Read The Reunion Online

Authors: Curt Autry

Tags: #FICTION / Mystery & Detective / General

The Reunion (7 page)

BOOK: The Reunion
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10

Even the most direct route to little Washington was a maze of torturous back roads that snaked through the heart of tobacco country. Yet for Dunlevy, the drive was a relaxing, quiet time to gather his thoughts. The agent did his best thinking behind the wheel. Around every bend was another well-tilled field with countless rows of tobacco sprouts, their valuable leaves reaching upward to receive an embrace from the warm afternoon sun.

Every few miles, Hispanic faces stared blankly at the passing cars from the porches of shabby old farmhouses or from the cinderblock stoops of double-wides. Dunlevy made a mental note to check with immigration. He was always on duty.

The town had three stoplights, a Hardee's, a Texaco, a Piggly Wiggly, and many vacant turn-of-the-century brick buildings that had once housed thriving mom-and-pop businesses in the downtown district.

Although the signs simply read
WASHINGTON
, the natives almost always referenced it as
LITTLE WASHINGTON
. It struck Dunlevy as odd. Surely no one confused this tiny coastal burg with the nation's capital.

Lakeland Avenue had no sidewalks but plenty of massive pines and oak trees chock-full of Spanish moss. The entire street was a classic example of 1940s Eastern Shore architecture: wood-frame houses on cinderblock foundations. All of the structures had large front porches and metal roofs in various stages of disrepair. The lawns and gardens, however, were meticulously kept, a trademark of neighborhoods dominated by senior citizens. Number 104 was one of the few homes on the street with a fresh coat of paint.

Dunlevy gave his partner a shake. “Wake up, we're here.”

Franklin opened his eyes, blinking hard to focus. “You sure this is it?” he asked.

Dunlevy shook his head and smiled. “Let's go,” he said as he eased out of the car and stretched his tall frame.

As Dunlevy was about to knock, the screen door on the front porch opened. A tiny woman with white hair, a green housedress, and a broom and dustpan stepped out.

“Hello,” the agent said with a smile as he flashed his ID.

“Hello yourself,” the old woman replied.

“I'm agent Martin Dunlevy. This is agent Franklin. We're here to see Professor Hudson. Is he in?”

The weathered kitchen door creaked open before she could answer. Professor Derek Hudson stood in the entryway. “I see you've met Mother,” he said, forcing a smile. “Did you have any trouble finding the place?”

Dunlevy returned his grin. “No. Your directions were on the money.”

“Good. Come in.”

Hudson escorted them into a dimly lit parlor crowded with antiques and photographs. Franklin lingered in the hallway to examine a black-and-white framed picture of a little boy standing at the wheel of a ship. His eyes darted up and down the wall. All of the photographs were of Derek Hudson at various stages of his life.
Only child,
he thought to himself.

Dunlevy dropped into a leather chair, not waiting for the others to sit. “A lot of people are looking for you, professor,” he said.

Hudson looked away. “I know. That's why I came here. Those were my friends who were killed Saturday night. I'm not up to answering any questions.”

“I know it's not easy.”

“I feel so responsible,” Hudson said. “Those men and their wives wouldn't have been there if it wasn't for me.”

Dunlevy and Franklin exchanged an uneasy glance. “Do you have any idea who would do this?” Franklin asked.

Hudson's face was now buried in the palms of his hands. Slowly he looked up at them, his eyes glazed and hallow. “How's Rolf?” he asked, ignoring their questions. “I keep calling Duke, but they won't say.”

Franklin thumbed through his notepad. He had the names and condition of each survivor. “He's an old man. I don't think he's going to make it.”

Dunlevy interrupted. “You mentioned something to Sally Jamison about Rolf not being the lone German survivor.”

He shrugged. “Yes, I guess she just assumed the nine who attended were all of the survivors. There were twelve, actually.”

“So where are the other three?” Franklin asked.

Hudson let out a sigh. He placed a hand over his forehead and let it run down over the bridge of his nose. It was obvious he was fighting off both fatigue and sadness. “One is in a convalescent home in Dortmund, Germany. He's in a vegetative state. Has been for years. The second owns a bed and breakfast in the Caribbean. I can't remember where—I think one of the French islands.”

“Do you talk with him?” Dunlevy asked.

“No. He wants nothing to do with any of his old shipmates, or me for that matter. He won't even take my calls.”

“And the third?”

“Walter Huber, the youngest of the group. He was just sixteen when the sub went down.”

“Where is he?” Franklin asked, his pen scratching across his notebook.

“About three hundred and fifty miles north of here, in Virginia, just outside of D.C. A nice man. I interviewed him several times for my book.”

Dunlevy shot him a perplexed look. “Why didn't he attend your reunion?”

Hudson took a second to give it some thought. “Physically, he was well enough for the reunion, but he lost his wife a couple of years ago and never recovered. His son lives nearby and looks after him. He told me the doctors had been treating him for depression lately.”

Dunlevy persisted. “Did it occur to you that those other three men might be in danger, and you too?”

Hudson's eyes darted around the room. “Honestly, no. I hadn't given it any thought.”

“Maybe you should. If the U-352 survivors were the target yesterday, it stands to reason those men would be in danger.”

He shook his head. “I don't think anybody could find them, let alone kill them. These men don't associate with the other survivors.”

“Would your book give anyone a clue to their whereabouts?”

“No. I list the names of all the crew members, but not where they live, or even if they're alive, for that matter. These men are all old. If I had listed the names of just the survivors it would have been a good bet that some would have been dead by the time we went to press.”

Franklin nodded. “That's true. But someone could find them if they wanted to.”

The professor gave him a curious look. “Why do you say that?”

“Well, you found them, didn't you?” Dunlevy jumped in. “Why in the hell would anybody want to kill these old men? Certainly you must have an idea.”

Hudson's knuckles were white as he twisted a small pillow from the couch, seemingly ready to rip it apart. “I've gone over it a thousand times in my mind. I can't imagine anyone having a reason to kill one of those people, let alone all of them. It makes no sense.”

Dunlevy shook his head. “It rarely does.” He leaned closer, staring the professor in the eyes. “I need you to think carefully about this. You're the expert here, and I'll need your help. First, we're going to have to get in contact with those other three former crew members. I'll need names, addresses, and phone numbers.”

“My files are back in Wilmington, but I guess I could call Walter's house for you,” Hudson offered, still refusing to look up from his pillow. “I have his number in my address book.”

Dunlevy nodded. “Please.”

The professor excused himself, went to the kitchen, and started dialing. From the couch they could all see him with the receiver to his ear.

“No answer at Walter's,” he yelled into the parlor. “I'll try his son.”

The agents could hear the professor's nails on the keypad as he dialed the next number.

“Yes, Mr. Huber, this is Derek Hudson. We talked last year. I interviewed your father several times about his experiences in the war for my book. I'm trying to reach him.”

There was a long pause. Hudson paled. “I'm so sorry. What happened?” His eyes blinked hard, fighting back tears. “Please accept my condolences.”

Hudson hung up the receiver and braced himself on the doorframe. “He's dead. Walter was murdered yesterday.”

11

The big house at 6907 Avondale Road was dark, except for a single bulb that burned under the portico. It was only nine thirty. Carolyn studied the massive hand-carved oak door before knocking. Her two previous visits had been in the middle of the day, when only her mother had been home. Now she would meet the husband, a man who probably didn't know she existed before last week, and probably would have preferred that it stay that way.

The door opened. “Come in,” he said, his voice strong and clear.

“Dr. Thomas?” she asked tentatively.

He shook his head and smiled. “Call me Harvey. I'm so glad to finally get to meet you,” he said, giving her an awkward hug. “We had a wonderful time with your son today. I told Kenny that I'd tell his momma to bring his bathing suit next time so we can play in the pool.”

She looked up at him with a burst of anxious laughter. “Oh, he'd like that. He loves the water. He's gonna be a fish when he grows up.”

Harvey extended his hand, gesturing for her to come in. He was a teddy bear of a man, tall, muscular, yet with a noticeable tire around the middle, nothing like she expected. He wore a red sweat suit, and thick gray hair tumbled down over his forehead. His eyes were expressive and kind.

“Thank you,” she said as she wandered across the Italian marble. In the family room her mother was curled up in an overstuffed chair. She put her novel on the armrest when Carolyn walked in.

“I hope Kenny wasn't a problem,” Carolyn said.

Stephanie's face lit up as she stood for an embrace. “He's a sweetheart. He fell asleep about an hour ago. I put him down in the guest bedroom.”

Harvey ducked his head into the room. “Can I get you ladies a glass of wine?”

Both women nodded. Harvey waddled out of the room, returning with two crystal wine goblets and a bottle of Merlot. He filled the glasses.

“Ladies, if you'll excuse me, I'll leave the bottle. My Texas Rangers are on.”

Stephanie shot him a stern look, which quickly gave way to a smile. “Keep the TV down in there, the baby's sleeping.” She took a sip from the glass. “Since he retired last year it's all about baseball.”

Carolyn shrugged. “If that's his only vice you're a lucky woman. He seems very nice.”

Her eyes twinkled. “He is. He's been very good to me. I only wish I had met him thirty years earlier.”

Carolyn stared into her wineglass, suddenly lost in thought. “I hope my presence hasn't upset him. I know that for us to just show up has to be a real jolt for the both of you.”

Stephanie sat erect. “Don't ever think that,” she scolded. “He's happy for me. Harvey has a son by his first marriage, and granddaughters, two of them. They're his whole world. I love the girls too, but I never really knew his joy, until today.” Stephanie moved to the couch next to her daughter, resting a hand on her back as tears trickled down her face. “We both had so much fun having a little boy running around this big empty house.”

Carolyn couldn't look her in the face. “Please tell me if this is too much too soon.”

Stephanie moved closer. “Honey, don't think like that. A week never went by that I didn't wonder about you and pray that you had a good life. For you to come into my life now is an incredible gift.” She gently touched Carolyn's face. “One I really don't deserve.”

Carolyn threw her arms around her mother's neck. They squeezed each other tightly, gently rocking back and forth. Carolyn had never felt so safe in her life.

***

Two hours later, Carolyn was back in her apartment, staring at the television. Occasionally she mumbled to herself and scribbled on her yellow legal pad. The apartment was all hers tonight. Kenny merely fluttered his eyes when she unbuckled him from the car seat. She changed his diaper, slipped on his pajamas, and tucked him in his crib without him waking.

She now had all the essentials for a long night in front of the television. There were two bags of Doritos and a Corona with a fresh wedge of lime on the coffee table. She also dressed for comfort, wearing her oversized Oklahoma State tee shirt and panties.

It started with the late news on the NBC affiliate. She also flipped back and forth between ABC and CBS. When the local broadcasts were over, she made the move to cable, alternating between CNN and MSNBC. If those stations went to a commercial she would zap over to the FOX channel without even looking. She could operate a remote control like a man.

At first she wasn't sure if all the jabbering was about the same submarine. Rose had mentioned the explosion and the deaths, but Carolyn was confused about which U-boat her father had served on. She closed her eyes and pictured his medical bag. Did the faded inscription read U-352? She thought it did. Despite the hour, she called to make sure. When Rose confirmed what she already knew she had no time to chat. “Turn on your TV,” she urged before hanging up without saying goodbye.

The nine old men the reporters kept talking about were her father's shipmates, men who fought shoulder to shoulder with her daddy. Why would anyone want to hurt them now? Her mind started to wander. Had her father been murdered?
No,
she told herself. She remembered Rose saying he had a long history of heart problems. She seemed certain he died of a heart attack.

Carolyn's senses were quickly dulled by the repetitive visual images flashing across the screen. After the first sixty minutes the carnage no longer made her look away. They kept airing the same horrific picture: a scorching backdrop of orange and red flames and an old man at death's door, frantically flailing his arms from a third-story window. And always the same disingenuous warning—“This video might not be appropriate for some viewers,” which only served to pull more people around the TV.

Carolyn perked up when she heard the pretty brunette's voice on MSNBC. It was the same girl from
NBC Nightly News.
She was live at the scene and seemed to be the sharpest of the pack.

Carolyn took a sip of her Corona and said a little prayer for the old man the reporter said was clinging to life with burns over ninety percent of his body. Dunlevy was the man she named as head of the investigation, or at least it sounded like Dunlevy. Carolyn wrote it down on her pad and then scurried into the kitchen for her phonebook. She flipped to the blue pages that listed government offices. Her finger scanned the page until it landed on the toll-free number for the FBI.

BOOK: The Reunion
8.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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