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The memory keeper, p.16
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       The Memory Keeper, p.16

           Lisa Stowe
 

  Chapter 16

  Cody had only walked a few blocks when a sign caught her eye. The Silver Corner Café. Her stomach rumbled in response, and she realized her protein and dairy dinner was thawing and melting in the rain outside her motel room. She pulled open the door and gratefully left the rain behind.

  The Silver Corner was a tiny wedge shaped restaurant consisting of two small tables and a counter with four stools being warmed by four men in frayed plaid jackets and baseball hats. They huddled around their coffee mugs as if life was about to play a cruel joke on them and they didn’t want to see it coming. Through a doorway at the other end of the café, Cody could see the dim recesses of a bar, where someone had managed to squeeze in a pool table. She sat down on the cracked red vinyl of a metal chair, listening to rainwater drip to the linoleum. An elderly woman seemed to be the only person working, and she topped off the men’s coffee mugs before bringing a menu to Cody.

  “Something hot to drink?” Her eyes drifted to Cody’s jaw but she made no comment.

  “Tea, please.”

  Cody’s hip throbbed and she shifted on the hard chair as she waited for the tea. She wished she’d seen more of the intruder in her room. Something about camouflage bothered her, like a shadow hiding in a corner of her mind. But it was pushed back by the thought of her camera.

  Losing pictures of her grandfather made her heart ache as much as her body. If the camera was never found she would have no pictorial record of Charles. She stared intently at her entwined fingers forcing memories to describe him.

  He wore bib overalls, or sometimes old jeans, high on the waist, held up by red suspenders. Tennis shoes with extra support for tired ankles. Plaid shirts with a white tee shirt underneath. A battered and stained baseball hat with the logo of the long defunct Rainier beer company. A watch with a broad black plastic band because metal links turned his skin green. Those broad hands, so roughly callused that the fingers had a hard time bending. Those stooped shoulders and bent back, testaments to long, hard years. And his fine soft hair, gray, white at the temples, cut so short it almost ceased to exist. Black framed glasses, so old fashioned they were coming back into vogue. Blue eyes faded to the same color as the washed out fall sky above Wallace.

  How long before Cody forgot all the details that made him real? With a photograph she might have been able to look into his eyes and see him alive. It might have pushed away the mental picture she carried, of his body on the too - short gurney.

  There had been pictures of the clearing on the camera, too, but those she could replace. She could purchase a cheap disposable camera and go back up Bounty Track and at least have a record of that place. She could easily stand in the same spot she had before, when her quest had been for nothing more than finding her grandfather. Before Kelly and Nate had changed all that.

  There was one thing Cody was sure wasn’t on the camera, and that was any sort of picture that pointed to a killer, no matter how much Matt might be hoping for evidence.

  The café door banged open and a drenched Matt strode over to the table. “Figured you didn’t walk far. What are you doing?”

  “I’m going to have dinner. Then I’m going to get my car and go home.” Her jaw throbbed with the movement.

  “What do you mean, home?”

  “I think I’ve done all I can. So are we through here?” Cody was proud of herself, keeping her voice level and calm, showing none of the humiliation and loneliness flooding her thoughts.

  “No we’re not through. Can I join you?”

  “I don’t think so,” Cody said.

  Matt slaked rain off his face, pulled out a chair and sat. “I owe you an apology,” he said abruptly.

  Cody waited, not wanting to help him, not wanting an apology, not wanting to have this conversation with him.

  “I shouldn’t have taken my anger about this case out on you. I shouldn’t have yelled at you, and I don’t want you running away because of it.”

  “I don’t run away,” Cody said, stung. “I’ve just realized I’m not going to find out much more about my grandfather so there’s no reason to stay.”

  “Yeah, right." Matt backhanded more rain from his face. “I’m disappointed.”

  “About?”

  “I thought you were braver than this. You’ve held up through everything else, but some jerk yells at you and you disintegrate.”

  Cody silently agreed with what he said, the part about disintegrating anyway, but she wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of doing so out loud. She simply waited.

  “Ah hell,” he said. “I’m hungry as well as a fool. Accept my apology and let me sit here and drip with you.”

  Somewhere inside, an unexpected laugh bubbled its way through the hurt.

  “Come on. My treat.”

  “Okay, okay,” Cody said. “Just a meal and then I’m going home.”

  “Great. Millie, can you make that two?” he said to the waitress, who was headed in their direction with a mug.

  Cody put her cold hands between her thighs, looking at the menu without really seeing it. She wasn’t quite ready to accept Matt’s apology, wondering if he really meant it or if Jess had made him. She felt fragile in his company, as if her protective shell had been breached and she was waiting for the next attack.

  Millie brought two heavy stoneware mugs over and Cody clutched the warmth of hers.

  Matt picked up his and took a swallow. Grimacing, he pushed the mug away. “That’s not coffee.”

  “Tea.” Cody pointed to the tea bag string draped over the edge of the mug.

  “Millie, I changed my mind. Can you bring me a beer?”

  When the beer arrived, Matt ordered breakfast and Cody asked for soup and a sandwich. When Millie left, Cody sipped tea and watched Matt carefully pour the beer into a tall glass, leaving some liquid in the bottom of the bottle. Studying the remnants, he swished the liquid.

  “What are you doing?”

  “Wheat beer,” he said, tipping the rest into the glass. “The wheat settles, so you leave a bit of ale to work it in and then pour it.”

  “No, I meant, what are you doing drinking beer when you ordered breakfast?”

  “Why not?” asked Matt, raising his eyes to meet hers.

  Shrugging, Cody couldn’t come up with a reasonable response. “How old is this restaurant?”

  “I’m not sure, but not old enough for your grandfather to have come here." Matt put the glass down. “Look, like I said, I’m sorry I yelled at you.”

  “You were right that I should have thought of the camera,” Cody said. “But I don’t handle being shouted at very well.”

  “Who does? Kelly used to laugh when I’d get mad. Said he liked watching me throw things and cuss. Always made me forget about why I was mad. His laughing.”

  “You get mad often?”

  “No, believe it or not. It’s just the job.”

  “If you hate it so much why don’t you quit?” Cody asked, swirling the tea as Matt had done his beer, watching it in order to have something to look at.

  “I owe my dad. And my grandfather." Matt shrugged. “They always wanted me to follow them. They just assumed I would. Christmas and birthdays I’d ask for a field guide on wildflowers and they’d give me a wilderness survival book. When they died, I hadn’t had time to tell them I didn’t want to be in law enforcement, and after, it felt like betraying them to consider anything else.”

  “Why a field guide on flowers?” asked Cody.

  Matt gave a rare, brief grin, there and just as quickly gone. “Eventually I realized I wanted to go into the Forest Service, like they did,” he said. “But I wanted to be the one to give kids nature talks, to take them out and show them the wilderness. I had dreams of teaching another generation to love the mountains like I did.”

  “And you can’t do that in law enforcement?”

  “Hell no. Now I arrest kids instead. Defacing forest service property. Littering. Underage drinking. Domestic violence. Growing pot.
All the things you find in the city, only out in the woods. I might as well be a cop in Coeur d’Alene.”

  Cody wasn’t sure what to do with this more personal conversation, and returned to safer territory. “When you were yelling you mentioned something about pages being torn from a notebook. What were you talking about?”

  “When we were going through Nate’s camp, we found Kelly’s notebook. All of us use them, small notebooks to track what we’re doing. Kelly had this large, loopy handwriting. He hated the notepads we used, said there wasn’t enough room on a page to sign his name. So he kept this green stenographer pad. After a few days it would get this permanent bend in it from being shoved into pockets too small for it. The pad we found had pages ripped out of it.”

  “So maybe he needed them for grocery lists.”

  “No, the pages are in chronological order. Kelly kept meticulous notes. Everything’s spelled out, up to him and Nate running into you on the trail.”

  “Maybe nothing worth writing about happened after that." Cody shifted her mug to make room for the chicken tortellini soup and grilled cheese the waitress placed in front of her. “Or maybe he didn’t have time to write anything before being shot.”

  “Then why rip out pages? When would he have had time to do that, and why would he have?" Matt scissored his knife and fork across the sausage links.

  “I can think of several reasons. For one, Nate might have needed something to write on." Cody tried a bite of grilled cheese and pain fired up her head. She’d thought it would be soft enough, but it looked like she was going to have to live on soup.

  “Then we would have found papers on him. It’s not like he had time to do anything with them." With great precision, Matt carefully cut out the yoke of an over-easy egg, picked it up and forked it in whole. “What?” he asked, reaching for more sausage.

  “I’ve never seen anyone eat eggs like that.”

  “I like the burst of yolk. Are you going to eat that sandwich?" He reached across the table and picked up half. “So what worries me is the possibility someone was at the camp tearing out paper when you went by.”

  Something like thousands of ants wearing ice cube boots raced up Cody’s back. “What can be done about that?”

  “Nothing at the moment. Jess is handling some leads. But after the incident with your room you need to be careful.”

  “Sounds like another reason for me to go home.”

  Matt didn’t respond. The door behind him opened, and the cold, moisture laden air overran the café’s heat. Cody saw a familiar looking man come in, and Matt looked over his shoulder at the sound of voices. The man was followed by Kendra, in a trench style raincoat, shaking out an umbrella. The man nodded to Cody as he passed their table, and she saw the beautiful gentle blue eyes that placed him as the mining engineer who had been talking to Rivers the first day Cody arrived. She heard the scrape of a chair being pulled out behind her.

  “Matt,” the man said.

  “Jim. How’s work?”

  “Kind of a pain right now. Sorry to hear about Kelly and Nate.”

  “Yeah, thanks.”

  Kendra took off her raincoat and hung it near the door. Underneath she had been holding her leather portfolio, and she brought that with her, but instead of passing them she paused next to Matt.

  “Ranger Tanner,” Kendra said. “May I ask you something?”

  “No,” Matt said.

  “Actually, two things.” Kendra continued, ignoring him. “One, has there been any progress in catching my brother’s murderer? And two.” She looked at Cody as if seeing her for the first time, her eyes sliding over Cody’s swelling bruises. “Ms. Marsh has been threatening my grandfather and I’d like to know what we can do about it.”

  Cody straightened, but Matt shook his head at her.

  “Kendra, honey,” he said. “If you have a complaint to file go to the police. You know that. And if you want to know about progress, talk to Jess. Or better yet, offer to help.”

  “I find it…distasteful to deal with Detective Hawking. If you cannot answer my questions I’ll have to try Ranger Cutler.”

  “I’m sure Hailey will be more than willing to talk." Matt pushed his glass of beer back. “You know what Kelly told me a few days before he died? The two of you had an argument about his job didn’t you? He was hurt because you wouldn’t back off about his choice. He told me he wished you would kick off your heels and go for a hike. Get out into the woods and see why he loved them so much. He even had a trail picked out for you.”

  “Really?” asked Kendra. “Is that relevant right now?”

  “He thought you should go up the Cranky Gulch trail,” Matt said.

  “How juvenile. Please try to remember that as time passes the chances of catching this person lessens. You may not believe this but I did love my brother." Kendra started to walk away but Matt caught her arm.

  “Kelly was a good person,” he said. “Your grandfather should have realized that.”

  “My grandfather can be a hard man." Kendra tugged her arm free and smoothed the sleeve of her suit. “With that said however, he has always known what was best for us. That was Kelly’s mistake. Not letting our grandfather help him.”

  Kendra walked back to where Jim waited, holding out the chair for her.

  “There isn’t really a Cranky Gulch is there?” Cody asked.

  “Sure there is,” Matt responded, reaching for the rest of her sandwich.

  “Has Kendra always been so friendly?”

  “She was okay when she was younger,” Matt said. “Before she gave in to family pressures and started moving up the political ladder. Her grandfather was the one who really pushed her, and she’s always worshipped the old fart. Or been terrified of him. I’m not sure which. So you’re threatening him?”

  Cody put her spoon down and pushed the half empty bowl back. “He’s worried about me resurrecting old stories about his family. I told him I wasn’t interested, but he doesn’t believe me. So I told him since he was so worried I’d have to see what he was afraid of. That sound like a threat to you?”

  “Not compared to some of the things I’ve said to him." Matt pulled the bowl over. “Millie makes good soup.”

  “So could rumors about people long dead really damage her career or hurt their family?”

  “Who, Kendra? I don’t see how. But I know she’s been steeped in family history all her life. Kelly got sick of hearing it and escaped, but she always seemed to suck up everything she was told like it was food for the starving.”

  “Kind of like you then. Sucking up food like you’re starving.”

  “Funny.”

  Cody finished her tea, thinking about the similarities between her and Kendra. It sounded as if Kendra was devoted to her grandfather like Cody was to Charles. So why was Kendra afraid of old stories being told again? Cody wanted to repeat her grandfather’s tales, hearing them over and over until they sank into her heart and guaranteed her grandfather would always exist. Not hide those stories away and bury them.

  “Well,” Cody said. “The only thing I’ve come across about Kendra’s family was a book about a mine her great-grandfather used to own. I think it was called the Honey Do. I noticed it because the madam, Ethel was a part owner. Along with…let me think. Oh, Rachel’s great-grandfather and someone called Patrick something or other.”

  “Patrick Cross. Now there was a combination,” Matt said. “Brothels, politics, religion, and law enforcement. Can’t see why that would bother Keith. Besides, I seem to remember Jim saying someone’s hired him to reopen Honey Do. Can’t be that big a secret. So have I groveled enough to keep you from going home or do I need to apologize some more?” Matt asked.

  “I haven’t made up my mind yet. Why doesn’t Kendra like Jess?”

  “No idea. Jess is one of the few people I trust.”

  Matt’s cell phone beeped and he pulled it out. “Jess. No I’m not yelling anymore. I was telling Cody what a rotten person you are." He listened for
a moment. “I can do that. Tell me what Rachel said again? Great. Just what we need.”

  “What’s going on?” Cody asked as he flipped the phone shut.

  “Well, we have a problem. Or rather it sounds like you do." He signaled Millie for the bill. “We need to get over to the police department.”

  “For?”

  “Your mother’s here.”

 
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