This is the seventh chapter of a nine-chapter serial story to be published weekly in NeXt. The story takes place in the 1920s during Prohibition, when alcohol was illegal. It explores the life of gangsters and the harsh reality of their criminal enterprises.

Our story so far: The family finds out that Uncle Raymond has been shot.

Chapter Eight / The Waiting Room

"They had a trap set at the bend in Chazy," Paul shouted over the noise of his old Ford as they drove toward Champlain Valley Hospital. "They stayed hidden until the lookout car went through and then they threw up a road block and stopped a half-dozen cars packed to the gills with hooch."

He stopped for a moment to shift as they turned off onto the Military Turnpike. "All the bootleggers just bailed out of their cars and ran off through the brush in the dark. I guess Raymond went after one group and he came around a bunch of pine trees and one of them had stopped. The guy shot three times. One shot missed him, another grazed his arm and he got hit pretty square with the third one.

"They took him to the hospital in one of the bootlegger cars, a big Packard that went like lightning and really held the road. They just dumped the bottles out on the side of the road and laid him in the back. One of the cops following behind stopped at our place to let us know. We phoned Irene and Martin and then came over to the farm. Helene and the kids have gone to the hospital with your parents."

"How is he?" George asked, and Paul shrugged in the dim moonlight.

"I don't know," he replied. "Helene called about half an hour ago to say he was still alive, but they didn't know anything yet. He's bad hurt."

They drove in silence the rest of the way.

There was a state trooper and a customs officer at the door when they arrived at the hospital. "Any word?" Paul asked, but they shook their heads.

"Did you catch the guys?" George asked, but neither man answered.

When they came into the waiting room, Meme burst into tears and hugged first George, then Kenny. Paul went over to the corner where little Marie-Claire was helping her mother and Irene keep the other children quiet.

Pepe sat staring at the floor until George put a hand on his shoulder, and then, without looking up, he said, in French, "To come home from France for this! To come home for this!"

Meme still had her arm around Kenny. Her grip tightened as she heard Pepe's words, and Kenny knew they were also thinking of his father, their eldest son, Dennis, who had not come home from France. And Kenny thought about Raymond, the little brother who had helped to carry Dennis to the field hospital that day, and who had gone back to the trenches, survived the rest of the war and then came home from France and took responsibility for his brother's son.

Kenny walked away from the others. He stood with his back against the wall and slid down slowly until he was sitting on the tile floor, his arms across his knees, hiding his face while he thought hard about his father, and his uncle, and himself.

It was two more hours before the doctor came out to see them. They crowded around him, Helene translating his words quietly for Meme.

"We've done what we can for now," he said. "We were able to remove the bullet from his upper chest. The other went through the flesh of his arm and there were no splinters that we could see. He lost a lot of blood and there is always a risk, but they were both clean wounds."

"He will live? He will be all right?" Pepe asked in English.

The doctor shrugged, turning up his hands. "We can hope," he said. "If there is no infection, no fever, he will be likely to recover. The next few days will tell."

Meme asked a question and Helene repeated it in English. "Will he be the same?"

The doctor didn't quite answer. "For now, let's be grateful he's doing as well as he is. He's a strong man, but he was hurt very badly. We'll see how the next few days go."

Meme turned her face into Helene's shoulder and wept, and Pepe also began to cry, putting his arm around Meme but then leaning also into Helene, who held them both as they wept their relief, and their remaining fear.

"Can we see him?" Irene asked, but the doctor shook his head.

"He won't be awake for some time," he said. "Why don't you go home and get some sleep? You should be able to see him in the morning."

The doctor left and the family began to gather themselves and their things. Meme refused to leave, but ordered Irene and Helene to take their children home. Three of the littlest were asleep, and Martin and Paul had already hoisted two of them up.

"Papa, you go," George said. "I'll stay with Maman. I can translate for her."

"I speak good enough English and the nuns speak French," Pepe said. "Take Kenny to help with the milking and we'll see you in the morning. Go."

George looked around and saw that Irene was about to wake her middle child, Jean-Paul.

"I'll take him," he said, and lifted the 5-year-old gently to his shoulder. "I'll bring him down to the car," he said, and the others went ahead, down the hallway to the stairs.

As George shifted the sleeping boy, he leaned over to Kenny. "At least we know it wasn't Eddie," he said.

"So what?" Kenny demanded. "What difference does that make?"

Next week: The conclusion.


Funded by the New York State United Teachers and New York Newspapers Foundation. Text copyright 2011, Mike Peterson. Illustrations copyright 2011, Christopher Baldwin.

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