It just so happens that I own one hell of a flashlight. I bought it when we lived in Maryland. The only other option to the flashlight was to purchase a nine-millimeter Beretta to deal with the local thieves and drug dealers.
This flashlight is so bright the literature said it would blind a person even glancing into it and they would remain blind for a full seven seconds. Which I figured was long enough to grab any guns being pointed my way, or at least long enough to turn around and run. I went inside and found the flashlight.
There are access points to the crawlspace all around the house. Most of them are small, low, ground-level doors; one of them, around the west side of the house, is upright-person-sized, leading three steps down into a small rock-walled room where the heater and the air conditioner are situated. This area is on the other side of the house from where I saw the light and heard the digging.
The exterior doorway closest to the light is about 18 inches high and two feet wide. It’s wooden, painted the same shade of light greyish green as the rest of the house. I knelt down on my hands and knees and pulled on the door. It swung open easily.
“Be my guest,” I said to Mark. He bent down beside me and peered into the darkness. The sunlight was bright around us, and the contrast made it difficult to see under the house. I handed him the flashlight.
“That right there,” I said in my police officer voice, “is a Surefire P2X Fury Dual Output LED 15/500 Lumen Flash light. Look directly into the lens and you will be blinded for seven seconds. Push the button on the end and you will turn on 500 Lumens of tactical-bright illumination.”
Mark shot me a look that showed what he thought of my cop imitation. He peered into the crawlspace. I stood up.
“You should be able to see the heating duct. The light bulb is right above it. You’re sure you want to go under there?”
Mark shook his head. “No, I’m pretty sure I don’t want to go under there. But I guess I should see what you’re going on about. See whether you’re full of shit, which it sounds like you are.”
To tell the truth, I was perfectly happy to have him be the one crawling around in that dank, dark, vermin-ridden space. He clicked on the flashlight, and I watched his back and then his legs scrabble around and disappear inside. He’s thinner than I am and more agile. I could hear him dragging himself around. I waited a few minutes and toed the wooden door closed. The latched snapped shut. I didn’t hear any more from under the house for a minute. I’m not sure why I did that. I’m not the sort who plays practical jokes on people. A bubble of manic laughter rose up in me. I was surprised by it.
“Very funny.” Mark’s voice was muffled. Could I hear a note of fear around the edges? I bent down and opened the door. “Just messing with you,” I said. Actually, I was sorry I had played the joke. I don’t know what had come over me. If he had done it to me, I probably would have wet my pants. I looked up and saw Sweetie the cat sitting in the window inside. She had a disapproving look on her cat face. OK, OK, I’m sorry.
I could hear Mark dragging around again, then a clank of metal on metal. “Be careful of the duct work,” I called. “Charlie the plumber says if you even touch it it’s going to crumble into dust. But then Charlie wants to sell me a new eight thousand dollar heating and cooling unit.”
Mark’s legs appeared, then his back. He blinked in the bright sunshine. After a minute he pushed himself upright and began dusting himself off. It was futile. No amount of dusting was going to get all the dirt off his clothes. “Straight into the washer when you get to your house,” I said. “Otherwise your wife’s going to kill you. Or kill both of us.”
Mark gave me one of his looks that said he couldn’t tell if I was making a joke. I wasn’t. “See anything unusual?” I asked.
“It’s all unusual,” he said. “But what do I know? Maybe you mean something like this,” he said, bending down and feeling around inside the doorway. He pulled out an old shovel. It was about three feet long from handle to the top of the rusted blade. The weathered grey handle was fashioned from a six-inch dowel and attached perpendicular across the top. It had a crude, hand-made look. Cobwebs draped its entirety; it looked to be a hundred years old, not that I had any real idea of what its age might be. Mark pushed it toward me. I took it gingerly, reluctantly.
“You heard digging,” Mark said. “Remind me to not be so quick to think you’re full of shit the next time you say something crazy. You’ll notice that the working end of the blade is rusty but clean, like someone has been using it. I’m going to go change my clothes.” He shook his head, wiped his hands on his pants and headed across the neighbor’s yard toward his house.
I turned the shovel over in my hands. He was right. It was covered with cobwebs, but most of the blade itself was clean.
I heard digging in the night.
We found an ancient shovel.