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Intensity Forty-three

Charlie's POV

I was in the living room, attempting to rock Geoffrey to sleep. I had just fed the boy an entire bottle of breast milk, but something was making him cry. Susie was at work for a few more hours yet. I thought she'd want to stay home after having our son, but she surprised me when she returned to work. My wife claimed she needed to work for her sanity. She also wanted to save enough money for all of our kids—Leah, Seth, Bella, and Geoffrey—in our will for when we eventually passed away. Since I made enough money to support the three of us comfortably, we were putting her money into a fund we'd established in each of our children's names. She wanted each kid to be treated fairly, and I respected her for that.

Sue and I were lucky; our adult children were all independent and capable of supporting themselves with no issues at all. We had no doubt Geoffrey would be able to stand on his own two feet when he became an adult. He did have my genes, after all. Look at how wonderful my Bella turned out to be.

The doorbell rang suddenly. Geoffrey, of course, started bawling his eyes out. Damn it! Now I'll never get the little tyke to sleep. Carefully keeping my son cradled in my arm, I stood up and went to the door to open it. My eyes widened in surprise to find my little girl and her husband standing on the porch.

"Not that I'm unhappy to see you, but what are you kids doing here?"

"Paul has some business to take care of in Washington," Bella said, giving me a hug. "Hi, Daddy. I missed you." She took little Geoffrey, who was still bawling, from me while I hugged Paul. "Oh, now look at you. You have the same eyes as me. Do you remember me? Of course, you don't. I'm your big sister. Now let's see why you're crying." She turned to me. "Did you feed him, Daddy?"

"I did. The little slugger polished off an entire bottle of breast milk." I pointed proudly to the bottle on the coffee table. My boy had a healthy appetite.

"Did you burp him?"

"Who do you take me for? I raised you up, didn't I?"

"Did Geoffrey actually burp, or did you just pat him on the back a few times?" My daughter scrutinized my face, searching for the truth. Damn it! She gets that look from me!

"Uh, I'm not sure," I admitted. "I was watching the game."

"That's what I thought. It's a miracle I survived my childhood with Mom and you as parents." Bella huffed, grabbed the receiving blanket, put it over her shoulder. She cradled Geoffrey on her chest, gently patting him on the back until he let out a great, big, giant belch worthy of a Swan male. She then went to his room, changed his diaper, and put him to bed in his crib. He nodded off to sleep immediately.

"I still don't understand why you don't have a baby. You're not getting any younger, you know," I commented.

"I still haven't gone on a honeymoon, Daddy. There's no way I'm having a baby now. Besides, we're too busy, and both Mom and you have proven that there's plenty of time by having children so late in life." She had the nerve to smirk at me.

"What she said," Paul added with his arms crossed in front of his chest. "Besides, between Geoffrey, Tyler, and Tucker, we have enough little brothers to look after."

I dropped the subject, knowing the two of them had a tendency to become riled up whenever I brought up grandbabies. Oh, well. I had no doubt they'd give me fine grandbabies one day.

"Do you kids want something to eat? I can put together some sandwiches," I offered.

"How about this? I'll cook while you and Paul have a talk," my daughter suggested, turning the television off as she trod away from the living room. It must be a serious conversation for her to shut the game off.

"That's an even better idea." While Bella got busy in the kitchen, I turned to my son-in-law, who was looking glum. "Alright, time to fess up. What has you looking like you ate a sour lemon?"

Paul reached into Bella's tote bag and handed a letter to me. I scanned it and sighed. Damn it! That creep should never see daylight again, but now he was due to be released into a halfway house in Olympia in a few days.

Johnny Lahote and I have crossed paths multiple times in the past. Where his son was a diligent, hard-working, law-abiding citizen, the father was the complete opposite. He was one of the worst examples of a human being ever. Before he was put away for twenty years, he had been in and out of jail for various infractions of the law, most of the time involving drugs.

Johnny's last offense was so heinous that I thought he should get more than just twenty years in prison. He had beaten both his son and his wife in a drug-induced rage. It was a miracle the woman had survived. I remember it all — I was there when Billy got the call. We went to the Lahote's house straightaway. Travis Johnson was the arresting officer. He tried to handle it on a tribal level; however, after seeing me there decided against it and charged his friend with felony assault. I was furious—I thought Johhny should have been charged with attempted murder, but Travis was buddies with him and let him off easy. He even had the nerve to blame a thirteen-year-old Paul, not even paying attention to the significant injuries the boy had. I put the boy in the cruiser myself and got him checked out at Forks hospital.

"I want to see him," my son-in-law announced.

"Why?"

"I..." My usually steady son-in-law looked away from me. I waited patiently for an answer.

"Let me ask you this, Paul. What brought you to this point? Was it the letter?"

"It wasn't just the letter. Seeing Brenda Fuller battered and broken made me think about my childhood." He shook his head and finally faced me. "I want to know what made him react the way he did. It's not like he ever put food on the table. I don't think he ever worked a day in his life. So why the hell couldn't he appreciate a simple dinner of mac and cheese and hot dogs?"

I put my hand on his shoulder. "I don't have an answer for you, Paul. You'll have to ask him directly."

"That's what Bella said."

Now I have my answer. It was my daughter who put the idea in his head. Smart girl. If he had questions, it was better to ask the source directly rather than dwell on the questions he wanted answers for. I knew my son-in-law. He usually had his head on straight, but this was a lingering hurt he's had since childhood, and he deserved answers. So I was going to make sure Johnny Lahote gave him those answers.

"I'll go with you."

"I was hoping you'd say that, Dad. You were there."

"I was. I'll be there to support you, son."

"Thanks."

"That's what fathers are for," I told him, and I meant it. Paul had come to mean a great deal to me for the simple reason that he was a genuinely good man. He had faced every possible adversity, overcome the odds, and become a smashing success—both personally and professionally. He deserved everything he had, too. But, most importantly, Paul deserved my Bella. I honestly couldn't have found a better husband for her myself had I searched the world over twice.

I decided to change the topic, sensing Paul needed to keep his mind off of things. "We never got a chance to thank you for our Christmas present."

"I hope you didn't find it offensive."

"Paul, you started a college fund for my newborn son. Why would I be offended by that?"

He shrugged his shoulders. "Because you're capable of saving for one yourself. You did it for Bella."

"I only had to contribute half the amount. Renee contributed the other half. It was part of the custody agreement. I was about to start a college fund for Geoffrey, but you did it for me."

"I didn't want Geoffrey to be limited by financial constraints like I was. I had no choice but to attend a state college, plus I had to work for whatever financial aid didn't cover. Bella was able to attend college without worrying about money. She only had to take out loans when she went for her master's degree."

"Has she paid off her loans?" I asked. "I tried to pay them for her, but she refused my help." Bella could be unbelievably stubborn at times.

"We're all set there. Neither of us has any loans to speak of. However, I want to point out that Bella paid off her student loans by herself before we got married. She was lucky. Since Renee had given her the house in Arizona as a graduation present, Bella had no rent or mortgage. Therefore, she was able to put the majority of her income towards paying off her loans."

I'd forgotten that Renee did that for our daughter. My ex-wife might be a dingbat, but her heart was in the right place. The house was an excellent, well-deserved gift. Our daughter worked hard to graduate from college and fulfill her dream of becoming a nurse practitioner. I turned to watch Bella in the kitchen. She was so confident and put together in whatever she did—a far cry from how she was when she left the area more than a decade ago. I had Renee to thank for that. My ex-wife made sure Bella received the counseling she needed and empowered her to live life on her own terms.

"Ouch!" My daughter yelped as her hand brushed the piping hot pan.

She was also a klutz, but dang it, I loved the little girl with all my heart.

"Thank you, Paul. The college fund was a fantastic idea, and I'll never be able to repay you." I knew the couple did the same for Renee and Phil's two boys, too. They were generous almost to a fault.

"Dad, there's no repayment necessary. Bella and I wanted to do this. Besides, you can't

put a value on the gift you've given me."

"And what gift is that?"

"A father who cares."

I gave the boy a hug because, quite frankly, he melted my heart with his words. He was a good kid, a great husband to Bella, and an excellent son. I was proud to stand in as his father, especially since his own was one of the unworthiest men in existence.

Paul's POV

The following day…

We arrived at Clallam Bay early in the morning. Charlie and Bella accompanied me. Sue had the day off and offered to tag along for support, but we told her to stay at home with Geoffrey.

We checked in at the reception area. Charlie, dressed in uniform, flashed his badge and credentials and requested a private room. He clearly knew the officer manning the area.

"How are you, Charlie?"

"I'm doing well, Gary. How are the wife and kids?"

"Happy and healthy, which is all I ask for." The officer glanced at the list. "Johnny Lahote, eh? He doesn't get many visitors—Travis Johnson is the only one who still comes to see him monthly."

"Johnson, huh? They're still buddies, after all this time. I'm not surprised," Charlie scoffed.

"Yeah, neither am I. I wouldn't trust Johnson further than I can throw him. How he became, a cop is a mystery to me." The officer looked beyond Charlie at us.

"This is my daughter Bella and her husband, Paul."

"It's a pleasure to meet you. I'll need identification from the two of you." We handed our driver's licenses to Gary, who did a double-take when he saw our last names. He scanned our ID cards and returned them to us.

After walking through metal detectors and checking Bella's handbag, he led us into a private room. There were three benches, side-by-side, up against the wall, on the same side as the door we walked in from. We were instructed to sit and wait on the benches.

Across from us was another door leading out to where the prison cells were. A prison officer was standing guard on the other side of the heavy, metal door. In the center of the room was a long, metal table bolted down to the floor. There were metal benches, also bolted to the ground, on either side of the table.

"You do understand that the prisoner will be handcuffed and under guard at all times, don't you?" Gary asked me specifically to reassure me that my father wouldn't be able to hurt me. He had a look of sympathy in his eyes.

"I do, sir," I replied.

"Good." He quickly exited the room, the door closing with a thud.

We waited silently in the room, each one of us lost in our thoughts, not knowing what to expect of the man who, on paper, was my father. Then, finally, we heard heavy footsteps and the jangle of keys approaching from a distance. For some reason, I shuddered in dread, more than anticipation.

"It'll be alright, son," Charlie assured me, patting me on the shoulder. He had a stoic expression on his face. Bella, who was sitting on my other side, gave my hand a squeeze. She turned to me with a smile, winked, and said, "Courage, Paul. I love you."

"I love you, too," I whispered back as the heavy footsteps, and the jangling keys came to an abrupt halt. The loud metal bolts—two of them—were unbolted simultaneously. Then, with my enhanced hearing, I could hear four digits being punched into the keypad.

The heavy metal door swung open. An armed officer walked inside to check the room. He gave the okay, and the prisoner, wearing a bright orange jumpsuit, was brought inside. His ankles were shackled with a heavy chain, and his hands were cuffed in front of him. After he was seated, one of the officers bolted the chain between the prisoner's ankles to a hook attached to the floor.

The armed officers then moved as one back against the wall. One of them nodded to Charlie, who motioned with his head that I could approach. Bella stayed behind on the benches against the wall like we previously agreed. I proceeded to the table with Charlie and sat down in front of the prisoner.

I looked up, and for the first time in twenty years, I found myself peering into the eyes of the man who, legally, was my father. His eyes were as hard as I remembered. There was absolutely no warmth in his countenance, but I could also detect confusion.

"Charlie Swan, as I live and breathe. What brings you to my home for the past twenty years? The home you helped force me into," he sneered.

"If I had my choice, Johnny, you wouldn't be allowed to see daylight or breathe fresh air again. But, as it is, you will have served out your sentence and be permitted to leave in a few days."

"I was a model prisoner." He shrugged his shoulders and then eyed me curiously. "You look familiar." Then, turning to Charlie, he asked, "Who's your boyfriend?"

Charlie replied coolly, "He happens to be my son-in-law. He wanted to see you."

Johnny Lahote examined me from where he sat, eyeing my face with scrutiny. His eyes widened as he finally recognized me. "Paul?"

"Yes."

He looked beyond Charlie and me at Sue and Bella and then turned his eyes back to me. "Is that your wife? The Hok'wat girl?"

"Yes," I replied.

"She's pretty."

I nodded but didn't reply. I decided to bring up an uncomfortable topic with Johnny. "Mom passed away seven years ago. Were you aware of that? She committed suicide," I informed him.

"She couldn't live without me, huh? Paulina couldn't get enough of me."

"I beg to differ. Mom couldn't stand the sight of you."

Johnny decided to change the flow of the conversation. "I heard you went to college and are as rich as sin. I suppose it's why you were able to buy the Hok'wat girl for a wife."

My temper flared, and I wanted to kick his teeth in, but Charlie steadied me with a simple, "Paul, remember why you're here."

Of course, my father-in-law had forgotten about his daughter—my wife. Bella stalked to the table, slammed her palms down on the table, and fixed the prisoner with a fierce glare. "You want to apologize to me now, mister! For your information, I cannot be bought!" And with one hand on her hip and a finger pointed directly at him, she advised Johnny, "You're going to lose the attitude right now and show respect to your son and my father because, like it or not, they're the only family you've got left."

"You'd better do as she says, Johnny," Charlie Swan stated. "My daughter gets her temper from me."

"I suppose I deserved that," Johnny admitted. "I apologize for my words." Then, he turned to me and asked, "Why are you here, Paul?"

"I have several questions."

"Fire away," he yawned.

"I want to know why you made our lives miserable. What did Mom and I do to deserve being treated the way you treated us? Why did you beat us so much?"

We had a stare-down of sorts. Each of us surveying the other.

Johnny Lahote did not age well. His arms were covered in homemade prison tattoos. His wrinkled face was framed by long, gray hair, which he tied into a ponytail. When he opened his mouth, I noticed he had several missing teeth. Years of drug use had taken a toll on him, and even if he was sober in prison—at least I hoped—he was still in poor shape. Most of all, he looked tired—exhausted even.

"I heard about you from my buddy Travis. Apparently, you're some sort of tycoon. He also said you're an arrogant prick, but I can tell he's wrong. You want answers, and you deserve them. I shouldn't have hit your mother or you ever."

"Then why did you do it? You beat Mom until she was unconscious several times. She didn't deserve it. All she did was defend me. And then there was me. I am your son! You are my father! Why did you abuse me so much? What did I ever do to deserve being treated like you treated me? I was a kid! Do you know how much it hurt to grow up with you as a father? You hurt me!"

Johnny Lahote eyes held regret. For the first time in my life, I saw genuine sadness in his eyes.

"I don't know, Paul. I didn't know any better. My old man treated my mother and me the same way. I spent my entire life in a rage because of the circumstances I was born into, and unlike you, I couldn't drag myself out of my miserable life." He closed his eyes and bowed his head down. "For what it's worth, I apologize. I apologize for everything I ever did to you and your mother. Any other questions?"

"Why did you marry Mom if you were going to treat her like dirt?"

"Paulina was the most beautiful woman I've ever known—bubbly and smart as a whip. She gave me hope. We started out with the best intentions, and then things quickly went downhill. Living in the neighborhood we did in Tacoma didn't help. Neither did her brother Malcolm or our friends Travis and Tony. She fell into the same spiral of drugs and alcohol I did and couldn't pull herself out."

My eyes bulged at hearing two of the times, and I could tell Charlie was curious, too. "By Travis and Tony, do you mean Travis Johnson and Tony Fuller?"

"Yeah, do you know them? Tony was our drug dealer. He always got us the good stuff—cooked it up himself. The guy took chemistry in high school for the sole purpose of making drugs and was good at it. He was able to pay for his college using drug money. You'd never know he dealt drugs by seeing him either. He always looked clean-cut and kept it all together. He was the golden boy of La Push and even helped Travis get a job at the tribal police force."

I don't think Johnny knew he was ratting out his friend, but I wanted to keep him talking. "Are you still in touch with Tony?"

"Fuck no!" He snapped out, and his face suddenly took on an angry countenance. "The guy is the lowest form of scum on this earth. Coming from me, that's saying something." Johnny shook his head several times before returning to the conversation. "Tony Fuller came to me with a business proposition once when I owed him some money. He'd cancel my debt; all I had to do was give him Paulina." He looked me in the eyes. "He wanted to pimp out my wife, your mother, so he could make money off of her. You remember how beautiful she was, don't you? Well, Tony wanted her from the moment he saw her." He balled his hands up into fits. "Even a guy like me has morals, and I wasn't about to let him use my wife for profit." A tear, then two, fell from his eyes before he started outright crying. "Anyway, I came back from work at the gas station, and I found your mom strung out on drugs and Tony Fuller raping her." Finally, he broke down and started hyperventilating; the tears were coming down so fast. "I loved Paulina. You may not believe me, Paul, but I loved your mother. I never meant to hurt her. I never did! But the drugs… The drugs made me crazy. She shouldn't have died! It's my fault she got hurt! It's my fault she died!"

I couldn't say anything. I was still reeling from the shock of finding out what Tony Fuller wanted to do to my mother and what he actually did to her. The guy had absolutely no moral compass. So why was he still a free man?

Johnny turned to Charlie. "The problem with you cops is you only see what's on the surface. You see a guy like me all tatted up with long hair and ratty clothes, and you immediately peg him to be a criminal. Then you see a clean-cut guy like Tony Fuller with his hair cropped short and dressed all fine in his designer duds. You assume he's clean, but the truth is, guys like him usually have guys like me doing their dirty work. If there's one thing I'll do that's right before I leave this earth, it is to have that scum bag put behind bars. I hope you have this all on tape, Charlie Swan. I've always known you to be a good man, an honest cop. I want you to look into Tony Fuller. I know I have no right to ask you for anything, but look into him, will you? I can tell you that there's a long line of guys in here who want his head on a platter."

"You have my word that I will look into him, but I want you to do something for me."

"And what's that, Charlie?"

"You have a second chance at life. You've been clean and getting counseling, I can tell. When you leave this place the day after tomorrow, I want you to do your best to live a good life—a life of integrity. You have a son who is as honest and as hard-working as can be, and he did it all himself. You know for a fact that he was brought up in the worst circumstances possible, yet he didn't resort to crime or drugs even though he could have easily gone that way. You say you didn't know better, but when you committed your sins, you knew that what you did was wrong. So instead of blaming the circumstances, you were brought up in, overcome them like your son did. I'll make sure you have the support you need."

Johnny nodded. "Thank you, Charlie."

"You're welcome."

"Look after my son for me."

"He doesn't need looking after."

Johnny turned his focus on me. "Paul, for whatever it's worth, I'm sorry. You always were a good kid, and you didn't deserve to have me as a father. You did well with your life, and for the first time, the name Lahote is a respectable one. You did that all on your own with no help for me. Take care of your wife; although, I'm pretty sure she can take care of herself." He chuckled. "She's a firecracker—that one. Thank you for coming to see your old man."

I have no idea what made me say this next part, but I felt he needed encouragement. For the first time in my life, I was rooting for Johnny Lahote. "I know you can stay sober this time. You can succeed where Mom couldn't. You need to work, but you won't be able to find a good job without a GED. I can help you get one. So please, just… don't fuck up this time. Okay?"

"I'll do my best."

"And stay away from Travis Johnson. I know he says he's your friend, but he's not. He's still hanging on Fuller's coattails. That's all you need to know," I warned.

He looked shocked but finally accepted my words. "I believe you."

"Good. I'll be in touch about the GED, and thanks for telling me your story."

"It was long overdue, Paul."

And with that, our visit ended. It was more than I had hoped for. For the first time in my life, my father spoke honestly with me. He needed help, though, and I was determined to provide it for him. I wasn't going to allow him to fall through the cracks.

XOXO

Once we got into the SUV and we had driven a few miles away from the prison, Charlie mentioned needing to requisition the video from our visit. Apparently, all prison visits were recorded.

"Um, Daddy?"

"Yes, Bella?"

"Suppose someone takes a video of something without permission. Is that admissible in court?"

"Of course not, but there's no reason why I can't review video evidence off-the-record."

And then we both snapped our heads to Bella. "Why?"

"Well, I sort of recorded the entire visit on my iPhone, but don't worry, I made it like I was scrolling on my phone."

Charlie started laughing, his hands shaking on the steering wheel. "Only you, baby girl. Only you! Send me the video once we get home, and I'll review what Johnny said. I think he's telling the truth, but I want to look into Travis Johnson more. I want to know why he's still visiting Johnny in prison after all these years. So, I'm going to requisition tapes of those visits as well."

"Are you allowed to, Dad?" I asked.

"Hell, yes, I am. I've had both Fuller and Johnson under surveillance for a few months now."

"Is that why you haven't brought him in yet after what he did to Brenda Fuller?"

"It's exactly why. I'm waiting for Fuller to screw up big time, and he will."

"Are you sure you won't lose him?"

"I'm optimistic. We've got Fuller by the balls—scratch that, Angela Weber has him by the balls. He's so pussy-whipped that if she told him to jump in front of a speeding train, he would.

"Ew! What the hell does Angela Weber have to warrant his total devotion?"

"Now that's the question of the hour, isn't it?"

Charlie's response got us all thinking. Where did Angela Weber come into play for all of this?