Vera loved New York and jazz. She loved New York so much that sometimes people guessed she must be a native. Not the actual natives of course, always other transplants. When people asked her if she was from New York though, she frequently said she wasn’t but she had got there as fast as she could. She was in fact from Arlington, Virginia. Just southern enough to let her claim to be a southern belle when it amused her.

Her parents set her up as well as they could to go into the family business of law or lobbying. A fine private school in Arlington followed by a full ride at Georgetown with a dual major in Political Science and Economics.

The only legal profession that interested her was being a judge but apparently you couldn’t jump straight from school to that. Never mind the three years of mind-numbing law school she would have to endure as well.

Vera was good at fixing problems. Her title at Benioff, Hamilton and Stein was Solutions and Structural Analyst. But everybody called her a fixer. BHS consulted with major corporations and small governments on all manner of things from security to finance, to organizational management.

But when none of the normal categories applied or could solve the problem, they got sent to a fixer like Vera. She was one of a very few. That meant she was extremely valued by her clients and had to compromise some of her own wants. Like jazz. Like tonight.

She wanted to like jazz very much. She bought all the right records and tried to remember to play them. She did like them when she played them but sometimes she forgot to put them on. She also couldn’t remember what musicians recorded what songs or what the songs were called. She felt like a fake anytime someone introduced her as a jazz afficianado.

“So who’s your favorite jazz musician?”

“Oh you know, that one guy. With the album with the blue cover?”


Tonight she had planned yet again to attend a jazz concert. Joe Lovano at the Village Vanguard. If nothing else it would allow her to say that Joe Lovano was one of her current favorites and she had seen him at the Village Vanguard.

Except she was going to have to miss it.

Mr. Dak has called that morning to schedule his last meeting. He was 81 and retiring so she couldn’t say no and he couldn’t defer until later.

Mr. Dak had been her most interesting client. He hailed from a small country that she was not allowed to know the name of but he had the most interesting problems from the most diverse set of circumstances. Sometimes they were labor concerns, sometimes tariff issues and other times they involved celebrities or musicians. She was sad to see him go.

So instead of dwelling on the concert she was missing she soaked in the New York night as she walked from her apartment on Christopher and Bleecker up to the BHS offices in the Chelsea Market. These were far better offices and a far nicer walk than where they were two years ago on 1st Avenue in the east village.

Mr. Dak was on time as always. She wondered if in this their last meeting she would learn his first name. Or where he came from. He had always been Mr. Dak. That was all the company ever told her about him and all she ever called him and it had become perfectly acceptable. He spoke English well but with an impossible to place accent.

“Ms. Barnitukku” he said as she met him in the lobby. Her name was Vera Barnituck but he insisted on pronouncing it “Barnitukku” and she had long ago stopped trying to politely correct him.

“A pleasure as always Mr. Dak.” She led him to her office and offered him a drink which he declined as always.

“What can I help you with?”

“Ah this our last time. It charms me that you stick to our little traditions,” he chuckled. He chuckled a lot. She would miss that.

“I will miss you as well Mr. Dak,” she smiled. She meant it.

“I have one last problem and I think you will make quick work of it. We have an outsider. A foreigner to our land. We would like to invite this person to join us in some confidential work. This person has proven quite trustworthy. But how can we be sure we are adequate in our trust? What should we do to verify our intentions and that they will be honored? IN short, we cannot forgive a breach of confidence so how can we assure it is right to take this person into ours.”

She smiled at his odd but still correct use of the english language. A hallmark of the intelligent foreigner she most often worked with.

Vera spent the next hour developing a simple approach to verifying intentions and safeguarding confidence based on some recent psychological studies. It’s what she did. In the end Mr. Dak was satisfied. She printed out her analysis for him as usual. He didn’t use email. Then she walked him back to the lobby.

He shook her hand and gave her small formal bow.

“I will miss working with you in this way Miss Barnitukku. when our paths cross again I will be most pleased.”

She assumed this was some translation of a native parting wish so she nodded. “I feel the same.”

His smile lighted up at this bit he said no more and turned to leave.

The next day at work Jim from the front desk handed her a package wrapped in brown paper.

“A courier delivered this this morning. Said it should not be out of my sight until I handed it directly to you. Iy’s from Mr. Dak.”

“Odd. Thank you Jim.”

vera took the package to her office and sat down to open it. Inside was an ancient book written in a language Vera did not immediately recognize. Which was rather stunning as she spoke more than a dozen languages and could recognize hundreds.

A folded paper inside contained a handwritten note from Mr. Dak.

“Ms. Barnitukku,

The misspelling and my rather obtuse mispronunciation has always been intentional. In my language the name means both ravine, place of safety, and is the name of my homeland. Do not be surprised that you have not heard of it. It is a small place and not internationally recognized.

But I suspect that knowing just that word your skills will allow you to interpret the rest of this book and our language. I hope you find the pursuit enjoyable.

I have always admired your mind and the work you have done for us has changed the world.


Mr. Aner Dak.”

Aner Dak. Her mind immediately translated it. Aner, the greek word for man. Dak, the hindi word for transport by relay.

“Who were you Mr. Aner Dak?” she asked. “And what is this?”

On the front cover she now could make out the very faded words, “Varalaria Barnitukku”