9 BIG SECRET
Teplan had no problem squishing his elbows into the goopy mud while Terah tried her hardest not to think about how disgusting the feeling was. Not to mention the stench that clogged her breathing cavity and taunted her gag-reflex! Occasionally she would breathe in and out quickly, attempting to breathe without smelling. As they lay on their stomachs, they peered through brittle branches of low-lying shrubs at the edge of the grouping of trees.
“I can’t see too well. Let’s move up a bit,” Teplan whispered.
“What! Move up? This actually wasn’t a good idea in the first place; let’s just stay put and get out of here as soon as we can!” Terah replied forcefully, knowing she was speaking loudly but somehow could not seem to do anything about it. “Who knows what they’ll do to us if they catch us, Teplan!”
Teplan shushed her, motioning that she could be heard. He fumbled around in the backpack and pulled out his camera.
He turned it on and steadied himself to shoot the scene in front of them. Terah feverishly scanned the forest watching for any sign of movement. One shared glance between them showed all eyes on full alert. Teplan could feel his heart beating rapidly. Soft ground cushioned their legs as they lay still, waiting. Their attention focused on the massive structure before them.
Teplan noticed Terah analyzing the behemoth of a building with curiosity. They made eye contact; he put his finger to his lips and quietly shushed. Terah held her palms up, shrugged her shoulders, and whispered, “I didn’t say anything!”
“I know I know! I’m just saying; I know you . . .”
Terah shot him a glare. Just then, the driver opened his door. He rested one foot on the ground and sat back in his seat. “Something’s not right here,” Terah whispered.
Teplan shot her an emphatic, but silent ‘shush!’
Suddenly the camouflaged door in the barn swung open. A man in a fancy, grey pinstriped suit with plastic covers on his shoes broached the threshold. His large frame occupied most of the doorway and a brown briefcase hung from his hand. “Hello, Paulton,” he said smugly as the driver got out of his car.
“You have something for me?” they heard the guy say.
“You have something for me?” the other guy responded.
Van Houttei’s hulking figure tensed, “You know, you get a lot out of these deals Paulton! Every month I give you a briefcase full of money and all you have to do is sign a piece of paper and bring it to me. I can’t have you bringing it to me three days late!”
“Listen, if it wasn’t for me selling you these certificates, your pig farm operation here would be shut down immediately. So, if I were you, I’d be a little nicer!” Paulton snapped, grabbing the briefcase from Van Houttei and putting it on the hood of his car.
“You’re not the only one selling Clean Soil Certificates, you know!” They heard the guy say.
“Yeah, but I’m the only one who’ll keep their mouth shut about it!” The corners of Paulton’s lips perked-up as he opened the briefcase to reveal neatly organized stacks of money, full to the brim. He ran his fingers over the stacks, seemingly relishing in its presence.
“See? Everything is A-okay. You keep the briefcases coming and I’ll keep the certificates coming. Easy-peasy!”
Paulton closed the briefcase, hopped back in his car, and slammed the door. His hand popped out the window and he waved a piece of paper back and forth. “Always a pleasure doing business with you!” he said with a chuckle.
Teplan thought Van Houttei grabbed the paper as if he had only a few seconds before it erupted into flames and vanished forever.
With the briefcase neatly tucked under the passenger seat, Paulton opened his sunroof and sped off.
Van Houttei stood for a few moments admiring the certificate in his hands, and reflected; keep ’em coming you obnoxious jerk. Keep ’em coming. He then quickly returned through the door in the barn.
“Did you get any of that?” Terah whispered.
“Yeah, all of it.”