Authors: Rebecca Demarest
Copyright © 2014 by Rebecca Demarest
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publishers, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
Writerly Bliss Publishing
The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Book Design by Rebecca Demarest
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For my mother
and my father
who made it possible
for me to get this far.
For over 100 years, this office was called the Lost Letters Office, but then some bureaucrat got this idea in their heads about needing to be more professional and we became the Mail Recovery Center. More hopeful sounding, I suppose. But for all their marketing and planning, we are what we are. A repository for the lost.
~ Gertrude Biun,
Property Office Manual
enny was their miracle child. Jeannie and Ben had given up trying to conceive; no form of hormone regimens, temperature taking, or cycle tracking had done any good. They didn’t have the money for in vitro fertilization, so that wasn’t an option. He was sure she was over stressing herself trying to keep up with all her social obligations while running the antique store, but she insisted it was the chemicals he was using in his refurbishment workshop. The blame game got so bad that they agreed to stop trying.
And then, Jeannie missed her period.
“It might just be late,” she warned him. It had been late before with all the hormone treatments she had tried. So Ben bought three different kinds of home pregnancy tests, insisting she try all of them before he gathered her into his arms, hollering and spinning. She was pregnant.
In the evenings, while Ben rubbed her swollen feet, they made lists of things they wanted to make sure to do with their son. The Grand Canyon was a must, so they could show him where they had gotten lost on the trail and Ben had first jokingly proposed that they get married, just in case they were never found. Then there was the boardwalk arcade where he had proposed in earnest, pretending to buy the engagement ring with tickets won at skee-ball.
Of course, they didn’t always agree on what was appropriate. Ben wanted their son to see Star Wars and Indiana Jones as soon as he was old enough to talk. Jeannie insisted it would give him nightmares. She wanted him to play the “safe” sports like soccer or baseball while Ben proposed football and rugby. Every time they started arguing, Jeannie would defer to one of her new gurus of child developmental learning, and Ben would agree to put off the conversation until it was relevant.
They baby-proofed the house and workshop and talked about getting a dog because shouldn’t every young boy have a dog? Ben started planning sex talks and how to teach his son to pee standing up. His father had just said, “What are you a pansy? Only pansies pee sitting down!” which had been startlingly effective, if slightly traumatizing.
Ben worried over reviews for baby formula and diapers. He hunted for alternative chemicals to use in his workshop that wouldn’t be quite so dangerous if, God forbid, they were ingested. He lay awake at night, listening to Jeannie shift uncomfortably in her sleep and worried that his son wouldn’t like him, or that he wouldn’t understand his son.
Ben was determined to be as prepared as possible to keep his son safe. He was ready for the various ways a child’s development could get knocked off track. There was padding on the corners of all the hardwood furniture and white locks on all the cabinets. He thought he was ready to bring his son home from the hospital.
Nobody warned him that he should prepare for the day when his son would disappear.
This is the last stop for a lost package. Once it’s made it to us in the Property Room, there’s almost no hope of finding its original owners again, and it just waits to be sold off. But every once in awhile, the readers miss something, and we get to make someone very happy. Though, if they’d packaged it correctly in the first place, it wouldn’t be here, now would it?
~ Gertrude Biun,
Property Office Manual
en wandered through the maze of industrial shelving deep in the heart of the United States Postal Service’s Mail Recovery Center. Wiping one finger through the dust that coated a shelf of miniatures, porcelain dogs, and Santas, he studied a line of whimsical women of varying ages holding numbers. He picked up number eleven, noting the paper tag attached with a bit of twine.
06-11-21-62 Posted from Boise, Idaho.
A female voice broke through his study. “I always thought those figurines were a crime. My grandmother tried to convince me they were appropriate presents for a young woman. I wanted a BB gun.”
Ben set down the figurine too quickly, and it almost toppled before he caught it. The real woman standing at the front of the alcove leaned against a cart filled with gray plastic trays. She was fingering the pile of lace that lay in the top tray, but dropped it and pushed back the over-sized pageboy cap perched on her short strawberry-blonde braids in order to look at him. He felt like he was being weighed and measured by a pixie playing dress up, and he tried to stand up just a little straighter. People constantly commented on how his slouching would cause back problems. He maintained he would stand up to his full height when they stopped making doorways and desks so low.
“Sylvia,” she said, and stuck out her hand. “Really, it’s Chrissy Sylvia. My grandmother still insists on calling me Chrissy, but my mother wanted to name me Sylvia and it’s what I go by.”
Her brisk delivery reminded him of his estranged wife—thoughts he shoved away. He blinked a couple of times then gingerly took the slim hand offered him. “Benjamin. Grant. New Property Clerk. Call me Ben.” Her grip was warm and surprisingly strong for such a slight girl. Ben dropped her hand a little too quickly and waved at the large warehouse behind him. “I think you’re the one they said could help me figure out how all this works.”
She was not what he had been expecting based on the description he had been given. The HR rep who had told him to look to Sylvia for help during his first week had said something about a unique personality and he had expected…well, not this. Someone older and less attractive, for sure; not the perky co-ed he was presented with. “Am I supposed to know what to do with all that stuff already? They really didn’t tell me much yesterday other than, ‘Start tomorrow.’”
“No, that’s what I’m here for—part of my job is helping you do yours: keeping track of all the lost bits in the mail and eventually selling them off. And you’re thinking, ‘If she already knows how to do all this, why do they need me?’ Well, I didn’t want your job. I aspire to the lofty title of reader, just like my great-great-something grandmother Patti Lyle Collins.” She struck a triumphant vaudevillian pose before pouting. “But for now, it’s shredding and sorting because they think I don’t have the proper restraint for the job.” She hopped on the back of the cart, riding it up the warehouse to the bay with 2012 on the front shelf. “Enough kibitzing. Let me show you how to shelve this stuff.”
Ben couldn’t help but smile at her antics and he was surprised at the realization that he was glad for his new assistant’s energy. The last time he had been moved to amusement was the day before Benny’s disappearance, when his son had shown him a trick he had learned at school: balancing a spoon by its bowl on his nose. The spoon had stayed for a split second then dropped into Benny’s cereal bowl, sending milk and Lucky Charms everywhere. He had laughed until Jeannie came in to see what all the noise was about and then scolded them for making such a mess. The next day he was gone. Ben sobered at the thought of that day and tried to shake it from his mind. He didn’t spend enough time thinking about the happy days. Probably because he hadn’t had any for the last year.
Shoving his hands in his pockets, he followed the clattering of the trays and found Sylvia thumbing through a book. “I wonder if this is Cyrillic.” Without waiting for him to comment, she shrugged and slipped it onto a shelf labeled Foreign Books.
Ben kept his hands in his pockets and bent over the cart to examine the lace Sylvia had been playing with. “Doesn’t all of that have to be entered into the computer first?”
“Done and done. Did it this morning. You weren’t around yet, and I didn’t have all that much shredding to do. So instead of being roped into a Starbucks run for the readers, I told them I had to do entry. Kept them from doing it, so they didn’t complain.” She picked up the lace and shook it out, revealing a teddy, which she smoothed against her slight figure. Ben felt his ears turning red as he shoved away other, more lustful, thoughts. “Oh, seriously, Ben. It’s just a nightgown.” She stepped over to a chest of drawers, pulled open the top drawer, and shoved the cloth in.
Ben turned back to the cart to hide his discomfort. He doubted that nightgowns usually had peek-a-boo holes over the nipples. To distract himself, he cleared his throat. “I still can’t believe that people lose all this stuff every year.” He picked up the now-empty tray and moved it to the bottom shelf of the cart. The next held a dog collar and leash.
“I know! Did you know that in 1899 they had six million pieces of mail go through this office? Eighteen ninety-nine! Do you know how much goes through now? Billions…” She snatched up the doggy accessories and tossed them into a basket. Flipping the trailing lead up to the shelf, she turned to the cart. “There’s money in them, the mail that can’t be delivered that is. It’s part of how our salary gets paid. The other part is auctioning off these treasures.” She paused to pet a stuffed penguin on the shelf. “Keeps the price of your stamps down, too.”
“But the price of stamps keeps going up.” He handed her the next tray, this one with a spiky broach in a violent green.
“Yeah, well, look at some of the crap we’re trying to auction.” She wrinkled her nose as she set the broach in a velvet-lined drawer of a four-foot-tall jewelry cabinet. “I sure as hell wouldn’t pay money for that thing; I don’t know who would.”
“Plenty of collectors would like it. It was made in the twenties, maybe thirties.” It had been an instinctual assessment, and Ben extended his hand to retrieve the empty tray, but Sylvia was examining the broach.
“How do you know?” She glanced up, saw his outstretched hand, and tossed him the tray.
Inwardly, Ben groaned. There were some things he didn’t want to talk about, and the ten years spent at Jeannie’s side learning how to accurately identify antiques in her family antique store was one of them. “I…well. Alright. The soldering. It’s still a lead solder on the clasp, and that’s lead-based paint, plus the design is reminiscent of the flapper era. Twenties.”