Beth’s Dilemma – The Message (Part 2 of 2)
By: Leo N. Ado
Beth did not sleep last night, struggling with how to return the wallet and maintain her safety. Every decision breaks up a family. In a strange way, she is thankful the warehouse is working seasonal Saturdays and will be surrounded by people she knows.
The conclusion of her internal overnight debate comforts her self-preservation and justifies her not-so-final decision: no personal jail time, that little girl should not be exposed to crime, and Charlie lied on his application. Later this morning, the police will be called, and the wallet turned over to them. Why am I so uncomfortable with this decision?
Simultaneously, she is intrigued by a man that would rob for his child, stick to his convictions by keeping his secrets, have lunch with his daughter, and leave as soon as possible to pick her up after work. His orders are completed every day. He drives a refurbished pickup that car enthusiasts would classify as a work-of-art. Charlie is an enigma—loving father, honorable man, artist, and bank robber.
At 8:13 a.m., Teresa, the receptionist, answers a call from the Bowling Green Hospital.
“Hello, this is Melissa with Bowling Green Hospital. May I speak with Charles Mead?”
“Please hold while I page,” Teresa answered. Charlie is paged three times but does not respond. By company policy, call slips are forwarded to employee supervisors to ensure all customer service issues are handled if the employee is absent. Teresa passes a pink call slip to Doris that reads, “Charlie, please call Erin Aware at Bowling Green Hospital, (658) 555-5340, ext. 3370.” Beth should see this before she talks to the police.
On the fourth attempt, Beth hangs up again just as the call is connected. The police dispatcher records the caller’s ID in the logbook. Three minutes pass before she dials again.
On the fifth attempt, Beth waits for the police dispatcher to answer. “Bowling Green Police Department, how may I help you?”
She is about to speak when Doris gives her the cut-off gesture. Beth says to the dispatcher, “I will call you back.” She hangs up the phone.
Beth asks, “What’s up?”
“Read this,” Doris said. She waits for Beth to read the slip. “I will have Jack find out what he can. They won’t tell you or I anything. Have you seen Charlie? He is not answering the pages.”
* * * * *
Charlie is waiting at the Mall Security door at 8:15 a.m. Eight minutes later, the door opens.
“Are you the guy that called yesterday about the wallet?”
“Yes, has my wallet been turned in?” Charlie asks.
“Nothing has been added since your call yesterday.
* * * * *
8:44. Charlie arrives at work, clocks in, and walks to Doris’s office to explain his tardiness.
Doris is on the phone and gestures to the chair opposite her desk. Charlie fidgets while listening to Doris’s portion of the conversation.
. . . “Please ask them.” . . . “He’s an employee here.” . . . “I can’t say right now.” . . . “Yes.” . . . “Not sure, can they look to see who is paying?” . . . “I will call you back in about five minutes. Love you Jack.” She hangs up and turns her attention to Charlie.
“Here, this message came for you. Where have you been?” Doris inquired.
Charlie reaches for the pink call slip. He skims the call slip while answering her question, “I’ve been at the mall looking for . . .” Charlie does not finish the sentence. He bolts from the office, runs down the hall, out the employee entrance, and drives off.
Doris is surprised by the abrupt exit. From the office doorway, she shrugs at Beth.
Beth pauses a few seconds. She is a bundle of nervous energy. Her sixth sense is an overwhelming force, commanding her to follow. Something is not right with this scenario. She snatches her keys and purse, runs down the hall and out the employee door. She is not worrying about losing him—certain he is driving to the hospital.
Confusing and conflicting thoughts are tormenting Beth’s mind. She does not know Charlie—actually, no one does. He is a bank robber that endangered a child. Charlie does not seem like a bank robber. He seems more like the quiet, confident type. Why is the ICU calling?
Up ahead on the right, Charlie is attempting to thumb a ride. He is walking backwards quickly and about 300 feet from his pickup.
“The dark pickup used in the bank robbery with the “752” plates. My God, what am I doing? I am chasing a bank robber. What if he has a gun? This is really stupid,” Beth says out loud but no one hears.
She pulls over next to Charlie, unlocks the doors, and waves as Charlie bends over looking for the invitation to enter the car.
As he enters the car, he says, “I am in a hurry to get to the hospital ICU, my daughter needs me. I am so thankful you showed up.” There is a noticeable pause before he continues. “Why are you here? Shouldn’t you be at work?”
The conflict is overpowering, and she cannot contain it any longer. “Charlie, I know all about the bank robbery.”
“What bank robbery?” Charlie asks.
“First National Bank. Early September. The branch manager identified your truck. You are hiding out here. And why would you take your daughter to a bank robbery?”
“My daughter is in the ICU in a coma from a hit-and-run accident. She was struck while chasing a lunch sack into the street. The truck is a dark blue pickup similar to mine,” Charlie replied. Then added, “But his gas gauge probably works.”
“But the newspaper clipping is about the bank robbery!” Beth fired back.
“What clipping?” he asked.
“The one in your wallet.”
“You’ve seen my wallet?”
“Your wallet is in my purse. Go ahead and get it out. I’ve been through your wallet. Seems fair for you to look in my purse,” Beth said as she blushed.
“The paper made a mistake and crossed the photo of Erin being loaded in the ambulance with the bank photo of the robber. It worked for me—the photo of Erin is next to the description of the pickup that hit her,” he explained.
Beth is confused and asks, “Why did the hospital call? And who is Erin Aware?”
“Melissa, the ICU nurse, said if she had to leave a message it will include ‘Erin aware’ so I will know Erin is awake,” Charlie replied. “Other messages might violate the privacy laws.”
Beth’s mind is starting to piece together a new story about Charlie and Erin. It is incomplete, but it does not require Charlie to be the bank robber.
Beth continued, “Charlie, I know you are a private person, but will you tell me the rest of the story?”
“Sure . . . My wife, Hannah, died in August. Erin and I were on our way to Taos, New Mexico. It was her favorite vacation spot, and requested her ashes be released there. Hannah had an eye for photography. During our last vacation to Taos, she would take photographs of Erin and I in the morning, and then in the afternoon she would cruise the galleries and museums. Each night brings an enthusiastic reading from her photo journal. Erin and I are transported through time by the exciting stories. Each day Erin speculates what tale Mom will read to us that night. I tell Hannah and she creates the story around Erin’s imagination.
“The last photo Hannah took of Erin is in my wallet. The phone number on the back is the June Lund Gallery in Taos. She wants to print the photo to sell at her shop. Erin is a miniature version of Hannah—full of life, living in the moment, and happy.
“We stopped for lunch and gas. While I was in the restroom, the lunch bag fell out of the pickup and Erin chased it into the street. She was struck by the dark blue pickup. I saw the blue truck drive off. If I had been twenty seconds quicker… . The next day when the newspaper misplaced the two photographs I knew the getaway truck was the same pickup that struck Erin.
“I took this job to keep occupied while she was in a coma and make some rent and food money. It was actually my boss’s idea. He told me to stay here so I would be close to Erin. He’s holding my job for me. That’s about it.”
“Why do you have all that money in your wallet? Why do you buy two burgers on Fridays? Where did you go everyday for lunch?” Beth asked.
“Wow! Ever thought about being a detective? Anyway, the credit cards were in Hannah’s name, and we simply did not think to change the account. The bank canceled them when her obituary was printed. It’s a large procedure-driven bank chain. Dan, my banker, loaned me $3,500 so we could take this trip while he straightens out the problems.”
“The burgers were for lunch with Melissa as a way to thank her for watching Erin and a bribe so she would call the instant Erin wakes. I spent my lunch hour driving Bowling Green streets looking for dark vintage pickups with license plates starting with “752.”
They are quiet the remaining three minutes to the hospital. Beth is feeling guilty about the misunderstanding but satisfied knowing the whole story.
Charlie releases the seat belt and opens the door before Beth stops the car. The instant the car stops, he is running through the emergency room doors. He takes the elevator to the ICU on the third level. He waves to Melissa. She smiles as he enters Erin’s room. The bruise on her forehead healed two months ago. Erin is eating orange Jell-O and says, “Hi Daddy, I’ve been asleep.”
The original story was written to be two parts. At Readers’ requests an additional part has been added. It is titled Beth’s Dilemma – The Invitation. It is part 3 of 2. Click Here to link to Beth’s Dilemma – The Invitation.
Find out what happens to Beth when she receives a letter from Charlie’s father-in-law
Leo N. Ardo: – I am a thirty-five year veteran of small business, and author of the Jon Hersey – Industrial Spy series. I enjoy photography, fly fishing, biking, and embellishing our travel experiences in journals titled Exaggerated Tales of an Ordinary Man.
We call Utah and Wyoming home.
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Hoping life blesses you with good stories!