David led the way into the restaurant. The only good place to eat between Thompson Airfield and Peoria was Aunt Gracie’s. A meat and potatoes place that was a throwback to the seventies, complete with dark wood paneled walls and brown naugahide covered chairs, but the food was good and the portions generous. He and Sam were regulars whenever they had the occasion of flying to Chicago.
By the time the two of them had reached the restaurant, David was feeling like his old self again. Once inside, he shouted out a friendly greeting to the tall burly man behind the counter, otherwise known as Lou.
The place wasn’t very crowded that’s because it was past lunch but too early for dinner. Lou called it the geriatric’s hours. That time between three-thirty and six o’clock. Besides himself and Frank the only other patrons of the restaurant were and elderly couple in their late sixties, a trucker – his rig was parked at the south end of the place, and what looked to be a New York City cop, female. Odd to see one by herself. Usually, an out of town female cop — coming to pick up a prisoner from Joliet Prison, which was another forty-five minutes down the road – would have a male prison guard accompanying her.
The trucker and female cop sat at the counter, with the cop closet to the door. The elderly couple sat in a corner booth, gazing into each other’s eyes between bites of food. David chose a table near the back wall, one which allowed him to see everyone entering and leaving the restaurant.
His mother had been the first one to notice what she called his ‘super power of observation’ and had decided he could best put it to use by becoming a reporter.
Lou, a tall burly man in his late forties, was in his regular spot behind the counter and in front of the kitchen.
An extremely attractive brunette waitress eyed them from across the room. The plain white apron covering her uniform did little to conceal her curveous figure. And she did little to hide her gaze as it roamed the length of David’s body. When she approached the two men, David introduced her as the counterman’s wife, Sally. David greeted her with an affectionate brotherly kiss and said, “Sally, you look gorgeous as always.”
This is a friend of mine, Frank Roberts from the NTSB. He’s in town investigating the crash.”
Sally regarded Frank with a polite smile and a casual indifference that he’d become accustomed to from younger women, before guiding them to the table David had picked out.
Sally handed Frank a menu and asked David, “The usual, to start?”
“Yes, replied David, heavy on the Seagram’s – light on the Seven.”
“Frank what’ya want?”
“Dewar’s straight up.”
“By the time you bring the drinks, we should be ready with our orders, said David. Thanks Sally.”
Neither man spoke at first. They quietly regarded each other wondering whether or not to reveal the secrets they held.
David spoke first. “My friend and boss, Sam Larson was on Flight 404. The strange thing is, he called me from LaGuardia about an hour before the plane took off and asked me to wait for him at the office. He had, he said found some new information concerning that Iowa crash last summer. And then the plane he’s on crashes. I’m more than a little curious about the circumstances of the crash.”
“Did your friend say what information he had about the Iowa crash?”
“No, just that it involved ………
David’s voice trailed off and he lowered his head.
Just then Sally brought the first round of drinks. “Here you go darlings.”
She placed a cocktail napkin two inches from each man’s chest and dead centered the drink on the napkin without skipping a beat. “So, what will you two handsome gentlemen have today?”
“I’ll have the strip steak, sweet potato fries, and garlic broccoli” replied David.
“T-bone, baked potato with everything, spinach au gratin, and another one of these,” Frank said, holding up his glass.
Sally, finished writing their orders, gathered up the menus and hurried away to get their second round.
“David took a long sip of his drink before finishing his sentence.
“He said it involved Kate.” “Kate was my wife. She was murdered,” he said as drily as he could muster.
“What has that got to do with the Iowa crash?”
“I don’t know. That’s why I was there to interview you today.”
“I don’t know anything about your wife. But your friend was right about the Iowa crash. At least I think so, but the NTSB has ruled on that crash, calling it pilot error.”
“It sounds like you have a different opinion.”
“Like your friend, I think there’s more to it than simple pilot error.”
“What do you think happened?”
“I think the plane was deliberately sabotaged!”
A glimpse of white approaching from his right broke David’s attention from the other man and his incriminating words. Sally had returned with another round of drinks. Lou followed right behind her with their meals. David quickly finished off his first drink and politely handed Sally the empty glass.
Silence followed as the men cut into the tender red meat. Bloody juices encircled the edges of David’s plate. He had a flashback to earlier in the day.
“Do you think I can get back into the hanger to examine the plane?”
What good would that do you? “You’re not an aviation engineer are you?”
“No, but I want to understand what happened to me today.”
“What happened to you today is that you made yourself look like a damn fool. “
“It wasn’t something I did intentionally.”
“Intentionally or unintentionally, you still made yourself look like a first class idiot. You’re not going to get any story out of the NTSB with stunts like that. I’d be surprised if Agent Schlade ever lets you back into the building.”
“I have to get back into that hanger. I need some answers and especially if those answers will help me find the person who murdered by wife and possibly, my best friend.”
“Sally, Another round, please.”
Sally’s perfectly arched brows in brown number two, arched in surprise. She had never seen David have more than two drinks. Someone or something had made a dent in that handsome armor of his. She would get the drinks, but she would stay close by, pretending to wipe tables, so she could hear the rest of the two men’s conversation.
David pushed his half finished plate of food forward, finished off his second drink, and against all his etiquette training put his elbows on the table and rested his head in his hands.
“There’s something else. I remember some of what happened today.” In a trembling voice he said, “I heard them — the passengers. “The dead passengers?”
“They were asking what happened to them.” “They wanted to know why they were dead. And so do I.”
“Next round is on me,” said Frank.