The Lighthouse Fire is a sequel to the Lighthouse Library and is another adventure of ten-year-old Rocky Linfield.
It was October of 1952 when ten-year-old Millie Harris moved in with the Linfield family, who ran the lighthouse in Crafton, Maine. Millie’s stay was to be temporary while her parents delivered a yacht to the Bahamas. Millie was told by an FBI agent, her half-sister, that her parents had been kidnapped, but no ransom demands had been made. A second yacht with CIA agents aboard was being sent to the Bahamas to investigate. Millie felt it was her duty to help, but she could not do it alone. She recruited Rocky to join her, and they became stowaways on the yacht. When they got to the islands, the youngsters discovered the reason for the kidnapping and received help from Pinky, a native Bahamian who worked for the United States Navy during World War II by watching for Nazi submarines. Suffering attacks with a grenade, flares, a scouting knife, and Rocky’s slingshot, the kidnappers paid for their crimes.
|Publisher:||Book Vine Press|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.53(d)|
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First Day Home
There was break in the music flowing from the Chevrolet Fleetline radio speaker. An update to the 2:00 p.m. weather forecast lasted about two minutes. My driver, Ensign Wardel, and I laughed when the weatherman gave his name, Storm Swells. The forecaster stated a slight breeze was coming off the Atlantic, the water fairly calm. I looked out the window. The almost entirely blue sky didn't even suggest the approach of stormy weather. That was quite a difference from the weather brewing in the Sea of Japan, west of Hokkaido, where I had been a few days earlier. The music resumed with a song by Eddie Fisher. Since I had been out of the states and without knowledge of the pop culture, so I didn't know much about him. I had been watching periodically as the wispy white clouds drifted high above us for the last hour after napping during the first part of my trip from Boston, where I had expected to find my family.
At Boston Logan Airport, my commercial flight from Chicago was met by Ensign Floyd Wardel. In naval uniform, he was holding a sign above his head that read CDR Linfield. I was wearing navy-blue trousers, a white dress shirt, and a light-brown sports jacket. I told him who I was, he saluted me, and we shook hands. He led me to a navy car and I gave him directions to my home, but I was unaware my family had moved to Crafton, Maine, a small coastal town where my wife's mother, Martha Makler, lived.
When I read the note on the front door in Framingham, all that came to mind was damn! The plan to surprise my family would have to be delayed for a few more hours. Talk about disappointment! I returned to the car waiting at the curb. I leaned down to the open passenger side window and said, "Ensign, we need to go to Crafton, Maine."
"Sir, do you know where that is?"
"You'd better consult a map. I was only there once — several years ago. My memory of the roads is pretty hazy."
The ensign popped open the glove box and extracted a handful of maps. After he consulted the highway map of coastal Maine, we continued our trip.
I was glad to get away from the metropolis and was enjoying the open expanses separating small communities as we drove farther into the Northeast. When we arrived at the Crafton lighthouse near dinner time, I thanked the ensign and told him he could return to base, or proceed to his next assignment. He gave a snappy salute, said, "Aye, aye, Sir. Good luck, Commander," and slowly drove the service car to the highway, stopped, turned onto the main road and accelerated. I watched the tail lights disappear over the hill that overlooked the small harbor. I felt a bit naked, standing there alone, somewhat apprehensive about what was to come in the next few minutes.
I had gotten out of the car without assistance, as I had in Boston; my left leg still weak. It was healing slowly, and I favored it, being careful not to twist or use it for leverage. I had passed up the offer of a wheelchair or a cane at the military hospital in Alaska. I wanted complete independence, exactly the opposite of the condition I had been in for the last eighteen months. The compound fracture had been set by a Manchurian village doctor eight months earlier in a mountainous region not far from the northeastern Chinese border with the Soviet Union. The medical doctor had done the best he could under the circumstances. A poor diet and physical stress had slowed the healing process.
My presence in Manchuria was kept secret from authoritarian figures, especially the foreign military. An American pilot found in Northeastern China during the Korean conflict would have suffered severe punishment and probably death, as would an entire Chinese family; perhaps even a whole village. China was supporting North Korea during the Korean conflict, afraid the Allies might venture into China. If I had been caught, I would have had to endure torture and deprivation, if not immediate execution.
The Navy physicians said exercise and good food should guarantee full recovery, but I should be careful for a while. They advised me that I might retain a slight limp.
I turned slowly and looked at the medium-sized, reddish-brown, two-story building, the residence of the lighthouse keeper. Actually, the building wasn't two-stories, it was more like one and a half. It appeared to have an attic, but with more head room than usual. What I could see of the dark-green roof shingles looked as if they needed some minor repairs. If I hadn't known where I was, I would have guessed the Northeastern coast of the USA.
I could hear a radio or television, the sounds escaping through the screen door. I had that uneasy feeling, kind of like I had experienced when in grade school, having to stand in front of the class to give a book report or show-and-tell. But I knew what I was going to say to Sandra. I had been saying it over and over in my mind for a year and a half, ever since I crashed in Northeastern China just a few miles across the Yalu River from North Korea.
I had a brown leather bag in my left hand and a novel, Knights of the Devil, in my right. I had finished reading the book by the time I reached Chicago, but I couldn't just throw or give it away. It was my only possession, except for some clean skivvies, since arriving back in the states from Tokyo. The bag was much more than a satchel; it carried some toiletries, underwear, my navy blues, and a letter Sandra had written to the War Department a year ago asking of my whereabouts. Seeing her signature on that paper brought back memories of the times we had when dating. When separated, we used to send each other notes, telling what we had been doing and how nice it was going to be to see each other again.
Sandra was in the FBI then, and I, a naval lieutenant, was being shuttled around the country, not knowing where, if ever, I would have at least a semi-stable station. Now, retired, as Commander Leland S. Linfield, I was able to have a permanent location.
A loose gravel path led to a small covered porch, almost the same color as the roof, not much to navigate, only one step up and two paces, about five feet, to the screen door. I rang the bell, heard a buzzing sound, somewhat like the sound from an old telephone switchboard, and a freckled, redheaded young girl appeared. She had to be Susan, my daughter, but I hadn't seen Susan in eighteen months and little kids change very fast as they're growing up. She was nearly a foot taller than the last time I saw her. I think she expected me to say something; she probably thought I was a salesman. I was dressed in a white shirt and khakis. I had changed my pants in the car. She waited with one hand pulling on her ponytail and the other holding on to the door knob. She had a faint smile, her eyes dancing.
"Can I help you?"
"May I talk to your mother, young lady?" I heard a familiar voice, that of Sandra, my wife. There was no doubt about that sound.
"Who is it? Does he have a Bible?"
Susan turned from me and skipped down the hallway. I heard her innocent voice say that I had a book, but she couldn't tell if it was a Bible. That's when I realized Sandra was worried someone had come to tell her I was dead. She wasn't aware that when a death notice was delivered, two officers conveyed the bad news. I wanted to call out to her, but our reunion would be over in a few minutes anyway. I kept silent. I heard Sandra tell Susan that she would be coming to the door. I didn't even hear what Susan said to me when she reappeared, because when I saw Sandra walking toward me, tears came to my eyes, and I was almost choking on the words I planned to say. Those simple words seemed to be lodged tightly in my throat. Sandra didn't recognize me immediately; I had lost more than fifteen pounds and the somewhat shaggy beard concealed my face, but when she was within about two feet of the screen door, I croaked, "Hi, beautiful."
She was still drying her hands in her apron when she froze in position like a marble museum statue. She frowned, then smiled, and said, "Oh, my God! Lee!" She pushed the screen door open, almost knocking me backwards, exclaiming, "Kids, your daddy is home!" We hugged each other and looked into each other's eyes, tears streaming down our cheeks. We kissed as if it was to be our last. I wanted to pick Sandra up and twirl her around, but I was afraid my weak leg might give way. She buried her face in my chest and we clutched each other with as much force as our arms could exert.
I could hear and feel her sobbing as we stood together on the porch, her body throbbing, almost uncontrollably. My face was buried in her hair. She smelled so good, something I hadn't forgotten. I couldn't talk at first, but I finally was able to say, "It's all right, Sandy, I'm home. I missed you so much. I missed you all so much."
I heard Susan's little voice ask, "Is that man my daddy?" Still holding Sandra tightly, I wiped my eyes with my sleeve and looked down at my red-headed little girl. She seemed confused, she was biting her lower lip and frowning.
Sandra released her hold on me, turned slightly and gathered Susan to us. "Yes, Susan, this is your daddy. Give him a big hug and kiss."
I bent down and picked her up. She threw her arms around my neck, kissed my cheek, and said, "Did you get the message I sent to Heaven?"
That was the most confusing thing I had heard since I arrived stateside, but I answered the best I could. "I wasn't in Heaven, Susan, I was in Manchuria." I made a mental note to ask Sandra about Susan's question.
I became aware of my son, Rocky, standing just inside the screen. He was watching me intently, probably trying to think of what to do. I called to him, "Rocky, come give your dad a big hug." He came from the house, slowly. I think he was trying to see through my beard to recognize my features from the last time I saw him. He raised his right hand, as if to shake hands, but I pulled him close and squeezed him tightly. "You've grown a foot since I last saw you, Son. It won't be long and you'll be a man."
He was smiling, but I saw tears begin to trickle down his cheeks. He made no attempt to hide them. "Were you a prisoner, Dad?"
"Not really, I was hidden by a man on a little farm in Manchuria until we could travel to Russia."
"Were you shot?"
"No. I fell and broke my leg when travelling. It's still weak. I have to be careful for a while." I noticed Rocky looking into the house. "Is something wrong in there?"
"I think Mom has forgotten about the carrots on the stove."
"Oh! I did forget. Come on, let's go in the house." Sandra grabbed my hand and pulled me into the house and guided me to the sofa. She gave a gentle nudge with her hip, I collapsed onto the middle of the couch, and she scurried into the kitchen. "Stay right there!" I smiled. I wasn't going anywhere.
Rocky had picked up my book and satchel and dropped them on the seat of the tan corduroy-covered, overstuffed chair, turned so the occupant could see TV without neck strain.
Susan was standing at the end of the sofa watching me as I looked around the living room. She gradually approached, until she stood in front of me, her fingers interlaced waist high. "Can I sit beside you?"
"I'd like that. Get up here so we can talk." I patted the cushion and she climbed next to me, wiggled into place, and let out a big sigh.
"I don't remember you. I thought I knew what you looked like. Did you have a beard before?"
"Nope. I'll shave it off tomorrow. Maybe you'll remember what I look like after the beard is gone."
"Maybe. I thought you were bigger."
"Well, Susan, you were much smaller when you last saw me."
"Susan, please set another place at the table for your father." Sandra had called out from the kitchen. "Ask him what he wants to drink."
Before Susan had a chance to ask, I volunteered, "Water will be fine."
Susan turned her head slightly and yelled back toward the kitchen, "He said water will be fine."
"Thank-you." Sandra's voice had a lilt to it.
Susan replied, "You're welcome," and laughed. I didn't know why she laughed. I would have to find out later. As I began to think of all the little things I would have to do now that I was home. I had to slow down my brain and prioritize so I would not make mistakes, at least try to minimize them. I knew I would have to renew my driver's license. I hadn't driven in two years.
Something took me back to when I was Rocky's age. I remembered coming out of a movie theater with my parents and walking into a parking meter. Mom grabbed me and pulled me toward her, but I walked into the next one also. I just couldn't get my legs working properly. Manchuria was eleven time zones away, half a world from Crafton, Maine. My biorhythm was going to be out of whack for a few days. I leaned back into the sofa, but I was afraid I was going to fall asleep and miss having the first dinner with my family in nearly two years. I looked around the room to keep my eyes and mind active so not to drowse off.
Rocky was in that big chair, leaning forward, elbows on his knees and head in his hands. "Will you tell us some war stories, Dad?"
"Sure, but they aren't too exciting. I'll tell you all about getting shot down over North Korea and how I got back home. It's a long story, though, it might take a week or so. After I get adjusted to being home, I'll tell you all about it."
"Okay. Maybe you can tell Jerry, too."
"He's my best friend. His father and mother lived in Russia. His dad was killed by Germans, but his mom remarried and now his name is Jerry Morgan. I've got lots to tell you — about spies and the FBI."
My First Lighthouse Dinner
Sitting at the dinner table with my family was not a new experience, but it felt new, different. I felt like I was eating at a friend's house, just having met his family. My Chinese friends in Manchuria knew little of what was going on in their own backyard, and I even knew less about Northeastern China than they did about the Northeastern United States. Fortunately, the man who found me, Zhang Lanfu, was educated; he was a doctor who had studied in Beijing. One of his uncles had taken classes at Oregon State, so he knew some English, at least enough for basic communication.
I was cutting into the steak Sandra had so carefully broiled when Rocky said, "Tell us how you were shot down, Dad." I looked at Sandra for her approval and she smiled. She must have realized I wouldn't go into any morbid details. I wasn't too sure of that myself after seeing some of the horrors of modern warfare. But I considered, if I spoke slowly and thought ahead, I wouldn't make the story too bloody.
"Well, I was flying a Corsair on a bombing run to knock out the railroad bridge connecting China to North Korea. The bridge, a little over half-a-mile long, spanned the Yalu river. We couldn't bomb the Chinese end, so we had to be careful and only drop our bombs on the Korean part, the southern half of the bridge. But we had some major problems, there were strong crosswinds and lots of enemy antiaircraft fire filling the sky."
Susan was holding her fork near her mouth with a bite of potatoes on it, listening to every word I said. She stuck the potatoes in her mouth and asked, "Who was with you in your airplane?" I could see the un-chewed potatoes as she talked.
"Susan, don't talk with your mouth full. Talk when you don't have food in your mouth."
Susan looked at Sandra and said, "Okay, Mommy."
I smiled and answered Susan's question. "Just me. I was alone."
She frowned and said, "But you said we had problems."
"Oh, yes. There were four planes attacking the bridge: Buzz Nelson, Drew Santee, Joey Bynum, and me. Buzz went first and I followed. Buzz's bomb hit the top of the bridge and a big chunk of it fell into the water. My bomb hit one of the support columns, but as I began pulling out of my dive, my engine coughed and sputtered. Black smoke came pouring out of the engine, oil was streaming back on the windscreen making it difficult to see, and then a bullet hit somewhere in the cockpit and I felt a sting, like a bee, on my cheek."
"Was it a bee, Daddy?" She had swallowed the potatoes.
I took a bite of steak, chewed for a minute, swallowed, and continued, "A piece of bullet hit me in the face and blood got in my eye — kind of like smearing blood from a nose bleed all over your face. When I shave, I'll show you the scar; it's not very big."
I noticed that nobody was eating, so I said, "I'll tell you more after dinner, okay?"
We finished dinner, the first home-cooked American meal I'd had in almost two years. The food, the family, and not having to worry about being caught by the enemy, made eating dinner one of the most enjoyable times I could remember. After desert, Neapolitan ice cream, the kids did some homework, and got ready for bed. Tomorrow was Thursday and they had to go to school. I helped Sandra with the dishes. She washed and I dried.
Excerpted from "The Lighthouse Fire"
Copyright © 2017 Donald F. Averill.
Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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