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______________