When a research assistant opens his late professor’s safety deposit box, he finds an unexpected link to his own past.
My thanks to Nora McKinney for providing editorial advice. Let me know if you agree with Nora – she wants to know what happens next…
Ryan followed the manager into the vault of the First National and waited while the safety deposit box was retrieved. Looking around the walls of boxes, he wondered idly what great treasures might be hidden in them. He let his imagination run free to contemplate family jewels, treasure maps, or perhaps the proceeds of a great bank robbery of the golden age. Breaking Ryan’s reverie, the bank manager placed the box on the table in front of him and discretely withdrew to allow the customer to open it in private.
Recalling the late Professor Nicolai as a shrewd and stern individual, Ryan had been surprised to hear that his will had left everything to his “dear research assistant”. Granted, Ryan had, indeed, been his constant companion for the last fifteen years. Before that, he’d shared the duty with his twin sister Breanne. The professor had a daughter in Spokane, who ought to have been the sole beneficiary, but she had never shown interest in her father or his research. Perhaps that was answer enough.
Having cleared the apartment at the college and bundled up the clothes for Goodwill, the only thing left to sort was this box. Who knew what lay inside? There was only one way to find out.
He inserted the key, turned it, and opened the lid. On top was the usual detritus stored in bank safety deposits, a thirty-year-old passport, the deed that granted the professor the lifetime rights to the apartment in recognition of his contribution to the college, a few assorted photographs, and a file or two of research papers that had long been surpassed by subsequent developments.
Going through the photographs brought a sorrowful smile to Ryan’s face. One showed the class of ‘94 with himself and Breanne, both smiling proudly, alongside their graduating friends. As always, the professor stood aloof to one side. A second picture held the smaller research group, again his twin smiling up at him. In the fifteen years since she had died, there was not a day gone by when he didn’t feel the hole left by her absence. Looking around at the rows and rows of boxes, he doubted that there could be anything stored in any of them that could equal the value of what he had lost in her passing.
He had continued with the research they’d shared although his heart was no longer in it. The taciturn professor hadn’t commented on Ryan’s loss but had let the young man come to terms with it in his own way. After his friends overwhelmed him with unwanted sympathies and suspicions, Ryan had been so thankful for the peace he gained in the professor’s employ. Losing his sister was hard enough. To be suspected of her murder was far worse. The professor had even helped to clear his name. Ryan was grateful enough to stay on and help when the professor no longer had the energy to work and needed help writing his memoirs.
He rummaged further in the box and recognized the hand-bound notes of the professor’s life story. Nothing new there; Ryan had written most of them down as dictated, and although the professor had brought research grants to the college that would last for years after his death, his life story had not seemed that riveting.
As he delved into the box, something at the bottom caught his eye: it was a large envelope addressed to “Ryan Feinberg.” He opened it, ripping the padding, and shook out the contents on the table. There was a clear plastic bag containing a white piece of cloth with a small dirty mark on it, and a folded piece of paper. Picking it up, he found it was a letter in his late companions handwriting. He began to read. His face clouded, then cleared, and finally caught a look of excitement. Ryan looked again at the contents of the plastic bag. Holding it up closer, he saw the mark, just as the professor‘s message described. This was a gift from beyond the grave: a single drop of blood. The handkerchief was his sister’s.
His sister’s cold case had just gotten a fresh lead.