Castle Roland

Forever 2 - Changes

by Jack Schaeffer

In Progress

Chapter 3

Posted: 23 Apr 15

FOREVER 2 - Changes
By Jack Schaeffer
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved.

"Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation." - Robert F. Kennedy, Senator and U.S. Attorney General

The silence in the hospital waiting room was getting to me. It had been over three hours since Larry was taken in for emergency open heart surgery, the doctors desperately trying to save his life. Apparently the odds of surviving a second massive heart attack in one month were not good. From what I could see, Todd was very near to falling apart as he paced up and down the tiled hallway. Each time he passed the waiting room windows, his shoulders slumped a little more. I was racking my brain trying to think of anything I could do to help him. I was so used to seeing his phone plastered to his ear he didn't look normal without it. He just kept pacing all hunched over and looking at the floor as he shuffled back and forth.

Sam was sitting next to me, nearly asleep in the warm, still air of the enclosed waiting room, his head resting on my shoulder. Neither one of us had had lunch, and it was now almost 2 o'clock. His stomach was grumbling loud enough for me to hear, but he said nothing. Neither one of us wanted to leave Todd alone.

I thought about what I would want if I was in Todd's shoes. For me it would be Sam holding me, telling me everything was going to be alright. Perhaps I should go out there in the hallway and grab Todd in a big hug - it would probably freak him out. I suddenly had a better idea. Pulling out my phone, I searched through my meager contacts and selected the name of someone I had yet to meet. I stood up to dial the number.

"Whatcha doin', Jack?" asked Sam sleepily, feeling me stir. He stood up next to me, put his arms up over his head, and stretched his tall, muscular frame. I could hear some of his joints pop in the whisper quiet room.

"I have to do something, Sam. This waiting and doing nothing is driving me crazy. I'm gonna try to reach Todd's wife and see if she can get here to be with him. I know I'd want you with me at a time like this, so I gotta believe she can be a comfort to him in a way you and I can't right now."

"Sounds good…do it." He was smiling at me.

"What? Why are you smiling?" I asked, curious how he could be happy at a time like this.

"Because you care, Jack. And it makes me happy to know my partner is a guy who has a huge heart and cares about the people who are important in his life. Makes me feel…really good on the inside. What's happening to Larry is awful, but at least he's got people here who care, and that's somethin'."

I smiled weakly back at him. "Thanks, Sam. But it sure doesn't feel like much. I wish there was something more we could do. Like maybe find Arnold Turner and wring his neck for creating all this stress on everybody in the first place."

Sam pulled me against his chest and hugged me tightly. Leaning back a bit, he looked down and said, "Well, before you go and commit murder, little man, how about making your phone call and we'll do what we can for Todd, since Larry is out of our hands right now." I sighed deeply and nodded. My emotions were all over the place, and I was surprised by how angry I was just under the surface. Thankfully Sam's presence always calmed me down.

I stepped into the hallway and pressed the call button on my phone. Mason Wheeler answered on the first ring. "Private Trust, Mason speaking."

"Mason…hi…uh…this is Jack Schaeffer. We haven't met yet, but I gather you're part of my team there at the bank?"

"Yes, Mr. Schaeffer. How can I help you?" he asked.

"Well, I'm here at the hospital with Todd…"

"How's Larry doin'? Any news?"

"No…well…they've taken him in for surgery. We're still waiting - I guess it will be a while still. The surgeon said it could be quite a long and involved operation."

"And is he…I mean…is he gonna be okay?"

"We don't really know yet, to be honest. I would hate to tell you something and get your hopes up. The cardiologist who's assisting in the surgery said something about quadruple bypass and low blood pressure and some other things. I didn't really understand it all. But Todd keeps saying he's a fighter, so there's hope. I'll make sure someone calls you just as soon as we know something more, okay?"

"Thank you, Mr. Schaeffer. I appreciate it. The rest of us here…well…it's hard to just wait, ya know?"

"Yeah, I do know. Waiting is the pits. We all want to be able to do something to help him, and yet there's nothing we can do…except trust the doctors to do their best."

"Yeah. This sucks. Larry's a great guy. I can't imagine…well, I'm not going there. Please let us know as soon as you hear anything."

"I will. I promise."

"Thanks, Mr. Schaeffer."

"Mason, please call me Jack. And if you, or any of the other guys, need to call me, please give them this number."

"Oh…okay…Jack. Sorry, this is hard," he said, clearly choking up.

"I know it is, Mason. Hey, there is something you can do to help. It's why I called."

"What? Anything," he said, perking up at the chance to feel less impotent in the situation.

"I'm thinking it might be a good idea to call Todd's wife and get her here to be with him. The guy's really hurting, if you know what I mean."

"I'm sure, he and Larry are super tight. Larry is the one who gave him - well, all of us, really - the chance to work here. He's pretty amazing as a boss, and he and Todd…it's like Todd is his kid or something. He talks to him like my dad talks to me, ya know?" I didn't really, not having had a father around for most of my life, but I could imagine.

"Here's the thing, Mason, I don't have her number to call her, and besides, I've never met her, so if I call her, it might seem really weird. Do you think you could call her and ask her to meet us here at the hospital just as soon as she can?"

"Sure. I have her number. I'll call her right now. Where are you exactly?"

"We're at the University Hospital - something called the Anschutz Inpatient Pavilion. Second floor - Critical Care Surgery. And Mason…ask her to be careful, but hurry. I think Todd could really use her by his side."

"I'm on it. Can I text you at this number?"

"Yes. And Mason…thanks for being part of the team. Tell the other guys to hang in there, okay?"

"Thanks, Jack. I'll let you know when Margie's on her way." He hung up, grateful for something to do, I'm sure. I went back to wait with Sam. He held my hand across the arms of the side-by-side faux leather chairs, neither one of us caring if anybody noticed. A man was fighting for his life - who cared what someone thought of two guys holding hands right now.

My phone dinged with a text from Mason a few minutes later. "Looks like Margie's on her way, Sam."

"Good. I'm sure Todd will appreciate having her here." We watched as Todd kept walking back and forth, up and down the hallway. It was almost hypnotic, and I was soon fighting sleep and losing. I think Sam started snoring softly on my shoulder after only a couple of minutes, still holding my hand.

I was in and out of sleep, stirring every few minutes to try and shift to a more comfortable position in the chair, then drifting off again. At some point Sam let go of my hand and leaned away from me, his head hanging backwards, his mouth open. That's the way he was when Todd suddenly called out our names.

"Jack! Sam! Wake up!" I nearly jumped straight out of the chair. Sam snorted and snapped his head forward, a sudden pain in the neck his reward.

"Todd! You scared the crap out of me! What's going on?" I asked, rubbing my eyes. He had a thin smile, which I took as a good sign. "Any news? What's happening with Larry?"

"The surgeon just came by and spoke with me. Larry survived the surgery - barely - and will be in recovery for at least another 2-3 hours. They are going to let him wake up very slowly. The next 24 hours will be critical, but so far he's responding as well as can be expected, whatever that means." Todd looked exhausted, but at the same time like a huge weight had been lifted off his shoulders.

"That's great news, man," said Sam, rubbing his neck. Todd nodded, then quickly looked away so we couldn't see his face, as a couple of tears hit the carpet at his feet. I reached out and put my hand on his shoulder.

"It's okay, Todd. We get it. This is tough stuff." He just nodded and said nothing, trying desperately to regain his composure. I so wanted to pull him into a hug, and Sam looked at me, probably with the same idea in mind. We were saved from having to decide which of us was going to do the deed by an attractive, dark haired woman dressed in a navy blue business suit, conservative makeup, and a warm smile, carrying two cups of steaming coffee. She walked right up to Todd, handed him his coffee, and kissed him gently. He immediately stood up straighter. This had to be Margie.

"Hey, babe. You okay?" she asked. Todd nodded silently. Wiping his eyes, Todd turned around to face us again, putting his arm around his wife and pulling her in close. He looked better already.

"Margie, this guy here is my boss, Jack Schaeffer, and this is his partner, Sam Wainwright. Guys, this beautiful woman is my wife, Margie." She held out her hand to both of us and we politely shook it in turn.

She looked me right in the eye and said, "So…Jack…you're the reason my husband spent the weekend working all kinds of crazy hours instead of paying attention to me." She said it with a grin, but Todd was horrified.

"Margie! You can't…oh my god…are you trying to get me fired?" he asked, almost spilling his coffee.

I laughed. "Relax, Todd. She's right. We did sort of commandeer you for the weekend. Margie, I apologize. We were in kind of a jam, and well…if it weren't for Todd, I don't know how we would have figured it all out. I'm sorry if your weekend plans got messed up."

"No worries, Jack. I'm used to it. To tell you the truth, I needed the break. The man was horny as a three-balled tomcat. It was a relief you called. I needed the rest." She smiled wickedly. Sam burst out laughing, and Todd's face went beet red. I'm not sure mine wasn't red, too.

Sam continued laughing until Todd spoke up. "I wouldn't be laughing so much if I were you, Sam. What was that smell and those stains on the carpet in my office? I leave you two for less than 10 minutes and you're doing the nasty across my desk. You know, it's a good thing nobody came in on you guys - my door lock doesn't work." Sam and I blushed in our own embarrassment at being called out.

"You boys…ugh!" said Margie.

"Hey, you love me just the way I am, and you know it," said Todd, pulling Margie into a comfortable hug. She put her hands on his arms and smiled up at him.

"Yeah…I do. You sure you're doin' okay? Somebody here thought you might need me." She looked over at me and smiled.

"I've had better days, but I'm glad you're here." He hugged her tightly. Nothing like a hug from your lover to stabilize you. He mouthed the words "thank you" to me over her shoulder.

"So how's Larry? Have you heard anything?" she asked. Todd caught Margie up to speed with the latest from the surgeon. We all stood there, faced with the same dilemma - now what?

"I don't know about you guys, but I'm starving," said Sam. "Jack, whadda ya say we find the cafeteria and get some food. Looks like we have some time before Larry wakes up."

"Sure, Sam. Sounds good. You wanna join us?" I asked, turning to Todd and Margie.

"You guys go on ahead. I need to call the troops at the office and let them know about Larry. Maybe we'll see you down there in a few minutes. Hey, keep an eye out for Davis Munroe. He poked his head in a few minutes ago, asking for an update on Larry's condition. Guy looks like he's suffering. My sources say the board meeting ended shortly after you both left the room, and any decision on the consolidation plan was postponed."

Sam put his arm around my shoulders. "You did it, Jack! Way to go. Larry has to get better now so we can tell him you won."

I put my hands on his chest, looked up into his gorgeous blue eyes, and said, "No, Sam. WE won - you, me, Todd - the whole team." Sam nodded, and kissed me gently. I immediately stiffened, not sure how Margie would react.

"Awww. That's so sweet," she said. I blushed. Sam kept smiling.

"Yep. I love my guy, there's no hiding it," said Sam proudly. I hid my face in his chest, feeling overwhelmed by his love.

"Sam, if Todd looked at me the way you just looked at Jack, I'd have trouble keepin' my panties on, if you know what I mean." Sam chuckled and Todd rolled his eyes, pretending to be put out.

"Jack, could you please take Poolboy here and feed him or something, keep him out of trouble. We'll head down there in a few," said Todd.

"Come on big guy, let's get you somethin' to eat. Todd and Margie need some alone time," I said, turning for the elevators. Todd gave me a grateful look. He was holding it together on the outside, but inside he was definitely worried. I was slowly learning to read his emotions and body language.

Despite all the directional signs displayed in every hallway, it was a challenge to find the Garden View Cafe, only one floor down. You would think a building run by a university would be slightly better at providing useful information to its patrons. Oh well, maybe is was low blood sugar - my brain wasn't working all that well. Sam seemed like he was practically sleep walking. Our travels and disrupted sleep schedules over the past two days were catching up to us.

Thankfully the dinner hour started a little early in the hospital, so we had our choice of salisbury steak and mashed potatoes or lemon chicken with rice pilaf. We selected one of each, plus chocolate pudding for Sam and orange jello for me for dessert. We each made a small side salad at the salad bar to round out our meals. After I paid for the food at the register, manned by an extremely large man with a hairnet sitting on a stool which looked like it might collapse at any minute, Sam carried the tray of food as we searched for a table. The main dining room was quite full on this Monday evening.

I was following right behind him, weaving our way through the tables and chairs filled with doctors, nurses, technicians and visitors, when he suddenly stopped. I nearly ran into him, my outstretched hand the only thing keeping me from colliding completely. Sam was staring through a doorway into an adjacent dining room at somebody who looked vaguely familiar.

"What is it, Sam?" I asked.

"Isn't that Davis Munroe sitting by himself in there?" he replied. I looked again and realized he was right.

"Sure looks like him. Whadda ya want to do?"

"Let's go see if we can talk to him."

"Are you sure? I mean, what if he's mad at us?"

"We'll have to risk it. Besides, he's here because of Larry. Now might be the best time to catch him and get him to confide in us. Worth a try, don't you think?"

"Works for me. After you, Sam." I wasn't at all sure this was a good idea, but Sam moved with focused confidence through the mostly vacant side room towards the windows where Davis was seated.

Davis looked up as we approached his table - he was definitely alone - and I watched as he processed how he knew the two young men standing before him. It only took a second or two, and to his credit he didn't sneer at us or look disgusted. Instead, he sighed and seemed resigned to his fate. Not exactly a warm welcome, not ice cold either.

"Mr. Munroe, Jack and I were wondering if we might join you for a few minutes. Unless you are finished and need to leave."

"No, no. That's fine. Sam, isn't it?" Sam nodded in confirmation.

"Are you here about Larry, Mr. Munroe?" I asked as I sat down across from him at the four-person square wooden table. Sam was seated to my right between Davis and me.

"Yes…I…well, you see…Larry's my friend, and I'm worried sick about him. Despite all the…whatever…at the bank, I can't stand the idea he's hurting. He's a good man, and I really, really hope he pulls through. Losing him would be…" He trailed off, unable to complete his thought, his emotions getting the best of him. We gave him a minute to collect himself and started eating our food. My chicken was dry and overcooked, but the lemon flavored glaze was tasty and made the boring rice easier to get down. Sam was inhaling his salisbury steak, pushing his mashed potatoes through the excess gravy and relishing every bite. The big guy certainly loves his potatoes.

"Did you guys hear anything about Larry's condition upstairs?" Davis asked after composing himself a bit.

"He's out of surgery and in recovery. Todd said the surgeon is thinking it will be a few hours before he wakes up," I replied.

Davis sighed with relief. "That's good news. I saw Todd up near the waiting room talking with a doctor. I didn't want to intrude, especially after…well, after today." Davis hung his head, clearly upset by more than his friend's health problems.

I suddenly felt bad for the guy. "Davis…I'm sorry about how things went today in the board meeting. I didn't mean for all of the heat to fall on you. I honestly was only focused on preserving my team. They're important to me."

"No…I should be the one apologizing…for…a lot of things. I went down to the Private Trust offices after the meeting. I was going to speak with Larry about some of the things you shared - see if what you had said was true, not that I didn't believe you, just…I needed to know for myself. Anyway, they had already taken him away. I guess Todd found him slumped over his desk unconscious. Had to be awful for him." He involuntarily shuddered as we all thought of the unfortunate discovery.

"I ran into Mason and Simon and they told me much the same as you. In addition to investment strategies and planning, they both were helping Todd on some of the more ‘non-banking' activities related to your account. I can understand why you would be upset to lose them. I just didn't know…" He trailed off, staring at an oil painting of some hospital benefactor hanging on the wall near our table.

"Mr. Munroe," started Sam.

Davis looked at him. "Please…call me Davis. Sitting here, I'm nobody and nothing special. Just Davis."

"Okay, sure. The thing is, Jack and I, we have a question. You don't have to answer it if you don't want to or feel like you shouldn't."

"Go ahead and ask. I'll answer it if I can. By the way, Jack, the consolidation plan was tabled after you guys left the room. So for now your team stays."

Sam looked at me, and I nodded, telling him to go for it. "Well, about the plan…we've been wondering why you would support it in the first place. It didn't make a lot of sense, at least not from the clients' point of view. It also didn't seem like something a man of your…experience and knowledge…would actually believe in. So…we were wondering…did someone put you up to it? And if so, why?"

Davis had been about to take a sip of coffee from his mug and his hand froze an inch from his lips. It started to shake, and when he realized what was happening he hastily put it back down on the table with a loud clunk, attracting the attention of a couple of nearby patrons who glanced over to see what happened. For his part, Davis just stared open-mouthed at Sam, oblivious to the others, a look of abject fear covering his face. I think he was struggling mightily to hide it the best he could, but even years of playing boardroom politics couldn't mask the range of emotions he was experiencing right now. His nostrils flared wide a number of times, the vein on the side of his neck started throbbing, and his eyes watered, threatening to overflow. But he was good. He recovered after only a few seconds - perhaps some of the longest seconds of his life. He carefully put his hands on the edge of the table and looked down at them, resigned to answer the question.

"How did you know?" he whispered.

"We didn't know for sure. Only suspected," said Sam gently. We were not here to attack the guy, only to help him. If he let us.

"Do you already know who?" asked Davis.

"Arnold Turner," I answered. Davis looked at me with a surprised expression, then nodded slowly.

"Davis, Sam and I don't wanna cause you any more grief. We only want to help. Larry told us he's concerned for you - for his friend. He said you were acting very odd lately, and he was afraid you were being influenced to do things which would harm you in the end, let alone hurt the bank. Of course he was also worried about his staff."

Davis smiled weakly. "Yeah, that sounds like Larry. Always concerned about everyone else. Damn fool. Look what it got him - ulcers and a bad heart."

"But he does care, Davis. Very much," said Sam.

"But there's nothing you or he can do. Arnold Turner…Ugh. Look, I can't…I won't." He was now squeezing the table edge so hard his knuckles were white.

"Can't or won't what?" asked Sam carefully.

"I can't risk it, Sam. What he might do. It'll cost…too much."

"But aren't you already paying a high price?"

"It's not me I'm concerned about!" he almost shouted. He shocked himself with his outburst. "Forget I said that…please. Oh my god, what am I gonna do?" He was starting to emotionally unravel, rocking back and forth, pushing and pulling with his hands, both still locked in a vice grip to the table edge. If we were going to find out what was really going on, I hoped it was soon before the man jumped up and ran away from us.

Using the softest, kindest voice I could muster, I said, "You don't have to carry this burden alone, Davis. We really do want to help you. Maybe if you tell us who you're trying to protect from Arnold, we can figure out a way to help get him off your back and put an end to his…pressures." I didn't want to say blackmail - it was too ugly a word.

His shoulders started to shake, the tears started to fall, and Sam and I watched a man accustomed to running a company completely fall apart emotionally. He cried for several minutes, his body racked with silent sobs, his face a testimony to the anguish of soul he had been suffering. If he wasn't protecting himself, whoever he was protecting owed this man a great debt of gratitude for the burden he had been carrying. Sam and I sat in an uncomfortable silence, doing our best to shield him from others who may have noticed his meltdown. I was hoping they assumed he had received bad news about a loved one, being in a hospital and all.

His emotions finally spent, Davis looked up at us slowly, shoulders slumped in defeat. He reached for a napkin and dried his eyes and wiped his nose, looking from me to Sam and back again. We waited. After several more glances back and forth between our faces, he seemed to make up his mind.

"Can I ask you guys a personal question?"

"Sure," said Sam.

"You're not ‘business' partners, you're like ‘lover' partners, right?" I swallowed hard, my own fear rising. What was he getting at? Sam must have sensed my apprehension, because he quickly reached out and grabbed my hand under the table to calm me down. Thankfully it helped, although Davis could clearly see what he had done, even if nobody else could.

"Yes, Davis. We are. Jack and I are starting a family and a life together." Davis spent a few more nerve-racking moments shifting his gaze back and forth between us. Finally he sighed deeply, slumping backwards in his seat.

"I guess I can trust you, then. I…have to trust someone." We just waited, giving him all the time he needed to make his final decision.

"I first met Arnold Turner at a social-slash-fundraising function at Harvard, where my son, Andrew, was studying. He introduced me to Arnold and some of his other friends over dinner, and honestly, I figured I would probably never see any of them again. Andrew graduated later that year and went on to medical school and his residency at Boston General. He never mentioned Arnold again, and I certainly didn't remember him either.

"After Andrew finished his residency, he applied for a position with the Salus Society, a group of medical missionaries who work with under-privileged and marginalized population groups here in the U.S. and abroad. Andrew always had a heart for the lost and down and out. I remember he wanted his mom and me to adopt a friend of his from school when they were both five or so because Andrew couldn't stand the idea of his friend having to ride the scary school bus instead of being driven to school. It was so unfair to him.

"Anyway, soon Andrew was employed in his dream job and life was good. I was promoted to CEO at the bank and one day Arnold Turner enters the picture again. He somehow manipulated my secretary into getting a job interview for an open VP position. She told me he was a friend of Andrew's and seemed like a nice young man, so I caved and agreed to meet with him.

"It became clear rather quickly, and I think to him as well, I was going to pass on hiring him. He was very young and inexperienced for the position of Vice President, and besides, I had an excellent in-house candidate whom I had been grooming for the job. It was just a formality, really. Well, sensing things weren't going his way, Arnold pulls out his big weapon - he called it the ‘persuader'." Davis took a second to drink a sip of coffee and calm himself again. I could see he was almost reliving the scene with Arnold.

"Arnold looks at me across the table and says he has one more piece of information he thinks will ‘persuade' me he is the best candidate for the job. He reaches into a folder and pulls out a picture and passes it to me. It's my son, Andrew, in an embrace with another guy. I recognized him as one of the guys from the dinner, but I don't remember his name. Even though it looked like just two guys hugging, I knew in an instant what Arnold wanted me to know - my son was gay, and this was not an ‘innocent' hug." He took a deep breath, and continued.

"I said nothing, just passed the photograph back to him. I didn't know what to think or what to do. Andrew of course had never told me he was gay, though I guess in hindsight I couldn't be too surprised. He never dated in school, and he never mentioned anyone he was seeing. He always told his mother he was much too busy with school work and keeping his scholarships to mess around with girls. I just assumed it was all true.

"I remember Arnold gathering his papers, and carefully putting the photograph on top of the stack in his folder. He then looked at me with this…evil smile…and said, ‘I wonder what Andrew's bosses would think if their good Christian doctor turned out to be gay?' He then shook my hand and left.

"I agonized over what to do. I mean, on the one hand I had an obligation to the bank to hire only the best for the job, and Arnold was definitely not the guy. But on the other hand, my son didn't deserve to be outed and probably lose his dream job and suffer God only knows what consequences because his father was too moral or too…whatever…to protect him. In the end, I chose to protect my son. And I would do it again," he said, with strong conviction.

We all sat there, mentally digesting Davis' story. Sam was clenching his teeth in anger. I kept thinking about Andrew, and a father who would risk everything to protect his son from harm because he was gay. So opposite of my family.

"This was all six years ago now. I took a lot of heat for the decision to hire Arnold, and I lost a ton of respect from people like Larry and Sully. But to me, as painful as it was, it was better than outing my son. Thankfully, Arnold turned out to be not a total disaster, and his department actually runs fairly well. He reaches his goals, although I know Larry thinks he's a terrible manager of people. I agree with him, but I hired the guy, so I can't say much about it now. I try to coach Arnold as much as he'll let me."

Davis paused, collecting his thoughts. "Which brings us to this morning's board meeting. About six months ago we received a takeover bid from another local company, and we did our due diligence on the offer and ultimately decided it was not in the best interests of First Colorado to proceed. Then about two months ago, Arnold asks for a meeting. I normally try hard not to meet with him one-on-one, but he insisted. Arnold tells me he needs me to support his crazy plan to consolidate the investment side of the house, as you now know.

"I refused, told him I absolutely would not endorse a plan which would have clients jumping ship left and right. He was crazy to even propose it. He said it wasn't his idea, it was the idea of the CEO of the company wanting to take us over. I'm sure it was - it would have weakened us and made us ripe for the picking, something Arnold would never comprehend. I think he has visions of being named the President of the merged company or something. He was upset and left my office dejected, and I thought that would be the end of it.

"But it wasn't, was it?" asked Sam.

"No. You have to understand, other than the one time he used his implied threat to get me to hire him, Arnold never once mentioned anything about Andrew again. I hoped Andrew would eventually tell me his secret and maybe he would be okay in his job. The world is changing, it's more accepting of gay people now, though I don't know how far such changes have penetrated the world he lives in.

"Anyway, about a month ago, Arnold stops me in the hall and says he has something he needs to show me. I follow him to his office, and he pulls a new photograph out of his briefcase. I won't even bother to describe it, but let's just say Andrew is clearly having sex with another man in what looked like a campsite. It was definitely Andrew - there was no mistaking his face - or what he was doing. Unlike the first picture, this one left no doubts.

"I was beyond angry. I started accusing Arnold of being evil incarnate - the very devil himself - I don't really know what all I said. He said nothing until I finished, then he looked at me and had the nerve to say he was sorry about having to do this, but he was being blackmailed himself. I didn't believe a word of it - I know him well enough by now to see through his lies. I told him it wouldn't work, not this time.

"He called my bluff. He reached for the phone, pulled out a business card for the organization which does most of the funding for my son's medical practice, and started dialing. I panicked. I reached across his desk and yanked the phone set up and threw it against a wall. He laughed. The fucker just laughed at me! He was still laughing when I stormed out of his office. I've hardly spoken to him since."

As Davis told us the last part of his ordeal, his face had gotten redder and his breathing more labored as he relived the scene. It's a wonder Arnold Turner wasn't dead by now. I know I certainly wanted him gone, and I'm not a violent person at all. Sam had a wild, angry look on his face which truthfully, kind of scared me. He looked like he wanted to break something, or someone. We all just sat there in silence trying to calm down.

I could see Sam shift gears after a few minutes and go into problem solving mode. As his mind worked, his eyes were flashing and focusing and refocusing on things around the room. Davis just sat there, mentally and emotionally spent. My own heart ached for him and the agony he had been carrying inside for his son and the pain he had endured knowing he was potentially harming his company with his decision to protect his son.

Finally Sam turned to look at me, nodded once, then turned to Davis, who was looking down at his lap, not knowing what else to do. "To your knowledge, does Arnold have any leverage which would harm First Colorado directly?"

"What do you mean, Sam?" he asked.

"I mean, if Arnold was removed from his position - terminated - is there anything he can do to the bank directly?" Davis pondered for a moment - clearly he had never seen such a move as a possibility. Neither had I.

"Not that I know of, but that might not mean much. I'm pretty sure he actually spent his vacation stalking my son to get his picture, so there's no telling what he's capable of."

"Okay, we'll set that aside for a minute. Back to your son, Andrew. First of all, I have say, and I think Jack feels the same, I could never fault you for trying to protect your son. Given the circumstances, I might have done exactly the same thing you did. That being said, we WILL find a way to end this and still protect Andrew, you have my word on it. Right Jack?"

"Absolutely. Do you have a plan, Sam?"

"Sort of. I don't have all the details figured out yet, but I think it will work. I want to talk with Todd about parts of it. Davis, you said Andrew has never divulged his secret to you - that he's gay. Is that right?"

"Yes. He's never said anything, and I won't ask him. I think it's up to him to tell me, if and when he wants to. It won't matter to me one way or the other. I love him - he's my son. His mother and I have already accepted the fact he's gay. We just want him to be happy and doing the job he was born to do - healing people. I hate the idea he would have to hide from having any kind of relationship - like you guys obviously have - but if he's willing to do so to keep helping people, I can respect him for it."

"So the biggest threat to Andrew is the loss of funding or support from organizations which might not approve of his same-sex attraction. We need to find a way to take that threat out of the equation, and if we can, maybe Andrew doesn't have to hide who he is anymore. I have to believe he could help a lot more people if he didn't have all the fear hanging over him."

"What do you mean by ‘fear hanging over him'? Why should he be afraid?" asked Davis.

I jumped in. "For the very reason you are afraid of what Arnold can do to him with one phone call. You never know who might choose to wreak havoc on someone's life just because they fear or don't understand gay people. Given what Andrew does, my guess is he's hoping and praying no one finds out he's gay for fear they will not accept him or worse, they will prevent him from doing the one thing he has sacrificed all his life to do - take care of the people no one else wants to take care of. I would imagine there aren't a lot of Harvard educated doctors signing up to work with underprivileged people, so I'm sure he's thinking more about his patients than himself, too. If he is compromised, their care suffers. And, there probably aren't many organizations funding this type of work either, so if someone decides to blackball Andrew, he may have an extremely difficult time finding the means to practice his kind of medicine. I promise you this, one way or another, Sam and I will find a way to keep Andrew doing what he's called to do."

"But you don't even know Andrew. Why would you do this?" He looked bewildered and near tears again as he realized Sam and I were seriously determined to get Andrew free from Arnold's threat, as well as Davis and First Colorado.

"Because we know you, Davis," I said softly. "You're a good man caught in a dangerous game and trying to do the right thing. Like I said this morning, when our team is in trouble, we fight together to do whatever it takes to protect the team. And today, you became a part of our team. That means what's important to you is important to us."

"And as for Arnold fucking Turner, he needs to be stopped from ever doing this evil crap to anyone else," said Sam.

At the name, Davis blanched in renewed fear. "Oh my god! I just realized. Arnold probably knows by now his plan was put on hold. What if he goes ahead with his threat to out Andrew before we can protect him?"

Sam held up both his hands. "Hold on, let's not panic. Arnold's waited this long to implement his plan. We just need to let him think this…delay…is temporary. If he thinks you're still playing along, he won't feel the need to play his trump card. He only has leverage by the threat of action, not the action itself. Davis, do you think you can string him along, make him think you're still working on getting the plan through a board vote?"

"I'll try. It might work. But I'll need someone on the board to back me up on it. He'll never take just my word for it."

"Sam, are you thinking it will buy us enough time to figure out a permanent way to stop him?" I asked.

"Yeah, and give us time to get Andrew out from under as well. That needs to happen fast, just in case I'm wrong and Arnold decides he has nothing to lose and everything to gain by acting on his threat anyway. But there's something else we're missing here."

"What?" I asked. Sam looked over at Davis, concern etched on his face.

"Davis, let's say we succeed at getting Andrew protected and Arnold removed. What happens to you? We'll have to get the board involved at some point. I don't know how we expose Arnold without exposing you, too." Davis surprised me as his lips morphed into a thin smile.

"Sam…if you and Jack succeed in protecting my son, I'll gladly pay whatever price necessary to see to it Arnold Turner doesn't succeed with his plans. Worst case scenario, I lose my job. It's a little sooner than I planned, but frankly, the stress of the last 6 months has taken a huge toll. I don't want to end up like Larry, fighting for my life. I can make early retirement work if I have to. The important thing is we stop Arnold and keep my son safe."

The magnitude of what the three of us were contemplating was daunting. Sam and I certainly had our work cut out for us if we really wanted to make all of this happen. I looked at Sam, I'm sure with some doubt showing on my face, but he just squeezed my hand, smiled at me, and nodded as if to say, "We've got this." I nodded back to him, not feeling anywhere near as confident as he appeared to be.

Turning to Davis, Sam said, "We'll need a way to reach out to your son which won't spook him before we can meet privately and let him know what's going on. We can't just show up out of nowhere and change his life. Are you prepared for him to find out all you've done to protect him? I know you said you won't ask him if he's gay, but when we show up, he's going to know you know. You'll need to be there for him face-to-face eventually, not just in the secret way you have so far."

"I understand, and yes, I'll be there for him. Always. Whatever you guys think is the best course of action, fine by me. I just want him free and clear of Arnold Turner. I'll casually reach out to Arnold and let him know about the meeting this morning from my perspective and hint I have a plan for moving things along, but I'll need more time. Hopefully he goes along with it. I'll keep you posted."

"Are you okay with us bringing Todd into the loop on everything concerning your son? We're going to need his help."

"I can't believe I'm saying this about my own employee, but…do you trust him?"

I spoke up. "Yes, Davis, with my life. Todd's our best ally in this. We've seen him in action. Believe me, he finds a way to do the impossible. Your son will be in good hands, I promise."

He nodded to us, and started to say something, but his voice caught in his throat. He struggled to keep his emotions in check once again, but a tear or two escaped his eyes. When he could finally speak, he was a different man than the one we met that morning.

"Guys…I can't really put into words what today has been like. Meeting you, then the…mess…with the Board, Larry's heart attack, and now this. I still don't understand why you'd want to help me - and my family - but I'm grateful. Truly grateful. However it all ends up, thank you for being here tonight. I'm not sure what would have happened if…well, if you weren't. For the first time in a very long time I have hope again. Anything I can ever do for you, all you have to do is ask."

Just then my cell phone notified me I had a text message from Todd. I looked at it, puzzled.

"What is it, Jack?" asked Sam.

I showed him the screen. The message read: "Larry awake - asking for you."

To be continued….

Author's Note: Jack and Sam have learned the truth about the blackmail - now they have to find a way to stop Arnold. Larry survived the surgery, but will he make a full recovery? And why does he want to talk to Jack so badly? Stay tuned…

If you have enjoyed Forever, and perhaps never emailed me your thoughts about the story, please do so when you can. I love to hear from readers. It keeps me motivated to write more, and write faster…grin. You can email me at

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