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BUT NOT FORGOTTEN















Janet Dawson








Bodie Blue Books



Alameda Monterey
















Copyright©2018 Janet Dawson


All rights reserved.




Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduces into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of the copyright owner.


This novella is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or events is entirely coincidental.





Cover design: Bodie Blue Books




ISBN: 1-944153-12-8


ISBN-13: 978-1-944153-12-0



CONTENTS







CHAPTER ONE


GONE, BUT NOT FORGOTTEN.

The words spanned the top of the poster on an easel near the front door. Beneath the legend were photographs, twenty-one in all. Like the name tag I wore, the photos were taken from the yearbook and showed how we looked fifty years ago, the year we graduated from Willow Creek High School. Under each picture was a classmate’s name. Twenty of those had a date and cause of death. The earlier deaths, all male, were mostly accidents—a head-on collision, a fall while hiking. The one exception was a classmate who’d been killed in action in Vietnam. In the past ten years, death had taken an equal opportunity toll among men and women, cancer and heart attacks, mostly.

The twenty-first photograph was labeled with a name, Fern Chatfield, and a date—graduation day. It was followed by a question mark. A fifty-year-old question mark.

I moved away from the poster as a man and a woman approached. The man’s name tag told me he was Curtis Lockwood. He didn’t look like his senior picture any more. After five decades, none of us did. He had been on the basketball team all those years ago. I recalled that younger boy as tall and skinny. Over the years his hair had thinned and he’d gained a pot belly and jowls, as well as a few scars and bags under his eyes. The woman next to him, his wife, presumably, looked vaguely familiar. Then I remembered. She had been a junior while we were seniors.

“Seems a bit strange to see Fern’s name up there,” he said.

She shrugged. “Where else would it be? I mean, Fern’s dead, right? She must be.”

“Some people say she ran off. Though I suppose she could be dead. There’s the bar. I could use a beer.” They moved away.

Fern must be dead. Or was she still alive, out there somewhere?

I gazed at her photo, sipping my wine. Then I glanced down at my own tag, reading my name upside down. Maggie Constable. And no, my senior picture didn’t look like me, either. My dark hair was turning silver at the temples. I had extra pounds, wrinkles, arthritis and other issues of age.

Belinda Wellfleet, one of the organizers of this fiftieth high school reunion, looked up from the nearby counter. She was checking in new arrivals, handing them their name tags and a souvenir booklet. For now there was a lull. She glanced at the poster, then at me, picking up on my thoughts. “Do you ever wonder what happened to Fern?”

“Of course. All the time.”

Well, not every waking hour. But often. For me, it’s the defining mystery, the one that’s never been solved—yet.

Fern was my best friend. She disappeared the night of our high school graduation party. She’d walked away from the building, through the parking lot to the street, then she turned, waving at me from the pool of light under a street lamp. I never saw her again.

I raised my eyes from Fern’s picture to that of another classmate, Hank Silvestri. He had died earlier this year. A heart attack, according to the legend under his photo. I stared at the picture, at his dark hair, heavy-lidded eyes and surly face. The high school bad boy. Back then he’d cultivated the image and the reputation. And it was well-deserved. I turned away from the poster.

Tonight’s reunion gathering was being held in a large room at the Willow Creek Community Center. The building was of recent construction, part of a complex that included the library and an auditorium for performances. This center, on the eastern side of town, was much larger than the old community center I remembered from my high school days. That one-story structure, long since razed, was where the graduation party had been held fifty years ago.

The registration fee for the reunion included tonight’s pizza party, as well as a buffet dinner tomorrow night at Verley’s Barbecue on Main Street. I stood to one side and leafed through the souvenir booklet. Many of my classmates were now retired and had grandchildren. For me, neither criteria fit.

I tucked the booklet into my handbag and walked past the tables and chairs that had been set up in the middle of the room. A long table against the back wall had a lot of people crowding in front of it, no doubt because this was the table that held the booze. This Friday night was bring-your-own-bottle to go with the pizza that was due to be delivered. I had contributed a bottle of Chardonnay and I needed a refill. I sidestepped one person and dodged between two others, finding the bottle I’d brought. After I poured wine into my glass, I turned from the table and came face to face with Rita Bernard.

“Maggie Constable! You haven’t changed a bit.”

People always say that. And yet we have, inside and out.

Rita, who lived in the wilds of Wyoming, asked if I was still in California. On hearing my affirmative answer, she said, “Oh, I couldn’t live there. It’s too big, with too many people. And those earthquakes. It just wouldn’t feel like home.”

It felt like home to me, the minute I crossed the state line, more than forty years ago, with me singing along to “California Girls,” the Beach Boys’ anthem. Earthquakes, yeah, we’ve got them. Like many Californians, I’ve gotten so I can guess the Richter scale score after the jolt. That said, the 1989 Loma Prieta quake is indelibly etched in my memory. I’d been driving on the elevated section of the Nimitz Freeway and had just exited when the quake hit and the freeway came tumbling down.

Rita moved on the chat with someone else. Another classmate, Darlene Felson, moved to my side and gave me a quick hug, her oversized earrings swaying under her short gray hair. “Maggie, it’s so good to see you. It’s been such a long time. Have you retired yet? Or are you still working for that newspaper? I hear newspapers are dropping right and left these days. I mean, who reads them anymore? You can get all that stuff online.”

“The San Francisco Chronicle, yes, I’m still there.” And you can’t get everything online, I thought, though I didn’t say it. Sometimes it appeared my career in journalism was on the wane. The advent of Internet meant more people were getting their news online and newspaper circulation figures had been dropping. Even the venerable Rocky Mountain News in Denver had ceased publication, after a hundred-fifty years. Me, I still like reading a newspaper, feeling it in my hands as I turn the pages, with a mug of coffee next to me on the end table. A tablet or a computer just didn’t compare. “Not thinking of retirement yet.”

“I retired three years ago,” Darlene said. “Love it, love it. My husband and I have an RV and we travel during the winter.”

To each her own. Living out of an RV wouldn’t appeal to me. My idea of travel was making reservations at a good hotel.

I took my leave of Darlene, sidestepped two couples who were deep in conversation, and found myself next to Celeste Painter. She was white-headed, a smile adding to the wrinkles on her weathered face. “Well, here’s a blast from the past. I haven’t seen you at one of these reunions before.”

“I was at the twentieth,” I told her. I hadn’t been to any of the others, until now.

Celeste shrugged. “I wasn’t. My first husband was in the Army and we were stationed in Germany at the time. When did you get into town? Where are you staying?”

“Wednesday. I’m staying in Boulder, near where my mother lives.”

She looked surprised. “I didn’t realize your mother was still alive. My sister lives on Oak Street, a block from your old house. She says there’s a young couple with kids living there now.”

I nodded. “Mom’s in a senior apartment in Boulder. The house got to be too much for her. Plus she decided to give up driving.”

“Sounds like you had better luck with the driving thing.” She flashed a rueful smile. “I thought we were going to have to pry the car keys out of my dad’s hand. We wound up having to disable the car, so he wouldn’t drive.”

“It was still hard for Mom,” I said. “A small town like this, not much in the way of public transportation. Her car registration and insurance renewal were coming up about the same time as her birthday, so she decided it was a sign that she should stop driving and move to a place that is easier to manage.” And she didn’t have to cook. Mom had never been enthusiastic about cooking. More and more as she aged, she didn’t cook much at all, and dinner was often a container of cottage cheese or a piece of fruit. I used to nag her about nutrition, and drinking enough water. At least at her senior apartment, she ate three meals a day in the dining room.

“We’re all at that age,” Celeste said. “Looking after our elderly parents, if they’re still with us. My mother died a few years ago but Dad is alive and kicking. He’s in assisted living, up in Greeley where I live. At least my own kids are grown and out of the house. I’ve got three kids and five grandchildren. Can you believe it?”

Several of the reunion organizers were moving in and out of the community center kitchen, setting out large bowls of green salad and bottles of dressing. Another long table held paper plates, plastic cutlery, napkins and cups. At one end of this table was a large sheet cake decorated with the high school colors, green and gold, and the initials WCHS. And here came the pizza, lots of boxes in a variety of options. I collected a plate, a handful of napkins and went straight to the box that held the pepperoni. After taking a large, gooey slice, I headed back to the entrance, where Belinda had just checked in a couple of latecomers. I sat down on one side of a rectangular table and said hello to some classmates on the other side. One couple was talking about their grandchildren, while a man nearby was discussing his knee replacement.

Belinda snagged a slice of pizza and joined me at the table, glancing at the guy who was talking about his surgery. “Knee replacements. Hip replacements. How old are we?”

I smiled. “Sixty-eight next month. As I recall, you’re older than me by about six months.”

“Rub it in, why don’t you?” She took a bite of pizza and chased it with a swallow of beer.

“It does seem like the past fifty years zoomed by in the blink of an eye.”

“Tell me about it.” She gestured with one hand. “These people talking all the time about their kids and grandkids. I never went that route and I’m just as happy I didn’t.”

Belinda, like me, had never married. Which is why I felt I didn’t have much in common with most of my classmates. Never had. For many of them, their lives seemed to revolve around their offspring. And that was fine. Their lives, and all that. But looking at photos of other people’s children had a tendency to make my eyes glaze. I’d always been a loner, then and now. I was never that close to anyone in high school, keeping in touch with just a few people. Belinda was one. She had worked for the General Services Administration for years, down at the Federal Center in Lakewood, and had retired a year ago.

“You like retirement?” I asked.

“I’m enjoying it.” She took another bite of pizza. “Traveling. I took a Mississippi river cruise in the spring, and during the summer I went up to Mount Rushmore. Are you thinking about retirement?”

“I consider the idea from time to time.”

I had always wanted to be a newspaper reporter. The Willow Creek Gazette was a weekly that covered the usual small town stuff—city council and school board meetings, the Kiwanis and Rotary Club, school events and weddings. For decent news coverage, I turned to the Boulder Camera, the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News, although the latter was frequently a bit too sensational for my taste. Mom subscribed to all three newspapers, and the Sunday New York Times. I read all of them. I’d come home from school and pore over the pages.

When I graduated from high school I went down the road to the University of Colorado, where I majored in journalism with a news-editorial focus. After college I got a job on a daily in a farming community in southern Colorado. Then I moved west, to California, taking with me a plaque that bore a quote from the Chicago Times of 1861: “It is a newspaper’s duty to print the news and raise hell.” I got a job at the San Francisco Chronicle, starting at the bottom of the ladder and working my way up. In my forty-five years as a reporter, I’d gathered a lot of news and raised my share of hell.

Retirement—yes, I thought about it. The Internet had wrought deep and lasting change on the news business. I was still on the job, though, weighing the possibilities. Over the years I’d taught a few classes at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California in Berkeley. I liked teaching. Maybe semi-retirement was in my future. I’d also written several suspense novels that had sold fairly well, and I had a few more plots in me.

I heard a big, booming voice and looked up to see Craig Heyer. I’d never cared for him. He was a blow-hard, full of his own importance, and he hadn’t changed, other than the receding hairline, the hint of a gut and the gray in his formerly blond hair. He’d been the class president and homecoming king back then, and thought himself something of a Lothario, dating a lot of girls. He was married now. At least I assumed the brunette at Craig’s side was his wife. She gazed up at him with a steady smile as he worked the room.


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