The old man wiped the rust off his hands and figured maybe he’d visit again sometime soon and bring some baling wire to repair the gate latch on the iron fence around the gravestones. Too bad Johnny isn’t still around, that boy could weld just about anything, he thought.
He kicked a small pine branch out of his way back to the truck and pain shot up his back. “I’m about worn out, just like this place,” he said to himself.
Sarah had spread a cotton tablecloth over the edge of the truck tailgate and was arranging ham biscuits and deviled eggs on paper plates.
“Here Daddy, Aunt Sis sent along a jar of those watermelon pickles you like so much,” she yelled.
“Johnny sure did love these pickles,” the old man said. “Now, Daddy, don’t you be turnin’ your thoughts to somethin’ sad,” she said while handing him a plate full of food.
Yeah, Aunt Sis’s watermelon pickles were good but not as good as Mom’s. But he would take what he could get, cause he sure did like them! “Be there in a minute!” he hollered. But thinking about Johnny; I could really use his help. The old man took one last look at the graveyard and turned toward the living.
Sarah, plopped on the tailgate waiting to eat, dug deep inside her jeans pocket and pulled out the mud-caked coin she found sticking out of the ground nearby.
Brushing and breaking off the hard dry soil, the coin's features began to emerge. "What the hell?" she asked the breeze.
The numbers 1612 were faintly visible but how could something that old be here, just jutting out of the ground?
"Daddy, look at this," said Sarah. "Have you ever seen anything like this around here?"
Looking closely at the object, his eyes widened and his jaw became hard and pronounced. It had finally happened, he thought. Now, everyone would know.
Called Mack by his fishermen friends, the old man turned to the northeast and gazed at the darkening sky. No telling what the next hard rain would uncover. “Trouble, that’s what,” he thought as he quickly cricked his stiff neck. “Storms a comin’, Sarah; we best be headin’ home.”
Sarah jammed the coin back in her pocket and promptly forgot about it with the approaching storm. She grabbed the plates and tossed the biscuit crumbs in the air. Caught by the wind, they blew skyward and disappeared in the next gust. The tablecloth lifted like a sail.
“Grab it, daddy! yelled Sarah.
Mack caught the corner of the red and white checkered cloth and it whipped around like the NASCAR finish line flag before he could gather it up in his arms.
Sarah ran for the truck just as the rain began to pellet down. “Run, daddy, run!” she said, knowing that those words were lost in the wind and water. Mack lumbered truck-ward, cursing his bad back and his age and the weather and Johnny’s fate. And the coin that would unravel the buried past.
Sarah threw the truck into gear, backing into the kudzu jungle that swallowed the remains of the little church near the graveyard. Her grandfather on her mother’s side had been a deacon at the church and when her mother got so sick, Mack promised to take her home to the land of the big pines when the time came. There wouldn’t be room for Mack in Rosa’s family plot but he figured where he ended up wouldn’t matter much.
“Careful Sarah, that sharp bend in the road is coming up,” he reminded his daughter out of habit. She is probably one of the last in her generation to know how to drive a stick shift, he thought with a small touch of pride that he and Rosa had taught Sarah everything they taught Johnny. Both children had been curious and smart but Johnny was always more adventurous and a little too quick to act on a dare, landing him in that mess with the feds and then his disappearance.
Unsigned postcards with cryptic messages that Mack thought came from Johnny had come in the mail but the last was postmarked 1994 in Bismarck, North Dakota. Mack couldn’t help but wonder if Johnny could have planted the doubloon Sarah had found as another message though.
“Damn it to hell. What is Jeb doing here?” Mack said as Sarah pulled into their yard where a rusty, sun-bleached Jeep was parked. “Sarah, do me a favor and don’t say anything about that gold coin, okay?”
Sarah didn’t have time to respond as Jeb suddenly was opening the truck door for her. She caught the twinkle in his eye and the broad grin that spread across his face. “Hey Jeb, catch any fish today?,” she said, matching his smile.
“Wind was blowin’ too hard, and we had to turn back no sooner than we were on the fish,” he said. “Just caught this string of mullet. Wasted a damn day.”
“Now, Jeb, cheer up,” Sarah said. “We were just fixin’ to have ourselves some dessert. Why don’t you join us? I’ve got your favorite, fresh fig cake and cream and Sis’ iced tea.”
“I reckon I will,” Jeb said as he took the picnic basket from her arms. They crossed the threshold to the wooden structure Mack and Sarah called home, the screen door banging in their wake. Mack’s cat Calico skittered across the floor and slid under the table, her yellow eyes blinking like a signal lamp. “Crazy cat,” Mack said, pulling her up into his arms.