Mickey Minner



Carrying her suitcase, Dorthea left the café and turned left to walk west on E Avenue. She stopped at the corner of the first intersection to check for approaching cars. Seeing the street free of any movement except for a young boy on a bicycle, she crossed and continued to the next intersection where she turned to walk south on 4th Street to the rooming house.

A four foot high rock wall bordered the corner lot on C Avenue. Set into the top of the wall was an ornate wrought iron fence of identical height. Dorthea paused to appreciate the fence and its unusual design of interlocking ivy vines wrapped around blossoms of sunflowers.

“It's something, isn't it?”

Dorthea looked up to see a woman standing on the opposite side of the fence watching her. “It's very unique.”

“One-of-a-kind; shipped out here from the east coast before the turn of the century.”

“Goodness. That must have been expensive.”

“I'm sure it was.” The woman chuckled. “I'm just thankful I wasn't the one paying that bill. You must be the lady from the café. Angie gave me a call,” she explained when Dorthea looked at her quizzically. “And you're carrying a suitcase.”

“She's a very nice girl.”

The woman laughed. “She has her good days.”

“I'm Dorthea.”

“Well, come on in. No sense standing out on the street,” the woman said, gesturing toward an archway setting off the gate at the corner of the property. Moving along the sidewalk, Dorthea paralleled the rock wall until she reached to the gate. Unlatching it, she stepped through the opening and climbed a set of stone steps that rose up to the grassy yard which was on an equal level with the top of the wall. “Welcome. I'm Lois Peters,” she said when Dorthea reached the top of the steps. “Let's get you settled.” Leading the way, she walked along a stone walkway to the steps of the porch.

“It's a beautiful house,” Dorthea commented of the three-story Victorian painted in pale blue with bright yellow trim. “When was it built?” she asked stepping up onto the wide, covered porch that spread out from both sides of a pair of engraved glass doors.

“1889. A local cattle breeder, Nathan Newberry, built it for his English bride.” Lois pulled open one of the doors and held it for Dorthea to enter the house. “There wasn't much here at the time except the railhead and lots of dirt and dust. It's said that when Nathan's bride found out the town was named for another rancher's prized sire and she told him that she would never set foot in such an awful place unless he built her a proper house to live in. And had the town renamed. Nathan spent a year and most of his fortune building the house but, sadly, his fiancée never saw it or the town; which, by the way, never did receive a more fitting name.” Lois pointed to a staircase at the side of the sitting room. “You can set your suitcase down over there while we get you registered.”

“What happened?”

“His fiancée contracted cholera on the voyage from England and died at sea. He spent the rest of his life living here alone and was rarely seen outside the property.”

“That's so sad.”

“Yes, but unfortunately it wasn't all that uncommon. After Nathan died, the house passed through several owners until my father purchased it. I inherited it from him and turned it into the rooming house. It needed a lot of work but I think it was worth it.”

“Oh, indeed it was.” Dorthea readily agreed as she glanced around the sitting room comfortably furnished with period pieces. “Are these original?” she asked while lightly running her fingers along the back of a settee.

“I'm afraid not. By the time Dad bought the place the original furniture was long gone or too badly damaged to use.”

“You've done a wonderful job replacing it with these pieces.”

Lois smiled at the compliment then sat in front of a roll-top desk in the corner of the room and slid the tambour open. “I use the need to furnish the house in authentic pieces as a convenient excuse to visit every second-hand and antique store in the state. Here we are,” she said pulling a sheet of paper from one of the many cubicles above the desk's writing surface. She retrieved a pen from another cubicle and held it up. “I just need some information.”

“Of course,” Dorthea said walking across the room to the desk. A quick glance at the paper answered her unasked question when she saw Lois had already written in the nightly cost of a room. She quickly filled in the requested information and signed the paper. “Would you like me to pay now?”

“If you don't mind. Will you be staying longer than tonight?”

“I think two nights but I'm really not sure.” Dorthea pulled the folded bills out of her pocket and handed Lois enough to cover one night's stay.

“Not a problem. Just let me know tomorrow morning what you've decided.”

“I'll do that,” Dorothy agreed as she accepted her change.

Lois made a notation on the paper then closed the tambour and stood, slipping Dorthea's payment into a pocket. “Let me take you up to your room. Things are pretty quiet this time of the year so you won't have to fight other guests over the bathroom. It's the door at the end of the hall; your room is right next door. It has the best view of all of them. Breakfast and supper come with the room,” she explained as she started up the stairs. “Nothing fancy but it'll save you from having to walk to the café.”

Dorthea reclaimed her suitcase then followed Lois up the narrow flight of carpeted steps.


After freshening up, Dorthea left the rooming house to find the newspaper office. She quickly found herself standing in front of a one-story building with faded gray stucco walls and few windows. Bordering one side of the substantial rectangular structure was a gravel drive that provided access to a parking lot where a half dozen delivery trucks were parked. Painted on the sides of the trucks and on the uninviting plain wooden door at the front of the building was Kalona News. She pushed the door open and stepped inside.

The room Dorthea entered was small, contrasting with the outside appearance of the building. Six feet from the door, a waist high counter stretched the width of the room. To the left, two chairs separated by a small table holding a lamp and a copy of the morning issue of the paper filled one side of the cramped foyer while the opposite side was bare of any furnishings but stacked high with boxes of various sizes. In the space behind the counter, two desks sat facing one another and a row of file cabinets, of different designs and sizes, lined the far wall. A space, just large enough for the door it revealed, broke the otherwise soled wall of metal. Piled around the desks were more boxes and stacks of loose papers.

A young man, Dorthea guessed to be not long out of high school, sat at one of the desks engaged in a fervent phone conversation. When she stepped up to the counter, he glanced in her direction, smiled, and held up his index figure. She smiled back and nodded, acknowledging his greeting and silent request for her patience. She leaned against the counter to wait for him to finish his conversation.

“Sorry, ma'am, one of our advertisers,” the man apologized as he placed the receiver back on its cradle. Then he stood and approached the counter. “I'm Tad. And how can I help you?”

“I have a rather strange request,” Dorthea said nervously. She paused when the rear door opened and an older man entered the office. A rush of air fouled by stale ink and paper dust rushed into the office accompanied by the loud clanking of machinery at work.

“You were saying?” Tad prompted Dorthea after the elderly man closed the door shutting out the noise and odor.

“I'm trying to find information about something that happened here a very long time ago,” Dorthea answered while her eyes followed the older man as he moved to one of the file cabinets and pulled open a drawer. “I was hoping that I might find it in your archives.”

“I'm intrigued. How long ago?”


“Whoo,” Tad exclaimed, blowing out a stream of air. “That is a long time ago. What was the event?”

“A tornado.”

“We have a lot of those around here.”

The sound of the file drawer being slammed shut made both Dorthea and Tad jump. “Told you before,” the elderly man addressed Tad, “you should have spent more time on your history lessons.” He tossed a folder onto the desk opposite Tad's as he walked past it to the counter. “1938, you say. It did most of its damage in Cedarwood, not Kalona,” he said to Dorthea. “Why are you asking about it here?”

“I believe that the injured were brought to Kalona.”

“That's true. Kalona was the closest hospital back then.”

“And that a list of the injured was published in your paper.”

“Most likely. That was the best way to get the information to the families back then. At least, for those the hospital identified. Let's sit,” the older man said. “My legs are too old to be standing for this long.” He lifted a section of counter top then opened a half door. “Tad, you can get back to those collection calls,” he told the younger man as he moved through the concealed opening. “These chairs aren't too uncomfortable,” he told Dorthea then beckoned her to sit on one of them. “I'm Harvey.”

Dorthea held out a hand. “Dorthea.”

“My mother was a nurse at the hospital back in thirty-eight. I was sixteen but I still remember the stories she told of that day. So much chaos. The injured kept coming, brought in anyway someone could get them here. The docs were quickly overwhelmed but they did what they could to help them.”

“You said that all of the victims weren't identified. Why?”

“Some walked out once they were patched up. They were too concerned about missing loved ones to stick around and fill out paperwork. Others knew they couldn't pay so they snuck out or their relatives snuck them out when everyone was too busy to notice. Many were too bad off to give their names and died without anyone laying claim to them. Things weren't as organized back then as they are now.”

“Do you remember any of the names?”

“Not off the top of my head; I was just a kid more interested in all the commotion and such. Except for a few buildings at the south end of town and the bridge over the river, the tornado skipped right over Kalona. Cedartown…” Harvey shook his head slowly as memories flooded back. “Folks out there took a real beating. Some of them yours?”

“I don't know. I think… I'd really like to see a list of the victims, if there is one.”

“If there was, it'll be in the archives. We can take a look.”

“I'd really appreciate that.”

“Mind me asking why you're interested?”

“I, um… I think I may have been one of those victims.”

Harvey studied Dorthea for several minutes. “You couldn't have been very old…”

“I was four.”

Harvey nodded, as if to say seems about right. “We'll have to walk out back, ran out of room to store the old issues in here. Let me grab the key.”


After retrieving a ring of keys from his desk drawer, Harvey led Dorthea out the door at the front of the building. Then they walked around the corner of the building and down the gravel drive, the noise from the working machinery inside barely audible through the building's thick walls. They continued past the parked trucks to a newer concrete block structure in the back corner of the lot.

Harvey walked up to the steel door and slipped a key into its lock. “Fireproof,” he explained to Dorthea as he swung the heavy door open. “We have some of the more recent years on microfiche but for what you're looking for, it's the old papers themselves.”

Dorthea cautiously approached the doorway, she could see little inside the windowless building. She hesitated when Harvey disappeared into the blackness. A moment later the interior was illuminated by bright overhead lights. Relieved, she followed him inside.

“Unless Tad's been out here, the years should be in chronological order.” Harvey was saying. “The nineteen thirties are back here. Hey, you still interested?”

Dorthea had paused just inside the door. She was surprised to see the neat rows of cabinets that occupied the building. Each cabinet was approximated four feet wide. The front side of each cabinet was lined with sliding doors that could be slid in front or behind the ones on either side. Harvey was standing at the end of one row, frowning at her. “Yes. I'm sorry,” she said as she hurried toward him. “I wasn't expecting—”

“It to be so neat in here?” Harvey finished for her. “I don't expect you would after seeing the office.” He chuckled. “Guess we just haven't had the time to neaten it up over the years. Built this place a few years ago; made sure we did it up right.” Dorthea smiled and nodded. “Here's 1938,” he said, sliding open a section of door. “Let's see, that happened in… what, April? May?”


Inside the cabinets were shelves three inches deep. At the front of each shelf, a month and a span of several days was indicated in black press-on numerals. Harvey pulled on the shelf denoting May; it noiselessly rolled open to reveal issues of the newspaper laid out flat, one on top of the next. “This'll be the first few days of May,” he said as he carefully lifted the spine of the first paper. “No point wasting time on the ones without any mention in the headlines,” he explained as he continued down through the issues, his eyes scanning the first page of each before discounting it. He pushed the drawer closed then pulled open the one below it. “Here we go,” he exclaimed after almost reaching the bottom of the papers in the drawer. He carefully pulled the issue free then spread it out on top of the cabinet.

Dorthea read the blaring headlines. “Tornado obliterates Cedarwood. Kalona hospital overwhelmed.” She pressed against the cabinet to get a better view of the old print. “Entire blocks of homes destroyed. Rescuers find few survivors to save in some neighborhoods.”

“Didn't leave much to the imagination back then,” Harvey commented as he pulled open the drawer holding the next grouping of issues.

Dorthea carefully flipped through the pages, her eyes scanning for any mention of survivors.


Kimberly re-checked the bottom row of numbers before hitting the print button. After spending almost the entire day updating the budget spreadsheets, she wanted to make sure she hadn't made any mistakes. Hearing the printer engage, she leaned back in her chair, stretching her back. “I really do hate budget time,” she said to the empty room then turned to look out the office door. “I wonder what's taking Marge so long to get back.” Several minutes earlier, her co-worker had volunteered to take their empty coffee cups to the break room and refill them. She quickly turned back around when she heard a door click open. She smiled seeing her boss emerge from his adjoining office.

“Kimberly, I don't suppose you have the first draft of the budgets yet.”

She nodded. “Actually, Mr. Jackson, they're printing now.” Kim rose from her chair and moved to the printer, her boss following her.

“Really? That's great. I just got a call from accounting. They're already complaining about some of my proposed changes. They want a meeting to discuss things and said we could use my pencil version if we had to. But, I told them you probably had the changes already typed.”

Kim pulled the pages off the printer.

“Great job,” Jackson said as he took them from her hand. “As usual.”

“Marge helped out.”

“Of course. Pass on my thanks to her, too.” Jackson said then turned to walk out into the hallway. He abruptly stopped then stepped back into the office. “And Mrs. Kapin?”

Already focused on another project, Kim looked up questioningly thinking she hadn't heard the full question. “I'm sorry.”

“Mrs. Kapin… how much did she help?”

“Um… well… She's been busy—”

“We've barely seen her since this morning,” Marge said slipping into the office carrying two coffee cups, on top of each balanced a plate holding a sandwich and some chips. She carried the cups to Kim's desk and waited to be relieved of half her burden. “Except to come in here demanding to see how much we had completed.”

Jackson studied Marge for a moment then nodded before leaving the office without further comment.

“You shouldn't have said that,” Kim scolded.

“Why not? It's true.”

“It's not our place to tattle on her.”

“I wasn't tattling. He asked. I answered. Now eat your lunch; something you should have done a good hour ago.”

Kim sighed. “You're right… about this, anyway,” she said, holding up the sandwich. “I didn't realize how hungry I was until you walked in with these. I wondered what was taking you so long.”

“There were some platters of lunch meats and cheese slices in the break room. Leftovers from some department's lunch, I guess. I decided we deserved a free lunch as much as they did.”

“Thanks,” Kim mumbled around a bite of roast beef sandwich. “I'm supposed to pass on Mr. Jackson's thanks to you, also,” she added after swallowing.


“Getting the budgets done so quickly. He's on his way to accounting to go over some of his changes.”

Marge raised her coffee cup and smiled. “Glad to be of service.” She took a sip then said, “I'm surprised he noticed.”

“Well, I couldn't have done it without you and I told him so.”

“Too bad you couldn't have been as forthcoming when he asked about Kapin.”

Popping the last bite of sandwich into her mouth, Kim pulled a folder from her inbox. “Let's see how much of this pile I can get through before five.”

“Subject closed?”



“Here's another list,” Harvey said spreading open another day's issue. “Not much different from the last few.”

Placing her finger just above the surface of the fragile page, Dorthea scanned through the list of names. “I don't see it here.”

“Would have been eight days after the twister hit. Doubt there were many, if any, survivors left to be rescued by then. Paper was probably just re-running the same list, giving folks a chance to see the names.”

Dorthea frowned. “I was so hoping to find mine there. Or, one I recognized.”

Harvey folded up the paper and placed it back in drawer. He gathered up a couple of the others they had spread on top of the cabinets. As he placed one of the papers away, his eyes fell on a story at the bottom of the front page. “Lots of sad stories from that day but I doubt many were too upset by this one,” he said.


Harvey tapped the paper. “The tornado blew a car off the bridge. When they finally managed to pull it out of the river, they found Rocks inside.”


“Rocks Hampton. Owned a café in town but made most of his money being a loan shark. He had big plans, wanted to be a mobster like the boys in Chicago. But he was never more than small potatoes. Tornado did a lot of folks around here a favor by dumping him in the river. Only way they managed to survive the next few years was by not having to pay Rocks back.”

Dorthea was reading the article about the demolished car being pulled from the river. A comment at the end of the article caught her attention. “What about this?” she asked, pointing at the page. “Rocks demise and the mystery of the missing Bingham girl is all most talk about when it comes to the tornado.”

“Oh, well… I hadn't thought about her in years.”

Dorthea was excitedly flipping through the pages. “Is there anything else about her?”

“Might be. Hang on there,” Harvey reached for Dorthea's hands to stop her. “We don't want to be tearing any of these pages.”

“Please, it's important.”

“I can see that. Give me a minute to think.” Harvey scratched the back of his ear as he searched his memory. “Seems to me the paper ran a few stories about her…” He slide open a door. “Would have been the day after the tornado, if I remember right.” He opened a drawer and pulled out one of the papers they had already looked at. “Don't know why I didn't notice it first time we had this one out,” he said as he laid the paper on top of the cabinet. Slowly, he flipped through the pages. He started to turn a page then stopped and pointed to a small article at the bottom of the page. “Oops, almost missed it again.”

Dorthea read the article's headline. “Cedarwood survivor disappears from hospital.” Her hands began to shake nervously as she continued reading. “Little Esther Bingham, having survived being buried in the storm cellar of her family's home, has mysteriously disappeared from the Kalona Hospital. Officials are at a loss how the four year old, after being treated for her injuries, was allowed to leave before her father arrived to claim her.” She looked at Harvey. “Is that all?”

Harvey had pulled another paper from a drawer. “Follow up article a few days later,” he said pointing to the second paper. “Doesn't give much more information except that the girl's father was still looking for her. Thought your name was Sanborn? Girl's name was Bingham.”

“Names can be changed,” Dorthea said as she scribbled on a notepad she had pulled from her purse. “It says the girl was treated for injuries, do you know what they were?”

Harvey shook his head. “You might find something over at the historical museum. They have all the hospital's old records.”

“Do you know what happened to Mr. Bingham?”

Again, Harvey shook his head.

Dorthea paused before asking her next question, not being sure she wanted to know the answer. “Mr. Bingham's wife… did she survive?”

Harvey reached for a paper already spread out on top of the cabinet. “This was one of the last lists of victims the paper ran,” he said pulling the paper close. He ran his finger down a list of names. “Missing, Carol Bingham, Cedarwood,” he read aloud.



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