Substitute Dad

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

Chapter 56 - Recovery

New York - Ground Zero

"....IN THROUGH YOUR NOSE!" the heavy voice shouted at me. "OUT THROUGH YOUR MOUTH! IN THROUGH YOUR NOSE, OUT THROUGH YOUR MOUTH!" he repeated.

I did - and every time I breathed out, I coughed up dust, dirt, and phlegm. In through my nose, coughed, sputtered and gagged out my mouth until I had to take another breath in.

I knew I was on my knees while this ugly process went on for more than a minute.

Finally he said, "Tilt your head back." I did. "Keep it there. I'm going to wash your eyes out."

I felt his fingers spread my eyelids open on one eye and I felt the water run across it and down my chest. Then he did the other eye. He said, "Blink and keep blinking while I pour."

As I blinked, some of the severe stinging in my eyes eased.

The first thing I saw was a dim light on the floor from a flashlight.

"What's your name boy?" the deep voice asked.

"Tom.... Tom Davis," I answered. "Is the lady OK?"

"Yeah she's going to be fine. She broke her leg. but she didn't get the dust as bad as you.... a few scrapes too, but she'll be fine."

"Oh shit," I said as I looked at the gross mess on the floor in front of me.

"Hey, it's OK man, we'll get a mop... it'll clean up OK. Name's Ken... Ken Armstrong." He said as our hands clasped.

"Kenneth Armstrong," I said looking at the large frame of a handsome African American, "I'll never forget you. You saved our lives."

"Actually, it's Kennedy Armstrong. I was born the day of President Kennedy's funeral."

"I'm pleased to meet you, but I wish it was under better circumstances," I said.

"Let me look at your arm there," Ken said as he grasped my left arm. "Looks like you've cut your bicep pretty good and you may have busted your Ulna."

"Are you a doctor Ken?" I asked.

"No, I was a Navy Corpsman for 20 years," Ken replied. "I trade stocks these days. I used to work in Tower 2. I got my ass out of Dodge right after Tower 1 was hit. I think I lost of lot of friends up there today."

"I'm a military man myself," I said.

"You don't sound like you're from around here."

"I'm from Toronto actually. Here on business." I replied.

"I'm Valendia Goldman, but call me Val," The young woman suddenly piped in. "I owe both of you for saving my life. I don't know what I was thinking out there trying to run in these shoes."

"Goldman? You related to Einrich Goldman by any chance?" Ken asked.

"Yes... I.... I'm his daughter," Val said looking a bit embarrassed.

I didn't know who they were talking about, but I smiled politely.

"Tom, do you have a wallet or something that you can bite down on? I have to set your arm and it's going to hurt," Ken said.

I took out my wallet and placed it between my teeth. I was about to tell Ken that I was ready, but he beat me to it and skillfully set my arm before I had a chance to think twice about what was going to happen. I saw a flash of stars as an incredible wave of pain washed over me, but it eased in an instant.

I sat silently as Ken took my tie and used it to bind a piece of wood to my arm as a makeshift split. He then took a table cloth from one of the tables and used it as a makeshift bandage on my upper arm. He had already seen to Val's leg. He had ripped one of the table legs away and used it for a splint.

"I found some bottled water in here and some cookies. Probably enough to keep us going for a few days. We're trapped in here under Lord only knows how much rubble," Ken said after my injuries were treated. "This place is an old stone store front and it seems pretty stable. We'll be safe until they dig us out."

Ken had a small LED flashlight on his key ring and it provided a little light. When the tower had collapsed, debris had filled the street and the steel girders that were propped up against the storefront café had created a small alcove that protected us from the worst of the debris. We had enough to eat and drink and Val had a bottle of Tylenol in her purse which she and I took whenever the pain of our broken limbs caught up with us. It didn't take away the pain, but it did take the edge off.

With Ken's small flashlight, we were able to explore a little behind the counter, however we didn't find any more food or water. The tap in the prep sink had no water coming out of it. However, behind one door, we found a two-piece washroom. Although we couldn't flush the toilet for fear it may backup, and there was only one flush that was in the tank, we at least had a place to use. With Ken's help to get Val to the door, even she was able to use it, however because we weren't eating or drinking very much, it had little use.

In addition to the pain in my arm, I realized that my ass was sore as well. Then I remembered that something had hit it when I was heading back to the caf‚. I mentioned it to Ken and he had a look at it. With my pants down, he felt my hip and the bottom of my spine, continually asking if it hurt more where he pressed. It didn't.

"OK Tom, it's just a pretty bad bruise, but it'll heal by itself." He announced.

Around the dinner hour, the ground began to shake under us. It was the same feeling as when the twin towers came down, but nowhere near as severe. It did frighten us for about a minute until things became quiet and calm again. I found out later, it was when Tower 7 collapsed to the ground.

If not for my watch, time would have lost all meaning inside that small cave. We spent a lot of our time talking, mostly about family. I found out that Val was an only child and had traveled the world. Ken's boys were both college grads and were on their own, one had already married. When I told them about how I met Josh and had reunited with him a year later, they wanted to know more and more. They were good listeners and it did keep our minds off our dire circumstances.

We slept a lot, but with at least one of us staying awake at all times. I found a large metal meat tenderizer that we took turns using to pound on steel beams hoping that someone would hear us.

During the first 36 hours we didn't hear a sound other than the occasional shifting of the debris pile. The whole place was eerily and deathly silent. It was as if the whole noisy, fast-paced city has disappeared into thin air.

The first night was the hardest for me. The physical pain that I was experiencing was nothing compared to the emotional toll that the whole ordeal was taking on me. I thought of Josh and what he would be going through and it nearly broke my heart. I thought of Bryan and Mark, my brothers, the twins and everyone else and the thought of the despair that they had to be suffering really began to get me down in the dumps. I dreamed of Josh that night. It was as if he was reaching out to me and telling me to be strong and fight to survive.

I wanted nothing more than to see Josh's smiling face and to hug him and never let go. I wanted to feel Bryan's strong arms around me. I wanted to hold Mark and know that sometime he would zing me with another of his practical jokes. I wanted to be with my loved ones, not sitting in this dark dank hole with two strangers waiting to either die or be rescued. Then I considered that Ken and Val would be feeling the same, so I'd start talking about someone else in my extended family or another incident that had happened when Josh and I traveled across Canada. All the beautiful memories did help to keep our spirits up.

None of us had a working cell phone and pounding on those steel columns was the only way that we could get any kind of signal out.

The second day was even longer and harder than the first. Our limited supply of bottled water was starting to run low and the meager stock of stale cookies and muffins was running out. We still didn't hear so much as a peep from the outside world. For all we knew, the site had been completely abandoned. Our future was looking pretty bleak. Although I didn't dare voice it, I wondered how long we could last after the water and food was completely gone.

"Wake up man," Ken said early the next morning. I glanced at my watch and saw that it was just after eight AM. Val was still sleeping.

"What's up Ken?" I asked.

"I thought I heard something." He replied.

We both listened silently and sure enough, we could hear the faint sound of distant machinery. "Sounds like a bulldozer or something," I said.

"Whatever it is, they're trying to dig into this mess which means they might find us sooner rather than later."

I began to hammer furiously on a nearby steel beam, which woke up Val. Before long my arm began to hurt and I was about to give up when I heard it. Somewhere above us, I could hear a dog barking like mad.

"That's a dog up there!" Ken shouted.

We kept pounding on that beam until we heard the first voices.

"This is FDNY rescue! We hear you!"

"THANK GOD!" I shouted. "There's three of us down here. Two of us are injured."

"We're going to dig you out. It won't take too long," the voice replied.

"Do you have a cell phone?" I asked.

"Yes, do you want me to call someone?"

"Please! My family back in Toronto is going to be worried sick." I gave the firefighter my name and Josh's phone number and he called him right away. I couldn't hear what was said, but I was certain that Josh would be as relieved as I was at that moment.

Toronto - Union Station - Josh Chambers

"Josh what is it?" Andy asked urgently.

I opened my eyes and looked up at him as I listened to the voice on the other end of the line. "Thank you," I said and closed the phone.

"What is it?" Andy asked again and placed a hand on my shoulder.

I stood up and leapt into his arms. "HE'S ALIVE!" I shouted. "That was a guy from the New York Fire Department urban search and rescue squad. They found three people alive at the edge of the debris pile and one of them is Dad! He asked them to call me! He said he's hurt, but he's very much alive."

Andy smiled brightly, picked me up, and swung me around. "Thank God!"

"I knew it. I knew he wasn't dead," I said. I never felt so much relief in my life. I still wanted more than anything to hug my Dad and hold him close, but the fear and uncertainty of the past two days was gone in an instant. I was worried about him being hurt, but injuries I could deal with. If I had to push him around in a wheelchair for the rest of his life, I'd do it without complaint. I just wanted him back so badly.

Over Andy's shoulder, I saw Bryan and Mark emerge from the platform and I ran to them.

"HE'S ALIVE! THEY FOUND HIM!" I shouted as I leapt into a very surprised looking Bryan's arms.

"How did you find out?" Mark asked as he joined our embrace.

"I just got the call a second ago!"

Mark and Bryan both looked as if they'd had the weight of the world lifted off their shoulders.

"Hey guys! Check this out," Andy said. He was standing in front of a large screen television hanging on the wall of the waiting area. A banner running across the bottom of the screen read: "Survivors found in rubble of WTC. Missing Canadian citizen and daughter of billionaire New York real estate magnate Einrich Goldman among the survivors."

The camera showed a group of firefighters with heavy equipment digging into a pile of rubble and then emerging a moment later with a stretcher carrying a young woman. A moment later, another stretcher emerged from the ruins.

"THAT'S HIM! THAT'S DAD!" I shouted barely able to contain my excitement. The picture was grainy, but I'd know that beloved face anywhere. I barely had time to worry about why he was in a stretcher and why he had bandages on his arm. I knew he would recover from whatever injuries he had. All that mattered was that he was alive and that he'd be on his way home to me and the rest of the family very soon. At that moment, I was the happiest boy in the world.

Andy pulled out his phone and called Grandma.

New York - Tom Davis

He was right, it didn't take too long to clear away enough debris to get to us. A firefighter and a paramedic crawled through the small opening with a stretcher and assessed each of us. Since Val was in the worst condition, she was taken out first. Once she was clear of the building, I was the next one strapped to a stretcher and then carefully maneuvered through the twisted debris and out in the glorious sunshine.

The sunlight hurt my eyes and I had to squint, but the first thing I saw was a long line of emergency personnel passing my stretcher down the line towards a waiting ambulance. As I emerged into the sunlight a cheer went up among the rescuers and the same thing happened when Ken was lifted out as well. I figured that every life saved was a small victory and small bit of joy for these emergency personnel. They probably knew that such small victories would be few and far between in the twisted wreckage of the World Trade Center.

The drive to the hospital was relatively short and before I knew it, I was in the emergency ward of a hospital, stripped of all my clothes, dressed in a hospital gown, and surrounded by doctors and nurses. Some were working to clean the dust and grime off my face and out of my eyes while another group was suctioning grit and more dust out of my breathing passages. After giving me a bunch of local anaesthics, one doctor stitched up the opening in my left bicep while another examined my broken arm and yet another checked the bruise on my butt. In addition, they inserted an I.V. into my right arm - they told me it was to re-hydrate me. It felt good to have it coursing through my arteries. By the time the first bottle had drained, I actually felt like I'd had something to eat.

With my arm stitched and bandaged, I was whisked to radiology where a quick x-ray confirmed Ken's diagnosis of a broken Ulna and that he'd done a great job of setting it in place. From there I was taken back to the ER where I was fitted with an arm cast.

At last I finally found myself alone back in my cubicle and the loneliness began to overwhelm me. Back home, Josh would have been keeping a watchful eye over me and so would the rest of my family. There was no telephone in the ER that I could use and I desperately wanted to talk to my loved ones to reassure them.

It was during that lull in activity that I had a chance to think about the whole reason that I was in New York to begin with. It was part of Bryan's and my dreams for the future. Now, I was certain that at least this deal for eMemories was dead and that this horrible tragedy was turning into a wasted trip. Of course I still hadn't heard any news about Emmett or anyone else from Viva Soft and I was despairing for their families as well. I picked up my copy of the eMemories business plan that I had in my computer bag, fluttered through the pages and with a big sigh, tossed it into the nearby trash can. The big dream and the greatest financial deal of our lives had ended.

Just then the curtain pulled back and a very distinguished looking older man wearing what appeared to be a very expensive suit and tie poked his head in.

"Pardon my intrusion," he said. "Are you Tom Davis?"

"The one and only," I replied with as much of a smile as I could muster.

The man walked into the cubicle and closed the curtain behind him. He extended his hand to me. "My name is Einrich Goldman," he said.

I shook his hand and it took a moment for me to register that this man must be Val's father.

"Tom.... May I call you Tom?" he continued.

"Of course," I replied. "Are you Val's dad? I asked.

"Yes Tom, I am. I am told that I owe you a tremendous debt. My Valendia told me how you and the other gentleman saved her life when those buildings came down. I was worried sick for the past two days and now you have given her back to me."

"Sir, I was glad that I could be of assistance. I know that my family is worried sick about me too. The fact that I was able to help someone through that ordeal is a comfort to me."

"You are too modest." He said smiling, "I have been told that you helped more than one person that day. I have also been told that you stayed in the buildings and helped countless people including many employees of my company."

"I did what I think any decent person would do," I replied modestly.

"You did more than most," Einrich said forcefully. "I don't get to temple as much as I should and I am not a very religious man, but I do have faith. Are you familiar with the writings of the Jewish faith?"

"No sir, I'm not," I replied.

There is a section of the Talmud known as the Midrash, which deals with oral traditions. In there it says, 'Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.' Tom, my family is everything to me and by saving my Valendia, you have saved my whole world. That makes you a hero in my eyes."

"I'm glad that I was able to help." I replied. "My family is everything to me too and I'm glad that I was able to help your family. There were a lot of heroes out there that day, but I don't think I was one of them. I'm just a guy who did for your daughter what I'd hope someone would do for me or someone in my family."

"I appreciate your modesty Tom, but I really must repay you in some way. Whatever you want, name it and it's yours," Einrich said sincerely and placed a hand on my shoulder.

"I really appreciate the offer sir, but I don't feel right asking for anything. All I really need is to be back home in Canada. Getting home to them is my priority right now." I was sincere with that one wish.

"I can see that your family means as much to you as mine does to me. They aren't allowing any flights in or out of the country right now, but when they do open the airspace, my personal jet will take you wherever you wish to go. Until that time you will be a guest at my Park Avenue hotel at no charge and I have had my personal assistant do some clothes shopping on your behalf since all of yours were ruined in this unfortunate incident. We can't have you running around New York in a hospital gown. Also, your hospital bills and all expenses will be covered."

"You are very generous sir," I replied. "Other than what I was wearing, everything else was in the World Trade Center hotel and it's probably ashes by now."

"Don't worry. We will see to that. It's the least that I can do, but I would like to reward you more substantially."

I spoke to Einrich for a few more minutes arguing that I didn't have to rewarded, before he left to see his daughter. After he left, Ken stepped into the cubicle. He too was in a hospital gown, but wheeling an I.V. drip stand.

"What did they do for you in here?" I asked.

"Oh nothing much. They washed out my eyes and nose and made sure that my lungs were OK and they want to make sure I'm re-hydrated before they let me go. Mr. Goldman's assistant is getting me some clothes and then I think I'll be ready to go. I had a chance to phone my wife, so the family's relieved."

"Ken, I don't know how to thank you," I said.

"Think nothing of it," he replied. "At times like this, people have to help each other out."

"For sure. I think we all saw the worst of humanity the other day and some of us saw the best of it as well," I replied. "What happened, the things that I saw, those images are going to bother me for a long time."

"They will if you let them," Ken said. "Want some advice brother?" He asked.

"Sure," I replied with a smile.

"Do what I do. Go as soon as you can and do something that scares you. Do something relatively harmless, but scary to get that heart pumping and get that adrenaline going. Give your mind a safe and positive outlet for that fear."

"I never thought of that," I said. "I'll have to give it a shot."

"You take care of yourself, you hear?" He said smiling.

"I will Ken. Thanks for your help out there. How about you? What's coming down the pipe for you?"

"Val's father owns the company that I work for," he smiled broadly. "He just made me an executive vice president for helping his daughter. I always knew he was a real stand-up guy and this confirms it."

"Congratulations, you really deserve it."

Ken and I shook hands and he left just as Einrich returned along with a younger well-dressed man and Val in a wheelchair.

"Tom, I don't know how to thank you," Val said as she reached up to take my hand. "If you hadn't come and grabbed me, I'd be dead right now."

"You're very welcome, but I just reacted.... I couldn't stand to see another person die that day.... that way." I replied.

"Please Tom. Anything you want, just name it and it is yours. I really want to show my appreciation for all that you have done for me and Valendia," Einrich said.

"I appreciate it Mr. Goldman, but I just don't feel right asking for anything. My family is my world and I just want to get home to them." I replied.

"Mr. Davis, my name is Carl Drabinski," the other man announced, offering his hand. "I'm Mr. Goldman's personal assistant and he's asked me to assist you in any way that I can. I picked up a change of clothes for you that I hope are to your liking and I've got you booked into our flagship hotel. There's a number of shops in the lobby that sell very good men's wear products and they've been instructed to get you fully outfitted with anything you need at Mr. Goldman's expense."

"Thanks Carl," I said as I accepted the pile of clothing and shook his hand. "Please call me Tom."

"Well Tom, we'll leave you alone to get dressed and then I'm sure you'll want to call your family and let them know you're ok. I took the liberty of charging up your cell phone for you while the doctors were working on you."

"Thank you so much," I said as I shook Carl's hand. I then exchanged a brief embrace with Val before Carl wheeled her out of the room.

Carl had brought me a nice pair of tan coloured Dockers pants, a black Polo shirt as well as some really nice shoes. There was even a very nice men's grooming kit included that I used to have a quick shave in the bathroom before I finished dressing. I had a look over my right shoulder at the bruise on my butt and no doubt about it, it was ugly. I'd just have to be careful how I sat down on hard seats for a while. By the time I was done, I felt like I was in heaven. I never knew how good a shave and a clean pair of underwear and socks could feel. With the help of one of the nurses, I learned how to get my broken arm into the pullover after she removed the I.V. from my right arm.

Once I was dressed, I picked up the phone and dialed Josh's number. He answered half-way through the first ring.

"DAD!" he shouted happily into the phone. I could clearly sense the joy and the relief in his voice.

"Joshy," I said starting to choke up. "I can't tell you how glad I am to hear your voice."

"Same here," Josh replied in an equally husky voice. "Everyone thought you were gone. I knew that you weren't though. I knew that if anything had happened to you, I'd somehow know it."

"I know Joshy, I was thinking about you and Mark and Bryan the whole time."

"They're here!" Josh said. "We have a lot to tell you about."

"So do I," I replied and chuckled slightly.

"They said that nobody above the plane impact point got out of the North Tower. How did you get out?"

"I got out just before it happened," I said. "I'm not quite sure that I can explain it fully, but my Dad saved me somehow. I heard his voice in my head just as clearly as I can hear you now and he told me to get out."

"He was watching over you," Josh said emotionally. "Mark and Bryan want to talk to you. The whole family is here at your Mom's house. We've been here since it happened. Here's Bryan."

"Hey survivor.... I love you," Bryan began. "Tom I really wish you were here right now, but aside from the destruction, what's the damages to you?"

"I love you too, Bryan. It was my thoughts of you and Josh and Mark that kept me going while we were trapped in that debris " I replied. "When you're involved with something like this, you really start to realize how much you love the people who are near and dear. My damages..... well my left forearm is broken and I had a fairly deep cut in my bicep that they've stitched up. Other than that, there's a hefty bruise on my ass, but that'll go away in time."

"Then you're still in the hospital?" he asked.

"Yeah, but just for a little while. It's a long story, but the father of the girl that I rescued is going to put me up in a hotel room until the air space opens up again, then he said he'd fly me home."

"I can't wait Tom. It's going to be miserable sleeping in your bed with Josh and Mark clinging to me snoring all night."

"WHAT!" I heard Mark's voice exclaim. "Give me that phone," he said as I heard Bryan and Josh laughing in the background.

"Tom, don't believe a word he says!" Mark laughed. "My brother tosses and turns most of the night and when he finally gets to sleep, he snores even louder than you."

I knew I could rely on Mark to say the right thing to lift my spirits. "Oh Mark." I laughed. "It's good to hear your voice. I miss you."

"I miss you too Tom. Here's your Mom."

"Tom, how are you son?" Her voice sounded a bit shaky, but happy.

"Mom, I'm fine, now that the ordeal is over with. It's just going to take a little while for the broken arm to heal and I'll be home as soon as we're allowed to fly."

"A BROKEN ARM!" She exclaimed. "What were you trying to do, keep the buildings from falling down?"

The imagery started me laughing. "No Mom, I'm not Superman. I was running as fast as I could, but the debris caught up to me when I was pulling the lady into the store."

"That sounds like you and your father.... save someone else before saving yourself. I'm very proud of you son. Here's Susan."

"Hi Tom. I want you to get home as soon as you can. These boys are driving me crazy. They're ecstatic that you're OK, we all are, but they keep hugging me."

"Ah Susan, it just shows how much they love you. I promise, I'll be home as soon as I can. I really miss all of you."

"Tom, it's Anne. We're all so relieved that you survived and that you're going to be OK. Your nephews were getting kinda frantic."

"Anne you can assure them that I'm fine. I miss the little tykes."

"It'll sound better coming from you Tom. Here's Matthew."

"Hi Uncle Tommy, are you really OK? Did you really break your arm?" Matthew sounded so concerned.

"Well Matthew, I sure didn't break my arm deliberately. There was all sorts of big stuff coming down on me, and one of the bits hit my arm, but I'm OK now." I replied with a smile in my voice.

"I'm glad you're OK. I can't wait to see you just to be sure."

"Don't you worry little buddy. I'll be there as soon as they let the airplanes in the air. Can I speak to Richard?" I asked.

"Uncle Tommy, Were you in the building when it was falling?" Richard's voice sounded so forlorn.

"No I wasn't Richard, it was close though. I was running away as fast as I could when Tower 1 came down, but I could only make it to a nearby café before I was caught in the debris, but I'm OK now. I miss you Richard."

"I miss you too Uncle Tommy."

"Hi Tom," James began, "We were really worried about you with this adventure. I'll bet you're smelling like a bouquet of roses."

"Huh?" I was confused.

"Don't scratch your head over it. I'll explain when you get home. We're counting on you to spoil the twins some more."

"You can believe I will James. They're one of the brightest lights in my thoughts."

"Tom, we know that's a two-way street." He said laughing.

"Hey there bro." Andy began. I could hear the laugh in his voice. "Bryan tells me you really laid your ass on the line this time and you have the bruises to prove it."

That started me laughing. "Oh God Andy, I'm glad you couldn't make this trip." Then a sobering thought crossed my mind. "I'd hate to think of what our family would have gone through if either hadn't survived."

"Don't even go there Tom. It was tough for all of us, but Josh was sure you were OK after he spoke to Shelly. It gave us some hope, but we weren't sure until we saw them pulling you out of that debris. The relief here was overwhelming. Hang on, someone just walked in the door, and they want to speak to you."

"Hi Tom, it's Grant. Are you going to be OK now?"

"Grant, it's so good of you to drop in and see Mom." I replied. "Sure I'm as good as new except for a few stitches and a busted arm. How's your family doing?"

"They're great Tom, hang on and you can speak to them."

"Tom, it's Ethel. I hope you're going to be home soon."

"I'll be home just as soon as they allow the planes to start flying again, Ethel. How's Kevin doing?"

"He's fine now, we all are now that we know you're OK. Here, speak to him."

"Tom, are you really OK?" Kevin asked. "I was sure you would have gotten out because Tower 2 came down first."

"Yeah, I am buddy. I got out of Tower 1 just before it started coming down. It was the debris spreading out that got me, but I'll be OK."

"That's great news Tom. Hang on, Darren wants to speak to you."

"Darren?" I questioned.

"Right here buddy. Tom if you were a cop on the force, I think everyone would want you as their partner. Not only are you brave and go beyond the call, you're damned lucky to have the powers that be on your side."

"The powers that be in this case was my Dad Darren. I was in a meeting on the top of Tower 1, and my Dad told me repeatedly to get out of there immediately. I did, otherwise I wouldn't be talking to you right now. The plane hit Tower 1 just after I got off the elevator in the lobby. I was kept busy for a while helping some of the other folks get to safety until Tower 2 collapsed, then all of us had to vacate any way we could."

"And you saved that girl too.... like I've thought many times before Tom.... you are your father's son.... just as brave. You have to get home here as soon as you can. You're whole family is here and we all miss you."

"Darren I miss all of you too. I never realized how close I am to all of them. You, Grant, Ethel, Kevin.... I feel like you're all part of my family. It really has pumped my spirits. I can't wait to get home. I sorry Darren, but I have to cut this short.... Mr. Goldman's personal assistant just came in to take me to the hotel. Give everyone my love."

"You can bet I will Tom. Bye for now."

When I closed my phone, I WAS pumped. It felt so good to speak to everyone that meant so much to me. I couldn't stop smiling.

While I'd loaded my pockets with my wallet etc, and put on my watch, I said, "Carl, it felt so good to be able to speak to my family. Now, I can't wait to see them."

I hadn't noticed that Carl had reached into the trash can and picked up my business plan. "I knew that would give you a lift," he replied.

I followed Carl towards the main entrance of the hospital.

"I'm sorry for all this," he said before opening the front door to the hospital.

I wasn't sure what he meant until suddenly dozens of microphones were being shoved into my face and I was virtually blinded by camera flashes. Reporters were talking over each other asking me about Mr. Goldman and his daughter and what a hero I had been. As I reached the waiting limousine, I figured they wouldn't leave me alone unless I said something, so I turned to face them.

"I really don't have much to say," I began. "I just want to get some sleep in a comfortable bed and figure out how to get home to my family in Toronto as soon as I can. All I can say about Mr. Goldman is that he is a good and generous man who has expressed his gratitude for me helping his daughter. I told him that I don't consider myself to be a hero. I'm just an ordinary guy who did nothing more than I'd hope that anyone else would do. I had no idea who I was rescuing and truth be known, I wouldn't have acted any differently no matter who was in danger. If you guys want to talk to a real hero, talk to Kennedy Armstrong who helped me save Valendia, talk to the firemen and the policemen and the other emergency personnel who went up those towers to save lives. Talk to the people out there right now trying to dig survivors out of that wreckage. I'm not a hero. I'm just an ordinary guy who did his duty as a human being." With that I turned and entered the limousine that was parked right in front of me.

"That was very well said," Carl said as he entered the car behind me.

The driver was able to get us into the hotel through a rear kitchen entrance thus avoiding another media throng.

As we entered the kitchen, I was overwhelmed by the smell of everything cooking. Suddenly I realized how really hungry I was and that I hadn't had a substantial meal for a full two days.

"Carl, may I order something from room service?" I asked. "Everything smells so good and I'm starving," I confessed.

"Tom, of course you are. Forgive me for not realizing. Pierre!" he said loudly.

"Oui Monsieur Drabinski," I heard the strong voice of the handsome chef as he came towards us dressed in immaculate whites and a very tall chef's hat.

"Pierre, one of your very special meals for Mr. Davis and myself, pronto. We'll be dining in the private dining room."

"Oui Monsieur Drabinski! It will be an honour. Henri!" he raised his voice and snapped his fingers. "Private dining room for two." Then turning back to us, he said, "Today we have a delectable pea soup, ze waldorf salad, and a scrumptious entrée of beef bourguignon."

"Wonderful Pierre. Tom, follow me please," Carl said as I followed him through a door and into a very ornately decorated dining room. I couldn't take it all in - I was too mesmerized by the crystal chandeliers. My rough and tumble home life just wasn't used to such sophistication.

Immediately there was a buzz of silent activity as four immaculately uniformed staff members pulled a section from a large dining table, covered it with a freshly ironed white table cloth, brought two sumptuously upholstered chairs over to the table, set a candle in the center of the table, sterling silver place settings, gold rimmed salad, bread and dinner plates, and neatly pleated napkins for each setting, all completed in less than a minute.

During that minute, Carl had pulled out his cell phone and simply said, "John, a private consultation with Mr. Tom Davis in about an hour." Then he closed his phone.

Two of the staff members immediately scurried back through the door to the kitchen, while the other two stood by the two chairs and beckoned us over to the table. As the seats were pushed under us, the other two staff appeared with a basket of rolls and butter immediately followed by two other staff with the soup dishes.

I apologized when I refused the wine. I knew it would only dehydrate me at a time when I could least afford it.

Considering how hungry I was, I would have been happy with a hamburger and fries, but this meal wasn't wasted on me. Every course of this meal was a true culinary delight. I silently wished that Bryan was there to enjoy it with me. I had to refuse the offer of dessert and just settle for a strong cup of coffee.

During dinner, Carl told me of his singular life, although he did have a partner that also worked with Mr. Goldman's company. I smiled as I told him about my relationship with Bryan, Josh and Mark, and our hopes to establish a software business together in Calgary once I'd finished university. He related that he and his partner were too busy being Enrich's personal assistant to even consider having a family, but that he would really want to have the privilege and enjoyment of molding the character of a child.

While we were sipping on our coffee, I said, "I feel like I'm being treated like royalty. I've never had a meal as delicious as this before."

Carl smiled. "Get used to it Tom. In time, with your intelligence, your willingness to serve others and your determination to achieve, you'll be in a position to afford these kind of luxuries for you and your family."

Carl took me over to the clothiers just off the lobby and tapped on the window. "Your going to need a change of clothes in the morning and for the next few days, so I've arranged to have you outfitted." Carl said as the front door of the establishment was unlocked and we entered.

Once inside the door was locked again.

Before I left that clothier, I was outfitted with another pair of dockers, 3 dress shirts, two new ties, a sport jackets and three changes of underwear. I kept protesting, but Carl insisted.

Once finished there, with a garment bag hanging over my shoulder, Carl escorted me to my room and ensured that I had everything I'd need including a new small suitcase for my new clothes and his personal cell phone number before he left for the night.

I turned on the television and watched CNN for a while and caught my first good look at the disaster that I had just survived and I began to shake. It was like a spell had been broken and it was as if I had finally come to realize just how close to death I'd come.

I slept soundly that night, knowing that when I woke up, I'd be closer to the time that I'd be getting home to my loved ones.

I awoke to the sound of my cell phone ringing on the table next to my bed. I saw a Toronto area code, but I didn't recognize the number. "Hello?"

"Is this Mr. Thomas Davis?" a cheerful voice asked on the other end of the line.

"Yes it is, how can I help you?"

"This is Harold Ashton from the TD Bank at Cloverdale Mall. I wanted to personally tell you that your funds transfer has been completed this morning."

"Funds transfer?" I asked.

"Yes sir, we received a wire transfer in the amount of $10,000,000 US from a Mr. Einrich Goldman in New York city this morning. With the exchange rate, your balance is around $13.5 million. You might want to come in and discuss some suitable investments for that sum."

I nearly fell out of the bed. I was speechless.

"Sir, are you there?" Harold asked.

"Yes I'm here," I managed to say. "I'm a bit overwhelmed."

"I can understand that," Harold chuckled. "There was a note on the transfer. It reads 'With all my thanks for your heroic actions, Einrich.' Is that THE Einrich Goldman?"

"Yes sir, he is," I said with a smile on my face. "A very generous man. I was of some assistance to his daughter the other day."

"I've heard all about it. It's all over the news. My wife and I watched you on CNN last night coming out of the hospital."

After I finished speaking with Harold, I fumbled with my cell trying to dial Josh's number when the phone rang again. This time it was Carl.

"Great news Tom, we've been cleared to fly you home today!"

"Fantastic!" I shouted. "Carl, did you know about the wire transfer to my account?"

Carl paused for a second. "Yes sir. Mr. Goldman asked me to handle it personally. He knew that he'd have a hard time getting you to accept a cheque. By wiring the money to your account, he made it harder for you to refuse."

"But.... But how?" I stammered.

"Forgive me Tom, but while you were in radiology, I had to get your clothing sizes and I emptied your pockets and checked your wallet. I was able to get the name of your bank and after that it only took a few phone calls."

"I am completely overwhelmed by his generosity," I replied.

"Tom, he can afford it. You really have no idea as to how grateful he really is to you for what you did for Valendia."

"I'm just glad that I was able to help." I felt so humbled.

"So is Mr. Goldman. Now, can you be ready to go in an hour?"

"I'll be there! How long will the flight be?"

"Under normal circumstances, flight time would be just an hour, but I imagine there will be a number of delays until all the airlines get back on schedule with everyone trying to take off at the same time. You may have to wait an hour before your allowed to taxi onto the runway at JFK and then you may be in a holding pattern for a little while when you reach Toronto. I'd suggest at a minimum two hours and maybe as much as three hours by the time you're on board."

"Thanks Carl, I'll let my family know."

"You'd better tell them that you'll be docking at the private business entrance at Terminal One as well. Pearson has become a very large airport."

"Carl, you think of everything. Many thanks."

I decided to phone Bryan and let him know the arrangements and give him a hint that our future had changed. It hit me - we now had seed money to start our own software company.

"Hi Tom," he answered. "Before you say anything, I want you to know that I'm still in love with you."

"Hi," I replied taking a deep breath. He's said the words that I didn't know I wanted to hear. "I'm glad," I replied with a smile, "Cause I'm still in love with you too. Hey Bryan, I'm on my way home. A limo ride to JFK in an hour and a one-hour flight back to T.O. Depending on air traffic, I should be entering Terminal One private business entrance in about three hours."

"Halleluiah!" he shouted. Then he spoke rapidly, "Tom, I have to let everyone know. I'm over at Susan's with the boys and we gotta a lot of phone calls to make. I'll see you in three hours. I love you." The line went dead! Damn! I didn't have a chance to tell him about our good fortune.

An hour later, I was in the lobby of the hotel munching on a croissant from the continental breakfast that they provided when Mr. Goldman's car pulled up. We drove to John F. Kennedy International airport, the traffic was heavy, and it did take almost an hour to get to JFK. Although the limo was very comfortable, my focus and anxiety to get to Toronto was taking most of my thoughts. When we stopped at the private aviation terminal, a porter grabbed my few belongings and escorted me into the cabin of a luxuriously finished Bombardier Regional Jet.

I said my goodbyes to Carl and asked him to once again pass along my thanks to Mr. Goldman and then I took my seat. The pilot was just about to close the door when another man carrying a briefcase entered the aircraft and took a seat near me.

The plane started to taxi to the runway - I was really on my way home.


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