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____________