Dorthea struggled to decipher the page of notes. After thanking Harvey for his assistance and leaving the newspaper office, she had returned to the boarding house and was sitting on the settee in the sitting room trying to make sense of the scribbles on her notepad. “Bingham,” she whispered underlining the name in her notes. She leaned back, tapping the pen against her chin and trying to recall if she had ever heard the name before. “Bingham,” she repeated.
“Bingham?” Lois asked as she carried a tray out of the kitchen.
“Do you know the name?” Dorthea asked hopefully.
Lois set the tray down on the table between the settee and a pair of thickly padded Victorian style chairs. “Can't think of any Binghams around here. Use to be a family of Bingfords. Had a farm west of town but they sold out years ago and moved down south somewhere. Coffee?”
“Oh, I'd love a cup.”
Lois picked up the silver coffee pot from the tray and poured the steaming liquid into a pair of china cups. She handed one of the cups to Dorthea. “By the looks of those notes, I'd say you had some luck at the newspaper office.”
“Some. But, unfortunately, not what I was hoping for.”
Dorthea sighed. “So am I. Chuck, at the café, made mention of an historical museum. Maybe they will have the old hospital records.”
“The hospital? Why on earth are you interested in those,” Lois blurted out without thinking. “I apologize. Your business is none of mine,” Lois contritely told her guest who had displayed a reluctance to discuss her reasons for visiting Kalona.
“Oh, goodness. You have no need to apologize.”
“Well, I feel I do. You have no obligation to tell me of your business and I have no business asking.”
“My business is personal but it's not as if it's a secret. It's just… well… it's a bit embarrassing, to be honest.” Dorthea took a sip of coffee and swallowed before continuing. “You see, I'm trying to find out who I am.”
Dorthea laughed nervously. “That must have sounded very strange. Let me try again. I was raised by a woman who claims to be my aunt. Over the years, I have come to question the truth of that claim.”
“How awful for you? You don't think you were… kidnapped?!”
“I don't know what to think.”
“So, why Kalona?”
“Recently, I read a story about the tornado that struck Cedarwood in the 1938. It told of a young girl who was rescued from the rubble of her house and brought to Kalona's hospital. The girl mysteriously disappeared before her family arrived.”
“And you think you may be her?”
“The girl suffered an injury. When she was found, a piece of wood was stuck through her ankle. It would have left a noticeable scar. I have such a scar but have no memory of how I got it.”
“Says I had it when I was given to her to raise.”
“She refuses to say.”
Lois settled back on her chair absorbing what she had just been told. “That must be terrible for you,” she said after a few moments.
Dorthea nodded. “The magazine article did not mention the girl's name since she disappeared before anyone could ask it, I guess. But Harvey found a story in the paper that a Paul Bingham was looking for his daughter, Esther, who had disappeared from the hospital.”
“Do you remember being called Esther?”
“What about her mother?”
“One of the last lists of victims mentioned a Carol Bingham who was still missing.”
“Hmm.” Lois bent forward to refill their coffee cups. “Have you thought of visiting the cemetery? There's a section there for some of the victims of that tornado, mostly people who died at the hospital. Unfortunately, many were buried in a mass grave. The tornado didn't leave a lot for kinfolk to recognize. So many died, it was a sad time around here.”
“You can't be old enough to remember that time.”
Lois laughed. “Thank you. I'm not. But anyone who's buried a loved one in the Sharon Hill cemetery knows about the monument to the Cedarwood tornado victims. There are some individual graves, too. You might recognize a name of one of those stones.”
“That's a good idea. How do I find… did you say Sharon Hill?”
“Yes. It's on J at the end of 4th . You can't miss it.”
“Quitting time, girl friend,” Marge said ejecting a floppy disk from her computer. She then stood and walked to Kim's desk where she picked up a second disk.
Kimberly was tidying up the papers and folders on her desk. “Hopefully, we can get out of here before Mr. Jackson comes back with more adjustments,” she said, not noticing her boss was walking into the office.
“I heard that.”
Kimberly blanched. “Oh, I'm so sorry. I didn't see you—”
Jackson laughed. “It's okay,” he assured his secretary. “If I had worked as hard as you have today, I'd want to get out of here, too.”
“I can stay—”
“No. Go on and leave. I have to take another look at some of these spreadsheets,” he held up a thick folder, “before I make any decision on changes. Are those for me?” he asked Marge of the floppy disks she held.
“Yes. I was going to put them on your desk.”
Jackson plunked the disks from her grasp and added them to the papers he carried. “I'll save you the trouble. Now, go home.”
“Thank you, Mr. Jackson.”
“Have a good night, Kimberly. And you, too, Marge. I appreciate all you've both accomplished today. It'll sure make my revisions easier having all of this on disk.” He waited for the women to leave then walked to Mrs. Kapin's desk. The executive assistant's computer was running but the out box on the corner of her desk was empty. He frowned and turned for his office.
“Oh, Mr. Jackson, did you need something?” He spun around to find the woman had mysteriously materialized. “I believe I just saw Kimberly and Marge leave. I'm sure I can stop them.”
“No. I have no need for them tonight. In fact, I just sent them home.”
“Oh? Um… then perhaps… I can…”
Jackson smiled sardonically. “No. You may leave as well.”
“I'll just check with Mr. Gilroy.”
“Yes. You do that,” Jackson said as he walked into his office.
Dorthea knew she had found the cemetery when she spotted the unassuming wrought iron gate before she even reached the end of 4th Street. It was late and the sky was beginning to darken in the east as she crossed J Avenue.
No fence surrounded the sacred ground, only the gate announced the entry for visitors. The cemetery's grass covered ground was scarred by two pronounced ruts beginning at the edge of J Avenue and continuing under the gate's center arch that had Sharon Hill Cemetery blazoned across it in block letters. On either side of the arched section were two lower slanted arcs and beneath those were two pedestrian gates firmly latched shut.
Dorthea chose to walk under the main arch rather than unlatch one of the side gates. The lawn had recently been mowed and the bouquet of freshly cut grass still hung in the air. She walked in one of the ruts worn deep into the hard ground by the wheels of hundreds of funeral processions. The parallel ruts led to a gravel drive that split the cemetery in half down the middle of the long rectangular shaped graveyard. Rows of neatly placed grave stones spread out from the drive on the flat ground. No trees or bushes had been planted to provide shade over the graves and she idly wondered if that bothered the ground's occupants.
A granite obelisk stood conspicuously in the rear corner of the cemetery, its height towering over the rest of the stone monuments. As Dorthea headed for the obelisk, she quickened her steps, hoping she hadn't mis-timed her visit and the day wouldn't fade before she accomplished her mission.
Kimberly sat at the kitchen table. A peanut butter sandwich was on the plate in front of her and a glass of milk was beside it. Both untouched. The television was turned on in the living room but she paid little attention to it. After arriving home, the apartment had seemed painfully quiet and she had switched on the television to break the unnerving silence. She picked up the sandwich and took a bite. After swallowing, she washed down the thick spread with a mouthful of milk. “Damn, it's going to be a long weekend,” she bemoaned before taking a second bite.
Dorthea strained to read the names on the gravestones that surrounded the obelisk. Disappointed at finding the sides of the monument engraved with only a dedication to the unknown victims of the tornado, she had turned her attention to the dozen or so individual monuments. Having made her way through most of them, she had yet to find the name Bingham or any name that sounded faintly familiar to her.
“Darn it,” Dorthea muttered then sighed after reading the last of the stones. “Now what do I do?” she asked aloud. Not much a grave stone would be able to tell you anyway, she heard Kim's voice deep in her brain. “No, I suppose not.” Disappointed, she turned to walk back across the graveyard to the street.
Hey, it's only your first day. You aren't giving up already, are you?
Go back and eat something then get some sleep. Tomorrow go to the museum. Who knows? You might get lucky and find an old geezer there who can provide your answers.
“Let's hope,” she responded to the imagined voice then laughed at herself for doing so. “If not, I guess I go to Cedarwood and see if any old geezers are still around there.”
That's the spirit.
Dorthea had reached the gate and was passing under it when she again answered the voice, “I wish you were here, Kim.”
The alarm woke Kimberly at six. She groaned then threw her blankets off to the side and sat up. Only then did she reach for the offending noise maker and quiet it. “No time to dawdle. I made a promise and I plan to keep it.” She pushed up off the mattress then padded out of her bedroom. After a quick stop in the bathroom to splash cold water on her face, she went to the kitchen and prepared a breakfast of cereal, milk, and coffee. Then it was back to her bedroom to dress in a pair of shorts and old t-shirt.
Pulling the door of the utility closet open, she stood in front of the array of tools Dorthea employed in keeping their apartment clean. She reached for the vacuum and feather duster. “Can't be that hard,” she muttered as she turned around to face the waiting apartment.
Not wanting Lois to go to the trouble of cooking a full breakfast for her single guest, Dorthea had asked for only a bowl of fresh fruit, a couple slices of sourdough toast, and coffee. After finishing her meal, she returned to her room for her notepad and then set off to find Kalona's historical museum. Lois had told her that it opened for visitors at nine and Dorthea planned to be waiting when the doors were unlocked.
Dorthea was surprised to find the historical museum not a single building but a collection of buildings that created a nineteenth century village. She headed first to the visitor center, a building of modern construction near the front of the village. The building's door was propped open and she walked through the opening into a large room with numerous display cases and free-standing artifacts. Though the room was crowded with exhibits of the town's history, it was neatly arranged and welcoming.
Dorthea looked around for the source of the cheery greeting. “Good morning,” she replied, spotting an elderly woman cleaning a glass display case at the side of the room.
“We don't get many visitors this early,” the woman said as she continued with her task. “Fee is three dollars, you can just drop it into the jar on the desk.”
“Oh… of course,” Dorthea said, reaching into her pocket for the requested amount.
“And be sure to sign our guest book. We like to keep track of where our visitors come from. Go ahead and look around. My name's Gwen. Give a shout if you have any questions. Don't be shy. I like to talk to folks, it helps the hours pass.”
“Thank you,” Dorthea said, smiling. “Actually, when you have a moment, I do have some questions.”
Gwen turned away from the glass panel she had been cleaning. “Splendid,” she said walking toward the old oak office desk beside the front door that served as a work area for the volunteers, like herself, who manned the museum during the day. “Did you sign the book?”
Gwen set the can of glass cleaner on the desk then carefully folded the cloth she had been using and placed it under the can. She leaned over to read Dorthea's entry in the registry. “Rapid Falls? Not much excitement in that.” She straightened back up. “I much rather have visitors from far away. Just last month, we had a couple from Switzerland stop by. Switzerland. Can you imagine coming all the way from Switzerland to see our museum.”
“Well, no, I can't—”
“Such a nice couple, they were, too. They looked at every exhibit and even walked through all the other buildings. So interested, they were. Those are the kind of folks that make my day.”
Dorthea smiled nervously, not knowing what kind of response the woman expected.
Gwen dropped into the chair behind the desk. “What brings you all the way from Rapid Falls?”
“I, ah… Well, I'm hoping to find information on the 1938 tornado.”
“Thirty-eight,” Gwen said after a moment. “Seems you'd do better asking in Cedarwood. Tornado bounced right over Kalona and hit there.”
“Yes, I know. But what I'm looking for is information on the victims that were brought to Kalona's hospital. Harvey, at the newspaper office, thought the old records might be stored here.”
“Harvey thought that, did he?” Gwen muttered. “Old fool likes to send people here if they can't find something in the paper's archives.”
“I'm sorry. I didn't mean to waste your time,” Dorthea bristled.
“Don't go getting riled up. I said Harvey was an old fool, didn't say he was wrong.”
“So you do have the records?” Dorthea asked expectantly.
“We have some.”
“When the decision was made to close the hospital, most of the records were moved to a sister hospital in Iowa City. We thought they had cleaned the place out. Wasn't until the city condemned the building that anyone bothered to go in and see what, if anything, was left. When they did, they found all kinds of files in some old cabinets and boxes in the basement. Unfortunately, most of them had to be burned since the basement had filled with rainwater over the years and soaked the boxes. But we did manage to salvage what was in the cabinet drawers above the water level. What exactly are you looking for?”
Groaning inwardly, Dorthea repeated the story that sounded odd even to her own ears. “I would like to know more about that young girl. She couldn't have been more than four or five, at the time.”
“Goodness, I haven't thought… What do you know about Esther?” Gwen suddenly demanded then waited impatiently for Dorthea to continue.
“I'm sorry… I'm not sure… I mean, I don't really know anything. I…” Dorthea stammered before stopping to gather her thoughts. She drew in a long calming breath and slowly released it before addressing Gwen. “Is there someplace we can sit?” she asked, hoping that Gwen's sudden change in demeanor meant she might finally have met someone who could provide answers to her questions.
Gwen nodded then stood and led Dorthea to the far end of the room where a pair of benches had been placed for visitors to rest. She sat on one of the benches and waited for Dorthea to take a seat on the other.
“Did you know Esther,” Dorthea asked eagerly.
Gwen sighed. “I haven't thought of her in years. No, I never knew the girl. But her father—”
Gwen nodded. “He owned the store next to my father's. He was such a nice man. He always had a piece of penny candy for me. He changed after the tornado. I don't think he ever recovered after losing his family.”
“She was never found. The best anyone could say is she must have been sucked into the tornado. Probably better she wasn't found after that. But I think it was what happened to Esther that ruined him.”
“What happened? Do you know?”
“I don't think anyone but the men who took her can answer that.”
“Do you know who they were?”
Gwen shook her head. “I was only seven at the time and my mother made me stay at home because she didn't want me disappearing too. But my friend Gale's older sister saw them. Helen was a Candy Stripper… I don't know if they still call them that now-a-days but a volunteer.” Dorthea nodded her understanding. “She was at the hospital that day and had been assigned to get the names of patients who didn't need immediate attention; the nurses were treating them while the doctors focused on the most seriously injured. She said two men had come to the hospital and that one had hung back while the other forced his way to the front of the hospital lobby where a desk had been set up to provide information on the injured already treated. Helen had noticed the men because, unlike most everyone else, they wore business suits. She said one looked neat and clean but the other was rumpled looking.”
“Who were they?”
“She didn't know the rumbled looking man who asked for information on a little girl but she thought the other one looked like Sonny.”
“Sonny Furston. A no good. Made his living beating up people for Rocks.”
“Rocks Hampton? Harvey said he died in the tornado.”
“That's right. Tornado picked his car up and dumped it in the river. It took weeks before it was pulled it out. It was a real mess, all crumbled up with Rocks crushed inside. Just as well, if you ask me. He thought himself a gangster like the real ones in Chicago at the time. Sonny was his… What is it the movies call them? Oh, yes, his enforcer.”
“Did Helen tell the police she had seen Sonny?”
“Oh, yes. It was all anyone around here talked about for months. But no one could figure out why Rocks would have Sonny take Esther.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Sonny never did anything unless Rocks told him to.”
“What did Paul say?”
Gwen stretched her back. “To tell you the truth, it was peculiar, even to me, how he would go silent whenever anyone brought up the possibility.”
“And the police couldn't question Rocks since he died in the tornado. But, what about Sonny?”
“He just disappeared. No one saw him after that day. And since no one else at the hospital remembered seeing him, the police just figured Helen was mistaken and Sonny was just another victim of the tornado.”
“What if he wasn't?” Dorthea cried out in frustration. “He could have told them what happened to Esther.”
Gwen shrugged. “People had to go on with their lives. They had their own families to worry about. What was one missing girl to them when so many others were missing or dead? There were many who thought Paul knew more than he was saying so why should they care if he didn't. It was a bad time around here.”
“And Paul? What happened to him? Does he still live in Cedarwood?”
Gwen shook her head. “After the tornado, he put a cot up in the back of his store and slept there. He kept hoping Esther and his wife would turn up. I didn't think he'd ever give up. But he did. One day, he put a For Sale sign on his store and handed the keys to my father. He said he was going to go someplace where their memories wouldn't haunt him.”
“Where could he go?”
“California. Los Angeles, I think. My father received a postcard from Paul saying to keep whatever he got for the store.” Gwen laughed. “Dad said the store was more debt than profit. He never did find a buyer for it so he just locked the doors. I can't remember that we ever heard from Paul again.” Gwen sat quietly for a moment. “Why are you so interested in Esther?”
“Do you know the injury she suffered?”
“Yes. I heard my father talking to my mother one day. He said there was no way Esther could have just walked away from the hospital like some suggested. Not with what happened to her ankle.”
Dorthea pulled up the leg of her jeans. She stared at the scarred skin on both sides of her ankle looking up only after hearing a loud gasp escape from Gwen.
“You?” Gwen whispered. “You're Esther?”
“I think so.”
Holding a bin overflowing with cans of furniture polish, cleaning solutions, and rags, Kimberly stood in the middle of the living room proudly observing the sun sparkling off all the recently shined and polished surfaces. “Not bad if I do say so myself,” she crowed. “One room down,” she continued pulling the vacuum across the room. “It was the biggest, too. So,” she paused while she mentally calculated the length of time since she had begun her task that morning, “I should be done by the time Star Trek comes on.” Humming happily, she entered the kitchen.
Dorthea glanced up at the crumbling brick façade of a row of deteriorating single-story buildings she was being led toward. After revealing her presumed identity to Gwen, the woman had agreed to a visit of the location of Paul Bingham's store. Ownership of the building had remained with Gwen's father who, by the time of his death, had purchased the entire commercial block.
“I know they need work,” Gwen said as she walked along the broken sidewalk in front of the mostly abandoned storefronts. “The years haven't been good to them and as businesses moved to the newer parts of town, there were less people interested in renting them,” she explained. “I keep hoping the town will re-discover it's past and will help fix them up. At one time, these were pretty spiffy looking,” she said as she stopped in front a doorway near the end of the block.
Trying to hide her impatience, Dorthea waited for Gwen to find the correct key on the enormous ring she had pulled from her purse. She stepped closer to the bay windows but could see little through the grimy and cracked panes. As she waited, she wondered what had possessed her to ask to see the building. After all, fifty years had passed since it had been occupied by Paul. Would anything of his remain inside the locked space? “What happened to the store after Paul left?” she asked Gwen who was trying to fit a key into the old lock on the door.
“Father sold what he could of the inventory. He rented out the store to others but they never lasted more than a few years. Ah, here we go,” she said triumphantly then pushed the door inward. The rusty hinges creaking loudly as they were forced to move for the first time in several years.
Dorthea followed Gwen inside the vacant store. The room was illuminated only by the sunlight that managed to make its way through the dingy windows at the front of the store. Even if she hadn't known, she could have easily guessed the prior use of the space. A long counter ran the length of one side of the rectangular room, its glass front allowing for unobstructed viewing of a series of shelves. Several free standing display cases and tables which had once been placed about the room were now shoved into the far corner of the room. At the back of the room, an open doorway led into a much smaller area.
Dorthea moved about the room, curiously studying any object she encountered. Eventually, she made her way to the small room at the back. “Was this Paul's office?” she asked before ducking her head through the doorway.
“Yes.” Gwen had remained near the front of the store, allowing Dorthea to explore the space unrestricted.
Dorthea stepped into the office. “It's empty,” she murmured after finding the room completely devoid of furnishings.
Dorthea spun around to find Gwen was now standing just outside the passage from the store proper. “Um… nothing. I guess I thought… Maybe I was hoping…”
Gwen seemed to understand. “It's been a long time. I doubt anything is left of Paul's.”
“Probably not,” Dorthea said moving to a door at the back of the office.
“That leads to the alley out back. Best not to open it,” Gwen said when Dorthea reached for the knob. “Back of the building is in worse shape than the front.”
Dorthea nodded and backed away from the door. “Well… I guess… Thank you for letting me see it.”
“Not what you were expecting?”
Dorthea walked out of the office. “I'm not sure what I was expecting.”
“What are you going to do now?”
Dorthea considered her options as she walked with Gwen toward the front of the store. “Go home.”
“I don't know what I could find out there that I haven't already learned here. Paul isn't there. What's the chance any of his neighbors still are?” Dorthea asked as she walked out into the bright sunlight.
“Not very good.” Gwen pulled the door shut then locked it. “Every house on the street was destroyed along with his. Most of his neighbors didn't stay around. That was one of the reasons he moved into the store. That and he didn't have the money to rebuild, even if he wanted to. My father thought the only reason he didn't lose the store was he must have owed it to Rocks.”
“Paul owed Rocks money? But I thought you said Rocks was a gangster.”
“A wanna-be. Mostly, he was a loan shark. If the tornado hadn't killed him, Rocks probably would have ended up owning Kalona and a lot of the farms around it. If Paul owed him, he wasn't the only one.”
“Do you think that's why Paul wouldn't speak out against Rocks?”
“I don't know why. Rocks was dead, what could he have done to him? But it does make one wonder.”
“Yes, it does.” Dorthea held out her hand to Gwen. “Thank you. I appreciate everything you've told me. And for bringing me here; letting me see this.”
“I wish it was more. What will you do?”
“Go home. Talk to my aunt again. Try to get her to tell me the truth.”
“If she won't?”
“Go on with my life.”
Dorthea shrugged and smiled sadly. “There are worse things.”
Kimberly sat at the kitchen table. It had taken her the best part of the last two hours cleaning the oven and defrosting the freezer. She looked around at all the surfaces she had yet to touch. “Ugh,” she muttered feeling a heavy tiredness in her arm and back muscles. “You better get home soon, girlfriend, because I am going to need one of your super duper back rubs when I get done with this.” She took a healthy drink from the glass of water she held. “How you doing?” she asked her missing roommate. After a moment, she again raised the glass to her lips and emptied it. She stood and placed the glass in the basin. “Sure is lonely around here without you,” she said then returned to her unfinished chore.
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