(The adventure turns strange as new, unexpected revelations are made)
Off balance and surprised, Leo did not have time to struggle.
“Relax, it’s me,” came a hoarse whisper in his ear. It was Charles.
Leo relaxed and crouched in the reed with his brother. Adrenaline was surging.
Whoever was on the trail ahead was brand new, and probably one of the Gibsons. There was a bit of sound as this new person shifted around, certainly having heard the brief commotion in the near silent darkness. A long moment of silence passed. It was a duel of patience and senses. If they could stay silent and undetected for long enough then the other side might simply wander off, or go the wrong way to look for the cause of the sound. They breathed as steadily and evenly as possible, the taste of the swamp air feeling like a film over the inside of their mouths. It felt like forever.
The mystery person blinked first. After a bit of movement, the person made some noises like they were digging through something in the ground. It was done quietly, clearly an attempt to be secretive. A few minutes later, they got up and started moving on the trail in the brothers’ direction. Both braced with guns ready. Whoever this person was, they were up to something they wanted kept quiet. As the person neared, the clouds parted. Moonlight flooded the scene like a spotlight in an ancient theatre. Red Gibson was a few feet away, slowing slightly when the light shone. He took a quick look around, looking right past Leo and Charles, crouched in the reeds. Seconds later, he was gone.
Leo and Charles waited several minutes in the reeds before daring to whisper.
“I lost the trail,” Leo admitted quickly.
“Yeah,” Charles said, about as impressed as expected, “no shit. We’re bleeding time fast while you get turned around on a trail. Good job, Trusty.”
“We have much bigger problems to consider,” Leo said, dodging further reproach. “What the fuck was Red doing out here?”
“I doubt it was late night gardening,” Charles said. “Either way, I am going to find out what he was doing over there. He may have shown us the prize.”
After a bit more waiting, they half crawled to the spot Red had been. Leo kept a lookout while Charles poked around a mound of freshly packed earth, eventually digging into it.
“What are we looking at, here?” Leo asked without turning to Charles, keeling behind him.
Charles did not respond immediately. “Still digging through here,” he whispered back. “The ground is just firm enough to bury something, though a bit shallow. It is an awfully small hole, though.”
“Is this him planting pot, or what is it?” Leo asked again, growing impatient.
“Funny,” Charles muttered, digging more aggressively. “Ah, I have something here…not what I was hoping for…”
Leo waited a few moments. There was a rustling of plastic and paper. “Tell me it’s thirty pounds of gold coins and we can go home.”
“This is really messed up,” Charles said, followed by more rustling plastic. “Very, very messed up.”
“If you don’t start sharing, I am going to shoot you in the back before I walk out,” Leo declared.
“I am in possession of a freezer bag full of blackmail photos and notes,” Charles whispered after a short flash of his hand light.
“Fuck off, already,” Leo shot back. “Be serious.”
“I’ll let you have a look when we get back to the truck,” Charles said, repacking the hole. “These ass holes have some pretty freaky pictures of the police chief’s daughter, though it is beyond me why they included copies of blackmail notes.”
“You’re fucking serious!”
“Yes, unfortunately,” Charles said, busy repacking the hole to look as it did moments before. “The Gibsons have moved on to blackmail as the family crime of choice. Wonderful.”
“What are they asking for?”
“Fifty grand and the police leave the Gibson clan alone for a while,” Charles said. “I am not even sure they have sent the notes yet, but it is pretty clear who they are for, and what is being asked. I mean, why else would they bury this so close to the house?”
“I would guess they are the hard copies,” Leo said, trying to quickly wrap his head around the discovery, “probably scanned for an email to the chief. How old is his daughter, anyway?”
“Not sure,” Charles said, patting down the dirt on the ground, “but I think she is still in high school. Too young to be doing what she was in those photos, if you could ever be old enough. I’ll give the Gibson family credit, the photos are good blackmail material.”
“So what now?” Leo said, deciding to get his head back in the game.
“Nothing has changed for us,” Charles said, marking their location in the GPS. “We can make up a thousand ways these photos could have landed in our lap, considering our business. Besides, the chief may be a bit of prick, but blackmail like this is…dirty business. We can get this to him in the morning. We are near to a point I was looking to search, so let’s get going.”
Ten minutes later, they were in a small clearing, covered with plenty of small vehicle tracks. The ground had been packed firm from years of traffic, with swamp reeds surrounding the spot. The faint glimmer of light from the Gibson house was just barely visible over vegetation. Charles looked at several spots he suspected before giving up.
“What now?” Leo asked.
“Several more spots to check,” Charles said, sound a touch grumpy and discouraged, both uncharacteristic of him. “We probably have time to check one or two more before it is time to bail.”
Their next movements took them further from the house to a dead end in the trail. It took a moment to make out against the heavy, rotting air but the smell of human excrement came on strong.
“This gets better and better,” Leo said, looking with displeasure at a mound of filth bordered with a few rumpled pieces of paper.
“Never mind that,” Charles said, abruptly. “It’s just their toilet when they come out drinking. The path itself must have been here for a long time.”
“I hope the handle on that screw together shovel is long enough for you,” Leo said, stepping back, “because I volunteer for look out duty, again.”
“Eat me,” Charles said, already screwing together the pieces of the small shovel. He moved the mound aside as delicately as possible, resisting the temptation to pitch it at Leo’s feet. The digging was quite easy in the damp, soggy earth. When he got about four feet down, the familiar sound of metal scraping on shovel cut the air. Leo turned back to see Charles drop to his knees and flash his hand light into the hole.
“That better not have been a beer cap,” Leo said, trying to force himself to keep watch while Charles sifter through the damp earth in the dark.
“Doubt it,” Charles said, digging around. “The ground here is too packed in, like it has been here for a long time. Wait a second, wait a fucking second…”
“What? What?!” Leo was only half watching the dark trail.
“I think you owe your genius brother an apology,” Charles said, holding something up and flashing his light on it. In the brief light, something half smeared in dirt, gave an unmistakable shine of gold.