Testimonies were hard to come by. The crimes were age old, and the witnesses were often lost to the tides of time and unknown addresses. The rain removed fingerprints. Vegetation hid bodies. Motives melted in the sun. The wind eroded suspicion. And yet the search for truth persisted, searching for overturned stones and bones in the concrete. Investigators came and went, thumbing and yawning through the yellowed archives, the microfiche rolling like a mighty, transparent river. But every once in a while baited question marks hooked a clue too hefty to toss back in the watery channels of days gone by. Sometimes circumstances aided and abetted the investigation and not the original crime, however drenched in the mortared muck.
The journalist’s dogged pursuit of answers had unearthed a treasure trove of new sources offering new angles on an old case. She unsealed the manila envelope, its contours pregnant with information. She reached a hand inside and removed a stack of cassette tapes bound by two rubber bands intersecting in a rubber cross. Written in a sharpie’s bold strokes on the label of each plastic tape was the name of a key witness. Had her contact really spoken to all these people? She calculated the implausibility of the new evidence, and yet here she was in possession of these secret stories: History in the words of those who had lived it.
The spindles turned and she heard the historian’s papyrus-thin voice asking questions followed mostly by a bronzed silence broken only by the occasional sound of a honking hieroglyph or a passing bus.
After one question, a stranger’s voice interrupted—asking for directions to the nearest ATM and not offering any answers to the historian’s interrogative tactics. She stopped the recording. She rewound the recording. She listened to the professor’s voice unfurl like pipe smoke in a closed door study; like a magnetic ribbon unraveling between its poles of reference.
Question after question the old man asked and not once did a voice offer an answer, and yet his questions progressed as if he had heard some verdict approaching the truth of the matter. She listened to all the tapes, and all the tapes rolled in such a pattern. Question upon question upon question, with each ‘upon’ taking the shape of a silent interlude; a new frontier.
She swiped through her contacts. She placed a phone call to one of the deceased historian’s graduate assistants. The signal traveled to a cell tower, possibly through the atmosphere and into outer space and back again—a voice answered hers on the other end; tendrils pulled taut through time and space.
“Where was it again?”
“Really? That’s where I’ll discover this corporeal heritage?”
“No, you too, and thank you for setting up the meeting.”
She stared at the empty envelope resting next to the antiquated recording device. She lifted her coffee to her lips. She tilted it back. No coffee arrived; she had already finished it hours ago. She grabbed her purse. She left her office. She arranged transportation from the building as she walked down the hallway. She pushed open a door and took the stairs, descending to ground level. An Uber waited for her at the curb. The air felt crisp with migratory movements.
The black car—almost hearse-like in appearance—cut through the city’s heart. Buildings and trees reflected in its dark mirrored sides. The vehicle stopped at the park entrance. She checked her phone. This was the place. She stepped out of the car. She thanked the driver. The driver mumbled a response; the currencies of decorum paid in full.
She walked briskly down the shadowy sidewalk. She arrived at the place where the professor quoted history to have lived and breathed. She looked up at the man on horseback. She eyed the torso and legs. Her pupils studied the eternally taut muscles of the beast before her; the metal sinew and notched veins required for resisting rain and wind and sun. She hesitated, maybe even questioned the validity of her quest, but then she pressed record on her phone.
She asked her question.
The rider did not answer.
His left hand rested on his sword hilt. His right hand held the reins. She asked another question. The horse did not twitch its tail. The horse did not flare a nostril. She circled round the historical moment. She arrived back at her original place. She lifted the modern device to the sentinel before her. She asked another question. She waited for a reply. But no answer arrived. She circled again. She circled several times. She paused. She arced wider and farther from the hoofed center. She sat on a park bench. She watched birds land and perch on the key witness’ shoulders. But the witness stayed forever frozen in time, unrelenting in his secrets, wrapping himself tightly in a cloak of silence, as if talking might lead to catching a common cold or perhaps even a civilian’s death by pneumonia.
She sighed into the device and ended the recording.
She approached the rider with the old fashioned tools of her profession; a pocket-sized notebook and a number two pencil, like a pickaxe in her hand. But she relented and decided to forego the more aggressive line of questioning this time. She would neglect human economics and euphemize cruelty. Perhaps she would replace the word rebellion with loyalty, but even these myths felt too ephemeral in the presence of a hefted heritage. So she would start with bloodless simplicity. She would ask about the weather. She cleared her throat. A bird perched on the military uniform ruffled its feathers and let a soft coo escape its beak.
“Can you tell me about today?” she asked.
Once again, nothing, and she heard the history professor’s recorded interviews spinning within the confines of her brain. “How’s the weather?” A whirring silence. “Can we start there?” Followed by even more silence.
A gray bird flapped its wings, once, twice, and then its feathered fat lifted against the force of winter, zephyring through the park like a budding nor’easter, or a dusty archive, ready to dispense here and there with the facts, that shit storm waiting in the wings. A cold case if ever there was one.
About the Author: Bryan Harvey lives and teaches in Virginia. His writing has appeared in Former Cactus, The Florida Review, The Cold Mountain Review, Bluestem Magazine, The Harpoon Review, and elsewhere. He blogs with some frequency for Fansided’s The Step Back, and is the creator of multimedia projects such as Everything That Dunks Must Converge and With the Memphis Blues Again. He attended James Madison and George Mason Universities.