Love, Lies and Family Secrets #1
Legacy of Lies
by Doris Lemcke
“History is just a story, changing with the times, the teller and the purpose. A simple event can turn an ordinary man into a hero, a hero into an icon and an icon into a legend. Once that happens not even the truth will change it.” - Andrew N. Edwards Sr. – Four-term Michigan Governor
Detroit debutante-turned-investigative journalist Iris Edwards gets more truth than she can handle when she tackles her rich and infamous grandfather’s tell-all biography. By accepting his challenge to find his “Unforgivable Sin” and write the true story of his life, she’ll have to unravel a web of Machiavellian intrigues dating back to the days of copper mines, gangsters, and rum-runners to find a deadly secret that could rewrite history.
Joe Falcon, the governor’s Native American physician, is on his own quest for the truth. He’s lived his whole life in shadow of the powerful Edwards family, and with the old man’s death, Iris becomes his only hope to solve his mother’s thirty year-old murder. But before their childhood friendship can grow into something more, they’ll have to understand Andrew Edwards’ world; where, “Winning was everything and whoever carried the biggest stick won the game.”
With only a charred pocket watch and clues hidden in half-forgotten bedtime stories, they dodge Iris’ gangster-wannabe ex-husband to trace his life from an Upper Peninsula ghost town to an insane asylum and the Henry Ford Museum—to find a killer, a hero, and the real meaning of truth, love and sacrifice.
Release Date: December 6, 2015
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Philadelphia – December 31, 1999
The ball in Times Square dropped, and the crowd on TV sang the traditional farewell to the old millennium. But it wasn’t a song of cheer and cups of kindness that I heard. Rather, it was an older, sadder tune my grandfather sang to his guests every New Year’s Eve as far back as I could remember:
“Should Old Acquaintance be forgot,
and never thought upon;
The flames of Love extinguished,
and fully past and gone:
Is thy sweet Heart now grown so cold,
that loving Breast of thine;
That thou canst never once reflect
on Auld Lang Syne.”
His clear tenor carried easily throughout the neoclassical mansion in Detroit’s exclusive Grosse Pointe suburb, and I always wondered why he sang such mournful lyrics rather than the more popular version to celebrate a new year. When I asked Granny Claire about it, she told me, “Ghosts, darling. Sooner or later, we all have them.” Then she raised her signature glass of champagne with a smile that didn’t reach her eyes and looked at Poppy. “No matter how often we say good-bye, they always come back.”
But that was a long time ago. I stopped going to Poppy’s New Year’s Eve parties when Granny Claire died fifteen years ago. The only member of my rich and infamous family that I’d spoken to in the last three years was my Uncle Phil. And only then because he managed my trust fund. It occurred to me that Poppy Edwards was nearly a century old now.
I wondered if he still toasted the New Year with a glass of Crown Royal and a song about lost love and cold hearts. Then I wondered why I still cared and refilled my glass of Merlot.
Several hard raps on my brownstone’s front door brought me to my feet, but I stopped short of answering it. In spite of wind and freezing rain, Market Street was filled with noise as people spilled out of the bars shouting, singing, and setting off firecrackers on their way to see the fireworks from Penn’s Landing. Just to be safe, I pulled my Baby Glock revolver from the side table drawer and shouted above the din, “What is it?”
A male voice shouted back, “I have a special delivery for...uh, Professor Iris K. Edwards.”
I doubted that. While not out of the question, a holiday delivery at this time of night would cost a fortune. I squinted through the peephole only to meet a magnified brown eye on the other side of the looking glass. With a frustrated sigh, I pulled back the Irish lace curtain over the door’s side panel window. The young man in a blue Express Messenger uniform stomping his feet on my stoop looked harmless enough, but it was New Year’s Eve. And trust isn’t my strong suit.
“Who’s it from?” My voice sounded high, nervous, and I cleared my throat. Calm down. It has to be a mistake. Who would send a special delivery on New Year’s Eve?
One name came to mind. Then I heard it through the heavy oak door.
“Andrew N. Edwards, from Detroit,” made me wonder if my maudlin, wine-induced thoughts about my grandfather had conjured up the messenger. Still, I wasn’t about to open the door without knowing which Andrew Edwards was playing games with me—again.
“Junior or Senior?” I shouted at the window.
He held a clipboard up to the impact-resistant glass. “It doesn’t say. Look, it’s cold out here. Just take it.”
“Leave it.” Maybe it’ll blow into the street and the snowplow will run over it.
“Can’t, ma’am. You need to sign.” He waved a pen between his gloved fingers above the clipboard. “I’ll just have to keep coming back until you do.”
Damn! I tucked the gun my Uncle Phil gave me after my divorce into the pocket of my sweatshirt and opened the door as wide as three security chains would allow.
The messenger hunched his shoulders against a fresh wave of sleet to push the clipboard between the door and the jam. “Sign at the top.”
I did as he asked, tipping him well for his trouble before triple-locking the door again. Then I stood in the chilly foyer, staring at the red, white and blue envelope. It had to be from my grandfather. My father would have sent an e-mail or a fax, while Poppy favored the elements of surprise and mystery of an unexpected holiday delivery.
Firecrackers sounded like machine gun fire in the street. I jumped, telling myself that was the reason my heart pounded like a hammer in my chest. Hoping to steady my shaking hands, I put the gun back in the drawer, and set the mailer on my kitchen countertop. When that didn’t work, I emptied the glass of wine and wondered if Poppy was finally going to apologize. Would it make a difference?
Then my ex-husband’s jeering voice broke through my pathetically hopeful thoughts. “Your precious ‘Poppy’ paid me a half-million dollars to get you out of his hair, and a million more if I got you pregnant. God knows I tried, but who knew you were a barren bitch?”
He was right about trying—with me and anything else in a skirt. But Matt Gabrielli’s family was tight with Poppy. Five years older than me, he was the star quarterback for the University of Michigan and an expert equestrian. Throughout my teens, I watched from Poppy’s box seats on Saturdays as he ran the ball for all the winning touchdowns. We lost touch after Granny died when I was seventeen and met again at a dressage event shortly after I began my master’s program in journalism.
What a difference five years had made. It was as if someone had found my “perfect man” list and made him to order. That should have been my first clue. Nobody’s perfect. But he treated me like a princess, and I was absolutely mad about him. I wanted a family, a real family, as much as Matt said he did. We made love like bunnies even before the wedding, but after two years without a pregnancy, things turned ugly.
I chased the memory away by reaching for a nearby steak knife and gutting the envelope from end to end. It was just another envelope inside, but I knew that nothing from Andrew N. Edwards, Junior or Senior, was ever “just” anything.
“Damn you, Poppy,” I muttered and turned off the TV.
My freshman journalism students’ term papers were strewn on the couch and coffee table, so I wrapped an old Indian blanket around my shoulders and sat on the window seat with Pandora’s envelope. A nail file on the sill opened the innocent-looking letter to reveal two handwritten sheets of paper. I read:
Andrew N. Edwards Sr. (1900–) took the emerging auto industry by storm in the roaring twenties to become one of Henry Ford’s top engineers. After his fairy-tale marriage to carriage heiress, Claire Fredricks, his striking good looks, intelligence, and charisma won him a record-breaking fourth term in the governor’s mansion. Under his leadership, Michigan became the industrial capital of the world, earning him the title, “Michigan’s Man of Steel.”
His obituary? I stopped at the end of the first page and looked around the empty room. Poppy couldn’t be dead. It would be headline news, at least until the next celebrity died. So why send it to me now, after three years without a word? I could have wadded up the letter and thrown it into the trash along with my Philly cheesesteak wrapper, but curiosity is my Achilles’ heel. I had to finish it.
I regretted my decision as I read a testimonial so self-aggrandizing I knew Poppy had to have written it himself. Like some sort of literary Dr. Frankenstein, he’d grafted tiny pieces of truth onto the bones of half-forgotten legends. Then he cloaked them all beneath a patchwork of familiar lies. Why was I surprised?
I looked out at the fireworks winding down over the Delaware River and took a deep breath to settle the acid churning up from my stomach. After three years in the birthplace of freedom, I wondered, am I really free? Or am I hiding, more a prisoner than a rebel? What was I really doing with my life?
When I moved to Philly, I’d left Granny Claire’s trust fund in Uncle Phil’s capable hands. He set up the Rose White foundation for battered women and those with drug and alcohol dependencies. Though I’d named it after my mother, using her maiden name, my only active involvement in helping the women who came there was to read the financial statements once a year.
I told myself my lack of participation was justified. That affecting change by using the power of journalism to truthfully report facts, rather than to manipulate social, political, and financial events was more important than comforting someone in pain. So why did I suddenly feel so...empty?
Ghosts. That damn song had resurrected too many memories from my poor-little-rich-girl childhood, and my sex-over-sense marriage to a cousin of the Detroit mob. As soon as my divorce was final, I jumped at the first job offer that came along and burrowed into it like a Pennsylvania groundhog. Now, picturing myself a wizened old professor with no family or friends, padding into the classroom in crocks and a moth-eaten sweater, I ripped the unfinished obituary in half muttering, “It doesn’t matter.”
As I rose for an antacid and another bottle of wine, the envelope slid off my lap, spilling a smaller one onto the floor. The little island of white on the claret-colored rug made me forget the burning sensation that had now risen to my chest. I was only aware of the antique vellum envelope stained with the letters, I.K.E. in blue-black ink. Waterman’s Ideal Ink. There was always a big bottle of it on Poppy’s desk and a stack of envelopes just like this one.
Don’t touch it! I told myself. You’re finished with the family that destroyed your faith in honesty, along with your self-esteem. My hand ignored the warning to pick it up.
I ran my index finger over the depressions from the nib of Poppy’s R. Esterbrook fountain pen. My initials had always been my nickname, after Poppy’s favorite president. Then, in the whoosh of sleet battering the old leaded glass window next to me, I heard his voice whisper, “Ikey,” as if he was God, about to pass the secrets of the universe on to me.
It was a voice few people could ignore, so I settled back against Granny Claire’s only attempt at needlepoint, a poorly executed pillow with a cupid shooting a crooked arrow into a misshapen heart. After another deep breath, I carefully peeled the envelope open and took out a single sheet of onionskin paper.
The letter wasn’t dated, but the handwriting was unmistakably Poppy’s. The kind of script taught in the early part of the twentieth century, when letter writing was an art and fine penmanship a mark of the upper class. That bold script now reached out through time and distance, holding me as securely as his fingers had held that silver-tipped pen, summoning my reluctant spirit back to Detroit.
I was again a black-haired little tomboy, the only girl in the Edwards clan. And the famous grandfather I idolized was speaking to me, only me. “Keep this close, Ikey,” he wrote. “You’re smart.”
“Too bad you’re a girl” flashed between the lines as the fireworks finale lit the cold winter sky.
“And you’re more like me than you care to admit. That’s why I trust you with this.”
At the word “trust,” I looked up from the paper trembling between my fingers. Unless he’d changed a great deal, Poppy had never trusted anyone in his entire life.
I refocused on the page, and he preached, “Right and wrong can’t always be determined by a book on the pulpit or a gavel in the courtroom. History is just hindsight that changes with the teller, the times, and the purpose. It can turn an ordinary man into a hero, a hero into an icon, and that icon into a legend. And once a man becomes a legend Iris, can even the truth change it?”
“Blah, blah, blah,” I whispered, recalling the arguments we’d had so many times. He was a die-hard believer in the end that justifies the means. I was a “to the manor born” do-gooder who believed in ethics, honor, and happy endings. That is, until my cheating husband told me about Poppy’s bribe to marry me. I skipped the rest of the letter to go to the end, where the old man finally got to his point.
“You always asked the questions no one else dared, saw what others missed. As you have so often speculated, this obituary is only one of many possible versions of my life. After my death, I leave you the only thing you’ve ever wanted from me—the truth. My story is yours to tell. All you have to do is find it.”
“Son of a bitch!” bounced off the old plastered walls.
I visualized his sly smile as he wrote, “Tell it any way you want, but be careful. The truth can trap as well as set you free.” He closed the message with one of his trademark half-truths, “Your devoted grandfather, A.N.E.”
He’d just dropped the three things I can’t resist into my lap: a riddle, a mystery, and a dare. As one of the most controversial and charismatic political icons in US history, his biography was the story of a lifetime—even this saccharine version.
“Close, but no cigar,” I answered out loud, trying to resist the tempting offer to crack the rotting façade of decency my family had hidden behind for eight decades. I didn’t give a rat’s ass what people believed about him or even the Pulitzer I could win for exposing his web of Machiavellian lies and intrigues.
But the truth meant something to me. I grew up on lies and half-truths, and the chance to finally separate the facts from fiction pulled me in. Closure, I told myself.
The phone rang a few minutes later, and my cautious, “Hello” was greeted by a familiar voice. “Happy New Year, Iris Kay.”
Uncle Phil. He was the only one in the family who called me Iris Kay instead of Ike or Ikey. I shivered in spite of the comfortable old blanket and the heat ticking from the nearby wall register. It was too early for the Rose White Foundation’s financials, and Phil had never, ever, called me at midnight to wish me a happy new year.
I didn’t bother to return the holiday greeting. “Is it Poppy?” Is he dead?
Phil wasn’t offended that I went right to the point. That’s what the Edwards family did. And since he knew me better than anyone, he answered my unspoken question. “Not yet. Did you get the package?”
“Yes,” I choked.
He didn’t seem to notice that I couldn’t breathe. “Good. You’re booked on the Northwest flight from Philly to Metro at nine o’clock tomorrow morning. Eddie Mulroney will pick you up. You can meet us at the hospital around noon.”
So that was it. The letter wasn’t a bequest. It was a summons. I swallowed hard. “Us? Hospital?”
His laugh sounded forced. “Who do you think? The family. They’ve gathered at the new Henry Ford in Bloomfield Hills. We’ve taken over a few of the rooms on his floor, but the old man paid for the wing and the hospital doesn’t seem to mind.”
There it was, the entitlement. Because of Poppy’s fame, power, and money, my family felt they could occupy a hospital like a hotel. Their hotel. It reminded me of my first lesson in loss delivered by Poppy. “There is no such thing as a gift.”
After twenty years, I still felt the anger, fear, and grief of a twelve-year-old on the day Poppy sold my gelding to his cronies at Great Lakes Downs. “Nothing lasts forever, Ikey,” he told me. “Just enjoy it while you can.” Then he looked at my father. “And the piper always has to be paid.”
I was inconsolable, crying and kicking at the handler leading Valentine’s Dream to a trailer, screaming for the pony to run. Dream shied, but there was no escape. I ran after them, but my dad grabbed me by the waist, cutting off my breath until I dangled helplessly at his side. All I could do was watch the only living creature whose love I didn’t have to earn disappear from my life forever.
When he finally put me down, I ran to the stable where I found my only comfort—from a summer stable boy named Jeb. Huddling in a corner, covered in straw that smelled like my only friend, I cried in Jeb’s arms until there were no tears left. Then my dad pulled me from him and dragged me, again kicking and screaming, back to the house.
Jeb was gone the next morning, the stall swept clean, and the only thing left of my beloved Valentine’s Dream was his blanket hanging on a nail. I cried into it most of the morning and then hid it under my bed. I took it to college and to Matt’s condo after we married. Here in Philly, it comforted me on cold, lonely nights when the ghosts Granny Claire foretold haunted me. Nights like tonight.
“Iris?” pulled me back from my personal nightmare to remember Uncle Phil on the other end of the line.
This time I resisted my curiosity. “No.”
In the silence that followed, I recalled that Uncle Phil had been more like a dad to me than an uncle. He was always there with a joke or a gentle hug when the drama at home got out of hand—until he married a Boston snob, not much older than me. But Uncle Phil was still an Edwards. I knew he wouldn’t give up that easily.
The sadness in his voice touched me like a cold finger on a hot day, making me shiver when he threw down Poppy’s final, double-dog dare. “You have to come, Iris Kay. He won’t die until he sees you.”