Hour of the Wolf
They call it the hour of the wolf. Those hours just before dawn. Many folk traditions believe it’s when most people are born and when they die. Ancient armies would rise and offer prayers to their gods during this time, then march into dawn and battle. In the modern era, the early morning hours between 3am and 5am are the most common times for UFO sightings and other paranormal events.
Many still hold the superstition that the hour of the wolf is a time when the veil between worlds is thin. They are certainly lonely hours, hours we’ve all experienced at some time or another in our lives. Driving home from a party, plagued by insomnia, preparing for an early start for one reason or another. That dark, pre-dawn stillness can be oppressive, consuming.
It was 3am, eleven hours after he died, when my father came to visit me.
* * *
Depending on who you believe, my dad left in 1984 with anywhere from two to ten million dollars. We know he withdrew nearly two million in cashier’s checks in the 90 days before he vanished. We know they were cashed at banks across the country, from Cincinnati, to Omaha, to Atlanta. We know he withdrew roughly a million in cash over a six month period before he left. The empty safe in his office a yawning testament.
We know he was withdrawing large, regular amounts every month for ten years. We know there was roughly $140,000 in cash from the previous day’s sales when he cleaned out the Silver Spring store.
When he vanished, he ceased to exist. Except for cashing the cashier’s checks, his trail was cold. Between 1985 and 1997, there are no leases, no mortgages, no rental payments. There are no tax records, no employment records, and no bank accounts. There are no credit cards, no sign that he registered to vote, no bills of any sort. When he resurfaced, in 1997, he opened a bank account to receive the money earned from the sale of our house in Maryland. After dutifully paying all the required fees and taxes, he withdrew roughly $500,000, leaving only $3000. He appeared once more in 2000, to sue me for control of my mother’s estate. He paid his lawyers in cash. They’ve refused to disclose his contact information.
At the time, he had been diagnosed with an advanced form of emphysema. By 2001, he was on oxygen 24/7. In 2002, shortly before I visited him for the first time, he walked into a bank and got a mortgage for a house, putting $10,000 down in cash. They really did give mortgages to anyone.
In 2007, when he died, I stood in his house with his neighbor, who had only known him since 2002, when my father moved in. As the neighbor talked about money in the bank – a few grand maybe – I stood in my father’s kitchen and surveyed the little two bed, two bath rancher. My father owned seven pieces of furniture: A kitchen table, a sofa, an easy chair, a coffee table, a bed, a dresser, and a computer desk with office chair.
The neighbor put a meaty hand on my shoulder and asked if I was okay.
“Leave me here,” I said. “I’m okay. Leave me with the house.”
He turned and left without a word and I stood there, letting the silence wrap around me.
Then I ransacked the place.
I was looking for answers, for the money, for anything. I started in the kitchen, tearing through the cabinets, upending jars of sugar and flour, glancing through the empty fridge and freezer. I worked my way through every room of the house, every closet, every crawlspace, and even found myself, late into the night, tapping floorboards and examining the walls.
There was nothing. The house felt more like a show-house than anything else. The second bedroom was empty, unfurnished. The dishwasher clearly hadn’t been used in ages, filled with water skimmed over with mold.
I found no money. None at all. Not even loose change on a counter or in a drawer or between the cushions of the couch. I found no personal records from before 2002, when he bought the house. His tax returns only went back to 2004. I would later find out that my father stopped paying taxes – or recording any income – in 1957.
There were no letters, no Christmas cards, no diaries. His email archives were empty. His address book only contained my address, his neighbor’s, and his lawyer’s. A note from the realtor who sold him the house wished him well, and was tucked in the top drawer of his computer desk. His bookshelf only contained the books that I had published, and a few pulp novels from the likes of Lee Child, Stephen Hunter, and James Patterson. He was halfway through J.A. Jance’s Left for Dead. I sat on the floor, surrounded by papers from the boxes I’d upturned, and started reading it. I tried to calm myself. Tried to catch my breath.
My father didn’t own any credit or debit cards. He kept no receipts. The few he did have – for his computer, and for his oxygen tanks – indicated cash purchases. The oxygen tanks for his emphysema were purchased from several different industrial companies, changing each year. My father hadn’t returned the empty tanks. Much of the unfinished basement was filled, floor to ceiling, with seven years of tanks.
It was 2am. I had arrived in Atlanta at 10am, taxied to the hospital, spent the afternoon watching my father choke to death, and then the evening tearing his house apart. I changed the sheets on his bed and lay down, fully clothed. I was asleep as soon as I closed my eyes.
At 3am, the house alarm went off, jarring me awake and sending me pouring into the dark hallway. I flicked on lights as I went, calling out, wondering if the neighbor had come in to check on me, or if I’d failed to close a door or a window. In the kitchen, the control panel for the alarm was dark. I thumbed random buttons until it stopped, the display screen remaining blank. I didn’t know the code, nor had the neighbor told me about the alarm. Exhausted, I didn’t care to investigate further. With the alarm quiet, I returned to bed. 20 minutes later, it went off again. I rushed to the panel and again punched at the buttons till the alarm quit. Then I sat in the kitchen, the unfamiliar surroundings sinking in. The exhaustion gave way to a steadily creeping fear. I searched the house, room by room, thinking that, perhaps, I wasn’t alone. All sorts of scenarios played through my head. I didn’t really know my father. Did he have another family? Someone who would want to fuck with me? Or maybe just a shy pet?
I found nothing, nor any sign of occupation outside of my dad’s Spartan existence. The lack of furniture and strange emptiness of the house was calming. There were no hiding places, no sense of life or habitation. The house was cold, empty, unassuming.
I gradually eased back into the bedroom, closing the door. I tried to calm myself in the dark, tried to get myself back to the point where I could sleep, and then the alarm went off once again.
This time, standing in the kitchen, deafened, I yanked the panel from the wall. There I discovered that all the wires had been cut and capped. I stared at them for a few moments, and then reeled back and sat down when the alarm cut off. I called the neighbor and asked if he knew anything about the alarm. Was there another panel somewhere? He told me that the alarm had been disabled before my father moved in, and that dad had never bothered to repair it or activate it. There was, he said, no alarm. Nor had he ever heard it go off until that night.
That was all I needed. I called a taxi and waited at the curb, then asked the cabbie to take me to the nearest hotel. I would only return to my dad’s house one more time, to collect a handful of knick knacks and belongings, but I insisted that the neighbor accompany me.
After that, I walked away from dad, and his estate. In death, the IRS had caught up with him, and they had an axe to grind that went back to the 1950’s. The bank wanted to come swooping down on the ridiculous mortgage that my dad had taken out. My lawyers told me to get out while the going was good. To just fly back to DC and never look back.
Everything was liquidated. The army buried his body, a Korean War record I never knew about coming to light. I don’t know where he’s buried. I don’t know what happened to his meager belongings. Nobody was able to find the money. In death, dad vanished as completely as he had in life.