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As I Have Loved You by Liesa Swejkoski
Once Upon a Neighbor by Liesa Swejkoski
When Bubbles Popped by Lola Laslo
See the end of this book for excerpts
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons currently living or deceased is purely coincidental.
Eternal Youth. Copyright © 2013, © 2016 by Richard Blackmer. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without written permission from Manitowen Press, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review.
Cover photo by Emily Kunzler
Cover art edited by C. M. Swejkoski
The publication of Richard “Ted” Blackmer’s debut book, Eternal Youth, is posthumous. It has been published with the late Rachel Blackmer’s wishes that her husband Ted’s book would be available for many people to read and as such is available at a nominal charge. Manitowen Press would like to make this work permanently free but Amazon has not made that option available. The Press will renew the free promotions as often as possible, but any proceeds that accrue will go into a select fund. Manitowen Press makes no money off of this publication and encourages you to look into the other works by our other authors.
In addition, please note dates, places, and people mentioned in the book may not be accurate to world events. Please remember that this is a work of fiction and, as such, liberties have been taken. Some things within this Kindle edition have been changed from the original printing personally published in 2013 by Blackmer which he shared with his friends. These changes have been made in an effort to make dates and ages more concrete and true to the story. These changes include Vivian’s age, anachronistic mistakes and other errors. In the transcribing, some mistakes have been made that were not in the original and Manitowen Press asks for your forgiveness, and the author’s as well.
Please enjoy this novel and remember God loves you.
I first met Richard “Ted” Blackmer and his lovely wife Rachel in 2009. He was a Patriarch in my church, a man devoted to his beliefs and so willing to share his knowledge of writing and love for books. Many times I was invited to the Blackmer home. One special memory I have is when Rachel hosted a book club meeting that featured the first printing of my paperback Lizzie’s Blue Ridge Memories.
Sometimes the elderly couple would invite me and my daughter to literary group breakfasts where all involved would share their latest articles or a chapter from a book they were working on. We’d critique each other and learn something new at each monthly meeting. One of those individuals that participated was Ted’s first editor Al Schneider who contributed greatly to Ted’s composition.
Years later, I was sad to hear that Ted was losing his battle with leukemia. He was furiously working on a manuscript for a book and wanted it published before his death. Between treatments and severe bouts of illness fighting the cruel disease, he would go to church, then go home to rest or work on his story some more. Rachel, devoted as ever, stayed by his side and encouraged him to keep writing, just a little more.
Ted had met Rachel, a widow with children, in the 1960s. She was fifteen years his senior, but their marriage was the beginning of a fairytale love. Ted adored his bride and he always saw her for the true beauty she was, inside and out. To him, Rachel was as young as springtime, refreshing as a cool stream and as beautiful as a sunrise.
As the work continued on Ted’s book, his health quickly declined. He knew that for him, there was no Fountain of Youth. He did his best with the short time allotted to him and finished his story, dying September 26, 2013. His book was completed, but not submitted for publishing. Instead, it went to print at a local copy shop and pages were set into spiral binders for our local book club. If there are some inconsistencies and awkward scenarios, this is due to Patriarch Blackmer writing with what little time was left to him. Please, forgive the imperfections. The staff at Manitowen Press corrected minor spelling errors and other inaccuracies, but this is solely Ted’s intellectual property.
Rachel, ill herself, was also being called home to Heaven. Now that her beloved Ted had gone on to prepare a mansion for her, she allowed herself the permission to rest as well. I promised her that somehow I would get the book published, at least in electronic form, so that many more people could read Ted’s magnum opus and enjoy its exciting and adventurous story of hope.
A little more than two years after Ted’s death, Rachel joined him, January 19, 2016. I imagine the two have found their Fountain of Youth. Miss you.
It is with great appreciation that I acknowledge the contribution of many who have made it possible for this work to be completed
First and foremost my wonderful wife Rachel who offered undying encouragement over the years to bring this work to fruition
My good friend and colleague Al Schneider who gently prodded and who carefully proofed and edited the manuscript.
My brother Tony, who never gave up hope during the many years of effort and who provided a tangible reminder (an hourglass) that time was passing and I needed to apply diligence to the work.
Our good friend Donna Phelps who contributed in so many encouraging ways to assist the effort.
And finally to the woman who was the first to provide recognition that I was capable of writing anything that someone other than my mother would be interested in reading: my tenth grade literature teacher, Ms. Nancy Gale.
Vivian Kaye VanArp stepped hastily from the rear seat of the limo into the swirling snow of a cold mid-January night. The vehicle had barely come to a stop when she threw open the door and made her exit. The two paramedics, standing near the curb, stepped back in startled disbelief as she forcibly pushed her way between them. With measured strides she made her way toward the emergency room doors. Oblivious to all around her, and with purpose etched indelibly on her face, she marched through the parted automatic doors and entered the building.
Once inside, she paused momentarily to locate the receptionist station, then made her way forward past the half dozen people waiting in line.
“Where is Maria Flores?” The words were spoken more as a command than as a question.
The receptionist, engaged in the completion of an admittance form, responded without looking up from her desk. “I am sorry, you must wait your turn. Please step to the rear of the line.”
Vivian could feel the blood slowly coloring her neck and face as the receptionist’s response intensified the anger within her. Her evening so far had been ruined. She had been attending the annual dinner meeting with the Board of Directors of VanArp Enterprises, when she had been summoned to the hospital by some idiot doctor who claimed that one of her housekeepers, Maria Flores, was dying. Dying of old age. How could a twenty-something-year-old women die of old age?
Now this impertinent young ingrate had the audacity to tell her she should go to the end of the line. Vivian fumed inwardly. Were it not for the generosity of the VanArp family there would not even be a hospital in which to form a line. Before his death, her father had invested millions in the hospital. Since his death, she, Vivian, had doubled the family’s financial support for the hospital’s research efforts. She even sponsored an annual week-long conference on ageing. At her own personal expense she finance the attendance of the world’s leading geriatrics experts at the conference. Due solely to her efforts and support, the hospital was rapidly becoming the most respected institution in the world with regards to the ageing process.
She could no longer contain her anger. She exploded with a torrent of words that caused all color to drain from the receptionist’s face. “I am Vivian VanArp and I demand to know where you are keeping Maria Flores. I want to see her immediately, and I want to see that idiot of a doctor who telephoned me.”
“Yes, Ms. VanArp, I’m terribly sorry, I didn’t know it was you. Dr. Mason is on duty tonight. I’ll summon him immediately. Ms. Flores is in Room Twenty-one. It is down the hall and to your right. I’m most sorry for the inconvenience.”
Vivian turned on her heel and stormed down the hallway, dismissing the receptionist with one of her patented scathing looks.
Dr. John Mason had arrived at the hospital at 7:47 that evening and went to work immediately in the emergency room. For the most part it had been an uneventful night until the ambulance drivers brought in an elderly woman in obvious distress. She appeared to be in her late seventies. She was experiencing extreme difficulty with breathing. Her vital signs were falling.
Throughout the next hour, in spite of Mason’s best efforts, her vitals continued to plummet. Her physical deterioration was occurring at an incredible rate. It was as if the woman was actually ageing before his eyes. When questioned as to her identity and address, the woman would only respond with a barely audible request for water. However, when offered water she only turned her head away and refused. At approximately 9:15 when it appeared that death was inevitable, the woman, speaking in a voice so low that Mason could only hear with his ear pressed to her mouth, informed him that her name was Maria Flores. She said she was a housekeeper for Vivian VanArp.
Mason was familiar with the VanArp name. Who wasn’t? Vivian’s father, William, had hired Mason to work in the Emergency Department at the hospital, despite a history that had kept other reputable medical institutions from hiring him. He had never met Vivian, although he had seen her on occasion at the hospital. She was always accompanied by the Hospital Administrator and the Board Chairman. She had contributed millions to the hospital. The majority of her contributions were earmarked for the geriatrics department. It was rumored that she was obsessed with slowing down or preventing the ageing process.
Mason estimated that VanArp was in her mid to late fifties. She was slender, well-proportioned and obviously spent much time in her exercise regimen. A tall woman, striking in appearance, yet not overly attractive, VanArp was at the age that most individuals retire. Her blonde hair was shoulder length, perhaps a little too long for her age, but nonetheless becoming. Her reputation was well known throughout the hospital. She was a calculating and successful businesswoman as well as a demanding executive. Upon her father’s death, she had taken control of VanArp Enterprises and tripled net profits the first year. Mason did not know the value of her holdings, but estimates placed it in the hundreds of billions of dollars. She was no pauper. Mason was puzzled that Vivian VanArp would employ such an elderly woman as a housekeeper. Yet he was certain the name given to him by Flores was none other than that of Vivian VanArp. In spite of the certainty, Mason was reluctant to call the VanArp residence for fear that the woman had misled him. He certainly did not want to incur Ms. VanArp’s wrath. Careers had ended for less. On the other hand, if the woman was telling the truth, and he did not notify VanArp, well, he could imagine the results of that ill-advised decision.
In spite of his concerns, Mason placed a call to the VanArp residence. The attendant at the home informed Mason that Ms. VanArp was out for the evening. She was attending a board meeting. Mason found a relief from his concerns when the attendant verified that Maria Flores was in fact one of the housekeepers. Mason was given the number of an exclusive restaurant where Ms. VanArp could be reached.
Mason’s second call did not go as well as the first. It was evident that from the initial exchange of information between Mason and Ms. VanArp that VanArp was not happy about the interruption. Yes, she did have a housekeeper named Maria. She had been in the employment of the VanArp family for approximately three months. No, Ms. VanArp did not know her last name. Vivian informed Mason that learning the surnames of domestics was not on her list of priorities.
Mason remained calm while Ms. VanArp leveled a verbal barrage, attacking everything from the interruption to Mason’s competency as a physician. Mason bided his time and at VanArp’s first pause for breath he immediately interjected, “She’s dying.”
There was a brief moment of silence, then the voice on the other end of the telephone inquired, with a tinge of consternation and a noticeable lack of compassion, “Dying of what?” Before Mason could answer, VanArp regained her mental acuity and launched another broadside, “She’s not on drugs is she? You can’t trust these foreigners to—”
Mason interrupted, “She’s dying of natural causes—she must be near eighty years of age.” For what seemed an eternity to Mason there was an icy silence on the line. Then Ms. VanArp’s voice—low, deliberate, measured and alarmingly controlled—shook Mason to the very core.
“If this is your idea of a joke, Doctor, I give you my personal guarantee you will never practice medicine in this state again.”
Mason mentally chastised himself for his stupidity; he had succeeded in doing just what he had wanted to avoid. He had ignited the wrath of the hospital’s major benefactor. His mind, trained to make quick decisions, immediately formulated a withdrawal from the situation. He heard his voice answer into the telephone as if it were someone else’s.
“Perhaps you should come to the hospital and straighten out his matter, Ms. VanArp. Thank you for your time. I must to attend to my patient.”
Without waiting for a response, his trembling hand replaced the telephone handset in the cradle.
Vivian groped along the wall of Room 21, feeling for the light switch. The faint illumination emanating from the night light above the bed bathed the room in a surrealistic pallor. In the dim light she could vaguely see the form of a person lying on the bed. A faint beep from a monitor was the only sound in the room. Her fingers located the wall switch and she immediately flooded the room with light, the brilliance of which should have aroused the patient. There was no noticeable movement under the sheets.
Vivian crossed the room and cautiously approached the figure lying on the bed. Her caution was not out of sensitivity for someone near death but rather from a sense of personal wellbeing. Vivian had no intention of exposing herself to a potentially contagious condition. She felt it wise to take appropriate precautions.
As she drew near the bed, Vivian allowed her eyes to trace the outline of the body lying under the sheet until her focus rested on the face. It was the face of a very old woman. Perhaps ninety years of age. Vivian stood within a foot of the bed, staring at the woman’s face. Her eyes were closed. Her skin was wrinkled with furrow upon furrow. There was no place on her neck or face which was not deeply etched with the lines of extreme age. Her cheeks were sunken and her teeth, protruding from drawn lips, were yellow and chipped. The only sign of life about the body was a slight quivering of the nostrils as she drew each shallow breath.
During her sixty-three years of life, Vivian VanArp had learned to trust her intuition. Many a potentially disastrous business pitfall, though extremely attractive on paper, had been avoided because Vivian stood firm. Her intuition, to date, had never failed her. Vivian now stood with eyes fixed on the face of a woman who appeared to be four times the age of Maria. Yet her much vaunted intuition seemed to support the doctor’s unrealistic assertion that this was in fact Maria Flores. Her mind argued the impossibility of such, while her nagging intuition continued its affirmation as to the identity of this ancient body.
This was one of those rare occasions when Vivian’s mind held sway over her intuition. Vivian’s eyes searched the aged face, seeking for some fact of truth to refute what her intuition told her. As she puzzled about this uncharacteristic bent toward the impossible, she lowered her gaze to the woman’s neck. There she noticed for the first time, a thin, delicate golden chain. The chain circled the woman’s neck and then disappeared beneath the sheets which covered her body.
Vivian remembered Maria Flores wearing a thin gold chain. She had notice it on the domestic as the woman performed her chores around the VanArp residence. Vivian had taken particular note of the necklace as to size and quality. She suspected that Maria intended to wear a cheap imitation chain for others to see as to establish a presence. Then when all had seen and could bear record that Maria owned a chain, Vivian suspected that Maria intended to steal one of Vivian’s solid gold chains, and substitute it for her own. A clever ploy.
Vivian recalled one recent afternoon, as Maria bent over to retrieve a dropped dust cloth, a heavy object attached to the necklace had pulled the chain through the top of Maria’s blouse. Maria hastened to return the object to the security of her clothing but was unable to do so before the article had attracted the attention of Vivian. It was an old key. The kind of key one would expect to unlock an antique chest. Perhaps an antique seaman’s chest. Vivian questioned Maria concerning the key. Maria however was deliberately vague in her answers. She even appeared to be concerned that Vivian had gained knowledge of the key.
Vivian’s mind, snapping back to the present, challenged her to disprove the insanity of believing that this shrunken shell of a body was Maria Flores. Vivian crossed the room to a table containing medical supplies, enclosed her hands in a pair of protective gloves and returned to the bedside. She grasped the sheet, and with a rough jerk, pulled it away from the woman’s neck, exposing the hidden portion of the golden chain.
Vivian stood frozen, staring at the exposed chain. Attached to the chain was a key. The same key Vivian had seen around Maria’s neck. Vivian momentarily lost her composure. Her mind blurred. How could this be? Could the doctor be right? Could this be Maria? The bewilderment was transitory. Her mind quickly snapped back to logical reasoning. Her sense of reality countered any possibility that this could be Maria Flores. The old woman must have stolen the chain and key from Maria.
Concern etched Vivian’s face. Could security have been breached at the VanArp residence? Could this old woman have entered the house and stolen the chain and key? Concern turned to anger at the thought of the possibility. Subconsciously Vivian reached for the key as her mind considered the possible security lapse. Her left arm extended across the body and her fingers wrapped around the key, lifting it in a firm grasp from the chest of the old woman.
Vivian cradled the key in the palm of her hand and lowered her head to allow for a closer examination. Her interest taken entirely by the key, Vivian had forgotten the old woman. It was at this precise moment, when Vivian was so engrossed, the woman jerked her body to a sitting position. Her right hand grasped Vivian’s left arm, pulling her aged body beyond the perpendicular and positioning her lips within two inches of Vivian’s left ear.
“My chest, the water, hurry, hurry,” she whispered. Exhausted by the effort, the woman’s grasp relaxed on Vivian’s arm and she fell back on the bed, breaking the gold chain as she did so.
The entire incident occurred so quickly that the elderly woman was once again lying flat on the bed before Vivian could react. The initial stupefying effects drained from Vivian’s consciousness, compelling her reflexes to propel her away from the bed. Her legs continued to take rapids steps backward until her retreat was brought to a jarring halt by the wall on which she had searched for the light switch only minutes before. Her collision with the wall tripped the light switch, once again darkening the room and further adding to the panic she felt. With her back pressed against the wall and her gaze riveted on the figure of the old woman, her right hand found the door opening. Without conscious thought, her primal instincts turned her body to the gap and catapulted her into the hallway.
With her mind a blur and her thoughts driven by panic, she pushed past a white-coated figure at the door and made her way down the hall as rapidly as she could. Fighting to regain control of her thoughts, she passed the receptionist’s desk and was vaguely aware of someone addressing her in a hurried manner.
“Ms. VanArp, I paged Dr. Mason. He is on his way to Room Twenty-one. . . Ms. VanArp? Ms. VanArp!” The final two requests for her attention were spoken to Vivian’s back as she exited the emergency room doors.
Dr. Mason stared in astonishment at the back of the retreating woman. Were it not for the puzzled look on the receptionist’s face, he would have doubted that the entire incident had even occurred. Mason had approached Room 21 from the hallway opposite the receptionist’s station only to see a woman, Ms. VanArp, burst from the doorway. She’d pushed Mason aside and then hastily made her way down the hall and out of the ER doors, ignoring the calls of the receptionist.
Mason remained in the hallway for another minute, pondering VanArp’s strange behavior. Finally he turned and entered Room 21.
Mason approached the bed upon which Maria Flores was resting. His instincts told him something was wrong. He hurried the last three steps to the bed and quickly lifted Maria’s wrist, searching for a pulse. There was none. Maria Flores was dead.
Mason slowly lowered her hand and moved his eyes to her face. As his focus sharpened in the dim light, he gasped in stunned disbelief. The woman had aged incredibly. She appeared to be well over one hundred years of age.
Vivian exited the emergency room doors and fought for control of her emotions. She could still feel the grip of the old woman’s hand on her arm. She could still hear the rasping voice in her ear and feel the woman’s stagnant breath on her face. Vivian’s body gave an involuntary shudder. She felt dirty, contaminated, violated.
Her heels crushed the icy crystals along the snow-covered sidewalk as she made her way toward the waiting limousine. Each step brought a rebirth of rational thinking. Self-control returned, accompanied by anger. She felt rage at her childish inability to deal with a stupid old woman who chose an inopportune time to sit up in bed.
She reached the waiting limo, slid into the back seat and vented some of that anger with a snapped order to her chauffeur as he closed the door behind her. “Home. Immediately.”
Vivian reclined in the luxurious comfort of the leather upholstery, laid her head back and closed her eyes. Her mind began at once to rehearse the events of the evening. She reviewed each word, each thought and each activity. None of it made sense. Who was the old woman? How did she know to use Vivian’s name? What was her motivation?
As she recalled the events in the hospital room, the awareness of something in her hand caused Vivian’s eyes to snap open. She looked down at her left hand still encased in the protective glove. Her fingers were closed tightly around a hard object. She slowly peeled back her fingers and exposed, in the palm of her hand, the key and chain which had been around the old woman’s neck.
She shuddered. She was beset with a compulsion to bathe, to cleanse herself of the nearness of the old woman. In spite of her revulsion, she forced herself to examine the key. It was an antique, the age of which was not evident without some research. However, Vivian estimated the key to be well over 100 years of age, perhaps even several hundred years. It was definitely cast for an old-fashion lock.
As Vivian contemplated the proper application of the key, she recalled for the first time the words of the old woman. “My chest, the water, hurry, hurry.” It still made no sense. Why would the old woman claim to be Maria Flores? Why would she expect Vivian to understand her request? How did she get the key from Maria?
The limo turned into the large circular drive of Vivian’s estate. The chauffeur slowed the vehicle momentarily to allow the gate guard time to recognize the occupants. The security gate opened. The limo sped up the driveway and halted in front of the huge three story mansion. Once again, Vivian exited the limo before the chauffeur could alight and open her door. She hurriedly ascended the steps and was met at the door by the evening attendant.
“I want to see Maria Flores in my study immediately. Get her. Now.”
“I’m sorry, Ms. VanArp, today is Maria’s free day. She has been gone since early morning.”
The attendant inwardly cowered under Vivian’s withering look. It was obvious to the attendant that her answer was not the one Vivian wanted.
“When is she due back?”
“Several hours ago. She has not called in. I do not know what is detaining her. However, I did receive a strange telephone call from the hospital this evening. A Dr. Mason attempting to reach you. He had a question about Maria.”
“I am well aware of that,” snapped Vivian. “I don’t need a rehash of yesterday’s news. When Flores returns, tell her I want to see her in my study first thing tomorrow morning. Do you understand?”
Apparently the question was rhetorical, for before the attendant could respond, Vivian continued, “I am going to retire for the evening. I am not to be disturbed for any reason. Do you understand that as well?”
Without waiting for a response Vivian turned abruptly and ascended the stairs to her bedroom suite.
Vivian showered for a full thirty minutes, attempting to cleanse the lingering feeling of contamination resultant of the old woman’s nearness. Vivian still shuddered when she thought of the experience. After showering, she retired to her king-sized bed and slept fitfully, awakening several times during the night with the evening’s events still playing on her mind. The bedsheets tangled in her legs and she kicked them free between snatches of sleep.
Vivian arose early the next morning, showered again, dressed and went downstairs to her study. She took the key with her. She intended to get to the bottom of last night’s bizarre events once Flores arrived. At 7:30 a.m. she answered a knock at her study door.
“Yes, come in.” As the door opened she fully expected to see Maria Flores enter. It was not so.
The chief of Domestic Functions at the residence, Consolata Alverez, stepped into the room and informed her that Flores had not returned from her free day. Her whereabouts were unknown. Consolata was a middle-aged woman, early 40s perhaps, and somewhat reclusive. She had been in the employment of Vivian for the past three years. A period of employment which was longer than most of the domestic staff. Vivian had met her in Mexico. She was the assistant manager at the hotel where Vivian vacationed annually.
“Which room is Maria’s?” inquired Vivian.
“Room number four in the west domestic quarters.” Consolata excused herself and left the room.
Vivian was contemplative. She lifted the key from her desk and toyed with it as she considered what next to do. After a few short moments of musing, she arose, left her study and proceeded to Maria Flores’ room.
Vivian paused briefly at the door to Room 4 and knocked loudly. No response. She knocked again. Again no response. She inserted her master key into the lock, twisted, and pushed the door open. As expected, Maria was not in the room. The 8×10 chamber was unoccupied.
The furnishings of the domestic rooms at the VanArp residence were meager. A single bed on the eight foot wall, a small closet, small table, and a straight back chair on the adjacent ten foot wall. The third wall contained a small shelving unit and the door was on the fourth wall. The room was in disarray, not the condition in which one would expect to find the quarters of a housekeeper. It appeared that Maria had left the room in haste.
Vivian stepped into the room and closed the door behind her. She did not know what in particular she was looking for. She hoped to find something that would answer questions born of last night’s events.
Vivian noticed a newspaper lying on the rumpled bed. She stood looking down at it, reluctant to even touch the crinkled paper. She saw it was printed in Spanish. With some reservation she lifted the paper from the bed. A large portion of the front page had been torn away, as if an article had been hastily ripped from the paper. She turned the newspaper over and noticed a mailing label. It bore the address of the VanArp residence but was addressed to Maria Flores. Vivian returned the paper to the bed.
Everything in the room was open to her visual inspection. Everything except the closet on the opposite wall. She stepped across the room and opened the closet. A half-dozen inexpensive dresses hung on the rack. Vivian eyed the clothing with distain. The garments appeared clean, but she was still reluctant to touch them to further her examination. She forced herself to reach out and in moving the dresses saw they had been concealing a black plastic garbage bag containing some bulky object on the floor.
She lifted the bag and its contents from the closet. It nearly took up her arms’ width. With a little difficultly she placed it on the table. She stripped away the plastic bag, exposing an antique chest. It was beautiful. The polished oak was bound with brilliant brass bands on each end. It was approximately twenty-four inches long, eighteen inches deep and twelve inches high. A locking device was built into the chest. At that moment Vivian recalled the woman’s first two words of last night. “My chest . . .”
Was it possible? Could the woman have been referring to this and not her body? If so, how did the old woman know of a chest in Maria’s room? Vivian pulled the black plastic bag back over the antique container. She shut the closet doors, vacated the room and returned to her study, taking the chest with her.
Once in the privacy of her study, Vivian placed the chest on her desk and removed the plastic covering. She stood behind her desk and examined the trunk closely. It was every bit as beautiful as her first impression suggested. As she scrutinized the chest, she noticed a name
exquisitely carved into the front face just below the keyhole: J. Perez de Ortubio.
Vivian reached for the key she had inadvertently taken last night. Her heart pounded with expectation as she inserted the key into the lock. It fit. It turned. Click. The chest opened.
Vivian lifted the hinged top of the chest with a creak, exposing its contents. There were several documents and an old photograph neatly stacked in the chest. Vivian began to remove them one by one and examined them.
The first item she removed was the photograph. It was a photograph of someone that looked like Maria and another woman standing between two men. The other woman was holding an infant in her arms. Vivian squinted at the image in her hand. It appeared to be old, sepia toned, perhaps turn of the century. Knowing nothing of old-time photographs Vivian knew it could just have easily been fashioned to have that appearance. “Maria” appeared to be in her mid-twenties, as did the other woman. The two men looked to be in their early thirties. Vivian turned the photograph over, seeking some explanatory information on the backside. Five names were neatly recorded in a feminine hand: Miguel Rodrigo Flores, Maria de Alaminos Flores, Juanita de Alaminos and infant Sonia, Pedro Juan Xavier de Alaminos.
Completely baffled, Vivian laid aside the photograph. She reached into the chest again and picked up what appeared to be a formal document of some sort. A certificate. It was printed in Spanish. Vivian had studied Spanish in college, but it had been so many years previous that she struggled now with the interpretation. She mouthed the words, speaking them slowly. Vivian haltingly translated. The certificate was a degree issued from a University in Madrid. It was a doctorate earned for studies in the field of early Spanish explorers. It was issued to Maria de Alaminos Flores. It was dated 1895.
Intrigued by the mystery before her, she withdrew from the chest what appeared to be a page torn from a bible. It was the family history page. She read it carefully. The first entry was the birth of a child, Maria de Alaminos, born to Pedro Juan Xavier de Alaminos and Juanita de Alaminos, January 16, 1865. The next entry was the marriage of Maria de Alaminos to Miguel Rodrigo Flores, December 12, 1890. The third entry was the birth of a child, Sonia to Juanita and Pedro on May 29, 1935. The fourth and last entry was the death of Juanita de Alaminos by drowning, September 17, 1935.
How could this be? This was preposterous, some grotesque joke created by a demented mind. How could the woman in the picture, the same apparent age as Vivian’s Maria, be Maria’s mother? And how could the man be her father, when he appeared to be only five years older than Maria?
Vivian paused for a moment and settled back into the high-backed executive chair behind her desk to allow her mind to digest what she had just read. No matter which way she considered the material, it made no sense. Her mind whirled with the accusations of fraudulent documents, possible ancestors and other relations, but her intuition, as much as it had last night, insisted these women were one and the same while the evidence in her hand refuted the notion. Vivian shook her head, refusing to indulge her intuition. Even if the Maria of the photograph was her Maria Flores, which it could not possibly be, why would a woman with a Ph.D. be working as a domestic in Vivian’s home?
Failing to satisfy herself with plausible answers, Vivian continued her search of the documents contained in the chest. She removed a large, heavy parchment which was folded in quarters. She carefully unfolded the parchment and spread it out on her desk. It was a matrix. Printed in bold letters at the top of the parchment were the words, “Maria . . . Body weight 105-115 lbs. . . Target age 25.” The parchment was then divided into columns and rows. The columns were labeled with notations that appeared to be numerical dates. The first column was designated 1/16/1890. The last date entered was 1/16/2000.
The first row was labeled “Two Units”. The rows were then incremented successively in units of two. Vivian puzzled over the parchment. It was obvious to her that it was a schedule. The chart contained dates and what appeared to be amounts, expressed in units. But units of what? And for what purpose? So far her exploration of the chest served only to create more questions and provide no answers.
She laid aside the parchment and once again turned her attention to the contents of the chest. She withdrew another large parchment which was also folded in quarters. Once unfolded, this page revealed a map. An elaborate compass was drawn in the upper right hand corner. On the left side of the map a large elongated area had been drawn. To the center of the map and trailing south and east was a chain of small drawings. Apparently these irregular shapes represented islands. But where? In what body of water?
Only one of the islands, if they were in fact islands, bore a name. A very small dot of an island south of the large ones was labeled, “Beniny.” In the lower right hand corner of the parchment the cartographer’s name was recorded, “A. de Alaminos.” The chart appeared to be very old.
Vivian placed the map on the corner of her desk and returned to her investigation of the rest of the chest’s contents. There were four items left inside. One was a brass plate approximately six inches by eighteen inches on which was engraved a single word. “Santiago.” The remaining items were two syringes and a pint container. Both the syringes and the pint contained a clear liquid and the syringes also carried a label of three digits which appeared to be a date.
The syringes and the pint container presented another mystery within the context of the entire episode, which as of yet remained an enigma, defying Vivian’s best efforts to find some answers. What was the clear liquid in the syringe? Was it insulin? Her mind quickly tossed aside that thought as being unlikely.
She sat back in her chair and turned one of the syringes over and over in her hand as she contemplated the identity of its contents. She placed her thumb on the plunger of the syringe and toyed with the idea of dispelling some of the contents onto a piece of paper. Would there be a noticeable reaction that would betray the identity of the liquid? She decided to experiment.
As she was reaching for a piece of paper on which to perform the test, her desk telephone rang.
She wondered who was calling. The telephone in her study was a private number. Only a few individuals had knowledge of the number. A quick glance at the caller identification display told her the caller was Mark Braden, the Hospital Administrator. She lifted the handset and snapped a single word into the mouthpiece, “Yes.”
“Vivian?” inquired a rather weak and hesitant voice on the other end of the line.
Her irritation increased threefold at the stupid question. She resisted the temptation to respond with some appropriately ridiculous schoolgirl wisecrack as to who was answering the telephone. Instead she spat out a curt response.
“Vivian, this is Mark Braden, I’m sorry to—”
“What do you want Mark? I’m busy.”
“Y-yes, I’m s-sure you are. You know I wouldn’t call unless it were important.”
Vivian knew if she did not get him to the point he would waste her valuable time stammering and stuttering.
“What is so important Mark as to cause this early morning interruption?” she emphasized the interruption. Past experience taught her that Mark Braden was directed most effectively if he were made cognizant of her displeasure.
“Vivian, something . . . something . . . has happened here at the hospital that requires your attention.” In spite of Vivian’s apparent irritation, his words were still hesitant. “A-a woman . . . died at the hospital last night, and she claimed . . . to have been your h-housekeeper.”
So the old woman died. For just a fleeing moment that feeling of contamination scuttled over Vivian again as she thought of the old woman touching her last night. She quickly pushed the thought from her mind. She was curious, however, as to the cause of the death. Precautions may be necessary for her own medical wellbeing.
“Mark, women die in your hospital almost on a daily basis. A woman claims to be in my employment? That also happens almost as frequently. Why are you bothering me with this matter?”
“Vivian, we found the woman’s purse this morning. There were some th-things in the purse that you need to see. Will you, will you please come to my office as q-quickly as p-possible?”
He was almost begging now. Vivian had played her part to perfection. Her answer was brusque. “I will be there shortly.”
She hung up without waiting for a response.
Meeting at the Hospital
Vivian picked up the receiver again and punched the speed dial and waited impatiently as the ring sounded on the other end of the line. After the third ring, a booming voice answered her beckon.
“Goooood morning. Hendricks here.”
Vivian hated that good-natured, smiling attitude that constantly surrounded Tom Hendricks. Especially so early in the morning. Yet as always, she treated him with the deference she denied most others. She knew that he remained in her employ as Corporate Director of Information only because he enjoyed the work. To antagonize him would not do. He would simply join the competition, and he knew too much about VanArp Enterprises for Vivian to allow that to happen.
“Tom, Vivian here, I am in need of some information. I need it quickly.”
“Vivian, you name it and I’ll get it. What do you need?”
She wasted not a moment in getting down to business. “Jot down these names, run a cross reference on all databases that you have available, and get back to me right away. You ready for the names?”
“Maria Flores, Miguel Rodrigo Flores, Pedro Juan Xavier de Alaminos, Juanita de Alaminos, A. de Alaminos, J. Perez de Ortubio, Santiago, and Beniny. Need me to spell any of that? No? Good. I am also sending you, via modem, a scan of a map, a very old map. Overlay the scan on the World Atlas and see if you can find a match. I need this information now. You know how to reach me. Don’t hesitate to call any of my personal telephone numbers. Did you get everything written down?”
“You bet. I’ll be back to you shortly.”
His answer left Vivian with an inward sense of satisfaction. She knew from the excitement in his voice that the challenge would be met with all the expertise he possessed. Which was considerable. He had never failed before; she was confident that he would not fail now. He would make a connection between these seemingly diverse clues to this most perplexing mystery.
Vivian called the garage and ordered her limousine to the main entrance. She then scanned the map with her portable scanner, and transmitted those data to Hendricks’ computer via her study computer.
She returned most of the items to the chest, locked it and then replaced the chest in the black plastic bag. She retained the pint container and one of the syringes. She planned to have the liquid analyzed.
There was a soft knock at her study door.
“Yes?” she answered as she quickly picked up the syringe and slipped it into the pocket of her six hundred dollar designer slacks. The pint container she slipped into her purse, a $2,500 Gucci. The door swung inward.
It was Consolata. “Your car is waiting, Ms. VanArp.”
“I’ll be right there.”
Vivian returned the chest to the bottom of the closet in Maria’s room and then met her limo at the main entrance.
“The hospital,” she said in terse response to the chauffeur’s greeting of “Good morning, Ms. VanArp.”
The long black limo slipped quietly into the no parking zone in front of the main entrance to Rassiter General Hospital. The security guard standing at the door shot an angry look at the vehicle. He took one step toward the limo with the intent of teaching the driver a lesson about parking in restricted zones. He pulled up short when he saw Vivian VanArp exit the rear seat of the limo. He was not going to make the same mistake he had a few month ago. He quickly composed himself, forced a smiled and said, “Good morning, Ms. VanArp.” He heard her mumble something as she passed by at a brisk pace.
The automatic doors at the main entrance slid open and Vivian entered the hospital. She moved rapidly down the main hall, turned right at the first corridor and entered the administrative wing of the building. She continued her brisk pace, providing an occasional curt response to the many “good mornings” she heard as she passed hospital personnel.
She did not pause at the door to Mark Braden’s secretary’s office. She pushed it open and entered. Nor did she stop as she crossed the secretary’s office and arrived at the door to Braden’s office. As she pushed open Braden’s door, she could hear the secretary saying, “Ms. VanArp, Ms. VanArp, Mr. Braden is in a meeting he can’t be—”
Vivian entered Braden’s office and slammed the door behind her, shutting out the last of the words.
Mark Braden was seated behind his desk. Seated in a visitor’s chair in front of the desk was Dr. Philip Tracy, Director of the Geriatrics Research Department. Vivian and Philip Tracy worked closely, preparing for the Annual Conference on Ageing and other projects. Tracy was in his late fifties. A quiet, soft spoken man. Vivian enjoyed his company. He had a reassuring unassuming quality about him that Vivian found most refreshing. They would often share meals together to talk about his research.
“Good morning, Vivian,” Tracy said in his soft relaxed tone.
“Yes, good morning,” Braden said somewhat weakly.
“Gentlemen.” Much of the ice melted from her countenance due to the presence of Tracy. She took the remaining visitor’s seat without waiting for an invitation.
“Mark, what is this business about one of my housekeepers, Maria Flores?”
Braden sat up straight in his chair. “Vivian, I understand that Dr. Mason asked you to the hospital last night to—”
“Yes, yes,” Vivian impatiently interrupted, “I was here last night at the request of your Dr. Mason.” She emphasized the ‘your’ to keep Braden off balance. “The woman that I saw was not my housekeeper. I don’t know who the woman was. Get to the point, Mark.”
Braden’s face colored. As usual, Vivian had him on the defensive.
“We found her purse this morning. It was misplaced last night. We found some things in the purse that may be of interest to you.” So saying, he reached to the floor behind his desk and lifted a black plastic shoulder bag and laid it on the desk in front of Vivian.
Vivian glanced at the bag. Why would anyone actually purchase and use such a bag? She shook the disapproval from her mind and focused on the business at hand. Her stare fixed on Braden.
The single word was enough to launch Braden into activity. He hastily opened the bag and withdrew a stack of letters bound with a rubber band. Enclosed with the letters were some newspaper clippings. He reached a second time into the bag and withdrew several paycheck stubs. He handed it all to Vivian.
Vivian recognized the check stubs as being drawn on her household account. She looked at the payee’s name. It was Maria Flores. She looked at Braden with an incredulous expression.
“Mark, do you honestly believe that a handful of paycheck stubs found in an old woman’s purse constitutes positive identification?”
“N-no, of course not, Vivian,” he replied with an apologetic tone. “I just thought you should be informed. We have no idea who the old woman was, and yours is the only name to which she made reference.”
Vivian sat silent for a moment. How did the old woman know Vivian’s name? The old woman most certainly could not be Maria Flores. Where was Maria? Why had she not returned from her free day and how had the old woman come to possess her key and pay stubs?
“Whoever she is, she isn’t anyone to me. Fill out your paperwork and dispose of the body however you will.”
Vivian arose from the chair with the stack of letters in her hand. “Mark, have you reviewed these yet?”
“No, I have not,” was his quick response. “I simply noted that the envelopes were addressed to Maria Flores at your residence.”
“I will need these letters, Mark. They belong to my housekeeper and I will be retaining them until she returns.” Vivian leveled her gaze directly at him. “You don’t have a problem with that do you?” The question was asked with a discernable degree of challenge attached.
“No, no, not at all, Vivian. I will assist in any way I can.”
Vivian turned to Philip Tracy, “Philip, will you accompany me to my car?” she spoke with a much softer tone.
“It will be my pleasure, Vivian.”
They left the office and turned into the hallway of the administrative wing.
“Philip, this is most confusing. The woman I saw last night was over ninety years of age. Maria Flores was not yet thirty. Yet the old woman was wearing a chain and key that Maria wore. And now I find that the old woman is in possession of letters mailed to Maria at my address. What can this mean?”
“I don’t know,” Tracy answered in his usual reassuring way, “but I am certain there is a logical explanation. If there is anything I can do to help, I will be most glad to do so.”
They had reached the main entrance and her limo was still waiting in the no parking zone. Tracy and Vivian stepped into the cold morning air and the doctor opened the limo door for Vivian. She turned to thank him and as she did she stuffed her hands into the pockets of her slacks to protect them from the cold. Her empty hand encountered something in her pocket. She grasped the item and withdrew it. It was the syringe she had taken from the chest.
Tracy looked down at Vivian’s open hand that cradled the syringe. He smiled and asked, “Vivian, are you practicing medicine without a license?”
She felt a faint smile part her lips at the joke. Odd, she thought. I can’t remember the last time I smiled.
“Philip, will you do a favor for me? Will you analyze the contents of this syringe? And this container?” She withdrew the pint from her purse and handed both items to Tracy.
“Certainly, Vivian. Give me a couple of hours and I will have an answer for you.”
She slid into the back seat of the limo and Tracy closed the door behind her.
“My office,” she snapped at the chauffeur. The old Vivian was back in control.
A Jagged Newspaper Article
Vivian entered VanArp Enterprises Corporate Headquarters through her private entrance. This allowed access to her office without the constant barrage of questions she would have encountered had she used the main entrance. She hung her coat in the closet and placed on her desk the packets of letters she had taken from the hospital. The flip phone in her briefcase rang. She answered. It was Tom Hendricks.
“I’ve been trying to reach you for a half hour. I have some interesting information concerning the list of names you gave me. Are you ready?”
“I’m in my office,” Vivian interrupted. “Come in, but be quiet about it. I don’t want to be discovered yet.”
She sat behind the desk and opened the packet from the hospital and separated the letters from the newspaper clippings. The clippings were from a South American newspaper. She could not tell which one as the banners were cut away. There were six pieces in total. Five carried a heading which included the name Rassiter General Hospital.
She studied these, struggling with her Spanish, but with some effort, was able to determine that the clippings each reported on the annual Conference on Ageing. There was one clipping for each of the five years she had sponsored the conference. Why would the old woman have these clippings in her purse? They weren’t valuable.
Holly Parker, her executive secretary, interrupted her thoughts.
“Ms. VanArp, Mr. Hendricks is here to see you.”
Vivian directed her reply to the intercom from which Holly’s voice had sounded. “Send him in.”
Tom Hendricks burst into the room. He was a big man, six feet plus tall and about two hundred and seventy lbs. His voice boomed. He did not know how to speak softly.
“I have some very interesting information for you. I searched a couple hundred databases trying to make some connection. Finally it all came together. This is quite an unusual group you have here.”
Vivian had difficulty containing her impatience. Hendricks had her attention. She tried to appear calm and unexcited. She motioned him to a leather visitor’s chair opposite her desk.
“What did you find, Tom?”
“Well the best place to start is with Santiago.” Hendricks digressed for a moment. “Do you know how many Santiagos there are? I must have found a hundred thousand of them. There are Santiago cities, and Santiago people, and Santiago businesses, and . . .” he paused for effect, then proceeded slowly, sounding out each syllable with deliberation, “Santiago ships.”
Hendricks fell silent, expecting the reward of a response from Vivian.
She hated the melodramatic aspect of his personality, but under the circumstances, she was willing to indulge him.
“What about Santiago ships?”
Hendricks smiled in personal satisfaction at her question. He proceeded.
“The Santiago was a Spanish caravel sailing ship of the 1500s. It was one of three ships outfitted by Juan Ponce de Leon. As you will remember from high school history, Ponce de Leon searched the Bahamas and the coast of Florida looking for the Fountain of Youth. Admittedly, that theory has fallen into disfavor in recent years by our modern more learned historians, but there are those who still believe the Fountain was the object of his quest.” Hendricks paused only for a needed breath, then continued.
“After I identified the Santiago, then the cross references began to produce some interesting facts. Two of the names you gave me had direct connection with the Santiago. Juan Perez de Ortubio was the ship’s captain and Anton de Alaminos was the ship’s navigator.”
Hendricks studied Vivian’s face for impact. He had her undivided attention.
“Beniny is the ancient name for Bimini. This is the fabled island on which, supposedly, was to be found the Fountain of Youth.
“Near the end of his unsuccessful 1513 voyage, undertaken to find the Fountain, Ponce de Leon made one last attempt to locate Bimini by dispatching Ortubio and Alaminos in the Santiago to find the island while he returned to Puerto Rico.
“In late October of 1513,” Hendricks continued, “Ortubio and Alaminos arrived in Puerto Rico claiming they had found the Island of Bimini. However, they made no claim to have found the Fountain of Youth, and legend has it that their story of finding Bimini was not taken seriously. Even Ponce de Leon apparently gave little credence to the claim, as he did not even bother to visit Bimini on his subsequent voyage to Florida.”
At this point in his narrative Hendricks rose from his chair and crossed the office to Vivian’s computer and seated himself.
“If you will look at this for a moment, Vivian, I will show you where the fabled Bimini is located.” Hendricks brought up the system, keyed in a few commands and in a few moments had the Bahamas and the east coast of Florida displayed on the screen.
Vivian had crossed the room and was standing behind Hendricks as he entered a second series of commands. As the screen refocused, Hendricks offered an explanation.
“What you are seeing now is an overlay of the map you sent me this morning, placed atop the Bahamas as found in the World Atlas. You will note on the World Atlas map of the Bahamas there is a North Bimini and a South Bimini Island. You will also note that the two larger islands at the top of the chain on the old map do not correspond to either of the Bimini Islands labeled on the World Atlas.”
He paused for the space of few seconds to be sure Vivian was following along. She offered no indication otherwise, so he continued.
“Then I thought if the old map bearing the cartographer’s name of A. de Alaminos was in fact the creation of the Anton de Alaminos, it was probably inaccurate. So I replotted the latitude, this time allowing for an inaccuracy that would have been a factor in the compasses used in the 1500s. With the inaccuracy then accounted for, amazingly, the old map was right on the money.
“On the old map, the large elongated land to the left of the map represents the coast of Florida. The two larger figures at the top of the chain of islands, with the compass correction made, represent North and South Bimini as we identify them today. The smaller islands on the old map, which is labeled Beniny, must in fact be the island Ortubio and Alaminos found.
“If my theory is true,” he paused again, somewhat lost in thought, “then the true identity of Bimini has been unknown for over four hundred years. If the old map is correct, then Bimini lies at these new coordinates.”
So saying, he punched the print screen key on the keyboard and the laser printer produced a map showing the coordinates of the legendary Bimini.
Hendricks continued. “The Bimini of Ortubio and Alaminos is probably nothing more than a small cay which has never been inhabited. Perhaps no more than a quarter mile square.”
Hendricks shut down the computer and turned to Vivian with a huge grin on his face. “That was the easy stuff, now it gets confusing.”
“What do you mean confusing, Tom?”
He arose and returned to the comfort of the luxurious visitor’s chair. Vivian resumed her place behind the desk and repeated her question. “What do you mean confusing, Tom?”
“Alaminos,” Hendricks started, “continued to serve as navigator for a number of Spanish explorers in the area: Hernandez de Cordoba, Alonso Álvarez de Pineda, and Cortes, among others. It seems that he was ageless in his efforts. He apparently continued sailing for many years after his contemporaries were all dead. I could not locate any record of his death. He did marry and evidently had only one son. At least one on record.
“I could find very little about Ortubio. Legend has it that he was killed in action with Indians. A story which I could neither prove nor disprove. He had children. How many I could not determine. But I did learn that his daughter married the son of Anton de Alaminos. The couple had one child. A boy. They named the boy Pedro Juan Xavier de Alaminos.”
Vivian’s gaze riveted on Hendricks’ face. Vivian recalled the name of Maria’s father as recorded on the bible page contained in the chest. His name was Pedro Juan Xavier de Alaminos.
Hendricks noticed Vivian’s intense interest in the name.
“I know what you’re thinking,” he commented. “That this is one of the names you gave me. However there is no possibility that the grandson of Anton de Alaminos could be the same person. He lived three hundred years before the next link of any kind with the names you gave me.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well,” Hendricks responded, “As common a name as Santiago was, Pedro Juan Xavier de Alaminos was not. I could find only two men with that name. The first of course was the grandson of Ortubio and Alaminos. The second appears in a genealogical record as a father. His wife Juanita gave birth to a daughter Maria in 1865. The daughter in 1890 married a Miguel Rodrigo Flores. This is all the information I was able to obtain concerning Miguel Rodrigo Flores and Pedro Juan Xavier de Alaminos. No death records, nothing. It is as if they just dropped off the face of the earth. If either were alive today, he would certainly hold the world record for longevity.
“Maria Flores is a different story. As you would imagine, there are numerous individuals with the name of Maria Flores. However, there is a puzzling aspect concerning the Marias. I located a visa application and immigration entry record for a Maria Flores. She apparently entered the United States to teach at a university. Supposedly at a full professorship. But once in the country she seems to have disappeared. I could not locate her at any school of higher education. The interesting thing about the matter is, the only Maria Flores qualified for such a position received her doctorate in 1895 in Madrid, Spain. Certainly this Maria Flores would not be alive today to accept a teaching position.”
Hendricks shifted his weight in the chair and then provide a summation with one last item of information. “The Taino Indians maintain an interesting legend. Alaminos employed two Tainos as guides during the search for Bimini and the Fountain of Youth. The Taino legend claims that Alaminos and Ortubio not only found the real Bimini, but also found the Fountain. The island and the Fountain were not as they expected them to be. Rather than a lush tropical paradise, Bimini was mostly a barren cay. Rather than a beautiful flowing fountain, legend has it that the Font was nothing more than a depression in the limestone which contained the miraculous water. And precious little of it at that.
“Legend claims that a Spanish soldier was left with food and water to guard the Fountain until Alaminos and de Ortubio returned. Unfortunately there is no record of the two ever returning.” Hendricks stopped again and ran his hand over his forehead as if to clear his thinking. When he raised his head, a huge grin spread across his face.
“I suppose if one could find the real Bimini today, one would also find a four-hundred-year-old Spanish solider still looking like a teenager and still looking for the return of the Santiago.”
He chuckled at his humor. Vivian did not. Hendricks seemed not to notice the deeply serious look shadowing her face. He rose from the chair.
“Well that’s it, Chief. Do you want me to continue searching?”
He had a habit of referring to Vivian as “Chief” whenever he felt he had completed an assignment to her satisfaction. It annoyed her. She did not like such familiarity on the part of her underlings. Yet, as always with Hendricks, she knew it was in her own best interest to overlook the irritation.
“No,” she answered, “what you have done is most helpful.” She felt a tinge of anger at the humiliation she experienced by accommodating his sensitivities. She paid him well; Remuneration should be sufficient recognition, she thought.
Hendricks left the room, smiling inwardly at his success. As he closed the office door behind him, Vivian’s desk telephone ran.
A familiar voice on the other end of the line brought a softening to her face.
“Vivian, this is Philip Tracy. I thought I would bring you up to speed on the tests I have completed so far on the contents of that syringe you gave me. It appears that the liquid in the syringe is nothing more than water.” Tracy paused for a moment to allow Vivian to digest what he had said.
“Albeit,” he continued, “this water has some very unusual characteristics.”
“How so?” Her interest suddenly piqued.
“Well, for example, the amoeba population in the water is acting in a most unusual manner. There is a total absence of binary fission. There is no observable life cycle. In plain and simple terms—no birth and no death. It is as if the amoebas are suspended in eternal youth.”
Vivian’s mind was racing with thoughts. “What do you make of it, Philip?”
“Vivian, it appears that this particular water may have some properties that affect the life cycle in some way. I am going to run some additional tests. Where did you get this syringe?”
“I found it among the possessions of Maria Flores.”
“The Maria Flores who died at the hospital last night?” he asked.
“No, the real Maria Flores. The one who works for me.”
Tracy continued his questions, “Do you have any idea why this water is contained in a syringe? Do you know any reason why Maria Flores would inject water?”
“No to both questions. I have no idea whatsoever. However, I did find one other item of Maria’s that may be significant.” She told him of the schedules of injections. Tracy commented that the additional information could be helpful. He thanked her and closed the conversation with a promise to call her after he had completed the tests.
“Please do.” Then she felt the faint tinge of color come to her cheeks as she made a personal inquiry. “Philip, you have the number for my private voicemail at home, haven’t you?” She knew that she had given it to him in the past, but somehow it was important to her to know if he remembered.
“Yes, I have. If I can’t reach you, I will leave a message at that number.”
Vivian slowly replaced the handset in the cradle after they exchanged goodbyes.
Vivian turned her attention to the one remaining, unread newspaper she had obtained from Braden. The other clippings had neatly trimmed edges. This one had ragged edges. It had been torn from a newspaper. Perhaps in haste. She unfolded the clipping and studied the vaguely familiar Spanish very carefully. The clipping was a week old. It reported a skirmish between a crack army unit of Mexican troops and the Zapatista Rebels. She read the account with detached interest. According to the government reports, the rebels had taken heavy casualties. The report went on to identify four civilians who were killed in the crossfire: Jorge Rodrigues, Rosa Chavez, and two others. As she read the remaining two names, the newspaper clipping fell from Vivian’s trembling hands.
She gasped, her mind blurred, her body went limp as her weight pressed into the leather upholstery of the chair. Her heart beat rapidly and she fought for breath. It was a full two minutes before she regained her compose. With trembling hands she fumbled to retrieve the newspaper clipping from the desk top. She made three attempts to grasp the clipping before she held it shakily in her hands. She looked once again at the names of the last two civilians reported as killed in the action: Miguel Rodrigo Flores and Pedro Juan Xavier de Alaminos.
Vivian sat motionless for a full five minutes as her mind desperately explored explanation after explanation in an attempt to bring these events into a rational sphere of conjecture. She rehearsed each event since last evening very carefully in her mind. She retraced her steps. She reviewed each conversation. Something nagged at her as she went through this process. Something suggested there was a connection—other than the chain and key—between Maria Flores the housekeeper and the old woman at the hospital. She mentally reviewed each location associated with this dilemma. Room 21 at the hospital last night, her arrival at home after the traumatic experience with the old woman, her study early this morning, her visit to Maria’s room, her visit to Mark Braden’s office. . . she bolted upright in her chair. Her mind alert and recalling details in vivid recollection.
“That’s it,” she almost shouted the words. “Maria’s room this morning. The newspaper on the bed.” She remembered the front page with the jagged edges of a void where an article had been ripped way.
She looked at the newspaper article still clutched in her hand. The edges were jagged. The article had been torn hastily from a newspaper. Could this article have come from the newspaper in Maria’s room? She determined to find out.
“Holly,” she spoke into the intercom.
“Yes, Ms. VanArp?”
“Have my car brought to my personal entrance immediately. I will be out for a few hours.” Vivian did not hear Holly’s reply. She was busy scooping up the pile of letters and newspaper clippings from her desk into her briefcase. She raced across the room, ripped the map containing the coordinates of Bimini from the printer where Hendricks had left it, grabbed her coat and left the building.
She stood impatiently on the sidewalk for thirty seconds waiting for the limo, her shoes tapping the winter slush beneath her toes. She immediately jumped into the rear seat when the limo pulled next to the curb. She barked an order to the driver before she had even closed the door.
“Home. Quickly. And I mean quickly.”
The limo sped away.
Once again, her impatience compelled her exit from the limo before it had come to a full stop in front of her residence. She bounded up the main entrance stairs to the house, rushed past the startled door attendant, ignoring his welcome, and literally ran to her study.
She retrieved the master key from her desk drawer and again ran, to the amazement of some of the domestic staff, down the hall to Room 4 of the west domestic quarters. She did not bother to knock. Her intuition told her Maria Flores was not in the room. She opened the lock and pushed the door open. She stepped into the room. It was the same as she had left it earlier. She dropped her briefcase with the packet of letters and newspaper clippings onto the wrinkled bedsheets. She pulled out the one clipping with the jagged edge.
With her heart beating rapidly, she laid the clipping over the hole in the front page of the newspaper. Like a piece from a jigsaw puzzle, it fit.
She leaned back against the wall, expelling breath from her lungs in a long, slow sigh. There is a connection between Maria and the old woman, she thought to herself. But why? How? Had the pair met somewhere and exchanged items and information before Maria Flores disappeared, possibly to South America to deal with the deaths of Miguel Rodrigo Flores and Pedro Juan Xavier de Alaminos? Neither women could have expected the old lady to die. They would not have planned a contingence to explain Maria Flores’ vanishing (if there had meant to be one). Perhaps Vivian’s initial thought was correct: the old woman had stolen from Maria Flores. Her niggling intuition insisted this was untrue.
Vivian determined all the more to get to the bottom of this. She crossed the room, opened the closet with a yank, shoved the dresses aside, withdrew the plastic bag containing the chest and deposited it on the bed. She gathered the letters, clippings and newspaper and dropped them inside. Holding both that and her briefcase, she locked the room somewhat cumbersomely and returned to her study.
She paged Consolata Alverez and informed her that no one, absolutely no one, was to enter Maria’s room.
Vivian’s mind was a blur of activity. Her intuition shouted that there was more to the connection between the old woman and Maria than what was suggested by the newspaper article and the key. Her sense of logic and reason challenged her to prove such. She picked up the handset from her desk telephone and speed dialed Mark Braden’s office.
“Good morning,” the voice of Braden’s secretary sounded in the receiver pressed to Vivian’s ear. “This is Mr. Braden’s office.”
“This is Vivian VanArp, put Braden on the phone.”
“Yes, Ms. VanArp. One moment please.”
“Good morning again, Vivian, I trust your day is going well.” Braden tried to sound as nonchalant as possible. The gesture was wasted. Vivian saw through it, much to Braden’s chagrin, as she always did.
“Mark, is the body of the old woman still at the hospital?”
“Yes, it is,” Braden’s reply came quickly. “C-can I assist in some way?”
“Yes, you can. I want a complete set of fingerprints taken from the body and I want them delivered to Bill Hansen at the police department. I want them there within the next hour. Can you accomplish that?”
The curt tone used in the formation of the question caused Braden to shrink within. It was a tactic Vivian employed very successfully with Braden. She derived considerable pleasure from placing him in difficult positions. Even so Braden was still somewhat hesitant with his response. Mention of the police caused him a great deal of concern.
“Fingerprints to the chief of police,” he mused out loud. “Is there something I should know about this woman, Vivian?”
“Yes, Mark, there is something you should know,” Vivian’s patience was tried to the limits. “You should know that I want those prints within the hour. Once again, can you accomplish that?”
Braden made a full retreat, “Yes, Vivian, I will deliver them personally.”
“Good.” Vivian hung up.
She punched the speed dial number for Bill Hansen’s office. Hansen was the chief of police for Rassiter. The phone rang twice and Hansen’s gruff voice sounded a single word answer in the receiver.
“Bill, this is Vivian VanArp.”
“Good morning, Ms. VanArp. To what do I owe the pleasure of this call?”
Vivian was growing tired of the phrase “good morning”. “Bill, I need one of your forensic people at my home immediately.”
Hansen was silent for a moment. He was cautions with Vivian VanArp. She was a very powerful and controlling lady. She was also very active in politics. It was rumored that she controlled the political establishment in the state. Hansen knew from personal experience that both senators were in her pocket. There was even talk of Vivian being chosen as a vice presidential candidate in the next presidential election.
Of a more immediate concern to Hansen, however, was the fact that she held a seat on the city council. He smiled at the irony of it. She held one seat on the council, but she owned the other six as well as maintaining influence of the mayor. It would be best, he thought, to not antagonize her.
“Do you have a problem at your home, Ms. VanArp?”
“I want the living quarters of one of the domestics dusted for fingerprints.”
Dusted, she thought to herself. I’m beginning to sound like a Hollywood detective. She continued her instructions to Hansen.
“I am also sending a set of prints to you which were taken from a body at the hospital. I want you to compare those with what you find in the room here at my house. I also want you to check the immigration files or whatever files you check, for the fingerprints of a Maria Flores. She entered the country within the last six months. Compare those with the other two sets.” She paused briefly to allow Hansen time to digest her instructions, then she continued, “I need that information today.”
Hansen was curious. He quizzed Vivian with caution. “Has a crime been committed? Do I need to open a case? If so, I should have a team of detectives report to the crime scene.”
Vivian was perturbed with Hansen’s question. “No crime has been committed. At least that I am aware of. I need the information for my use.”
Hansen saw an opportunity to solicit further information. He attempted to size it. “Ms. VanArp, using official police personnel for personal activities—”
“Bill,” she interrupted him tersely, “You have applied for retirement next year, is that correct?”
“Yes I have, but what does that have to do with—”
“Your pension increase comes before the city council at next week’s meeting. I have supported the increase thus far. I would like to continue to do so.” Vivian paused to maximize the effect.
Hansen’s reply came out slowly and cautiously. “I am aware of your support and I am most appreciative. I will do the dusting myself. I cut my law enforcement teeth in forensics. I will be at your home within the hour.”
Vivian felt pleased with her performance. “Good. Ask for Consolata Alverez when you arrive.” She hung up without further word.
She paged Consolata again and informed her to escort Hansen to Maria’s room when he arrived. She also instructed Consolata to keep quiet about the police activity. Vivian closed the conversation with an order, “Have my car brought to the front entrance.”
Vivian once again removed the plastic cover from the chest, opened the trunk and removed the photograph. She left the chest on her desk but covered it with the plastic bag. She locked her study as she left, taking the photograph and the packet of letters and newspaper clippings with her.
“My office,” she responded to the chauffeur’s inquiry as to destination. “And be quick.”
Vivian, for the second time that day, entered Corporate Headquarters by her private entrance. She tossed her coat on the chair in front of the computer workstation, seated herself behind the desk, selected a number from the corporate telephone directory and placed a call.
“Photography Department, Burnette speaking.”
“Burnette, this is Vivian VanArp. Who in your department knows anything about old photographs?”
Burnette was startled. During his fifteen years tenure at VanArp Enterprises, Vivian had called the department perhaps half a dozen times. And always with some angry comment about a problem. His answer was hesitant.
“That is my area of expertise, Ms. VanArp; may I help in some way?”
“Yes, come to my office immediately.”
Vivian hung up.
Burnette did not. He stood holding the telephone in his hand. Suddenly what seemed like promising day was fraught with apprehensiveness.
Within three minutes, Vivian’s intercom once again announced a visitor.
“Ms. VanArp, Mr. Burnette from photography is here to see you.”
“Send him in.” The door opened and the man entered.
“Good morning, Ms. VanArp, how may I help?”
Vivian pointed to a chair and laid the photograph on the desk in front of the chair. “Can you tell me how old this photograph is?”
Burnette picked up the photograph and silently studied it for what seemed an eternity. He further tested Vivian’s patience by removing a small magnifying glass from his pocket and giving the picture a closer scrutiny. Finally he looked up from the photograph and answered.
“This picture was taken on September 17, 1935. And it was most likely taken at Pascagoula, Mississippi.”
Vivian was baffled. “How can you determine that from a simple glance?”
Burnette reached across Vivian’s desk and handed her the photograph. “If you look at the background of the picture you will see a boat.” He then handed her the magnifying glass and continued, “If you look at the stern of the ship, you will see the craft’s name is Innominate.”
Vivian squinted through the glass. “Yes. I see. Please continue.”
Burnette complied with her request to provide additional enlightenment. “I am a Bermuda Triangle shipwreck buff. The Innominate was built in Pascagoula. On the morning of September 17, 1935, the Innominate made her maiden voyage. She sailed from Pascagoula, never to be heard from again. So this picture must have been taken that very day in order to capture the image of the Innominate sailing out into the Gulf of Mexico.”
“Are you certain?”
“I could perform some tests if you like, but I am confident that further testing would confirm circa 1935.”
Vivian closed the meeting with two words most of her employees seldom heard from her. “Thank you.”
Burnette rose from his chair, “You are most welcome.” He paused briefly, then continued, “If I may be of any further assistance I would be most happy to do so.”
He left the room without a response from Vivian. She was lost in thought. Deep thought.
She leaned back in her chair. How could Maria Flores be in a photograph taken in 1935 and still be twenty-five years old more than sixty years later? Her intuition continued to support this ridiculous position that Maria in the photograph was her Maria. As she pondered, something nagged at her about what Burnette said.
The telephone rang, breaking her train of thought. She answered with her usual curt, “Yes.”
“Ms. VanArp, this is Bill Hansen.” Hansen did not wait for an acknowledgement before he proceeded. “I have completed a comparison of the three set of fingerprints. They match. The three sets of fingerprints came from the same person.”
There was a long silence. Hansen wondered if Vivian heard him. He was about to break the silence when an obviously startled Vivian asked, “Are you certain, absolutely certain?”
“Yes,” Hansen answered. “I checked and rechecked. Did it personally. They all match.”
“Bill, is there any possibility of an error?”
“Is there any possibility that two people could have the same set of fingerprints? Absolutely not, to both questions, Mrs. VanArp. No way.”
“Thank you. You may go back to your office. If I need you, I will call you.”
Vivian, still stunned, hung up the telephone. So there it was, her intuition was right after all. An one hundred twenty year old woman, holding a Ph.D., and not looking a day over twenty-five, worked as a domestic in her home. Not only that, but she was the very same old woman who had died in the hospital. There had been no disappearance. Maria Flores had always been right in front of her. Vivian wanted to laugh at the incredulity of it all. Her mind, numbed by the news that of necessity must appear impossible to a rational person, fought to regain clarity.
“Okay,” she said out loud. “Let’s suppose that it is true. That supposition then begs the questions how and why?” At that moment, she recalled the letters she had been given by Braden. Again she spoke aloud in her reasoning process. “Alright, let’s start there. Perhaps the letters hold some answers.”
So saying, she opened the first letter. She was determined that she would view the contents with an open mind. The letter was dated approximately ten weeks ago. It was brief. The letter was addressed to “My Darling Maria.” The first half of the letter dealt with personal feelings. They were expressed most tenderly. The balance of the letter contained some informational items which provided greater assistance toward her efforts to unravel this mystery. Congratulations were offered to Maria for successfully obtaining employment with Vivian VanArp. Cautions were extended as to a premature exposing of herself and her mission to Vivian. Mention was made of a possible trip to Mexico. The letter closed with “Eternal love, your husband, Miguel.”
“So,” Vivian spoke out loud to herself again. “Maria had sought employment with intent. But why?”
Vivian opened the second letter. It also began “My Darling Maria.” Greetings were extended from Maria’s father. News of activities in the West Indies were related. Again, mention of a trip to Mexico. This time the purpose of the trip was given. “Your father and I have learned that a descendent of Ortubio may have lived in Mexico as recently as three years ago. A woman. Your father was unaware that his maternal grandfather had any descendants other than himself. If that is true, you can appreciate how important it could be to our efforts.”
Vivian lowered the letter slowly to the desk top. She was close to violating her self-made promise of keeping an open mind. If she were to accept Miguel’s statement as fact, the Pedro Juan Xavier de Alaminos, Maria’s father, was the four hundred year old grandson of Alaminos and Ortubio. Her intuition continued to support this untenable position. Her mind countered with the seemly unanswerable question, “How can that be?” Her brow was furrowed with deep thought as she reached for the third letter and removed it from the envelope.
This last letter, as with the two previous, began with the same greeting. Miguel then spoke of his love for Maria in great detail. He spoke of former pleasant times in Spain. He dwelled on his love for her, almost as if he had a premonition. He expressed her father’s confidence in her ability to determine if Vivian could be trusted with knowledge of the water. Miguel went on to review their shared vision of a world free from sickness and natural death. He cautioned Maria to Vivian’s integrity. Vivian had the recourses at the hospital, the wealth and certainly the interest to make their vision a reality, but— “Will she also share the vison to analyze and produce the water for the benefit of mankind? Maria, you must be absolutely certain that Vivian can be trusted before taking her into confidence.” Miguel went on to say they were leaving for Mexico in the morning. He would write once they had arrived. He closed, as usual, with his love.
Vivian returned the letter to its envelope. A deep sadness came over her. She was touched by the expressions of this man’s love for his wife. It reminded her of her father’s love for her mother, frequently expressed. She allowed herself to think on the affection as she scanned the words in the letter once more. This third letter was the last that Miguel would write, and the last that Maria would read, before they both died. She felt, uncharacteristically, that the world was less for the loss of such love.
This softening of Vivian Kaye VanArp’s heart met death almost the same instant it found life. She shook her head to clear any such folly from her mind. Her thoughts began to systematically and methodically analyze the information gleaned from the letters. Years of experience with defining and analyzing problems were brought into focus on this challenge.
She spoke aloud, “Miguel claims that Pedro was the grandson of Ortubio.” If this were true, then Pedro would have been well over four hundred years old. Maria would have been over one hundred twenty years of age, and Miguel approximately the same age as Maria.
What could account for this? Miguel had mentioned “the water” in his third letter. What water could he be referring to? Could this water be responsible for the incredible longevity of these three? She allowed her mind to formulate a hypothesis. What if Alaminos and Ortubio had actually found the Fountain of Youth? Could this be the water that Miguel had referred to? What of the old woman’s request for the water last night in the hospital?
“My chest, the water, hurry, hurry.”
Was this the water the old woman had wanted?
Vivian’s mind began to process thoughts with incredible speed. The continued work of Alaminos long after his contemporaries were dead, the two syringes and the pint-sized container of water in Maria’s chest, Philip Tracy’s observance of the amoeba anomaly. Vivian asked herself the question. If the syringes actually contained water from the fabled Fountain of Youth why had Maria not used them?
Another question burst upon her mind, demanding an immediate answer. Without hesitation, she picked up the telephone and speed dialed Mark Braden’s office.
“Mr. Braden’s office—”
“Get Braden on the line, this is Vivian VanArp.”
“Yes, Ms. VanArp. Right away.”
“Mark, where was the old woman last night when the ambulance picked her up?”
There was a brief moment of silence. “L-let me call up the report on the computer. One moment, please.”
Vivian could hear the click of keys on the keyboard, then Braden spoke into the telephone.
“She passed out in a restroom at the airport, Vivian.”
Vivian hung up and leaned back in her chair. It all began to fit together like a puzzle. Vivian put a possible scenario in place. The Fountain of Youth had been found by Alaminos and Ortubio. They kept it a secret from Ponce de Leon. The supply of water was limited as maintained in the Taino Indian legend. There wasn’t enough to go around. Anton de Alamnios and Ortubio must have continued to use the water until they met violent deaths. Their grandson, his daughter and her husband were the only living individuals, with the possible exception of an Ortubio descendent in Mexico, with knowledge of the water. There was apparently enough water to maintain eternal youth for these three or four, but not enough to care for the world, as was their apparent vision.
The three had monitored the Conference on Ageing through a Mexican newspaper which provided an abundance of international news. The decision was made that Maria would obtain employment near Vivian, then at the appropriate time, enlist Vivian’s help in accomplishing their vision.
Maria evidently learned of the deaths of her husband and her father from the report in the newspaper. In her haste to go to Mexico, she forgot the injection that was due yesterday, the 16th of January. The youth-retaining properties of the water were not refreshed in Maria’s body by the needed injection, and so her body must have reverted to its true age.
Vivian contemplated the relapse into age that Maria’s body underwent. Vivian questioned the speed with which the relapse occurred. It happened so fast. The entire process took only a few hours.
“There is a way to prove my theory either true or false,” she said aloud to herself. “The remaining syringe of water in the chest can provide that proof.” She called for her car, picked up the letters and photographs and met her limo at the curbside.
“Home. Quickly.” She barked the instruction to the chauffeur. As she rode home, her mind was still bothered by something Burnette had said. She turned over every one of his words in her thoughts. Then it exploded like fireworks in her mind. The date of 17 September 1935 was the date listed in the bible page found in Maria’s chest. The date that Maria’s mother died by drowning. She slumped back in the seat.
What does it mean? As she found an answer to one question, two more questions were raised.
Three Years Removed
It was early evening when Vivian arrived home. She was met at the main entrance by the evening attendant.
“Will you be dining at home this evening, Ms. VanArp?”
“Yes,” was Vivian’s abrupt reply as she hurried to her study. She hurled one final instruction over her shoulder as she proceeded down the hall. “I do not want to be disturbed for the next hour.”
Vivian locked the study door behind her. She crossed the room to her desk and placed Maria’s personal items on its corner. She then removed from the chest the second syringe and the large parchment bearing the schedule of injections. She spread the parchment on her desk, retrieved her calculator form the center drawer, seated herself in the chair, and with purposeful intent, fixed her total attention on the schedule.
The syringe she had given Philip Tracy contained twenty-two units of water. The syringe in her possession contained eighteen. The matrix revealed a patchwork of X indicators. There was no discernable pattern to the amount of units prescribed. The frequency of injection was static. Every three months. However, the amounts varied widely. She thought there must be a formula to determine how much to inject. She searched the surface of the parchment, looking for a formula. Nothing. She examined the interior of the chest again. Nothing.
Her mind began functioning like a computer. She quickly keyed some numbers into the calculator. She established a ratios for her body weight to Maria’s and determined body age differentials for herself and Maria to achieve a regression to twenty five years of age. Her computations arrived at a factor. She applied the factor and determined that she, Vivian, could regress to age twenty five with an injection of six units. She rolled up the sleeve of her $250 dollar blouse, griped the syringe, placed her thumb on the plunger, and touched the needle to her arm. She froze.
“How stupid can I be? If this works, I can’t leave this room looking about forty years younger than when I entered.” If by some remote chance the water actually had the power to maintain youth, she had no intentions of making that information public. Especially if the supply was limited. Her sudden loss of nearly a half century of age would certainly let the cat out of the bag.
She ran some numbers through her calculator again. She determined that one half of one unit should provide approximately two years of regression. Two years would be a small enough change to not arouse unwanted suspicion, but on the other hand, would provide enough change for her test purposes.
Once again, she placed the needle to her skin and attempted to insert it. Her hand was shaking so violently that the needle slipped, leaving a three inch gouge in her forearm. She paused, took a deep breath and regained some composure. She made an attempt to insert the needle a second time. This time she was successful. The needle entered her forearm and she pressed the plunger downward. With great care she monitored the plunger’s movement and removed the needle immediately when one half of one unit had been injected.
Too late did she consider the stupidity of injecting with a previously used needle. With what she now knew, Maria probably did not have any concerning diseases, but with all her medical knowledge, Vivian should have known better than to reuse a needle. Her doubts were erased almost instantaneously.
A very pleasant sensation radiated rapidly from the point of injection on her forearm. In a matter of minutes the sensation permeated every cell in her body. The rapidity with which this occurred was phenomenal. She felt as if every cell in her body was aglow with vitality. It was a truly marvelous experience. The kiss of God must feel this way, she thought.
She stood for several moments totally enjoying every aspect of the sensation. Then she crossed the room to the wall mirror. She stopped in front of the mirror with eyes lowered to the floor. Her heart pounded. What would she see? Ambivalent emotions tore at her. She feared there would be no change, then she feared there would be change.
She closed her eyes and raised her head until she faced the mirror squarely. She slowly opened her eyes. She gasped a serendipitous exclamation. She studied her image in the mirror. She appeared to be two or three years younger. In someone younger this might not have been noticeable, but in someone of her age it was incredible. In less than ten minutes, years of ageing had been erased from her face. The crow’s feet and wrinkles near her lips, minimal to begin with, had smoothed and regressed.
She looked at her hands. They also appeared to have regressed a few years. Her veins lay smoother under her skin. She looked at her forearm and gasped in amazement. The three inch gash she had inflicted on herself only minutes ago was gone. Her forearm appeared as if the gash had never been there. Her thoughts began to race. Excitement engulfed her.
“It’s true!” she exclaimed, “It’s all true!”
She congratulated herself. Her diligence in the search efforts had paid off. Providence had rewarded her with that which she most desired—the ability to be young forever. Maria’s stupidity had provided the catalyst.
She began to make mental plans as rapidly as her mind could change from one thought to the next. She could remain twenty-five years of age for as long as she chose, or for that matter, be any age she wanted at any time she wanted. She now had the longevity required for long term business ventures that could reap multiple millions, even billions of dollars. There was no limit to what she could accomplish. Even the thought of being the first woman president entered her mind. She smiled at the thought. It pleased her.
Just as quickly as it came, the jubilation left, replaced by the cold realization that, if these dreams were to become reality, she must physically possess the remaining water on Bimini. This must be accomplished now, without any delay. Each passing moment increased the likelihood that someone else might find her water.
Her mind once again began to churn. She must leave for Bimini immediately. She turned and walked rapidly to her desk. She picked up the map that Hendricks had produced on her printer this morning. She studied the new coordinates identifying the location of the true Bimini.
She took the map to her computer workstation and booted the system. She then brought up the World Atlas and studied it diligently for several minutes. Then she spoke aloud to herself, “Good, the best departure point from the mainland is Miami.” Providence continued to smile on her.
She began to plan the trip, starting with a flight to Miami on the corporate jet tonight. She would call ahead and have the corporate cruiser fueled, provisioned and ready for her use when she arrived. Leave Miami approximately 2:00 a.m. and cruise to Bimini arriving mid-morning tomorrow. She would locate the water, rest for a few hours, start back late afternoon, arriving in Miami near midnight tomorrow. The flight back from Miami should arrive home early in the morning, day after tomorrow. She would get some sleep yet this evening during the plan ride to Florida.
There was a knock at her study door. She answered the knock with a single word. “Yes.”
“Ms. VanArp.” It was Consolata. “It has been an hour and a half. When do you wish to be served the evening meal?”
Vivian realized that she was hungry. She had not eaten all day. Yet at this moment she was more concerned with her purpose than she was with her hunger.
“Cancel the evening meal,” she answered. “I am leaving on business. Go to my suite and pack something for a two day trip in a warm climate.”
“Yes, Ms. VanArp. Right away.”
Vivian returned to her desk, looked up Holly Parker’s home telephone number and placed the call to her secretary. The telephone rang twice, then Holly’s voice answered.
“Hello.” Holly interrupted her preparation of an eggplant parmesan dinner to answer the telephone. She was an accomplished cook and enjoyed preparing delicious meals even though she lived alone.
“Holly, this is Vivian.”
“Good evening, Ms. VanArp.”
“Holly, write this down.” Vivian paused for a moment to ensure that Holly had writing materials available, then continued.
“Call Marlene Paxton. Tell her to have the corporate jet fueled and ready to fly to Miami this evening. I want to leave no later than 11:00 p.m. Call the marina in Miami, have the fuel tanks on the boat filled. Also have food and water for two days put in the galley. I will need a car waiting for me at the airport.
“I am faxing to you, at your office, a map which contains some coordinates. First thing tomorrow morning, call Ed Foster in legal, and give him the map. Tell him I want to purchase the island at the location indicated by the coordinates. Tell him to buy it no matter what. Did you get all of that?”
“Yes, Ms. VanArp. There is one problem, however. Your pilot, Marlene Paxton, she starts a three day vacation tomorrow. She will not be available to fly to Miami.”
Vivian felt the irritation rising within her. “Tell her that if she wants to keep her job to be at the airport tonight. She can take a vacation in Miami while she is waiting for me.” Without waiting for a response, Vivian instructed Holly to repeat back to her all that she had said. Holly did so. Vivian concluded the conversation with “Good” and hung up.
Vivian faxed a copy of Hendricks’ map to Holly’s office. She then called the garage and instructed the chauffeur to meet her at the main entrance and to place her bags in the limo. She went upstairs to her suite and changed into clothes for the trip.
Garner Havens set the bowl of popcorn aside and reached for the telephone on the kitchen wall. The call was a welcome distraction from the game on TV. Miami was losing badly; it was a one-sided game. Garner wondered who would be calling him at 10:00 p.m. He lifted the handset and spoke into the mouthpiece. “Havens.”
He heard a sigh of relief on the other end of the line.
“Garner, this is Marlene Paxton. Am I ever glad you’re home.”
“How ya doin’ Marlene? Haven’t heard from you in some time. You still flying for VanArp Enterprises?”
“Something’s got to pay the bills. That’s why I’m calling. I need a co-pilot for a flight to Miami. Are you available?”
“I could be. When are you going?”
“In one hour.”
“Going to cost you extra for short notice, you realize that don’t you?”
“Don’t I know it,” she sighed. “Yes. Anything. Vivian wants to go to Miami tonight. I even had to alter my vacation plans to accommodate her. She won’t take no for an answer.”
“Why doesn’t she just put a co-pilot on staff and be done with it?”
“You know the answer to that, Garner. It is less expensive to hire a co-pilot on an as-needed basis. Vivian is not about to spend money on anything other than herself.”
“You taking the jet, Marlene?”
“Yes. Can you be here in a half hour?”
“Sure, I’ll be there. How long will we be gone?”
Marlene said she did not know but guessed no more than two or three days. Havens again affirmed that he would be at the hanger in a half hour and hung up the phone. He wondered why Marlene stayed with Vivian. Ms. VanArp was not the easiest person to work for. Marlene was a good pilot and she could have her pick of jobs. She could have been paid just as well, too.
Garner Havens had flown for Vivian a couple of years back. He quit within weeks. Just got tired of it. Tired of her attitude (which although not terrible was not something a person could tolerate for an extended time despite the soft side she would sometimes share with him) and tired of the job description. Consolata Alverez had gotten the vacant pilot’s position for Marlene. Consolata and Marlene were very close. An odd combination, Havens thought to himself.
Havens threw a few items of clothing and his shaving gear into an overnight bag. As he was leaving the apartment, he reached for the remote to turn off the TV, he paused for a moment to listen to the game’s color commentator remark about the heavy rain in Miami. Havens thought he had best take his rain jacket. He reached into the closet and withdrew the old army rain gear from his helicopter flying days. Still had his nickname over the left breast pocket, “Gar.” Those were the good old days, he thought as he closed the door behind him.
Vivian came down the stairs in a hurry. She was behind schedule. If she intended to be in the air at 11:00 she needed to be on her way. It was nearly 10:30. She hurried into the study and threw Hendricks’ map and the syringe of water into her pocket. She moved quickly across the room and was pulling the study door closed when the telephone on her desk rang.
She hesitated. Should she take it? She didn’t have a lot of time. Her hesitation was short lived. Let the voicemail take the message, she thought to herself. As she hurriedly closed the door, she heard a voice speaking to the message receiver.
“Vivian,” it began. The closing of the door silenced the remainder of the message. Vivian moved briskly to her waiting limo.
Dr. Philip Tracy had been working all day in the laboratory trying to make some sense of the riddles presented by the sample of water Vivian had given him. It wasn’t until late that evening that it all came together. Had Tracy not been a man of science, who had invested years in searching for exactly what he’d found on this day in the water, he would have denied all that he had witnessed during the past thirteen hours.
He had called Vivian for the purpose of telling her of his preliminary findings and also to ascertain if he could, why the water was contained in a syringe. This bit of information may help explain the amoeba puzzle.
His call did not produce the desired results. After his conversation with Vivian he continued to study the water without acquiring any additional answers. It was not until he decided to use the water on some laboratory animals that he made the discovery that would ultimately turn the world of science upside down.
He injected approximately a quarter of a unit into a lab dog which was near death. Within minutes the transformation was phenomenal. The dog was on its feet and appeared to be years younger. Amazingly even the dog’s physical size was affected.
He performed tissue tests on some scrapings taken from several areas of the dog’s body. His analysis of the tissue resulted in the formulation of a theory. An incredible theory.
Tracy called Vivian’s private telephone in her study. He glanced at the wall clock in the laboratory as he made the call. 10:28, he thought to himself. I hope she’s not gone to bed. The phone rang several times, then the voicemail activated.
“You have reached the voicemail of Vivian VanArp. Ms. VanArp is not available at present. Please leave a message at the tone.”
“Vivian,” Tracy began his message. “Since our last conversation this morning, the additional tests I performed on the water have produced some startling results I will explain in detail tomorrow. Just briefly for now, however, it appears that this water acts on living cells. As a postulation, all cells evidently possess a memory mechanism. That is, as one cell dies, and a new one is born, the memory of the old cell is passed on to the new one. Therefore, the configuration of each progenitor cell, staring at birth and continuing through every single day of life, is retained in the memory of each of the descendent cells. This water apparently has the ability to act on cells, causing them to remember a certain age and then reconfigure to that age.
“Vivian, be very cautious with this water. It must be issued to the body via a control mechanism such as a syringe. I tested the water, injecting into several dogs. The results were amazing. I also tested other dogs by allowing them to ingest minute amounts of the water in a normal drinking manner. The results from the test performed on the second set of dogs were totally erratic. Apparently the digestive system, of some, but not necessarily all, can amplify the potency of the water without providing any indication whatsoever as to the intensity of that amplification. The age regression, when the water is digested, has the potential to produce widely differing results. This creates a totally unpredictable and uncontrollable outcome.
“Vivian, the potential to reduce suffering through the use of this water is inestimable. You may have found the medical panacea of all time. I will call you tomorrow.”
Shipwrecked and a Baby
The long black limo came to a stop next to the mid-sized jet warming up in front of the VanArp hanger. Vivian exited the limo. She walked a few feet to the jet across the cleared tarmac, stepped up, and entered the aircraft. The chauffeur placed her bags on board.
Vivian made her way forward to the cockpit. Marlene Paxton, clothed in a burgundy flight suit bearing the VanArp logo, was seated at the pilot’s controls. Garner Havens, wearing his infamous green rain gear was seated at the co-pilot’s controls.
“I see you haven’t gotten rid of that old rain jacket yet, Garner.”
In spite of her inability to control Havens, Vivian had always liked him. He was trustworthy, an excellent pilot and his lack of personal ambition made him a non-threat to Vivian. Vivian had been disappointed when he left her employ. She would never admit it, but she missed his free-spirited attitude. Havens was one of the few people Vivian felt comfortable enough with, that she would actually banter some humor.
“Had you stayed with VanArp Enterprises, we would have given you a nice new burgundy rain jacket. One which you wouldn’t be ashamed to wear in public.”
Havens turned in the direction of Vivian. His face broke into a huge grin. “Never did like the burgundy, Vivian. No matter what color it was.”
She understood full well his meaning, and actually smiled ever so slightly at his response. Vivian turned her attention to Marlene.
“Are we ready to go?”
“Yes, everything looks good. If Garner will close the door we can be airborne as soon as we have tower clearance.”
Four hours later Marlene did an excellent job of landing the jet comfortably in the rain and turbulence at the Miami airport. Vivian was aroused from her light slumber as the wheels touched down. She had drifted in and out of sleep for the last two hours. Her mind had been too active to allow full sleep to overtake her. Marlene taxied the plane to the designated area and brought it to a stop. Havens made his way back to Vivian’s seat.
“Well, we made it safe and sound,” he said, “in spite of having a woman at the controls.” He added the good natured jab in a raised voice to insure that Marlene heard him.
“And just where, Mr. Havens, would you and the rest of the world be without women?” Vivian asked in mock surprise.
“I can’t speak for the rest of the world,” Havens responded without hesitation, “but as for me, I expect I would be up in your tax bracket. What’s the game plan from here?”
Vivian grew serious at Havens question.
“Is there a car waiting outside?” she asked.
Havens opened the door of the aircraft and saw an automobile about twenty yards from the plane. There was no light nor movement from the vehicle.
“Yes,” he answered. “One car, minus driver. Is that that you expected?”
Havens jumped to the tarmac and ran through the downpour to the waiting vehicle. He then drove the car closer to the plane and opened the passenger’s door for Vivian. She quickly exited the plane, hunching against the downpour, and slid into the front seat of the car. As the wipers thumped against the windshield and the rain splattered against the glass, Havens returned to the aircraft and retrieved Vivian’s two bags. He placed the bags in the rear seat and slid into the driver’s seat. The rain dripped from his jacket onto the leather around him, droplets caught in his hair.
“Where to?” he asked.
“You know you don’t have to drive me.”
“It isn’t a problem.”
Vivian felt a small smile tug at her lips. He was always doing things like this, one reason she missed him. He cared about others although he shouldn’t have. She hadn’t promised him extra pay for this but he was still going to assist her.
“To the marina where the boat is docked,” she said. “You remember where that is don’t you?”
“Sure do. Be back in half an hour!” Havens shouted to Marlene who was standing in the doorway of the plane squinting out into the rain.
Havens maneuvered the car into the parking spot next to the dock at the marina. They sat there idling. Nothing but the wipers and the rain to keep them company in the early hour. “Are you spending the night on the boat, rather than at the condo?” he inquired.
“In a manner of speaking,” she responded evasively.
“You are staying on the yacht, aren’t you?” he pressed.
“No. On the cruiser.”
“Then let me pull back the tarp and put your luggage on board.” Havens turned off the car and stepped into the rain. He made his way to the boat. In the dimness of the security lighting, he could barely make out the name of the boat lettered on its stern. Finally.
“That’s the one,” he commented to himself. He pulled back the tarp, placed the luggage on board, and returned to the car. He stood beside the vehicle, removed his rain jacket and opened the passenger’s door. He leaned over and spoke to Vivian.
“You are going to need this rain gear.” He held the jacket for her as she slipped her arms into the sleeves. As she closed the snaps on the front of the jacket, she gave him a friendly warning, “Garner, if you ever tell anyone I wore this thing, I will see to it that your pilot’s license is permanently revoked.”
He smiled. “You lose that jacket,” he retaliated, “And I will see to it that every supermarket tabloid in the free world gets the story.”
He walked her to the boat and gave assistance as she stepped down onto the deck. She stood silent for a prolonged moment, her gaze fixed on Havens. Then with uncharacteristic softness she astounded him with the gentleness of her tone.
“Thank you, Garner. Thank you very much.” He was taken completely by surprise. He had never witnessed any such display from Vivian. He could only mumble a quiet answer.
“You are most welcome. As always.”
She broke the moment with a request, “Would you please cast off the lines?”
“Are you going out tonight? In this weather?” He could not hide his amazement nor his disapproval.
“Of course,” she said. “I was sailing my father’s yacht while you were still in grade school.”
He knew that she was at least fifteen years his senior, but he did not let on that he was aware.
“Come on,” he chided as he freed the boat from its moorings, “Send me an invitation to the party when you reach the big four-oh.” Then turning serious, a rarity for Havens, he added, “Vivian, you do look considerably younger than when I saw you last.” Having experienced this one solitary moment of seriousness, he returned to character. “You must be the first success story for a new line of VanArp cosmetics. If so, your chemists did well. They deserve a raise!”
She smiled, somewhat at his awkward compliment, but more so at the favorable confirmation of her injection results.
“Can’t afford to give them a raise,” she yelled from where she stood under the covered wheelhouse. “It costs me too much for co-pilots.” So saying she gunned the motors on the thirty-five foot cruiser, waved a goodbye through the window, and piloted the boat into the main waterway.
Havens shouted as the boat moved away from the dock. He followed as best he could. “Vivian, at least let me go with you. It’s too dangerous to go by yourself!”
“No,” she responded, raising her voice over the sound of the engine and rain. “I need you to have the plane ready for immediate take-off when I return. I will have something very important that I must get back to the hospital in Rassiter.” She waved at him and said her last words regarding the matter, now shouting as the distance between them increased. “I will be fine! But thanks for the offer!”
Havens stood watching as Finally grew smaller and smaller. He watched until a second boat, also leaving the marina, obscured his view. He thought to himself, two crazy people going out in this weather and hour. He had an uneasy feeling about this entire trip.
Havens returned to the airport. He parked the car and hurried the last few feet to the plane. Marlene had already left. She had informed Havens that she would be on vacation while in Miami, an arrangement she had worked out with Vivian. Havens secured the aircraft, left the airport and checked into a nearby motel. He anticipated a long, much deserved rest.
Vivian navigated the boat slowly until she reached the open sea. The sea was less than hospitable, but certainly not hostile. She felt comfortable opening the throttles to half speed. As the lights of Miami faded behind her, Vivian realized how tired and hungry she was. Her last meal had been over twenty-four hours ago. And that meal was abbreviated due to the telephone call from Dr. Mason. She checked her course, strapped down the wheel of the cruiser and went below to find something to eat.
Vivian stood in the galley, totally consumed with anger. No food or water had been placed on the boat.
“Incompetents,” she angrily spoke to herself. “That idiot caterer must have placed the order on the yacht.”
She slumped down on a bench seat and took stock of her situation. She could turn back to Miami and purchase what she needed. However, that would put her behind schedule by at least three hours, possibly four. She dismissed that option immediately. She could not risk the delay for fear that someone else may find her water. She could continue, which meant she would be without food for another twenty-four hours. That was not appealing, but certainly it was not life threatening. Water, however, was another matter. She again made a quick search of the galley. No water. She sat back down. She was having some difficulty thinking due to her fatigue.
The rain beating on the galley portholes caused her mind to snap alert.
“That’s it,” she almost shouted. “I’ll collect rainwater in the galley pots and pans.”
She leapt to her feet, fatigue momentarily dispelled, and gathered all the suitable containers she could locate. She carried the first load topside. The rain was falling in heavy sheets. Fortunately the sea had momentarily calmed and the boat was moving forward with very little rocking motion. Good, she thought, that will make the water collection much easier.
She placed the containers about the deck and returned below to gather another load. After three trips she had placed over a dozen pots, pans and plastic containers around the deck. As she positioned the last one, she noticed the one she had paced first was already half full. She smiled. Providence was still with her.
Vivian remained at the wheel throughout the night. The rain ended just after sunrise. At 9:00 a.m. the sea began to build, the waves grew larger and more powerful. Vivian was near exhaustion. She had not received the anticipated sleep on the flight to Miami. The absence of food for over thirty hours was taking a much heavier toll than she had expected. She sat slumped in the captain’s chair behind the wheel. Her position in the chair was maintained more as the result of the safety belt than that of her own doing.
She checked location and course. She breathed a sigh of thanks for all those hours she had spent sailing with her father. He had taught her many things, not all of them nautical, but right now that was all the lessons she needed to recall. She was exactly where she was supposed to be. The Bimini of Alaminos and Ortubio was close.
At 9:18 a.m. she spotted Bimini through the haze of her bloodshot eyes. It was no more than a speck on the horizon. Had she had not been looking for it, it would have gone unnoticed. She made a slight course correction which pointed the boat directly at Bimini. She proceeded on the corrected course for another forty-five minutes, fighting with all of her will to remain awake.
Bimini was only a matter of twenty yards ahead when Vivian made a fatal mistake. Exhaustion had taken over. Her ability to make rational decisions was no longer existent. Her mind, in its befuddled state, could focus only on one objective, sleep. Bimini represented sleep. She must get there.
She applied full throttle to the boat. Finally leapt forward in the water just as a huge swell passed beneath. The awesome power of the swell, combining with the power of the twin inboard motors, lifted the boat and hurled it the last twenty yards to the shore. The boat was actually airborne when it hit land. The force carried the boat onto the island. Finally came to rest four yards from the waterline.
Vivian was tossed to and fro like a limp ragdoll. The safety belt was all that prevented her from being tossed through the window and into the water, where drowning would have been inevitable.
Her first moment of awareness came as the result of something moving on her face. It started at her hairline, then trickled down her forehead, across the bridge of her nose and was now curving under her eye. She lifted her hand to her eye. Why was it so painful to raise her hand and arm, she wondered. She touched the spot below her eye and felt a warm, sticky liquid.
I must call Consolata, she thought, there must be a leak in the ceiling above my bed. Maintenance needs to be made aware of this problem. She reached for the phone next to her bed. She felt a sharp jabbing pain as she reached for the telephone. Something is wrong with my arm, she thought. I must wake up. She forced her eyes to open as far as thin slits, then shut them tightly again. Why was it so bright in her bedroom, she wondered. Did I sleep until midday? Later?
She slowly forced one eye open, then the other. She was looking down at her lap. Why was there glass on her lap? Why was she sleeping in Havens’ horrible green jacket? She slowly raised her head. It hurt to lift her neck. She wasn’t in bed. Where was she? Terrible confusion engulfed her as she focused on the shattered and tilted windows in front of her. She forced her mind to think. Slowly she began to remember. The flight to Miami and waving goodbye to Havens standing on the dock. Then like a torrent, her mind was flooded with the recollection of last night’s events.
She moved. She winced with the pain. Her mind was still cloudy, but she at least realized where she was. She was in the wheelhouse of the cruiser Finally, her father’s old boat. She very carefully loosened the safety belt. She placed one foot on the uneven deck of the boat, and braced herself with her arms. She then slid out of the chair, placing her other foot on the tilted floor. Her knees gave way, forcing her arms to bear all her weight. She grimaced and moaned with the pain.
She repositioned her feet, and mercifully, her legs provided support this time. She looked over the side of the beached boat. She was on a very small island of sand and limestone. Toward the center of the island, only fifty yards distant, was a small stand of a dozen palm trees. She realized she must get to the palm trees. Perhaps there was water there. All the water she had gathered last night was lost in the beaching. Pots were scattered and upturned on the deck, some near her feet and some gleamed on the rocks below while others were caught in the surf, banging against the rocks like drums.
With great pain, she managed to slip one leg over the side of the boat. She shifted her weight, lost her balance and fell four feet to the beach below, landing on her stomach and face. She screamed in agony when the sharp limestone rocks gashed her exposed hands and face. She lay motionless for fifteen minutes, then with great caution, she raised herself to a kneeling position. She remained kneeling for two minutes, then bracing herself with one hand on the lopsided boat, she regained her feet.
Her head was spinning, her vision was blurred and her thirst was almost unbearable. She staggered away from the boat and toward the palm trees. She took steps hastily, the rocks and sand shifted below her feet and her ankles could barely take her weight. Two steps, then rest. Repeat. It required a full half hour and four falls for her to reach the palms. She reached the edge of the palms and fell for the fifth time. The jagged shade patterned her blood-crusted, sand speckled face. She rested in the shadows from the intense glare of the sun.
In time she crawled toward the center of the palms. She fought for consciousness. Her mind played tricks on her. Her thoughts were running wild. Philip Tracy’s voice entered her mind. She heard him call her name. It sounded peculiar, like a recording. Yes, now she remembered. He was leaving a message on her voicemail. It was last night. She wondered what he wanted. She should have picked up.
She crawled into the center of the trees. She smiled, Providence still blessed her. There in a small depression in the limestone was a basin of water. Her mind fogged with pain as she crawled toward the gleaming liquid. As she crawled she thought she saw a breastplate near the water. An ancient Spanish breastplate. Curiously, it appeared to have a skeleton in it. The skeleton of a very small child. How could that be? She must be hallucinating. Thirst overcame her uncertainty.
She was close to passing out when she reached the water.
Can’t lose consciousness, she thought, I will die if I do. Must drink water, drink all that I can hold, else I will dehydrate and die.
Consciousness was rapidly fading as she cupped her hands and reached for the water.
Garner Havens stood quietly on the private dock, daylight shining down on him where he stood next to Vivian’s collection of boats. He was concerned. Vivian was due back eight hours ago. She had been explicit with him as to her time of return. He knew Vivian too well to believe that she had made an eight hour mistake. Not Vivian. This was a lady who divided her day into ten minute increments.
Marlene was not back either. She must be doing her vacation up right, he thought to himself. Well I’m not waiting any longer. It’s time to do something. He walked back to the car, having commandeered the rental vehicle from the airport during his stay, then drove to a payphone in the marina office.
“Good morning, Ms. VanArp’s office. This is Holly Parker, may I help you?”
“Holly, this is Garner Havens.”
“Hi, Garner.” Holly’s answer was somewhat flirtatious. He hadn’t heard her voice in a long while and he smiled now to hear it.
“How are you?” she asked.
“Not doing so well, Holly. I’m in Miami and Vivian is missing.”
“Missing?” Holly grew serious. “I don’t understand, Garner. What do you mean, ‘missing’?”
“She left on the cruiser night before last and has not returned. She was due back around midnight last night. She planned on being back home by now.”
“Yes,” Holly added. “She has a 10:00 a.m. appointment with Ed Foster this morning concerning some island she wants to buy down there—”
“What island? What are you talking about?”
“She faxed me a map and told me to have Ed buy the island, no matter what the cost.”
“Holly,” there was urgency in Havens’ voice. “Can you fax me a copy of the map?”
“Sure. What is the fax number?”
“Hold on a minute. I’ll get it.”
Havens set aside the phone and went to the desk.
“What is your fax number?” he asked the attendant.
The attendant scribbled the number on a piece of paper and handed it to Havens. Havens returned to the phone and gave the number to Holly.
“Please stay on the line until I have the fax,” he requested of Holly. In less than two minutes the fax was in his hands.
“Holly, please call the airport and authorize the rental of a helicopter for me. I am going to look for her.”
“Shouldn’t we call the Coast Guard?”
“No. Vivian wouldn’t want the media attention. I can do it. If I can’t find her. . .”
“I’ll go to work on the helicopter right away, Garner. By the time you get to the airport it will be taken care of. Good luck.”
“Thanks, Holly. You’re one in a million.” He hung up and ran back to the car.
Before afternoon Havens was in the air. His ground speed was about one hundred and ten miles per hour. He was bucking a slight head wind. Good, he thought, this head wind will become a tailwind on the return trip. If she is hurt, that will give us a little extra to get home with.
He’d studied the map before taking off. He had memorized the coordinates. He expected to be at “Beniny,” the location named on the map, in approximately fifteen minutes. That would allow him about an hour’s search time in the air before he would need to start back.
He scanned the horizon. He was about fourteen minutes out. He noticed a very small island off to the port side a few miles distant. He aimed the helicopter toward the shadow and dropped to five hundred feet altitude. As he approached he slowed his air speed and prepared to circle the island. There was no need. He saw the boat on his first pass. He came around in a tight circle and again approached the beached boat from the rear. He hovered the craft and raised his binoculars to his eyes. With a sick feeling deep inside, he read aloud the name of the boat.
Havens sat the aircraft town about twenty yards from Finally. He jumped from the copter and ran to the boat, stumbling from sand to rocks. He looked frantically for Vivian. She was nowhere to be seen among the jumbled debris. He walked around the skewed boat. Nothing. Then he noticed some small drops of blood on the limestone where the surf had not touched. There was a trail of blood drops leading to the trees in the center of the island. He ran toward the trees. He feared the worst. Had Vivian seen him, she surely would have come to the copter.
He entered the trees with an ever-increasing sense of foreboding. He pulled up short. His eyes located something on the ground. Something familiar. He felt a lump in his throat. His vision blurred. He moved forward slowly until he could read the word “Gar” on the green rain jacket lying at his feet in the shade of the palms.
What he saw next caused him to question his sanity. In the green rain jacket was a baby, perhaps six to eight months old. His mind blurred. How could a baby have gotten on this island? Could someone have abandoned their baby? Could those who abandoned the baby have taken Vivian?
He stood transfixed for what seemed an eternity. Finally his thoughts cleared and he chastised himself for wasting precious time in this pointless contemplation. The realization burst on his conciseness that he must get the baby back to the mainland as soon as possible. He bent town and carefully examined the baby. It was a little girl. He saw no signs of trauma. No cuts. Not even a bruise. Most importantly she was breathing. The breaths were short and shallow. It was obvious to even the untrained eye that the child was in deep distress. However, he did feel great relief to know that the baby was still alive. He quickly wrapped the rain jacket around the baby. With much apprehension, he tenderly lifted the bundle.
With tears clouding his eyes, he turned in the direction of the helicopter and in so doing, his foot caught on something partially buried in the ground. He looked down. It was tarnished and yet it still glistened in the sun. It looked like a breastplate. A breastplate for a Spanish soldier.
On Board a Spanish Caravel
The wind in its anger, after flinging black clouds across an enraged sky, descended and savagely tore at the rigging of the ship, attempting by force to rip the very masts from the deck and cast them into the turbulent waters of the bay. As if it had a premonition of impending disaster, the caravel, in a desperate attempt to escape, strained at the confines imposed by its anchor. The waters of the bay, whipped to a frenzy by the antagonism of the wind, flayed the sides of the ship with fury, casting a blanket of spray onto the deck.
The spray whipped his face with a thousand stinging barbs. Yet he took no notice. The anger of the elements, so evident in this night’s blackness, paled by the comparison to the rage which he harbored within himself. The caravel rocked beneath his booted feet. His legs, planted firmly in the stance of a seasoned sailor compensated far more effectively for the fury without, than his mind could compensate for the fury within. He had once again captained a ship safely to this harbor. He took no consolation from that feat. Conversely it only served to intensify the rage that had been his constant companion for the past year.
His mind traveled back to another night in this same harbor. Another night, years ago, when he made the fatal error of extending a gentleman’s trust to a godless savage. This single act of trust, offered in the interest of peace, caused him more personal agony than all the battles he had ever fought.
“We shall win a great victory tomorrow, Captain.” The words interrupted his thoughts. Juan Perez de Ortubio remained silent for a long moment as he stifled his anger and contemplated the words of his first officer. Finally with the patience gained of maturity and the caution gained from experience, he responded.
“I do not share your optimism, Mendosa. I have faced those savages before. They are fierce fighters and there is no match for their diabolical cunning and deception. Tomorrow’s battle will not be so easily won.”
Ortubio’s mind flashed back five years. He had stood on the deck of another caravel and surveyed these very shores. There was a full moon that night, and its light illuminated the canoes of the Indians as they made their way back to land.
Another individual stood at his side that night. A woman. An Indian woman. She had been left as a token of peace by those who departed in the canoes. She was the sister of the great chief Calus. Ortubio cursed his memory of that night, condemning it to an eternity in hell.
“You appear disturbed.” Mendosa’s comment was both statement and question.
Ortubio did not want to continue the conversation. His hatred seethed and his insatiable desire for vengeance turned with increased intensity as each moment passed. Mendosa was a good first office and Ortubio did not want to allow his answer to erupt at Mendosa. He concluded the conversation with an order.
“Go below and insure that the men are ready for tomorrow’s engagement.”
Mendosa departed and Ortubio continued to feed his desire for vengeance. The woman’s Indian name had been difficult for his Spaniard’s tongue, so he gave her a name born of his own romance language: Antonia. Antonia Perez de Ortubio Yes he had even given the woman his family name.
She had remained, as a member of his family, until a year ago. Then she disappeared. Disappeared after murdering his wife, his only son, and two of his three daughters.
Ortubio fingered the hilt of his dagger. He yearned for the opportunity to put its blade into her throat. The desire for revenge had all but consumed him this past year. His hunger for retribution had driven him to volunteer for the captaincy of this ship when he learned of its destination and purpose.
His mind wandered back even farther into the past. Twenty years back. The autumn of 1513. He was captain of the Santiago, Juan Ponce de Leon’s flagship. He had anchored the Santiago offshore of a very small, uninhabited island. He had gone ashore with the ship’s navigator, Anton de Alaminos, and the two Taino Indian guides. The Tainos, before signing on the voyage as guides, had insisted they be allowed to practice their heathen religious rites. They had brought with them two dogs, which were to be sacrificed to their gods on the occasion of a full moon. This was their purpose for going ashore. When Ortubio refused the Tainos request to go ashore alone, they reluctantly agreed to allow Ortubio and Alaminos to accompany them. The crew remained on board the Santiago. Ortubio recalled in vivid detail that particular night. He and Alaminos had beached the longboat and made their way toward the center of the island to a stand of palm trees while the Tainos struggled behind them with the two dogs.
When they reached the trees, they found in the center of the stand, a small basin of water in the limestone. As the Tainos reached the trees the dogs broke their restraints, bounded to the basin and began to lap water as if their thirst were a week old.
Ortubio recalled with a shudder the initial disbelief and then the paralyzing fear that engulfed him at what happened next. As he observed the dogs lapping the water, they began to change before his very eyes. They both appeared to become younger. Their physical sizes even changed. The larger of the two grew smaller and smaller until he was nothing more than a pup again.
Ortubio rubbed his eyes and shook his head to clear his mind. He must be mistaken. The night and the deep shadows must be deceiving his eyes. He could not have witnessed what he thought he had. He turned to Alaminos to reestablish reality. He was not successful.
Alaminos was wild-eyed. He was making the sign of the cross again and again. All color had drained from his face, adding to the ghostly pallor created by the full moon. He was frantically reciting the Hail Mary.
The two Tainos had fallen to their knees and, with hands clasped and eyes raised to the full moon, were in a near state of hysteria as they babbled heathen incantations. They wailed and moaned and their entire frames shook uncontrollably with fear. Ortubio looked again at the dogs to confirm what he feared. His eyes had not deceived him. It was true. He fell back against a palm tree, the breath expelling from his lungs, and fear as he had never experience it before overwhelmed him. The firm, immovable strength of the tree seemed to provide some support for his attempt to regain control. He fought for command of his thoughts. He reached for the gold cross hanging around his neck and held it as a shield between him and the water.
“What devil’s work is this?” he asked aloud, as he slowly backed away from the trees, keeping the cross between him and the basin. With his free hand, he reached to remove his dagger from its scabbard. As his fingers closed around its hilt he was knocked to the ground. The two Tainos had regained their feet and were running at full speed for the longboat.
He rose to his feet and shook his head to clear his thoughts. As his mind regained clarity, he realized that should the Tainos reach the longboat they would put out and he and Alaminos would be stranded on this bewitched piece of hell. He turned toward the trees and saw Alaminos backing slowly away, still making the sign of the cross and muttering prayers. He grabbed Alaminos by the arm and shouted in his ear.
“To the boat, quickly, run, run!” He physically turned Alaminos and pushed him in the direction of the longboat. He shouted again. “To the boat, to the boat!”
The two Spaniards ran for the boat as fast as their legs would carry them. The Tainos had already reached the longboat and were pushing it into the ocean when Ortubio and Alaminos arrived. They leapt into the boat, grabbed the oars and turned the bow toward the Santiago. The Tainos still reciting incantations to the moon, cowered in the stern.
Ortubio prowled the deck of the Santiago for hours after the incident on the island. He wanted to be out to sea and away from this evil pace, but the Santiago lay becalmed, waiting for the morning breeze. His constant vigilance on deck had identified nothing new happening on the island that would cause any addition alarm. Finally he retired to his cabin.
Once in his cabin, he had rehearsed for the hundredth time the events of the night. His mind went over and over the experience. He cursed his decision to not take a priest with him on this voyage. Ponce de Leon had offered the priest from his own ship when he had dispatched him and Alaminos to find Beniny and the Fountain of Youth. He declined the offer as he feared a confrontation between the priest and the Tainos.
Ortubio bolted upright from his reclining position. His mind suddenly filled with understanding.
“Fools,” he thought to himself, “How can we be so ignorant? The very thing we search for is given to us and we run from it like cowering peasants!” He rushed from his cabin, shouting for Alaminos.
Alaminos had been fitfully sleeping on deck, clutching a cross and drifting in and out of prayers of supplication for protection. He jumped to his feet at the sound of his name, dread and fear returning to him again.
“Here,” he responded with great apprehensiveness.
Ortubio ran to him and grabbed his arm.
“Quickly, to my cabin. Be silent.”
The two of them hurried to Ortubio’s cabin and closed the door behind them. Ortubio spoke in hushed whisper.
“Anton we are fools and cowards. The water that the dogs lapped, that is the Fountain for which we search. That is the Fountain of Youth. That is why the dogs became pups again when they drank the water.”
Alaminos appeared stupefied and unable to grasp the significance of Ortubio’s words. Ortubio grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him. He repeated his previous words. Finally, a slow grin spread over Alaminos’ face.
“Can it be true? What we saw is not the work of the devil, but the Fountain for which we search?”
“Yes, Anton, it is the Fountain. We have found it.”
“We must tell the others, Juan.”
“No!” Ortubio grabbed his arm firmly. “No. Do you remember how small the basin was? There is not enough to go around. We can tell no one. Not even Ponce de Leon.”
“Yes, you are right, of course. We must keep it our secret,” Alaminos agreed, his mind still reeling from Ortubio’s revelation.
“Anton, we must return to the island immediately and secure a supply of the water. Go get two empty water casks, while I prepare the small boat.”
Ortubio’s reverie was broken as Mendosa returned from his inspection. The first officer reported that the men were well prepared for tomorrow’s efforts. The men were in good spirits and anxious to be about the work of taming these heathen savages. Ortubio responded with an appropriate acknowledgement of Mendosa’s report, and dismissed him.
Ortubio continued his reminiscence. His thoughts returned to the Fountain. He and Anton de Alaminos had gone ashore and filled to casks with the miraculous water. Ortubio stationed a soldier on the island with food and water for a month. He told the soldier nothing of the Fountain, only that he was not to drink of it. He promised to return. He never did. Political animosity between Ponce de Leon and the son of Christopher Columbus prevented him from doing so.
Over the ensuing years, Ortubio’s family benefited greatly from the water, as did the wife and son of Alaminos. The secret of the water remained secure with the two families. The certainty that the existence of the water would remain a secret was assured by the marriage of the son of Alaminos and the eldest daughter of Ortubio.
His mind was suddenly forced back to the present as the spray once again sought to torture his bare skin with a furious assault over the rail of the caravel’s command deck, launching an attack on his exposed face. Once again the ferocity of the attack was turned aside by his impenetrable defense of seething hate.
Ortubio’s hatred drove his thoughts back to approximately one year ago at his home in Puerto Rico. He and his family lay stricken with a mysterious illness. Perhaps something he contracted on a recent trip. It had come suddenly. They were near death. He had only enough strength to summon Antonia to his bedside.
He told her of the location of the water and asked her to bring it to him. She knew nothing of its power or even of its existence, he thought. He had exercised extreme caution whenever he and his family had used the water. If he could only apply the water now, he would save his family.
His anger burned as he recalled what happened next. Antonia entered the room carrying the cask of miraculous water. She set the cask on the floor on the far side of the room. A smile spread across her face. A smile too wide and so cheerful with the gloom of misery around her; the expression could only be described as evil.
As Orbutio watched, Antonia dipped a small sponge in the water, raised it to her face and squeezed several drops into each eye. A sadistic laugh rolled from her lips as decades of age fell away with amazing swiftness. In an instant she was no longer an ancient hag of a woman. She was a young Indian Maiden of incredible beauty. Hair, the color of a raven’s wing, fell in shimmering waves of effervescent beauty as it cascaded to her waist. Coal black eyes, wide set in her bronzed face were as piercing as an assassin’s dagger.
She lowered her head and fixed a cruel and heartless gaze directly on Ortubio. Her face contorted with intense hatred. A sinister laugh burst forth from her lips. She stood with feet widespread and hands on her hips, her very body posture mocking him. She remained so until she was certain that he understood what was happening, then she slowly bent to retrieve the cask, all the while keeping her stare locked on his face. She did not break her gaze as if she wanted to enjoy every expression of astonishment and fear that crossed his face.
She stood erect and placed the cask on her shoulder. She stood motionless, relishing the pain carved in his face. Then, very slowly, she turned, maintaining her fixed stare on Ortubio as long as she could physically do so. She savored his scream of anguish as she left the room.
Ortubio survived. He was discovered by his oldest daughter as he was near death. She retrieved some water from Alaminos in time to save him. It was too late for the rest of the family.
He had searched for Antonia for the past year, finally learning that she had returned to her heathen home. When he learned of the Governor’s planned expedition against the Calusa Indians, he sought and gained a captaincy of one of the vessels.
He cursed the night he agreed to take Antonia into his family. His hatred devoured him. Tomorrow he thought, tomorrow God will grant me justice. I shall yet put the point of my dagger through her heathen throat.
She stood on the wave-tossed shore and watched as the warriors, knives clenched between their teeth silently slipped into the ruffled waters of the bay and began their laborious swim toward the three Spanish ships in the harbor. She was an extraordinarily beautiful woman. Yet her raven hair and coal black eyes served only to create a façade. A façade which only partially concealed what an admirer intuitively knew to be in her heart. Hatred and greed. Deeply self-serving, Antonia could finally extract her revenge.
She smiled to herself as she continued her observance of the warriors stealthily approaching the ships. She knew that Ortubio was on the nearest ship. Soon her assassins will complete their task and he will be dead. The thought of his death brought great satisfaction to her. He escaped death from the poison she had administered to his family. But this time, she thought, he will not escape. She would have revenge on the man that had taken her from her home and made her serve him, forced her to worship his god and was little more than a demon. She had thought he and his family possessed of evil spirits until she learned the truth of their never ageing. She knew then, that it had to be her secret. The legend that had passed down through ages of her tribe and others had a vein of truth to it. With possession of the white man’s knowledge she understood better now. It was not the gods who turned men young, but special water.
With the death of Ortubio, she knew of only two others who had knowledge of the location of the magic water. Anton de Alaminos and his grandson, Pedro Juan Xavier de Alaminos. Even Ortubio did not know that she had sent her assassins to deal with his oldest daughter and her husband. She had instructed them to not harm the boy or his grandfather, but bring them to her. They must be dealt with differently. They possessed knowledge of the whereabouts of the water. Alaminos would reveal the location to her. To spare the boy the slow and excruciatingly painful death her merciless knife could bring. She would allow them both to live until she had gained the secret.
She had plenty of time to persuade them to reveal the location of the magic water. She had enough of the magic water to last her for hundreds of years. The faint whisper of a smile touched the corners of her full, round mouth as the warriors reached the dark side of Ortubio’s ship. Her anticipation of Ortubio’s death bordered on rapture as she observed the silent climb of the assassins to the deck of the hated Spanish ship.
Orbutio was so consumed with anger and hatred he did not hear the soft steps of bare feet as the Calusa warriors approached him from behind.
Return with Baby
Just as he had done hundreds of times previously in Viet Nam, Garner Havens set the helicopter down with the skill of a seasoned pilot. This time, however, rather than landing in a rice paddy he was at the Miami airport and rather than the staccato fire of enemy machine guns, he was greeted by the wail of an ambulance siren.
The ambulance had barely come to a halt when two paramedics jumped from the vehicle and ran to the copter, wheeling a gurney between them. Their presence was the result of Havens’ radio contact with Miami concerning his discovery of the child. The child was in trauma. That was a certainty. A desperate attempt to save the life of the child compelled him to radio the request for medical attention. In addition to the ambulance, a police car also awaited his arrival.
Havens shut down the copter. The paramedics were already examining the child as he stepped to the landing pad for the second time. He’d passed the child to them at the first, wanting her to have attention as soon as possible.
“Mr. Havens, may we speak with you for a moment?”
Havens turned in the direction of the voice. One of the two uniformed officers exiting the police car had spoken the request.
“Certainly, how may I help?”
“I’m Officer Elias Fant,” the younger of the two spoke, “and this is Officer Esteban Regole. We would like to ask you a few questions concerning the baby which you . . .” the officer paused for a moment to accentuate his next word, “allegedly found on some deserted island.”
Havens turned his full gaze on the police officer. He was young, perhaps mid-twenties. Obviously brash and self-centered. In spite of the pilot’s distress at not finding Vivian and his shock at discovering the baby, a slight smile played on Havens’ face. His amusement at the officer’s egocentric attitude was evident. Havens had met many such individuals during his travels. His reaction was always the same: amusement.
“That’s right, Officer, I found the baby on a small deserted cay.”
“How do you think the child came to be on the cay?”
“I have no idea.”
“You will need to accompany us to headquarters. Detective Sergeant Spencer wants to continue your questioning.”
The statement was made with an obvious element of smug superiority.
The amusement slowly left Havens’ face. His steel-grey eyes fixed a cold stare on Officer Fant. The officer’s face began to color under the intense scrutiny of Havens’ stare. Fant became uncomfortable. He fidgeted. He realized he was losing control of the situation. He began to fume inwardly. How could a man’s stare cause him such discomfort? He became angry with himself. He opened his mouth to speak, to impose his authority on Havens.
“What Officer Fant means,” interjected Officer Regole, “is would you please accompany us to headquarters to fill out a report on the circumstances surrounding your discovery of the child?”
Officer Regole, recognizing the tense situation, extended a more palatable invitation, and in so doing, avoided an embarrassing confrontation. A confrontation that could only have ended in extreme discomfort for Fant.
A slight smile again played on Havens’ lips. He removed his stare from Fant and fixed his eyes on Regole.
“Absolutely! I will be glad to assist in any way I can, Officer. But first, I would like to determine the condition of the baby. Please excuse me for a moment. I will be right back.”
Havens turned and walked the few feet to the ambulance as the paramedics placed the now-collapsed gurney with the baby on board. In response to his question as to the welfare of the girl, one of the paramedics turned and faced Havens. “The baby is in very serious condition due to hours of exposure. However, I am cautiously hopeful. Contact the hospital if you want any more information.”
“Thank you,” Havens said. “I know you will do your best.”
He felt a slight ray of hope for the baby.
The ride to the police station was undertake in total silence. Havens was deep in thought. He asked himself the same questions that he had asked a dozen or more times during the flight back from the cay. Where was Vivian? How did a child come to be on the cay? Why was the child clothed in his old fight jacket? Had Vivian seen the child before she disappeared?
Havens recalled his conversation with Holly earlier that day. Why did Vivian want to purchase that seemingly worthless bit of godforsaken real estate?
The police car pulled to a stop in front of the station, and all three men exited. Fant was still smarting from the encounter with Havens at the airport. His attitude, however, reflected a growing self-confidence as he gained home court advantage of familiar turf. Fant once again attempted to console his bruised ego by issuing directives to Havens. However, before he could speak, an observant Officer Regole, anticipating Fant’s intent, once again intervened.
“Up the stairs and to your right please, Mr. Havens. We need you to fill out a written account of what happened this morning before you see the detective sergeant. Just follow me.”
“Thank you.” Havens had developed a sixth sense during his three tours of duty in Southeast Asia. He knew instinctively that the attitude of Fant, was reflective of the attitude of Fant’s superior. He prepared himself for a difficult time. He was correct.
Detective Sergeant Spencer was not a nice man. He was in his early fifties, balding, overweight and evidently unhappy with life. He stubbed out the stump of his cigar into a dirty overfilled ashtray. His small eyes peered across the relatively bare desk from under bushy eyebrows.
“One more time, Havens, where is the island and why were you on it? The only scum that visits those deserted islands are drug runners.”
The insinuation was obvious, yet no more obvious than it was an hour earlier when Spencer had spat it across the desk for the first time. This was after Havens filled out a written account of his doings
Drugs on the cay? Havens had thought to himself.
Now having spent some time with Spencer, Havens realized the man was not even going to focus on the infant. Spencer appeared to have a preoccupation with the cay and its location, and only peripheral interest in the child. That bothered Havens. He had the feeling that all the cards were not on the table.
His concern grew. Vivian was lost, certainly in trouble as evidenced by the wrecked boat, and he was wasting time listening to Spencer make ridiculous insinuations. His patience wore thin. It was time for action.
“Sergeant, I would like to make a phone call. May I use the public phone in the hallway?”
Spencer smiled inwardly. He had him now. Havens was frightened. He was running for cover of an attorney. Spencer’s self-satisfaction spawned a quality totally foreign to him, generosity.
“Yes, Mr. Havens,” Spencer answered, a huge grin splitting his face. “By all means, please do.” His self-proclaimed generosity then condescended to sarcastic superiority. “There is a list of attorneys at the desk. Or perhaps business has been so good you have one on retainer.”
He smiled broadly in satisfaction at his own wit as Havens exited the room with Officer Regole.
“Holly, this is Garner,” Havens replied to her greeting as she answered the telephone in her office.
“Garner!” That one single word, spoke in relieved excitement by Holly, carried all the meaning and sentiment contained in a hundred expressions of relief. “I was worried sick about you. The airport said you left the helicopter on the landing pad and then you were escorted away by cops. Something about an ambulance too. Are you okay? Where are you? Did you find Vivian?” Holly fired one question after another, not allowing time for Havens to answer any of them. In spite of his ill mood resultant of spending an hour with Spencer, Havens laughed.
“Slow down, Holly, I can’t kept up with you. I’m fine. I still don’t know where Vivian is. I will explain all to you later, but now, I need your help and I need it quickly.” He explained his predicament to her.
“Don’t worry Garner, I will get Ed Foster, our General Counsel, on the phone immediately. Just sit tight.” The confident, take charge, professional attitude that made Holly one in a million came through loud and clear.
Then her voice lowered. The next words were spoken demurely, originating from a long-felt, but never expressed, desire. “Garner, when this is all over, you owe me a dinner. At a restaurant of my choice. Followed by an evening on the town.”
Havens provided a moment of silence. A little surprised, but willing. Then with a soft, quiet tone to convey his sincerity, he responded, “Holly, you just returned purpose to my life.”
He hung up the phone.
She did not. She held the receiver, not wanting the moment to end.
The clock on the wall in Spencer’s office recorded the passage of sixty-three minutes since Havens had made his call. The grilling continued with Havens holding his own against Spencer. He revealed nothing more than what others had seen. He’d rented a helicopter, gone to the cay, and returned with a child. He did not reveal his purpose for the flight. Spencer had already made up his mind and had Havens even attempted to claim he’d operated the aircraft for pleasure or practice, the man would not have listened.
Havens had tried to avoid mentioning Vivian during the interrogation. She would want to avoid the attention that drugs, kidnapped and abandoned babies and her own reckless driving would have brought on her. As soon as Havens got out of the police station, he would start his search for her once again.
“Looks like your attorney ain’t going to make it, Havens,” Spencer taunted. His intense pleasure was evident.
The words had barely escaped his mouth when the door to his office was thrown open. A police captain stormed into the room. His eyes fixed on Havens. He motioned for Regole and Fant, who had been stationed outside the door, to follow him into the room.
“Cap’n, we got us a drug dealer who is using a cay for hiding drugs—”
“Shut up, Spencer.” The harsh command from the captain left no doubts in anyone’s mind that he was not happy.
Spencer settled back in his chair, chagrined by the public chastisement.
“Who are you, Mr. Havens?” the captain asked with a mixture of annoyance and bafflement. The captain’s attitude told Havens that Ed Foster had done his job, and done it well.
“Captain, I am nothing more than a nondescript pilot.”
“A pilot, yes, that you are, but certainly not a nondescript one. Mr. Havens, I just received a telephone call from the police commissioner who received a call from the mayor, who received three calls. One from each of our senators in Washington, and one from our congresswoman. None of whom, Mr. Havens, are happy about you being invited here as our guest.”
“I am most surprised about their concern, Captain,” Havens answered in mock amazement. “True, the accommodations are not the best, but,” he turned his eyes on Detective Sargent Spencer and allowed his gaze to bore through the man, “the entertainment has been exceptional.”
Spencer withered under Havens’ gaze. He slipped farther down into the protection of his chair. He attempted to extricate himself with an explanation. “Captain . . . I . . . We . . .”
The captain silenced Spencer with a wave of his hand, “I repeat, Mr. Havens, who are you? Who do you work for? Who has such clout that they can deliver a triple political punch in only two hours?”
“Captain, again, I am a simple pilot.”
“Mr. Havens,” the captain’s voice lowered as if he were taking a friend into his confidence. “In spite of what others may think, we in the Miami Police Department are not all idiots.” He paused and allowed his gaze to shift momentarily in the direction of Spencer, a gesture not wasted as Spencer responded with a deepening shade of red to his face and neck.
The captain continued, “Some of us actually take time to run a check on the individuals that we invite to spend time with us.” Again, an accusing glance aimed in the direction of Spencer.
“You have a phenomenal service record, Mr. Havens: Green Beret, combat pilot, expert in hand-to-hand combat. You have received just about every award, citation, commendation and medal the Army as to offer. The only two I see missing are the Purple Heart and the Congressional Medal of Honor.”
The captain paused. He was troubled and angered by the situation. Havens was obviously someone with connections. The situation was volatile and that idiot Spencer may have lit the fuse.
“Mr. Havens, would you please accompany me?” So saying, he arose and motioned Havens toward the door. As Havens entered the hallway, the captain paused in front of Officer Fant who was stationed by the door.
“Fant, you are new to the force, less than a year, I understand.”
“Yes, Captain. Nine months and seven days, sir,” Fant responded proudly. His sense of self-importance swelling at the captain’s apparent knowledge of him.
“A bit of free advice, Fant,” the captain turned and looked at Spencer, “find yourself a new mentor. One who has some brains.”
He left the room, closing the door loudly.
Once in the hallway, he turned his attention to Havens. He stood transfixed, studying Havens from head to toe, memorizing every minute detail he could. He puzzled mentally about the entire episode involving Havens. Who was he? How had he come by such powerful and influential friends? Friends who just brought down the wrath of the mayor and the police commissioner.
Havens appeared to be genuine. He appeared to be honest. He was tall, slender and apparently in excellent physical condition. He appeared to be an individual who was very capable of taking care of himself.
The captain concluded his examination of Havens and broke the silence as he motioned for Havens to follow him down the hallway toward the entrance to the building. He was told to get the man out of the building, not press charges and halt any investigations surrounding the man while assisting him if he was asked.
“Mr. Havens, my name is Adams, Lee Adams. I apologize for the discourteous actions of Sargent Spencer. Spencer is not typical of our officers in the Miami Police Department.”
Havens smiled. “Apology accepted.”
Adams continued as they walked down the hall. “Mr. Havens, your presence has caused me considerable discomfort this day. A fact about which I am not the least bit happy. Do you understand what I am saying?”
Havens smiled. He did not bother with a verbal response.
Adams did not allow the lack of an answer from Havens to deter him, “Nonetheless, I have been ordered to assist you in any way that I can in your efforts. However, Mr. Havens, I do not have any idea what you are doing. I would recommend leaving Miami if you have no other business here.”
The two men had reached the outside entrance to the building and both stepped into the bright sunlight of a Miami afternoon. Havens squinted against the sun. He turned to face Adams. He felt an instinctive like for the man. Adams impressed Havens as being an honest, professional and thoroughly competent police officer. Havens was not going to give this man a hard time. He would treat Adams as fairly as the man treated him.
“I don’t suppose you could drop me off near the airport?” Havens asked.
“I can do that.”
“You wouldn’t mind getting a cup of coffee on the way, would you?”
“Mr. Havens, I think you owe me a cup of coffee for all that you have put me through this day. We can stop somewhere on the way back to the airport.”
Tracy Becomes Involved
“Good evening. Ms. VanArp’s office, this is Holly Parker, may I help you?”
Holly attempted to answer the telephone as pleasantly as possible in spite of her concerns about Vivian’s unexplainable absence.
“Holly, this is Phil Tracy, is Vivian in? I have been trying to reach her since night before last. She has not returned any of my calls.”
“I’m sorry, Dr. Tracy. Ms. VanArp has not returned from Miami yet. May I assist you in some way?”
“Miami? When did she leave for Miami?”
“She left Monday evening.”
“Holly, it is most important that I speak with her. Do you know where I may reach her?”
Holly knew how close Philip Tracy was to Vivian’s activities and interests and felt no hesitation to confide in him.
“I’m not sure, Dr. Tracy. Marlene and Garner flew Vivian to Miami late Monday night. Immediately after landing at the airport, she had Garner drive her to the marina. She left the marina in the cruiser around 2:00 a.m. Tuesday. She told Garner she would be back around midnight.
“She did not return at midnight. When she failed to return by 8:00 a.m. this morning, Garner called and asked me to arrange the use of a helicopter for him. Which I did. Garner then conducted a search and located the wreckage of the boat. It was beached on a small island. Ms. VanArp, however was nowhere to be found. I’m very concerned, Dr. Tracy, I fear something has happened to her.”
“Why didn’t I hear about this sooner?”
“We’ve been keeping it quiet. We feel Ms. VanArp would not want the media attention, but I don’t know how much longer we can do this. It doesn’t feel right.”
“Where was she going at 2:00 a.m. in a boat?” Tracy’s voice betrayed his own apprehensiveness.
“We believe she was going to some small island off the west coast of Florida. Ms. VanArp phoned me late Monday night just before she departed and left instructions for Mr. Foster to purchase a particular island no matter what the cost and she wanted him to do so first thing yesterday morning. She was going to meet with him about it today.”
“Does Foster know why she wants the island?”
“No! Mr. Foster knows nothing about the island. He’s got his mind on other legal matters too, by-the-way, in case Ms. VanArp. . .” Holly did not want to finish the thought. Vivian had to return.
“I don’t understand,” Tracy said. “Monday morning Vivian handed me a substance which has proved to be a major breakthrough in our work here at the hospital and now she’s disappeared? I know she will be ecstatic about the results of my tests! Why would she choose this time to go to Miami?”
“It gets stranger, Dr. Tracy. Garner found—wait, I better start earlier. I’ll tell you why Ms. VanArp went to Miami.”
While Tracy had little time to spend gossiping, he was intrigued by this mystery Holly was presenting to him.
“Tom Hendricks told me that Vivian had him research the history and location of some island. Probably the one she went to visit.”
“The same one on which Garner found the wreckage?”
“I don’t know. Possibly—but that isn’t the strange part, Dr. Tracy. What is even more peculiar is some of the other research Vivian had Mr. Hendricks do!”
“Research on one of Ponce de Leon’s ships and an island which legend suggest is the location of Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth!”
Tracy was silent as he attempted to digest Holly’s words. His mind reviewed his last contacts with Vivian. Her visit to the hospital Monday morning, her apparent displeasure with the summons the previous night to the hospital bedside of an old woman, and Vivian’s obvious annoyance with Mark Braden during their meeting. Tracy reviewed in his mind the discussion of the death of the woman who worked for Vivian, and the apparent confusion as to her age. He recalled walking with Vivian to the limo. He did not, however, recall any conversation about an island, or Ponce de Leon, and certainly nothing about a fictitious Fountain of Youth.
He continued to mull, silently going over each of the events one more time. Could this trip have something to do with the water contained in the syringe which she had given him? He was still in a state of shock concerning the astounding results of the tests he had performed on the dogs. He had left numerous messages for Vivian in her personal study at home since he’d conducted those test. Now Vivian had disappeared, and her boat nothing more than a wreckage. Finding the source of the water in the syringe was seemingly less important.
What had become of Vivian? Why had she traveled alone to an island in such a hurry? He thought about Hendricks’ research. Had Vivian believed the water came from some Fountain of Youth? Could she actually believe such a preposterous fairy tale? His logic argued against the possibility of such nonsense. On the other hand he was very much aware of her obsession with discovering the secret to eternal youth. What if she did believe the Fountain of Youth legend? If so, did she think the location of the Fountain was on this mysterious island? Was her early morning boating trip an attempt to secure some more of the water? Either way, she’d met with an accident in the effort.
“I haven’t even gotten to the mysterious part,” Holly was saying. “While Garner was searching the wreckage, he found, well, something puzzling.”
“Well?” Tracy asked.
“Garner went looking for Vivian, but he couldn’t find any trace of her. This will be difficult to believe, Dr. Tracy, but Garner found a baby girl on the deserted island. No one else but this baby. According to him the baby appeared only a few months old. Garner didn’t find anyone else on the cay or how she could have gotten there. Maybe Vivian picked her up somewhere or found her first. Garner found the baby wrapped up in his flight jacket. The one he’d put on Vivian only a few hours earlier. That doesn’t explain where Vivian is, or was. Does this make any sense to you?”
Tracy had fallen silent. How could this be? Could someone have happened upon the wreck and kidnapped Vivian? Perhaps Holly explanation was backward. Maybe someone else had gone ashore with the baby and found Vivian. Perhaps they had recognized Vivian as a person of means and had decided to hold her hostage for ransom. Would they have left the child wrapped in the flight jacket to prove that they had taken Vivian? But why do that? Why endanger a child’s life? Why not just send the jacket to VanArp Corporate Offices along with a ransom note? None of this made any sense.
“Dr. Tracy, are you there?”
“Yes, Holly, I’m sorry, I’m just lost in thought. Is Garner still in Miami?”
“Yes! He was at the police station a few hours ago. He was being questioned about the child. He brought her back to the mainland but was brought in after giving the baby to paramedics. Ed Foster made some calls to Washington to obtain his release. Garner called me right after he got back to his hotel room and he is to call me again this later this evening. Do you want me to give him a message?”
“No, no. I was just curious as to his efforts to locate Vivian. Holly, I need some time to think this through. Please call me at the hospital if there are any further developments.”
“I will certainly do so, Dr. Tracy. Goodbye.”
Philip Tracy slowly lowered the telephone handset to its cradle. He was puzzled and very worried. Something had happened to Vivian without a doubt. But what? Death, kidnapping, or some other nefarious deed? To drop everything and leave was not at all like Vivian. Nor to end up disappearing, whether on purpose or not, although he believed her quite capable of hiding herself away if she wished for seclusion.
Tracy turned from the telephone and left his office. He made his way down the hallway and sought the familiar confines of his laboratory. He did his best thinking there. Especially afterhours when everyone else had gone home for the evening. This was his favorite time.
As he made his way to the laboratory, he drew some comfort from the fact that Garner Havens was involved in the search efforts. Tracy had come to know Havens quite well when the man was employed by VanArp Enterprises. He had a great deal of confidence in Havens. If anyone could find Vivian or—Good Lord—her remains, it would be him.
Tracy entered the laboratory to the familiar greetings of his test dogs. They barked happily at his entrance, anticipating a treat.
Tracy went through the motions of feeding the dogs, but his mind was a confusion of thought. He moved as if in a daze, thinking of scenario after scenario, rejecting each as a probable answer to Vivian’s whereabouts. He felt something cold and wet on his hand as he fed the dogs. Startled, he broke from his thoughts and looked down as an exuberant puppy licked his hand in gratitude for this latest meal. In spite of his concerns, Tracy smiled.
“Well, little guy,” Tracy affectionately spoke to the puppy, “you have a new lease on life haven’t you? Why just the other day you were a full grown dog, and now, here you are a puppy again. Lucky for you Vivian had some of that special water.”
Tracy’s mind went blank. He became numb. The bucket of dry dog food fell from his grasp. It landed at his feet, scattering its contents in every direction, some chunks rolling under the cabinets. The dogs barked in excitement. Tracy clenched the metal bars of the nearest cage to steady himself. He paid little attention to the dog on the other side that licked his fingers. His face was ashen. His vision blurred and his breath came in short gasps.
He stood motionless for several moments. He desperately tried to regain control and dismiss the horrible possibility which his mind had conjured.
“Is it possible?” His voice was shaken and barely audible as he asked the question aloud. The dog in front of him tilted its head. “No! No, I can’t draw that conclusion! I don’t know enough at this time to reach that conclusion!” He attempted to reassure himself with denial of the possibility. Yet this denial was not powerful enough to push from his mind the vision of Monday evening’s happenings. Of the dog lapping the water and then physically regressing to the size of a puppy.
Tracy’s mind pictured Vivian, shipwrecked, injured and thirsty, crawling on hands and knees across a sun-scorched island in search of life-sustaining water. Then finding the water, not just any water, but rather finding the source of the same water contained in the syringe.
He envisioned her ingesting great gulps of the water to satisfy her searing thirst. He shuddered as his mind contemplated the effect on her body as her digestive system synergistically magnified the effects of the water. He could see her body changing size, each cell rapidly regressing backward to a former condition. The excess cellular mass of the adult body being discharged in the form of energy until regression was completed and all that remained was the body of a baby.
The doctor repeated the thought in his brain: within minutes of ingesting the water, Vivian’s body would have completed the regression process. A process that would have reduced her physically active and mobile adult body to that of an infant. A body that was incapable of forward or lateral movement, incapable of seeking shelter from the elements, incapable of finding relief from the searing heat of the sun. Under such conditions in a matter of a short few hours, death would be inevitable.
Tracy found enough strength in his legs to shuffle his way to a nearby lab table and slump into a chair. He fought for control of his thoughts and emotions. He was shocked and deeply saddened at the possibility of such happening to Vivian. He genuinely cared for her. In spite of her abrasive method of handling others he had on occasion caught a glimpse of an entirely different person beneath her exterior.
Tracy sat in silence for several minutes. His methodical mind gradually regained control of his emotions. As his thinking cleared, he once again reviewed all the possibilities that could be responsible for creating the current situation: from kidnappings, to secret lovers, to running away, to death, and finally to the Fountain.
His mind began to explore the ramifications that would result from Vivian’s regression or death, if she had in fact died or regressed. How would the estate be handled? Who would run VanArp Enterprises? There were no other family members. No wonder Ed Foster had his hands full. There was no body to prove that Vivian had even died. No body other than the baby’s body. And who would believe the incredible story that proclaimed the Fountain of Youth to be the cause of her death?
“Why,” Tracy said aloud, “I don’t even have any of the water left to offer a test as proof. What evidence would a court accept?” he speculated. Suddenly he sat upright in the chair. “DNA!” He almost shouted the words. Of course, DNA!
Tracy raced from the lab, down the hallway and entered his office. He grabbed the telephone and quickly dialed Vivian’s office.
“Good evening, Ms. Van—”
“Holly,” Tracy didn’t even allow Holly to finish the greeting, “This is Phil Tracy again. Have you heard from Garner yet? Do you know where the authorities have taken the body of the baby?”
Usually in control and soft spoken, Tracy was almost shouting.
“Dr. Tracy, are you all right?” Holly was puzzled by his uncharacteristic actions.
“Yes, yes, I’m fine. Have you heard from Garner yet?”
“No, I haven’t. He’ll call really soon though.”
“Holly, this is very important, I must see the body of the baby Garner found on that island. I can’t explain it all now, but it is imperative that I examine the infant.”
“How can I help?”
“I intend to catch the next commercial flight to Miami tomorrow morning. Ask Garner to meet me at the airport. Perhaps he and I can convince the authorities to allow me to examine the infant. I promise this will help in the search for Vivian.”
“I can do one better,” Holly said. “I will ask Garner to fly the corporate jet back and pick you up at our airport. He can be back here and return you to Miami before you would be able to leave on a commercial flight.”
“Can he come right now?”
Holly hesitated. She wanted to say yes in the interest of time, but she remembered the weariness in Havens’ voice when he called her after his time in the police station. He’d been contacted by the airport and had to settle an issue with them. Something about filing a report for abandoning the helicopter on the tarmac and being taken by police. He may or may not have clearance for any more trips today. Holly offered to get Ed Foster once again, but Havens suspected nothing drastic needed to be done. He could resolve it with his own calls to the police department. He assured Holly he wasn’t giving up searching for Vivian but that he needed to spend the afternoon planning out what he would do after he dealt with the airport. His exhaustion would have only increased by now. He was in no state to fly to Rassiter and back again. Holly didn’t want to lose anyone else close to her (or potentially close in the case of Havens) especially due to a lack of sleep that might deteriorate Havens’ piloting skills. Depending on flights, Tracy might get to Miami sooner if he took a commercial flight. She wondered if he would prefer that.
“No,” Holly answered Tracy’s question. “Garner has had a long day. He needs sleep. If you still want him to fly you I’ll let him know. He’ll come bright and early tomorrow. I’ll tell you the time he thinks is best after I speak with him.”
Although unhappy with the delay, Tracy could see the sense in Holly’s words. He would go with Havens if only to prevent damage to his equipment a commercial flight might cause.
“Wonderful, Holly!” Tracy exclaimed. “I’ll see him at the airport bright and early. God bless you, Holly.”
“You’re welcome. Glad I could be of assistance! Have a good flight.”
Philip Tracy hastily gathered some needed equipment from his laboratory, made arrangements for someone to manage the lab while he was gone, then drove to his condo where he put some clothing in a second bag and got ready for bed. Holly called him later and told him the time agreed upon by Havens. It seemed the pilot would have come immediately if she hadn’t convinced him flying tired was dangerous.
Tracy went to his bed shortly after the call. Sleep was fitful. Images of missing Vivian and speculation of her whereabouts haunted his heart. When his alarm sounded he was already awake. He hurried to the airport and parked at the VanArp hanger. He had waited only about thirty minutes when the VanArp corporate jet touched down and taxied to the hanger.
Garner Havens jumped to the runway from the door of the VanArp corporate jet. His flight from Miami had been a good one. He arrived at the Rassiter Airport right on time. Once his feet hit the ground, he hurried toward the VanArp hanger, leaving the jet to be refueled by waiting hands.
As he approached the hanger, he recognized the familiar figure of Philip Tracy exiting the door. He quickened his pace and as he approached Tracy he extended his hand. The doctor had to place his bags on the ground to accept the handshake.
“Phil it’s good to see you again. It’s been a while.”
“Yes, it has been. A couple of years, I guess. As always it’s good to see old friends. How have you been, Garner?”
“I was doing fine until yesterday. I understand Holly briefed you on what has happened.” Havens reached for one of the bags on the ground next to Tracy. “Can I help you with one of those bags, Phil?”
“Yes, thank you.”
The two men turned and walked in the direction of the aircraft.
“Holly gave me an overview of the situation.” Tracy continued the conversation, “however, I would like to have all the details. Particularly about your experience with the baby and what you found on the island. It is very important I will explain to you later what has happened on my end. Perhaps between the two of us we can find some answers.”
They had reached the aircraft and Havens set Tracy’s luggage on the deck of the plane. He jumped on board and extended a hand to assist Tracy up.
“Let me get airborne and I will give you a blow by blow report.”
Havens gave a brief preflight check as Tracy settled into the co-pilot seat. He made sure the fuel lines were disengaged before he radioed out and received tower clearance. In a few minutes they were airborne.
“Well, Phil, let me start with the phone call I received from Marlene Paxton three days ago.” Havens then related to Tracy all the events which had transpired since the Monday night call from Marlene.
“What do you make of it Phil? Why would a baby be abandoned on a very small deserted island? What happened to Vivian? The wreckage was definitely that of Finally, the VanArp cruiser, but nothing to be found of Vivian. I could almost imagine she fell off in the water during the storm and I’d have to start a sea search, except I saw blood and my jacket was on the island, wrapped around the baby. I don’t know what to make of it. I would have kept searching, but some things came up as you know.”
Tracy sat silent for a long moment. Concern etched his face. He expelled breath from his lungs in a long slow sigh, then turned to face Havens at the controls of the plane.
“Garner, what I am about to tell you will sound preposterous. And if you have difficulty believing it, I will understand, but I will give it to you as straight as my comprehension will allow at this time.”
Havens turned his head in the direction of Tracy and let his gaze rest on the doctor’s face. He took particular note of the expression of worry etched into the man’s brow. He had never seen Tracy this concerned. Havens’ worries for Vivian’s safety suddenly took a turn for the worse.
“Go ahead, Phil.” Gone was Havens’ usual light-natured attitude. The depth of his concern was reflected by the somber tone of his voice.
“Monday morning,” Tracy began, “Vivian gave me a syringe which contained what appeared to be nothing more than ordinary water. However, after a closer examination, it proved to be anything but ordinary.”
“I injected the water into some lab dogs and achieved astonishing results. An older dog, diseased and near death, was revived to excellent health, even regaining some of its youth.”
“What?” Havens snapped his head around and stared at Tracy. His swift movements caused the plane to lurch and he quickly looked away from Tracy and back to the task at hand, that of piloting the aircraft.
“What are you saying, Phil? That Vivian has discovered some miracle youth potion?”
“I don’t know what she has discovered,” Tracy answered, relaxing from his brace. “But I do know that the results of further tests I performed are most unnerving.”
“What do you mean unnerving?”
“Well, I injected several dogs, all with the same results: a regression in age. But when I allowed several dogs to lap the water, the results were not uniform. Some of the animals regressed as did the ones which I injected, but one of those dogs had a totally different experience. He regressed all the way back to a puppy again.” Tracy paused momentarily for the greatest impact of his next words. “He regressed to the condition of a newborn puppy.”
“Phil, I’m having a difficult time with this. What was in the syringe Vivian gave you? It certainly could not be ordinary tap water, at least not the kind I get from the tap in my apartment. Where did Vivian get this stuff?”
“That, Garner, is the frightening part. Vivian developed a sudden interest in Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth over the last seventy-two hours.”
“Phil, you can’t be serious.”
“I am very serious, Garner. Vivian had Tom Hendricks do an extensive search of databases acquiring information on the supposed location of the Fountain. I believe, and this is supposition on my part, that she located an island somewhere off the coast of Florida on which, she believed, the Fountain could be found.”
“Phil, are you suggesting that this is the island she left for on Tuesday morning?”
“Yes, and I fear that she may have found what she was looking for.”
“What do you mean?” Havens demanded. “Why do you fear she found it?”
“Garner, on the island where you found the baby’s body, was there a source of water?”
Havens was silent for a moment as his mind returned to the island. He paused only briefly before responding. “Yes, there was. A small pool of water in a limestone basin.”
“Did you drink any of this water?”
“No, I was so startled by the baby the last thing I wanted was a drink of water.”
“Garner, you gave your green flight jacket to Vivian when she left the marina, is that correct?”
“Yes it was raining, and she needed something to protect her from the cold and wet.”
“Garner, let’s assume that after her boat crashed on the shore of the island, she made her way to the basin and drank large gulps of the water. And let’s assume that this is the same water which was in the syringe she gave me. And let’s also assume that her digestive system exponentially accelerated the regression process, as did the dog’s system. Let’s finally assume that her body underwent the same process that resulted in the dog becoming a puppy again.”
“Let’s also assume the water is from some miracle age-reversal fountain!” Havens snapped back.
A silent pall hung over the cockpit of the aircraft. Havens looked away from Tracy, who said nothing more, and fixed his gaze on the horizon. The pilot’s hands were gripping the controls so tightly that his knuckles were white.
Finally Havens broke the silence.
“Do you think the baby is Vivian?” Havens choked on his emotions as he tried to speak.
“I don’t know, Garner.” Tracy was fighting to control his own emotions. This was the first time he had breathed this possibility to another living being. It proved to be far more difficult than what he expected. Although Havens had initially rejected the explanation, it was clear the pilot had listened and believed in the possibility Tracy presented. This only compounded Tracy’s belief. He was not crazy for the idea. Just because he didn’t have all the facts did not make the water’s powers less potent. He hurt inside for Vivian. He hurt for himself, for he truly cared for her.
“How can we determine if the baby is Vivian?” Havens demanded, drawing Tracy from his introspection.
“I have DNA samples with me which were taken from Vivian. If I can compare them to the DNA samples from the baby then we’ll know. . .” Tracy’s voiced trailed into silence.
The two men sat quietly for the better part of a half hour as they thought over the situation. Tracy was the first to speak.
“Will it be possible for me to perform some tests on the baby’s body?”
“Last I knew the baby wasn’t dead, Phil—I hope she still isn’t—but, yes, I think we can get assistance from the Miami Police Department to allow you to see the baby. My two hours of interrogation yesterday may prove to be beneficial yet.”
Havens clicked on the microphone and called Miami. Eventually he was patched through to the police headquarters.
“Miami Police Department.” The officer answering the phone was to the point.
“May I speak with Captain Lee Adams please?”
“One moment please.”
Havens sat patiently for what seemed an eternity. Finally Adams came on the line.
“Havens, when I dropped you off at the airport, I had hopes that it would be the last time I saw you, but I knew nothing good like that would happen today. What can I do for you?”
“Captain, Dr. Philip Tracy is with me. He would like to examine the baby which I found on the cay. Can you arrange for him to do so?”
There was a long moment of silence. Havens could sense Adams’ reluctance to get any further involved in the situation. But Havens knew that the memory of the call from the chief of police was fresh in Adams’ mind. Havens was relying on that pull to help him and Tracy do things that probably weren’t ethical without an agent from Child Protective Services to advocate for the baby.
“Havens, if I arrange this examination, will you promise that you will leave Miami and never return?”
“Certainly, Captain,” Havens paused, then concluded, “Eventually.”
“I guess it would be asking too much for you to leave immediately after the examination, but one can always hope. Okay, Havens, you and the doctor meet me at the Olsen Memorial Hospital and I will make the arrangements.”
“Thanks, Captain. We appreciate it.”
Adams hung up without acknowledgment.
Havens landed the aircraft with the ease of an accomplished pilot. He taxied to the hanger area and shut down the craft. The two men exited the plane and carried the bags to the automobile which Havens had parked earlier in the day.
The forty minute ride to the hospital was taken in silence. Only when they were within three minutes of their destination did Havens break the stillness. “How long before we will get the results back from the DNA tests?”
“We will know immediately.”
“I thought comparing DNA samples was a lengthy process.”
“We have developed some very sophisticated prototype equipment at Rassiter Hospital. We have not introduced it to the rest of the world yet. This equipment will provide instantaneous results.”
Havens pulled the auto into a parking spot in front of the hospital. Tracy and Havens gathered the bags Tracy had brought with him. Adams was outside waiting for them. The two men alighted from the car and walked the few feet to Adams.
“Captain Adams, this is Dr. Philip Tracy.”
“Pleased to meet you, Doctor.”
“And you, Captain. May I see the infant?”
“Please follow me gentlemen.”
Adams led them into the building where a white-coated physician awaited their entry. Adams moved to the waiting physician and introduced the pair. “Dr. David Jamison, this is Garner Havens and Dr. Philip Tracy. Dr. Jamison is the head of the pediatrics unit here at the hospital.”
Dr. Jamison shook hands with the two men and then turned his attention to Tracy. “Are you the same Dr. Philip Tracy who practices in the field of gerontology?”
Tracy smiled. “Yes.”
Jamison spoke with a degree of respect in his voice. “I read several of your books. I found them most informative.”
Tracy thanked him for the compliment and then asked his own question of Jamison. “Do you find pediatrics and gerontology related?”
“I suspect there is a relationship much deeper than we have previously accepted.”
Tracy was impressed. “We must discuss this in depth at some future time. I recently stumbled on something that I think you will find interesting.”
“I look forward to that,” Jamison responded. “May I show you gentlemen to our Neonatal Intensive Care Unit? That is where we are caring for the baby that the police department placed in our care.”
The group followed Jamison down several hallways until they came to the department. A uniformed police officer was stationed outside the door to the room in which the baby was resting. Adams flashed his badge to the uniformed officer and then led the group into the private room. The baby was cradled in a cozy crib.
Jamison intended to stay to observe whatever examination Tracy was to perform, however, a page on the PA system summoned him to his office. He excused himself with the offer to help in any way he could, if needed.
The men thanked him and then Adams turned his attention to Tracy.
“I want to do a DNA test, Captain. It will only take a few minutes. And,” Tracy added, “If all goes well, we should be able to provide an identity for the baby.”
Tracy thought that tidbit of information may be tantalizing to the captain and elicit his further cooperation in the matter.
Tracy lifted the bag of equipment to the surface of the table, and removed what appeared to be a small computer from the bag. His eyes searched the room until he found a source for electricity. He plugged in the equipment and toggled the power switch to the ‘on’ position. He then removed a small case from the bag, opened it, and placed a skin sample on one glass scale of the computer.
“That, gentlemen is a sample of Vivian’s skin.”
He then removed a small piece of hair from the baby and placed in on a second glass scale on the computer. He made some final adjustments and then stopped back and spoke to Adams and Havens.
“It will be less than two minutes.”
“What will be less than two minutes?” Adams asked.
“The comparison of the two DNA samples.”
A small red light on the computer began to glow, signaling an end to the comparison. The results were displayed on the screen.
Tracy moved toward the computer. His steps were hesitant. He feared confirmation of the worst. He had seen a different person beneath the cold exterior of Vivian. He wanted to explore that hidden component of the woman. He had wanted to know her better, to understand her. He feared he had waited too long.
Havens gripped the edges of the table, bracing himself for the dreaded response. He fought to keep his emotions in control. He remembered the last time he saw Vivian as she set out to sea. So confident in her own abilities. Not for the first time Havens chastised himself for letting her go. He should have stopped her, or at least gone with her.
Tracy reached the computer and lowered his head to read the screen. Hs hands rested on the table. The knuckles of his surgeon-precise hands were white with tension as he pushed against the table.
It seemed as if time had stopped. Everything was suspended in a surreal warp of seconds which dragged like hours. Tracy stood motionless, bent forward, staring into the screen. Then slowly he raised his bowed head and turned toward Havens. Tears moistened the corners of his eyes.
Then, slowly, a smile formed on his lips. “This is not Vivian.”
Relief flooded over Havens. He bowed his head and stood silent for several moments. Then he looked at Tracy whose smile had turned into a full grin. He returned the expression. But only for a moment. If the baby wasn’t Vivian, then who was she? And where was Vivian?
His mind began working at whirlwind speed, searching for answers. He retraced every event, every action from the moment the airplane landed in Miami. He searched his memory. His mind scrutinized the trip to the marina, the rainfall, putting his flight jacket on Vivian. How could Vivian be so headstrong as to venture out to sea at that time of the morning? Only Vivian would pull a stunt like that. As he continued his review, something tugged at his memory. Something out of place. His own thoughts had triggered a clue. He tried desperately to identify that clue.
Like a bolt of lightning it came to him. Vivian was not the only one so foolish as to venture out to sea in the early morning. One other boat had left the marina right after Vivian. Pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place. Some unusual happenings which he had not had time to consider because of his concern for Vivian now began to formulate a scenario. He broke the silence with a question to Tracy.
“Phil, that case from which you took the skin sample, are there other samples like that in the case as well?”
“VanArp executives from corporate headquarters. Should the corporate jet ever meet with an accident, Vivian wanted to be sure that bodies could be identified by DNA so that families could be notified properly.
“In spite of her austere façade, Vivian has a deep concern that surviving spouses know for certain the identity of lost loved ones. I believe it grew out of the terrible uncertainty she experienced when her own mother was killed in an airplane crash. Her mother’s body was never identified conclusively.”
Havens moved to the table containing the DNA equipment. He lifted the small case containing the DNA samples and thumbed down its index. He selected a sample, turned to Tracy, and handed it over. “Phil, I have a hunch. Try a comparison using this sample.”
Tracy appeared puzzled by the request, but he recognized the seriousness of the expression on Havens’ face. Tracy accepted the sample. He replaced Vivian’s slide with the new one and started the comparison.
Once again the red light came on and Tracy bent to read the results.
“They match!” he exclaimed with amazement. “How did you know, Garner? Whose sample is it?”
“I don’t understand all the details yet, Phil,” Havens responded with a look of deep contemplation etched on his features. He paused for an extended moment, then raised his eyes to look at Tracy.
“If your DNA machine is correct, then this baby is Marlene Paxton.”
Juan Carlos Cardenas squinted into the brilliant Wednesday morning sunlight. He thought that his eyes were playing tricks on him. He continued staring at what he thought was an illusion. His continued scrutiny was unable to disprove what he saw. He called to his wife who was seated on the rear of the boat to come forward and verify what he saw.
Petra Cardenas left the company of her nine-year-old daughter, Juanita, and her father, Rodrigo, to join her husband in the wheelhouse of their boat. She made her way forward with caution, holding steadily to the rail on their ancient watercraft. The sea was still uneasy from the sudden storm of the night before last and the boat swayed with the ocean swells. She reached the wheelhouse without incident and stepped to the side of her husband.
Petra and Juan Carlos had been married for ten years. Their marriage was one of great happiness. However, the beginning of their relationship was filled with tragedy and sorrow. Their respective families worked on a coffee plantation in Ecuador. They were held in virtual captivity by the owner of the plantation. The plantation was owned and managed by an incredibly evil woman.
The laborers worked long, hard hours for a mere existence. Those who worked on the plantation were provided hovels in which to live and were not allowed to leave the property. Children born to workers were also held in bondage and forced to labor for the owner as soon as they were physically able.
Petra and Juan Carlos labored through their teen years on the planation. When Petra was nineteen years old she fell in love with Juan Carlos and he with her. They decided to marry. Outsiders were not allowed on the property, so no priest was available to perform the marriage ceremony for them. They wanted marriage and children and in that order. But they did not want their children raised in the bondage under which they labored.
A plan was devised by which the two young lovers would escape and build a life for themselves in freedom. The plantation property was surrounded by dense jungle. Electricity to the property was powered by generators. Many had died in the danger-infested wilderness attempting to escape. The jungle proved to be a serious deterrent of many foolhardy attempts to escape. It was rumored that the location of the plantation was carefully selected centuries ago by those seeking to remain unknown. They had chosen well. The only way in and out was via the private airstrip on the large property. At one time there had been a road, but it had long-since been overgrown with thick vegetation. No one would have been foolish enough to take the open ground even if the road’s foundation had still been evident.
The plan was for the couple to slip into the jungle, as so many before had attempted. They would wait until it was dark. No electricity was available to the captive laborers so this would work to Petra’s and Juan Carlos’ advantage as they could then disappear into the darkness of night without detection. It was planned that Petra’s father, Rodrigo, would accompany them. Juan Carlos’ parents were too elderly and Petra’s mother had mysteriously disappeared into the jungle long ago. Many assumed that she had attempted escape. However, Rodrigo knew better. He and his wife were very much in love and she would never attempt to leave without him. He suspected her disappearance was the result of the woman who owned the plantation.
On the designated night, the trio slipped into the jungle and made their way toward where they believed a town was located. The location of the town was a calculated guess on their part. Juan Carlos had worked many months in the highlands of the property and each evening he noticed a glow on the horizon. He assumed this glow was from a town—a town which apparently was the only civilized locale anywhere near the isolated plantation.
As they made their way through the jungle they could hear the sounds of pursuit. Apparently their plan had been betrayed. They hurried until they reached a river. They believed that divine providence had led them through the vegetation and thwarted the efforts of hungry marauding animals and venomous snakes so far. They paused briefly to offer a prayer for continued safety, and then they entered the river and swam toward its far bank.
The three escapees reached the opposite side of the waterway and crawled up the bank. They were not aware they had reached the border to the property and as such their pursuers would not follow. Sadly, although their pursuers would not cross the river, they still discharged their firearms in the direction of the sound of the three exiting the water. Without moonlight and with the limited range of their flashlights, the shots taken by their pursuers were at best, guesswork. One bullet grazed Rodrigo’s face, blinding him for life.
Petra’s thoughts returned to the present. She slipped her arm into that of her husband’s. A gesture not only to support herself in the heaving swells of the sea, but more so as an expression of her love.
Juan Carlos smiled at his wife and pointed to a small cay off the starboard side of the boat. Petra followed his extended arm and saw the objects of his concern. Beached on the cay were two power cruisers. The entire surface of the cay was available to the eye and there was no sign of anyone the island. In their pursuit of fishing grounds the Cardenas family had passed this island many times. Never had they seen any sign of life. There was nothing on the cay to give reason for anyone to visit its barren topography.
Petra turned her head in the direction of her husband’s gaze with a puzzled expression on her face. She opened the conversation with an expression of concern.
“I see the boats, but where are the people?”
“I don’t know, but I think we should go look. Perhaps someone is in need of help.”
Juan Carlos turned the old boat in the direction of the cay and increased the engine power to expedite their arrival. In spite of the added speed, it still took twenty minutes for the primitive, old craft to traverse the distance to the cay.
As they approached the two powerboats, the form of a person could be seen lying on the rock-littered beach near the closer of the two boats. Juan Carlos quickly jumped to the deck and dropped the anchor over the side. He then leapt from the deck of the boat into the water. The water was waist deep as Juan Carlos waded toward the prone figure on the shoreline of the cay. The waves lapped at his hips, a cold splash against his back. He reached the beach and sprinted the last fifteen feet where he knelt beside the motionless figure. It was the body of a woman. She was unconscious, yet breathing. She did not stir as he quickly lifted her into his arms and carried her into the water. He waded with determination through the resistance of the water, the limp woman draped in his arms. When he reached the side of the boat, he raised the woman to the level of the boat deck and laid her down gently. He said a silent prayer of thanksgiving for all the years of pulling fishing nets from the ocean which had increased his arm strength.
Petra rushed to the prone figure and began a preliminary examination of the woman’s condition. Juanita and Rodrigo kept their distance so as to not interfere. Juanita provided a running commentary for her grandfather as his total blindness did not allow for any visual observance of the events that were transpiring.
Juan Carlos climbed onto the deck of the boat and knelt on the opposite side of the body from Petra, water running from his legs across the deck. Petra, having performed the initial evaluation, was the first to speak. “There are no signs of life-threatening wounds. I see several cuts and some deep lacerations. I think surgery will be required to repair the damage to her face.” Petra then speculated regarding the woman’s unconsciousness condition. “Perhaps she hit her head. Let’s get her below and under some protection. She’s already burned enough from lying in the sun.”
Juan Carlos and Petra gently lifted the woman’s body and carefully carried her below decks and placed her in one of the lower bunks. Then they attempted to identify the woman. There were no marks on her to give a clue and her clothes, which appeared to be very expensive, yielded no evidence either.
She appeared to be in her fifties with blonde hair. She obviously had beauty treatments for her hair and it appeared she was tardy in having the next scheduled treatment, as the roots of her hair were turning dark. The exposed portion of her roots were black, coal black, as black as a raven’s wing.
She was an attractive woman, one who apparently was accustomed to the finer things in life.
Petra cleaned the cuts on her patient’s face, hands and arms. She applied some ointment to reduce potential infection and provide some pain relief. Once Petra was satisfied that the woman would rest securely and comfortably, the husband and wife returned to Juanita and Rodrigo on the deck of the ship. Once on deck, Juan Carlos announced his intent to examine the watercraft stranded on the cay. He entered the water for a second time and once again made his way to the beach. The first boat was named Finally. The hull had a major breech as a result of being thrown onto the shore. It was no longer seaworthy, nor could he drag it into the water had it been. He noted the two traveling bags on board and assumed they belonged to the unidentified woman. A named boat had to be privately owned and the woman in her expensive clothes fit the bill. The other craft, a rental from Miami, was anchored and was still seaworthy. If the woman had been sailing on this, the second boat, she could have gotten off the island at any time and not experienced the trauma she was currently in.
If my deductions are correct, he thought to himself. That did beg the question where the passengers or operators of the second boat were. He surveyed the island but could see no other person. The palm grove, thin enough to see through, revealed nothing out of the ordinary and from where he stood, nothing could be seen around the low bushes.
He called out to be sure, but heard no reply. He concluded that any further information must be provided by the mysterious lady when she came to. He also concluded that the rented boat was salvageable and he would tow it to his home port. Having so decided, he removed the two traveling bags from Finally and waded back to his own craft where he handed the luggage to Petra. Petra instructed Juanita to take the bags below deck to the cabin. Meanwhile Juan Carlos climbed aboard his boat, started the engine and moved his craft to the anchored rented boat. He idled the engine when they reached proximity. He stayed far enough back so the waves would not dash the vessels together. The man did not want to be stranded upon the cay as well.
Juan Carlos secured a chain from a tool locker on the deck of the boat, attached it to the stern of his craft and jumped to the rental boat. On board, he secured the chain to the rental craft and pulled up the anchor before jumping back onboard his boat.
With the engines chugging, Juan Carlos and family towed the rental boat far away from the cay. After approximately forty-five minutes of travel, Juanita looked back to the island lying in the distance to their rear. As she visually examined the deserted cay, she thought she saw a helicopter circling the small island. She dismissed the thought and turned her attention to her grandfather. The child loved him deeply and he adored her in return.
Vivian Kaye VanArp awoke with an abrupt start. A strong sense of alarm immediately enveloped her. Pain tormented her entire body. She fought to clear her mind. She heard the hum of engines and she felt the sway of the world around her. This was movement she recognized. She was accustomed to it from the many nautical experiences with her father. She forced her eyes to open fully.
She was lying in a boat cabin’s bunk. Her right side pressed against what was apparently one side of the boat’s hull. She remained motionless as she surveyed the roof of the cabin above her. It was in extremely poor condition. Paint had long ago peeled from its surface, leaving it mottled in grey and green. She cautiously rolled her head to increase her field of vision. With the improved latitude to view her surroundings Vivian learned that she lay in one of four bunks. There were two on each side of the cabin and she occupied the lower bunk on her side. In the center of the cabin was a rough and well-worn table with four chairs placed around it.
The cabin was tiny and cramped. To her surprise, the cabin appeared clean and well-tended in spite of the deplorable condition of the boat itself.
Her surroundings offered no perceivable threat to her personal well-being regardless of the sense of alarm she felt at her waking. With her fears assuaged, fatigue and pain forced another retreat into the safe haven of sleep.
As she drifted, her mind recalled memories of happier days. Days of sailing with her father. How she enjoyed those times with him on the boat. Sailing had been their special time together. Her mother, not caring for the water, seldom went with them when they sailed. A melancholy longing for her father’s reassuring presence ushered her into the blessed relief of sleep.
The reverberations found birth in her cheekbone. They traveled down the side of her face and along her neck, magnifying themselves a hundredfold as they entered her shoulder. A shoulder which screamed in agony as intense pain rippled across its surface and then plunged deep into the flesh. A searing red haze of discomfort clouded her vision as she slowly opened one eye. The brilliant sunlight forced her to quickly lower her eyelid. She remained motionless, enduring the pain while attempting to bring consciousness to its fullest.
The reverberations continued their assault on her pain-racked shoulder until she could no longer endure. She forced her eyelids to part until a slight opening allowed limited vision. She squinted through the narrow opening formed by her eyelids. The entire right side of her face was pressed against the rough gray planking of the bunk. She rested on her right side with her shoulder bearing the entire weight of her upper body. Her mortal flesh screamed for relief.
She forced her eyes fully open and summoning all of her strength rolled her body over and she then lay flat on her back. Pain attacked every fiber of her being. She uttered a moan and lay motionless for a moment.
Full consciousness returned slowly until her senses began to interpret sounds and odors. A strong stench of fish permeated her nostrils. She wrinkled her nose at the offensive smell. Sounds of water beneath the boat and the constant hum of an engine accosted her hearing.
With great effort, she pulled herself to a sitting position, ducking to avoid the upper bunk. The constant swaying motion of the craft assured Vivian that she was at sea. Slowly her mind began to recall events. A torrent of memories flooded her mind. She remembered the boat trip from Miami, the wreck of Finally on the small island and then crawling to the center of the island, her incredible thirst, and cupping her hands to drink from the limestone basin of water.
Hands gripped the back of Havens’ flight jacket and pulled her away from the basin as she abruptly gave in to unconsciousness. She had regained consciousness an unknown time later and found herself seated with her back propped against a palm, arms extended behind her and tied behind the rough bark of the trunk. The sun pierced through the trees at an angle.
“About time you woke up.”
Marlene Paxton was standing in front of her, bare legs spread in a wide stance, hands on her hips. The woman was grinning. She also wasn’t wearing anything but Havens’ horrible green flight jacket.
Vivian fixed her eyes on Marlene’s face.
“Sorry to take your designer green jacket,” Marlene mocked Havens’ choice of apparel. “However, my beautiful VanArp flight suit is wet. So I draped it on the deck of my boat to let it get nice and dry.”
“Marlene?” Thirst caused her voice to crack as Vivian expressed a question in the way she spoke the name
“Yes, it’s Marlene! Are you surprised that I’m here? Sorry I had to strip you of Garner’s jacket, but I didn’t think you’d mind. Besides, I need this right now. Might not be anyone out here, but—”
“I don’t understand! What are you doing and why am I tied to this tree?” The words came out slow and thick, but understandable.
“She will tell you all about it when she gets here.”
“Who is ‘she’? What are you talking about?”
“You’ll know soon enough. As soon as she gets here. She’ll explain everything,” Marlene replied with some consternation in her tone. “I was told a rented boat would be waiting for me at the marina and I was to follow you and radio her when you reached your destination. I assume you reached your destination as you’ve wrecked your cruiser. Unless this island just happened to be in your way.” The smile was sardonic. “Now that you’re up I can radio her the coordinates and she’ll be here. Then you can ask all the questions you want.”
“Why are you doing this, Marlene?”
“Money,” was her terse reply. “You must be very valuable to her as she is paying me a very large sum of money to deliver you. A lot more than you ever offered me. It’s better than thirty pieces of silver. Now you just sit here quietly while I go radio her from my boat.”
Marlene’s irreverent reference to the biblical thirty pieces of silver stirred Vivian’s memories of many happy hours with her father and mother when they attended church on Sundays. Her brief regressions to memories of pleasant times brought a short-lived respite from the pain which her body was experience. Even in her extreme discomfort she still reflected on the sad fact as to how far her character had wandered from those wonderful times. She felt a pang of regret for the loss.
“Marlene, I am very thirsty, may I have a drink of water before you go?”
Marlene thought for a moment as if she were deciding to accommodate Vivian’s request. Her response brought a chill of fear to Vivian
“Sure.” Marlene displayed a sinister grin and she surveyed the quantity of water in the basin. “Drink all you want. There is plenty for the two of us. Besides, a Vivian who dies of dehydration nets me nothing. She instructed me that if I am to be paid, I must deliver you alive. You’ll have to thank her for that.”
Marlene surveyed the area, searching for a shell which she could use to dip into the water. That was when she spied what appeared to be the tarnished breastplate of a solider. She remembered from her high school world history studies that the Spanish had plied these waters incessantly. She contemplated the possibility that this may be a discarded breastplate of a Spanish solider who lost his life in a skirmish with local natives. Under other circumstances this would have been an exciting discovery.
She kicked the plate and her kick exposed skeletal remains resting in the sand beneath the armor. The remains were small. Extremely small. Small like those of an infant child. She puzzled over this for a moment then dismissed the thought from her mind and returned her attention to the task of satisfying her own thirst and that of Vivian’s.
Marlene knelt and dipped her cupped hands into the basin of water. She fill her hands and raised them to her mouth. She drank the cupped hands dry.
Vivian’s mind recoiled in horror at the next torrent of memories and attempted to refuse the reality of the terrifying truth as to what happened as Marlene finished drinking.
Vivian attempted to console herself with denial of her memory. What she thought she saw could not be reality, and yet her vaunted intuition agreed with her mind. It did happen, just as she recalled. Marlene completed the deep drink of water from the basin, and she reached a second time into the basin to retrieve water for Vivian. With cupped hands Marlene rose and turned to face her captive. That’s when it happened. An expression of absolute pleasure fixed on her face. A deep sigh of satisfaction escaped her lips. Marlene did not notice when the water slipped through her fingers and pattered against the sand. Vivian didn’t notice much either, mesmerized by the scene before her very eyes.
Energy appeared to be released from every pore of Marlene’s body. It looked like heat arising from a road surface in the midst of summer. Shimmering waves of energy danced about her body. As the energy release intensified, her body began to regress in size and in age.
Vivian stared in horror and disbelief as Marlene’s forty years of age peeled away. She was thirty then twenty, then in her teen years, then adolescence and finally she reached infancy.
Vivian stared in shocked disbelief at the body of Marlene, now regressed to the age and size of a newborn. All of this transpired in less than two minutes. Lying before Vivian was the body of a newborn child, still wrapped in Havens’ green rain jacket. A newborn child incapable of doing anything for herself. Unable to retrieve water or food for herself. Unable to even roll over.
Panic gripped Vivian. Fear consumed her. When one is beset with panic the adrenaline flow through the body is increased. Strength and determination rise to increased levels proportionate to the perceived threat. And so it was with Vivian.
Vivian strained at her bonds. She twisted and pulled until her wrists were bleeding. She continued her efforts for a full half hour. As she fought for freedom, her bloody wrists increased the flow of lost blood. In spite of the additional adrenaline, the strenuous efforts she made sapped her strength rapidly. The lack of food and water for so many hours, coupled with her fear and struggles to be free of her confinement took its toll. Just as she was about to fall into unconsciousness, her bounds broke and she uttered a prayer of thanksgiving. In spite of her current predicament, Vivian realized the incredulity of offering prayer. It had been years since she had done so.
She wrapped her arms around her captor of only moments before. And in an ironic twist, her former captor became her best friend. She painfully pulled herself to her feet against the tree trunk. Realizing that she needed help, her mind shouted that she must return to Finally and make an SOS call.
Stumbling, Vivian staggered toward the shoreline. Her vision was a red haze of pain and her mind was dulled and confused by lack of nourishment and water. She pressed on until she collapsed at the shoreline and fell into unconsciousness.
Vivian aroused from her state of semi-conscious sleep. Pain still racked her body, but mercifully, her mind was now clear. She began to assess her situation using her vaunted intellect with computer-like efficiency.
Ignoring her pain, her hunger and her thirst, she surveyed her surroundings for the second time. This time she was acutely aware of her potential danger. Her mind recalled Marlene’s words. “She will tell you all about it when she gets here.”
Who is the ‘she’ of whom Marlene spoke? Was Vivian now a captive of her? If so, why? Did her captor want a ransom and if so how much? Who would wish her harm? She was aware that she had antagonized many in the business community with her hard-hitting, take-no-prisoners tactics, but not to the extent that her business adversaries would resort to kidnapping as a vengeful retribution.
Vivian’s inability to provide acceptable answers for any of these questions led her to the conclusion that the alleged experience with Marlene Paxton was born of her pain, her hunger and her thirst. It must be a hallucination, she concluded. After wrecking Finally and hitting her head, she’d imagined everything else. Her unconscious mind had summoned impossibilities born of Tom Hendricks’ fantasies.
The pain in her shoulder was excruciating. She adjusted her body position to relieve some of the extreme distress. This movement brought some slight physical relief. However, the greater relief came when she realized she was not restrained. No bonds restricted her from leaving the bunk in which she lay. Certainly, she reasoned, if I were being held captive, I would be bound and denied mobility. This realization brought some small sense of relief. Vivian found further relief when she touched her swollen face and felt the ointment. Someone had applied medicine to the cuts she’d sustained during her shipwreck on the cay. Whoever had recovered her didn’t mean her harm.
If they had intended to harm me, certainly my captors wouldn’t have gone through the time and effort to treat my wounds.
With this diminished sense of foreboding regarding her physical wellbeing, she thought to remove herself from the bunk. This proved to be a painful process. Amidst bouts of torturous assaults of pain to her body, she managed to raise herself to a sitting position. Slowly she lowered one foot to the well-worn plank floor of the craft. Fortunately both the boots which she had placed on her feet prior to her impetuous trip to the cay were still in place. In spite of her pain she smiled inwardly at the irony of her fifteen hundred dollar designer boots being placed on the hull of a boat that was probably worth only half as much.
With great caution she lowered her second foot to the floor and then slowly raised herself to a standing position. She clenched the sides of the bunks to steady herself as a fresh torrent of pain engulfed her body. She quickly swept the cabin with her eyes. Noting nothing of immediate danger, she then turned her attention to listening for any sound that would give clue as to what was happening elsewhere on the craft. If she’d been rescued from the island, had Marlene been also? Had the traitorous woman been placed in some sort of a brig while Vivian’s wounds were treated, or was she running free, a part of the crew who’d taken Vivian hostage? If Marlene had been on the island at all. That had been a part of the hallucination, Vivian reminded herself.
Above the gentle hum of the engines, Vivian thought she heard the laughter of a child.
That sound drew Vivian’s attention toward the rear of the cabin. Upon visual inspection of the aft wall, she saw a stairwell which led to the deck. It was only a matter of six feet to the first step. She determined she would cross the cabin and negotiate the stairwell regardless of the price in pain which the movement of her legs would extract. She reasoned if her captors meant her harm then she would just as soon make that determination now rather than later. Her appearance on deck would provide answers to that question immediately.
Vivian’s experience in the rough and tumble business world had honed her well for the task before her. On many occasions she had endured much emotional distress as she dueled with opposing entities over her efforts to secure controlling interest in a targeted acquisition. She’d built up a wall to the point where she denied, even to herself, that she had any “tender” emotions. She could not allow any vulnerability. Not then and certainly not now.
She applied that self-control ability to ignore the pain that assaulted her body as she slowly moved to the stairway. She steadied herself on the sides of the boat and proceeded with great deliberation. Painful step after painful step, swaying with the rocking boat, ultimately brought her to the bottom of the stairway.
When she reached her destination, she paused, smiled and reassured herself with the thought, “I still have fight left in me. I am not finished just yet.”
Each step that she took as she crossed the floor appeared to bring renewed strength. By the time she reached the first step of the stairway, her confidence had grown exponentially. She braced herself with a hand placed on either side of the stairway. The boards lining the stairs were rough and weather beaten. They applied their own type of pain to her hands and yet she continued in her efforts to ascend the stairway.
When she stood on the third of the six steps, her head emerged above the deck of the boat. Brilliant sunlight and a wonderful ocean breeze caressed her face. Both brought her to a renewed sense of life and its wonderful gifts. She realized perhaps for the first time, how precious these gifts were. She also became cognizant of the truth that her incredible wealth could not purchase one second of either. Her father, a devoted believer in God who was committed to principles he held sacred, would have smiled had she acknowledged to him this wonderful realization.
She remained motionless as her eyes slowly adjusted to the magnificent light cast by the sun. She listened to the gentle lapping of the water on the sides of the boat and once again became aware of the hum of the boat’s engines. She felt the sway of the craft as it churned its way through the blue waters of the Atlantic.
When her vision cleared, her eyes focused on the rear of the deck. She saw an older man seated on a roughhewn bench built into the rear of the craft and standing in front of him, with her back to Vivian, was a young girl, perhaps eight or nine years of age.
Vivian determined to take the last three steps to place her on the deck of the craft. And she did so. As she placed her left foot on the deck and lifted her right leg, her right foot caught on the lip of the deck which protruded about an inch over the last step. This caused her to lose her balance and she fell hard on her knees. She moaned loudly as pain assaulted her kneecaps.
Her cry of agony startle the young girl who spun around to determine the source of the sound. As her eyes located Vivian on her hands and knees, her vision fixed on Vivian’s face just as Vivian’s eyes locked on the young girl’s eyes.
A huge smile spread across the girl’s face and she ran toward Vivian. As she ran the ten feet to Vivian she shouted, “Mamá, she’s awake! Mamá, come quick, she’s hurt!” The girl rushed to Vivian’s side and gently placed her arms under Vivian and attempted to lift her.
Vivian looked into the girl’s face and saw only compassion and concern. She was a beautiful child with chestnut colored hair that fell to her shoulders and eyes that were the color of milk chocolate. Her smile sent a reassuring message that Vivian was in the company of friends. Vivian’s fears subsided.
Almost as if to reassure himself, Havens repeated his words, “This baby is Marlene Paxton.” A pall of silence hung over the room.
Havens, convinced of the truth of what Tracy had told him during the plane ride, felt a deep sadness for Marlene. He had a fondness for her. She was a pleasant person and a capable pilot. He had always enjoyed flying with her. If she had a down side, in Haven’s opinion, it was her ability to spend money. She remained in debt and yet she continued her errant spending. It was a vulnerability in an otherwise moderate personality.
Adams was the first to break the silence. His thirty years of experience as a police officer told him that both Tracy and Havens were astounded by the results of the DNA test. But why? How could these two men know the infant’s identity when the baby was only discovered yesterday? When Havens had denied any knowledge of her origins during the interrogation? Adams did not suspect any deviousness involved on the part of the two. His instinct and years of experience dealing with people of all bents in life told him that Havens and Tracy were relatively honest and upright.
“Who is Marlene Paxton?” he asked. He also wanted to inquire as to how they knew the child; however, his experience with information gathering (and the little time he’d spent with Havens) told him that one question at a time was the best course to pursue at this point if he was to get any answers at all. His immediate intent was to gain understanding and to not clutter the issue with multiple questions. Concurrently he was acutely aware of the political clout wielded by Havens or whomever he worked for. He was even impressed with Dr. Jamison’s reaction to Dr. Tracy’s prominence in his field of endeavor with geriatrics. He did not want to antagonize either of these men.
Havens pondered the answer he was about to give Adams. In spite of the gravity of the situation, a degree of irony was present. The police questioned people in search of truth. Now, Havens was to provide a truthful answer which he was certain would be discarded as fiction. On the other hand, a fictitious creation would probably be accepted as truthful. Havens thought of how absurd the truth would appear to Adams.
Finally Havens shook his head in disbelief regarding the predicament. He hadn’t believed at first either, then he’d dreaded, but the DNA test was proof: an adult woman could regress to an infant. Havens flashed a look at Tracy before he answered Adams question. His look sent the message that not Adams, nor any other sane person, would believe an honest answer. However, it was the only answer Havens was prepared to give.
“Captain,” he began, “this will be difficult for you to believe and I. . .” he corrected himself, “We, understand that. . . I am certain that Dr. Tracy can better explain the science of the situation. What has happened is far beyond my ability to even understand, much less explain, however, I will provide an answer to your immediate question, after which I am sure you will have many more. The DNA test confirms that this baby is Marlene Paxton. The same Marlene Paxton who just three days ago, as an adult, was employed by VanArp Enterprises as an airplane pilot.”
Adams was silent. He stared at Havens’ face. The corporate name VanArp Enterprises rang a bell with Adams. Recognition of the name cast an entirely different light on the whole situation he’d gotten involved in when he’d headed to the police station to retrieve Havens.
Vivian VanArp, the sole owner of the corporation which had annual sales estimated to be in the multibillion dollar range, was an extremely powerful woman. Her name was frequently mentioned in televised newscast as a potential vice presidential candidate in the upcoming elections. Her appeal crossed the aisle and she was acceptable to women of both parties as well as those of most political persuasions. She was a staunch conservative and yet she held a great attraction to liberals and progressives as well.
Adams remained silent as he pondered the seriousness of alienating anyone who had the ear of Vivian VanArp. He now understood how two senators and a congressman could be moved into action within an hour, much to the chagrin of the Miami Police Department. Association with VanArp was probably what kept Havens’ mouth shut about why he’d gone off in a helicopter only to return with a baby from a deserted island. Adams determined it was in the best interests of all to proceed with extreme caution. He mentally adopted a plan of observance guided by deference.
This allowed him to focus on Havens’ actual words. This baby hadn’t always been a baby.
Adams turned his attention to Tracy. “Dr. Tracy I am unsure what Mr. Havens is talking about. His explanation defies all logic and certainly defies any medical science with which I am familiar. Will you explain?”
Tracy felt a sense of relief. His fear was that he and Havens would both be taken to police headquarters and detained. That would be disastrous as their time was important. The search for Vivian must be renewed immediately.
Tracy responded, “Captain, is there somewhere we can discuss this in a more private setting?”
Adams knew that privacy could be had in his office. However he did not want to imply that he was inviting Tracy and Havens to headquarters as an official action. And he certainly didn’t want to incur the possibility of another confrontation between Havens and Sergeant Spencer. He felt that such a confrontation would only result in another humiliation for Spencer. He thought for a moment as to how he should proceed. Then he remembered. Dr. Jamison. Perhaps the doctor had an office or conference room which they could borrow.
Adams made the suggestion that they attempt to find someplace suitable in the hospital. Tracy and Havens agreed. A call to Dr. Jamison was quickly answered and in only a few minutes Jamison met the three men in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and then escorted them to his own office.
Jamison occupied a large office however sparsely appointed. Seating was adequate and privacy was assured by the remote location of the office in the building Jamison held the door open for the three men and then started to excuse himself when he was interrupted by Tracy.
Tracy was well aware of the preposterous nature of what he was about to relate to Adams and accordingly the doctor felt it would be best if he had confirmation regarding the plausibility of what happened as being scientifically possible. Based on Jamison’s previous comment about a relationship between the very young and the aged, he thought Jamison may be able to provide the needed support.
Tracy addressed his comment to Jamison. “Doctor, I know that you are busy, however, if you could spare just a few minutes I would like your opinion about what I am about to tell Captain Adams.”
Tracy turned to Adams and asked, “Is that a problem for you, Captain?
Adams, fully cognizant of his self-adopted plan of observance and deference, responded that the presence of Jamison was fine with him. He had worked with Jamison in the past on suspected child abuse cases and knew him to be an honest and competent physician. He trusted Jamison’s integrity and character.
The four men entered the room and took seats. Tracy turned to Adams and repeated the entire incident regarding the water starting with Maria Flores and her incredible ageing. Tracy had confirmed the accuracy of this phenomenal event with Dr. John Mason who had been on ER duty the evening of Maria’s death. He then related Vivian’s finding the water and his own experience with the dogs. Some of the dogs were healed of various infirmities following an inoculation and others, who lapped the water, reverted back to puppies almost immediately.
Tracy went on to speculate that the digestive tract of some individuals, and he emphasized some, must exponentially compound the effects of the water, thereby causing the regression. He further explained when he first learned of Vivian’s disappearance, and the finding of the baby, he feared that Vivian, having located the source of the water, drank of it and her digestive tract was one of the exceptional ones that resulted in the immediate regression. The DNA test however proved him wrong.
Jamison interrupted at his point in Tracy’s narrative, “I have often pondered the construction of cells in the body. The growth appears to be exponential considering the amount of intake of nutritious foods. And conversely I have theorized that the process could be reversed given the proper stimulant.” He paused to allow his thoughts to be mentally processed by all and then continued, “The mystery to me is what becomes of the mass of flesh for an adult who regresses?”
“I believe I have the answer to that question,” Tracy said. “As I was pondering this phenomena, one of the dogs lapped the water and I was astonished as I observed the result. Energy dissipated from the dog’s body similar to heat waves rising from an asphalt roadway in the summer as the dog regressed to the size of a puppy.”
Jamison once again asked a question, “Do you know if the dog’s mental capacity regressed also?”
“Yes, it did. This dog was not a lab dog, but a pet. He was truly a puppy again in every sense. If I could repeat the tests on primates or rats, I might have further information about mental capacity. I will gladly show you the results I do have after I get back to Rassiter.”
“I would appreciate that.”
Now Havens interrupted. “Gentleman, this discussion is very stimulating, however, I must remind you that while we discuss dogs regressing, Vivian is in a location unknown to us and perhaps she needs our help.”
Tracy apologized and agreed with Havens. “I’m sorry, Garner, I share your concern. I am still dazzled by what I observed and I am very interested in Dr. Jamison’s opinion of what could be a major breakthrough for the health of people all across the world.”
He paused, and then continued, “It is possible that disease and sickness can be eradicated if these results can be duplicated. Life can be extended and scientific discoveries can be increased dramatically if the researchers can add years to their lives and thereby to their work.”
By this time in the discussion Adams had set aside much of his skepticism regarding the entire matter. This lessening of doubt was due largely to the support of Jamison regarding the possibility of any of this happening. At this point in the conversation Adams chose to interrupt and ask a few questions of his own.
“Mr. Havens,” he began. “You play an integral part in this mystery,” he paused to insure that he had everyone’s attention, then continued, “What do you make of the situation?”
“I can only speculate, Captain, but here is my take: When Vivian set out to sea, I stood and watched until the boat was out of sight and thought to myself that anyone putting out in this weather is driven by compulsion or is mentally unbalanced. Knowing Vivian, the former motivation was my choice for her behavior. And then I heard the motors of a second boat as it also left the marina. I was puzzled as to why anyone, other than Vivian, would do so.”
He paused to collect his thoughts. “I returned to the corporate jet but by then Marlene had departed. This did not concern me as she was scheduled to take a few days’ vacation while Vivian was in Miami.”
“When Vivian did not return the next morning I called VanArp Corporate Offices and secured a helicopter to search for her. I located her boat Finally beached on a small cay. I landed the helicopter and searched the boat. Finding no sign of Vivian, I walked to the center of the cay where there was a small stand of palm trees and there I found the baby. She was wrapped in my green flight jacket. It was the same jacket I placed on Vivian as she entered the boat the night before.”
At this point in the reiteration Adams stopped Havens with a question, “Do you have any idea who followed Vivian out to sea that night?”
“No,” Havens responded. “But I would assume Marlene since she was near the shipwreck. I don’t know if anyone else was involved.”
Having listened to the three men, Adams decided to change his position from observation with deference to verify with deference. Whether or not Havens’ and Tracy’s age regression tale was true, there was a missing woman. Adams removed his cell phone from his pocket and made a quick call. He did not notice Havens tense at the action.
The receptionist answered the incoming call from Adams and he identified himself. “This is Captain Adams, please connect me with Sergeant Spencer.” There was a slight pause as the connection was made.
Everyone in the room could heard the booming voice of Sargent Spencer as he answered his phone, “Detective Sargent Spencer here, with whom am I speaking?”
“Spencer, this is Adams.”
Sargent Spencer, still smarting from his previous encounter with Adams immediately changed his demeanor to a noticeably humbler stance.
Adams issued a curt directive to Spencer. “Spencer I want to you get on the telephone and check every marina in the area. I am interested in knowing if a Marlene Paxton rented a boat any time this week. You have my cell phone number, get back to me as soon as you have an answer.” He paused for a moment and then continued, “Do you understand?”
“Yes, sir,” came the response from the telephone. “I’m on it right now.”
As the call ended, Havens sat back in the chair. He appreciated the information they could receive through police work. Finding if Marlene had rented a boat would have taken far longer for him to discover had he even thought about doing so. Letting Adams in on their secret wasn’t such a bad decision after all.
Nine year old Juanita Cardenas called a second time for help from her mother as she placed her arms around Vivian and assisted her to stand erect on her feet. Vivian winced as she rose, for the fall had driven an inch long splinter from the rough deck boards of the ancient craft into her hand.
As Vivian stood she looked down into the face of a beautiful young girl. Her chestnut hair framed her cherubic face and her eyes were a dreamy soft shade of brown. Kindness and compassion sparkled from an effervescent intelligence which was an obvious gift from her Creator. At the moment, Vivian experienced a sensation of instant love.
Juanita helped Vivian walk the dozen steps to a rough seat attached to the rear of the craft. She assisted Vivian to be seated on the bench. Vivian began an immediate surveillance of her surroundings. She noted an elderly gentleman also seated on the bench. He appeared very interested in the current happenings, however, Vivian immediately noticed that he was blind. There was scarring around his eyes, meaning it had been an external cause.
As she made mental notes of these things, a young woman came hurrying from the wheelhouse of the boat to the rear deck. The woman appeared to be in her mid to late twenties. She also was an incredibly beautiful woman and Vivian immediately noticed the resemblance of the young girl to her apparent mother. As Vivian mentally admired the magnificent beauty of this young mother, even in the midst of potential danger, her mind flew to business. She thought to herself if there were a way to capture such beauty in a bottle and market it to the world, the proceeds would be incalculable.
As her mind quickly processed the thought, she remembered that she had often played “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?” when she was young. And, she wistfully thought, if only I could have the face of this young mother looking back at me.
Petra reached the group at the rear of the boat and quickly set about assessing Vivian’s condition. Vivian winced as Petra took hold of her hand and unknowingly disturbed the splinter. She turned Vivian’s hand over and while examining her palm, she discovered the wooden dagger.
“Juanita, quickly go below and bring me the first aid kit.”
Vivian noticed Petra’s slight accent in her otherwise flawless English.
Juanita vanished and then returned almost instantly, clutching a small first aid kit in her hands. Petra opened the kit and removed a pair of tweezers and quickly withdrew the splinter from Vivian’s hand. As Petra worked on Vivian’s hand, Rodrigo, her father, who had been quiet up to this point and had attempted to analyze the activity through carefully listening, finally inquired as to what was happening.
Petra directed Juanita to keep her “Abuelo” informed. Juanita moved to her grandfather’s side. She hugged him and then described to him the waking of their guest and how Petra attended her.
Vivian observed this exchange between granddaughter and grandfather with admiration. The love between the two was evident and enviable. Vivian’s thoughts rushed back to the days when her own father was still living. She loved him so. And he her. Vivian’s mother died in an airplane crash while Vivian was yet a child, and her father then became father and mother to her. Her heart ached when she thought of those wonderful days with him, and remorse swept over her when she realized how far she had strayed from the wonderful values he had taught her. His hallmarks were honesty, integrity, strength of character, compassion, mercy and helping those who were in need. Tears fell from her eyes as she lamented what she had become and how she had betrayed his wonderful values.
Petra, noticing the tears, feared that once again she had caused pain to her guest and quickly drew back from dressing Vivian’s cuts and bruise. Petra apologized for any discomfort she may have caused Vivian.
“I am sorry if I hurt you.” A look of true compassion crossed her face.
Vivian’s thoughts returned to a day in her distant past when she recalled seeing that very same look on her father’s face. She recalled vividly the obvious sense of righteous benevolence on her father’s face the day he hired Dr. John Mason to work at Rassiter Hospital. No one else would give Mason a chance to redeem himself. Only her father had faith in what he saw deep within the soul of a fellow human being.
Vivian felt a tremendous sense of gratitude sweep over her and she quickly responded, “No, you have not hurt me. Rather, your kindness has brought forth memories of many years ago. Memories of someone who, like you, understood how to be kind to all. Even to a stranger such as I. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Not only for your tender care, but also for helping me revisit a needed lesson in my own life.”
Petra studied Vivian’s face for an extended period of time, not for medical reasons, but rather searching deep into Vivian’s soul. The spirits of the two women touched in the deep spiritual way that only kindred daughters of their Creator can do. Finally, as the two women completed evaluating one another, Petra was the first to break the silence.
“You are a good person. I sense this. Deep within your heart resides a goodness. I know this to be true.”
Vivian, with a gentle smile, stretched forth her arms and with her recently treated palm took Petra’s hand and squeezed it. The significance of using her wounded hand and thereby enduring avoidable pain to express appreciation and kinship was not lost on Petra. She understood. Reluctantly she broke the quietness of the moment.
“Forgive me, but you must have many questions as to how you came to be on our boat. And we also have many questions. But first, you must be hungry. May I provide something for you to eat and drink?”
The mention of food brought to Vivian’s mind just how hungry and thirsty she was. She responded with a grateful nod of her head.
“Thank you, I am very hungry. And thirsty. I do not know when I ate last. Anything that you may offer will be most appreciated.”
Vivian was not accustomed to extending gracious behavior nor appreciation for efforts made on her behalf. She became cognizant of this new sense of propriety. She paused for a moment to relish the feeling. Perhaps, she thought, not all of my father’s lessons have fallen by the wayside.
Vivian glanced sideways to locate Juanita. She found the girl nestled next to her grandfather, relating to him all that was transpiring. Her grandfather raised his hand to her face and gently caressed Juanita’s cheek with soft affectionate strokes of his fingers. Vivian’s heart was moved. She recalled her father doing the same for her and always with the admonition, “The most tender expression of affection is to gently caress the face of a loved one with your fingertips.”
Tears once again welled in her eyes as she recalled the day he died. He was in the very hospital that his enormous wealth had built. But even that magnanimous gift to the community could not save him from death. While lying in the bed, he extended his hand to her for the last time and he gently caressed Vivian’s face, displaying the great fit of love from a father to his cherished daughter.
“God be with you all till we meet again. . .”The familiar strain of that great old hymn softly interrupted the conversation at the table. Captain Lee Adams gently pushed aside a plate containing the remains of the apple pie which he had for dessert and with a smile explained his wife’s choice of ringtone for his cellphone.
“Each time my phone rings, Celia said her choice of music would remind me that she keeps me in her prayers for safety throughout the day.” Adams reached into his jacket pocket and retrieved his phone. He opened the conversation with one word.
Detective Sergeant Spencer, eager to redeem himself from his previous lack of judgment regarding Garner Havens, had quickly gained the information Adams had requested.
“Captain,” Spencer began, “About that information for boat rentals within the last week, I did establish that a Marlene Paxton rented a boat and put out to sea early Tuesday morning. Incredibly early.”
“Which marina?” Adams responded.
“CC Marina. The boat’s from Cason Charters.”
Adams responded more for the benefit of Tracy and Havens who had joined him for lunch, “That marina is not far from here.” He paused for a moment and then, feeling a pang of compassion for Spencer, spoke a compliment into his cellphone. “Nice job, Spencer. Thank you.”
He pressed the end button on his cell phone.
Adams was contemplative for a few moments. This whole crazy story about an adult regressing to an infant now, with the findings of Spencer, seemed to bear some resemblance to reality. A very small resemblance he cautioned himself. Further verification was warranted. Adams was not yet willing to admit that it happened as Tracy believed. He was still puzzled about the matter. The strong support for Tracy’s theory was provided by Jamison’s suggestion that a link did exist between infantile cell structure and adult cell structure. Adam’s sixth sense, developed over many years of investigative work, suggested Tracy and Havens both believed what they were saying. Adams determined the next step was to verify the identity of Marlene Paxton.
“Gentlemen,” Adams broke the silence, “May I suggest we take a ride over to CC Marina? Apparently a boat was rented by Marlene Paxton and she departed the CC Marina sometime early Tuesday morning. Mr. Havens, do you have a photograph of Ms. Paxton?”
“I know where I can get one,” Havens answered the question. “May I borrow your cell phone?”
Adams handed the phone to Havens who quickly keyed in a number and then waited patiently for an answer.
“Good afternoon. Ms. VanArp’s office, Holly Parker speaking. May I help you?”
Tracy noticed that Havens’ features softened when he heard the voice on the other end of the line.
“Holly, this is Garner. How are you?”
“Garner!” the single word burst forth from the cellphone held in Havens’ hand. The other two men at the table could almost feel the relief emanating from Holly’s voice.
“Garner, I am almost insane with concern. I haven’t heard from you in so long. What are you doing? How are you doing? Have you heard from Vivian? Did you and Dr. Tracy arrive safely?”
Havens laughed and then proceeded with questions of his own.
“Holly, it’s so good to hear your voice. I’m sorry I don’t have time to answer all your questions right now, but I promise I will later. Dr. Tracy and I are both safe, and I need your help, again. Do you have a recent picture of Marlene Paxton on file?”
“Yes. Vivian insisted that all personnel have their pictures taken annually for our files. Marlene did so about a month ago. Why do you need her picture? Isn’t she there with you?”
Ignoring Holly’s question for the moment, Havens turned to Adams and inquired, “Captain, do you have a fax where the picture can be sent?”
Adams responded by writing a number on an unused napkin and sliding it across the table to Havens. “Holly, please write this number on a piece of paper and fax a copy of the picture to the number as quickly as you can. Please, it is urgent.”
“Certainly, Garner, I will do it immediately.” She paused for a moment to collect her thoughts and then proceeded, “Please tell me you’re okay.”
“Holly, you and I have that dinner date when I return. I won’t let anything in this world keep me from the pleasure of your company. Please be assured that I am fine.” He paused for a moment. “I will call you later to fill you in on all the details.”
The ride to the office of Captain Adams was made in silence for the most part. Upon arrival at police headquarters, Tracy and Havens remained in the same car that had been rented for Vivian’s use while she was in Miami. Adams hurried to his office. After only a few moments, he returned with a fax copy of an 8×10 photograph of a young woman, perhaps in her early 30s. A very attractive young lady with flowing brunette hair cascading about her shoulders.
Adams handed the copy to Havens. “Is this Marlene Paxton?”
“Yes,” Havens said. He glanced at the picture and handed it back. While he did not doubt Tracy’s explanation, it was still astonishing to think that only a few days ago this beautiful young woman had, within moments, become a baby again.
Adams accompanied them in the rental car. The trio again traveled in silence. Havens followed his instructions to the marina.
Upon arrival at CC Marina, Adams asked to see the manager. The young lady to whom Adams addressed the request smiled and picked up the handset of her desk telephone. She waited for a few moments and then spoke.
“Brad there are three gentlemen here to see you. Will you please come to the front desk?”
Apparently responding to Brad’s request, the young lady turned her attention to Adams and asked, “What is this regarding?”
Adams removed a small black leather wallet from his pocket and opened it, exposing his official badge. He did not need to answer her question as she immediately spoke into the telephone.
“Brad, these gentlemen are with the police department. You had best come here quickly.”
In only a matter of seconds Brad appeared form an inner office. He walked toward the trio, smiled broadly, extended his hand and said, “I’m Brad Salgado-Vela, the manager of the marina.”
Adams shook Brad’s hand, introduced himself, and then Havens and Tracy. After a few polite exchanges Brad asked, “What can I do for you gentlemen?”
Adams responded, “We have a couple of questions regarding a rental made on Monday evening. Who was on duty that evening around 11:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m.?”
Brad answered, “Normally the night attendant is here at that time, however, on Monday he called in sick and I filled in for him.”
Adams produced the picture of Marlene Paxton and asked, “Did you rent a boat to this lady?”
Brad responded that he did. “I remember her very well. I was puzzled as to why she would venture out in the weather we were experiencing that night. Especially alone.”
“She was alone?”
“As far as I could tell. No one else came in out of the rain. I didn’t see anyone get on the boat with her either.”
“Has the boat been returned?”
“Not as of yet. The boat was rented for a week.”
“Did Paxton pay in advance for the rental?”
“No the rental was paid for with a credit card. The arrangement was made by telephone only a couple of hours before Paxton picked up the boat.”
Adams was suddenly very curious. “Do you have the credit card number on file?”
“Yes, we maintain a file of all rentals.”
Brad moved to the computer at the reception desk, keyed in a few instructions and then watched as the printer produced a hard copy of the requested information. He handed the paper to Adams.
Adams examined the paper for a moment, then withdrew his cell phone and made a call.
In the immortal words of Yogi Berra it was “déjà vu all over again.”
“Sergeant Spencer, here. To whom am I speaking?”
“Spencer, this is Adams. Grab a pencil and write down this number.”
“Fire away, Captain, I’m ready.”
Adams gave the number to Spencer along with other pertinent data and with the instruction to determine who was the holder of the card and get back as quickly as possible. He disconnected.
Adams turned to Brad and requested the rental boat numbers and all descriptive information regarding the craft. He copied this information to his pocket-sized notebook. When he had completed the task, the now familiar tone of “God be with You” emanated from his pocket. Once again a soft smile played at the corners of his mouth.
Sergeant Spencer’s voice boomed through the phone loud enough that all could hear. “Captain, this is Spencer.” Then somehow he lowered his voice as if attempting to assuage his chagrin by appearing to draw Adams into his confidence as he revealed the name of the credit card holder.
There was stunned silence from Adams’ side of the conversation. Adams finally offered the first words, “Thank you,” before hanging up. He turned to Tracy and Havens with bewilderment on his face as he asked a question.
“Why would Vivian VanArp rent a boat for Marlene Paxton to follow her?”
On Board the Tibidabo
Petra reappeared from below the deck of the boat, carrying a tin plate in her hands and a metal goblet. She extended the plate to Vivian and seated herself on the bench. She held the goblet, allowing Vivian to use one hand to hold the plate and other to feed herself.
Petra offered an apology for the cold food. She explained that when she and her family were out fishing the only way to keep food safe was in several coolers. So all their meals were consumed cold.
The tin place contained a humble dish of rice, seafood and hard bread, and yet it tasted better than the $300 meals Vivian was accustomed to when she dined out. Petra smiled as Vivian consumed every morsel on the plate. She then offered the goblet of water to Vivian who dank it dry.
Petra sent Juanita below to procure another helping of the rice and seafood mixture and to refill the goblet. Juanita was eager to assist and did so promptly. After Vivian consumed the second helping and drained the goblet dry once again Petra spoke.
“My name is Petra Cardenas. This is my daughter Juanita, and her abuelo, Rodrigo, is my father. You have been the guest of my husband Juan Carlos and my family on our boat since this morning. We have many questions. Please, how is it that you came to be on that deserted island with two boats? You can only pilot one at a time.”
Again Vivian was struck at Petra’s excellent English. It was even more pleasant by a colloquial which Vivian did not recognize.
However, what startled Vivian was Petra’s reference to two boats on the cay. Gradually her memory began to piece things together. She remembered beaching on the shore and the horrific pain of the experience. She mentally chastised herself for leaving Miami in a storm and wrecking her cruiser in such an impetuous act. She was puzzled by Petra’s mention of a second boat. There was none there when she arrived. She recalled her hallucination regarding Marlene Paxton being on the island. The possibility of that being reality was absurd.
“Yes. We have one of the boats in tow.”
Rather shakily, Vivian rose to her feet and Petra and Juanita each took one of her arms to steady her. Vivian turned to look over the bulwark at the rear of the craft and saw another boat in tow. It was not Finally. She puzzled over the boat, wondering who it could belong to when she saw something on the other boat that caused her vision to blur and her head to spin. A gasp escaped from her mouth and her knees buckled. Petra and Juanita kept her from falling and they gently lowered her to a sitting position on the bench.
Petra was concerned. “Are you in pain? Where does it hurt?”
Vivian’s head was spinning as reality confronted her. She recalled in her hallucination that Marlene said she placed her burgundy flight suit on the deck of the boat to dry. And there, on the front of the towed boat was a burgundy flight suit. Vivian could see the gold color splash of the VanArp logo on the front of the suit.
Petra again inquired as to pain. This time Vivian responded, “No. No pain. I am just dizzy. Thank you.”
Vivian fought for control of her thoughts and her emotions. Every one of her experiences on the cay flooded over her mind. In a whirr, the memories cascaded through her consciousness. She struggled to process and place in the proper realm of accepted scientific knowledge that which she saw. She could not.
After a moment of bewildering thought she realized that Petra and Juanita were still watching her with expressions of concern. Her mental acuity returned to allow her focus on immediate needs.
She looked Petra straight in the eyes and sought to assuage her concerns.
“I am sorry if I have caused you concern. Please forgive me. I am fine. May I sit quietly for a moment and try to recall what has brought me to my current condition?”
Petra smiled, gently placed on her hand on Vivian’s shoulder and responded.
“Of course. I will be in the wheelhouse with my husband if you need me.”
She then turned to Juanita and said, “Juanita, please introduce our guest to your grandfather. And then please allow. . .” her voice trailed off, she then spoke to Vivian, “I do not know your name.”
Petra then finished her instructions to Juanita. “Pease allow Vivian to have some quiet.” Then she added one additional bit of information for Vivian, “When you are feeling better, Vivian, I will tell you how you came to be our guest on board the Tibidabo.”
Having said such, she turned and made her way forward to inform Juan Carlos of all that had transpired since she was summoned from his side by Juanita’s call for help.
Feeling very adult by her mother’s assignment of a part in the drama playing out on the boat, Juanita gently took Vivian’s hand and smiled warmly at her.
She then took her grandfather’s hand and laced Vivian’s hand in his.
“This is my abuelo.” She spoke with a noticeable sense of adult involvement and then immediately reverted to an adolescent love which bordered on hero worship. “He is the best abuelo in the whole world.”
Rodrigo spoke for the first time. “My granddaughter honors me through a sense of personal bias. However,” he paused for a moment with an expression of deep love indelibly etched on his features, “her love is the second greatest gift I have received from our Creator. The first was her grandmother.”
Juanita, still enjoying the sensation of adulthood assignments, reentered the conversation. “Abuelo has never seen me, but someday he will, for I have prayed that he will. And I know that God will answer my prayers if I will be good. And I try my best to be good every day.”
Vivian, moved by the child-like trust of Juanita and by the fact that Rodrigo had never seen this child whom he obviously loved deeply, spoke for the first time to Rodrigo.
“Is this true? You have never seen your beautiful granddaughter?” Juanita blushed at the compliment as Rodrigo answered the question.
“No. Juanita was born after my blindness.”
Vivian’s physical strength and mental acuity were returning due to having consumed food and drink. She sought additional information regarding Rodrigo and his family. Her interest was driven in part by the desire to know about his family who loved one another so deeply and also driven by an attempt to push to the back of her mind the baffling circumstance which led her being on this boat. Social diplomacy was never a hallmark of Vivian’s life, yet at this moment she felt a desperate need for civility and tenderness regarding Rodrigo’s blindness. However, never having much experience with those two qualities, she resorted to a typical Vivian directness.
“Were you born blind?”
Although Rodrigo had lost his vision, he had not lost his sense of humor.
“No,” he smiled and then chuckled as he responded, “I was shot by a jealous woman.”
Vivian’s attention was piqued. She suspected there was more to his statement than just humor. She pondered his comment for a moment and then she accepted his statement as being truthful. This acceptance was based partly on her preliminary consideration of Rodrigo as being an attractive man, despite his scars and sun-aged skin. Also her intuition identified him as an honest soul. She could understand a woman being attracted to him; however, her intuition gave no indication that he was capable of behaving in such a way as to invoke such extreme jealousy in a woman.
“Please explain,” her directness was not tempered in the least by her previous desire for discretion.
“It is a long story.”
Vivian surveyed her surroundings. A boat in the ocean and nowhere to go. She answered accordingly. “Apparently I have lots of time. Please continue.”
Vivian shifted her weight. She was in great pain from her ordeal. She hoped that she could concentrate on Rodrigo’s story and thereby find some temporary relief from her extreme discomfort.
“Please start at the beginning,” she requested. Then she added, “The very beginning. Where were you born?”
He kindly complied with her request and began telling her things that he had never told anyone but his family. He felt at ease with Vivian and comfortable with his appraisal of her as a good person. His innate ability to discern the innermost being of a person failed him only once. And that failure cost him the greatest love of his life. He sensed that Vivian had goodness at her core.
“My name is Rodrigo Valverde. I was born in Ponferrada, Spain and in this lovely city I enjoyed my youth. When I was eighteen years of age my parents sent me to Barcelona to study at the University of Barcelona where I majored in geology and ancient American studies.”
Rodrigo paused as he allowed his mind to drift through decades, returning to his youth. A pleasant expression crossed his face where it took hold and remained.
Vivian watched, transfixed as she observed the man regress in his mind to his youth. The thought of regression startled her into the memory of the unexplainable experience with Marlene Paxton reverting physically. The interruption caused her to approach a panic condition. She quickly prodded Rodrigo from his reverie and encouraged him to continue with his story.
“Please forgive me,” he said. “Some memories are so pleasant that they become sacred to the holder. Such were my thoughts when I temporarily left you. Again, I beg your forgiveness for my discourtesy.
“Barcelona is such a beautiful city,” he continued, “and it was in that wonderful city that I met her. I met my Corina.”
His face showed the depth of his love for her. It was a beautiful revelation to Vivian, who realized the extent of love this man had for his wife. It was something she would come to appreciate even more in the future. She wondered if anyone would ever love her as much. The very same instant she posed the interrogative to herself, the thought of Philip Tracy came to her. Vivian mentally shook those thoughts away.
Where was Corina now? Was she on the boat elsewhere or on the shore? A dark realization overcame her as she realized that Rodrigo’s reverie placed Corina in the past tense of his memory. Was she (here Vivian paused for a moment, reluctant to allow the errant thought to even take form in her mind) alive?
Rodrigo continued. It was evident that he enjoyed this recollection of happier times. “Corina was also attending the University of Barcelona. We met in a class we were taking to learn the English language. She was exceptionally proficient with speaking English. It was almost like a first language for her. She helped me very much as I struggled to learn.”
Vivian interrupted, “Corina is a good teacher, your English is flawless.”
A look of deep sadness swept over Rodrigo’s countenance. He answered slowly and with much grief in his voice. “Was a good teacher.”
Vivian acknowledged to herself that although she had only known this man for less than two hours, she liked him and commiserated with his pain.
“I’m sorry,” she offered her sympathy.
Rodrigo smiled and thanked her. “God gave her to me for almost thirty wonderful years. I thank Him for His kindness.”
“Please continue,” Vivian gently encouraged him.
Rodrigo smiled. “Thank you for your interest. You are a very kind lady.”
Vivian blushed. She could not remember ever being called “kind.” Usually she was called the opposite. She knew that behind her back others had labeled her “Princess Vivian.” That was one of the better insults.
Rodrigo broke her thought process when he continued his dissertation regarding the past.
“We enjoyed wonderful summer evenings sipping cool drinks in the Plaza Real. We often walked hand-in-hand on the Ramblas and made excursions to Pueblo Espanola and to Mount Tibidabo.”
“Isn’t the name of this boat Tibidabo?”
“Yes. When Juan Carlos and Petra acquired the boat, it was without a name. I asked if they would name it Tibidabo. Tibidabo is the place where I proposed to Corina.”
Vivian felt an unusual tenderness come over her. It was a sensation which she had not felt for many years. Too many corporate acquisitions and far too many board meetings had all but vanquished this wonderful quality from her life. Vivian, moved by an uncharacteristic feeling of compassion, spoke, “Corina was a fortunate lady to have a husband such as you.”
Rodrigo was humbled by the comment. He lowered his head and had he been able to see, he would have been looking at Vivian’s hand, still held in his own where Juanita had placed it. He thanked Vivian for her comforting words. Vivian asked again for him to continue his story and to provide a meaning for Tibidabo.
“Legend has it that mount Tibidabo is the high mountain top where Satan took Jesus and tempted Him, offering Him all the kingdoms of the world.” Rodrigo paused for a moment to collect his thoughts and then continued, “It was on mount Tibidabo that I gained much more than the kingdoms of the world; it was there that Corina gave me her hand in marriage.
“Tibidabo has such tender meaning for me I thought if I could be close to something, such as the boat that bore the same name, I would have a wonderful reminder of my Corina. But nothing can take the place of my memories. Certainly not a boat made of wood and nails.
“We both graduated and I found employment in my home city of Ponferrada. In Ponferrada there is an ancient Roman gold mine. My work was to determine the methods of mining used by the Romans. Little did I know the great loss this experience would ultimately cost me.
“Corina and I lived in wonderful life and Corina bore one child, my precious daughter Petra. And years later Petra gave me Juanita. Both are the lights of my life. Petra and Juanita both remind me so much of my Corina.”
Rodrigo returned to his narrative. “Then she came.” The bitterness with which he pronounced the pronoun she was evident. Vivian leaned forward to peer into his face. She read the mixture of anger and grief so plainly evident on his face. She felt his hand involuntarily contract, squeezing her hand to the point his grasp actually caused pain to her hand.
Juanita placed her arms around her grandfather’s neck and hugged him. She had heard the story so often and knew the pain he felt when he repeated what happened.
“I did not know at the time, that she had searched for me in particular. She knew I was a Valverde and a direct decedent of the Valverde who legend maintains found the fabulous treasure that the Incas gathered in the late 16th century to pay ransom for their king Atalhalpa.”
He paused and smiled as his next statement one again revealed his ability to find humor in spite of his own challenging circumstances. “If my ancestor actually found the great Incan treasure, he did not leave any of it to me.
“Anyway, the legend places the hiding spot of the treasure to be in Ecuador. She had purchased a coffee plantation in Ecuador on which she believed the treasure was to be found. She also believed that with my education and my ancestry I knew the approximate location of the treasure and was preparing to locate and claim it for myself.
“Her conjecture was just that: conjecture. I knew nothing of the treasure. However, she was motivated by her own misguided greed. She located me in Ponferrada and offered a very lucrative employment opportunity on her planation in Ecuador. Corina and I accepted what we thought would be a wonderful opportunity.”
He paused for an extended moment, reflecting on the decision he and Corina made years ago. He placed his hand on his granddaughter’s as if to draw strength and continued sadly. “How wrong we were.
“We assisted her in her attempt to find the lost treasure. It was a fruitless effort. Eventually she tired of the search and confined Corina, me and Petra to working on the coffee plantation. We along with approximately one hundred others were virtually slaves. We were not allowed to leave the plantation. Several tried to escape. None were successful.
“Then my Corina disappeared. One morning when I awoke, she was gone. Just vanished. The rumor was started that she attempted to escape and met her fate as did the others who attempted to leave the plantation.” Tears clouded his eyes. “This is not true. I know this in my heart. She would never have left without telling me. She would never under any circumstances abandon Petra. Petra was her greatest joy in life. She did not leave, she was taken by that evil jealous woman and killed somewhere in the jungle.”
Vivian felt tears drop from her own eyes. Compassion engulfed her. Pain for this kindly man swept through Vivian’s heart. She hurt for him. She felt blessed to be a witness to such love. And then another love of such great intensity burst on her mind. She recalled the love Miguel Alaminos expressed in his letters to his wife Maria. Vivian was awash with ambivalent emotions. She hurt for both of these couples and at the same time she felt a tremendous absence in her own life for such a wonderful love for another. For a love that is returned in kind.
Moved by the moment, Vivian encircled him and Juanita in her arms and held them closely. The two adults embraced each other as both shed tears unabashedly. Juanita, touched by the moment, held each as tightly as she could and offered the innocent comforting words of a nine-year-old.
“Abuelo, I have prayed that Abuela is okay and you will see her again.” And then with all the conviction of a child, she continued, “I know it will be, Abuelo, I know it.”
This moment of commiseration continued as each seemed to draw comfort from one another. Finally, completely emotionally drained, Vivian lessened her hold on Rodrigo and Juanita. She broke the silence with a question. “Rodrigo, was this the jealous woman of whom you spoke, who caused the loss of your sight?”
Vivian, not wishing to pry, and yet curious as to how another woman could possibly gain the attention of this man who was dedicated to his wife, even years after her death, posed another question. “Was she attracted to you?”
Vivian was ill-at-ease asking the question. She felt as if by even asking she was betraying the enviable integrity of this man whom she came to care for in such a short time.
Perhaps at another time Rodrigo would have smiled at what a vain man would have considered a compliment, but at this moment, his sense of great loss negated that possibility.
“She is an evil woman. An incredibly evil woman.” He paused and reflected for a moment and then continued as he addressed Vivian, “You sound young. Perhaps life has not yet taught you that some people can be jealous of what they do not have. And, rather than seeking to acquire that which is missing in their own lives, they seek a balance by destroying that which is in another’s life.
“She was envious of the life that Corina and I shared. I suspected she had never experienced such a love. A love sanctioned by God and by her own twisted reasoning, she attempted to destroy our love. Each of her efforts to reduce us to her own misery met with failure. Until, I believe, in her frustration and depravity she took my Corina from me. May God forgive me for my feelings toward that woman.”
Again tears flowed from his eyes. He wept tears of deep loss. There was a prolonged silence while Vivian held his hands and Juanita shed silent tears for her grandfather and hugged his neck.
When Rodrigo regained composure he concluded his story. “A short time after I lost my Corina, Petra, Juan Carlos and I escaped from the plantation in Ecuador. It was during the escape that I was shot and lost my vision. We traveled for weeks until we reached Guyana. A kindly woman took us in and cared for us. She owned this boat. Her husband had died and she had no one to do the fishing by which she sustained herself. She asked Juan Carlos to do so. So, he took over the boat and did the fishing for the Bluefin tuna. While we lived with her, Juanita was born.
“We stayed with her until she passed on. That was about ten years since Corina disappeared. She left the boat and her very small home to Petra and Juan Carlos. We haven’t attempted to return to my home in Spain. We have very little money to travel. Nor do I wish to return.” He paused and then concluded, “And that is how we came to be on the Tibadabo and how we happened to be in the same waters you were.”
Vivian was deeply moved by this man’s story. She now knew her rescuers better and her trust in them was deepened. If there was any way she could help them, she would find a way.
Boats on the Horizon
Havens and Tracy looked dumfounded by the question. Havens was the first to speak. “There is no reason for Vivian to have rented a boat for Marlene. I can guarantee you, she did not do so. Marlene would have mentioned it to me during the flight from Rassiter. In fact Marlene told me she would be in Miami on vacation while she waited for Vivian to conclude whatever business she was here to conduct.”
Adams trusted his years of experience regarding investigations; however he was concerned. This missing person case was taking several twists and turns that caused him to ponder. “Why was she here?”
Tracy said, “You remember our discussion earlier? About the cay?”
Adams thought to himself that Vivian VanArp would be one of the few people who could afford to purchase a cay off the shore of Florida.
“Why would she want the cay?” Adams asked. His question was met with silence. Adams suspected that although they had discussed many things, both men had kept something from him. Or else they did not wish to speak with Brad and his receptionist nearby.
“Adams, may I borrow your phone?” Havens asked. “Holly might have some information.”
Adams handed the phone to Havens. Perhaps the two didn’t actually know.
Havens immediately dialed Holly’s phone number. He waited until he heard her pleasant voice answer, “Ms. VanArp’s office, this is Holly Parker. May I help you?”
“Holly, this is Garner. I have some important questions for you. Do you have time?”
“Garner!” There was reprimand in her tone, “I am not answering any questions until you first answer some from me. Do you have the time?”
Havens smiled with pleasure at Holly’s attention. “Yes, Holly, I have some time. However I am still in the company of Captain Lee Adams of the Miami Police Department and Dr. Tracy. And I am sure their time has some limits.” He smiled with the self-satisfaction at the dual meaning contained in his answer.
“Police department? I thought that got resolved.”
“Oh, yes,” Havens realized he had not told her about his renewed contact with the captain. “All is well in that regard. Phil and I are most fortunate to have Captain Adams assisting us in our search for Vivian.”
“Then you have not found her yet.” Concern was evident in Holly’s voice.
“Not yet. However, we are very much in need of your help. Will you assist?”
A smile emerged from the voice on the other end of the telephone. “Of course,” and then with an impish follow up, “but you will owe me another evening and this time I will prepare a home-cooked meal for you. As you know, cooking is one of my interests in my personal life.”
Havens was silent for a moment and then continued the conversation. “Holly, that is a date I look forward to more than I can explain. I have heard Vivian rave about your culinary expertise.”
He paused and then smiled as he heard her soft and gentle response.
“Thank you, Garner, I will hold you to that.”
“I hope so,” he quietly spoke. Then he resumed his request when he noticed Adams frown. Clearly the captain believed he was wasting precious minutes by flirting. “Does VanArp Enterprises still have access to the weather satellite?”
“Yes we do. Tom Hendricks has that responsibility.”
“Would you ask Tom if he will review the area surrounding the coordinates you gave me of the cay? Have him do so for every hour for the twelve hour period starting with sunrise on Tuesday to Wednesday morning. This is very important, Holly. Would you please let me know if he notices anything unusual? Also, I will need the use of the helicopter again, and I need the corporate jet refueled. Will you make those arrangements for us? And please, write down this cell phone number and call us back when you can.” He then gave her the number to the phone.
“Of course,” Holly said. “I will make the arrangements.” She could now feel Havens’ sense of urgency. She concluded the conversation with the admonition for him to be careful and then she added. “I miss you.”
She hung up quickly not waiting for his response. She wanted for him to have time to contemplate her closing remark. Let him think about that for a while, she thought to herself.
Havens held the phone for a full minute after the conversation had ended.
Tracy and Adams gave one another a knowing look.
Adams then spoke. “Havens, what do you intend to do with the helicopter?”
“I propose that you and Dr. Tracy accompany me. I wish to return to the cay and investigate further as to what may have happened. As for the refueling of the jet, we may need to use it to expand our search efforts, depending on what Tom Hendricks discovers on his weather satellite photos.”
“I have no jurisdiction out in the Atlantic. Those are international waters,” Adams cautioned.
“I understand,” Havens answered. “However, you have many years of experience investigating crime scenes. That experience may prove vital to us.” Havens softened his voice as he extended the invitation a second time, “Will you accompany us?”
“When will you leave?”
“How long will this take?”
“Once we are in the air, the entire operation should take two hours.”
Adams looked at his watch and then spoke. “Havens, if I’m late for dinner you will answer to my wife.”
“I promise to have you back in time for dinner,” Havens smiled while he spoke.
Havens handed the phone back to Adams, who dialed a number. When his party answered, he spoke, “Hi, Hon, I should be home in time for dinner. And we will have two guests. Can you handle that? Did I give you enough advance notice?”
Adams listened then hung up the phone. He looked at Tracy and Havens, and spoke, “My wife is one in a million. She is a great cook and she is the author of several bestselling cook books. You gentlemen are in for a treat tonight.” Adams grinned with self-satisfaction at his clever way of assuring he would be home in time for dinner.
Adams’ familiar ringtone played as the trio pulled into the airport parking lot. Adams responded with his usual single word. “Adams.” He listened for a moment and then handed the phone to Havens.
“It’s your girlfriend.”
Feeling warmth on his cheeks, Havens took the phone. “Havens.”
“Garner, this is Holly. Is this a convenient time for you? I have some information.”
“Yes. What did Tom Hendricks learn?”
“It’s amazing! First, he found the cay with a boat beached on it. He zoomed in and identified the boat as being the corporate cruiser Finally. He then expanded his search to include surrounding waters. Without results. Then, he noticed something on the horizon. He magnified and found two boats. One being pulled by the other. Are you getting this Garner?”
“Yes. Please, go on.”
“He identified the towed boat as bearing the identification of CC Marina and the boat doing the towing is named Tibidabo. He matched the registration numbers for the CC Marina boat to be the rental from Miami. He could not find any registration for Tibidabo in any of the forty-eight contiguous states. He then searched the World Shipping Register for any vessel by that name. He found two. One is a large ocean-going vessel with a home port listed as Barcelona, Spain. Obviously that vessel was much too big for the one Tom observed. So he investigated the smaller vessel and found it is registered in Guyana. It is docked in Georgetown and is a fishing boat registered to a Juan Carlos and Petra Cardenas. I have their home address in Georgetown if you are interested.”
“Yes, please,” Havens hurriedly searched for a piece of paper in the glove box. Finding only a small scrap, he wrote the address on it from a pen proffered by one of the other two men.
“I hope this helps,” Holly said. “Incidentally, Tom Hendricks mentioned he had informed Vivian of a Taino Indian legend that mentions a Spanish solider left to guard the Fountain of Youth. Garner, you know how Tom loves a good joke. He asked me to tell you that if you found a four hundred year old Spanish soldier looking like an elementary school child then you will know that you’ve found Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth.”
“Holly. This helps more than you can imagine. We are at the airport and I am about to be airborne. I will call you later tonight.”
“Please call me at home. Do you have my home number?”
She gave him the number which he quickly wrote on the back of his hand. They exchanged goodbyes and he looked up to see Adams and Tracy grinning at one another.
Return to the Cay
Havens lowered the helicopter to the surface of the cay. He put down about fifteen yards from the wreckage of Finally. Sand flew outward from their landing, the wind stirring up the grains from the limestone rocks near the shore. When the blades stopped moving, the three men exited the craft and walked the short distance to the wreck of the boat. Even at a glance Havens knew the boat was no longer seaworthy. A salvage operation would be necessary.
The three men examined what remained on the craft. They could find nothing that would give them any indication of what had happened to Vivian. The various pots and pans scattered around the hull were even more of a mystery. If there had been a fight, more than just these items would have been flung about. The cabinets also appeared securely shut, nothing else had tumbled in the galley than what hadn’t been secured previous to the crash.
Havens suggested they walk the short distance to the stand of palm trees in the center of the cay where he had found the baby. When they arrived at the trees, Havens explained where he’d found the child. Adams, with the experienced eye of an investigator looked the area over. Despite wind-damage to the evidence, he saw many clues that neither Havens nor did Tracy see. His mind began to function like a computer as he mentally formulated a scenario of what could have happened.
Havens and Tracy, realizing that Adams was deep in thought, remained quiet, and observed him and their surroundings as he studied the area. He motioned them not to move when they started their own probing.
“I have a theory of what may have happened,” Adams finally said. He paused to see if he had their attention. “Of course this depends on Dr. Tracy’s theory about the ability of the water.”
Adams turned in the direction of the basin of water and pointed at it. Having an idea what it was now, Havens had wanted to get a closer look. Not to touch it, that would be foolish, but if something like that was even possible it was worth looking at!
“If you will examine the sandy area surrounding the basin and the trees,” Adams was saying, “you will note the footprints leading to the basin. There are two sets. The first set of prints approach the basin in a halting fashion with blood splatters. This person was injured. Likely Vivian due to the wreckage her boat displays. This person fell down. You can see the impression of her legs as if she were on her knees.
“Then you have a second set of prints, someone barefoot who walked over these impressions. These are obliterated in the drag marks.” He motioned and the men followed him a short distance away. As Adams spoke, Havens could see what the man described. “The person on her knees, likely Vivian, was dragged to this tree. Please note the depression at the base of the trunk as if a person was seated here. Now note the rope lying behind the tree and the chafe marks on the lower part of the tree. It would appear that someone was bound here. If you note, the bare footprints lead away from the tree and back to the basin.
“This second person might be Marlene, if we take into account she rented the boat from Miami which is now missing. Although why she would be without shoes is strange.”
“And any of her clothes except the jacket,” Tracy said. “The baby wasn’t found with anything on but the jacket, but people just don’t take off all their clothes and. . . well.” He shrugged. “Clothes won’t disappear just because a person regresses to a child. I saw this happen with the dog collars,” the doctor said. “The jacket was left full size because that was all Marlene had on.”
“True,” Adams nodded. “So Marlene didn’t have anything on when she apprehended Vivian. For whatever reason. She must have taken Vivian’s jacket to protect herself before she drank water from the basin. Anyway, this second person knelt here on the other side of the basin.” Adams paused. “Now let us assume that Marlene did drink from the basin and she did regress as Dr. Tracy described the dogs doing. Note that there is another set of footprints but these are larger, likely Havens’. If we ignore these you will see another set of footprints leading back to Finally from the tree. They are in the same halting fashion as those that approached the basin. Vivian must have freed herself from the tree and made an attempt to return to her boat.”
Adams paused and looked at the men. “I suspect that this was a kidnap attempt. Whether it was something Marlene planned on her own or something she was paid to do, I don’t know. She didn’t do this alone. She waited on the island when she could have taken Vivian on her boat. But she stayed, maybe waiting for the other members of the conspiracy. She may have only been assigned to follow Vivian and report. Whatever happened, someone else arrived and found Vivian at the water’s edge, put Vivian on their boat and, not finding Marlene, towed Marlene’s boat away. Or else they purposefully left her.”
The other men nodded, believing his words to be accurate. But Adams shook his head at them. “There is one big hole in this scenario. No ransom demand has been made, and by this time VanArp Enterprises should have received one.”
Adams finished speaking and turned toward the basin when something caught the late afternoon sun and glinted in some small shrubs. Thinking he may have found some additional evidence regarding the matter, he walked the few feet and to his astonishment found a breastplate. It looked old. He froze when he spotted the small skeletal remains of a child in the breastplate.
“Doctor, you need to see this.” He looked back at Tracy, pointing.
Tracy had several years’ experience in forensics. He carefully examined the bones and with a surprised expression on his face said, “I can’t be certain without some lab verification, but I estimate these bones to be centuries old. How did a child get on this cay and why was it under a soldier’s breastplate?”
“Perhaps Tom Hendricks joke is not a joke,” Havens suggested. “Perhaps the Taino Indian legend is not just a legend.”
The three men stood silently as each considered the improbable possibility of this being reality. Havens and Adams, perhaps to regain certainty, determined that an exhaustive search of the entire cay should be conducted to uncover any additional clues. The two men moved to expand their search efforts away from the palm trees and in so doing, left Tracy alone to ponder the perplexing mystery of the skeletal remains.
Tracy had no problem creating a scenario regarding the presence of the breastplate or the baby on the cay. Perhaps the breastplate had been left by mistake by a Spaniard who suddenly departed the cay. That was a comfortable conclusion. But the human remains were another problem. This could have been Marlene’s fate if she hadn’t been found by Havens. This realization made him nauseous.
He turned his attention to the basin. This humble repository of water hardly appeared as a fountain. Certainly not one that had magical properties to restore youth. He glanced back at the breastplate and the remains. It was likely the DNA samples in his briefcase had been mixed around. That he was wrong about Marlene and the child being the same person. No. That solution failed to offer a satisfactory answer as to how the dog in his lab had experienced the same fate as Marlene purportedly experienced.
There was one way to resolve this, Tracy determined. He should procure a sample of the water contained in the basin. He returned to the helicopter and retrieved his bag. He walked the few yards to the wreck of Finally and once again looked for any evidence that would help solve the mystery.
As he looked at the boat, he imagined Vivian piloting the craft. He pictured her shoulder length blonde hair. She was a striking woman. She was the only woman he had allowed to venture near his heart since the untimely death of his wife. He knew that others viewed her as a hard, callous woman. And yet, he saw within her much good. He knew in his heart that when it was necessary, Vivian could be motivated by altruism.
He was deeply worried. Who had kidnapped her and where were they taking her? He mentally chastised himself. Why had he not told her of his feelings? He had the opportunity to do so on many occasions. They would often dine together on the pretext of discussing progress on his research, but he suspected that they both knew their time together was for more than discussion of research. They enjoyed one another’s company. And a romantic moment was always just below the façade of business. A romantic moment he had lacked the courage to bring forth in full beautiful blossom.
He promised himself that if she was still alive and he had the opportunity to see her again, he was going to tell her how much he loved her. He breathed a silent prayer that God would allow him that opportunity.
Consumed with remorse and self-flagellation, Tracy returned to the small stand of trees. Once there he knelt beside the basin. The doctor opened his bag and removed a pint-sized glass container. He filled the bottle, capped it tightly and placed the filled container in his bag.
As Tracy rose from his kneeling position, Havens and Adams returned.
“Adam’s theory has credibility,” Havens said. “On the shore, not completely wiped out by the waves, was evidence of a third person lifting Vivian from the beach and carrying her into the water. We assume she was placed on the third boat, the one towing the rental away.”
“At least that is something.”
“Captain, what is the next step as far as your investigation?” Havens asked Adams.
“Will you check with VanArp Headquarters to determine if a ransom request has been received? In the meantime I will check on the two people to whom the Tibidabo is registered. I will also request the assistance of the Georgetown Police Department if needed. It may be necessary for them to make a call at the residence of the Cardenas couple and verify their whereabouts for the last few days.”
Havens responded that he would make the contact with Holly as soon as they returned to the mainland.
Having decided on this plan regarding Vivian, Tracy added two items for consideration, “Gentlemen, I suggest we return the skeletal remains to the mainland for analysis and proper burial. I also suggest we give the breastplate to the State of Florida for disposition.”
All agreed this was the proper course to follow regarding the artifacts. Having reached consensus, the three gathered the artifacts and returned to the helicopter. In a matter of minutes they were airborne.
Revelations at Dinner
Upon arrival at the Miami airport the three men once again reiterated the course of action to which they agreed while on the cay. Havens then called Holly. The conversation was brief due to the press of time. He determined that as of yet no ransom demand had been received. It was also determined that Adams would be hired by VanArp Enterprises as a private investigator for the course of Vivian’s disappearance. He would assist them in any way they needed without censure from his own department his departure from duty would have otherwise caused. Havens approved as Adams was unlikely to draw media attention to Vivian’s predicament.
After Havens’ call, Adams called his office and instructed Sargent Spencer to do a background check on Juan Carlos and Petra Cardenas. He also informed Spencer to call him once the check had been completed.
“Call me regardless of time,” he emphasized. The three men then drove Adams to his car. He instructed them to follow him to a home-cooked meal which was waiting only a few blocks distant.
The trio arrived only a matter of minutes later. The Adams residence was a very well cared for, modest ranch style home. The yard, alight in the glow of sunset, was meticulously maintained with several flower beds strategically placed around the grounds. Adams pulled his car into the garage and Havens parked the rented vehicle on the street in front of the home.
Adams excited the garage and motioned for Havens and Tracy to come to the house. The two guests walked the few feet to the front door where Adams waited for them. He opened the door with the words, “As the old saying goes, ‘be it ever so humble, there is no place like home.’”
Adams held the door for the two to enter and then he followed and spoke an announcement to his wife. “Hon, we’re home.”
Celia Adams entered the room. She was an attractive lady in her mid-forties, brunette, and she wore a very pleasant smile on her face.
“Gentlemen,” she said as she crossed the room and extended her hand. She was the type of person who is immediately liked.
Adams introduced his wife to Tracy and Havens. After welcoming their guests, Celia offered to prepare some before-dinner drinks. Both men thanked her but declined as neither partook of alcohol. Celia seemed impressed with their temperance and then invited the men to be seated in the living room while she made final preparations for dinner.
“It won’t be long,” was her parting comment. “Dinner will be served promptly at 6:30. I just have a few things to do to complete the potato salad. Shrimp gumbo must be accompanied by fresh potato salad that has never been refrigerated.”
The discussion between the three men centered on the problem at hand: Finding Vivian. It was decided that in the absence of a ransom demand, the assumption could be made that she was in no immediate danger; however she may be injured and unable to make contact with anyone. Their previous plan of wait-and-see was modified. It was determined that Havens and Tracy would take the corporate jet and fly to Georgetown, Guyana and seek out the Cardenas couple to determine what they knew, if anything, of Vivian.
Adams questioned the legality of Havens piloting the jet into Guyana without some clearance from the Guyanese Government. Havens responded that VanArp Enterprises was a huge corporation with worldwide holdings.
William VanArp, the founder of the corporation, while vacationing in South America, had noticed the poverty. He determined to assist in providing employment wherever he could. He then made major investments throughout South America. William was a compassionate man devoted to using his great wealth for the benefit of those in need. Accordingly, VanArp Enterprises held a minority position in a large Guyanese manufacturing company. And Havens added, that while he had been employed as a pilot for the corporation, he had made many trips to the factory.
“VanArp Enterprises has an agreement with the government allowing access to the factory through the Georgetown airport. There is even an automobile stationed at the airport for the executives to use.”
Havens said he would call Holly and she would ask Ed Foster to obtain clearance for the flight.
Their conversation was interrupted by the ringing of Adams’ cell phone.
Sargent Spencer was on the other end of the call. “Sorry to bother you this late, Captain, but I searched for the Cardenas couple and found nothing out of the ordinary. It appears the family suddenly appeared about nine years ago. They have one child, a daughter named Juanita. The family earns a living by fishing for tuna. Apparently a very humble living. They reside in Georgetown, Guyana. I have an address if you would like.”
Adams reached into his shirt pocket for a small notepad and told Spencer to give him the address. He wrote the numbers in the book, ended the conversation and handed the piece of paper to Havens. “Is this the same address you have for the Cardenas couple?”
Havens looked at his scrap of paper and answered, “Yes.”
“Gentlemen, would you care to be seated in the dining room? Dinner is served.” Celia’s very pleasant voice preceded her appearance in the doorway of the living room. The three men followed their hostess to the dining room.
The table was impeccably set. Celia pointed to a place at the table and spoke, “Dr. Tracy, would you please be seated here, and Mr. Havens you may be seated across from Dr. Tracy.”
“Mrs. Adams, please call me Philip.”
“And please call me Garner.”
“I will, gentlemen, if you will call me Celia.”
They all smiled their agreement.
Adams spoke to no one in particular. “My wife makes the best shrimp gumbo in the entire South. You are in for a very special treat tonight, and she has also prepared her own special garlic bread. And if my favorite desert is on the menu, we will have pecan pie.”
Celia smiled at her husband and gently chided him, “When, Mr. Adams, have I ever served you shrimp gumbo without your favorite desert to accompany it?” Celia did not wait for a response from her husband before continuing “Gentlemen, we also have fresh made potato salad, and French bread with garlic butter.”
She immediately set about seeing to the comfort of her guests and when finished, she took the seat next to her husband. The couple held hands as Adams asked a blessing on the food and offered thanks for their company.
Havens opened the dinner conversation with a complement to Celia regarding the meal. Celia then asked if Mrs. Haves enjoyed cooking.
“There is no Mrs. Havens.”
“Oh!” Celia allowed her obvious astonishment at Havens’ matrimonial status to linger for a moment and then she followed with a question. “Garner, you impress me as being a very nice catch for any lady. How have you been able to avoid the walk down the aisle?”
A look of reminiscing crossed his face as he answered her question, “There was a young lady many years ago. We were sweethearts in high school. It was during the Viet Nam era. We planned to be married after school. When I graduated, she still had two years of school left. I am very patriotic and I believe every young man should serve our country and I felt if I enlisted in the army, my military obligation would be fulfilled shortly after she graduated and then we could be married. So I enlisted. After extensive training I was sent to Viet Nam.”
He paused. “One day I received what I called a ‘Dear Son’ letter. My intended had met someone else and did not have the heart to tell me, so she asked my mother to do so.
“And thus ended my romantic years. I’ve dated off and on since then, but nothing serious.”
Adams addressed Havens, “Your attempts to end those romantic years may be premature.” He turned in the direction of his wife and smiled. “Mr. Havens spends an inordinate amount of time during his telephone calls to Holly at VanArp Headquarters.”
Celia turned to look directly into the eyes of Havens. A smile crossed her face. “Well, Garner, let me rephrase my question. Does Holly cook?”
Havens blushed and appeared flustered for the first time since Lee Adams had met him. He answered Celia’s question with a small stammer in his voice. “Yes, she is an excellent cook and cooking is one of the things she enjoys most in life.”
Celia was slightly amused at his discomfort, however she rushed to his rescue with her next comment, “Garner, my husband may have told you that I write cook books—”
Havens interrupted, “Yes, he did. And he spoke proudly of the fact.”
Celia continued, “I have something for you to give your friend Holly; one moment please.” She rose from the table and went to another room. In only a matter of seconds, she returned with a large hardback book in her hand. It was approximately the size of a coffee table book. She sat down and opened the cover and wrote something. She then wrote a paragraph on a piece of personalized stationary, placed the note in an envelope and sealed it. Celia then wrote ‘Holly’ on the envelope. She handed the book to Havens.
Havens lifted the large volume. It was heavy and very expensively produced. The title of the book read Creating Seafood Sensations with Celia Adams: the Best of Celia. She smiled at Havens and said, “That is a gift for Holly. Would you be so kind to see that she receives it?” Havens thanked her and assured her he would deliver the book to Holly.
Celia smiled and turned her attention to Tracy. “Philip, does your wife enjoy cooking? If so, what is her name? I would like to make a gift to her also.”
Tracy smiled and thanked her for her thoughtfulness, then said, “As far as a wife is concerned I must repeat Garner’s answer. I am not married. My wife passed away several years ago. She was a wonderful woman. I was blessed to have her for the time that I did.”
Celia offered her condolences and then pressed the issue, “Is there a cook in your life today?”
“Unfortunately, there is no one. I exist on my own awful cooking and eating out. Your wonderful meal has been a gift from heaven. Thank you.” The loneliness in his voice was very evident. “I do, however, have my work to keep me occupied. I am thankful for that. Had Vivian not offered me the position of the Director of Geriatrics Research Department, I do not know what would have happened to me following the loss of my wife.”
They then spoke at length of Tracy’s departed wife. They spoke of the dreams the two shared and the accomplishments they achieved together.
Celia made an observation. “Throughout our conversation, you have referred to your wife as ‘my wife’. You never called her by name.”
Tracy smiled. “Early in our marriage I realized that of all the six billion people on this planet, I was the only one who could legitimately call her by that title. It brought a special closeness to us.” He paused then added, “Her name was Catherine Rachel.”
Celia was touched by his love for his wife and his evident loneliness. Celia was a very perceptive lady and she instinctively knew that Tracy was not unburdening himself. She provided opportunity for him to do so without embarrassment.
Celia turned her sympathetic eyes on Tracy and he spoke softly, “Philip, may I share something with you?”
“Certainly, please do.”
“When I was a little girl of perhaps three or four, Doris Day had a hit song about a secret love and how that secret love longed to be free. When I was in college I met Lee and immediately loved him. However, being very shy, I kept that love locked in my heart. Until one day as in the song, my secret love longed to be free. So I told Lee of my feelings. And much to my joy, he had the same feelings. And now, we have been happily married for over twenty years.”
Tracy understood the message. He put aside his façade and made a direct revelation regarding the issue. “She is a powerful and very wealthy lady. She is far out of my league.”
Celia’s features softened and gentleness permeated her voice, “Philip, love knows no league. Love is boundless, it is one of the greatest gifts our Creator has given us.” She paused, then issued a kind caution. “Do not let superficialities stymie your heart. Do not let fear rob you of happiness.”
Moisture appeared in Tracy’s eyes. Emotions long held in abeyance were finally released. He looked at the others in the room and with blurred vision he noted the respectful silence of Havens and Adams.
Tracy turned to Adams and with a slight stutter in his voice, he spoke. “Captain, you are a most fortunate man to have such a perceptive and wonderful wife. Thank you for allowing us to visit your home this evening. Celia has exposed some long suppressed revelations regarding my feelings. Feelings that I have denied for too long. I am deeply in her debt.”
Lee Adams closed the evening with the comment, “Celia and I have been honored by the presence of you two gentlemen in our home. Our thanks are extended to you. May God bless you both and keep you in His wonderful care.”
The Beginning of Altruism
Vivian slept soundly in the small bunk below deck in the Tibidabo. Her two hour excursion topside with Juanita and Rodrigo was exhausting. Petra had returned from the wheelhouse of the boat and immediately recognized Vivian’s deteriorating condition. She gently chided both Juanita and Rodrigo for exhausting their guest.
Petra placed her arm around Vivian and told Juanita to do the same. The two then assisted Vivian below deck and got her situated in her previous resting place. Vivian thanked them profusely and immediately fell into a deep sleep.
While Vivian slept, the Cardenas family discussed what to do with their passenger. It was unanimously decided to take her to their home in Georgetown and care for her until her strength returned.
The hours passed through the late afternoon and evening as Vivian continued her sleep of recovery. She slept soundly throughout the night. She did not hear the others enter the cabin and take their places for their night’s rest.
Thursday morning dawned and Vivian roused. She opened her eyes to see Petra busy about the cabin, preparing breakfast, and Juanita sitting in a chair next to Vivian’s bunk, keeping a watchful eye on her.
When Juanita realized that Vivian was awake, a huge smile broke on her face and she immediately threw her arms around Vivian’s neck and gave her the type of hug that only the love and innocence of a child can give.
Vivian smiled. A genuine smile. A smile of appreciation. A smile of a newfound love for life and for a wonderful little girl. Her mind was clear. She placed her arms around Juanita and embraced her. She held the girl close and whispered her thanks for such a magnificent hug. Her soreness was quickly forgotten in the embrace.
Petra’s attention was drawn to the activity on the opposite side of the cabin and she turned in the direction of Vivian and welcomed her to a new day with a friendly, “Good morning.” She then added, “You have slept many hours. I hope that the rest has provided some relief from the pain you suffered yesterday. My daughter has sat watching you for several hours. She was so concerned. I think you have captured her heart and made a friend for life.”
Vivian looked at Juanita. Softness spread over Vivian’s face and she spoke to Petra while she stared deeply into Juanita’s beautiful brown eyes. “I can think of no greater friendship that I could desire than that of your wonderful daughter’s.”
“You must be hungry. May I prepare breakfast for you? I apologize, I can only offer you cold food. We have no way to prepare hot food on our boat. As you can see it is an old boat and has no facility for food preparation.”
Vivian responded with a joke, something she rarely did, but the humor revealed her relaxed state of mind in something that should have been a tumultuous situation. “I am so hungry I could probably eat your boat.”
The two women laughed and Juanita broke into hysterical giggles at the thought of Vivian eating a boat.
Petra motioned for Vivian to be seated at the small table in the cabin and she placed a tin plate on the table. Vivian rose from her resting place and crossed to the table to seat herself. Petra set several items of fruit on the plate along with some bread and then filled a mug with some water.
Juanita asked if she could be the one to say a blessing on the food.
Petra looked at Vivian. “Do you object?”
Vivian welcomed thoughts which took her back to the many meals with her father, when he always asked a blessing on each and every meal. “That would please me very much.”
Juanita lowered her head and prayed, “Thank you, God, for this food. Please make our bodies strong from it. And thank you, God, for Mamá and Papá and Abuelo and for bringing Vivian to us. Please heal her, dear Heavenly Father. We love you and in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.”
At the conclusion of Juanita’s prayer, a voice entered the cabin from the deck. It was Rodrigo. “Petra, Juan Carlos needs you in the wheelhouse.”
Petra turned to Vivian and said, “Please excuse me.” She then turned her attention to Juanita. “Juanita, I know that you would like to stay here with Vivian, but I need you to please sit with your grandfather for a while. We will leave Vivian to enjoy her breakfast in peace.”
Disappointment was evident on Juanita’s face for she looked forward to talking with Vivian; however, she was obedient. “Yes, Mamá.”
Petra spoke to Vivian, assuring her that, if needed, Vivian need only call. She then excused herself and her daughter and left the cabin, taking Juanita by the hand as she went.
Vivian sat in silence for a moment. She thought of the many lessons her father had taught her. Lessons of kindness to others. Lessons of caring for and sharing with others. She felt a warm glow deep inside and she realized that these people who were total strangers had shared all that they had with her. She realized that she owed her very life to them.
She recalled something that she had once read. She could not remember where she’d read it nor could she remember who had said it, but it was profound. Vivian was now learning the truth of the words. “A person can change for the better in an instant.” She realized she was changing. She was changing in a good way. She was beginning to fully realize the lessons that her father exemplified for her.
Vivian reached for a piece of fruit and then paused. She followed the example of Juanita and lowered her head and closed her eyes and then did something she had not done in years. She prayed. She thanked God for saving her life through these wonderful people. She thanked him for the kindness showed to her through this family. And she prayed for guidance as to what she could do to show them her appreciation.
She then enjoyed the most fulfilling breakfast that she’d had in a few years.
Following breakfast Vivian reached for the napkin provided by Petra and wiped her face on the cloth. She grimaced in pain as her hand applied pressure to her cheek. She realized that her mind had returned to normal, but unfortunately her body had not. She thought to herself, “I must look a mess.” She looked around the cabin for a mirror to hopefully alleviate her concerns. She spied a very small mirror on the wall near what must have been Petra’s bunk.
Vivian haltingly made her way across the cabin to the mirror. She paused and then looked at her reflection. She could not stop a gasp of horror from parting her parched lips.
Her hair was matted and dirty and her dark roots were exposed. Her face was swollen. It was black and blue and crisscrossed with scabbed lacerations. Petra had applied salve to the cuts and that had helped, but they were still present and some were more than superficial. It was evident that scars would be the result of some of the wounds. The cuts were so deep that it was also evident that only plastic surgery would eliminate them. Vivian did not like that prospect. Surgery had been one of her fears since she had witnessed her father endure multiple surgeries, and in the end they had not saved his life.
She dreaded the thought of continuing her life with facial scars. What would Philip Tracy think of her now? She paused. Had he even thought her attractive before? She acknowledge to herself that she had deep feelings for him. Her intuition had always told her that he felt the same, but he’d never given her any true indication. She had invited him to many dinners under the pretext of discussing his research in hopes that he would reveal some feelings for her and confirm her intuition. He never did. So she had kept her own interest close to the secret part of her heart.
Her thoughts returned to her problem at hand. What could Vivian do about her appearance now? She hastily used her fingers as a comb and smoothed her hair as much as possible. She mentally chastised herself for wearing her hair so long. If her hair were short, she could make it presentable; however, this could not be done with long hair that was so easily tangled.
Vivian once again examined her face. She felt despair trickle through her chest. Then the thought burst on her mind, “I own a major cosmetic company. Makeup can be a temporary solution.” Perhaps Petra had some that she could borrow. She looked around the cabin and to her delight saw the two bags that she’d packed for the trip. Vivian postulated that Juan Carlos must have paced them on the Tibidabo when she was rescued from the cay.
She quickly retrieved the bags and rummaged through their contents, looking for makeup. She spoke out loud to herself. “I need an entire cosmetic counter to assist with this problem. I could probably keep three beauticians working overtime to hide the mess of my face.”
As she explored the contents of the bag, she was surprised at the amount of makeup that had been packed in the short time before her departure from Rassiter. She had planned on being gone two days at the most, yet Consolata had packed for at least two weeks. The woman knew what Vivian usually demanded to have available, as this wasn’t the first time Vivian had asked her head of domestic staff to organize her luggage.
As Vivian pondered the amount of makeup Consolata had packed, she thought to herself, This is one time that vanity is a redeeming quality. Vivian’s fingers searched through the bottles and brushes. Many had been cracked during the shipwreck so there was makeup smearing the insides of the expensive bag and now her fingers. She pushed carefully not wanting to add to the cuts on her body. She pulled out what she would need, items not too badly damaged, and opened another case. As she continued her search of the bags, she felt a cylindrical object. She removed the object and uncurled her fingers from around it. She stared in disbelief at what she held in her hand. A syringe.
“How did this get there?” She was momentarily baffled. Vivian searched her memory for some explanation as to how a syringe had gotten in her bags. Then she remembered. She remembered that this was a syringe of the special water that started her quest and resulted in her shipwreck on the cay. Memories rushed forth and she thought of the night she left for Miami and the experiment with the water when she’d injected herself. She remembered looking into the mirror after her injection and her delight when she discovered her appearance being two years younger, maybe more. She remembered Havens’ joke that she needed to give her chemist a raise because she looked so good. She remembered giving one syringe to Philip Tracy along with a pint-sized container, and then when she left for Miami that night she’d put the second syringe in her pocket. Later she had shifted it to her bags during the flight to Miami, when Havens and Marlene hadn’t been paying attention to her. It was a blessing it hadn’t broken during the crash on the island. It wasn’t all together undamaged. There was less inside the syringe then when she’d packed it, and it was wet around the needle base. There was not as much left in it as there had been when she left. If she recalled correctly there had been sixteen units. There was at least a third missing.
Her mind recalled the scratch along her arm when she bungled the first attempt to inject the water. A wonderful smile spread across her face when she remembered the wound disappearing when she’d successfully injected the water.
That is my answer, she thought to herself. I can inject this water and my face will heal, the swelling will go down and the pain will cease and the stiffness will go away! She put the needle of the syringe into her arm and she paced her thumb on the plunger.
And then a strange thing happened. Almost as if by divine providence, her prayer of only a few minutes ago returned to her. She had prayed for guidance as to what she could do to show her appreciation for this family that had done so much for her. Thoughts began to crowd in upon themselves. First her conscience acknowledged Petra caring for her wounds, and then providing sustenance for her. She recalled the touching conversation with Rodrigo and Juanita. She recognized the very fact that her life had been saved by this family. She recalled Juanita’s joy when she woke and the spontaneous display of affection by the child as Juanita hugged her and clung to her. And then the most heart rending words she had ever heard burst on her mind as she recalled the unfailing faith of an innocent child when she said, “Abuelo has never seen me, but someday he will, for I have prayed that he will. And I know that God will answer my prayers if I be good. And I try my best to be good every day.”
Vivian felt rather than heard a still-small voice touch the deepest parts of her inner being with the words, “Contained in the syringe is the healing which will allow a worthy man to see his granddaughter for the first time. What will you do with this opportunity?”
Vivian froze. She was tormented. Physical pain and vanity demanded she depress the plunger while a conscience driven by many years of examples given by her father argued against such a self-serving action. Her conscience again reminded her what a great gift she could bestow to this family, should she chose to make the personal sacrifice. Her intellect and her conscience continued the monumental struggle within the core of her being. Sheer intellect argued that she must continue her quest for the water and she must be in good health to do so. Her conscience countered that mercy extended to this wonderful family was the most important thing at this time. Her intellect argued that there may not be any additional water and she must use what little she had left to save herself.
Her conscience returned to her childhood memories of Sunday School classes with her father and learning the great sacrifices made by scores of biblical characters for the benefit of others. She stood motionless for a full three minutes as her mind and emotions battled.
The emotional wall around her heart, the one she had built up for far too long began to crumble, one thought at a time. Yes, she could be hard in business. Yes, she could seem rude and uncaring, but Vivian also knew, deep down, she could be altruistic.
There was still one temptation. This was her water and recalling the half unit she’d injected into her arm three days ago—
I only need a small amount.
The Prayer of a Child
Rodrigo and Juanita sat on the bench at the rear of the boat when Juanita saw Vivian make the final step from the cabin below and stand firmly on the deck. Juanita exclaimed with great excitement to her grandfather, “Abuelo, Vivian is coming on deck! Now we can talk some more.”
Juanita ran to Vivian and threw her arms around the woman. She turned her head upwards and looked into Vivian’s face. “Vivian, you are so beautiful. Are you feeling better?”
Vivian dropped to her knees and looked into Juanita’s eyes. With a gentle smile on her face, she softly answered, “Yes.” And then with tears in her eyes she continued, “Thank you for being such a good girl.” She placed her arms around Juanita and embraced her tenderly with a love that only a child can bring forth from an adult.
She whispered softly into Juanita’s ear, “Will you please ask your mother and father to come here? I have something to say to them.”
Juanita, greatly excited that Vivian looked so good and felt better, ran forward to the wheelhouse to summon her parents.
Vivian sat next to Rodrigo. “Good morning, Rodrigo.”
“Good morning, Vivian. Judging from the excitement I hear in my granddaughter’s voice, you must be feeling better.” Then with a sincerity brought from deep conviction, he said, “I am pleased and I am very happy for you.”
Petra and Juan Carlos stepped to the rear of the craft. Petra exclaimed, “Vivian, you look wonderful. I hope you are feeling as well as you look.” Then Petra waved her hand in the direction of Juan Carlos. “Vivian you have been our guest for many hours and yet you have not yet met my husband.” She turned to Juan Carlos with great love in her eyes and said, “This is my husband and Juanita’s father, Juan Carlos Cardenas.”
Juan Carlos was a handsome man of average height. He was clean shaven and tanned from his many hours of fishing. Vivian stepped to him and turned her head in the direction of Petra as she spoke. “Petra, may I hug your husband?”
Petra smiled with obvious pride in her husband and with Vivian’s apparent recognition of a man with quality and character.
Vivian embraced Juan Carlos and he placed his strong arms around her in response. Vivian rested her head on his shoulder and spoke loudly enough that the entire family could hear her words, “Thank you for saving my life and for granting me your hospitality. I know that I can never repay you as much, for how can a person repay for a life saved?”
Juan Carlos, moved by her gratitude, held her even more tightly and spoke, “I am thankful to our God that he led us to that cay when He did, for if we had been only a few hours later, I am afraid. . .” his voice trailed off. Then he regained composure and finished speaking. “Well, we are just thankful.”
Vivian broke the embrace and looked at Petra.
“Vivian,” Petra said, “You do look so much better.”
Vivian smiled at Petra’s comment and then she spoke, “I found my bags in the cabin and fortunately I had packed some makeup. There is an old expression in the cosmetic industry, ‘powder and paint make you look like what you ain’t.’”
Vivian then paid a heartfelt complement to Petra. “Petra, you are so naturally beautiful I doubt if you have ever needed makeup.”
Vivian’s expression suggested a new deep seated satisfaction with life and with herself. She paused and turned in the direction of Rodrigo. Petra noticed the expression on Vivian’s face and she was touched by the emotion she read in Vivian’s eyes. A deep seated emotion.
Vivian spoke, “However, my welfare is not the reason I have interrupted your daily activities.” She turned her attention to the family who looked at her in expectation. Vivian again seated herself next to Rodrigo and took her hands into hers. She looked into his face. “Rodrigo, you are a wonderful man. The tenderness of your love for your family takes me back many years to the love of my wonderful father.” She paused and again tears filled her eyes. “You and he would have liked one another.”
She then spoke to the family, “I have something to tell you.” Vivian had carefully rehearsed what she was about to say. She offered a silent prayer that they would believe her words. With the exception of the prayer she offered below deck a few moments ago, she had not undertaken prayer for many years. As she struggle to determine the needed words, a biblical verse came to her. A verse she remembered from years ago that she learned in a Sunday School class. A verse that offered the assurance that words would be provided at the time of need.
She then chided herself. She wanted them to have faith and believe and yet she herself was skeptical. She even doubted her own ability to speak. She set aside her doubts and proceeded as best as she could.
“Earlier, Petra asked me why I was on the cay. It is a long story, but to make it brief, I was searching for something that has the potential to cure all diseases. It is an experimental procedure at present, but I know that it works. I have tried it on myself.” She paused and allowed them to absorb her words.
She once again gripped Rodrigo’s hand and squeezed it. She spoke kindly and gently to him. “Rodrigo, I have only a limited amount of this very special medication with me. This medication has the potential to heal. If you allow me to inject this medicine into your arm, it has the potential to heal your eyes and you will see your precious granddaughter. If you will allow me to proceed and use the last of this medication on you,” she paused and then continued as she breathed another silent prayer, “if there is enough, I believe your eyes will be healed.”
Juan Carlos and Petra stood in stunned silence. Finally Petra spoke, “This is impossible. Only God can do this.”
Juanita spoke passionately to her mother, “Mamá, I have prayed to God that Abeulo’s sight would be returned so he could see me. You have told me that God sometimes acts through other people. Maybe God is sending Vivian as an answer to my prayers.”
Deep concern etched Petra’s face. “Vivian, this is horrible to give such hope to a child! She will be devastated. Nothing can restore sight.”
A strong masculine voice entered the conversation. “I want to try it.” Rodrigo interrupted. He spoke firmly and with finality. “Although I cannot see, please to not deceive yourselves that all of my senses are dead. I know that Vivian loves my granddaughter. I can sense this. And, I believe Vivian is an honest and good person. If she believes this will work, then I have nothing to lose by trying.”
He extended his hand in the direction of Vivian. “Please proceed.”
Vivian took his hand and squeezed it. She whispered softly to him, “Thank you. And, you are right, I love your granddaughter as if she were my own.”
Having said so, Vivian pulled the syringe from her pocket and showed it to Petra briefly before placing the needle on Rodrigo’s arm. “You will feel a slight poke in your arm. And then a wonderful sensation will start in your arm and will then permeate your entire body. I pray that I have enough left in the syringe to regress your eyes to the time they could see.” Vivian then pushed the needle tip into his dark skin. She forced the plunger forward so that the water was introduced into his body. She watched the marks on the glass surface as the plunger slid past them. She would stop if it looked like he was given too much. She had tried calculating as she had for herself many days past, but not knowing some variables such as weight and current age was a disadvantage. Still, her estimates were positive, if barely.
There was a slight moment of pause and then Rodrigo sat straight. “What a wonderful feeling is going through my body. It is difficult to describe. It is like God as placed the beauty of a spring morning deep into my soul.”
Juan Carlos and Petra gasped as energy dissipated from Rodrigo. He appeared to grow younger and younger. As they watched, they observed the years melt away. Three years. Five years. Ten years. More. All removed in a matter of seconds. Vivian withdrew the needle, all of the remaining liquid gone from the syringe.
Juanita spoke excitedly. “Grandpa, can you see?”
There was a protracted silence. It was as if time had ceased its passage on the Tibidabo.
A smile broke on Rodrigo’s face. The man turned his head in the direction of Juanita. He extended his hand to the face of his granddaughter and gently caressed her face with his smooth fingertips. He spoke directly to her, his face no longer scarred, eyes no longer cloudy or yellowed.
“My precious granddaughter. You are even more beautiful than I imagined.”
Juanita and Rodrigo stood on the prow of the Tibidabo. Juanita with all the enthusiasm of a nine year old excitedly pointed to every object that could be seen: clouds, birds, and the waves. Always those serendipitous observations were followed with the same question, “Abuelo, do you see that?”
Rodrigo, a day after the miracle, was still offering prayers of thanksgiving for his restored sight and was still responding to his granddaughter’s elation. Juanita had shown Rodrigo her only dress. She had insisted that she take the dress on the fishing excursion when they left Georgetown two weeks earlier. She reminded her mother that they would be gone for two weeks, and whenever they were fishing on a Sunday, they held their own church service. And she said she wanted to wear her only dress for that family worship service. Now she wore it on a Friday, for her grandfather.
For the third time, Juanita asked, “Abuelo, do you like my dress?” she was more pleased that he could see than she was of his evaluation of her dress.
Rodrigo answered as he had the two times previously, “It is almost as beautiful as you.”
Juanita bubbled with deep pleasure that she could share things with her grandfather who only days ago, she could do nothing more than describe to him what she saw.
Petra called to her daughter from the rear of the boat. “Juanita, let your grandfather have some peace and quiet. Come and join Vivian and me at the rear of the boat.”
Juanita, thrilled to be involved with the adult ladies, quickly hugged her grandfather and then ran to the stern of the craft.
Rodrigo stood motionless as the Tibidabo plodded relentlessly toward its dockage in Georgetown. This fishing excursion had not been successful. The storm of the week prior had scattered the fish. Financially the trip was a loss, but for Rodrigo it was the most blessed trip which he had ever taken. He looked over the bulwark of the boat and could see Guyana on the horizon. His heart thrilled that for the first time in years he could see land. He strained to catch his first glimpse of trees. He felt eternally grateful to his Father in Heaven for His benevolence. He was also grateful to Vivian for her sacrifice on his behalf. He knew that Vivian could have kept the water a secret. A miraculous medication to heal herself if she obtained further injuries, and yet she gave it to him. The only other love in mankind that he knew to match this altruistic love was that of his beloved Corina.
Tears moistened his eyes as he thought of his wife. How he wished he could share this wonderful gift with her. And then he thought to himself that Corina never knew of his blindness. She had disappeared before he lost his sight. His mind brought to life the last time he saw her. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever held in his arms. More tears cascaded down his newly healed face as the thought came to him that she had never seen her granddaughter Juanita. His restored sight was a bittersweet blessing.
As these thoughts swirled in his mind, he became aware of a presence at his side. He turned to see Vivian standing next to him. The woman’s marred face wore a gentle expression of understanding. An understanding that can only be reached by a woman as she sees a man’s tears.
Vivian spoke, almost as if she could read his mind, “You loved her as deeply as it is humanly possible. She was a very fortunate woman.” She searched his face and then continued. “How many women in his world long for such a love and yet never realize it?”
Rodrigo wrapped his arms around her and embraced her. He whispered softly, “How can I ever repay you? How can I thank you for your gift and for your sacrifice?”
Vivian looked away. It had been a sacrifice. She’d selfishly thought to use the syringe first, only using half a unit as she had before. She’d almost done it, but chose instead to give first to Rodrigo. It almost hadn’t been enough to heal him. Imagine if she had used the needle first. After seeing his joy and his gratitude she realized she had almost stolen this moment from him and his beautiful family. And yet he continued to thank her as if she done something wonderful. She hadn’t been as altruistic as he believed. That little bit could have kept him from sight. Her father would have been ashamed of her for thinking of herself first when she came across the syringe. Now there was none left in the vial and perhaps that was a blessing in itself. There was no more temptation for Vivian. Now she could help the family that had saved her life without the taint of selfishness pressing its guilt into her heart. Rodrigo had done so much for her and he deserved more.
“My gift to you was only repayment for your gifts to me,” Vivian said, returning to the moment, “and even so, my gift falls far short of your gift to me.”
Bewilderment was on Rodrigo’s face. “What gift have I given you?”
Vivian looked deep into his eyes. “Life. And beyond that. You’ve stirred memories of my father and you’ve shown me what true love means.” She paused. “Rodrigo, it is difficult for a man to fully grasp the depths of a woman’s heart. A woman’s deepest desire is for a love that is so profound that it can truly be called an eternal love.” She paused again, allowing her words to penetrate his being. “You have shown me that such a love is not the fictional creation of poets, it is reality. You have shown me that it does exist. For that I cannot repay you enough. It is my prayer that someday a man will love me as you love your Corina.”
The two faced one another with mutual respect and admiration, and with the wonderful realization that they had assisted each other. Once again, they hugged and shared tears together.
The moment lasted until Juanita ran forward and excitedly exclaimed: “Abuelo, do you see the land?” and, “Vivian, now you can come see our home. There are so many things I want to show both of you!”
Rodrigo once again whispered to Vivian, “Thank you.” He then knelt down and embraced Juanita. “Yes, my precious granddaughter, I see the land, but more importantly, I see you.”
The three turned their attention to the shoreline of Guyana now looming ever larger in the distance. They all stood holding hands as Georgetown grew larger and larger.
I am nearly home, Vivian thought.
Within the hour, Juan Carlos with the ease of a skilled sailor, guided the Tibidabo into its dockage in Georgetown. Rodrigo, elated that he could assist in securing the boat to its moorings, jumped to the dock and caught the rope which his daughter Petra threw to him. He secured the bow and stern ropes to the dock and then also secured the towed boat to the dock. He turned his attention to the ladies and assisted them and Juanita from the Tibidabo to the dock.
Juan Carlos passed Vivian’s bags and the ice chests and other baggage that the family needed during the fishing excursion to Rodrigo. He was concerned as there were no fish caught. Two weeks of expense without earnings. He was worried.
The men carried the offloaded items to an ancient pickup truck parked nearby. Rodrigo and Juanita jumped into the back of the truck and Petra and Vivian crowded into the front seat with Juan Carlos. The drive to the Cardenas’ family home took about twenty minutes. When they arrived, Vivian asked if there was a telephone she could use to make a call to the U.S. She said that she must notify those back home that she was alive. Petra suggested they unload the vehicle then she would drive Vivian to a phone. The Cardenas family did not have a phone in their home and Vivian’s cell phone had been lost when she was shipwrecked on the cay.
The vehicle had stopped in front of a humble dwelling on an unpaved street. There were no other vehicles to be seen other than a black sedan parked across the street that Juan Carlos spared a puzzled glance at. The two women and Juanita entered the home. Vivian was escorted by Juanita to a chair in the large kitchen. The kitchen was sparsely apportioned, yet it was meticulously clean. Meanwhile, Rodrigo and Juan Carlos carried all the items into the kitchen. Juan Carlos placed Vivian’s bags in a corner of the room where they would not be tripped over.
The family and Vivian were seated at a large table and Petra had served them all a glass of water when there was a knock at the door. Petra answered the door. Standing before her was small man with a neatly trimmed mustache. He wore a neat and expensive black suit. The man held a 9×12 inch brown envelope. He and Petra spoke in Spanish, a dialect common to the area, one that Vivian did not understand more than a few words of the conversation.
The man with the mustache asked if Rodrigo Velverde lived at the residence.
Petra answered that he did. She invited the man in and pointed to Rodrigo who was seated at the table. “Dad, this gentleman is here to see you.”
Rodrigo rose from the chair, walked the few feet to the door and extended his hand. “How may I assist you?”
The man smiled and handed the envelope to Rodrigo. He said, “I think you will find the contents of this envelope interesting.”
Rodrigo accepted the envelope and removed the contents.
At this point, Vivian had risen from her chair. She’d made her way to her bags in the corner of the room. She wanted to make a gift to Petra of some items that she had in the bag in return for their generosity. Other things she could get for them when she was in contact with VanArp Enterprises. Vivian reached the bag and had reached in when she heard a scream come from Rodrigo. It was less of a scream and more of a wail of deep grief. She snatched her hand from the bags and turned to see Rodrigo. In her haste she ripped the flesh of her hand with the unsecured needle of the syringe she’d stored away inside. A stream of blood fell on the bag.
Rodrigo had fallen to his knees, knocking over his chair and spilling all the glasses on the table. A glass shattered on the floor, the others dripping over the table edge. Petra rushed to her father’s side. The contents of the envelope had fallen from his hands and scattered on the floor.
Juan Carlos made a threatening move toward the man in the suit. The man held up his hands and spoke, “I mean no harm. I am just a messenger.”
Failing to sense any immediate danger from the man, Juan Carlos turned his attention to Juanita who was standing with a horrified expression on her face. He quickly ascertained she was frightened but unharmed. He gripped her close in a hug and watched Petra and Rodrigo kneeling on the floor.
Rodrigo spoke. “Ella esta viva. Ella esta viva.”
Even Vivian understood that.
“Who is alive, Dad?” Petra asked with much concern in her voice.
“Your mother. My Corina.” He swallowed hard and added, “Look at the note.”
Petra lifted the note from the floor. It was hand written and it was on letterhead stationery. The stationary letter head read, From the desk of Antonia Perez de Ortubio, owner of the Ortubio Coffee Plantation in Soledad Ecuador.
“‘Rodrigo’,” Petra read aloud, “‘Corina is alive and living on the plantation. She is dying with cancer. If you wish to see her again in this life, then come with the messenger I have sent to deliver this envelope.’ It is signed Antonia.” She flipped the letter around to see if there was more to the message.
“Look at the picture,” choked out Rodrigo.
Petra lifted the 8×10 photograph from the floor and with a gasp she looked at a picture of her mother holding a copy of yesterday’s newspaper from Quito, Ecuador. “It is my mother.” She looked up at Juan Carlos and her daughter. “She appears decimated by the disease, but I know it is a picture of my mother.”
The letter from Antonia slipped from Petra’s grasp silently to the floor as Petra stared at the picture of her mother. The older woman was slumped in a chair. She was withered, but a smile struggled for life on her wrinkled, thin face. It was her eyes though that glowed with the inward beauty of a pure soul. Petra could have stared at the face for forever. Despite the age and the disease, Petra knew her mother and wished she was there with the family.
The messenger spoke softly. “I have been hired to deliver this message and to escort you to Soledad.” He paused as he surveyed the stunned expressions on each face. He then added, “If you desire to go.”
Petra rested the photograph on her legs and looked at her father. His eyes stared through the floor. “Dad, what will you do?”
“Of course, I must go. I must see her.”
Juan Carlos cleared his throat. “We will go with you.”
The family turned in the direction of the man in the dark suit and reiterated what they had just spoken to each other. “We will all go with you.”
Petra then remembered Vivian and turned to face her. She spoke in English. “Vivian, please make our home your home in our absence. We will leave the truck for your use.”
Vivian glanced between them. “What is going on?”
Shakily Petra informed her of the exchange.
Vivian stood and walked to Rodrigo. She placed her uninjured hand on his face, then with great tenderness, she spoke, “Rodrigo, my friend. May I accompany you? I wish to meet the woman who can engender such great love in a man.”
Rodrigo looked into Vivian’s eyes. “Through you, God has given me the gift of sight so that I may see my beloved for one last time. If your injuries allow, please go with us.”
Vivian nodded and glanced at her recent wound. She’d applied pressure during the exchange, but it still seeped blood. This was nothing. Not compared to what had happened days before.
The man in the black suit spoke in accented English, for Vivian’s obvious benefit. “I have an airplane at the airport. We must go quickly. Time is short.”
The Search Resumes
Since his arrival in Miami three nights ago, Havens had lodged in a motel near the airport. Fortunately, the motel had a vacancy and Tracy procured a room also.
In the morning both men were up early. Before heading to the airport, they stopped at a nearby floral shop to order flowers to be delivered to Celia Adams. The florist inquired as to the reason the men were buying flowers. When they told him of the excellent dinner and conversation and stated that they wished to acknowledge the evening with a gift of flowers, the florist suggested they send yellow roses. Yellow roses, he told them, symbolized “joy and friendship”.
Havens responded that the suggestion was appropriate as the meal certainly was a joy, and he considered Adams and Celia as new friends. Tracy agreed. They purchased two dozen yellow roses to be delivered to Celia.
They each wrote a note of thanks to be delivered with the roses.
Havens wrote: Thank you, Celia, for a wonderful meal and the gift for Holly. I am certain she will be pleased, and I know I will be pleased when she prepares some of your delicious recipes.
Tracy wrote: Celia, last night’s meal was one of the best I have ever enjoyed, and the advice I received was even better. I thank you for both. May God bless you and Lee.
The men ate breakfast at the airport and afterward they boarded the corporate jet. Havens checked the plane before their flight. He paused by the radio and commented to Tracy. “Y’know, I don’t like carrying cell phones. However, I admit, they are handy when needed.”
He wished he had one now. Adams had taken his and since that time Havens had to find public phones for his calls. At least the plane had means to call out. Havens placed a call to Holly. He opened the conversation cheerily. “Good morning, Holly. How are you this morning?” He hoped his tone would assuage any concerns that may have lingered after their lengthy conversation of last night.
She responded with levity. “Why, Mr. Havens, if you were here, you could invite me for lunch today.”
“Holly, I would like to invite you to several lunches when I return,” he responded accordingly to the tenor of her comment. “Are you available?”
“For you, anytime.”
Havens then got serious. “Did Ed Foster obtain permission for us to land at the Georgetown airport?”
“Yes, he did. Following your call last night, I met with Ed this morning and he immediately went to work to obtain permission.”
“Thanks Holly, you are one in a million. Incidentally, I have a small souvenir for you. I think you will like it.” He thought of the cookbook he’d gotten from Celia. He’d forgotten to mention the gift last night, caught up in other matters, not all of them of serious in nature.
“What is it?” Holly was excited, not so much for the gift, but more so for the fact that he thought of her to bring something.
Havens teased, “When you were a little girl, did your parents tell you what you were getting for Christmas, before Christmas? Well I must give you the same answer I suspect they gave you then—you will have to wait.”
“That is not fair, Garner, to tease me like that,” she giggled.
Suddenly, Holly’s levity changed to a more serious note. “Garner, do you remember Consolata Alverez?”
“Yes. She is Vivian’s Chief of Domestic staff at her estate.”
“She calls me every day inquiring if there is any news about Vivian. She sounds very worried. She wants to plan a welcome home celebration for Vivian. I have kept her up to date on events so far. Will you promise to give me periodic reports so I can ease her concerns? I believe the lady is worried sick over the situation.”
Havens promised that he would call as frequently as circumstances allowed. He ended the conversation and then puzzled in his mind about Alverez. She did not impress him as being a compassionate person. Well, he thought to himself, she might be concerned about keeping her job.
Havens was aware that Alverez had been in the employ of Vivian for longer than most. Must be some attachment there that he was not aware of. Or else she could put up with Vivian’s harshness better than most. He turned his attention to matters at hand. Havens placed a call to Captain Adams and confirmed to the captain that Ed Foster had procured permission for landing in Georgetown.
Adams informed Havens that contact had been made with the Georgetown Police Department and he had been assured that a police officer would accompany him and Tracy to the address of the Cardenas couple. Adams told him that upon arrival in Georgetown they should report to the police department and ask for Lieutenant Dunbar.
Having completed his phone calls, Havens turned his attention to securing flight instructions from the tower. In a matter of minutes the two men were airborne and settled into a flight plan that would take them to Georgetown, Guyana.
“How long will we be in the air?” Tracy asked when the plane reached a stable speed and height.
Havens responded with a little more information than Tracy had been expecting. That included specs for the plane. The corporate jet was a Citation VII. The aircraft cruised at approximately 550 mph, and was certified for altitudes up to 53,000 feet. Since they were at those limits, Havens expected to cover the approximate 2,000 miles in about four hours.
“We will be landing at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport in Timehri,” Havens said. “That is approximately twenty-five miles from Georgetown. This was the most continent airport for VanArp executives to use. The small manufacturing facility is located nearby. Fortunately for us, the corporation has an automobile on standby at all times. We’ll just take that to the police department while the plane is refueled.”
“You know a lot about the plane.”
“Have to. I get hired ‘temporarily’ by VanArp Enterprises frequently enough I have to know what they’re paying me to fly.”
The two men continued their conversation. They discussed a variety of subjects. Most focused back on Vivian: what was her condition, who had kidnapped her and when could they expect the ransom demand? As of yet there still hadn’t been one. Perhaps whoever had kidnapped Vivian had much more personal reasons than money. It wasn’t a pleasant thought.
Tracy had always liked Havens. He admired the man’s accomplishments in his patriotic service to the country. He always knew instinctively that Havens was an honest man and had a compassionate heart. Tracy grew reflective.
“Garner, I have achieved most of my dreams in life. When my Catherine was alive, we brought healthcare to those who could not afford it. When she passed, I was lost. I was adrift and then Vivian contacted me and offered me my current position. That returned purpose to my life.” He paused and a large grin appeared on his face as he recalled a pleasant moment. “When Vivian and I discussed the particulars of my work, I informed her that I would require vacation for two months each year.” He chuckled a moment before continuing. “I thought she was going to burst a blood vessel when I told her. Each year I work with Doctors Without Borders, and I told her I would continue doing so. It took some negotiating, but she finally conceded. I think the deal clincher was when I told her I did not expect to be paid for those two months. She later told me she had never been bested in a negotiation until she met me.”
Again he paused and his face softened as he recalled her words. The doctor found satisfaction in her comment. Satisfaction derived not so much from her admission of being bested, but more so from the fact that she had admitted it to him. He was aware that, somehow, her admission was a deliberate exposure of vulnerability to him alone. Somehow it had drawn them closer. They had started meeting over dinner soon after that day to discuss Tracy’s research – perhaps, Tracy speculated, only as a pretext.
Tracy continued, “I, later, by chance, learned that she quietly donates those two months of my salary to Doctors Without Borders.” After a short pause, he said, “There is good in Vivian that most do not see. That she doesn’t let others see.”
Tracy turned in the direction of Havens and made an inquiry, “Garner, have you achieved your dreams? Please forgive me for being personal. I inquire out of a sense of respect for you.”
Havens was silent for a moment. Then he responded. “I would like to marry. It probably is late in life for me to have children, but I would love to have some. Perhaps if I can find a woman who will have me, perhaps she will already have some. That would be nice. And I have always dreamed of owning my own plane and flying for the Wings of Mercy.
“I have flown many missions for Wings of Mercy, but always in an aircraft owned by someone else.” Havens paused and turned to face Tracy with a huge smile on his face. “Perhaps my future wife will have children and also be a pilot. We could then fly together.”
The two men fell silent as each contemplated personal thoughts.
Tracy deliberated his dilemma. He had finally admitted his love for Vivian, but he thought to himself, what if they never found her? What if they did? How do I express that love to her? How can I possibly propose marriage to such a powerful and wealthy woman? He was bewildered. Should I propose in such a way that she can take it seriously if she felt the same, or if she did not, then in a way she could take my proposal as an intended joke? The more he thought the more perplexed he became.
The hours passed quickly. Havens broke the silence when he established radio contact with ground control at the Cheddi Jagan Airport. He requested permission to land and was then given instructions to do so. As usual, he landed the craft with perfect precision.
The two men exited the craft and reported to the customs gate. Neither man had a passport with them, so they were lead to a small office and introduced to the head customs agent.
They explained their mission to Guyana was to investigate a possible kidnapping. Havens requested that the official place a call to headquarters to Lt. Dunbar to confirm. The official did and after waiting on hold for a minute, opened a conversation with Dunbar. After a short exchange the customs agent gave permissions for the two men to go to the police department, but nowhere else.
Havens and Tracy thanked the man and left the building. They returned to the aircraft, retrieved Tracy’s medical bag and a few personal items and then walked approximately a quarter mile to the VanArp garage. A late model four door Ford sedan was parked in the garage. Havens went to a locked box on the wall and turned the combination lock several times. He then opened the door of the box and retrieved the keys for the vehicle.
Havens drove the vehicle, leaving the airport and headed in the direction of Georgetown. It was one hour later that Havens parked the vehicle in front of the police department. The two men exited the vehicle and entered the main doors of the building. Havens inquired of the receptionist as to the office of Lt. Dunbar. The receptionist made a phone call and announced the arrival of the two men from the USA. Dunbar said he would be out in a few moments.
Lt. George Dunbar was a tall and wiry man of African heritage. He extended his hand and welcomed the men to Georgetown. After exchanging a few pleasantries, the men grew serious.
Tracy explained that Vivian VanArp was the possible victim of a kidnapping. He related the story of the beached cruiser on the cay without Vivian being present. Neither a live Vivian nor a body was found on the cay. He explained the satellite photos that Tom Hendricks had discovered. He described parts of Adams’ investigation that led the captain to believe there had been a kidnapping.
Dunbar responded that he had spoken with Adams and he assured the captain that assistance would be rendered to Havens and Tracy as they attempted to determine the whereabouts of Vivian. Dunbar suggested that the three men drive to the address of the Cardenas couple and question them. Wasting little time, Dunbar led the way to a police vehicle which was parked fairly close to the corporate car. “Follow me,” commanded Dunbar. “Remain close.”
The drive through Georgetown traffic was painfully slow. It was a full forty-five minutes before the two cars reached the house of Juan Carlos and Petra Cardenas. The Cardenas home was a very humble dwelling on a street of similarly constructed small homes. Dunbar parked the official police vehicle in front of the house and the three men exited their automobiles.
Dunbar stood to the side of the dirt road in front of the house, his intuition as an experienced investigating officer was immediately piqued as he surveyed the house. He unbuttoned the jacket of his suit, allowing him free access to the 9mm sidearm that he carried in a holster on his belt.
This subtle movement caused little concern for Tracy; Havens, however, noticed the action and his senses became acutely alert. His tour of duty in Viet Nam had taught him to evaluate the slightest changes to what was normal. His training as a Green Beret took hold of his senses. His body became a lethal weapon prepared for combat.
Dunbar took careful note of the door to the dwelling, standing ajar. He moved cautiously toward the open doorway. As he reached the entrance to the house, he placed his hand on the butt of his handgun. Havens was at his side as the two men peered into the house. The interior was dark and the brilliant sunlight on the exterior hindered their vision. Havens motioned for Tracy to move to the side and wait until he and Dunbar checked the dwelling for occupants. The two men cautiously entered the structure and stepped to either side of the doorway so that they were not silhouetted. They paused for a moment to allow their vision to adjust to the limited light in the darkened room. As Dunbar’s eyes adjusted, he swept the room with his gaze. His examination revealed a chair overturned and laying on its side. Several drinking glasses were also laying on the table, their contents spilled.
Havens spoke. “They left in a hurry. Did the kidnappers see the official police vehicle approaching and make a quick retreat?”
“It appears so,” responded Dunbar.
In the absence of immediate danger, Havens motioned for Tracy to enter. The three men stood in the room. It was the eating area of the home and was larger than initial appearance suggested. They each searched the room with their eyes. It was a silent examination until Tracy broke the quiet with a startled and fearful observation.
“Garner, look, there in the corner!”
Havens peered into a remote and darkened corner of the room. As his vision focused, he saw two travel bags. Even before he noted the boldly emblazoned initials V. V. on the Gucci bags, he recognized the luggage as being the pair of bags, now water damaged, which he’d placed on the Finally for Vivian. Havens turned to Tracy and Dunbar. “Vivian was here. Those are her bags and the initials are hers.”
Tracy moved to the bags and noted the blood. “There’s blood on this bag. She may be injured.”
He then took a sample of the blood on his handkerchief. “When we return to the airplane I can check the DNA to determine if it is her blood.”
Dunbar withdrew his cell phone from his pocket and made a call to police headquarters. He requested a forensics team to assist him at a possible crime scene. He then spoke to Tracy and Havens. “If you gentlemen will return to your aircraft to perform the DNA test, I will wait for the forensic team to arrive.” He then gave the men his cell phone number and asked that they inform him of their results. He had a feeling their test would have results sooner than the backlogged labs of Georgetown. Especially since this investigation was meant to be low key.
As they turned to leave, Havens noticed a piece of paper laying on the floor. He picked it up and read the note. “To a Rodrigo. Signed Antonia.” With a puzzled expression on his face, he handed the note to Dunbar. “Does this mean anything to you, Lieutenant?”
Dunbar examined the note. “Soledad is a very small, extremely remote village in the mountainous area of Ecuador. The village consists of only a handful of small homes. There is a large coffee plantation about fifty kilometers from the village. The plantation is even more isolated and outsiders are not welcome. My wife and I vacationed in Ecuador. That is the only reason we are aware of Soledad. It was by a mere fluke that we even learned that much. Whoever named the locale Soledad named it appropriately. ‘Soledad’ is Spanish for solitude.”
“Whoever kidnapped Vivian left in a hurry,” Havens said, indicating the conditions of the room. “We aren’t too far behind.”
“I would have to agree,” noted the doctor. “The blood is still fairly fresh.”
Havens and Tracy both thanked Dunbar for his assistance and then they departed in the VanArp corporate vehicle for the airport.
Approximately forty minutes after leaving the Cardenas home, Tracy and Havens arrived at the airport. They parked the automobile and entered the aircraft. Tracy set about immediately to identify the blood sample. He placed the batteries in the portable computer and then placed a sample of the blood to one side of the test apparatus and a sample of Vivian’s DNA on the other. The comparison began and in only a matter of a minute it was completed. Tracy looked at the results and spoke, “This is Vivian’s blood.”
The airplane ride to Ecuador was undertaken in silence. The only conversation that transpired was the attempts by Petra to answer Juanita’s questions. The child was confused.
“Why,” she asked, “Is everyone sad if Abuela Corina is alive?”
Petra gently and affectionately attempted to explain that it was a mystery as to where Grandma Corina had been. And she told Juanita that Abuela was very sick. Although Juanita did not understand, she trusted her mother and accepted her answers. She told her mother how excited she was to meet her grandmother.
Vivian scrutinized Rodrigo. For ten years he thought his wife was dead, and now, he suddenly learned that she was alive. How would he react when he saw her?
Rodrigo sat quietly, unaware of Vivian’s intense interest. He clutched the picture of Corina and held it close to his heart. For the one-hundredth time he reviewed the words that Antonia had written to him, “She is dying with cancer.” He was a man of great faith, yet he questioned why God would deny him ten years with his wife only to reunite them when she was dying. He knew in his heart that God was just, or as he had described so many time so others, “‘Just’ means that God is fair, totally fair.” And when he was criticized by others regarding his blindness with their irreverent question, “If God is fair, then how is it that you are blind through no fault of your own?” his response was always the same, “God knows who I am and what my needs are and He loves me. I will wait patiently on Him and I will joy in this comforting testimony that He has given me.”
Rodrigo knew in his heart that God was just and merciful and yet as he pondered all these things, he failed to see even the smallest degree of fairness, and certainly he saw no mercy in the situation. He turned his head to look out the window and saw the lush green jungle below. He saw flocks of birds rise into the air as their resting places were disturbed by the sound of the plane’s engines. He saw a beautiful river winding its way across the earth. His eyes shifted to the seats in front of him which were occupied by Petra and Juanita. He chastised himself for his lack of gratitude. He had his family.
His eyes filled with tears as his heart swelled with appreciation and thanksgiving to his Creator who had returned his ability to see all these things. Only days before he would have seen nothing of this. He continued his thanksgiving by acknowledge that he would see Corina one more time. He recalled how many times he had prayed for this very thing to happen. And now he was about to experience his greatest desire. He offered silent prayers of gratitude to God.
As she observed Rodrigo, Vivian noticed a softening of his countenance. She wondered what was transpiring in his mind. She wondered what would be his reaction when he saw Corina. And what would be hers? Did she even know he was alive? And if so, did she have any idea he was coming to her? During her many years of captivity, did she ever wonder if he would come to rescue her? Did Corina’s faith ever falter? Vivian’s faith had faltered many a time, and she’d been in a position of surplus goods, wealth, and blessings— enough to distract her from spiritual matters. She’d never acknowledged it, expressly because her dear father had taught her in her youth. Now, she decided, it would be different. My life is different. That understanding had started after she woke up on the Tibidabo, but now she consciously considered it and believed it. Now she would follow that belief. Vivian Kaye VanArp would not be ungrateful any longer. She would not be as harsh to others in her life, hurting them to get her way. No, that wasn’t what William VanArp had taught her. She thanked God for the remembrance. For the opportunity.
The plane began its descent into the Mariscal Sucre airport in Quito, Ecuador. Each passenger looked out the round windows at the airport below with wonderment as to what was to be their fate. The plane landed softly and made its taxi to the terminal. The mustached man in the dark suit rose from his seat and informed them that they had arrived, completing the first leg of their journey. He assisted the ladies in deplaning.
Once they were all standing on the tarmac, he inquired as to their comfort. He informed them that all necessary amenities were available in the airport. He also suggested that they get something to eat as the next leg of the journey was arduous.
Juanita told her mother that she was hungry. The family accompanied, by the man in the dark suit, entered the airport and went to the first restaurant. They placed their orders and then realized they had no money. The man in the dark suit smiled and removed his billfold and paid for the meals. They all proceeded to a table and sat down.
Rodrigo told the man he would repay him for the meals. The man responded that it was not necessary that he do so. He added, “I will place the charges on the bill I submit to Antonia.”
Vivian, who had planned to pay the family back for their help when she reached a bank with funds, inquired, “How is it that you came to work for Antonia?”
“I am not in her employ. I own an expediting service and perform many different tasks for many clients.” He surveyed the group and when he was confident that he had their attention, he continued, “All are legal efforts. I do not involve myself with anything illegal. I have performed many services for Antonia over the years. Most recently, even yesterday, I arranged for my pilot to fly her from the U.S. to Ecuador, and then arranged ground transportation to her coffee plantation.”
Vivian’s interest was piqued. “Do you know what business she had in the U.S.?”
The man answered he did not. However he did expand his contribution of information about Antonia. “For years I flew her to Mexico. She would be there for a few weeks then return to her plantation. Suddenly she ended those trips, and I have not heard from her for several years. Just yesterday she contacted me and said she needed an immediate flight home.” He paused again to collect his thoughts and then he continued, “She is an excellent customer. She pays well and pays on time. She is very wealthy. Her plantation is successful and she has built a beautiful, large home on the property. Her holdings are extensive and isolated. Outsiders are not welcome. So the privacy with which I conduct her movements are appreciated by her.” He concluded his dissertation with this final comment, “She pays well for my discretion.”
“Do we have time to make a phone call to the U.S.?” Vivian asked once he had finished.
The man responded, that if it must, of necessity, “Make it a brief call.”
Vivian thanked him and then went to the nearest public telephone. She dialed the operator and then asked to place a collect call to her office. In a matter of moments a voice answered: “Ms. VanArp’s office, this is Holly Parker. How may I help you?”
The operator answered, “Will you accept the charges for a call from Vivian VanArp?”
Holly lost all sense of composure and almost shouted into the telephone, “Yes! Yes! Yes! Ms. VanArp are you okay? Where are you?”
Vivian was excited to hear a familiar voice and interrupted Holly’s string of interrogatives, “Holly, it is good to hear your voice. I am reasonably well.” She glanced at her injured hand, recently bandaged. There was only a little bit of blood on the cloth. “I have had quite an experience. I made a foolish decision to go out to the Atlantic during bad weather.” Vivian paused.
While Vivian caught her breath, Holly took advantage of the pause and launched another round of questions and comments.
“Garner Havens and Dr. Tracy have been frantically searching for you. They found the wreckage of Finally. The last I spoke with them they were flying to Georgetown, Guyana. Did they find you? Are you with them now?”
“I am with friends and presently I am in Quito, Ecuador. We are on our way to Soledad. The wife of one of my rescuers is near death. She is dying with cancer.” Vivian started to offer further explanation to Holly when the man in the black suit touched her elbow and whispered, “We must leave now.”
“Holly, I’ll call you later.” Having said so, Vivian hung up the telephone.
The man hustled the group to a limo waiting outside the terminal. He held the door open for the ladies and for Juanita. When they were all safely in the vehicle he spoke to the driver and the limo moved from the parking space into traffic.
Vivian inquired of the man, “Where are you taking us?” There was no alarm in her voice, only a sense of curiosity.
Rodrigo did not allow time for the man to respond. He answered the question, “We are going to the coffee plantation of Antonio Perez De Ortubio. You are about to meet the epitome of evil which Satan has placed on this planet.”
Vivian was silent for an extended period of time, pondering the name Antonia Perez de Ortubio. Where had she heard that name, Ortubio?
The time passed quickly as each adult was busied answering Juanita’s questions. Vivian thought to herself, Juanita is an intelligent girl and given the proper education and opportunities, she will do well.
The SUV passed through dense jungle and then finally leaving the paved road, turned onto a two track dirt road. They traveled another hour on the dirt road, finally coming to an iron rod stretched across the road which served to prevent further travel. A small house behind the road served as a sanctuary against inclement weather. The building looked old, but the rod was shiny with newness. A man stepped from the dilapidated, vine-covered guardhouse. He carried an AK47 automatic rifle. The man in the black suit left the vehicle and walked to the guard. They spoke briefly. The guard lifted a two way radio from his belt and spoke into it. He listened intently. He then replaced the radio in its holster and extended his hand to the man in the black suit and smiled broadly at him.
The man in black returned to the car as the guard raised the iron rod and allowed the SUV to pass. The vehicle traversed another hundred yards over a bumpy, dirt and weed filled track and suddenly a clearing in the jungle opened before them. Vivian looked at the most beautiful older home. It appeared to be centuries old; however it was meticulously maintained. Vivian recognized a strong Spanish influence in the style of the house. She guessed she was looking at a well-cared for home of some Spanish overlord of centuries ago. She wondered why it was built in such a secluded location.
The home was built on the crest of a large hill which allowed a view of the surrounding area for miles. The house was mammoth. A large veranda crossed in the front of the mansion and down the western exposure. Beautiful white columns supported the roof of the veranda. It was a magnificent structure on par with Vivian’s own home in Rassiter.
The SUV entered a circular driveway and stopped at the entrance of the home. The man in black exited the vehicle and opened the doors for the ladies. The oppressive humidity drenched Vivian as soon as she exited the car. She waved her uninjured hand in front of her face as if seeking relief as she waited for the others. The sound of a generator droned against the chattering of the jungle that started yards away. The man in black escorted the entire party up the stairs leading to the veranda and then into the house. The entry was a massive room richly appointed. The modern updates—the electric lighting and ceiling fans—seemed incongruous to the architectural style first presented outside, but Vivian was grateful for the cooler air that caressed her dripping forehead.
There was no time to rest as they were led into an office. The walls of the room, which was approximately 20×30 feet, were lined with books and a massive oak desk was positioned facing the entrance to the room. Overhead, a ceiling fan whirled, a loud rattle as the blades whipped the air.
The man in black invited them to be seated. As if rehearsed, the man pointed to the seat that each person should take. Vivian was seated with her back to the entry door, Juanita was seated next to Vivian. Rodrigo, Juan Carlos and Petra were seated opposite and facing Vivian. Juanita chose to sit on the floor next to the older woman. She took Vivian’s hand and held it. She did not appear to be frightened, only puzzled.
An elderly woman with a bedraggled appearance and a blank expression entered the room carrying a tray containing several glasses of a juice drink. The man in black thanked them for their patience and excused himself. Vivian took a drink, relishing the cool liquid on her dry throat. As she drank, she placed her uninjured hand on Juanita’s head and caressed the girl’s hair. The gentle stroking of her head appeared to have a settling result on Juanita as the girl sipped from her own glass.
Vivian surveyed the room. The walls were lined with bookshelves. There were hundreds of volumes on the shelves. Vivian had learned years ago that insight into a person’s character could be attained by observing what the individual read. She realized that a person moved toward his or her dominant thoughts. And those thoughts could be identified by examining what the individual put into the mind. Her father had taught her this when she was very young. She remembered his words telling her that “what a person reads provides a window into his thinking”. This information had proved to be invaluable in her business transactions. On more than one occasion, a visit to the office of a potential business partner revealed books or items that exposed the dominant thinking of the individual. Occasionally these subtle revelations prevented a possibly disastrous relationship.
She rose from her seat, drink in hand to sip as she browsed, and walked to the shelves where she examined the books with great interest. Scattered among English titles were many different languages. The ones the Vivian could read revealed a variety of subjects ranging from Spanish conquistadors and early explorers and ancient Inca civilizations to current medical practices regarding aging. There was an entire section devoted to geography of Ecuador and multiple volumes about Valverde and his search for the lost Inca treasure of their king Atalhalpa. Many of the books appeared to be centuries old. She saw several ancient volumes devoted to alchemy.
Perhaps the singular most popular subject was that of Ponce de Leon and his searches for the Fountain of Youth. Vivian thought to herself that an antique book dealer would love to visit this library.
Then a familiar volume caught her eye. It was the centennial history of Rassiter, Vivian’s home community. To her amazement there were related volumes. There was a copy of the publication celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Rassiter General Hospital. And then she was startled by three volumes of family histories resting on a shelf. Her vision blurred for a moment as she read the family names on the volumes. The names were those of the Flores family, the Ortubio family and the VanArp family. Recognition of the Ortubio name burst on her mind.
She had learned the name from Tom Hendricks; Juan Perez de Ortubio had sailed with Ponce de Leon in search of the Fountain of Youth. She was startled beyond speech. But it was a reaction to more than the remembrance of the Ortubio name. Why would someone in a remote village in Ecuador be interested in the VanArp family? A queer feeling wrenched in her belly.
As she puzzled this with growing discomfort, a gentle rustle of material behind Vivian caught her attention and she sensed that someone had entered the room. She raised her eyes from the books to look at Rodrigo who was staring at the person who had just entered the doorway. Vivian saw his countenance change. A look of dark anger crossed his face. Juan Carlos and Petra’s expressions also changed. Anger appeared; unmitigated anger.
“Antonia!” Rodrigo spat the name out with disgust. Vivian had come to believe this man was incapable of hating, yet at this moment she felt he was as close as he had ever been to actually hating anyone. Perhaps the woman was as evil as he claimed.
Vivian turned. She wanted to see who this woman was. When she faced Antonia, Vivian gasped aloud and the drink fell from her bandaged hand, crashing on the hardwood floor.
She could not be Antonia. Could she?
As Vivian stared at the person known as Antonia Perez de Ortubio, recognition settled on the VanArp heiress.
A Mercy Flight
“This is Vivian’s blood,” Tracy repeated his findings of the DNA test. Concern etched his face. The two men were silent for a prolonged moment, then Havens broke the silence.
“Was there enough blood present in the home to give any indication as the extent of her injuries?”
“I did not see much blood,” Tracy responded. “However, a lethal wound does not always result in a large loss of blood. She could have a slight injury that is infected and without proper care. . . I don’t want to say it. I don’t even want to think of all the possibilities, but she could be in serious distress. We won’t know the extent of her condition until we find her.”
At that moment the plane’s phone demanded attention. Havens worked his way to the cockpit. Only a few people knew this number and for anyone to call in, the message must be important. “Havens.”
“Garner, she’s alive! She’s alive!” The volume of Holly’s voice almost perforated Havens’ eardrum. “Garner, do you hear me?! She’s alive! Garner, Garner, are you there, did you hear me? Vivian’s alive!”
The excited tone of Holly’s voice suggested to Havens that Vivian was alive and not in any immediate danger. Finally, when Holly’s breath was expended and she paused to draw air into her lungs, Havens had a chance to speak.
“Holly, yes, I heard you. How do you know she’s alive?”
“She called. She said she was ‘reasonably well’.”
“Do you know where she is? Did she give her location? Was she forced to call by kidnappers?”
“Kidnappers? I don’t know about that, but she said she was in Quito, Ecuador. She said she was on her way to Soledad, Ecuador. She said the wife of one of her rescuers was dying of cancer.”
Havens asked Holly to repeat word for word her conversation with Vivian. He carefully listened. When she had finished, he asked a few questions, seeking to further understand the situation. When he had acquired all the information he felt was pertinent, he thanked Holly and then told her how much he missed her and how he looked forward to seeing her soon.
They ended the conversation and after thoughtfully staring at the phone in his hand for a few moments Havens set it down. On the other end of the conversation, Holly clutched the handset of her telephone close to her heart and closed her eyes for a full minute.
Havens turned to see Dr. Tracy anxiously staring at him. Havens related the conversation to Tracy who smiled widely at the news that Vivian was alive. But the joy quickly faded.
“Why didn’t she ask to come home? What is she doing?”
“I don’t know,” Havens said. “But we need to obtain permission to enter Ecuadorian airspace and to land. Any ideas?”
With a wry look on his face, Tracy answered, “Does VanArp Enterprises have a manufacturing facility near the airport in Quito?”
In spite of the gravity of the situation, Havens laughed. “Wouldn’t that be convenient? Unfortunately there is no such plant that I am aware of. I think you and I need to use our wits for this one.”
The two men sat in silence for a few moments, each lost in thought. As their ears adjusted to the quiet, the sounds outside the plane—the distant hum of cars and other airplanes taxiing the runway—awakened their minds.
Tracy spoke, “Garner, on the flight down here, you said you have flown in many missions for Wings of Mercy, is that correct?”
“Yes.” Havens looked at Tracy with intense interest. “What are you thinking?”
“As I mentioned earlier, I invest about two months a year assisting Doctors Without Borders.” He paused to allow Havens to consider what he said, then he continued, “What if we combined your Wings of Mercy background with my Doctors Without Borders background and sought permission to make a mercy flight to Ecuador to return Vivian and the cancer patient to Rassiter Hospital?”
A huge grin erupted on Havens face as he answered, “Great idea. We will need to go to the American Consulate and have them seek the permission. With VanArp Enterprise backing us, I don’t see this going badly. Let’s do it.”
Tracy made a quick phone call to Lt. Dunbar to advise him of the situation at present, then the two men left the plane and drove to the U.S. Consulate in Georgetown. Approximately forty-five minutes later the men arrived at the Consulate and asked to speak with someone regarding an urgent matter. The receptionist who had heard the term “urgent matter” a thousand times over the years, smiled—smirked really—and inquired as to the nature of the matter.
Havens quickly analyzed the situation. The receptionist’s sense of self-importance was obvious. She was prepared to pass judgment regarding the worthiness of the request. Havens knew he could place a telephone call to Holly, who would in turn contact Ed Foster, who would then call the State Department and in a matter of a few hours the phone in the ambassador’s office would ring. However, they didn’t have hours nor he did want to jeopardize the lady’s employment (as had happened in the Miami Police Department). They did not have time to expend unnecessarily. There could be a quicker course of action than involving Ed Foster. Havens chose a diplomatic course.
He smiled at the receptionist. “I apologize that I have asked of your valuable time. We simply need permission to fly into Ecuador and return a patient to the United States for treatment. I know you must have underlings to handle such trivial requests. If you would be so kind as to assign this menial task to one of your subordinates, we would be most appreciative for your help in this matter.”
The lady smiled at Havens’ subservient tone, then she said, “Mr. Hoskins will be glad to assist you. One moment please.” She picked up the phone and dialed a number. In a moment, she spoke into the handset. “Jack, there are two gentlemen here who need your assistance. Are you available?”
Jack Hoskins listened carefully to the voice of his receptionist. He noted that the receptionist addressed him as Jack. This was a code to him that whoever wanted to see him was someone about whom he should be cautions. The visitor was not presenting the usual “the airline lost my luggage” type of problem.
Almost immediately after handing up the handset, the receptionist smiled at the two men and said, “Someone will assist you shortly.”
Tracy looked at Havens with a newfound admiration for the pilot’s diplomatic skills as they made their way to the waiting chairs.
Jack Hoskins opened the door to the reception area and smiled at the two men waiting for him. His immediate impression confirmed his receptionist’s evaluation of the two. They were men to whom he should listen.
“Gentlemen, welcome. Please come into my office.” The three entered the small office and Hoskins extended his hand to Havens and then to Tracy, exchanging names with both men and then he waved to several visitor’s chairs. “Please be seated.”
Hoskins chose to sit beside them rather than behind his desk. The desk represented a barrier of authority and he reserved that for later. If the conversation did not go well he would rise from his chair and be seated behind the desk thereby sending a powerful message as to who was the person in charge.
Hoskins would later be thankful he did not play that power card following the introductions.
“Gentlemen, how may I assist you?”
Havens explained that they needed permission to fly into Ecuador to pick up two passengers and return them to the U.S. for medical treatment.
Hoskins sensed that there was more to the story than a simple request for a mercy flight into a friendly country. He probed for further information. His suspicions focused on an illegal activity of some sort. For these men to fly into Ecuador under the guise of a medical mercy mission and then conduct some illegal activity was very clever. Although rare, he had heard similar cover stories before.
He continued to probe, much to the dismay of Havens.
After thirty minutes of verbal fencing, during which Hoskins discovered neither men had their passports, Havens finally put some pressure on Hoskins in an attempt to bring him around to proving some actual assistance.
“Mr. Hoskins, our mercy flight is not an ordinary flight. I am the corporate pilot for VanArp Enterprises, and Dr. Tracy is the personal physician for Ms. Vivian VanArp. Ms. VanArp, if you have not heard of her, is an important name in politics. Ms. VanArp, and someone to whom she is indebted, are in Ecuador and both are in need of medical assistance. It is our purpose to return the two to a hospital in the U.S. and we need your assistance in obtaining permission to enter Ecuadoran airspace.”
Havens thought he had dropped Vivian’s name with subtlety up to this point, however, if necessary, he would use the name like a hammer.
Hoskins was silent for a moment as he searched his memory for Vivian VanArp. Then slowly, recognition came to him. His face flushed as he asked his next question. “Is this the same Vivian VanArp who is potentially being vetted as a possible vice presidential candidate?”
It was Tracy’s turn to respond, and he did so with directness. They had very little time. “The very same.”
Hoskins rose from the visitor chairs and moved to be seated behind his desk. It was not a power play relocation this time. It was a quick effort to extricate himself from any damage he may have done to his career by asking so many questions. He spoke when he was seated.
“Gentlemen, perhaps I can help.” Having said so, he picked up the phone and dialed a number. In just a moment, he spoke into the mouthpiece. “Edwardo, this is Jack Hoskins, it is good to hear your voice. How are you doing?” He was silent for a two full minutes as he listened to the party on the other end of the conversation. When he spoke, he went into his role as a diplomat. “Well that is good news to hear. Congratulations to you and your son for his acceptance at the University of Michigan. I am sure he will do well and you are most welcome for any help I may have been to secure his acceptance at a great school. As soon as he graduates from the U of M med school, I want to talk to him about some aches and pains Mrs. Hoskins is having.”
Havens and Tracy could hear the laughter come from the receiver.
Hoskins grew serious, “Edwardo, speaking of medical issues, I need your help. There are two men in my office and they are part of a medical mission to fly two persons from Ecuador back to the U.S. for medical treatment. We need permission to enter Ecuadorian airspace to pick up the patients. Can you help us?” Hoskins was silent as he listened. Then he spoke. “Yes I can personally vouch for them. They are legitimate. Your help will be very much appreciated.” He listened some more, then he covered the mouthpiece for the handset and spoke to Havens. “Where do you wish to land in Ecuador?”
Hoskins relayed the answer into the telephone.
There was some additional conversation and then Hoskins asked Havens for identification numbers for the aircraft. Havens provided the numbers which Hoskins then transmitted to Edwardo. Hoskins then thanked the man on the other end of the phone and replaced the handset in the cradle.
Hoskins smiled. “You are cleared. Edwardo suggested that you file a flight plan as you will be flying over other countries. I’ll have to delay you a bit longer while I get some paperwork sorted for you as well. You can’t legally be in the country without your passports and even if no one looks, I’d rather we not take the chance and you wind up in jail for a few years.”
Havens and Tracy agreed. When Hoskins returned with what they needed, Havens and Tracy rose from their seats, extended their hands and thanked Hoskins for his help. They exited the office and Havens smiled at the receptionist and whispered to her, “Thank you. You put the right man on the job.”
The two men returned to the airport and Havens filed a flight plan. He checked the aircraft to ready their flight, made sure the plane had been refueled and in a matter of an hour, they were airborne. Four hours later, Havens radioed the tower in Quito and requested permission to land. Permission was granted and in thirty minutes the two men were deplaning.
The men exited the aircraft and entered the terminal. They proceeded to a car rental station. Havens made arrangements to rent an SUV and then asked the attendant if she could give directions to Soledad. The attended provided a small map with the directions and then with a puzzled expression on her face asked why anyone would want to visit Soledad. Havens responded that they wanted to visit the coffee plantation of Antonia Perez de Ortubio.
Havens inquired of the attendant if she had heard of the plantation.
“Yes. And I have heard that outsiders are not welcome and an armed guard is stationed at the entrance. The only way in and out for years was by air.”
Havens took a shot in the dark with his next question. “Have you rented a vehicle to a blonde American woman who expressed an interested in going to the plantation?”
“No, but,” she paused, “I did rent a limo to a gentleman who had four in his party. One of whom was a blonde American woman. He stated his destination was Soledad.”
“Do you know the name of the man who rented the vehicle?”
“No. I’d have to check the rental agreement.” She shuffled through some papers and looking up from her search said, “It won’t be necessary to go through all these agreements. The man just returned the vehicle. There he is.” She pointed in the direction of a mustached man in a black suite seated in a restaurant across the main aisle of the airport.
Havens and Tracy turned and looked at the man who was unaware of their scrutiny as they closely examined him from their position, approximately fifteen yards away. The gentleman was seated at a table in the area of the restaurant that was open to the main aisle. He had apparently just competed a meal and was seated, watching the many passengers flow through the airport. He was a man of slight stature and well-groomed and wore an expensive black suit.
Havens thanked the rental agent and then asked Tracy. “Should we talk to him?”
Tracy responded affirmatively and the two men walked across the main aisle.
The man in the black suit watched with passive interested as two strangers left the rental agency and crossed the main aisle. As the two came closer it was apparent their focus was on him. The man sensed no danger from the pair of strangers. He thought to himself that this may be a serendipitous business opportunity.
Havens noted the change in posture of the man as he and Dr. Tracy approached him. Havens carefully scrutinized the individual’s body language and demeanor. He felt certain the gentleman was armed. He also felt certain that the man knew how to protect himself, and yet this person showed no indication of alarm. Havens once again decided on a diplomatic approach.
Havens opened the conversation as they stopped next to his table. “Please forgive us for interrupting you.”
“No interruption. I am finished with my meal. How may I help you?”
“We are looking for an American woman, a blonde woman, and the attendant at the rental office mentioned that you may have had such a woman in your company recently.”
Now the man was certain that a business opportunity was before him. “I may have knowledge of such a lady. Why do you seek her?”
“We fear she may be in difficulty. She had an accident and may be in need of medical assistance.” Havens paused and then continued “Please forgive me for not introducing myself. My name is Garner Havens, I am a pilot.” He pointed a thumb toward Tracy and continued speaking, “This is Dr. Philip Tracy.”
The man in black thought he could gain additional understanding if he first gave a tidbit of information. “The lady who was in my charge appeared to have been on the receiving end of a fight with a bear. Recently she had also cut her hand on some luggage. She was pleasant, in control and appeared to be in some pain, however my offers of assistance to relieve her discomfort were graciously received and as graciously denied.”
He then asked a question of his own, “As a pilot I am certain you have an aircraft here at the airport, so I question in my mind, who is this lady who can afford her own aircraft, with pilot, and her own personal physician, both of whom can fly to Ecuador to see to her care?”
Havens’ sixth sense, which he had developed over many decades of traveling the world, told him this man was intelligent, discerning, self-confident—all of which was coupled with a genteel nature. Havens thought to himself this would be a good man to have as a friend in difficult circumstances.
Havens asked if he and Tracy could be seated. The man apologized for his thoughtlessness in not offering and waved his hand to two empty seats. Havens thought he would gamble and reveal additional information. Yet he did not want to endanger Vivian by revealing too much, thereby placing her in a position of being held for ransom.
He spoke, “The lady for whom we work could pay you well for your service, if the lady you assisted is, in fact, the one whom we seek.” He carefully examined the man’s body language and facial expressions in response to his statement. Havens sensed nothing to cause alarm.
The stranger in the suit continued the conversation. He felt comfortable with Havens and Tracy and decided these two could make good future contacts. “I took a lady such as you seek along with two men, and a woman, and a child, to the coffee plantation of Antonia Perez de Ortubio near Soledad. Antonia is a client of mine.”
Havens produced from his pocket the note left in the Cardenas home and handed it to the man.
The man read the note. “This is the same Antonia who requested my services to provide transportation for Rodrigo Valverde to her planation.” He was quick to explain the relationship of the other members in the party.
Havens asked, “Did anyone call the blonde lady by her name?”
“Yes. They called her Vivian.”
Havens briefly explained, to his knowledge, how Vivian had come to be in the group. He told of the shipwreck and supposed rescue by the family. He explained that he and Tracy would like to return Vivian and the lady mentioned in the note who was dying of cancer back to the U.S. for treatment. He then posed a question to the man.
“Would you be willing to take us to the plantation? And if so, what would you charge for your services?”
The man was thoughtful for a moment. Then he spoke softly. “I had a wonderful sister who died of cancer. If she only could have gotten help.” He paused, an expression of grief on his face. Then he continued, “I am a business man. When you approached me, I thought that an opportunity to earn some additional income was coming to me. I am a business man,” the suited gentleman repeated, “however, I am also a human being and I was a brother to a wonderful sister. I will take you to Antonia free of charge.”
In less than an hour, the three men approached Antonia’s house in the corporate jet. Havens thought to himself that it was providential that they had met the man in black. Once the man realized Havens and Tracy had a plane, he’d assured them they could arrive at the plantation quicker than if they drove. On his own, Havens would have had difficulty landing on the plantation without correct coordinates or clearance. Once they coasted to a stop near the hanger, the plane was approached by an armed guard. The man in the black suit exited the plane first and spoke to the guard. The armed man smiled pleasantly and motioned that Havens and Tracy could disembark. Tracy grabbed his bags from the plane. Havens was grateful for the man in black. He wouldn’t have had any other way of getting passed the guard without a battle of some type. That did not bode well for him and Tracy if they needed to make a quick escape.
With permission to be on the property, the man in black escorted Havens and Tracy to a garage. They got in a vehicle and drove toward the mansion. They went a distance down the hill from the tarmac, then parked the vehicle in front of the mansion and started the short walk to the front steps. The distinct report of a gunshot pierced the silence.
Havens immediately recognized the sound of a 9mm handgun. Tracy, realizing that someone could be in distress, ran to the vehicle and retrieved his medical bag. He’d intended to use the kit inside to treat any of Vivian’s injuries, and take preliminary readings of the cancer patient. He realized he’d need it now. As he ran to the car, the man in the black suit pulled a .38 caliber handgun from inside his suit. Together, the three men approached the house with caution.
No Greater Gift
“Consolata!” Vivian gasped the words from her mouth. She attempted to gain control and then stammered the next words, “W-what are you doing here?”
She’d thought for a moment that Consolata had arrived to take her home. That all Havens’ and Tracy’s searching had come to fruition. The woman’s next words dispelled any of Vivian’s joy.
“My name is not Consolata. It is Antonia.” The woman paused to maximize the effect, then she continued, “Antonia Perez de Ortubio.”
Was this Consolata, or did another woman have the same face as Vivian’s domestic head of staff? That idea was preposterous. Her intuition insisted Antonia and Consolata were one and the same. Vivian took four steps to the nearest chair, stepping over the broken glass of her drink, and slumped into the soft cushions. Juanita patted her knee, but other than to cover her hand, Vivian did not look the girl’s way.
Antonia crossed the room and seated herself behind the large ornate desk. The woman smiled, a smile that pulled too sharply at the corners of her mouth. She had dark black hair, and a brown complexion not harshened by any toils in the sun. “Welcome to my home, Vivian.”
Vivian struggled to regain her composure. “I don’t understand.”
“You will understand shortly,” was Antonia’s terse response to Vivian. And then to establish firmly her control of the situation, she added, “When I am ready.”
Feeling satisfied that she had established beyond a doubt that she was in charge, the woman turned her attention to Rodrigo and as if she read his mind, she said, “You will see her shortly, Rodrigo.” It was a matter of fact statement, void of all compassion. “She is alive, but barely. The cancer is far advanced.”
She paused and looked squarely at Rodrigo. “If you had cooperated and revealed the location of your ancestor’s treasure, none of this would have been necessary. I planned to retain Corina only for as long as was necessary to loosen your tongue, but you acted stupidly and escaped. You only have yourself to blame.”
An expression of exasperation broke on Rodrigo’s face and with pained words he responded, “For the thousandth time, I do not know that the treasure even exists and if it does, I have no idea where it is.”
“Your rhetoric bores me, Rodrigo.”
Antonia then turned her attention to Petra and Juan Carlos. “We have missed you two. I am glad you have returned to work for me again.” She then looked at Juanita and continued her diatribe, “And I see you have brought additional help.”
Juanita did not understand the meaning behind the words, however, she felt the intent. She moved closer to Vivian and reached her arms around Vivian’s legs as if to plead for protection. Vivian cupped the girl’s head in her hand.
“Vivian,” Antonia started, “You have something I want. Perhaps we can work a trade.”
Having regained some of her mental balance, Vivian asked, “What could I possibly have that you want? And if you own this beautiful home and property, why were you in my employ? It certainly was not for monetary gain.”
A dark and loathsome expression appeared on Antonia’s face as she spoke. Her tone was dripping with sarcasm, “How clever you are. However I am disappointed you have not figured it all out by now.”
“Figured out what?” There was true bafflement in Vivian’s tone.
“I want the water.”
“What water?” Vivian’s bafflement was again evident.
Antonia summoned all the mock astonishment she could and responded, “Why Vivian, you are the talk of Wall Street and you do not see what is right before your very eyes. How superficial you are. You have what I want. I lost you for a short time, but when I found that you were with Rodrigo and his family. . .” Her jaw clenched. The next words oozed from her mouth like venom. “How fortuitous for me.”
Vivian was perplexed at the course the conversation was taking and she attempted to ground herself, and perhaps catch Antonia off guard that she might learn more information. “How did you know my location?”
Antonia still held tight to her sarcasm and sent another verbal jab at Vivian. “And the shallowness of your thinking continues. I told your administrative assistant, Holly Parker, I was planning a party for your return and would she please keep me informed as to your whereabouts? Simple devices for a simple mind,” she threw out as a barb.
In spite of her precarious position, Vivian bristled at the insult directed toward Holly. “Do not confuse kindness with ignorance.” Vivian paused to let the words sink in and then she continued, “I am sure you are familiar with the latter and I am equally as sure that you have no knowledge of the former.”
Antonia was stunned by the rebuke, however, she maintained her composure. “Your insults are pathetic; however let us get back to the matter at hand.” A dark scowl quickly spread across her face and she spoke in a slow, menacing voice, “I want the balance of Maria’s water.”
Antonia spat out her response with contempt, “Yes, Maria. Your sister.”
Antonia is mad! Vivian thought. “I have no sister,” she spoke aloud, with assurance that her realization of Antonia’s madness would now become evident.
Antonia leaned back in the high-backed chair behind her desk and an all-knowing smile spread across her face. “Is that so? Was Maria Flores who worked for you, and who died in the hospital, you at her side, was she not your sister? Yes, she was.” Contempt dripped from her tone. She relished the knowledge that Vivian knew nothing of her past.
“Are you mad?” Vivian retorted, “My parents had only one child. Me.”
The all-knowing smile on Antonia’s face deepened. It was obvious she was enjoying the moment. Her sense of superiority was heightened by Vivian’s apparent ignorance. “William and Elizabeth VanArp were not your parents. They adopted you when you were an infant.”
“Impossible. They would have told me. Where did you get such a preposterous idea?”
Antonia was thoroughly engrossed in Vivian’s discomfort. In smug superiority, she spoke, “Lean back in your chair and relax. I am going to give you an education. And then, you will yield to me the balance of your water.”
As much as Vivian hated Antonia’s smug superiority, and her lies, Vivian knew there were times to listen. She would listen and point out Antonia’s flaws in her thinking. She was Vivian VanArp. Maria Flores was not her sister.
“I am Xzepil,” Antonia started. “The sister of the great chief Calus.” She spat when she spoke his name. “Calus was the chief of the Tanio Indians in South Florida during the early 16th century. He gave me as a present to Juan Perez de Ortubio.” Again she spat as she spoke Ortubio’s name. “I am over four hundred years old.”
There was silence in the room. Vivian glanced around the room at Antonia’s audience. It was evident they all thought the same: Antonia was delusional.
Rodrigo broke the silence. He was brave enough to speak the words they all thought. “Antonia, you are mad. No one lives to be that old.”
Antonia smiled her all too familiar smile. “Poor, foolish Rodrigo. You are such a failure. Be silent and listen. You may learn. I will get to you soon enough. Right now, Vivian and I have something important to discuss.”
She continued her story, “Ortubio was the captain of the Santiago, one of Ponce de Leon’s ships. Unknown to Ponce de Leon, Ortubio and Alaminos, the navigator, discovered the Fountain of Youth that had been the object of his search. Unfortunately for Ponce de Leon, they never revealed their discovery. The only ones who knew of the existence and location of the water were the Alaminos and Ortubio families.” She paused as if relishing a distant memory. Then she continued, “When I learned of it, it was my intent to claim all the water for myself. However I outsmarted myself. I arranged for the deaths of Ortubio and Alaminos. Unfortunately that occurred before I learned the location of the water. The only remaining person to know of its location was Pedro Juan Xavier de Alaminos, the grandson of Anton de Alaminos.”
As Antonia spoke, the story was becoming familiar to Vivian. Hadn’t she heard similar words before her disastrous wreck on the lonely cay?
“Pedro married and he and his wife had two children, Maria and Sonia.” Antonia turned her critical gaze in the direction of Vivian. “Sonia was an infant when her parents and older sister Maria, and Maria’s husband, vacationed on the Gulf Coast. I had searched for them for years and when I learned of their vacation, I sent my men to capture them.
“Unfortunately in the attempt, Pedro’s wife,” she paused and looked directly at Vivian, “your biological mother, drowned. Your father, realizing what was happening, helped Maria and her husband escape. As he attempted to elude my emissaries, he gave you to William and Elizabeth VanArp, who were also vacationing in the same area, to care for you until the family was out of danger.”
Vivian interrupted, “If this is all true, why did Pedro Juan Xavier de Alaminos not return for the baby? For me?” Her question was intended to catch Antonia in a lie.
“I can only speculate as to his reason,” Antonia addressed the question, her eyes narrowed at the interruption. “I suspect that he knew that someone was in pursuit of him and perhaps he thought you would be safe with the VanArps. I am puzzled they waited over six decades before Maria made contact with you. However, when one is immortal, sixty years is only a drop in the bucket.” She paused for a moment and then continued, “However, speculation is not the order of the day. Getting to the point is. And that point, is that you, Vivian, are the only one who knows where the water is.” She stopped and then spoke forcefully, “And I want to know where it is. I need it immediately. I have exhausted my supply, and I am overdue for my next injection.”
Vivian once again questioned, “What water?”
Antonia made a wry expression and chided Vivian, “Are you so dense that you do not remember your own sister’s death? You were there in the hospital the night she died. Certainly she knew what was happening, and she must have begged for the water.”
Vivian lashed back verbally, “I have no sister, and I was not adopted.”
“I see I have to settle this quickly and thoroughly.” Antonia rose from her seat and walked to the bookcase that Vivian had recently examined. She lifted the volume entitled The VanArp Family and walked to Vivian and handed the volume to Vivian. Near her feet, Juanita leaned away, not wanting to be close to the woman who spoke malicious words. “Look at the document encased in the pocket on the rear cover.”
Vivian opened the book to the rear cover and removed a document. It was folded in fourths and she carefully unfolded the paper. On the top of the document in bold letters was the word “adoption”. She looked down and was stunned at what she read. An infant baby girl known only as Sonia was adopted by William and Elizabeth VanArp. There was her birthday. Hers, not the one she vaguely remembered from Maria Flores’ bible page. William and Elizabeth VanArp must have guessed at the age of their new infant when she was handed off to them.
In the lull of the conversation the ceiling fan sounded like the engines of a jet passing overhead.
Antonia noted the stunned expression on Vivian’s face with a look of satisfaction.
“No,” Vivian finally said. “This could be forged.” She looked up, but Antonia’s cold expression did not change. She looked down at the document, feeling the paper, looking at all the marks as if she could find flaws.
Breaking the near-silence which was interrupted only by the slow rhythmic ticking of a mantel clock, Antonia continued her narration. “Maria, the stupid girl, missed her injection and she reverted to her natural age, and consequently, she died.” Antonia shook her head with a look of disgust. “Had she worked with me, we could have lived in eternal youth, an ultimately we could have ruled the world.
“I worked so hard to lure Maria and her father into my hands so I could learn the location of the water. I persuaded the resort in Mexico to allow me to work for them when you vacationed. I knew if I could remain close to you, that eventually Maria and her father would make contact with you. However, I did not suspect that Maria would make that contact as a domestic in your employ. Sadly, my plan did not come to total fruition.
“However, Providence has smiled on me. Providence has placed you into my hands, Vivian, and you have the very thing that four hundred years I’ve hunted for. You know where the water is. I offer you the same proposal I would have given to Maria. Help me and everything I have, everything I will gain will be yours. We can work together. There is so much we can do, that we can uncover. The Atalhalpa-Valverde treasure is only the tip of the wealth we can gain. This plantation, the VanArp Enterprise? Piddling to what we can have. Vivian, all you need to do is share some water with me, just a little bit, and tell me where to find the rest, and no one can ever take what we have.”
As Antonia spoke, Vivian had a feeling she should have been feeling tempted, should have agreed with some of the words. Hadn’t she herself wished for these things several days before? Her new sense of selflessness should have motivated her to share the location of the cay, but she was still hesitant to reveal what she knew of the special water. Rodrigo’s words of the woman and Vivian’s intuition screamed at her not to trust this woman who had lied to her for so many years.
“We can protect the Fountain,” Antonia cajoled, “and no one can ever take the water from us. We will never age, we will never have to fear death. What do you say Vivian? All I need is the location—I’ll give you anything you want.”
As Antonia spoke, an extraordinary change began to alter her physical appearance. She began to grow older. She aged slowly at first so that it wasn’t noticeable. By the time she paused to take another breath, her voice had changed to a tired rasp.
She shakily looked down at her hand and licked her lips. She looked up at Vivian. The aging continued rapidly. Ten years, then twenty years of youth disappeared in a matter of minutes. Age spots and wrinkles covered her face and hands. The youthful luster of her skin faded and silver streaked her raven black hair. She struggled to keep her balance as she stumbled back to her desk and slumped into her chair. When she looked up to once again face her captors, Vivian noticed that Antonia had aged at least fifty years.
The dark eyes surrounded by crow’s feet looked directly at Vivian. “I am regressing. I need that water immediately. Give me what you have.”
Vivian, keeping calm despite the fluttering in her chest, spoke. “I do not have any water of which you speak.”
Antonia continued to deteriorate, growing older with each passing moment. She fumbled with the desk and then reached into a drawer and withdrew a 9mm handgun. She moaned in pain. It required all her remaining strength to speak and to lift the gun which tilted and shook in her hand. Antonia’s arm and the weapon’s grip rested on the table. She could not even raise the gun, nor take the effort to straighten it.
“Give me the water now or I will kill the child.”
The gun titled even more, now in a downward position past Vivian’s knees. The barrel was pointing at Juanita. No one moved.
Antonia collapsed on the desk as her body regressed finally to four hundred years: skin clinging to bones, silver hair falling out in strands across the desktop and eyes covered in milky film. Antonia pulled the trigger. Her last effort in mortality was to do one final, evil act.
The body, not much more than wrinkled parchment over a boney framework recoiled into the chair, then bounced back to the desk. The remains slumped before them. Antonia Perez de Ortubio was called by her Creator to give an accounting of her life.
As the handgun exploded, Vivian hurled herself between Antonia and Juanita with a primeval scream. The bullet struck Vivian in the abdomen. It continued its deadly course through her body, bursting her liver and shattering a kidney before exiting her body and lodging in the chair behind her. Vivian fell in a crumpled mass on the floor at Juanita’s feet, the girl sprawled in her own attempt to flee the bullet.
Blood flowed profusely from Vivian’s core. She moaned in pain as life quickly left her body.
The man in the dark suit was the first to burst through the door, his .38 held in a ready position. Havens followed immediately behind. Havens mentally chastised himself for not taking his own handgun from the aircraft. Tracy was on the heels of Havens as the trio entered the large, white French-style doors. Nothing in the large entry of the house. They continued on. It did not take them long to find where the gun had gone off. They only had to follow the sounds of commotion: screams and sobs echoed down the hallway.
Havens quickly surveyed the situation in the office. He saw the crumpled figure of Vivian lying on the floor and a young girl kneeling at her side, clutching the woman’s hand as she screamed, “No! No!”
He saw what looked like the remains of an ancient woman lying across a desk. It was obvious she was deceased. There was a black gun grasped in the dead woman’s skeletal fingers. She was no longer a threat.
On the floor Petra had joined the child. The younger woman knelt by Vivian’s side, attempting to render assistance.
Juan Carlos and Rodrigo looked at the three men who had stormed in through the doorway. Fearing additional danger from Antonia’s hired men, they both took a defensive stance and prepared to battle the newcomers. Juan Carlos eyed the gun on the table.
Tracy, recognizing the immediate danger, held up his bag and said, calmly, “I am a doctor. I can help.” He was surprised his voice did not waver. His heart was pounding in his chest and his eyes kept returning to Vivian where she lay prone across the floor in a growing puddle of blood.
Juan Carlos and Rodrigo, still somewhat skeptical, did not relax from their defensive positions. They did, however, refrain from making any threatening moves toward the newcomers.
Petra moved aside and made room for Tracy to kneel at Vivian’s side. She took Juanita in her arms, pulling her back and giving the child comfort as the girl stared at Vivian with wide eyes. Tracy gently took Vivian’s hand and looked into her eyes. They were open.
Through blurred vision, she recognized Tracy. She smiled and spoke, expending precious energy even as her life ebbed away. “Philip, you found me. I knew you would. I love you so very much. I’m sorry I took so long to tell you.” Her voice was weak and barely audible. The syllables
came between large, gasping pauses.
When Tracy heard them, the words touched his heart. They were inscribed indelibly there for all time.
“I am here, Vivian. I will do what I can. But we must get you to a hospital. Then I have many things to share with you.”
She smiled, knowing that his words held an optimism that she knew was wishful thinking. Deep within, she knew that she had only a matter of minutes left. Time was short and her strength and ability to speak was even shorter. She knew that at any moment she would lapse into unconsciousness. It would be a relief, a blessing from the pain.
Tracy was beside himself with grief as his years of practicing medicine told him the outcome was inevitable. Tracy knew that the only chance they had was to airlift her to a hospital and that chance was only one in a thousand. Where was the nearest hospital? His heart ached as he pondered what to do. To be so close to realizing a love which he had for so long held silently in his heart and then now to watch helplessly as life passed from Vivian was more than he could bear. Relief that taxes the human spirit to its limit manifested itself in uncontrollable sobs.
The man did not know what to do. He castigated himself for his befuddled mind. As a doctor he could do nothing. He could only cling to her hand and say goodbye as a friend.
His self-chastisement was interrupted by the voice of Rodrigo.
“Do you have any of the medicine she gave me to restore my sight? It worked a miracle for me.”
Tracy looked at Rodrigo. “What medicine?”
“She had a clear-colored medicine in a syringe and she injected it into my arm and it restored my sight. I was blind until she gave me that wonderful gift. The medicine looked like water, it was so clear.”
Tracy’s mind exploded with memories. He recalled the dog regressing to a puppy when it lapped the mysterious water Vivian had given him. Had Vivian retained a second syringe of water when she gave him the one at the hospital in Rassiter and used the second syringe to restore Rodrigo’s sight? He even remembered taking a sample of water from the cay to test to see if it was the same water Vivian had given him.
He knew that if this was the same miraculous water he had retrieved from the cay earlier, then it was Vivian’s only chance. He quickly opened his bag and retrieved the container of water and a syringe. His hands were trembling so badly he had difficulty filling the syringe. His trembling hands dropped the container and it shattered on the floor, spilling the remainder of the miraculous water. Would there be enough in the syringe? Tracy hoped there would be. He feared losing Vivian now that he had finally found her. He did mental calculations as to how much water he should inject. He knew that his best estimate was only a guess. The only variables he was aware that would wildly affect the results of the water’s action was ingesting as opposed to inoculation and weight. His work with the dogs, although minimal, helped him with his estimates.
He told Vivian he was going to inject her, but she didn’t look like she was paying much attention. She looked like she was already slipping into the beyond. “I must be careful as to how much of this water I inject. If I inject too much I will be walking down the aisle with a teenager.”
“Is that a proposal, Dr. Tracy?” Her voice was weak. She was fading quickly and yet his jocularity with matters of the heart brought a faint smile to her pale lips.
“With every ounce of my being it is. I love you beyond what I am capable of saying. I love you seven worth. I will explain that to you someday.”
So saying, Tracy looked at the thin tube and mentally calculated how much of the liquid contained in the syringe he should inject. He then inserted the needle into her arm and injected a large portion of the water.
Vivian moaned. The group stood in amazement as they watched energy escape from Vivian’s body. They watched as age fell away from her. Her body healed with remarkable speed. Her spilled blood remained on the floor yet her body produced the needed replacement. Her wounds healed even as the group watched. She was 55 years of age and then 50 and then 45. Her body healed to perfection. She sat up and smiled. She then turned to Tracy and with all the sincerity and love she could summon, spoke.
“Yes, Philip. Yes. I will walk down the aisle with you. No matter what age I am.” She then put her arms around Juanita and Petra. Juanita reached out to the woman and Petra let go so her daughter could be enveloped.
“Will you be my flower girl?” Vivian asked.
Juanita couldn’t speak. She just nodded her head repeatedly.
Tracy stood and reached down for his beloved. He assisted Vivian to her feet. They stood facing one another with their arms around each other. Vivian spoke, her tone of voice carried all the love a woman can have for a man, “Thank you for saving my life, my darling.”
Tracy pulled her close to him and kissed her. He kissed her like he had wanted to for years. The kiss contained all the love he had held in silence. As their lips parted he spoke in a whisper. “Thank you, for saving mine.”
She laid her head against his shoulder and held tight to him.
Juanita placed her arms around Vivian’s waist and hugged her as only a child can hug. She did not seem to mind the blood coating Vivian’s clothing. Vivian looked down at Juanita and spoke, “Juanita, I love you.”
Juanita squeezed tighter and through her tears exclaimed, “I love you too! I’m so happy you are well.”
As Vivian looked at Juanita, her memory was jolted. She spoke with alarm, “Rodrigo, your wife! We must find her. You must see her.”
Rodrigo had been captivated by what he observed. He suddenly came to life. “My Corina! I must find her.
The man in black then spoke for the first time since they’d entered the room, “How old is your wife? And is she ill?”
“She is in her late forties, and she is near death from cancer.”
The man spoke again. “I have done many errands for Antonia over the years. Just recently she had me bring such a lady into this house. I believe she is in a rear bedroom. Follow me, I will show you the way.”
The group followed the man down the long, gilded hallway. The walls were lined with paintings that were centuries old. Antiques stood prominently on tables of indeterminate age. The man led them past several rooms and then stopped at the door of a large ornate bedroom. Rodrigo entered the room first, followed by Petra, Juan Carlos, Juanita and then Vivian with Tracy and Havens bringing up the rear.
There was a large canopied bed in the room with a vaulted ceiling. The high, curtained window cast the warm glow of the evening’s light into the room, spilling onto the covers where a supine figure lay on top of the bedspread. There were no medical machines, as one would find in a hospital, because Corina had been left alone to die. Antonia hadn’t even cared if Rodrigo had reached her in time. Perhaps she hadn’t thought past getting the location of the Fountain from Vivian, failing to plan beyond that moment.
Rodrigo crossed the room to the double bed. As Rodrigo neared the ill woman, he broke into tears. “Corina, my Corina!” He rushed to her bedside and looked into her face.
Vivian edged into the room. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she observed one of the greatest love stories she’d ever heard of in her life.
Corina was too weak to rise. She turned her head in the direction of Rodrigo and even in her advanced condition, almost comatose, her face glowed. “My wonderful husband, God has answered my prayers. I see you one more time before I go to my Heavenly Father. Hold me, my darling. One more time.”
Rodrigo burst into uncontrollable sobs and laid his body next to hers on the bed. The two clung to one another and wept, speaking words of comfort and love to each other. Rodrigo gently caressed her face with his fingertips.
Vivian stood transfixed. Tracy wrapped his arms around her waist and held her tight once more as they watched the scene before them. Never had Vivian witness a love to even approach such purity and depth. If only Rodrigo and Corina could have more time together than the few hours that remained to Corina.
Vivian looked away. Inside she cried and bemoaned the shortness of the time this wonderful couple had remaining. Vivian turned to prayer. She spoke to God.
Please, Father, grant them time to enjoy this wonderful love You have given them. As she prayed, sudden enlightenment burst on her mind. A smile broke forth through her tears. She breathed a prayer of thanksgiving and then turned to Tracy.
“You don’t have any water left, do you?”
Tracy shook his head, but even as he did, he patted down his pockets, finding the syringe. He examined the contents. There was a small amount of water left within its confines. He instinctively knew it was not enough. It might add days to her life, maybe.
Vivian had already gone to Rodrigo when she saw the syringe. She leaned over and spoke softly to the man. “Rodrigo, you recall how your vision was returned and how my life was saved? We still have a small amount of this medicine. With your permission. Dr. Tracy will inject Corina. Perhaps we can regress her to an age of health.”
Rodrigo’s face wore an expression of hope and thanksgiving. “Please, I beg you. Please grant her a few more years that I may love her as she deserves.”
Vivian turned to Tracy, who had walked to the bedside, and her heart fell when she read the expression on the doctor’s face.
“You should have saved the water,” Vivian whispered to Tracy. “You should have used it on her. Not me.”
“Vivian. . .” Tracy glanced at her, his eyes moist.
Vivian looked away, her own eyes wet. What good was her life? She hadn’t loved anyone this much. She’d wasted her life solely on business and politics, never building relationships. She hadn’t accepted her feelings for Tracy until now. Rodrigo and Corina had loved each other for so deeply. Then they’d been torn apart, but had continued to love the other despite the distance of years. Now they were reunited only to be parted. Vivian was no better than Antonia. In fact, Antonia was what Vivian could become because of her obsession with possessing the water. Vivian didn’t want that, but she felt it was too late to truly change.
Vivian wished for comfort, for peace from the turmoil inside her thoughts. She prayed again.
“There is not enough water remaining for an injection,” Tracy said. There was a long pause as they looked at him with solemn faces. “However, there is a very risky alternative.”
Vivian’s attention was drawn back.
Tracy felt uneasy at the light of hope that flickered in her and Rodrigo’s eyes. He addressed the man directly. “We can have your wife drink this little bit of the water. If she is one of those whose digestive systems magnifies the effect of the water, then we have a chance. But there is no way to predict what the results will be. She may become a child again. Or she may not regress at all.”
With gentleness and compassion, Tracy asked, “Do you want me to proceed?”
Rodrigo spoke. His words conveyed his great faith in his Creator. “Please do all that you can. I know that my Heavenly Father did not bring me to my wife for the purpose of me watching her die. I know that he will bless your efforts.” He turned to his family. “Please, pray with me that there is enough of the medicine for Corina. That she will, as the doctor says, have the digestive system to magnify the effect.”
Petra and Juan Carlos bowed their heads. Even Havens tilted his head downward. Vivian squeezed her hands together, tightly, and joined them in silent pleading to God. He had helped them thus far and she had faith that if it was His will, He would do so again. Hadn’t He already given inspiration to Tracy?
The doctor removed the plunger from the syringe. He touched Corina’s cheek and moved the syringe base close, careful not to scratch her wilted chest with the needle. He touched her hand with his empty one. “Corina, please swallow this small amount of water. Can you do that?”
He tipped the syringe, emptying the precious water and the hope it represented onto Corina’s tongue. Even in her state, she had heard their conversation. She was willing to try, but it was useless. Her dry mouth would not allow her swallow the scant amount of liquid.
“Oh, Mama! Mama!” cried Petra. “Give her water! Please, someone!”
The man in the black suit walked to the sink in the bedroom’s adjoining ensuite, found a glass and filled it with water. He walked to Corina’s bedside and handed the glass to Petra.
“Mama, please, drink!” Petra implored, putting the glass to her mother’s lips.
“Please, Abuela!” cried Juanita.
Corina summoned all her strength to swallow; and she did. The water from the syringe that had rested upon Corina’s tongue mingled with the water from the tap. It made its way down the woman’s throat.
Once again the phenomena of energy escaping a body and dissipating into the atmosphere cast its spell upon the observers.
Age quickly passed from Corina until she reached her late thirties. Her skin was smoother, her hair darker. She was still fragilely thin, but there was a vigor in her eye. She sat up in the bed and looked upon Rodrigo with a love so deep it bordered on adoration. He slid his hands beneath her and raised her from the bed and held her in his arms.
Vivian was captivated by Corina’s beauty. She had wanted to see the woman that could stir such love in a husband. As she looked at the incredible beauty of Corina she realized it was not the physical beauty that bound her to Rodrigo. It was an inner glow. It was the purity and nobility of spirit that emanated from this wonderful daughter of God. It was righteousness and kindness that were epitomized in this fantastic daughter of her Heavenly Father. Vivian stood transfixed as Petra ran to hug her father and mother. Vivian knew that never again would she witness such heavenly joy.
Vivian cried uncontrollably as she offered prayers of thanksgiving. As her body convulsed with sobs of joy, she felt Tracy’s arms encircle her.
The peace that had eluded her for years, gently distilled over her soul like dew falling from heaven.
A Surprise Gift
The VanArp corporate jet glided effortlessly to the company hanger at the Rassiter Airport. A group of VanArp executives and guests greeted Vivian with applause when she exited the aircraft. Murmurs went through those assembled at how youthful Vivian looked. She looked twenty years younger was the repeated comment. It wasn’t just her clothes (she had changed her bloodied and torn clothing at the soonest opportunity), nor was it just her face. Something youthful, something peaceful radiated from her very being.
Vivian made her way around the welcoming group, shaking hands and hugging persons. She thanked them profusely for their concern and prayers during her ordeal. What Havens had tried to keep quiet had spread quickly despite his efforts. Vivian did not know how far and wide the story went, but she was grateful to those that cared enough to visit upon hearing the news. Even if some of them only showed to keep up her good graces with their businesses.
Havens shut down the aircraft and checked its functions while Vivian moved among those who had gathered to welcome her home. By the time he’d finished, he exited the plane to see that many of the well-wishers had dispersed and Vivian and Tracy had departed. Others of the crowd were making their way to their own cars. Havens stepped out of the jet and there was one person left on the tarmac facing his direction. Holly.
As his feet touched the ground she rushed to him and threw her arms around his shoulders. Tears of joy cascaded down her cheeks and onto his neck. After a prolonged moment, she broke the silence. “Garner, I was so worried. I am thankful to God that you are home safe.”
She drew away from him with an alarmed expression and exclaimed, “You are okay, aren’t you?”
He laughed. “If anything were wrong it was all made okay by your wonderful hug and welcome.”
“Vivian was rushed off to attend to a dozen matters and she asked me to see that you got home safely,” she paused, then added rather coyly, “I think her woman’s intuition told her that I wanted some time alone with you.”
Havens told her how much he appreciated her help during the ordeal and how he looked forward to the two of them enjoying dinner together. He then asked, “Are you available now?”
“I should be asking that of you. You aren’t going to rush off anytime soon, are you?”
He grinned. “I have a gift for you.” So saying he boarded the plane and in a moment reappeared with a large book.
Holly, feigning mock astonishment, asked, “Why, Mr. Havens, when did you find time to go shopping for presents?”
He smiled and spoke, “This one is a very special gift. I think you will like it.”
She reached for it, but he kept it just out of reach. “No. Not yet. You have to take me out first.”
“You!” she burst out in exasperation.
Holly drove them to a restaurant and they entered with Havens carrying his present for Holly, just out of her grasp. After they were seated, Holly spoke, “Garner, my curiosity is getting the best of me. What is my present?”
Havens smiled and handed the book to her. He hadn’t time enough to wrap the present in paper. He didn’t even have a bag for it, but he had kept his hands discretely on the cover so that Holly was unable to guess at the gift. Now he slid it over to her.
“I did not shop for this. It’s not available in stores. It is only for special people. That is why it is for you.”
Her cheeks colored at his compliment. She looked at the title of the book. Creating Seafood Sensations with Celia Adams: the Best of Celia.
She squealed with delight.
“Garner, how did you get this? Celia Adams is my favorite and this is a special edition cookbook. It is not available for open distribution. Only a certain number of these are in print and in order to get one, it must be a personal gift from Celia Adams!”
Havens wore a huge smile of satisfaction on his face. “Open the cover. I think you will have another surprise.”
Holly opened the book and a beautiful smile crossed her face as she read the inscription. “To Holly, thank you for trying my recipes. Perhaps some time we can prepare a meal together.” It was signed Celia Adams.
Holly was spellbound. She could not speak for several moments. When she regained her composure, Havens directed her attention to the envelope with Holy’s name neatly written on it. Holly was puzzled by the envelope. She opened the letter and extracted the personalized stationary from Celia. Holly carefully read the neatly scripted note:
Garner is an exceptional man. I know of his feelings for you. Do not let him get away. I wish you both the richest of our Heavenly Father’s blessings.
Holly carefully folded the note and returned it to the envelope. A pleasant smile caressed her face. Her eyes sparkled. “Garner, I cannot thank you enough. There are very few women in this world who are fortunate enough to receive such a wonderful gift.”
“What did she write in the note?”
Holly again smiled and with a secretive expression, she demurely parried his question. “Girl talk. I will tell you what she wrote, sometime. After I follow her advice.”
The couple ended the evening at the airport where Havens retrieved his vehicle which he’d left the night he received the call from Marlene Paxton. Holly walked with him to his car. He turned to thank her. He took her into his arms and kissed her. It was a prolonged kiss.
When their lips finally parted, she whispered softly, “I was afraid you would never get around to doing that.” She paused so they could kiss again. When they finished she added, “Will I see you again?”
“Constantly,” he said as he took her into his arms.
Honor Posthumously Rendered
Vivian sat quietly, lost in thought as she waited for Philip Tracy to pick her up. Tracy was to drive her to complete a personal mission. She was deep in thought and lost in self-searching as she waited. She struggled with a deep seated inclination. She realized that to do what she was contemplating required the ability to forgive. She needed to reach a depth of forgiveness that she had observed in only a small handful of individuals. The subject of forgiveness brought to mind the man who raised her, William VanArp.
All through her life she had felt his great love for her, his kindness toward her, and his gentle nurturing hand of guidance. She pondered the great truths he had taught her, his wonderfully patient example and his many sacrifices for her. She had always admired his magnanimous ability to forgive, to love and to accept.
She thought about him and Elizabeth adopting her. She had no inkling as she grew to adulthood that he was not her biological father. Vivian now knew Antonia’s insane-sounding statement was true. She’d gotten it checked herself. She’d had the documents reexamined. She’d even gotten a DNA test. The test performed by Tracy had proven conclusively that Antonia had spoken he truth. Maria was indeed her sister. Vivian VanArp had been born Sonia de Alaminos. She could accept that, however, she would never stop thinking of William VanArp as her father.
She pondered all the examples he had set for her. She considered each one and asked herself if she could be as benevolent as he was and follow his example. She realized that following in his footsteps would now be her greatest challenge as well as the greatest opportunity she would ever face. She also realized that following this particular example would be her greatest expression of honor and thanksgiving to this wonderful man.
There was only one more obstacle to overcome. If it could be called an obstacle.
“I must discuss this with Philip.” At his name, a smile found life on her face.
Tracy arrived at the mansion and escorted Vivian to his car. He opened the door for her and then he drove her through the front gate. They were driving to complete an act of contrition.
When they arrived at their destination, the sky was bleak and overcast. A penetrating mist filled the air. Moisture which had accumulated on the green leaves of the tress above her head drizzled droplets of cold misery on her as she rushed from the car. Tracy was unable to keep up. The ground, which was the main recipient of the assault from above, was wet and cold, which penetrated her bended knees.
Vivian knelt at the foot of the grave. Somewhere in the deep recesses of her mind she knew that grass stains would result from her kneeling on the wet ground and would ruin her designer slacks. Months earlier this would have been a major concern to the old Vivian. To the reborn Vivian, however, this presented no cause for alarm.
Tracy reached her side as she fell to her knees. He extended an umbrella over her head, a little too late. She was soaked to her scalp. She did not mind. The ambient mist mixed with her tears.
Vivian spoke to the grave. “My dear sister, Maria, please forgive me for my many failures. I thank you for the noble vision that you and our father shared for the water which our ancestor discovered. I now accept that wonderful vision and will do all that I can to bring it to pass.”
Vivian stopped speaking as her tears increased and her shoulders convulsed with sobs. Tracy knelt by her side and placed his arm around her shoulder. She turned and looked him in the eye and spoke in a whisper, “Philip, am I such a horrible person, that my own flesh and blood lived in my home and I had no awareness?”
Tracy reached under her chin and elevated her face. He then kissed the tears from her eyes and spoke softly. “No. How could you have known?”
As they knelt quietly in the rain Vivian recalled the words Rodrigo had spoken to her when they had parted. He had thanked her for healing his wife (and himself), and she had thanked him for reigniting her compassion and love for her fellow human beings. For reminding her of the love of her Creator. She was not the same woman as before she shipwrecked on the cay. Had she been told months ago that she would be lifelong friends with a poor South American family she would have laughed whoever said that out of the room.
“Sometimes our Father in Heaven brings to pass His wonderful ends in mysterious ways,” Rodrigo had said at their parting. “You are one of His finest daughters, and now your mission in life has been revealed to you. Praise Him for His loving kindness in showing all these things to you.”
“I thank God for giving me this knowledge, even if I didn’t accept it sooner,” Vivian said as she looked at the gravestone.
“I thank him for allowing me to love you as deeply as I do.” Tracy answered.
“Philip, do you love me? Truly love me?”
Tracy looked stunned as he responded, “Of course I do. Am I so weak in proclaiming my love that you must ask assurance? I told you in Soledad that I loved you seven worth. That is an expression my father used to describe his love for my mother. He explained the expression to me by reminding me that God created the world in seven days. He said that seven is the number of perfection Seven is the greatest love a man can have for a woman. Vivian, I love you seven worth.”
She smiled. “Thank you. I know you love me as I love you.”
The two of them fell silent. Each offered a silent prayer of thanksgiving to a loving and merciful God.
After twenty minutes of silent prayer, the couple rose and walked hand in hand to the car, the umbrella parting the water which dripped from above. As they approached the vehicle, Vivian stopped and turned to face Tracy. “I have something to discuss with you.” Vivian sighed and looked away.
A puzzled look appeared on Philip Tracy’s face as he answered, “Vivian, don’t hesitate. You must know by now that you can discuss anything with me. What is it that apparently troubles you so?”
They stood together in the gently falling rain as she carefully explained what she had been pondering in her heart. She told him that she believed that sometimes God prepares his children for coming opportunities in their lives by given them examples beforehand that they could follow. Vivian then told him of the great example of William VanArp in raising her as his own. She then opened to him the great desire which she now carried in her heart.
Vivian paused and allowed the man time to absorb what she had just revealed to him. She scrutinized every line of his face, attempting to determine his thoughts. She then asked the ultimate question, “Philip, can you do this?”
Tracy looked deeply into her eyes and spoke, “I am sorry that I never had the opportunity to meet William VanArp. He must have been a wonderful human being to engender in his daughter such nobleness, such forgiveness. Yes, I can do this.”
She laid her head on his shoulder and whispered softly, “Thank you, my love. I will ask Ed Foster to make the arrangements.”
Vivian and Tracy entered the main conference room at VanArp Enterprise headquarters. Both were still wet and a little muddy at the knees from their visit to the cemetery.
Vivian spoke to those assembled around the oval table, “I apologize for being wet,” she paused at looked at the clock on the wall and continued, “However, we made it on time.”
There was a little laughter around the room. Gathered in the room was Holly and seated next to her was Garner Havens. Also seated around the conference table were Ed Foster, Tom Hendricks, Bob Burnette, Rassiter’s Police Chief Bill Hansen, John Mason, and Mark Braden.
“Thank you all for coming. I appreciate your attendance and I especially appreciate all that each of you did during my recent,” she paused to carefully select her next word, “adventure.”
While officially she had never been declared missing or kidnapped, Vivian VanArp had still been gone for long enough to arouse suspicion among certain circles. Consequently she and a team of specialists in VanArp Enterprises had created a spin on recent events to make it seem like much of what Vivian had done during her absence had been under her own power and planned. Much of it was still under a great deal of privacy, even from the team who had spun a story for the questioning media and business associates.
Vivian took a seat at the table and opened the meeting with a comment to Holly. “Thank you, Holly for the integral part you played in my recent enterprise. Probably the most difficult task you accomplished was getting Garner to attend this meeting today. I know how he hates meetings.” She smiled broadly at Havens.
Havens returned the smile and responded regarding his disdain for meetings, “Meetings are affairs where minutes are kept and hours are lost.” He paused for effect then continued, “However, I would rather invest hours with you here than minutes with you where you were. Welcome home.”
Vivian smiled at the complement and spoke. “Garner, I have a favor to ask.”
“Of course, I will do whatever I can. I am just thankful to have you back safe and sound. You gave us quite a scare.”
Vivian again smiled at his concern and she spoke with gentleness in her voice, “Thank you, Garner, for everything.” She paused. “Earlier this morning I spoke with Celia Adams. She has invited Holly to Miami for the weakened.” She noticed Holly’s look of surprise. “She would like to exchange recipes with Holly and cook some seafood specials together.”
Havens glanced at Holly. Her astonishment was evident. Also evident was her pleasure. Knowing her respect for Celia Adams, he was very pleased.
“How can I help with that?” he spoke softly. “I’m not a cook. I am more of a pre-packaged dinner in a microwave type of guy.”
Vivian smiled again. “Will you fly Holly to Miami? If so, the corporate plane we used prior to purchasing the jet is available. I believe it is a twin engine prop plane?” She looked at Havens for confirmation. He smiled and affirmed her statement. “Yes, that is correct. It is one of the best. I always enjoyed flying that aircraft.”
Vivian was thoroughly enjoying the moment. “You will note that there have been some modifications made to that aircraft. It has been outfitted for Wings of Mercy flights. Philip shared with me a conversation you and he had on your flight to Georgetown. When you return from Miami, the plane is yours to keep. Perhaps you can fulfill that wonderful desire you have to fly those in need to receive medical assistance.”
She completely enjoyed the look of astonishment on his face, then she continued “And if she is willing, I have arranged for Holly to take flying lessons.”
Holly and Havens both stammered for words. Vivian stopped their attempts to thank her. “You two are both terrific people. I am so blessed to have you in my life. And I believe you will do wonderful things to help others. May God bless you both.”
She looked at Bill Hansen. “Bill, I am out of order telling you this, but I cannot keep it a secret. Your retirement and raise have been approved by the city council. Thank you for your many years of service.” She stopped and looked at the expression of pleasure on Hansen’s face, then she continued, “I know you must be thinking why I have asked you here to tell you that. Well, that is not the full reason; in a moment I will share with all of you some wonderful news. News that you each hold a prominent role in bringing to pass.”
Vivian quickly turned her attention to Ed Foster. “Ed, would you and Mrs. Foster care to take a little vacation at company expense?”
“Vacations are always nice.”
“When Mr. Havens returns from Miami perhaps we can prevail on him to fly you and Mrs. Foster to Georgetown. There is a couple there with a nine-year-old daughter. Their names are Juan Carlos and Petra Cardenas. Their daughter is named Juanita. I would like for you to take them to a boat dealer and purchase a new fishing boat at my personal expense. Please find one that has a galley with refrigeration and facilities to prepare food on board. Also, would you please start an education fund for Juanita? I would suggest that you make it large enough so that she may attend any school, anywhere she would like. Also, again, if Mr. Havens pleases, will you fly the family here after they have their new boat? I would like to take Juanita on a shopping tour. At the present, she has only one dress.”
Vivian paused and smiled as she thought of Juanita proudly wearing her only dress weeks ago, on that special Friday after Rodrigo’s sight returned, showing it off to her grandfather. Vivian added, “I think her mother and I can make a joint effort and between the two of us we can add to her wardrobe.”
She continued, “Ed, there is a coffee plantation near Soledad, Ecuador. It is in the name of an Antonia Perez de Ortubio. Mrs. Ortubio is deceased. I would like to purchase the plantation off whoever she willed it to, if she indeed left a will. When you do, would you please put the plantation in the name of Rodrigo and Corina Valverde? All decisions as to the property will be his.”
She paused, tears in her eyes as she thought of the kindly man and the love for his wife. She turned her attention to Tracy and for a moment they shared a long gaze.
She cleared her throat and spoke softly, “Philip and I have discussed a personal matter at the cemetery before we arrived.” She halted her narrative momentarily as a pleasant smile crossed her lips. “That is why we are both so wet. To stand in the rain with the man who holds my love has always been a schoolgirl’s dream, one that I have cherished and dreamed of.” She paused and choked on her tears. As Vivian continued, she looked at Tracy, “My dream was fulfilled today.”
She took a moment to wipe tears from her eyes and then continued, “Please forgive me for being so melodramatic. I have had an experience that has shown me the things in life that are truly important, and for that, I am eternally grateful to a loving and kind God.” Again she wiped away tears and then concluded. “I am thankful to a God who loves me enough to teach me that and who is patient with my shortcomings. It is difficult for me to reflect on those things without being moved to tears.”
In time Vivian turned her attention back to the matters at hand. “Ed, I want you to find out what happened to the infant Garner rescued from a small deserted cay. She was in Olsen Memorial hospital in the NICU the last I heard. Philip and I would like to adopt the child and raise her. The best place to start looking for her would be to get in contact with Dr. David Jamison. He can assist you in locating her if she was placed in foster care.”
The lawyer nodded, scratching the information into a small notebook
“Now then,” Vivian said. “It is time to start on the main reason I have brought you all here today. First, I have ordered lunch and if you will all bear with me, I will tell you of my adventure and what an important role each of you played in finding perhaps the greatest medical breakthrough in history. May God bless you each and every one.”
Captain Lee Adams of the Miami Police Department opened the door to his modest home. As the door sung inward, he heard the sobs of his wife Celia. His concern immediately escalated to an alarming level. Celia had kept her doctor’s appointment earlier in the day. After the appointment she’d called her husband, asking him to come home to hear the news. This was the eighth month following her chemo treatments for leukemia. He’d wanted to accompany Celia to the meeting with the oncologist as he had done with previous meetings, but Celia insisted on going alone. She said that she had drawn strength from him during the ordeal; however, this time, she wanted to stand on her own two feet and face the physician on her own.
As his vision adjusted to the interior lighting of the room, he saw Celia sitting on the sofa with tears running down her cheeks. He hastened to her side. She looked at him and to his confusion she smiled at him.
“My darling,” she said seeing his concern, “don’t be alarmed. These are tears of joy. My blood work shows that the white blood cell count remained at a normal level. If I understood the doctor correctly, I’m cured!”
“Then why the tears?” Lee asked. “Are those the results? Celia merely shook her head. She handed her husband a card that she’d been clutching. Adams took it from his wife and read:
The honor of your presence is requested at the double wedding of
Miss Vivian Kaye VanArp and Dr. Philip Tracy
And the wedding of
Miss Holly Parker and Mr. Garner Havens
Lee Adams did not bother to read the rest. He knew he and his wife would be attending regardless the date and wherever the location. With a broad grin on his face he spoke more to himself than to Celia, “Good for you, Havens, and congratulations, Dr. Tracy.”
Richard “Ted” Blackmer was a long time resident of Grand Haven, Michigan. He was dearly devoted to his wife of 46 years, Rachel. He served in the army, wrote for Senior Perspectives, volunteered at Dispute Resolution Services, and was a Big Brother. In addition, he loved his Savior greatly and served as he could. Ted was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints and a Patriarch. Ted was a beloved father and grandfather. He died in 2013.
Excerpts from other works, courtesy of Manitowen Press
Excerpt from A Sideshow Journey
by Liesa Swejkoski
The holiday break ended way too soon and after New Years, I was back in school. The following Friday and Saturday nights I was once again huddled in the blue car, fighting the cold and hunger. The second night, there was a sandwich, ice crystals forming on the meat. I hungrily consumed it, and then slept beneath my Christmas quilt and under the blanket. Sunday morning I left a few quarters, and scraped the ice and snow off the windshield before I made my way back to the dorm, for a hot shower. I hoped that Rhonda’s paramour had finally vacated our room.
The following Friday, I made my way from the library back to my dorm, through a blizzard. Walking up the stairs and inside the warm building, I stood in the hall about to put my key in the lock, when the door opened and a bare-chested man peeked out and put a towel on the knob.
“Oh, excuse me!” said the man, as Rhonda, giggling, pulled him back inside. Sighing, I made my way out to the parking lot, and slipped on a patch of ice near the door. My knees and palms smacked the cold, hard pavement. I wanted to cry, but was afraid that my tears would freeze to my face. I quickly wiped them away with my bare hands.
Reaching into my pocket I found my damp gloves and put them on. Regaining my footing, I got up and crunched over some crusty snow, through the blizzard once again. The car was there, parked in its usual spot. It was covered in about four inches of cold fluff. I opened the back door and got inside. There was neither food nor blanket. I panicked as I realized I’d left my quilt in the dorm. I sat there, snow melting on my gloves and coat and laid my body down, shivering. I was so tired and quickly fell asleep. In the twilight of my slumber, that moment between consciousness and oblivion a voice said, “Hi, I’m Rick.”
I shot up. There, in the front seat, was a policeman.
Excerpt from When Bubbles Popped
by Lola Laslo
The front door was ajar. Alan carried her out, stepping off the porch with Bubbles cradled in his arms. The boy hissed, “Where I’m from, my friends never treated girls like that, especially little girls. I had nothing to do with this. You got it? Nothing!” He wasn’t sure if he was angry at Juan, himself or the stupid white family that moved into the neighborhood across town. He realized his car was gone–somewhere.
“Damn!” he cursed. “How am I going to get you out of here?”
Suddenly, a dark Cadillac screeched around the corner, stopping in front of them. The driver remained behind the wheel as two big guys got out.
One of them, a large, muscular kid of about sixteen, snatched Bubbles from Alan’s arms, handing her off to a man in his late twenties. The sixteen-year-old drew his arm back and threw a punch so hard that Bubbles thought she heard neck bones crack. Alan fell to the ground. The girl’s new captors carried her to the car. Tossing her onto the backseat, they scrambled in behind her as the car backed out of the one-way street. Even going forward at that speed would have been dangerous.
The man who’d held Bubbles began to laugh, but it wasn’t a happy sound. “CJ, I thought for sure you killed that kid. I never been so scared in all my life!”
“You ain’t lived long enough then,” quipped the driver.
“Hey there,” said CJ. “You alright, Bubbles?”
“Are you Lamar’s brother?” asked the girl.
“Yes I am.”
“How did you know where to find me?” Bubbles cried.
“Well, I came home. Lamar and Candy were crying. They told me what happened and I did a little checking around. I found out where Juan and his amigos were hanging out and came to get you.”
“I think we’re too late,” said the man beside them.
The driver called back, “She needs to go to a doctor, Man!”
“No cops!” CJ and the other man shouted at the same time.
“She’s a little girl. Candy can clean her up. She’s had friends get roughed up before,” said CJ.
“She needs to go to the hospital, Man!” said the driver in his baritone voice.
“Uncle Riggs, ain’t no way. Ain’t no way! You know we’ll just get arrested and questioned. Some little white girl come in, raped, bruised, in my arms, who ya’ gonna think gets hanged? Not Juan and his gang.”
“It ‘tud be our asses swinging in the wind,” said the man beside CJ.
Excerpt from Perfect Predator
by Liesa Swejkoski
Thirty-two years after leaving the diner, Elizabeth found herself looking out over a Mexican desert, hungry and tired—and lonely. Dawn approached in lighter streaks across the pale sky, while in town, streets were crowded with a festival still in full swing. She scoped out her prey, a young man whose mother had strongly urged him to become a priest. Yet he had other ideas and Elizabeth knew it. Victor had been flirting with girls from the nearby university. Elizabeth could smell his testosterone two blocks away. So far, the young ladies were keeping their distance. They knew how mean Mama Moreño could be when it came to protecting her youngest son from any female attention. Elizabeth had been watching his family for a month. If not for the tourist who had come through town a week and a half ago, satisfying her hunger, she’d have picked off little Victor by now.
He walked over to her.
“No luck with the girls, Amigo?” she asked, in her sweetest drawl.
“No luck,” answered Victor. “My mother scared them off from the time we were in school together as little children. I’ll let you in on a secret, I really don’t want to be a priest, but I might as well be because I’ve never been intimate with a woman.”
Elizabeth sighed. During the day this young man worked by her side at the dairy. She’d heard his stories, his accomplishments and complaints. She hadn’t allowed herself to get to know her prey so well in decades. She knew that as soon as he was out of school in several weeks, he’d be off to the seminary; or wherever priests in training were locked away.
“I wonder if the young women will feel like the soft cows I milk?” he muttered. “Oh, I am sorry, Bess,” he apologized quickly.
“You know you can tell me anything, Victor.”
“I’ve never told you anything like that. My mother didn’t raise me to speak this way in front of a woman, especially a lady such as you.”
“All is forgiven,” Elizabeth smiled.
The two of them watched a college-aged woman appear in the crowd. She was beautiful. Everyone stopped to look at the girl. Her skin radiated in the waning moonlight. Her eyes drew people to her even though from Elizabeth’s vantage point you couldn’t see their color.
“Let’s go to work, Victor. Time to milk the cows.”
“First I will go see who this lovely woman is. She’s new to town,” said the young man.
Watching her meal slip away Elizabeth pleaded, “We’ll be late,” but Victor was already making his way to the busy corner where the stranger stood.
With a low hiss, Elizabeth walked as if to work, but doubled back after jogging a block or two. In the predawn darkness she climbed atop a low roof and observed Victor get turned down, yet again, by the beautiful newcomer. Elizabeth smiled as she watched the young man shake his head and begin his six block jaunt toward the dairy at the outskirts of town.
Graceful as a cat, Elizabeth quietly hopped down to the alley and began stalking her prey. She could smell his vitality and see the silhouette of his five-foot-eight frame. He wasn’t big, but she knew his blood would keep her alive and healthy for at least two, maybe three weeks. To her advantage nobody had seen them leave together.
Elizabeth was almost upon him when she heard leaves rustle—but there was no wind. She did not sense the presence of a fox or other small creature. There was no odor or vibe from the direction of the crunching sound. She proceeded to follow Victor. An exasperated sigh carried from behind her.
Turning, Elizabeth spied the woman who Victor had recently tried to woo. Once again she saw the beautiful skin and eyes, much closer now. The eyes were identical to her own: a brown so dark that the pupils and irises seemed like one.
“Miriam,” she whispered.
The woman cocked her head to one side in wolf-like puzzlement. Recognition slowly set in. “Elizabeth? Elizabeth!” she excitedly rasped. “You’re alive!”
Excerpt from Once Upon a Neighbor
by Liesa Swejkoski
Louise was locking the store for the night when she saw Norman’s van stop at the light. She got into her Toyota and quickly gave pursuit. Roughly fifteen minutes later, he pulled into a parking lot and Louise drove into a fast food place across the street. She watched and waited like a black widow spider for her prey. After a few minutes he got out of his van and entered a bar. What kind of good Mormon walks into a bar? She muttered to herself. The old cinderblock building had solid glass-block windows facing the street. A fifties era neon sign was just flickering to life above the pub. A crowd began to gather outside the doors.
The woman waited another ten minutes and felt her stomach rumbling. She realized it was past dinnertime. By then the swarm of bar-flies had entered the tavern.
Louise got out of her car and went inside the restaurant to order a taco. From her vantage point at her sticky table, she was able to look out the picture window and see the bar’s front door, full view.
“There’s a fish fry tonight for Lent,” a young man said, nodding at the bar. He was tanned, thin and had brown eyes framed by dark, almost black hair. He wore a grey uniform that was stained with green splotches. The man’s hands were scratched and grass-stained as well. Louise looked at him and he again nodded his head toward the bar.
“I’m not Catholic,” Louise said.
“The fish is still good,” the man said.
“Thank you,” Louise smiled at the man and read his name tag: Don Carlos. What kind of name is that? Louise thought sarcastically, continuing to smile at the small, dark-haired man.
Giving up on the middle-aged woman, Don Carlos ordered some food and joined his friends at a table. Louise soon forgot about him.
A few semi-trucks slowed to a crawl and stopped at the light, blocking Louise’s view. After a few more light cycles and more trucks, Louise returned to her car. The parking lot was at an angle to the door and Louise could see the bar’s entrance clearly despite the traffic. She wished she’d taken her coat that morning. The sweater around her shoulders wasn’t affording the warmth that she needed. Louise got a blanket out of her trunk and settled into her backseat to watch the bar’s entrance, but soon fell asleep.
Louise awoke around two am Saturday morning. The fast food place was closed. There was very little light in the parking lot. The bar’s neon sign was dark, no longer flickering. Louise realized she was lost.
She called DeLauna. “Hey, it’s me. I hate to call so late, but–”
“I’m awake. You know I can’t sleep since George was put in the care center. To think about him all alone in there without me by his side just brings me to tears.”
“DeLauna, listen, I’m outside a bar in Salt Lake City.” Louise regretted the words the moment they exited her lips.
“A bar? What kind of good Mormon goes to a bar? My sister used to frequent bars and sometimes I went in them with her before I joined the church. No good comes from being in a bar past eleven pm and I should know. That’s how I met George!” DeLauna giggled.
“No, I’m not in the bar. I’m sitting in a parking lot outside a bar. I need you to get online and tell me how to get out of here. I’m at the corner of. . . ” Louise paused. “Hold on, Norman is coming out of the place.”
DeLauna gasped, “What are you doing at a bar with Norman?” Louise just knew the rumors would fly all over church on Sunday morning.
“I wasn’t at the bar with him. I was spying on him and. . . look at that! He has a woman with him!” She watched Norman walk the strange female beneath a streetlight.
A man from her very own congregation, at a bar, in the company of a drug-addled junkie!
Excerpt from Lizzie’s Blue Ridge Memories
by Liesa Swejkoski
One morning Lizzie woke up late. The sun was already high in the sky. “Lizzie! ’bout time you got up,” said Grandma. “I’ve already milked the cows and we done had our breakfast.” The little girl didn’t smile at Grandma. She just sat at the table. “Here’s a biscuit an’ some milk. Yer’ just a city girl, asleepin’ in like that. Why, when I was your age, I’da been whupped but good! I never slept in. I’da had the eggs gathered, kindling picked up and put in the wood box an’ already helped my mother with the chores!” Grandma didn’t seem angry, but Lizzie felt a little scared just the same. She finished her biscuit quickly and ran to join Grandpa at the TV.
Maggie was sitting on the rag rug watching “The Flintstones.” She sat up a little straighter and announced, “I helped milk the cows!” Lizzie felt like everyone was ganging up on her. Grandpa was done with his chores, Grandma was finishing hers and Maggie had helped.
Grandpa laughed. “Heh, Heh, I just love those Flintstones!” he said as he reached into a crystal jar and pulled out three mint sticks. They were white and painted with red stripes, but they were not curved like candy canes. He handed Maggie and Lizzie each a stick. “Thank you,” said the sisters as they watched Fred and Barney go bowling on the television.
After The Flintstones, Grandpa got up and went into the kitchen. Lizzie asked Maggie, “Where are Jenny, Mommie and Daddy?”
Maggie answered, “They went down the hill to get some real milk. Papa doesn’t like it fresh from the cow. It turns his coffee blue!”
Lizzie got up and followed Grandpa out of the kitchen and down the hall to a cool cement room. In it, Grandma was preparing a large slab of meat to slow cure for the evening meal. She rubbed on the spices and set it into a bowl with vinegar and other juices. As Grandma turned around and watched Grandpa go out the back door, she spied Lizzie quietly standing there, watching. Grandma said, “Well, hello, Droopy Drawers!” She smiled at her granddaughter. Lizzie guessed that Grandma wasn’t angry. “This is a cow’s tongue. Have you ever seen one afore?”
“No,” replied Lizzie. “What are you doing with it? Where’s the rest of the cow?”
“Well, I’m getting this ready for supper. The rest of the cow’s been put in a freezer. There’s hamburger and steaks an . . .”
“Th-that’s where hamburger comes from?” cried Lizzie. “We eat cows?”
Grandma looked at Lizzie, “Why, yes, Child. Steaks come from cattle, sausage and pork chops is from the pigs, chicken is, well, chicken.”
Lizzie was horrified. “I didn’t know we were eating pets! I don’t want to eat Sassie!”
“Now, Honey,” said Grandma bending over to comfort Lizzie. “Didn’t you know that we get food from the farm?”
“I know now that you get eggs from the chickens and you milk the cows. I know you get beans and corn too, but not animals!” cried Lizzie.
“Dear, dear,” sighed Grandma. “You caught those fish in the pond and ate them. God put ‘em all here for that purpose and we treat ‘em good and kind here on the farm. Then they feed us when we have to eat. Some day your grandpa and I will be pushing up daisies and some critter will come along and eat the grass and the daisies. It’s all a part of life.”
Lizzie didn’t know what Grandma meant about pushing up daisies and she didn’t want to ask. She looked at the tongue in the crock by the sink. “I’m not eating that!” she yelled and stormed out the door just as Papa and Mommie were walking in.
She ran past Jenny who was reading a letter and carrying a brown paper grocery sack. She continued to run and found Sassie, burying her tear stained face into the collie’s thick fur. She held onto Sassie for a long time. Patiently the dog stayed by Lizzie’s side while the little girl took deep sighing breaths. Suddenly Sassie stepped back and looked at the little girl. The collie began to lick away the tears and Lizzie giggled. Sassie’s tongue was warm and wet. Sassie was now licking the child’s hands. As the “bath” continued an idea formed in Lizzie’s mind. She wanted to see a dog’s tongue, to feel it, examine it.
Lizzie put her right hand into Sassie’s mouth, but the tongue slipped through her tiny fingers. So, she reached in with both hands way down deep and grabbed hold. Lizzie held on tight as Sassie gagged and began to back away. The little girl pulled harder. The collie began to whimper and her fluffy tail was no longer wagging happily. Harder, Lizzie gripped and pulled, the collie digging her paws into the soil, writhing in pain.
Suddenly Papa came out. “What are you doing?” he demanded to know. “Young Lady, you stop that!” Lizzie let go and Sassie scampered under the station wagon.
“I wanted to see what a dog’s tongue looked like!” It never occurred to Lizzie that she couldn’t simply paste it back in. Papa lifted the little girl over his knee and swatted her a few times. Lizzie screamed and cried. What was the matter? Why was it okay to take out a cow’s tongue and not a dog’s? At least she would never eat it! She would simply put it back in later. Why was Papa so mad?
“Didn’t you know you were hurting the dog?” asked Papa. Lizzie just whimpered and ran off. Sassie ran to her side and they wandered together, finally sitting by the peach trees far from the house. Sassie once again licked the tearful little girl.
“I . . . I’m sorry, Sassie.” said Lizzie.
All Grandma could say was, “She’s been cruisin’ for a bruisin’ all mornin’. I don’t think she’s well.”
Lizzie and Sassie spent the rest of the day together in the yard, romping and playing. The collie knew that sometimes puppies (and children) can play rough. She had a big enough heart to forgive.
Businesswoman Vivian VanArp is the CEO and sole heir of VanArp Enterprises, a giant healthcare conglomerate. She is under consideration as the vice president in the next presidential election. Most importantly, she funds world-leading research on ageing. Everything in her life is perfect, until the night she receives a call from the hospital. An old woman who is nearing death claims to be Vivian’s housekeeper, but Vivian knows this is not possible. Her housekeeper is twenty-five years old, but the woman in the hospital bed is at least ninety. When she tries to examine the invalid, Vivian is startled by the sudden movement of the seemingly unconscious woman. The woman makes a request of her that Vivian doesn’t understand, but it frightens the heiress and she rushes away from the hospital, the old woman’s key clenched in her fist. With mysterious words in her head and the antique key, Vivian races to secure one of the greatest discoveries in the world for herself. Unknown to the businesswoman, she has stumbled upon a centuries old secret—a mystical substance that at least one person is willing to kill for, again and again.