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After today, your life will never be the same, Jefferson Duke thought, leaning his ninety-one-year-old body on his gold-topped cane in the doorway of Barbara Kendrick's office at The Call. But will it be for better or worse?
Intent on editing her latest scathing report on the graft and corruption in the mayor's office, Barbara didn't notice him. Her brews crinkled angrily as her pencil flew across the page.
"Hold the pencil any tighter and it will snap in half, young lady," he said.
Jolted out of her thoughts, Barbara softened at the sight of her dear friend. Smiling broadly, she rose. "Jefferson," she opened her arms. "How good to see you."
He carried a thick leather valise under his left arm and so only raised his hand to her. She took his hand and kissed his cheek, noticing how frail he'd become of late. Silver dominated his once golden hair, thinner now, but by no means balding. His six-foot four-inch frame bent with age, and he'd often commented how he despised growing old. Even with his grumblings, he was a man of dignity. A man she trusted and loved.
"Please, sit here," she offered a chair.
Lowering himself, he peered at her through gold-rimmed spectacles that magnified his jade-green eyes.
"Can I get you anything?" she asked caressing his thin shoulder, remembering that even in her childhood, when he was in his seventies, he'd always looked twenty years younger. Today there was a veil of defeat in his eyes she'd never seen before.
Jefferson Duke was the oldest and richest founder of San Francisco, a man who founded learning institutions, orphanages and Libraries. Jefferson brought the opera, symphony and ballet to San Francisco. As it was with any living legend, gossip surrounded him. Always intensely private, few knew him intimately, so the gossip was never confirmed or negated, only recycled periodically from decade to decade. In the end, none of it tripped him or slowed him down.
Jefferson had been a formidable force in commerce in his younger years. He backed politicians, served several years as state senator and was personal friends with every governor of California since 1837. When Theodore Roosevelt came to San Francisco, he was a guest of Jefferson Duke.
Barbara knew Jefferson better than anyone in San Francisco, but even to her, he remained an enigma, a puzzle without all the pieces.
"I'm fine," he said, placing the valise on her desk with great care.
"You look marvelous, Jefferson," she lied.
"I look like hell," his raspy voice grumbled affectionately. "You, my little missy, are a most delightful sight for these myopic eyes." Despite his age, his lined and wrinkled face radiated merriment. "Even so, you're more than a little worried over that piece you're writing."
"True." She bit her lip nervously.
"I've been following this exposé you're doing. Mayor Schmitz and his crony Abe Ruef have skimmed money from the city coffers long enough to hire very good assassins, my dear. Have you thought about that?"
"Michael reminds me of the dangers every day."
Jefferson noticed that at the mere mention of Michael Trent's name, the furrows in Barbara's brow softened. "You love him," he said matter-of-factly.
"Good thing I'm not an actress," she quipped. "Especially around Peter."
"Frankly, if you're intent on digging in the muck of this city's corrupted developers, having a Secret Service agent as a paramour is quite an intelligent move, my dear."
"I didn't plan it that way, Jefferson. It just ... happened."
Jefferson smiled. "More than a bit handy, I'd say, since the worst offender is Peter Kendrick. You do like taking risks, don't you?"
She folded her arms defensively. "I told you I filed for divorce."
"Yes. And how did Peter take it?"
"I haven't the foggiest notion. He seems unable to pry himself away from his mistress," she replied without a trace of emotion.
Jefferson placed his hands one over the other on his cane, peering at her. "Well done, child. You really don't care for Peter."
"I never did. You know that," she said, waving her hand to brush the topic aside. "Peter's time is up."
Jefferson dropped his eyes to the valise he'd brought. "Which brings me to the reason for my visit." He took a deep breath, imbuing the room with portent.
Just the way he said it, Barbara knew this was no ordinary social visit. Something was dreadfully wrong, and she didn't like the way he looked away from her rather than at her. Jefferson had always been an incredibly private person which fueled his legendary status. Everyone wanted to know if the rumors of his affair with her grandmother, Caroline Mansfield, were true. Jefferson never talked about it. Only once in a while he'd open himself up to her, and why he'd chosen Barbara as a confidante puzzled her as much as anyone else. But it was true.
She placed her hand lovingly over his, knowing intuitively that he needed courage. She could feel the arthritic knuckles and saw the numerous liver spots. Unexpected tears welled in her eyes. Foolishly, she'd always believed Jefferson would be there for her; to love her; to give her guidance. She didn't want him to move away from her. ... move into death. Like other heroes, he was immortal, wasn't he?
Jefferson's eyes scoured her. "I've known you all your life, Barbara, I was there the day you were born. I've cherished our closeness more than you can imagine. I know you feel the same way about me."
"I love you, Jefferson. You know that."
His voice was serious, and the words did not come easily to him as he said, "Then I call upon that love to ask something of you."
His eyes met hers. "Don't be so quick to agree. You may hate me after this."
"What a ridiculous thing to say! I could never hate you. It's not in me to hate anyone. Not even Eugene Schmitz and Abe Ruef. I despise what they do. I hate how they've put in fire hydrants that are not even hooked to the first water main. How they've stolen money meant for concrete to build bridges and roads that will collapse killing hundreds given a mild storm. But I don't hate anyone. You taught me that. Hating is as evil as the evildoer's deed."
"I did teach you that."
"It's served me well. But what has that to do with your visit?"
"I'm going to die, Barbara." He said it dispassionately, as if he were removed from life already. She waited for a choke or quiver in his voice. There was none, nor was there a glint of emotion in his eyes. She saw what she feared most: resolve and acceptance.
Barbara's heart scurried in circles creating enough friction to ignite and burn into a rage of denial. Her rational mind engulfed her emotions with a wave of logic.
"I know you're ninety-one, but what is it? Your heart? Cancer? Your liver maybe? What did the doctor say?" She rattled off the possibilities like a Gatling gun. Just as quickly, she was ready with cures and causes for each illness. In her heart, she wanted to believe that together they could beat death.
She had to keep him with her a little longer. "Not a doctor," he replied, looking blankly at the floor.
As his face turned back to her, Barbara noticed an incredible glow to his face, a sense of peace. She choked back a gasp as she realized he'd given up. He was ready to move on.
"I ... saw my death in a dream," he whispered, as his voice assumed a near spiritual reverence.
"I don't want to hear this," she shivered with cold chills and rubbed her arms.
Jefferson continued. "This kind of dream has happened before. It's hard to explain because I've never told anyone about my dreams. Well, at least no one close. Not for a long time. But the dream is so real. I can touch and see and smell. Have you ever had a dream like that?" He looked at her with wonder-filled eyes, much like a child.
Barbara stared at him in amazement. Suddenly, he looked years younger, his charisma faded and was replaced by naivete. It was as if she were the teacher and he the student when always it had been the reverse. He needed assurances, and she could provide them.
"Yes, I've had dreams that seem like they're more real than reality. It's as if the truth were unveiled in my dreams. Clear and accessible."
"Precisely. And, because of that, I know that my end is near." He leaned back and sighed, and, with that gesture, was transformed back into the old man again. "What I don't know is if God will take me and punish me for my sins or if I will die a victim of hatred."
Totally unprepared for this comment, Barbara's confusion screwed itself into her forehead, creating a deep crinkle between her brows. "I don't understand any of this. You are the most upstanding man I know. You're practically a paragon. You have enemies, yes, but surely no one would dare kill you."
He laughed. "How little you know. But that's to be expected. I've done a good job of keeping the truth from you."
"I don't understand."
"I know, but you will." He placed his hand lovingly on the leather valise. "I've brought something for you." Slowly he moved his hand across the leather, caressing it as if it were a lover. "This is my legacy to you. Read it carefully, and by that I mean read it with your heart, not your head. My life is contained within these pages. It's odd you know ..." his voice trailed off.
"It is odd to think that one's life is reduced to lines on paper."
"Jefferson, you have a great deal to show for your life. There is the museum, the opera house, the library ... "
He cut her off quickly with a sharp wave of his hand. "Toys! Amusements, perhaps, but certainly not my life! Never mistake monuments for life. Life is love. It's the people you love." His serious tone faded as he looked at her impishly. "My life just has more lines than others do." He handed her the valise. "This is where I wrote those lines."
"Your journals?" She breathed with respect and a heavy feeling of finality. Reflexively, she clutched them possessively.
"To be truthful, they are not all mine. To know truth, one must go to the beginning of the story. Therefore, some are my mother's writings. I call them 'The Rachel Papers.'"
"Rachel. You've told me about her. She must have been a wonderful woman because you've always spoken of her with such love." "I hope you still think so after you read this. I have always admired your need to seek out the truth, both in your work here," he gestured with his arm to indicate the newspaper office, "and in your personal life. That takes courage."
"Courage can be painful," Barbara replied ruefully. She looked down at the valise. Surely there could be nothing in these personal reflections that would require courage to read.
"There are many truths, Barbara, and what you read here you may find painful. But it is the truth. I want you to read this. I do this selfishly, my dear. I need to know if you see what I see."
Conspiratorially, he leaned quite close, his voice so low and intent he was nearly inaudible. "See if you draw the same conclusions as I. Specifically, I am speaking of your father's murder."
Barbara choked back her shock. "You know who it is?"
"I can never be sure. At least not until the day he comes after me."
"And that is what you saw in your dream? My father's murderer is after you now?"
"I don't know. Perhaps God will intervene as He's done many times in my life and deprive my assailant of the opportunity." Jefferson starred to laugh. "The joke would be on my killer, now wouldn't it? I've always believed that God has a bizarre sense of humor. I think I'll ask Him about that when I see Him."
Barbara tried to shake off the sense of gloom that shrouded her. "Jefferson, I'm honored that you want me to read your journals and those of your mother. But why me? Perhaps there's someone else, someone closer to you."
Jefferson shook his head in protest. "The answer to that is also contained in those pages." He jabbed his gnarled index finger at the valise. "I've guarded this information all my life. Now, it's yours. Only you can walk this maze."
Suddenly, he stood, teetering only slightly on his cane. Determination shot up his back. His eyes brandished resolution like a mighty saber. "There are many sins in the world, Barbara. Some are not as visible as the theft and corruption you have uncovered in your work. Many sins are invisible, but just as black. I've been ashamed of who I am all my life." His voice faltered suddenly, creaking out the words as they squirmed through barriers of emotion. "I can't explain." His eyes darted about the room, frantically looking for the door, for escape.
She rose to her feet. "There's nothing you can't tell me."
"Oh, but there is." His hand shook as he gripped his cane and moved away from her.
He forgot his customary good-bye hug as he headed for the door. Hunched over his cane, with his back to her, he shuffled away. Barbara had never seen Jefferson Duke frightened, yet, now he was truly afraid. What puzzled her most was that he feared her.
He grasped the doorknob and opened it. A rush of cold air swept inside and whirled around Barbara for a long moment. She shivered.
He had almost quit the room when his head jerked around and his eyes pierced through her.
I'll never forget his eyes. It's as if they can see my future.
"Read it, my dear. Then tell me that you still care about me." He paused, "I dare you."
He closed the door firmly behind him.
Barbara touched the valise, anxious to begin reading the mysterious journals, when William Melton, the city editor, rushed to her door and poked his head in. "You're late for the meeting, I was sent to get you. Bring your pad. Seems that councilman you accused last week was caught taking a bribe just this morning."
Barbara gasped, "I can't believe it!"
"Believe it, kid. You've got them running for cover," he slapped her good-naturedly on the back.
She Looked longingly at the Rachel Papers, knowing they would have to wait.
"Say, was that Jefferson Duke I just saw leaving?" William asked.
"Nice old guy. He got you the job here, didn't he?"
Barbara frowned at William. She didn't like anyone prying into her personal life. And Duke territory was sacred. "You thought I was too young. Not intelligent enough."
"True," he admitted. "Guess I didn't realize how gutsy and stupid you were. Nobody here would take the risks you do."
She smiled to herself as they left her office. "Yes, but I got the story, didn't I?"
Bill laughed. "They'll cast you in bronze."
She rolled her eyes. "I'd rather they cast Ruef and Schmitz into hell."
Barbara lay next to Michael, love-spent and naked save for the strand of pearls which glistened only slightly less than the beads of sweat on her face and breasts. She gazed at the handsome golden-haired man whom she loved deeply and without condition. She was amazed at how inexorably he had transformed her world during the past year.
Barbara rolled over, spooning her body next to his. She thought how Michael Trent had entered her life as an intruder a spy for the federal government. She hadn't liked him at first, the way he destroyed the illusionary facets of her world and her marriage and exposed the truth. She had hated him in the beginning for that. She'd hated him for making her vulnerable, frightened and confused. But through the pain, she'd found the kind of love she'd only dreamed of in her fantasies. She was twenty-five, and she had hope again.
"I love you, Barbara," Michael said placing his hand on her hip.
"I love you back," she replied placing her hand over his, caressing the long tapered fingers that loved her and brought her pleasure.
"You're still awake," he stroked her cheek. "I can tell when you're worried, and it's not your job or our investigation, is it?"
"For once I'm not having nightmares about fires breaking out all over the city if that's what you mean."
"It's Jefferson's visit today that's upset you. I could tell earlier during dinner that you were preoccupied."
"It's just so strange, Michael. The way he alluded to mysteries and secrets. And then daring me to read the Rachel Papers as if there was something in them that would hurt me."
"Jefferson loves you as I do. He would never hurt you. I think you should read them and soon."
"I didn't tell you earlier, but he said there's something in that journal about my father's murder."
"Darling, your father died. It was an accident. Not a murder."
"You don't know that, Michael. No one's ever proven it."
"I researched the records for you. I checked out old witnesses and their stories are the same as what the papers reported. It was a hit and run. A runaway carriage on the Barbary Coast. Those brothels are dangerous to anyone-"
"He was not going to a brothel! Lawrence Mansfield was not the type of man who would do such a thing. He didn't drink or gamble either. The whole thing makes no sense."
Michael smoothed a strand of her long brown hair behind her ear. "He didn't love your mother, Barbara. You've told me that. It's all I can do to be civil to Eleanor. Never have I met a more exasperating, selfish woman. How they ever got married in the first place is beyond me."
"Father told me once that she was dazzling when she was young. She was full of life then and I think in the beginning, she might have loved him at least long enough to extract a proposal from him."
"Well, he wouldn't be the first man who fell under a woman's spell," he said kissing her earlobe. She rolled over to face him and his arms formed a circle around her and drew her in.
"I'm certainly under your spell," she said kissing him tenderly.
Michael kissed her back with all the love in his heart. "Darling, I wish I could believe you, but the truth of the matter is that, for tonight at least, you're under Jefferson's spell. Why not make some tea and read for a bit? Hmm? Maybe once you've put your demons to rest, you'll feel better."
"You don't mind?"
"Of course not," he replied, tapping his finger to the tip of her nose. "Now scoot."
"Okay." She rose and slipped her arms into a cream-colored satin peignoir.
Moonlight streamed through the lace curtains casting shadows across the down-filled quilt. She noticed as she left the room that Michael had already drifted off to sleep.
Barbara went to the kitchen stove and put a quarter in the gas meter on the wall, which would give her three hours of gas. She lit the top burner with a wooden match, wondering if the gas lines to her house were safe. So many building contractors had bribed city inspectors to ignore their faulty, cheap work in order to pocket large profits. There wasn't a citizen in the city who was not in danger daily from fire. In fact, the entire city council was on the take. Tomorrow, Michael was going to file his official report to the president of the United States. All of these things she'd written in articles for the newspaper, and in so doing she had placed herself and Michael in mortal danger.
She filled the tea kettle with water, placed it over the flame and put a heaping teaspoon of imported Orange Pekoe tea she'd bought in Chinatown into a sterling tea caddy.
Barbara loved tea: the brewing of it, the paraphernalia it took to serve proper British tea and the history of it. Every time she made a cup of tea, she remembered Jefferson telling her about his ancestor, Ambrose Duke, who worked for the East India Tea Company in the late 1700s. For over a hundred years, the Duke family had been in the importing business, just as her father, Lawrence Mansfield, had been when he was alive.
Barbara was always curious about lives that dovetailed other lives, both past and present. Paths that met and then retreated from one another only to come back together again. Barbara knew that Michael was only trying to ease her mind when he said that her father's death was an accident. But Barbara didn't believe in accidents of any kind. If she couldn't find the man-made answer to mysterious events, she was wise enough to know that every turn of life was a matter of fate. One simply had to look deep enough and far back enough to find the truth.
She poured the tea into a pink floral Haviland cup and then walked to the salon. She turned on the electric Tiffany lamp, eased herself onto the sofa, tucking her feet beneath her. Ordinarily, the aroma of the spicy tea would calm her instantly, but tonight was not one of those times.
The velvet drapes were drawn back over the tall windows framing a magnificent view of San Francisco Bay. Lighted ferry boats, sailboats and shipping barges dotted the water like pirouetting fireflies. She remembered commenting on what a beautiful night it was to her mother earlier when they'd gone to hear Caruso sing, but as usual, Eleanor was so self-involved she noticed neither the beauty of the night nor her daughter's distraction.
Barbara rubbed her forehead. "Are you the only emotional anchor I've ever had, Jefferson? How I will miss you if you leave."
A pang shot through her. Even though she had Michael in her life now to love her and comfort her, Jefferson had been her mentor, the grandfather she'd never known. She almost didn't want to read his journals. Sometimes living in ignorance brought more happiness than illumination.
"Still," she said touching the valise and pulling out the stunningly old pieces of parchment. "My God," she said with reverence and awe.
Just looking at the yellowed papers and the scrawled penmanship in a woman's hand gave her chills.
"Don't go where angels fear to tread," she reminded herself, but her journalist's innate curiosity took over. That curiosity had guided her through thirteen months of investigating San Francisco's corruption; it had taken her to the knowledge that her husband was sleeping with her best friend and that she'd been married to the devil himself. Barbara couldn't tear her eyes from the ancient pages. Not even the sound of odd timed church bells ringing or the unusually large number of whinnying horses in the city's liveries alerted her to the dangers around her.
She saw only the words on the pages. She was facing a danger of her own.
Mesmerized, she courageously began reading.
c1999 Catherine Lanigan. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from Wings of Destiny by Catherine Lanigan. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442.
Posted December 7, 2013