Jim felt in his pocket as he streaked through the darkness to Olivet, a few miles north of Taylor. He couldn’t read it now but he had read it a hundred times. He knew it from memory. He was grateful Gwen had called him the minute she received it. It was short and to the point with no explanations. It read, ‘Dear Gwen. I didn’t think I would like to have the key back so soon, but please, send it to me right away. I miss you terribly. Someday I will take you to this beautiful place where I am. I have never felt so happy and at peace. I have sent the post office box number and address. Love, Trish.
Jim puzzled over the words peace and happiness. The letter had the ring of quiet desperation that sent a cold fear in the pit of his stomach. God knew he wanted her to be happy. Then why didn’t he believe the words in her letter? If she had found complete happiness, then why did she need the coat? He assumed that it was the coat she had hidden in the deposit box and it was the only clue he had. It had taken some digging to find that location. Jenny had begged to come along, so had Moonie. He refused them both saying Jen would be on the home front in case there was any word, and Moonie would be missing school in his senior year. The truth was that he didn’t want any of them in danger if there was a real problem getting his daughter free from whatever was keeping her there.
Looking back, he could understand Jenny’s need to protect her daughter from the pitfalls of growing up and setting out on her own in the very near future. Her drinking had escalated and made arguing easier for both on them. And he was guilty, oh so guilty, of not having time to spend on the important things. If only he could have another chance. He didn’t often pray but he vowed to make it up to her if it was at all possible.
The fate of the foundry rarely made it to his mind these days. The fire and the accident had certainly brought them all to the breaking point. He could only hope there was some way to find a buyer that would help both Mike and the men. He thought again about Jenny and he wondered if their lives could be as happy as they once imagined they were. A great sadness washed over him.
The post office at the end of Jim’s destination was across the street from a small restaurant. For the next two days he sat in the eatery, breathing in the smell of chili dogs and listening to the complaints of the owner as he accused him of robbing him of customer space by the window, even though Jim paid him handsomely for the privilege. He had selected the tsble so he could watvh her entrsnce to the post off ice. e drank cup after cup of over-brewed coffee and talking to a nosey waitress. The caffeine jangled his nerves and the conversation provoked him. He was beginning to sense the futility of the mission.
On the third day of coffee and stale donuts, two young women on the steps of the post office immediately caught is attention. He recognized Trish’s green coat on one of them. He waited impatiently for them to come out. He dismissed the thought that the girl in the green coat was Trish. She was too slender and had closely cropped hair. The other girl was carrying the bright pink envelope he had chosen for Barb’s reply. He tossed a bill on the table and grabbed his coat.
The girls were well ahead of him and on the other side of the street. He had to dodge several people in the morning working crowd. It hindered his visibility and speed. For a few seconds they disappeared around a corner. His heart sank for fear of losing them Jim started to run, crossing the street in front of traffic, hearing protests from angry motorists. As he reached the corner, he saw the girls disappear into a greystone building. He followed quickly, his mind racing as fast as is heart. The building looked deserted but he was sure he had seen the girls go inside.
He turned and looked around him. A few small row houses with their three step wooden porches, a gas station on the opposite corner, an empty littered lot on each side of the building. He studied boarded up windows and doors with chains across them. Then he looked up and saw a window without boards on the second floor. He breathed a sigh of relief to notice a bare bulb glowing from within. He ran up the steps. The chains connected to nothing He tried the door but it was locked. Peering through the dirty windows, he could see the hall with bulletin boards and banners, as in an old school. A red bell was mounted on the side wall. He rattled the door, finally pounding it with his fists. Someone was coming down the hall toward him. Jim caught his breath.