|Photo courtesy howardignatius, |
From what she could tell, she was at the west entrance of the cemetery, which is where the map said the grave was located. A gnarly tree stood guard at the entrance nearly blocking the tall iron gate, which looked as if it had rusted in place years ago. Fortunately, it had rusted slightly ajar, allowing just enough room for Carly to slip her slim body through the opening.
A shiver ran down her spine.
"Just the cold, Carly" she said out loud. "Nothing out here to be afraid of."
It had been a long three years tracking down the grave of her great-grandmother, but hopefully it was almost over. She would find the grave and recover the stolen money and clear the family name for good.
Her feet and pant legs were soaked already from the overgrown, damp grass that grasped at her with every step and more than once she stumbled over a tree root.
Just what you need, Carly, she thought, Trip over a root, hit the ground and knock yourself out. No one would find you for weeks. God, she prayed, please let me find it and get out of here alive.
Wilson, O'Leary, Johnston…
She turned the flashlight in the other direction.
Simms, Greenly, Hickson - Hickson! There it was - Elizabeth Jane Hickson, her grandmother.
The stone was large and ornate compared to the others she'd seen. Stepping in behind it, she ran her fingers over the rough stone. The hidden compartment was supposed to be on the left bottom corner.
A twig snapped behind her. She clicked off the flashlight and froze in place. Voices wafted on the night air. Low and muffled, but growing closer. She moved quickly behind the giant oak that stood over her grandmother's grave.
Shadowy figures of two men emerged from the mist and made their way directly toward her.
"I tell you, it's right over here by this big oak tree," said one.
His partner snarled, "This better be the right one this time, Frank. I'm tired of rootin' around in this graveyard."
"I tell it's the right one, Elizabeth Jane Hickson, Leland. That's what the old guy said and I found the gravestone just this morning." said Frank, "Don't look like no body's messed with it, either."
"Well, let's git to diggin', then," said Leland.
Carly stood shivering and praying in the cold as she watched the two men dig all around the base of the gravestone. Her legs were aching and her heart was pounding, but she didn't dare move an inch.
"Dang it!" said one of the men, "my darn boot's stuck in the mud."
"Well, pull it out, stupid!"
Carly heard a sucking sound, then a streak of cuss words that would make a sailor blush.
"My #$%^*&^%# foot came out of my boot and now I'm up to my @$$ in mud, yelled Leland, "That's it, I'm done. There's no bag of loot buried here, you idiot. I'm going home."
With that he limped off, leaving his left boot stuck in the mud.
Frank followed after him, dragging both shovels and swearing up and down that this was the right spot.
Once they moved far enough away that they couldn't hear her, Carly took a deep breath and gingerly moved her legs. Her feet were numb with cold and she was shivering from head to foot.
She moved quickly to the gravestone, carefully avoiding the muddy hole with a boot protruding out of it. Then knelt low to the ground and ran her fingers under the ledge of the ornamental beading until they found a smooth spot. She pushed hard on it and a section of the stone moved slightly. Pulling it out of place, she reached inside the opening and closed her freezing fingers around a cloth bag, jumped to her feet and ran for the car as quickly as her stiff legs would carry her.
Safe inside, she started the car and sped off back toward the motel. She had found it - the money that had haunted her family for ages and now she would be able to return it to its rightful owner - or his descendants and her family's name would be cleared.
She didn't notice the headlights behind her. She didn't see Frank and Leland pull into the parking lot of the seedy little motel and she didn't hear them pick the lock of her door a couple of hours later.
(Copyright© 2011 Jan Christiansen. All rights reserved.)