(continued from Wednesday's post)
When a foot crossed the bathroom’s threshold, Harold lurched forward and lashed out madly. He drew flesh and a gurgle from the man’s throat, and at that, one captor was down. The other grabbed Harold’s scalpel hand and was knocked out by a hard left hook to the temple. As he took the heavy breaths of a caged beast, Harold stumbled over the two masses and felt a path to another door that, when opened, led to an upward set of steps. After a slow ascent, he emerged to the uneasy sounds of a desolate street, a zone that he had never crossed on the vectors of a prosperous career. After he wandered for an hour, pleas for help met only by scorn, a female youth felt sympathy and led Harold to a payphone that he used to call the cops. After law enforcement collected Harold’s person and made many a query about the day’s events, he returned to home and hearth, where Jane, Lauren and Amanda greeted the husband and father they thought they had lost for good.
Months later, Harold was a shambles. Sans eyes, he had become useless to the company, a development that caused them to show a once-valued employee the door. Now he was despondent, bed-bound even at one p.m. and a bottle of Scotch always handy. Transplants were not unknown, but there was a shortage of legal organs, and Harold’s doctor was sad to relate that years could pass before Harold came up for new eyes.
Jane, once a mover and shaker at the country club, found herself forced to work, as Harold’s unemployment checks weren’t enough to support the clan’s classy needs. The two spouses had turned frosty toward each other as a result, and the daughters–who sensed the shot nerves of both parents–began to act petulant. They adopted over-sexed poses that the household forbade and stayed out later than ever before, much too late for young women who were no older than fourteen.
These scandalous trends had gone unchecked for some weeks when, for Harold, events came to a head. The cops caught Amanda prostrate on a car’s backseat, under cover of dark woods, as she enjoyed the company of a boy three years older–an assault on values and decency that snapped Harold out of the funk he had labored under. He felt refreshed, reborn through the moral anger that coursed through arms, legs and torso. "Jane, Amanda, Lauren: they need me to protect them, perhaps more than ever," he thought. "But for that to happen, my own person must be restored."
Under the sway of these arguments, Harold saw that the next move was clear. He called a confrere who had advanced far through the ranks of law enforcement and asked that an old favor be returned. The repayment would take the form of data on the organ trade, and that dastardly market’s key players. Harold’s chum, not one to forsake past debts, agreed to dole out the goods secretly, face to face, at a remote locale. After Harold gave the chauffeur he used a bonus to keep mum about such an odd arrangement, the scheme was set. That weekend, the tryst occurred under an overpass that spanned a large creek beyond the suburbs; and by Monday Harold, new knowledge under wraps, was one step closer to the goal he sought.
Another day, another shadowy phone call. Harold was at the large mahogany desk he kept at home, connected (unbeknownst to spouse and daughters) to a seedy Slav so he could make plans to execute a much-valued procedure. Through language that an expert cryptographer could never decode, the two agreed to meet at a restaurant off of the urban zone’s well-trodden paths; after that, the Slav would take Harold to the lab where outlaw surgeons performed the sort of procedure that the eyeless man so desperately wanted done. Once Harold had new eyes and could see afresh, he would be ushered back to the restaurant (eyes covered, of course) and meet the chauffeur he counted on for transport. Then, and only then, would he transfer to the Slav the key and address for a storage locker that would hold the $200,000 that was the procedure’s cost.
The fateful day came to pass, and the plan went off as smoothly as could be. As the Slav uttered a snake-tongued sendoff–"Pleasure to serve you, Mr. Johnson"–Harold entered the BMW manned by the chauffeur and asked to be taken home, post haste. A bad aftertaste wouldn’t leave Harold’s mouth as he rode to spouse and daughters, as fuzzy tableaux from the world streamed onto as-of-yet weak ocular nerves. He hated to pony up for such detestable scum, but there was no other way. Yet he brooded on what Jane would make of the course he had taken. Would she deem her husband scum after she found out what he had done–and kept from her knowledge, no less?
He entered the foyer of the house, only to encounter Jane seated on the steps to the second floor, face ragged and worn.
"Where have you been?" she asked.
"Just look." Harold took off the shades that had screened out the harsh sun and showed Jane the new eyes he had purchased at such a steep cost. She gasped out of shock; then, as she comprehended fully what the news meant, the gasp relaxed to a look of glee as she threw arms around her husband’s neck.
"Jane, let me tell you the source of these new–," he began through her pecks of endearment. But she stepped back and her face turned solemn.
"That doesn’t matter, Harold," she uttered as she assumed her best Lady Macbeth pose. "As long as you put me and Lauren and Amanda before all else, what you do beyond these walls can stay there."
Harold beamed at Jane’s reassurance and moved to embrace her. But she repelled the advance; a problem that had pressed on her thoughts returned, and vengefully.
"No–there’s a worry we have to talk over," she remarked. "Lauren and Amanda never came home yesterday."
"What?" Now Harold took a turn at shock, mouth agape as the soul reeled from a sudden nausea. But before he could grasp for answers, one opened the front door–Amanda, home at last, but wracked by sobs. Jane rushed to her daughter.
"What’s wrong, honey? What happened?"
The seconds stretched on madly as the young woman struggled for composure. At last she managed the phrase, "They took us."
"Who? Who took you?"
"The men who drove the van."
"What sort of van?" asked Jane.
"T-t-totally blank," moaned Amanda. "They let me go...they told me my uh, my, uh, were no good."
"Your what?" asked Jane as she shook her daughter.
Harold had stood up, as he added the facts up and they approached an awful sum. He placed a hand over the organs he had newly reaped.
"Your what?" repeated Jane, almost at a scream.
"My eyes...oh God, but they told Lauren hers were perfect."
Jane’s own eyes grew large and bloodshot. She looked at her husband, who stood hand to face as photons streamed upon closed lashes, a constant mockery of the sense he had gone to such lengths to recover.