And, of course, after all of this, you filled out one of those damned sweepstakes forms that arrived by the dozens every day. You faithfully put your new phone number on it, even though we had told you never to do that. In fact, I hadn’t wanted to give you the number, but Mother insisted. She said you had to have it. I assume that was so, if ever you were out running “errands” and needed help, you could call us on your missing cell phone with the dead battery.
“Jeff Williams” was back soon enough. By July, 2013, he was telling you to deal with his attorney, Arlene Friske. He renewed his claim that he was actually an FBI agent, investigating money-laundering. He asked for the routing and account numbers for your checking account, which he needed for “the investigation.” I don’t know if you turned those over, but you did write a large check to Arlene Friske, which the police investigated. You may have believed that this was part of getting a cash prize. Or you may have believed you were paying a cash settlement in order to avoid legal action. In any event, you wrote it against your own credit union account, which didn’t contain nearly enough money to cover it.
During all of this, you also received a check from a third party, Harold, which you were supposed to deposit, and that would have covered the check you wrote to Ms. Friske. I could never get a straight story from you about where Harold’s check had come from. I only found out that he was another man in his nineties–presumably another of “Jeff Williams’s” elderly victims. I guess checks made out between innocent third parties were easier to move around between banks. You deposited Harold’s check, and immediately withdrew the same amount in cash. Harold’s check bounced.
Then, realizing you no longer had cash resources and being still persuasive as the day is long, you browbeat Mother into writing a $7500 check to someone in Texas. She confessed this to me, at which point I blew a gasket and said I was going to have both of you committed.
It was still almost impossible to keep up with all of your antics. On your extended trips to run errands, you made many visits to the Western Union Counter at the local Giant Food. I have no doubt you also spent hours making wrong turns on roads you’d driven for half a century, based on a map in your head which swore they used to connect where they did not,
At Western Union, you were sending money orders all over the country, and, of course, to Jamaica… Until the lady who worked the Western Union counter caught on that something was wrong.
We were all at your house for Wednesday dinner. The first thing I noticed when I arrived was that your truck was gone. I had asked Mother to discourage you from driving, because you were getting lost so often, and because you kept bringing your new truck home with dents and dings you didn’t remember making. You–cravenly–even tried to blame a broken mirror on Christian and his cousin Julian, because they had been throwing a Nerf football in the back yard one night. You decided that the broken side mirror couldn’t be anything you did, so the kids must have done it. And, of course, you had a new truck because the last one–maybe four years old–had been totaled in the parking lot at Laurel Shopping Center. You had driven it into a drainage grate–not meant to be driven over–dropping the wheels down into the opening, bending the axel. You had driven it home in that condition, with the steering wheel barely able to turn! You had planned to keep driving it that way, too, but Mother convinced you to let the insurance company repair it. Instead, they totaled it. Your argument in favor of driving over the grate was that–back in the late Sixties, when George Wallace was shot in that parking lot–you had been able to drive down the center lane of the lot. But the grate had been there for 40-plus years since, covered with heavy flower planters, and no one had been able to drive the center lane. I suppose the construction workers who moved the planters to do maintenance on the grate share the blame. They should have known to put up caution tape that said, “Old people who remember George Wallace being shot–do not cross!”
So I didn’t want you to drive. But you wanted you to drive, and whatever the Colonel wanted, the Colonel got. You plunked down cash for a new truck. Now, in your absence, Mother confesses that you actually plunked down cash for two new trucks. You bought a green one, decided you didn’t like the color, and traded it in for a blue one, no doubt accepting trade-in value on a brand-new vehicle and paying the dealer markup twice. Had I known that at the time, I would have insisted you go for a dementia evaluation long before November, 21, 2013.
But this was still the Summer before that fateful hospital visit, and you were still driving, still disappearing for hours, still getting lost, and, occasionally, getting into accidents, now with a new truck. I figured it was only a matter of time before one of those accidents was a bad one.
So this Wednesday night, Susan and I were standing near the back porch, and I saw a car coming up the driveway. It was a police car. I could see it contained only its driver. That officer had to be here about you, and you weren’t with him. I remember taking Susan’s hand and saying something like, “Get ready. This may be it.” I was sure you were dead. I had shared with Mother more than once my hope that, if your reckless driving was going to get you killed, it would only get you killed, and not some other person. I had hoped to motivate her to get you off the road. It had not worked.
The officer, for some reason, parked at the corner of the fence, hundreds of feet from the house, and walked up through the yard, prolonging the news. I walked down to meet him.
“Do you know Charles Wilson?” he asked.
“I’m his son,” I said.
I don’t remember what he said next, but it was not anything conclusive; so, after about thirty seconds, I interrupted him. “I’m sorry, officer, but could you please tell me if my father is in the E.R. or the morgue?”
He said, “Oh, my God, I am so sorry! Your father is fine. He’s sitting in the Starbucks at the River Hill Village Center. I just need someone to come with me and drive him and his truck home.”
I explained to the officer that I had only recently gone through line of duty death training, and that, in my mind, an officer showing up at your door and asking if you were the next of kin meant only one thing. He was very apologetic. I got in his car—I had to ride in the back. Howard County Police don’t usually ride with partners, and, like all of us who ride in cars alone, they tend to use their front passenger seat as a desk. When we arrived at the Starbuck’s—just a counter and chairs inside the Giant Food—you were sitting there looking as though you were the last sane man on Earth, and no one would let you just euthanize all the idiots around you.
“I’m being denied my rights,” you said.
The officer explained that 911 had gotten a call from the Western Union desk at the Giant. Apparently, after several episodes of you coming in and wiring large amounts of money to Jamaica, they had gotten concerned for your welfare.
“It’s none of their business what I do with my money,” you said.
The officer explained that you losing money as a result of criminal activity is very much his business. Meanwhile, I asked you if you realized how embarrassing it was to me that my coworkers in 911 were getting calls about you. “They know you’re my father,” I told you.
You just kept insisting that your rights were being denied. “I’m going to go over there and complete my transaction,” you said. “These people are wasting my time!”
“These people are trying to protect you,” I said.
“And I can’t allow you to complete your transaction,” said the officer. “I’ve instructed the employees not to take your money.”
You got that look in your eye, and announced, “Then I’ll go to another damned Western Union!”
“No, sir,” said the cop, “I’m going to have your photo posted at every money order counter in Howard County. You will not be allowed to send money.”
You just glared at him, not even in anger. Just with a sort of, “Why is everyone out to get me?” look.
I convinced you to let me drive you home. Well, I convinced you to leave. “I will drive home!” you insisted.
But I had the keys to your truck, so you had to give in. You let me drive you, but you didn’t like it. You accused me of not stopping at stop signs. You—you!—accused me of speeding. You, the person I used to have to remind that a pickup truck could not achieve escape velocity, and that you really needed to stop trying to fly over traffic. We had an argument about whether or not the school zone on Great Star Drive had a stationary speeding camera. (It did not. It does now.) I told you you were the worst passenger in the history of the human race.
That was a three-mile drive. I think it lasted about a month.
We got home, and we argued about why in the hell you were trying to send cash to Jamaica. “I’m writing an expose,” you said, as if for the first time.
“How much money are you going to spend doing it?” I asked. “Do you think a publisher is going to reimburse all this money you’re throwing away?”
And then you responded, “Well, when that man brings me my check for 1.7 Million dollars…”
At that point, I gave up talking to you about it.
TO BE CONTINUED