Nathan loved his first day at school. The bus arrived on time, which a worried Caroline knew it would because the driver was always in radio contact. She had ridden a snowmobile down to the gate, knowing how much Nathan loved to ride on them. Skiing down from the house was fine because it was all downhill, but she was not about to have her toddler son walk the three miles back up, at the end of the school day.
"How is my little man then ?", she said, her face lit up with the joy of meeting her returning son. She had not realised how much she would miss him being around her feet all the time or how significant the day was as his first tenuous steps away from her.
"Aw mom! It was great!", he said, his little face lit up with excitement.
"What did you do hon ?"
"I drew you a picture. Its in my bag".
"When we get in I will put it on the wall in the kitchen. Did you have a story ?"
"Yes. Mrs Cooper made us all sit on the floor and she read to us."
"Did you make any new friends ?"
"I like Stephen Harris. We played shops".
"That's nice. C'mon, lets get on home", she said and throttled the machine away up the hill towards the ranch house. She couldn't help looking around nervously as they went but all she saw this time was a wave from one of the security men that patrolled around the ranch. The bloodied snow had been covered over from the morning's disturbance and no sign remained to indicate what had taken place there earlier. The Sheriff had not been called in and Caroline did not want to think about what had happened to the would be kidnappers' bodies.
When they got back to the house Tyler was waiting for his son. Once inside Nathan rummaged around in his school bag and proudly presented them with his first painting from school. It was unusually detailed and although the characters were clearly painted by a young child, things like proportions and even some of the perspective looked as if they had been carefully thought about. That there was any perspective at all was very unusual since at that age most children will paint rough shapes arranged either along one edge of the paper or placed all over, haphazardly. Nathan's showed an eye for detail and some kind of methodical construction. Which figure was Nathan was also easy to see - he had used the same colour for the brown brush strokes (not some vague brown blob that might be expected) that were the hair, and two more dots for the eyes, his eyes. There was another character in the painting but this one had a less sure outline, almost fuzzy, and the hair was shown with one or two strokes of pale watery blue. Why had he used blue when Nathan knew that nobody had blue hair, so who was this other person ?
"Is that you ?", said Caroline pointing at the brown haired boy.
"And is that mom and daddy", she pointed to the background figures who were seated at a table.
"And who is this hon ?" she asked pointing to the other character, "he is very funny with his blue hair, isn't he ? Is he a clown ?"
"No silly. That's my brother", said Nathan with that tone of contempt that only a child can make when they feel that they have to explain something perfectly obvious to their parents.
"But hon, you don't have a brother and if you did, why would his hair be blue ?"
"That's how he is when I see him", said Nathan determinedly .
"Well I think it is lovely", said Caroline as she taped it to the wall, "there, the first picture in your own gallery."
Nathan painted lots more pictures at kindergarten and each one took its place on the wall. Sometimes he showed the boy with the blue hair, and sometimes not, but if he did the way in which he painted him was always the same despite the increase in skill that he showed in the rest of his painting.
Since Nathan had been born, they had returned to Grand Augusta three or four times. The first time they went back Caroline was very nervous, frightened, so much so that she even asked Tyler if they could cancel the trip, but she went in the end. Once she had seen the new security team in action again, all her fears went away and she felt safer there than she did back in New Hampshire. Just because they were not on the island the whole time did not mean that it stayed empty - if it did then inevitably all the staff would get bored, regardless of the pay and standard of living. Tyler developed a very exclusive list of high profile clientele that paid handsomely for the privilege of a week or a month staying at his private paradise. The revenue that came his way from the island was enough to support it the whole year around and so it became a no cost luxury for Tyler and his family. From time to time selected employees from any of Crown Inc around the world were rewarded for their efforts with a stay on the island. The stories they returned with often inspired others who then wanted to see for themselves. Twice now, Tyler had sent out teams of senior executives. They had flown out wearing garish shirts and shorts, often well oiled from the airport bar, expecting two weeks of unbridled luxury but what they had got was two weeks of tough team-building, hosted by his security team. They made shelters in the jungle, lived rough and eventually, all of them managed the assault course too. When they got back behind their desks they all reckoned that they needed a holiday.
Nathan proved to be a rapid learner at school. By the time he reached third grade his reading age had been assessed as three years older than he was, and he was getting through a new book every week. One of his talents that had still not been noticed was his remarkable memory. Sometimes it seemed to either his teacher or to Tyler and Caroline that maybe he was not reading everything he was given - just picking out the odd bits that he liked. Whenever they asked him questions about anything he had read, Nathan was always able to come back with the answer, often quoting word for word. He was only eight years old, almost nine, and these demonstrations of his memory were impressive, if not sometimes scary in their accuracy, but still it did not occur to anybody that Nathan might have some kind of a natural gift.
Because his birthday was at the beginning of December, Nathan always started a new school year in the following new calendar year, and so after he completed fifth grade, he moved onto secondary school just after his ninth birthday, in January 1981. This school was all part of the still developing school that in effect, his father had started. His initial heavy investment had kick-started the school in a way that it had never dreamed possible and even if Tyler's motives were less than philanthropic, it no longer mattered. The teaching standards were the best in the state as was the way in which the school was equipped. Other money had been invested in the school so that it had evolved into a self-perpetuating establishment. Still close friends with ‘best buddy' Steve Harris, Nathan began sixth grade in the same class.
This was the same age that Tyler's father had taken him out to the corral and put a tin can on the gate. He made Tyler stand there all day until he could hit it eight times out of ten with a lightweight .22 rifle. That had been his introduction to the training that his father would give him. It was time to pass that knowledge on Tyler decided, which was why Nathan's Christmas present had been a Browning semi-automatic .22 rifle - not the same one he had learned to shoot with, that was long gone, but a nice brand new weapon that Nathan could not wait to try out. Over Christmas, Tyler had indulged his son, letting him take some pot-shots around the ranch, but never on his own. The rifle stayed locked in the gun rack when it was not in use - it was no toy as Tyler impressed firmly upon Nathan. He recalled the men who once tried to kidnap him and made sure that Nathan understood that it may only be a .22, but it could kill a man just as surely. This was one lesson that Nathan was not going to be allowed to learn the hard way.
"Son, this is a real gun, its not a toy and its not like the movies. If you point this at somebody and you pull the trigger it may only fire a small bullet but it will kill them. They won't get up and say ‘oh boy, that was close', they will be dead. Now you really have to understand that. Is that okay with you ?" Tyler spoke carefully and with no hint of a smile as he began to impress the most basic rule of all upon his son.
"Yeah dad", Nathan replied.
"Okay. So we have to have some rules when we mess with guns right ? Rule number one is the most important rule of all - you never, not ever, point your gun at anybody. Now listen son because this rule matters more than anything I ever told you before, or might tell you sometime later. What is Rule One ?"
"I must never point my gun at anybody", said Nathan in as serious a voice as his father had used.
"Okay, never forget that. Now just because we have rules don't mean we can't have fun too. See all those bottles on the fence ?". Tyler had set a long row of empty beer bottles along the top rail of the corral fence. The horses were safe inside the barn.
"This is what you will be able to do real soon", said Tyler bringing up the rifle. It was a semi-automatic which meant that it would reload after each shot but would not fire a burst like a machine gun. Tyler fired six shots so rapidly that Nathan was still hearing the soft crack of the first shot when the sixth bottle shattered.
"Wow!", said Nathan, impressed with his dad's skill.
"Okay son, now hold it like I showed you", he stood behind Nathan and helped him get his hands right. So far he had hit nothing in the few forays they had made outside since he opened his present. Today was the time to get serious. "Now you look down the sight, that's the V shape at the back and look down the barrel. Can you see the thing like a fin that sticks up on the end of the barrel ?"
"Yeah dad, I see it".
"We're doin' great then. You need to get that fin right in the middle of the V and then get the top of the fin level with the top of the V. Can you do that ?"
"Yeah, I think so", said Nathan a little uncertainly now.
"Okay, here we go. There is no kick at all from your gun - it won't hurt you one bit, so hold it right into your shoulder now and you need to slow your breathing right down. When you are ready, let out a breath, take aim like we just did and squeeze that trigger - don't jerk it now, just a real gentle squeeze now son."
There was another soft crack and the next bottle in the line shattered. Nathan shouted "Yes! I hit it!", and was just about to spin around in his excitement to his father but as he went to move he suddenly found that his father had grabbed him from behind and held him so still that he could not move a muscle.
"Now son, that was a good shot, but you forgot something just like I did the first time, only my dad gave me a good whipping. What did you forget son ?"
Nathan knew straight away, "Rule One dad".
"Good. Now you ever forget it again you'll get the hiding I got, okay ?"
"Yeah dad, I won't forget it again."
"I know you won't. There may come a time you have to break that rule but we won't talk about that now. That was good shooting. See if you can do it again."
Nathan fired and the next bottle broke, and Tyler figured he was a lucky kid so he asked him to fire again. Another bottle went. Tyler looked at Nathan then with some interest.
"Move back to the barn son", he said, doubling the distance to the targets, "now shoot."
Another bottle, then another. ‘What in hell...?' thought Tyler, ‘he is a natural. Unbelievable'. They spent another hour out there shooting at targets that Tyler dreamed up - nothing too difficult but the kind of thing that most kids of his age would hit maybe half the time. Nathan never missed. "You are some kind of shot son! Amazing. If I didn't know better I would think you had snuck out here to practice on your own."
"I haven't dad, honest", said Nathan, worried that his father might think he had taken the gun without him knowing.
"That's okay son, I know you haven't. We've run out of things to shoot so I guess the next time we can go after some rabbits huh ? Would you like that ?"
"Okay then, here's the deal. You know I have to get back to work real soon. I am gonna have Chuck - you like him don't you son ?"
"Yeah, he makes me laugh and tells me stories."
"Well no laughing this time. Chuck will look after your shooting until I can get back and I promise you that when I do we will get us a rabbit."
Chuck was one of the security team. Charles ‘Chuck' Mitchell was an ex US Ranger who had served three tours of Vietnam. He was the boss of the security team, a man as hard as nails and with the softest heart in the world when it came to Nathan. Left in his hands, Tyler knew his son would not learn any bad habits. During his time in Vietnam, Chuck had led dozens of raids deep into hostile country to take out leaders of the Vietcong military machine in their own backyards. Most of the times he had succeeded, but much more importantly, he never got caught. After a while a sort of legend grew up around him and his team that had the Vietcong chasing their own shadows. They put a huge bounty on his head but nobody ever saw him to try and claim it. It was sad that many villages were destroyed and their people massacred in the ruthless hunt for Captain Mitchell, but in the end, just his presence was enough to spook the enemy and to raise the morale of every American soldier for miles around. He eventually retired as a ‘Bird Colonel', but soon got bored and entered the security business.
Although he made one or two quick visits, it was Spring before a pretty exhausted Tyler was able to take some time off and get back to the ranch. He had lost count of the countries and cities he had needed to visit in the three months since Christmas. The deal he had been working on was a big one that spanned three continents but now he had the infrastructure in place and decided to take the break he both needed and wanted - time with his family. Nathan was happy in school and quite often now his ‘best buddy' came over to the ranch. Steve Harris Junior, Tyler learned, lived in a different world to his son but he was a great kid and the two of them got along fine. More often than not Chuck would teach both they boys some shooting skills although he too was amazed at Nathan's natural ability.
"Okay boys", said Tyler to Nathan and Steve, "We're going to get us a rabbit. Pesky Wabbit", he added in a good impression of Yosemity Sam from the Bugs Bunny cartoon, making both boys giggle. "Safety catches on ?"
"Yes Mister King", from Steve.
They set out across the fields, heading for the tree line of the forest. Tyler knew that there were lots of dirt banks over there that were riddled with rabbit holes. Even as they walked a rabbit suddenly jumped up out of the grass, heading flat out for the burrows. Tyler swung his rifle up to his shoulder, fired, and the running rabbit reared up before falling to the ground.
"Good shot dad", said Nathan as they walked on to find the bloodied body of the animal.
When they reached it the rabbit was still alive, laying on its side with its eyes open in fear and panic, but unable to escape. Its sides heaved with the effort of breathing and Nathan knelt down to stroke its warm fur. Steve was reluctant to do so and looked at the wounded animal with some pity on his young face. "Son, you can't leave a creature like this in pain, that would be cruel", and so saying he slipped his hunting knife into the side of the rabbit, and on into its heart. The rabbit closed his eyes and was dead. Steve vomited up his breakfast, but Nathan had been mesmerised by the act and just stood looking at the dead animal. Tyler wiped a had across the blood and then marked his son's cheek. "First blood, son", he said and then to Stephen " Its fine to feel like that too. Don't worry about it. We should never kill for fun. Rabbits do a lot of damage around here so we need to keep their numbers down. If you would rather go back then there is no shame in it. That's fine. Now, are you okay ?"
"Yes Mister Tyler", he said weakly.
"You want to go back ?"
"Are you really sure. If you like we could all go back ?"
"No, I'll be fine", he said after a pause, his eyes downcast.
They spent the rest of the day hunting rabbits. Stephen got a bead on a lot of animals but he never hit one, but Tyler didn't mind. He admired his courage in staying and knew that he just was not going to be a hunter. Some kids were, some kids weren't. No matter. Tyler showed Nathan how to slit a leg and push the other paw through so that they could hang their catch over a stick, to be carried home. By the time they called it a day there were nine rabbits on the pole Tyler cut from a tree, and Nathan had accounted for six of them, one of them on the run as Tyler had done. Nathan really was a great shot.
When Nathan was in his seventh grade, the following year, his other hidden talent was finally recognised and understood. Nobody could really understand the ‘how' of his talent, only that it was real and that he had it. He was quite ahead of the other pupils in his class, so much so that the school arranged for some formal testing to be made to establish just how bright the star pupil was. The results were surprising. Nathan was not, it turned out , possessed of an exceptionally high IQ although there was no doubt that his was well above average, putting him in the top two percent of all students in the USA, of the same age. The ability that caused most interest was the discovery of his near perfect RMR (retentive memory recall). It is often referred to as a ‘photographic memory', and in Nathan's case that was probably true. When they asked him how he did it he said that it was difficult to explain, "he could sort of screw his eyes up and see inside his own head", he had told them "and when he did that it was just like turning the pages of the book that he had read - he could sort of see them in his head and read the pages again." Nathan demonstrated his skill time and again - there was no doubt at all that he could do what he said. Everything that he chose to remember, stayed remembered.
1982 was also the year that Tyler decided his son should begin to learn as much as he had to offer, and after him, Chuck could take over and teach him some more. Caroline loved the time that Tyler spent with their son although his focus on all these physical pursuits annoyed her at times. Tyler only had to remind her of the island for her to say, "okay, okay, you win." Although he was only eleven years old he was an expert skier already and a marksman who could outshoot many of the security team - men who were amongst the best of their profession who became embarrassed to compare their targets with his. He was learning unarmed combat from Chuck, another rule made that he must never use what he learned to attack or bully his school friends - not that he was likely too because it was not in his character. His school friend Steve had dropped out of this part of Nathan's life - Steve was by nature a very gentle boy who would grow up into an equally gentle man who had no place for the almost warrior like skills that Nathan became so engrossed with. When the movie ‘ET' was released in June, Tyler got his hands on a studio copy and ran a private showing for Nathan and Steve, both of whom loved it.
Nathan loved being in the woods of New Hampshire almost as much as he loved the islands in the Pacific. Tyler had managed to find two free weeks this year and they had gone down there, taking Nathan's friend with them. For Stephen Harris whose home was a trailer park on the wrong side of the town, the whole trip was unreal and he had a great time. He may not hunt, and he was without doubt a sensitive child but he loved to swim and to fish too. He and Nathan got into a lot of trouble when they decided to swim over to the other green island and explore. It was a long way for them at just under a half a mile, but the alarm when both boys were found to be missing terrified Tyler and Caroline. Luckily, the patrol boat that regularly circled the island now, spotted them as they emerged onto the beach of the green island and radioed back. Tyler instructed the boat to go and get the two boys, right now, and bring them back to him. He read them every last line of the riot act in no uncertain terms, explaining how dangerous it could have been and yes, Stephen was as much a risk too because if anybody grabbed him, Tyler would treat it as he would his own child. The boys got the message loud and clear and didn't try to go there again.
In the summer of 1983, Tyler was home and was getting ready for a field trip with Nathan. This time Caroline was coming along too. She could shoot okay, wasn't a keen on guns but if need be she could handle quite a variety of weapons. She did sometimes fish because she found it so peaceful, so she went with the ‘men' so they could hunt and she would fish. Just a bit of fun with mom, dad, and son. They set out at daybreak, hiking far away from the ranch house into the empty woods and forests of New Hampshire. By the time Tyler decided that the place they were ate would make a good camp they were close to the Canadian border, but far from any road or home. It was a beautiful spot, a clearing by a bubbling stream from which the trout and bass threatened to leap out. After they had set up a tent, Caroline set herself on some rocks in the fast flowing water while Tyler and Nathan vanished back into the woods. It was going to be a competition she knew, to see who filled the cooking pot that night.
The ‘men' returned in the late afternoon. Nathan looked beat but didn't want to show it. Five large fish hung from a pole that Caroline had cut. Tyler grinned at her and began to gut the fish supper. He had spent the rest of the day showing Nathan how to stalk and to crawl by using his stomach to wriggle flat on the ground like a snake. Nathan didn't want to say that he had done a lot of that with Chuck already, but he found his dad still had a few tricks up his sleeve to tech him - like cutting a hollow reed so that you could hide beneath the waters of a river, or setting a snare, and worse, making a trap that could hold a man.
The next day Tyler and Nathan went back into the woods. Caroline noticed that they hadn't taken any guns which she didn't mind because no guns equalled no accidents as far as she was concerned. After an hour, Tyler spotted the Deer. It stood by a fallen tree, its nose up in the air where it could taste ant scent that carried to him. Silently, they circled around until they were downwind of the sensitive animal. Tyler made Nathan rub some mud and Deer droppings over his clothes and face and did the same to disguise the human smell. Flat on their bellies, they began to crawl. They edged forward carefully, a few feet at a time. The Deer was grazing from the sweet shoots of a tree and paused every now and then to taste the air, then returned to its feast. No matter hard he tried to calm himself, Nathan felt his heart hammering, his mouth was dry with a mixture of fear and excitement. He was so close now that he could almost reach out and touch the animal and still he had not been detected. At a signal from his father, Nathan unleashed himself at his quarry. He drew his hunting knife and dragged the razor sharp blade around the creature's neck. Hot blood spurted out over his hands and the beautiful Doe collapsed into the rictus of death. Nathan felt very confused as he felt the last desperate gasp of the dying animal, then felt its nerves twitch in death. There was a warm sensation in his groin. He was becoming more aware of girls lately and knew that he sometimes got that feeling when he looked at them, and sometimes he awoke from vivid dreams that had created the same warm tensions. He covered his confusion as his father said, "Well done son. Your first Deer with a knife. You did a fine job. Now all we need to do is to carry it back to camp."
The next year Tyler was again involved in a major deal that gave him no spare time at all for play. Caroline was getting quite angry because she hardly ever saw her hardworking globe-trotting deal-making husband. She could go anywhere she liked, and did so often, with a corporate jet standing by. She always took Nathan if it was possible and sometimes Stephen went too, but never if it meant missing out on school. There was no visit to the island that year, and in fact the family did not manage to get back there until 1985, by which time Nathan was fourteen years old and in tenth grade, his second year of high school. Some of the men had left the island and others had been found to replace them, but Chuck still ran things down there. Nathan was a good all round athlete, in part due to the amount of time that he spent outside in winter or summer. He was a strong swimmer too yet had no interest in the school football team and never played a game. Academically he was a star pupil, his photographic brain being as good as a cheat for any examination. The school that he attended had not even been built when he first went to kindergarten. Thanks in no small part to Tyler the school had spawned a whole new building which was the High School that Nathan attended. Of course, every pupil knew who he was, but he was a popular boy who, as far as possible, got treated just the same as everybody else. From time to time he sat detentions and sometimes he even played hooky, but was never caught. The fact that he mixed in so easily and readily only served to break down the barrier of his family's wealth. Sometimes Nathan would go for a sleepover at Stephen's trailer home and not once did he ever make any comment that might be interpreted as a ‘put-down' or a cutesy ‘crack'. He was, as everybody said of him, a regular guy, smart too.