Old Ventures, Ch. 4

Four, Jack, Canton, Ohio, Present

Jack was driving too fast, too recklessly. He could feel the wind in his hair, which meant he hadn’t grabbed his helmet, either, but he couldn’t force himself to care. His son was dying, but not today, not if he could help it. He weaved between two cars, coming so close to smacking into the nose of one then rebounding into the tail of the other he held his breath. When he exhaled, he could feel his breath’s heat, his anger warming it like a dragon’s fire.

Joey had been on government benefits basically his whole life. He earned those benefits, from a lifetime of service- something the government hadn’t always agreed on. They tried to take them away when he was drummed out of the Army for being gay, tried to take them again when his utility as a spy went when they decided who he was was more of a liability than the skills he had honed under Jack over damn near twenty years.

Jack went to bat for his son to get those benefits restored; it was the absolute least Uncle Sam could do for a boy who had been serving his country longer than most men who retired with full Army benefits and pay. But there was a new Commander in Chief, a petty man who always remembered every slight. Jack’s anger was the one at the wheel, and even he was surprised when he arrived at the hospital in one piece.

Joey had been in the long-term care wing for months, so Jack knew the way. He was lucky, to catch up with another family visiting, so he didn’t have to wait to be buzzed in. Hot as he was, he may well have just torn the door off its hinges.

He didn’t smile at the doctors or nurses on his way, tried not to even recognize they were there, because he was angry, at them, at the entire system. He was looking for an excuse, and he knew it. He heard one through the cracked door to his son’s room. “…we can do, but we’ll get someone up here with a wheelchair, to take you out to the pick-up area. Unfortunately, I’m going to need to start unhooking you from the monitors, and since we can’t leave you on your meds without them, I’ll have to disconnect those, as well.”

Jack slammed the door inward, “You’re not going to do a goddamned thing,” he bellowed, before realizing that he was reeling back to throw a punch at the doctor.  

Joey was there in an instant, catching Jack’s fist in his palm. “Can, we, uh, have a few minutes?” Joey asked, smiling to defuse the situation.

The doctor, visibly shaken, looked at his watch. “It’s probably my lunchtime,” he said. “This’ll keep, until after that,” he said.

“Thanks,” Joe said, as the doctor left the room. The moment he was clear, Joey stopped forcing himself to stand up straight, and his spine curved, his face contorting in pain. “You know you’d have taken his damn head off,” he said, as Jack helped him hobble back to bed. “He was just doing what he was told.”

“Following orders has never held much water as an excuse with me,” Jack replied.

“Dad,” Joe said, “there is a whole world of difference between a doctor caught in a bureaucratic bind and a Nazi. You know that.”

Jack sighed, and his voice broke as he let all of the air from his chest, deflating like a balloon as he collapsed into a chair. “Yeah,” he said, the word coming out almost a sob.

“Hey,” Joe said. “It’s going to be okay. Doctor’s say my numbers have actually improved, even.”

“You, you shouldn’t have to cheer me up.”

“Why not? I’m just happy you’re here. So happy,” he said, tears welling up in his eyes. “Just because I’m sick, doesn’t mean the world suddenly has to revolve around me,” he said, wiping a tear from his cheek. “We’re all grieving. You’re losing a son, and… I’m losing you, too.” Joey took up his hand, and squeezed it.

“I’m sorry,” Jack said, “that I haven’t been here more.” “Shush,” Joe said. “You’re here now. Let’s not waste the time we’ve got worrying about the time we didn’t.”

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