Enjoy a sneak peek at the first chapter in the third book in The Body Hunters series. The Body Hunters: Dirty Secrets, Naked Truths by Raven Newcastle http://amazon.com/dp/B00GOZ7ULC/ …
Alistair Brogan’s eyelids cracked open a little after one in the morning. Through sheer stubbornness he continued to lay there, willing himself to fall back to sleep. After nearly an hour of watching the digital digits on his alarm clock mark the passing time, Alistair gave it up. At the moment sleep wasn’t going to allow him to escape the mess of his creation.
He forced himself to sit up. He ran a hand through his tousled grey hair, which stood straight up like muddy icicles. The space in the king size bed beside him was empty; a few blond hairs on the pillow the only trace of the high priced call girl with whom he’d spent part of the evening. Obviously his meter had run out and she’d gone off in pursuit of the next paying client.
Alistair winced as the soles of his feet touched the frigid bedroom floor, the wood cut from some rare tree from the Amazon. He slipped into a pair of handcrafted silk slippers, monogrammed with his initials. He was considering not even bothering with a shower, until his own body funk assailed him.
Alistair shuffled to the bathroom with its heated tile floors, his worries heavy on his shoulders. He gazed at his nude form in the bathroom mirror. He didn’t look too bad for a chap well beyond the half century mark. His eye sight had been corrected with laser surgery so he no longer required the grandfatherly glasses he used to wear. His hair was expertly cut by a stylist known to have clipped the hairs of U.S. Presidents and heads of state. His fingers pinched his waist, finding no trace of the love handles that had plagued him for years, his belly flat and taut like a fashion model half his age. His unforgiving personal trainer had seen to that and the man’s exorbitant fee had been money well spent.
A personal shopper made sure that his walk in closet was overflowing with fine garments and shoes that befitted a man of his wealth and stature. A fleet of fine automobiles filled the garage of his mansion, while a handful of servants waited on his every beck and call. When Alistair talked, people paid attention. Everywhere he went people knew him and wanted to be around him. To the outside world Alistair Brogan was the picture of power and influence, but why did he feel so hollow inside?
When Alistair looked at himself in the mirror all he saw was staring back at him was the face of a con man and a thief. Alistair Brogan, CEO of Capital Securities Associates or C.S.A. was guilty of running a Ponzi scheme. He’d duped corporations, charities, middle class workers, and little old ladies out of billions of dollars. Over the years, he kept telling himself that he’d go on the straight and narrow and clean up the mess he’d started, but as the years went by he only got deeper and deeper in the tar pit of his own making.
Just a few months ago, Alistair had developed a plan that would allow him to pay off all his investors back in full. The plan would take time to pay off, precious time he no longer had. Unfortunately, there was no more sand in his hour glass and two weeks ago the whole house of cards came crashing down.
A legion of FBI agents in their windbreakers descended on C.S.A.’s headquarters in Savannah in search of a paper trail. The SEC had been investigating him for years and finally had gathered enough evidence for a warrant. Like buzzards swooping down on a carcass, the media was all over the story. Cameras and microphones were shoved into the faces of clueless C.S.A. employees and Alistair’s equally clueless friends and family.
Alistair was exiled from his circle of friends as soon as the news broke. He’d gone from a VIP to the most hated man in America in mere days. His victims now paraded outside the gate of his mansion with their torches and pitchforks, calling for the head of the monster. His former friends treated him like he was poisonous, avoiding any contact with him. Alistair felt like he didn’t have an ally in the world.
The arraignment was mercifully quick and his hot shot lawyer was able to get Alistair released on bond and put on house arrest. Thankfully he was able to avoid wearing one of those awful tethers, since the lawyer negotiated the surrender of his passports. Alistair was now confined to his luxurious seven bed room, Savannah, Georgia mansion. With the house empty since he fired his staff, the mansion was even more like a prison. Save for the occasional call girl, Alistair was in solitary confinement with no other human contact.
As he stood in the shower letting the steaming jets of nearly scalding water work over his exhausted muscles, Alistair reminisced over his past transgressions and his pitiful existence.
He’d never been much of a husband or father. He knew now that he was never worthy of his first wife, his one true love, Cindy Good. She was truly a saint who’d put up with his lying and cheating for years, but even saints have their limitations. She’d taken their children and had been living happily ever after for years.
Wife number two was a conniving temptress who was only after his money. She’d abandoned him as soon as she’d gotten word of the charges against him and the possibility of losing everything of which she’d grown accustomed.
The disappointment in his eldest son’s face whenever he looked at him was enough to kill him. It was a wonder that Alistair Jr. didn’t change his name to avoid all association with his fallen father. Luckily he was spared the judgment of his daughter who lived in Europe with her husband and children. It was one thing to be a bad father, another to be publicly branded a crook.
How ironic that the one child he could truly lean on at this time was his problem child, his youngest son Carl, by his second wife. It was Carl, the former drug addict, who comforted Alistair with words of wisdom and encouragement. While he was never charged with anything as serious as running a Ponzi scheme, Carl had seen the inside of a jail cell on several occasions in his relatively short life and knew what they were up against.
Ceasing the ruminations on his children and turning off the punishing spray of water using the digital touch screen panel, Alistair stepped out of the glass enclosed shower. The scent of his musky imported body wash and shampoo lingered on his skin. Donning just his silk bathrobe, he headed downstairs, taking in the things he’d accumulated over the years.
As he passed the baby grand piano in the living room, he reminisced on the items he’d acquired. There was the antique Persian rug he’d acquired in Morocco, the antique vase from Malaysia, a collection of hand blown glass ornaments from Italy. These items he cherished would soon be auctioned to the highest bidder to cover the losses that his clientele had suffered because of his schemes. His bank accounts were already frozen and it was only a matter of time before his property was seized.
His breath caught in his throat as if he could feel the walls of justice closing in on him. His lawyer insisted on pleading not guilty, but Alistair knew that his days were numbered. He was guilty as sin and he was going to spend the rest of his earthly existence and part of the afterlife in a federal prison.
Trying to shake off the stress, Alistair arrived at the room containing his indoor pool. The combination of the chlorine and the heated water made the room hot and the air hard to breathe. Shrugging out of his robe, he stepped into the warm waters. He swam laps around the pool until his arms and legs felt like they’d been injected with lead. The dull pain helped to lower his anxiety level.
“Nice day for a swim, huh?” A masked figure dressed in black emerged from the shadows, a gun gleaming in its hand.
“Wh-who are you?” In near panic, Alistair quickly cinched the robe around his waist.
The intruder never answered, letting the sound of the gunshot speak for him. A jet of red black blood sprayed like a fountain from Alistair’s perfectly tanned neck. He fell to his knees, his hands around his own throat, desperately attempting to stop the bleeding as his life flowed through his fingers. Alistair’s voice was replaced by thick garbled static, the blood in his throat nearly gagging him.
The dark figure stood less than a foot from Alistair’s crouching form and pulled the trigger again. Grey matter and blood spatter made a mess of the white tile. Alistair collapsed in a heap. Death overrode any modesty as his robe fell open, leaving his naked body fully exposed. The intruder fired two more rounds into Alistair’s skull before kicking the dead man into the pool.
A murky red cloud surrounded Alistair as he floated on top of the water like an overfed goldfish. Satisfied with their handiwork, the intruder fled the room, carefully avoiding the blood on the floor.
Enjoy a snippet from the second novel in our series The Body Hunters: Paradise Denied. This is the murder of Eric Winston our suspect’s first husband.
Eric Winston expertly trekked soundlessly over the rugged Alaskan terrain of Denali State Park. Mount McKinley, the highest mountain summit in North America, was in the backdrop, its snowy peaks stretching into the early morning sky. With the plush clouds and fluffy snowcaps, the breathtaking skyline looked like it had been painted by the hand of God. Denali State Park’s scenery varied from lushly populated green forests to seemingly untouched icy tundra. Year round frozen glaciers jutted from the landscape like jagged shards of glass feeding into the cool channels and streams. Denali State Park was a nature lover’s paradise.
Opting not to employee a guide like some inexperienced novice, Eric left camp at daybreak to explore the park. Not satisfied with the nature trails that catered to the tourist population of the park, Eric decided to walk on the wild side, literally. The temperature was comfortable, in the mid 60’s, his sweat cooling off his body before it could accumulate. Eric was six foot tall, his body composed of lean muscle mass acquired from his active outdoors lifestyle. A mutinous mop of black hair covered his head and his eyes were the color of flint. His female fans on the blogs called him a heart throb. One zealous devotee even commented that he was a pretty boy, but the tangible type, not one of those Hollywood guys that needed makeup before they left the house. Eric liked the critique very much.
Today he was traveling light, dressed in loose fitting camouflage pants, a black long-sleeved t- shirt that clung to his upper body, and a hunter’s orange hoodie. His lucky, well-worn Timberland boots protected his feet from toothy rocks and the roughened topography. Over his back he lugged a backpack full of health bars, water, his digital camera, batteries, and other necessary equipment, while on his left shoulder was a quiver full of arrows. He held his newly purchased compound bow in his hand, ready for his quarry.
For the better part of the morning he had been tracking a large, bull caribou. Being mid-August, he was just in time for caribou hunting season, and he wasn’t going home empty handed. Eric kneeled, observing the fresh caribou tracks running along the stream. He cursed, having just missed the beast by mere minutes. The creature had stopped to drink from the stream before heading right back into the wilderness. Consulting his compass, Eric noted that the beast was headed east. He had been on the caribou’s trail for awhile and wasn’t going to lose him now.
Shifting the weight of his backpack and quiver on his muscled back, Eric followed the hoof prints. A stark white snow hare darted out of his path. Songbirds anointed him with their serenades as he entered the wooded area. Solid thickets of plant life impeded his travel, low hanging limbs from young spruce trees slapped him in the face, but he would not be deterred. This is the life he loved.
Eric Winston was the Wildman, or so he was called on his internet viral videos. He had started off filming some of his outrageous outdoor adventures and daredevil stunts, and the videos had become so popular he was nearly a household name. Taking advantage of his Harvard Business degree, the twenty-eight-year-old turned his love of the outdoors and extreme sports into a lucrative multimillion dollar enterprise. His was the face that graced bottles of sports drinks, outdoor equipment, and sportswear. His agent was even working out a deal for an MTV reality show. He had literally become his own brand. He was living the American dream.
A year ago he had finally met the woman with whom he wanted to share that dream. Amanda McDuff, or Crystal Rose as she was called during her stripping days, was now his wife. He had first met Mandy when he was out partying in Boston and visited a topless bar with some of his randy friends. As soon as Crystal Rose took the stage, Eric was immediately mesmerized and had to have her. Model tall with coffee brown, shoulder length hair and topaz brown eyes, Crystal Rose seemed to be looking right into his soul. The woman knew how to captivate the room, leaving every male in the bar drooling and ready to leave their wallets and credit cards with her. With her stunningly perfect breasts and even more perfect backside, Crystal Rose was exactly what men’s fantasies were made of. With her first twirl around the pole, Eric was ready to throw her over his shoulder and lock her away in his apartment.
Instead, he waited around for her until the club closed. Sitting on the hood of his Porsche he was biding his time for her. At first she turned him down when he asked her out. But after three consecutive weeks of him showing up at the club on the nights she performed, Mandy finally relented.
Amanda was a Boston Community College Student, a computer programming major, stripping to pay her way through school. When they got engaged, Eric insisted that she give up her college aspirations to help with his career. She’d remained hard headed about the subject, refusing to give up her schooling, but things were about to change.
Two days ago they made it official and finally tied the knot. After a lavish private ceremony, he had spirited them away on a private jet to Alaska. To say that she didn’t appreciate their honeymoon destination was an understatement.
At first she complained that she didn’t want to sleep in a cold tent, let alone spending their wedding night making love on an air bed. After having to rough her up a little, Mandy let him have his way. She woke up complaining about the cold, and he was forced to get her straight again. Now that they were married, he wasn’t going to be putting up with her nagging. She was going to do things his way, or else.
On his way out to hunt, she whined about bears and wolves in the woods, so he decided to leave her with his hunting rifle. The gun was probably too cumbersome for her, but it would stop her bellyaching. Besides, if any wolves or bears came around, she would probably be toast anyway.
Eric tried on a wry smile at the thought of her, the typical city girl, trying to survive an animal attack. He stopped short, spotting his prey in the next clearing. Like a ghost, Eric silently plucked an arrow from his quiver and pulled it back against the bow string, all in one fluid motion. He was envisioning having the caribou’s head mounted on his office mantle as a wedding gift to himself.
A crack of thunder sent the startled caribou back into the woods. It was funny because the weather forecast hadn’t predicted any rain at all. Eric started to look up and realized he couldn’t move, but there was an agonizing pain in his back, like someone had ripped it open with a crowbar. Slowly he touched his fingers to his chest, to find them slick with blood.
There was another crack of thunder and he was face first on the forest floor, slowly slipping out of time and into eternity. The assailant stood over Eric and emptied two more bullets into the back of his skull for good measure. Stepping carefully around the body, the attacker headed back out of the forest.
Eric was dead, steam escaping from his body and dissipating into the cool, morning air. The scent of blood drew carrion crows who began feasting on the body. The crows scattered when a rogue grizzly bear approached. The bear nuzzled the body, before grabbing it by the leg and dragging it to its den.
Here’s an excerpt from Book 2 in our series, The Body Hunters: Paradise Denied. In this snippet, our psychic detectives Aiden and Danielle meet with the grieving family of Jason Cartwright. Enjoy!
The JTC Technology Corporation campus occupied several hundred acres of San Jose real estate. The driver dropped Aiden and Danny off in front of the company’s headquarters. For a few seconds they stood gaping at the sharp inclines and daring angles of the building’s structural design which looked like some futuristic spacecraft from a science fiction movie. Security officers awaited them as they stepped into the expansive five-story complex. After signing the two of them in, giving them guest badges, and taking Danny’s laptop out of her messenger bag and giving it a once over before giving it back to her, they were allowed to pass into the lobby.
Stepping into the headquarters was like entering a time machine into the future. The building’s interior consisted of polished chrome, black marble and mirrored glass. Twin, glass enclosed elevators were located in the middle of the first floor, while a staircase that looked more like a glass art sculpture offered access to all levels of the building. The sun was nearly blinding, reflecting off the polished tile floor of the lobby. Since it was around lunch time, the atrium was hectic with activity. Mixed among the mundane sea of neutral office attire were what Danny assumed were the more relaxed creative geniuses in their brightly-colored classic cartoon and superhero T-shirts.
A man, no older than thirty of Asian descent was standing in the lobby near a large bronze sculpture of a hand holding a globe. His thin body was pretty much built like a stick figure, his polo shirt and khakis a couple sizes too large, hanging off his lanky frame. The smile he greeted Danny and Aiden with was as inviting as a bathtub full of ice cubes.
“I’m Carter Wu, lead software developer for JTC Technology. Welcome.” He said boringly as if they were stopping him from doing more important work. “If you come with me, I’ll give you a tour of the facility.”
“I thought we were supposed to meet with the Cartwright’s?” Aiden spoke up as they started to follow.
Carter sighed and rolled his eyes, his tone of voice condescending. “Unfortunately, their board meeting is running a little late. By the time our tour is over they should be ready for you.”
Carter didn’t sound very enthused to be doing what some would consider babysitting. With as much heart as an automaton, he gave them the abridged history of JTC Technology.
The company started in Boston, where Jason Cartwright a technological prodigy, was attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or MIT at the age of fifteen. He had programmed his first computer operating system at the age of sixteen. That same year, with his parents insistence he had started JTC Technology out of the family’s garage.
Eight years later JTC was a highly successful Fortune 500 company. Though they were successful in the private sector with their computer programs and consumer gadgets, the bulk of the company’s profits came from their contracts with the United States Defense Department. JTC did everything from create simulators where military recruits could enact crucial combat situations to supply electronics military personnel used on the battlefield.
They were given a full tour of the grounds, which included the Research and Development building located east of the main complex and the programming wing where computer programs were born. With the tour completed, Carter took them to the fifth floor of the headquarters where the board meeting was just ending. Sullen-faced board members were filing out as they approached
“Your guests, sir.” Carter snidely announced to Tim Cartwright, CEO and the victim’s father. “Would you be requiring anything else?”
Tim seemed to narrow his eyes on Carter as if silently reprimanding him and his unpleasant attitude. “It’s alright, Carter, we can take it from here.”
Dismissing the software developer,Tim took Danny’s hand in his own and kissed it. Aiden glared. He didn’t approve at all! Jealousy reared its head in him, and all he could do was to keep glowering at the man. Tim Cartwright failed to notice.
Tim smiled widely showing off a set of teeth worthy of a tooth paste commercial. He was rakishly handsome, the type of man who only looked better with age. He was a few inches shorter than Aiden. His height and wide-shouldered build hinted at a previous athletic career, evident in his stance and the graceful way he moved. His dark hair was surrendering to gray with strands of silver mixed throughout.
He led them into the conference room where Barbara, or Barbie as she liked to be called, was waiting. She and Tim looked to have coordinated their attire, both of them dressed in black power suits. With the shake-up at the company and with their son the brainchild missing and presumed dead, Danny assumed they were trying to keep up a united front for the stockholders.
“Thank you so much for coming.” Barbie welcomed them, offering them a seat at the oblong mahogany table. She took a seat at the table’s head with Tim to her right. Introductions were made all around with the Cartwright’s insisting on being addressed by their first names. Danny and Aiden also offered their condolences.
“Do you have a picture of Jason?” Danny asked.
Reaching into his jacket pocket, Tim produced a picture of his son and slid it across the table to Danny. Jason smiled back in the photo which apparently was taken on his graduation day from MIT since he was wearing his cap and gown. He was a good looking kid, a scrawny carbon copy of his father.
“Is it OK if I keep it?” She asked.
“Of course you can.” Barbie said with a nod.
“We really hope you can help us.” Tim’s jovial expression had softened, his hands clasped in front of him. He looked to be on the verge of tears, worry lines creasing his brow.
“We’ll try our best, Tim.” Danny sincerely offered.
“You two come highly recommended. What is your experience with cases such as this?” Barbie asked.
“Well I worked with both the New Orleans and the New York Police Department along with my brief experience with the FBI as a consultant. I also worked as a contractor with the Federal Government solving cold cases.” Danny said, offering her references.
“I served with the Marines for three tours in Afghanistan. After that I worked with the FBI for two years in their Criminal Investigation Division.” Aiden informed them.
“You were the one with Cassie when she was kidnapped by Gerard right? Weren’t you his fiancée?” Barbie asked Danny. Upon hearing Gerard’s name, she took a deep breath to answer, but Aiden spoke up before she could get a word out.
“Yes, she was, and I was the agent that rescued them.”
“Well then it looks like we’re in good hands.” Tim observed, nodding to his wife. “Hopefully you can help us track down that woman our son was fool enough to marry.”
Danny looked confused. “I thought we were also trying to locate your son? He’s still missing isn’t he?”
Frowning, Barbie waved her hand indifferently. “At this point it’s more of a recovery operation than a rescue. The authorities were only able to recover two bodies from the yacht’s wreckage. They say we may never find Jason’s body.”
“You try to protect your kids, but sometimes they just won’t listen.” Tim hid his reddened eyes with the palm of his hand and started bawling. Supportively, his wife clenched his other hand.
Vengeance blazed in Barbie’s eyes. “Whatever it costs to find that murderous bitch, we’ll pay it. We’ll give you access to our private jet, and we’ll provide you a company credit card to cover any expenses you may incur. Whatever you need, name it and it will be provided to you.”
Danny and Aiden considered the offer to be quite generous, and they were able to come to agreeable terms with the Cartwright’s as far as their fee for their investigative services.
Curiosity got the best of Barbie. “Tell me, you two are working together, but are you lovers as well?”
Danny gave a sharp intake of air, the sound similar to someone suddenly letting the air out of a balloon. “What?”
Aiden stepped in for her, his tone stern and reproachful. “With all due respect, whatever our relationship is, it’s between us. Danielle and I have worked well together in the past, and it will in no way affect how we work on finding your daughter-in-law.” Just because they were rich and paying for their services didn’t give them the right to pry into their personal lives.
Barbie apologized profusely. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend or be so forward. Since that business with Gerard and hearing that you were her rescuer, well there just seems to be a certain kind of chemistry between the two of you.”
“Please don’t mention that monster’s name again. It’s over and in the past now.” Aiden said.
“Please accept our apologies. I can see that would be a very horrible memory. We didn’t mean any harm, right honey?” Barbie nodded in agreement with Tim’s statement.
“Apology accepted, Now if we can get down to business let’s just focus on finding your daughter-in-law.” Danny changed the subject and opened her laptop ready to take notes. “What can you tell me about her?”
“She’s a gold digging, white trash bitch. How’s that for a start?” Barbie spat venomously.
“Ah OK, let’s start with where did she and Jason meet?” Aiden clarified the questioning.
Barbie turned to Tim, and he shrugged. “I think they met when she was still married to Jason’s friend. What was his name?” Tim snapped his fingers repeatedly as if it would help him remember. “What was his name…Winston? Eric Winston. I know for a fact Eric met her at a strip club where she was performing.”
Danny and Aiden exchanged a look. They weren’t privy to that particular nugget of information.
“She was a stripper?” Aiden asked.
Tim nodded grimly.
“She killed him, you know. Shot that poor boy to death and left him in the woods. The animals had devoured him before his body was found.” Barbie informed them, snatching a handful of tissue from a nearby box and blowing her nose. “My poor son. We don’t even have a body to bury. I swear she’s going to pay for what she did.”
“I’m so sorry for your loss.” Danny offered, patting Barbie’s hand.
Barbie sniffled and dabbed at her eyes. “It’s OK darling.”
Tim had since composed himself. “She killed the Winston kid on their honeymoon. Good kid that he was. Jason felt sorry for her and offered to pay for Amanda’s legal defense. The prosecutors didn’t have enough to bring her to trial so they dropped the case. Next thing I know Jason is hanging around with this girl, and last week we find out they’ve eloped.”
“Eric didn’t put her in the will as his beneficiary so his family contested her inheriting his millions. She didn’t follow through with the legal battle because she got her hooks in another rich victim; my son.” Barbie said.
“I think the wise thing to do is start where it all began and track her from there.” Danny said to Aiden. “It’s only been a few days. She hasn’t gone that far.”
He nodded, turning to the Cartwright’s. “You said they eloped to Hawaii?”
“Yes. They were secretly married two days before the boat explosion.” Tim said.
“Jason and the girl used our private villa in Hawaii before the explosion. The police weren’t able to find any leads there and have given it the all clear. You two are welcome to use it. I’ll have it prepared for your arrival.” Barbie said, taking her smart phone and rapidly sending a text message.
“That’s fine. It may take a day or two, though” Aiden agreed. “We need to get back to Georgia, touch base with our government contacts and go from there.
After another twenty-five minutes of ironing out the details and arrangements, both of them caught the waiting Town car back to the hotel.
When we went about creating our hero for our first novel, The Body Hunters, we wanted him to be different. The white guy with the unruly hair and the roguish countenance had been done to death and we were tired of the sparkly vampires. Our guy had to be exotic and a man all his own. When Danielle saw him for the first time, we wanted her to be like ‘Whoa!’. I wish I could get a mental picture of what our readers fantasize about when they read about him. I know who we looked to for inspiration when we created him.
Like Danielle, Aiden is psychic, what we call a physical medium who can access the memories stored in objects. Danny may be a prodigy with her abilities, having been formally trained by her Grandmere, but Aiden needs work. She has to teach him how to use his new found psychic powers.
Our male lead had to be an alpha male foremost. It would suit him well since he would be Danielle Labouleaux’s friend, lover, confidant, and protector. Making him a former military man was no question, which would eventually lead to his career as an FBI agent. Though Danielle or Danny as we call her is headstrong and feisty, he needed to be her voice of reason during her emotional crisis. He’d give her so much leeway to misbehave, before reigning her back in.
We also needed him to reside on 64 Gutter Lane. A hero is no fun without the bad boy edge, so Aiden definitely has a one track mind that runs right into the gutter. His flirtatious comments always make Danny blush and make for some fun banter and situations between the two.
Though he may sound like the perfect man, we also wanted to ground him in reality. Aiden isn’t perfect, in fact he’s far from it. He’s bad with money and spends it like there’s no tomorrow. He also has a bad temper and can sometimes be a slob. That’s where Danny comes in to help him where he’s weak, while he does the same for her.
Our readers gravitate to him like bees to honey. Though we wanted women to love our hero, we didn’t think they’d love him to the point of taking his side in arguments and blaming Danny for all their problems. In creating Danny’s soul mate, we may have just created a monster. I’m pretty sure that Aiden Stone would be happy with that.
This is a short story featuring one of our, supporting characters, Lucius Johnson, from The Body Hunters. In this story he’s 16 years old and not quite the uptight g-man he is in the book. Enjoy!
“Lucian Tepes, the headmaster will see you now.” The pretty blonde secretary sitting politely at her desk is waving me into his office. I know I’m in trouble, I have once again pissed off the headmaster and now I’m apprehensively walking into his office where my uncle Miroslav waits.
He goes by Mike now since living in America. I am surprised to see him and I know that I must be in real trouble for him to fly all the way to England. He is pissed. I have broken curfew and disappeared for 3 days. I’m not telling them I was on a bender in Paris. My parents are dead and it falls to Uncle Mike to look after me. He has wasted no time squirreling me away to boarding schools all over Europe. Every time I get kicked out of one school he puts me in another. He has the money to do so having made his fortune in paper products in America. I don’t care about him or his money. He really doesn’t want me around and I don’t want to be around him.
A few minutes later and I am packing my things under the watchful eye of the headmaster and Uncle Mike. Kicked out of yet another boarding school. I must be setting some type of world record. With my shoulder bag and suitcase I am led out the door to the waiting oversized Black English taxi. This is not going to be a fun ride to Heathrow.
Uncle Mike is staring me down, he starts to yell in Romanian at me, I yell back at him to speak English; I refuse to speak my native language. He gives me a stern look “OK.” he says. “If you want English then we will speak English, but you boy, will listen and listen well if you know what is good for you.”
The cabbie seems to be snickering at my predicament. I nod my agreement to my uncle and wait to hear what heavy handed sentence he plans to lay down on me this time. Another boarding school? Perhaps Switzerland this time? Maybe Germany? I have been to one in Italy and two in England already. Why doesn’t he just take me to the States? I am sure he is afraid I will really act out like the American teenagers he sees on television. My uncle is glaring at me, daring me to say something stupid. “You are going to get your wish.” He says to me. “I’m taking you to the U.S.” I am ecstatic. Finally!
“Military school?” I yell out and the whole plane turns to look at me. Uncle Mike is hushing me. “You can’t be serious!” I ignore his hushing and yell. In my imagination of what my American life will be, military school was not in the picture.
“You need the discipline.” Uncle Mike says ignoring his own voice level. The female flight attendant sidles up to our chairs and squats down asking us to please lower our voices. I see several people staring at us. Her smile is false and she is giving us a tone reserved for unruly children. I look away from her. Uncle Mike reassures her we will be quiet and she leaves us alone. He doesn’t speak to me much after that and when he does, it’s in Romanian. I put the headphones into the armrest jack and listen to music to ignore him. It’s going to be a long flight.
We arrive at LaGuardia, where my Aunt Helen and their young seven year old daughter Susan are waiting for us. Auntie as I call her is far happier to see me as she kisses me hello and hugs me tightly. Susan eyes me warily as if I have antennas on my head as she hides behind her mother trying not to make eye contact with me. Auntie does most of the talking on the way to their home in upstate New York. They live in a gated community surrounded by wooded lands. I’m secretly planning my escape till I see my uncle reading my mind. He mentions something about my visa and something called the I.N.S. I see it’s not going to be as easy as I thought. My little cousin is in the back seat with me playing with some of her dolls she calls Barbie. Her sweet blue eyes look at me suddenly as she asks “Are you going to be my new brother?” My uncle practically runs the car off the road.
I smile sweetly at her and take hold of her hand. “We are cousins.” I tell her. “Would you like me to be your big brother?” She nods yes and fingers the ring on my right hand.
“I know this ring. Daddy has one just like it, but he doesn’t wear it.” Her little fingers are running over the small ruby eyes of the dragon head in the ring.
“Yes, I know, I got this from my father, your Uncle Josef. Do you know what the dragon means?” I am talking really low to her, but not low enough it seems.
“That will be enough!” Uncle Mike barks out.
“She will find out eventually.” I snap back. My Auntie gives me a pleading look as my Uncle glares at me from the rear view mirror.
“She may find out later, but not by you and not today! Do you understand?”
Susan has a confused look across her face. I tell her it’s just a dragon and that’s all. My uncle is satisfied with my answer and my Auntie breathes a sigh of relief. I pat little Susan on the cheek and she continues playing with her dolls.
We reach the gated community and pull into the drive. The two story house overpowers my sight as I try to take in its enormity. We enter into the great hall and my Auntie ushers me into a room she has set up for me. I am surprised to see how little furniture there is in such a big room; just a dresser and a single bed. She shows me the closet that could almost sleep a few more people and she puts my shoulder bag in it. She sits at the edge of the bed and pats her hand on the mattress beckoning me to sit next to her.
“Lucian, please while you are here, try not to anger your uncle.” She pleads. “He is not a patient man, you know this.”
“He hates me.” I say dryly. “And I really don’t know why.”
My auntie takes my hand. “Lucian, you know your father and he didn’t get along and with all that mess in Romania, he just never expected to have to take care of you. He blames your father for not looking out for his family and leaving when he had the opportunity, choosing instead to ignore his duties as a father and husband. He pushed his limits for what he felt was his own righteous indignation with no thought to you or your mother. He sees in you the defiance your father had. You just haven’t learned to channel it into something productive.” Her eyes look weary and tired. “Please Lucian I can’t fight for you if you will not meet me half way.”
“He is sending me away again isn’t he?”
“Yes, he is, I tried to stop it. I begged him to just be a father to you. He says it will end with you two killing each other. I’m not so sure he is wrong.” She is now patting the back of my head. “You need a haircut.” She laughs as she tugs at my locks. “Dinner will be soon, you may want to freshen up. Lucian?”
“Please remove that ring while you are here.” She touches my dragon ring.
“Why, is he ashamed of our family history?” I voice out angrily.
“Lucian, please for me.” I can’t say no to her kind eyes. I take it off and put it in my jeans pocket.
“Thank you.” She kisses me on the forehead before leaving my room.
After dinner Uncle Mike and I are in the living room by ourselves. On the coffee table he has placed three brochures of military schools. “Pick one.” He says. “I don’t care which one, just pick one.”
“What if I don’t choose?” I am pushing my luck and I know it. “What then?”
“I will pick for you, no matter what your aunt tells you, you are going to one of them. If you straighten out then maybe we will reevaluate your situation, but you are sixteen Lucian. You need to learn discipline and to be a man.”
“I am a man!” I scream out.
He is screaming back. “You think you are a man, running away to Paris with some girl and being on a drunk for a few days?”
I am totally stunned. How could he have possibly known? I ask myself. “What if I run away?” I try to ask more calmly.
“You only have a student visa. I will have it revoked and I will see to it you are deported. So the choice is up to you.” His threat works. “You can take the brochures to your room and give me your answer in the morning. Go now!” He waves me off with his hand and I decide I am too tired to fight with him.
I am trying to let this new reality sink in as I walk past my little cousin’s room on the way to mine. The difference is stark. Hers is all pink and purples, with stuffed animals everywhere. She is seated at a small child’s table pouring imaginary tea into small cups talking to an empty chair next to her. She catches my eye and invites me in.
“Lucian!” She joyfully leads me by the hand to the table. “Come meet Mr. Vandermarliere, he lets me call him Mr. Van for short.”
I am staring at air. “Susan there is no one here. Is he your imaginary friend?” A tea cup flies off the table and lands against the wall, luckily it was plastic.
“You’ve made him mad Lucian.” She gets up and stamps her foot at me. “He is getting angry.”
I feel a chilling breeze pass by me. “I’m sorry, Susan, tell Mr. Van I meant no disrespect.”
She is talking to her friend and then looks back at me. “He says he wants to know why you can’t see him; he knows you have a gift. What gift? I didn’t see you bring in a present!” Susan is very confused now.
“It’s not that kind of gift.” I explain to her. “It’s like the same gift you have to be able to see him and I don’t. Do your mom and dad know he is here?”
“No.” She says sheepishly as she looks at her feet. “You’re not going to tell are you? Daddy would be mad and send me away like you!”
I reassure her that no, I will not tell and they are not going to send her away. Another tea cup smashes against the wall. “Please tell Mr. Van to stop throwing things or your parents will come up here and find out what’s going on.”
“He says he wants to talk to you and you know how to do it.” She playfully dances around my chair.
“He is right Susan, and if he promises to stop throwing things I will try. Can you describe him to me?”
“He is older than daddy and he wears a black suit with a black hat, he calls it a fedora. That’s a funny name!” She sounds out the word. “feh door a.” She giggles as she continues “He has blood down the side of his face.” I am taken aback by this. I have been taught that children can sometimes see spirits where adults can’t. I wonder if my little cousin will end up with the same gift I have.
“Tell Mr. Van I need something of his, did he live here at one time?”
“He did.” She tells me and runs to a knee wall in her room, she slides open the little door and brings me what I presume is Mr. Vandermarliere’s fedora.
“Thank you Susan. Tell Mr. Van that I will try in my room. You must stay here, do you understand?” She nods yes and I leave her.
Back in my stark room, I close the door as I make sure no one else is in earshot of me. I lie on the bed and hold Mr. Van’s fedora on my chest. I’ve done this a few times now and I never know what is going to happen, but I know enough to be alone.
Lights shimmer around me as I start to get pictures, snapshots of Mr. Van. The images are in black and white at first. I am confused by this, but slowly they turn to color. They are spinning faster like on a movie reel until I am in his presence and he is motioning to me follow him. I follow in earnest as I see we are in a dark alley, the smell of garbage and old liquor bottles mixed in with urine assault my nostrils. He points to a body and I kneel on one knee next to it.
“Is it you?” I ask and he mutters what sounds like a yes. He points to the fedora and motions me to remove it. I do. One gunshot to the head and half his skull is gone. I start to feel a little sick and walk over to the dumpster and puke. The maggots have already invaded his head. He is standing next to me and is pointing to the name on the dumpster. Salvatore Rubbish Removal. He is insistent I pay attention to this name. He is now pointing to a balled up piece of newspaper and I go to pick it up. The date shows January 7th 1962. This murder is over 30 yrs old. I feel overwhelmed as I have had only three other experiences and they were nothing like this or even this old. “I’ll see what I can do. I don’t have a lot of time you know that, you know I am being sent away soon.” I explain to my dead companion. He nods yes and puts his hand on my shoulder. I look back at the body and see a card sticking out of the jacket pocket. Van’s Barbershop it reads and the address is visible. I walk to the end of the alley and onto the sidewalk. We are directly across from the barbershop. I look up and my companion is now dressed in all white suit complete with an all white fedora, there is an otherworldly glow about him and he is smiling as he disappears. The scene spins in front of me and I wake up with a start. My head pounding and there is a little blood trail running from my nose.
“Buna dimineata, Lucian. Te-ai dormit bine?” My auntie Helen asks in Romanian.
“Good morning auntie and yes I did sleep well. Thank you.” I give her a kiss on the cheek as I head over to little Susan who is eating her eggs. I kneel down and whisper to her. “Did you see Mr. Van again this morning?” She nods yes and whispers back to me.
“He says thank you.” She kisses me on my nose and I give her a little laugh. My uncle has entered the kitchen and sits at what I presume is his usual seat at the table. He eyes me suspiciously as I get up from my knee and away from little Susan. My auntie places a plate of eggs and sausage in front of him and motions for me to sit opposite her as she puts a plate in front of me as well. It smells delicious but the image of Mr. Van and the maggots is staying with me and I am a bit put off by it.
“Did you decide?” he asks dryly and my aunt holds her breath. I decide to look him straight in the face.
“Yes.” I sit silent. My uncle is staring at me for a few seconds before throwing his hands up in the air.
“Would you like to share your decision with me?” He is getting irritated and my auntie kicks me under the table. For her sake I decide not to continue poking the bear.
“The one in New Mexico.” I say no more to him. I picked that one because according to the map of the United States, it would be the farthest away from him.
“Good, I will call and make the arrangements. In the mean time you will be going to work for me and I will hear no argument about it.” He picks up his news paper and hides behind it. The conversation is over.
I am in the study after breakfast with the phone book. I look up Salvatore Rubbish Removal. It’s unbelievable as I see they are still in business. The yellow pages ad says family owned since 1948. Dean Salvatore proprietor and owner. I must sneak out to use a payphone. It’s a Saturday and uncle is home from his business, but he leaves to run errands. My auntie is busy cleaning. I press little Susan into helping me escape for a little while undetected.
She shows me the basement and the large windows that I can climb out of in the back of the house and I do. I have no idea where I am but Susan tells me there is a payphone a few blocks away at a little supermarket she remembered seeing when she goes there with her mother. She says she will pretend she is playing hide and seek with me if her dad returns before I get back. I am beginning to feel real love for this child now. I scramble out the window and run like mad reaching the party store out of breath. I only have minutes and I have re-gain my composure. Drawing a deep breath I dial the 911 number and am patched through to a police detective. I give him the information I know on Mr. Vandermarliere and Dean Salvatore. I refuse to give him my name. I hang up and run back to the basement window as my uncle is pulling into the drive. I am sweating like mad. My sweet little cousin is waiting for me in the basement and leads me up the stairs and to a back staircase in this large house, it empties into the second floor rooms. I hear Uncle Mike talking to my aunt as I quickly dip off into my room and lay on the bed wiping sweat away from my forehead with the sheets. Uncle Mike is at my door.
“Get up off that bed boy! What now you are lazy? I have work for you to do.”
A few weeks later and we are at our usual breakfast seating arrangements, my arms are sore but getting stronger as my uncle now has me loading rolls of paper onto trucks for delivery all over the U.S. I am eating my breakfast as my uncle unfolds his daily newspaper to hide behind and I see the secondary headline. Thirty year old murder solved. Dean Salvatore charged in mob style killing.
Apparently Mr. Salvatore was a mobster before going legit and was demanding protection money from small businesses in the New York neighborhood where Mr. Van’s barbershop was. Mr. Vandermarliere, a Dutch immigrant refused to pay and paid the ultimate price for not cooperating. The mob made an example out of him. The article said the murder investigation was given new life when detectives received an anonymous phone call. I can’t help but smile.