Thieves at Cemetery

“Bring the basket, John.” Sylvia motioned toward the back of the pickup as she headed in the direction of the wrought iron gate.

John chuckled as he reached over the side of the truck and picked up not just one basket, but two. He glanced over his shoulder as Marie picked up the large blanket from the truck bed.

“A woman in charge,” he commented as he turned around with both baskets in his hands.

“You have no idea,” Marie mumbled. “At least she likes you.”

“Does she?” He wasn’t so sure.

They moved to follow the older woman through the gate and into the old cemetery. The gate creaked as John used his foot to pull it open for both of them to walk through. The aroma of honeysuckles accosted them as they stepped into the well-manicured place of rest.

“Yes. She hasn’t slammed the door in your face yet.”

They walked between the headstones. John could see Sylvia at the far side of the cemetery at a section behind the old church. “She wouldn’t do that, would she?”

Marie laughed softly. “Oh, yes. Wouldn’t hesitate.”

“She seems so nice, although she is a little bossy.”

“Again, you have no idea.”

When they caught up to Sylvia, she was crouched beside a stone in the last row and was pulling weeds from around it. Marie motioned for John to follow her past her mother to a small cleared space behind the graves. They sat down their items and returned to help Sylvia clean up around the stones.

Sylvia worked on the stone that Marie said was Sylvia’s father’s. Marie and John worked on Sylvia’s mother’s stone as well as those of her grandparents. As the overall cemetery was regularly maintained, their work only took half an hour to get the graves in an acceptable state for Sylvia. Then she pulled out what had been tucked away in a large bag she had been carrying rather protectively.

She placed at each grave a carefully crafted bunch of silk flowers. From previous visits, there had been a well dug hole to place them just at the base of the granite stones. When she was done, she stood back and placed her hands on her hips.

“Looks good. Now if only those thieving rats will keep their hands off of these.”

John looked over at Marie and whispered, “Thieving rats?”

In answer, Marie pointed to a set of stones set a few feet apart. “Cousins. They don’t like Mama too much.”

“I see.” John watched as Sylvia touched up the flower arrangements. “Why not?”

“Something to do with her father dying and an inheritance. Who knows. To be honest, the story changes when you ask about it. And I would advise you not asking.”

“Why?”

“Because you’ll find out why, and I’ll never see you again.” Marie winked.

“Not a chance,” John grinned. Never once had he regretted asking Marie out that day he met her at the cafe. They had been seeing each other nearly every day since. Two weeks ago, she had invited him over to meet her mother. Now she was with them nearly every other date. He didn’t really mind. Sylvia was fun to be around, but when one was planning on trying to sneak in a kiss….

When Marie had asked if he wanted to go on a picnic, he hadn’t expected it to be in a graveyard. Driving up to the church, he had assumed they would find a nice spot under one of the large oak trees that shaded most of the church grounds. He had assumed wrong. Coming into the parking lot, Sylvia had directed him to the far side next to a long stone fence. In the middle of it was a gate with tombstones behind it. He realized that was where the picnic was to be held.

Now they were spreading out the blanket next to a bunch of dead bodies. He had done a lot of things over his short nineteen years, but this was one he had never even contemplated. His mind quickly forgot about where they were sitting when Sylvia brought mouthwatering delights out of the basket.

There was fried chicken that was still slightly warm from being cooked that morning. Along with it were tubs of coleslaw, lima beans, and corn on the cob. John smacked his lips. Forget the dead; food was waiting for him.

They made small talk as they enjoyed the warm weather of early summer and the light breeze the afternoon sent their way. Sylvia asked John about his job at his father’s store, where he was an intern for the summer. Marie talked about her college prospects as she was just starting her senior year that fall, and colleges were looking for applicants.

When stomachs were stuffed, Sylvia pulled out coconut cake to end it all. John thought he had died and gone to heaven. It didn’t take long for the cake to be half gone.

Marie and Sylvia put the food away as John fell back on the ground with a mixed sigh and grunt. Sylvia laughed. “Gets them every time.”

As she put up the last of the items into the basket, she stood up and wiped her hands on her pants. “I’ll take these on back now. You two rest, especially you, John. I don’t think your body will be able to move much, anyway.”

Marie scooted over to John as she watched her mother walk to the graveyard gate. “Yep, she likes you. If she didn’t, she wouldn’t have left us alone.”

“Alone in a cemetery.” John pushed himself up on his elbow.

Marie giggled. “There is that.”

A loud shout interrupted their conversation. Both stood up and ran to the gate. As they pushed through it, they stopped short when they saw Sylvia waving her hands and yelling at two men who stood at the tailgate of the truck.

“You can get your hands off that. This is our truck.”

John didn’t bother to correct her that it was his truck. “What’s going on?” He moved to stand next to Sylvia.

The two men gave each other hooded glances. “Nothing,” the tall man with the red baseball cap answered. His companion, wearing a dirty jean jacket with a devil embroidered on it, nodded.

“Nothing?” Sylvia shouted. “I saw you trying to get into the truck. You were going to steal it.”

The men didn’t answer. They just stared back at the three as though daring any of them to make a move. Sylvia took up the challenge.

“Go on! Get out of here. You have no business being here.”

The men continued to stare as she began to wave at them. Sylvia moved forward telling them to leave. John moved with her, afraid of what the woman might be provoking. Images of an ironic headline stating Three Found Dead in Cemetery flashed before him.

The baseball cap guy nudged his friend. With a nod, the other guy turned to leave. No other words were spoken as the two began to walk down the long driveway of the church to the main road.

“Well!” Sylvia turned around. “The nerve of them, trying to steal our truck.”

Again, John bit his tongue. “At least they are gone now.”

They put the baskets into the back of the truck and went back to clean up the rest of the picnic. The three climbed back into the truck, with Sylvia still mumbling about the audacity of the men. Marie smiled as she looked at John next to her.

Hoping to calm her mother down, she turned on the radio. As she did, a voice blared through the sound system:

“Urgent message – Escaped convicts from the state penitentiary were last spotted down Hallsborough lane. One was wearing a red baseball cap. The other was wearing a jean jacket with something red sewn onto it. Please be careful. These men are armed and highly dangerous. If you see them, please do not approach them and call the police immediately.”

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