The Memory Keeper, p.24Lisa Stowe
Cody sat on the counter in the spot Florence had vacated once she and Rachel left. Cell had insisted Cody make herself comfortable while she waited for Matt, and Cell had filled the time with stories about rock climbing and how many first ascents Rachel had to her name.
“I’m going to do a first ascent someday,” he said. “When you do a first ascent you get to name it, and I’m going to name it after my girlfriend.”
“Is she a climber, too?” Cody asked, checking to see if Matt’s Bronco had pulled up yet.
“A newbie, just learning. I’m going to take her bouldering so she can just, like climb around and get a feel for the rocks. You know, there’s a lot of concentrated energy in rocks. It’s good for you to be around them.”
“Really?" Cody had no idea what he was talking about and didn’t want to ask.
“Oh yeah. Sunny, that’s my girlfriend, told me all about that.”
“Sunny? I know her.”
“She’s the purest spirit I’ve met in like, ages, dude." Cell gestured with the phone. “There’s Matt.”
Cody jumped down from the counter. “Great. Thanks for entertaining me while I waited. And Cell, thanks for picking Florence up. When Rachel calms down she’ll realize that was a good thing.”
“Like Sunny says, no worries,” Cell said. He picked a package of red licorice off the shelf and opened it with his teeth as she left, smiling to herself at his imitation of Sunny.
Cody climbed in the Bronco and as she pulled the seatbelt across, unfamiliar laughter bubbled up.
“What?” Matt asked, as he pulled out.
“Oh dude, I just had a vision of, like, Cell and Sunny’s future children.”
Matt grinned back at her, and she realized it was the first time she’d seen him without stress and worry etching lines across his face.
“You know though, I think they’re a perfect fit for each other,” he said. “Young, idealistic, dreamers, feet definitely not on the ground. The new generation of hippies.”
“You sound like you’re ancient,” Cody said. “They’re not much younger than you are they?”
“Maybe not in years,” Matt said, and the stress was back, as if the moment of lightness had been merely a gasp from someone drowning. “But in experience and cynicism I have them beat.”
His drop back into seriousness plummeted Cody down, too.
“You know how upset you got about the camera?” she asked.
“Do I need to apologize again?" Matt glanced at her.
“No, no. But now I’m paranoid about not telling you things. So this probably doesn’t mean anything, but it kind of made me a little nervous. Well, maybe a little more than nervous-”
“Cody, spit it out already.”
“A few days ago I went to the senior center and this guy came out and asked me if I had any money so he could get a drink. Said something like, he gets sick if he doesn’t drink.”
“T.J. Culhane. Local drunk.”
“Yeah, well, it’s not like he said anything threatening, but he made me nervous like I said. And then today, I ran into him again, and this time he was scarier.”
“Did he touch you?" Matt’s voice changed to its calm, professional pitch.
“No, just the car.”
“Can you write up what happened for me? Details, what was said, both instances?”
“Sure,” Cody said, relieved that someone else knew, and more relieved that she was taken seriously and not laughed at. She leaned her head back, hit suddenly by fatigue and hunger. “Have you heard any more about Jess?”
“Still no word on permanent damage, but she’s more stable. Not enough that they’re moving her out of critical care, though.”
“It’s been such a long day.”
“And it’s not over yet. Have you had dinner? I’m so hungry I’d even consider something healthy. Though I’d prefer a big greasy double bacon Swiss cheeseburger from the Silver Corner.”
“I’m starving.” Cody rubbed her stomach as if trying to soothe the hunger pangs.
“The Corner it is. Last time we were there your jaw wasn’t working so hot. How’s it feeling now?”
“Kind of like a dull faint toothache. That and my hip. But you know, with so much that’s happened my aches and pains are nothing.”
“It’s been a hell of a day, that’s for sure,” Matt said, pulling onto the side street and parking. “If I fall asleep in my food tell Millie to wake me up for breakfast.”
Inside the diner, the four elderly men in plaid coats were sitting at the bar, but this time they were nursing bottles of beer rather than coffee. The place was warm and cozy in the early twilight and Cody followed Matt to the same table they’d sat at before. Matt dropped into a chair, planted his elbows on the cracked linoleum and sank his face in his hands.
“You okay?” Cody asked as she sat across from him.
“Too much going on and each thing needs my undivided attention. Kelly and Nate’s murder, Jess getting shot, worry about you, Jake stirring things up, and the body Hailey found. I don’t know where to start or how to finish anything.”
“And then Florence.”
“Florence?” The edges of Matt’s voice were instantly sharpened by worry. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing now,” Cody said, confused. “I thought you knew. Didn’t Rachel call you?”
“No. I was working the shooting and body scenes when Cell called and said you’d been left behind and needed a ride.”
“I’m sorry, if I’d known you were working I’d have figured something else out.”
“No,” Matt said. “I needed an excuse to leave. I’m too wiped to do any good. But tell me about Florence. What’s happened?”
“She wandered away from the house. That’s why I ran into that guy, when I was out looking for her. Cell found her and gave her a ride to the gas station and she’s fine, but Rachel was panicked for a while. She and I were trying to find her, and it was pretty scary. Rachel said she would call you to help search, but she was pretty distraught. I should have realized that and called you myself. Though I probably couldn’t have reached you. I tried calling 911 but there wasn’t any service.”
“Her wandering off isn’t good,” Matt said. “There’re too many nightmare scenarios.”
“I know. Rachel doesn’t know what she’s going to do." Cody picked up the menu.
“I’ll see if I can help,” Matt said. “I’ll call Senior Services and see what kind of resources they have. Knowing Rachel she hasn’t talked to anyone. She’s not one to ask for help. Always acts like it exposes vulnerabilities someone will take advantage of.”
“I know she’s worried about finances, but it can’t be that expensive to hire a sitter can it?”
Matt lifted a shoulder. “Who knows?" He pushed his menu away and leaned back.
“Have you learned anything about that body?” Cody asked, scanning the menu. “Do you think Hailey will end up being right that it was murder?”
“Oh yeah. It was murder alright. And not for robbery. We found his wallet when we removed him.”
“Who was it? Or can you say?” Cody asked.
“No, but I’ll give you enough that you can figure it out for yourself. The guy’s last name was Johnson.”
“Johnson?" Cody looked out the window, watching a car go by. Why was the name familiar? She didn’t know that many people here. And then she remembered. “Nate.”
“Obviously not Nate, since you can’t be murdered twice,” Matt said. “But maybe someone Nate was looking for?”
“You didn’t hear that from me,” Matt said. “Not that I’d care if I got fired.”
“No.” He turned his coffee mug right side up in an optimistic gesture that it might get filled at some point. “Well, the assumption is it’s Nate’s dad, since the wallet has his ID in it. But the official identification won’t happen until the autopsy.”
“So what does all this mean?” she asked, fingering a corner of the menu. “Are you getting anywhere?”
Matt leaned back in his chair and stretched his legs out into the walkway. “Hell, I don’t know. Just when I think pieces are fitting something happens that tosses them all in a heap again. I do have a question for you though. You had any more of those phone calls?”
“Calls?" Cody thought a moment. “With my mother in Wallace there’s no need for her to call.”
“No, those heavy breathing calls. Someone whispering.”
“Just those two times,” she said, and shivered. “I’d actually forgotten about them.”
“Here’s another question,” Matt said. “How brave are you?”
“Honestly? I have no idea. It’s not like I’ve been in situations where I’ve had to be.”
“You seemed to be holding it together when you radioed for help with Kelly and Nate.” Matt raised his hand to get Millie’s attention. “Hey Millie, any chance of coffee before I fossilize?”
“I was pretty scared, Matt." Cody watched Millie wander over, fill the coffee mugs and pull out a pad and pen.
They gave the elderly woman their orders and as Millie headed for the kitchen, Matt dumped four little containers of cream into his mug. “And now? Are you scared now?”
“Here?” Cody asked surprised. “Not hardly.”
“I want you to be,” Matt said, sitting forward and catching her wrist with one hand. “I want you so scared all you want to do is lock yourself in your room and stay there.”
“Okay,” she said. “And I should be acting this way because…?”
“Because I think you were the target. I think Jess was hit by mistake.”
“Oh come on.” Cody tugged her wrist out of his grasp. “Why would anyone want to shoot me? My mother maybe but not me." Her attempt at a joke obviously splatted when Matt’s frown cut down into his eyes.
“I want to be wrong,” Matt said. “But every time I pick up those pieces I was talking about, the same picture inches out.”
“So I suppose you want me to leave again,” Cody said, and even she could hear the strong skepticism.
“No. But hide behind your mom.”
Laugher escaped Cody and she tried to catch it by covering her mouth.
“Sorry,” Matt said, leaning back for Millie to put his burger and fries down. “That was uncalled for. I am serious though about you staying out of sight. Maybe take May on a mining tour off to Mullen or something for a few days.”
Cody wasn’t sure how to respond, or even what her reaction was. She seriously doubted anything she had done was important enough to make her some sort of target. But she respected Matt’s opinion and intelligence. Even if he dipped his french fry in the cocktail sauce that came with her prawns and chips.
She picked up her water glass as the mining engineer she had first seen with Rivers came inside. As always, his startlingly blue eyes made her draw a blank on his name.
“Matt,” he said, approaching their table. “The guy at the ranger station told me you were here. Is it okay if I interrupt?”
“No problem,” Matt said. “Pull up a chair. The coffee’s still fresh if you want a mug.”
“I could use some." He sank onto the chair. “Cody, thanks for being there for Rivers today.”
“You’re welcome. Any news on Jess?”
“No. Rivers will call if there’s any change though." He picked up a paper napkin and worked it between his blunt fingers. “And before I forget, Rivers said if I saw you to tell you May wants a call. Your mother, right? Remarkable woman. I’ve never seen someone shut Keith down so fast.”
Had Cody ever received a compliment for her mother before? What did she do with it? If he knew May like she did, would he still admire her actions? The questions rattled around Cody’s brain until only one word managed to work its way out.
“Hey Millie,” Matt said. “Another mug here for Jim?”
Cody watched Jim carefully tearing pea-sized pieces of napkin, creating a tiny pile of confetti. Millie put his mug down gently as if the movement might blow away his creation. He paused in the tearing to take a swallow of coffee, and then his fingers went back to work.
“You know about the mine I’ve been hired on at?”
Matt swallowed a bite of hamburger as he nodded. “Sure. Aren’t you working on a geological survey?”
“That, and all the other tests the forest service is demanding." Jim pushed the napkin pieces aside and sat back. “Sorry, didn’t mean that to sound like a complaint. I understand the need for all the environmental steps, and this has to be done right. But I have some concerns.”
“I don’t have much to do with the permitting end of things,” Matt said, and forked up one of Cody’s prawns. “But what’s on your mind?”
“Jake says the forest service wants to revoke his grandfather clause, so they can reclaim his place.”
“Jake’s a paranoid nutcase,” Matt said.
“I got the impression you liked him,” Cody said, pushing the rest of the prawns across the table.
“I do,” Matt said. “But he’s still crazy. He has a prime piece of land, and it’s surrounded on all sides by forest service. Part of which is scheduled for logging. He’s fighting it because it will impact the watershed where his water supply comes from. He could be right, I don’t know. But as far as revoking anything, I seriously doubt that could be done. It’s his legally. Why the interest Jim?”
“Anything done with his place, or any logging around it, will influence what happens with the mine. Plus, what happened today also messes with any chance of opening it soon.”
“Your mine,” Cody said sitting forward. “It’s the one where the body was found, right?”
“Well, it’s not my mine,” Jim said, resuming his work with the napkin. “But yes, that’s the one I’m trying to push through opening. Don’t get me wrong, this thing with the body is horrible, and Jess getting shot is worse. My work pales with how important your work is, Matt, in finding out what’s going on. Besides, even without the delays this will create, I have serious, serious doubts this mine will ever open.”
“I looked it up at the office awhile back." Matt dumped another container of cream in his already pale coffee. “Looks like the owner is Keith. Seems like he’d have the money needed to get it open.”
“Look,” Jim said, glancing over at Cody and then focusing on Matt. “Keith is the owner, you’re right. And we all know what kind of man he is. If, as Rivers said, this guy you found was murdered, Keith is the first person I’d be looking at. And it makes sense you’d want to talk to the owner, right? I mean I assume you guys would think the owner might know something.”
“Well, yeah, that’s usually a first step,” Matt said. “I’ve sent Hailey to interview him.”
“That wasn’t nice,” Cody said, and was rewarded with a smile from Matt before he turned back to Jim.
“So talk to Keith,” Jim said. “But don’t stop there.”
“What do you mean?” Matt asked.
“All I’m saying is, maybe there’s an anonymous contributor to the investments in this mine. Maybe there’s someone who doesn’t want to be connected to the mine visibly. Maybe it’s not Keith signing my checks.”
“If I start digging and come up with a name it won’t have come from you, is that what I’m hearing?” Matt asked.
“Damn straight,” Jim said, and then touched the back of Cody’s hand lightly with his fingertips. “Sorry.”
“No worries,” she said, deciding she liked the hopeful sound of Sunny’s expression. “I’ve heard the word before.”
Jim stood and placed a couple dollar bills next to his mug.
“Heading back to the hospital?” Matt asked.
Jim nodded and an odd sort of melancholy settled
He stood there a moment, looking out the window onto the street where shadows had lengthened and merged into a dying day.
“Keep digging, Matt,” he said quietly, and left the café.
The Memory Keeper by Lisa Stowe / Mystery & Detective have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on40 votes