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Cold Flat Junction

A dented cup (Chapter 1)

I'm sitting here where you left me hardly more than a week ago. Every day and nearly every night I've been here on the low stone wall by the spring. I sit near the little alcove where spring water runs from a pipe jutting out of the stone. There's a metal cup dented from years of use that sits beneath the pipe and catches the water so that people can drink it. The cup has been around as long as I have. It's as if the alcove were its room, and people can take it out and drink from it and return it. It's amazing that in all of this time, in all of these years, it's never been stolen.

Why would anyone bother stealing a dented tin cup? Because there are some things that go beyond reason-like the Girl, appearing and disappearing; like knowing Ben Queen didn't kill anyone; like Do-X-machines; like vengeance. Probably, you've forgotten most of what happened, but you might remember Fern Queen being shot and killed over by Mirror Pond. That's on White's Bridge Road. You might remember because people think murder is more important than anything (except maybe sex).

I asked my mother, who's lived all of her life at the hotel, about the cup, and she said, "What cup?" So there doesn't seem much point in asking about it. In the alcove where the cup rests, I found the Artist George tube taken from the Mr. Ree game and put here by Persons Unknown (yet I think it must have been the Girl) to communicate something to me, maybe to tell me, You're on the right track, keep going, or maybe just to say, I'm here.

I imagine it was I'm here, for if I were to tell anyone there was such a person and she was here, they'd say the opposite: No, she isn't. That's what Ben Queen said about her, but he had a particular reason: he didn't want anybody, especially the police, to know she was around. He was trying to protect her. So he pretended there was no such person, and I pretended I went along with that, and both of us knew we were both pretending. We both knew we knew there was such a person.

When there's a great mystery you wish to protect-that is, a mystery you want to keep people from tearing to ribbons-then you've got to keep the wrong people away from it. You go about solving it in a roundabout way. You sometimes ask questions of the wrong people, people who know nothing, for instance, and although you eventually come to an answer, it will take much longer to get to it.

But why is this? Why would I go about trying to solve it in this roundabout way? Maybe the answer wouldn't mean the same thing to me if I didn't ask the questions in my own way, and of the people I ask them of. Or maybe some part of me doesn't want to know the answer. Or maybe both.

It's been forty years since the Tragedy. That's the way people say it, in that awed, excited way you know means they wish it would happen all over again. Most people seem to have forgotten, or perhaps never knew there were two Tragedies, perhaps because one of them happened in Spirit Lake and one in Cold Flat Junction. Now, if you include the murder of Fern Queen, there are three Tragedies.

Cold Flat Junction. It's the kind of place you might look out on from a train window and think, Thank God I don't live there, what a boring town, what an empty place. It is an empty place, and maybe even a boring one, sometimes; but I think you'd be wrong to pass it by; you should alight from the train and stay awhile, which is what I did.

There's something about the place itself that I feel when I sit on one of the benches on the railroad platform and look off over the empty land to that line of navy blue trees so far away. The land and all of the woebegone town seem stripped of a protective layer that other places have and can hide behind. It's the layer of busy-ness, profit, community pride; bunting on July the fourth; flower baskets hanging from lampposts in the spring, all ballooning up with civic pride. Cold Flat Junction has shed all of this, if it ever had it.

I cannot let go of them, these Tragedies. I can't let go of a thing-a puzzle, a person, a place. Once it gets my attention, I have to keep worrying it until it comes clear. I have to hang on, and it makes life really tiring. I work on these questions down in the Pink Elephant, a small chilly room which was once used for cocktail parties underneath the hotel dining room. The room's cold stone walls are painted pink, and there's a long wooden picnic bench and hurricane lamps. The candles give the room atmosphere. Cobwebs and dust and ghosts help too.

Ghosts do not frighten me (as long as I don't have to see them). Ghosts are said to haunt places where they died, if they died with things on their minds that they have to find answers to. I hope they find their answers. As for me, I see myself wrinkled and twiglike and dying-well, dying, anyway-still with this weary worrying problem on my mind, and then coming back and haunting the Devereau house, wondering about Rose, Mary-Evelyn, Ben Queen, and Fern-to say nothing of the Girl.

But you've probably forgotten all this as you've been going about your own business. Probably, you've forgotten my name, too, which is Emma Graham. I'm twelve years old. And if you think I shouldn't have waited so long to tell you more of this story, just remember:

I haven't been away. You have.

Excerpted from COLD FLAT JUNCTION (c) Copyright 2001 by Martha Grimes. Reprinted with permission by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Putnam. All rights reserved.

Cold Flat Junction
by by Martha Grimes

  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • hardcover: 390 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult
  • ISBN-10: 0670894915
  • ISBN-13: 9780670894918