At ten o’clock, he looked for Dave. The boy was in the garden, hiding his bike behind the apple tree.
“You’ve honored your promise.”
The journey to Kelman Hill was silent Dave seemed to be going through an inner agony, but he was wary of asking the reason.
“I found the necklace up there,” Dave said, pointing to a copse of silver birches.
They clambered up three-quarters of the height. The day was windless but, as he skirted a grassy cleft, a strange puff of air hit his face. It went down his throat, half-circled, and moved to the nape of his neck. It was, now, playing a haunting tune down his spine. Dave was plodding on, unaware of what was happening to him.
“Where exactly, Dave?” he said, trying to keep his unease from the already tense boy.
“Amongst the three taller birches. You see that wee mound?”
He scrutinized the knoll, but he was not sure if it was natural, part natural, or man-made.
“Are those rocks, over yonder, standing stones, Alex?”
The four angular stones had, obviously, toppled from higher up during a storm.
Dave’s father seemed to be doing a good hatchet job in stifling his son, and he was not going to add to it.
At a point half way up the knoll, Dave began to shove leaves and dirt back.
“You’ve hidden it real well. I’m an archaeologist, and I’d never have known this spot had been disturbed.”
He began to dig with Dave, and, within minutes, a stone cist four feet long appeared. Part of a large cemetery or an isolated burial? But he was too hyper to see inside the cist to even look for any markers to suggest a cemetery.
“How did you find this?”
“I thought it was a grave.”
“Charlie found it. A rabbit ran into a nearby hole. I was just mucking about, digging with him, although I’d never let him kill the creature. Then, I saw the grave.”
Dave started to weep.
“A skeleton was in it. The poor creature was alone. But someone must have loved it because it had this necklace around its throat.”
Dave touched the necklace. Could it be Dave had, neurotically, transferred all his love for his lost mother, grandfather, and sibling, to shining jet beads and a skeleton? But where was the skeleton? Was Dave spinning yarns?
He stared into the cist. The blue lights he had seen, outside the window at Meadow Cottage, danced before his eyes. He hated blue lights. Birdie had strung up tiny, blue Christmas lights, year after year, across the main window of her pad in Alexandria. It had been her one nod to Christmas, apart from presents. Birdie’s heart had been cold as ice, and blue was a color cold in its beams. He shut his eyes, and, then, opened them. No blue lights.
“It’s empty, Dave. Your imagination’s running riot. This is a bleak spot. My own imagination’s gone haywire.”
Dave hit a fist against the cist. Drops of blood fell onto the cist’s floor.
“It’s not my imagination! I didn’t say a skeleton is in there. I said a skeleton was in there. I reburied it, properly, with a cross. I gave him the cross, and he gave me the necklace. I’m not a thief. It was a swap,” he said, pointing upwards.
Racking gulps were coming from Dave. Was this why Dave had been so upset on the journey here?
“It shouldn’t have been left alone in this stone box. I reburied it where I’d found a special place. I take broom and heather to it in the summer and mistletoe in the winter.”
He had to stem the boy’s distress.
“You’ve the makings of an archaeologist, Dave. A true understanding the earth’s chief.”
If what Dave was saying were true, it was terrifying all this sentimentality was bottled up inside the boy. Was his father such a monster Dave could tell him zilch? He had never been able to confide in Murdy or Birdie. But had they been monsters? Maybe Murdy was a guy of his situation and Birdie ditto. Dave’s father could also be a guy of his fate in the loss of a wife and a baby.
“Take a deep breath, Dave,” he said.
But Dave kept gasping for air.
“All righty. Let’s cover up this cist, and I’ll drive you back to pick up your bike.”
“The skeleton’s real,” Dave sobbed.
“Sure it is, buddy. Sorry I said it was your imagination. Folk sometimes say stupid things.”
They drew up outside Meadow Cottage.
“Are you telling me the whole package, Dave?”
“Yes. But I never want to go back to that old grave, nor the new one I made for the skeleton.”
“You need never go back, buddy.”
“Will you still let me drive the land rover and have a shot on your laptop?”
Dave wiped away welling tears.
“I just want to be a normal boy.”
“Because you found something real remarkable doesn’t make you otherwise.”
Dave turned beseeching eyes to him.
“I’m of no use to you, now. Do you really want me to come back?”
“Sure dig your company, Dave, and didn’t I promise you driving and the laptop? I’m a guy of my word like you.”
Dave stared at him.
“Don’t know when I’ll come back, but I will.”
He watched Dave bike off. The boy had seemed genuine about the skeleton. But could it be Dave just wanted to keep him as a buddy by inventing tall tales? Or was Dave mixed up in something secret, and drawing him into peril? Was Dave a decoy?