Sole Surviving Son

Jeanne DeVore

In memory of Mr. Robert Lansing



Part I

The phone rang at 1:30 in the morning, and Peter reached for it before he was awake.

"'lo," he mumbled into the receiver.

"Peter, it's Kelly." His foster sister's voice was strained and she sounded like she'd been crying.

"What's wrong?" he asked, coming awake instantly.

There was a pause as Kelly tried to get the words out. "Dad's been taken to the hospital--heart attack," she said.

The shock went through him and he went cold. "Just now?"

"Yeah."

"Where's Mom?" He was out of bed and throwing on jeans as he spoke.

"Here--at the hospital--we're all here."

"I'm on my way--which hospital?"

"Glen Cross--Carolyn's on her way, too."

"I'll be right there--hang on, Kel." He hung up the phone and ran for the door, pulling on his t-shirt as he went, his bare feet shoved into his boots. He abandoned propriety and slapped the light on top of his car, using it and the siren to dash through the city. He squealed up in front of the emergency room and dashed through the doors, tugging on his jacket.

He ran to the front desk. "Paul Blaisdell," he said breathlessly. The nurse looked at him, then indicated the waiting room. He turned around and saw Kelly, tears flowing freely down her cheeks. And he knew without being told that he had arrived too late.

He felt like someone had punched him in the gut. "When?" he gasped.

"Just a few minutes ago," she said, and he couldn't stop the groan that escaped him. He tipped his head back, eyes pinched shut from the pain, asking a god he didn't even believe in why this had to happen. He reached for her, hugging her tight, holding her as she sobbed, crying in her arms.

A moment later, he struggled to get himself under control. He looked over her shoulder to where Annie was sitting, Carolyn and Todd with her. "How's Mom?" he asked in a whisper.

"She's in shock, I think. She hasn't said anything."

He nodded and, arm around her shoulders, moved into the waiting room.

"Mom?" he said softly.

"Who's there?" Annie said, looking around the room. "Peter?"

"I'm here, Mom," he said, going to her and sitting next to her. He put a hand on her shoulder, and then she turned her head toward him--as if she couldn't figure out where he was until he touched her.

"Peter--" she breathed, reaching for him. He wrapped her in a hug. Her slender body trembled in his arms, but there were no tears--she was in pain beyond tears.

He held her for a long time, whispering meaningless, pointless assurances, then giving up and holding her in the silence. He fought to tamp down his own grief; there would be time for that later. Right now, his mother needed him.

"Excuse me, Mrs. Blaisdell?" A voice behind them broke through the silence. Peter raised his head and looked at the nurse standing there.

Annie raised her head. "Who's there?" Again, she seemed totally disoriented.

"It's a nurse, Mom," Peter told her.

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Blaisdell, I know this is a difficult time, but--we need to be given some--instructions. About arrangements."

Peter frowned. Now was not the time to have to mess with all that shit, but he dutifully asked, "Mom, did Paul make any arrangements?"

"I don't know," she said shakily. "I'm sure he must have, but--I can't think. It's probably in his desk."

Peter looked back at the nurse. "We'll need to find out what his wishes were," he explained.

"Yes sir, and you are?"

"Their son. Peter Caine."

"Caine?" She looked at him questioningly.

Peter sighed exasperated. He wasn't going to get hassled about that now, was he? "Foster son."

"I--see," she said, frowning. "Well, we need a relative to tell us what they want done--"

Peter rolled his eyes, fuming. "Mom?" he said.

"Oh, Peter--I just can't think. Please, honey--you talk to them."

"I will," he told her, kissing her temple. "I'll be right back."

He left her side and took the nurse's arm, dragging her away. "Do they give you lessons on how to be that insensitive," he hissed, "or does it come naturally! I'm their son, got it? They raised me from the time I was fifteen--they were my legal guardians. You give me any more bullshit about my not being a relative I'm gonna shove that clipboard right down your--"

"I'm sorry, sir," the nurse stammered, "but it's not usual."

"Yeah, well live with it."

"Yes, sir," she swallowed nervously, and part of Peter was pleased he'd flustered her so severely. "I still need to know what arrangements you want made--which funeral home you intend to use, whether you want an autopsy--"

Peter frowned. "Is that necessary?"

"They haven't listed a cause of death yet--it was probably a heart attack, but--"

He sighed. "Yeah, then I guess we'd better have one done. Would it be done here or at the coroner's office?"

She blinked in surprise. "Excuse me?"

He smiled and pulled out his badge, showing it to her. "I'm used to the procedure," he explained.

"Oh. No, by law, they all have to be done at the Coroner's building."

He nodded. "OK, well, you'll let us know the results?"

"Yes."

"Meanwhile, I'll see if I can find out what arrangements Mr. Blaisdell had made, and let you know."

"It's important that we know--where the remains are to be taken," she said.

Hearing his foster father referred to as "the remains" made Peter go cold and he shivered involuntarily. It was different when it was a perpetrator, or a victim, than when it was a relative. "As soon as I know, you'll know," he said.

The nurse nodded, then as Peter was turning away, said, "Oh, Mr. Blais--I mean Caine."

Peter smiled ruefully. "Yes?"

"If you'll wait here, I'll give you his personal effects."

Peter nodded, unable to speak. It wasn't real yet--it was still too shocking, still too new. But discussing autopsies and remains, receiving Paul's personal effects--these were making it more real by the second.

A moment later, the nurse reappeared, carrying a small white envelope. She handed it to him and he opened it, looking inside. Paul must have been in his pajamas when he'd been brought in, so the only thing in the envelope was his wedding ring. Peter saw it and swallowed. There was no way he was going to give this to Annie. He folded the envelope in half and tucked it into a pocket. Then she handed him a clipboard with a couple of different forms--one authorizing the autopsy, the other signifying that he had received the deceased's personal effects. He signed both forms mechanically, listing his relation to the deceased as "son", received a muted thanks from the nurse, then went back over to where his family was gathered.

"They're going to take care of everything," he said to his sisters. Annie didn't seem to hear him come back over. But at his voice, she raised her head.

"Peter?"

Again, she seemed to not know where he was. "I'm right here, Mom, it's all taken care of. Come on--let's get you home."

"No," she said shaking her head, "I want to see him."

Peter went cold. He'd seen heart attack victims before, after the emergency ward crew had tried and failed to revive them. It wasn't a pretty sight. Annie wouldn't see the blue-tinged skin, or the slit in his throat from the tracheotomy, but she would feel it. And the feel of dead flesh was one which made Peter's skin crawl--there was no way he was going to let her have that as her final memory of Paul.

"That's not a good idea, Mom," he said gently, "they've probably already moved him out."

"I wanted to say goodbye," she said, her voice shaking.

"Oh, Mom," Peter began, struggling for the words, "no, you don't-- You say goodbye in your heart. You don't want to see him like that. Please."

"But--it'll just be like he's sleeping--won't it?" she asked.

"No, Mom--not at all like that," he had to tell her.

"Oh." He saw her swallow convulsively. "So alone--" she whispered.

Peter sat down next to her, taking her in his arms again, hugging her tight. "He's got people taking care of him now," he said, trying to choke back his tears, "And we'll take care of you. Come on, let's take you home."

Finally she nodded against him. He helped her to her feet, keeping his arm around her. "You come over in the ambulance?" he asked Kelly. She nodded, tears still flowing down her cheeks. "'Kay, I'll take you back." Then to Carolyn and Todd, "You coming over?" Carolyn just nodded, doing a slightly better job than Kelly to control her tears. But then again, she had the support of her husband to lean on. Kelly only had Peter, and Peter was focused on their mother. "See you back at the house," he said, and led his mother from the hospital.

It was a quiet ride home. No one could think of anything to say--they were all too numb. They arrived about the same time as Carolyn and Todd, and Kelly was the one who found her keys and opened the door. All the lights were blazing, as they had been when they'd dashed out of the house with the paramedics. Just inside the door, Annie stopped.

"Oh, Peter, I'm lost--" she said, an edge of panic in her voice.

"It's OK, Mom, I'm here with you. You're not lost--you're in the front hall. The door is behind you at 6:00, the stairs are at 11:00. The hall back to the kitchen is at 12:00. The closet is at 3:00. You can remember, just concentrate."

"I can't--I can't--it's all gone!" Her voice rose in terrified panic, and she turned around, seeking him. He wrapped his arms around her tightly as the tears started and great, wracking sobs tore through her.

Peter reacted on instinct and scooped her into his arms, carrying her into the living room where he set her on the couch and sat with her, letting her hold onto him, letting her cry out her desperate pain and confusion. He did no more than hold her, stroke her hair, try and give her comfort. He made no effort to try and stop her tears. There wasn't any point. As she cried, he remembered all the times when he cried in her arms, especially right after he'd come to live with them. And she held him, like he was holding her now, and comfort him until he'd cried himself out and would lie, exhausted in her arms, his grief-plagued mind empty of everything except her all-encompassing love. He tried to do the same thing for her, but couldn't help feeling inadequate. There was no way he could "make it better" this time.

Eventually, the crying slowed and stopped, and she lay against him, clutching at his shirt front weakly. He'd taken her glasses and he reached into his pocket for a kleenex, gently wiping at her eyes. A moment later, Carolyn came into the room. Peter hadn't paid any attention to where the rest of the family was; his whole concentration was on his mother.

"Mom? Here's a cup of tea--drink it, you'll feel better." She reached for her mother's hand and placed the cup in it. But Annie's hand did not close around the cup as usual, and Carolyn kept her hand over her mother's as she guided the cup to Annie's lips. Their mother took a sip of the tea, then shifted on the couch, bringing her other hand up to meet the first one, getting a firm enough grasp on the cup that Carolyn let go.

"Thank you, sweetie," she said. She drank another sip of the tea. Carolyn smiled, then disappeared, returning a moment later with a second cup which she gave to Peter. He took a sip, surprised but pleased to feel the burn of something strong and alcoholic in with the tea. He smiled and winked at his sister, who winked back.

They drank their tea in silence for a long moment, then Peter said, "Mom? You want to go into the kitchen? The girls are out there."

Annie frowned. "Where am I?"

"Living room. On the couch."

"Yes. All right." Peter and helped his mother from the couch, guiding her into the kitchen. The girls and Todd were sitting around the kitchen table.

"We're here for refills," Peter said, handing Carolyn their cups and leading Annie to a chair.

Carolyn smiled. "Two more teas, coming up," she said, filling their cups.

"You can do mine the same way you did it before," he told her. She nodded and splashed a little brandy in with the tea.

They sat around the table, not speaking, not really needing to speak, while they drank their tea. There really wasn't anything to say which wouldn't either be painful or inane.

Finally, Peter asked, "What time is it, anyway?"

Kelly looked at the clock over the stove. "Almost 5:00."

"Jeez--no wonder I'm tired. You tired, Mom?"

Annie shrugged. "I don't know--I think I'm too tired to know if I'm tired. I just feel so--lost."

"I know, Mom," Kelly said, covering her mother's hand with her own. "It's too hard to concentrate right now, isn't it?"

Annie sighed shakily and nodded. "I keep--losing myself. We're in the kitchen?"

"Yes, Mom," Carolyn said. "At the kitchen table. Peter's at 3:00, I'm at 1:30, Todd's at 11:00, Kelly's at 9:00."

"Where's the door?" Annie asked.

"To the dining room is behind me at 3:00," Peter told her, "to the hall is behind Kelly at 9:00."

Their mother just shook her head. "I can't remember..."

"That's because you're so tired. Come on, why don't you get some rest." He stood, reaching to bring her to her feet, but she froze.

"No--I can't go up there--I can't."

Peter frowned, then it hit him. Paul must have been in the bedroom when it happened. He looked at Kelly for confirmation and mouthed "is that where?" She nodded. "Make sure it's clean," he mouthed back and she nodded, leaving the table and heading upstairs.

"You need to rest, Mom, come on, let me take you upstairs."

"I can't, Peter. I just can't." She was starting to tremble.

"Mom, what about if you rest in my room," Carolyn suggested.

"Would that be better?" Peter asked.

Annie seemed to think about it. "I don't know--I suppose so."

"Okay, let's do that then," he said, bringing her to her feet. He walked her down the hall to the stairs, speaking to her the whole way, telling her exactly where she was at any given time.

They met Kelly on the stairs, and she mouthed "Okay."

"She's gonna rest in Carol's room," he told his sister, and she nodded. "Come with me," he mouthed, and she turned around and continued back up the stairs with them.

Together they got their mother into the bed, and as she lay there, the covers pulled up to her chin, Peter was chilled by how small and vulnerable she looked--even worse than when she was in the hospital after that mugging. She seemed to have aged suddenly--diminished. Looking at her in the bed, it was hard to remember that she wasn't even fifty yet. Tonight she looked so much older.

"Mom, I have to go downstairs--see if I can find what arrangements Paul wanted made. Kelly will stay with you. OK?" She reached a hand for him, and he took it, kissing her fingertips. "You just rest--we'll take care of everything. We love you."

Kelly had taken her other hand. "I'm right here, Mommy--I'm going to

stay with you. Don't worry about anything." She looked up at Peter and he winked at her before turning and leaving the room.

Before he went downstairs, he stepped into his parents' bedroom and looked around the room. The bed was unmade--they'd already gone to bed. The covers were in a tangle on Annie's side, fairly orderly on Paul's side. He'd gotten out of bed normally--maybe to go to the bathroom. She'd gotten out in a rush--when she heard him. He stepped into the master bath. The rug was askew, and a bath towel was in a puddle on the floor, as if it had been pulled off its rod above. Paul had been in the bathroom when the attack came. He tried to catch himself with the towel rod, but had fallen to the floor. Annie had heard him fall, or perhaps he cried out, jumped out of bed and rushed to him, only to find him on the floor. Perhaps she'd called 911. Perhaps she'd called for Kelly and his sister had made the call. He shook his head. It didn't matter now. He'd ask Kelly about it later. He turned off the lights and headed downstairs.

Carolyn and Todd were still in the kitchen, Carolyn cleaning up the last of the tea things.

"Is she resting?"

Peter nodded. "Kelly's with her. I think she'll sleep. At least I hope so."

Carolyn nodded, then came over and put her arms around her foster brother, hugging him tight. "She frightened me," she whispered.

"I know," he agreed. "She's so good at coping, we all take for granted what she can do. We never realize how hard she has to concentrate to do what she does. She's got nothing left to concentrate with. So she's lost."

"Will she be OK?" she asked.

"I don't know." He broke the hug. "I've got to find out what arrangements he made, then, when it's light, I'm gonna go get my father." That idea formed itself as it came out of his mouth. "She's close to him--maybe he can help her."

Carolyn nodded. "Okay."

"Listen, you two might as well get some rest as well--I've got a feeling the next few days are going to be tough on all of us."

"You need to rest too."

"I will--just as soon as I take care of a few things. Go on. Why don't you use Mom and Dad's room."

Carolyn shuddered. "I--don't think I could rest there."

"OK, then use my room--it's the only other double bed in the house."

"Where will you sleep?"

He shrugged. "I'm not sleeping yet--go on. I'll sleep later--when you're up."

She smiled and kissed his cheek. Todd patted him on the back and the two of them went upstairs.

Peter sighed and went into Paul's study, turning on the light.

The memories that swamped him as he stood there in the door almost knocked him off his feet, and he felt his eyes fill with tears.

"Oh, give it up," he scolded himself sternly, "there'll be time for that shit later." He resolutely sniffed the tears away and sat down at the desk, reaching for the first drawer. His hand stopped on the pull as he saw the copy of the family portrait on the desk, a portrait of Annie, and in a three-way frame, Carolyn's wedding picture, Kelly as a bridesmaid, and Peter's graduation from the Police academy. He smiled. All the images that his foster father loved best. He looked down at the blotter and saw a scribbled note: "Frank--Leffler to Dallas on 9/26". He swallowed. It was time to make the first of many phone calls. He checked the clock--it read 5:30. The chief was usually at the precinct by 7:00, so he'd be up by now. And if he wasn't, tough. He picked up the phone and dialed.

"H'lo." Frank Strenlich's gruff voice came over the line.

Peter swallowed. "Chief, it's Peter Caine."

"Peter, why the hell are you calling at this hour?"

He took a deep breath. "Paul Blaisdell--just d-died."

There was a beat of silence. "What. My God, what happened?"

"Heart attack, near as they could figure out. They're doing the autopsy now."

"Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Where's Annie?"

"At home--I'm there now."

"How is she?"

"In shock. She's taking it pretty badly." Peter was surprised at how calm he was sounding.

"And the girls?"

"Coping."

"And what about you?"

Peter chuckled ruefully. "Running on automatic. Listen, Chief, do you know what arrangements he made?"

"I know he made some--every cop does."

"Yeah, that's what I figured. I'm in his den--I don't even know where to start looking."

"I wish I knew what to tell you, Pete. We didn't discuss any details."

"Um--is there anything--special--that needs to be done? I mean, cop's funeral and all that."

"Well, there'd be more if he'd died in the line of duty, but since he was a precinct captain and well-respected on the force, yeah, there's still a certain amount of protocol that will be expected. My God--I still can't believe it. It hasn't sunk in!"

"I don't think it has for us yet, either. We're all kinda running around in a haze, I think. Oh, Chief--" Peter spied something else on the desk. "There're some case files here--"

"I'll be over there first thing this morning--I'll pick up the files, and check on how Annie's doing."

Peter smiled. Frank always had a soft spot for Annie Blaisdell. "Thanks. Well, I'd better look for that information. If you've got anything that would help--"

"Well, most cops in the precinct use Lawrence Brothers funeral home--they're used to dealing with all the stuff that goes with cop funerals."

"Lawrence Brothers--good, that's the first thing they need to know--what funeral home. Thanks. I'll talk to you later."

"Okay. And Peter--"

"Yeah?"

"Good luck."

"Thanks." Peter hung up the phone with a sigh. Then he opened a drawer and started going through it.

Paul Blaisdell was methodical enough that he kept files on almost everything, but not meticulous enough that the files were in any order. His desk had two file drawers, then there was a 4-drawer filing cabinet in the corner. Peter knew with a sinking feeling that he'd have to look through them all. To make matters worse, many of the manila file folders weren't labeled--he had to remove each one and open it to find out what it contained.

Peter went to the kitchen, made a pot of coffee, cursed the double-shot of brandy he'd had with his tea, then armed with strong coffee loaded with sugar, returned to the den. He opened the drawer on his right and began his search.

Some time later he looked up to see Kelly standing in the doorway. "Is she asleep?" he asked. She nodded.

"She didn't want to sleep--she kept fighting it. Finally sheer exhaustion won out."

"Well, at least she's sleeping now. You should get some sleep too."

"I'm too tired to sleep," she stated simply.

He smiled. "Yeah, I know what you mean." He took another swig of his coffee. It was cold, but at least it was strong.

"How's it going?"

"Slowly. It would help if he'd labeled anything."

She smiled. "Want some help?"

"You should rest."

"So should you."

"I can't--they're waiting to hear from me at the hospital."

"So you need my help."

He laughed. "OK, get yourself a cup of coffee and grab a drawer."

She returned momentarily with a mug in one hand, the coffee pot in another, warming up his cup. Then she returned the pot to the kitchen, went to the file cabinet and opened the first drawer. "What am I looking for?"

"Anything that lists a funeral home, or a cemetery, or a will, or anything like that."

They worked in silence for several minutes.

"I can't believe some of the stuff he kept," she said.

"Important family papers," he mumbled, trying to tear himself away from the file he'd just found. When he opened this one up, he found a xeroxed copy of a newspaper article with the headline "Fire Destroys Religious Compound", dated June 16, 1978. Behind the article was a copy of the police report on the investigation into the fire. Paul had somehow gotten hold of whatever he could find on the destruction of the temple. It had given Peter nightmares for years, so Paul wanted to know more than Peter could tell. He wanted to sit down and study the police report, read the article. There were other papers, too--reports on Peter from the orphanage, school reports, a copy of Peter's birth certificate--something he'd never seen before. But reading these papers wouldn't accomplish his current goal, so he reluctantly set the file aside--but on top, where he could find it later--and continued the search.

About fifteen minutes later, Kelly said, "I think I've got something," and handed it over to Peter.

In yet another unmarked file, Peter found a sheet titled "In the Event of my Death", and contained a checklist of everything the survivors would need to know, including funeral home (Lawrence Brothers), cemetery plot and headstone, with deed attached, insurance companies and policies, bank accounts, safe deposit boxes, attorneys, and wills. Peter sighed with relief. This would make the entire process easier.

In the back of the file was an envelope with the names of the 3 children on it. Peter opened it and pulled out a single typewritten sheet. It was dated July of 1987--shortly after Peter had graduated from the Police Academy. It was a letter from Paul to his children, giving them instructions in the event of his death. It was a sweet letter, almost apologetic that they would have to go through the trial and the effort. But in it, Paul asked that Peter be the executor of the estate, and if he could not, that Carolyn and Kelly do it jointly. He said that their attorney would also be apprised of the details. And he gave some specific requests regarding his funeral.

I know that a certain amount of pomp will be expected--damn cop's funeral, you can't get away from it. But don't let them overdo it. Keep it as simple as possible. After all, a funeral isn't for me, it's for you--the ones who must go on. I'll be at my peace.

Finally, the letter asked them to take care of Annie. Your mother is very strong, but we've been together a long time, and she's come to depend on me a great deal. She will need to be comforted, and she'll need to be reminded of the strength she possesses on her own. It may take some time--be patient with her. Give her love and understanding--help her to see again on her own.

Peter's vision clouded as he remembered the only other time he'd ever seen Annie lose her bearings--it was another time she'd been separated from Paul. He was out of town, for the government, and he didn't call in one day. Annie spent the day in barely controlled panic, having trouble finding her bearings. When Paul returned two days later, she'd fallen apart and had become very clingy for the next couple of days. Her disorientation this time was much worse. Because this time, she knew her husband wasn't coming back.

"Peter?" Kelly's voice broke through his thoughts and he realized she'd been calling him for some time.

"What? Sorry."

"I hate it when you do that."

"Do what?"

"Wander off someplace where no one can reach you."

"What do you mean? I don't do that--at least not very often."

"Sure you do--you always have. You get lost in your head. Your body's here but your mind is somewhere else. Even more often since your father came back."

Peter opened his mouth to say something, then closed it again. Damn if she wasn't right. He just shook his head. "I'm tired," he said instead.

"Is that it?" she asked, pointing at the file.

"What? Yeah. It is. He's got a letter in here addressed to us--go ahead and read it." He handed her the letter. Meanwhile, he picked up the phone and dialed the hospital, relaying to them the funeral home they'd be using. Then he called the funeral home, annoyed when a soothing message told him that they opened at 8:00 a.m. The clock read 6:15. He hung up the phone with a sigh.

Kelly was perched on the corner of the desk, sniffing. "Leave it to Dad to have everything--so well in hand."

Peter smiled and stood up, pulling her into a hug. They held onto each other for quite awhile, not crying, not feeling much of anything except the comfort of another person. Finally, Peter pulled away slightly.

"You need to get some rest. I'm gonna go get my father--I'm thinking maybe he can help with Mom--help her find her bearings again. Besides--he'll want to know."

"Okay," she nodded.

"I'll be back as soon as I can. Get some rest." Together they walked out of the den, turning off the lights behind them. The sun was up--the day had begun.

He walked her to the stairs, then kissed her good night, and she went upstairs as he went out the door.

+++



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