Chapter 13. A long and lonely night.
Back in Michigan, Claire had traded the Porsche for the SUV, picked up 2 friends, and headed to the west part of town. She picked up 2 more friends who lived in the city of Royal Oak, before stopping for dinner and a movie. After enjoying shopping and a movie, Claire dropped the 2 friends off in the city of royal oak and was heading back toward the expressway. It was about 10p.
The evening was filled with gossip. Claire was humored because one of her friends Lisa posed a question earlier about Michael and Lisa had to bring it up again.
“So Clairie, tell us more. We want the details. How did it feel when he finally told you, face to face, that he fell in love with you during high school?”
Claire just giggled, “Lisa, you’re killing me with these questions. I also was not surprised by our first real date was when he took me back to the family boat and offered the perfect chance for me to yell at him — give him a piece of my mind.”
“Claire, I still can’t believe you really told him about that. It’s been like 4 years. I thought maybe you had forgotten about sex with Legs. Funny, I don’t even remember her real name.” All the girls laughed. “In fact, some said it was only gossip and no one really knew if it was even true. Oh my. So it was true! I mean both, you yelling at him and sex with legs?”
“Wow!” both girls responded in unison. The other girl’s name is Sarah.
“This must be love!” Lisa interjected.
The girls were laughing and carrying on without a care in the world when Claire was startled because the dashboard lights dimmed in an instant, she lost control of the steering, and accelerator kicked in. In a panic, before she had time to scream, the auto pilot light started blinking, and a voice came over the PA system, “Brace for impact.” The car swerved as though it had a will of its own.
Her first reaction was “What the f””””?”
Claire heard the wheels squealing as the car accelerated away from danger, positioning her for safety in a matter of seconds. The airbags were deployed throughout the interior, even though she had not felt any impact from any other vehicle — yet. She wasn’t sure if her friends were screaming or not, possibly because she was screaming so loud, or it was the crush of the airbags over her face drowned out the noise.
The driver’s chair hugged Claire’s body with the help of memory foam and the arm rests bent in — then she felt the impact. The delivery truck had just missed the drivers seat and landed between the passenger seat and the rear of the SUV. Both of Claires friends, Lisa and Sarah, died within seconds of the impact as the driver of 6 ton delivery truck rammed into the SUV, forcing it into spin and then roll over.
In Grosse Pointe, my mother, Joanna, heard her phone sound off. The tone had been chosen carefully. It was a female voice, like Siri. Joanna heard, “beep beep beep — Joanna, we have a situation. A message from Old Faithful.” She knew it was a distress signal, and she also knew it didn’t involve me.
Old-faithful is the name the Hanson’s gave to their security system when it proved itself faithful by diverted several conflicts, including threats against me.
She picked up the phone and looked at the message while hearing another chime. It was from the security team’s, another distinct ring tone. She answered it.
“Teddy. What’s going on?”
“Joanna. We have a situation. Claire has just been in an accident.”
“Oh my — um yes, I just got the message. I didn’t look at it. Fill me in.”
“Teddy, do not call Richard yet — we’ll make that call to him and Michael after we have a lot more details. Understood?”
“Yes.” she heard the echos of the others.
“where is the SUV now?”
“It is about 1 mile north of I 75.”
“Do we have anyone on that side of town now?”
“Yes. 2 FBI agents. I know one of them personally. We also know the chief of police in the city. They’re being alerted now.”
“Good. I plan to contact Claire’s mother when in route? I had a brief chat with her on the phone a few days ago, promising to meet her for lunch soon.”
My mother paused to catch her breath as she felt a tear ready to drip out. “Why does this reunion have to be under such circumstances?” It was a rhetorical question, but it still caused everyone to pause.
“Joanna, what can i do? any special requests?”
“No Teddy. Come by the house. We’ll drive together. How many cars in your fleet?”
“Just 2 SUVs. Helicopter is ready for transport if needed.”
“Good. I will spend time contacting people on the way. . . including Claire’s parents. What’s your ETA Teddy?”
“3 minutes. We are on lakeshore drive now.”
narration — joanna or mother. – I like joanna more than mrs hanson
After these words, Joanna hung up the phone and stepped through the rear exit of the home, awaiting for the SUV with Teddy to pick her up. Its design was majestic. A circular brick-paved driveway with the rear door’s exit covered by an elaborate hotel like yawning. It was designed to allow up to 4 SUVs to pull up and allow passengers in or out in a heavy rain or snow storm. There was also an underground driveway that was more private, but more on that later. The canopy was massive and retractable by pushing a button or 2. Ironically, I never played with the remote. Our house staff did it for us.
While waiting, she looked up Robert Lee’s number and started contemplating her speech. As she did, she laughed at herself, knowing that calls like this never go according to a script.
Chapter 14 : The Feds
The first responders started heading in the direction of the scene, including officer John Carter.
He stared at his dashboard computer while his sirens and lights were spreading traffic.
“What the hell . . .?”
His dashboard computer had a code that he had not seen before: POI. He had heard of it but never seen it on duty.
The staff seargent came on the radio.
“All units responding to the accident at Woodward and 15 Mile Rd. Captain says he is familiar with the family. The feds are also being dispatched. When you arrive on the scene, don’t touch anything. A special federal team will be covering forensics.”
At the same time, FBI agents received text messages on their phones.
2 miles away
private security team is on the way
Pictures of the security team and Joanna jumped on their screen.
As though it was a common day at work, FBI special agents Carol Jennings and Conrad Bolton, jumped in their vehicle, switched on the lights and headed out.
“Hey, Jennings, you know Joanna well, huh?”
“Yeah. I love her and hate her. You know the type. One thing about the super rich, they know who they are and they know our bosses — our boss in DC is probably on her speed dial. You get my point. On the other hand, Teddy is the kind of man I would marry. He heads their security detail. Never met anyone like him.” She laughed. “6 foot 4 and full of love, yet one hell of a good shot and second to none in hand to hand combat.”
“I wish. I did training with him years ago for special ops. I scored in the top 5% and went into the FBI. His scores were better. He went into private security. And let me tell you, his salary and retirement package makes me jealous every time I think about it. He never gave me the numbers, but he alluded to a few details now and then.”
“Con, change of subject.” His partners liked to call him Robert Conrad Con since he was the type of person who everyone liked and trusted. However, he was anything but a conman. “By the way, you have probably already figured it out. If we got this message, this accident is not a coincidence. If mom, Joanna is heading to the scene, it means it’s personal. We’ll probably know more within the hour.”
“I kinda guessed that.”
Their computer beeped again. Claire’s picture jumped on the screen.
“Oh shit! Con, I know her — Claire. II mean I’ve heard of her.”
“I mean, I’ve seen pictures. I’ve never met her. She’s Michael’s high school sweetheart. This is about to get really dirty.”
“Michael’s out of the country, I think. Teddy told me, and I quote, ‘Michael’s chasing after his high school girlfriend.’ So yeah, this is really personal.”
“You mean, you think someone hired a hit on Michael’s girlfriend?”
“Yeah. I’m guessing. Honestly, I should shut up now. Wait till more evidence is reviewed. But yeah, if this is what I think it is, I’m pissed.”
“How bad could it be?”
“Claire, if i remember it correctly, Teddy told me she’s a law school student and her father is blabla bla”.
“You mean the lawyer in europe now?”
The first to arrive was officer carter. At 6 feet, in his mid thirties, and bald, he had been on the job in this city for about 5 years. He came directly from the Navy, but not special forces.
“This is T3, I just arrived. The SUV has flipped — it looks a bit like a V shape. How it’s remained intact is beyond me. Jesus, that’s no common SUV. Checking for signs of life.” Carter’s body camera and mic were on, but before he could take another step, the captain came on.
“Carter check only the status of the delivery truck.” Carter knew better than to challenge an order with the captain in route.
“Roger that captain.”
Joanna was watching Claire’s vitals while driving in the SUV, as best as they could be. The data has already been sent to the need-to-know parties. Lisa and Courtney were presumed dead, but claire had life left in her.
As Claire rested in the what was left of the front seat, she heard a voice come from the dashboard.
“Claire dear, can you hear me? This is Mrs Hanson. We are en route.”
Claire seem to nod, but Joanna wasn’t sure if it was cognitive.
“Claire sweetheart, You will survive this. If you are able, blink an eye or give us a smile.”
Claire was in shock and she was suffering from broken bones and internal and external bleeding.
“Keep your eyes opened, continue listening to my voice, and take deep breaths. Everything is going to be ok.”
Joanna waited a moment to watch and listen.
“Good Claire, you are doing well. Just keep listening to my voice. Do not worry about your friends. There is nothing you can do to help them. Just stay calm and still. You’re in good hands. Do not move. Stay as still as you can.”
Joanna was a bit surprised at how steady her voice was because while she was talking, she was viewing a computer panel in the SUV. It included a set of computer monitors.
The SUV was so damaged that even the video feed was at an angle and Joanna did not see a clear picture of Claire. Claire’s was struggling to keep her eyes opened. Her body was engulfed in the airbag, so my mother presumed she was breathing steadily because there were slight movements.
She should have been able to see the SUV’s interior from about 10 angles, but the accident had obstructed her view. She did not have a clear line of sight to see the girls in the back seat, which meant the impact on the vehicle had been enormous. In fact, she wasn’t sure which cameras were working except the one pointed at Claire.
Joanna had not seen an accident this bad in a while, perhaps ever. While still nodding her head at the video feed.
“My my, Teddy, how much do we know? I mean — no way is this a coincidence. Talk to me.”
Teddy just nodded as they both continued to monitor the screens.
Teddy changed the scenes from inside the SUV to road. They saw emergency responders arriving.
Claire seemed to go in and out of consciousness, and the pain was excruciating. The broken limbs included both legs, 1 arm, and a few ribs. She also had several injuries on her face, including one over her eyebrow and another near her chin. Blood was everywhere, the sources of it were not clear.
The SUV had rolled several times after it was hit. If Claire had not worn her seatbelt, should would be dead.
“Claire?” This time, Claire did not respond to Joanna’s voice. “Stay awake sweetheart. Help is on the way.” As my mother spoke this, she noticed an ambulance had pulled up next to the SUV.
My mom needed to change her focus, so luckily Teddy helped out.
“Joanna, Mrs Lee is on the phone.”
He handed the phone to her.
“Joanna, what on earth is going on? Did something happen to Claire?”
“Yes — She was in an accident. Where are you? Can we come and get you?”
There was a pause. “That’s my baby. My only daughter. How bad is the accident? Tell me she’s alive.”
“Virginia, Claire is alive. Of this we are certain. Where are you? Can we come and get you?”
“No. I’m with my sister, Gina, in Ohio. We will get in the car soon and see you in a couple of hours.”
Mrs Lee paused. “Joanna, I feel lost right now, so it’s good I’m with my sister. We are very close.” She exhaled and let out an unconscious appeal to Joanna. “You know Robert is in Germany with death threats and now my daughter is — I cant do this anymore!”
Another voice came on. “This is Gina. Thank you for the updates Joanna. We’ll call you when we are closer, but please do not hesitate to call us with updates. If we don’t hear from you, can we conclude Claire’s condition is stable or improving?”
“Yes Gina, of course. Take your time getting here. We’ll send you updates as we get them.”
“So the other girls, she was with 2 or 3 friends, they are also ok?” Gina exhaled again.
Joanna paused. Trying not to be theatrical, but wanting to be honest, “We’re waiting for updates now. 911 responders on the the scene. They were in the back seat where the impact happened. Claire was in a safer part of the car.”
“Ok. So if anything changes with Claire, Joanna, do you promise to call?”
“Yes, please call me if there is anything I can do to help.”
One of the unfortunate aspects of being mysteriously powerful is people do not want to ask favors, because when the person asking the favors often will develop an unspoken fear that if they ask one too many favors, they may owe a debt that they cannot repay.
My mother would have happily offered to get them to the hospital faster, perhaps by helicopter, but she respected the unspoken boundary of Virginia.
Now Mrs Lee’s next challenge was to contact her husband. He was in a war zone himself. My mother knew to wait. Soon Mrs Lee would call back and reluctantly ask for help. Mrs Lee would now enter into a state of needyness and helplessness, relying on a family that she had doubts about and yet would be unable to honestly express any of her fears because her priority was her daughter’s life.
Chapter 15 : Robert Lee
Mrs Lee took a few minutes to allow the shaking to slow, then she made the call to her husband. She was thankful that she now had a reason to demand that he come home.
The phone range a few times, “Hi Honey. What’s wrong?”
She tried to speak but lost her voice as tears filled her eyes. Gina grabbed the phone. “Hi Robert, are you somewhere, a place you can sit down — “
“Sure.” He was very good at staying cool under pressure, but he knew that Claire had started to see Michael, so his mind had been wandering since he got the news of their first date.
“Please let me get right to the point. Claire is ok, but she has been in a car accident and she will need to go to the hospital.” Robert heard the tears in Gina’s voice.
“How bad is it?”
“I am putting you on speaker phone. We don’t know all the details, but we do know Joanna is directly involved and she sounded a bit nervous. She did ask us to head directly to the hospital in Royal Oak.”
“Yeah. She told us emergency units have been dispatched and one had arrived on the scene before our chat with her ended.”
“Joanna was emphatic that Claire is going to make it — but when does a person speak this way? — when the accident is bad.”
Robert mumbled agreement.
He paused, knowing what he needed to say for all to hear.
“I looks like the two most important people to me in this world just got their wish.” He heard his voice waver, but he wanted to say what he needed to say. “I’ll make plans within the hour to start preparing to head back. Forward my number to Joanna, if she doesn’t already have it and ask her to give me a call.”
“Hon — I’m so sorry I’m not with you right now. I can’t imagine how you are feeling. But I know this will work out. Our daughter is a fighter.” He was going to say more, but he got too choked up.
“Thank you gina. You’re always there when we need you. This probably why you are Claire’s favorite aunt.” The call soon ended, Robert the chance to catch his breathe.
About 2 minutes passed, and Robert’s phone range again. He didn’t know the number, but he guessed right.
“Is this Joanna?”
“Yes Robert. So sorry to speak with you under such circumstances.”
“Thank you for getting involved Joanna. I’m guessing you have known for a while that Michael has had his eye on my daughter.”
“Please tell me one thing. How bad is it? I’m guessing from the conversation with my wife, you know a lot more than we do.”
“Yes. Hold on.” She put the phone on hold for a few seconds. “Hi, I’m back. Let me tell you what we know for sure. The accident is bad. The car flipped. However, Claire was driving in one of the safest SUVs in the world.”
“I ‘ve a feeling you are not using hyperbole Joanna.”
“No ——— I’m not. You know about our family. We take precautions. Claire is very dear to us, so we’ll move forward to help in anyway we can. Now, time to change subjects.”
“where are you?”
“Ok. With your permission, we want to get you back has as soon as possible.”
“What do you mean?”
“Hold on.” She turned on the speaker phone. “We are on speaker phone. You’ll be working with Michael’s best friend Teddy. Teddy, say hello.”
The two shared a greeting. Teddy then took the lead.
“Robert, I can arrange for your safe travel back to Michigan. All I need is for you to say yes.”
“Sure. Just let me know what I need to do and the expenses involved.”
As soon as he said expenses involved, he felt a little silly. He had trust issues with the Hansons, so he needed to delay a sure yes until he could think things over.
“Robert, we will take care of everything. I’ll call you within the hour with details. All we need is to confirm your location. I’ll pass on your phone number to a colleague.”
“Ok. if there is nothing else, i’m going to hang up and start getting situated.”
Joanna got back into the call.
“Robert allow me to make a comment that i know you know, but it may help you to hear it from me. Claire is like family to us now. My son made it clear that he wants us to take good care of her and we intend to do so. Therefore, your only worry should be getting yourself back here. All expenses and whatever we will handle. After Claire comes out of surgery, she will need you there. We do not know what shape she will be in — you know the rest.”
“Sure. I understand, and i thank you. Claire didn’t do much dating in high school because she had hoped Michael would ask her out. Your son was . . .is a mystery.”
“I know. When we see you, i promise we’ll share the details. Your daughter captured our son’s attention long ago. In the opinion of my husband Richard and I, too early.”
Robert found himself nodding agreement, surprised by this response to Joanna’s honesty. He liked this feeling, but fear shot through him. They know just what to say.
“Thank you again Joanna. Gina and I both told Claire to take high school and boys slowly.” His tone had changed. He wasn’t sure the impression he was making, so he hoped his suspicious mind was not coming off too much. He wanted the more grateful emotions to be stronger. He had hoped for Claire’s sake that Joanna did not pick up on it.
As he hung up the phone and plopped down on the bed, only one thought came to him. “How could this be?” He scratched his head, and a memory, an old fear, came back to him. “Joanna is holding back. I wonder if there is more going on? The timing seems too perfect. Claire gets back with Michael and now she is almost dead. Something is very wrong!”
He was about to call his wife and make a comment or 2 about how his mind was wandering into conspiracies, but he needed to think it through before he made this call. It was time for a pep talk to himself.
“Ok, I do this with clients all the time. Now I gotta do it on myself. I can’t tell —— that we are not accepting the help of the Hanson’s if it means not giving Claire everything she’ll need to recover. On the other hand, do the hanson’s offer blank checks with no strings attached?”
It was time to practice a scripted talk with his wife before he called. He set his watch timer at 5 minutes.
“Honey, um, I don’t want to accept the help from the Hanson’s because I don’t know blablabla.”
Beep beep beep. The 5 minutes had passed mysteriously fast.
“Ok. Time to make the call.” He dialed.
She answered instantly.
“Hi.” He felt ashamed of himself as only the hi came out in a mutter. “Sorry love. I just finished a call with Joanna. You know that I’m a bit conflicted with this, so I leave the decisions up to you.”
He had not planned to say this, but after he had, he held his breathe while awaiting her response.
“Richard,” He needed her to be a bit more steady, so he was thankful he heard this in her voice. “I’m planning to invite the Hanson’s to assist. Before I do, can you tell me why you are feeling conflicted?”
“So many thoughts and emotions are racing through my mind. I just went from overwhelmed by my current situation here to more overwhelmed at the thought of losing my daughter. You know me. I can compartmentalize very well. I can look into the eyes a rapist and rape victim and remain calm. But I’m losing it now. This is too — i dont know. i can’t lose her and I can’t lose you.”
She heard him pause for a short quiet sob.
“Honey, give me just one scenario. Something that makes you not want to trust the Hansons.”
“Sure. Did you know that 3 years ago or so, Richard had me investigated? I mean, what the hell? I’m honorable. Why would he do that?”
For a moment, his wife became his therapist. “Let’s do a brief timeline, and let’s offer the benefit of the doubt to the Hanson’s because you don’t know if the investigation happened for sure or why he did it. Agree?”
“sure, i dont know the details. I only know the word was it he was looking into me and it felt personal and inappropriate. He could have knocked on your door and said he wanted to speak with us plainly.”
timeline — check with joanna’s converations above
“But what if this was about Claire? Do you realize that Michael announced he wanted to date Claire about 4 years ago?”
“I never considered the timeline that closely.”
“I will ask Joanna about the details when the time presents itself, but these thoughts had crossed my mine, especially as I had a long talk with Claire. My first good talk with claire about all of this was within hours of Michael coming back into her life. The second was after their official first date, just days ago.”
“Sure. Like i said, I’m missing out on so much being out here. I’m so sorry to you and claire for that.”
“Honey, put that aside for now. When I was speaking with Claire, it dawned on me that the Hanson’s probably investigated you for 1 of 2 reasons. Because of Michael’s feelings for Claire, which are still very alive after 4 years, or he was planning to donate more money. Sweetheart, there is no other reason for him to investigate. right?”
“I know. I guess I’m seeing the worst in people because that is what I often do.” He took another deep breathe and wiped his eyes. “Let’s get things going. I need to get back to be with you and Claire after she gets out of surgery.”
“Good, put your suspicions and pride on hold. I’ll tell Joanna.” She paused, “and by the way, i love you.”
“Love you too.”
“I dont want to sound desparate or whatever other word we might find, however, I also dont want to look back 10 years from now and regret that we didn’t accept all the help we could get for Claire’s sake. I want my daughter to be as whole and healthy as she can be. If we say no because of a suspicious and it is proven wrong, I personally cannot live that. Agreed?”
“Let’s get you home.”
There was a long list of reasons Claire liked me, but Robert also knew that my family was rich enough to avoid having blood on their hands. They had enemies and he knew first hand how their societies worked. But Claire was his focus and his wife’s focus. He was willing to do whatever it took to insure that she had every resource to help her regain her health, mentally and physically, if she survived.
As thrilled as Robert was that Claire was happy, he half-hoped that she would discover some of the secrets of the Hanson family and this might make her question her relationship to Michael.