Arctic Ave Chapter 3: Kate sat in her father’s office, stunt and still. James Vandenberg’s office was spacious enough to take a run, and yet the preciseness of everything beats Kate. The black and steel grey theme gave it an impression of absolute modernity and class. It was quite different from the spaces Kate used to work in – she loved the messy, cramped news and reporting rooms where one could play hide and seek between the giant piles of papers. It gave her a true sense of journalism and the rush of adrenaline.
It was odd that Kate had been into this office many times and yet sitting in his father’s chair and looking at his space with the perspective of someone who worked there. For the first time in her life, Kate felt that she and her father might have been very different people. Their worlds have grown to be different, and with that, an unsettling realization was putting weight on her shoulder. She might not know everything about James Vandenberg.
“But I have to find out,” she eyed the two papers lying on the desk in front of her. One was the official autopsy report of Vandenberg’s death. The second was the list of suspects provided by Dakota who may be involved in some conspiracy and had the motive to kill Kate’s father. The first document implied that the second document was utterly baseless. Cause of death: Heart stroke, they had said in the report, which meant there was no need of suspicion – there was no need to ponder upon the list lying next to the report and dig who could have tried to take James’s life.
Kate dropped the first paper and picked up the second. She skimmed through the 12 names – only two of them were known to her. Her father was an influential man – but what might cause him death was that he was a curious man. His roots were strengthened into the soil of true journalism. Therefore, even when he reached the heights of media control, he did not let himself become vague by cutting cords with authentic research work.
James lived to find the truth that no one else could see coming. He was on the back of many research projects that were going on secretively to reveal the hideous secrets of powerful people. Some were even involved with the government. His equals were also not his friends because they were his competition. James was too busy to be competitive. He had the purpose of staying in control with the power of information, which created hostility, jealousy, and anger among many other media moguls. That was the problem, they wanted to be like him, but they were not. Their image and motivation came from lavishness and the shiny surface of things, while James came from the innate need to get into the core of things – they could never compete with him.
“And maybe that’s why they thought to eliminate him,” Kate thought, rubbing the tip of her thumb on one name after another on the list. “But how do I confirm my hunch is right? This is too simple to be the truth,” she again picked up the medical report. She brainstormed for a few minutes then dialed a number.
“Hey Ron, I need your help with something,” she said to Ron, who was her go-to medical expert every time she had suspicions that proof had been altered in a case. “Yes, actually, I have something personal for you to look at this time.”
While Kate was having the conversation that would change the course of the entire situation, outside James Vandenburg’s office, extremely nervous, Marian was repeating the conversation she had yesterday with John. She didn’t know what to expect next. The way James Vandenberg died and the men who visited him that morning had no connection, and yet Marian had felt this gnawing fear ever since she had heard of James’ death. It was traumatizing for her, and her heart ached that the kindest person around in her professional life was no more. It was more of a personal loss to her. But somehow, every emotion, every thought had been dominated by the image of those men in black. So, when John Francis pushed her to share anything suspicious, Marian could not help but tell him. Now, Kate was inside the office. It is evident that she wanted to recollect herself and familiarize herself with his father’s world, “But, she knows too little,” Marian had thought.
“Should I tell her about the man who is investigating his father’s death? And the men who visited him,” Marian had thought. “She had the right to know,” an inside voice announced as she saw Kate this morning – her worn-out face and swollen eyes were clearly showing the agony she was going through. Marian felt for the poor girl, but she didn’t know what the right thing to do after all was. She had no evidence of those men coming or even any proof of James Vandenberg’s death connected to any sort of conspiracy.
The two women sat in the same space, only separated by a wall, pondering over the same question. Was there more to what was visible?
“The Dallas bars were different from the one back in Texas,” John thought, looking around. He could not say they all went futile, but there was this expanding hole of confusion and uncertainty that he could not fill. Besides the interior and all, the hustle-bustle never left the space to be quiet, serene, or just peaceful for even a moment. Everybody eyed everyone with curiosity. “Small towns and big towns,” he missed home. It had been four days since he was here.
Clearly, something was wrong, but that something was still unknown. John had thought about the men in black James’ secretary told him about. “They were serious and looked dangerous; James particularly told me to remove all records of their visit. He never did that before,” she had said.
John wondered who those men could be.
“What did they look like? I mean ethnicity-wise. Asian? European?”
“They were all very white, but they wore black glasses and old, looked so same. I cannot tell from where they belonged.”
John had an inner feeling that this could lead him somewhere, but how could he know who those men were. Before he could think something else, Jack quietly took the seat beside him on the bar and ordered a whiskey on the rocks.
“Since when have you become the whiskey guy,” John smiled.
“Ever since you had become the sheep in the farm,” Jack took a sip. John chuckled, “That’s a ranch, not a farm.”
“You should have more concerns that I called you a sheep,” Jack’s wit sparkled through even his matter-of-fact tone. John was truly enjoying it, “You know me. I don’t give a shit what they call me – never have.”
“You know what your problem is, John?” Jack straightened and looked at him for the first time. “You care way too much, and you are not ready to admit it.”
John only smiled. That was a rare sight but so was when someone had guessed something right about him. “I don’t care,” he repeated without any enthusiasm to make it sound like the truth.
“Yes, you do; that’s why you are still here,” Jack said meaningfully.
John felt silent and thought for a moment, “He was a good man – James.”
“He was,” Jack said, looking at the same void as John. “And now he’s gone.”
“I don’t think it’s a natural death,” John cut to the chase.
“Hallelujah!” Jack slammed the glass on the bar. “You are already going well along with Kate. Did you find something?”
“Not yet, except that my inner gut is surer that someone was after him. I extracted some information about who he met in the last days,” John told him about the men in black. “I still don’t know whether it’s anything or not. Do you know who else he did meet in his last days or what has he been working on lately?”
“James had become quite secretively in the last year, especially about his projects, mostly you were my source of information when you worked with him, but after that, I kind of was clueless. Then again, I had other things to focus on, like training her daughter to be a better media influence than he is… was!” Jack, who was smiling at Kate’s thought, became sad when he had to correct his tense. “Was, he is gone”
John narrowed his eyebrows.
“You just said that he has become quite secretive about his research; I believe that was the exact same reason he let me go because he could no longer involve me in the project. This means that he was doing something which he did not want any of us to find out,” John then told him about his last conversation with James. “He said if you see me on television and you think I should go and see him, then I must not hesitate, so clearly, he had an idea of things turning south but what could be so important and confidential that he would fire his agent, hide from his daughter and don’t tell a thing to her daughter?” John was thinking out loud. He then looked at Jack, who was listening intently too. Both the men were thinking the same question now, without even putting it into words.
“What was he working on for so long?”
Dakota switched quickly from one to another among the several opened tabs in her window. Her mind was working with the speed of light. Finally, she could find a lead that could be of some value. She pressed enter, and the result produced an expression of triumph in her eyes. She immediately called Kate.
“Hello?” Kate answered.
“Do you know where your dad was from October 12 to November 4 this year?”
“Umm, I’ll have to check. Wait, October, you said?” Kate thought for a while; Dakota patiently waited to drop the bomb. “He was on tour over some official business in France.”
“Officially yes, only that he wasn’t in France after 18th of October, contrary to the news and what the rest of the world knows,” Dakota took hold to release the information but not for long. It was her father’s friend they were talking about, and she preferred instant help instead of professional dominance or pride. “James Vandenberg was in Chile, Kate – why? Nobody knows.”
“Chile? What the hell he went there for?” Kate narrowed her brows. “Are you sure about this? Because I literally talked to him all the time when he was in France.”
“I hacked into his account, and I have found his tickets, Kate.”
“Dakota, can you find out where he’d stay or whom he met there? Anything, anything about it.”
“I am trying, surely I’ll crack something out, but until then, look at the list I gave you again, see if there can be any connection of any of those names with your dad’s private visit to Chile.”
“Got it, thanks, Dakota.”
“Any time, girl.”
Kate finished the call and sighed, “How many secrets are there in your life, Dad?” She looked at his picture on the wall of his office, smiling brightly with politicians of the world. She revived the time when he talked or pretended to talk from France. She was in California in those days, working day and night over on the story of a celebrity who was allegedly involved in human trafficking.
“I wish you were here,” her father had said quietly.
Kate was alarmed for a moment, James Vandenberg was kind, but he was not very expressive of his emotions.
“Is France not treating you well?” Kate had joked, “Or are you after a dead end?”
“Sometimes you pray there is nothing more, sometimes you actually wish there was a dead-end to things,” James had said in a tone which alarmed Kate. Her father had never spoken like that.
“Dad? Is everything alright?’
“Yeah, listen, I have to go, the conference is starting in 10 minutes, okay. I’ll call you again.”
Now almost after eight months after that conversation, Kate could see it in a whole different light. He was definitely in search of something. What was he possibly working on?” She had thought. Something struck Kate’s mind, and she picked up the intercom, “Marian?” she spoke with purpose.
“Come inside, please.”
John clicked over the folder, and the memories rushed back. Inside, hundreds of subfolders carried all the information he had retrieved for James when they worked together. Last night at the bar, John and Jack had concluded that James was going into the core of some dangerous things. However, they had no clue what they were. So, here was John opening the old files, hoping something would strike up his mind as a lead.
He opened the first subfolder, which was filled with pictures. It came back to John. He had taken photographs of a suspect involved in a missing person’s case. James had told him to keep an eye and monitor his moments. “It was an odd order,” John had thought even then. He was more of an action guy, and James had used him adequately for his talents most of the time, but following someone without any significant purpose or search of information felt useless to John.
“Nothing is useless,” James had said then. “I can take any further bold steps to let anyone know what we are looking for. We just need to see where and to whom he leads us.” A few days afterward, John came to know that James was monitoring the person to retrieve his lost reporter’s whereabouts.
Two years ago, Mat Midfield had gone to Antarctica to make a documentary for the channel and disappeared in the snow land. His body was never found nor any of his last whereabouts; ever since then, James had started to dig deeper in people who went missing in the line of journalism. John could see the guilt on James’ face when he talked about him. “He is gone because of me,” James would say, utterly helpless.
John thought he wanted to know what had happened to Mat, but before they could reach any conclusion, James had pulled the plug off. Then it hit him, “The men in black!” He had seen them! With a jolt, John straightened, and his eyes became wide. He remembered this person he was following, meeting some people who matched the description Miss Marian gave him.
John’s fingers were typing fast. He searched the folder, and there he got it. He had pictures of them. Finally, something was making sense, “James was still working on the missing reporter’s case? And these people, they are connected to it?” It was one hell of a moment of revelation. “I got to know exactly who these people are and what James was trying to do, working on a dead or missing reporter’s stale case even after years of his disappearance, and what does it have to do with these guys?” He mumbled as he looked at the screen.
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