“Hand me that log over there,” Thomas said to his brother, Jamie. “No, not that one, that one over there.”
Thomas was the oldest of the three brothers; children of a small town doctor and his doting wife. They spent most of their lazy summer days playing in the small creek that ran behind their house. That day Thomas had suggested they build a dam.
“Robbie, we need more logs,” Thomas said. At eight years of age Robbie was the youngest and in many ways still the baby.
“I can’t find anymore.”
Thomas rolled his eyes. “So walk a little further down.”
“I did,” Robbie protested. “I walked way down that way,” he pointed to his left, “and way up that way,” he pointed to his right.
“Well then, try going that way,” Thomas pointed toward the wooded area on the other side of the creek.
“In the forest?” Robbie’s little voice sounded horrified. “Alone?”
“It’s not a forest, Robbie,” Jamie spoke up. “It’s just some trees and you’ll be okay, just don’t go very far.”
“You come with me,” Robbie said.
“No, I need him to help me,” Thomas said. “You can go by yourself… Or are you chicken?”
“So go then.”
“God, Robbie, you are such a baby.”
“Just go get some wood. You want to help us build this dam or not?”
“You’re not the boss of me.”
Thomas gave an evil grin. “You’re chicken.”
“No,” said Robbie.
“Thomas,” Jamie tried to dissuade his older brother, but Thomas ignored him.
“Only sissies turn down a dare. Are you a sissy?”
“…No,” Robbie’s lower lip quivered.
“So go get some more wood.”
“Would you guys stop it?” Jamie tried to play referee in his brother’s fights. “Robbie, just go get us a few more logs, then I’ll go the next trip, okay?”
“Fine.” Robbie turned and trudged off into the trees.
“He’s only eight Thomas, cut him some slack.”
“And not just a bunch of twigs either,” Thomas shouted after Robbie, ignoring Jamie’s comment. “And watch out for the bears.”
“Thomas, shut up,” Jamie hissed. “Why are you such a bully to him?”
“I’m not a bully. Do you want to see him getting his butt kicked everyday at school?”
“Well, then he needs to learn not to be a baby.”
The two boys went back to the work of shoring up the dam, getting lost in the task as kids can do when working on a really great project on a lazy summer day. It was hot that day with very little breeze and the cool water felt good lapping at their ankles.
Jamie wasn’t sure how much time had passed when he realized Robbie had yet to return. “Thomas, what time is it?”
“I don’t know, probably around four. Why?”
“How long has Robbie been gone?”
Thomas stopped and looked over at his brother. “The little shit probably just walked a few yards out there and hid. He’s probably sitting out there by a tree waiting for one of us to come find him.”
Jamie shook his head; some times he really didn’t understand Thomas’s problem with Robbie. “I’ll go find him.”
“He’ll come back when he figures out his little trick isn’t working. Just wait. Don’t give into him, Jamie.”
“Whatever,” Jamie said. He tossed down the twig he had in his hand and headed in the direction Robbie had gone.
Thomas walked out of the courtroom having lost his first case in years. The senior lawyers in the firm would be less than thrilled, and just when he was finally up for a partnership. It had been a difficult case, they all knew that, but he had been their golden boy, although at thirty-three he has hardly a boy. Still, he would be the youngest lawyer to make partner in the firm, if he did, in fact, make partner; which seemed less likely now than it did yesterday.
He made the short walk from the courthouse to the firm's offices, which like so many of Boston's law firms, were located only a few blocks away. It was a breezy spring day, full of promise, but to Thomas it was full of regret.
"Any messages, Alice?" he asked his secretary as he walked by her desk on his way to his own office.
"They’re on your desk. Oh, and that P.I. called back, said it was important," she answered as her boss blew by. She knew better than to ask about the case, his body language said all she needed to know.
"Thanks," he mumbled.
In his office he began going through the little pink slips on his desk, dividing them into three piles, those that could wait, those that couldn't and those that went into the trash.
His office was sleek and uncluttered; organized, everything in its place, much like his life; or so he liked to think. There were the usual books, binders, and files, but all very orderly; put away; in their place. The art on the wall, what little there was of it, was abstract, vague, non-confrontational. On his desk were two picture frames. In one frame was a picture of his wife, Lisa, taken shortly after they had wed; the other held the most recent picture of their two kids; Thomas Jr., or TJ as he was called, age seven, and Ella, his sweet baby girl, who had just turned four.
Thomas Chase had always been the best, the brightest. He was the oldest of three sons, the apple of his mother's eye, the big brother for his siblings to look up to. He was the first born and was to follow in his father's footsteps, except the sight of blood made him nauseous, so being a doctor like dear old dad was out of the question. Still, the law was a noble career, one his father could be proud of.
Fred Chase was a well-respected general practitioner, or family doctor, as he was listed in the Yellow Pages of the Gary, Indiana, phone book where they lived. Thomas found that moniker ironic, as Fred seemed to only be interested in his family in so much as how they reflected on him. His children were something for him to parade around, but other than that they were a bother. As the boys grew older it seemed they were more of an embarrassment than anything. "What will my patients think?" was always his retort whenever the boys were caught misbehaving in public.
Thomas, being the oldest, seemed to get more than his share of their father's wrath. Not that he was abusive, just overly stern and distant.
On the rare weekends that Fred did decide on a family outing, it some how never seemed to turn out. Thomas always came away feeling as if something were missing. It was all superficial, like a Norman Rockwell painting, and each family member played their part, going through the motions, but there was nothing underneath.
He tried to shield his younger brothers, to prepare them for what the world would throw at them. Jamie was two years younger than him, Robbie another three. With Jamie it had always been easy, he was athletic and adventurous; but Robbie was a different story. Try as Thomas might to toughen up Robbie, he always seemed rather... well, weak. While Jamie and Thomas had been close growing up, he and Robbie never seemed to mesh. Now they were completely estranged. He hadn't spoken to his youngest brother in years.
By the time Thomas was in high school he had found an outlet in sports. He was a decent basketball player and his father did seem proud of his athletic abilities, but it was in academia that he was able to gain his father's approval. In Thomas, Fred had seen promise, and he strongly encouraged Thomas to live up to his abilities, never settle for less than his best. Although at times even his best didn't seem to be enough.
He had met Lisa while attending college in Chicago. They had English Comp together and had found that they shared a love for old movies. He fell in love with her while watching Casablanca in her dorm room, and proposed a week before graduation, promising her if she would stick with him through law school he would take care of her for the rest of her life. She had worked at various jobs while he was earning his law degree and finally convinced him to let her get pregnant during his final year of school.
He had graduated from Harvard Law in the top third of his class and was scouted by several prestigious law firms. Susan, his mother, had hoped he would take a job close to their home in Gary, but Thomas knew the minute he saw the city of Boston, it would be his home.
Lisa had loved the city too. At first, she had pursued her dream of writing a children's book, but with little success. Then when TJ was born a few months after Thomas had started his new job, she found that being a mother was all she wanted.
For most of their eleven years of marriage, Thomas had thought they were happy, the perfect family. That ended around six months ago, when he found a birthday card tucked away in the back of the desk Lisa had used when she had been writing. It was a simple card, nothing romantic, but it was signed 'Love, Mark'. Thomas didn't know anyone named Mark. He supposed it could be a relative, but he knew of none by that name. He had no idea how old the card was; it wasn't in an envelope so he couldn't tell anything by a postmark, but he thought possibly it was from her past, maybe an old boyfriend, something she had held onto for some sentimental reason. Still the idea haunted him, could there be some one else?
He had come close to confronting her a few times, but something always stopped him. Maybe it was fear of what it would do to their marriage if he were wrong, or maybe it was fear of what it would do to him if he were right.
Sitting in his office, Thomas picked up the phone and punched in the number for the private investigator. After months of wondering he finally needed some answers. They agreed to meet at Thomas's office that afternoon.
As the time for the meeting closed in Thomas grew antsy, wondering if he really wanted to know. Wondering what he would do if it was true, if she were having an affair. Would he leave? Would she want him to?
Alice buzzed Thomas's intercom, letting him know his appointment had arrived.
"Show him in please, Alice."
David Carlson walked in and shook Thomas's hand. The two men had worked together off and on for years as the firm often employed his services, but this time it was personal.
"I wish I had better news," David said as he took a seat across from Thomas's big oak desk. He handed Thomas a manila envelope. "His name is Mark Oswald, he works as a loan officer at UMB."
“UMB? The bank?” We don't even bank there – he thought. “How did they meet?" Thomas held the envelope in his hands, unopened.
"I don't know. I don't know when they met, or how they met. All I can tell you is that these pictures were taken over the last week. She and Mr. Oswald were photographed together three times over that period. Do you want me to investigate more?"
"No," Thomas sighed, "I guess the rest doesn't really matter. Thanks, David." Thomas stood and shook his hand again.
"Sorry I didn't have better news."
"Well, at least now I know," Thomas said.
David nodded and left the office. Thomas slumped back down in his chair and stared at the envelope still unopened in his hands. How could this day get any worse?
The buzz of the intercom brought him out of his thoughts.
"Your mother is on line one," Alice's voice said.
"Thanks," Thomas picked up the receiver. "Mom, to what do I owe this pleasure?"
"It's your father..." She paused, struggling to find the words. "It seems he's had a stroke. They just brought him to the emergency room by ambulance. He collapsed in the living room, right in front of me. Please come, Thomas, I’m not sure he will survive this."