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The memory keeper, p.22
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       The Memory Keeper, p.22

           Lisa Stowe
 

  Chapter 22

  If despair had a scent it would be this odd mix of disinfectant and stale sweat in the critical care unit’s waiting room. Cody, sitting huddled in a corner, felt smothered. Partly because of the crowded, overly warm and stuffy room. And partly because of watching Kendra and her grandfather working the crowd as they moved slowly closer. Between clasping people’s hands, patting shoulders, and distributing hugs, it looked like a political rally.

  Rivers sat between Cody and Jim Russell, the mining engineer, wrapped in a heated blanket one of the nurses had given her after she’d been assessed. Jim had his arm around her shoulders, his body turned as if he could shield her.

  “We need to call her family,” Rivers said. “Her parents are both gone but she has a younger sister. Chloe. Jess is paying her tuition at college. Oh damn, why can’t I remember which one?”

  “We’ll get it taken care of,” Jim said.

  “What’s going on with your job?” Rivers asked, her fingers plucking at the blanket as if looking for the same distraction her words sought.

  Jim apparently recognized what Rivers needed. “The environmental checklist is a mess. I seriously doubt I’m going to be able to get any sort of determination of non-significance. The owner is going to be out some serious money if I can’t get this to work.”

  “I might be able to give them some suggestions how to improve the mining practices." Her words sounded rote, and her fingers continued their fearful pulling at blanket threads until Jim covered her hands.

  “I’ll take you up there when all this is over. But right now I need you to concentrate on one thing.”

  “What?”

  “Holding it together. No famous Rivers Rants. Kendra and Keith are heading for us.”

  Cody shifted on the hard folding chair. If she walked away before they reached her, would she be abandoning Rivers? But Rivers had Jim to watch over her.

  “No, Cody,” Rivers said, reaching out elegant fingers that were still shaking. “You’re shifting like you’re about to run. Please don’t.”

  Cody sank back and the chair bit deeper into her aching hip.

  “I’m so sorry,” Kendra said, bending over Rivers to enfold her hand in both of hers. “We came as soon as we heard an officer was down, but we had no idea it was Jess.”

  Keith leaned forward against his cane and smiled at Cody. “Yet another reason why women should not be police officers.”

  “What does that have to do with anything?” Cody asked as the familiar nausea crept around the unfamiliar courage.

  “Women become automatic targets,” Keith said. “And when you throw in her Native heritage, you have two bias strikes against her. There are many prejudices in this town.”

  “No,” Rivers said. “There’s a lot of prejudices in the old farts who are still alive. The town has nothing to do with it.”

  “Have you heard any news?” Kendra interrupted, rubbing her hand over her cranberry suit jacket, her fingers working the bone buttons.

  “Nothing yet,” Jim answered. “Sounds like it’s going to be a while.”

  “Do you mind if we wait?”

  The conversation around Cody dried up into a puff of background buzzing as Matt came through the door, his tall frame almost, but not quite, blocking the person behind him. Her relief and sense that he would now take care of things dissipated at the sight of her mother. Her fingernails bit into her hands, and she was trapped.

  May scanned the room, supporting herself by hanging on to the back of the nearest chair. When she saw Cody, she made her way forward chair by chair, pausing at each one to breathe heavily and hold her hand to her chest. People were turning. People were staring. Cody was shrinking.

  “My god,” Kendra said, genuine shock in her voice and her fingers finally still. “Who is that woman in the Hawaiian muumuu?”

  “My mother,” Cody said on a sigh.

  May reached them and held the back of her hand to her forehead as she caught her breath. Her muumuu was the only source of cheerful color in the room and it was as incongruous as a wall of graffiti in a cemetery.

  “Cody, you didn’t come by the hotel this morning. I was forced to take a taxi to the forest ranger station looking for you, and found out what happened. I don’t understand how you could put yourself at risk like that." May’s voice rose. “Someone shot at you!”

  “Someone was shooting,” Cody said. “But I doubt it was at me.”

  “I need to sit down,” May said, turning to Keith. “And you’re in my way.”

  Cody looked at Kendra and saw the same horrified expression that she could feel freezing her own eyes wide.

  “It certainly does look like you need to sit,” Keith said, moving back slightly. “So Cody is your daughter. I assume she inherited her tendencies toward threatening people from you.”

  The silence around the pair spread out into the room at large. Cody didn’t know what to do to gain control of her mother, or of the conversation. Rachel must have come in behind May. She stood next to Matt, gripping the sleeve of his uniform shirt.

  “And you are?” May asked, sinking into a chair that groaned with a loud creak.

  “Keith Naylor, former mayor. My granddaughter, Kendra, the current mayor." There was a distinct emphasis on the word, ‘my’.

  “Never had much use for politicians,” May said, wheezing. “Liars and crooks and bastards.”

  Cody shook her head and felt Rivers place a hand on her back.

  “Really,” Keith said, the smile finally gone.

  “Really. And since you sound like you just insulted my daughter,” May said with distinct emphasis on the word ‘my’, “I think it’s time for you to go.”

  Keith carefully looked May up and down before turning to Kendra. “I believe the press should be here by now. Shall we get your interview taken care of?”

  The silence that followed their departure was broken by May and her creaking chair as she settled back and stretched out her swollen feet.

  “Well, now that that dirt is scraped off my shoe, I want to know what you’ve gotten yourself into this time.”

  Rivers leaned forward to see May around Cody. “Ms. Marsh, I am very, very happy to meet you.”

  “All fine and well, whoever you are. But I need to find out what’s going on. It is very clear to me that Cody is finding nothing but trouble in this town and I am not happy. I’ve told her for years she’s not capable of dealing with things without me and this just proves my point. She leaves home and gets shot at. And why are all these uniforms here and not out catching the person? Doesn’t this town care that tourists are shot at? I would think that mayor, or whatever she is, would want to bring business in, not shoot it.”

  Cody abandoned Rivers. She fumbled her way through the crowd and out into the sterile hallway. The bathroom where she had cleaned up earlier was the only place she could think of where she might find privacy. She didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, and there was an unfamiliar sensation building. Was it a tiny seed of pride in her mother?

  In the bathroom, Cody ran cold water over her wrists and used her damp hands to smooth down her short curls. She turned her back on her reflection and leaned against the sink. She didn’t understand May. Her mother belittled her consistently and constantly, but then turned around and defended her. Why would May care what a stranger thought about Cody, when she so obviously found nothing in Cody to like, love, or respect?

  Cody had a sudden flashback to their home, and the hallway of photos. May’s Love Wall. Full of pictures of Cody growing up. How could May call it a Love Wall when she raised Cody to believe she was ugly and worthless? It didn’t make sense.

  The door pushed open and Rachel poked her head in.

  “Thought you’d be hiding out in here. Matt says the doctor’s coming out.”

  “Ms. Blaine, there you are.”

  Keith’s voice behind Rachel reverberated with confidence and strength, and Cody backed up. Rachel shook her head and gestured for
her to come forward as she turned to greet Keith.

  “Didn’t know you were looking for me.” Rachel stood in the open doorway, blocking Cody’s view. “And Kendra. Sorry I didn’t see you back there.”

  “Your odd friend certainly has an interesting mother,” Kendra said.

  “That’s one way to put it.” Rachel put her hands on her hips.

  Cody heard a rhythmic tapping and it took her a moment to realize it was Keith’s wooden cane patiently marking the quiet between their words.

  “I wanted to know if you have reached any sort of decision that I will find reasonable,” Keith said.

  “I’ve told you,” Rachel said, stepping aside so Cody was visible. “The museum stays as it is. The board will listen to me, not you.”

  “You’re making a mistake." Keith’s smile was back in place, this time warm and kind, as if he spoke to a small child.

  “Maybe, but sure as shit it will be my mistake.”

  Keith raised his cane and gestured at Cody. “And you need to rein in your mother and choose your friends more carefully. Two killed, one shot, and Rachel not dealing with history as she should.”

  Kendra sucked air in, either in shock or starting to say something, but Keith glanced at her and she wilted.

  “Rein in my mother?” Cody asked, not sure which of the arrows he’d just shot at her hurt the most.

  Rachel’s laugh held a catch in it as if it masqueraded as something else. “I doubt anyone is brave enough for that.”

  Cody slipped around Rachel as she squeezed her fingernails into her palms, feeling her pulse thudding with anger and dread. But Keith had just tossed away his son’s death, Nate’s death, Jess bleeding out, as if they were nothing more than ways to cut people. Plus, he sounded like he was somehow threatening Rachel, and Rachel didn’t deserve that, and didn’t friends stick up for each other?

  “I’m going to the health district for my grandfather’s birth certificate.” Cody threw the words out before they could sink under her trepidation.

  “How nice for you,” Keith said, gesturing with his cane for Kendra to follow him.

  “It seems there’s some question about his parentage,” Cody continued. “That maybe the madam of the Silver Haven was actually his mother." She stepped further into the hallway, raising her voice as Keith moved away. “Wasn’t she the one your father was supposedly having an affair with? Either I’ll prove she wasn’t, which should make you happy, or I’ll prove she slept around.”

  “Hardly shocking for a madam of the time,” Kendra said, watching her grandfather. She squeezed her perfectly painted lips in, as if imprisoning further words.

  Keith lifted his cane in the air in a clear signal he was ending the conversation. “Rachel is learning the drawbacks to digging into the past and you’re about to.”

  When they were far enough down the hall to not overhear, Cody slumped against the wall. “Why does confrontation make me want to barf?”

  “Because you haven’t done it often enough. That was great. I didn’t know you’d found out anything about the madam.”

  “I haven’t. I was just being nasty.”

  Rachel punched Cody’s shoulder lightly. “You go, girl. You’ll be like me in no time. Next we’re going to have to get you a tattoo.”

  “Tattoo?”

  “Sure. But not a rock climbing tatt like mine. You’ll need something strong." Rachel rubbed her eyes as if exhausted. “Let’s go find out what’s up with Jess.”

  Cody followed Rachel back to the waiting room where people were standing and holding each other. The doctor, a slender man with short graying hair and wire framed glasses, directed his comments to Matt and the police officers, but the room was so quiet his voice easily carried.

  “So at this point we’ve managed to control the bleeding and stabilize her. We won’t know the extent of the soft tissue damage, or the damage to her trachea, for a few hours at least.”

  “Worst case scenario?” someone called.

  “Best case scenario,” the doctor replied, “No lasting damage. She could end up with a hoarse voice, or worst case, no voice. But as I said, there’s no way to tell at this point.”

  “Can I be with her?” Rivers asked.

  “Only family at this point, I’m sorry,” the doctor said.

  Matt touched the doctor’s arm. “Right now, Rivers is the closest thing to family Jess has. She has more right to be with Jess than any of us here.”

  “I’ll consider the request,” the doctor said, tipping his head briefly at Rivers. “Of course all of you are welcome to stay in the waiting area, but she’s not going to be alert for several hours.”

  People milled around after the doctor moved over to the nurse’s station. Cody stayed near the doorway watching the doctor confer with a nurse, who then came back into the crowd, spoke to Rivers, and led her away. People moved past Cody, leaving in small worried clusters. She wondered if Jess realized how many people cared about her.

  “Cody,” Matt said, coming up to her. “Where are you going to be?”

  “I don’t know, why?” she asked.

  “I don’t want you going into the woods or wandering around by yourself. We haven’t caught the shooter yet and until we do we won’t know who he was aiming at or why. With this on top of your assault, you need to be cautious.”

  Rachel crossed her arms over her chest. “Lay off Matt. You can’t seriously think someone tried to shoot Cody. Quit scaring her.”

  Cody looked from one to the other and wondered what would happen if she bounced up and down like Hailey to remind them she was still there.

  “Rachel, all I know is Jess was in Cody’s vicinity. So was Rivers, but Cody was the one punched in the jaw recently. Since I have no idea who the target was, I have no intention of letting Cody wander around until I find out. You want to be her bodyguard the rest of the day, that’s fine with me. Just stay out of the woods.”

  Matt shoved through the waiting room door.

  “Right,” Rachel said, and picked up a black leather jacket from a chair. “We’ve been given our marching orders. Care to obey?”

  Cody nodded her head, but wasn’t sure if she agreed with Rachel or simply gave a response because she didn’t know what she meant to do. She rubbed her fingernails and clenched her hands.

  “I need to do something with my mother,” Cody said. “And then I’m going over to the health department. Florence suggested I look for birth certificates and that’s what I’m going to do. You’re welcome to come along. Maybe you can entertain my mom.”

  “No thanks,” Rachel said with an exaggerated shudder. “She terrifies me. I’ll go home and check on Granny and maybe meet you later.”

  May was still seated, feet stretched out, hands folded over her belly, watching people like she was at a movie.

  “Mom, I’m going to the health department. What are your plans? Do you want me to take you back to your hotel?”

  “No. It’s past lunch time and I need to eat before my blood sugar gets too low. I saw a deli on the way here. You can drop me off there. After that I believe I may just have a visit with that mayor.”

  “What for?”

  “To have a talk with her about the behavior of that senile old man.”

  “Mom…” Cody trailed off. How did you ask a parent to not make a fool of themselves, to not make you miserable, to not cause trouble you then had to fix? She sighed. “I’ll go get the car.”

  Outside the sky darkened over the mountain tops, but it still felt too cold for rain. Cody curled her fingers up into the scant protection of her coat sleeves and looked up at the highway above town, remembering how she had planned on joining that exodus of cars today. Wasn’t she supposed to be fleeing somewhere? Slipping into that stream of anonymous people on their way to anonymous lives? Hadn’t she thought about starting a new life where her mother couldn’t find her?

  She started up the car. With Jess in the hospital and no idea what the outcome would be, it trivialized all th
ose things that had felt important the day before. Besides, she doubted anyone could escape their lives so easily. Even if she’d managed to gain enough courage to run away, she’d have just taken her failings with her. She needed to find another way to lose them.

  There was a wonderful view of the tamaracks and the high canyon walls towering above town, and Cody wondered what it would be like to live here. Could she find a job? Would it forge a bridge to her grandfather’s memory if she lived where he had? Maybe the solution to her problems with May was finding a home away from her, rather than trying to run away and disappear completely. But more than likely, her mother would follow her just like she had this time.

  May was dropped off at the deli and Cody made a silent apology to Sunny, visible through the glass front of the store. So much had happened and it was barely one in the afternoon. Cody headed toward City Hall, thinking about Jess. She glanced into the back seat where she’d tossed her coat. Would Jess and Nate’s blood ever come out? Was Jess going to walk out of that hospital fully recovered? In the short amount of time Cody had been here, she’d developed a healthy respect for Jess. She wanted the police detective to come out with a long life ahead of her.

  At the City Hall, Cody found the reader board directing her to the small offices housing the Health Department. Florence’s comments about Charles’s parentage had raised questions and curiosity that hopefully a birth certificate would cure. At least Cody would be able to fill half an hour or so.

  Inside, a middle aged woman with a horribly out of date beehive hairstyle typed on a computer keyboard. Cody told her what she was looking for, and with a few clicks of her mouse she pulled up the information. Then, with a swipe of a debit card, Cody was walking out to the car again, this time carrying a copy of her grandfather’s birth certificate. Propping it against the steering wheel, she studied it.

  The mother was listed as Alice Mogen, the father as Frank Mogen. Everything was as Charles had said. Disappointed, Cody dropped the paper on the seat next to her. She’d been convinced Florence was right and she would see the madam listed as Charles’s mother. Or that something would have mentioned adoption. Of course, now that she thought of it, birth certificates probably didn’t mention adoptions, or there would never be stories of people having to search for biological parents. She paused, picking the form up again.

  The birth date was wrong. Charles had told her his birthday was July 24th. The birth certificate listed July 18th. Were mistakes like that common on birth certificates? Cody didn’t know, and had no idea how to find out. And really, was it that big of a deal to be off by a few days? Maybe it was, if one date was the actual birth and the other was the day his adopted parents celebrated as the day he had come to live with them.

  Shaking her head, Cody dropped the paper again, backing out of the parking spot. She was really stretching now, trying to conjure up the slightest thing that might be proof of Florence’s theory. But this was the flimsiest evidence possible. She needed something more concrete, and she was sure Rachel would know how to find it. She headed back toward Florence’s house.

  Cody drove through the dying town of Burke and pulled in behind Rachel’s Jeep in time to see her racing down the stairs so fast Cody caught her breath, sure she was about to lose her footing and fall to the rocks. Cody got out of the car as Rachel jumped the last remaining steps to solid ground.

  Wild terror danced in Rachel’s eyes as she grabbed Cody’s shoulders.

  “She’s gone! Granny is gone!”

 
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