My door was now closed. "My brother's plane went down in 1974," I said. "The U.S. Army found the wreckage in the North China Sea. They told us that there were no survivors."
Melinda shook her head. "They were wrong. He ejected."
"They sent a search party."
"They didn't know where to look. Our village had one dirt road. My mother found him in a tree. He had a broken leg and two broken arms. We didn't have a doctor. The nearest hospital was fifty miles away."
"Why didn't she turn him over to the police?"
"There weren't any."
"What about the North Vietnamese Army?"
"They would have killed him. It was a miracle that he survived. My grandmother was a midwife. She and my mother helped him recover. They weren't savages, Mr. Daley. They wanted the war to end, too."
The grainy memories came rushing back. Tommy's chiseled shoulders and charismatic smile. Playing catch behind our house at 23rd and Kirkham in the foggy Sunset District. Tommy heaving the ball into the stands after scoring the winning touchdown in his last game at Cal. His determined expression as he boarded the plane taking him eight thousand miles from home to fight a war that most Americans—including me—no longer supported. The knock on our door when the uniforms came to inform us that his plane had gone down. My father's depression. My mother's despair. The futile bureaucratic wrangling to find out what had happened. And now—almost four decades later—the stranger sitting in front of me purported to know.
"When did he die?"
"1978. Jungle fever."
I fought to get my bearings. My parents had gone to their graves without answers. I'd been waiting almost forty years for closure. I thought I would have felt a sense of relief, but there were too many unanswered questions, and I didn't know if the stranger sitting in my office was telling the truth. "Why didn't he contact us after the war?"
"There were no cell phones. We had very little communication with the outside world."
"I want to talk to your mother."
"She died when I was a baby."
I drummed my fingers on my desk. "When were you born?"
"You weren't alive when my brother's plane went down, and you were only two when he died—if your story is true. How do you know about this?"
"My uncle told me everything. He took care of me after my mother died. We came here in 1984 when I was eight. He died of lung cancer when I was sixteen."
"Who looked after you when he died?"
Fair enough. "How did you get here?"
"We went to Thailand on a fishing boat. My uncle got us onto a tanker to Guam. We ended up on a cargo ship to the U.S. It was a miracle that we made it." She said she had no relatives in Vietnam. "Thomas is my only family. I don't want to lose him."
It was going to be difficult—if not impossible—to corroborate her story. I e-mailed my secretary to cancel our staff meeting. I leaned forward. "You've been in the U.S. for almost thirty years. Why didn't you contact me?"
"I was afraid you would think I was looking for money or attention. I'm sorry."
"Not as sorry as I am. My parents died without knowing what happened to Tommy."
She clenched her fists. "I came here illegally. I was scared of being deported."
"I can have your immigration file re-opened."
"I had to take a chance. My son needs a lawyer. I didn't know where else to turn."
"How did you know that I'm Tommy's brother?"
"My uncle knew your name. Your brother told him that if he made it to the U.S. and got into trouble, he should try to find you."
"I became a lawyer after Tommy died."
"He said that you're really smart."
Not that smart. "Are you a U.S. citizen?"
"Yes. I became a citizen after I married Thomas's father."
"How old were you when you got married?"
"Seventeen. My husband was a Vietnamese-American named Danny Nguyen. He was born here. Danny died in a motorcycle accident when Thomas was a baby."
We could verify that part of her story. "I'm going to ask you some questions. If any of your answers are wrong, your son isn't the only one who will need a lawyer." I started with an easy one. "What was my brother's full name?"
"Thomas James Charles Daley, Jr."
Correct. "When was he born?"
"November 25, 1953, at St. Francis Hospital."
Two for two. "Where did he go to school?"
"Grammar school at St. Peter's. High school at St. Ignatius. College at Cal. He was the starting quarterback before he joined the Marines."
"What number did he wear at Cal?"
She'd done some homework. "What were my parents' names?"
"Thomas James Charles Daley, Sr. and Margaret Murphy Daley. Your father was a police officer. Your mother was a homemaker. You have a younger brother named Peter and a younger sister named Mary. Pete used to be a cop. Now he's a private investigator. Mary is a teacher in L.A."
She could have gotten that much from Google or a PI, although it seemed unlikely that she could have afforded one. I upped the ante. "My brother had some distinctive physical features."
"He had birthmarks on his right knee in the shape of a square. He had a scar below his left ear where he accidentally hit himself with a hammer when he was a kid. The pinky on his left hand popped in and out from a football injury."
All correct. "He had a tattoo."
"He had the letters "S" and "I" on his left ankle. They were the initials of his high school, St. Ignatius. He was afraid to tell your parents."
All true. In 1970, it was unthinkable for the altar-boy son of a San Francisco cop to have a tattoo. Tommy did it on a dare when he'd pounded a six-pack of Buds after S.I. had won the city football championship. He showed it to Pete and me, then swore us to secrecy. As far as I knew, my mom and dad never found out—or they never mentioned it. "My brother was an all-city quarterback at S.I. and the starter at Cal. A lot was written about him."
"I knew him."
She reached inside her soiled backpack and took out a scuffed leather box. She set it on my desk, opened it, and removed a gray medallion about the size of a quarter. "My uncle gave this to me when I turned fifteen."
I recognized the Vietnam-era dog tag. The first two lines read, "Daley, Thomas J.C." The third line had his social security number. The fourth said he had Type A+ blood. The fifth confirmed that he was Catholic. The information was accurate.
I eyed her suspiciously. "You can get replicas on the Internet."
"Show it to an expert." She took out a manila envelope from her backpack and handed it to me. Inside I found a faded black-and-white photo. "It's the only picture I have. I made copies. You can borrow this one and have it tested, but I want it back."
Tommy looked more like our father than the athletic twenty-year-old whose memory was frozen in my mind. His hair was thinner, eyes hollow, face drawn. His body was emaciated, and his right arm—his golden throwing arm—hung limply at his side. His smile hadn't changed. He was standing next to a woman who looked like a younger version of Melinda. Tommy's shirt was off. He was holding a baby in his left arm.
"Where did you get this?" I asked.
"My uncle found a Polaroid camera in an abandoned American base."
I was sweating. "When was this taken?"
"A few weeks after I was born." She pointed at the woman in the picture. "That's my mother." Her finger moved over to the baby. "And that's me."
"Tommy Daley was my father."
FELONY MURDER RULE will be available soon on Amazon!