from a furious fate
 

Chapter 1: Making My Way Back

December 1, 1959

Tim Mangan stood nervously in front of the reception desk as he waited for the brunette on the phone to finish her conversation. Her hair was coiffed into a wavy bouffant style and she wore large paste pearl button earrings with her tweed suit. Not wanting to just stand there and stare at her, he turned his head and studied the room. He raised an eyebrow in mild surprise at the brand of coffee by the coffee maker. The bright blue bag and white lettering was one he'd seen often in his old partner's apartment. It seemed unusual that the law office would have an imported Bolivian coffee and not the standard Maxwell House or some other American brand. But as he surveyed the art work in the room, much of that also had a South American flair to it.

"Okay, thank you, Mr. Chester. Have a good day." The secretary finally hung up and faced Tim. "Thank you for waiting. How may I help you?"

"I have an appointment with Mr. Rainsford." He dug one of George Rainsford's business cards out of his wallet, one that Matthew Wheeler had given him. "For eleven o'clock."

The secretary glanced at a calendar on her desk and nodded her head. "Mr. Mangan?"

"Yes," Tim replied.

"One moment." She picked up her phone and dialed an extension. "Your eleven o'clock is here. Should I send him in?"

Tim waited attentively as she spoke to Mr. Rainsford, her facial expressions giving no indication to how the lawyer had responded.

"Yes, sir." She hung up the phone and smiled at him. "Mr. Rainsford can see you now." She stood and walked to a pair of glass doors off to the side, holding one open for him. "Right through here."

"Thank you." Tim followed her through the door, self-conscious of using his cane and ever aware of the clacking noise his fake leg made with every step.

She rapped on a door, the last office on the left side of the hall, with the name "George Rainsford, LL.M" inscribed on a name plate. Without waiting for a response, she opened the door and ushered him into the room. "Mr. Rainsford, this is Mr. Mangan."

The older man behind the desk stood and walked around to shake his hand. He was a tall man with thick gray hair and a gray mustache. He looked to be in his sixties, and he was unusually tan, given it was early December. "Mr. Mangan. Good to meet you. Please, take a seat."

"Thank you, Mr. Rainsford." Tim set his thin attaché case—borrowed from Akeeba—on the floor and then he shrugged out of his overcoat. Mr. Rainsford's secretary immediately stepped to his side and took the coat from him, her hand held out expectantly for his hat. He handed it to her and watched as she hung the items on a coat hook by the door, and then he looked around the corner office, noticing the view of Central Park outside of the picture windows behind the mahogany desk. The desk itself was crammed with papers and file folders in haphazard piles, and the cluttered appearance immediately put Tim more at ease.

"Can I get you any coffee or some water or anything, Mr. Mangan? Mr. Rainsford?"

"Could you refill my coffee please, Martha?" Mr. Rainsford responded, turning to reach for a mug on the desk.

"Of course." She looked expectantly at Tim.

"Just water, please," Tim replied. "Thank you."

The secretary merely nodded and then left.

"Please, sit down," Mr. Rainsford repeated, pointing to one of the wingback chairs on the client's side of the desk. The lawyer himself moved back around to his own chair, a modern-looking leather swivel chair.

Tim leaned into one of the chairs slowly, trying to find a comfortable position without having his prosthesis dig into the stump of his thigh. He set his cane against the side of the chair and then folded his hands in his lap.

"Matthew Wheeler briefed me on your situation, but only basic information," Mr. Rainsford began. He twirled a pen in his hands. "I'm rather glad he caught me as I'd just returned to the states last week."

"Bolivia?" Tim asked, picturing the coffee in the lobby. That could explain the man's tan.

Mr. Rainsford's eyebrows shot up. "Argentina, this time, actually. But I travel to different parts of South America frequently. How'd you guess?"

"The coffee. From Yungas. My—a friend of mine used to drink that stuff," Tim explained. "Plus the artwork."

"Very observant. Impressive." The older man smiled, and then immediately got down to business. "I have to say, your case interests me. I'm an estate lawyer. I specialize in wills and trusts. I work with families who are planning for their survivors' futures and then with the heirs of the estates. As such, I have extensive knowledge on working with the courts around declaring someone deceased and proving the circumstances of a death. I hope this experience will help with doing the opposite—proving that a death was wrongfully declared."

"Wrongfully declared," Tim repeated. "Right. I mean, I'm not dead, and that's what I need to prove. That I'm alive and I am who I say I am."

Mr. Rainsford reached for a pad of paper, pen poised to write. "How long ago was your death officially pronounced?"

There was a rap on the door before Tim could reply.

"Come in, Martha," Mr. Rainsford called out.

The secretary entered, carefully holding a small tray with the coffee mug and a glass of ice water in one hand. She placed both items on the desk. "Will there be anything else?"

"That's all, for now. Thank you." Mr. Rainsford waited for her to leave.

Tim reached for his glass and took a sip instead of responding to the lawyer's earlier question. "Before we get into all that, well, I'm not sure I can afford an attorney. I understand this is a free consultation, and I appreciate that, so for now I'd just like to know what will be involved in getting the death certificate voided."

"Understood." Mr. Rainsford tapped the pen against the pad and leaned forward slightly. "In order to determine what's involved, I need to know more details surrounding this unfortunate circumstance. For example, whether or not the seven year threshold for a death in absentia declaration had passed or not."

Tim leaned back slightly. "It was well under seven years. My official date of death is stated as July 9, 1953. I was deployed to North Korea on March 2, 1952. And I was in contact with a few people in the United States, including my wife, through June of 1953."

"Hmm. I see. And I take it there were extenuating circumstances to presume death prior to the standard seven years? Casualty of war, correct?" Mr. Rainsford frowned slightly, writing the information down.

"That's correct. I was presumed to be one of the victims of an explosive device. My military dog-tags were found in the debris, and since I went missing shortly after that, I guess they assumed I had died." Tim couldn't help thumping his leg. "I was injured in the explosion, but not killed."

"And then you were captured by the enemy?" Mr. Rainsford continued to take notes.

"Listen to this, Han Dali." Kwang-Sun held up a newspaper, the Korean print unintelligible to Tim. "You've made the headlines."

"Go on, read it," one of the other prisoners urged, speaking in broken English.

Kwang-Sun's voice took on an air of importance as he read. "An American soldier who was abandoned and left for dead by his own country has been rescued by one of our brave generals. The man has lost one of his legs, and because of this, the Americans consider him imperfect and do not want him back. He no longer has a place in their society. You see how the western culture treats their members? They simply discard the wounded and the weak, with no compassion and no remorse. But, our very own General Su was touched by this American soldier's sad story. Thanks to the generosity of our nation, this former American soldier now has a new life. The American soldier has been offered refuge in our great country. He has been provided with food and shelter as well as work in one of the logging communities in the northern forests."

"What crap!" Tim shook his head in disgust. "Do people really believe that shit?"

"Hey, watch your mouth," one of the dark-haired South Korean captors cautioned. "The guards hear you talk like that, they'll punish you. This paper here came straight from Pyongyang. This general is now considered a great hero in this 'great' country. He'll get a promotion for his role in captu—I mean 'rescuing' an American soldier."

Kwang-Sun coughed loudly, trying to cover up his sarcastic-sounding laugh. "Is that how it really happened, Han Dali? Were you left behind, abandoned by the American troops, and then rescued by General—" He scanned the paper briefly. "—Kyong Su?"

"Hardly. I was about to be loaded into a helicopter, on my way to the airport to be shipped home so I could get proper medical attention. They shot at the helicopter, hit the gas tank." Tim ground the heel of his palm into the remaining stump of his right leg. "Rescued, my ass. More like ambushed."

The man in the corner said something in Korean; words that Tim couldn't understand. Jul was a quiet prisoner, rarely speaking up, never wanting to draw attention to himself. The fact that he was participating in this conversation made Tim want to know what was said. He stared at Kwang-Sun expectantly.

Kwang-Sun shrugged his shoulders. "Jul is being philosophical. He says your story and the newspaper story both speak the truth. Truth is in the mouth of the speaker and the ears of the listener."

"Tim?" Mr. Rainsford called out again, the worry evident in his tone.

Tim blinked, wondering how many times the attorney had spoken his name.

"Are you okay?" the older man solicited. He had come out from behind the desk, standing close to Tim, his hand on the chair.

"Fine. Sorry. Just ... remembering." Tim rubbed a hand through his hair. "Where were we?"

Mr. Rainsford swallowed audibly. "You were captured. By the North Koreans."

Tim nodded and then spoke slowly, careful to keep his voice even. "Yes. I was held prisoner for over five years before I escaped."

"So there was no way for you to contact anyone? No way to let anyone know you were alive during this time?" The lawyer reached for his pad of paper and pen that he'd placed back on the desk at some point while Tim's mind had wandered.

"Right." Tim sighed. "I would have if I could have."

"This seems to be, at the surface anyway, a pretty straightforward case. I think we'll just need to file the proper paperwork, explain how an erroneous death in absentia was reported, and then present a few witnesses to testify that you are who you say you are, and that should be enough." Mr. Rainsford moved back to the other side of the desk and sat down. "Do you have any witnesses? Family members would be best."

His mouth twitched. He'd lost most of his family, but not all. "There's my son, Dan."

"How old is he?"

"Seventeen."

"You mentioned your wife, earlier."

Tim shook his head. "Deceased."

"I'm sorry to hear that." Mr. Rainsford jotted a word or two on the pad. "Your parents have both passed on?"

Tim stared out the window for a moment, wondering how to answer. Somewhere in his mind he remembered that it was important for lawyers to know the truth, no matter what. It wasn't anything earth-shattering, in any case, but it would be better for Mr. Rainsford, if he did retain him, to find out now than to find out later. "My father's still alive."

"Excellent." Mr. Rainsford started to smile and then must have noticed Tim's expression. "But?"

"I don't want to have anything to do with him. He doesn't even know I'm back." Tim tried to suppress the twinge of shame he felt at that statement.

Mr. Rainsford studied him, staring a long time before he finally spoke again. "Forgive me if I'm out of line, but was he abusive to you or someone you love?"

He shook his head, and then met the attorney's gaze. "He's an asshole, but I wouldn't say he was abusive. He never hit me or anything, I mean, aside from the spankings, which I probably deserved."

Mr. Rainsford steepled his fingers as he leaned back in his chair. "Mr. Mangan, being an estate lawyer, I've dealt with many, shall we say 'troubling' family members, and some outright horrifying. He may not have hit you, but I'm guessing he was ... let's just say, mean?"

Tim snorted. "That's an understatement."

"Well, we can certainly proceed without his help, but it would be beneficial if you had a parent testifying that you are his child. However, let's not worry about that at the moment. You can decide later if you want him to know and if you believe he'd even offer his testimony or not. Your son isn't a legal adult, but old enough that he should make a credible witness." Mr. Rainsford scribbled a few more notes on the pad and then glanced up at Tim. "Once the death certificate is revoked, there's also the matter of recouping the pay and benefits you should have received over the years, medical expenses for your injury, and any future reimbursements—"

Tim held up a hand, interrupting the attorney. "I appreciate the need for those things, but one thing at a time, please."

Mr. Rainsford rubbed his mustache lightly. "Of course. Well, I'd be pleased to take on your case." He tore a sheet from a second pad of paper and wrote some numbers down on it, then passed it over to Tim. "This is just a rough estimate of the various fees and the retainer I would need to get started. The price could change depending on any unanticipated filing costs with the court or other expenses that might be incurred."

Tim picked up the paper but didn't bother to look at the final number. It wouldn't have mattered if the paper had said one dollar or one thousand dollars. He had no money at all. Zero. He picked up the attaché case and slipped the paper inside it. "Thank you for your time, Mr. Rainsford." He stood up slowly, leaning on his cane for support.

"Think about it, Mr. Mangan. And even if you decline, feel free to call me for advice at any time." Mr. Rainsford stood as well, walking around the desk. "It was a pleasure to meet you and I wish you the best of luck. Let me know what you decide."

 

Tim left the attorney's office and wandered slowly toward the subway, fingering the handful of fifteen-cent tokens in his pocket—tokens given to him by Kieve. He felt both discouraged and hopeful, somewhat like the current weather. It was cold and there was snow on the ground, but the sun was shining in spite of the approaching winter. He wrapped his coat around him a little tighter while his mind worked furiously to find ways to solve his problem.

There was a way to do this at least, and Mr. Rainsford made it sound practically routine. The only issue was the money. Everything seemed to come down to money. But he could minimize the cost; he could find a way to prove his identity without depleting Dan's savings, and maybe even pay Dan back after he got this mess straightened out. He could figure out the appropriate paperwork and file it himself. There would still be fees to pay, but that would cut down on the expense of an attorney. And he'd have to get a job of some sort. He couldn't go back to the undercover work that was his life before Korea, but he might be able to play a few gigs at some of the jazz clubs.

Without thinking about it, he found himself on a train headed north. When he realized he'd gone the wrong direction, he grimaced slightly. If he were still in North Korea, or even here, at his old job, at the A.T.U.—A.T.T.D., he mentally corrected—wandering around without being aware of what he was doing could get him killed. He needed to stay focused, to stay sharp. But he must have been thinking of work and of Unay, what with the Bolivian coffee and South American artwork at Mr. Rainsford's. Since he was already on the train, stopping by his old office again wouldn't be a bad idea. He leaned his head against the window and gazed unseeingly at the tunnel walls as the train veered northeast.

 

"Hello, Arlene," Tim greeted as he entered the unobtrusive building set off the street in a quiet neighborhood in the Bronx. Arlene was behind the high-countered reception desk just as he had expected. She had worked at the office for as long as he could remember, although she was probably only a few years older than he was.

"Agent Mangan!" Arlene smiled widely. "It is so nice to see you again." Her voice had a slight quaver that she seemed to be trying to cover up with idle prattle. "I'm glad you dropped by. I'm still in shock from when you came in here before Thanksgiving. How are you doing?"

"I'm doing well, Arlene. As well as can be expected, anyway." Tim made his way closer to the receptionist's desk, removing his hat and then dropping it and Akeeba's leather case on the counter. He unbuttoned his coat now that he was out of the cold again, but left it on, not planning to stay long. "How about you?"

She waved her hand in front of her face, brushing aside his question on her welfare. "Oh, me, same as always. But it's you I've been worried about. You are looking a little better than you were the other day. I think you've put on some weight already. I trust you've been taking care of yourself?"

"Of course. Not that I have a choice with Dan around." Tim glanced at the display of photos along the ledge of the counter, personalizing Arlene's section of the desk.

"Dan! I still can't believe that young, strapping man you brought in here was your son. My, how he's grown." Arlene patted her hair, which was dyed a rich red color, much brighter than he'd remembered from his first return visit. She must have had it touched up recently. "And so handsome, too," she went on. "Just like his father."

"How's Fred?" Tim asked, skirting her friendly flirtations.

Her expression and her voice immediately changed from cheery to sad. "Fred's gone. I had to put him to sleep a few months ago. It was time." Arlene picked up the framed photo Tim had noticed. "He was such a good companion. Always there for me."

"I'm sorry to hear that." Tim noticed the tears forming in her eyes. "I imagine it's like losing a family member. We never had a dog, but Dan always wanted one."

"Well, Fred lived a good, long life, spoiled animal that he was. Fourteen years." Arlene sighed and put the photo back down. "Forgive me. Let's not get all melancholy. After all, we've both lost far more family than a pet, but Fred, you're right, he was family." She pulled a tissue from a box on the desk and dabbed at her eyes.

"I am sorry for your loss." Tim knew the words sounded trite, but he couldn't think of better ones to say. He hoped his tone was as sincere as he felt, at least.

"Thanks. I mean, I know it's not the same as finding out your wife ...." She gave him a tentative smile as she let the thought hang. When he didn't respond, she continued on nervously. "For us, it was long ago, but for you, I imagine it's like it just happened."

"It's okay, Arlene." Tim wanted to put an end to any talk of Sarah. He wasn't prepared to share his grief, even with someone who knew him as well as his former secretary.

"Right." She dabbed her eyes once more and then dropped the used tissue in a waste basket. Then she pasted on a cheery smile, seemingly determined not to dwell on the past. "So, tell me, Tim, what brings you by? Do you think you'll be able to come back to work?"

"Come back to work?" Tim gave a bitter laugh. "I'm hardly fit to go back out in the field." He tapped his fingers against his fake leg. "Besides, first I have to officially come back to life. Not as easy as just showing up on the doorstep, you know."

"Speaking of that—" Arlene turned around to bend over a nearby set of file drawers.

The skirt on her suit was short enough to show more leg than he thought was appropriate for an office, almost showing her knees, and Tim wondered when hem lines had gotten so high on women. Hers wasn't the first he noticed, and he didn't mind, not at all; it was more of a passing curiosity. Still, he couldn't help giving her shapely legs and her derriere an admiring glance as she opened the drawer, even if he was actually picturing what Sarah would look like wearing such a short skirt.

Arlene quickly retrieved the file and placed it on the counter in front of him. "I was looking through your old personnel file, and we do have records of your company physicals. It might not be enough, but at least it has your blood type, so it could be a start."

Tim picked up the file and leafed through it. "I trust you took out anything I'm not supposed to see."

She leaned over the edge of the counter. "These are all photocopies of the originals. Your actual file is much thicker, and a lot more interesting." She winked at him, her brown eyes sparkling under the blue eye-shadow and thick mascara. If some of that sparkle was caused by the earlier tearing up over the loss of her dog, she didn't let that show in her voice. "If you can't come back to work here, maybe you could use some of your experience to write novels. Changing names, of course."

"Me? A writer?" He had to admit to himself that it wasn't a horrible idea, although he immediately thought of the stories Dan used to write as a child. He chuckled at the memory of some of those tales his son had imagined. But cop and spy novels were a dime a dozen on the market. What hopes could he possibly have of actually getting published? "I don't know."

"Well, it wouldn't hurt to try." She turned up one side of her mouth in a half-grin. "And you'd be the first author I know of to actually write posthumously, not just be published posthumously."

"Yeah, that would be a twist." He finished perusing the papers in the file and put them back inside the folder.

Without saying a word, she took the folder from him, took out the papers and straightened them so the corners all matched, re-inserted them, and then handed it back to him, neat and orderly.

Tim stifled a laugh. Arlene couldn't stand one piece of paper out of place. She used to berate him about the state of his desk when he did work there. "You're the best, Arlene. Thanks. These could turn out to be really useful." He opened the leather case and shoved the file inside, getting ready to leave. "Say, I don't suppose you'd be willing to testify to a judge or a court or whatever that I am Timothy Patrick Mangan, would you?"

Arlene tilted her head and regarded him carefully. "I don't know," she drawled out. "You could be an imposter, having cooked up this whole story just to infiltrate our office. And that would explain the difference in weight and build. Even the injury could be a cover up for a birth mark Tim had on that leg. I think I'd need more proof."

Tim rolled his eyes. "I think my paranoia is finally rubbing off on you."

"You know, the real Tim Mangan would've kissed me when he came in." She stood on her tiptoes and leaned further over the counter, puckering her lips invitingly, the shade of her red lipstick quite flattering.

"Only in your dreams, Arlene." Tim laughed. "Still such a flirt after all these years."

She relaxed her stance and laughed with him. "I guess you pass the test. But you can't blame me for trying." She gave him another wink. "All kidding aside, of course I'd testify on your behalf. Just let me know when and where."

"Thanks." Tim reached for her hand and squeezed it briefly. She still wore her wedding band and engagement ring, though her husband had died many years ago. "I actually wanted to ask you something else."

"You know I'd do anything for you. Just name it."

Tim tapped his fingers on the desk. "It's about my partner, Unay. I know he transferred out of this office, and you're probably not allowed to tell me where he is, but could you get a message to him? Without jeopardizing whatever case he's on?"

"Ah, Funn-ay Unay." Arlene shook her head as she picked up a steno pad and a pen. "Of course I can track down Agent Huaman. What's the message?"

"Just say, 'Tim's back, with A Diamond.' That's it." Tim watched as she wrote the message down in shorthand. Of course, she probably wouldn't capitalize Akeeba's initial and last name, but he knew that Unay would figure out that simple clue to his whereabouts.

"With a diamond?" Arlene craned her neck to peer at him and his hands. "A diamond for me, perhaps?"

"Give it up, Arlene." Tim grinned. He held up his hands to show he had nothing for her, but spending time with her was certainly improving his mood. And next time he came in he'd have to remember to bring her something, some chocolates maybe. "He'll know what I mean."

"I'm sure he will. I'll get this to him as soon as I can." She put the steno pad back down on the counter top.

"Thanks." He grabbed his hat and was about to turn and leave, when on impulse he leaned over the counter and kissed her on the cheek. He wasn't sure what made him do that. Although the kiss was completely innocent—a friendly peck on the cheek and nothing more—he certainly never would have crossed that line when he was actually employed there. But Arlene was a good friend, and he appreciated her help.

She caressed the spot gently and sighed dramatically. "You know I am never washing my face again, now."

Tim had already headed toward the door, but turned his head to give her a parting shot. "Really? I'm not likely to ever kiss you again if that's true."


chapter 2: a moment of truth