Dorthea was relieved to see a hint of the sun on the horizon. Excited by what her visit to Kalona might reveal and also apprehensive about it, she had managed little sleep; her mind too busy to allow her any rest. The night had been long and moonless allowing little to see along the long stretches of dark highway between the occasional towns. Due to the late hours, there was little activity at the depots and she usually chose to remain in her seat, venturing off the bus only when she needed to use the bathroom or stretch her legs. She leaned forward in her seat. “How far to Kalona?” she asked in a low voice so she wouldn't disturb the sleeping passengers in the nearby seats.
The bus driver turned his head slightly to reply. “Should be there by eight, ma'am,” he said as his eyes remained focused on the highway.
“Thank you.” Dorthea leaned back then squirmed about on the seat in a useless attempt to find a more comfortable position. Giving up, she turned toward the window. The sky was beginning to lighten and she noticed she was able to make out some shapes that she guessed to be farmhouses and the clusters of work buildings surrounding them. She hoped the emerging scenery would keep her mind busy for the next few hours.
Kimberly woke to an abnormally still apartment. Rolling onto her side, she gazed out her bedroom door to the dark living room. “Seems quiet this morning,” she murmured, snuggling further under her warm blanket. Her forehead creased into a scowl as she tried to identify what was different. “Maybe it's just too early for there to be much traffic on the street,” she said aloud. Or, maybe it's because Dorthea isn't here, her mind answered. “That's silly. I've been here plenty of times when she hasn't.” Not like this. “Why is this time so different?” She'll be gone four days. Four whole days. “So? She's been gone before.” Has she? Kimberly thought for a few moments trying to recall a time… any time, Dorthea had actually been away. She rolled onto her back to stare at the ceiling. “We've lived here thirty years and, in all that time, we've never spent more than a workday apart.” What the heck…?
The sun had risen above the horizon allowing plenty of light for Dorthea to inspect the gently rolling farmland outside her window. The few towns the bus traveled through were small but she was encouraged by the activity in them indicating the residents were already up and preparing for the day. She hoped the same would be true in Kalona.
Dorthea felt the bus slowing and turned to look out the front windows. She just managed to catch a glimpse of a highway sign before it disappeared behind the bus. “Did that say Kalona?” she asked the driver.
“Yes, ma'am. We'll be at the depot in a few minutes.”
“Thank you.” Finally, she thought scooting closer to the window. She would have preferred to lean forward and place her arms on the bar separating her from the driver as she would have a better view of the approaching town. But the bus was entering Kalona from the west and she would have to squint against the bright sun rising in the east. So she contented herself with the view out her window.
Almost as soon as the bus turned off the highway the farms gave way to modest houses scattered along the road. Similar in construction to many she had seen in the less populated areas of Rapid Falls, they had the distinct look of dwellings built in the thirties and forties. Nearer to Kalona, the residences grew more numerous and more modern; and a few small businesses began to appear, intermixed with the houses.
The road gave way to city length blocks with side streets running in both directions and Dorthea spotted a sign at the corner of the first intersection the bus rolled through. “1st Street and E Avenue,” she read. “Not very imaginative.”
“I suppose so,” the driver responded.
Dorthea blanched, only then aware that she had spoken aloud. “Oh, dear,” she stammered, “that… that was quite rude of me.”
“Honest, if you asked me,” a woman sitting in the seat behind her said. “You think they could have come up with something ’sides A, B, C, and 1, 2, 3 to name their streets.”
Dorthea turned to face the woman, who wasn't much younger than herself. “Do you live here?”
“No. But I've been to a few of the quilt shows they hold here during the year.”
“Is the town very big? I have some business to attend to but I'm afraid I'll be walking.”
The woman laughed. “No worries there. It's about ten blocks long and ten blocks wide. At one time, folks around here thought Kalona would be bigger than Chicago—or so they hoped. But the town just never grew. Not sure why… it just never did.”
“We're coming up to the depot, folks. For those continuing on to Riverside, this'll be a short stop so I suggest you stay on the bus.”
Dorthea's stomach rumbled as she turned back around in her seat. “Is there somewhere to get breakfast?” she asked the driver.
“You can get a decent one at the café next to the depot.”
Dorthea nodded then gathered up her jacket and empty purse—she had eaten the hamburger Kim had packed for her several hours before but the cold fries had been too unappetizing and she had dumped them into a waste container at one of the stops during the night. She nervously waited for the bus to arrive at the Kalona depot.
Kimberly padded into the kitchen, her bare feet feeling chilled on the floor's linoleum surface. She debated returning to her bedroom for a pair of slippers but shrugged off the thought. “Probably get used to it in a few minutes,” she muttered as she surveyed the room. She frowned spotting the unplugged coffee pot sitting on the counter. “Guess that explains why it's so quiet this morning,” she muttered moving to the refrigerator, opening the door and removing the can of coffee grounds. “Dorthea usually does this.” She pulled a paper filter from the cupboard above the pot and placed it into the holder; then she filled the pot with water, spooned grounds into the filter, placed the lid on the pot and plugged it in. With a satisfied look, she padded out of the kitchen.
Intending to enter the bathroom and the waiting tub of hot water, Kimberly ended up in the doorway of Dorthea's bedroom. The room was neat and tidy, unlike her own which was in a constant state of disarray. Much to Dorthea's amusement, she thought, smiling. Glancing at the clock on the nightstand beside the bed, she completed a quick mental calculation. “You should be arriving at Kalona about now,” she murmured, slumping against the doorway. “Shoot, if we had a car we could have driven down there in a third of the time.” She sighed. “I sure hope you find what you're looking for,” she told the empty room before pushing herself off the door frame and walking into the bathroom.
Dorthea reached down to make sure her suitcase was still next to her chair then laughed at her over-vigilance. “It's not like it can get up and walk out on its own,” she murmured. She was seated at a table in a corner of the restaurant and there was little chance of anyone picking up the piece of luggage as they walked past.
“Ma'am?” the café's solitary waitress, working her way around the tables refilling diners' coffee cups, had just arrived at Dorthea's table.
Dorthea smiled. “Oh, nothing. Just yammering to myself.”
“Your breakfast won't be much longer. Cook got a little backed up with the morning rush.”
“Anything else I can do for you?”
Dorthea looked up at the woman. “As a matter of fact, there is. Could you tell me where I can find the newspaper office?”
“Sure. It's on 1st Street just south of E. Avenue. Out front is E, go left to get to 1st . You can't miss it.”
“Thank you. I think I know where that is, the bus passed the intersection coming into town.”
“Yes, you would have come right through it.”
“And a motel?”
“There's one on the way out of town, other side of the city park. But, if I was you, I'd see if Mrs. Peters has a room. She runs a real nice boarding house at 4th and C. Much better place for a single woman to say. And won't cost as much the motel.”
“Yes. Tell her I sent you over.”
“Thank you. That's kind of you.”
The waitress set the pot on the table then leaned close. “Us ladies have to look out for each other,” she said then added with a wink. “My aunt runs it.” Dorthea laughed. “Let me know if you need anything else,” she said straightening and retrieving the pot.
“Just one more thing, where is the hospital?”
“We don't have one in Kalona.”
“What? Are you sure?” Dorthea sighed. “Of course, you're sure. You live here and I'm sure you'd know if you had one.”
The waitress chalked up her customer's nonsensical response to the early hour and turned away from the next table.
“Wait,” Dorthea exclaimed as the waitress took a step in the direction of the kitchen. “Please. I'm sorry, I know you're busy. But there used to be a hospital here, didn't there? In the thirties?”
Chuckling, the waitress turned back to face her. “Sorry, but that's a long time before I was born.”
Dorthea smiled warmly at the young woman who didn't appear to be older than twenty-five. “Yes, I suppose it is. Do you think someone else might know?”
“Let me ask Chuck, he's the cook. If there was a hospital he'll know. He's knows pretty much everything about Kalona.”
“Thank you.” Dorthea watched the waitress walk behind the counter and speak to a man standing in front of the grill, his hands never stopped as he tended to the meals on the grill. After listening for a few moments, he nodded and replied. The cook handed the waitress a plate of scrambled eggs, bacon, and flapjacks and she carried it to her table.
“Chuck says if you can wait until he's done with this rush, he'll come over,” the waitress said as she set the plate down in front of Dorthea. “Maple syrup and blueberry,” she added pointing to a pair of glass servers next to the salt and pepper shakers.
“Thank you. Thank you, very much. I'm happy to wait just as long as it takes,” Dorthea said but the waitress had already returned to the kitchen to retrieve four more plates loaded down with omelets, hash browns, and biscuits and gravy.
Kimberly hurried through the doorway of her office.
“Cutting it a little close this morning, aren't we?” Marge asked glancing at the clock on the wall.
“I missed the first bus,” Kim said as she settled on the chair in front of her desk. She pulled open the bottom drawer, dropped her purse inside, and slammed the drawer shut. “Thanks for turning on my computer.”
“Didn't see any reason for the old witch to figure out you weren't here yet. At least, if your computer was on, I could tell her you went to the bathroom, if she asked.”
“Where is she?”
“She was called into Mr. Jackson's office.”
“Oh?” Kimberly typed in a series of commands to open the programs she would use during the day. “That's interesting. She almost never goes into Mr. Jackson's office.”
“She didn't look too happy about it,” Marge commented opening the folder she had pulled from her inbox just as Kimberly rushed into the office. “Maybe he's going to fire her lazy butt.”
“I've got my fingers and toes crossed.”
“Well, uncross them. Officially, she's Mr. Gilroy's assistant. So, I'm pretty sure only he can get rid of her. If he wanted to, that is.” Kim reached for the pile of folders and papers in her inbox. “He seems to like her.”
“Maybe. Or maybe, he's just waiting for the perfect time to drop the cage over her head and have her carted away.”
Kim laughed. “She's not that bad.”
“Yes, she is. And you and I both know we do all her work so being rid of her wouldn't cause us much hardship.”
“If you say so,” Kim said sorting through the pile of work and separating it into two smaller piles based on priority. “But you're going to be the one to run to the break room every time Mr. Gilroy or Mr. Martin or Mr. Eyler wants a cup of coffee.” She placed the larger of the two piles back into the inbox and opened the first folder in the other pile. “Oh, goodie,” she said, sarcastically, seeing the columns of numbers on the pages inside. “Budgets,” she explained after Marge shot her a curious look. “Guess we better prepare for some late nights in the coming weeks.”
“Hmm. You know, maybe this isn't such a bad thing,” Kim said thoughtfully.
“A hospital? Yes, there was one,” Chuck settled in the chair across the table from Dorthea. He refilled her cup from the pot he had carried from the kitchen then filled a second cup for himself before placing the pot between them. “They shut it down around… Let me think.” He scratched the back of his bald head as he tried to recall the exact date. “Seems to me it was closed the same year Henry closed his furniture store. Same reason too, not enough business. Let's see… that would make it nineteen fifty-one or -two. After that, nobody found a use for the old building. It finally got to be such an eyesore, the town ordered it torn down ’bout twenty years ago.”
Dorthea sighed. “Oh, dear.”
“Pardon me for saying so, but you don't look sick to me,” Chuck observed. “Is there some reason you're in need of a hospital?”
“Oh, it's not for me,” Dorthea said. “I mean it is for me but it's…” She paused a moment. “I was hoping to ask about a patient… A relative.”
Chuck leaned back on his chair and whistled under his breath. “Seems you've waited a good long time to inquire about their health.”
“I know this must sound very strange but it's a rather long story and I have such a short time in town. I appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions but perhaps it would be best if I just go to the newspaper office. I want to look at their archives. I believe I can find the information I need in them.” Dorthea pushed her chair back from the table.
“If you don't find your answers there, you might want to try the historical museum. They might have the hospital's records there. I'm not real sure what happened to them when they packed the place up.”
“Oh? And where would I find the museum?”
“On D, this side of 9th Street.”
Dorthea stood then bent over to pick up her suitcase. Realizing she had yet to settle the bill for her breakfast, she set her suitcase on the chair to pull the few bills from her jeans pocket. “Do I pay you?” she asked Chuck.
Chuck laughed and shook his head. “Angie doesn't let me near the register. Says it takes her too long to balance the drawer after I've been in it. She'll take care of you.”
Dorthea nodded. Keeping out enough to cover her breakfast and a tip, she shoved the rest of her money back into her pocket. When Chuck returned to the kitchen, she picked up her suitcase and carried it to the cash register where the waitress was waiting.
The door to the vice president's office opened. “I will do whatever is necessary, Mr. Jackson,” Kapin said hurriedly before pushing the door shut. Ignoring the looks of surprise on Kimberly's and Marge's faces, she scurried between their desks on her way across the room.
Bemusedly, Marge watched the harried woman disappear down the hallway outside their office. “Wonder what he said to light her hair on fire?”
“Hard to say,” Kim answered, indifferently.
“Aren't you, at all, interested in what Mr. Jackson must have told her to send her running out of his office like that?”
“Not really. I'm more concerned in getting through this pile by quitting time tomorrow.”
“Oh? Plans for the weekend?”
“Yes. I promised Dorthea I'd clean the apartment before she got back.”
“Back? Did she go somewhere?”
“She had business in Kalona.”
Marge laughed. “Kalona? No one has business in Kalona.” She thought for a moment then asked, “Hey, is her company opening a new plant down there?”
“Oh.” Marge returned to her work. “Cleaning the apartment, huh?” she asked, not taking her eyes off her screen.
“Thought you hated housework.”
“So, why do it?”
“Because I told her I would.”
“Seems like an odd thing for you to do.”
Kimberly considered the comment and the truth behind it. “It does, doesn't it?”
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