Estimated reading time — 7 minutes
Sitting in what might have been a graveyard, Tom was buried deep inside his head, playing the keys of his laptop. The uptown café saw less than a handful of customers the past few hours; not many people went out for late night coffee during a storm. Tom had to be here though, come rain or shine. His next book wasn’t going to write itself. A double pull from an Ethiopian blend, the sky splitting open, and alternative music set the perfect stage for writing. Lights. Camera. Action.
The bell to the front door chimed. Tom looked up to see a man over six feet, water dripping from a worn trench coat, and face hidden behind the brim of a leather fedora. He watched as the stranger approached the counter and set a box on the glass. The barista shouted something from the back, but the man didn’t respond. He turned to leave, noticing Tom for the first time. The light revealed a scar that traveled from the side of his right eye to his jawline. Tom shuttered and looked away as the man continued back into the night.
Wiping his hands on his apron, the barista appeared from the back. He’s confused as he sees that no one else is in the café other than Tom. When he catches sight of the box, his face hardens. He hurries to the front door and peers outside, searching for something. Someone. When he returns behind the counter, he flips a latch on the front of the black box and the lid pops open. He recoils in disgust, then his expression fades into a satisfied grin. He looks up, making eye contact with Tom who looks away. The barista shuts the lid and removes it from the counter. A second later, he’s at Tom’s side taking his empty cup.
“Can I get you anything else sir?”
“No, thank you,” answered Tom. He looked at his name tag. Ricky is scribbled in red sharpie.
“Well, we’re going to have to close,” says Ricky. “You know, because of the storm and all.”
“Oh, right,” said Tom. Ricky walks away to grab the tub of dishes in the corner and disappears to the back. Tom gathered his things and put on his over coat.
The wind was picking up and the rain was falling a little harder. Tom made his way along the damaged sidewalks to the parking lot around back.
“I know I’m short, but don’t worry,” heard Tom from behind the café. Ricky was pleading with someone near a dumpster. “Look, it’s still twenty thousand. I’ll get the rest this week. I don’t know what you had to do to get this, but I’m sure glad you did,” said Ricky, holding the box.
The man standing in the dark trench coat was silent.
“I promise man, I’m good for it,” said Ricky.
Before Ricky could open his mouth again, there was a flash of movement and Tom heard the CRACK! of Ricky’s skull against brick.
Tom’s breath caught as he watched the scrawny barista fall to the ground. Before the stranger saw him, Tom took off at a jog toward his car. He fumbled with his keys and finally managed to unlock his door, taking cover inside.
Tom was horrified. He was sure that the man in the trench coat had just murdered Ricky. Over what he didn’t know. One thing was for sure, there was money involved. Twenty thousand dollars to be exact. This was big. He wasn’t the type of man for confrontation, but he needed to do something. He took out his phone and started dialing 9-1-1 when he saw movement out of his windshield. The man in the trench coat was dragging Ricky’s body across the parking lot.
Tom slunk down in his seat in case he was in some way visible out his window. The stranger walked right past Tom’s car to a tow truck a few spots down and threw Ricky’s body in the back seat. The truck was dark green and carried a large winch used for hauling away the dead. Bright yellow lights pierced the night as the truck revved to life.
Tom had an idea. Still panicked, he put aside his phone and reached for his bag. He took a pen out and grabbed a black notebook lying in the passenger seat. As the tow truck pulled away, he wrote down the license plate number. Now he just needed an address. Tossing the little black book onto the dash, he started his car, set his lights to dim, and began his pursuit.
The truck wasn’t moving fast. It idled through the downtown streets like a tourist. If he didn’t know there was a body in the back of the truck, Tom might have thought that the man was simply seeing the sights. It was hard to follow at a safe distance in all the rain, but lucky for him tow trucks were hard to miss. The street soon curved and Tom saw the glow of brake lights as the stranger pulled into an old house beside the town cemetery. Tom stopped next to a parking meter and killed the engine. He looked around for something to use as a weapon. Out of all the clutter in his car his best option was the cork screw on a wine key. He cursed himself, throwing the wine key to the floor, and shoved the pen and notebook in his pocket. Getting out of his car, he snuck around to the gate, not bothering to pay the meter. He figured that the city wouldn’t mind on account he was doing his civil duty; protecting citizens from crazed grave keepers.
There were no lights in the cemetery. As frequently as Tom visited the café, he couldn’t understand how he had failed to ever notice it before now. It sat forgotten on the edge of downtown and night-time suited it well. It was different than the modern cemeteries with structures made of bright, smooth marble. This cemetery had an air of the Gothic, consisting of jagged stones, dying rose bushes and large oak trees with their giant limbs crawling throughout. The iron gates leading inside displayed two angels blowing their horns toward the sky as if trying to wake the dead. The border of the cemetery consisted of no more than simple iron bars wrapping all the way around. Keeping quiet, he traced the fence line until he had a clear vision of the stranger. Near a set of stone steps with a cross perched at the top, Tom could make out the black figure of the stranger hunched over the fresh corpse. His hands moved with dexterity over the body like he was performing surgery. Tom watched as the stranger removed something from Ricky’s body and placed it inside a box just like the one at the café.
Metal tools clanked and echoed through the air as the stranger finished his operation and stood to his feet. He carried the box with his new prize back out and placed it inside the truck. When the stranger had returned to get rid of the body, Tom went to see if he could find the money. He did need physical evidence to give the police after all.
He couldn’t have moved faster, worried that at any moment the man would return and bury him in the dirt alongside Ricky. He opened the door as quietly as possible and saw the duffel bag with the money sitting on the seat. As Tom reached for the bag, his eye caught the box on the back seat. It was just sitting there, as quiet as the grave. He wasn’t completely sure if he wanted to know what was inside. Instead of wasting more time, he grabbed the box and threw it in the duffel bag. Glancing over the hood of the truck, he saw that the stranger was still occupied. When he made it safely back to his car, he took a deep breath of relief. He couldn’t believe he had actually pulled it off. Tom started his car and began the drive to the police station across town.
The box taunted him; a mysterious presence whispering in his ear. Temptation to look inside was drowning out the fear of discovering the truth. Did he really need to look inside? Whatever it was, it was important enough to be murdered over. That should be all the proof the police needed. He wouldn’t look. He would just drop the box (and the money) off at the police station with a note of what he saw. That was the plan. That was all he had to do, then he was home free.
Tom pulled into the police station. He looked over at the box. It lay still. Silent. Tom picked it up. It was heavy and cold in his hands. It stared back, mocking him. He wouldn’t look. Didn’t need to. But…
He opened the lid.
Then he slammed it shut. Something tried to force its way up from Tom’s stomach. A gag. He was never one for the sight of blood. Crimson rubies surrounded by crystals of ice. Preservation of what was already dead.
He pushed the sight out of his mind and got out the car, taking the bag with him. He left the box with his note by the side door of the station, where no one would see his face. Tom never saw the grave keeper or the tow truck again. Nor did he ever hear anything about missing money. The note he left explained the murder. He wrote down the license plate number and the location of Ricky’s body. They must have believed him because the next day cops surrounded the house and the cemetery in its backyard. Whoever was living there had left in a hurry. Ricky’s body wasn’t the only recent murder that was discovered. It turned out that the cemetery contained traces of multiple people who had gone missing.
In some ways, Tom was glad he had gone to the police. Only now, he was haunted by the idea that whoever the stranger was would come back someday and take his revenge. When Tom wrote the note, he left out one small detail. He never told the police about the money and they never found out. He didn’t feel guilty. He wrote it off as an advance for his newest book that put him in the right place at the right time. It was, in fact, because he had been working on it that he even came across the money at all. His real excitement, however, lay in the idea for his next book. It would be titled The Donor, and he couldn’t wait to dig in.
Credit : C. Scott Raborn
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