Strangers of the Past: Part XXII
Posted on 16/01/2013
Warren unfolded the envelope and scanned the paper again, crosschecking what he’d already confirmed. Mr. Jonathan Harris, 38 years old, Houston Texas native, father of three children, married to Hannah Harris. He frowned, shifting his gaze to the picture with younger versions of Jonathan, Ameya, her twin and Marcus.
The bell above the door dinged to announce a visitor and Warren shoved the envelope under a stack of papers at the edge of his desk, dragging the picture underneath it.
“Relax,” Francis droned as he strode toward Warren’s desk. “It’s just me.”
Warren nodded, gesturing to the empty seat opposite him. “I didn’t expect you today.”
Francis shrugged as he settled into the chair. “How long do you intend on keeping this from her?”
The tour manager raised a brow at Francis’ candor but didn’t initially respond. He noticed Francis’ haggard expression and waited for the older man to continue.
With a heavy sigh, Francis propped his elbows on the desk. “There’s not much time…”
Warren held a fist against his mouth in thought. “It’s too early though,” he replied, aware that Ameya was spending almost three days in a week touring with the American men. Who knew just how far along the men were at revealing the truth to Ameya, if that was their plan.
Francis gaped at him incredulously. “Too early for what? They did not came all the way from America to just watch her give them a tour, Warren.”
“I know…” Warren bit the inside of his cheek, eying his companion. “But it’s too early to assume that they might reveal everything to her so soon.” He heaved a sigh. “I don’t want to jump ahead and cause more trouble.” He was hesitant, unsure of the men’s intentions for Ameya. “What if there is more to it than what we know.”
Francis scoffed, leaning back in his seat. “Of course there is… They wer—are married, for God’s sake.”
Warren held up a hand to still Francis’ frazzled nerves. “Listen. We only know Ameya for who she is now. We don’t know anything about who she was before coming to this island. We don’t know her relationship with these men…”
The older man cocked a brow. “You don’t think they’re legitimate?”
“They lied about being writers and security men on a mission’s trip, for crying out loud!” Warren shot back.
Francis paused as he recalled the three men behind the jail cell, gaping at Ameya as if she was from another planet. His eyes narrowed to slits. “I should’ve known something wasn’t right…”
Warren nodded, satisfied that Francis agreed with him. “And that is why I think we should wait.”
Francis’ eyes flicked back to Warren’s face, his brows raised in alarm. “We can’t. I can’t afford to…” At Warren’s furrowed brow, the older man sighed desolately. “Neve wants to marry Ameya.”
The solemn silence in the room said it all. The locals of Vieux Forte were aware of the police chief’s son’s obvious devotion to Ameya and often teased both Francis and Neve about upcoming nuptials. Except this time, it was no laughing matter as both Warren and Francis stared forlornly at the table.
“We have to speak with these men.” Francis finally spoke after a few moments of contemplative silence. “I want to know their intentions before I talk with my son… if I have to.”
Warren nodded and without a moment’s notice, he picked up the phone to dial the number listed for the American men. With his eyes on Francis’ solemn face, Warren waited for the dial tone.
Francis swallowed a sigh just as he noticed the edge of a picture peeking from under a stack of papers. Glancing once at Warren, he reached for the picture and tugged at the corner until it slipped out.
Before Warren could protest, a male voice answered the call. “Good morning. This is Warren from Sunrise Tours.” He laughed softly. “No, nothing’s wrong with Ameya… Whom am I speaking with?” Warren noticed as Francis stared quietly at the picture in his hands, already imagining what the man was thinking to himself as he stared at the two young couples beaming happily at him. “Ah yes, Mr. Harris… Is it possible for you and your colleagues to stop by the station today?”
Francis couldn’t believe it. Not only was Ameya snuggled in the arms of a younger Jonathan Harris, there was another woman with her face snuggled against Marcus. He shook his head, enthralled by the photograph. Things just got a little more complicated than he’d have liked.
“Okay, looking forward to seeing you…” Warren nodded and then disconnected the call, dropping the phone before facing Francis. “They’re in the area, so they’ll be here in a few minutes.” When Francis lowered the photograph onto the table, Warren collected it in his hand, staring down at Ameya’s playful expression. “Do you see why I’m reluctant…?”
Francis looked up at his companion, worry lines marring his forehead. “Reluctant or no, it doesn’t matter.” For the sake of his son, he had to find out the complete truth.
The bell above the door interrupted their collected silence and Warren lifted his gaze to the door. Francis peered over his shoulder to see the two men from the photograph standing in the doorway.
“Welcome,” Warren said as he stood while Francis remained seated, dazed at the sight of the men. He rounded the table and extended a hand to the men. “Sorry to call you at short notice.”
Marcus smiled genially, shaking Warren’s hand firmly. “It’s no problem. We were in the area since we have a tour scheduled with Ameya later on.” He glanced over Warren’s shoulder at Francis gaping openly at them. “Good morning, Chief Francis.”
“Hmm,” Francis grunted, forcing a half-smile.
Warren noticed both Marcus and Jonathan share a quizzical glance. He cleared his throat. “Well, please have a seat,” he gestured to the other corner of the room where chairs were oriented in a L-shape.
Once they all settled down, Marcus and Jonathan sitting across from Warren and Francis, Warren cleared his throat again and focused his gaze on the taller, quieter man. “I’ll get to the point, if you don’t mind.”
Jonathan’s brows lifted but he nodded, his shoulders squared in silent anticipation.
Warren almost hesitated, the man’s open gray eyes reminding him so much of Ameya’s son. How could he have missed it? He cleared his throat yet again and straightened his back to begin. “How long did you intend on being under the pretense of a writing research group?”
Marcus’ eyes widened, Jonathan’s jaw tensed visibly.
The tour manager merely smiled. “Chief Francis already mentioned that both you and your colleague Charles Hapta are police officers back in Houston… Let’s just say the math didn’t exactly add up.”
Marcus heaved a sigh and glanced once at Jonathan before he opened his mouth to speak.
“You’re right,” Jonathan beat him to the punch, speaking in a clear, firm tone that had all three men surprised. His gray eyes remained steady on Warren’s face. “We’re not here to research for any book. I’m not a writer.”
Francis held his breath.
“Marcus is my brother-in-law…” Jonathan took a deep breath and released it slowly before he continued. “I’m here to bring my wife back home.”
Although he knew the truth, hearing it from the man’s mouth shook Francis to the bone and he couldn’t stay silent any longer. “What are you saying?” he prodded, hearing the tremor in his voice.
Jonathan easily shifted his gaze to the police chief’s stunned face. “Eight years ago, my wife Hannah and I were in Martinique, on a prolonged mission trip. She was one of the medical doctors on staff and I was her husband, working on different projects while with her.” He bunched his fists and released them in one fluid move. “We’d been married for only two years when she expressed a desire to come to the Caribbean islands to serve the people. Eight years ago, Hannah was pregnant with my child… my son.”
Marcus watched, him too stunned by how calmly Jonathan addressed the truth.
“Eight years ago, there was a hurricane that came through the islands and was on its way to Martinique. Hannah was concerned for the villagers we were fostering and even though she was pregnant,” Jonathan paused, his Adam’s apple bobbing. “She insisted on going to help those who couldn’t help themselves.” He shifted his gaze back to Warren. “I couldn’t stop her… and then she was gone.” Both Warren and Francis noticed pain flicker in his gray eyes.
Warren shook his head without thinking, incredulous to the whole story. First the truth of Ameya being a man’s wife, known as Hannah, was more than he had hoped to believe. But the photograph confirmed Jonathan’s testimony.
Marcus cleared his throat when Jonathan paused in speech. “When Jonathan returned home to Houston without Hannah, we were more than shocked… It didn’t make sense. My wife Tampa, her twin sister, was beside herself. Demanded of Jonathan to return to Martinique and find her.” He shook his head, recalling the torturous nights of Tampa weeping into the night, refusing to be consoled. “We tried looking for her, searched all the islands nearby.”
“Except St. Lucia,” Jonathan interjected, a sardonic smile curving one side of his mouth. He shook his head slowly. “Of all the islands, we didn’t even consider St. Lucia.”
“It was the last island on the list,” Marcus said gently to his brother-in-law. “You couldn’t have known.”
“Why now?” Francis said in a hushed tone when the two men settled into contemplative silence. Three pairs of eyes stared bleakly at him. “Eight years of not finding her… Shouldn’t you have moved on?” He folded his hands in front of him. “As you see, she has moved on without you. She doesn’t even remember you.”
Jonathan and Marcus blinked at the police chief. Warren chuckled nervously. “We connected that your wife Hannah is Ameya.”
Marcus tilted his head curiously. “How did you figure it out?”
Warren nodded and rose to his feet, quickly walking back to his desk to retrieve the picture. “I was curious why two police officers and a businessman would suddenly request for a writing inspiration tour. After verifying from Chief Francis who confirmed that you and Officer Hapta were police men from your country, I decided to do some digging.” He extended the photograph to Jonathan. “Three paid background checks, some nights browsing social networks and I confirmed my suspicion.”
“I see,” Marcus glanced over at the photograph. “Tampa and her mother are on Facebook, must have been either of them.” He didn’t dare reach for the picture, with Jonathan gripping it tightly.
“Either way,” Warren continued. “Although I knew there was a reason you personally requested for Ameya’s company… I wasn’t prepared for this.” He narrowed his eyes at the two American men. “What are your intentions?”
Jonathan lifted his head, hearing the suspicion in the tour manager’s voice.
Marcus frowned lightly. “What do you mean? Of course we plan on bringing her and her son back with us.”
Francis scoffed under his breath and shook his head adamantly. “Says who?” He too narrowed his eyes to a glare, causing both American men to blink at him in confusion. “Do you think Ameya will just obediently pack up her life and return with you?”
At the men’s silence, the rising aggravation within him egged him on. “Have you ever thought of what she would feel after you revealed all this to her? Eight years have passed and she is not Hannah anymore.” He scowled. “What about the people in her life? You want her to throw them away to return with you, who she doesn’t even know?”
Jonathan swallowed hard and Marcus held back a heavy sigh.
“My son…” Francis’ voice trembled and he cleared his throat to begin again. “My son, he was the one who brought Ameya back to life. He nursed her and took care of her until she woke up. He helped deliver her son. He has devoted eight years of his life to Ameya and her son.” His vision blurred and Francis sniffed back his tears. “He wants to marry her but you want him to forget about those eight years?”
Both men gaped openly at the teary-eyed police chief, Jonathan feeling as though a freight train had dragged him down a bed of nails before slamming him against a brick wall. He couldn’t breathe.
“Ma–,” Marcus stopped himself from repeating the man’s words. “Look, with all due respect, Chief Francis but your son cannot marry an already married woman.” He frowned, perturbed by the mere thought of Hannah marrying someone other than Jonathan. “Han—Ameya is still his wife, under the law and under God.”
“Under the law?” Francis scoffed, his annoyance heightening to anger. “Your country’s laws hold to nothing for a woman who doesn’t remember you.” He squeezed his hands into fists, angry for his son’s sake. “Ameya only sees you as a stranger and you still want her to risk ruining the life she has now for a life she doesn’t remember!”
Marcus sighed heavily, nodding in agreement with the man. “Still, put yourself in our shoes…” His gaze was firm and steady on the aggravated man. “Hannah left a distraught twin sister and mother who still wait every waking moment for her to return, plus many others who have been praying for eight years to see her again. Not to talk about this man here…” he paused, his own voice trembling. “As a husband who has now seen the wife he thought he’d lost to death, do you really expect him to ignore the years he’d spent with her, to let her forget all those years of her past?”
Warren and Francis lowered their gaze to the picture clenched in Jonathan’s stiff fingers and knew the answer to Marcus’ compelling question.
A few steps away from the corner of the Sunrise Tours waiting room, a man slowly ducked away from the front door. He leaned against the stone wall, completely stunned to silence over all he’d just heard.