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Home > The Other Side of Midnight(7)

The Other Side of Midnight(7)
Author: Sidney Sheldon

The following morning, Louie Alterie was machine-gunned to death as he was leaving his building where we had had lunch.

Joan disappeared from my life.

That was the end of the fantasy.

Between school during the day, the checkroom nights, and the drugstore Saturdays, I had little time for myself.

Something strange seemed to be happening at home. There was tension, but it was a different kind of tension. Natalie and Otto were whispering things to each other, and looking grim.

One morning, Otto came in to me and said, “Son, I’m going to the farm. I’m leaving today.”

I was surprised. I had never been on a farm and I thought it would be fun. “I’d like to go with you, Otto.”

He shook his head. “I’m sorry. I can’t take you.”

“But—”

“No, Sidney.”

“Okay. When will you be back?”

“In three years.” He walked away.

Three years? I couldn’t believe it. How could he desert us for three years to live on a farm?

Natalie came into the room. I turned to her. “What’s going on?”

“I’m afraid I have bad news for you, Sidney. Your father got mixed up with some evil people,” she said. “He was selling vending machines to stores. What your father didn’t know was that there were no vending machines. The men he worked for took the money and ran. But they were caught, and your father was found guilty, along with them. He’s going to prison.”

I was shocked. So, that’s the farm. “For three years?” I did not know what to say. What are we going to do without him for three years?

As it turned out, I need not have worried.

Twelve months after Otto reported to Lafayette State Prison, he was on his way back home, a hero.

CHAPTER 4

We had read the story of Otto’s heroism in the newspapers and had heard it over and over on the radio, but we wanted to hear it from Otto. I had no idea what prison did to a man, but somehow I had the feeling that he would come home changed; pale and burdened down. I was in for a pleasant surprise.

When Otto walked through the front door of our apartment, he was grinning and cheerful. “I’m back,” he said.

There were hugs all around. “We want to hear what happened.”

Otto smiled. “I’ll be happy to tell it again.” He sat down at the kitchen table and he began. “I was working inside the grounds of the prison with the regular cleaning crew. About fifty feet away, there was a huge reservoir that supplied the prison’s water. It was surrounded by a wall that was about ten feet high. I looked up and saw a little boy come out of a building. He was probably three or four years old. The work crew had finished and I was alone.

“When I looked up again, the boy was climbing the steps of the reservoir wall, and was almost at the top. It was dangerous. I looked around for his baby-sitter or nurse or someone, but there was no one. As I watched, the little boy reached the top. He slipped and fell down into the reservoir. A guard in the tower saw what had happened, but I knew that he could never get to the boy in time.

“I got up and ran like hell to the wall. I climbed it as fast as I could. When I got to the top, I looked down and I could see the boy going under. I jumped down, into the water, and managed to grab him. I was fighting to keep the two of us afloat.

“Then, help arrived and they pulled us out. They put me in the hospital for a couple of days because I had swallowed a lot of water and I had some bruises from the jump.”

We were hanging on his every word.

“As luck had it, the boy was the warden’s son. The warden and his wife came to visit me in the hospital to thank me.” Otto looked up at us and smiled. “And that would have been the end of it except for one thing. They found out that I couldn’t swim and that’s when everything got crazy. Suddenly I was a hero. It was in the newspaper and on the radio. There were phone calls and letters and telegrams coming into the prison offering me jobs and asking for leniency for me. The warden and the governor had a meeting and they decided that since my offense wasn’t too serious, that it might be good public relations to pardon me.” Otto held out his arms. “And here I am.”

We were a family again.

It might have been a coincidence, but suddenly a scholarship that I had applied for a year earlier from B’nai B’rith—a Jewish philanthropic organization—had been awarded to me.

It was like a miracle. I was going to be the first one in my family to go to college. A page had turned. I decided that maybe there might be a future for me somewhere after all. But even with the scholarship, we were desperately short of money.

Could I handle the checkroom job seven nights a week, Afremow’s on Saturdays, and a full college schedule?

I would see.

Northwestern University is located in Evanston, Illinois, twelve miles north of Chicago. The university, a two-hundred-forty-acre campus on the shore of Lake Michigan, was spectacular. At nine o’clock on a Monday morning, I walked into the office of the registrar.

“I’m here to enter the university.”

“Your name?”

“Sidney Schechtel.”

The registrar picked up a heavy volume and looked through it. “Here we are. What courses would you like to take?”

“All of them.”

She looked up at me. “What?”

“I mean as many as I’m allowed. While I’m here, I want to learn all I can.”

“What are you mostly interested in?”

“Literature.”

I watched her go through some pamphlets. She picked one up and handed it to me. “Here’s a list of our courses.”

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