"That's it! This is the last ball I'm chasing for you," Charles muttered to himself as he jogged after the ball Evan had just thrown over his head. "Why did I let him talk me into this? It must be a hundred degrees out here." Finally cornering the battered baseball, he picked it up and hurled it as high and far as he could, wanting to make Evan chase it for once. To his annoyance, his younger brother turned, following its trajectory with apparent ease, and made a perfect running catch.
The sun was bright, harsh and incessant and the grass shimmered in the heat. An open field in Central Park was no place to be playing ball during a record breaking heat wave.
Pulling off his catcher's mitt, Charles swiped ineffectually at the sweat running down his face and headed for the shade of the nearest tree.
"Come on! Aren't you going to play anymore?" Evan took a few disappointed steps in his direction.
"No!" Charles shouted back. "I'm hot and I'm tired and I'm going to sit in the shade and read!" Pulling his latest computer magazine out of his pocket, he proceeded to do just that.
Evan grumbled a little and wandered away to play. Tugging back the sleeves of his sweater, he began to throw the ball high in the air. The heat seemed not to affect him as it did Charles.Engrossed in an article on voice-activated communication systems, Charles was snapped back to reality by a piercing shriek punctuated by the sound of crashing foliage.His first instinct was to look for his brother, but all that occupied the open space was a ball and glove nested together in the grass.
Tossing his magazine aside, Charles clambered hastily to his feet. "Evan!" he called, irritation edging his voice. "Where are you?"
A weak cry from some nearby underbrush caught his attention. Evan tended to cry 'wolf' and Charles usually ignored him, but something in Evan's voice was different this time.
With a sigh, he followed the sound and found Evan sprawled on the ground at the foot of a tree, arms and face scratched and scraped, nested in a bed of broken branches and torn leaves.
"I was climbing and I fell."
"Are you okay?" Charles knelt down in concern.
"I don't know," Evan said, his face very white beneath the scratches. "My leg hurts."
Charles touched the offending leg and Evan gasped. "Don't!"
"Can you move it?" Charles asked.
Evan tried and shook his head. "It hurts too much." He was on the verge of tears. "Charles, do something!"
Charles wondered wildly what he should do. "Do you think you can walk if I help you?"
"No. It hurts!" Evan whimpered with pain.
Charles made a sudden decision. "Stay here. I'm going for help." The nearest entrance to the tunnels was a few hundred yards away. If he ran as hard as he could and received a prompt answer on the pipes, he would only be gone for a few minutes.
Evan seized his arm. "Don't leave me!"
Charles was getting desperate. "Evan, I can't help you by myself!"
Evan's gaze shifted to something behind Charles and the older boy turned to look. A mounted police officer was trotting his horse toward them.
"Is there a problem here?" the officer asked as he pulled his horse up a few feet away.
Making another quick decision, Charles said, "Yes, sir. My brother fell. I think he broke his leg."
The officer assessed Charles for a moment, then apparently decided he was telling the truth and dismounted. Looping the reins over his arm, he came closer and bent over Evan.
"What's your name, son?" he asked.
"I'm Evan Chandler," the boy told him.
"Is this your brother?"
Evan nodded and Charles looked at the officer doubtfully. Despite the differences in their coloring, most people could tell right away that he and Evan were brothers. On the other hand, he and Evan had both dressed for the tunnels this morning and, when they came above, had simply removed a few layers in deference to the heat. He supposed he couldn't blame the officer for being a little suspicious.
Pulling his portable radio from its holster, the officer turned to Charles. "Is there someone we should call?"
Charles shook his head. "No, sir. My mother's out of town."
The officer looked at him sharply. "You boys aren't staying by yourselves, are you?"
"Oh, no, sir!" Charles assured him quickly. "Our father's here. But he's not where he can be reached right now."
The officer looked skeptical as he depressed the call button on his radio and began to speak.
"I have a boy, approximately..." he looked at Evan appraisingly, asking in an aside, "How old are you, son?"
"I'll be nine in October," Evan told him.
"...eight years old with a possible broken leg. An older brother says parents are unavailable. We need paramedics..."
He went on to give their precise location as Charles and Evan exchanged worried glances.
"Isn't there anyone we can contact?" the officer asked, finishing his transmission and turning to the boys again.
Charles began to shake his head. Evan spoke weakly. "How about Uncle Joe?"
The policeman jumped at the name. "Your uncle. Where can we get in touch with him?"
"He's not really our uncle," Charles explained warily. "He's an old friend of our mother's. We just call him that."
"Well, maybe he can help," the officer persisted. "What's his name?"
The officer's eyes widened. "The District Attorney?"Charles nodded and he could see a new measure of respect in the man's eyes.
"Hey, your mother wouldn't be Catherine Chandler?"
Charles nodded again and the policeman chuckled. "I was a witness in a case she prosecuted not too long ago. She's good!"
Charles smiled and the officer got back on the radio. "Try to get hold of Joe Maxwell ...yes, I mean the D.A. ...These kids are sons of one of his deputies... Chandler, Evan and..." he looked at Charles questioningly and the boy obligingly gave his own name. The officer finished giving his dispatcher the information and reholstered the radio as the paramedic van bumped over the grass toward them.
Quickly and efficiently, the paramedics immobilized Evan's leg, lifted him to a stretcher and loaded him into the back of their vehicle. Charles climbed in beside him and held his brother's hand.
It was a short trip to the hospital and soon Evan occupied a cubicle in the busy Emergency room with Charles waiting beside him. A doctor came in, gave Evan a cursory examination, and left without a word of explanation. A nurse peeked in at them a time or two, but it soon became apparent that they were being ignored.
Evan was in more pain now, moaning softly. Finally Charles had enough.
"I'll be right back," he whispered. Disregarding Evan's protests, he marched to the nurse's station. "Why isn't anyone doing anything for my brother?" he demanded.
A nurse looked up, startled. "Who's your brother?" she asked.
Charles told her and her expression changed to one of compassion. "I'm sorry," she said. "Someone should have told you. We can't treat him until we can get permission from one of your parents."
"But my mother's out of town and my father can't be reached!" Charles exploded.
"We know that," the nurse tried to soothe him. "We've contacted the D.A.'s office and they are trying to reach your mother. As soon as we talk to her, we can take care of your brother's leg."
Charles gaped at her helplessly as she turned back to her paperwork. He couldn't believe they were just going to let Evan wait. "Can't I give my permission?" he asked, despairingly.
The nurse looked up again. "How old are you?" she asked him gently.
She smiled regretfully. "I'm sorry. You're too young."
"Then... is there a phone I can use?"
"There's a pay phone over there," she pointed.
Charles felt his pockets. "I don't have any money."
The nurse looked at him for a few seconds and pushed the desk phone toward him. "Local call only," she warned.
Charles nodded and reached for the receiver. He made four phone calls in rapid succession. First he tried the D.A.'s office, hoping to speak to Uncle Joe, but was informed that Joe was at City Hall, meeting with the mayor and the police commissioner. His secretary assured Charles that everything possible was being done to locate his mother.
Peter Alcott's answering service informed him impersonally that Dr. Alcott was off today and Dr. Browning was taking calls. Did he want Dr. Browning's office number?
Jenny Aronson wasn't in her office, but she, at least, was expected back soon, so he left a message with her secretary. Charles made one more brief call before thanking the nurse and returning to Evan.
"They're trying to find Mother," he explained. "She has to give them permission to take care of you and I guess she's not at her hotel." He grinned. "She's probably taken Vicky sightseeing," he sa ğly, in an effort to distract Evan from his pain.
When she had to go out of town, Catherine often took one or more of the children along. This time it was Vicky's turn.
Another half-hour passed slowly as Charles joked and kidded with Evan, trying to distract him. Evan listened gamely, but the tension in his face reflected the pain he was feeling. Finally, an orderly stuck his head into the cubicle.
"Charles Chandler?" he asked. "Telephone call for you at the desk."
Charles hurried to the phone and the nurse showed him which line to pick up.
"Hello?" he said tentatively, wondering who could be calling him here, and hoping desperately that it was someone who could do something. He sagged against the wall at the welcome sound of his mother's voice.
"Charles, are you all right?"
"It's not me, it's Evan," he began, but she interrupted.
"I know. I've already given them permission to treat him, but I wanted to be sure you're all right."
Charles sighed. "I am now."
"Charles, you'll need to call someone to come get you. The hospital won't release Evan to you, only to an adult."
"I already did. I left a message for Aunt Jenny."
"Good. And you need to get word to your father. He'll be worried."
Charles grinned into the phone. "I already did that, too. I called one of the helpers and asked him to send a message down."
There was a brief silence. "It sounds as if you've taken care of everything," she said. In her voice, Charles could hear pride mingled with a faint touch of surprise.
"I was scared, Mother," he confessed.
"You did all the right things, Charles. I'm proud of you."Charles saw the doctor entering Evan's cubicle. "I have to go now. They're looking at Evan." Without saying goodbye, he hung up the phone and went back to hold Evan's hand.
They reached home two hours later. Aunt Jenny had arrived at the hospital just as the doctor finished casting Evan's leg and she brought them home in a cab. Evan tried to maneuver up the steps to the front door, but the painkillers they had given him at the hospital were making him woozy and he stumbled.Charles took the crutches away and handed them to Jenny, gathering himself and lifting Evan in his arms. The younger boy was too sleepy to give more than a token protest as Charles carried him up.
The door opened and Jacob peeked out. "Evan has a cast!" he said in awe, pulling the door wide and stepping out of the way. Charles carried his brother through the foyer and saw his father waiting in the shadowed hallway, his eyes full of concern. Stepping forward, Vincent took Evan gently into his own arms.
Charles felt relief as the burden of responsibility was lifted from his shoulders, but he also felt an inexplicable sense of loss. Uncertainly, he stood at the foot of the stairs.
Vincent turned. "Charles, you took on a great responsibility today, and you handled it well. A father could hope for no more from his son."
To his acute embarrassment, Charles began to blush. "I didn't do anything," he protested. "After all, he's my brother."