The Memory Keeper, p.7Lisa Stowe
Back out on Bank Street, Cody watched a police cruiser come around the corner and slow to a stop beside her.
“You’d be a lot easier to find if you carried a cell phone,” Jess said, bending over a center console hidden under a laptop and crumpled wads of paper. A pad of paper and a couple pens rested on the passenger seat.
“I don’t like them,” Cody said. “Seems egotistical that a person’s conversation is so important strangers have to hear it.”
“How about a microchip?”
“Easier than cruising streets,” Jess said. “Got time for a couple questions?”
“Of course. Where?” The guilt she always carried surged upward, that automatic assumption she’d done something wrong. She tried to shrug it off, hunching her shoulders.
“Right here." Jess lifted the paper and pens out of the way.
When Cody shut the door Jess pushed a button, raising the window, and the soft mechanical noise was a soundtrack to the feeling of isolation from the outside world. Cody relaxed back into the seat and reached for her seatbelt.
“You won’t need that,” Jess said, pulling the car to the curb and killing the engine. “You’d be surprised how often I use this for an office.”
Cody looked out at the few cars passing and the even fewer people going in and out of stores. She entwined her fingers, folding the cup of her hands in her lap.
“There’s more people when it’s tourist season,” Jess said, lifting her chin to indicate the streets. She sat with one wrist on the top arc of the steering wheel, long fingers dangling. Her uniform was neat, her braid smooth, and the cruiser filled with faint scents of laundry soap and starch.
Cody gave her attention to Jess’s angular profile, watching her as she watched the town.
“You told me what happened on the trail, but I’d like to hear about before,” Jess said. “Did you see anyone walking in the vicinity of the gas station or the trail?”
“No,” Cody said. “But I was inside. Anyone could have gone by then.”
“Inside? For how long?" Jess’s dark eyes tightened as she turned toward Cody.
“I’m not sure. Ten minutes maybe?”
“Did you interrupt many cell conversations?”
Cody relaxed. “A few. And a few text messages.”
“Cell is going to end up with a phone shaped brain tumor. What did you talk about?”
“The trail, the history of the gas station. Oh, and rock climbing.”
“That figures,” Jess said. “When you left, did Cell show you the trailhead? Could he have followed you up?”
“I don’t know. He was too busy arguing with a man when I went out. I suppose after the guy left he could have, but I never heard anyone following me." Cody’s fingers were growing numb from gripping them together and she took a deep breath, relaxing her hands. The thought that someone had followed her and she hadn’t been aware of it, let the sense of responsibility loose again. Would Kelly and Nate be alive if she’d been more aware of her surroundings?
Jess reached out and covered Cody’s hands briefly with her own. “You probably wouldn’t have heard anyone coming up the trail unless they were right behind you." She flipped open one of the writing tablets and uncapped a pen, tapping it softly against the paper. “Tell me about this argument.”
“A guy came in who was upset with Cell,” Cody responded, not entirely reassured by Jess’s kindness. “And Cell didn’t seem too happy to see him, either. I thought at first they were going to get in a fight.”
“What made you think that?”
“Because the other guy was so angry.”
“What did he look like?”
“A younger version of Daniel Boone. Or Erwin Flowers. One of those mountain man types. Longish hair, a heavy work coat you see farmers wearing.”
“Carhartts. Jake Conrad.”
“Yes…I think Jake was the name Cell used, but I’m not sure.”
“Jake lives up Thompson Pass, in a cabin that’s been in his family for generations, before the area became forest service land. The place is grandfathered in but the forest service would love to find a way to get it back. That area’s scheduled for logging, and Jake’s fighting it, citing environmental impacts to his place." Jess sagged back in the seat, and the pen stilled in its dance against the paper. Her scribbled notes looked like tiny mouse tracks. “No love lost between Jake and any government agency. Excuse me a minute.”
Jess flipped open a small cell phone and hit a button.
“Hey Tanner. Jake Conrad was at the station arguing with Cell shortly before Cody headed up the trail. Might want to talk to him." She paused, listening. “Who? Rivers? Ah shit Matt, you didn’t. I’m going to get you for this.”
Jess snapped shut the phone, and checked the mirrors before looking over her shoulder and scanning the road.
“Everything okay?” Cody asked. “Should I be ducking down or bailing for the sidewalk?”
Jess looked startled for a second and then released a deep husky laugh. “Nah. Matt just referred our local environmental hippie to me with some complaint about mining. As usual.”
“Tall beautiful woman, very elegant?” Cody asked.
“Very. She in the gas station, too?”
“No, I was behind her in a deli line. She’s hard to forget.”
“Damn straight. So, no one else but Jake and Cell?”
“Don’t apologize. That’s more than I had before you got in, and it ties in with other information. Can I drop you anywhere?”
Cody considered. “No thanks. I think I’m going to go back to the motel. See if I can figure out where to check next for old stories.”
“You tried the library yet?”
“Sometimes the most obvious is what we don’t see." Jess freed another laugh. “I’ll run you over there. It’s not too far from your motel. By the way, did you hear a memorial service is scheduled for tomorrow evening?”
“For Kelly and Nate? No. I just talked with Kendra and her grandfather and they didn’t say anything.”
“Just for Kelly. Guess the Naylors don’t want to waste any time. They’re having the memorial with no body." Jess started up the car and pulled out.
“Autopsy. He won’t be released by tomorrow. But they’re having the memorial anyway. Going?”
“Oh, no,” Cody said without thinking. “I didn’t know him.” She flashed back on Kelly’s fingers touching her shoulder. His fingertips hadn’t spoken of romance, but whispered of a friendship that might have been and was now lost. She felt cheated.
“You found them,” Jess said as she pulled into the parking lot of a small library. “That gives you more of bond than anyone else. Call me if you change your mind and need a ride.”
“Thanks,” Cody said. She shut the door behind her and waved, but Jess was already talking on her radio, and pulling out onto the road.
The library might not have been very big, but inside it was crammed with books. Cody found the section on local history, pulled out several books, and sat at a long table with her choices, reading intently. She wasn’t learning much about Charles, but she was finding out a lot about the area. She tried to concentrate on the words, but kept going back to the memorial service the next night. Maybe she should go. She hadn’t known Kelly long enough to tell if her presence would have mattered to him, but maybe she could honor the gesture he had made.
She pulled a book toward her, hearing the spine creak as she opened it, as if no one had ever read it. The pristine pages listed mines in Wallace and Burke, both those that were inoperative as well as those being worked at the time of publication, which was only a year ago. The mine owner’s names were shown along with a chapter devoted to the history of the mine. Cody didn’t expect to find her grandfather’s name here. He’d never been a miner. Yet she still idly scanned the contents, looking to learn a bit
She missed the names at first, but then realized she’d seen something familiar. The Honey Do mine, owners Keith Naylor Sr., Patrick Cross, Wesley Smithwick, and Ethel Stevenson. Ethel, the woman who had watched out for her grandfather when he was a child. It gave Cody a gentle delight, to see in writing something Charles had told her, as if ink equaled truth.
No Charles Mogen was listed in the paragraph, but she bent over the pages. If she learned about the people that had surrounded him, maybe she would find who her grandfather had been. And maybe she’d be able to answer some of the questions he had never found solutions to. One in particular, about his parentage, seemed to haunt him more than others. She could remember only one brief conversation that had come up as a result of a disagreement she’d had with May. It had been the only time he’d alluded to his childhood.
“You sounded a bit short with your mother just now,” Charles had remonstrated as they pulled out of the driveway on their way sightseeing.
“Well, you heard her,” Cody said, feeling defensive. “She would be happy if I did nothing but sit by her side all day long.”
“Granted May is difficult, but underneath she loves you, and you don’t realize how lucky you are to know your parents.”
“What do you mean?” Cody had asked. “Your mother raised you alone just like mine.”
“Maybe,” Charles had said, looking somehow wistful. “But I always wondered…well, perhaps it was nothing more than daydreams. You know how a child will develop a make believe world when their own is not the best?”
“Your childhood was difficult?”
“Oh, I’d say it was hard, but then those were hard times. Lonely times. There was a distance with my mother even though I think she loved me in her way. But my father told me once…”
“What?” Cody had asked when the silence dragged out.
“When I was just a tad, I remember him saying some day he would tell me about my true parentage. After he left us I used those words to create stories about him, reasons why he left. That he was the son of a pirate or a spy off saving the world.” Charles shrugged. “The dreams of a child who can only escape through imaginings. I outgrew them, but never did find out what my father meant.”
“I used to daydream about my dad. Until I got old enough to realize he was nothing to dream about." Cody caught her breath and raised a hand as if in supplication. “Oh, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that about your son.”
“Not to worry,” Charles said. “I loved my son, but I saw his faults.”
“It used to make me angry that he left me but I don’t think about it as much now." Cody felt the pride that blanketed her purposeful self-deception. She had perfected hiding her feelings about her father because May got so angry whenever the subject came up.
“But at least you had your mother to raise you,” Charles said. “As difficult as she might be, she kept you from foster homes, or some other transient life.”
Chastised, Cody had wished, for a moment, that her grandfather had taken her side rather than show a side of May she didn’t want to see.
“We both were given mothers that did, or do, the best they can,” Charles had said, resting a hand on her shoulder. “We both had fathers who left us with nothing but dreams and questions. I always wanted to know why my father left, and I realize I’ll never know. Maybe someday you’ll find out about yours.”
“If he’s ever found,” Cody said.
“If he’s ever found,” Charles agreed.
Shaking her head at the memory, Cody looked back down at the book on mining and turned to the page that had caught her eye.
“The Honey Do Mine was a small silver venture operating from 1940 to 1942 and never producing enough to pay back what shareholders invested. Boasting a who’s who of names in Wallace at the time, investors included the local sheriff, Wesley Smithwick, the mayor Keith Naylor Sr., a madam of a well-known bordello, Ethel Stevenson, and the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, Patrick Cross.
“Sunk only two levels, the shallow surface mine was situated near Desolation, a notorious wall of granite lifting out of the north end of Diamond Gulch, that even today regularly claims the lives of climbers. The location made removal of ore difficult and, at times, dangerous, as it was impossible to bring in rail lines. The owners were forced to remove product the old fashioned way using mules to reach the nearest road. The cost incurred cut short the life of a mine never destined to fulfill the hopes of the stakeholders. It was closed without ceremony in September of 1942, and the owners moved on, as many miners did, the wiser for their monetary losses.
“At the time of this publication, papers have been filed to reopen the mine, but it is unclear if the new owner will be able to address all the environmental issues. As the mine was such a poor producer in the past, she may not be worth the costs of current environmental reviews.”
Flipping back to the index, Cody looked in vain for Ethel’s name elsewhere, but she obviously hadn’t tried mining again. She picked up the book and walked over to the tiny information desk, waiting as a tall young man in a perpetual state of stoop helped a small girl asking where local dragons might live.
“Excuse me,” Cody said when it was her turn. “Is there a copy machine here?”
“Of course, over by the checkout machines. Copies are fifteen cents.”
“Thanks,” Cody said. “Would you know if there are any other books that refer to Ethel Stevenson?”
“Let me just check for you,” he said, turning to a computer monitor and touching the screen.
Cody felt a twinge of nostalgia for the Dewey Decimal cards of her school library, stacked in long thin drawers. Her school librarian had fought against admitting computers, and Cody had inherited the woman’s love of the old index cards as they had never failed to turn up treasures. She would be flipping through them looking for a specific book and the description or title of another would catch her eye and she’d be diverted into the wonderful world of an unread book. It just wasn’t the same with computer screens.
A man came up behind her, and Cody glanced at him as she waited for the computer to do its job. The jet black hair and striking blue eyes looked familiar. It took her a moment to remember he had been in the deli with the environmentalist, Rivers.
“I have references to Ethel’s Silver Haven business,” the librarian said. “Though most of those are second hand, with the originals being held by the Oasis, a Wallace museum dedicated to the history of local bordellos. You could look through newspapers from that time period, too. Ethel was a prominent citizen so there’s bound to be references to her.”
Cody thanked him and as she stepped away, the newcomer moved to the counter.
“Hey Evan. I need some help finding an environmental report filed by Fish and Wildlife on Burke about five months ago.”
Cody made her copies, returned the mining book, and left the library, deciding if any old newspaper articles existed, Rachel Blaine at the museum would probably find them faster than she could. Her stomach growled. It was mid- afternoon and clearly time to get her car and pick up something for lunch.
The local grocery store was easy to find and Cody stood in the checkout lane holding a deli Caesar salad, ignoring the rack of chips and feeling virtuous. At least until a tap on her shoulder made her jump and drop the salad. The lid came off and lettuce and croutons escaped the container.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you. I was about to ask if Ranger Tanner had spoken with you yet." Hailey once again stood with her hands on her hips.
Cody squatted down to gather up the salad, glancing up at Hailey standing over her. People were stacking up in line behind them and Cody felt embarrassment inflame her face. She scooped salad remains back into the box, pushed the useless plastic lid back on, and stood. “I’ll pay for this and then go get another one,” she told the checker.
“No worries,” she said. “Like
Cody looked at the young woman and managed a smile through the frustration. “You work at the deli.”
“Oh yeah, but only part time. And weekends I’m down at the bar. The tips are, like, better than the wage. And I have a few other odd jobs, too.”
Out of the corner of her eye Cody could see a couple people behind her switch to another checkout. One that seemed to be moving.
“Look,” she said. “Let me leave this here while I go grab another one so I don’t take up more time.”
“That would work,” Hailey said. “Since some of us are on a lunch break.”
“Hey, not cool,” the deli girl said. “You need to, like, try yoga or something.”
Hailey responded by bouncing up on her tiptoes. As she opened her mouth, Cody fled for the salads. She took her time picking out a container, and then peeked at the checkout line before stepping up behind a woman with a full cart and three giddy children. Hailey was nowhere in sight.
When it was her turn again, Cody put the salad on the conveyor belt, stepped up to the register and saw tears in the deli girl’s blue eyes.
“Oh, no,” Cody said.
“That Hailey needs to chill,” the girl said.
“I’m so sorry,” Cody said. “She shouldn’t have taken her frustration out on you.”
“It’s not your fault. She’s, like, mean to everyone.”
“Well, I’m sorry anyway. What’s your name?”
The girl managed a smile and swiped tears away with a hand laden with silver rings. “Sue, but my friend Rivers says I got the wrong name at birth. She calls me Sunny. I like that better, don’t you?”
Cody had to admit it seemed a fit for the girl. She pulled out money for her salad, Sunny insisting there would be no charge for the dropped one.
“Thanks. And I’m sorry again you had a rough time.”
“Like, over and done with, no worries. Not worth wasting any more time on.”
“Good attitude." Cody picked up her bag. “See you around.”
The automatic doors gave out a pneumatic grunt, opening on the cool afternoon. Cody turned in the direction of her car and saw Hailey leaning against it, arms crossed over her chest.
“I never heard an answer to my question,” Hailey said as Cody unlocked the door.
“I never heard a question.”
Cody started to pull the door shut but Hailey caught it.
“Has Ranger Tanner talked to you yet?”
“No,” Cody said, remembering the tears in Sunny’s eyes. She tugged on the door again.
“We’re on the same side here,” Hailey said, releasing her grip. “You don’t have to like me to realize that.”
“I know,” Cody said. “And I haven’t spoken with the ranger.”
“When you do I want to know about it. Right away.”
“Then ask him,” Cody said, giving in to the flare of irritation.
Cody could see Hailey in the rearview mirror as she pulled out. The petite ranger yanked out her floral journal, stared briefly at Cody’s car, and started writing.
Cody gripped the steering wheel. She was so tired of feeling guilty.
The Memory Keeper by Lisa Stowe / Mystery & Detective have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on40 votes