Chapter 39 - I Never Knew

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January 1947

He sat, staring at his hands that were resting in his lap, ignoring the bleak winter landscape that rushed past his window. By his watch, it was only twenty more minutes before he would reach town, and then he'd have to get off the train. He was dreading it.

His life had been touched by so many deaths; soldiers fighting on both sides of the war, close friends and strangers, innocent civilians who'd been in the wrong place when the battle caught up with them, his parents. How much death could one person see in their lifetime? A lot, apparently, and it seemed it was never going to end. After he'd come back from the war, he'd hoped he wouldn't have to face death until he was an old man, but it had returned to take someone close to him again.

The train whistle blew, signaling they were getting close to town, and Billy rubbed his hands on his trousers to dry the sweat that suddenly formed. Kitty had been writing to Helen since they'd moved to New York, and had passed on to him the welcome news they were expecting a baby. He was happy for his brother, and when he got a telegram two days ago, he assumed it was about the birth. Instead, it was a frantic plea from Annie to call home as soon as possible.

When he did, the news was a tragic blow, but there was more. Johnny had always been the strong one, the rock he'd relied on when times were bad. Yet, according to Annie, losing Helen and the baby had done something to him. She wouldn't go into details, only tearfully begging him to come home. He knew it had to be bad.

During the entire trip, Billy's grief for Helen and her baby had weighed heavily on him, but how much more must his brother be suffering? If something like that had happened to Kitty and Jess... Billy shook his head to get the thought out.

The whistle blew again and the train slowed as it approached the station. He straightened in his seat while his breathing became shallower. He would give anything not to have to be there. The train crawled up to the platform, and then stopped with a lurch. People in his car stood and began to pull down suitcases and winter coats from the nets overhead.

Outside his window, James came out of the small train station. His face was grim while he took one last drag off the stub of a cigarette before flicking it away. Billy could no longer put it off. It was time for him to face the tragedy at home.

"Sir!" James called out when he stepped off the train, and Billy went to him. James held his hand out for Billy's suitcase. "I'll take it."

Once James had it, he turned and Billy followed him to the parking lot. He was desperate to ask James about his brother, but there were people close enough to hear, so he kept quiet. One lesson he'd been taught from an early age, never give people information about the family they could spread all over town.

On the other side of the train station, he looked for the Duesenberg, but James headed for a black Cadillac parked at the curb.

"New car?" Billy asked.

"Aye," James said curtly, opening the trunk so he could stow away the suitcase.

Billy remembered his brother had planned to replace their old Duesenberg, but it somehow added to his grief. That part of his childhood was gone forever, along with so much more.

He waited for James to open the rear door for him, even though he could have done it himself. Being waited on by servants wasn't the kind of life he led anymore, nor did he want to. But now that he was home, it seemed important to go along with the norms of his old life out of respect for his brother.

After James had pulled out onto the two lane highway, Billy thought he might start talking about what happened, but he remained silent. "How's my brother?" he asked after a few minutes.

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