Lavendar was in a small conference room off the lobby of the Holiday Inn in Bend, Oregon. Billy Reiser, a research assistant and sometime cameraman, was fiddling with the mini-cam on a tripod over in the corner. Lavendar was impatient; he wanted to get going. Finally, the red light came on. Billy looked at the small viewing screen on the back of the camera, nodded, and pointed a finger.
"Leonard Lavendar in Bend, Oregon. Today, we are going back to the youth of Al Deforest. With me is Esiquel Ramos. He prefers to be called Zeke. What do you do, Zeke?"
"Captain of Detectives, Tillamook County Sheriff, Oregon."
"How long were you employed?"
"Hired in '34, retired in '70. 36 years. Then I moved down here to Bend. We're on the other side of the mountains. Warmer. Drier."
"Are you familiar with the man L. A. Deforest?"
"Wasn't. Then your man over there showed up with that newspaper article a few weeks ago. Something familiar, but I couldn't place it. Your man hired me to do some follow-up. Then it jelled."
"Yes. Did the hiring influence you in any way?"
"You mean would I lie to make your story look good? No. You don't pay that much."
"How old are you, sir?"
"Ninety- three last winter. Your man there, Reiser, he had to come to me. I'm what's left."
"Excuse me for asking this, but there might be a question of capacity here, can you address that?"
"Compis Mentis? Sure. Changed my will last year and the lawyer had me go over to Doc Dooley to take a competency test. Great questions: What day is it? Who is President? What do you call those things on your feet? Like that."
"How did you do?"
"Passed. So I'm competent, or at least I was last year. The answer was shoes, by the way."
"Those things on your feet: they're called shoes."
"I see. Can you tell us about Deforest?"
The old man looked down at notes, gnarled fingers unconsciously stroking his cheek. When he looked up, he looked directly at the camera, eyes bright.
"I arrested him December 9, 1944, at eleven oclock in the evening, at Henry's Rite Spot. That was a restaurant and drive-in over on the west side of Tillamook. Gone now. Of course I knew of him before that. He raced motorcycles over at the County Fairgrounds. Pretty good. And he had priors, too. All juveniles."
"For what did you arrest him?"
"Well, he was underage, but after the initial assessment, we got him for simple assault. Changed to felony assault the next day, after the County Prosecutor looked at the beef."
"Farm boys versus the motorcycle boys, fifty or more of them. City cops responded, but they couldn't contain it. Twelve or fifteen police cars there before we got it under control. Anyway, there was this kid, on the ground leaning up against his motorcycle. Nose broken, ear about half pulled off. I thought he was unconscious. He was drunk, pint of whiskey sitting right there beside him, never even spilled it. That was the picture they got in the papers. So I cuffed him to the motorcycle. One of the kids was hurt bad, skull fractured. Two carhops claimed they saw Deforest do it with a wrench, or tire iron, or something. They recanted later, but we also had an older couple inside, saw the same thing. They stayed with the story."
"So he was tried as an adult?"
"Yep. Had the bad luck to draw old Colburn Apt for a judge. Apt was severe. The Deforest were poor, they got a half-assed Public Defender from the County. Guy tried the psychologically troubled youth argument. Stupid. Judge Apt was a hard-ass; I figured the kid was going down. Then, Apt granted a continuance until spring, and the kid was released on his parents recognizance. I didn't see that at all."
"Do you know what happened?"
"I do now. Took a few years to find out. Betty Ramsey was the Court Clerk. She and a couple of the gals over at the Youth Authority ganged up on Apt. The kid was a talker, and he had a baby face. The women wanted him to have another chance. They brought in a couple of his High School teachers. The kid had good grades. They all argued with Apt not to waste him."
"And Apt bought it?"
"In a way. Found him guilty and suspended the sentence. Kid had to finish High School and go in the Army with no more trouble. Five years clean, and Apt would expunge the record. Of course records never quite get expunged. These were sealed for thirty years. Public records now, but no one was interested. Until you fellows came along."
"We have reason to believe Deforest became an officer in the Army, that he was awarded the Medal of Honor. Do you have an opinion on that?"
The old man sat a long while, tapping his chin. He sat for so long that Lavendar became restless. Finally Ramos commented.
"I doubt it. Kid was a weasel. Oh, he had the physical part, I guess, the courage, you don't slide those motorcycles at ninety miles an hour without that. But he was looking out for number one, believe me. He would never help another person. I think you got the wrong Deforest here."
Lavendar raised his eyebrows knowingly and turned to the camera.
"Whispers: The Deforest Mystery. This is Leonard Lavendar reporting from Bend, Oregon."
Reiser stopped the video camera. Lavendar looked at him and shrugged.
"We may not be able to use this. It doesn't fit."
Zeke Ramos thought Lavendar was talking to him.
"Long time ago, do what you want. Doesn't matter to me."
* * *
Powerful -- Very Highly Recommended
...Author Harris pens a gripping tale in ALLEGRO'S SECRET. Al Deforest finds his youthful idealism replaced by bitterness as his military assignment kills most of the men around him without gaining enemy intelligence to justify the risks. He makes a foolish decision to collaborate with the enemy, yet later is awarded the Medal of Honor for bravery in combat and goes home a hero... The radical personality changes caused by his horrible accident provide a poignant, sympathetic note to the novel as well. His ambitious girlfriend [later wife] Mandy creates a powerful presence in the novel. Secondary characters likewise will capture the reader's attention, including Al's leaders and those with whom he served. A carefully crafted, powerfully rendered read that's impossible to put down...
Senior Editor, WordWeaving
Amazon Top 50 Reviewer
Special Reviewer, Midwest Book Reviews