LA Guardia was on the radio.
A recorded broadcast, a speech he’d given a week earlier. Scratchy and barely audible over the wind rushing by.
“…we have to quarantine…the germs of Fascism, of Nazism…”
The man at the wheel of the car fiddled with the tuner to no effect.
He turned up the volume.
“…there is nothing a democracy can or wants to learn from a dictatorship in Europe. There is nothing that these countries can give any of our countries. There is—”
A burst of static cut off the mayor’s voice. The man fiddled again and gave up.
He was driving a dark green 1938 Buick Sport Coupe, heading south on Biscayne Boulevard, the tan canvas top down, the sun shining on his arms, the ocean breeze blowing back his hair. Miami lay behind him, Key West ahead, his destination somewhere in between.
The man’s name was Lewis Crosley. He had the build of a football player turned workingman, the hands of the farmer and dam engineer he’d once been. He wore a businessman’s suit now, a summer-weight gray suit that felt sticky against his skin.
He wore the suit because at the morning meeting he represented the Crosley Corporation. The afternoon meeting toward which he drove was personal. He had mixed feelings about it, suspecting it was a fool’s errand but hoping, for his brother’s sake, that he was wrong.
Biscayne Boulevard became Route 1. Four lanes narrowed to two as the road curved inland. Bugs splattered on the windshield. Lewis turned on the wipers, but the bugs kept coming. He kept driving, turned his mind away from his brother’s troubles to La Guardia’s speech about the Nazis and the approaching war. Any fool could see it was coming. Anyone who thought the trouble in Europe wasn’t America’s business was kidding themselves. Europe today. America tomorrow.
Bullets. Tanks. Bombs. War.
Good versus evil. It was that simple.
Lewis had done his part, enlisting in the Great War at twenty-seven despite having a wife and young daughter. He’d gone overseas, taken fire in the Argonne. Serve your country, serve the cause of freedom. It was an obligation, like Thomas Jefferson had said. Eternal vigilance, that was freedom’s price, one the founding fathers had gladly paid. Lewis’s greatgrandfather had paid it with them, in 1776. Two of his uncles had paid it in the War Between the States. Each generation had to pay it anew.
He was so busy thinking about America’s obligations to the free world he almost missed his destination. He noticed, just in time, a red house on his left, not much more than a shack, which was one of the landmarks Benny had mentioned. “The guy don’t make it easy to find, I’ll tell you that much,” Benny had said as he gave Lewis directions and the keys to the Buick. True enough. The next landmark was a Key West highway sign a few hundred feet past the red house, same side of the road, and Lewis almost missed that one too, buried as it was in the scrub that passed for forest in this part of Florida.
Then Lewis looked to his right, and saw, coming into view…
Edward Leedskalnin’s home.
Huge coral stones standing on end, placed together to form what looked like a castle or fortress—stones as heavy as ten tons, as tall as twenty feet, according to the newspaper article, which had called Leedskalnin an eccentric. Benny had said he was a real character.
Lewis was beginning to agree. And he was beginning to think Powel, his brother, was going to be terribly disappointed.
Lewis pulled off the road. As he set the parking brake and opened his door, he glanced across the street, which was when he saw the other car—a black Ford Coupe, parked along the shoulder of the highway, up on the dirt, in a little canopy made by the low-hanging Florida scrub. Two men sat inside, staring at him.
The driver wore a dark suit and a Fedora. The man in the passenger seat wore a shirt and tie, no jacket, no hat. The Ford was twenty feet away, close enough for him to see their faces.
They stared so long Lewis felt compelled to speak.
“Morning,” he called out.
The driver started the car, and the Ford sped away.
Before Lewis could think about the strangeness of the encounter, he heard a new sound. Someone was coming.
He raised a hand to shield his eyes and squinted into the sun.
The someone, wearing a white shirt and dark pants, was coming on a bicycle, wobbling down a dirt path next to the road. He was still a hundred yards away, passing by a vegetable garden. He sat erect in his seat, looking straight ahead.
He sees me. He’s wondering who I am, what I’m doing here.