It’s an unassuming, scuffed, brown leather valise, probably circa 1940. It had once been the property of Chicago used book shop owner, Arthur St. Clair, until a small-time thug by the name of Ritchie Evans filled it with the cash from the till along with seven or eight of the rarer books that had been behind the locked glass case. Ritchie had loaded the books after stabbing Arthur St. Clair in the chest and leaving him for dead. But Arthur hadn’t died immediately; he’d had time to cast the worst curse he knew from his reading of the forbidden books in his private collection.
Since then, there have been times when the valise lay quiet in a closet or basement for months, or even years, but when someone claimed it as their own, their death was imminent. Ritchie Evans had gone into cardiac arrest as he stood in line at a pawn shop twenty minutes after the St. Clair robbery. One of the ambulance attendants had shoved the case aside and it wound up resting under a counter until the pawn shop was later robbed and the unlucky robber chose it to transport his loot. Ten years later, the valise now contains a drug deal gone bad….
Ed Avery had been sitting in his car in the parking lot of an ice cream shop, licking his soft-serve cone into a manageable size before heading home from work. His passenger side door had been unlocked as the automatic locking mechanism hadn’t done its thing yet. A forty-something man in an expensive looking suit had thrown himself into the car and had put a large leather valise on the floor in front of him. He had then pointed a large caliber handgun at Ed.
“You’re bleeding,” said Ed.
“Are you a doctor?” asked his newly acquired passenger.
“No, I sell life insurance.”
“Great; that’s just great. Drive.”
Ed left the parking lot and headed west out of Milton City on Fairfax Avenue. When the strip malls lining the outskirts of the city ended, Fairfax Avenue became County Highway 10. It was just dusk and the sun was in the trees in the distance.
“Where do you want me to go?” Ed asked.
“Just drive on this stretch ’til I tell ya different. Put yer lights on, drive the speed limit, and obey all the other rules. If you do anything to attract a cop, I’ll kill ya.”
Ed drove and was soon out of town and into the country, his head filled with questions. It was ten miles to the next town, Copperville, and this guy needed some medical care badly. What was he thinking?
About half-way to Copperville, Ed glanced over and saw his passenger seemed to have gone to sleep. Should he put his brights on and try to get help by flashing them? A low moan gave him his answer; he decided to just drive.
“If he dies, the bag will then belong to you.”
“What? Did you say something?” Ed asked his passenger. Nada.
Two miles from town Ed was startled when the guy’s gun went off. Originally, the pistol had been pointed in the general vicinity of Ed’s head, but it had drifted gradually downward and the shot had gone into Ed’s right thigh. Ed yelled, the car swerved, but his passenger responded to neither of those things. He carefully pulled off onto the side of the road and put the car in park.
His passenger was dead.
“Damn, now I’m the one who needs a doctor,” said Ed when he saw how much he was bleeding. The bullet had nicked the femoral artery but Ed didn’t know that. He took off his tie and did the best he could in tying it tightly above the wound. Due to shock setting in, he had trouble deciding what to do next.
“The valise belongs to you now. Pick it up and look inside.”
“Who said that?” said Ed looking around quickly. This time, the voice sounded like it had come from inside his head.
Releasing his seat belt, he reached down between the dead man’s feet and lifted the valise onto his lap and opened it. On the top was a layer of small zip-lock bags filled with white powder. Mixed in with the dope were some packets of bank-wrapped hundred dollar bills.
“If the whole bag is full of this stuff I could either be rich…or in a lot of trouble.”
Ed looked down the road in front of him and spotted what appeared to be a farmer’s field road about fifty yards away. His plan was to drop his passenger off somewhere along that lane, hide the satchel for later, and drive into town to go to the emergency room. He’d put together some story on the way as to how he had been shot. Seemed like a lot of people were shooting themselves and others by accident these days; he’d think of something.
He got the car about thirty yards down the dirt lane when he passed out from loss of blood. The car slowly veered off the path and settled into the fence line where it continued to idle. In less than five minutes Ed Avery would be dead.
Jimmy Nelson was peddling his ten-speed as fast as he could in order to make it home before dark. He had been at a friend’s house in Copperville all day. Even though his concentration was on getting to Milton City, he spotted Ed Avery’s car up ahead on his left just as it pulled off the highway and started down the field road. He was still about a hundred yards away when he saw it come to an awkward stop up against the fence line.
“What’s up with that?” Jimmy thought to himself.
He pulled onto the field road and slowly followed the path Ed’s car had taken. Something wasn’t right here and he figured he’d better be careful. But he was fifteen and curious; if nothing else, he might have a good story to tell the fellas tomorrow.
“Maybe somebody needs help,” Jimmy called loudly. He was now twenty feet from the car and could hear the engine was still running. He had spoken aloud for two reasons; he wanted to give whoever was in the car a heads up so he wouldn’t frighten them and he also wanted to get them thinking there was maybe more than one of him.
He got off his bike, faced it toward the highway for a quick get-a-way, and walked up to the passenger side of the car. The window was half up and he could see two men in the front seats who appeared to be sleeping. Or dead. When Jimmy looked closer and saw there was blood on both of the men, he decided that dead was more likely than sleeping. They had just driven the car down the path to get here; they wouldn’t have then just fallen asleep. But maybe they were just passed out. He went around to the driver side and knocked softly on the partially open window. Nothing. He rapped a little harder. Still nothing.
“Hey, mister,” he yelled. Neither of the men gave any indication they had heard him. Jimmy reached in through the window and shut off the car. He left the keys in the ignition as he knew from watching forensic crime shows on TV you should leave the crime scene as you found it. And this definitely looked like a crime scene. Now he saw an open satchel-like case had fallen on the floor between the driver’s feet. It looked to be filled with money wrapped like he’d seen on TV and bags of white powder he’d also seen on TV. He knew that the bags were probably full of cocaine. No longer intent on leaving the crime scene as he found it, he slowly opened the driver’s door so he could take the valise out of the car. It was the worst decision he had made in his fifteen years of life.
“It’s okay; the valise belongs to you now. Take it.”
“Huh? Who said that?” said Jimmy. Chuckling nervously, he took a deep breath and shook his head as if to clear it.
He felt a little outside of himself, as if he was watching what was going on from a distance.
He took one of the bundles of hundred dollar bills from the valise and then closed it. There was a little wooded area about thirty yards from where the field road ended and he felt it would be a good spot to temporarily stash his new-found wealth. After hiding the valise under some dense undergrowth, he went back to the car and wiped clean any place he had touched. He’d also seen this on TV.
Back on his bike, Jimmy was once again racing the setting sun. Future plans on what to do with the money were running through his mind. Surprisingly, he was thinking that he would find a safe place to keep the money and then leave most of it for college. He really didn’t need a lot of money as a fifteen-year old, and his parents would be all over him if he started flashing hundred dollar bills around. As to the coke, he didn’t really have any plans for it other than maybe burying it. Everything he had heard about coke told him that it was bad news.
He’d stuffed the bundle of hundreds into his back pocket and two miles down the road, due to his fervor in making it home on time, it worked itself free. He felt it leave his pocket and heard it plop onto the highway.
“Damn!” he yelled as he hit the brakes and brought the bike around in a U-turn. As he stood staring dreamily on the highway with his bike in one hand and the pack of money in the other, he was hit dead-on by a pick-up truck driven by Todd Atkins. Todd was also in a hurry to get home.
And he was drunk as a skunk.
“Shit, oh shit, oh shit!” Todd yelled as he slammed on the brakes and pulled onto the shoulder. Jimmy had flown forty feet in the air and had landed in a heap in the center of the highway. He was dead from a massive head injury, blood had pooled on the highway around him, but he still clutched the money in his right hand. Todd saw the money and pried it from the dead boy’s hand. He knew he was in trouble even if Jimmy had been standing on his side of the road. Being as drunk as he was while driving pretty much trumped everything else. He drunkenly jogged back to his truck and took off for home. The valise had been Jimmy’s, but the money Todd had taken was tainted. Todd died of pancreatic cancer six months later.
The local police of both neighboring communities, as well as the county sheriff’s department, struggled for months to make the connection between Jimmy Nelson, the Milton City kid on the bike, Ed Avery, the Milton City life insurance agent, and Lester “Buzzy” Johnson, a drug runner who usually worked out of nearby Chicago. They finally had to give up and put the case in the cold files.
The valise lay under the bushes where Jimmy Nelson had left it for the rest of the summer. Previously, it would have been dormant until someone came along to claim it. But the three lives it had claimed in that very short period had not satisfied it. Rather, they had fed the fury of the curse that had been Arthur St. Clair’s and it now aggressively sought out its next victim. It called out to the highway, but except for a couple of extra-sensitive people, its message wasn’t strong enough. Those who did pick up on it, dismissed it as a random daydream, continued their drive, and were soon out of range.
Fall came on and most of the leaves started to drop from the greenery that had hidden the now once again dormant valise. It would wait. Soon it would be discovered by some hiker or maybe a farmer checking his fence line.
It would wait…
Roy Dorman is retired from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Benefits Office and has been a voracious reader for over 60 years. At the prompting of an old high school friend, himself a retired English teacher, Roy is now a voracious writer. He has had flash fiction and poetry published in One Sentence Poems, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, Mulberry Fork Review, Birds Piled Loosely, The Flash Fiction Press, Black Petals, Yellow Mama, Theme of Absence, Shotgun Honey, Near To The Knuckle, and a number of other online and print journals. He is currently the submissions editor at Yahara Prairie Lights.
Image by io. Lagana