A Tiny Light to See By, Part 4

(Psychic horror weirdness)

I decided on an unorthodox approach to my return.  Presuming the same feeling I got the first time, I would not try to focus.  Instead, I would try looking at the forest instead of the trees.  There was no way I could focus any harder or better than I did the first time.

               Adam told me he would probably be in touch the next day or so, unless I had a major revelation or something.  Other than this, he let me wander the carnage again.

               Deliberately not focusing was much easier, even though the general nausea and headache were there.  It was a random approach, like sticking your hand into a river and hoping to catch a fish.  I started making notes on the intensity of the energy coming through, to see if it varied from spot to spot in the clearing.  The results were inconclusive, although it was clear the feeling dropped substantially after being only a few yards from the edge.  I started wandering the perimeter, mapping this feeling on a scale similar to a pain index.  I made a rough sketch in the pad to map it out.  It was during this process that I noticed something that escaped me earlier.  I noticed a squirrel in the distance, much further from the crime scene than I.  It was agitated and nervous.  It was not a pure psychic connection I made at that moment; however, something definitely clicked.  I went looking for Adam directly.

               He was busy, an officer advised me when I returned.

               “Then maybe you can help me,” I suggested, politely, despite my sense of urgency.  “Have you had the canine unit in here?”

               “No,” he said, sounding annoyed.  “I think there was a missing kid in Timberton, so they would be on that before we called them here.  Why?”  His question was laced with suspicion.  I ignored it.

               “Have you noticed any animals in the vicinity?” I asked.  “Birds, squirrels, chipmunks, or anything like that?”

               That earned me funny look.  “I haven’t, but this is a homicide investigation.  Unless you think this was done by animals or something.”

               One of the fantastic perks of being a psychic on a police crime scene is the attitude you get.  I had heard worse from better cops than this.  You learn to roll with it, like when you get pulled over; or it only gets worse.

               “This is just an observation, and I only noticed it a few minutes ago,” I said, being as deferential as possible, “but I have not seen an animal within fifty yards of this place since I got here.”

               “Listen…” he glanced at my badge, “…Norman, I know the chief called you in and I’m sure you’re trying to help.  But we are really busy.  I’m sure the chief will get in touch with you.”

               If I had been in a better state I would have known better, but I wasn’t, so I pressed.  “It does not strike you as odd that there are no animals anywhere near here?”

               “There are a lot of people around, I’m sure the animals are just not used to that.  Now please go back to whatever you are doing.  Thank you.”  And that was that.

               I returned to mapping the range of my reading.  It was starting to get dark when I finished.  Sergeant Kirby approached me as I returned to the scene.  “We are starting to wrap up, here,” he advised me, “so if you have anything left to do, now’s the time.”

               Adam was nowhere to be seen, and I was beginning to suspect he had left.  It did not matter.  In my second round of mapping, I confirmed that no animals were within fifty yards or so of the scene.  Steering clear of human activity only held so much water for me, even accounting for the rural setting.  That none of them had got closer across a whole day was strange.  I definitely needed to chat with Adam.

               “I was hoping to speak with Adam,” I said to Kirby, keeping my voice down, “but another officer said he was too busy.  Any change in that?”

               “I haven’t kept close tabs on him,” Kirby said, “but that sounds about right.”

               “I asked about the canine unit,” I said, carefully, “and the other officer said they were tied up in Timberton.  Do you think they will be called in?”

               Kirby glanced over in the direction of the officer I spoke to earlier.  “I doubt they will be in here today, anyway,” he said.  “And don’t worry about him.  He’s part of the provincial unit.  The collars are on tight but they do good work.  Tell you what, I’m out of here in thirty, I can drive you back.  It’s been a long day for all of us.”

A Tiny Light to See By, Part 3

(Even more psychic horror)

I wandered through the scene, following whatever paths the forensics unit approved.  It was gruesome and disturbing.  The urge to back out and run was strong; I needed several breaks to regroup and try again.  It was like a nightmare that would not end; sensory overload.

               When I sense things, which is almost a constant state, they come through as tiny fragments or splinters.  If I focus, I can usually expand the fragment enough to get a bigger picture.  Results are never consistent and often get into loops, where I sense the same thing again and again.  The main thing is to stay focused so every bit I sense can be expanded as much as possible, hopefully enough to piece together into something coherent and useful.  It was all about focus; otherwise, it was like going from a view through a pin hole to a view through a key hole.

               And yet, as I wandered through a scene of carnage, the fragments I sensed came through in a torrent.  No matter how hard I tried to focus the bits flew through me before I could sense them.  It was like being in a speeding car and looking straight down from the side window; you see the ground as a blur, with details being impossible to identify.  It was all evil, hostile, aggressive and negative stuff, but nothing concrete.  I kept jotting the big picture senses into my pad until I grew frustrated at the lack of detail.  Every ounce of effort I had was put to making out something.  This was an all new experience with no familiar landmarks to guide me.  I was lost and did not know where I was or where I wanted to go.

               It was tough to say how much time passed, but I finally took a longer break.  Someone had brought me a coffee, which was nearly cold.  I had a headache and nearly overwhelming nausea.  My pad was open but I could not remember what I planned to write, or if I had planned to write.  Everything was a blank.

               “Norman,” I heard Adam call from a short distance, “you all right?”

               “Been better,” I said after a delay, shaking the haze in my head for a moment.

               Adam approached down the trail, looking tired, possibly discouraged.  “Some of the guys are worried about you, they are…you know your nose is bleeding, right?”

               I had no idea, touching my hand to my face.  I was bleeding.  Another first.  “So I am,” was all I could say, instinctively searching for a tissue, finding it, and wiping.  No gusher, but more than a spot.

               Adam stopped in front of me, looking at me more carefully than before.  “You need some time away from this,” he said.  “Grab a meal and some proper coffee, you know.”

               “I suppose,” I agreed without much thought.  “I will need to come back.  There’s something here, something really…different.  It’s hard to explain.”

               “The stuff you do is always hard to explain, Norman.  I would be worried if you told me different.  It is past supper time and I need a break and a meal, too.  How about we grab some food and talk though it, unless you just need to decompress?  I know a great take out place.”

               Stubborn instinct wanted to refuse until I realised I had been at it for several hours.  It had felt like twenty minutes.

               It was an hour before we reached Betty’s Diner, an easy to miss spot attached to a farm supply store.  Adam ran in and brought back drinks and food, remembering my aversion to public or crowded places.  He didn’t ask what I wanted, bringing back a ginger ale with burger and fries; offering to swap it for his chicken burger if I disapproved.

               My nausea had largely passed and my empty stomach agreed with the food, out of necessity rather than quality.  We were half way through before he started talking.

               “You up to talking about this yet?” he asked.

               “I suppose,” I said, “but I think you will be disappointed.”

               “I’ll take what I can get,” he said.  “Besides, I think you are going back with me, anyway, right?”

               I nodded agreement.  It had not taken long after we left the site for my mind to clear, letting me make an appraisal what had hit me.  I was not sure what I could do differently but knew what I was getting into.  I briefly explained what had happened and how bad it felt.

               “You think it might settle down, lose enough intensity for you to sift through it?” he asked.

               “Can’t say.  I’ve never experienced anything like this before.”

               “Overwhelming negative evil crap, eh?” he wondered aloud.  “Are you talking freaky sociopath evil or maybe organized crime evil?  Anything?”

               I shook my head.  “It’s not like that, as best I can tell.  This is something deep and spiritual.  It’s scary.”

               “Like a cult thing?” he asked, reaching for answers now.

               “I don’t know, I really don’t,” I said, a little angry at myself for having nothing at all.  “I need to go back, maybe take a different approach.  I am flying blind, Adam.  Sorry.”

               “Don’t be sorry,” he said.  “The whole thing is a mess.  The forensics guys aren’t doing much better, either.  Just let me know when you are ready for details from my side.”

               “Just let me have one more look,” I said, feeling queasy at the though.  “Then we’ll see.”

A Tiny Light to See By, Part 2

(More psychic horror)

A handful of quick turns through farm country ended in a bumpy entrance to a wooded location.  The car only stopped when the entrance ended and the trees denied further access.  The cop put the car in park and turned to me.

               “I hope the ride was okay,” he said, sounding slightly apologetic, “and I hope your day isn’t too unpleasant.”

               “Thanks,” I said as I got out.  It was too late for that, anyway, but the mixed feelings of angst and foreboding were ascendant.

               A cop stepped from the trees and waved me as the car backed out.  He identified himself as Sergeant Kirby, checked my ID and issued me a badge.  All standard stuff.  He radioed my arrival and we waited a few moments for a response.  The usual feelings I had to fight going into this were being pushed aside by a stronger feeling; something supernatural, rather than psychological.  It was very wrong.  I nearly jumped when the radio chirped back.

               “I understand you do not want to know about the scene,” Kirby explained carefully, “but it’s important you understand this may be very shocking, even if you have seen crime scenes before.  Do you understand?”

               I nodded, more concerned about the bad feeling coming from beyond the trees.  This was going to be rough.

               A cow path through the trees led straight in where the vehicle entrance ended.  Bits of litter peppered the edge of the path, which was like any other path through any other trees.  What I was sensing ahead was only getting more intense as we advanced.  In the distance, I could just make out voices and radio chatter.

               “I need a second,” I told Kirby.  I was starting to sweat, and nausea was stepping up, too.  I bent over and threw up.  It did help much, though it was a personal comfort to know I wouldn’t get vomit on a crime scene.

               “You all right?” Kirby asked, sounding both sympathetic and judgemental at the same time.

               “I will be fine,” I said, wiping my mouth.  “Let’s go.”

*cats-lamp posts-broken glass*

               The trees opened on a clearing about forty by twenty feet, and it looked like something out of a slasher film.  Human bodies, mostly dismembered were strewn about.  The smell of human rot, which I had been exposed to a few times before, was fierce.  It looked and smelled like a slaughter house in the woods.  I could not figure how many bodies lay there; though it must have been many.

               The shock from the standard senses was minor compared to what was bombarding me from the psychic side.  A tidal wave of malicious, raging evil hit so hard I actively had to fight it.  It was like nothing I had ever experienced.  The unbridled volume of sensations coming from the place made it nearly impossible to focus, which was unusual because it was normally so important to focus.

               “Norman!” a familiar voice called out, cutting through the blare of sensation for a second.

               I looked up, squinting in the direction of the voice.  Adam Carter was walking toward me, his face turning from a grimace to a concerned frown.

               “You don’t look so hot, Norm,” he said. “I hope this isn’t too much for you.”

               “I just need a second, Adam,” I said, backing down the path a little, out of the smell and sight of that hell.  Adam stayed with me, looking quite concerned.

               “Listen, there no shame if you can’t hack this,” he began, before I raised a hand to cut him off.  I was just starting to catch my emotional breath and needed explain.

               “Yeah, it’s bad,” I said, wiping sweat from my forehead despite the cool air of early autumn, “but that’s not it.  Not really.”

               “You mean you’re getting something here?  Already?” he asked.  Adam knew all about my abilities.  I had worked with him years before, when he was just a rookie detective.  He was soft believer.

               I nodded.  “But it’s not the usual stuff,” I said, working through it myself.  “This is something else, something spiritually powerful.”

               He gave me a look of patient concern.  He reached out to put his hand on my shoulder, intended to reassure or comfort, then withdrew.  He remembered that I did not like to be touched.  “We are going to be here a while,” he said.  “Take your time and do what you have to.  We still have a ton of work.  I’m glad you’re here, Norm.”

               It was cold comfort from an old associate, but better than none, perhaps.  After several minutes of centering myself, I was able to focus enough to start thinking with reasonable clarity.  I took my notebook from my coat and began recording what I could.  I noted the date and time, wrote a few points on the location and then blanked.  This was new ground for me.  What I was feeling from the clearing did not break down into tidy little sights, sounds, smells or feelings.  It was like an amalgam of these so thoroughly intertwined they were now just one thing.  Rather than focus on the sensations from the scene, my instinct was to block it out.  I wrote the gist of this in the notebook and stood to face the music.

A Tiny Light to See By, Part 1

(Back at it with a newer story idea. This is a story about a modern day psychic. It is not quite a horror, by my standard, though it should be scary enough. Fair warning, the opening is slow, and I reserve the right to go back and add the scene before this. I do not want to give anything away, so details will be revealed as I go.)

The cop driving me to the site was young, certainly new to the job.  He was clean cut and polite, and exceptionally professional.  I wondered how long it would take him to adjust to a life on the force.

*Apples-orchards-happy people with smiling faces on an autumn day*

               “So how long have you been, uh, doing this sort of thing?” he asked me, carefully, like he knew how awkward it was.

               “If you mean assisting police investigations, then it has been several years, on and off,” I said.  I had hoped to travel in silence; it helped me to focus better.

               “How do you find the work?” he asked, less awkward, now that ice had broken.

               I tried not to focus on him.  It was easier to converse, that way.

               “The work,” I said, answering the question with practiced ease, “is about as bad as anything I can imagine.”

               “Sorry to hear that,” he said after a pause.  “I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.  Just curious because I’ve never met a hired psychic before.  In fact, I didn’t know we used psychics until this morning.”

               “It’s fine,” I said.  “I have a gift, so I do it to help people.  I suppose a similar sentiment motivates police officers.”

*Old century building-morning mist*

               “How does it work, if you don’t mind me asking?” he inquired.  If nothing else, this cop was direct.

               I had long since lost track of how many times the question had been posed and answered.  Almost every client, cop or not, would inevitably ask.  I never seemed to give the same reply, though I had a better reserve of metaphors built up.

               “It’s hard to explain,” I said, hoping to put it off.  I was at a loss to come with a deflection.

               “Try me,” he said, a bit of overconfidence leaking through his modest, professional shell.  I restrained a sigh.

*Lost mitten-old wallpaper pattern-smoke*

               “When you are working, and you walk into a room, you are trained to notice things,” I began, knowing we had another half hour or so.  “Some people are better than others, but you try to take in as much as you can and make quick, likely connections so you can draw probable conclusions.  Those who are especially good are almost like Sherlock Holmes’ with what they can figure out.  It that department, I am getting better but no sleuth.  I have a different skill set, though it has parallels.”

               “So you feel things you can’t see, you mean?” he asked.

               That made me smile.  “Not exactly.  The best analogy might be a dog’s sense of smell.  With all of the modern technology at our disposal, they are still used for sniffing out drugs and bombs, tracking people.  They can smell so precisely that it might as well be a sixth sense, really.”

               “True enough,” the cop agreed.  “The difference is that we smell things, too.  We just aren’t as sensitive to it as dogs.  There’s science behind that. Now, is this where you tell me that everyone is a little bit psychic?”

               I laughed.  It was nothing fake or forced.  His intention was not mean spirited or demeaning.  This young cop was bright and funny.

*a pleasant ride in the back seat of an older car-an overgrown fence in the country-a little girl with red hair*

               “No,” I explained, actually happy to for the first time in a while.  “Most people are not psychic.  One in twenty, at most; and most of those are only marginal.  People anywhere close to being like me are one in a million, maybe less.  But I didn’t answer your first question properly.  You asked how it works, so let me tell you.  Imagine there is a whole, separate layer of visible material in the world.  It almost never interacts physically with anything else, but it is connected.  Now imagine that most people in the world, nineteen out of twenty, really, can’t see this at all.  Most of the rest might only be able to see this layer occasionally, or weakly; like person who is nearly blind other than seeing shadows.”

               “And psychics can see it clear as day,” he incorrectly attempted to summarise.

               “That is where it gets murky,” I said.  “One of two things is true about this other layer.  It could be that it doesn’t follow the same rules as the solid world we live in; or it could be that even an extremely sensitive psychic can’t see it perfectly.  I don’t know which it is.”

               He grunted acknowledgement, cocking his head slightly as he processed my theories.

*slipping on ice-watching constellations*

               “So do you see things, then?  Visually, I mean?” he finally asked.

               “How I experience it is…random,” I said, surprised at myself for enjoying the conversation.  “I experience it through any of the five senses, and I also catch emotions, thoughts, memories.  In most cases it is fragmented, so I usually cannot put it all together in one moment.”

               “Interesting,” he said, still pondering.  “How do you put it all together, then?  For an investigation or crime scene, I mean?”

               “I used to wing it, go on my intuition.  Then, during a fairly long investigation, a cop I was working with suggested I borrow a law enforcement technique.  I started making notes, somewhat police style, about what I sensed.  Then, I could refer to it later and piece things together, after a fashion.  Not a perfect solution, but it often helps.”

               “That’s it?  A notepad?” he nearly blurted.

               “Oh, there are other things,” I chuckled.  “As much as possible, I want no information about the case beforehand.  It doesn’t affect my read on things, but might skew how I interpret it.”

               “That explains my gag order,” the cop said.

               “Yes, that would be about me,” I said.  “Are we nearly there?”

*a formal ceremony-classical music-cold coffee*

               “Just a few more minutes,” he said, checking his dashboard.  We had left the highway some time ago, suggesting a remote destination.  “Just one more question, if it’s all right with you?”

               “Sure,” I said, already tensing up for whatever was at the end of the ride.

               “This gift, is it on all the time, or can you shut it off?” he asked.  “I mean, a dog’s sense of smell never completely stops.  How about you?”

*a crowd of strangers-a turtle-a feeling of tension*

               “I’m a lot like the dog.”

               “So are you getting anything from, say, me?” he asked, a little uneasy for the first time.

               I smiled, mostly to myself.  This was where people got uncomfortable with me, where otherwise pleasant banter turned cold.  They either dismissed me as misguided, a charlatan; or they simply got uncomfortable with the idea I could read their minds or such.  I used to believe I would eventually meet people who would be more accepting.

               “Bits and pieces, but I’m trying to focus on other things,” was the best, truthful answer I could come up with.

               “Interesting,” was his only response.

*flat bike tire-a bee sting-a dream about a lake*

Coming Back, Part 1

(Okay. This is the biggest gap in posting yet; mostly an issue of writing too infrequently. Some of what I am working on is not for the blog, so I have not been entire idle. Nonetheless, I have some time to work on some blog-worthy items in the very near future. I expect this will keep me closer to the original posting goal. We’ll see.

I offer up a version of a story that I have started a few times, lost traction and started again. Mostly a matter of being dissatisfied with the nature of the characters and story direction. Rather than draw out my posting delay by another couple of weeks, I offer up the latest incarnation of the beginning. It likely falls under the umbrella of occult mystery horror. I am still undecided if I need to light the fuse on this start, too. Hope you enjoy.)

Gloria could not help but notice the eerie calm in Mona.  Her sister was no softy, far from it, yet it had been a tumultuous six months.  Mona was either in shock, denial or was, indeed, an emotional rock.  Gloria wondered if this was a good or bad thing.  For her own part, the strain was stretching her thin.

               Fredrik, Mona’s late husband, had died six months ago, victim of an unusual, hereditary blood disorder.  He was only fifty-two.  The condition had been in his family for several generations, and early deaths among the males of the family were common.  This was especially troubling considering he was otherwise in very good health.  Gloria and Fredrik’s only child, Lukas, had been suffering from the same family illness for a few years; and the effects had accelerated in the past year.  Now Lukas, in his mid-twenties, was on his deathbed.

               Not that it mattered in times of life and death, but Gloria now controlled the family business.  H-Stadt Corporation was a large, multinational holding company worth many billions of dollars.  A minor confidence crisis naturally arose when Fredrik passed and his son was known to be ill.  The company had numerous, highly qualified advisors that did not matter much to stockholders; all they could see was Gloria running the day-to-day operation with almost no experience, and stock prices were trending down.  The stress was real.

               Then, few days ago, a rainy day in early October, Mona called and asked for help; a rare thing.

               “It will only be for a few days,” Mona had said over the phone.  “I really just need you here.  I don’t want to get into details on the phone.”  Her voice sounded as though she had been drinking.

               “Of course,” Gloria had agreed, knowing it had to be related to Lukas.  He had been undergoing an experimental therapy that was not working out.  As she packed a quick bag and called her boss, Mona was sure she was going to say goodbye to Lukas, followed by his funeral.  Mona had insisted she take the private jet, not wanting to risk delays.

               When she arrived that afternoon, Gloria was not sure how to react.  It was not exactly what she expected.  Mona was, packed and waiting, joining her directly in the jet.

               “What is going on?” Gloria asked, noticing Mona’s dark glasses and the scent of alcohol on her breath.  “Where are we going?  Have they moved Lukas?”

               Mona stayed silent until the plane was secured and her security man was up front with the pilot.

               “Thank-you for coming,” Mona said, removing her glasses to reveal tear-reddened eyes.  “Everything is so confusing.  I just needed you with me for a while, to support me.  I hope that’s okay.”

               Gloria was certain they were going to pull the plug on Lukas, a difficult call for anyone; a back breaker for a mother.  It made sense that her sister needed her.

               “I would not have it any other way,” Gloria returned quickly.  “This must be brutal.  I am here for as long as you need me, okay?”

               “Thanks, Gloria,” Mona said, her voice catching on the emotion for just a moment.  “I don’t know if I could do this alone.”

               They sat in silence as the plane refueled.  Mona poured herself a drink and lit a cigarette; Gloria let it go.  She had a right to cope how she could. Normally, she smoked very little, and drank even less.  It would pass.

               “Where are we going?” Gloria asked, after they had both settled.  “Are they moving Lukas?”

               Mona took a moment to answer, as though she did not know what to say.  “Yes, they are moving him.  This will be the last time, one way or the other.”

               Poor Mona, Gloria thought, she has one last, experimental therapy for Lukas; a final, desperate attempt to keep him.

               “I’m with you,” she told Mona, giving her hand a gentle squeeze.

               “Thanks,” Mona said with a sniffle.  “We are going to Europe, to answer your question.”

               “Really?” Gloria wondered aloud.  She had read about various therapies, surgeries, medications and other treatments for Lukas’ condition, but Europe had not been a hot spot for research.  This was new.

               “The treatment is highly unorthodox, and completely experimental.  It is not a medically sanctioned facility,” Mona said, putting her glasses back on as the plane taxied to the runway.  “I waited until the ordinary, scientific approach was out of solutions first.”

               Gloria sat back, content to have her sister talk it out; or just rest with silent support.  Her husband and son passing within a year was a suffering beyond comprehension.

               The flight was mostly spent in silence.  Mona did not say much, commenting a little on the state of the family business and her workload.  Exhaustion made her sleep for several hours, while Gloria fidgeted and worried about the entire ordeal to come.

The Gillbury Swamp Gold, Part 7

(The adventure takes whole new turns)

“Apology granted,” Leo said in shock.  “Now keep digging.”

Charles kept digging though the muck for a several minutes, announcing in whispers when he found another piece.  It was tense work with time being short; Charles became more focused on digging and less on being quiet.  Cloud cover began to thin yielding more light, encouraging Charles to dig faster.

The sound of people approaching was obscured until the last moment, when Leo heard a mix of whispers and rustling reeds.  He instantly nudged Charles and whispered a sharp warning.  The incoming party had moved right up to them with little notice.

Leo turned off the safety of the shotgun and Charles drew the thirty cal.  The moonlight was out, making it impossible to hide.

Leo gave his brother a quick look, turning his eyes to the reeds behind them; suggesting they might run for it.  A quick head shake from Charles declined the option.

Red, Tanner and Ann-Marie Gibson approached.  They were all armed, ready for a fight.  Red and Tanner had shotguns, braced for shooting, and Ann-Marie pointed a rather large revolver.  Charles and Leo had been in tight spots before; just never this tight.  The Gibsons were trouble, widely known to be mean, tough people.  It would not take much of a spark to get the shooting started.

“You motherfuckers are trespassing,” Tanner said with a measure of calm, “so drop the guns and get the fuck out.”

“Just hunting.  We got lost,” Charles replied with a hoarse voice.  Leo realised what his brother had already figure out, which was that the Gibsons had not recognised them.  They had no beef with the Gibsons but, given their profession, it would be better to stay anonymous for as long as possible.

“You look pretty nervous for hunters,” Tanner said as his companions spread out as much as the trail allowed.

“And hunters don’t carry no pistols, neither,” Ann-Marie chimed in.

“You better start talking,” Tanner growled, “or you’re fucking dead.”

“Are you cops or something?” Leo said, disguising his own voice.  Accusing them of being police was the best this he could think of to throw them off.

“You guys must be pretty stupid,” Red said.  “You think we’re fucking cops?  What are you really doing here?”

Charles continued the play for time, half hoping a swatch of cloud would put them in the dark long enough to run for it through the weeds.  “Okay, fine,” he said, keeping up the disguised voice, “we aren’t hunters.  We’re working for Rob Sreyfus.  He wanted to start growing some plants near the swamp, so we are scouting it out.  We did get lost, though.”

The Gibsons were hesitating for real.  Sreyfus was known to them; a local who was well known for being connected.  More than that, Sreyfus was rumoured to have less than legal deals with the Gibson clan.  It made the situation wonderfully complicated for the Gibsons, who were not great thinkers.

“We don’t want any trouble,” Charles added.  “Rob will be pissed enough.”  More food for thought the Gibsons would struggle to digest.

“Sounds like bullshit to me,” Ann-Marie squawked in her trashy way.  “Let’s just kill these cock suckers.”

Her words hung in the air.  A long, quiet gap would need to be filled, the brothers knew, or the Gibsons might fall back to their instincts for violence.  They were interrupted before stalling again.

“Police! Everybody stay right where they are!” a voice blared through a loud horn, deafening them after so much quiet.  Several flashlights came on in the surrounding reeds.  They threw little light and the mist dulled the illumination further.  The sounds of people moving through the reeds with some haste were clear.

“Fuck, it’s the cops!” Tanner burst out as he turned and fled.  “Get the fuck out of here.”  The other two Gibsons turned tail and followed him.

Leo and Charles set their weapons down, as slowly as they could manage.  A group of men entered the trail from both sides, guns first.  “Halt!” the loud horn belted out after the running Gibsons.

“I’ve got these two covered,” came the unmistakable voice of Police Chief Dingman.  “Get after those three.”  The cops legged it after the Gibsons, with occasional calls from the loud horn.

“Dingman, are we glad to see you,” Charles said as he raised his hands.

“Yeah, Chief,” Leo added, “we thought we were finished.”

“What the fuck?” Dingman blurted, confused.  “What are you two morons doing out here?”

“On a case,” Charles said, not dropping his hands.  “It turns out it involves you, even though we didn’t know it until just a while ago.”

Chief Dingman’s glare was obvious, even through the mist and partial moonlight.  “Keep talking, then.”

“We were looking for stolen goods,” Leo picked up the story, knowing exactly how they needed to play things.  “Sentimental items were stolen from a client, and we had some leads the Gibsons might be involved.  We have reason to believe they were dumping the goods they couldn’t sell in the swamp.  So here we are.”

“Did you find what you were looking for, then?” Dingman sneered.

“No, but I think we found what you are looking for,” Charles said with a smile.

“What would you know about that?” Dingman asked suspiciously.

“If I can put my arms down, I can show you,” Charles said.

“Keep the hands up, thanks,” Dingman said, “I don’t trust you assholes enough for that.”

Charles sighed.  “Left inside coat pocket,” he said, feigning boredom.  “And even if it’s not what you are here for, you probably know about it.  And if you don’t, then you will be even more interested.”

Dingman did not trust or like the McCoy brothers, though he did not hate them.  Mostly, they were just trouble.  He pulled the bag of blackmail pictures from Charles’ coat, not lowering his gun.  It was obvious from his glance through the bag that he had seen them before.

“How do I know you weren’t in on this?” Dingman said, taking a pace or two backward, aiming more carefully.

“Come on, Chief,” Leo argued, “you know us better than that.  That’s not our style.”  Leo knew Dingman would realise this.

The conversation was interrupted by a distant exchange of gunfire.  They all stopped as a few straggling shots rang out, dulled by the distance and walls of reeds.

“What the hell is going on?” Dingman called though his radio.  “Report.”  There was a delay of nearly a minute before a response came.

“Clear for now, Chief,” a cop reported.

“What happened?”

There was a shorter pause.  “Suspects are dead, sir.  It was the Gibsons.  They ran for the house and we pursued.  When we broke the cover of the swamp they fired on us.  We returned fire.”  Charles and Leo both mulled over the turn of events.

“Is anyone else hit?” Dingman asked.

“Del caught a bit of bird shot in the arm, but he’s ok.  We are heading to the house, now, unless you need us.”

“I’m good here,” the Chief called back.  “I’ll call this in.  Proceed to the house.”

Dingman lowered his gun, and the brothers lowered their hands.  “I don’t know exactly why you were here, and I don’t care much; other than you probably had nothing to do with the blackmail.  No one knows about these pictures or the blackmail attempt.  I kept that to myself.  This little raid is officially a drug and weapons bust.  It will only be a big deal now because three suspects were shot, but that also helps my case.  Why did you volunteer these pictures to me so fast?”

Leo cleared his throat.  “We know you don’t like us, much, but what they were trying to pull off is bad shit.  Your kid should not have got involved.  I didn’t want that on record in some evidence bag, word would have got out.”

Dingman paused, looking unhappy.  “So here is the deal.  You were never here, and you never saw these pictures.  As I was attempting to cuff you, I slipped and you managed to grab my arm and strike my face.  I was stunned and you ran through the swamp and got away.  I’ll tell them you were headed to the house, so you have a free shot out.”  Dingman pulled out his cuffs and tossed them on the ground, then struck himself in the face with the side of his pistol; a small cut opened over his eye.  He smiled, “If you don’t like that deal, the same thing will happen, only I end up shooting you dead.  So what’s it going to be?”

“Deal number one works, Chief,” Charles said, quickly, “we were never here.”

They turned and ran.  Dingman’s pistol fired twice as they ran through the reeds for cover.  They kept running.

 

Leo and Charles reached the truck in a state of near exhaustion.  The sun was on the verge of rising, and they needed to get away without being seen.  It was all back road driving until they reached the main secondary route into Gillbury.  Charles fumbled through his coat, pulling out dirty pieces of gold.

“I can’t believe we got out of that,” Leo said, checking his speed.  There was no need to be pulled over.

“Yeah,” Charles said, holding the gold in one hand, testing the weight, “we got lucky.”

“So how much did we get, after all?”

“Eight pieces,” he said, “about six or seven pounds, maybe.”

“Enough to pay the rent, at least,” Leo said, scratching at his bug-bitten hand.

“I suppose,” Charles agreed, inspecting the gold further.  “They do have some markings on them, small but distinct; might add some value if there is any rarity.”

“Whatever,” Leo said, starting to relax.  “I’m just glad we got something out of it.  Now, it’s over with.”

“Over with?  What are you talking about?” Charles said, pocketing the gold with a smile.  “There’s gold in that there swamp!”

 

(That’s it for now.  I have a number of story ideas for the McCoy brothers.  Their tales are probably best suited for a series, anyway.  If I get something together for another round, I will revisit Gillbury.  As it is, I am behind on enough writing projects to leave the brothers McCoy driving home with a pocket full of gold.)

The Gillbury Swamp Gold, Part 6

(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.

The Gillbury Swamp Gold, Part 5

(The adventure continues in the swamp as Leo deals with losing his way.)

A shot of adrenaline cleared his head, and quickly.  He back tracked on his last few paces, and then a few more, before giving up.  The reeds, growing in thick clumps, left too many gaps to clearly make out the way.  The ground was too sloppy to make out footprints.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” Leo grumbled as he pawed through his pocket for his cell.  Charles is going to rub this one in, he thought as the screen lit up.

Lost the trail.  Will try to back track,’ he thumbed into the cell.  He waited, hoping Charles would respond quickly.  The message stalled, not going through.  A glance at the signal strength showed a depressing no signal indicator.

“This is bad,” Leo muttered to himself.  He tried holding the phone up high enough to get even a single bar, enough to get the message out, but to no effect.

There were only two choices: keep moving or stop and wait.  Waiting was usually the best approach.  His brother had the GPS and knew the geography.  It would only make sense he would come looking and be better equipped for the search.

Leo wanted to keep moving.  It was a gut feeling that drove him, despite the lack of good sense.  It occurred to him that the air felt heavy, almost suffocating.  His mind wandered to obscure ideas, maybe even facts, about swamp gases and what mild oxygen deprivation could do.  Leo shook his head and got moving.

It made sense that the trails would all be interconnected, Leo reasoned, so finding any trail would ultimately lead to the one he lost.  And odds were good that the original trail would be nearest.  The shotgun stayed in a ready carry, just the same.

The mist got thicker, somehow, making movement trickier and the hand light nearly useless.  Every step was taken with care not to slip or step into soggy ground.  It was like being blind.  Twenty minutes later, Leo checked his phone to find his text message still hanging, unsent.

“Well, in for a penny,” he muttered to himself as he pocketed the cell and started moving again.

Ten steps later he found himself on a trail.  It was hard to make it out, but the gap in the reeds was unmistakable and the ground too firm to be open swampland.  Score one for gut feelings, he thought, moving in the direction that felt right.  It was only a matter of time, and not losing the trail.

A rare break in the clouds flooded the scene with light and, instinctively, Leo took in the surroundings.  The mist limited the light, but for the first time in nearly an hour, he could make out the trail ahead of him for half a dozen yards or so.  The rest was open swamp.  The encouraging detail was a distant house, the Gibson place, off to his right, barely visible between the reeds.  This instantly gave him bearings.  The line from the house to his position was at a right angle to the trail, and the house was on the right side, making his direction north.  The clean geometry in his head, Leo knew, was not as clean in reality, but better than a moment earlier.  The gap in the clouds closed, and the light faded out.

North he continued, hoping to find a way west, presumably back to Charles.  The house had seemed close, though a distance was hard to factor out.  Charles had to be close, and had to be west of him.  The slow, blind man’s walk along the trail continued.

A branch to the left came up some thirty yards later, and Leo nearly laughed out loud.  The trail might have turned or twisted, making this a bad move, but it was more likely it would bring him west.  He moved along, carefully and slowly through the soup of mist and unsteady ground.  Some twenty yards later, he thought he heard something ahead.  It was muffled, the direction difficult to pin point, and sounded like something moving in the reeds.  There had not been puff of wind since they left the truck, so the sound could only be something or someone up ahead.

The easy math suggested it was Charles.  Bears and coyotes were not usually big swamp dwellers, and whatever made the sound was at least that big.

Step at a time, Leo thought.  He moved with more care to be silent, as much for stealth as to hear any more sounds ahead.  Staying on the trail was proving easier, with practice, and Leo was able to focus on staying low and quiet.  He heard the sound again, certain it was something moving in the reeds and directly ahead.  Each step was made with great care, and growing angst.

The clouds broke open, just for a moment, again, revealing a crouching figure ahead of him.  The details were still blurred, but it could only be Charles.  Leo took a short step forward, about to announce his return, when a hand clapped over his mouth and an arm about his waist dragging him back into the reeds.  The clouds closed and darkness smothered the swamp.

The Gillbury Swamp Gold, Part 4

(Mystery adventure.  The brothers continue their search in the face of growing dangers)

Two hours later, they found relatively solid ground again.  Half crawling and half swimming through the muck and slop of the swamp proved a test of endurance.  They felt as though every insect in the area had descended upon them with fury.  The smell was almost beyond suffering.  On several occasions, one or other needed help to avoid getting trapped in the soupy ground that threatened to drag them under; and they both knew a bog could make them disappear for good.  Inky darkness, broken up only by rare moments of moonlight through the clouds, made everything just a little bit worse.  Neither of them thought about gold.  It was all a matter for surviving to reach firmer ground.

They agreed to take a more prolonged halt.

Leo sipped at his canteen, trying to ignore the worse of the mosquitoes.  “I hope you are ready for some constructive criticism,” he said, “because I am going to give it to you.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Charles said, already getting his GPS out for another look.

Leo capped his canteen and tried his best to stretch his tired joints.  He had not stood up straight for nearly two hours.  “Let me be entirely reasonable, here,” he began.  “There is no way we can go back this way.  A little bit of body surfing through some shit is one thing, and two hours is another.  We are not athletes.  Point two: there is no way we can haul fifty pounds, let alone a hundred, of anything through here.  Not feasible.  You getting this?”

Charles was distracted with the GPS, not overly concerned with his brother’s gripes.  He knew, though, that keeping Leo’s head in the game mattered.

“Leo,” Charles said, after fully processing both the GPS information and Leo’s words, “this will all work.  This stretch of swamp was worse than I expected, point taken.  It is not the end of the world.  Yes, it is going to be tough, so we just have to work through it.”

“Work through it?” Leo interrupted.  “What’s to work through?  Did you even listen to me?  I’ve lost a quart of blood to mosquitoes and feel like it’s been two hours of wind sprints.  And if you didn’t notice, we both had some close calls back there.  You think adding fifty pounds of gold to that is something we just work through?”

“All we need to do is get some flotation devices,” Charles said, finally taking some liquids for himself.  “Something in foam would be safer than an inflatable, too many pointy branches out here.  It doesn’t matter.  This is only path we have to get us through without being seen, so it has to work.  Anyway, the good news is that we are almost exactly on course.  It’s only about twenty minutes to where we can start looking.”

Leo was slightly calmed.  The idea of bring floats to help them through the swamp had not occurred to him, and the proximity to their goal refocused him.

“Fair enough,” Leo said.  “I am taking another ten minutes of down time, though.”

“No problem,” Charles agreed.  “We have to pace ourselves.  There is more to do.”

“You know,” Leo said, swatting at the latest swarm of insects, “all I want to do is drain this fucking place and pave it.  The bugs are killing me.”

Once rested, they continued toward their goal.  The ground continued to firm up until it was just wet and muddy.  The reeds grew higher than their heads as they approached the search area.  Charles consulted the GPS several times before calling a quick halt.

“This is it,” Charles said, pulling two, odd lights from his pack.  They looked like square cell phone with straps on the back.  “The Gibson house is that way.  It’s just close enough that we would see it, except for the reeds, but we will be getting closer as we search.  That means they could see us, too.  So watch out for breaks in the cover, especially if the clouds thin out; there’s a lot of moonlight coming through.  These lights are red and dim, but enough to see with.  Strap it to your palm, like this.  Just use it in short bursts.  No need to attract attention if anyone happens to look this way.”

“And we are looking for open areas, maybe with recent growth, right?” Leo asked, testing his light.

“That, or anything unusual,” Charles said.  “Watch out for trails, especially as we get closer to the house.  The Gibsons like their skidoos and quads.  If we are lucky, they are using the same paths from years before.  Whatever the case, keep an eye out for anything.  Stay behind me.  I will focus on the right side of our path.  You watch left.  All good?”

“Got it.”

“We have a few hours to do this, so we don’t have to rush,” Charles said.  “It would be a costly miss.”

They set out slowly, moving along in as close to a zigzag pattern as they could.  Charles kept their GPS checks to a minimum, though even he admitted there was some guess work involved.  It was not long before they came across the first trail.  It was also that same time they noticed a thin mist was beginning to form, catching wisps of it with their dull, red lights.

“This is good,” Charles whispered excitedly, going straight to his GPS.  “This is really good.”

“What’s good?” Leo asked.  “The trail or the mist?”

“Both,” Charles said.  “The mist will mean added cover, especially if it thickens up.  This trail is pretty far from the house, and it doesn’t look like it is used much.  I need to mark this point before we split up.”

“Whoa now,” Leo exclaimed.  “When was splitting up ever part of the plan?  I don’t have a GPS to work with.  How the hell do I find my way around with you elsewhere?”

“Listen, chickenshit,” Charles chided, “if it makes you feel all safe and snug, you can hang onto the GPS.  I’m not suggesting you go trailblazing blindly into the Gibson’s back yard.  We each follow this path in a different direction and then return.”

“The trail could be awfully long.  What about that?”

Charles sighed, repacking the GPS.  “Simple.  You follow the path until it ends, starts splitting up too much to follow, or brings you out into the open.  If you check one of those boxes you can scamper back to your stronger, braver brother for safety.”

“You’re such an asshole, sometimes,” Leo said.

“Soon to be a sometimes wealthy asshole,” Charles shot back.  “Just stay on the trail.  When you head back, text me; that way I know you’re coming.  You keep an eye on your phone, too.”

There was not much to disagree with, to Leo’s chagrin; still, he had no love for the plan.  Splitting up had not even been mentioned when they were planning.  Charles set off in what he thought was a northward direction, leaving the other way to Leo.

Leo could feel his fatigue nibbling at his energy reserve.  It was more than just the physical trial of the swamp or late hour; it was that plus the long week of short, irregular sleep and nearly constant work.  The trail was, as Charles had suggested, not recently used.  The mist continued to rise, steadily thickening and swirling, moving higher and higher, until it was nearly at Leo’s chin.  He was not far before he noticed the insects had thinned out in the cool, damp air.

“When the hell did it get so misty in the dead of night?” he half whispered to himself.

The hand light was growing less effective, doing little more than turn the mist into a creepy, red blur.  The trail felt like it was growing closer, tighter; and Leo found it impossible to notice anything unusual.  His path twisted and turned more times than he could count.  The experience felt vaguely surreal and dreamlike, in a spooky way.  It was at that point he noticed two things: he had moved the shotgun to a ready carry; and he had lost the trail.

The Gillbury Swamp Gold, Part 3

(More mystery adventure fun.  Nothing weird.)

A day of preparation got Leo feeling motivated.  The Wiltman case, he decided, would stay warm for a day or two.  The chase for stolen gold was intoxicating, and a strange feeling for Leo.  He kept feeling it was a moth to the flame scenario; and unlike the moth, he felt he should know better.

Charles simply ploughed ahead.  He had been working on this as a side project for some time.  Leo’s sudden interest and involvement was unexpected but welcome.  It was all about execution, moving forward.

The evening drive to the Gillbury Swamp was an uncharacteristically talkative time for the brothers.  A drive was usually quiet time.

“Is the twelve gauge all you are packing?” Charles asked his brother after they hit the main road out of town.  The old Cooey, double barrel had been in the family for two generations, although it had fallen into disuse for many years.

“Yep,” Leo said, casually watching for traffic.  “It’s also a great prop for our cover.  How about you?  Just the pump?”

Charles laughed.  The pump action twelve gauge was a more recent addition; a remnant of Charles’ passionate days of duck hunting.  It, too, saw little use in recent years.  “Just the pump?” Charles chuckled, jovially.  “Let me tell you, brother, that is a fine quality fire arm.  No ‘just’ about it.  But seeing how you asked: no, it’s not all I’m packing.”

Leo’s brow furrowed slightly, thinking about what Charles might have brought along.  They owned very few guns, and rarely had need of them.  “You brought the thirty cal?  Really?”

“What else?” Charles said more seriously, opening his jacket to reveal the holstered pistol.  It was an old, slide action peashooter their grandfather had acquired during the war.  It was inaccurate past twenty feet, only had a six round magazine and was a bitch to clean.  Still, it was very compact and never jammed or misfired.  Their grandfather claimed it was lucky.  As youngsters, Charles and Leo referred to it as the James Bond gun.

“Was it necessary?” Leo asked.

“Our hands will need to be free,” Charles explained, “so if the Gibsons jump us, I need a quick draw.  Swinging a shotgun around is not terribly practical.  And I’m not sure we could win a fair fight with them.”

“Mmmm,” Leo pondered out loud.  “I really don’t think it will come to that.”

“Me either,” Charles muttered, “but better to have it and not need it.”

“Fair enough,” Leo agreed.

They drove along the back ways until they were technically out of Gillbury.  They eventually found the spot they wanted and pulled in.  It was an ancient property entrance, long fallen into decrepitude.  It led into a fair dense clump of trees and brush that was too far from town to be casually used for drinking parties or such.  The truck was invisible from the road.

Then they waited for the light to completely fail.  Darkness would cover their approach to the swamp.

They had a two kilometre hike along a hedgerow, followed by another two kilometre tromp through the swamp; and this was assuming they found what they were after, right away.  Physically, the brothers were in good shape, yet they were aware that moving through a swamp in the dark might push them.  Neither felt any lack of confidence as they waited for darkness to fall.

“How much do you think we can haul out in one go?” Leo asked, more for something to do than for pure interest.

“Depends mostly on what we find,” Charles said, casually.  He had almost every angle of the logistics covered, and it showed.  “If it is bulky stuff, like decorative pieces, then not much.  Tough to conceal that, even slightly.  If we get compact bits like jewellery or coins, then I think we can manage forty or fifty pounds each, at least.  If we hit the mother load and go back with minimal gear, then we could push that to a hundred each.”

“A hundred pounds of gold,” Leo mused out loud.  They had not discussed what would be done with the proceeds if they were successful.  Leo’s mind went over their options, knowing his brother may have covered that base, too.  “How would we move even a hundred pounds?”

“Tiny increments,” Charles said, right on it.  “I have a few options that are likely to keep a trickle of money flowing for, oh, the rest of our lives.”

“Really?” Leo asked, wondering what Charles had in mind.

“Oh, yeah,” Charles went on without much prompting, “there is no point, otherwise.  I suspect it will mean a big haircut on the raw value, but whatever.  I feel pretty comfortable we can nail down thirty to forty percent of market price.  Remember Bo?”

“Bo?  Cousin Bo?”

“Yes, our distant cousin Bo,” Charles laughed at that.  “He is a jewellery maker, did you know?  Brick and mortar set up in Toronto.  He’s not exactly poor, but he could be doing better.  If we fed him gold at thirty to forty percent of his cost, partly as incentive and partly as shut up money, he might just go for it.  Besides, distant or not, he is family.  If we keep supplying him, long term, he is even less likely to say anything.”

“Clever plan,” Leo agreed.  “Would it be enough?  I mean, how much could Bo take on and still not attract attention?”

“Not tons, but he would be our slow, steady mover.  Outside of that, we can pop into enough pawn shops with bits and pieces to add to that.  It’s not a lottery win, and there are some risks, but it would add up.  I was thinking we might never pay for gas, or meals, or office supplies again.  Stuff that we could cover up more easily.”

“Imagine paying bribes for free,” Leo pondered aloud.  “Shit, I hope this pans out.”

Charles smiled.  “Only one way to find out,” he said, taking a good look outside of the truck.  “And I think it is about dark enough to get going.”

They loaded up and disembarked.  Charles led the way, carefully crossing the dirt road and keeping low until they reached the hedge.  The slim remains of sunlight helped cast a shadow along the hedge, making them practically invisible for any distance.  Both of them were used to moving around in the dark, precarious footing and all, and moderated their pace to avoid blowing an ankle or twisting a knee.  The entire trip through the field passed without incident.  They saw no one.

The field ended at a rarely used service road that bordered one side for the conservation area.  It was a muddy track that was nearly grown in.  A simple, wire fence along one side of the road was in bad need of repair, looking like it was a regular transit point for off-road vehicles; and several spots were completely toppled over.  Charles found such a spot after a few minutes of searching and they pushed into the swamp.

They followed a set of vehicle tracks for a while until Charles decided they need to go more directly.  After ten minutes of steady going, Charles stopped them for a short break.

“So far, so good,” Leo commented in a low voice.

“No complaints,” Charles agreed.  “Like it was meant to be.”

“You holding up, then?”

Charles looked up from his pack, which he begun to look through.  “Funny,” he said.  “This stop is for navigation only.  Now that we have some ground cover, I want to check the GPS.  If that bush trail took us too far out of our way, it’s better we find out now.  There are no real landmarks out here.”

“How far before we hit the softer ground?” Leo asked.

Charles turned the GPS on, the night mode hardly shedding any light.  It started looking for a satellite.  “I’m guess only another couple hundred meters,” he said, impatient for the GPS to find them.  “It depends on how far we wandered on that track.  I wish this thing would shit or get off the pot.”

Leo glanced up.  The sky was cloudy, with patches of clear; nothing the GPS couldn’t handle with some patience.

“Here we go,” Charles announced, adjusting the screen.  “Not bad, we are a little too far north, but hardly off course.  This is good.”  He figured out the general direction they needed to go and they set off.

They had hunted in their younger years, but neither thought they were outdoorsmen.  Plodding through the swamp grew more difficult as they moved along.  Charles checked the GPS a few more times as they progressed.  It took them nearly thirty minutes before they reached the truly soggy ground near the middle of the swamp.  Charles paused on a clump of halfway stable ground.

“This is brutal,” Charles admitted, though with no sign of discouragement in his voice.  “All right, the next three or four hundred meters are boggy, watery crap.  The danger is getting sucked in, so stay close and flat.  Remember, too, that the cover is pretty thin here.  You ready?”

“Absolutely,” Leo sighed.  “Close and flat, eh?  I am making you do my laundry tomorrow.”

“Deal,” Charles said.  “Now just stick to the plan and don’t die.”

“So much love,” Leo laughed.

“Fuck that,” Charles laughed back.  “I just don’t want to explain to mom that I got you killed.”