"Under the circumstances, you did the right thing," he assured me.
"They're going to keep her overnight for observation, and probably release her in the morning. I'll get more details after that, but I figure she'll need rest for a couple of days to be on the safe side. What do you think?"
"Yes. I'd say rest for a few days, and light activity."
"I'll let you break it to Carrie, Monk, and Lea. Let them know I'll take good care of her, and I'll probably have both cell phones close by."
"I'll let them know she's in good hands," he commented. "I'll also pass the prayer request to Jack."
"Appreciated. Talk to you later. Bye."
I walked back into the hospital.
I caught Dot's cell phone just after the first ring. "Hello? Hi, Monk." From her bed, Dot's head turned in my direction. "Yeah, she's fine. Just a minor concussion." I laughed, then relayed his comment to her. "He says that, considering how many times he and Ham had been knocked out, you should've developed a genetically harder head."
The laugh from her was cut short by the pain. She settled for a smile.
I turned back to Monk. "Yes, I'll make sure she get's her rest." I paused, then added in a low voice, "I'll take good care of her." I listened. "Sure. Here." I passed the phone over to Dot.
"Yeah, I'm fine, granddad," she said. "It was a lucky shot."
As they talked, I strolled over to the window. Dawn was still a few more hours away, but I didn't expect to get any rest before it arrived. My heart was drawn to the lady on the bed. I cared about her, but memories became bright orange caution flags around me. I didn't want Dot to become another Barbara in my life.
I heard the conversation end behind me, and I took the cell phone from her.
"He's concerned," she commented.
"He has a right to be. So do we all. Now you get a little rest, okay?"
She looked up at me, and reached up her hand. I took it. "You saved my life back there."
I shrugged it off. "And you saved mine in New York. Let's just call it even. Now, rest."
She grinned softly. "Yes, sir," she said, and closed her eyes. I stood there for a couple of minutes, then moved over to a nearby chair and quietly sat. I watched her steady breathing, and prayed.
Clark's judgement of the situation had been accurate. The doctor had ordered seventy-two hours of bed rest, starting with complete bed rest for the first twenty-four. Considering all, Dot had no arguments. As soon as we came back from the hospital, she changed into a modest sweatsuit and went right to bed. While she slept, I kept watch and prayed, for her health as well as her soul.
We became well acquainted with the hotel's hospitality staff, as they brought up meals and whatever we needed. I tried to tip generously. The weather outside was nice, and I would open the blinds to let in the therapeutic rays of the sun whenever possible.
Dot experienced the full range of side effects: headaches, nausea, neck pain, and just plain old tiredness. This made for some interesting moments over the next couple of days. I also took advantage of the situation to entertain her with Bible stories, delivered in such a way that it dispelled her 'boring book' apprehensions. Part of my technique came from years of delivering sermons to sometimes-hostile crowds at the Mission.
Carrie and Monk called at least once a day, to check on Dot, and to see how I was fairing. Clark and I also kept in communication, and even Jack and I had opportunity to talk. As Dot and I discussed the progress the others were making in locating Renny, we planned a little sightseeing trip to Oakland once she was better, to videotape the actual site of the freeway collapse.
And I was able to inject some fun in her recuperation, one afternoon while she was sleeping. I set things up quietly, then sat back and waited.
I had been sitting in the chair, half-dozing. When Dot stirred, I became alert. Her eyes had still been closed, but her nose crinkled as she sniffed the air. I smiled; she looked so cute, I observed. As she turned from her side to her back, she opened her eyes and looked in my direction. Then, with the horrible realization that I was watching, she murmured a quiet exclamation, turned away from me, and hastily removed the evidence -- the trail of drool -- that had appeared while she had slept.
Then she saw them on the table: the flowers, and the furry little purple guardian next to the vase. Her eyes softened and I heard her say, "Awwww." She reached out and took the purple-furred teddy bear. She opened the note that was attached. Although she didn't read it aloud, I knew what it said: "Hi. My name is Grape Juice. I'm here to keep you company while you get better."
She rolled over onto her back and smiled at me. "I love it. Thanks." She held an arm out to me, signaling for a hug. I walked over and bent down, and she wrapped her arms around my neck, kissing me on the cheek. As she lay back with the teddy bear tucked underneath her chin, she asked, "Why do you baby me?"
I asked, "You don't want to be babied?"
"No. I like being babied, and I like the way you baby me," she replied with a smile, giving Grape Juice a squeeze. "I don't deserve to be treated this good."
Inside I wanted to say a lot of things, unravel the feelings of my heart to her. But it wasn't the time. So I just smiled and shrugged, then bent over and kissed the top of her head. "Yes, you do."
The phone rang. Johnny answered it, then switched over to the speakerphone.
Clark drew nearer. "Monk?"
"Yeah, I can hear you," came Monk's voice over the speaker.
"You have found something?"
"And have I! Any doubts I had about Renny are out the window! The bugger survived the quake for sure!"
"What did you find?" asked Johnny eagerly.
"My amigos in Baja told me about a fighting sensation that hit the area in October 1989, right after the little shake-rattle-and-roll to the north. A sullen-faced Americano they called the Great Stone Wall because he could knock out an opponent with a single punch from his huge fists. Now, if that ain't Renny, then he's been cloned."
"Excellent, Monk," commented Clark.
"And we were also right about the gambling. He came into town with a primo 4-by-4 and a bag fulla money, and left in a cabin cruiser."
"A boat?" queried Johnny.
"Yeah. Actually, a 34-foot yacht he renamed the Houdini."
"The escape artist," commented Clark. "Interesting. It almost seems like he's leaving us a trail to follow."
Monk cackled. "And why not? He didn't think anyone would follow him. We all thought he was dead."
"So he got a boat," repeated Johnny. "Boats have registries."
"And this one was registered in the name of Aaron Stonewall. Stone wall . . . get it?"
"So where did he go?" asked Clark.
"You name it, he did it. I've got a list six pages long of ports he stayed at. One detail worth noting, guys: he never stayed in one place for more than a month, until he ended up in Romania, in the former Soviet Union. After four months, the Houdini changed hands."
"He sold the boat?" asked Johnny. "But why?"
"He either needed the money . . . or he didn't plan on leaving," suggested Clark. "Perhaps he found a cause worth staying for, a reason for his life. A hope."
"Makes sense. Can we look into it?"
Johnny theorized, "Could he have become a citizen?"
"Naw," replied Monk. "He's an American."
"Just for the sake of argument," interjected Clark. "Let's consider the possibility that he took up residency in Romania. If he became a citizen, there would be records. Do we know anyone who might have access to those records?"
"Maybe," replied Johnny absently. "I have some friends, teachers, who have been working with the Romanian educational system. But where do we start? What name do we look for?"
"Not a clue," said Clark. "Can we get copies of all the citizenship records for that period, give or take . . . three months?"
"I don't know. It may be possible."
"Then what do they do?" asked Monk. "Fax 'em to us?"
"Good idea. We might be able to see something they can't." He paused. "Johnny?"
The professor was deep in thought. "Maybe. Let me see what I can uncover."
"Spoken like a true archeologist," quipped Monk. "Well, I'll leave you to it. Happy New Year, guys."
"To you, too. Hug Lea for us."
"Will do, Doc. Later."
Clark switched off the speakerphone box. "Anything I can do to help?"
"Not at the moment. I need to find my records," he commented. "Let's put the chess game on hold for awhile. It was your turn."
"Okay. I'm going to call Perry and give him this latest development."
But the professor wasn't listening. He was concentrating. Clark smiled and went into the kitchen to make the call.
"Clark, I think I may be able to help," I said. "I've got a few friends myself in Romania, missionaries. I think I can get their phone number through Jack. If Johnny can get the papers, I think my friends can fax them to you."
"That would be excellent. How are things going?"
"Well, Dot's napping right now. Most of the symptoms have vanished, except an occasional headache, which is not surprising."
"Any plans for tonight?"
"Yeah. I'm going to take her out, possibly down to Fisherman's Wharf. That should be safe enough. Besides, I figured that if I didn't get her out of the room -- especially tonight -- I'd discover a rope made of bedsheets dangling from her window." We both laughed. "So this will do her good."
"How have you been doing?" he asked, concerned.
I took a deep breath. "As well as possible. I admit, I've not been getting as much sleep as I should, but I hope to make that up soon. Clark, I really like Dot, you know? She's nowhere like Barbara, but she's special."
"Yeah. She is."
"Well, I better let you go. I hear her in the other room. Better be there. Talk to you soon, Clark. Take care."
"You, too. Bye."
New Year's Eve. When thoughts look backwards in reflection on the events of the past twelve months, and forward with anticipation and wonder of the next twelve. And for that single night where past and future come together for a wild dance at midnight.
Fisherman's Wharf was crowded, as I suspected. The cable cars were busy, and we had to hold hands just to keep from being separated. We visited Pier 39, and even took a nostalgic ride on the merry-go-round. We watched impromptu fireworks being fired off near Alcatraz Island. Sometimes the crowd was so loud and so dense that we had to stand practically face-to-face, holding onto one another, in order to be heard.
The clamor at midnight was almost deafening. Fireworks spattered across the sky and we all got caught up in the revelry. While we were pressed close to one another, Dot looked into my eyes for a moment, then said "Happy New Year," and kissed me. I hesitated for less than a heartbeat, then returned the kiss. My head became lost in the moment, and all I knew were the sensations, the sounds and smells, and the lips of this wonderful lady, and our arms were wrapped around one another as if trying to hold onto life itself.
We were both breathless. We looked into each other's eyes. Then I moved in and kissed her again. Nothing else mattered at that moment but her. When we separated, I heard her say, "I love you." I heard my voice reply, "I love you, too." We continued to kiss until we noticed that the crowd was starting to thin out. "Time to get you back to the hotel," I announced.
"Okay," she agreed eagerly, and we made our way back in the direction of the cable cars.
We walked down the hallway and stood outside her hotel room. I thought nothing of it when I followed her in. I was as comfortable around her hotel room as I was in my own. The lights were out, but there was a soft glow coming through the windows from outside. I closed the door behind me, but didn't lock it.
Dot stopped, turned around, and slipped her arms around my waist. I did the same, and pulled her close. She leaned in and we kissed. "I love you," she said.
I paused briefly, then told her sincerely, "I love you, too."
She kissed me again on the mouth. Then her face shifted an inch and she placed a kiss on my cheek, then two. As her mouth neared my ear, she softly spoke, "I need you." Then she passionately kissed my ear. Her soft lips worked their way down my neck. My eyes rolled up in my head and I sighed.