The nurse and an orderly cleaned the baby up as quickly as possible so one of the emergency room physicians could get in to stitch the empty place where a finger had been. Another team was working on the mother, who had lost a lot of blood. The father was dead at the scene, a gunshot wound to the chest that pierced his heart; his body had been taken to the morgue for an autopsy. She wondered why an autopsy was necessary in cases like this.
This baby would live, she knew. The mother, from what she was hearing in the next curtained-off cubicle, was still touch-and-go, shot low in the left side, some minor damage to the small intestine, a big risk of infection there. Other than that, the bullet had gone right through and out. She might survive if she made it through the night. But here at Bayfront Medical Center, she also knew, they had all the latest cutting-edge medical technology. So the mothers’ chance of survival was better than average.
The doctor came in just as the nurse finished prepping the child for this normally minor operation. But they couldn’t sedate one so young, especially with the loss of blood; all they could do was give a numbing agent so the suture needle would only be felt as pressure. The nurse moved around the table to stand at the baby’s head. Her job now was to hold the child still so the doctor could work...
Deborah Hamilton watched the news about from the downtown courthouse. Was it a coincidence that she was reviewing her file on the Williams woman, from the day she took the child, Daniel, into State custody until the last visit between mother and son last Friday. She was trying to determine whether she should make a formal request that the legal department begin proceedings to terminate parental rights. Even though she herself thought there was still hope for re-unification, her supervisor had ordered her to do this review.
The reporter’s smug voice announced, Tracy Williams shot Thomas Babbitt and two of his friends, who were coming out of the courthouse after Babbitt was found not guilty of second degree murder in the shooting death of Mrs. Williams’ husband, Leland Williams.
Deborah turned away from the television in the break room, working during break even though it was technically against the rules. She was saddened by this turn of events, but not surprised. She’d hoped, in spite of what her older, more experienced co-workers said, that Mrs. Williams would be able to get herself together enough to get some counseling, and then maybe she would have a leg to stand on to get her son back.
Interestingly, even though the child wasn’t yet officially motherless, there had already been a young couple interested in adopting little Danny. It was past time to get her case notes and records to the lawyers. It was now an open-and-shut case. If this couple checked out, maybe the adoption could be fast-tracked. Especially since mixed-race babies aren’t very adoptable, she thought...
Dolores Jameson came into the den just as her husband, Mitchell, hung up the phone. “Did you hear the news, Mitch? Tracy Williams, Danny’s mother, just got sentenced to ten years, but they’re not releasing any details. I swear, something’s going on there that they don’t want anyone to know about!”
Mitch looked at her calmly. “I know, Dee. I just got off the phone with my old boss up in Washington. He told me that Tracy would do time under a plea deal, ten years for manslaughter, then paroled to the Agency after three for some special unit they’re putting together. It’s all very hush-hush, but as Danny’s adoptive parents, they wanted to let us know what’s going on. Babe, you know this was a long-term assignment. We’re the only mixed-race couple in the Bureau with the necessary clearances.”
The dark-skinned woman’s eyes flashed briefly with anger. “I wish they’d stop with that racial crap, Mitch. We’re human, and that’s all that should matter.” She took a deep breath to calm down before she really went off, then added, “That child is a blessing for us, you know, especially since our tests came back showing that you’re sterile because of all that radiation in your old military days. It’s really a shame what happened to bring him to us, but I love him like he was our own, and I’m glad Rothman told us about him and set us up to adopt him.”
“Yes, he has been a Godsend, sweetheart. I love him too; you know that. But you also know we’ll have to tell him when he gets older. Telling him is a part of the assignment, yes, but it’s also the right thing to do. And if all goes well, we’ll be able to bring Tracy in to visit once in a while. After she gets finished with her training, of course. But in the meantime, we can be glad that he’s calling us Mommy and Daddy. And hopefully, he still will after he learns the truth.”
Danny’s ninth birthday was a smashing success. The party was great, with games, cake and ice cream. And of course the traditional rendition of “Happy Birthday”. Not to mention blowing out of the candles so the birthday wish would be fulfilled, or so the old wives’ tale said. All the kids Danny saw as friends came to celebrate with him.
After everyone went home, Dee Jameson cleaned up the inevitable mess in the living room and kitchen, and the older boy from down the block took care of the back yard for twenty dollars. While this was going on, Mitch took his adopted son to his den and sat him down on one of the overstuffed chairs next to his desk. It was a big, antique roll-top, made of cherry and coated in clear varnish. He sat in his own seat, opened the roll-up cover, took out his key ring, and using an old-fashioned skeleton key, opened a cabinet nested inside. From there, he brought out a large photo album, and set it on top of the desk in front of Danny.
He kept his hand on the album as he began talking. “Danny, you’ve done well in school. You’re the top in your class, A plus in every subject. You do well athletically, from what the school coach tells me. And you’re two grade levels above your age. I’m proud of you, son.”
Danny looked down at his hands, folded in his lap. “Thanks, Dad. But I don’t think you brought me in here to tell me that.” He lifted his head and looked into Mitch’s eyes. “Something’s wrong, isn’t it?”
“No, there’s nothing wrong, exactly. But I have to tell you something, and I don’t know how you’re gonna take it.”
“What is it, Dad?” he asked, curious and suddenly nervous at the same time.
“Well, it’s about you, and about me and your mother.” He took a deep breath and held it for a few seconds before continuing. “You’ve shown how smart you are. Now it’s time for you to learn who you are.” He inhaled deeply again, let it out, and went on. “We’re not your real parents, Danny. We adopted you. This album has some information about your real parents, and I’ll go through it with you. But remember that no matter what you learn here, no matter what you do with this knowledge, know that we love you.”
He pushed the album toward the speechless boy, then opened the front cover, which exposed a gold-embossed invitation on a light tan, high-quality Bristol cover paper.
Danny read the announcement out loud.
You are cordially invited
to attend the wedding of
Gulfport Community Center
He looked up at Mitch, who nodded his head, then opened the invitation. Inside were photographs of a tall, thin but muscular, lightly tanned white man with a devil-may-care expression and a short, shapely, dark-skinned black woman with a bright, joyous smile. On the next page, opposite the pictures, was the time, date and address where the wedding was to be held.
Danny closed the invitation carefully, then asked, “Those are my parents?”
Mitch closed his eyes as if in meditation, then looked at his adopted son. “They were your parents, yes, Danny. Before you go to the next page, I have to tell you that your father died when you were a baby. That’s part how you came to us. The other part has to do with your natural mother. Something happened that made it impossible for her to raise you.”
The lad’s eyes were bright with tears that were threatening to fall as he asked, “What happened, Dad?”
“You’ll have to see that for yourself, Son. Your father was shot by a very stupid, ignorant man. When the jury found him not guilty, your mother... well, I think it’s best if you read it for yourself. Turn to the next page. When you’re done, I’ll try to answer any questions you might have.”
Danny did as asked and began reading. There was a news article about Tracy Hodges Williams shooting the three men in front of the courthouse. This was followed by an analysis of the murder case that led to the shootings, which included a well-worded plea to reform the judicial system so that racial crimes would be properly punished and not swept under the rug. And finally, there was an account by a close friend and neighbor, a former police officers’ wife, about the young couple. This told of how Lee and Tracy had met in school that first year of forced busing; how Lee and his buddies on the school football team had stopped an attempted rape of Tracy; and how afterward they’d started dating, fell madly in love and then gotten married after graduating.
Then there was an article about the shooting at Williams Park and the arrest of Thomas Babbitt and two of his friends. This was followed by a sequence of pieces following the trial, which included the fact that Babbitt’s two friends were never charged, in spite of the fact that one of them was driving and the other had passed the guns to Babbitt.
As Danny read the article, he couldn’t help but let his tears fall. He saw how he’d been lied to his whole life. He also saw how that was necessary; but still, having it all come out like this in one shot, without preparation, was a shock for a nine-year-old boy. He wasn’t angry. Maybe if he’d been a little older when he learned of this, he might have been mad as heck (hell, he thought; mad as hell!). But for now he was just stunned.
He didn’t know it then, but Tracy, his mother, his real mom, would become a hero in his eyes. He wondered how she was doing and if he would ever meet her. He wondered, too, what that would be like...
Mitch and Adelle Jameson were good people, in Danny’s opinion. Mitch was an electronics engineer, and Adelle a computer programmer. Together, they taught him a lot about computers. Danny soon had more than a basic understanding of how these new machines worked, both as a construct of components and in their programming. In his adopted parents’ estimation, the lad was a genius. They knew he was good in all the skills that made up a computer engineer, but now they were thinking of having him take Mensa-level I.Q. Tests; they’d never seen anyone learn something so complex so quickly.
Daniel learned about security and password systems, and quickly figured out how to bypass them. He learned when he could bludgeon a system and when and how much he had to finesse it, working through increasingly difficult levels until he could get into almost any network.
Last year he got caught hacking a federal government system. A couple FBI agents came to visit him and his adoptive parents. He was afraid he would be taken away, put in juvenile lock-up, or even made to disappear. But he got a surprise. The older of the two agents offered to let him off the hook if he continued doing well in school and refrained from hacking government systems. He agreed, of course; school was a breeze, and computers? Well, he could always find ways around restrictions.
A few months later, he was in a chat program with one of the people he was learning in-depth hacking from, when a graphic depicting a bomb came up, erasing the chat window and everything else on the screen. He’d been hacked himself, he knew. He began hitting keys in rapid order, in a variety of sequences, trying to stop any damage that might be happening. Nothing worked; his skills weren’t having any effect. Then the graphic disappeared, and his name came on the screen in big, bold red capital letters:
He stopped what he was doing, and a cursor came up in a new chat window. He typed, who r u???
The answer came back immediately. we need ur help. But u must prove urself first.
A series of numbers appeared on the screen, a series of numerals in four sets of one to four digits, each separated by a period. It was one of those new internet addresses someone, somewhere had developed. At least, everyone seems to think they’re new, he thought, knowing they were first developed in 1981, seven years ago.
He wrote the numbers down quickly, before they disappeared. Just as he finished, the screen went blank, and more writing came up, a rhyming riddle:
Two from six, start the mix.
Brass at head, seed is dead.
Two more, plus the four.
Parted youths know the truth.
Find the one and then the two.
He knows she but not the crew.
Seven is your final tip,
Chosen for this puzzling trip.
I stand alone, yet know no rest.
Stir it up to pass the test.
The words faded from the screen, then were replaced by a screen name, once again in large red capital letters in the center of the screen:
He knew he was being tested, and he knew his work was being monitored. What he didn’t know, after performing trace routes and other backtracking methods , is who and why. Clearly, whoever they were, they were much better at this than he. This stoked not only his curiosity, but also his pride. He wanted to be the best at whatever he did. And so far in his young life he had done just that, proving himself academically, graduating high school two years early.
But before he started to solve this riddle, he had to find something out. we need ur help, the message had said. He thought for a minute, then typed, y should I help u?
The answer came back almost immediately, answering both his expressed question and the unexpressed one. He now knew beyond a doubt that he was being monitored. And the reply was one word, in capital letters again, and again in the center of his screen:
Whoa, he thought. It was the title of a little poem he’d written, not long after learning his true parentage. He’d wanted to meet his mother, but that wasn’t permitted. At least, not then. So he’d written this little rhyme:
She is in Me,
Gave Love to Lee,
That fathered Me.
Grave Earth for He;
No longer three,
The twain to be
As One, I see
The day that She
He had entitled it SHE, just the way it was typed on his screen now. And he’d done it on this computer, an IBM XT that his adopted father bought for his birthday three years ago. That was the day I learned about my biological family, he recalled.
He got to work solving the riddle...