Lenny was getting tired. He was cleaning out his grandmother’s closet when he discovered a torn piece of material, roughly 3 x 4 inches under a pile of shoes. He shrugged and brought it to his nose, musty, like a cellar or used bookstore or his grandmother before she passed. It was folded in half. He rubbed thin fingers across one side, silver with a matte finish. The strange fabric reminded him of an old worn out mercury dime. Made of an unfamiliar cottony canvas, it looked like it was from another world. It was pliable, the reverse side a mottled and faded brick red, rough and granular to the touch. He folded it and unfolded it a couple of times.
“Ever see anything like this?” he shouted across the apartment.
“Like what?” Rose stopped filling a carton of kitchen items and walked into the bedroom. Lenny handed her the enigmatic textile. Rose turned it over twice and shrugged. “Toss it with the rest of this crap. Lenny, if you’re going to examine every scrap of garbage we’ll never get done. C’mon, I really want to be finished and out of here in an hour, two at the most.”
“That’s the problem with you Rose, no sentimentality.”
“It’s nothing. It’s an old piece of I don’t know what and neither do you. Just pack up the shoes, finish in the bedroom, then we can clean the place up and get out.”
“This thing must have meant something to her. Why else would she have kept it?”
Rose turned and headed back toward the kitchen. “She didn’t keep it. It’s garbage.”
Lenny noticed a beaten up shoebox tucked into the corner of an otherwise empty shelf. Inside were dozens of letters and postcards bearing two- and three-cent stamps, all addressed to his grandmother. Lenny walked toward the kitchen. “Rose, stop a minute. Look at these.”
She shrugged her shoulders. “Now what?”
“Love letters,” Lenny said pointing to the box. “Check this out.” Lenny pulled a random postcard from the pile. “They’re written by my grandfather. Poor guy was killed in the service, friendly fire during a training mission. That was the official word, anyway.”
“Yup, him and one of his buddies. I can’t remember his friend’s name. Something with an H, I think. My grandmother never talked about it. No one in my family spoke about it. I don’t know.”
“You don’t know what?”
“I don’t know… I mean, grandma always seemed afraid. Nervous. Maybe I’m imagining things. Let’s bring these letters home, and some rainy day we’ll go through them. They’re definitely worth keeping.”
Lenny flipped channels. “Nothing’s on as usual.” It was early March, snowing, and the two had the day off. “Let’s make some popcorn.”
With Rose in the kitchen, Lenny stopped surfing at the movie channel. “Rose! Look!”
On screen were George C. Scott and Anne Bancroft. “I think it’s The Hindenburg.”
“So?” questioned Rose. She disappeared for several minutes. Lenny smelled the buttery scent escaping from the kitchen.
“So, I’ve never been allowed to watch it.”
“Reminded everyone of my granddad.”
Rose had a big bowl of popcorn in one hand and a shoebox in the other. “Remember these? Let’s read some of these letters from your grandfather. What do you say?”
Lenny shrugged. “Okay, you go first.”
Rose pulled a letter from the stack and read it aloud. “So sweet,” she said. “Your grandfather was a real charmer.”
“Just like me,” teased Lenny.
“Self praise is no praise,” replied Rose as she grabbed a handful of popcorn.
The two took turns reading the letters. Neither was paying much attention to the movie. Lenny plucked a small, worn brown manila envelope from the shoebox. The envelope’s flap was barely attached. The little metal clasp had broken off long ago, fatigued following constant use. He carefully removed the contents, unfolded the paper and began reading to himself. His jaw dropped. Rose was working on the popcorn before realizing that Lenny was silent.
“What’s it say?” she asked. “No fair. Read it out loud.”
Lenny lowered the letter and stared at Rose. He then looked at the letter, licked his lips, and said, “You’re not going to believe this.”
“What?” questioned Rose. She moved another palm full of popcorn into her mouth.
“This is crazy.” The envelope was postmarked May 8, 1937 from Lakehurst, New Jersey. “Okay, listen to this. My dear Sarah, I don’t have much time. I’m stationed on the ground in Lakehurst, guarding the wreckage of the Hindenburg. At the risk of everything, I am sending you a piece of the Hindenburg’s outside skin covering that didn’t burn. Please, guard it very carefully, hide it, and protect it. When I see you next, I plan to take it to Washington, D.C., but I have to find the right people. This was no accident. I know it makes no sense to you, but this outer skin piece is critical evidence against a number of very important military personnel. Too many innocent civilians died. This is going to blow up — no pun. Whatever you do, hold onto this small piece of the Hindenburg. Sarah, if I don’t make it back, give the material to Hank Anderson. He’s from Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia. He’ll know what to do. Trust no one else. Your loving Isaac.”
“You think it’s that reddish material thing you found in the closet?”
“Didn’t you say your grandfather was killed by friendly fire?”
“Yup. That was the story.” Lenny could barely speak. “That weird fabric must have fallen out of this envelope. Look at the flap. It’s so loose.”
“It wasn’t garbage, was it?”
“Your grandmother wouldn’t talk about it because she was afraid! But, she kept it!” Rose’s complexion became a few shades paler.
Lenny licked his lips. “My God! Granddad and Hank Anderson… friendly fire?”
On the television screen, the Hindenburg, up in flames, was coming down to earth.
Bruce Harris is the author of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson: ABout Type, published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box.