The crunch of gravel under my tires faded as I slid to a stop at a crossroad. Farmland surrounded me. I was out of my element and my GPS knew it. Directions stopped two miles back when I was still on a paved road. I rummaged through the file on the passenger seat for the address I had scribbled on a post-it. County Road 236. Where the hell was it? And, why don’t they have signs out here? I looked left, and then right. Corn blocked my view. I eased the car forward and looked left, again. There was a woman walking away from me down the road. I turned and approached the woman.
I rolled down my window. “Excuse me.”
The woman continued walking.
“I wonder if you could tell me what road this is?”
“Go just down there.” The woman pointed in the distance without looking at me. “You’re nearly there, Ms. Jackson.” Her words were slow and revealed a southern twang.
My foot hit the brake. The car slid on the gravel. My file flew to the floor. The woman continued walking. Her long dress swayed with the methodical movement of her hips. She stepped off of the road into the ditch and disappeared into a cornfield.
“What the?” I muttered, searching the side of the road. “All right, then. You got my attention.”
I followed the road to a dead end. A tree-lined driveway appeared on my right. “Isn’t this lovely.”
The driveway stretched on for a quarter mile. A large, dilapidated farmhouse appeared. I parked my Jeep underneath the shade branches of a large Mulberry tree and got out. The steps creaked as I climbed to the porch, which slanted to the right. I searched for a doorbell. It hung from frayed wire. I opened the screen door and knocked on the wood door. The sound of feet shuffling across a floor grew louder. The door opened.
“But, how?” It was the woman I’d seen on the road. I looked behind me and then back at her.
The old woman’s almost toothless grin sent a shiver down my spine.
“Won’t you come in? It’s a bit too cool outside for my tastes.”
I followed the woman into a sparsely-appointed living room.
“May I offer you some lemonade?”
“Please, do sit down.” She poured lemonade from a glass pitcher into tumblers on a nearby table. “Cookies?”
She handed me the lemonade and sat down. She gestured to a plate.
“No, thank you.”
I put Mayville Toussaint at about 72 years old. Her long, gray hair was pulled back and twisted into a braid that she wrapped around her head. She was from some place near Savannah, GA, and had relocated to Nebraska several months ago. I didn’t know why. I decided to get right to the point.
“Your letter stated that something was stolen from you.”
“What was it?”
“What kind of box?”
She handed me a picture. The box was about six inches long and four inches wide. It was hand-carved.
“What are these symbols?”
“You needn’t concern yourself with them.”
“Is there anything in the box?”
“Care to tell me what?”
“When was the box stolen?”
“Several months back while I was in Savannah. The people who stole it came to Nebraska.”
“How do you know?”
“Ms. Toussaint, if I’m going to help you, you’re going to need to trust me.”
She smiled. “Find the box and return it to me before the full moon. That’s in one week.” She slid an envelope across the table. “This is all you need to know.”
I opened the envelope. It included my initial payment of $5000, two names — Ramey Barrows and Holt Landry — their pictures and addresses.
“If you know where they are, why not go to the police? File a report?”
“It’s not the sort of thing the police can handle.”
I stood to leave. Ms. Toussaint walked me to the door and opened it, allowing me to pass in front of her.
“And, Ms. Jackson, you’re going to want to open that box.”
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