Prologue: Old Souls 


I was living on a street in Coventry enjoying an ideal life with my lovely wife Rebecca and our two children when the blitz came; at least that is what I apparently reported to my nanny, more or less. I was five years old.

At first my parents thought that I had contrived a family of imaginary English friends when I told them my story because I actually had been born in the UK and we had actually lived in Cambridge for a few months when I was an infant. They and the other adults that I told about my English life were understandably puzzled. They would question me in detail but they could never accept the wartime facts I spouted as anything more than infantile babble. Understandably, it worried my parents, especially when I kept insisting that they should use my “real” name, Randolph Lennox, instead of Charles Dawes. To add insult to injury, I also began prattling on about Mrs. West, my wife, our two children, and our pet dog. Eventually it became obvious to them that the sensation I was experiencing was something more than a young child’s imagination; however they didn’t take action until I began complaining daily of a pain “on” my head. I’d point to where it hurt, in the back under my hair. My young mother would pet and kiss me and explain that birthmarks were not painful, but I knew better. Mine hurt.

My parents thought the worst; they thought perhaps that I was mad or going mad. So they took me to see the family doctor and he referred me to a pediatrician. Neither could explain the phenomenon. They patted me on my head and told my parents that I would outgrow it, whatever “it” was. In desperation Mom and Dad shuttled me from one specialist to another for months. A platoon of psychologists and psychiatrists repeated what the others had told them until one day there came a knock at the door and Professor Stevenson walked into my life. Dr. Stevenson had heard of my affliction through professional channels. We were living on Capitol Hill at the time by then. He drove up from the University of Virginia and stayed with us for a couple of weeks. I remember him trying to explain to my parents what “it” was all about, but I already knew the whole story because I had lived “it” before, and I told him so in my little boy voice but with an adult fluency that beguiled him.

He took copious notes, physically examined me, and directed one of his graduate staff researchers onto the trail of facts that I had been prattling on about for some time. Professor Stevenson confirmed my story by documenting the facts which only exchanged the worries my parents had for a new one: “He is an Old Soul,” Stevenson said.

At such a young age I was too little to understand reincarnation, or so they thought, but I knew what it meant even though I couldn’t pronounce the term. Dr. Stevenson started to explain the concept to me when we first sat down as a family but I stopped him. They later related how I’d held my palm forward and told him, “I already know that.” It was the same story that I had been telling everyone all along, only now they were listening for the first time – and believing me. My parents were aghast. Dad put his arm around Mom as she bit her lip and cried. I fidgeted and looked out the open window at the kids playing hopscotch on the sidewalk as a streetcar rattled by and then I remember hearing the neighbor’s radio say Hawaii had just become a state. It was 1959.

The staff researcher quickly verified the details of my story to be factual. The address, the names, the descriptions – everything was true, she said. A man named Randolph Lennox did exist, she told Dr. Stevenson, but I already knew that. I knew where I had lived, even the street address, the color of the house (red) and the gothic shape of the stained glass in the door. I cried when I remembered my newlywed wife Rebecca and my two small children, and I told them that I missed my little white and brown Jack Russell terrier, Felix. “Can we go see them?” I asked, hopefully.

“No,” they told me. “Sadly, they are all gone, Charlie.”

“But gone where?

“They’re with God, son,” my dad explained, and I climbed into his arms to be held closely and I wondered why.

When I was old enough Dr. Stevenson explained everything. The home in which I had lived in my earlier incarnation was razed in a hail of Nazi bombs in 1942. We were casualties; Rebecca, the children, Felix, and me. I had died of a head injury. Professor Stevenson said the injury was “consistent with my birthmark,” but even when I was a toddler I already knew that.

My parents were relieved to be told that my old soul was normal and that it was actually common in certain parts of the world, India and Beirut, for instance, he said. There was no remedy for my ‘situation’ and I may or might not eventually outgrow ‘it’. I never did. I still have love for Rebecca, Tom and Jane, and even little Felix. There’s always been a hollow place inside me, as if it was a purposeful space kept ready for them. Sometimes I wonder to myself how many incarnations I have had. One day I hope to find out. Professor Stevenson kept tabs on me for twenty-some years. 


Chapter 1: Picking the Valley 


A loud, rude voice startled me fast-forward.

“Charles! Hey Charles! Time to get up, now, Amor. Coffee’s ready.” With a familiar disappointment I rolled out of bed to begin my morning routine; I pulled on my red, white, and blue sweat suit, shoved on my moccasin slippers, and shuffled my way to the coffee pot.

Emma smiled at me as she raised her cup of steaming Major Dickason’s. I poured some for myself and plunked down on the other side of our eight foot heart pine farm table. Grace, our yellow Labrador retriever, greeted me with thumping tail and then laid herself down to peer at me from her usual spot, a heated pad by the stone hearth. Hickory wood popped loudly. I blinked out the window and rubbed the gray stubble on my chin.

“I was dreaming again,” I groaned, as she pointed her dimples at me.

“Couldn’t be worse than the last time, could it?”

I made an unintelligible sound.

She lowered her cup. “Well?”

Usually I don’t remember my dreams, unless I’m startled awake. For some inexplicable reason, though, I’d been able to remember more of them recently. Not that I wanted to remember them, mind you. It just seemed to be a curious new personal phenomenon. My last dream was about rappelling out of a Blackhawk. Last night’s was different.

“Actually, this one was one of my English dreams,” I mumbled. “Kind of weird.” The coffee was having the desired effect as I noticed a remnant of the morning’s beautiful perigee moon disappearing behind white-capped Saddleback Mountain. The air looked still and cold. Large snowflakes were falling intermittently through the white oaks and beech. The snowflakes that made it through the filter of late season copper Beech leaves settled on the mossy ground. Beautiful, I thought, and in only another month May apples will begin to spring up from the forest floor … I’ll want to get out my Tenkara rod again.

“Well, let’s hear all about it,” Emma goaded me.

I looked at her with one eye. “Don’t bodder me,” I mimicked her Peruvian accent.

She giggled. “Amor, if you wait until later you won’t remember anything at all.”

My eyes glazed over trying to remember, my coffee cup at my lips. Remembering my dreams wasn’t my favorite avocation; it was therapeutic, so said the doctors, but I wasn’t a morning person. Well, actually I was a morning person but not when I felt depressed and anxious, and I was depressed and anxious. Our real estate agent had recently hooked a buyer interested in our two storefronts and we were experiencing the excruciatingly slow process of reeling him in. It couldn’t happen soon enough, as far as I was concerned. Both of my family businesses were shut down because of changing demographics that I first felt in January of 1991. I should have acted on my instincts then, but I was in Kuwait.

Emma set her red cup down and placed her hand on my arm. “Amor, what is it?”

I set down my blue ASA cup, with its scales of justice logo representing appraisers, next to hers, and let her hold my hand. “I was remembering when I first noticed how the antiques business changed, on my return from Desert Storm, and of my hypothesis then why the antiques trade was beginning to change.” I looked out the window and re-examined my motives to myself: why I had decided to sell the family business against my aging parents’ wishes because of demographics that ‘only I recognized,’ they said.

She realized the inner turmoil that I was going through. “It’s OK, Charles, it’s going to sell and your parents will understand, eventually.”

“Yeah, right.” In the early 1990s, post WWII collectors began to die off in increasing numbers and were bequeathing their stuff to us Boomers. Ten years later their tide of passing was even stronger and now we Boomers were downsizing in a massive wave never before seen; we already had too much of our own stuff, we didn’t want our parents’ stuff, and the younger generations didn’t want any of it because ‘they don’t like old stuff,’ I tried to explain to Mom and Dad, ‘or they have poor taste or, sadly, no taste at all.’ In the antiques trade this combination of negative market factors is a triple whammy.

I looked at Emma and saw the concern in her eyes. “It’s never happened before and the majority of the dealers are in denial….”

“She’ll sell it for us, Charles. Don’t think about it.”

“I can’t help it. If the buyer realizes that there is a triple whammy in progress, then we’re toast. The bills are piling up and we haven’t found anything of significance to sell in a coon’s age. Another couple of weeks of bad luck picking like this and we’ll be all the way through our buffer, and our buffer is sacred. I would sooner sell Grace…” She squinted at me with one eye and gripped my hand with her fingernails, too hard. “Well, maybe not Grace,” I winced. I’m the worry wart in the family. Emma and Grace never worry about anything.

“Forget about the deal and try to recall your dream from last night.”

Remembering my horrid English dream sequences wasn’t one of my favorite pastimes.

“I don’t feel like it,” I complained.

“Come on, give me the details.” Maybe it was her way to distract me from our present situation, but she loves to irritate me in the morning anyway.

I withdrew my hand and crossed my arms, and then concentrated. “I dreamt that I was searching for Felix.”

“Hmmm, Felix again, huh?” Emma analyzed.

I kneaded my left temple. “Ah-huh.”

She nodded patiently. “Where?”

“By the Hebron Lutheran Church during the flood.”

“That’s here in Madison.” She raised one eyebrow. “You’re mixing reality with your Old Soul event, again.” Emma had no Old Soul dreams nor did she have a telltale birthmark so she really didn’t understand how I felt, but she had read Tom Shroder’s book, Old Souls: The Scientific Evidence for Past Lives, done her own research across the Web, and spoken with Professor Stevenson personally. She understood my “affliction” on an intellectual level more than most.

I sighed. “I realize that I’m blending realities.”

“Stevenson said that one day you might.”

“Yeah, I know. Especially if I have a major event. Well, Fallujah was it, for sure. The nut job almost killed me.” Sometimes I have night sweats and wake up thrashing without remembering anything. Other times I remember: I flashback to Iraq or Panama or to this life’s experiences or to Coventry.

“You’ve had plenty of major events, Charles. It’s a wonder that it hasn’t happened until now.”

“Maybe it’s why I merge different periods, like a time traveler, or something. This dream scrambled together the Coventry air raid, my combat experience, and the flood we had in Madison County in 1995.” Emma waited patiently. “I dreamt about the Hebron Lutheran Church but it was in Coventry and it was surrounded by water. Felix was swimming toward me.”

Emma studied me without comment and held my hand again when I reached for hers.

“It was weird. And then I was looking down and floating above myself as I lay dying.”

“As Randolph Lennox.”

“Yeah, that’s right, as Randolph Lennox.”

“What’s the Hebron Church have to do with it, do you think?”

“I have no earthly idea.” In 1995 mountainous Madison County experienced what the talking heads on local television had referred to as a flood of ‘Biblical proportions.’ One that ‘occurred only every 800 years,’ or so, they said then, and the following year it happened again, and just as bad. Literally, it rained 24 hours a day for seven days. The destruction was horrendous. Landslides, crop damage, bridges washed out – everything one usually sees happening to California or New Orleans, only in ’95 and ’96 it was our turn. The Hebron Valley and all of the other river valleys in Madison and adjacent counties were turned into inland seas, really. The giant round hay bales that dot farmers pastures went bobbing like corks downstream with such force that they took out most of the guard rail on all our bridges. I remember being stranded east of the Rapidan at the Wolftown Mercantile Store. There was a bunch of us gaggling around, snacking on Dr. Pepper and nabs, when in rolled a shiny black Mercedes. A tall man stepped out and looked about. It was probably because Emma and I had more teeth than anyone else present that he asked us for directions. He was “headed to UVA hospital,” he said, anxiously. I told him to take this and that route downstream where the water hadn’t crested yet, and he did, because later that same day, on the Charlottesville evening news, he said that his brother Chris was in stable condition, but paralyzed. I felt sorry for him. Reeves made a good Superman.

The Corps of Engineers quickly made great improvement to the damaged areas; I know because I looked them over. I had spent some of my middle formative years growing up in the county, out near Hood, back in the Kinderhook area, on a mostly mountainous farm next to Middle River. Funny, for some reason they changed its name to the Conway River, whoever “they” were, or are. Anyway, after the Corps moved the car-sized boulders off of the roads and reformed the riverbanks, the Fish and Wildlife folks restocked the tributaries with brookies and rainbows to our great relief, but it’s still not the same kind of fishing ten years later. I suppose that it’ll probably never be the same again.

Emma looked at our green 1940’s electric wall clock, quickly gulped down the last of her coffee, and exclaimed, “Amor, it’s time to get moving. We ought to be on the road by now. It’s going to be a long day.” So we hustled, dropped Grace off at her doggie camp, and were on the road again for Lexington, Virginia by way of Route 33. We have regular scouting loops where we go to find stuff; the act of scouting is called picking. Along these loops we stop at any and every place imaginable, but the pickings lately had been slim to nothing. As usual, we stopped at the Rolling Hills Antiques Mall in Harrisonburg. Emma picked a Navajo ring and I added a reference book that I didn’t already have in our vast library but that was all. And then we were back in the loop headed south on Route 11, otherwise known as the Valley Pike.

Outside of Staunton, the snow line fell behind us, a welcome sight. Interstate 81 is a fast way to travel the Valley of Virginia but it’s never been my favorite route. That’s why we take the Pike. It started out as a game trail that the Indians followed on foot and of course once the Europeans arrived it was converted into a wagon trail, but sometime, and I don’t know when, it was paralleled by Interstate 81. The Interstate is too fast and has too many big trucks going too fast on too few lanes and one day there’ll be six lanes, or so the rumor goes. No matter, we take Route 11.

By lunchtime we made it to Lexington. I wound my way up a steep hill to a hilltop Howard Johnson’s. This was one of our usual haunts where Emma orders her usual twigs and seeds and I wolf down my favorite: tuna fish on toasted wheat and ripple fries. We said pleasantries to the familiar waitress, tipped her generously, and took off again on our pick.

On the way up the hill we had noticed through the leafless trees an old Craftsman style bungalow near ruin that appeared to be a new attempt at our business: selling antiques. So on the way out from the restaurant we backtracked to check it out, hoping we’d find something underpriced. We must have driven by this small house without noticing it in the summertime when the trees were in full foliage. Now though, it was clearly visible.

On the porch were a tattered upholstered sofa and a white ringer washer. It didn’t take very long to look over what was in the old Sears house. Most of it was junk, Elvis records, milk bottles and so forth. We like wading through mire like this in search of treasures. That’s how we make our living. We’re antiques dealers. And even if we had a lot of money, which we don’t, we would still pick because we love it or perhaps because we’re just a little nuts, or both. Anybody would be, too, if they did what we do: the hardships, the hours, the insults, and so forth. Yes, it’s a hard life but someone has to save treasures from extinction. That’s how most dealers perceive it; the “it” being the hunt.

After a few minutes pawing through pure crap armpit deep, I found a very fine first edition copy of Post Mortem, by Patricia Cornwell. Its dust jacket was in fine condition, too. I carefully opened the book part-way – about three inches wide – and it cracked audibly, which is always a good sign that it was an unread copy, and then I looked on the title page to see if by any chance it was an author-signed copy, but no, not this time. I examined it for other things, too, like remainder marks on the edges, none; and to see if the dust cover had a clipped price, none; and library stamps, none; and so I figured, based on its condition and its other value attributes that it was easily worth a day’s wages for a tradesman in rural Virginia. I sighed. It had been a really, really long dry spell. Maybe this is the icebreaker. And then Emma got lucky, too.

A few minutes later as we were driving away, she looked over her shoulder to be sure we were out of sight of the bungalow and then she went berserk. “Oh my god! Oh my god! Charles, oh my god!” This is how she normally acts when she finds a deep sleeper. “Do you have any idea what this is?” she chirped at me, holding up the bracelet.

“Actually, yes,” I replied calmly, “it’s probably a Georg Jensen. You do realize that the book is worth a few hundred dollars, too, right?”

She nodded but she was too excited about the bracelet to talk about a dusty old book. “It’s a Jensen, oh my god! It’s worth a small fortune and it’s in perfect condition, even the clasp; just look how complicated it is, the way it closes. You know how collectors value well-engineered fittings. Charles, this is the best find I’ve had in weeks! I love this business.” She croons when she finds a real gem although I never hear the end of it when business stinks, like how we should get real jobs, the way all of our geek friends have combined incomes in the six figures range, yet they only collect Flintstones soda glasses and live with new brown furniture. There is no God.

I interrupted her ecstasy. “You like it?” I asked rhetorically.

She gasped, “It’s a Georg Jensen bracelet. Of course I like it. It’s sterling and lapis lazuli.” She was examining every link, stone, and mark with a loupe that she always keeps in her purse. “How old do you think it might be?”

“Oh, I’d say around 1912, by the looks of it,” I replied nonchalantly.

“What do you suppose it is worth?” she panted. She was trembling from excitement while closely examining each stone and fitting. Red blotches had appeared on her neck, like when she eats strawberries.

I shrugged. “You mean if we sell it, and we should because we need the money, Emma, but I know we won’t because we have almost nothing in it, right?”

“$18,” she beamed.

“We could use the $500 that we could get for it.”

A very good find if one were to sell it, I thought to myself, but I knew it was a keeper and that meant money had gone out and none had come in, yet. The likelihood of profit from this pick was certain since the bracelet only cost $18, but it was a delayed profit, one that might be years in the offing. Emma was ecstatic, though, and that was worth more than money, really. As for the book, well, it was only $5. A quick sale might return $500 but if I were patient and waited to take it to a Cornwell book signing, and had her sign it, well, that might double its value. I made a mental note to Google her later to see what she was up to, whether she was in Richmond or Malibu.

I drove slowly along winding country roads on top of packed snow the way I learned to years ago when I was at grad school in Idaho. The absence of wind turned the rolling landscape into a crystal wonderland, but Emma was too busy ogling her latest find to notice. My day plan was to drop in on David, a dealer friend of ours who has a large shop in Brownsburg. We’d known David for years, ever since we first met at the Heart of Country Show in Nashville. A couple of years later Emma introduced David to our travel agent, Greta, and the two of them had been together ever since.

Greta was one of the first to move her travel business online. From her home office in an antique log cabin across the street from David’s shop, she runs her travel agency and David’s antiques website. David and Greta were one of Emma’s few matchmaking success stories; most of the time her schemes end in disaster. Theirs did not.

Next to David’s man-cave antiques shop, Olde South Antiques, is a tiny Post Office. It’s probably been around for a hundred years or more. When I rounded the bend I saw smoke coming from its chimney. No other Post Office that I have ever been to had a working fireplace. On this snowy day nearly all the chimneys were smoking in the hamlet of not more than fifteen or twenty homes. What a sight!

I rolled the car to a stop in front of David’s shop and turned the engine off. “Emma.”

She looked up for the first time in minutes. “We’re at David’s?”

“We’re at David’s.” I gestured with a nod in the appropriate direction.

“Oh, good. Help me put this on. I want to show them.” She held her hand out and handed the bracelet to me to secure the clasp; it was so sophisticated that one needs help putting it on.

We went inside and they greeted us. After some pleasantries, Emma showed off her new treasure and of course they both loved it. Who wouldn’t? “See, I told you so,” she said.

I frowned with one side of my mouth and held my palms up. “I never said otherwise.” The two ladies went off somewhere to look at smalls as David led me to what I like best: the heavy furniture pieces. He wanted to show me what he’d gotten in since our last visit, a piesafe

It was a Wythe County piesafe and it just about knocked my socks off. I looked at his printed price tag to read the dimensions: It stood 54 inches in height, 72 inches wide and 20 inches deep. The top was rectilinear with a molded edge and sported a gallery with a central whale tail flourish and flanking dollop returns. I walked around it slowly absorbing the obvious details, obvious to any dilettante that is, and then I looked more closely.

David said, “I’m going to let you alone to do your thing.” I nodded silently while he leaned against the warehouse-like wall and watched me studiously as he puffed on his pipe.

The safe appeared to be circa 1830s and primarily walnut. The secondary wood was yellow pine, hickory, chestnut, and sycamore, otherwise known as river birch. It had two upper side-by-side drawers that were dovetailed in the front and in the back. Under the drawers were two front doors. Each door and drawer sported a finely turned wooden pull. As usual for high country cased furniture, construction was mortise and tenon and pegged. Interestingly, the pegs were square rather than round and probably hickory instead of walnut. The chamfered drawer bottoms were chestnut as were the vertical tongue-and-groove backboards.

“Is it a Fleming, Charles?” David asked with his pipe in his mouth.

I looked his way without focusing, and then returned to the specimen without comment, thinking to myself.

Each of the two front doors was adorned with a single flush-mounted vertical rectilinear pierced-decorated tin typical of the well-documented piesafe maker, Fleming Rich, from Wythe County, Virginia; he was prolific. One scholar has estimated that he may have produced two to three hundred piesafes in his time, from 1830 to the late 1840s. His cases were good but he’s remembered mostly for his tins which he typically decorated with a tall floral erupting from an ovoid triple-footed urn surrounded by other floriforms and large bell flower blossoms in all four corners. David’s example stood majestically on four tall square tapered legs and the case had what appeared to be an original patina.

So much for kicking the tires. I reached into my tweed jacket and pulled out a small black leather kit I always carried in my left pocket. Now it was time to look under the hood. My kit includes a penknife, a loupe, an earth magnet, a flashlight, a black light, and three or four things a savvy law enforcement detective might construe as lock picking tools, maybe.

I continued to examine it in silence: all sides and from underneath, pulling both drawers, feeling surfaces, scratching secondary wood surfaces with my fingernail and even stabbing it in a spot or two with my penknife to determine if what looked like chestnut was indeed chestnut or red oak; a knife point will penetrate chestnut but not oak.

David had relocated and was sitting patiently without comment by his wood burning stove where he was nervously puffing on his meerschaum pipe as I went through my paces. Finally, I got up from underneath it, brushed myself off and sat down beside him holding my palms to the heat of the stove.

“Have you purchased it yet?” I asked, still looking at the piesafe rather than him.

He snapped his head in my direction and withdrew his figural pipe. “My gut knew it but my heart fell in love at first sight,” he said in self-defense. “It’s not right, is it?”

“Some of it is.” I looked sorrowfully at my friend without turning my head. “You want to guess or you want me to tell you?”

He sighed, plugged his pipe back into his gray beard, and then went over and put his right arm on top of it and stroked it as if it were his favorite horse. I knew what he was feeling. It’s the way we collectors regard pedigreed pieces. He looked back at me through a puff of Davidoff red. “The picker said that it was a Fleming,” he moaned to me.

I shook my head slowly, and harrumphed. “No, David, he probably said ‘lemming,’” I deadpanned. I opened the front door of his Vogelzang wood stove and shoved in a couple of pieces of hickory from a stack in a copper kettle on the floor, then turned to face him, and smiled, “What’s the damage?”

“Four grand,” he puffed, holding the elbow of the arm holding his pipe in his maw.

I nodded once. “You know better than that, David.”

“I shoulda called you sooner, damn it, but then it snowed and …yada, yada, yada.”

“I would have been able to advise you had you sent me some pics.”

“That bad, is it?” He drew on his pipe without effect and then stuck its stem in the pencil pocket of his bib overalls with the ashes still in the bowl.

“Greta knows how to email pics. She has a Blackberry.”

“OK. Just tell me what’s not right about it, and I’ll deal with the picker later.”

I kept my seat by the now too hot stove, looked down at the worn floor boards, then closed my eyes and recited from memory what I had discovered by examining the piesafe in detail; I’m a little savant that way. It’s my only superhuman trait. I never forget what I see and where it is when I see it. I can’t remember names or where I put the grocery list Emma sent me to the store with, but I never forget the mental image of an antique or fine art object and where I saw it in a house – not ever.

“David, it’s a made piece.” He knew that that meant it was either a deliberate fake or it was reproduced to look like the real thing but not necessarily fraudulently. The extent of attention to detail in the execution usually determines if it’s a deliberate attempt to fool the initiated, or not. “Someone took two period Wythe tins off one piece and placed them on doorframes from another period cased piece, also probably a piesafe but not a Fleming, by the looks of it, and the side tins are exact duplicates of the proper right front tin.” I looked up from the warehouse floorboards to see David inspecting the wrong tin. “No David, the other one. The proper right.”

“What’s that mean?”

“The proper right headlight of an American car would be on the passenger’s side.”

The gears whirred inside of his head for a split second. “Oh. Got it.” He knocked the ash out of his pipe against the rim of the kettle holding the firewood, harrumphed something unintelligible – which made me smile – and then re-stuffed his pipe from a round red tin he retrieved from his back pocket.

“What are you grinning at?” I asked.

“Nothing.” He walked back to the piesafe. I could tell that he was relishing my lesson despite the cost of his mistake. “What am I looking for in this proper right tin?”

“The absence of rust and or patina in all of the holes.”

David was bent over, looking at the hole. He turned his head to me. “You mean because he re-punched through the original holes to make the side repro tins?”

“Correct, and the pierced holes should now be slightly larger, too, or very much larger if the perp wasn’t careful.”

He compared the piercings in the two front tins and then the two front tins to the two side tins. “This guy was careful. The holes are the same size but no longer plugged in the one front tin.”

“That’s the one he used to pattern the repro tins with. If he’d been very clever, he would have re-occluded the proper left one, and if he’d known enough to be that careful to cover his tracks, then he’d have most likely done them all.”

“Like with dirt?”

“Yeah and shellac. Anything really. Over time they often get plugged.”

“OK, so I have two antique tins in the front doors from some other cased piece. What about the rest of it?”

“It’s a disassembled, cut down, larger piece of furniture. That’s where the vertical and horizontal elements came from and then there are bits and pieces from two other furniture pieces. For instance the drawer fronts and their turned pulls are from a chest of drawers, probably, and the backboards are from a pantry or porch ceiling in a Victorian house. Fleming would never have used those; they’re from the 1890’s.” David had relit his pipe and was standing obliquely so he could see the backboards and me at the same time.

He nodded. “Yeah, I see it now. But I don’t see how he did the case.”

“The stiles were heavier at one time.” Stiles are vertical elements, usually corner posts. “Notice the difference in color on the two inside planes of the stiles when compared to the two outside surfaces.”

“Wouldn’t that be normal, I mean, its inside surfaces would be less exposed to UV light than the outside.”

“True, but the difference here is from cutting a large square post into quarters resulting in each quarter having two fresh-cut surfaces, two original patina surfaces with one old edge and three new sharp edges. Notice the inside taper of the four legs; that’s where the cut is most noticeable because it’s external to the case. The three new edges are all too sharp to be original to the 1830s; they all should have wear consistent with age, from scuffing, mop slaps, and animal action.”

“You think he got the stiles from cutting down a bed?”

“Maybe, or from a big armoire. The wood is period and so are the tool marks. He used two different hand planes, a mortise gauge, and a chisel.”

“So, he’s a crook?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know who you got this from and I know that you’re not going to tell me.”

“I have to protect my sources.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“But you think he made this to deceive?”

“Maybe, or maybe he doesn’t know any more than you do. Whoever did this was clever though. It’s a B-minus on my grading scale.”

“Only a B-minus?”

“And probably an American, probably from Tennessee.”

“Good guess. Have you ever been fooled?”

I grimaced. “Oh, sure. There are plenty of people who are this good and a few in these parts who are as good as they get. It’s been years now, but I once took a round tavern table with four tapered legs to a Brit I know here in Virginia, who will remain nameless by the way. The table had had its ankle stretcher cut away 150 years ago or so. I wanted them replaced so I could resell it and get more for it.”

“Did you disclose?”

“Yes, of course. It would have been an ethical violation had I not.”

“OK, good. I figured as much.

“So, when I asked him, the Brit, how much it would cost, he gave me two prices: $750 or $2500.”

“Jeez! That’s quite a spread.”

I nodded. “My reaction exactly. So I asked him why the big difference, and he told me, ‘For $750 you won’t be able to tell that it has had its stretchers replaced.’”

“And for $2500?” David asked.

“He replied, ‘I won’t be able to tell that they have been replaced.’” David laughed and I laughed with him.

“Did he give you examples of the difference?”

“I asked him that, too, of course, because I was baffled, and he told me that he would compensate for natural wood shrinkage over time, mimicking it, which makes the joints loose and the pegs proud, and he’d spend a considerable time on patina, like applying fly speck crap by the hundreds using a single horse hair, and he’d apply spider webs and mud dauber nests and traces of mud dauber nests over nests, and stuff like that.”

David shook his head in wonderment. “That’s incredible!”

“I know.”

We heard Emma and Greta come in through the back door. They were making shivering noises as they immediately made their way through the furniture to the stove. “What are you boys up to?” Greta asked sweetly.

David looked at me, withdrew his pipe, and turned to the girls. “We’re just swapping war stories, that’s all, honey.”

I looked over at Emma to see if she was displaying another new acquisition that she might have bought from Greta’s jewelry showcase, but I didn’t see anything that I didn’t recognize. “And what have you all been up to?” I asked, about the same moment that I noticed that the Jensen was now on Greta’s wrist.

The two of them looked at each other and giggled. “Nothing,” they said in unison. 


Chapter 2: Lexington 


The Gees asked us if we’d care to join them for dinner at a local Viennese restaurant just off Interstate 81, but we expressed our regrets and soon were on the road again. It had warmed up a bit, enough for the light stuff on the trees to have disappeared and the back roads to have mostly cleared. By early afternoon, after a few more stops that had proved fruitless, we made it to Lexington before the sun set. I waited for Emma to tell me that she had sold the bracelet to Greta, and when I didn’t bring it up after ten minutes or so, she did.

“How much do you think I got for it?”

“You mean the Jensen?”

“Of course, Amor.”

“Four hundred.”

“Five,” she squealed.

“Good job, Periwinkle,” I smiled.

“I love this job,” she cooed. 


Lexington, Virginia never ceases to charm us. Rockbridge County is beautiful and the former home county of more than a few celebrities most Americans recognize by name, if they remember their history: Sam Huston was born here, Stonewall Jackson taught here at VMI before the war, and Robert E. Lee was president of Washington University, later Washington & Lee University, after the “War of Northern Aggression,” as some people still remember it. The numerous little main street shops, the antebellum and Victorian architecture, and the mountain air make a perfect place for retirees to settle, and they do, in droves. It’s one of our favorite places to visit.

By the time we got to the room my dogs were barking so loudly that I was afraid they’d wake the neighborhood. Despite my fatigue I began my usual routine which Emma complains is for no other purpose than to drive her crazy: I always arrange my toiletries in size order at the sink in a manner that would have made my drill sergeant proud. Unwittingly, as soon as I flop down on the bed to watch The Weather Channel, Emma begins her standard behavior pattern which drives me crazy; she talks on her cell and paces back and forth in front of the television with a strobe-like effect. I compensated by pouring myself three fingers of Woodford Reserve over the last mountain of ice on the planet, and then I remembered the front desk clerk had given us walking directions to a small restaurant nearby that had a European menu and purportedly did not use MSG, something I am allergic to. After what seemed like a half hour, Emma declared herself ready. 


The meal was excellent and the wine even better. Afterwards, we walked leisurely back to the hotel a different way. An old storefront with a new business sign caught our attention – an antiques storefront, of course. Naturally at that hour it was closed, but the window display was very intriguing. It consisted of manly-man items in an arrangement that could have passed for a Ralph Lauren photo-op, only better.

There were two old big-game single-shot breechloaders, old photographs of white hunters in the Belgian Congo when King Leopold was wreaking havoc, pith helmets, knives, cartridge belts, old books, you name it. It was one of the most fascinating displays of testosterone accouterments that we had ever seen in one window. It made Emma ‘goose bumpy’ and I couldn’t take my eyes off of the arrangement. We made a point of jotting down the contact info in my Blackberry: the business hours, telephone number, and website of the shop. On the way back we jabbered about what had been in the window and speculated about the possible sleepers that we’d find the next day. Neither of us slept very well because of those expectations. 


We awoke early, as usual. By six I had pulled on some clothes. Fifteen minutes later I was back from my coffee detail carrying the room tray piled high with huge coffees, pastries, fruit, juice, and the morning paper. Emma had checked our email while I was gone. No overnight-website-sales but our eBay posts were ratcheting up slowly. “No home runs yet,” she chirped.

I usually let her do up her own coffee first: one fake cream, one brown sugar. Reaching between Emma and her caffeine early in the A.M. is not a wise move. However, two or three swallows are all it takes before her urge to amputate subsides and she remembers what last tactic we were on from the day before.

“Did you dream last night?” she asked.

“Not that I can remember.”

“Too bad. Humor’s the best way to start a day.”

“Very funny.” I rustled the local paper, The News Gazette, looking for yard sale opportunities while she munched and drank her coffee.

“Charles, why don’t you give that shop a call?” she asked.

“It’s too early. And the store hours are intermittent. ‘By Chance,’ remember? He probably doesn’t come in ‘till afternoon.” As usual the coffee was disappointing. I suppose it would have been all right to shave with it, the coffee, just because it was hot, but otherwise it was worthless. I missed Major Dickason.

“Call him anyway,” insisted Emma, “leave a message on his machine. Besides, he might be an early bird.” She can be annoyingly persistent.

“Oh, alright. Jeez, it’s only 7:30,” I said, shaking my head. I punched in the numbers that I had pecked into my cell the evening before. It rang four times before the machine picked up. I looked over at her. “See,” I said, “his machine came on and it’s telling me the same information that was on the door to his shop. It’s too early.” Emma sniffed. I left my name and phone number on the machine and said that we’d be in town for the day.

“Well, maybe he’ll call us back before we leave, wasn’t it open today?” she asked. Remembering the store window, I confirmed that it was and then urged her to get a move on so that we could see a little of the sights before leaving town. An hour later, just as we were picking up our gear to walk out, my cell rang.

“Hello,” a southern drawl said, “this is Bubba Baxter from Southern Squire Antiques on Preston, are you the gentleman who called and left a message?”

Some southern accents are music to my ears, but not this one. “Yes, thanks for returning my call. We admired your window display last night. We’re dealers from Madison, Virginia. Would it be possible to open for us now before we leave town?” I asked.

“Sure, me and some of my buddies are at the shop now having coffee and Twinkies. Come on by.”

I looked at Emma and said into the phone, “Gee, thanks, Bubba, we’ll be there shortly,” and then hung up.

Emma could sense that I was up to something; she looked up from what she was doing and said, “What?”

“Emma,” I said facetiously, “I think you’re going to like the proprietor of that nice manly-man shop.”

“With a name like Bubba, I doubt it,” she said.

“Yeah, that’s his name alright,” I said laughing, “and he sounds like a bubba, too. Yep, you’re going to like him, Emma.” Emma is originally from Lima, Peru. She thinks ‘a bubba accent sounds like an idiot speaking with a mouth full of shit,’ as she’s bothered to tell me on more than a few occasions, sometimes in her sweet lilting Spanish which I sort of understand.

I met Emma on Match dot com when I was on TDY. She was living in Harrisonburg, Virginia and I was freezing my ass of in Marine BDUs somewhere classified in the Hindu Kush. I read her profile online and it was love at first read. After corresponding for a couple of weeks, I finally convinced her that I was the real deal but temporarily living on a bloody mountaintop. It was a couple of weeks before I could get to a landline. When I finally did, she picked up right away even though it was 03:00, Eastern Time. When she spoke for the first time I nearly dropped the receiver; I recognized her voice. It was the same voice that had been teaching me Spanish for the past six months. Emma worked for the Rosetta Stone Company. She was one of two female Spanish voices on the tapes. 


Chapter 3: Flying Tigers 


An overhead clangor-bell sounded as we opened the door to the narrow but deep antebellum period store. Boisterous conversation near the rear of the shop came to an abrupt halt. There was a faint smell of coal smoke in the air from a stove. I noticed in the back of the store a vertical round tin pipe take a right angle into a flue in the red brick wall, where the silence now reigned. Adjustable stacked board shelves on all three sides went up the walls, from floor to nearly the ceiling, behind low yellow pine counters. Victorian glass showcases that once displayed islands of dry goods filled the space between counters. It reminded me of the general store in the old Gunsmoke TV show episodes.

We knew that we were expected and we had heard the bell that had announced our arrival, but we waited momentarily near the door to be greeted.

Someone had converted the purpose of the store from what was no doubt a dry goods store back in the day, to an antique and vintage weapons store. Inventory was nicely arranged but clutter had begun lapping up the sides of the counters which is a sure sign that the manly-man concept had been going on for some time. I suppose that the store had gone unnoticed by us because the proprietor didn’t advertise or we would have checked it out immediately, and too, it was off our usual beaten scout path.

Most of what was displayed was vintage and antique: sporting long guns, edged weapons, advertising, and there was a huge amount of dug Civil War items, which I’ve never been able to appreciate. About seventy-five percent of the overall collection followed a hunting-related theme. I knew right away that it would be tough to find any hunting-related sleeper in there, but he might have hoarded things outside of his primary area of expertise. And that’s what we always look for: sleepers; a sleeper is an undervalued object.

One of our strategies is to stop at specialty shops like this one where we expect the ‘Packrat Syndrome’ to prevail. Chronic collectors never throw anything out, they just keep on collecting and collecting, hence the Packrat Syndrome. Bubba’s shop turned out to be no different than ninety percent of the other specialty shops that we had been in over the years throughout the country, and abroad. In doing so, we’d found some drop-dead killer sleepers, too.

Noisily, a huge man emerged from what probably was a back office or storeroom and walked the length of the store from behind the counter to greet us. When the curtain to the back opened, I noticed a clutch of old men in varying states of disrepair. Five pairs of bloodshot eyes swiveled in our direction without actually making eye contact with us. They seemed pretty much intent on visually piercing through Emma’s cashmere sweater, the ones who were able. She has always been rather popular because of her wit, but it looked like these good ol’ boys had already developed a shine for her without benefit of hearing her speak. I noticed one cleaning his spectacles and another man fishing for a pair from the front of his bib overalls and a I saw a third old timer insert his dentures, and then smile.

“Hello there!” the proprietor striding toward us called out. He was red-faced and morbidly obese. Sweat stood out on his forehead. His old multi-pocketed fishing vest sported NRA patches: Emma’s least favorite nonprofit organization. “What kin we do you in for, folks?” he bellowed good-naturedly. Without looking, I imagined Emma was rolling her eyes.

I was born in the UK but I grew up in Delaware, where I absorbed my neutral American accent, but I also spent some of my middle formative years in rural Virginia after Dad retired from the Air Force. I was used to the many accents of The Old South, and when I’m around one, I ‘revert back to my Confederate roots,’ or so Emma says. “Nonsense,” I tell her each time. “I haven’t the foggiest idea what you mean. I was born an Englishman. Y’all don’t know what you’re talking about.” She ignores me, mostly.

I stepped toward Bubba and informed him, “We’re the Dawes.” I made a back and forth hand motion to include Emma as we shook hands. “We called earlier from the hotel here in Lexington.” Emma stood behind me. I could sense her apprehension at being in this boy’s club. She crossed her arms under her breasts and put me between her and the trolls.

“I thought it was you-all,” he said. “Come on in and have a look-see. When you have a question just holler at me and I’ll be glad ta hep y’all.” The other five pairs of eyes ignored me entirely to follow Emma. I poked around the shop one way and Emma went another direction as Bubba answered the phone a couple of times all the while talking with a Twinkie in his mouth. I slowly worked my way around the place taking it all in: his prices, his descriptions, the details, stealing with my eyes as my noble Austrian grandmother used to say. Smart dealers learn from their mistakes and do their best to minimize risk. It’s not just a fundamental tenant of business, ‘it’s just good common sense,’ as my dad used to say. Risk is a great motivator. You wouldn’t believe the fortunes I’ve gone through to earn my stripes in this business. After about five minutes in his store, I could tell I was wearing more stripes than he. Under one island counter I spotted a footlocker with a patch sewn on brown leather inside.

I looked his way. “Hey Bubba, what’s in the wooden box over here?” I asked. He thundered over, shaking the whole building, and replied, “Well, let’s have a look, Mr. Dawes.” He pulled out the box, lifted it effortlessly onto the countertop and invited me to have a look inside for myself while he stood by. I was correct in my initial impression that the brown leather was a WWII Army Air Corps aviator’s jacket, though I wouldn’t have guessed I’d be lucky enough to find one sporting a Flying Tigers patch. I knew that this particular version had been designed by Walt Disney. The wooden box, as it turned out, was a footlocker filled with all the paraphernalia of a well-decorated CBI Tiger.

A poker face is essential at times like these and I’m a master at it. “Bubba, what’ll you take for the box and contents?” My pulse leaped as my mind calculated.

He took a step closer, peeked inside, and said, “Well, I don’t rightly know. What’ll you give me for it, sir?”

“You’re the seller, Bubba. So what’s it going to be?” I tossed the ball back into his court as a matter of protocol. The seller always sets the price because it would be unethical for a dealer to make an offer to a seller; an offer is a de facto appraisal, and to buy something one has appraised would be a conflict of interest. This conundrum is less of an issue when the haggle is between dealers of equal stature, but still, he knew that I knew that setting the price was incumbent upon him, not me.

“I ain’t had it too long and I ain’t done all the research on it either, who it mighta belonged to and all, but I do know that bomber jackets fetch a pretty penny.”

“Yes,” I said, “and I’m prepared to pay a fair price. So what’s it going to be?” I repeated calmly without showing anxiety.

“Four grand,” he blurted out. I was sure that he was fishing. His red handkerchief couldn’t keep up with his heavy perspiration. He swabbed his face and neck constantly.

I rubbed my whiskers thoughtfully. Emma was off rummaging by herself to one side. “We’re a bit short on cash at the moment, Bubba. May I take a photo of it and send it off to a colleague?”

“Sure. Take all the photos you want.”

“What’s your best price for the box and contents, Bubba, very best?”

I took a few pics of the box, the jacket, the patch on the jacket, and some of the paper ephemera, and other things and emailed them off to a buddy of mine who might appreciate all of it as an archive. That’s what something like this is called; an archive is a bunch of stuff that is all related to one person.

Bubba pondered ten seconds or so and responded, “My best price is three grand. That’s it.”

“Let me see what my buddy thinks of it,” I replied.

“No problem, Mr. Dawes,” he said. “Take all the time you need.”

Emma had watched from afar. She came over to have a look keeping me between her and the five goobers staring at her from their seats by the stove. She sensed something big was in the works. One thing about Emma that endears her to me, she never interferes in times like this.

“One other thing caught my eye, Bubba, over there; the old tintype in the window.” I motioned in the direction of the hard image. Photographs on metal, glass, and ceramics are referred to as hard images. A friend of mine from my college days taught me all about photos. It was one of the first categories that I learned to collect.

“Oh yeah, that’s a really big one, iddenit?” He handed me the full-plate leather case closed. The image stunned me when I opened it and I realized for the first time that I was looking at the best daguerreotype – not a tintype – that I’d seen in at least ten years. It was a J.H. Whitehurst whole-plate housed in a fine leather case featuring an image of a small boy holding a toy rifle and a girl clutching a pull-toy horse in one hand and a fancy doll in the other. Its condition was absolutely pristine.

“How much for this, Bubba?” My voice nearly squeaked. I could’ve used a spot of tea about then.

“Need fifteen hundred for that and I cain’t take no less on account it ain’t mine. My granny’s best friend, who’s also kin to me somehow, she used to live down in Norfolk, Virginia, she up and consigned it to me cuz she know’d I have this here store.”

“Alright Bubba, you have a deal on the photo,” I said. “Emma, have you found anything yet?”

“As a matter of fact, I did,” she said, stepping around to an oak bookcase. “I like these. What do you think, Charles?”

I walked over to the bookcase, reached in and took out what she was pointing to, a set of six Audubon books, Birds of America. “Well, Emma they’re kinda nice,” I managed to say knowing full well that the Audubons were worth far more than the bomber jacket.

“Bubba, how much can we have these for? I see that they’re marked $4,000,” I said.

“Them bird books? They’s real big, ain’t they? Well, since you done bought so much already, I reckon I’ll let them go for three grand. The pretty lady ought to be entitled to something she likes if’n her husband is buying’ all of this for hisself. Where in Virginia are you all from, anyway?” he asked.

“We used to have a shop about twenty-five miles north of Charlottesville near Madison,” Emma piped up for the first time. Bubba seemed to be enchanted by Emma’s ability to speak, or maybe it was her Hispanic accent. And the goobers suddenly become animated, stretching their scrawny chicken necks like turtles reaching out of their shells.

“Okay, Bubba, add that to our pile, too.” He was really grinning now. Probably thinking to himself how many handkerchiefs, or maybe Twinkies, he’d be able to buy.

“Y’all been dealing long?” he asked not remembering what I’d told him a moment earlier.

“Charles grew up in the business,” Emma replied and sort of gave me a look. “But I’m new to the business,” she smiled her perfect smile at him, causing him to steady himself on a glass showcase that creaked.

“Bubba, do you have anything that may have its origins from our area in Virginia?” I asked. He ruminated a moment, his jowls quivering. A drop of perspiration rained on the glass top. He thought hard for a moment while once again mopping the back of his neck and jowls with his a red bandanna. “Yeah, just a minute and I’ll go get what I got.” He was only gone a minute. When he came back he was carrying a rocking chair with a shoebox on its seat. “Here you go. I bought these from an old lady and her daughter in Culpeper. They told me that the rocker belonged to her great-grandfather and that he fought in the Civil War, on our side.”

The old lady was right about the rocker being from our area. I recognized it for being by the hand of a regionally acclaimed legend. I kept on my best poker face. “How much?”

“It’d be $400 and I’ll throw in this box of Kodak photographs that came with it. There’s some papers in there, too,” Bubba said.

His body language indicated that he thought that he was asking too much and he expected me to counter offer, but I didn’t. “Okay, we’ll take that, too. Anything else?” I asked.

He blinked at the immediate sale, thought a second. “I’d love ta sell you all some more, but I cain’t think of nuthin’ else right now. I’ll go add it up if’n you’s ready?”

I nodded to him and he moved off. I motioned to Emma and we stepped to the side to chat privately. “I don’t understand it.”

“What do you mean?” she replied.

“We scout Lexington at least twice a year. Why haven’t we stumbled upon this place before now? It’s practically virgin territory. This shop hasn’t been picked in quite some time, or ever.” Through clenched teeth, “Periwinkle, this pick is going to make our year!”

“Just how well have we done?” She kept a straight face as if we were discussing tire pressure and spoke through a grin that spread from dimple to dimple. “I know the Audubons gotta be big bucks. What about the other stuff?” She was becoming excited and looked at me expectantly as we strolled arm-in-arm farther off to one side.

“You know the bomber jacket, right?”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“It looks like it was a jacket worn by a special unit in WWII that is very popular. They called themselves the Flying Tigers.”

“How good is that?”

I stopped, looked incredulously at her. “It doesn’t get better! It’s CBI.” I said through clenched teeth, again.

Alright, be patient with me. I didn’t grow up in this country. What’s CBI?”

I relaxed a bit and apologized. “CBI stands for China-Burma-India. It was a theatre of war during WWII, the same way Europe and the Pacific were theatres. The bomber jacket was in the pilot’s US Army Air Corps footlocker and it’s all there: his flight cap, goggles, army papers, chits, maps, all of his stuff.”

“Wow! That’s great, Amor. But who will want to buy it?”

Everyone, but I’m going to let Fleet have first dibs. I emailed him some pics. He’ll jump at the opportunity to add this archive to the Confederate Air Force’s air museum. And we’ll make a tidy profit with a short turnaround. On the open market it’d a lot more than what Bubba is asking for it, and Fleet will know that, too.”

She was excited. “Besides, we owe him a favor.”

“Yes, I know, and this is a big enough favor to clear the slate.”

She moved closer and looked up at me and put her palms on my chest. “What about the dag?” she asked.

I put my hands on top of hers, and whispered. “The whole plate dag is superb. I’ll give Rick Waggener in Fredericksburg a call later and offer it to him.”

“For how much?” I took her hand and we sat on a deacon’s bench Bubba had in front of one of the front display window. The day was going to be sunny. I was getting hungry, again. Emma’s stomach growled, too. I thought a moment about all of the hard images that had passed through my hands over the years, many of which I’d love to have back. “I think $2500 is a fair price, which means we’ll make a thousand. That’ll still leave him with three or four thousand left in it. He ought to go for it without too much squawking. Rick can flip it fast.”

She nodded, and asked, “What do you have in mind for the old rocker. You know rockers don’t sell well. People don’t sit in them or they’re afraid that their cat’s tail or kid’s toes will be run over.”

I’d taught Emma well. She just then recited what she’d heard me tell a score of pickers trying to foist off their rocking chairs on us. “Periwinkle, this one is different. It’s a rare Albert Aylor rocker and one of the better sort, probably circa 1880s, and it’s not like the one we have at home. It’s as good as the one Mrs. Payne owns. I offered her $3000 for it twenty years ago and she wouldn’t even budge. Until this one I didn’t think that any others as good were extant. It’s a keeper, Emma. We’ll sell the other one we have when we get home.” At that point, neither of us even thought about that box that came with it.

“Mr. Dawes, I’ve got it all added up.” We stopped talking and moved over to his checkout counter, which had been made in the 1870’s, by the looks of it. Next to the brass cash register was an O.N.T. spool cabinet. A converted brass oil lamp hung overhead. “It comes to $7900,” he said as he handed me the bill of sale hesitantly.

At the time that amount of money was a lot. We just didn’t have the cash flow. Yet I knew there was money to be made. I wanted it all, especially the bomber jacket, badly. So I called Fleet but got his voicemail. In frustration, I sent him a text message.

He answered right away by text message: “in meetin how $”

I replied back,“$4k”

“tkx wilco dep b4 1700hrs yur act# wch bank?”

I answered back, “wlls frgo tks”, and the account number.

I looked up from the Blackberry at Bubba, “Looks like we have a deal if you can hold our check until after 2:00 PM tomorrow?”

“You betcha, partner,” he replied then he did his best to get us to stay longer. He even offered to take us ‘to lunch up the street a ways,’ but we told him that we wanted to hit the road again because the day was still young.

Emma replied, “Absolutely, we love Lexington, and your shop gives us a third reason to visit.”

“A third reason?” he looked at Emma.

“Yeah, the town’s scenic beauty, the local history, and Bubba’s place.” Bubba’s mass threatened to collapse as he chortled his approval.

“It’s been a real pleasure doing business with you and if’n I ever git up to Madison, I’ll be sure to stop in and see ya’ll.” Bubba picked up the rocker and handed it to me. Emma grabbed the shoebox and the dag. I carried the Audubons and Bubba carried the footlocker containing the bomber jacket and related ephemera. We all streamed out to the Volvo. Bubba asked, “You-all headed back to Madison?”

“Actually, Bubba, we’re headed south,” I answered. “Probably as far as Roanoke today before heading back home.”

“Roanoke’s a nice town. Look up my nephew, Mott Perry. He’s a good kid, a former SFPD. Tell ‘em I sent you and he might give you a free beer. He owns the Valley Bar& Grill on Delancey.”

“Thanks for the tip, Bubba. Maybe we’ll run into him,” Emma said, as she climbed behind the wheel. I closed the tailgate, hopped in, and we both waved goodbye as he watched us pull away from the curve feeling very good about our luck. I shoved an Eagles CD into the dash and tapped my foot to the rhythm. There were periods of silence as we zoned out on music, followed by periods of excited conversation about what had just been purchased as the Lexington countryside fell behind us. From time to time we stopped to check out the occasional antiques shop along the way. After a while we stopped at a deli in Troutville, a wide place along Route 11, and made a tailgate picnic from the back of the car by a little brook. I opened the hatch and spread a blanket across the bumper. The air was brisk and still but the sun was warm and bright, and here there was no snow.

“Where to now?” Emma asked as we were finishing up egg salad on Asiago bread.

“We’re about fifteen minutes from Roanoke. How about if we take a look up the Audubons right here and enjoy this fantastic sun while we can. I feel cooped up from the ride.”

“Okay,” she said, “I’ll get the iPad. You bring the Audubons.”

We sat on the blanket and looked over the set carefully for the first time. Emma looked them up on Live Auctioneers dot com, a free database that every appraiser, auctioneer, dealer, and picker uses. A minute passed before Emma reacted.

“Amor, what did we pay for the set of Audubons, three thousand, right?”

“Yep. Why?” The breeze was blowing her curly black hair all over the place. Her ‘possum grin was contagious. I looked at what she was showing me and it confirmed what I had recalled from memory: that sets were strong in the marketplace.

“We’re going to double, at least, from what it looks like here.”

“I figured as much,” I replied, smiling.

“Who do you have in mind for them?”

“Well, I think I’ll give Peter Shupp a call right now to tell him what we think we’ve found.”

“Where’s he, Monterey?”

“No, Santa Barbara. We can trust him to evaluate them for us and find a private buyer. If we run the set through auction it’ll take longer and the payoff wouldn’t necessarily be any more or quicker. Private buyers like to buy fresh so they can brag to their buddies about their good fortune.”

“Okay, let’s do it,” she said excitedly and tossed me my cell. I can remember when she fussed at me for buying the damned thing, telling me that I was one step away from Yuppyhood. Now for both of us our Blackberries were practically our entire office; everything was on it. I scanned its database and punched in his number. Peter answered on my first try. I told him what I had, but he was with a celebrity, so he said he’d return my call in half an hour, if possible.

“Peter’s busy with some Hollywood celeb named Scarlet,” I told Emma. “So I’ll give Rick a call to see if we can unload that dag quickly.”

The conversation with Rick was short and to the point. My description of the dag sounded fantastic to him, but, as is customary, he needed to see it before he’d commit. So I emailed him a pic, and he bought it for $2500, plus $50 for shipping. Like I did with Fleet, he promised to deposit the cash into my Wells Fargo account before five o’clock and I promised to FedEx it overnight. I can’t remember how I executed quick sales before cell phones and the Internet.

I was glancing at the beauty of the Audubon prints when the phone rang. “Charles, its Peter.” He’s rather flamboyant, transplanted from Philly, rich, gay, monogamous, brilliant, the top book dealer in the country, knows everybody that is anybody on the left coast, and we’ve been friends since he was one of my ROTC instructors at JMU.

“Thanks for returning my call, Peter. How’s Thackery?” Thack is Peter’s husband or whatever. I can’t seem to get used to this new permutation of traditional relationships.

“Oh he’s very fine, thank you. How’s Emma, we miss her soooo very much,” crooned Peter.

“I’m hardly behaving myself, Peter.” She leaned over the phone and blasted him with a greeting.

“Ooooh, she sounds healthy, doesn’t she? Veggie food will do it every time. You should listen to your Periwinkle and turn vegan, Charles. You’d feel better and live longer,” he lectured.

“Peter, if I felt any better I wouldn’t be able to stand it. What do you think about the Audubons? Want in?”

“I’d have to give them a stare to be sure, but it sounds like you’ve found the real McCoy, my boy,” he laughed at his little rhyme. “How about shipping them to us via FedEx as soon as possible.”

“Alright. I’ll have them double-boxed and send them right off. After you’re scheduled to receive them I’ll call you to hear what your opinion is. We can talk some more then. If they’re what we think they are, then I think I’d like you to act as broker in a private sale. Would you be agreeable to that?”

“Why yes, of course, Charles. You know we always accommodate you guys. We love you two soooo much. I’ll look forward to the shipment and then your call.” He rattled on a minute or so more and asked to be handed over to Emma, and then they kept at it for a few more minutes before hanging up.

In the meantime, Emma had spilled the contents of the box we’d acquired with the rocker out on the blanket, so I pawed through the wreckage while the two of them prattled. There were numerous letters, notes, receipts, and several late cabinet card photographs of landmarks I recognized being in Madison County, Graves Mill and the Madison Court House. In both photos there were horse and buggies tied to hitching posts and figures of men in dark clothes posing. Also in the Allen Edmonds shoes box was a diary, old Harding and FDR political buttons, bits and pieces of jewelry, and sundry ephemera.

Emma peered over the pile and reached for a piece of jewelry. “Look Charles, Miriam Haskel,” Emma said, while holding out her arm for me to inspect a heavy copper bracelet.

“That’s nice.”

I reached for the cabinet cards and began scrutinizing them. “How good is it?”

“Uh, maybe $50 to $75. It’s not bad. Chrystal will like it. Her collection is really getting to be extensive.” Chrystal is the wife of a Charlottesville picker we know.

“Okay, then let’s swing back that way if we have the time,” I suggested.

“You know, only a couple of days ago I’d have gone through the roof if I’d found this. After today at Bubba’s, this is anticlimactic,” she sighed.

“Yeah, I know what you mean. The cabinet cards are worth some money, too, but I think I’ll just give them to the Kemper Mansion instead.” I picked up the cell phone again and began punching in another number.

“Who’re you calling now?” she asked.

“General Pride.” It rang twice and then a sergeant answered for the general’s office. He told me that the general was due back in ten minutes and would return my call ASAP. We’re on the best of terms.

I guess I’ve known him for ten or fifteen years or so. He’s a leaner version of the actor from the Quaker Oats commercials. He earned his star after Desert Storm, where, as a Marine jet pilot, he was one of the few to be shot down. Anyway, Fleetwood Pride pulled my proverbial nuts out of a very hot fire a couple of years ago in Iraq and I’ve been beholden to him ever since. He’s retired now and runs a museum of vintage WWII military aircraft that still fly. Donations of time and capital from aviation enthusiasts keep the squadron alive. It’s called The Confederate Air Force and it’s unbelievably cool. And so is Fleet. I’m kind of a lone wolf which is not the best trait to have if you’re a military type, especially a Marine. Fleet recognized that in me, and instead of attacking me for having that weakness, he mentored me and showed me how to use my streak of individuality to benefit the Corps. For Fleet it was always about the Corps. Fleet is like a father figure to me.

“Emma, he’s not in. The sergeant said he’d be back in a few minutes. Let’s wait awhile. I’d like to touch base with him about the jacket,” I said.

“This diary is pretty interesting, Charles. It’s written by a girl from Madison.”

“That doesn’t surprise me. After all, the cabinet cards are of Madison sites and the Albert Aylor rocker is definitely from there because Madison is where Aylor lived and worked. What time frame is the diary from?”

“Well, let’s see.” She scanned the little book from front to back and said, “It’s from 1998 to early this year, 2005.” The phone rang and I picked it up.

“Hello,” I said.

“Charles, this is Fleet. How are you doing, Major?” I had long since retired from the Individual Ready Reserve, but Fleet still addressed me by my last rank. He was probably fifteen years my senior and he had such command presence that everyone always rendered deferential respect to the old warrior, including me. To him I’d always be the young butter-bar that flew back seat to the maple leaf. To me he’d always be General.

“Semper Fi, sir. I’m doing just fine. Have you given up flying yet, sir?”

“Never, boy, never. I’ll go down in one before I give it up.”

“That’s the spirit, Fleet. So how’s the financial condition of the Confederate Air Force?” I could feel him buckle his armor. The Brigadier always straps on his formalities when he thinks I’m about to reach into his pocket, whereupon he reminds me of my loyalties.

“What have you found for me now, Major? A CBI cache?”

“Looks that way, sir,” I said.

“Charles, it looks like a real find. Thanks for offering to us first.”

“You’re very welcome, General.”

“How do you come up with these gems, and always when our budget is just about shot?”

“A lot of miles, General. We’re on the road all the time since we closed our antique shop. Besides, I’ve made it my mission in life to bankrupt the Confederate Air Museum.” We both laughed.

“I’m very excited. When can you ship it all?”

“I’m headed to FedEx now, sir.”

I could tell from his tone that Fleet was a little misty. “Charles, I know you could have made a killing out there on these items. The Confederate Air Force and I are deeply grateful that you came to us first instead of offering it on the open market. Thank you ever so much.”

“You’re welcome, General. I figured that I still owed you one for the time you saved my sorry ass.”

“Naw. You don’t owe me a thing. I’d help out a fellow spec-op anytime. And you’re even with the CAF, too. In fact we owe you a big one. When the moment comes, just say the word and I’ll put the full might of the membership of the CAF at your disposal.”

“Thanks, Fleet, but I’ll try to stay out of trouble so you won’t have to bother.”

He chuckled in his Wilford Brimley kind of way. “Give my regards to your lovely wife, Em, and drop in on us when you get a chance. Mrs. Pride asks about you all often.”

I put the phone away and noticed that Emma was looking at the material from the shoebox. Suddenly I realized our fine afternoon was just about over. The days get longer every day in this latitude in this season but they are still short in March. We needed to get a move on. “Honey, we need to go back over to that small shopping center and ship these things out right away. There’s a FedEx Store next to the deli. They can box up all of this stuff and ship it any way we like.” She was so engrossed she didn’t even look up. “Oh, Em-ma,” I tried again.

“I hear you. Just a minute, Amor. I’m trying to make sense of this.”

I looked over at her. She was hunched over the material from the shoebox. I scurried about tidying things up a bit in preparation to leave for the packing store. In my head I was calculating the day’s net profits. “Sense of what?” I asked her as I arranged stuff in the back of the car.

“Charles, I think I’ve figured out this diary.” She signaled me to come over to her. She looked oddly ashen in the light of the day’s good fortune.

What?” I emphasized.

“The writer’s name is Ellie Coppage. If I can believe what’s written here, she witnessed a murder in Madison and is now on the run from the killer.”


What you have just read is the trailer to the first book in the Picker Series starring Charles Dawes. Target publishing date for The Madison Picker is June 1st 2013, and its sequel, Some Kind of Good, has a tentative target date of June 1st 2014. Meanwhile, Dawes appears in the distant future in the Conglomerate Series; the first book in this genre  is THE SERAPIS FRAKTUR. It is targeted for release in March 2013. { FYI pronunciation: sir-ape-us   fraak-toor }




This is the first title in what will become The Conglomerate Series starring Charles Dawes

SYNOPSIS: Former U.S. Marine, picker, antiques dealer, collector, and connoisseur, Charles Dawes, finds a fraktur dated 1748 signed Christopher Dock, of Skippack, Pennsylvania. Fraktur are common schoolmaster creations commemorating rites of passage like baptism, marriage, graduation, and death, but this particular fraktur is very unique. On it are drawn images of the Eiffel Tower, the Washington Monument, flying machines, and the façade of the Serapis Temple in ancient Alexandria. How can that be? This question sets the picker from Madison, Virginia, on a quest for answers which is made easier when he and his wife, Emma, win a massive lotto in 2005. Dawes wisely invests the proceeds in cutting edge companies, but before he can enjoy his luck, he dies accidentally.

The Serapis Fraktur is the sequel to Dawes’ death in 2010. It is the first science fiction adventure in The Conglomerate Series in which Dawes awakens from cryogenic stasis in 2460 to discover that he has unlimited wealth due to his wise investments before he died. He also learns that he enjoys perpetual longevity because of medical advances and has galactic-wide power because he owns countless corporate assets in shipping, manufacturing, mining, defense, etc. The only problem that he has is what to do with all of his free time because the conglomerate is run efficiently by his staff. But alas! His old habit of collecting is reborn when one of his early investments spawns a working time machine that allows for the safe extraction of both lost artifacts like battlefield swords and interesting historical personalities like Hypatia, Pershing, and Edison. Dawes remedies his boredom by gradually establishing the administrative organization known as The Timeline Initiative which will ultimately dwarf any of his existing enterprises. Its mission: to extract the dead from the past for the purpose of colonizing unsettled planets across the universe. Not all goes as planned. Terrorists disrupt the utopia he has come to love and not all persons can be extracted from the past, and for a very interesting reason: They live on.

Helping him along the way is a cast of interesting characters who rise in rank as his extraction business expands. One of Dawes’ crew is Christopher Dock. As it turns out, Dock is an immortal Alsatian who was stranded on Earth when he crash-landed in 2702 BC. He is the only known living Ancient One. The rest of his kind mysteriously disappeared from across the universe. Why?

Written in the first person, this is a PG-rated adventure story is peppered with libertarian social comments pertaining to accountability, honor, integrity, and fidelity. There is also a fair amount of entrepreneurial development and systematic empire building. There is no combat, no sex, and women are treated with respect. What this work lacks in titillation it makes up for in historical color like Connie Willis, entrepreneurial development like Nathan Lowell, and futuristic wonderment like Edgar Rice Burroughs. Most readers will find this book acceptable for ages from teen to centurion and all should be delighted to learn that the Dawes polyverse is not apocalyptic. In fact Earth is reborn: millions of bison once again roam the prairie; old growth forests of American chestnut blanket the coasts, and life is good for all.

prequel to Dawes’ death is underway with a release target month of June 2013. It will be the first adventure for Dawes in his Picker Series. The first few pages of it are offered as a teaser at the end of the The Serapis Fraktur ebook. Unlike Dawes’ science fiction future adventures, his Picker Series will be a present-day mystery series.

A scifi sequel to The Serapis Fraktur has a target release date of December 2013. Its title is The Scalar Magnitude.



A Charles Dawes Novel   :::   Book 1: The Conglomerate Series 


Title Page

Table of Contents

Chapter 1  Resurrection

Chapter 2  Central Computer

Chapter 3  Home

Chapter 4  The A-Team

Chapter 5  The Recipe

Chapter 6  Warehouse 101

Chapter 7  Security Alert

Chapter 8  Special Operator

Chapter 9  Jeeves

Chapter 10 Spitfire

Chapter 11 The Butlers Did It

Chapter 12 Download

Chapter 13 The Serapis Fraktur

Chapter 14 Slipping the Clock

Chapter 15 The FSS QuestRoyal

Chapter 16 Mission Statement

Chapter 17 The Architect

Chapter 18 Kent Dundee

Chapter 19 Fermions

Chapter 20 The Captain

Chapter 21 The Slip Brigade

Chapter 22 Quality Control

Chapter 23 Administration

Chapter 24 EM

Chapter 25 The Bents

Chapter 26 Operation Nut Job

Chapter 27 After Action Report

Chapter 28 The Rule of Nari

Chapter 29 Old Souls

Chapter 30 Infrastructure

Chapter 31 Attack on Orbital 454

Chapter 32 The Arena

EPILOGUE: The Scalar Magnitude



EXCERPT from prequel: The Madison Picker 

Chapter 1: Resurrection


My first impression when I awoke was the scent of lilac followed by warmth and silence, apart from the sound of pattering rain. Except for the chrome metal furniture, the rectilinear sterile room – complete with ceramic tile walls, marble floor, and linens – was completely white. One-drawer nightstands, with nothing on their tops, stood on either side of the bed. There were no lamps. Light emanated from everywhere and nowhere. The absence of color in the room even extended to my person. Someone had dressed me in white cotton surgical scrubs with a V-necked short sleeve pullover top, baggy pants, and disposable elastic booties. A bank of windows, none of which looked like they could be opened, ran the length of the room down the long portside wall. Rainwater pounded against the glass, limiting visibility. Next to the windows were two arm chairs separated by a third one-drawer stand. Opposite the windows was a centered door.

I didn’t know where I was or how long I had been in this place. A quick self-inventory revealed nothing out of the ordinary for a man of forty. Other than a mild headache, everything else actually seemed sharper. Colors were more vivid, my hearing was more acute, and my vision was so precise that I actually identified the reflection in the window as a flyspeck on the backside of a drawstring hanging from a Venetian blind on the other side of the room. I had only a minute or two to reflect on the surreal before I detected an ever-so-slight breathing pattern and what I guessed to be small feet ambulating in cotton socks before there was a knock at the door. “Come in,” I said, propping myself up on my elbows. A beautiful woman of about thirty-five entered, closed the door behind her, and glided toward me. In stark contrast to the whiteness of my surroundings, she was dressed in a turquoise blue shirt, much like my own but with collar and cuffs. On each side of her collar was a row of three diamonds. She wore her jet-black hair in a French braid. Her eyes were dark, cheekbones high, complexion Mediterranean, and teeth perfect. To my surprise, her slightly blunted fingernails seemed to be diamond-veneered to match her collar.

“Good morning. I’m Dr. Renatta Messina,” she said, smiling as she extended her hand. “Do you remember your name, sir?”

“Charles Dawes,” I murmured, placing all my weight on one elbow, accepting her hand. She had fine matching dimples and spoke with an ever-so-slight East Indian accent. I could detect and, to my surprise, even define the elements of the various scents she brought into the room: hand lotion, perfume, deodorant, shampoo, and some of the foods she had eaten in the past few hours. It was a bit much.

“Good,” she said. “I expected no less. Your recovery is progressing as anticipated, perfectly, actually. In a few days…”

I interrupted. “Where am I and why am I here, Doctor?” I could tell from the landscape that it was summertime and I was in a temperate zone, but something wasn’t familiar about a few of the deciduous trees. They were enormous, perhaps five feet in girth. And the room was too, I don’t know what it was, maybe it was too high tech. I had been stationed TDY in Kansas on more than one occasion; I wasn’t in Kansas. That I knew for sure.

“You are at our recovery facility in Charlottesville, Virginia.” I welcomed the idea I was in my hometown, even though it didn’t seem familiar somehow.  “No doubt you have many questions. I can provide answers, but first, how do you feel?” She motioned us to the chairs next to the floor-to-ceiling windows. With a grunt I maneuvered to my feet.

“Well, except for a mild headache, I seem to be in pretty good shape. There’s no mirror in this room, so I can’t imagine how I must look, but from what I can tell, everything seems to be in working condition. And I notice that my birthmark feels like it is gone.”

She removed a small silver-colored gadget from her side pocket, poked it with a diamond stylus four or five times, and looked up. “Yes, the birthmark had served its purpose. New shells are absent old defects.” That bit of information went right over my head. She fiddled again with her gadget. “There, I’ve made an adjustment that should relieve your headache.”

I felt almost instant relief. “What? You adjusted my meds just like that, with that thing?”

“Something like that, yes,” she smiled, putting her device away.

I forgot about the inquiry about my birth defect. “What could you have done from over there that had such an immediate effect?”

“You’ve been injected with custom-made nanite compounds that respond to adjustments using this medical device,” she informed me. “All of your vitals are normal, by the way, and you are responding well to treatment. For a period of time, however, you will experience various sensations, and perhaps even some discomfort. But as time passes, you will begin to feel considerably stronger than before the accident, and your senses will improve significantly. Have you noticed?”

I was a bit confused. What was that? Nano device, huh? I thought to myself. After a pause I managed an intelligent response: “Yeah, I’ve noticed plenty of weirdness. I can zero in on the hairs of a gnat’s …uh… abdomen in flight over by that fountain.” I nodded toward the window through which one could see putti spewing water fifty or so meters away. As personal property appraiser and consultant for high net-value clients with collections of antiques and art, I was more than familiar with this particular piece, an exact replica of the La Fontana dei putti in Pisa.

“Excellent,” she replied. “The nanobots have amalgamated. You should be able to smell accurately, as well.”

“Yes, too well. How do I ratchet it back a notch?” I sniffed the air.

“Conflicting aromas?”

“You could say that. I can actually define the ingredients in the pasta dish you had last night.”

“Oh, sorry about that.” She stepped back a pace and pulled out her device once again. “Let me make an adjustment to mitigate the acute ability you will eventually enjoy. There. That should do it. Better?”

I sniffed the air again and noticed the intensity had diminished. “I think so,” I answered.

“Mr. Dawes, once you learn to self-adjust the nanites, you’ll be able to fine-tune your senses by merely thinking the adjustment.”

“How long will that take?”

“Oh, a few days or so, but I promise you the bots are there to serve and protect you. You’re going to like the way they make you look, feel, and allow you to perform.”


“Yes, the nanites are autonomic, like your heartbeat. They make adjustments when your body’s sensors require enhancement.”


“Well, for instance, you’ll not only be able to hold your breath under water, but you’ll also be able to work tirelessly for at least fifteen minutes while you’re down there because the nanites can shuttle oxygen around the body.”

“That will come in handy. I like to free dive.”

“Indeed, I know you hold a past world Tuna record of 655 pounds. You’ll notice a big difference. The nanites will also expel nitrogen and lactic acid, and if you are injured, they will self-replenish and make significant repairs to all non-neuro systems of your biomass.”

“Jesus.” I had a lot to think about. “I won’t get tired?”

“Correct…well, sort of. You’re still going to require additional augmentation, which I will address later.”

‘Additional augmentation’ sounded like the upgrades every good salesman offers ‘for a small additional fee.’ At this point everything was amazing enough as it was; even if I couldn’t afford her offered upgrade, I’d be plenty happy with what I already had. But I had to ask, “You remade my body. Why?”

“Back in your early timeline you were in a fatal car accident, Mr. Dawes. Fortunately your body was recovered in time to be held in cryogenic stasis. When the time was right, we removed your stasis capsule here to UVA recovery where it’s been for the last six months.

“The revival process was complex. The short story is that we reanimated your original body, extracted your soul – your sentience as it were – from its neural network, and inserted it into an improved body we call a shell, which we cloned from your original. Next we made in-process general repairs and a multitude of enhancements to the clone DNA at the molecular level and then injected the shell – the new cloned body that you’re presently wearing – with a slurry of programmable nanites that accept remote input. That’s how I made you feel better, by applying my stylus to this device.” She held up the two objects with one hand, as a reminder. “In fact, I made the most recent adjustment on purpose, the one you witnessed, so you could understand the nano concept more easily. I could just as easily have ordered the central computer to make the adjustment, either verbally or by thought, using a heads-up screen visible only to me. I’ll explain more about that in due course.”

My mind wandered as she described what she’d done to me. I must have looked befuddled. I was dumbfounded to say the least. The doctor gently prodded me with questions I only half heard through the haze. As she spoke, I took an inventory of all my body parts. Two arms? Check. Two legs? Yeah. I also discovered I had what looked like a healthy tan George Hamilton would be proud of. And I was glad that my birthmark was gone because it often throbbed with pain.

I began stringing vague flashes of memory together to form a thought that might lead to a multiple-syllable intelligent sentence, but all I could mutter was, “What?”

“What’s the last thing you remember doing or seeing before awakening here?” she asked, gently pressing the conversation onward. But too many feelings were crowding my mind, so I couldn’t formulate an intelligent question.

I closed my eyes. After a few moments I began, “I still remember my early life as a child in Coventry…. That’s what I was dreaming about just before I came fully awake.”

“Good. I know of your past life from reading Dr. Stevenson’s profile on you. What can you tell me about just before the last moments before the crash?”

I was surprised she knew about Stevenson but then I reminded myself of how well known he is. He had interviewed me because he was researching people with painful birthmarks. Apparently some people with birthmarks remember previous incarnations and they claim that their marks are from fatal wounds. Stevenson wanted to hypnotize me, but I was too busy to take the time. I had just found a diary which eventually led Emma and me to solve a murder mystery in Madison, Virginia, so I had let the birthmark issue drop until later. I’d have to look him up, let him know what happened, that the birthmark was gone or maybe this doctor had already told him.

I continued. “I was in the bay area of Northern California, I think. Well …ah… let’s see. I remember being in my black Mercedes, on a steep grade… the landscape was lush …going fast… blurred motion …noise… by a river …the Russian River …probably… I remember passing a road sign that read Monte Rio, and then another sign a moment later that read Bohemian Grove. The next thing I remember is waking up here.”

“That’s very good, Mr. Dawes.”

I noticed that for some reason she raised an eyebrow when I said ‘Bohemian Grove.

“How severe were my injuries?”

“They were extensive, Mr. Dawes. You were airlifted to hospital and immediately placed on life-sustaining equipment where you remained for several months, whereupon your committee… Do you remember your committee?” I nodded yes. She continued. “They invoked the requirements stated in your living will and other preparatory instruments. At that point your legal team assumed responsibility for your care and disposition. Eventually a court decision allowed for stasis internment, and your team made a battery of decisions in accordance to your wishes since this was a fatal scenario. At that time your grave injuries were beyond the limits of existing technology and your projected revival interval was statistically impossible to estimate. Stasis internment was necessary. The alternative was unacceptable. Do you remember setting this plan in motion with your committee members?”

“Yes, I remember all the planning after my win.” I’d won the lottery and had been smart enough to immediately set myself up for every eventuality with long-range investments, including cryogenics, executed to the ridicule of many. Of all the mistakes I might have made in my life, at least I got that right, I thought. So now here I was, plopped a few years into the future, my plans suddenly, and truly, set in motion. “I am glad I didn’t have to experience the red tape that must have occurred after my …uh… demise,” I said with a grim smile, relieved. “I don’t doubt it must have been legal chaos.”

“Yes, it was. But the committee, which is now at your service in any capacity, took care of all your affairs. I am your medical and psychological officer as well as your trainer and one of your security team members. You also have administrative, legal, financial, and other security staff.”

“Yes, I remember now. My attorney and my financial adviser suggested a plan of action for me. I’d like to have a word with both of them if you can arrange that.” I raised my eyebrows in her direction.

Dr. Messina placed her hand on my forearm and said softly, “Your committee members are different individuals than they were before your accident, Mr. Dawes, because so much time has passed. It is now comprised of members succeeded by appointees designated by the initial members and their succeeding appointees, and so forth, all of which was necessary over the years.”

“Oh,” I swallowed and noticed yet another fly speck on the same cord a bit higher up. “Yes, of course. I understand. So how long has it been?” I looked past the window glass into the distance. The little nanites in my cranium were probably working overtime shoring up whatever mental state the textbooks defined me to be in as I tried to grapple with the possibilities, that is, if, in fact, I was even still me. But as I focused I saw evidence of the answer before the doctor had a chance to tell me because under the huge American chestnut trees were dried prickly burrs. And high up in the canopy there were hundreds more green prickly burrs hanging from the branches. The burrs were too small for anyone to see, at least not anyone in 2010, even anyone medically enhanced to our highest technology then. But the trees were the biggest clue: the American chestnut was extinct in 2010. Tears streamed down my cheeks in torrents as she told me the answer I already knew, that centuries had past.

“Mr. Dawes, the year is 2460.” Her lovely perfume wafted over me as she leaned forward slightly to study my reaction as the world revolved in slow motion. I could hear her carotid pulse and distinguish the cacophony of the individual raindrops that co-thumped with her aortic valve as I stared out the window at the lush, wet landscaped campus of the recovery facility. The rain had subsided except for the cascading drops from tree leaves and off the roof. My mind was numb. Everyone and everything I knew was gone – my wife Emma, my extended family, all of my friends, and everything recognizable. I was now a stranger in my own land. The only thing that sounded familiar so far was being back in my hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia. I sighed and wondered how it had changed after so long as the sun moved from behind the clouds to stream through the forest of American chestnut trees.