Title: Worth of a Son
Warnings: Mention of Child Neglect, Mention of Terminal Illness, Extortion, Criminal Behavior
Summary: Sam was worth everything. There was nothing Nathan Ford would not do to save his son.
Including blackmail Ian Blackpoole.
For disclaimer information for both writing and cover art see Disclaimer.
Fingers rubbed his knuckles raw where they worried the skin. Knees ached from kneeling on a prayer bench. Chapped lips mumbled and rasped entreaties to a deaf God. Nathan Ford needed a miracle, his son’s life was on the line.
Sam was so sick. He laid in the hospital bed so quiet and still that the insurance investigator would look up and freeze his heart in his throat, certain that he’d missed the death of his son. The only time he left his baby’s bedside now was to come pray in the house of the Lord. But the man upstairs wasn’t making any moves to help.
The desperate father slowly rose from his knees in the shadowed flickering candle light of the chapel. This would be his last visit to the church. He was angry at God for not saving his son; but honestly, every moment Nathan spent with God was a moment when he wasn’t with his baby boy.
“Will you be back, Mr. Ford?” The hospital chaplain asked softly. “It is a heavy burden you bear, the illness of your son.”
“No, Father.” Nate murmured. Clenching feeling back into his hands, numb from grieving a boy who’s still breathing. “God’s given me his response. I won’t come back to kneel at the altar of a God who killed my son.”
“Please don’t lose faith, Mr. Ford.” The other man grasped the father’s shoulder, leaning forward to softly convey his meaning. “It hurts now, I know it does, but hold faith that the Lord Almighty has a purpose in everything.”
“Purpose?” Nate mumbled, “What purpose can come from killing my baby boy?”
“I understand your pain, but-”
“You ‘understand my pain’, Father?” Nate glared at the man of faith from the corner of his eye. “Do you have children, Father? Is there a single thing you wouldn’t do to save them? To ensure you have even one more day with them? See them achieve all their dreams?”
The Chaplain didn’t say anything and his hand gently slid from Nate’s shoulder.
“Don’t say- don’t promise- things you can’t follow through on. God’s given me his answer, Father; I won’t sacrifice my son to him.”
The Priest had nothing to say that would change his mind. He didn’t try to further stop the father as Nate left the house of prayer. None of the doctors were saying it, but the investigator wasn’t an idiot- quite the opposite in fact- he knew what the doctors couldn’t say, what his wife continued to deny, Sam was running out of time. The last thing the father wanted was to miss his son’s last moments.
“You’re back.” Maggie breathed, her eyes only briefly left the sight of her son. “I didn’t know if you’d be back.”
Nate hadn’t left his son’s bedside, but to pray since he became sick. “What do you mean?”
“Your work phone was ringing mon-stop earlier. I ended up turning it off.” She wiped tear tracks from her face. “Then Dillons showed up, he’s waiting in the hallway. I’m surprised he didn’t catch you coming in.”
Dillons was in personnel management. He was the first person Nate had called when Sam had fallen ill. He put in Nate’s leave paperwork, the insurance claim for Sam’s treatment, and later the appeal for approval of the experimental procedure to save his son’s life.
Nate might have been out the door before his wife finished speaking. He was all paternal desperation clutching, wrinkling, the neat lines of the polished office worker. “Tell me he okayed it, Dillons! Tell me the approval went through!”
Dillons pressed a manila folder into Nate’s chest. “I can’t. I’m sorry, Ford, but I can’t.”
The folder cut into the edges of his palms. Sweat made his fingers slip when they tried to grip the pages. “What’s this?” His tongue felt weird in his mouth and the words came out as though from far away.
“It’s your next assignment, Daniels had me bring it when he heard I was coming. With Sterling gone-”
“James left?” Nate sagged against the wall and slid to the floor. “James loves what we do. Why would he leave?”
A hand pressed against his shoulder. He’d shrug it off but he couldn’t find the motivation to care. “When Sterling found out Blackpoole… dismissed your appeal out of hand, he immediately resigned.”
There might be a day in the future where Nate looked back on this conversation and realized that Sterling was a really good friend, but it wouldn’t be anytime soon. As the information penetrated Nate’s shakes and shivers stopped. The sweat cooled and his racing heartbeat calmed. There was a fury roiling in his gut, but it wasn’t really anything new. Nate was Jimmy Ford’s son after all.
“How long have you known, Dillons? How long have you known that Blackmore was going to let my son die?”
The other man joined the father on the hospital floor. “Since the beginning. Blackmore reviewed your request for the treatment for Sam personally; said IYS would not approve any experimental procedures.”
“And the appeal?”
“I never submitted it.” Dillons admitted, “it’s been sitting with a 504 stamp across it on my desk for the last week. I just didn’t know how to tell you.”
Nathan Ford got up without a word. He didn’t stop to tell Maggie, didn’t bother to even acknowledge Dillon scrambling to keep up. The father took a left out of the hospital and caught a cab. He was headed downtown, IYS headquarters.
He wanted to be furious with Dillons. wanted to throttle the man who thought it would be okay to sit on the knowledge that Nate’s son was going to die. That the company Nate worked for, had given most of his heart and soul to, was going to allow it. The truth was, though, Dillon was just a pawn. Someone smarter than the personnel officer was hoping that Nate wouldn’t realize just how far this went above Dillons’ pay grade.
Nathan Ford had been IYS’s weapon. They had directed him at a target, stood back and watched as humiliation and ruin rained down on their enemies. Blackmore was about to find out exactly how it felt to be the enemy of Nathan Ford.
Security didn’t stop him. He’d worked with IYS for over ten years and as he tightened his tie walking through the lobby doors, all they did was nod and wave him through the access point. Nate was almost sorry, because someone was getting fired today, and that guard was now at the top of the list.
There was one elevator that went all the way to the top, all the way to Blackpoole’s executive office, exactly where he wanted to go, but it required a key card and pin number. Nate didn’t have time to steal or cajole access from someone who did have it. Instead, he rode with everyone else, crammed into a small metal box rising higher and higher in the tower, closer with every stop to the place he needed to be.
It hurt, hurt in a way that Nate hadn’t expected, to watch all the people, coworkers who’s faces he knew but perhaps not their names, get on and off the elevator, to ignore his existence at the back of the rising metal box, until he was the only one left still climbing the tower. None of them knew how much he was bleeding on the inside, how his anger, his plan, was the only thing keeping him going now.
There was a hope kindled inside his chest and it was a bitter angry thing. Painful to even look at and had his wife or her family known it was there, had they been able to sense what Nate planned, they’d had hauled him before a priest for a forced exorcism. For surely that angry bitter hope was from no human source. Jimmy Ford would have handed him a gun. Said they were faster.
But he didn’t want to kill Blackpoole. Ian Blackpoole was simply going to wish that he were dead. Nathan Ford would have had to live through the loss of his son. He still might, regardless of what happened next, there was no garuntee that Sam would live. Nate would ache and remember and be lost and found and lost again in the memories of his son. Blackpoole needed to remember over and over again that what he wanted, what he’d built, was not safe from destruction. It simply required a different type of weapon. The type that Nate was uniquely capable of arming and aiming in that bastard’s face.
He smiled weakly at the secretary, the muscles in his face not at all used to the motion anymore. “Is Mr. Blackpoole in?”
“He’s in a meeting at the moment,” she wrinkled her nose, at the state of his dress or the smell that clung to him after days in the hospital, Nate neither knew nor cared. “He won’t be available for a private meeting in quite awhile Mr. -?”
She blinked, just a little too fast and Nate frowned. She knew who he was. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
“No.” There was no waiting security on the executive office suite, roving guards, but nobody who watched to make sure that no one was going to come waltzing in. Like Nate was.
The doors swung open on Blackpoole’s private meeting and his secretary tugged at his sleeve and apologized. “Mr. Ford you need to leave! I’m so sorry Mr. Blackpoole.”
“It’s alright Alice, why don’t you call security? To escort Mr. Ford off the premises? And perhaps start his exit paperwork.” Blackpoole arched his brow like Nate was a boy brought before his principle for a prank. No, Nathan Ford was not going to fucking apologize. “Can’t have disgruntled employees just barging in.” He smiled and offered to send refreshments to the conference room down the hall if they would be patient.
Nathan Ford was a genius. Perhaps not in a way that was measurable by test, nor was he willing to ever take such a test, but he had a secret key to unlocking all that he wanted from Ian Blackpoole. “The Romanavi Da Vinci Codex.”
Blackpoole would be happy that both his secretary and his guests were gone from the room because the way he froze at the name of one of IYS’s largest insurance accounts was a tell he should work on getting rid of. It was Nate’s experience that executives didn’t rise to their position without some skill in ferreting out secrets, and this one was big.
“I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about.”
“Sure you do.” Nate sat down in one of the pristine leather chairs in front of the executive desk. “Valued at over $82 million, insured through IYS for at least that much, and currently in the hands of Dame Margorie Denistol. And of course, it’s a fake.”
“A fake, have you lost your mind, Ford? We don’t-”
“Stop.” Nate held up a hand to halt the shit pouring from the executive’s mouth. “Don’t lie to me about the situation. The Romanavi Codex is a fake. A fake that you arranged to have made in the labs here at IYS so that the company wouldn’t bankrupt itself paying out for the destruction of a priceless historical manuscript. If you don’t want to talk about the Codex, we could talk about the Faberge eggs on display in Moscow? What about the Saudi Royal’s Qu’ran. I could keep going.”
“You’ve made your point.” Blackpoole said, watching the investigator carefully. “Why didn’t you ever say anything?”
“Because as much as I’d like to think I’m a good guy, I do my job and I do it well because I like it. Not because I’m particularly attached to this thing called a moral code.” Nate shrugged. “It never served me to know those things, but now it will.”
“How?” Blackpoole asked, “What do you want?”
“You’re going to authorize the experimental medical procedure that could save my son’s life.” Nate ground his teeth together. “In fact, you’re going to authorize any medical treatment that needs to happen to save my son’s life.”
“I could have you arrested for extortion.” Blackpoole shrugged, “we have the paperwork and documentation to cover all our bases. You? You’re a disgruntled employee who needs a villain after the death of his son.”
“Ah, but if I’m in custody for extortion, then I have no reason to keep my mouth shut about all the secrets I’ve kept for the company over the years.” Nate didn’t move, pinning Blackmore to his desk with all his pain and fear, hate and disgust. “You might have one or two bases carefully covered, but do you have them all? Do you even know them all? Even if the government never charges you with federal charges, the company would be paying back taxes on items for decades. Is that what you want?”
“I want you gone.” Blackpoole hissed, “what will get that for me?”
“Call personnel, approve my son’s treatment, all possible treatments and avenues. I stay on family leave, and when my son is safely out of the hospital I’ll come in and sign out my resignation.”
“And you never tell anyone what you’ve learned about those…things.”
Nate shrugged, his shoulders a stiff like stone and his gaze sharp like glass. “What secrets?”
“You expect me to believe that after all of this, you’d just let the issue go? Just walk away?” Blackmore kept his gaze steady on Nate Ford, and Nate Ford stared back.
There was a loud knock on the doors, “Mr. Blackpoole, Security. Mr. Blackpoole!”
“You can’t seem to wrap your head around it- there is nothing I care about more than my son. Nothing.” He stood from the chair as the noises from outside the office rose. “You save my son, Blackpoole, and the only thing you’ll see of me next is my resignation papers.” He turned to go as the security broke through the doors, coming in with shouts and weapons drawn. “Or I can be the type of monster that lingers in your closet and under your bed, you’ll never know when I’ll come back to exact my revenge.” He quirked a brow, “Your move, Blackpoole.”
A gun nudged him against his shoulder, but Nathan Ford was nothing if not the cold blooded bastard his father raised. The life of his son was on the line, nothing was going to distract him from securing that treatment.
“Mr. Blackpoole? Should we escort Mr. Ford off the premises?”
“No.” Blackmore finally said, grabbing a piece of his stationary from a desk drawer. “He needs to see Jenny Kalessen in personnel. Then he can go.”
Nate took the folded paper with trembling fingers. Tucking it into a pocket close to his heart. He turned to leave at the security guard’s prompting.
“And Mr. Ford-” Mr. Blackmore had taken a seat behind his executive desk, “I don’t want to see ever again.”
He still hadn’t showered. He was filthy from head to toe with days spent at his son’s bedside, his hair greasy and his skin slick and shiny with sweat and oil. He hadn’t changed clothes in days, not since the last time the doctors had been required to resuscitate Sam. The cost of missing his son’s last minutes on Earth for the feeling of clean clothes was too high a price. Not when it had been days since the last time his boy had been coherent.
The hope that Sam was even now, as he rode the taxi back to the hospital, being treated; might even wake up for a few minutes, grace his parents with the sight of his beautiful eyes; it sent Nate back to the hospital. Back to the medical facility that was both his son’s prison and his last hope.
There was a waiver in his pocket, printed up on official letterhead and everything, authorizing the use of experimental treatment to save the life of Samuel Ford, just in case the phone calls weren’t being received. It was burning a hole in his filthy coat pocket now that it could save the life of his son.
Maggie stood outside the door of Sam’s hospital room as a crowd in scrubs and lab coats converged on the ill boy. There were no sirens, no alarms, no flashing lights, or yelling from the medical personnel within the room. No reason to be concerned just yet. “Is he ok?”
His wife nodded, not taking her eyes off the small gap between the wall and the door, where they could just barely see into the room. “They came in about twenty minutes ago. Started talking about alternatives, new treatments, possible experiments that have seen success with this type of illness before.” She worried the skin of her thumb between her teeth. “I don’t understand Nate. If these procedures have been available- none of the doctors were talking about this before- why, now?” She gave a brief glance at Nate, paused and then turned more fully to her husband. “What did you do?”
“What do you mean?” Nate grimaced as he ran a hand through his nasty hair. His eyes barely left his son now that he was back in sight of the boy.
“I mean,” Maggie grabbed him by one arm and turned her toward herself. “That you are your father’s son in ways that you’ve never wanted to tell me about. Ways that I only know because I work in the same building as you, even when you’re not there. If this was a piece of art? A stolen item? You’d have done one of your nifty tricks to get it back and asked for forgiveness from Father Gregory after.” His wife stared up into his eyes and Nate couldn’t even pretend to feel guilty. He couldn’t be bothered to be gentle anymore. He’d tried being gentle, but gentle wouldn’t have saved his son. “What did you do Nathan?”
“I saved our son.” Her blue eyes were searching for something, wanted something from him that Nate was pretty sure had broken in the last couple of days. “What else do you want, Maggie?”
“What? Y-you-” She swallowed, “What did you do Nathan? Who did you sell your soul to?”
“The devil,” Nate shrugged, he might believe in eternal damnation, but he was his father’s son. You could only go to hell once, after all. “Blackpoole. A whole host of people and locations over the years, don’t act so surprised Maggie. You never asked before.”
She slapped him. Turning the palm of her hand and the side of his face red, and quieting the hallway where they stood for a solid minute. “I trusted you had faith, Nathan.” She hissed. “I trusted that my son and I were safe with you! That I could trust that whatever you did for the company you didn’t bring it home!”
Nate frowned at his wife. He’d never meant to bring his work home with him, mostly because he was less likely to come home in the middle of an investigation. James and he had worked long and strange hours to ensure that each case they worked was tied up with a neat and pretty bow before it went to their boss. Which meant that as much as Maggie had heard rumors of what he’d done now and then to close and investigation, she’d never seen him in the midst of one.
“I prayed and prayed Maggie,” Nate closed his eyes, beyond caring as he leaned back against the cold hospital wall, he was so tired. “But God never answered.”
“We just needed to have faith.” She whispered, leaning next to him.
“God helps those who help themselves. I won’t ever apologize for saving my son, Maggie.”
“I know, Nate.” Maggie wrapped her arms around herself and straightened as she saw a doctor headed their way. “I just don’t know that I can forgive you for it.”
“There’s good news.” The doctor broached with a smile, “We’ve been given the authority to try a new trial drug on Sam. It’ll be a long recovery, weeks of treatment in and out of the hospital, and then several months of rehab to rebuild the muscle he’s lost, but as far as studies can tell, this treatment is a real miracle cure for Stanhope Sarcoma.”
“What’s it called? Who makes it?” Maggie dug in her pocket for her smartphone already typing out a search for ‘Trimethia’.
“And after the treatment’s?” Nate makes himself ask. “How many see relapses of the cancer?”
The doctor shook his head, “That’s the marvel. Trimethia has been out in clinical studies and trials for several months; I’ve heard about it on and off for years, but it seems to truly cure the disease. No relapses. No remission. It’s all gone.”
It sounded like a miracle. Nate never wanted to see his boy in a hospital bed again. Never wanted to watch as his little boy’s chest turned black blue with the number of times they had restart his heart. Sam had been hooked up to fluids and nutrients, to a catheter, even a ventilator at one terrifying point, and Nate never wanted to see that again.
Nate had bargained, begged, and pleaded with the higher power that had dragged him kicking and screaming away from his father and the man the crook had raised him to be. He’d rubbed his fingers raw rubbing them in prayer, and ruined the knees of his pants from kneeling. Here it was, finally, the answer to all of his heartfelt begging and prayer- Trimethia.
Was it really so simple? That God, that someone, had held the answer, the power to save his son this entire time, and it was just waiting for a good man to do what needed to be done. Did everything in his life, the very thing he was living for, his son’s salvation, honestly boil down to the fact that God helps those that help themselves?
It couldn’t. God didn’t care. He wasn’t listening. For whatever greater purpose that Nate had once served, had once sworn to raise his son in, it hadn’t seen fit to save his son. If anything it just proved that he really had sold his soul to the devil. After all, extortion wasn’t usually listed as a quality the angels possess.
The alarm went off on his phone as Nate Ford threw back one last shot of whiskey. It wasn’t much, just enough to burn the back of his throat, certainly not enough to distract him, take his mind off what’s really happened.
Blackpoole blackballed him. It was a smart move, one that he wasn’t actually attributing to Blackpoole, but smart nonetheless. If no one could hire him, no one else would be blackmailed like IYS, but better yet, no one else would find out IYS’s secrets.
So the fifth interview in six months had gone the way of the other four. It was practically routine now, an ecstatic introduction where investigative supervisors, men and women in corner offices who were good at crunching numbers and directing people, not at finding lost or stolen items, asks a rambling series of questions extolling the virtues of Nathan Ford’s resume. Before eventually winding down with “we don’t think you’re a good fit for us”. Someone finally clued Nate into the fact that Blackmore put out a burn notice on him. Any company that would be of any worth to Nate applying to, that is any company with interesting cases, was going to be large enough that they don’t want Blackmore’s negative attention.
So Nate sat at an airport bar on a cold Chicago evening, sipping at Irish coffee waiting to get on a flight to return to his unhappy son and his unhappy wife.
Maggie didn’t see it, but as a man who’d spent his entire adult life managing the traits his father had left him, who’d tried hard to raise his son differently, Nate could see it clear as day- Maggie was smothering her son. She wouldn’t let him play outside, in the local park or in their yard. She wouldn’t let him practice the saxophone. She didn’t want to let him go back to school.
There was always a reason. Maybe the weather was too hot or cold, or the kids were too rough, or she just wanted to spend time with Sammy. But regardless of the lines she fed herself and the men in her life, it boiled down to one thing. Maggie thought Sam was too fragile to return to the way life used to be.
It was true that Sam had needed days upon days of rehab before he could do things like walk or feed himself again. Or use the bathroom on his own. By the last days in the hospital, even despite the miracle of Trimethia, Sam had lost the majority of his muscle mass and it took a lot of work to build it back up.
When Maggie had thought that she could just return to work, that their family would just piece itself back together, that she could forget that Nathan Ford had given everything to save his son- Nate was standing right beside Sam, beside his bedside, beside his crutches, at the end of the physio matt, every step of the way. Maggie hadn’t been.
It had been a joke, when Same was born, that his own mother couldn’t stand to change his diapers. It hadn’t been a joke when Nate had returned from grocery shopping a couple months ago to find his son crying because his mother had refused to help him and he couldn’t go to the bathroom by himself.
More than one fight, more than a thousand fights, it felt like, had been started in the last few months because of the type of care Sam needed or didn’t need, and whether they could provide it. Nathan Ford was not going to let his son be care for by some stranger who’s qualification was a degree. Not many judges were awarding custody to fathers, and none would give it to a father who didn’t have a job.
So Nathan Ford was pounding the beat all over the world one plane ticket at a time to find something that would support himself and his son, and provide the former insurance investigator with enough time to take care of the son he was planning to fight a custody battle for.
“Mister- Mr. Ford,” a fairly rotund man said as he claimed Nate’s attention. “I know who you are- I’ve read all about you. I know, for example, that when you found that stolen Monet painting in Florence you saved your company $20-$25 million dollars, and that identity theft ring, saved your company- I don’t even know how many millions of dollars. But when your family needed them-”
“You know that part of the conversation where I punch you in the throat ten or twelve times?” Nate asked dryly, checking his phone, he didn’t want to miss his flight. “We’re coming up on that pretty quickly.”
“I want to offer you a job.” the man across from him blurted.
Nate raised a brow but settled back into his seat, the man had his attention, now it was up to him if he could keep it. “In what?”
“Someone stole my airplane designs!” He shuddered, giving a quick look to see if anyone had noticed his outburst.
“Ahh, and you’d like me to find them for you?”
“No,” the man across from Nate waved a hand, “I know where they are- I want you to steal them back.”
Later, after a portfolio of manila folders filled with the resumes of the world’s best thieves had made themselves home in front of his coffee cup, and after Nate had thoroughly missed his flight. It was easy to see through the man’s plan.
The first rule of being a grifter, was being able to tell when someone was lying to you. The second was being able to figure out why; and Nate was a very good grifter. After all, how else was he supposed to get all that stolen art and material back, ask nicely? No, Nathan Ford hadn’t been a nice man since he dropped out of seminary and he’d stopped lying to himself when it almost cost his son’s his life.
So the question Nate asked himself when the very neat and tidy story was laid out in front of him, was why was the executive of Research and Design for a major aviation company lying? No, that was stupid, he’d said it himself- there was a share holder meeting at the end of the month and he was toast without anything to show for the $10 million spent in R&D.
He’d done a good job, all anyone, even the world’s best thieves would see was some poor citizen joe in over his head looking for some extra-legal assistance. But Nate had been in this job a lot longer than he wanted to admit, and exactly like Blackpoole, Dubenich hadn’t risen to the position he had without being extremely ruthless and knowing where a few skeletons were hidden, or hiding his own.
“I’ve got thieves,” Dubenich spread the profiles out, “what I need is one honest man to watch them!”
The problem there was that Nate wasn’t honest, not anymore. He’d sold his soul for his son’s life and hadn’t looked back once. Nate didn’t regret anything. There wasn’t anything to regret, but as he sat back in his seat across from a crooked man attempting to lie to him, Nate was already thinking about how to word the text to Sam and Maggie. He was going to take the job. Jimmy Ford’s son hadn’t done well ignoring the itch, he’d left seminary for it, and now he was stepping directly across the line to steal for it, not for his son, but because the itch that made him look at the four hundred year old Russian tiara and predict exactly how a thief would go for it, wanted to be scratched, and Nate was going to scratch it.
He would sit back, enjoy working with the best, and watch Mr. Dubenich very carefully. This wasn’t going to be his last move.