Short Story – The Field, the Bones, the Pendant

The Field

Midge McKeown left the day spa feeling polished, buffed, and slightly tipsy from the Pinot Grigio served along with the facial, pedicure and manicure she received. Outside the spa, the light was glaringly bright and she fumbled in her bag for her sunglasses while trying not to ruin her nails. The sunglasses were askew on her face as Midge looked up and down the parking area where her ride should have been waiting. There was no sign of her driver and it was so hot she swore she could feel the heated surface of the pavement through the soles of her pumps.

“Damn it, Jack, where are you?” With a groan she opened her bag again to look for her phone. She tipped it this way and that, still being careful with her nails, before she realized she had left her phone at home.

A noisy Jeep roared into the drive and a tanned unshaven man in t-shirt and baggy shorts leaned over and shoved open the passenger door. “Miss McKeown? Do you remember me? I’m Jack’s cousin, Trace. He asked me to pick you up.”

Midge stepped back. “Where is Jack?”

“Lucy’s gone into labor.”

Her mouth opened but there was no response from Midge.

“His wife,” Trace prompted. “Lucy.”

“I know who Lucy is,” Midge said. “But Jack was here earlier. Why didn’t he come in and tell me he was leaving?”

“Can’t say. He called me and said he needed to get to the hospital. He asked if I’d come and take you home. I apologize for being late. I was on a job.”

When she still didn’t budge, Trace said, “Would you rather call a cab?”

“Yes, I think I will. But I’ll do it inside.”

She returned to the spa, but the door was now locked. No answer to repeated knocking.

Trace shook his head. “You really don’t remember me, do you?”

Midge looked directly at him. “Should I?” She slurred a little and it embarrassed her when he smiled.

“I helped Jack rebuild your deck last summer. Before that we planted trees along your drive.”

Midge walked toward the open passenger door. “You do look familiar.”

“Hop in and I’ll get you home.”

“Could I just borrow your phone?”

His lips thinned and Trace took out his cell phone to hand it over.

Midge nodded her thanks and carefully made a call. She listened, then she handed it back to him. “It won’t work.”

He took the phone and listened. He frowned. “I paid that damned bill.”

Midge looked at him like he was something dirty.

“Hey, I paid it, all right? In or out, lady. I’m not going to sit here all day.”

She put her hand on the door. “What kind of trees did you plant?”

“Magnolia. Are you getting in or not?”

She got in and pulled the door closed. “I’m just being careful.”

Trace put the Jeep in gear and Midge’s spine whip-lashed as they jerked forward.

Minutes later they were at a service station.

“Sorry, I didn’t realize I was so low on gas,” Trace said. “Certainly don’t want to get stranded, do we?”

Midge wondered if he expected her to offer money for gas. She opened her purse but he hopped out and headed to the cashier. He came back and started the gas pumping.

“You do that spa thing often?” He eyed her polished fingernails.

“No, not often.”

“Why not drive yourself? The wine? Jack said they serve a glass with each treatment and looks like you had the works.”

When it became clear she wasn’t going to answer, he concentrated on the gas again. After he finished and got inside the Jeep he reached for the radio. A blast of retro rock caused her to wince and he dialed it down before turning onto the road once more. Once on the highway, he glanced toward her. “So Jack’s worked for you what, about ten or twelve years now, right?”

“Yes.”

“And you didn’t know Lucy was pregnant?”

“I knew.” Midge turned in her seat. “Would you mind not talking? I really don’t know you and I’m not comfortable making small talk.

“Not a problem,” Trace turned up the music again and smiled a little when he saw the wince return.

Long minutes later the Jeep coasted to a stop on the turnoff from the highway.

“Perfect,” Trace said and Midge looked alarmed.

“Why are we stopping?”

“I don’t know. The engine light came on.” Trace turned off the radio to listen to the engine.

“What is it?” Midge asked. “I thought I heard a hissing at the service station. What do you hear?”

“Right now? Just you.”

She closed her mouth.

Trace hopped out of the Jeep and lifted the hood.

Midge got out and stood a few feet away while he leaned over the engine. After muttering and tweaking, Trace backed out and sighed. “It’s the water pump.”

“Can you fix it?” Midge slurred again and hated herself for doing it. Every time he looked at her he smiled like something was funny.

“Not out here.”

“Please try your phone again. Use the nine. If you hold it down—”

“Right.” He took out his phone and tried the emergency number.

He nodded when he connected with a human being.

“Yeah, we’ve had a breakdown off the highway out of town.” He listened to the response, then said, “No, there are no injuries. We’re a quarter mile west of Highway 54 on the McKeown Creek Road and could use a tow truck.” He listened, paused then said, “I know you don’t, but my passenger doesn’t have a phone and mine will only call you. We’re miles away from anything, can you please help?” He listened again then looked at Midge. “Are you a Triple A member?”

“No.”

“No, sorry, neither one of us,” he said and a few seconds later he hung up.

“Well?”

“She said she’ll let the state police know where we are and they’ll send an officer to check on us. We can call for a tow then. It may be an hour or two, she said.”

Midge looked horrified. “Call them back and tell them—”

“That because it’s you they should come right away?”

“Why not?”

“Yeah, why not.” He pulled out his phone and held down the nine again. “Hey, I just called about being stranded outside of town. Listen, I think there’s an injury after all. I’ve got Midge McKeown here and she’d like you to send a taxi, fire truck, ambulance, limousine, whatever, okay? Her pride appears to be severely damaged at being stuck here with me.” He listened for a moment, then, “Well, I did say McKeown Creek Road, right? You’ve got to be somebody if there’s a road named after you.”

Midge turned her back on him and started walking up the road.

Trace finished with the dispatcher then called after her. “It’s another five miles to your place so you’d better take off the heels. That is unless you had a pedicure, too.”

Midge veered into a field that bordered the road and disappeared from Trace’s sight.

Trace drew a long breath. “Crap. I’m gonna lose Jack his damned job.” He left the Jeep and trotted up the road after her.

He had to walk the tree line for a hundred yards before he spotted her. She stood looking across a green expanse of pasture dotted with colorful wildflowers.

She straightened when he approached her. “I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve your treatment of me. And just what is it you find so amusing?”

“Nothing.” He reached toward her face. “Here…can I just…your sunglasses are seriously crooked.”

She backed away from his reach. “And I’ve had a few glasses of wine, so that makes me a target for your gibes?”

“Well you look pretty silly. Just let me…” He reached for her again and ended up knocking the glasses from her face when she jerked her head.

“I’m sorry.”

Trace scooped them up from the ground and handed them to her. Her gaze was icy. He didn’t remember her eyes being so green. She put the sunglasses on and damned if they weren’t crooked again, but Trace kept his hands to himself.

“I could say something about the way you smell,” she said.

“I know you could. Listen, don’t you think we should get back to the Jeep?”

She turned to go then paused for a last look over her shoulder. “I just wanted to see it again. I haven’t been to this field in ages. Not since I was nineteen.”

Trace looked around. There was nothing to see but grass and flowers. “What made you come then?”

“Harvest. We grew crops. I liked to come and help cook for the workers.”

“Wow. People were still doing that then?”

She looked askance at him. How old did he think she was?

“They still do it today. When we farmed here a truckload of migrant workers would camp near the creek each year. They worked the harvest for a few weeks then went away after my father paid them.”

“Illegals?”

“Most were what my father called ‘travelers’.”

Trace looked far into the field and remembered something. “I can’t believe I forgot about that. It wasn’t that long ago.”

“What?”

“Jack had just started working for you. We brought Lucy and another girl out here to scare ’em with that old story about the blue light.”

“Blue light?” Midge didn’t have a clue what he was talking about.

“You know the story about the eerie light that bobs up and down over the ground where someone once died?”

“Sorry.”

“Well, we saw a light all right and we walked out to look. Shocked the hell out of us to find a fresh grave.”

Midge gave him her full attention. “You found a grave? In this field?”

“Jack told your father about it. Your dad said a sick woman came to the house one day and asked if she could be buried with the baby that died when they were here earlier that summer. He said no and told her to leave.”

“She was the mother?”

“I don’t know. Your dad said the grave was in the spot she mentioned, so he figured it had to be hers.”

“And my father never followed up on it? Never checked?”

“You’d know that better than I would.”

Midge turned around and walked toward the shade of the trees. “How did you know it was a grave?”

“I told you. There was a blue light.”

“You’re joking…aren’t you?”

Trace followed her. “We followed the light and found some ground turned over. I didn’t know it was a real grave until I dug down and scraped bone.”

Her face screwed up and Midge looked aghast.

“The girls dared us,” Trace explained. “My question was who did the burying?”

“Someone who loved her, probably family. These were very passionate people.”

Midge started walking again and Trace looked behind himself. “We really should get back. In case they do put a rush on it.”

“They teased me about my name,” she responded. “The little girls with dirty faces were always asking me how Barbie was.”

Trace caught up with her. “You lost me.”

“Mattel made a doll named Midge to go with the Barbie doll. My mother named me Midge because it was her favorite. The girls in camp loved to ask if I was Barbie’s best friend.”

“Oh.”

“Am I getting close to the grave?” she asked.

“What? No. Did you want to?”

“I remember the woman whose child died. I heard her screams that day. If they’re here I can’t leave them. They deserve a decent burial somewhere developers can’t dig.”

“Your father didn’t seem to mind. And you’re actually planning to sell this land?”

“Daddy hated the migrant workers. He couldn’t bear to see any of them talking to me, not even the little ones. The day Edan Black stood up to him and buried his sister’s baby I thought my father would kill him.”

“Who?”

Midge stopped and looked around herself as if suddenly lost. “I’ve had three offers but no, I’m not planning to sell anytime soon. I should put some horses in here again. It’s good pasture land.”

“Who’s Edan Black?”

“I’ll ask Jack to find some horses at auction. Maybe start riding again.”

Trace said, “Hugh McKeown and his cane sword scared the hell out of everyone who knew him, me included.”

The corner of Midge’s mouth curved. Her voice became wistful. “Edan called his bluff. He defied my father and his rules and flirted openly with me. He had long dark hair and wore a Celtic symbol as an earring that made him look like some sort of mad pirate on a combine, riding the rolling waves of grain instead of the ocean.”

Trace swatted a biting fly and stared. With the mention of a long ago name she had somehow transformed. Her cheeks were flushed in the heat, skin perspiring with stray tendrils of hair escaping down her neck, mussed, real, and a little tipsy still. He blessed those glasses of wine she drank that day at the spa. And those crooked damned sunglasses. She was beautiful.

“You fell for him. Edan Black.”

“He was dangerous so Daddy ran him off, but twice Edan came for me. The first time I was too frightened. The second time I was packed and ready, but Daddy caught me and made him go away. Edan swore he’d be back. I was nineteen and could do as I pleased. All I had to do was break free of my father.”

She stopped talking when a bee flew over to investigate her perfume.

“What happened?” Trace asked after shooing the bee away. “You never saw him again?”

Midge looked at him, realized she had said too much. The heat felt suddenly oppressive and she drew a deep breath. “I never broke free of my father. Can we just—”

“I always wondered why you never got married,” Trace interjected.

“Did you?” Her voice went cool again.

“Jack had a crush on you for years.”

“That’s funny. He said it was you.”

Trace smiled and wiped sweat from his brow. “Is that why you wouldn’t get in the Jeep?”

“As long as we’re here, would you show me the woman’s grave. Please?”

“Yeah, if I can remember.” Trace looked around to figure his bearings then started walking. Midge followed, and after some distance they approached a rusted tin can wired to the trunk of an elm.

“It’s still here. That’s our marker. It should be five paces from the tree.”

He measured out the paces then stood on earth that showed no trace of a grave.

“Are you sure this is it?”

“I’ve got a hand shovel in the Jeep. I’ll be right back.”

“Oh, no, let’s not…do that.”

“It won’t take long, the grave wasn’t that deep. Do you want to be sure or not?”

“All right.”

Trace went through the thick hedgerow and over the barbed-wire fence rather than walk all the way around. Midge stood and looked at the ground with a disturbed expression until he came back with a hand shovel and measured out the paces again. Midge backed up to the tree when the dirt began to fly.

“Just out of curiosity,” Trace began, “when your father died why not leave? I mean why stay?”

She looked as if she wasn’t going to answer. Then she lifted a hand. “And go where?”

“Anywhere. Or maybe just to look for Edan.”

“That’s partly why I didn’t go. Because I thought he would come back for me again, like he said.”

A horn tooted and both looked up. Help had arrived.

Trace put down the shovel and then stared at something uncovered that looked like bone.

Midge didn’t see, had imitated Trace’s previous action and clawed her way through the hedgerow instead of going around. She clambered over the fence with a curse as the limbs and barbed wire tore at her blouse and skirt. Finally she made it to the road. “Here!” she called to the deputy behind the wheel.

At the grave, Trace brushed dirt away and discovered a jawbone. He dug more and uncovered part of a broken skull. At the base of it was an encrusted something with a shiny surface. He dug around it with his fingers and revealed a Celtic cross symbol, right where an earring would be. Trace plucked it out and frowned deeply as he realized whose remains he was looking at.

The horn tooted again.

Trace put the earring in his pocket and hastily reburied the skull and tamped down the earth. He picked up his shovel then pushed his way through the brush and hurried to catch up with Midge as she spoke to the deputy, who had offered her a ride home. Trace put a tentative hand to her elbow as he helped her into the seat and she lowered her voice as she asked, “Did you find her?”

“No. Your dad probably had them moved a long time ago. When you get to your place would you mind calling me a tow?”

Midge sighed as she looked at her scratched hands and damaged nails. “Why not.”

“Yeah, why not.”

The Bones

A battered pickup pulled off the road and stopped beside the overgrown field. Charlie O’Shea, Trace’s younger brother, turned to his girlfriend Leslie and smiled. “This is it.”

“This is what? The special place you said you were taking me?”

“Yeah.” Charlie opened the truck door and hopped out. He pulled a shovel from the back. Leslie’s look was dubious as she got out. Both made sweeping glances up and down the road.

“What’s so special about it, Charlie? I don’t see anything.”

“Come on, I’ll show you.” Charlie climbed the barbed wire fence that bordered the hedgerow and helped Leslie do the same. They pushed through the brush into a field. Charlie carried his hand shovel on his shoulder and Leslie followed, looking at patches of wildflowers and weeds. When she saw nothing of interest she paused and crossed her arms.

“Charlie, if this is one of your sick jokes…”

He scanned the tree line then pointed to a tin can wired to a tree trunk. “That’s the marker.”

“For what?” She dropped her arms and groaned. “Oh my God, is this another I know where the Golden Knights of Columbus buried some money thing?”

“Nope.”

“I told you after the Bigfoot trip, no more.”

“Don’t you wanna help me find the grave?”

“Oh, this time it’s a grave. Jesus, Charlie what is wrong with you? Let’s just go.”

“You’re not even curious about who’s buried here?”

“No. I don’t care. I don’t want to know.” She started back the way they came.

“Fine!” Charlie called after her. “It’s a dead migrant worker my brother told me about.”

Leslie halted and turned. “Trace told you?”

Charlie mimics. “Trace told you? So now you’re interested all of a sudden.”

“I do not have a thing for your brother, all right? Why did he tell you about it?”

“He asked me to dig it up and haul off the bones.”

Leslie came rushing back, her mouth open and her eyes round. “Oh my God, Trace killed someone?”

“What? No. He found the grave here is all.” Charlie walked to the tree with the tin can and placed his back against it.

“If he didn’t kill him why does he want you to get rid of it?”

“My cousin Jack works for the owner of this field. Jack and Trace found the grave a long time ago and they thought it was some migrant woman buried here with her baby. Turns out it’s someone else.” He stepped forward and started counting steps until he reached five.

“How does Trace know it’s a migrant worker?”

“He dug up part of it himself yesterday. Found an earring this certain migrant guy used to wear.” Charlie looked down to study the ground at his feet.

“So somebody killed him. Charlie, we can’t do this.”

“There it is.”

He found the patch of recently turned earth and stabbed at it with the shovel. “Trace thinks it was the owner’s father. Old bastard hated the migrant guy sniffin’ around his daughter.”

“Great, well here’s the thing. If you dig him up and get rid of the bones you’re covering up a murder.”

Charlie turned over a shovel full of earth and looked at her. “No, I’m getting the engine on my truck rebuilt for free.”

“Trace can’t be thinking right. I know he’s smarter than this.”

“Why do you care, Leslie? The old man’s dead, the migrant guy’s dead and so far you’re the only one with a problem.”

“Why is it so important to move the bones? And why do you look so happy to be doing it, you freak.”

Charlie dug in again and moved another shovel full of black earth. “The owner still thinks a woman’s buried here. She doesn’t know it’s the guy she was gonna run away with.”

Leslie sidestepped the tossed shovel load. “God, how tragic. But I don’t understand why Trace cares. It’s your cousin Jack who works for her, right?”

Charlie winked at Leslie. “Trace has a thing for the wealthy Miss McKeown.”

“Midge McKeown? Eww. Isn’t she like thirty almost forty something?”

“Hey, I saw her and she’s hot. She called a tow truck for his Jeep and even brought Trace home in her Mercedes.”

“Dream on, poor boy.”

Charlie grinned again then stopped when the shovel struck something hard.

“Eww again,” Leslie said. “Was that what I think it was?”

The shovel dropped as Charlie bent down to clear the dirt away. He extended his arm to hold up a fragment of the skull and strike a pose.

“If you even try to quote Hamlet I’m gonna hit you with the shovel,” Leslie warned.

Charlie handed the fragment to her and dusted off his hands. “Fine. I’ll be right back. I left my trash bags in the truck.”

Leslie groaned. “This is so not right, Charlie. Trash bags?”

Charlie disappeared through the hedgerow, leaving Leslie to look at the piece of cracked skull in her hand.

“I’m sorry, poor dead guy. I don’t know what I’m doing here and I apologize for disturbing—”

Out of the corner of her eye she saw a tall figure move into the nearby trees.

“Charlie, stop it! You’re not funny.”

Charlie came through the hedgerow carrying a box of trash bags. “Stop what?”

“Stop messing with me.”

“Whatever. Look, this’ll go quicker if you help me.”

“No way. I’m not a part of this. I’m not even here.”

“C’mon, Les. I thought you’d get a kick out of this.” Charlie dropped the box of trash bags and picked up the shovel again.

“Where are you taking the bones?”

“I don’t know. We haven’t talked about it.”

With an exaggerated sigh Leslie bent down and started dusting dirt from the shattered skull. Gingerly she picked up a piece and then reached for a trash bag. She opened it and dropped the piece in before reaching for another.

Charlie worked at uncovering more of the skeleton. After moving the dirt away he dropped down to his hands and knees beside Leslie. “The guy had good jeans anyway.” He pointed to the dirt-caked but still intact denim jeans. Charlie felt in the pocket of the jeans and pulled out an old rubber coin purse with a slit down the middle.

“What’s that?”

“I don’t know. It was in the pocket.”

“Open it.”

Charlie pried open one lip of the rubber. It tore in his hand and revealed a pendant on a silver chain inside. Charlie took it out to examine it.

Leslie looked and said, “It’s a Celtic cross.”

“Yeah, that’s what Trace said the earring was.”

“You think he was saving this for her?”

Charlie smiled. “Yup. Oh well. Mine now.”

“Charlie.”

“What?”

“Let me have it.”

“No. I like it. It’s cool.”

“Charlie, please.”

“What are you gonna do with it? You hate cheap jewelry, remember?”

Leslie took the pendant from him and stood up to put it in her pocket. Before bending down again she saw movement out of the corner of her eye. She jerked her head around and saw nothing but the wind lifting the tall grass and fluttering the leaves.

“Let’s hurry. I’m getting the creeps. I feel like we’re not alone.”

“See? I knew you’d love this.”

Leslie snorted in aggravation and squatted down. They both worked faster, picking up bones and fabric and even the scraps of soles that used to be shoes and stuffed them in the bags.

Finally Charlie stood. “Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full.”

Leslie gave him a dirty look.

“I’ll take these to the truck,” Charlie said. “Use the shovel to push the dirt back and spread it around, okay?

Charlie departed and Leslie reached for the shovel. She scraped the dirt back into the shallow depression then stamped on the ground with both feet.

A tall, long-haired man with fierce blue eyes and deeply tanned skin stepped into view.

Leslie dropped the shovel and shrieked, but the wind rustled leaves and limbs at the same time, carrying the sound away. She opened her mouth to scream again.

The man lifted a hand and pointed to her. He reached in his pocket.

Leslie’s chest heaved. Her voice was a croak. “Charlie. Charlie, help.”

The man reached into his pocket again. Then he mimicked putting something around his neck.

“Oh my God,” Leslie breathed. “The cross? Do you mean the cross?”

She took a step forward. She removed the pendant from her pocket.

“This? Is this what you want?”

He pointed to the tree with the tin can and looked meaningfully at her. Leslie swallowed. When she hesitated the man pointed at her again. Then at the tree with the tin can.

“Okay. I’m going.”

She walked to the tree with the tin can, keeping an eye on the tall man. He made the draping motion again and Leslie draped the chain with the pendant over the tin can.

Charlie came up behind her and grabbed her by the waist. “Gotcha! Hey, why did you put that there?”

Leslie shrieked in terror and pummeled him about the head and shoulders.

“Ow! Hey, stop it!”

“Did you see him? Did you see the tall guy?”

Charlie looked around in alarm. “Where?”

“Oh, you liar! You bastard! You’d better be lying to me. This whole thing has been a prank, hasn’t it? Another hilarious gag probably being filmed for your later enjoyment!”

“Les, calm down, all right.”

“Don’t tell me to calm down, you jerk! I’m sick of your pranks and jokes and twisted little games. It isn’t funny anymore, Charlie. Just take me home!”

Charlie grew angry himself. “I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, but hey, fine with me.”

Leslie pushed her way through the hedgerow and scrambled over the fence to get to the road.

Charlie grabbed the shovel and followed her.

At the truck, Leslie slammed the door getting into the passenger side. Charlie threw the shovel in back with the bags and then slammed his own door. As he started the engine another truck approached. It slowed and pulled up next to them.

Jack O’Shea, Midge McKeown’s handyman and cousin to Charlie and Trace hung an arm over the door and leaned his head out. “What the hell are you doin’ out here, Charlie?”

“I knew it,” Leslie simmered. “I knew it.”

“Shut up, Leslie,” Charlie said.

“You do not tell me to shut up!”

Charlie ignored her. “Hey Jack, you talked to Trace today?”

“Not yet. What’s goin’ on?”

Leslie spoke up. “Charlie’s playing one of his asshole pranks that’s what. And I guarantee it’s the last one he’ll ever play on me.”

Charlie shook his head and rolled his eyes at his cousin. “I’ll call you later man, okay?”

Jack nodded. “Later.”

Charlie put the truck in gear. The tires kicked up dust as he shot up the road.

The chain with the Celtic cross pendant dangled from the tin can and swayed in the breeze as Jack walked into the field. Shovel in hand, he headed right for the tree. He stopped when he spied the pendant. He took it off the can and turned it over in his palm. His mouth curved when he saw the name Midge engraved on the back of the pendant.

“Bet she’ll be glad to get this back.”

He put the pendant in his shirt pocket and marked off five paces from the tree. Jack stared at the tamped down, freshly turned earth. He looked toward the road, frowning.

“What the hell is goin’ on?”

The Pendant

The Mercedes rolled up beside Jack’s pickup parked on the side of the road. Jack came out of the field and tossed his shovel in the back of the truck before walking over to greet the driver.

Midge rolled down her window as he approached.

“I dug around, but there’re no bones in there,” Jack reported.

“No trace of a grave?”

“A grave, yeah, but no bones in it.”

“So she was moved.”

“Looks like.”

The cell phone in his pocket rang and Jack stepped away from the car to answer. It was Lucy. “Yeah babe?”

Midge looked at the field with a slight frown. One finger tapped the steering wheel.

“Where’s your mom?” Jack said into the phone. “Can’t she help? Oh. Yeah, all right. I’m on my way.” He hung up and shoved the phone in his pocket. “Sorry, Miss McKeown, but the wife needs me at home.”

“Is everything all right?”

“Far as I know. Lucy’s mom had to go somewhere, baby’s fussy and the other two are drivin’ her nuts.”

“Go home.”

Jack remembered the pendant as he turned and felt for his keys. He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled it out.

“I found this draped over the tin can we wired to the tree as a marker.”

He held it out to her and Midge stared at the dangling pendant.

“Is this some kind of joke?”

“What? No. It’s yours isn’t it? It’s got your name on it.”

She extended a hand and he dropped the pendant into her palm. “You must’ve lost it a while back. It’s not in too bad shape.”

Her eyes searched his face and he shifted uncomfortably.

“I figured the grave was gonna be empty and your dad would’ve already moved her. I don’t know what you mean about any joke.”

“You’d better get home.”

“All right. If you need anything call me.”

Still uncertain, Jack went, leaving Midge sitting alone in her car. She opened the car door and got out to examine the pendant in the sunlight. Her fingers closed over it and she looked toward the trees in time to glimpse movement as a tall figure slipped into the brush.

“Hello?” Midge called.

The wind soughed through limbs and rustled leaves.

“Is anyone there?”

She opened her hand and looked at the pendant again. Swallowed.

“Edan?”

She walked toward the tree line, the heels of her boots sinking into the soft earth. As she moved into the trees a Jeep arrived and pulled up beside the sedan.

Trace, freshly shaved, wearing a crisp white shirt and khaki trousers, left the Jeep and looked around the empty vehicle.

“Miss McKeown? Midge?”

Charlie sat on his bed and worked a video game controller while Leslie leaned against the doorway. “Why aren’t you at work?”

“I’m on my break. Why aren’t you at work?”

“I took the day off.”

“What do you want, Leslie?”

“To talk.”

“I’m busy.”

Leslie came into the room. “Okay. I believe you.”

Charlie smirked. “I care.”

“No, I really believe you,” Leslie insisted. “You wouldn’t have been able to hold it in this long. So it wasn’t a prank and there really was someone there.”

“Well what if I don’t believe you?” Charlie said. “Huh? You tell me some guy shows up out of nowhere and tells you to hang the cross on the tin can.”

“It happened! That’s why I was so freaked out. What did you do with the bones?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know?”

“I would, yes. Where are they?”

“They’re safe.”

“Why are you being such an asshole?”

“Well isn’t that what I am? You’ve called me that about twenty times today, so I must be.”

“I’m sorry, Charlie. I was really, really freaked out.” She came to the bed and rubbed the back of Charlie’s neck and shoulders. “If it wasn’t you, then who was it? Have you thought about that?”

“I told Trace about the cross. He lit outta here like his ass was on fire.”

“Why?”

“Probably to keep Midge McKeown from knowing about it.”

Leslie scoffed. “I still don’t understand why he cares so much. Unless it’s her money.”

Charlie put down the game controller. Leslie turned in anticipation of a kiss, but Charlie held her firmly away from him instead. “I’ll tell you what I understand. I understand you had no idea I was home and thought you’d find Trace here instead.”

Leslie blinked in guilt then grew huffy. “Will you get over this jealousy crap? I don’t care about your brother.”

“Bullshit. But you know the funny thing is that I don’t even care anymore. Just leave.” Charlie pushed her away from him, toward the door.

“Fine!” Leslie shouted. “How about I leave and go to the cops, tell them about some bones we dug up this morning?”

“Be my guest, bitch.”

Leslie flounced away and departed. Charlie returned to his game.

After a moment he got up and reached for his cell phone.

Trace pushed through the hedgerow. Midge was a few yards away, near the tree with the tin can marker. Trace’s cell phone rang and Midge turned and spotted him. She frowned as Trace answered. “Yeah?”

“Did you find the cross?” Charlie asked.

“Too late. I think she’s already got it.”

“Leslie’s goin’ to the cops about the bones. You took ’em to the university, right?”

“Yeah. You’re okay, bud, don’t worry about it.”

“I’m not. Hey, there was someone out there yesterday while we were there.”

“Who?”

The line went dead in his hands and Trace stared at his phone in consternation.

“I paid that damned phone bill. I know I did.”

He shoved it back in his pocket and approached Midge.

“What are you doing here?” she asked.

“I need to talk to you.”

She held up the pendant and it dangled from the chain.

“You and I stood right here yesterday when you showed me the grave. Today Jack found this on the tin can.”

“I need to—”

“What does the symbol mean? Do you know?”

She showed him the pendant. Trace took it and turned it over in his palm.

“I…well, yeah. It’s a Celtic cross. The bar that goes across stands for man, the circle stands for woman. The long part is the bridge between heaven and earth.”

Midge’s eyes fasten on him as if she’s never really seen him before. “How did you know that?”

Trace crooked a thumb toward himself. “O’Shea? You know. Irish.”

She nodded and stared so long at something behind him that he turned.

Saw nothing.

He gave the pendant back to her.

“I lied to you about the grave, Midge.”

“What?”

“There were bones here yesterday but they didn’t belong to the woman your father told us about.”

He took the earring from his pocket. The Celtic cross.

“The bones belonged to the owner of this.”

Midge reached automatically for it and held both the earring and the pendant in her left hand. Her mouth fell open slightly. “This…was in the grave?”

“Yeah. The pendant, too.”

“Then the bones were Edan’s?”

“I’m sorry. I thought it would be better if you believed it was the sister.”

“You didn’t want me to know? I don’t understand.”

“I didn’t want you to be hurt.”

“You didn’t…” She stepped forward and violently slapped Trace, shocking both of them. She stood before him, trembling.

“The one man I’ve ever had an ounce of feeling for in my life! My father protected me from him when he was alive and you decide to protect me from him now that he’s dead. Why would that hurt me? How could that possibly cause me pain?” She closed her fist around the earring so tightly Trace saw a trickle of blood seep from her palm. Then her head dropped. “Oh God this means my father…”

Trace rubbed his cheek. “That’s what I figure. Listen, Jack didn’t know anything about this. He still thought it was Edan’s sister buried here, just like your dad said.”

Midge’s head lifted. “Who dug him up?”

“I asked my brother to come out this morning.”

“What did he do with him?”

“There was no body, Midge. Just bones.”

“Stop calling me Midge like you know me. I haven’t had any wine today. Where are the remains?”

“I took them to the Criminal Justice Department at the university and told them what we found. They called the FBI and the state police.”

“So there’ll be an investigation.”

“Yes.”

Her eyes closed. Then she nodded. “I’m glad. I’m glad everyone will know about my father finally.” Midge pocketed the earring and pendant. She clasped her still trembling hands together and walked a few paces away. “You don’t know the crazy ideas that went through my head when Jack gave me this pendant. For a moment I actually thought…”

When she didn’t finish,Trace rubbed his clean-shaved face again. “I know a thing or two about crazy ideas.”

She turned and Trace saw her eyes go round as she looked past him.

Midge saw a long-haired man with darkly tanned skin and a familiar roguish smile walk up behind Trace…and disappear.

Trace stared as Midge came toward him, scrutinizing his face. She swallowed and reached up to touch his cheek.

“Are you…you?”

Trace covered her hand with his. “I’m me, yeah.”

Her disappointment was obvious but Trace kept her hand and pressed his mouth briefly against her palm.

“You probably don’t remember the first time I saw you. Your BMW broke down and I helped you get home. My grandfather still worked for your dad. I was helping him build fence that summer.”

“I sold that car ten years ago,” Midge said.

“Then you know how long I’ve wanted just to touch you.”

Blood from her palm stained his lips and chin and she blinked rapidly at the sight and pulled her hand away. “Don’t.”

“Just get to know me,” he asked.

“You have…blood…on your mouth.”

He wiped absently with his hand and took her by the arm when she would have turned away. “Your blood, your pain. Exactly what I tried to avoid.”

He followed her chilly gaze to the fingers holding her arm and he released her.

“Shit. You think I’m not good enough for you.”

Her nostrils flared. “Obviously.”

Trace slapped her almost as hard as she slapped him.

With a hoarse cry of surprise Charlie leaped the fence and jumped on his brother from behind to drag him back. “Whoa, Trace! Holy shit! He’s sorry, Ms. McKeown, he didn’t mean it!”

“I goddamn well did.”

“No, he didn’t! I swear it. He’s never even hit me!”

Still stunned, Midge held her cheek and looked at Trace in anguish. Her eyes filled with moisture. Tears spilled over her hand and down her cheeks and she crumpled to her knees and began to sob. Charlie released Trace and hurried to kneel beside her.

“Are you all right? I don’t know what’s wrong with him, but that’s not Trace. You have to believe me.” He tried patting her shoulder. He scowled at Trace. “What the hell is wrong with you? She can have you arrested.”

“Let her.”

“Where’d the other guy go? The long-haired guy? He was right here, nearly on top of you.”

Charlie frowned and looked around while Midge covered her face and cried her heart out. Trace watched until he could bear it no longer. He pulled her up from the ground and put his arms around her. “Midge… Hey…I’m sorry, all right? For everything. Come on, let’s get you home. This is my brother, Charlie. Charlie, help me out here.”

Together Trace and Charlie walked her out of the field and helped her over the fence. They opened the sedan door and put Midge in the driver’s seat. Charlie stood back, still sweating but calmer now. “You got this, man?”

“Yeah. Why’d you come out here?”

“Your phone went dead. I broke ninety getting here. I didn’t know what the hell was happening but I remembered Leslie telling me about the tall joker.”

Trace smiled crookedly at his younger brother. “You seriously saw someone?”

“Dark hair, jeans, master tanned. You’re gonna explain all this to me later, right?”

“If I’m not in jail. See you at home.”

Charlie got in his truck.

Midge wiped her face and glared sullenly at Trace. “Don’t ever touch me again.”

“Not a problem.”

She started crying again, uncontrollably. “He came back for me. He really did come back.”

Trace hesitated then reached in and stroked her head. “Yeah, he did. Scoot over, Midge and let me drive you home. I’ll walk back for the Jeep.”

She sniffled and wiped her nose, tried to regain her composure.

“That’s not necessary.”

Trace leaned back. “All right. Take it easy.” He turned to walk to his Jeep.

“Trace?”

The sound of his name from her lips took him by surprise.

Midge concentrated fiercely on the steering wheel. “What I said…”

“Forget it. We’re even.” He started away again.

“I…are you hungry?”

The question hung in the air until Trace sighed. “I could eat. You wanna go somewhere?”

“No. I think I’d like to cook.”

“So… You want me to follow you home?”

“Yes. I do.”

She closed her car door and turned over the engine.

Trace got in the Jeep. In the side mirror he caught a glimpse of a tall figure on the road behind him, following the dust kicked up by Charlie’s truck. He craned his head to look and saw the man give him a wide smile.

Then he was gone.

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