So…we’ve just passed the halfway point in the posting of my re-take of “Arson & Old Lace” over on Fanfiction.Net. Shall I give you the first scene out of the upcoming “Soul Survivor”?
New York City: August 1978.
Joe was missing.
It’d been several years since Frank had been to New York. He and Joe had been looking forward to it: a trip to the Big Apple before they returned to San Francisco and started Fall Semester at SFSU. Dad had taken a case down there and wanted their help — he’d specifically been asked to bring Frank and Joe: a Chinese scientist hoped to defect with his son, who was about their age. The scientist had known Dad during the War, had even met Frank and Joe when they’d been small, and had wanted his son to have US friends to ease the heartache of leaving home forever.
When it was all said and done and the man safe with the US agents, Frank had hoped he’d have time to look up Nancy and surprise her.
Dad hung up the phone, then sat there, head in his hands, not looking at Frank, not looking at anything. Defeated. Hopeless.
“Still nothing?” Frank said.
The answer was all through Dad’s posture.
There had been a fight, a stupid, pointless fight, more variations on the Joe-you-really-should-be-considering-other-options theme, a theme that Dad hadn’t let up on and that had only intensified since the whole arson thing that past June. Frank had thought that both he and Joe had been fielding it pretty well…but then Joe had finally blown up and stalked out, slamming the door behind him.
Frank had gone after him, only to be brought up short by cold, sharp words that had heads turning all over the hotel lobby:
“Go to hell and leave me alone!”
Five days ago.
Nothing in the hospitals. No NYPD reports about any accidents involving a crippled young man, not a single thing about anyone matching Joe’s description, and Dad had pulled every string he’d had with his buddies still on the force. No notes. No calls. Nothing.
With the defection looming over them, in the middle of New York City, Frank’s imagination hadn’t let up. Communist agents, Soviet spies, political kidnappings, gang wars, Joe stumbling on some Mafia activity…
Dad had forbidden Frank from searching the city on his own. “You don’t know NYC,” Dad had said, “You could be next.” Frank hated sitting and doing nothing, but…but…common sense had won out. They’d all been warned about the Soviet and Chinese secret police — all on high alert for this United Nations conference, all watching their people closely, all watching the US side of things even closer — hoping for a chance to grab someone, anyone, for whatever information they might have.
Several times, Frank had started to call Bay Area to talk to Mar and Kris — especially to Kris, their little tagalong with her ability to step out. But over such a distance — and Tag had never been to NYC — it wouldn’t work. The one time Frank had gone with her to step out had been confusing and disorienting; that had only been around the Embarcadero, and Frank had been knocked unconscious for a whole day afterwards. Asking Tag to attempt several thousand miles, to an unfamiliar city — that would likely kill her.
No use getting Tag or Mar worried, not yet. Not until there was no other hope.
Frank had tried calling Nancy, if only for a sympathetic shoulder…but both she and her father were working a federal court case in Chicago, according to their housekeeper. No, Frank was alone. Alone, and hoping, and praying…
Harry Hammond stood in their hotel room doorway, looking as weary and worn as Dad did. Hammond was Dad’s FBI contact and friend; he’d recommended Dad for this defection attempt. Behind Hammond stood Peter Abrams, their federal contact within the United Nations. Abrams looked grim, tight-lipped.
“You found him?” Frank said, before Dad even opened his mouth. Frank couldn’t keep the hope out of his voice. Let this have been something stupid. Joe might have looked up Bronx Center, might have just been hanging out there and forgotten to call, or had gotten involved in some crime as a witness, or gotten picked up for jaywalking, or…or…
“We think so,” Abrams said quietly.
Dad paled. Frank managed to get the word out: “Think?”
Hammond looked away.
Abrams sighed. “Come with us, please.”
Dad got to his feet, staggered — Frank steadied him, but didn’t protest when Dad’s arm stayed around Frank’s shoulder. Right now, Frank wanted to be five years old again, wanted to throw a tantrum and scream and cry. He wanted Dad pick him up and hug him and rock him and tell him and Joe it was all right, they were safe, they were both okay…
Frank wrapped his own arm around Dad’s shoulders, felt the desperate hug returned.
A gray Lincoln with federal plates waited outside the hotel, with two men in dark suits and Ray-bans standing next to it. They slid in; Abrams had a quiet word with the driver. Frank kept his gaze out the windows, watching the passing streets, the people, the street vendors. Flashes of color, neon signs, bright flags; smells of trash, food, asphalt. A bright, sunny, late-summer day in NYC.
“The Statue of Liberty,” Dad murmured, nodding to Frank’s right as they turned onto FDR Boulevard. Frank could see it, way out in the harbor. “I took you and Joe up to the Crown when you were little. Remember?”
Frank had been five. Joe had climbed all over the railings, pressing his face against the glass windows and pestering the guides and security with endless Whyyyyy’s. Frank had only stared out at the ocean, at that vast expanse of blue that never ended, that blended so perfectly with the sky. For the longest time after that, Frank had thought the sky was just the ocean folded upwards…
Then the car was pulling into a reserved parking spot, right outside a blocky building covered in blue tile on the lower half.
“No,” Dad breathed. “Dear God…no…”
Frank felt everything drain out of him. The brass lettering outside the building:
City of New York. Office of Chief Medical Examiner.
Abrams sighed. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t sure how to break it to you. It’s just…we’re not sure.” Abrams pushed open the door; Frank and Dad followed both men through the chilly, silent corridors covered in white tile. “They found the body in the Meadowlands dump yesterday. It’s in pretty bad shape.”
“That’s in New Jersey.” Frank was numb with fear and denial. He couldn’t breathe. He could barely stumble forward to follow Abrams and Hammond down the corridor. This couldn’t be happening.
Abrams nodded. “It’s fairly close, actually. It’s a known dump site for organized crime. And not so organized. Like I said, we’re not sure. We need an ID.”
An ID. So they truly weren’t sure. So it might not be. They were grasping at straws. The small offering of hope was enough to keep Frank moving and hold him steady down the long, long corridors and into the
sterile, white room.
Frank had done this once before: he and Joe in Paris, after Dad had gone missing while tracking down art thefts in Europe. A cold, clinical, lifeless room of locked metal cabinets. Frank and Joe had stood there, uncomfortable and uncertain, needing an answer but praying this wasn’t it, and the Paris coroner had lifted the sheet covering that ravaged body…
The stench of formaldehyde and burnt meat…
Frank recognized the cloth that wasn’t burnt to char — the sweat-jacket Joe had been wearing when he’d stalked out, blue with white and red trim — then saw the ring on the little finger. The ring Joe had gotten from Mom, that he never took off. The face: charred beyond recognition. Frank swallowed again, and again, fighting not to vomit, fighting not to break down screaming, fighting to stand there impassively and stay calm and adult…and…and…
“Yes,” Dad said finally. “That’s my son…”
“…that’s Joseph Hardy.”