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Outside of Los Angeles, 1968
Jack Bardlow tried to approach the hole and the man digging, as quietly as possible, but it wasn’t really necessary. Clearly, the man was preoccupied with his work and quite unhappy about it.
“Fucking dirty dog, hole-making, son of a bitch!” the deep voice shouted. A particularly high-arching shovel full of dirt followed.
Jack pulled his service-issued .45 from its leather holster and racked the slide, chambering a round.
The shoveling stopped with the sound of metal burying itself in dirt.
He didn’t answer, just stood perfectly still. He crossed his hands, his right one holding the pistol in front of his left one and set his feet shoulder-width apart.
“Who the fuck is there?”
Silence. Birds chirped in the trees, seemingly unaware of the drama unfolding below.
“Don’t make me get out of this goddam hole!”
Jack allowed himself to smile, but only slightly. This encounter could go only one of two ways.
“Imagining sounds. Great job, Gary. Just get this fucking thing done!”
Gary went back to work, and Jack stepped around the hole. Next to it was a long object, wrapped in black plastic and green twine. Knots were expertly tied, the thin rope tight around the curves of what certainly appeared to be a well-wrapped human body.
The smell was weak, but unmistakable. Sticky, sweet, and rotting like a bunch of bananas left on the counter much too long, then tossed in a compost bin with coffee grounds and rotting eggshells.
That mixture was good for gardening, the human body was not, contrary to popular belief. Many of the gasses given off by a decaying body were toxic to most plants, only useful for a select few.
The green of cemeteries was due more to golf-course type maintenance to offer comfort to families. It hid the real truth of what lay beneath the earth: boxes, many of them elegant and well-sealed, that nonetheless held decaying relatives both old and young.
Jack had seen mostly young but some old die in Vietnam, and if Uncle Sam had a say, he would be headed back that way again soon to not only see more death, but to bring it to a people who often didn’t understand what they were fighting for.
He fingered the Ace of Spades in his pocket, and then tossed it in the hole. The spinning card struck Gary on the temple, and then fell into the pile in front of him, face down.
‘What the—?” he spun, holding the shovel like a rifle at the ready.
“Hey there,” Jack finally spoke. He had a smooth voice, one that people often said should belong to a radio announcer or a used car salesman. Jack had no idea what he would do after the Army, if he survived the goddam war, but both of those were definitely on the short list.
“Pick up the card, Gary.”
Gary’s lower lip trembled as he turned to grab the fallen card. Jack saw his hands were shaking, too. Good.
Gary turned it over, looking at the face. He dropped it in the dirt.
“No talking right now. Where is it, Gary?”
“You know goddam well what. Where’s the other card?”
Jack raised his pistol and fired. The handle of the shovel splintered just inches from Gary’s hand. He could see where a splinter scraped the man’s forearm, and the shovel fell in a graceless arc to the floor of the makeshift grave.
“Gary, do you think they would have sent me if they were fucking around? I’ll ask where the card is one more time, and if you don’t tell me, I’ll have to find it without your help. But I’ll be very disappointed by that.”
“Think about where you’re standing before you say another word.”
“Please, Jack, just listen. I have a proposition for you, but I’ll give you the card either way. Swear to God. Just hear me out.”
“Talk.” Jack had no intention of entering into any kind of agreement with this scumbag, not when so much was at stake with his employer. He could either come home from ‘Nam with a fortune and start his own business, spending the money over years and leaving his wife in good shape when he passed, or he could come home in a box, and likely they would get nothing at all but a folded flag.
Besides, he knew what this card meant. The ten of spades. This one held one of many maps, this one of an area just south of the DMZ, one that revealed the location of a stash worth millions.
He’d been promised a commission, and Solitaire never broke a promise.
Part 2 is now up on the blog! Read it today!
The rest of this story and the series is now available on Amazon! I hope you are enjoying reading this series as much as I am. You can the rest of this series on Amazon here! Stay tuned for another FREE story right here next week. I hope to see you then!