The young lady got her logged in and showed her how to search the archives.
“So I can just put in a date range, like this?” Sadie asked, typing in the dates for the two months after the incident.
“Yes,” the volunteer answered. “When you do that, it comes up in this neat preview version.” The screen filled with rows of little preview boxes, each with a thumbnail picture inside and a date directly below it.
“Cool,” Sadie said, scanning the pictures.
“You’re the photographer lady, right?”
Startled, Sadie looked up at the girl. Cautiously, she nodded, but the other woman didn’t seem to notice her sudden reticence. What if she started blabbing about Sadie’s search?
“I thought so,” the young woman went on. “I saw you at the mill one day when I was there to take my dad some medicine while he was working on the cleanup. I heard some of the workmen talking about you.” She reached across to take control of the mouse so she could choose one selection pretty close to the middle. “You might find this interesting, since I heard you were spending a lot of time with Zach Gatlin.”
Sure enough, the preview had a photo of half of Zach’s face on one side, something that Sadie hadn’t had time to scan down to see yet. When the woman clicked, the front page of the paper loaded, including a story with the headline Hometown Hero Returns After Tragic Ending to Tour.
Sadie sat frozen, unwilling to believe the woman had picked out the very story she needed to read.
“It was the talk of the town, even before he came home,” she went on. “He was lucky to even be alive. I just happened to be in Lola’s when KC brought him home from the airport. I’ll never forget his mama’s face.”
Having met Zach’s mom and seen how much she loved her son, Sadie could very much imagine.
The young lady looked up as another employee appeared on the other side of the computer terminals and said, “Sweetie, Miss Jane needs a bit of a hand with story time, if you don’t mind.”
“Sure,” the volunteer said with an eager smile, then turned to Sadie. “Hope that helps. If you need anything else, just flag one of us down.” Sadie was grateful for her eagerness to help, but she needed to be alone...now.
“Will do.” But Sadie sincerely hoped this was her last avenue of investigation.
It wasn’t until the women walked away that Sadie read through the story. It looked as though Zach’s involvement had indeed been questioned. But right below the picture of him and his sister embracing at the airport, it stated that he’d been found not guilty of any wrongdoing.
Sadie searched through nearly a month’s worth of articles until she finally found the most in-depth account she could have gotten. It was obvious from the cautious tone of the article that the author didn’t yet know the outcome of the inquiry.
According to the author’s source, there were accusations of inadequate planning and reconnaissance, which could have meant anything, since the military was unlikely to release every detail that was being questioned. Zach was being held responsible in his friend’s death, since he was the highest-ranking member of the team and had given the orders during the mission.
After reading all the way through, then one more time for good measure, Sadie cleared her browser history and closed the window. She leaned back, then looked up at the ceiling, as if the answer to her question could be found there. Even without her bias toward Zach, Sadie could tell this was just an instance of wrong place, wrong time. Zach had gotten off without even a reprimand, as far as she could tell.
But that didn’t stop him from searching for what he could have done differently to save his friend. The nightmares were his mind’s way of playing out his questions and his guilt. They were lessening with time, but would probably never go away.
That was punishment enough.
Now Sadie knew the truth. Her own search was over—her own guilt just beginning.
Sadie was once more wearing her fancy blue dress from the Blackstones’ party, hoping those who had seen it before would understand she was from out of town and hadn’t traveled with a steamer trunk full of formal gowns.