“Looking at those tombstones gives me the shakes,” Bobby Dunn said to his live-in companion, Marcus Clinton.
Several rose-marble slabs leaned ominously against the front of the white, two-story house shared by the men whose livelihoods depended on an unpredictable buy-sell-trade business.
“Why are you digging up the lawn?” Bobby asked in a peevish voice, watching his two-hundred-pound partner trench into the earth at ten o’clock on a steamy summer evening.
“Be still, Bobby,” Marcus grunted, a cigarette clenched between his teeth. He tied a red and white bandana around his sweaty head. “The stones’ll be gone long before any townsfolk raise bleary eyes through windows in the morning. Howie’s due to pick them up on his way home from work. Kelly Monument in Trentville bought the lot from me at the open-air market this afternoon.”
“Why dig up the yard?” Bobby persisted, flicking an insect off his arm. “Is it the septic tank? I haven’t noticed an odor.”
Marcus eyed him steadily. A frown deepened on his brow. “You’re getting on my nerves. Be off with you!” He said through clenched teeth. “I’ll fill you in later.”
Bobby shrugged and limped toward the house. Since he admitted to Marcus that morning he tested HIV positive, he sensed the rage in his companion of twenty years. The least Marcus could do was to show a little compassion. The side affair he had with the young assemblyman meant nothing to him. It was only a dalliance. How was he to know the flirt had AIDS?”
“I’ll go inside and make iced coffee. It’s too buggy out here.” Hearing the crackling of a bug light attached to an oak tree nearby, he thought how barbaric it was to treat any creature in such a vile manner. But he knew he could never convince Marcus to act humanely with insects or in other respects.
A few seconds after ten, a red pick-up truck made its way along the driveway circling to the back of the old homestead. Howie Lancaster, a dwarfish, muscular man in his twenties, jumped down from the truck. Marcus motioned him over to the tombstones leaning against the shadowy, moonlit house.
With little conversation between them, the two men hefted the monuments onto the back of the truck and secured them. When the back-breaking work was done, Howie, breathing heavily, said, “I could go for a cold drink while we settle up. Say, where’s Bobby?” He wondered why Bobby Dunn did not come out of the house to invite him in for a home-baked treat.
Marcus’ eyes glimmered an unusual pale yellow in the flickering light of the camp lantern. A primal instinct set off a tightening in Howie’s throat. He swallowed hard as he blabbered, “Hey, I only counted six tombstones. My invoice shows seven. How do you account for that?”
Marcus’ eyes burned like hot coals. The massive fingers on his hands opened and closed repeatedly. Howie felt a chill as his eyes riveted on a newly installed fence partially concealing one slumbering gravestone. His neck got all bristly as he turned and ran to his truck. He steered it down the road at a reckless speed.
After going a quarter-of-a-mile, he pulled the truck off the road and pressed his forehead against the steering wheel. No-one would convince him otherwise. He had just encountered the devil.
© 2016, Patricia Crandall. All rights reserved.
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