I didn’t see the explosion but just like everyone else in San Francisco on Friday the 4th of July, I heard it. Unlike most everyone else in San Francisco on that day, I knew what it was. I’d heard a large aircraft blow apart before, only from much closer than this one. On the 4th of July 1952, the plane that blew up over the Golden Gate Bridge was a Lockheed Constellation with forty-nine passengers and nine crew on board. There were no survivors. The plane that blew up just off my port wingtip in 1943 was a B17 called ‘Suzie Q.’
One minute it was right there alongside us over Bremen and the next minute large chunks of it were tumbling to the earth eleven thousand feet below us. The explosion took out my port outer engine and a large chunk of the wing. On the homeward leg over the North Sea, my port inner caught fire. I managed to put my B17 down in a Lincolnshire potato field but not before the fire had given me second-degree burns on the left side of my head and my left hand. We were lucky I guess; you know what they say: any landing you can walk away from is a good landing. I didn’t think so at the time.
The passengers and crew of the TWA Connie weren’t so lucky. I didn’t know any of them personally although a lot of long-haul TWA pilots were ex B17 guys like me. I was soon to become very familiar with some of the victims of that explosion, but I didn’t know it at the time.
Since the war I’d had a number of jobs, most of them involved selling household gadgets door to door or driving trucks full of gadgets warehouse to warehouse. I did okay at sales, I wasn’t too proud to play the ‘wounded vet’ card but there were a lot of us out there doing the same thing. You couldn’t make a decent living at it. I couldn’t get a job flying for anyone. I was partially deaf, and the fire had done quite a bit of damage to my inner ear. All the medical examiners I spoke to (I spoke to a lot) said they couldn’t clear me to fly because they were afraid damage to my left ear would affect my spatial awareness when flying on instruments or at night; so, no more night flying for me.
I answered a ‘help wanted’ ad and joined The Homer Georgeopolous Detective Agency and I know Detective Agency sounds very Sam Spade but in truth I got a job helping one old Greek guy chase down younger American guys who owed clients’ money or cheated on their spouses. There is a surprising amount of both going on in San Francisco, who knew? Three months into the job and the old guy croaks following some broad up the steps on Lombard Street. His second heart attack I was told. His widow, Mrs. Georgeopolous didn’t want anything to do with the business (who can blame her?) So I sort of took over the client list and carried on. I pay the rent on Homer’s old office and I slip his widow a few dollars every now and then to help her out.
What can I say? I’m a soft touch! I don’t have a cute dame as my receptionist; I don’t have any kind of dame as a receptionist. I do all my own filing, accounts, and typing and I do all the legwork. I did get in contact with an answering service that took my calls and saved my messages. This was a God-send and it means that I don’t have to keep calling in at the office to pick up messages.
I sometimes sleep on an army surplus cot behind the desk when work keeps me out late and I don’t feel like driving all the way back to Oakland. I can`t afford to have the name changed on the door and I can`t afford new letterhead or business cards so I`m now known in some circles as Rick the Greek. This is not like in the movies, well not like any movie I’ve seen.
I learned the tricks of the trade as I went along, they don’t do night school classes on chasing down cheating husbands. That’s not a bad idea though, is it? They would always be busy because, let’s face it, most married guys I know would cheat on their wives if they thought they could get away with it, and most of the guys I follow think they are doing just that; getting away with it; the women too. That’s until the 8 x 10 glossies drop on the doormat.
I was just coming out of the Buena Vista Cafe on Hyde Street when the Connie went down. It’s a classy joint; friendly staff that don’t chase you out of the door when you’re watching someone on the street. I was following a guy who was allegedly seeing his sixteen-year-old niece. I say allegedly because I hadn’t caught him with his pants down yet. It was only a matter of time, she was a honey, looked a lot like Lauren Bacall when she first got into movies only with more going on up-front if you catch my drift. So, I’m a few yards behind the two of them heading west, he’s got his arm around her waist in a very friendly manner. He’s got no idea he’s being followed. His mind is on other things and they are wrapped up tight in the fluffy white sweater the blonde is wearing.
When the explosion came, most of us in the street froze; some actually ducked. It was like an atom bomb went off over Alcatraz. It felt as if the loudest crack of thunder ever heard was echoing around the bay. I forgot all about Mario Vitali and his sixteen-year-old niece and hurried down the hill towards Hyde Street Pier.
When I got to the pier, there wasn’t much to see, just the backs of hundreds of people all looking west towards the Golden Gate Bridge. I asked around. No-one had actually seen the explosion; everyone had heard it sure enough, but I couldn’t find an eyewitness if my life depended on it. After maybe twenty minutes the crowd began to thin a little. That was when the police turned up. Three black and whites skidded to a halt by the entrance to the pier all squealing tires and wailing sirens. A Whole schlock of uniforms tumbled out of the cars and hurried through the crowd to the end of the pier.
They came back to the cars a short while later escorting maybe three or four people all of them carrying cameras. I knew one of them; Sammy Kirk was ex-navy, lost his left leg at Pearl. He made his living now taking pictures of couples walking on Hyde Street Pier. You know the kind of thing, happy holiday snaps for a buck, developed overnight, present your ticket at this display stand.
I caught his eye as the police led him towards the black and whites. He was deathly pale; his eyes were rimmed with red. He looked as though he was back on the U.S.S. Virginia that Sunday morning. He looked like hell.
I would have followed Sammy to the police station, but I had another appointment at a real station. I had to be at Southern Pacific’s Third and Townsend Depot to meet the Coast Daylight express from Los Angeles. My wife Josephine was returning from a three-day business trip with her boss, Jacobus den Hamer. Ko den Hamer (as he liked to be called) was a property developer who was looking to get into real estate in some place just to the north of the Bay area called the Napa Valley. Apparently, he planned to switch a bunch of orchards from producing apples to growing grapes. It seemed like a crazy stunt to me, but Ko den Hamer Developments was investing millions of other people’s money in this hair-brained scheme. Some of the people he was talking about were big-shot Hollywood producers and actors, hence the trip to Los Angeles.
Jacobus den Hamer was at least ten years older than me, maybe even late forties; he was originally from Holland where his family were potato farmers and distributors. Josephine had worked for him all through the war and I guess she enjoyed her role as ‘Executive Assistant.’ We were glad of the money she earned when I was de-mobbed and couldn’t find a job.
Ko was tall, like every Dutch guy I’ve ever met (I haven’t met a lot) he wore his thick blonde hair swept back from a high, tanned forehead. He always dressed in the latest fashion, favouring double-breasted pin-striped suits. He never wore a hat, that normally would set alarm bells ringing with me, but Josephine said he was the perfect gentleman in the office and when they travelled to see potential investors. I wasn’t worried about this guy turning Josephine’s head even if he looked like Johnny Weissmuller’s better-looking brother; she was a great gal who’d stuck by me when things were at their worst. Why would she even think about fooling around on me now, just when things were going so well for us?
Josephine could have had any guy she wanted. She looked like a film star even when she wasn’t trying. She had the kind of beautiful face that men just stared at. She had a fabulous figure and the darkest long wavy hair that she nearly always wore down. There have been lots of times when we’ve been stopped in the street by folks who think she’s Rita Hayworth or (what’s the other one called?) Hedy Lamarr. Why she stuck by a burned up battle-scarred wreck like me I will never know. I’m just glad she did.
The train was a few minutes late, so I had time to grab a coffee before heading down onto the platform. I got down there just in time to see the Daylight pull in. It was a hell of a sight to see, a massive streamlined orange-red and black locomotive with a blinding light on the front in the centre of a silver shield. It was pulling a line of matching coaches, all with the same striking paint job. I dropped my coffee cup in a garbage can and hurried down the platform.
Josephine and her boss were just getting off the train. She was carrying a fancy package in a large paper carrier bag with French writing on the sides, he had both their cases. When Josephine saw me striding towards her, she dropped the package. She scooped it up again real quick and they both stepped away from the coach as a steady stream of well-heeled passengers came down the steps. A porter hurried forward to offer assistance. Ko waved him away.
Jo and I hugged awkwardly for a second then we all set off down the platform as steam billowed from the locomotive. Den Hamer insisted on carrying Jo’s case. Back out on the street, I offered to give Ko a ride. He wouldn’t hear of it. He commented:
“You’re heading in completely the opposite direction to me.” He shook both our hands before turning to Jo:
“Thanks for all your help in Hollywood, Jo, you were a great asset. Why don’t you take tomorrow off? You deserve a rest after all you’ve done for the company in the past few days.”
Jo smiled as if she’d just been handed her very own Oscar.
“If you’re sure you can manage,” she said. He shook my hand again, squeezing just a little harder than was strictly necessary; then we headed off to collect the car. Did I tell you we live in Oakland? I thought I might have mentioned it. We’re not too far from Berkeley at Telegraph and Derby. The place cost us everything we had and continues to take everything we both earn. It’s an old house, it needs a lot of work.
Have you seen that movie: Mister Blandings builds his Dream House? Came out a few years ago? Well, I’m Cary Grant, without the accent and the good looks. The house is just like his, only way smaller. I could maybe do odd jobs on it at the weekends, but I work a lot at weekends.
As we headed home over the Bay Bridge, Josephine stared straight ahead, not saying a word. She held the mysterious package with her legs, occasionally messing with the pink wrapping paper sticking out of the top of the paper carrier bag. She played with her pearls all the way home. This was a habit she had when she was bored. I’d bought her the pearls on our second anniversary. I think I’ve almost paid off the loan I got to buy them. When we got home, she stuffed the package at the bottom of her wardrobe and went straight to bed. It was barely eight.
“Try not to wake me when you come up,” she said. Message received and understood. I put on a Louis Jordan record, kept it turned way down, fell asleep in the chair listening to: ‘Let the Good Times Roll.’
The next day The Chronicle confirmed what I knew in my gut. A passenger aircraft had exploded mid-air somewhere between the Point Bonita Lighthouse and The Golden Gate. Turns out it was a TWA Constellation which had taken off some twelve minutes earlier bound for Seattle and eventually Vancouver, Canada. The Chronicle was quoting un-confirmed rumours that Howard Hughes, the reclusive billionaire, and owner of T.W.A. was amongst the passengers.
I digested the grim news along with my usual breakfast: two black coffees, and a Danish. I had my usual table in the window of the Cozy Cove coffee shop; half a block from my ‘palatial’ offices on Clement Street, Inner Richmond. I was just a few blocks south of The Presidio which led onto The Golden Gate, so I was much closer to the scene of yesterday’s tragedy.
I decided not to join the steady stream of Lookie Loo’s heading towards the bridge. A recovery operation was planned for later in the day, but I wasn’t too keen to see it. Call me squeamish, call me over-sensitive; call me anything you like but I did not want to see bits of aircraft with bits of people attached being fished out of the harbour. Let’s just say it’s not my thing. Instead, I took the car and drove across town to see if I could get hold of Sammy Kirk. I wanted to know what the police had asked him about. I wanted to know what he had seen.
Along with the business and the lease for the office I had ‘inherited’ a light blue ’47 Plymouth Convertible from the saintly Mrs. Georgeopolous. All I had to do was pick up her groceries every now and then and once a month run her over to see her sister Gladys who lived in Emeryville. The car was a peach and ran great, even though it had never seen the inside of a garage since I’d got hold of it. It wasn’t fast compared to some of the newer cars out there, but it started first time every time and the price was right.
I got to the pier just after ten. The early morning fog was burning off nicely as I parked in a bay about a block from where I’d seen Sammy yesterday. I picked up my hat from the back seat and put on a pair of sunglasses. I didn’t go anywhere without the glasses and the grey fedora. They hid the scarring and my half-melted left ear pretty well, which meant fewer folks stared at me. This was a good thing for a private detective.
I found Sammy at the end of the pier loading a roll of film into his Canon IIB. He looked up as he closed the case.
“Oh, hi Rick, I thought I saw you yesterday when the cops took me away,” he said.
“They didn’t keep you in overnight, did they?” I asked.
“Nothing like that, they took my roll of film is all.”
“You got pictures?” I asked incredulously.
“Well, I’m not sure what I got; they haven’t released any prints yet. I didn’t get the explosion but I’m sure I got some of what happened next.”
“And what did happen next?” I asked.
Sammy looked out west, over the bay. Out towards Alcatraz and the bridge. His eyes filled with tears and his words seemed to catch in his throat.
“Bits of the plane fell into the bay, just past the bridge. Big bits. It broke into two main parts.”
“You know you should get those pictures back; you would make a mint if you sold them to the papers.”
“I don’t think the papers could use them, they might be a bit too, you know, graphic. I’m sure I saw bodies falling, or parts of.”
I had to get a look at those pictures somehow. What Sammy was describing sounded like the plane had been hit by anti-aircraft fire. But that couldn’t have happened. So, there was only one explanation for what he’d witnessed and may be captured on film.
“I know a couple of decent lawyers Sammy; they can maybe help you get your film back.”
Sammy took a hip-flask from his camera case, popped the lid, and took a slow swig.
“I don’t want any trouble.” He said.
“Won’t be any trouble, Sammy,” I said, as cheerfully as I could. “I’ll make a few calls. Where can I get hold of you?”
Sammy gave me the number of his rooming house. Out in the bay, two giant cranes on barges were being towed slowly westward by four ocean-going tugs. We both stared out as the spectacle unfolded for what seemed like an hour.
“They’ll be from the Kaiser Shipyards I guess,” said Sammy, taking another belt from the hip-flask. He offered me a shot.
“Bit early for me, besides you look like you need it more than me.”
“You may be right,” said Sammy. “Do you think Howard Hughes was on board like the papers say?”
“I’m not too sure. No-one’s seen him since that crash he had in Beverley Hills, that was just about a year ago. It would be a bitch to survive a crash like that only to die in another just a year later.”
“You know what they say. When your number’s up,” said Sammy.
I shook his hand.
“I’ll give you a call this evening; maybe give you a lawyer’s name and number.”
“If you think it will do any good.”
“Sure, it will Sammy, sure, it will.
When I got back to the Plymouth the steering wheel and seat were already red-hot. I guess that’s the price you pay for traveling in style in California. I pulled out a handkerchief, wrapped it around one hand so I could grip the wheel, thought for a moment about buying a beach towel to put along the front seat then I headed back to the office to make a few calls.
I knew at least three lawyers I had done work for recently. All divorce work obviously. I started calling around. The second guy I spoke to was an old Jew called Melvin Hammerstein. He’d lost nearly all of his European relatives in the camps and he’d been in the papers when he helped prosecute some Nazi sympathizers living in Carmel just after the war. Most recently I’d seen him in the papers again working on what he called ‘civil liberties’ cases. I had no idea what they were, but he seemed to be on the side of the little guy, and he was none too popular with the local Police Captain. He was happy to help out.
Then I got back to work following Uncle Mario and his teenage niece. Remember them? I knew Mario worked at an Italian Bakery at Folsom and Spear, down near Embarcadero. Working as a baker was a real break if you were looking to schtup your young niece after school. In fact, working as a baker worked real great if you wanted to meet and or schtup anyone when most other citizens were still slaving away in the afternoon heat. You see, bakers start work early but they also finish work early, around lunch-time. So, at around twelve I drove down to Folsom and Spear and parked up across the street from the San Marino Bakery. The place smelled great and I was beginning to think about heading inside to buy a sandwich. I was just opening the car door when Mario Vitali comes out of the front door of the bakery. He’s wearing a sport coat and he’s tried his best to knock the flour off his work pants. His thick wavy hair is wet where he’s run a damp comb through it. He’s in a hurry. I shut the car door and set off following him on foot.
Mario was maybe my age, he was thick-set, and his middle was the thickest bit about him. I got the feeling that he’s been a bit of a Don Juan in his youth. He was a good-looking guy in a swarthy, hairy Italian way. It looked as if he knew a lot of people in the neighbourhood. He was continually shouting greetings to people he passed in the street. This guy had balls; I’ll give him that. If I was off to meet my niece for some seriously illegal incest, I’d most likely keep my head down. But not this guy, he was full of the joys of spring and he didn’t give a shit who knew it.
I began to think we weren’t on our way to a lover’s rendezvous when Mario turned a corner and there was the niece, standing in front of the Folger’s Building on the corner of Howard and Spear. If she’d been to school that morning, she must have skipped out early and found somewhere to change. She was carrying a small round case like a hat-box. Her school clothes would be inside I guessed. No-one would have thought she was still at school. She had on the same tight white sweater she’d worn a couple of days ago. She wore it with a slit pencil skirt that hugged her legs down to her calves. She had on high heels and nylons. She could have passed for twenty-five.
From what I could tell they didn’t say anything to each other. They just started walking side by side down Howard towards the water. After a block and a half, they came to the Daniels Hotel. They went straight inside. I hurried across the street and entered the lobby just in time to see the niece’s legs walking up the stairs. I assumed the niece was still attached to her legs, so I followed them up the stairs, keeping a safe distance. Luckily the old guy on the desk was tied up with another client so I wasn’t noticed. I saw Mario and the girl enter room number nine which was at the rear of the building. They wouldn’t have a view of the bay, but I figured that wouldn’t worry Mario too much. He was thinking about getting a look at something else.
I left them to it; headed back downstairs and round the back of the hotel. I was in luck. The fire escape wasn’t locked and by my calculations that open window just to the left of the fire escape on the second floor would be room number nine. I got my trusty CMC Miniature camera ready and started quietly up the metal steps. When I got to the second floor, I could hear a radio playing a Les Paul tune. I leaned over and sneaked a look through the net curtains. It was your usual low rent hotel room: metal bed frame, sagging mattress, peeling wallpaper, a bed-side table with a Mickey, and two glasses on it.
The blonde niece didn’t look twenty-five anymore. Without the high heels and the fancy clothes, she looked just like a sixteen-year-old school kid being raped by a hairy fat guy. She was naked, her clothes strewn around the room. Her hat-box was open on the floor next to the bouncing bed. The niece was pale-skinned, painfully thin, and flat-chested, evidenced by the mounds on toilet paper spilling from her over-stuffed bra as it fell from the violently shaking bed. He had his hand over her mouth stifling her sobs and he was just about to put his Ciabatta to use. She was kicking feebly with those long legs of hers, but she wasn’t strong enough to hold Uncle Mario off for much longer. I put the camera back in my pants pocket. I leaned over as far as I dare and grabbed hold of the window frame. Then I swung one leg onto the frame and kind of rolled my body into the room. I landed on the floor with a clunk. I jumped to my feet as quickly as possible shouting:
“Truant Officer! This young lady is missing Bible studies and I want to know why.” It was the best I could come up with at such short notice. I thought it wasn’t bad. Uncle Mario had a different opinion. He clambered off the bed and came at me like an angry bear. Unfortunately for Mario, he was an angry bear with a hard-on and his pants around his ankles. He stumbled forward closing the gap between us. Uncle Mario stumbled forward head-first…head-first onto my shoe (which was swinging upwards to meet his jaw). There was a very satisfying cracking sound as leather met bone and Uncle Mario bit the dust.
The schoolgirl on the bed clawed at a sheet, desperately trying to cover her bee-sting breasts.
“You’re not the truant officer,” she said.
“No shit,” I said. “Get dressed, I’m taking you home.” She started scrambling around for her underwear and clothes.
“Could you take me back to school instead? I don’t want anyone to find out about this.”
“Too late princess, somebody already has.” I got the girl downstairs past a very nervous desk clerk and out into a cab. She cried all the way back to school. I decided not to tell Mrs. Vitali who her husband had been seeing. It wouldn’t help anyone in that family, least of all the girl, who it turns out was called Jessica. She was fifteen.
Two days later Sammy gave me a call with the good news, he’d got nearly all of his pictures back. We arranged to go to Melvin’s office on Turk Street in the Tenderloin so we could go through them. Nine fifteen, the next day I picked Sammy up outside his rooming house and drove him over to Turk Street. Sammy had the photographs in a manila envelope, but he wouldn’t let me get a look at them until we were with Melvin the lawyer. Sammy sat straight-backed on the edge of the seat clutching that envelope like it held a jar of nitro. He was sweating although that morning was way cooler than when we last met. I drove around the block a couple of times looking for a place to park.
“What’s wrong? You don’t look so good.”
“Maybe this isn’t such a good idea,” said Sammy.
“Hey, we’ve done the hard part, my friend. We got the film back. All we have to do now is make a deal with the papers, Melvin can handle that.”
“I…I’m not so sure I want to go through with this.”
I pulled into a recently vacated parking space. Sammy sat perfectly still, staring out through the windscreen, both hands clutching the envelope on his lap. I jumped out, walked round to the sidewalk, and opened the passenger’s door.
“Let’s see what Melvin has to say.”
After another couple of minutes, Sammy got out of the car. I practically had to lead him by the hand. He moved like a man sleep-walking. I’d never seen anything like it. We took the elevator to the third floor. As I closed the gate and pressed the button, I asked Sammy if someone had been threatening him. He answered:
“It’s nothing like that Rick; no-one ever calls me. It’s just…I’ve seen the photographs now and I’m not sure I want to go public with them. No-one needs to see what’s in here.”
He patted the envelope as the elevator clattered to a halt on third. I yanked the gate open. I must admit I was getting a little pissed with Sammy. What could be on the pictures to make act so ape-shit?
We went through an empty reception area complete with a typewriter and phone on what looked like an old school desk. Then I knocked on the glass- panelled door. A familiar voice called out:
“That you Rick? Come in, come in my boy.”
In one way Melvin Hammerstein’s office was a lot like mine. They were both roughly the same size, tiny. Apart from that they could not have been more different. I thought my place was crammed, what with the big old desk and chair and the cot I slept on sometimes. This place was like walking into the world’s smallest library. Every wall was covered in bookshelves which in turn were filled to overflowing with books the size of family albums. There were stacks of books waist-high in every corner.
Melvin’s desk must have been close to collapsing under the weight of all the (you guessed it) books. There were piles and piles of books on the floor, some leaning precariously awaiting the slightest touch which would send the whole tower tumbling. The place smelt like an old schoolroom that had been left out in the rain. Sunlight slanted through a large arched window behind Mister Hammerstein’s desk and chair, dust motes danced a lazy tango.
As we entered the office Melvin hurried around from behind his desk, miraculously avoiding the book towers, he cleared two battered brown leather chairs for Sammy and me adding to one book structure on his desk.
We tipped-toed along the narrow winding pathways like infantry walking through a minefield, then carefully sat down. Melvin hurried back behind his desk shouting out:
“No calls please Mrs. Finkelbaum!”
I leaned forward in my chair and whispered:
“Melvin, there’s no-one out in reception.”
I shook my head. Melvin Hammerstein looked confused for a moment. We waited.
“Oh, that’s right, Moira Finkelbaum died last year.”
Sammy glanced across at me with a very worried look in his eyes.
“So, who’s been making my coffee and typing my letters for the last nine months?”
Sammy stood up, about to leave. The look on his face was priceless. I reached over.
“Sit down Sam, Mel’s just messin’ with you.”
Mel Hammerstein was laughing out loud, almost falling out of his chair, tears in his eyes.
“It’s been years since I’ve done that one, worked like a charm!”
I turned to Sammy.
“Melvin’s wife is his receptionist, but Sylvia doesn’t start as early as Mel, she likes to start the day slowly, isn’t that right Mel?”
“None of us are getting any younger Rick, even Sylvia. She likes a lie-in every now and then. She’ll be along shortly. How’s the hand?”
“Still burned to hell.” I quipped as I took off my hat.
“The ear’s looking a lot better though,” said Mel.
I said: “I have to keep it out of the sun, which isn’t too hard in this town.”
Melvin turned to Sammy.
“So, what do you have there, Mister Kirk?”
Sammy’s grip on the envelope tightened. I said:
“Come on Sammy, let’s see them.”
Sammy reached between two book towers and handed the envelope over to Melvin Hammerstein. Mel pulled a pair of small horn-rimmed glasses from his breast pocket, wiped them on a paisley handkerchief from the same pocket. Then he opened the envelope. One by one he looked carefully at the 8 x 10’s before handing them back over the desk to me.
Sammy stood up and squeezed his way to the window behind Mel’s desk. He stared down at the street below. He didn’t want to see the photographs again, I guess.
Mel passed the first two photographs over to me dismissively; they were hard to make out, just a brown blur really. Sammy apologized:
“The first couple are my feet and the boardwalk; I must have pressed the shutter as I ran to the railing.”
Mel held onto the next one. Sammy spoke very quietly:
“The cops did blow-ups of the next four or five, they pushed the enlarger to the limits, I guess. Did the best they could.” Sammy’s voice kind of trailed away.
“Oh my,” said Melvin. “Oh my.”
His hand was trembling as he handed over the 8 x 10. It was out of focus a little and the subject matter was way too far out to get any detail, but it was all too clear what we were looking at. It looked to be almost directly above the Golden Gate Bridge which formed a kind of frame for the main subject. The Connie was in two very large pieces that were falling vertically about fifty yards apart. You could clearly make out the nose section including the cockpit followed by the rest of the aircraft which looked like a giant black cross falling from the sky. The Connie had been blown apart somewhere behind the cockpit but before the wing roots. It looked as if the engines were still running as it tumbled into the sea. You could clearly make out the distinctive triple tail section.
I felt the bile rise in my throat as I turned over the photograph and handed it back to Mel Hammerstein. Sammy would not turn from the window. Mel was looking at the next two photographs. He was reluctant to hand them over to me.
“Dear God!” Mel exclaimed. “You got the tail hitting the water.”
Very quietly Sammy said:
“I know what I got.”