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My Half-Sister’s Half a Life

Jeannie Vanasco | The Glass Eye | Tin House Books | October 2017 | 2,543 words (10 minutes)

In the Memory Game you’re expected to find two matching cards. My dad’s left eye and his right didn’t perfectly match. The i and the eye don’t perfectly match, but they sound the same. Jeanne and Jeannie sound the same, but we don’t perfectly match. I could write this story chronologically and divide it into three parts titled “eye,” “i,” and “I.”

But I worry that I lose authority as a storyteller if I recall memories from age four. I could preface some of those memories with “I remember.” Or, in memoir, is such subjectivity implied? Like “I see” and “I hear,” “I remember” is almost always an unnecessary filter. Maybe I can preface the more detailed memories with “I remember” — a defense against any reader who thinks, There’s no way she remembers playing the Memory Game when she was four, or It couldn’t have been the Memory Game — its so symbolic. It feels forced.

Do I need to be more selective with direct dialogue, or introduce hindsight perspective, or lean on my mom’s memories? I’ll keep some of her in the present tense. I’ll show how I often ask her questions, such as: “Did it happen this way?” “What was his illness called?” “Did Dad accept the loss of his eye?” But if I excerpt conversations with her that concern only him, then it looks like I care less about her life stories.

I’ll write another book after this, a book for her.

Jeanne

Not once did my dad say Jeanne’s name in my eighteen years with him. My mom did when I was eight.

I was dancing in my bedroom with an unlit candle when she called me downstairs. My teacher, Sister Paulina, had asked three second-grade girls to lead our First Communion ceremony with a dance. The dance required me to hold a candle above my head, and I was terrified of setting the church on fire. I practiced at home almost every day for a month.

When I walked into the living room, my dad was in his chair, holding a small white box. As my mom explained that he had a dead daughter named Jeanne (pronounced the same as my name) “without an i,” he opened the box and looked away. Inside was a medal Jeanne had received from a church “for being a good person,” my mom said. My dad said nothing. I said nothing. I stared at the medal.

Later that day, in the basement, my mom told me Jeanne had died in a car accident when she was sixteen. I sat on the steps as my mom folded clothes and confided what she knew.

Two other girls were in the car. The car could seat three people in front. Jeanne sat between the driver and the other passenger. The driver tried to pass a car, then hesitated and tried to pull back into her lane. She lost control and the car crashed. Jeanne was the only one who died.

“Your father blames himself,” my mom said. “He can’t talk about it.”

“Why?” I asked.

“He gave her permission to go out that night.”

Jeanne had asked him if she could see a movie with her friends. He asked what her mother had said. “She said to ask you.” He said it was fine, she could see the movie. He had no idea his first wife had already said no. He and his first wife weren’t speaking.

“Did you know his first wife?” I asked.

“No, he was divorced long before I met him. All this happened in New York.”

It happened near Newburgh, where he and his first family had lived. I knew only Ohio. In my mind, all of New York was made of skyscrapers, taxicabs, and car accidents.

“What did Jeanne look like?”

My mom said she’d never seen a photo.

***

I painted portraits of Jeanne in watercolor. I titled them Jeanne. My art teacher told me she was disappointed that “such a good student could misspell her name.” From then on, I included an i.

***

“I wanted to tell you about Jeanne before that,” my mom says after I ask why she told me when she did. “But your dad, he worried that you’d misinterpret his intentions. I told him, ‘She’s going to find out someday. Don’t you think it’s better she hears it from us?’”

“Did Dad have any photos of Jeanne?”

“No. He told me his ex-wife wouldn’t let him have any. But for some reason, she gave him the medal.”

***

Throughout my baby scrapbook, I’m referred to as “Barbara Jean,” “Jean,” “Jeanie,” and “Jeannie.” In one letter, my dad calls me “My Darling Daughter Barbara Jean.” In a letter to my mom, he calls me “Jeanie” and “Jeannie.” My parents had planned to name me Jeanne.

“That or Jean Marie, actually,” my mom says. “Her given name was Jean Marie. She went by Jeanne. Your father simply saw the name as a sign of respect. He even spoke with a priest about our naming you after her, and the priest encouraged him to do so, provided he never compare you. ‘I would never do that,’ your father said.”

But while my mom was asleep after having just given birth, he named me Barbara Jean, after my mom. When he told her what he’d done, she said, “That’s no name for a baby.” She thought Barbara was too old-fashioned. That, and two Barbaras in one house would be confusing.

“When I told him I wasn’t calling you Barbara, he got this sad look on his face. He meant to do something sweet,” she says. “He always had good intentions.”

Legally my name remained Barbara Jean, but my parents called me Jeannie. My dad added the i.

“Just said he was adding an i,” my mom says. “He never explained it.”

***

I remember the spring day that I stood alone in the corner of the school playground, thinking about Jeanne. Cars passed by with their windows open. I often wondered if my dad thought about Jeanne every time he drove our car. A classmate, another second-grade girl, asked what I was doing.

“My half-sister died,” I told her.

“I have a stepsister.”

I tried to explain the difference between a half-sibling and a stepsibling.

“We share the same dad,” I said.

“I didn’t know you had a half-sister.”

“Four of them,” I said, or maybe I said “three.” I didn’t know if Jeanne counted, or if she counted more because she was dead.

***

I have no clear memory of learning about Jeanne’s sisters — Carol, Arlene, and Debbie — but I know my parents told me about them before I learned about Jeanne. Arlene is the only one I knew throughout my childhood. She lived in New York. She visited us four times in Ohio — five if you count when our dad was dying.

“Arlene is beautiful,” I told my mom after Arlene’s first visit.

Arlene’s dark brown eyes matched her hair. Thick and wavy, it fell just past her shoulders. Later I’d show photographs of Arlene to boys I liked; I wanted them to think that I’d be beautiful someday, like her.

“She was a model once,” my mom said. “I think she modeled wedding dresses for a catalog.”

Arlene often called, wrote letters. She mailed me unusual presents: hangers with illustrated wooden cat heads, vials of sand from Jerusalem, a pair of earrings that looked like pale orange pearls. She even trained her cockatiel to say “Happy birthday, Jeannie.” She sent a video of it. I wrote thank-you letters; they went through several drafts. I wanted my cursive to look perfect.

Carol and Debbie I’d never seen, not even in photographs. Debbie was a hairdresser in New York, and Carol owned a candy shop in Rhode Island. Carol, the oldest, was my mom’s age. Beyond that, I knew nothing.

Once, while my dad was on the downstairs rotary, I listened through the upstairs rotary. I was in the second grade and often eavesdropped. I could hear one of his daughters — not Arlene, I’d have recognized her voice — yelling. My dad mentioned me, and she yelled more. I quietly set the phone on my bedroom carpet. I could still hear her. When no more sound came from the receiver, I looked through the grate in my bedroom floor. My dad was at the dining room table, his head in his hands.

“They were mad your father had his first marriage annulled,” my mom explains. “It was after your First Communion. You asked him why he couldn’t take Communion with you. He said it was because he was divorced. It’s a man-made rule — that you can’t take Communion if you’ve been divorced. If you annul the marriage, the church basically says the marriage never existed. His daughters took it personally. He didn’t mean anything against them. He wasn’t disowning them. He did it for you.”

***

Jeanne would come between me and almost everything I did. I studied harder. I researched the lives of the saints and how I might model their behavior. I sat before my bedroom mirror with a notebook and documented my appearance and what exactly I needed to fix. I needed to be a smart, kind, beautiful daughter.

I tried not to hear her name when he said my own.

***

I followed my parents to their graves. Rain made it difficult to find our way.

“Where do I walk?” I asked, afraid of disrespecting the dead.

My mom told me to follow her. We passed a smaller fenced-in area where fresh flowers and toys were at almost every grave.

“The children’s cemetery,” she explained.

My dad stood farther ahead of us, underneath a tree. He motioned us toward him.

I looked down at two headstones printed with my parents’ names and birth years: “Terry J Vanasco, 1922,” and “Barbara J Vanasco, 1942.”

“Where do I go?” I asked.

“You might have a husband someday,” my mom said. “You’ll want to be buried next to him.”

“But I want to be with you and Dad.”

***

I call my mom, ask if she remembers that day in the cemetery.

“We took you to see the graves?”

“That’s what I remember,” I say.

Dad

After Jeanne died, my dad bought burial plots for himself and his wife next to the plot for Jeanne. When he and his first wife divorced, she demanded that he forfeit his plot because she didn’t want him buried next to their daughter. He agreed. Soon after the divorce, he went to court again, this time for beating up “a bum” on the street.

“Why should you be alive?” my dad asked him. “You’re not working and my daughter’s dead.”

The judge remembered my dad and let him go.

My dad’s sister Anna told all this to my mom, who at some point shared it with me. I don’t know if I learned this story before or after seeing my parents’ headstones, but the two stories juxtaposed together make sense, writing-wise. Still, I call my mom, ask if she remembers when she told me about my dad losing his burial plot.

“I don’t,” she says, “but did I ever tell you: when I went with your dad to his father’s funeral — this was a couple years before you were born — the funeral director told me about your dad losing his cemetery plot. The director said, ‘In all the years I’ve worked here, I’ve never heard of anything like it — denying a man burial next to his daughter.’ Your dad’s ex-wife eventually did offer him the plot — this was when you were a little girl — but your dad refused it. He said, ‘I have a family here.’”

Mom

It was my parents’ twelfth wedding anniversary. I was ten. A snowstorm swept through Sandusky. We had plans to celebrate at home that night. We were in our car leaving the grocery parking lot when my mom abruptly told him to stop the car.

She left it, slammed her door, and opened mine.

“We’re walking home,” she told me.

My dad looked back at me.

“Come on,” she said. “I’m teaching you a lesson.”

“What did I do?” I asked.

“I’m teaching you you don’t need a man.”

I told her there was a snowstorm. It was too cold to walk home. Our house felt far away.

“Stay with him if you want,” she said and began to leave us.

I apologized to my dad and ran after her.

My dad slowly followed in the car with the front passenger window down.

“It’s a blizzard,” he said.

She ignored him.

I asked her why she was angry, and she ignored me.

He pleaded for us to get in the car. Home was at least two miles away.

She yelled at him to leave us alone. He looked at me, and I looked down at my boots. When I looked up, our car was disappearing into the falling snow.

“What if he dies in a car accident?” I asked.

“He’ll be fine.”

“But there’s ice.”

“He won’t die.”

I watched my breath chill before me and disappear.

We walked in silence along the shoulder of Milan Road. When I looked behind us, snow had already covered our tracks. Snow plows rumbled by. A few cars came and went. A man offered us a ride and my mom waved him off.

“We’re almost home,” she lied.

The man drove away.

“Your father doesn’t trust me,” she said.

The friendly man who worked in the checkout at the grocery store, my dad thought was too friendly, she explained.

My dad often told us to wait in the car while he checked out. I always thought he was being a gentleman, bringing the groceries to us.

“Your father doesn’t trust anyone,” she said.

“What about me?”

“You’re different.”

***

When we reached our house, he was at the kitchen table, his head in his hands.

“Dad,” I said.

I yanked off my boots and ran to him.

My mom walked past us and into the basement. He followed her, and I went into the bathroom and lifted the door to the laundry chute. I heard my dad apologize.

That evening at dinner, they smiled at one another and held hands.

***

“Sometimes he drove me nuts with his possessiveness,” my mom says when I ask about the snowstorm. “His father was the same way, apparently. Your dad’s mother would go to the grocery store, and your dad’s father would time her. Your dad thought it was horrible, but then he went and did the same sort of thing to me.” She pauses. “After you left for college, your dad and I were on the back porch — and he asked if I regretted our marriage. ‘Of course not,’ I told him. ‘Why would you ask me that?’ He said he knew how unreasonable he’d been. He said he was sorry. He said he was afraid of losing me. Your dad would have been happy, just the three of us, in a cabin out in the woods. He said you and I were all he needed.”

***

From The Glass Eye by Jeannie Vanasco. © 2017 Jeannie Vanasco. Used with permission of the publisher, Tin House Books. 

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week, we’re sharing stories from Ronan Farrow, Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor, Vivian Ho, Christopher Goffard, Kaitlyn Greenidge, and Alex Pappademas.

Sign up to receive this list free every Friday in your inbox. Read more…

Mr. Throat and Me

Arnold Thomas Fanning | Banshee | Spring 2017 | 17 minutes (4,695 words)

I love to smoke.

I think it’s important to state that right at the beginning so there can be no equivocation about what follows, in case there is any doubt.

Smoking is one of the greatest pleasures in my life, if not the greatest. It subsumes me, and consumes me. I have been smoking, on and off, for over twenty years and it has at times reached levels of obsession that even I know are unsustainable. Over and over I vaguely register that the time has come to quit. But it takes a long time for me to actually follow up on this idea and act: smoking takes precedence over stopping smoking.

I simply love it too much.

Last thing at night before I go to sleep I am thinking of all the cigarettes to be smoked the next day. The prospect cheers me. On waking, before showering, before coffee, before eating, I put on my dressing gown, go downstairs, stand outside, and light up the first cigarette of the morning. It is the harshest of the day, the smoke rough and burning on the throat after eight hours without, and harsh on an empty stomach too. Then I drink some juice and brew some coffee. I eat cereal while the coffee is brewing and then it is ready to pour: just in time for the second cigarette of the day, arguably the most enjoyable.

This is more smooth, the coffee on the palate a buffer for the smoke, and is smoked at a more leisurely pace, sitting outside this time on the step with my cup. These two cigarettes are the most physiologically necessary of the day: to get some nicotine into the system after the depletion of sleep, to get the equilibrium going.

Conversely the last cigarette of the day is smoked almost regretfully because for the following eight hours or so there will be no more, and there is a vague anxiety that I won’t make it through the night without. It is smoked after everything else is done with: the evening meal, TV, reading in bed, bathroom ablutions, everything except brushing my teeth. In dressing gown again I stand outside, as late as possible and shaking with cold, and suck in the day’s final smoke. Usually I follow with a second cigarette to be sure I won’t be craving one before I go to sleep; sometimes I have a third for the same reason. Only then do I brush my teeth, a small sop to freshness, and go to bed, anticipating already the first cigarette of the next day in the morning.

This routine — cigarettes as soon as I rise, cigarettes last thing before I succumb to sleep — means that for all of my waking hours I reek of cigarette smoke, not only my breath, but my clothing, my hair, and my skin as well. I am a walking, waking, fug of smoke. No doubt I reek of cigarettes in my sleep too.

The sensations that come from smoking: the first cigarette of the day, there is a definite head rush, a clear hit of a high, a spinning lightness. The next one is merely a settling of accounts, a restoration of normality and getting comfortable. Later, if there have been notable gaps between smokes, there is the relaxing cigarette that takes the edge off of absence. Then there are the cigarettes taken after breakfast, lunch, and dinner, the smoke burning off and replacing the flavors of food in the mouth, cleansing the palate. Cigarettes with beer, refreshing and frivolous; with wine, studied and reflective; with green tea, delicate and palatable. There are many sensations that come with smoking, and I love every one.

There are images on the back of the cigarette packs that try to dissuade me from smoking. There is the one of the wrinkled apple (signifying the wrinkled skin a smoker gets if they don’t quit), the one of the drooping cigarette ash (impotence), the one of a bared gummy mouth (tooth loss), and several more. But none of these have the same effect on me as does the image of Mr Throat.

Mr Throat is the name I give to the man whose photograph appears as a health warning on many of the cigarette packs I smoke from. His image is accompanied by the message, bold and chilling in its simplicity: ‘Smoking can cause a slow and painful death.’ As if to demonstrate the truth of this, there is the picture of Mr Throat, which is truly stomach-turning.

A young(ish) man, age indeterminate, photographed from the bridge of the nose down almost to his clavicle, mouth shut in seeming determination, has a tumor growing on his throat. And what a tumor. The size of a deflated football, it is the color of raw chopped liver, and bulges, shapeless, under his chin, covering his Adam’s apple, spreading each side as far as his ears and down over his neck. Above the tumor Mr Throat is mostly expressionless, apart from that grimly set mouth, although it is hard to determine his expression given the absence of eyes from the portrait. He has a florid but wispy mustache, and has made a half-hearted attempt to nurture a goatee; truth be told Mr Throat does not have a very strong facial hair growth.

Mr Throat’s appearance is nauseating, shocking, and terrifying to the smoker. No one wants to end up like this. But that is what will happen to us, the health warning implies, if we continue to smoke: we, too, will look like a monster. Mr Throat is there to tell us, in earnest, that smoking can cause a slow and painful death, and he delivers that message well.

Nonetheless I continue to smoke, and go on loving it.

Brands are important, and only some will do for me. It has to be either Lucky Strike Silver (‘It’s Toasted!’) or Camel Lights, the ones in the blue pack. These are both a mid-strength (6mg) cigarette. Anything milder has no effect on me, no kick at the back of the throat, no nicotine rush; anything stronger is nauseating and too strong to inhale deeply. Occasionally I find Gauloises Bleu which are a nice change. While travelling I sometimes come across the brand I smoked while living in the States, American Spirit Yellow, a good alternative to Luckies (and supposedly free of ‘additives’).

But I still keep coming back to my two favorite brands: Camel and Lucky Strike. I smoke the 6mg level exclusively, feel it is just right. The only times I smoke other brands is during those brief, periodic episodes of attempting to ‘quit’ in my twenty-odd-year smoking career, during which I inevitably bum cigarettes off strangers incessantly so as to feed the habit that my attempt at ‘quitting’ has only put on temporary hold. At these times my choice of brand is at the whim of the smoker I bum from: I may end up with a Major (un-inhalable due to the strength), a Marlboro (unpleasant taste), a Silk Cut (not strong enough), or worse of all, a Kent Menthol (simply nauseating).

Inevitably I get back to buying my own brand again and I joyfully open and smoke from a pack of Camel Lights or Lucky Strike Silver once more. Back, finally, to my own brand and strength. It is one thing that could be said in my favor: I am nothing if not loyal.

I never quite get to the stage of being a chain smoker, but do I smoke my cigarettes in couplets, one cigarette followed by another, before leaving an interval until the next one (which is actually two); which makes me a chain smoker of sorts. The intervals last anywhere from thirty to sixty minutes depending on what I am doing. Sometimes they last a bit more, on occasions when it is unavoidable. Frequently, however, they last less. I am going through a lot of cigarettes every day, needing them more often.

So it is I begin to dread going to the cinema to see long movies, one of those occasions when the gap between cigarettes is longer than strictly bearable. Any movie over ninety minutes is a real strain to get through. I sit through it growing increasingly anxious as I wait for it to end, for the moment I can smoke again. Then, as soon as the film is over, as soon as the credits roll, I am up and out of my seat, out the door, and outside, grasping at a cigarette and smoking. I often leave whatever cinema-going companion I am with to come find me. It occurs to me that roughly speaking I now need a cigarette every thirty minutes, minimum, or I grow agitated.

I meet an American girl at a busy bar. She is nice. We have a lot in common. We click. She says, See you in a bit, and goes to the bathroom.

I go for a smoke, resolved to talk to her on my return. When I come back, she is standing by the bar waiting to order and I go join her.

When I speak, leaning in close so she can hear me over the bar noise, she visibly recoils.

Do you smoke? she asks, startled, as if she has never heard of such behavior in an adult: she has caught my smoky breath, and ends the conversation.

The encounter has led nowhere; she has no interest in hanging out with a smoker. Needless to say I don’t bother asking for her number.

It is imperative never to run out, never to be in a position where I have no cigarettes on me or in the house. To this end I always make sure I have two packs about me at all times. One pack is the previous day’s leftovers: the final cigarettes remaining from a pack of twenty begun the preceding day which I use to begin the day’s smoking, and rapidly finish. Then I open a fresh pack which I bought the previous day and start that. Thus for a brief period I have only one pack on me; the imperative takes over now and I make sure as soon as possible to buy pack two. Buying this second pack gives me a sense of security. I continue to smoke pack one, getting through perhaps sixteen or seventeen (I have already consumed two or three from the previous day’s pack two). I have thus two or three left over for the following morning, plus the fresh unopened second pack to start once I have got through them.

The system ensures I always intake a minimum of twenty cigarettes a day; but also means that if, for example, I am out late, or get up very early, that pack two can be opened earlier and begun ahead of schedule, though still leaving some aside for morning consumption. On these days consumption goes up to twenty-five or thirty cigarettes, and always, always, the imperative to have two packs on me is fulfilled and justified. It means, in practice, that every day I need to monitor consumption levels closely, stop somewhere and make a purchase, and thus reassure myself that stocks are good and I do indeed have enough, because the thought of running out fills me with dread. I obsessively stroke pack two unopened in my pocket to calm myself at these moments of anxiety.

I can’t help wondering, as I’m handed a pack in the newsagent and am unable to avoid seeing the image on the health warning: Who is Mr Throat really? Does he have his own story, biography, experience, somewhere? In the past, or even now, living or in the memories of those living? How did he go from being an individual, a man, to being an image, dehumanized, on a pack of cigarettes, used as a health warning, merely a function? Did he consent to that photograph being taken and distributed or was it taken as part of some health screening program, or test, and then used at other times, in other contexts, without his knowledge? Is he actually alive in that photograph, or is this an image of a corpse? Is Mr Throat alive today?

These are the thoughts that go through my mind every time I am unlucky enough to see the nauseating image of Mr Throat. Then I try and forget him again.

I go to a country wedding, pocketing two packs of cigarettes as usual. I idly wonder, as I get dressed and prepare to board the hired coach that will take me to the wedding venue, would three packs be better; but in my wedding outfit I don’t have enough spare pockets to carry more than two, so it will have to suffice.

The reception is held out in a remote rustic estate in the countryside; there are no shops nearby, nor vending machines within. My two packs will have to get me through the night. It is a long night and inevitably I run out. What follows is an orgy of begging for cigarettes fueled by increasing panic as I realize I will be on this estate, out, awake, away from any source of buying cigarettes, for several more hours and I will, in no way possible, make it through this without smoking.

Other smokers have now realized the same thing: the coaches back to town won’t arrive until dawn. There is now a finite and unrenewable quantity of cigarettes available to smokers on the estate and they are being rapidly consumed. Rationing begins, and it becomes harder and harder to bum a smoke. More and more smokers refuse me, waving their packs at me and demonstrating they only have two or three forlorn cigarettes left to get them through the rest of the night. I begin to feel a sense of utter fear as the anticipation of withdrawal symptoms kicks in.

Finally dawn breaks over the misty fields of the estate and I am able to catch the coach and return to the hotel in the regional town where I am staying. There the hotel bar is open for breakfast, and selling cigarettes also; sweet oblivion overcomes me as I open my own pack at last and can smoke my own cigarettes, in control of my nicotine intake once again.

There have been – there actually continue to be – intermittent attempts to quit for good even as my career as a smoker progresses. In the course of the two-plus decades of being a smoker, these attempts have resulted in me quitting for periods ranging from a few hours to a few years. Always they have ended in the same way: me bumming cigarettes off strangers to satisfy cravings, on the streets or outside pub entrances:

— Excuse me, spare a cigarette?

Followed by the humiliating refusal:

— Sorry bud, it’s my last one.

— Sorry, I don’t have any more on me.

— No.

Sometimes no verbal reply at all, just a physical brushing off, even more humiliating in its casual brusqueness.

Then, the occasional hit:

— Spare a cigarette?

Followed by:

A barely perceptible eyeroll, a silent acquiescence, the slow drawing out and offering of the pack (inevitably followed by my slight disappointment that the brand is not one of my favorites, tempered by the relief that at least I am getting a hit), the giving of the light, then my furtive walking away from the bummee, inhaling the cigarette with glee, perhaps the first one I’ve managed to acquire in an hour if the bumming hitherto has gone badly; but, a successful bumming at last, after several humiliating failures.

Eventually it is this constant recurring humiliation — of asking and being rejected or patronizingly given to — that gets to me and drives me back to buying my own cigarettes. And so, once again, I quit quitting. I give in. I go and buy a pack of cigarettes, my own brand again, my own supply. And that is that: I am a smoker once again.

I conjure up a life for Mr Throat. He has the air of someone used to the wide open spaces, the prairies, the high plains about him, but he seems too winsome, not rugged enough, to be from the American West. He is Canadian, I conclude. He is a bit of a dandy too, evidenced by that attempt to grow that florid mustache, the wispy goatee. I think of him as a dreamer and a schemer and an optimist (look at the determined set of that mouth), and that all his dreams have become derailed by this gigantic carbuncle growing on his throat. He wanted a future and now thanks to his smoking his future has been cruelly curtailed.

In this he is a warning to me.

In this, he could be me.

It isn’t always the experience of bumming that brings me back to the smokes.

I start to smoke again, and in earnest, so as to deal with the effects of emotional turmoil: periods of stress, or distress, or duress. To deal with a low mood brought on by relationship breakups, job loss or change, bereavement, sickness, sheer having-a-bad-dayness. Indeed the only reason smoking began as a serious component in my life at all was to ‘deal’ with the ‘stress’ of completing my Master’s thesis.

Sitting in the café of the University Arts Department, I admit to a group of fellow postgraduate students that I am getting increasingly anxious about all the work I have yet to do, when one woman in the group opens up her handbag, takes out a pack of Marlboro Red and offers me one.

— You should really try one of these. They really help me with the stress.

I take one, light it, and inhale. Get the rush in my head, the euphoric feeling, and yes, for a moment I get the sense that my anxiety has abated. I thank the woman, go buy a pack of my own, and in that moment become a smoker.

If I had only known the history of smoking that early cigarette would kick off, maybe I’d have considered another form of relaxation.

Since then cigarettes have always been my fallback curative of choice when going through hard times: buy a pack, rip it open, light up, smoke whatever feelings I am experiencing away in a rush of nicotine, let it calm the nerves (even as I know, rationally, that nicotine is a stimulant and is doing the exact opposite of relaxing me). Feel a momentary twinge of regret that I have, once more, failed to quit and returned to being a smoker. Then feel a sense of what can only be called homecoming: a sense of this is where I belong, and how.

During one particularly heavy day of smoking, during which I manage to consume two full packs and make serious dent on a third, resulting in me feeling seriously nauseous and wired, I take stock of my life, my situation, my future. I can’t help conjuring up the image of Mr Throat, and make a resolution: yes, it is time to try to quit for good again.

So I sign up for a series of one-to-one smoking cessation counselling sessions, held once a week in a local health center. These are basically therapy for smokers, and give me the opportunity to let off steam and talk a lot about smoking. This I enjoy doing so I continue to go to the sessions for a long time. Throughout this period I keep smoking between sessions however.

Then, amazingly, I actually manage to stop. This is mainly guilt-driven quitting: I can’t bear seeing my smoking cessation officer week after week and admitting to him I am still a smoker. There is no use denying it: he makes me blow into a tube every week that shows the nicotine levels in my blood.

I quit through the simple expedient of wearing two nicotine patches at all times, as well as pulling on a nicotine inhaler any time I have a craving. I struggle through the week without actually smoking with this method (apart from the occasional bummed cigarette which in my mind doesn’t count, as they are smoked in times of dire emergency withdrawal symptoms).

Then the London Olympic Games begin.

I’ve been anticipating them for years, and sit down to watch them on TV eagerly that weekend. But there are a lot of gaps in the action: pundits chatting as the athletes stand around in tracksuits apparently doing nothing. Then there is finally a brief burst of activity followed by another gap, another period of waiting.

It is during one of these gaps that I grow impatient, and this impatience leads to restlessness that develops into a growing agitation, an agitation I know can only be relieved by nicotine, and not the kind that is delivered by patches or an inhaler, but by smoke. So immediately after a fleeting heat on the TV, I skip the commentary, don shoes and jacket, and head for the local newsagent, there to buy a pack of cigarettes which I smoke with relish and appreciation.

Somehow, perversely, the sight of the most physically fit men and women on the planet has driven me back to the unhealthiest pastime legally available.

I have lasted all of four days, and return to my next smoking cessation session a smoker once more. Sure enough, when I blow in the tube my smoking cessation officer proffers me, the nicotine levels in my blood are sky high.

Every time I toy with a pack of cigarettes, idly looking at the health warnings (or avoiding looking at them if it is Mr Throat), the same questions go through my mind: when did this all start, this health warning thing, the slogans, the photographs? Who picks the particular images, how and why? Where do the images come from – was the guy with the gummy teeth happy to be photographed, for example? And should I try and actually understand more about my nicotine addiction so as to help my attempts to deal with it?

These are the thoughts that pop into my mind as I rip off the cellophane from a fresh pack of twenty, pull out the tinfoil, take out a cigarette, light up and smoke. Again and again and again.

Friends assure me that hypnotherapy is the way to really quit smoking. I locate a hypnotherapist in the city center and make an appointment. Just before going into his office, I smoke my last cigarette and throw the rest of the pack, half-full, rather optimistically into a bin outside.

The hypnotherapist – bearded, swarthy, otherwise unremarkable in appearance – sits behind and just to one side of me as I sit back in a divan. He urges me to close my eyes, relax, and just listen. Then he begins to speak, his voice a low but clear mumble, the words quickly falling into a repetitive pattern:

– You are going to stop smoking, Arnold, you no longer need to smoke, Arnold, when you wake up you will not want to smoke, Arnold, you have no need to smoke, Arnold, cigarettes have no control over you, Arnold, you are going to stop smoking, Arnold, when you wake up you will not want to smoke, Arnold, you have no need to smoke, Arnold, cigarettes have no control over you, Arnold, you are going to stop smoking, Arnold, you no longer need to smoke, Arnold, when you wake up you will not want to smoke, Arnold—

On and on and on in a low monotonous hum until —

Hang on.

‘When you wake up?’

Am I meant to be asleep for this? But I am wide awake, fully conscious, aware of every word.

It occurs to me that this is not working.

Sure enough I leave the hypnotherapy clinic and walk not ten meters before I stop, turn into a newsagent, buy a pack of cigarettes, rip it open ravenously, and smoke. The hypnotherapist’s words come back to me: obviously they have not sunk in.

I have lasted less than an hour and a half without a cigarette.

The hypnotherapist phones me to follow up on our session, and when I explain it didn’t work he offers me a free second consultation.

I return to the office. I sit, I relax, I close my eyes, and I listen once again as he rumbles on, telling me, assuring me, but failing to persuade me, that I will no longer want to smoke. As soon as I leave I again go into the newsagents and buy a pack of cigarettes. The failed exercise in hypnotherapy has cost me €350 and a dent in my pride: obviously I am not hypnotherapy material.

I buy and read two books on quitting smoking; I return to the one-to-one smoking cessation sessions; I try a program of nicotine patches, gum, pills, spray, inhaler. I try cold turkey.

Nothing works.

I still smoke.

I still love it.

Then, one day, all the pieces for quitting actually fall in place.

There is a day, for example, that it really gets to me: I get a pack with Mr Throat and realize I am sick of seeing the grotesque lurid bulge jumping out at me from the back of a pack every time I reach for a smoke. I realize not only am I afraid of this fate I seem destined for — to develop a painful and incurable throat disease — but I am also weary.

Weary of the constant fear of running out of cigarettes, weary of going outdoors into the cold for a smoke, weary of leaving conversations and company behind when I do so, weary of people being repulsed by my smoker’s breath, weary of the expense, weary of the shortness of breath I am developing, weary of the increasing nausea that accompanies my habit, weary overall of the fact that cigarettes control me now: they control my routine, my very life at this stage. I realize, genuinely, that I have had enough of all this.

I resolve to quit.

For keeps this time.

And I do. But this is a story of smoking, not quitting, so suffice it to say here that the weeks go by, and then the months, and then the years, without a smoke.

I don’t remember my last cigarette now, although at the time it was loaded with significance and I thought I would remember it forever. Perhaps I can’t remember it because there have been so many ‘Last Cigarettes’ in my past and they have always been followed, sometimes after a gap of many years, by yet another cigarette. Maybe I don’t remember because deep down I didn’t really believe that this was going to be the last cigarette.

But nonetheless I do know how that last cigarette would have been.

It would have been a morning cigarette, sitting in the garden with a coffee, my favourite combination. I would have already consumed two or three cigarettes from the pack, the leftovers from the previous day. And then I would have rattled the box, looked down, and seen it: The Last Cigarette.

I would have picked it out reverently, with appreciation and relish, and I would have acknowledged to myself how much I enjoy smoking. Then I would have lit it, inhaled deeply, and smoked it with as much attention as possible, slowly, and fully present to its pleasures. Finally, regretfully, and with loaded significance, I would have finished the smoke and stubbed it out.

And so I would have left that part of my life behind.

For good, it can only be hoped. But I know that I will always have a love of smoking, that cigarettes are my weakness, and that deep down, no matter how many years pass, I will always struggle with that addiction.

The fact remains: I currently do not smoke: but I am, and always will be, a smoker.

Because I love to smoke.

***

This essay was published in the fourth issue of Banshee. Co-edited by three writers in three Irish cities, this biannual print journal is a vocal part of Ireland’s thriving literary culture and print renaissance. 

The Woman Who Smashed Codes: America’s Secret Weapon in World War II

  Jason Fagone | The Woman Who Smashed Codes | Harper Collins | October 2017 | 9 minutes (2,295 words)
 

Below is an excerpt from The Woman Who Smashed CodesJason Fagone’s riveting new book chronicling the work of Elizebeth Smith Friedman and William F. Friedman, a pair of “know-nothings” who invented the science of codebreaking and became the greatest codebreakers of their era. Their contributions continue to influence the U.S. intelligence community to this day. Our thanks to Jason Fagone and Harper Collins for allowing us to share a portion of this book with the Longreads community.

* * *

Sixty years after she got her first job in codebreaking, when Elizebeth was an old woman, the National Security Agency sent a female representative to her apartment in Washington, D.C. The NSA woman had a tape recorder and a list of questions. Elizebeth suddenly craved a cigarette.

It had been several days since she smoked.

“Do you want a cigarette, by the way?” Elizebeth asked her guest, then realized she was all out.

“No, do you smoke?”

Elizebeth was embarrassed. “No, no!” Then she admitted that she did smoke and just didn’t want a cigarette badly enough to leave the apartment.

The woman offered to go get some.

Oh, don’t worry, Elizebeth said, the liquor store was two blocks away, it wasn’t worth the trouble.

They started. The date was November 11, 1976, nine days after the election of Jimmy Carter. The wheels of the tape recorder spun. The agency was documenting Elizebeth’s responses for its classified history files. The interviewer, an NSA linguist named Virginia Valaki, wanted to know about certain events in the development of American codebreaking and intelligence, particularly in the early days, before the NSA and the CIA existed, and the FBI was a mere embryo — these mighty empires that grew to shocking size from nothing at all, like planets from grains of dust, and not so long ago.

Elizebeth had never given an interview to the NSA. She had always been wary of the agency, for reasons the agency knew well — reasons woven into her story and into theirs. But the interviewer was kind and respectful, and Elizebeth was eighty-four years old, and what did anything matter anymore? So she got to talking.

Her recall was impressive. Only one or two questions gave her trouble. Other things she remembered perfectly but couldn’t explain because the events remained mysterious in her own mind. “Nobody would believe it unless you had been there,” she said, and laughed.

The interviewer returned again and again to the topic of Riverbank Laboratories, a bizarre institution now abandoned, a place that helped create the modern NSA but which the NSA knew little about. Elizebeth and her future husband, William Friedman, had lived there when they were young, between 1916 and 1920, when they discovered a series of techniques and patterns that changed cryptology forever. Valaki wanted to know: What in the world happened at Riverbank? And how did two know-nothings in their early twenties turn into the best codebreakers the United States had ever seen — seemingly overnight? “I’d be grateful for any information you can give on Riverbank,” Valaki said. “You see, I don’t know enough to . . . even to ask the first questions.”

Over the course of several hours, Valaki kept pushing Elizebeth to peel back the layers of various Riverbank discoveries, to describe how the solution to puzzle A became new method B that pointed to the dawn of C, but Elizebeth lingered instead on descriptions of people and places. History had smoothed out all the weird edges. She figured she was the last person alive who might remember the crags of things, the moments of uncertainty and luck, the wild accelerations. The analyst asked about one particular scientific leap six different times; the old woman gave six slightly different answers, some meandering, some brief, including one that is written in the NSA transcript as “Hah! ((Laughs.))”

Toward the end of the conversation, Elizebeth asked if she had thought to tell the story of how she ended up at Riverbank in the first place, working for the man who built it, a man named George Fabyan. It was a story she had told a few times over the years, a memory outlined in black. Valaki said no, Elizebeth hadn’t already told this part. “Well, I better give you that,” Elizebeth said. “It’s not only very, very amusing, but it’s actually true syllable by syllable.”

“Alright.”

“You want me to do that now?” Elizebeth said.

“Absolutely.”

* * *

She met George Fabyan at a library in Chicago one day in June 1916, when she was 23. She went to the library alone to look at a rare volume of Shakespeare from 1623, the “First Folio,” and to ask the librarians if they knew of any open positions in Chicago in the field of literature or research.

* * *

During the library’s first decades, the masters of the Newberry acquired books with the single-mindedness of hog merchants. They bought hundreds of incunabula, printed volumes from before 1501, written by monks. They bought fragile, faded books written by hand on unusual materials, on leather and wood and parchment and vellum. They bought mysterious books of disputed patrimony, books whose past lives they did not know and could not explain. One book on the Newberry’s shelves featured Arabic script and a supple, leathery binding. Inside were two inscriptions. The first said that the book had been found “in the palace of the king of Delhi, September 21st, 1857,” seven days after a mutiny. The second inscription said, “Bound in human skin.”

In one especially significant transaction, the library acquired six thousand books from a Cincinnati hardware merchandiser, a haul that included a Fourth Folio of Shakespeare from 1685, a Second Folio from 1632, and most exceptional of all, the First Folio of 1623, the original printing of Shakespeare’s plays.

This is the book that Elizebeth Smith was determined to see.

Opening the glass front door of the Newberry, she walked through a small vestibule into a magnificent Romanesque lobby. A librarian at a desk stopped her and sized her up. Normally Elizebeth would have been required to fill out the form with her research topic, but she had gotten lucky. The year 1916 happened to be the three hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, and libraries around the country, including the Newberry, were mounting exhibitions in celebration.

Elizebeth said she was here to see the First Folio. The librarian said it was part of the exhibition and pointed to a room on the first floor, to the left. Elizebeth approached. The Folio was on display under glass.

The book was large and dense, about 13 inches tall and 8 inches wide, and almost dictionary-thick, running to nine hundred pages. The binding was red and made of highly polished goatskin, with a large grain. The pages had gilded edges. It was opened to a pair of pages in the front, the light gray paper tinged with yellow due to age. She saw an engraving of a man in an Elizabethan-era collar and jacket, his head mostly bald except for two neatly combed hanks of hair that ended at his ears. The text said:

MR. WILLIAM SHAKESPEARES COMEDIES,
HISTORIES, &
TRAGEDIES.
Publifhed according to the True Originall Copies.
LONDON
Printed by Ifaac Iaggard, and Ed. Blount. 1623.

Elizebeth later wrote that seeing the Folio gave her the same feeling “that an archaeologist has, when he suddenly realizes that he has discovered a tomb of a great pharaoh.”

One of the librarians, a young woman, must have noticed the expression of entrancement on her face, because now she walked over to Elizebeth and asked if she was interested in Shakespeare. They got to talking and realized they had a lot in common. The librarian had grown up in Richmond, Indiana, not far from Elizebeth’s hometown, and they were both from Quaker families.

Elizebeth felt comfortable enough to mention that she was looking for a job in literature or research. “I would like something unusual,” she said.

The librarian thought for a second. Yes, that reminded her of Mr. Fabyan. She pronounced the name with a long a, like “Faybe-yin.”

Elizebeth had never heard the name, so the librarian explained. George Fabyan was a wealthy Chicago businessman who often visited the library to examine the First Folio. He said he believed the book contained secret messages written in cipher, and he had made it known that he wished to hire an assistant, preferably a “young, personable, attractive college graduate who knew English literature,” to further this research. Would Elizebeth be interested in a position like that?

Elizebeth was too startled to know what to say.

“Shall I call him up?” the librarian asked.

“Well, yes, I wish you would, please,” Elizebeth said.

The librarian went off for a few moments, then signaled to Elizebeth. Mr. Fabyan would be right over, she said. Elizebeth thought: What?

Yes, Mr. Fabyan happened to be in Chicago today. He would be here any minute.


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Sure enough, Fabyan soon arrived in his limousine. He burst into the library, asked Elizebeth the question that so bewildered and stunned her — “Will you come to Riverbank and spend the night with me?” — and led her by the arm to the waiting vehicle.

“This is Bert,” he growled, nodding at his chauffeur, Bert Williams. Fabyan climbed in with Elizebeth in the back.

From the Newberry, the chauffeur drove them south and west for twenty blocks until they arrived at the soaring Roman columns of the Chicago & North Western Terminal, one of the busiest of the city’s five railway stations. Fabyan hurried her out of the limo, up the steps, between the columns, and into the nine-hundred-foot-long train shed, a vast, darkened shaft of platforms and train cars and people rushing every which way. She asked Fabyan if she could send a message to her family at the telegraph office in the station, letting them know her whereabouts. Fabyan said no, that wasn’t necessary, and there wasn’t any time.

She followed him toward a Union Pacific car. Fabyan and Elizebeth climbed aboard at the back end. Fabyan walked her all the way to the front of the car and told her to sit in the frontmost seat, by the window. Then he went galumphing back through the car saying hello to the other passengers, seeming to recognize several, gossiping with them about this and that, and joking with the conductor in a matey voice while Elizebeth waited in her window seat and the train did not move. It sat there, and sat there, and sat there, and a bubble of panic suddenly popped in her stomach, the hot acid rising to her throat.

“Where am I?” she thought to herself. “Who am I? Where am I going? I may be on the other side of the world tonight.” She wondered if she should get up, right that second, while Fabyan had his back turned, and run.

But she remained still until Fabyan had finished talking to the other passengers and came tramping back to the front of the car. He packed his big body into the seat opposite hers. She smiled at him, trying to be proper and polite, like she had been taught, and not wanting to offend a millionaire; she had grown up in modest enough circumstances to be wary of the rich and their power.

Then Fabyan did something she would remember all her life. He rocked forward, jabbed his reddened face to within inches of hers, fixed his blue eyes on her hazel ones, and thundered, loud enough for everyone in the car to hear, “Well, WHAT IN HELL DO YOU KNOW?”

Elizebeth leaned away from Fabyan and his question. It inflamed something stubborn in her. She turned her head away in a gesture of disrespect, resting her cheek against the window to create some distance. The pilgrim collar of her dress touched the cold glass. From that position she shot Fabyan a sphinxy, sidelong gaze.

“That remains, sir, for you to find out,” she said.

It occurred to her afterward that this was the most immoral remark she had ever made in her life. Fabyan loved it. He leaned way back, making the seat squeak with his weight, and unloosed a great roaring laugh that slammed through the train car and caromed off the thin steel walls.

Then his facial muscles slackened into an expression clearly meant to convey deep thought, and as the train lurched forward, finally leaving the station, he began to talk of Shakespeare, the reason he had sought her out.

Hamlet, he said. Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest, the sonnets — the most famous written works in the world. Countless millions had read them, quoted them, memorized them, performed them, used pieces of them in everyday speech without even knowing. Yet all those readers had missed something. A hidden order, a secret of indescribable magnitude.

Out the train window, the grid of Chicago gave way to the silos and pale yellow vistas of the prairie. Each second she was getting pulled more deeply into the scheme of this stranger, destination unknown.

The First Folio, he continued. The Shakespeare book at the Newberry Library. It wasn’t what it seemed. The words on the page, which appeared to be describing the wounds and treacheries of lovers and kings, in fact told a completely different story, a secret story, using an ingenious system of secret writing. The messages revealed that the author of the plays was not William Shakespeare. The true author, and the man who had concealed the messages, was in fact Francis Bacon, the pioneering scientist and philosopher-king of Elizabethan England.

Elizebeth looked at the rich man. She could tell he believed what he was saying.

Fabyan went on. He said that a brilliant female scholar who worked for him, Mrs. Elizabeth Wells Gallup, had already succeeded in unweaving the plays and isolating Bacon’s hidden threads. But for reasons that would become clear, Mrs. Gallup needed an assistant with youthful energy and sharp eyes. This is why Fabyan wanted Elizebeth to join him and Mrs. Gallup at Riverbank — his private home, his 350-acre estate, but also so much more.

* * *

From The Woman Who Smashed Codes by Jason Fagone. Copyright © 2017 by the author and reprinted by permission of Harper Collins.

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week, we’re sharing stories from David Dobbs, Rachel Aviv, Max Read, Holly George-Warren, and Bianca Bosker.

Sign up to receive this list free every Friday in your inbox. Read more…

How The Golden State Warriors Signed Kevin Durant

Erik Malinowski | Betaball: How Silicon Valley and Science Built One of the Greatest Basketball Teams in HistoryAtria Books / Simon & Schuster | 8 minutes (1,846 words)

Kevin Durant’s joining the Golden State Warriors — thereby creating a modern-day super-team — was not just feasible but seemed to make sense. In two years with Steve Kerr at the helm, the Warriors’ offense was a juggernaut, and Durant (standing in for a departed Harrison Barnes) would only magnify their proficiency. The Death Lineup pick-and-roll with Steph Curry and Draymond Green? Swap in Durant for Green as the roll man and now you’ve got defenders guessing how to guard the two best pure scorers in the NBA on one play. Curry’s spot-up jumper or Durant’s iso dominance? And what about a Thompson catch-and-shoot, Andre Iguodala corner three, or Green cutting to the hoop? At their best, the Warriors, with four All-Stars under 30 and a Finals MVP, would be unstoppable. It would mean letting go of Festus Ezeli and Harrison Barnes (who knew he was gone from the way his exit interview went) and finding a trade partner willing to take on Andrew Bogut and his $12 million salary, but an ESPN projection concluded that the Warriors (with Durant) would win 76 games. And as Durant sat at home watching Game 7 of the Finals alongside Rich Kleiman, his agent, he was envisioning the same thing.

The Warriors, knowing that potential future championships were at stake, took nothing for granted. Steve Kerr had a video package of clips prepared to show Durant how he might fit into his offense. The team partnered with NextVR — a Southern California virtual reality company that boasts Peter Guber as a board member — to produce a simulation that would show Durant what it was like to be a Warrior, to run out the tunnel and into Oracle Arena, to be in the huddle with everyone as Kerr diagrammed plays, and so forth, all while Drake lyrics in the background subliminally played their part: Cause I got a really big team / And they need some really big rings … Are we talkin’ teams? / Oh, you switchin’ sides? / Wanna come with me?

After spending the night before in New York City, the Warriors arrived at Durant’s rented house in the Hamptons eight deep: Joe and Kirk Lacob, Bob Myers, Steve Kerr, and the four All-Stars of the Death Lineup. On Durant’s side, there was Kleiman, longtime friend and confidant Charlie Bell, and Durant’s father, Wayne Pratt.

They talked for the next two hours, and the immediate future of the Golden State Warriors had all the uncertainty of a jump ball free-falling to earth.

***

Bob Myers thought the Warriors blew their chance. Sure, they gave the pitch meeting everything they had, but there was just no way Kevin Durant — the Kevin Durant! — would sign with them. It simply couldn’t happen.

Back at his in-laws’ house in South Lake Tahoe, Myers’s brain was racked with second thoughts as he paced the floor on the morning of July 4. The meeting hadn’t gone exactly as planned. The virtual reality headset that would give Durant a taste of life as a Warrior? Malfunctioned from the start. Kleiman jumped in to take control: “Why the hell would you guys want Kevin?”

From there, everyone took their turns. Curry talked about facilitating shots and not caring who was getting all the attention. Iguodala, who had also won a gold medal alongside Durant in London in 2012, stressed to him that joining the Warriors would also mean the most fun he’d ever had in his life. As Joe Lacob sat next to Durant’s father, Kerr showed Durant some video plays to illustrate how he’d use him in their offensive schemes. Green told him not to sweat the public’s reaction, that they would defend him through anything. “Just know you not in it by yourself,” he said. “You take some backlash, we taking it with you.” Thompson started riffing how Durant’s presence would create the most open shots Thompson had ever seen before catching himself and steering the pitch back toward how Durant would also benefit, but everyone had a good laugh. Durant’s reps asked about business opportunities in Silicon Valley. Renderings of the new San Francisco arena were shown. It was a cordial back-and-forth that lasted about an hour. The players then talked among themselves for an hour after that. Durant later said it looked as if the players had walked into the room holding hands. That’s how genuine their camaraderie felt.

For the most part, Durant didn’t talk all that much that afternoon. After parting ways with Durant and his reps, Myers headed to the team plane not truly knowing what to think. On a confidence scale of 1 to 10, Myers tells me he was probably a 3: “He’s a very quiet guy. They didn’t show any of their cards.”

The meeting had been on a Friday afternoon, with several teams to follow over the weekend. (Oklahoma City had met with Durant for five hours on June 30 and would get last crack at him on Sunday afternoon.) The Warriors flew back to points west — Joe Lacob to his summer home in Montana, Curry and Iguodala to Chicago, and Myers to Tahoe — but the pitch never truly stopped. Myers made sure the Warriors were following up in every way that might help.

Late that Friday night, Curry sent Durant what Myers called “one of the best text messages I’ve ever seen,” a heartfelt promise that Durant would fit in with them, that they truly wanted him, that no one cared about attention or sacrificing stats, that what mattered was winning a championship. Durant also got calls from Steve Nash (a longtime friend) and Jerry West, who chewed his ear for a half-hour, speaking of regret over his multiple failures in the Finals — Durant had lost once, in 2012 against LeBron James and the Miami Heat — and told him to think about his legacy, of wanting to be regarded as a great all-around player, the implication being that Golden State provided a more fulfilling environment for his diverse skill set.

Internally, West pushed hard for Durant’s recruitment because he was convinced his presence would solve one of the Warriors’ most glaring issues, namely, that their best scorers did not get to the free-throw line enough. From the perimeter, yes, they were lethal, but when you’re deep in the playoffs — perhaps fatigued, physically or mentally or both — West knew you could always rely on driving to the basket, drawing contact, and getting yourself to the charity stripe for a couple of freebies. Curry averaged just 4.6 free throws per game during the season, the second-fewest in NBA history for a 30-points-per-game scorer. In those waning moments of Game 7, West saw the Warriors become completely dependent on the often-fickle deep three. A player like Durant would act as a hedge against Golden State’s temptation to fall back again on such a risky strategy.

Above all, West urged him to block out the noise. “Kevin,” he said, “just follow your heart.” West’s counsel had paid countless dividends in his five years with the Warriors, but his call that day with Durant was everything Lacob had hoped for when he hired him. “You’re recruiting somebody, whether it be in a Silicon Valley tech company or whether it be in basketball,” Lacob would say of enlisting West’s help to persuade Durant, “you’re going to use everything you can at your disposal to do things that would hopefully convince the party to join.” Lacob also enlisted a small, select group of former Warriors to call Durant and vouch for the organization.

The first clue Myers received that the Warriors might get lucky was on the afternoon of Sunday, July 3, when Durant called him to talk. Myers put him on hold to call Lacob and patch him through. The owner was out in a boat on the lake that borders his Montana home and wasn’t sure the reception would hold up. The only salient portion of that call Myers remembered was when Durant said something to the effect of “So when I come…” Myers called Lacob back to verify he wasn’t going insane and had heard the same thing. Neither was completely sure, and hope, at that point, was a dangerous thing. They had already started work on contingency plans. Even as whispers circulated Sunday night that Durant was leaning toward Golden State, Myers decided to just wait for the official call, which would come the next morning.

Finally, a little after 8:00 a.m. Pacific time on July 4, Myers was wandering around outside his in-laws’ house — no more than 50 feet from the exact spot he was back in 2013 when he got the call that secured the Iguodala deal — when his cell phone rang.

It was Rich Kleiman, Durant’s agent. “Do you have a second to talk to Kevin?”

“Sure.” Myers steeled himself for the bad news.

Durant got on the line. “I just want to tell you that you guys are a first-class organization and I appreciate all the things you are and who you guys are but…” Myers’ brain raced at that but.

Oh man, here it comes, he thought.
 “But I’m coming to the Warriors.”
Myers was overjoyed. He thanked Durant, hung up, and let out a celebratory yell that caused one neighbor to ask if he was okay. All Myers had time to do before the news became public was call Lacob, who was sitting out on his lakeside patio in Montana when his general manager called at 9:20 a.m. local time to tell him that the Warriors had pulled off the biggest free agent signing in years. Lacob already had packed his bags and was ready to jet to the Hamptons if it would help quell Durant’s indecision. His pilot, waiting on standby, could stand down.

“I grew up here,” Myers says. “I just couldn’t fathom a player of his caliber choosing us. We are mostly a homegrown team. Steph was drafted. Klay was drafted. Draymond and Harrison were drafted before we got Kevin. Andre was a free agent acquisition. We’d never been in my mind a place that could attract a player like him and it’s very hard to get anybody in free agency. Disbelief was probably the biggest emotion, to be honest.” Back in 2011, they were elated just to sign a restricted free agent like DeAndre Jordan to an offer sheet. Now the Warriors were an A-list destination, capable of attracting the biggest superstars.

After Myers, Durant called Sam Presti, OKC’s general manager, to tell him the news. It was short, but tears were shed. Around that time, Charlie Bell was texting Draymond Green, who was lying in a hotel room bed in Michigan. “Let’s get it,” the text cryptically read. Klay Thompson was sleeping, checked his phone when he heard the news, and went back to snoozing. But all around the country, fans (and media) were frantically refreshing The Players’ Tribune, the online publication where the announcement was to be posted.

Then it appeared.

***

From Betaball: How Silicon Valley and Science Built One of the Greatest Basketball Teams in History. Copyright © 2017 by Erik Malinowski. Reprinted by permission of Atria Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. 

Is the Internet Changing Time?

Laurence Scott The Four-Dimensional Human: Ways of Being in the Digital World | W. W. Norton & Company | August 2016 | 20 minutes (5,296 words) 

 

Below is an excerpt from The Four-Dimensional Human, by Laurence Scott. This story is recommended by Longreads contributing editor Dana Snitzky.

* * *

Power has been wielded through the pendulum.

‘Now all the petrol has stopped and we are immobilised, at least immobilised until we get new ideas about time.’ This was how the author Elizabeth Bowen described wartime life in Ireland to Virginia Woolf, in a letter from 1941. Bowen explored some of these new ideas in her London war fiction, which is full of stopped clocks and allusions to timelessness, the petrifaction of civilian life in a bombed city. Across the literary Channel, Jean-Paul Sartre’s war trilogy, The Paths to Freedom, is, like Bowen’s Blitz work, in part a study on how time itself becomes a casualty of war. In one scene Sartre describes German troops ordering a division of captured French soldiers to adjust their watches to their captors’ hour, setting them ticking to ‘true conquerors’ time, the same time as ticked away in Danzig and Berlin. Historically power has been wielded through the pendulum, and revolutionary change has been keenly felt through murmurs in the tick and the tock of one’s inner life. King Pompilius adjusted the haywire calendar of Romulus, which had only ten months and no fidelity to season, by adding January and February. Centuries later, the Roman Senate renamed the erstwhile fifth and sixth months of the Romulan calendar to honour Julius Caesar and Augustus, thus sparing them the derangement still suffered today by those once-diligent months September–December. For twelve years, French Revolutionaries claimed time for the Republic with their own calendar of pastorally themed months, such as misty Brumaire and blooming Floréal.

The digital revolution likewise inspired a raid on the temporal status quo. In 1998, the Swatch company launched its ill-fated ‘Internet Time’, a decimalised system in which a day consists of a thousand beats. In Swatch Time, the company’s Swiss home of Biel usurps Greenwich as the meridian marker, exchanging GMT for BMT. This is a purely ceremonial conceit, however, since in this system watches are globally synchronised to eradicate time zones. A main selling point of BMT was that it would make coordinating meetings in a networked world more efficient. This ethos severs time from space, giving dawn in London the same hour as dusk in Auckland, and binding every place on earth to the cycle of the same pallid blue sun. As it turns out, we didn’t have the stomach to abandon the old minutes and hours for beats, and the Swatch Time setting that persists on some networked devices is the vestige of a botched coup. Although this particular campaign was a failure, digitisation is nonetheless demanding that we find our own ‘new ideas about time’. For as the digital’s prodigious memory allows our personal histories to be more retrievable, if not more replicable, we are finding in the civic sphere a move towards remembrance that shadows the capacity of the network to retain the past. But while time is not lost in the ways it used to be, the tendency of digital technologies to incubate and circulate a doomsday mood is making the durability of the future less certain. As a result, the four-dimensional human is developing new strategies to navigate a timeline that seems to thicken behind us and evaporate before us. Read more…

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week, we’re sharing stories from Caitlin Dickerson, Aaron Edwards, Alice Su, Jia Tolentino, and James Somers.

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The Death of an Heir: Adolph Coors III and the Murder That Rocked an American Brewing Dynasty

  Philip Jett | The Death of an Heir | St. Martin’s Press | September 2017 | 27 minutes (7,489 words)

Below is an excerpt from The Death of an HeirPhilip Jett’s absorbing new book of true crime, about the botched kidnapping of Adolph Coors III, the Coors brewery CEO, which launched one of the largest manhunts in US history and seems to have taken its cues from the Hollywood playbook. Our thanks to Jett and St. Martin’s Press for letting us share this story with the Longreads community.

* * *

At barely half a rod wide and three hands deep, Turkey Creek was not unlike hundreds of tributaries snaking their way through Colorado canyons. That would soon change. The creek flowed only a few miles, spanned here and there by rough-hewn lumber bridges like the one in Turkey Creek Canyon, with its crude railings and two wooden tracks burrowed in gravel, wide enough for a single car to cross. Fewer than half a dozen vehicles crossed Turkey Creek Bridge each morning. That included the local school bus and a milk delivery truck—and for the last month, the white-over-turquoise International Harvester Travelall driven by Adolph Herman Joseph Coors III.

The name fit for a crown prince belonged to the forty-four-year-old chairman of the board and CEO of the multimillion-dollar Adolph Coors Company in Golden, Colorado, and first-born grandson of the brewery’s founder. Known simply as “Ad” to most who knew him, he was well-liked by associates and employees for his friendliness and reserve. And despite being the eldest successor to the giant Colorado beer empire and an accomplished man, Ad preferred the simple life on his horse ranch southwest of Denver, where he lived contently with his wife, Mary, and their four young children.

On the crisp, windy morning of Tuesday, February 9, 1960, Ad rose before sunrise and began his daily exercise regime. After showering, he dressed for work and joined Mary at the kitchen table for coffee. They talked as they did every morning.

Before leaving for the brewery, Ad headed outside to check his horses, pitching hay and breaking ice in their troughs. He soon returned to kiss Mary and his children goodbye, but his children had boarded a school bus minutes earlier. Grabbing a tan baseball cap and slipping on his favorite navy-blue nylon jacket, he stepped out onto the carport, started his Travelall, and headed down the driveway. He waved to his ranch manager as he passed. It was 7:55 a.m.

Ad’s normal route to the brewery, twelve miles away, would have carried him less than a mile to paved US Highway 285, but a section of the highway had been closed for construction since January. The closure forced him to detour along a winding, lonely stretch of gravel road for four miles to Turkey Creek Canyon, where it connected to a state road that led back to Highway 285.

As Ad drove along the secluded road that morning, his Travelall rambled around the last bend before reaching Turkey Creek Bridge, just out of view. Waiting on the bridge was thirty-one-year-old Joseph Corbett Jr., who had stalked Ad for many months awaiting the chance to carry out his scheme. The road closure and detour across Turkey Creek Bridge gave him that chance.

Corbett backed his canary-yellow Mercury sedan onto the one-lane bridge just minutes before Ad’s arrival. Handcuffs and leg irons lay on the back seat. A ransom note in an envelope ready for mailing later that day lay in the glove box. Concealing a pistol in his coat pocket, he exited the four-door car, leaving the driver’s door open. He opened a rear door and raised the hood, signaling engine trouble, and stood by the car, waiting for his victim. All he had to do was lure Ad away from his Travelall. Then the Coors CEO and heir wouldn’t be so rich and powerful. Instead, he’d be a hostage worth many times his weight in gold and, if all went according to plan, would make Corbett a very rich man by week’s end.


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As Ad drove around that last bend, he spotted the yellow Mercury stranded on the narrow bridge. It was 8:00 a.m. Just as Corbett had planned, Ad pulled onto the bridge behind the Mercury. He shouted through a rolled-down window, asking if he could help. Corbett shouted back his rehearsed reply. Eager to get going, Ad stepped out of the Travelall and shut the door, leaving the engine running and radio playing. He didn’t expect to be long. He figured he’d help push the stranded car out of the way and give its driver a ride to the nearest filling station.

But as Ad approached, Corbett stepped forward and drew his pistol, taking the beer magnate by surprise. Ad was an intelligent but stubborn man, not the kind to don shackles and meekly slide into an assailant’s car. As Corbett drew nearer, the six-foot-one, 185-pound Ad Coors seized his abductor’s hand that gripped the gun. The two, almost identical in height and weight, struggled. Ad shoved his younger assailant backward, and they slammed against the crude bridge railing. Ad’s baseball cap along with Corbett’s fedora flew into the creek. Ad’s eyeglasses fell, too, cracking the left lens on impact. Ad pushed his antagonist away and made a break for the Travelall. But Corbett, seeing his ransom trying to escape, extended the pistol and fired. The sound of shots echoed up the canyon.

Those two shots set off the largest US manhunt since the Lindbergh kidnapping.

“It was about eight o’clock,” Rosemary Stitt would later testify in the First District Court of Colorado. “Right after I sent my kids off to school, about twenty minutes after. First, it sounded like somebody hollered down at the bridge. I was sittin’ in front of my sewing machine by the window. It sounded like one or two words is all. It was two different people, I think. Then I heard a crackling noise like lightnin’ striking a tree. I looked out the kitchen window to see if a tree fell down out back but didn’t see nothing. So it was then I got to thinking it might be a gunshot. Just one shot. Or, it coulda been two really close together.”

Those two shots set off the largest US manhunt since the Lindbergh kidnapping. State and local authorities, along with the FBI, burst into action, attempting to locate Ad Coors and arrest his kidnapper. Ad’s influential father demanded that the perpetrator be caught and his son returned, and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover gave assurances that he would make it his top priority domestically. Once the evidence pointed to Corbett, Hoover backed up his promises by placing Corbett on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list, describing him as the most hunted suspect since John Dillinger. The manhunt would span the continent and involve hundreds of law enforcement officers. Yet as months passed with little success, Ad’s tormented wife and children clutched tenuously to their hopes. Like them, everyone wondered where Colorado’s favorite son and his abductor could be.

The ranch home of Adolph Coors III (AP Photo)

Snow swirled past the windows outside Ad’s barn at eight o’clock on the night of Monday, February 8. Ad wanted to confer with his ranch manager about when they would auction the cattle. They decided to wait a bit, when the market was up. He also asked if his manager could accompany him Saturday to size up some horses in La Junta, and he agreed.

Mary called Ad to dinner. Afterward, Ad sat at the kitchen table near sweat-streaked windows, reviewing some of the ranch accounts. He was bushed and hoped to turn in soon. He’d been back from Miami for forty-eight hours, and his first day at the brewery had been a busy one, with more meetings and telephone conferences scheduled for Tuesday. At least his father was on vacation in Hawaii with his mother and wouldn’t return for another two weeks. Things wouldn’t be as tense with Mr. Coors away.

Cecily was seated across the kitchen table from her father with Spike seated beside her, both doing homework. The youngest of the Coors children, Jim, lay on the den floor in front of the fireplace with a toy truck and horse trailer he’d gotten for Christmas. Mary sat watching television with the volume low so not to disturb those at the table. She’d finished putting the dishes away earlier with the help of Brooke, who now stretched out in the hallway floor with the telephone.

Mary couldn’t help thinking how nice it was to be home with the kids and Ad and her fireplace and her favorite chair and everything feeling like it should. She wished she could freeze the moment and keep things just the way they were forever. She knew things at home were changing and the kids were growing up. What Mary didn’t realize was that night would be the best it would be, forever more.

“Three dollars—regular,” Corbett told gas attendant Lynn Westerbuhr at the Conoco Service Station on East Fourteenth Avenue, around the corner from Corbett’s apartment.

It was a cold night, and the young attendant inserted the hose nozzle into the automobile and turned the pump lever. He stomped his feet on the icy concrete and cupped his gloved hands, blowing on them to provide a little warmth.

“He stopped by regularly, usually once a week. He asked for three dollars’ worth of gas every time,” said Westerbuhr. “Never told me his name. Always paid cash.”

The attendant removed the hose and hooked it on the side of the pump. “That’s three dollars,” said Westerbuhr, waiting for Corbett to slip three bills through the sliver of open window. “Whatcha got back there? Moving?”

“A sleeping bag and tent.”

“You going camping in this weather?” asked the attendant, just like the clerk had at the Sears department store.

“Here’s your money,” said Corbett. He detested snoops.

“He was driving a dark maroon Dodge, ’tween a ’46 to ’49 year model, I think,” Westerbuhr soon would tell authorities. “Around Christmas, I seen him in a bright-yellow Mercury and again in January, ’bout through the second week of January, I’d say. I seen him in several cars over the last year, though—a light blue Ford wagon, gray-and-white Ford sedan. He liked cars. Most times, he was by himself. Sometimes with another man. A big fella, about thirty-five, usually in dirty work clothes, might ’ave been an Indian or an Italian, I don’t know.”

After leaving the station that Monday night, Corbett returned to his Perlmor apartment. Soon, metallic sounds filled the air. Gun chambers snapped, shackles clanked, and handcuffs clattered eerily in the sparse room. Corbett was making ready for the following day. He brushed his coat and spit-shined his shoes, like preparing for a job interview, a compulsion he’d picked up in prison. He’d gotten a haircut earlier in the day. A freshly dry-cleaned suit hung on a doorknob.

Later that evening, Corbett hurried down the back stairs to the first-floor hallway and out the back door. A pistol, a rifle, cuffs, and leg irons draped in a blanket filled his arms. A sedan waited for him across the alley behind his apartment with its trunk raised and front-and rear-passenger doors open on the passenger side. He’d already loaded blankets, canned food, water in glass jugs, and his Coleman stove, lantern, and other camping equipment in the trunk. He checked for anyone who might be watching him before stretching out the blanket and removing the pistol and placing it in the glove compartment.

“He seemed like he was in a hurry,” said Terrence Smith, a tenant in room 106. “I saw blankets on the back seat, two rifle cases, a telescopic case, and a pistol case, all zipped up along the side.”

Corbett slammed the trunk closed, removed his hat, and wiped his forehead, running his fingers through his hair that was soaked with sweat despite the cold night’s sleet pelting down. Scaling flights of stairs half a dozen times made him perspire, but he was also suffering from nervousness, anxiety, and fear of detection. He was afraid, all right, even though he’d spent months, almost thirty of them, planning this job. Despite being proud of his intellect (he’d been tested as having an IQ of 148) and his methodical, almost obsessive analytical approach to things, he knew he wasn’t infallible. After all, he had been captured for shooting a man and imprisoned in California a decade earlier.

To calm himself, he sat in his apartment and turned on the television to Peter Gunn. Soon, he pulled open a drawer and stuffed the letter he’d perfected into the pocket of his coat hanging in the closet. He planned to mail it the next day.

Corbett hadn’t seen his family for ages, and if the letter procured him what he expected, he doubted he’d have a chance to see them for a long time to come. He didn’t have a family of his own, not yet, only a father, stepmother, and stepbrother.

“It says here that he’s got a wife—name’s Marion,” said one of Corbett’s former bosses reviewing his unemployment records with an FBI agent later. “Some of the boys said Walt told ’em he was married. But later he said he was married to ‘Anne’ and listed her as his wife on his company health insurance policy. Seems to me a man should know the name of his wife, and polygamy is frowned on in Colorado.”

His female neighbors, however, never saw a wife or a girlfriend or any woman visiting, for that matter. If any woman said hello, she was lucky to receive eye contact from Corbett, much less a response. Many of his female neighbors who’d been rebuffed by Corbett’s shyness and abrupt exits referred to him as “Mystery Boy.”

“When we’d go to the city café to eat, which we did a lot, he’d never talk to the waitresses,” said one of Corbett’s coworkers. “Some were interested, but he’d never say as much as a how-do-you-do. He’d just order his food.”

“Women aren’t to be trusted,” Corbett would say. “They’re dirty, disagreeable, expensive, and worst of all, can’t keep confidential information to themselves.”

Corbett clicked off the television set. He had things to do tomorrow—confidential things. He stretched out on his sleeper sofa. It was dark, but trails of light passing through the metal venetian blinds laid stripes across a portion of the ceiling and one wall. He stared at the faint luminescent strands above him. It was late. His preparations had taken longer than he’d planned. But he wasn’t sleepy. Adrenaline pumped through his veins. Soon, his mind raced through the details of his plan. It was a good plan.

* * *

Golden is located on the Colorado Front Range, the first upwelling of the Rocky Mountains from the Great Plains. Founded in 1859 as part of the Colorado gold rush, the mining town became the first capital of the Colorado Territory and the seat of Jefferson County. After the gold panned out, German, Swedish, Italian, and Chinese immigrants stayed to make Golden their home. From 1860 to the 1950s, the population seesawed between 1,000 and 2,500 before swelling to more than 8,000 residents by 1960.

Residents of Golden enjoyed a traditional Western way of life. Men and women in boots and cowboys hats walked along sidewalks shared by those in suits and fashionable dresses. On Washington Avenue, the main thoroughfare, automobiles shared the road with horses and an electric trolley. Few communities can boast the picturesque scenery that surrounds the valley town—a river rushing through the middle called Clear Creek. Lookout Mountain to the southwest (where Buffalo Bill is buried), North Table Mountain on the north side, and to the south, South Table Mountain with its Castle Rock casting a crown above the Coors brewing and porcelain companies. And if its citizens wanted a change of pace from the serenity, Denver awaited only fifteen miles to the east.

On the morning of Wednesday, February 10, the citizens of Golden awoke to headlines on the front page of Rocky Mountain NewsADOLPH COORS III FEARED KIDNAPED! and The Denver PostADOLPH COORS III DISAPPEARS; FBI ENTERS SEARCH. They were stunned. It seemed unfathomable to them. The outpouring of concern and kindhearted remarks by the townspeople filled the airwaves and print.

“I don’t know of anybody who didn’t like Ad Coors,” said Walter G. Brown, Golden city manager.

Kriss Barnes, assistant vice president of Golden’s First National Bank, told reporters, “I can’t understand how anybody in the world would have anything against Ad Coors. He’s reassuring, mild-mannered, and considerate.”

“Ad is kind and generous,” said Pete Puck, who worked at the Coors Porcelain plant and helped out on Ad’s ranch. “This disappearance is a terrible thing, a terrible thing.”

Ad’s ranch manager, Bill Hosler, agreed. “He’s just as nice as can be.”

Many people in town knew Ad. They’d gone to school with him, hunted, skied, or transacted business with him. Many had a genuine affinity for the eldest Coors brother.

“He’d always smile and call me by my first name. Just a real nice guy,” said Louis Kubat, who played softball with Ad in the Arvada League when Ad played first base for Golden years earlier.

Almost anyone asked would say he was a good man. Good, despite the fact he was rich. But Goldenites couldn’t begrudge him that. He wore his wealth humbly. That was one of the things people liked most about the Coors family: their humility.

“Nicest guy you’d ever meet,” said Arthur Jensen, the chief brewer in the Coors kettle room. “Always wore a smile and said hello and called you by your first name, and let you call him Ad, not Mr. Coors or whatever. He always seemed interested in what I was doing, and I liked that about him.”

“Everyone in town knew my father,” Spike recounted as an adult. “He was just like Grandpa and Great-Grandpa, a complete workaholic, a financial success, active in the town, and respected by everyone.”

That’s why townspeople were in disbelief. At gas stations, taverns, and beauty and barbershops all around town, everyone was talking about the disappearance. To many, an attack on a Coors was an attack on Golden and everyone in it. Coors was Golden, and Golden was Coors.

Who would do such a thing? That was the question of the day at establishments all around town. Anyone who dared denounce a Coors now did so at his peril. Even a person who had no beef with a Coors could become a suspect just because he was peculiar. For instance, Jack Peters, in charge of Coors plant security, heard from a guard that a man named Robert Everhart should be checked out. Peters telephoned Captain Bray and told him that although he couldn’t put his finger on anything specific, there were “suspicious and odd circumstances surrounding Everhart, too numerable to mention.” He was investigated and eliminated as a suspect.

Others were more specific in their charges. Anyone who’d ever harbored ill feelings toward a Coors was suspected. Anyone in a dispute over property rights years earlier, or someone Ad may have cut off in traffic, or an employee that had been fired by a Coors, any kind of run-in was enough to raise suspicion. The theories and suspects abounded that morning and throughout the day. One possibility in particular made everyone in town a bit nervous: could it be a union man?

“Both major Coors industries have been embroiled in labor strife during the past few years,” reported Rocky Mountain News that day. “Colorado unions, in recent months, have placed an unofficial boycott on Coors products because of what they term unfair labor practices at Coors. . . . Bill Coors, however, did say Tuesday night that he discounted any beliefs his brother’s disappearance stemmed from labor difficulties at the Coors firms.”

“Ad was never a part of the difficulty at the brewery,” Walter Brown said.

Union leaders especially hoped a member hadn’t committed this crime. If he had, the news would drive a stake through Local 366 once and for all.

When asked about the possibility, Joe Coors scoffed. “All we want, all the whole family wants, is Ad’s safe return.” When pressed by a reporter, Joe said, “Ad’s received no threats from anyone, particularly labor. We are completely baffled. Bill and I are very strong in the feeling, however, that this has nothing to do with the labor movement.”

That same morning, a motorcade of four dark, unmarked sedans drove down Washington Avenue, passing beneath the famous banner that stretched across the street:

Howdy Folks!

WELCOME TO GOLDEN

WHERE THE WEST REMAINS

The FBI was officially on the case. Code name: COORNAP. Each sedan carried FBI field agents as unmarked as their cars—dark suits, ties, starched white shirts, fedoras, trench coats, trimmed hair, shaven faces, and sunglasses or eyeglasses. That was the directive from J. Edgar Hoover in Washington, D.C., the agency’s director since 1924. Another fifty officers of the FBI Western Kidnap Squad were combing a thirty-mile radius. Hoover stamped the case top priority. He’d given Mr. Coors his private assurances. A quick resolution of the high-profile case would also give the agency a gold star just as the motion picture The FBI Story was playing in theaters around the country.

One of the bureau-issued sedans dropped two agents at Mr. Coors’s house and Joe’s home to man the telephone surveillance and recording devices that had been set up by Denver undersheriff A. S. Reider and Denver Police chief Walter Nelson, with the help of Golden Telephone Company employee Carl Horblett. Other agents stopped in Golden to question persons in town. The remaining agents stopped at the Adolph Coors Company to question anyone who might have useful information, particularly Bill and Joe Coors, who had returned to work that day.

Similar cars with agents headed to Bill Coors’s house in Denver to operate the telephone recorder and to Ad’s home near Morrison to question Mary and relieve the county deputies who were conducting surveillance inside and outside her home, watching for kidnappers who might be staking out the ranch to drop off a ransom note. One agent joined deputies standing on the road in front of Ad and Mary’s house, stopping all passing cars and trucks and questioning their occupants. Other agents drove to the sheriff’s office to question deputies and investigators, and to Turkey Creek Bridge to question anyone who lived nearby who might have seen or heard anything Tuesday morning.

Agents arriving at the bridge site were met by newsmen from Denver, Golden, and other Colorado towns, and by correspondents from national news services who’d flown into Denver the night before. Reporters in turn were met with a curt “No comment.” All questions were referred to Special Agent in Charge Scott Werner at the FBI office in Denver. “The FBI will maintain complete silence until the release of the victim,” said FBI special agent Edward Kemper. “Our interest is the safe return of Mr. Coors.” The FBI also instructed members of the Coors family not to speak to reporters.

County investigators had completed their collection of evidence at the bridge the day before the FBI’s arrival. The remaining task for the sheriff’s office at Turkey Creek Canyon was to find Ad Coors. Volunteers arrived early that morning and set up tables near the bridge with pots of hot coffee, doughnuts, sandwiches, and water for those men in the mounted posse and jeep patrol who had spent the entire night searching and for those who’d arrived at sunup to join or relieve them.

An H-19 helicopter sent from Lowry Air Force Base outside Denver hovered above the lifting fog, trying to spot a man stranded or hurt, or anything that appeared out of the ordinary among the rocky hills and ravines. US Air Force C-45 and C-47 airplanes and Civil Air Patrol Piper Super Cubs were standing by to take off if needed.

Despite all the manpower, horses, jeeps, and aircraft, there was no sign of Ad Coors. “We haven’t been able to find a thing,” said Captain Morris of the sheriff’s office. “We’re as baffled now as we were yesterday.”

Coors was Golden, and Golden was Coors.

The FBI took a different tactic. Agents, along with some county investigators, visited all houses in the Turkey Creek Canyon area and interviewed their residents.

“It was about eight o’clock,” Mrs. Rosemary Stitt said. “Right after I sent my kids off to school, about twenty minutes after. The bus picks them up around twenty till every morning. First, it sounded like somebody hollered down at the bridge. I can hear people talkin’ down there pretty plain most times. Hear their cars crossing over. I live only ’bout a quarter mile away. But yesterday the wind was blowing really hard so I couldn’t hear so plain. I was sittin’ in front of my sewing machine by the window. It sounded like one or two words is all. It was two different people, I think. Then I heard a cracklin’ noise like lightnin’ striking a tree. As a little girl, I heard lightnin’ split a tree in half right next to the house. That’s what it sounded like. I looked out the kitchen window to see if a tree fell down out back but didn’t see nothin’. So it was then I got to thinkin’ it might be a gunshot. Just one shot. Or, it coulda been two really close together.”

“What type of shot was it? Pistol, rifle, shotgun? Any idea of caliber?” an agent asked Mrs. Stitt.

“I talked to Bill about it last night, that’s my husband, and he asked if it sounded like a .22 that him and my son shoot at rabbits or like a .38 they shoot ever once in a while at targets they set up in the hills. I said it sounded more like the .38 ’cause it sounded like lightnin’. The shot came about a minute or two after I heard the hollerin’. I thought it might be poachers shootin’ game on the preserve. We’ve had some trouble with hunters up here. Or maybe some surveyors I seen workin’. I didn’t hear nothin’ else, so I went back to doin’ housework. . . . Later on in the mornin’, though, about ten thirty, eleven o’clock, I heard summore hollerin’ and a horn honkin’. About fifteen, twenty minutes after that, the milkman showed up and told me about a car blockin’ the bridge down yonder. He asked to use the telephone, but we ain’t got one. So he left and said he’d telephone the police at his next stop.”

Mrs. Pauline Moore, who lived with her husband, Cloyce, two and a half miles from Turkey Creek Bridge, told the FBI a similar story:

Right around eight o’clock yesterdee, I was hangin’ the wash on a clothesline out back. The wind was blowin’ real hard. I could barely get a clothespin on ’em. Then I heard a shot in the canyon real clear. I usually work on Tuesdays cleanin’ folks’ houses in Denver, but my boss called the night before and told me not to come in. The shot I heard was a far-off shot, not a close up, but a far off-shot, towards the bridge.

After hours of exhaustive interviews, the FBI learned that no one in the area had actually seen Ad Coors or his abductors on the bridge. No one could tell how many kidnappers there were. No one reported seeing a struggle or a shooting. No one saw the abductors’ car leaving the scene. Several did, however, report seeing suspicious vehicles at or near the bridge during the days before the disappearance. There was only one problem. They saw too many.

Mrs. Stitt told the FBI, “My husband said he seen a 1954 blue-green Ford parked on the bridge the week before, once with the doors open and lights on, but nobody around. Coulda been a 1955 or ’56, he said.”

Ranch hand Bill Hosler and Mary Coors’s maid told the FBI they’d seen a late-model green Dodge with red-and-white license plates parked near the ranch on Monday. Both said they saw at least two men in the car that appeared to be watching the ranch for at least an hour. One was tall and thin, and the other was short and stocky with a dark complexion. Hosler said the same car had been there the week before. They also stated he’d seen a yellow car there on more than one occasion.

Hilton Pace, who leased and worked a uranium mine near Turkey Creek Bridge, said he’d seen a man driving a white-over-gray Ford in the area a few times. He’d even spoken with him one day.

Janette Erickson, who lived less than a mile and a half from the bridge, said she’d seen a yellow car near the bridge on that Sunday. Charlotte Carter and Viola Ranch said the same thing. Other witnesses said they saw a car resembling a 1951 Mercury in the vicinity. Three said it was yellow; one said cream. Two said it was a solid color; two said it had a black top. Viola Ranch said it had a green cloth top.

Former Morrison town constable James Cable, a caretaker at the uranium mine leased by Hilton Pace, said he and his wife, Margaret, saw a yellow 1951 or ’52 Mercury near the bridge several times, including at eight o’clock Monday, the morning before the disappearance, about a hundred feet from the bridge. That was the morning Ad took a different route, driving to Denver before going to the brewery.

Miss Nadene Carder said she’d seen a yellow car parked near the bridge three consecutive days when she was on her way to work at the Colorado School of Mines the week before the disappearance. That was while Ad was in Miami.

Jim Massey said he often saw a yellow Mercury near the bridge. He told the FBI he’d seen it around 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, with a man standing beside it wearing a brown hat and eyeglasses. His wife said she’d seen the car around 1:00 p.m. on Monday, a mere nineteen hours before the disappearance.

The one thing all eyewitnesses did agree on was that none had seen any of the cars since the disappearance.

But James Cable saw something no one else had. When interviewed, he gave the FBI a clue so important that without it the case may never have been solved. He had a partial license plate number. “It was a 1960 Colorado-style plate. Read AT-62,” he said. “It may have been AT-6205. I’m not a hundred percent sure about the last two numbers.” A was the county designation for Denver.

Agents hoped the plates weren’t stolen.

When newspapermen asked about rumors of car sightings the evening after Ad’s disappearance, FBI agents said, “Refer all questions to Special Agent in Charge Scott Werner at the Denver office.” When Bill was asked what he knew, he replied, “The FBI has requested that we make no further statements.” Sheriff Wermuth, however, was happy to oblige.

“We’re looking for two, possibly three assailants in a green Dodge that’s been seen parked near Ad Coors’s home,” the sheriff said to reporters. “That’s the strongest lead we’ve got in the case at the present time. . . . I believe we’ll have a break in the case by noon Saturday. . . . I’m basing that on studies of other kidnap cases. The crucial time in other reported cases is thirty-six hours to four and a half days after the abduction is made. . . . Yes, it’s my belief that Ad Coors is alive and held somewhere in the state. . . . According to a witness, the green Dodge had red-and-white license plates, which means it’s an out-of-state car, possibly Utah, Florida, or Ohio. . . . We believe they’ve split up. One of the three men is a good suspect centered around Denver. We’re anxious to check his movements. . . . I can’t tell you that right now. The other two are believed to be somewhere southeast of Golden.”

Reporters continued barking out their questions to the sheriff.

“No, I haven’t positively identified the blood yet. Lew Hawley telephoned me from Washington to tell me the blood found on the bridge is group A, but we haven’t located any medical records that show Ad Coors’s blood type. . . . No, the blood on Kipling Street was canine. That’s right, just a dog hit by a car. No connection there. . . . The tan cap and eyeglasses have been identified as belonging to Ad Coors. . . . No, we’ll keep the mounted posse and jeep patrol out there through tomorrow and then I’ll decide whether to suspend the search depending on the snowstorm they’re calling for late Thursday. . . . Yes, group A. Okay, that’s all I got for now, fellas.”

Amid the barrage of questions, Wermuth told reporters that Mr. and Mrs. Coors were due to land at Denver’s Stapleton Airfield that night. They had boarded a plane very early that morning to make the long flight home. Despite the earliness, reporters were waiting for them as they boarded.

“Mr. Coors! A few words about your son, sir! Please!” one of the correspondents asked, holding a pad and pencil.

The Hawaiian sun beamed on the tarmac at the Honolulu airport. Mr. Coors had telephoned FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who assured Mr. Coors he would personally oversee the investigation into catching the kidnappers and bringing Ad home safely.

“I am dealing with crooks who are in business,” Mr. Coors replied. A hot gust of wind almost blew the gray fedora from his head. “They have something I want to buy—my son. The price is secondary.”

“So you’ve been told your son’s definitely kidnapped?”

“No, but logic tells me he has been kidnapped. It’s a matter of now waiting for an offer. It’s like any other business transaction at this point.”

“You’re treating the kidnapping of your son like a business deal?”

“That’s what it is. Besides, I cannot be emotional about this.”

“Any idea who’d want to kidnap your son?” asked a different reporter.

“The union?” asked another.

“I don’t know. No, we don’t have any enemies in Golden. Excuse us, we have to board now.”

“Good luck, sir!”

FBI agents assigned to coordinate the exchange of evidence with local law enforcement were about to finish up around the bridge site. They’d walked the creek bank on both sides and in the middle. They’d scoped the typography and investigated a pit silo and a cave directly across the state road from the bridge. They dusted for prints, including inside and outside the Travelall, took additional soil samples and bridge scrapings, and reviewed the deputies’ reports. Dale Ryder had shown the agents where the Travelall was found by the milkman and where the cap and hat, eyeglasses, and blood had been discovered. He showed them sketches that county detectives had etched out using precise measurements that revealed the exact locations of the cap, hat, blood, scuff marks, and tire tracks. The last thing was to view the crime-scene photos. The two agents leaned on the hood of their sedan and observed as Dale Ryder flipped through the crisp black-and-white photos he’d taken the day before, one by one.

“The splash pattern was in that direction? Toward the southeast?” The agent nodded in a southeasterly direction as he asked about the blood spray.

“That’s correct,” said Ryder.

“I don’t know. That’s a—” The agent stopped as he spotted Bill walking up to the bridge. He was on his way back to Mary’s after work and saw the officers standing round and decided to stop.

“Go ahead,” said Bill. “Go ahead with what you were saying. I don’t want to interrupt.”

The agent introduced himself. “Now this is just my opinion, you understand, not the official FBI position.” The agent paused.

“Go on,” said Bill.

 

Mary held a ransom note in her hands. She put on her glasses, fearful of what the letter might say, but grateful to have it at all. She began to read:

Mrs. Coors:

Your husband has been kidnaped. His car is by Turkey Creek.

Call the police or F.B.I.: he dies.

Cooperate: he lives.

Ransom: $200,000 in tens and $300,000 in twenties.

There will be no negotiating.

Bills: used / non-consecutive / unrecorded / unmarked.

Warning: we will know if you call the police or record the serial numbers.

Directions: Place money & this letter & envelope in one suitcase

or bag.

Have two men with a car ready to make the delivery.

When all set, advertise a tractor for sale in Denver Post section 69. Sign ad King Ranch, Fort Lupton.

Wait at NA 9-4455 for instructions after ad appears.

Deliver immediately after receiving call. Any delay will be regarded as a stall to set up a stake-out.

Understand this: Adolph’s life is in your hands. We have no desire

to commit murder. All we want is that money. If you follow the instructions, he will be released unharmed within 48 hours after

the money is received.

Sitting in her chair in the den she enjoyed so much, Mary rested the letter in her lap, removed her glasses, and looked up at the FBI agents standing round. Her eyes were weak from lack of sleep and the dulling effects of sedatives. “Ad’s still alive,” Mary said. “He’s alive. All they want’s the money.”

FBI agents in their dark suits and ties said nothing. It was Wednesday. Ad had been missing almost two days.

Mary didn’t appreciate their silence. “It says right here,” she said forcefully, holding up the note. “‘We have no desire to commit murder.’”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Bill spoke up. “Sure he’s alive. That’s the only way the lousy kidnappers collect.”

“Of course he is,” said Gerald Phipps, who’d joined Mary with his wife, Janet, to provide comfort and support on that terrible day. Gerald and Janet were close friends with Ad and Mary. They had hosted a wedding shower for Ad and Mary twenty years earlier, and they traveled in the same elevated circle of affluent Coloradans. Gerald Phipps’s father had been a US senator and an executive at Carnegie Steel. Janet’s father was the head of US Rubber. Also visiting were the elder Mrs. Coors’s brother, Erle Kistler, and the well-to-do Kenneth and Sheilagh Malo.

After hours of exhaustive interviews, the FBI learned that no one in the area had actually seen Ad Coors or his abductors on the bridge.

Mary reached for her gin and tonic on the side table and rose from her chair. “We’ve got to get the money ready. Bill? Joe? How do we do that?” Mary said, ignoring the agents. “Will you two deliver it?”

Special Agent Donald Hostetter, special agent in charge of the Detroit field office and head of the Western Kidnap Squad, interrupted. “May I please have the letter, Mrs. Coors? Thank you.” He handed it to another agent. It was a copy. The original was on its way to the FBI Laboratory. “You’re correct, Mrs. Coors. Your family should begin making arrangements to obtain the money immediately. We will assist you and your bank in coordinating the selection of denominations and recording the serial numbers. I’ll have two agents make the delivery. We don’t want anyone else in harm’s way.”

“But the letter,” said Mary. “It says if we call the police or FBI, or if you mark the money, they’ll hurt Ad. I’m sure we can find some friends or someone at the brewery to deliver the ransom.”

“The kidnappers already know the sheriff and FBI are involved,” Joe said. “It was in the papers this morning.”

“But . . .” Mary placed her drink on the table. “Oh, I don’t know what to do.” She lowered her head and shielded her face with one hand.

“Don’t worry, Mrs. Coors. That’s why we’re here. We do know what to do,” said Hostetter. “All kidnappers say don’t contact the authorities. Most victims’ families do because it’s the proper thing to do. The kidnappers had to have known that by leaving your husband’s car on the bridge, law enforcement would become involved. And there’s no way they’ll know we’ve recorded the serial numbers. It’s scare tactics.”

“That’s right,” said Joe. “How would they know something like that?”

“Not possible,” replied Hostetter. “Now, when the time comes, my agents will handle the drop-off. We’ll dress them like ranchers or choose men who resemble your husband’s brothers. I haven’t exactly decided yet, but believe me, we’ll do whatever it takes to procure your husband’s safe return. That’s priority number one. Apprehension is always secondary in these cases.”

“I don’t know. I know you men are professionals at what you do,” began Mary, “but to tell you the truth, I don’t care about the money or if they’re caught. I just want Ad back. What do you think, Bill?”

“I think you have to trust the FBI,” replied Bill. “But I will say this: I agree with Mary that the main thing is getting Ad back. The family doesn’t want anyone, and that includes the FBI, doing anything that jeopardizes Ad’s safe return.”

“We don’t either,” said Hostetter.

Jefferson County investigator William Flint had intercepted the ransom note at the Morrison post office that Wednesday at 9:40 a.m. and immediately turned it over to the FBI, which dusted the envelope and letter for prints and made copies. Postal employee Joe Murphy said, “With the 3:00 p.m. Denver postmark on the envelope, the letter had to have been mailed in Denver on Tuesday, between 1:45 and 2:15 p.m.”

Agents were pleased to have the letter. It represented the first piece of physical evidence, other than the brown felt hat, belonging to the kidnappers. Agents in Denver would receive a report from the FBI Laboratory in Washington two days later detailing the lab’s findings:

In the lower left-hand corner of the envelope was typed the word “PERSONAL”; in the center of the envelope the words “Mrs. Adolph Coors III, Morrison, Colorado,” and on the upper right-hand corner of the envelope were typed the words “SPECIAL DELIVERY.” The envelope bore a postmark “Denver, Colo, 2 1960” on the outer circumference of the circular postmark and in the center of the postmark the letters and numbers “FE 9 3 PM” . . .

The envelope and note were treated for fingerprints by the use of triketohydrindene hydrate and silver nitrate. No latent impressions of value were found . . .

The typist is experienced and made no errors in punctuation or spelling; double spaces after a period, which is taught in typing schools; but does overuse colons and uses only one space after a colon rather than two as is the approved practice in typing.

The author is reasonably well educated; writes well . . .

The letter was typed with either a Hermes or Royalite portable typewriter; both are sold extensively in the United States. The Royalite has been on the market for less than three years. It is an inexpensive machine sold in large drug and department stores. Inquiry was made at the Royal McBee Corporation, manufacturer of Royalite typewriters, to determine retail outlets in the Denver area that sell the Royalite and the serial numbers of typewriters shipped. A representative of the manufacturer advised that two businesses sell the Royalite portable typewriter. They are the Denver Dry Goods Company, 16th & California Streets, and the May-D&F Company, 16th & Tremont. . . . This particular machine has a defect. The letter “s” is defectively applied. It is struck lower than all other type in the letter. . . . The typewriting on the envelope and note were compared with those in the Anonymous Letter File and the National Fraudulent Checks File. No matches were realized . . .

The envelope measures 4.24 inches in width and 9.37 inches in length. The paper has a substance weight of 20, measures 8.42 inches in width and 10.94 inches in length. Both contain the watermark, “EATON’S DIAMOND WHITE BOND BERKSHIRE COTTON FIBER CONTENT,” and are sold by the Eaton Paper Corporation, 75 South Church Street, Pittsfield, Massachusetts. A code mark under the first “E” in “BERKSHIRE” indicates the envelope and paper were manufactured in 1959. A representative from the manufacturer advised subject envelope and paper were shipped in reams and boxes after February 10, 1959, to five businesses in the metropolitan Denver area. Only two stores sell both the paper and the envelopes. These are the Denver Dry Goods Company, 16th & California Streets, and the May-D&F Company, 16th & Tremont. Dates and amounts of purchase have been recorded. Interviews of sales clerks at each store to follow.

As Agent Hostetter left Ad and Mary’s home, he instructed two of his agents to relieve those who’d manned the recorder the night before. “I want to remind everyone not to say anything to reporters. If pressed, tell them the FBI told you to remain silent. Not only do leaks about our evidence, suspects, and theories compromise the investigation, more importantly, they put Mr. Coors in added jeopardy.” He would relay the same message by telephone to the foremost offender, Sheriff Wermuth.

More than a year later, Mary testified in a crowded Jefferson County court, “I felt a little bit relieved because the ransom note gave us hope that Ad could still be alive.”

Joseph Corbett, Jr., the FBI’s most-wanted man in 1960 (AP Photo/Ed Johnson)

* * *

From The Death of an Heir by Philip Jett. Copyright © 2017 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press.

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This week, we’re sharing stories from John Woodrow Cox, Danielle McNally, Matt Richtel and Andrew Jacobs, Michelle Dean, and John Knight.

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