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The Abandoned Factory
The woman led me down several dim dusty corridors, into a small, fluorescently lit room. The room had two doors: the one we had entered, which she left open; and another in the wall directly across from it, which remained closed.
This was the moment I had been waiting to seize. The effects of the perfume had worn off completely: my legs were steady and my vision sharp again. When I felt the woman relax her grip on me, I snapped my head around and sank my teeth into her hand. She let out a muffled scream, whipped her hand free, and whacked me a glancing blow behind the ear. By then I was already halfway out the door. I nearly succeeded in shutting it on her, but she was too quick, and before I knew it she had grabbed me by the scruff of my neck and dragged me back into the room. I was flailing my arms when she spun me around hard and shoved me against the wall. I trembled, thinking she was going to whack me again. Instead, she glared at me, containing her fury. Her arms folded across her chest, she squeezed the elbows repeatedly—a signal of her wrath that I would come to know well. Then she grabbed my hand and nearly yanked my arm from its socket, pulling me across the room to the other door. Without a word she opened it and pushed me through. I wanted to bite her again, but I didn't dare as I looked around at a room so cavernous I felt for an instant as if I were falling through space.
The room was at least the size of a football field. Its walls were pocked brick and peeling plaster, and powerful lights hung from the ceiling rafters four stories up. There were craters in the floor where huge rusted pipes had beenexposed. A half dozen workmen in blue jumpsuits were soldering electrical connections on the far wall. About thirty yards from me, two other men, one young, one old, were standing beside a pair of chairs upholstered in burgundy velvet. The younger man had dark, rust-colored skin, an angular face, and a black crew cut. His muscular arms bulged beneath the rolled-up sleeves of his checkered shirt, and he wore a blue and white tie. A pencil behind his ear, his face tight with concentration behind a pair of black horn-rim glasses, he was clutching a thin roll of blue paper and obviously explaining something to the older man.
Impeccably tailored in a black suit and gray silk shirt, the latter was listening with two fingers pressed to his temple, his chin resting on his chest. About sixty-five, short and stocky, he had white hair combed back flat and a thick white moustache, neatly trimmed. His expression was calm and relaxed. And it did not change when he raised his head a moment later. The woman released my hand and roughly—but more subtly so, with a surreptitious jab to the ribs—urged me forward, and we walked toward him.
The younger man stopped talking, and as I approached them, the old man studied me keenly with his pale blue eyes. He had a flower in his lapel unlike any I had ever seen: alternating yellow and red petals—jagged-edged like licks of flame—around a fiery orange center. I felt frightened, yet I wondered what kind of kidnapping this could be. Knocking around with my adoptive parents, spending more time in diners and bars than schoolrooms, I had seen a few things, and it struck me as more than odd that all these obviously well-heeled and otherwise occupied people had gone to such trouble to kidnap someone like me. I was an orphan, after all, a nobody, with no money, no connections, and no family aside from my young aunt. And the notion of her coming up with ransom money was laughable.
So what on earth could this old man want with me, I asked myself as he reached out and gently squeezed my shoulder. And it struck me suddenly, terribly, that their motivations might have nothing to do with money.
"Welcome, Enzo," he greeted me. One side of his mouth went up in a smile and I saw a dazzling set of white teeth. "You know, your real name is Enzo," he went on.
I winced, rubbing my arm where the woman had yanked me around. When I looked up at her, she was staring at me coldly.
They really are crazy, I thought. "I want to go back to my aunt," I said, my voice breaking.
The woman peeled off her gloves and stuffed them into her handbag. "I am your aunt," she said acidly, to my further astonishment.
"That's enough," the old man snapped.
"He bit me," she said, holding out her hand, where there was a cherry-sized welt below the knuckle of the index finger.
"That's because you mismanaged things," he retorted.
"It's because he's a—"
"I said, that's enough," the old man cut her off in a low voice, and swallowing her words, she stepped back from us.
Turning to me again, the old man nodded toward the burgundy chairs. "Please, have a seat," he said softly.
"My name is Loren," I said, shrinking from him.
"Listen to what I have to say," he said, sitting down himself and crossing his legs, "and afterward I promise that you will have a clear choice: you may return to your aunt, or I will send her a letter, which I'll show you, telling her that you are all right and choose to remain with me."
"Why would I want to do that?"
"Just listen and maybe you'll see why."
"Kidnapping is against the law, you know," I shot back, surprising myself, but not him.
"There are other laws, Enzo," he replied.
"That's not my name," I said. Then something occurred to me. "Hey, maybe you've got the wrong kid. Did you ever think of that?"
He shook his head. "And they are important laws," he went on in a kindly voice, "never to be underestimated. By their lights, yours seems to me to be a very special case. What if I told you that I am your uncle—I mean your real uncle—and that we have the same blood flowing in our veins? To some, that is a more powerful sort of law."
"It's a fact," he said gravely. "But if I had told it to the woman you call your aunt, revealing my identity, and she rebuffed me, I might never have had another chance to bring you into my life. Certainly not without her permission, for I have no legal claim on you. Once I found you, I wasn't about to lose you—unless you wanted it so. I've learned that when something's been lost and you manage to recover it, you do everything in your power not to lose it again. I have learned too—the hard way—that if you do lose it again, you'll never recover it. I did not want to coerce your aunt, but, still, I undertook extraordinary measures to get you here. I have to live with that. From now on, though, what I want can only occur with your consent. You see, after investigating your aunt's circumstances, and yours, and learning just how tenuous your relationship with her is, I took this chance. I thought it my best chance." He smiled. "Understand, I used to be a gambler."
I shook my head. "No, I don't understand anything you're saying."
"Just hear me out, please. Please," he repeated softly.
I sat down, my mind racing. "I can still go back to Alma if I want to?" I was still frightened, but, whether he was crazy or not, I did not think this man would harm me physically.
He nodded. "Absolutely. You will hear many things about me, but never, ever, that I break my word. My name is Junius Samax. Your real mother was my niece. That lady's sister. The two are my brother Nilus's daughters, whom I raised—not very successfully, I'm afraid—after his death. Your mother died at nineteen, and unknown to me, she had given birth to you three months earlier and immediately put you up for adoption." He took a piece of paper, folded into quarters, from inside his jacket. "But first she gave you a name. This is a copy of your birth certificate. Two months ago I happened to learn of your existence. With a great deal of effort, and now satisfaction, I traced you to your current life." He handed me the piece of paper.
The letters danced before my eyes, and as I read, my hands began to shake. COUNTY OF LAS VEGAS, THE STATE OF NEVADA was printed floridly across the top. Embossed on one side was a notary's seal over which I ran my thumb. The birth certificate was for one ENZO SAMAX; 7 POUNDS 14 OUNCES; blood type: DOUBLE-D-NEGATIVE; time of birth: 2:20 A.M.; place: LAS VEGAS, NEVADA; mother: BEL SAMAX; father: UNKNOWN. The birth date, DECEMBER 16,1955, leapt out at me, for it was my own. And I knew that was my blood type because Milo—who, in all ways disorganized, was oddly and ironically obsessed with what he called "accident preparation"—had made me memorize it along with the fact that I was allergic to penicillin. I also knew that I had been adopted in Reno, Nevada.
The old man snapped his ringers, and the young man with the crew cut materialized with a glass of water for me. I saw that his roll of blue paper was an architectural blueprint. The white in his tie was clouds. I wished that like a cloud I could float away at that moment, far away from that place, and touch down somewhere where these people could never find me again. I sipped a little water and told myself: if they don't really let you go, they still won't be able to hold you forever. When they let down their guard, you'll bolt, and this time you'll pick your spot better, and once you're out, it won't be so easy for them to snatch you up again. Rather than convince me of anything, that piece of paper made me step back and take a deep breath and reconnoiter, as Milo used to put it. Then the young man patted my arm, and his black eyes were friendly.
"I'm sorry," the old man said, and he sounded sorry. "I know this is a shock, but when the subject is difficult I like to be as direct as possible. Double-O-negative is one of the rarest blood types: I have it, my brother had it, and you have it. That's significant. But this is about more than blood types. I have put myself in a position to live my life exactly as I please. I have only a handful of living relatives," he said, glancing at the woman, who was pacing up and down out of earshot, her arms crossed on her chest. "It's no secret to them that your mother was my favorite. I would like to share with you what I would have shared with her." He paused. "I'm being as frank with you as I can. There is much I would like to give you—a life filled with things I can't give to anyone else. Things you can't even imagine now. But I know full well that it will also be rewarding for me. It will fill a great void in my life, for there is much I know you will give to me, should things proceed as I am hoping. And should you decide you want what I am offering you." He patted my shoulder. "Now, take a moment, and then I'll tell you more of the story. Your story. Afterward, you can tell me your decision."
He told me a good deal—at least it seemed so at the time. In fact, it was just a sliver off a far greater story than I could ever have imagined. Thirty minutes later, however, I was ready to see the letter the old man had written to Alma. The young man put a small table before me and laid down a sheet of yellow paper and a yellow fountain pen. Typed on the paper was the letter.
"As you can see," the old man said, "I have not signed the letter or used any of the names you have heard, but I have not once lied to her and I have told as much of the truth as I could without jeopardizing my position. Primarily I want to reassure her as best I can."
The letter was short and direct, and I read it carefully.
"If you would like to add anything," he said, "you may."
"I can write whatever I want?"
"Except my name, of course," he replied.
In the center of that silent enormous room with the craters, beneath the ceiling that stretched away in all directions like a sky, I thought about it for a long time and then wrote a single line to Alma at the bottom of the page, and then slowly added my signature.
The old man handed me a yellow envelope, already stamped and with Alma's name and address printed neatly in red ink. "Fold the letter and seal the envelope," he said.
"Don't you want to read what I put in?"
He shook his head. "I trust you."
He took the sealed envelope from me and beckoned to the woman. "Ivy, please see to it that this is hand-delivered," he said as she approached us. "Use a Western Union courier at the airport. Then meet us at the plane." He stood up.
Turning on her heel, she left without a word.
"Plane? Where are we going?" I said. Despite all I had heard, and the letter I had signed, and the fact my fear had momentarily been supplanted by the enormous curiosity the old man's story had aroused, I still had it in my head that I would have the option—however slim—of slipping away if I wanted to. That I had an out. Thinking ahead, I had imagined another car ride; it had not occurred to me we might travel a great distance that very day.
"We're going to Las Vegas," he replied, the s's soft off his tongue. "And from now on you must call me Uncle Junius. And you must try to trust me. I apologize to you for the way you were brought here: while under my roof, you will never again be held against your will. You will be free to come and go as you please. I would ask only that you not attempt to contact your aunt again. It will serve no useful purpose—for her, or us—as I hope you understand now. Can you promise me that?"
I nodded slowly.
"Good." He reached into the same pocket that had held the birth certificate. "This is your mother," he said quietly.
He handed me a color snapshot of a pale thin woman, very pretty, with long blond hair parted cleanly and grazing her shoulders. Wearing a red sleeveless dress, she was smiling in sunlight against an expanse of yellow sand, one of her eyes squinted half shut. The shadow of the photographer—a tall, broad-shouldered man with long legs—extended into the upper right-hand corner of the frame. And at her side the young woman was clutching a black hat, a man's hat, which he must have handed to her just before he snapped her picture.
"I never learned his identity," he went on, "but I do know that the man who took this photograph must have been your father."
"My father?" I had wondered so often about my real parents over the years that it seemed incredible I might actually be holding tangible evidence of their existence. An image of my mother and the shadow of my father. It wasn't exactly like one of those memories Alma had told me about, that she had of her father. But it was close enough: if that shadow really belonged to my father, then this image would constitute a memory of his. One to which I was suddenly privy, and I felt a certain intimacy in that.
The image of my mother, that shadow, and the black hat combined to fill a place in my imagination where, until then, there had only been a vacuum. For a long time, they would be all I had of my father.
Chapter 1: The Planetarium
We had voyaged far into space and now we were returning. Before leaving the solar system, we orbited the moon and several planets %151; skating along Saturn's rings, probing Jupiter's red spot, and skimming the icy mountain ranges of Uranus. We trailed a comet and threaded a swarm of meteors. And after Pluto, we were out among the stars: glittering clusters, bracelets, and crescents that swirled around us. We followed the long curve of the Milky Way, past Alpha Centauri, the first star beyond the sun, and witnessed the explosion of a supernova and the collapse of a neutron star into a black hole. Traveling two hundred light-years to the red star Antares, we took a long look at the next nearest galaxy, Andromeda, and then reversed course.
In the darkness, to the jagged strains of electronic synthesizers and the roll of timpanis, the crowd was hushed, padded seats tilted back, necks craning, as we made our return journey at the speed of light. I clutched the armrests of my seat and blew away the motes of dust tumbling around my head. Against the spectral glow from the overhead projectors, my aunt's silhouette shone black. Her hair smelled fresh, even in the stale metallic air of that windowless place. It was cold there too. I had my coat buttoned up to my throat and inside my boots was curling my toes to keep them warm.
Finally the blue and white sphere of the earth reappeared before us, suspended in the void, and the godlike voice of the announcer thanked us for taking "A Trip to the Stars," which was what they had called this show, running from Thanksgiving to Christmas. There was a burst of applause and a clatter of seats snapping into place as everyone stood and the houselights came up and the great domed ceiling went black. The electronic music faded away, replaced by a slow ragtime waltz as the ushers opened the doors in the back.
Pulling on my cap, I preceded my aunt to the nearest aisle and felt her hand lightly on my shoulder, guiding me. We had come to this old planetarium at the northern tip of Manhattan to celebrate my tenth birthday. The show had been sold out and the large crowd, closely packed, buzzing with conversation, poured up the narrow aisles of the circular room. We slid into the stream of bodies and were carried along with it. I could see nothing but people's backs and hands. Scents of perfume and sweat filled my nostrils and then the smoke of cigarettes as people began lighting up.
When we reached the back, my aunt took my hand and picked up her pace. Her grip was gentle, but firm, her suede glove soft against my palm. It was only when we had stepped out into the pale winter light %151; the wind on the sidewalk swirling dry snow, ticket stubs, and programs alike %151; that the crowd dispersed enough for me to look up at her in order to speak.
And then I could not say a word.
The woman, who was pulling me hard now to a blue sedan idling at the curb, was not my aunt. Until she opened the rear door and pushed me in, I thought she must have mistaken me for another child. Then, before stepping in after me, she looked me full in the face and betrayed no surprise.
A man was behind the wheel wearing a brown coat and a brown homburg tilted low. Even before the woman had pulled the door shut, he threw the car into gear and sped away.
"Hey!" I cried. But as I coiled up to dive for the left-hand door, the woman flipped open her handbag, fished out a black atomizer, and hurriedly squirted a cloud of perfume into my face. My eyes stung and I started coughing. A scent like Easter lilies caught sharply in my throat. I felt woozy, and my heart slowed to the point that I could hear its beats in my ear, broadly spaced, like a distant drum. Everything blurred, as if a gauzy filter, woven of shifting colors, had been placed over my eyes.
"Stop crying!" the woman snapped, not at me, but at the man behind the wheel, as she removed her gloves. They were black suede, like my aunt's.
My hands and feet tingled, then felt heavy, as if my bones had turned to iron. My tongue was thick. When my eyes cleared a short time later, I stared out the window trying to read the street signs. Even if I could have, it wouldn't have mattered: our route, filled with twists and turns, was impossible to follow. We had entered a factory district of narrow streets, rusted loading ports, and broken sidewalks. Pigeons lined the eaves of the warehouses. In the vacant lots bums rubbed their hands over the jagged flames in oil drums. I still felt light-headed, but my vision was less blurred. And already my heart was speeding up and the heaviness was draining from my limbs.
The woman beside me was a complete stranger. She was young %151; older than my aunt, but still in her twenties. And she was pretty like my aunt, tall and slim with long, light brown hair; but my aunt's eyes were bright blue, and this woman had brown, nearly black, eyes that were darkly made up. I thought again of diving for the far door at a red light or when we slowed for traffic, but we ran every light and there was no traffic on those streets.
We pulled up abruptly at a white brick building beside a vacant lot. The building occupied half the block. Caged windows sealed and dirty, it looked like another factory that had closed down a long time ago. The large doors at its loading zone were chained and padlocked. Its paint was peeling, but the whiteness of the building's facade stood out among the dark gray buildings that lined the rest of the street. The sign over its entrance had been corroded by the elements: only the letters chine %151; the fragment of a word %151; remained legible. A man wearing a white coat and oversized gloves was crisscrossing the vacant lot with a metal detector, stepping gingerly over the shattered glass and strewn twisted rubble. He peered back at us over his upturned collar, then turned his eyes back to the ground.
Our driver, frozen behind the wheel, lit a cigarette. His smoke filled the car. He had never turned his head, and I had failed to glimpse his reflection in the rearview mirror.
The woman opened the door and gripped my hand again. "Don't be afraid," she said, her first and only words to me. But her face, rigid and severe, did nothing to allay my fears. My heart was racing now, and the moment I was on my feet, stiff and weak-kneed, I had trouble catching my breath. I wanted to bolt, but managed only token resistance, yanking my arm briefly from the woman's grip and feeling utterly helpless as she led me me into the building through an unlocked metal door that slammed shut behind us.
My first sensation was the smell of burning tar. The air was just as chilly as it had been outside. I felt the small clouds of my breath condense on my cheeks. But I could see nothing. As the woman led me by the hand, I stumbled every so often and she pulled me that much harder. We made successive ninety-degree turns along a dank, narrow corridor, with fine cold dust swirling by us. I heard wind howling faintly in a distant shaftway.
Suddenly we stopped and a door slid shut behind us. We were still in pitch-darkness, standing in a large room that was descending through space. Its floor hummed beneath my feet, cables whined overhead, a distant generator whirred. I started shivering. Where was this woman taking me? And where was my aunt now, I asked myself as the elevator carried me deep beneath the abandoned factory, little knowing that it would be fifteen years before I saw her again.
Copyright © 2000 by Nicholas Christopher
Posted August 30, 2006
I picked this book up in San Francisco, in some book store, it was on sale for like $4, I thought, what the hey. So, when I actually got around to reading it, I hadn't realized that this book would become one of my all time favorites. I just finished it, and I can't get it out of my head. It's just so intricate, fun, and packed with odd characters and odder circumstances that you just wish you were there too, watching this whole book fold out. The best book ever. Buy it, and cherish it.
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Posted October 21, 2004
Posted July 10, 2001
I must say the this is one of the best books I have read in quite awhile. Aside from a few minor details and some obscure, unnecessary information, this book was very well writen. It all ties together nicely at the end, although it is somewhat far-fetched. I honestly had trouble putting it down. The complex characters were well developed and complimented each other nicely. At some points, however, I felt as though the author was questioning my intelligence by pointing out references and coincidences that should have been left for the reader to pick up on. I highly recommend this book; it's complex, fast-paced, challenging and though-provoking.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
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