“Could you at least pretend to help me Errol?” I said, handing my brother the unused spade from the bottom of the waterlogged hole. A hand appeared from his silhouetted dark form, beading raindrops glittering in the headlights as they dropped from his coat sleeve.
“Because we’re close, I can feel it, and this would go a lot faster if you helped me dig.”
“You feel it every time you dig a hole, and every time we find nothing but another pointless clue.” He said, the spade thudding to the floor. “I’m done. I’m really done this time. I’ve gone along with this lunacy for you for ten years. I don’t think he hid the gold at all, he’s been shitting us all these years.”
I stopped digging and wiped rain from my forehead with the back of my hand. “He wouldn’t send us on a wild goose chase if he didn’t hide it. We’ll find it. He wanted us to.”
“He wanted us to.” Errol repeated. “Don’t you think he’d just of told us where he buried it if he did? It would have been a lot bloody easier than sending us on this ridiculous treasure hunt.”
“The prison read his letters and chaperoned his visits, you know that. The police wanted to know where the gold was as much as anyone, he made them look like incompetent fools. This was the only way he could think of to lead us to his stash. He told us that loads of times.” I said, driving the spade into the wet earth again.
Errol walked around the edge of the hole, his face set with anger. “That’s always been your problem Davy, you believed anything he said without question. Always the dutiful son.”
“Why would he lie?” I asked.
“Because he was a criminal, that’s what they’re programmed to do!” He said, raising his voice an octave or two, towering above me from the edge of the hole.
“He wouldn’t lie to us.” I said, heaving sodden earth out of the hole and tipping it on the growing pile. “He wanted us to be taken care of, he was just being careful.”
“He wanted you to be taken care of.” Errrol spat. “We both know that.”
I stopped digging and leant on the spade as much in exasperation as for a rest. Errol’s fists were balling, a technique he used to subdue his rage. “Not this again Errol, so you’re not his biological son, so what? He loved you like you were. You’re the only one who ever made a big deal about it. He never did. Not once.”
“That’s because I’m the only one who saw him treat me differently, you lot were oblivious to it.”
“Even if that’s true, he’s dead now so you don’t have to put up with it anymore.”
“Doesn’t make things alright Davy.”
“Do we have to talk about this now? I’m trying to dig a hole here and find some gold. Are you going to help me or what?” I said, searching for a safe end to the conversation.
“No, like I said, I’m done. I’m not wasting another minute of my life looking for a stockpile we’ve got no hope of finding. We’ll sieve the entire planet and not find a single nugget at this rate.” He turned and walked away, momentarily blocking the headlights and throwing me into darkness.
“If you walk away now I’m not sharing it with you when I do find it.”
“Fine. You keep it.” He said, heading towards his own car.
“It’ll be ten million quid, just for me.”
“I said it’s fine, I don’t want it, I don’t want anything from your two anymore.” He slammed his car door, started the engine and reversed away, leaving me stood in the wet hole alone.
I watched him drive away until darkness closed around his car and all that remained were two shrinking red embers. I pulled the spade from the ground and resumed digging with the full force of Errol’s vitriol behind each throw of the heavy wet clods. Why had Errol chosen now to raise his daddy issues? If we were still children fighting over Action Man figures I could understand it, but we were grown men. Errol was a simmering ball of barely contained anger at the best of times, a firecracker ready to go off at any moment but I’d never fully understood him, he’d never let me try. The spade thudded to a stop against something hard. I dropped to my knees, clawing at the mud with my fingers. The familiar military ammo box was in its usual five foot deep position.
“Well done Dad.” I said to myself, pulling the metal store from the ground and sweeping off the clay heavy mud. I manoeuvred into the headlights and opened the box. My stomach leapt at the sight of my father’s handwriting, he’d used the same envelopes in each of the other thirty boxes, each one addressed to me and Errol. I ripped it open, dirt from my bemudded fingers smudging across the cream paper. The letter I pulled out was not another clue and I greedily read the contents:
I’m guessing by now your brother has given up searching for the proceeds of my crime. I’d expect nothing less. I don’t want you to share it with him so if by some miracle he is still searching, keep digging holes until he gives up.
If he’s gone, the enclosed map will lead you to where I hid the gold.
X marks the spot Davy.
I unfolded the map, dropping to my knees reading from my mother’s familiar self-addressed lilac writing paper. A floor plan of the house I now lived in with my family was drawn neatly with biro and a ruler. It wasn’t to scale but I recognised the outline of the old brick fireplace that had once dominated the living room and the long since removed island in the centre of the kitchen. The garden was drawn as it was in our youth with our mother’s vegetable patch next to the newly erected shed she insisted on building to house our growing collection of push bikes and garden furniture. In the corner of the shed outline was a neat red cross with the words ‘5ft below’ beneath it.
I climbed up and sat on the edge of the hole, tucking the letters in my jacket pocket. For ten years Errol and I had littered the country with holes dug in pursuit of this fortune and it was buried in my garden the whole time. I pulled the letter from my pocket again and reread my father’s words.
‘I don’t want you to share it with him’
Errol had been right. We had been on a wild goose chase for ten years, and our father didn’t want him to have a share of the gold. One was clearly linked to the other but as I sat alone by the light of my headlights, the reason eluded me. Had Errol been right? Had both Mother and I been oblivious to his treatment? My memory threw up no clues, we had been a tight, happy family, we played and laughed together. Dad taught us both to ride our bikes and fly our kites, there was never any favouritism. We never had anything if the other couldn’t have the same, yet Errol had seen things differently. He had a sadness tinting his childhood and as the rain dripped over my face I wished I’d noticed his pain.
I folded the letter and placed it back in my jacket pocket. I could do nothing to understand Errol’s rejection until I spoke to him. A flash of us finally digging up the promised gold together and sharing this long searched for bounty buoyed me to return home and find him.
I drove recklessly down unlit country lanes heading for the main road home. Nothing crossed my path but the occasional rabbit eyes glinting at me from the hedgerow. The abrupt twisting corners were my playground and I took them with barely a touch to the brakes. I confidently zigzagged across the carriageway in my haste to dig the final hole. The intense lights of a large vehicle appeared from nowhere in the darkness, their nuclear brightness obliterating my vision. I gripped the steering wheel and stiffened in my seat, my foot finding a flattened, impotent brake pedal as I stamped on it. I stamped again and again but the brakes did not slow me. I screwed my eyes shut to block out the blinding light and swerved sharply to the left to avoid the huge vehicle. The car shuddered and bounced as it left the road, my grip on the steering wheel tightening as the car began tipping over and over in the dark field until it finally came to a stop on the driver’s side. I sat mentally assessing my injuries in the stillness, gingerly moving limbs and joints. I opened my eyes, the negative image of the bright lights still imprinted on my retinas. The field was black and eerily silent, only the twinkle of a distant town broke the darkness. The seatbelt released easily and I climbed through the broken windscreen looking around in the blackness for the vehicle responsible for this calamity. Nothing and nobody was on the road now, they and their bright lights had vanished as quickly as they had appeared. I felt my head for pain incase I had lost consciousness but found nothing amiss.
“Well Davy, this is a bit of a mess isn’t it?”
My father stood beside me in the darkness. I felt my head again and gave myself a sharp tap to the temple with the heel of my hand. He stood looking at me for a long second.
“That was the oldest trick in the book and you fell right into it.” He said, shaking his head slowly.
“Yup, cut brake lines. Forced accident. Game over.” He said, walking to the wreckage and tapping the roof with his foot.
“Shit, I must have hit my head.” I said, rolling my neck around.
“There you go, what did I tell you Davy? Game over.” Dad said pointing to the figure running across the plowed field with a flashlight.
“Oh, thank God.” I said, waving as he got closer. “Am I pleased to see you. God knows what happened, there was a bright light and I had to swerve.”
Errol arrived a the car and went straight to the windscreen to peer in.
He turned and put his flashlight on the ground, reached into the car and pulled me out. I was limp and lifeless, half in and half out of the windscreen. Errol placed two fingers on my neck and then pulled me further from the wreckage of the car.
I took a shaky step backwards. Errol patted down my limp form and pulled the letters from my jacket pocket. He picked up the light, read the letter then looked at the map.
“Fucking tricky old bastard.” He said, laughing quietly. “I knew you’d pull this on me.” He tucked the envelope in his own pocket, stood up and walked back to the road as quickly as the sodden field would allow.
I stared at the scene in front of me.
“What just happened?” I asked.
“Exactly what you think.” Dad replied.
“He wanted the map? How did he know I had it?”
“He knew what was in this box. I told him a just before I died, he forced me to. He threatened you, your family, everything. I’m sorry I couldn’t warn you, bit difficult from beyond the grave. He’s been planning this for a long time I think.”
“My own brother has killed me for money. I was going to share it with him dad, I don’t understand.”
“Greed does funny things to folk Davy, when it’s up mixed with bitterness and revenge it can mess you up.”
I nodded, I could think of nothing consolatory to say as I lie lifeless in front of myself.
“This isn’t right. The bad guys are not supposed to win. They never win in the movies.”
“Nope.” He agreed.
“And now he has the map to the treasure we’ve been searching for together for ten years.”
“Yup.” Dad said, putting his arm around my shoulder and turning away from the my wrecked life. “X marks the spot Davy, X marks the spot.”
In response to The Daily Post’s prompt of Fortune