Kim's eyes fluttered open then closed again. She rolled onto her side and yawned as her mind sorted out a jumble of memories that slowly rearranged themselves into their proper order. She stretched her arm out, reaching for her friend and lover. Feeling nothing but cool sheets against her skin, she forced her eyes to re-open.
“Good morning,” Dorthea greeted cheerfully after watching Kim struggle through the process of waking.
“Ugh,” Kim grunted. “What time is it?”
“A little after nine.”
Kim yawned again. “Guess I was tired,” she said.
“I think we both were.”
Kim rolled onto her back and stretched. Her stomach started to rumble.
“Starved.” Kim sat up, tossing the bed covers off. “Let me get cleaned up then we'll go see if the restaurant has something light for dinner. I hate to eat a lot this late at night.” Dorthea laughed. “What's so funny?”
Dorthea grabbed the edge of the heavy curtain covering the window and pulled it back to let in the bright morning sunlight. “I think breakfast is more in order than dinner.”
“Damn! I thought you said it was nine o'clock.”
“I did. Nine AM.”
Dorthea stood and padded over to the bed. “As you said, we were tired,” she said sitting on the mattress beside Kim. “And after the day we had yesterday, it doesn't surprise me.” She leaned close to kiss her on the cheek. “Good morning, love.”
Kim grinned. “Good morning. How long have you been up?”
“A couple of hours.”
“You didn't wake me?”
“Why would I?”
Kim looked at Dorthea quizzically. “Aren't you anxious to start looking for Paul?”
Dorthea scooted to the head of the bed to lean back against the headrest. “To be honest, now that we're here, I'm a little nervous,” she admitted as she stretched her legs out in front of her.
Kim repositioned herself to sit beside Dorthea. “I would think you'd be more than a little nervous,” Kim said sympathetically. “If it were me, I'd be petrified about finding him. I mean to think that you might soon be meeting your father. God, I can't imagine the emotions you'll be going through. Not to mention what he might feel about it. All the questions—”
Dorthea placed her hand over Kim's mouth then grinned at the startled look on her face. “That's not exactly helpful, sweetheart,” she said dropping her hand.
Kim's startled look turned into one of chagrin. “Oh.”
“Besides, you obviously needed your sleep.”
“Obviously,” Kim said as she relaxed against Dorthea's shoulder. “What were you doing while I slept?” she asked.
“I took a nice long bath—”
“Ooh, that's why you smell so good.” Kim grinned when Dorthea started to blush. “What's all that?” she asked of the papers spread out on the table.
“I was reviewing my notes. And looking places up in the phone book.”
“Places that might have information about Paul.”
“I figured the best place to start would be with the city's records. There must be files for property owners.”
“That makes sense… if Paul owned property.”
Dorthea nodded. “The city hall isn't too far from here, we could walk to it.”
Kim grinned. “That sounds good to me.”
“And the city library is only a block away from the city hall. I thought, if it came to that, we might be able to find some mention of Paul in the newspaper archives.”
“Sounds like you've got a plan figured out.”
“I hope so.”
“Okay,” Kim said as she sat up. “I'll get a bath then we can go get breakfast and be on our way.”
“Should we extend our stay another night,” Dorthea asked as Kim swung her legs off the mattress and stood up. “I only paid for one night.”
“I think that's a good idea. I'm definitely not too anxious to get back into the car today. We can talk to the desk clerk when we go downstairs.”
“Oh, my gosh,” Kim exclaimed as she and Dorthea pushed out the hotel's lobby doors, “I am stuffed. It's a good thing we're walking, I'm not sure I'd fit into the car right now.”
“Dorthea laughed. “We didn't eat that much.”
Kim patted her stomach. “You didn't but I sure did. Never take me to an all-u-can eat buffet again.”
“I'll make a note of that,” Dorthea said as she led Kim across the parking lot toward the street.
“How far to city hall?”
“About eight blocks.” They paused when they reached the sidewalk.
“Which way?” Kim asked.
Dorthea pointed to the east. “We can cross the street there.” She resumed her steps toward the corner with Kim falling into step beside her.
“Sheesh, there are more signals on this street than we have in the whole town of Rapid Falls.”
“That's probably a good thing,” Dorthea said as she watched the excessive number of cars on the street, “keeps drivers from having to fight their way through every intersection.”
They stopped when they reached the corner. “Sure hope they stop traffic long enough for us to get across the street. It's pretty wide,” Kim observed counting two lanes of traffic for each direction and turn lanes.
Dorthea noticed a button on the signal pole with a sign above it that indicated it was to be used when crossing the street. “Maybe this will help,” she said pushing the large round metal button.
They waited for the pedestrian crossing sign to switch from red to green then hurried across the street.
“Okay, that was easy,” Kim declared when they safely made it across the lanes of stopped traffic.
“Easier than driving?”
“Odd looking city hall,” Kim said as they walked alongside an elevated pool of water with bubbling fountains. The pool, approximately ten feet wide and a hundred feet long, dominated the concrete walkway leading to a glass wall in the center of a one story brick building. “Not much character.”
“Definitely different from our city hall,” Dorthea agreed, gazing curiously through the glass wall. “You can see right through that lobby.” A matching wall of glass was at the back of the room allowing her an unobstructed view of a courtyard.
“Weird.” Kim pulled open the glass door then waited for Dorthea to enter walk through the opening. The room was rectangular in shape with two solid walls on either end; their surfaces covered with pictures of the town and town officials. Doorway in the middle of each side wall led into long hallways lined with doors on both sides.
A woman sitting behind a circular desk in the center of the room looked up when they entered. She waited a moment before asking, “May I assist you?”
“Um, yes,” Dorthea stammered as she approached the desk. “I, um… I was wondering if it would be possible to… um…”
Kim stepped beside Dorthea and placed a comforting hand on her nervous friend's back. When she received a look of gratitude in response, she told the woman, “We are looking for someone who possible lived in Gardena in the late thirties. We were hoping that there might be some sort of records available from back then.”
“Goodness, that is a while ago.”
Kim nodded. “Do you have records from then?”
“The town was incorporated in 1930 so we should. I suggest you ask in the Recorder's office. That's where they keep the property records. Just go down that hall,” the woman said pointing to her right. “Make the turn at the end. You can't miss it.”
“Thank you,” Dorthea said smiling.
Kim nodded her thanks then followed Dorthea into the hallway.
The receptionist was right— it would have been hard to miss the Recorder's office. After making the turn, the narrow hall abruptly ended at a single door.
Dorthea pulled the door open and led Kim inside. They stepped up to a counter that stretched the width of the room. Behind the counter were what appeared to be endless rows of file cabinets and bookcases. Between the counter and cabinets was a haphazard arrangement of half a dozen desks ranging from antique oak to more modern black metal and chrome. A woman sat at one of the desks, the others were unoccupied.
“Good morning,” the woman greeted Dorthea and Kim.
“Good morning,” Dorthea responded as the woman rose from her desk.
“How may I help you?”
Dorthea suck in a lungful of air then released it.
“Can't be that bad, can it?”
“Sorry,” Dorthea apologized to the bemused woman. “It's not bad just complicated.”
“Okay,” the woman said good-naturedly. “Why don't you tell me what you need. And relax, I won't bite.”
Dorthea smiled nervously. “Sorry.” She again felt Kim's calming touch on her back and her nervousness suddenly disappeared. “I am looking for someone who I think lived here in the late thirties. I was hoping you might have a record of him… and, possibly, an address.”
“Do you have a name?”
“Did he own property?”
“I don't know.”
“Okay. My name is Debbie, by the way,” she said.
“Dorthea. And this is my friend, Kimberly.”
“This Bingham a relative?”
“I think he may be my father.”
“Ah, the complicated part,” Debbie offered and Dorthea nodded. “Well, let me see. Luckily for you, the town didn't have too many people in it back then and most weren't property owners. It was mostly berry farms… it was even called Berryland for quite some time.” She paused to think. “Do you know when in the thirties?”
“It could have been late thirty-eight but probably thirty-nine.”
“Be right back,” Debbie said turning away from the counter.
“Thank you,” Dorthea whispered to Kim after Debbie disappeared down one of the aisles lined with file cabinets.
Dorthea reached behind her back and entwined her fingers with Kim's. “For this.”
Kim grinned. “You're welcome.”
“Well, let's see what Polk has to tell us,” Debbie said, re-emerging from the back of the room.
“Polk?” Dorthea asked.
“Polk,” Debbie repeated holding up a thick book, she carried an identical book in her other hand. “City directory listing residents by name, address, and phone number.”
“Oh, I think I've seen those in our library,” Dorthea told Debbie.
“Most likely. Polk publishes them for just about everywhere. Can you believe they started doing it in 1870? Forward thinkers, weren't they?” Debbie added as she placed the books on the counter. “Okay, let's see if Mr. Bingham is listed.” She opened the book for 1938 and flipped through the pages of alphabetically listed names. “No Bingham. Let's try thirty-nine. Binaly... Bine... Bingey... Bingham, Paul.”
Dorthea gasped. “What does it say about him?” she asked excitedly.
“It gives an address. Let's hope it's a street that still exists.”
“What do you mean?”
“Like I said, the town was mostly farmland back then. Over the years, the farms disappeared as subdivisions were put in. Lots of the streets disappeared with the farms.” Debbie reached under the counter. “Let's see,” she said as she unfolded a city map and spread it out on the counter. She referred back to the Polk directory, “Penson Farm Road. Oh, that doesn't help much. Let me think… Hang on.” She walked back to a different aisle and opened a drawer in one of the file cabinets. “Penson Farm was between what is now Manhattan and Illinois Streets.” Her voice faded as she walked further down the aisle. She returned a few minutes later with a couple more Polk directories. “That area was subdivided after the war. They probably gave the farm road an official name then.” She opened one of the books and flipped through the pages. “Here we go… Paul Bingham, 1740 West 160 th Street.”
“I know it's a long shot,” Dorthea said hesitantly, “but does he still live there?”
“Need a different directory to know. Be right back.”
Dorthea leaned against Kim. “I think I'm going to faint.”
Kim gently rubbed her back. “You're doing fine.”
“What if he isn't there anymore?”
“I'd be surprised if he was, that's a long time to live in one house. If he isn't, we'll just keep looking.”
“What do you think is taking her so long?” Dorthea asked anxiously several minutes later when Debbie had yet to return.
“I don't know. Take it easy, I'm sure she's not going to leave us standing here forever.”
“Sorry, ladies. I decided to look through the directories back there instead of lugging them up here. They're are a great resource but they weigh a ton,” she added dropping two thick volumes on the countertop. “Bingham is listed at that address until 1972. After that, a Diane Hartling is listed and Bingham doesn't show up again; at least, not in the Gardena directory. And before you ask, I only have directories for Gardena.”
Dorthea accepted the news with a mixture of hope and disappointment.
“Maybe we could talk to… what was her name?” Kim asked.
“Diane Hartling,” Debbie provided.
“Right. If she bought the house from Paul, she must know something about him.”
Dorthea frowned. “We don't even know he owned the house.”
“Well, I can answer that,” Debbie said. “Let me check the tax records for seventy-two.”
“Hey, it's good news,” Kim told Dorthea when they were again left alone. “Why do you look so disappointed?”
“I guess I just wanted it to be easier.”
“Like he still lived in the same house? Did you really expect that?”
Dorthea sighed. “I don't know what I expected. It just seems like every bit of good news is followed by bad. It's just such a roller coaster ride. I think my emotions are running on empty.”
“Don't give up yet. I've got a feeling that we're on the right path here.”
Dorthea looked at Kim in surprise. “You do?”
Kim smiled. “Believe it or not, I think we're close to finding Paul.”
“1740 West 160 th Street,” Debbie said as she walked back to the counter, “was owned by Paul Bingham. He paid the taxes on it until he sold the property to Diane Hartling in seventy-two.”
“There you go,” Kim grinned at Dorthea. “We'll go talk to her. Thank you,” she told Debbie. “Thank you very much.”
“Wait a minute,” Dorthea injected. Kim and Debbie looked at her expectedly. “Um… do you have… um… death certificates here?”
“Dorthea!” Kim was surprised by the unexpected question.
“There's a good chance Paul is… well, you know. I don't want to bother this woman if he is.”
“Death records are kept at the state capital,” Debbie said then watched as Dorthea's shoulders slumped in frustration. “Why don't you ladies have a seat.” She indicated a pair of chairs at the end of the counter. “I've got a friend up in Sacramento. Let me give her a call.”
“That's okay. I don't want to put you to any trouble.”
Debbie laughed. “No trouble at all. I haven't talked to her in a couple of weeks, this will give me an excuse to call up there. Do you know Paul's date of birth?”
Dorthea shook her head.
“We think he would have been in his late twenties or early thirties in thirty-eight,” Kim offered.
“Well, that's better than nothing. Go ahead and sit, this shouldn't take too long.”
Kim took Dorthea's hand and led her to the chairs while Debbie returned to her desk. “You don't really think he might be dead?” she asked softly after they settled on the comfortable chairs.
Confused by the response, Kim asked, “Dorthea, why would you even start this hunt if you thought that?” Dorthea looked down at the hands folded in her lap. “Honey?” Kim prodded gently. “Tell me what you're thinking.”
When Dorthea finally looked up, her eyes were wet with unshed tears. “What if he's disappeared again? What then?”
Unconcerned with their surroundings, Kim reached over and tenderly wrapped her hands around Dorthea's. “We follow this as far as you want. Then we go home and go on with our lives.”
“No buts. Whether we find Paul or we don't, it doesn't change who you are. Or who we are.”
“I'm so mixed up inside.”
“I know, sweetheart.”
Dorthea gazed at Kim lovingly. “What should we do?” she asked confident that Kim would provide the right answer.
“I say we take the chance and go talk to this Diane whats-her-name and find out what she knows, if anything, about Paul. It may provide you answers, it may not. But either way, we've tried.” She opened her purse and pulled out a small package of Kleenex. “Dry your eyes, honey,” she said as she held out the tissues.
“Well, I owe my friend dinner next time she's down at this end of the state.”
Dorthea and Kim turned to see Debbie was again standing behind the counter. They quickly stood and joined her.
“There is no death certificate on file for a Paul Bingham. At least, not one who would have been his age in 1938.”
“I guess that's good news,” Dorthea said. “Can you tell us how to get to 160th Street.”
“That's easy. Go back out to the front of the building. Go west, that's to your right, three blocks. That'll be Manhattan. Turn right again. It'll be the first street on your left. That's a distance of about two blocks but 161st doesn't go through to Manhattan.”
Dorthea reached across the counter. “Thank you so much,” she said when Debbie took her proffered hand. “I know we took you away from your work—”
“Don't be silly. I enjoyed the break, just don't tell my boss,” Debbie lowered her voice conspiratorially then laughed. “I'm glad I could help. It seemed important.”
“It was,” Kim replied. “Thank you.”
“Good luck,” Debbie called out as Dorthea and Kim walked out of the office.
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