Growing up on the run from FBI
TYLER Wetherall was nine years old when two detectives from Scotland Yard turned up on the doorstep of her English family home; she discovered her father was a federal fugitive and her family had been on the run for close to her entire life.
With Scotland Yard and the FBI still in pursuit, her dad switched identities and fled to mainland Europe, where Tyler visited him during her school holidays, hoping to avoid surveillance.
In this extract from Wetherall's memoir, No Way Home: A Memoir of Life on the Run, Tyler and her sister Caitlin, then 10 and 13, run into trouble on one such border crossing.
THAT spring, Dad was confident enough in his new identity to fly back to London for some business. We saw him waiting for us at Heathrow, his baseball cap pulled low over his lip-biting worry-face.
We flew back to Geneva together - the first time we had traveled alone with Dad for many years. At the Geneva airport, we crossed from the Swiss side to the French, a crossing Dad had handled many times without issue, but he was still on edge, which put me on edge too. At border control, an official extended his hand for our documents silently, and I waited for the cursory glance and stamp. But it didn't happen. He was examining them closely. I looked up at Dad, whose expression hadn't changed, but his eyes were wide and alert, his sunglasses dangling from his mouth, chewing on one arm as he was in the habit of doing. The official lifted his eyes to us again, and Dad removed the glasses from his mouth expectantly, but the documents were not returned.
The official asked Dad to explain his relationship to Cait and me. Dad said he was our father and that he had separated from our mother, but that didn't seem to satisfy the official. His questions continued while his eyes scanned a computer screen, turned away from our view, until in a decisive action he stepped out from the booth and ushered us away from the line that had formed behind us into a different part of the airport guarded by serious-looking men. We were escorted into a gray, sterile box-room, one of a long line of similar box-rooms.
"Dad?" I asked, trotting along behind him.
"It's okay," he said.
Caitlin and I were offered the plastic chairs against the wall at the back, and a different man appeared to question Dad. He wanted to know where we were going; why we were going there; where our mother was; and why we all had different surnames. Dad gave his prepared responses, and started to get exasperated, acting like a man might act who was innocent, something Dad was practiced at. Occasionally this new official glanced over at Cait and me, as if terrible things had been done to us, things we probably didn't understand.
"Listen, what do you need from me so we can get out of here?" Dad asked.
"We will need to speak to the children's mother, just to make sure that you are who you say you are. You understand, we have to be very careful: a single man traveling with two young girls, who, by all indications, are not his own children."
Dad raised his eyebrows in disbelief and then turned away, indignant, expelling air through his teeth in frustration. He said our mother was unavailable: She was on holiday herself and he didn't know how to reach her. "Ask me anything about these girls, and I can tell you. Or ask them! I mean, look at her, look at her face," he was saying, indicating Caitlin's perfect freckles, each dot distinct, unlike Dad's, whose freckles had grown thick and textured over time. "She's clearly my daughter."
Caitlin smiled meekly.
Dad kept protesting, but the more he protested, the more convinced of his guilt the officer became.
"You can use the phone in the hallway."
Dad disappeared and we were left on the plastic chairs in the sterile room. He needed to produce a mother for us, and it couldn't be Mom, because her phone might still be tapped and she would be livid. Any sign of trouble and she was ready to cancel all future trips.
The official came over, pulling up a chair so he could sit, leaning his elbows on his knees to meet us roughly at eye level. He asked us some questions. Easy questions. Who was the eldest; did we have more siblings; what was our mother called; and where did we live. And then he asked, "And that man? Who is that man?"
"He's our dad," we said almost in unison, and it couldn't have been clearer that we were sisters. Our voices are almost identical in their faded American lilt, so similar that years later, when we were both teenagers, we dumped each other's boyfriends over the telephone so the other one didn't have to go through the ordeal, and they never knew.
The official nodded.
I wondered if we had done badly or well.
We were there for what felt like a long time. There was a yellow line painted along the floor, which indicated the border between Switzerland and France, we were told, and we played at jumping from one side to the other, amused by having a foot in each country.
After two hours, Dad reappeared brandishing a phone number for the official, who left to call it. When he returned, the power had shifted from them to us. The official was looking at Dad like he knew he was guilty; he just wasn't guilty of what the official suspected. He stamped our passports and handed them back, before we were released into France.
No one said a word until we were on the road again, and Dad started laughing under his breath and shaking his head.
"What happened?" Cait asked.
"They thought I'd abducted you two."
"Abducted? What for?" I said.
"Child trafficking, I guess."
I wasn't entirely sure what child trafficking entailed, but I added it to my list of things I did not want to happen to me. "And you got hold of Mom?"
"No, not your mother. A friend in France who pretended to be your mother for us. I thought we were really stuck there for a moment."
Dad didn't tell Mom about the trouble, but we never crossed a border alone with him again. Really he should have stopped crossing borders completely, because each crossing exposed and unnerved him. He later described the process as jumping from a high cliff into very cold water-but he kept doing it. Mom says during these months he was erratic and demanding, and she worried about him. He seemed to be searching for something; maybe for the man he had been.