Henry sat on the trains’ rigid seat, absentmindedly fingering the crumpled letter in his hand. He had read and reread it countless times since boarding the train yesterday. He hadn’t heard one word from home in over a decade. His grandfather had sent him away to boarding school on the other side of the country the day after his parents’ funeral. He’d never given Henry a reason, never sent for him to come home at Christmas or for summer break. And yet just two days ago there was the letter slid under his apartment door.
Dearest Henry, November 8, 1886
I hope this reaches you well. You must come
home immediately. There are urgent matters to be
discussed. I have included a ticket for the train.
Don’t waste time with a response, just come quickly.
James R. Shirer
Henry had stopped crying years ago. He had written letters to his grandfather the first year or so, but had given up when they went unanswered. His paid tuition and money in his account for new clothes and meals were the only proof his grandfather still lived Henry had ever seen. Of course there had been instructors at school who had taken pity on the poor little orphan boy, they had befriended him. A few had even taken him home for holidays and breaks. It was on one such trip the topic of Henry’s future had come up. He was going to graduate the next spring and had no idea what he was going to do to support himself. All he knew for sure was he wasn’t returning to Calgary. With no money for University, Henry had started looking for employment. Always quick with numbers and with a memory for details, Henry had been able to secure a good job as a clerk in a law office.
He had asked his boss for a week or two off to figure out whatever the urgent matters were. Henry had traded his first class ticket for a coach one and pocketed the cash, to help with the financial strain of traveling from Montreal to Calgary. Running through countless scenarios why his grandfather had sent for him now; Henry gave up and settled in for a nap. As uncomfortable as the trains’ seat was, the rhythmic rocking of the train soon put Henry to sleep.
As they pulled into the station, Henry noticed the smoke still hanging in the air over downtown. Grabbing his one bag, he didn’t plan to stay long, Henry stepped off the train. He looked around the platform for his grandfather, but saw no one he recognized. “The old coot is likely at the hotel, probably forgot that he sent for his long lost grandson.” As Henry walked toward downtown the smell of fire was overwhelming. He rounded the corner and was shocked to see most of the buildings had burned to the ground including his grandfather’s hotel. Standing in front of the rubble was an old man with his head in his hands. Could this be his grandfather? The man, who had been so cold and unmoving when Henry’s parents died, was openly grieving the loss of some buildings.
“Grandfather?” Henry called as he crossed the street.
Obviously startled James Shirer turned to see the spitting image of his beloved Kathryn. He knew the boy who she had adored would one day grow up to look just like her. Not saying a word, James ran to close the distance between them and swept Henry up in a hug. As the tears fell he blubbered words Henry couldn’t make out but he understood their meaning all the same. With one last look at the wreckage, James threw his arm over his grandson’s shoulders and led him away to finally clear the air.
A week later Henry’s mind was still reeling at the story his grandfather had told him. They were traveling back to Montreal where they would pack up Henry’s apartment and then travel to Europe together. Now that the man who had murdered his parents was dead; it was safe once again for James to be in Henry’s life. Henry had never known that his parents had been murdered, let alone by a former employee of his grandfather’s hotel. The man had been jealous that Kathryn had never noticed him. One day he snapped killing both Kathryn and Miles. The same day a note had been delivered to James, vowing to kill the child born of their love. The authorities were never able to find the man. Fearing for Henry’s life, grandfather had sent him away. No one knew where he had gone. Grandfather had kept track of him through old friends at the school, but thought it was too dangerous to ever go visit. It wasn’t until the same crazy man had been killed burning the hotel and most of downtown to the ground, that grandfather knew it was safe to send for him. Henry knew they had missed a lot of time together but was excited to see what the future held. Who knows what they could build from the ashes?