"It'll be there," I told her.
"Good," she commented with a shiver. "I almost forgot how cold it gets around here. How you doin', Doc?"
Through the connecting window to the camper, we heard dryly, "I'm surviving, thank you."
The truck rolled down the access road alongside the lake just before 10 o'clock. As we passed the camper van, I suddenly felt a wave of fondness for our home-away-from-home during these past few months; it probably needs a good overhaul, I noted to myself. Monk was waiting for us, and he waved Dot to a parking spot.
"All ashore that's going ashore," she said as she turned off the engine.
We stretched like cats as we touched the ground. Even Clark, climbing out of the camper, arched his back and flexed his muscles like a runner at the end of a marathon. Dot greeted her granddad with a big hug, then walked to the house. Monk reached us with hugs and handshakes, telling us how glad he was to see us alive and well. He commented on Dot's truck, and he and Clark took a quick tour of it.
I watched them disappear around the far side, then my nose caught the smell of hot chocolate, and I turned to see Dot approaching with two steaming mugs. She handed one to me, and I cupped my hands around it to warm them. "Thanks."
She took the other one to Clark as he and Monk drew near. Then we all headed for the house, glad to be home.
"Yes, sir? Can I help you?" the receptionist at Martin and Associates greeted with a professional smile.
The law offices had only been open a few minutes when the dapper young man with the briefcase walked confidently through the doors. His features were strong and attractive, his black hair and moustache expertly styled. He did not smile, but held out a business card while introducing himself.
"Jefferson Davis Frye. To see Douglas Martin."
She picked up the phone and announced him. A moment or two later, Martin greeted the man with an extended arm. "Mr. Frye," he said amiably. "Good to meet you. Please, come into my office."
As they sat, Martin looked across his desk at the young lawyer. He glanced down a couple of times as the visitor stated his purpose. "I have a court order here to obtain from you all information pertaining to a couple of clients of yours, Mr. James Moore and Mr. Don Iverson." He lobbed the folded document gently on the desktop.
Martin leaned back, unfolded the papers, and examined them. Then he leaned forward and handed it back to the younger man.
"Like I told your associate over the phone, I don't know these two men," he announced. "I don't know how this is going to change things. Sorry to let you down."
Frye sat silently waiting, unmoved. Martin leaned back in his leather executive chair, smiled to himself, and decided to end this game.
"Look, Jeff. I know your reputation, and I know who you work for. You brought the right ammunition for the job, but there's nothing here to hunt. I may be an old man, but my memory is quite intact. Now, for the record, we have never had a James Moore or a Don Iverson as clients of this firm." He smiled briefly, then his face went serious. "Now get out of my office."
Frye sat a moment more, then slowly stood. "This matter is far from over," he announced ominously. Then he turned and walked out of the office, deliberately leaving the door open behind him.
Martin grinned and shook his head, then moved around and closed his own door. Returning to his desk, he opened a lower side drawer and looked in. "Hmm. Nice briefcase. I wonder where they had the recording equipment installed?" he mused aloud, looking over the readout from the scanners that examined the electronic surveillance gear that Mr. Frye had smuggled into his office. Then he closed the drawer and turned his chair to look out the window at the twin towers of the World Trade Center just poking above the top of the skyscrapers in the distance. "I have to admit, she's determined. And, just possibly, desperate. She'll be back." He rubbed his chin thoughtfully and looked over at his computer. "Perhaps a sacrifice is in order," he said with a smile.
Jefferson Davis Frye played the recording in Penelope Savage's office. She sat back in her leather executive chair, her hands before her, fingertips touching. Frye dutifully sat in a chair off to the side. The recording ended and Frye switched it off. He smoothly ejected the tape and placed it on her desk. Her well-manicured hand reached out and curled around the cassette.
The lawyer spoke. "That old man's playing it cool. But it's clear he's hiding something." He started to outline several options, then stopped and asked, "What's our next move, Penelope?"
"I'll get back to you," she said crisply. "Thanks, Jeff."
He obediently left the room, closing the door behind him and leaving the lady to consider things.
She turned to her computer and re-read the email from Douglas Martin.
"Dear Penny. The next time you send someone on a wild goose chase, at least provide them with some manners. And please reconsider using digital recorders; those microcassettes are downright noisy. Have a nice day. Douglas."
She pressed the Delete key. "You're clever, old man," she mused aloud as she slowly strolled around the office. "It's no coincidence that you're part of this. Ham's old law firm . . . Ham's old law buddy. Well, it seems that the direct route won't with you." She stood before the window that looked down upon the skyscrapers of Manhattan and smiled. "Perhaps a stronger strategy is in order."
After a light lunch, Clark, Monk, and I dismissed to the den for a private talk.
"Okay, let me cut right to the chase," the simian Monk said. "You're probably wonderin' why I didn't let you both in on the backup plan. Right?"
"Correct," answered Clark.
"It's simple. A backup plan is there in case it's needed. If it's not needed, it doesn't matter." He paused to let the point sink in. "I suspected Patty might do something this dirty, but I didn't want to give you cause to worry needlessly, especially concerning yourselves over Gumball and Dot. You two had enough on your hands." Then he looked at Clark and gave him a mischievous smile. "Besides, Doc, how many times, when we was workin' together, did YOU have a backup plan that none of us knew about 'til you sprung it on us? This is just my way of replying in kind, and havin' somethin' there if you needed it."
Clark reluctantly nodded. "Point taken."
Monk continued. "Look, Doc. Patty and I had our moment, and, as far as I'm concerned, it's history. I'm as surprised at what she's become as you are. But when you were gonna meet with her, and didn't have a backup plan in case things got ugly, I was . . . inspired . . . to cover your butts. And praise God for it, otherwise you'd both be in a cell on Caroline Island."
Clark's countenance softened. He smiled. "Agreed. Thank you, Monk."
He shrugged it off. There was a long pause. "There's more," he prompted. "Spill it."
I spoke this time. "The College."
"Your pit stop." He wasn't surprised by the question.
Clark picked it up. "Gumball told me it was your idea."
"Sure was." The simian-like countenance didn't waver. "And since you haven't punched my lights out, it may just have served its purpose."
He paused. "Did it ever occur to you why the College is still standin' there after all these years? The land is mine. I own it. And I made the decision not to tear the building down. Why? As a reminder of the mistakes of the past. It was my very own private millstone, dragging me down deeper every time I visited it."
He walked over to the edge of the desk and sat. "Lemme give ya a little history lesson. When it all boiled down to me, Pat, and Ham, someone had to be the mouthpiece for the group. Ham was too busy, and Pat flat out refused. So I stepped into the spotlight as the diplomat. And you know how diplomatic I can be." He grinned.
"I took responsibility for everything. Not just the collapse of the College, but the loss of Pat's eye . . . and Ham's death. Now, I know I wasn't at fault for any of them, but I took the guilt for it anyway. I felt like I'd failed you, Doc." His eyes met Clark's, then he lowered his head in shame.
"I let the College stay up as a reminder. And I went back to those caves in Maine year after year after year, hopin' to find somethin'. But I found nothing, and came back worse than before. I was a monster."
He released a heavy sigh, and his voice cracked with emotion. "Y'know, I praise God for Lea. She took all my crap all those years, and still loved me through it. Only now I see how."
He stood and moved closer to Clark. "You showed me the freedom of the Cross, but I saw somethin' in you that I recognized from me. It was a subtle torment goin' on inside'a you. You were doin' like me, takin' on the guilt of the world. That's why I gave you a first-hand reality check. To show you the past is the past, and that it needs to be put behind us."
I looked over at Clark. His face was an emotionless mask of bronze.
Monk concluded, "Okay, big guy. I made my decision. Now it's your turn. Will you let the College be a millstone around your neck?"
I was witnessing an amazing thing. It's not easy for a younger man to correct his elder. And in many ways, Monk had always been the younger, and Clark the elder. But now Monk, with decades of experience under his belt, brought a hidden truth to the man he admired and respected beyond any other, and demanded a decision. I saw in Monk the love of a brother and a long-time friend.
Clark sat down and looked up at his dear friend.
"You're absolutely right," he said slowly, his voice emotional. "In New York, I went through my own crisis. In the end I found a place of solitude . . . on the 86th floor in the middle of the night." Monk's eyes went wide with surprise. "I wrestled through a few things there, including Ham's death. And God brought me through it." He took Monk's hand. "And you showed me another facet. Thank you."
"We gotta remember, it's a process, not a magical change."
Clark smiled and nodded. "One step at a time."
"Y'know, maybe it's time for a demolition job on that dilapidated old wreck. Put up somethin' dedicated to life, not death."
"Maybe so," he agreed.
Until this point, I had been silent. But now I walked over to the two men and placed a hand on each shoulder. "Let's pray," I said.
There were no objections.
As we left the den we heard a sudden burst of female laughter. We saw Dot standing, moving animatedly around the living room.
"What's the ruckus?" Monk asked.
Lea answered. "Dot was just telling me about Clark's close encounter with a purse snatcher in Central Park."
I saw Clark turn away.
"Oh, really?" commented Monk. "What happened?"
"It was nothing, really," Clark said softly.
"Nothing? That's not what mom said, and she was there," commented Dot. Then she told the story again. It was new for me, and I was amazed at two things: the feats Clark was capable of, and his refusal to accept credit for them.
The conversation somehow came around to Penelope Savage. "I've never met her," Dot commented. "But if Pat is anything like her daughter, we're all in trouble. No offense, but that lady could've used a couple of classes in child-rearing!"
She didn't notice the exchanges of looks between Clark and Monk. I did.
Monk stood and addressed her. "Hey, Dottie. I need t' talk to you about something. Grab your coat an' follow."
They got their coats and walked towards the lake. A light dusting of snowfall make it look like a fairy tale scene. They swept the snow off a bench and Monk asked her to sit.
"Am I in trouble?" she asked.
"Naw. I just need t' talk to you about somethin'."
"Are you okay?" she continued to probe.
He wanted to say no, but the words came out, "If you mean, am I sick or somethin' -- I'm fine. Now, shaddap and gimme a couple of minutes, okay?"
She took his gruffness in stride. "Sure, granddad."
He took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly. "You know your old granddad's never been one for bein' subtle, right?"
"A long time ago, before your grandma and I got married, in the middle of all that crap that was goin' on with the Senate hearings and such, there was only me, Ham, and Pat. Then Ham got so busy that it was just me and Pat. After she got hurt in a fight, I spent a lot of time with her while she was recovering. I was there when she needed someone. Anyhow, one thing led to another . . . an' . . . she got pregnant."
"You're Penelope's father??" she blurted.
He shook his head. "There ain't no Penelope, sweetheart. An herb called silphium has been keepin' her young. She made up the idea of a daughter to hide the fact that she wasn't gettin' any older."
"But, then, who's the . . ." She froze, and her eyes went wide. "Mom?" she squeaked.
Monk nodded, his heart tying up in knots. "Pat Savage is your birth grandmother. The day your momma was born, Pat put her into my hands. Lea and I were married by then, and she knew the whole truth. I hate to tell you this, sweetheart -- I've never wanted this to even get out -- but I can see you'd find out sooner or later."
"Does mom know?"
"About Pat being her birth mother? No. I haven't needed . . . or maybe haven't had the guts . . . to tell her. Eventually I will. But not now."
Dot was silent, looking down at the ground, then looked up into his eyes. "Why are you telling me now?"
"Because you're gonna be workin' with Doc and Perry, sweetheart, and I wanted you to know it before you heard about it under the wrong circumstances." He paused. "Doc, the master sleuth, deduced the truth about your momma after the first time he met her. When we met, he confronted me with it, and I told them the full story. Shortly after, they suspected Penelope was really Pat, and confirmed it when they met her in person. That's one of the reasons I had you and Gumball as backup, 'cause I suspected she might try some dirty trick like this."
"So who knows that . . . Pat . . . is my grandmother?"
"Clark and Perry. You and me, and Lea. That's it. With the exception of your momma, nobody else needs to know."
Monk looked from Dot, to the lake, then slowly back to her. "Dottie?"
"Yeah?" By her tone, her mind was elsewhere.
"Can you forgive me?" he asked softly.
Her mind snapped back to the present. She stood and wrapped her arms around him, laying her head against his shoulder. "You're my granddad. I love you. I love grandma. That'll never change." She separated from him and looked him in the face. "You've always wanted the best for me and mom. And I'll admit, this is a bit of a shock, but I appreciate you sharing it with me."
He hugged her again. "I love you too, Dottie. Let's go in, okay -- it's getting cold. My arthritis is starting to act up."
She took his hand. As they walked back to the house, Dot leaned in. "You've never had arthritis, you old con artist," she crooned.
The warehouse had closed several hours ago, but a few lights burned inside. Three people -- two men and a woman -- waited in the break room. A dark-haired man paced the room and looked at his watch for the fifth time in as many minutes. "Where th' hell is he?" he muttered.
"Right here, Mr. Rogers," said a voice abruptly from the doorway. Appearing like a shadow was a handsome black man in an equally dark outfit of turtleneck and slacks covered by a long leather coat. He moved smoothly, walking over to a table directly below a pair of florescent lights, and opened his briefcase. His gloved hands placed the contents onto the tabletop as the others gathered around.
Looking them in the eye, he addressed each one by name. "Ms. Carr . . . Mr. Wang . . . Mr. Rogers. Your mission is to enter the law offices of Martin and Associates, and retrieve any and all information relating to these two men." He gestured to the two surveillance camera pictures. "The information we have is on the back."
"Look," interrupted the blonde Ms. Carr. "Why do you need three of us? I could do this job in my sleep."
He produced three envelopes from the inside of his coat. "The contract is for three. In that way nothing is overlooked."
All three grunted discontentedly, but no one refused the money.
"This must take place tomorrow night. You will return here and we will complete our transaction. Any questions?" There were none. "Good luck," he said, then left the three to plan their strategy.
The phone rang. Douglas Martin picked it up on the fourth ring. "Yes?" he mumbled sleepily.
"Hercules Security, sir," a female voice identified. "We have an unauthorized entry. You left instructions to be informed first."
Martin was instantly wide awake. He swung his legs to the floor and sat up. His voice was alert. "Yes, I did. Thank you for calling. Please continue."
"Well, sir, they appear to be professionals. All but the latest level of security was circumvented. Sir, we installed that last level only a few days ago, at your instructions. How did you know we'd need it?"
He smiled. "A hunch."
"We have them under secondary video surveillance. There are three of them, two men and a woman. One is checking out the file cabinets, another is apparently examining your LAN, and the third is in your office examining your personal computer." She paused. "May I make an observation, sir?"
"They act like pros, but they've gotten over-confidant. None of them are disguising their features. That's a mistake, sir."
"Should I call the police now, sir?"
"No." Martin paused. "Listen carefully. You are to take no action against them. Continue video surveillance. Do you have an envelope marked 'Queen's Gambit'?"
"Good. In fifteen minutes, open that envelope and follow the instructions to the letter. Then shred the envelope and its contents. Do you understand?"
"Yes, sir." She paused, then continued cautiously. "Forgive me, sir, but this is very odd."
"What's your name, dear?"
She was reluctant. "Daniels, sir. Michelle Daniels."
Martin shifted to his favorite uncle voice. "Michelle, you're absolutely correct. This is very odd indeed. But it's also very important that it be done in this manner. I appreciate your professionalism. Thank you very much, Miss Daniels."
"You're welcome, sir."
"You're doing just fine. Call me immediately there's any trouble. Good night."
"Good night, sir."
Martin hung up the phone. Then he dialed another number from memory. "Mitch? Doug. Sorry to wake you, but the guests have arrived. Yeah. Eleven minutes to Queen's Gambit." He paused, and laughed. "Good, Mitch. Have fun. See you in the morning."
He hung up the phone, swung into bed, and went back to sleep. "God, this is fun. Makes me feel like a cadet again," he commented to himself with a chuckle.
Pat Savage looked at the package. It had arrived fifteen minutes ago via UPS, but had to pass the usual security sweeps. The Manhattan return address had become smudged in transit. She removed the videotape from the padded mailer and turned it over in her hands. Ordinary enough, no label, she observed. With her left hand she opened the second drawer in her desk and pressed a button on a special panel next to a VCR slot. A section of wall slid aside to reveal a large monitor screen. She inserted the tape into the slot.
There was no sound, but the images were interesting. Three people moving with deliberate actions about a deserted office. "A security camera," she commented. An inset window suddenly appeared at lower right, showing the date and time the images were captured. "Last night."
The inset window did not move, but the action did. The three people finished their business and headed for the door, cautiously resetting security alarms. Pat had an uneasy feeling building within her.
Suddenly the image split into two frames, both showing the action taking place at the door, but from different angles. She watched the transition as the trio left the building and walked to a nearby car. As they did, the camera zoomed in on each person's face, freezing it for a moment, and a caption appeared identifying each person -- JULIA CARR, HARRY ROGERS, and XU WANG -- along with a few pertinent facts of their criminal history. Then it zoomed in on the licence plate of the vehicle, a rental. The caption identified the make and model of the vehicle, then displayed the disturbing statement CURRENT RENTAL: DANIEL FRANKLIN, PATRICIA INC. Pat groaned and cursed under her breath.
The trio climbed into the vehicle and left. The inset window continued to show real time. As Pat watched with mouth agape, the camera suddenly gained altitude and followed the vehicle. Additionally, the image became filtered through an eerie green and the words NIGHT VISION MODE appeared at the bottom of the screen.
"How?" repeated Pat incredulously.
The pursued vehicle drove through the streets of Manhattan and parked in front of a waterfront warehouse. Two of the occupants -- the woman Carr and the man Rogers -- climbed out and scouted the area.
"Why can't they see the blasted camera?" she yelled at the screen.
The question was left unanswered as a second vehicle came into range and parked a few feet from the other car, and the driver climbed out. As the camera zoomed in on the face of the black man with the all-black outfit, the sickening feeling in Pat multiplied geometrically. The image froze for a moment, as well as the time display, and the caption DANIEL FRANKLIN appeared. Then the action continued as the black man exchanged three envelopes for a packet handed from Rogers. They shook hands, and Franklin climbed back into his car.
The vehicles went in separate directions, but the mysterious camera now tailed Franklin's car, as Pat exploded in profanity directed at the black man and his pursuers. She sat mesmerized as his vehicle was followed into the heart of the city, and straight to the twin towers of the World Trade Center, and its underground parking garage.
"No, no, NO," she repeated. She felt helpless, like a witness to an accident, unable to keep it from happening. Without the slightest awareness of his watchers, Franklin strolled from his car to an elevator, the packet held in his gloved hand. He inserted a card into a slot to allow him access. As the doors slid closed behind him, the camera zoomed on the bronze plaque next to the elevator:
Pat held her breath, waiting. Instead, the screen faded to black. She exhaled, then gasped.
A new image looked out from the screen. Douglas Martin's face smiled at her.
"My dear Penelope. By now you should have looked over the information your little thieves took from my place last night. But, let me assure you, they're just as phony as your little mother-daughter act. I just hope you ran the computer files through a virus checker before reading them." Her eyes went wide, and looked down at the diskette on the desk.
"But enough of that. I do hope you liked my little home movie. I went to a lot of trouble to make it, but I wanted to make a point. Don't screw around with me, or I will take the masters of this little production to some Federal friends of mine. I'm sure they'd find it quite interesting.
"One final thing. Do you remember 'Mission: Impossible'? Count to ten, sweetheart. Have a nice day." The picture faded out on his smiling face.
Inside her head, the count finished. Her eyes caught the wisp of smoke curling up from the open end of the videocassette mailer to her right, and she quickly swept it into the metal trash can next to her desk. As it whooshed into flame, she also noticed the smoke rising from the VCR slot, and understood Martin's comment. But before she could respond to the situation, the smoke alarm kicked in, filling the air with a shrieking din.
A moment later, Pat's secretary burst into the office, accompanied by another employee with a fire extinguisher. "False alarm! Turn it off!" she yelled over the alarm, pouting as fading wisps of smoke curled around her desk and were sucked into the air vents.
Through it all she sat motionless, her desire to fly into a rage quenched by the absolute irony of it all. On the one hand, she fought the desire to move with all possible speed to that geezer's office and strangle him with his own rigged videotape. Yet, something inside of her admired him for getting away with such a slick sting operation on her. In the end, she had decided that pursuing him would be counter-productive.
Besides, he knew her secret, and that made him dangerous.
As far as Martin went, she'd eventually outlive him, or catch him off-guard. And as far as Clark went, he couldn't hide forever. And when he came into the light, she would be there waiting. It would be just a matter of time.