Jason’s last wish

NANCY LOCKHART TAPPED THE HORN when she parked in the driveway. Adele came out to the porch. Joe ran around the housekeeper and threw his arms around Nancy’s waist.

“Adele, could you help me get this stuff into the house? I stopped at the post office on the way home. I think it’s Christmas packages.” She leaned over and kissed her son. “You want to carry something too?”

“Yes. Is something for me?”

“I don’t know. Nothing with your name on it. And if it’s a Christmas present inside, we’ll have to wait, won’t we?”

Joe sighed and took the lightweight box she gave him. The two women loaded the other boxes and envelopes into the library. Joe checked each one, hoping to see his name. Then he returned to his room, where he was building something extraordinary with blocks, sticks, pieces from an Erector set, and folded cardboard sheets.

After she changed into a skirt and blouse, Nancy returned to open the packages. As she slit the first wrapping, she heard Jason’s car pull up outside. She went to the porch. Flurries of snowflakes danced lightly in the streetlights, but a major storm was not expected.

“You’re early. I only just got home myself.” They walked into the house.

“Well, it’s not for a good reason. The patient we were going to operate on this afternoon died this morning.”

“That’s terrible. I’m so sorry. Wasn’t that just an appendix?”

“Yes, but there was something wrong with his immune system. He had symptoms of a simple cold last night. His organs began failing around midnight. He was dead by ten a.m. The family authorized an autopsy. I hope we can figure this out because it was a total surprise to us.”

“Not a pathology or an infection?”

“Except for the cold, no.”

“Take off the coat and tie and come relax. We had packages in the mail today. Some from Missouri.” Jason’s brother and his family lived near Independence.

Nancy met him with a glass of Riesling when he returned. He put it on the desk and embraced his wife. A long, lingering kiss put their busy world into its proper context.

“Thanks. I needed that.”

“Me, too.”

Armed with letter openers, they attacked the pile of packages. Nancy started a list for thank you letters in a notebook.

“This one looks like what we got last year and the year before. No return address.”

“Any guesses?”

“I’d say it’s a bottle of single malt whisky.”

Opening the package, they saw a gift-wrapped box about the right size for a bottle of liquor. A blank card attached read simply, “Thanks.”

“This is the third year. Do you have any idea who this is?” She set the gift under the tree with care, positioning it so that it would not break when it encountered an exuberant five-year-old on Christmas morning.

“Not really. It started after Inchon. I got the first one on board after Haven returned to Long Beach. This is the second one here in Richmond.”

“Anyone especially grateful about Inchon?”

“So many. I was up to my elbows for days on end. They kept us off Inchon for months, using helos to bring the wounded out as they pushed inland.”

She leaned over and kissed him. “Let’s consider it a gift from all of them. From what I heard, you gathered quite a fan club from both wars.”

“Wait a minute.” Jason put his palms to his forehead and closed his eyes. “There was a lieutenant, the skipper of an LST during the landing itself. We played cards while he rehabbed on board. I sewed him together okay, but he was in a coma for two weeks, so we were not sure he would survive.”

“He survived, I take it.”

“Yes, and returned to his ship.” He opened his eyes. “Mike. Mike Norwood. LST-973. He said he owed me a bottle of Scotch every year for the rest of his life.”

“The man keeps his word.” She smiled. “I like that.”

“Hi, Daddy!” a streak of red attacked Jason at knee level. “I didn’t hear you.”

“I didn’t hear you, either. Are you up to something?”

“I built a space base, with a school and a hospital and an apartment building.”

“Can I see it?”

“Not yet. I have to figure out how to build a bubble for it. There’s no air in space, you know.” He went to the stairs. “I’ll call you when it’s ready.”

“Okay, son.” Jason listened to the little feet scamper back up to their son’s bedroom. “Space base?” He looked inquiringly at Joe’s mother as he picked up the letter opener.

“I think my Aunt Mary had something to do with that. She spent a lot of time explaining what they are doing at NASA, where she works.”

“National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Isn’t that part of the Air Force?”

“Not really. It’s at Langley Air Force Base, but as a tenant.”

“Just a few years ago, I could not imagine going into space. But the new jets have broken the sound barrier. It’s just a matter of time.”

“That’s what she says.”

With all the packages opened, and presents under the Christmas tree, they moved to the envelopes. About half for each of them.


Amelia Banner, Nancy’s secretary, stood in the door to her office. “Doctor Lockhart? Your husband is on the phone. Shall I tell him to call back?”

Nancy put a pencil in the thick research grant proposal she was reading. “No, Amelia. I’ll take it.” He never calls me at work. She picked up the handset and pushed the blinking button on the phone. “Hello, Jason. Is everything okay?”

“Everything was okay until I heard your voice. Now everything is wonderful.” Nancy smiled and felt a blush of pleasure. After more than six years, he still amused her with his romantic silliness.

“My day is a little brighter, too, but you must have called about something else.”

“Oh, yes. Something much less important than flirting with you. Remember Edouard Manérin?”

“The French Consul. Of course. Émilie is in Joe’s pre-school class.”

“He would like me to take a trip, but he wants to explain it to both of us, over lunch. Would you be free on Thursday?”

Nancy looked at her desk calendar. “Unless Amelia is out there scribbling something new, I’m free. Where?”

“The Jefferson at noon. He is French, so I would block two hours and not schedule any boring presentations in the afternoon.”

Nancy laughed. “If he wants to do this at the Jefferson instead of his office, it’s probably dangerous, illegal, or embarrassing. He must want you to say yes very badly.”

“He does have my attention, although I have no idea what he wants.”

“Let’s do it. See you tonight.” She smacked a kiss in the phone.

“I love you. Bye.”

They hung up.


Jason and Nancy did not dine often at the Jefferson Hotel, but its dining room held special memories for them. They had come here for their first dinner date, and it was at a later dinner date that Jason had proposed. Occasionally, Smithson Pharmaceuticals took out of town investors and visiting executives to the Jefferson, so Nancy had seen more of it at lunchtime than Jason had.

Edouard Manérin was standing in the lobby when they arrived.

“Doctors Lockhart, a pleasure to see you both.” The Consul spoke English with an American accent, having attended the American School in Paris before going to the prestigious School of Public Administration. He bent over Nancy’s hand with a quick kiss and shook hands with Jason. “Émilie seems quite taken with Joe. She has not mentioned any other boys in the class.”

Peut-être qu’ils ne se sont pas encore frappés,” she said. Maybe they haven’t hit each other yet.

Manérin laughed heartily. Jason said in French, “At five years old, it could mean anything or nothing, but I am glad that neither has come home complaining.”

“Please,” said the consul motioning to the door to the restaurant, “let’s have our lunch.”

Conversation for the first part of the meal revolved around the two families. Their two children were the only ones in the five-year-old class who could already read, so they found themselves sitting together, reading quietly while the teachers and aides worked with the other children. Joe had picked up some French from Nancy’s conversations with her mother, and Émilie said that he had a Parisian accent.

Over the cheese, the Consul refilled their wine glasses and nodded to the waiter. The servers withdrew.

“You’ve heard the saying, ‘we have been doing so much with so little, that we can do the impossible with nothing’, haven’t you?” Jason and Nancy nodded. “As you know, I served in Equatorial Africa after the war. We had a saying there, donnez ça à Jace.” Give that to Jace. “The mythical man who could do anything with nothing.”

After a stunned silence, Nancy asked, “Is this some kind of coincidence? Jace isn’t a French name.” Jace was her husband’s nickname.

“No. One of my colleagues, who had spent the war in and around Casablanca, told me that the saying was brought to Ubangi-Shari by Free French and Vichy veterans.”

“Why are you telling us this?” asked Jason.

“Because we are trying to do the impossible again.” He took a sip of his wine and gathered himself. “You know that the situation in Indo-China is not going well.”

“I read about the battle at Dien Bien Phu. Aren’t there peace talks in Saigon now?”

“And Paris. But the point is that the war in Vietnam has exhausted our resources, which we needed for our other colonies. We are trying to carry on in places like Africa and the Pacific, but those places are restive also.”

“What are you asking?”

“We would like you to join a team of American and Canadian medical personnel to help us set up a teaching hospital in Bangui.”

“French Equatorial Africa.”

“Yes. Bangui is the capital and the only major city in Ubangi-Shari. It is also the last town that can be reached by water north of Brazzaville. The city serves a vast area that includes Chad, inland Cameroons, and the northern half of the Middle Congo.

“If we can put a teaching hospital there, it would help lift the area toward self-sufficiency.”

“Which would ease the pressure on the French resources.”

“Yes. The consular corps throughout North America is recruiting people like you.”

“Why me?”

“Because of the work you did in Fedhala and Algeria. The work you did at MCV. What you did off Korea. And what you do every day at Saint Mary’s here in Richmond.”

“It takes more than a surgeon to set up a teaching hospital. Are you asking us to move to Bangui?”

“No. Your role would be to review our plans and watch us get started. Specifically, we’d like your expertise as a surgeon. We have administrators, researchers, and teaching professors of most specialties already.”

Jason looked at Edouard silently for a long time.

“You have more passion for this than simply carrying out orders, Edouard.”

“It shows, doesn’t it?” He smiled. “The other consuls are doing their jobs, assembling teams and forwarding recommendations, but I have a personal interest. I love the people in Bangui. And I am afraid that they are going to need surgeons very badly, very soon. I want this project to be there for them.”

“More war?”

“Worse. You did not hear me say this, but Vietnam is the tip of iceberg. I predict that in four years, my country will withdraw from central Africa, and by the end of the decade, from the rest of the continent.

“Then the nightmare will begin.”

Nancy said, “You could have pitched this in your office. Why lunch, and why me?”

“Because if you did not have Joe, I would be asking for you as a team. Your reputation at MCV and Smithson matches his. I want you both in on this offer.”

“When and how long?” asked Jason.

“We think six months. The planning is done. The Health Service in Brazzaville and Bangui would start construction after the review team helps them fix anything you can see. We figure two months. Then four months to see the project started. That should be enough to see if the actual work will proceed as planned.” He paused. “What do you think?”

“Do you have some of these plans?”

“I can send you the executive summaries and basic drawings for all the infrastructure, and the high-level planning documents for the medical school staffing and tentative curricula. Enough for you to see what the Health Service is trying to do and get an idea whether it is practical.”

“Who is doing the work?”

“The Colonial Administration, but a major goal of the project is to bring in as much local manpower as possible. We want the local population to keep it going.”

Jason and Nancy looked at each other.

“When do you need an answer?”

“Last week would be ideal, but let me know how long it will take you to look at the documents, and we’ll adjust our plans accordingly.”

“That seems fair,” said Jason. “Will you forward the materials to Smithson or Saint Mary’s?”

“To your home if you don’t mind. The involvement of non-French personnel in the project is a sensitive issue.”

“Understood. We’ll warn the housekeeper to accept the documents for us.”

They rose, shook hands, and walked to their respective afternoon commitments.


For four days, Nancy and Jason pored over the box of documents that Edouard had sent over. They took notes and discussed their impressions.

On the fourth evening, the dining room table was covered with plans, maps and typewritten reports. They had given little Joe a copy of L’Histoire de Babar to keep him from taking papers from the table. He read happily to himself (out loud) in the corner, as best he could, stopping to figure out the words from the pictures.

“Here’s another weak link between Brazzaville and Bangui,” said Nancy. “I see no discussion about how medicines get to the hospital from the free port in Brazzaville. Especially the ones that need refrigeration or special handling. Are the boats on the rivers equipped for that?”

“Good point. I think I’ve covered surgery and the emergency department as far as I can go.” Jason stood back, stretched, and refilled their wine glasses. “Let’s make one more pass, taking notes about what we don’t see – like the pharmacy and childcare center.”

“More than childcare. Relatives of urgent patients will need short-term accommodation, and they will need facilities for the families of the med students.”

“Let’s put him to bed first.” Jason sat on his heels in front of their son. “Es-tu prêt á dormir, mon fils?” Ready for bed, my son?

“Read me what Grandmaman wrote here.” Joe handed the book to his mother as Jason carried him on his shoulder.

Nancy read the inscription from her mother, which Annabelle Ardwood had penned in a beautiful cursive when she gave the book to Joe for Christmas. Joe was asleep before they reached his room.

By midnight, Nancy and Jason had assembled thirty pages of notes in French to be typed by the Consulate. Twenty of those pages came from Nancy, whose expertise in management and organization exceeded her husband’s. They had agreed to accept the proposal. Jason had more than enough vacation time backed up to qualify for a sabbatical.


Jason stepped through the door of the jetliner and almost fell backwards from the weight of the hot air pressing against him. A layer of shining dew immediately covered his suit and exposed skin as the humidity condensed on his still-cool person. Except for the initial sense of drowning for one breath, the warmth felt good. As he made his way down the ladder, he started sweating underneath his clothes.

He had been flying for four days: first from Washington to Montréal on a Colonial Airlines DC-4. There, the team of Canadians, mostly from Québec, joined him on a Comet operated by the British Overseas Airways Corporation to London. The next day, they boarded the weekly BOAC jetliner to Paris, Nice, Algiers, Casablanca and Brazzaville on its way to Cape Town.

Two days later, the team boarded river boats for the long trip up the Congo and Ubangi Rivers. It took another six days to reach their destination. Jason’s head sometimes hurt from weeks of working in French. Unlike Nancy, who had learned the language growing up, Jason had studied it in school and gained fluency during the war in Francophone Africa. It was an acquired skill, not a natural one.

“Mind a little company in English?” Jason started slightly as Leo McDermott leaned on the railing next to him. Big-shouldered and medium height, the Scottish-Canadian epidemiologist smiled and reached in his pockets for his pipe and tobacco.

“Is it that obvious?”

“No, but sometimes I wear out by the end of the day – and I grew up in Québec.”

“Thanks. I feel better.”

They scanned the riverbank in silence for a few yards, as the boat pushed against the current.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” said Jason.

“Aye, and as unspoiled a piece of earth as you’ll ever see. I hope we’re not ruining it with our so-called civilization.” He took a long puff and turned to Jason. “Good work, by the way. I came on board at the last minute, and the stuff you contributed on epidemiology and research facilities was spot-on. Couldn’t have done better myself.”

“My wife Nancy came up with all that.” To his look of surprise, he added. “She’s Head of Research at Smithson. She noticed that this hospital would be a perfect place for field studies.”

“She’s right. There are diseases in that jungle that we have never heard of.”


There are no seasons near the Equator, except for wet. Ubangi-Shari enjoyed a short dry season from December to February. By March, the experts from North America had tans that would make the girls swoon back home. By paying attention and sleeping under mosquito netting, they avoided sunburn, heat exhaustion, and malaria.

The Health Service had done a good job of quickly adjusting the plans, so that when site work began in March, things looked good on the ground. They had chosen a site on the edge of the jungle, two kilometres from the river. Jason could imagine the neighbourhood growing around the hospital, especially with the potential for a university just southeast of the site. Expansion plans included a pediatric unit.

By June, the rough site work showed where the facilities would be. Most of the fine-tuning had to do with the logistics of moving materials up the river; the design and the construction plan was sound. The advisors were looking forward to returning home at the end of the month.

On the fifteenth, Jason was looking at some plans for the nurses’ barracks when he heard shouting from the work site across the street. He knew the sound of an injured man instinctively. Grabbing the medical bag that he never let out of his sight, he ran toward the commotion.

One of the labourers guiding a steel beam held by a backhoe had slipped and fallen. The beam had swung and come out of its sling. It smashed the man’s arm and bounced away.

Jason raced to the man while the backhoe operator lowered the end of the beam away from the scene. The man should not die from a crushed arm, but Jason recognized a man falling into shock. He was screaming in Sangho. Jason recognized docteur, but the man kept pushing him away.

The backhoe operator knelt next the Jason and said to him in French.

“He says he does not want a doctor. He is afraid of your medicine.”

“Is there someone he would trust?”

“His medicine man. The tribe lives just over there.” He motioned to the north with his head.

Jason could tell that the man would soon faint. “Please ask him in Sangho if I could treat him enough to take him to his docteur.

The backhoe operator asked the wounded man in Sangho. That Jason was offering to transport him to his people seemed to calm him. He nodded. “Singila.” Thank you. And he fainted.

Jason bandaged the wounds and splinted the arm. They loaded the man into a jeep that a relative working on a nearby site brought over. They allowed Jason to ride with them into the jungle north of the newly dug earthworks. The injured worker woke up on the way.

Along the way, Jason scratched an itchy scab on his arm. The worker’s blood was still on his forearms, but Jason had worked with blood up to his elbows and thought nothing of it.

A half-hour later, the road ended. The men in the jeep got out and helped their relative to his feet on the ground. He wobbled but insisted on walking with the others. Dozens of silent men and women appeared out of the forest as they walked. They reached a clearing not ten metres across. A solitary hut stood among the trees at the edge.

A man watched them from the entrance to the hut. Somewhere between middle-aged and old, Jason thought he looked too fit for the whiteness of his hair and the lines in his face. Jason followed the trio approaching the elder but kept silent.

The elder told them to sit. Jason knew that much Sangho. When the four men were seated cross-legged around him, the elder examined the arm and looked into the eyes of the wounded man.

“Your bandage, European?” he asked Jason in French.

“Only enough to get him here safely, wanganga.” The elder arched an eyebrow at Jason’s use of the Sangho word for doctor.

“No drugs? No potions?”

“No. He only needs his arm set. You or I can do that.”

“You are an unusual European.”

“I will take that as a compliment, wanganga.

“It is. Let us do this together.” He ordered the men to bring out the chair inside the hut. Together, the two medical men undid the bandage and reset the bone. The worker used a piece of leather to bite down on, but otherwise bore the pain silently.

The elder let Jason clean the wound with antiseptic from his bag and sew up the gash. When that was done, the elder brought out a paste in a bowl and smeared it on the wound.

“May I ask what that is?”

“A salve. You would call it an antibiotic, but we have been using it for centuries to speed healing.”

“May I take some? My woman is a healer, expert in our medicines. She would be delighted to study this.”

The elder spooned some of the salve into a small jar from Jason’s bag. “A gift. Thank you for caring for our cousin.”

The jeep driver took Jason back to town.

The labourer was back in two days. The cut was closed over and healing without infection. Jason asked about the stitches, and the worker said that the wanganga told him to leave them until the weekend, that he would remove them.


“Daddeee!” With a squeal of delight, Joe grabbed Jason around the waist. His father almost tripped with the weight. He bent over his son and drew Nancy to him with his free arm. Joe put his arms around both of them while they kissed.

The family walked to the end of the platform of the Broad Street station and out to the parking lot. Twenty minutes later they were home. It was well after Joe’s bedtime, so they attended to that first. Then Nancy and Jason could make up for lost time….


A week later, Nancy woke from a deep sleep. Jason was burning hot and sweating. The clock on the nightstand showed three a.m. She eased out on her side and came back from the bathroom with some aspirin and a thermometer. Jason was awake.

“My God, Jason. One hundred one.” Nancy gave him the aspirin and a glass of water. What do you feel, dear?”

“Like I have a cold, except that it’s just the fever. Aches but no runny nose – yet.”

At dawn, his fever was 102°F. Nancy got Adele up and asked her to see Joe to day school. She drove Jason to Saint Mary’s, then came back to get ready to go to the office.

At eleven o’clock, Amelia announced a call from Saint Mary’s.

“Nancy, it’s Mel.” Melvin Schroeder was an internist and an endocrinologist. He was on a first-name basis with all the known germs and parasites in the human blood stream. Jason, Nancy and Mel had been researchers at MCV after the war.

“Is this about Jason?”

“Yes. Could you come here? It’s complicated on the phone.”

“Twenty minutes.” She hung up.

“Amelia. I’m going to Saint Mary’s. I don’t have any appointments this afternoon, do I?”

“No. You wanted to go over the office budget, but that only involves you and me.”

“Let’s do it later. I don’t know what this is about, and I don’t know when I’ll be back.”

“Give my best to Jason, and don’t worry. We have your back here.”



Melvin pointed to the settee in his office. Nancy sat. He drew up a chair.

“We’re baffled, Nancy. Here.” He took some lab reports from his desk and passed them to her. “His immune system is going nuts. We give him antibiotics for the infection, but his blood seems to eat the stuff. And he has almost no antibodies, not even for the things he was vaccinated for: smallpox, rubella, etc.”

Nancy read the figures from the lab. “Is this like that patient with a cold back before Christmas? Jason described something like this.”

“Yes. Shall we go see Jason?”

They walked to the ward together. Jason was sitting up, reading a newspaper. Nancy went to him and kissed him.

“Has Mel explained this to you?” she asked.

“Not that there is much to explain, eh, Mel?”

The three doctors looked at each other in silence. Nancy took in a sharp breath.

“What happened to your arm?” The IV site on Jason arm had a bruise spreading halfway around his elbow.

“I don’t know. The injection was unremarkable, but that’s one hell of a bruise. All since this morning.”

“We’d better stop the aspirin,” said Mel, “before that turns into something worse than a bruise.”

“What else do you feel, dear?”

“Nothing really, just tired. The fever is down, although that may be a reaction to the aspirin.”

“Good enough to go home?”

“That’s up to Mel here, but if nothing is going to change here, I might as well.”

Mel said, “Let’s take out the IV. You’re eating and drinking normally. If nothing changes overnight, we’ll discharge you in the morning.”

“I’ll bring little Joe back before supper.” Nancy kissed her husband.

“Thanks. I’d like that.”


A week later, Jason was back in the hospital with pneumonia. While there, he started losing weight, no matter how much they fed him. By September, he had lost forty pounds and was bedridden most of the time. Melvin noticed a virus on a blood test that he did not recognize, and he thought he had seen them all. The lab photographed the slides of Jason’s blood tests and sent them to the National Institutes of Health.

Every day, Nancy and Joe visited him in the hospital. Between hospital visits, Joe played in the master bedroom. Jason and Joe read stories to each other.

On Thanksgiving, he went into the hospital for the last time. His body was breaking down, eating itself from the inside. Dr. Lambert, Joe’s pediatrician, advised against having Joe near his dying father so much, but Joe sensed that his father wanted him there. Joe had never seen anyone die before, so he approached each day with his father as another day for both of them to enjoy.

Nancy understood this. She took Joe in every day.

Pearl Harbor Day was a Tuesday that year. After school, Nancy drove Joe to Saint Mary’s, where Jason was in palliative care.

Jason sat up in the bed, his face pale, the skin pulled taut over the bones of his face.

“Hi, Daddy.” Joe sat up on the bed. By now there was plenty of room for him next to his father’s shrivelled body.

“Hi, Joe.”

“You’re yellow today.”

“It’s called jaundice. My liver has failed, son.”

“That’s bad, right?”

“It just is, son. We knew this day would come, didn’t we?”

Joe nodded solemnly.

For the first time since Jason first fell ill last summer, Joe and his father cried. Silently. Nancy let her tears fall and knelt by the bed, one hand on each of her men. She saw the pulses on the monitor next to the bed get lower and lower.

“I know you two will take care of each other. Am I right?”

“Yes, Daddy.”

“Yes, dear.”

“Kiss me, lover. Hug me, son.”

They did as he asked. When they pulled back, Jason smiled and sighed.

“Thank  you. I love you both.” And he closed his eyes.

Nancy put her arms around her son. Joe hugged her back and sat on the chair with her. The monitor squealed as the trace flatlined.

© 2022, 2023 JT Hine

Art to Die for, Chapter 1 – Going home

[This novel is in production, scheduled for release in June 2023. This sample chapter may change slightly in the final version. Enjoy!]

NANCY LOCKHART AND SANDRA BILLINGSLEY stood under the portico of the Cavalieri Hilton hotel in Rome. Despite the heat, Nancy wanted to stand outside to wait for the Smithson Italia driver. She stared across the street as they talked. Sandra followed her gaze to the yellow and white five-story apartment building. The splintered hole still showed in the door to the lobby, reminding them of the assassination attempt on the Smithson Italia executive last month. She saw Nancy shiver briefly, as if echoing her own thoughts.

“It feels so strange to stay in this hotel and look at the building that was my home for twelve years,” said Nancy. “Joe grew up there.”

“Too bad he could not come with us.” Sandra felt the usual pleasant frisson when she thought of Nancy’s son.

“He had orders to report to Naples. With his priority, he’ll probably get back two weeks after we do.”

“That building has so many memories,” Sandra said, “and I only got involved in the last two years.”

“Here’s hoping the excitement is behind us for a while.” They thought about that.

A hate mail campaign against Nancy as an American executive had been exposed as a misinformation project by the leader of the neo-Fascist party trying to frame the left-wing parties. The frequent car bombings around the country and two assassination attempts on Nancy in the last few months had kept both women on top alert for far too long. Sandra had hardly been able to worry about her older brother Walter, deployed to Vietnam with the Third Marine Division. She tried to imagine what could happen next.

“Does anyone here have your address in Richmond?”

“No. Smithson forwards our personal mail.”

“We are leaving some very angry people here. I won’t relax until you are safe at home.”

“Sandra, I owe you my life. Whatever the future holds for you and Joe, I hope we’ll always be friends.”

“Me too.” She tilted her head toward the street. “There’s Adriano.”

They watched as the black sedan paused. The chauffeur looked around, then drove to the hotel entrance. He loaded their bags into the trunk while Sandra held the door for Nancy.

Soon they were heading out the Via Aurelia to pick up the Grande Raccordo Anulare, the ring road that would take them around the Eternal City to the Via Ostiense.

As they turned toward the coast and the Fiumicino International Airport, Sandra asked Adriano, “Sono come questa tutte le macchine con autista?” Are all the chauffeured cars like this one? They continued in Italian.

“Most of them. Black, heavy, and fast. Why, signorina?”

“Just thinking ahead. There are usually two or three lined up to deliver passengers at the Departures Terminal, aren’t there?”


“You’re making me nervous,” said Nancy, also in Italian.

“Adriano, leave us off short of the entrance and let the others take the spaces by the door.”

“I understand, miss.” He smiled in the rearview mirror. “Brava.”

“What’s that all about, Sandra?” She had developed a healthy respect for the young FBI employee’s instincts.

“It will be their last chance to try something on you, and I’m not off duty yet.”

Four black sedans came off the Via Ostiense with them. Adriano let them pass. At the terminal, he took a spot well back from the entrance. Sandra held the door for Nancy again, scanning the delivery zone and the surrounding buildings as the former Smithson Italia vice-president got out.

“Don’t come in with us,” said Nancy. “We’ll take the luggage, and you can take the car back.”

He placed their suitcases on the sidewalk. Each woman had only one. They had shipped everything else to Richmond.

“So long, Adriano. I will miss you.”

“Come back to us, signora,” he said, choking slightly. He gasped as Nancy gave him a hug.

Arrivederci, allora.” So long, then.

Sandra and Nancy picked up their luggage and walked toward the entrance.

“This way, Nancy.” She motioned to the side door.

Just as they stepped into the vestibule, a flash outside triggered an instinctive reaction. Sandra whirled to the right and dove on top of Nancy, pushing them to the floor.

Glass exploded into the terminal, followed by the sound of the explosion, then the pieces of debris. Passersby screamed, and the hot blast from the limousine blew over the two women.

From her position on top of Nancy, Sandra looked around. People were running away from the scene, while police and Carabinieri ran toward it. The burning sedan cast a frightening light over the three bodies crumpled against the frame of the entrance and the sidewalk.

“Are you okay?” She stood and helped Nancy to her feet. Both women could feel their hands shaking, but this was not the time to deal with that.

“A little sore where my chest fell on the suitcase.”

“Let’s get out of here.”

They walked quickly into the frigid air conditioning of the terminal and found the check-in counter for Trans World Airlines. It was far enough away that the personnel were only beginning to react. As soon as they had checked their bags and collected their boarding passes, police appeared to order the staff to close.

At the gate, they were ushered immediately to the aircraft. The attendant said, “We have clearance to depart, and the pilot wants to take off before they change their minds.”

As Sandra sat in her seat, she felt a sharp pain in her back.

“Do I have something in my back?” She leaned forward.

“Oh my God. It’s a shard of glass. Hold still.” Nancy pushed the call button for the attendant, then undid her belt so she could twist toward Sandra. She pulled Sandra’s blouse up behind her head. Pulling a handkerchief from her purse, Nancy extracted the six-inch long fragment, which had slid up Sandra’s back, slicing her blouse and lodging under her bra strap. Nancy held the bloody handkerchief on the wound.

“Please fasten your seatbelt, ma’am – what?!”

“Would you get a first aid kit, please?” Nancy said to the shocked attendant. “I need to disinfect a small area on her back. I’m a doctor, and this is not an emergency.”

The attendant hurried to the galley and came back with the kit.

Nancy cleaned and bandaged the wound created by Sandra’s sitting back on the shard. “Another half-inch and that bra would be doing you no good at all.” She buckled up and returned the kit to the attendant with thanks. “Let’s worry about your bloody wardrobe in the States, shall we?”

“Yes, doctor.” Sandra smiled at her. Each woman felt the adrenaline rush drain away as the aircraft taxied to the runway.


Midshipman Third Class Jason Joseph Lockhart, Jr., US Navy, approached the passenger service counter at the US Naval Air Facility Capodichino in Naples, Italy. His khaki shirt stuck to his undershirt and skin, and the damp summer heat pressed more moisture on him.

The yeoman on duty scanned his orders.

“Priority Three, sir. We have one flight each to Rota and McGuire. The Stateside plane is full. Would you like to take the C-130 to Rota and wait there?”

“Are the chances better there?”

“Yes, sir. Two flights a day to McGuire. You should come up with a seat in a few days. They also have a bigger barracks.”

“I came through Rota on the way in but didn’t get to see anything. Let’s do it.”

An hour later, he nestled into the webbing on the lumbering cargo plane and dozed off for three hours.


“Nancy! Sandra!” The tall couple standing outside the crowd to the left waved. Sandra took both suitcases, so Nancy could hug her parents long and hard.

Sandra had enjoyed getting to know Brigadier General Matthew Ardwood and his Parisian wife, Annabelle Dampierre, last year when they invited her to Richmond for Thanksgiving and Spring Break. She had also been an awestruck fan of Nancy Ardwood Lockhart since before she met the trailblazing executive in Rome. Seeing the Ardwoods gathered in a loving family reunion made the emotion swell in her throat. She blinked hard to stem the tears. She had never pictured Joe’s mother, her amazing hero, as a tender daughter herself, hugging her parents as if they might vanish on her.

After a short while, the three stood back to savor the reality that Nancy was not home for a holiday visit. The other passengers on the Silver Meteor flowed past them to the exits of the Broad Street station.

Soon, Matthew was driving them to the West End of Richmond, Virginia, to the antebellum house in which Nancy had grown up. Adele, the housekeeper, and François, the gardener, were waiting when they drove up. Nancy hugged the two Dampierre retainers before everyone moved indoors.

“How do you feel about having Joe’s old room?” asked her father. “I cleared out of the study downstairs to free it up for you. The master bedroom is big enough for my small desk.”

“Anything you want to do is fine, Dad. His room is bigger than my room in Rome.”

“Good, then. Sandra, you’ll be across the hall. When do you have to go back to Washington?”

“Next weekend.”

“Any word on Joe?”

“He took the train to Naples. He’ll probably call from McGuire Air Force Base when he gets in.”

“Until then, no news is good news.” He motioned to the stairs. “Meet us on the veranda after you move in and freshen up.”


Nancy pulled the new white Alfa Romeo 1750 into the space marked “Dr. Lockhart” near the main door. She suppressed a momentary panic at the sight of her name so prominently displayed.

Inside, she headed for the elevators, stopped, and turned to the Facilities Management office on the ground floor.

The receptionist beamed a pleasant smile at her. Brunette, maybe Joe’s age, fresh with the enthusiasm of her first job. Nancy looked at the nameplate, “M. Berkeley.”

“Hello, Miss Berkeley. Is Jerry Leake still the Director of Facilities Management?”

“No, ma’am. Mr. Leake retired last year. Mr. Berken took over.”

“Dale Berken from MCV?” The Medical College of Virginia.

“Yes, ma’am. He arrived over the summer.”

“Is he in?”

“Whom may I say is here?”

“Nancy Lockhart.”

Miss Berkeley punched a button on her phone. “There’s a Mrs. Nancy Lockhart here to see Mr. Berken.” She pulled the handset from her ear when the secretary in the Director’s office shouted something. Nancy smiled: it had been a long time since a new employee had not recognized her. “She said to come on back. Do you know the way?”

“If they haven’t moved since last year, yes. Thank you, Miss Berkeley.”

As she walked around the desk, the door to the rest of the department flew open. Dale Berken held it.

“Nancy – Doctor Lockhart. What a pleasure! Have you been back long?”

“Just a week, Dale. How are you doing?”

“Great. I’m sorry our new receptionist didn’t recognize you.”

“She was very professional and welcoming. Don’t scare her off.” Nancy shook hands with Dale’s secretary. “Good to see you again, Margaret.”

“Welcome back, Doctor Lockhart.”

“Thanks.” They went into his office.

“Can I get you anything?”

“No, thanks, Dale. I’m on my way upstairs, but I have a request. Could you arrange a meeting with security? Is that still Pete Wembly?”

“Major Pete is still our head cop. What’s up?”

“Let me walk around for a couple of days before we meet, but I have one item for you now. My parking place.”

“What’s wrong?”

“I need not to be so easily identified and targeted. Could we give me a spot farther from the door and without my name and job on it? I don’t mind a few extra steps.”

“You’re home now, Nancy.”

“But still a target apparently.” She explained the car bombing at the airport.

“Consider it done. I read about the way you dodged the shotgun attack.” He paused. “Do you prefer to dive to the right or the left? I’ll pick a spot that puts the flower beds on your favorite side.”

“Right side, then, wise guy.” She turned to the door. “I hope not to make a lot of changes, but that one worried me.”

“Welcome home, Nancy. Pete and I have your back.”



Joe Lockhart paused only a second before descending from the southbound Silver Meteor. He wasn’t sure who to expect, but his mother’s auburn hair shone over the crowd.

“Thanks for picking me up, Mom.” He gave her a hard hug. “You’re easy to spot.”

“So is a naval uniform.” Servicemen in uniform paid half price for train tickets. “Welcome home, Joe.”

They joined the people moving toward Broad Street outside.

“It really is home now, isn’t it?” he said.

“It is. Sometimes, I feel like I’ve only been on a long business trip, then some big change surprises me.”

“I can imagine – wow! That’s one change!”

“It took no time to confirm that I needed a car.” She opened the driver’s door of the Alfa Romeo. “So why not something that doesn’t handle like Noah’s Ark?”

He tossed his seabag in the back and got in the passenger’s side.

“Is this Berlina as zippy as the GT model?”

“I don’t know, but it has all the pep I need.” She downshifted and passed four cars before taking a smooth left turn into the neighborhood. “Aunt Mary will be here for the weekend too.”

“Are the courts ready for us?”

“Your grandfather warned them, and RLTA threw a party when I showed up.” Richmond Lawn Tennis Association. She parked behind a racing-green MG.

The delegation on the porch included Joe’s grandparents, Matthew and Annabelle Ardwood, and Matthew’s sister Mary. Joe paused to relish the unfamiliar pleasure of seeing them together.

Only his grandfather and great-aunt Mary had some distinguished gray in their hair. Like his mother’s rich auburn hair, Annabelle’s pale blond drew the eye away from the maturity of her face, which was clear and smooth. The whole family was tall, with the slim, athletic grace of superior tennis players.

After long hugs, they moved to the veranda on the back of the house. Matthew poured Moselle for everyone as they admired the sunset. They could smell the coq au vin in the oven.

“You have mail, Joe.” His grandfather went into the house and came back with a small stack of envelopes. “Already two from Sandra, who only left last week, and one from Diego.” Joe’s roommate last year at the University of Virginia. “The others look like business.”

“Thanks, Grandpa.” He put Sandra’s letters in his pocket to read alone. He opened the letter from Midn. 4/c D. de la Torre, USN, Sixth Company, Bancroft Hall, US Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland. “I still can’t believe Diego went to Annapolis.”

“How did that work out?” asked Nancy. “We have his things in the attic.”

“I thought my orders to the Mediterranean were a surprise, but Diego’s appointment arrived the day he was to board the bus to Norfolk.” Joe took a sip of his wine. “He always said his plan was to make a career, but he never expected to win an appointment to the Naval Academy. The principal was the son of a political friend of his congressman.”

“What happened?” asked Matthew.

“The principal crashed his car the day before graduation. Diego was first alternate; the congressman offered him the spot.”

“I hope he’s happy. Starting over like this means he is really serious.” The Naval Academy required everyone to start as plebes, so Diego would be commissioned a year later than their UVA class.

Joe read the letter quickly. “He says now that Plebe Summer is over, things are less crazy. He is one of the older plebes, and the upperclassmen have more fun with the high school graduates.” He laughed and looked up. “You know he takes a lot of grief for his dark complexion, don’t you?”

“You took your share of grief being his friend,” said Matthew. “Stupid people. Diego’s family was farming the Central Valley of California before the Puritans arrived on the Mayflower.” Sergeant Carlos de la Torre had fought at Guadalcanal in Matthew’s regiment and earned a battlefield commission there. The Californian lieutenant and the Virginian colonel had bonded in that crucible of fire.

“But he looks Moorish,” said Annabelle, “not African at all.”

Joe said, “Apparently, an upperclassman called him a nigger. They were in the hall outside the company officer’s office. Diego locked the other guy’s arms behind him, marched him into the office and asked the lieutenant if he heard that. He had, and no one harasses Diego anymore.”

Matthew chuckled. “I love that guy. I’ll write to him myself to remind him that we will still be his East Coast base.”

“Do that, Dad,” said Nancy. “I’m sorry I missed meeting him.” She asked Joe, “Weren’t you two going to get a place off Grounds this year?”

“Mrs. Page called,” his grandfather said. Sandra had stayed at Mrs. Page’s guest house when visiting Joe last year. “She said that she has a vacancy in a one-man room. She knows that you would prefer a place where Sandra could spend the night, but it would be easier to house-hunt from her place.”

“I’d much rather stay there than in the residence halls. May I call her tonight?”

“It’s your home, Joe. You can use the phone and anything else here. Just let me know if you call overseas, so I’m not surprised by the bill.”

Aunt Mary asked Nancy, “Can he afford a place off Grounds?”

“Converting to regular NROTC made the college budget much easier.” Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps. She tipped her glass toward her son. “Just don’t make a habit of earning it like you did last summer.”

“Tell us about that,” asked Mary, “or is that classified?”

“Most of it isn’t. Mom told you about the midshipman cruise in USS Point Defiance in the Mediterranean, and you knew about the hate campaign against her in Italy. Remember the historic haul of stolen and forged paintings that was in the news?” The others nodded. “One of men arrested in Rome ordered the hate campaign and the attacks on me and Mom. He is behind bars now awaiting trial and his political career is finished.”

“So, are you safe now?” she asked Nancy.

“Maybe, but General Arcibaldo has his base of supporters. We don’t know if the bomb at the airport was intended for me, but—” Nancy shrugged.

“Not very comforting,” said Annabelle.

“You are right, Grandmaman,” said Joe, “but with the extra training in Tony Madison’s martial arts studio in Charlottesville, I hope I can keep safe.” He asked his mother, “what about Smithson?”

“I’ve moved the obvious signs around the campus, like my parking place and my office. I had a meeting and a walk-through with Pete Wembly, our security chief. He’ll contact the local FBI and police, so they can be alert for threats to me or the company. That’s as much as we can do right now.”

“Would they attack Smithson headquarters?” asked Matthew.

“I don’t know, Dad. Pete has implemented several changes since last year.”

The oven timer dinged. Leaving their wine on the dining table, they gathered in the kitchen and put supper out, while Joe called Mrs. Page back. He would move in Sunday.

“How’s the new job, Mom?” Joe passed the roasted potatoes.

“I think I will like it. More business management, more research and development, and more frequent contact with investors and the Board than I had in Italy.”

“Luke works for you now?” He grinned.

Luke Arland had been a colleague in Rome, but now worked in the New York office. The family knew that he had helped Nancy finally grow past her grief years after Joe’s father died by an unknown virus. For that, they were all grateful.

“Not really. He is still Vice President for Strategy and Investment. Headquarters would have brought him to Richmond years ago, except that travel is easier from New York, and our major investors are there.”

Dinner and post-prandial conversation lasted until midnight. Saturday, they played tennis hard and fast on the courts at the University of Richmond. Sunday after church, Mary drove home to Amherst, Virginia, where she taught at Sweet Briar College. Matthew took the others to Charlottesville, so Joe could move in, and the family could treat their friend to dinner. Eleanor Page had been a guest of the Ardwoods in Paris and Berlin during her opera tours as a soprano before the war.


Monday morning, Joe rode his bicycle to the University of Virginia. He stopped at the NROTC Unit and the Department of Italian, Spanish and Portuguese to let the respective secretaries know that he was in town and to give them Mrs. Page’s address and phone number. He made an appointment for Tuesday to call on Captain Norwood, the commanding officer of the unit. The following Saturday the incoming first-year midshipmen would take the oath. Check-in for the academic year would start on Wednesday after that.

[This weekend we return to the backstory of this series with a story from the Korean War. Enjoy!) 


“There. Finish up, nurse, thank you.” Her wide, brown eyes did not change expression as she waited for instructions. “Sorry. Et voilà. Je vous laisse finir, madame.”

Bien sûr, docteur. Allez vous reposer.” Sure, doctor. Go get some rest. She reached for the bandage tape, and began cleaning and covering the incision. She was the third nurse to assist him today. An American WAC, a Scottish nurse from the British Army, and this local civilian who volunteered. The patients were just as varied. Continue reading