You Can Never Go Home


The day Anna left for Argentina was difficult for her.  During those first few weeks following Michael’s death, I received many letters from her.  She shared with me her feelings and pain.  The homecoming to Argentina closed the circle of her life.  With Rolf close by, she had both a protector and friend.  Later, Anna called me often and we spoke of her beautiful estancia and new life without Michael.  Rolf also wrote to me frequently sharing his thoughts and assuring me that Anna was safe and well cared for.  

The long evening at the Biltmore had never ended Anna.  The blackness of that night had entered her soul.  As she looked out the Lear Jet window into the clouds that hung closely about the small cabin, she was remembering the ugliness of it all.  Any peace that she now felt was a false one, brought on by exhaustion and the numbing effect of sedatives.  The world that they had all known was gone forever.  The man who had been the most important part of her life was now a part of her past.  Left, were only the rich warm memories that would be with her for the rest of her life.  

The three men in the cabin with her were deep in their own thoughts.  Their lives had also been interrupted by the same great sense of loss that she was feeling.  The love and stability that had been ripped away from her life had also been the underpinning of their lives.  The two young men that Kenneth Aragón had sent along with his mother and Rolf Grover were very respectful and helpful.  They treated her like a queen.  Kenneth, the tall dark one, acted as their driver.  And the shorter one with red hair, John Rodríguez, was their valet.  

Her safety was the most important consideration for her son, Kenneth.  He was a great deal like his father, rising to the occasion after Michael’s death.  Taking charge, he made all arrangements to ensure family and friends were protected.  Michael Aragón had always put family first in his life, so did his son.  Kenneth had assured Anna that her second son, Benjamin, was being protected out of state.  Her daughter, Christina, was also safe.  César and the Contessa were well guarded in Spain, caring for her beloved granddaughter.  And Anna knew that God would protect me.  

As Anna looked out the windows, she could see the beautiful clouds which broke occasionally to clear blue skies.  She wondered how such beauty could exist in a world filled with such pain and sorrow.  Anna then remembered a poem she had once read as a child.  

The skies above the world with their beauty and calm
Their silence and grace held in God’s palm

His hands wrapped round the world holding it all in
God keeping all precious souls safe with him

He lets them go free to work their will, 
but calls them back one day to this place so still

Their thoughts they will keep of those moments in time
Always remembering those loved ones sublime

To meet them again in this place so calm
To rejoice in His gifts and His love the true balm.

 The poem gave her comfort.  But so did the beads she held in her hand.  The rosary was given to her by Lourdes those many years ago.  She remembered what Lourdes had told her.  “Prayers can be answered.”  Anna asked God for a place of protection, and He had given her one.  The man named Michael Aragón had been Anna’s protector, her safe harbor from the evils of the world.  She and Christina had been granted calm in the storm of life.  It had begun those thirty-eight years before and ended cruelly a few days prior to her flight.  Why Michael was taken and she left here on earth, Anna would never understand.  Anna had cried a river of tears in those first twenty-four hours after his death.  She mourned him and missed him terribly.  Held alone at a safe house in the barrio of East Los Angeles, the men were kind and did what they could to make a difficult situation better.  But it was only her faith in God that had brought her through the ordeal.  

As she sat thinking of her Michael, a gentle hand touched her shoulder.  She turned away from her thoughts to find Rolf smiling down at her.  Anna placed her hand on his and patted it lightly.  Then she gripped it tightly and smiled at him.  The two said nothing as he sat down next to her.  Rolf took her hand in his and held it on his knee.  Tired, she leaned her head against his muscular shoulder and fell quickly to sleep.  As she did, she thanked God that at least Rolf was still with her.  

Rolf too had felt the great loss of his friend Michael Aragón.  He also felt the loss of the three young pups he’d trained and learned to love as his own sons.  This was the curse of life, nothing was forever.  One loved and lost.  Life had its own script, the story of each man’s life written by God.  Each had a destiny, a part to play in a much larger drama.  Man had his plans, but in the end, they were only a wish list.  What truly mattered was the script provided by God.  

Rolf remembered the closeness that he’d had over the years with Aragón.  At first, there had been the insane stalking of the man and the three days of torture and torment.  It still bothered Rolf after all these years that he’d beaten Aragón so badly.  Next, came the forgiveness.  Michael not only forgave him, but reached out to Rolf and befriended him.  

And now, he found himself thirty-five years later on a jet flying from Méjico to Argentina.  His passport read Rolf Grover.  To everyone he met, he was an American businessman.  But who was he really?  Returning to his second homeland, Argentina, he took stock in himself and the years that had passed by so quickly.  In his lifetime, he had three lives.  Once, he’d been a warrior for Nazi Germany.  In Argentina, Rolf had been a dependent of the Brenner family.  And in America, he’d become a successful businessman.  In a sense, he was about to begin his fourth life.  As he looked beyond a sleeping Anna and out the window, he was taken by the beauty of the billowy clouds and clear blue skies.  

Remembering back to his businesses, from the beginning, Aragón had insisted that Rolf become active in something, anything.  They discussed his strengths and weaknesses and decided upon a gun shop.  After all, he knew weapons well.  As an expert marksman, it was a natural choice.  So, he established his little gun shop, selling antiques, as well as newer weapons.  Over a period of time, his little shop became well known.  From there, Rolf expanded to a shooting club in Beverly Hills, catering to the elite of show business and corporate executives.  His secure, plush club became the place to go.  Later, the city granted him the use of a portion of the building as a restaurant.  Serving wine and champagne to his guests helped to expand his list of clientele.  Well-oiled gun enthusiasts loved shooting.  

In the late seventies and early eighties, he had branched out into anti-terrorist training for big corporate clients.  Finally, his firm provided a sophisticated bodyguard service to wealthy clients in need of short-term protection.  His clients numbered Fortune 500 executives, Hollywood stars, and political figures.  Rolf’s firm had grown to some fifty bodyguards, comprised of ex-FBI agents, retired CIA operatives, and local law enforcement retirees.  Over time, the firm became well known to a select clientele because Rolf had kept a low profile, ensuring that all police and intelligence agencies understood and sanctioned his activities.  Over the years, Rolf Grover became known in the intelligence community as a solid asset.  From time to time, he did favors for the American government.  He also assisted his friends in the Mexican Government.  Rolf purposely limited his activities to these two governments, realizing to venture beyond the two could be dangerous.  

In his line of business, Rolf’s relationship with Aragón could be easily explained away, although no one knew anything about him.  Both governments understood that a man in his trade often dealt with shadowy figures.  It was an accepted part of the business.  There was no unofficial way to contact men like Aragón.  Rolf was seen as a facilitator, getting information about the shadow world when normal governmental channels couldn't.  On several occasions, Rolf had been approached by both governments.  If a war broke out between Mafiosi, he would receive the discrete telephone call.  When a large drug deal went bad and citizens were hurt, he supplied inside information.  In time, he had gained a reputation as a straight shooter.  The FBI understood his worth, as did the CIA and DEA.  His people had been asked to carry the odd package, with no questions asked.  At times, he was requested to conduct surveillance for the CIA within the United States, strictly a no-no.  Rolf became a man to know.  The local police would ask for inside information in matters where they had hit a brick wall.  Many times Rolf’s information had helped them to look good.  Because of his contacts both in law enforcement and in the shadow world he’d proven invaluable, a friend to all and an enemy to none.  

Rolf’s business had also helped his relationship with Aragón.  The agencies looked the other way.   Knowing the code, they understood that his usefulness would come to an end if he lost his shadow contacts.  As time went on, Aragón became only one of many acquaintances from that world.  Only he and Michael knew the truth about their deep friendship.   

Over the years, Rolf, Aragón, and Anna spent many nights’ playing cards together.  Anna and Rolf knew that Aragón cheated, but they never took offense.  He could be child-like at times.  Rolf spent his vacations and weekends with them, having his own suite at each of their homes.  The three went to Fiesta in Santa Barbara every August, drinking in the streets and dancing until the early morning hours like all good tourists.  They also spent many vacations in Europe together, particularly Spain.  

Remembering back, his pleasant thoughts suddenly became ugly as he began to remember that tragic night.  Rolf had arrived at the Biltmore seconds after the firefight had begun.  He could see that it was already too late.  Arriving through the valet street entrance, he had the attendant park his car.  He walked through the large sitting area and into the walkway that led to the second floor elevators hoping to catch Anna and Aragón before they left the restaurant.  Rolf had purchased their anniversary gift and was anxious to show them photographs of the antique clock.  As he entered the hall near the elevators, Rolf heard the sound of muffled gunfire coming from the first floor.  Becoming concerned, he could hear loud popping noises and the breaking of glass coming from the floor below.  As he ran toward the second floor landing, he knew the distinct sounds could only be from automatic weapons fire.  The bullets from the weapons were shattering the large windows at the Figueroa Street entrance of the hotel as he cautiously made his way down the stairs.  He watched as hotel guests ran and shouted in fear and panic.  Women’s screams could be heard coming from everywhere.  Many people lay face down in the lobby area.  

He moved efficiently down the staircase and into the alcove toward the demolished windows.  From there, he first saw Vincente, then the others.  The three were wearing dark blue overcoats.  The young fools hadn’t taken cover as they’d been taught.  Instead, they stood tall and erect, shoulder to shoulder firing their automatic weapons at the line of figures coming across the street.  Out of the corner of his eye, Rolf saw Robert shove Kenneth and Anna back inside the lobby of the Biltmore.  It was then that Rolf saw his friend Aragón lying wounded in a large pool of blood on the sidewalk.  Michael wasn’t moving, that wasn’t a good sign.  It took Rolf less than ten seconds to make his way from the stairs to the empty window casings at the front of the hotel.  Hiding behind a concrete wall, Rolf surveyed the street outside.  

Without a weapon, he watched helplessly as his young pups fought the fine fight.  The boys never wavered for a moment.  But they acted in vain; there were too many of the enemy.  They were the human shield that stood between them and their family.  As with all men fighting for their lives, they forgot the basics.  Making his way outside, Rolf could hear Sammy laughing hysterically as he fired his weapon into the oncoming pistoleros.  It was clear to Rolf that Sammy had lost the ability to think rationally.  Stooping behind a crashed car, Rolf watched as the pistoleros began to close on the three boys from across the street.  There were at least ten of them firing automatic weapons as they continued to move forward toward his three boys.  The scene had become surreal.  Only foolish men would engage an enemy, man-to-man.  Within seconds, Sammy was dead.  In a rage, Rolf ran and picked up a dead pistolero’s weapon.  Moving forward, he attempted to draw fire away from the boys.  There were now only three figures returning fire from the street.  He shouted at the boys to take cover.  But it was too late; the two were in lock step, lost in a killing frenzy.  His boys could see and hear nothing else, but the last three men firing at them.  It was then that a second group of nine or ten pistoleros emerged from behind the low walls of Pershing square.  The battle had turned in favor of the attackers.  In just a few seconds the air was still.  The firing had stopped and all was silent.  

An angry, confused Rolf surveyed the scene.  Looking up and down the street, he could see crashed cars riddled with bullet holes.  The sidewalk was covered with a blanket of shattered glass.  His three precious boys lay dead in the middle of the street and the bodies of pistoleros lay everywhere.  Looking toward the Biltmore, Rolf saw Anna sitting on the sidewalk beside Michael, cradling his head in her lap.  Kenneth sat next to her on the ground in a state of shock.  

Rolf knew he had to act quickly.  He was suddenly a soldier again.  There would be no false bravado, only the instincts of a cold hard warrior.  Rolf began systematically hunting what remained of the attackers.  From behind a parked car, he killed two of the pistoleros standing in the middle of the street reloading, preparing to finish off Kenneth.  The others panicked and broke.  The advantage was now his as he rushed the low walls across the street.  Jumping over the wall, he surprised a pistolero trying to fix his jammed weapon.  Now tasting the blood of the kill, Rolf shot him twice in the head.  

He was cool and calm as he began his hunt for the last pistoleros.  Rolf had begun his methodic search for the last of them.  Now inside the parking structure, he caught one pistolero attempting to break into a car.  He shot him squarely in the face.  A second man was trying to run down the steep exit ramp, and Rolf shot him several times in the back.  A car suddenly came racing up the exit ramp toward Rolf, the men inside firing at him.  As the car sped toward him, Rolf knelt and emptied his magazine into the vehicle.  It exploded twenty feet from him, sending a door hurtling through the air.  As the car burned, he could see or hear no one else.  

Suddenly, Rolf heard several men running into the parking structure, shouting to one another in Spanish.  Moving quickly and hiding behind a parked auto, Rolf watched in silence as they checked each of the dead men for any signs of life.  Each time they came upon a man, they did the same thing.  First, they checked for life signs, they then shot him in the head.  In a cold calculated fashion, they took pleasure from each shot fired.  It was then that he realized they were Eme soldiers.  The vatos were avenging their fallen leader and friends.

Rolf watched as the vatos shot the last pistolero in the head.  At that moment, he heard police sirens off in the distance.  The men in front of him also heard them.  Next, Rolf could hear police bull horns.  The men broke and ran, realizing the police were now on the scene.  Rolf made his escape, dressed in black tie.  He knew no one would question him.  As he made his way to the street behind Pershing Square, Rolf walked several blocks out of the way until he could access the Biltmore Hotel from the valet entrance.  Once inside, he was stopped by a uniformed officer who asked if he was guest in the hotel.  Rolf said only that he was there to dine with friends.  The policeman was quick to explain the situation and advise that he leave the premises.  Rolf agreed and walked out to the exit area.  There he gave his parking ticket to the woman in the small office.  Dispatching a valet, she asked Rolf to wait outside where his car would be delivered.  Within minutes his car was waiting.  Quickly tipping the attendant, he left.  Rolf was glad that he wouldn't be around to answer questions.  

It was now late at night, and the streets were deserted as he drove toward the Harbor Freeway entrance.  The impact of the killings slowly began to sink in.  It was odd; he felt no anger, fear, or pain.  There was only a numbing sense of relief that it was over.  Driving toward Beverly Hills, he returned to his senses.  Picking up his cellular phone, he began dialing Aragón's house.  Stopping himself, he realized that his messages would be heard by the police once they accessed the house.  Instead, he chose to drive to a small bar he knew well.  

The bar was oddly quiet as he entered.  Patrons were glued to the large screen television set, watching a special newscast in progress.  Sitting at the bar, he asked for a whiskey.  The bartender quickly accommodated him.  He began nursing his drink as the media continued its coverage of the carnage.  The blonde anchorwoman was discussing the gangland killings.  Early reports of terrorists had been dismissed.  Police officials being interviewed stated that the situation was in hand.  Preliminary reports suggested that the killings were in fact drug related.  The newscaster concluded by saying that the men found dead included Michael Aragón, a local Hispanic businessman.  Rolf's heart sank as he heard the announcement of Michael’s death.  He’d hoped against all hope that his friend Michael had survived.  As the police spokesman continued his report, he stated that there were no survivors.  Rolf knew then that his young pups were all in a better place.  The thought of it pained him.  He drank down the rest of his whisky and shouted out to the bartender for a second.  It came in short order.  A tired, hurting Rolf sat at the bar nursing his second drink, then a third, and finally a fourth.  He wanted to hear that all was well with his friends.  But that was not to be.  Sitting and listening for several more minutes as the newscasters continued their story about the massacre, there was no more to be gained from the news reports, so he left.  

Arriving home just after midnight, he walked into his study.  Pouring himself a scotch, Rolf sat on his large overstuffed leather couch and undid his tie.  Looking around the room, his eyes focused on photos of he and Aragón taken over the years.  His favorites were of their fishing trips to Baja and hunting trips to Idaho.  Also on the wall were those of himself and his three boys.  Rolf’s shaky hand dropped his glass on the tiled floor.  It shattered into a million pieces, just as his life had.   Placing his hands over his face, he began to cry.  The tears lasted minutes as he struggled with his pain.  He tried to maintain his composure, but Rolf didn’t have the strength.  Standing up tall and erect, he shook his head.  In a low cracking voice, he said simply, “No, no.  I won't shed another tear.  We all choose our path in life.”  The words had been painful for him to recite.  An empty Rolf walked over to the door of the study and turned off the lights.  Then he slowly made his way up the stairs and into his bedroom.  Never one for clutter, his room was spotless.  Slipping off his jacket, he wanted only to sleep.  He placed it on the bed and lay down, quickly drifting off to sleep.  

The next morning, he awoke to the sounds of birds chirping and a steady pounding in his head.  Rolling over to look at the time, it was seven-thirty.  His mind was jolted awake as he remembered the pain of the past night.  Rolf didn’t want to think, he wished only to sleep it all away.  As he rolled over to force himself to sleep again, the phone rang.  Rolf didn't want to answer it, preferring to let it ring forever.  Rolf knew if he answered it, he would have to deal with reality; he let it ring until it stopped.  Later that morning, he sat on his brick patio under a billowy blue and white striped canopy.  He’d always liked sitting at his lawn table and reading the morning newspaper, enjoying the warm California sunshine and gentle breezes.  Slowly drinking a large Scotch, Rolf pondered the ugly events of the night before.  The warm morning sun and soft gentle breeze relaxed Rolf as he thought through his next course of action.  He wanted to contact Anna and Kenny, but he knew to attempt it would be a mistake.  If they needed him, he would soon get a visit.  Standing up to pour another Scotch, Rolf felt the cold steel of a gun barrel at the back of his neck.  “Sit down Mr. Grover.” The husky voice demanded in a low, barrio accented English.  “Is there anyone else here?”  The man asked in a firm, no nonsense tone.  “No, I'm alone.”  Rolf responded calmly, not attempting to move.  “Good.  Then will you please sit down Mr. Grover.”  The man’s voice seemed friendlier, less anxious.  Rolf sat quietly, staring straight ahead, not knowing what to expect.  “I'm sorry for the scare.  I just had to know that you were alone before I could give you the message from Mr. Aragón.”  The man was genuine in his apology.  Rolf had thought the use of the words, Mr. Aragón, strange.  Since Michael Aragón was now dead it sounded odd to him.  Then it came to him, Kenny was now the head of the Eme.  The torch had been passed.  

The tall, thin vato in an expensive suit gave Rolf the message.  He was to meet Anna in Méjico in two days and then accompany her to Argentina.  Rolf’s agreement was sent back to Kenneth.  It was done.  His decision was made.  He would leave Los Angeles forever.  Before leaving, the vato handed him an envelope containing everything needed for the trip.  

After finishing his Scotch, Rolf made the necessary telephone calls to his attorney.  He’d always kept documents prepared for just such a time.  All assets were to be turned over to his attorney, Mel.  Mel Feinstein was a good man.  The two had worked together ever since Michael introduced them, over thirty years before.  With power of attorney, Mel would follow the instructions in his possession.  Once in Argentina, Rolf would have access to his Swiss bank accounts.  A millionaire, Rolf would need for nothing.  He made his way to the study to begin sorting valuables.  This would be Rolf’s last act regarding personal property in America.  He would never return.  Cleaning out the safe, he placed its contents into a leather briefcase.  Rolf was just going through the motions; the papers meant little to him.  

Two days later, as Rolf sat planning out his trip to Méjico, he heard the doorbell ring.  Opening the door, he was greeted by a large man holding a newspaper.  The man introduced himself as FBI Special Agent Denahy.  They spoke for a half hour about Aragón and the killings at the Biltmore.  Rolf didn’t care for the man’s attitude.  After the agent left, Rolf walked upstairs to his bedroom and began his final preparations for departure.  He was to be at the Fullerton airport that afternoon for a short flight into Mexico.  Within an hour, he was packed and ready to go.  

Leaving his home for the short ride across town, he was sure to take several side trips to be sure that no one was following him.  Rolf got on and off at various freeway off-ramps.  Doubling back twice to see if he had a tail, no one was following him.  Arriving at Fullerton Airport on time, Rolf was in the air within minutes.  A small Piper Cub airplane had been waiting for him when he arrived.  The pilot said little during the flight.  The man was a professional, asking no questions and giving no answers.  The Piper Cub landed at an airstrip in Baja three hours later.  Met by two Mexican Mafia men in an old car, they quickly searched him for weapons.  Once satisfied that he was clean, they placed Rolf in the car.  They drove him to a large rancho some twenty minutes from the airstrip.  The rancho had an airplane hanger with a long runway.  Driven to the hanger, he saw the Lear Jet on the airstrip.  At the hanger, he was again searched by two young men and then watched carefully until they received a call on a cellular phone.  Rolf was then taken to the jet.  

Boarding, he found Anna in the cabin.  She was happy to see him.  By the looks of her, Anna had been through a hard time.  The two hugged one another and smiled, though neither had much to say.  Both were very tired.  It had been a difficult time.  Rolf asked about Kenneth.  Anna told him that Kenny was well and now in charge of all of his father's affairs.  Rolf was pleased that Kenny was in control.  It was apparent from the security measures that nothing was being left to chance.  They settled down for the long flight to Argentina.  Once airborne, the young men served Anna and Rolf drinks and sandwiches.  Later, they brought magazines and Mexican newspapers.  The tall young man, Kenneth, did his best to make them comfortable offering the two pillows and blankets.  It was obvious to Rolf that these young men were well-trained and disciplined.  

Rolf woke up and looked at his watch they’d been airborne many hours.  Looking down at Anna sleeping on his shoulder, she finally looked peaceful.  At that moment, the pilot alerted them that the decent had begun.  Rolf returned to the here and now.  He looked forward to seeing Argentina, a world he’d left a lifetime ago.  

Wiping the sleep from her eyes, Anna looked out the window as the Lear Jet prepared for a landing.  Anna couldn't make out the landscape below.  For a moment, her mind was flooded with images from her past in Argentina.  As the jet began its turn to make its final decent, she looked out the cabin window.  Then she saw it, Casa Castillo.  The estancia was just as it had always been, large and beautiful.  The stables and walls had all been rebuilt.  Aragón had planned the rebuilding of the estancia well, including a private airstrip with a radio and communications tower.  Hidden in a deep concrete bunker, he had built a modern communications center.  Anna could see the helicopter pad just south of the tower.  There were other additions, a large swimming pool, tennis courts, polo field, and several guest houses.  

Michael had taken great care in his planning of the estate, thinking of everyone’s needs.  Just north of the estancia, a horse racetrack had been built, including seating stands at one end of the track.  Next to it was a cluster of small bungalows for the staff which fronted a new five acre lake.  This was truly a paradise.  Happy to finally be home, Anna was confused.  She didn't know quite how to feel.  Saddened by the loss of Aragón, the man who had given her so much, she was still in pain.  Her mind flooded with beautiful and painful memories from her past.  Nothing had worked out as she had envisioned in her youth.  Anna had dreamed of living a fairy tale life.  Imagining nothing but beauty and joy, she had expected a picture perfect life.  She pictured herself in a large, beautiful estancia of her own.  Back then, she saw herself with many children and grandchildren.  Anna believed that her life would be peaceful and rich.  But that was never to be.  Instead, her life had been one disaster after another.  Each time Anna had fallen down, she had brushed herself off and stood tall, only to be knocked down again.  “Well I’m home.”  She said out loud.  At that moment, the Lear Jet touched down.  

“Yes you are.”  A smiling Rolf commented, understanding her pain.  Undoing his seat belt, he reached out to hold her.  Placing her head against his chest, Anna began to cry.  He comforted her, telling her all would be well.  “We’re home, Anna.”  He said softly as he stroked her hair.  Anna looked up at Rolf with tear filled eyes.  “But you can never go home again.”  Anna said, as her eyes peered out the window to get a view of her beloved Argentina after thirty-eight years.  

Michael Aragón had paid millions to reproduce an exact replica of her former home and surrounding buildings.  He’d engaged private detectives to locate employees of her father’s who were still alive.  Rolf had helped by locating Helmut Mueller, the man who had worked at the neighboring Brenner villa for many years.  Mueller was able to find original blue prints and many of the men who had participated in the estancia’s original expansion.  César Romero had arranged for Spanish contractors, architects, consultants, and crews to be responsible for construction.  In this way, he could control the flow of information.  All knowledge of the plans and construction were kept a secret.  Local craftsmen were used only when necessary, and only under the tightest security.  No cameras were allowed.  All workmen were searched coming and going.  Upon Michael’s request, Rolf was put in charge of security.  He’d secretly flown in twenty-five veteranos from the East Side to act as security.  During construction, they patrolled the estate’s perimeters day and night.  

The latest technologies were purchased and installed.  Radio communications and satellite links were obtained through Rolf’s friends.  Ground movement sensors were placed strategically outside the estancia’s walls.  Security cameras were placed in the trees outside the walls and on the walls themselves.  Anyone approaching the estancia could be closely monitored.  Aragón had planned and built a beautifully appointed fortress.  Aragón went as far as to have a tunnel constructed which led from the main house to the underground power station.  This would serve as a safe retreat in times of trouble.  In the tunnel were stores of munitions and an assortment of weapons.  There were also survival supplies.  A small group of men could hold off an army for hours from there.  

After taxiing a short distance, the jet came to a stop.  Anna looked out the window to find a car waiting.  John began to unload luggage in preparation for deplaning.  Kenneth, the driver, was the first one out the door.  He went to the waiting Mercedes Benz limousine and replaced the driver.  Once the Benz was loaded, Anna and Rolf were escorted to the limo.  Kenneth Aragón had been right.  John found Uzzis waiting for them under the driver’s seat.  After Anna and Rolf were seated, the limo took them down the long straight stone road leading to the estancia.  Beautiful flowers and shrubs lined both sides of the roadway.  It took only a minute to get to the front of the estancia.  

A very old Lorraina, Jose’s wife, was waiting with the estancia staff at the bottom of stone steps.  Jose’s grandson, Miguel, walked toward the car and bowed as Anna stepped out of the limo.  Jose’s granddaughter, Lita, handed Anna a dozen yellow roses.  The others clapped as Anna accepted them.  Aragón had left nothing to chance.  Rolf had seen to that.  Following the staff, Anna and Rolf made their way up the stone steps to the landing above.  As she reached the top of the steps, Anna saw the family's coat of arms above the large entry doors.  It was depicted as a shield with one vertical blue line with lions on either side.  The fierce creatures faced one another in profile.  A golden castle was perched on the top of the shield.  The inscription read, “For Honor”.  The coat of arms made Anna feel welcomed and gave her the courage to push open the large, hand crafted, wooden main entry doors.  What Anna saw was magical, a restored Casa Castillo.  She walked through the foyer past the large brass urn filled with fresh red and yellow roses.  To her right was the massive wooden staircase leading to the second story.  As Anna stood in the foyer looking about, a man came out of the hallway.  Introducing himself as Helmut Mueller, he handed her a fine box of German chocolates.  She suddenly felt like a little girl again, remembering the way Uncle Clause had always brought her candies.  

Anna then walked across the foyer into the large main floor study.  On the wall above the fireplace was a painting of her mother and father that had miraculously survived the fire of long ago.  She remarked to Rolf that Father and Uncle Clause discussed important matters there in the study.  Rolf only smiled and nodded.  Motioning for Rolf to join her, they sat in the two high backed, Louis XIV chairs positioned around a beautifully ornate Victrola.  As they talked, bright sunlight streamed into the room from the large French windows situated directly behind them.  The sunlight brought out the colors in the room.  While Anna and Rolf sat talking about the estancia, Helmut was drawn to the French windows.  The view of the front gate of the estancia walls and surrounding landscape with its beautiful trees was something to behold.  

As Rolf joined Helmut at the windows, Anna remembered back to those many years ago when she had returned from vacation in Paris.  For a teenager, the trip had been a long one.  Anna remembered arriving that day and being hungry.  She went into the kitchen and was greeted by young Miguelito, Jose’s son.  The two ate Lorraina’s fresh cookies together.  She could still smell the cookies as her mind returned to the present.  Being home and in the estancia brought back many good memories.  An excited Anna wanted to see more.  Grabbing Rolf’s hand, she led him into kitchen.  There she found Miguelito, Jose’s grandson.  To her amazement, the boy looked exactly like his father.  Miguelito offered her a cookie and she sat for a few moments with the young boy as he talked about the estancia.  

After a while, Rolf and Helmut led her up the staircase to the second floor.  Making her way down the hall, Anna entered her bedroom.  The room was exactly as it had once been.  It faced the front entrance of the estancia.  She looked with delight through the tall French windows and surveyed the beautiful grounds below.  Shrubs and flowerbeds had been planted around the rebuilt courtyard fountain.  Large trees lined the stone walkways.  Thick, dark green ivy grew on the stone walls surrounding the estancia.  Anna was delighted with what she saw.  Casa Castillo was once again whole.  Knowing Anna was tired, Rolf and Helmut left her alone to be with her thoughts.  

That evening, Rolf and Helmut joined her for dinner.  Miguel’s grandmother, Lorraina, served.  The food and wine were excellent.  After the meal, the three spent several hours relaxing.  It was late when Anna went off to bed.  The men played chess and drank brandy well into the early morning hours.  As they sat in the study playing chess, the men talked of the Argentina of the thirties and forties.  Helmut was invited to spend the night at the estancia.  It was after three in the morning when they said good night.  Rolf made it a point to check in on Anna twice that night.  He also made sure that Johnny and Kenneth were patrolling the grounds during their shifts.  Each was alert and armed when Rolf approached them unexpectedly in the dark.  Neither was taken by surprise.  Kenneth had chosen well.  

The next morning, Rolf was up early saddling Anna’s stallion which had been shipped from the stables in Santa Barbara.  After saddling his mount, Rolf left both horses in the stalls and went back to the house.  When he arrived, Anna was having breakfast in the kitchen with young Miguel.  Rolf joined them for coffee.  The three talked about touring the estancia that day.  As breakfast ended, Rolf invited Anna to go riding.  The thought of it made her happy.  Rolf and Anna took the saddled horses from their stalls and walked them to the horse track Aragón had built.  Talking about Aragón as they walked the horses once around the track made them both miss the big man.  Then they rode the horses into the countryside.  As they approached the tree line, they spotted Johnny following on horseback in the trees.  When Rolf looked to the rear, Kenneth was following at a safe distance.  Rolf was pleased with their dedication.  Anna said nothing, as she brought her stallion to a full gallop.  

The days were pleasant for Anna.  After her morning rides, the duties of the estancia filled her time.  Seeing to the daily chores, she directed the staff’s efforts.  The cleaning of the house and maintenance of the stables demanded constant attention.  The twenty-six maids, drivers, cooks, bodyguards, laborers, and technicians had to be fed and cared for.  Her new life had great demands.  

Anna received her first letter from Kenny on her third day at the estancia.  Explaining that all was well, he wrote of his plan to visit once things settled down.  This pleased her.  Benjamin also wrote, his letters arriving weekly.  Christina wrote the most, her letters arrived daily.  

Anna had been at the estancia for two weeks when César and the Countessa came for an extended stay.  César shared with Anna that Kenneth had given him control of all Family companies, bank accounts, banks, in short, everything the family owned.  He explained to Anna that he had accepted gladly.  Anna was pleased that her long-time friend was running the family businesses; she no longer had the heart for it.  Knowing the value of the holdings was now in the billions of dollars; Anna understood the kindness of the act.  Kenneth had given César immense financial power, and Anna felt it a wise move.  César could be trusted to do the right thing.  Their families were as close as blood relatives.  

Bringing Rolf good news during that first dinner, César produced an envelope.  The letter had been given to him by Michael Aragón to hold until the five gathered together at the estancia after Aragón’s retirement.  César felt it was time to reveal the contents of the letter that held a trust deed to the Brenner Villa.  He explained to those present that Aragón had purchased the property from a retired Argentine general who had received it as a gift from Perón.  It was a present for Rolf.  The circle was now complete.  Saying little, Rolf read the letter from Aragón.  His eyes misting over, he offered a toast to Aragón.  

The Romeros stay helped Anna through the pain of her loss.  The four went on daily excursions to nearby towns, buying antiques.  They rode in the mornings and played cards well into the night.  César and the Countessa invited prominent families from the district to dinner, feeling that Anna should be introduced to her neighbors and once again join Argentine society.  The weeks passed enjoyably.  Anna was now settled into her new life.  

It was March of 1990, and César and the Countessa had already returned to their home in Spain.  As always, Anna and Rolf spent a great deal of time together.  After dinner one evening, the Argentine news program, Mundo Television, was full of news stories about the Eme striking at the Colombians.  Twenty-three Colombians from the Marquez family were killed within one week.  The Argentine press was full of reports about the March 25th assaults on Colombian gangsters in Chicago.  The Colombian Cartel’s Chicago Empire was finished.  

Several days later, Anna heard the heartbreaking news.  The Colombians had made their way to Santa Barbara to the villa where Kenny, Rita, and Baby Anna lived.  At 9:13 in the morning, when Rita turned the key in the ignition of her car, Rita Solas-Aragón was killed by a Colombian car bomb.  Kenneth called his mother that same morning.  Shattered by Rita’s death, Anna told him to come and see me, asking that we pray together.  Anna was happy to hear that Baby Anna would be safe in Spain with César and the Countessa by the following day.  

In November, Christina came to visit.  The two spent a great deal of time together.  Enjoying her work at the law firm, Christina had been made a full partner.  Her life had become a series of flights and hotel stays as she traveled around the country litigating cases.  Christina was tired.  The strain of her father’s death and her mourning had left Christina exhausted.  Rita’s death had left her searching for the meaning of life, so much so, that she had begun attending church again.  Burying herself in work hadn’t stopped the loneliness.  What she needed was to be with her mother.  Christina stayed for three weeks.  Anna, Rolf, and she rode every morning.  Anna and Christina spent many late afternoons shopping for antiques together in the surrounding towns.  Rolf and Christina drank brandy, smoked cigars, and played chess into the night.  By the end of the third week, Christina’s health had returned and she was her old self again.  Rolf’s fatherly attention had helped close the wound that Aragón’s death had left.  Leaving for New York, she promised to return for Christmas.  

The first week of December brought a visit from Benjamin.  Like Christina, Benjamin had suffered greatly over his father’s death.  He too had buried himself in his work.  The news that César had been given the family businesses to run was welcomed.  Benjamin was ready for a change.  The change came in the form of a mergers and acquisitions firm.  César had helped Benjamin form the new corporation, Aragón International.  Within the first two weeks, Benjamin had begun his first acquisition of a fledgling technologies company.  Three weeks later, he’d begun two more acquisitions.  His friends from his Harvard days began calling the firm the House of Aragón.  

On his arrival in Argentina, Benjamin and his mother spent the first week going over the books for the estancia.  He personally interviewed each staff member.  Two days were dedicated to surveying the property and holdings.  Once satisfied that the estancia was profitable, he moved on to Anna’s personal assets.  A week was spent on this project.  By the time Christina arrived on the twentieth of December, he had completed his mother’s asset review.  A happy Benjamin pronounced her a rich woman.  

Christmas Eve was a wonderful night for Anna.  Rolf and the children invited twenty guests for a special dinner.  Their Argentine guests were enchanted by her two children.  Both spoke Spanish well and were able to discuss Argentina’s favorite subjects, money and politics.  Rolf listened proudly to his surrogate children as they captivated their guests.  Anna’s dreams for them had been realized.  They were well-read and well-rounded.  She had dedicated herself to them, and her attention had paid dividends.  Both Rolf and Anna had hoped that Kenny could have joined them.  But both knew that he had a task to complete.  The children left two days later, promising to return soon.  Rolf and Anna returned to a quiet house, one full of new memories.  They were both older now and needed the peace and calm that a quiet house brought.  

The following week, Rolf decided to turn his attention to his new home.  Spending the following day at the Brenner Villa, he could see all around him the orderliness of the German mind and the fruits it produced.  He saw it in the size and construction of the villa.  The interior finishing work of the house was a testament to the details that a master carpenter had exacted from each and every piece of wood.  Brenner had thought out each part of the structure.  The stonework and masonry were still in excellent shape.  Each block fit perfectly in place, a testament to Brenner’s engineering and craftsmanship.  The design and overall scheme of the property and its buildings demonstrated order and efficiency.  The property’s neatly trimmed gardens, fruit trees, and grape vines were laid out in a uniform fashion.  While the gardens brought beauty to the villa, the vegetable patches provided food for the help.  Brenner had thought of everything.  

Wandering about the second floor of the Brenner villa, Rolf found the doors to the veranda opened.  The cool morning air flowed into the villa, bringing with it the sweet aroma of flowers.  Walking about the veranda, he looked around and was pleased with what he saw.  The large concrete urns full of bright flowers and fragrant plants placed strategically on the veranda still remained after all these years.  They had been positioned every five feet along the balustrade.  The hanging red clay flower pots on wrought iron hooks still hung from the ceiling above the veranda balustrades.  The effect remained dazzling.  

Deciding to spend the night, Rolf called Anna and informed her.  The staff was happy that the new owner had finally decided to stay.  The house was full of preparation for the evening.  Descending the large staircase for dinner, Rolf was greeted by his friend Helmut.  When he reached the first floor landing, the two men hugged.  The abrasso was still the way Argentine men welcomed one another.  The two then went into the study to talk and drink brandies until dinner was served.  Within a few minutes Ramon, the house boy, announced that dinner was to be served on the veranda.  The two made their way outside and seated themselves at the table.  The young man efficiently placed the linen napkin on their laps.  He asked only, "Café Señores?"  The men nodded their replies and the young man poured.  The strong aroma of the Argentine coffee traveled across the table, mixing with the sweet smell of the flowers.  Enjoying the coffee, they talked about the villa and what needed to be done.  

Now ready for dinner, Rolf signaled Ramon.  To Argentine households, dinner meant the traditional barbequed steak and potatoes.  The argentine bread was fluffy and white, unlike the dark thick German bread.  As the large tray arrived heaped with food, it made Rolf hungry.  Having placed the tray on the table, Ramon stood by waiting to serve.  The men waived the young boy away, preferring to serve themselves.  The food was excellent, and the fruity German wine was perfect.  Night hadn’t quite fallen as the two finished their meal and began to rise from the table.  As they did, Rolf looked out on the vineyards and smiled.  He was finally home.

06/21/2016 06:30 AM