O is for Outlaw Page 105


I placed the stack of yearbooks on Mrs. Calloway's desk. I left the high school, driving through the area until I found a drugstore, where I bought a pack of index cards and a city map to supplement the simple sheet map I'd acquired from Frugal Rents. In the rental car again, I circled back to the public library, which was not far away. I inquired at the desk and was directed to the reference department. Then I got down to work. By cross-checking past city directories with past telephone books, I found one LaDestro and made a note of the address. The 1959, 1960, and 1961 business directories indicated that Laddie's father, Harold LaDestro, had owned a machine shop on Market and listed his occupation as precision machinist and inventor. Because of Laddie's poise, her elegance, and her aristocratic airs, I'd assumed she came from money, but perhaps I was wrong. In those years, her father was a tradesman, and there was no hint whatever that his business interests extended beyond the obvious. From the yearbook, I knew she'd graduated with honors, but the list of her achievements made no mention of college plans. She might have enrolled at the University of Louisville, which was probably not expensive for local residents. It was also possible she'd attended a nearby business college, taking a secretarial course so she could work for her dad. That was the sort of thing a conscientious daughter might have done in those days.

But where had she met Mark? On a whim, I pulled out the 1961 phone book, where I found listings for twenty-one families with the last name of Bethel and four with the last name Oaks. There was only one Revel Oaks, and I made a note of that address. As for Bethels, I had another idea how to pin down Mark's family. I ran off copies of the phone book listings and pages from the relevant city directories, adding them to the copies I'd made of the yearbook information. I wasn't sure where I was going, but why not follow my nose? I'd already spent the money for the plane fare to get here. I was stuck until flight time the next morning. What else was there to do?

I fired up the rental car and did a quick driving tour, starting with the Oaks family home on Fourth Street, still in the downtown area. The house was impressive: an immense three-story structure of stucco and stone, probably built in the late 1800s. The style fell midway between Renaissance and baroque, with cornices, fluted columns, curved buttresses, a balustrade, and arched windows. The exterior color was uncommon: a dusky pink, washed with brown, as if the facade had been glazed by age to this mournful shade. From the sign on the lawn, the building was now occupied by two law firms, a court reporting firm, and a CPA. The property was large, the surrounding stone wall still visible, as well as the original gateposts. Two majestic oak trees shaded the formal gardens in the rear, and I could see a carriage house at the end of a cobbled driveway.

The LaDestros' address was less than two miles away, within a block of the university on a narrow side street. I checked for the number, but the house was gone, evidently razed to make way for expanding campus facilities. The remaining houses on the street tended to be elongated one-story boxes sheathed in dark red asphalt siding. Depressing. I couldn't imagine how Laddie'd been catapulted from these grim beginnings to her current wealth. Had she been married before? In those days, a rich husband was the obvious means by which a woman could elevate her social standing and improve her prospects. She certainly must have been eager to bail herself out of this.

While I was still in range of the central city, I located the Jefferson County clerk's office in the courthouse between Fifth and Sixth streets on West Jefferson. Thefellow at the desk couldn't have been more helpful when I told him what I needed: the marriage certificate for Darlene LaDestro, and Mark Bethel, who I believed had been married in the summer of 1965. I couldn't give him the exact date, but I was remembering the line I'd picked up from Mark's secretary, Judy, who told me he'd enlisted in the army right after his college graduation. What would have been more natural than to marry Laddie that summer, before he went overseas? I was also operating on the theory that Laddie (aka Darlene LaDestro) was an obvious choice for one of Duncan's interviews. She was young, she was lovely, she was local. She would have been easy to approach, since they lived in the same town and he'd known her for years. Duncan's press credentials were dated September 10, 1965. If he'd talked to Laddie at all, it was probably sometime between her marriage, Mark's departure, and his own flight to Vietnam soon afterward.

Fifteen minutes later, I experienced one of those exhilarating moments of satisfaction when, sure enough, the clerk found the marriage record.

"Oh, wow. This is great. Isn't this amazing?" I said.

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