Ravenswood pushed open the door of the building. He had never been in an orphanage before and didn’t know what to expect. He assumed that there would be kids running around and everything would be a mess. Instead, he found himself in a quiet, clean lobby, with a couple of chairs and a receptionist’s desk.
“May I help you?” the young woman asked.
“I’m here to see Sara Wolff. My name is Ravenswood Cadavre, I’m a private investigator.”
Before the receptionist could dial the adminstrator’s extension, Sara could be seen approaching through the interior door. “Hi. You’re Michael’s friend, right? The detective?”
“Yes. Yes, I am.”
“Are you looking for someone?”
“Well, I wanted to talk to you...”
She opened the door wide so he could enter. “Why don’t we go back into my office.”
Ravenswood followed the woman to the end of the long hallway. It opened into a small secretarial area filled with filing cabinets and a desk. There was a woman with short brown hair at a computer, a sleeping toddler propped on her lap. Off to the right was another doorway which Sara motioned him through.
“A child. You’re looking for a child, right?” she asked as she settled into her chair. “We get detectives here all the time, usually looking for runaways.”
“No, no. Nothing like that. This has to do with you.”
The woman’s eyebrows rose in concern.
Ravenswood and Michael had come up with a good cover story, about why they had been investigating Sara in the first place, but the private-eye was nervous, not sure how the woman might react. “About three weeks ago,” he began, reading off the script in his head, “Michael Bruce offered to give you—I mean, give The Gale Home for Children—a sizable donation. It’s normal, and strictly policy I assure you, that in these situations we do a background check on the person or organization receiving the donation.”
“What did you find?”
“Nothing bad. In fact, it’s quite extraordinary.” He pulled the manila folder from under his arm, grabbing a couple of sheets from the front. They were copies of the same papers Michael had showed him two weeks earlier at the coffee shop. “These are your birth records. They’re public documents, easily accessible. Standard stuff. But while reviewing them, we noticed some information that caused us to look a bit further.” He pulled out another page, this one certified and with a seal on it. It was a death certificate.
Sara glanced at the paper, the first sign of apprehension gracing her features. “Margaret Bruce?”
Ravenswood pointed to the middle of the form. “Look at the location and date of death.”
Sara’s eyes furrowed. She glanced back and forth between her documents and the other. Ravenswood pressed on. “I got in contact with Tammy Wolff. She was your adoptive sister in England. She said her parents told her you were orphaned from a woman killed in an accident. Tammy had always assumed that meant a car crash.” Fumbling through the folder, he pulled out a copy of a newspaper article covering the Swiss incident. “Michael and I believe the accident was the explosion that killed his family.”
It was clear the information was getting a bit overwhelming, so Ravenswood sat back, letting the woman take it in for a few moments.
“I’m not sure where you’re going with this,” she finally managed.
“Michael’s aunt was eight months pregnant. She was expecting a baby girl. Her death certificate doesn’t indicate she was pregnant, so we believe she gave birth before she died. No one knows what happened to that baby. There’s no death certificate for her.”
“What are you saying? You think I’m Michael’s cousin?”
Ravenswood bit his lower lip. It was much easier doing this kind of thing when he didn’t have an emotional attachment to the people involved. “Well, that’s where it gets a bit complicated.” Pulling out the rest of the papers, Ravenswood launched into the story. It was the condensed version, glossing over the embarrassing parts, and leaving out any mention of superheroes and the Black Torrent, but in the end he managed to explain to Sara about her mother’s affair, Matthew Bruce’s dealings with the government, and the fact that the Switzerland blast had been no accident.
“So you’re saying that my parents were killed because my father... Michael’s father... was involved in a top-secret military project?”
“I know that’s hard to believe, but, yes.”
Sara glanced down, and from the look in her eyes, Ravenswood realized that perhaps it wasn’t so hard for the woman to believe after all.
Although it almost seemed a bit like overkill, Ravenswood pushed a stack of medical records towards her. Since Michael was next-of-kin, he had managed to acquire doctor reports on Maggie’s pregnancy, as well as his uncle’s cancer treatments and infertility. They were the pieces of the puzzle that had sealed their confidence in Yule’s story, and Ravenswood hoped they would help Sara accept it as well.
“I honestly don’t know what to think,” she admitted. “I mean, am I crazy to think this all sounds way too coincidental? I run into Michael at a party and it turns out I’m related to him?”
Ravenswood had expected that argument and was prepared for it. “I do admit it seems fantastic, but it does happen. I read a story once of two brothers who were separated as young children. They were from a small town and ended up living right next door to each other for several years. One day they started talking and comparing notes and discovered they were related.” He folded his hands and leaned forward. “In the age of the internet, this kind of thing is happening more often. People doing random searches and stumbling upon a long-lost relative. It’s not unheard of. I mean, you searched for years for your family and never found them—so, it’s not like you just fell into this information. And, quite frankly, it could have easily gone the other way. If Michael hadn’t offered to make a donation, you two might have never met and gone your whole lives without realizing the connection.”
Digging deep in his pocket, Ravenswood pulled out a small envelope. He had purposely saved it for last. “Maggie Regan was an only child. Her parents died before she entered the Peace Corps. I managed to track down her great-aunt. She’s 87 and lives in a nursing home in New Jersey. She was able to tell me a lot about her great-niece, and she also gave me some pictures.”
Sara gasped when she opened the envelope. She was the spitting image of her mother.
The emotions finally came and tears slipped from the woman’s eyes. She held the photo to her chest and whispered. “I think you need to go now.”
It wasn’t the reaction Ravenswood was hoping for, but one he expected. “Sara, I know this is all hard to take in, but Michael was as shocked as you are. He insisted I verify everything. He wanted to be absolutely sure before coming to you.” Pulling a business card from his shirt pocket, he placed it on the desk. “If and when you’re ready, please call me. Michael very much wants you to be a part of the Bruce family.”
The private eye turned and headed to the door. As his fingers touched the knob, Sara spoke from behind.
“Thank you, Mr. Cadavre.”
“You’re welcome,” he said as he left.
* * * * *
Now I know what it feels like.
Sara stared at the stack of papers the private eye had left behind. It was a collection of legal documents, notes, and pictures. Over the years, she’d often been on the other side of the table, assisting adoptees in finding their birth parents. She had given similar packages to individuals, sitting with them as they explored the pieces of their past. She had seen the gamut of emotions, from elation, to devastation, to complete numbness.
I fall into that last category.
Sara glanced at the picture of the woman. Just because they resembled each other didn’t mean it was her mother. Still, every time she looked at it, she found herself overcome with emotion. Much like how she had felt when she had been with Michael. As she had sat with him at the table in his penthouse, she couldn’t help notice how handsome and kind he was. She felt such deep affection for him, yet every time she tried to think of him romantically, she could never get comfortable with the idea. It had perplexed her, but she waved it off, figuring it was because she still had feelings for Martin. Now, she realized it was for a far different reason.
He’s my brother.
Despite everything that had been thrown at her, the thing that disturbed Sara the most was the mystery surrounding it all. Even though the detective had given her a lot of information, she was aware he was only telling her half of the story. He talked of government conspiracies and cover-ups. She had often wondered if her real parents might have been involved in something sensitive, which is why they had been forced to give her up for adoption. But now there was a whole new tangle of circumstances which confused everything.
Of course, that was if the story was true. There was nothing to prove that the information in front of her was real. Paperwork could be easily fabricated, histories woven out of fiction. It would be easy for someone with Michael Bruce’s vast fortune to have documents created, and it would be impossible for her to verify most of the facts the detective had presented.
But why would Michael Bruce do something like that? To what end would he want her to believe she was related to him if she wasn’t?
Could I really be his sister?
Rubbing her fingers across her forehead, she glanced again at the picture of the red-headed woman.
How could she ever be sure that what the detective told her was true?
There’s one person who will know...
Shoving the papers back into the envelope, Sara grabbed her phone directory. She dialed the international number, listening to the static buzzing that followed.
“Buenas tardes,” a voice answered.
“Good afternoon,” Sara greeted back in perfect Spanish. “General Lira, please.”
“Of course. May I ask who’s calling?”
Sara swallowed hard. “His daughter.”