Mending Wounded Hearts

Chapter Thirty-Seven *** Fun in Paris, tragedy at home

When we arrived back at our hotel, we decided on a light supper. Lunch had been quite substantial and a bit late by our usual habits.

"You and Elodie seem to have hit it off quite well. I'm very glad for that," I told Ally.

"She's very bubbly and a bit on the mischievous side. She enjoys winding Louis up, doesn't she?" Ally chuckled.

"Yes, but Louis loves her and he can play her game too. He loves to play the poor civil service worker card but he inherited quite a bit and he's been very astute with his investments. Many people who own those grand homes don't have a lot of extra money. They spend most of their income on upkeep and taxes," I explained.

"Well, Burma and Clara don't have that problem, they seem very content to live in the countryside and their boys seem very happy."

"That's true, they are a lot like us in some respects. They can function in the city but country life appeals much more to them and Louis and Elodie are very much the same. Elodie likes a bit of nightlife occasionally, though," I added.

At just about six o'clock, I was awakened by my phone ringing and it was Brandon. He was obviously upset and needed to talk.

"Something really bad happened this morning Dad, I tried talking to Dennis about it but he's not you. There was an accident on the way to school; we're all okay though. A jerk in a Range Rover passed in the curve by the school and went head on into a car ahead of us. Cammie and I did our best but the woman that was driving and her little girl in the back seat both died before the paramedics could get there. I've never seen anyone die like that Dad, it was so awful." 

"Kelly helped the little boy in the booster seat on the other side of the car. He wasn't hurt very bad but he was upset. I couldn't go near him cos I was so bloody. I just needed to tell you about it, now I understand some of what you were feeling with Espen. Kelly and I need to replace our blazers. Carter has been really quiet and mostly just sitting with Kelly and me. That's what happened, I'm sorry to bug you with it but I needed to hear your voice, Dad."

I was crushed, my son was suffering and I was thousands of miles away. I could barely speak myself but I tried. "Brandon, I'm so sorry you had to go through that. I'm proud of you for being willing to help. I can tell you that it will be with you for a long time to come. The people I couldn't save are the ones I remember most, so I understand what you're feeling. Just remember, you weren't the cause of this. Whoever was driving the Range Rover is responsible for the situation. You did your best, I know that, but you aren't equipped or trained to treat people with severe injuries any more than I am. The only reason I moved Espen was that he would have died for sure if I didn't. I'm confident you did everything you could for those people but it was just their time. I suspect even with the kit I carry in my truck the outcome would have been the same. The fact that you were willing to try separates you from the people who stand around and watch. I wish I could be there to hold you," I poured out to him.

"Thanks Dad, I just needed to hear your voice and what you say is true. I know in my head that it was out of my hands but my heart still aches. I know Mom has lost people but she's a professional like you and you've had more experience with that stuff," Brandon rambled.

"I know Son, I have to tell you that you'll probably lose some sleep about it but once you've completely accepted that it was beyond your control that will ease off. It could take some time. You'll need to be patient with your schoolmates. They won't have any frame of reference for this sort of thing. At least a couple will ask inappropriate or insensitive questions and you'll have to deal with that as calmly as you can. I have faith in your ability to overcome this situation Son, I just wish I was there to hold you boys," I counseled.

"You couldn't know Dad, and don't even think about coming back early. We'll be fine. Um… Carter's asleep but Kelly is here, would you like to talk to him?"


"Hi Dad, I guess Brandon told you all about it. I'm sorry our blazers got ruined. We have others but I was wearing my newest one, I'm really sorry," Kelly apologized.

"Kelly sweetheart, you don't need to apologize for that. It was beyond your control. You and Brandon are good men. You showed a willingness to step forward in a bad situation and help strangers the best way you could. We can always get more blazers. Was the little guy hurt badly?" I asked.

"Not really, he had a cut on his forehead and that bled a lot. He was mostly scared and he wanted out of that seat. He kept working at the buckle, so finally I just undid it and took him out of the car. He was so scared he peed on me. When the firetruck got there, I had the cut under control with my handkerchief. He didn't want to let go of me so the paramedics could check him. I'm so sad Daddy, I wish I could hug you and have you hug me back," Kelly wailed at the end.

"Kelly, Son, listen. Until we can get back to you, you and Brandon can lean on each other and trade hugs. You have Wade there, too. I'm so sorry you had to experience that, Son. I want to encourage you to talk about it with Brandon and Cammie, it's not something you can deal with on your own. Be patient with your friends, they'll want to know what you saw and what happened. Some will be a bit insensitive because they've never had to deal with that sort of thing before. You guys can call me at any hour and I'll answer if I have a connection," I explained to my son.

"Dad, please don't cut your trip short because of this. We'll be okay. You and Mom need to have this time by yourselves and it's not like you could be here tomorrow anyway. I love you Dad, and I want you to enjoy your trip. Tell Henri I said hello, please," Kelly requested.

"I will Son, how is Wade doing, did he get involved?" I probed.

"No, he stayed in the car with Carter. They're both asleep. They didn't have to see any of it but they know something bad happened, and they know that two people died," Kelly shared.

"I understand Son, just know that I love you and we should be home Sunday as planned. If Cammie is handy I'd like to speak with her," I requested.

"Okay Dad, I love you too, and you can tell Mom I love her too, please."

"Hi Rob, It's been quite a day and it never really got started. It's what, six there?" 

"Hi Cammie, yeah just a bit after, Ally and I were having a nap and she's still asleep. Let me wake her and we'll call you back. I want to prepare her for the shock. The boys are adamant that we not cut our trip short but I'm having a little difficulty with that," I explained.

"I think they're right, Rob. You're due in Sunday anyway, why screw up everything to get home a couple days earlier? I think you should stay and that's what I'll tell Ally. These boys are strong Rob, a lot of that is down to you and Ally," Cammie concluded.

"I guess we'll see what Ally says when I wake her. If they want to skip school tomorrow, I'm fine with that. How are Carter and Wade reacting to all this?" I asked.

"Wade is fine, I had him stay with Carter. He wouldn't have done well with what we encountered. Carter is just very sad, he cried quite a bit but with his brothers and Wade to comfort him, he was starting to feel better. He hasn't been sleeping well at night but that's just because he misses you two," Cammie added. "He couldn't see anything from where he was sitting,  another car was between us and the first car."

"Did the other driver survive?" I asked.

"Yes, but he'll wish he hadn't. His passenger was seriously injured. I think you know the driver. It was that jerk that got Carter's old school closed so he could build condos," Cammie shared.

"Tom Schraeder?! That pile of shit is at the bottom of this?" I growled.

"I'm afraid so, people in a few other cars said he passed in the curve over the double yellow when the traffic slowed down for the driveway at the school," Cammie related.

"I guess I should share Kelly's video with the prosecutor and maybe a few news departments. Do me a favor and follow this story and see if there's a next of kin, husband, parents or something like that. I want to offer them legal counsel before some ambulance chaser gets involved. Whatever you find out you can pass to my attorney and I'll get him working on this, too. I'm so mad right now, I can't see straight. Thanks for the information and I'll have Ally call you in just a short while."

I had forgotten about the video that Kelly took, he had never posted it and it hadn't been needed in the campaign to stop the development. It would sink him now. I decided against making it public so as not to taint the jury pool.

I woke Ally as gently as possible and informed her of the news. I prefaced it with the knowledge that the boys were all physically fine, also that Wade and Carter had not seen anything at all.

Ally made her call and I heard then chatting for quite a while. 

I picked up the room phone and ordered a light supper of sandwiches and pommes frites, No matter where you went, chips or fries were available just about everywhere. Ally had just concluded her call having spoken with Cammie and all the boys. The dinner arrived and we relaxed to decompress before bed.

After dinner, we discussed the boys and the incident and I told Ally of my plans to supply legal counsel to the survivors' family. I had called Paul to get them set up with a competent injury attorney. Paul would do background on Schraeder's financials. In the months since the development scheme went bust, Schraeder's wife had secured her divorce and property settlement. I had never met her and didn't know anything about her. All of Schraeder's assets would be part of the decree Paul explained and he would pass them on to the appropriate parties.

My next call was after dinner. I caught Sam Calloway with Santa Paula P.D. just as he was leaving the station for lunch. I asked him to supply me with a copy of the report as soon as he received it. I knew it would be a few days. He asked what my interest was in the case and I explained that it could have been my boys in that wreck and I had video of Schraeder's bad driving habits. I told him it's enough that if he still has any friends left in government circles they would run for cover. I also let him know I'd be willing to testify.

"Shit Rob, if I ever piss you off, give me a chance to make it right before you set the dogs on me," Sam pleaded. 

"Not much chance of that, I've watched Schraeder screw people over for a decade or more. This time he exposed my kids and a ton of others to danger and two of my boys helped at the scene with the victims. He has to pay for what he's done and if I can help bring that about, I'm more than willing," I explained.

"Well, with nobody to put in a good word for him, he won't escape jail time," Sam speculated.

"I hope not, I won't hold you up Sam, enjoy your lunch," I told him.

"Well Rob, have you stirred the pot enough?" Ally asked.

"I suppose. It's about all I can do from here. Hopefully it's enough to get that scab of a human driven out of the county. I feel absolutely no sympathy for him at all. I hope they subpoena his phone records because I would be willing to bet a large sum that he was on his phone when the accident occurred," I grumbled.

"Let's not let it ruin the trip for you, the boys don't want us to come back early and I really want to meet your stepson. We can rain down trouble on Mr. Schraeder when we get home," Ally coaxed.

"How did Brandon sound to you?" I asked.

"He's still upset but he feels better after his talk with you. Kelly sounds upset too, but less than I would expect. Your effect on those boys is amazing Rob, Brandon might stay home tomorrow but Kelly, Wade and Carter are ready to return to school," Ally continued.

"Oh crap! I completely forgot to ask Cammie how she was doing. She sounded fine but she could just be trying not to worry us," I confessed.

"Cammie is okay, she did nursing until she met Dennis. Every death takes a toll but she's strong and her main concern, like yours, are the boys," Ally soothed.

"I still need to apologize though, I'll remember next time we speak," I promised.

"I know you will, and I think you can be forgiven this time. Now, what can I do to lighten your mood?" Ally asked lasciviously.

"That my dear, has endless possibilities," I told her after deciding she was right, as usual.

I actually slept at least six hours that night and woke in a fairly good mood. I checked my phone for messages and I had two. One from Louis and one from Paul. Paul had news for me but the time difference meant it was late in the evening in Ventura. I would call him back in the afternoon when it was mutually convenient.

I showered and called Louis to see if he would like to join me at the hotel for breakfast. He agreed and I finished dressing and nudged Ally to let her know my plans.

"Give me a call when you boys leave the hotel please. That way I can have coffee and a shower before I leave to meet Elodie," Ally requested.

"Did you charge your phone?" I asked.

"It's plugged in on the bedtable, isn't it?" Ally replied.

"Just checking, I'll give you a call on the house phone if you don't answer. Have a great time and don't let Elodie get you arrested," I chuckled and kissed her.

I went down to the café and it was mere minutes before Louis appeared.

"Did you sleep well?" Louis solicited.

"Surprisingly yes," I responded and proceeded to tell him of events at home and what I planned to do about it.

"Are you still working part time as a policeman?" Louis inquired.

"Actually it's as a Sheriff's deputy but the function is essentially the same. Are you still with the alphabet soup outfit?" I probed.

"Yes, but it's getting old. We are deeply affected by political moods and that is no way to run that sort of business," Louis groused.

"In my business career I've dealt with our home grown variety. I don't think I could do that job. It doesn't appeal to me on any level," I commiserated.

"Nonsense, you are wasted as an engineer," Louis sounded off.

"That's not what you said on the Nationale case. How much grief did you have to take for asking me to consult?"

"Less than I would have if you hadn't found out how they did it," Louis conceded.

"Okay then, I like my life as it is without political entanglements. Let's order and get on the road, eh?" I replied.

At the auto show, it was lovely, the weather was excellent and we had been spared the onslaught of supercar enthusiasts that often show up. There were Ferraris and Lambos present but they were classics. Sadly, there were only two Facel Vegas present and only one of those was the HK500 model, the other being the smaller 4 cyl. powered Facellia. The HK was fully restored and not for sale. But it belonged to an acquaintance of Louis and he asked about one that might be available.

"You want Rivard, he's had one in a barn for decades. It's not complete but the body is straight, David Bleriot informed us.

"Jean Rivard the dairy farmer?" Louis asked.

"Yes, the old cow lover, he's the one. I can give you his number or do you know him?" David replied.

"Yes, I know him, I just bought a Delage through him. He's sharp but reasonably honest," Louis chuckled.

We walked to the refreshment tent and met several other owners and aficionados.

"Are you entering your Delage in this show?" I asked Louis.

"No, it's considered bad manners to enter a car you've only just bought. But I will get a noncompetitive point assessment done while we're here."

Louis and I bought a few drinks and were treated to more. Louis contacted Jean Rivard and asked if he was seriously considering selling the HK 500. He indicated he was and would be home if we wanted to come have a look.

After perusing the rest of the cars, we walked back to the judging booth and Louis received the points rating for his Delage. He knew there was work to do but was pleasantly surprised by how little was required. Considering that he was one of the rare breed that actually put their collector cars on the road and enjoyed them, there were only one or two small mechanical items such as hose clamps. The cosmetic side would be the most daunting but not unattainable.

We drove to Jean Rivard's dairy farm which was not insignificant. We drove past a solid mile of Normande milk cows relaxing in beautiful pastureland. After the gate, there was a fork that led to the house and that was where we encountered Jean Du Fresne Rivard. He was a robust man with a reddish tan complexion. He was probably in his mid to late sixties but I wasn't sure.

Luis and I greeted him in French. He immediately deduced that I wasn't a native and asked if I was from Quebec. I considered that a compliment but I told him I was American. It didn't seem to bother him. We sat in his kitchen and drank tea and talked cars. He brought out a huge folder of documents related to the car we were there to discuss.

"As you can see it was built as a coupé in nineteen fifty-eight but returned to the factory for the drop head conversion a year later. Here are the work orders, parts list and the cost of the conversion on this invoice here. You are aware the car is not complete, yes?" Jean inquired.

"So I was told, how incomplete is it?" I countered.

"Someone removed the original engine and transmission and did a terrible job installing a Peugeot V-6 and a five speed. It was never put back on the road. I had planned to find a small Ferrari V-12 to replace the Peugeot, but I am a Dairy farmer first and foremost and I'm seventy-five. I don't think I'll be able to complete the project, so I'd like to find a good home for it," Jean shared.

"I've been looking for an HK500 at home and abroad that was in a condition that I could restore to my standards. I love the idea of the Ferrari drive train. A five litre V-12 would produce more power than that big wedge could have ever managed and at about two thirds of the weight. There will be those who consider it sacrilege but my response has always been that they should have purchased it themselves," I replied.

"Absolutely, it's not some historical mansion or holy site. They aren't that rare either. I have little patience for the purists in this hobby," declared Jean. "Shall we go down and have a look at the car?"

"Any time you're ready," I agreed.

"We'll take my little Ute, it seats six comfortably and it will save Louis from needing to drive his pretty little coupé through the muck, eh?" Jean grinned.

My first sight of the car was disappointing. The entire front end had been removed but Jean assured me that everything was there. It was necessary to remove the front end to undo the Peugeot swap and repair the damage to the frame. He had not been able to repair the frame but the tiny engine was gone. The interior was complete with all the trim pieces intact. I unrolled my tool bundle and began inspecting the body. There are places on every car that rust. It can't be helped. Even spending its entire life won't protect from that. The body was very sound and the paint, though worn was original. The removal of the front sheet metal and engine made checking the most troublesome panel much easier. 

"Jean, did you repair any rust here on the firewall?" I inquired.

"No, I never got as far as that. We had an outbreak of hoof and mouth in this region and it pulled me away from cars for quite a while. I didn't lose any cattle but I sweated a lot. It was expensive, too because we had to put the cattle on fodder which cut production. Keeping them penned while the fields were cleared cut it even further. They don't like change, they're like cats and most women I know," Jean shrugged.

"I understand, I'm just concerned because that panel seems much more solid than it should be and there is evidence of filler at the edges. I suspect that the previous owner welded a patch panel over the existing rust without repairing it properly. It's just something I have to consider."

We went to another building to inspect the fenders, hood and grille. They were in excellent condition and wrapped in moving blankets. All the trim was carefully stored in anticipation of reinstallation.

"Shall we discuss a price?" I inquired. This was always the tricky part.

"Well, you know, this is the part of the sale that I least enjoy. I think I'm justified in asking forty-five thousand Euros. You will no doubt think that it's a bit much and offer me thirty-two, yes?"

"That was the figure I was entertaining, what would you counter with if I did?" I inquired.

"I would probably say something like forty and eventually we would settle around thirty-eight. Louis will tell you that I know what things are worth but I'm not greedy, either," Jean offered his hand.

Thirty-eight thousand was almost exactly where I expected to be so we shook hands and began discussing a money transfer and loading. I would arrange for a container to be delivered and a crew would come out and see to loading and packing all the bits and pieces.

"Oh, I forgot to mention, although the car has original steel wheels and covers, the Borranis that came with it are included. I'll make sure they get put in with the rest of the parts," Jean promised.

We returned to his kitchen and had a glass of wine and a bit of very good cheese his people made onsite. Once all the paperwork had been seen to we ambled back to Louis Delage.

"So, no regrets about buying this beautiful little car?" Jean asked.

"None at all, how about you?" Luis rejoined.

"She was one of my favorites but as long as I have my Voisin it will always take pride of place in my heart," Jean smiled.

"The Voisin has always been compared with the Bentley of the same era. I think the Voisins are more comfortable but the Bentleys were faster… but that's just me. Perhaps on my next trip over I can see it," I said hopefully.

We discussed his handsome cattle for a while and then it was time for him to supervise the afternoon milking and we said our goodbyes.

It had been a wonderful sunny spring afternoon. Trees were sprouting new leaves and some already had blossoms. I made a few notes of people to call and called my freight broker in Marseilles. He would get a container and crew to the farm as soon as I completed the transfer of funds. Jean would need to call him and set up a day and time for the load up. I told René that there might be more depending on what Ally found in the line of furniture.

As it turned out, she had been very fortunate in finding her main targets. She showed me photos of a lovely Edwardian desk and cabinet that matched and book shelves that complimented them. A superb English carriage clock was also purchased. I had warned René that this was possible and I would send him the contact information for the various antique stores and Ally would contact them with René's information.

Elodie was actually a very frugal shopper. She didn't buy much on a whim. She knew what clothes suited her and she shared her fashion sense with Ally. She coaxed Ally into showing us the cocktail dresses she had chosen and a stunning gown that could be worn several different ways. It was made of a color shifting fabric which in the late afternoon light seemed to transition from blue to green. Now I would have to accept a few of the invitations for formal gatherings that came my way.

We said our goodbyes and relaxed. We would be driving to the Loire Valley the next day.

I called Paul and checked in with him.

"Hi Rob, I have some news for you. We've identified the father of the surviving child. He's not the father of the deceased child but he is or was married to the woman that was killed. The surviving child has some minor neck strain and as you'd expect he's very upset. I was able to discover that he has an attorney that was handling their estate prior to the accident. I will contact him and ask him to make the introductions. Dave Emery will be more than happy to take on the case and see to it that the family is looked out for," Paul assured me.

"Thanks Paul, that's welcome news. I'll check in with you tomorrow at about the same time. There's a nine-hour difference and we'll be on the road until about five our time. I'm not going to miss all that pretty countryside to get there faster," I related.

"That sounds like a good plan, I'll email you any further developments that come in today although I don't anticipate much," Paul agreed.

We said goodbye and disconnected.

I called Brandon next to see how he was doing.

"Hi Dad, I hope you don't mind but I took a mental health day and Espen came back with Cammie. His mom approved it. I'm feeling better but I didn't sleep a lot last night,"

"I'm not surprised. We'll talk about it more when we get home but I should warn you it can catch up to you at the weirdest times. Just be ready," I urged. "How was Kelly this morning?"

"He was better. Maybe he's better at this than I am with everything he went through. He was great getting that kid calmed down and treating the cut on his head."

"He had something to focus on and you were dealing with a dying child. It's very different and you shouldn't feel bad about your reaction," I pressed.

"I know Dad, it's just hard. I'm much better than I was last night. If I decide I need one can I see a doctor about this like before?"

"Just say the word, I think it would do you a lot of good to talk to a professional," I agreed.

"Are you driving to Henri's place tomorrow?"

"Yes, and I'll be calling about four your time tomorrow. I'm willing to bet his family will keep us up late," I explained.

"Just drive safe, okay?"

"I will, is Cammie there?"

"No Dad, she went home to do a few things there," Brandon replied.

"Okay, I'll talk with her next time I call. Give our love to Espen and we'll talk soon," I requested.

"Bye Dad, give my love to Mom and I love you, too."

"Same here Son, bye."