"I want cheesecake."
Dr. Michael Benning looked down at his patient, reclining in a hospital bed and looking impatient, and raised an eyebrow as he examined her medical chart. "I don't see cheesecake on your approved foods list," he chastised.
Anne Mulroney Cranston looked up at her son-in-law and fixed him with a firm green-eyed gaze. "I have been in this bed for twenty days," she said in an annoyed Irish-accented voice. "I have tolerated poison being pumped into my veins in the name of healing. I have tolerated being poked at least twice a day so that you can see what color my blood is. I have even tolerated being unable to hold my grandbabies because you're afraid they might make me sick. But I will no longer tolerate being fed poison disguised as hospital food. I want cheesecake. And I want it now."
Michael couldn't help but smile. The projective mind of his mother-in-law was pushing outward even as she tried to harness her tendencies to overwhelm anyone who disagreed with her. Since his marriage into the Cranston family ten years ago, Michael had been continually amazed by the things that a focused, awakened psychic mind could do. Michael himself was a receptive empath, able to assess a patient's life energy levels and state of well-being with just a glance. It was that gift that had enabled him to finally convince Annie to seek medical help three weeks ago for her extreme fatigue and never-healing bruises. And it was that gift that enabled him to see that she was improving, albeit slowly. She had to be feeling better, he decided. She was actually asking for food. "Well, now, let's see how you did with breakfast first." He looked at the hospital tray, noticing most of the food had been at least touched. "Not bad. Did you manage to keep it down this morning?"
Annie sighed. "I kept it down. It wasn't easy." A frown at the tray. "What war surplus house did you get those eggs from?"
"Well, I think the side of the crate said 'Bound For European Theatre'." A chuckle. "But don't worry. They weren't whole eggs. They came from this big bag of powder, guaranteed to survive at least 50 years."
"Ugh." She grimaced. "And you expect me to get well eating that."
Michael put on a mock-offended expression. "I will have you know that all meals prepared at St. Vincent's are from menus approved by certified nutritionists."
"Certifiable, maybe. Only a loon would call that 'edible'." She pushed the tray away in disgust.
The door to the isolation bay opened, and Dr. Gyaltsen Dorjee came in. "Good morning, Annie," he greeted.
"Ah, at last," Annie sighed. "Someone's come to my rescue. Save me, Dr. Dorjee, from this horrible trauma surgeon who's trying to poison me by forcing me to eat this dreadful hospital food."
Dorjee smiled at Michael. "I see she is feeling better this morning," he commented.
"Oh, you haven't heard the half of it," Michael returned. "She wants cheesecake."
"Fresh-baked cheesecake," she insisted. "None of this instant no-bake nonsense. A real, cream-cheese-based cheesecake. With strawberries."
Dorjee took her chart from Michael and examined it. "I do not see cheesecake on your approved menu."
Annie scowled. "This is a conspiracy. My son-in-law and my oncologist are conspiring to hold me prisoner here and torture me with hospital food. I should call my son for help."
Dorjee gave her a gentle smile. Like Michael, Dorjee was also a receptive empath, and had once been a student of Marpa Tulku, the powerful telepathic monk who had saved the life of Annie's father-in-law, Lamont Cranston, 72 years ago--transforming him into the master of darkness known as The Shadow. Lamont's son Monty had taken up The Shadow's mantle after his father's retirement in 1959, and now Monty and Annie's son Trey carried on the family mission. That same year, Lamont had brought Marpa Tulku and the survivors of the Tibetan monastery where Lamont had trained to America, where they could live in peace and away from fear of the oppressive Chinese government and their systematic destruction of Tibet. It was through the Tibetan Refugee Relief Fund, Lamont's personal charity that provided funding to Tibetan refugee centers in India and covered the activities of trained monks identifying adepts among the escaping refugees, that Dorjee had come to America nearly thirty years ago as a young child to be trained at the new Temple Of The Cobras in upstate New York. After graduating from Marpa Tulku's training, Dorjee had enrolled in college, then in medical school, to fulfill his mission as a healer...all with the support of money and other connections from the Cranston Foundation, Lamont's other charitible institution. Like all adepts trained under Marpa Tulku, Dorjee was very familiar with the Cranston legacy of extreme projective psychic power and dark protective shadows...and deeply indebted to it. So a mock threat from Annie to call her son--The Shadow--for help made him smile in amusement. "I am quite certain that not even The Shadow could extract you from your present predicament."
"I know." She sighed heavily. "I am just so tired of bland mush day in and day out. I know it's for my own good, but still..." She let the sentence trail off and leaned back tiredly in the bed.
Dorjee looked at her chart again. "Well...it looks like your blood counts are stable. Your red cell count did not drop from yesterday. So maybe I can do something for you." He looked down at her. "If your blood counts stay stable through the day, I will let you have a treat tomorrow."
Annie laughed slightly. "You mean I might actually get pepper on my potatoes?"
"Even better. You might get to hug your grandchildren."
Annie's face brightened. "Really?"
"Yes. If you continue to hold steady or even improve over the next 24 hours, I will authorize visitors tomorrow. They will have to be healthy visitors, mind you--if any of them are sick, they will have to stay away. But I am pleased with your progress. We may finally be getting your condition under control."
Annie smiled so broadly her face looked as if it might split in two. "To see my grandbabies, I'll make sure I have such healthy blood that even my hair will be red!" Then, she looked at the reflection she could see of herself in the TV screen and sighed. "Well, at least, what's left of it."
Michael patted Annie's shoulder reassuringly. "Hair grows back. Unfortunately, so does cancer if we don't fight it."
"Oh, don't worry. I've not given up the fight."
"Good." The sound of Michael's beeper interrupted the conversation, and he looked at it and frowned. "I'm needed in Trauma," he sighed. "Behave yourself, Annie. I'll be back to check on you later."
"Be careful, Michael," she cautioned.
Michael gave her a smile, then left the room.
Dorjee made some notes on Annie's chart, then gave her shoulder a squeeze. "You are doing much better, Annie," he reassured. "You will be out of here before you know it." He looked around. "Where is Monty?"
"Home, hopefully," Annie replied. "He was exhausted yesterday. I forced him to go home last night and get some sleep. I know he had a business meeting this morning, and I hope he rested up for it."
"Well, when he returns, you can tell him the good news. And if he happens to bring you a piece of cheesecake when he returns, I would not attempt to stop him."
Annie smiled again. "Thank you, Dr. Dorjee."
He winked, then left the room.
Annie lay back in bed and pulled the covers around herself to keep warm, making sure not to dislodge her chemotherapy shunt. Twenty days ago, her entire world had been turned upside down. That was when Michael finally persuaded her to consent to a blood test after weeks of flu-like fatigue and illness that wouldn't go away. Before she knew what had happened, the doctors were spouting phrases like "acute T-cell granulytic leukemia" and "immune system compromise" and "life-threatening anemia", and she was rushed into an isolation ward and given an immediate blood transfusion. From then on, it had been one medical procedure after another: Chemotherapy to slow the progress of the disease. Spinal taps to check for cancer in her spinal fluid. Blood transfusions to replace the red blood cells being killed by the cancerous white ones. CT scans to check her bones and her lymphatic system. And blood tests. Constant blood tests, twice a day at least, checking for everything from her white blood cell count to the amount of nutrients she was retaining after her daily bout with vomiting. Annie was getting so sick of being poked and prodded that she often cried at the site of the phlebotomist coming in to draw yet another handful of vials for yet another set of tests. She was bruised from the constant pricks of needles, bald from the endless treatments, nauseated by the poisonous chemicals in her system, and constantly chilled with fevers caused by opportunistic infections attacking her weak immune system.
The worst part of it was the isolation. Other than doctors and nurses, only Monty had been authorized to visit her. Dr. Dorjee considered it too much of a risk to allow too many people into the ward to see her, especially with how compromised her immune system was. He'd told her that she was very lucky; her immune system had been on the verge of collapse when she'd been admitted, and her red blood cell count was so low that it was a wonder she wasn't dead from oxygen starvation. And early on in the treatment, she'd had such a bad reaction to the chemo that she'd been given Extreme Unction, the Catholic blessing for the gravely ill that used to be called "Last Rites", because the family was convinced she wouldn't live through the night. But Annie had come through all of that, and now she missed her grandbabies...missed holding them in her arms, missed telling them that Grandma was going to be fine. With the death of Lane's husband David McAllister just four months ago of a massive heart attack, the Cranston family was still trying to recover from that loss when Annie's illness struck. Now, everything felt uncertain, uneasy, and Annie longed for it all to go away. She often wished she was at home, curled up in front of the fire, sharing champagne with Monty, feeding each other bites of strawberry cheesecake...
That's not on your list of approved foods, Monty's voice teased in her head.
Annie smiled at the sound of that voice. No matter how bad she felt, just the presence of her husband's strong telepathy made her feel better. Says you, she retorted. Dr. Dorjee says I've been a good girl and I can have a piece. My counts held steady.
Oh, that's wonderful! I'll stop by Shapiro's on the way over and pick you up a piece.
Annie looked at the clock on the wall. Is your meeting done already?
It just let out. We now own some incredible new technology. Trey will be thrilled.
I'm sure he will. Did you get any sleep?
A bit. A pause. The house is so empty without you.
Now you know how I felt all those years when you roamed the streets and lurked in the shadows.
Hell of a way to learn a lesson.
She could feel him fighting back emotions. Don't you be crying on me. You're the strong one, remember?
Only when fighting evil. Attacks on my loved ones are my weak spot.
Then come protect me.
He laughed. I'll be there in fifteen minutes.
She smiled at that, then curled up for a nap.
The gentle touch of her husband's lips on her bald head woke Annie a bit later. She looked up.
Monty's tired expression looked back at her.
She smiled. You're a sight for sore eyes.
So are you. He sat down on the stool next to her bed and pulled it to her side. I thought about you all morning. I kept looking at my watch, wishing I were here with you instead of in a briefing on some physicist's latest research proposal.
So how quickly did you make the poor young man run through his briefing slides? she teased.
I only tweaked his timing a little. A smile. But it was worth it. Cranston-McAllister Research is now funding development of a new bulletproof material. Twice as strong as kevlar, one-third the weight.
Oh, Trey will be thrilled. The Shadow's clothes weigh a ton.
Tell me about it. At least they're bulletproof now, which they weren't when I was doing this. He reached into the brown paper bag at his side and pulled out a deli takeout box and a plastic fork. But I can think of much more interesting things to talk about...like how good Shapiro's cheesecake tastes.
She beamed. Oh...I have been looking forward to this. She sighed. Help me sit up.
Monty set the box down, then adjusted the bed and eased her to an upright sitting position. She was so frail, so thin, that sometimes he was afraid he'd break her if he put his hands on her. This disease was so unfair. This was supposed to be a time of celebration for them. Lamont had celebrated his 100th birthday earlier in the year, with the family throwing him a huge bash and the entire city joining in the celebration. Barbara McAllister Ryan, their niece, was pregnant with her second child, Lamont's eighth great-grandchild. The Shadow broke up a drug ring that had tendrils all through the east coast, one of the largest such ever busted, a real coup for the new generation of Shadows--Lamont "Trey" Cranston III, Adam McAllister, Linda Cranston Benning, and Barbara McAllister Ryan. Thirteen-year-old Lamont Cranston IV had experienced his psychic awakening in February at The Temple Of The Cobras and was already showing signs of being yet another extraordinarily strong projective telepath like his namesake great-grandfather. The family was at peace.
And then David McAllister's heart imploded one morning, a massive heart attack seizing him without warning.
Suddenly nothing was peaceful. In just two hours, Lane Cranston McAllister went from happy grandmother to grieving widow, devastated beyond belief. Adam and Barbara, their two children, felt completely bereft; nothing was safe any more. Lamont had grown to love David as another son, and losing him was like losing one of his own children. Monty and David had become very close through the years, and Monty felt like he'd lost a brother. And Annie had lost one of her best friends. David and Annie often commiserated when their spouses were off in the shadows, and were extremely close for in-laws. They'd come into the family at about the same time, had learned their skills within months of each other, and had bonded with their new family and each other to become closer to Lamont and Margo than they had ever been to their own parents. When David died, Annie cried for days.
Monty spent a lot of time comforting both his wife and his sister, who were both feeling lonely and lost. Annie in particular seem overwhelmed; she was constantly tired, weak, felled by one bout with the flu after another. Monty could kick himself that he hadn't recognized the signs of leukemia sooner, that it had taken the blossoming bruises on her arms and legs to get his attention that something was seriously wrong. Even at age 60, Monty could still fight the evil that lurked in the hearts of men with the energy of a man half his age--but couldn't do a thing about the horrendous disease ravaging his wife's body.
I know I'm a fright this morning, she interrupted.
Monty looked down at her. He hadn't realized the sadness in his thoughts was reflected on his face. You're beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. He gently stroked her cheek. Not your fault that I'm contemplative in my old age.
Contemplative. Is that another word for "loud"?
Monty laughed mentally, the sound ringing through her thoughts. I know, I know. I think really loudly, even for a telepath. But not for a Cranston. He pulled the tray table up to her and put the cheesecake in front of her.
Annie looked at the box for a moment. For the first time, she realized the doctors might have been right in keeping her diet bland and simple, wondering if her shaky digestive system was going to be able to tolerate such a rich dish. It looks so big, she said softly.
Monty sat down on the stool next to her and stroked her cheek reassuringly. One bite at a time, he soothed. Stop whenever you feel like it. He cut off a bite of the cheesecake and offered it to her.
She hesitated. Smaller, please.
He put the bite back, cut it in half, then offered it again.
She ate the bite, letting it dissolve in her mouth and slide down her throat. Mm-m. That is so good. She smiled. Another bite, please.
He gave her another bite.
She swallowed the cheesecake and smiled broadly. Oh, you just do not know how good this is. I have missed real food.
He cut off another small bite and offered it to her.
She ate it eagerly.
Monty looked happy. It's so good to see you with an appetite. You've had such a hard time keeping food down since this started.
I have to keep this down, she told him as she ate another bite. Dr. Dorjee says that if my counts stay this good, I can have visitors tomorrow. And I am not going to let an upset stomach keep me away from my grandbabies one day longer.
Wonderful! The kids will be thrilled. Suzanne was just asking last night why Daddy hasn't brought her to see Grandma.
I didn't want them to see me this way. She looked sad.
Monty stroked her cheek. You're Grandma. They don't care what you look like. They just want to see you again. Besides, they think you're the most beautiful woman in the world. So do I.
She kissed his hand. Flatterer. She took the fork and fed herself another bite.
They quietly sat together as she ate the cheesecake, forgetting for a moment about all they'd been through for the past three weeks. Right now, they were luxuriating in the warmth of being together, of the love they'd celebrated daily since they met 42 years ago. They'd just celebrated their 37th wedding anniversary a couple of months earlier, with a quiet vacation at Martha's Vineyard. Now, they were celebrating just being alive...
Whoa, Annie said suddenly. Think I'd best stop for a bit.
Monty noticed she'd turned pale. Annie? Are you all right?
I ate a bit much. Or a bit too fast. She pushed the tray back slightly, looking queasy. Oh, I don't want to be sick again...I was doing so good today...
Monty quickly moved to her side. Easy, love. Relax. Let it pass through.
She looked frightened. Help me...
Monty climbed into bed with her and took the frail woman in his arms. I'm here. Lean on me. Pull anything you need from me. I'm here for you.
Their minds blended. Their strong psychic energies swirled, twisted, and wrapped around each other, combining to create a whole that was stronger than either of them alone. The sensation was incredible, a feeling of two people sharing one extremely powerful psychic mind that reached them both on every level imaginable. They had first discovered the interaction of their minds in this way during lovemaking. Now, they were using it as a way of easing Annie's pain from her illness, of using two people's life energies to fight a relentless disease that always seemed to roar back even stronger after being beaten down for a while.
Neither realized how long they had been joined until a tap on Annie's shoulder broke their unison. Annie looked over to see the phlebotomist standing by the bedside. "Oh, Marcus," she sighed, tears in her voice. "Back for more?"
Marcus smiled. "Sorry, Mrs. Cranston," he replied. "Doctor's orders. Says he wants to make sure your counts stay good so you can see your grandbabies tomorrow." He opened a sterile wipe and cleaned the crook of Annie's elbow, then wrapped a tourniquet around her bicep. "Now, make a fist."
Monty kissed her head gently. "Better do what he says, sweetie. Remember, having visitors depends on the results of these tests."
She nodded. As much as she hated the endless blood tests, she had to go through them if she wanted out of this isolation ward. "For my grandbabies, I'd let them poke me a thousand times." She clenched her fist and buried her face into Monty's shoulder.
Marcus poked in the needle, then drew four large vials of blood. He taped gauze over the wound and unwrapped the rubber strap from her arm. "Good girl. Now, get some rest. Gotta be ready for those grandbabies."
Monty and Annie both nodded as he left the room, then returned their attention to each other, letting their minds swirl and twist around each other once more.
They stayed in that warm, safe place, wrapped in their love for each other, for the rest of the afternoon.
You awake in there?
Annie stirred from a light sleep the next morning to see Caitlin McAllister, Adam's wife, standing outside the isolation unit, wearing a yellow hospital gown to cover her street clothes. Oh, good grief, Annie replied, is it ten o'clock already?
Caitlin looked at her watch. Not quite. I'm a little early.
Annie groaned. I can't believe I fell asleep. I've waited twenty-one days to have visitors, and now I'm hardly able to stay awake. They'll be here any minute, and I look a fright.
Well, that's why I'm here. Mind if I come in?
Of course not.
Caitlin hit the button on the wall to open the sliding glass door, then walked into the room and hugged her aunt. It's so good to see you.
Annie held onto Caitlin tightly for a moment. Oh, love, it's so good to see you, too. And so good to feel you. I've missed hugs from my family. She pulled back and looked at the young woman. But I'm afraid the gown doesn't quite match your hair.
Caitlin laughed as she looked up at her bangs, which matched the rest of her cherry-cola-colored hair. An artist and fashion designer, Caitlin Murphy McAllister changed her hair color almost as often as other people changed their clothes. Not today, anyway. I'll come up with a better shade for tomorrow. Maybe plum. It goes better with yellow.
At least you have hair.
Caitlin gently stroked Annie's head. You've got some fuzz up there. It's just kind of hard to see. It's white, like the rest of you.
I know. Can you do something about that?
Of course. Caitlin opened the small shopping bag she'd brought into the room, pulling out items and setting them on the tray table. Makeup, lipstick, eyeshadow, blush, pencils, brushes, and sponges. All brand new. Never been opened, and hypoallergenic. You should be able to wear this without it making you sick.
Bless you. But I'm afraid I don't have any hairline to blend the makeup into. I'll look painted.
I can take care of that, too. She reached in the bag again and pulled out a floppy denim hat with a turned-up front brim and a white velvet rose tacked to it.
Annie beamed. Oh, that's beautiful! Did you make that?
Yep. Just this morning. Went down to my studio and whipped it out for you.
Annie took the hat and looked at it. Love, you didn't have to do that...
I know that. But I also knew you wouldn't want to look painted after I'd made you up. Caitlin opened the pack of sponges, then wiped one across a cake of undermakeup concealer. Now, let's get started. Your grandbabies will be here any minute.
Annie closed her eyes and leaned back in the bed. My skin's a wreck. All those cancer-killing drugs have just wreaked havoc.
Caitlin skillfully applied the different color undermakeups to the problem areas of Annie's face to try and smooth out the discolorations. Yeah, the chemicals aren't real discriminating. Kind of like using a bazooka to kill a squirrel.
Annie sighed as Caitlin sponged foundation onto her face. It sounds so vain, but I hate losing my hair. I hate all the blotches on my skin. I used to be a young-looking 59. Now I'm a haggard, bald old woman.
Hush. Caitlin dusted blush onto Annie's cheeks. You're alive. You're getting better. Your hair will grow back. Your skin will recover. Survival is beautiful.
So I've heard. Annie smiled at Caitlin. I saw your "Beauty Of Survival" photo shoot on the news last night.
Caitlin looked modest. Yeah, they taped that yesterday, before you called me. She blinked back emotions. I remember my mom just sobbing when they shaved all her hair off to operate on her brain tumor. She thought she was so ugly. I didn't care that she didn't have any hair. I just wanted her to get better. She stopped and dabbed at her eyes. She never did.
Annie clutched Caitlin's hand for a moment. It's a beautiful thing you do, with these makeovers and photo sessions for chemotherapy patients. I know it helps them. It's helping me.
Thanks. Caitlin forced back her emotions, then smiled and picked up the eyeshadow. Let's get you finished. The kids will be here any minute.
Annie closed her eyes as Caitlin brushed color onto her eyelids. Is Adam bringing your wee ones?
Not this morning. They'll be here this afternoon. I thought you might like some time with your grandchildren first.
Oh, love, I want to see your babies, too! And precious little Megan...and her little brother growing inside Mama. Is Barbara coming?
She'll be here later, too. She's working on a computer problem at The Sanctum this morning.
Annie looked sly. And Ian let her go there?
Barbara can be very convincing. Open wide.
Annie smiled as she parted her lips. The independent-minded Cranston.
Caitlin traced the outline of Annie's lips with a rose-colored pencil. I thought that was me.
No, you're the artsy Cranston. Similar, but different.
Ah, I see. Caitlin brushed lipstick onto Annie's lips. So which Cranston did I marry?
The visionary Cranston. The one who sees things others don't.
Caitlin laughed slightly as she dusted powder across Annie's face to set the makeup. We both do.
I think all mothers are clairvoyant. Makes keeping up with the little ones easier.
If that ain't the truth. Caitlin set the hat on Annie's head, then produced a mirror from her shopping bag. There we go. Take a look.
Annie looked in the mirror.
She still looked frail. But at least she had color in her skin now. Her eyes were bright, her cheeks were rosy, and the hat made her look whimsical. Oh, Caitlin... Her mental voice trailed off as the emotions bubbled up inside her.
Caitlin offered a tissue. Oh, Aunt Annie, don't cry. You'll smear it all, and we'll have to start over again.
Annie nodded. I know. But you did such a good job... She dabbed at her eyes. Oh, this is so silly.
No, it's not. Every woman I made up yesterday had the same reaction. Caitlin kissed her cheek. Now, dry those tears. Monica and the kids are just coming off the elevator. I'll see you later.
Annie squeezed Caitlin's hand. Thank you, love.
Caitlin squeezed back, then left.
Annie watched through the glass doors as Caitlin exchanged hugs with Trey and Monica Cranston and Linda Cranston Benning, then departed. She beamed as the three grandchildren--nine-year-old Margo Cranston, six-year-old Michael Benning II, and three-year-old Suzanne Benning--came into view.
"Grandma!" she heard Suzanne squeal, and the little girl reached for the door activation button.
Linda grabbed her daughter and pulled her back. Annie could just make out the words "We have to put on pretty yellow gowns first."
Suzanne began to cry and struggle against her mother.
Annie fought back tears. She knew exactly how Suzanne felt--she wanted to run right out there and hug her, too. She blew a kiss at her granddaughter and projected a gentle, soothing hypnotic suggestion to keep her calm.
Monty arrived a moment later, then picked up Suzanne in his arms and wiped away her tears as he held her near the door, letting her wave at Grandma.
Suzanne rubbed at her eyes, then finally calmed down enough to let the family put an isolation gown on her.
Finally, the kids and grandkids were gowned up, and Trey opened the door. All three grandkids ran to the bedside, calling Annie's name with delight.
"Oh, babies..." Annie held out her arms for hugs.
"Careful, kids," Monica cautioned. "Don't hurt Grandma."
But no one seemed to listen...or care. Annie's arms were soon filled with happy grandchildren, all absolutely thrilled to see her again. And Annie was holding and kissing each one of them, practically crying with joy.
Trey turned to his father and smiled. "Well, we can leave now. She'll not pay a bit of attention to any of us."
Annie looked at her son. "Now you're being silly." She let go of her grandkids long enough to extend a hand out to her children.
Trey embraced his mother tightly. "You look great, Mom."
"Ah, you're a Cranston male for certain," Annie responded. "Always trying to charm a woman."
Trey gave a wry smile. "I thought that I had the glib tongue of the Mulroneys."
Annie swatted him, then hugged Linda. "Hello, sweetie."
"Mama," Linda said in a choked voice. "You do look great."
"Thank Caitlin for that. Lots of paint and a fancy floppy hat." She reached out for Monica.
Monica embraced her mother-in-law. "I'm so glad you're feeling better. I've lit so many candles for you lately I'm liable to set the house on fire any time now."
"Dad says he should buy PartyLite 'cause Mom's burning so many candles," Margo added.
"Well, he should," Annie agreed. "Look at you--you're so thin! Are you eating right?"
Margo looked at herself. "Yeah. I'm just dancing a lot. We're learning Irish dancing now. I want to be as good as those Riverdancers."
"Riverdance." Annie scoffed. "When I get out of here, I'm dusting off my old dancing shoes. I'll show you what a pretender that Michael Flatley is."
"That'd be cool." Margo smiled, trying not to show her emotions. Margo and her grandmother had discovered a common love of dance and music, a wonderful way to relate. When Annie had been hospitalized, Margo took it very hard. With her brother gone to The Temple Of The Cobras, Margo was the elder grandchild now, the example for the others, and she felt the pressure enormously to be strong for her mom, dad, grandfather, and great-grandfather. Seeing Annie again made her feel better...but seeing how frail and sick she was made her want to cry.
Annie reached out and took Margo's hand. "Don't cry, love. I'll be out of here before you know it. You don't need to be strong. You just need to be you."
"Can I be me?" Mickey asked.
Annie laughed, then tweaked Mickey's nose. "Of course." She looked at him. "Did you lose a tooth?"
Mickey showed a gap-toothed smile. "Yeah. Daddy pulled it out last night."
"Did it hurt?"
"A little. But Daddy says it'll grow back."
"Was the tooth fairy good to you?"
"Yeah. He brought me a dollar."
"Oh, how nice! Did you put it in your bank?"
"Yeah. I want a new Game Boy game."
"Oh, you'd better save up for that. Or lose a lot more teeth."
"I've already got another loose one. I won't have any teeth soon."
Annie laughed. "Yes, you will. You'll have lots of new, strong teeth that should last years. Grandma's got all of hers but one. They took that one out last year. And it won't grow back, alas." She sighed and looked over at her children. "The medicine makes my mouth hurt and my teeth loose. They've said they're a little worried about my gums drawing back because of the low oxygen levels in my blood. I'll be toothless before all this is over."
"And bald," Suzanne giggled.
Linda took her daughter by the shoulders and shushed her. "That wasn't very nice. Say you're sorry."
Suzanne looked sad. "Sorry, Grandma."
"That's all right," Annie soothed, then patted the bed. "Come here, baby."
Suzanne climbed into bed next to her grandmother.
Annie put her arms soothingly around her granddaughter. "Grandma looks kind of silly with no hair, doesn't she?" she teased.
"Yeah," Suzanne said quietly. "Where's your hair?"
"It all fell out. Kind of like Mickey's teeth. Daddy and the doctors give me lots of medicine, and some of it makes me feel bad. And when you don't feel good, sometimes your hair gets really thin or falls out. But it'll grow back once I'm all better."
"Grandma, what's leukemia?" Mickey asked.
Annie smiled gently. She'd wondered when the questions would start. "It's blood cancer, sweetie. There's stuff inside your bones called marrow, and it makes all your blood. When you have leukemia, it makes bad blood, full of cancer cells. It makes you really sick all over, because all that bad stuff in your blood goes all through your body."
Mickey pointed at the shunt in Annie's shoulder. "What's that?"
Annie looked at it. "That's called a shunt. It's a tube, stuck right into one of the big veins in Grandma's chest. That's where they put the medicine."
"On TV, they put it in your arm," Margo observed.
"I know. But when you have blood cancer, they have to get the medicine through your body as fast as possible because your blood's really weak and not able to carry things well. So they put this shunt into one of my big veins to get it to my heart faster. They also put blood in there, because my blood is so weak I need extra sometimes."
"Does it hurt?" Suzanne asked.
"Sometimes. But your daddy takes good care of me."
"Is that why you call him 'Mean Old Michael'?" Linda teased.
Annie scowled. "Mean Old Michael wouldn't let me see my family for days. I'd have turned him over my knee for a good spanking if I hadn't been so sick."
"He always says you're Irish," Suzanne interjected.
Annie laughed. "That I am. With a good, strong Irish temper, and he'd better not forget it. But he takes good care of me. And I have another really good doctor, Dr. Dorjee, and a great nurse named Tina. They're in here a lot to make sure I get better."
"Why can't they just take out the bad stuff?" Mickey asked.
"Because they'd have to take out all my bones, sweetie. Almost all my bone marrow is bad."
"Have they talked about a bone marrow transplant?" Monica asked.
Annie sighed. "I'm a bad candidate because of my age. All they can do is treat the cancer and hope what's left of my immune system recovers."
Suzanne snuggled against Annie. "Grandma, you're not gonna die."
Annie kissed Suzanne's head. "I like your attitude."
Mickey looked sad. "Can I sit in the bed, too?"
"Oh, of course, sweetie." Annie slid over slightly and patted the bed. "Margo, you sit down there, too. I want all my grandbabies in bed with me."
"Now that's not fair," Monty teased. "They get to be in bed with you and I don't."
Margo laughed as she sat down on the foot of the bed.
Mickey came over and climbed onto the bed, bumping into Annie's head.
Annie grabbed her head and cried out.
Annie? Monty called as he hurried to her side, immediately concerned. Annie bled and bruised easily, and even the lightest blow could open a wound or cause internal hemorrhaging.
"Mickey, be careful!" Linda scolded. "You'll hurt Grandma!"
Mickey looked scared. "I'm sorry..."
Annie recovered her senses. "I'm fine," she reassured. "He didn't mean it."
Mickey began to cry.
"Oh, sweetie, don't cry." Annie hugged him. "Grandpa, give him your handkerchief."
Monty handed Mickey his handkerchief. "Next time, be more careful, honey," he cautioned his grandson. "Grandma's blood leaks really easily when something hits her."
Mickey wiped his eyes. "Grandma, I didn't mean it..."
"I know." She gently projected a reassuring hypnotic wave to soothe his nerves. "You want to kiss Grandma's head and make it all better?"
Mickey wiped his eyes again, then took Annie's hat off and kissed her bald head.
Now it was Linda who was wiping away tears. Trey hugged his sister as he fought back his own emotions.
Margo was less successful in hiding her emotions. Monica hugged her daughter from behind to reassure her that everything was going to be all right.
The door slid open, and Marcus wheeled in his phlebotomy cart. "Looks like a family reunion," he remarked.
Annie looked over at Marcus and looked annoyed. "Oh, Marcus...now?"
"Sorry, Mrs. Cranston. Dr. Dorjee wants these results before noon. I did everybody else on the floor first, but I've gotta do you now."
"Should we leave?" Trey asked.
"Nah, but you might want to turn your head if blood bothers you."
Trey almost laughed. "Hardly."
"Come here, kids," Monica urged. "Let's go over here for a minute while they take care of Grandma."
Margo and Suzanne got up and crossed the room.
Mickey refused to get up. "I wanna hold Grandma's hand."
"Mickey, come here," Linda ordered.
"It's O.K., Linda," Annie said, then looked at Mickey. "It might be a little scary," she cautioned.
Mickey sat up tall. "I'm not scared."
"My brave little man." Annie looked to Marcus. "I'm ready."
"O.K." Marcus opened a sterile wipe and cleaned the crook of Annie's elbow, then wrapped a tourniquet around her bicep. "Now, make a fist."
Annie made a fist and turned away.
Mickey took her hand. "It's O.K., Grandma," he said. "I had a shot once, and it only hurt for a little bit."
Now it was all Monty could do not to lose control of his emotions. Mickey, like his father, was empathic, but had gotten a strong dose of the Cranston projective telepathy from his powerful mother. As a result, his emotions were contagious, and even though he had no control whatsoever of his mental energies, the strength he was showing right now was helping Annie more than anything any doctor or nurse could do.
Marcus began drawing the blood. "You're a pretty brave little boy," he commented to Mickey.
"My daddy's a doctor," Mickey said proudly. "He works in Trauma. He puts people back together when bad things happen."
"Really? Are you going to be a doctor when you grow up?"
Mickey shrugged. "I dunno. Maybe."
"Well, you'd be a good doctor. You're really helping Grandma get better."
"Yeah, but I don't like shots, and doctors give lots of shots."
Everyone laughed heartily.
A flash of light caught Trey's eye. He looked down at his left hand.
The fire opal in his ring was glowing, indicating The Shadow was needed. Dammit, he muttered mentally.
Linda noticed Trey's frustration. Need me?
Probably. Trey pushed back the folds of his isolation gown and made a pretense of looking at the pager on his waist--really a specialized electronic jammer that interfered with surveillance cameras and microphones to better allow The Shadow to cloud men's minds in a heavily-monitored world. "I do not believe this. I told them not to disturb me this morning."
"Probably our L.A. client," Linda sighed. "Time to go soothe the customer."
Trey turned to Annie. "Mom, I'm sorry."
"That's all right," Annie replied. "Just be careful, love. Business can be dangerous these days."
Linda turned to Monica. "Monica, can you watch the kids for the day?"
"Oh, of course," Monica smiled. She gave Trey a quick kiss. Be careful.
Trey gave a confident smile. Always. He gave a quick kiss to his mother and a hug to his daughter.
Linda kissed Suzanne and Mickey. "Mama's got to go meet with a client," she told them. "Be good for Aunt Monica."
"Bye, Mama," both kids said almost simultaneously.
Monty watched as his two children left to take on a mission he'd done for almost 30 years. Monty had retired almost ten years ago to spend more time with Annie, to allow Trey to fulfill the mission he had trained for since his awakening at 13. Trey and Linda had both been trained by Lamont's master, The Marpa Tulku, and were as prepared as two people could be for fighting the evil lurking in the hearts of men...even in the complicated 1990's. The Shadow had grown from one man's mission of redemption to generations of children and grandchildren honoring the legacy of that man...but the aim was still to drive evil from the shadows and into the light, where it could not survive. And there were times those shadows were filled to overflowing with evil.
They'll be fine, Monica told her father-in-law.
Monty nodded discreetly. I know. But they're still my kids.
Our kids, Annie reminded him.
Monty smiled at his wife, then noticed Marcus was still drawing blood. "Good grief, Marcus, are you going to leave her with any?"
"Just finishing up. She's flowing a little slow today." Marcus removed the last of the blood vials from Annie's arm and pushed gauze down on the puncture, then taped it into place. "There. All done. See you later, Mrs. Cranston."
"Thank you, Marcus," Annie said softly.
Margo saw her grandmother turning pale. "Grandma? Are you getting sick again?"
"I'm just a little tired, sweetie." Annie laid back against the pillows. "They draw blood a lot. It makes me a little light-headed."
Margo came over and fluffed Annie's pillow. "Poor Grandma."
Suzanne came back over to her grandmother's side. "Does it hurt?" she asked, pointing to the new puncture.
"A little," Annie admitted.
Suzanne kissed the bandage. "All better now?"
Now Annie was crying. "All better," she whispered in an emotion-choked voice.
The loving embraces of three grandchildren immediately surrounded Annie, wrapping her in a protective cocoon as she rested.
After the children left, Annie drifted in and out of sleep for the rest of the afternoon. Caitlin had brought her children, Alexander and Cathy, to visit, and Barbara and Ian Ryan brought young Megan to see her favorite aunt. Barbara had also reported the three Shadows were on the trail of a subway robbery gang and had just gotten a break in the case, lamenting as usual that she was unable to join them due to her pregnancy. Michael had stopped in briefly to check up on her, and Lane had come by to have lunch with her before she and Monty headed out to a monthly status meeting at Cranston-McAllister Research. Now Annie was fighting an additional dose of fatigue from being awake most of the afternoon in addition to the normal nausea and exhaustion after a day of treatment for her cancer.
Too tired for company?
Annie turned toward the door to the isolation bay at the sound of that familiar voice in her head.
Lamont Cranston stood at the door and smiled at her.
Annie smiled back. Yes, but not for family. Come in.
Lamont came into the room, leaning heavier than normal on his walking stick. Nearly eight months past his 100th birthday, Lamont was only now starting to show signs of his age in his physical carriage. Though he had been spry and lively at his birthday celebration in January--even twirling the dance floor with Suzanne in his arms--David's death had taken an emotional toll on him, and Annie's illness seemed to weaken him even further. But whatever Lamont had lost in physical strength, he had gained all of it and more in psychic power. His telepathy was overwhelmingly strong; projective energy seemed to flow from him non-stop, and he almost never used his physical voice any more because he needed the constant release of telepathic conversation to keep the energies from building to overflow stage. Lamont often joked that now he understood why he was the first Cranston male to live past his mid-sixties; the others, he said, had drowned inside their own minds because they'd never been taught how to ride the psychic waves. But even Lamont wondered how much longer he was going to be able to keep up the balancing act...and whether he'd cursed his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren with the same fate.
You're moving a little slow today, Annie commented.
Someone put lead in my shoes. He bent over the bed to hug his daughter-in-law warmly.
Annie kissed his cheek. It's good to see you, Lamont. It's been a while.
That it has. Mind if I sit?
Lamont pulled up the stool to Annie's bedside and sat down. You look tired, he commented.
She sighed. I feel tired. I missed my afternoon nap with all my visitors.
He gave a mischievous smile. But you wouldn't have traded a moment of it.
Not one second. She smiled happily. Oh, it felt so good to hold my babies. I hadn't realized how much I missed them.
And they've missed you, too. I talked to Lamont-4 this morning.
Annie looked eager. Did you? How is he?
Lamont beamed with pride. Spectacular. Lasting almost fifteen minutes at a shot against The Tulku in psychic defense.
Wonderful. She sighed. It is so unfair that you get to talk to him. Mean old Marpa Tulku won't let me see him, or even call.
One of the advantages of being accorded the status that I am up there, I suppose. He smiled. He said to tell you hello and that he's sorry he can't come down to see you today.
I know he's thinking about me. I can feel it. She looked at him. You've been thinking about me a lot, too. I hear you sometimes.
Lamont chuckled. I'm hard to miss. And yes, I have been thinking about you. I pray for you every night.
And worry about me all day?
You caught me. He took her hand. I worry about my family. I've lived a fine, long life. It's so unfair for you to be cut down like this...for David to have been taken so cruelly...
Annie looked at him. And for your children to have to suffer the pain of losing their life mates.
Lamont looked sad. I've lost a spouse. There is no worse pain...I'm convinced of that. I'd give anything if my children didn't have to go through what I went through.
Annie patted his hand. I'm not going to die. I'm too stubborn to die. She sighed. I know this is hard on you. I remember when Margo went through this.
Lamont nodded. Margo Lane Cranston, Lamont's wife of nearly 54 years, succumbed to ovarian cancer nine years ago after a three-year struggle with the disease. Her death had nearly destroyed Lamont; she was the only person who had ever really understood him, and her strong receptive nature gave him the perfect balance to his powerful projective telepathy. He forced a smile. You have similar hairstyles.
Annie chuckled slightly. Yes, but it looked better on her.
She also got some of it back near the end...when we thought she was finally through with treatments. Now he couldn't hold it back any longer, and his eyes filled with tears.
Annie squeezed Lamont's hand. This is what worries me most...my family being in so much pain. I can take the pricks, the drugs, the nausea, because I have to. I hate them, but I can take them. But to see Monty fighting tears...the kids so worried...the grandkids so confused...that's what hurts. And I can't stop that pain... Now she was crying.
Lamont put a comforting hand on her shoulder and allowed her to cry along with him for a few moments. Then, he pulled himself together. I'm sorry. I came here to cheer you up, not bring you down.
Annie got control of her emotions. Don't be. I needed that. She kissed his hand. Now, let's talk about something more interesting. How are you?
Lamont laughed heartily. Well, I wouldn't say that was more interesting. But I'm doing all right. I saw the doctor today.
Annie smiled. And just what did Mean Old Michael say to you?
The same thing he always does--I need to give up cigars, cocktails, and cognac.
Annie giggled. I thought I heard The Shadow's laugh earlier.
I did not laugh at him. I simply reminded him, as usual, that I have outlived a host of other doctors who told me the same thing through the years. The first time I heard that was in my late thirties, from a doctor who told me I'd be dead in a year if I didn't slow down my lifestyle. A chuckle. Irony of ironies, he died a year later of a heart attack. I found out then that he was a chain smoker and drank like a fish.
So how much longer does Michael expect you'll live if you do give all that up? Good grief, if it hasn't hurt you by now, it's certainly not going to.
Lamont smiled wistfully. A stroke is more likely than a heart attack for me. That's normally what kills members of my family...usually long before now.
Annie squeezed his hand again. But you've beaten the odds.
Lamont kissed his daughter-in-law's hand gallantly. So will you.
Monty paced the floor of the surgical waiting room, looking impatient and worried. Annie had sprouted a fever in the middle of the night, and it was still not down six hours later, even after a unit of blood and heavy antibiotics. Worse, her shunt became blocked during the blood transfusion, and she'd been rushed to surgery to remove the shunt and implant a new one in a different location. This was not the first crisis Annie had experienced during this ordeal, but coming on the heels of a significant improvement, this was a real setback.
Sit down, Monty, Lane Cranston McAllister urged.
I can't, Monty snapped. My wife is dying in there, and they won't let me in to see her!
She's not dying, Lane reminded him. She's had a setback, but she's not dying. They're stabilizing her now.
Then why can't I hear her thinking?
Because she's probably still asleep from the anesthesia. If she were dead, you'd know it. Lane looked away. Trust me.
Monty ran a hand through his hair and sighed hard. I shouldn't have left.
This would have happened even if you'd been here. There was nothing you could have done.
Monty leaned against the wall and covered his face, fighting back tears. She called for me in the middle of the night, screaming about blood all over her, and there was nothing I could do for her. I feel completely useless. I can't help her...
Lane came over to her brother and put a reassuring arm around him. You're not useless. You love her. She knows that. It helps her. She hugged him. I've been here, brother. I know exactly what you're going through. Whatever happened was going to happen, regardless of how hard you kick yourself over something you couldn't control.
Monty held his sister tightly. They'd always been close; only two years apart in age, they had trained together as teens, worked together as Shadows for nearly 30 years, and now were comforting each other about their spouses. The Cranstons were a close-knit family; to have the family being torn apart by these crises was upsetting and frightening. So how did you end up with all the brains in the family? he teased.
Easy. I take after Mom.
Monty gave her a pinch, and they both nervously laughed.
"Monty," Michael's voice called.
The siblings looked up to see Michael and Dorjee approaching. Monty looked anxious. "Well? How is she?"
"Resting in Isolation," Dorjee replied. "She is not out of danger, but she is stable for now."
"What happened?" Monty demanded.
"Her temperature started going up in the middle of the night," Michael replied. "Dr. Dorjee ordered some antibiotics and a unit of blood, but her shunt was clogged and blood started leaking all over her. That's what caused her panic--and ours."
"What clogged the shunt?"
"Infection, most likely. Not uncommon with this kind of leukemia. I had to take it out and put a new one in. She's still heavily sedated. But her fever's finally starting to come down."
"Do you think she picked up the infection from her visitors yesterday?" Lane asked.
"It is possible," Dorjee admitted. "More than likely, though, it was just another opportunistic infection that found its way into her body through the skin around the shunt. I am frankly surprised it has not happened before now, with as many times as we have had to use it to push blood and medicine through her."
Monty looked grim. "I want to see her."
Michael nodded. "You'll need to gown up. But I think it would do her good to know you're there." He turned to Lane. "Sorry, Aunt Lane, but..."
"...but she'll have to go back into isolation until this passes," Lane finished. "I figured that." She gave her brother a hug and kiss. Call if you need anything.
Will do. He turned to Michael. "Let's go."
Annie looked so frail and weak that Monty shook when he saw her. Her skin was ghost white, and she looked drawn from pain. Her left shoulder was bandaged, and a unit of blood and another sack of medicine--presumably some sort of antibiotic--was hanging on the IV stand next to the bed, flowing into the new shunt in her right shoulder. He sat down by her side, took her hand, and reached out to her mind.
Chaos rolled through Annie's thoughts. The pain from the surgery, the horror of the sight of blood leakage, the confusion from the fever, the numbing effect of the anesthesia...all of it was mixing together in her mind and causing incredible pressure on her protective barriers.
Monty let his projective energies roll outward, wrapping themselves around his beloved wife's overwhelmed psyche, trying to relieve the pressure inside her head. Annie...Annie, love, I'm here. Wake up, love. Talk to me.
Annie's mind swirled in confused patterns. Monty...help me...I'm so cold...
That's the fever. They're giving you antibiotics. He adjusted the blankets around her. You'll be fine.
The blood...there's blood all over me...I'm bleeding...
No, you're not. Your shunt was clogged, and the blood leaked out of the tubing all over you. That's why you had blood on you. You've been in surgery for the past couple of hours, but they got it all fixed. You're going to be fine. Now, you need to wake up. You need to come out of the anesthesia so we can get your mind balanced again. Your energies are building up, and they need a release. Wake up and look at me, love.
Annie moved slightly, trying to shift position. It hurts...oh, God, it hurts...
I know. Lie still. They put the shunt in your other shoulder, so you have to stay off your right side. You'll have to lie on your back. I'll help you ease the pain, but you need to wake up first. Come on, Annie. Look at me.
Annie stirred, then opened her eyes.
Monty smiled at her. Good girl. Feel a little more awake?
She groaned. Barely, her mind whispered. Oh, God, I'm freezing...
I know. Your fever's 103. A full-blown tumo to burn out the bad stuff won't help--your white count's too elevated. A tumo will push bad blood through you as fast as the good blood, and that definitely won't help. Just think warm thoughts. That'll get your mental energies rolling, raising your blood pressure a little and easing the pressure on your internal walls. He held her hand and kissed it gently.
Annie lay still, letting her powerful mind open and the energies flow outward. Some of them rolled through her body to speed up the blood flow and raise her blood pressure. The rest of them swirled around in search of Monty's energies.
Monty let his mind join hers, and the two powerful psyches twisted into a towering vortex of projective psychic energy. It felt so good to be joined again. They'd become a part of one another over the years, especially since her awakening 38 years ago. This was the hardest part of her illness--being unable to fully enjoy the sensations this intertwining created. It was an emotional high, a physical high, a sexual high, completely indescribable to anyone who'd never been through it...
The bedside alarm went off, indicating Annie's body temperature was rising. The lovers broke their mental embrace. Oh, this is horrible, Annie mentally lamented. We can't even blend without breaking some doctor's order.
Tina, Annie's nurse, came into the room. "What's wrong, Annie?" she said, checking Annie's monitor. "Your fever going up again?"
"I suppose so," Annie whispered, frustrated.
"At least your blood pressure's back up again. That's good." Tina put a hand on Annie's forehead. "Your skin's really warm, though. Let me get you a cool cloth."
Annie couldn't help but laugh. "If I'm so hot, why do I feel so cold?"
"Because this room's cold," Monty told her, giving her a gentle kiss.
"Wonderful. I'm being held prisoner in a refrigerator."
Tina wiped Annie's forehead with one cloth, then put a fresh cool one on her forehead. "The room has to be cool to keep the germs down," she told her frustrated patient. "Just think. When you get out of here, you can go home and snuggle in your own warm bed and say all the nasty things you want to about this hospital."
"When I get out of here, I want to go somewhere warm," Annie asserted.
"Oh, really?" Monty asked. "Where?"
Monty chuckled. "I'll fly you there personally. We'll spend days riding rides and lounging in the sun."
"Then I want to go back to Ireland and have a pint at every pub in Killarney. But not until spring. It's bloody cold there in the winter."
He burst out laughing. "All right, Ireland in the spring. Then what?"
"Then to Paris. I want a new dress. No, I want seven new dresses, one for each day of the week."
"I'll personally reserve the house of Chanel for a week for you. What else?"
"I want a month with my grandbabies...just being with them. I don't care where."
He smiled. "Oh, I can guarantee you'll get that. Anything else?"
She squeezed his hand. "Then I want a week in the mountains with you, at our inn, in front of a fire, doing absolutely nothing but being together."
He kissed her. Only a week?
She looked sly. I'll wear you out during that week.
He gave a mischievous smile. Are you sure it's not the other way around?
She looked mock-offended. Bragging now, are we?
They both started laughing.
Tina smiled. "I love how you two can communicate without saying anything. You just look at each other, and it's like you can read each other's mind. I wish my husband and I could do that."
Monty didn't take his eyes off Annie. "It just takes practice," he said. "Years and years of practice."
"Well, I hope I get as many years to practice as you two obviously have," Tina sighed.
Annie held Monty's hand tightly. "I'm not done practicing yet," she asserted. "And I don't intend to be for many, many years."
Monty kissed her hand gently.
Tina smiled, then quietly left the lovers alone to continue their practice.
A week passed, with Annie slowly recovering from her latest crisis. She'd been given at least one unit of blood a day to stabilize her blood counts, and a slate of heavy antibiotics to fight off the infection in her shoulder, but by Thursday, it looked as if she'd turned a corner. Her temperature was actually below 100 for the first time in a week, and her red cell count was within acceptible range once more. If she was still stable on Friday, Dr. Dorjee had told the family, she'd get to go home and continue her treatments there.
So, Friday morning, Monty led Lane and a parade of Cranston children and grandchildren to the isolation ward of St. Vincent's hospital. Monty didn't want to raise any false hopes, but he was so excited his mind was practically shouting for joy. The whole family had been waiting for this day for four weeks now, and it looked like it was finally here--Annie was finally going to get to come home. He was already making plans for a lunch filled with her favorite foods--steak, Caesar salad, strawberry cheesecake...
You're making me hungry, Lamont's voice echoed in his head.
Monty looked up to see Lamont sitting in a chair, waiting for them at the entrance to the ward. "Well, look who actually got up before noon today," he teased.
"Granddaddy!" the trio of great-grandchildren called, running toward Lamont.
Lamont reached out to hug all three kids, practically bowled over by their excitement. Lamont had always been "Granddaddy" to his grandchildren, and when Lamont IV was born, Lamont refused to allow Trey and Monica to call him "great-grandfather". He joked that he wasn't "great", and "grandfather" sounded too formal. So, Lamont IV had adopted the rest of the family's convention of calling Lamont "Granddaddy", and the name had stuck. "Well, well," he said with a smile. "Two beautiful ladies, and one handsome gentleman. Come to see me?"
"No," Mickey replied. "We're here to take Grandma home."
"Is that a fact?" Lamont smiled. "Well, then, she'll have quite an escort. But I'm hurt. You mean you didn't come here just to hug me?"
"Oh, Granddaddy," Margo sighed, then hugged her great-grandfather.
Lamont hugged Margo tightly. Named for her great-grandmother who'd died just days before her birth, Margo had always been Lamont's favorite great-granddaughter. She had the classic Cranston features--black hair, blue-green eyes, sturdy build--but had just a hint of Margo Lane Cranston's gentle beauty as she smiled. "You just got back from dance class," he observed, noticing the ballet tights visible under her loose sweater and jeans.
"Yeah," she said. "And guess what? I got the part of Clara in the New York Youth Ballet's production of The Nutcracker!"
"Wonderful! That should be such fun to watch! You'll be a beautiful Clara."
"Granddaddy, I lost another tooth!" Mickey said excitedly, pointing to the new gap in his smile.
"So you did!" Lamont looked carefully. "Been fitted for your dentures yet?"
"No," Mickey laughed. "Daddy says it'll grow back."
"Oh, I'm sure it will. Did you get any money from the tooth fairy?"
"A quarter." He pouted. "Last time I got a dollar."
"Just a quarter? Did you put it in your pocket?"
"No, my bank."
"Really?" Lamont looked at the side of his great-grandson's head oddly. "Are you sure?"
"Strange." He reached behind Mickey's ear and brushed his hair gently. "Because it looks like there's one stuck back here." He showed his right hand to Mickey, with a quarter pinched between his fingers.
"Cool!" Mickey said. No matter how many times Granddaddy did that trick, it was always cool that he could make a quarter or a piece of gum or something appear out of nowhere. "Thanks, Granddaddy!"
Linda smiled. Lamont had done that trick to them as kids, and every grandchild thought Lamont was some kind of magician. Of course, now that they were all aware of the Cranston legacy of power, it was clear that he really was. But the sleight-of-hand was always appreciated.
"Is there a quarter in my hair, too?" Suzanne asked.
"Suzanne!" Linda said, surprised at her daughter's outburst. "Don't be greedy."
"Oh, she's not greedy," Lamont said. "She just knows how to get a hug from Granddaddy. Come here, angel."
Suzanne came over to hug her great-grandfather.
Lamont gave her a tight squeeze. "Hey--what's this in your pocket?"
Suzanne looked in the pocket of her jacket. "A quarter!"
"What do you say to Granddaddy?" Linda prompted.
"Thank you." She looked at him oddly. "But how?"
Lamont gave a mischievous smile. "Magic."
Monty looked at his father. Speaking of magic...I went down to pay my hospital bill today and saw that it had disappeared.
Fancy that, Lamont responded.
Monty looked stern. Dad, you do not need to be spending your money on us.
What else am I going to spend it on, Monty? I'm almost 101 years old. I do not intend to live another century. If I don't spend it and give it away now, the taxman will get most of it.
You already gave the two of us billions, Lane reminded him. Literally--you gave us each $10 billion dollars for your birthday, and The Tulku got an even $1 billion in trust for The Temple. I can't believe how little you kept of money you worked so hard for...
Money I don't have any use for, you mean, Lamont told his daughter. Lane, I could live the remainder of my days on the interest on what I kept. Why shouldn't my family get their inheritance now? Saves you two from having to pay the estate taxes, and I get to see it put to good use. Besides, it's only fair I paid Annie's bill. I paid David's.
I know. Lane kissed her father's cheek. You didn't have to pay that, either. But it was very sweet.
Michael, clad in his trauma green surgical scrubs and a disposable scrub gown, came out of Annie's room. "A welcoming committee," he teased.
"Michael," Monty greeted. "What's the good word?"
"Well, not as good as we'd hoped," he replied, looking discouraged. "Her counts were on the low end but still relatively good. But her vitals are a little shaky this morning. Dr. Dorjee's ordered another unit of blood, and we'll take them again after that processes."
Linda looked at her husband. You're not telling us something, she mentally prompted.
Michael sighed. I don't want to say it out loud in front of the kids. But she looks really drained this morning, for some reason. Her life energies are really shaky. I'm hoping it's just because her counts are a little off. The blood should help if that's the case.
Monty looked alarmed. Can I see her?
I don't see any reason why not. It'll definitely do her some good. He turned to the kids. "Grandma is so excited about going home," he smiled. "She can't wait to be with you guys all the time again."
"Will she be able to dance soon?" Margo asked.
"Not for a while, sweetie. But she says she wants to see you dance when she gets home."
"Can we go in, Daddy?" Suzanne begged.
"Well, you've been a good little girl," Michael teased. "I suppose I can let you go in."
"Let's get gowned up, everybody," Monica urged.
"No need," Michael said. "We're moving her out of here if she improves anyway. Just make sure you wash up before you go in."
"Then let's hit the sink," Lamont urged. He started to stand up...then fell back into the chair and looked pained.
Trey was at his side immediately. Granddaddy? Are you all right?
Lamont looked embarrassed. Just a little awkward this morning. I'm normally still lounging in bed this time of day, remember?
Michael came over to him. You don't look so good, he said. Come down to my office later and let me look you over.
I'm fine, Lamont asserted. Just a little tired this morning. Aches and pains of old age, don't you know. He turned to Trey. I could use a hand, though.
Trey helped Lamont stand. Like Michael, Trey was worried--Lamont looked very shaky, and even winced as Trey helped him up. Lamont could tolerate pain like no one he'd ever met; for him to show signs of pain, something was seriously wrong. Come on, Granddaddy, Trey urged. I'll walk with you to the sink. You've probably just been sitting in that hard chair a little too long and your back got a little stiff.
I'm sure that's it. Lamont brushed off the helping hands and made his way to the sink, looking a bit more confident with each step.
Monty and Lane looked at each other for a moment. This was yet another reminder that Lamont had already lived well beyond his expected lifespan, and was increasingly showing signs of his advanced age. They'd have to convince him to let Michael look him over later, but that could wait. For now, Annie's well-being was their main focus.
Are you coming in here, or what? Annie called to her husband.
We'll be right in, Monty called back. He turned to the kids. "Ready?"
"Ready," Mickey replied, running up beside his grandfather.
"Then let's go."
The family headed into the isolation ward together.
Annie looked up as her family came into the room. "Goodness," she said, "a parade, for me?"
Excited cries of "Grandma!" went up as all three grandchildren rushed to her side.
Annie embraced them warmly. "It is so good to see you all again...I have missed you so much!"
"We missed you, too, Grandma," Suzanne said. "Daddy wouldn't let us see you."
Annie giggled. "Mean Old Michael."
"Oh, yeah," Michael complained. "You wouldn't know what to do if you didn't have me to abuse."
"Yes, I would. I'd be hugging my children." She extended a hand to the rest of her family.
Trey, Linda, Monica, Michael, Lane, and Lamont each hugged her in turn, exchanging kisses.
Monty gave her a passionate kiss that made every adult in the room whistle.
"All right, that's enough," Trey teased. "There are children present here."
"Then leave," Monty retorted.
"Not on your life," Linda responded. "We've been waiting weeks for this moment."
"So have I," Annie reassured them. "So have I."
Margo looked at Annie's shunt. "They had to give you some more blood this morning," she observed. "Is it helping?"
"Oh, it always helps. Fresh blood makes me feel a lot better." She looked over at the rest of her family. "Well, now, to what do I owe this turnout?"
"We just wanted you to see how much we'd missed you," Lane replied. "We've been really anxious for you to come home."
"Besides," Monica interjected, "if you thought I could keep these kids away any longer, you were sadly mistaken. They've been bouncing off the walls ever since we heard you were probably coming home today."
"Oh, I'll bet. I've been practically bouncing off the walls." She laughed, then coughed and winced.
Monty put a hand on her shoulder and looked worried. Annie? Are you all right?
Fine, she said, coughing again. My chest just feels a little heavy. It sometimes gets that way when I lie down too long. Another cough, another wince. Can I have some water?
Sure. Monty got her water pitcher and poured her a fresh glass of water.
Annie took it in her hands...and they began to shake. Monty...
Monty took the glass out of her hand. Annie? Annie, what is it?
She looked at him, terror in her eyes, as she began to shake harder. Monty...help... Then, her eyes rolled back in her head and her thoughts swirled into chaos.
Annie! Monty shouted at the top of his mental voice.
No answer. And her thought energies were getting weaker.
Michael rushed to her bedside. "Resusitation team to Isolation 2," he snapped into the intercom next to her bed. "Resusitation team to Isolation 2, stat!" He looked at the monitor showing Annie's vitals, which were dropping like a stone.
What's happening? Linda asked, alarmed.
She's in shock, Michael pronounced as he looked at her pupils...which barely reacted to the light he was shining into them. She's probably bleeding internally. He looked her in the eye and concentrated his psychic energies. Annie--it's Michael! Talk to me, Annie!
By now, the resusitation team was in the room. Trey pulled his father back from the bedside.
"Let's get out of here, everybody," Monica urged, rushing the kids out of the room.
No, Monty whispered, trying to pull away from Trey's strong grasp.
Dad, come on! Trey ordered. We're only in the way.
Monty could no longer resist as Linda helped her brother pull him from the room.
Through the glass doors to the isolation room, Monty watched as a herd of doctors and nurses frantically put blood and medicine into Annie's veins and attached oxygen to her, working on her for several minutes to revive her, inserting a chest tube to drain blood from her chest cavity, finally starting CPR as her heart collapsed to a weak shuddering rhythm. She's not there, his mind whispered, horrified. She's not there...oh, God...
Michael was coming to the same realization. "Hold CPR," he ordered, then listened for a pulse and reached out his empathy to detect any signs of life energy within his patient.
Nothing. She was completely dark. And her normally strong thought energies were completely dissipated. Michael felt his heart sink. "Somebody check her pupils."
A doctor opened Annie's eyes and shone a light in each of them. "Fixed and dilated."
It took everything Michael had not to show his frustration. "Has anybody got a pulse or pressure?"
One by one, the doctors and nurses shook their heads.
That was it. No pulse, no pressure, no brain function...and no life energies. "I'm going to call it. Time?"
"12:37," one nurse replied.
Michael nodded. "Thanks, everybody," he whispered, then threw aside his bloody gloves and ran his hand through his hair, thoroughly frustrated as the resusitation team left the room. Then, he doffed his bloody scrub gown, turned to the glass doors, and came out to join the rest of the family, sorrow and pain in his eyes.
Now Monty was shaking. No...no...oh, God, please, no...
Lamont put a hand on his son's shoulder.
Monty broke and began sobbing into his hands. Oh, God...no! Why her? Oh, God...
Lamont embraced his son, holding him as he wept, letting his own tears flow. Lane wrapped her arms around both of them and joined in the group cry.
Linda broke down crying as well. Michael embraced his wife and held her close as she sobbed uncontrollably into his chest.
Trey looked lost. He'd witnessed death a thousand times, even been forced to kill in self-defense more than once, but never had one death cut him so sharply.
Monica covered her mouth, nearly frozen wide open with shock. Oh, God...Trey, I'm so sorry...
Trey grabbed his wife in a tight embrace. The two of them wept openly.
Margo was sobbing as well. "No...no, she was doing so much better!" she cried. "What happened? She was going to go home today..."
Trey took his daughter into his arms and hugged her close. "I know, baby. I know..." He couldn't speak any more as the tears choked his voice.
Suzanne looked confused. "Grandma's gone?"
"But that's not fair!" Mickey said. "She was gonna come home! She was better! You said so, Daddy!"
Michael knelt to hold his son. "Mickey...Grandma was very sick. She was doing better...but she was still very sick. I'm so sorry..."
"It's not fair!" Mickey screamed, struggling against his father.
Michael held his son close and let him scream angrily, until the boy finally fell into his arms and began crying. Being a receptive empath was Hell sometimes, and Mickey's loud emotional pain cut Michael to the quick.
Linda took Suzanne in her arms, who looked completely bewildered. "But, Mama...Grandma was just here...," Suzanne said in a confused voice.
"I know, sweetie," Linda replied. "But she's in Heaven now."
"Is she an angel?"
"Oh, yes. She has the prettiest wings...and long, red hair...and a big halo..."
"And no more bad blood?"
Linda broke down crying again. "And no more bad blood."
Monty dropped into a chair, shuddering from long pent-up emotion bursting out of him. It's not fair, his mental voice cried. Oh, God, it's not fair...
Michael came over to his father-in-law. Monty, I am so sorry, he told him.
Monty looked up at Michael. She was doing so much better...what happened?
We won't know without an autopsy. My guess is that she had a slow internal bleed that suddenly burst. It's unfortunately one of the nastier by-products of this kind of leukemia, and usually caused by an infection of some sort damaging a major artery. Once it burst, there was nothing anyone could have done for her--she just lost too much blood too fast, and with as weak as her blood was, that kind of blood loss just suffocated her brain and her heart.
Monty was still shaking. I feel like somebody ripped me in two. My mind feels so empty...
Lane held him. I know, brother. I know. Let it out.
Monty held on to his sister and sobbed.
Lamont gently patted his son's shoulder. Monty, I'm going to call The Tulku and tell him what's happened. We'll need to make arrangements to bring Lamont-4 back here for the funeral.
Monty nodded, clutching his father's hand for a moment. There's so much that needs to be done...
We'll take care of it. Lamont looked up at Michael. Phone?
Go ahead and use the hospital phone, Michael said, gesturing toward a phone in the hallway. Dial "8" to charge the call to a card.
Lamont crossed the hall and picked up the phone to call The Temple Of The Cobras.
Suzanne had crawled into Monty's lap now, and Monty was holding his granddaughter close. "Grandpa, don't cry," she said softly. "Mama says Grandma's in Heaven."
Monty looked at the child in his lap. "I know, baby." He rocked her gently. "Heaven got such a wonderful angel today..."
The hospital priest looked in. "Sorry to intrude," he said, "but I'm Father Joshua Francis. I just got the word that I was needed up here. Is there anything I can do?"
Monty shook his head. "She had Extreme Unction three weeks ago. By now, she's probably talking St. Peter's ear off..." He lost control of his emotions again and began to cry.
Father Francis knelt next to him. "Let's all have a word of prayer," he urged.
The family crossed themselves and began praying for Annie's soul, praying to the saints for intercession in this time of sorrow, praying for strength for the family.
Lamont said his good-byes to The Tulku and Lamont IV on the phone, then hung up and sighed hard before returning to his family. Lamont-4 wants someone to pick him up at the 4:15 train from Frost Valley this afternoon, he told them.
Trey nodded. I'll take care of it.
Thanks. Then, Lamont turned pale and gasped for breath.
Michael was quickly at his side. Granddaddy? What's wrong?
Lamont looked pained. I can't breathe...my chest... He collapsed to the floor.
Monty was out of his chair and by his father's side immediately. Dad!
Lane took Lamont's hand. Dad...easy, Dad, easy...
Michael took Lamont's pulse and read his life energies...and what he saw chilled him. He leapt up and raced for the hall phone, punching the intercom button with alarming speed. "Cardiac team to Isolation 2," he called. "Cardiac team to Isolation 2--stat!" He clicked off the intercom and dialed an extension on the hospital line. "Trauma, this is Dr. Benning," he said when someone answered. "I've got a hundred-year-old male, 6 feet, 160 pounds, heart attack in progress up here in Isolation 2. Cardiac team's on their way--prepare the trauma bay and call the chief cardiologist. We'll be down there in five." He hung up and hurried back to Lamont, kneeling by his side. Easy, Granddaddy, easy. Just relax. Help is on the way. He put a stethoscope to Lamont's chest and listened to the strained, irregular beating of the old man's heart.
Lamont cringed. The pain was excruciating. And he could not stem it, no matter how much psychic energy he directed at it. Oh, God...my heart...oh, God, it hurts...
I know. Michael looked at the priest. "He's having a heart attack."
Father Francis knelt beside Lamont and began the prayers of Extreme Unction.
Monty grabbed the priest's arm and pulled him back. He's not dead! he snapped in The Shadow's voice.
Father Francis' eyes glazed over as he lost touch with reality.
Monty, Lane said evenly, trying to keep her brother calm. Let the priest do his job. Dad needs all the help he can get.
Monty felt his anger drain away. He released the priest from his hypnotic hold.
Father Francis snapped out of his trance, then began the prayers again.
Lamont lay still, letting the pain wash over him like a wave as he blacked out.
Monty paced the floor in the Trauma lounge as hours passed. Michael wasn't answering any psychic calls, and the family had no idea what had happened to Lamont. Monica had long since taken the kids home to stay with their nannies, and now all four of Lamont's grandchildren--Trey, Adam, Linda, and Barbara--and their spouses were waiting impatiently with Monty and Lane for news on the Cranston family patriarch. What is taking so long? Monty mentally complained.
Dad, calm down, Trey urged. He's still alive. I can still feel him. He's not conscious, but he's alive.
Why haven't they come out to tell us anything? Monty snapped back.
Because they probably don't know anything, Linda reminded him. We know he's had a heart attack. They're trying to get it under control. This takes time.
Lane looked worried. He was so weak earlier today...he nearly fell trying to get up out of a chair...why didn't we notice then that there was a problem?
Barbara hugged her mother. Granddaddy's stubborn. If somebody chopped his leg off, he'd say it was just a scratch. He waved everybody off, and everybody was willing to let it go.
Adam took his mother's hand. I should have called. I saw it right before it happened...I had this weird flash of Michael standing by Granddaddy and everybody crying, but it just didn't occur to me what it was...I'm sorry...
It's not your fault, Lane said soothingly. You couldn't have stopped it. Even Granddaddy says that psychic power does not make one omnicient--it just adds a lot of noise sometimes.
Michael came into the room, looking exhausted.
Monty looked nervous. How is he?
Michael gestured to the chairs. Sit down. We need to talk.
Monty dropped into a chair.
Michael sat across from the family. O.K., here's the situation. He had a heart attack--a fairly substantial one. He's got significant heart muscle damage. Fortunately, he was here when it happened--if he hadn't been near medical care, he'd have died within minutes. He's in Cardiac Intensive Care now, in grave condition. We've given him some drugs to stabilize his heart and bust up any clots that might cause blockage, and he's hanging in there. He's breathing all right on his own, but not quite as strong as we'd like, probably because he's in a lot of pain and so it hurts to take a full breath. We're still giving him oxygen to keep him going so he doesn't have to work as hard. His heart rhythm is good considering how much damage he's sustained.
But there's more, Trey said.
Good catch. Michael sighed. Here's the kicker. He's in a lot of pain because of how damaged his heart is. I mean, a lot of pain. You can see it in his face, and as I told you, it's interfering with his ability to take a full breath. So, we need to get that pain under control, and fast. Normally, we kill that pain with morphine. It keeps the blood pressure down and keeps the patient from having another heart attack or a stroke from the trauma of the constant pain, and helps prevent pneumonia or some other lung infection from not being able to breathe properly. But...
Oh, bloody Hell, Ian swore.
His addiction, Caitlin realized. A dose of morphine could trigger his addictive tendencies.
Which would trigger Ying Ko, Monica added.
And God help us all if that happens, Trey finished.
He would sooner die than go through that again, Lane whispered.
But he will die if he has another heart attack, Michael insisted. And a stroke or pneumonia would kill him as well, as weak as he is. I am asking his family to make this decision, but I will be blunt with you. If it were my loved one in this position, I would authorize the morphine. Even with as powerful as Lamont's mind is, the risk of another heart attack or a stroke or lung infection is greater than the risk of addiction...and any consequences of that addiction. But it's your choice.
Barbara looked at Monty. Uncle Monty, you can't...
Adam nodded his agreement. We all know how he feels about that part of his life. You can't put him through that again...
Linda gave a pleading expression to her father. Dad, if his mind goes haywire, there is no way any of us can stop him...
Enough! Monty threw up his hands. I appreciate the input, but I have power of attorney--this is my decision. He drew a deep breath, said a quick prayer, then looked at Michael. I just lost my wife. I am not losing my father on the same day. Give him the morphine. But at the first sign of an addictive reaction, take it away. I will take full responsibility for whatever happens.
Linda looked shocked. Dad, have you gone crazy?
No, I haven't. And don't you dare question this decision. Maybe you want to plan two funerals, but I sure as Hell don't. With that, he stormed out of the room.
The family sat silent for a long moment.
Linda looked at her husband. Michael, be reasonable. You can't do this...
Linda, his legal representative has made the decision. I have to do what is in the best interest of my patient. I'm sorry if you think that's unreasonable. But right now, I have a patient who could die at any moment if his pain isn't relieved. I'll keep you informed. Michael got up and left.
Again, the family sat silent.
Barbara looked horrified. Oh, God...what if he reacts to this? What are we going to do?
We're going to help him, Trey snapped. We're going to be there for him. Dad's right. Losing Mom is enough loss for one day. We could save Granddaddy's life by doing this.
At the cost of his sanity? Adam argued. Would you want to go through that?
No, Lane interrupted. And neither would Trey, and neither would any of us. But I support my brother. He made the only choice he could make. I will not condemn my father to death...not when one act could possibly save his life. We'll all have to be there for him. He'll need our strength to keep him safe...and sane. She looked at her children, nieces, and nephews pleadingly. We are Cranstons. Our strength is our common bond through a man who would willingly give anything for us. We owe it to him to stick together, to be strong, to be united. Please, don't fight like this. Don't put each other through this. Come together, for his sake...and all of ours.
The family looked at each other for a moment. Then, Trey put his left hand on the table, the glistening fire opal ring illustrating the bond of Shadow agents...and of the Cranston family.
Gradually, each member of the family laid their left hand atop Trey's...and each other's.
I think we need a prayer for the family, Ian suggested.
Good idea, Caitlin agreed.
Eight minds rose in united prayer for family unity...and for Lamont's sanity.
Monty stood alone outside by the entrance to St. Vincent's emergency room, puffing away on a cigar. For most of his life, Lamont Cranston II had prided himself on being strong, focused, clear-headed. No decision was ever made that he wasn't completely confident was the right one. No plan of attack was ever undertaken without all possible complications known and accounted for. No criminal was ever captured without eliminating all other suspects.
Now, he had made a decision that could have far-reaching implications for his family, without even being sure if he knew what those implications were.
Monty felt as if he were moving in a fog. Had Annie really died just five hours ago? He felt like he needed to go back to her room and talk to her about all this...but he couldn't. Because she wasn't there. And the only other person he could talk to about this was in a pain stupor, on the verge of death from a massive heart attack. Monty had never felt so alone, so completely abandoned, in his whole life.
You're not abandoned.
Monty turned to see Lane coming out to join him. Come to deliver the family critique? he cracked.
No. I came to see if you were all right. You weren't answering my calls.
He turned back to the street and drew another long drag off his cigar. I haven't been listening. I was tired of hearing how heartless I was.
She put a gentle hand on his shoulder. You're not heartless. You're doing the right thing. The kids know that now. We had a long talk after you left.
The Shadow's chilling laugh rang out. Oh, and I'll bet I know exactly how that conversation went. Let's see--I'm being heartless and cruel toward my father? Selfishly thinking only of my feelings right now? Greedy for using the power of attorney to force a decision the rest of the family thinks is wrong?
You're projecting your anger at yourself on the conversation. That's not how it went. She forced him to turn to face her. They think you made the right decision. Their first reaction was emotional. Their second reaction was more rational, once they thought about it for a few minutes.
Then where did they go?
They've all got their marching orders. Barbara's not feeling well, so Ian took her home. He'll take care of calling Annie's family in Ireland. Adam's gone to The Sanctum to get the word out to the agents and keep things under control there. Trey's gone to pick up Lamont-4 at the train station. Linda's talking to the hospital PR department and our lawyers to write the press statement about Annie's passing and Dad's heart attack, so they'll stay away from us. Monica and Caitlin went home to be with the kids. And I'm here for my brother, trying to be as strong for him as he was for me when my husband died...and worried sick about my father.
He looked shaken. I really didn't have a choice, Lane. I couldn't let him die.
I know that. And they knew that, too. But we've had it drilled into our heads since we were kids about how horrible the experience with Ying Ko was, how his whole reason for redemption was to make amends for the things he did under the influence of that part of his personality, how much of a role narcotics played in that part of his personality emerging. You could not expect the kids to react any way but how they did. You're reacting that way, too. You're kicking yourself for making the only decision you could, because of Dad's constant admonitions and The Tulku's stories about that time in his life. I think you should thank Michael for forcing you to make the right decision...for requiring you to think about this logically.
He shook his head. I can't think logically right now. I can't think of anything right now. He looked on the verge of tears again. Oh, God, my mind is completely gone. I can't focus on anything. I've never felt so scattered.
She leaned against him. I know. I've been here. I know exactly what you're going through.
He put an arm around her and pulled her close. She called for help. She said, "Help," and then she left. He shook. Oh, God, she called for help and I couldn't help her...what good am I to anybody right now? Tears spilled down his cheeks.
Lane hugged him tightly. Monty, the last thing David ever said to me was, "My chest really hurts." And then, his heart imploded, and he was gone. His body lived for two more hours...but his mind never spoke again. I had never felt so helpless. She looked up at him. When it's really going to hit you is the first time you go to sleep. You won't feel your mind blending with someone, snuggling mentally closer than you could ever get physically. That's when it will hit you how alone you really are. That's when you'll cry uncontrollably for hours, when you'll stare at the empty pillow and rage about how unfair life is, when you'll scream and ask why it couldn't be you who was taken instead. She shook her head. Mom lasted three years after being told she was dying of cancer, and just drifted off to sleep one day. David collapsed dramatically and was gone within two hours. Annie held out twenty-eight days and then was gone without any warning. I'm not sure which way to go is better.
Monty drew a long drag off his cigar. It's all painful, no matter how it happens. He wiped his eyes.
Amen to that. She leaned against him and sighed, then looked at him and wrinkled her nose. God Bless America, that's a strong cigar.
He laughed. Blame Dad. It's from his stash.
What is it with Cranston men and cigars? Good heavens, those things are dreadful. And somehow, you corrupted your own son into joining you in stinking up the joint, and Dad got my husband, son, and son-in-law interested in smoking them.
Monty put on his best mock-superior expression. It's a manly thing. Similar to why women shop and go to the bathroom in packs.
Lane scowled. Don't put on airs with me. I can still take you.
The Shadow's laugh cackled in reply. You and what army?
Lane matched Monty's laugh with one of her own. I don't need an army. I'm a Cranston. I was trained by the best.
Yeah, I did train you pretty well, didn't I?
Lane threw an elbow jab at her brother that he just managed to dodge. Then, they both laughed and hugged each other...their laughter slowly fading into tears as the pain of the day swept around them again.
A cab pulled up to the curb a short distance away. Monty looked up as Trey climbed out, then offered a hand to another passenger. Oh, my God..., Monty whispered.
Lamont Cranston IV practically ran over to his grandfather and into a waiting embrace. Oh, God, Grandpa, his mind cried, I'm so sorry...
Monty held his grandson in his arms and wept. The sound of the next generation of projective Cranstons was something he and Annie had often spoken about, something Annie had been looking forward to with great anticipation. They had not been allowed to see their grandson since his departure for The Temple Of The Cobras, as part of forcing Lamont IV to let go of his past to learn in the present. To hear his mental voice, feel his powerful but still growing mind already rising to the legacy that was his birthright, was something Annie had so longed to feel...and something that moved Monty to tears. Listen to you, he whispered. Listen to you! Oh, Lamont-4, you sound wonderful! Oh, your grandmother would have loved to hear this... He couldn't continue as his mental voice choked with the pain of loss once more.
Monty looked up from the embrace at the sound of a very familiar voice to see Trey approaching, with a boy by his side who was not much older than Lamont IV. But the wisdom of 22 previous generations shined through loving brown eyes filled with power. Monty felt himself shaking. Marpa Tulku...I'm honored...welcome... He released Lamont IV, and all three people standing at the door knelt in homage to the Tibetan holy man who had saved Lamont Cranston's life 72 years ago.
Rise, please. The Tulku reached out and took Monty's hands. Monty, I am so sorry. Know that she is in a much better place now, far away from sickness and pain.
I know. Monty fought back his emotions once more.
The Tulku took Lane's hands. Lane...it is good to see you again. But it is sad to see you in such pain.
It's been a rough couple of months, Lane admitted.
How is Granddaddy? Lamont IV asked.
Critical, Monty replied, looking frustrated. Michael says he's resting comfortably...but he's had significant heart damage from this attack and could have another one at any moment because of how much pain he's in.
You made a very difficult decision this afternoon, The Tulku said calmly.
Monty looked surprised for a moment, then remembered who he was talking to. Nothing Marpa Tulku knew about anything should have been surprising, especially with how close he was to the Cranston family...especially the ones named "Lamont". He nodded. I had to do it, Tulku. It was the only way. I couldn't let him die from the pain--not when there were ways to stop it.
Lamont IV looked confused. What did you do, Grandpa?
Monty started to answer, then the emotions choked his mental voice again, and he turned away.
Lane put a reassuring arm around her brother's shoulder. Heart attack pain is treated with strong opiate pain killers--usually morphine.
Lamont IV's eyes widened. Oh, no...you didn't...
Monty nodded, looking frustrated and pained by the weight of that decision.
Lamont IV turned to The Tulku. Tulku...what about Ying Ko? Those drugs will really mess with Granddaddy's mind--what if Ying Ko comes back because of the drugs?
He will not. Lamont is far too strong to let that happen to him. He turned to the other Cranstons. But he will need your strength to keep him strong, because those drugs will upset his control...and that will frighten him. As strong as Lamont's mind now is, anything that upsets the control of those powerful psychic energies could cause spillover, and that will not do his heart or his mind any good. He will need to know he has not been abandoned, that his family is there for him.
Of course we'll be there for him, Lane reassured. Then, she too looked emotionally choked. How could we not be?
Monty, Michael called out.
Four Cranstons and The Marpa Tulku turned toward the entranceway.
Michael approached the family, bowing to Marpa Tulku when he arrived. Marpa Tulku...I'm honored...
Rise, Michael. The Tulku took his student's hands. It is good to see you again. I understand your healing hands have been quite busy today.
And not doing a very good job, I'm afraid. He looked over at his nephew. I feel a new projective mind standing among us.
Lamont IV nodded, smiling proudly. Yep. Hi, Uncle Michael.
Hi, yourself. Michael looked as proud as any parent, and nearly became swept away with emotion again. Coupled with the stress of the day, the sensation of another powerful Cranston mind now fully awakened and sending its thought energies outward constantly was nearly overwhelming to Michael's empathy. He got hold of himself and turned to Monty again. Your father's stable. The morphine's helping. His blood pressure is down, he's breathing a lot easier, and his heart rate is almost back to normal.
The entire family breathed a sigh of relief. Oh, thank God, a chorus of mental voices whispered as hands drew a cross for quick prayers.
He's not out of danger yet, Michael warned. The next couple of days are going to be critical...in particular, how he reacts to the morphine. He's being screened every few hours for signs of morphine tolerance...standard procedure. At his age, tolerance builds really fast to morphine, so he'll be scanned closely.
How's his mind reacting? Lane asked.
So far, so good. There's a little confusion in his thought patterns, but the energy's not building to overflowing levels yet. And I've not seen any sign of rage.
The morphine will dissipate some of his energies, The Tulku pointed out. I worry more about your staff and whether any of them will be swept into a hypnotic suggestion that he cannot fully control than whether Ying Ko will slip out undetected.
I thought of that. There are some pretty exacting orders on his chart. Among them is that absolutely no changes are to be made to the treatment without consulting me first, regardless of patient complaints. A chuckle. The chief cardiologist wasn't real happy with me. But the nursing staff was thrilled, because it meant that they could point to the chart and tell him that "Mean Old Michael" was the one who was forcing him to stay in bed and take his medicine, not them. He looked to Monty again and reached into his pocket for something. By the way...I think you'd better hang on to this.
Monty looked at Michael, then saw what was in his hand--Lamont's silver fire opal ring, the symbol of his life debt to Marpa Tulku, the bond of Shadow agents to one another. His ring.
Michael nodded. We had to take all his jewelry off to work on him. I got the ring off before we got down there so that no one else would take it. He placed it in Monty's hand. This way, I know it's safe.
Monty felt himself shaking. In the 72 years since Marpa Tulku had placed it on Lamont Cranston's left ring finger, this ring had never been far from his father's hands...until now. It was yet another reminder of just how sick Lamont was, of the very real possibility he could die. He closed his fist around it and fought back tears.
Lane put a hand on her brother's shoulder to steady him...and herself. Can we see him?
Michael gestured with his head toward the hospital. Follow me.
If Monty thought Annie looked frail and weak from illness, he was caught completely off-guard by the sight of his father lying in Cardiac Intensive Care. Lamont was barely recognizable under a maze of oxygen hoses, IV tubes, and heart monitors. A television screen showing his vital signs was prominently displayed near the bed, and several medications were hooked to an IV tube in his arm. One of the bags was hooked to a small box with a digital readout and some push buttons on its surface. Nurses adjusted his blankets and noted his vitals on a chart.
Lane buried her head in her brother's shoulder. Lamont IV stepped behind Trey and looked frightened. Even Marpa Tulku looked unnerved.
Michael made his way past them and took the chart from the nurse. Looking good, he observed mentally. He's improved significantly since his pain was relieved. Then, he looked puzzled. An unusual reaction for an ex-addict.
How so? Trey asked.
Opiate addicts develop what is often referred to as "morphine metabolism". Their tolerance for opiates builds to such a level that their bodies no longer process them correctly--they become part of the body chemistry. Even when finally made clean, their bodies fall right back into the misprocessing state as soon as opiates are reintroduced. That's why hardcore addicts who've been made clean can never take an opiate again--and why so many addicts have trouble staying clean. Michael checked Lamont's vitals again. But he's not showing any signs of that. He's reacting just like anybody else would to the introduction of a powerful painkiller into his system. It's very odd--definitely not the reaction I would have expected.
Monty felt his father's mental energies swirling through the room in confused patterns. Is that normal?
Michael paused and read the energy coming from his patient. Absolutely. Morphine has a tendency to confuse thought patterns. Part of the synaptic interaction it has in the brain. It eventually wears off when the drug does, and normal brain function returns fairly rapidly. Of course, most patients aren't super-projectors like Lamont is. "Lamont Cranston" and "normal brain function" don't quite go together.
Trey couldn't help but laugh.
Monty cut him a sharp look.
Sorry, Dad, Trey replied. But even Granddaddy makes jokes about being psychically "well-endowed".
Now Lane was giggling. Oh, man, I'd almost forgotten about that...Mom used to tell that story constantly.
Monty rubbed his eyes and shook his head. Sorry, gang. I'm not thinking too clearly today. Didn't mean to overreact.
The Tulku put a reassuring hand on Monty's shoulder. It is not as if you have had anything else on your mind today.
Monty nodded, trying not to let his emotions run away from him again.
Lamont IV came over and hugged his grandfather, then looked at the tangle of tubes and wires. What's that? he asked, pointing at the IV attached to the electronic box.
Michael walked over to the device. That's called a PCA box--stands for "Patient-Controlled Analgesic". We administer the morphine through this. The patient is allowed to administer a few milligrams of medication to themselves every few minutes, with a limit on how many times per hour medication can be administered. Right now, we're dosing him about once every 20 minutes with a light dose so that he doesn't get too much at once because of his extreme age, but a doctor or nurse can override the dosing regulator if necessary. When he wakes up, he'll be allowed to administer it himself to keep his own pain at bay.
You know he'll stay away from that thing like it was electrically charged, Lane noted.
Which is why the staff has orders to dose him at least once every 20 minutes. Michael checked the time on the dosing monitor, pressed a combination of keys on the panel, then pressed a button on the machine four times quickly. I just dosed him again. See how the counter increments to indicate how many doses the patient has had and how long it's been since the previous one? At a glance, we can see what's going on. It's also hooked to a monitor at the main station so that the nurses there can see what's going on.
And he can't overdose with that? Trey asked.
Nope. He can't administer any more than the machine allows him to. It won't release a dose if it's been too soon since the last one. This one's set to dose every five minutes. I hit the override sequence to give him four very small doses, which is equivalent to a full dose every 20 minutes.
The Tulku winced and put a hand to his temple.
Lamont IV moved to his teacher's side. Tulku? What is it? Are you all right?
The Tulku took a deep breath, then composed himself. Apparently the chemicals just reached his brain. He released another burst of energy as his control slipped. It caught me off-guard.
Lane looked surprised as she too felt ripples of telepathic energy from her father's powerful mind. That's some fast-acting stuff.
That's why we use it, Michael agreed. It goes to work immediately, especially when administered intravenously. His pain level is down significantly. His vitals have improved tremendously. Michael tried to shake off the incredible rush going through his empathic senses. I've got to tell you, as a doctor, I'm very pleased. He's still very critical, but at least now he's got a fighting chance. If we can get him through the next couple of days without a negative drug reaction, he'll have an even better chance of surviving this.
That may be the difficult part, though. The Tulku looked concerned. He is very frightened and disoriented by all that is happening to him. He is vaguely aware that we are here, but cannot focus enough to reach out to us.
Michael looked at his in-laws. You can touch him. It might help him feel less helpless. It'll definitely bring him a little closer to reality.
Monty nodded, then moved to his father's side and took his hand.
Lane moved to the other side and took his other hand, then gently brushed wisps of white hair off his forehead. Dad? It's Lane...can you hear me?
It took a moment before the swirling patterns of confusion focused enough to form a mental voice. Lane...help...I feel like I'm drowning...
Monty clutched his father's hand tightly. Dad, it's Monty. You're not drowning. You've had a heart attack, and you're in Cardiac Intensive Care. They've given you a lot of drugs to stabilize your heart and reduce your pain, and that's why you feel disoriented. But you're doing a lot better. We're here, and we're not leaving.
Lamont's thoughts were still confused, and he flexed his left hand oddly. My ring...where's my ring?
I've got it, Monty reassured as he gave Lamont's hand another squeeze. They had to take it off because they had to put IVs in your hands. I've got it, though, and you can have it back as soon as you're better. Relax. Trey's here, and so is Lamont-4. Even Marpa Tulku came down to see you. Just relax. Don't try so hard, and don't fight the medicine--we're here for you, and we're not going to let anything happen to you.
More confusion, then finally a reply. Monty...they've given me some kind of opiate...I can't control my mind...
I know, Dad. They're giving you a morphine IV.
What? Lamont tensed, fear etched into his expression.
Lane gave his hand a squeeze. Dad, we had no choice. You were on the verge of another heart attack or a stroke unless they could stop your pain. It's a very small dose, given every few minutes. They're watching you closely to make sure you don't have a bad reaction to it. Just relax...no one is going to let anything happen.
Lamont looked pained. Oh, God...no...I'd rather be dead...
Trey put a hand on his grandfather's shoulder. Don't say that. You're fine. Trust me, there's a room full of adepts who are not going to let you hurt anyone or yourself. We're here for you. Trust us, lean on us, pull whatever you need from us, and no one is going to deprive you of anything you need to get better.
Listen to us, Granddaddy, Lamont IV urged. I didn't come here to watch you give up on life.
More shifting thought patterns that took a moment to congeal. Lamont-4? Is that you?
Of course. He patted his great-grandfather's thigh. I told you I was coming down today. We've got a whole room full of Lamont Cranstons here.
Michael's beeper went off. He looked down at it. Dammit. Trauma's on the way in. He looked over at his family. I'll be back. Call if you need me.
Monty nodded his thanks as Michael hurried from the room.
A shuddering burst of energy rushed through the room as Lamont struggled once more with his mental control. Everyone winced, including Lamont. Oh, God, he moaned mentally, I'm sorry...I can't control any of it...
Lane brushed his temple soothingly. Relax, Dad. You'll be fine. She giggled slightly. It's not as if none of us are used to your mental blasts.
Another pause. Did someone say The Tulku is here?
Marpa Tulku came over to Lane and stood behind her, then placed a gentle hand on his once reluctant pupil's shoulder. I am here, Lamont. It is good to see you, even like this.
The thought patterns took a bit longer to congeal this time. I can't focus, Tulku...my mind is so scattered...
That is the work of the drugs. You will be fine once they are out of your system. But do not fight them now. Your body needs help to heal itself, and relieving the pain will help considerably.
Another swirl of energy that took longer than usual to focus. Ying Ko...
You need not fear that. You will not give in. You know that. You are frightened because your psychic control is shaky right now, and you feel your energies building to levels where you normally need to release. You need to relax, to allow your energies to help you, to allow them to flow instead of trying to restrict them so. No one will let anything happen to you.
Dad, relax, Lane urged. We're here. You're not going to hurt us, and we're not going to let anything hurt you.
Tears formed in Lamont's eyes. I'm sorry...I'm so sorry...I've become a burden...
Never, Monty said firmly. You are not a burden. And you never will be. You're scared because you're sick, and you haven't been this sick in years. He squeezed his father's hand. Stay with us, Dad. We need you. I need you.
Lamont looked over at his son, then his daughter.
Both children looked back, loving concern in their eyes.
Protect me, Lamont's mind whispered. Then, he drifted off to sleep.
Monty shook with emotion, holding his father's hand. Trey and Lamont IV embraced him, trying to keep him strong.
Lane lovingly stroked her father's hair and wiped away the tears on his cheeks...then buried her face in her hands and broke down crying.
The Tulku put a gentle hand on her shoulder, then put his other hand on Lamont's shoulder and began to pray.
A room full of powerful minds rose as one in prayer for the strength and health of one of their own.
Monty walked into the darkened master bedroom of his mansion and collapsed onto the bed, completely exhausted. Trey and Lamont IV had practically dragged him out of the hospital, telling him to go home and sleep because he was emotionally, physically, and psychically drained. Lane offered to stay the night with Lamont, and Michael had obtained a "Visiting Clergy" pass for Marpa Tulku so that he could stay in the ward with Lamont as well. Even Lamont had managed to think clearly enough to urge his son to go home and rest, to let himself grieve.
So now Monty was at home, his mind still racing through the things he needed to do over the next few days. The servants had been shocked to learn of Annie's death, and all of them had gathered to express their condolences when he'd arrived. Lamont's household staff was also over to get any news on their employer, and Monty had spent a great deal of time reassuring them that he was doing well and that they would be taken care of regardless. Messages were waiting from his lawyer about scheduling the reading of Annie's will, the press was camped on the street outside Cranston Manor waiting for word about Lamont, and all the attention--even the sympathetic kind--was starting to grate on Monty. He doffed his suitcoat, loosened his tie, tossed them both aside, then lay back on the pillow and tried to let everything go.
The room was so dark. Shadows covered everything...the photos on the wall...the wardrobe...the dresser...the bed...
Monty felt chilled. The room felt so desolate, so completely barren. Where was the life that used to be in here? The lilting Irish laughter? The warm, all-encompassing love? How could it be gone? How could anything be so cruel as to take it all away?
Monty felt the emotions welling up inside him once more, and this time he gave them full reign. He broke down crying bitterly, angrily, outraged at the sheer unfairness of it all.
Across New York, an angry cry of raging pain echoed through the streets and shook buildings for miles around.
Light passing across his eyelids awoke Lamont out of his opiate stupor. He slowly opened his eyes and looked around.
The trappings of an Intensive Care room greeted his gaze, reminding him of where he was. The pain in his chest reminded him of why he was there. He tried to take a deep breath, only to feel the muscles in his chest tighten in protest. He winced noticeably.
A nurse came in the room. "Feeling a little uncomfortable, Mr. Cranston?" she asked, then scanned the monitors. "No wonder. It's been over 20 minutes since your last dose." She walked over to the PCA machine.
Lamont followed her with his eyes, horrified at the sight of that machine at his bedside. He was all-too-familiar with it--Margo had been hooked to one in her last days as the pain of the cancer ravaged her body. She finally begged doctors to remove it just hours before her death, so she could experience the last moments of her life with a clear mind. And now, he was hooked to one of those damn things as it dispensed a vile drug into his bloodstream to cloud his mind. "Please...don't," he whispered.
"I know," the nurse soothed. "No one likes to feel foggy-brained. But you'll be able to breathe a little easier in a second." She reached for the button.
Don't! The Shadow's voice ordered firmly.
She froze in place, then blinked and shook her head to clear it. "I must be hearing things," she muttered. "Just relax, Mr. Cranston." She punched in the override code, then gave four quick clicks to the button on the PCA machine to dispense another dose of morphine into his system.
Lamont looked terrified. No...I've lost my powers...
No, you haven't, Lane's voice replied. They've just been made temporarily immune to your suggestions.
Lamont looked toward the door.
Lane, looking exhausted, came into the room. "Is he being difficult?" she asked the nurse.
"No more so than any other patient," the nurse responded with a smile.
"Good. You tell me if he gives you any trouble. We'll whip him into shape."
"No need for that." The nurse gently adjusted Lamont's blankets. "He's such a sweet old man."
Lamont watched as the nurse left, then turned to Lane. What did you do to them?
The Shadow's laugh cackled back in reply. As if I'm going to tell you that so you can find a way to undo it, Lane replied. Suffice it to say you're not going to influence anyone's mind in here until you relax and stop fighting treatment.
Lamont felt a wave of numbness sweep through his mind, and his energies shift through his control like sand through fingers. Dammit...
Relax, Lamont. Do not fight. It will do you no good and only cause more pain.
Lamont looked over to see Marpa Tulku getting to his feet in a corner of the room to come over to his bedside. Why didn't I feel you over there? Lamont asked, puzzled.
Because you have been in and out of a coma for hours now. The Tulku put a gentle hand on his shoulder. It is good to see you awake. We have been very concerned. He turned to Lane. Did you manage to get any sleep in the waiting lounge?
Of course not, Lane replied. Did you really stay on the floor all night?
Of course. I always stay with a student who needs me. He smiled at Lamont. Even when they have long since moved on from The Temple.
Another burst of energy slipped out of Lamont's control, and both Lane and The Tulku drew back.
I'm sorry, Lamont whispered mentally. I tried to hold it back, but it was like trying to hold back a firehose...
The Tulku gently patted Lamont's shoulder. I know. You have been doing that for hours now. Your energies are dissipating when the drugs hit, and that is why you feel as if you are losing control.
I feel so helpless, Lamont sighed mentally. God bless America, how was I ever addicted to this stuff? It's horrible.
You used to like this effect before you were awakened. It would ease the pressures on your barriers and stop those headaches that used to drive you into madness.
As if this is any better. Another swirl of psychic energy escaped into the stream of consciousness around him. Oh, Lord, I wish I could stop this.
Lane stroked her father's cheek lovingly. Don't try so hard. None of us are afraid of getting smacked in the psyche. Just worry about getting yourself better. We'll take care of everything else.
The remark brought the rest of yesterday's events back to the forefront of Lamont's mind. Monty...how is he?
We sent him home. He was exhausted. Lane sighed. I think it hit him as he tried to go to sleep last night. I'm surprised you didn't hear him screaming--I'm sure half of New York did.
Lamont nodded. That's exactly when it hit me...the first time I tried to go to sleep without Margo. His eyes teared at the memory. It wasn't even so much that she wasn't in the room. It was that she wasn't there, period. And she never would be again. I would never hold her again, never kiss her again, never join minds with her again... He paused as opiate fog and emotions choked his mental voice, then looked over at Lane. And both of my children had to go through that Hell. I'd have given anything if they hadn't had to.
Lane wiped away his tears. We know. Right now, though, we want you to get well. Don't worry about anything--we are taking care of it.
Lamont looked over at his daughter and smiled wistfully. Memories of a bright-eyed, energetic child who was truly "Daddy's Little Girl" filled his mind...an excited child bounding into his arms after he had returned from a hard day of fighting shadows...an impatient toddler crawling into his lap for a hug to distract him from frustrating research...a little girl crying after her brother had taken her dolly prisoner in his block castle...
As I recall, you told me to "storm the castle", Lane teased.
Lamont came out of his reminiscence. Sorry. Didn't mean to be so loud.
It's O.K. She brushed his cheek. I remember your lap was the safest place in the whole world. And Daddy's kisses could cure anything. She kissed him gently. You're still trying to protect us, even now. Let us protect you.
Lamont sighed as opiate fog choked his mental voice once more. He gave Lane's hand a gentle squeeze.
Lane squeezed his hand and smoothed his blankets.
The Tulku looked over at Lane. Did you do it?
Lane looked confused. What?
Storm the castle when Monty took your doll.
Lane laughed. You'd better believe it. I had to get my dolly back.
And got me in trouble for it, Monty's voice called from the doorway.
Everyone looked over to see Monty coming into the room, shaking his finger at Lane. Not only did you go crying to Dad and made him fuss at me, you knocked over my castle that I'd spent all morning building.
It was your own fault, Lane told him. You stole my dolly and called me a "dumb old girl".
Monty looked mock-perturbed. You hit me with your precious dolly.
And I got punished just for defending my honor.
The Tulku looked down at Lamont, who was now smiling in amusement. And you survived this with your sanity intact?
There is some doubt about that, Lamont replied.
They say insanity is hereditary, Monty noted.
Lamont nodded his agreement. You get it from your kids.
Monty bent over and hugged his father. How are you, Dad?
Probably better than you are. Lamont squeezed his son's hand. Monty, I am so sorry. I wish there was something I could do.
Monty forced back his emotions. There is. Get well. He turned to Lane. How was he last night?
Naughty, Lane replied. Kept trying to push away the nurses. Fortunately, they're all immune for now.
Good. Monty glanced at the PCA. He's coming up on his next dose any moment now.
I don't need it, Lamont protested. I'm fine.
Tell that to your blood pressure, Michael interjected, coming in the room. It's starting to go up again. That means you're in pain and not telling anybody.
Lamont frowned. I am not in pain.
The Tulku looked sternly at his pupil. Do not lie. I do not tolerate lying in my presence.
Lamont looked humbled. I'm sorry, Tulku. But it doesn't hurt badly. I don't want any more drugs...I can't think straight with them in my system... Tears began spilling down his cheeks.
Lane and Monty sat on either side of him. Dad, don't cry, Lane urged. You'll just make yourself hurt more.
Monty offered his handkerchief. Relax, Dad, he soothed. I know you hate being out of control. But your heart was injured yesterday. Your body is in considerable pain, and a tumo won't help because your heart is what's damaged. We need to keep the pain at a minimum because pain increases the workload on your heart.
Lamont wiped his eyes. But you don't understand...you were never held prisoner by your own mind and a vile drug. I was too numb for too long...I don't ever want to be that numb again. I don't want to fall back into that Hell again...
You won't, Michael stated. No one here is going to let you. We've been running tests regularly to screen for tolerance. Let me check the latest results. He looked at Lamont's chart, then looked puzzled. Granddaddy, are you sure you were addicted to opiates? I mean, really addicted, couldn't live without them, physically and psychologically dependent?
Lamont nodded. Absolutely.
For how long?
Lamont looked skyward. Oh, God, at least five years. I took my first drag off a hookah in January 1921. I was hooked within days.
Michael looked at the results and scowled. Then either these tests are wrong, or you are the first known cure of morphine metabolism.
Now it was Monty's turn to look puzzled. What do you mean?
Michael looked up at the family. Remember when I told you about "morphine metabolism"--changes in the body chemistry caused by addiction to opiates? Those markers are easily picked up in the tests we run to check for signs of tolerance. Even addicts who've gotten clean still have the markers. He looked one more time at the results to make sure he wasn't seeing things. But you have none. You're completely clean. So, either you were never really physically addicted...
...or the impurity in the blood chemistry was burned away in your awakening, The Tulku finished.
Lamont's eyes widened. The tattoos, he realized.
What? Michael asked.
I had tattoos on the fingers of my left hand...the Chinese characters for "Ying Ko". When I came out of my awakening, they had disappeared.
They were burned away by the strength of your awakening, The Tulku added. They were an impurity which needed removing.
Wait a minute, Michael interrupted. You're trying to tell me that Granddaddy's awakening changed his body chemistry to the point that it dissolved chemical markers in his bloodstream? That's impossible.
Monty looked amazed. Anything is possible...
...and nothing is impossible, Lane finished, remembering Lamont's constant admonition during their training. Marpa Tulku, did you know this?
Marpa Tulku smiled. I suspected it. But since I cannot read blood chemistry as easily as I can minds, I was not certain. So, I said nothing until Michael's tests confirmed it.
Michael shook his head as he looked at the chart again. You'd think I'd stop being surprised by things this family can do.
Lamont looked hopeful. Does this mean you don't have to keep making the staff immune to the notion that they should take away this... He gestured to the PCA box. ...thing?
Michael gave a smile. Of course not. It means you get another dose without me having to panic that you're going to develop morphine metabolism and go mad if I push the button. You'll still be closely monitored, but I'm not nearly as worried.
Lamont groaned. Michael, have mercy. I'm an old man. I don't ask much except to be left in peace.
Michael patted his patient's shoulder. Show some improvement over the next couple of days and we'll wean you off. But right now, we need to keep you as pain-free as possible. I mean it, Granddaddy--you were on the verge of a stroke less than eighteen hours ago, and your heart is still showing signs of stress from the damage it took yesterday. We have to keep your blood pressure down for you to stand a chance of improving. Now, relax and let us take care of you. He entered the override code and pressed the button on the PCA four times.
Lamont felt the drug going into his bloodstream. Mean old Michael.
Michael smiled. That's the spirit.
Monty looked over at his son-in-law, who was fighting a yawn. When was the last time you got any sleep?
Michael rubbed his eyes. I got about an hour's worth around 3 a.m. Such is the life of a trauma surgeon.
When do you come off your rotation?
Not until six tonight. And I've still got a ton of rounds to make and paperwork to do, and none of it's getting done standing here. He patted Lamont's shoulder again. Granddaddy, I'll be back to check on you in about an hour. Get some rest.
Lamont nodded, feeling thick-headed as the drug hit his brain. As if I could do anything else right now.
Michael smiled, then gave a hug to his father-in-law.
Monty held onto Michael for a moment. Have I thanked you yet for all you've done?
Michael gave a gentle smile. Monty and Annie had become surrogate parents after the deaths of his own parents four years ago, and the pain he felt at losing Annie was as strong as it had been when his own mother had died. No need. I've never forgotten that the only reason I'm able to do any of this is because a Shadow-in-training saved my life ten years ago.
Monty smiled back at his son-in-law. I've always known Linda had good taste.
Michael winked, then headed out the door of the ward.
Monty looked over at Lane, who was also yawning. All right, when was the last time you slept? he scolded.
Sometime in the middle of the night, Lane admitted. Dad was awfully loud last night. I kept getting smacked in the psyche with projective discharges every time they'd dose him.
As if on cue, Lamont's control slipped, and a wave of energy swept through the room. Everyone winced.
Sorry, Lamont mentally whispered.
The Tulku gently rubbed his pupil's temples. Stop apologizing. You cannot help it, and everyone is aware you are not deliberately discharging. Think of the dissipating effects as helpful. They reduce the pressure on your psyche just as the pain-relieving effects of the drug reduce the pressure on your heart.
I know. But I hate losing control. I feel utterly useless.
Stop that. The Tulku frowned. That is self-pity talking, and I will not allow that kind of behavior in my presence.
Lamont looked sad. I'm sorry, Tulku. Forgive my disrespect.
Of course I will forgive you. But that does not mean I will simply allow you to continue to denigrate yourself. The Tulku met Lamont's gaze firmly. Sleep, Lamont. Fatigue is clouding your mind almost as badly as the drugs are, and you are saying things that you would not ordinarily say. You need to rest and rejuvenate. Sleep.
Lamont sighed, then closed his eyes and let the numbing effect of the drugs carry him away.
Lane and Monty looked at each other, then at Marpa Tulku. That is amazing, Lane whispered. I cannot believe you calmed him down so easily.
Marpa Tulku smiled. One does not teach adepts for over a thousand years without learning something about calming even the most powerful psyche. He gently smoothed Lamont's blankets. It is also a matter of trust. It is difficult for a parent to let go and give total control over to a child, no matter how mature the child has become. It is much easier for a student to give that kind of control to a teacher whom he trusts implicitly.
Monty nodded. He's always been there for us...always stood ready to protect and care for us. It's hard for him to accept that he needs to be protected and cared for now.
He will become more accepting as time passes. Right now, he is worried about the strain on his children. The Tulku looked sympathetic. As am I. Lane, you are exhausted. You have been here all night. Go home and rest. Monty and I will stay with your father.
Lane rubbed her eyes. You know, I wasn't really that sleepy until you said that just now. All right, I'll go. She kissed her father's forehead. Bye, Dad.
Lamont smiled, but his mind was too fatigued to answer.
Lane wiped away a tear, then hugged her brother. Call if you need me.
I will. Monty kissed her cheek. Love you, sis.
Love you, too. She bowed to Marpa Tulku, then left the room.
Monty watched her go, then looked over at The Tulku. And I don't suppose you've slept at all.
The Tulku shrugged. I am quite used to long stretches of wakefulness. I am more concerned about all of you. He looked sympathetically at Monty. Sit down. Tell me what you are feeling.
Monty sat. I'm not even sure where to begin. He shook his head. She was doing better. She was going to come home. She looked great for all she'd been through. She was so happy to see all of us. And then, she was gone, with no warning. He looked sad. She called for help. She said, "Monty, help," and that's the last thing she ever said. I have never felt so helpless, so completely useless. His mental voice choked with emotion, and he rubbed his eyes to force back the tears.
That is self-pity talking, The Tulku reminded him. I will not tolerate that from you any more than I will from your father. You are understandably distraught right now. But one can grieve without tearing himself down. And I will not allow you to continue such self-destructive thinking.
Monty started to react angrily, then bit his tongue and reminded himself that the monk before him had hundreds of years more experience dealing with such matters. I'm sorry, Tulku. It's just so frustrating. I miss her so much... Now he was sobbing.
The Tulku came over to him and put a gentle hand on his shoulder, a quiet gesture of support.
Monty allowed himself to cry for a bit longer, then gathered himself and wiped his eyes. I think I needed that, he said with a slight laugh in his mental voice.
You did indeed.
Monty shook his head. Will it ever get any easier to take?
Eventually. But you must give yourself time to grieve. The stress on you is great right now--the loss of your wife, the pain of that loss in your children and grandchildren, your father's heart attack, the heavy responsibility you feel to be the "patriarch" in the face of your father's illness. You must not allow that stress to overwhelm you, but you must deal directly with it.
Monty sighed. I really thought I was stronger than this. I guess I never realized how much I leaned on Dad and Annie for support.
You are strong. But you are understandably feeling very vulnerable right now. Of the two people in your life that you always viewed as stronger than you, one is gone and the other is quite ill. That is why you feel so weak. But you have strength far beyond your understanding, determination and confidence that carried you through 30 years of fighting evil in the shadows. You must find that strength within yourself again, use it, let it carry you through this.
Monty nodded. I'll try. It's just awfully hard to think clearly right now.
I know. The Tulku gave his shoulder a squeeze. I remember what this is like.
Monty looked up at his master. That's right. I'd forgotten you were married once.
Twenty-three generations ago. A wistful smile. There are times it feels like yesterday. In many ways, it was. When your psyche is over a thousand years old, time is all relative.
Monty just chuckled. I'm sorry, Tulku. I don't want to sound disrespectful. It's just that this generation's body isn't a lot older than my grandson.
The Tulku smiled. Picture your father's first impressions of me. Kundun Namri was only fifteen years old when we first met.
I know. He always says he feels so old, no matter what your physical age is when he sees you. You've always been younger than him.
Gyatso Kasha was not younger than you, though, when we first met, which is why you see me now as "so young". Trey had the same reaction--Shao Ngawang, the 22nd Marpa Tulku, was almost twenty years older than him, so to see sixteen-year-old Leiping Dorji, only three years older than his own son, is quite the reminder of his own advancing years.
Do you remember all your names?
Of course. Other than the first Marpa Tulku, none of us started out as Marpa...unlike the four Lamont Cranstons.
Monty laughed. Lamont-4 always says he got cheated out of a "cool nickname". It was Monica's idea to actually call him "Lamont". We didn't figure Dad woud be around much longer--he was 87--and so she didn't think it would be a problem. Then it became clear Dad wasn't going anywhere, and we had to figure out how to tell the difference when someone shouted "Lamont!" across the room. So he became "Lamont-4". I think his parents and sister are the only ones in the family who call him "Lamont" without the number.
Marpa Tulku smiled. He is so proud of that number, though. He had the same reaction you did when I asked him how he felt about what he had learned so far--he wondered if he'd ever be worthy of bearing the name "Lamont Cranston". "But I want to try," he said. "I'm the fourth Lamont Cranston. And I won't stop trying until I'm at least as good as the other three."
Monty smiled broadly. He feels so strong now. Annie had so wanted to see this. Then, he looked emotional. She's probably looking down from Heaven right now, just beaming with pride...
Lamont gently reached out and touched his son's sleeve.
Monty looked up, then took his dad's hand. Sorry. I should be the one comforting you, not the other way around.
Lamont smiled, struggling to focus his thoughts over the influence of the medicine. Stop that. I remember what it's like to lose your wife. It hurts like Hell. You break down crying at the stupidest things, because you get this impression that she'd really like to have seen this or something like that. You feel incomplete, and you have to remember what it's like to live without her. He gave Monty's hand a squeeze. I wish you better luck than I had in doing that. It's been almost ten years, and I'm still trying to figure that one out.
Monty gave his father a chiding look. Thanks for the encouragement.
Hey, nothing in life is easy. I should have taught you that by now.
That you did. He smiled at Lamont. But all of this would have been a lot harder to handle without you. I'm so thankful I still have you.
Lamont looked sad. I'm sorry I can't do more for you right now.
Just you being alive and awake is enough. Monty looked down, trying not to lose control again.
A different comforting hand touched his shoulder. Monty looked up.
Trey looked down, his eyes filled with loss and love as well. Hey, Dad.
Monty hugged his son. Hey yourself. He looked behind him and saw Lamont IV standing just off to the side. Hey, there. You O.K.?
Yeah, Lamont IV said, forcing a smile. Just didn't want to interrupt.
Trey stepped back, and Monty held out a hand to his grandson.
Lamont IV came over and held onto his grandfather, trying not to cry.
Monty hugged him tightly. Poor thing. This was not the homecoming you wanted.
I'm sorry, Grandpa, Lamont IV said, trying to force back the tears that were spilling down his cheeks. This just hurts so bad...
I know. He felt ripples of pain coming from his grandson that were physical, not just psychic. You've got a headache on top of it. That's rough.
Lamont IV nodded. Jeez, I never realized Manhattan was so loud. How do you guys stand it?
Trey laughed. Not the easiest of feats, I can assure you. I had a headache for a week. Eventually, it all just becomes background noise.
Lamont smiled across at his namesake great-grandson. It took me weeks when I first got back to adjust, and I'm about as unreceptive as they come. But you eventually learn.
Monty shrugged. I awakened in the city, believe it or not. So, to me, filtering out the noise was just part of the learning process.
Man, I can't even imagine that. Lamont IV rubbed his temples. Tulku, how do you stand it?
The Tulku just smiled. I hear thoughts everywhere, even away from crowded cities. One simply has to learn what is and is not important to hear. Do you need some help?
Lamont IV hesitated, then nodded.
Marpa Tulku came over to him and gently touched his temples. Relax.
Lamont IV took a deep breath and blew it out slowly.
A swirling energy wave swept into Lamont IV's mind, wrapping around his overwhelmed psyche, gently kneading out the kinks.
Lamont IV looked grateful. Thanks, Tulku.
The Tulku patted Lamont IV on the shoulder.
Lamont looked over at his great-grandson. Sounding good, he praised.
Lamont IV smiled. Thanks. I'm trying really hard. I want to be able to out-shout you someday.
Oh, don't worry--you'll get there. Of course, you'll probably have to be as old as me to do it.
Says you. He gave Lamont's hand a squeeze.
Two powerful projective telepaths, separated by 87 years of life experience, exchanged wordless affection as they looked at each other and clutched each other's hands.
Trey smiled with pride. Lamont IV had always been Lamont's favorite of the great-grandchildren...not only because he was the first, but because he was the namesake, the heir apparent to the tremendous Cranston legacy. Lamont IV's awakening had allowed him to form an incredibly close relationship with the Cranston patriarch, just as Trey's had a generation earlier. Watching his son and grandfather bonding as no one else could, Trey had never felt closer to his family than he did right now...even in the heart of this tremendous tragedy that had ripped his mother from their lives.
Monty took his son's hand.
Trey gave his father's hand a squeeze, then took Lamont IV's free hand.
Lamont extended his other hand to Monty.
Monty took it and gave it a reassuring squeeze.
For the rest of the morning, four generations of Lamont Cranstons held hands, letting telepathic energy and love flow as freely as the air around them.
"You are not burying her in that!"
Monty bit back a sharp retort as his mother-in-law, Kelly Mulroney, looked horrified at Monty's choice of burial clothes for Annie. 81-year-old Kelly had barely been in this country twelve hours, and already she was driving Monty to distraction, trying to take control of everything, especially the funeral arrangements. And with the wake just over 12 hours away, Monty wasn't in the mood to be second-guessed, especially when Annie had made her wishes clear long ago. "It's in her will," he replied, trying to stay calm. "She said no one was going to see her, anyway, so she might as well wear something comfortable."
"But a green flannel nightgown? I know my daughter. She wouldn't have wanted that. She loved her beautiful clothes."
"Kelly," Monty said evenly, "we talked about this many times. She wanted to be comfortable. And it's a closed casket funeral, so it's not as if anyone will ever see it."
"The casket will be open at the wake."
"And the only people there will be her family, who really won't care what she's wearing."
Kelly looked agitated. "Your parish priest will be there to bless the body. He'll see it."
"He gave her Extreme Unction at the hospital. He has seen her in far worse than this."
"But surely she's got something else she'd rather have worn." Kelly turned to their closet and began rummaging through the clothes. "Maybe her wedding dress..."
Kelly stopped and turned to face him. "Don't you care what anyone else thinks?"
"No, frankly, I don't." He looked pained. "My wife spent the last 28 days of her life in isolation, away from her family, her friends, her whole life. She wasn't allowed visitors...flowers...not even her own clothes, because they might be contaminated with mold or fungus or bacteria that could kill her. One night, as she lay in bed trying not to throw up all over herself yet again after yet another round of chemo, she just kept sobbing that all she wanted was to go home, put on one of her flannel nightgowns, and go to sleep in her own bed. She cried all night, and all I could do was hold her." He fought back tears. "All she wanted was to go home, wear her own clothes, eat her own food, and sleep in her own bed. And just as she was about to do just that, she died. So I'm going to lay her to rest in her favorite flannel nightgown, with her favorite quilt draped over her and her favorite pillow under her head, because that's what she wanted." He turned away.
Kelly looked chastised. "I'm sorry...I didn't know..." She broke down sobbing.
Monty embraced his mother-in-law and held her close, letting his own tears flow.
Kelly wept bitterly. "Mothers shouldn't have to bury their children."
"I know." He stroked her back gently. "I'd trade places with her in a heartbeat."
"I know. So would I..." Her voice choked off as sobs racked her body.
Monty wanted to respond, but couldn't. He just held her as the pain of their joint loss swept through them both once more.
The young ballerina dancing to "Swan Lake" on the TV set in Lamont's room didn't have the polish of a Bolshoi dancer, nor any of the degrees of sophistication of any number of ballet companies across the country. But that didn't matter at all to Lamont as he watched his great-granddaughter Margo performing just for him, her personal get-well wish.
She curtseyed to the camera. "I hope you feel better soon, Granddaddy," she said. "I want us to go to the ballet again soon. I should have danced The Nutcracker for practice, but since I just got that part, I don't know it real well yet. I promise I'll have it down soon, though. I love you, Granddaddy." She blew a kiss to the camera, and then the video faded to black.
Lamont wiped a tear from his eye. That was beautiful, he whispered mentally.
Trey reached over to the VCR in the hospital room and stopped the tape, then ejected it out. She wanted to do that for you. She was just crying about Mom the other night, and Monica urged her to dance for her grandmother. She did, and it seemed to help. After a while, she said that she wished there was enough room in ICU to dance for you because it might make you feel better. So, I got out the video camera and put on "Swan Lake", because she still talks about that time you took her to see it for her birthday.
Best performance I've ever seen. Lamont noticed his grandson fighting to suppress a yawn. You O.K.?
Trey nodded. Just a little drained. Long night last night, and I didn't sleep real well.
Are you working that gang murder in Chinatown? I saw that on the news last night. Looks like a real mess.
Yep. Bloody as Hell. And everyone's being notoriously uncooperative.
Some things never change. The code of silence in Chinatown was hard to penetrate when I was doing this. If you need someone to bounce ideas off of...
Trey laughed and shook his head. Will you stop that? You're in Cardiac ICU, for God's sake. You just had a massive coronary three days ago. You need to be resting. For once in your life, let other people take care of you. Leave the crimefighting to us.
Lamont sighed. I just feel so cooped up. They won't even let me out of bed to go to the funeral.
I know. Trey put a gentle hand on his grandfather's shoulder. We'll miss you.
How was the wake last night?
Incredibly moving. I had no idea so many people would be there--we really just wanted it to be family and close friends, but we didn't turn anyone away. Half the Manhattan social scene came by. We spent hours talking about all the things Mom did through the years. I think we laughed as much as we cried.
I wish I could have been there.
Everyone asked about you. We told them you were better. He smiled. So now you have to get well, so we won't look like liars.
Lamont laughed heartily. I'm trying. I just wish they'd let me out of here so I could be with my family.
I know. But your family needs you to rest and get better.
What time's the funeral?
Trey looked at his watch. About three hours from now. I ordered a dozen red and a dozen white roses in a spray for the casket from you.
I wish I could see them. I'll pay you for them later.
No, you won't. I had the florist charge your account. Dad'll take care of it eventually.
How is your father holding up?
Trey sighed hard. Not well. Marpa Tulku's with him this morning.
Good. I told him Monty needed him more than I did today.
Especially with Grandma Mulroney trying to run things.
Lamont shook his head. Kelly Mulroney was a lovely woman, but as Irish as they came, with a temper to match. And she'd only gotten worse as her latent projective tendencies had gotten stronger with age. He hasn't killed her yet, I take it?
That's why Linda's over there--to keep him calm. They nearly came to blows yesterday. She tried to tell him what kind of clothes to bury Mom in. I admire his restraint--I'd have taken her head off.
No, you wouldn't. You'd have gritted your teeth and given her the Cranston glare, and she'd have backed off. Your father is trying to be nice, because she's just lost her daughter. You have to think of it that way.
I know. But she can be really pushy.
She's a lot like her daughter.
Trey smiled slightly. That she is. Mom used to swear she wasn't anything like her mother, when she was virtually a carbon copy... Now he was fighting back tears.
Lamont gave his grandson's hand a squeeze. I was a basket case the morning of Margo's funeral. I honestly believed she'd outlive me, even when we knew she wasn't going to make it. I honestly thought that I would never be in the position of having to pick out a casket...flowers...a dress for her to be buried in... He fought back the emotions of those memories. I have no idea how I made it through that day. I remember wanting to shout at the top of my mental voice how horribly unfair this all was, how it wasn't supposed to be this way, how I was supposed to go first because there was no way I could ever live without her. It's a kind of Hell I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy...and now both my children have had to go through it.
Trey nodded. I told Monica last night she wasn't allowed to die before I did. He laughed. She told me I wasn't allowed to die before her, either. So, we both decided that we're going to live forever. That way, neither of us ever leaves the other alone.
Lamont gave him a wry smile. I'm not necessarily sure that's any better. Just look at me.
Trey gently patted his grandfather's shoulder. I'm glad you're still with us, though. Will they be springing you soon?
Michael says that if I'm a good boy and my heart stays stable, I can move to the regular Cardiac Ward tomorrow. He sighed. I just want to go home.
I know. But you really need to be here. You're still too weak to take care of yourself.
Lamont raised an eyebrow at Trey, then looked over at the water pitcher on the bedside table.
The pitcher raised itself up and poured its contents into a nearby cup, then set itself back down on the table. The cup then floated across the table's surface and into Lamont's waiting hands. He took a sip, then telekinetically sent the cup back to the table.
Trey couldn't help but laugh. Well, physically too weak, anyway. I have no doubt you could run circles around me psychically.
Lamont gave a frustrated sigh. If only I could channel some of this projective energy back into my body. I'm having to vent nearly non-stop, and I hate wasting perfectly good psychic energy.
Marpa Tulku said your mind would get stronger as your body got weaker.
That's what worries me. I've always been able to generate tumos to heal myself after an injury, channel the energy back into my body to rebuild my strength. But with my heart so weak, I can't channel all this energy into a tumo because it increases my heart rate too much. My head feels like it's about to explode sometimes, and the drugs make me feel like I'm losing control. And it just keeps building... He let the sentence trail off.
Trey gave his grandfather a long look, trying to keep his own emotions below the surface. Lamont was the first Cranston male in more generations than anyone cared to think about who had lived past his early 60s, due almost exclusively to being the first Cranston whose mind was psychically awakened. By surviving his awakening and receiving extensive training in how to handle his psychic abilities, Lamont was able to balance the incredible projective power inside his head and keep it from causing brain damage as it built to ever-increasing levels. But Lamont's survival also presented problems no one in his family had ever dealt with before--what to do as the building psychic energy grew to levels beyond anyone's ability to control it, even an adept as well-trained as Lamont. In the man before him, Trey saw his own future...and the future of his own son. And that chilled him at times. Maybe Marpa Tulku could help you with this.
Lamont sensed his grandson's discomfort and smiled gently to reassure him. He's a little busy with your dad and your son right now.
True. Trey smiled wistfully. I'm glad Lamont was able to come home for at least a few days. I hadn't realized how much I missed him.
You know he's got to go back soon.
I know. Trey sighed again. But it's so good to have him here...especially now that he's awakened. It feels so good to be able to relate to him on that level. He brushed back a tear. I can't believe I'm doing this. It sounds so selfish to say I want him to stay.
You're not selfish. You're a father. He smiled. I remember when we sent you up there. Your mother cried for days. Your father kept asking when I was going up there next just so he could feel the remnants of your mental voice in my mind when I got back. They missed you so much... His voice trailed off once more as he closed his eyes for a moment and winced in pain.
Trey looked concerned and shook his grandfather's shoulder. Granddaddy?
Lamont opened his eyes again. Sorry. Didn't mean to scare you. It just really hurt for a second.
Trey looked over at the PCA. No wonder. You're way overdue for your pain medicine. I should have noticed...I'm sorry.
Lamont squeezed Trey's hand and smiled warmly. Don't be. It was nice to have a clear-headed conversation for a change.
Trey tried not to cry. I've got to go. Take your medicine, get some rest, and I'll come by to see you later.
I'll be waiting.
Trey hugged him gently, then left.
Lamont watched his grandson leave, then reached over and pushed the button on the PCA. As badly as he hated that monstrosity, the pain was making it difficult to breathe, and Michael had told him it was better to risk the remote possibility of opiate addiction than to develop a lung infection that would almost certainly kill him.
Moments later, a morphine-induced wave of fatigue washed over Lamont, and he drifted off to sleep.
Annie's funeral was an intensely moving experience. From the Irish tenor who sang "Ave Maria" to Linda Cranston Benning's moving eulogy on behalf of the family to the warmth and sympathy expressed by the hundreds of mourners who turned out from all over New York, the entire day was filled with love, sorrow, and a reaffirmation of life. But as the service moved to the cemetary, the reality of the loss of Anne Mulroney Cranston hit hard. The sight of Annie's coffin placed atop the spot where it would lay to rest for all eternity caused Monty's throat to catch, and it took everything he had to keep from completely crumbling.
Linda took her father's hand to steady him.
Monty clutched his daughter's hand tightly for a moment. There was no need for words, even psychic ones. He could barely even hear the words of the priest as he stared at that coffin, hoping against hope that this was just some terrible nightmare that he would somehow wake up from any moment now. How could this be happening? He wasn't supposed to outlive Annie. He'd chased criminals in the shadows for almost 30 years, a life mission that should have led to his death any number of times. He was a Cranston male, and Cranston males weren't supposed to outlive their spouses; they weren't even supposed to survive past their 60th birthday, which Monty had passed in January. No, he was supposed to go first, and Annie was the one who was supposed to live a long, happy life as a doting grandmother, the matriarch of the family. This couldn't be happening. He couldn't be about to bury her...
The priest handed Monty a single red rose from the spray atop Annie's coffin.
Monty felt himself shake. This was really happening. They were about to put Annie into a concrete crypt and lay her to rest in the Cranston family plot. He felt the world around him spinning out of control, and he nearly fainted dead away.
This time, it was Trey's steadying hands that held him up.
Monty got hold of himself and nodded his thanks to his son, then took one last look at Annie's coffin. It took him a moment to realize that the priest was waiting for him to place the rose back on Annie's coffin as a symbol of their last good-bye. He quietly walked forward to her coffin.
The picture on the front page of the New York Times the next morning captured the heartbreaking moment of a distraught Lamont Cranston II kneeling at the side of his wife's casket, offering one final prayerful farewell to the woman who had been by his side for over 40 years.
Lamont felt a cool cloth gently wiping his forehead as he emerged from yet another morphine-induced nap. "That feels good," he whispered.
I am glad.
Lamont opened his eyes at the sound of the familiar voice to see Marpa Tulku ministering to him, much as he had 72 years ago when Lamont had first awakened. Tulku?
The Tulku smiled. It is good to see your cognitive skills are not impaired.
It's just that I didn't expect to see here you this morning. Is the funeral over already?
Marpa Tulku nodded. About a half-hour ago. And it is no longer morning. It is almost two o'clock in the afternoon. He wiped Lamont's brow again. I have been worried about you. Your mind is calling out when you sleep, but you do not answer when someone calls back.
It's this damned morphine. Lamont sighed. It's making me insane. I wish Michael would take me off it.
But your chest is still hurting.
Lamont hesitated, then nodded.
Then you cannot come off it yet. You will have to find a way to balance your mind while you are on it.
Lamont groaned. I knew you were going to say that.
Would you have expected me to give you less of a challenge?
No, of course not. Lamont looked at his master. You've come to tell me good-bye.
The Tulku nodded. It is time for me to return to the rest of my students. They need my assistance more than you do, hard as that may be for you to believe.
No, I can believe it. He forced his emotions down. Forgive me for foolishly wishing you could stay longer. I've been miserable company, but I've been grateful for every second you were here.
It has been a rewarding experience for me as well. There has been much sorrow and sadness all around, but in your lucid moments, it was good to have the chance to interact with you in ways we have not done in years.
Lamont looked at his teacher for a long moment, sorrow in his eyes. This is really good-bye, isn't it?
If you mean is this the last time we will see each other in this lifetime, no, it is not. You will survive this, and you will be back at The Temple at least one more time.
But I'll never fully recover from this. I'll never be well again.
No, you will not. And you already knew that.
Lamont sighed. I overheard Michael telling Linda that even if I did recover from this, he only gave me about three months to live. He brushed away a tear. I should be grateful. I had almost 73 more years of life than I probably should have.
But it is nonetheless sobering to realize that death is so near.
The Tulku gently wiped his pupil's tears away and smiled. When I told you that there were lessons in everything you saw, heard, and did at The Temple, I did not intend for you to view living through multiple generations as one of them.
That got a hearty laugh from Lamont. I learn best by mimicking. But I'm afraid I never quite figured out the secret of getting younger every generation.
When you figure it out, let me know. I have to change bodies every generation to accomplish it.
Lamont laughed again, then smiled wistfully. The boy before him was the twenty-third Marpa Tulku, three generations removed from the monk who'd saved his life by saving him from himself. Lamont had personally seen the passing of the dharma twice now, the powers and life energies from one monk passing through death to his reincarnated twin, a monk who would then take on the same name. But each time, the calm, serene power of his master shone through the eyes of his new body, and the memories were all still fresh, still present. He looked at The Tulku for a long moment, marveling at the calm confidence the man projected regardless of the situation. Tulku...what is it like to die?
The Tulku looked thoughtful for a moment. It is different for everyone. And it is not something one can truly understand without actually experiencing it. The one thing all my lifetimes have had in common is the release that death brings.
No more pain. No more fatigue. No more illness. No more struggling with a body that cannot keep up with the mind any longer. Regardless of whether a young monk died at the hands of a vengeful student or an old one succumbed to illness, the release that death brings always occurs. He smiled at his pupil. But you are not yet ready for that. You want to go home and bring closure to your life, face death in surroundings that are yours, not some health corporation's.
Lamont nodded. I was born in that mansion. In the master bedroom, in fact, in the same bed I sleep in every night. I came into the world in that room, and I'd like to leave it in there.
Then you shall. He poured a cup of water for Lamont and offered it to him.
It's amazing how you always know what I need. Lamont took the cup and clutched it tightly in his hands, trying to keep them from trembling with weakness.
The Tulku put a steadying hand on the cup and helped him guide the straw to his lips.
Lamont sipped, then looked grateful. Thank you.
Marpa Tulku put the cup aside, then took Lamont's hand. I have one more thing to tell you, and then Trey will bring Lamont-4 here to say good-bye as well.
Lamont looked at his teacher. It had been years since he had seen this look in The Tulku's eyes...a look of marvel, of wonder, of serene happiness. What is it?
In the past few days, I have prayed unceasingly for you. I have meditated for hours while you slept, allowing myself to be open to anything that the gods could offer me so that I could help you. And last night, as I watched you sleep restlessly, I had a vision. The Tulku took a deep breath to calm himself, for the vision he had seen had moved him so much that his mind could barely focus the words to describe it into telepathic conversation. I saw The Shadow, standing atop a peak, young, strong, and powerful beyond compare. And behind The Shadow, in a long, continuous line, were other Shadows, radiating power and confidence in the same way. As far as the eye could see, the line was unbroken. And no evil dared encroach upon this line. He smiled. You were at the head of the line, of course. Behind you was Monty. Behind him was Trey. And behind him was Lamont-4. And I am sure that there were more Lamont Cranstons in that line than either of us could ever count. Alongside each Shadow was a woman, each heavy with child but enchantingly beautiful and powerful in her own right. Margo, of course, was by your side. Annie was with Monty, and Monica with Trey. Lamont-4 has already met the woman who was by his side, a projective telepath named Crystal Peterson. She ran away from her family here in Manhattan and ended up in the mountains, led to me as so many others have been. She dropped out of her training at The Temple for a while, but Lamont-4 met her working at the supermarket in town, and they became very close. He has persuaded her to return. He does not know it yet, of course, but they are meant to be together, and they will produce the next generation of Cranston adepts. I knew that before this vision. But it was nice to have it confirmed. He met Lamont's curious gaze. So, Lamont, what I can offer you is that your fears that you have cursed your family with these powers that are their birthright are unfounded. You did not curse them. You have instead been greatly blessed. And those blessings will continue for years and years to come.
Lamont stared at his master, unable to focus his thoughts for even the simplest psychic conversation, as the magnitude of The Tulku's vision sank in. Finally, the words came. Tulku...thank you.
The Tulku clutched Lamont's hands. You are most welcome. Then, he released them. Now, calm your mind. Your son, grandson, and great-grandson are just steps away.
Lamont nodded, trying his best to rein in his powerful psyche even as pain and fatigue fought against him.
Monty, Trey, and Lamont IV came into the room. Look who's awake, Trey commented.
Lamont smiled. Trying to stay that way. I've slept entirely too much lately.
It's good for you, Monty chided, then looked concerned. His father's expression was somewhat odd, tinged with sadness and pain, but also something else, something Monty couldn't quite identify. You O.K.?
Lamont smiled again, this time a fatherly smile. Of course. Just wishing I could have been with you today.
I know. Monty swallowed his emotions. We can't stay long. We just came by to pick up Marpa Tulku.
So I heard. Lamont looked at his great-grandson. Ready to go back?
No, Lamont IV admitted. But I need to. He came over to Lamont's bedside and put a hand on his shoulder. You'd better get well. I want you to be around when I get done.
I'll be around. He patted Lamont IV's hand. You listen to The Tulku. He will work you till you drop, but you will not regret a second of it.
I know. He hugged his great-grandfather.
Lamont held onto his namesake for a long time, never wanting to let him go. I am so proud of you. Have I told you that yet?
Yeah. But it's still good to hear it. He felt tears welling up in his eyes. I love you, Granddaddy.
It took everything Lamont had not to completely lose control. I love you, too. He patted Lamont IV on the back and released his hold. Now, all of you, get out of here before I start bawling like an old woman.
Marpa Tulku took Lamont's hand once more. I will see you soon.
Lamont bowed his head to his master and touched their joined hands to his forehead, then looked up and smiled at him. Count on it.
Marpa Tulku smiled serenely, then stepped back.
Trey was next to hug his grandfather. Behave yourself. I'll be back to check on you later.
Lamont laughed and patted Trey's back. As if I could do anything else?
Trey gave him a mock-warning glare. Do not get me started.
Three ringing Shadow laughs echoed through the room.
Lamont IV looked impressed. You guys are going to have to teach me how to do that.
Marpa Tulku looked at his latest Cranston pupil. That is a lesson you are not yet ready for. There are others you must learn first.
Lamont IV grimaced. Oh, man...
Lamont laughed heartily. Get used to it. I think that's Marpa Tulku's favorite phrase. God only knows I heard it enough.
Marpa Tulku smiled. I told you he is much like you.
Lamont nodded, looking as if emotion was about to overcome him again.
Monty came over to his father and put his hand on the old man's shoulder. I'm going to put these two on a train to Frost Valley. Then I thought I'd spend the rest of the afternoon with my father, if that's O.K. with you.
Lamont looked up at Monty with shining blue-green eyes. I'd like that very much.
Father and son clasped hands for one more moment, then Monty left, taking the other three with him.
Lamont watched as they walked away, the emotions of love, loss, sorrow, and pride bubbling up within him. Few men were ever privileged to know their fate, as Lamont now did. Fewer still could have accepted that fate without panic or fear, as Lamont now had. There was simply nothing more to fear. Lamont was going to die of complications from his heart attack. The only question was when. Somehow, that didn't bother him as much as he'd once thought it might.
The pain in his chest reminded him it had been almost a half-hour since his last dose of morphine. He sighed, torn between wanting to be awake when Monty returned and wanting to make sure that the pain didn't rob him of the chance to see his son again. But that argument lasted only a brief moment before Lamont reached over and dispensed another dose of morphine from the PCA, then let the pain relieving drug carry him off to sleep.
It will be good to be back in the mountains again.
Lamont IV looked over at his teacher, who had been quietly meditating in the seat next to him on the train for most of the past hour. Dressed in typical Tibetan monk's robes and a simple cloak, the young man next to him looked more like an eccentric Manhattan teenager than a thousand-year-old psychic master. Over the past seven months, Lamont IV had come to understand why his family trusted Marpa Tulku with their very lives--he was endlessly patient, gently powerful, and paternally comforting. And he always seemed to have the right answers...
Lamont IV laughed slightly. I know, I know. I think really loudly, even for a telepath.
The Tulku smiled. But not for a Cranston.
Man, I don't know about that. He shook his head. I think this was the first time I'd ever realized how powerful my family was. I'd gotten the story from Dad, of course, and interacted with Granddaddy at The Temple a couple of times, but...wow. Mom, Aunt Linda, Uncle Adam, Aunt Barbara, Aunt Lane...it was so weird to be able to do this with them. But it was cool to be able to talk to Dad like this. I mean, I think we spent the whole night talking the night I got home. He paused as emotions threatened to overcome him. And I was able to tell Grandpa it was going to be all right at Grandma's funeral. And he answered me...he thanked me and told me he loved me. He looked out the window of the train, too emotional to continue.
The Tulku put a comforting hand on Lamont IV's shoulder. Death is a hard teacher. It teaches lessons that are vitally important, but ones that no one really wants to learn.
So what am I supposed to learn from Grandma's death? Lamont IV's emotionally charged mental voice cried. Or Granddaddy's heart attack? What lesson am I supposed to take from that?
That life itself is precious but hardly permanent. That it can end at any time. That nothing is promised to us except the here and now.
But I knew all that!
Did you? Or did you think that it only happened to other people, maybe your cousins, but never to you?
No, I would never think that! Lamont IV looked upset. I'm not that cold. I'm not, Tulku, I'm not... He broke down crying.
The Tulku let his young student, the fourth generation of Cranstons he had trained, spend several minutes enveloped in his own emotions. This was the biggest difference between preparing an initiate for the priesthood and training a future Shadow...the overwhelming projective strength of will and emotions that was an innate part of the Cranston psychic makeup. Though learning to control that will and those strong emotions was a necessary component of projective progress, there was no need to eliminate those tendencies as there was in monks training for the future monastic life. Indeed, harnessing that darker underside of his personality to drive his projective power would be as essential for Lamont IV as it had been for each of the three previous Lamont Cranstons...especially the first one.
Eventually, Lamont IV calmed down and bowed his head in embarrassment. I'm sorry, Tulku. Forgive my disrespectful outburst.
The Tulku lifted his pupil's chin and forced him to look him in the eye. Of course I forgive you. But you must work on harnessing those emotions, using them to sharpen your focus instead of scattering your thoughts. Only then can you make progress in your training.
Lamont IV nodded, sniffling slightly. I guess this is another part of the lesson I had to learn from all this, right?
You are becoming most perceptive. The Tulku smiled gently. You are so much like your great-grandfather.
Lamont IV gave his teacher an uncertain smile. I don't mind telling you, that scares the Hell out of me.
The whole idea of being like Granddaddy. Lamont IV looked even more uncertain. I mean, every time somebody says that to me, all I can think of is the stories I've heard of Ying Ko. I know he's fought really hard to keep that part of his personality down, but I also know it's still there, even today. I know Grandpa says he's got his father's temper, and Dad said he can sometimes feel that darkness inside him, especially when he's out on the streets. He looked into The Tulku's peering, inquisitive gaze. And I'm scared because sometimes I can feel it inside me, too, and I don't know if I'll be able to control it as well as they have.
The Tulku did not flinch from the intense, troubled blue-green eyes staring at him. You are a Cranston. More to the point, you are Lamont Cranston IV, the eldest son of the eldest son of the the eldest son of strongest projective telepath I have ever met. The power and strength of your mind that is your birthright comes with a price. And that price is the darker side of your personality, the deep anger, the powerful emotions. All Cranstons have it; the men merely have it to a much stronger degree. In your great-grandfather, it manifested itself as an uncontrolled self-hatred that he called Ying Ko. He learned to harness it, and became The Shadow. But it never went away. It is part of who he is. It is part of who your grandfather is. It is part of who your father is. And it it part of who you are. The goal of your training is not just to bring out your projective side and help your mind to grow. It is also to give you the ability and the confidence to handle the entire spectrum of your gifts...including that part of you. His eyes turned gentle, soothing. And you doing very well at that. You already recognize that you will have to spend the rest of your life dealing with this. That is a powerful recognition, a vital part of your future growth.
Lamont IV fought back his emotions and let out an ironic laugh. Future growth. Granddaddy kept talking about how much I'd grown since he'd last seen me. All I could think of was I wasn't the only one who'd grown. His mind was so strong, so loud. Man, what was up with that?
It is not unusual for adepts to get stronger with age. Awakened minds utilize life energies more efficiently than unawakened ones, so as their bodies weaken, their minds absorb and adapt the waning energies for their own use. Scientists also now know what tulkus have known for centuries--that the human brain continues to grow in capacity long after physical growth has stopped. But your great-grandfather is a most unusual adept. In 23 generations, I have never met his equal. Normally, psychic growth slows down somewhere around an adept's 20th birthday, and the growth in their latter years is limited to strengthening of their already existing base. But for 72 years, your great-grandfather has continued to grow psychically as if he were a young adept on the verge of an awakening, deepening and broadening in ways that I would never have believed possible if I had not actually touched his mind and felt it for myself. I now believe that, barring some cerebral episode that damages his brain, his mind will continue to grow for the rest of his days.
Lamont IV's eyes widened. Does he know that?
Yes, he does. And it frightens him. But it is a challenge that will keep his mind fresh and active. He will be able to teach what he learns through this experience to others--his children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren. It is part of his life mission of driving evil from the shadows and into the light. And it is a mission he must continue to perform for the rest of his life, as the price for his redemption.
Lamont IV looked nervous for a moment, then steeled his resolve. It's a mission I want to perform for the rest of my life, too.
The Tulku looked placidly at his young student. Are you certain about that?
Absolutely. He swallowed. I knew I wanted to do this the first time I heard the story. But after almost losing Granddaddy like this... He groped for words, then projected again. I want the chance to learn from him...because I want to do what he did. I want to make a difference in the world like he did. I honestly believe that's what I'm here for. He looked at his master. Help me, Tulku. Teach me what I need to know to be able to make that difference.
The Tulku smiled at the young future Shadow. You are already well on your way.
The next morning, as Michael had promised, Lamont was transferred into the Cardiac Ward at St. Vincent's Hospital. Over the course of the next week, Lamont was gradually weaned off the morphine with no ill effects, for which he was most grateful, and doctors began physical therapy to rebuild his strength. Lamont's family had decorated his room with reminders of the life that awaited him when he returned home--a photo of the four Lamont Cranstons taken for a magazine cover late last year, and a rare group shot of the entire family taken for the same magazine feature; pictures drawn by the great-grandchildren; a sketch of The Temple Of The Cobras, old and new, by Caitlin. The mementos of life outside the confines of a hospital room helped combat the loneliness of the days, but what helped more were the visits from his family. Now that he was out of Cardiac ICU, the great-grandchildren were allowed to visit, and their youthful vigor and unconditional love gave Lamont the strength to force himself to get better, if only to be able to spend time with them.
Such was the case when six-year-old Megan Ryan came bounding into Lamont's hospital room one morning. "Granddaddy!" she squealed, running toward her great-grandfather, who was sitting in a bedside chair.
Lamont smiled brightly. "Well, hello there, little miss Ryan!" He opened his arms and embraced her tightly. "Good heavens, it's been forever since I've hugged you!"
"No, it hasn't," she said. "Just two weeks."
"Well, two weeks is a long time." He let her go and looked at her for a moment. "What has your mother been feeding you? You're so big!"
Megan rolled her eyes. "Grown-ups always say that. Whenever they don't see you for a long time, they say you got so big. It's silly."
Lamont smiled. "You're a Ryan for sure. Practical and stubborn."
"I thought stubbornness was a Cranston trait," Barbara McAllister Ryan called as she came into the room.
"Could be. You know us Irishmen." He extended a hand to his granddaughter. "Hello, sweetheart."
"Hi, Granddaddy." Barbara bent down and hugged her grandfather, kissing his cheek. "I didn't expect to see you out of bed."
Lamont laughed. "Are you kidding? They won't let me stay in bed. I swear this cardiologist Michael's assigned to me got his degree from Marquis de Sade College. All I have to do is think about taking a nap, and he'll send some nurse down to tell me to get up, sit in the chair for a while, or take a walk."
"It's good for you."
"I know. And I am getting stronger because of it. I have to keep reminding myself of that." He sighed, then looked over at Megan. "Well, now, shouldn't you be in school?"
"This is homework," she replied. "Aunt Monica said we had to visit you this week in the hospital and write a report on something we saw there." She made a face. "Writing is so hard. I wanna draw a picture."
Lamont couldn't help but smile. Megan's mind was already showing signs of her tremendous psychic heritage--her mother was, of course, descended from the powerful Cranston line, with David McAllister's strong clairvoyance added to Lane Cranston's incredible projective telepathy; her father, Ian Ryan, was an amazing receptive clairvoyant whose control over his mental pictures was an invaluable aid when investigating and building a case as an Assistant District Attorney. Their daughter, just six years old, was already showing signs of clairvoyance and telepathy, able to conjure extremely clear pictures of things at times. But she was far too young to know about this, of course, so Lamont just smiled and patted her head. "Well, maybe you can draw a picture to go along with your report."
"I hope so. Aunt Monica's a tough teacher."
That made both Barbara and Lamont laugh out loud. Monica Cranston had a master's degree in education, and had begun home-schooling Lamont IV and Margo after her own experience as a student teacher in the public school system made her swear no child of hers would ever attend a New York City public school. As the other Cranston great-grandchildren reached school age, Monica offered to teach them as well, and now she had a classroom of four students--nine-year-old Margo Cranston, eight-year-old Alexander McAllister, six-year-old Mickey Benning, and six-year-old Megan Ryan--upstairs in Trey Cranston's Manhattan mansion. Normally that number would be five, but Lamont IV was receiving his home-schooling at The Temple Of The Cobras this year. Monica was fond of giving real-world homework assignments--go out and see an animal at the zoo for a report, visit the United Nations to learn about its role in the world, help out in a soup kitchen to learn about programs for helping the poor. So for Monica to give an assignment to go to a hospital and learn about care in a cardiac ward wasn't unlike her at all, and gave her students a chance to learn something different than they ever could in regular school. But all kids complain about school, and Megan was no exception. "Well, I think you'd better ask Granddaddy some questions so you can write your report," Barbara prompted. "After all, this is not just a social call."
"Yes, Mama." Megan thought for a moment. "Granddaddy, what's so different about a cardiac ward? It looks just like a hospital room on TV."
Lamont looked thoughtful. "Well, did Aunt Monica tell you what a cardiac ward is?"
"Yeah, it's for people with sick hearts."
"Well, that's what makes it different." Lamont gestured around the room. "This is a private room, which isn't the case in most hospital wards. It's a lot quieter here than in the rest of the wards, because there are fewer people. There are more nurses here, and they're specially trained to take care of people with sick hearts. People with sick hearts have trouble walking, moving, even breathing, and so it takes more nurses to take care of them. There are special doctors here, called cardiologists, who spend their whole lives treating people with sick hearts and helping them get better. And did you notice something about the walls in the hallway?"
Megan looked confused. "No."
"Yes, you did," Barbara reminded her. "Remember what you saw on the walls?"
Megan brightened. "Oh! Hearts!"
"That's right," Lamont said. "There are hearts on the wall. Ten hearts, about twenty feet apart. Every day, they make me walk from my room to that heart just down the hall from me. Then, I have to walk down the hall and touch as many hearts as I can before I get too tired. My doctor says when I can walk all the way to the end of the hallway and back and touch all the hearts, I can go home."
Megan looked confused. "But that's easy."
"Well, not when you have a sick heart. When you have a sick heart, it makes it tough to walk, because your body gets really tired really fast. That's why they make me get out of bed so much, so my heart gets stronger and I can walk farther." He looked at the clock. "In fact, it's time for my walk. Would you like to walk with me?"
"O.K." Lamont turned to reach for his walker...and realized it was just out of his reach. Normally, this wouldn't be a problem--a bit of telekinetic energy would pull it right over--but with Megan in the room, Lamont had to keep his telepathy hidden. He frowned and reached a bit farther, and the muscles in his chest tightened in protest.
"Granddaddy?" Barbara asked, seeing the pain in his expression.
Lamont fought the pain and the urge to throw caution to the wind and grab the walker with his mind. "Can't quite reach it," he said with a frown.
Barbara hurried over and retrieved the walker, putting it in front of the chair. "How did you get from the bed to here without this?"
"A nurse." Lamont took a moment to gather his strength, then braced himself on the handles of the walker and forced himself to stand.
Barbara was quick to steady him. You O.K.?
Lamont nodded. Fine. Just a little stiff. He smiled at his granddaughter. Thanks.
Barbara looked concerned. Lamont's skin was pale, and the pain and fatigue were still evident in his expression. Are you sure you're up to this?
Not really. But I have to do it. Otherwise, they won't ever let me go home. He gave a smile to Megan. "Ready to go for a walk?"
Megan brightened. "Yeah! Let's go!" She started to run out the door.
"Slow down, Megan," Barbara ordered. "Granddaddy can't keep up with you."
Lamont smiled wistfully. It hadn't been so long ago that he could have kept up with his great-grandchildren--they'd walk downtown together, go shopping, eat ice cream, spend the day playing in Central Park, with Granddaddy having almost as much fun as the younger ones. Now, it took almost everything he had just to stand up. But he had to do it. He was going to go home to be with his family if it was the last thing he ever did...which, he reminded himself wryly, it probably would be. Slowly, he shuffled forward on the walker to the door of the room.
Need some help? Barbara asked.
Lamont shook his head. "The doctor says this is good for me," he said out loud. "Especially talking while I'm walking. It forces me to breathe deeper."
Bet your psyche's going crazy, though.
You'd better believe it. Lamont stepped out into the hallway. Yet another reason I want to go home now. He made his way to the heart emblem on the wall nearest his doorway. "This is where I start," he told Megan. "I touch the heart..." He reached out and touched the plaque. "...then work my way down the hall as far as I can go."
"How far have you gone?" Megan asked.
"I made it to the fourth heart yesterday. Then I got tired, and the nurse had to come help me back to bed."
Barbara raised an eyebrow. Adam said you looked like Hell yesterday.
Lamont grimaced. Adam had arrived for a visit right after Lamont had to be helped back into bed, and he was quite certain Adam had told the whole family about how weak and tired Granddaddy was. Adam worries too much. I just overdid it a little. He made his way down the hall slowly, stiffly.
"Come on, Granddaddy," Megan said, a step or so ahead of him. "You're almost there."
Lamont looked up. Heart number two was just a few steps away. He could usually make it through the first two plaques just fine. It was after the second one that his body began to grow weak. Of course, he reminded himself, a week ago he couldn't have even gotten out of bed. This was improvement, no matter how small.
A few steps later, he touched the plaque on the wall. "That's two."
"Yay!" Megan cheered. "Come on!" She hurried ahead to the next heart.
"Megan, stay close," Barbara ordered.
Megan pouted. "I'm just waiting for Granddaddy."
"Come back here with me, sweetheart," Lamont urged, slowly working his way down the corridor. "After all, we're not walking together if you're so far ahead."
Megan gave that exasperated sigh that only six-year-olds could convey properly, then walked back to her great-grandfather.
Lamont smiled and stroked her cheek. "I know it's hard. I used to run ahead of my parents all the time when I was your age."
"Did you get in trouble?"
Lamont started forward again. "Oh, yes. My father would grab my arm and lecture me about what a horrid little boy I was. Sometimes I'd even get a spanking."
"That sounds mean."
"I know. But he meant well." He reached out and touched the heart plaque just in front of him. "Three."
"Want to stop?" Barbara asked.
Lamont shook his head. "At least one more. They want me to try to go a little farther every day."
"You just say when. We'll help you get back to your room."
Lamont took a deep breath and moved forward once more. This was where he'd faltered yesterday, pushing himself too hard, nearly collapsing in the hallway. He'd spent the afternoon in bed, on fluids and oxygen, fighting a nurse who kept trying to give him a dose of morphine to counteract the pain that his agonized expression and stressed psyche kept betraying to everyone. He was determined not to falter again.
After a few heavy steps, the fourth heart was within reach. Lamont forced himself toward it, finally placing a firm hand on it and smiling. "Four."
"All right, Granddaddy!" Megan shouted.
"Sh-h!" Barbara scolded. "There are sick people here."
Megan looked chastised. "Sorry."
Lamont smiled. "It's O.K. I was ready to shout, too." He slowly turned the walker around. "Let's go back to the room. I'll try to touch as many hearts as I can on the way back." He touched the heart on the wall. "Five."
"That's it!" Megan cheered. "You can do it, Granddaddy!"
Lamont took several deep breaths, then forced himself down the hallway. "Six."
"Wow! Six hearts!" Megan was practically dancing for joy.
Another deep breath, another set of heavy, shuffling steps. "Seven."
Even Barbara was excited. The determination in Lamont's expression was something she hadn't seen in years. Almost there, she encouraged. Just a few more steps. You can do it.
Lamont stopped for a moment, breathing heavily. His chest was hurting, and his legs felt like rubber. But he'd made it through worse physical distress, and he was going to get through this if it killed him. He had to try. He owed it to his family, to his master...to himself.
With one last surge of energy, Lamont forced himself to take the strides toward the heart at the end of the hall, then slapped it hard. "Eight."
"Yay!" Barbara and Megan both cheered.
Lamont smiled victoriously, then felt his legs buckle.
Barbara was quick to catch him. "Nurse!" she shouted.
Megan looked concerned. "Granddaddy? What's wrong?"
Lamont soon found himself surrounded by two nurses, who helped steady him. "Easy, Mr. Cranston," one of them said. "Overdid it again, huh?"
Lamont gasped for breath. "Looks like it," he admitted.
"Come on," the other urged, placing a wheelchair into position behind him. "Let's get you back in your bed."
Lamont didn't resist as they sat him in the chair and wheeled him back into the room, then helped him into bed and placed an oxygen tube under his nose. One nurse removed the cap from the IV shunt in his arm and started a fluid drip. "You did so good," the IV nurse told him. "I saw you. Eight hearts. That's twice as far as you went yesterday."
Lamont took several deep breaths to regain his strength, then smiled weakly. "I had to do it. My great-granddaughter was cheering me on. How could I refuse that smile?"
Megan looked sad. "I'm sorry, Granddaddy. I made you sick."
Lamont held out his hand to the little girl and projected a gentle, soothing hypnotic wave.
Megan came over to him and took his hand.
Lamont smiled lovingly. "Don't ever be sorry. You helped me get better. I could not have done that if it were not for you cheering me on. Everybody here should have such a great cheerleader."
"That's right," the other nurse said, smoothing his blankets and wiping his brow with a cool cloth. "Not everybody here has such a loving family. You're helping your great-grandfather so much."
"Do you want something for the pain, Mr. Cranston?" the IV nurse asked.
"No!" Lamont responded, sharper than he'd intended. Then, he relaxed a bit. "I'll be fine. I just need to rest a while."
The IV nurse nodded. They had this discussion every day. Dr. Benning had warned her that Lamont would refuse pain medication up to his dying moment, and they weren't to override his wishes unless his life was at stake. "You let us know." She gave a smile to Barbara and Megan, and then the nurses left the room.
Barbara came over to the bedside. You sure you're all right?
He nodded. Fine. But exhausted. I need a nap.
Then we'll go. She looked to Megan. "Come on, honey. Granddaddy needs to rest. Give him a big kiss and tell him you'll see him soon."
Megan kissed her great-grandfather's cheek. "I'll see you soon, Granddaddy."
Lamont kissed her nose. "Bye, sweetie. I love you."
"I love you, too."
Barbara leaned in to hug him. For God's sake, take it easy, she scolded. Get some rest. And call if you need anything.
I will. He held his granddaughter's hand for a long moment.
Barbara looked as if she were about to cry. Barbara McAllister Ryan was the youngest of Lamont's four grandchildren, the rebellious child of the Cranston clan. She'd given mother Lane fits as a teen by cutting her hair oddly, wearing ragged clothes and hideous makeup, and in general reacting exactly the opposite of what her oh-so-proper family wanted and expected. But after her awakening and training, she learned just how extraordinary her family was...and how wondrous her life could be. She'd become The Sanctum's technical genius, a computer scientist who could figure out almost anything with microchips and an operating system. She'd married an assistant District Attorney and learned to play the society daughter for short stints. She'd become a great mother to her feisty daughter, and the wiggling baby inside her already showed signs of being a contrarian like his mother, turning away whenever the doctor tried to take his picture with ultrasound. But above all, Barbara had made peace with her heritage and valued her time with her powerful grandfather, from whom she had learned so much about dealing with the incredible psychic phenomena going on inside her head and handling the feelings that she was so different than the rest of the Cranstons and just didn't seem to belong. Lamont had been forthright and honest with her about his own complications growing up--the raging anger, the emotional abuse from his parents, the feeling that he was somehow different from everyone else, and the pain, both emotional and physical, that such a feeling caused. Without him, Barbara would not have been able to gain the perspective on her life that she now had. To see him like this--weak, sick, barely able to interact with the family he so dearly loved--was just devastating.
Lamont gave her hand a squeeze. My beautiful grandbaby. I love you so much.
I love you, too. Barbara kissed him, then took Megan's hand and left the room.
Lamont watched them go, feeling his emotions about to overcome him. He wanted so badly to go home with them. Surely he could walk up and down his hallways at home. It would be just about as effective, and nowhere near as lonely. But the pain in his chest reminded him that he couldn't. He had to get well first. And to do that, he needed to rest.
He closed his eyes, letting the oxygen flood his lungs and the pain wash over him like a wave as he drifted off to sleep.
Just a few days later, Lamont was much stronger, able to walk almost the entire length of the hall without getting too winded. The pain and fatigue after the long walks was almost gone, and when they did hit, their duration was much shorter. It looked as if Lamont was finally about to reach his goal...going home.
So a visit from the Benning family--Michael, Linda, Mickey, and Suzanne--was most welcome that Thursday morning. "Hello!" Lamont beamed as the foursome came into the room.
"Granddaddy!" Mickey and Suzanne called, running to his bedside.
Lamont sat up in bed and held out his arms as the kids raced to hug him. "I've missed you two so much."
"Missed you, too, Granddaddy," Mickey replied.
"Me, too," Suzanne piped up.
Me, too, Linda told him with a smile.
Lamont extended a hand to his granddaughter. "Hi, sweetheart." He kissed her cheek, then gave Michael a wry smile. "If you're looking for the Trauma Center, I think it's a few floors down."
"Don't I know it," Michael said with a yawn. "I feel like I've been on call a week now."
"You have been on call a week," Linda reminded him.
"Oh, yeah. I have. When I wasn't here, I was the on-call surgeon."
"Just remember," Lamont noted, "you wanted to do this."
"That I did." He came over and hugged the man who'd become like his own grandfather. "Good to see you sitting up. You look a lot better than you did three weeks ago."
Lamont looked at him knowingly. "I get the feeling I couldn't have looked a lot worse."
Michael laughed slightly. "That is most definitely the truth."
How's your head? Linda asked.
About to explode, Lamont admitted. At least the past couple of days, my heart's been strong enough for a mild tumo so I can relieve some of this pressure.
Michael raised an eyebrow. I thought your life energies looked a lot different today. You were tumoing before we came in.
Never try to fool an empath, Lamont projected wryly.
I'm just a little concerned. I know tumos increase your heart rate. You need to be careful not to overdo it until you get medical clearance for increased cardiovascular activity.
I'll be careful. Lamont turned to Mickey. "I suppose you're here to talk to me for your report."
Mickey sighed. "Yeah. Everybody else got to go first. Now there's nothing for me to report on."
"Oh, I wouldn't say that. How would you like to be the first to report that I'm going to walk all the way down the hall and all the way back?"
Mickey's expression brightened. "Really? Wow!"
Linda looked surprised. Are you sure you're up to this?
"I am ready," Lamont said out loud. "I made it eight hearts down and eight hearts back yesterday. I think I can go the extra four today."
Michael looked pleased. "They said you were making progress. That's great. If you feel up to it, I don't see any reason you can't try."
Linda gave her husband a sharp glare.
Lamont sent a silent scold to his granddaughter. "I'll be fine," he reassured, then turned to his great-grandchildren. "Now, can one of you go get that walker over there and bring it to me?"
Mickey hurried over to the walker just steps ahead of his sister. "I got it!" he bragged.
Suzanne stamped her feet in frustration. "Not fair!" she cried. "I wanna help!"
Linda frowned. It was hard enough being the mother of an independent three-year-old, but a latent projective empath like Suzanne, whose emotions were as loud as her thoughts, stretched her patience to its limits at times. "Suzanne..."
"Suzanne, sweetheart," Lamont interrupted, taking the walker from Mickey, "why don't you bring me my robe and slippers? They're by the chair right there."
"O.K." Suzanne picked up the slippers, then dragged the robe across the floor to the bed.
Linda sighed. "Suzanne, don't do that. You wouldn't want somebody dragging your clothes on the floor."
Lamont looked at his granddaughter and gave her an indulgent smile. I remember a little black-haired angel who couldn't seem to keep my robe from dragging the floor when she was that size. But I never cared.
Linda shook her head and chuckled despite herself. How can you have so much more patience than I do?
Easy. I'm a great-grandfather. I get to spoil them rotten and hand them back.
Linda laughed mentally, The Shadow's ringing laugh. Just like when we were kids. I remember Mom complaining about that all the time. Then, she blinked back tears.
Michael put a supportive arm around his wife.
Suzanne tugged on Linda's blazer. "Don't cry, Mama," she begged tearfully. "I'm sorry."
Linda rubbed Suzanne's head. "It's O.K., baby. Mama's just missing Grandma right now."
Lamont smiled wistfully. It had only been three weeks since Annie's death, and Lamont found himself missing her as much as the rest of them did. His life and his family's lives had been turned upside down in less than an hour that morning. Nothing would ever be the same again. Only the dream of going home one last time had kept Lamont from completely giving up on life on multiple occasions. He projected a gentle, loving hypnotic suggestion to the Bennings, trying to soothe frazzled nerves.
It worked. Suzanne stopped crying, then brought Lamont his robe and slippers. "Here," she said.
Lamont kissed her hand gallantly. "Thank you, my dear." He pulled on his robe and put the slippers on his feet, then turned to sit on the side of the bed, positioned the walker in front of himself, and stood up.
"Good job," Michael encouraged. "That's a lot steadier than I've seen you lately."
"I've been practicing," Lamont replied. "Not that I've had a choice, mind you. Where did Dr. Torquemada get his medical degree, anyway?"
"Dr. Toronado," Michael corrected. "And I'm not sure. I've heard it was Marquis de Sade College."
Lamont grimaced. "Figures."
"Where's that?" Mickey asked.
"Never mind," Linda replied. "Daddy was making a grown-up joke."
"A very bad grown-up joke," Lamont added. "Now, come on. You can be the first to report that Granddaddy made it all the way down the hall and all the way back and touched all twenty hearts." He shuffled toward the door.
It was all Linda could do to keep the kids from running Lamont over on the way out of the room. Fortunately, by the fourth visit from the great-grandkids, Lamont had figured out how to stop his momentum in time to avoid a collision. It helped that he was moving a lot better, a lot more steadily, a lot stronger, than he had when he'd been transferred down here almost two weeks ago. "Slow down, kids," he urged. "Wait for me."
Linda shook her head. "They are wound up this morning."
Michael looked innocent. "I wasn't the one who suggested Cinnabon for breakfast."
Linda gave him that look, the infamous Cranston glare that could freeze lava.
Michael had seen hardened criminals fall to their knees after getting that look. He turned to Lamont. "Save me," he mock-begged.
Lamont gave him a pitying smile. "I'm retired."
Michael laughed. "Oh, man. I am in so much trouble."
Lamont touched the first heart plaque. "One."
"Why do they make you start at the beginning every time?" Mickey asked.
"Because they can measure pretty accurately how far I can walk by how many hearts from the beginning I make it through. Plus, when I couldn't walk very far, it was a pretty good gauge of how strong I was getting if I could even make it from my room to the first heart."
"And that was just two weeks ago," Michael reminded Mickey. "In fact, it was less than that." He turned to Lamont. "They had you getting up out of bed on Wednesday, the day after you were transferred down here, right?"
"Right. And at that point, it was all I could do to stand up. It took two days just to have enough stamina to walk to the first heart." He touched the second heart. "Two."
"And here you are, three weeks to the day since your heart attack, ready to walk to the end of the corridor unassisted."
Lamont touched the third plaque. "Three."
"Faster, Granddaddy!" Suzanne urged.
"No, Suzanne," Linda replied. "Granddaddy has to take this nice and slow. His heart is still very sick."
Mickey didn't like those words. That phrase--"very sick"--was almost exactly what his father had said to him right after Grandma Annie died. He turned to his great-grandfather. "Granddaddy, are you going to die?"
Lamont looked caught off-guard for a moment by the question, then recovered his composure. "Not yet," he promised. "I'm going home tomorrow." He touched the fourth heart. "Four."
"Only if you're up to it," Michael interjected.
Lamont was stung by the doubt in Michael's tone. He looked at his grandson-in-law. "Now, we have a deal. I do this, you let me go home."
Michael sighed. Lamont had improved significantly in the three weeks since his heart attack, but Michael's empathy was still picking up pain, fatigue, and weakness taking their toll on the old man's body and life energies. The main question in Michael's mind was whether modern medical care would improve that situation any...or whether they should all surrender to the inevitable and allow Lamont to go home and die in peace. "That's what Dr. Toronado promised. I just want to make sure you're actually ready. It doesn't do any good to send you home if you end up right back in here because your heart wasn't strong enough to handle those stairs in your house."
It was Lamont's turn to give Michael the Cranston glare. Don't even think about trying to keep me here any longer. I am going home tomorrow.
Granddaddy, Linda said, intervening to protect her husband, behave yourself. Michael is just thinking about your long-term prognosis.
It was all Lamont could do not to send The Shadow's laugh echoing down the hallways. I already know what my long-term prognosis is. I'm almost 101 years old, for God's sake. My body's worn out, and my heart is severely damaged. I don't have to be an empathic trauma surgeon to know I'll probably be dead before Christmas. He touched the fifth heart. "Five."
It took a minute for Michael to regain his equilibrium. Lamont's loud, projective emotions were overwhelmingly strong--pain that was both physical and emotional. Michael's empathic gifts enabled him to be a brilliant trauma surgeon; he could tell at a glance where his patients were hurting and focus his efforts and the trauma team's attentions there, saving countless lives during the precious "golden hour" after the initial injuries. But with the emotional attachment he had to the Cranston family, that same powerful empathy was sometimes a detriment, and he had to force himself to pull back so that he could be the good husband, father, and Shadow agent that his various life roles demanded. Granddaddy, he ordered mentally, calm down. Your energies are way out of balance right now. Focus on the walking. We'll discuss the rest of this when you finish.
Lamont slowly calmed down. You're right. He moved forward steadily and touched the next plaque. "Six."
"Wow, Granddaddy," Mickey said. "You're moving great."
"I'm trying, that's for certain." He touched the next heart. "Seven." He looked at Mickey. "I had a teacher years ago who told me that giving up was unacceptible. No matter what the task, you have to focus everything you've got toward doing it. You should never expect less than your best from yourself." Another heart. "Eight."
Suzanne tried to jump up and touch the heart, but it was just out of her reach. "Too high," she complained.
Lamont smiled down at her. "Then you'll have to grow a little."
Suzanne stood tall. "I'm a big girl."
"You're a baby," Mickey taunted.
"I am not!" Suzanne retorted. "You're a big bully!"
"Mom!" Mickey whined.
"That's enough!" Linda scolded, putting some hypnotic emphasis behind the words. Linda hated to resort to using her powers on her own children, but she'd learned the hard way that it was necessary. Both of her children had the strong Benning empathy and the strong Cranston will, and they could drive her to the brink of insanity at times. Her mother had done this many times to her and Trey, when the two ultra-projective siblings would get into raging arguments about who was the doofus and who was the spoiled brat, and Linda had vowed she would never do such a thing...that is, until she had children of her own.
"Easy, love," Lamont soothed his granddaughter. "There are sick people on this floor." He touched the next heart. "Nine."
Linda shook her head. "You are no help."
Lamont laughed, just the barest hint of The Shadow's cackle coming through. "I'm an insane old man. No one expects me to be anything but that." He slapped the heart at the end of the hallway. "That's ten. Halfway there."
"Yay!" both great-grandchildren cheered.
Michael smiled. "Good job. Want to rest a while?"
Lamont took a deep breath, then shook his head. "If I stop, I won't be able to go on." He maneuvered his walker to turn himself around, then touched the tenth heart a second time. "Eleven."
"But you touched that one twice," Suzanne said.
"That's right. I have to go all the way down and all the way back and touch all ten hearts both directions. It's hard work." Lamont kept moving forward, starting to look a little tired as he reached the next plaque. "Twelve."
"When I go to the youth league for basketball," Mickey said, "I get really tired. We have to run all the way across the floor and back five times!"
Lamont smiled wistfully. "I used to be able to do that years ago. I could run or play tennis or do lots of exercise for hours. Now, I'm just old." He touched the next heart. "Thirteen."
Linda gave her grandfather a gentle smile. "When I was growing up, Granddaddy was the strongest man in the world. At least, I thought so. He could pick me up and swing me around like a swing. It was really neat."
Suzanne's eyes widened. Granddaddy had always been "old" to her; Lamont was 97 when she was born, and her first memories of him were a wizened old man with mischievous eyes and a cane. She couldn't imagine him being able to pick up her mama and swing her around like Daddy did sometimes. "Wow," she whispered.
"That must have been fifty years ago," Mickey added.
Lamont laughed out loud. Michael joined him.
Linda looked offended. "Don't laugh, doctor," she warned her husband. "You're ten years older than I am. If I'm in my fifties, you're even older."
"I think you look good for a woman in her fifties," Michael teased.
Linda frowned, then relented and gave Michael a kiss.
"All right, that's enough of that." Lamont touched the next heart. "Fourteen."
"Jealous?" Linda replied.
"You'd better believe it." Lamont made his way to the next plaque, looking a bit more fatigued. "Fifteen. Five to go."
Michael looked concerned. Lamont had turned pale, and Michael could see his energies ebbing. "Slow down, Lamont. Don't overdo it."
Lamont shook his head as he stopped for a couple of breaths. "I can't. If I stop, it doesn't count. I have to keep moving." He started forward again.
"That's not true. You can do this at your own pace. If Dr. Toronado told you otherwise, he was just trying to motivate you."
"I want to go home." Lamont forced himself forward. "Sixteen."
You're going home.
Lamont looked over at his grandson-in-law. What?
Even Linda looked astonished. Michael...what are you saying?
I'm saying your grandfather is right. Michael sighed, trying to keep his emotions under control, then looked at Lamont. There really isn't any sense in you staying here any longer, Granddaddy. You'll do just about as well at home...maybe even better, because you'll be back in your own surroundings. God Bless, surely there's a home health care nurse or something along those lines somewhere in The Shadow's agent corps. There is no sense in giving yourself a heart attack just to prove you're ready to go home...not when it won't make a major difference in the long run. He looked away, almost overwhelmed by his empathic senses and his own emotions.
For a moment, Lamont was silent. If I overly influenced that decision, tell me now. I'll pull myself back and give you another chance to say those things with a clearer head.
Michael shook his head. It won't make a difference. I've been thinking those things for a couple of days now. All you did was confirm that I should trust my instincts, even when I feel too close to the situation.
Mickey looked concerned. "Granddaddy? Why did you stop?"
The voice of the small child shook Lamont out of his contemplation. "Just taking a breather, Mickey," Lamont reassured, then started forward with renewed energy. "Seventeen."
"Come on, Granddaddy!" Suzanne cheered. "Let's go!"
"No!" Linda scolded. "Let him do this at his own speed."
"This is my own speed," Lamont replied, then reached out for the next plaque. "Eighteen."
"Wow! Two to go!" Mickey said brightly. "You can do it, Granddaddy!"
Lamont kept moving, determined to make this decision easier on everyone. "Nineteen."
Linda took Michael's hand. He's going to hurt himself, she worried.
Michael squeezed her hand. No, he's not. He's going to be all right. He knows what's at stake. Now, he's got to face it. And it's important he face it on his terms, and no one else's.
Lamont, nearly exhausted and becoming overwhelmed with emotion, made one last surge forward, then smacked the last heart plaque. "Twenty!"
"Yay!" Suzanne cheered.
"Way to go, Granddaddy!" Mickey exulted.
Linda kissed her grandfather's cheek. "Good job!"
Lamont looked triumphant. "I did it," he whispered, barely able to summon enough energy to speak.
"Come on, old man," Michael said, gently putting his hands on Lamont's torso to steady him. "Let's go back to your room and let me check you out."
Lamont nodded, trying not to show how completely drained he was as he shuffled into the hospital room again.
Linda helped him get his robe off and get into bed. The strongest man in the world, she projected.
Lamont sighed as he leaned weakly back against the pillows. I wish.
"Mickey, go in the bathroom and wet the washcloth with cold water," Linda ordered.
"Yes, Mom." Mickey hurried away.
One of the floor nurses came in. "Mr. Cranston, are you all right?" she said. "I thought I heard you call for help..." Then she noticed Michael by his side, taking his pulse. "Dr. Benning? What's wrong?"
"Not a thing." Michael smiled. "Tell Dr. Toronado that Mr. Cranston walked twenty hearts today."
The nurse looked excited. "Oh, that's wonderful! That means you get to go home soon!"
"Tomorrow," Michael said firmly.
"Outstanding!" She looked at her patient. "Do you need anything, Mr. Cranston?"
Lamont shook his head. "Just some rest. Preferably in my own bed."
The nurse nodded. "Call if you need anything." Then, she left.
Mickey returned from the bathroom with the cool rag. "I wringed it out like you showed me, Mom," he said proudly.
"Thanks, sweetie." Linda kissed his head, then took the rag and gently wiped her grandfather's forehead. Does that feel good?
Wondrous. Lamont fought to keep his eyes open, to keep fatigue from overwhelming him.
Michael fished his stethoscope out of his pocket and put it to Lamont's chest, listening for his heartbeat.
Not as strong as you'd like? Lamont guessed by the frown on the doctor's face.
I've heard better, Michael admitted. It's really labored. And you've got a low wheeze in your lungs. Could be fluid backing up from your inefficient heartbeat. Of course, it could also be from too many years of expensive cigars. He retrieved a fresh oxygen tube and attached it to the oxygen outlet on the wall, then slipped it over Lamont's face and under his nose. Relax and take slow, even breaths.
Lamont looked pained. Michael, I just want to go home...
And you will. Michael put a gentle hand on Lamont's shoulder. I'll convince Dr. Toronado to discharge you. He shouldn't be hard to convince. He hates keeping patients any longer than a week anyway. But I need to talk to Monty and Lane, because you're going to require round-the-clock care, and they have some decisions to make.
Lamont looked offended. I am capable of making decisions for myself about myself, thank you very much.
They've got to find a nurse for you, Linda reminded him. Several, preferably. And whoever they get has to be briefed into the secret. That's a lot to do tonight. That's the kind of decisions Michael's talking about.
Lamont relaxed. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to overreact. He looked as if he were about to cry. I just don't want to put them through anything else. They've been through so much the past few weeks, especially Monty...
Suzanne noticed the tears in her great-grandfather's eyes. "Granddaddy, don't cry," she urged.
Lamont let a tear slide down his cheek, then closed his eyes and forced his emotions down before looking at his great-grandchildren again. "These are happy tears," he told them. "I'm going home."
"Good," Mickey said. "I'm tired of hospitals."
No one could resist a laugh at Mickey's forthright pronouncement.
"How is he?" Monty asked his son-in-law.
Michael sighed and leaned back on the sofa next to Monty's chair. "If he lives to Christmas, I'll be surprised. He's very weak and in a lot of pain. His heartbeat is really strained, and his lung capacity is diminished."
Lane, on the other side of the sofa, put her head down, ran her hands through her grey hair, and blew out a hard, frustrated breath. She'd been afraid that was what Michael was going to tell them, but even knowing what the words were going to be didn't prepare her to hear them. "And he doesn't want to stay in the hospital."
Michael shook his head. "Nothing they can do for him, anyway. Better he be as comfortable as possible for the last days of his life than surrounded by the sterile stress of a cardiac ward. But he will require 24-hour care. So unless you want to divide that job up among the family..."
"...he'll need a nurse," Monty finished.
"More like two or three," Lane corrected.
Monty looked frustrated. "And they'll have to be briefed into the secret."
"And that needs to be done tonight," Michael added. "He wants to come home tomorrow. And frankly, I'm willing to let him. There is literally nothing more that can be done for him in the hospital, and he needs to be able to let off the stress in his psyche in an environment where he doesn't have to fear exposure. And the only places he can do that are The Temple...or his own home."
Lane looked frustrated. "Oh, God." Tears began to flow down her cheeks as the reality of what they were facing hit her hard.
Michael looked over at his father-in-law, who looked like he'd been kicked in the teeth. Sitting in an overstuffed velvet-covered chair in the parlor of Monty's mansion, stroking his chin in a pondering pose with a left hand dominated by a huge fire opal ring on its third finger, Monty looked almost exactly like Michael's first glimpse of the Cranston patriarch whose shoes Monty struggled so valiantly to fill. "I wish there was something I could say," the doctor offered quietly.
Monty shrugged. "Nothing to say. It's not as if this should be a surprise." He laughed slightly. "He'll be 101 in January. He's looked tired the past few months, but still acted like he could easily live through another century. It wasn't until the heart attack that he even looked sick." He shook his head. "God, I sound incredibly naive. He's lived 40 years beyond life expectancy, for God's sake. Nobody in our family has ever lived this long. What in the Hell have I even been thinking?"
"The same thing I was," Lane offered. "That he would live forever. Or that he'd die quietly in his sleep long before now. That we'd never be forced to make these decisions...never be forced to watch him dying by degrees..."
"How's his mind?" Monty asked.
"That's the worst part," Michael sighed. "Clear as a bell and strong as an ox. He could probably stop a tank with his telepathy if he wanted to. He knows exactly what is happening to him." He paused to gather his emotions. "I think he's at peace with the reality of his own death, though I think in the back of his mind he worries that his debt for the man he was isn't fully paid. But he can deal with that part of the end of his life. What he can't deal with is the circumstances surrounding the end of his life being out of his control. That's why he wants to come home. He wants time to come to terms with his life, to accept whatever his fate is in a setting where he feels comfortable doing so. He wants--no, he needs--to let his mind stretch. He feels really confined in the hospital." He sighed. "He wants to make sure the two of you are all right, above all else. He kept thinking over and over that he didn't want to be a burden to you two, that you've both been through so much the past few months and he's just adding to it."
"He still wants to protect us," Lane whispered.
Michael nodded. "It's hard to blame him. He's been fighting to protect people for most of his adult life, especially his family. The two of you and Grandma Margo gave him his focus--without someone to do all this for, he'd have gone mad. He'd give his life for you two. But now, he feels that he's not giving his life...it's being taken from him, and you're having to shoulder the entire burden of that. And that's almost more than he can take."
Lane looked upset. "But he doesn't have to take it alone. We'll take care of him. Anything he wants, needs, whatever, we'll do it for him. Why doesn't he understand that?"
Monty looked away and shook his head. The whole thing was overwhelming. And on the heels of Annie's death, the thought of losing his father was something he could barely contemplate. Stubborn old coot, he finally whispered mentally. Just like him to fight the ones who love him the most...
Lane got up and came over to her brother, kneeling by his chair and putting her arms around him. The two of them sobbed in each other's arms.
Michael gently came over and put a hand on the siblings' shoulders. "Do you want me to take care of all this?"
Lane got herself under control, then looked up at Michael. I'll take care of finding him a nurse. I know we've got some in the network we can trust.
Monty took a deep breath and forced his emotions down. I'll talk to his staff and have them get the house ready for him.
Michael nodded, then looked at the pager on his waist that was now beeping insistently. "Of course my pager's going off. Naturally. Wouldn't do for me to actually have a few hours to rest, would it?"
It's your mission, Monty reminded him.
"That it is." Michael patted Monty on the shoulder. "Call me if I can do anything."
Monty nodded. Thanks.
Michael started to leave, then stopped and turned to his father-in-law. "Oh, by the way...he wants Indian food when he comes home from the hospital."
Monty looked confused. What?
"Your father wants Indian food for dinner when he comes home from the hospital. Jalfrazi, to be specific. He says he's eaten enough mass-produced food for a lifetime in the past three weeks. He thinks the hospital chef should be investigated on charges of systematically poisoning sick patients."
Monty started laughing. Annie said the same thing. Maybe someone should investigate the dietary staff at St. Vincent's.
"Maybe," Michael agreed. "See you later." He left rapidly.
Monty and Lane both sat quietly for a moment, the magnitude of the situation slowly sinking in. What are we going to do? Lane finally whispered.
I don't know. Monty wiped his eyes. I have absolutely no clue where to even begin.
I suppose I should talk to Barbara and have her search the agents database for home health care nurses. Lane shook her head. He is going to hate having to be taken care of all the time. He's going mad with all the people hovering around him now.
That's because he can't stretch his mind like he's used to doing. If we can get someone who can be trusted with the secret, that will help considerably. Monty sighed. The ideal person for this job, of course, is Marpa Tulku, but there is no way we can ask him to do this.
Much as we might like to.
Monty nodded and gave his sister a wry smile. You read my mind.
Lane smiled back. I'm good at that, you know.
Now Monty looked ashamed. Then you probably read that dreadful thought that just occurred to me.
The thought that it would have been better if Dad hadn't survived his heart attack?
Monty ran his hand through his hair. I'm a horrible son.
Lane gave his hand a squeeze. Then I'm a horrible daughter, too, because I've had that exact same thought at least three times tonight.
And I told Michael to save his life. Monty looked angry with himself. I authorized pain killers three weeks ago to "save his life" because Michael told me he'd die without them.
It was the right decision.
Was it? All I did was prolong the inevitable...force Dad to spend three weeks suffering in a hospital instead of letting him go. Monty pounded his fist into the arm of the chair. God, Lane, it wasn't as if he and I had never talked about this. I promised him I'd never let him suffer.
He was suffering, Lane reminded him. He was in horrible, horrible pain. That's why Michael asked you to authorize the morphine. I've talked to Dad about this, too. I'd make the same decision in the same situation again, because it was the right choice. The family had been through enough loss for one day.
Monty looked away. Forgive me if I don't share your certainty right now.
Maybe. Lane kissed her brother's hand. I'm going over to talk to Barbara. You want me to talk to Dad's staff while I'm at it?
Monty shook his head. I'll take care of it.
O.K. then. Lane got to her feet and patted Monty's shoulder. Call me?
Lane gave his shoulder one last squeeze, then left the room.
As twilight bathed the parlor in a soft glow, Monty just sat and stared into the fireplace, letting the dancing flames cast their hypnotic spell on his overworked psyche, still trying to sort through Michael's words. What had he done to his father? Better than almost anyone, Monty understood that his father was walking an increasingly precarious tightrope, fighting to maintain some sort of balance between his ever-growing psyche and his ever-aging body. Monty himself had been dealing with psychic energies that had increased dramatically since his retirement ten years ago had stopped providing them a regular outlet. But one decision to give Lamont painkillers to "save his life", and Monty had condemned him to a life of round-the-clock care, with a mind strong enough to stop a herd of elephants but a body too weak to hold up his own weight. And all because Monty had been too selfish to let nature take its course, too anxious to save himself from further pain after Annie was so cruelly snatched from him. But even now, the whole notion that part of his mind wished his father hadn't survived made his skin crawl. What am I going to do? he asked himself.
I don't know, Monty. What are you going to do?
Monty nearly jumped out of his chair at the sound of that voice...a voice he thought had been silenced forever three weeks ago. He looked up.
Sitting across the room from him, in her favorite armchair, looking as young and lovely as the moment he'd first laid eyes on her, was Anne Mulroney Cranston.
Monty felt himself shaking. He had to be dreaming, but she looked and sounded so real...Annie?
Annie smiled that mischievous smile of hers that never failed to charm him. Nice to see you still recognize me.
He couldn't stop staring. The woman he thought he'd lost forever was right here before him...in defiance of what his mind knew intellectually was impossible. I'm dreaming.
Are you sure about that?
He shook his head. This has to be a dream. Because if it isn't, I must be dead.
That mischievous smile again. You mean you don't believe in angels?
Of course I do, but...
...but they only appear in Bible stories and Catholic legends? She laughed. Would you be more likely to believe me if I had a halo and wings?
Monty was at a loss for words. He could barely find the focus to project his thoughts over the confusion in his mind. Well...why don't you?
Special occasion wardrobe. You don't think we really wear those every day, do you? She gave him a pitying smile. I told your mother that you wouldn't believe it was really me, but she insisted I come talk to you. She thought you might listen to me when you wouldn't listen to anyone else.
My mother? Monty started laughing. Oh, God, now I know I'm dreaming.
She shrugged. Call it what you want. But that's really neither here nor there right now. I'm here to talk about your father.
Monty drew back. I made the wrong choice, he mentally whispered.
No, you didn't. That's part of why I'm here, to get you to stop torturing yourself over that. Your father wasn't supposed to die that day. It wasn't his turn yet.
Monty's eyes widened. Then it wouldn't have made a difference what decision I made?
Yes, it would have. But not for him. For you.
Now Monty looked confused. What?
You needed to make that decision. You needed to demonstrate that you had the will to go on, that you did have something to live for outside of me.
Monty could hear his own voice in his head through his memories, repeating something he'd said to Annie on numerous occasions through the years. I always said I didn't know where I'd be without you, that I wouldn't want to go on without you.
And you didn't. You really didn't. You were afraid to go on without me. So, Our Father had to do something to get your attention, get you to stop thinking that way.
Monty looked stunned. Dad's heart attack?
Annie shrugged again. Rather dramatic, but then, He has a flair for that.
My father was nearly killed just to get my attention?
Well, it was a way of getting your father's attention, too. He'd been feeling sorry for himself, too, wishing the end would hurry up and come for him. He needed a reminder that he still had people who loved him, who needed him. She smiled. It worked. Your father understands that point quite clearly now. That's why he wants to leave the hospital, so he can spend what little time he has left getting and giving as much love as possible.
Monty could barely remember how to breathe, much less think. How much longer does he have?
Annie shrugged again. Time is all relative here. A million years is but a second in Heaven, or at least that's what the philosophers say. And we're not permitted to tell anyone how many or few fractions of a second they have left. She looked right at him. What we are permitted to say is that you should stop holding on so tightly to other people's seconds, because they're not yours.
Monty looked confused. What do you mean?
You're still thinking that you don't know if you'll be able to go on if you lose someone, only now you've latched onto your father's life instead of mine. You have your own life. It's the only one you have any semblence of control over. You need to start living it again, because it's not even close to your time yet.
Not even close? Monty looked distraught. I cannot even imagine what the future is going to be like without you...especially if I live another 40 years, like Dad. How am I going to survive that?
The same way you've always done. Faith in God...hope for tomorrow...love from your family. That's all any of us really have, Monty. Arriving here has taught me that. She looked amazed. I didn't understand why I was going through all of that down there until I got here, and suddenly it all became clear. It was all part of a larger picture, a greater plan.
Annie smiled pityingly. I'm not allowed to tell you. None are allowed to know until their part in the plan is done. Just know that there really is a reason for everything. God really does love you. And all of this will make sense in the end. I promise you that. She looked at him. Now, go. You've got a lot to do before your father comes home tomorrow. And there's an all-night Indian market just waiting for you to go pick up the ingredients for jalfrazi for dinner tomorrow night.
Monty felt himself shaking once more. Will I ever see you again?
Annie came over to him, knelt beside his chair, and placed a gentle hand atop his.
Monty felt the extraordinary softness and warmth of her skin as it touched his, and very nearly fainted dead away. My God...
Sh-h-h. She leaned in and kissed his lips.
The sensation of the kiss was so overwhelming to Monty that he was certain he was either dead or hallucinating. He felt the world spinning, swirling, colors and lights everywhere...
...and then they faded away. Monty felt chilled for a moment, then recovered his senses and looked around.
The fire had died down to embers, and the sky outside the windows was dark. A glance at the mantle clock told him over four hours had passed since Michael had left.
Monty groaned. He'd fallen asleep and merely had a dream. But oh, what an incredible dream. He could still feel the touch of her hand, the softness of her lips. He felt himself trembling, then shaking, and then the tears started to flow as the conflicting emotions of the past few hours poured forth from inside him.
He wasn't sure if the tears would ever stop, but they eventually did, and his emotions settled into a serene, accepting calm. He sighed, then crossed himself and said a prayer of thanks for something or someone knocking some sense into his stubborn psyche. Then, he got up and got his coat. After all, there was an all-night Indian market just waiting for him to pick up the ingredients for jalfrazi for dinner.
Got the door? Adam McAllister asked his cousin.
Trey Cranston opened the door to Lamont's bedroom. Got it. Need any help?
Adam looked at the precious parcel in his arms. Light as a feather.
Lamont gave his grandson a scowl as Lane's oldest held him in his arms like a baby. I haven't lost that much weight in three weeks.
Adam winked. Nope. I'm just that strong. He carried his grandfather through the threshold and placed him gently on the bed. There you go, Granddaddy.
Lamont sighed. You know, I could have climbed those stairs.
Adam patted his leg. I know. But why? You'll get plenty of practice just getting around the house after we go home. Indulge us for a bit.
As if I have a choice?
Oh, I have no doubt that if you really objected, we'd be hard pressed to stop you.
You're right about that. Lamont smiled at his grandsons. Although it might almost be a fair contest. Care to press your luck?
The glow in Trey's ring saved him from having to back down from a direct challenge. Think I'll go chase criminals for a while. Slightly safer activity.
Need me? Adam asked.
Trey shook his head. I suspect this is the police report I was waiting for from that hit-and-run over by the UN last night. I'll call if it's anything else. He gave his grandfather a hug. You call me if you need anything.
Lamont patted Trey's back. Just for you to be careful.
Always. He gave a nod to Adam, then left hurriedly.
Lamont watched his eldest grandson go. After all these years, I still get an inner charge from a call from Burbank...even though it's been 40 years since I last went out on a call.
Adam's gaze focused away from his grandfather for a moment, then he snapped out of the trance and nodded. I'd go with him, except he's right. It is that police report we've been waiting for. No need for both of us to go retrieve it. He'll call if there's anything interesting in it.
Lamont shook his head. The different types of psychic powers that had come into the Cranston line through marriage and blending of bloodlines simply amazed him. There are times I envy you. Clairvoyance was never a skill I could do with any great regularity. God knows it would have helped me on more occasions than I care to count.
Adam shrugged. It has its useful moments. Dad used to call it "psychic TV". There are times I'd give my right arm to be half the clairvoyant he was.
That's odd. Your father often said he envied the telepathy you and Barbara had inherited. There were times he said he felt like a mute voyeur--he could see everything, but had trouble sending those pictures back out again.
That sounds like Dad. Always wishing he could expand his mind more. Adam laughed. I'm kind of a psychic mutt, I guess. Not a pure clairvoyant, not a pure telepath.
But a pure Cranston.
Adam laughed again. You know, you said that just as I was thinking that I'm not even a pure Cranston. I mean, I look at what Trey's accomplished--he's been awakened, what, twenty-something years now?--and how smooth and controlled his mind is, and I just shake my head. And Uncle Monty...the man could kick my ass in psychic defense and not even break a mental sweat. And then I had a chance to talk to Lamont-4 two weeks ago...man, oh, man. He's not even 14 and he can already run circles around me projectively. I mean, I have trouble keeping up with Linda sometimes when we're out on the streets, and she's three years younger. I may have to think about retiring when Lamont-4 comes home from The Temple--it won't take him long to come up to speed and leave me in his dust.
Lamont put a reassuring hand on his grandson's knee. I don't think so. I think you're just feeling a little inadequate, for some reason. Did I do something to make you feel this way?
Adam hesitated, then sighed. I guess because you were keeping such a tight rein on your mind in the hospital, I wasn't prepared when you opened up after we brought you in the door. Geez, I hadn't realized you'd become so strong. Mom tried to warn me, but I didn't believe her--I really thought she was exaggerating. He looked amazed. What's it like? I mean, I feel these waves of energy coming from you even when you're just sitting and listening--what's it like to have that much power?
Lamont looked away for a moment. Frustrating. I feel like I have almost no control over it--it just keeps growing. And every time it does, I know it means my body's getting weaker. I keep trying to generate tumos to stop the cycle, but every time I get going good, my heart starts racing and my chest hurts, and I have to stop. I've gotten a little stronger physically over the past week, so the pace of growth has slowed, but I can still feel my psychic reservoir getting a little deeper every day. He looked back at Adam. In many ways, though, it's fascinating intellectually to me, and that is so strange. For years, I thought I was just getting better at handling my mind through sheer repetition--after all, I'd been on the streets for over 30 years, pushing my telepathy non-stop practically every night. I had no idea I was still growing psychically until Marpa Tulku told me in 1959 that I was twice as strong as I'd been when I left The Temple. After that, I became a lot more aware of the sensations of psychic growth...and it's just been amazing, especially the past few weeks. As frustrating as it is, my mind feels so alive right now. In a lot of ways, it feels like it did in the days after my awakening, but back then I was younger--I could handle the pace of growth and keep up my physical strength along with it. I'm really grateful to be home again--I don't think I could have taken much more of having to keep such a tight leash on all of this. I'm looking forward to being able to stretch out my mind for a change, because I have had the worst headaches for days now.
Adam smiled at his grandfather. For years, Adam had felt himself an inferior psychic talent to his ultra-projective older cousin, Trey, and when Linda--Trey's younger sister--showed herself to be a classic Cranston projector like her brother, Adam had very nearly given up his dream of joining the family mission because he felt he'd never be strong enough projectively to be a Shadow. Only his parents' constant encouragement and Lamont's gentle but firm guidance had kept him going, and eventually, he found a way to integrate his unique combination of clairvoyance and telepathy and his expertise as an electrical engineer into The Shadow's mission. Well, we've been looking forward to stretching out with you. I've missed being able to just sit and talk with you. If you get too tired, just kick me out, 'cause I'm likely to wear out my welcome otherwise.
Lamont took his grandson's hand. Never. I'm never sending any of you away ever again. You'll get tired of me rambling after a while, though.
Adam raised an eyebrow. Sounds like a challenge.
Lamont smiled knowingly. And, like any Cranston, you can't resist a challenge.
Adam grinned from ear to ear. Bring it on.
As the sun went down on the fall evening and the smells of Indian cooking filled Cranston Manor, Monty ascended the main staircase and headed for his father's room. Michael had stopped in about an hour ago to look Lamont over before heading off to the hospital, and Lamont had been very quiet ever since...too quiet. While he could still feel his father's powerful mind reaching through the house and stretching out the kinks, the fact that Lamont hadn't called for anyone--even some company--concerned Monty. He started to knock on the door.
Come in, Monty.
Monty shook his head. Thinking that loudly, am I? He opened the door and came in.
Lamont was standing, gripping the post of his bed unsteadily as he tried to make his way back around to the right side of the bed where the covers were turned down.
Monty gave his father a disapproving glare. You're not supposed to be out of bed without someone here to watch you.
I'm not a complete invalid. I do have to get out of bed occasionally...unless you want to change the linens after an accident.
Where's your walker?
Lamont gestured with his head toward his side of the bed, where the walker was neatly folded and rested against the wall. Damn thing gets in the way sometimes. He took a deep breath, then another few unsteady steps around the bed, gripping the footboard for support.
Monty came over to him and offered him a steadying hand. You could have called me.
You were busy talking to Michael and the nurses.
Not so busy that I wouldn't have come up here and helped you.
Lamont frowned and sighed hard. I feel like such a burden.
It was all Monty could do to silence the more emotional thoughts that were trying to bubble their way to the surface. He instead gave his father a gentle, wistful smile. No, you're not. You're so light I could pick you up with one hand.
Lamont returned the smile, his eyes showing mischief. Not if I didn't want you to. I could make you think I weighed a ton.
Monty's eyes were equally mischievous. Then I'd call Trey. Between the two of us, we could probably out-think you.
Thanks. It's a trait I inherited from my father. Monty put his arm around his father's waist, then draped Lamont's arm over his shoulders and helped him walk the rest of the way to the uncovered side of the bed.
Lamont sat down and leaned back against the pillows, gasping for breath. His skin looked pale and greyish.
Monty looked concerned as he pulled the covers over him. Dad?
Lamont gave a weak gesture to back Monty off, then closed his eyes.
Monty felt an odd warmth coming from his father as he smoothed the blanket over him and realized Lamont was using his reservoir of projective energy to generate a tumo summoning to ease the pain. The self-hypnosis technique that generated more rapid healing had been a life-saver through the years, but it also increased the heartbeat and blood pressure, making it dangerous for someone with a heart condition. But if it helped Lamont deal with the pain and suffering, Monty was willing to sit back and let him at least try...even as his mind tried to scream for his father to be careful.
Lamont's breathing eased, and the color began to return to his skin. That's the third one today.
"Flutter" implies something light, easy. Mine shudders. Like an earthquake.
Did you tell Michael about this?
Yes. But I also told him it'll settle down. I was probably just overexcited about coming home today.
Monty sighed. Are you sure you don't want to go back to the hospital?
What can they do for me, Monty? Hook me to a bunch of monitors and tell me my heart is failing? Fill me with drugs to "make me comfortable"? No, thank you. I just got out of that prison, and I am not going back. I came into the world in this room, and I'm going to leave it in here, thank you very much.
Monty sat down in the chair beside the bed and bit back a sharp retort. The last thing he wanted was to argue with the stubborn old coot after he'd just gotten home.
Lamont looked over at his son. I'm sorry. You didn't deserve that.
The younger Cranston forced a smile. It's all right. I know I'm not the one you're mad at.
I'm not mad at anybody or anything. I'm just tired...just so tired.
Monty got up and poured his father a fresh cup of tea, putting it gently in his hands. I never knew you were born in this room.
Lamont nodded. They almost waited too long to call the doctor. By the time he got here, I was apparently halfway out. At least, that's the story Emily always told me.
My nanny. She was wonderful. She gave me about the only real love I ever saw as a child. He sipped his tea, his hands shaking the whole time, then lowered the cup and smiled sadly. I was so afraid I wouldn't be a good father. I didn't have any examples when I was growing up. When your mother was pregnant with you, I spent the whole pregnancy wondering if I was going to be able to give you all the things I never had...love, warmth, understanding. And I certainly didn't want you to grow up thinking you were insane if you started seeing things, hearing things, or felt like your head was going to just burst open.
Monty put a gentle hand on his father's shoulder. You were the best father anyone could have had. I never once doubted how much you loved me. And I wanted to be just like you when I grew up.
I did my best. I could only hope it was good enough. He smiled. It must have been, though. You turned out two fine children of your own...and four fantastic grandchildren.
I had a lot of help with them. Now the emotions were becoming too strong to fight back. I miss her, Dad.
I know you do. Annie loved you so much. It's so hard when two people who are so connected get torn apart like that. It was hard enough when your mother died...we knew she was going to, she'd been dying for months, and I still felt like someone had ripped my soul to shreds. I cannot imagine what you went through.
Monty pressed a fist to his mouth, trying to force the emotions down. Whether it was a dream or not, Monty's vision of Annie last night was just another reminder of the gaping hole her death had left in his psyche. He wondered if he would ever be able to think of her again without breaking down.
Monty felt his father's hand on his arm now. I'm sorry, Monty projected. I'm supposed to be comforting you, not the other way around.
Don't be silly. I'm not the one who needs comforting. I've got the easy part. I just lie here and let pretty women take care of me. You're the one who's got to make all the tough decisions.
Monty looked over at his father. Are you ready to die?
Not yet. A sigh. But I'm not afraid to. If it comes, I'll make myself ready for it. But I'm not quite ready to give up the fight yet. He looked out the window. I think I want to go up to The Temple when I get strong enough to travel again.
That sounds like fun. Want me to go with you?
No. Lamont looked over at Monty. As much as I never again want to be separated from my family for as long a stretch as this last time, I need to go up there alone. It's part of coming to terms with the end of my life.
To go back to where it all began.
Lamont nodded. I was born here. I was reborn there. I need to bring closure to both.
Monty slowly nodded his understanding. That reminds me... He reached into his pocket and pulled out a dented, scratched, well-worn silver fire opal ring. I believe this is yours.
Lamont smiled happily. I was wondering when I'd get that back. I was beginning to think you'd hocked it or something.
Yeah, as if it'd be worth anything to anyone but you. Monty laughed slightly, then once more struggled with his emotions. I've kept it near me the whole time. It helped me feel like I wasn't losing you.
Lamont took his son's hand. I'm still here, Monty. You've still got me for a while longer.
Monty nodded, hearing Annie's words echoing through his mind. I know that. I'll try to stop clinging so hard to you. Whatever time we have left, I want us to share together.
We will. I promise. Lamont looked at the ring in his son's hand. Now, if you don't mind...
Of course I don't. He took his father's left hand and slipped the ring onto the third finger.
The ring rolled loosely, too large for the thin finger it now sat upon.
Lamont looked sad. Think I've lost some weight.
Monty gently squeezed the ring to tighten it. There. That's a little better. That'll do until you start eating a little better. Speaking of which...
Lamont sniffed the air. M-m-m. Jalfrazi. Smells wonderful.
It does, doesn't it? He looked out his father's bedroom window toward the setting sun. Man, that western sky looks fabulous tonight.
Lamont glanced over at the window. So it does. He closed his eyes, took in a deep breath, and sighed wistfully. Dinner in Manhattan by twilight...one of my very favorite things in life.
Mine, too. Monty gently patted his father's shoulder. Get some rest. I'll have Conrad bring your dinner up here. He got up and started to go.
Monty looked over at Lamont. Yes, Dad?
Lamont gave his son a paternal smile. Seeing as how both of us enjoy Indian cuisine and twilight dinners--and I know your sister does, too--would the two of you care to join me for dinner? I'm certain there'll be enough food--I know Pierre's recipe for jalfrazi always makes enough for days of leftovers--and I'd like to share a meal with the two of you that doesn't come from a hospital kitchen.
Monty beamed. There was nothing he'd rather do right now. I'll call Lane.
I just did. She's on her way over.
Monty raised an eyebrow. You called her to have dinner with us without waiting for me to say "yes"?
Well, I figured I had to guarantee at least one dinner companion tonight.
Monty laughed and shook his head. You're impossible.
I thought I was incorrigible.
That, too. He came over to the bed and hugged his father tightly.
Lamont held onto his son for a long moment, letting the love they had for each other fill and strengthen each man. There was no telling how many more times they'd get to do this, and Lamont was determined to treasure each and every touch from his family from now on. Dammit, you're going to make me cry.
Monty fought back his emotions once more. Then that'll make two of us.
Lamont gave him one last squeeze, then patted him on the back. All right, that's enough of that. Go get us some dinner. I'm starved.
Monty smiled. Jalfrazi for three, coming up. He left the room.
Lamont watched him go, then leaned back in bed and let his eyes fall out of focus as he looked out the bedroom window. Death was very near. He could feel it, just on the other side of him, just ahead on the long, winding road of life. But he wasn't ready to make that turn just yet. There were still too many things to do...including a warm, celebratory dinner with his beloved children.
He relaxed his mind and let the colors of twilight carry him away.
[Epilogue: As Marpa Tulku had promised he would, Lamont Cranston recovered enough to travel to The Temple Of The Cobras for one last visit in November 1998, where he witnessed Lamont IV's hypnotic mind clouding breakthrough. Shortly thereafter, Lamont made his last public appearance in early December 1998, at opening night of Margo's performance in the New York City Youth Ballet's version of The Nutcracker. Though he defied the odds and lived to celebrate one last Christmas with his family, he declined rapidly as 1998 turned to 1999. Shortly before his death, Lamont's remaining wealth, nearly $1 billion in total assets, was put in trust for his great-grandchildren...except for Cranston Manor, which Lamont gave to Monty with Lane's blessing. On 27 January 1999, a week after his 101st birthday--and two days after the birth of his eighth great-grandchild, Joshua Stephen Ryan, whom he was able to hold for just a moment--Lamont Alexander Cranston I died of congestive heart failure. Thousands of people--including hundreds of Shadow agents--turned out for his funeral, and thousands more throughout the New York area watched on TV. The governor of New York declared a day of mourning for the state, and Lamont was hailed by many around the world, including President Clinton, as a man whose moral conscience was as far reaching as his wealth and influence. Lamont's fire opal ring, symbolic of The Shadow's mission for over 72 years, now adorns the left ring finger of Lamont Cranston IV, who wears it with pride as a symbol of the legacy he will someday control...and the mission of redemption that he will someday take on as his own.]