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The memory keeper, p.5
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       The Memory Keeper, p.5

           Lisa Stowe

  Chapter 5

  A motel brochure on historic walking tours of Wallace listed directions to the Idaho Mining Museum, a rectangular building of aged brick and grimy windows. Cody twisted the glass doorknob and when it didn’t turn, pushed on it instead. A cowbell clanged loudly as she stepped into a small lobby but no one responded to the intrusion. She peered through floating dust motes at stapled packets of papers and flipped through one on the fire of 1910. In the weighted quiet she next read about the disaster of the Sunshine mine fire, but still no one appeared. Wondering if the place was closed after all, she tiptoed to a long display case. Inside were silver earrings, silver necklaces, silver dollars, and vials of silver flakes floating in mineral oil. A large doorway led down to a lower level where Cody could see displays of mining scenes, but no people. Maybe it was time to leave.

  The gray morning light tried to penetrate the aged coating on the windows but succeeded only in laying long shadows over shelves of rusting equipment. More than likely they were related to mining, but for all Cody knew they could have been bits of medieval torture devices. Rubbing her fingernails with her thumbs, she walked softly back to the door. The place was too empty of people and too full of unknown memories to welcome a stranger. It was as if she had no right to stir the dust, to question what might be better off resting.


  The voice made Cody jump so violently she banged into a shelf near the door and toppled pieces of metal to the floor. She whirled around to see a young woman with bobbed brown hair standing in the large doorway, clutching her chest with one hand and the wood frame with the other. She had dramatic eyebrows a few shades darker than her hair, and eyes an even darker brown, and if it hadn’t been for her fair skin and faint freckles, she would have looked as if she was made of earth.

  “Oh god, I’m sorry,” the woman said. “I didn’t know anyone was here. That damn cowbell. I never hear it in the back room. I caught the shadow of someone moving and it scared the hell out of me.”

  “Sorry,” Cody said, backed against the shelf and held there by her racing heart. “I thought the place was open. I didn’t mean to trespass.”

  “It is open. I’m just not used to people coming in.”

  “I can always come back,” Cody said, bending to retrieve the spilled pieces. She hefted up something that looked like a hoe had mated with a rusty axe, started to put it back on the shelf, and then paused to study the odd tool.

  “That’s a Pulaski head,” the woman said. “Invented by a local guy after the 1910 fire to make fighting wild fires easier. So the story goes. I need to get a wood handle on it. I want it in a display I’m working on. Just drop it in that box there. Someday I’ll get all this junk cleaned up. What can I do for you?”

  Cody lowered the axe head into an already full wooden box. “I’m looking for information on my grandfather who grew up here in the 1940’s.”

  “Great. I need an excuse to get away from the back room. I swear all the old papers around here breed at night. What’s his name?”

  “Charles Mogen." Cody cautiously moved back into the lobby as the woman slipped behind the display case.

  “Not familiar with Charles. Any relation to Alice?" The woman pulled down thick journals and let them thud to the counter top. More dust rose in the air.

  “I believe Alice was his mother.”

  “She was nuts. Unstable to begin with, worse after her husband dumped her. We have lots on her because she was always in jail for some scam or other. And getting in trouble for neglecting her son. He must be the grandfather you’re looking for.”

  “I know he started working pretty young,” Cody said, tentatively touching the counter. “I think he supported her.”

  “Well, she had a lot of mental health issues, as they say now. I’ve heard stories she used to lock herself up for days in her bedroom, and had this cat door thing installed so food could be shoved through to her. Oh yeah, I’m Rachel by the way. Rachel Blaine.”

  “Cody Marsh. Have you lived here all your life?”

  “Not in Wallace. In Burke, down the road. You want to see a dying town, go there. It’s an environmental disaster. The big wigs keep trying to buy out the few people still living there so they can close the place down, but no one will go in spite of the conditions." Rachel opened a journal and flipped coarse pages. Her hands were rough, calloused, and scarred, the fingernails cut so short there weren’t even slivers of white left. Cody glanced at her own nails and saw the same eclipse.

  “Let’s see what I’ve got here,” Rachel said.

  “What are those books?”

  “Lists of names, mostly. Pretty much everyone who’s ever lived here. Compiled from birth and death certificates, old newspaper articles. Anywhere a name showed up it got added here. So why are you looking for Charles?”

  “He died recently and I wanted to see where he grew up or if there were any stories about him.”

  “Cool. You know, my granny might be a good person to talk to. She was just a child, but I remember her telling me about how scared she was of Alice.”

  “I’d like to meet her then,” Cody said.

  Once again Cody wished she’d had more time with her grandfather. The idea of a child taking care of an unstable mother made her ache for a boy she would never know. Maybe they could have healed each other, given each the family the other had never had. She swallowed against the lump in her throat.

  “This might take a while,” Rachel said, licking her thumb and flipping more pages. “But it sure beats being grilled by forest rangers.”

  “Forest rangers?” Cody asked, knowing what was coming with a certainty that became a dull weight in her stomach.

  “Oh yeah. Instead of good cop/bad cop it was pissed off ranger and bitchy ranger. Not much to choose between.”

  Cody placed her hands flat on the glass display case, letting the coolness leach away the flush of memory. “Matt and Hailey?”

  “You know them?” Rachel asked. “Oh hell, you’re the tourist who found them aren’t you?”

  Cody knew Rachel was no longer talking about Matt and Hailey, but didn’t know how to respond. Saying even a simple ‘yes’ felt almost like boasting. Look at me, I saw people murdered. Explaining what happened would feel like telling a story not hers to speak of. But Rachel must have seen the answer on Cody’s face because she stepped back, bumping up against a cash register on the counter.

  “I’m going to barf.”

  Going around the display case, Cody saw an old piano stool and rolled it up to Rachel.

  “Here, sit down. What are you supposed to do for throwing up? Put your head between your knees?”

  “I think that’s fainting,” Rachel said, sinking onto the stool and dropping her head down anyway.

  Cody pulled a waste basket over just in case, and sat on the floor next to Rachel, waiting quietly. After a few moments, Rachel sat back, leaning her head against the wall.

  “Kelly was a great guy,” she said. “We went to school together, though we didn’t hang much afterwards. Too busy with life, you know? You never expect people your own age to die.”

  “If it helps any, I don’t think Kelly suffered,” Cody said. She saw a roll of paper towels and stood to get it in case Rachel needed it. Holding it in her arms like a baby, she leaned on the counter. “I think he died right away. It didn’t look like he struggled or anything.”

  “And there was another guy?” Rachel asked.

  “Some guy who’s been staying up there. He didn’t live long, either, though he tried to tell me to get away.”

  “From what?" Rachel reached for the paper towels, her eyes wide with the question.

  Cody shrugged, wishing she could stop scenes replaying in her mind.

  “You think the killer was still there?”

  “No. I don’t know. I didn’t see anyone. But I didn’t feel alone. If that makes sense.”

  “This is just the shits,” Rachel stood and kicked the piano stool hard enough that
it spun away from them and fell over. “Shouldn’t happen to people like Kelly.”

  “Maybe he was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Cody said.

  “What difference does that make? He’s still dead isn’t he?”

  Cody recoiled in a step backward, fumbling her way out from behind the case. “I’m sorry. I just meant maybe it was because of Nate, that no one had a reason to kill Kelly.”

  “Hell,” Rachel said, following Cody. “I’m pissed and taking it out on you. It’s just so damn senseless.”

  “I understand. It’s no big deal. You have the right to be angry and upset. You knew him, after all.”

  “Doesn’t mean you have to be a floor mat and let me walk on you." Rachel fisted her hands on her hips. “You always so nice?”

  “Well trained,” Cody corrected, fighting another urge to apologize.

  “Then we’re going to end up best friends. No one but a saint could put up with me. Which is why I haven’t been laid in months. Men in particular can’t deal with me.”

  Cody laughed, half in surprise and half in embarrassment.

  “Matt’s smart,” Rachel said, going back to the journal, with one hand on her flat stomach as if nausea still threatened. “He’s taking this personal, which is why he’s out talking to everyone. He’ll figure it out. Especially if Jess is helping and keeps Hailey out of the way.”

  “The bouncing ranger?”

  “That’s her. The Bouncing Bitch. Come on, distract me with your grandfather.”

  “Well, he mentioned a woman who used to look out for him. An Ethel Stevenson.”

  “Ethel!" Rachel paused a moment, watching Cody. “Sure. She ran the Silver Haven. She was the madam of the place. The rumor mill at the time said she had a long running affair with the mayor Keith Naylor. Everyone knew it except his wife, from the sounds of it. Though some said she knew and wouldn’t give him a divorce. I wouldn’t either. I’d cut off his balls instead.”

  Cody had no idea how to respond to Rachel’s bluntness. “The mayor allowed bordellos?”

  “Wallace was famous for them. Still is. Some are hotels now, one’s a museum dedicated to the fallen angels, as they were called. Back then though, police would close the front doors and town officials would open the back doors. As long as there’s been bordellos that mayor and his descendants have been involved. Sometimes it’s amazing how all the old families interconnect and stick around.”

  “I heard about the current mayor,” Cody said. “Kelly’s sister. He was going to give her my number.”

  “Yeah, she’d probably be a good resource for you, since her granddad’s still alive, but he’s one scary, mean bugger. I’ve always wondered if his family changed their name to have something to rhyme with ‘mayor’.”

  Cody looked at the journals, thinking about history, and how easily names became real people when you learned their stories.

  “Did you say your grandmother knew Charles?” she asked.

  “Yeppers. And she’s some story teller.” Rachel’s words dropped away and she studied her hands, rubbing calluses for a moment.

  “Are you okay?” Cody asked.

  “Granny is in the beginning stages of dementia,” Rachel said finally. “I don’t like talking about it. Not even to my therapist.”

  Cody felt like she had just opened the door on a dark family closet, and wondered how to back out gracefully without intruding. “I’m sure I can find others to talk to.”

  “No, that’s okay. Tell you what. I’ll keep digging through stuff here. You give me your phone number and when Granny’s well enough I’ll call you. She’s strong and stubborn and this isn’t going to beat her.”

  Cody wrote the number down and handed it to Rachel, wondering how much the confidence in her grandmother came from hope.

  “Do you mind if I look around the museum before I go?”

  “Knock yourself out,” Rachel said. “There’s an amazing history to this area. I never get tired of coming across old stories. Yell if you have any questions.”

  Cody stepped down into the main part of the museum. Moving to the right, she meandered along display cases, pausing in front of the little alcoves. Some had mannequins frozen in various mining poses, with hammers and jacks and trolleys. Some had displays of minerals, with old scales and weights. The whole thing had been done professionally at one time, but now waited under a thick coat of dust.

  Oddly enough one display held mementos from a movie about a volcano that had been filmed in Wallace. She had expected a rather obscure mining town, but instead had found one rich in history and famous as well as infamous. And one that would now be forever linked in her mind with death.

  How much of the town’s history formed the man her grandfather became? Having an unstable mother had to have had a dramatic impact on the person he grew to be. Yet she wondered how the timelessness of land could work its way under someone’s skin until a person could never really be separated from the place. With no answers, she realized she wasn’t going to find her grandfather in this museum and she was no further ahead in learning about him. Discouraged, she went back to the lobby, but Rachel was nowhere in sight and so Cody left.

  By now it was nearing noon, and the misty rain showed no sign of letting up. Cody knew if she went back to the motel she would end up brooding, or worse, calling her mother. She needed to come up with something that would keep her busy. On impulse she went into the Silver Capital Arts building and approached a man standing near the doorway.

  “Excuse me, could you tell me where I might find a senior center or nursing home?”

  “Certainly. Head west on Bank, turn north on Seventh, turn east on Cedar, and you’ll find a senior center on the north side of Cedar.”

  “Thanks,” Cody said, wondering why people couldn’t simply say “turn right” or “turn left”. She had a terrible sense of direction.

  After a couple false starts she found the small senior center, and as she stood dripping in the foyer, a man came out of one of the rooms zipping up a camouflage jacket. He was as bulky as his coat, with little neck, dark stubble instead of hair, and a thick reddened nose that looked as if it had met a few fists in its lifetime.

  “It’s lunch time,” he said. “Haven’t seen you in here before.”

  Cody stepped back from his advance. “No, I’m just visiting.”

  “Yeah? Who?" He rooted around in his pockets, fingers groping and searching while his eyes never left Cody’s face.

  “No one in particular,” Cody said, backing up again.

  “Got any money on you?” he asked, as his hands came up empty. “I have to drink regular or I get real sick. I get the tremors bad.”

  “No, sorry, I didn’t bring any money with me.” A flutter of apprehension blew through to her fingertips and she hoped he wouldn’t see her hands shaking.

  “My great grandpa’s usually good for a buck or two,” the man said, gesturing over his shoulder. “But he lost it all in a poker game. Believe that shit? Who lets old people play poker? Now I got to go scrounge money somewhere.”

  “Well…good luck,” Cody said.

  “Yeah. Like I said, they’re having lunch in the cafeteria but the nurses will let you talk to them.”

  The man pushed through the door, hunching his shoulders against the wet weather. Cody watched him head down the sidewalk, relieved he was gone. She exhaled a shaky breath, managed to draw in a slightly calmer one, and walked into a large and airy cafeteria.

  Two and a half hours later, Cody was back out in the rain, starving. She had spent the time visiting with several retired and elderly locals, and while a few said the Mogen name was familiar, most had no recollection of her grandfather. Even so she’d enjoyed their reminiscing about Wallace and the old days.

  Walking back toward the motel, Cody wondered if she should call Matt or Jess to see if anything new had been discovered. She had no claim to information like a family member would, but she wanted to know what was happening. What was disconcerti
ng was how so many aspects of the sad event seemed to resurrect memories of her grandfather. Even something as simple as thinking about calling the ranger station.

  “When I was in my early twenties,” Charles had told her, “I worked one summer in the forest service. Those rangers were always playing jokes. Tourists would come in looking for fishing holes and these guys would give the fishermen directions to Fool’s Lake. Nasty steep hike, back into the high country.”

  “And was the fishing good?”

  “No, there wasn’t any lake. Just a spring that made a kind of puddle. And next to it a rock cairn where you could sign this old journal that you’d been there. When those hikers came back off the mountain, if they were angry, them rangers just let them stew. But if the guy laughed it off and said he’d had a great time fishing, then the rangers would tell him some real fishing holes. Kind of a test I guess. The journal made some fun reading, seeing what angry fishermen wrote in it. Signed it myself once, not that long ago.”

  Cody turned the corner by her motel, wondering if rangers still sent fishermen there. Maybe she’d be able to find the logbook and see what her grandfather had written. She’d have to remember to ask Matt or Hailey.

  The motel room smelled slightly musty. She opened the window and stretched out on the bed, staring at the ceiling. She had learned a little more about her grandfather, but it was nowhere near enough. He was still a ghost. Why was this so difficult? She was intelligent, held a steady job, lived the life her mother expected. Over the years she had learned to accept the cutting words her mother used, and how to keep her dreams private and her tears more so. She had let go of aspirations long ago and yet here she was, trying to catch the amorphous spirit of a man who had briefly touched her life and claimed her as family.

  She wanted what her grandfather represented. A normal family. For two months her grandfather had allowed her to let go of being a failure, and his unquestioning acceptance had allowed her to believe she could change.

  Now, with his death, she was worse off because she’d had a taste of what it was to be loved unconditionally. The hole left behind gaped raw and aching.

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