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   Chapter 13 No.13

My Sister's Keeper By Bill Benners Characters: 16989

Updated: 2018-05-28 11:01

AFTER DIRECTING A SUCCESSFUL run of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire my first year back, and Neil Simon's California Suite the second, I was asked by the Board of Directors of the Thalian Association to direct Stephen Patterson's brilliant new play, Laying Down the Law, making its world premiere that fall in Wilmington. It was the break I needed. It would open a great many doors for me and might even change the way my father saw me.

Unlike most directors, I insisted on longer rehearsal periods and, since the theatre's rehearsal halls were not available yet, used my own studio. I pushed all the equipment in the 40x60 camera room back against the walls, arranged a couple pieces of furniture in the center of the room, and aimed a few lights down from overhead to simulate a "stage."

As Sam and his team pawed through my house, I headed off to our first rehearsal. From the moment the first actor arrived, I was in my element—stroking egos, exploring characters, experimenting with blocking. There were even moments when it took my mind completely off the investigation, and—considering the events going on in my life—I thought it went quite well. Just before 10 p.m., we wrapped for the night.

Finding the police cars still at my house, I went to my parents' house, let myself in, and looked into Martha's room. The head of her bed was raised and her fingers typed madly into her laptop. Riveted on her project, she looked like the sister I'd known growing up. She lifted her hands, then typed a bit more before laying her head back and looking my way. "Hi."

"I brought you something." Keeping the book I'd bought for her hidden, I moved into the room and sat on the edge of the bed, then handed it to her.

"Oh, wow! You didn't have to do that."

"I know, but I thought you'd like it."

"It's a book of birds. Thank you." She flipped through the pages.

Leaning over, I kissed the side of her forehead and whispered, "Let's go for a walk."

"What? Now?"

"Why not now?"

"It's after eleven and—I don't know—it's dark outside."

"This street looks better in the dark. Besides, when's the last time you were out at night?"

She changed the subject. "Uh-oh. Something must be wrong. What is it? That woman you had over the other night? Is that it?"

I placed my hands on her bed and jiggled it roughly. "Why does it have to mean something's wrong every time I come to see you?"

"At this time of the night?" Her sweet laughter lifted a load off me. "There must be something wrong."

I stepped around her bed, rolled the computer stand aside, and moved her wheelchair up next to her. "You're right. I need to talk. Are you coming?"

Minutes later, with her coat secured tightly around her, a blanket tucked around her legs, and a knit cap pulled over her head, we headed out the door. Though summer was just around the corner, the nights were still cool. I rolled her down the ramp and onto the sidewalk where I abruptly dashed off speeding down the block.

"Oh, my God!" she shrieked. "Stop!"

"Hush, " I laughed. "You're going to have the whole neighborhood thinking somebody's getting murdered out here."

Martha's scream reverberated back from all directions and lent an eerie mood to the night. I turned left at the corner and charged past eighteenth-century front porches heading toward the river, but it didn't take long to wear me out. By the time I reached the end of the next block, I had slowed to a fast walk with the moon trailing along behind the pecan and oak trees that lined the street.

Smoke rising from chimneys hovered around the street lamps and permeated the cool night air with the ancient scent of burning oak. Martha flapped her arms in the air as we glided past a graveyard of seventeenth century weather-beaten statues, headstones, and moss-laden trees. "Hey, this is great! Hello-o-o night-time!"

"Shhh. Let's not wake the dead or attract too much attention."

"What happened to that adventurous spirit you had growing up, Richie?"

"I got old."

"You aren't old."

"My hair is starting to turn gray, my eyes are failing, and I don't attract women anymore."

"Tell me about your company the other night."

"Actually that's exactly what I wanted to talk to you about."

"Ooooo, this sounds serious."

"It is serious, but not in the way you're thinking."

"What's her name?"

"Her name's Ashleigh."

"She sounds young."

"She is. Or was."

"Was? Is it over already?"

"Yes, I think it's definitely over, but I wouldn't call it a date."

"Oh, I thought—"

"I know, but it wasn't."

"Then what was it?"

As we moved into a part of town I'd long ago forgotten and whose charm and beauty had somehow evaded the younger me, I told her everything about Ashleigh's visit. She listened without interrupting as I told her about passing out and waking up outside in the rain, the scratches on my face and arm, and the visits by the police.

"Is that the girl? My God, Richie. It sounds like you're a suspect."

"Oh, yes. I'm sure I am. They came back tonight with a search wa

first block and my arms shook by the time we'd reached the end of the second.

"Where are we?" she asked, her voice quivering.

"Halfway, " I grunted.

Martha took short, rapid breaths to ease her pain and I tried to match her rhythm. As we moved under the street lamp at the end of the next block, she twisted further around in her chair and I saw a tear slip down her cheek.

"One more block to the top of the hill, " I panted.

Pain suddenly gripped me in my right side and I doubled forward trying not to slow down. Martha bit down on the knuckles of her left hand as I twisted sideways to ease my cramp. My legs wobbled and my side burned as though a red-hot iron poker had been shoved into me, but I knew it could never match the pain my sister endured every day of her life.

I could no longer feel my arms and, as we neared the top of the hill, the chair collapsed against my chest. "Almost…there, " I panted.

As we crested the incline, I reached deep inside my soul and pulled out the last steps. "Just…a little…more, " I wheezed.

Turning the corner, I saw several car doors fling open across the street and three men jump out. "Richard Baimbridge?"

I couldn't stop and I couldn't answer. The men spread out.

"Baimbridge! Stop right there!"

I raised my head and looked around. The men crouched twenty feet away with guns drawn. I paused leaning against the chair, but Martha looked up at me, her eyes pleading as tears rolled down her cheeks. I leaned forward and pushed.

"Baimbridge, stop or I'll shoot!"

"Please…" I gasped falling to my knees. "Please…help…"

"On the ground. Hands above your head."

Two men jumped me pressing my face to the sidewalk as they cuffed my hands behind my back. Though my wrists were small, the cuffs pinched my skin. I raised my head and saw Sam coming toward me.

"Sam, please. Get Martha home fast. She's in pain."

He took one look at her, then raced her to the house leaving me lying on the sidewalk like a trophy—like a ten-point buck draped across the hood of a 4x4 pickup being paraded around town for everyone to see. A neighbor from down the street glared at me as his car inched past. More police arrived and milled around murmuring to each other. A TV crew showed up, cranked their microwave antenna above the trees, set bright lights on tripods, and began broadcasting live from the scene. More and more lawmen came and soon there were a dozen vehicles parked up and down the street, their colored strobe lights flittering through the neighborhood. It looked like the scene of a major disaster.

Sam returned a half hour later, stood over me, and read me the Miranda rights in front of the neighbors that had gathered to see what had happened. He was so close, I could smell fresh wax on his shoes. Minutes later, they jerked me up and, with every TV station within the city now there to capture the moment—most broadcasting live, they shoved me through the crowd to a waiting patrol car. As they jammed me into the back seat, I caught a glimpse of Dad standing far back in the crowd.

While it was a triumphant display of force and victory for the police and a public-relations disaster for me, it was the utmost humiliation for my father. As we drove off, I looked back to see him turn from the crowd and head back home. The thing that hurt the most was knowing that he presumed I was guilty.

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