by Alan A Sandercott
Short story collection (2)
5" X 8". Perfect bound. 98 pages.
First printing 1999
[Out of Print]
NOTE: This previously published work is covered by copyright.
No printing, copying or use by any means without written permission from the author.
TWISTED TRAILS by Alan A Sandercott
"Gold!", Larry shouted at the top of his lungs. "Gold, gold, gold." The words echoed off the steep valley walls. If not for the fact that the two boys were so far back in the bush, everybody clear back to civilization would have heard him.
"Hey John!" Larry called. "Get over here, man. I found gold."
His partner, John, a few hundred feet away on the other side of a rock outcropping, turned sharply when he heard the cry. "Where?" he inquired.
"Right here. We've been walking right over it for days and didn't even know it."
Larry then dropped to his knees and resumed chipping away at the rock with his prospector's hammer.
"Hot damn!" John replied enthusiastically, and started working his way along the rocky ledge towards Larry. The ledge was not much better than a mountain goat trail between two massive rockslides. In his excitement, John almost lost his balance, forcing himself to slow down and be more careful as he selected his footing.
By the time John reached the spot, Larry had broken loose several pieces of rock. He was sitting on the ledge rolling one of the pieces over and over on his hand, staring at it. He laughed as he handed the chunk of the rock up to John.
"We're rich John boy. We're rich! We've walked right over this a dozen times."
John stared at the yellow specs embedded in the rock, its golden crystals glistening in the bright sunshine.
"Fantastic!" John said, "You know, I've never seen gold before ... not natural like this I mean."
"What you see is money my friend. Beautiful, beautiful money. And look down here," Larry said, pointing to the area of freshly broken rock by his feet.
John was barely able to believe his eyes. There, freshly exposed to the light of day, he could easily see the golden crystals that laced the rock.
"I wonder how far it goes," John said, moving off to the side a few feet. Feverishly, he started hacking and scraping away the rock with his hammer, little chips of rock flying in all directions. It wasn't long before he too struck colour.
"Here! Here it is. It runs right through here," John said, excitedly.
"God only knows how far down it goes," Larry said. "You keep working there. I'm going to try over this way."
There were many excited cries that afternoon as they uncovered more and more of the rock beneath the mountain goat trail. In all, they managed to expose close to twenty feet of the precious colour before they called it a day.
Back at their campsite that night, the fire crackled, sending sparks spiraling into the cool night air. The smoke slowly drifted up through the tall trees surrounding their camp. Both Larry and John sat quietly by the fire, deep in their own thoughts of newfound wealth. Surrounding them were the trappings of their campsite. The tent tucked neatly under a nearby tree. Dirty dishes and cooking utensils still cluttered the makeshift table. On the ground beside them lay several pieces of freshly broken rock, sparkling brightly in the fire light.
Larry dumped the last of his coffee into the fire. A belch of smoke and steam shot into the air, breaking the silence, and catching John by surprise.
"How come you're so quiet?" Larry asked.
"I don't know. Just thinking."
"Going back to university," John said. "I don't mind telling you, until now, I was scared we'd be leaving here empty handed."
"Not to worry. Didn't I tell you? The gold would be here, just like my old uncle said it would."
"Okay, you were right. I was just worried that's all, especially after finding nothing week after week. I either had to come up with tuition money or I miss fall semester."
"I told you before," Larry said. "I would lend you the money."
"I know. But how in hell would I ever pay it back?"
"You worry too much. Besides, you're rich now. You've got far more than your precious tuition money."
"I can hardly believe it," John said, shaking his head. "It's going to take some getting used to."
"And to think you didn't even want to come out here," Larry reminded him.
"I know, but I had a lot more to lose than you. You've got a rich father -- mine, all he's got is a small compensation pension. I have to pay my own way."
"What happened to your old man?" Larry asked.
"A scaffold collapsed on the construction site, with dad on it ... bottom line, he ended up partially paralyzed for life. He'll never work again."
"Did he sue? He should have sued their ass's off, that's what I'd have done."
"Couldn't," John said, shaking his head. "He had to sign a liability waver before he could qualify for the pension."
"Oh well. You still made it to university, didn't you?"
"Sure, but that's because I worked every summer, except for this one."
"Excuse me! I don't know about you, but this is the hardest I've ever worked."
"I guess," John conceded. "If you look at it that way."
"I'll bet this is the most profitable summer you ever had?"
"True. I have to admit -- not bad at all."
"Well you won't have to work anymore," Larry reminded him.
"Right. Now maybe I can spend my time in the library studying instead of washing dishes."
Larry walked over and threw another block of wood on the fire. "Library hell! Now the fun starts."
A shower of sparks leapt into the night air.
John sat with eyes closed for a while. Other than the haunting hoot of a night owl, he marveled on how quiet the forest was at night. The thoughts going through Larry's mind, though, were anything but quiet. Sitting there by the fire all he could think of was spend, spend, and spend.
"What are you going to do first when we get out of here?" Larry asked.
John didn't hear him at first; his mind was a quarter of a mile back up the hill on that mountain goat trail.
"Hey John!" Larry called, catching John's attention. "What are you going to do when we get out of here?"
"Not sure ... what about you?"
"I don't know what you're doing," Larry replied, "but I'm not going back to the university, that's for sure."
"Why not? You can't just up and quit after two years."
"Watch me. The only reason I was in university at all is to get away from the old man. I can't stand his preaching at me all the time. Besides, he threatened to cut the money off if I didn't go, and he'd do it. Well, now he can kiss my royal you know what," Larry said, with a big grin.
"You better be careful not to burn too many bridges," John warned.
"He loves to hold my inheritance over my head, but no more. Besides, I'll probably get it anyway after he croaks, the old lady loves me."
"Well I'm going back to university. Besides, can you just imagine the look on everyone's face when they find out we struck it rich?"
A smile crossed Larry's face at that image, but it would take a lot more than that for him to go back now.
"Let's celebrate!" Larry said, jumping to his feet.
It was not champagne that Larry dug out of his kit, just plain old whiskey. Larry hastily emptied his coffee cup and poured himself a stiff drink. "Pass me your cup," he said.
"Just go easy," John warned. "You know booze and I don't mix too well."
"Don't worry about it," Larry said, pouring a shot into John's cup. "Nobody will see you up here."
"I know, but --"
"Okay," Larry said, holding out his cup. "Here's to us."
The two cups met with the dull clunk of metal rather than the tinkle of crystal.
"To us," John repeated.
Larry took a drink from his cup and then raised it again.
"To the newest millionaires," he toasted.
The word caught John off-guard.
"Millionaires! You don't think that we --"
"You gotta think big my friend. Think big."
John tipped the cup to his lips. The whiskey burned all the way down his throat. For the life of him, John could not see what Larry found so enjoyable about whiskey.
Reaching down, Larry picked up a piece of the rock beside him and turned it over and over in the light.
"Sure is pretty," he said. Then taking out the large hunting knife he always packed on his belt, he started probing at the rock with it.
"The old bugger sure knew what he was talking about," Larry said.
"My uncle. I remember my old man was always complaining that uncle was just wasting his life."
"I thought you said your uncle made good money prospecting?"
"He did. I remember him telling me stories about all the claims he had and the money he made."
"How come he quit prospecting?"
"Too old. Now he has to live off my old man's money."
"What happened to all the money he made from prospecting?" John asked.
"Drank most of it I guess. 'More where that came from' he used to say. Guess he never saved a cent of it."
"Well, he should be okay now."
"Meaning what?" Larry asked, a strange look crossing his face.
"His share of the gold."
"His share. He should get a third of this."
"Bullshit!" Larry exclaimed.
"Well, it was his find. So we have to cut him in."
"He didn't find this gold. I did, remember?"
"I know, but he told us where it was. If it wasn't for him we --"
"Who cares?" Larry snapped. "I found it."
"True, but we still have to share."
"Bullshit! I found it ... I'm keeping it," Larry maintained emphatically.
"And what are you going to tell him when he finds out?"
"You worry too much."
"I still say we share with your uncle."
"What makes you think you even have a say?" Larry barked, almost yelling.
"You heard me. Anyway, I never promised him anything. He can go plum to hell!" Larry snarled, getting up from the fire, bottle in hand, and walking towards the tent. "I'm getting my head down."
At breakfast John was full of enthusiasm, especially after a brisk cold wash in the river. Larry was busy with his big hunting knife trying to slice a steak from a canned ham. When done, he stabbed the razor sharp blade down into the rest of the ham, a weird grin on his face.
"Many's the time I've dreamt of doing that to my old man. Stick it right in there and give it a little turn," he said, giving the knife a twist and carving a hole in the meat.
"You're sick, you know that," John said.
"So what's the big deal? Haven't you ever wanted to stick it to someone?"
"Well I have. Lots of times. If you knew my old man you'd understand."
"I know what your trouble is," John joked, "potty training, poor potty training. Does it every time."
John went about getting himself some breakfast. He had laid awake most of the night thinking, and he was now starved.
"You know," John said, as he seated himself at the table, "we could change our majors to engineering. We'd still have our degrees in two years. Then we could set up our own mining company."
"I told you last night. I'm not going back to that stupid university."
Any mellowing in Larry's disposition from the night before quickly disappeared, but John pushed on anyway.
"Just listen for a minute. It would be our own company. We would have control of everything. Hire anyone we please. We could --"
"Whoa, whoa!" Larry broke in, "Look, I don't mean to rain on your parade friend, but there's no way I'm getting involved in anything like that. All we have to do is sell the claim and to hell with the rest it."
"You can't be serious. This is the chance of a lifetime."
"For you maybe, but not this kid."
"Well, I think we should at least discuss it. Pardon the pun, but this is a golden opportunity for both of us. This sort of chance doesn't come along every day. I would be in a position to help my folks. And there are worse ways to make a living, you know."
"Talk all you want," Larry said. "I'm not having any part of it. If you think I'm going to spend the rest of my life working at some damn mining company, you're crazy. I want the money now -- why work when you don't have to?"
"We wouldn't have to work that much. We hire us a good mine manager. Hire us a couple of good-looking secretaries to look after our offices. We could spend all day on the golf course if we wanted to."
"I'm telling you ... forget it!" Larry said, angrily.
It was clear to John that he was getting nowhere so he just shutup to give Larry time to cool down.
After about five minutes, John suggested, "We better get our butts in gear. I figure we should be out of here within the next two weeks at the latest. We've been relatively lucky so far with the weather, but it's bound to start seriously raining fairly soon. Then look out, we'll never be able to work up top and the trail out of here will be slick as goose shit."
"First we have to get this place staked out," Larry said.
"How long's that going to take?"
"It shouldn't take more than a day."
"That leaves plenty of time to get the samples we need, clean up around here and head out. We could probably be out of here by Friday morning, which would be just about right, considering our food supply."
"Well, I'm taking more than a few samples with me," Larry said.
"Why? According to those prospecting information sheets, we only need enough for the assays."
"We need spending money don't we? You wanted money for university, didn't you?"
John thought about that for a moment while he scraped his plate into the fire. He wandered over to the tent to get his pack and prospector's hammer, then stopped and turned. "I never thought of it before ... but where do we sell raw gold like this?"
"I don't know. Banks ... jewelry stores," Larry replied. "All the jewelry stores advertise buying and selling gold."
"I sure as hell hope so."
"You worry too much. I'm packing out enough to set me up for awhile."
"Sounds good," John said, but in his mind he was still a little unsure.
The morning soon passed into afternoon and the job of staking their new gold claim proved more difficult than they figured. The hardest part was cutting posts and packing them up the steep trail to the claim. Shortly before lunch John lost his footing half way up the steep incline. As he struggled to regain his balance, he dropped the post he was carrying and it slid all the way down the loose shale to the bottom. Larry, who was on the trail just above tree line, had to do some fancy footwork to get out of the way. Fortunately, John was far enough away as to not hear the choice descriptive words Larry was using at the time.
They laboured on and the sweat they worked up served as advertisement for every black fly and mosquito for miles around. By late afternoon they realized they had under estimated their staking project; they were only half finished.
They had spoken very little during the day, but their minds dwelled on their newfound wealth. Visions of golden dollar signs quelled the incessant itch of the insects. When they finally called it a day, they were completely void of their earlier enthusiasm.
Supper over, they retired to the comfort of the campfire. Larry dug through his pack for his last bottle of whiskey.
"I think I deserve a drink," he said, pouring a shot into his cup and then holding the bottle up in the light. "Yup, time we get out of here. Booze is running out. You want some?"
"No, I'm too tired to move," John said, as he sat by the fire, eyes closed, and soaking the heat into his aching muscles.
"Another day or so and we'll head back to the big city," Larry reminded him. "Then you can sleep all you want."
"I wonder ..." John asked, reaching over and picking up one of the chunks of ore, "I wonder how much a piece like this is worth?"
"Figure it out for yourself, gold is worth well over three hundred dollars an ounce. At that rate we can pack a fortune out with us."
"The more I think of it ..., we'll probably have to hire a mining engineer or someone to come in here."
"What the hell for?" Larry asked.
"We need to know how much gold there is up here, don't we? How else will we know what it's all worth? They'd probably have to drill test holes to find out."
"Not if we sell. Who ever are interested could worry about that. I don't want to spend a bunch of money in here."
"Well anything we spend is improvements, remember? We just claim that against next years development expenses," John suggested.
"To hell with that noise. We just sell the claim and take the money."
"I don't agree. I think we should wait for a year or so, at least until we finish university."
"You're not listening are you? I told you before. I really don't care what you think because I'm not waiting, and that's final."
"Well, I think you're wrong. I'm for waiting," John stated. "This place has a lot of potential if we mine it ourselves. We can get enough money out of here each year to keep us going with lots to spare."
"You're still not listening!" Larry snarled through his teeth.
John got the message.
As the evening wore on their silence proved worse than their arguing. John finally got up and put another log on the fire, forcing Larry to lean back a bit to avoid the sudden shower of sparks and smoke from the fire. Eventually he had to stand and move to the other side of the fire to get away from the smoke, causing John to grin a little. The silence continued.
When the fire settled down again Larry moved back to his original spot and picked up the whiskey bottle. He studied the look on John's face. All the crap about a mining company and running it was really getting under Larry's skin. Instead of refilling his cup, he simply tipped the bottle to his lips.
When the tension finally reached a point neither could stand, they turned in, leaving the fire to burn on its own into the cool of the night.
Morning dawned with cooler tempers, although the boys maintained their silence as they went through the motions of breakfast. It was Larry who spoke first, "Soon as we finish staking and taking the rest of the measurements, I'm filling my backpack with gold and getting the hell out of here. You got any problems with that?"
John reached down to pick up a piece of the rock. "This stuff is heavy," he replied, ignoring Larry's sarcasm.
"At three hundred an ounce I'll carry the weight. All we have to do is pick out the good stuff."
"That would make it even heavier, wouldn't it? We may have to make two trips just to get our equipment out," John said.
"No bloody way, we leave all this other shit behind."
"What, you mean the tent and stuff?"
"Sure, why not? Now we'll be able to buy anything we want."
"How would we make camp on the trail? We can't make it all the way out in one day, you know that," John reminded him.
"We can curl up under a tree for one night."
"And what if it rains?"
"So it rains, what's your problem? The sooner we get out of here, the sooner I can find a buyer," Larry said.
"I still don't agree with selling."
"You know, you're really beginning to piss me off," Larry replied, an annoyed look crossing his face as he threw the remained of his coffee onto the fire.
John busied himself for the day ahead. After packing his lunch of two tins of sardines and a can of pop, he tucked his pant legs into his boots and looked around for the mosquito spray. "Where's the bug spray?" he asked.
"All gone. You should be like me. The bugs don't bother me that much," Larry remarked.
"Probably the bad blood!" John said, in a low voice, hooking the small pack over his shoulder.
Larry heard John's remark, but choose to ignore it.
It was late afternoon before they finally got the rest of the claim tags up and finished all the measurements. Then Larry announced he is heading back to camp to finish up the paperwork and call it a day.
"I thought you said you were going to dig out some more of the gold?" John asked.
"Tomorrow's another day, besides, I'm starved."
"Should have packed a lunch like I did," John said.
"Sardines aren't my idea of lunch. Besides, I need a drink."
Feeling too pooped to object, John joined in behind.
The boys said little around the campfire that night. Larry was busy making little maps and filling out forms.
"You need help with that?" John asked.
"Nope. I know what I'm doing."
Since Larry was doing all the paperwork, John cleaned up the dishes and then took off to cut firewood. It was almost dark by the time he returned and Larry was already in his sleeping bag, the nearly empty whiskey bottle at his side. Rather than disturb him, John stoked up the fire and spent a much quieter evening by himself.
The next morning Larry was up earlier than usual. He didn't bother to wake John but rather grabbed a quick bite to eat and headed up to the gold site. By the time John finally arrived, Larry was sitting in the midst of broken bits of rock, his packsack on the ground in front him. From the amount of ore in the bag it was evident that Larry had been at it for quite a while.
"It's coming along good, eh?" John asked, reaching down and lifting up on the bag.
"What're you doing?" Larry snapped, reaching over and grabbing at the bag.
"I was just checking to see how heavy it was."
"This is mine. I'm carrying it, okay?"
"Boy, you are in a lousy mood this morning. Why don't you go back and try getting out the other side of your sleeping bag."
"You know what you can do," Larry snapped back.
"Boy, you are touchy. What's bothering you now?"
"I came in here to make some money, not have you create make-work projects for me."
"That's not what I'm trying to do. I was only --"
"I'm not. I just want to make something more out of our claim, that's all."
"Not at my expense you're not. Now if you don't mind, I'm busy," Larry said, turning his attention back to chipping rock.
"It's a good thing we're getting out of here," John remarked. "I think we've been in the bush too long,"
"You got that right,"
John didn't need to be kicked in the head to get the message. He moved to the other side of the showing and set down his empty packsack. There, like Larry, he hacked away at bedrock, selecting only the best pieces to put in his packsack. They were only fifteen feet apart, but it may as well have been miles, as neither spoke a word. Tense moments passed into hours.
Right about midday, Larry dropped his hammer and with a great deal of effort he swung the heavy pack up onto his shoulder. Saying nothing, he worked his way down the trail towards camp, leaving John alone on the rock face..
It was several hours later when John walked into camp and dropped his pack to the ground. Larry was busy fixing up his packboard.
"I take it you've eaten?" John asked.
"Yep. I have better things to do than sit around here waiting for you." Larry replied, sarcastically.
"Look, this is no good. We need to talk."
"You want to talk, but you don't want to listen. Why don't you try reading my lips, I'm selling the claim. I don't want to be involved in your hair-brained scheme, okay?"
"Okay, have it your way, but I'm not signing anything."
"Like I care? You do what ever you want. I'm out of here and the first chance I get, I'm selling."
"You can't --"
"Just watch me. I've got all the claim tags and all the records, remember?"
"You wouldn't dare try cutting me out," John said, and defiantly stepped up to Larry.
"What're you going to do, fight me? You know damned well I can take you easy."
"Maybe. But there's no way you're going to cut me out of this claim."
"You dumb son of a bitch. You didn't think for one minute that I was going to let you have half, did you? It's been mine right from the start. I put up all the money. The only reason you're here is because I let you come along. I was going to give you enough money to get you through university, but now, you can go to hell for all I care."
It took John a few moments to digest what he had just heard. He had seen Larry treat others this way, but never him. They were supposed to be best friends. "I could tie this whole mess up in the courts for years," John threatened. "You wouldn't see a cent, and you know it."
"You son of a bitch!" Larry snarled, and with lightning speed his fist lashed out at John's face.
The blow caught John off guard and snapped his head back sharply. His arm instinctively came up to fend off further blows but he was already seeing stars. He was barley able to recover from the first blow when Larry's foot kicked out, tearing at John's kneecap. The onslaught was too much, too fast, and John felt himself crumpling to the ground as his leg buckled under him.
Above him Larry stood menacingly with both fists doubled up, his lips drawn back from clenched teeth. John quickly struggled to get to his feet but the feeling was gone from his leg. He raised his arms to protect his head, expecting Larry to lash out again.
"You try anything to stop me from selling and so help me ... I'll kill you!" Larry growled.
And as John looked up at Larry's face, he realized he had never seen Larry look so menacing. "Take it easy, okay?" John asked.
"You take it easy. Just remember how dangerous that trail can be? If I was you, I'd be worrying about how I was going to get out of here. And worrying is something you're really good at."
"What're you going to do?"
"You figure it out," Larry said. He then swung the heavy pack up onto his back and disappeared down the trail and into the trees.
John remained sitting for a while, wondering what had just happened. His face throbbed and his nose felt like it was broken for sure. He could still move his leg okay, but the knee hurt like hell. He had been in fights before but never so one-sided. Larry's little outburst had certainly left John battered and bruised, and with a sudden fear of Larry.
Once back on his feet, John quickly gathered his gear from the tent, rolled his sleeping bag, and within minutes his pack was ready to go. Larry's sleeping bag, and what little remaining supplies there were, he rolled up into the tent and tucked the whole works out of sight under the trees. Only the crude table, dirty dishes, and a campfire ring remained as visible evidence of their having been there.
It was late afternoon when John finally strapped on the heavy packboard and started down along the trail. Clouds grew overhead as John calculated at least three, maybe four hours until darkness. From camp, John worked his way through tall spruce and pines trees, towards the summit overlooking the valley. Around him, birds chirped happily as they followed along, hoping for table scraps that they had become used to around the camp. Before long his leg began to really bother him. The swollen knee caused him to limp. A long stick worked as a crutch to ease the weight on his knee, but did little to ward off the sharp rosebush thorns that tore at his legs.
No matter how he tried, he couldn't get Larry's last words off his mind. Larry had often demonstrated how irrational he could be, but to actually kill someone? That was one scary thought.
Trudging along the trail, John recalled an incident at university when Larry proved just how unpredictable he could be. Larry had shown particular interest in a certain young lady on campus. Unfortunately, for Larry, a senior was first to win over her attentions. That same senior later ended up in hospital, badly beaten up, and pointing the finger at Larry. Naturally Larry denied it all. Until today, John had always given Larry the benefit of the doubt, but not any more.
Minutes now seemed like hours for John as he cautiously worked his way up the trail, all the while fighting the pain in his leg, and his growing paranoia of Larry lurking ahead somewhere. As evening approached it was becoming more difficult for John to distinguish between shadows on the trail and the deadfalls that he kept stumbling over.
"One more mile," he muttered to himself.
That was the distance he calculated he was from the summit. He would make camp for the night near the tree line and cross the summit first thing in the morning. The thought of a warm sleeping bag provided the incentive to push forward.
The forest was starting to quiet down for the night, and the birds, which had followed him from camp, mysteriously disappeared. His ears were becoming tuned to the slightest sound -- the more he listened, the more he heard, and each new scary sound bristled the hair on the back of his neck.
With the extra heavy packboard, John was feeling its effect. The pain in his leg was throbbing so much he had to stop and rest. It felt so good to have the weight off his shoulders as he sat back against the upper side of the trail. His leg was killing him but he didn't want to stop too long for fear the leg would stiffen up completely. Another half hour or so, he figured, that's all he needed before making camp.
No matter how he tried to relax, though, his mind kept flashing back to the fight with Larry. There was no way he wanted to go through that again. If Larry was waiting on the trail ahead ... no, he shook the thought from his mind. Grudgingly, he struggled to his feet and resumed his march.
The faint sound of a branch breaking behind him sent a cold shiver down John's spine. He froze in his tracks, anticipating imminent attack. He felt a sudden urge to drop his pack and make a run for it but he couldn't make the initial move. He seemed paralyzed. Hell, he couldn't run even if he wanted to. Then he suddenly remembered the hunting knife, and the weird look on Larry's face when the blade slashed through the ham, turning, tearing at the flesh....
Closing his eyes for an instant, he drew in a big breath, and then slowly turned to face his attacker. It took a long second for his eyes to pick out the figure standing still in the shadows. It was a deer, and probably just as scared as John was. Neither of them moved or made a sound until John heard the escape of air from his heaving chest. He might have even smiled, except for the knowledge Larry was still out there, somewhere.
He'd barely managed to get back on the trail when he heard another, equally threatening sound - thunder, and not that far away.
"What next?" he asked aloud, in a disappointed voice.
The thunder rumbled lazily across the sky above him, its promise of rain to come sent a cold shiver through his body. It was decision time: make camp and wait for morning, or cross the summit that night before heavy rains turned the trail into a slippery nightmare.
Convinced he may never get out for days, should it rain, he decided to make the crossing.
The pass over the summit was a foreboding place as he recalled. On either side of the valley, the high rocky ridges slowly drew together like a giant net. At the lower end of the valley, where John was, the river squeezed into a tight gorge where the water foamed and thrashed violently as it roared through the narrow rock walls. Below the gorge, the river plunged over a large waterfall and on down the mountain. From the valley floor, the trail worked its way up the steep slopes to above tree line. From there it crossed over a precarious rocky ledge above the falls, and then back down into the next valley on the other side. It would be an extremely dangerous crossing, even under the best of conditions. Unfortunately, there was only one way out. John took one last look at the threatening sky and then resumed his climb.
Somehow, the ledge, with its narrow trail, looked a lot more precarious than he remembered from the trip in. Far below he could hear the deafening roar of the river as it thundered over the falls. He cautiously moved closer for a better look. From the edge of the sheer cliff where the trail sloped most dangerously, a fine water mist drifted up over the edge to soak everything. Even without the coming rains, what little dirt there was on the trail was mud. That, John definitely did not remember. He was seriously considering waiting till daylight, until he spotted the outline of a footprint -- Larry's footprint! Larry must have already crossed. He couldn't afford to give Larry too much of a head start to civilization. Suddenly, deciding that it wouldn't be any better in the morning, especially after it rained, he cast caution to the wind. 'Besides,' he reasoned, 'if Larry could make it over with his heavy pack, then so could he.'
"The Lord hates a coward," John blurted aloud, and carefully moved forward.
Steadily working his way along the ledge, he regularly glanced ahead to safety, a mere twenty odd feet in front of him. He was doing just fine until he felt himself starting to slide in the mud. Next thing he knew his feet were slipping out from under him and he suddenly found himself on his hands and knees, clawing at the ground for any kind of grip. In the next instant his feet churned at the muddy surface, then nothing ... he realized his feet were no longer touching ground, which meant he was going over the edge. He had a sudden vision of himself falling through the air, water all around him...
Sharp rose bush thorns jolted him back to reality. His face winced in pain as thorns dug into his hands, but his grip held. Despite the pain, his hands closed tighter on the wild rosebush. He had checked his fall, but he was in sheer panic, the likes of which he had never felt before. Ever so slowly he drew his leg up trying to get a foothold, but he could feel nothing.
"Help!" he screamed instinctively at the top of his lungs, but the only reply was the roar of the river below him. He could feel his heart pounding as he hung helpless, half over the edge, with only the rose bush above him as a lifeline. His packsack of gold, which only moments earlier held the key to his future, now threatened to tear him loose and plunge him into the torrential darkness far below.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, Larry's figure loomed above the helpless John.
"I figured you'd be dumb enough to try and cross here tonight!" Larry called from the trail above.
"Thank God!" John screamed. "Get me out of here."
"Take it easy and don't move," Larry called down.
Picking up the long stick John had dropped when he fell, Larry used it to help ease himself down to John's position.
"Be careful," John called up. "That mud is just like grease."
"Just don't move."
John was not about to make any sudden movements. He closed his eyes and prayed he could hold on long enough for Larry to reach him.
One advantage Larry had was his boots. They were designed specifically for climbing and provided much better traction in the mud. He took an extra moment to gouge out a decent foothold. Only when he felt confident that he was securely anchored, did he shift his attention to John.
"Okay," Larry said, reaching out one hand towards John, "we've got to get that heavy pack off your back."
"I'll do it. You just hold on."
John was terrified, the look on his face told it all. Larry knew he would have to get closer. He dug his boot in a little deeper to increase his foothold, then carefully as he could, he stretched out his hand towards John once more.
"Okay, now," Larry said, "I'm going to reach for the pack."
John's eyes were wide with fear as he watched Larry's hand draw near, he wanted to grab it, but he was too scared to let go of rose bush.
"I can't help you," John said, in a panicky voice, "If I let go I'll fall."
"Just hold on tight!" Larry ordered.
"Give me a second. I'll get your packboard off."
"Just undo the buckle and let it fall."
"No way. I can do it. I'll just pull it up over your head."
"Just undo the strap and let it go!" John pleaded. His arms felt as if they were about to pull out of their sockets, they were so tired and sore.
"Okay, hang on," Larry said. "Here we go."
First he untied the sleeping bag and let it drop. Then he slowly grasped the packboard.
"Be careful!" John warned, scared that the slightest movement would send him sliding over the edge.
"Just shutup and hold still."
Larry slowly pulled on the packboard, drawing it up over John's head. Suddenly, the straps tightened under John's arms.
"Stop! Stop!" John screamed, as he felt the pressure. "I can't hang on."
"Okay, take it easy." Larry stopped pulling. "I'm going to undo the straps now."
Time was fast running out for John. He knew it, and so did Larry. As Larry worked feverishly, he thought sure he could hear what sounded like prayer coming from John's blue lips.
Once the both buckles were open, Larry slowly pulled the straps from under John's arms, finally freeing him from heavy packboard.
"Okay," Larry said. "I'm going to pull your packboard up. Keep your head down.
"Just let it go!"
Larry slowly leaned back, drawing the packboard up with him.
Miraculously, John managed to hang on, and now he felt some relief as the weight left his back.
"Now get me out of here!" John cried. "I can't hang on much longer"
"Sure you can." Larry concentrated on securing the packboard. Ironically, he braced it against the very rosebush that John was clinging to.
John's eyes had been tightly closed, but now with the pack free of his back, he opened them in time to see Larry jostling with the pack.
"To hell with that," John pleaded. "You've got to pull me up."
But Larry ignored John's plea, more intent on making sure the packsack of gold was secured.
A bright flash of lightening seared across the sky, illuminating the area with the brilliance of sunlight. In that instant, John saw something that heightened his terror; Larry was leaning back on his elbows, one hand on the packboard, a smile on his face.
"For Christ's sake, get me out of here," John pleaded.
Larry looked down at John. He couldn't help noticing the whiteness of John's knuckles as they clenched the rose bush, the blood was seeping from between his fingers.
"You want out of there, pull yourself up," Larry said, making no effort to assist.
"You're going to have to."
"I can't! I'm going to fall if you don't...."
For agonizing seconds, Larry stared down into John's wide, fear filled eyes.
"Then I guess you're going to fall," he said, shrugging his shoulders.
"Larry!" John screamed in fear. "I can't feel my hands. Please! For God's sake, pull me up!"
Larry said nothing, he felt no compassion what so ever, only the hate that had built up over the last few days. He watched terror filling John's eyes, and made no move to help when the rose bushes ripped through John's bloodied hands. He tuned out John's final gasps that turned to screams. A delayed crash of thunder rumbled overhead as John thrashed in vain, his fingers raking small furrows in the mud, right up to the edge, and then they were gone.
From below the ledge, a fine mist drifted upward, and after the thunder subsided, the only sound was the roar of water cascading over the waterfall.
Back up on the trail, Larry refastened the buckles of John's packboard and swung it onto his back. Pausing to take one last towards the ledge, he remarked, "It all about gold, man. My gold."
Larry only had one real regret -- he had let John's sleeping bag go over the edge. Now he would end up freezing his butt under some tree.
But there was little sleep for Larry that night. In his mind he went over and over what he would tell the police when he reported John's terrible accident.
'No problem' he figured. 'No one can blame me. After all, the trail was wet and dangerous. His own damned fault anyway. He should have listened to me.'
Believing he had nothing to fear, he tried to sleep, but the cold night air denied him any relief. He wedged himself between the two packsacks and spent the remaining hours of darkness shivering under an unsettled sky.
He was up and on the trail at first possible light. With his own packboard strapped to his back, he held the other tight to his waist. The thought of leaving one, or even lightening the load, was out of the question. He had plans for that gold and they didn't include leaving any along the trail. Driven by stubbornness and greed, Larry walked and stumbled his way down the trail.
He welcomed the first rays of sunshine, but as the day progressed and the heat increased, he became exhausted. He soon had to forgo any further rest stops, as the effort of reloading the packboards was far too difficult. He drove himself on, occasionally leaning against a tree for a moment, and then pushing on again.
Finally, he could hear the distant sound of trucks on the logging road. Sensing the end of the trail, he quickened his pace. Once on the road all he had to do was catch a ride to the nearest town with one of the logging trucks. After reporting to the cops about poor old John, he could then head for the bright city lights.
Dreams of money, beautiful money, and everything it would get him, filled his mind during the last miles to the road. Once there he collapsed, letting the packboards drop to the ground. For a while he didn't even move, just sat there sprawled out in the sun. It was the sound of the river nearby that finally caught his attention. Realizing how thirsty he was, he forced himself to his feet and walked the hundred odd yards to the bridge spanning the fast moving river. He wasted no time getting to the water's edge. There he cupped his hands and drank his fill, then splashed the cold water over his face.
Larry couldn't get away from the river fast enough. He didn't care for the memories the rapidly flowing river created in his mind. Instead, he hurried back to where he left the packboards. He he propped them both together, a big smile crossing his face.
"Not bad," he said, aloud. "Not bad at all. And it's all mine."
He lowered his tired body to the road and leaned back against the packs. He would now have everything he wanted. All he had to do was register the claim and then sell it off to the highest bidder, and with no interference from John.
"I warned that son of a bitch not to try and stop me."
Larry had no idea how long he had been dozing, but he was quick to respond when he heard a logging truck approaching. He jumped up and stuck out his arm, his thumb fully extended. A smile beamed across his face as he watched the truck growing in size as it closed on him, thick dust belching out on both sides. The truck was loaded so he knew it was heading for civilization. Unfortunately, the driver had been going since the previous evening and was so groggy he didn't even notice Larry trying to flag him down.
By the time the driver realized Larry was there, it was far too late to stop -- it was too late to even slow down. Larry assumed the driver deliberately passed him by. So when the large truck thundered passed him, Larry cursed and jumped out onto the road, his finger raised in a salute to the driver, and cursed madly as he watched the truck disappear into the thick choking dust.
Something, Larry was not sure what, caused him to turn just in time to see a second truck. It burst from the dust like a phantom, so fast, Larry had no time to get out of its way. First he heard the sound of air brakes, then the scream of an air horn, then....
It took the driver several hundred feet to finally get the truck stopped. Clouds of dust engulfed the cab while the driver sat for a moment, shaken by what had just happened. He flipped on his emergency flasher lights, opened his door and jumped out onto the road. Walking back behind his loaded trailer the he searched the road, but could see nothing, until the dust cleared.
"Oh no!" the driver gasped, when he realized the worst. He quickly crossed over to the now still body and knelt down. He checked for signs of life, but there were none. Larry was dead. The impact had thrown his body over onto the shoulder of the road, and ironically, up against the two packboards.
Back in the cab of his truck, the driver pressed the mike button of his mobile radio. "Hey Bob, are you there?" he called, for the other logging truck.
"Yeah, go ahead, Sam," came the reply.
"Listen, I just hit some guy on the road back here."
"The guy that was hitch hiking?"
"That's right. He was right out on the road. I didn't even see him until too late."
"Is he all right?" Bob asked.
"Hell no! He's dead."
"Hang on 'till I get stopped."
"No, keep going. You'll have to call the cops when you get close to town. I'll wait here untill they show up."
"Sure. Listen ... are you okay, I mean...."
"Yeah, I'm okay, I guess. Hell of a way to start a day, though."
"Okay. Call me if you have to. I'm as close as your radio."
Sam sat in the cab of his truck for a while, still badly shaken. He puffed nervously on his hand rolled cigarette. Outside, the dust had cleared, birds chattered from the deep forest lining both sides of the road.
Ten minutes ticked by until Bob's voice boomed over the two-way radio. Sam grabbed at the microphone, happy to hear another voice.
"Go ahead," Sam replied. "I'm still here."
"Okay, I'm just pulling into town now. I'll head straight over to the cop shop."
"Thanks. I better get busy and set out some flares, but I'll keep an ear on the radio," Sam said.
Another agonizing twenty minutes passed. Sam returned to the truck cab and played a Country & Western tape to calm his nerves. The accident had really spooked him, and he breathed a sigh of relief when he finally heard a siren off in the distance.
It wasn't long before the police car's flashing lights came into view.
"About time," Sam said, quietly, as he stubbed out a cigarette in the ashtray. Then he stepped from the cab to await the police car.
"I didn't even see the guy until too late," Sam explained, as the cop stepped out of his car.
"Where is he?"
"Laying over here. I didn't move him or anything," Sam said, leading the way to Larry's body.
"I'm Constable Doug Harley, by the way," the young cop said. "And you're Sam, right?"
"So, how long ago did it happen, Sam?"
"About a half hour ago."
"I don't imagine there were any witnesses?" Doug asked, bending down over Larry's body.
"No. The other driver, the one that called you ... he saw the guy, before it happened though."
"Did he regain consciousness at all?"
"No, as far as I could tell he was dead when I got to him. I mean he was right out in the middle of the road. With all the dust ... by the time I saw him it was too late. I had no time to turn or anything."
In the distance Sam could hear another siren coming towards them.
"That'll be the ambulance," Doug explained. "They were right behind me when I left town. Any idea who this guy is?"
"No. I've never seen him before."
"There should be ID in here," Doug said, removing Larry's wallet.
"There's two packboards," Sam remarked. "You'd think there'd be someone else around, but I haven't seen or heard anyone. I even blew the airhorn a couple of times."
"It doesn't seem likely that he'd be carrying two packboards, so he couldn't have come very far on his own. Must have split up for some reason, hard to say. They're probably hitchhiking through the area, although I'm not sure why they would be back here on a logging road."
Doug straightened up, brushing the road dust from the knees of his uniform. He then reached down to lift one of the packboards, "Christ, this thing weighs a ton."
"What the hell's in it?" Sam asked.
Doug undid the strap and opened the flap. "Nothing but rock!" he exclaimed, and then reached for the other pack. "Let's see what's in this one?"
"Here's the ambulance," Sam noted, seeing the flashing lights approaching.
"Look. Same thing in here," Doug said, lifting the flap. "More rock."
"Weird as hell. Why would they be packing around a bunch of rocks?" Sam asked, reaching down and picking up a piece.
"You tell me," Doug replied, shrugging his shoulders.
Doug retrieved one of the pieces and gave it a good look. "You know what this stuff is?" Doug asked.
"Wrong," Doug said, with a grin. "It's iron pyrites, that's what it is."
"Iron pirates, you know, fool's gold. They were packing fool's gold. Probably dug it out of the hills around here somewhere, figuring they had 'struck it rich'."
By then the ambuLarry had pulled up. Two attendants jumped out and joined Sam and Doug by Larry's body.
"So," one of the attendants asked, "what have we got?"
"One DOA," Doug explained. "He was hit by the truck, killed instantly by the look of it."
"Hitchhiker?" the attendant asked.
"I'm not sure yet," Doug said.
"Would be gold miner," Sam added.
"Yeah, take a look," Sam said. "He's got two packsacks full of fool's gold, can you believe it?"
"You sure it's only fool's gold? It sure looks real."
"It's fool's gold all right. It looks real ... but it's worthless," Doug confirmed. "There must have been two of them. We're just not sure where his partner is though."
"I think I can answer that," the other attendant said. "A truck driver dragged a guy out of the river early this morning. He was right out of it. He kept muttering something about gold. The doctors figured he was delirious from being in the cold water."
"Where is he now?" Doug asked.
"In the hospital. They're treating him for hypothermia."
"That'll be him all right," Doug said. "What shape is he in?"
"He's in shock, but he'll make it okay."
"Not as much shock as he's going to be in when he finds out his fortune is only fool's gold."
Return to Top
HIDDEN IN THE GENES by Alan A Sandercott
It was a somber-faced Ralph Osmond who stood up to make his short announcement.
"I would like to ask my good friend Adam to present the eulogy ... if you would Adam?" he asked, motioning towards Adam who had just stood up, glass in hand.
"Thank you Ralph. Ladies, Gentleman," he started, acknowledging those gathered around the table. "I was over-whelmed when Ralph asked me to do this eulogy. I realize that none of us here really knew much about Tom before today, but in light of his contribution to this evening's success, I feel we owe him this tribute:
"Tom led an uneventful life up until just recently. His life was destined to enhance mankind before being tragically cut short with the flash of a knife. His friends fled at the first sign of approaching danger while Tom, unfortunately for him, defiantly stood his ground. During those last few seconds of life I'm sure Tom's last thoughts were, 'Somehow I had a feeling it would all end this way'. He will be sadly missed by his friends."
Adam took a moment to compose himself, and then continued. "And now, if you would all be kind enough to stand and join with me in a moment of silence to Tom's memory...."
It was a short moment, interspersed with a few muffled giggles from the mourners.
"I would like to propose a toast," Adam continued. "If you would care to join me."
He raised his glass. "To Tom. Though he died by the knife, he will still fulfill his destiny."
As Adam returned his glass to the table he turned towards Ralph. "And now, if you will, Ralph?"
"Thank you Adam," Ralph said, and picking up a large sharp knife, turned to the body before him on the table. "Now," he said with determination, "let's eat this sucker!"
The room broke into a roar of laughter.
"The turkey looks delicious," Sherry said, complimenting Lynne who spent the afternoon preparing the meal. "I only wish I possessed your culinary talents."
"Why thank you, Sherry. Happy Thanksgiving."
Later that evening both Ralph and Adam retired to the living room while the women cleared away the dishes.
"I'm absolutely stuffed," Adam said. "That was one of the best meals I've had for a long time, actually since the last time we were here for dinner. Thanks for asking us."
"Ahh, we were glad you could make it. Besides, if you and Sherry didn't show up to help us eat that dead bird, I would be having turkey sandwiches for the next month. I should be thanking you."
"Any time my friend. Any time."
"What can I get you from the bar?" Ralph asked, walking in behind his wet bar.
"I don't know, I'm so stuffed right now. How about that brandy we started on last weekend, after the office party? That's good stuff."
The previous weekend the boys had taken the girls to a party at the mobile home manufacturing plant where they both worked. Adam designed heating and air conditioning systems, and Ralph installed them.
"Hey!" Ralph said, suddenly remembering, "I just picked up a new amaretto. How about we give it a try?"
"Sounds good to me," Adam said, moving up to a barstool.
Ralph was lucky enough to have a wet bar in his home, something that Adam envied. He had always wanted one but could never quite afford it. 'It would be just like Ralph's though,' Adam thought: 'glass shelves lined with bottles, from simple wines and hard-stuff to expensive liqueurs; a mirror behind to create the illusion of twice as many bottles; paneled back-wall covered in pictures; side counter with sink, and a small bar fridge.' Just what he wanted. "I still wish I had a bar like this," Adam said, "I've always wanted one."
"I don't see why you just don't put one in."
"No, I'm serious. It wouldn't cost all that much."
"Maybe for you, but I would have to pay someone to build it, and I don't have that kind of money right now. Besides, your wife works remember? I'm the only bread-winner in my family."
"Don't knock it. At least you've got a wife and two boys at home. Lynne and I keep talking about kids, but it never seems like the right time. So I have a wet bar instead," Ralph laughed.
"And you can afford it -- I can't."
"It didn't cost as much as you think," Ralph assured him.
"What did this finally set you back?"
"Couple hundred," Ralph said, shrugging. "I did most of it myself. I just knocked out the partition and built in the back wall. I bought the bar and sink, hooked it up myself, stuck some shelves up on the wall, and voila', one wet bar."
"Easy for you to say and do. Me, I'm all thumbs when it comes to any type of building. Remember my woodshed?"
"How could I forget?" Ralph laughed as he remembered having to rebuild Adam's amateur building attempt. "I told you before. I'll give you a hand."
"I know ... but unfortunately I've got two problems. First, I don't have the money, and the second problem is in the other room helping with the dishes." Adam accepted the glass of amaretto from Ralph and sniffed it. "Smells good."
"Tastes good, too. Try it!"
Adam smiled as the liqueur tingled its way down his throat.
"What's with the new pictures?" Adam later asked, referring to the collection of photographs on the bar wall. "I don't remember seeing those before."
"Mostly family," Ralph explained as his eyes scanned the wall. "Fred Severts, you know, the electrician at the plant? Well he does picture framing in his basement, so I got him to do these up for us."
"Is that Lynne there beside you?"
"That's her and I before we got married. She was still in university then."
"Sherry and I got married in university. Talk about tough times."
"I know all about that. There's a picture of the four of us in Florida last year. Remember?"
"Who can forget? Which reminds me, we should be starting to make plans soon for another trip this coming winter."
"I don't think you've ever seen this, though," Ralph said, taking a plaque from the wall and placing it on the bar.
"My family coat of arms. I'll bet you didn't know that my family had its own coat of arms?" Ralph said with a chuckle.
"Where did you get this?"
"A small company had a booth set up at the Home Fair this spring. They were advertising tracing family names so I had them look up mine for the hell of it."
"And this is what you got?"
"This and a family tree chart."
"That doesn't sound too bad."
"Most outfits like this just rip you off. I've come across them before. I know, I've been tracing my own family for several years and I've read about such companies."
"How did you get started in this stuff?"
"I do it as a hobby. Been doing it for years. I started when I was in university," Ralph said. "I have a book with my whole family in it."
"I wasn't aware you did this sort of thing."
"Yep. Like I say, there's a lot of phonies out there, just like this one. That's why I ended up doing my own."
"But, if you knew this company was phony, why did you pay them?"
"Just for the hell of it. I was curious as to what they would come up with, so I gave them the twenty-five bucks. About a month later I get a letter from them. They claimed to have traced my name back to England. According to them, our family had its own coat of arms. All they needed was more money to pay someone in England to do a little more research."
"How much money?"
"Two hundred dollars. And I'm sure that would only be the start of it. They would keep asking for more, and a little more."
"You're kidding. So did you pay them?"
"No bloody way. Soon as they said I had a coat of arms I knew they were phony. I'd already done our family tree and my ancestors were all farmers back in England. And farmers didn't have a coat of arms, plain and simple."
Adam picked up the plaque again and studied it. "Don't they have to prove any of this?" Adam asked.
"Oh they sent a letter certifying the crest's authenticity."
"But I thought you said it was phony?"
"I'm sure the coat of arms is probably authentic all right. It just doesn't belong to my family that's all."
"Then why do you have it hanging on your wall?"
"Just for show. Besides, I don't have to mention that it's not mine."
"Well it makes a nice display for your bar anyway," Adam chuckled.
"Yeah, twenty-five bucks worth," Ralph reminded him, and then took a sip of his drink, savoring its lingering taste.
"What are you two doing?" Lynne asked as she and Sherry entered the living room.
"We're just having an after dinner drink," Ralph said.
"Good. We'd like one too."
"Sure. What would you like?" Ralph asked, as he hung the plaque back up on the wall.
A few days later Adam was busy at his desk in the office when Ralph wandered in with his morning coffee. "It's good to see a man working. Work just fascinates me you know? I enjoy it, as long as someone else is doing it," Ralph said.
"I'll bet you do. What's up?"
"Not much. I was just curious what you were doing this weekend. I was thinking we should head up to the island and maybe do a little salmon fishing. You interested?"
"Could be. Who's all going?"
"Including you? ... Two. There's no way the girls would want to come. They're always too busy jogging or playing tennis."
"Sounds good to me. I wouldn't mind getting out of here for a while. And if I stay home Sherry will just put me to work around the yard."
"That'll never do. I think we deserve a fishing trip."
"I don't know. Same place we went last fall I guess. At least we didn't get skunked up there. Only this time we should rent a boat instead of hauling mine all the way," Ralph suggested.
"Sounds like a plan," Adam agreed while rolling up several blueprints on his desk.
"You know, I've been thinking," Adam said, looking up from his desk and changing the subject.
"That's nice. How do you like it so far?" Ralph laughed.
"Go ahead. Be a smart-ass. Listen! I've been thinking about all that family tree stuff you were showing me the other night. I wouldn't mind finding out about my family. I don't suppose you'd like to give me a hand, would you? Pal? Buddy?"
"No problem," Ralph said, and applauded heartily.
"Come on, I'm serious."
Ralph thought about it before answering. "Why not," he said finally. "If you think you can afford my services that is?"
"How much? And just remember, I don't get all the overtime that you do."
"I don't know, I'm good, but I'm not cheap," Ralph mused.
"I know. That's what your wife says too, about being cheap, that is."
"Figures. So, when would you want to start this project of yours?"
"I could come over tonight. There's a bunch of basic stuff you'll need to get started."
"Sure. We're not going anywhere."
Later that night Ralph showed up at Adam's place, with briefcase in hand.
"Can I crack you a beer?" Adam asked.
"After awhile. I want to go over these forms with you first," Ralph said, spreading out a few blank forms on the kitchen table. "I'll leave these with you and you can fill them in later. You'll need time to dig up the information anyway."
"So what all do you need?"
"It's all pretty self-explanatory. Mostly names, dates, places, that sort of thing."
Adam took a moment and leafed through the papers.
"It's pretty simple," Ralph said, pointing to one of the forms. "Write in your father's name, Broden, same as yours, right?"
"Okay, so you start right here on this one. Fill in his name, birth date, and where he was born."
"Far as I know he was born in Montreal. I'd have to go through the album to find the exact date, though."
"Okay, and the same for your mother; where and when she was born."
"That's easier. She's from Toronto. They were married there too. Wait'll I dig out our album. It's all written down in there. I just have to find it. There's beer in the fridge. Help yourself while you're waiting."
Ralph sat back in his chair, beer in hand, and waited while Adam tore the house apart looking for the album.
"Don't worry," Adam called from another room. "I put it away for safe keeping. Now all I have to do is remember where. Maybe Sherry knows...?"
"Sounds like me," Ralph said to himself, as he tipped the bottle to his lips.
"Found it," Adam said, entering the room a while later. He sat an old photograph album down on the table.
"You mean I found it! You should have asked me in the first place," Sherry said, sliding her chair up to the table.
Ralph could tell right away from looking at the album that it was old as the hills. Inside, little black sticky corners held many of the yellowed pictures in place, while some were simply glued onto the tattered pages.
"Where did you get all these?" Ralph asked. He loved to look through old photographs.
"Adam's mom gave us the album just before she died. It's all the old families. We've been keeping it to give to the boys someday when they're old enough to appreciate it."
"I don't blame you. It's worth keeping. I've got a lot from our family too, but nothing as old as these. How far back do they go?"
"About a hundred years," Adam said, opening a beer for himself and Sherry.
"There's pictures of Adam's grandfather in here," she said, pointing to an old faded photo of a young man standing beside a horse. "That one right there,"
Sherry reached for her beer while Ralph scanned the photographs.
"What was it you were looking for?" she asked.
"My Mom and Dad's birth dates, anniversary, that sort of thing."
"Don't tell me you can't remember your own parent's anniversary?"
"Okay, I won't tell you that. But I still have to look it up?"
"You don't have to do it now," Ralph said. "I'll leave all this stuff here and you can look it all up later."
"There's a picture of Adam's grandfather. He's holding Adam's father. And that's Adam's uncle standing beside them ... his name was Adam, too," Sherry advised.
"That's your grandfather?" Ralph asked. "Jeas' these must be old."
"They are," Sherry confirmed.
"Was that taken here in this country?" Ralph asked.
"Probably," Adam replied. "My dad was born in Montreal."
They continued to look through the album, while Sherry pointed out the various names as best she could.
"So what about your grandfather on your father's side? Where's he from?" Ralph asked casually.
"No idea. Dad never did say. All I know is that he immigrated to America as a young man, around 1900 apparently. He met my grandmother over here. I think they were married in Montreal."
"And that's it?"
"I'm not sure when they were married. But as far as I know uncle Adam was born in Montreal in 1915, and he was the oldest, so you'll have to take it from there."
"Well just put down what you can. It's only a starting point," Ralph said.
"When do you want all this?" Adam asked.
"Whenever you get it done. Then I'll set it up on my computer. That's when the fun starts, trying to tie it all together."
"What does that mean?"
"That's when I take all this to the Genealogical Library and dig out all the information I can find. Then if necessary, I can use the National Archives."
"What's this going to cost?" Sherry asked.
"Plenty. Like I told Adam, I'm not cheap."
"That I believe. But seriously, how much?" she asked again.
"We'll have to pay for time at the Genealogy Library, but it's reasonable. Plus any photocopying. Plus letters and postage. It won't be that much."
"Letters? I'm not writing any letters. This is Adam's idea, not mine," Sherry said, and then muttered something under her breath as she was about to take a drink.
"Excuse me?" Adam asked.
"Nothing," she said, and shook her head, laughing.
The fishing trip took care of the weekend, but right after that Ralph started looking into Adam's family. Once he had everything entered into his computer program, it was just a matter of filling in the blanks, so to speak. His first task was to arrange a visit to the local Genealogical Society's Library. There, he immediately ran into a problem.
Quebec's Department of Vital Statistics showed no record of any birth for Adam's father or uncle. Confused, he checked and rechecked the microfiche, but found nothing. Ralph's frustration must have been obvious to others in the room. One of the regulars in the library, a woman named Shirley, who did a lot of research, came to his aid.
"Why don't you check the Census returns for that area?" she suggested. "See if they were living in that region."
"Do you have those records here?"
"Sure," she replied, and pointed him in the direction of the registry index above another microfiche cabinet.
Before long Ralph was deep into the Census returns for Quebec. First for the year 1920, and then 1930. It was a long and tedious task but it, too, turned up nothing. Drawing the blank on Quebec, he moved into Ontario's records where he managed to find Adam's mother, Maria's, birth date; he also found Adam listed. Then he quickly checked for Jerry Broden, Adam's father, but again, nothing. Maria and Jerry's marriage was on record, but it shed no light on the birth of Adam's father. After he thanked Shirley for her help, he signed out and headed home to enter into his computer what little information he had found.
"We've got a bit of a problem," Ralph told Adam at work the next morning. "I can't find any record of either your father or your uncle in Quebec."
"None. I checked Ontario as well. You sure they were born in this country?"
"That's what I was always led to believe."
"I'm on my way out to pick up some parts I need right now, but I just thought I'd mention that. You might want to check with your father again? See what he says."
Adam was very quiet and deep in thought during supper that night. Normally he would be caught up in the table conversation, but that night his mind was somewhere else.
"What's wrong?" Sherry finally asked. "You've been a million miles away all night."
"Sorry. I was just thinking."
"Well, Ralph did some checking on dad's birth date and stuff."
"And, there's no records."
"How can that be?"
"I don't know. He always said he was from Montreal, you heard him yourself."
"Why don't you check his birth certificate? It's still here at the house, isn't it? I'm sure I saw it somewhere."
"Don't think so. I think he took all that stuff with him when he moved into the home. Seems to me he had to show it to verify his age."
"Well, then ask him again."
"I don't know. You know how he hates to talk about that sort of thing. He gets all upset and we end up not talking for weeks."
"I know. You're both stubborn as hell."
"It's got nothing to do with that. He blames me for sticking him in that home. It's not my fault, he dammed near killed himself in the house fire. And we don't have room here, right?"
"I know, but --"
"Well I'm not going to get him all fired up again by asking him where he was born."
"Fine. I'll ask him. I don't mind."
"Fine, be my guest!"
"Okay, you don't have to bite off my head. Besides, he likes me."
"That's because you're always taking him things --"
"Speaking of which," Sherry cut in. "We have to take his birthday gift to him, plus I have the cake that I made for him."
And ask him she did! He was in his room at the senior's home where he had been living for several years, since almost burning down his own house. He hated every moment in that place, not to mention everyone there that tried to help him. Fortunately for all, Sherry had waited until after they finished their cake before she broached the subject of the old man's birthplace.
He immediately became agitated. "Montreal," was his only response.
"In 1916, right?"
He just nodded.
"And your brother, Adam, was born in Montreal in 1915?"
Again he nodded, but it was obvious he did not want to discuss the matter. He turned his electric wheelchair and stared out the window. They had learned from experience that when he turned to the window like that, it was his signal to end the visit.
"Happy birthday," Adam said, as they turned to leave.
The old man just nodded his head, his eyes fixed out the window.
None the wiser, Ralph returned to the library for another try. He wanted to explore another idea. He wanted to try to find the immigration records for Adam's grandfather. That short trip to the library stretched into three full evenings. Fortunately, Shirley was there each night to offer her able assistance and suggestions.
On the second night, Ralph received additional help from a man working on a nearby microfiche machine.
"I've seen you here before," the man remarked, through his full beard. "You are a regular researcher here, yes?"
"Oh no. I just do this as a hobby. Right now I'm helping a friend to trace his father."
"That's good. It's important to know your ancestors. I've been researching families for over thirty years. My name is Josef Goldbloom," he said, offering his hand in friendship.
"Ralph Osmond," Ralph said, and responded with a solid handshake. "You do this full-time, do you?"
"Yes, that's true."
"That's interesting. I was talking to Shirley last night. She is a full time researcher, too. She is working for three different clients right now. How many clients do you have, Josef?"
"I am little bit different. I work for someone else. So Ralph," Josef said, changing the subject, "what name are you looking for?"
"Broden. That's my friend's name. His father was supposedly born in Montreal but I can't find any record of him."
"Did you try the census registers?"
"Checked in 1920 and 30, both negative."
"I know. It is difficult when you can't locate a name. Perhaps the name was changed?"
"That's possible all right. Last night, Shirley gave me a hand checking the immigration records. My friend's grandfather was supposed to have come into Canada around 1900, but we couldn't find any record of that either. Interestingly though, we did find where a man by the name of Brodzenski entered Canada in 1946."
"Brodzenski. The name, it sounds familiar to me. That would be Polish, yes?" Josef asked, jotting the name down in the corner of one of his worksheets. "And what are the first names?"
"It shows as Jerzy on the records. But my friend Adam, his father's name is Jerry."
"This is interesting Ralph. People coming into this country from Europe often change their names. Jerzy Brodzenski and Jerry Broden, could easily be same man, yes?"
"Certainly seems possible all right. I was just going to start looking through the records for Brodzenski to see what I can find."
"You should look in Poland. Yes, I'm sure. You would be wise to concentrate on Poland. Brodzenski ... I'm sure I know that name," Josef said, shaking his head. "If I can help, you will ask me, yes?"
"Thanks, thanks a lot," Ralph said, and returned to scanning his microfiche screen.
Then for the third night in a row, Ralph found himself parked in front of a microfiche terminal at the Genealogy Library. The previous evening had turned up far more information than he had expected. He was now running on renewed enthusiasm.
Josef Goldbloom was back as well, showing continued interest in Ralph's project. As the evening went on, the two men continued to chat while each carried on their research.
"This friend of yours," Josef asked casually, "you said his name was Adam Broden, yes?"
"It's good that you help your friend. Does he live here in the city?"
"Yes. He works at the same place I do."
"That's nice. And his father, does he live here as well?"
"Yes he does. He's in some senior citizen's home apparently. Why do you ask?"
"Nothing. I sometimes talk too much, yes? I must go now. I will see you here tomorrow night, yes?"
"Possibly. Depends on how things go tonight. Thanks for your help anyway."
"You're welcome, Ralph. Good night now," Josef said, and with that last exchange he quickly gathered his papers, stuffed them into a tattered portfolio, and left.
Ralph returned to his research. As it turned out that was to be his last night at the library, but not the end of his project. The next two evenings he worked at home on the computer. Now, he was ready to share his findings with Adam and Sherry. On the Friday afternoon he invited them over for that night's 'unveiling', as he called it.
Ralph started off the evening making Adam and Sherry comfortable in his living room. Lynne set out a tray of snacks and Ralph had his bar open for business. A flip chart, temporarily covered with a tablecloth, was set up in the corner of the room.
"Okay," Ralph said, getting everyone's attention. "Time to begin this Friday evening's entertainment."
"Sounds intriguing," Adam said with a grin.
"Adam Broden," Ralph began, "this is your life, or something like that. Anyway, I have good news, and I have bad news."
"You're going to charge us for the drinks, right?" Adam laughed.
"No, but that's the good news. The bad news is -- you don't have a family history."
"You don't. I couldn't find any record in Canada or the United States of your father or his father."
"That makes no sense."
"I agree. The other good news is that I may have some answers. Sit back and consider this."
Ralph moved his flip chart to the middle of the room. "Ta-Da...," he sang, quickly pulling the cover off, exposing the first chart.
"Okay. Let me walk you all through this stuff. If you have any questions, don't ask."
"Is there going to be a quiz after?" Sherry asked.
"Yes ... okay. Here we go. First, I checked the immigration records for one Feliks Broden around 1900. Nothing. But, what I did find was one Jerzy Brodzenski who entered this country in 1946, in a round about way from Poland."
"Are you saying that he's my father?" Adam asked.
"No. I'm suggesting it's quite possible."
"That would mean that my father is Polish. I always figured the family was French."
"Bear with me a minute. Using the Brodzenski name, I went looking through Polish church records and guess what I found? Seems Jerzy Brodzenski was born in Mulkow, Poland, on, get this, October 16, 1916."
"The same day as my dad."
"Right. And guess what else? There was an Adam Brodzenski born in the same place in January 1915."
"That must be them," Sherry said. "But why would Adam's father say he was born in Montreal?"
"That's not uncommon. Lots of emigrants changed their names and then refused to talk about their origins. There was a perceived stigma attached to some immigrants in those days."
"Is there any record of their parents?" Adam asked out of curiosity.
Ralph flipped to the second page and carried on with his findings. "Okay. Adam was the oldest. He was born to Feliks and Rosa Brodzenski in Wieprz River, just south of Warsaw, Poland. I managed to find a marriage record. Rosa's maiden name was Dzerudski and they were married in Mulkow. Not much else about her. He listed himself as a farmer. In some military records, I found where he was killed in September 1939, just about the time the Germans attacked Poland's western frontier. He had probably signed up when the war threatened."
"Have you got copies of all this stuff?" Adam asked. It was really beginning to interest him.
"Yes. It's all entered in my computer. I'll be giving you the works. Right now I need another piece of cake before I can go on," he said, and headed for the snack tray.
Then came page three on the flip chart. "Okay. Jerzy as we know was born 1916 in Mukow, probably home on the farm. There is a record of him joining the police force in a place called Jararsko. From there he was transferred into Warsaw during the Ghetto Riots in 1943. There is no record of him after that; at least not until 1946 when he shows up in this country."
"This is unreal," Adam said. He didn't know what else to say.
"It must be your dad," Sherry said. "The names are the same. The dates are the same. Are you going to show this to him?"
"No way. I don't think we should. You remember the last time we talked to him. If he wants to be born in Montreal, then I think we should leave well enough alone."
"I'll bet if you talked to the drafting department at work, they would draw up a family tree, one that you could hang on the wall," Ralph suggested.
"That's not a bad idea. I definitely want a copy of this."
"Consider it done," Ralph said, as he handed Adam a thick file folder.
"What do we owe you for all this?" Sherry asked.
"You should get something for your time, though."
"Nope. Nothing. We're friends, right? I was glad to do it."
That called for a drink to celebrate the Broden's newly discovered family tree.
The rest of the evening was spent planning their upcoming annual vacation to Florida in April, plus finishing off Lynne's snack tray. She certainly knew how to make good munchies.
Neither Adam nor Ralph were outdoor types. For them, winters seemed to drag on forever. Fortunately, winter was a busy time at the plant as it tooled up for the next year's mobile home models. Once Christmas passed, both Ralph and Adam poured on the overtime as the assembly line moved into full swing.
Then, early in March, Adam received a call from the administrator of the senior's home where his dad lived. Two people from Immigration Service had been in to talk with his dad. "I think you should come down here right away," the woman said. "Your father is extremely upset. You need to talk to him."
Adam arrived at the home to find his dad's door locked. Through the door he could hear his dad yelling at someone.
"Who's in there?" Adam asked the attendant.
"No one. Mr. Broden is all alone," one of the women staff members told Adam. "He's been like this since we came on shift at four this afternoon."
Adam tried knocking at the door and calling out to his father. "Dad? It's Adam. Come on, please open the door."
There was no change. The yelling continued from within the room.
"Do you have a key?" Adam asked the woman.
"I could get one from the office," she said, reluctantly.
"Please, get it. I need to get in the room."
Quiet returned to the home after Adam entered the room. He remained there and talked with his father for the next hour. When he finally came out he called for the woman.
"Can you give him something to help him sleep tonight? Tomorrow I'll have his doctor drop by and have a look at him."
"Is there a problem?" she asked. "If there's a problem I should notify our administrator."
"No. There's no problem, just a little family matter. I can take care of it. Just give him something to help him sleep. That's all."
When Adam arrived back home he went straight to his liquor cabinet and poured himself a stiff drink. Sherry was quick to notice as it was not something Adam ordinarily did.
"What's wrong? Is your father okay?" she asked with a concerned voice.
He didn't answer her, but turned and walked to the table and sat in a chair.
"Those bastards!" he exclaimed.
"Those two from Immigration Service who went to see him today. They were asking a whole bunch of questions about his citizenship. Now he's all upset. I've never seen him like this before."
"What happened? What did they want?"
"I don't know. When I first got there he was raising all sorts of hell. When I got him quieted down, he just sat in his room crying about how good a citizen he is. He won't tell me what they said. Christ, you think they would have come and talked to me about it first. Those bastards! I've got a good mind to --"
"Wait!" Sherry interrupted. "I don't understand. Do you know who they are and where they work?"
"Yeah. They left this card," Ralph said, taking a business card from his shirt pocket. "Tomorrow. Tomorrow by Jesus, I'll find out what is going on."
It was obvious to Sherry that Adam's father wasn't the only one upset. She had never seen Adam in such a terrible mood.
The next afternoon, Adam arrived home early. He sat in his car, deep in thought, just staring past the steering wheel. Sherry had heard him drive up, and when he didn't come in right away she went to the window. She could see Adam just sitting in the car, shaking his head back and forth. She couldn't help feeling sorry for him, and sensed his anger when he slammed the steering wheel with the palm of his hand and then wrenched open his door.
"What is going on?" Sherry demanded when Adam came charging through the front door.
"You won't believe it. You bloody well won't believe it," he said, walking past her into the living room and dropping onto the couch.
"What?" she repeated impatiently.
"I called the guy on that business card today. They came around to see me. You won't believe this, but it seems dad never took out his citizenship.
Ralph was right. Dad wasn't born in Montreal. He's from Poland all right."
"So what's the problem? He can simply apply now can't he?"
"It gets worse," he said, showing obvious distress. "They're talking about deporting him. Can you believe that?"
"But why? It doesn't make any sense. Just because he never took out his citizenship?"
"It's not just that. Apparently, according to Immigration, dad withheld information about what he was doing before he entered this country. They have the application papers showing where he claimed to be a farmer."
"Well I still don't see --"
"I'm telling you, it gets worse. Seems some organization has filed a complaint against dad for, get this, 'war crimes', when he was with the police in Poland."
"Oh no!" Sherry said. The words rocked her to the point where she had to sit down, herself.
"I don't believe this," Adam said, leaning back in the couch with his head tipped back and his eyes closed.
Shock slowly set in as long moments passed. Sherry leaned forward, a scared look on her face. "How's your father? Did you drop by to see him?"
"Yeah, I went in on my way to work. He's not saying anything. He just sits and stares out the window. He's still in his pajamas. He won't eat."
"I'm worried about him."
"Me too. I called his doctor. He's was going to drop in an see dad before lunch."
"What did you tell the doctor?"
"Nothing. I just said he wasn't feeling well. I don't think we should say anything to anyone right now. This whole thing is bullshit! Some organization starts making accusations like that -- it's just not right."
"What organization? Who are they?"
"I don't know, but I'm sure as hell going to find out."
"Your poor father. No wonder he's so upset. What are we going to do?"
"Well first off, I'm going to get a lawyer. I'm not sitting still for this. I don't care what they say. My dad is no criminal."
"We should go in after supper and make sure he's okay," Sherry suggested.
"I was planning on it."
It didn't take long for the news media to jump on the potential story. Adam caught the morning news on his car radio on his way to work. 'Local man being investigated by the Immigration Services for alleged war crimes', the reporter said. Thankfully there were no names mentioned, but Adam knew full well to whom they were referring. He pulled into the factory parking lot, but his mind was not on the job. He felt he had to tell someone, and why not his best friend.
When coffee time rolled around and Ralph wandered into his office, Adam related the strange tale.
Ralph just listened with a look of disbelief on his face.
"That's unreal. Have you talked to your father?"
"He's not talking to anyone. He just stays in his room with the door locked. I don't understand it. Why after all these years? Why now?"
Ralph just shook his head. He had no answers to offer.
"How could they? I mean ... who would...."
Again Ralph could only shake his head.
"Would it have something to do with the family tree stuff you did for us?" Adam asked out of desperation.
"I don't see how. No one knows about that. You've got the only copy."
"I don't know ... it just doesn't make sense. Everything has been fine all these years. Then we start looking into the past, and suddenly all this blows up."
"It's just a coincidence. We didn't find anything wrong."
"God I hope you're right. I could never forgive myself if --"
"You didn't do anything," Ralph cut in. "Believe me. Look, if there's any way I can help --"
"Know any good lawyers? One of the Immigration guys strongly recommended that I get dad a good lawyer."
"Well I don't know any, but I bet the boss has some contacts. I know there is a least one lawyer in his golf group. Why don't you ask him?"
"Maybe I will," Adam said, pushing back from his desk. "I've got to do something."
"You want me to come with you?"
"No, it's okay. I can do it."
It was a sleepless night for Ralph. He couldn't get Adam's father out of his mind. The whole thing was too bizarre to believe. His mind went over and over the work he had done on Adam's family tree. It was after midnight when Ralph finally gave up trying to sleep and went down to his den. There he sat pouring over his notes. All the material he brought home from the library..., "Oh Shit!" he suddenly exclaimed aloud. "That guy at the library...."
Quickly he dug through his notes, and then the name suddenly stared up at him from the paper, Josef Goldbloom. His mind struggled to remember the discussions he had had with Josef.
Ralph leaned over his desk, cradling his head in his hands. He didn't want to believe the possibility, but it was all becoming clear, he was to blame.
There was a somber mood around the Broden supper table that night. They had not yet said anything to their two boys. Adam and his wife really didn't understand what was happening. It wasn't until after the boys had excused themselves and headed outside that Adam brought up the subject.
"I hired the lawyer today. Here's his name and number in case he calls," Adam said, handing her one of the lawyer's business cards.
"How much is this going to cost us?"
Adam didn't dare tell her what the lawyer had quoted him. Bottom line was -- they could not afford it. "Well, it won't be cheap. But I don't see where we have any choice. We can't sit by and watch them kick dad out of the country. Just think how the boys would feel if their grandfather was deported. We have to protect him."
"Maybe we should cancel our trip to Florida?" Sherry suggested.
"Yeah, there's something else. I'm not sure we can go now, not after this."
"I had better let Lynne know that we can't go. They're going to have to change their plans too."
"Yeah, I guess..," Adam agreed, sliding deep into thought again.
"I don't know what to say to her," Sherry added, shaking her head.
It didn't take long for things to come to a head. The following afternoon the senior's home was besieged by the news media. They were trying to get an interview with 'Brodzenski', the so-called 'war criminal'. Reporters and TV cameras crowded the home's small entrance way. The situation quickly grew out of control. By the time Adam arrived at the home, the police were already there, and had moved the media out onto the front lawn. Adam's dad was still locking himself in his room and not talking to anyone.
Adam didn't make it to the front door before the reporters found out who he was and intercepted him. They swarmed around him like vultures circling a dying animal. Questions came fast and furious as Adam found himself staring into probing camera lenses.
"Was your father with the Warsaw guards? ..."
"Did you know your father was wanted for war crimes? ..."
"Why did your father lie to Immigration when he immigrated? ..."
It took one of the police officers to help Adam get into the building where he quickly inquired for his dad.
"Mr. Broden has locked his door from the inside. He won't come out," the home's administrator advised Adam. Then she quickly turned her attention back to the police again. "You must do something about those reporters. They are upsetting our guests."
"We'll keep them outside," the office replied.
"Can't you make them leave?"
"I'm sorry, but they do have a right to be here. This is a public building."
Getting nowhere with the police officer, she immediately turned her attention back to Adam. "This is all your father's fault! We can't have this. It's too disruptive for the rest of the guests. This is their home too."
"Well I can't do anything about it. Look, can I just get a key so I can get into my dad's room and make sure he is okay? Please!"
Adam's father was right where he had been the last time Adam had seen him -- sitting in his wheelchair, staring out the window. Only now there was someone outside with a camera, trying to take pictures. The old man seemed oblivious to the intruder. It was as if he didn't see the man through his window. Adam quickly moved to close the drapes. Then, closing the door, he tried talking to his dad, but to no avail. The old man was just not speaking, not even to his son.
Adam was still in the room with his dad when the lawyer arrived. It was a coincidence, because the lawyer had shown up to see if he could talk with his new client. Fortunately for Adam and his father, the lawyer knew all the legalities regarding his client's rights to privacy. The police were correct in restraining the media.
For the next hour, their lawyer spoke, while Adam, and perhaps his father, listened. All questions came from Adam. And when Adam and the lawyer left the room, the old man had not spoken a word, nor had he turned from the window. Both the administrator and the police reassured the lawyer that the media would not be allowed to bother his client.
Somewhat relieved, Adam headed home. He left with a far clearer picture of what was about to happen from a legal point of view. He could not face going back to work that day. Deep in thought, he spent the rest of the afternoon mowing the lawn.
"I told Lynne today," Sherry said, later that night, "about not being able to go to Florida this year. I didn't say anything about your father. I just said that we couldn't afford it."
"It's okay. I told Ralph about it yesterday morning."
"What did he say?"
"What could he say? He's sorry. Wants to help if he can. Trouble is, the more I think about it, the more I think he's involved somehow."
"How do you figure that?"
"It seems a little more than a coincidence that right after he finds all that stuff about dad, the shit hits the fan."
"Oh my God. I never thought...."
"Well I'm thinking about it."
"Did you say anything to Ralph?"
"Just briefly. He says there's no connection. Just a coincidence. But I'm not so sure," Adam said, shaking his head in disbelief. "I just don't know."
"Oh, before I forget," Sherry said, "that Mrs. Harris from the senior's home, she called when you were outside. The doctor stopped in and gave your father a sedative. He settled down and they managed to get some food into him. She says he's quiet and resting."
"Thank God for that. I was beginning to worry. That's all we need now; for him to get sick or something."
"No, he's fine according to her."
That was all that was fine though, as memories of his earlier conversation with the lawyer returned to mind. "I had a long talk with the lawyer today," Adam advised.
"Apparently Immigration is going to schedule some sort of hearing for dad. The lawyer will represent him at the hearing, but dad is going to have to attend at some point. I'm just afraid that he'll refuse to talk."
"And if he does?"
"I don't know. He refused to talk with the lawyer this morning. Hell, he still won't talk with me about it. According to the lawyer, he figures that dad may be just too embarrassed or scared to talk about it. He seems to think he can get dad to talk when I'm not around. We'll just have to wait and see."
"Let's hope," Sherry added.
"I did, however, find out something about the so-called organization."
"Oh, who are they?"
"They're part of some big international organization that goes around tracking down war criminals. It operates out of Israel."
"And they're the ones behind all this?"
"Apparently. The lawyer is meeting tomorrow with Immigration to see what their charges are. He said he'll call me soon as he finds out."
"I don't see how your father is involved. He doesn't seem the type that could hurt anyone."
"I agree, but all we can do is wait and see."
And wait they did! For the next two days the family's lives were turned upside down. The phone never stopped ringing. Adam couldn't work. And even worse, the boys found out the hard way when the rumors started flying around their school. They suddenly found themselves the targets of snide insults. Both boys felt the hurt that comes with finger pointing and whispers behind their backs.
When Adam returned from work one afternoon he found Sherry sitting quietly in the living room. A large brown envelope lay on the coffee table.
"The lawyer dropped this off this afternoon," Sherry said.
"What's in it?"
"I didn't open it. I wanted to wait for you."
"It'll be the stuff he promised us."
"Well open it," Sherry said. "No sense prolonging this, it's not going to go away."
Adam wished it would go away, but he knew otherwise. Reluctantly, he picked up the ominous envelope and opened it. For a long, long moment, Adam sat and read over the official looking documents. A look of shock and disbelief grew over his face. It was a list of the accusations being leveled against Adam's father along with an order for him to appear before an Immigration hearing. Now it was official. "This has to be wrong. My father could never --"
"Well, what does it say?" Sherry asked impatiently.
He handed the papers over to Sherry and slumped back in his chair.
"They're saying dad was in charge of a guard unit that rounded up Jews and ... shot some of them. During some riots in the Warsaw Ghetto, anyone caught inciting trouble was arrested and later shot by the guards. It says there, that my dad commanded the unit responsible for the shootings. Sixty-eight people, killed. All Jews." Adam closed his eyes as tears started to flow. "They're wrong! I know my dad. He could never have done anything like that."
"It says here they have records, photographs, and witnesses," Sherry added.
"I don't care. It's not him!" Adam exclaimed. His heart and mind refused to accept such accusations against his father. Adam knew his father well enough to know the man could never harm anyone -- let alone shoot someone.
After a long quiet moment he bolted from his chair.
"I have a good mind to sue the ass off these people. I mean, who the hell do they think they are? They can't just start firing off accusations like this!"
"Well they're doing it!" Sherry confirmed.
"Yeah? We'll see. I'm damned well going to do something about it, too."
"I don't know!" Adam roared, his voice at a feverish pitch. He grabbed the papers from Sherry's hand and threw them across the room. "I don't know."
"Well ranting and raving isn't going to help, you know."
"I need some air," Adam snapped in frustration, then promptly grabbed his coat and headed out the door. It was to be the first of many solo night walks.
The next morning's daily newspaper carried a picture of Adam's father on the front page. A photographer outside his father's window at the senior's home had obviously taken it. The story named names, dates, and places. It went on to confirm Adam as the son, complete with current name spelling. The whole horrific story lay splashed across the front page for all to see. Neither his father, nor the rest of the family, was to receive any consideration as to the truth or the consequences of the article -- the damage was done.
The first evidence of the damage came when Adam showed up at the home to check on his father. The administrator met him in the hallway and handed him a letter. "I'm sorry Mr. Broden, but we have a responsibility to our other guests. We ... I'm sorry," She said, with an embarrassed, yet official look on her face.
"It sure as hell didn't take you long," Adam said to himself as he read the brief letter. Bottom line was, they wanted his father out of the home.
'Why not?' he thought. 'Just keep the pile building. What the hell next?'
His father was back in his wheelchair staring out the window. Beside him on an end table lay a copy of the newspaper, his picture splashed across the front page. Discouraged and saddened, Adam wondered what maliciously kind soul suddenly decided to deliver the newspaper to his father. He tried to talk to his father, but again, Adam's words fell on deaf ears.
"We have to talk about this," Adam said, determined to make his father listen. He pulled the wheelchair back from the window and turned it around. His father strained his head trying to see out the window, not wanting to face his son.
"We don't believe any of this," Adam began. "Not for one moment. We know you would never do anything like this. The lawyer is going to clear it all up for us, you'll see."
The old man turned to Adam, his eyes filled with tears.
"You don't understand. Nobody can understand," his tears turning to actual crying.
Adam had never seen his father cry before.
"It's okay. We'll get it all straightened out. Everything's going to be all right," Adam reassured.
"No! You don't understand," the old man said, picking up the newspaper and setting it on his own lap. "This really happened."
Adam didn't want to believe his ears. He said nothing, fighting back the thought that his father may be guilty after all.
"So long ago," he father continued, his eyes partly closed and his head shaking from side to side. "I never wanted you to find out."
Now it was Adam who stared out the window. He was flabbergasted. Never for one moment had he ever considered the story might be true.
"I don't understand. You mean ... you actually shot --"
"No!" his father interrupted. "I did not shoot anyone. But I was in charge. I tried to stop them but..." he could not finish as old memories flooded his weary mind. His head drooped as he slipped into a fit of sobbing.
"It wasn't your fault. You tried," Adam said, trying to console his dad.
"It makes no difference. So many people died. I'll tell you something," the old man said, raising his head. "There were two children, two little boys, they..." but again he was unable to finish. He took a moment. His face was lined with sadness and remorse as the painful memories flooded back into his consciousness.
"After it happened," he continued, "I reported it to the German Commander in the area. He told me it was 'good'. He said it was 'necessary'.
"Right after that I escaped to Switzerland. Then I come to Montreal. That is why I can never go back to Poland. They would put me in prison. I would die there. I never told what happened, but I never forget. Never."
Adam stood quietly beside his father in the wheelchair. He comforted the old man, whom until then, he thought he had known. "No one is going to send you anywhere," Adam assured his father. "We have a good lawyer who will help us. Sherry and I and the kids love you very much. We won't let anything happen to you."
The old man reached up and squeezed Adam's hand. The son suddenly experiencing closeness he had never known before that moment.
When Adam arrived at work he eased his car into his parking space. Staring out at the building, he didn't want to face anyone right now. However, he still had a job to do -- the spring design hinged on the unfinished blueprints on his desk.
He no sooner took his coat off than the figure of his boss loomed in the open doorway. "I saw the paper this morning, Adam," his boss said. "I'm sorry about all this. I don't want to seem insensitive, but I've still got a business to run here, and I need your blueprints. Are you going to be able to finish them, or --"
"Well I'm sorry too," Adam said, coat still in hand. "I know you need me here. It's just that right now I ... well, I thought maybe I could take these drawings home with me. Maybe I could finish them there. I don't feel very comfortable around here right now."
"I've heard the rumors in the plant. I'm sure the men don't mean to hurt you. Some people just don't realize what they're saying."
"Perhaps not, but I'd feel a lot better if I could finish these at home."
"Suit yourself. I can't imagine what you must be going through. I just wish there was something I could do to help."
"I appreciate your concern, sir. But it's just going to take some time," Adam said, dropping his coat in the chair.
Adam was rolling up the large drawing sheets when Ralph entered the office, coffee in hand. "I need to talk to you," Ralph said.
"Well I'm afraid I don't have time right now," Adam replied, cutting Ralph short.
"I saw the paper this morning. I'm sorry. How's Sherry taking it?"
"Okay I guess," Adam replied, not really wanting to talk with Ralph right then.
"We were a little concerned. Sherry hasn't been on the tennis courts lately, and she's not returning any of Lynne's calls, we --"
"What the hell do you expect?" Adam snapped suddenly. "It's not easy for her right now, you know."
"I know, I just thought --"
"Well don't think. You've done enough already."
"Look! I think we should talk about this," Ralph replied, noting the sudden hostility in Adam's voice.
"I just don't want to discuss it."
"I know you're upset, and I don't blame you. I'm your friend, remember? I want to help."
"Yeah, some friend. If it weren't for you my dad wouldn't be in this mess. Do you know that they're kicking him out of the senior's home now?"
"I'm sorry about that, I really am. I --"
"Would you two keep it down," a woman said, suddenly appearing from the next office. "If you're going to stand there yelling at each other, the least you could do is close the door."
"Don't worry," Adam barked. "He's leaving."
"I am like hell. We're going to straighten this out."
"You're going to get the hell out of my office, that's what you're going to do," Adam ordered, pointing to his door.
"Bullshit!" Ralph barked.
"No. Bullshit to you too! This is my office, and I'm telling you, get the hell out of here. Now!"
"Fine! And you can damn well go to hell," Ralph yelled, and turned towards the still open door.
"I'm already in hell, thanks to you!"
Ralph didn't answer. He stormed out the door and headed back into the plant. Several office workers, who had gathered around during the commotion, returned to their work. The big boss was standing in his office doorway, where he had taken notice but had chosen not to intervene. Adam got the message as he passed the main office on his way out, a roll of drawings under his arm.
It was Wednesday morning. Adam continued to work at home. He had until Friday to complete the blueprints. The senior's home was pressuring him to move his father, and he had yet to prepare his father for the upcoming hearings. The boys were staying home from school due to pressure from other students. It was a sorry mess and the stress was taking its toll. Both boys, as well as their mother, were going to great lengths to avoid Adam. Tension in the house grew as nerves wore thin and Adam's temper flared.
Then, shortly after lunch on Thursday, Adam received a panic phone call from the senior's home. "... It's your father. Something's happening to him," they advised.
"What? What's happening?" Adam asked.
"We don't know. The ambulance is on its way --"
Adam didn't wait to hear any more. He grabbed his coat and rushed out the door. He left Sherry standing in the doorway wondering what was happening.
Adam's fear grew as he pulled his car into the parking lot at the senior's home. An ambulance was parked out front. Next to it was an emergency paramedic vehicle. Both had red lights flashing. Confusion reigned in the entranceway where spectators milled around to gawk and wonder. A small crowd gathered outside the door to his father's room.
"What is it?" Adam called, as he forced his way into the room. "What's the problem?"
When the administrator recognized him she pointed him out to one of the medical attendants.
"You're the son?" the attendant asked, walking over to Adam.
"Yes. What wrong?"
"I'm sorry sir, but your father has suffered an apparent heart attack."
"Oh Jesus no! Is he going to be okay?" Adam asked, in a panicked voice.
"I'm sorry sir. I'm afraid he's gone."
The words hit Adam like a ton of bricks. He hoped desperately that he had heard the man wrong, but the man's facial expression confirmed the worst. Adam walked over to his dad's side. The old man was laying on a stretcher, a sheet pulled over him. With a trembling hand Adam reached out and drew the sheet back from his dad's face.
"What happened?" he asked, looking back towards the administrator.
"We don't know Mr. Broden. He had just finished his lunch. He seemed fine. The girl turned the TV on for him. He always likes to watch TV in the afternoons. They found him about ten minutes later, he was --"
"I would like to be alone with him for a moment?" Adam said. "Just for a moment, please?"
"Ahh, certainly sir," the medical attendant said. "We'll just wait outside the door."
Adam stood quietly, staring down at the now still body of his father. God! He was so sorry. His knees weak, his throat dry -- Adam had never experienced such dispare. A better time with his dad flashed before his eyes, and for a moment, there was no hate, no blame, just fond memories.
Adam didn't ask how she knew, but Sherry met him on the sidewalk when he got home. Tears streamed down her face. She said nothing, only wrapped her arms around her grieving husband and comforted him. A household of tension suddenly transformed to grieving.
Friday morning, as promised, Adam placed the completed blueprints on his boss's desk. Then, as the man stood up, Adam handed him the letter of resignation.
"I'm really sorry, Adam," his boss said, extending his hand in friendship. "The wife and I ... our sympathies go out to you and your family."
"Thank you, sir."
"This resignation, is this really necessary? Wouldn't you like to take some time? Take a leave of absence until you're ready to return to work?"
"No. There is nothing here for us now. The whole family has agreed that we will be better off somewhere else, some place where no one has ever heard our name."
"Well if I can help in any way, just ask. I'll be happy to give you a reference. You did good work here, Adam. I hate to lose you."
"Thank you sir. I'll clean out my desk before I go."
Adam was surprised that after so many years in the same office he could fit everything into such a small box.
"I know what happened," Ralph said, from the open doorway.
"I'm not sure I really care," Adam replied sarcastically, not looking up from his task.
"No, I mean I know what happened. I know who spoke to Immigration."
"A lot of good it does now. My father's dead."
Ralph could not bring himself to answer. There was no way of expressing how terrible he felt about the whole thing. "I'm sorry. I...," Ralph tried to get it out, but choked on the words. "I'm really sorry."
Adam could see sincere sadness in Ralph's eyes; the sort of sadness one would expect when good friends part. For a long moment Adam stood and looked at Ralph. Then he turned and walked past him towards the car.
Part way across the parking lot Adam stopped and turned towards Ralph. "Look ... I need some time, all right? Maybe after we get settled down somewhere ... I'll call you."
Ralph said nothing. He pursed his lips a bit and nodded, the beginnings of a smile crossing his face.
Adam found it strange how a lifetime of aspirations, work, friendships, not only for himself but also for his family, could boil down to nothing. All gone. He sat in the midst of a living room full of packing boxes. Sherry stood at his side as, one at a time; he fed the now unwanted pages of his new family history into the fireplace. They watched as flames licked at the pieces of paper and consumed them forever.
"It's better this way," he said, looking up at his wife. "We had a perfectly good family history before. I should have left well enough alone."
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