The attractive young woman read the Chicago Sun-Times Obituary notice once more from the section of the newspaper she had kept: On January 15, 2006, Dr. John Colombo, a prominent clinical psychologist with the firm of Tarrant Life Sciences, passed away of unknown causes at the age of 47. He is survived by his fiancée, Miss Dorothy Prentiss of Chicago.
The taxi driver found the address easily. He often brought university students to the rambling single story brick building. As he brought the cab to a stop at the grassy curbside he wondered what they did in the clinic. One of the student volunteers had mentioned that the clinic was running some sort of mental tests. From the outside it looked ordinary enough.
Dorothy Prentiss paid the driver and turned to examine the building. It was where John had worked yet she had never been here before. For many reasons she was curious to speak with John’s partner, Dr. Tarrant. What little she knew of the work the partners had been involved with intrigued her. What they did in the Clinic had never been quite clear but she knew the work had been important. When she asked John about his experiments he had always been reluctant to discuss them with her. She regretted that she had not been more persistent. Now that he was gone if she had understood all that he was trying to do it might have made his sudden unexpected and unexplained passing a little easier to understand.
She walked toward the glass front doors noticing the modest black and white three-foot high sign on the front lawn as she passed. The plain block lettering spelled out the name of the laboratory. Below the company name were the names of the two partners.
TARRANT LIFE SCIENCES Dr. Absalom Tarrant / Dr. John Colombo
Pushing at the glass doors she entered the darkened anteroom. The phone call she had received that morning from John's partner was unexpected, but she was grateful for the call. She had questions. The attractive redhead looked ten years younger than her thirty-two years. As she looked about the empty reception room her steady dark-eyed gaze reflected intelligence and curiosity. The receptionist's desk was untenanted. She hesitated for a moment until she saw the light coming from a room at the end of the hall. Moving through the empty lobby and the hallway toward the lighted office, John's presence enveloped her like an invisible cloud. She could almost hear his voice and feel his touch. Dr. Tarrant was still at work in his office and he did not hear her enter. Hunched over in his desk, he was intent on graphs and papers as he studied the results of the last precognition test of that day. The man she had come to see, Dr. Absalom Tarrant, was a tall white-haired man in his sixties. He tended to be slightly overweight. His easy-going manner and warm blue eyes were reassuring. Tarrant’s relaxed demeanor belied a mind that was as sharp and precise as a honed razor. He was one of the best research scientists in his field; recognized by his peers as an expert on extrasensory and paranormal investigation.
Absalom Tarrant was weary. Nearly twenty tests on precognition had been recorded that week. His two student assistants and Phoebe, the nurse helper, had been sent home early along with the three student test volunteers. His desk had been cleared for this meeting with John’s fiancé. It was important that he speak with Dorothy Prentiss alone and without interruption.
He heard her footsteps and a moment later she entered. He looked up smiling. This was their first meeting and he especially wanted to be considerate and friendly. Tarrant had deliberated all day after he had called her as to what he would say to her and he wanted to say it right. Yet, even at this late moment he was still unsure.
What could he tell her? The cause of John Colombo's death was a complete mystery to everyone connected with the cryogenic experiment. Even Dr. Janowitz at NASA headquarters was baffled. The bizarre circumstance that had resulted in his partner’s death was a tragedy without any plausible explanation. Tarrant had already decided to tell John's fiancée what little he knew, and he wanted to be careful not to add to her pain. He thought of the envelope in his top drawer. As a High School teacher, Dorothy Prentiss lived modestly. He hoped that the check would be a help to her finances. The manuscript, John’s last words, was another matter. He did not believe the words of the bizarre manuscript would satisfy her… he had read it and reread it several times and he wasn’t satisfied. "Dorothy, my dear,” he said getting out of his chair to take her hand. “I’m so glad you came. I've wanted to meet you for a very long time." When the doctor spoke, the illusion she had felt of John's presence subsided and vanished. "John spoke of you so often that I feel I know you. Come in, my dear. Please sit down. Would you like some coffee? What else can I bring you? Phoebe made a fresh pot before she went home.” He thought for a moment.“And I think there are some cookies.” "No thank you Dr. Tarrant." "Please, call me Ab. It will make me feel better. John would have wanted us to be friends." He spoke softly; Absalom Tarrant shared her grief. "I am so very sorry for your loss, Dorothy. I miss him too. I know you and John planned to marry as soon as he got back from Washington. It bothered John that he couldn't tell you everything about the experiment. He didn't want to worry you. Neither of us thought there would be any danger." Tarrant's face clouded; he spoke before he thought. "As it turned out we were both terribly wrong." Dorothy Prentiss' voice was low and pleasant. She was, by her nature, a cheerful person. One could imagine that, in other circumstances, she was naturally outgoing and warm. Now her eyes were sad and her face was pale beneath her make-up. Absalom Tarrant was a good judge of character. As an expert psychologist he had learned to read people quickly. He saw quite easily what had drawn his friend to the attractive woman. She was intelligent and she had a warm feminine quality that would have appealed to his drab reserved partner.
"You made John very happy, my dear," Absalom said. "When he met you life began all over again. Knowing you made him a new person.’ He sighed. “It will be hard for me to work without him. We were friends for more than ten years." The grieving woman collected herself, sat up straighter and made a conscious effort to control her emotions. Her voice was firm.
"Ab, I need to know why he died." Tarrant thought before he answered. It was a question he knew she would ask, and he was no better prepared to answer her now than he was before. "Dorothy, I don't know why he died. Nobody does. Dr. Janowitz, the chief physician at NASA was the man who supervised John's cryogenic experiment. He was as perplexed as I was over the cause of John's passing. The process that Janowitz used was proven and safe. He followed the identical procedure that NASA has used twenty times before. There had never been a problem." She wasn’t satisfied. “What made him do it, Ab? I have to know why he was willing to risk his life. What was he trying to prove?” Tarrant hesitated. There was something more, which, while not classified, was a secret that NASA did not wish to be bandied about until it was nearer the day of lift-off to our nearest neighboring star, Centaurus. He decided to tell her anyway. It was the right thing to do and he ignored his promise to Janowitz. "First I must tell you something that is not known by the public and not for publication. It has to do with Cryogenics and John’s passing. The space administration plans to send a crew of men to Centaurus, our nearest star, in the next five years. It's a ten-year journey and the crew will be asleep most of the way. They will follow the exact procedure that Janowitz used with John. It has been perfected and they expect no trouble when they put the astronauts in cryogenic sleep.” For Absalom Tarrant John’s cryonic death was hard to accept. “It shouldn’t have happened.” “If the process was so damn safe, why did John die?” Dorothy blurted in anger. “It doesn’t make sense. What is cryonic sleep, Ab? Why would John do something so dangerous…and so foolish?" Ab took in a deep breath and leaned back in his chair. He had to tell her everything. "It was an experiment, Dorothy.” He gave a deep sigh. “John hoped…” Ab stopped recalling John’s certainty, “…No. He believed he would prove once and for that life continues after we die. He knew the risks. He went into this with his eyes wide open and he was determined to go through with it. Neither you nor I could have changed his mind.” He saw he had hurt her. This was not what he intended. “Dorothy, I know he loved you… very much.” Ab sighed, introspective. “Lord knows I tried to persuade him otherwise.” He began again. Stronger now, thoughts clearer. “I know Janowitz …by reputation and as a colleague. I know something of the details of the experiments he has conducted for NASA. I am certain that Dr. Janowitz did everything he possibly could to ensure John's safety. Before the experiment John was examined thoroughly by the NASA medical staff. He was given a clean bill of health. They would never have accepted John for cryogenic sleep if they had found anything amiss…no matter how slight. Janowitz and I believe that it was a hidden problem that the best medical tests did not reveal. Something went wrong and we may never know what that something was.” He added softly, "I guess now John knows the answer."
There was a long silence. Dorothy waited, attentive. She knew Ab had more to say. Tarrant tapped his pen on the desk as he marked time with his troubled thoughts, eyes bright. He opened a drawer in his desk, took out a fat, page-sized envelope and handed them to her. "This is for you, Dorothy. The envelope contains a letter and a manuscript." Ab shook his head as if trying to rid himself of a troublesome riddle. It was obvious to her that the manuscript weighed on his mind. "It’s written in long-hand. Why John didn't type it out or use a word processor I don't know… He avoided writing; he always used a word processor, even for a shopping list." He handed her the envelope. "A lawyer, Howard Palmieri that runs a Los Angeles firm, sent this manuscript to me. How Palmieri got John's manuscript, I have no idea. He refused to tell me even when I threatened legal action. He insisted that he was bound by client confidentiality. When I pressed him he told me that any court would support John's privacy. I have to tell you, Dorothy, I think he was right. We may never know how Palmieri got the manuscript or why John gave it to him instead of to me… or to our Chicago lawyer." Dorothy raised her brows, questioning. "Oh, yes, Dorothy. John had a lawyer. That’s another part of the mystery. John never spoke of any legal firm, let alone a lawyer three thousand miles away.” Ab touched the 9X12 envelope. “The envelope's contents are the reasons I asked you to see me. Besides the manuscript, there is a very large cashier’s check inside. The check is for you" She opened the clasp and carefully drew out a letter-sized blue envelope. The name of the sender was in the upper left-hand corner of the envelope; Palmieri and Palmieri, Attorneys-at-Law. "Open it, Dorothy. The check is in your name." When she examined the check, her face dropped in astonishment. "This is for me?" As if in a dream she read the amount. It was for $250,000.00. For a long time she held the check in her hand and said nothing. "From John?” “No.” “Then, who?” “I don’t know. That’s part of the secret.” “Why would anyone give me this much money?"
She was still astonished, unbelieving. Tarrant put his hand to his forehead. He closed his eyes for a second and tried to frame some logical answer her question. He knew that he could not.
"Palmieri was willing to tell me this much; it was an anonymous gift from a man who died a long time ago. The money bequest was one of the provisions of this unknown person's Will. I don't know why he did it and Palmieri couldn't…or wouldn't tell me.” Absalom sighed deeply, as if trying to free his mind of an impossible enigma. “My dear, I received a check as well. I have no idea why a total stranger, dead for more than seventy years would leave either of us any money…” The doctor paused, drawing out the seconds in unconsciously theatrical suspense before completing his words. “…let alone knowing your name and mine before either one of us were born."
Dr. Tarrant sat back heavily; hand on his chin in speculation. "I can tell you this. In the fall of 1932 an anonymous person, a resident of Los Angeles, filed a Will with the Los Angeles firm of Palmieri and Palmieri. The checks and the accompanying letter came from that firm. Howard Palmieri is the lawyer who sent me the letter and the money. Since I am the trustee of John's Will and John's partner, they were able to locate me. That is why the papers and the checks came to me. The instructions in the Will were specific. Your name and mine were stated in the 1932 bequests to be the recipients of the money. It was to be held in trust by the Palmieri firm at the current interest from 1932 until now. Then the money was given to us. " She didn’t know where to start. "Who was the person? Can’t we find him?" “I tried.” "Howard Palmieri said that he was unable to tell me. The identity of the donor was kept secret as a condition of the bequest. When I spoke to Howard, he admitted that his father must have known who he was. When his father died the secret died with his father." Dorothy frowned, making her look less beautiful. She understood nothing. Her next question was a reflection her emotional state and her utter confusion. "What does this money have to do with John? I don’t understand the connection.” "Dorothy, my dear girl that fact is the strangest part of this business. Palmieri told me that the odd bequest had been in your name. Your current address was expressly identified in that seventy-five-year-old will. The Will further stated, as an additional way to identify you, that you would be John Colombo's fiancé in 2006." Tarrant waited a moment for the absurd and patently impossible statement to sink in. Tarrant spread his gnarled hands in uncertainty. There was pain behind his eyes. "I know it makes no sense. Neither this anonymous person, nor anyone who was alive in 1932 could possibly have predicted there would even be a John Colombo or a Dorothy Prentiss in 2006. There… was… no… possible… way that they could have even guessed that you or I would be alive that far into the future. " Ab pointed to the check in Dorothy's hand. "As to the amount, the Will stipulated a bequest of $10,000. Palmieri explained in his letter the money accrued interest for seventy-three years; since the death of the unknown testator. The $10,000 accumulated over seven decades to the sum on your check." He sighed deeply in helpless resignation. "As far as the connection to John … well, all I was told was that the bequests were meant for us without explanation.”
Dorothy suddenly remembered something else. “That can’t possibly be. In 1932 the La Cieniga part of Los Angeles where I live was all orange orchards… and I wasn't born until 1974. "
He nodded. “I agree, Dorothy, no man could have predicted a name and an address seventy years into the future.” Shaking his head in wonder at the puzzle before them he finished, “I was sure the whole matter was fishy… or some kind of elaborate hoax. I even asked the bank to verify the funds and check the source of the letter. The bank called me a week later and told me that the two checks were genuine; the source was legitimate. They cashed my check without a murmur. Your check is real, my dear.” Tarrant spoke carefully. "The only answer I can come up with is that John found a way to come back from the grave to tell you that he loved you." When she was gone, Absalom sank back in his chair. There was one small thing he had not mentioned to her. After all, what good would it do to tell her about the note he’d found on John's desk? It would only cause her greater pain and more confusion. Absalom opened the bottom drawer of his desk where he had put the note. A minute after Janowitz had phoned to tell him that John was dead, he noticed the 4"X 6" scrap of paper. With its enigmatic message… a message he would have sworn was not written a moment before the phone call, he picked up the paper and read the note again. He had noticed the note because the sharp sound of the falling pen on John’s desk had drawn his attention to the note. The pen lay across the note. It was as if someone had written the note in haste and then dropped the pen.
Dr. Tarrant had said more than he intended when he told Dorothy that he thought John had found a way to come back from the grave to tell her that he loved her. The eight letters scrawled across the face of the note had been meaningless … until he read Johns letter and John’s Manuscript along with Palmieri’s check. Then—the pieces fell into place...