Then they heard a single word from Tom: "Amen." Dot's eyes went wide.
"Father?" said Amy. "Are you well?"
As they neared, Clark faced them. He wore a familiar smile, and the light glinted off of the wetness below his eyes. Dot smiled.
There was a new look to Tom's face, a glow. With more strength than he possessed, he propped himself up on his elbows and smiled broadly. "Amy, my love, I am more than all right. I am forgiven."
Clark stood and backed away from the chair. Amy sat by her father's side. As they talked, Clark moved over to Dot. She put an arm around his waist and said softly, "Praise the Lord."
"Amen," he agreed.
"Should I tell Perry?" asked Dot quietly.
"No. He's sleeping." They watched father and daughter talking. "Besides, somehow, I don't think this is over just yet -- do you?"
She shook her head. "Nope."
I heard the rapping on the van's side. It was dark. I quickly looked at my watch and rose to see who it was. A simian face grinned back at me. "Monk! Lea! You made it!"
"Yeah. The taxi just dropped us off. We saw the van and thought we'd see if anyone was home. How's Long Tom?"
"Last I knew, fine. But that was a few hours ago. Let me get my shoes on, and we'll go to his room."
As I slid closed the van's door and turned around, Monk gave me a killer bear hug. Gasping, I asked, "What was that for?"
"For Dot," he said, his voice filled with emotion. "For bringin' her to the Lord."
"I wanted it as much as you," I said in dead-seriousness.
With an arm around my shoulders, he looked over at Lea. "Is he gonna make a terrific grandson-in-law, or what?"
My eyes went wide. Lea slapped him in the arm. "Andy! I told you not to bring that up," she scolded him.
"Okay. Sorry." As Lea started to walk towards the hospital building, Monk leaned in to me and said, "We'll talk about this later."
Choosing wisely, I kept my tongue.
When we reached the room, I went in first. Amy was at Tom's bedside. Dot was sitting in a chair; I got her attention, and she came over to me. "Got a surprise for you," I whispered, and took her into the hallway for a happy reunion.
Then she gave us the update on the situation. Clark was getting something to eat. Tom was holding his own, and sleeping now. Then, with a big grin, she announced that both Tom and Amy had become Christians. Not wanting to disturb others around us, we cheered softly in the hallway, rejoicing in the moment.
We went in, and Dot escorted Monk and Lea to the bed. Amy saw who had arrived, was startled by Monk's face, then Dot made the introductions and Amy greeted them with hugs.
I stepped out of the room, wanting to intercept Clark. A few moments later, I did. With a handshake, I commented with a smile, "You wanted to save Tom. Now, you have."
He smiled back and nodded understandingly. "'Yet not I, but Christ who lives in me,'" he quoted. "Perry, now I see how God's hand has moved throughout Tom and Amy's lives. Thirty years ago, Tom was ready to end his life, and Amy was an orphan without a future. God brought the two of them together at just the right moment to support each other, and keep them both alive. To bring them to this place in their lives, this point. Not one day later." We both took a deep breath, knowing how close God's timing had been. "Now, Tom's ready to pass from this life to the next, and Amy has the assurance of joining him someday.
"It's like a grand panorama. A vast gulf separating man from God. On the one side of the gulf, Jesus prepares His people to cross over the bridge to the other side. On the other side of the gulf, Jesus prepares a place, a mansion, for His people to inhabit. And, having conquered death, Jesus is the bridge itself that spans the gulf."
"Amen," I replied. And we both went into the room.
Renny and Amanda joined us four hours after Monk and Lea, and Johnny arrived sometime around midnight. Tom had been sleeping peacefully. We felt it was safe to wait until all of us could be here before waking him. Finally, with the professor's appearance, they neared the bed and Amy touched her father's hand. Slowly, he opened his eyes, and his mouth fell open as he looked from person to person, saying their names. "How'd you guys get here?"
"Perry and Doc told us what was goin' on," explained Monk. "We got here as soon as we could, to be with you. You ain't leavin' this party without sayin' goodbye."
Tom reached out a hand to Renny. "I don't think I'm going to be enjoying your corn-on-the-cob this year," he said. "Pity."
The big man smiled, and I saw a tear in his eye. "And I'll probably have to get my own tobacco from now on."
He took Monk's hand. "I talked to Doc. I know where I'm going now."
"I know," he said with a grin that nearly split his simian face. "If you run into Ham on the other side, tell him from me that I still think he's shifty shyster."
Johnny moved in and apologized to everyone for not keeping in touch all these years. "It's okay," Long Tom shrugged off. "I wasn't much to be around during that time, anyhow."
Monk and Renny introduced their spouses. Renny interpreted for Amanda. Lea gave him a hug. He introduced Amy to the group. Monk started relaxing. "Well, let's start settlin' in. Tom, how's the food here?" he said without reservation.
And with that, we all started mingling. It was amazing to see these men all together for the first time in several decades, and I smiled to think that it would take the death of one of their own to bring it on. I saw Dot and Amy talking together, and -- with Renny interpreting -- Lea was getting to know Amanda. This is definitely going to be interesting, I thought.
Meanwhile, around the bed, the rest of the old friends grabbed seats or perched on the side of the bed, and talked, swapping stories and bringing each other up to date on the last forty years.
God is so good, I thought.
After the first couple of hours, we broke up the reunion. Monk and I had earlier taken care of overnight accommodations, finding rooms in the closest motel to the hospital. In the morning, Monk, Johnny and I had a meeting with the hospital administrator, Kay Briggs. I was amazed at how persuasive Monk and Johnny could be, especially when Monk looked her in the face and calmly offered a one million dollar contribution to the hospital in exchange for an additional room near Tom's.
As she looked at the three of us with amazement, we knew we were in.
It was all agreed that Amy's place was at her father's side, but the rest of us needed to split up or be packed in like sardines. In the end, Lea, Amanda, Renny and Johnny made up one group, while Monk, Clark, Dot, and I made up the second group, switching off every few hours. Amy took a break to run a couple of us home, and in short order we had a wireless video camera/monitor/sound arrangement connecting the two rooms 24 hours a day -- she was as talented in electronics as her father. The hospital was able to spare six fold-up cots -- three for each room -- and a few chairs that could recline. We also made the beds in the camper van and Dot's truck camper available to those who couldn't stand the cots.
With that completed, we hunkered down for the duration.
Hour after hour passed. When Tom was awake, there was always someone at his side. The air was filled with stories of the good old days' when the team was together, and their adventures. Day turned into night, and still we hung in there.
In order to stretch ourselves, we took turns getting food and going on walks together around the halls. Some spent time in the chapel. Others did our best to pass the time, including a chess board Johnny had brought with him. I passed the time with email to Jack, and tapping everyone's brains for input on where Clark had been put into hibernation.
There were no problems. I witnessed the compassion of these men who had gone through life and death together. There was a common thread this time: they had done nothing while Ham took his own life alone. They would not allow Long Tom to die alone.
I had been sitting at Long Tom's bedside for half an hour when he groaned a little and spoke my name.
"Yes, Tom?" I responded.
He looked up at me. "I have a favor to ask."
"Sure. What do you need?"
"I want you to deliver my eulogy."
I was astounded. "Me? We hardly know one another."
He smiled. "I never really went to church here. I don't have anyone else. Besides, you brought two things into my life: Doc, and Jesus. And for that I am truly thankful. Say yes."
I nodded. "I would be honored."
"Make it a good one, Perry. Tell them about Jesus."
It was the third night. As usual, it was long. Our group was in the room at the time. Clark and Monk reclined in chairs. Dot and I sat on one of the cots, leaning back against the wall; she hung onto my arm and cuddled in close to me, snoozing, I hoped she was more comfortable than I was. Amy was sleeping on the other cot. It was quiet, and the lights were dimmed.
We didn't pay attention to what time of the morning it was when the door opened and a figure entered. Since we were used to all sorts of caregivers and orderlies coming and going, we paid no attention to this one until she spoke.
"I'm glad I'm not too late."
We all came to instant attention. Impossible though it was, there was Pat Savage, standing there like she owned the place. She wore a simple outfit of jeans and jacket, incongruous to her usual style. Monk instantly jumped up from his chair and placed himself between Clark and Pat, like a Secret Service agent protecting the President. "What're you doin' here -- Pat?" he said, emphasizing her name for those next door.
Pat raised a hand and said simply, "Flag of truce. I'm here to see Long Tom."
Monk didn't budge. Clark stood and placed a hand on his shoulder. "It's all right," he said softly. Then he looked at her and said, "Accepted. Welcome."
She nodded acknowledgment. "Hello, Monk," she said.
"Hiya, Patty," he replied without emotion, eyes slightly narrowed and alert.
The door to the room opened, and Renny and Johnny rushed in. Pat turned and saw Renny, and her eyes went wide. Her voice came out in a hoarse gasp. "Renny?"
"Surprise, Pat." Then he looked at us. "Is everything okay?"
Clark and Monk nodded. He turned back to Pat.
"I-I thought you were dead," she said, stunned.
"And I thought you were older," he replied sarcastically.
She stared a moment more, then turned to Johnny and addressed him. "Hello, Johnny."
"Y-you're looking rather well . . . Pat," he replied. "That is you, isn't it?"
She gave him a smile. "Yes, it is."
She looked past the men, and gave Lea a cold, sideways glare. Their eyes met, but no words were exchanged.
She completed her turn, and the emotional shields came back up. She walked past us and went towards Long Tom's bed. At the first sign of danger, Amy had risen and positioned herself before his father's bed. "What is your business with my father?" she hissed.
Pat stopped and eyed the slender Vietnamese woman. "I mean no harm. I'm a friend."
The activity had stirred Tom from sleep. He looked past his daughter and said, "Pat -- is that you?"
"Yes, Tom." Then she moved cautiously past Amy to his bedside. She took his hand in hers, and a sincere, compassionate smile appeared on her face towards her old friend. "Tom. Did you think I'd leave you without saying goodbye?"
"We've had a lot of good times together," he said slowly. "I'll miss you."
She looked down at him and paused. There was no mistaking the emotion in her tone. "I'll miss you, too."
"Doc and Perry said you were still beautiful," he told her. "You haven't changed."
She hesitated. "Neither have you."
"I've . . . I've always loved you, Pat," he confessed. "Goodbye."
His declaration of his love for her was overloading her emotions. Her voice cracked as she managed to say, "Goodbye, Tom." And she leaned down and gave him a tender kiss on the lips.
She straightened up and turned to see us all watching her. The defenses still hadn't come up. She turned and started walking for the door. She stopped and looked in the direction of Dot and me, and asked, "You look familiar. Who are you?"
"My name is Perry, ma'am. I'm a friend of the family."
I considered myself to be safe, since I was disguised during our last encounter. She looked over at Clark. Monk tensed. In a low voice, void of emotion, she announced. "One week. Then I'll be back. And I won't be alone."
He ignored the threat. "Thank you, Pat," he replied with a thin smile.
She stared at him for a moment, silently, then she left the room without another word. We strained our ears to hear the footsteps receding down the hall. Monk stood up and went silently to the door, paused, then opened it enough to look out. He looked back and beckoned for Renny.
The two men slid out of the room. Dot put her arm around my shoulders and leaned against me. "You faced that point-blank?" she whispered to me. "You're braver than I thought."
They returned after about a minute. "She had a limo waiting. She was alone," announced Renny.
After a collective sigh of relief, we felt comfortable enough to move about. I wandered over to Clark's side.
"I wouldn't have believed this if I hadn't seen it," I commented. "She had us all in one place."
Clark looked at me and smiled. "Moses in Pharaoh's court."
At first I didn't make the connection. Then, with a smile, it came to light. "Ah!" I softly exclaimed. "The Pharaoh had the power. He was Egypt. He could have had Moses killed at any time. He didn't . . . because God put it on his heart not to." I paused, wondering. "I just want to know how she knew we were here."
Clark was strangely silent. I looked over at him and had my answer. "You," I hissed. "You let her know -- knowing full well what she could do to us."
Clark nodded. "And God put it on Pat's heart to be here under a flag of truce."
"True," I added soberly. "But she'll be back with reinforcements."
"By then . . . we'll be gone," he said, regretfully.
Tom died in his sleep that Friday morning.
"'In my father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.'" I closed the Bible.
It was cold at the gravesite. The ocean mist had come in with the dawn and moved in and out of the coastline. Standing next to Amy Phan Roberts were the four men who had fought and lived side-by-side with the man they called Long Tom, and their families. Also surrounding the modest casket were a handful of townspeople who knew him.
"Before the world was created, Jesus Christ started building. He's had a long time to work on it and do it right. Yesterday morning, Tom checked out of a hospital room and checked into a heavenly mansion. He wanted me to tell you about it, and about the Carpenter who made it all possible . . . "