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The Mulligans of Mt. Jefferson
By Don Reid
David C. CookCopyright © 2012 Don Reid
All rights reserved.
MT. JEFFERSON, VIRGINIA
Lt. Buddy Briggs was lying in bed next to his wife. On the nightstand, the clock radio Amanda had given him for Christmas two years ago said it was 5:16 a.m. It kept pretty good time for a dime-store special. In exactly fourteen minutes the alarm would go off under the guise of a radio show, and Crazy Charlie's Coffee Pot would fill the room with a weather report, baseball scores, Khrushchev, and Connie Francis. Should he wait for the alarm and hope for a few more minutes of sleep, or just get up and get it over with?
"Are you awake?"
"I am now," Amanda said with a sleepy smile in her voice.
"Sorry. But I was just lying here thinking about Shirley Ann and the baby. Are you going to call her this morning or wait to hear from her?"
"If we don't hear something by eight, I'll call her. But don't worry now. She's in good hands."
"I know that. But those pains she was having last night ... If the baby comes soon, how early would it be?"
"The baby is due July twentieth. And today is what?"
"I know that, silly." She kicked him playfully under the sheets.
"Wednesday, June seventeenth."
"So that would mean it's four more weeks and a few days to full term. She'll be okay. They'll be okay."
"I still find it hard to believe that our sixteen-year-old daughter ..."
"Seventeen!" she corrected him.
"Okay, seventeen-year-old daughter is about to be somebody's mother."
"And you, old man, are about to be somebody's grandpa."
"Don't be so smug because you know that makes you ..."
"Yeah, what does that make me?"
"That makes you the prettiest grandmother I've woken up next to ... in weeks."
"Okay, big boy, I can kick harder than that last one."
"What? I said you were the prettiest—"
The ring of the phone stopped him in midsentence. Nothing is louder or more unsettling than a screaming telephone after bedtime or before breakfast. But as a police officer with the Mt. Jefferson force, he had learned to be a little less alarmed each time it rang. It was rarely good news, but it was almost always business. However, this morning—Shirley Ann weighed heavily on his mind—it could be personal. He reached for the receiver and picked it up in the middle of the second ring.
* * *
The pause after the initial hello was so long that Amanda sat up in bed, wide awake, so she could see the expression on his face. There was none. He was listening intently. It scared her that he wasn't writing anything on the pad that always lay on the nightstand next to a pencil ready for middle-of-the-night note taking. Names and addresses were hurriedly scratched down before he would leap out of bed and jump into clothes that he invariably put out the night before for just such emergencies.
Amanda put her hand on his arm and quietly said, "What is it?" but he only shook his head slightly and kept listening. He finally said, "I'll be right there" and then placed the phone back in its cradle.
He looked at her and said, "Harlan has been shot."
"Oh, no! Harlan? What happened?"
"Intruder. At his house. Just a few minutes ago. He's on his way to the hospital." But Buddy Briggs still wasn't moving. He lay back down and exhaled as if a bad day was just ending instead of beginning. Harlan Stone was one of the closest friends he had in the world.
"Should I go with you to be with Darcy and the boys? They're all okay, aren't they?" Amanda asked.
"Yeah. They're okay."
"How bad is it, Buddy? And I dread asking you that because I don't want to hear it."
"He's alive. But how bad? I'm not sure. Nobody is yet. That's where I'll go first. To the hospital. Then I'll let you know."
"I'll go with you."
"No. You stay here in case Shirley Ann calls. You may wind up at the hospital anyway if the baby comes early."
He closed his eyes, and she rubbed his arm.
"Before I go, I need to call Cal," Buddy said more to himself than to Amanda.
But before he could reach for the phone, a sudden loud voice startled them. "This is Crazy Charlie and it's raging hot and the ole coffee pot is steaming and screaming and you lazy heads better get out of bed cause it's five thirty-one and that lucky ole sun ..."
Buddy slammed his fist hard on the Off button and dressed quickly in silence.
Amanda was at the counter pouring herself a cup of coffee when he walked past her and stopped at the kitchen phone on the wall. She knew, without looking, the number he was dialing. She could faintly hear Cal answer at the Methodist parsonage and then Buddy say, "Harlan has been shot. I'm on my way to the hospital. Meet me there."CHAPTER 2
The first memory they all had of their triangular friendship was from the fifth grade. Cal Vaxter and Harlan Stone had been next-door neighbors since their births in the same year and the same month. They were best friends, and their fathers were both downtown merchants, which put their families in the same circles socially and economically. They had shared most of the same teachers through elementary school, and in that fifth year, under the tutelage of Miss Eleanor Patterson, they sat side by side in desks on the back row. Miss Eleanor's impending deafness had protected them from being blamed for most of the disruptions they were guilty of and had occasionally brought them undeserved glory when she praised them for a wrong answer they convinced her she hadn't heard correctly. That fateful meeting with their third vertex on the playground at lunch recess was the beginning of another chapter of their lives and legendary brotherhood.
For reasons now lost to the ages, Cal and Harlan had become embroiled in a disagreement with four disgruntled sixth-graders. Years later they tried to remember if the boys had stolen their marbles or were upset because they had whistled at one of their girlfriends. Either way, they were into serious name-calling and then pushing and shoving and finally slaps and knocks. About the time one of the upperclassmen put a fist to Harlan's lip and he tasted blood and Cal found himself on the ground with three on top of him, a strange boy of grace came out of the gathering crowd and started slinging bodies in all directions. In thirty seconds the fight was won or conceded, depending on who was telling the story, and new friendships had been forged.
"What's your name?"
"Buddy Briggs? I've heard of you."
"You in Miss Weller's class?"
"Thanks for helpin' us out. But I had 'em on the run."
"Yeah." Buddy laughed. "You had all three of them on the run. All you had to do was turn over and you'd have been on top of them."
They all three laughed at this and not for the last time. They would recall and laugh at this chance meeting many times through many years. That day they rode their bikes home from school and discovered that Buddy lived only six blocks over. And six blocks was as far away from one another as they ever were ... until the war separated them.
An ambulance and police cars with flashing lights were parked at the emergency-room door as Buddy pulled up and stopped. He left his car in the circular drive and ran inside. He stopped at the desk for an update.
"Briggs. I'm with the police department," he said to the tall, heavyset woman whose name tag told him she was Nurse Hendricks.
"I know who you are," she shot back with something between annoyance and business-as-usual. "You're here for the Stone situation."
"Yes. What's the latest?"
"He's here. Only been here a few minutes, though. He's in the OR, and they're prepping him for surgery."
"Which operating room?"
"That shouldn't matter to you right now because you can't go back there."
"I thought you said you knew who I was."
"I do, Mr. Briggs. But here, I'm the authority. And no one can go back there until a doctor says so." As an afterthought she added, "You're not family, are you?"
Buddy decided he was not going to answer any more of her questions. He walked briskly around the reception desk toward the double doors that led to the inner halls of the hospital when someone from behind called his name.
"What in the world has happened?"
"I just got here myself. Looks like Harlan has been shot, and I don't have much more than that. I don't know where and I don't know how bad."
"I could tell you that if you had bothered to ask." It was Nurse Hendricks again.
Buddy just looked her in the eye and waited for her to continue. Consulting a file in her hand, she did.
"Mr. H. Stone was wounded in the left side. Bleeding was minimal. No record yet of organ damage or the severity of the wound itself. He is presently in the operating room awaiting Dr. Sidney Yandell, who is in the building, or Dr. Paxton, who is the surgeon on call. The patient is conscious and alert and in substantial pain. What else do you need to know?"
"I need to know why you didn't tell me all this earlier," Buddy said with rising anger in his voice.
Ignoring him completely, the nurse looked at Cal Vaxter and said, "Are you family?"
"I'm the family minister."
"Then you can go back."
Cal looked at Buddy, and Buddy glared at Nurse Hendricks for a brief second and said, "I tell you what, ma'am. We're both going back, and if you don't like that, call the cops."CHAPTER 3
Harlan Briscane Stone always knew what was expected of him. He didn't come from privilege, but he came from enough money to take privilege for granted. His father had instilled that in him from the day of his birth. Never telling him he was better than anyone else, but always telling him no one was better than he was. H. V. Stone had earned his money, every dime of it, through long hard hours of work, if you let him tell it. Others in Mt. Jefferson may have had a different take on how he acquired the considerable wealth he had hoarded away in all three of the city's banks, but no one could call him a crook. And certainly not to his face, because he owed no man and took no time in telling this to anyone he would meet or talk to in a day's time. H. V. Stone was a backslapper, a glad-hander, and a salesman of the highest order. He sold not just himself, but a product that could be bought nowhere else in the city limits. He had a lock on the market, a lock on the town, and a lock on his family. A family that consisted of his wife, Esther, and his only child, Harlan. And Harlan Stone grew up always knowing what was expected of him.
H. V. and Esther were the ideal couple in their social circle and the perfect parents in the eyes of all who cared to take notice. It was only in the privacy of their modest home on Corbin Street that their disagreements were aired. Or make that just "disagreement." Because the only thing they ever argued about was the neighborhood. They lived so far below their means that Mrs. Stone couldn't let a three-day period pass without making some comment about building a new home or moving to a bigger house or just living in a little more style than they did. But H. V. counted his wealth in numbers and required little when it came to the niceties of life. He didn't care what his house looked like or what the houses around him looked like. He lived in a middle-class neighborhood, but that was already so much more than what he'd been used to while growing up. The roof didn't leak, and the yard was big enough for a dog. He had no intention of spending good money on such useless things as a bigger house and a newer car. Esther would have to learn that money in the bank was just that—money in the bank. That's where money belonged, and that's where it would go each week and each year as long as he lived and controlled the books of his business. The source of the cash that just kept rolling in was a little store on the corner of Augusta and Main, elegantly named Stones by Stone Jewelers. The cleverness of this mouthful of a title was lost on the local citizenry, and everyone simply referred to it as Stone's.
Stone's was where you bought the little silver spoons for the baby showers and the starter bracelets for her sixth birthday. Stone's was where you shopped for the gold chain and cross for his confirmation and the friendship ring for that steady girlfriend. Stone's was where the nervous young men would gangle in and search for just the right size and right price tag, for the diamond that would adorn her finger for the rest of her life, and then return with the young bride-to-be to pick out wedding bands. And Stone's was where you would naturally be drawn to for all of her birthdays, anniversaries, and Christmases. Stone's carried sterling silver and pewter and all things shiny, but without question, it was a gold mine.
Harlan B. Stone always knew what was expected of him. He knew from the time he was a child that he was to get good grades, show good manners, play football, marry a nice local girl, and take care of the family business.
"Now, son, I want you to play football when you get to MJHS. You hear me?"
"I hear you, Poppa. I'm going to kick the ball farther than anybody ever has."
"That's my boy. And you're going to run. That's going to be your talent. Run every day and everywhere you go. Build up those muscles, and you'll be the fastest there ever was."
"I'll win a scholarship. You wait and see."
"You don't need a scholarship, son. Let some of those other boys have that scholarship fund. We'll take care of college. Don't you worry about that."
And he didn't. Harlan never worried about anything for the first fifteen years of his life. He made the good grades that were expected from him. He learned the good manners that were required of him and used them on his teachers to his best advantage. And he excelled in everything he attempted. President of his class, captain of the football team, not to mention the best halfback Mt. Jefferson High ever turned out—and he was voted Most Likely to Succeed in the Aerie, MJH's yearbook. He accomplished everything he set out to do and then set his goals for the University of Virginia. He would play football for the Cavaliers. His daddy told him he would, so it had to be true. His daddy never lied to him. His mother stayed quietly in the background through all those years and firmly added, "Keep up those grades, Harlan."
Whatever he became in life, Harlan always knew it was what his daddy demanded and what his mother allowed.CHAPTER 4
A second nurse stopped them on their way to the operating room. She was a little older and a little gentler than the one at the desk.
"Hi, Buddy, Cal. Are you both here to see Harlan?"
"Yes, we are."
"You don't remember me do you? We went to school together. Kathy Foster?"
"Sure, Kathy. How are you?" Cal said with a smile even though he couldn't recall ever seeing her before. Buddy made no move to put her at ease with a lie. He only stared at her and waited for her explanation as to why she had stopped them.
"I was Kathy Painter then. But anyway, you'll have to wait just a minute till I can get you each a surgical gown. You'll have to put it on over your clothes before you go in the OR."
But just as she was returning with the attire, another nurse tapped Buddy on the arm.
"Lieutenant, Mrs. Stone is in the lobby. She came over in the police car. She's pretty upset and says she wants to see you."
"Okay. I'll be right there."
Kathy Painter Foster had just given them each a white, ankle-length cotton gown. Buddy handed his back to her.
"Cal, you go on in and see Harlan. I'll go talk to Darcy and see if I can calm her down."
"Fine. I'll be out to see her shortly. I don't figure they'll let me stay long. Hopefully the doctor is here and nearly ready to start."
"He is," Nurse Foster said to Cal as she led him through the double doors. "He should be ready in just a few minutes."
Darcy Stone was sitting in a straight-back chair in the empty waiting area. Her eyes were red and swollen, and she was staring blankly ahead as if seeing nothing and no one. She looked even smaller than her five-foot-two frame. She was still pretty, even with her pale skin and ruffled hair. She stood and hugged Buddy a long time before saying anything.
"I love him so much, Buddy."
"I know you do. Do you feel like talking?"
"I talked to the other officers at the house and all the way over here. I don't know if I have the strength to talk anymore."
"Henry," Buddy yelled to the officer on the door, "get us two coffees, please." He looked back to Darcy and sat her down with his hand on her shoulder before sitting beside her.
Excerpted from The Mulligans of Mt. Jefferson by Don Reid. Copyright © 2012 Don Reid. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
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