The Shelter We Seek

Author’s note:  This is a sequel of sorts to my story The Last Dame to Fall For. I thought I’d try to do a different type of continuation rather than a direct sequel. Therefore, we have this story about one of Clark White’s children years after the events of that story.

The rain came down heavy on the windshield.  Still, Tom drove down the expressway undeterred in a green Ford Cortina.  He’d reach a level of comfort or as much comfort one might feel while still on the run.  He turned the radio up only to hear the DJ make a rather telegraphed reference to the weather as he introduced the new song by Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Who’ll Stop the Rain.” Tom laughed to himself, not at the dumb joke but at his circumstances – Who’ll Stop the Rain indeed!  He listened to the song and it resonated with him with everything he’d been through.  He glanced over to her as she sat cradled next to him in the passenger seat. She was sound asleep but even then she was beautiful, graceful, and most of all . . . innocent.  If there was anything Tom inherited from his father it was that gift of seeing into a person’s true nature and character particularly when it came to women.  There wasn’t much from his father he was grateful for, but this was perhaps the best thing he could have taken away from the old man.  Unfortunately, Tom also inherited his dad’s penchant for drinking, but right now he was more focused than ever before.  He needed to prove her innocence and he had risked everything to do it. Despite all the evidence against her, Tom stood firm in his conviction that Mary Williams did not kill her husband, and he’d even risk his own badge to prove it.

There was only one safe place Tom could think of to go. It was the address on those letters his father had kept hidden from his mom.  Clark White had been a complicated man indeed. Tom felt like he hardly knew the man until he confided in him towards the end and even then it was because he needed Tom to write down what he wanted to say in his final letter.  It was a matter of necessity as Clark had grown too frail and his hands shook and he could no longer write, not that Clark had been fond of letters to begin with.  Tom knew his dad to be a man of few words and until his final days he never thought of his father as being overly complex.  Stingy- yes, judgmental – yes, crotchety – always.  Childhood had been anything but fun, but at least it toughened him up, and when he earned his badge, he remembered his dad running up to him to give him a big hug.  It was the most affectionate the man had ever been. Tom would be lying if he didn’t admit to himself that it didn’t get to him a little.

Now, the question remained . . . who was this Beverly Davenport that his father had been desperate to write to in his final days and would she even remember Clark White or even care to help his son under these desperate circumstances nearly 18 years later.  Tom imagined that Beverly who must now be in her early 60s might even call the police and then he’d be done for – both he and Mary would each be incarcerated.  Tom had put together the story easily enough but there was still an enormous sense of doubt as to whether or not he could trust this woman his father had trusted all those many years ago. As the radio continued to play, Tom haphazardly wondered if 20 years from now people would come to regard the present day as ancient history.  It would seem that time passes indiscriminately for all of us and yet its fate that’s kinder to some than to others.  It was fate that had riddled his Dad with Lou Gehrig’s disease and caused his lungs to fail a few years after the onset of symptoms. Perhaps it would be fate that would deal the same hand to him in due time.  It was fate that drew him and everyone alive closer to the void of death where surely nothing awaits but a vast unfeeling emptiness. His father never believed in heaven and neither did he.

He pulled up in front of a modest sized house with a big lawn and a garden off to the side.  Mary stirred next him. “Where are we?” she asked.

“The only place I could think of to go. The only place I felt I needed to go for reasons entirely unrelated to the mess we’re in together.”

Mary yawned and looked as though she could use another few hours of sleep.  Tom helped her out of the car as she stood up in her tight fit blue jeans and grey “Farm Strong” t-shirt.  Her legs wobbled as she took the first few steps towards the front porch.  Tom held her hand as they approached the door and knocked. A minute later, they could both make out the figure of an older woman approaching distorted through the small glass next to the door frame.  She looked just as Tom imagined she would despite the passing of years.  His dad had described her to him perfectly: her round cheeks, her welcoming face, her chestnut brown eyes, her hair now lightly faded caressing her face.  The years may have made her figure more diminutive but this was most definitely her.

“Hi,” Tom began. “You don’t know me, but I think you knew my father, Clark White.”

The woman’s eyes brightened at the mention of the name. “Why, yes.  You’re father once helped me with a rather delicate situation. . . He saved my life.”

“You must be Beverly Davenport. My dad told me a lot about you.”

“Yes, although I’m surprised your father had much to say about me. Do come in.”

Tom introduced Mary then the pair stepped inside as Beverly guided them into the living room and invited them each to sit down. Tom observed the simple elegance of the room.  A few simple paintings adorned the walls.  One was of a sail boat depicting a man and a boy fishing.  Another was of the Empire State Building in the middle of its construction in 1931. It prompted him to recall that his father told him he had first met Beverly when she worked at the building’s gift shop.  On the glass coffee table in front of them was this morning’s edition of The New York Times and a copy of Flannery O’Connor’s short story collection A Good Man is Hard to Find.

Beverly offered them each a refreshment, but Tom declined and insisted that Mary have something cool to drink. Beverly returned with a glass of lemonade.  Mary drank eagerly as the long trip and the nap had made her thirsty and her mouth dry.  She graciously thanked their host.

Tom felt the need to explain things, but it was difficult to start.  He himself hadn’t yet processed the precarious nature of their circumstances and he feared that as friendly as Ms. Davenport may be, this might simply prove to be too much of an imposition.  Beverly sensed this and stood over him, placed her hand on his shoulder and said, “I have a feeling you have a story to tell me.  I’m here to listen and help if I can.”

“Thanks for understanding. First . . . well, this may come as a shock if you don’t know but my dad passed away 4 years ago of Lou Gehrig’s disease.”

A faint smile crossed Beverly’s jaw.  It was an uncomfortable grin of sympathy. “I happened to come across his obituary when it occurred so I know.  He was a good man, your father. I’m sorry for your loss.”

Tom recovered his train of thought.  “Then, you might also know that he cared for you deeply.  What I mean to say is that he actually felt a connection to you through your shared experience. There is one letter he dictated to me once he couldn’t write anymore, and there are a couple letters that he had written earlier that have your address on them, which he never sent.  I suppose that’s what led me here under these circumstances.”

“Do you have his letters?”

“No, but his final letter was short and I’ve committed it to memory.  The few other ones he wrote are most likely lost or in storage somewhere.  My siblings weren’t too keen on them, and when my mother past away not long after, it just became a source of friction within the family. They are probably locked up in the old attic somewhere now that my sister took over our childhood home.”

“That I understand,” said Beverly as she grinned.

Mary listened intently.   She drew closer to Tom as she spoke and she must have realize how difficult it was for Tom to speak this way of his father because she threw her arm around his shoulder to comfort him as his voice broke up.

Tom continued, “Well, before he deteriorated to the point where he couldn’t talk, he felt the need to confide in all his children the story of his investigation with you along with the feelings he harbored for you, his desire to leave our mother for you, and well, his quite pessimistic view of humanity and women in particular with exception of you. He wasn’t a happy man by any means, and I believe my mother understood him more than he gave her credit for, but time and time again he told me that there was only one woman he ever encountered who owned the key to his heart and it wasn’t my mother, it was you. He explained that there are precious few beautiful women who naturally lack the ability to beguile. When I was younger, I thought this was all nonsensical male chauvinism prevalent to his generation, but then I myself became a police officer and then a detective within the police force and I found myself walking in his shoes, thinking his thoughts. I’ve encountered many cases in my brief time even though I’m still a relatively young man, and many times there have been women involved who have lied and deceived, some who may be guilty, and others who are not. In each and every case, they always seem to have an angle to play and in many cases they have just as much if not more at stake than the men do. If I’ve inherited anything from my father, it’s been to be able to weed out the difference between how people present themselves from what they actually are. Perhaps that’s why I’m in this mess.”

“Tell me what happened, Tom.”

Tom looked over to Mary and whispered, “It’s okay.”  He shifted his weight away from her and focused his eyes on Beverly. “I failed to prove her innocent so I did the only thing I thought I could do. I sprang her out. The case was doomed from the start. Mary’s husband had been poisoned, and the bottle found by another detective in her pursed contained arsenic.  It was quickly determined that she had been putting the stuff in his food, and by the time I caught wind of the fact that my partner was dirty, it was too late.  Nobody would believe me.  The jury had already convened and she had been found guilty.  Judge gave her 25 to life.  That’s when I did what I think my father would have done for you.  I intercepted the transport van, risked life and limb, and somehow managed to free her after a deadly crash. After regrouping and hot wiring a new vehicle, this was the only place I could think of to go.”

Just then they all heard a knock on the door.  A cursory glance through the window indicated that a New York State Police department cruiser stood parked outside. Beverly directed Tom and Mary to the cellar, “My grandson likes to hide down there all the time. There’s a crawl space just beside the two bookshelves down by the corner to the right.  It should keep you out of sight.”

The two headed downstairs. Mary looked at Tom quizzically as a panicked expression gripped both of their faces.  The crawl space was snug but provided just enough space for the two of them. They held on to each other listening intently to the matters going on above.  They heard Beverly mention something about needing a warrant.  The car they had used to get there must have been reported stolen.  Perhaps someone had spotted them as they drove earlier through the neighborhood. Tom’s mind raced to figure out what their next steps should be. His eyes darted across to Mary’s and he thought he’d do anything to take away the anxiety she must have been feeling.  A tear streamed down her face and then she moved.

“What are you doing?” Tom whispered.

“I’m going to turn myself back in,” Mary briskly replied.

“No.”

“Tom, we can’t do this. We can’t live our lives running hoping that kind heart strangers will hide us time and time again.  It’s over. We have to face the consequences. I have to.”

“But you’re innocent.”

Mary’s face grew more frigid, “Am I?”

“I know you are.”

“I wanted him dead, Tom. I wanted him dead because of how he treated me, and then you came along and you believed me. You’ve convinced yourself that I’m this woman that Beverly was to your dad. Well, I’m not. I did it Tom.  Now, move over because I’m going to end this.  I don’t know how this ends for you, but I know how this ends for me. It ends with me in a women’s penitentiary, and maybe with good behavior I’ll see the light of day one day. That’s the best I could hope for, but the worst thing I ever did wasn’t killing my husband, it was getting you to believe me when I said I didn’t do it.”

Tom looked at Mary and did his best to contain the rage that had been summoned up within his chest.  Just as he was about to speak, Beverly’s steps gently creeped upon the cellar stairs. “Hello?  They’re gone, but we don’t have too much time.  My car is in the garage.  I’ll give you the key. I won’t report it missing or stolen, but when my son comes to visit next Sunday he’ll certainly notice it and I’ll do my best to dissuade him from reporting it. Hurry, you two.”

Tom got up and walked up the steps.  His head had been swimming. He barely comprehended what Beverly had told him, but he got the gist of it.  She was helping them at least that’s what she meant to do.  His dad had been right about her, but he had been wrong about Mary.  The three of them walked and hardly uttered a word as they approached Beverly’s red Ford Mustang.  In another frame of mind, Tom would have stopped to admire it and thrown a slew of compliments Beverly’s way. Instead, he blinked and nodded.  He got into the driver’s side, rolled down the window and started to thank Beverly.

Beverly interrupted, “No need to thank me.  I owe this much to your father.  You never told me what Clark’s final letter to me said.”

Tom looked up, laughed to himself and said, “On a cold winter’s day my father brought me close to him. I thought he was going to say goodbye to me, but instead he had me write down what he wanted to say to you. I’ll never forget it. He said, ‘Dear Beverly, I trust time has been better to you than it has been to me. I miss you and I often think of you and the life we could have shared, but now I’ve grown too old and too damn tired of my own dreams for it to matter much. There are a couple of letters that came before this one that I’ve never gathered up the nerve to send.  What good would they do? What good would this one do? It all comes down to this: You mean way too much to me to forget, but sometimes the life we want and the life we’re meant to live divert from each other like a fork in the road. I’ve taken my path and you’ve taken yours and never the twain shall meet.  Sometimes this makes me sad, but mostly it’s just the way of things. If you ever read this, just know that I’ll always remember you fondly. Love, Clark White.”

Tom saw Beverly begin to struggle with grief. Her eyes teared up, and in that moment he knew that this woman had not only meant a great deal to his father, his father had also meant a great deal to her. He stepped out of the car and gave her a hug that somehow felt maternal. They lingered there together for what seemed like ages.  Then, Beverly let go and said, “Good luck to the both of you. I hope you find peace somewhere, somehow.”

Tom and Mary nodded. Then, Tom turned the key in the ignition, waved goodbye, and said thanks before he pulled out of the garage.

After they had driven far enough away, Mary turned to Tom, “I suppose we’re going to the nearest police station to turn ourselves in.”

Tom turned and said, “If that’s what you want. Personally, I was thinking about Mexico.”

Mary laughed quietly to herself and asked, “And I suppose you still love me even though I played you for a fool?”

Tom pulled over to the side of the road.  He said, “I may not be as intuitive as my father, but I love you and that hasn’t changed.  I trust you had your reasons to do what you did, and even now I wouldn’t change anything I’ve done to protect you.  Whaddaya say we head off into the sunset together?”

Mary nodded, grabbed him closer to her, and kissed him.  Tom pulled back into the road and drove knowing he’ll keep driving until they could both be safe together to live wherever fate landed them.

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