In 3,000 words or less write about a photograph a girl finds in her mother's secret jewelry chest. It is a picture of a man that the girl has never seen before. Who is it?
A hundred and eighty six hours and fifty five minutes from when Shannon’s mother was admitted to the hospital, until she was dead. That’s all the time Shannon had with her, and it wasn’t enough. She stood outside her mother’s hospital room, the wad of tissues balled up in her hand, soaked through. The tears just wouldn’t stop flowing, and she dabbed her cheeks with the wet, white ball.
Around the corner approached Doctor Daniel Flemish, the young physician assigned to her mother. If circumstances were different, she might actually let her heart skip a beat in his presence, but now, she couldn’t feel her heart, though it must have been beating. Walking up to her he looked down with his deep golden-brown eyes. His nose was a little short she thought, but his lips, cheekbones, and physique were all sublime.
“I’m very sorry,” he said with absolute sincerity. Fostering a sympathetic smile, he laid his hand on her shoulder, “Is there anyone I can call to come take you home?”
“Home?” she mumbled, the thought of it stabbing her in that empty place that once contained her heart. “I flew in from California at the beginning of the week. Why didn’t she say anything to me? Why did she keep this to herself?”
Doctor Flemish gave a knowing, but warm smile, “She was a strong woman. In the hours that I knew her, she was stoic, kind, and big hearted. And, she spoke of you much. I don’t know why people do the things they do, but all I can say is, your mother was a very wonderful woman.”
Tears fell from Shannon’s eyes as she sobbed. His words were true and filled with admiration, but it did little to stay the pain. “I want to thank you for all your care. At least she didn’t suffer.”
“If you need anything, let me know,” he handed her his card. “We have lots of resources here at the hospital to help grieving family get through the rough patch.” Again, he looked down into her eyes, then he walked past her and into the room. “Notify the morgue,” he casually said to a nurse.
Shannon took up her purse, and like a zombie, walked to the elevator and pressed for the lobby. The doors closed, and she watched the red numbers flash by; seven, six, five, four. The lift stopped and the doors opened. A couple with two children got on, “Now William, I don’t ever want to see you climb up on the roof again.” the woman said to the oldest child who sported a white cast. Three, two, lobby – Shannon got out and walked slowly toward the exit. Outside the air was cool, and in the sky, at the level of the streetlamps, hung a thick white mist. In roughly eight days she’d gone from just visiting, to mourner. It had been two years since she had seen her mother. Work was relentless, and her schedule was always filled with, meetings, presentations, and hours of technical reviews. She cherished their chats on the phone, which consisted of loving words. Her mother never seemed to lack a maternal curiosity that betrayed a mentor’s genuine interest. But, all that time, she never let on that she was dying. Not once did she say, come home, I haven’t got long to live. Shannon got to her car. She sat there, then she felt her mind ripping in two. She balled her fists and bashed them against the dashboard. She screamed loudly, and put her head down against the steering wheel. Suddenly, there was a rapping, a tap-tap tapping upon some solid surface. She turned and the face of Doctor Flemish was looking in. She rolled down her window, and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.
“You forgot these documents,” he kindly stated.
“You didn’t… I mean, you –.”
He smiled again, “I didn’t see anything.” He handed her the documents, then added, “Are you sure you’re okay to drive?”
“I’m fine,” she lied. “After all, I’m my mother’s daughter.”
“Okay,” he stated.
As he walked away, she noted his demeanor; confident, with almost a swagger. He looked back, she looked down. A moment passed and she glanced over, but he was gone. Pressing the start button, she put the car in reverse and backed out of the parking space.
Down the street she drove; left at the stoplight and right on Topeka Road. It was exactly five point eight miles to the left turn onto the dirt road that was the driveway. She stopped, got out and opened the metal gate. Up the gravel ladened road she went. It was dark, true county-dark. At the top of the hill she left her lights on and went up to the three thousand square foot ranch house and turned on the porch lights. Returning to her car, she retrieved her briefcase, the hospital paperwork, and her cell phone and went inside.
The smell of apple pie still circulated in the front room. For a moment she could hear her mother calling from the kitchen, “Hot pie and coffee.” A few languid tears seeped out. She tossed the case onto the easy chair and went to the couch, took one of the red and gold throw pillows, and clutched it tightly to her bosom. Staring into the darkness, she wished that she would wake from this nightmare. Exhaustion seized her and before she knew it, sleep overtook her.
At nine in the morning the raspy jingle of the house phone woke her. She got to her feet and went to the bar and picked it up. “Hello?”
“Oh, Shannon, I’m so sorry I wasn’t there,” her sister said. “I was in Spain with my boyfriend and just got your message. Do you need me to come home, or can you handle the probate thing yourself?”
Kristine was always self-absorbed, and it was no surprise that she would ask such a thing. “No, I’ve got it handled.” Shannon stated. “We can talk when you get back.”
“Okay, but if you need me, just call. I’ll keep my cell phone on me all the time now.”
“It was hard last night, but I think I’ve got a handle on it today,” Shannon felt a surge of her mother’s stoic nature pulse through her veins.
“See you in two weeks,” Kristine said, then the line was dead.
Shannon looked around the bar, the kitchen, and the dining room. It all spoke of her mother, but was now devoid of her energy. She went into the kitchen and filled the coffee pot with water, four scoops of ground bold coffee, and turned on the switch. Retrieving some clothes from the guest bedroom, she went to the master suite bathroom and turned on the shower. As the steam filled the air, she went into the large walk-in closet and looked around. Amidst the designer labels and pants suits, the shoe trees, and the winter sweaters was a strange reflective plate on a three foot high piece of wood paneling. Approaching, she touched it with the palm of her hand. A click echoed to her ears and she watched as the wood façade extended out toward her. Moving it aside, she looked in. Inside was a set of drawers with polished brass knobs. She pulled out a drawer and was shocked to see gold, silver, and platinum jewelry, some with the Tiffany marking, and others with hallmarks she could not identify. Some of the pieces had two, and three carat diamonds, and others rubies, emeralds, and sapphires the size of a grown man’s thumb.
Pulling on drawer number two, she was surprised to see papers; piles of stocks, bonds, copyrights, and real estate holdings. Below, the pile were her mother’s birth certificate, passport, and a variety of other personal documents. Now, she put her attention to the third pull-knob and pulled. The compartment was stuffed with pictures, some of which were very old. She thought for a moment, then closed up all the drawers and the secret cover, and headed back into the bathroom to shower.
The hot water felt good against her tired muscles. As she closed her eyes, she could almost see her mother. Heavy in the air was the smell of the shampoo, conditioner, and body wash; all things that shouted to her of her mother’s presence. Once finished, she turned off the water and toweled off.
Wrapping a crisp white towel around her, she went back into the closet. Opening the compartment, she went for the third drawer. Taking out the contents, she began to thumb through the many photos. The image of her father dressed in a cardigan sweater and holding a pipe made her long for his loving presence. A picture of her sister was next, when she was two – as it said on the back. Her grandparents were next, followed by a host of high school pictures of her and her sister. One, made her chuckle for it was her at the prom with Tim Halthy, a boy she “liked”, but he didn’t “like” her back. Sifting took a good while, but then she came across a picture of a man she did not recognize. He was not any relative she knew, and on the back of the photo was written, AB-7459856314 Knight’s Guard Elite, Lamb Row Place 1947. The image was of a young man dressed in a red velvet dinner jacket, a pipe in one hand and a highball glass in the other. It was in color, and the man’s bold blond hair and blue eyes were captivating. The picture was clearly candid; for it appeared that the man was unaware of being photographed. In the background were dark wood paneling, a Fourteenth Century chair, a polished wooden end table, and several framed paintings. For a moment her mind wondered. Who was this man? Why was his picture in her mother’s secret compartment? Was he some lover, before her father, or after his death? Surely he couldn’t have been a lover while her father was alive. She shook her head to clear the disturbing thought. No, she reasoned, it’s a relative, or just some friend of the family.
Taking the picture, she retreated back to the guest bedroom. Putting the picture up on the tall dresser, she examined it while dressing. There seemed nothing more she could glean, then she saw the ring on the man’s finger. Taking the picture, she went into her mother’s study, and turned on the light on the high-powered magnifier. Slipping the picture under, she gasped at the image of the ring; a deaths head skull and crossbones. The phone rang and she nearly jumped out of her skin.
She picked up the phone, “Yes?”
There was a pause, then a voice on the other side said, “Is this Shannon Sopur?”
“Yes, who is this?”
“I was informed of your mother’s passing…”
“Who are you, and who told you? She passed last night, and I haven’t told anyone but my sister,” Shannon stated.
“Ah, yes, your sister Kristine. Is there someplace we can meet? I knew your mother and father, and I have something for you. Something she wanted you to have, but couldn’t trust to any else.”
“What cloak and dagger bullshit is this? What do you mean, couldn’t trust to anyone else?”
“I know you are in some shock. As the saying goes, I’m just the messenger. Is there someplace you’d like me to meet you?”
She thought for a moment, “The Deluth Grind House, two o’clock,” Shannon said.
“Very well, two at the grind house.”
“How will I know you?”
“I’ll know you,” and the phone clicked off.
Shannon left the house and drove back to the hospital. There she filled out papers, and arranged to have her mother’s body picked up by a mortuary. As she was leaving she saw Doctor Flemish walking out to his car. “Doctor!” she called.
The doctor turned, “Ms. Sopur, I’m glad to see you’re okay.”
“I just wanted to say thank you again for your kindness,” she smiled.
“My pleasure, and please call me Daniel. Say, I was just heading out to get some coffee. Would you like to come along? A little mocha or cappuccino might do you well. Plus, it’s on me.”
His gaze leveled on her and she felt a rush of emotion. “Uh… I’d love to.”
She got in his Mercedes and he pulled out into traffic. They drove down the street, and took a left onto Main Street. Half a block down, he pulled up and parked. “One of my favorite places. They roast their own coffee here.”
She looked up and was surprised that she was in front of the Deluth Grind House. “I was actually coming here at two.”
“I a strange phone call this morning,” she said.
“Why was it strange,” his curiosity was plain to see.
“A man said he had something for me from my mother that couldn’t be trusted to anyone else,” she shrugged her shoulders, “someone who knows my parents.”
They got out of the car and went inside. Her eyes widened as the rich, coffee smell filled her nose. The coffee house was crowded with customers, but it seemed most were getting their beverage and dashing out. He walked up to the counter, looked down at her and said, “If I were to guess, I’d say you’re a mocha gal.”
She felt herself blushing, then tried to focus in her mind on any other situation that could undo the feeling. “Actually, I like the mocha Frappuccino quite a lot.”
“Excellent, I do too. See if you can find us a seat and I’ll take care of this.”
She walked over and found a round table in an intimate corner and sat with her back to the wall. She watched him, his tweed sport coat neatly hugging his lean frame. He glanced back and saw her, smiled, then the service person distracted him. She never took her eyes off him. There was something about him; the confidence in which he carried himself was most attractive. He waited patiently for their beverages and then came over to the table.
“What do you do?” His voice carried an air of authority.
“I work in advertising. I’m the creative director for Hubert, Rothschild, and Associates in California.” She sipped the steaming liquid.
They talked for quite a long time, then Daniel’s cell phone made a sound. He looked at it and declared, “Yikes, its one fifty already! I have an appointment back at the hospital. I’ll drop you off at your car.”
“I can’t. I have to meet that man here in ten minutes. I’ll take a cab back. Thanks for the coffee and the conversation. I hope we can do it again sometime.”
Daniel nodded, “Me too. How’s Thursday?”
“I’d like that very much,” she said.
Daniel left and passed an elderly man in a gray wool coat coming in. The man looked around the room, then came toward Shannon. “You have your father’s nose and eyes,” he said.
“Who are you and how do you know my parents?”
“Your father and I worked closely together for many years. We served in the war together.” He sat down and smiled. The image in the picture came through; he was the man in the picture. “Your father and I were very close, and served der Fuhrer.” He set down a manila envelope and passed it to her. “Your mother forbade me to give you this, until she’d passed.”
She opened the envelope and looked at a host of pictures. One was her father in a SS uniform standing at the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor. Another was him commanding troops and securing the remains of the American Whitehouse. And, another showed him receiving a medal from Adolf Hitler, the Chancellor.
“So, my father was a war hero? He helped take the Americas?” She was dumfounded. “How… when was this?”
“In nineteen forty-four when we dropped the hydrogen bomb on the capital of the former United States, Washington. We were poised to do the same to New York, and then on the West Coast, but the American president surrendered before we had to. Your father was a very important man, who tried to put the ravages of war behind him. Your mother wanted to forget also, but they both understood that when it was time for you to get married, and have children, that the heroic exploits of your father would need to be known. A sad day indeed, but also a glorious day for the Reich in that you will bear the children of the future.”
Reeling from the information, she stood and gathered up the papers. “I saw a picture of you.” she said.
“From the old day’s maybe?”
“It had written on it letters and numbers and something about a knight’s guard?”
“Ah, yes, AB-7459856314 Knight’s Guard Elite maybe? That was my blood group and SS group division identification.” He unrolled his sleeve and showed her a faded, tattoo on his wrinkled arm. “We were all very close after the war, then drifted apart. But… that is academic now. I am the only one left.”
She opened the manila envelope and took out the papers. It was medical information. She scanned down the document, then her eyes went wide. It said that she and her sister were the product of a genetic experiment. The gene donor was named; Adolf Hitler.
“There are no guarantees in life, my dear,” the man said, “but I know that you will make a wonderful mother,” the old man stood, clicked his heels together, bowed slightly, turned and left the Deluth Grind House.
Could there be another Fuhrer? she wondered.