The Truth About Lang Tri
by Robert Petyo

.....After seeing a documentary on Vietnam vets on the local PBS station, Mike Hatch was furious.

.....“Watch this,” he told Jake Miller as he skipped to a particular spot on the DVD.

.....“This is where it happened,” said the man being interviewed. “Lang Tri.”.....

.....The camera panned left to right and back again, showing a lush landscape of thick grass and weeds surrounded by the jungle and scarred by occasional gullies. “I was door gunner on a chopper, and we were sent in to evacuate a platoon that had been on patrol. We made several passes through this clearing. Right there. It's changed. There's more trees, higher grass, but this is the place. That's where the bunker was, and here, in this field, among these rocks, that's where they were. Three of them, wounded, pinned down.

.....“The rest of the platoon was back there, trapped along the tree line.” Again the camera spun to where the man pointed. “Wow. I can remember it all. I never--”

.....The camera came back to the man, framing his face. A camouflage cap drooped over his stark wide eyes, blue with specks of black like chips of coal. His skin was so leathery it seemed to crackle when he spoke. “We must have made six passes. Dropped grenades. Exchanged fire. We took a few hits, but nothing bad enough to bring us down. The gunner in the bunker couldn't aim high enough, but we couldn't get down low enough to give me an angle to take the bunker out, either, not without losing the chopper. And we couldn't call for anything heavier. Those three men were too close.

.....“It was late in the day. If the platoon was still there by nightfall, they would be goners. Charlie would bring up help. We had to get them back. But they wouldn't leave with those three wounded men pinned down. There was no choice. We made one final pass and Vickers told me to take them out. They were goners anyway, he said.” Sniffing, he stroked two fingers across his eyes as if wiping away the painful images.

.....“I didn't even hesitate. Didn't even think. I just did what I was told and shot those three men.” He stopped again and sucked back tears before continuing.

.....“We contacted the platoon leader and told him they were dead. There was no reason to stay.” With a grim nod, he said, “We got them out of there.”

.....With a snap of the remote, Hatch stopped the DVD.

.....“That's bullshit, man. That kind of stuff just didn't happen,” Miller said with a hard shake of his head like he were snapping water from his straggly salt and pepper hair. Though he looked like a homeless bum, he sold prime real estate and made more in a month than Hatch, who ran a small detective agency, could hope to take home in a year. “We didn't kill our own boys. Ever. No way.”

.....“Exactly,” Hatch said.

.....“Any gunner worth his stripes would be able to take out a bunker.”

.....“There's other weird stuff on the tape,” Hatch said. “There's a guy who claims he was a sniper. He describes an incident where he sits in a tree for hours, waiting to get a bead on a particular officer. He describes Viet Cong walking past his position and never spotting him. His story is almost word for word from a book I read.” Hatch had a vast collection of books and videos on the Vietnam War. His obsession had started when he was old enough to understand that his father had died in Vietnam a few weeks before he was born.

.....Miller pulled a can of beer from a rusted cooler on the floor in the corner, popped it open, and took a swig. He handed a second can to Hatch and peered over his wire rims at the DVD case.

.....“Who's behind this show? Let's see. Three Rocks Video. That's up in Northeast PA… wait, it says here the producer's Theodore Sabatini. Sabatini? I know that name.” He rapped the case with his fingers, “Now I remember. This guy talked to me.”

.....“You're not in the show.”

.....He shook his head. “It was a while ago, and the guy never followed up. I got the impression he wasn't too interested. I could tell he was looking for boys who had problems. Boys with issues. I didn't fit the profile. He didn't want to hear about a well-adjusted vet who got his act together and made himself a fortune.”

.....“Sounds like this guy had an agenda.”

.....“Don't they all?”

.....“So what do we do about it?”

.....“Nothing.” Miller settled into his chair and drank more beer. “A long time ago I gave up trying to change people's minds. Sabatini's got his own version of the truth about that war. He don't want to know the real truth.”

.....“I'm not going to ignore it.” Hatch picked up the DVD case. “Lang Tri is where my father died.”

.....Miller placed his can on the coffee table. “Your dad was one of those three men?”

.....“All my life I've wanted more details on his death. I have to know if he was killed by his own troops.”

* * * * *

.....Wilkes Station was about an hour north of Philadelphia. Three Rocks Video had offices on the fourth floor of the Miner's Bank Building in the heart of the downtown, but Theodore Sabatini wasn't in. The sole employee in the office, a secretary who looked like she just got out of high school, directed Hatch to Sabatini's insurance company at the Township Plaza.

.....Hatch waited inside the glass door of the Eastern Homeowners Insurance Company while the receptionist went to get Sabatini. The office consisted of several massive desks scattered about a brightly lit room trapped under an anvil ceiling. Only half the desks were occupied; accountant types trying to look busy.

.....A thin man with a patch of gray at his right temple trailed the receptionist from a back office. “I'm Theodore Sabatini. May I help you?”

.....Hatch handed him his card and asked if they might speak privately.

.....Sabatini tensed, his lips moving as he read the card.

.....“I don't mean to give the wrong impression,” Hatch said quickly. His card identified him as a private investigator. “I'm here in an unofficial capacity. I want to talk about your Vietnam documentary.”

.....“Of course.” His face brightened as he perked up. He drummed his right hand against his heart. “For a minute there I thought I might need my lawyer.”


.....“I'm very proud of my work on that film. It's earning me a lot of notice.” He turned and gestured with a gracious arm. “Come with me.”

.....Hatch negotiated through the minefield of desks to a small office. Just inside the door were two tall potted plants that clawed him as he passed.

.....“You're too young to be a vet,” Sabatini said.

.....“My father died in Vietnam.”

.....“Sorry.” He squeezed his shoulder in a fatherly gesture that Hatch found offensive. He pulled away. “A lot of good men went down in that terrible war,” Sabatini said as he circled behind his desk. “I lost my brother.”

.....Hatch bowed his head in a reverent gesture but he said nothing.

.....“But let's talk of happier things,” Sabatini said with a smile. “Like my film. A tough subject, but it's doing wonders for my company.”

.....“I found your documentary fascinating, but I wondered about your research.”

.....“How do you mean?” His fingertips rested on the edge of the desk.

.....“Did you have any fact checkers working with you?”

.....“Three Rocks is a very spartan operation, Mr. Hatch. Three Rocks is all we have at Three Rocks. That's the way I like to put it. We're scraping by. I'm hoping the good press I'm getting on the documentary will get me some investors and improve my cash flow. My goal is to make films full-time.”

.....“Give up the insurance biz?” Hatch asked lightly.

.....“Exactly. There are many stories I want to tell. Many pieces of history I want to investigate. But right now, Three Rocks is just me, a cameraman, and my secretary. We had to beg for donations so we could make the trip back there. But it's paid off.”

.....“Yes, it has. Did you double check the information the veterans gave you?”

.....He squinted once, eyes blinking like a camera shutter. A cold invisible wall came between them..“We tried to get confirmation where we could, but of course there aren't a lot of official records on what really happened out in the field. We asked these veterans to go back with us and give us their memories and we told their stories. So a lot of stuff we just had to take these guys' word. After all, they were there. For some it was quite a sacrifice to relive it.”


.....Sabatini's fingertips worked deeper into the cherry wood desk top and his knuckles whitened. “That war was a living hell for those men. Dredging up these memories was difficult.”

.....“Then why do it?”

.....“It's important for the younger generation to know the horror of what happened over there. I don't want the truth to be lost. Ever. My brother died over there. And I think he deserves the truth at least.”

.....“Your truth.”

.....The muscles of his cheeks rippled as he considered his words. Finally he asked, “What exactly is it that you want, Mr. Hatch?”

.....“I'm interested in contacting one of the veterans you interviewed. I believe he was in my father's outfit. One of your vets mentioned Lang Tri. That's where my father died.”

.....His eyes skittered about in their sockets. “That would be Ricky Ferdinand. He's a special case. Very fragile.”

.....“All your vets came across as fragile.”

.....“About the war, most are.”

.....“There are a lot of vets who look upon their service as a noble struggle.”

.....“Oh really? Name one.”

.....“Why? You won't interview them for one of your documentaries.”

.....“Just as I thought. You can't.”

.....“My father for one. My mom kept some of the letters he wrote from Vietnam. He believed he was doing what was right for this country.”

.....“Look, Mr. Hatch, I feel for your loss. I truly do. But what a soldier writes to his loved ones is not always what he feels.”

.....“Jake Miller is another one. He views Vietnam as a necessary war.”

.....He smiled briefly. “I spoke to Miller. He never saw a day of combat when he was over there. He spent all of his time in an office.”

.....“That's not true.”

.....“Ah, your truth.” His eyes narrowed. “I don't believe Mr. Ferdinand will want to talk to you about the war.”

.....“You're not going to tell me where I can find him, are you?”


.....“I'm sure I can find him on my own.”

.....“I'm sure you can.”

* * * * *

.....A gray-haired RickyFerdinand worked behind the counter of a hot dog shop downtown. It was crowded and steamy from the grill and the humidity when Hatch arrived just after eleven o'clock. He had hoped to beat the lunchtime crowd, but apparently it was always lunchtime at Pete's Dogs. There were three overflowing booths against one wall, and a short counter, its stools filled, faced the opposite wall. People shuffled in and out the narrow door, some carrying white take-out bags.

.....“Mr. Ferdinand?”

.....“Who's asking?” He stood just inside the door behind a waist high grill. He dropped three dogs on the grill while a toothpick worked its way from side to side in his mouth.

.....Hatch told him who he was.

.....“An investigator, huh? I ain't no gangster.” He turned and looked at the small woman in a dirty apron who stood behind the counter taking orders. “Am I Chrissy V?”

.....She made a sour face as she stuck a piece of paper on the plastic needle behind Ferdinand. “Don't call me that,” she said.

.....He smiled so broadly that his toothpick fell out. Once he confirmed that it had fallen on the floor and not the grill he ignored it.

.....“I'm not here as an investigator,” Hatch explained. “I'm here to talk about Vietnam.”

.....His body tightened as he dropped another dog on the crackling grill. He wore the same camouflage cap he had worn in the documentary, pulled low as if to shield his eyes from the steam. His leathery cheeks were the color of well done hot dogs. Pivoting, he slapped some buns on a plate.

.....“Mr. Ferdinand?”

.....“I'm busy.” With a set of long black tongs he snagged a dog and stuck it in one of the buns, then he chased the second one.

.....“Can we talk later when you take a break?”

.....He squirted mustard onto one of the dogs. “I don't want to talk about it.”

.....“You were willing to talk on-camera.”

.....He turned left and clanged the plate on the end of the counter. A knife clattered to the floor and Hatch instinctively bent for it. He looked back to the plate, but Chrissy V had already snatched it.

.....“Give me that,” Ferdinand snapped. He took the knife by the blade and tossed it into a shallow plastic bucket where it slapped onto dirty dishes.

.....Chrissy reached into a drawer for a clean knife. “How about you getting lost?” she said.

.....Someone nudged Hatch aside to squeeze onto a suddenly vacant stool at the counter. Hatch stepped back as Ferdinand dropped four more dogs on the rotating cylinders of the grill. Chrissy tapped Hatch on the shoulder and leaned to his ear. “We don't want no trouble here, buddy.”

.....“No trouble. I just want to talk.”

.....“Look, mister, he don't like to talk about the war, okay?”

.....“Unless there's a camera around.”

.....Chrissy elbowed him away from the counter. “How about stepping outside, huh? Unless you're going to order something.”

.....Hatch was near the doorway when a man squeezed past him with a gruff “excuse me.” Not exactly sure how it happened, he found himself out on the sunny sidewalk. After checking his watch, he headed for a bench on the tree lawn where he would wait until business slowed down. He closed his eyes, and tilted his face towards the sun.

.....A scream pierced the air. He dashed back into the shop, pushing a burly man aside.

.....More screams. In the narrow diner people scrambled about, colliding like billiard balls.

.....“Call 9-1-1!” someone shouted.

.....Chrissy was on her knees in front of the counter trying to clean up a clump of hot dogs streaked with mustard, ketchup, and relish off the floor. Some of the gooey mixture had splattered onto her apron and slacks. A plate was in three pieces on the tiles beside her. When she reached for one of the pieces, a screaming boy tripped over her arm, went down, and toppled a gray-haired couple from behind. Her cup of coffee sailed into the air. Hatch watched as, for an instant, the brown liquid seemed frozen in mid-air, as if time had stopped. Then he snapped out of it, and the present came roaring back.

.....Hatch squeezed between the edge of the grill and the end of the counter and saw Ferdinand wedged against the base of a refrigerator that was filled with soda bottles. One shoulder was against the glass door, the other was on the floor. His head sagged back, exposing a knobby Adam's apple. Blood stained the floor and the front of his yellow apron where a black handled knife had been driven.

* * * * *

.....A trumpeter played taps and two soldiers crisply folded the flag into a triangle. They presented it to an older man in a military beret who stood at attention at one side of the grave. There were no other other mourners. Not Pete, not Chrissy V, not even Sabatini.

.....Hatch approached the man as the ceremony concluded. “Excuse me, sir, did you serve with Ricky Ferdinand?”


.....“Oh, I'm sorry.” He pointed at the funeral flag. “I thought maybe you did.”

.....“I make it a point to attend as many vet's funerals as I can.” He hefted the flag. “Often, if there is no family, they give the flag to me.”

.....“I see,” he said in a hesitant tone that clearly indicated that he did not see.

.....“I keep them at the Center.” He stuck out a gnarled right hand. Hatch saw that one of his fingers was missing. “I'm Bobby Christwell, Director of the local Vietnam Veteran's Association.”

.....Hatch introduced himself and winced at the firm grip. “Maybe you're just the guy to help me. I'm looking for veterans who served with Mr. Ferdinand.”

.....“That should be easy enough. Do you know his unit?”

.....“Yes.” He had gotten that information from the obituary.

.....“I have a detailed database, so I'm sure I can come up with some of the people he served with, but why are you looking?”

.....“I'm checking on a story he told in a local documentary.”

.....“'Memories of Vietnam.'”

.....“You saw it?”

.....“I was in it.”

.....“Really? I don't recall you.”

.....“Just one or two quotes. I wasn't one of the vets who went back.” He tightened his crossed arms that trapped the flag against his chest. “I don't ever want to go back.” His eyes glazed over like someone had hypnotized him, then he snapped to attention. “You would want the guys who were in the chopper with him.”

.....“You're familiar with the story he told?”


.....“What do you think of it?”

.....He gave a disinterested shrug.

.....“Do you think that really could've happened?”

.....“Ferdinand said so. And he was there. I'm not going to call a vet a liar. Are you?”

.....Hatch held out a business card. “Could you get me the names of the people in that helicopter?” When Christwell made no move for the card, he added, “My father was one of the men who died in front of that bunker.”

.....Christwell took it.

* * * * *

.....Hatch took the sheet from his printer. It had taken more than a week, but Christwell had e-mailed him the names of the four men who had been in the chopper with Ferdinand. None was still alive.

.....Corporal Jason Mechinski, crew chief, had been killed in combat three months after the Lang Tri incident. His nearest family was his widow, now remarried and living in Portland, Maine. Christwell didn't know her new name.

.....Corporal Tom Wharton, flight engineer, was killed in a plane crash in 1996. His two children, a son and a daughter, both lived in Collegeville, Maryland.

.....Conrad Vickers, the senior officer on the helicopter, died of cancer only two years ago. His daughter Christina lived in Wilkes Station.

.....Captain Scott Sabatini, co-pilot, died in combat three weeks after the Lang Tri incident. He was survived by his brother, Ted Sabatini, insurance salesman and documentary filmmaker.

.....Hatch wanted to talk to Sabatini again. But first he went on line and found a phone number for Tom Wharton, Jr. He was reaching for the phone when the front door buzzer sounded.

.....“My name is Almond. This is Detective Blythe.” Both men wore blue suits and thin red ties like they were models in a men's wear catalog. “We'd like to ask you some questions about the murder of Ricky Ferdinand.”

.....“That was two weeks ago.” Hatch still blocked the doorway. “Back in Wilkes Station. I already talked to detectives up there.”

.....“We're following up, doing them a favor. May we come in?”

.....Hatch backed away and they filed in. He nodded a greeting toward Blythe, whom he had dealt with while running some insurance investigations. “Hi, Rod.”

.....He nodded but said nothing.

.....“What do you want to know?” Hatch asked.

.....“You told the detectives you were on the sidewalk outside the hot dog shop when the murder was committed.”

.....“That's correct. I heard some screams and went back inside.”

.....“You're sure about that?”

.....He noted the furtive glance between the two men. “Yes.”

.....“The Wilkes Station police have several witnesses who place you in the diner when the murder was committed.”

.....“They're mistaken.” He looked at Blythe. “It's not surprising considering the confusion. I was in the shop. I stepped outside. I came back in. The witnesses just got the timing mixed up. You know how confused witnesses can be during chaos.”

.....“Yes,” Almond said in an even tone. He waited for more.

.....“Oh, come on.” He faced Blythe. “It was mass confusion. Nobody even saw the stabbing. No witness can say for sure when I was there and when I wasn't.”

.....“I guess not,” Almond said. “Do you have any idea how your prints got on the murder weapon?”

.....A quick change in topic, hoping to get him off guard. Suddenly realizing that he had to choose his words carefully, he clamped his mouth shut as he thought. He remembered the black handled knife in Ferdinand's chest. Did he touch it? Try to pull it out, perhaps, if he thought the man was still alive?

.....Or was Almond trying to trap him? He looked at Blythe who gave a confirming nod.

.....No tricks. They had his prints on the knife. But how?

.....“Mr. Hatch?”

.....“No. I have no idea how my prints got on the weapon.” He studied the eyes of each man. “Am I under arrest?” Neither responded. He looked directly at Blythe. “Should I call my lawyer?”

.....Blythe inched forward. “Mike, too many questions have to be cleared up.”

.....“You know me. You know I didn't do this.”

.....He shrugged. “I suggest you voluntarily go back to Wilkes Station and look up Detective Prawn. I'm sure you can get everything cleared up.”

* * * * *

.....Hatch called the Wilkes Station police and told Detective Prawn he would be there the next day. Next he called Tom Wharton, Jr.

.....“My name is Mike Hatch. I'm a private detective based in Philadelphia, but I'm currently working on a murder in Wilkes Station, Pennsylvania.”

.....“Never heard of the place. What's it got to do with me?”

.....“The murdered man's name was Rick Ferdinand. He served with your father in Vietnam.” Hatch waited for a response, got none, and moved on. “Did your father talk much about his experiences in Vietnam?”

.....“Some.” He said it softly, reluctantly. “But what's it got to do with a murder in Pennsylvania?”

.....“The motive has to do with something that happened over there. Mr. Wharton, I really could use your help. My father died during the war before I was born.”

.....“My father survived the war,” he whispered. “But I don't think he was ever the same.”

.....“Did he ever mention a place called Lang Tri? It's where my father died.” The long silence that followed answered that question. “I'm under a little pressure here, Mr. Wharton. I won't bore you with the details, but I've become a suspect in this case. Besides learning more about my father's death, I have to clear my name.”

.....“Your father died at Lang Tri?” His voice grew even softer, barely making it through the phone lines.

.....“That's right. Did your father ever mention it?”

.....“All the time.” He said that with heavy resignation. His voice returned to a normal pitch. “It was the only combat he ever mentioned. It ate at him.”

.....Guilt, Hatch thought. “Did your father's helicopter kill three wounded soldiers pinned down in front of that bunker?”

.....After a long pause, his breath rattling through the phone, he said, “No.”

.....Hatch sagged with relief. “Do you know the incident I'm speaking of?”

.....“Was your dad one of those wounded men?”


.....“Believe me when I tell you this. The helicopter did not shoot them.” He took another loud breath. “They abandoned them. They had no choice. They couldn't get them out and they needed to evacuate the rest of the troops, so they reported the three men dead. They were goners anyway, my father said. He got a good look at them. He said he could still see their faces. Even after all those years. None of them stood a chance, he said. Even if they got them out they would be dead men.”

.....“He was certain?”

.....“He teared up when he talked about it.” A noisy gulp interrupted his words. “But he had to talk about it. All the time. I know he was sure those men were doomed. My father never would have left if there was still a chance.”

.....“What happened in the chopper?”

.....“They argued. My father wanted to stay. He wanted to keep trying. Even though he knew they were finished, he wanted to keep trying. Until they were gone, he said. Sabatini said they should shoot them. Put them out of their misery. Then radio the rest of the troops that they were finished. It was the only way to get anybody out of there, he said.”

.....“Sabatini? You're sure it was Sabatini?”

.....“I'm sure. My father's face turned to stone whenever he mentioned his name.”

.....“Not Vickers?”

.....“Vickers was the commander. He made the final decision to head back. But he did not let Ferdinand kill those men. Never.”

.....For the first time since the conversation began, Hatch pictured his father heaped in the grass before the bunker, scared, bleeding, his head buried in the grass. Tears tugged at the corners of his eyes.

* * * * *

.....They sat in the center booth in Pete's Dogs. It was seven-thirty A.M., half an hour before the shop opened to serve coffee and bagels to the morning crowd. Pete, the scrawny owner, had let them in with an enormous smile and a bow and put a pot of coffee on. Hatch was there and seated beside him was Detective Silas Prawn, a small man with a stern pointed chin covered with an eye patch of a beard. He had been a police detective in New York City, recently transferred to Wilkes Station. It was easy to tell he was not happy here.

.....Seated across from him was his partner Webster, a dark haired young man in a brown coat and tie who spoke little and moved even less. Hatch had got the policemen there by promising them a murderer.

.....Sabatini sat directly across from Hatch. Hatch got him there by lying and promising him a breakfast meeting with a big money man who wanted to finance a few documentaries as a tax dodge.

.....“You're a cop,” Sabatini said with an angry jab toward Prawn. “I'm not spending any more time here.”

.....Hatch said, “I want to know why you told Ferdinand to lie about what happened on that helicopter in front of the bunker at Lang Tri.”

.....Sabatini had started to stand but stopped halfway up. “So that's what this is about. Still hung up on Lang Tri.”

.....“Please sit, Mr. Sabatini.” Prawn did not move. His hands were beneath the counter and he stared at his partner as he spoke with quiet authority.

.....Sabatini sat. “You already know what happened on that helicopter. Ferdinand told the story in my documentary.”

.....“Lies. I want the truth.”

.....“I only know what he told me.”

.....“Why didn't you tell me your brother was on that helicopter?”

.....He recovered quickly. “What difference does that make?”

.....“It gave you a reason to convince Ferdinand to lie. You didn't want your brother to look bad. So you had Ferdinand make up that story. Your brother was the one who wanted to kill those men.”

.....“That's ridiculous.” He started to stand again.

.....“I spoke to Tom Wharton's son.”

.....Sabatini thumped back onto the seat.

.....The small waitress, the one Ferdinand had called “Chrissy V,” set four mugs of coffee on the table and backed away. She had explained that she was in for the early shift today and didn't mind starting a little early. For several seconds none of the men moved, then Sabatini snatched one of the cups like it was made of gold.

.....“Tom Wharton was one of the men in the helicopter,” Hatch said. “He told his son what happened. Do you want me to tell you what he said?”

.....He ripped open a packet of sugar and dumped it into the mug where it clumped like a white rock. “I don't know what you're talking about.”

.....Hatch turned slightly toward Prawn as he told him of his call to Tom Wharton. By the time he finished, Prawn had started on one of the mugs, sipping it black.

.....“He's lying,” Sabatini insisted.

.....Chrissy V returned with a bowl filled with tiny cups of cream.

.....“What I don't understand,” Hatch said as he took one, “is why you had Ferdinand lie. You didn't even have to bring up Lang Tri.”

.....Sabatini held a plastic stir stick between his thumb and forefinger and swirled it through his coffee.  “It was good drama,” he said lightly.  “A very gripping story.  One that gets attention.”  He gazed into his mug.  “Ferdinand told me abut the incident.  I asked if he could embellish it a little, and he told me they had discussed killing the men.  I told him to go with that.”

.....“But why lie about killing the men?”

.....He shrugged. “Good drama. It's the part of the script that got me some big funding. A lot of people want to hear that kind of thing. We never would have made the trip to Vietnam without that story.”

.....“You wanted to keep your brother's reputation clean. When I started asking questions you got worried that Ferdinand might recant.”

.....“What? No.”

.....“That would be embarrassing for you and your company.”

.....“You can't think--” He looked at Prawn who held his mug before his face as if absorbing the heat. “I didn't kill him.”

.....“No.” Hatch turned to Chrissy V who had been hovering near the table. “I just wanted you to realize what a mistake you made.” He slid out of the booth and spoke to Chrissy V. “You killed Ferdinand because of a lie this scum made up.”

.....Chrissy V's lips were curled into a perfect circle. Her hands gripped the front of her apron.

.....“Your father was on that helicopter, too,” Hatch said. “Conrad Vickers. Ferdinand basically accused him of murder. So you took your revenge.”

..... Prawn touched his arm. “Why do you say this?”

.....“You hated him,” Hatch said, staring at the waitress. “In the few moments I saw you together I could see that. But I didn't make the connection right away. Not until after I found out your father was on the helicopter. Then I realized what happened, and that it was partly my fault.” Hatch moved slightly, indicating that Chrissy should sit where he had been. She offered no resistance. “I saw Ferdinand right after he was stabbed. There was a lot of blood. There had to be blood on whoever stabbed him, but no one in the diner was covered with blood. But, you were covered with ketchup and mustard from a dish you dropped. You did that so you could smear yourself and hide the blood. No one even noticed when you cleaned up and tossed your apron in the wash.”

.....Prawn said, “You say it was your fault. How?”

.....“I think Chrissy was angry and was looking for a way to get back at Ferdinand for what he said about her father. Unwittingly, I not only brought back the memories by mentioning the war, but I gave her the opportunity when I picked up the knife that fell to the floor earlier. She figured my prints would be on the knife.” He looked at Prawn. “They were.”

.....Chrissy said her first words as she stared across the table at Sabatini. “It was a lie?”

.....Sabatini's head was bowed and his body trembled like he were out in sub-zero weather, but he said nothing.

.....“Now we all know the truth,” Hatch said, as though trying to convince himself that he did

Copyright (c) 2008 by Robert Patyo.

Robert Petyo's crime stories have appeared in "Mystery Time," Detective Story Magazine, Hardboiled, P.I. Magazine, and on the web at Blue Murder, Alternate Realities and Plots With Guns.  In his other life he is married with three grown children and works as a postal clerk.

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