Read Letter from a Stranger Online

Authors: Barbara Taylor Bradford

Letter from a Stranger

 

Again for Bob, as always with my love

 

Acknowledgments

Several years ago my husband and I met Iffet Özgönül, a professor of archaeology, and became friends. Iffet also runs her own boutique travel business and it was she who looked after us so well on our first trip to Istanbul. She has been doing so ever since, on our many visits to the fascinating city where she lives. I must thank Iffet for allowing me to make her a character in this book, and for her tremendous help with research on Istanbul. Our e-mails were constantly flying back and forth the entire time I was writing it, and her enthusiasm was remarkable.

To bring back to life an historical event of long ago every author has to resort to books by other writers. I am lucky in that the mentor of my writing career as an author was the late war correspondent and historian Cornelius Ryan. To re-create details of the end of the Second World War in Europe I reread Connie’s famous book
The Last Battle.
It is as marvelously vivid and moving today as it was when it was first published in 1966. Certainly it helped me to truly envision and “live” the harrowing and dramatic events Connie depicted so eloquently and with such humanity. No wonder it was a bestseller. Once again I found it impossible to put down. He was also the author of
The Longest Day
and
A Bridge Too Far,
and not surprisingly the French government awarded him the French Legion of Honor.

I wish to thank Lonnie Ostrow of Bradford Enterprises, a whiz on the computer, who managed to get all of my many edits onto the manuscript under great pressure, and with good humor and efficiency. My thanks to my editor, Jennifer Enderlin, for her ideas, enthusiasm, and suggestions, and to Sally Richardson, publisher of St. Martin’s Press, New York, for her enthusiastic support, and the rest of the St. Martin’s team.

I owe thanks to Lynne Drew, publishing director of HarperCollins, London, for her ideas, suggestions, and enthusiasm. Thanks are also due to my editors, Susan Opie and Penny Isaacs, as well as to the entire team at HarperCollins, London. Thanks also to my friend Trudy Gold, Chief Executive of the Jewish Cultural Centre in London. As usual, Trudy steered me through the mass of information regarding the Holocaust, and did so with her special brand of warmth, sincerity, and friendship.

Last but not least, I must thank my husband, Robert Bradford, for his encouragement and involvement with all my books, but most especially this one. As the first reader his comments and suggestions are invaluable. His love, devotion, and support are incomparable, not to mention his infinite patience with a wife always involved in time-consuming books that seem to take over the entire household.

 

Contents

T
ITLE
P
AGE

D
EDICATION

A
CKNOWLEDGMENTS

P
ROLOGUE

Istanbul: April 2004

P
ART
O
NE

The Letter

P
ART
T
WO

The Search

P
ART
T
HREE

The Reunion

P
ART
F
OUR

Coup de Foudre

P
ART
F
IVE

The Mystery

E
PILOGUE

The Litchfield Hills, Connecticut: July 2004

B
IBLIOGRAPHY

B
OOKS BY
B
ARBARA
T
AYLOR
B
RADFORD

A
BOUT THE
A
UTHOR

C
OPYRIGHT

 

Prologue

ISTANBUL

April 2004

 

 

The letter, contemplated and worried about for such a long time, was finally written. But it was not mailed. Instead it was put in a drawer of the desk so that it could be thought about, the words carefully reconsidered before that last irretrievable step was taken.

The following morning the letter was read once more, corrected and locked away for the second time. On the third day it was perused again and the words deftly edited. Satisfied that everything had been said clearly and concisely, the writer copied the final draft on a fresh piece of writing paper. This was folded, sealed in an envelope, addressed, and affixed with the correct stamps. The words
AIR MAIL
were written in the top left-hand corner of the envelope, which was then propped against the antique French clock on the desk.

A short while later, the young son of the cook was summoned to the upstairs sitting room. The envelope was handed to him, instructions given, and he was told to take it to the post office at once.

The boy left the villa immediately, waving to the gardener as he trotted through the iron gates of the old-style Turkish
yali.
This was situated on the Asiatic side of Istanbul, on the shores of the Bosphorus, in Üsküdar, the largest and most historical district of the city.

As he walked in the direction of the post office, the boy held the letter tightly in his hand, proud that he had been given such an important task by his father’s employer. He was only ten, but everyone said he was capable, and this pleased him.

A light, balmy breeze wafted inland from the sea, carrying with it the hint of salt and the sounds of continuous hooting from one of the big cruise ships now plowing its way down the Bosphorus, heading toward the Black Sea and new ports of call.

The boy hurried on, intent in his purpose, remembering his instructions.… The letter must be put in the box marked
INTERNATIONAL.
It was going to America. He must not make the mistake of using the one which was for domestic mail. He was soon leaving the shoreline behind, walking up the long road called Halk Caddesi. The post office was at the top, and within minutes he found the letter box marked
INTERNATIONAL
and dropped the letter in the slot. He then retraced his steps.

When the Bosphorus was in his line of vision once more, the boy began to run; he was soon pushing open the gates of the
yali,
heading for the kitchens. He found his father preparing lunch, and dutifully reported that he had posted the letter. His father picked up the phone, spoke to his employer, then ruffled his son’s hair, smiling down at him. He rewarded him with pieces of Turkish delight on a saucer.

The boy went outside, sat on the step in the sunshine, munching the delicious sweetmeat. He sat there daydreaming, had no way of knowing that the letter he had just mailed would change many lives forever. And so drastically they would never be the same again.

The writer of the letter knew this. But the consequences were of no consideration. Long ago, a terrible wrong had been done. The truth was long overdue. Finally it had been revealed, and if there was retribution, then so be it. What mattered most was that a wrong could be righted.

 

Part One

THE LETTER

Read it a hundred times; it will forever keep its freshness as a petal keeps its fragrance. It can never lose its sense of meaning that once unfolded by surprise as it went.

—Robert Frost,
The Figure a Poem Makes

 

One

The view from the second-floor terrace was panoramic, and breathtaking. Justine Nolan, who knew it well, was nevertheless startled when she saw it even after a short absence, and today was no exception.

She leaned against the white-painted wooden railings, gazing out at the sweeping line of the Litchfield Hills flowing toward the distant horizon. Their thickly wooded slopes rolled down to verdant meadows; beyond them Lake Waramaug, set deeply in the valley, shimmered in the sunlight like a great swathe of fabric cut from cloth of silver. As usual, Justine caught her breath, filled with intense pleasure that she was back at Indian Ridge, the house where she had grown up and spent much of her life.

It was a clear bright day, with a blue sky and bountiful clouds, but there was a snap in the wind, a hint of winter still, and it was cold for April.

Shivering, Justine wrapped her heavy-knit red jacket around her body as she continued to devour the view … the white clapboard houses, so typical of Connecticut, dotted here and there on some of the meadows, and to her right, set against a stand of dark green trees, three silos and two red barns grouped together in a distant field. They had been there for as long as she could remember, and were a much-loved and familiar sight.

Unexpectedly, a flock of birds swept past her, unusually close to the railings, and she blinked, startled by them. They soared upward in a vee, a perfect formation and quite beautiful. She stared after them as they flew higher and higher into the haze of blue, and then she turned around and went back into the house.

Picking up her overnight bag, which she had dropped on the landing a few minutes earlier, Justine carried it into her bedroom and immediately unpacked, putting away sweaters, trousers, shoes, and her toilet bag. Ever since childhood she had been neat, very tidy in her habits, and it was her nature to be well organized. She hated clutter, which had to be avoided at all cost.

Glancing around the bedroom, smiling to herself, she experienced a sudden rush of happiness. She loved this room, and the entire house.… Some of her happiest times had been spent here at Indian Ridge, especially when her father was still alive. She and her twin had adored him.

She was glad her mother had kept the house, and that she and her brother Richard could continue to use it at weekends, as well as for long stretches in the summer. It was their mutual escape hatch, a safe haven, and a place where they could relax from their busy schedules in New York.

For the past month Justine had stayed in Manhattan, working on the last stage of her newest documentary about Jean-Marc Breton, the world’s greatest living artist, supervising the cutting with the director and the film’s editor. It had been arduous, long days and nights of work, hours and hours and hours filled with tension, stress, anxiety, good and bad surprises, friction at times, and some disappointments. But when they had viewed the final cut, and not without some trepidation, they had been jubilant. The film, which they had considered to be problematical right from the first day of shooting because of the temperament and dictatorial attitude of their subject, had turned out to be good. Very, very good in fact, much to their collective relief.

Now Justine prayed that the network would feel the same when she screened it for them next week. Miranda Evans, the head of documentaries for Cable News International, would view it with total detachment, which always pleased Justine and her team. Miranda brought no prejudices or preconceived ideas into the screening room, which was why Justine trusted her judgment. That impartiality was a rare quality. Miranda had believed in her right from the start, and had funded most of the blood diamonds documentary, another tough subject.

Suddenly, worry edged into her mind. She took a deep breath and pushed it away.
The film was excellent,
and it
was
the final cut
.
And that was that.

She shook her head, grimaced to herself, wished she could let go of a project the moment it was at an end. But she couldn’t; it always took her time to move on. And then she automatically went into a different mode, was filled with deflation, anxiety, and a sense of loss.

She had mentioned this to Richard last night, and he had started to laugh, understanding exactly what she meant. Her twin and she were very much alike. He had pointed out that she was going up to the house to mentally and physically replenish herself, and fresh and exciting ideas would soon pop into her head when she was completely rested. And with that he had ended their phone call on a somewhat teasing note.

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