Connor Lobell and his wife, Loretta Smith-Lobell, drove down the deserted highway, cornstalks waving on either side of them in the afternoon breeze.
“You’re going too fast, Loretta,” Connor said.
Loretta gritted her teeth, but remained silent.
“I know it looks like there’s no one around, but there could be a cop hidden around any corner,” Conner went on.
“There are no corners. There hasn’t been a corner in a hundred miles,” Loretta replied, cursing herself for getting sucked into another argument. They’d done nothing but argue since leaving Chicago three days ago.
“You always go too fast. You’re going 80 in a 55. If we get caught—”
Fuck off, Loretta thought, but just ran a hand through her short greying hair and said, “If we get a ticket we’ll pay it.”
Silence for a few more moments, then, “You get the tickets and I always end up paying them. Have I told you how expensive you are, as a wife?”
Loretta barked a laugh. “Have I told you what a prick you are, as a husband?”
“Don’t bring the Cyclops into this,” Connor replied, with a frown.
“I wasn’t, but now that you did, that’s a stupid nickname. Your dick can’t see anything.”
“But it’s pretty big,” he said, grinning sidelong at her.
She huffed a little laugh, and conceded, “It is above average, I won’t deny that.”
Just as it seemed the arguments would die down for a while, they passed a Nebraska state trooper hidden in the corn. They saw his lights flare up behind them in their rear-view.
“What did I tell you?” Connor exclaimed, throwing up his hands.
“Just shut up,” Loretta muttered, clenching her jaw once more. She pulled over, and they sat in stony silence as the cop ran their plates, or whatever it was cops did before they got out and got down to business.
The trooper got out of his car and wandered up to their modest beige Ford sedan. He wasn’t wearing sunglasses, and the face under the wide-brimmed hat and corn-colored hair looked friendly. Loretta rolled down the window and forced a smile as he approached.
“Going a bit fast, there, ma’am,” the trooper said. “You folks in a hurry?”
“Something like that,” said Loretta. “I think I got lulled into highway hypnosis there, for a while. Road’s been straight as an arrow and nothing to see but corn for hours.”
“It does get mesmerizing at times, I’ve suffered that myself. License and registration please.”
Connor handed her the registration, which he’d fished out of the glove box. The darkness inside the box hid the .40 Smith & Wesson, as well as layers of black lace. She handed the papers and her license to the trooper, who smiled and stood up, squinting into the corn for a moment. “Sure glad you folks came by. Airn’t a thing to do out here but stare at corn and an empty road.” He waved her ID at her. “I’m going to go check these in the system, just hold tight for a few moments, folks.”
As soon as the trooper was back in his car, Connor said, “You just can’t help yourself, can you.”
She turned her head to him, eyes flashing. “You always try to make it out like everything’s my fault, when you—”
“You were the one speeding, Loretta, you can’t deny that!” her husband yelled.
“Okay, yes, but one little speeding ticket isn’t worth—”
“One little speeding ticket?” Connor hollered. “Ten speeding tickets this year, Loretta, and I pay for them while you spend money on clothes and I don’t know what all—”
“If you want me to wear moth-eaten dresses and shoes that are out of date, just say the word! Done!”
“I want you to show some fiscal responsibility for once in your life! We only have so much money until—”
“He’s coming back. Shut up,” Loretta hissed.
Connor looked like he was physically choking on whatever he’d been about to say next.
The trooper, named Augie according to his nametag, handed Loretta back her license and registration, then hunkered down by the open window. “Everything is in order, no priors, so I’m going to let you off with a warning. But if I may give you some advice, if you get near a town, don’t speed. Some of these little towns out here, they make a lot of money off speeders. Traps set everywhere. You’re about 20 miles from Ragan, so keep an eye on that speedometer, alright Miss…” he paused, glancing at her license again, and smiled widely. “Miss Rebecca?”
“I sure will, thank you, officer.”
“Drive safe,” said the young man, teeth gleaming in the sun, and Loretta rolled the window up as he walked away. She pulled out and started along the road again.
After fifteen minutes of silence, Connor said, “Lucky for you.”
“Connor, I swear—wait. Look!” She pointed at a structure in the distance. “Could that be…”
Connor followed her finger, and saw what looked like a windmill irrigation tower. He couldn’t make out the color of its rotor blades. “Looks like something,” he agreed. “Let’s get closer.”
Loretta drew the car up next to the field with the windmill in it, braking slowly to a stop. “I can’t make out the blades,” she said. “Jeremy said they were pink on one side, but who knows what color they are after 20 years.”
“Well, this is where he told us to go, and I haven’t seen any other windmills this close to the road. Might as well check it out.” He opened the door and got out.
Loretta opened her own door, and joined up with Connor to walk through the corn. Luckily, there was quite a straight aisle through it to the windmill, and they had no scary “lost in the corn” moments.
They stared up at the windmill, which didn’t look like it had seen any use for decades. There was a farmhouse and barn in the distance, and irrigation machinery, so Loretta thought the farmer might have switched in recent years.
“No pink blades,” Connor sighed, wiping sweat off his forehead. His shirt had come untucked beneath his pot belly, and he tucked it back in fastidiously.
“There’s another side, though,” panted Loretta, and walked under the windmill to see the other side. She looked up, then laughed and clapped her hands. “Look, you idiot!”
Too excited to argue about name-calling, Connor ran to her side and looked up at the windmill blades. The paint job was old and crumbling, but enough of the bright pink was left to indicate the color they used to be.
Loretta pulled out a napkin with a windmill drawn on it. There was an arrow pointing to one of the struts. She pointed to it on the real windmill. “It’s there, Connor! It’s right there!” She rushed to the strut and began digging with her hands.
Connor put a firm hand on her shoulder. “Hey, stop that. I like you best with fingernails. We have spades in the car, remember? I’ll stay here, you go get them.”
“Why do I have to go get them?”
Connor shrugged. “I’ll go if you want, but I’ll be slower. You’re the one with all the energy.”
“That’s a laugh,” Loretta said, stretching her arthritic back. “But you’re right, I’m still faster.” With that, she jogged away.
Connor looked thoughtfully at the ground where X supposedly marked the spot. It didn’t look like it was hiding anything.
That’s the point, he heard Loretta say in his head, and shook it to get rid of her.
Loretta came back with a hand shovel and a round-tipped shovel. “You get the big one,” she said, handing the shovel to Connor and squatting near one side of the strut. “I’ll start working here, you start on the other side,” she instructed.
“Yes dear,” Connor said, with audible snark.
Loretta ignored him, already digging.
After ten minutes Connor’s shovel thumped against something. They shared an excited glance, then Loretta joined him, digging with her spade as Connor raked dirt away with his hands. They got very dirty, but after a while managed to unearth a tin firebox, locked with a combination. Loretta, who had kept the combination fresh in her mind every day for the last 20 years, moved the dials with some difficulty.
The box popped open. It was dark inside.
Loretta pulled out a black velvet bag. She looked inside and caught her breath.
“What, what’s wrong?” Connor said nervously.
She looked up at him, tears streaming down her face. She smiled brightly. “It’s all here. It’s all still here,” she breathed, thrusting the bag at him.
He grabbed it and looked in. He could see the sparkle of precious gems, the gleam of pearls, the shimmer of gold. He dipped a hand in, and ran his fingers through all the treasures that he and Loretta had stolen in their youth. “I don’t believe it,” he breathed in wonder. “I was sure Jeremy was sending us on a wild goose chase, that he was holding onto them, waiting to fence them himself. But you trusted him, and…” He plunged both hands into the bag, looking at the jewels raining out of them. “It looks like it’s all here, Loretta. I’m sorry I doubted you for so long. I’m so very, very sorry.”
Carefully closing the bag, he stood up and hugged Loretta, who was still crying. “You had me believing that too,” she sobbed. “I was so afraid.”
After holding each other for a while, they let go, gazing at each other, hands lingering, and it was like they were transported back in time, before they had done time, before she had entrusted their future to their son in law.
Loretta put the black velvet bag in the tin box, locking it. “Of course,” she said, standing up, “we’ll have to check it against the inventory list. But even if it’s not all there—”
“It’s more than enough, my love,” Connor said, smiling and taking the hand not holding the box with the rest of their lives in it.
“It is,” Loretta agreed.
They joined hands, and began to walk toward their car. Trooper Augie waved at them from beside the Ford.
With only the barest hesitation, they strode up the aisle of corn, waving at him cordially.
“I was a little worried when I drove down the highway and saw your car pulled over on the road, there,” Augie said when they were in earshot. He was no longer smiling. “Mind telling me what you folks are doing digging up boxes on private property?”
Loretta schooled her face into what she thought of as “dotty middle-aged lady”. “Henry, doesn’t your friend own this land?”
“We’ve been out of touch for 15 years,” Connor said, shrugging. “Hal Johnson owns this land, right?”
Augie shook his head. “I know Hal. Bank foreclosed on him about a decade ago.”
Loretta and Connor both widened their eyes and glanced at each other.
“I guess we aren’t going to go visit him, then?” Loretta asked, disappointed.
“Guess not,” sighed Connor. “He wasn’t a great friend anyway. Drank like the world was his toilet. No great loss.”
“Alcoholics don’t generally make great friends,” Augie agreed, looking a little less stern. “If you folks are ready to tell me what you were doing out there, I’m all ears.” He crossed his arms.
“Well,” Connor stammered ever so slightly. Loretta almost smiled. “We buried a time capsule the day before we got married, just 20 short years ago.” He winked at her and she pretended to blush. “Stuff that reminded us of each other, nothing of any real value.”
“It’s all still in there,” Loretta crowed, tears of honest joy streaming down her cheeks.
“And you remembered the combination, Miss Rebecca?”
“I did,” she said proudly. “I wrote it down and kept it all this time!” She had never done any such thing, but technologically ignorant seemed like a good detail.
Connor nodded. “She sure did. Anyway, heh…well, we were going to bury the capsule in this nice spot at Becky’s parents’ house in Denver--”
“Where my family’s from, we have 7 grandkids there!” Loretta beamed at Augie, who was visibly softening.
“--and open it 20 years later. We stayed a night with Hal and Joanie, got to drinking, and my Becky was so lovely and…vital…” He paused, staring heatedly at Loretta, until Augie cleared his throat. Poor cop looked like he actually was blushing. “And we…we really couldn’t wait for the wedding night.” He grabbed Loretta’s hand and whirled her towards him. She let out a squeal of delight as he grabbed her with the arm not holding the box, and pulled her tightly against him.
“We buried the capsule that night, under that windmill, where we made love for the first—“ Loretta said breathlessly, and stopped, stepping a decent distance from her husband. “Well, it wasn’t the first time. Just one of the best. The first one where I felt we were truly married, even though we hadn’t had the wedding yet.” She smiled at Augie, who was now smiling back at her.
“I just didn’t think anyone would mind it if we went and got our box and left. This means so much to both of us, these old letters and tokens of affection—”
“We can give them to each other again,” Loretta finished brightly.
“So, we’ll come with you if you think we should answer questions at the station. It’ll postpone what was going to be a magical night at a Super 8, but…” he shrugged.
Augie was already shaking his head. “No, no harm done. I was mostly just concerned you folks had gone off the road and gotten lost in the corn. Happens all the time.”
“Does it?” Loretta asked, genuinely surprised.
Augie tipped her a wink. “No, ma’am. Not anymore.” He turned away. “You folks have a nice evening. Don’t let Becky drive too fast, Henry.”
“I sure won’t,” Connor said.
Augie waved with the back of his hand, and Connor and Loretta leaned against the car and looked over the pinkening sky as the trooper pulled away. They gave each other a subtle fistbump. “Glad we had so much time to research the property,” sighed Loretta. “I almost wish he’d asked more questions.”
“Less is more,” Connor replied.
Loretta nodded. He put his arm around her, watching the pink fingers of dusk stretching across the sky “Think he’s running the plates again?” he asked.
“He seemed pretty bright. I think it’s a safe bet.”
“First chance we get, we’ll ditch this car. We’ve got enough cash left to buy one that’ll get us to Omaha. You call Jimmy the Fingers, let him know we’re on our way. Tell him to set us up with new ID’s, passports, a few burner phones. We’ll give him a couple of the less impressive pieces, that should satisfy him. Then it’s off to the Ivory Coast for us.”
Loretta grinned. “I’ve always wanted to see Africa. We’ll have to go on a driving tour to Morocco.”
“Might not be safe,” Connor warned.
Loretta shrugged. “Eh. Worth it. It’s always worth it.”
Connor embraced and kissed her, long and deep. “Everything you want, I want for you.”
“What a line,” Loretta scoffed, but felt herself actually blushing for the first time since she’d been young. She gently pulled her hand away. “Let’s get going, any run in with a cop is a bad run in.”
Connor blew her a kiss, then slid into the driver’s seat.
Loretta got in beside him, rested a hand on his thigh. Connor grinned, and drove away into the purpling sunset.