“Happy the man who has been able to learn the causes of things.”
Virgil, (Publius Vergilius Maro) (70 BC – 19 BC)
The waitress reached for the unfolded napkin. A hand shot in from behind her and snatched it. “I got it.” J.P. pulled the napkin into his lap as he sat down and smiled at the three elderly men.
Cynthia returned just as the waiters began to serve dinner. The conversation slowed as the group began the main course; the slight plinking of forks and knives on plates the only sound at the table.
J.P. reflected on what he had learned thus far. The secret apparently had something to do with the War. Since his father had spoken so little about it, almost everything he learned from the three men was news. He knew his father was a smart man. After all, he was a teacher. But he never realized his father had a photographic memory.
What exactly had he learned about the mysterious secret? Not much, he had to admit. He was sure if he had enough time with these men and with Lincoln, he would eventually figure it out. Unfortunately, the conversation was going more slowly than the dinner.
Sky had been doing most of the talking. He was a vintage version of the “surfer dude”, with that distinctive west coast laid-back approach to life and an edgy attitude that continually challenged authority. J.P. concluded that Sky must have been a handful in his younger days. He knew Sky’s involvement with his father was soon to end after Italy when his dad was transferred to another division.
J.P. had also determined Frank West was the professor of the group. He was intelligent, articulate and opinionated. Frank was fit and disciplined as further demonstrated by his dinner of Alaskan Halibut and baked potato without butter or sour cream. In addition to seeing the War first hand, Frank obviously studied the accounts of the War. He was a knowledgeable student of history. J.P. found himself anxious to hear Frank’s recollections.
Harley Tidrick was a bit of a conundrum. He could easily be taken for a typical redneck, but J.P. knew that would be an oversimplification. Perhaps it was his attire or his flush face with large jowls that indicated simple good-old-boy backwoods folk but there were other clues in his demeanor that led J.P. to think otherwise.
Without saying much, Harley seemed to be controlling the conversation. The other two men seemed to defer to him and paid particular attention to his answers. When J.P. left the table for the men’s room, Harley was doing most of the talking as he was earlier in the day in the White House. Why was he the assertive one? Was he hiding something? J.P. concluded there was more to Harley Tidrick than met the eye and he should not underestimate him. He would have to listen to his surreptitious tape recording at his earliest opportunity.
For the present, however, J.P. was surprisingly mesmerized at learning of his father’s wartime exploits. And he did learn one important fact. His father’s close friend, Jake Kilroy, never made it home.
Cynthia Powers sensed the discussion would not conclude before the end of dinner. She nudged J.P. “Do you want me to arrange another meeting with these gentlemen tomorrow?” She spoke loud enough for all to hear.
Sky answered first. “I have a flight back to L.A. in the morning. But there’s not much more I can add. We went through Sicily together and after Sicily, Jake and Johnny literally disappeared. Next I hear they’re in the Screaming Eagles.” He jerked his thumb toward Frank. “I saw them briefly in England before D-Day and in Holland and Rheims…” Sky hesitated as he suddenly choked up. “And the parade in New York in forty-six.”
Harley interrupted Sky. “Those two airborne divisions worked closely together so Frank can fill in all those blanks.”
“Right, the parade, too,” Frank offered. “I was there.”
“That’s not important,” Harley barked but quickly regained his poise. “What I meant was you’re done with Sky after Sicily anyway. If Frank can stay tomorrow he can fill in the rest.”
“What about you?” J.P. asked.
“I’m driving back to Bedford tomorrow but I’ll leave you my number in case you want to talk some more.”
J.P. nodded. He made a mental note to look up the New York parade in forty-six. He briefly considered broaching the subject of the secret directly but thought better of it. If they were hiding something, confronting them would just shut down the discussion. He would glean as much information as gently as he could. It would be a slow process. If he deceived them into thinking he was only interested in getting to know his father better, perhaps one of them would slip and reveal something, if they even knew anything at all. It would be a risky, time-consuming game, particularly due to their ages, but J.P. decided it was the best course of action. He looked at Frank. “Can you and I meet tomorrow and talk further?”
“Thanks, Frank.” J.P looked at all three. “In the meantime, can we continue tonight for as long as we can?”
The three elderly men smiled and nodded. Sky wiped his nose and composed himself. “I guess it’s still me. Okay, where were we?” He squinted his eyes and set a pensive look on his face. “Right,” he said to himself. “Sicily!”
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