I HAVE AN ETERNITY AHEAD OF ME (Intermittent Waves Recorded From the Transformed Heart of a Woman) Episode 2: Auntie Yonny

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I HAVE AN ETERNITY AHEAD OF ME

(Intermittent Waves Recorded From the Transformed Heart of a Woman) 

Episode 2: Auntie Yonny

As Hal approached the front of the hospital, the first thing he noticed, were the shiny brass revolving doors on each side of the building. They were uncommon in other hospitals throughout the city, as were the limousines and chauffeurs dropping off and picking up the visitors and patients. As a reporter, he’d been in every hospital in the city, but this was a private hospital catering mainly to the very wealthy and elite.

“I bet they don’t serve bad food here,” he thought, laughing to himself. “They probably have private chefs and waiters and the whole bit.”

When he entered the door, it didn’t take Hal long to get noticed. Carrying a backpack, wearing a baseball cap, camouflage pants and a scruffy looking jacket, that he was afraid to wash because it might fall apart, it was clear that he didn’t share the same taste in clothing as the usual clientele, who were sporting Italian suits and carrying brief cases. He heard a woman’s voice offering to help him. After taking a panoramic view of the massive lobby, his eyes focused upon the information desk and pointed his feet in the direction of a classy-looking receptionist whose eyes scanned him from top to bottom and then settled upon his jacket, which Hal proudly viewed as his “statement” piece of clothing. What statement it made depended upon the mood he was in that day.

Fixing her eyes upon the jacket with a distasteful look, she asked, “Sir, can I help you in some way? We don’t admit regular patients here.”

Hal wasn’t quite sure what she was implying by her question or insinuating by her remark; or if she expected the jacket she was staring at to reply, but, he decided to play it straight and not waste time and effort dwelling upon it.

“Yes, thank you. I’ve come to see Mrs. Yanovich, at her request. I’m a reporter with the Daily.”

The young woman looked at him with skepticism, so, he forced a smile and showed her his press identification.

After typing information into her computer, she looked at him suspiciously and then studied the computer monitor again. “We have to be careful about reporters bothering our clients and trying to find out if someone famous is being treated here. I don’t see your name listed as a visitor on Mrs. Yanovich’s record.  I’ll have to call up to the room to verify your appointment,” she informed him, rather dryly.

She pressed a few buttons on her phone and waited for an answer. Hal decided to go look at some of the artwork and sculptures, which apparently made the receptionist very nervous. Out of the corner of his eye, he would catch her head following him as she tried to talk on the phone. She hung up the phone and stood up, nervously calling him.

“Mr. Siegfried! Mr. Siegfried!”

Hal strolled over to the reception desk and she heaved a sigh of relief.

“Mr. Siegfried, Mrs. Yanovich’s Secretary verified your appointment. Her niece is with her now. She is sending a body guard to escort you to her suite. Please have a seat and wait for him right here.”

Hal felt like a misbehaving student who had his desk moved next to the teacher. He smiled inwardly thinking that it was funny he remembered that. He guessed he had spent a lot of time in elementary school sitting next to the teacher for having distracted the whole class with some prank or clowning around. Obediently, he took a seat in a lobby chair across from the receptionist.

A few minutes went by and he looked at his watch.

“This is a huge hospital. Everybody has to have their own suite,” he thought, “probably why it’s taking him so long. Glad I cleared the whole morning. This might be the biggest story of my LIFE! Who knows what it might lead to; more money; a job at a bigger newspaper; books and book signings; hey, maybe even a Pulitzer Prize! “He shook his head refuting the idea and then decided, “Why not?”

He was here and he was going to make this the best story he ever covered, but there was one thought that kept popping up in his mind, “Why did she ask for me, a reporter on the low level of the totem pole?”

From his dark suit, build and serious face, Hal could tell that the man coming down the hall was a man serious about his job and people probably didn’t get in his way to prevent him from doing it very often. It had to be the body guard.

Depriving the receptionist of making an introduction, the body guard bypassed the receptionist and headed straight toward him. No doubt he always did his homework, too. Hal looked at his perfectly shined shoes and at that moment thought of several jokes he would have made in school about him being a goody two shoes.

He was about to offer his hand to shake, but, as soon as the man came within ten feet of Hal, he said, “Follow me Mr. Siegfried,” then, snapped around into an about face.

“Clearly military,” Hal surmised, “and probably a jarhead, leatherneck, devil dog, marine. You can always tell a marine, but you can’t tell him much,” he jokingly said to himself, remembering an old marine joke. Hal often laughed at his own corny jokes. He always took pleasure in his ability to amuse himself and find something to laugh about, to make life easier and the day more interesting. However, he knew not to put too much stock into his comedic talents, if you could call them that. Experience had taught him and friends had advised him to keep his day job, because, he’d make a lousy comedian.

Hal decided that following the tall, muscle-bound, thick-necked figure ahead of him, who cast a huge shadow over him, dwarfing his somewhat ordinary and small stature, was definitely something to laugh about. Yet, he made sure not to let the jarhead marine know that he was the object of his amusement. There would be nothing amusing in being on the receiving end of a punch from huge, sledge-hammer fists.

They took a mirror-paneled elevator in the west wing of the hospital. Hal, made sure he kept a straight face.

“The West Wing, how appropriate”, Hal mumbled under his breath. Then, he began to wonder if the location was a deliberate arrangement or just coincidental. Hal made a mental note to ask someone. It would definitely add a bit of irony and intrigue to his story.

The elevator stopped on the top floor. He had no idea that there was a hospital in the city that had a penthouse, but evidently, this one did and this family had the money to pay for staying in it.

The elevator opened up to an ornate foyer, where he was greeted by a middle-aged woman holding a laptop, whom he took to be the secretary. Without even a howdy-doo, nice to meet you, the body guard took his station in front of a monitor, relieving another man who began to surveil the premises.

“Good morning, Mr. Siegfried! I’m Darla, Mrs. Yanovich’s secretary.”

“Please, call me, Hal.”

They shook hands and Darla offered with some reluctance to take Hal’s jacket and hang it up. Feeling a little embarrassed, but at the same time possessive of his favorite article of clothing, Hal politely declined.

“Please come with me, Hal. But, before we go into see Mrs. Yanovich, please understand that she is very weak and barely hanging on. She’s been advised not to over exert herself, but, she insisted upon this interview. Please, please don’t strain her or cause her any duress. I don’t think you should stay any longer than half an hour, but, Mrs. Yanovich is determined to go on for as long as she can.

However, I think that if she holds out for the next few days, perhaps you can come back for a short time.”

Hal hadn’t expected to be asked to come back or to have access to Mrs. Yanovich for any great length of time. He had heard she was on her last leg and could go any minute, but he guessed that her money had bought her some extra time. She had outlived two of her brothers and two of her children.

However, she had become a woman of great faith, doing a tremendous amount of charity work around the globe, as if trying to right her family’s wrongs.

Hal remembered reading an article in a magazine where she had attributed her age and her longevity to her healthy lifestyle, her undying faith in God and His Grace and Mercy. But, here she was, like everyone else, now. Her time had run out and not even her money could change that.

He wondered how much about her life and her family she would reveal to him. Would he dare to ask her the hard questions in her present state? He better save them for last to prevent getting kicked out of the room too early in the interview.

Hal wished he had had more time to talk to her, before her decline; the stories she must have to tell, buried deep inside of her. Hal hoped she was still able to remember things. There were so many unanswered questions the world still wanted to know.

Darla led Hal to a sitting room with a television that was turned to an old movie.

“Please have a seat in here, Hal, while I check with Mrs. Barrett, Mrs. Yanovich’s niece to see if she’s ready to start. Thank you. It will only be a moment.”

Darla disappeared down a hallway and Hal decided to check the sports channel for the results of last night’s soccer game. When he saw that his team had lost and the wide margin of defeat, he had to remind himself that he was in a hospital room with a dying woman. Losing his bet with the guys in the press room seemed unimportant to him now. He couldn’t help relishing the moment and the height of his current status in his mind.

“Oh, well, so, I lost a few bucks, I’ve got bigger fish to fry today, a reporter’s dream! I’m the winner today!”

As soon as Hal switched the television back to the old classic movie channel, Darla walked in with Mrs. Yanovich’s niece. He barely recognized her from photos she’d taken with her famous family. She too, was aging, but, recalling recent television interviews concerning the status of her aunt’s health, he was able to place the face with a name.

“Hello, Mrs. Barrett, I’m Hal Siegfried.” Hal offered his hand. Shaking his hand vigorously, and then, gripping it very tightly, in her cold and wrinkly flesh, Mrs. Barrett showed that she was certainly enthusiastic about their meeting.

“Yes, I know, I keep up with your article in the paper. I’m so pleased to meet you. Just call me Miriam. We’ll be working together. Come, we have to get started while Auntie Yonny’s awake. Oh! That’s my pet name for her. Nobody calls her that but me. I couldn’t say Aunt Tanya when I was a toddler, so Auntie Yonny sort of stuck with her. She always loved it and still does. Most people think I took it from her last name, but, she was Auntie Yonny to me, long before she met Ilya Yanovich and remarried.

Come, she can’t wait to meet you.”

Hal was somewhat shocked. It was news to him that anyone would be eager to meet him. He really wasn’t an important journalist, but, he wasn’t going to keep anyone waiting who was eager, certainly, not someone as important as Mrs. Yanovich.

The trio passed through a wide corridor with adjacent rooms. Hal read the door signs, “Surgery, Therapy, Sauna, Kitchen, and Chapel.” He wondered what rooms were down the other hallways, which added to the more than adequate healthcare Tanya Graves-Weinberg-Yanovich had had at her disposal to meet all of her healthcare needs and prolong her life. It was a vast and appalling contrast to the inadequate and absent healthcare her father had imposed upon the people, depriving millions of benefits that could have prolonged their lives, improved their lifestyles, and eased their suffering. In the years that followed, he and his party’s heartless and selfish acts had seen an increase in deaths, many needless and preventable. History had recorded it as a type of legislative genocide on the poor and sick.

No doubt her father had enjoyed the same medical treatment she was receiving, even after he was proven to be a traitor to his country, profiting from deals he and his family made in office with foreign governments and a multitude of illegal business transactions conducted prior to rigging the election. Of course, the latter continues to be disputed.

He was hoping Tanya Yanovich would fill in the blanks and write the final chapter in the history books using him to pen the story.

They entered the private hospital room, which looked more like a grand ballroom or throne room. It was dimly lit, but decorated in bright and cheerful colors. Tanya Yanovich was elevated in her stately hospital bed, as if she was ready to hold court.

From the pictures Hal had seen, taken in her younger days, she had been a gorgeous young woman, a vision to behold, but now, her shrunken form was swallowed up within the enormous mechanical bed, surrounded by machines monitoring the final days of her vital signs. Her flowing golden hair turned to dry thin, white strings, dangling from her balding head. No matter how much they had tried to make her look vibrant and alive with make-up, lipstick and rouge, she looked like a lifeless mannequin or a misplaced mop, displayed in an over-sized casket.

Hal quickly erased the image from his mind. It wasn’t a nice image or kindly thought, but what they had attempted to do to this woman was nothing far from utterly disturbing. He smiled at her and lowered his glance.

“Auntie Yonny, Mr. Siegfried is here, the man I told you about, the newspaper reporter you wanted to talk to. His name is Hal.

Come, come close Hal. She’s almost blind and she can’t hear well.”

Hal made his way closer to the bed. He had covered stories here and there involving dead bodies murdered or found in various ways, but, this was the closest he had come to what appeared to be a living corpse.

“Hello Mrs. Yanovich. It is a pleasure to meet you. I’ve read so much about you and your family.”

Tanya raised her hand and he leaned over to shake it gently. It felt lifeless and skeletal, sending chills up his arm and down his spine. He couldn’t help but notice the enormous diamond glistening from the dangling ring on her other hand. Hal speculated that it was probably placed upon her finger in an effort to enhance her regal and wealthy appearance. He doubted that it was normally worn; otherwise, it would fall off every time she used her hand and be a target for thieves. Hal knew he would probably never see that kind of money in a year’s salary.

Looking at this frail and lifeless old woman, suddenly, it hit him that he was not only right, but, this interview was going to be harder than he thought. So far, everything, had a gruesome feeling about it. Hal wondered if a body could be artificially preserved for too long, distorting one’s appearance into a macabre like mannequin. He couldn’t help but feel uneasy talking to a woman who reminded him of a ghostly and ghoulish specter.

Mrs. Yanovich had to stretch her forehead up to keep her eyes open. Her mouth hung open most of the time, drooling.

Darla broke the silence. “Mrs. Yanovich, I’m going to go get started on our little project. Please don’t tire yourself out.” She patted Tanya’s hand and left the room.

Tanya spoke for the first time in a very low, barely audible voice. She motioned for Hal to come closer to hear. As Hal moved closer, her breath had the smell of death upon it. Death was already claiming her body, starting with the inside.

“Did you bring a tape recorder, Hal?” She spoke in short breaths, but it was understandable.”

“Why, yes ma’am. May I record you?”

Tanya nodded her head and motioned again for Hal to come closer. Hal decided to pull up a chair right next to the bed, prop the voice recorder upon her chest, listen intently and write as much as he could.

Tanya started to talk about her childhood and Hal almost interrupted because he wanted to get to her later years working with her father, but he decided to let her tell her story like she wanted to tell it, because there were probably things that were very relevant to what happened later.

Tanya kept talking at a steady pace, despite breathing problems and protest from her niece and personal nurse, who would come in to administer medication and check the machines and vital signs. Every once in a while, Tanya would stop and motion to the water container. Then, having quenched her thirst, she would return to her oration.

By noon, it had been several hours and time for Tanya to take her medication again and rest. She had a remarkable memory for her age. She ended talking about her and her brother’s teenage years and her father’s business deals and romantic capers.

Hal couldn’t believe she was entrusting this in-depth information to him. As far as he knew, no one in the family had dared be so open about their family and business dealings.

She saw herself as the faithful daughter, always trying to please daddy and get his attention the only way she knew how, by being successful in business. She repeatedly came to his rescue and defended him, even when she knew he was wrong.

She tried so hard to get him to do the right things, but he thrived on greed and corruption, because it made him feel powerful and intelligent. He wasn’t happy unless he was proving himself richer, smarter, better looking, more virile and powerful than others.

As a result of trying to please him, she fell into the trap of aiding and abetting his illegal schemes to keep things going amid his many failed financial ventures. Hoping to separate herself from the corruption, she embarked upon her own enterprise within the world of fashion. However, her father had raised her brothers to be as shallow, vain, arrogant, prejudiced, dishonest and corrupt as he was. The only way they knew how to do business was by lying, cheating, breaking laws and taking advantage of other people. Even, her father knew they couldn’t be trusted to run the business by themselves. He depended on Tanya to step in and give sane, temperate and sound advice.

She talked about his dominating personality and how he even manipulated and corrupted her husband to be part of his schemes. With this, Tanya seemed to hint at some resentment and remorse, as if she held herself responsible for what happened to her husband.

Hal couldn’t imagine growing up within the wealth and corruption in which she had. He almost felt sorry for Tanya, seeing she had little choice in the beginning. However, at some point one becomes consciously aware of it not being a healthy environment and a normal and honest way to live. One realizes that open and honest business procedures are not being followed as standard operating procedures. At some point, one is making a conscious decision and choosing darkness, evil, lying, corruption and cover-up to conceal evidence and protect criminal behavior to their advantage. Hal knew he was no Saint, but, honesty and integrity was something he truly valued and stressed in writing his column.

Tanya had chosen now, upon her deathbed to come clean and perhaps for some reason, she felt this was the right time to act. Hal by no means felt it was a valiant or charitable act so late in the game, while she still reaped the benefits from dishonest actions that so many people had severely suffered and died from.

It was nice that she tried to steer her father in the right direction, but, as she said, he was unstable, a very sick and corrupt man, who couldn’t be controlled, and later, having taken on the biggest responsibility of his or anybody’s life, continued to make decisions while he was clearly in a state of early dementia, slipping in and out of clarity. Everyone around him knew he was mentally unstable, but, they used it to their advantage, catering to his whims and his delusions in order to advance their own agendas.

They were all guilty of betraying their country and allowing a sick and incompetent man to dangerously hold such power that could kill millions of people and bring instability to the entire world. However, that’s what many of them were hoping for in their own sick and power hungry minds, along with the enemy whom they had befriended.

They spent their time infighting amongst each other for power and the ear of an old man whose mind was going. At the end, it didn’t take much for them to turn on one another to try and buy their freedom.

No, Hal didn’t have much pity for Tanya. Like the rest of her family, she was greedy and selfish, holding on to her assets and prospering off of her station entrusted to her by the people. Her eyes were wide open, she knew the risks and the consequences, but like a few others, she managed to get off with minor infractions.
Tanya was never going to betray her father, husband and brothers, no matter how disgusted she was with their behavior. Yet, with all she knew, Tanya could have saved millions of innocent people from the harm their selfishness cost in the nation and the world. She could have saved the taxpayers millions of dollars. Tanya was smarter than the rest of them, so, in many ways, it made her even more guilty and responsible for what happened.

Tanya took a deep breath and stopped talking. Hal’s heart jumped and in his mind he gave a shriek, thinking, “Don’t die on me now!” He looked at the monitors and saw that they were functioning normally. Tanya had peacefully fallen asleep.

The niece, Miriam Barrett had fallen asleep, also, but awoke when Hal, noisily scraping the floor, scooted his chair to stand and retrieve his recorder. Startled and worried about her aunt, Miriam blurted out, “Auntie Yonny?!”

“She’s asleep. I’m going to go now and get started on compiling and writing all of this information. May I come back tomorrow at the same time? And, if so, would you please let the receptionist downstairs know?”

Still startled and recovering, holding her hand upon her heart, to examine and confirm that it continued beating, Miriam stood to see Hal out of the door. Hal regretted making such a racket and unhinging such an old woman who almost looked as frail as her dying aunt.

“Of, course, Hal. We’ll see you tomorrow at the same time and if I can help you in any way, please let me know. I helped Auntie write her memoirs and I can fill in the blanks.”

“Oh, I wasn’t aware of any memoirs, existing.”

“That’s because she’s been working on them for decades and was afraid to release them.”

“May I ask you a question, please, Mrs. Barrett, I mean Miriam? Did you request me and why?”

Miriam returned to her seat and motioned for Hal to be seated.

“Hal, my grandfather did a lot of bad things in his life, but I think the worst was what he did to this country. My father and uncle helped him commit his crimes and my uncle also brought disgrace upon his family.

Auntie Yonny turned to his family for support during the upheaval. In many ways she was closer to them than her own family during that time.

I was very young; but I heard the arguing and complaining going on behind closed doors. My mother was so afraid. She didn’t like what they were doing.

I heard them planning and saying things about the dishonest media and how all journalist were liars. It was very disheartening to me. You see…I loved to write and I wanted to become a journalist! You know, do all the research and detective work. Write the best stories. Travel around the world. Meet all types of interesting people. I loved to write and what they were saying made me feel like my dreams were wrong and there was something wrong with me.

I guess I had my own selfish reasons for asking for you. I want to show the world that the Graves Family believes in the importance of the media to inform the people of what they have a right to know and that we believe that the vast majority are honest, hard-working people with integrity, diligently working with the public’s best interests in mind. That’s why I picked you. Your writing is pure and honest. I told Auntie Yonny that if there’s anybody who can tell her story honestly and fairly, it’s you.

Yes, I asked for you, Hal. I had been thinking about this endeavor for a long, long time. Should you decide to stay on and accept our offer, we will be working together for as long as my health allows.”

Hal looked stunned as the word “offer” bounced around within his mind, hitting loud clanging bells. Seeing his surprised and then perplexed expression, Miriam explained.

“Yes, Hal, we have an offer to make to you, Auntie and I. This interview is just the beginning of my somewhat selfish reasons. We want you to head a new foundation focused on the media, but, with a much greater purpose that will benefit millions and hopefully billions of people in the world.

This foundation will be comprised of various media: newspapers, magazines, documentaries, films, books and television and all that goes into planning, developing, mechanizing, distributing and connecting people to people. We, mainly I, want this foundation to become the information mover of the future; information that not only moves, but sets people into action to respond and make a difference for the benefit of other people and the world. How we remain unbiased is where your character is most needed and why you will be the sole heir of the entire project.”

Hal didn’t know whether to jump up and scream or faint on the spot. He thought about pinching himself to see if he was dreaming or awake, as cliché as it might sound, right then, it was the closest he could come to humor. Taking a deep breath, gulping down a lump in his throat, and blinking his eyes to hold back tears and anything that might threaten his manly stance,  he clasped his hands together tightly and with elbows upon his knees, lowered his head in disbelief.

Miriam continued as if she hadn’t just dropped a bomb and sent his mind into complete chaos and explosive overload.

“I’ve bought a building for us to get started and you can begin working there immediately to compile your work. Well, of course, I know you have to make up your mind and I’m not giving you orders or forcing you. Then, you’d have to give proper notice at your newspaper or make an arrangement to continue writing for them, perhaps as an independent journalist. We can help you with this process and provide counsel for negotiations and…”

Miriam Barrett was starting to go a little too fast, even for Hal.

“Whoa, whoa…wait a minute.”

“Oh, please forgive me, Hal, I’m getting ahead of myself. It’s just that I’m so excited about this project. You see, it’s a gift to me and the world from Auntie Yonny. She knows how I feel about writing and about what happened. And, in turn, it is my gift to you, should you decide to accept it. And, if there’s something you don’t agree with, we can negotiate or make arrangements.

You see, I’m too old to do this alone and take the chance of not seeing it through to the finish. I have writing experience, but, I’m not a leader and I don’t have a lot of experience in business. I’ve read your resume and I know your work. I’ve had others advise me. We all agree that you’re qualified for the job and can offer you the necessary support and staff to see that you succeed. We believe that you’d be much farther than you are now, if you only had a break. Well, here it is, should you decide to take it. We hate to see you waiting for a senior journalist to move out of the way, while wasting your talent and potential.

Of course you could keep writing and even choose your own assignments. You can even choose your own staff and delegate as you please. Auntie wants you to oversee the release of her memoirs and doesn’t want it to be in competition with anything that you will write, so use your own discretion as to timing its release. She’d like a documentary to follow. You will need a press agent for interview follow up and staff to arrange book signing. I have publishers waiting who can handle a lot of arrangements. It is best that we get you fully staffed before everything takes off.”

“Excuse me, Mrs. Barrett.”

“Miriam, please.”

“Yes, I’m sorry, Miriam, you are moving a little too fast, but not for the reasons you might think. I can’t help but wonder why you’re not passing this down to someone within your own family. Would I be working with anyone in your family?”

Miriam seemed quite taken aback and almost horrified at the idea Hal had just proposed.

“NO HAL!”

Hal retracted with raised eyebrows, as if pushed back by her words. He hoped he hadn’t offended her. Miriam, extremely embarrassed by her reaction, and hoping she didn’t wake her aunt, sheepishly looked at Hal.

“I apologize for my reaction, but it has to do with one of the main stipulations of our agreement.”

Here it comes, thought Hal. There’s always a catch. He knew it was too good to be true.

“Well, if I am to pass this down to you and you are the deciding authority, other than necessary board members, and save you take on shareholders in any business enterprises, you must keep one thing in mind and act with all strength and power to adhere to the governance, enactment and importance of this stipulation.”

Miriam paused and took a deep breath.

“ My family and anyone related in anyway to the Graves family must never have an active part within any facet of this foundation or businesses stemming from its creation. Hal, we are being forthright with you and we would appreciate your confidentiality and being discreet with what we have just requested of you.

Now, after my death, in the beginning, my family may try to fight you and my decision, but I’ve already made provisions for that. My team of attorneys has all my wishes and my will is to be changed immediately upon your decision. They have my instructions to go to court if necessary and fight on your behalf. I have a signed statement from doctors and psychiatrists as to my soundness of mind, ability to make my own decisions and conduct my own business. Every ‘I’ will be dotted and every ‘T’ will be crossed. There will be no way for them to try to sabotage or steal anything that I have bequeathed to you. If they wish to make you their enemy and try to smear your name, I have enough on all of them to shut them up for good!”

“But, but, why, Mrs. Barrett, Miriam? That’s your family! Never hire or deal with any of your family members? How am I to assure you that that will never happen within the longevity of the foundation? Won’t it become blatantly evident at some point and time? Then, what? –Lawsuit after lawsuit? And, with such an immense foundation, branching out into corporations, investments, and who knows what, how do I prevent and insure that none of your family members will ever be employed, contracted, volunteer, become shareholders, lobbyists, activists, supportive politicians or influential contributors and benefactors?”

Hal sucked in air after rattling off all the possibilities, provoking a hearty laugh from Miriam.

“Now, Hal, we don’t expect you to keep your promise from the grave, just within your lifetime and perhaps, you can pass the request down to your successors within some silent agreement. We simply ask that you do the best that you can to see that none of our kinfolk have the opportunity to rise up to an influential position within our businesses and organizations.”

“Mrs. Barrett, I’m always up for a challenge, but, you’re asking me to be dishonest while being honest. How is that even possible?”

“Well….”

Miriam couldn’t think of an adequate answer to Hal’s rational question. It was something she hadn’t really considered, having been so focused upon her fears and wrapped up in vindictiveness. Hal kept staring at her, which made her even more nervous and uncomfortable. Realizing his effect, he removed his penetrating and convicting gaze, back down to the floor.

“Why are you so against your family being involved? What are you and your aunt afraid of? Don’t you love and trust some of them?”

“Auntie Yonny and I believe in “bad blood” and “family curses and you never know when and where it’s going to pop up.” We don’t know how far back it goes, but, we definitely know that my grandfather’s father was a cruel, prejudice, bigoted and cursed man.”

“Miriam…please… forgive my skepticism, denial, ignorance, naivety, plain flat out calculated opinion, or whatever you want to call it. I don’t mean to be argumentative or disrespectful, but, at the risk of sounding pragmatic, I have to say this. Although, they are not good traits to have, cruelty, prejudice and bigotry are definitely not evidence to define being cursed or prove that your family is cursed.”

Miriam looked at Hal and almost seemed indignant. Hal was almost sorry he couldn’t keep his big mouth shut and stop giving everyone his honest opinion.

“Well, fine! Maybe it’s not a curse, but a flaw in our genetic make up. Maybe, we pass down a recessive and flawed gene that affects the way our brain works. Perhaps, we’re incapable of feeling and loving people as we should. There are many cases of people being incapable of expressing their feelings and have feelings for others, such as in autism. Can you believe that? Wouldn’t you say that’s something like a curse if it’s passed down from generation to generation?”

Hal shook his head back and forth, shrugging his shoulders, with a crooked smile. At this point, he really didn’t know what to think. This is one conversation he never expected to have today, especially with this family and he definitely didn’t want it to blow up into an argument and persuade Miriam Barrett to change her mind about him or her offer to him. He calculated his words and response carefully.

“Miriam, anything is possible and if you feel that this is a distinct problem within your family, I can understand your concern and wanting to prevent it affecting your dreams and lifelong work; and in such a case, it would prevent perhaps billions of people from benefiting from what you have to offer them.”

Never in his wildest dreams did Hal imagine himself working for the defamed Graves Family, let alone running and eventually owning part of their fortune and empire. It was really beyond reason to believe that their family name could be cleared or their image improved. He didn’t even know if he wanted to be the one to try and do that amid wide criticism and painful memories from those who had been severely affected by their corruption and widespread devastation. Still, he was never one to run or walk away from a challenge. Considering the size of this challenge, maybe he better save face and back away, slowly.

Hal knew it was in his best interest not to seem too eager about heading his own mass media organization and a foundation that could perhaps change the world for billions of people. A salary and benefits hadn’t been put on the table. A contract hadn’t been drawn up and reviewed by lawyers. However, in light of what she was offering, all of that seemed meaningless. He wasn’t too proud to give Miriam Barrett an answer to her offer right this very minute. He knew it was an offer of a lifetime and anyone who didn’t jump at the offer was…well…he knew he better stop there. He had always been level-headed and realistic and this continued to lead him to become reticent in making a decision too hastily, now.

Things were looking too simple and too easy. Deep down, he knew that there were plenty of reasons that he shouldn’t take the offer, beginning with what he had just experienced. There was something deeper lurking within this offer and within this bazaar family who seemed to have their own distinct type of dynamics going on.

“I will take your offer and your wishes into full consideration, Miriam. Might I add that I am extremely flattered and encouraged by your confidence in me and I can assure you that, if I choose to accept your offer, I will do everything within my power to uphold that confidence with the utmost respect and regard.”

Miriam gave a wide smile and slowly released a purring sigh, as if she’d just tasted a delightful and delectable dessert; perhaps, the best chocolate cake anyone could ever imagine tasting, which tantalized her taste buds and satisfied a passionate, indulgent craving. This is what she wanted to hear and Hal had said it with such finesse.

After entering the elevator, the mental note Hal had made came to the forefront of his mind. With a foot in the door, he pressed the button to reopen the elevator door and called out to Miriam.

“Wait! Miriam, I have one more question to ask you.”

“Yes, Hal.”

“Did someone request for Mrs. Yanovich to be in the West Wing or is it just a coincidence?”

Miriam laughed thinking that she had definitely chosen the right man for this project.

“The hospital has reserved the West Wing and this floor for my aunt for the last forty years. I believe that in the beginning, someone believed it was an appropriate honor to give her, being that she, like Eleanor Roosevelt were two of the first women acting unofficially as the president of the United States. It naturally became a tradition to place her in the same location whenever she was admitted. Thank you for asking, Hal. You’ve proven to me that I’ve chosen the right man for the job. I look forward to seeing you again and hearing your decision. Goodbye.”

“Goodbye, Miriam. See you tomorrow.”

After walking Hal to the elevator and exchanging goodbyes, Miriam returned to her aunt’s bedside with an air of lightheartedness and joy, which was abruptly deflated upon seeing the tears streaming from the sides of her aunt’s eyelids. Had she heard everything? What had upset her so?

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