Drake pockets his phone and reluctantly turns his back on the rising sun. He retains faith that he will return to see it again. Williston’s call has given credence to Drake’s earlier unease and leaves him feeling restive. He senses he is on the precipice of something significant, something diabolical. It feels like a small insect crawling up the back of his neck, a small segmented creature called danger. It isn’t fear.
Drake makes his way across the deck, his bare feet against the warm darkly stained wood, and into the house, calling for his housekeeper, Jemina. The aroma of fresh baking tells him she is in the kitchen, where she is preparing breakfast.
Jemina and her husband, Luis, maintain this large house, giving Drake the freedom to come and go as he pleases. They and their three children have been in Canada for 22 years since Drake’s father, Jacob, rescued them from Peruvian poverty and sponsored them as immigrants from South America.
Calling out to her, Jemina responds to Drake’s summons, hurrying into the great room that faces the bay, her tiny feet shuffling across the wide-board pine floor. “What do you need, Drake,” she casually asked, the language escaping melodically from her lips. Still pleasing to the eye at 46, her dark hair falls delicately to her shoulders, framing a shy sweet face. Her diminutive frame is clad in the linen blouse and pants she wears while attending to Drake’s needs, the bright hues of her attire redolent of her homeland. Although not much older than Drake, who is 38, she fusses over him like a second mother.
This maternal instinct kicks in as she notices Drake’s countenance; she’d seen this before when he left unexpectedly and for reasons unexplained, often for months on end. She rationalizes in her mind that over the two decades she’s known him, he has always lived life as if he were on a perpetual dare. She, however, is constantly worried. All she can do is see him off with whatever care he allows her to give, but she never lets him go easily.
“I’m leaving to join Williston for a bit and I’ll need you to pack about a week’s worth of clothes, please. Some light cottons, several work pants and black tees, raincoat, a light fleece and my usual boots and shoes. Oh, and some deck shoes.
Jemina is probably on to him, but he doesn’t want to cause her concern. If she knew where he’d been and what he’d done over the years, no matter how justified he felt his actions to be, she would probably have him tied up and sedated for the rest of his life to protect him.
“I don’t like it when you and Williston get together sometimes, I think you both like trouble too much. You always come back with too many cuts and bruises and sometimes with broken bones,” exclaimed Jemina. Looking at him more directly, she places her hand on his arm as if for reassurance and continues, “You always defending somebody, Drake.” Fear breaks up her usual faultless diction.
Drake dislikes lying, and the worry he causes her. “You fret too much, Jemina. I’m meeting Williston on his boat and we’re going to cruise the Caribbean for a week or two. Eric Clapton is playing in Antigua to raise funds for the Crossroads Centre next week, so we’re going to check that out. It’s at an intimate venue and by invitation only. Williston is quite the socialite these days. Money and benevolence get him on just about any invitation list he likes. It should be fun. I’ll mind my business this time, okay?”
“You are not fooling me, Drake. You be careful. What else do you need?”
Grabbing his shirt from the back of the recliner he proceeds to an antique writing desk. Opening the top drawer he withdraws his passport. Passing it to Jemina, he said, “Please put this with my things for now. I’m taking the Zodiac over to the Island later to get the plane ready and I’ll need some help. Do you know where Luis and Alvaro are?”
“Luis left 20 minutes ago to meet with the contractor who’s adding the addition to your garage,” Jemina replies, leading him toward the kitchen. “Seriously, what are you going to do with all those vehicles you keep buying?” she asks rhetorically, knowing that Drake enjoys his toys. And besides, it keeps Alvaro, her youngest son, busy. “Alvaro will be at the shop in about an hour to start on that engine you wanted changed. Not everyone is an early riser like us, Drake.” She points to Drake’s usual place at the breakfast nook, with the local newspaper folded neatly on the table, and begins preparing his morning repast. Never having enough food for her or her family many years ago makes Jemina a frugal and practical housekeeper, but she never skimps on anyone with an appetite and she knows that Drake loves to eat.
“After breakfast I’m going to Beth’s for a couple of hours and I’d like Luis and Alvaro to get the Skywagon ready, do the pre-flight check, top up the tanks, ,” Drake said, seating himself where Jemina has carefully laid out a setting, “I’d like to be away around noon or one o’clock.”
“I’ll tell them both. Now read your paper and I’ll get this ready for you. I’ll pack your things when I’m done here.”
Both Jemina and Drake fall into a pensive mood. Jemina wondering what Drake is really up to but too polite to ask when he isn’t forthcoming with details. She busies herself, a bright red and yellow blur gyrating around the kitchen with efficient silence. Drake watches Jemina fuss reminding him of a humming bird, always busy, always with a purpose. He muses with great affection about how much she and her family mean to him.
The breakfast nook is an annex to the main kitchen area. The nook was architecturally planned to take advantage of the enticing seaside surroundings. Tall glass windows with the lightest, transparent curtains face the water at an angle to the great room they had just come from. Dark brown marble tiles with a rusty colored hue cover the floor. Wood from Italian olive trees with striking burls throughout, lightly stained a matching rust, formed extensive cupboards set against a taupe background. Olive trees were only cut after the tree reached such maturity that it did not bear fruit any longer. While alive, the trees were always trimmed short so that the fruit was easy to reach. Long and wide pieces were rare, making the cabinets markedly impressive and very expensive. Stainless steel and black enhancements frame all the appliances. Jemina, with her effervescent presence, would never blend in. The early sun, more yellow now, streams in casting a mellow ambiance. Photos, mementos, keepsakes are tastefully placed about, making the room personal.
Jemina presents Drake with his favourite breakfast, a mouth-watering blend of South American and Western cuisine: bacon, cheesy corn cakes called arepas de queso, toasted honey quinoa bread and a boiled egg. Neither of them speak, Jemina is contemplative, Drake aflame.
Jemina hastily tidies up, leaving the rest of the kitchen details for later. Pouring Drake another cup of St. Helena coffee, she hesitates at his side. Her lingering quietude stirs Drake to look up and into her direct gaze. Jemina laments, “I don’t know where you go at times, Drake, and I don’t know what you do, but you remember that I love you like you’re part of my family. The many days and months when you are around fill us with delight, and there will never be too many. You come home safe and as soon as you can.”
At that very moment an errant beam of pure radiant sunlight reflects from the polished surface of the table causing a faint and delicate tear in the corner of her eye to twinkle.
Drake reflects on the moment; then tosses his reluctance to answer aside. He needs to focus. He doesn’t need sentimentality clouding his senses. He’ll finish his breakfast and drop by Beth’s place to say goodbye, then meet Luis on the island, get his gear packed into the plane, file a flight plan and fly out to meet Williston and Uday.
Drake jumps into his Jeep Wrangler, the top already down and pulls onto Route 535 heading north to Beth’s parent’s place several miles down the road. Her parents, both doctors who had established a busy and productive practice, and made several shrewd investments, are more than adequately moneyed. They had recently sold their practice and now serve as volunteers with Doctors without Borders. Beth maintains their country estate in their absence – a rambling and century-old farm that had been neglected for many years before they bought it. With the aspiration to own a working farm, Beth’s parents had recreated the buildings in their original configuration and tenor with solicitous care. The modern, state-of-the-art facilities and equipment that made the farm functional are in some cases obvious, but most are cleverly disguised. It has a Rebecca of Donnybrook exterior with an ultra-modern interior.
Beth could certainly afford her own place, but she has spent most of her life enjoying both the natural landscape and the closeness of the sea just across the road. All four of her sisters have migrated to larger, more urban centres. Drake knows that she genuinely loves living here in rural New Brunswick, just as he also knows that she needs to be near him. They had met when his father had been building the house Drake lives in now.
Drake was born in Massachusetts, near his mother’s home, but to a Canadian father who had grown up in this area and had purchased a plot of land shortly after he had inherited his father’s jewellery business in 1965. Dominic Alexander, Drake’s grandfather had immigrated to Canada from Scotland as a goldsmith apprentice in 1919, his earlier instruction interrupted by the Great War. A little luck, a little money and lots of charming honesty brought him respectful success throughout the ‘20s. Dominic never bought anything on credit, never sold anything on credit, stayed away from the stock market, banked his cash, invested in his own establishment and survived the crash of ’29 in much better shape than his peers. Many businesses failed. The rich still wanted their baubles so Dominic’s business on the other hand prospered. As a young man with an astute mind, Jacob joined his father’s establishment, and they turned a one-store operation into a thriving four-store family business prior to Dominic’s death.
Jacob was embedded in the métier of jewellery, with little time for socializing. In 1950, however, he attended an extravagantly large trade show in New York City that introduces many of the world’s finest jewellery pieces and suppliers. There he met Mellissa Wilbraham. Wilbraham’s Fine Jewellery was an influential corporation that owned nine stores throughout New England as well as a small manufacturing facility outside of Boston. He wooed her, married her, and united the businesses by setting up offices in both the United States and Canada. They made a winter home in Plymouth, Massachusetts; summers were spent in New Brunswick at their cottage on the old homestead.
Drake slows the Jeep as he approaches the driveway to Beth’s place. Turning into the rustic lane, Drake is assailed with the pleasant aroma of cut hay. The gathering season is well under way. As he continues toward the house, he notices the seasonal workers harvesting the bounty so generously produced from the earth. Huge round bales of fodder dot the fields. Drake imagines the generations of farmers before them who had worked the same fields, albeit with differing methods of cultivation, to meet the same demands of their livestock.
Beth must have seen him arriving because she is coming from the back entrance, waving to Drake as he approaches. Bringing his vehicle to a halt, he cut the ignition and jumps from the Jeep. He hollers out, “Glad to see you got that cute ass of yours out of bed so early. I didn’t call in because I like surprising you. ”
Beth hurries to his side to quickly embrace him with a hearty hug and a quick kiss on the cheek before replying, “Well I’m glad to see that cute ass of yours in my driveway. What brings you around today? I thought you and Alvaro were working on the old truck you bought.”
Beth’s natural beauty always gave him pause. Her blondish locks are tied back in a classic ponytail, highlighting her pleasing face. Chocolate coloured eyes radiate her pleasure at seeing Drake. A square jaw complements her face, portraying an image of unabashed confidence and creating the perfect setting for her audacious and teasing smile. A strict disciplinarian with her habits, she works out daily keeping her body as lithe as a dancer. Clad in white knee-length denim shorts, a red sleeveless top and beige leather sandals she portrays a casual, yet intoxicating image. Drake always joked Beth would look great in a burlap bag.
Eager to share the recent revelation, Drake gets right to the point, “I spoke to Williston earlier. He met with Uday, Sakeema’s father. You know him, don’t you?”
Beth catches the shift in Drake’s demeanour. The delight in their greeting changes to one of grim interest for both of them. She moves toward the cedar gazebo, beckoning Drake to follow and leads him inside. Moving to the compact refrigerator neatly tucked into a kitchenette, she remarks, “Yes, of course, I met him briefly at her funeral. I had an opportunity to talk to him and get to know him better at Williston’s birthday party last year when I visited Chrissie.” She points to a white wicker chair smothered in cushions, tosses Drake a box of juice then sits opposite him.
Chrissie Alexander, Drake’s cousin, is the managing partner of Williston’s Geneva law office. As a teenager she became an integral part of Williston’s “Gang of 7” – a clique that grew from kids caught between a world of adults and children. They found each other, grew with each other and defended each other. A lifelong trust developed. The girls in the group – Chrissie, Beth and Amber – experienced an affinity cemented by independence and mutual compassion.
Drake shifts in his seat and explains, “The scent of Sakeema and Amber’s assassin is strong! Uday has sent word that one of his business managers – also a close member of his family - befriended a local who mentioned Bartolommeo Rizzato’s name.” Leaning forward to give his words more emphasis, he continues, “It’s been almost two years since that slug slipped away from our last encounter.
He only emerges from under some plank when he needs something… Maybe he ran low on cash or maybe he just needs to satisfy his malevolent appetite to maim and ultimately destroy. Powerful people, capable of the same brutality, find him useful. Right now, it seems he’s committed to something in Bangladesh, Dhaka more significantly. It’s imperative that we hunt him down.”
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