Copyright© 2016 by AA Nemo
Monday December 8, 2014
Kate came awake slowly. It took her awhile to figure out where she was. It was dark and Sam the cat was pressed against her side. She stretched, trying not to disturb him, unkinking her muscles after what felt like a long sleep – she wondered how long it had been. The soft bed above the garage would certainly have been preferable to a sleeping bag on the floor, but she had slept in worse places. At least she was warm and out of the weather. How long that would last was anyone’s guess.
She had neither a cell phone nor a watch so she had no idea what time it was, but it felt like many hours and she was still a bit groggy. Maybe she wasn’t quite over the flu as she had thought. Her stomach rumbled. The cat inched his way up so he was nestled under her chin, comforting her with his soft purring. At least someone appreciates me.
She figured with the darkness and what she thought was an early hour, chances of discovery were minimal so she would chance going back to the apartment above the garage. The woman who had come to feed Sam had said they’d be back sometime in the afternoon – ‘after the mail arrived’ so apparently the owners were not expected back yet.
“Come on, lazybones.” she said to the cat as she sat up, dislodging him. She fumbled in the darkness for her boots and as she pulled them on, she said, “I’m starving, aren’t you?”
Kate grabbed the milk from the refrigerator and they stepped outside, greeted by the shock of cold air. The storm had moved off and the clear night sky held little warmth. She stopped for a moment at the top of the stairs and looked at the stars in the darkness. Beautiful, she thought, admiring their brilliance. The cat feigned indifference as he rubbed her ankles, also hungry now that his slumber had been disturbed.
The digital clock on the microwave in the kitchen said it was a little after five. She’d slept fourteen hours! No wonder she was stiff and hungry. She replicated the breakfast activities of the day before; kettle on, cat fed, toast toasted, cereal poured. Kate sat in the darkness with only the nightlight above the stove illuminating their repast. The hot sweetened tea and the breakfast restored her, and at least for now her optimism returned. After cleaning up breakfast, she took the final mug of tea and moved to the living room area where she opened the curtains and then sat in the big leather chair to be able to watch the dawn.
As she sat and sipped her tea, she thought of those final days in her uncle’s house.
In late May 2011, with high school graduation only a few days away, she was on one of her late-night sojourns in the big house when she had been surprised to hear her uncle’s voice as she approached his office. The door was open slightly and she heard him on the phone. She had always had the house to herself after midnight. It seemed that usually everything was quiet by eleven o’clock.
As he spoke, she could only hear his end of the conversation, but what she did hear made her blood run cold. He sounded impatient with the other party.
“Yes, yes.” he said. “I guarantee she’s a virgin ... Yes, your doctors can examine her before you take delivery. No, there won’t be any problems. No one will ask any questions ... right after graduation, she’ll just disappear. If anyone does ask, the story is she’s run away, but no one will bother. She’s got no friends and no contact with anyone outside the family.
“You can add her to your little stable of blonde western girls and that will be the end of it. I’ve told you already she’s a virgin. No, I haven’t had a doctor look at her. I’ll tell you what: if she isn’t ... you get her for half price. Do we have a deal?”
Suddenly he burst out laughing.
“No, I haven’t examined her myself, but I’ve thought about it! That won’t void the contract, will it?”
Kate made her way back to her room, trembling in fear. She now knew her future and the timetable. It was time to move up her plans to escape. She would need Rosie’s help.
Sitting in this warm comfortable place, gazing into the darkness, a tear trickled down her cheek as she recalled those last traumatic days. Everything had depended on timing and reliance on people she didn’t know, but she had no choice.
So now, three-and-a-half years later, she was in a garage apartment on the other side of the country from her uncle. She still feared him and she knew if he ever got his hands on her again, he would make sure that she had no opportunity to escape.
Kate watched the sun come up. The day promised to be sunny and perhaps a bit of warmth would start the grapevines outside the window thinking about spring. As the sun gave light to the room, she looked at the large, square wooden coffee table covered with neat stacks of envelopes. They looked like various sizes of greeting cards.
She moved to the sofa and picked up one of the envelopes. It was addressed to ‘Ms. Jessica Brandt, Three Corners Farm, Lodi, CA.’ Then she looked at several more and they were all addressed about the same; ‘Ms. Jessica Brandt, ‘ ‘Ms. Jessie Brandt, ‘ ‘Miss J. Brandt.’ The woman who had come to feed Sam had mentioned the mailman. Perhaps she picked up the mail and had left these neat stacks on the table. There was no other mail, nothing that looked like a bank statement or a bill of any kind, just these envelopes.
On the table to the right of the envelopes she discovered newspaper clippings. The first was a long column that had a photo at the top. She recognized the man. He was the same as the one in the photos around the apartment. The headline said, ‘Jacob Brandt 1942-2014.’ As she scanned the article it was obvious that it was an obituary.
Jacob Brandt died unexpectedly on Tuesday, November 25th at Lodi Memorial Hospital, after a short illness. Jake was a longtime resident of Lodi and was a well-known civic leader, Marine Vietnam veteran, winemaker, farmer and constant thorn in the side of the city council. He championed the underdog in this city and was much respected by all who knew him. He was involved in everything from the fly fishing club to the Lodi Theater restoration project. His generosity, hard work and good humor made him a much valued and much loved citizen of our community. He will be missed.
The article went on to mention he was widowed, and that his Zinfandel grapes were in high demand across the state of California. At the end the article, right after the announcement that a memorial service would be at Saint Anne’s Catholic Church on Tuesday, December 2, the obituary mentioned his sole survivor, ‘Jessica Brandt of Williamsburg, Virginia, ‘ his granddaughter.
For some reason, Kate felt a great sadness. It was almost like she had lost this man too. It was obvious that she was staying in his apartment and she had slept in his bed. That didn’t bother her — the fact she had slept there seemed to make the connection stronger. The photos with the young woman whom she now knew was ‘Jessica’ had certainly helped form a bond with the strong and handsome man. She would have loved to get to know him and she envied Jessica because she had this wonderful man to travel with and look after her. Now, like everyone in Kate’s life, he was gone too.
Kate picked up the second newspaper clipping. It was an article about Jacob’s memorial service at St. Anne’s and at the cemetery. The large accompanying photo showed what looked like hundreds of people at the church. This article, like the other, recited his community service and service to his country, the fact he was loved by many people, and he was a quiet philanthropist, never looking for the spotlight. Many from the community spoke at the service. They represented a cross-section of the town; the quoted comments were unanimously laudatory and filled with heartfelt expressions of sorrow.
Kate moved to the kitchen and made another pot of tea while her mind tried to process this new information and how it affected her situation. It dawned on her that Jessica must be an orphan, too, since there was no mention of Jacob having surviving children. So Jessica had lost her beloved grandfather. They were obviously close from the photos that adorned the walls and practically every surface in the apartment. Kate knew about loss.
As she returned to the living room she stopped, tea mug in her hand. She stood there realizing that all the cards – certainly sympathy cards — were unopened.
She reread the article about the memorial service. It didn’t list Jessica as one of the speakers, or even mention her presence. Kate scanned the photo looking at the people in the front rows – there was no sign of Jessica.
Why hadn’t Jessica come to her grandfather’s funeral? Kate could understand her not being present for Jacob’s final illness since the obituary said his illness was brief and his death unexpected, but considering the evidence that surrounded her in this place, it was beyond comprehension that Jessica had not been present at the memorial service.
Was she so overcome by grief that she stayed away? The young woman in the photos did not seem to be a person to flinch from unpleasantness, especially when it concerned a man who she must have loved very much and who obviously had loved her.
Kate paced, grappling with this mystery.
Had no one notified Jessica? It was obvious from the obituary that someone knew where she lived – Williamsburg, Virginia. How many Jessica Brandt’s could there be? Jacob must have had a cell phone and the number had to be programmed there. The only explanation was that Jessica wasn’t in Williamsburg.
Kate’s memory nudged her a bit about Williamsburg. She concentrated, and then remembered that she had seen a brochure while she was in high school. There was a college there. Kate couldn’t recall the name, but Jessica seemed to be the right age. Had she been, or was she, a student there? Of course, that should have made it easier to get in touch with her. The whole situation was very puzzling. The obituary said Jacob was survived by Jessica and it was dated November 27, 2014. Had something happened to her? Certainly Jacob would have mentioned it to someone.
Kate looked at the pile of what she now thought of as sympathy cards and it was plain that someone was waiting for her to appear. All the cards were sent to ‘Three Corners Farm.’ If they had been sent to Williamsburg, they would not be here – so the only address anyone had for her was Jacob’s place.
Where was Jessica?
Maybe she was out of the country. That seemed hardly likely since it appeared she did all her travels with her grandfather, and seemed more than happy to do so. Had she met a special someone and they had decided to go somewhere remote? Even if she had, she would have stayed in touch with Jacob. Puzzling.
The fact there were no bills or bank statements most likely meant that those were being handled by someone, perhaps by the couple who was feeding Sam and picking up the mail. At least for now it seemed that everyone was waiting for Jessica to put in an appearance. Kate wondered how long people would wait. There must be a lawyer in town who was handling the estate. Sooner or later he would go forward with liquidating Jacob’s estate.
She sat in Jacob’s recliner and said, “I’m sorry Jacob, I wish I’d met you. I bet you would have answered my knock and helped me when I was sick and lost.”
She wondered if Jessica was cut from the same cloth. What would Jessica do if she walked in the apartment right now and saw Kate sitting in Jacob’s chair?
Kate tried to push away her mercenary thoughts– thoughts of how she could use this situation to extend her stay. Jacob was not returning, the lady who fed the cat and picked up the mail came perhaps every other day, and there was no sign of Jessica. Perhaps she could stay here long enough to find a job and then save a little money for her own place. She did have her driver’s license for identification for employers, but even three thousand miles away her uncle might be able to track her down. That was why she had always looked for work from employers who paid cash and didn’t ask questions. It also meant she had to take menial jobs which would hardly pay for rent. Thinking about all this made her head hurt.
Kate looked up and the sun was shining on the rolltop desk. Maybe there were some answers in it. At least this morning she would work on the mystery of Jessica and not worry so much about a job or a place to live.
She walked over to the desk, put her hands in the handholds and pulled at the top. It was locked. Kate wondered where Jacob might have hidden a key. After a few minutes of searching in vain through kitchen and bedroom drawers, she remembered the smaller gold key on the key ring in her pocket. She took it out and examined it. It was shaped differently than a standard house key; actually it looked like an antique. Kate smiled as she felt the lock give when she tried the key. The top rolled easily back into its hiding place when she pulled it up.
On the desk surface, she found a Mac laptop. It was a newer version of the one she used to have when she was in high school. Kate wondered if there was still internet access. She opened the computer and powered it up and it asked for a password.
Kate sat back for a second, and then typed in ‘Jessica.’ She smiled as the familiar Apple icons came up on the screen. The background was a tropical scene, a sandy beach at sunset and Jessica was standing slightly off-center under one of the palms. She was dressed in a red bikini top with a brightly colored sarong around her waist and she was beaming. Whoever took the photo had an eye for his subject. It must have been Jacob. Jessica was perfectly framed by an idyllic tropical setting.