#freewritechallenge #mondayblogs January 9
Franklin had been walking for hours. He had been out of work for months. His last meal was twenty-four hours ago. He’d been lucky enough to find a pizza box someone had thrown out. It had several crusts in it, one even had cheese along the edge.
He came to a junction of the state highway he’d been following. Neither had indications of where they led, just arrows telling drivers which route they were on. Closing his eyes he took a deep breath and tried to figure out which way to go.
When he opened them he saw something shiny in the exact middle of the Y where the route split. With no cars in sight, he walked over to it.
A brand new …he bent to pick it up. 1990 penny. He smiled and shook his head. The year he’d been born. “Amazing that you haven’t been run over. Did some kid toss you out the window as they went by? Well, whatever brought you here, I found you. I can use any luck that you bring.” He talked to himself a lot over the past week. People had been avoiding him.
He walked over to the edge of the road, intent on flipping the penny to decide which route to take. He glanced along the edges of the road, hopping for anything that might look like food.
That’s when he spotted another shiny object. A silvery corner was sticking out from under a clump of bushes. “Probably just a chunk of metal from a long ago car wreck.” He walked over to it. It was a reinforced corner like you found on a briefcase. He bent down and lifted the edge of the bush out of the way.
A thick, aluminum briefcase. The backside was buried in the dirt. Using both hands, he moved more branches out of the way. “Strange.”
He stared at the case, then the bush. He reached for the case but he realized he still had the penny in his hand. Dropping to his knees, he straightened up enough to slide the penny into his pant’s pocket. Lifting the branches he peered at the case again. “Hmm? Looks as if the growing bush has pushed it up.” He brushed dirt away from it until he found the handle.
Deputy Sheriff Donna Holslaw popped the lid and inhaled the aroma of her coffee. “Ahh. This is what I need.” Since she had the office to herself, she leaned back in her chair and put her feet on her desk. She savored the bitterness mixed with the caramel of the creamer she added. “Now if the afternoon would just cooperate ….”
The phone rang.
“Shit.” She sighed, sat her coffee down and put both feet on the floor. She pulled a notepad and pencil in front of her as she gave the caller a chance to realize they had a wrong number. She picked it up after the second ring. “Sheriff’s office.”
“There’s a man walking past my store.”
“I see.” Donna looked at her coffee. “And can you tell me why I need to know this Mrs. Crenshaw?” She hated cold coffee.
“He’s a stranger.”
“He looks dangerous. His clothes are dirty, it looks like he slept in them. He’s carrying a silver briefcase. Much too fancy for him.”
“I see. Well, Mrs. Crenshaw, maybe his car broke down. He got dirty trying to fix it and when he couldn’t he walked into town. Not wanting to leave his briefcase—”
“Excuse me?” Donna looked up as the door opened. “Gotta go, Mrs. Crenshaw. Looks like he’s turning himself in. Bye.” She stood and went to the counter. “What can I help you …” she hesitated as she met his eyes. They were a fascinating shade of blue, but it was mostly the way he was looking at her. As if he knew her. He smiled and she felt as if she were the only woman in the world.
“Bonjour, tu est la joie de ma vivre, Je t’aime.” He said. His eyes opened wide in surprise. He blinked, then shook his head. “Umm? I’m sorry. I have no idea why I just said that. Or what I just said.” He swallowed, cleared his throat and said. “Let me try that again. Hello, my name is Franklin, Franklin Coffey.” He smiled. “I found this …” he set the briefcase on the counter in front of her. “Under a bush where highway 6 branches off from highway 99.”
Donna, who did speak French, stared at him a moment longer then looked at the case. “Okay. Thank you, Mr. Coffey. I’ll have you fill out a form. Why don’t you come around here and sit down. I’ll get the form so you can fill it out while I examine the case. Do you have any ID?” She choose the Found Property Form and put it on a clipboard.
He nodded and shrugged out of the backpack he was carrying. “Yes. I’ve been out of work since March, so the address no longer applies.” He gestured to himself. “This is the sum total of who I am.” As he followed her to a long table along the back wall, he noticed her coffee. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt your break.”
She smiled. “It happens. Would you like a cup?”
He sighed and gave her a weak smile. “I would as a matter of fact.”
She gestured. “Help yourself. Creamer is in the fridge. I’m afraid the doughnuts are from this morning. But the coffee is fresh.” She set the case on the table and returned to her desk. She took a camera out of the bottom drawer and grabbed her coffee. Watching him out of the corner of her eye she caught the slight tremble as he poured the coffee. She picked up a pen, checked it to make sure it worked and set it with the clipboard at the end of the table.
“Are you sure it’s okay to have a doughnut?”
“Have whatever is left, Mr. Coffey. If they last past lunch, they’re fair game.” She smiled as she focused and started taking pictures. She turned the case so she got each side. She was checking that the pictures looked good as he sat down. She set the camera aside and took a drink of coffee. “Ahh.” She sighed. “What did you do when you worked, Mr. Coffey?” Noticing that he started filling out the form. “Enjoy your coffee, Mr. Coffey. The form can wait.”
“I was a mid-level manager at a call center for Amber cable TV. I lasted through two down-sizings, then they closed the whole unit. Laid off five hundred people less than three months.” He took a drink of coffee with his eyes closed.
As he swallowed a look of relief passed over his face. When he met Donna’s eyes, he gave her a smile of gratitude. She felt herself return the smile. Turning back to the case, she examined the latches. They were incrusted with dirt, as were the hinges. Anyone could tell that it hadn’t been opened. “Well, let’s see what we have.” She angled the case slightly toward him and flicked the latches up. “At least it’s not locked.” With her thumbs, she pushed the lid up. She frowned as she looked inside.
“What’s wrong?” He asked.
“There’s a leather covered box inside. Molenaar Jewelers is embossed in gold across the top of it.” Donna stared at the box while thinking. “Something familiar about that name.” She glanced at him as she picked up the case. “I’ve got to look something up. You stay there and finish your coffee.” She gestured to the case in her hand. “Protocol.”
He nodded. “Chain of custody and all of that. I understand.” He smiled and picked up a doughnut with one hand and the pen with the other.
Donna set the case down and moved her mouse until the screen responded. Typing the name in, she started searching. When she got a hit she started reading. Though it was only two pages with a reference to where the physical file was stored, she stared at it for several minutes. Finally, she turned and looked at Mr. Coffey.
He finished chewing and said. “Nothing serious, I hope.”
“No. Just strange. An unsolved burglary from ten years ago. Local jeweler came to work one morning and found her safe open. Actually their safe. Sisters, who had taken over the place from their dad. Between them and their dad they had been in business seventy-five years.” She shook her head. “According to the report, nothing was turned up during the investigation. They were two years from retiring, the books balanced …” she shrugged. “The file was moved three years ago to the library. It’s the old brick building at the other end of town. Used to be a school, so it has plenty of storage for the city records.” She turned and shut the case. Standing she crossed the room and opened a locked door. Flipping the light on, she went in then came out and locked the door. Looking at him, she smiled. “If you’re not in a hurry to be anywhere, why don’t you come with me. We can pick up the file and I’ll buy lunch.”
He smiled. “I appreciate that.” He made sure his backpack was tucked under the table. Standing, he swept the crumbs into the empty doughnut box. Taking it and his empty coffee cup, he tossed them in the trash as he followed her out the door. As she unlocked her patrol car he brushed as much of the dirt off his clothes as he could.
She smiled and waved to Mrs. Crenshaw as she drove by.
“Was she really peering around the edge of her door?”
Donna flicked her turn signal on. “Yes. She’s a fixture around town. Runs the Purple Tearoom and Antiques shop. She returned to town to retire twenty years ago. World class entomologist, has the most amazing collection of butterflies from around the world. Also the great-granddaughter of the town founder.” She pulled into a parking space. “Here we are.”
Mr. Coffey looked through the windshield. “Wow. This is beautiful.” He opened his door and followed her into the building.
Donna turned left after they walked past the entrance to the library, pulled out her keys and unlocked a heavy steel door. “Hang on while I get the lights.” She walked into the darkness, found the switch and the hallway was flooded with light. “Okay. Storage is down this way.” She waited until he was beside her then led the way past several doors until they came to another steel door. She slid the key in the lock. “Science lab. Completely sealed with no windows.” She smiled and shook her head. “It’s rumored that they did top secret work in here during the early days of the cold war.” The door opened and lights came on. “But my grandfather said his shop class got permission to do a practice remodel on the lab to make it like a bomb shelter.”
“You grew up here?” He asked.
“Until I went to college, then training academy. I was accepted and served with the state police for a year.” She swallowed. “Then dad got cancer and I came home to help mom.”
She glanced and smiled at him. “Thanks.” She looked around. “Okay. We want box …” she thought. “1375. It should be over here.” She led the way, glancing at the floor. “Here we go. Aisle 13.” She found the right box on top of a stack. Opening it, she sorted through the files. “Okay, we’re ready to go.” She looked up to find him looking past her. She turned but could only see the wall at the end of the row. “Something wrong?”
“That’s an inside wall, right?”
Donna looked back at the door remembering their route. “Yes.”
“It doesn’t fit.” He pointed. “And the file boxes are stacked oddly. Like they’ve been moved and put back in a hurry.”
She looked at the area, then around them. “Hmm. The boxes are …” she walked toward the back wall. She ran her finger along the top box, then checked the numbers written on the end of the boxes. “No dust and all of them are out of sequence, like they were restacked without paying attention. There are only two of us who have keys. Not even the fire department has access to this room like they do the rest of the building.”
He had walked past her and was looking at the wall. He walked to the corner where it met the outside wall and rapped on each one.
She crossed to the odd shaped corner and rapped on the wall. She pulled out her flashlight and shown it in where the walls met.
“Scrape marks.” They both said.
He pointed to the floor and followed more faint marks to the crooked stack of boxes.
Shaking her head she pushed on the wall. Nothing. She pointed. “Push on the pivot point?”
“How about looking under the boxes?”
She nodded and watched as he restacked the boxes to the side. She stood next to him as they stared at the exposed floor. After a moment she moved her foot and tapped on the exposed floor. Then she stood on it and bounced. She glanced at him and grinned. “Too many old movies.”
He smiled. “I was thinking the same thing.” He gestured. “No book shelves or wall sconces. Maybe it is a pivot point. Easiest thing to do when you build it.” Noticing her raised eyebrow, he said. “Worked for contractors during high school and college.”
“Okay.” She walked over to the wall. “Here?” She nodded at the odd corner that stuck out into the room.
He shrugged. “Either here or there.” He pointed to the other corner.
They pushed and the wall swung open with a faint rasp. A light came on, followed by a loud chittering sound.
Deputy Sheriff Holslaw drew her service weapon.
********To Be Continued*******