Laura and I have decided to drive down to UT Austin to question some of Iza’s friends before the weekend comes and everyone clears out. I still can’t access Iza’s laptop, but I’m feeling brave enough to scout around her apartment in search of contacts. I might even try to get a copy of her class schedule from the registrar.
So far Laura and I haven’t been able to make heads or tails of any of the clues. I’ve combed through Iza’s texts to me, but nothing gives me any indication that she would be handling large sums of money. Very little mention of her boyfriend except for casual mentions of group dates, classes, and homework.
I did, however, find one more tiny clue. A small, crumpled piece of paper shoved into the front pocket of the small duffel bag holding the money. Laura and I have no idea what to do about the money, except for shoving it in a paper bag under the back seat of my car. We are quite comical about it, alternating between laughing and nail biting that either the police or the bad guys are going to show up any minute and either take the money by gunpoint or haul us away to jail. I can’t tell you how much there is because I can’t bear to count it.
Anyway, the piece of paper. Just a pencil scrawl on a torn scrap of paper which reads: FRA term1 meet? 2333 locker?
No idea. No. idea.
Anywho, I’ll keep you posted on what happens in Austin.
I took my bag of loot and drove back to Houston without stopping, almost rushing, as if I was being followed. It’s a little disconcerting to steal your own sister’s belongings, especially when you’ve reported her missing. Especially when one of those belongings is a boat load of cash.
When I got back to Houston I didn’t go home, where I had been staying with my parents. Instead, I went my best friend Laura’s apartment downtown, where she made coffee while I sat on the floor and dumped out the bag.
“What the hell?” she asked, handing me a cup of coffee and gesturing to the pile of cash on the floor. What is THIS?”
“I’m not going to spend it.”
“Why do you have it?”
“I don’t know. It’s a long story.”
I pushed the piles of money out of the way when I heard a strange thump. There, among some wads of money wrapped in rubber bands, were two items. One was a student ID card from UT Austin belonging to a girl named Grace Szabo. The other was what looked like a chess piece. A large, heavy, very old-looking chess piece. But I wasn’t sure, because it was a carving of an elephant. I handed it to Laura and she sat down heavily on the floor while holding it.
“My god,” she said, “This looks like it’s from a museum.”
“What is it?”
“It’s a Rook.”
“A Rook? Are you sure it’s not a Knight, or a King?”
“No, it’s a Rook.”
Laura should know. She’s was the Junior National Chess Champion.
Iza is my sister. Don’t worry, I know she is still alive, I just want us to be clear on that point. This is not the false hope of a bereaved sister, this is based on the evidence she left behind. I believe that Iza, who was on a college history cruise of the Danube, purposefully left the ship at Regensburg, Germany to meet up with her boyfriend, a notorious hacker known only as Andrew, or Drew1495.
Iza is currently a history major at UT Austin and recently signed up for a cruise of the Danube. She arrived in Frankfurt several weeks ago, then flew to Hungary to begin the cruise, and I didn’t hear from her again until I got a text with this picture:
The text read:
We had salmon for supper! It’s beautiful here. You won’t hear from me again for some time. Please don’t worry.
At the time, I assumed she meant because there was no cell service on the boat, but a week later I received an email from her friend Maya telling me that Iza never returned to the ship after they docked in Regensburg. I wrote back frantically and asked when she had last seen Iza, to which Maya replied that it had been almost 48 hours. The chaperone of the trip, a representative from UT Austin, has notified the authorities, who are currently looking for Iza. However, things are complicated by the fact that she is an adult, is not wanted by the law, and there is no evidence of a crime.
I immediately drove to Austin and let myself into Iza’s apartment near campus. I was shocked to find that she had left both her laptop and her journal on her desk, along with a large amount of cash in a small duffel bag. When I discovered all of this I immediately stuffed the laptop and journal into the bag and left, hoping I had not been seen.
All this happened a month ago. Still no sign of Iza. I sleep with my cell phone hoping she’ll text me. I have not been able to figure out the password on her laptop, but her journal has been very illuminating.
Spring is upon us and a new season has begun. I realize that some stories have ended prematurely and others were never told. That is the nature of my work, and for that I apologize. The world has been a dark place these past few years, and I have not always been in a position to work toward the light. I have longed to walk away from everyone and everything, to retire from trying to bring this planet into a balanced state. One day I will disappear forever, and you will never hear from me again.
However, today is not that day. I have a new client, a woman named Katia who searches in vain for her sister Iza, a young college student who went missing while on a cruise on the Danube river.
Fortunately, Iza did not disappear without a trace. Instead, she left behind a treasure trove of clues which have led Katia deep into the European continent, into a dark underworld of art dealers, musicians, hackers, and thieves; and ultimately, deep into the secrets of history.
The story will begin with Katia, telling us about the last time she saw Iza, and what she has learned since that day.
I don’t expect you to follow me this time, but I hope you do.
All of my best,