The mixed emotions David Bower experienced were confusing. His stomach was heavy with parental concern, but at the same time, he was excited for his eldest boy, Miles.
He and his wife Madison had just waved to Miles for the last time before the self-closing doors at JFK airport International Customs departures swallowed up his excited son and his son’s friend Bryce and moved them into the next phase of their around-the-world holiday travel preparations.
David found it difficult to let Miles go, with him traveling so far away, but he knew it was a rite of passage. The time had come for Miles to break free from his parents and explore the world after sixteen years of school and study. It was now time for him to experience what lie beyond the shores of the United States.
Once the boys were out of sight an anticlimactic wave washed over David. He stood gazing at the unimpressive closed doors long after Miles and Bryce had moved through. The travelers’ excitement that earlier surrounded him quickly turned to a realization they were gone. All the euphoria, all the excited chatter and apprehension leading up to their departure ceased with the closing of those airport doors.
With his focus remaining fixed on the closed Customs doors he said to his wife, ‘We have done the right thing…haven’t we…?’
Madison lightly took hold of his arm to encourage him to start moving away from the area. ‘Of course we have, darling…’ she said with a confident and reassuring tone. ‘They will have the time of their lives….’
‘Do you think the fifty kay we loaded onto his travel card will be enough?’ David asked. His questioning tone was out of character for the entrepreneurial businessman and corporate heavyweight who made multi-million dollar decisions on a daily basis.
‘I do…but if they need more…we can simply load it onto his card,’ Madison reassured.
A few days on and David grew satisfied with himself after coming to terms with Miles’ holiday departure.
Everything that he could control in his life was in order. He had just sent his eldest son on an overseas holiday as reward for his academic achievements in graduating Summa Cum Laude from Harvard Medical School.
Benjamin, his 2nd born commenced his third year of a Law Degree at Yale, his preferred choice of University, and Felicity, his youngest, had been accepted into her preferred University - Columbia next year.
Life was good he contentedly thought to himself. But was it?
As a powerful man in the corporate world, David controlled and influenced most people around him. When he spoke, people listened. He was everything you would expect from a billionaire businessman ranked by Forbes as the 172nd wealthiest American.
But David would soon learn that despite his considerable affluence and corporate power, there were some things in life that were beyond his control.
The silence in the conference room suggested the issue in question had been exhaustively considered and addressed. As Chairman of his multi-billion dollar company David sat in his inferred power position at the head of the highly polished oak boardroom table.
He scanned the tired, expressionless faces of the usually opinionated board members for one last time. All were quiet, so he declared the last item on the lengthy agenda resolved.
Dark circles had formed under David’s eyes; he was drawn. It had been a taxing day with back-to-back meetings from 6am this morning, with little respite. Even for someone as motivated as David, it became tiring.
He checked his watch, ‘It’s just gone 6.30pm,’ he announced to his Executive team. ‘If there’s nothing else, I think we will declare this meeting closed.’ He nodded once to his assistant Lila; a silent indication for her to sign off the minutes.
David clapped his hands together. ‘I think we have well and truly earned a drink or two after that. Thank you people.’
As was tradition, following their boardroom meetings, the lavish lounge in David’s luxurious 50th floor office hosted the executives for post-meeting drinks, to unwind from preceding events.
While enjoying a casual single malt with his team, a colleague asked David, ‘so, how long has Miles been away for now…?’
David checked his watch. ‘Just over three weeks. They’re in Hong Kong at the moment,’ he said then took a sip.
‘Have you heard from him since he left…?’
’Of course. We regularly chat on Skype and he also provided daily updates on their online travel blog.’
‘Although I must say,’ David began. ‘They haven’t provided any recent updates…’
The colleague scoffed. ‘They’re probably having too much fun to worry about updating travel blogs…’
‘You’re probably right,’ David said followed by a reassuring sip of his malt scotch.
By his 3rd single malt scotch David could feel himself starting to unwind when his mobile phone vibrated in his pocket. He removed his phone and checked the display. He didn’t recognize the number.
‘David Bower,’ he answered in his usual confident tone before sneaking a sip of his scotch. A silent pause followed. ‘Hello…’ David repeated.
He checked the connection before asking, ‘Is anybody there...?’
A morose sounding voice on the other end responded. ‘Mr. Bower…this is Bryce…Bryce Fleming…’
David’s face lit up. ‘Bryce,’ he replied, oblivious to the somber tone. ‘How’s one half of the Intrepid Travelers going…?’ David moved away from the gathering of executives. ‘What can I do for you son…? You haven’t gone through the fifty large already have you boy…?’ he said followed by a chuckle.
His eyebrows dipped. ‘Bryce…? Are you there…?’ David asked against the continued silence. He again checked the connection had not dropped out. ‘Are you there son…? Look, if you can hear me, this must be a terrible connection…I’m having trouble hearing you…I may have to call you back…Are you there…?’
Following an extended pause Bryce responded, ‘Um…Yes…Yes, I’m…I’m here Sir…’
‘Now I’ve got you…’ David said enthusiastically. ‘What can I do for Bryce…? Is everything OK…? How’s Miles…? Is he there…?’ David asked, firing off questions in rapid succession before Bryce had time to respond. David glanced at his watch. ‘What are you doing up at this time of the morning…? It’s not even 7am over there…or are you just getting in from a big night…?’ he said with a somewhat proud fatherly grin.
Annoyance, maybe even a little concern started to etch across David’s face at the continued silence. ‘Bryce…are you there…? What the hell is going on…? Are you there…?’ His tone increased to stern.
‘Mr. Bower…I…I…’ the voice faded off. He could hear the muffled sound of Bryce sobbing through the phone.
‘Good God man. What is going on…?’ He asked directly with his concern rising.
´Mr. Bower…it’s Miles, I — ’
‘What about him? Is he alright…? What is it…? For Chrissakes Bryce.’
‘I don’t know how to tell you this Sir…’ Bryce said, his voice shuddered through his sobbing. David could hear Bryce’s labored breathing.
‘Tell me what…?’ he said directly. His tolerance had reached its limits.
Bryce continued, struggling to articulate any discernible words over his apparent distress. ‘Sir…It’s Miles…They found him floating in the Harbor this morning…Sir….He’s…he’s dead…’
The voice broke away as Bryce succumbed to his emotions. Having just delivered the news he had lost his best friend, he burst into uncontrollable sobbing.
David froze at the news. His shoulders slumped. His jaw dropped as his eyes glazed over into an expressionless stare. The color drained from his face.
‘What the hell are you talking about Bryce…? How can he be dea — ’ David cut himself off. He refused to say the word. ‘Oh my God…’ David said. His hand cupped his forehead as he paced directionless around his office. His stomach knotted. His legs grew weak. ‘How can this be…? I don’t understand…’
A brief pause followed before Bryce responded. ‘I have no idea Sir. I still can’t believe it.’
‘Where the hell were you Bryce…? How could you let this happen?’
‘I… I …was in bed Sir…I had no idea until this morning.’
‘Are you telling me he drowned…drowned in the Harbor…?’ David’s tone was aggressive.
‘That is what the police are saying Sir.’
‘That makes no sense at all…Look…You stay put and I will call you back once I have spoken to the police.’ David ended the call.
David ran a hand through his hair. His fixed stare dropped heavily to the floor. His mind spun and his pulse raced. The pit of his stomach knotted tightly.
He felt weak. As the gravity of the message sunk in, his legs could no longer hold his weight. His knees buckled and he found himself kneeling on all fours.
Lila stood with the group of Executives in the lounge area when she quickly broke away from the gathering and scurried towards her fallen boss.
‘Mr. Bower….?’ She asked with genuine concern. ‘Are you alright Sir…?’ She stooped down and placed a comforting hand on David’s shoulder while trying to look into his vacant eyes. David didn’t respond.
By this time most of the colleagues had followed Lila and gathered around David. They assisted him to his feet. The natural hue from David’s face had gone. His pallid appearance clearly alarmed the gathered colleagues.
‘Someone call 9-1-1,’ one of the concerned executives yelled.
David raised his hand. ‘No. Wait,’ he said, before his hand fell limp to his side. He stared blankly forward as several beats passed by. His glazed eyes had no apparent focus while his concerned colleagues looked on.
‘It’s…it’s my son, Miles…’ David said. His head slumped forward, as if too heavy to hold up. His somber monotone voice informed his executive team, ‘they found him floating in the Hong Kong Harbor…’
After delivering the news David cupped his forehead as he moved towards a corner of the room, away from the group.
Stunned silence followed. His colleagues remained as a gathered group. Their eyes darted between each other. Each one completely dumbfounded by the news.
David stood away from his executives with his head in his hands as he experienced the disbelief stage of grief.
His mobile phone vibrated in his pocket. David quickly removed his phone and checked the display. Madison. Shit, he thought. His eyes lifted to the ceiling. How can I tell her?
His movements were slow as he moved the phone to his ear. Before he could speak, the sound of crying pulsed through the phone. He wouldn’t have to break the news to Madison — she already knew.
‘Maddie…’ David answered. His voice was flat.
‘Have you heard…? Oh my God David…have you heard…? It can’t be…Tell me it can’t be...’ Madison blurted over the phone before she burst into uncontrollable sobbing.
‘Yes…I heard.’ David’s somber but controlled voice replied. ‘Bryce rang me just now. I still can’t believe it Maddie,’ he said with his own voice solemn with grief.
‘The police are here David…Can you come home…Now please,’ she asked through her crying.
‘I’m on my way now darling,’ he said then ended the call.
David addressed his executive team. ‘I have to go. I have a lot of things to attend to.’
When his eyes met Lila he asked, ‘can you get me on a flight to Hong Kong. I have to go home now. I’ve got a few things I need to do.’ He briefly studied his watch. ‘Any flight after say…10pm would be great.’
After bursting from his private Penthouse elevator David raced through the foyer and into the living room where Madison sat with two uniformed police.
Madison stood up from her seat as he approached. They moved towards each other and embraced tightly. Madison broke down sobbing in his arms. Even the expressions on the faces of the two burly cops were ones of genuine heartfelt sadness.
David lifted his head from his wife’s shoulder, towards the cops. ‘How did this happen…? Do you know…?’ His tone was surprisingly calm.
‘We don’t know a lot at this time Sir,’ the older officer said. ‘We only know what we have been told.’
‘Which is what…?’
‘As we understand it Sir, the Hong Kong police believe your son drowned in the harbor,’ the same cop said.
‘He was an elite level swimmer for Chrissakes…’ David blurted. ‘How could he drown?’
‘The Hong Kong police believe he slipped, possibly on a mossy rock or similar, and hit his head before falling into the water.’
‘Why was he down near the water in the first place?’ David asked. ‘I know for a fact swimming in the Hong Kong Harbor is not permitted.’
‘That we don’t know Sir. I’m sorry,’ the officer began. ‘The Hong Kong Police have asked us to ask if you are in a position to travel to Hong Kong for formal ID and…other arrangements,’ the cop asked.
Still embracing his wife, David nodded, ‘I will be heading over there tonight on the next available flight. I’ll take care of all that.’
‘Sir…Ma’am. We are very sorry for your loss. Is there anything we can do to help? Anyone you need called?’ The officer had genuine sympathy in his voice.
David raised his hand to the cops. ‘No, you’ve done enough as it is. Thank you. I will handle it from here. If there is nothing else gentlemen…Philip will see you down. Thank you.’ David nodded once to their Butler before burying his head into his wife’s shoulder.