Thaddeus Jackson, Jr. was more accustomed to amusing himself quietly than most nine year olds. He invented games, contests, and even little plays, most of which ran their course entirely in his head. He used these events not only to overcome the crushing boredom his life had become of late, but also to distract him from that other emotion he felt pulse at him from time to time – the sense of dread that something was very, very wrong with his life.
He particularly felt the dread when the topic of his mother came up. And when he was alone with his father. These two situations were inter-related, but exactly how, Thad wasn’t sure. It had something to do with what many of the adults called “irony.”
His mother had become what seemed to be permanently “incapacitated” – that was the term the adults used when Thad was within ear shot. As a result, Thad had to spend more time with his father. This included fairly frequent train trips – to Chicago, to New York, and most frequently, to Washington, DC. While on the surface this sounds exciting, in fact, this was where the aforementioned boredom came in. The train rides were long, and when finally at their destination, Thad’s father was in meetings; Thad either sat in the hotel room amusing himself, or worse, sat in a chair in a hallway outside a meeting room in some non-descript government building.
Thad’s father, Thaddeus Jackson, Sr., worked for the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Atlanta. He didn’t talk much to Thad about his work, but Thad had heard enough around the neighborhood and picked up bits and pieces from listening to his father and his work companions to know that his father was a pretty important.
The senior Thaddeus had made a name for himself a few years back fighting people called “opium peddlers,” whatever they were. Thad’s father had testified before the U.S. Congress and even spoke at the League of Nations a few times about “The Epidemic,” whatever that was.
So it was that young Thad was up before the sun in a quiet, small, yet elegantly-appointed hotel room in a city just outside Washington, DC, amusing himself. The city was Alexandria, Virginia and the hotel was The Morrison House Hotel. This morning’s amusement was Rain Races.
The Rain Races were a diversion he invented on a trip to Chicago the previous year. On that trip, his father had several important meetings, including one with a man who was either his father’s boss, or had invented the vacuum cleaner, Thad wasn’t certain which. Thad was holed up in his hotel room for long stretches that time – the hotel was The Drake, a nice modern hotel with a big room, but too much big clunky furniture. One of the secretaries who looked in on Thad called it “gaudy,” not that Thad knew what that meant. All Thad knew was there was so much furniture in the room he couldn’t play “Pillow Ball” and he needed to come up with something new. It was raining that day – that week, actually – and the great wind for which the city was famous whipped around the massive hotel, rattling the windows and driving rain hard into the building. Rain drops on the windows were shoved this way and that by the wind, creating interesting patterns and finally, Thad noticed, a kind of race track. And so were The Rain Races born.
And now, in Alexandria, he knew from the moment he woke up this morning that it was going to be a great day for Rain Races. As he lay there silently in his cot, listening to his father’s rhythmic breathing, he could hear the rain delicately pummeling the windows, but he heard no wind. When there was no wind the races took longer, but there was more skill involved in predicting winners. Today was going to be about gravity, rain drop size, the path the drops would follow, and what happened when rain drops collided.
Thad was just settling into the wing-backed chair he dragged over to the window when his father began to stir.
“Good morning, father,” Thad said with the reserved enthusiasm his father had come to expect on these trips.
“Morning,” replied his father with the efficient economy of words Thad had come to expect.
Agent Jackson took in this information, thought about it’s implication to his day, realized there wasn’t one.
Twenty minutes later one Thaddeus Jackson was in the shower and another, smaller Thaddeus Jackson was stepping off the elevator into the lobby of the hotel holding a small satchel.
Thad was intrigued by fireplaces. While homes in Atlanta had them, there was rarely any call for their use, so whenever his father’s travels took him north, Thad always tried to spend as much time in front of a fireplace as possible. Today was a perfect fireplace day, so into the drawing room went Thad, and the doorman made a mental note of his correctly reading the young guest. Eight for eight this morning, he noted with pride.
Thad quickly settled into a sofa near the fire, opened his satchel, and pulled out the latest Detective Comics his father had bought for him at Atlanta’s Union Station. He carefully found where he had left off in the latest adventures of Slam Bradley and Shorty Morgan and began reading.
Approximately four pages later Thad’s reading was disturbed by a blast of cold air swirling into the room from the open front door. The doorman held onto his cap and made a welcoming motion to the three thin men in grey suits and black overcoats who hurried in out of the rain.
Suddenly the short man warmed, but only slightly. “Hey there, Thaddeus. Did you have a good trip? Is your dad upstairs? Is he ready for us? Okay, great, we’ll see you later, sport.” Without waiting for a single answer, or even any acknowledgement, he led his colleagues towards and in to the elevator.
Thad wondered how long they would be with his father. He wondered what they were talking about. New opium peddlers? Gangsters? The war his father thought the Nazis were going to start in Europe? Some new assignment? Perhaps moving his father to a different office? Here in Washington? Someplace new?
As Thad thought about what moving from the only home he had ever known entailed, he lost interest in his comic book. He even lost interest in the fire that had drawn him into the room, turning his back on it and wedging himself into the corner of the sofa, staring off towards the library. How long he stared at the door jamb he isn’t certain (it was two and half minutes), but finally the chess set on the table to his right caught his eye.
There seemed to be a game in progress, but there was nobody in the room. Thad slowly reached out to one of the pieces – an ornately carved, majestic-looking horse head.
“Don’t touch that,” said a young but authoritative girl’s voice, adding, “please,” much less harshly.
Thad jerked his arm back and looked around – he was still alone in the room. Then he heard the floor creak near the library and looked over as a young girl, (she was actually almost five years his senior, but anyone not a bona fide adult on these trips counted as a kid to Thad), walked into the sitting room.
“You didn’t move any pieces did you,” she asked him, inspecting the game board. “I’m in the middle of a game with Chef.”
Thad hadn’t moved any pieces, but he couldn’t find words to answer, so surprised was he to see someone close to his own age in the hotel. The girl finished her inspection of the board, was satisfied the game was not altered, and then realized he hadn’t answered her. She cocked her head at him and carefully sized him up.
“Do you speak English,” she asked with genuine curiosity.
Thad sputtered a “yes, ma’am.”
“Ma’am? How old are you? Nine? Ten? I’m only fourteen. No need to ‘ma’am’ me. I’m Elizabeth Rosen from New York,” she said, extending a hand which Thad took and shook limply.
“Mind if I join you,” Elizabeth asked as she rounded Thad’s sofa and positioned herself near the facing one, waiting for an invitation to sit.
“Please,” said Thad, finally remembering his manners and rising while Elizabeth sat.
“How long are you here for, Thad?”
“I don’t know. My father’s here on business. I go with him on his trips.”
“Good luck charm?”
Thad doesn’t understand the question, so he pretends not to have heard it as he slips his comic book back into the satchel.
“Are you his good luck charm? In business. I mean, why does he take you on business trips,” she clarifies.
“Oh, um, no. There’s nobody for me to stay with at home. So…I go.”
Elizabeth, being a child mature well beyond her years even before her recent adventures with her father had aged her greatly, senses a fair amount of complexity and pain in young Thad’s answer. She decides to quickly offer him support and then change the subject.
“I don’t have a mother either. So who were those men who went upstairs to see your father? What’s he do?”
Thad is reeling from her statement and questions. She doesn’t have a mother either? What did she mean by that? He has a mother. Kind of. And how did she know the men were going to see his father? This girl was not like anyone he knew back home. (To be fair to young Thad, Elizabeth Rosen was not like any girl anyone knew anywhere. She was, as earlier stated, mature beyond her years, very perceptive and resourceful, and coming off quite a trip with her father that had taken her through Europe and Egypt, exposed her to the glamour of Old World royalty and the hideousness of fascism. But that is Elizabeth’s story. This is Thad’s.)
“He works for the government. The FBI.”
“Ooh, a G-man,” said Elizabeth, actually impressed. Then something hits her. “Wait a second, you’re name is Thad?”
“Is that short for anything?”
“What’s your father’s name?”
“Thaddeus. Thaddeus Jackson, Senior.”
Elizabeth smiles broadly and snaps her fingers several times. She jumps up and comes over to Thad’s sofa. “I know your father!”
Thad is taken aback at the news. How could this girl know his father?
“I guess so,” said Thad, now even more confused that she knew the funny name of the gangster he could never remember.
Elizabeth stares at Thad and smiles. She’s found a kindred spirit in Thad. A young world traveler, just like her.
“What was China like,” she asks. “I’ve never been, but I would like to go. Though I don’t guess now is such a good time, what with Hirohito marching all over the place.”
Thad’s confusion deepens. “I’ve never been to China.”
Elizabeth is pulled out of her reverie and looks at him confused.
“I go with my dad around here. But I’ve never been to…places like that.”
“Have you been to New York,” she asks, trying to salvage what she hoped would be a fun morning of swapping travel stories.
Thad nods and Elizabeth smiles.
“Have you ever been to the Waldorf=Astoria hotel?”
“I think so.”
“If you only ‘think so’ I don’t think you were there. It’s the nicest hotel in the city,” she explained. “You would know if you were there.”
“Oh. Then I guess not.”
“What was your favorite thing you did in New York?”
Thad doesn’t have to think very long. “I went to a Dodgers game with my father. We ate hot dogs.”
“Fun,” Elizabeth offered, not thinking it sounded fun at all.
Thad broke the silence before it became too awkward to break. “How do you know about my father?”
“He’s famous in Europe. Well, not famous like a movie star. But in the circles my father and I were traveling in – well, some of the circles – he’s well known.”
“What do you mean, ‘some’?”
Elizabeth recalled something someone in a Copenhagen café had said about Thad’s father, about his grim determination and unflagging pursuit of justice. She decided that if the boy was anything like the father, as she was like hers, she should skip over the more morally ambiguous parts of the story: how the father’s break-up of Yasha Katzenberg’s network had almost cost Elizabeth and her father their lives when they found themselves in a tight spot in Hamburg just two months ago.
Elizabeth looked Thad up and down and decided, yes, this kid would run to his father if she told him everything she knew about his father and Yasha’s surviving network.
“My father knows lots of people…involved…in law enforcement. Most of them know your father; they still talk about him.”
“What do they say?”
Elizabeth didn’t want to answer, nor did she want to be rude, so she did what her father taught her to do. She waited for an opportunity to present itself. She looked thoughtfully at a point above Thad’s head, as if trying to recall something somebody said about his father, but in reality merely waiting.
And then a porter came into the room carrying an armload of wood. He knelt down in front of the fireplace and began stacking the wood on the small pile, adding two logs to the fire.
“John, would you remind Chef it’s his move,” Elizabeth said to the porter, jerking a thumb towards the chess board.
“Of course, Miss Rosen. Right away.”
“Do you play, Thad?”
“Come, I’ll show you,” she said, rising and extending her hand.
And like so many before him and an innumerable number after him, Thad had been manipulated by Elizabeth. Like she had done a few weeks ago to the pickpocket in the original Alexandria, or to the police captain a few weeks before that in Budapest, or numerous times in the days leading up to that as she and her father criss-crossed Germany, staying two steps ahead of the Nazis. But as has previously been mentioned, that is her story. This is Thad’s.
Thad, who spent the next hour learning about chess, although he forgot almost everything by the time his train slid south out of Alexandria a week later.
Thad, who taught Elizabeth about Rain Races later that morning, (and won their tournament 11-10).
Thad, who tried (unsuccessfully) to get more information about his father from the confident and worldly Elizabeth Rosen.
Thad, who ate with Elizabeth in the hotel dining room four times that week, including one time eating in the kitchen itself with Elizabeth’s friend, Chef, (as those were the stakes of the chess match which the girl won handily).
Thad, who played cards in the library with Elizabeth where she taught him several new games, all of which involved gambling, none of which Thad’s father would approve of.
Thad, who one day twenty-two years from that week would run into Elizabeth again, under different circumstances, on a different continent – him an FBI agent, her…not. But that is neither his story, nor hers. It is theirs.