It was a wet and dreary night. The forecast was calling for more rain. I couldn’t believe my luck as I walked toward the beach with the wind on my back and the waves crashing in the distance.
I was pleased with myself. It had taken years of preparation to get to this point. I was ready. My home-brew composite of every day materials from the kitchen would start to dissolve in just 120 minutes if conditions were right. The best part of all was that the substances were untraceable after exposure to the elements – simple crystalline solids covered in a paste made from rotten bananas and tropical fruit.
At the corner I stopped for a brief moment under the street light. From the shadows his voice was a low murmur, just like the torrent of water running down the gutter toward the sea.
“Do you have it?”
“When I can I get it?”
“Tomorrow night at nine. Meet me under the pier. Bring twenty-four cents.”
Like a ghost he was gone, lurking into the darkness, visible only for seconds as he disappeared into the night.
I followed the rushing water down to the beach and walked toward the outfall. Waves were breaking on the jetty with towering majesty. The shallow pool was alive with motion. A school of tarpon shimmered in the water, reinforcing the fact I had picked the right place for a perfect ending.
Roger had wanted “it” for a long time now. He had worshiped it. Even coveted it. Now he was about to get it. I remember the night. We were sixteen years old and she was ancient. We broke in through the kitchen window and searched the study with our pen lights. I looked in the books. Roger pried open the desk drawers. She slept upstairs.
Eventually, I found it. I put the waxy envelope in my pocket and we silently crept toward the back door. No one expected she would be there, her glassy, vacant eyes staring down upon us. The smell of death hung heavy around her. She was racked with cancer, riddled with disease. She was beyond hope and I loved her.
Terrified, we ran together toward the door. Roger got there first and, in his haste, pushed her down. She fell hard against the heater. She cracked her head. She bled. They said she died that night. All for twenty-four cents.
I never saw Roger again after that night. He was gone the next morning. In fact, it was fifty years before our paths crossed again. The object of Roger’s desire was a simple stamp. A stamp worth twenty-four cents. It was the last stamp he would ever buy.
At 9:00 o’clock I stood under the pier. It was a calm, dark night but I could hear thunder in the distance. Rain would soon follow. I heard Roger walking down the beach, shuffling like the old man that he was. We nodded to each other, as if this were to be our final meeting.
“Do you have it?”
“Where is it?”
We walked down the beach to the outfall and I climbed inside. Crouching, I told Roger to follow me and we trudged along, with our penlights, into the darkness. After some distance we came to a large, square room. A candle burned dimly in one corner. There was water rushing across the floor and rats scurried about as we made our way toward the light. The storm was upon us. It smelled like bananas.
Behind a rusty metal cover covered in concrete was a small metal box. An ancient box. Her box. In it was a small waxy envelope containing a single stamp worth twenty-four cents. Roger was ecstatic. His life’s work was now complete. I was ecstatic, too, for after sixty years it was soon to be over.
I asked Roger for the money.
“What money?” he said, looking at me with vacant eyes. Tired eyes. Eyes that had seen their share of life, and it wasn’t much of a life at that.
“Twenty-four cents,” I said.
Roger emptied his pockets. He had nickels, dimes, and quarters. He had dollar bills. He even had three pennies. He couldn’t pay the bill. He didn’t really matter. The sale was complete.
As I crouched over her the night she had died she asked me to avenge her death. After all, it wasn’t the fall that had killed her. It had been Roger. He had been subtly poisoning her for months. She had kicked him out of the house when she found out, knowing that her time was running out. He had stolen just about everything she had those last few years; this stamp was to be the last addition to his collection.
I slowly backed out of the room and quietly pulled down the home-brew composite door that I had hidden against the ceiling. It was flimsy, but would do the trick. It only took second for the pressure to build up against the back side of the door. I could hear frantic cries yelling for help.
I headed to the beach. It was raining with a vengeance and it was darker than ever before. It was only a matter of time before the water would completely fill the vault and dissolve the home-brew composite door. In 120 minutes or less the contents, only one which would be identifiable, would soon make their way to the sea.
Aunt Sally would smile tonight.