After receiving Analia’s message about meeting later, Branna rushes to catch the train heading south. Branna had arranged to meet an old friend from almost twenty years ago. Her friend Damian lives in SoHo and works at New York University Medical Center. Branna and Damian had trained together at Columbia Presbyterian. Damian is chairman of the reproductive endocrinology research unit at New York University Medical Center. Damian had been the first to discover the unusual pattern in fetal deaths after genetic tests revealed even the slightest abnormalities. He had wanted to come forward with his findings, but Branna and her best friend Ziva had convinced him to stay quiet and continue working in his field as their eyes. When Branna and Ziva ran afoul of Katharine Lucas, Branna and Ziva had kept his identity a secret and he managed to not only retain his job, but also become quite successful in his field.
Branna had arranged to meet him in Gramercy Square Park. Damian had married while she was in California and his new wife was going to join them for a drink at the old Gramercy Tavern. As Branna walks to meet him, she picks up two foil lined refrigeration bags and drops her purse into one and places a second bag over it to block the listening device. She buys two bottles of wine to go in the bag as well to complete the ruse. Coming around the corner, she sees Damian is waiting for her at their prearranged spot.
’Damian, it is so good to see you.” Branna blurts out as she throws her arms around him.
Holding him briefly, Branna is reminded of how lonely she has been the last thirteen years without family and friends. Branna had been contemplating going to see her mother soon, but that would require careful planning. Her mother is a sweet, quiet woman who would pose an easy target if Katharine Lucas wanted to threaten her. Damian is quite influential at New York University and not as vulnerable anymore. Unless of course he is on Katharine Lucas’ payroll. Branna is not sure anymore where his loyalties lie.
“Branna, you are more beautiful than when I last saw you. The California climate has been good to you.” Damian remarks.
Damian had been sweet on Branna back in the day, even when she was pregnant with Analia. Branna had met him while they were undergraduates at Harvard. Back then, he had been a player and Branna didn’t trust him for anything beyond friendship. After she had married her husband, their friendship had become more easygoing as the pressure of expectation was lifted.
“Damian, it has been so long. I missed you and Ziva incredibly. Sorry about the short notice today. I had been meaning to contact you soon. My plans with my daughter were postponed tonight, so I took a chance and hoped you would be free. How are you and how is married life?”
“It is good. My research has been going well. Personally, as you know, I have finally settled down. After more than ten years, I realized I couldn’t wait for you forever.” Damian says with a smile. He leans in closer, “So, you are working for monster bitch now? “
“Yes, it is a long story for another day. The short version is that my daughter is a genius and is a bit of a prodigy in the field of genetics. The Lucas institute wanted her from the age of ten and threatened me again if I didn’t acquiesce to their demands. I came east with her to keep an eye on her and to hopefully find Matthew.”
“Do you know where he is?”
“I honestly have no idea. I heard rumors about him, but there has been nothing for months now. The nightmare seems to always be in perpetual motion. I had become accustomed to raising my daughter by myself, but I now fear that Matthew is either being tortured again or dead. Also, they have their hooks in my daughter.”
Damian speaks slowly. “It goes beyond the usual realm of evil to go after your daughter. It is a bit troubling.”
“I know. I have wondered about Lucas’ obsession with me and my family. Something else is driving her. Enough about me. How is the field of reproductive endocrinology?”
“Fascinating. Tinged with a touch of evil. There are very few babies born with birth defects, and the defects are generally the result of perinatal anoxia. I wish I could say this is happening because of the technological advancement of science. It’s not. What is worse is the number of requests for designer babies, like they are mail order. Sad when you consider the number of couples who still can’t conceive.” Damian pauses and looks at Branna. “I think it is a tragedy that you are no longer practicing as an obstetrician. They should never have gotten away with what they did to you and Ziva.”
“I don’t think about it anymore. The anger used to consume me but I got over it slowly. I did write and publish under an assumed name. I still have some career satisfaction, just not in my chosen field. More importantly, have you heard from Ziva?” Branna asks.
“Yes. Just recently. She moved back to New York and is working at Rockefeller University, under an assumed name. Her college mentor got her in. He is finishing up his career there and doesn’t care about Katharine Lucas and her threats.”
“I want to see her but we will have to meet in private. Lucas would go on the warpath if she knew we were in contact again.”
“I have a meeting over at New York Hospital this week. I can stop by and see her personally. It would be best not to send a message.”
“On that note, never send me a text or email. I think I am under surveillance. “ Branna sighs as she says this.
“I assumed as much. I haven’t told my wife, Malin, about you and Ziva. I trust my wife, but the less people know, the better. There she is now. Malin is an attending in obstetrics at New York Hospital. We met at a conference three years ago. I have a gift for being attracted to very ambitious, brilliant women.
Branna steels herself to remain emotionless. Malin is an attractive woman in her young thirties with an enviable figure, but her eyes could shoot daggers. Branna had seen Malin coming out of Katharine Lucas’ office the first week she started. She manages to keep her face blank as if she seeing someone for the first time. It is unlikely to be a coincidence. Branna wonders if Damian knows.
Damian introduces us. “Malin, this is my old friend, Branna. Branna, this is Malin.”
“Malin, it is a pleasure to meet you. So you are the girl who tamed Damian’s heart. I am impressed.” Branna says with a smile.
“Nice to meet you as well. So I hear you both met as undergraduates.” Malin is a little cool as she says this.
“Yes. We met at Harvard and trained at Columbia. I moved to California thirteen years ago with my family and have just moved back,” Branna answers. Sensing Malin’s possessiveness, Branna hopes the mention of family will calm her down.
“Ladies, let’s head over to the tavern for a drink. Branna has to leave in an hour. Shall we?” Damian hooks his hands around both our elbows and leads us out of the park to the local tavern.
After spending an hour with Malin and Damian over drinks, Branna is jittery on the train ride home. Due to repeated flooding around Battery point, the train system has been located not only above ground but up in the air. Branna can’t help but still call it the subway even though it has been renamed the multirail system. It operates on electricity to diminish pollution in the city. It definitely smells better than the previous subway system. But she still misses the old New York. The city has been transformed in her absence. The height of the multirail system is unnerving and makes her wonder how well it operates during a snowstorm.
Branna keeps reviewing the conversation she had with Damian and Malin. Something was definitely off. Damian seemed like his old self when she met with him individually. Malin however, was rather aggressive. Branna learned that she had just completed her residency training two years ago and was already being considered for a full professorship. That was unheard of in academic circles. Branna had tried to ask about her research and publications but Malin studiously avoided answering those questions. Branna suspects that she has political backing from Katharine Lucas and is being fast tracked into a leadership role. The more pressing question is if Damian knows about the connection between Katharine and Malin and if he has been coerced into working for Katharine Lucas as well. Branna is pretty sure she had not given anything away except to saying she was hoping to locate Matthew. Still, she has to be careful.
Branna’s thoughts turn to the years of suffocating loneliness she had endured the last thirteen years. She looks on it as her penance for trying to do the right thing. It was also worth it to keep Analia safe all these years. When Analia began attending college seven years ago, the scholarship committee had provided a daily car service so Analia could commute from home. Just like when they were first banished to California, Branna found herself with unwanted time on her hands. Too many dreams had either been destroyed in a rain of fire or had slowly died like burning embers. Her marriage, her career, her family relationships were all consumed by the conflagration. The vengeful malice of Katharine Lucas had even tried to attenuate her role as a mother.
The one thing that had eased her loneliness was her writing. Fortunately, Damian had not asked questions when she told him about the writing. Branna had started writing novels, specifically spy thrillers. Her first novel became an international best seller. Branna had written under a pseudonym and her contract with the publishing company specifically excluded any public appearances. The publishing house sent a double in her stead and put the double’s face on the book jackets. It was a necessary deception. If Katharine Lucas became aware of her growing financial success, she would have done anything to undermine her.
Branna is shaken out of her reverie by the conductor’s announcement that they are approaching 135th street station. As she departs the platform and descends the stairs, she catches Analia hugging Josh goodbye. While it appears to be platonic, the two of them are clearly emitting sparks. It was inevitable that Analia would one day become romantically involved with someone. Branna just wishes that someone weren’t Katharine Lucas’ son. It would be a cruel, ironic twist of fate if Branna ever wound up related to Katharine Lucas.
Josh doesn’t see Branna as she approaches and he bounds up the opposite steps to the southbound train. Branna watches the smile on Analia’s face before she interrupts. “Hi Nali. How was your day? You look like you spent some time outdoors. In fact, you look like you’re glowing.”
“Josh took me on his boat, or should I say yacht, down to the tip of Manhattan. We saw the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and Fisherman’s wharf. Josh makes a great tour guide. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the city.”
“I am glad you got to explore the city with someone your own age. It’s so odd. You can live somewhere and never see all its’ sights. Outside tourists usually see your city better than you do. I am glad you had a nice day. You sound like you had fun.”
“I do? Honestly, so much happened today I am not sure how I feel.” I respond. “We flew up to Rosewood by helicopter and the day just got crazier after that.”
“I bet. You and Josh looked cozy. Let’s stop here for a coffee and we can talk.”
We head into our local coffee shop and sit at a booth. I study my mom. She looks animated, almost like she is lit from within. While mom had noticed changes in me, I am picking up on changes in mom as well. Mom appears to be changing rapidly, or it could be I had only viewed her in my narrow prism of reality as my caretaker, my rock.
“Mom, you look like you have something on your mind.”
Before mom speaks, she gives an imperceptible shake of the head and takes my phone and drops it in the foiled bag. She places the bag in the booth next to us. “Ok. We can talk quietly now. The foil bag blocks transmission of signal. I don’t trust your phone. You use the digital voice command on your phone and it can be easily hacked. As for tonight, I saw an old friend. It brought back memories and raised new questions.”
“What kind of questions?”
“I’ll tell you in a minute. So what happened at Rosewood and what happened with Josh?”
I can hear the animation in my voice. “Dad is at Rosewood. I saw him in the audience during the dedication ceremony. I couldn’t believe it. I tried to keep my face blank because I knew Katharine Lucas was watching me. Josh told me on the boat he knew I saw dad.”
Mom’s face mirrors fear and elation. “How does he know about Dad?”
“His mother has files on everyone in my lab group at her home. He was visiting his father, saw them in her office and read the files.”
“Big sister is really looking out for her business. It is bordering on paranoia. How did dad look?”
“Older than what he looks like in the photo, but calm. The detainees don’t look like they are physically tortured. I am not so sure about psychological torture. They didn’t respond at all during the actual dedication ceremony.”
“What did you think of Rosewood?”
“It is a prison, rather bleak. They are trying to present it as a giant research study but the study itself is extremely flawed to the point of being ludicrous. I suspect they are fudging the data. Josh recognized some of the detainees there. A lot of them appear to be American citizens whose only crime was opposing government policies. A lot of the detainees there, including dad, are clearly innocent. Essentially, most are political dissidents and Josh thinks some of them have never even been granted a trial. While in the genetics lab, I had a lot of questions for the chief scientist. While I was involved in this discussion, Josh swiped a memory card with the roster of detainees at Rosewood. I am hoping that their DNA analyses are on this memory card. If these detainees lack the PPZ gene, as they are purported to, then it proves that this is some sinister conspiracy.”
“Why did Josh swipe the card? Are you sure you can trust him?”
“I am not sure of anything. There are definitely issues between him and his mother. He wouldn’t completely explain his reasons and he is clearly conflicted about implicating his mother in something illegal. He is keeping the memory card. Josh keeps a hidden, private computer at his home that he says he will plug the memory card into. He told me it would be dangerous if I held the card in case anyone searched our apartment or computers. I’m not sure if I trust him, but he seems genuine.”
“Are the two of you becoming romantically involved?”
“No. Maybe. I’m not sure. Honestly, I am so confused. He held my hand and was really attentive during the trip. Josh said that his mother would be excited by the prospect of brilliant progeny if Josh and I became a couple. I thought that all his attention was an act but when I mentioned that, he said he wasn’t acting. After we talked about Rosewood, we actually had a fabulous time walking around the southern tip of Manhattan. What do you think?”
“Honey, I don’t know if you can trust him or not. Obviously, it would be so much easier if he weren’t a Lucas. On the other hand, we can’t help who we like or have feelings for.”
“It would be so much easier if I could put my feelings under a microscope and objectively analyze them.”
“Nali, you are a smart girl. It is rather obvious that you like him. The rest you will have to figure out for yourself.” Mom still slips at times and uses my nickname from when I was little.
“I’ll concede you have a point. I just need to be cautious. No one has ever shown any interest in me before.”
“That is because you never left your lab. You are objectively beautiful. I am not just saying that because you’re my daughter.” Mom points out.
“Well now I don’t have to; he is in my lab. Convenient if it works out. That of course depends on whether I want it to work out. And of course it depends on whether he actually does like me or whether he is a plant for his mother. The more pressing question besides my dubious love life is what are we going to do about dad?”
“For now, you have to find out if dad is on that memory card. We’ll need his cell number and where he is located in that place. Did you see the layout of the prison?”
“I saw mostly the main ward and the grounds. I can draw them later while pretending to write in my journal. We will have to hide them, however, in case Josh is correct and they periodically search our apartment.”
“We have to assume the apartment will be searched. I will take care of it. I don’t want you to become too inveigled in this. I want to protect you at any cost. I am already feeling so guilty about today. For now you should just concentrate on your work and personal life. Give Katharine Lucas something to be happy about and it will help alleviate her suspicions.”
“Mom, dad is your husband but he is my father too. I want to do this. They took my father from me. I am pretty tough. By the way, where were you coming from tonight?” Analia asks.
“I was visiting an old friend in Soho. His name is Damian. We went to Harvard together. He recently married and I met his wife. I saw her coming out of the chairman’s office the first day of work. I am not sure what to make of it nor do I know if Damian knows about the connection between his wife and Katharine Lucas. I am even more scared that my friend Damian may be on the payroll of the Lucas Institute.”
“Did you confide in him about anything?”
“Nothing important. I just said I wanted to find dad, but I phrased it in a general sense. I had asked him to put me in touch with my old friend Ziva. She is my closest friend. I told you some of us went underground years ago. Ziva was one of them. She is working anonymously here in midtown. She is more at risk than me. I’m pretty sure there still is a warrant out for her arrest. I have to find her on my own and warn her. We should go home now.”
We walk home arm in arm and greet George on our way to the elevator. I crawl into mom’s bed and snuggle next to her as I draw the diagrams in my book. Despite the craziness of the day, I feel at peace and fall asleep in the midst of my fourth drawing. I learn the following day that mom hid the drawings between a painting and its backing on her bedroom wall. She’ll have to find a more secure location but the hiding place should work temporarily. She’ll find another place outside of the apartment this week.