As time went on I became more and more puzzled about my parents.
It seemed as if they had lived in a vacuum, and I had question upon question I wished I could ask them. Why did they leave me in an orphanage? Why didn’t someone come to get me? Are they really dead?
The questions seemed to pile up. I was becoming increasingly frustrated because I didn’t have any answers. None that made sense, anyway.
As far as I could tell, Lukas and Rosalie Döhm were brilliant business people. Everyone at DöhmCorp and in corporate circles spoke well of them, and they had put in place a mechanism that ensured that the company had run efficiently for ten years without them. Arden, and several other people, had told me how much they had loved me.
Why, then, did they seem to have no friends? Why did they apparently abandon me?
UGH! It all got too much for me. One day Darm found me on my bed, curled up in a foetal position, sobbing.
He consoled me as best he could, by simply hugging me until I calmed down. Then he encouraged me to talk, and I poured out the questions that had prompted the breakdown. We didn’t find any answers, but it did feel better to share what I was feeling. Marcus and Julia, as always, were empathic and supportive. They suggested that I wait to see what the future brought. “Most problems have a way of working themselves out,” Marcus said.
A few weeks later, I found a glimmer of hope. I was showing Darm some pictures in the album my mother had compiled when I remembered a couple of things from the day Arden had given me the album.
What had he said? We had been sitting in the kitchen at Yoso’s house. I had asked Arden what my parents were like, because my memories of them were so scanty they were little better than no memories at all.
“Oh, they were wonderful people. They were warm and caring, and they both doted on you.” In another conversation later, he had elaborated. “They were open and friendly towards people, no matter what their status, and they made everyone feel comfortable around them. They had a lot of friends, and there was always someone visiting here. You’d never have known they were so wealthy. They never flashed their money around, and never once did I see them look down on someone because he had less money than they did.” He took a deep breath, “In fact, I often saw them help people who had fallen on hard times. A few times they allowed people to stay here until they got on their feet again. That’s what they were like, Lucien.”
At the time I had nodded my thanks and we’d passed on to other topics. Now, however, I thought back to what Arden had said. His description of my mother and father tallied with those I had heard from others, but thinking about what he had said raised more questions.
Where were all the friends he had mentioned? Why had none of them stepped up to take care of me when my parents disappeared? For that matter, why hadn’t Arden? He had lived with us and he had enjoyed my parents’ confidence, so what happened when they disappeared?
It was as if my elders had cut themselves—and me—off from the rest of the world.
Arden had said something else that had puzzled me ever since that day. “When you look through the album,” he’d said, “keep an eye out for your nanny.”
Well, I’d looked through the album several times. My nanny didn’t appear in a single picture. What’s more, I didn’t remember my nanny.
* * *
A few days later Darm and I were sitting cross-legged on his bed, playing a computer game on his huge screen. For a change, I was winning. Then things took an odd turn.
“Got it!” Darm cried, suddenly. “Why didn’t we see that before?” He set down his game controller, effectively allowing me to win. That in itself was odd. Darm was intensely competitive when we played games.
“See what?” I asked, wondering what he was going on about, and what was important enough for him to concede a game.
“What your parents did before they disappeared.”
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“Well, everyone says they were caring parents who loved you deeply, right?”
“And then they dumped you in an orphanage, where you were incarcerated for ten years.”
I nodded again. I loved Darm’s use of weird words. I couldn’t help smiling, though, because the word incarcerated felt appropriate.
“What did they also do when they dumped you there?”
“Uh… provided money for my keep?”
He rolled his eyes. Apparently I was being dense again. “Yes, they did that, but what else? Who was it who lived in the orphanage for all those years?”
I looked askance at him. That answer was obvious. “Echo Men–” My mind suddenly clicked into gear. “Oh. They gave me a new identity?”
“Bingo!” He grinned. “You’re getting better!”
I thumped him on the shoulder.
“With a new identity, and apparently nothing to link you to them or your past life, you were safe. They hid you in plain sight! We already know they might have been aware that they were in danger. I’m guessing that they took steps to ensure your safety, and your survival, if anything happened to them.”
“Wow!” I fell back on the bed, my mind reeling. “That still leaves a lot of questions, though.”
“Yes, but it answers the biggie—the one you’ve been most worried about—doesn’t it?”
I closed my eyes to stop the tears escaping. I had to take several deep breaths before I could respond. “They… they… didn’t abandon me. They really did still love me.”
“Yep. They’re heroes, not villains.” Darm pulled me into a hug and I cried my eyes out.
A day or two later I was showing Julia the album. She unwittingly solved the mystery of the nanny.
“Your parents look so happy in every one of these photos,” she said. “Obviously, they were hands-on parents. No nannies for them!”
I hit myself on the forehead. “Oh! Duh!”
Julia looked at me. “What is it?”
“Something Arden said the day he gave me the album. It’s been bugging me ever since.” I laughed. “Arden was messing with me. ‘There’s one thing that will tell you a lot about your parents’, he said, then he added ‘As you look through that album, keep an eye out for your nanny.’
“There’s not a single photo of my nanny in there, and I couldn’t work out what on earth Arden was going on about. Now I know… there was no nanny! When it came to caring for me my parents did everything themselves.” I shook my head. “I could kill Arden!”
Julia laughed. I joined in. Even Darm, with all his smarts, hadn’t figured that one out; it had taken Julia’s offhand remark to make me see what Arden had been telling me.
The next day Darm and I went to visit Arden. I wanted to ask if he remembered anything that might tell us what my parents were thinking in the weeks, or even days, before they disappeared. We already knew that I had only been going to the day care centre for a few weeks before that fateful day when they didn’t return for me.
First, though, I gave him a figurative kick in the backside for making me puzzle so much over my non-existent nanny. He thought that was hilarious. When he stopped laughing, he said, “I thought the fact that they never employed a nanny said a lot about how they valued you as their son. I just wanted you to work it out for yourself. I figured it would have more impact that way.”
Reluctantly, but with a grin, I acknowledged his wisdom.
“Did anything unusual happen in those last few months?” I asked.
Arden took a sip of tea and sat back in his chair. We were in the kitchen at Yoso’s house.
“I did wonder about a couple of things that happened,” he began. “Lukas took me aside one day and said, ‘Arden, please remember that whatever happens in the future we will take care of you. You will always have a home here.’ Then he told me to treat the house as my own, and he gave me a number to contact if I needed to have any repairs or maintenance done.” He sighed deeply. “It was as if he was telling me that he had to go away, but he didn’t say that in so many words.”
“What happened after my parents disappeared?”
“Nothing, really. Everything continued as it had before. My pay has been deposited in my bank account every two weeks. It’s even increased each year in line with the cost-of-living index. Whenever I need to have something done to the house I call the number and a few days later someone turns up to do the work.” He paused again, deep in thought. “It’s interesting, though… I always feel like I’m talking to a robot when I call.”
“Was there anything else?”
Arden thought for a few moments. “Actually, there was. In the months before Lukas and Rosalie disappeared all their friends stopped coming around. I didn’t notice at first because the visits kind of tapered off gradually, but for the last few weeks no one at all visited. That was unheard of. There were always people here.”
“Did my parents seem any different?”
“Not that I remember. They treated me as they had always done. They went to work as usual, and they spent time with you like they always–” He stopped abruptly.
Arden grimaced. “Oh, man, I just realised something. Sure, they spent time with you, playing, and teaching you stuff, but it was different. Rosalie, in particular, often had a sad expression whenever she was with you in those last few weeks. It was as if she thought each time might be the last. With Lukas it wasn’t so obvious, but now that I think about it, he seemed to be going through the motions, as if he was distracted.
“I wonder what else I missed?” he added, looking devastated.
“Arden, it’s not your fault. Even if you’d noticed something I doubt that there’s anything you could have done. From what you’ve said, it seems like my parents were preparing for something, and their minds would have been made up by then. Please don’t blame yourself.”
“Yes, but…” He shook his head. “I suppose you’re right, but there might have been some way I could have helped.”
“There might have been,” I agreed, “but they seem to have made thorough preparations, and it looks like they wanted you to stay here to take care of the house.”
“Yes, you’re prob– hang on…” Arden began. “The other thing I wondered about happened the morning of that business trip when Rosalie was getting ready to take you to the day care centre. I’d remarked on what a great little guy you were…”
I felt myself blushing.
Arden chuckled. “Well, you were! Anyway, a shadow passed over Rosalie’s face and she said, ‘Yes, we would be devastated if anything happened to Lucien. He is the future of Döhm.’ She looked really sad for a moment, but then added, ‘Don’t worry, though, everything will work out fine. The future is secure.’”
He shrugged. “I didn’t know what to make of that! It seemed even more strange than Lukas telling me about the house.”
He wiped a tear from his eye. “Then they never returned from that trip. I wondered what had happened to you, Lucien, and I even contacted the day care centre to ask after you. All they would tell me was that they didn’t have a boy by the name of Lucien Döhm registered there.” He sighed. “In the end I stopped worrying and trusted that Rosalie knew what she was talking about. I never heard a whisper about you until you turned up here that day wanting to see Yoso.” He thumped me on the shoulder. “It was so good to see you!”
Darm had been silent during the whole conversation, but now he spoke up. “You know, I think I see a pattern here. From the little we know it seems to me that Lukas and Rosalie went out of their way to separate the different areas of their lives. That they, um, compartmentalised their affairs.
“They arranged for you to look after the house, Arden, and for any expenses to be covered. And for you to be paid automatically, even all these years later. Lucien was placed in the day care centre and, as far as the rest of the world knew, disappeared.” He turned to me, “Then you turned up at the orphanage as Echo Menier. And your expenses were covered all the time you were there. DöhmCorp was set up so that it would run without them.” He paused. “Even the lack of visitors when there had been lots of them—that might have been Lukas and Rosalie insulating their friends from what they thought might happen, so that their friends were safe.”
Darm paused, then began to speak again. “They seem to have thought of everything. It seems the only place where all the information about everything came together was in–”
“The chip!” I finished for him.
Arden looked confused, so we explained briefly about the chip embedded in my chest, and all the information it contained.
“Wow!” he said, “they really did have a plan, didn’t they?”
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