The Memory Keeper, p.36Lisa Stowe
Spring had come to the high places, but down in the canyons, pockets of winter hung on with the tenacity of Burke residents. The Presbyterian Church was filling but this time Cody wasn’t sitting outside in her car, afraid to go in. This time she was walking beside Jake as he pushed Matt’s wheelchair up a ramp to the door. Matt had a cardboard box on his lap, and as they entered the church he asked an usher to hold it for him.
The church was only about a quarter full, but then, this was the memorial service for Nate and his father, not Kelly. This time only the people who knew the Johnson family had come. A young woman stood at the front of the sanctuary, talking to the minister. She was short, lean, and muscled, but not as stocky as Nate. Her hair was the same color though, and in the same long dreadlocks, and when she turned Cody realized that she was Nate’s twin sister, Nellie, the one who had organized the memorial service.
Cell approached the young woman, talking to her with his hands as much as his voice, and the sight of him reminded Cody of a question.
“Jake, what were you and Cell fighting about?”
“When I was in the gas station and you came in.”
“Hell, I think that one was because he’d conned me into paying him in advance for a job. He was supposed to split up a couple cords of firewood for me. But I’d paid him something like two weeks before and he still hadn’t shown.”
“Can’t believe you paid him before the work was done,” Matt said.
“No shit.” Jake lined the wheelchair up at the end of one of the aisles. “I’m a soft touch, what can I say.”
Matt snorted rudely.
Cody hesitated a moment before reaching out to catch Jake’s sleeve. She wanted another answer but was afraid the question would offend him.
“That last prank phone call I got…well, it sounded like the person knew I’d gone to the Oasis.”
“Yeah?” Jake said.
“Well, you were the only one that knew I was going there." Cody said the words fast before she could lose her courage.
Jake stared at her a moment, and then laughed, the sound incongruous over the muted voices in the church. “I ran into Rachel and she asked where you were. She probably told Keith. But you thought I did it, didn’t you?”
“No! Of course not!" Cody could feel heat rising in her cheeks.
Matt shifted in the wheelchair so he could look back at Jake. “Yes she did.”
Both men were grinning as Jake side-stepped down the narrow aisle to sit in the pew. He patted the wooden seat. “Sit down Cody. It’s not like you’re the first person to think I’m a villain.”
“If I did, it was only for a second." Cody sat down at the end of the pew next to the wheelchair and between the two men, and changed the subject to avoid any more embarrassment. “Do you think Kendra will come?” She smoothed her black dress over her knees, secretly relishing in the softness of the silk and the quiet music of tiny bells along the hem. Rivers had given it to her, along with an emerald green scarf, telling her she needed to wear something other than jeans and tee shirts.
“No,” Matt said. “She’s probably visiting her grandfather in jail. I heard she’s resigning as mayor.”
“She is,” Cody said. “She told me this morning when we were talking about the mine.”
“What’s up with it?” Jake asked, running a hand through his disheveled hair as if trying to straighten it. Rivers had had a long battle outside the church convincing Jake to leave his hat behind.
“The lawyers are having a good time,” Cody said. “But it looks like Keith’s father never legally bought out the others. It kind of sounds like he just waited around for them all to die or move away, and then assumed ownership.”
“So who will the owners be?” Matt asked.
Cody shifted in the pew, uncomfortable with the answer. “Kendra, Nellie, me, and Florence.”
“Not Rachel?” Jake asked.
“There’s no body,” Matt said. “Search and Rescue found her climbing gear, her rappel rope going down into one of the shafts, with no knots. Meaning if she rappelled, she committed suicide. But like I said, they haven’t found a body down there in the dark yet, and searching for it’s pretty dangerous.”
“She’s not down there,” Jake said. “I’m willing to bet she took off and staged the gear.”
“Either way, doubt we’ll see her again,” Matt said, rubbing his thigh.
“Time for a pain pill?” Cody asked.
“Not yet. I’m trying to get off them.”
Jake shifted on the pew and rubbed a hand over his stubble. “I owe you both an apology." He said the words abruptly, staccato, as if to get them out before he swallowed them back.
“For what?” Matt asked.
“Rivers told me to find who shot Jess. If I’d been able to figure out Rachel, maybe I could have kept you from getting shot. Or Cody from going through what she did.”
“No apology needed,” Matt said. “I didn’t see it either, and it was my job.”
Cody put her hand on Jake’s arm. “No apologies for me, either. But can I ask you something else?”
“Shoot,” Jake said, and then winced at his word choice.
“Remember stopping me on the street that day? You wanted to know if Kelly had been holding anything. What were you expecting?”
“An environmental impact statement in favor of the logging. He was supposed to have picked it up that day. I was hoping maybe he’d dropped it or something up on the trail. So I could find it and burn it.”
“Like that would make it go away,” Matt said, shaking his head.
Rivers and Jess came down the aisle and joined them as organ music signaled the beginning of the service. The minister talked briefly about the tragedy of losing someone too young, and as with Kelly’s service, the words rang flat and rote. He finished by asking people to share their memories, and Cody remembered Rivers doing that for Kelly, reminding them who he had been. Ignoring her shaking knees, she stood and addressed Nellie.
“I didn’t know your brother, and I’m not going to pretend I did, but I want you to hear one thing about him. When he was dying his last words were telling me to get away. I think most people would have been thinking of themselves, but he wasn’t. And that simple act tells me he was someone I would have been very grateful to have had as a friend. I’m sorry I never got the chance.”
Cody sank back onto the pew, gripping her hands. She’d never talked in front of a crowd like that and her cheeks were hot with the feeling of exposure. But Matt reached over and covered her fingers with his.
“Nicely done,” he said.
The memorial service wound through more speeches, and then through a digital viewing of photographs of Nate. Cody found it incredibly sad to watch images of him throughout his life, this man she’d never known and never would. When the viewing was over, people dribbled downstairs in small groups, to a room where cake and coffee was served.
Cody, Matt, Jake, Rivers, and Jess sat around a table with a white plastic cloth, holding paper cups of coffee and tea. On the table was the cardboard box Matt had been carrying.
“Think you’ll be able to pin the fire on Keith?” Matt asked Jess.
She shrugged, and then winced, one hand coming up to the raw flesh of newly formed scar tissue. “I think if we press T.J. Culhane some more he might just remember being hired to light a match.”
“Jess has something for you, Cody,” Rivers said, and her beautiful smile seemed to lift them all up and away from thoughts of death.
“Took some finagling,” Jess said, looking very smug. “Technically this is evidence until T.J.’s trial is over. But I managed to convince people it needed to be returned since you’re headed out tomorrow.”
Jess dug into the pocket of her black slacks, and pulled out Cody’s camera. “Didn’t you say there was a picture of your grandfather on there?”
Cody took the camera carefully. “Thank you Jess. This mean
“Turn it on,” Rivers said. “Show us this man who brought you to us.”
Cody pushed the power button, but nothing happened. “The battery must be dead,” she said, saddened that she wasn’t able to show them the grandfather who had loved her. “I’ll have to get more batteries. But I have a postcard of him as a child, with Ethel. I’ll bring it next time I see you.”
“Wonderful,” Rivers said.
“I have something here for you, too, Cody,” Matt said. “Actually something for both you and Rivers.”
“Me?” Rivers asked, surprised. “What did I do?”
“Besides being a pain in my ass?” Jake asked.
“Not me,” Rivers said. “And hey, you need to treat me nicer because I think I’ve got Jim convinced to help you with your logging problem. No guarantees, but with his assistance you might have a chance.”
“Bureaucrats,” Jake said.
Cody put her hand on Jake’s shoulder. “The alternative is a clear cut. So restrain yourself and be a good boy.”
Matt took a rectangular box out of the bigger one, and pushed it across the table. “For all the stress you’ve been put through Rivers. And for being there for Cody.”
Rivers opened the end of the box, peeked inside, and then hugged the box to her chest with a gleeful expression in her dark eyes. “Scotch.”
“Not just scotch,” Matt corrected. “Macallan eighteen year old. And you better make sure I’m invited when you open it.”
“You’re on pain meds,” Jake said. “I’ll have to take your place.”
“You don’t know the difference between expensive scotch and Coors,” Matt said.
“No,” replied Jake. “But alcohol is alcohol.”
“And that’s just plain blasphemy,” Matt said, reaching back into his box. “And in a church at that. Cody, remember Charles’s story about Fool’s Lake?”
“The spring that rangers sent fishermen to,” Cody said.
“Right. You told me Charles had signed the logbook that used to be up there. I had a hell of a time finding it, but here it is.”
Matt lifted out an oversized leather book, heavily stained with hard use. The papers made brittle crackling noises as Matt carefully opened it to a flagged page and turned the book toward Cody.
People had signed in using every scrap of space on the pages, and every imaginable writing implement, including crayon. But in spite of the overlapping words, Cody spotted her grandfather’s handwriting immediately. She tried to read it, but tears blurred the words and so she pushed the book back to Matt, who read the message out loud.
“After sending fishermen up, decided it was time to visit. Haven’t been in years, but hope to come back. Just found out I have a granddaughter. Going to find her and bring her here, show her why Wallace gets in your blood and in your heart. Not all memories are good ones, but by god, this is home, and I hope she comes to love this place. It’s her legacy, her history, and hopefully our future as family.”
Cody wiped her eyes, wanting to thank Matt but finding no words strong enough to hold all the emotion she carried.
“I can’t give you the book,” Matt said, closing it up carefully. “But I’ll have a copy made before you leave.”
Cody could only nod her thanks, but she hoped he understood.
“What are your plans, Cody?” Jake asked. “Back to your old life?”
“Well, not exactly,” she said slowly, not meeting anyone’s eyes. “I’ve used up my leave of absence, and I need to go home and make sure mom is doing okay on her own. But I’m kicking around the idea of coming back with Charles’s motor home. Staying in it until I can figure out what I want to do.”
“Got some reasons to come back here?” Jake asked, and reached behind Cody to punch Matt on the shoulder.
“I’ve applied to be Florence’s caregiver,” Cody said, blushing. “I don’t know yet if she’ll be able to remain in the house, but I thought whatever happens might be easier if someone she knew was with her. Sunny offered, but she’s only got so many hours in the day.”
“That’s a fantastic idea,” Jess whispered. “I can help you.”
“I’d appreciate it,” Cody said. “And I thought…maybe I might try to finish what my grandfather started. Finding my dad. I’m not sure if I really want to but I think I should try.”
“That should make May really happy,” Rivers said.
“Yes, well, that thought was added incentive to come back here. More distance, you know?" Cody rubbed her thumbs over her fingernails, feeling the gloss of clear polish from the manicure Rivers had insisted on treating her to.
“I’m going to be making some changes, too,” Matt said, twisting his coffee cup back and forth.
“Yeah, like what, moving into a motor home?” Jake asked, and this time it was Rivers who punched him.
Matt shook his head. “No. I’ve put my resignation in.”
“But the doctors say you can go back to work,” Jess said.
“Not because of the knee,” Matt said. “Because I screwed up big time. I let my dislike of Hailey get in the way of listening to what she said. If I’d done my job, I wouldn’t have been so fixated on Keith and I wouldn’t have ended up shot, and Cody wouldn’t have had to go through what she did.”
“Hailey is pretty difficult to like,” Jess said. “None of us listened to her. First she was fixated on Jake and then when she started going on and on about Rachel, waving that stupid flowered notebook around, I figured she’d just shifted her obsessions.”
“Right,” Matt said. “But that’s no excuse for me, as her supervisor, blowing her off like I did. She’s annoying as hell, but she’s good at what she does. Better than me.”
“What are you going to do?” Rivers asked.
“I’ve applied for a different position at the ranger station. Public liaison. You know, directions to hiking trails, questions about local flora and fauna, where the nearest outhouse is. Complaints from Jake about logging.”
The laughter around the table eased the sadness that followed change.
“You might want to think about working with me,” Rivers said. “I’ve decided it’s time to take on cleaning up the environmental mess in Burke.”
“I’ll think about it,” Matt said. “But don’t expect me to chain myself to trees.”
The conversation stalled for a moment, until Jake slapped his palms on the table.
“I’m out of here,” he said. “People overload.”
“Tactful as always,” Jess said. “But we need to be going, too.”
“Right,” Rivers said. “I need to get home for a phone call. I have a niece out in Montana who’s thinking about coming to stay with me for a while.”
“Cody, let us know when you’re back,” Jess said, standing. “Don’t forget you promised to let me treat you to a tattoo.”
“And I want to take you bouldering with the Climb Naked guys.” Rivers shook a finger at Jake. “And before you ask, no you can’t go.”
“I’ve written it down,” Cody said as Matt choked on his coffee. “Plus going out for dinner with Sunny.”
“Sure,” Matt said. “Dinner with Sunny when I still haven’t gotten mine.”
“Life’s unfair,” Rivers said as she and Jess stood.
Cody stood as well, to hug Jess and Rivers goodbye, and then after a second of hesitation, Jake. He clasped her so tight her ribs cracked, and then squeezed her shoulder.
“Jake,” Cody said, then hesitated.
“I never seriously doubted you.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he said, and then gave her another rib-cracking hug.
“That’s for Kelly,” he said. “Friends that could have been.”
Cody nodded, again with no words to voice what she felt. But Jake wasn’t the type who needed words. He nodded back, slapped his hat on and left, followed by Jess and Rivers. Cody watched until the door shut behind them, and then sat down again.
“Good thing you’re not driving.”
“Cody, about that dinner you owe me.”
“Yes?” Cody asked.
“How about a sleepover instead?”
About the Author
Writer and editor, Lisa Stowe hides out in the Pacific Northwest woods with her husband and son, two cats, a turtle, and three dogs. Kerosene lanterns are her preferred illumination, and the background music she writes to most often comes from bears in the compost or her husband’s chainsaw milling. Two luxuries in her life are electricity, and the internet that finally reached the mountains. Because of those, she can now be found musing about writing on a blog at www.thestoryriver.wordpress.com when she’s not working on the next mystery or talking to a tree. Or hauling a dog away from dead salmon. Or yelling at a cougar. Or digging in the dirt. Simple mountain pleasures for the author of mountain mysteries.
The Memory Keeper by Lisa Stowe / Mystery & Detective have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on40 votes