Chapter 34 – Daniel
Saturday, September 28th
When Zach Israel had told him that he was his father, everything Daniel had taken as fact since he was born went into chaos. He had tried not to let it show by throwing them off balance. But no matter what he said, Zach was not impressed or shocked. Keith had been, he could see that, but Keith hadn’t really mattered. He hadn’t known he was a Christian, but then he didn’t really know him that well.
If Daniel had just been told to guess which parent wasn’t really his biological parent he would have chosen Clarissa. She could play the wicked stepmother role to perfection. And when she had punished him for something or started one of her tirades, his father, Dan, had stepped in and taken his side. Over the years he had been able to keep an uneasy truce with Clarissa by learning to use all the charm he had. As long as he made her look good in front of others they could play the happy family. But he knew just how to upset her, and sometimes he did it just to watch her rage. The temptation had been too strong tonight, and her reaction still made him smile.
Daniel pulled a soda from the refrigerator and remembered what Zach had said about drinking. He was so odd, this new father. It was hard to imagine that Dan actually dared to take on a man like Zach Israel. He obviously wasn’t one who could be controlled easily. Of course, Dan was a consummate manipulator. Daniel wondered exactly how hard it would be to manipulate Zach.
But it still didn’t make sense. Dan must have known Daniel wasn’t his. The resemblance was too strong. But he’d never gotten the impression Dan hated him or even disliked him, the way he had from Clarissa. But Daniel now guessed it was more than business that kept them apart. Zach and his father seemed close. Daniel wondered what that was like.
His roommate, Scott Haglin, came in more than a little drunk and wanted to tell Daniel about his conquest. Normally Daniel would have joked along with him, but for some reason Scott’s exploits seemed a little annoying tonight. Daniel decided to go to bed.
The next morning Daniel wasn’t quite as melancholy as he had been the night before. He could pretty much accept it, and just had to determine the socially correct way to say it. As he had joked around with several others back home, being socially correct was more important than political or even academic correctness in Rose Hill, South Carolina. He decided that in Rose Hill, he’d still call Dan and Clarissa, Dad and Mother, but he might get on Zach’s good side by calling him Dad and using Dan and Clarissa’s given names here.
Scott was still snoring off his beer when the phone rang. Daniel answered it and was surprised to hear Dan, his stepfather, on the other end. “Hi, Danny. Your mother said you called last night, but she was so upset I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I thought I should call and make sure everything is fine.”
“Everything’s good here, Dad, or should I call you Dan?”
“What do you mean?”
“I met Zach Israel last night. Are you there?”
“I didn’t realize he was still alive. Last I heard he was still in the hospital.”
“He seemed pretty healthy to me.”
“What did he look like?”
“Like me. But then you knew that.”
Dan’s voice was quiet when he next spoke. “Yes. I knew that.” He paused. “I suppose he told you what happened.”
“We don’t have to tell your grandfather.”
“Didn’t he figure it out?”
“He never met Zach, and it wasn’t hard to convince him I only married Clarissa because she was pregnant. You’re the only heir, Danny. It’s in your best interest to keep it quiet.”
“Why didn’t you have any other children when you knew I wasn’t yours?”
“Clarissa said she was pregnant twice, and she would never become pregnant again.”
“Twice? What else have you guys been hiding from me?”
“He didn’t tell you about Joel?”
“Did he tell you about the fire?”
“No. I just met him. Maybe he’ll tell me more today. So who’s Joel?”
“He was your brother. He died in the fire that put Zach in the hospital. That’s when Clarissa left him, and we decided to get married.”
“And you were his best friend.”
“That’s what he said?”
Dan was silent a moment. “He’s accepted you as his son?”
“It sounds like he’s willing to. I’m the last of the Israel line, you know. He never remarried.”
“No, I don’t imagine he would have. What’s he do now?”
“He’s a colonel in the Army.”
“Still in the military? I didn’t think they’d keep him after the fire. Does it look like he’s recovered completely?”
“I wouldn’t have guessed he was in a fire, but that was almost twenty years ago. How bad was he hurt?”
“I never went to see him. But Clarissa said he was burned… Well, I guess she must have exaggerated his injuries. Look, Danny, if you can keep things quiet, nothing will change here for you. You and any children you have will eventually inherit everything, and I’ll guarantee you it’s a hell of a lot more than anything Zach can offer you. It doesn’t matter if you’re the last blood Israel. Don’t let him talk you into doing something stupid like changing your name. Your grandfather would rather see his fortune go to his sisters’ children and grandchildren than a non-blood relative. Don’t screw this up. If you’re smart you’ll come back to Rose Hill when you’re finished there and pretend like you never met Zach Israel.”
Daniel had not thought too seriously about changing his name before. He didn’t even know if he wanted to claim Zach as a father yet. Now he didn’t have a choice about the name, but he could still keep Dan guessing. “I’ll think about it. Maybe I’ll get noble and decide I don’t want the money.”
“You do have a perverse streak — always wanting to do the opposite of what anyone tells you to. You may not like to admit it, Danny, but you are your mother’s child. There’s money for the taking here, and you don’t have to do a damn thing. Don’t let your ego mess it up, or you’ll regret it the rest of your life.”
“Yeah, well, Zach’s going to be picking me up soon, so I’ll talk to you later.”
“Remember, Danny, no matter what he says, you’re still my son. I’m the one who raised you. I’m the one you’re named after. Play your little game with him, but remember where you belong.”
After he hung up, Daniel reflected on what Dan had said. Dan knew him a little better than he thought he had. He didn’t liked his character so bluntly defined. It disturbed him, but only until Zach and Saul interrupted his thoughts. Then he forgot about his discomfort with himself.
Daniel rode the hour trip to Flushing with Zach, and Saul followed behind in his truck. As he sat next to Zach, Daniel studied him, looking for a sign of the injuries Dan had mentioned, but he couldn’t find any.
Zach glanced at him. “Why don’t you put in one of those CDs?”
Daniel found the case and looked through the contents. “I don’t even know any of these people.”
“You never heard Keith’s dad? He’s Dylan Trent.”
Daniel pulled out one of the CD’s and looked at the man on the cover. “This is Keith’s father?”
“Stepfather. I think his real father died when he was young. I’m going to meet Dylan tomorrow.”
Daniel put the CD in. He listened to the music, but was more interested in the man next to him. “Why didn’t you tell me about Joel or the fire?”
It seemed that Zach stiffened a little before replying. “You obviously heard about it. We haven’t exactly had a lot of time to talk, and the past isn’t my favorite subject.”
“Dan thought you had died or were hurt so badly that you couldn’t work or something. He said Clarissa must have exaggerated your injuries to him.”
“Was that his excuse to take my wife and child?”
“As close as I got to one.”
“I had to have a little surgery, but as you can see, I’m fine. I just wish I could have gotten Joel out, but I didn’t make it in time.” Zach twisted his wallet out of his pocket as he drove and handed the photo section to Daniel.
“This could almost be a picture of me.”
“He was only a year and a half old. He would have been not quite two years older than you.”
Daniel studied the picture a little longer and then flipped to the next two.
Zach glanced over. “That’s David and Beth.”
Daniel looked at the last picture. It was of Saul and a woman. “This your mom?”
“Yes. Dad’s got a whole mess of pictures of our ancestors at Beth’s house if you’re interested.”
“Yeah, sure.” His father only carried four pictures. Those must be the people who were the most important to him. He turned back to the picture of David. “I never had a brother before. He’s an only child, too, then?”
“Yes. Unless you count Jared, but Jared would be upset if you did. He’s Beth’s eight year old son who lives with his father.”
Soon they pulled up to a corner house. Saul was right behind them, and they met him walking up to the door. Beth let them inside, and Zach introduced him to her.
“Hello, Beth. It’s always a pleasure to meet a beautiful woman,” Daniel said, even though he found her only reasonably attractive.
Beth looked at Zach like she didn’t believe Daniel.
“Surely you’ve been told you’re beautiful before.”
“Only by my son, David.”
“Then David and I already have something in common. We both aren’t afraid to acknowledge a beautiful woman when we see one.”
Beth looked about to laugh.
Daniel noted that he better adjust his approach. She must distrust too many personal compliments. “Where is my new brother?”
“Yes, where is that grandson of mine?”
“In the office,” Beth said, motioning them through a doorway framed by a set of drapes.
Daniel looked around the cramped room packed with computer equipment, bookshelves, and musical instruments. David sat at the piano. He was as dark as he had seemed in the picture, and Daniel wondered if he had a touch of African-American blood. But it could just as easily be Mexican or Italian. It could be anything seeing as he was adopted. Unless he was definitely Italian, Daniel couldn’t imagine either Dan or Clarissa even wanting to acknowledge David as anything more than a servant. But there was something about David’s features that made him doubt he had an Italian heritage.
Daniel glanced back at Saul and Zach. They had both accepted David completely. He approached David with his hand extended for a handshake. “Hi, David. I’ve never had a brother before. It’d be great if we found out we got along well.”
David hesitated and then reached out, shaking his hand and nodding. Then he quickly placed his hand back on the keyboard.
Saul came up, placing his hand on David’s shoulder. “Missed you. Have you been practicing much?”
“Good. I’ve been looking forward to listening to you play.”
Beth squeezed between the instruments to stand on the other side of David. “We haven’t eaten yet. If you would like, we could order pizza, and then David might play while we waited.” She had put her hand on David’s other shoulder.
They placed the order and then found seats around the room. Elizabeth sat on the edge of the piano bench near David. David began playing a small harp. Daniel realized quickly that he was quite good, and he would be invited into many of Rose Hill’s elite homes if it weren’t for his heritage. He would have to gather some sort of notoriety as a musician and artist before he could break that unchangeable barrier.
Even though Daniel thought David’s playing good, he commented well mostly because it was expected, and he had decided to do the socially acceptable thing today. Next David played a few pieces on the piano. Since Daniel had lessons on that instrument, he knew he had nowhere near David’s talent. And then David started to sing.
Daniel had always been drawn to anyone who so excelled in a given area that he would be considered gifted. He had found few that met this standard, and they had not considered Daniel a worthy friend, except in relationship to the Sutherland money and what might be given them as a grant. David was gifted. It was obvious that Saul had not exaggerated. All the people in the room knew that David was gifted, except maybe David himself. He had seemed nervous and unsure before he started playing. Was that why they adopted him? Because of this extraordinary talent?
David didn’t say much all afternoon but hung on the outside of the group as Saul showed Daniel the pictures.
Beth brought out Zach’s booklets. She looked at Zach and then gave them to Daniel. “Here, you can have these. I’ll print myself up another copy.”
“Thanks. I’ll look them over. I’d really like a few of these pictures. Do you think you could get me some copies?”
“I’ve already scanned some of those. Tell me which ones, and maybe we can print you a sheet of photos before you leave.”
“Really? You can do that here?”
“Printed those books here, and those are David’s photos on the covers.”
“Can you print him a copy of the manuscript, too?” Saul asked. “I’d like him to read it.”
Daniel wasn’t able to talk to David much. Beth hovered near him most of the time. He wondered if there was more to the relationship than Zach suspected, just as he and Keisha’s predecessor had fooled Dan and Clarissa for a year.
When Daniel was ready to leave with Saul, Beth said, “Come and visit us any time, Daniel.” She gave him her phone number and E-mail address. Zach wrote his addresses and phone number down, also. He said he could be contacted through Beth over the next two weeks, except that they would be leaving tomorrow to spend three or four days in Tennessee. They planned to be back before the weekend.
As Daniel rode home with Saul he asked, “Tell me what my father is really like. He’s kind of quiet, isn’t he?”
“Sometimes. He used to be more outgoing and exuberant. That was before Joel died. Did he tell you about Joel?”
“But you won’t find a better man, Daniel. I know he’s my son, but he’s also my best friend.”
“What do you guys do besides hunt?”
“We used to go out to the bars and dance quite a bit, before Zach became a Christian.”
“He doesn’t dance because he’s a Christian?”
“No, he still dances. You should have seen him and Beth last June. It’s not that. It’s the whole bar atmosphere, I guess, is the way he explained it. And it does get pretty pathetic the later you stay, but we always left around ten thirty. But I’m married now, too, so it doesn’t matter.”
“Do you think he’ll ever get married?”
“I hope he does, and I hope he marries Beth, but that’s something the two of them have to work out.”
“Why did you guys adopt, David? Is it because of his talent?”
“I accepted him because Zach did, and I found I really like him. You’d have to ask Zach all the reasons he had for adopting him.”
“Is he part black?”
“I don’t know.
“You mean you never asked?”
“I mean it doesn’t matter to me. Does it to you?”
“It would to Dan or Clarissa.”
“That’s not what I asked.”
“No, of course it doesn’t matter to me,” Daniel said, but didn’t care to analyze whether it was the truth or not. It depended on the circumstances whether it mattered, and right now the circumstances said it didn’t. “He is gifted, isn’t he?”
“Yes, he is. And Zach loves him. If you don’t care about David for any other reason, do it out of loyalty to him. Of course you were raised by a man and woman who have no loyalty at all, so I guess that doesn’t mean anything to you.”
“You sound almost as if they’d done it to you.”
“Hurting family or friends is the same thing. It’s part of loyalty. I hope someday you’ll understand.”
“Sometimes I get the impression you don’t like me very much.”
Saul was quiet before he answered. “Daniel, I don’t have an opinion on you as a person yet. As my grandson, I’ll stand with you through anything. But you haven’t decided that you want to be Zach’s son. You’re still Sutherland’s son. I know that growing up with Dan and Clarissa you may have a certain loyalty to them, although you certainly didn’t show it last night. But you’re going to have to make up your mind whether you want to be a man like Dan Sutherland, or if you want to be like your father, Daniel Zachariah Israel.”
“Daniel Zachariah Israel? You want me to change my name?”
“It would be a good way to show your father that you don’t approve of what Dan and Clarissa did to him.”
“I have a life already, you know. I can’t just drop everything and become five years old again. I have school and college records under this name. I have club memberships. I have friends who know me with this name. I don’t even know if Zach is worth having as a father, let alone fighting all this crap just to make you guys happy about my name. This works both ways. If you want to see me, you’ll have to accept who I am and not try to mold me into a carbon copy of Zach.” Daniel thought he put just the right amount of indignation in that speech to satisfy Saul. It had the merit of not only protecting his inheritance, but it also had a grain of the truth of his feelings.
Saul pulled into the parking lot of the apartment complex Daniel lived in. “Perhaps, you’re right. The Israel line will end with Zach. It was just a wild hope on my part that you would want to continue it.” He pulled into a parking place and waited. “Well, I’ll see you around the beginning of November if you’re still going hunting with us.”
“Yeah, sure. If Zach hasn’t disowned me by then.” Daniel got out of the car and stalked into the building without looking back. He threw the booklets and the notebook with the pictures and manuscript down on the table as he went in. Religious books to try to convert him. Why couldn’t he have written something a little more interesting or useful? Even something on hunting would have been nice so he could learn what to expect.
Daniel looked in the refrigerator. Scott had placed a six pack of beer in it. He grabbed one and went back to the table. He picked up Saul’s manuscript and started to read.
By midnight Daniel started to understand Saul’s intense interest in the Israel line. He knew the Sutherland history, but it had always been a boring collection of names and acquisitions. Saul had made these Israel men real people to him. And they were people that he wanted to get to know better, except the only two left were Saul and Zach. And now him, if he wanted to be one. But although they were colorful, interesting men, they weren’t particularly rich. Saul had not gone into detail about their holdings, which meant that there weren’t any. He went to bed with the thought that it was a nice story, but reality was money. Everything else was relative.
Sunday, September 29th
The next afternoon Daniel drove back to Flushing. Parking a little way up the street, he walked to Beth’s apartment. On the porch he tried the far window that he had unlocked the day before. It opened easily, and he slipped inside. He closed and locked the window. The first thing he looked for was the two laptop computers he had seen under the table, but both were gone. Oh well, at least he could look around.
Daniel looked through all the rooms and found nothing interesting. He really didn’t break into places for any personal gain, but he knew a couple guys who would be eternally grateful to have a laptop computer. He usually just went into places for the sense of control that it gave him over the unsuspecting inhabitants. He could outwit anyone.
Beth must have taken any good jewelry with her. Of course it appeared that she’d sunk all her money into computer equipment. He looked in David’s room and glanced through a photo album, but it was mostly nature pictures with captions about the wonder of God’s creation. He was as religious as Zach. No wonder he adopted him.
Daniel glanced through some of the files in the office, but they were all about different jobs that needed to be done for different people. She must have financial records, but they were probably pretty pathetic, or she wouldn’t be living in this apartment. He looked through the CDs, placing two of Dylan Trent’s in his jacket pocket. Well, this was a wasted trip. He left through the front door and returned to Ann Arbor.
Go to Chapter 35
© 2013, 1995 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.