Out on the street, Cindy leaned against one of the towns old green-painted street lights. The kind with curly cues carved at the top. Miranda smiled, but Cindy didn’t smile back.
Cindy crossed her arms. “Were you making fun of my family?”
“No, of course not! But you know your family isn’t … usual, and this town is totally conservative. They don’t like things that are different.
Cindy wasn’t getting it.
“Isn’t it weird that they don’t think your family is … weird?”
Cindy looked at the ground. “I guess so.”
Miranda scratched the last of her notes out on her pad. “We should do some other tests, to make sure no one in the town feels differently.”
Cindy looked up the street. “Why doesn’t anyone notice these things?” In the distance was the water tower and below that was city hall.
“I don’t know yet. Come on.” Miranda headed toward city hall.
The town’s hall of records was really just a computer in a room in the basement of the court building. There wasn’t even an official clerk.
Mrs. Murphy, the courthouse stenographer and secretary sat behind the giant wood desk / counter that separated the courthouse from the records hall. Really it was just placed in front of the door to the basement.
Mrs. Murphy said, “Don’t break anything and don’t save anything.” She handed Miranda a key and smiled at Cindy. “How are those good-looking dads of yours.”
“Fine, thank you.” Cindy smiled at Miranda.
Once they’d navigated the slippery concrete stairs to the basement, they had to search along the wall to find a light switch. Miranda was sure she’d find a spiders nest.
It took five minutes for the new florescent lights to warm up enough to see well. The room had some file cabinets and one wall was lined with glass cabinets. As they got closer Miranda saw inside, bits of carved rock and some feathers. Maybe this room had been a museum back in the day? She made a note in her journal.
The back wall was cropped in by shelves, but wedged between them was an old folding table with a fairly new-looking computer centered on it. Miranda sat in the creaking wooden chair while Cindy looked for another chair. The computer made a wheezing whirring sound. No surprise, it was probably sucking in all the dust of this basement. It had a sign taped to its front, “Server. Do not turn off.”
When Miranda wiggled the mouse, she expected the monitor to light up, but when it didn’t she hit the power button on the back of it.
Cindy rolled up with a chair just like Miranda’s. “What are we looking for? Man, that’s an old monitor.”
The system password screen slowly fade up. Mrs. Murphy hadn’t mentioned a password. Miranda tried just hitting enter.
And there was all the town’s records. A neat grid of folders marked by year. The top left folder was dated 1936. They must have digitized their old paper records.
Miranda moused over the rightmost two folders. “You moved here three months ago?”
Cindy squinted into the screen. “I think so.”
Miranda clicked on this year’s folder. “Ok.”
The window was full of folders labeled things like “Fire” “Sewer” and “Deaths.” There was probably a better way to organize this information, but she appreciated the clean grid.
“No, really. What are we looking for?”
Miranda scrolled down in the folder. “This.” She clicked a folder labeled “Real Estate.”
If her hypothesis (not theory. Theories couldn’t be speculative) was that there’d be no record of Cindy’s Dad’s renting their house. She was a little scared to prove this to Cindy. If there was no record of Cindy moving to town, what did that mean?
The folder was organized by name, which was good since Cindy didn’t know the exact dates they’d moved in. “And you’re sure you’re not renting the house?”
“No, Dad said they bought it.”
Miranda kept herself from asking, “Which dad?”
She kept scrolling down to B. “Did he say who they bought the house from?”
“I don’t think so.”
Bauteil. There they were. So much for that theory … hypothesis. She clicked on the folder. There were five files in it, each with numerical titles so long the computer cut them off. She moused over them till she found one that included Transfer of Deed in the title.
She clicked on that one, but it took the computer a while to open it.
Miranda looked around her. The shelves mostly held thin grey boxes, the kind that probably held a bound official book. Next to the boxes, the shelves were packed with bead necklaces and rusted farm tools.
Cindy gasped. Miranda craned her neck to look at her. Cindy was staring at the screen, so Miranda looked too. The document looked official, pretty much what she imagined a house deed would look like, but the writing in the entry blanks were thick red and smudged. Miranda scrolled down. The red writing seemed to not just be in the blanks, there was writing in the margins and eventually whole pages were covered in drawings: flowers, puppies and lightening bolts.
She rolled it back to the top and squinted. The owner line seemed to be filled in with “Bauteil.”
Cindy touched the screen, like she could scratch at the digitized paper. “Is that crayon?”
Mrs. Murphy barely looked up from her magazine when she took the key. She waved at a line of sunlight gleaming off the shiny paper, as if it were a fly. Miranda waited for her to look up again, but eventually had to clear her throat.
“What you need sweetie.” Mrs. Murphy flipped a page.
The light gleamed in Miranda’s eyes. She looked at Cindy. Cindy nodded, which made Miranda feel a little more brave. “Do you know fills out the mortgage paperwork?”
Mrs. Murphy frowned and looked up at the ceiling for a moment. She looked back to the magazine before she answered. “Mr. Bradly’s the only real-estate agent in town, then they’re always notarized by Mr. Perkins at the bank.”
It really was a small town. Miranda thought for a moment. She’d never met Mr. Bradly before. Mr. Perkins was a nice, quiet man. Once she’d had to convert some rolls of pennies and he seemed very patient.
“Do, you know … Mr. Bradly, he’s not crazy is he?”
An inhale of breath came from Cindy behind her.
The magazine made a thwomp sound as it hit the desk. Mrs. Murphy stared at Miranda for a whole minute.
“What?” The expression on Mrs. Murphy’s face looked as if Miranda had turned purple or something.
Cindy shifted from foot to foot. “What she means is–“
Miranda pushed on. “Does he use a pen?”
“Honey, what in the heavens are you talking about?”
She could feel herself shaking with embarrassment. She wanted to grab Cindy’s hand for support. Cindy would probably let her too, but she didn’t think people did that in public, at least not in Aught.
“It’s just that we looked up the deed on my house and there’s … ” Cindy waved vaguely down to the basement. “Something weird about it and we were worried about the … legalness of it.”
Mrs. Murphy smiled in that way that adults did when they were about to tell you how stupid you were. “Now hon, I’m sure the paperwork is in order.” She looked from one of them to the other and let out a little snort. “How would you know the difference anyway?”
Miranda’s face was hot. “That’s why we asked about the pen–“
Cindy blurted out. “Will you at least come down and look at it with us?”
Mrs. Murphy looked affronted. “I can’t leave my post, hon.” She picked up her magazine again.