Arctic Ave Chapter 1
The massive icy vastness dominated the vision as far as the eyes could see. The supremacy of silence made these snow-covered lands piercingly haunted yet achingly mysterious. Hundreds of years passed, and yet mankind was still struggling to conquer this part of the world entirely. That’s the beauty of it; they cannot, ever. Nature was possessive about this part of its universe. It was protected by brutal cold and unforgiving ice. The conditions here were so drastic that only a few necessary ones dared to live and travel here even with the latest technology and equipment. Why would not it be? After all, in this place, mistakes were often paid with death.
The uncanny calm of the frosted mountains rising above the dark waters instilled cruel spiritual intimidation in the air. “Almost celestial” John Francis took another breath against the bitchy freezing air as the uninvited thought knocked at his mind. He varied in religion. He had seen too many realities to believe in one faith, but as he stood there, on the deck of the ship that was taking him in the depths of the unknown lands of Antarctica, he could not help but think that if heaven and hell exist this must be it. This place, on top of the world where life struggles to make sense, but the immensity of nature, the power of it, takes your breath away. This must be heaven. “And it’s surely hell for the cowboys from Texas like me,” John rolled his eyes upon the thought.
The fact that he was here in Antarctica, for the wildest reason he could imagine, was sort of a teasing reminder that life was uncertain. Being an ex-army man and one of the finest commandos the country ever produced, John was a man of ferocity that hardly fancied dictation or demands to surrender. He has always been the one making his own path no matter how ruthless it was and then taking every battle headstrong. Now that he was comparing the situation a week ago from now when he was on his ranch, milking his cows and not giving a damn – the unpredictability of life pushing him to accept he was not always the one to call the shots.
“Perhaps death is the greatest among all – moving the life as it wants” A pang of subtle pain surfaced through his heart as he thought of what actually brought him here. “Ah, your curiosity and driven hunger for truth. Damn you!” He looked at the plain sky that exposed no signs of humbleness in its demeanor, neither sign of the souls that tasted death, but John still had to talk to his friend, taking advantage of the silence and serenity. “Look where it has gotten us all” He shook his head slowly and looked down at the edge of the ship and water’s collision. “You were so fascinated with this world, Antarctica the driest largest, the untamed continent of the world, holding the secrets that no man has dared to speak of, and only a few had been brave enough to explore – you wanted to know it all, at any cost. And it cost you your life” He sighed, the trail of thoughts like the burden of this uncertain journey was becoming unnerving for John to carry further. “And look where it has taken me and the other who loved you – you passed on your struggle to us, and now we are here in this Tundra of Ice where darkest secrets are buried in the depths of years of ice. No one knows what we will get here, truth or death?” John shrugged at his imaginary dialogue with his deceased friend and turned around.
For a moment, John wished he could turn around the time too. Exactly reverse it to a week ago and go back to his ranch, but that is not it. He wished to crush that god damn TV with his two bare hands-on which, on a fine Saturday night when he heard that James Vandenburg’s died.
The cows were milked, the rotting corpse of the wild beast that escaped from the forest was buried. The plants were shifted in a bigger pot, and the garden was cleaned, and the newly budded herbs were plucked and shaped. John rechecked everything in his mind and commended himself. Today was quite a productive day, and he was happy about it. On his ranch, where no other human was in sight, things were always calm and not so happening in John’s life for quite some time. He was happy because he chooses to make it that way after spending years in brutal military warfares, high profile secret missions. Even after cutting his cord from the military, he dedicated a big chunk of his time to serving as a secret agent for personal or private parties. He was an al- can–do guy with skill, access, and exposure to the places few had seen. He was the finest, and those who knew him knew that, but it all came with the cost. His demeanor transformed into a hardcore muscular beasts who spoke little and think a lot. He had seen too much – much more than a man should see. Some night it all came back, like crashing backward waves to the shore that vomits everything on the coast that the ocean was holding for years. The screaming children who he could not save in Afghanistan, the cries of the fellow soldier who waited for his help but he could not lose his cover, the incidents were countless, the memories were muddled.
It was more of the inhuman deceptions he had witness than the trauma and consequences of it that made him suffer. The world was full of lies. The ones in search of truth had to wound their hands, plucking the thorns of illusions. “Illusions after illusions” was what he thought of the world now, and so, when he no longer had the will to lift another veil of deception, he took his corner and decided to let life pass by uneventfully now. He was too well aware of believing in anything, so he decided to stay in the realm of nothingness.
John locks the door of his home and leaves. He briefly listens to the wild animal sounds of the forest and the tranquility of the place. This is what now gave him peace – no cases to solve, no brutality to endure, just the sound of nature in its purest form. He gets in his car and drives off every Saturday. The ranch was a few miles away from the local bar where men, tourist and other come by to have a drink, all very Texan and low key. John liked it because no one bothered him. He was known by some of them now as the silent guy who drank his rum and gave no shit.
He took his usual seat on the table. Stanley, the bartender, saw him and smiled. “The guy is a loner, but damn he’s punctual,” He thought and, with a nod, started to prepare his usual order. He knew that John didn’t like to talk much, but Stanley could estimate the level of depth the guy had on seldom occasions that he did. He 5’9 with a muscular body – not so flashy that it looks cheap stunt to look younger yet not so subtle that it was negligible. Most of his clothes with simple black or white shirts only – it was funny how he never wore grey. “There have been no grey areas in my life” He used to joke around if someone asked. Now no one asked because no one knew him. “Assumptions are always people’s first choice anyway,” he thought while starring at his glass of rum. The ice danced in his drink. He was completely lost in his own thoughts when the shrill voice of the reporter caught his attention.
He looked over the TV. It was not the voice that forced him to get out of his head but the name she had taken. “James Vandenberg was an only hour ago alive and healthy as paparazzi caught them leaving the Dallas country club” There was a frenzy in reporters’ style, and in the split of the screen, they were showing someone’s body being removed from what seems to be a hotel. John forgot to take a sip.
“Increase the volume, please,” He said to the bartender, who then obliged. The whole bar could now hear the sensational news that had spread like wildfire.
“James Vandenberg, the influential media tycoon, is reported to be dead. He was attending the annual journalism seminar this evening when he all of a sudden collapsed. Sources up till now cannot confirm the nature of his death, but the rising suspicion is getting higher that it could be a murder” Shock punched John in the gut. He put down the glass and stared at the screen without winking.
James Vandenberg owned CBS media group – the largest media company in the US that ran three private channels and a top-notch media agency under its wing. Besides his infinite resource and influence, he was known as the God of Political journalism and broadcasting. He was a man who met thousand people in a day, and yet with John, James has shared a more private outline. James had hired him back in the days when he worked as a PI. John worked him for many of his cases. Both of the men respected and admired each other uniqueness and authenticity. He then became almost a part of his investigative work but once, what began as just a curiosity project based on hunches, turned out to be so lethal that James could not afford to dig more. He pulled strings and made John go underground too. He remembered his last meeting with James. He looked somewhat startled and confused. He definitely didn’t want John to go, but it seemed like he must send him away. Despite his curiosity and urge to stay, John didn’t ask many questions. He respected James enough not to question his decision, but then he said something before leaving that stayed in John’s mind for a long time. “If you ever see me on television, and you think I should find out what happened. Come here and find out. I trust you to do that,” James had shaken his hand and whispered with a pale face.
John had smiled. “But you are always on TV.”
“Yes, but you will know when you will feel that you must find out the truth; on that day, don’t ignore your gut. I’ll probably need you.”
Now, exactly one year later, John was here, sitting in the bar, sipping rum and playing dumb while James was dead. “I got to find out what happened.”
Marian Denison looked at the sound-less digital clock fitted in front of her with a purpose. Normally, it helped her keep a record of her boss’s activities and schedule his day. However, today, the passing minutes on that clock were making her uncomfortable. Every second of James Vandenburg’s life was worth thousands of dollars. He was always on the go, moving one step ahead of the clock’s dial. “Media Marian, never stops – the television never goes blank, the face book feed is never empty, media never runs out of the things to tell you because there are men like me who never stop.” He once told Marian, who was now his personal assistant for five years. Marian always felt extremely lucky to find a job that paid so well, but moreover, she was happy she got to be under the wing of a man who was an inspiration per atom.
Vandenburg was viciously brilliant in whatever he did, and he always maintained the impression that he had done nothing at all. He was the puppet master who knew his skill enough to not let the audience know he is pulling strings. The owner of the top news channel in the country – NCC 5, was responsible for what the people see about the politicians, the celebrities, and the world. Therefore, his affiliations ran deep into the world of power and control. Despite his cutthroat industry expertise and power, James Vandenburg never missed to put a smile on his face and keep his shoulder loose while talking to a subordinate out of humbleness. “That’s why all of his people love him so much,” Marian thought. But she was not sure about the people inside with him for almost four hours now. She looked at the clock again. In her five years with James Vandenburg, she has never seen anything that bizarre. He never meets anyone without an appointment, and yet when today these three guys who looked like they walked in straight out of the matrix movie showed up without any prior permission or appointment, Marian thought they were nuts. She was about to call security, but they didn’t even wait, “Heck they didn’t even stop to check in with me and just barged in the office ?” Marian was still stunned.
“Excuse me you can’t go in there ! Hello?” She had run behind them, but they didn’t listen. She came running back, but to her surprise, the message from James was flashing on her laptop’s screen.
“Its fine, don’t call anyone, do not disturb what so ever. Cancel all appointments and call.”
He must have seen them from the camera, but how come he was allowing this? And who the actual hell were these people. For the next three hours, Marian sat there in a dilemma. Every passing minute she was getting more anxious. “Should I just go and check in?”. Secrecy was not something new for James Vandenburg. He had different circles of communication and connections that demanded various levels of secrecy and confidentiality. Marian was welcomed in all of those, but for the sake of security and record-keeping – every move of her boss had a record. At times James and even sent her an encrypted location tracker that could only be opened when James allowed them to do, but there was something about this meeting that didn’t feel right to Marian. She had no choice but to wait.
Finally, after four hours and 15 minutes, the door opened. The three men in black suits walked out and went out of the room without even looking at Marian. To Marian’s surprise, James Vandenburg also came out, but he stopped her desk. His face was pale, and he suddenly looked very weak.
“Are you alright sir?” She asked.
“There will be no record of them coming here. Okay? Not a single entry” He ignored her question completely. Marian nodded with reluctance. She was suddenly worried for him.
“After one hour, you have the annual journalism seminar to attend, should I tell them you are not coming?”
“No, why won’t I go?’
“Umm.. Because you look like you have seen a ghost or somehow become one?” Marian thought but didn’t say.
“I’ll go an hour but don’t disturb me for before that I have some things to attend to.” With that, James Vandenburg walked out, leaving Marian even more clueless and confused than before.
In exactly one hour, he entered the grand lounge of the exclusive event; he was honoring the night. There were no traces of any weakness or worry on his face, just the same confident smile and proud strides. James had a dominating demeanor. He was not very tall with a height that was 5’5, and at the age fifty, his forehead was getting bigger and bigger with hairline threshing backward, but his personality with each passing year in the industry was becoming an epitome of ultimate power, and that provided him an aura that spoke volumes even when he stayed silent when he absolutely didn’t have to speak. James was self-made, and his refined version was the product of growth that his raw talent, thrust, and energy as a young socio-political journalist accumulated. He wasn’t your shiny surface CEOs who had zero vision and hunger for publicity. James Vandenburg never had time to notice who was following him and who was not. He was always too busy following the truth. He was always more interested in to do than to be. That is why even when a world thought a world about him, his wariness from the attention made him seem somehow more impactful.
It was clearly visible even how the mood of the hall changed when he entered. The whispers and applause grew louder, the gasps and people getting conscious of their own self to be perfectly presented in this man’s presence became the room’s ultimate vibe. On the announcement of his name, the room was filled with thunder applaud the camera flashes almost made everyone blind as he walked towards the stage.
“Thank you so much Ladies and Gentlemen – to be a part of this incredulous series of events is highly valuable for all of us.” James spoke with a magnetic power in his voice that drew everyone’s attention towards him. “Being a representative of a channel that broadcast new to 35 countries in the world I would like to put a present reminder who impactful our representation of the world is for its sustainability and justice. We all share the responsibility for active but non-threatening reporting of the world events.”
“He never uses the paper,” Jack Harris admires James, sitting in the front row.
“Truth no matter how complex is the right of the people, and I have made every effort to bring it infront of the people in my entire career.”
“His speech is somewhat different today” An unconscious feeling transformed into thought and knocked in Jack’s mind. He was speaking about media ethics and finding the truth instead of his normal focus of media strategies and journalism forms.
The people, however, stayed attentive. James spoke for the next 15 minutes, and the audience listened to him like a sermon conducted by God.
When James finishes his speech, the thunder of applause is louder than when he started. James walked away from the mike and stepped down from the stage but before he could reach his seat James stopped dead in his feet, with an expression of shock on his face, the applause died, but nobody could understand anything and just like that the giant of the industry fell right in the middle of the hall. Everyone screamed and ran towards him. Jack Harris caught him before anyone. The horrible but unexplainable realization hit Jack Harris’s gut as he saw pale James with half eyes opened, “He’s dying.”
“Call ambulance!” Jack barked. James staff and guards were already on the move.
“James!” Jack called him. James looked at him with his almost closed eyes. “Take care of Kate” He pressed Jack’s hand, and then it was over. Jack’s eyes were widened with horror and shock. Someone threw him behind, hospital staff it was, and that was how James Vandenburg went from the world – in the deafening applause of people like a quick storm that leaves everything dismantled behind.
Kate Vadenburg felt alien in this soft black dress, sitting at the back of this black Lamborghini. The car was his father’s gift, which she never used. Now, when she was going to his funeral, she felt lost, tired, with a silent hell growing inside of her every minute. Outside, the reporters were literally throwing themselves on her car; even the tainted windows were failing to stop the flashlight tearing the inside scene in the car. Kate cared about nothing; with her shades on, that hid her sore red eyes and her head tired resting on the back of the seat, she couldn’t make sense of the reality.
When James Vandenburg was counting his last breath in Dallas, Kate, his only child and the sole inheritor of his incredible dynasty were reporting the pieces of evidence of a secret mission going on in Arizona. “That’s the most exciting thing that you can get,” Jack Harris, the owner of booming digital news and content company and Kate’s boss, had raised their hands in the air.
“Come on Haris! Please “Kate pleaded.” Please let me go to cover this murder story of the minister’s son in DC! You know I can do it!”
“Of course you can Kate but you get too excited and you forget you are a junior journalist not some big shot investigator and then things get messed up,” Jack reminded him for the 50th time how she went overboard in the murder case last year. “You can’t tell the chief investigating officer to back away , so you can collect evidences!”
“I can,” Kate Vadenburg rolled her eyes and thought.
“No, you can’t!!!” Harris read her mind. Why wouldn’t he? Jack Harris and James Vandenburg were childhood friends who grew up successful together. So when Kate reached the point in her career where she struggled to leave his father a gigantic shadow in the industry, Jack welcomed her and mentored her, but Kate, like her father, was too restless to dive into deeper things. She had a natural knack for it. However, most of the people saw it as the impulsiveness of a rich spoiled brat. Kate hated that, the stereotypical blame of nepotism. It somehow gave people the right to assume that she had no talent and was only surviving in the industry because she was James Vandenberg’s daughter. So she did what she felt like to be done to feel more of herself; she made every attempt to escape her James’ influence to prove herself on her own.
His academic excellence was no doubt proof on its own. She studied journalism with distinction at one of the world’s top institutions and even continued to explore more in her master’s degree. Yet, her father was such a giant figure that it was almost impossible to get away from his influence. Kate secretly felt this was why, even now, when she was thirty, her career and life were somewhere in the middle of starting up and not being there at all, but today all these things seemed very trivial. Kate never met her mom; she passed away while giving birth to her and now, the person who loved her the most, her only family, was gone, just like that all of a sudden. Even though James was like a God Father for her and inspiration, whatever she had in her for journalism and media was all because she saw James making his way to the top. From handling arguments of live media to reporting the most dangerous news with a subtle, smooth blow – Kate saw her father doing his magic since childhood.
Now she was all alone. The legacy she wanted to leave behind was now waiting for her with loads of burden and responsibilities and very little clarity. What troubled her most besides her own tragedy was how James died. When Jack told her she needs to come home, not in her wildest dreams, she thought she was going to attend his father’s Funeral, but nobody was telling her the reason for his death, the cause.” How? How can he just fall and die?” She thought. She had his father’s weekly check-up reports where everything was normal. So what kind of medical tragedy made him collapse like that? Somewhere, she blamed herself not to be there to have things known better.
“Love, you got to be brave” Jack Harris, who was accompanying her, tapped her hand softly. His voice pulled Kate out of her thoughts. “Hmm? Don’t worry. I am my father’s daughter” She turned towards the cameras, still flashing on her black tinted window. “I know how to put on a people’s face. It practically runs in my blood.”
When they finally stepped out, Kate remained silent. She wanted to talk to no one unless she sees her father. She directly walked towards the casket, politely accepting everyone’s condolences but not responding to any. All eyes were on her as she moved with a bitter determination, but shock hit her again as she saw the empty coffin. She turned to Jack, demanding an explanation with her eyes.
“My dear, they need an autopsy of your father to find out what happened.”
“They? Who they? And why have I not been informed of this?”
“Ma’m we wanted to get in touch with you sooner,” an officer came close and interrupted, but there was no way. You already boarded the flight. His voice was low, and his manner was secretive. “We believed it is in the best interest to publically keep things silent.”
“He is right Kate!” Jack put a hand on her shoulder.
“I want to see my father,” She demanded with an icy voice not filled with anger but piercing grief and incredible power.
John watched this whole scene from afar. He silently sipped the wine and watched Kate’s burning eyes flaring flames of anger and sorrow. Something was not right. John was experienced enough to know that the body was not in the coffin. No high-profile death can be dealt with as ordinary, even if the person dies in his sleep and James Vandenberg did not die in his sleep. He died surrounded by hundreds of celebrities, media giants, and some very important people. There was no way the police could have let it go just like that. James watched the three of them leave in a hurry.
“I am sorry ma’m, we can’t show you the body unless you complete all the necessary documentations?” Officer Felon, who was overseeing the police investigation, told Kate.
“Excuse me? You will stop me from seeing my own father? How dare you, I have hundreds of people waiting for me to go back to his funeral and bury an empty coffin and you will stop me to see him before I do that?” Kate demanded. Jack tried to intertwine, but Kate didn’t give him a chance. They were definitely getting late for the funeral.
“Maa’m I am not stopping you, you just got to complete the necessary documentation.”
“Did you not hear me? I don’t have time for this!” Kate moved one step forward with this time more anger in her voice.
“Hey,” Someone from behind called. Everybody turned
and saw John standing.
“John!” Jack immediately recognized. There was a delight in his voice. John nodded in recognition. “Jack, how you doin.”
“Who are you?” Kate was in no mood for more mysteries. She didn’t like that one more stranger barged in to interrupt her from what she wanted to do. Their eyes met, they both refused to look away, but John didn’t answer the question. Instead, he took officer felon two steps away and started to talk.
“Oh God Good he is here,” Jack cried.
“Who is he?” Kate asked, all annoyed
“He is your father’s best agent of all times, a loyal companion and a retired military man and special agent, John Franciss.”
Kate looked at him, eyeing the way he was talking to the officer. He wasn’t smiling or buttering, but the officer was listening to him intently. After a few minutes, he nodded, and they came back.
“Now we’ll have no problem” Jack was already sure.
“Okay,” Said officer felon, you can go. Kate looked surprisingly at John, who still offered no explanation, but there was no time for question and answer. Kate walked into the building.
The temperature of the room was freezing cold of this room yet Kate felt as if she was burning. James’s face was pale and lifeless, his mouth a little bluish, and the nerves stretched like elastic wires. The body was kept safe in the cold room with high levels of security to preserve it until Kate signs the autopsy permission for herself.
For a second, Kate could not think of anything else but her little five-year-old self trying to deliver the perfect weather report to his father, who pretended to be a cameraman. Tears welled from her eyes. She wanted to wake him up and promise she would never leave, but she could not do that. “You are not coming back dad?” She touched his hand with her fingers, but as she saw a minor black spot, her tips stopped right there. There was something on her father’s wrist. “What is that” she mumbled.
She caressed her tips on the wrinkled skin to have a clear look. It was a tattoo. She gasped, as long as she remembers her father never had a tattoo ever. There was this sign two – A-frames – just two A’s without the middle line above each other. Kate looked at his father’s face. “What does this mean father?”
“Kate?” Jack called her from the back
She turned immediately.
“We should go, everyone is waiting,” He reminded softly. Kate shook her head slowly, took one last look at her father’s face and the tattoo, and left.
Outside, John was still standing. They both looked at each other again but said nothing. However, Jack paused for a moment to shake John’s hand. “Don’t leave,” He whispered to him. “We might need you.”
“I am not leaving,” John said quietly, reassuring with his eyes. Kate eyed his expression suspiciously one more time and then turned away to sit in her car. This mystery could wait. Right now, she had to bury the empty casket proving her father’s very real death. On her way, she kept thinking about the Tattoo but said nothing to anyone.
Did you enjoy reading Arctic Ave Chapter 1? You can read the first 3 chapters at arcticave.com and order the book as well. Thank you for reading Arctic Ave chapter 1.
Read the first chapter of Arctic Record here.