One man’s treasure…

I woke to darkness.  I could feel the cash beneath me.  Not the physicality so much as the knowledge of its existence.  I lay naked above the blankets.  A cheap electric fan whizzed by my left ear.  I used no sheet or blanket.  The Calverts were a tough, Mississippi brood that didn’t believe in air conditioning.  Outside, the piney wood crept and cried—more like a jungle than a wood.  If you listened with enough attention you could hear the ghosts walking between the trees.  I looked at the clock.  3:00 a.m.  I was hot and hungry.  For lack of anything better to do I got up and went rifling through the latest chest—the one where I’d found the money.  I hadn’t finished exploring the thing after getting so caught up in the cash. 

This chest in particular was quite a find: full of artifacts.  A photocopy of Byron DeLaBeckwith’s thumbprint.  Two letters written by my grandfather (but never sent) to Joe DiMaggio.  Three aged, unopened bottles of Jim Beam.  One confederate flag.  A black book with the names, addresses, and license plate numbers of Robert Moses, Amzie Moore, Vernon Dahmer, and numerous other names from Mississippi integrationist history.  A framed photograph of an ironclad.  Seventeen antique comic books.  Four unopened toothbrushes.  The address of a Gulfport bootlegger.  A thorough write-up on hepatocellular carcinoma—the affliction that killed King during his time at Natchez Penitentiary.  And, strangest of all, a sizeable chunk of concrete.  All told, this cache made for an odd mix. 

‘Why would anyone bury all this stuff?’  I said out loud to myself, standing naked and alone in my father’s old bedroom. 

‘Why indeed.’  I spun round.  Gabe leaned in my window, his long arms again dangling, his dark eyes scanning the room.

‘Jesus, you scared me.  I didn’t know you were there.’

‘Obviously.’  I moved to cover my nakedness.

‘If you’ll excuse me I’m going to put on some clothes.’

‘Not at all.’  He didn’t turn away.  I pulled on a pair of boxers and a t-shirt and felt a little better.  How long has he been there and what has he seen?

‘Your excavations have produced real treasures,’ he said.  ‘Are you finding what you are looking for?’

‘Mostly useless junk.  Like this.’  I rested my bare foot on top of the concrete chunk.  ‘Who buries something like this?’

‘And who digs it up?  It is all very strange.’

‘It’s a little late, isn’t it?  To be wandering around, I mean.’  I looked at the clock.  3:28 a.m.

‘I do not wear a watch.’  Gabe examined me with a placid half-smile, rapping his fingers on the windowsill.  He was delicate with his mannerisms; as if he had recently been given his hands and was afraid they might shatter. 

‘I think I’m going to bed,’ I said.  ‘Nice to see you again.’  Gabe shrugged and pulled back from the window and faded into the night without a word.  I exhaled long and hard.  He made me very uneasy.  I moved to close the blinds.

‘Why don’t you just kill him?’  I froze, strained to see into the night.  I could faintly see him in the darkness beyond the window. 

‘Kill who?’  I tried to keep my voice from shaking.

‘Your father.’

‘Why would I do that?’

‘Why wouldn’t you?’

I closed the blinds, vowed never to open them again, and returned to bed. 

This was the best time of night to fall asleep.  The temperature had come down—enough to call for a sheet or a blanket.  Still, I couldn’t get to sleep.  Instead I dwelled on Gabe’s silhouette lingering outside my window, watching.


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