Going through the contents of my mother’s safety deposit box is a journey a child rarely, if ever, gets to take through a parent’s mind. Here she put the things she thought important and precious, neatly laid out in one, little metal box. A “strong” box, as they used to call it, tucked away in a bank vault behind multiple doors with multiple locks, combinations and passport codes, all requiring three people with three matching keys, and none of it accessible until I proffer three official forms of identification to prove I’m me. People protect the tender secrets of their hearts with less embattlements.

I stare at the box I have retrieved, almost afraid to open it. Almost afraid of what I will find therein. I never knew my mom very well. The box feels cool to the touch. Closing my eyes and lifting the lid I take a deep breath. When I open them again the first thing I see is a gun. WTF, Mom?

I don’t know much about guns but this looks like something James Bond would carry. I carefully lift it out and set it on the polished blond wood table top. I know these things are supposed to have a safety but I’m unsure of where that might be. I keep my finger away from the trigger.

Turning my attention back to the box, I notice a pencil drawing taped to the bottom of the lid. I recognize it immediately. It’s a portrait I did of my mother when I was about five or six years old. In it, she’s a stick figure with a big head, a big smile, and a page boy haircut. Her arms and legs are straight lines and at the ends are balloon-like hands and feet. She wears high heeled shoes and I seem to remember thinking that they should have been red. Her dress is crew necked and hemmed at knee length. I remember drawing it and presenting it to Mom because, it predicated a big hug and a plateful of chocolate chip cookies. Displays of affection like that were rare in my house.

My mother was seldom at home when I was young. She traveled frequently in her job with the airlines, and I was raised primarily by my grandmother. I never knew my dad. This domestic and nurturing moment with Mom stood out in my memory. I wondered if I could peel the drawing off and take it with me.

The gun had been resting on a stack of small booklets and I pulled them out next. There were six of them and they were passports. I set them on the table top and opened them one at a time. Each one contained a photo of my mother but the names were all different. There was a Russian one, a British one, and one each from Canada, Denmark, Germany, and Argentina. She had traveled to the USSR a lot. The Soviet passport named her Лада Андреюшкин. I didn’t know what that said or how to pronounce it. I realized that I had never known my mom spoke Russian, and I wondered how that could be. I was beginning to wonder if she had really worked for the airlines. I was learning a lot today.

I pulled out a box of bullets that I assumed were for the gun and set them down. I would have to ask for more info about the pistol and ammo. Atop the box was a knife. It looked like the one Arnold Schwarzenegger carried in that movie. A commando knife, and I set it next to the pistol.

A package was the next thing that caught my eye. It was wrapped in plain brown craft paper, sealed with tape at the ends. I tore open one end and saw, money. Neat stacks of money. They were hundred dollar bills with paper bands identifying each one as containing $10,000. There were 15 of them. It was $150,000 in total. Again I thought WTF, Mom?

There was another key, like the one I had found in Mom’s house that led me here. The new one was labeled “SBC Zurich” with a long alpha numeric code written below it. I counted the characters in the code, twenty-one. I figured SBC had to stand for Swiss Bank Corp so I assumed the code was an account number. I pocketed the key and put the packets of bills in the bag the bank had provided. There was one thing remaining in the box, an envelope. Written on the envelope in my mother’s hand was a single word: Rachel. Since it was addressed to me, I tore the end off and pulled the sheet of paper from inside and started reading.


Hey Kiddo,

If you’re reading this you found the key and figured out where to go. I hope you’re not too shocked. This box contains most of my passports (identities), my Walther and a little bit of money. There should also be another key that will lead you to another box. You should have fun following the clues for awhile. You’ll probably learn more about me that you ever wanted to know or ever suspected. Each box you find will have more money as well so, you can quit your job and just treasure hunt if that’s what you want to do.

I know this doesn’t make up for my absence when you were growing up but it’s all for you. Do with it as you will. Keep it, donate it, whatever, I only wanted to take care of you.

All my love,


P.S. Get someone to teach you to use the Walther. You might need it when you get to Prague.


I used the knife to cut the drawing off the top of the box. I thought I should keep that. Then I put the rest of the contents in the bank bag and zipped the top shut. I tucked it under my arm. Not sure what the protocol was when emptying a “strong” box, I simply closed the top again and took it to the banker who had escorted me here. He made me watch while he returned it to its rightful place in the rows of similar boxes. I turned on my heel and left. I had a lot to do.




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