Clay pointed at a squarish, rusty thing sticking out of the sand near the bottom of the excavation. “Do you know what that is, Willow?”
“A box?” At noon on the first day of summer, the sun was hot and directly overhead, but I shivered. How long had this mysterious box been hiding underneath my backyard?
Clay grinned down at me. I loved having to look up into a man’s face. I was nearly six feet tall, and Clay was taller. He asked, “Shall we find out?”
“Sure.” Another of the many things I liked about Clay was the way he was willing to include me in his schemes. And to play along with mine.
He threw a shovel into the hole and offered me a hand. “Will you be okay in those sandals? There could be nails and glass down there.”
His grip was firm, his hand warm and callused. Fortunately, I’d worn jeans, not a skirt, to work at my machine embroidery boutique, In Stitches, that morning. We skied, scooted, and leaped down the slope into the excavation where Blueberry Cottage used to be.
The cottage was now on a sturdy new foundation higher in my backyard, finally safe from floods. Clay had been burying the old foundation stones when his front-end loader had scraped against metal, and he’d fetched me from my apartment underneath In Stitches. I’d been about to fix lunch.
He picked up the shovel and eased it into the earth. The muscles in his bare arms bulged. Could he have found the long-lost Elderberry Bay Lodge treasure?
Yesterday, one of his employees had unearthed skeletal remains on the grounds of the newly renovated lodge. This morning, the women in my machine embroidery workshop had discussed almost nothing besides that skeleton. They said it had been found with a silver belt buckle engraved with Zeds. Everyone guessed that the remains were Snoozy Gallagher’s.
Snoozy had owned the Elderberry Bay Lodge. About thirty years ago, when he’d been in his sixties, Snoozy had disappeared along with the contents of the lodge’s safe—a substantial amount of cash along with several hundred thousand dollars’ worth of jewelry belonging to the lodge’s patrons.
The heist had occurred during the afternoon before the final banquet at a jewelers’ convention, and each of those jewelers’ wives had arrived at the lodge prepared to outshine all the others.
It must have been an interesting evening.
For years afterward, everyone assumed that Snoozy had fled the area, but yesterday’s dreary discovery showed that he’d been buried on his own property, instead. Could his treasure have remained in Elderberry Bay, also, underneath the cottage that I’d bought, along with my shop and apartment, only a couple of miles from Snoozy’s lodge and final resting place?
Clay gently brushed sand off the box. It was almost big enough to hold one of the sewing and embroidery machines I sold in my shop. He stood back and leaned on the shovel. “I found the chest on your property,” he said. “It’s yours. You open it.”
The sun beat into the sandy pit. I knelt beside the box. Above us, Clay’s front-end loader stood silent, its bucket high and filled with soil. Without the gallant hero by my side, I might not have tried to budge the warped lid off the chest—I was afraid of finding someone’s bones.
I was even more afraid when I saw the wadded‑up black plastic garbage bag inside the box. Swallowing hard as if gulping could give me courage, I touched the twist tie. It broke and fell away.
Barely breathing, I eased the top edges of the bag apart. I smelled the mildew before my eyes adjusted to the gloom inside the bag, and then I couldn’t believe what I saw.
The bag seemed to be full of small leather and velvet pouches, discolored and thinned by damp. Carefully, I lifted out a black velvet bag. It was heavy considering its size. I unlooped a fraying silken cord and peeked inside.
One thing about platinum and diamonds—they don’t tarnish or disintegrate, even after thirty years of being tied in a plastic bag and buried in a steel box in the sand.