Authors: Heather Graham
The Trouble with Andrew
To Dade County, Florida, and to all those who were touched by the tremendous force of Andrew, and especially to Stuart and Teresa Davant and their son, Charlie, who survived the storm in a closet.
rew should have been in bed, fast asleep for the night. But he had heard his father come in with a few of his friends, and he couldn't resist the temptation to slip into the hallway and listen to them as they sat talking at the dining room table.
His father was at the head of the table, his fingers wound around a cup of steaming coffee. He was a big man, broad-shouldered, with a head full of thick silver hair and hazel eyes that could sparkle with laughter or grow very level and solemn, depending on the occasion. He was as solid as the concrete with which he so often workedâa reliable man, a good man. And Drew knew it well. He adored his father.
Sam Jaffe, slightly younger, his blond hair just beginning to thin, sat next to Andrew Cunningham on his left, morosely drinking coffee, as well. To Andrew's right was Trent Waite, skinny as a toothpick and honest as the day was long. He'd opted for a beer and drank deeply from his bottle, as if doing so would make him forget all the evils in the world. In the last chair at the table, across from Andrew, was Harry Easton, the youngest in their group, in his mid-twenties. He still had all his hair and it was pitch-black.
“They ain't gonna last. They ain't gonna last a damned day if there's the slightest big wind!” Sam said wearily.
Andrew sighed. “I went as far I could go, boys. Hell, I went right to the damned building inspector. I told him they couldn't use those damned staple guns.”
“You can't keep causing trouble on the job, Andrew,” Harry said unhappily. “We're all going to wind up fired!”
“That's true,” Trent said. “We need the work.”
“I had to do something,” Andrew said. “Harry, folks are going to wind up living in those houses.”
Sam exhaled in a snort. “Why, they ain't even building half those places out of real wood. Those walls they were putting up at the project today, they were glorified cardboard.”
“They must know what they're doing,” Harry protested.
“Bull. We're the labor guys. We know cheap construction when we see it,” Sam said firmly.
“I'm telling you,” Trent put in. “One big wind and they're gone. All gone. Andrew, there ought to be something we can do about it.”
“I told you,” Andrew said. “I went to the building inspector. He said everything was right within code, yep.”
“Must be a northern fellow,” Trent said, tilting back on his chair. “You can build different in the north, a whole lot different. Your problems are different.”
Sam snorted again. “It doesn't have anything to do with houses being built in the north or the south. It has to do with those fellows taking bribes from the developers!”
“We can't prove that, Sam,” Andrew warned him. He threw up his hands. “I tried. I don't know what more to do. I took it as high as I could. No one is going to do anything differently, and nothing is going to change.”
“And we need our jobs,” Harry said firmly. “So that's just got to be that. Andrew has to stay out of trouble. What's it to us? We didn't order the materials. I work all day, I need my paycheck when the week is done.”
“Saffron Corporation should be sued!” Trent insisted.
Andrew Cunningham shrugged. “One day, they may be. I'll tell you one thing, I'm sure as hell never going to buy one of their houses!” Just as he finished speaking, his eyes narrowed on the hallway. Drew was about to try to slip back into his room, but he realized he had been seen by his father.
“That you, boy?” Andrew asked, a smile curling his lips.
Drew winced, then sighed, coming forward. “Hi, Dad. Sorry. I was justâI'm glad you're home, Dad. Late day, huh?”
Andrew Cunningham still tried hard to hide his smile. “Late day. And boys your age are supposed to be in bed.”
“Yeah, right. Well, I guess I'll just go back then. Nice to see you, Mr. Jaffe, Mr. Waite, Mr. Easton. Good night, then.”
His shoulders slumped, he headed for his bedroom.
“Son,” his father called.
He turned back quickly.
“Come on over here for a minute,” his father said, patting his knee. Drew hurried to his father, and Andrew Cunningham, Sr. scooped Andrew Cunningham, Jr. up onto his lap. “You've been listening in, huh?”
Drew nodded quickly.
“It sounds awful, Dad, just awful. The contractor is doing just as cheap a job as he can, not giving a darn about the people who are going to buy the houses.”
Andrew arched a brow to his friends. “Smart boy, huh. Well, that's it, Drew. That's it right in a nutshell. They're going to charge big money for those houses, and people may live in them right fine for quite some time. But then one day, who knowsâ¦”
“A big wind is going to blow. A great big wind. And those cardboard houses are going to break apart just like matchsticks, you mark my words! It might not be tomorrow, next week or even next year. Hell, it may not even be during the next decade. It may take years, but it's coming,” Sam Jaffe warned again. “I was just a kid when the big blow came in â26. Just a kid. But darn, I sure do remember it well! It was worse than anything we've seen lately, and they weren't building cardboard houses back then, mind you!”
“Well, Drew here is never going to build with cardboard,” his father said proudly, ruffling his hair. “He already knows what he wants to do. He's going to architectural school, he's going to design the places and see that they're built to his specifications. He's already got the grades.”
Sam snorted. “How you gonna pay for one of those highfalutin' schools, Andrew?”
“Andrew's going to quit complaining to inspectors and help us all stay employed, that's how,” Harry said flatly. “The kid can't build great houses and get rich, too, you know.”
“Maybe he can,” Andrew said. “And if not, he can build great houses and just make a good sound living at it, eh? After he gets out of his good school.”
Drew was worried. His father worked hard. Long days, into the nights. They did all right. But they weren't rich. Not by a long shot.
“Dad, don't get too fussy on the school, now,” Drew told him quickly. “There are lots of good ones out there, lots of good ones near home, as well, I'm sureâ”
“Harvard. Harvard school of architecture!” his father insisted.
“Dad!” Drew protested. “It's still a long way off. And I can learn anywhereâ”
“And he can, too,” Andrew said, still speaking proudly. “Drew, you're going to build fine houses, you're going to make us all proud. I put a little in, and then you get rich and famous and look after me in my old age!”
Drew laughed because his father and the others were laughing. His father gave him a fierce hug, then set him on his feet and hurried him off to bed.
He lay down on his mattress and closed his eyes, listening to the breeze that blew just outside his window. He smiled and started to drift to sleep. He wanted to grow up to be just like his father. A good man, a man with principles, a man who didn't keep his mouth shut when wrongs were being done. His dad loved houses, and building. He loved to work with wood, though by trade he was an electrician. Most of all, he liked to see what men could create together, from the architect on down.
And Drew loved houses, too. His art teachers had already told his folks he had talent, and it excited him to see his visions come to light on paper. That wasn't the end of it, though, which he knew from listening to his dad. You had to take a good design and build it with love and quality materials.
That's what Drew was going to do. He was going to design and build houses. Noâhomes. Places where people could live happily and safely. Places to do his father proud. And he'd be delighted to look after his dad in his old ageâ¦
He drifted, lulled by the breeze rustling through the crotons outside his window. It was a
Thankfully, he didn't know that it was going to be his last
night for a long time to come.
He had no way of knowing that Sam's wind would come. The big wind. And somehow, blow away a lifetime of dreams.
A wind like none of them had ever seenâ¦
he wind whistled to a higher pitch, groaned, then screamed as if a thousand of Grandma Boyle's banshees were outside creating havoc and terrorâand demanding every soul within a radius of a hundred miles. Katie Wells stared blankly at her television, listening while news anchor Bryan Norcross explained to all who could still hear him just what was happening with the storm. She glanced at the clock radio beside her bed. It was 3:13 a.m.
The phone rang and Katie nearly jumped sky-high. Though she still had electricity, she was amazed that the phone was functional while the storm raged outside. She didn't expect the electricity to last much longer.
The ringing came again, grating in her ears. She made a dive for the receiver, thinking that Jordan might still be sleeping. She didn't want to wake him up. Not yet. She might have to wake him soon. There had been so little news about Andrew! Just yesterday morning her father had casually reminded her that there was a small storm off the coast.
And by tonight, the “small” storm that might have found landfall anywhere between the Keys and north central Florida had proven itself to have winds up to a minimum of one hundred and forty-five miles an hour.
And it was heading straight at them.
No, not heading for them anymore, she reminded herself as she cradled the phone receiver in her hand. Hitting them. Hitting them harder with each minute that passed.
“Hello?” she said quickly.
The booming voice of Ronald K. Wheeler came loud and clear over the wires.
“Hi, Dad,” she said softly.
“Katie, you making out okay?”
“I'm fine. I was just sitting here watching the storm report on channel four. Actually, Jordan and I watched television together until about two o'clockâthen Jordan said he was sleepy so I thought I'd let him go to bed for awhile. I'm going to give him just a few more minutesâthis wind is getting really wild.” She hesitated a moment. “You were right, Dad. We're taking a direct hit.” She winced. Ron Wheeler had never minded a moment of “I told you so” in his entire life.
Oddly enough, he didn't sermonize. “I told you to come up here, Katie.”
“And if I'd come up, Dad, Andrew might have swung to the north and hit Orlando! And Disney World might claim to be fantasyland, but not even Mickey Mouse could stop this monster!” She bit her lower lip, wincing again. How damned stupid to let him hear that she was beginning to be afraid. Really afraid.
“Katie, now, you tell me what's going on thereâ”
“Nothing, Dad, nothing! I've weathered these before, remember? I'm the little kid who followed you around the house with the C-clamps to board up the windows all those years ago. You taught me well. I've got tons of fresh water, plenty of Sterno, enough canned goods to supply the Red Cross, flashlights, candles and batteries. We're all set.”
“Hmph!” Ron said doubtfully.
The wind whipped again and she braced herself from cowering. Already, the tenor of the wind had changed. It was beginning to sound as if a freight train were coming through her living room.
“Katie, if the wind gets any worse, you pick up Jordan and you hightail itâ”
“Right into the bathroom, I know, Dad. I told you, I'm prepared. I've got pillows and blankets and everything in there. Candles, flashlights, radio, batteries. In a minute, I'll go grab Jordan and we'll sit out the rest of the storm in there. Are you happy?”