Monday, February 28, 2011
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
I couldn't tell you much about my trip back from visiting Europe that day. I was angry and consumed with my own thoughts and feelings. I passed through customs and rented a car as a distraction that I mostly ignored. What I do remember is that those helping me had to remind me to proceed several times.
Technically I was returning home. But the house where I drove to was not one that I had spent much time in since childhood. Then it was off to a series of boarding schools while my mother was alive, and then after she passed I received a trust fund and the impression that the real family was ready for me to disappear.
I did a good job of disappearing. I took my passport and started to visit people that I had met in college. I had studied linguistics in college. So traveling was natural.
With planning I was able to travel light and earn enough that I drew only occasionally from the fund for my expenses. I wrote a couple of travel books about hiking across Britain and Europe. My agent encouraged me to try more exotic and remote parts of the world.
So I went to visit the one person that I knew from Peru and spent two and a half years hiking in the Andes. I walked out of the mountains with three things. First, was the material for a guide for traveling the mountains of Peru with a backpack. Second, was the manuscript for a novel that chronicled an adventure of fighting international crime and terrorism in the same mountains. Third, was a conviction that the world was a place that needed people to stand up for what is right.
The travel book was published after a few good meals and meetings with my agent. The novel was problematic. To protect real people some names and places had to be changed. And we had to create a pen name to publish it under. The book would be fiction. But the material for it came from 18 months of real life in the foothills of the Andes.
And I started a new career as Ken Horne. my travels would still be for research writing travel guides, but Ken would be traveling on his missions of justice, that he would then write about. Ken would gather details from real intrigues and places, places that wouldn't make it into the travel guide for tourist recommendations that I would be writing.
I pulled up to the gate of the family house and showed my ID to the gatekeeper. He let me through with a frown. I knew he was calling ahead. I had seen a news report a week ago when Dan Brown had died while on a trip in Cosivo.
Dan had been one of my few friends from my family associations. When I heard the circumstances of his death, I grew suspicious. I was in Greece at the time. I made some calls to his family and my suspicions grew. Then finally I received a message from Dan.
Dan had been organizing relief efforts when he uncovered something unsettling. So he called for help. He called my uncle. He thought that if any one could help, it would be my family. And he should have been right. But after the call, no one else would take his calls.
According to his letter, he was changing his plans and coming to see me. His letter sounded desperate. And a little bit frightened. Now that he was dead, his fear could not be easily dismissed.
Dan had been a friend. Not just my friend, but his family was a friend of my family. We had know each other since child hood. I had gone off to board, and then we had met again in college. He was one of the few anchors that I had back in Virginia. He had gone to work in the circles in D.C. and I had gone off to travel and write.
Dan was also out there traveling. Where I was out writing for money, Dan was finding people to help. Dan worked in logistics and planning and volunteered for a variety of aid organizations. Knowing what Dan did, I would try to look him up whenever we were in the same part of the world.
We were planning to have lunch in four days. If we had made that date for last week I might have been with him when the bomb went of in front of his hotel.
If only I had been where he could have called me. Maybe things would have been different. Maybe.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
I pulled my A-4 into the circle drive that I had last seen after my mother's funeral. I had never had specific plans to see it again, nor to stay away. Life had just happened.
I hopped out and headed up the steps. This was the family estate, but most of the family only came here for special occasions. Uncle John was the only one that used it as his residence.
The door opened as I approached the top. I didn't recognize who it was, but they knew me. "Good morning, Casey. John is on the phone, but will see you in the library shortly."
"Thanks." I said looking around. "It's still this way right?" Indicating down the hall.
The butler smiled, " Let me show you the way, sir." And we started walking down the hallway. "Will you need a room for the night?"
"I don't think so. I doubt that will be convenient."
"I see." We reached the end of the hall. The open double doors on the left opened onto the library. "Please make yourself comfortable. Call the operator if you need anything." Then he left.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
I didn't immediately suspect family involvement. But in retrospect I can't say I am surprised either. After getting Dan's letter I decided to keep my appointment. I really can't explain what my motives were for doing so.
I asked the desk of the hotel to keep my bags for a few days. As a regular client, they said I could eave them as long as I needed.
I got on the train for Kartush, and checked in to the hotel I had made reservations at weeks before. It was a nice affordable place that I had stayed in before. Dan had known where I would be staying.
"Welcome back Mr Cannon. We have a wonderful room for you." Said the desk clerk. "And there seems to be a message for you from a Mr. Dan Brown. Would you like to wait for me to get it, or have it brought up to your room?"
"Can you bring it to me in the bar?"
"Of course we can. Take your time."
For messages or packages from my agent, I would have had them sent to my room. But this was different. I hadn't been expecting another message from Dan. Really I was more expecting him to walk in and explain it all as a mistake.
I grabbed a sandwich and a drink waiting for the message from Dan. I don't really know what I expected. An envelop probably with a dinner invite or tickets to a benefit or something.
The clerk showed up next to me at the bar with a bankers box that looked like it was full of papers. Taped to the top was an envelope bearing my name, and a return address with pre paid shipping instructions to an address back in the states.
I tipped the clerk and asked if there was a business office where I could use a table. He directed me to a small courtesy office with a phone and fax. Once inside I opened the letter first.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
The library was a large room. It did contain books, but not in rows of shelves like a real library. It was arranged for casual entertaining and receiving groups of people.
In my early childhood I had lived here, on the grounds, with my mother. She had gone off to college, and come home after one year with a dead husband and a baby on the way. It had been quite an internal family scandal.
From what I had gathered over the years she had been a young woman with much potential. When she had gone off to Princeton to study economics the family had expected to have her return in the same shape.
They had been disappointed. Within a few months she was married. My Grandfather had disapproved without ever meeting my father. In my Grandfathers eyes my Father was not good enough for my Mother or the family. This is a viewpoint that most of the family prudently shared. I knew this personally. As the son of my Father, I shared in the fate of his reputation.
My Father was the product of his Chinese mother and his Puertorican father. Very melting pot American. He had been raised by working parents without post high school education of any kind. But from the reports from his teachers and military commanders he was very intelligent.
He did two things for the first time in his family. He joined the Marines and he went to college on a scholarship. When my mother met him he was there for post graduate studies.
The fell in love, but he was shipping out at the and of the semester. His introduction into the family did not go over well. My mother rebelled against her father and married him before he shipped out. one month later she received the flag of a grateful nation and knew that she was with child.
Perhaps if she had been on good terms with the family they would have convinced her to terminate her pregnancy, and I would have died before my birth. But she tried to keep me to herself, and spurned the initial out reaches of my aunts. But when the papers reported that the oldest daughter of such a noted statesman was a single mother in assisted housing the family did something drastic. The took her back.
So at the age of three, I was brought from a life of daycare and McDonald's playlands to a life of Nannies and Butlers. Seven years later I went to boarding school and was only back at the 'House' for Christmas and weddings and such.
My mother visited me regularly for the first few years. She did care for me, but the pressures of the family was relentless. And over time she began a downward march of anti-depressants that could do nothing to relieve the disdain of the family.
After a few years the family put her into a care facility where I visited her untill my last year of college. When she passed away. By then she didn't really touch the world outside the walls of the care facility.
But she had reached out and touched my life. She had always kept a diary, and when she sent me off to boarding school she began to compile a journal of family information that she knew could help me.
After her passing Uncle John and I had our first 'discussion' about my future. He wanted to pay me off and have me leave and never return to bother the family. I just laughed and handed him a letter my mother had written to me for just such a purpose.
John was furious and stormed out calling for his lawyers. I left quietly, on my own and returned to school. Two weeks later a family attorney contacted me. Things were reasonable well.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
I hope that I am over reacting, but due to recent events I am sending you this file. Please don't bring this with you when we meet for dinner. I don't want you to be involved if there is any real danger. But there I go again.
I have been trying to reach a few people that we both know, these documents are really for them. I will tell you all about it when I see you.
Until then, please put this box in the hotel safe, and don't look in the box.
See you at noon.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
When Uncle John walked into the library he did it from the closed doors at the back. He had aged since I had seen him last, but I supposed that I had as well. He was only a few years older than me.
"Casey!" He shouted a bit too loudly breaking the silence of the library, "It has been oo long since we have seen you around. But I don't mind telling you that I get regular reports on what you are up to from the family. Always out there making the world safe for the wandering tourist. Rome this time isn't it?"
"Greece actually." I corrected adopting his air of filial relation. His under tone of having me watched was not lost on me. Nor the seed that someone in the family was sending him reports. Such was the way Uncle John communicated. He could weave two or three messages together under neath the appearance of a casual conversation. It was a skill from spending too much time among politicians.
"Greece!" He declared, as if he had just discovered. "I can't imagine wanting to come back here if I were free to spend my days on those lovely shores."
Another message and warning. It was a temptation when talking with John to try and layer meaning the way he did so casually. But it normally got people in trouble, and in this game Uncle John was a master.
"I came because of Dan Brown." I said flatly.
Uncle John frowned, unable to make the transition from patronzing uncle to grieving family friend so quickly. "That is a trajedy. Dan was a good man' The world needs more good men like him. I just wish he had been a little more careful. Spending so much time n the company of danger must have made him feel like he could get close to it without it touching him."
"He called you for help." I continued. The conversation was not exactly as planned. One couldn't plan these fencing maches with Uncle John. I was looking for a reaction.
"Yes." John said, his voice full of sympathy, bit his eyes flashing from anger to watchfullness. "Did you get a chance to speak to him over there."
"No." I answered. "We were planning to meet for lunch just a few days after he was killed. He left me a note saying that he was trying to reach you, and asked for my help."
"Well," He continued with some caution. "thankfully you are safe. You must be more carefull than Dan. I know in your occupation you are prone to go and see what there is to see. But some places are just too dangerous to go, some things, just to dangerous to see."
"What did Dan need your help with?" I asked continuing down my path and ignoring Uncle John's warnings.
"We may never know now. Unless he was able to contact someone that he could trust and tell them about it was he may have died with whatever it was." He paused thoughtfully. "I haven't heard of him contacting anyone else in the family. Your letter may be the last communication that any of us have from him. Do you have it?"
"You know I always travel light." I should't have. But talking to Uncle John is always such a sparring match. After just blocking for a while you want to throw one of your own punches. "I haven't found out as much as you have do you know where the funeral will be?"
There was the fighters eye under Uncle John's brow. We both knew that I had given away too much. "Of course. Its in that small town in up state New York. Dan's family will be glad that you will be able to make it."
"Could you walk me to my car?" I said checking my watch. "I have something to give you that I picked up in Europe."
"Of course." And we started out the way I had come in, back down the hall.
"Its nothing fancy really just something one finds in a hotel when traveling abroad."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Of course I opened the box. It was filled with file folders. Each had a lable on the tab. It looked like legal and financial papers.
I pulled out the first one and read the label. "BOL received." It was not very interesting. After glancing at a few packing slips I knew that this folder was filled with the Bills of Ladding filed by the cargo company that had received relief supplies for some charity that Dan had worked with.
I set it aside and pulled the next folder. Its label read, "BOL Shipping. I opened it to find another set of shipping records. I set it aside and pulled out another. I was tired and not in the mood to spend much time reading dull records of goods in transit.
I pulled out a few more folders. More and more of the same until I came to one with John's name on it. I snatched it open and began to read.
I read on my tiredness having left me.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
As I unlocked my car and climbed in I felt a little melodramatic. I pulled a manilla envelope from the out pocket of my carry-on bag. I turned in my seat and handed it to Uncle John.
"Dan wanted you to have this."
Uncle John had been reaching for it, but at my words jerked his hand back as of burned.
"This is just a sample of the information that he was trying to give you." Uncle John changed his mind an snatched the folder from my hand.
I could tell that he wanted to appear disinterested in the envelope, but he clearly was both eager and reluctant to fin out what it contained.
"I want you to know that Dan trusted you. He trusted you, and he trusted the family. He called you for help and you let him down. He was every bit the good man you described him to be. When you refused him help you became responsible for what happened to him."
Uncle John tried to interrupt but I over road him. "Unlike Dan, I don't trust you. I have personal reasons for that, but I have been willing to just stay out of things as the rest of the family supported you. After seeing the way you treat you friends and seeing the way you have handled the family assets its time for a change. Clean up your mess and drop out of sight."
Uncle John stood very still. "Are you finished?"
"For the moment."
"Good." Then he turned and strode stiffly in to the house. I could have sworn that he was about to strike me. It was one of the outcomes I expected. This one should have frightened me more.