Alonzo Juarez arrived by train; his lungs were still not strong enough to chance airplane travel. He was met at the station by Matilda, Carmen, and me (Mary). My first reaction at seeing him as he was helped from the train was "My God, he is a real hunk! Do all SEALs look like that?"
We had been told to have a wheelchair ready for him, because his torn up left lung was barely functional. That IED (Improvised Explosive Device) had really made a mess when it threw the shrapnel through the left side of Alonzo's chest. He was now released from the SEALs and on a pension as a wounded veteran of Afghanistan. Sure, one can live with only part of one lung still in operation, but that did not mean that the person did not have difficulty breathing under many circumstances. Certainly, Alonzo was not going to walk very far in the heat, humidity, and smog of Los Angeles in August. QED, he needed the wheelchair, as much as he despised the damned thing.
We rolled him to the parking lot and got him loaded into the pickup beside the window. Matilda sat beside him and fussed over him like the proverbial mother hen. I was driving, but I could see in the mirror that Alonzo must love his mother very much because he hated the way she was fussing over every little thing trying to make him comfortable, yet he never said a word of complaint.
Meanwhile, Matilda chattered away in Spanish. She asked a string of questions, but never waited for Alonzo to answer. It was just that she was so happy to see her son alive and, yet, was so concerned about his health, that she was a nervous wreck. I interrupted the blather to tell Alonzo in English that we would have him home as quickly as possible, but it was probably going to take nearly an hour because of the heavy traffic. Hell, he could see the near grid-lock on the freeways, and that was why I was sticking to the city streets. The traffic here was bad, but nothing like on the freeways.
I almost laughed at the way his eyes bulged at the sight of our home. It was a mansion behind a fence on a large plot of land overlooking the ocean. It was paradise compared to where he had been living before he enlisted in the Navy. He asked, "This is were you live?" The question was obviously aimed at me because he asked it in totally unaccented English.
"Yeah, this is the place. I sure hope that you are going to like it here."
He starred in open-mouthed disbelief as I drove into the large garage. I said, "As soon as you are well enough to handle it, we hope that you will become our chauffeur. The rest of the family is waiting inside to meet you. Don't worry, you will be in your private bedroom very soon. It is air conditioned, so you can escape this beastly weather."
Even the garage was air conditioned, so Alonzo did not suffer as he exited the pickup. Billy was there, and he effortlessly picked up Alonzo and set him into the wheelchair. Jenny did the pushing as he was rolled into the kitchen and on through to the elevator. He was rolled into the room next to the one occupied by his sister, so he could probably have more attention than he wanted. The temperature was set for 70° F, and Alonzo was relieved at that.
Jenny, Billy, and I left the Juarez family in his room and went back to the kitchen for some coffee while we waited for Matilda and Carmen to join us. We figured that Alonzo would be tired and want a few hours of sleep after he spent a little time in private with his mother and sister.
Eventually, Matilda and Carmen returned to the kitchen. Matilda started immediately to fix supper, but Carmen sat with us. She told us what had happened at soon as we left Alonzo's bedroom. He wanted to know what was going on and exactly who we were. Matilda told him that we were the owners of the mansion and she and Carmen worked as mansion staff. Alonzo said that he could not believe that people rich enough to own this mansion were so nice to penniless emigrants like them.
Matilda explained who we were and how she came to be employed by Billy and Jenny. It was probably just as well that she did not tell Alonzo exactly how Carmen had been cured of her diabetes, just that it had happened. They left Alonzo to catch up on his sleep, but they figured that he would be ready to eat by the time supper was ready.
When the time came, I went to fetch Alonzo while everybody else was getting the table ready and moving the food to the table. We were eating in the breakfast room as we usually did because of the convenience. That way, Matilda could eat with us while she still maintained a close watch on HER kitchen.
I knocked on Alonzo's bedroom door and entered when he answered. Obviously, he had been expecting his mother or his sister because he was only wearing his pants and socks; he had slept in them with the sheet pulled up to cover his bare chest. Anyway, that was when I got a good look at his chest, and I was impressed by the massive scar left behind by the shrapnel and the surgery to repair the damage. Even with the scars, I couldn't help thinking that he looked like a modern Adonis or some other Greek god. Yep, he was a hunk if there ever was one!
Anyway, he acted embarrassed that "one of the rich people" had seen him half naked and tried to hurry to get his shirt on. Unfortunately, his lung failed him in his hurry, and he couldn't manage to get the tee-shirt over his head. I had to help him, and that only compounded the embarrassment.
I said, "Alonzo, stop worrying about the impression that you will make on us. We are ordinary folks who are grateful for your sacrifice to protect us. Please, just relax and go with the flow. Your mother and Carmen have come to accept us as close friends and practically family, and that is what we want to be to you. You can stay here as long as you wish, and you will never be treated as a servant—only as a friend. Now, you are completely dressed as far as we are concerned. You don't need your shoes unless you want them.
"Let me help you into the wheelchair because supper is almost on the table, and Matilda has gone out of her way to fix what she remembers as your favorite foods."
"Oh, dammit! Oops, excuse me, Miss Mary. That slipped out when I found that I could not get up by myself."
"Okay, let me help you. And, Alonzo, forget that 'Miss' stuff. Remember we are friends and family, and we don't waste time on formalities when it is just us around. Also, you will hear swear words at one time or another from all of us, so just be yourself. We'll let you know if it ever gets to be too much, but I am sure that it never will be."
Alonzo was sitting on the side of the bed, so I bent over and slipped one arm behind his back and one arm under his legs. I lifted his 185 pounds or so easily and set him into the wheelchair. We skipped the unnecessary shoes, and I pushed the wheelchair to the elevator and into the breakfast room. Alonzo sat at the end of the table where it was easiest to maneuver the wheelchair. Billy sat at the other end, and we women sat around the sides. Matilda was next to Alonzo on one side and Carmen was next to him on the other side of the table.
The food was excellent, and Matilda had made it in two versions. One version had the usual Mexican type and quantity of spices, and the other version was toned down to fit American tastes. I noticed that Matilda and Carmen ate the strictly Mexican style food, but Alonzo mixed the two styles. He apologized to his mother and explained that he had gotten used to the lower spice level while he was in the Navy. Matilda laughed and admitted that she was getting used to American levels of spices and would not fix the highly spiced stuff any more. Carmen looked a little relieved at that.
We got to talking about a variety of subjects, but tried to stay on things that would interest Alonzo. He didn't want to talk about Afghanistan, but wanted to know what was going on in America, and especially in Los Angeles. Eventually, he asked if the gangs were as much of a problem as they had been before he left for overseas.
I guess that it was without realizing what she was doing, but Carmen immediately commented, "The gangs are not nearly as bad as they used to be now that the Gray Ghosts have done such a good job of eliminating the Sharks and some of the smaller gangs."
Alonzo immediately reacted by asking, "Who are the Gray Ghosts?"
Again, before anybody could shut her up, Carmen said, "Oh, they are Billy, Jenny, and Mary. Billy's parents help when they are here from Phoenix ... Oops, I have said too much, haven't I?"
Billy said, "I had hoped that we would have some preparation time before Alonzo learned of our secret, but it was going to happen eventually, so I guess that now is as good a time as any." Billy told Alonzo a shortened version of our family history, including a sanitized version of how Liz and Jenny's bodies had been changed.
Alonzo commented, "I had wondered how Mary came to be so strong. She lifted my weight so effortlessly that I was shocked. I had never before met a woman that strong."
That was when Carmen launched into the story, with surprising detail, of how Billy had cured her of diabetes and how he had cured the cancer of a female friend. She also lauded Jenny for not being jealous over the technique required. She also said, "Billy was so good that I almost wish that something else could happen to me so that he would have to doctor me again ... Oops, there I go again saying to much!"
All of us but Billy and Alonzo laughed, and Billy got a sharp look from Alonzo, but he did not say anything. I volunteered Billy to give Alonzo a demonstration after supper of just what our bodies were capable of. Billy agreed, and Alonzo was anxious to see just what Billy could do.
After dessert, Carmen and Matilda cleared the supper table while we adjourned to the lower basement for the demonstration where we had the gun range set up. The weather was still too uncomfortable for Alonzo to go outside. Jenny was chosen to assist in the demonstration while I stayed with Alonzo to answer questions.
The first demonstration was with a knife. Billy removed his shirt and Jenny used a hunting knife to try to stab him in the gut. The knife bounced off each of the three times she jabbed Billy. Just to prove that she was not pulling her punches, she handed the knife to Alonzo and had him try to stab Billy. Of course, the angle was wrong, so he could not get much real power into the blow, but Alonzo was convinced that Jenny had really hit Billy hard enough to kill him if his skin had not blocked the blow.
That was followed by pistol shots to Billy's back. The first one was with a 9 mm parabellum bullet, and that just dropped to the floor, only leaving a mark that lasted a few seconds. The second shot was with the .45 caliber bullet. That left a longer lasting mark, but that bullet also simply fell to the floor.
The next demonstration was of strength, and Billy easily picked Jenny off the floor with one hand. He then took a steel bar about ½-inch in diameter and tied it in several knots. Alonzo was invited to try the same thing, but he declined. Jenny then straightened out the bar, and that was truly a feat.
That was where the demonstration was ended because Billy could not run at his top speed inside the shooting range, and it was already too dark to demonstrate the activity outside. However, Alonzo did say that he believed him if Billy said that he could run about 45 MPH for long distances if he had to. He thought that, by now, he could hit 60 MPH in a sprint, but that was very hard on his shoes.
Alonzo's next question stopped us cold! "What do I have to do to get this wonderful treatment?" Oh, shit, we had never resolved this question. The obvious solution was for Alonzo to fuck either Jenny or me, but he was too damned weak to do that any time soon. It fell to me to give him the bad news, and the conversation stopped at that point. I did say that I would discuss it with him when he got stronger. That statement surprised everybody, even me.
By this time, Alonzo was exhausted, so I took him to his room and helped him into bed. Yes, I removed his pants, but not his boxer shorts, which were what he usually slept in. I pointed out the wireless intercom on his bedside table that he could use to call if he needed help during the night. The other end of the circuit was beside Matilda's bed—she had insisted on that.
Because we did not know what might happen during the night, we did not make a Gray Ghost run that night. There was a possibility that Matilda might need one of us to help with Alonzo. Neither she nor Carmen were strong enough to move him to the wheelchair.
Well, it was a good thing that we stayed home. About 3:00 AM, Matilda's intercom was buzzed by Alonzo. He had started coughing and could not seem to stop. She called Billy for help, and he saw that there was nothing that we could do. He called 911 for EMS help, and they arrived in about 15 minutes with the ambulance to take Alonzo to the ER.
With Billy's help, they got Alonzo on the gurney and out to the ambulance. They took off to the hospital at maximum speed with Alonzo still coughing. Matilda and Carmen jerked their clothes on and rushed to follow the ambulance. When we got to the ER, Matilda was the only one they would let in to see Alonzo, and the rest of us had to sit in the waiting room.
After only a few minutes, Matilda came out to find us. She reported that the doctor had sent Alonzo to the X-ray unit for a complete examination of his lungs. The exam would take at least an hour by the time the dyes were shot in and were in place for the most important X-rays. All we could do was to wait, because that was what the doctor was doing.
Meanwhile, the local hospital was calling the VA hospital in Pasadena about admitting Alonzo. That answer might take over an hour. Wait, wait, wait. That was all we could do, and we all nearly went nuts doing it.
After about 90 minutes, the doctor came in to talk to us. First of all, Alonzo's left lung was in terrible shape. All they could tell was that the wound had somehow torn open again. That may have been caused by his train trip, but they could not be sure. In any case, Alonzo was going to be doped up on drugs that would kill his cough reflex. He would have to spend several days in this hospital before he could be moved anywhere.
The doctor had to be prodded very hard, but he finally said that the X-rays showed so much lung damage that he did not have much hope for Alonzo's survival. Oh, dammit, Matilda fainted at that, and she was rushed into ER. She was going to recover in a few minutes: it was the shock from what the doctor said that had caused her to collapse. When she came to, she asked that Billy be the one they reported to on the results with Alonzo. Carmen and I took Matilda home, and Jenny stayed with Billy to keep him company.
About an hour later they were told that the VA hospital had no place to put Alonzo, so he would have to stay where he was. Alonzo was admitted to the local hospital and a doctor was assigned to his case. Late the following afternoon, the doctor met with Billy and said that Alonzo was beyond their help. The IED had done more damage than anyone had realized, and it was only Alonzo's magnificent physical condition that had kept him alive this long. The upshot was that they would keep Alonzo in this hospital until he was stabilized enough to go home, provided that a suitable adjustable bed would be arranged for him. A visiting nurse would come by every day to do what she could for him.
That was not much for us to lean on, but it was something. A suitable bed was purchased and all of the other necessary stuff was provided. All we could do now was to wait until Alonzo came home.