Mr. Crumpton

Mr. Crumpton owned a manufacturing company that made scrubs for doctors and nurses.  In his employ were about a hundred workers, including cutters, seamstresses, shaders, ticket-makers and quality control experts.

He ran a tight ship and was a strict employer but he was a fair one.  He paid a decent wage and expected a decent days’ work.  Jobs in his company were hard to come by as his employees tended to stay.  Some of them had been with him since the first day the doors opened.

He was feared by a few, as he was an imposing character.  Six foot, four inches tall and still built like a Marine at sixty-five years old.

A few of the older women had secret crushes on him, for no other reason than he was so mysterious.  Being long before the age of computers where everybodys’ life was clearly available, only his secretary knew anything about him.  If he had a family, only she knew and she didn’t talk.

The only thing that was known, was that he had started the company forty years earlier, armed only with a shoestring budget and sheer grit and determination.

Every year around this time, he was faced with having to deal with the holiday season.  There were requests for parties and celebrations.  It wasn’t that he could be labeled a “Scrooge,” he just had it in mind that taking time out for something as frivolous as a Christmas party had the potential for missing deadlines and slower production, both of which translated into lost revenue.

The girls who worked in the office, gave up their lunch hour to put up a tree in the lobby.  Mr. Crumpton didn’t complain but would have never suggested any sort of holiday decorations.

Two weeks before Christmas, the new hospital that Mr. Crumpton had been contracted to provide the uniforms for was going to open ahead of schedule, which had been a possibility stated in the contract.  In order to avoid a penalty, it meant that production would have to increase in order to meet the promised deadline for delivery.  That also meant overtime for workers and no time for parties.

No apologies were extended.  His workers were disappointed but they had always been loyal and dependable and were prepared to meet the challenge.  Mr. Crumpton had always valued their loyalty and after he thanked them, he quietly slipped into his office.

His secretary went in and cautiously suggested that maybe this once, he could give his employees a bonus for their efforts, as he had never given bonuses before.  His response was “I pay them for a days’ work and I pay them for an extra days’ work.  I don’t pay them for sentimentality.”

The deadline was met and the employees celebrated with cheers as soon as the last bundle of scrubs was packed into a box for delivery on Christmas Eve.  The expected visit on the floor from Mr. Crumpton didn’t come.

The day after Christmas, production once again back in full swing, was interrupted when his secretary asked for everybodys’ attention.

“First, I want to thank all of you for a job well done and I hope everybody had a Merry Christmas.”  After the cheers and applause settled down, she said “I’m afraid I have some sad news.  Mr. Crumpton died suddenly early this morning.”

All the employees stood silently stunned after hearing the news.  She went on to say that there was going to be a meeting that afternoon at two o’clock but she would like for them to continue working until then, if they were able.

That afternoon, again the employees stood silently stunned when an attorney informed them that Mr. Crumpton had left his entire fortune of 4.1 million dollars…to them.

 

A Letter To Santa – First, The Sappy One. Now, The Snarky One

Dear Santa,

I don’t have a Christmas tree.
Actually, I have 15 Christmas trees.  I just chose not to put them up.
Would you leave some Boost for me?
I have four cases so I’m set.
You could leave it at my door.
There is a box at my door right now.
I promise I’ve been good and I won’t ask for more.
Don’t know about being good and I’ve learned not to ask for anything.

You don’t have to fill my stocking.
You’re off the hook (and so is the stocking.)
Or read a pleading note.
I don’t write pleading notes, asshole.
I don’t want a car, a fur or something that will float.
Got a car, a couple of furs and a rubber duck.  I’m good.

The cards fell wrong for me and I’m alone.
Hell yeah, and I’d rather be alone than live with a lying, cheating, disease-giving pig.
It’s now my way of life.
Yep.  And like I said.  It’s better than living with a lying, cheating, disease-giving pig.
But, once I was a mother.
Yes, I was and I’m afraid I was not a very good one.
Once I was a wife.
Biggest mistake I ever made.  I’d have been better off being just another tramp.  

I won’t ask for company.
I didn’t bother to decorate so I don’t think anybody would want to come over anyway.
For there’s nobody left.
Oh, they’re there.  They just choose to visit somebody else.
I will be okay, though.
Yes I will, and I have been for the last several Christmases.
I will not be bereft.
I probably will be but that’s nothing new.

I will not ask for calls or texts.
I would prefer not to get obligatory or drunken calls or texts, so that’s why I won’t ask.
I know they will not come.
Nope.  They won’t.
They will go to someone else.
Yep.  They will go to all the important people.  The people who matter.
So, I’ll pretend I’m numb.
No pretense.  I already am.

A case of Boost is all I want.
Well, we all know I want Wentworth Miller but I’m trying to be realistic here.  
It’s full of nutrients.
It is probably some of the worst crap you can drink but it beats having to turn on the stove and open a can of beans.
Please don’t deny my only wish.
You’ve denied so many of my wishes in the past, it wouldn’t be anything new.
Or show insouciance.
I had forty-one years of that.  Don’t need any more.

If you would only bring some Boost.
That would be great, especially if it was free.
I’ll have a happy day.
I’m lying.  What the fuck is a happy day?
I’ll drink it while I reminisce.
I do quite a bit of reminiscing this time of year.  Gotta cut that shit out.
And pass the time away.
I learned how to pass the time away the first week I was married, so I’m a bit of an expert.

You don’t need to wrap it.
Well, if you had any newspaper handy, you could wrap it in that.  That would certainly bring back memories.
Or add a big red bow.
No bows.  They tend to get squished.
When I awake on Christmas morn.
I would actually like to sleep all day so I didn’t know it was Christmas.
From who it is, I’ll know.
I’ll know who it’s from.  Merry Christmas, Laurel.  From Laurel.

I’ve never stopped believing.
Are you fucking kidding me?  I stopped believing in just about everything a long time ago and that includes you.  I don’t even like you.
And I will be right here.
Where the hell else am I going to be?  At a family gathering? Don’t be ridiculous.
So, while you’re loading up your sleigh,
Throw in some Boost.  While you’re at it, kidnap Wentworth Miller but understand.  He’s MINE.  Don’t deliver him to anybody else!
Would you remember me this year?
You haven’t remembered me for the last four years but if you don’t remember me this year, I’m going to tell all the little kiddies that you aren’t fucking real.  Okay?  How about that?

 

 

A Letter To Santa

Dear Santa,

I don’t have a Christmas tree,
but would you leave some Boost for me?
You could leave it at my door.
I promise I’ve been good and I won’t ask for more.

You don’t have to fill my stocking,
Or read a pleading note.
I don’t want a car, a fur,
Or something that will float.

The cards fell wrong and I’m alone.
It’s now my way of life.
But, once I was a mother.
Once I was a wife.

I won’t ask for company,
For there’s nobody left.
I will be okay though,
I will not be bereft.

I will not ask for calls or texts,
I know they will not come.
They will go to someone else,
So I’ll pretend I’m numb.

A case of Boost is all I want.
It’s full of nutrients.
Please don’t deny my only wish,
Or show insouciance.

If you would only bring some Boost,
I’ll have a happy day.
I’ll drink it while I reminisce,
And pass the time away.

You don’t need to wrap it,
Or add a big red bow.
When I awake on Christmas morn,
From who it is, I’ll know.

I’ve never stopped believing,
And I will be right here.
So, while you’re loading up your sleigh,
Would you remember me this year?

 

Twelve Days Of Christmas

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:
A six-pack of beer.
“Thanks, babe but I don’t drink.”
“I thought maybe you’d grow up and learn how.  Okay, I’ll drink the beer.”

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:
A book about journalism and a six-pack of beer.
“I don’t read books and I have no aspirations to be a journalist but thank you.”
“Not a problem.  I thought if you actually read a book, you might get smarter.  Obviously you’re not interested, so I’ll throw the fucking book out and I’ll drink the beer.”

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:
 An art set of oil paints, canvases, complete with sable brushes, a book about journalism and a six-pack of beer.
“Thank you, my sweet but you know I don’t paint anymore and you know why.”
“Just because I got mad one time and threw your paints across the room, you have to be a martyr.  Okay.  I’ll give it away, I’ll throw the fucking book out and I’ll drink the beer.”

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:
A box of golf balls, an art set, a book about journalism and a six-pack of beer.
“Oh, sweetie, don’t you remember what happened the last time I played golf with you?
“Goddammit, aren’t you ever going to get over me jerking your arm out of its socket while screaming at you to get out of the fucking way?  Fine, I’ll use the balls, I’ll give the art set away, I’ll throw the fucking book out and I’ll drink the beer.”

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:
A pack of guitar picks, a box of golf balls, an art set, a book about journalism and a six-pack of beer.
“Thanks for the thought, darling but I don’t play the guitar.”
“Well, fuck.  Is there anything you WILL do?  Okay.  I’ll take the guitar picks, I’ll use the golf balls, I’ll give the art set away, I’ll throw the fucking book out and I’ll drink the beer.”

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:
A noon appointment to watch a Duke basketball game in a bar, a pack of guitar picks, a box of golf balls, an art set, a book about journalism and a six-pack of beer.
“Oh, honey.  I’m really not interested in going to a bar to watch basketball and you know how drunk you get.  I was kind of hoping that we might spend the day just being with each other.”
“How can you be so fucking selfish?  You know how important Duke basketball is to me!  It’s all about you, isn’t it?  You don’t do anything and you don’t want me to do anything either, right?  Don’t worry about it.  I’ll watch the game by myself, I take the guitar picks, I’ll use the golf balls, I’ll give the art set away, I’ll throw the fucking book out and I’ll drink the beer.”

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:
A notice that his friends were coming over for a drink, a noon appointment to watch a Duke basketball game in a bar, a pack of guitar picks, a box of golf balls, an art set, a book about journalism and a six-pack of beer.
“Darling, I really don’t want your friends coming over. They get so rowdy and they break my things.
“Still all about you, isn’t it?  I let your idiot sister come down here and act like a fucking moron and never say a word.  Tell you what.  If you don’t like it, you can leave.  I’ll entertain my friends, I’ll watch the game by myself, I’ll take the guitar picks, I’ll use the golf balls, I’ll give the art set away, I’ll throw the fucking book out and I’ll drink the beer.”

On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:
Three recycled magazines about Tree Houses that had come to his office earlier that year, a notice that his friends were coming over for a drink, a noon appointment to watch a Duke basketball game in a bar, a pack of guitar picks, a box of golf balls, an art set, a book about journalism and a six-pack of beer.
“I appreciate the re-gift sweetheart but I don’t plan on building any tree houses anytime soon.
“Can you be any more useless?  Don’t you want to at least pretend to know something about something?  If you don’t want the magazines, I’ll toss them.  I’ll entertain my friends, I’ll watch the game by myself, I’ll take the guitar picks, I’ll use the golf balls, I’ll give the art set away, I’ll throw the fucking book out and I’ll drink the beer.” 

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:
A collection of Christmas cards to display, sent from his family members and addressed only to him, three re-cycled magazines about tree houses, a notice that his friends were coming over for a drink, a noon appointment to watch a Duke basketball game in a bar, a pack of guitar picks, a box of golf balls, an art set, a book about journalism and a six-pack of beer.
“I am not going to display cards in my house from people who blatantly exclude me.  Do you not understand that?”
“You’re a real piece of work, you know it?  Go ahead.  Ruin Christmas for me.  I’ll take the cards to work, I’ll toss the magazines, I’ll entertain my friends, I’ll watch the game by myself, I’ll take the guitar picks, I’ll use the golf balls, I’ll give the art set away, I’ll throw the fucking book out and I’ll drink the beer.”

On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:
An invitation to not spend the day at his brothers’ house, a collection of Christmas cards to display, three re-cycled magazines about tree houses, a notice that his friends were coming over for a drink, a noon appointment to watch a Duke basketball game in a bar, a pack of guitar picks, a box of golf balls, an art set, a book about journalism and a six-pack of beer.
“You’re going to spend the day with your brother instead of me?  The brother who treats me and your children like we’re worthless garbage?”
“Listen, my mama and daddy drove down and I want to see them and I’m not going to take any shit from you about it. Besides, you know you don’t want to go, so I’ll spend the day with my brother and my mama and daddy, I’ll take the cards to work, I’ll toss the magazines, I’ll entertain my friends, I’ll watch the game by myself, I’ll take the guitar picks, I’ll use the golf balls, I’ll give the art set away, I’ll throw the fucking book out and I’ll drink the beer.”

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:
Another invitation to spend Christmas alone, an invitation to not spend the day at his brothers’ house, a collection of Christmas cards to display, three re-cycled magazines about tree houses, a notice that his friends were coming over for a drink, a noon appointment to watch a Duke basketball game in a bar, a pack of guitar picks, a box of golf balls, an art set, a book about journalism and a six-pack of beer.
“You’re leaving me alone again on Christmas?  But I have a pot roast cooking.  Can’t you stay here with me?”
“The family rented a house at Edisto Beach.  Mamas’ cooking and everybody’s going to be there.  I didn’t ask you if you wanted to go because you never want to do anything.  Go upstairs and make a quilt or something.  I’ll go see them, I’ll spend the day with my brother and my mama and daddy, I’ll take the cards to work, I’ll toss the magazines, I’ll entertain my friends, I’ll watch the game by myself, I’ll take the guitar picks, I’ll use the golf balls, I’ll give the art set away, I’ll throw the fucking book out and I’ll drink the beer.”

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:
An announcement that he picked up the WTC in a bar, another invitation to spend Christmas alone, an invitation to not spend the day at his brothers’ house, a collection of Christmas cards to display, three re-cycled magazines about tree houses, a notice that his friends were coming over for a drink, a noon appointment to watch a Duke basketball game in a bar, a pack of guitar picks, a box of golf balls, an art set, a book about journalism and a six-pack of beer.
“Um…what?”
“I’d like to bring her down and I thought we would stay with you.”
“You can’t stay here.”
“Oh, well I guess I won’t bring her then.”
“I think it’s time to talk about divorce.”
“NO.  I am not going to talk about divorce!  I cannot imagine not being married to you.”
“Wait a minute.  Did you really think that you were going to bring her down here, stay in my house, sleep with her in my bed while I slept on the sofa and I was going to be okay with that?”
“Yeah….no.  I don’t know what I was thinking.”
“Sorry, darling. I am not going to be your whore wife but Merry Christmas anyway!

 

The Key – Part Eight

When I got home, I changed clothes, popped open a brewski and settled onto the floor in my living room.  It was chilly, so I threw a couple of my recently purchased Duraflame logs into fireplace.  That was something I only did occasionally but for some reason, tonight seemed appropriate.

Once again, I pulled out my Barlow knife and this time, I cut the twine that held the box together.

Suddenly, I wasn’t so anxious to see what was inside.  I don’t know if I was afraid that I would be disappointed in what I found or even more disappointed in what I didn’t find.  After a few swigs of liquid courage, I took off the lid.

I found myself looking at what seemed to be nothing more than a stack of letters.  I took one out and then another and then another.

I opened one of them and started to read.  It was very passionate and personal and spoke of things that in my younger years, would have probably made me blush.

I wondered if this was the first time they had been read by the light of a fire. They were old letters and all the dates were from the late 50s and early 60s.

I realized that I was looking at a secret past that happened before I was even born.

There were love notes written on paper napkins and some included rendezvous times and places.  Some of the letters had smudged ink marks, much like would happen when tears had fallen onto them.  Some of them had a lipsticked kiss on them.

It didn’t take long for what I was seeing to register and I wasn’t going to need Sherlock Holmes to solve this mystery for me.  All I seemed to be able to do was shake my head and say “wow.  Wow.”

This woman had a secret and she took it to the grave, or so she probably thought and it was clear to me why it needed to be kept secret.

Now, that secret was mine.  I continued to read the letters and notes that first, the safe deposit box and then the little Buster Brown shoe box had guarded all these years.

The contents of that box laid bare why this woman had, as the coroner said, literally died from a broken heart.  I now had the power to continue to keep her secret or expose it.

The decision for me, came quickly and easily.  I picked the letters up, one by one and put them into the fireplace.  I watched as they had that familiar blue glow that appears when you burn a piece of paper.

Her secret was being consumed one letter at a time, just as her body would soon be consumed one limb at a time.

I kept one letter aside that had never been opened.  Did she think, I wondered, “if I never open this letter, there will always be another letter?”

One quick swipe from my knife would make known the contents of something that had been written more than fifty years ago, or it could meet its fiery fate, having never been read.

I sat on the floor for what seemed like hours, staring at the now empty box and the one unopened letter.  I had to make a decision.  I put the letter in the box and carefully replaced the lid.

Did I burn the last letter?  Will I ever reveal what I found in the box?  Will I ever reveal who the letters were from?

Maybe someday I will, if and when I write my memoirs.

Then again, maybe I won’t.  Some things should probably just be kept secret.

 

das Ende.

 

The Key – Part Seven

I had my work cut out for me and I wasn’t even sure where to start, so I took off my jacket, rolled up my sleeves and went on the hunt.  I would have to use my keen detective skills to decide which boxes had been there the longest, since the layer of dust obviously wasn’t going to be an indicator. Every box was covered and they all looked like they had been there for years.

I surmised that the oldest ones would be on the shelves. My reasoning was that they would be filled first, then the table and then the floor.  One by one, I started taking them down, carefully scrutinizing each one, looking for that elusive number 35S.

Some of the boxes felt as though they held nothing, while others had a hefty weight to them.  I admit that I was tempted to take a peek inside some of them, but temptation was as far as it went.  I had a mission and that was to find the box that mattered.

Some of the numbers had been written on the bottom of the box, a fact I discovered after straining my eyes, trying to find it on the top or the sides.

I looked at every single box on the shelves, thirty-two in all.  “Why would so many people forget what was in a safe deposit box?”  I thought.  “And why didn’t a family member come to claim it?”  I wondered if they thought, like so many, that old people and old things had no value.

Having proven that my so-called “keen detective skills” were lacking, I skipped the floor and turned to the table and its contents.  There were nine rows, stacked four high. I started on the end, removing the top box and dusting it off as I looked for the number.

Three rows in and just as I was thinking “this is bullshit,” suddenly, the number 35S was staring me in the face.  It was written on an old childs’ Buster Brown shoe box.  The size said “13 1/2.”

I paused for a minute, letting it sink in that I had actually found the box.  What was I going to find inside?  I took a deep breath and pulled my Barlow knife out of my pocket to cut the twine tied around the box.

Just then, Roy came in and said “it’s about time to close the doors.  How’re you doin’?”  I told him I had just found the box and he let out with a “well, what do you know about that!”

When I told Roy that I thought I’d just take the box with me, I saw a look of confusion on his face.  “I’m not sure you can do that,” he said.  “The order says search but it doesn’t say anything about seizure.”  I showed him the order again and pointed out the phrase “grant access and release any and all information associated with the decedent.”

“Okay,” Roy said.  “I’m not sure I would consider the contents of that box as information, but I’ll take your word for it.  I’ll just need you to sign this form, stating that you are taking care, custody and control.”

Roy tried to come across as an almost country bumpkin but he was clearly playing with a full deck of cards.  I was curious as to what his profession had been before he came to work at the Post Office.  Certain phrases he dropped like “not standing on ceremony” and “search and seizure”  and “care, custody and control” were not the words of a backwoods, uneducated man.

When I posed the question to him, he hesitated and then said “I was a structural engineer but I left that life behind many years ago.”

I got the impression that Roy didn’t want to talk about the details so I shook his hand and told him it was a pleasure to meet him.

My curiosity suddenly wasn’t confined to my pretend investigation into the contents of box 35S.  I took out my phone and started Googling local engineers.  Buried deep on page nine was an article about a new building that had been erected in the city and what an incredible accomplishment it was.  The engineer was Roy Huggins.

Tragically, just after the building reached full capacity, it collapsed, killing everybody inside and several pedestrians on the street.  The exact cause was never determined but the court of public opinion ultimately put the responsibility onto Huggins’ shoulders.

“What a pisser,” I thought, and headed home.

To be continued________________

The Key – Part Six

The next morning I was up bright and early, headed to the Lonelyville Post Office.  When I pulled up, I thought to myself “are you kidding me?”

It was a standalone structure that looked like a survivor of the Civil War.  I was certain that I saw evidence of a patched-up cannon ball hole that had blown all the way through the building.

I went in and spoke with the man standing behind the counter.  “Good morning, young feller,” he said.  I smiled and said “good morning.  Can I speak with the Postmaster?”  He shook his head and said “we don’t have one here.”  I said “okay, then how about the supervisor?” He said “we don’t have one of those either.”

I looked at his name tag, handed him the order and said “well, maybe you’ll be able to help me, Roy.”  He put on his glasses, looked at it and said “we don’t get many of these way out here.  I’m going to have to call somebody and get permission to do this, because I’m just a part-time clerk.”

He excused himself and picked up the telephone.  After a brief conversation with whoever answered, he turned to me and said “okay, what do you need?”

I explained that I needed to look at the safe deposit boxes in row S, with the numbers 35 on them.  “Okay,” he said. “Just follow me.”  He opened the swinging half-door and said “step this way.”  I followed him to the back of the room and he said “now, our numbers only go up to 50 on every row, so you should be able to find what you’re looking for, and right quick.”

I found #35 and tried the key.  It didn’t work.  He looked at the key and said “boy, this is an old one.”  I told him I knew.  I said I was trying to close a case and the key had been found in the hand of a woman who had died.  He said “well, I’m sure sorry to hear that and I’m sorry I couldn’t help you out.”

I asked him if he would be willing to look up her name.  He said “sure, I’d be happy to.  Fetch me that ladder over yonder.”  I handed him an old wooden ladder that looked like it had been splattered with almost every conceivable color of paint that had ever been mixed.  He slowly climbed up and reached for a thick, dusty book on the top shelf.

I gave him her name and he opened the book and started thumbing through it.  “It’s interesting that your records aren’t kept on a computer,” I said.  He laughed and said “we barely keep our doors open out here.  There isn’t enough money to have something as fancy as a computer. Besides, like I said, we don’t get many requests like this.”

He continued his search and all of a sudden he said “here she is.”  I felt like I had just swallowed a double shot of espresso.  I said “and is her box number 35?”  He said “well, it used to be until about six years ago.”

“What happened six years ago?” I asked.  “She stopped paying the yearly rental fee,” he said.  I asked what happened to the contents.  He said “well, when they stop paying for the box, the contents are removed and put into a dormant status.  After five years, if nobody comes in to claim them, they’re incinerated.”

I said “everything?  What if valuable jewelry or coins or heirlooms are in there?”  He said “we don’t open the boxes and look to see what’s in there.  It just goes in the fire.”

I asked him why the key hadn’t opened the box and he said “when the contents of a box go dormant, sometimes, we change the locks.  Not always, but sometimes.  That’s probably what happened here.”

I asked him where the contents were kept until they were destroyed.  He said “they’re kept back there in that room. We call it the ‘graveyard’.”  When I asked why they called it the graveyard, he said “because what goes in there has been forgotten and it eventually turns into ashes.”

I asked him if there was any possibility that the contents of her box might still be around.

He said “I don’t know if they’d still be here or not.  We’re not one to stand on ceremony and we don’t always get things done in a timely fashion, if you know what I mean. It’s been six years now, so I’d say the chances are about 50/50 but you can certainly have a look-see, if you want.”

I was eager to, as he put it “have a look-see” and followed him to the graveyard.  When we went inside, he had to find the string to the old pull-chain light fixture in the middle of the ceiling.  When it lit up the room, all I could think was “Lord have mercy on my scrotum.”

There was literally box after box, stacked up on shelves and on the table and on the floor.  When I say boxes, I don’t mean post office boxes, I mean shoe boxes.  They were all carefully tied shut with twine and there didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason as to how they were organized, if they even were.

I imagined that everybody who had ever worked at that post office or had lived anywhere near it, brought in their old shoe boxes to be used for storage.  Either that or somebody had pilfered Imelda Marcos’ closet.

I asked how I was supposed to find the contents of box 35, if it even still existed.  Roy said “well, the numbers and the rows are supposed to be written somewhere on the outside of the box.  Go ahead and help yourself.  I need to get back out front.”

 

To be continued___________________

The Key – Part Five

The coroner intervened with the Postal Inspector on my behalf in an effort to expedite the necessary paper work, which I appreciated.  He put it plainly.  “What if the decedent wanted to be buried in a certain cemetery?  And what if those instructions and the necessary funds for that request were in the box?”

The Postal Inspector found cause for an order and issued it right away.

A quick check of the decedents’ bank statement left no indication that she was a woman of wealth.  There was probably enough money to pay any outstanding utility bills but not much of anything else.

I admit, I found myself suddenly hoping that I was going to find something in the box that would allow for at least a proper burial.

I drove back to Cut and Shoot.  I was a little smug when I walked in with the order.  The snot-nosed supervisor was cooperative but I could tell that he still had a chip on his shoulder from the day before.  I also knew that he was only doing his job but I reasoned that he should have been a little more congenial and a little less acerbic.

Per the order, he opened the glass doors and I went in with the key.  I tried every box in row S, with the numbers 35 but the key didn’t open any of them.  The next thing I asked him to do was a random check of her name.  Nothing was found.

I don’t know who had the most satisfied smirk on their face when I was getting ready to leave.  I was feeling superior because I felt I had essentially won the power struggle.  He was feeling superior because I hadn’t found what I was looking for.  I did however, offer a handshake and thanks for his cooperation before I left.

The next stop was Bone Marrow.  I was greeted by a jolly woman who through a broad, toothless smile said “what can I do for you darlin’?”  As I handed her the order, I gave her my spiel about rows and keys and numbers.  “Well, let’s see what we have here,” she said.  “Looks like we have two boxes rented in row S.”

“What are the numbers?” I asked.  She said “number 1 and number 2.”  That wasn’t going to help me so I asked her to look up the womans’ name.  “Nope.  No record of her having a box here,” she said.  I thanked her and told her to have a nice day.  “Sorry I couldn’t help you, darlin’,” she said. “You might try Cut and Shoot, just a ways up the road.”  I smiled and said “thanks.”

Loafers’ Glory was next.  As my daddy used to say, “it was the same old seven and six.”  I had them check for her name just in case but there was no record of her having a box, or ever having had one.  As I was leaving, the Postmaster said “you might want to check Bone Marrow or Cut and Shoot and you might check Lonelyville.  They’re all located within twenty miles or so around this area.” Again, I smiled and said “thanks.”

It was getting late and I knew I wasn’t going to have time to visit the last stop on my list.  I had already made a mental note that if I didn’t find anything in Lonelyville the next day, I was going to call it quits.  I wondered why I was even going to bother but I had made a personal commitment and I was going to follow through.

I called the coroner and asked if he could extend the three day limit.  He told me that he could hold her for one more day, due to my “phantom investigation” but for me to remember.  “The state has rules and regulations governing the disposition of unclaimed bodies and I am bound by law to adhere to them.”

 

To be continued_____________

 

 

The Key – Part Four

The next morning, I hit the floor running.  I got a list of the oldest Post Offices in and around the area.  There were Post Offices in little towns that I had never heard of, such as Cut and Shoot, Bone Marrow, Loafers’ Glory and Lonelyville.  I thought to myself, “what?  No Podunk City?”

I started with Cut and Shoot.  It was the “closest” far away Post Office.  When I got there, I asked for the Postmaster. He came out and I introduced myself and told him why I was there.  The safe deposit boxes were on display but behind locked glass doors.  I told him that I was trying to gather information about a deceased person. “Do you have an ‘S’ row?” I asked.

He said “yes, we have an ‘S’ row.”  I told him that I would like to try a key in any boxes with the numbers 35 on them. “Do you have a court order?” he asked.  I told him no but I reminded him that I was a police officer, investigating a death.  (I didn’t think he needed to know that there was really no investigation and I was there to satisfy my own curiosity.)

“I’m afraid I can’t help you,” he said.  I repeated “I’m a police officer and I am investigating a death.”

“I don’t care if you’re the Commander in Chief,” he said. “You’re going to need a court order issued by the Postal Inspector.”

He rubbed me the wrong way with his abruptness and I instantly decided that I didn’t like him but again, tried to plead my case.

He said “look, these are private boxes and without a court order, I can’t let you open one.”  I explained that I didn’t want to open it, I just wanted to see if the key actually fit any of them.  “Not without a court order issued by the Postal Inspector,” he said.

“Well, could you tell me the names associated with any of the boxes in row S, that have the numbers 35 on them?” I asked.  Clearly annoyed by this point, he said “not without a court order issued by the Postal Inspector.”

“How about this?” I said.  “If I tell you the name of the deceased, can you tell me if you have a box assigned to that name?”

He was like a record stuck on repeat.  He looked me in the eye and said “not…without…a…court…order…issued…by…the…Postal…Inspector.”

“Okay,” I told him.  “That’s something I can do.  Thanks.” What he didn’t hear was the “for nothing, you prick,” that I mumbled under my breath as I walked out the door.

I called the precinct and told them I needed the Postal Inspector to issue an order, compelling the local Post Offices to release any and all information about the deceased.  I knew I was going to need a valid reason for the request.  I also knew that curiosity wasn’t going to be acceptable so I was going to have to get creative.

I thought about going to another branch and testing the proverbial waters but I figured the reception and reaction would be no different.  Besides, I really wasn’t up to dealing with another asshole.  I even toyed with the idea of calling Early but he had been retired for a long time and chances of anybody remembering him were slim to none, I thought.

Suddenly, an idea came to mind.  “I’ll tell the Postal Inspector that we are hoping there is a will in the box.” Hell, that sounded reasonable to me, and I was certain that it would sound reasonable to them.  After all, if the deceased had designated her worldly goods to a certain charity, it was incumbent on us to see that her wishes were carried out.

I drove back to town and stopped by the coroners’ office to see if anybody had claimed the body.  “Nope,” he said. “Any luck with the key?”

“I’m pretty sure it’s a Post Office safe deposit box key,” I said.  I told him the story about meeting the retired Postmaster in the bar and he looked at me, laughed and said “how much did you have to drink last night?”

I laughed and said “I know.  It was a real fluke or a twist of fate or just meant to be but whatever you want to call it, he solved the mystery of the key.”

I took the key out and said “see this?  We thought it was 358.”  The coroner said “yeah, and?”  I said “turns out, it is 35S.  That means it is in row S and the last two numbers are 35.”

“Okay.  That makes sense,” he said, “but where is the box?”

“That, my friend, may be the sixty-four thousand dollar question,” I said.

 

To be continued____________

 

The Key – Part Three

I went back to the station and finished my report. I suspended it until efforts to find next of kin proved successful or fruitless.  We still had to go through her personal effects and check with county records to see if anything was on file as far as heirs or a will.  At least I had let the coroner know that she was in fact, not a Jane Doe as he had thought.

The key should have been in the case file box but I decided to keep it and do a little investigating.  I sat in front of my computer, Googling “keys.”  I never realized how many types of keys there were out there.  It was obviously an antique, which reduced the search considerably but there was page after page of images of keys.

I found keys that closely resembled it but there was always a slight difference.  From what I could determine, it looked to be more like a Post Office deposit box key than anything but there is always USPS lettering on them.  This key didn’t have those letters or if it did, they had long ago worn off.

My next stop was the local Post Office.  I spoke with the Postmaster, who was unable to offer any help.  “It sort of looks like an old Post Office safe deposit box key but it’s so worn, I can’t be sure,” she said.  “It’s a pretty old one, though.  You might try some of the other Post Offices around here and even some of the more rural ones.  Maybe some of the old-timers could help you.”

I wasn’t sure it was even worth my time.  I kept asking myself why I was even looking.  It wasn’t like I was solving some big mystery.  I did however, entertain that idea that maybe it was the key to a strong box that was filled with gold bullion, just waiting for me to find it and become an instant millionaire.

I visited five more post offices in the area and came away empty handed every time.  It was the same story.  They had no idea what the key opened.  I was going to call it a day and decided to stop by a bar and toss back a pint or two.  A man I would politically incorrectly describe as an old coot was sitting a few seats away.  After we traded a few cordialities, I took the key out and started flipping it over and over.

A few minutes later, I thought he was being a bit brazen when he said “whatcha got there?”  I said “it’s an unknown key that goes to an unknown something that may hold an unknown something and is in an unknown place.”

After a “hmm,” he asked where I found it.  “In the hand of a dead woman,” I said.  He raised his glass and said “well, I guess SHE’S not talking then.”

He asked if he could see it.  “Sure, I guess” I said, and handed him the key.  He looked at it and said “that’s a Post Office safe deposit box key.”  I asked him if he was sure and he said “yep.  I’m sure.”  I asked him how knew and he said “I’m a retired Postmaster.”

“No shit,” I said.  Like a parrot, he repeated “no shit.”  I couldn’t resist saying “of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world.”  We both laughed and toasted each other.  “How long have you been retired?” I asked.  “For more than ten years now,” he said.

I have to admit that I was a little excited and asked him which post office would have the box.  “Well, that’s something you’re going to have to figure out yourself, sonny” he said.
I asked him where to start.  He said “I’d start with the oldest ones in the area.”

“So, the number 358 would be the number of the box?” I asked.  He said “that’s not 358.  That’s 35S.”  I took out my phone and used the flashlight and sure enough, the 8 looked more like an S.  “What does that mean?” I asked.

“Well, the boxes are in rows and they start with A and end with Z.  That box would be in row S,” he said.  “And it could be number 35 or 135 or 235.  It depends on how many boxes are in that particular row.”

I thanked him and said “I didn’t catch your name.”  He said “everybody calls me Early.  Why don’t you take my phone number and if I can help you with anything else, just give me a holler.”

I thanked him, paid my tab and headed out the door.  I chuckled as I once again thought “of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, what were the odds that I would walk into that particular bar and meet a former Postmaster?”

I knew a daunting task lay ahead of me but at least now, I had what I considered to be a real clue.

 

To be continued______________