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.The guys who had served and come back didn’t talk about it, and pretty much brushed me off, and I couldn’t figure that out.I thought they were putting me down.At that age, everything’s about you, you know?”He focused on Sally more closely at that and immediately apologized.“No offense.”“None taken,” she said.“You’re right.”“So that night,” Dan brought him back.“You got a small taste of reality?”Norm nodded.“Good way of putting it.” He looked around.“It’s hard to tell now.It’s so peaceful and there’s not much left.But the explosion was really huge.Middle of the night, raining like crazy.The whole world shook with a rumble.I was listening to the radio in my bedroom when my window lit up like the sun had come out of nowhere.I knew what it was—or at least I had a pretty good idea.We’d all heard the plane going over a couple of times, like it was looking for something, and those engines made a hell of a row.Just a few seconds before the explosion, they went out, like you snapped a switch.I remember sitting up, all tingly, wondering what was going on, and then, boom.” He raised both his arms overhead as he said the last word very quietly.“You came up here that night?” Sally asked.“Nothing could’ve held me back,” Norm told her.“Everything I was telling you welled up in me like nobody’s business.This was it, I thought.This is my shot at a real story.An incredible adventure.I mean, here it was, after midnight, still pouring, black as the bottom of a well, and we had no problem knowing where to head.There was that much fire.Thousands of gallons of aviation fuel, burning hundreds of trees … You can’t even imagine.”Dan turned in a circle, as if admiring a museum display.“All right here,” he murmured.“It was like everything I’d ever been told about Hell,” Norm said.“The old Bible version—fire and brimstone and burning flesh.Even after all the time it took us to slip and slide up the mountain in the dark and the rain, there were still pools of gasoline burning like bonfires, and huge pieces of plane everyplace—including the whole tail section, and bodies and body parts … It was huge and it went on forever.There didn’t seem to be an end to it.We ran from place to place, trying to find somebody to help, but behind all the crackling fire and hissing steam and the shouting from all of us, there was a silence.”He looked at them both intently.“It was like the dead were making more noise than we were, you know what I mean?”Dan thought of Hauser’s albums.“Yeah.I do.”Sally, however, with no such scarring memories, was of a more practical mien.“So what happened?”Norm blinked at her.“Here? We collected what we could of the bodies.The army came and finished it up, blowing up the wreck and carrying away a lot of the mess.Nature did the rest.”“They blew up the wreck? Why?”“They didn’t want it seen from the air,” he explained.“Big impact like that would’ve been visible for years, and been reported by other flyers again and again.I think it was a sign of respect, too.”“And a reflection of the Red Scare era,” Dan put in, his voice low.“People worried about secrets.”Norm shrugged.“Probably.In any case, there’s not much left from that night.”“And what about you?” Dan asked, sensitive to a kindred spirit.The old man’s smile was sad.“Like I said, changed my life.What I saw here, and what I saw in the faces of the men who climbed with me, told me a lot.I realized what an idiot I’d been, believing all that John Wayne crap.” He glanced at Sally.“Sorry.”“That’s okay.”He continued.“Korea started up a couple of years later.I was the right age this time, and given how I’d been thinking, I was a natural to serve.But I didn’t.I’d had nightmares ever since, and begun drinking by then, too.” He was staring at the ground and shaking his head.“Good thing I didn’t fight in the war, the way I reacted up here.I probably would’ve been shot as a deserter.”“Oh,” Sally said.Dan joined her.“I don’t think you’re being fair to yourself.You were a kid, and this mayhem came from out of the blue.Men in battle don’t go there straight from listening to the radio in their bedrooms, Norm.There’s a process that hardens them.”“Oh, I know,” he said vaguely, wandering a few steps.Dan was aware that they were overstaying their welcome, especially with such armchair psychology.Norm Myers’s course had been set long ago.He didn’t want anyone telling him that his reaction to all this had been perfectly normal.On that level, it was akin to telling a pilgrim to Lourdes that God is dead.Dan veered him back to more tangible matters.“You may not have gone to war, but you did well—a daughter who’s happy to keep you nearby; an apartment complex that you knew like the palm of your hand.People think well of you.”Norm gave him a blank stare.“Apartment complex?”“Yeah.In Claremont.Back when.I think maybe you even built the place.Is that right?”Norm scowled slightly.“What about it?”Dan decided to give up the subtle approach, for fear of losing everything.“I’m really sorry about this, Norm—interrupting your privacy and everything—but did you ever have a tenant named Paul Hauser? It’s really important that we find him.”Norm looked like a man waking up from a dream—and none too thrilled at the interruption.His earlier mood of drifting reminiscence became soured by reality.“I had a lot of tenants.Most of them weren’t worth remembering.”Sally was watching his connective tissue of age and memory and private pain, stretch and tear apart.“What about Bryn?” she asked, sensing little to lose.The older man looked at her in surprise, the darkness clearing from his face.“Bryn? Oh sure.He was a character.But he wasn’t a tenant.”Dan followed his daughter’s lead.“My mistake.Guess I messed that up.Sorry.”Norm Myers was happy to go there [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]