Sunday, October 9, 2011

Meet Andie Cardano, a close friend of Emily Kane

Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself? What’s your name? Where are you from?

My name is Andrea Cardano, but my friends call me Andie. I was born in Philadelphia. But I come from a Navy family, so we bounced around a bit from base to base. I mainly grew up in Hawaii, when my Dad was stationed at Pearl. I worked there for awhile too for an Armed Services support charity. That’s where I first met my husband, Michael. Later, we moved to Virginia, where we’ve been living for the last fifteen years or so, off and on.

What do you mean “off and on”?

Well, Michael’s work requires him to travel a lot, and we’ve spent time in various places all over the world. Last year, we spent several months on Naxos, and later we were in New Zealand for a couple of months. Naxos was beautiful, and so was New Zealand. But I’m glad to be back in Virginia again.

Is this the house you’ve been living in for the last fifteen years?

No, unfortunately not. That house burned down while I was in Naxos. Michael arranged for this place while I was away. It’s quite nice, but nothing compared to the old estate.

This place is more than just nice. It’s a palace. What was the old estate like?

Well, you’re right. This house is very nice, and in some ways nicer than the old house. But the grounds don’t really compare. This is maybe five or six acres, but that was much larger. A hundred acres or more. Actually, I don’t really know how big it was. It could have been a thousand acres for all I know. That kind of thing mattered more to Michael and the kids. Most of it was forest land backing on the national forests down by Covington. So there was lots of room for them to play. The lawns and gardens must have been more than ten acres by themselves.

You mentioned kids. How many do you have?

Well, only one really, my son Anthony. He just turned thirteen. But there was a girl who lived with us on the estate, Emily. She was the chauffeur’s daughter. I guess she must be eighteen now. She used to babysit Anthony, and sometimes they would go hiking or even camping in the woods on the estate. He loved that. I mean he practically idolized her. I guess as big sisters go, she’s pretty much the coolest. And she’s always been so kind to him, you know, teaching him stuff, playing “survivalist” games in the forest, showing him how to do archery, how to climb trees, that kind of thing. She’s also really into exercise and keeping physically fit. So she just naturally kept him interested in exercise, sports, all kinds of physical activities. I mean, she could just take off into the woods at a dead run, and there’s no way he could resist chasing after her. I think he would run to the ends of the earth if he was following her. With those two, it was really magical to have that much room on the estate to play in.

It sounds wonderful. What exactly happened to it?

I don’t really know. It all happened while I was away. I haven’t even been back there since we returned. I gather that the main house burned to the ground. It may have had something to do with Michael’s work, but I don’t really know.

With his work? What does he do??

Well, I probably shouldn’t have said that. I mean, it’s not like it’s a secret or anything. But I think he would rather I not discuss it too much.

Is he some sort of spy?

No, nothing like that. He works as a consultant for the State Department. He’s an economist, and he knows a lot about Southeast Asian economies. I guess, technically, right now he works for a think tank that specializes in stuff like that. But he still seems to have a lot to do with his old friends at State. But I suppose he also has some enemies in the diplomatic community too. Anyway, I think some of them may have had something to do with the fire. I mean, normally I wouldn’t butt in to his business. But I’m still pretty pissed about that fire, and I’m not sure how much of an accident it really was. And Emily’s father was killed in it!

Emily’s father? What happened? How was he killed?

I don’t really know. All I know is that he and Emily were at the estate when some guys broke in. There must have been some sort of scuffle, and Emily and George had to flee. And the next thing I hear is about this huge fire and how everything’s gone. I don’t know who those guys were, or why they were there. I mean, I don’t really care about the personal things we lost in the fire, the clothes and stuff. That’s all replaceable. But George is gone forever, and he was a wonderful man. I always felt safe around him, like there was nothing he couldn’t protect us from. And yet he was so unassuming, so calm, so peaceful. Well, I guess he wasn’t able to prevent the fire. But at least he was able to keep Emily safe. I feel so bad for her sometimes. But, you know, she is one resilient kid.

It sounds like the fire was actually catastrophic for her. Are you sure there isn’t more you can tell us about when it happened?

I probably shouldn’t. That’s what Michael would tell me. But, you know, it makes me so angry sometimes, and I just feel like I’m gonna burst if I don’t tell someone, or just scream. It turns out it really has a lot to do with Emily, and especially with her mom, Yuki. The guys who broke into the estate that night were looking for her, and Michael was trying to shield her, and us, from them. But it all seems to have started several weeks before, when Emily was attacked at a concert.

She was attacked? She's just a kid, right?! Was it just random, or was someone targeting her?

When I first heard about it, I thought it was just a case of teenagers and high spirits. But Michael was sure it was something else, something much worse. Apparently a team of mercenaries was waiting for her outside the concert and tried to abduct her. When she got back from the concert she told her father all about it, and then Michael made some discreet inquiries, and the next thing I know he’s arranging for Anthony and me to go on a quiet vacation. I’ve never seen him so worried.

That sounds really serious. Where did you go?

Well, Michael can be pretty crafty, and I guess he realized that I was not gonna hide in a cave or anything like that. But he also has this subtle way of hiding things in plain sight. I think he may have learned that from George. Anyway, that’s what he did with us. We were just a little family vacationing on Naxos for all anyone could tell. Even the security guys were subtle.

Security? That hardly sound subtle.

Well, believe it or not these guys were. They were former Israeli military. They were actually very nice, and very funny, those two, Jesse and Ethan. I mean, anywhere else in the world they’d probably have stuck out like a sore thumb. But on an island in the Mediterranean they seemed to fit right in. It didn’t hurt that they also spoke a bit of Greek.

Can we go back to that incident at the concert where all this started? How did Emily get away from the mercenaries?

Well, as I learned later, it didn’t start there, not by a long shot. But as for Emily getting away, well, you have to know her to understand it, but she just fought them off. I didn’t really understand it until some months later. She turns out to be a tough kid. She’s been practicing karate since she was little, and she’s gotten to be pretty good at it. What I learned later is that the mercenaries were lucky to get out of there alive.

That sounds implausible. They must not have been very tough as mercenaries go.

Well, I’ll leave you to be the judge of that. I wasn’t there. But I finally did get to see what Emily can do under friendlier circumstances. And I can tell you that those guys could have been as tough and fierce as you like, it wouldn’t have mattered. But maybe I should give you a little more background. Most of it has to do with Emily’s mother. It turns out that she is a scientist of some sort, a biologist or a geneticist. She was caught up in some top secret bio-weapons research in Japan, and things went south, as they say. Michael and George were close to her, and they rescued her from a pretty dangerous situation. That was almost twenty years ago, I think. Anyway, Michael kept her hidden on the estate for all those years. She was our cook. I knew she was much more than a cook, but I didn’t want to pry, and Yuki is very close-lipped about personal matters. And it turns out that there was a whopper of a personal story to tell. It was a closely guarded secret in our household for all those years. But now Emily wants it out in the open, and so does Yuki.

This just keeps getting stranger. What exactly was this secret?

Well, for years, in fact for most of Emily’s life, the fact that Yuki was her mother was kept hidden from everyone, even from Emily. She grew up thinking that her mom had abandoned her when she was a baby, just left her with George, and he was like her uncle, or maybe her father. Nobody really knew, not even Michael, and certainly not me. The poor girl, she spent practically her whole life thinking she’s some unloved thing, abandoned by her mother, without any real family. And Yuki, forced to watch from the sidelines as her daughter grows up! It’s almost unimaginable. I always knew Yuki was hard to read, but I had no idea she was capable of keeping something like that bottled up for all those years.

That is astonishing? Why did they feel that degree of subterfuge was necessary?

I don’t really know. I think there’s some details I don’t know, and maybe I don’t want to know. But apparently just about every spy agency in the world wanted to know where Yuki was hiding, and I guess she just wanted to shield her daughter from whatever might happen. Anyway, when Michael heard about the incident at the concert, he guessed that the secret was out. And I think the attack on the estate was about that too. Those guys were there to grab Yuki. But Michael had already spirited her away. All they found there was George and, unfortunately, Emily. I think George was killed, or at least wounded, trying to keep them from getting to her. They managed to get away, but George died some hours later. I mean, just try to imagine that. The only family she knows dies right in front of her as a result of a bloody shootout.

Omagod! What did she do? How could she come back from that?

I know. It’s pretty horrifying, isn’t it? But it seems George was able to explain a lot of stuff to her before he died, like who her mother is, and who she really is. I mean, that wasn’t the best way to find out that sort of thing. But I think it must have given her some comfort to know that she wasn’t alone in the world, and even better, that her mom hadn’t abandoned her after all. She was there all the time, watching over her, fretting about her, keeping her safe. Yuki is one intense person, and I’m sure that Emily thought of her as like a substitute mother. But finding out that she was her real mother, I think that must have offered some small bit of consolation to her at that moment.

What did she do then?

Well, this next bit is pure Emily. It really shows how much she is George’s daughter. Michael and George had worked out this plan where they were all supposed to meet up somewhere in the mountains of northern New Mexico and wait until this latest storm blew over. But when George dies, Emily refuses to go into hiding. I mean, she’s somewhere in western Pennsylvania, and she’s got money and she knows exactly where to go. But she just decides that she’s not gonna hide from whoever it is that her father’s trying to protect her from. She turns around right there and heads back to Virginia. Two days later she’s back in school, doing homework, trying to live like a normal high school kid, right under her enemy’s very nose. That’s what I mean when I say she’s one tough kid. She has this mental toughness, which I guess she gets from both George and Yuki.

Well…. What happened after that? Did she manage to elude her mother’s enemies? Has it all been resolved?

That’s a complicated story. Are you sure you want to hear it all?

Absolutely! Do tell.

Well, she didn’t elude them for long. Eventually she was going to have to confront them. It was just a matter of deciding where and how. At Christmas, she and Michael talked, and they figured it was time to rethink our strategy of hiding. So he arranged for all of us to meet in New Zealand, to have a family reunion, so to speak, but also to make a new plan. That’s when I learned exactly who Yuki was, you know, that Emily’s her daughter. I had always thought Yuki was inscrutable, virtually impenetrable. But as soon as I found out about her and Emily, everything became clear. Looking back, I realized that all those times I thought she was just dutifully helping a stray kid, she was really taking care of her own daughter in the only way she could. I suddenly understood her. Her heart was an open book to me. And it was painful to be able to recognize how much all that self-concealment had cost her, really how much it had cost the two of them.

It’s hard to imagine how she could have done that for all those years, and what it must have meant for Emily.

Well, Emily revealed another side of herself that Christmas, too. I mean, I had always known her as this tomboy who dressed like a little commando. But when she showed up in New Zealand she’s completely transformed. She’s dressed in stylish, adult clothes and, you know, she’s beautiful. I’d never noticed how pretty she is before that. I always thought of her as a little kid. And she’s tall, too. She’s as tall as me. And she’s wearing my clothes! Apparently she went back to the house after the fire and salvaged some things to change her image. I have to admit I was a little envious at seeing how good my clothes looked on her. I wish they looked that good on me!

And the whole time she’s with us, she does her usual workout routine, which I’d never paid any attention to before. But it is formidable. I mean, she runs several miles every morning, and does all this stretching and meditating, and lots of sit-ups and pull-ups and push-ups, and not those “ballet” pushups either. She’s doing a workout that a marine would be proud of. Well, the security guys took notice, especially the Israelis who were with us on Naxos, Jesse and Ethan. They saw her practicing karate on the beach, and so naturally they’re curious. The next thing anyone knows, they’re sparring with her. And not light sparring, let me tell you. They’re going at it, fast and furious. Well, Yuki and I are watching all this from behind a hedge in the garden, trying not to be conspicuous. And we’re both really worried that they’re gonna hurt her by accident, you know, ‘cause these are some big, tough guys. You can imagine our surprise when she totally dominates them, sends them flying across the sand, you know, utterly defeats them every time. Yuki and I, we just turn to each other with this look of amazement on our faces, and we can’t stop giggling. It was actually a sort of bonding moment for Yuki and me, watching her amazing girl. Afterwards, we’re both a little worried that word of their defeat would get around and the rest of the security guys won’t let Jesse and Ethan live it down. But no one ever heard anything about it. Emily is like completely silent about it. And that is just like her parents, too. She is definitely just like George and Yuki in that way. Maybe in every way!

But this isn’t how she confronts her enemies, is it?

Well not exactly. But before she goes back to Virginia, she explains to Michael that she intends to force this Chinese strike team that’s been looking for her out into the open. She didn't know exactly how, but she was gonna find a way. Of course, Michael doesn’t say anything about it to us until it’s all over, but for a few weeks we can tell that he’s really anxious and upset about something, you know, like he’s just waiting to hear bad news. But this is in a way the best part. She forced the Chinese to show themselves by competing in a karate tournament, one where a lot of the armed services personnel from the bases around Virginia compete. Now this is a really tough crowd, lots of Marines, sailors, soldiers. Anyway, she totally dominates the black belt division in sparring. And the Chinese are there thinking they’re gonna just grab her in the night. Well it didn’t work out that way for them. I don’t know the details, but the lead Chinese agent is so impressed with her that he realizes there’s no point trying to take her. I don’t know all the details, but I suspect there was some sort of fight, and afterwards some sort of agreement between Emily and the Chinese. All I know is that the Chinese aren’t interested in Emily or Yuki anymore.

Is that why you came back Virginia?

Yeah, pretty much. I mean, it’s a little bit of a gamble. But we couldn’t stay in hiding forever. And Michael and I just thought that we ought to try to live up to Emily’s principles, if you know what I mean. We just couldn’t live like fugitives anymore. Yuki also had a big part in coming to that decision. But we also decided not to live out in the rural end of western Virginia anymore. We all thought a house in Charlottesville made more sense, both from a security point of view, but also in terms of taking our lives back.

And what about Emily?

Well, she’s still in school. She’s gonna graduate in the spring, and we’re all hoping that she’ll go to a college nearby. And there’s the prom to think about. I mean, she really is just an ordinary kid in so many ways.

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