Family And Friends
By Michelle Pichette and Holly Cushing
"...And when I told him about the Shadow Man, he laughed and told me I needed to take time off more often. Can you believe that? Every single thing I tell him that happens to us on the Seaview, he makes like I'm either outright lying or I'm going crazy, especially the alien stuff," Kowalski griped at Patterson, who was sitting across from him in a booth at the Santa Barbara International House of pancakes. It was right about then that Kowalski realized that he had been complaining to Patterson almost from the moment that they'd sat down, straight through breakfast, then several cups of coffee. Patterson hadn't said anything in a very long time and was currently looking at Ski with a neutral expression while he sipped his coffee.
"So, next time, you're gonna be there to back me up, right? I mean, jury duty! Who does jury duty anymore?" Ski said, mostly to get Pat to say something.
Pat gave Ski a little grin and said, "Somebody's got to."
"Well, my mom spent just about the whole time worrying that you weren't eating and that you were gonna be worn out for the next cruise, stuff like that," Ski said.
"I hope you told her I'll be just fine."
"Yeah, but she expects you for Thanksgiving if we're in port. That's not a problem, right? Getting fed 'til you're ready to pop to make her feel better?"
Pat smiled outright, looked down shaking his head, and chuckled. "No. It's not a problem."
"Good, because Stan's been a real pain in the butt lately so I need you to straighten him out on this whole alien thing."
Pat shuffled his coffee cup before him, saying with a laugh, "I don't know how much help I'll be. Stan thinks I'm a couple sandwiches short of a picnic."
Ski nearly let his mouth fall opened. Two days ago, at dinner, Stan had said those exact words, only he hadn't been laughing, and Ski had nearly slugged him over it. Ski's parents had read Stan the riot act over it, but that hadn't made Ski feel any better. "Why would you say that?" he asked.
"Because he told me so that last time I saw him."
Ski squeezed his coffee cup, strangling it as if it were Stan's throat, and muttered, "I'll kill him!"
"Don't be silly. He's entitled to his opinion. Doesn't bother me."
"Well, it ought to. I can't believe him. Ranks on me my whole leave, messes with my boat, and now I find out he's talking down my friends. I have totally had it with him! I don't care if he is my brother, he's a dead man!" Ski declared and slamming his cup down on the table. Someone at a nearby table made a disapproving sound and Kowalski realized he was getting loud and was probably annoying the other restaurant patrons.
"Let's get out of here, huh? If I drink much more coffee I'll be able to outrun your car," Pat said, standing and tossing some money on the table. Ski was now really embarrassed because he knew Pat could pretty much live off of coffee and he'd meant to treat his friend to breakfast considering he'd used it as an opportunity to vent.
"I've got it," he protested, but he knew it was too late.
"Nah. It's on me. Jury duty pay," Pat said with a smile, then nodded Ski toward the door. They walked out to Kowalski's Camaro and Ski was stewing the entire way. This had not been how he'd wanted the morning to go. He'd wanted today to be relaxing after he'd spent his entire trip home being annoyed. He couldn't believe that Stan could get to him like this even at a distance. He let Pat into the car and climbed in himself. "You okay, Rick?" Pat asked before he got a chance to start his engine.
"Yeah, yeah. Fine," Ski told him, but he was sure that he didn't sound very sincere. He was all wound up and he wasn't good at hiding that sort of thing.
Pat rubbed his ear, a sign that he was uncomfortable, and said, "It's just that you know that Stan can be a real pill when he wants to be, but you don't usually let him get to you like this. I know things have been nuts lately and I've been sort of a basket case..."
"No," Ski cut him off quickly, not about to let Pat blame himself for his bad mood. Ski reached over and squeezed his friend's shoulder. "Considering everything you've been through lately, you're doing great. Listen, let's go blow off some steam, okay? What did you want to do? Anything you want."
Pat gave Ski a little shake of his head and said, "You're the one having a bad day. What do you want to do?"
Ski thought about it for a minute or two and said, "How about we go bowling? That way I'll get to throw things and it won't scare anybody."
Pat grinned a little. "Sounds good, as long as you promise not to throw anything at the other bowlers."
"Not even one?" Ski asked with a smile of his own. "I need to stop by an ATM, then we'll kill my rotten mood. Once it's totally dead, we'll go find some women willing to make sure it doesn't come back."
Pat blushed a little, but nodded. Ski felt his smile become a little more sincere at that blush. Ski had been trying for years to break through Pat's bashful streak, with only limited success. That was okay, Ski thought, because that was part of who his best friend was.
Ski drove to the branch of his bank that he knew of on the way to the bowling alley that he and Pat frequented. The drive through ATM machine was down, which figured as far as Ski was concerned, so he parked his car and walked up to the other ATM. Pat followed him out of the car because there was a mailbox on the other side of the bank entrance from the ATM and he had some bills he wanted to mail. Thankfully, this machine was up and running, so Ski inserted his card, punched in his password, hit the withdraw codes and waited for the little door to open and give him his money. It never did. Instead, a receipt popped out, the screen thanked him for his patronage, then it went back into dormant mode.
"What the hell?" Ski muttered as he pushed a couple of buttons, but nothing happened.
"Something wrong?" Pat asked as he came over.
Ski hit the panel with his open hand, scowling. "The stupid machine ate my card and didn't give me my money!"
Pat looked at the ATM screen, then looked at the receipt dangling from the panel. "What does the receipt say?"
Ski snatched it out of the slot and looked at it, starting to get really mad. "It says it gave me money and thanks me," he growled.
"Uh, the screen didn't say there was a problem?"
"No! It didn't say anything!" Ski said in exasperation.
Pat pursed his lips, then said, "Maybe you ought to talk to someone in the Bank. I'm sure they can straighten things out."
Pat was trying to be reasonable, but Ski wasn't feeling particularly reasonable as he started into the Bank. "Why do they even have these stupid machines if they never work right?"
"It's a conspiracy," Pat said, but Ski wasn't in the mood for kidding around.
Once they were in the building, Pat went off to look at brochures, probably just to be totally out of Ski's way as he walked up the customer service desk. There was a middle aged woman sitting there, and she smiled up at him and said, "Can I help you, sir?"
Ski bit back the scathing comments he'd been contemplating, and said, "Your ATM just ate my card and I didn't give me my money," as he handed her his receipt.
"Ah, I see," the woman said. "Do you know your account number, sir?" Kowalski told her his checking account number, crossing his arms over his chest to keep himself from clenching his fists. "You can have a seat, sir," the woman told him, indicating the large leather chairs before her desk.
"I'll stand, thanks," Ski said, barely keeping himself from grumbling again.
"Hmm. Your account seems fine, sir," the woman said.
Ski ground his teeth for a moment, then said, "I know my account it fine. It's your ATM that has the problem. Look, all I want is my card and my money."
"I understand, sir. If you'll take a seat, I'll go see if I can straighten things out. It should only be about fifteen minutes," the woman told him with a smile.
"Fifteen minutes to open a machine and give me fifty dollars?" Ski questioned her, getting really frustrated now.
"You see, sir, we'll need to balance the ATM before we can give you any money. You understand, I'm sure. I'll see if I can have it taken care of quicker," she said, giving him a standard customer service smile. Ski rolled his eyes, and the woman picked up the phone on her desk, dialing a three digit number. "Mister Pembroke, we have an ATM discrepancy. Yes. Yes, I see. All right. I'll tell the customer. Thank you." She hung up the telephone and gave Ski an apologetic look. "I'm afraid that Mister Pembroke is tied up with a customer at the moment. He should be with you shortly."
Ski was starting to see red. "Can't you do it?"
"Why, no, sir. I don't have the keys, you see," the woman told him with another contrite look. "I'm sure it really will be only a few moments, sir."
Ski dropped his arms and was about to vent a little more, when Patterson was suddenly standing next to him. "Excuse me, Ma'am," he was saying in an overly calm, quiet voice. "Do you have a silent alarm switch here at your desk?"
The smile drained of the woman's face and she began to look angry. "What?"
"What!" Ski repeated, only to get elbowed and hushed.
"I'm sorry, Ma'am," Pat continued, not even looking at Ski, rather meeting the eyes of the woman at the desk, still talking in a slow, hushed manner. "It's just that your bank's being robbed, the man has an automatic weapon, and I think the teller is panicking. Third window from your left. I just thought it would be a good idea to call the Police."
Kowalski couldn't help but look to where Pat had just described. There was a kid there, no more than a teenager, hardly a 'man.' He was wearing layers of that baggy, disheveled stuff that was popular right now with younger people, complete with knit hat pulled almost over his eyes, despite the fact that it had to be over eighty degrees outside. He was bouncing in place, glancing nervously over his shoulders, looking as agitated as Kowalski had felt a moment ago. Ski couldn't see the teller from where he stood, but Pat was right about calling the police. The kid was going to pop any second, Ski deduced from what he was seeing and he turned back to the woman at the desk. She had gone pale and was just drawing a hand from beneath her desk. Almost the moment she had, the telephone on her desk rang. That was when all hell broke loose.
There was a half-crazed roar, then bullets peppered the bank ceiling, removable panels falling to the floor, ruined. People screamed and scattered, some falling to the floor, some standing in place, frozen in terror. "Get down! Everyone down on the floor!" the bank robber demanded, sending another barrage of bullets in the air. Ski started to get down, beginning to assess the situation, then he saw that Pat had moved from next to him. A quick look placed him between the gunman and a young mother who was holding a baby, both of whom were crying. Pat was hushing them both, getting them to the floor and out of harm's way.
"That's right, bud. Clear him a path out," Ski muttered as he got down by the desk. Ski got a little angry with himself. If he hadn't been so caught up in his own problems, he would have thought to do that. Fortunately, the young mother was the only one who'd been too frightened to move. Everyone else was down, so Ski watched as the bank robber, focusing now. "Just leave. Just go," he willed the teenager, who was glaring around himself, brandishing his gun to intimidate the already frightened people before him.,/P>
"Give me the money!" the robber bellowed, starting a new wave of terrified sobs from some of the cowering patrons. The teller he'd been standing before shakily handed a bag toward him, whimpering as he snatched it away.
No sooner did he have it in his hands then a person dressed similarly to the bank robber came running in shouting, "Cops. There're cops coming from everywhere!"
Ski felt like slapping his forehead. How much worse was his bad day going to get before it stopped mushrooming out? The first teen let out an angry roar, which caused several people to shrink a little closer to the floor. The baby was wailing and the robber stormed up to the mother. "Shut that kid up! I'm trying to think!" he snarled, taking a kick at the mother. The blow never connected. Pat caught his foot in mid kick. He could have dumped the kid onto the floor, Ski wondered why he didn't, but instead, Pat released him. The kid scowled at him and said, "You're the first one I kill and toss out the door!"
"Fine. Just leave the woman alone," Pat replied, no fear evident on his face.
The robber snarled, only to have his friend grab at him, saying, "Stop screwing around. We gotta get outta here!"
The first kid paced around again, then said, "We've gotta make demands. We got all these hostages. The police'll back off it they know we mean business." He walked up the desk that Ski was by and stood over him, bellowing at the customer service woman, "Get on the phone! Get the police! We're gonna tell'm there're gonna be some dead people here real soon if they don't back off!"
Ski looked at the kid from his new vantage point. He was skinny and he was shaking a little, his color off. Probably did drugs, Ski thought, probably was on them now. Then Ski glanced back. The other kid didn't have a drawn weapon, but he might have one in all those baggy clothes. Pat was maybe five feet from him, not far at all. He could count on Pat to react the right way. Ski was sure he could.
With that thought, Ski shot up, grabbing the bank robber by the throat and by his weapon arm, forcing the gun up. The kid squeezed the trigger and bullet casings pelted Ski's face, the ceiling suffering another barrage. He squeezed the teen's throat more tightly, and slid his other hand up the kid's arm. Once he reached it, he wrenched the gun from the robber with no problem since Ski was far stronger than he was. Ski was angry about this little weasel scaring everyone like he had and threatening his friend, so he took great pleasure in socking him across the face now that he was disarmed. He was thinking about doing it again, but he restrained himself, thinking it wouldn't really serve any kind of purpose. He turned to see that Pat had the other kid on the floor, pinned.
"I think you can tell the police to come in now, Ma'am," Ski told the customer service woman who was cowering behind her desk. She nodded, fumbled the phone off it's cradle. Ski felt the rush of what had just happened fading as the kid began to squirm in his grip. He was kind of glad when the police came and took him off his hands.
All the bank patrons were asked for statements, but after giving the police their personal information, Ski and Pat were taken to one of the back offices and made to wait alone. About fifteen minutes later, a man in a suit and tie, probably a detective, entered the room. He paced the length of the room, saying, "You know, you Nelson Institute people give me ulcers." He paced back to them and stood before them, glaring angrily. "You," he pointed at Pat. "You must have no sense of self preservation. You told the bank robber to kill you? You're lucky he didn't, you know. The woman with the baby, she kept telling me how you saved her baby's life, though, so I'll chalk that bit of stupidity up to chivalry not being entirely dead."
Now he turned to face Ski, but he didn't look at all happy. "You, you're lucky I don't charge you with reckless endangerment. Who do you think you are, Rambo? You could've gotten someone, maybe a whole bunch of someones killed with that stunt of yours. The Santa Barbara police department does not need your help and if you ever, ever do anything like that again, I'll run you in. Understand?"
Ski had not been at all prepared for that, his bad mood coming back with a vengeance. "Where do you get off..." he started, only to have Pat grab him by the bicep and squeeze hard. The pain stopped him in mid sentence. "Ow! What're you..."
"I'm sorry, sir. He got injured last time out and the medication... well, it kind of makes him crazy," Pat apologized, then gave Ski an angry look that said he'd better not say a word.
Ski felt his mouth fall open, then he clamped it shut when the detective said, "Well, I'll let it go this once. He's not driving anywhere, is he?"
"No, sir. No where," Pat replied.
The detective didn't look much happier, but he nodded, saying, "If you were Crane or Nelson, you'd be headed to the Station, but I'll give you boys a break this time. Are you shipping out any time soon?"
"Three days, sir," Pat replied.
"If we need to ask you anything further about this incident, you can be reached at your home numbers?"
"Fine. You're free to go. Stay out of trouble," the detective said, nodding them toward the door.
Pat pretty much shoved Ski out the door, Ski bidding his time, figuring out exactly how much hell he was going to rain down on his friend over what had just happened, when the customer service lady approached them. "Mister Kowalski," she said, holding her trembling hands out to him. One held his ATM card, the other a bank envelope, which he could only assume held his fifty dollars. "Thank you. Please come again."
Ski took the offered items, his anger ebbing a bit. "Your welcome," he said, and she gave him a twitchy smile. He walked out to his car with Pat, taking out his keys as he neared it only to have them snatched away from him. "Hey!" he said, turning on Pat, his temper flaring again.
"Shut up and get in the car," Pat told him a tone that brooked no argument. Pat never talked like that to anyone, certainly he'd never spoken that way to Kowalski before. Shock alone somehow moved Ski around to the passenger side of his car and into the seat. Pat was already behind the wheel, looking frustrated and unhappy about something as he squeezed the steering wheel and stared out the windscreen. Ski opened his mouth, about to say something just to break the silence, when Pat asked quietly, "So what's the problem with your father?"
Ski was a little taken back by that. "What do you mean?"
Pat still didn't look at him. "You ranted most of the morning about Stan, you talked about your mom worrying too much about things, even some uncle that dropped by while you were home, but you never once mentioned your dad. When there's something really bothering you, you don't talk about it, so what's up with your dad that you don't want to talk about?"
It was Kowalski's turn to become frustrated because he had begun to realize that Pat knew him entirely too well. His friend was right, he didn't want to talk about what was really bothering him, especially not to Pat. "Look, I'm handling it."
Pat lifted a hand to rub an ear, letting Ski know that he wasn't as confident about confronting him as he appeared at the moment. "No. You can't. You caused a scene in a pancake house, you were totally incensed over a stupid bank error, you did something reckless that could have gotten people killed, then you were ready to mouth off to a police man who was not happy with us in the first place. That isn't 'handling it.' That's losing it. I know from personal experience. If you don't want to talk to me about whatever it is, then you need to..."
"He had a heart attack," Kowalski cut him off, the words hurting him to say aloud.
There was silence for a moment, Pat looking at him, emotions dancing across his face as he fought for how to react to what Ski was sure was a complete surprise. "When? Is he okay?" he asked finally, worry claiming his face.
Ski nodded, then rubbed his forehead, saying, "About a month ago." He knew there was no backing out now, no way not to tell Pat everything.
Now worry started to be edged out by confusion on Pat's features. "A month ago? Why didn't you go home then?"
Ski clenched his fists and punched his dashboard with one, wishing it was Stan's face he was hitting. He was so angry with his brother, more angry than he'd ever been with anyone else. "Because no one told me!" Ski shouted. "I got home and found out then. Mom was a wreck when it happened and she relied on Stan to let everyone know what was going on because he was home then. He didn't want to 'bother' me. He said that I couldn't have done anything about it so I was just better off not to know, that I'd been out at sea at the time and I would've just been stuck on the Seaview, not able to do anything. My mom didn't know at first, she thought I just couldn't be bothered to call or anything. My dad, he was in rough shape for a while, but when he got it together enough to ask if I'd called, Stan told them what he'd decided. What he'd decided about not telling me that our dad had nearly died! Bastard! I can't believe he'd do that! I can't believe he'd just..." His voice trailed off as Pat set an hand on his shoulder. He wasn't angry with Patterson, but he'd been barking at him all day and he was starting to feel guilty about it. Ski sure didn't want to look at his friend. He could only imagine the expression on Pat's face now.
"I'm so sorry, Rick," Pat said. "I'm sure your folks know you would've been there if you'd known."
"Oh, sure, but by the time they found out, it was too late to do anything about it. Since I was due home in another week, they thought it would be better to tell me in person. I wanted to kill Stan. I still do! He had no right!"
"Of course he didn't. I'm sure he knows that now."
"Yeah, well, my dad made us shake hands, told me to forgive Stan because it wasn't going to do me any good to stay mad at him. It took everything I had to be civil to Stan for the rest of the week for my parents' sake. Stan kept making jokes like nothing had happened, but if dad hadn't been doing better, Stan would not have been laughing. I'm sorry, Steve. None of this is your problem and I've been a real jerk to you today."
"Don't apologize, Rick. I understand."
"No, you shouldn't have to understand. I just couldn't talk to you about it before."
"And you say I'm closed mouthed. You're the one who never wants to talk about his troubles."
Ski shook his head. This was the worst part, the part of his problem that he hadn't wanted to get into and here Pat was kidding around about it. "No. Stop being so understanding, Steve. I don't deserve it. I've been the world's worst friend. I wasn't there for you when you almost died a few months ago. I never said a word to you when your dad..." He couldn't finish the sentence and he couldn't face his friend. He'd always felt bad about what he'd just said, but he'd never been comfortable talking to anyone about those sorts of things. Now, when it was his turn to have something truly awful happen to him, here was Pat being understanding and sympathetic. Ski couldn't imagine that he could feel any lower than he did right now, especially when Pat didn't say anything for a few moments.
"Rick, listen, about what you said, don't beat yourself up over it," Patterson said finally. "I mean, I didn't die and the boat was in the middle of a crisis at the time. It's not like you could drop everything and by the time everything was straightened out, I was fine. And when my dad was killed..." Pat's voice broke. Ski knew his friend was nowhere near over his father's death. He looked up to see Pat rubbing his eyes and something in Ski twisted in agony over seeing him hurting so bad. Pat cleared his throat, looking away, and continued, "You've never been comfortable dealing with death. I know that. You were there for me in your own way."
"But I should have talked to you, should have offered to let you talk to me about it. You were probably furious with me over it, probably still are," Ski said quietly. To his surprise, Pat laughed and looked back up at him.
"Rick, if I'd been stewing about anything all this time, don't you think I would've stopped talking to you by now?"
Ski sighed and said, "Maybe you were just waiting for the right time to get me back. Now'd be it. Let me have it."
Pat shook his head and cuffed Kowalski across the top of the head before starting the Camaro up. "Let's go knock down pins until you stop picturing Stan's face on all of them," he said as he fastened his seatbelt.
"Could take a while," Ski told Pat as he fastened his own.
"I didn't have other plans. So, what do you usually have on Thanksgiving besides turkey?"
Ski started to go down the typical Thanksgiving menu of the Kowalski household, telling Pat that he hadn't lived until he had his aunt's homemade sausage and several other Polish delicacies that showed up with other relatives. As he spoke, he thought about how Pat had forgiven him without a second thought and began to begrudgingly think maybe he ought to try and work things out with Stan. That was the way of things, wasn't it, he thought with a smile as Pat asked if he could contribute something to the meal. You're stuck with your family, but friends, real friends, they stay with you no matter what.
T H E - E N D
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