(Just joining us? You may want to start at the beginning.)
As they came down the driveway, laughing and joking, carrying bags of drinks and snacks in their hands, they knew right away something was wrong.
They slowed down when the sensation hit them. The junk was still piled outside and didn't look disturbed. It was as if nothing was done while they were gone. Wendy's sense of concern grew stronger.
JD was sitting on the back of the antediluvian riding mower, hands on his knees, looking down. He looked exhausted or distressed, and Wendy was mildly irritated that she wasn't able to tell which from his body language. She picked up the pace then.
"JD?" she called, worry seeping into her voice. "Are you all right, love? Are you hurt?"
He turned to face her then, and she saw the scrapes and tiny nicks in the side of his face, his eyes worn and a bit frightened.
He nodded at her, trying and failing to smile. "I'm okay," he said weakly. "Just ... I'm okay."
"What happened?" She came forward to see his face more clearly. "Oh, God, JD -- what happened, baby? What happened?"
"Dude," Dillon said, looking into the cabinet. "What'd you do, go all Hulk an' stuff in here?"
"I had company while you were gone," he said flatly. "HE went all 'Hulk and stuff' in here."
"Company?" Wendy arched her eyebrows. "Like who?"
"Like the same company that I had last night. The one with the dermatological problem and a propensity for screaming in my face about this damned note."
Wendy gasped. "Oh ... oh baby! He came back? What did he want??"
"Dude, you are SO haunted. Do I need t'move outta the house an' shit? I don't want no ghosts hangin' around."
"I don't either. And I definitely think you should move out."
"Good LORD, JD, look at you!" Wendy was fussing over his face until he took both her hands between his and pulled them down gently, staring into her eyes and smiling.
"I'm okay, babe. Really."
"What ... what happened?"
"I don't really know. I was sitting out there, going through the stuff in the driveway, and the clouds were coming in. I saw a shadow and thought it was you guys coming back for some reason. When I looked up ... " he trailed off. "I was -- well, for lack of a better term, I was picked up off the ground a bit and we came flying in here. I was ... well, this is kind of embarrassing, but ... I was slammed into the cabinet until the door broke open. Some lady saw me, but she ... I think she thought I was doing something ... lewd."
Wendy's brows drew together over her eyes. "Lewd?"
"Nevermind. I ... it's hard to explain. The ghost pulled me in here, and slammed me against the cabinet until the doors came off. Then it was gone. And," he pointed to the top shelf, "there's the damned note in the pipe. FINALLY. Maybe now he'll leave me alone."
"Aw, poor baby!" Wendy said, still inspecting his face. "Oh, look at you! He really beat you up!"
"It's not that hard t'do, Wen," Dillon sneered. "So, dude, you found it! Now we can give up all this crap an' go home."
"Not quite," JD corrected. "We have to get all THAT --" he pointed to the driveway, "-- back in HERE."
"Awwww," Dillon groaned. "This BLOWS."
"Yeah? Trying being in THIS role for a while instead."
Dillon gazed at JD's red and abrased face. "Mm ... nah. I'm good."
"So -- this is it. We found it. Now what do we do with it?"
"Well," JD sighed, "when you got back I was thinking about how to get it out."
"Uh -- are you dumb or somethin', dude? You reach in with your hand --"
"DON'T TOUCH IT, DILLON!"
Dillon recoiled like a snake had struck him and stepped back. "Ooohhh-kayyyy," he said slowly, "we DON'T reach in an' grab it, I guess."
"No, we don't," JD said. "We don't want to take a chance on destroying anything in it or on it that may be evidence."
"Oh," Wendy started, "are you sure there's anything even left on it, baby? It's been 35 years."
"I know, but we still shouldn't take a chance."
"How're we going to open it, then?"
"Open it? We can't open it, Wen. That's evidence in a murder case. Opening it is for the police to do."
"JD, you must've been knocked sillier than you think, babe," Wendy giggled and brushed his cheek so lightly he got goose pimples. "If we don't open it, we have to have some explanation for how we found it and how we know what it is. We HAVE to open it."
He sighed, staring at the old coffee can and the pipe top poking out of it.
"She's right, dude," Dillon said, staring at it also. "If we don't open it, we can't get the stuff out. We don't get the stuff out, we got no reason t'go t'the cops, y'know? We got nothin'."
"I guess you're right. I thought maybe we could just mail it to the police."
"MAIL it? Aw, no WAY dude! Cops'll think you sent 'em a pipe bomb an' shit and put yo' ass away for a LONG time!"
"Yes, baby," Wendy cooed gently, "the police don't like receiving pipes in the mail. We have to get the note out."
He nodded slowly, seeing the flaw in his thinking.
"So, do I grab it or not?" Dillon asked.
"No. Not yet. We should still try to minimize how much we handle it. It could end up looking like we fabricated it if our prints are all over it."
"Dude, don'tcha think whoever put it in here from th' yard touched it an' shit? I mean, there's prints on it already."
"I know but ... maybe, just maybe, even after we salvage it they'll be able to find Jenkins' finger prints on it too. If they do that will tie him to the pipe, and give the police reason to re-open the case ... maybe."
"Yeah. An' maybe if we jus' open it an' say we found it an' stuff they'll read what's in it and do the same thing, 'cause ol' pus-mouth wrote down some shit 'bout Robbie an' them guys in his note. Y'know? If we jus' act like we didn't know what was in it, we're okay. Can't fake the note inside, right? Paper's all old an' stuff."
"That can be EASILY faked, Dillon. The ink too."
"Yes, but not the signature on the note, JD," Wendy chimed in. "And that will be proof enough. All we can do is try, but nothing is going to work unless we open it up."
"All right ... all right. Let's get one of those bags emptied out so we can put in there."
He walked to the cabinet, and looked inside again. Then he found something.
Taking the barbeque tongs, covered in rust and weathered badly, out of the cabinet, he used them to grab the pipe. A moment later, Wendy held open one of the gas station bags just below the pipe. JD dropped it in carefully.
"Hopefully it's really NOT a bomb," JD joked, and Wendy tied the bag off.
"We can open it after we get everything inside," she said, putting the bag down outside the wide barn doors. "Let's get going on that before it rains."
"Ugh," Dillon grunted. "This sucks so much donkey co--"
"That's enough, thanks," JD cut him off. "Let's just ... get to work, okay?"
Dillon nodded, and the three of them worked feverishly to put everything away. While they tried to be neat, they raced the darkening sky, and they weren't sure how much the homeowners would notice if things weren't exactly as they were. There was no apparent order to the chaos before, but they did their best to make some semblance of sense out of the clutter as they put it back inside the dark garage. JD wasn't sure what to do about the once-locked cabinet, mangled and open now. He tried to bend the catch on the doors so they'd close again, but couldn't get the doors back to their original shape. While Wendy and Dillon worked to get the dusty junk back inside, he worked to get the doors to close. Eventually, they were almost there. He tied them with an old rag from one of the boxes and hoped that would be sufficient. He'd have to buy a replacement for the homeowners before they returned.
He turned his attention to the driveway, and within half an hour of the three of them working to get it all inside, they were finished. The sky was dark and threatening, but the rain didn't start. When they were finally finished, the outbuilding looked much neater and more organized. It wasn't perfect, but it was a huge improvement. JD smiled and Wendy pecked him lightly on the lips.
"Nice job, handsome."
"You too ... uh ... gorgeous." He blushed. She hugged him.
"Yeah, yeah -- who's gonna kiss ME? Huh? Who's gonna hug ol' Dilly? Anyone?"
"I'll kiss you," JD said, puckering up and heading Dillon's way with arms outstreteched.
"Dude -- 'bout TIME," Dillon puckered and went for JD with HIS arms outstretched.
JD lost his nerve first and turned away. "Eww! NO! Quit it!"
"Ha! Knew ya didn't have it in ya."
"Uh ... no. But I didn't chicken out! I win!"
"We weren't playing chicken."
"You weren't. I was."
"Guys? It's going to rain soon. Let's lock up."
The sun, somewhere behind the thick, billowy black clouds, was sinking fast. They were dusty, covered in grime and age-old filth. JD's face stung, but showed no signs of bruising. He took the keys out of his pocket.
"Before I lock up, I need the shovel," he said. He wove his way through the neater stacks of junk and easily reached the garden tools, taking the shovel and coming back out. Dillon and Wendy pushed the swing-out doors together after him when he was clear, and in a few moments JD had the lock back in place and secured.
He watched the sky carefully. "Get the pipe inside before it rains, guys," he said, holding a key out to Dillon. "I have to go fill up the holes I made in the yard yesterday. Hopefully before it rains again."
They parted company, Dillon and Wendy heading for the front door, JD going around the back of the house and up the side to the series of divots he'd turned looking for that elusive little pipe.
For a moment, he panicked. He was alone. Every time he'd been alone over the last two days, a ghost did something that either frightened him, or hurt him. He stopped, looking all around him.
The yard was empty and quiet. The entire neighborhood was deserted. He turned toward the river, watching for the tell-tale fog.
There was no sign of anything.
He raced forward as fast as he could. His eyes constantly darting around him, he replaced the divots in the plant bed as quickly and carefully as he could. The rain yesterday made them muddy and hard to turn. He scraped and patted, trying not to dig a new divot as he filled the old ones. Before long, he was finished. The yard didn't look undisturbed, but it wasn't a mess, either. He patted the freshly-filled holes again with the back of the shovel, and pressed the soft earth down with his foot. He tried to move some of the moist mulch back over the newly buried spots, and when he was satisfied he'd not left a mess for the homeowners, he listened.
He strained his ears into the yard.
The air was still and quiet. No birds singing, no cars passing ... nothing. Not even a dog barking or skittering, chattering squirrels.
He shuddered. He ran as fast as he could toward the garage, and pulled open the service access door. He danced through the aisles between the new islands of debris and put the shovel back, and did the same ballet in reverse, then stood at the door. He listened.
Silence. It was almost unnatural. It was definitely unnerving.
He made sure the padlock was ready, and pulled the door closed behind him. Securing the lock as quickly as his shaking hands would let him, he sprinted at full-tilt toward the front door, bounding up the porch stairs in two easy strides, and spun quickly to face the yard.
There was nothing but the yard. The street was empty, as it often was in the quiet little neighborhood. There was no sound. He thumped his boots on the porch to knock whatever mud remained on them off, then opened the door.
With one last furtive glance through the door, he finally closed it behind him.
He leaned against it, and exhaled long and hard, eyes shut. In a moment he was collected enough to go into the house.
It was time to open the pipe.