The Small Brass Keybyjake60©
It was almost 6 p.m. when Patrick Dunn finally got home on Wednesday night. He had worked an extra hour and a half to finish the wiring job he had been assigned that morning by Wayne Faulk, his supervisor. By staying the extra time, he'd been able to complete the job almost half a day earlier than the estimate had allowed. Mind you, he'd worked like hell all day, and he could feel it in his sore muscles. It was almost good that his wife Glenda had left that morning for three days of seminars in Columbus.
Originally, he had offered to take some time off and accompany her on the trip, but she had made quite an issue of it, reminding him that the two of them would be leaving on a cruise during the spring break. They had their tickets, and he had already booked some vacation time for the trip. The tickets were prominently displayed on the middle shelf of their china cabinet, situated so that they could see them any time they looked into their dining room.
Patrick was a little surprised that there was no message on his answering machine to let him know that she had arrived OK. She had decided to make the approximately three-hour drive rather than take one of the commuter jets that would have also been an option. If he recalled correctly, registration commenced at 7 p.m., so he decided to give her a quick call, and pressed the speed dial button on their wall phone, the one that would connect him to her cell phone.
It rang just twice before she answered, "I was just about to call you, Patrick. You must have read my mind." She sounded happy, and he could hear the buzz of a crowd around her as she spoke.
He wasn't surprised that she knew he was on the phone, as her call display would have shown that the incoming call was made from her home phone. "You know I've always been able to read your mind, honey. So, you obviously made it there in one piece. How was the traffic? You still have all of the fenders on your car, I hope."
He chuckled loudly, knowing that her first words of reply would be a defense of her driving skills. He could imagine the look of exasperation upon her pretty face, and knew that if they were face-to-face she would have stuck her tongue out at him to let him know what she thought of his question.
The fact that it was early January, and a light snowfall had been possible, had made him a bit concerned about her making the trip by car; he would have been happier if she had taken the flight instead. He was relieved that she had answered so quickly.
She laughed before replying, "Of course it's all in one piece; the trip here was clear sailing all the way. Traffic was light and I had no problems finding the Sheraton Hotel. That map you printed off the Internet helped a lot, honey."
"You know I'd do anything to help you, dear. Nothing is too good for my Glenda, I always say. In fact, I spoke to the boss this morning, and he gladly agreed to give me the time off so I can join you there."
"No! You're not coming here," she quickly replied, her voice an octave higher. She hesitated a few seconds and continued more calmly, "We already had this conversation, Patrick. You know I want to wait until spring break for us to take a trip away together."
"Yeah, I know. I'm just pulling your chain, Glenda. I didn't speak to them about any time off." This had been his intended response, even before her emphatic rejection of the idea, but it bothered him that she was so forceful with her reply. "I'll stay home like a good little boy, and do as I'm told." He laughed after saying that, as it wasn't in his nature to let her get her way so easily.
He could tell there was a measure of relief in her voice when she said, "I'm glad to hear that, Patrick. This is just going to be a boring few days, and I've already selected a full schedule of seminars to attend. There wouldn't have been much time for us to do anything together while we were here."
"You said that I must have read your mind, Glenda. Did you want to talk to me about something?"
"Oh, I'm glad you reminded me. I can't find my travel emergency bag. You know the one with my sewing kit, the lint remover, and those other things. I was sure I packed it. Could you check the bedroom to see if I left it there? Maybe it's in the trunk of the car, if you don't see it there."
"Sure thing, babe. Just hang on a minute, and I'll pick up the cordless phone in the bedroom." He laid the handset on the counter and quickly headed upstairs to their bedroom. He had only taken two steps into the room when he could see the case she was looking for sitting on the corner of the chest of drawers.
He picked up the cordless phone and said, "Problem solved. The bag you're looking for is right here on the tall chest. You're just going to have to be careful and not lose any buttons; and stay away from lint!" He laughed.
"Oh, thank goodness it's there. I didn't want to have do make a trip all the way down to the parking garage to look for it. They have a small convenience store just off the lobby, and I can just buy whatever I need." She hesitated for a few seconds before continuing, "I should go soon, honey. They opened the registration desk early, and I'm third in line."
She quickly continued, "I probably won't call much this week, as I'm signed into an evening presentation from 7:30 to 10 p.m. tomorrow night, and Friday night they have a fancy supper planned. I have my last seminar on Saturday morning, so I'll start for home right after lunch, and I'll be home in time to have supper with you, dear."
"That's OK, honey. I worked extra tonight, and I could probably do that Thursday and Friday as well. Give me a call if you can, and I'll call if anything important comes up. I'll see you for supper on Saturday in any event."
The two of them exchanged a few more pleasantries before ending their call. As Patrick headed back downstairs to hang up the wall phone, he started thinking about Glenda, and her reaction to his joke about joining her. She had been behaving a bit strangely for several months now, sometimes too quiet, other times too anxious to please. Even when they had first seriously discussed the possibility of him accompanying her on this trip, her reaction had been an emphatic rejection of the idea.
The realization that he was hungry diverted his thoughts from the consideration of Glenda's recent actions, so he decided to order a pizza. He had almost 40 minutes before the estimated delivery time, so he immediately headed upstairs to strip off his dirty work uniform and have a shower. When that was done he dressed himself casually in a pair of jeans and one of his many work T-shirts, all emblazoned with the corporate logo of Anderson Electric, his employer.
He was relaxing at the kitchen table enjoying a beer when his pizza arrived. He knew he should have prepared himself a better supper, but being overweight was never a problem for him; his work kept him very fit. Glenda was not a big fan of pizza, so he felt comfortable indulging himself while she was away. He would have the leftovers the next day, packed for his lunch. Most workplaces had a microwave oven available where he could reheat his meal.
He spent the next hour watching one of the news programs on TV, but he soon realized that his concentration on the talking head had lapsed, and he was once more thinking about Glenda and her change in demeanor over the last 60 some days. It bothered him that something was different with her, and that she had been so adamantly opposed to his joining her on her big trip.
At 35, Glenda was a real beauty, tall and slim, with long dark hair and dark eyes. She was employed as a professor of sociology at the local college. She had just been accepted for tenure at the end of the previous school year, and was very proud of the fact that she had managed that. As one of the junior members of the faculty, she had more classes than most, but she did mention that she been given the services of a teaching assistant, or TA as she called it.
When the fall semester began, she told him how nice it was that her TA, a senior who would be graduating in the spring, was available to do some of the marking and student advisement for which she had always been solely responsible. She had mentioned that his name was Anthony, but Patrick could not remember whether he had ever heard his last name. His name had come up a few times in the first couple of months, but she hadn't said anything about him in quite some time.
In mid November she had brought up the subject of the upcoming seminars that she wanted to attend. They were scheduled for the off week between New Year's Day and the start of the second semester. It was considered professional development, and her college would pay most of the costs. Initially, when he had dropped the suggestion that maybe he could accompany her, she hadn't voiced any objection: two weeks later though, she had made up her mind that she did not want him to go with her, suggesting instead that they take a trip during the spring break. Reluctantly he had finally agreed with her emphatic decision.
Little was said about the seminars over Christmas, and they had enjoyed the holiday, spending it with family and friends. He did notice a few big envelopes of registration and course material arrive, and that her registration was quickly mailed back. It seemed she was anxious to make the trip, and had even started packing her suitcase a couple of days before New Year's Day. Mind you, she was always organized, and this was not totally out of character for her.
Just after eight o'clock, he went back up to their bedroom, intending to continue reading the book he had left unfinished on the bedside table. When he got there and noticed the bag that Glenda had called about, he decided to put it back on the closet shelf where it was usually kept. When he picked it up, he noticed that it had been sitting on top of Glenda's diary, a book he thought she normally kept in her book bag. They had been married eight years, but he had rarely seen her diary, as she kept it securely hidden away almost all of the time.
He had made a joke of asking her to let him read it years earlier, just after they had been married, but she had absolutely refused, making him well aware of the fact that this was for her own private and personal use. She described it as being the same as her thoughts or her memory, and it was for her eyes only. They had never discussed it again, and in fact, he had only seen it open in her hands a couple of times during their eight years of marriage.
Both times he had caught her unawares, and the moment she had seen him she had closed the book and snapped the little lock shut, effectively locking him out.
Patrick suspected that she was making the entries into her diary while she was in her office at the college, although she could be doing it at home while he was away at work. Their schedules did not overlap exactly, and she was usually still at home when he left, and had returned by the time he would get off his shift. After returning the bag to the closet, he returned to the dresser and picked up the diary, the first time he had ever actually touched it.
The book was about six inches by eight inches, and an inch thick. It was bound in red leather, and was kept securely closed by a hasp that was held in place by a small, brass plated lock. As he held the book, it occurred to Patrick that it probably held the secret to Glenda's change in behavior over the last few months. Instead of putting the book back onto the dresser where it had been, he carried it downstairs with him as he returned to the kitchen. The light there was much brighter, and he carefully examined the book and its lock.
One of the first things that he noticed was that when he examined the top and bottom of the book he could see that only about a third of the pages appeared to have signs of use, while the rest seemed pristine. His first thought was that there was no way this one book could be the only diary that Glenda had. It was unlikely that eight years of entries could only take a third of the book. He knew there must be other, older volumes.
After thinking about it for a couple of minutes, Patrick realized that the only likely place that earlier diaries could be kept was in Glenda's closet. The two of them each had a closet, and he never went into hers. Even as he thought about it, he headed up the stairs to their bedroom. After five minutes of careful searching, he located a shoebox at the back of the top shelf, and when he opened it, he was rewarded with a stack of red leather diaries. He immediately returned to the kitchen with his trove.
The first thing he noticed was that all of the diaries were identical. The ones in the box each had a little round white sticker on the spine, and the six books he found were numbered one to six. The one that was presently in use was unnumbered.
As he looked them over, he realized that each one was embossed on the bottom of the back cover with the name 'Coombs', and he recognized that as the name of a local specialty store. The next thing that he noticed was that the seven locks appeared to be identical, with no identifying numbers or marks on any of them. He wondered if they were all keyed alike. Another thought quickly came to mind, and he immediately turned to the shelf below the phone and grabbed the phone book. In just a few seconds, he located the phone number for Coombs Specialties.
It was already twenty-five minutes to nine, and he wondered if they would be open, as many of the stores in the downtown area stayed open late on Wednesday nights. The phone was answered after just two rings.
"Coombs Specialties: how may I help you?" The voice was that of a young woman, and she sounded sincere with her question.
"Hello. I understand you sell a line of red leather diaries, about six inches by eight inches in size. Do you know if you have any in stock right now? I'd like to get one as a gift."
"I think I know which book you're talking about. Just hold and I'll go check to see if there are any on the shelf." She was gone from the phone for about three minutes before returning to say, "Yes, we have two in stock."
After determining that the store was going to be open until 10 p.m., Patrick quickly left to get a look at one of the new diaries, one that he could perhaps use as a source to obtain the little key that opened them up. It was a long shot, but he knew that if he tried to pick one of the locks open, he would likely ruin it, and Glenda would probably never let him live down the fact that he had tried to snoop in her diaries.
In just over half an hour Patrick was on his way home again, with one of the red leather diaries with its key, in the bag beside him. It was expensive, almost $60, but he wasn't concerned about the price. It was a small price to pay if he was able to find out what was bothering his wife. He could always use the new diary as a birthday gift for her.
He already had visions of her keeping an illness from him. She had done that once before when a Pap test had come up with abnormal results, and she had bottled up the worry she was going through instead of sharing it with him. It had ended up being nothing to be concerned about, but knowing that she had been in for a mammogram in the fall was in the back of his mind.
The other thing that he thought might be causing her concern was the infighting that went on amongst the faculty members of the college. He knew that if she were having trouble with a colleague she would never mention it to him. Glenda believed in looking after her own problems and decisions when it came to her job.
There was another possibility, of course. It was there in the back of his mind, and he was consciously trying to ignore it, but it kept peeking into his thought processes; what if she was having an affair? Like any trusting husband, he could not bring himself to acknowledge that idea, and instead he concentrated on the other potential explanations.
In some ways, they were an unlikely couple. He was an inch shorter than she was, with blond, closely cropped hair and blue eyes. His was a muscular frame, while she was tall and slender. They had known each other in high school, and had even dated a couple of times. After high school, they had gone their separate ways, with Patrick entering the electrical trade as an apprentice, and Glenda going on to college and graduate school.
They had reconnected by chance early during her last year, when both were invited to the birthday party of a mutual friend. They had clicked immediately, and were married a month after she had finished her education. He was a master electrician by that time, and had a small house on which he had recently made the down payment.
That house was home to them for the first five years of their marriage, but with Glenda now making a good salary, and Patrick holding a full-time job, they had eventually decided to move into a larger home. They had already discussed having a child, or maybe two, and had decided on the end of the school year as the target date for Glenda to stop using the birth-control pills she had taken throughout their marriage.
When he arrived back at home, Patrick wasn't 100% certain that the key for the new diary he had purchased would work with the locks on the diaries he had found. The key, stored in a small brown envelope within the box that held the diary, looked very small to him. He was beginning to think that perhaps he should have just asked the clerk whether the locks were all keyed alike. He had already made up his mind that if the key didn't work, he would forget about the whole thing. If each lock was keyed differently, he wasn't going to spend time searching the house for Glenda's hidden cache of diary keys.
In any event, five minutes after he walked in the door, he was seated at the kitchen table with a stack of diaries and an open can of Coke in front of him. The little key was in his right hand and he was staring at the seventh diary, the one that contained Glenda's most recent entries. He knew that if he tried that key, and it worked, there would be no going back; he would open her diary and read the things that she had made clear were meant to be private and personal to her alone.
He sat there for what seemed like several minutes trying to decide whether he wanted to cross that line. He was worried that he would somehow accidentally let her know that he had snooped, and that she would never trust him again. In the end, his concerns about her health, and the constant prodding of that unspoken question in the back of his mind combined to give him the push he needed to open the lock. The key fit precisely, turned smoothly, and the lock snapped open.
Within seconds, the book was his to explore, and he had opened it to the last page Glenda had used. At the top of the page was the previous day's date, and about three quarters of the page had been used. He quickly began reading the neat script written on the page.
It took him about a minute to read the lines, and by the time he had finished he had paled, his face had lost all expression, and his eyes had taken on that shiny appearance that tears create. He got up slowly, picked up his can of Coke, and walked to the kitchen sink. As he stood there looking blankly out of the kitchen window he slowly crushed the can of Coke, apparently not noticing that the beverage soon began to overflow the open can before running over his hand and into the sink.
Eventually he did notice his wet and sticky hand, dropped the crushed can into the sink, and rinsed the mess from his fingers. After drying his hands on a paper towel, he picked up the stack of diaries, along with the key, and walked slowly into the living room. He placed the stack of books on the end table beside his reclining chair, turned on the lamp that hung over it, and then sat back in his favorite chair.