Enter the Darkness
Chapter 8: Of Good-byes and Homecomings
Agent Killian warned us that the people in New York had been talking to the people in Washington, D. C. for the last two years, plotting to kill me. This meant that we were switched from a flight from Syracuse to Dulles to a flight from Buffalo to Baltimore-Washington International Airport. A Sergeant in a Lincoln Continental waited for us at the curb outside of baggage claim with a sign saying "Alexandra and Sgt.-Maj. McKiernan" in medium-sized letters. He nodded respectfully to daddy and helped us get our bags in the trunk of the car. A manila folder was sitting on the back seat with daddy's name on it and he read through the orders while the driver drove us to Ft. Belvoir.
"It is going to take them at least a month, pumpkin. It looks like you get to start school here this year after all."
Sixth grade was hard. Hard, but in a good way. I wasn't bored and I wasn't doing so well that the bigger kids were threatened by me. Janet helped me out, keeping the bullies away from me, though I had a reputation by now. She also did homework with me every afternoon. Together we were doing better than we would have apart and she quickly became the best friend I had ever had, outside of Mickey and Anika. I was going to miss her.
I quickly realized that our move was going to coincide with the start of soccer practice season. I was not happy, but daddy soon put things in perspective by showing me a letter forwarded to him through his CO from the FBI. The letter warned him that the FBI and city police in Washington, D. C. had arrested six young men on their way to Ft. Belvoir with a car full of weapons and a map showing how to get from D. C. to Ft. Belvoir. At the top of that map was scribbled our address.
School had only been in for two weeks when the movers showed up on a Saturday morning. We had already packed up most of our stuff. Most of it was going to storage. The Army would hold it until we could retrieve it. Only a few articles of clothing, a few personal items, and the kitchenware were going to West Germany with us. We would buy whatever else we needed once we got there. Sadly, it took the movers only four hours to pack us up. We didn't have much.
It was the arrival of the movers that let Janet and Joel know we were moving. I was under strict orders, from daddy and the FBI, not to tell anyone what was happening or where we were going. All of our mail would be filtered through a special post office box monitored by Military Intelligence and the FBI. Our family would be given a number to call in case of a family emergency, but we would not be allowed to keep in contact with anyone once we left. I tried to explain what was happening to Janet and Joel but Janet was upset. She stormed away half way through my explanation. I was the closest friend she had had in more than six years, or so Joel told me as we walked around the block shortly after the movers left.
"She is a tomboy and was always sort of a bully," Joel told me, walking at my side so close that our hips and shoulders kept brushing. "I was almost shocked when she just picked you up that day like a stray. I guess she saw something of herself in you. Mom and Dad were very thankful for you. They had started thinking about sending her to go live with my uncle in Utah. He is sort of rich and I think he offered to set her up at the same strict private school that my two cousins go to. Janet has really mellowed since you moved in, though."
I stared at the ground, willing the tears to go back to their ducts. "I really will miss you two. I hated having to move here but you guys have made me not want to leave. I still don't like Washington, D. C., but you guys have made me like Ft. Belvoir. I hate having to leave you guys like this and not being able to keep in touch."
Joel seemed to tense up and held his breath as he slid his arm over my shoulder. We were the same age but I was very short and he was very tall so my head rested almost perfectly in the crook of his shoulder. "It is a damned shame I couldn't work up my courage before this. Janet told me I was either being very smart or very cowardly in not asking you out. She said we were either too young, you too much of a tomboy still, or things would have worked out," he said, his voice breathy and his tone a little skittish. He looked down into my eyes with his soft brown orbs. "I think maybe I was being cowardly," he whispered before he slowly lowered his mouth to mine, giving me every opportunity to pull away.
My breath caught and my eyes widened as I tensed. His mouth brushed mine and I almost melted, relaxing into him and reaching up to trap his face in my hands as he kissed me. His tongue brushed my lips, asking for entrance and I opened my mouth with a moan, feelings I was not prepared for surging through me. Joel slowly pulled away with a sadly pleased smile on his face. It was my first kiss from a male not related to me and Joel was either well-practiced or naturally talented because it was memorable. There would be a long time between that first, breathless kiss and the next time I would be well-kissed.
"I told you you were being a coward," Janet's voice said from behind us, startling us both and making us whirl with guilty looks on our flushed faces. The look on her face was soft, however. Softer than I had ever seen Janet look. "I told you that she liked you and that if you gave her a chance to think of you as something other than a friend that she would."
She walked up to me and hugged me tight. "I will miss you both so much, Janet," I whispered to her.
She let me go, tears standing in her unblinking eyes. "I will miss you too, Runt. These last two years have been like having a sister and best friend rolled into one. I just wish we could write to you."
"I know, but they aren't even letting me write to my cousin Anika," I told her sadly, tears streaming down my face. "Somehow I doubt they would let me write you guys. But I will drop my cousin a letter before we leave and tell her that you will be writing her. I am going to give you her address so you can tell her where you guys are so if I ever get out of the Army's version of the Witness Protection Program I can get back in touch with you."
"Well, I can tell you where we are going next," Joel said, slipping his arm back around my shoulders. "Dad just got word last week that we are going to England next, in about six months."
I smiled up at him, thinking about my trip to London. "You'll like it there. England is a nice place."
He returned my smile and kissed me again, though not quite as thoroughly this time. "Good-bye, Alexandra McKiernan. I hope I see you again, my friend," he said almost formally.
Janet put her hands on my shoulders and kissed my cheek, giving me another hug. "Good-bye, Alexandra McKiernan. Our hearts will be cold and our lives empty until you come into them again." Her tone was as formal as her brother's and I wondered if I was hearing a traditional parting they had learned from their grandparents, all of whom were still very Old World.
I placed my left hand over Janet's heart and my right over Joel's and closed my eyes. "May the Gods watch over you and keep you safe until our paths cross again." For the rest of my life I would wonder where those words had come from. Gods? I was a monotheist. Not a very devout one, but a monotheist nonetheless. If I didn't know better I would swear I was being possessed by my father's mother at that moment. She was an unabashed druid priestess, in a time when it wasn't hip and New Age, until the day she died some two years before I was born. That benediction was the last thing I remember saying to my two best friends before I ran home to my dad's voice.
We left for a hotel the same day our stuff left. We spent the night in a Holiday Inn somewhere off I-95 in Maryland before catching a flight out of Andrews Air Force Base the next day. We went over to Andrews where we would be catching another military flight like the one we got coming back from New York and the trial in Oneida. We were somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean and I was fondling the brown belt Master Yoshino had given me the day before we left Ft. Belvoir as I remembered our parting. I was almost as sad to leave him as I was to leave Joel and Janet. I had cried as he handed me the brown belt.
"This you have earned," he had told me, patting my hands as they enveloped the belt. "In truth you have learned enough to get your black belt, but I wished to do that at a local dojo so that you would have a fitting ceremony that goes with such things. You karate skills are at such a level to have earned that much. Your kendo skills are still at the brown belt level, but with further training, you will make a formidable swordswoman, my little ninja. I hope you will continue your studies wherever you wind up."
Somehow he knew we were leaving and that I neither knew where we were going nor was I allowed to tell him even if I did know. He was a strange old man with knowledge about things he should not have known about. I think it was this almost omniscient way he had about himself that allowed him to curb the joy I had in violence. It did not bother him much at all to hear me confess that I liked to fight some four or five weeks into our training together. Something about him made me confide in him and he reciprocated with a sharing of the vast pool of knowledge that lay in his mind. I doubted I would ever meet another master like him to teach me what I wanted, even needed, to know.
Remembering our parting brought tears to my eyes. I cuddled my brown belt to me and settled down to try to sleep, hoping that when I woke next I would have a better idea of what the hell was going on in my life.
But that, of course, didn't happen. I woke to my dad shaking me awake to eat. The stewardess had the dinner cart parked next to our seats and was handing daddy his dinner.
"What would you like to drink, dear?" the peroxide blonde woman asked brightly, her uniform spotless and perfect. She was pretty in the way that mannequins are pretty. It was a fake pretty. A contrived pretty. And she was trying to use that prettiness on my dad. She was leaning over him every chance she got and smiling at him with a look in her eyes that smoldered.
"Coke, please," I replied, giving her a look of my own with just my eyes and a tilt to my head.
She started and quickly poured my drink, handed me my dinner, and moved on. I was more shocked than the look my dad turned on me. I was ten. What the hell could my face have said that made her go pale like she did?
Daddy chuckled, but it didn't quite reach into his eyes. "Thank you for defending my honor, pumpkin," he joked, ruffling my hair. "I don't know what I would do without you."
We landed at Aviano Air Force Base in Italy when I woke up from my after-dinner nap. We debarked and were heading towards our next gate to board a plane for the short ride to West Germany when four Italian soldiers with their hands on their weapons approached daddy and me. Behind them eight other soldiers were struggling to take three men in handcuffs away.
"Sergeant-Major McKiernan?" one of the Italians asked. When daddy nodded, the man's face became grimmer. "I have been instructed to inform you that those men were waiting for you. My superiors have been contacted by NATO Military Intelligence and a private plane is on the runway, awaiting your arrival. It will take you to your next destination directly." The four Italian soldiers took us straight to a small plane where three men were loading our luggage onto the plane. We boarded and were whisked out of Italy.
After we landed at a small air field somewhere in Baden-Württemberg, we never stayed in one place longer than six weeks. I was in more schools and on more soccer teams in that time than in the five years before that. The only thing that saved me from failing sixth grade was that the DoDDS (Department of Defense Dependents' Schools) school system was pretty much uniform so I didn't fall behind every time we moved into a new gasthaus. My soccer season was really weird, though, and because I was on almost every team in the league at least once, the standings were off that year. Every team I went to won all of its games except the last team I was on. I wound up on the worst team in Germany but just by me being there they ended the year on a two game win streak. I never did find out why we were moved around so much that they never delivered our things to us until the next year. I always assumed the fact that the Italians stopped those men at Aviano and sent us on to West Germany in a private plane was the reason. And my dad didn't really get the chance to talk to me much in those hectic eight months because he was gone most of the time. I was looked after by the nice German couples who owned the gasthauses we stayed in. By the time they settled us down on a small Army base in the foothills of Bavaria, I was fluent in German with a pronounced southern (Bavarian/Baden-Württemberg) accent.
When we arrived in the tiny community, daddy told me that the nearest decent-sized towns were Augsburg and Munich. I loved it there. Whether he was home or on duty somewhere else, my dad always made sure I got to go to the Oktober Fest in Munich every year for the three years we were there. I only got to go once with him, however, because he was away more often than he was home. I got the feeling that we were only in Virginia to turn my dad into a superspy. He used to come home with souvenirs from places like East Berlin, Vienna, Prague, and Budapest. I started to worry in between studying, soccer, and training with a new martial arts teacher, Fernando Santos. He was a Filipino-American who was a seventh degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do. He was retired and lived with his German wife in the tiny village near the Army base. He was in the U. S. Army Air Force in the 1940's and stayed in when they were turned into the Air Force in the 1950's. He learned Tae Kwon Do from his time spent in South Korea during and after the Korean War. He also improved my knife-fighting skills with something he learned when he was growing up in Santiago on Luzon Island. He and his wife, Hilde, practically adopted me. It was they who got me through my eighth grade year when the schools skipped me over the seventh grade.
And it was Mr. Santos who discovered a new and scary ability of mine.
July 4, 1988 was my twelfth birthday. My dad had been away for nearly a month when he got back the night before, just in time for my birthday. I had a small party with my dad, the Santoses, and a few kids I played soccer with attending. It was nice but not as nice as if I had real friends like Joel and Janet or Anika and Mickey and my family in New York. My dad got me a bunch of new clothes, some souvenirs from Turkey, and a wooden practice sword. I also got some toys and soccer gear from my teammates, a few esoteric martial arts things from the Santoses (silk and steel fan from Japan and a small black leather case containing several tools used in ninjitsu), and a new bike from my grandparents in New York. Dad later told me that they had shipped it nearly four months ago in anticipation of the long shipping time it would have (since it would have to be moved several times by Army Intelligence in order to get to me untraced). Inside the box were several letters from everyone back in New York and a letter from Eoin in London for dad written in French. Until then, I didn't know my dad could speak French, never mind read it.
All in all, it was a good day and I went to bed happy.
A week later dad was off again and I went to stay with the Santoses. School would be starting in a couple of months and dad was not really sure he would be back before school started up again. For some reason I got really depressed after he left and two days later I woke up with bloody shorts and sheets and a pain in my abdomen. I nearly shrieked the roof down when I saw the blood. While Mr. Santos tried valiantly to not laugh, Hilde helped me clean up and explained the facts of womanhood to me. She also held me while I missed my mom for the first time in a long time. I went to bed that night at the Santos' clutching a picture of her that I smuggled out of Virginia, contrary to the wishes of the FBI and the Military Intelligence officer that told us what we could and could not take to Germany with us.
Hilde gave me a cup of tea at every meal that seemed to help with the ache in my abdomen while Fernando announced that we would resume training the next day, despite my physical and emotional pains.
Fernando and I ran around the village a few hours after dawn dressed in sweats and white t-shirts and came back to his house to practice spin kicks. I tried the first one he showed me a couple of times before he realized I was not really putting my all into the effort.
"Alexandra! This will not do! You are better than this," he shouted, lowering the heavy rectangular pad he had been holding up for me to kick. "I told your father I would teach you so long as you gave me your utmost efforts. Now," he said as he braced himself and raised the pad into place, "try again! And put your heart into it! Your enemies will not be impressed with the last few kicks you executed."
To be honest, I was furious! Here I was bleeding, aching, longing for my family and a normal life and he was treating me like an errant child! A baby! I felt my anger building like never before and my eyesight narrowed down to the black square on the white canvas of the pad. Setting myself, inhaling and feeling my body take over for my mind, feeling centered for the first time since my martial arts teachers explained the idea of chi, I stepped forward, spun, and lashed my foot out at Mr. Santos. All of my anger and focus seemed to flow through my body and out my foot in a rush. Absently I saw Mr. Santos go flying through the air to land in a heap on a conveniently place lounge chair. What I concentrated on was the feeling of absolute power flowing through me after that kick. I felt eight feet tall. I felt like I could kick down the stone wall encircling the spacious yard we practiced in. I felt invincible. Only when I heard Mr. Santos groan and Hilde yell did I realize that my master had been on the receiving end of that kick.
"Master!" I yelped, running over to him to help Hilde get him into a sitting position on the chair. "Sir! Mr. Santos? Are you all right? I'm sorry! I didn't mean it!"
By the time his eyelids fluttered open, I was sitting on the ground next to the garden wall huddled around my misery. Fernando stood with a groan and a hand from Hilde and hobbled over to sit down beside me. His breathing was shaky and his eyes were wide with something not quite, but very close to, fright. He laid an arm across my shoulders and hugged me to his side.
"I am all right, my little warrior," he said in a whisper, bending over to plant a kiss on my head. 'That was all of your heart? You put everything you had into that kick?"
I was sort of shocked at the question but I nodded in answer.
He heaved another sigh and looked up at Hilde, who was hovering over both of us. "Then I think it is time to call Brother Mark. He said this would come, now that she was of age. Tell him the castle," he told his wife mysteriously. She nodded and scurried into the house, her dirty blonde hair flying behind her and her blue eyes troubled. Mr. Santos levered himself up using the wall and then held out a hand for me. When we were both standing he smiled, wincing as he pressed his hand around his ribs. "How would you like to go see a castle today?"
We cleaned up and went for a drive to the ruins of a castle a fair distance from the house. It was one of the things I missed most about leaving Germany the first time. My mom and dad used to take me to see a lot of the castles, ruins and those still occupied, around Europe. From Austria to Scotland, we made a hobby out of taking and collecting pictures of castles. I still have one of the last books of castle pictures mom ever made and Aunt Sabrine has another.
I was still shook up about kicking Mr. Santos so hard and so far, but I was a very suspicious twelve-year-old. After cleaning up, I put my knife harness on and tucked a few throwing knives in my pocket. Mr. Santos didn't seem all that surprised that I could do what I did and now he was taking me to see someone, despite the attempt at subtlety he and Hilde had used. After what seemed like an interminable drive in the German countryside, the ruins of the castle came into view.
The old fortress had been perched atop a rounded bluff and the village that grew up to support it still lay at its base, probably not much bigger then when the fortress ceased to exist to protect it. The outer wall was gone but large blocks of stone here and there still gave you an idea as to where it used to be. Beyond that, the walls of the keep itself were tumbled down in a dozen places, with the rubble of weathered stones leaving only a few windowless holes and a large arch where the front door used to be. As we approached, I wished I had mom's old camera. The scenery, the beautiful sky, and the location would have made good pictures to start up a scrap book. I remember thinking that I would ask dad for a camera for Christmas when he got back when I saw the other car drive up the road from the village.