Book: Ask the Right Question

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27

I walked home pretty quickly. That’s fair enough. A fellow’s entitled to walk at any speed he wants, isn’t he?

So I had it bad. So? So. I clutched the records Miller gave me to my bosom. So? So maybe I was just looking for enough to justify cashing in on what was available. So maybe this and maybe that. So maybe I just have an irrational need to check and cross-check.

Home; stairs; office; bourbon; glass (!); dining-room chair.

The police file was on top. Ames, Iowa. Surprisingly Leander Crystal had a police record. Picked up twice in 1939 the first time for grand theft auto (charges dropped). The second time for petty theft. “Charges dismissed when subject agreed to join the Army.”

So the missing year was filled in. Born 1920. Graduated from high school in 1938. Interesting in itself, that he had been able to stay in school. Joined Army in 1940. Intervening year: bum. Motivation for enlistment: better than jail.

And it had been. The Army can serve some excellent social functions. Apart from reducing population.

It was hard to believe that the exceptional man I knew as Eloise’s father had started that way. Time and tenaciousness:

And we had something in common. We had both pinched cars—but I was never caught. It made me feel smug.

Crystal’s Army records indicated that he had had an active and heroic fighting career in which he was twice decorated, which I knew. At the end of the war he had been on supply duty in southern France, which I hadn’t known.

There were indications from various of his superiors that Crystal had expressed interest in an Army career. In fact the only blot on his record happened in basic training. Someone had accused him of fathering her child. Suit was initiated, but “the claim, contested by the soldier, was subsequently dropped.” He had been shipped out of Europe shortly thereafter.

No further claims of that sort had been made during his stay in the Army. Had he but known then what he knew now.

As a matter of fact, that happened to Bud when he was in. He was an MP in London in World War I and a lady purported that her impending child shared a father with me. And she dropped the claim too, after a miscarriage. I guess it can happen to anyone.

I had a drink and waxed ironic.

I took the Army records of Sellman and Windom Graham. I’d asked for them for completeness—more to annoy than to edify.

Good soldiers, brave soldiers, dead soldiers.

Joshua Graham I studied.

He had enlisted late for the war, but early for a man, shortly after his eighteenth birthday. He had finished high school and joined. He got to Europe in December, 1944, celebrated his nineteenth birthday in March of 1945 and was killed in August when a supply truck he was driving detonated a previously undiscovered German mine. The Army adjudged the death accidental.

The story as reported in the Army records was identical to that which Leander Crystal had written to Estes.

My main inquiry was satisfied. Crystal had been in the same Army administrative unit as Joshua had. Fact as advertised. Moreover, Joshua had worked under Crystal in supply.

I checked my notes and went on further in Joshua’s file. The only thing that did not check was Leander’s claim that he had been on the scene and had heard Joshua’s last words. According to the Army’s records there had been a man on the scene, a witness who had been by Joshua’s side when he died. A doctor, the doctor who had later certified Joshua’s death. A Henry Chivian.

But Leander had written the Grahams and taken the witness’s place. I found that interesting. That Leander had seen fit to place himself by Joshua’s side. It seemed quite a step from the Iowa petty burglar, from the daring hero.

It represented planning ahead. What else could it mean? Leander had spotted Joshua and had identified him as the son of a rich man. He had befriended the boy, so obviously unsoldierly. Probably gone out of his way to befriend him. And when he died, rather than let this friendship’s potential die too, Leander had laid the groundwork for arriving in Indianapolis to make himself a place in the world of the Grahams.

“Educational plans.” Had he known ahead that Joshua had a sister? Had he decided to court her while pondering what Joshua’s death would do to his prospects?

It was a little extra dimension to Leander Crystal, husband in a “love match.” Perhaps having fought as a man who didn’t worry about death, he had made the transition. The man with a master plan. Maybe he had learned to love life while he had it.

He had come a long way.

I paused to refill my glass and I looked back over Joshie’s records. I looked again at the real witness’s name. Dr. Henry Chivian.

I consulted my notes, and found where I had seen it before. There it was: Dr. Henry Chivian, the man who had certified Estes Graham’s death ten years and five thousand miles later.

Another irony. I bourboned ironic again. And after a while I just bourboned.

Saturday is not the best night of my week.

I stayed conscious deep enough into the a.m. to see the Pacers lose to the Utah Stars on television, but the telecast was not the only reason I slept past Sunday morning.

The afternoon I spent with my woman and her daughter.

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