Ghost Marina on the Mississippi

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Chapter 45 – Research – Modern Day

At just before 10:00 AM on Monday morning Jason was driving up Caroline’s driveway in his truck. During the weekend he had explained to his daughters the reason for his extended stay, which hadn’t gone down at all well. Jason had also taken the U.S. currency to David for evaluation and sale. David confirmed that Caroline had indeed contacted him with instructions to move on the jewelry and he felt that with the buyers he had amongst his clientele he didn’t think it would be long before everything was sold.

As Jason left his truck, Caroline was there to greet him, she was dressed casually in a tight white T-shirt, jeans and not so elegant bunny slippers which were a little the worse for wear, they immediately caught Jason’s attention.

“Good morning, nice slippers,” Jason said, pointing to her footwear.

“Hey, don’t make fun of my bunnies, they’re comfy.” Caroline playfully berated him. “Come on through.” She walked through the hallway, passed the room where they had met last week and headed towards the back of the house. Jason followed her until they came to her office that was adjacent to a spacious kitchen. The office was large with two walls filled with books and a very big oak, writing bureau in the center of the room that was stuffed with stationery and a desktop computer. The bureau faced a patio door that looked out to what appeared to be open countryside and behind him, against the wall with the door he had just entered, was a bank of filing cabinets. Caroline pulled up an office chair and indicated to Jason to sit down.

“The coffee should just about be brewed, make yourself comfortable while I go and pour out a couple of cups,” Caroline said.

“How is your family?” Caroline shouted out as she headed to the kitchen.

“None too pleased, but I promised I would go home next weekend, even if it was only for a visit,” Jason shouted back. But before anything further was spoken, Caroline had returned with a tray containing two mugs of coffee and a plate of the obligatory English biscuits.

“I’m a bit more prepared for this visit,” Caroline commented as she laid down the tray on the edge of the bureau.

“Wow, I’ll have to steal a few cookies to take back to the boys,” Jason joked, “otherwise they’d never forgive me.”

“No need,” Caroline replied, “I have a packet for you to take to them. They are a nice group of chaps, aren’t they?”

“They sure are. They have not only been a great help, but they’ve turned out to be great friends too,” Jason replied with not a little sincerity, “rare in this day an age.”

“Right you are!” Caroline responded. Jason followed Caroline’s lead and picked up a mug of coffee in one hand and a biscuit in the other, which she proceeded to dunk. Jason merely followed suit as she started the proceedings.

“So, what do you know of your grandfather’s shipmate?” Caroline asked, between munches of her biscuit. Unfortunately, Jason had let his cookie dwell too long in the coffee and as it was extracted, it broke off and fell back into the cup with a plop. Embarrassed, Jason merely mumbled an apology.

“Worry not, it takes practice,” Caroline said as she passed Jason a couple of tissues to mop up the splashes of coffee and thought no more about the mishap.

“Name, family, whereabouts?” Caroline continued as she prepared to dunk a second biscuit. Jason watched carefully and actually timed the dunk, not believing what he was doing.

“Tony Lawless, that was his name,” Jason said, now thoroughly enjoying the experience of a dunked English biscuit for the first time.

“That’s it?” Caroline asked incredulously. She had finished her biscuit and was now all business with a pencil in one hand and a big legal yellow pad in the other. “That’s all you have?”

“’Fraid so,” was all Jason could reply.

“And you have no idea where he was from?” Caroline asked with some frustration.

“Nope,” was all Jason could muster.

“So, Jason, how did you expect to locate this guy’s family based on just a name?” Caroline asked as she placed her writing implements on the bureau.

“Hadn’t given it a thought.” Jason replied, “but now that you mention it, yes, it is a tough ask.”

“Tough! That’s a bit of an understatement.” Caroline replied. “This would have taken you forever!”

“I’m retired, it would give me something to do,” Jason replied as though it was no problem at all. Caroline just shook her head.

“Well, we could start with naval records.” Caroline suggested, “we can search for Anthony or Tony Lawless and we can assume he would be listed as MIA on the same date as your grandfather. Do you recall what date that was?”

“Don’t know for certain,” Jason said and thought about it for a few seconds, “but it would have to have been around the 20th May 1944. That was the day they arrived at the St. Louis marina. By the way, what’s MIA?”

“Well, that’s a start I suppose,” Caroline replied as she picked up her pencil and made a note of the date. “Missing in Action, in answer to your question.”

“Ah, of course it is, should have known that, seen enough war movies,” Jason said. By then, Caroline had turned to her computer and had begun typing in commands.

“Where are you looking first?” Jason asked.

“National Archives,” Caroline replied.

“Good luck with that, it took me ages to get the information I needed, and I was a relative,” Jason said despondently. But Caroline carried on regardless and was looking down at a list of websites on her desk and after finding what she was looking for, she keyed in a few characters and the next thing they knew she had a list of seamen with the name ‘Lawless’ being displayed on her screen.

“How did you do that?” Jason asked surprised.

“Told you, I have good resources,” Caroline replied. She then filtered the list by adding ‘Anthony’ to the search criteria which reduced the return count to a mere 24 items. Fortunately, the start and end dates of the seamen’s service record were listed on the same screen and they only had to scroll down to the second page to find an Anthony Lawless whose service terminated 1944-05-20. To be certain, they also checked the remaining ‘Anthonys’ as well as the ‘Tonys’ but there were no others with a date anywhere close to the one they were interested in.

“So, let’s see what they can tell us about Mr. Anthony Lawless.” Caroline said out loud, and she pressed the key indicating ‘Personal Details’. The only relevant data to them that they could find was the next-of-kin details which displayed:

NAME: Mr. & Mrs. Angelo Lawless RELATION: Parents

ADDRESS: 6137 Wyatt Street

CITY: Chicago STATE: IL

Caroline selected a screen print of the details and a whirring sound caught Jason’s attention as a printer in the right-hand-side cabinet of the bureau delivered the printed page.

“So far so good,” Caroline said, and she signed out of the naval site and deftly entered another search engine to seek information regarding Tony’s parents. Initially, their findings confirmed that Tony’s parents had indeed once been at that address, but they must have moved shortly after Tony’s death and all trace of them seemed to have disappeared. After a further couple of hours of fruitless searching, Caroline decided they would stop for lunch.

“Hungry?” She asked Jason.

“Sure,” Jason replied, and he followed her into the kitchen as she began to prepare lunch.

“There’s a bottle of white wine chilling in the fridge why don’t you pour us both a glass?” Caroline asked as she scurried around the kitchen. “The glasses are already out.” She said, pointing to an area on the spacious island that also served as a breakfast bar. “By the way, I hope you’re not allergic to anything,” Caroline asked as she continued to scurry around the kitchen preparing the food.

“Nothing I know of,” Jason replied as he began to search for a corkscrew.

“Drawer next to the fridge!” Caroline said without turning around. “That’s good because the soup I have made contains lots of herbs and spices. Don’t know what it’s going to turn out like.”

“I’m sure it will be fine.” Jason replied, now attempting to open the wine, “it has to be pretty bad for me to not like soup.”

After a little more chit-chat, lunch was ready, and they sat at the breakfast bar to eat a meal of tomato and pepper soup, Caesar salad together with ham and cheese sandwiches. This was followed by a strawberry sponge cake and a cup of tea.

“Would you like another piece of cake Jason?” Caroline asked, “you seemed to have scoffed that piece down quick enough.”

“No, no, please.” Jason replied holding out his hands as though he was asking for mercy. “I couldn’t eat another thing, that was delicious. Did you make all that yourself?”

“No, I have a team of fairies that prepare everything,” Caroline replied laughing. “Of course I cooked it myself, who do you think did it?”

“Oh, sorry, just wasn’t expecting, you know, someone like yourself to well…” Jason was spluttering his way through his reply.

“I’m of English heritage and I love to cook, simple as that,” Caroline replied then she rose to begin clearing away. Jason gathered some of the dirty plates and utensils while Caroline stored away the condiments.

“You know,” Caroline mused as she closed the pantry door, “if I’m not mistaken, that Chicago address for the next-of-kin is in Little Italy. They were a tight group, especially during the war years. Maybe I should direct my investigation to contacting a couple of the Italian Associations to see if they could help locate the parents.”

“Sure!” Jason replied, not quite knowing how to respond. “But Lawless isn’t a very Italian sounding name is it?”

“No, it’s not, but they lived in the community, so you would think someone would have known them,” Caroline replied slowly, still trying to think the problem through.

“Look, I haven’t been much help to you out there, why don’t I clean up here and let you have at it?” Jason offered.

“Right.” Caroline replied absently and then came back to reality, “oh just put everything in the dishwasher, I can tend to it later.”

By the time Jason joined Caroline back in her office, she had printed numerous sheets containing the addresses and phone numbers of various organizations in Little Italy. Some of the associations had a contact email address so they agreed to share the load with Jason emailing those he could and Caroline phoning the others. But they were not getting much luck there either, most of the emails were bounced back as invalid addresses and of the organizations that were still in existence they did not have full-time staff and they would have to wait until the evening or weekend to speak to somebody. They both agreed that enough research had been carried out for one day and Jason decided to take his leave. He declined another beverage but agreed to return in the morning to continue the research.

“Oh, before you go,” Caroline said, and she quickly returned to the kitchen to retrieve a packet of the English biscuits Jason had enjoyed earlier that day. “For the guys.”

“They’re going to love you.” Was all that Jason could muster, then he said his farewell and headed back to his boat.

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