Getting caught in the middle of an international art theft ring wasn’t supposed to be part of the deal Kat Lawson made with her dying father. But when her father receives a mysterious letter informing the former WW2 navigator/bombardier that his downed B-24 has been found and asking him to come to Hungary, Kat suspects this is all part of some senior rip-off scam. Her father insists she goes, not only to photograph the final resting place of his plane but also to find the mother and son who risked their lives to rescue him and hid him in a cave beneath an old Roman fortress. Kat’s trip uncovers not only the secrets of the cave where her father hid and of those who rescued him but a secret that will forever change the direction of her life—that is—if she can get home safely.
My father called before ten a.m. I remember because he said he had just been to the mailbox, and mail at the senior center comes early. Before the summer sun has a chance to sear the dusty, desert floor and the July temperatures begin to climb into triple digits. Today’s forecast was for a hundred-and-thirteen, but Phoenicians say it’s a dry heat, and the locals don’t seem to mind.
“They found my plane!” Dad sounded like a kid at Christmas. Not unusual for him, he was always upbeat, at least before cancer had zapped him of his strength and left him living with an oxygen tank—and as a former shell of himself.
“The B-24?” I was skeptical. “The one you bailed out of more than fifty years ago?” My Dad and I are close, and I’ve always had a kind of sixth sense about him. Growing up, I had heard the story at least a dozen times of how he had jumped out of his plane or the PG version of it anyway. I couldn’t imagine any other aircraft that would have had him so excited.
“I have a letter. You need to see it, Kat. Your mom’s gone out to get her hair done, and there’s something I want to show you. Come by. I’ll make coffee.”
“Don’t give me any crap about chasing some story, Kat. It’s not like you’re working for the newspaper anymore. And if you’re planning to meet up with that ex-husband of yours, that’s a waste of time.”
“He’s not my ex, Dad. At least, not yet, anyway.” I bristled at the thought. Difficult as things had been with Josh, I still hated to admit failure. My folks had been married fifty-five years, and I had barely managed three.
“Just get yourself over here, will you? No excuses. You’ll understand when I show you why. It’s important. Something you’re going need to see to believe.”
I had a dozen reasons why I didn’t have time to stop by my parent’s condo that morning. The very least was that I had an appointment with both the pool man and gardener that Josh had forgotten to pay. And I had a call-back for a job interview that afternoon with a small start-up newspaper that I knew wouldn’t amount to anything. Not once they learned I had been let go from my previous position for what the paper had called an inappropriate workplace relationship with a colleague. In my opinion, the only thing inappropriate about my relationship was that the paper had fired me, and not my boss. He was Teflon, a name they needed to keep, and me...not so much. Even worse, The Phoenix Gazette, where I had worked, was owned by the only other paper in town, The Arizona Republic. And with my now sullied reputation, I had little hope anyone in the city would hire me.
But for whatever it was worth, I still needed to make an effort and follow through with the interview. My personal life had fallen apart. Dad was dying. My mother was in a deep state of denial and had become a shopaholic. Dad had asked me to take both the credit cards and car keys away from her, and since I was the only child, taking care of my parents was up to me.
My folks lived across town, about thirty minutes from me. The Roadrunner was a planned retirement community with both assisted and independent living facilities. Years ago, Dad had bought a small two-bedroom patio villa that faced out onto a desert-scaped arroyo with Palo Verde trees and lots of blooming cactus. And so far—despite his advancing cancer—he and mom had maintained a relatively independent lifestyle.
Dad was sitting on the patio when I arrived. I could see his rounded shoulders with his head bowed from above the low wall that faced the walkway. He looked up and waved as I approached.
“Don’t get up.” I went around to the front door and let myself in—the smell of burnt coffee permeated their small apartment. I immediately unplugged the coffee pot, poured myself a half cup, and filled the remainder with water. “Want any?” I hollered.
“Already had some. Don’t need no more.” Dad stood in the patio doorway, shaky, a portable oxygen tank at his side and a large mailing envelope in his hand. “Getting too hot out there.”
I nodded to the dining room. “How about we sit inside at the table? It’s a lot cooler.”
I waited while Dad shuffled across the room and folded his thin, frail frame into one of the cane back chairs at the table.
“You’re not going to believe this, Kat. Look what I got in the mail today.” Dad took out a thin weathered strip of aluminum from within the mailer and handed it to me. “Know what this is?”
I had no idea.
“Piece of skin from my plane. The old girl must have glided on after we bailed out. Letter here’s from a fellow who says he found her in Tomasai, Hungary.”
“Who?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Some guy named Sandor Zselnegeller. Says he’s a researcher. Been looking into the remains of old, downed warplanes since he was a kid. Seems my plane landed in pretty good shape. He was able to give the tail numbers to the DOD, and they matched it up with their records and put him in touch with our group’s historian.”
“What group historian?” The whole idea some stranger was writing to my dad, trying to convince him that after fifty years, he had found the remains of a B-24—the very same bomber my dad had jumped out of—seemed more than a little far-fetched.
“The historian for our Bomb Group. We keep up, you know. Reunions. Christmas cards. They have a roster of us all.”
“I see. And you think this Sandor fellow got your name and address from them?”
“Says he did. Why would he lie?”
My reporter’s mind kicked in, and I suspected a scam. My last couple of assignments with the Gazette had dealt with seniors who had been ripped off by grifters, con artists who didn’t care if they took a senior's last dollar. To my mind—whatever this was—it smacked of the same and likely was some flimflam artist’s attempt to get into my dad’s pocket. I wasn’t about to sit back and watch my father be a victim.
About the Author
After twenty-five years in NewsTalk radio, Nancy Cole Silverman retired to write fiction. Her Carol Childs Mysteries features a single mom whose day job as a reporter at an LA radio station often leads to long nights solving crimes. Her Misty Dawn series is centered on An aging Hollywood Psychic to the Stars, who supplements her day-to-day activities as a consultant to LAPD. Silverman’s newest work, The Navigator’s Daughter, is scheduled for release June 2022. Silverman lives in Los Angeles with her husband and a thoroughly pampered standard poodle.