By James Buchanan
available from MLRPressSome families are haunted by tragedy. Some people are haunted by their pasts. Some men are haunted by who they are. Joe Peterson is haunted by all three. His parents' return from their mission, combined with a family reunion, forces Joe's kin to deal with his new life: out of the Mormon Church, out of the closet, and living with his lover Kabe. When a decades-old murder of a child lands on Joe's desk, digging into it dredges up long buried truths and festering secrets about folks Joe thought he knew -- including Kabe. Joe and Kabe must lay the ghosts of the past and bring closure to a family scarred by loss to move forward in their life together.
An old style fireproof and somewhat waterproof small document safe came out into the thin light. I blew the dust off the top to reveal an old badge sticker, the kind we still handed out to kids at parades and such, and a property tag taped down with evidence tape. Someone’s pencil scratch spelled out G.S.D. for temporary storage and gave the department’s address from before the new county courthouse had been built back in the eighties.
Temporary, my left nut.
I did not have the key. Likely no one at the station even knew whether the key even still existed. Since the box appeared to belong to my department and it seemed the type of box that you’d keep important files in, I figured I should get it open. The locksmith in town might have the correct bump-key to open it, so I got out my cell and made a call. He was out and nobody knew when they expected him. Well, the county had maintenance folks and they were on premises. Went upstairs, hauling the box, and tracked down Duncan.
“So what’s in the box?” Duncan played with a set of picks he’d pulled out of his kit. “It’s not going get me in trouble is it?”
“Naw.” I shrugged. “I mean, I don’t know what’s there, but I got a good suspicion it’s what I’m looking for.” While he worked, I rocked the chair I’d commandeered onto its back legs. “And if it ain’t something the department wanted opened, then we’ll re-key it and lock it back up.”
“Hum.” He let out the non-committal sound and focused back on the lock. Another couple minutes later, I heard the lock pop and Duncan stood up. “All yours.”
“Thank you, sir.” I pulled open the lid. Files. Old files. My hunch was likely right.
“If that’s all you need, I got to go fix the john in the jury room.”
Looked up from the files I’d already started thumbing through. “I’m good.” I, hopefully, was more than good ‘cause if this was what I needed I didn’t need to go back down with the dirt and spiders. “Can I use the room? Little more comfortable up here.”
Duncan saluted me as he opened up the door to let himself out. “Knock yourself out.”
Dragged the chair on over, pulled out the first file and opened it up. The details of an unsolved hit and run along the highway confronted me: serious injury, not a death case, from around seventy-five. Jackpot! I dropped that one back in and grabbed one from around the middle. Late sixties, commercial burglary with penciled in margin notes referencing the Ross boys, but again unsolved. Definitely the old case files I was supposed to retrieve. Fingered the edges of the files to find the place where I’d pulled the file. Went right past it and then my brain registered what I’d seen. I set the file I’d been holding on the table before pulling out the one that caught my eye.
Peterson, Rosalie - 1979.
Too much coincidence to be coincidence. I opened up the brittle manila folder. The first thing there, staring out at me, my sister Rose’s face. The same school photo that hung in the hall of my parent’s house, except at home a little card with Jesus and the children occupied one corner of the frame. Couldn’t quite wrap my mind around it. Rose drowned. Accident. Why was there a file for her? Accidental death, drowning, that’s a closed case. Solved.
Except, sitting there, holding that file and thinking back on my memories, nobody’d ever said direct that it was an accident. They’d just always sorta avoided the subject.