Ted Smith's life has never been boring. The son of Italian immigrants, he's been through a world war, several near-death experiences, and a few less-than-savory business deals. Now that he is the president of the Mansfield Industries Mining Company, headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, he wants nothing more than to help his girlfriend, Charlotte Mansfield, with her psychological trauma.
Ted was once best friends with Charlotte's father, Walter, and though several years separate the couple in age, Ted loves her deeply. But Charlotte has developed PTSD from years of abuse at her father's hands and has become mentally unstable. Ted wants Charlotte to know what her father was like before the war ruined him, and he begins to read her Walter's World War II-era diary.
Even with the help of a family therapist, Charlotte is unable to exorcize the demons that have caused her to develop multiple split personalities. Confused and tormented by the past and the present, Charlotte leaves Ted to try and find healing. But Ted himself has a new identity to grapple with as he becomes the Smith family patriarch in California.
When specters of the past threaten Charlotte and Ted, they must make a decision: stay and answer for their crimes, or flee and start a new live elsewhere?
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.48(d)|
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By Keith R. Long
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Keith R. Long
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAfter arriving from the United States, Herbert rides in a taxi as it hops from pothole to rut and back again while dashing down a dirt road from the Jomo Kenyatta airport on his way to the Mansfield Industries Mining Company head quarters in Nairobi, Kenya. While feeling the dead weight of his briefcase bouncing on the seat next to him, he worries about his old university school friend, Ted, who seems to have taken a detour from the straight and narrow and is now flirting with disaster. Herbert is distracted from his troubles every time a pedestrian, usually with a bundle on top of his/her head, flashes past inches from the taxi's fenders.
* * *
Arriving at the office building, Herbert was just starting to feel the African heat while dreading the business meeting he was to conduct with Ted, who, through murder, had just recently promoted himself to president of the M. I. Mining Company.
While laboring up the stairs with sweat beading up on his forehead and images of the Kenyans he saw crowding the Nairobi streets just outside, Herbert thought, The heat really isn't so bad here, not at all like the mugginess from the high humidity in the northeast.
While listening to his feet tapping on the second-floor hallway leading to Ted's office, Herbert imagined the shots that so recently killed the previous Mining Co. president, Peter Mansfield, were echoing through this building that he felt belonged in a 1940s Humphrey Bogart movie. Even though Herbert knew Ted didn't pull the trigger, he almost wished Ted had done the deed, because he felt Charlotte didn't deserve to be so ill-used.
After entering the outer office, Herbert was just about to reach Ted's door when Charlotte stopped him dead cold with her piercing eyes. Then after watching her prowl to him with her catlike stride like he was her prey, she began searching him carefully.
As she was pawing through his pockets, Herbert indignantly asked, "Is this necessary?"
"It's for your own protection."
With a sultry tone in her voice that she hoped sounded sinister, Charlotte purred, "Because if I thought you were armed, I'd kill you."
While imagining Charlotte attacking him with her slender but muscular arms, Herbert noticed a slight smile momentarily glimmering on her face. Herbert realized she was either making a joke at his expense or was just insecure and marking her territory.
"Briefcase," Charlotte demanded, and Herbert quickly handed over his leather attaché, almost relieved to be rid of it. After watching Charlotte step toward Ted's door while carefully peeking inside it, he saw her playfully pointing with the corner of his briefcase to indicate that he should enter Ted's office.
Before escaping into Ted's office, Herbert looked back at the office workers, who he imagined were silently watching in amazement, because he somehow managed to avoid being mauled by the jungle cat that they all lived in fear of.
* * *
With his phone call interrupted, Ted was just about to become upset when he thought, It's Herbert, one of the last members of the old gang from Ludlow's.
Immediately hanging up the ancient black phone and jumping up from behind his teak desk, Ted hugged his longtime friend while saying, "I'm so glad to see you."
"Happy to be here," Herbert said while giving a quick glance to Charlotte, who still hadn't gotten rid of the sly curl on the corner of her lips.
Gesturing to an office chair in front of his desk, Ted said, "Sit down ... Want a drink?"
* * *
Charlotte startled Herbert by carelessly placing the briefcase down on Ted's desk with a bang; then after opening it up again, she tossed the documents around until she found an old beat-up diary.
Eyeing Herbert, she saw that he was doing his best to conceal his fear after seeing her hands holding Walter Mansfield III's diary. When Herbert remained silent, Charlotte dropped the black book before gliding over to Ted as he said, "Herb, we're so glad you could come and visit."
"Just until we complete our business."
"Come on. Stay for dinner," Ted said encouragingly while playfully slapping Herbert on his shoulder.
"I must be careful about any suspicion falling on me," Herbert said, squirming nervously in his chair, causing the springs to squeak while worrying about how his sterling reputation could be severely tarnished if he was discovered helping Ted.
"I forgot," Ted said, slipping his arm around Charlotte, "a little too much Bonnie and Clyde for you."
After enjoying Herbert's reaction to Ted's affectionate gesture, Charlotte shrugged Ted's arm off before sauntering toward the door while saying, "I'll let you two reminisce about old times ... alone."
* * *
Once Charlotte left the room and the mahogany-paneled door was closed, Herbert returned to breathing and had a shock once he saw Ted curiously picking up the diary.
While looking at it carefully, Ted said, "So this is the mythical diary."
"The only piece of personal property to survive from Walter Mansfield III," Herb added while sitting down.
Rubbing the ratty covers of the diary with his hands, Ted recalled, "Found in a box in Emma's closet after she died."
"Murdered," Herbert corrected while fearfully looking to ensure Charlotte hadn't returned.
Ted paused for a moment, "How did—"
"Once I heard of it, I asked around."
"Why bring it here?" Ted asked idly while sitting behind his desk.
"You two were best friends once."
When we were young, Ted thought.
Herbert let Ted caress the diary for a few moments before dropping a manila file onto Ted's desk; and Ted, after snapping out of his reminiscence, reluctantly placed the diary down so the two of them could conduct their business.
"So where shall we start?" Ted asked while thumbing through the papers in the folder.
"Charlotte could be declared dead after being missing for several years ..."
"Then given a new identity ..."
"Of course, you'll need to ensure she won't assault another police officer."
Glancing up from reading, Ted quickly said, "She takes her meds."
Herbert innocently shrugged his shoulders while dropping the second file and saying, "Mansfield Industries is sewed up tight. There isn't a slot open anywhere in the continental United States where you can find a toehold, especially after the debacle with Martin and Peter Mansfield."
* * *
"I assumed as much," Ted casually said while slipping the files into his deck and locking the drawer. After idly picking up the diary again, Ted noticed how Herbert was watching him handle the book before asking, "Have you read it?"
Shifting in his seat, Herbert answered, "Yes," while nervously rubbing his hands before adding, "Certainly elevated my respect for Walter."
"I'm glad, because he's someone whose reputation could use some rehabilitation."
After letting out an involuntary laugh, Herbert hinted, "I must get back before anyone suspects."
While carefully placing Walter's diary into his jacket pocket, Ted offered his hand before saying, "I appreciate how you risked so much to come here and help."
Herbert graciously answered, "Perhaps one day when this all blows over, we can get together and catch up on old times."
* * *
As Herbert was handed his brief case, he sighed in reply at his forgetfulness under pressure before carrying the much-lightened attaché out of Ted's office. After fearfully looking for Charlotte, Herbert was happy to see that she wasn't around to ambush him.
Finding his state of mind brightening with each step away from Ted's office, Herbert also believed he'd left Ted with enough information, so he wouldn't need to return for a long time.
Herbert also found he was experiencing some bittersweet feelings, because while he'd just helped his friend, he also didn't want to become involved with Ted so long as he was committing such terrible crimes.
* * *
In his office, Ted returned to his ornately carved desk to finish up a business deal involving one of M. I. mines; however, his attention kept finding its way to his pocket, because Walter's diary just couldn't be ignored.
Finishing his call and placing the black plastic receiver into its cradle, he removed the diary; and after rubbing his hands along the surfaces on both covers and briefly caressing its edges, he laid the diary on his desk. Immediately, Ted felt the diary now begged to be read as it lay there; and he found it necessary to shift it from one place on his desk to another frequently, because it seemed to be in the way no matter where it was.
After trying to convince himself that he didn't want to read it when in fact he was extremely curious about what kinds of things Walter would write in his diary, he began mulling over the situation.
To be sure, it's not all about me; however, toward the end, we were really at odds. Walter certainly must have had feelings about me marrying Marsha. Then there was Mansfield's Will and the fact that I raised his son.
If I read it and he's blasting me all the way through, I'll have even worse memories of him than I already do. If I don't, then I'll assume the worst, and I won't be able to sleep until I read it.
Damned diary. How did you manage to survive all the wear and tear shown on your cover? Why has Herb brought you here?
Apprehensively sighing, Ted ran his hands one more time over the worn fabric covering the diary before slowly opening it up and letting his eyes find the first words handwritten on the page.
* * *
That evening, at their country home, which was a copy of some Frank Lloyd Wright design but built on the African savanna, Ted and Charlotte were washing their dinner dishes together just after sunset while thoughtfully listening to the sounds of the African nocturnal wonderland coming to life just outside the screen of their kitchen window.
While silently watching the last traces of the red sunset sky fading into a covering of twinkling stars broken along the horizon by the tops of some wispy trees, Ted suggested, "We'll wait for the temperature to drop, and then I'd like to sit outside a bit."
Glancing sharply at Ted, she guessed, "Expecting to do a little light reading?"
"You've carried that ratty diary around all evening like it's a Bible."
* * *
After going outside to their back porch, which opened up onto the African bush, Ted hung a lantern to provide a modest amount of light over a small table with two chairs, all woven from reeds and painted white, before sitting and listening to a chorus of animals and insects. Ted found the starry night sky calming until he heard Charlotte coming out with a pot of tea and two cups.
While watching Charlotte getting comfortable in her reed chair, Ted imagined that she was emotionally bracing herself after noticing he had the diary out and was threatening to open it up. After timidly looking up into Charlotte's unblinking eyes and then self-consciously down at the diary several times, he carefully said, "I'd like to read you some of this."
Noticing Charlotte offered no emotion in the tone of her voice or on the expression of her face, Ted answered, "He was your father, and I don't think you knew him very well."
"Why don't you just tell all then?"
Sensing Charlotte was being sarcastic as a defensive mechanism, he delicately made his argument with a loving tone in his voice, "Because when he was my best friend, you weren't born yet, and after we lost contact, he became involved with your mother."
Carelessly lifting her delicate porcelain teacup to show she didn't care, Charlotte said, "You talk like there are two different Walters."
"I could tell you such wonderful things about the young man that I went to the university with, and you wouldn't believe a word of it after the way he treated you."
Charlotte stifled a nervous laugh before forcefully stating, "I do believe what people say about him when he was young, but I still hate him."
"And that's why I want to read you some of this," Ted said, suddenly realizing he was begging, so he stopped to make sure he finished with a calm reasoning tone in his voice. "I want to dispel some of your hatred."
"And some of your guilt," Charlotte said while squinting. She was sure she hit him in a sore nerve before thinking, You deserve a kick or two in the groin for putting me through this stupid diary business.
"I'll benefit also."
"Well, let's see who can best endure the drama that comes out of that damn book," Charlotte said while defiantly tossing her hair and dropping her teacup into its saucer with a bang to show she could take anything.
With that comment, Ted knew he had permission to read to her, at Least as much as she was willing to give it, so he opened the diary to a section that he'd selected earlier after browsing the first few pages in his office.
After nervously inhaling, he began reading while paying close attention to Charlotte's reaction, because he knew that he must be sensitive and delicate, or he might do more harm than good.
* * *
Ted imagines Walter Mansfield III slouching down at his tiny writing desk in his barracks with his pen hanging in the air over the pages of his diary, and as his eyes are welling up with tears, he writes out his feelings of being dismissed from Army Air Corps flight school earlier in the day.
"What a horrible disappointment I've suffered today. What a loss it is to be drummed out of flight school when all I want to do is fly planes. How can I describe the joy of flying to anyone who has not experienced the thrill? To be a pilot is pure freedom and a joy."
"I have no worries or cares when soaring in the skies with a thundering aircraft responding to my every whim. It's just a damn shame they want to rush me through all the maneuvers. I'm an artist, and I like to savor each and every joyful moment."
"My only option to keep flying is to become a navigator on a bomber. I'll need more money and for Ted to pull a few strings for me."
"I just hope this war isn't over by the time I get settled into a squadron."
Ted knew that once Walter finished writing, he sent a desperate request for help.
* * *
Closing the diary, Ted cleared his throat before saying, "I was able to get Walter transferred to navigators' school."
Charlotte sarcastically added, "It was the least you could do."
"No trouble really, Word War II was raging in Europe, and the air corps needed flyers, so ..." Ted let his words trail off as he noticed Charlotte was glaring at him. Hiding the diary under a napkin, Ted quickly went to Charlotte and began whispering "Charlotte" into her ear repeatedly.
After a few moments, she looked blankly into his eyes before asking, "What exactly was I supposed to get out of that?"
Ted shrugged before quietly answering, "Walter had dreams, and he lost them. He was never able to do the one thing he wanted to do with his life."
Charlotte let her shoulders fall in mock distress. "Oh, how sad."
"I love you, and I mean well," Ted said while feeling his love for Charlotte welling up in his heart.
"Just a little short in the social skills department," Charlotte finished his sentence while playfully rocking her head side to side.
Ted calmly accepted the truthful statement while feeling grateful she didn't say something really hurtful. He simply smiled while leaning forward, but Charlotte turned her face from his expecting lips. So he touched her cheek with his nose and smelled the fragrance of her hair, which brought back a lifetime of tender memories.
After Charlotte stood and began walking out into the darkness, thereby silencing all of the insects and animals in the immediate vicinity, Ted jumped up and chased her until he could grab her hand while expecting to walk her around their house in knee-deep grass for hours until she was exhausted enough to go to bed.
Excerpted from MANSFIELD by Keith R. Long Copyright © 2011 by Keith R. Long. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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