Eugene M. Koon
Eugene M. Koon
Eugene M. Koon
18185 NW Cambray
Beaverton, Oregon 97006
Twenty-Five Years Ago
Merritt raised his right hand, silencing Kevin and listened to the small airplane engine
choke, hoping it was something as simple as a spark plug misfiring.
“Not today. Please God, not today.”
Kevin’s eyes locked onto his father, looking for the sign everything would be okay.
Merritt anxiously tightened his fingers firmly around the throttle.
The engine kicked three or four times, jolting the aircraft back to normal.
The pilot exhaled and smiled at his thirteen-year-old son, giving him the assurance he’d
been waiting for. Then they unknowingly flew past the point of no return, the point where it was
shorter to fly ahead rather than turn around.
Merritt didn’t want to be over the lake. It came up in conversation with other pilots, older
pilots; the kind you want to listen to. Lake Michigan is three hundred miles long, over a hundred
miles wide. Sure, you can fly over it. It’s done every day. But are you willing to bet YOUR life
you won’t be the one unlucky bastard to have engine failure? Hundreds of pilots had made the
wrong bet and disappeared with their planes.
Merritt squinted his eyes towards the horizon trying to pull the plane closer to the shore,
wishing he were on the ground. He turned his attention to Kevin who was daydreaming through
the passenger window, seeming to have already forgotten the engine’s hiccup. He was oblivious
of the storm creeping down from the North, which was forcing Merritt to change his flight path
and fly over instead of around.
“I love you,” Merritt said to his son.
Without taking his eyes off the view, Kevin instinctively said he loved his father.
Merritt heard the pop, it was subtle, but the engine definitely missed a beat.
He focused his eyes sharply on the rotating propeller, waiting as if it were certain, only a
matter of time.
He could see the shore. He was high enough. He might be able to glide and dead-stick a
landing. It would be a better option than ditching in the rough, cold water.
A sliver of sunlight shot through the congregating clouds, illuminating the lake. It was a
beautiful site. The bird’s eye perspective reminded Merritt why he wanted to be a pilot; to see the
world differently, up high. He treasured the choice to go as fast and as high as he could without
the restrictions of crowded, polluted highways, to enjoy the limitless freedom of the wild blue
yonder. This is what he wanted and the reason he took seven long years to build the plane in his
garage, starting with nothing but metal tubing, wood, cloth and cheap glue.
He had his dream; now here he was flying over Lake Michigan in the small airplane built
entirely by his own hands. He was proud, thrilled, and nervous, but coolly in control.
He expected smoke, but there was none, only a silent invitation. Without fanfare the
engine simply stopped, freezing the shiny silver propeller blade at two o’clock. A horrifying
high-pitched whistle streamed over both wings.
Without acknowledging his son, Merritt clicked the two-way radio.
“Mayday, Mayday. This is Cougar 11717 flying over Lake Michigan. I have engine
He heard no response and hoped the radio was working.
Merritt tossed the radio mic and tugged back on the stick, fighting to keep the aircraft
“Dad!” Kevin cried out.
“Everything’s going to be okay,” the father assured his son.
The plane was heavy and losing altitude faster than Merritt had anticipated. He would
have to try and pitch the plane over the waves, like skipping a flat stone and hope for the best.
He drove the stick hard to the left and pressed easy on the left foot pedal, throwing the
plane into a wide circular pattern, slowing the glide descent.
A deathly howl roared through the cabin.
Kevin’s body started shaking uncontrollably.
“Close your eyes, Kevin. Close them now!” Merritt demanded, then closed his.
“I love you, son.”
Twenty-Five Years Later
“Hey Jack, I got a little problem,” the voice crackled through the radio.
Jack Kelley dropped his work boots from the porch rail, cocked his pine chair to the right
and aimed his blue eyes towards the thin line of smoke streaming above the two dozen acre
vineyard he facetiously called his landing strip.
He calmly reached for the radio and keyed the mic. “I’ll put a pot of coffee on, John.”
“Muchas gracias, Hombre,” the old pilot responded.
Jack threw on a blue plaid work shirt over his black tee, and hopped behind the wheel of
his Willys pickup truck and drove to the end of the thin gravel runway.
The airplane’s left engine spat a couple more times, but Jack wasn’t worried at bit about
his old friend, Captain John Thun. At seventy-two, John had been a military test pilot, country
crop duster, and a somewhat notorious aerobatic champion in his day.
John bounced onto the strip, zigzagging his twin engine Beech Baron 58 into the dusty
field for an overly dramatic landing, then stumbled out of the cockpit into the hot summer
“I’ve been having a damn time with the left engine for over a month now, can’t seem to
figure out the problem,” John said, through a sly grin. “Oh well, what do they say? Any landing
you can walk away from is a good landing.”
John never made it to six foot, though he seemed taller. He’d lost some, but not all of his
snow white hair and had such a commanding look most people took him at his word. Having
known John all his life, Jack was not one of them.
Jack removed his “rough and ready” hat, a well-worn gray fedora that once belonged to
his father, and ran his fingers through his wavy brown hair. He waited for the dust to settle, then
circled John’s unmistakable chrome-finished airplane with the striking red lightning bolt running
across the side, inspecting the damage.
“I don’t see much to be worried about. No fuselage or wheel damage. Nothing’s leaking.”
Jack turned his attention to the sky, measuring the daylight. “I’ll take a closer look at both
engines tomorrow. As usual, you’ll be spending the night.”
“I always appreciate your hospitality.”
Jack draped his arm over John’s shoulder, guiding his friend towards the pickup. “I didn’t
know you were coming. Any particular reason?”
“No sir. No particular reason at all.”
Jack raised a disbelieving brow.
“Nice day,” John said.
“Perfect for flying.”
“If you say so.”
“I got a question for you, Jack.”
Jack knew it was coming. It always came this time of year.
John stopped dead in his tracks. “How do you do it? How do you live on what appears to
be an airstrip, you have your pilot’s license, yet you stay glued to the ground like an oak tree in a
“Not today, John,” Jack curtly answered.
John hopped into the bed of the pickup. “Why not today, Jack? Tell me, when was the
last time you were up, three or four years ago?”
“Are you riding in the back for a reason?” He asked, ignoring the nagging question.
“I banged my leg on that last skip. You have a pothole or two, need filling before I can
“Let me take a look, left or right?”
“You don’t need to take a look. I’m not going to sue you.”
“Right or left?”
Jack carefully rolled up John’s right trouser, uncovering a two-inch gash, blood pooling
just below the kneecap.
“Hey, how about that? Looks like my day to die.”
“You’ll live,” Jack said, concealing a sliver of a smile. “But all the same we better have
the doctor take a look at it in the morning.”
“I don’t need the doctor to take a look at anything. You know I’ve been through worse
than this, and don’t try to change the subject. Look, if you don’t want to fly solo then why don’t
you let me take you up? Your dad would want me to do at least that much.”
Jack yanked an oil rag from the truck toolbox and took out his Leatherman from his back
pocket, sheared off the cleaner half and wrapped it tightly around the knee. “Leave it alone, John.
You wouldn’t know what my dad would have wanted or not.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that,” John quipped, loosening the binding just a little. “I
knew him better and longer than anybody. Except for your mother of course. Merritt was my best
friend. My high-flying hombre. I know he’d want me to get you back in the sky if I could. I feel
like I’m letting him down.” John took Jack by the forearm. “Listen to me. You need to face your
“Fears got nothing to do with it,” Jack said, pulling away and closing the tailgate.
“There’s nothing wrong with keeping your feet firmly on the ground,” he said, nodding towards
John’s plane. “You might want to give it some thought.”
“You want me to tell you what your problem is, Jack?”
“Do I have a choice?”
“Sometimes I think you forgot where you came from. What family you’re a part of. Do
you remember your fourteenth birthday?” John asked.
“Can’t see how I could forget. You remind me every chance you get.”
“I took you up in your dad’s plane, let you take the stick. You were flying all by yourself;
at least you thought you were.”
“I figured you were helping.”
“You were doing most of it. I only helped with the pedals. Jack, I’ve known you all your
life. You never had a better time. The look in your eyes, nothing can take that away. Like it or
not, flying is a part of you. It’s in you forever no matter how hard you try to ignore it. It’s in your
“Don’t be so sure of that.”
“Come on, Jack. You need to be more accepting and get over it. Accidents happen, in a
car, on a boat, walking across the street, and yes, even in an airplane. Accidents are just part of
life. They happen. You’re allowed time to grieve and to heal, but then you’re expected to deal
with it and move on.”
“Are you done?”
“I could go on.”
John rolled down his pant leg and braced himself toward the back of the pickup.
Jack climbed into the cab and started the engine. “Hold on tight back there, John. It could
“Oh, so now you decide to sound like a pilot.”
John looked completely out of his element wearing a borrowed pair of green plaid golf
shorts and a yellow University of Oregon tee shirt. He propped his bum leg onto the porch rail,
then popped two beers handing one to Jack. “Here’s to the good life.”
Jack nodded and tipped bottles. “To the good life.”
The two fell silent for the longest time, gazing across the golden acres.
“I think about it, this time of year.”
“Can’t seem to avoid it,” Jack sighed.
“Like it’s become an annual date on the calendar, like Christmas or the Fourth of July.”
“I don’t need a calendar to know its coming. I can feel it… in here,” Jack said, tapping
his bottle to his heart.
“You’re what, forty-two, the same age as Merritt when he passed?”
“Do you ever think about that?”
Jack set his beer down, then scooted his chair closer to check John’s leg. “I try not to.”
“But you do?”
“Of course,” Jack said, proceeding to change the bloodstained bandage.
John took a long draw from his bottle before changing the subject. “You know in another
couple of weeks it will be Air Show season.”
“Doesn’t make much difference to me. I don’t go anymore.”
“You used to get a kick out of them.”
“I did. Then you stopped performing. I lost all interest,” Jack declared.
“I sure did get the crowds going, didn’t I? Showed them stunts they’d never seen an
airplane do.” John stuck out both arms like wings, swaying them up and down. “I’d make them
think I was losing control, scare them into thinking I might buy the farm right before their very
eyes. It was all show business,” he rejoiced.
“Did I ever tell you the time I thought you were going to buy it?” Jack asked.
“Probably. At some point we all run out of stories and start repeating the old ones. You
can tell me again if you like. I don’t mind.”
“I must have been eleven or twelve, I can’t remember for sure. We were staying at the
Howard Johnson in Merced. There was a welcome party in the conference hall for all you hot
shot aerobatic pilots. I was in the hotel room looking after my little brothers, but I needed money
for the pizza delivery. I went downstairs looking for Dad and Mom. I saw you in the crowd being
real friendly with a bottle of tequila. You were in rare form, holding court, hooting and a
hollering. By the looks of it I’d say you were one drink away from wearing a lampshade.”
“I don’t recall.”
“No. I wouldn’t expect you would. You were performing the following day. I lost a
night’s sleep on account of you.”
“Worried about me? You’re softer than you let on to be.”
“I’m telling you a story.”
“Don’t let me stop you.”
Jack finished wrapping the wound. He picked up his beer and took a short swallow.
“There you were up in the sky with a thousand spectators hanging on your every move. The
announcer’s telling the crowd what maneuver you’re doing and what you’re about to do. He says
you’ve added a brand new stunt you’d never tried before. One so dangerous no pilot in the entire
United States would dare try it. The Lomcevak.”
“That’s Czechoslovakian for headache, you know,” John added.
“You took your plane straight up as high as it would go, flipped it end over end so many
times it made me dizzy.” Jack laughed and humorously waved his beer bottle in the air, using it
as a prop to demonstrate. “You aimed the nose straight down at top speed, then at the last second
you leveled out ten feet above the ground, snapped upside down and caught a red, white and blue
ribbon by the rudder. It was the craziest thing I ever saw in my whole life.”
“It was easier than it looked.”
“Yeah, well all the while you were up there having a good old time, I couldn’t breathe. I
figured you drank so much the night before you still had to have been piss drunk on Cuervo. I
thought if there ever was a time you were going to buy the farm, that was it.”
John laughed. “I hate to put a kibosh on one of your adolescent fairy tales, but you got it
all wrong, Amigo. I don’t touch the water south of the border, never did. And I never, ever had a
drink twenty fours hours before I performed. Ever.”
“What are you saying, that wasn’t you?”
“I’m saying the night before I tried that stunt for the first time I was sick in my hotel
room at the Howard Johnson in Rockford, Illinois, not Merced, with a hundred and fifty degree
fever. You might a seen some other hotshot getting wild and crazy, but it wasn’t this sick
“Really, that wasn’t you?”
“Sure as spit.”
“All this time, I thought...I don’t know what to say?”
“Don’t worry about it. You’ll find as you get older, sometimes truth isn’t always the way
we remember it.”
“I’m glad it wasn’t you. You were always my favorite. To me, what you were to
aerobatics was what Harry Houdini was to magic,” Jack said, in a way to make them both laugh.
“I know I was,” John said, attempting to hide his crooked grin behind his bottle of beer.
“Has my tarnished reputation been restored?”
“Mostly.” Jack grinned, then drifted back to his spot on the porch and kicked both boots
onto the rail. The two fell back into their comfortable silence, drinking their beers.
John eventually spoke. “I’m sorry what I said earlier, about accidents. It’s true of course,
but now I think I might have been a little too hard on you. I was out of line and I’m sorry.”
“You’re apologizing? You’re putting me on, right?”
“No. I feel for you. I really do. Losing your father and a brother at the same time, that’s a
bitter pill to swallow. And it’s a damn shame. After all the searching they never found Merritt, or
the plane for that matter. Not one single piece of it.”
“I’m grateful they found Kevin’s body,” Jack said.
“It’s a rainy day in heaven when you can settle for just a body.”
Jack drew from his bottle. “Do you know we have this same conversation every year?”
“We do,” Jack said.
“I’m just saying what’s on my mind, is all.”
“It was a long time ago, John. I don’t need you feeling sorry for me. What’s done is done.
I can’t change the past.”
“No Jack, you can’t. But, you don’t have to let the past change you. You don’t have to let
it ruin your whole damn life.”
“You’re not going to start preaching, are you?”
John waited one solid minute. “You were what, eighteen?”
“Here we go again,” Jack grumbled. “Seventeen.”
“That sounds about right. A long time to be carrying the weight if you ask me.”
“I wasn’t asking.”
John waited two minutes. “It wasn’t your fault.”
“I never said it was.”
“You’re telling me you never felt guilty?”
“I’m not telling you anything.”
“The way I see it, if it were me and I was supposed to be flying shotgun instead of my kid
brother, chances are I’d be carrying some baggage. For a while anyways, then I’d a got rid of it. I
wouldn’t have packed it around feeling sorry for myself.”
“If I didn’t know you better I’d say you’re out to ruin this perfect sunset, and my beer.”
“I’m just making conversation.”
“You don’t always have to.”
“Yeah, I know. But I like to. So when you’re out here all alone with your grapes you’ve
got something to think about.”
“Is this where I’m supposed to say thank you?”
“You can if you if like.”
Another silence fell between the two men.
“You did all right for yourself,” John finally said, sweeping his hand across the sky.
“You’ve got yourself a pretty piece of property hidden in the woods. If you squint real
hard and don’t mind the gopher holes it looks enough like a runway. Which I might add, I still
don’t get. Why have an airstrip if you’re never going to use it?”
“It’s a vineyard, John. I grow grapes.”
“The hell it is. The grapes are just your excuse. It’s a runway, and you know it. You even
call it that yourself when it suits you.”
“You ever stop to think I might a built it just for you, so you’d fly in and bother me?”
“Maybe you did. You like my company and we both know it.”
“I’m not saying I don’t.”
Jack’s property amounted to a generous amount of acres cut deep into the dense Oregon
forest just off the Columbia River, which he used to grow grapes for the local wineries. With the
recent worldwide popularity of Oregon Pinot, Jack had fallen into a modest goldmine. The
airstrip, as he liked to refer to it on occasion, was nothing more than a long, straight as an arrow
gravel driveway leading right up to the front porch of his timber cabin with an orange windsock
mounted on the opposite end of the stone chimney.
“You’ve got a daughter,” John went on.
“And an ex-wife,” Jack sardonically added.
“Sadly, sometimes that comes with the territory.”
“All in all, I’d say Merritt Kelley would have been pretty proud of his boy. I wish he’d
had the chance to have known you as a grown man.”
Jack took a short swallow. “You were right about one thing, John. You did know him
better than anyone. Better than I did for sure.”
John reached over and put his hand on Jack’s shoulder. “No. I was just saying that for
effect. Trying to get your goat. I knew him longer than you that’s all. He was my high-flying
hombre, but he was your father. Make no mistake, he loved the hell out of all you boys, Kevin,
Jeffrey and you, like there was no tomorrow,” John jiggled his bottle, judging it to be empty
enough. “Could I trouble you? I’d get it myself but as you pointed out, I have a bad leg and need
to see a doctor.”
Jack slid his rough and ready hat on, then walked the boards, stopping at the screen door.
“Thanks for dropping in, John.”
“My pleasure, Amigo.”
“By the way. I like the shorts,” Jack said, acknowledging John’s new wardrobe.
“You would, now wouldn’t you?”
Jack made his way to the fridge, pulling two cold ones and heard the ping from the
computer in his office, alerting him to a new email.
Taking after his grandfather, a logger, Jack loved working outdoors in the great Pacific
Northwest. He didn’t own a television. And he didn’t care much about computers. He only
owned one in order to improve his communication with his young daughter, Amy. He chose one
of the Apple desktop machines because he’d heard they were easy to use and thought it might
just jazz up the place, perched upon his banged-up roll top desk. Over time he’d occasionally
search the internet for information concerning his crops, and check email. But for the most part
he figured he’d made it into his forties without one, so why get caught up in technology at this
stage of the game?
The email was from a web address he didn’t recognize:
KEEP HER COOL IN THE MOTOR POOL
Jack froze, stunned by the words on the screen:
KEEP HER COOL IN THE MOTOR POOL
It was his father’s way of saying everything was okay; everything was cool.
The email was posted at 7:10pm, the EXACT time his father, Merritt Kelley reportedly
transmitted his one and only distress call.
After more than two decades, Jack thought the date and time of the accident had been all
but forgotten by those outside the family. He couldn’t imagine who would have sent the
He was positive his mother didn’t have anything to do with it; she knew less about
computers than he did. And his younger brother Jeffrey wouldn’t have sent it. He was too
serious. He didn’t have time for jokes or pranks. Jeffrey was with his mother on the day of the
fatal accident and watched her go through hell. Whatever his eleven-year-old eyes had seen that
horrific day he never forgot. He made a promise, not to her, but to himself, to always stay close
by her side, to care for her. And for twenty-five years, not counting his absence during a blink of
an eye marriage and divorce, he’d kept his word.
Jack pulled up a chair and scrutinized the email, trying to figure out who sent it. The
subject and address bar were blank. He didn’t know what else to check, and found himself
desperately disappointed he hadn’t taken the time to properly learn how to use the computer in
the first place.
“Keep her cool in the motor pool. Keep her cool in the motor pool,” he repeated, saying it
louder each time, hoping it might force a memory to the surface.
“Everything alright?” John asked, leaning against the doorway.
Jack waved his hand. “Come on in here. Take a look at this.”
John hobbled over and read the computer screen, then whistled a long hollow note. “I’ll
be damned. Who sent this?”
“I was hoping you’d tell me.”
“Your dad, he used to say…”
Jack cut him off; pointing to the time the email was sent.
“What’s going on, Jack?”
“I have no idea.”
John waved Jack out of the chair. “Let me sit down. I’ll take a closer look.”
“Come on, up you go,” John, ordered.
Jack had no idea what John had in mind, but did what he was told.
John, careful not to bump his leg slid into the seat, pulled the keyboard nearer and slowly
“Hmmm…this looks like it was written under a stealth program,” John said.
“Spammers use a stealth program to test the waters. It allows them to send anything they
want. You can call them back, write to them if you want, but you can’t trace them. It’s an easy
program to use because they’re not very sophisticated. Even I could use one if I wanted to.
Programs like these are also easy to find on the Internet. But this email is peculiar; it doesn’t
follow the normal footprint of a spammer. Spammers usually leave a hint, a signature just for
laughs. This program is different. Whoever wrote it definitely wanted to make sure you couldn’t
find out who, or where they are.”
The landline phone on the desk rang. Jack had a feeling he knew who it might be, and let
it ring and ring.
“Are you going to get that?” John eventually said.
Jack picked up on the seventh ring.
His feeling was correct. It was Sharon, his ex-wife.
“Did you forget? You were supposed to pick Amy up,” she said. Her all too familiar tone
implied he’d screwed up. Again.
Jack checked his watch and let out a gutted moan.
Sharon had made a last minute change to his routine. He was supposed to drive into
Portland to pick up his twelve-year old daughter for what Sharon cynically referred to as
“It’s okay, Jack, she’s here. She was able to catch a ride with Teresa from her dance
class, but what if she hadn’t? You’ve got to stay on top of these things,” Sharon started to
“I’m sorry, Sharon. Something came up at the last minute and I lost track of the time,”
Jack said, fixing his eyes on John’s injured knee.
John took the obvious cue, limping his beer back to the porch.
“I know it’s not like you to forget,” Sharon continued. “But, plans change all the time in
our little girl’s life. You need to be accessible. I don’t mean to get nasty, but join the rest of the
world and get a cell phone.”
Jack had a cell phone, but didn’t see the need to inform Sharon about it. Amy had his
number and called whenever she liked, that was good enough for him.
“Can you put Amy on the phone?”
Jack and Sharon had been divorced for five years. Somewhere in those five years Sharon
met and married Danny Greene, a successful businessman who owned a chain of luxury spas for
pets. Danny had become somewhat of a local celebrity in the area, known for his wacky late
night television commercials. He’d dress up as some sort of family pet, such as a juggling terrier
or a guitar strumming Siamese cat, convincing loving owners to pamper their adorable
Jack and Sharon had their even moments and they’re down moments. The ‘UP’ moments
were ancient history. Out of the gate they both sadly agreed that the divorce was not only their
hardest decision, but also their best decision. As time went by, measured by his daughter, Jack
realized he had been incredibly selfish.
He had never fully appreciated the lingering consequences that would affect his
relationship with his only child.
“Hi, Dad,” Amy said.
Amy cut him off. “It’s okay, Dad, really. Teresa wanted to go shopping for things for
summer, so it all worked out. It just took longer than I thought and Mom got all worried, as per
usual. It’s no biggy. I could have texted you if it was a problem.”
Jack had the feeling Amy was generously letting him off the hook. Sharon must have still
been in the same room or within earshot. “I won’t be late next time.”
“I know, Dad,” Amy lowered her voice to a whisper. “It’s really not your fault. Mom
changed the schedule at the last minute, and let’s face it Dad, you’re sort of a creature of habit.”
“No, Amy, this one’s on me. I should have been there.”
“Dad, it's ok. Really. But I’ve got to go now, okay? Mom says I have to clean my room
before I go to bed.”
“Sure, I’ll see you this weekend. I love you.”
“I love you too, Dad. Roger, over and out.”
“Roger, over and out,” Jack smiled. “Roger, over and out,” their way of saying, “Keep
her cool in the motor pool.”
And for the moment everything was cool.
“That should do it,” John said, plugging in the power cord.
It took less than fifteen minutes to dismantle the computer and reconnect it on the
bedroom nightstand. Jack had neatly labeled each cable now reasonably confident they were
again installed properly.
“Only one way to find out,” Jack pushed the power button and was rewarded by the
familiar ocean blue screen featuring his user name. If another email arrived during the night he
was going to be ready.
“Too much action for one night, I’m heading to bed,” John said, pressing both hands
against his lower back. “Wake me if you get a nibble.”
“You’d really want me to wake you? What if it’s in the middle of the night?”
“I’ll probably be awake anyway, debating to hit the head or not. At my age, ‘Life is a
long lesson in humility’ James M. Barrie said that.”
“Remind who’s that?”
“He wrote Peter Pan. The boy who loved to fly.”
“Right. And didn’t want to grow up,” Jack added.
John waved goodnight and walked the hall.
Jack waited until he was certain John had reached the guest room, then quietly opened the
closet door and searched for a parcel he’d stashed way in the back on the top shelf.
He found what he was looking for and carefully placed the flimsy box on the bed, then
slid off the lid. He removed the tattered blue article of clothing from the container, neatly laying
it upon the bed. He placed the red accessory beside the outfit, then read the accompanying card
and smiled softly.
Jack neatly folded the outfit and slipped it back into the box along with the gift card, then
returned it to the closet.
He laid down on his bed; pulling the blanket Amy had given him last Christmas over his
broad shoulders. It was a serene spacey print full of stars, planets, rocket ships and spacemen.
Jack had been fascinated with the early space programs since he was her age.
He closed his eyes struggling to clear his mind. He needed to sleep but didn’t want to
dream about his brother Kevin again, or the accident. He tried directing his thoughts to the
tranquil images printed on the blanket, picturing what it might have been like to be an astronaut
during the Mercury or Apollo missions. It didn’t work. He didn’t dream of space capsules, moon
landings or splashdowns. He dreamt he was beside his father in a cramped two-seater airplane,
built in a cramped two-car garage, staring at a frozen silver propeller blade, thousands of feet
above rough water. He watched his dad pull back on the stick with his left hand while reaching
for the radio microphone with his right.
“MAYDAY, MAYDAY this is Merritt Kelley flying Cougar N11717. I am about to
crash into Lake Michigan. Please help.”
His call was met with silence.
Jack felt the moment the plane could go no further but straight down. He felt his stomach
push upward, squeezing through the funnel that was his throat. He wasn’t breathing, certain his
heart was going to burst. He felt the muscles in his cheeks ripple across bone, but couldn’t feel
his hands. He desperately wanted to hold onto his father, or to be held tightly, securely, as if he
were an infant. He heard the crack of fiberglass and wood splintering followed by the earsplitting
screech of shorn metal tubing. He felt the sting of cold water rise from his shoes to his chin. He
tried to release a primal scream, but couldn’t. The dream wouldn’t allow it; the dream never
The morning sun came just in time to Jack’s rescue. It always did.
He aimed his tired eyes towards the computer. Pictures of Amy drifted diagonally across
the screen. Jack jiggled the mouse, waking the computer.
Four new messages were posted.
He wondered why he didn’t hear them as they came in; though it didn’t take long to
figure out. He was so concerned about plugging in the cables correctly that he forgot to turn up
The first email was from a credit card company advising him to be smart and consolidate
all of his debt onto one card.
Next, an email delightfully informing him he may be the sole heir to a fortune that could
be worth over one billion dollars. All they needed was his date of birth and bank account number
to start the proceedings.
Amy sent the next message at 1:05am.
Jack wondered if Sharon knew Amy was up at this hour. The school summer break had
just started, so he let it go.
‘Hey Dad, don’t worry about not picking me up.
Mom was a little ticked, but she cooled down.’
Jack dragged the email into a separate folder titled FUTURE MADAME PRESIDENT.
He saved all of Amy’s emails, thinking one day he’d print them, making a nice book for
her birthday, college graduation or something special.
One email left.
He knew. It could only have only meant one thing.
Kevin was found floating on his back, between the tall ochre cattails of Lake Michigan
one week after the accident. A high school science teacher on summer break who happened to be
fishing in a remote area off the shore had made the grisly discovery.
Kevin was flown back and buried in the Rhododendron Court at the Mountain View
Cemetery. It was a short three-hour drive North of the vineyard but Jack never visited. He had no
desire to ever see his younger brother’s name marked everlastingly in a deathly shade of bronze.
Jack clicked to reply. “Who are you?”
“I’m telling you, I don’t need to see a doctor. It’s just a scratch,” John grumbled,
balancing on one foot in the kitchen, scrambling eggs.
Jack had shown John the latest email, then told him they were indeed seeing the doctor
after breakfast and then he would head North for the day, alone.
John scooped the eggs to the plate, passing it to Jack, then sat down at the kitchen table.
“Really, I’ll be okay. I can wait till you get back. You can leave right after you eat. I’ll
even do the dishes.”
Jack took another peek at John’s bum leg, gave it some thought, and then reluctantly
agreed. “Well, if you’re doing dishes I guess it’s settled. I’ll take you first thing tomorrow, and I
don’t want to hear another word.”
“When was the last time you were there?”
“Where?” Jack asked, pouring John a cup of coffee.
“I don’t remember.”
“You don’t remember? I find that a little hard to believe.”
“No John, I don’t remember,” Jack shot back, reluctant to think about the cemetery, much
less talk about it.
John pushed his luck. “Come on. How long, ballpark, a year, two years, five?”
“You’re in the park.”
“I don’t blame you, not wanting to go, not wanting death staring you in the face. But you
can’t turn your back either. Memories of those who’ve passed are too strong to be ignored. Their
deaths need to be recognized just as much as their lives were celebrated, not forgotten. A part of
that is paying your respects. They can’t come to you, so you’ve got to go to them. You live as
long as I have you see some, if not most of your friends go. I’ve spent a whole lot of time
walking on sacred ground, and I don’t mean the golf course.”
“I figured as much.”
“Do you want me to go with you, keep you company?” John asked.
“No. It’s something I need to do alone. Besides, you have dishes to do.”
John turned his head, checking out the pile in the sink, and grimaced. “I don’t mean to
pry, but why are you really going? To see your brother, or because you think you’ll dig up
something concerning those bizarre emails?”
“I don’t know, maybe a little of both.”
“Whatever your reason, I think it’s good you’re going. Do you good to do a little soul
The two men finished their plates and took their coffee to the porch.
“Are you sure you’re going to be okay being here alone? I’m still inclined to take you to
the doctor before I go.”
John took to his chair, making himself comfortable and lifted his sore leg onto the rail.
“Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine. Go on and do what you need to do.”
Jack hadn’t been North of the Columbia River in forever and was pretty sure it hadn’t
changed much. Interstate-Five was like that, one long sleepy highway lined with farmland, outlet
malls and an occasional billboard advertising outlet malls. To pass the time Jack turned on the
radio and found a contemporary country station on the dial.
Somewhere between Centralia and Olympia he thought of driving by the family house on
his way to the cemetery. It would only be a slight detour. But he wasn’t sold on the idea. The old
line ‘You can never go home’ raced through his mind.
He waited until the very last second then cranked the steering wheel, exiting the
interstate, immediately regretting his decision.
He was lost.
Nothing was as he’d remembered.
New businesses had replaced the familiar landmarks he’d always used as a frame of
reference; nothing looked the same.
Where he thought there would be a Minute-Mart, there was a Kirby’s Chicken Hut.
Where he thought there would be the Ice Arena, there was a vacant Barnes and Noble.
After driving around for a half-hour he found a Wal-Mart, which used to be the Sears,
which used to be the Woolworth’s Thrift Store, and he regained his bearings.
Turning left into his old neighborhood Jack surprised himself, remembering who had
lived in a few of the houses: the Snyder’s lived in the brown ranch on the left, the Wilson’s in the
green two-story with white trim. The Murphy’s lived in the blue two-story and had the biggest
front lawn and never took down their Christmas lights.
Rounding the corner he turned onto Seminole Road, his road, driving until he reached the
cul-de-sac and put the truck in park.
He couldn’t find his house.
Puzzled, he spun around. Driving slower than he could walk. Jack carefully read each
address on the mailboxes. He finally stopped in front of a mustard-yellow breadbox of a house,
which at one time had been a much smaller breadbox and painted barn-red when he and his
family lived there many years before.
Jack rolled down the window to get a clear view.
He could see why he missed it. Besides a different paint color, the house had been
You can never go home.
He sat in his pickup for the longest time, taking it all in, trying to look past the obvious
structural changes. He recalled the house as it once stood when he helped his mother plant
vegetables in the backyard, when he learned to ride his green Schwinn bike in the driveway, and
where for seven years he watched his father build a real airplane in the two-car garage.
He wondered who lived in the house now, and who occupied his bedroom. He wondered
if the present owners had heard of the tragic event that had fallen upon the original owners.
“Jack Kelley, is that you? Tell me that’s you!” A man called out, briskly cutting across
the street towards the pickup.
“Carl Graham,” Jack beamed.
“Get out of the damn truck and let me take a look at you.”
Jack couldn’t jump out fast enough, giving his closest childhood friend a big ole’ bear
Carl pulled back and gave Jack the once over, reading him from head to toe. “Time’s
been too good to you. You still look like a baseball player. Kind’a like the ‘Field of Dreams’
guy, only older, much older,” Carl laughed, wasting no time ribbing his pal.
“The last time I saw you, you had your hair in a ponytail,” Jack fired back.
Carl was lean, his hair kept in a clean military cut, dressed in dark blue jeans and a tight
white polo shirt that at one time might have been worn to accent his sizable biceps.
“Give me a break! I was a teenager. I grew up; cut my hair and found a job I was
reasonably good at, crime,” Carl professed.
“If you were a robber you’d be behind bars, so I’m guessing you’re a cop?”
“A detective to be exact,” Carl boastfully said, cocking his toothpick to the left. “You
caught me off guard, Jack. I was about to call 911. I see this old pickup drive by real slow, then
turn around and stop. I’m thinking that could be somebody up to no good. Then I get a good look
and see it’s you behind the wheel. My heart practically jumped the Mississippi. What’s with the
pickup? I’d half expect to see a successful man such as you travelling in something with leather,
besides his shoes,” he said, peering inside the pickup.
“This truck has four new wheels and one old radio. I don’t need any more than that,” Jack
answered, patting the hood. He then looked over Carl’s shoulder to his former house, and then
down Seminole Road. “I didn’t think anyone from the old days would still be around.”
Carl ran his open palm across the truck’s open door, pushing it shut. “I didn’t go
anywhere, you did. Come on. Let’s go inside. You’ve got to say hello to Mom.”
Carl’s right hand twitched slightly, catching Jack’s eye.
“Parkinson’s,” Carl said, casually slipping the hand into his pant pocket. “It started
seventeen months ago. I had to retire early. Can’t be on the force and not shoot straight. I moved
back in with Mom thinking it would help us both out, now that my dad passed away.”
“Your Dad…I’m sorry, Carl. I didn’t know,” Jack said, reverently removing his hat.
“How could you? It’s been three years. You’ve been gone for what, over twenty?”
Jack bypassed Carl’s question. “What happened?”
“Heart attack got the old man while we were running in the park training for the Labor
Day marathon. We had a half-mile to go when the son of a gun wanted to race me. I let him get
ahead about ten yards or so; you know, let him think he was kicking my butt. Then he drops face
down right in front of me. I nearly tripped over him. I tried everything I could to revive him, but
it wasn’t in the cards. He died right by the Pepper footbridge.”
Carl paused a moment in the driveway allowing Jack time to take it all in. “You know
what’s ironic? When I was a cop I saved more lives than I can remember. When it came time to
save my own dad, I dropped the ball. Where’s the karma in that? Now I can’t stop thinking, what
if I hadn’t raced him? Would it have made a difference? I don’t know. But now I know how you
must have felt, Jack.”
“How was that?”
“Is that how I felt, Carl, guilty?” Jack sharply countered.
“No offense, but didn’t you? For letting Kevin take your place? I just assumed you did.
Sorry, my mistake.”
Jack couldn’t tell if Carl was intentionally trying to push his buttons. Though they had
been closest of friends they were also two sides of the same coin. And, as it happens growing up,
they sometimes fought like cats and dogs. But at the end of the day they always had each other’s
Jack repositioned his hat and let the cutting remark slide, at least for the time being, and
followed Carl inside the house.
He was surprised to find that for the most part, nothing had changed under the Graham
family roof. Maybe there were one or two different pictures of Jesus, and the giant flat screen
television was new. But the same family portrait, probably taken when Carl was eight or nine,
still hung prominently above the brick fireplace. On the mantle a photo of the old man, when he
was a younger man serving as a sergeant in the Army was still proudly displayed. Jack smiled
seeing that old man Graham’s favorite candy-apple-red vinyl armchair remained the centerpiece
of the living room. He claimed he’d won it in a card game off of Elvis Presley while Elvis was
acting in a movie about the Seattle World’s Fair in 1962. Whale tales, that’s what made Carl
Graham’s father the undeniably King of BS Mountain.
“Mom, fix yourself up and come on out. We’ve got company,” Carl called down the hall.
“I’m watching my shows,” her thin, wavering voice echoed back.
“Mom won’t do anything until her afternoon soaps are over,” Carl whispered to Jack.
“Come on, Mom. It’s Jack.”
“Oh my, lord! Give me a minute to fix my hair. Don’t let him go anywhere; I want a talk
to that boy.”
Carl leaned into Jack’s ear, being careful not let his mother hear him. “I should warn you,
she’ll be excited to see you, but she hasn’t been all that happy with you. Not for a long time.”
“I don’t understand?”
“She didn’t like the way you ran off.”
“I didn’t run off, Carl.”
“No. I didn’t,” Jack squarely answered, sensing a slight aggressive shift building in Carl’s
“Leaving the neighborhood practically overnight and not returning for twenty some odd
years later seems like running off, if you ask me.”
“I didn’t ask. And, as I recall, your mother was a little more understanding,” Jack fired
“Okay then. I’m the one. I’d like to know why you did it.”
“Are you really expecting me to give you an explanation?”
“When you’re ready to give one.”
The two grown men faced each other as if to say here we go again, that didn’t take long.
Jack wasn’t about to be pushed into answering and was thankful he heard the chirping
sound coming from his pocket.
“It’s your cell,” Carl said, stating the obvious.
“Thank you, Detective.” Jack fished the phone out of his pocket. “John, are you okay?”
“Me? Yeah, I’m fine,” John, said. “Any idea when you’ll make it back?”
Jack glanced down to his wristwatch. “I don’t know. I haven’t made it to the cemetery
“I decided to swing by the old house first, and ran into an old friend. Is there problem?”
Carl disappeared down the hall, allowing Jack his privacy.
“Not a problem. Just something I thought you should know about right away.”
“FedEx just dropped off a package.”
“It’s an envelope. It’s got a big fat “urgent” sticker plastered on it, written in bright red
ink to get your attention, as if the word ‘urgent’ wasn’t enough. This probably could have waited
until you got home but I didn’t see the harm in telling you straight away.”
“Open it,” Jack said, without hesitating.
“That’s what I thought you’d say, so I already did.”
“Keys, two of them. One looks to be an ordinary house key and the other is a car key for
“How do you know?”
“Jack, I know what a car key looks like. Besides, it has Ford stamped on it.”
“Any note with it?”
“Nope. Just keys.”
Jack could hear Carl and Mrs. Graham making their way to the living room.
“John, I’ve got to go. I’ll try and be back before dinner.”
“I noticed you had a couple of sirloins in the freezer,” John hinted.
“Go ahead and take them out to thaw.”
“I already did,” John said and then hung up.
Mrs. Graham tucked her shoulder length, charcoal gray hair, inside some sort of turquoise
blue turban wrap before making her entrance.
“Jack,” she said, unsuccessfully trying to hold back the tears that trickled down behind
her tinted glasses.
Jack carefully wrapped his arms around the corpulent woman, giving her a gentle hug as
if she were his own mother.
“Not too tight, I’m not as fit as I used to be,” she teased.
Carl led his mother by the hand, carefully guiding her to the sofa.
“I never thought my eyes were ever going to see you again. You were just a boy the last
time I saw you,” she said to Jack.
“He was seventeen, Mom.” Carl clarified.
“It’s been a long time,” Jack agreed, taking a chair beside her.
Mrs. Graham dabbed her wet cheeks with a tissue, then leaned in within inches of Jack’s
nose. “Now you’re grown, I see Merritt in you.”
“Is that right? I always thought I favored my mother.”
Mrs. Graham held her gaze. “No. You look just like Merritt around the time he passed.”
Jack smiled, taking her observation as a compliment.
Mrs. Graham sank back and made herself comfortable. “This is such a nice surprise.
We’ve missed you and Jeffrey…and your mother, of course. Last time I heard from her was
about ten years ago. She sent a postcard.”
“It’s a picture of a dog sitting on an airplane. It’s there on the mantle if you care to take a
look. The card says she’s doing fine and we should get together for tea sometime. That was the
last time I’ve heard from her, ten years gone. When you see her please tell her my kettle is on the
“I guess none of us Kelleys are very good when it comes to staying in touch,” Jack
admitted, examining the postcard of Snoopy flying his doghouse in pursuit of the Red Baron.
“Did you meet the family living in your house?” Mrs. Graham asked.
“No. He didn’t have a chance, Mom,” Carl was quick to explain. “It’s been so long, Jack
drove right by his own house. He finally figured it out and was sitting in his truck with his head
spinning. That’s when I shanghaied him and invited him inside to see you.”
“They’re a nice young couple in their thirties, Dennis and Jenny McIntire. They have two
sweet little girls, five and three. Dennis works for the water company, and Jenny stays home with
the girls. She’ll come over and have tea. Or she and the girls will bring me Neapolitan ice cream
or chocolates trying to fatten me up. I think if you wanted to walk through and see your house
from the inside, they wouldn’t mind,” Mrs. Graham suggested.
“No, I don’t think so,” Jack respectfully declined.
“No, I don’t suppose there’s any reason for it,” Mrs. Graham decided.
“Then why?” Carl asked, turning to Jack. “Why come back just to see the outside of a
house? There’s got to be more to it than that. Why did you come back, Jack?” Carl asked, using
his deep ‘get to the bottom’ cop voice.
“To be honest, Carl, this wasn’t planned. I wasn’t going to stop here, but nostalgia got the
best of me,” Jack confessed.
“You don’t say?” Carl said, raising his brow.
“I thought it was about time I finally visit the cemetery.”
“Please tell me this isn’t the first time you’ve been back, is it Jack?” Carl asked.
Jack shifted in his seat, declining to speak.
“Jack, seriously, you haven’t been back to see Kevin since he was buried?”
Mrs. Graham reached for Jack’s hand. “Help me up. I want to show you something,” she
ordered. And had him walk her to the fireplace where she pulled down a black and white
photograph from the mantle, placing it into his left hand.
“Look at it, closely,” she insisted.
Jack gazed into the heart of the frame, four boys with fishing poles. Carl, Kevin, Jeffrey
and himself, all wet and muddy from head to toe, smiles as big as the sun for the camera.
“Alive or dead, Kevin is your brother,” she said, compassionately.
Jack wished more than anything the conversation hadn’t turned down this road. Why did
he have to be so curious about the house? Why couldn’t he have just gone straight to the
cemetery like he planned from the start?
Feeling cornered, it was time he stopped running and faced the music.
“I know who he is,” Jack said, cherry picking his words. “It’s not like I wanted to stay
away. It wasn’t intentional.”
Both Carl and his mother curiously raised their brows.
“Well, okay, maybe it was in the beginning. But then, years later something changed. I
wanted to go to the cemetery and pay my respect to Kevin. I wanted to come by and see my old
house and to see you too, but every time…I don’t know. I’d get in my truck; sometimes I’d drive
ten miles, twenty, other times I’d drive further on. One time on New Year’s Eve, seven or eight
years back I practically drove all the way to the front doorstep, only to turn around. I always
talked myself out of it. I just couldn’t do it.”
“I get you. It’s like returning to the scene of the crime, right? Your house transformed
into a monument of sorrow. I suppose it’s the same reason I’ve never been back to the Pepper
footbridge where Dad passed away. For the life of me, I can’t go back to the park, not yet.
Maybe never,” Carl, admitted.
Mrs. Graham turned to Jack. “It was a horrible thing that happened to you, just horrible.
But, look at the bright side, in a way you were lucky.”
“Yes, lucky you could leave. You must have realized you and your family weren’t the
only ones affected by the accident. We were all hurt, the whole neighborhood. You, your mother
and Jeffrey were able to leave. You were free, but we had to stay. We had to look at your house
every day. It wasn’t going anywhere. It was the most painful constant reminder. I would have
burned it to the ground if my son weren’t the fuzz.”
Carl nodded, as if to say she certainly would have.
Mrs. Graham continued. “I don’t mean to get too heavy, but I promised myself if I was
ever blessed to see you again, I had to tell you how we felt. How we all felt the loss; we carried
the loss, not only for Merritt and Kevin, but also for all your family. Don’t get me wrong, Jack. I
think you have a heart of gold. I don’t blame you for leaving. If I were in your shoes I would
have skedaddled too, but it would have helped US, your neighbors, to at least see or hear from
you from time to time. And that goes for your mother and Jeffrey, of course. That’s all I’m
Jack remained silent, allowing them to say what they clearly had kept bottled up inside,
waiting for the day to let the genie out. It was important he listen; important he knew where they
were coming from. He owed them that much. And though he wanted to try again to explain his
absence, he knew he’d fail. He didn’t understand it himself. There was an on and off switch
inside him, and everything that mattered before the accident had been switched to off.
Carl sat down making himself comfortable in Elvis’ armchair. It had been strictly off
limits when Mr. Graham had been alive. Again his hands began to palpitate, this time he couldn’t
blame it on the Parkinson’s. He, too, had to get something off his chest. “Kevin wasn’t just your
brother. He was my brother too, and he was Michael’s brother, and Greg’s brother, and Mark’s
and all the other kids in the neighborhood. You know what I mean?”
The wheels in Jack’s head were grinding in high gear. He never stopped to think how the
accident impacted the neighborhood, only his own family. Listening to the Grahams it became
clear just how deep the painful roots had grown.
After a long silence that seemed like forever, Carl stood up and put his shaky hand back
in his pocket. “Mom, I’m going to take Jack out to the back yard. There’s something I think he’d
be very interested in seeing.”
“You do that. I’m going to finish my shows, before I miss something. You walk away for
five minutes you lose the whole storyline,” she said, walking back down the hall, taking her
son’s hint. “We’ll talk more before you leave, Jack.”
Jack followed Carl through the kitchen and out the backdoor.
Two sights simultaneously hit Jack like a flash.
The first was just past the Graham property line. Where there had once been acres and
acres of forest leading down to the creek, there was now an eyesore; the land was crammed with
tragically hip new homes. Second, Jack’s eyes were drawn to a bulky, decaying object in the
back right corner of the yard. It was the tree stump he and Carl had played on as children.
“Welcome to suburbia…they call it progress. I call it lack of imagination,” Carl
announced, dolefully staring out to the wall of mass construction. “Happened about fifteen years
ago, they popped up over night. Do you remember Vincent Darrello?”
“The kid in high school who went around dressing in expensive black suits with purple
shirts like he was Howard Hughes, making out like he was a big shot? All the kids thought he
was a pompous little ass?” Jack answered.
“The very same. Do you remember how you felt sorry for Vincent, thinking he had no
friends in the world, so you invited him over after school a few times to hang out with us in the
“Yeah, I vaguely remember.”
“Well, Vincent did turn out to be a big shot, a land developer, maybe not as rich as
Howard, but rich enough to buy the whole damn forest and part of the creek. He sliced it up into
bits and pieces, and here you have it.”
“No kidding, Vincent did this?”
“It’s a crime,” Carl went on. “The woods were a place kids could grow up, away from all
the video games, TV and that rap shit. You and I, we were lucky, Jack, real lucky it was there for
us; a place to pretend, let our imaginations go wild. We had the chance to climb trees, build forts
and go fishing. It’s all gone now except for the tree stump. I managed to get my hands on it and
had it dragged here before the bulldozers got to it.”
Jack circled the rocket shaped tree stump, tipped over to its side, allowing his childhood
memories to take hold.
“Do you remember the day we did this?’ Carl asked, pointing to the lower section of the
stump. Carved deep into the tree were their initials.
Jack knelt down and pressed his palm on the notching. “I remember.”
“That was the day we became blood brothers,” Carl reflected.
“I think that was your idea.”
“It was your knife.”
“No,” Carl firmly said. “It was yours.”
“Might have been. Might have been,” Jack said, grinning.
“We never actually drew blood. You were afraid if we did you’d get in trouble with your
“You got that right. We spit in our palms and shook hands.”
Carl removed his shaky hand from his pant pocket and raised it in front of him, staring at
it intently. Jack reached over, taking the hand and squeezed it tight.
“We promised to always be there for each other,” Carl proclaimed. “No matter what.
Then we carved our initials like we were signing a contract into the one thing we thought would
always be there, the stump. Blood brothers, that’s what we are,” Carl reaffirmed.
“Do you want to go down there and carve our initials into one of those houses? Would
that make you feel any better?” Jack asked.
Carl smiled, returning his hand to the pocket. “It would, but I can’t. I’m a cop, a detective
to be exact.”
“Retired,” Jack, reminded him.
Jack and Carl climbed on top of the stump to sit as they did when they were kids.
“This is where we pretended to be astronauts.”
“I imagined we were pirates,” Carl added.
“I didn’t know it then, but being out there in the woods on this old tree, we might have
been the last Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer of our generation,” Jack said, as if he’d just time
travelled back to the happiest moment in his whole life.
“You might be right about that. But, I heard you bought a huge chunk of property out in
“It’s not huge. It’s a vineyard. I grow grapes, not memories. It’s not the same.”
“Trying to hold on to your inner Huck Finn?”
“I never thought about it that way, but maybe I am a little.”
“Let me know if you ever find a tree in those woods worth carving my name on.”
“I think I can find at least one,” Jack said, jumping off the stump. “I better get going. I’ve
put this off long enough.”
“I’m sure Kevin will appreciate you dropping by. I know I did.”
Jack patted his old friend on the back.
Despite the mild grilling which he figured he had coming, Jack enjoyed his visit with
Carl and Mrs. Graham. Nearly an hour later it was time to leave. They wrote down their email
addresses and exchanged phone numbers, promising to call each other and not to stay away for
Jack was going to bring up the cryptic email he’d received, wondering if they had any
thoughts, but decided to leave it alone. He’d already put them through enough just by showing
It took a few wrong turns to find the Mountain View Cemetery. Like finding his house,
Jack had forgotten how to get there. Carl had volunteered to drive, but Jack declined the offer.
Once inside the cemetery it all came back, and Jack knew exactly where to go.
He thought the grounds were a peaceful enough setting, graced with magnificent Douglas
fir. There were flower bouquets, letters and notes from loved ones sprinkled across the
headstones. The bright green grass was cut as tight as the Seattle Mariner’s baseball diamond.
The ponds were filled with Japanese Koi and American flags of all sizes were proudly waving
upon war veterans graves.
Despite the lovely surroundings Jack kept his eyes aimed sharply down to his feet,
watching one step lead another as if he were one of the Flying Wallendas walking a high wire.
Everywhere he turned bronze tablets in every shape and size stared straight at him. He
felt them all, the loved, the sorrowed and the forgotten. He felt claustrophobic, like he was being
smothered and wanted to run, knowing he wouldn’t, knowing he couldn’t, not anymore.
He walked along a narrow cobblestone path lined with colossal rhododendron bushes that
wound around a stone chapel leading to a weathered guidepost.
Jack passed the sign, entering the quiet courtyard. It suddenly dawned on him he should
have brought something. Flowers maybe? Jack smiled; Kevin would have laughed at the thought
of his big brother delivering flowers. Pizzas yes, a cheeseburger yes, but not flowers.
There was no missing it.
It stood out like a waterfall in a desert, Kevin’s headstone.
Embossed on the left side of the block of bronze, just above Kevin’s name, was a feisty
trout with a hook in its mouth. On the right side of the marker was a fitting tribute to the lost
father. Above Merritt’s name was a single engine airplane. Jack couldn’t tell if it was either a
Cessna or a Piper Cub.
There was an object placed on the marker Jack never could have imagined seeing, a green
fishing pole. He crouched down to take a closer look, recognizing it immediately, as he should
have. He’d given the Zebco rod and reel to Kevin on his tenth birthday. Kevin loved it, taking it
everywhere he went, including the hereafter. At least that was the plan.
Jack’s mother, Barbara, demanded the fishing pole be buried inside the casket with
Kevin, but there it was on top of Kevin’s everlasting resting place.
Jack dropped to his knees picking up the pole, flicking it a couple of times into the open
air as if he were fly-fishing. He ran the palm of his hand over the full length of the rod giving it a
closer inspection, discovering the cork handle was soft, the reel contained new fishing line and
clicked like a fine Swiss watch.
Jack was starving and thankful John had the steaks ready to serve by the time he arrived
back to the airstrip.
They quickly devoured their dinner, excited to get to the show and tell.
“It was supposed to be buried with Kevin. It was his favorite. Mom gave specific orders
that it be buried with him,” Jack said, popping a couple beers.
“You sure it’s the same one?” John asked, studying the pole.
“Pretty sure. I thought about leaving it where I found it on Kevin’s headstone, but
thought the groundskeeper might have eventually tossed it.”
“It’s been a long time. They all sort of look the same, don’t they?” John contemplated,
still not convinced.
“It’s the pole I gave Kevin. No doubt about it,” Jack stated, decisively.
“It’s like brand new. I could take it down to the crick right now and catch us dinner,”
John said, playfully waving the pole.
Jack slid the fishing pole from John’s fingers; carefully setting it down on the kitchen
table and picked up the envelope. “Okay, let’s take a look at these.”
“Not much to go on, just a couple of keys.”
Jack tipped the envelope upside down and the keys clanked onto the table.
John picked up the tarnished brass key. “This has got to be a house key. I can’t imagine it
opening anything else.”
“But what house?’ Jack asked, taking the key, eyeing it closely.
“Or whose house?” John added. “Isn’t that what you really meant?”
John picked up the second key. “Same goes for this little ditty. This is positively a key to
a Ford. It could be a car or a truck, I don’t know which, but whose?”
Jack took the key and rubbed his finger across the engraving.
“Email, the fishing pole and now these keys,” John said, ardently. “There’s got to be a
clue somewhere, something tying them all together.”
“Besides the accident you mean.” Jack picked up the envelope giving it a thorough
examination as if he were a forensic scientist. “Look. It doesn’t have a return address, and the
tracking code has been deliberately peeled off. John, what made you think it was delivered by
“I don’t know. They’re the outfit that delivers, right? Why do you ask?”
“Because, doesn’t FedEx use a box or envelope with their logo on it? This looks like a
standard mailing envelope you can buy at any post office.”
“Okay. So, it’s not from FedEx. What’s the big deal? Like the saying goes, don’t kill the
messenger. It doesn’t change the fact somebody still found a way to get these keys into your
Jack folded the envelope in half and set it on the table. “What did the guy look like?”
“The guy who delivered the package, John.”
“Gees, I don’t know. He looked like one of those hipsters you see downtown Portland
these days, young, super skinny, brown hair, a beard of course, but smart looking.”
“You just described Amy’s cat. What else?”
“He wore big black glasses like they wore in the fifties and brown corduroys.”
“And you thought he worked for FedEx?”
“I didn’t give it too much thought. Why?”
“I’m thinking he sounds more like someone who found a quick and easy job. Someone
paid him a couple of bucks and gas money to deliver the package then disappear, so the package
couldn’t be traced back to the sender.”
“Who would go to all this trouble?”
“Someone who wants to remain anonymous. They don’t want me to know who they are.”
Jack glanced at his wristwatch. It was after midnight. “I want to check the computer.”
“Do you think they sent another message?”
“Only one way to find out.”
They left their plates on the table, and marched their beers to the computer.
Jack logged into his email account. The two men looked at each other, puzzled.
One alphabet letter.
“I don’t get it?” John said.
Jack pushed his chair away from the computer and looked at John. “Last night I wrote
and asked one simple question.”
“Who are you?”
“Then it looks like you got your answer.”
“How do you figure?”
“N’ wrote it, that’s who.”
Jack threw a look.
“Well, that’s what it says. Next time maybe you could be a little more specific. Ask for a
“You’re not helping.”
“Sorry. Let me put on my thinking cap,” John closed his eyes, concentrating like a
medium lost in a trance. “Somebody, let’s call them N, no last name, sent you an email precisely
at 7:10pm, coincidently the same time Merritt transmitted his Mayday. Right now it’s the first
week of June. At the end of the month it will have been twenty-five years since the time of the
accident. You’ve got to figure whoever wrote the email might have also left the fishing pole
hoping you’d drive to the cemetery and find it. And, more than likely sent the hipster who
delivered the keys, one to a house and one to a car,” John opened his eyes. “Jack, let me ask you
something. How much do you know about the accident, the concrete facts?”
“What are you getting at?”
“What solid details do you know that were documented? What records did either you or
Barb keep, like an official accident report, documents pertaining to the rescue, FAA reports?
And what about Kevin, do you have a copy of his coroner’s report? Their accident was covered
in the local news. Did you save any newspaper clippings? Do you have anything like that?
Maybe there’s something in the paperwork that can be helpful.”
“I don’t have anything.”
“Nothing? Not a thing?”
Jack shook his head no.
“What about the Mayday? There must have been an audio recording of Merritt’s Mayday
transmission. Do you have that?”
“A long time ago I remember Mom saying she had a tape recording, but I’ve never seen
or heard it.”
“You never listened to it?”
“Why not, Jack? Weren’t you curious to hear what Merritt had to say?”
“I was in the beginning, then I let go.”
“Why would you do that?”
“I was afraid it might upset Mom. I didn’t want to do that.”
John nodded, going along with Jack’s decision for the time being. “Do you think she
kept anything else?”
“I don’t know what she has, or hasn’t,” Jack said, getting tired of his questions.
“Are you sure you don’t have anything tucked away in your attic somewhere?”
“I was seventeen, John. I never thought about keeping a scrapbook.”
“Fair enough. What details do you remember about the first week following the
“I don’t remember anything. I was in a fog,” Jack answered, pressing both hands against
“Come on, Jack, think. You must know more. We need details. What details do you