The red chest

I returned to the contents of the chest, lifting a rectangular parcel.  I kicked up dust as I unwrapped the canvas and found a sun-bleached shoebox within.  I lifted the lid and was hit by a distinct smell—dry, papery, aged, inoffensive, and almost familiar.  The top came off and there was the money.  Lots of it.  Tight-packed wads bound with paper bands.  I began to count.  They were twenties, dry and organized in stacks of a hundred—$2000 per wad.  I counted for what seemed a long time, and far beyond where I expected.  All told there were thirty-nine wads—$78,000. 

I needed a drink.  I went into the kitchen and poured myself a neat Makers.  Glass in hand, I shut myself in the bedroom to marvel at my good fortune.  This find seemed ordained.  Sure—origin was unknown—but the cash was put in the chest that hadn’t leaked.  Jefferson Calvert had wanted someone to find it all.  I was the lucky one, a fat cat now, but not for long if anyone found out. 

Where to hide it all? 

I couldn’t put it in a bank. That would be weird if some 24-year-old unemployed kid showed up at your bank with all that old cash.  I needed some place nearby but secret.  Someplace convenient.  I would use the money to pay Kingston, for one.  And if I needed to fund some trips around the state, the money could pay for those.  Sure, it was probably dirty money from my grandfather’s dirty past—all the better to use it to fund my investigation. 

Cliché dictated that I stash it under my mattress.  I pushed the mattress off the box spring and began to line up the cash.  When I’d finished the wads occupied a four-foot square of box spring.  I returned the mattress to its rightful place.  The bulge was enough to create a slight rise in the mattress, but not enough to rouse anyone’s attention.  I arranged the bed just so, blankets in place, and had things almost inconspicuous when there was a knock at the door.  The door swung open before I could respond.   Cathy.  She came in and flopped down on the bed, ready to talk (or was it flirt?).  Cathy was in the middle of her summer vacation, a vacation that was even looser than usual due to the absence of parental authority. Faye was pretty consistently checked out on oxycotin and Mitchell lived in town.  Most days we were the only two people in the house. 

I watched Cathy to see if she noticed the bulge in the mattress.  If she did she didn’t show it. 

‘I saw you out there digging again.’  Cathy flipped her blond ponytail and put on a Miss Teen America smile.  She was very seventeen.

‘Still at it—you don’t mind, do you?’

‘Oh I think it’s neat.  If Grandpa buried all that stuff we’d better dig it up. You find anything good out there?’ 

‘Nah, nothing.’ 

Faye (when sober) and Mitchell would have been appalled to learn what I was really up to.  Cathy probably would have been, too.

I found my first artifact during my first dig—a dog-eared photograph of Clyde King.  The photo was mixed in with a bunch of random documents, most of which meant nothing to me, but by itself it was what I needed to stay focused.  I could see from the photograph that King was handsome, with intelligent eyes and a broad nose.  Someone had written a name and address on the back of the picture.  Clyde King.  250  Highway 98.   I’d been thinking I should take Cathy on one of our drives and check out the address.

I reached for the codeine, cracked the baby-proof top, and swigged a large dose.  Cathy watched me hit straight from the bottle.  I looked up at the ceiling and smiled as the syrup coated my throat.

‘Can I try some?’  Cathy said from somewhere above me.

‘Sure.’   I heard the cap cracking as she twisted it back on the bottle.  The bed shook as she laid on her back beside me.  I tried not to notice that I could see Cathy’s rising chest as she breathed next to me.  I pictured the two of us in a butt-rock video with Winger as soundtrack.

She’s only seventeen.  Se-ven-teen! 

Rockers can justify anything, even sleeping with your cousin.  I needed their warped logic.  Just so long as I didn’t have to use my own. 

‘Did Grandpa ever have much money?’ I said.  Cathy lay close enough beside me that I could touch her with a slight move of my hand

‘I don’t think so.  He wasn’t ever poor, but he was never rich, either.’

‘Yeah, didn’t think so.’

‘Why?’  She rolled over and looked at me.  I kept my eyes on the ceiling. 

Just wondering, that’s all.’

We lay quiet, listening to the revolutions of the tabletop fan.  The clock in the living room chimed three o’clock.  Cathy flopped down on her side and began to root her head against my shoulder.  I rolled over with my back to her and tried not to think about the dirty assets stashed under my mattress and what I might be tempted to do with them.


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