Arctic Ave Chapter 2: The grey sky bore the silence of the dead. Beneath it sat Kate, staring at the empty lawn where hundreds of people existed a few minutes ago. “Everybody leaves,” she thought. The funeral was over. James Vandenburg, the most Iconic person in the media realm, was now just a few days away from becoming history. Right now, there was a frenzy regarding his death – it was brutal and sudden, but since it was a natural one, there was no angle of suspicion and hence no angle for media to do its favorite thing – fuel curiosity. All they were doing was running short packages over his life and career achievements.
Kate shifted her side, thinking of how her father died. “It’s a natural death,” she repeated the sentence out loud to let it; somehow, it just doesn’t seem alright. She shook her head in frustration and pain.
Something was not right. Something was off. Her gut kept punching the feeling under her skin, and yet her conscious and unconscious mind grappled to make sense of her emotions and intuitions.
John studied her from some distance, keeping him well hidden and out of sight. Kate Vandenburg was not difficult to recognize. She had a stark resemblance to her father, not just in her features but also in how she walked and spoke. She had this fierce energy that intimidated people but a restlessness that came from the immense hunger for truth. “Just like her father,” John smiled unintentionally. She had almost set, her tall, slender figure was transforming in a shadow in the dim lights, but John could see her face. Kate Vandenburg was beautiful, no doubt, but something else made her memorable – her sharpness. Her skin was the most delightful full shade – not so white that it seems pale, not so beige that it gets tan. Her jawline was enhanced, giving her a touch of a stern soul. “I don’t doubt that; like father, like daughter,” John thought. She had big eyes – big fierce eyes that sparkled with intelligence, and yet there was a rawness in her beauty. She wasn’t the all-polished, fake Botox-rich girl. However, with her head down and her shoulders slumped. She seemed like an innocent child, struggling to find her way out of confusion. John weighed his options. He needed to go and talk to her, but just like her, he was dealing with utter darkness right now. He didn’t know what to say.
“How do I tell her and more importantly, ‘What do I tell her’?” For now, John did not have any evidence any confirmation of a conspiracy, only her father’s last statement, “If you ever see me on television, and you think I should find out what happened. Come here and find out. I trust you to do that.”
“Why would she believe that?” John looked at her. She definitely wasn’t the one to trust anyone without evidence of what he was offering. John didn’t blame her. She needed that kind of paranoia and alertness in the circumstances she was in. “No, I need to find something before I tell anyone anything,” he thought, but he found an uneasy feeling, leaving Kate unwatched. “What if I am too late,” a voice inside him questioned. Then he saw Jack Harris coming her way, “She is in safe hands.” He turned away to leave – “I have got things to do,” John disappeared in the dark.
Jack took small steps towards the sad girl who was like his daughter. It had been more than five years since she was blooming under his wings. She was not just his favorite employee but a daughter whom he loved fiercely. He had never seen Kate this silent and angry, and yet he could understand her state. “She’s a journalist; after all, she needs her reality crystal clear,” he had thought while watching her in the car.
“Tough day, kid?” He smiled sadly. Kate nodded. No matter how many quarrels she’d have with Jack, she knew he was the only person left with whom she could let her guards down.
Jack Harris nodded in response, “Look, I won’t tell you everything is going to get okay. In fact, my responsibility is to tell you the truth, to prepare you for it, and the Truth is your life is not going to be the same ever again.” Kate looked at him intently.
“There is a whole legacy that you have to carry on your back now, your father’s channel and all the things he has been working upon; it’s all for you,” Kate immediately lost interest.
“No, no! That’s not what is most important right now,” she said in frustration.
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know,” she stood up in frustration. “Damn Jack! I don’t know, but all these legalities, these formalities, this media layer of reality, it doesn’t fit!” Jack narrowed her eyebrows in question. Kate lifted her hands in an exploring gesture and then dropped them helplessly, “I just feel that Dad’s death has more to it than what it seems.”
“What?” Jack took a step back.
“Jack, I know you are always accusing me of being overdramatic and seeing things that aren’t there but Dad’s death; this has something more to it.”
Jack opened his mouth to say something, but Kate didn’t let him. “Listen to me, okay! This isn’t some assignment that I am excited to work upon. I assure you it gives me no thrill to think about my dad’s death and attach conspiracy theories to it, but he was my father! And I knew him better than anyone. And you have to listen to me when I say something is not right” Kate’s voice shivered ever so slightly.
“Okay,” Jack said calmly. “I believe you. You are his daughter, and if you are saying something, I can’t doubt it won’t have any substance. But do what makes you feel this way?”
Kate sighed, “The fact that we don’t know how he died. Sure, it looks like heart failure or something medical, but we don’t know it for sure. Besides, dad did not have a heart problem. In fact, his health was in perfect shape; I had all his regular checkup reports just last week.” She waved her phone in front of him, touched the screen a few times, and then showed it to Jack. “Look at his reports and tell me, what possible health condition could cause this death, besides a very rare and inexplicable one.”
Jack eyed the reports and then stared in the void, thinking about it. “Dear, it is still a possibility, the only sensible possibility because James died in front of my eyes. It’s not like anybody hurt him, or there was any mystery to what happened. He was completely fine, moments ago from taking his last breath,” Jack gulped, rewinding the scene. “The autopsy will further clarify things.”
“I saw something on dad’s wrist – a tattoo.”
“A what?” Jack knew James enough to know how much he detested needles. “Those monsters!” He had called the doctor once who injected him to draw out the blood for a test, and Jack had laughed at him, “For god’s sake, you are forty-year-old, James.”
“I don’t care. I just had those god damn needles. I will invest a million dollars if anyone comes up with an idea to replace these prickly monsters.” Now ten years fast forward. Jack was sitting at the remains of the late James Vandenberg’s funeral where her daughter was telling him that she saw a tattoo on James’ wrist. “Impossible,” he said. “Maybe it was artificial or removable but certainly not a real tattoo. Your dad would have died then and there; he had not waited for this long.”
Kate looked at him, criticizing his bad humor, “I am sorry, kid. But yeah, there is no way he had a tattoo.”
“Okay, then why would he even have a replica or a fake tattoo on his wrist?” Kate challenged. Jack fell silent. “I mean, he was too classy to be that showy. You knew dad; he had no time for these shenanigans. Why would he trouble himself to get a fake tattoo?”
“What was it like?” Jack asked.
Kate hurried to one of the tables and brought a tissue paper. “Give me the pen,” she asked, knowing that Jack always had a pen to him. “Typical old journalism romance,” Kate used to make fun of him.
Jack obliged and handed a pen from his pocket. Kate drew something on the tissue paper and showed him. “What the…” Jack said
“What is this?”
“I have no idea.”
Jack looked at the symbol again, it was ironically simple, yet it made no sense. The two open as collided with their middle line above them rather than crossing from the center.
“These look like… mountains or something,” Kate said.
“Doesn’t make any sense to me, though. Can you recall anything with which we can relate to this sign? You know perhaps a society or a symbolic meaning that dad had ever mentioned?”
“No, in fact, he didn’t even have it three weeks ago because that was when I met him. I can affirm he did not have this on his wrist then.”
Jack went silent for the longest time. Kate could feel the suspicion setting in his mind, too, now, “I think we need to look into it.”
On a regular day at work, this would have been the best words for Kate from Jack’s mouth because that meant permission to proceed on a specific assignment, but today, as he said it, Kate only felt unsettling anxiety. It strengthened her suspicions, and that was a paradoxical feeling. She was relieved that it was not just her who could see something was off. On the other hand, it terrified her to predict what it meant if her instinct was true. “It can turn out not to be a natural death,” she shuddered, and so did James. It was like both of them could read each other’s minds and fears.
“It’s crazy how minds work,” Jack commented. “I didn’t know why I told John to stay and that we might need him, now I know.”
“John?” Kate said, “That guy who met us there? Who is he anyway? I know I have seen him around my father a few times many years ago, but what is his purpose? What does he add up to the story?”
“Well, he is someone really resourceful and has served as a right hand for your father in many of his secret assignments,” Kate tilted her head, listening intently with interest.
“Former military man, highly-skilled, insanely independent and sharp – I know he seems like a weird fellow, that because he is one indeed,” Jack smiled.
“I agree – he seemed…” Kate thought of those deep eyes boring into hers when they had met, “Peculiar.” She took a pause and completed the sentence.
“Don’t judge him too quickly; he is beyond your wildest imagination. Besides, I think if anyone is able enough to look into James’ death, it’s him.”
“Why him? We have authorities by our side. He was James, God damn Vandenberg James, and if we tell them, it could be something else, they will have to look into it.”
“Sure, but do you think that if James was purposefully killed, it could be a job done by a common person? He was a high-profile personality. People knew him, every-freaking-body knew him, and your father was not someone with a sift record; he had gone hard and destructive on so many giants, people with enormous power. What makes you think that his enemies who can be suspects of his death are not powerful enough to control or at least influence authorities?” Jack asked. Kate thought about it.
“Moreover, these people have set measures and rules; they won’t go on your word if you show suspension, and they will never share evidence to confirm your suspicion. You saw what happened today when we want to see the body, right?” Kate nodded. He was not wrong. His father had always been involved in massively dangerous expositions, and he was never afraid of it, so there was a higher chance that if James Vandenberg was murdered, those people would not be easy to trace.
“I should call Dakota,” Kate said.
“My girl, she is merciless when it comes to extracting information.”
“Come on, Kate. I am telling you; John is the right man for this, and we need him on this.”
“Okay, Jack, maybe you are right, but I can’t move forward with anything until I have my facts right!”
“But Kate, I am telling you John must have a lot of information about your father’s activities.”
“Maybe you are right, but for now, I need a source that I can trust. Once I have my foundation, I can approach others, don’t blame me; that’s what you have taught me as a journalist,” Kate looked at him as a matter-of-fact. Jack could not help but nod.
“Besides,” Kate continued, “You don’t know Dakota. She is a devil with an insanely fast computer; there is no limit to what she can do.”
Her eyes moved up and down from her screen to keyboard every nanosecond. Her finger ran like dancing thunder over the keyboard. “Hey, Bennie! I got to have that Americano in the next 30 seconds, or I swear to God, I’ll rip this place off!” She called Bennie, the owner of the coffee shop, who was standing on the counter without taking a moment to look past her screen.
“Classic Dakota!” Bennie rolled her eyes and filled her large cup of Americano. Her shocking red hoodie with the tightest neon legging was hard to ignore and easy to find in the swarm of customers.
“Here you go,” Bennie served her, herself. As always. This time Dakota looked up and flashed a smile. Her eyes sparked the happy emotion from behind light green cat eyeglasses, “Dakota loves you, and you know that.”
“No brag!” Bennie rolled her eye and left her to work. This was the routine for the past four years, so everyone knew their role. However, Kate’s entry was seldom, more like a cameo.
Bennie saw her coming. Kate blinked her eyes to say, “Don’t worry. I have got this,” and moved forward to Dakota’s table. Kate knew her specific table by heart now.
She patted on her shoulder, and Dakota was about to burst like a balloon, but she immediately softened when she saw Kate. “Kate!” Dakota stood up and hugged her. Bennie watched the two ladies and knew this must be something of a special occasion. Dakota hated hugs.
“I am so sorry about your father,” she whispered. Kate embraced her fully.
“Actually,” both the ladies parted, “That is why I have come to you.”
“Yeah, you told me over the phone. Tell me what we are dealing with.”
Kate explains the whole situation, and Dakota only listens.
“It seems like we need to dig in without any of the leads.”
“Yes, and I know that can be very confusing. I am sorry I don’t even know what to tell you to look for.”
“Nothing is confusing when Dakota gets on to work – just give some time, and I’ll get back to you with something we can work upon.” Kate smiled. That was one of the reasons she loved Dakota.
With her, Kate never had to bang her head on the wall while explaining what she wanted. She was like a tech wizard that could dig out any grave on the internet. Nothing was inaccessible for Dakota. When Kate had hired 16-year-old Dakota to collect secret information about the Vietnamese immigrants that the government was questioning, she thought she had made a mistake. That frenzied, extremely thin, and loud social teenager didn’t seem serious enough for the job, but she blew Kates’s mind when she provided her with more than what she expected in just two hours. Kate never let go of her ever since.
Today Dakota was the number one researcher in the media industry and was even more fearless than before. Most of all, she was Kate’s friend who was hell-bent on calling out everyone who might have been involved in James Vandenburg’s death.
However, Kate had no idea she had other well-wishers trying to reach the core of the matter. Had she known that John was meeting with, scared to death, Marian Denison, James’ secretary a few miles away? Kate would not have been reluctant to include John in her quest. Things, however, on both sides were about to unfold.
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