Chapter One Thousand Eight Hundred Thirty-Five
16th February 1968
Los Angeles, California
If it wasn’t already obvious, the First Special Forces Group, Fort Drum, and the countryside that surrounded it was hardly representative of America. Ritchie had heard it referred to as what would happen if the U.S. Army had built Disneyland only slightly less attached to reality. The Special Forces teams had to be exactly that, a team. The sources of tension in the larger society couldn’t exist within the team otherwise they wouldn’t be a team for long. Getting off the plane in Los Angeles had been a reminder of that for Ritchie and even before that when he had been at the airport in Rochester. While it wasn’t as bad as the violence that had roiled the country back in the 40’s and 50’s, there was a noticeable tension in the air. Coming home was a bit of a calculated risk, he knew that his old friends in the Detective Bureau would eventually come knocking and that he had better be on his way back to New York before they came in force.
Ritchie’s mother had gotten tired of him sitting around the house watching television with his nieces and nephews. So, she had told him that he had no choice but to go to an event at her church on Friday evening. “Go and spend time with other people your own age” was how she had put it as she had badgered him into going, and as was her nature, telling her no wasn’t an option. It was a bit of a misnomer that it would be with people his own age. The people at the event his mother had insisted he go to were mostly younger than he was, at twenty-seven he was hardly an old man by any means, but the reality of what his mother had been about was on full display in that it was a singles mixer. Oddly, the event was being thrown by the Church in the recreation room. Considering that it was the first time that Ritchie had been on Church grounds since he had last been in California and some of the things he had been up to in the meantime, he was half amazed that he didn’t burst into flames.
“Richard, your mother said you were coming” Father Martinez said as soon as he walked in.
Ritchie remembered him from two decades earlier and had a hard time squaring that with the stoop shouldered man he was talking to now.
“She apparently knew before I did” Ritchie replied.
Martinez smiled at that but then his expression darkened as he saw something across the room.
“Excuse me” Martinez said before crossing the room and arguing with a young woman who had been standing with her friends. They were too far away for Ritchie to make out the words, but the exchange grew heated and the young woman stormed out.
“What was that about?” Ritchie asked as Father Martinez came back.
“None of your concern and I am sorry that you had to see that” Martinez replied, “Tell me about what you’ve been doing, the Army if I understand correctly.”
As if what Ritchie was wearing didn’t already let the whole world know that was the career that he had made for himself.
“Staff Sergeant in the Army Airborne” Ritchie answered.
“That sounds wonderful” Martinez said as Ritchie wondered what had transpired just a few minutes earlier.
17th February 1968
Watching the rain drum on the pavement of the street far below from the window seat was a reminder that the damp climate of Berlin didn’t agree with Margot any more than staying in the same house where her son and daughter-in-law lived. At the same time, she was still embarrassed by the fact that years earlier she had stayed in a hotel room that must have had listening devices installed. She had made some comments about Katherine and the late Kaiserin, next thing she knew she was banned from Germany for a few years. Malcolm had been less than thrilled to learn what had prompted that. Unknown to either of them was that Katherine had been pregnant at the time and Margot should have paid heed to the stories about what happened when Katherine was backed into a corner. Malcolm had said that she had gotten off easy, but Margot hadn’t felt that way at the time.
Now, the better part of two decades later Katherine was the Fürstin of Berlin, whatever that was. Douglas and Katherine’s oldest children, Tatiana and Malcolm were about to turn seventeen. Margot couldn’t pretend to understand her grandchildren. She did appreciate that Douglas had named his son after his father and apparently young Malcolm had overcome his early difficulty in learning to read. Tatiana though, she seemed to be cut from the same cloth as Katherine. It was obvious that bothered Katherine somewhat. Margot had witnessed Tatiana needling her mother until she earned a sharp rebuke and afterwards the girl had the same smug look on her face that Margot had seen Katherine wear too often. Marie, the younger daughter seemed too frivolous to be real. She was always wearing various costumes and at nearly the age of twelve one would have thought that she had outgrown that sort of thing. Apparently, Marie had not.
Then there was the realization that the room that Malcolm and Margot shared was directly across the hallway from the room belonging to Asia Lawniczak. Far from being the quiet raven-haired girl who Margot had met years earlier, Asia was prematurely grey and had been locked in a battle with Heinrich, her four-year-old son. It seemed that it had been decided that he was old enough to have his own room and was having none of it. The three girls who Katherine had taken in were an odd bunch. Margot remembered Josefine, she had blossomed into a radiant beauty which was difficult to square with the plain child she had been a decade earlier. Margot had been surprised to learn that Suse was nearly twenty, she had assumed that she was younger than that. The joke had been flying around the house that Suse was finally turning five meaning that she was born on that odd 29th day in February that only came every four years. Sophie was harder to get a read on, she seemed to be scared of her own shadow and…
Marie poked her head through the door.
The shape of her face had changed over the last couple years and it was clear that she favored Douglas. Marie no longer looked like a little girl and it was clear that she was well on the way to becoming a young woman. The long red hair that framed her face left no doubt of who her mother was. As she stepped into the light from the window, Margot noticed a shocking detail. Marie bore an uncanny resemblance to what she had looked like six decades earlier.
“Why do you hate me?” Marie asked earnestly.