he did. I’m happy Klara survived.” Winford sighed. “She had a rough time of it long before the moaners.”

“Jane,” Winford said with an upward glance at his daughter, “Please, bring your brothers back in here. I wish a word.”

Jane disappeared into the hallway.

“She’s grown into a fine woman. A bit of a handful, you should know. Sharp tongue and she speaks her mind. Got that from her mother. Strong willed, too. She will be of great service to you in the coming days. Just, make allowances for her. She’s lost much these last few months.”

“I’m sure we’ll get along fine.”

Winford smiled and raised his eyebrows.

“I’ll try to make allowances,” Dad replied.

“Ahhh, you’re a fast learner,” Winford said with a broad smile and a wag of a finger. “I like that. Folks our age, well, sometimes we forget how to do such things.”

“Dad, the time,” I whispered.

Dad looked up at me. “We have time enough for this. When a man prepares to part with his greatest treasures he wants to make sure it’s done right.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Good. I wouldn’t expect you to, and if you’re lucky you never will.”

“Well spoken, Dave. Rest assured I do understand. Anna, is it? I will wrap this up so you and those you love can be on your way.”

Click click, tick. Click click, tick.

Jane returned with her two brothers and Klara.

Winford pulled a cigar box from under the small table. He placed the box on his lap. Inside the box were a Colt.45, some pictures, assorted letters and what appeared to be a medal. He removed the pistol from the box and waved Phillip to him.

“Hand me your weapon please,” Winford said.

Phillip pulled a pistol from his pocket, another .45, and handed it to his father. Mr. Spell pulled the magazine from the handgrip and removed all the bullets except one. He reinserted the clip and placed it on the end table next to his chair. He gave Phillip the pistol from the box.

“The gun, and what’s in this box, are our family heirlooms. The .45 I gave you belonged to your grandfather. During the big war, an officer gave it to him. A white officer, whose life your grandfather saved at great personal risk. The officer, some sort of General, never forgot my father. Later in the war, he even arranged to get Dad’s unit into the thick of things over there in Italy. Your grandfather received a medal for bravery, along with a handwritten letter from President Franklin D. Roosevelt himself. The war changed both men’s lives in the mysterious way only friendship can. Funny thing, the worst of times can change some folks for the better.

“The Spells have served with distinction in every major war in our country’s history. All the documents to prove it are in this box. We have been free Negros since 1777; don’t ever forget that. Folks might get funny ideas about such things in the coming years. Now, it’s your turn to uphold the family honor.” Winford handed the box to Anthony.

Winford again reached down, and this time produced two Bibles, both worn and well read. He handed one to Jane. “This was your mother’s and now it’s yours. I need you to keep the faith. God has a plan for you. Believe, and you will be fine, in the end.”

“Now, I must ask you to take your leave and be on your way. I wish to have a long conversation with my Maker.” Winford caressed his Bible.

Click click, tick. Click click, tick.

I looked away. It felt unclean, I felt like an intruder on this, their last moment as a family. My eyes lingered over a painting. Father, both sons and a much younger daughter. No wife and mother. A painting, no mother and yet the room reeked of a woman’s touch. My chest tightened.

“Father--” Anthony said.

“Your mother expected great things from you. Don’t disappoint.”

My eyes stung. I blinked twice and brushed my hand across my face. I stuck my hands in my coat pocket.

Winford’s voice floated across the room as he bid Jane farewell. He chuckled. “I wished to name you Clementine. Your mother had the last word however.”

Jane fussed with pill bottles on the table.

Click click, tick.

“She was right as usual. You have always been more beautiful than any flower.”

Click click… tick.

I breathed deep. My lip quivered. My chin tightened. I looked anywhere but at the tragedy unfolding. My fingers brushed against the bracelet in my pocket. Chet had sent it to me from Quam on my fourteenth birthday. My thumb rubbed against the engraved words. Back and forth, I stroked as my thumb read the inscription.

“Take your pills, Father.”

Click click--

“You know I won’t.”

Tick.

“We can find medicine.” Jane looked away, balled her fists, and turned back to her Father. “God da--”

Dong. Dong. Dong. The clock struck three and stopped. A deathly silence fell across the room.

Jane yielded. She placed a pill bottle on the table. “Goodbye, Father.”

“Goodbye? No.” Winford smiled and shook his head.

“I could stay, Father,” Phillip whispered.

“No, you couldn’t,” Winford replied. “Be at peace, my boy. It’s but a short while. Soon we both shall be home.”

Jane took Phillip by the arm and left the room.

Klara remained. She wept for this man in a way she never had for her own family.

Winford looked kindly on her. “Klara, if you should happen to come across -- you know. She’s a black and white tabby and goes by the name of Sanguis.”

“I’ll keep my eyes open,” Klara sobbed, and then left.

I’ll be home soon, my thumb traced the words on the bracelet for the last time.

“God speed.” Winford nodded to me. “Be off now. You were quite right. The hour is indeed late.”

“Goodbye, Winford,” Dad said and rose from his chair. “I’m sorry we didn’t meet in better times.”

“I know, Dave; it would have been a pleasure.”

After we shook Winford’s hand in farewell, Dad and I headed toward the door.

Before we left the room, Winford called out, “Dave, a moment please.”

Tick. Click click.

Dad stopped, without turning he replied, “Yes, Winford.” It was an answer, not a question.

Dad looked at me and nodded toward the door. I allowed Winford this one last wish and left them alone.

Tick. Click, click. Tick. Click, click.

“Anything,” Dad said as I closed the door.

I stood on the porch with my back to the door and braced for a gunshot. Second after second, I waited for the sound that never came. The three Spells mingled with our family and I suddenly understood what Dad meant about a man’s greatest treasure.

Dad opened the door. He locked and pulled it closed behind him. It shut with a thud, like the last nail in a coffin. Dad, as if burdened with a great weight, walked to the edge of the porch. He stopped and gazed up at the stars.

Troubled, I asked, “What happened in there?”

“Oh, nothing.” Dad let out a long sad sigh while he stared up. “Winford wanted to pray with somebody one last time.”

I put his arm around me and hugged him. Together we rejoined the group.

Dad walked over to Phillip and Anthony and asked, “Okay here, gentlemen?”

“Yes, sir,” they replied in unison.

“Ain’t no sir’s around here. Please, call me Dave. Or Mr. Wallis, if you must.”

“Yes, sir,” they both replied.

“Yeah well, we’ll work on that.” Dad gazed at the two for a moment. “So, which one of you is the oldest?”

“That would be me, sir. I mean, Mr. Wallis,” Anthony, the shorter of the two replied.

“Then here, take this, son.” Dad pulled a map from its sealed bag. He explained to both men the route to the quarry.

Theo and Chris stood in front of the Spell’s black SUV. “Check this beauty out, it’s armored.” Theo said when I joined them.

The Spells SUV was nice. And big. Black, with tinted windows, it screamed this vehicle belonged to someone important, someone official. U.S. Government license plates helped bear out this impression. We circled the vehicle to admire the new addition. When we came back out from the garage, we stopped and waited to move out.

Dad and Jane stood in front of us. Dad asked, “Are you good to drive?”

“Yes, I’ll be fine,” she replied brusquely.

Dad hesitated.” We can mix you guys up with our group if you want. It might help to keep your mind off things.”

Jane stared at my father, cold, hard, and replied, “No, we are family; we stick together.”

Dad and Jane locked eyes, each tried to get a read on the other. At last Dad said, “Your brother, Anthony, has a map. I’ll get you a copy next time we stop.”

“Mr. Wallis, what were you and my father doing in there alone?” Jane demanded.

Dad sighed, and paused long moments before answering, “That, I’m afraid, is between Winford and myself.”

“Right,” Jane said, accusation suffused in such a simple word.

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