Tombstone Courage

Tombstone Courage by J. A. Jance Read Free Book Online

Book: Tombstone Courage by J. A. Jance Read Free Book Online
Authors: J. A. Jance
use the city’s drinking water pumped from a deep underground well down near Naco. But the clear well water, although fine for drinking, didn’t do a thing for the garden growers, because it came with two distinct disadvantages. Not only was it outrageously expensive, it also lacked the abundant minerals that had once made Bisbee’s lawns, trees, and gardens flourish. And cemeteries, too, for that matter.
    During the next decades, Evergreen Cemetery fell into such a dusty or muddy deterioration that the name “Evergreen” seemed little more than a cruel joke. When Emily Patterson had died five years earlier, the place was in such disrepair, Harold had been ashamed to bury her there, but the other cemetery in town, a relatively new one dating from the sixties, wasn’t much better. So Harold had bitten the bullet, bought a double plot in Evergreen—he got a better deal that way—and a double headstone as well.
    Driving to Emily’s plot, Harold was surprised to see that the place appeared to be in somewhat better shape. The thinly paved drive still had potholes here and there, but the grounds themselves were much improved. Maybe a new manager was on the job, a person who actually cared about the families of the people who were buried there.
    Harold parked the Scout. The rain finally was letting up as he climbed stiffly down out of the truck and hiked over to the familiar plot. He took off his Stetson and stood bareheaded, staring down at the red granite headstone. Both his and Emily’s names and birth dates were already chiseled into the stone in elegant, graceful letters and numbers. Emily’s date of death was there as well. The only date left to be filled in was that of Harold’s own death, whenever that might be.
    Looking at the stone always made the hairs stand up on the back of his neck. Not because hewas afraid of dying, but because seeing the two names linked together like that made him feel that he was still married to the old Emily; as though the woman he loved had just gone on ahead. With any kind of luck, he’d have a chance to catch up with her sooner rather than later, and things between them would finally be set right as well.
    â€œThe shit’s really hit the fan on this one, Em,” he said, addressing her aloud as he usually did when he came to visit.
    Years earlier, he might have looked around to make sure no one was watching or listening when he spoke to her like that. He no longer bothered. After all, he was an old man. If people saw him talking to himself or acting funny, they’d think he was crazy, or senile, or both, and let it go at that.
    â€œWe still may be able to make it through,” he continued. “You know I’ve kept my promise all these years, but the price keeps going up, getting higher all the time. Maybe we were wrong trying to keep it a secret in the first place. Maybe that’s why God seems to have it in for me now. I’ve got this one last chance to do something about it, one more wild card to turn up. I hope to God that one’ll do the trick. If not, I figure it’s time I stood up and took my punishment like a man. I just wanted you to know about it in advance. That’s all.”
    He closed his eyes tightly and bowed his head for a moment, murmuring a silent prayer. Afterward, he slammed the battered Stetson back on his head, turned on his heel, and hobbled back to the Scout with a real sense of purpose. Talkingthings over with Emily always gave him comfort and direction.
    At the cemetery’s gate, he paused long enough for old Norm Higgins from Higgins Funeral Chapel and Mortuary to make a left-hand turn through the entrance. No doubt Norm was on an errand to scope out the location of some soon-to-be-used burial site. Harold supposed Norm and his boys had some poor old coot stashed in the cooler up at their place, waiting long enough for the deceased’s far-flung, out-of-town relatives to arrive

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