A person clad in dark clothing ran the path from the dock and toward the wind-warped pine the locals called the One-Finger Salute. Belated caution made Priscilla duck into a nearby pile of boulders. In the moonless night, she couldn't see who it was or if the person was male or female. She only knew whoever it was bent to place a package at the base of the tree and then ran back to the dock. The motor started again and the boat raced away.
She saw no one lurking in the darkness. Fueled by curiosity, recklessness and wine, she scurried to the tree and groped for the package. She found it in a shallow hole—an oblong box wrapped in paper. For its size, it was heavy; she knelt in the dirt and lifted it free. Hugging it to her chest, she got to her feet and ran toward her cottage. She arrived out of breath and out-of-proportion excited, as if she had been given a late birthday present. She scurried inside, locked the door and hustled through the cottage, closing the blinds as she went. She climbed the stairs to the bedroom, turned on a lamp and placed the box on the bedside table.
She stared at the dirt-smudged package and wondered what she had gotten herself into. Whatever this was, someone had smuggled it onshore in the middle of the night. Logically, someone was now scheduled to pick it up. So it was valuable, and she was an idiot for sticking her neck Out to grab it.
But her hopes of a rich husband had been crushed, she'd been working hard and gotten nothing for her labors but a reprimand, so why not open this in the hope of finding treasure inside?
Tearing off the paper, she lifted the lid. Inside, she discovered Bubble Wrapped packages of various sizes, and when she unpacked the largest and heaviest, she discovered the red stone figure of a man squatting on his haunches, an immense penis protruding between his legs. She was so startled she dropped the grotesque thing. It landed on the mattress, and she stood breathing hard.
What was that?
She opened another, smaller package and found a similar stone carving of a woman's naked pregnant body. Then a series of broad-cheeked faces with glaring eyes and ferocious scowls. Finally, a flat stone carved with weird symbols. She lined everything up and looked at the hideous things.
Someone was sneaking around for this? Her knees were wet and dirty for this? For a bunch of ugly rocks?
She went into the bathroom and brushed her teeth. She intended to go to bed, damn it, go to sleep, and... Okay. Those statues looked old. They were worth something to somebody. One quick online search and she found photos of those very statues in an article about Central American tomb looting. In Guatemala, armed thieves had held archaeologists at gunpoint and stolen statuary worth millions on the private collectors market.
"Holy shit," she whispered. She stared at the ugly statues lined up on her nightstand.
She double-checked to make sure the blinds were tightly closed.
One of the archaeologists claimed the symbols on the flat piece of stone were a tomb curse that had been chiseled out, and whoever possessed that would be doubly cursed.
Yeah, sure. Cursed with money.
She should turn this find over to the authorities. Maybe there was a reward. Or maybe she'd be in trouble for...for stealing the statues.
Millions. That meant someone around here was going to be plenty mad not to find the box by the tree. Better return these at once.
Except...she'd never before been this close to anything worth millions. She deserved something for knowing about the smuggling and keeping her mouth shut. This was her opportunity. If she had the guts.
Getting the resort stationery and the resort pen, she wrote, "Leave $2,000—"
She threw that note away and started again. "Leave $5,000 in a—"
She threw that note away. She took a photo of the stolen tomb treasures. She printed the picture, put it in a plastic bag and wrote, "I know what they're worth. Leave $25,000 in cash here in an envelope on Sept. 12. When I have the money, I'll return the box to Ocean Notch Park beside the high schoolers' painted rock." She'd make the drop-off in broad daylight, on her way out of town, when there were people around.
She'd be safe.