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First pages

October 23, 1880

THE LID OF THE coffin was handed up out of the open grave and set aside on a bed of clover. The penny nails sticking out of the rough-milled pine looked like the crooked teeth of some oblong mouth.

The man kneeling at the edge of the excavated hole held the lantern in his hand and watched as the man down in the grave lashed a kerchief over his face. The gunnysack cloth did little to filter out the noxious gases rising from the occupant of the pine casket.

"Look away, Rufus," said the man in the grave. "No reason for you to look on this."

The other man removed his hat and shrugged. "The departed is nothing new to these eyes, Dingus."

"Suit yourself," said the man in the grave. With the kerchief in place, he bent to his work.

A square of sail canvas was unfolded and spread over the small corpse and then the kerchiefed man looked up at his companion above. Three bulging satchels were handed down and nestled at the foot of the casket. The cinch cord on one of the bags had loosened and coins of gold rattled onto the pine boards. The kerchiefed man returned them to the satchel and drew the cord tight again.

One last item was passed down, bundled in damp oilcloth. The man in the grave unfolded the greased material to inspect the pistol within; a long-barreled Schofield with the cylinder removed and the metal oiled for storage. Satisfied, he wrapped it up again and tucked it alongside the sacks. A box of dry cartridges was added to the trove before the man gathered up the ends of the sail canvas and draped it over the body. His eyes were watering from the death gases and he hoisted himself out of the grave to get away from the miasma. The other man lowered the coffin lid into the hole and climbed down himself, causing a small landslide of sandy grit to tumble into the casket. Holding his breath, he quickly fitted the lid onto the coffin and hammered in the penny nails and scrambled out of the hole. They had but one shovel between them and they took turns backfilling the dirt. Neither man spoke, communicating to his co-conspirator with only a grunt or nod of the head. The only voices heard was that of the crows, cawing at them from the tree branches above.

Present day

1

 

An open grave - High lonesome youth - Grandmother Traven - Green plastic turf and a pink carnation - The farm - Sundry chattels - Bickering siblings - What is owed, what is due

 

THE DOGWOOD PETALS of late May blew through the headstones of the prim cemetery, scattering across the unnatural green of the plastic turf skirted around the open grave. A large casket of burled mahogany lay poised on boards above a perfectly oblong hole in the earth where some of the petals tumbled into, vanishing from sight. There was a wreath on a stand composed of mostly plastic flowers, to which a few of the mourners shook their head in disdain or embarrassment. They couldn't spring for a full arrangement of fresh flowers, they would whisper later at the luncheon. How disrespectful can you get?

Upright among these solemn-faced mourners stood Lee Traven, situated between his stoically firm parents in the same dark suit that he had worn for graduation. It felt stifling in the May sun and the buttoned collar chafed his Adam's apple. He listened impatiently to the priest droning on over his grandmother's casket without hearing any of the vicar's words. He was too busy scanning his eyes over the assembled congregants at the burial. All family; a menagerie of aunts and uncles and cousins of varying ages. Some were openly weeping while others cleared their throats and stifled the urge to look at their phones.

He surveyed the mourners again, this motley assembly of relations, for one face in particular but hers was not to be seen. Did she not make it home for Grandma's funeral? Did she not care or was she too busy with school to hop on the bus and make the four-hour trip back to this shit stain of a town?

The priest had ceased his monotonous droning, closing the good book and lowering his head, but now lonely Aunt Pauline was singing. A mournful tune wrung out in her high-pitched voice, the words catching short as the emotion clenched her vocal chords. Lee frowned, pulling the collar from his sticky throat.

A sharp elbow jabbed into his ribs. His father, hissing under his breath without even looking at him.

"Quit fidgeting. Show some respect."

Loud enough for his mother to hear but she kept her eyes on Aunt Pauline, caught up in the funeral rapture. Still, Lee felt her stiffen at his side as if the warning was meant for her too. This was a pattern Lee had come to recognize intuitively in his eighteen years; his father's grumbling admonitions were meant for everyone within earshot regardless of who they were directed at. Lee struggled to remain still as the hymn finally ended and the man in the dog collar concluded the service.

"As we consign the remains of Marion Rose Traven to the earth," the priest said, his voice failing against the wind whistling off the open plain beyond the cemetery, "we commend her spirit to the Almighty with a last prayer. The day is now passed. Jesus, keep me within thine sight, and save me from the coming night."

The priest closed his prayer book, beads of sweat dimpling on his upper lip. "Before we go," he said, "the family would like to remind everyone that the reception following the service will be held at the farmhouse. All are welcome."

The priest took a step back on the fake green turf and the attendant from the funeral home flipped a switch on the electrical winch behind him. The coffin began to lower into the grave. Someone behind Lee was openly sobbing. Aunt Sally? Had to be. The priest turned away, signaling to everyone that the service was concluded and the gathered mourners turned away also. Then everyone froze as a screeching whine interrupted the pastoral silence. The electric winch chugged as a belt slipped, dipping the polished casket to one end where it tilted out of the grave like a ship going down. A number of uncles rushed forward, Lee's father included, and tried to reset the belt to right the angled casket. The attendant from the funeral home apologized profusely, assuring the mourners they would rectify the glitch immediately. The priest ushered everyone along, reminding all of the reception at the farmhouse later.

"Come along," said Lee's mother, slipping her hand through his arm for balance as she negotiated the uneven terrain of the lawn. Lee glanced back over his shoulder to his grandmother's casket listing in its hole and the two men from the funeral home struggling to fix the winch. One last mourner lingered near the grave, a tall man in a dark suit who stood out among the others with his slicked pompadour hair and long sideburns. A rockabilly goon, long gone to seed. Plucking the pink carnation from his lapel, the man with the sideburns tossed the flower onto the coffin where it rolled from the polished lid into the darkness below.

~ ~ ~

The farm was a ten-minute drive from the cemetery, beyond the outskirts of town where the landscape gave way to fallow fields that once yielded barley and corn and soy. The home of the late Marion Traven rose into view at the end of a long driveway flanked by elm trees, a faded clapboard house with a wraparound veranda that sagged at one end. A stand of cedar trees formed a windbreak on the north side of the property and beyond that rose the silhouette of a dilapidated barn.

Vehicles were lined along the gravel driveway and parked haphazardly over the front yard, the placards from the funeral home still wedged into the hood seams. Mourners made their way to the front door with trays of food or brown-bagged offerings from the liquor store. Lee's father cursed his own kin for ruining the grass as he rolled their truck to an empty spot near the old swing set. Lee climbed out and retrieved the cooler from the tailgate, looking over the decrepit swing he used to play on as a kid. With its rusting poles and corroded chains, the flimsy structure looked like a tetanus trap waiting to ensnare any youngster foolish enough to play on it.

"Hustle up," said his father, urging the family along toward the farmhouse. The screen door banged shut repeatedly as people in their Sunday best made their way inside. "Let's get this over with."

The sideboard in the dining room was cluttered with trays of cheese and cold cuts and tubs of potato salad. Nothing fancy, but lots of it. The adult fortifications had to be trucked in as Grandma Traven was a staunch believer in temperance who forbade a drop of the stuff in her house while she was alive. Bottles were slipped from the paper bags and plunked down onto the kitchen counter, the glass rattling as more bottles were added to their number. The house, with its worn-out furniture and faded wallpaper, was brimming with aunts in sleeved dresses and uncles unaccustomed to neckties. They spoke in hushed tones as they balanced paper plates on their knees or clinked ice into glasses. Children rampaged through the house until they were scolded to be quiet or shooed outdoors.

Squeezing through the mourners, Lee slipped free of his parents and made his way from the dining room to the parlor, searching the assembled clan for one face in particular. Aunt Sally was tucking a tissue into her sleeve and Uncle Bill was bragging about his boat, but there was no sign of her anywhere among the crowd. Lee felt someone tug his elbow.

"Lee," a man's voice said. Uncle Rob, reaching through the bodies to snag him. "How are you, son?"

"I'm all right," Lee replied. He nodded at the people pressed around them. "Packed house, huh?"

Rob nodded his head. "Shame we have to wait for a funeral to get the family together like this."

"Too bad Grandma Traven wasn't here to see this. She would have loved it."

"True. Except for this, of course." Uncle Rob raised his glass and took a sip. "She would have chased us all out with a broom."

Lee studied his glass with a covetous eye. He'd sneak one later when no one was looking. "Say, have you seen Zoe?"

"Isn't she still at school?"

"I guess, but I thought she'd be home for the funeral."

Uncle Rob looked over the room, shrugged and then turned back to his nephew. "Speaking of school, you hear back from college yet?"

"No," Lee lied. "Not yet."

The letter had arrived last week. It was sitting unopened on the desk in his bedroom. A thin envelope with a single page inside. There was no need to open it. If he'd been accepted, the envelope would have been thick with information pamphlets.

"I'm sure you'll hear back soon," his uncle said. He nodded at the food-laden sideboard across the room. "Better get yourself something to eat before it's all picked over. Grief makes people hungry."

He moved on, pressing through the crowd, trying not to upset anyone's plate of food or sloshing cocktail. From the den to the sunroom, he circled back to the dining room, eyes peeled but Zoe was nowhere to be found. The collective volume in the house was rising as the family grieved and gossiped and shared jokes that everyone had heard a million times before. Pushing through another tangle of elbows and gesturing hands, Lee inadvertently stepped into a circle of adults despairing about the details now that the funeral was over.

Aunt Sally, her cheeks flushed from tears, gestured to the cluttered shelves and side-tables around the room. "Look at all this stuff. When did mom become such a packrat?"

"It's been like this for a while, Sal," Aunt Pauline replied with no small amount of scorn. "When was the last time you were here?"

Sally ignored the remark, sweeping her gaze over the mismatched picture frames, ceramic figurines and greenglass bowls of dust-fuzzy mints. "What are we going to to do with it all? Just sorting through it is going to be a nightmare."

Lee's father was already on his second rye and Coke. Grant Traven gave a dismissive wave to the whole room. "Forget sorting this junk. We sell the place as is. Problem solved."

Lee watched Aunt Sally brighten at the notion but Aunt Pauline hardened her gaze at her younger brother. "Who says we're selling the farm?"

"What else are we gonna do with it?" his father asked, returning the withering look. "Are you going to work the farm?"

Pauline bit her tongue, glowering. Aunt Sally continued to pick through a shelf of knick-knacks. "As much as I hate the idea of it, maybe we should go through everything. There's antiques and heirlooms here."

"And how do we divide it up?" Pauline asked. "Mom didn't leave a will."

Brushing the dust from her hands, Sally said "We separate it into categories, then item-by-item. There's the furniture, the appliances, silverware, farm equipment and so on."

Grant sneered at the suggestion. "Farm equipment? That stuff hasn't been used since dad died. It's worthless now."

"I'm sure it's worth something," Sally replied.

"Itemizing everything will take forever."

Pauline's glower had not diminished. "Are you afraid of a little hard work, Grant? There isn't a quick-fix to everything, you know."

Their voices were becoming louder and more of the adults were crowding in to hear the exchange or add their two-cents. Sensing the row heating up, Lee began backing away when he felt a hand on his arm.

"Lee," said his father, "did you get the beer from the truck?"

Lee winced. "No."

"Well, go put it in the fridge before it gets warm."

Gladly. Pushing through the tattered screen door, he came out onto the front lawn to find the sun punishing down. He shook out of the suit jacket and stripped off the hated tie, tossing both into the pickup truck before opening the squeaky tailgate. The two cases of beer were hidden under the tarp to protect them from the sun and were, thankfully, still cool to the touch. If there was one surefire way to get on his old man's bad side, it was to let the beer get warm.

He was sliding the cases out when he heard a voice behind him.

"Hey."

Lee turned around to see the face that he'd been searching for earlier smiling back at him.

2

One cousin in particular - University life - Reminiscing - A quarrel and a vow - Uncle Elvis - Greed trumps all

 

ZOE SMILED AT HIM, her face shaded from the sun by a floppy hat that matched her black dress. The same smile that he always knew, the kind that squinted her eyes. She had a phantom dimple on her left cheek that would only appear when her smile brightened at full bloom. Lee didn't realize how much he had missed it until it made a faint flutter on her cheek before vanishing again.

"Hey back," he said. He could feel his own smile hurting his cheeks but felt unable to dial it down. "I wasn't sure if you'd be here."

"Of course, I'd be here," she said. "Grandma died."

Zoe came around the back of the pickup slowly, her heels wobbly on the gravel drive. Lee studied her, trying to pinpoint why she looked different now. Was it just the formal attire for the funeral or had something changed? Maybe first-year university did that to people, matured them into proper adults. Lee didn't know. And, according to the unopened letter on his desk, he never would.

Shielding his eyes from the sun, he said: "How was first year?"

"Fantastic," she said, her smile beaming brighter at the mention of it. "I didn't want to leave."

"Cool." He glanced over the yard of parked cars and the barn in the distance then back to her. Her dress was sleeveless and the tops of her shoulders were blushed pink. "You look a little sunburnt."

Zoe looked down at her bare shoulder. "I'm so pale right now. Finals were so tough I barely went outdoors the last few months of school. At least I'm not so freckly."

"Freckles aren't so bad." He dragged the beer cases to the lip of the tailgate and stacked one atop the other.

"You restocking the fridge?"

"Yeah," he said. "You wanna help?"

"Sure." She took hold of the top case and hauled it up.

"I can carry them," he protested.

"I got it, tough guy." Her heels were wobbly under the weight of the box but she nodded at him to carry on. As they went up the steps to the back door, she added: "Just like old times, huh?"

Setting their burdens on the scuffed floor of the kitchen, Zoe tore open the first box and passed the bottles forward as Lee stacked them into the outdated refrigerator.

"When did you get back?"

"Last night."

He looked at her. "You should have called. We coulda hung out."

"It was late," she said, handing across another pair of bottles. "I was tired."

"Oh."

The noise from the other room smothered them, a few voices rising louder than others in the crowded house. Lee watched his cousin peel off the floppy hat and fling it like a Frisbee onto the table.

"I saw your dad earlier," he said. "How's he doing?"

Zoe shrugged. "Hard to tell. Part of his face is still paralyzed. It's hard for him to talk, you know? Hard for him to do anything right now."

Lee nodded. "Must be hard on your mom."

"Yeah, she's working herself ragged looking after him and the business. Now I'm worried she'll have a stroke, too."

"Aunt Fran's pretty tough. I'm sure she'll be okay—"

A ruckus from the other room cut him off as Lee's father and Zoe's mother barged into the kitchen. They were still arguing about the farm.

"So what are you saying?" bellowed Lee's dad. "We get the assets and you get the property? Give me freaking break, Fran."

Zoe's mom planted her fists on her hips. "What's wrong with that? It's fair."

"The land is the only thing of real value here. Why the hell do you get most of it?"

Fran pointed a finger at her brother. "I'm the one who looked after Mom when she got sick. None of you bothered to help me."

Lee and Zoe shared a glance as more relations poured into the kitchen, carrying their disagreements with them like it was a traveling sideshow. None of them seemed to notice the pair crouched before the open Kelvinator.

Uncle Bill barged into the center of the room, almost crashing into Zoe. "We helped when we could, Fran," he shouted back. "And I appreciate what you did but that doesn't mean you get the lion's share."

Zoe winced as her mother's voice boomed over the kitchen. "Did you feed Mom when she couldn't do it herself? Were you here to help bathe her or treat her bedsores?" Fran wagged a finger at her two brothers. "No, you two stayed away, waiting for her to die!"

"That's not true and you know it," barked Lee's dad. "You always gotta be the martyr, don't you?"

Now it was Lee's turn to wince and feel his cheeks burn with shame at his father's outburst. The tension inside their grandmother's kitchen stretched taut as the skin of a drum. Then Aunt Sally, the youngest of the squabbling siblings, burst into the room and pleaded for them all to stop yelling. Her eyes were red and her voice cracked. Zoe's mother stormed out of the room and the others followed, taking the fight with them as if determined to poison every room in the house with it.

Lee leaned back against the cold fridge and heard Zoe expel a long sigh as if she'd been holding her breath. Neither spoke for a moment, unwilling to break the spell of a quiet room and then Zoe plucked two more bottles from the case on the floor and handed them to him.

"Jesus Christ," she wheezed. "Grandma's not even cold in the ground and they're already fighting over who gets what."

Lee shook his head. "Did you hear my old man? Every time I think he can't stoop any lower, he manages to drop a rung or two."

"It's pathetic," Zoe agreed.

A third voice broke behind them, startling them both.

"Money and family don't mix."

Zoe and Lee whipped around to see a man seated at the kitchen table, his boots propped up on an empty chair like he owned the place. There was gray peppered in his long sideburns and ghostly strands of it running through his slick-backed hair. A garish belt buckle, like the kind truck driver's wore, sparkled under the dip of his pink shirt. The same man that Lee had seen toss a carnation into the open grave of Grandma Traven. His name was Eddie, or maybe Teddy. No one was really sure. To everyone in the family, he was simply Uncle Elvis.

Lee regarded the man with his grin and feet up on the chair. He had never liked Uncle Elvis and usually avoided him at any family function. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Uncle Elvis just grinned. "Grief does funny things to people. Makes 'em ugly."

Zoe looked away. Like her cousin, she had never been fond of this uncle with his rockabilly look and off-color jokes. "How can they squabble over money at a time like this?"

"Par for the course, darling." Uncle Elvis dropped his boots to the floor with a thud and rose to his feet. "Blood may be thicker than water, but greed? Well, greed trumps all."

Lee sneered at the sentiment. "You'd never catch me acting that low. Jesus."

Laughter bubbled out of Uncle Elvis like he'd never heard anything so funny. And then he reached out and took the beer from Zoe's hand. "You're a funny kid, you know that?"

He stepped over the two of them, clomping his heavy boots on the floor as he did so. He ruffled Lee's hair before sauntering out the back door, still chuckling.

Zoe turned to her cousin. "Is it just me or does Uncle Elvis get creepier every year?"

Lee's grin was short-lived as the cacophony of voices bellowed from the other room. The bickering between the parental units had lost none of its steam and, given its growing volume, it was heading back toward the kitchen.

Lee took two bottles and handed one to her. "You wanna get outta here?"

3

Empty stalls and long-dead horses - Barn kittens - The short career of a reformed arsonist - The workshop - Strange instruments and a map - The Buccaneer 2000 - Chastised by the King

 

THE BARN HAD always been a refuge for the youngest of each successive generation; a place to escape to within its dust mottled air and phantom odor of livestock. The bay door creaked on its ancient hinges as the cousins stepped into the gloomy interior. The horse stalls stood empty, the bars shrouded in cobwebs. Moldering hay lay strewn over the cobbled floor and the hulk of a derelict Massey Ferguson squatted near the rear bay like a sleeping giant.

Sunlight winked through the numerous gaps in the barn walls and Lee stepped into the solid shafts of dust-roiling light.

"You home for the summer or just the funeral?"

"The summer," Zoe replied, crossing to one of the empty stalls. "Maybe longer."

Lee turned around, surprised at the remark. He tempered his enthusiasm. "Longer? Aren't you going back to school in the fall?"

"Dunno. With dad's stroke, mom's run a bit ragged. I can't just abandon her and run back to school, can I?"

"Aunt Fran won't stand for that. Or she'd never admit she can't do it."

Zoe surveyed the abandoned stalls. Dessicated straw lay piled in one corner, giving off a slightly combustible odor. The water trough tilted toward the ground, hanging on by one last bolt. The whole thing looked forlorn. "I used to love coming here when we were kids. Do you remember when Grandpa kept horses?"

Grandpa John had worked the farm long after he should have, refusing to let any of his sons take over. Not that any of them had wanted to, but that was beside the point. He had kept a few horses right up to the end; a big Belgian draft and an American Paint.

"I remember the big draft that used to kick the stalls," Lee said. "Scared the hell out of me."

She laughed. "He only did that when you were around."

"Lucky me."

He watched her pass out of the stall to the rough-milled ladder on the post. She looked up at the dark monk-hole leading to the hayloft above.

"Do you remember haying season?" she asked, eyes alight with nostalgia. "The two of us up there dying in the heat and the dust, catching bales from the conveyor belt."

"I remember the welts we'd get from all that straw."

Zoe laughed at the memory, almost feeling the prickly sensation of hard straw needling her forearms. She kicked at the straw on the floor, billowing more dust into the stagnant barn air. "They're gonna sell this place as soon as they can, aren't they?"

Lee tugged at a gunny rope hanging from an overhead beam. "What else are they going to do with it?"

The inevitability of it settled over them like a foregone conclusion, the loss of this childhood refuge with its stifling heat and animal musk.

Zoe gathered her hair up onto her head to cool the back of her neck. She looked at her cousin. "You keeping out of trouble?"

"What else am I gonna do? Things are boring as hell around here."

"They were boring before," she said.

"It's worse now."

Something small and gray darted out of one of the stalls. A mangy kitten bounding over the hay, circling her ankle. Zoe squealed with delight and bent down to gather it up, curling it onto her collarbone. "Poor kitty," she cooed to the damp-eyed kitten. "Who's gonna feed you now that Grandma's gone?"

Lee studied her as she tilted her chin down onto the clotted fur of the kitten's head.

She caught him staring, her brow knitting in faux surprise. "What?" she said.

"Nothing," he replied and looked away.

A thud rang through the vast space of the barn, causing a swallow to sail from its nest and flit through the rafter beams.

"What was that?"

Another thud, this time from the far end where the door to the workshop was closed. As they crept toward it, the low murmur of voices could be heard coming from behind it. Lee turned the knob and pushed the door open.

Like the rest of the barn, the workshop was gloomy and still like a sealed tomb. The lathe and band saw lay frosted with sawdust, the workbenches neglected and forgotten. Wooden chairs hung from the ceiling waiting for a repair that would never happen.

The only thing moving inside the gloomy space were two young men passing a joint between them. Like Lee, both were dressed in the suits they had worn to the prom. More cousins from the funeral.

"Close the door already," said the bigger one. Jeremy. A year younger than Lee but a foot taller with a hundred more pounds of solid muscle. A natural athlete who excelled at every sport, Jeremy was almost the polar opposite to Lee.

Zoe scooted in alongside Lee and closed the door behind them. "What are you guys doing in here?"

"Same as you," said the other one. "Getting away from the parental units."

This was Truman. Two years older than Lee and three times more trouble. Truman was the one who came up with stupid, sometimes dangerous stunts that often led to catastrophe. Egging cars on the highway or setting off strings of firecrackers on a neighbor's porch. All good fun but when Truman went through his arsonist phase, Lee began to distance himself. Garden sheds had gone up in flames, dumpster bins became foul-smelling infernos. The pinnacle of that arsonist summer had been an abandoned house down near the river. The property had stood empty for years until one night when it all went up in a fire that was visible across town. No one was ever charged and Truman denied any involvement but Lee knew the truth. The sheer scale of the destruction must have scared even Truman, for there were no more mysterious fires after that.

The other thing about cousin Truman was that he was forever injured, constantly on the mend from a broken bone or a nasty wound. Even now his left arm was clad in a cast from elbow to wrist but the cause of the injury, like always, remained shrouded in mystery. He was reckless and had little regard for consequences.

"The fucking harpies were turning shrill in there," Truman said, wielding a hacksaw. Clamping a shotgun shell to the bench vise, he was halfway through sawing open the plastic shell casing. Buckshot and powder spilled over the crusty workbench. "Jeremy was about to cry so I brought him out here."

"Fuck you," Jeremy spat. Moving in on the intruders, he snatched the beer out of Lee's hand. "Gimme that."

"Get your own."

"Pipe down, short-stuff." Jeremy pushed him away and tilted back the bottle, glugging it down.

Zoe rolled her eyes at the brutishness of her cousins. It was nothing new to her. "Don't be such a goon, Jeremy."

The muscled teen dried pretend tears. "Zoe, you hurt my feelings."

Sweeping the gunpowder into a tidy pile, Truman turned to Lee. "What's with your old man? Dude's yelling at everybody."

"They're already fighting over the farm," Lee answered.

Jeremy sneered at him. "Why does he have to be such an asshole? He made my mom cry."

"Please," Zoe said with an equal amount of scorn. "Your mom cries over everything."

When Truman laughed Jeremy told him to shut up but the cousin with the cast threw gunpowder at him.

Zoe placed a fingertip to the coat of sawdust on the lathe and spelled her name. "Did either of you see Grandma before she died?"

Truman shrugged. "Not since Thanksgiving."

"I saw her at Christmas," Jeremy said. "She looked pretty frail."

Lee toured the machines of the workshop, all of them idle since their grandfather had passed years ago. Before that, none of them had ever been allowed inside. For Lee, it was like breaking into a Pharaoh's tomb, an inner sanctum of mysteries and secrets. He was drawn to the far corner where the greasy light from the window didn't reach. Unlike the other areas of the shop, the workbench here was covered by a stained drop cloth. Folding it back he uncovered an array of tools, books, and maps. There were two spades and a pickaxe, a small trowel, and a straw whisk. The yellowed pages of the notebooks were filled with chicken scratch that Lee lost interest in when he could not decipher the cramped penmanship. Drawing his attention more was the odd-looking instrument at the back of the bench; a long pole with a grip on one end and a disk on the other. The logo on the shaft read Buccaneer Pro 2000.

Why did Grandpa have a metal detector?

Behind him, Truman was carrying on. Bored with the gunpowder, he snapped a lighter and re-lit the joint. "Take a good look around, folks," he said. "We won't be seeing this place again."

"That really sucks," Zoe sighed. "I love the farm."

Jeremy spat onto the sawdust floor. "Why can't they just leave it alone?"

"Because," Truman pronounced, "they all think they're owed something."

"Like what?"

Truman shrugged. "Ask them."

Ignoring the banter, Lee hoisted up the metal detector and inspected the control panel near the molded handle. Gripping it fast, he switched it on and waved the sensor disk over an iron bench vise. The resultant squeal of the finder stung everyone's ears.

"The fuck are you doing, Lee?"

"Sorry," he said, setting the Buccaneer 2000 back onto the workbench.

Zoe came up alongside him. "What is all this?"

"Grandpa's old stuff."

"What's with all the maps?" She rifled through a stack of the maps, unfolding a few at a time. "Check it out. This one's a topographical map. And a land survey map. Weird."

"And this one," Lee said, nodding at another map pinned to the wall over the workbench. A property map that had been scribed with a grid over one section of land. Dozens of tiny boxes marked with an X through them. "What's with all these squares?"

"It's the farm," she said, pointing at the landmarks of the farmhouse and the barn. "See the road here? And the house and barn. Looks like Grandpa divided the entire property on this grid system."

"What for?" asked Truman, moving in for a closer look.

"Who knows," Zoe said. "Maybe he was planning on selling off parcels of land."

All four of them poked through the clutter on the workbench. Jeremy unlatched a wooden box to find an antique transit and compass while Zoe unfurled another map. Truman took up the metal detector while Lee rummaged a stack of moldering books, scanning titles like Archeology for Beginners and Jesse James was his Name.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Tim McGregor is an author, screenwriter and former cartoonist. He lives in Toronto with his wife and children. Some days he believes in ghosts, other days not so much.

Q. Where can readers find out more about you?
A.
Easiest way to find out more or get in touch is my website timmcgregorauthor.com or through Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/Tim-McGregor-1609498882620817/
Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
There are a lot of places with legends about the lost treasure of Jesse James. Even here in Canada. That got me thinking...

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