Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Ruby Brooch Chapter Forty-Two

BRAHAM’S WORK, LIFE, and even his house sagged under the heavy weight of guilt. Leaving the wagon train became the mistake he had feared, and allowing Cullen to sail alone compounded one mistake with another. What kind of man abandons his brother not once, but twice, then has the audacity to call himself a friend, an anam cara?

Braham shook his head with disgust.

His ability to analyze problems and make decisions made him a good lawyer, but those abilities failed him now. Cullen’s dilemma had him stymied. His current predicament would puzzle even his philosophy professor at the University of Edinburgh. Braham visualized the old scholar standing before the classroom, wagging both his finger and tongue. Knowing what the dilemma is not, what the wrong answers are, is the first step toward knowing what the answer may be.

Groaning at the thought of the irritating little man, Braham tossed the treatise he was reading to the bedside table and sat on the edge of the bed.

What is the dilemma not?

Wearily, he dragged his hands down his face. “Damnation.” It was not about his inability to sleep for five days. He knew that much.

He stomped off to his library, where he lit a cigar and paced.

How can you search for something, if you think you know?

Pacing didn’t calm his restlessness or remove the professor’s voice from his head, so he tried a shot of brandy. Then another. He stepped to the bookshelf and pulled out Volume 1 of The Republic. If the professor intended to haunt him, Braham might as well read Plato and try to free his mind of preconceived impossibilities.

No answer is an answer if it doesn’t come from within yourself.

He sat in the wing chair with the book and poured another shot.

Risk being ridiculed to change your way of thinking.

Thoughts tumbled through his head. He threw out questions, argued with himself, even allowed the professor to interject comments before finally, closing his eyes and dosing.

The sound of the grandfather clock’s descending bells woke him at two o’clock. He rolled his head, relieving the neck strain from sleeping in the chair with his head cocked. His eyes shot open.

“That’s it.”

He stepped to his desk and after tapping his pen against the glass inkwell, began his missive. His words scratched across the fine writing paper. He felt calm. No, that was a damnable lie. He felt himself sinking into anticipatory angst.

His hand shook as he licked the teardrop-shaped flap on the envelope’s back, and then wrote the addressee’s name.

BRAHAM WOKE TO a gorgeous fall day in San Francisco. Warm, sunny, and the fog had cleared. He was not one to give credence to omens, but today he did. After a leisurely breakfast while reading his daily newspaper he slipped thes letter into his jacket pocket and left the house.

An institution was the logical place to hold the letter for one-hundred-sixty years, and the institutions most likely to be operating in the twenty-first century were banks and universities. He intended to start with local banks with eastern connections. His most pressing problem was convincing someone he was serious, but negotiating was his forte. Besides, Kit had given him the one piece of information that would leverage his position, at least with one particular banker.

He headed down the sidewalk with a solid and determined stride, hands clasped behind him, lips pursed. He knew where he was headed and didn’t need to watch the ground to see his way. Shortly, he entered the lobby of Lucas, Turner & Company.

His eyes adjusted to the darkened room as he glanced around. The lobby’s fixtures and furnishings appeared perfunctory, but miners didn’t care about a well-dressed bank. They wanted safety and convenience. He agreed with that, but would add longevity to the list of requirements. 

William T. Sherman met him at the door. “Good morning, Mr. McCabe.”

“Good morning.” Braham removed his hat. “If you have a moment, I have a business proposition to discuss.” You’d think the lean grizzled man would give some thought to his appearance.

Sherman ushered Braham into his office and closed the door. “What can I do for you?”

Braham took a seat, throwing one leg over the other. “You’ll find this to be a strange request”

“Not much I haven’t heard.”

“This might be a new one.” He cleared his throat as he pulled the letter from his pocket and tapped it against his fingertips. “I’d like you to put this in your vault with a note that the bank and its successors and assigns hold it until such time as it is to be delivered to the addressee.”

Sherman appeared fully attentive, eyes wide. “And when will that be?”

Braham willed his heart to hold a steady beat. “The twenty-first century. The specific year and address are on the envelope.”

The banker sat back in his chair, crossed his arms, and looked down his long, slim nose. His face turned as red as the hair. “A very strange request indeed. Are you going to tell me what this is about?”

Braham shook his head. “I hope you will understand my need for confidentiality.” He uncrossed his legs, leaned forward, and tugged on the cuffs peeking out below his jacket sleeves. “I believe, possibly a decade from now, you’ll need a man with my credentials. I’ll be prepared to repay you for honoring this request.”

Sherman scratched the back of his neck. “You sure about this?”

“Yes sir.”

He took the envelope and studied the addressee. “Kitherina MacKlenna Montgomery? I believe I met this woman in Independence having dinner with Cullen.” Sherman looked Braham in the eye. “I’m mighty fond of the man. If this will help him, I’ll do it. But I can’t guarantee this letter will survive fifty years much less a hundred and sixty. I’ll put it in the vault with your instructions, and we’ll never speak of it again, unless the day comes when I need a man of your experience.”

“Fair enough.” Braham stood and offered his hand. 

They walked out to the lobby, discussing Mr. Phillips’s trip to Boston following Abigail’s death. A tall blond-haired man entered the bank, waving to Sherman. Braham recognized him as the man who had attended the Phillips’s party.

The man in Kit’s miniature portrait.

The letter. Should Braham retrieve it and include information about the man? No, he couldn’t afford the appearance of indecisiveness. That would destroy his credibility. He would include whatever information he learned in other letters he intended to place strategically around the country.

 Sherman shook hands with the man. “When’d you get back to town?”

“Last night.”

Sherman dropped the handshake and gestured in Braham’s direction. “Mr. McCabe is a new lawyer in town.”

The man turned to Braham and introduced himself. “I’m Captain Shelly. Pleased, to meet you…”

Sweet Jesus.

Braham looked into Shelly’s green eyes and knew the accumulated patina of almost thirty years was about to be scraped away.

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