Substitute Dad

© 2006 - 2010 By Scribe1971 (scribe1971@hotmail.com)

Chapter 15

Heroes of the Day

If I thought time was moving slowly when the whole incident started, it slowed exponentially when the gunfire started. As with most gunfights, it was over in the blink of an eye and the person who got the first shot off won.

The elapsed time between the moment that I pulled the trigger for the first time and the moment at which the whole thing was over was less than 3 seconds, but seemed to be more like 3 minutes.

I barely heard the report of the pistol as it bucked in my hand, although the sound must have been deafening in the confines of the shopping mall corridor. I was pretty certain that I heard the sickening thud of my first round impacting and parting flesh. Less than half a second after I fired for the first time, the bank robber managed to discharge his one and only round. I saw the muzzle flash and I heard the strangely subdued sound of the shot. I felt a tug on the right sleeve of my coat and I felt a searing, burning pain crease the outside of my right bicep as I heard the robber's errant bullet scream off a metal railing somewhere behind me.

The experience of firing my second and third shots was much the same as with the first. I barely heard the reports but I was acutely aware of the weapon bucking firmly in my hand. I heard the clatter of the bank robber's gun hitting the tiled floor as he was driven lifelessly backwards into the bank's customer service counter. My aim had been true. My first shot had caught him dead center in the chest. The recoil of the pistol combined with the fact that the target was in the midst of falling to the ground caused my second round to hit him in the upper left chest and the third and final round hit him in the forehead just above the left eye-hole of his ski mask.

I set the gun down and stood up on rubbery legs. I was in shock and struggling to come to terms with what had just happened. My ears were ringing and I could barely hear anything. I turned to look at the boys. Josh was wild-eyed as he grabbed me by the arm and pulled me to a bench in the hallway. Mark was as pale as a ghost as he suddenly bent over and vomited on the floor. The bank manager and a couple of tellers were running to my side. The manager had a first aid kit in his hands and a concerned look on his face.

"DAD!" Josh yelled as he gripped my chin and turned my face towards his. I was pretty much out of it and was only barely aware of what was going on around me. "DAD!" he shouted again and lightly slapped my cheek.

I snapped out of it at that moment. "Josh! Are you guys all right?" I asked as soon as I regained my voice. I was once again beginning to hear what was going on around me even though my ears continued to ring. The smell of cordite hung thick in the air.

"I'm fine. Mark's fine. Look at your arm!" Josh shouted

At that moment, I recalled the burning pain in my right arm and I quickly regained my senses. I looked at my sleeve and saw the small round hole punched cleanly though the fabric. With some degree of panic, I pulled the coat off and looked at my arm expecting the worst. Josh reached over and rolled up my torn shirt sleeve and we inspected the damage as the bank manager prepared a gauze bandage. I had been damned lucky.

About 4 inches above my right elbow, I had a long narrow abrasion. The one shot that the bank robber had managed to fire had just grazed my arm. It looked worse than it really was and it stung like hell. It was going to leave a 4" long by 1/4" wide scar that I would have for the rest of my life, but I wasn't seriously wounded.

The bank manager applied some ointment to my arm and pressed the gauze pad to it as Josh and Mark wrapped themselves around me in a tight 3 way hug. As the ringing in my ears began to abate, I could hear the distinct wail of police and ambulance sirens approaching in the distance.

Within seconds, the place was swarmed with uniformed and plain clothes police officers. A couple of paramedics looked at my arm, re-bandaged it and gave me a tetanus shot. Josh, Mark and I were then led into an office in the bank by a young plain clothes police detective. He tried to separate the three of us, but Josh flat out refused. He was about to get into a serious argument with the detective when a large, gray haired uniformed cop poked his head into the office.

"Constable Higgins!" Josh exclaimed.

The large cop looked surprised for a second and then he recognized Josh. "Josh, I remember you. What's happening here?" The big cop looked weathered and prematurely aged as if he had seen too much and it had worn him down. He looked rough but he also looked kind.

"This guy wants to put us in different rooms," Josh said bitterly indicating the young detective. "I'm not leaving my dad," He continued firmly.

Constable Higgins who had already been filled in on what had taken place motioned the detective out of the room and exchanged words with him. About 15 minutes later he returned to the office alone. "Its ok guys, I straightened things out. You can all stay together. None of you are suspects in any crime. I just saw the security camera footage of what happened. That was a brave but foolish thing you guys did."

"What about the robbers?" I asked.

The big cop looked at me for a moment and I saw a flash of recognition. "Do I know you from somewhere?" He asked with a slight frown on his face. "I recognize you from your medical emergency back in December, but I get the feeling that we've met before. What's your name?"

"Tom Davis," I replied.

The big cop's eyes grew big and for a moment a look which almost resembled pain flashed across his face. "Davis....did you know a Richard Davis?"

"I know two. One is my five year old nephew and the other was my father," I replied.

"Damn! That explains it. You look so much like he did. I used to work with him. I was with him the night that he died. Listen son, your dad was a hero and it looks like you're following in his footsteps. I'm going to pass the word around here about who you are and if anyone gives you any trouble, you let me know," Constable Higgins said as he stood up and shook my hand. "This was a clean shoot, son," he said as he gripped my arm. "You had no choice. I'm going to pull some strings and see if we can get a police association shoot team here to debrief you boys."

"Thanks," I said sincerely. I was glad to have an ally. "I really appreciate it."

"Oh hell, your old man saved my ass more than once. This is the least that I can do."

"What about the robbers?" I asked again. I was in shock learning that not only did Josh and this cop know each other, but that he had also worked with my dad.

"Well, the one you guys tuned up and took the gun from will be fine. The ambulance guys say he'll probably need reconstructive surgery on his face from that punch Josh gave him. He's singing like a bird to try to avoid an attempted murder charge," Constable Higgins said.

"How about the one that I shot?" I asked.

Constable Higgins looked at his feet for a moment and I had the answer. The truth was that I already knew. I saw 2 chest shots and a head shot. I had aimed to kill and killed I had. "He's dead son. He was probably dead before he hit the floor. I'd bet that any one of those three shots would have been fatal, certainly the head shot was."

I suddenly felt sick to my stomach. I was a killer. I had killed a person. I had taken a human life. I knew it was justified and that I had no choice but it still bothered me. I lunged for the trash can and expelled my lunch.

"DAD!" Josh hollered as he ran to my side, knelt down beside me and wrapped his arm around my shoulders.

"Easy son," Constable Higgins said. "You did what you had to do. There is a lot more to this story than we know. The guy that we have in custody is the estranged husband of the teller being held hostage. The dead guy has a criminal record a mile long as is currently out on bail on charges of assault and public drunkenness. It looks like the robbery may have been just a cover, we think the real plan was to kidnap and murder that woman. You boys saved that woman's life and you saved your own. Those scumbags wouldn't have hesitated for a second to kill all of you for getting in the way."

I knew that what he was saying made sense but my head was spinning and I was wracked with guilt. I wondered if I could still look at myself in the mirror in the morning knowing that I would live every moment of the rest of my life with the knowledge that I had killed a man. "Sir," I started to say.

"Knock of this sir shit, Tom. Darren...call me Darren. I promised your dad that I'd look after you and I'm keeping that promise." He reached into his pocket and he produced a business card. "If you ever need anything. Anything at all, give me a call," He said warmly and with complete sincerity.

Josh helped me back to the small sofa and sat down with me. He wrapped his arms around me and held me tightly. He rubbed my back and cuddled against me. After a moment, Mark came over and joined us as Darren Higgins left the room.

In a few minutes, I regained my composure. "You guys did well," I said to Josh and Mark who were now seated on either side of me. I put an arm around each of their shoulders.

"We did what you taught us," Josh said matter-of-factly. "I nailed that guy really good. I saw him point the gun at you and I thought he was going to shoot you."

"I think he was, Josh."

"None of us saw that other guy," Mark said.

"It was a good thing Josh saw him otherwise I might not be here right now," I said as I pulled both boys into a warm embrace. It was the second time that my son had saved my life. I thanked God for him as we locked ourselves into a tight embrace on the sofa.

As we waited for the police to come and take our statements, we took a moment to use our new cell phones to call people who needed to be called. I called Susan and told her what had happened. She was in complete shock but relieved that we were all ok. Josh talked to her for a few minutes as I called my mother and brothers.

My mom sounded as if she were having an unpleasant flashback as I told her what happened. When I mentioned Constable Darren Higgins she brightened up a bit. She remembered him from his days working with my father. "Darren's a good man," she said. "You boys are in good hands. I really wish you hadn't gotten yourselves involved in this but at least it worked out well. You're too much like your dad, Tommy." I could detect both sorrow and pride in my mother's voice as she spoke.

Before we hung up, she spoke briefly to Josh and then hung up after promising that she would be on her way here.

"My mom's coming too," Josh said. He had most of his colour back now and he looked a lot less tense than he had before. I knew that all three of us would probably experience a degree of post-traumatic stress over the coming days but so far it hadn't kicked in. I hoped that the police association shoot team would help us with that.

My next call was to Andy. As soon as I told him what had happened, he went into lawyer mode. He gave me a bunch of legal advice such as not answering any questions, etc and promised to be here as soon as he could. I finally calmed him down and made him understand that we were not being accused of any wrongdoing and that Darren was looking after us.

Andy remembered Darren quite well. When he was in 9th grade, he had spent the "take your kid to work day" riding around in a police car with my dad and Darren. He had a ball and got to know my dad's partner quite well. He agreed with my mother that we were in good hands. "Just don't say anything to anyone without him present," Andy cautioned.

My final call was to James. I got him at his office downtown.

"Tommy, what's up little bro?" James asked as he answered the phone. I chuckled to myself. I knew that even when I was in my 40s, James would still call me 'little bro'. I didn't mind.

"I'm not doing so well right about now," I said. "I just interrupted a bank robbery and ended up shooting one of the suspects dead."

There was silence on the other end of the line for a moment. "You're serous, aren't you?" James asked. "This isn't a joke, is it?"

"No, I'm being completely serous," I replied.

"Damn kid, are you all right?" James asked seriously. "Trouble just seems to find you. You're just like dad. Just don't end up like him. I have two little boys at home who would be heartbroken if anything happened to you and so would Anne and I."

He was right. I loved the twins and they adored me. I didn't try to find trouble, but it often found me. It was a good thing that I was very adept and handling trouble whenever it came my way. I filled James in on all the details and he said that he was leaving the office and would be on his way.

After almost an hour, the door to the small office opened and three people entered. Darren led the way followed by the same detective who had shown us into the office and finally the bank manager. Darren carried a VHS tape which he slipped into the combination TV/VCR sitting on the corner of the bank manager's desk.

"Here's the security tape," Darren said as he pushed play and started the tape.

As much as I wanted to look away, I couldn't. The tape started with the early moments of the robbery. It showed the two men entering the bank and vaulting the counter. They filled a couple of bags with cash and grabbed the teller. A man tried to stop them and one of the robbers - the one that I shot - fired a warning shot into the air which stopped him. From then on, I knew the story. I clearly saw myself kick the first robber in the head. We watched as Josh punched him in the nose while I grabbed his gun and Mark pulled the teller to safety. I felt sick to my stomach again as I watched the shooting sequence once again. I must have looked like I was going to throw up because Darren handed me the waste basket and put his hand on my shoulder. It was like watching an action movie, but it was real.

"Ok, here's the situation," the detective said as the tape ended. "First of all, my name is detective Moore. I want to tell you right off the bat that none of you are being accused of any crime or any wrong-doing in this case. I have reviewed the security footage and spoken to witnesses and it is obvious that you not only acted in self-defense, but you also saved the life of that young woman who was being taken away by the robbers."

"As I told you earlier, the surviving suspect is the estranged husband of the teller being held hostage" Darren said. "We have recovered evidence from the getaway vehicle which proves that the plan was to kidnap and murder that young woman. Had you three not stopped it, she would be in a shallow grave somewhere right now."

The three men let that sink in before they continued. "I need to get witness statements from all three of you and you might be called as witnesses when the surviving robber goes to trial," Detective Moore said.

We proceeded to give our statements to Detective Moore. It only took us about 30 minutes and by the time we were done, there was a crowd waiting for us. My mother, Susan, Andy and James were outside.

As we left the office, we were all subjected to hugs from my mother, Susan James and Andy. James was introduced to Josh for the first time and despite the circumstances of the meeting, Josh turned on his charm and he and my eldest brother hit it right off.

Just before we left the scene, Darren approached. He and my mother embraced and talked between themselves for a few minutes. He finally walked over to me and handed me another card. "Tommy, this is the name and number of a police association head-shrinker. He works with our shoot teams and he debriefs officers involved in shooting incidents. He can't come out here because this wasn't a police shooting, but he is willing to see you and the other boys free of charge to discuss this. You might want to give him a call. Believe me; it will help you deal with this."

I smiled and thanked him. "Thanks Darren, I really do appreciate everything," I said.

"You're welcome. Trust me; you will want to talk to the doctor about this. If you don't it will simply fester in the back of your mind and eat you up. Taking a life is never an easy thing even if it was justified. In the meantime call me anytime day or night if you need anything. I wrote my personal cell phone number of that card."

We shook hands and parted company. Darren took a moment to greet and talk to Andy and James before he left the mall. The coroner was picking up the body of the man that I had shot and detectives and bank officials were crawling all over the place. We were finally free to go. We had to run the media gauntlet on the way out of the bank.

Reporters shouted questions and shot dozens of photos. We paused briefly to talk to the media before continuing out to the parking lot. Andy and James did a great job of running interference and keeping the media in line. I was grateful to them for that. We got to the parking lot and my brothers, my mother and Susan got their first look at my new wheels. They were all suitably impressed. Josh was clinging to my side and not surprisingly so was Mark.

I was still in shock and in no condition to drive so Andy, who had driven over with my mother volunteered to drive my new truck while Susan, my mother and James all followed behind as we drove home. Josh hopped into the back seat and pulled me in after him. Mark joined Andy in the front. I had never been so glad to see the house and my apartment as I was that afternoon.

The bunch of us sat around in the living room and talked about what had happened. The more that I talked about it, the better I felt about it, but I still couldn't shake the feeling that I was somehow "unclean". I felt mentally branded. No matter how many times I rationalized the shooting and no matter how many ways I told myself that it was me or him or even worse, it was Josh or him, it still bothered me.

About an hour after we arrived home, Andy pulled me aside and handed me a manila envelope. "Tom, here are those papers that you asked for. Get Mark's bastard of a father to sign those and he'll be officially in his brother's custody. Just be careful about how you go about getting him to sign them. If he changes his mind later and can prove coercion or worse, it will come back to haunt you," he cautioned.

"Don't worry, bro, I know what I'm doing," I said with a wan smile on my face. The truth was that I felt a lot more fatalistic than usual after the events of the earlier part of the day.

After a few hours everyone began to drift away. James had called Anne and filled her in on what had happened. Like the mother she was, she took it upon herself to admonish Josh, Mark and I for our foolish bravery and expressed her relief in the way it had ended. I loved Anne like I would a sister. She was my sister-in-law and she was, in every sense of the word, the sister I never had. Shortly after that conversation, James announced that he had to leave. My mother and Andy made the same announcement and after a round of hugs, Josh, Mark, Susan and I were left alone.

It was late in the day so we decided to order some pizza. We tried to get in touch with Mark's father but he was either out or passed our drunk so we left a message on his answering machine and decided to keep Mark for the night. It was just as well because the three of us needed to be together that night after the trauma that we had all suffered earlier in the day. All three of us would need to lean on each other for a while.

The pizza came and for a change, Susan was the big eater. I mostly picked at a couple of slices and Josh, feeling my pain, did the same. Mark ate his share but not nearly as much as he normally would. After dinner, Susan hugged all three of us and headed out to see Bob. I thought it was a little strange that she would keep her plans with Bob given what had happened but it was her choice. I think Josh was a little put off by it too, but he accepted it. It was me he needed that night anyway.

The boys and I retreated down to my apartment and snuggled up together on the sofa. We flipped through the TV channels before settling on some old Seinfeld re-runs. Normally that show would have me roaring with laughter but I couldn't laugh that night. I was worried that I might never laugh again. Mark and Josh laughed at the onscreen antics but I could see that Josh was worried about me. I don't think the events of the day bothered them nearly as much as it bothered me. Neither of them had been directly involved in the shooting. I could see that Josh was bothered by the impact that the events of the day had on me. I noticed that he kept looking at me out of the corner of his eye with a look of concern on his handsome face.

"Dad, you need to snap out of this," He finally said in a serous tone. "What happened today happened for a reason. Remember, you told me that everything happens for a reason. You did the right thing. We all did," He said warmly as he grasped my hand and squeezed it firmly.

"I know Joshy, but I can't stop thinking about it. I swear that I heard the sound of that shot cracking that guy's head open," I said with a shudder.

"That sound would have been from one of our heads had you not done what you did," Josh said flatly.

"I know Josh. I just can't help but feel dirty. I can't help feeling that I'm a killer," I said sadly.

"Dad, you're not a killer. You're a good man who did a good thing. We saved that woman's life today. I love you and I will always love you. Your mom and your brothers love you. Your sister-in-law loves you. Your nephews love you. That's all that matters."

"I love you too kiddo, today was the second time that you've saved my life," I said as I leaned my head over and cuddled with Josh.

"You probably saved ours too," Mark added as he grabbed my other hand.

I gave Mark a squeeze. "You guys mean the world to me,"

I tried hard to cheer up and I made an effort to respond in my normal way to the televised mayhem provided by "Seinfeld" and later the "Simpsons". To the casual observer, I was pretty much my normal self. I might have even fooled Mark but I couldn't fool Josh. The look of concern never left his sweet face.

Finally, we decided to pack it in for the night. It was still early but we were all coming down from the effects of a major adrenaline rush and we were all dead on our feet. I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth and take a quick shower while Josh and Mark remained in front of the TV. The evening news was about to start and I didn't want to see it. I knew we'd be the lead story.

When I got out of the shower, Josh and Mark filled me in on the details.

"We were on TV," Josh said excitedly. "They showed parts of that security tape. They're calling us heroes. They even talked about your dad and how he died. I didn't know he was shot saving a little girl from a robbery suspect."

"That's right. It was actually quite similar to what happened to us today. Unfortunately for him, nobody was there to see the other guy like you did today."

"I wonder if Bryan will see this?" Mark asked and suddenly we realized that we hadn't called Bryan. It would only be 9:00 in Calgary so Mark went ahead and made the call.

Josh and I listed to Mark's side of the conversation as he spoke to his brother and told him what had happened. We clearly heard his surprised reaction from across the room. We each took a turn speaking to Bryan.

"Tom, that was an incredibly brave thing you guys did but don't ever do it again," Bryan said. "That woman is lucky that you guys were there."

"The truth is that I just reacted. I didn't really think about it. I saw the situation and I acted as I was taught. They're trying to make us out to be heroes. I don't feel like a hero; I feel more like a zero. I never imagined that a perfectly justified killing would hurt this much," I said.

"It only hurts because you have a good heart, Tom. If it didn't hurt, then I'd be concerned. You should speak to someone about this," I could hear genuine concern in his voice.

"One of the cops, my dad's old partner, gave me the name of a shrink who would see all of us at no charge. I might take him up on it."

"Never mind the 'might', just get out there and do it. All of you should talk to him," Bryan said firmly.

We talked for a few more minutes before I gave the phone back to Mark. I heard him tell his brother that he loved him and then he hung up.

"You boys had better get off to bed," I said to Josh and Mark.

"I'm not leaving you tonight, Dad," Josh replied firmly. "I'm sleeping with you."

"What about Mark?" I asked.

"I suppose I could sleep on the couch or up in Josh's room," Mark said as he looked down at his feet. "Could I....I mean, could I kinda sleep with you guys too? I don't want to be alone tonight either," he said hesitantly.

"Of course, I have a big bed," I said as I ruffled his hair. Josh took the next turn in my shower and Mark went up to use the upstairs shower while I prepared each of us a mug of warm milk.

I was soon joined by 2 squeaky clean boys. We each downed a mug of warm milk and then we retreated to my bedroom. Mark climbed into bed first and wrapped the covers around himself. I climbed in second and Josh climbed in last, assuming his preferred position snuggled up against my right side. I kissed his forehead and whispered good night. I turned my head to wish Mark a good night as well. I saw a look of longing in his eyes.

"That looks comfortable," he said. "Would you mind if I did that too?" He asked quietly.

"I wouldn't mind at all, kiddo," I said. "You're like family," I told Mark.

He smiled broadly and snuggled up against my left side as if he was a mirror image of Josh. I couldn't help but feel better as I lay there snuggled up with the two boys. Before long, the boys had drifted off to sleep but I still lay awake. The shooting was replaying again and again in mind troubled mind. Sleep was going to be a long time coming. I must have lain there wide awake for a good two hours before sleep claimed me.

Normally I didn't remember my dreams. It was only certain times that I ever remembered them and I often felt cheated. That night, I would have preferred to forget my dreams. I dreamed over and over again about the shooting each time, the outcome was worse and worse. Sometimes I missed and was cut down by the robber's bullets. Sometimes I accidentally shot bystanders. Sometimes the gun was empty. The worst and final dream saw me miss my mark and the robber sprayed gunfire across the mall cutting Josh down in the process. I burst into consciousness screaming.

"Dad! It's ok, it was just a dream," Josh said lovingly as he rubbed my shoulders and ran his hand through my sweaty hair. Mark was wide awake on my other side and looking at me with concern. I was bathed in a coating of sweat. Josh climbed out of bed and retrieved a towel from the bathroom. He returned to bed a few moments later and proceeded to dry me off. I just lay there and tried to get my breathing and heartbeat back to a normal rate.

Josh soon discarded the towel and then climbed back into bed. He snuggled back up to me and wrapped his arms around me. "I was just a dream. It's all over," he said soothingly. "Please Dad; you have to snap out of this. You're a good man and that's why this bothers you so much. Please call that doctor that Darren told you about."

"I will son," I said as I returned his hug. "I love you son," I said as I kissed his forehead.

Josh smiled and kissed me back. "I love you too," he said.

I lay back down and closed my eyes. I relished the warmth of Josh and Mark as they snuggled up to me once again. Josh kept a tight grip on me and I was pretty sure that he didn't go back to sleep himself. I'm pretty sure that he spent the night just holding me and trying to sooth me as I was once again wracked by nightmares about the shooting. When I awoke the next morning, I felt only partially rested. When I opened my eyes, there was Josh, wide awake and holding me firmly just as he had the night before.

"Morning Dad," he said. "You had more nightmares. I tried to help as best I could. I hope it worked."

I couldn't remember all the details of the nightmares from the rest of the night, but I knew that I hadn't woken up screaming again so Josh's efforts had paid off. "I think it did, son," I said. "I'm going to call that doctor today."

Josh smiled and then we both climbed out of bed and headed to the bathroom to empty our bladders. Mark was still sound asleep so we left him to sleep while we dressed and went upstairs to start breakfast.

After breakfast, I left a message with Doctor Pollard's answering service. Being Sunday, I didn't really expect him to call me back. I was just about to drive Mark home when the phone rang and it was the doctor.

"Thanks for calling back on a Sunday, doctor," I said.

"No problem. You boys have been through a traumatic experience and you are probably going to need some help dealing with it. You especially since you were the one who fired the fatal shots. How did you sleep last night?"

I described my nightmares and the feelings of guilt that I had been experiencing. The doctor asked me a few more questions and asked about the boys.

"Tom, it sounds like you might be suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. That's very common after an event like this. I would like to see you in my office tomorrow afternoon. I would like to see Josh and Mark as well. From what you've told me, they seem to be handling it well, but I'd still like to see them. Now, seeking help in this situation is not a sign of weakness. Many people believe that it is but they're wrong. If you don't seek help, you might get better but in all probability it will get worse and it will affect you in other ways."

"I understand," I replied. I had no problem speaking to this doctor and I knew it would make Josh feel better knowing that I was getting the help that I needed to deal with the situation. We made an appointment for 4:00 PM the following day. He would see all three of us at the same time.

We had a quiet Sunday. After dropping Mark off at home, Josh and I went to the GO station and I let him drive the new Jeep. He had a blast and found driving an automatic much easier than a stick-shift. I tried as best I could to be cheery, but I couldn't stop reliving the shooting over and over again in the back of my mind. I could see that Josh was worried. He pulled into a parking space in the GO station lot and switched off the engine.

"Dad, what can I do to make you feel better?" he asked. "I can see that the whole shooting thing is eating you up. You're not yourself. I can see that you're hurting and that means that I'm hurting too." He undid his seatbelt and leaned over and hugged me.

I hugged him back and burst into tears. "Damn it Josh, I know it was the right thing to do. I know it was us or him. I know that we saved that woman's life but I still feel like a low-life. Every time I look in the mirror I'm going to see a killer looking back at me."

"You're not a killer. You did what you had to do. You did what anyone would have done it that situation," Josh replied gently.

"I could have handled killing someone in combat when I was in the army but this was different. This was up-close and personal. I wasn't prepared for it mentally. It just happened."

"I know, Dad. I saw you react and I jumped in and helped you. So did Mark. I don't regret it and neither should you."

Once again, Josh's maturity astounded me. At times like that he seemed to be 13 going on 30. "I know. I don't regret it either but I wish I hadn't had to kill that man. I don't even know his name and I killed him."

"His name doesn't matter, Dad. You can't keep thinking about it and wishing you had done something different. You've said it before - what's done is done."

"God I love you, Josh," I said as I hugged him tightly.

"I love you too Dad and that's why I hurt so much when I see you like this. Please try to snap out of it. I want the normal you back."

"It'll just take time," I replied as I dried my eyes. "Doctor Pollard will probably help too."

We swapped seats and drove home. Susan was home when we arrived and was just about to put dinner on the table. I felt quite a bit better after speaking to Josh and my appetite had returned. Susan had prepared a really good meatloaf and I had a healthy helping of it. I could see that Josh was happy to see me starting to return to normal and he was his usual bottomless pit self.

"How are you feeling, Tom?" Susan asked with genuine concern.

"I'm dealing with it," I replied. "No matter how many times I tell myself it was the right thing to do, I can't shake the guilt."

"That sounds like a normal reaction from a normal person," Susan replied and placed a hand on my shoulder. "Anyone would feel that way, Tom."

After supper Josh and I retreated to my apartment. We cuddled up together on the couch and watched TV until his bedtime. Not having slept all that well the night before, I was tired too so we both went to bed. Josh went upstairs and got washed up and then returned to my apartment.

"I think I should stay with you again tonight," Josh said.

"I'd like that," I replied with a smile.

We climbed into bed and snuggled up together in our usual positions.

"Goodnight Dad. I love you," Josh said. He kissed my forehead and then nuzzled his face into the base of my neck.

"I love you too, Josh," I replied and kissed the top of his head. I made sure that the alarm was set to get us both up in the morning and then closed my eyes. I was asleep almost right away and I slept right through without any nightmares.

The next morning Josh and I got up at our usual time, showered and dressed for the day. After we devoured breakfast, I drove him to school in the new Jeep. We swung by Mark's house on the way and picked him up.

"How are you feeling, Tommy?" Mark asked.

"I'm doing better Mark, thanks for asking," I replied with a smile.

"My father saw us on the news and he didn't even say anything. He didn't even ask how I was," he said bitterly.

"Don't worry about it, Mark. Things are happening pretty quickly," I replied trying to reassure him.

I pulled up to the school and got my usual hug and kiss from Josh as he bounded out of the truck. Mark surprised me by also giving me a hug before hopping out. "Take care of yourself, Tommy," he said.

I watched and smiled as both boys were mobbed by other kids and even a few teachers who had seen us on the news the night before. The boys seemed to be enjoying their hero/celebrity status.

I drove home and decided that I wasn't ready to face the real world yet so I sat down and started to play Doom on my computer. I could afford to miss a day of classes. It was just as well that I had stayed home. The phone was ringing off the hook. I spent half the morning fielding calls from my mom, Andy, James, Anne (and the twins!), Darren and even a few reporters. By lunchtime, I was ready for a break and I decided to go out for lunch. I opened the door and was surprised by two men.

One was the bank manager and I didn't know the other.

"Mr. Davis," the bank manager said with a smile. "I'm Bob Chapman; we met rather informally on Saturday. I'm glad we caught you at home. This is Walter Connor, the district manager for TD Canada Trust. Could we have a few moments of your time?"

"Sure, I cut class today and I was just about to go grab a bite to eat," I replied. I had no idea as to why there were there.

"This won't take long and it will be worth your while," Walter said.

I showed both men into the main floor living room and we all took a seat.

"Mr. Davis,"

"Call me Tom," I said.

"Ok, Tom. We're here because we want to express the bank's gratitude for what you and the two boys who were with you did on Saturday. You saved the life of one of our employees and you saved us quite a bit of money."

"I just did my duty," I replied.

"We think all three of you did a lot more than that," Walter interjected.

"Tom, the bank would like to offer all three of you a substantial reward. We are prepared to offer each of you the sum of $5,000.00 plus we will cover the cost of any counseling or medical services which you require as a result of the incident and which are not covered by OHIP."

To say that I was amazed would be the understatement of the century. I felt bad about accepting the money but I knew Josh would certainly appreciate it and Mark could really use it.

"That's extremely generous of you," I said. "Thank-you for all three of us."

"Thank YOU, Tom," Bob replied.

"Are any of you already TD Canada Trust customers?" Bob asked.

"Josh and I are but I don't think Mark has a bank account of his own," I replied.

"Would you happen to have a blank cheque, bank book or personalized deposit slip? We can use that to deposit the reward money directly into your accounts," Bob said.

I went and retrieved my cheque book and I went to Josh's room to get his bank book. I also grabbed my address book to give them Mark's name and contact information so that they could open an account for him.

I returned to the living room and handed the documentation to Bob. He started with my chequebook and documented my account numbers. After that he went on to Josh's bank book. "That's an interesting coincidence," Bob said.

"What's that?" I asked.

"Josh and the guy you shot have the same last name," He said.

I suddenly felt sick to my stomach. "What was the guy's name?" I asked in a shaky voice.

"John....No, Joseph, Joseph Chambers. He was a real creep. He was out on bail up north somewhere for assault and public intoxication..... Are you all right?" Bob asked.

"Jesus Christ. I think that guy was Josh's estranged uncle. He assaulted Josh at his father's funeral and I tuned him up pretty good. He was charged with assault and public drunkenness. His name is Joe Chambers." Suddenly the whole situation was much worse. I knew that Josh didn't really care about his uncle Joe, but I was worried about how he'd react to knowing that it was his uncle who I had killed.

Bob and Walter completed the paperwork to transfer the funds into Josh's account and mine and to setup an account for Mark. I didn't want any chance of Mark's father getting his mitts on the money so setting up his own account was the best option. We shook hands and said our good-byes. Before they left, both men left me their business cards and told me to call them if any of us needed anything at all.

By then, I didn't feel much like eating. I located Darren's card and I called him to confirm the identity of the man who I had shot. Darren promised to look into it and call me back. Sure enough, 30 minutes later, I got the call.

"Hi Tom, you were right. The Joseph Chambers that you shot was the same Joseph Chambers involved in the assault on Josh in Bracebridge a few months back. He had done some time a few years back with the live suspect and they had been involved in a number of scams together. We figure he made a special trip down here from Bracebridge to participate in the robbery."

"Damn it! This just gets worse all the time," I said sadly.

"Keep your chin up, son. I don't know Josh all that well but from what I've seen he worships you and there doesn't seem to have been any love lost between him and his uncle. He won't hold it against you," Darren said trying to reassure me.

After I finished speaking to Darren, I decided against eating lunch and I went back to my computer to play some more Doom. Before long, it was time to go pickup Josh and Mark for our appointments. On one hand, I was looking forward to telling the boys about the reward money. On the other, I wondered how I was going to tell Josh about the identity of the dead robber.

On the way to the school, I stopped by the bank to pickup Mark's bank book and ATM card. I also picked up a signature card that I had to get him to sign and then return to the bank. While at the bank, I was treated like Royalty by the staff. I put on a happy, brave face but inside I hated the attention. I finally extricated myself from the admiring bank staff and drove over to get the boys.

As soon as I pulled up, Josh came bounding out of the school with Mark in tow. They both wore matching grins.

"Hi Dad," Josh said as he climbed in and wrapped his arms around me in a massive hug and kissed my cheek.

"Hi Tommy," Mark said as he also hugged me.

"Hi boys," I replied wanly.

"What's wrong?" Josh asked with a serous look on his face.

"Joshy, I....I don't know how to tell you this...."

"Just tell me Dad, whatever it is its ok," he replied. He looked me straight in the eyes and I could almost feel him scanning my mind with his bright gray eyes.

"Son, I found out who I shot and killed at the bank. It's someone that you know," I said carefully.

"Someone I know? Who was it? How did I know them?"

"Joshy, don't hate me when I tell you this, but it was your uncle Joe. The other guy was someone that he had met in prison," I said as I looked down at my feet.

Josh sat there for a moment and digested what I had said. "Dad, look at me please," he said carefully.

I turned my head and looked straight into his eyes.

"How could you possibly worry that I'd hate you? I love you. I have always loved you and I will always love you. Uncle Joe was nothing to me and he would have killed both of us if he had the chance. I wouldn't trade anyone else on the planet for you. I'll never hate you no matter what happens. I love you with all my heart and I always will."

"I know Josh; I was just worried because he was your blood relative. I love you too, son."

"Who cares about blood relatives? It's just DNA. What we have is much more than that," he said as he reached over and hugged me again.

"I wish I had someone who cares about me as much as you guys care about each other," Mark said from the backseat.

"You do, Mark. Bryan loves you very much and Josh and I care about you too," I said. "Boys, there's some good news too."

"What is it?" They asked in near perfect unison.

I reached into my pocket and pulled out Josh and Mark's bank books and handed them over. Josh opened his and his eyes grew wide. Mark's mouth dropped open.

"What's this all about?" Josh asked.

"Is this for real?" Mark managed to squeak out.

"It's for real. The bank manager and his boss paid me a visit and they gave each of us $5,000 as a reward for stopping the robbery and saving the life of that teller. They deposited our money directly into our accounts, Josh. Mark, I had them open an account for you to ensure that your father couldn't get his hands on your money."

"I've never had so much money before in my life," Mark said quietly.

"Me either," replied Josh.

"Well boys, it's your money and you can do with it as you wish. I think we all earned it."

I had Mark sign the signature card and I gave him his new ATM card. I would drop the card off at the bank the following day. I could see that both boys were on cloud nine after having been suitably rewarded for our actions. I could tell that as happy as Josh was, he still had a great deal of concern for my well being. I knew it would just take time.

I pulled both boys into a three-way hug before driving off to Doctor Pollard's office. Things could only get better from that point onward. All three of us had passed a crucial test and we had come out stronger than we had been before. The bond between Josh and I was as strong as ever and Mark was becoming more and more attached to us. As much as I was looking forward to seeing him living with his brother, I knew both Josh and me were going to miss him a lot when he was gone.


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