Monday, January 31, 2011

The Hallmark Moment

My friend Leon called about a problem he was having. I saved my manuscript to my hard drive and walked down the gravel road to his cabin. He lives on the other side of Eddy and Darla. He has a nice quiet little corner to himself.
He met me at the door. “Thanks for coming down,” he said, holding the door open for me. “Hope I didn’t interrupt anything important.”
          Being right in the middle of a new romance novel is not something Leon considers important. I could have told him how breaking a writer’s flow is like cutting off the city water supply in the middle of four alarm fire.
          Being careful not to trip over the head of a fake bear skin rug on the floor between two brown leather chairs, and a red-suede sofa, I said, “You don’t have to worry about Zelda, she’s not holding a grudge against you for calling the mortuary last summer.”
          “This isn’t about Zelda.” He motioned toward the sofa. “Have a seat. I’ve got coffee brewing. Bet it’s about ready. Be right back with two cups.” Leon took off toward his kitchen.
          After taking a seat on the sofa, I couldn’t help but notice the stack of valentine cards on his green coffee table. On the other side, were an equal number of envelopes he had been hand addressing. For a man who didn’t date, he sure had a lot of valentines going out of the door of the worst interior decorated house in the Hamptons.
          From the kitchen, Leon yelled, “You want sugar in yours?”
          “No thank you.”
          “Good, because I’m out of it.” He walked back into the living room carrying two cups of steaming coffee. “Be careful now. It’s hot.” He handed me a cup. Vapor rose from it.
He took a seat in one of the leather chairs on the other side of the table. “Move those cards back if you need to.”
Leon is pushing seventy, but he doesn’t look a day over sixty-eight. I gazed at him and said, “Leon, I didn’t know you had so many girlfriends.”
He grinned. “I gave up on girlfriends a long time ago. Those cards are going to the nursing home in town. Makes people feel good to get a card. Some of those folks don’t have any visitors. I know what that feels like.”
 Leon is our resident financial advisor. He had been quite successful in the banking industry, before he took an early retirement. Thirty-eight years back, the feds charged him with six counts of bank robbery, but according to Leon they missed a few.
While he was in prison, his wife divorced him and married a postman. His son grew up, moved away, and eventually quit responding to the letters Leon mailed from prison.
I waved my hand over the cup to help cool it off a bit. “So what kind of problem can I help you with?”
“You know, I told you about my son, Randel.”
I nodded and placed my cup on the table. At the Christmas party, Zelda predicted Leon would receive an unexpected visitor sometime within the New Year. We all hoped it would be Leon’s son, Randel. I visualized one of those Hallmark moments when they grabbed each other and hugged. Where years of disappointment were wiped away and replaced with love for one another.
I smiled. “Is your son coming to see you?”
After taking a sip from his cup, he shook his head. “No, he quit me a long time ago. Not a good role model, abandonment, and all that.”
So much for Zelda’s prediction and a Hallmark moment.
“I found out I have a grandson out in California. His name is Markus. I sent some money to the college. I told them to tell Markus it was a grant or something so Randel wouldn’t make him send it back.”
I leaned forward and put my hands on my knees. I wasn’t ready to give up on that Hallmark moment. “That’s great, Leon. Is your grandson coming to see you?”
He shook his head. “I can’t see how. He’s just started the spring semester in college out there. For all I know, he might not even know I exist.”
Leaning back on the sofa, I decided to let Leon take the lead and tell me whatever was on his mind. “I’m all ears. How can I help you?”
“Would you write my memoirs?”
“Your memoirs?”
He stood, walked over to a small table in the corner, pulled open a drawer, and removed a stack of papers and handed them to me. “These are some clippings and notes I made over the years. Maybe you can make some sense out them.”
“Hold on a minute, Leon. I only write fiction, you know, made up stuff. I don’t know anything about writing memoirs.”
“Eddy said you weren’t much of a writer, but since you’re the only writer I know, I figured it was worth a shot.” He held his hand out for the papers.
I held onto them. “Why do you want me to write your memoir?”
“I’m not going to live forever. I was hoping one day you’d send it to my grandson so he’ll know something about his grandfather.”
I left Leon’s house with a stack of papers in my hand. Three days later, after I had studied all the newspaper clippings, Leon’s notes, and what I could find out on the Internet about bank robbers, I started writing.

Dear Markus,
I’m writing to tell you about your grandfather, Leon Theodore Carter. He grew up in Southern Missouri during tough times. In spite of that, he made it big in the banking industry. If you want to know how he did it, I recommend you plan a trip to come see him. He’s been my financial adviser for years, and he’s never led me down a dark alley.
Better not take too long getting here. I just found out your grandfather is writing to nursing homes. I don’t have to tell you what might come of that. I’ve enclosed an airline ticket and a couple of hundred dollars for expense money. You can be in and out of here over a weekend.
Jack LaBloom

A few days later, Leon showed up at my door.
“Come in, Leon.”
He walked in. I took his coat and gloves and put them in the hall closet. “Please have a seat.”
“I got a call this morning,” he said as he sat down in one of the club chairs in our den.
Hoping my letter had worked, I asked, “From your grandson?”
“No. Markus called my son and then my son called me. He wanted to know what was going on with that letter you sent Markus?”
Jumping the gun with that letter may not have been such a good idea after all. “I’m sorry, Leon. Did my letter mess things up?”
He placed his hands on the armrest. “Almost.”
The knot in my stomach eased up a notch.
“What made you think my grandson was going to buy that bull you wrote about me?”
Wondering whether two anti-acid pills would be enough to untie the rope coiling up in my stomach, I shrugged.
“It upset my son so much he called me.”
Lowering my head, I didn’t know what to say. Whatever hope Leon had of ever seeing his grandson was probably gone for good and it was my fault.
“He told me you attached a copy of that newspaper clipping about how I was caught.”
After robbing a Missouri State Branch Bank, Leon would have gotten away, like he always had before, except for the fact he pushed a stalled car off the railroad tracks seconds before the train engine hit the rear of his own getaway car. He was knocked unconscious from the impact. The police found the stolen bank loot in the front seat. In the process of saving the life of a woman with two children strapped in their seats, he had risked his own life.
Leon never used a gun in any of the heist. Instead he used five red flare sticks wrapped up with duct tape on both ends to look like dynamite. The nine-volt battery, with two wires going nowhere other than under the tape, looked like an electronic detonator.
The judge sentenced him to twenty years. It would have been more had he used a gun. He was released after eight years and put on parole.
“I came by to tell you I changed my mind about you writing my memoirs. Eddy was right about your writing. Trying to make me out like I was a big shot banker.” He shook his head and chuckled. “There's no need for that memoir now."
Another rejection of my writing. “I understand.”
He stood. “Because my son, his wife, and Markus, are all coming to see me.”
I jumped up and hugged him. It was a Hallmark moment.

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