Somehow the word treasure seemed more believable being spoken in this cavernous hideaway. Old milk crates of discarded power cords curled up under the workbench serpent-like and the curved metal roof of the structure caused our whispers to echo slightly.
“Nessie, you can trust me.”
After all I was an impartial observer here. My aim was to collect data. To collect stories, not personal effects. Although from the look of things on the property, I couldn’t imagine what type of treasure she was talking about but human curiosity won out.
“What do you mean, you don’t want Len to know about the treasure?”
“There’s treasure here on the property. Surely you don’t think I’d stay here in this heaven forsaken place for no reason. I’m dying, not crazy.”
“So you could leave if you wanted to?” I pressed. I may not be an advocate but this case was causing my brain to hurt and to battle with itself.
“Of course, dear. I’m not a prisoner. You see how easy I snuck out,” she snickered, still feeling the effects of the long drags of pot she’d soaked up, no doubt. “Oh my, but I do seem to have soiled myself. Could you help me get cleaned up?”
Her clarity of communication was in such stark contrast to her physical appearance that it took me a moment to reconcile the two. Clearly we needed to get her back to the house. She got herself out here but now, slightly wobbly from the self-medicating and because she was trying to walk holding her gown so the moisture that ran down her leg wouldn’t cause the fabric to cling to her, she needed an arm to steady her return course.
We moved slowly but deliberately back through the high grass amidst the grabbing twigs of plants long since neglected that reached out in the hopes that someone would come to their aid. I indicated for Nessie to stop for a moment when I heard a rustling in the grass. Sometimes I really hated these rural interviews. Too much nature wasn’t my speed. Then I saw a field mouse scamper away and let my breath back out.
Even with her slight frame and wobbly motion we returned to the house in a matter of a few minutes, opting for the side door instead of her windowed exit route. We had to go single file through various spots past the kitchen counter and through the hallway back to Nessie’s room with a view. I sat her on the commode and while I didn’t have any nursing training, I figured I could at least help her get changed and back into bed. I had noticed she had started to wheeze ever so slightly shortly before we got back to the house.
I found a new gown for her in the dresser and ventured into the bathroom hoping that I would be the sole inhabitant on two or more legs. As expected it was as “unkempt” as the rest of the residence but I found a relatively clean, albeit tattered, washcloth and a small plastic basin. Filling it was a little warm water and grabbing a bar of soap from the dish next to the sink I headed back to the bedroom.
By the time I returned Nessie had disrobed and sat on the commode with her gown held up as a privacy shield in front of her, tucked underneath her arms to keep her hands free. She and Lulu were in a staring competition with the bedraggled mutt stationed on the corner of the bed with her head slightly tilted to one side, the doggy version of the a girl standing with one hip jutted out.
Nessie took the washcloth from the basin and slowly dragged it over her sagging skin. There was a frailty to her skin that was still too big for her shrinking body despite its compressed, crumpled-paper complexion. Still, there was a certain elegance about her and I found myself wondering what she looked like when she was younger. I took the cloth and helped her with the spots she couldn’t easily reach and then got her dried off and redressed.
I could see that her outing had taken its toll as she struggled to get from the seated position. I gave her a hand and got her back to bed, tucking her in in an odd role reversal from the days when I had visited my grandmother as a child and had been tucked in. My gran would always kiss me on the top of the head and I had to restrain myself from transferring that memory from my head to the physical world. It had been a long time since I’d smoked pot and clearly I wasn’t as clear-headed as I thought.
“Dear, could you get me my comb? No sense putting on a fresh gown and having my hair undone.” She smiled as if to say thank you, not only for your kindness but for your silence. We hadn’t spoken at all since we left the shed.
She’d indicated that it was in the top drawer of the dresser. Inside the drawer I also found a box of graham crackers that were likely contraband snuck in by one of the nurses. Len may have “forgotten” to feed her at times, but clearly someone was conspiring to keep Nessie in snacks. I pulled the box out and motioned to see if Nessie would bite.
“Not just yet, but I could use some water.”
I headed back to the kitchen and hoped that I would find a clean glass there. I made a lucky guess as to which cabinet might house the glassware and took out a small tumbler. Opening the fridge to see if there might be some bottled water I wasn’t entirely surprised to find it sparsely populated. Surprisingly there was a gallon jug of water, so I filled the glass that looked to be one of those collectible edition jelly jars.
Returning to the bedroom Nessie looked like she’d dozed off but her eyelids fluttered open when I approached. She took the water and sipped gingerly at it after sniffing it. Before I could return to our earlier conversation I heard the tell-tale sound of gravel being crushed under an approaching vehicle. While I had gone looking for the escapee, Len had made his own escape.
The truck door squeaked before it slammed shut. It was an old rusty pick-up and from the sound of that door, it may have met abruptly with another unfortunate vehicle at some point. Then a second slam as the screen door slammed from the tug of the spring that automatically closed the door behind him. He seemed startled by the fact that I was still there as I met him in the kitchen.
The brown grocery bag on the table provided a barrier between us. A couple of familiar bottlenecks shown out the top. Jack Daniels was his constant companion, the only one welcomed here.
“I found her.” I said, simply as a factual remark, without emotion.
I was met, as I expected with an unimpressed, “That so. Well then I expect you must be done here.” There was a touch of belligerence growing in his tone. I pegged that it was fueled by liquid courage and decided that I didn’t want to spark anything.
“Yeah, I think I’ve gotten what I need … for now.”
I went to retrieve my bag and take another peek in Nessie’s door. This time she was asleep as I could tell from the slight muffled snore she emitted. Heading out the side door to my car I had to shoo Lulu away from the door. That little mutt certainly could get under foot but was likely just looking for someone with opposable thumbs who could make some food appear in a bowl.
On my way to the car I heard the screen door slam again. It had started to take on Len’s cantankerous personality and seemed to slam louder than necessary. Len stood framed by the doorway, and this time his imposing figure was made more menacing by the shotgun that was now resting along the length of his leg.
“I think our interview has concluded,” Len barked at me as I got into my car.
Heart-racing I clutched the steering wheel with one hand tried to turn the ignition key with the other, all the while keeping my eyes firmly affixed to the straggly-haired creature that guarded the house like a odoriferous gargoyle. I was just an observer here, not an advocate. Keep my distance. That was clearly what all parties wanted me to do. I tried to shove thoughts of Nessie and questions about treasure out of my head as the car rumbled to life. I’d just started to pull away when I heard one final sound.