I topped up the tulip glass- close to the last glass- of the remaining bottle of Willow Happy Hour White and walked back to the scene of the séance. I was dialed in, and a pleasant soprano voice came on the line: Karen Anderson, Evidentiary Medium.
In my mind I had an image of how this was supposed to be. I had been featuring a small round table with an exotic cloth and candle, the shadows deep all around. The medium,, in my imagination anyway, would have been a woman of raven hair and indeterminate age. Her eyes would have glittered darkly as her hands made curious gestures, summoning the spirits from beyond the veil to answer the heartfelt questions that death left unanswered.
It was not that at all, of course. The wine was chilled and the computer’s screen was bright and cheery, and the desk was bathed in warm yellow-orange light from the incandescent bulbs I refuse to stop using.
Karen is, of course, the antithesis of what you might expect if you were thinking of a Romani soothsayer. She is pert, athletic and blonde. I cannot testify to the depth and texture of her eyes, since she was in her office in Seattle, but everyone must adapt to the times, you know?
The Macaroon Lady had coached me on what to do to prepare. “Take good notes. She will record the session for your use later, but take good notes. Some of this will come back to you days from now and will make sense only then.” Accordingly, I had a legal pad and two Pilot P-700 fine-point pens at the ready.
Karen and I got as acquainted as one could hope over a long-distance Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) connection, and she told me what to expect.
“First off, I want you to open your heart to the voices of your loved ones,” she said. I had not considered trying to talk to anyone in my family, though I had been signed up for the human version of the reading. That is a different process from the one she uses to contact deceased pets. “I felt some distinct Mom and Dad energy. They were here about 45 minutes ago.”
I winced. I had not even thought about talking to my folks, but I was glad they were on the ball. Comforting, in a way. Karen kindly records the sessions through the magic of the conference call system, and she had to ask my formal permission to be recorded, which of course I granted. And then we were off to the races.
Karen started off with a non-denominational prayer that asked for goodwill and harmony.
“Do you have someone in your life- living or dead- that has a name that starts with a ‘C’ or a ‘K’?” she asked. That was almost a sucker punch, since two of the most influential figures in my adult life had those initials.
“Yes. But as far as I know they are both alive and healthy. I have not talked to them in a long while.”
“Are there sisters involved? I see the feminine aura of two sisters.”
“Mom had two sisters- Laura Rose and Hazel. Very smart and pretty ladies, all three of them.”
“I am getting a sharp pain in my leg,” she said. “It hurts and I don’t like it. Do you know anyone who had a leg injury? Sometimes they send me physical signs that are quite acute. This one hurts like heck.”
“No doubt. That would be me. I ruptured my left quad a couple years ago and the knees are both gone due to arthritis. I apologize if you have the pain I did. It sucked.”
Karen was settling in, getting on the beam that connected us, trying to unscramble the messages and images that were swirling around her. Mom was speaking directly into her ear, which she said was quite distracting. I thought Mom might have got a little more assertive in the afterlife, and I was sorry that none of the questions I had written down seemed to deal with my actual family. I was hoping that Mac Showers might appear, and I wanted to ask him about the one mystery we never managed to solve with Willow Happy Hour White or a cold Anchor Steam beer.
“I see images of police or law enforcement,” said Karen.
“Can’t help. Plenty of uniforms in the family, but no police. Well, except for that son-of-a-bitch in Aurora, Colorado in 1977. I only think about him when he shows up in my background investigations.”
“I am getting images of an athlete. A man built like a middle-linebacker. Did you know someone like that in College?”
“We hung around with a bunch of guys from the Michigan Football team at the house on John Street back in college,” I said. “But as far as I know, most of them are still alive.”
“I am getting a name coming through. A ‘J’ name, perhaps?”
“Well, there are a bunch of ‘Jims’ in the family- my great-great grandfather, grandfather, uncle and cousin. They are all on the other side. But I can’t imagine they need to talk to me about anything vital.” I thought about it for a while- this was not what I expected. I suppose I thought the Spirit World knew I was looking for material on the Vietnam chapters in the Mac Shower book I am still writing and would line up the appropriate figures for me to quiz: Mac himself, perhaps, or Admiral Rex, who certainly knew more about the mystery than anyone else, living or dead.
Then it hit me. There was someone who knew exactly what happened. “Is it ‘Jack’ that you are hearing? I asked, little goose bumps starting to form on my forearms. I took a sip of happy Hour White to slow down a little.”
“He says that is not his name.”
“If he is who I am thinking, that is true. His real given names were John George, but they all knew him as Jack,” I said, a little rattled. “Jack Graf.” That was exactly the man about whom I had the question: where did he die?
“He says they took him down.”
“They did indeed. He was posted to Vung Tau in the Third Coastal Zone of South Vietnam. They shot him down over the northern Delta in 1969 when he was flying as an observer in an OV-1 Mohawk. He was the only Naval Intelligence officer captured in the war, and the only one still listed as Missing in Action. The Vietnamese said he was shot while trying to escape, and they buried him on a riverbank that was washed away. Body was never recovered. It was Admiral Rex’s last big crusade to publicize his story and keep his memory alive.” In fact, it was at the heart of the mystery that could not now be unraveled, except by the dead.
“I have his energy. He is saying he was never released. I am seeing him on a sandy beach- the images are flashing. He is telling me he was never freed. He was held in some sort of asylum. He is with others. There are heavy doors- hard doors with hard sounds.”
I shivered. That sounded exactly like Lubyanka Prison in Moscow.
Karen continued, a little breathless. “There were repeated attempts at assassination. Someone wanted to obtain intelligence- he was set up for murder- there were dual agencies involved- more than one.” Karen was rushing through this as I tried to process what she was telling me.
Jack’s disappearance after his capture was the mystery. It was entirely possible that he died the way his captors told us, and the relentless floods of the monsoon years were certainly capable of washing away all in the path of a storm-enraged river. It all could have happened just the way they said it did. But the fit was too good for the other facts that were never mentioned.
See, Jack was a mustang- a sailor who rose to Chief Petty Officer before being commissioned as a Limited Duty Officer (Intelligence). As a sailor, he had been a photo interpreter, and when I was working on his case, a former shipmate of his told me he had been to the special Kodak School in Rochester. Kodak had designed a reconnaissance system that was one of the most closely guarded secrets in the entire Government: High quality digital pictures transmitted directly from space to the ground station in near-real time
It was so sensitive that people who knew the specific capabilities of the system were not permitted out of Saigon for fear that something just like this might happen. The Russians would have given their left nut to have a prize like Jack, and that is when my suspicions began to rise that the story had been deliberately covered up to keep anyone from discovering how Jack, with his enlisted background, had somehow slipped through the cracks to be permitted to engage in combat operations in the field.
Some say there were no Russians down in the Delta, but my Left Coast Attorney was the intelligence liaison officer at Ha Tien on the Cambodian Border, and he saw what had been a Soviet SIGINT site on an island just offshore. Tactical un-encrypted radio traffic at the time of the shootdown identified who had been in the aircraft, and just who the new prisoner actually was would not be a secret to anyone in the region.
“He says he endured. Not proud. They put a blanket on it.”
“Ask him if the asylum was in Russia,” I asked.
“He is standing very tall. He says they did not break him. And he says that there is no mystery. You know exactly what happened to him. He was transported with others. There is no mystery about what happened, where he was taken, and what ultimately was his fate.”
I stared at the telephone. My theory was one that I had discussed with Mac many times. I knew about the Sweetheart List, the names of pilots who had been shot down d=over denied territory. They were known to be alive in captivity but were not freed with their comrades in Operation Homecoming in 1973. They remained the MIAs, and the families are fighting with the government to this very day. When the list was analyzed after the debriefings of the returned POWs, there were some curious coincidences, odd ones. Like compete crews for most of the tactical aviation we employed in the war. They were not necessarily from the same shoot-down, but completed all the positions in the aircraft. And men who had been sent from sensitive jobs in advanced technology like ballistic missiles who had to get their combat tickets punched in the war for promotion purposes.
And maybe intelligence specialists who held the keys to the digital kingdom locked between their ears.
“He says all you have to do is get people to believe it,” Karen said, her voice sounding far away. “The squeaky wheel gets the grease. He wants people to know what really happened.”
“I tried to tell his story before. I will have to do that again.”
“He knows. He is using an odd word- “Songbird” is what he calls you. He is at peace, and that a huge burden has been lifted.”
“Tell him we will not forget,” I said,
“I am getting a gesture from him- a thumbs up?”
I could only nod. The network time on the computer told me that our forty-five minutes was up, and I could sense that Karen was exhausted by the session, and that our time was done. There was silence for a moment, and when she spoke again, her voice was more relaxed in tone.
“I hope the reading gave you some closure,” She said. “The advantage of recording it is that you can download it and listen for things that may not have occurred to you during the session, and will only become clear over the next few days.” She told me how to download the audio file from the teleconferencing system, but that I had to act with a sense of urgency since they purged the files periodically, never to be archived.
I thanked her for her time, and told her I had enjoyed the experience and would comb over my notes and listen to the session again to see what I might have missed.
“It was a pleasure working with you,” she said, and echoed her thoughts straight back as the connection was broken. I sat still in front of my computer, stunned. A phone call had unraveled the biggest mystery I had encountered in my professional life, and if anyone asked how I had done it, I could safely say that I talked to a man who had been dead for forty years, and thus had it on the highest authority.*
Copyright 2017 Vic Socotra
* I will try to post a link to the audio file of the session. Make your own opinion, don’t take mine. Or Jack’s.