Chapter Eight: Memories and Bribes

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When Freddie reached her house, the lights were off and a note on the door said Mom and Steve had gone out for drinks.

There's deli meat in the fridge.

"The torture I endure," Freddie said, shoving into her house—where she instantly drew up short. In part because it was sweltering (the hill up her driveway was no joke on Steve's bike). But mostly because she'd had an idea. One that was quite a criminal indeed...

For Bowman's comment had gotten Freddie to thinking—specifically, thinking about her dad. And when she thought about her dad, her feet tended to carry her down into the darkest corner of the basement where a secret box of files hid.

A secret box that Freddie's mom didn't know Freddie knew about.

Freddie had found the box when she was eight. She'd been pretending to be Nancy Drew—specifically Nancy Drew in The Secret in the Old Attic, except that her house didn't have an attic, so to the basement she'd gone. There, she'd scoured and examined and searched for clues about deceased soldiers and missing musical scores.

What she'd found instead was a cardboard box labeled, Frank Carter, Desk. Freddie had recognized her dad's name, and instantly, all thoughts of Nancy Drew had fled.

She knew so little about her dad. Mom didn't like to talk about him, and whenever Freddie had asked Steve, he'd gotten a sad face and said it wasn't really his place to answer. And once, when they'd gone to visit Frank's tombstone as they always did on Christmas, Freddie had even overheard Steve tell Mom that she really "ought to tell Freddie more about Frank." But then Mom had gotten sad and the conversation had ended.

With eight-year-old enthusiasm—and definitely a spike of guilt in her gut—Freddie had torn back the box's flaps, ignoring all the dust and swatting away the nest (or was it a swarm?) of tiny spiders that had taken up roost inside.

She'd found legal pads, a set of keys, a rolodex, two manila envelopes, and a bunch of pens that didn't write anymore.

She'd also found her dad's Sheriff's badge, gleaming and cold. She would have pocketed it right away if she hadn't been afraid her mom might one day discover it missing. Although, while Freddie had sat there exploring the box, she had affixed it to the pocket on her t-shirt.

She'd liked the weight of it, even if it wasn't her name written there.

At the bottom of the box, underneath all the files and pads, Freddie found the most valuable treasure of all: a faded photograph of Dad holding her on the day she'd been born. He'd had a beard then, and he'd been grinning like the happiest man who'd ever lived.

For the next twenty minutes, Freddie had simply stared at that picture, trying to conjure memories of such a face. She had a handful of her own photos with Dad in them, but he was never smiling—at least not like he was here. In all of her photos, he'd looked vaguely haunted. Vaguely lost.

Which was the way he lived in Freddie's memories too. She could't summon his face—not precisely—but she could summon the way he'd felt whenever she had been around him. He'd been quiet and withdrawn, his mind always elsewhere, even when he was sitting right beside her.

Again, fear of discovery kept Freddie from pocketing the picture. But for the next year, every time she had played in the basement, she'd snuck out the picture and stared at it. More and more time passed between each visit, though, until eventually, she hadn't played in the basement anymore.

Now, she only ever ventured down here when she was helping her mom with Christmas decorations. So it had been at least three years since the last time Freddie had snuck out this box and peeked inside—and were it not for Sheriff Bowman's comment about her dad, Freddie might never have done this again.

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