The Sands of Time

 Sidney Sheldon

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The pilot of the Lockheed Lodestar was worried.
"A front is closing in. I don't like the look of it." He nodded to the co-pilot. "Take over." Then he left the cockpit to go back to the cabin.
There were five passengers on board besides the pilot and co-pilot: Byron Scott, the brilliant, dynamic founder and chief executive officer of Scott Industries; his attractive wife, Susan; their year-old daughter, Patricia; Milo Scott, Byron's younger brother; and Milo's wife, Ellen. They were flying in one of the company planes from Paris to Madrid. Bringing the baby had been a last-minute impulse on Susan's part.
"I hate to be away from her for so long," she had told her husband.
"Afraid she'll forget us?" he had teased. "All right. We'll take her with us."
Now that World War II was over, Scott Industries was rapidly expanding into the European market. In Madrid, Byron Scott would investigate the possibilities of opening a new steel mill.
The pilot approached him.
"Excuse me, sir. We're heading into some thunder clouds. It doesn't look very good ahead. Do you want to turn back?"
Byron looked out the small window. They were flying through a gray mass of cumulus clouds, and every few seconds distant lightning illuminated them. "I have a meeting in Madrid tonight. Can you go around the storm?"
"I'll try. If I can't, then I'm going to have to turn us around."
Byron nodded. "All right."
"Would you all fasten your seat belts, please?"
The pilot hurried back to the cockpit.
Susan had heard the conversation. She picked up the baby and held her in her arms, suddenly wishing she had not brought her along. I've got to tell Byron to have the pilot turn back, she thought.
"Byron - "
They were suddenly in the eye of the storm and the plane began to buck up and down, caught in the gusting winds. The motion began to grow more violent. Rain was smashing against the windows. The storm had closed off all visibility. The passengers felt as though they were riding on a rolling cotton sea.
Byron flicked down the intercom switch. "Where are we, Blake?"
"We're fifty-five miles northwest of Madrid, over the town of avila."
Byron looked out the window again. "We'll forget Madrid tonight. Let's turn around and get the hell out of here."
The decision was a fraction of a second too late. As the pilot started to bank the plane, a mountain peak loomed suddenly in front of him. There was no time to avoid the crash. There was a rending tear, and the sky exploded as the plane tore into the side of the mountain, ripping apart, scattering chunks of fuselage and wings along a high plateau.
After the crash there was an unnatural silence that lasted for what seemed an eternity. It was broken by the crackle of flames starting to lick at the undercarriage of the plane.
"Ellen - "
Ellen Scott opened her eyes. She was lying under a tree. Her husband was bending over her, lightly slapping her face. When he saw that she was alive, he said, "Thank God."
Ellen sat up, dizzy, her head throbbing, every muscle in her body aching. She looked around at the obscene pieces of wreckage that had once been an airplane filled with human bodies, and shuddered.
"The others?" she asked hoarsely.
"They're dead."
She stared at her husband. "Oh, my God! No!"
He nodded, his face tight with grief. "Byron, Susan, the baby, the pilots, everyone."
Ellen Scott closed her eyes again and said a silent prayer. Why were Milo and I spared? she wondered. It was hard to think clearly. We have to go down and get help. But it's too late. They're all dead. It was impossible to believe. They had been so full of life just a few minutes before.
"Can you stand up?"
"I - I think so."
Milo helped his wife to her feet. There was a surge of sickening dizziness, and she stood there, waiting for it to pass.
Milo turned to look at the plane. Flames were beginning to get higher. "Let's get out of here," he said. "The damned thing is going to blow up any second."
They quietly moved away and watched it burn. A moment later, there was an explosion as the gas tanks blew apart and the plane was engulfed in flames.
"It's a miracle we're alive," Milo said.
Ellen looked at the burning plane. Something was nagging at the edges of her mind, but she was having trouble thinking clearly. Something about Scott Industries. And then suddenly she knew.
"Yes?" He was not really listening.
"It's fate."
The fervor in her voice made him turn. "What?"
"Scott Industries - it belongs to you now."
"I don't - "
"Milo, God left it to you." Her voice was filled with a burning intensity. "All your life you've lived in the shadow of your big brother." She was thinking clearly now, coherently, and she forgot her headache and the pain. The words were tumbling out in a spate that shook her whole body. "You worked for Byron for twenty years, building up the company. You're as responsible for its success as he is, but did he - did he ever give you credit for it? No. It was always his company, his success, his profits. Well, now you - you finally have a chance to come into your own."
He looked at her, horrified. "Ellen - their bodies are - how can you even think about - ?"
"I know. But we didn't kill them. It's our turn, Milo. We've finally come into our own. There's no one alive to claim the company but us. It's ours! Yours!"
And at that moment they heard the cry of a baby. Ellen and Milo Scott stared at each other unbelievingly.
"It's Patricia! She's alive. Oh, my God!"
They found the baby near a clump of bushes. By some miracle she was unhurt.
Milo picked her up gently and held her close. "Shh! It's all right, darling," he whispered. "Everything's going to be all right."
Ellen was standing at his side, a look of shock on her face. "You - you said she was dead."
"She must have been knocked unconscious."
Ellen stared at the baby a long time. "She should have been killed with the others," she said in a strangled voice.
Milo looked up at her, shocked. "What are you saying?"
"Byron's will leaves everything to Patricia. You can look forward to spending the next twenty years being her caretaker so that when she grows up she can treat you as shabbily as her father did. Is that what you want?"
He was silent.
"We'll never have a chance like this again." She was staring at the baby, and there was a wild look in her eyes that Milo had never seen before. It was almost as though she wanted to -
She's not herself. She's suffering from a concussion. "For God's sake, Ellen, what are you thinking?"
She looked at her husband for a long moment, and the wild light faded from her eyes. "I don't know," she said calmly. After a pause she said, "There's something we can do. We can leave her somewhere, Milo. The pilot said we were near avila. There should be plenty of tourists there. There's no reason for anyone to connect the baby with the plane crash."
He shook his head. "Their friends know that Byron and Susan took Patricia with them."
Ellen looked at the burning plane. "That's no problem. They all burned up in the crash. We'll have a private memorial service here."
"Ellen," he protested. "We can't do this. We'd never get away with it."
"God did it for us. We have gotten away with it."
Milo looked at the baby. "But she's so - "
"She'll be fine," Ellen said soothingly. "We'll drop her off at a nice farmhouse outside of town. Someone will adopt her and she'll grow up to have a lovely life here."
He shook his head. "I can't do it. No."
"If you love me you'll do this for us. You have to choose, Milo. You can either have me, or you can spend the rest of your life working for your brother's child."
"Please, I - "
"Do you love me?"
"More than my life," he said simply.
"Then prove it."
They made their way carefully down the mountainside in the dark, whipped by the wind. Because the plane had crashed in a high wooded area, the sound was muffled, so the townspeople were unaware as yet of what had happened.
Three hours later, in the outskirts of avila, Ellen and Milo reached a small farmhouse. It was not yet dawn.
"We'll leave her here," Ellen whispered.
Milo made one last try. "Ellen, couldn't we - ?"
"Do it!" she said fiercely.
Without another word he turned and carried the baby to the door of the farmhouse. She was wearing only a torn pink nightgown and had a blanket wrapped around her.
Milo looked at Patricia for a long moment, his eyes filled with tears, then laid her gently down.
He whispered, "Have a good life, darling."
The crying awakened Asuncion Moras. For a sleepy moment she thought it was the bleating of a goat or a lamb. How had it gotten out of its pen?
Grumbling, she rose from her warm bed, put on an old faded robe, and walked to the door.
When she saw the infant lying on the ground screaming and kicking, she said, "¡Madre de Dios!" and yelled for her husband.
They brought the child inside and stared at it. It would not stop crying, and it seemed to be turning blue.
"We've got to get her to the hospital."
They hurriedly wrapped another blanket around the baby, carried her to their pickup truck, and drove her to the hospital. They sat on a bench in the long corridor waiting for someone to attend to them, and thirty minutes later a doctor came and took the baby away to examine her.
When he returned, he said, "She's got pneumonia."
"Is she going to live?"
The doctor shrugged.
Milo and Ellen Scott stumbled into the police station at avila.
The desk sergeant looked up at the two bedraggled tourists. "Buenos dias. Can I help you?"
"There's been a terrible accident," Milo said. "Our plane crashed up in the mountains and..."
One hour later a rescue party was on its way to the mountainside. When they arrived, there was nothing to see but the smoldering, charred remains of an aircraft and its passengers.
The investigation of the airplane accident conducted by the Spanish authorities was cursory.
"The pilot should not have attempted to fly into such a bad storm. We must attribute the accident to pilot error."
There was no reason for anyone in avila to associate the airplane crash with a small child left on the doorstep of a farmhouse.
It was over.
It was just beginning.
Milo and Ellen held a private memorial service for Byron, his wife, Susan, and their daughter, Patricia. When they returned to New York, they held a second memorial service, attended by the shocked friends of the Scotts.
"What a terrible tragedy. And poor little Patricia."
"Yes," Ellen said sadly. "The only blessing is that it happened so quickly, none of them suffered."
The financial community was shaken by the news. It was almost unanimously agreed that with Byron Scott's death, Scott Industries had suffered an irreparable loss.
"Don't listen to what any of them say," Ellen Scott told her husband. "You're better than Byron ever was. The company is going to be bigger than ever."
Milo took her in his arms. "I don't know what I would do without you."
She smiled. "You'll never have to. From now on we're going to have everything in the world we've ever dreamed of."
She held him close and thought: Who would have believed that Ellen Dudash, from a poor Polish family in Gary, Indiana, would have one day said, "From now on, we're going to have everything in the world we ever dreamed of"?
And meant it.
For ten days the baby remained in the hospital, fighting for her life, and when the crisis was past, Father Berrendo went to see the farmer and his wife.
"I have joyous news for you," he said happily. "The child is going to be all right."
The Morases exchanged an uncomfortable look.
"I'm glad for her sake," the farmer said evasively.
Father Berrendo beamed. "She is a gift from God."
"Certainly, Father. But my wife and I have talked it over and decided that God is too generous to us. His gift requires feeding. We can't afford to keep it."
"But she's such a beautiful baby," Father Berrendo pointed out. "And - "
"Agreed. But my wife and I are old and sick, and we can't take on the responsibility of bringing up a baby. God will have to take back his gift."
And so it was that with nowhere else to go the baby was sent to the orphanage in avila.
Milo and Ellen were seated in the office of Byron Scott's attorney for the reading of the will. The three of them were the only ones present. Ellen was filled with a sense of almost unbearable excitement. A few words on a piece of paper were going to make her and Milo rich beyond imagining.
We'll buy old masters and an estate in Southhampton, and a castle in France. And that's only the beginning.
The lawyer started to speak, and Ellen turned her attention to him. Months earlier she had seen a copy of Byron's will and knew exactly what it said:
"In the event that my wife and I should both be deceased, I bequeath all my stock in Scott Industries to my only child, Patricia, and I appoint my brother, Milo, as executor of my estate until she reaches the legal age and is able to take over..."
Well, all that is changed now, Ellen thought excitedly.
The lawyer, Lawrence Gray, said solemnly, "This has been a terrible shock to all of us. I know how much you loved your brother, Milo, and as for that darling little baby..." He shook his head. "Well, life must go on. You may not be aware that your brother had changed his will. I won't bother you with the legalese. I will just read you the gist of it." He thumbed through the will and came to the paragraph he was looking for. "I amend this will so that my daughter, Patricia, will receive the sum of five million dollars plus a distribution of one million dollars a year for the rest of her life. All the stock in Scott Industries held in my name will go to my brother, Milo, as a reward for the faithful and valuable services he has provided the company through the years."
Milo felt the room begin to sway.
Mr. Gray looked up. "Are you all right?"
Milo was finding it difficult to breathe. Good God, what have we done? We've taken away her birthright, and it wasn't necessary at all Now we can give it back to her.
He turned to say something to Ellen, but the look in her eyes stopped him.
"There has to be something we can do, Ellen. We can't just leave Patricia there. Not now."
They were in their Fifth Avenue apartment getting dressed to go to a charity dinner.
"That's exactly what we're going to do," Ellen told him. "Unless you'd like to bring her back here and try to explain why we said she was burned to death in the airplane crash."
He had no answer to that. After thinking a moment he said, "All right, then. We'll send her money every month so she - "
"Don't be a fool, Milo." Her voice was curt. "Send her money? And have the police start checking on why someone is sending her money and trace it back to us? No. If your conscience bothers you, we'll have the company give money to charity. Forget about the child, Milo. She's dead. Remember?"
The words echoed in Ellen Scott's mind as she looked out at the audience in the Waldorf-Astoria ballroom and finished her speech. There was another standing ovation.
You're standing up for a dead woman, she thought.
That night the ghosts came back. She thought she had exorcised them long ago. In the beginning, after the memorial services for her brother- and sister-in-law and Patricia, the night visitors had come frequently. Pale mists hovered over her bed and voices whispered in her ear. She would awaken, her pulse racing, but there would be nothing to see. She had told none of this to Milo. He was weak, and it might have terrified him into doing something foolish, something that would jeopardize the company. If the truth got out, the scandal would destroy Scott Industries, and Ellen was determined that that must never happen. And so she suffered the ghosts in silence, until finally they went away and left her in peace.
Now, the night of the banquet, they returned. She awakened and sat up in her bed and looked around. The room was empty and quiet, but she knew they had been there. What were they trying to tell her? Did they know she would be joining them soon?
Ellen rose and walked into the spacious, antique-filled drawing room of the beautiful townhouse she had bought after Milo passed away. She looked around the lovely room and thought: Poor Milo. He had not had time to enjoy any of the benefits of his brother's death. He had died of a heart attack a year after the plane crash, and Ellen Scott had taken over the company, running it with an efficiency and expertise that had catapulted Scott Industries into greater international prominence.
The company belongs to the Scott family, she thought. I'm not going to turn it over to faceless strangers.
And that led her thoughts to Byron and Susan's daughter. The rightful heiress to the throne that had been stolen from her. Was there fear in her thoughts? Was it a wish to make an atonement before her own death?
Ellen Scott sat in her drawing room all night, staring into nothingness, thinking and planning. How long ago had it been? Twenty-eight years. Patricia would be a grown woman now, assuming that she was still alive. What had her life become? Had she married a farmer or a merchant in the village? Did she have children? Was she still living in avila, or had she gone away to some other place?
I must find her, Ellen thought. And quickly. If Patricia is still alive, I've got to see her, talk to her. I have to finally set the account straight Money can turn lies into truth. I'll find a way to solve the situation without ever letting her know what really happened
The following morning, Ellen sent for Alan Tucker, chief of security for Scott Industries. He was a former detective in his forties, a thin, balding, sallow-looking man, hard-working and brilliant.
"I want you to go on a mission for me."
"Yes, Mrs. Scott."
She studied him a moment, wondering how much she could tell him. I can tell him nothing she decided. As long as I am alive, I refuse to put myself or the company in jeopardy. Let him find Patricia first, and then I'll decide how to handle her.
She leaned forward. "Twenty-eight years ago, an orphan was left on the doorstep of a farmhouse outside avila, Spain. I want you to find out where she is today and bring her back here to me as quickly as possible."
Alan Tucker's face remained impassive. Mrs. Scott did not like her employees to show emotion.
"Yes, ma'am. I'll leave tomorrow."