Excluding breaks to get gas, stretch or use rest rooms, we drove non-stop from Oberlin to Lincoln City. Breaking up our driving time into four hour shifts, with one of us sleeping while the other two drove, we made very good time. We reached the outskirts of Lincoln City by evening, a day and a half after leaving Renny and Amanda.
Clark was driving the Black Beauty, while I drove Dot's truck. Dot took the easy way out and had taken the last shift on my bed in the back of the camper. Now she sat in the passenger seat as I reminisced about our destination. "I always liked it here. Barbara and I had come here a couple of times long ago, and I had visited a few times since then. Their main attraction and source of revenue is the casino, but I always preferred the beach. I remember going for walks, and admiring the houses that overlooked the ocean. I wonder if I'll remember his?"
"Here's your chance," commented Clark, pointing. "That's the address."
Renny had made contact with Long Tom yesterday and broke the news to him. There was resistance, but he seemed to accept it.
The house was a multi-level structure with a high ceiling and a road which curved before the double front doors. We walked up and rang the bell. An attractive Vietnamese woman in her mid- to late-twenties answered the door.
"Yes?" she spoke in flawless English.
Once more I acted as spokesperson, while Clark hung back. "Is this the home of Mr. Thomas Roberts?"
"Yes it is."
I paused, then used the key we discussed on the way here. "We're friends of a friend of his -- Mr. Ivan Renwick. He gave us your address."
Her face brightened noticeably. "Ah, yes. Mr. Liston, Miss Brooks, and Mr. Savage. We have been expecting your arrival." She backed away from the door to allow us through. "Father is on the deck watching the sunset. Would you please follow me?"
The house was remarkable. As the girl escorted us through, we saw many pieces of art that showed her influence in the decorations. We passed through the living room to the large wooden deck overlooking the ocean. A man in a motorized wheelchair serenely watched as the sun descended over the horizon. He mused, "You know, Amy, no matter how many times I see this, I never tire of it. Who was at the door?"
"Mr. Savage and friends," she replied.
He twisted around in the chair to see us. "Doc?"
Clark stepped forward. "Yes, Tom. It's me."
He pivoted the chair to face the big bronze man and looked up at him with the fascination of a child at Disneyland. "My God, man, you haven't aged, have you? When Renny told me about you being in suspended animation for the last fifty years, I wondered if I'd sent him the wrong kind of pipe tobacco." He paused, and his excitement toned down a bit. He tilted his head and smiled thinly. "Renny also suggested that I should test you if I had any doubts. So I think I will. Tell me something only we would know."
Clark thought a moment, then smiled and spoke slowly. "As a child, you had a pet. A black cat you named Snowball."
Tom's face blushed, and he quickly said, "Okay -- I'm convinced! It's you!"
Clark knelt before the wheelchair and looked his friend in the face. Then their hands met in the middle. I saw tears forming in Tom's eyes. "My God, I never thought I've ever see you again, Doc."
Clark nodded. "And we almost gave up looking for you. If it hadn't been for Renny, we would've."
After a few moments, Clark made the formal introductions: "This is Perry Liston. And this is Dot Brooks."
He looked up at her. "Brooks?"
"Ham and Monk are my grandfathers," she explained.
"Good men," he commented with admiration. "Amy should have the tea ready soon. Let's go inside." Then he pushed forward on the joystick, and the chair smoothly rolled forward.
Inside, as we sat sipping excellent oolong tea and nibbling on rice cookies, Long Tom gave us his story; he appeared to be more open than Renny had judged. Amy took a chair next to Tom and listened respectfully.
"I was in Vietnam as an observer for the United Nations. I had been sent to Ti Chan Province to investigate an attack on the village by unknown means. Considering how we used to see these things all the time, I figured it would be an adventure. Little did I know. The village was in ruins, dozens dead or wounded. It was heartbreaking. As I walked through the village, I didn't see the booby trap. I found myself high in the air, my legs half blown away. I was lucky . . . there was a Medevac unit in the village that secured me long enough for me to be transported to a local hospital. They operated on me . . . saved my life, but not my legs.
"I wanted to die. I intended to kill myself. All I needed was enough solitude to pull it off. The ward of the hospital I was recovering in had a high rate of turnover, and wasn't limited by age or gender. A lot of people came through. However, I was never in a position to be alone long enough to carry out my suicide plan. One night I was trying to sleep, but a small child was crying." He reached out and took Amy's soft hand, instantly giving away the identity of the child. "No one heeded her. In that moment I realized I was alone enough to carry out my plan. But as minute after minute passed, I became more hesitant to taking my own life, and more attentive to the lonely cries of this little one. Finally I got disgusted and hauled myself into a wheelchair. I wheeled over to the other bed and looked at the child -- so tiny, barely two years old. She was terrified. I took her into my arms, and was surprised that she came so eagerly. She clung onto me as if I were life itself. At that moment, my heart was melted by this little girl.
"They found us the next morning, both asleep, her in my arms and me in my chair. I asked around, and found out the girl was from the village I came from. All her relatives had been killed. Her family name was Phan, and her first name was unknown. A nurse in the ward had given her the name Amy. Amy just happened to be the name of a favorite aunt of mine. So I gave the little girl the name Amy Phan Roberts, and used my influences with the government to secure a special waiver to be able to adopt her as a single parent. She was alone. I was alone. We both had pain. But now we had each other, and that was enough." He affectionately squeezed his daughter's hand, and Amy leaned down and softly kissed her father's head. "She has become my reason to live, to carry on. She encouraged me through therapy, and I encouraged her through college. My patents have provided us with sufficient income to live on -- remember how frugal I was with money? We moved to Lincoln City many years ago to find a place to make a fresh start, free of the past."
He paused. "So . . . you will stay the night, won't you? I've not even given you a tour yet."
"Of course we'll stay," answered Clark with a beaming smile.
"Will it be all right to leave our vehicles out front?" I asked.
"You might want to move them around to the side. I've got a parking area there, and a van that I drive. Just park anywhere around there."
While Dot and I left to move the rigs, Tom and Clark talked. "I've not been idle in the years I've been in this chair, Doc. Come with me -- I'll take you downstairs to my electronics lab in the basement. You might be impressed."
He pushed the chair forward and headed for an elevator the size of a large closet. He paused to inform Amy where they were going.
"Considering the things you did in the past, I'm sure I'll be impressed," commented Clark. "What do you work on?"
"Anti-violence devices, " Tom explained as he pressed the Down button. "I know it's almost impossible to rid the world of violence, but I've been trying in some small way to achieve a way of eliminating the way violence is expressed. Imagine a youth gang war nipped in the bud by an effective -- yet harmless -- stun weapon. Or booby traps such as took my legs, disarmed at a distance without ever causing harm again. There's more, but I'll have to show you."
"And you have achieved this?" he said, astounded.
They arrived at the laboratory level. Clark looked around and was amazed. Everything was at a lower height, to accommodate the wheelchair. Clark was like a kid in a candy store, as Tom answered his question.
"In a limited way, yes, I have achieved my goal. But, sadly, not enough to market it -- yet. There's too narrow a range of effectiveness. In time, perhaps. I have mentored Amy to take over after I'm gone. She'll make sure my goal is achieved." He turned, moved a few yards away, and turned back. "In the meantime, I have used my talent to secure this house . . . in ways you might find familiar."
"Familiar?" asked Clark. He looked around at the room. "Well, let's see. Proximity alarms, motion detectors, and I'll assume those two are cameras. But as far as . . ." Suddenly a grin spread across his face. "You electrified the floor."
Tom smiled back. "You're Doc all right. Only you'd be able to spot that on sight. I've made some improvements since we used it on the 86th floor, and have much of the house covered. I've only had to use it once, on a couple of unfortunate burglars who thought a man in a wheelchair would be an easy mark for a break-in." He shrugged.
"Father?" came Amy's voice over an intercom.
"Are you and Mr. Savage hungry?"
Tom looked at Clark, who nodded. "It's been a while, and we've been on the road ever since we left Renny's."
"Amy?" called Tom. "I'm not very hungry, but I'm sure our guests are. Thank you, dear."
"And thank you, Tom," said Clark.
"It's nothing. She's an excellent cook. Now, let me show you some of my latest inventions . . . ," he said, moving forward.
The rest of the evening was excellent. Amy was a marvelous cook, and the meal -- our first home-cooked one in almost two days -- was welcomed. We sat around and talked and enjoyed ourselves. Finally we called it a night. Clark and I crashed on the couches, and Dot got the bed in the rarely-used guest bedroom.
As we settled in for bed, Tom wheeled past to wish us a good night. Then he moved in closer.
"You said you found Pat?" he asked with a smile. "Is she still . . . as beautiful as ever?"
Clark and I exchanged glances. "Yes, very much," answered Clark, diplomatically.
His eyes were glazed over. "I'm glad. I'm so glad. Goodnight, Doc. Goodnight, Perry."
"FATHER!" came Amy's scream, piercing the morning silence.
I arrived about a minute after Clark. The sheet on his bed was pulled down, and they were performing CPR on Tom. Amy respirated while Clark did chest compressions. There was nothing I could do but pray, and assist. "I'll call 911," I told them, and headed for the nearest phone, passing Dot. Once the ambulance was on its way, I returned to the bedroom and stood there, praying and watching. I could see sweat beads on Clark's furrowed brow as he rhythmically pressed on, literally holding his friend's life in his hands.
Dot stood by with me, then leaned in close. "If we're going to the hospital, I better get the rigs ready. Amy can ride with me, and you guys can lock up and follow. I'll move my truck around. Then I'll guide the paramedics when they get here."
"Good idea." And I handed her our keys. "Get the van pointed in the right direction, okay?"
"Gotcha," she replied, and headed to the door.
The EMTs showed within ten minutes, and everyone moved clear. They put Tom on the gurney and transported him to the ambulance. Dot told Amy she'd be going with her, and they took off. Clark and I grabbed a couple of things and followed.
In the waiting lounge outside of Emergency, the three of us tried to sit patiently. We were not doing well. Amy finally came out and gave us the news: "They're going to be moving him to another room. They asked me to wait here."
Clark held out his arms to her. Without hesitation, she accepted the invitation. Gone was the professional caregiver, replaced by the hurting little girl resting her tear-streaked face on the muscled chest, and gave in to the grief. Dot and I made eye contact, then she came over to me and we held onto one another tightly.
After a few moments, I caught Clark's eye and signed to him, "I'm going to call Monk." He acknowledged me with an easy nod of his head.
It was cold outside of the hospital. The ocean mist had come in with the dawn and moved in and out of the coastline. I called Monk and Lea, and gave them the headlines, then filling in the details about finding Renny. "Okay, Perry," squeaked the chemist. "Me an' Lea are gonna join ya. And I'm gonna call Johnny to see if he c'n be there, too. Did you tell Renny yet?"
"No. He's next on my list. But there's not much you can do."
"We can be there," he replied, soberly. "That's plenty."
I understood. "Okay. Bye."
As I finished the call to Renny, Dot came out to join me. Considering how her father had died, I wondered how she was taking things. She wrapped her arms around me and I gave her a quick, reassuring embrace. "They're taking him to the other room now. Give 'em about ten minutes. Amy's working on the paperwork. And Clark's talking to the doctor in charge."
I looked at her. "He is? Oh boy," I mumbled with an underlying tone of dread.
We returned to the waiting lounge. Off to one side, Clark talked with the white-jacketed surgeon. He listened wearily, then gave Clark the bottom line to Long Tom's condition: "He's had a massive myocardial infarction, and is now stable and resting. However . . . it doesn't look good. His heart's taken a beating today, and it may be a matter of days rather than years."
Clark paused, considering his response. "I know quite a bit about medicine," he said, venturing close to the edge. "May I offer a few suggestions?"
The doctor nodded patiently. "I suppose so."
Clark talked using medical language and terminology that certainly went over my head, addressing several courses of action from a surgical standpoint. It appeared that the doctor understood the words that were being spoken, but I somehow felt it wouldn't make a difference. After a few moments, the doctor gave his response: "Mr . . . Dent, is it?. I can see that you care a great deal about Thomas. So do I -- I've been his doctor for the last five years. And I'm impressed by your medical knowledge. But, you have to understand -- anything we do now would only delay the inevitable for a few weeks at best."
Clark was insistent. "But the procedures I suggested -- "
" -- haven't been used in fifteen, maybe twenty, years." The doctor took a deep breath and released it in a tired sigh. "I'm sorry. Believe me, we have done all we can do. Anything more would only put further stress on an already-weakened system. It would be like plugging one leak only to have two more take its place." He paused. "Let me be blunt, Mr. Dent. Thomas is dying; it's only a matter of days now. The best we can do is to make those final days as comfortable as possible."
Clark wasn't about to accept that. "But, Doctor -- "
The surgeon flared. "Mr. Dent! Thomas is my patient, and he's waiting for me! You can see him in a few minutes -- good day!" Without waiting for a response, he turned and walked away.
Clark's hand reached out, but too late.
I turned to Dot. "I suspected this might happen. Pray for me; I have to talk to him." Then I walked over to Clark and placed a hand on his muscled arm. It slowly lowered to his side.
Seeing a volcano of pain behind those gold-flecked eyes, I said softly, "The Chapel is just over there. Let's talk."
Fortunately, the Chapel was empty. As the door closed, Clark let loose. "Why, Perry, why? Dammit, I'm a surgeon, too! I've saved lives! Why can't God let me save his?"
I spoke calmly. "Fifty years ago, you were Doc Savage. You were, to many people, a god. Your prowess in the fields of medicine, chemistry, physics, was second to none. But that was then. Now, displaced from your time, you are Clark Dent. It's not the same anymore. Your expertise is now obsolete. Modern medical science has passed you by. You feel helpless. But there are other ways of helping Long Tom, if you search them out."
"What can I do?" he looked at me. At that moment, the warrior was a child.
I tried to smile. "You do the only thing left. The most obvious thing to us. And the hardest." I paused. "You -- we -- have to leave this in God's hands and let Him take care of it."
He was silent. I had made my point. Now it was up to Clark. "You need some time alone. Here's a good place." I smiled. "See you later."
He nodded, and I left the bronze warrior to his charge.
Clark was alone again. Alone and helpless. He wanted to help his dear friend, a friend who would soon die. But he couldn't. And not knowing where he stood when he stands before God, the feelings were twisting up inside of him.
"It's so hard." His voice came out as a low groan. "So very very hard. I want to save Tom's life -- but I can't."
He paced the floor, occasionally looking up at the ceiling. "I'm a man of action! I can't sit around being idle. I need to do something. And it's so frustrating because there's no action I can take that will make a difference." He stopped and sighed. "I know I need to turn this over to You. But it's so hard this time. It's never meant this much to me, and I just . . . I don't want to let go.
"Maybe it's just that I've barely gotten to see him again, and he's going to be leaving -- forever. To where? I don't know where he stands with You. Do You have to take him just now? He's got so much to do, so much to give."
He threw his hands up in frustration. "All of my life, I've been the one leading the team, being the example. Perry was right -- they did treat me like a god. And, inside, I reveled in that admiration and awe. Even now, it's still the same. They think I'm the strong one -- hah! That's a laugh! I've never been more helpless in my life. There's nothing I can do to keep him from dying."
Words came to his heart: "When I am weak, then I am strong." He knew where the apostle Paul was coming from when he put those words down. He was imprisoned at the time, in a Roman jail.. But not helpless. He stood strong in Christ, who became his strength like a spiritual exo-skeleton.
More words, more encouragement from the prophet Zechariah: "And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The LORD is my God." He knew he was being tried through the fires. Tried, tested, taught. Just like Perry. Just like Dot. Just like Monk.
He was the mighty Man of Bronze, who was being refined as silver through the fires. Ouch.
Clark now realized he had been on the floor again. His face was moist, with tears, with sweat. He stood slowly, taking each breath as if it was a gift to be savored. He took a deep breath and exhaled it. Each breath is so precious, he thought. A gift of life. He was still alone in the room. He took out the bandanna from his back pocket and wiped off his face. Removing the evidence, he thought with a smile. He looked at the cross on the wall in front of him, and said, "I can't let go, but I must. Please take it from me, and don't let me take it back."
"But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." Those, he knew, were his marching orders.
He suddenly felt cool, as if a gust of wind had just rushed through the enclosed room. It brought relief, and he suddenly knew the prayer had been answered. He took a deep breath, then left the chapel.
I stood in the hallway outside of Room 117. When I saw Clark approach, standing tall, I knew God had worked things out with him. I saw humility mingled with the inner strength I knew only too well. I smiled, knowing that he had faced a major challenge and had come out on top. Ready to face the next one.
"Everything okay?" I asked, knowing the answer already.
"For the moment." He paused. "Is Tom okay?"
I nodded. "Yeah. The doctor's just giving him a once-over, making sure everything's stable."
"How's he look? The doctor, I mean."
"Tired. His name's Brannan. Richard Brannan. Just in case you're interested."
"Where's Dot and Amy?"
"Dot took Amy back to their place to get some clothes. They'll be back in an hour. And it looks like we're going to be having a reunion soon."
An eyebrow raised. "What do you mean?"
"When I told Monk about Tom, he told me he and Lea'd be coming as soon as possible. He called Johnny, and I called Renny. They're all on their way." I paused. "It looks like the team's going to be gathering together once more."
A smile crossed the bronze man's features, and I thought I saw his eyes misting. "Praise the Lord!" he said softly. He glanced up at the clock; it was shortly after 1 pm. Then he looked at me and asked, "When was the last time you took a break?"
"What's a break?" I admitted. We had all been going non-stop since this started.
He placed a hand on my shoulder. "You look drained. Go back to the van and catch a nap. I'll get you if anything happens, okay." He smiled, then added, "And no emails to Jack first."
"Yes, Chief," I grinned back, placing a hand on his shoulder. Then I headed down the hall for the parking lot.
The doctor came out of the room, exchanging looks with Clark. "Thank you, Dr. Brannan."
He nodded. "You can go in now," he informed Clark, then continued down the hall.
Clark went into the hospital room. The glow of the sun came through the window. The room seemed to be extraordinarily large for its single occupant. The head of Tom's bed was elevated slightly. Around him, tubes fed him fluids and oxygen, and wires monitored his vital signs. A soft beep-beep-beep was a welcome sound to Clark's ears, as he moved over to the chair placed next to the bed. He sighed and closed his eyes, lowering his head.
"Doc?" came a hoarse voice.
He lifted his head. "I thought you were asleep."
"I'll have plenty of time for that later." He managed a weak smile. "Got a question for you: what was it like in suspended animation?"
"Did you dream? Could you think?" he asked curiously.
Clark paused to remember. "No. Not really. Why do you ask?"
"Doc, I'm no fool. I know I'm dying. I've probably seen my last sunset." He paused. "I've tried to make things easy for Amy. She knows my wishes. But I'm not entirely sure . . . what to expect."
Clark raised an eyebrow a fraction. "What do you mean?"
"I don't know. I've looked at all kinds of religions, faiths, beliefs. And it's confusing. I'm not sure if I'll meet Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates, or come back to earth as Habeas Corpus' distant cousin. Or if there's just . . . nothing."
"What do you believe, Tom?" he asked solemnly.
His expression was not humorous. "I believe I'm in deep trouble." He paused. "Clark, last night I saw a different person in you than I remembered. You've changed -- for the better. If it would've been me in suspended animation for fifty years, I'd probably be a basket case and would need years of psychotherapy. But you coped. You made it."
"It wasn't easy," Clark answered confidently. "When I woke up in that cave, there was darkness that seemed to close in on me and smother me. I was weak. I was only starting to feel the disorientation. I concentrated on getting out of that prison. It was like Loki all over again, but I was all alone." He stood as the memories returned to him. "Remember, I didn't know fifty years had passed until I reached civilization -- and, even then, I was hesitant to believe it, thinking it was a deception from one of my enemies. When I came to accept the truth of . . . when . . . I was, I experienced waves and waves of anxiety and helplessness, which only magnified later when I found out what happened to you all . . . ."
His voice came more rapidly now. "Imagine my shock, knowing what had happened while I had been in hibernation. The properties -- the Empire State Building sold, the Hidalgo Trading Company leveled, and the Crime College equated with Dachau! My friends, my closest team members -- Ham, dead by his own hands; Renny, letting the world think he was dead; you, Monk, and Johnny, in your own little worlds exiled from humanity; and Pat . . ." His voice drifted. "And the world looks at me as a criminal on the order of Joseph Mengele! That was shock!"
Clark suddenly stopped cold, realizing he was ranting. "I'm sorry, Tom." He smiled at his friend.
"I was going to ask if you ever felt like a thousand pound weight was crushing your soul, but you've already answered that one." He smiled back.
Clark gave off with a hollow chuckle. "Yes, I know the feeling well."
"As do I. That's why I have to tell you something." He paused. "For decades, I've only told a partial truth about how I lost my legs."
"Go ahead," said Clark softly, returning to the chair. "Talk to me."
He struggled to take a deep breath. "The two of us have seen governments change sides with all the forethought of choosing a necktie. Allies become enemies. I made the mistake of providing my services to a government that later allied itself with the enemies of the United States during the Vietnam War." He paused. "The part of my story about why I was in Vietnam was correct: I was a technical observer, checking out a village that had been attacked by an unknown weapon. However, as I sifted through the debris near the point of impact, I saw something. A piece of circuitry with a pattern that only I could have done. My signature, so to speak, was there.
"Bottom line, this village might not have been destroyed if not for something I had created."
He paused, reflecting. "I was stunned. I staggered around the village in shock. Each bloody, broken body I saw was a jolt to my very being. I didn't care about my life at that point. I wanted to suffer. I wanted to die. The booby trap I set off was ironically appropriate. But when all I experienced was the loss of my legs -- and not my life -- I wanted desperately to finish the job. I was responsible. I was a traitor to my country and a killer. I couldn't forgive myself for my actions.
"But Amy changed that. Adopting her, in part, was my way of repaying the debt I owed her village. And she has given me a reason for living."
"Does she know?"
"No, and I don't want her to. It would hurt her, knowing I was responsible for her family's death."
"Very well. You have my word. How do you feel?"
Tom thought a moment. "Better. It's true: confession is good for the soul."
Clark leaned in a bit. "But there's more, Tom. You know there is."
He nodded understanding. "Yes," he agreed. "But what?"
"You have let go of that which has brought much pain to your life. But that is only part of the victory that awaits you. You still have no hope for what lies beyond this life. You need that." He took the hand of his friend and they made eye contact. "When I came out of hibernation and saw all that had changed around me, I, too, had no hope. I was fifty years beyond my time. Then I met Perry, and he introduced me to someone who has carried me through all the shocks and aftershocks of the last year. He . . . has taken me from death unto life and given me hope. His name is Jesus Christ . . . and he's my friend . . . let me tell you about him from my perspective . . . ."