Jay breathed deeply in a vain attempt to quell the rising hurricane in his emotions. He deserved this letter. Hadn’t he worked hard for the postal service for fifteen years? Surely the post office owed him one letter! But what about the Battambang family? Could this letter be their final hope? Jay’s footsteps dragged as he thought about it. He sorted through the pile of mail in his bag, white standard letters, large manila envelopes full of government paperwork, bills visible through clear cellophane windows, and light blue aero grams with exotic stamps. A long yellow school bus drove by and Jay caught a glimpse of Justus Battambang peering out the window. His breath caught, and he hurried toward the end of the street, quickly posting the mail in boxes. He doubled back and finished the other side of the street in record time, hopping into the van parked next to number 23 and revving the engine unnecessarily. He tore out of the quiet street just as Justus opened the gate marked 24 with his bicycle. Jay did not need an encounter with the ten-year-old today. What Jay needed was a good stiff drink and a favorite television show.
Jay parked the van next to the post office and shouldered his bag. It was mostly empty but it cut into his shoulder with a weight that belied his fifteen years of practice as a mail carrier. He hung it on the hook as he always did at the end of the day, giving a cheery hello he hoped didn’t sound forced to Bonnie, who was just coming in from her route on the North Side. She hung up her bag and made a beeline to the ladies’ room. Jay made a fast and rash decision. He reached into the bag, snatched up the shining green letter, and slipped it into the inside pocket of his black jacket. He clocked out, speed-walked through the public office, giving a cursory wave to the folks behind the counter, and sank into the front seat of his royal blue Jetta, breathing a sigh of relief. He wound through the city streets still nursing a head full of racing thoughts, fixated on the thought of an ice-cold beer and his living room recliner.
At his house, Jay’s mind finally began to slow down as the alcohol in the third bottle took effect. The blinds were drawn, because he never opened them, and the room was dusky with the fading late-afternoon light that seeped through the white plastic slats. He flipped channels aimlessly and bounced his sandaled foot on the extended footrest. The letter burned against his chest. He pulled it out and turned it over and over. It glinted in the dim light of the television screen, and Jay could barely make out the address.
Jerrod and Mirelle Battambang
24 Seville Street
Greenbridge Bay, VP
There was no return address. On the back was a silver seal, wax, with the impression of a crown on it. There was no stamp.
Suddenly a voice from the television screen interrupted Jay’s thoughts. “The search continues for the missing Cambodian heir, M.T. Than.” Images of Phnom Penh streets flickered across Jay’s retinas. “She has been missing since December 1997. She was last seen boarding a motorized rickshaw just outside the palace gates.” The streets of Phnom Penh gave way to the royal gates. Jay’s heart leapt into his throat.
The crown intricately forged in the palace gates matched the impression in silver wax on the gleaming envelope in his hand.