He could see how someone would love this place. He imagined himself sitting in an Adirondack chair and looking out at the lake. He imagined it was still early, the sun barely over the eastern mountain and dew still on other chairs and the grass. He loved the morning at lakes like this one, with the cool air awaking his senses, the waterfowl beginning to stir, and the quiet stillness making it possible for him to hear the lapping of the water against the beach sand. In another place and time, he would use the cabin and surrounding forest as a respite, a place to escape the drudgery of everyday life or a place where he could overcome writer’s block. However, reality wasn’t like that.
Micah Vaughn sat on pine straw and against a pine tree. He needed to reload his Sigma, a Smith and Wesson semi-automatic pistol, and found cover behind this tree. He used two 16-round magazines during the ambush, emptying them into the cabin. He wasn’t sure if any of his shots had hit the two men inside, but their return fire wasn’t as rapid recently.
His heart was pounding. He was sweating. He was bleeding for two wounds; a flesh wound, a scratch, on his left shoulder and shrapnel in his right thigh, parts of a .22 bullet entering his body after first hitting his car. Though he had been a private investigator for five years and had qualified to carry a concealed weapon, this is the first time he’s had to use it in anger. The words his father told him when Vaughn received his concealment license ran through his mind, “If you’re going to remove it from the holster, you better damn kill the person!” He shook his head: he didn’t know if he killed one of them or not.
The private investigator ejected the spent magazine, removed a full one from the ammo belt he put across his chest, and slammed it into the gun. He pulled back on the pistol, placing a bullet into the chamber, and peeked around the tree. He swallowed hard, knowing this action would draw fire.
The bullet ricocheted a few feet in front of him, kicking up some straw and dirt. Through the small dust cloud, he saw only one of the men appearing out through an empty window. The agency identified the man as Coles Eades. The researchers said this man was former Army, served ten years without trouble, reaching the rank of technical sergeant before leaving with an honorable discharge. Vaughn learned that the man had a background in hand-to-hand combat, teaching recruits for the last three years of his service. He also received information that told him Eades was just an average gunman.
The last bit should have made him feel better, but it didn’t. He was in a life-or-death situation and knowing the better shooter of the two was not firing at him didn’t matter. A man with an angry gun was still an angry man with a gun. He retreated to the safety of the tree and tried to come up with a plan, one that had him run right to the cabin, gun firing wildly. Nicknamed Chance for having received a second chance at life at three-years-old, he didn’t want to test it now. He needed to come up with a better course of action. He closed his eyes and quickly thought of how to attack Eades safely, without losing his own life.
He knew the direct route wouldn’t work. The former sergeant had the benefit of protection, of being behind walls, albeit ones that were rotting away and full of holes. No, that was a suicide plan.
He thought of heading into the forest and circling around, surprising Eades from the rear. It would have been a great idea, if his thigh weren’t throbbing; reminding him that he had lead in his body. He reached down and felt. It was damper, wetter, than the last time he touched it. He looked down: his right pant leg was a mess of blood and dirt. This damage was bad. He knew it. If he survived this ambush, he would be spending days in the hospital recuperating. Because of this, circling around was out.
Chance thought slinking to the lake, using the grass mounds in front of the beach as cover. He turned and crawled on his belly to the shore. He traveled a few yards before a shot echoed off the distant mountains. Eades shot randomly, believing he was behind the pine. This could work: Chance was out of the line of fire. He reached the soft black sands of the mountain lake and relaxed a moment. He needed it.
He was feeling the blood loss. He was tired. He was dehydrated. He reached into the cold water and cupped his hand. The liquid felt good. It cleared his mind some. He felt an energy burst, one that could get him further down the beach to where he could see the gunman better, but he knew he needed to rest more. He cupped some more water.
“Give it up Vaughn,” Eades called out. He knew Vaughn had moved and wanted to know where. “You know you can’t leave here.” Another shot rang. Vaughn saw a dust cloud rise from his previous location. He smiled inwardly.
Chance stayed silent. Though he was inexperienced in gunfights, he used common sense and didn’t react, knew not to give out his location.
“You know if you do get out of here, we’ll go see that daughter of yours. You know the one that you rarely see because she thinks you’re a lousy father. The one that thinks you should have married her mother.”
He knew it was the truth. Maria was just eight but she was very wise and intelligent. Her mother was a 25-year-old full professor of Mathematics when Chance met her in 1982. She was not his teacher, just someone that covered his Pre-Calculus class. Theresa San Mateo was a beautiful redhead with dark green eyes and when he looked into them for the first time, he felt something. She did too, because she immediately came to him and told him to meet her after class.
Their affair was passionate though short-lived, lasting until the New Year. She left the city, telling him that she was returning home to New York City to work for IBM. He didn’t hear from her until July of 1983 when she called to tell him they had a seven pound, five ounce baby girl she named after her maternal grandmother. Chance wanted to marry her, asked her to do so, but she declined, telling him he could raise the girl by herself.
Chance did see Maria frequently, Theresa and her returned to Schenectady in the fall of 1983. Every time they were together, he asked her mother to marry him, which the woman declined. Over the years, the proposals became infrequent, finally ending when the girl entered kindergarten.
Maria did mince words, however, her anger that her parents weren’t like her friends’ parents. She wanted hers to be married, to live together. She wanted the idyllic family situation. Her disappointment was beginning to wane. The last time Chance saw her, she told him that it was good that he didn’t live with her and her mother.
“Mommy’s been spoiling me more,” were her first words to him when she buckled in his car. He smiled: they weren’t going to argue.
Chance wanted to tell Eades that Maria was now fine with him not married to her mother, that she’s made peace with them never marrying. He opened his mouth to answer, but the shot that fired made him close it. He went to take another drink of water when he saw them, three round stones the size of baseballs, and a new plan materialized in his mind.
He quickly took a few more sips of water and grabbed the lake stones. He put two in his pockets and readied himself. He would throw the first stone over the cabin, distracting the gunman enough to allow Chance to hobble away from the water’s edge. He would throw a second stone towards his original hiding spot. That distraction would let the private investigator burst onto the porch and into the door, where he’d open fire and kill Eades. Chance took a few deep breaths and crawled to a grassy knoll. He peered over it and saw a rifle barrel still pointing at the pine.
“It’s now or never,” he mumbled to himself. He stood and launched the stone. He heard it land on metal, more than likely the tin roof on the back porch. He saw the rifle leave the window frame. Chance crawled up the knoll and tried to sprint across the field grass and wildflower choked lawn. He threw the second rock, missing his target by a few yards.
“You’re an idiot,” he heard Eades say before another shot rang out. It worked.
Chance tried to run faster, but his leg gave, caused him to stumble before he reached the potted and broken boards of the porch. He rushed towards the door, steeled himself for the crash against hard wood.
The door, once ornate now, had rotted to almost nothing. It exploded when Chance’s body hit it. The Sigma was in his right hand, ready to fire when he entered the cabin.
“Hello,” the private investigator said before he pulled the trigger three times, each bullet hitting the target. Eades fell to the floor, blood coming from holes to his left shoulder, stomach, and forehead. Chance did not holster his weapon as he approached the fallen advisory, unsure of whether or not he was still alive. He kicked at him with his Timberlands: the wide-eyed man did not move.
He placed his pistol away and leaned down. He closed the man’s eyes. He turned to his left and saw the other man, Eric Judge, seated on an old leather chair. His head and neck bent backwards, telling Chance that he, too, was dead. He sighed heavily and collapsed onto the floor, the pain and blood loss made him woozy for a moment.
“I should have listened to her,” he thought, she being his secretary, Marcy Hunter. Earlier, she had told him that he was walking into an ambush. She told him that Van Rossum and his men didn’t want to meet peacefully and discuss the information he had. Mrs. Hunter told him that Van Rossum had the location; someone from the agency had leaked it to him.
“I’ll be careful Mrs. Hunter,” he told her when he left the office. Now, as he sat bleeding and in need of a doctor, he knew she was right. He should not have come.
He sat on the floor for ten minutes before attempting to stand. The thigh was now too painful, the exertion to run from the beach too much. He fell back down, onto his hands and knees. He pushed himself back up, this time putting no weight on his right leg.
He hopped out of the cabin, off the porch, and headed to his car. He saw that it survived the shootout with just a few holes. He smiled, believing that he’d survived his first gunfight. He was a few yards from the Chevy when he felt the pain of a bullet entering him back.
Van Rossum was there. He didn’t see the executive when he arrived; thought the man wouldn’t soil his hands with this task. He was wrong. Chance fell to the ground. His breathing became immediately difficult. He knew the bullet hit a lung.
He looked up and saw he was close to his car. He gathered strength and crawled to it. Another shot rang, this one hitting just to his left. He crept faster. He went in front of the car and relaxed a moment: he had cover.
Chance opened the door and pulled himself in. The key was still in the ignition. That was a good sign. He turned on the car, and tried to sit up. He fell to his right: pain was great. He fell on an envelope of pictures, a gift the previous day from his sister Veronica.
They were from a prom he attended eight years previously, forgotten about and packed away in his mother’s home. She told him that she found them while she and their mother were cleaning out the attic, looking for baby pictures of their youngest sister Stephanie. She gave them to him during lunch. He was going to look at them better when he got home, but never brought them inside.
Two pictures fell out under him. He pushed himself up and looked at them. He saw the smiling, innocent face of his younger self, turned towards the more loving face of his date, his first love, Antoinette De Fiore. The same electricity he felt when he first saw her ten years ago coursed through his body.
“I miss you,” he caught himself saying. He tried again to sit. This time, he had nothing left and stayed down. He began to see darkness creep into the edges of his sight. He tried to take a normal breath, but it hurt. He couched and knew there was blood coming from his mouth.
Chance heard footsteps on the gravel outside the car. Again, he tried to get up, sit and drive away. Nothing happened. He coughed again.
The passenger door opened. He heard a laugh in the distance. The darkness was creeping more into his vision. He knew he was going to pass out soon.
Chance raised his head slightly, faced the man. He knew it was Van Rossum; it could be no one else. He saw the barrel of a pistol facing him. Chance fell back down, resigned himself to his fate.
He heard a shot ring out in the distance as the darkness enveloped him.
The teenager awoke with a start, his ears still hearing a gunshot. He looked around and saw that he was in familiar surroundings: his bedroom. He sighed heavily in realization that it was just a dream, but he felt pain in his shoulder, in his back. He felt pain, albeit slight, when he breathed. His right thigh burned faintly.
It was just a dream, he reassured. He didn’t know why he still felt where bullets had entered his body, but comforted himself that it didn’t happen.
“Don’t be so sure,” someone in his mind whispered.
He jumped out of bed. “What in the Hell?”
He jumped out of his bed, landing a few feet away. He looked around to see if anyone else was in his room, he was alone. He had an uneasy feeling, felt like someone, or something, was inside his mind or was occupying his soul.
Micah Vaughn was seventeen, an athlete with no delusions. He knew that his career in soccer would not go beyond the next level – community college for the next two years then perhaps onto a four-year school – and was okay with it. He knew his future lay with computers, something his father and those that worked with him at the bank.
“Computers are the future, Micah,” the bank’s Vice President of Information told him two years ago. The teen took it to heart, looked at colleges that offered majors in computers, either Computer Science or Information Technology. He found several in New York and his grades were good enough, but unfortunately, his finances weren’t. He and his parents sat down and decided that he should enter a two-year school, graduate and hope that his soccer play and/or his grades would garner a scholarship.
He knew he heard a voice, clear as day. He knew someone was with him, like another soul. The uneasiness returned, greater than originally. A cold shiver ran up and down his spine. From his early Catholic school Religion classes Micah knew that hearing voices was a sign of possession, or at the least, a demon was attempting to enjoy his soul. He thought of going for his rosary, a gift from his maternal grandfather, but remembered a few other stories the nuns told. He relaxed when he remembered that saints and guardian angels could talk, too, to a person, to guide them.
He returned to his bed and relaxed further. He recalled what his paternal grandmother told him, along with his sisters and several cousins, the tale about a warrior with two spirits. “He did great things,” was the last line of the tale. He smiled and looked up at the ceiling. He contemplated about returning to sleep but thought better of it. He saw the sun was up, though barely, the perfect time for him to get out of the house. He rolled over, grabbed his glasses off the nightstand and walked to his dresser. Pulling out a pair of running shorts and t-shirt, his mind wandered back to the voice.
“Don’t be so sure,” it said. He sat on the edge of the bed and thought.
It was familiar, he thought. He knew the voice, but couldn’t think of where or when he heard it before. He shook his head and tied his sneakers. Micah had a run to do, four miles through the streets of Schenectady and into Central Park. The run would do him some good.
He walked down the stairs from his third floor bedroom and bathroom to the main floor, trying not to wake his sisters and parents. At the foot of the stairs, the family dog Sean, a Labrador retriever/Irish setter mix, met him. Noticing the back door closed, Micah opened it, allowing the large, black-furred dog to run out, the backyard fenced in.
He grabbed a small plastic bottle of orange juice from the refrigerator and downed it quickly. Refreshed and energized, Micah left the house and walked quickly up the street, stretching his back and arms simultaneously. When he reached the top, he stretched his thighs, groin, and calves. He looked up the street, up Bradley Boulevard and began the four-mile trip.
It was not yet 6 AM, the best time for him to run. There was no one else on the sidewalk. He saw no one else running. He saw only a few cars, believing they were bringing people to work at the market or at the bakery one the other side of the park. He reached the top of the hill and smiled.
He saw the sun was climbing in the east, casting its rays across the pine and maple trees. The sparse, low-hanging clouds were a light orange, the color of the jersey he wore in February while playing indoors in St. Petersburg. A soft breeze was coming from his right, from the south. On it, he could smell rain. His smile waned: Antoinette was going to be disappointed.
The voice returned, “No she won’t.”
Micah wanted to stop, wanted to figure out what was going on in his mind, but he sensed he should keep running, that the voice would leave him alone for a while. He crossed the street and headed down into the park.
The city had fixed the sidewalk that led down into the park, a good thing. It allowed Micah’s mind to wander and not have to be alert to holes and loose cement. When he ran distance on the track at Linton High School, he would talk to himself, discuss upcoming events or go over notes for tests he had in his head. When he would do roadwork alone, he would talk to himself, to keep himself from being bored and stop running.
She won’t be disappointed, he said. It was more of a question than a statement. Antoinette wouldn’t mind a little rain on the day of the prom, he wondered, hoping for the voice or whatever it was would answer. When he crossed into the park and onto the old tram road that circled Iroquois Lake he answered himself.
She loves listening to the rain, he reminded himself. The first month of their relationship, before they began their junior years, she confessed to him as they sat in a pizzeria.
“The sound of the summer rain relaxes me,” she told him. “It allows me to forget any troubles I have.”
He smiled as he approached a couple out for a walk, the woman holding a leashed dog. The man nodded at Micah: He returned a nod.
That’s what the voice meant, Micah thought. She’ll be okay if it rains.
He approached the Duck Pond and decided to run the long way, forget the road that intersected the pond and the lake. He would run three loops of the Long Run, instead of six times around just the lake.
Why am I so anxious? He asked. It’s not the dream that has me nervous. It can’t be the dream, can’t be the voice. It has to be something else. I have too much anxiety about school. Graduation is in a few weeks. I’ll no longer be a big fish in a small pond. It has to be. That will explain the dream.
What if that’s not the reason? The reason could be that I’m afraid of not making her night special. I could ruin it by being nervous, by being an idiot towards her friends. I could make a comment that would upset her. I could go too far with her afterwards.
His heart was pounding, not from the run, but from the self-induced anxiety. She was his first love, he knew, she knew, the families knew it. He didn’t want to screw it up, end their special relationship on her special night. He quickened his pace in an effort to stop over-thinking.
His quick burst had him pass several other runners. He could hear them mumble obscenities as he passed, but paid no attention. Micah had an agenda, and that was to get himself calm. He didn’t need to stop and talk to others, have to explain his increased speed, apologize for making them look slow. No, he had something important to do.
You won’t do screw it up, Micah told himself. You’ll be good, behave, and listen to her. You know better than that. You’ve not pressed against her boundaries yet, and tonight won’t be any different. You two respect and love each other.
He passed an elderly couple sitting on a bench feeding ducks. He smiled and slowed running back at his original speed. He sighed heavily and realized that he was being ridiculous; there was no need to worry. They were going to have a good time and she was going to remember this evening for the rest of her life. He would, too.
Micah dispatched the rest of his run without further thought of the voice or dream. He was relaxed and enjoying the run. He exited after the third lap and headed back up the road. He was grateful again to the city for replacing the sidewalk.
When he reached the top of Monument Hill, he stopped and ran in place. He shook out his arms and hands. He walked to a red maple tree and put his hands against it. He pushed lightly, extended his left leg back. He stretched out his calf and Achilles tendon. After a few moments, he repeated the action for his right leg. He stood straight and took several deep breaths, holding them for a moment before exhaling. He closed his eyes and took one last deep breath.
He cleansed his lungs and mind. He was no longer anxious about his life, about the impending prom. All the causes of nervousness had left him. He opened his eyes and headed home. He was sure his father was up and out of the house by now, off to one of his brothers’ houses to help with fixing a car or off to one of his race buddies’ garage to get a car ready for the evening’s event at Fonda Speedway.
He walked the three blocks home.
“How was the run brother dear?” a voice asked as he stood in front of the open refrigerator, not sure to have another bottle of juice or a can of soda before showering. Micah turned and saw his youngest sister.
Stephanie had their mother to thank for her looks. Pale skin, light brown hair, pale blue eyes like their mother, she was also short, standing barely five feet tall at 14-years-old. Their older sisters, Ewa and Veronica, were not much taller, standing only an inch taller than mother Johanna, who was five feet, three inches tall.
Micah smiled. “It was good.” He had decided against both the juice and soda. He walked to the sink, grabbed a glass, and poured himself cold water.
She did a double take as he walked. She squinted. “Did you do something with your hair?”
“No, why do you ask?”
She shook her head. She was mistaken. She thought there was something different about him. It wasn’t his looks, his hair, though for a moment she thought he looked older. She could have sworn his hair was shorter and had some gray in it. When he turned to look at her, she thought she saw a different person looking at her for a moment. Both things dissipated quickly, but it had unnerved her.
“It’s nothing. I’m not awake.” The latter statement was more for her sake and not his.
Micah finished his drink and placed the glass in the sink. “You okay Steph?”
She nodded, “Yes, just not awake.”
He shook his head and silently left the kitchen, his sister standing in the middle, watching him. He turned and headed up to his room. He needed a shower. He also needed to talk to the voice, the person that was sharing his mind or soul.
Who are you? He asked when he opened the door. I need to know. Are you going to hurt me? Are you here to possess me? What’s your plan for me?
There was no immediate answer, upsetting Micah. He removed his sneakers and tossed them close to his old oak desk. He took off his shirt and tossed it into the bathroom. He followed it. He stood in front of the small mirror and was about to ask the questions again.
“I’m not going to harm you,” it finally answered. “I’m not a demon or a saint. I’m not here to possess your soul.”
Micah took a few steps back. He thought for a moment that he saw another pair of eyes reflected back. They looked like his, but appeared to be older, tired. He looked back and saw only his one face and eyes staring back.
“Sorry about that,” the voice said.
Who are you?
“I can’t tell you, but I can tell you that I’m not here to harm you, hurt you.”
Are you my guardian angel?
“No, I’m not. I can tell you that I’m someone you know.”
Okay, are you someone from my past?
“Enough questions, please. I don’t know how to tell you who I am, or whether I should. I can tell you again, I’m not here to hurt you.”
Easiness came over the teenager. He sensed the presence, though still with him, had gone to sleep, left him alone. He shook his head and ran the shower’s hot water.
She sat in her bedroom and looked out the window. Up for an hour, awoken by a truck’s backfire, she couldn’t return to sleep. She was nervous. Her prom was this evening. She was apprehensive, unsure of how Micah Vaughn will be.
Antoinette De Fiore met him two years ago while both were at Thompson’s Lake Campgrounds, she with her family, he with an aunt and her friend. From the start, their relationship was different, by her choice. They were together, almost inseparable, the first three days, spending the time getting to know each other. She realized that he was someone special, someone that she wanted to be with, but really would make it impossible.
Fifteen miles separated their homes, but it might as well have been 1500. Neither of them drove. She didn’t live on a direct bus line. They could meet at a mall midway, but that wouldn’t leave them with much privacy. It was her idea for them to be “boyfriend/girlfriend” for the few days they had left at the campgrounds then become friends. She added they could date during holidays and school breaks, an idea with which he whole-heartily agreed.
Antoinette felt Micah was special, different from the other boys she’d dated. She felt he was different that first weekend at camp, and as they spent time together over the years, his actions confirmed her thoughts. Micah was considerate, understanding, and there when she needed a shoulder to cry on, even if it were over the phone.
When her grandmother passed two months after they met, she spent hours on the phone with him. He let her speak; let her get out all the emotions she had inside. When he didn’t turn the conversation around to him, let her get it all it, that’s when Antoinette realized he was someone special.
She asked him to her prom, to escort her, in March. It wasn’t a difficult decision. Antoinette had several boys ask her, but she declined all offers. She knew she wanted Micah to be with her on her special day.
“But what if he’s disappointed in my gown?” she told her mother the previous night. “He told it didn’t matter that I wasn’t wearing an expensive one, but still, I don’t want to disappoint him.”
“Oh, he won’t be,” Antoinette was reassured.
She smiled, remembering how her mother’s words made her feel. She was right, of course. Micah wouldn’t mind. She was just being foolish.
“My God, he doesn’t know many people,” she thought. “He’ll feel like an outcast.”
Antoinette thought for a moment, thinking of his interaction with her friends. He didn’t meet many, just a few of her girlfriends when they met up at the mall. She smiled: he was courteous and laughed with them. She sighed heavily: Again, she was worrying over nothing.
Antoinette blushed. The instant image of him trying something she didn’t want to do - wasn’t ready to do - flashed into her mind. She was a teenage girl. She was a good Catholic. She would think of these things. It was only natural. She knew he wouldn’t do anything against her will, wouldn’t push the boundaries, but she still thought it. Again, she thought she was acting foolishly: she had no worries. Micah was a perfect gentleman around her, not even attempting to touch or ask her to do anything remotely naughty.
She could see the dark clouds off in the distance. They looked like rain was coming. She opened the window and inhale, as Micah taught her. There was a faint smell of rain. She smiled, forgetting all her worries. The rain will help her wash away all her fears and anxieties over tonight.
Antoinette stood and grabbed her bathrobe. She looked at the time, knew that Micah would be back from a morning run. She contemplated calling, but thought better of it. Hearing his voice might calm her, but their talk could cause her to worry all over again.
She headed down stairs to the kitchen for breakfast.
He sat alone, in a back booth, two thick brown file folders in front of him, handed them yesterday as he left the office, given to him by his longtime secretary. Originally, he planned to read them last evening, but decided to wait until the morning. Reading in coffee shops and cafes was what he did as a college student, and he wouldn’t stop now.
Kiliaen Van Rossum was born into privilege and prestige. The Van Rossums were one of the first families to come to Schenectady, having first settled in New Amsterdam before coming north, where they found success as fur traders and merchants, with only the Van Rensselaers having a larger fortune. When the English claimed the colony and renamed it New York, the Van Rossums transitioned well, being able to keep much of their wealth.
During the Revolutionary War, the family lent the New York colony money without hopes of recovering any. The lost half of the wealth, but were fortunate to prosper in the post-War era. The succeeding generations, however, were not so successful, losing all by the good name of Van Rossum. Wealth didn’t return to the family until the mid-1870s, when Johannus Van Rossum was able to sell his small railroad to Cornelius Vanderbilt’s New York Central. With that profit, he invested into companies that worked closely and directly with the railroad monopoly.
Servants and nannies raised Kiliaen, when he wasn’t off to New England boarding schools. Because of this, he grew to have a sense of entitlement and have an heir of arrogance. He graduated from Union College and attended the State University of New York at Albany, leaving before earning a Master’s, having the opportunity to go into business, joining boarding school pals in purchasing a struggling business machine manufacturer. In less than a year, they turned the company around, earning a good market share, enough so that IBM offered to buy them out for $675 million. His portion was $305 million, which he immediately put to use in diversified companies.
In 1980, he returned to Schenectady. He had been working out of New York City, but tax breaks and other incentives, such as a new trade center, from the city and county lured him back. His corporation, Van Rossum and Company, took the two top floors of the Beverwyck Trade Center building number one. With all wealth and power, he could have Saturday breakfast at his manor in Loudonville, but he chose to be in downtown Schenectady, appear to be one of the people. In truth, he couldn’t care about others, but he loved the croissants and coffee the Woodland Café offered. Van Rossum also loved to read in public, especially in cafes. He felt he retained more information that way.
He opened the smaller of the two files and began reading it. Van Rossum personally hired the private investigator, a man that came with impeccable credentials and glowing recommendations as a person that can find the impossible. Gregory Phillips spent 15 years in military intelligence after graduating from the University of Chicago. It was during this time where he made contacts with law officials from New York, contacts he used to garner the expensive information Van Rossum now had before him.
Phillips’s report began with an overview, detailing the events that took place on October 31, 1923. Van Rossum knew them already: he’s heard it told and retold every holiday. What he wanted were the names of the suspects and details of their lives and those of their families since that night. He flipped through the introduction and stopped at the list of suspects.
In 1963, Van Rossum’s uncle, Nathan, commissioned a report, wanting to know how the authorities at the time could not catch the perpetrators, or recover the only item taken, a 17th century painting of an Indian village. That first report noted all the suspects had passed away, most died within a year of the robbery. Van Rossum wanted to know about the families of the suspects, and if there were any others.
Phillips was thorough. He researched the initial reports, along with reading the private notes of the detectives. He found additional names, some of whom didn’t meet with untimely demises. The private investigator also researched the families. Van Rossum fingered through that part of the report and saw nothing interesting. Disgusted, he closed the file and tossed it to the other side of the table.
“Miss, can I have more coffee, please?” he asked as a redheaded server walked past with a half-filled pot. She smiled and poured the hot black liquid into his mug. He thanked her and placed the cup back on the table. He opened the second file and smiled.
This one was less expensive, compiled by his staff and two local historians. Van Rossum wanted to know where possible locations of the painting could be, where rumors had placed it. Family legends said it could be anywhere, from back at the mansion from where it was stolen to be in a closet in the New York State Museum. He wanted a list of them all, all the places where legends and rumors have it. With the locations known, he could narrow it down to plausible places, and then could formulate plans to search for it.
He took a sip of coffee and opened it.