Author’s Note: Tried to make today’s post longer than usual. To make up for the no-show last week. Was due to circumstances beyond my control. I’m sure y’all understand 😀
Sun, Aug 24, 2014
Later That Day…
‘You have a brother.’
I watched Samantha’s mouth fall open at this bit of shocking news. Nonplussed, uncertain how to process what I’d just said she regarded me incredulously, the expression on her face confused and expecting me to elaborate.
‘I don’t understand…’ She muttered finally when I remained silent, tongue-tied.
‘Your mother… She had a son before we were married.’
‘It’s a long story.’
She sighed and gulped down a glass of water.
‘How did you find out?’ She asked me. ‘Or had you always known? What’s his name? Where is he? How…?’
I took my time before I answered, ruminating over my reply, and once again feeling the urge spurred by my paternal protectiveness to shield her from the truth or at least be economical with it. But in the end I decided it best to be transparent.
‘I found out about it only recently. And his name —your brother —his name is Kazeem.’
‘Kazeem?’ She intoned, looking even more confused. Then she asked: ‘Have you met him?’
‘Then how did you…?’
‘Your Mom. She left me a couple of letters that told me everything’ I lied through my teeth, treading carefully or else risk tarnishing the memory of Adrienne with Samantha forever.
‘What did she say? How did she explain keeping a secret of this magnitude?’ Her voice had risen one octave.
If only she knew, I thought, and went on to make things clearer for her, becoming vague with details without setting out to: ‘…She’d been in a very bad position. Samantha the decisions your mom made were because she absolutely had to.’
‘Yeah I can see how she absolutely had to skip letting me know I have a brother or informing you you had —have —a stepson. Where’s he been all this while anyway?’ She raised the empty water glass and set it back down.
‘Listen Samantha’ I continued, ‘its important you realize and understand the sort of situation your mother had found herself in.
‘She had found herself entangled with some very bad people. Dangerous people. And in keeping us from the truth she had been protecting us.’
‘From?’ Samantha’s tone was angry. Anger is usually an alternative for all the emotions we never want to feel; betrayal for example.
‘Kazeem’s father had been a terrorist’—
‘”Had been”? Is he dead or do they get converted to anti-terrorism these days?’
‘Dead’ I stated flatly.
‘In a shoot-out with FBI Agents. He and his cohorts were going to bomb the Empire State building and the Rockefeller Center’—
‘The FBI was able to foil the terror attack because of the information your mother gave, which made her a high-key witness in the criminal prosecution of the members of the group who’d been accosted’—
‘Mom?’ Samantha asked. I recognised the look in her eyes: one of someone who had no recollection of the person I was speaking to her about. Her mother had been a regular mother who did all the things —and only the things —regular mothers did. And this person who’d been connected, however remotely, to a terrorist cell was a stranger.
‘Your mother had been in the witness protection program Samantha.’
‘Honey I know this is a lot’—
‘Adrienne wasn’t her real name, was it?’
I shook my head. ‘Her name was Katherine… Katherine Woodridge.’
Samantha sighed, blinking repeatedly like doing that was going to put things into focus. She stared at me in disbelief for several more seconds, and then rose from her seat.
‘I have to leave now dad’ she said.
‘Samantha, please stay.’
‘I’m sorry dad, but I really need to be on my own now. All of this you just told me is a little too much and I need some time on my own to digest it.’
She came around the table and hugged me, saying in my ear as she did: ‘I’d be home for the weekend dad. Maybe then we can talk about this.
‘I love you.’
‘I love you too Samantha.’
She turned on her heels and I watched her leave, having difficulty convincing myself that I had done the right thing.
I rose too and headed for the exit. I had a Brooklyn-bound flight to catch.
My head was pounding…
Brooklyn: New York’s most populous borough, while technically part of New York City has a character and vibe that is distinctly its own. A life and history which though is its claim to relative unanimity also underscores it’s uniqueness.
The search for my quarry: Collin Fitch led to the Northern Brooklyn neighborhoods consisting of Bushwick, East Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Ridgewood, and Williamsburg.
Williamsburg is sometimes referred to as North side and South side Williamsburg by locals and by that designation Collin Fitch’s office-apartment in which he lived and worked from, was on the North side.
Williamsburg is known as an artist community, largely due to the influx of hipsters in the late 90’s. An artist enclave —consisting mostly of transplants from Manhattan’s East Village —with a cultural mix of inhabitants that was now being threatened by upcoming developments.
Collin Fitch’s apartment building was in a nice predominantly white neighbourhood. The neat lawns and late model Japanese cars said a lot about its inhabitants.
I pulled up kerbside in my rental car and went on to push the buzzer. He let me in.
I’d called him several times in the day: twice before I’d headed out to see Samantha, once before I’d boarded the jet, and one more time since landing.
He was expecting me and he knew my business.
‘Hello Mr. Cohen’ he greeted, holding the door open for me. A small mousy looking fellow I was surprised to find, with a voice like a boombox.
‘Hi’ I muttered as I shuffled past him and took in the open-plan apartment.
It was a large flat with no walls: the kitchen, dining room, living room-cum-office demarcated by furniture arrangement alone. There was a screen door to one end of the room behind which I supposed the bedroom would be, and sliding doors to my right that led out to the balcony.
It was an impressive bachelor pad. Single girls like single guys who live in places like this. Single guys who live in apartments like this hardly ever want to move out.
To afford a place like this, Collin Fitch must have been doing good, for a private investigator that is. And I wondered how much of it was Adrienne.
He went over to his desk in the corner and sat behind it. All business.
I sat opposite him in one of two comfy easy chairs.
‘I’m sorry about your wife’ he said, and it was all I could do to keep from rolling my eyes. That opening line did get tiring.
I nodded anyway.
‘Listen Mr. Fitch I haven’t got much time. I want to know exactly what or who my wife had wanted you to find for her. And how you went about it.’
He regarded me coolly for a moment, and then unearthing a dossier from somewhere out of sight he slid it across the table to me.
The dossier was a little too thin for my liking, and it contained handwritten notes as well as typed documents and photocopies of all he’d found in the search for Kazeem Al Assad. The son Nadira had had with Nasir.
The documents were arranged chronologically: photocopies of a birth certificate, and documents from Child Welfare; handwritten notes on conversation with people he’d questioned on the trail for Kazeem, and a list of the names of all those who had been co-operative with him.
And there were the photographs: the very same ones I’d discovered beneath the false bottom of Adrienne’s drawer, of the baby I now knew to be Kazeem her son and the young man in a gown donning a mortarboard.
‘Who’s this?’ I asked Collin holding up the picture of the green-eyed young man.
‘That’s Jeremiah Bates at his graduation’ he informed me.
I stared at him, confused.
‘Jeremiah Bates used to be Kazeem Al Assad. Bates is the name of his adoptive parents. And that photograph is from his graduation.
‘Biochemistry… Pretty bright kid’ he finished.
‘Did you ever meet with him?’ I asked.
‘No.’ He shook his head. ‘But I probably know more about him than he knows of himself.’
‘What had my wife wanted you to do for her?’
‘Nothing much. Just to find Kazeem Al Assad. All she had was his baby photograph and a few names of people I could begin asking with.
‘It was a long time before I eventually found him… Only by then he was no longer known as Kazeem.
‘Matter of fact I don’t suppose Jeremiah knows much about his early years’ he stated authoritatively.
I returned to the dossier.
Collin Fitch was really organized with his filing. And as I glanced through some of his handwritten notes a name jumped out at me.
And beside the name written in Collin’s neat hand were the following details: daughter of convicted terrorist Diallo Muhammed Taylor with Mrs. Arika Taylor; gave very useful information that led me to Kazeem.
And scribbled in-between lines as though like an afterthought: An opportunistic bitch!!!
My head was pounding. My heart was beating fast.
With sudden clarity the picture became clear to me.
Diallo Muhammed Taylor had been one of Nasir Al Assad’s cohorts. The Senegalese-American.
I remembered the name from my conversation with John Quincy. And it dawned on me that even then something about the name had jarred me.
Chanice Taylor, the girl who had been my daughter’s live-in lover, was the child of a convicted terrorist who had been condemned by Adrienne’s testimony.
The blackmailing e-mails from Samantha’s school. Now I knew who they were from.
Chanice had been blackmailing Adrienne and had most likely pushed her to her death!
Adrienne must have believed she had been found out by someone dangerous, and had done what she thought she had to to keep Samantha and I safe.
Adrienne had died believing she was under a tangibe threat…
Nadira Al Assad’s testimony had put the last nail in Diallo Taylor’s coffin. And it made me wonder what the chances were that Samantha and Chanice’s meeting had been merely coincidence.
I felt red-hot rage boil in my belly, but somehow managed to keep my voice even despite the emotion.
‘This name… Chanice Taylor. Who is she?’
Collin pulled the dossier to himself, turning it on the desk the better to see the pages.
He studied the page I’d been on and rolled his eyes. I don’t suppose the name Chanice Taylor meant much to him without his scribbled notes.
‘Oh, she?’ Collin intoned ominously, clearly irritated by the subject. ‘A gold digging bitch if I ever knew one.’
I took deep breaths to calm myself, then asked: ‘How so?’
‘My search for Kazeem eventually led me to Arika Taylor, the terrorist Diallo Taylor’s widow… I had reason to believe Kazeem had been under her care as at the time his father was gunned down and her husband was arrested. But when I approached her she was absolutely unresponsive. Remaining adamant that she had no idea what I was talking about.
‘It was clear to me she was trying best she could to distance herself from Diallo’s history. Which made it curious that she would keep his name.
‘She and her daughter Chanice I found had moved to Portland, Oregon soon after Diallo’s capture, but people with whom she’d lived in the same apartment building before her departure remembered a little boy about Kazeem’s age at the time who had suddenly disappeared shortly before she and her daughter had upped and left.
‘Arika kept stonewalling and it made me nervous. It could have only been one of two things: she’d given the child up to foster care —possibly with people she already knew or with a foster home —or she’d done away with the boy. And that was what made me nervous: the fact that she didn’t seem the least bit curious as to why I was searching for Kazeem or who I worked for. She never even gave any hint she knew what I was talking about. And I wondered if it didn’t mean she had killed the child. After all the boy’s mother was responsible for her husband’s death, one way or another.’
I did a double-take. ‘How do you know that?’ I asked.
He chuckled. ‘We are intelligent people Mr. Cohen. I’m very good at what I do. Take great pride in that. And it really wasn’t that much of a leap… You found out too, right?’ He regarded me curiously.
‘Or had you always known?’
I shook my head.
I was wondering how many other people had found Nadira Al Assad, and it began to dawn on me when all started to head south: the moment Nadira Al Assad had begun the search for her lost son Kazeem.
What had been the purpose anyway? To be sure he was alive? To re-establish connection? The need to be a part of his life? I doubted it was the latter.
‘In your notes you said Chanice Taylor had been instrumental in finding Kazeem —Jeremiah. Tell me about that.’
‘Yes. Arika remained unresponsive and refused to divulge to me any information as to Kazeem’s whereabouts. But I remained persistent: dropping by her house recurrently and phoning constantly. I’d hoped she’d crack and let something slip but she didn’t.
‘I’d just been by her house one evening and she wouldn’t even let me in. Told me to leave and never come back. I turned away then, at a dead end, but I was only a few houses away when Arika’s daughter Chanice came bounding down the street after me.
‘She had information that could help me find Kazeem, but it was going to come at a price.’
‘Five thousand dollars.’
‘That’s Chanice all right’ I muttered under my breath. I don’t suppose he heard me but if he did he showed no signs of it.
‘I tried offering her five hundred dollars and upped it until we were at two thousand, but she couldn’t be moved. There was something hungry about her. You could tell by the look in her eyes.
‘Avarice is in her DNA. Hell, very few people have infuriated me the way she did. Smug little brat!
‘Somehow she’d sensed the bargaining value of what information she had. Maybe it had been my doggedness or maybe it’s just a course they teach golddiggers, but she’d known. And she’d played her cards like a pro.
‘I was equal parts awed and irritated by her self-assuredness when she made her demands. I mean you see her and your first thought is she’s just another airhead that gets off on her good looks, up until she opens up her mouth and you realize how hard-wired and calculated the mind is that’s behind her words.
‘How much did you give her?’ I asked.
‘I’d called your wife and informed her of the demands. And she asked that I go through with it and she was going to wire me the sum. But then Chanice had her own set of conditions which were to be adhered to if she was going to co-operate.’
‘And what were these conditions?’ I wondered out loud.
He chuckled as though he found the memory funny, and said: ‘We met at a restaurant the next morning, and she’d had a very expensive breakfast on my tab. Then asked me to call whomever had me on their pay roll and inform them to wire the five thousand to her account.
‘I told her it was all covered and she was getting paid the full sum, but she wanted things a bit more instantaneously. She wanted her account credited within the hour and I was to have it arranged on the phone and wait out the time duration with her.
‘I threatened to walk away from all of it but she called my bluff. And just as she demanded I’d gotten on the phone with your wife and she’d wired the money.
‘I’d been sitting there in the restaurant with her when the credit alert came in on her phone. And I’d never forget the way she smiled or the demure look on her face.
‘”Now we can talk business…” Those had been her exacts words. Honestly Mr. Cohen, before that day I’d never felt the urge to hit a woman.’
‘So Adrienne had sent the money herself?’ I was thinking fast.
‘I don’t know but I suppose so.’
‘How long ago was this?’
‘Four years ago give or take.’
‘And this Chanice… What had she looked like?’
‘Well, skinny. Tall. She had these remarkable brown eyes. Her looks are sort of exotic. Why?’
‘Just curious’ I said non-commitally. ‘Thank you Collin. That would be all’ —rising —’I’d take my leave now.’
He seemed surprised by this.
‘You don’t want to meet Jeremiah?’
‘No’ I stated flatly. ‘That’s not why I am here.’
‘Then why are you here?’ He asked with genuine curiosity.
‘You’re an intelligent man Collin’ I said. ‘And you’re good at what you do, right? You’d have to figure this one out on your own.’
I started to dial Samantha’s cell phone as soon as his door was shut behind me.
All the pieces were now in place.
The five thousand dollar wire transfer Adrienne had made to Chanice had been the trigger John Quincy had wondered about. That was how Chanice Taylor had found Adrienne Cohen. And soon after that she must have made the connection between Adrienne and Nadira.
I wondered what Chanice Taylor wanted? Revenge for her father?
That didn’t seem like her motivation. It was probably what she kidded herself with, but apparently it never went beyond money with her.
And then Samantha? What had Chanice’s true intentions been in getting involved with my daughter?
Worming her way in till she was close enough to hurt Nadira? Or was that part of her reconnaissance?
I recalled Chanice’s fawning from our chit-chat a few weeks ago, and it became apparent to me that her objectives went beyond Nadira and revenge.
Apparently she had her sights on something more, and there was only one possibility that came to mind: the Cohen family fortune.
I didn’t think it was coincidence Chanice and Samantha wound up in the same tertiary institution.
Chanice must have done her homework and mapped out her plans and strategy a long time back.
It had been clairvoyance when I’d said to Samantha that for Chanice she hadn’t been an end, but only a means to it.
She’d been playing Samantha from the get go.
Samantha wasn’t taking her calls when I tried her cell phone.
I set the call mode on redial and put it on speaker as I steered my rental back to my hotel, unsure what I was going to do with these new findings.
I felt a bit irritated at Adrienne too. That she could have been so careless. But then in a primal way I understood what it must have been like for her. I had myself been driven by my guilt to the trail of discovery I was on.
Maybe John Quincy was right. And maybe just like me, Adrienne in trying to find her lost son had been searching for forgiveness; for peace of mind.
I’m sorry… I have regrets…
‘Come on Samantha. Pick up!’ I muttered under my breath as once again her line rang to no answer and was replaced by dial tone.