Ghost Marina on the Mississippi

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Chapter 25 – The Who is Revealed – Modern Day

The next morning at just before the designated meeting time, Jason was talking to Charlie when Chuck arrived. Pleasantries were exchanged and before long, Bill drove up in his six-cylinder Cherry Red 52 Chevrolet Styleline Deluxe convertible, his pride and joy. Archie was in the passenger seat, Bill had picked him up on the way. Jason suggested they make the trip in Bill’s car, but Jason was told it was only used for short trips, even though Barnhart was less than a 10-mile round trip. It was probably a shorter trip to Barnhart than from the marina to Bill’s house!

Bill told Chuck the address he had received from his son, Chuck said he knew where it was, and it would only be a short ten-minute drive to the home, be there by 10:00, he said. On the short journey to their destination Jason decided not to share the information he had gleaned from the log the previous evening, at least not yet, he would wait until they had talked to Laarsen to see if there would be anything he said that would corroborate his theory.

Sure enough, they were at the door of the home just before 10:00 AM and it was indeed a home, albeit a large one. Jason rang the bell at the front door and waited until a very pleasant looking lady opened the door.

“Good morning, can I help you?” The lady asked, surprised to see four men standing on her threshold.

“Good morning, my name is Jason Clifford and I am trying to trace the whereabouts of my grandfather. My research has led me to believe that a Mr. Laarsen, who is staying here, may be able to help me with my inquiries.” Jason explained, maybe a little too official sounding because the lady was still a little doubtful as she looked at the three other men.

“Hi, I’m Chuck, the owner of the marina down the road, lived there all my life, I’ve known Mr. Laarsen since I was a youngster when he was posted to guard the State Marina.”

“We’re friends of the Laarsens, our kids played together.” Bill added.

“That’s how we knew of Mr. Laarsen and the fact that he may be able to help Jason here.” Archie explained. The lady was warming to them a little, but obviously still not convinced.

“Would you mind waiting here for a moment,” the lady said and was about to close the door when she opened it again, “sorry, what were your names again?” Specifically asking Chuck and Bill.

“My name is Chuck Bailey, and this is Bill Lawrence, old man Laarsen will remember us.” Chuck said with a smile. The lady was only gone for a few minutes when she returned and opened the door.

“Come on through.” She said with a big smile. “My name is Mary, my husband, Greg, retired early, and we didn’t want a bed and breakfast thing, but we did like the idea of hosting guests. So, we compromised, bought this house and converted it to accommodate a few seniors in their old age.”

“How’s it working out for you?” Jason asked as they walked through a well-lit hallway to a conservatory at the back of the house. The conservatory was roomy with plenty of natural light overlooking a small creek running through the bottom of a well-kept garden.

“Love it, we’ve been doing it for a couple of years now, no regrets,” Mary replied, “anyway, here’s Mr. Laarsen. Would you gentlemen prefer tea or coffee?” Mary asked. To a man they all replied coffee.

“Whoa, look at you! How are you?” Bill said to Mr. Laarsen with a laugh and a light punch on the man’s arm.

“Hey Bill, I’m doing fine, what’s the occasion? My funeral isn’t to-day is it?” Mr. Laarsen said with a soft but coherent voice, then he saw Chuck. “Oh, hi Chuck, what’s happening?”

“Hi, Mr. Laarsen, same old, same old,” Chuck replied.

“This here is Archie, not sure whether you know him, he moved in a few years after you moved out of town.” Bill pointed to Archie and he reached in to shake Mr. Laarsen’s hand.

“And this is the star of the show, Jason, he’s got some questions that you might be able to help him with,” Bill explained, then it was Jason’s turn to shake the man’s hand. The hand of the man was thin and bony, the skin was like parchment and his grip was feeble, but his eyes were a bright blue and full of life.

“Oh really?” Replied Mr. Laarsen, “not sure I will be able to help you, but I’ll certainly try.”

They exchanged a few more pleasantries until Mary returned with coffees and a tray of cookies that were not going to last very long with the gannets Jason had accompanied to the home. Just after Mary left, Bill stated the purpose of their visit.

“Mr. Laarsen, do you remember when you first got posted to the State Marina back in ’44?” Bill asked.

“Sure do. That was my first posting after training, my only posting in fact. I fully expected to be sent to the front but was my mother ever happy when I got sent there.” Mr. Laarsen replied with a nostalgic smile.

“When did you arrive there Mr. Laarsen?” Jason asked.

“May 21st about 3:00 PM. I remember because we had lunch en route and when we arrived, we had to get our tents up before we could eat dinner.” Mr. Laarsen replied.

“Do you remember if the gates to the marina were open then?” Jason asked. The others were all listening intently to Jason’s questioning as they began to devour the tray of cookies.

“They were closed, but we weren’t allowed anywhere near them, we were ordered to stay outside of a perimeter about fifty yards away from the entrance. The day after we arrived another army engineering group came in to build a wall all the way around the marina. We were never allowed to fraternize with them but the strangest thing, they built the wall across the entrance so none of us ever knew what was so secret inside that marina. Whatever it was, no one could get to it, well not by road anyway.” Mr. Laarsen said, as mystified that day as he was when he was just a teenage rookie sent directly from basic training.

“So, you were one of the first of the soldiers to arrive, is that right?” Jason asked.

“That’s right, the first.” Mr. Laarsen confirmed.

“So, where did your orders come from?” Jason asked.

“You know the saying, ‘not for me to reason why, mine is but to do and die’. We just did as we were told.” Mr. Laarsen replied.

For the time being Jason was stumped, it looked like he had come to another brick wall in his investigation.

“But someone must have known what had to be done surely?” Archie asked. Mr. Laarsen thought for a minute.

“Funny you should say that. When we arrived, the lead truck was heading for the marina, that was the address the driver had been given. But out of nowhere, this big guy suddenly appeared, flanked by three other suspicious looking fellows. The main man asked to speak to whoever was in charge.” Mr. Laarsen recalled, “that would have been old Sherlock, his real name was Major Holmes, so everyone called him Sherlock. Sherlock came forward and the strange man produced some papers then he began pointing and gesturing.”

“Was he military do you think?” Asked Jason.

“Oh yes, for sure. But he was dressed in old, dark clothes, as were the other three men but it was difficult to see their faces, they were a real mystery.” Mr. Laarsen said. The other four men all looked at each other, thinking the same question. Was it just his choice to use the word ‘mystery’ to describe the men or merely a coincidence?

“Sorry, if they were not in uniform, what makes you so sure they were military?” Jason asked.

“Harry, my buddy, was Sherlock’s right-hand man, he was standing beside him when the stranger told him his rank and name. He told us later what went down. Apparently, the man’s name was Captain Beardsley, he didn’t say who he was assigned to, but he pulled out a letter and showed it to Sherlock. Now, Harry didn’t get to read what was in that letter but from there on in, Sherlock was like a doting puppy, even though he outranked the stranger, so whatever was in that authorization was pretty heavy-duty. Then, until the wall was built those guys hung around the entrance to the marina to prevent anyone getting close, never saw them talk to anyone but themselves. But once that wall was finished, never saw them again. It was like they never existed.” Mr. Laarsen said.

Everyone just sat back and thought about what they had just been told. Jason was now convinced everything that happened in the State marina on May 20th, 1944 had to be down to Captain Beardsley, that’s where the trail was now leading.

“One more thing Mr. Laarsen,” Jason asked, “when did they stop having a guard around the marina?”

“We pulled out May ’50, just upped and left. Of course, I was married to Jessie by then, the Korean conflict hadn’t started so I was allowed to leave the army and stay put.” Mr. Laarsen replied.

“That’s it? No police or any other security organization took over from your company?” Chuck asked incredulously.

“Not as far as I can recall, the signs stayed though.” Mr. Laarsen said casually.

“So that marina has just been sitting there empty all these years.” Chuck said, then added, “whatever for?”

“Well, nobody could get in from the road, that’s for sure.” Mr. Laarsen said.

“Sure as hell couldn’t get in from the river either.” Chuck confirmed, “so why was a perfectly good marina just left to rot?”

“I think I can answer that,” Jason said, stunning all the men into silence, “but I need to carry out some research on our Captain Beardsley before I can be certain.”

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