While working on The Avenging Angel, I am also working on another book titled 1943. This one takes place in modern times and is thus a departure from the Catahoula Chronicles series. The story is about a retired San Bernardino Sheriff’s detective, Mac McConnell, who is struggling with the death of his beloved wife of 35 years.
A short while before she was killed in an accident, she had encouraged him to purchase a “barn-find,” Harley-Davidson WLA Liberator, military motorcycle from WWII and restore it. With her death, he lost interest in the project, but his old codger of a friend did not and finished the restoration. The excerpt below is when Mac has been called by Buster (his friend) to come pick up the bike.
After a brief ride on the restored antique, Mac is bitten by the riding bug again, and for a few minutes, is drawn out of his depressed state. Buster was friends with Mac and his wife for all of their married life and is using the bike to get the ponytailed, bearded, and withdrawn Mac to rejoin the human race again. While restoring the bike, Buster found something he hoped would do just that to the retired detective. The scene below is Buster laying out his “bait” for Mac.
Buster hobbled back into the kitchen holding a re-purposed manila envelope some junk mail had come in at one time and he had labeled “Harley Stuff” with a Sharpie marker. He dumped the contents out on the table. “Wait’ll ya see this.” He fished around in the mess of papers, bills, invoices and new parts warranties relating to the WLA and came up with two items. He passed them to Mac. “Check this out.”
One was an old photograph of a beautiful young woman on a city street somewhere. She was holding onto a street pole of some kind by one arm and leaning away from it. Her other arm was extended, and she looked deliriously happy. From the way she was dressed and the cars in the picture, it looked like it might have been taken in the forties. She looked to be in her late teens or maybe early twenties and was truly lovely. The photo was black and white, but it was obvious she had black hair and ruby red lips, a slender figure and “nice gams” as they referred to shapely women’s legs back then. “Who is this?”
“It’s signed on the back.”
Mac flipped the photo over and read the inscription. “All my love, Betty. October 1943.”
“Now read the letter.”
The letter was V-Mail from World War II written by a soldier to his sweetheart. It was dated 23 December 1943 and began “Somewhere in Italy. My dearest Betty…” He stopped reading there and asked, “And where did this come from. Same place as the photo, I assume?”
Buster nodded after a swig of beer. “Yep, both of them came out of that Harley out there.”
A questioning expression spread over Mac’s face. “The old saddlebags?”
He nodded again. “If you remember, the leather was so dry, we were afraid to even try to open it. Well, curiosity got the best of me, and I did open it. Ruined the bag in the process, but that didn’t matter since we bought reproductions to replace them. But I found these down in the bottom.”
“They’ve been there since—what, 1943?”
Buster shrugged. “Looks like it.”
Mac resumed reading the letter. Neither the sender’s address nor the recipient’s address had been filled in at the top of the V-Mail. The letter was closed, “With love, Alvin.” He looked up at Buster. “So, this letter is to Betty somebody from Alvin somebody who was serving in Italy in 1943?”
“That’s about it.”
“What do you know about these V-Mail letters?”
“Not much, except the name stands for ‘Victory Mail,’ and they were created to save valuable space and weight during wartime. They copied the letters to microfilm, sent that on, and printed them out at the receiving end. That’s why everything is on one side and why there’s space at the top for the sender’s and the recipient’s addresses. Alvin never got to fill that in for some reason, which I don’t even want to think about.”
Mac did think about what it all might mean. He saw that they had a genuine piece of history in the Harley itself, but they also had historical documents associated with it. That was interesting.
“Well, Detective McConnell, is your curiosity up yet?”
“Yeah, I’d like to know more about them. What do you know?”
“Nothing more than is revealed in that letter and picture. If you had read the letter, you would know that Betty was pregnant with Alvin’s child.”
Mac looked back at the body of the letter. Alvin did indeed mention how excited he was to know he was going to be a father. He also mentioned being promoted to corporal. “Corporal Alvin. Not much information here: no last names, no addresses, not even hometowns. It would be hard, if not impossible, to discover any more about these two.”
Buster shook his head in disgust. “How many years were you a detective with the San Berdoo Sheriff’s Office? Was that just a figurehead position, and did you actually solve some crimes?”
“Of course I did.”
“Clues, man. You have all kinds of clues here. The letter has details buried in it, and the photo can likely tell you something. Look at it. Think about it, Mac. Usually you’re solving mysteries to put someone in jail. This is a chance to solve one with a happy ending. Doesn’t that get you just a little excited about figuring out who these two are?”
“So, you want me to find these two, assuming they’re still alive, which isn’t very likely, and do what? Give them the letter and the picture? You don’t really think they are still above ground, do you? Or that they care about all this that happened over seventy years ago?”
“Aren’t you just a little curious to find out? And even if they are deceased, don’t you think they might have some kin somewhere who just might want these items?”
“What? An old V-Mail letter and a fading picture from an old Kodak box camera?” Mac tossed them back in the pile of papers on the table. “All this happened long ago, and those involved are probably dead by now. Besides, we don’t have enough information to find Alvin whoever, or Betty what’s-her-name, or their kids. It would be waste of time.”
“Like you have other more pressing business to attend to now?”
And Mac is drawn into solving a seventy-year-old mystery to discover what happened to Corporal Alvin and Miss Betty. Did Alvin come home and marry Betty, and they raised their child together? Is either still alive? What about their children?
What Mac discovers about Alvin and Betty leads him on a cross-country road trip on the old Harley. Along the way, he meets some very strange and interesting people and ends up in some unusual, sometimes dangerous, and often humorous situations. In the end, Mac finds something he did not expect to find, his own future, the one he thought he did not have.
I am shooting to get 1943 published by November 2016.