by Audrey R.L. Wyatt
Duncan slid his Vente Cappuccino into its corrugated sleeve as he walked out of the Starbucks near the Temple. He hated coming to Salt Lake City. It was a clean town with well-mannered people, but they were a bit too vacant for his liking. Like sheep. He wasn’t sure if it was his imagination, but they all seemed to be blond.
Fidgeting with his coffee, he didn’t notice the weathered peroxide doll with the staple gun until he nearly walked in to her; he caught himself – and his latte – just in time. She was stapling a notice to the phone pole, and he read it when she moved on.
HILLTOP ROAD – OFF NORTHCREST DRIVE
FOLLOW THE SIGNS
Box sale. What’s a box sale? He shook his head – only in Salt Lake. He couldn’t wait to get back to Boulder. At least normal was in the range of possibility there.
Duncan got behind the wheel of his rented PT Cruiser and headed west toward the company’s regional office, near the airport. At least he could conduct his audit and get out. He watched the blond people move along the streets thinking, not for the first time, how much Salt Lake City reminded him of Stepford.
His cell rang off the hook, and he handled each call quickly: his wife, why did the kids melt down every time he went out of town; his assistant, the numbers from New England didn’t add up; his boss, morning bust-your-chops call. Duncan wished he could just run away to Tahiti and paint naked island girls.
And now construction – well crap! Duncan angled the car to the left, trying to see around the traffic. Up ahead a cop was directing people toward a detour to the north. Shit! Shit! Shit! Duncan knew how to get three places in Salt Lake City: Holiday Inn, Starbucks and the office. A detour was going to get him lost, he just knew it. He quickly phoned the local office and informed them that he was stuck in construction.
He made the first turn, following the many bland cars ahead of him. Now he was the sheep, blindly following. He chuckled darkly at the irony. Within a few turns traffic lightened substantially and Duncan lost sight of the detour signs.
“I knew it, I knew it! I hate this stinking town!” Duncan shouted at the mute interior of the antique-white rental. He kept driving, wishing for a natural landmark that he could use to determine his direction. But he didn’t know which way the Great Salt Lake was, and he couldn’t think of anything else.
He tried to divine which way was west, making turn after turn, but he just seemed to wander further off-course. He had to admit it, he had no idea where he was. And then, right in front of him, he saw it:
The arrow pointed left. What the hell. He was already lost and late for work. Maybe they could give him directions. And maybe he’d buy his wife some kind of box.
He followed the signs, which appeared at every intersection - unlike the detour signs. Within five minutes he found Hilltop Road.
A table sat on the apron of a driveway about halfway down on the right. The same faded bleach-blond stood behind it, cigarette clenched between her lips, long ash dangling. She squinted against the morning sun.
Duncan parked and walked over, taking note of her as he approached. Her clothes were too tight, too young and too worn for Salt Lake. She reminded him of an old, faded paper flower. No wonder she lived up here in the hills, they probably didn’t allow “cheap” in town.
“Box sale. Price is marked.” She muttered, red lips firmly pressed around the cigarette.
Duncan had taken “box sale” to mean that there were decorative or functional containers available for purchase. Boy, had he been mistaken. These boxes were full of stuff, all kinds, but it mostly looked like junk. He rooted cursorily through the array of cartons on the table. They each contained different items, though there was no logic to the collections. One had a jar of nails, some tubing and an AM car radio, another had drill bits, a half-full can of moldy pipe tobacco and steel wool pads.
At the back left corner of the table was a box with papers sticking out of it. It was wooden, with a lid leaning against it and something reddish-brown spattered across one side. Intrigued, Duncan picked it up. He noticed the woman eyeing him intently but tried to ignore her.
Duncan couldn’t believe what he found as he rooted through the box. There were a bunch of faded, unused stamps stuffed into an envelope; an odd, compartmentalized tube filled with silver dimes and quarters, European coins and old, tarnished jewelry. In the top compartment, wrapped in a bit of peach-colored napkin, was a gold filling. Ugh! Duncan quickly put it back.
There were commemorative coins for various events, silver certificates and other odds and ends. This stuff actually had value. At the bottom of the box his hand bumped something hard. He pulled out an old, rusty tobacco tin with an ill-fitted lid. Duncan worked for several minutes to get it open.
He glanced around as he wrestled with the dented cap and saw the blond fussing with boxes at the other end of the table. She seemed to periodically scan the area. He turned his back to her and finally pried open the top.
The papers inside seemed to be disintegrating but were actually just tearing at the folds. The type was legible but the handwritten parts were quite faded. Duncan smoothed the three sheets on the table, then held them close to read them.
At the top of each page was the caption, “Notice of Location!” Duncan scanned the first sheet. Holy crap, these are mining claims. Could they actually be valid? Visions of gold and silver veins danced before Duncan’s eyes. He stuffed the pages back in their tin. Quickly returning the contents to the box, Duncan searched for the price.
“Eight bucks,” the smoking saleswoman croaked.
“Would you take five?” Duncan responded, salivating over the contents.
“Sold.” Duncan pulled out his wallet and handed the woman two bills. “Say, do you know how to get to the airport?”
“I street to South Temple. You’ll find it from there.” Her attention was immediately stolen by a rusty, orange pick-up flying up the street.
Duncan grabbed his box and got in the car as the pick-up screeched to a halt in front of the table of boxes. A beefy man jumped out and started waiving and yelling. “You nasty witch! Haven’t I told you to leave my stuff alone?”
“This garbage? It’s outta here. I’ve had enough’a your crap!”
“You can’t do that! It’s mine, you hear me Madge, mine!”
Duncan threw the car into gear and closed his window.
“Hey, you!” the guy yelled as Duncan turned around in a driveway across the street.
But Duncan had no intention of stopping. He watched in the rearview as the brute gave chase, waving his fist in the air. He was shouting something unintelligible.
Duncan was glad to be away from those psychos. He patted the wooden box, thrilled with his find. He had no trouble finding his way to the office. The route apparently missed the construction.
Duncan hung the “do not disturb” sign on the hotel room door and secured every available lock. Satisfied that he couldn’t be interrupted, he removed the box from the hotel laundry bag he’d wrapped it in and set it on the worktable next to his laptop.
He wrestled the mining claims from their tin and smoothed them out. He then located the envelope of stamps and the old silver coins and certificates. The rest could wait until later. He’d already decided that these items had the most potential. He could taste the money rolling in. Tahiti had gone from being a fantasy to a possibility.
Duncan held his bags tightly as he ran through the parking lot toward his rental. He just had to leave a copy of the audit with the local office and jump on a bird to get out of this town. He couldn’t get over his good fortune. The only question was how best to liquidate his newfound assets.
He didn’t notice the large man until he came around the front of the car. The man’s arm went up. Duncan’s eyes registered the long pipe ...
Bright and early Thursday morning, Madge, cigarette clamped between her lips, started carrying the boxes to the table she set up at the bottom of the driveway. She couldn’t stand the damn mess in the garage from all Norbert’s junk. It was time for it to go, once and for all. He’d caught her last time but she figured she had a good six hours before he was back from Salida.
Back and forth she went, carrying a couple of boxes at a time, grumbling with each load. Bits of ash scattered across the table and its contents. The shelves were nearly empty but she was determined to get every last thing. She reached back in the corner, hoping she didn’t find any nasty spiders, when her hand was scratched by a rough piece of wood. She reached for the offender – it was another box. This one was wooden, with a lid and reddish-brown spatter on the side. She held it up, squinting to see it clearly.
“That’s funny,” she told the deserted garage. “I could’a sworn I got rid’a this one before.”
Audrey Wyatt, right-brained to a fault, has worked in various arts – notably acting, teaching and creating children’s theater curricula. Now a fiction writer, she bases her novels, short stories and even a television sitcom on her experiences and culture. Her stories often feature strong-willed, quirky women. One of Audrey’s essays appears in the anthology, Letters To My Mother. Her novel, Poles Apart, placed as a semi-finalist in the international Summer Literary Seminars annual fiction contest. Always one to foster aspiring artists, Audrey founded Bay State Writers and teaches Creative Writing in continuing education. Contact Audrey R.L. Wyatt