TARNISHED GOLD – Chapter One

April 1986

Atlanta, Georgia

 

Frank Young was sitting in his darkened living room, staring blindly into space. His cassette player had just finished playing Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s “C’est La Vie.” It was the second time he’d played that song. His depression had hit new lows. He looked at the bottle of Wild Turkey sitting half empty on the shelf. He’d been injured and hurt before in full-contact bouts, but he’d always healed up fast. His shoulder was still hurt and weak. Was it age? Maybe forty-six is too old to kick some young buck’s ass. He’d expected being shot by Colonel Fabian Ver to heal up by now, but it didn’t seem to want to. And he knew it would take even longer to heal the hurt of watching Rosalita Laurel get on the plane and leave with the Marcoses. Both injuries were sapping him of his internal strength, his chi.

He just wanted his life to return to normal. No more thinking about gold, Marcos, Ver, Rosalita, or any number of U.S. Presidents. Plus it was still almost impossible to go into the dojo he owned with Luc. Just too painful after. . . causing his best friend’s death.

His telephone rang. He ignored it. After the tenth ring, it stopped. Less than thirty seconds later, it started ringing again. Frank stared at the phone and again decided to ignore it. Eventually, silence.

In about thirty seconds it started ringing again. This time, Frank got pissed. He yanked it off the receiver and, stretching the cord as far as he could, put the black handset up to his head and plopped back down on the couch.

The voice on the other end said, “Mr. Young, I still don’t have your receipts and expenses for the last three months. I was supposed to have them yesterday afternoon by the close of business.”

Frank leaned his head back, still holding the receiver to his ear. He said nothing.

“Mr. Young, are you there? Did you hear me?”

Frank grunted into the phone. “I heard you. My office manager screwed up again. I’ll run down there and pick them up and hand-deliver them this afternoon.”

“I don’t mean to be a pain, but I do this in order and have a lot of clients. If I don’t get them today, they will be filed late or you can get somebody else to do it. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind if you did get someone else to do them. Your system, such as it is, leaves a lot to be desired. Takes a lot of extra work on my part to get them done.”

That got Frank’s attention. “I can’t find anybody else this late. I’ll go get them now.” He slowly paced over to the phone’s base and depressed the switchhook to hang up. He then got a new dial tone and dialed the dojo. No answer. He tried again and, still, no answer. He hung up and dialed Scott, his office manager. Twice. No answer both times.

Frank had been slack and he knew it. He had not followed up on any of his manager’s work. He’d only stopped by the dojo once since he returned from the Philippines.

At the moment, he was pissed off, at himself and Scott.

When he went to the closet to get a wind breaker, he saw the box. That box was another constant reminder of the Philippines. He started to reach up to the shelf, but was stopped by a hitch in his bad shoulder. Just as well. The box weighed too much to lift. He could try, but he didn’t need any more reminders at the moment. He gingerly pulled his wind breaker over his throbbing shoulder and went to the garage. He crawled into his 1973 Porsche Carrera with an RS 2.7-liter motor and hit the garage door opener. This car was the one thing in his life that still brought him pleasure. He turned the key and the beast roared alive. Frank stepped down on the accelerator several times and the wap, wap sound of the motor through his non-stock mufflers made an evil smile pass over his face.

He put on his sunglasses as he backed out of the garage. The garage door was on its way down as he took off down the street. The night before, he’d enjoyed a little too much Wild Turkey; he’d told himself it would help with the pain. What the hell’s been up with Scott? He’d have to have a long talk with that young man. He cruised slowly out of his neighborhood on North Hills Drive and decided to take the long way to the dojo, via I-285.

As he approached the ramp to the interstate, he dropped the Porsche into second gear and watched the RPMs jump to four grand, then he tromped down on the accelerator as he threw it into third gear. By the time he merged into traffic he was in fourth gear and, at 85 MPH, zig-zagged through the always-heavy traffic on the Atlanta beltway. He dropped back down to hit the exit to downtown Atlanta and his dojo in the Buckhead District.

He pulled into the parking lot at the little shopping center and slipped into the closest spot. The business looked locked up. On a Saturday afternoon. There should be a class starting right now. Where the hell is Scott?

Frank stepped to the front door, where there was a three-by-five card with a penciled note: “Saturday Class Cancelled.” Scott cancelled class? He took a deep breath and licked his dry lips as he fingered through his key ring until he located the key. The key slid into the lock, but before he could turn it, the door moved a scant inch. What in the— Is Scott there?

Frank pushed hard against the door, which flew open, the tiny metal bell above it ringing wildly. A sandy-haired young man sat on the padded bench directly across from the door, his eyes wide, a nervous half-smile on his face.

“Uhhh. . . you come in like this every day—sir?”

Frank’s fists tensed at his sides, ready for battle. “Who are you? How’d you get in here?”

The man held up his hands in surrender. “I’m Wade. We have an appointment, right? Are you Scott? I—I’m sorry I startled you. I’m here about the job.”

“How did you get in here?” Frank stared hard into the wide, gray-green eyes, probed them for lies.

“The young woman was finishing cleaning. She— She was leaving just as I got here. I was standing outside the door there waiting for you. . . I think I made her nervous. When I told her I was here about the job, she said I could wait inside here as long as I didn’t touch anything.” The man’s eyes darted around the room. “I’ve been sitting right here. She— She hasn’t been gone very long.” Then he held up the sheet of paper that had been lying atop the stack. “See, here’s my résumé, Scott. And my dobak. You said to bring it so we could spar.”

“First off, I’m not Scott. I’m the owner, Frank. I have no idea where Scott is, but it doesn’t matter.” His heart rate returned to normal, and he allowed a slight smile. “I believe you. You just caught me by surprise.”

Frank picked up the résumé and, without looking at it, tucked it under his arm, then turned and walked over to the desk where Scott used to sit. He flipped on the light switch, which illuminated that poster of him and Luc from the Hung Ga nationals in Boston in 1968, a reminder of Luc that just added to his woes. The poster was why he’d stopped coming down here. He’d thought about taking it down, but it had always been a selling point for membership. Now it was just a reminder Frank had caused Luc’s death.

“Far out,” Wade breathed as he took in the illuminated poster and trophy case underneath.

Frank half-smiled as he scanned the desk. It always got that reaction. Damn, I know I can’t take it down.

Wade stepped closer to the large poster and pointed. “Who’s the other guy in the picture?”

Frank’s throat tightened. “My old business partner, Nguyen Luc. He’s— Lucky died a while back.” He looked over the disorganized desk and spotted something in Scott’s handwriting. It was a resignation letter, dated the day before. He drew a deep breath. He didn’t even have the decency to call me or hand it to me personal. The last line said Scott was moving to Panama City, Florida, to. . . be a lifeguard? He dropped the letter in disgusted, “Come on.”

Wade turned. “Yes, sir?”

Frank shook his head and muttered, “Nothing, nothing at all.” Scott was done and that was fine with him. He focused on the résumé. Wade appeared to be the young man’s name. He’d trained in karate since he was in elementary school, first starting in Tae Kwon Do, then shifting over to Ju Jit Su and Aikido since then.

“So, why do you come here?”

Wade stepped toward Frank. “I wish to learn a new style. And I was looking for work. My semester is coming to an end, and I’d rather stay in Atlanta than go back to Savannah.”

Frank looked at the résumé again then back at the young man. “We teach Judo, Hung Ga Kung Fu, Jeet Kun Do, Hapkido, Aikido, and Muay Thai. I just lost one of my instructors, Scott, but he is replaceable.”

Wade nodded. “I brought my dobak. Scott wanted to spar as part of my test for employment.”

“Get your gear and come on back. Look around a little then we’ll spar.” Frank pointed toward the dressing area, as he went back around the desk. As he watched Wade walk toward the back, he pushed the start button to boot up the computer and waited for the bright green Atari logo to appear on the black screen, then caught up with the young man. The man went into the dressing area and reappeared within a minute, taking a stance in front of Frank.

Frank looked at him and asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“I want to be a CPA, but I also want to keep studying martial arts.” Wade grinned with all the fresh-faced confidence of a twenty-something who’d mapped out a successful life with no potholes or detours.

Frank chuckled. “A CPA with mad self-defense skills.”

Wade nodded. “Yeah, pretty much.”

Frank finished the interview, learning that he was a twenty-year-old rising junior taking engineering courses as his electives. Without asking, he assumed the boy must be pretty smart to be taking those classes. Frank excused himself and went into his private locker room to change out. A look in the mirror only reinforced his sense of being a shell of his former self. He stepped out, then motioned toward the mat. “Let’s see your technique.”

Wade moved quickly to the mat and this time took a respectful stance of attention. “How do you want to do this, sir? Tag sparring or—”

“No, no tag sparring. Let’s just freestyle. I need to freshen up on my Jeet Kune Do, I’d rather see four or five of your best techniques, find out where your strength lies.” Frank visually appraised the young man. He was bigger than most men who were truly skilled in martial arts, his build more like that of a boxer or football player than of a lithe, lean martial artist. Wade was tall, about six feet, give or take an inch. And he was thick, must have done some weightlifting.

“Go for four or five strikes, to start. We’ll go from there.”

Frank quickly dropped both fists in front of himself as he stepped into a wide beginning stance. He attempted to focus on his centering chi, but could not. Frank nodded at Wade. The sandy-haired man appeared calm, almost too relaxed, nowhere near ready for focused sparring.

But then he kicked. Wade spun, his bulky body lifting off the ground as lightly as an experienced practitioner, his torso leaned back nearly parallel with the floor as his right foot pointed like an arrow toward the ceiling.

Frank threw up his left arm in an outside forearm block nearly a second too late, interrupting Wade’s roundhouse kick just in time to keep it from connecting with the side of his head.

Damn.

The kid wasn’t bad.

Wade bounced once on the balls of his feet, then resumed his open-hip stance with no change in his placid demeanor.

The two sparred, exchanging blows and near misses for several minutes, with Frank successfully blocking a healthy mix of Wade’s sidekicks, knee kicks, and powerful palm strikes. Once, Frank let a punch hang too long and the boy put an arm bar on him that brought a shooting pain through his arm up to his shoulder. Fortunately, he released it equally fast. The young man also showed a decent display of palm thrusts, forearm strikes, hammer-fist strikes, and double and triple combinations.

Frank opened his mouth to tell Wade he wanted to see some Ju Jit Su moves, his crucial error a lapse of focus even as he did it. Wade had his arm locked and flipped him over his shoulder onto Frank’s right shoulder. Frank opened his mouth in a silent scream as a jolt of fiery pain shot from his shoulder into his neck and brain, then rebounded into his fingertips. The throw staggered him, and he couldn’t stop his eyes from filling. He held up his left hand and turned his face away from the astonished young man. Frank sucked in a deep drink of air and tried to form the words that came out like a harsh bark. “Hold up. Stop.”

“Oh, man! You okay? I didn’t— Did I hurt you?”

Frank gritted his teeth and forced a smile. “No. Not your fault.” He blinked hard and gently massaged his throbbing shoulder. Don’t show weakness. “You know,” Frank said, straightening his spine, “if this were a match, I’d have to dock you a point for hesitation.”

“But you were—”

“You only get one chance to finish what you started. Don’t ever pause when your opponent shows a weakness. If this had been a street fight, your lack of killer instinct could have cost you your life.”

The flush of Wade’s cheeks darkened to red. “Yes, sir.” He looked toward the front of the dojo for a moment, then back at Frank. “Respectfully, Mr. Young, I think I should tell you that I feel I do have a killer instinct, but if I kill you, the chances of me getting this job will probably go out the window.”

The throb in Frank’s shoulder couldn’t stop the chuckle that rose in his throat. “Good point.”

Wade’s face relaxed, then his brow creased. “I’m sorry, sir.”

Frank shook his head. He rolled his shoulder over and over. “Not your fault, like I said. It’s an old injury.” He led the young man toward the uniform display counter on the left wall of the dojo. Frank thought of that day at Montalban Gorge when Ver shot him, blew a hole through his shoulder. It caused adrenaline to burn through his veins. His jaw began to ache, and he realized he was clenching his teeth.

The phone rang, and as Frank answered it, the bell on the front door tinkled. A stocky, dark-complexioned man in his late twenties came through the door and looked around uncomfortably.

Frank held up a finger to the man and scooped up the phone receiver. “Luc’s dojo.” He attempted to hold the phone between his left ear and shoulder, but pain shot into his right shoulder and neck.

He sucked in a harsh breath between his teeth as he listened to the voice on the phone. “Scott, I need Luc’s dojo books immediately. Get them over here, please.”

Frank recognized his accountant’s voice. “This is Young, not Scott. I’m here picking up the ledger sheets now. I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

Frank hung up the phone without another word. He did not care for the accountant’s tone. He appreciated how his accountant stayed on top of his taxes, but the man was as persistent as a thirsty mosquito when it came to quarterly paperwork.

Frank saw Wade extend his hand to the stranger near the front door. As Frank walked closer, it surprised him to hear Wade selling lessons to the man.

“We’d love the opportunity get you started with your training. Are you interested in group lessons, or private lessons?” Wade noticed Frank’s approach and grinned. “Ah, Mr. Kano, here’s the owner of this fine dojo. Meet Sifu Frank Young. You won’t find a better instructor, and just wait until you see some of the awards this man has won.”

Frank felt his eyebrows rise. “Thank you, Wade. Mister . . .”

“Senna,” said the man. “Kano Senna. I want to enroll in advanced fighting skills. I wish to learn from the Master.” The man extended his hand.

“Kano Senna,” repeated Frank, as he stared at the man. A little cocky for a martial artist. “That’s an unusual name in these parts.”

The man smiled, revealing a row of small, even teeth that reminded Frank of corn on the cob. “I’m Hawaiian.”

“Ah,” said Frank. He turned to Wade, who stood in a relaxed, confident stance, his eyebrows lifting and lowering, as if to say, See, I can do this.

Frank grinned and shook his head. Five minutes later, he’d given Kano the tour—Wade tagging along—and the man agreed to enroll in lessons. Frank led the two men to the front desk, where he met Wade’s hopeful eyes with a smile.

“He’s new here,” Frank said, earning a huge smile and a fist-pump from the young man. “So, Kano, here is an enrollment form. Bring it back filled out Monday afternoon, and we’ll get you enrolled in an appropriate class.” Frank pointed at Wade. “He has a lesson tomorrow on this computer. Now if you both will excuse me, I have a business meeting.”

Without changing back into his street clothes, Frank hustled both men out the door, locked up and went to his Porsche.

+ + +

Frank’s shoulder still hurt and was very weak. But after Wade flipped him the day before, he realized he’d been babying himself.

Frank Young struggled to reach for the box, he struggled but he wrestled it down. He had to get his jacket, worn that fateful day that Rosalita slipped his mother’s sapphire rosary in his jacket pocket, as she announced she was going with the Marcoses to Hawai’i. . . not with him. But this was about this day, today; he’d had a dream the night before. No, not a nightmare, not a waking dream, it felt more like a vision than a dream:

Frank is above looking down at a man walking through the woods. He sees a priest looking at the man then he sees a Japanese soldier pull his rifle and fire. He is in the Vista by the three boulders, and he is sitting there with Santa Romana, also known as Father Diaz.

The last day he saw Santa Romana alive. The same place he saw his father murdered by the Japanese soldier. The dream was about the words Santa Romana spoke to him while sitting on one of those boulders.

         “Listen. If you don’t remember anything else I’ve ever told you, remember this: Many years ago, I gave your mother a very special rosary. One made of sapphires and diamonds.

         “It was blessed by the Pope. Personally. But that’s not why it’s important.” Santa Romana scoots closer. “Listen. There were two rosaries. I gave one to your mother. The other one was stolen, although I know where it is. Someday, I suspect it will resurface.

         “Frank. Make sure nothing happens to that rosary. And when the day comes—and it will—when you have a puzzle to solve, remember this: The answers are on those rosaries.

         “Until you have both of them, it is irrelevant. The knowledge I have given you could get you killed.”

What did it mean? While he had remembered it a couple of times since that day, the dream had emblazoned it on his brain. Frank had gotten over his bitterness about the gold that Ver had stolen from him, it wasn’t his anyway. Santa Romana was keeping a promise to his dead father, Danilo Quezon. The gold had become insignificant, dirty, tarnished. Frank certainly didn’t want it at this point in his life nor the strife that came with it. But the rosary, that was different. It was motivating him—no, make that pushing him. What was the puzzle Santa Romana spoke?

The box sat in front of him. He looked at it one last moment—was it a Pandora’s Box? After staring at the closed box for a moment, he reached down to open it, to find, to hold again that rosary his mother had so cherished. But it was more than that. “When you have a puzzle to solve, remember this: The answers are on those rosaries.”But what the hell was the puzzle? What secrets did both rosaries hold?

Finally, he opened the box, a wave of damp musty air passed his nostrils. He quickly dug down a couple of layers and found his jacket. It was stained with blood. He reached in the pocket and felt it, the sapphire rosary with the diamond in the center. Before he even saw it, he let out his breath. A strange sense of electricity came up through his hand to his shoulder. He pulled the rosary out and held it up.

What mystery do you hold? He looked closely and saw the Greek letter alpha. That was all he ever remembered seeing on it. Until today, he didn’t care. But today he was driven to find it, not just because it was his mother’s. The dream had brought back the words of Santa Romana; they haunted him. He saw some fine engraving on the cross, too fine for him to read with the naked eye. He realized he had to put it in a safe place.

Frank looked at his mother’s rosary, straining to read the tiny inscription. Impossible. His mind flashed, Santa Romana grabbed Frank by the shoulders. “One more thing. When the time comes, study Revelation 22:13. Don’t forget that. I can’t write it down for you, as you’ll later realize. But when you are missing a piece to a puzzle, this verse will be your answer.”