Part 6 - Welcome to
“Oh me, oh my,
Aunt Bette! This is absolutely amazing!”
Bette looked down the long stretch of the limousine at the redhead who was
literally bouncing out of her seat with excitement. She couldn’t help but giggle
at the young girl’s poorly contained ebullience. Maude looked over at her girl
with pride but was quickly caught up in the scenery beyond the tinted window.
Her bright smile widened as did her eyes as they emerged from the tree lined
lane and a magnificent gold trimmed castle with an oriental design appeared in a
clearing before them. Even from this distance, the magic of the Khmer styled
palace was readily apparent. They all marveled at the paradoxical Japanese
weeping cherries that fringed the front park, bowing as though with melancholy
below the light burden of smile-evoking, pale pink blossoms.
They could even see the burbling waters that periodically spewed high up into
the air from large extravagant water fountains, and playfully tripped in the
light creating tiny luminescent rainbows that seemed to frame the massive
buildings beyond them with multi-hued light. Maude felt her cares flitter away
from her shoulders. She loved this country; though one that had seen many years
of strife; she had always had very good times there in the company of Bertie,
her knight in shining armor. The buildings before her, though much more
brilliant and considerably more modern in appearance, reminded her of the Angkor Wat and all the wonderful memories she had built with Bertie on a special trip
they had made there.
Maude reached over and stroked the back of Bertie’s
hand contentedly. He, in turn, looked her fondly in the eye and returned her
tender smile. Still holding hands, the couple turned their attention to the
remarkable landscape beyond the window. Maude looked at the two sitting calmly
beside the whirlwind of excitement that was their daughter and could feel
anticipation growing steadily within her as well. Bertie had not filled her in
on any of the details, but she felt certain that at this wonderfully majestic
place, Peaches’ long ordeal with the strange lump on her neck would finally come
to an end.
She had been out of contact with Bertie for quite some time after their flight
from Cambodia that fateful day so many years ago when she had discovered the
reddened patch of skin slightly below the pinna of Peaches’ ear one morning as
she was giving the bright burnt red locks their regular shampoo. As soon as she
could do so with some degree of privacy, Bette had rung Helen who reminded her
that as was required they would have to remain incommunicado for an undetermined
amount of time, but shortly thereafter Bette had been surprised to receive a
non-descript parcel in the post containing a sweet smelling lotion with a
message written on a snatch of white paper in courier font, “Must
apply daily to affected area.” Without really knowing why, intuition perhaps,
Bette had immediately understood and had done as she was bid. A package arrived
every fortnight, no matter where in the world they had been on their first year
of world travel, even when they had arrived and settled in St. Lucia, and it had
even mysteriously found them in their new home in Scotland; always the same
lotion and the same plain note in a plain brown envelope. Bette had learned not
to ask too many questions many years ago. She already felt burdened by all that
the things to which she had been made privy, but all in all, she was just
delighted to know that this particular journey would at long last come to an
end. Whatever it was that was embedded below Peaches’ skin – for as the child
grew older, it became more apparent to Bette that something was indeed there –
it would finally be removed, which would no doubt bring relief for all. Whenever
the young girl would have a spell, Bette would feel even more certain that that
mysterious patch was the trigger and she would always apply the lotion more
diligently than she had done the night before in the hopes of bringing more
peace to the young girl’s life.
The enthusiasm was catching and by the time the limo had come to a full stop
allowing them to disembark at the foot of a tiny bridge that spanned a pond
filled will beautiful lilies and delightful frolicking goldfish and led to the
grand golden doors of the main entry, the three adults and the adolescent had
found themselves talking over each other, oohing and aahhing over everything
that was laid out before them. It was then that Peaches’ eyes suddenly glazed
“Josh! Catch her!”
The young girl had in an instance transformed from unbridled effervescence to
silent dead weight as she suddenly fainted for no apparent reason. Bertie
quickly scooped her up into his arms.
“I’m sure she will be alright. Maybe the heat has gotten to her and all the
excitement of the day. I’ll just take her up to her room and let her rest a
while,” he quickly tried to pacify his wife who was on the brink of panic.
“Don’t you worry, darling,” Bertie soothed as he reached over and placed a
gentle kiss on Maude’s lips, “I promise. She will be alright.”
Maude did her best to support him with a weak smile.
“Yes, I think she will be right as rain after a little shut eye, Maude. Trust
me. She has had fainting spells before when the excitement has gotten to her.
She will be fine,” Bette chirped in. “Let’s go explore this amazing place!” she
offered trying her very best to keep spirits light.
As he lumbered up to the room he had had specially prepared for his little
princess, Bertie couldn’t evade his own panic and rising fears.
“Oh my baby, what have they… Oh sweet God… What have we done to you?”
As Maude and
Bette explored their new digs, their concerns about Peaches' collapse gradually,
and with surprising swiftness, gave way to oooh's and ah’s and other sounds of
delight and discovery. The palatial residence was astounding, a veritable
flashback to the times when great Hindu influenced temples were being
constructed in celebration of their gods. The walls of the buildings all
thoughout this amazing compound bore high relief, highly detailed carvings
depicting all kinds of scenes, some readily recognizable illustrations of daily
life, others somewhat cryptic and celestial in appearance. The buildings gleamed
in the fading afternoon sunlight, the dazzling glint a testimony to the gold
leafing that had been flawlessly applied on the stone surfaces.
“What’s the matter, Maude?”
Though seasoned travelers who had seen some of the most amazing sights of the
world, both Bette and Maude had to take pause to admire the sight that seemed to
magically appear before their eyes, an entire building or tree – they couldn’t
quite figure out what it was – stood as an amazing architectural challenge, an
enormous and tangible optical illusion, a building wrapped in a tree - or was it
the other way around? They couldn’t figure out where building ended and tree
began, and what was even more amazing was that somehow, the building had been
updated to accommodate what appeared to be a viewing room. The door was unlocked
and inside they found gadgets of all type and descriptions: large screen video
monitors, recording decks, dvd players, large desk size equalizers with rows of
sliding dials – modern technology meet ancient Khmer spiritualism in the lap
of overgrowth of Mother Nature!. They dawdled for a while trailing their
fingers simultaneously over the stony aged walls and the shiny metal electronic
paraphernalia, marveling with child-bright eyes, before heading back outdoors
hot on the trail of new explorations. Bertie literally ran into them as he
rounded the corner of the pool house; and yes, the corner was indeed round as
the pool area was constructed an a play of amazing curves and spheres. He
explained that Peaches was sleeping comfortably in her bed and suggested that
they should each adjourn to their rooms to freshen up before dinner, as he
expected that dinner would be served in a matter of just a few hours. The three
agreed, and after time spent individually in their respective suites – which
were kitted out with unsurprising luxury – they passed the night amiably in good
company with excellent food and wine and much merriment.
“Where am I?”
Peaches squeezed her eyes shut then blinked repeatedly as she tried to open them
once again; it was the dawn of a new day. Well, not quite dawn as Peaches had
slept through the early morning hours and didn’t awake did the sun’s angle
signaled the arrival of noon.
Maude too had passed the first morning hours lounging around in the cool downy
folds of her regal bed. She had a sumptuous breakfast alone in bed. Bertie had
gone out much earlier - he was the early riser in the family - though he did
return in a bit of a haste right after noon, muttering something about having
left his trusty blackberry behind in his the pocket of his jacket.
“Is Peaches awake, darling?”
“Yes, my love. She sends her love and I know she would want you to know how much
she is enjoying it here. In fact, she has been doing a little exploring of her
own. She’ll join us for an early dinner. So, you can have a bit of a lay in if
you wish. Or, an early afternoon swim may be to your liking?”
Bertie kissed his wife gently on the forehead before making a speedy exit.
“Yes, indeed, a swim would make a beautiful start to the day,” Maude
silently agreed, and she soon found herself lying pool-side, basking in the sun
with her toes fiddling with a bit of smooth moss that was growing out of the
stony rim of the pool and her fingers trailing idly in the crystal clear water.
The swimming pool was unique in that the filtration system allowed for sea-life
to grow as though in nature and Maude had marveled at the fact that just minutes
before she had been swimming with the beautiful tropical fish that frolicked in
the water. Though she had spent some time trying to figure out how it was all
possible, she had not hit upon the technological genius that was the natural
spring that fed the pool and the spa system that completely replenished the
water on the hour.
Bette and Bertie had done a bit of sightseeing of their own earlier that
morning, a tour which concluded with a return to that amazing tree/viewing room
structure which from an early hour had been populated by a staff of at least 6
technicians. Bertie explained that this was the nerve center of the residential
complex, that from here room temperature, water clarity, music quality and all
manner of creature comforts were monitored and maintained. They had just
wandered over to a corner of the room that housed a desk console with a display
of about 4 small monitors when Bette chanced to notice a familiar sight through
a large window.
“Oh look, Josh… Peaches is exploring her new room!” A proud smile brightened
both their faces.
“And we have a special surprise for her there too!” Bertie commented with only
half-concealed excitement. “I think she will really enjoy getting to know Pluto.
He is really a very special and loving dog.”
But, nothing could prepare them both for the scene that would suddenly unfold
before their eyes as an alarm sounded and the staff of six scambled to man their
stations. Two individuals dressed in medical garb, appeared as if from nowhere
and quickly made their way to the room that Peaches had sworn just minutes
before was a ‘to die for’ paradise.
“I understand, Sir,
but the order came directly from the commander-in-chief…. Yes.”
Raj shivered as a chill ran through his body. Yes, he was just the messenger,
yet he was well aware of the fate of many well meaning messengers throughout
history. He clearly could not go against orders, but he also knew all too well
that Bertie Brandman’s calm and compassionate exterior could easily give way to
a mighty and ferocious temper that was always very difficult to contend with,
but this time luck was to be on his side.
“Dr. Bennett’s instructions were very clear Mr. Brandman. Take care of the girl,
but the chip is not to be removed under any circumstances… No… No further
explanations were offered… Yes, the dog too…. I don’t know… No… I understand Mr.
Brandman, but I am just relaying the orders, Sir. Sir, please… ok… I will make
your request known. Sir…”
The impatient click signaled that the call had indeed ended, and Raj realized
that he had not been given the opportunity to, at the very least, add a kind
word to try to ease the tensions. He knew it was unprofessional of him, this
desire to make things right against the staunch black and whiteness of protocol,
but after so many years of relaying some of the harshest commands, he just felt
it was time to introduce some humanity. A young child’s life has been given over
to years of espionage and counter-espionage. The Mossad was an incredible force
to reckon with. He shuddered when he thought of all the horrors they had
committed over time, aiding Apartheid in South Africa at a time when no one else
would dare to openly offer that type of support – the Institute for
Intelligence and Special Operations, indeed! What did this mean for the
world, for the girl? A hardnosed organization that worked in the name of
‘intelligence’, one that has been responsible for attempted assassinations of
leaders of opposing forces, for providing arms to the murderous Idi Amin in
Uganda amongst other things. Raj understood about covert and intelligence
operations, and realized that each side worked for the good of their country,
but Mossad always seemed to scare him just a little more than the others; their
reputation for ruthlessness was not only outstanding, but he knew first hand,
that it was all very true.
He held the receiver close to his ear while he slowly dialed the very familiar
Could she hear the smile that instantly warmed his face? it was so soothing to
hear her voice, knowing that she was safe and sound at home and that her days
were all about playing and loving and living and nothing more.
“Daddy will be home soon. Ha, yes, run and tell Maataa , daddy
will be home soon.”
As he hung up the phone Raj reflected upon his lowly position in the schema of
things, but after so many years of tracking the Brandman family, having been
responsible for making sure that the lotions were received by the child wherever
she was in the world (something that was not entirely following the orders from
the higher ups), being privy to the truth behind her electronic incarceration,
he was thrilled beyond belief to be able to collect his humble salary, to be
able to return home every now and then to hold his happy-go-lucky daughter tight
in his arms and to kiss his loving wife goodnight, knowing that he and his
family lived a modest, but a thankfully simple life.
Mother, you should see that amazing television that I have in my room! Well, if
you can call it that,” the young girl tittered gaily as she ran her fingers from
the nape of her neck through her vibrant hair, pulling the unruly carotene locks
up as she went until she had created a bundle of cascading hair atop her head.
“Oh Aunt Bette, what a dream, what a fabulous, an absolutely spectacular dream!”
“Be careful now.”
“I will be. Don’t you worry. Besides, I can’t imagine that anything horrible
could happen in this wonderful paradise. Wow.”
Nonetheless, Peaches did heed her Aunt Bette’s warning, and once again grabbed
hold of the smooth ropes of the swing. She had been swaying back and forth,
relaxing under one of the many weeping cherry trees in a swing, the likes of
which she had not experienced before. The swing dangled from a wide spread tree
and was fitted with a cushioned seat large enough for three. The ropes were
smooth as silk and glistened as if they were in fact woven from the very stuff,
and there was a little contraption that allowed her to propel the swing simply
by pulling on a corded tassel. She had been lounging there enjoying the sweet
scented evening breezes along with her parents and Aunt who were seated nearby
chatting amongst themselves. Dinner was already behind them. Earlier that
evening, everyone had emerged from their bedrooms looking refreshed and
ravenous, and as it turned out, the meal was, by everyone’s account, fit for a
king - and queens and a princess, as well, perhaps. The quartet had eaten and
chatted with merry abandon, gorging themselves till they could barely move. It
had been an eventful day but one that ended on a very high note; even Bertie and
Bette had managed to put the horrors of their day behind them.
The medical team had rushed in and had taken the situation fully in hand.
Peaches had not done herself any harm and the team had also confirmed that Pluto
was doing just fine. Conclusion: the two should not meet again, or not just yet,
until they could determine what had gone on. Bertie had not been satisfied by
their explanations; he found that he was suddenly having a difficult time
trusting his own colleagues. Why hadn’t he been informed about the chip implant?
In his own daughter… after all these years?! Not even their rallying their
forces together with such admirable speed could recharge the waning faith that
he had in them. It certainly didn’t help to discover, after the horrifying
experience of watching both his beloved daughter and dog suffer through who
knows what, that the commander-in-chief did not intend to have the chip removed
after all. He had been given the impression that was the very reason why they
had returned to this place. It was only watching the colour return to this bonny
child’s face, seeing her emerge from the fits she had experienced ignorant and
blissful, that doused the rage that flared within. The team, the commander, the
agency, they would all have to be dealt with on another day. In that moment, as
relief gave rise to good feelings, Bertie with a knowing look, made a silent
pact with Bette to let the evening go on as it should, with warmth, with fun,
with the pleasantries and glee that had been promised, and so they had.
Maude had danced with the fish and swam to her heart’s content. Even after so
many years of being pampered, she could still get a thrill from the simpler
things in life, though knowledge of this easy going nature was something she
made a point to always keep to herself; it was and would remain her little
secret. She had wandered around the grounds, further exploring its majesty and
mystery, and as a prize she had been rewarded with the memorable glows of the
early setting sun. After a delicious shower in the showcase bath area with
Bertie, who had then popped in, as an all too willing companion, Maude had
donned one of her designer gossamer print dresses, done her hair and makeup and
had gone off in search of her for-so-long absent daughter, with Bertie following
not far behind. She had been only a few steps away from Peaches’ door when her
little girl had emerged sunny and bright.
“Ah, there you are. I’ve missed you today.” Maude’s smile seemed to always grow
a little brighter whenever her ears chanced to hear that word.
“Oh Mother, you wouldn’t believe what a day it has been!”
And so it began, Peaches telling Maude about her adventures of the day – the
ones that came to mind, of course (though failing to remember portions of her
days had never fazed the young girl for it had been part and parcel of her very
existence) – and Maude going on about the fish decorated pool and all the riches
to be found on that property. They found Bette standing outside the dining hall
and she didn’t miss a beat in joining in on the fun. And so the evening had
continued with everyone in high spirits, forgetful of the agonizing moments they
had each encountered in the days not too long past, well everyone but one.
As he watched his little girl swing lazily to and fro, Bertie felt an enormous
ache of regret and responsibility. She looked so blissful and serene with the
moonlight softening her pale skin and glinting off her wavy hair which flowed
gently to and fro keeping counter-time to the swing and its owner. The
loveliness of the sight spawned a thoughtful smile which all too soon found that
it had lost its place. Bertie’s mind had begun to wander and his vision too till
they jarred him with that very face distorted in pain; the record of those
moments he had witnessed played on and the seasoned agent felt his blood begin
to stir and heat up; outrage had begun to rear its steamy head. They were
wealthy and comfortable, why shouldn’t their daughter live in this blissful
moment forever? Why was that chip placed in her head? Why hadn’t he been
informed? What was going on? Where would it all end? Why had Youssef been at the
airport and what did he mean? Where was this all going to end? He knew where.
It would end exactly where he ended it.
Part 5 |
Continue to Part 7
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