Bob Johnson

On the day the Challenger exploded, Franklin took the afternoon off from his job at the Moline Public Library and sat in his upstairs apartment watching the coverage on television. He took mental notes during those early hours, sorting and cataloguing details in his mind. Events this consequential demanded his attention. He owed it to himself and to history to understand fully what happened. In the days ahead, more information would come to light, and he intended to collect it all.

He’d done the same after Reagan was shot. Hinckley, Jodie Foster, agent McCarthy taking one in the gut, the bullet’s near-fatal trajectory as it ricocheted off the limo and into the president’s left lung. Every detail mattered.

So he was irritated when the phone jangled and it was his ex-wife Marion. “I need to see you,” she said.

“Are you watching?” he asked, and she said of course she was — her job required a TV at her desk, after all — but she still needed five good minutes with him over her lunch hour. He told her to let herself in and returned to the news.

He heard Marion enter twenty minutes later. She sat beside him on his couch and watched the coverage with him. When the network showed Christa McAuliffe’s parents in the crowd, Marion let out a soft cry. “What a terrible thing,” she said.

He stole a glance at her and saw that she was dressed smartly in an ash-gray suit. She wore a burgundy scarf around her throat and black heels. When they’d been young bohemians together she had never dressed like this — she knew he disdained ballbuster professional women — but since she’d gotten the kids started in school and landed her job at the TV station in Rock Island, things had taken a turn.