The limousine turned off Route 3 somewhere north of Lancaster, New Hampshire. From there it followed a narrow tarmac road that ended abruptly at a pair of solid looking gates. On either side of the gates an equally solid chain-link fence disappeared into the woods that lined each side of the road. A camera mounted high up on a pole turned with a whirring noise of gears, and zoomed in on the vehicle. The driver lowered his window and reached out to a keypad that was recessed into a brick pillar at the side of the road. A tinny distant voice answered in curt but polite tones.
"Yep ? This is the King ranch. Please state your business".
"Don here, returning from the airport with Mister and Mrs King, and Nathan."
"Come right on up!", said the almost robotic sounding voice but even the electronic distortion of the intercom could not disguise the delight in the voice. The gates opened, swinging back to allow the limousine in and closing automatically behind it. The road snaked its way up towards the Ranch that was three miles away. All the land in any direction was owned by Tyler King. Had it been almost a year since he had been here ? The limousine pulled up at the steps that led up to the Ranch house, gliding almost silently to its destination.
A man and a woman in their late fifties came down the steps as the doors on the limousine were opened. "Do I get to see my grandson at long last", said the woman with a beaming smile. She was an elegant woman though dressed casually in trousers and wearing a patterned ‘western style' shirt and leather cowboy boots. It was easy to see that this still beautiful woman was Caroline's mother. The man beside her was tall, much taller than his wife. His hair was dark with flashes of silver at the temples and his eyes a slate gray. He was a slim man with only the very slightest evidence of a paunch. The sleeves of his shirt were rolled up revealing sinewy arms covered with a heavily tanned skin like leather. His face was as weather beaten but the lines around his mouth and eyes were clearly the lines of laughter.
"Mum! Dad!", Caroline cried out in surprise, "Tyler didn't say you would be here!"
"We flew in from Phoenix last night sweetheart", her mother replied, already reaching to take the sleeping Nathan in her arms. Caroline passed him over to her.
"My, isn't he a big chap now", said her mother, "he really has grown for eight months hasn't he ? Are you sure the doctor got his dates right ?"
For the briefest of moments a look flashed across Caroline's face that her mother caught and could not explain when she thought about it later - was that fear that she saw, or even alarm ?
"It must have been the island", said Caroline with a smile, "it really is an amazing place. You and dad will have to come with us next time we go. You would love it."
"We kept seeing pictures of you on your tour - it looks like you had a lovely time."
"Yes, yes we did, but when I fell pregnant...we just thought we may as well go there for a while. Its nice to be back though."
"Hey guys. Does a grandpa get a look in here ?", asked her father laughing. As Nathan was passed to him to hold he stirred and woke up. The first face he saw was his grandfather peering down at him and he cried, frightened by the strange visage.
"Oh dear. I do seem to have that effect. Here Caroline, you better have him back until he gets to know us", he said passing Nathan back, "but he is a big guy, isn't he ?"
"What was his birth weight ?", asked her mother, as mothers always do.
Again she thought she saw that strange look flash across her daughter's face and this time she might well have because Caroline was simply not prepared for it; she and Tyler had simply overlooked the simple ordinary things that mothers ask their daughters when they give birth. Thinking fast, Caroline replied, "oh he was a big baby, eight pounds something, as I remember."
"That is a big baby. No wonder he is such a big guy now. How long were you in labour"?
"Err...not very long, about five hours I think."
"Did you have an epidural or gas to help with the pain ?"
"Excuse me ?", Caroline replied, surprised by the question because she actually did not understand the term.
"An epidural - an injection into the spine to help with the birth pain. Its a bit uncomfortable I am told, although in my day we had to just grit our teeth and get on with it."
"No mum, it was all fine. Can we leave it please because I am very tired now?", Caroline almost snapped back this time.
"Sorry sweetheart. Just me being a nosy grandma who is concerned about these things, that's all. Don't mind me He is a handsome big guy though."
Caroline and Tyler did not reappear until late afternoon. They were now refreshed, but not so much so that they would be unable to sleep later when they hoped to switch their body clocks back to Eastern time. Her parents had watched some television and had then taken a nap on the sun deck that ran right around the house. Now that the light was fading and the evening was growing cool, everybody was outside again taking a drink and watching the setting sun, waiting for dinner to be served. They ate rib-eye steaks with fries and salad. Tyler opened some wine for Caroline and her mother and he stuck to cold beer with her father. There was something about drinking an American beer in America that made it taste like no other. He couldn't say what it was but he was sure the taste was better.
"Its just so nice to have you back home", said Caroline's mother as the dishes were being cleared, "we have missed you, both of you. We would have loved to see Nathan sooner too, but never mind. Maybe the next one ?"
"Oh mother!", said Caroline in mild rebuke.
"How do you feel getting back into the saddle Tyler?", asked Caroline's father.
"I've never really been away".
"Oh ? How did you manage that, thousands of miles away in the middle of the Pacific ?"
"I have an up-link to one of the new satellites they put up, so I am pretty much in touch with everybody, except I can't see them of course, but who knows, maybe one day..."
"What in hell is an ‘up-link'?"
"Its what the technical guys call my phone connection. It means I have a kind of direct line, at least that's how they explained it to me."
"Wow! Do you really think that one day you will get pictures too ?"
"Oh yeah. I could do it with TV cameras now but then I would need cameras at every place I need to talk to. I am pretty good at reading somebody's voice, believe me", said Tyler with a smile.
"Well Caroline, me and your mother are going to turn in now, we're pooped and I bet you guys are too, so we'll see you in the morning", her father said as he got up from the table.
"Good night mom, dad", said Caroline hoping the relief that she felt had not been apparent in her voice.
"Something is not right there Henry", said Caroline's mother as she lay in bed reading her book, beside her husband.
"What ? What do you mean Susan?", he replied sounding irritated and thinking ‘here we go again'.
"I don't know, maybe its just me, but a mother just knows these things."
"What things ? What in tarnation are you talking about?", he asked her with some annoyance in his voice.
"Little things. Look how big Nathan is. Eight and a half months ? I would put him nearer a year if I did not know better."
"So what! He was a big baby who has grown. What in hell is wrong with that ?"
"I asked her his birth weight. Every mother knows that to the ounce, the time, you just never forget it. I can tell you now when I went into labour, how long, the birth weight - all of it. You never forget."
"You never forget. You never forget nothin'. Maybe she did. Big deal. Now let me be, I am trying to read."
"She said she was in labour for five hours, she didn't seem to know what an epidural was. Giving birth to an eight pound plus baby is gonna hurt and you would not forget it, believe me, Henry."
"Women in China give birth in the fields and carry on working. And anyway, I don't know what an ediplural is neither. Now leave it be Susan. Stop making mischief. The boy is the image of his father. Just be happy for them", and with that final word on the subject he closed his book, turned of his bedside lamp and went to sleep. He was soon snoring softly.
Susan did not go to sleep so easily. She was a mother, she knew. You can kid almost anybody in the world but you can never kid your own mother. She ran through everything in her mind, conjuring up images of her daughter's reactions to some of the things that she had said. Twice she had seen a look on her daughter's face, it was there and gone so fast, but she had seen it and it worried her. What was she trying to hide, because the more she thought about it the more she became convinced that her daughter was hiding something, but what ? It was very late indeed when still troubled, Susan turned off her light and tried to sleep.
"Wow, that was way too close for me", said Caroline to Tyler, relieved that her parents had taken an early night.
"You were great honey, really you were."
"All the same, my mom was asking a lot of questions."
"She's bound to. Isn't that what grandmothers do ?"
"Yeah, but she seemed to sense that something was wrong - you know what moms are like. Did you ever lie to your mother ?"
"Oh yeah, I sure did. Never forgot it. When she found out she beat my butt so hard I don't think I could sit down for a week. Didn't do it again though", he chuckled back.
Caroline laughed at the thought of her tough husband, the man who a few weeks ago had taken on and beaten (she preferred not to think of killing), five pirates, getting his backside tanned. ""What did you do ?"
"I took my pa's rifle when I was twelve years old and went hunting Bear in the hills."
"You went after a Bear on your own ?", she said incredulously.
"It seemed a good idea at the time", he grinned at her.
"Did you get it ?"
"Kind of ? How much kind of ?"
"I found a Bear okay, and I hit it too, but I didn't take it clean. The Bear reared up real angry and it was twice the height of me. Then it seemed to smell the air. I could see some blood near one if its hind legs. It turned and started coming in my direction. I got the hell out of there as fast as I could run, I even left the rifle behind. The Bear came after me. I was scared shitless."
"And then ? You can't finish it there. What happened ?"
"When I broke out of the woods, way over the back, the Bear was real mad and still coming but by then my dad knew I was missing and he was coming to look for me. He saw me running and yelled at me to hit the deck and so I did, and then he took that Bear out with one shot. It was so close that when it fell its nose was no more than a foot away from me."
"Then what ? What did you lie about ?"
"I made up some stupid story about how I saw the Bear trying to get at the chickens so I took a rifle to try and scare him off. My dad asked me where the gun was and my story really came apart. He gave me a good whipping for leaving the gun and another for not hitting it right. For good measure my mom gave me another for lying about it in the first place. The next week I went hunting with dad and got my first Bear. I also got my first Deer on that trip, with just a knife - dad taught me all that kind of stuff, out there in the woods."
Caroline's parents stayed on for another two days. From time to time her mother asked her questions that Caroline had to think fast to answer, and she just hoped that her mother was happy with her answers. Inside, she secretly knew that her mother was not happy with the answers, but that she was not going to ask anything outright. It made some of their conversations stilted and strained, an emotion that she had never experienced before when talking to her mother. She felt a huge surge of relief when at last the limousine took them back to Logan Airport in Boston, for their flight home.
As baby Nathan continued to grow the disparity between his development and his claimed age became less and less noticeable. In time Caroline's mother almost forgot her initial concerns, but just as her father had always said, she never forgot them entirely. Both grandparents came to the Ranch on his birthday, every December. Tyler's own mother had died in childbirth and so never got to see her son grow up, marry and produce a grandson. His father, Theodore King, died of Cancer in 1961 at the young age of 49.
December at the Ranch was almost as magical as was life on the island in the Pacific, although very different. The whole landscape was covered in snow, a white tablecloth that blanketed everything and transformed the scenery. The boughs of the fir trees in the woods hung heavy with snow and the tracks of some animals could be seen leaving their tell-tale spoor as the foraged for food. Snow ploughs had swept great banks alongside the roads keeping them clear for traffic. It was 1974 and Nathan was three years old. Like most small children, Nathan was beginning to invent make believe friends to play with. Some child experts think that this phase is in fact some long lost ability of perception that we all had once upon a time, and have lost as humans evolved. Nathan usually invented a make-believe brother and Caroline would often listen to him playing and testing his fast growing vocabulary on his ‘brother'. When she asked him about it, Nathan always insisted that his friend was real but lived ‘someplace far away', but then most kids insist that their make-believe world is real. Its we adults that are the losers because at one time it was us who lived in that world, but sadly, as we grow up those images fade and are lost forever, which is why we are always fascinated when we see our own children at play. Any difference now in Nathan's true age was totally gone, he looked like a good healthy three year-old should look when brought up in the privileged surroundings that he had enjoyed. Inside the house he was a terror charging around the house on his beloved three wheel tricycle. The only aspect of his behaviour that garnered any comment was the fact that already he would use a toilet with only the very occasional accident. He loved to rough and tumble with his dad when he was at home on the Ranch and pined for his dad when he was away (frequently) on business. Caroline knew that Tyler was longing to take his young son out into the woods to hunt and fish, but time enough for that, she thought. All in good time.
Even making an allowance for the few extra months in age that Nathan really was, he showed that his mind was very sharp indeed and his reading skills were certainly advanced for any child of his age. Tyler joked that it must be in his genes. The more Nathan looked at the simple children's books, the better his vocabulary became. This development became a blessing in disguise because now that the physical changes had become consistent with his age, Caroline's parents could see just how clever their grandson was, and were very proud of him. A child expert who Caroline had visit the Ranch from time to time to check up on Nathan's well being had said that she thought Nathan was very bright indeed and that maybe, when he was a few years older perhaps, it might be an idea to have his intelligence professionally assessed. Given his parentage, there was every reason to believe that their genes had combined to produce an exceptional child, mind you she also said, such children were often born for no apparent reason at all - they just were the geniuses of our times.
The snow was deep and Nathan was trying to crush it into balls which he threw at his father. Between them they made a huge snowman, although most of the making was down to Tyler. Then Tyler strapped Nathan in front of him and went charging around the pasture on a bright yellow snowmobile. Nathan love the sensation of speed, laughing and giggling as his dad threw the machine this way and that. At times Caroline felt her heart rise up in her mouth, certain that they would crash, but of course, they never did. Caroline liked to ski and already she had got Nathan into his first pair. He had looked so cute in his ski suit, standing there with his little poles when she took his picture. She only ever went on the most gentle of slopes around the Ranch house when she took him out to ski. At first he used to fall over all the time, always rolling and laughing in the snow, until she realised that he was falling over on purpose because he liked it. She soon got him to balance and his skiing on the easy slopes was as confident as his walking, and sometimes as manic as his tricycle antics. He was certainly an adventurous child, that was for sure. Whether or not he was a ‘Genius' as had been suggested he could be, would have to wait a while.
The nearest town to the Ranch was some twenty miles from the bottom of the long drive. It was a modest town that boasted a Super 8 motel catering mainly for tourists on a tight budget and the occasional trucker travelling to or from Canada. There was one movie theatre (not a drive in) a 511 store, a small library, a drugstore and a school. For fast food there was a place called Wally's Pizza or a diner that would deliver telephone orders when the owner, Fat Tony, was in a good mood. It was smallville USA, no more than three miles across from one city limit to the other. Most people in the surrounding farms and houses used the town for convenience, only making the eighty mile round trip top the nearest Mall once a month or so. Tyler wanted his son to grow up in as ordinary a way as was possible. So far he had made very few friends and given his age it had not made a lot of difference to him, but the danger was that if he did not start to mix with other kids soon then he could grow up with some serious problems. The real issue where Nathan was concerned was his family, or more specifically, his father. Kidnapping was a very real danger but for how long could they keep their some hidden away from the world? It was not fair on Nathan and Tyler knew that, but had plans that he hoped would take care of the problem.
Everybody in the state knew who Tyler and Caroline King were, but they were liked because they mixed freely with everybody else and showed no ‘airs or graces' - they tried in all respects to be ordinary citizens that happened to be extremely rich too. Nevertheless, birthday invites for little Nathan were not exactly filling the mailbox. Tyler decided to invest a great deal if his money in the small town school. His funding was very welcome and such was his generosity that the facilities were soon developing to rival many big city schools. The whole program did come to a halt for six months when it was discovered that large amounts of the funding were finding their way into the pockets of one dishonest school governor, but that situation was quickly remedied. With a superbly equipped school and the means to attract good teachers, the whole education standard for the region was raised, so much so that it even attracted comment in the editorial of ‘USA Today'. Of course it was King money and yes, anybody who happened to live in the vicinity was getting a handsome freebie courtesy of Tyler King, but that was life - he could not finance the education program of the whole USA, (almost but not quite) and besides, his ulterior motive was Nathan.
With an excellent local school that just kept getting better, Tyler had laid the foundation for Nathan's education. In 1976 when at five years old Nathan was due to start kindergarten, or First Grade schooling, people were actively moving into the area just to benefit from the school. That had an unexpected impact on Real Estate prices which in turn gave Tyler and unexpected return on his investment. The yellow school bus that collected the children from the more remote areas including the King Ranch was another of Tyler's donations, but it came with a driver too. The driver was a highly skilled bodyguard whose weapons were right to hand in the modified driver's position, and who would not hesitate to use them in need be. His special skills were a secret that only Tyler and the school board knew about. In addition to the bus driver there were two more such men at the school who appeared as the janitor and the handyman. All three took turns at the different roles they had to play, but their primary function was to protect Nathan. Tyler made it very clear that their job was against possible kidnap or terrorist attack; as far as the day to day school playground tussles that they might see they were to leave Nathan alone, although if they saw any overt bullying, Tyler wanted to know about it.
With the school transformed and a discreet security team in place, Tyler felt that Nathan could go to school on the bus like any other kid. He could take his packed lunch in his Superman lunch box, and learn to mix, and to play, with all the other kids. He need never know about the watchful eyes that guarded him every minute of the day. Nathan turned five years old on December 2nd 1976 and because of the way the school year ran, he was not due to start school until January 1977 when the new term started for the new year.
Nathan was very excited as Caroline made him ready for his first day at school. Although they employed a cook, a cleaner and many other staff both she and Tyler were set against hiring a nanny, and Caroline loved to look after her son. From the house to the end of the drive was a little over three miles. For now, she would drive him down to the bottom, wait for the bus to pick him up, and be there waiting for him when the bus returned. Later, when he was a bit older and a bit stronger she knew that Tyler would insist that he walk, but not now, not today. The winter snow was very heavy and so Caroline had a much better idea. Nathan was a really good little skier now so today they both donned their skis. She carried his school bag for him that contained his packed lunch and a drink and they set off for the gate.
Nathan loved it, zooming along on his specially shortened skis with his mother not far behind him and they soon lost sight of the house. They took another bend when it happened. How the men knew that they would be skiing that day was never explained although it was thought that they had been in hiding for some time, just waiting for a chance, and that Caroline had unwittingly delivered her son straight to them. Three men erupted from the tree line, skiing very fast an in a line to intercept Nathan and Caroline. The men were dressed in white ski suits and wore white full-face ski masks making them difficult to see against the white of the terrain. One of them turned slightly heading directly at Caroline whilst the other two carried on their intercept course with Nathan. With horror and disbelief, Caroline understood at once what their intention was and she speeded up so that she could grab Nathan and take him to safety. His lunch bag was hampering her so she threw it aside. She was gaining steadily on her son and would soon have him so she let her ski sticks dangle from her wrists and bent her body forward, ready to catch the child. As she bent something whizzed past her head like and angry wasp and she realised with terror that one of these men was shooting at her. She immediately began to zig-zag wildly, and as an accomplished skier could do this with ease. As she swayed left and right more bullets threw up snow storms where they thudded into the ground around her, but she paid then no heed, she was so close. She reached to grab her son when she felt powerful arms grab her. The man who had hold of her rolled to one side bringing her down but he held onto her tightly until they slid to a stop in the snow. She heard gunfire for the first time and tried to break away from the man who held her, beginning to shout at him but he held her tight and said in her ear, "stay down Mrs King, we have them. Your boy is okay", so she relaxed a little but not completely - she wouldn't allow him that much trust.
"Who the fuck are you ?", she screamed at him.
"Your bodyguard ma'm."
"So who were they then ? They were shooting at me !"
"We are truly sorry ma'm. It seems that they got past us. We found a camp in the woods, looks like they have been waiting for some time and when you came down today they couldn't resist the chance."
"They ? They ? Who the fuck are they ?", she demanded, standing up in the snow and angry now. She saw Nathan a few feet away, his hand being held by another of the men who had saved her and she grabbed him up in her arms in relief. Looking around she could just make out the three white suited bodies of the would be kidnappers. An ugly red stain across the snow was spreading out from all three of them. "Are they all dead ?", she asked.
"Yes ma'm. We had no choice", said her saviour.
"Will it always be like this ? I mean, every time I take my son out ?"
"There will always be somebody trying to make a fast buck ma'm. We goofed on this one, screwed up. You should never have been exposed like that, but it won't happen again."
"Well thank you, you did save my life, and my son too."
"No problem ma'm, and if you don't mind my saying, you are a damn fine skier."
She went over to Nathan who seemed almost unfazed by what had happened. He was staring at one of the attackers who lay on his back about ten feet away. His face was still hidden behind his ski mask but his chest was red with blood as was the snow that he lay upon. "Is that man dead mom ?", he said with only the slightest tremor in his voice.
"I think so hon. C'mon, no need to look now, we have to meet the bus".
"Is he in heaven then ? Grandma says that is where Dad's mom and daddy are ?"
"Yes, they're in heaven, your Grandma is right, now lets race to the gate!"
By the time they got the rest of the way, Nathan was happily skiing and already the earlier events were not forgotten, but filed away in a special place in Nathan's mind, as now he waited excitedly for the school bus. Discreetly, Caroline called the house using a radio that she carried and had a short conversation with Tyler who had made sure that he could be home for Nathan's first week at school. They agreed to try and carry on as normal, although Caroline was on edge for the rest of the day until the bus arrived safely back at the gate with Nathan.