Meeting the Devil
Book 3 of the Twin Destiny Trilogy
by H. Byron Earhart
Now available on
Amazon as an ebook and paperback.
Prologue: Stormy Weather
Saturday morning Faith sat in one of their twin recliners in front of the picture window, sipping mint tea, gazing out over Lake Michigan.
She had gotten back to Chicago late Friday evening after a grueling ten days of country-hopping, one Hunter Hotel after another (New York, Washington, Miami, and a handful of other cities). The corporate people handlers had mishandled the housekeeping people, and they faced the threat of a nationwide strike. Because of her previous success in solving labor problems, the top Hunter echelon decided the best approach was for Faith to flyto the major hot spots and talk directly to the union reps. Faith had averted a strike and was satisfied with her accomplishment. When she reached the condo she was dead tired.
Scott got home at eleven after finishing several stories for the weekend paper. Faith went right to bed as she and Scott talked. She had looked forward to making love to him, but fell asleep in mid-sentence. She woke up Saturday morning to the sound of his electric razor, and called him back to bed. He said he had to run in to the paper early and proof a couple of articles in a special Sunday edition.
* * *
So, there she was, in her favorite lounger on a quiet Saturday morning, getting reacquainted with the lake she had missed so much during her travels. She needed to recharge her batteries. The bright sun warmed and soothed her tired body. The reflected beams off the water gave a double solar boost to her spirits.
She was home. Comfy. Relaxed. She set her cup down and felt herself dissolve in the luxuriance of a sun bath.
When she opened her eyes, she sensed a chill in her body and darkness in the room. Bluish-grey clouds covered the sun, blocking its light and heat. The water on the lake was roiled, gusts of wind whipping it this way and that. Without getting up, she grabbed a handy afghan and threw it over her legs, pulling it up to her chin. The warmth that returned to her limbs was soon followed by slumber.
Faith awoke with a start to a loud clap of thunder. The storm clouds were dropping sheets of rain to the accompaniment of repeated rumblings. She knew she was safe in her ferro-concrete condo, but she sat up, attuned to the lake and the violent forces unleashed on it. Directly in front of her, a bright flash of lightning streaked from the ominous clouds to the waves. Then a heavy curtain of raindrops obscured her view of the lake.
Deprived of her favorite scenery, Faith went back to bed, wondering if this stormy drama over the lake was sending her a message.
When It Rains It Pours
Faith slept ‘til midmorning and then showered and put her nightgown back on, topped with a terry cloth robe. Scott had said he’d be home shortly after noon, deadline for the Sunday edition.
It was after one when Scott opened the door. “You’re still in your robe. Sleep all morning? You were very tired last night.”
“I fell back asleep after you left. Sorry about last night. I looked forward to seeing you, and then when I hit the bed, ten days of non-stop negotiations just shut down all of my systems.”
She walked over to him, opened her robe, and put her arms around him. “But I could make up for it now.”
He had slipped off his coat and put his arms inside her robe. They kissed and moved to the bedroom.
“Turn the phone off, Scott. I don’t want to be interrupted by any of Cal’s last-minute editorial queries.”
When they got out of bed they noticed the flashing light on the message machine.
She laughed. “I knew your newspaper wouldn’t let us have any private time.”
He punched the play button. They heard not a Trib colleague, but Jeremy.
“Hi, Mom, Scott. This is Jeremy. We’re in the car, on our way to Jon’s. Kind of spur of the moment. If you’re free, how about lunch Sunday at Oak Park? Just call Jon to let him know. I’m not sure if you got back from your trip. We’ll settle for one or both of you.”
Faith called Jon and accepted the invitation. Then Faith and Scott tended to some errands and shopping.
She wanted to eat at Happi Sushi that evening. It reminded her of the first time she took him to see her family because they ate there the night before.
It was still chilly and rainy, so they had hot sake with their sushi.
They were still glowing with the sake when they taxied home, and Faith led Scott right into the bedroom. The contest to see who could undress first was a tie. They shared the prize in bed.
This evening Scott was the tired one, and Faith, well rested by her extra morning nap, got out of bed, slipping on her gown and robe. She leaned back in the recliner, peering out into the black of the night and the lake. No ship lights appeared. The storm continued. Suddenly a lightning bolt from sky to water illuminated dark clouds and rough waters.
Faith retreated to the warmth and security of bed and Scott.
Faith and Scott saw Stephie looking out the front window when they arrived in Oak Park a little after eleven Sunday.
Stephie had the door open waiting for them, Mark and Beth close behind, and Stephie’s little brother Jeb crawling at double time.
“We got big news for our newspaper, Grandpa Scott.”
Scott humored her. “Hmm, what’s the big news, Miss Chief Reporter?”
“Jeb’s got a tooth!”
“Is that so? We’ll have to have a story about that.”
The kids were running through the house, chanting, “We’re gonna do a newspaper, we’re gonna do a newspaper.”
Rachel was embarrassed. “Scott, we don’t expect you to do a newspaper every time you come.”
“No problem. I’ve finished my work. This is fun.”
When the kids made another round, Scott intercepted them. “I know what we’ll call this story.”
“The tooth, the whole tooth, and nothin’ but the tooth.”
Stephanie giggled and led another charge of the youth brigade through the house.
She edited his title to: “Th’ tooth, th’ hole in the tooth, an’ nothin’ butt’s tooth.”
The adults joined in the laughter.
As usual, Faith hung back and let the children have their initial go at Scott, delighted he had captured their hearts. She got hugs from Rachel and Melanie and looked around. “Where are the guys?”
Melanie turned away. “They went for a walk.”
“A walk? Where?”
“I don’t know. Just out for a walk.”
The kids interrupted them and Faith asked about helping get the meal ready and on the table.
When the guys got back, Jon gave Scott a hand on the newspaper.
Faith joined Jeremy in the TV room. “I was surprised to get your call yesterday. Surprised, but glad. I just got back late Friday night.”
“We hoped you’d be able to make it.”
“You just decided to take off and come up?”
“Well, yeah, I guess so.” He had walked to the window.
Faith looked closely at him. “Everything okay?”
“How are you feeling?” She stared at him.
“I feel fine.” He didn’t meet her eyes.
“When was the last time you went to the doctor?”
“Just this week,” he mumbled.
“Jeremy, I didn’t have the chance to mother you when you were growing up, and maybe you’re not ready for it now. But I can see you’re not well. Your color’s not good. I could see it even without comparing the two of you. If Jon walked in, I’d say you were a shade or two paler than him.”
He nodded. “Well, you’re right.”
“If you don’t want to tell me about it, just say so, and I’ll butt out.”
He sighed. “No, it’s not that.”
“It’s not that I don’t want to tell you. It’s just hard. And complicated.”
Faith sat down, the worry lines creasing her face. “Tell me whatever you want to…it’s serious?”
“We don’t know. Not yet.”
“Still running tests and…?”
“And…?” She perched on the edge of her chair.
“Well, Mom, I’ll let you have it, as direct and easy as I can. It’s my kidneys. Especially the left one. They’re not functioning like they should. My energy was down, I couldn’t jog, so I went to the doctor and he said it was a good thing I came in.”
“How bad is it?”
“It’s hard to pin the doctor down, because he doesn’t know. The left kidney is only operating at about twenty-five percent, the right one is working much better than that.”
“And they don’t know why?”
“No, like you guessed, they’ve been running some tests and have me on some medication.”
“Hmm. And the trip? You’re not getting a second opinion in Chicago?”
“No, nothing like that. I came here to talk it over with Jon. Because since we’re identical, he may have the same problem. Or if he doesn’t have it now, he may have what they call a genetic predisposition for it, a tendency or possibility or likelihood.”
“Have they narrowed it down to several diagnoses?”
“Well, of course, the worst case would be cancer, although they have no evidence of it.”
Faith opened her mouth but no words escaped.
Jeremy said, “Then it could be a tumor. Benign. In either case, they’d do a biopsy, and surgery would be likely.”
“Well, kidney function and failure is still not fully understood. Sometimes it runs in families, hereditary. That’s one reason, when the doctor heard I was an identical twin, he wanted me to notify Jon at once, and have him undergo the same tests as me. It’s preventative for him, to help him catch it as early as he can. Of course, it’s only a precaution, it may not have anything to do with him. Naturally, it’s helpful for Jon to know about my diagnosis, in case he has something like this. And my doctor would like to have Jon checked, to see if my genetic double gives him a clue to my condition. If he has the same test results as me, then we have a common hereditary problem, and they can rule out hormone imbalance or infection. And if they can’t identify a hereditary link, then it could be environmental, something I was exposed to, but not Jon. For the life of me, I can’t think of any environmental problem, because I never worked with chemicals, heavy metals, radioactive materials, and things like that. The nurses and doctors ran me through a ton of questions about this: Did you ever work in a cleaning establishment?” Were you ever exposed to carbon tetrachloride?” They quizzed me on a number of chemicals.”
With eyes wide open, Faith said slowly, “Jeremy, you said one reason you came to Chicago was to talk to Jon.”
“And another reason was to talk to me.”
“Yeah. I didn’t know how to break the news over the phone. It seemed better to drive up and talk to each of you. I was going to tell you, but you beat me to it, asking how I was, and I didn’t want to lie about it.”
Faith closed her eyes for a few seconds, then leveled her gaze at him. “I suppose you want family histories?”
“The doctors want to know as much as possible about the medical records of my family. I told them I’d talk to you.”
The kids burst in. Beth was carrying Jeb in a bear hug.
Rachel announced, “Lunch is ready!”
“Jeremy, let’s talk about this after we eat.”
Faith didn’t have a chance to tip off Scott, but she read the faces of Melanie and Rachel, both quieter and more serious than usual.
Everyone got through the meal, made easier by the presence and chatter of the children.
When the newspaper had been delivered to everyone, Rachel and Melanie were busy clearing things away. This was the first chance Faith had to talk to Scott. “Jeremy has a serious health problem, and Jon may have, too. I’m going to have to tell them about their father. Scott, I need your support.”
“Are you sure? Telling them about Doug?”
“No choice. Jeremy’s doctors want family histories.”
He bit his lip. “Well, I guess there’s no other way.”
The kids were parked in front of the TV for an hour of cartoons. Faith knew her time was limited. She walked into the kitchen where the twins and their wives were talking.
“Folks, I’d like you to sit down around the table while the children are busy.”
The foursome exchanged wary glances as they filed into the dining room and took their seats.
Faith had a worried look on her face, elbows on the table, chin propped in her right hand. Scott sat next to Faith, taking hold of her left hand.
The few seconds of silence were broken by the deep breath that exploded from her open mouth. “I’ve got something to tell you. Jeremy talked to me about what all of you’ve heard, so I don’t need to mention his condition. But to go right to the bottom line, he needs to know about family medical history, and so I have to let you in on something I thought I’d never live to tell you. My hope was that you’d find out about this after I was gone and buried. However, Jeremy’s health changes all that. So, I’ve got to bring up something I didn’t want to, and don’t quite know how to say it. The only thing I can do is just give it to you as simply as possible.”
She looked directly at Jeremy and then Jon. “When I first met you, I told you I didn’t know anything about your father. I was young, inexperienced, and foolish. I only met him once, when I got pregnant. Well, that’s not the whole story.”
Jeremy had a pained look on his face. “It’s not?”
“No, Jeremy, what I told you then was true. But since then, the situation changed. After you guys found me, the image of your father appeared to me in dreams. Nightmares. And it bothered me. So much so that I had to locate him.
“Remember when I took a month off? That’s when I started looking for him. Scott helped me. That’s how Scott and I met and came to know each other. Father Whitmore helped, too. I can’t go into details now, but eventually I saw him.”
Jon gasped. “You met…our father?”
“Not exactly. Scott met him and talked to him, but without telling him about me. Or you two. So, to make it perfectly clear, your father never knew that…that one time…we were together…I got pregnant and had you. Scott helped me locate him so that we know about him, but he doesn’t know about us.”
Jeremy interrupted her. “I don’t understand. You went to all that trouble to locate our father. And Scott met him. You saw him.” He sucked in a deep breath. “And you didn’t tell us.”
“Yes, that’s the hard, sad part of the story. We had a detective do the initial leg work, and he’s been married and divorced twice, and, in the detective’s words, he’s a womanizer.”
Jeremy and Jon started to talk at the same time as Faith went ahead with her story.
“Let me try to finish this, then you can ask questions. It’s painful for me, and can’t be very pleasant for you.
“I’ll put this as politely as I can. Your father doesn’t seem to be a very reliable character. I didn’t actually meet him last year, but saw him behave in a very…let’s say…immature way and I reached the conclusion it would be better not to contact him and let him know he had twin sons. And it seemed best not to tell you about him. I discussed this with Scott, and he agreed. But I’ll take the responsibility for that.
“So that’s the gist of the story. The bottom line is that I drew up papers with my attorney giving you the information: who your father is, where he can be located, in case you ever needed medical records. I thought I’d never live to see this day. But it’s here. And tomorrow, if you agree, I’ll contact my lawyer and start the ball rolling to request medical records from him and his parents and siblings.”
Faith’s shoulders sagged. She had been holding Scott’s hand, but now she put both hands over her eyes and began crying. She was shaking, and Scott stood up to move behind her and put both arms around her.
Jeremy was still nonplused. “Mother, I just want to ask… ”
Melanie gave Jeremy a killer look as she put her hand over his mouth and stood up. Then she joined Rachel, as they walked to each side of Scott and hugged Faith. Scott stepped away so the two of them could enfold her in a clamshell embrace. They were crying softly with Faith. Jeremy and Jon, seeing their wives in tears, got up and edged their way around the table, each with an arm around his wife, the other arm touching Faith. The sight, sound, and feel of their sobbing mates got them to crying, too, and as Scott rejoined the semicircle with his arms over the twins’ shoulders, he shed tears with them.
This tear fest was in full motion, when the kids entered the room. The two girls, seeing their mothers crying, ran to them and buried their heads and sobs in maternal flesh. Mark put his arms around his dad and soon started crying, too.
The latecomer to this sob session was little Jeb, slowed down by his creep-and-crawl mode of locomotion. At the back of the pack, unable to weasel his way into the group, he let out a howl of a different order. The others were crying in unison, a chain of lament. His was a yell of complaint, an outsider wanting in on the joint effort.
His outburst was rewarded. Everyone stopped crying, turning around to look down at Jeb. Then they realized, from Jeb’s lowly point of view, how odd they must appear, six adults and three children holding a spontaneous cry-in. When they looked at each other, the weep-in immediately changed to a laugh-in. Jeb, in mid-yowl, stopped, and as Rachel scooped him up, joined in the laughter.
The children didn’t even ask what this was all about. They were used to the instant reversal from bawling to merriment. Their only question was voiced by Stephanie. “Mom, c’n we have some popcorn with cartoons?”
This got the adults to laughing again, and the younger set joined in, not knowing what was funny but enjoying the jollity.
Rachel put some popcorn in the microwave and reinstalled the offspring in the cartoon-viewing mode. Then the family council reconvened, with Rachel and Melanie urging Faith to go ahead and do whatever she had to with her lawyer, to get the medical records of the twins’ father. Jeremy and Jon were eager to ask questions, but the dirty looks they got from their spouses stopped them short.