The following is a scene that didn't make it into Fallen Angel, telling what happened to make Bennie run away, and father and son's final moments together.
Benjamin "Doc" Cook arrived home late, nothing unusual with his schedule, tiptoeing down the hall to avoid waking Ben Jr. An eerie blue light shown from beneath his son's bedroom door, and he rapped lightly. It was far too late for Bennie to be up on a school night.
Receiving no answer, he eased the door open, peering inside. A lava lamp cast a bluish glow over mounds of clothes and haphazardly discarded shoes and books. What a mess! Doc stepped into the room, wanting only to see his son for a moment, even if the boy was asleep. For the millionth time he vowed to adjust his schedule, make more room for quality time. A promise he'd never been able to keep.
He stood beside the bed, suddenly realizing that the figure huddled beneath the blankets was too still, no steady rise and fall from breathing. He jerked the covers back, his heart falling to his feet. Instead of a red haired teen, plumped pillows lay beneath the sheets. Then he noticed the curtains fluttering in a breeze.
Gone. Bennie was gone. Apparently utilizing the fire escape. ‘Don't panic' he told himself. ‘Teens slip out all the time. You did it yourself when you were his age'. Worry gnawed his insides, though. Times had changed since Doc had been a kid, and rural Idaho offered fewer temptations than a big city. He plunked down on the bed, jumping up again when he felt something jab his butt.
He slid his hands under the covers, hand closing around an object that he didn't need to see to identify. The pipe wasn't very large, not even the length of his hand, but that tiny piece of blown glass told a tale Doc didn't want to hear. His last hope of "maybe he just has it but doesn't use it" flew out the window. Brown stains spoke otherwise. The minutes ticked by, Doc's denial lessoning with each one.
Anger ate through him like bitter acid. With a forced calm, he methodically ripped his son's room apart, gathering all contraband on the bed: the pipe, a lighter, a prescription bottle containing two pills, the label bearing a name Doc didn't know. The closet gave up a half-filled bottle of gin, from Doc's own bar, judging by the brand. The dresser yielded two condoms. Bennie was sexually active? Did he have a girlfriend? At least it appeared he was being safe, or so Doc hoped.
And then he found the notebook. In stunned shock he read rambling journal entries. "I smoked my first joint today", and "going to Jimmy's to par-tay" were bad enough, but the ones that hurt the most were, "Jimmy's dad gave him shit today about getting a job. He thinks I'm lucky 'cause my dad isn't home long enough to even know I'm alive."
Doc didn't know of any Jimmy, Bennie had never spoken of him. Or had he? Doc wracked him brain, trying to recall his son's friends. There was Trey, the son of a fellow doctor. But wait. When had Doc last seen the boys together? It struck him as a blow to the face that he didn't even know who his son currently hung out with.
He read more, adventures that Bennie had with the mysterious Jimmy, until stumbling upon words that made his blood run cold. "I am so fucked up. Jimmy has the best shit. I didn't make it to school today. When that bitch in the front office called, Jimmy pretended to be Dad, told 'em I was sick." Then and there Doc decided to lay down the law. Bennie was no longer allowed to associate with Jimmy, whoever he was. And he'd been in the apartment! Bennie knew better than to bring friends home when Doc wasn't there. 'Are you ever here, though?' a niggling voice asked.
Then Doc turned a page and something fell out. His heart nearly stopped. A series of tiny photos, the kind a booth at the mall spit out, showed Bennie and another teen. In the first shot they were laughing, holding fingers up behind each other's heads. In the second they made faces. In the third they faced each other, tongues stuck out. In the fourth… Dear Lord. In the fourth they were kissing.
Doc stared at the blond youth who'd corrupted his little boy, rage building. Bennie, so clean cut and soft spoken, had no business hanging around someone with gauges in his ears and tattoos. Tattoos! He stared at the photo more closely, recalling what Bennie had said about Jimmy and getting a job. His blood pressure rose. Jimmy appeared far older than Doc first realized, in his mid-twenties at least. And Bennie had just turned seventeen.
He paced, kicking dirty jeans out of his way to vent his frustration. Why? How? Once the initial fury passed, he tried to think rationally. He'd talk to Bennie, that's what he'd do. Convince him that Jimmy was just a phase. There were several good counselors Doc knew; he would make Bennie an appointment first thing in the morning, get him help. If that didn't work, he'd had friends who'd sent troubled teens to private academies, staffed by psychologists who specialized in turning lives around. 'My kid is not gay, my kid is not on drugs, my kid in not skipping school', he chanted, trying to convince himself.
At five AM Doc heard the scrape of the fire escape and braced for battle. He nearly didn't recognize the skinny kid who crawled in through the window and collapsed face first on the bed without even noticing Doc standing by the door.
"We need to talk," Doc said.
"What the hell?" Bennie rolled over, staring with unfocused eyes. "What the fuck are you doing in here?" he shouted.
'What's he angry about?' Doc wondered, 'I'm the one who just found out my son leads a double life.' "It's my home," Doc replied, voice calmer than he felt. "I have a right to be here."
"Not in my room, you don't." Bennie's eyes went wide, spying the pipe, pictures, and the other evidence of what he'd been up to. His chest puffed and his face purpled. "You had no freaking right to go through my stuff!"
"I have every right. I'm your father."
"Can't prove it by me."
They stared each other down, fury pulsing off them both. "You will not see this Jimmy again. Do I make myself clear? I forbid it. Is he the one that's got you doing this shit?" He waved a hand to indicate the pipe and pills.
"You forbid it? You forbid it!" Bennie mocked, pitching his voice high. "You gave up the right to tell me what to do a long time ago."
An image flashed through Doc's mind of sweet little Bennie, climbing up into this lap, saying, "I love you, Daddy." What had happened to that lovable child? The youth snarling at Doc from the bed bore little resemblance.
"Why are you even hanging around him? You're not gay," Doc said, needing affirmation on that score.
Bennie threw back his head, laughing. "Excuse me. I have a picture of my tongue down a guy's throat." He shook the photos at Doc. "Not to mention that he fucks me until I can't stand up."
Doc didn't know what came over him. Never in his life had he touched his son in anger. But he drew back and slapped his precious little boy across the face. He froze. 'What have I done!'
"Bennie, I'm sorry," he started to say.
"Get out of my fucking room!" Bennie rose to his knees on the mattress, screaming. "Get out, get out, get out!" He flung the lighter, the pipe, the notebook, the pills, rising from the bed to chase Doc from the room.
Doc retreated, his parting shot, "We'll talk about this in the morning."
Bennie, face twisted into a grotesque mask of rage, hurled insults that didn't stop when Doc left and slammed the door. The anguished father leaned against the wall, breathing hard. When had his son become the horrifying being he'd just met? Too tired to dwell on it, he plodded to his room, gathering his defenses. "Tomorrow" he told himself. "Tomorrow I'll deal with him. He will do what I say. He can't be gay. It's just the drugs talking. I'll show him. He won't do this to me! I will not let him do this to me! What will people think?"
The next morning he made several early morning calls: work, to tell them he wouldn’t be in, the school, informing them Bennie wouldn't be there, not very surprised to find out this would be the second week of Bennie's absence. Then he called an intervention center that he'd often recommended to patients, making arrangements for his son's immediate check in. If anyone asked, he'd say Bennie had gone away to boarding school. Yes, that's what he'd say. Minimize the damage to his reputation.
However, when he returned to Bennie's room, the curtains blew in the wind. The pipe, notebook, and pills were gone. So was Bennie.
"He'll be back," Doc repeated every day for the next week, purposefully leaving the window open. "He'll say he's sorry and beg me to forgive him,"
Reluctantly he filed a missing person's report, bringing his dirty family laundry into the open. Two weeks later worry gnawed at him night and day. Faced with no other choice, he asked for a leave of absence, thinking it ironic that one day off to spend with his son at the right time might have prevented him from needing to take two weeks.
He placed ads, posted fliers, offered rewards, to no avail. No one had seen Bennie. Next he attempted to find the "Jimmy" from Bennie's pictures. Still, nothing came of it.
Then one day he received a call from a friend at the police department. "They picked up a James Anderson who looks like the guy in the picture you showed me."
"Oh thank heavens!" Doc exclaimed, fully believing he'd have his son back in short order, until it sank in that Jimmy might be a violent criminal. "What are the charges?" he asked, holding his breath for the answer.
Doc’s hopes crumbled and burned. Jimmy claimed, "The asshole left me," and wouldn't answer any more questions without an attorney. Doc hired a private investigator who turned up nothing. Bennie was well and truly gone.
A year went by, then two, then three. Doc buried himself in his work, frustrated that all his efforts to find his son led down dead ends. "If I could only see him, talk to him, I'd make him see the light," had changed over time to, "please, Lord, just let him come home. We'll work it out."
At the end of a double shift, bleary eyed, he thought it merely fatigue that caused chills to race up his spine when a pair of paramedics wheeled in a gurney. "Poor bastard," one said in passing. Doc glanced down, seeing past the blood, the bloating, and the years, to the man lying underneath. Blue eyes, copper hair matted by blood. A scar marred one cheek, and like it'd been yesterday, Doc remembered treating that wound, acquired during a fall from a bicycle.
"Oh my God!" he exclaimed, chasing the gurney down the hall, heedless of how many hours he'd worked or that his shift had ended. “That’s my son!”
In all his years as a doctor, he'd never before devoted so much effort to his task, willing his shaking hands steady. On the verge of a breakdown, doing more harm than good, Doc fought in the orderlies’ hands when another doctor enforced the order to “Get out of the way.” Through a prism of tears he watched, feeling more helpless with each sorrowful headshake of Bennie's caregiver. "Internal bleeding, prep him for O.R.," he heard, staring in horrified fascination at the needle marks in a too-skinny arm.
Doc stood by the gurney, taking his son in his arms. And then it happened. At only twenty years old, Bennie suffered cardiac arrest, a vicious beating and years of hard living taking their toll.
"No, no, no, no, no!" Doc screamed, exhausting his last reserves of energy in chest compressions, until pulled bodily aside to be replaced by a defibrillator.
Bennie's body absorbed the shock; Doc winced when the current caused his son to jerk.
The staff worked for a small eternity. Finally, the doctor turned to Doc and said, "I'm sorry."
Look for Fallen Angel, Wednesday, May 9, from Torquere Press.