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"Good morning Professor Benedict," William said. "I was visiting my grandmother, Geraldine Wilson for her 90th birthday and found this letter. She knew I collected stamps and I discovered this letter along with some other letters that my grandfather had sent her while stationed in Europe during the war. This particular letter was addressed to my grandfather and he never got a chance to read it, because he died a few days earlier. The envelope has a complete set of Graf Zeppelin postage stamps from Germany that issued in 1931. I noticed the unbroken swastika seal on the back of the envelope and almost flipped. I was so thrilled, but as I looked closer, I also noticed that they used an excessive amount of postage on a simple letter."
"Let's take a look at it," Rick said. "The letter is postmarked May 15, 1945."
Rick carefully cut the top of the envelope so as not to break the seal and pulled out the handwritten letter."
"It's very fragile onion skin paper and written in German and has all the appearances of being authentic," said Rick.
"I asked my grandmother if I could keep the envelope and letter for a few days," said William, "and that I would take great care to keep it safe."
Rick looked closer and said, "This is a great find, and I agree the seal makes it that much more valuable. Let me take this home and study it a little more and we'll talk about it in a few days."
William got up, said "Thanks," and walked off to Royce Hall.
As Rick started walking, he noticed that a man appeared to be watching him from across the campus with great interest. He didn't look like he belonged on campus, wearing a fedora type hat and a dark leather overcoat and aviator sunglasses. Rick wondered why the man needed the glasses since it was overcast. He walked off in the opposite direction to see if he was correct. As soon as Rick rounded the corner of the building, he quickly looked back, but the individual was gone. He let it go and chalked it up to a coincidence.
Rick took the letter home and started to analyze it. The letter was addressed to Henry Wilson at a post office box in St Lawrence, New York, but had no return address. Neither of these names he recognized, but he knew where to find the answers.
He decided to contact an old friend, Dr Elizabeth Hildebrand, because he felt he could trust her to translate and authenticate the letter. During his first year as a student at Columbia University, he saw her in his European history class and developed a major crush on her, but later learned she was engaged to an Air Force Major.
The letter gave him a good excuse to talk to her. He didn't know how he'd react, since they were never an item, but he finally got up the courage to find her. Rick tracked her down, and found she was surprisingly lecturing at Brown University. When they finally talked on the phone, she was shocked and pleasantly surprised at the same time.
"How are you," she said, "It's been too long since we last talked. I thought you dropped off the earth."
This caught him by surprise, but a happy surprise.
He asked, "Can we get together and talk a little bit?"
Liz said excitedly, "Yes absolutely. How about we meet at noon at the campus coffee shop?"
Rick agreed and hung up. He got there a little early and felt almost euphoric, as if he were in high school going to his first prom. Finally, he could see her in the distance, as she slowly walked with a slight sway, across the quad.
She was wearing a long, dark brown leather coat with the collar turned up, and boots to ward off the chill. Her long chestnut colored hair that gently swayed in the breeze and that radiant smile, he remembered, could light up a room. She approached Rick and he wanted to hug her, but cautiously changed his mind.
Rick said, "Well, hello there."
She reciprocated and gave him a big hug, to which he happily responded.
He had forgotten how good it felt to hold her close to him and smell her hair; he almost forgot to let her go. After all, she was a married woman.
"Let's get a cup of coffee and catch up," he asked.
She shyly blushed and quickly said, "Yes, of course."
The coffee came and they sat in a quiet corner and just stared at each other for what seemed to him like several minutes but were actually only seconds.
"So what have you been doing for the past five years?" she asked.
"If I tell you I'll have to kill you."
To which they both laughed. He had trouble looking directly at her because suddenly those urges came back and he felt a little ache in his stomach.
He hoped she didn't see his uncertainty.
"My life is very simple," she said. "My husband died in Germany in 1978. Some drunken locals ran his military truck off the road one night. I have no children, and I own a sailboat which I love taking out on the open sea. Other than that, I travel and am on the lecture circuit and won't go anywhere I can't dock my boat."
He relaxed a little and was glad she had broken the ice. He was sorry about her husband, but at the same time also envied her, because her life seemed so unstructured and carefree but also organized when it suited her.
"Why don't you come out on my boat this weekend?" she asked. "We can go sailing and have dinner on board."
Rick was so excited he answered before she finished the question, "That sounds wonderful."
He warned her that he hadn't been on a boat in a long time and might no longer have his sea legs. He hadn't told her yet that he had another reason for seeing her and decided to save that for later. They sat looking into each other's eyes for that spark that he hoped would be there. As they talked a little more, he was lost in "what could have been," but quickly snapped out of it when the server presented them the check.
They continued to talk a little more, but finally Liz had to leave for a scheduled lecture. As she walked away, he saw in the mirror how her hair swayed from side to side and just before turning the corner, she looked back and caught Rick still looking at her. He blushed, but he didn't care, so he sat down and had another cup of coffee.
Upon graduating, he went on to St Basil's, also a private school in Providence. Again, he excelled in all the academic subjects, but had a particular fondness for European history. He received his undergraduate degree in European History, and completed his Masters in Art & Architectural History from Columbia University majoring in the historical European era. He received his second master's in Engineering also from Columbia University.
Along the way, he took a special interest in stamp collecting and particularly liked the early European stamps because there was such a rich history associated with each country's issues.
Upon graduating from Columbia his uncle presented him a 1954 Mercedes Benz SLS AMG 300SL Coupe "gull-wing" sports car in mint condition. It was a beautiful car sure to be a classic someday.
He looked at his uncle with adoring tears in his eyes and said, "You always were good to me. I don't know how I'll ever repay you."
"You've paid me back already, because you've excelled beyond my wildest expectations," his uncle answered, "I only wish that your parents could be here to see this."
With that, Rick felt troubled, as he often had since he was a child, but still tried to smile.
Rick drove up and down the entire coast during the summer and enjoyed every minute. He stopped to see the Atlantic Ocean where he could always get excellent fresh clam chowder and a tasty lobster dinner.
After almost two months, he was still enjoying himself, but he knew he couldn't do this forever. He had to make a decision on his future and he owed Walter an answer on the career he wanted to pursue. He knew he liked teaching and several excellent universities had courted him.
Unbeknownst to Rick, Walter visited Peter Billingsly, President of Brown University and made a special request of him. Billingsly was hardly in a position to refuse him, since Walter last year "anonymously" financed a new wing. As a result, Peter Billingsly asked Rick, who had no experience teaching, to teach at Brown University and made Rick an offer he couldn't refuse.
After a short year of teaching, however, Rick, who was single at the time, was drafted into the Army. Since he had degrees in various subjects, he automatically applied to Officer Candidate School (OCS). When he completed the course, he advanced to the rank of second lieutenant.
After a battery of tests during OCR training at Fort Bliss, Texas, the Army felt he had a higher calling and gave him orders for AIT training at Fort Belvoir in West Virginia. Upon graduation, Rick received his MOS as a Nike Hercules Missile Maintenance Repair Platoon Leader. Three days later, he shipped out to Germany.
He was there less than six months when his CO asked him if he was interested in going to cipher school. He agreed, and headed to school in Vilsec, close to Oberammergau in lower Bavaria. Rick completed the eight-week course and graduated with exceptionally high marks. As soon as he returned to his unit, he advanced to the rank of first Lieutenant. He was reassigned immediately with new orders, to work for a private "think-tank," attached to the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.
He had the role of cipher code specialist, supervising ten other individuals. After six months, he again advanced to the rank of Captain, leading the entire department. He became the best code breaker, as well as a great mentor to his group. However, that quickly became boring and he wanted to do something more exciting and fulfilling.
The new cruits as they were called, received the training from an expert plus the added benefit of the newer technology software developed by a mathematician, who turned to programming, named Dr. Hammond Theoculus. He was a gifted mathematician working with other gifted minds.
One balmy evening in mid-September, Rick was sitting on a bench in the University quad area listening to the wind whistling through the trees. Leaves of bright and warm colors were gently falling to the ground, creating a multicolored carpet. Rick started walking down Pennsylvania Avenue and stumbled onto a movie set with Clint Reynolds. Clint was then a world famous movie star, who was scouting areas for his new movie. They happened to be looking for a stand-in because Clint's double had quit just that day. Clint had an enormous ego and was very meticulous about who could stand in for him.
Alex Pruhdome, the director spotted Rick in the audience, walked over to him and asked, "Have you ever done any acting?"
Rick said, "No." However, he was intrigued and had considered at one time trying it.
Rick, after all was slim, rugged, handsome, with steel blue eyes, and black wavy hair.
Alex sat back in his chair, asked Rick if he would consider having dinner with him.
Rick agreed. They met that evening at the Capitol Grille in D.C. where Alex discovered that Rick was in the service and understood most military processes. Rick however, couldn't tell him his actual job and position because of security issues.
The more Alex talked to Rick, the more Rick felt oddly like a potential new star. Rick's ego got a further boost when Alex asked to contact him when he completed his service obligation.
She had impeccable school transcripts from St Gaudins, a private school in Vienna, Austria. She did very well in all her academic subjects, but loved Languages of European countries.
She graduated with honors from Sister of Passionate Sorrow, and excelled so highly that she had offers from ten universities. She settled on Radcliff University because they had the best classes for her long-term goals. She graduated from the university, where she received her Bachelor's, and became proficient in six foreign languages, including German, Hungarian, Romanian, Italian, French, and Latin.
Liz went on to Columbia University for her Masters and PhD in languages. She had offers to work at the UN as a multiple language translator. They were in high demand, but she felt a different calling. She didn't want to stay in only one place and wanted to be free to choose her assignments.
Upon graduation, her Uncle Walter drove her down to the harbor in Providence and presented her with a Ferretti 74 yacht, complete with a full time captain, Stephen Weisen. The yacht had twin diesel engines, traveled at twenty-six knots full speed, and included a complete kitchen and cooking system. It also had a washer and dryer and could easily sleep six.
She was in disbelief and was getting ready to ask, what am I going to do with a boat, but caught herself and didn't say anything.
They went on board and looked at the living room, bedroom, and galley area. She was so happy that tears ran down her cheeks.
She finally said, "Uncle Walter this is just absolutely beautiful, but I can't afford this."
"There is no cost to you," Walter said, "except you have to buy your own clothes and food. Stephen Weisen is your full time ship's captain, and will take care of everything including all maintenance requirements."
Within weeks, Liz came to love that boat, as she had never treasured anything else in her life. She would see boats at the marina but had never had the urge to buy one. However, she quickly found that she loved being on the ocean away from the hustle and bustle of city life. It did not take her long to settle in and enjoy her new way of life.
When she graduated, she decided to teach. With her credentials, she could have taught at several different universities that wanted her to be part of their faculty but she decided on Georgetown University located in Washington, D.C.
Over the next few years, she gained a certain academic notoriety, which brought her continuous requests to lecture at other universities. She recognized the need for a more challenging role, which also turned out to be financially rewarding for her. Liz took her job seriously and ultimately moved onto her yacht full time.
She loved giving lectures, which made life much easier on the lecture circuit. Several universities in Europe asked for her so she finally planned the trip but only using her boat. She spent a whole year in Europe, traveling up the Adriatic and Black Sea, the Rhine River in Germany, and the Danube in Germany and Austria.
It was while Liz was in Europe that she took up painting. She started creating post-card size oils on canvases and when Walter received them, he was so elated he had them framed and hung proudly in his study. All of her paintings were just signed "Liz" and a date.
* * *
From time to time while Liz and Rick were young, Walter would write both their parents in West Germany to tell them of their progress. He was always very careful in what he wrote them, because of his previous life. He felt that he was still on the run and wanted to keep his privacy . . . . at all costs.
Excerpted from The Prague Deception by Victor O. Swatsek Copyright © 2011 by Victor O. Swatsek. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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