The One Man - Andrew Gross

PROLOGUE

The private room is on the fourth floor of the Geriatric wing at the Edward Hines Jr. Veterans Administration Hospital outside Chicago, bent, old men shuffling down the hall in hospital gowns with nurses guiding them and portable IVs on their arms.

The woman steps in, in her mid-fifties but still young-looking, smartly put together, in a short, quilted Burberry jacket and olive cowl, her dark hair in a ponytail. She sees her father in a chair, looking smaller to her than she’d ever seen him before, frailer, even in the two months since the funeral. For the first time, she can see the bony lines of his cheeks coming through, yet still with that remarkable full head of hair—graying, but not yet white. He has a blanket draped over his lap, the television on. CNN. One thing you could always count on, even in the middle of a Bears game on Thanksgiving with all the grandkids around, was her dad asking if they could put on the news. “Just to hear what’s happening! What’s wrong with that?” But he’s not watching this time, just staring out, blankly.

She notices his hand shaking. “Pop?”

The day nurse seated across from him puts down her book and stands up. “Look who’s here!”

He barely turns, no longer hearing so well in his right ear. His daughter goes in and smiles to the nurse, a large black woman from St. Lucia, whom they hired to be with him pretty much full time. When he finally catches sight of her, her father’s face lights up in a happy smile. “Hey, pumpkin.”

“I told you I was coming, Pop.” She bends down beside him and gives him a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

“I’ve been waiting for you,” he says.

“You have?”

“Of course. What else is there to do here?”

Her eyes are drawn to the shelf next to his bed, to the things she put there on her last visit, a month ago.

The Northern Illinois Bar Association Man of the Year plaque that was on the wall in his office. The photo of him and her mom at the Great Wall in China. A shot of the thirty-eight-foot Hatteras he kept in Jupiter, Florida, which they had now put up for sale. Photos of the grandkids, her own boys, Luke and Jared, among them.

Mementos of a full and happy life.

“Greg said he’d be by a little later.” Her husband. “He had some business to attend to.” Business cleaning up a few issues related to the old house in Highland Park and some lingering matters connected to her mother’s estate.

Her father looks up. “Business? Here?”

“Just some things, Pop … Not to worry yourself. We’ll take care of them.”

He just nods compliantly. “Okay.” Even a year ago he would have put on his glasses and insisted on reviewing every document, every bill of sale.

She runs her hand affectionately through his still-thick hair. “So, ninety-two, huh…? Still looking pretty dashing, Dad.”

“For an old guy, not so bad.” He shrugs with a bony grin.”But I’m not doing any marathons.”

“Well, there’s always next year, right?” She squeezes his arm. “So how is he doing?” she asks the nurse. “Behaving, I hope?”

“Oh, he always behaves.” She laughs. “But the fact is he’s not saying much these days, since his wife passed. He naps a lot. We take walks around the ward. He has some friends he likes to see. Mostly he just sits like he is now. Watches the TV. He likes the news, of course. And baseball…”

“The truth is, he never said very much,” the daughter admits, “unless it was about business. Or his Cubs. He loves his Cubs. For someone who didn’t even know what baseball was when he came to this country. A hundred and seven years and counting, right, Pop?”

“I’m not giving up,” he says with a grin.

“No, I bet you’re not. Hey, you want to go for a walk with me?” She bends down next to him and takes his tremoring hand. “I’ll tell you about Luke. He just got into Northwestern. Where you went, Pop. He’s a smart kid. And he wrestles. Just like you did…”

A look of concern comes over her father’s face. “Tell him to watch out for those farm boys from Michigan State. They’re big. And they cheat…” he says. “You know they’re…”

He makes a sound as if he wants to add something. Something important. But then he just nods and sits back, staring out. His eyes grow dim.

She brushes his cheek with her hand. “What are