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Helena stamps her feet on the ground. The chill from the fields is creeping up and turning her ankles into ice cubes.
“Can you squeeze your hand through?” she asks.
“Waaiiit a minute” Rick squeezes, then: “Got it!” He turns around triumphantly with the pane of glass in his hand. A neat little gap can be seen in the window frame behind him. He grins and carefully puts the glass on the ground a little way away.
Helena stares. “How did you do that?”
He holds up his hands and wiggles his fingers. They are long and slender. “My mother says I have piano hands!” A little trickle of blood is slowly making its way down his palm.
“You are bleeding!”
But he shrugs and licks it off, almost daintily. Then he reaches inside and unlocks the window from the inside. It swings out and leaves a gap just big enough for one person to go through. A person who is not too big, Helena realises at the same time that she could not get through that. Not anymore. She sighs. “Do you think you can get your fit hipster frame through that, Rick?”
He grins. “Sure thing, mama bear! Time to lose some weight perhaps?”
“Don’t even, young one. I will speak to you again when you have reached my old age. My body is just fine, just not as slender as it used to be. Now get your ass through that window and open the door so the old folks can get in!”
The shed smells of old grass and earth and oil and gasoline. There is a lawnmower in one corner beside a few lockers where the maintenance crew keeps its belongings during the day, and their work clothes when they are done. A shelf with manuals and reference materials is beside it, and a small desk with a coffee machine and a kettle. The cups are neatly stacked on the desk. A couple of heavy duty bikes are parked against the wall on the other side. The shed is unbelievably neat. All the tools are in their right place, each within the carefully outlined position that is stencilled on the wall. This way Fred will be able to tell which tools are in use, which are missing, and he keeps a meticulous maintenance schedule that uses the little numbers with which each outline is marked. Many of the tools are gleaming in the sliver of light that is coming from outside.
“Wow,” Rick says, “this must be the tidiest workspace I have ever seen! Is this guy for real?”
“He is,” Helena says, “or at least I though so until a few days ago.” She sighs. “But let’s see what’s missing now, shall we?” She scans the walls and racks carefully. “The van is gone, for starters,” she continues, pointing at the large empty patch in the middle of the floor, “and I see a number of shovels is missing.”
“One of these is gone too!” Rick calls out, “A… pointy thingy with a handle…”
Helena looks around at the outline on the wall. “A pickaxe.”
Rick nods. “Right. And one of these, whatever it is.” He points at another empty spot.
“An auger for sticking poles in the ground.”
“Auger. Yeah.” He scratches his head. His neat pants were already ruined like his shoes. By now his shirt also looks beyond repair, and his carefully coiffed head is starting to look a little worse for wear. His hair is a mess and a scratch runs across his cheek from when he climbed through the window. A grin is stuck to his face though, like a schoolboy who is finally exploring the outdoors. Scout camp! Helena checks the other corner.
“Just as I thought. The hand plow is also gone.”
“What do they need a plow for?”
“To turn the earth,” Helena says grimly, “in case you want to find something that is buried.”
“Like what? Is there treasure in the park?” Rick’s eyes are gleaming now.
“In a manner of speaking,” Helena says. “Grab yourself a shovel and let’s go.”
“A shovel? What are we going to do? Dig up the treasure?”
“Not exactly.” She winks. “We are going to bury some.”
Rick looks confused. “Why would we do that?” he asks.
“In this case it’s because it is extremely ugly and doesn’t deserve to see the light of day. Will that do?”
“Is this part of that mystery again that you didn’t want to tell me about?” he pouts.
“Not yet. I will tell you about it later, I promise. Now grab yourself one of those bikes.”
“Where are we going?”
“We are going everywhere and nowhere, young padawan.”
“Look, this is insane! Why are we still doing this?”
Helena sighs and rests on her shovel. “Rick, do you know anything about squirrels?”
He frowns. “Uh… yes? They are red and brown and live in trees and they eat nuts.” He scratches his head again. “That is about it, I think.”
“What do you know about their behaviour in autumn?”
“They collect nuts, don’t they? I think they do.” He sounds more than a little unsure, not in the least because he has no idea where the conversation is taking him.
Helena makes to pick up the shovel again but finds that it is getting increasingly difficult. The second night in a row where she is getting very little sleep is starting to take its toll. Her back, that had already been hurting on the day she was going for the kittens, is complaining ever so loudly and she grunts as she straightens up with her hand on her back.
“Yes, they collect nuts” she says, “and they make little storages of them in the forest to come back to later. In effect, they hide the nuts and acorns away so others cannot find them.” She nods to the hole in the ground that Rick is digging. “As are we.”
“We are burying nuts?” A confused frown has been camping between his eyes since they left the shed.
Helena nods. “Yup. In a manner of speaking.”
They have been biking around the forest and fields for hours now. Where they were still being quiet and cautious when they approached the shed, they are now moving around freely with their bike lights on. Not every part of the park is accessible by bike of course and often they have had to dismount, sometimes after plowing through the sand, in order to make their way through the underbrush or soft forest floor. After a while they would reach a spot that seemed to Rick to be a completely random location in the park. Helena, however, often stood for a while and walked back and forth while looking around carefully before determining exactly where to dig. And then dig he would, a few feet down. The hole in the ground would be just big enough for his two feet to stand in. Then she would ask him to turn around and look away for a bit. When he would turn back again, she would already be shovelling the dirt back into the hole. The different layers of soil would be discernible in the moonlight as they mixed on top of whatever Helena had put in there. Rick knew it would not make sense to ask her about it, he would not get an answer.
They have been to several locations like this already and the night has progressed well pass midnight. This is a spot at the edge of the woods near a meadow. The moon has come out and illuminates the steam coming from their breaths. They are by the edge of the meadow that is a good spot for visitors and researchers alike to spot deer and other wildlife. The holly bushes and spotting cabins in the forest border offer a good view and protection at the same time. Oaks and birches can be found here, as well as some areas with thick bracken, but also holly. It is an odd corner of the park, and Helena has always distrusted it. It feels somehow hostile to human inhabitation, despite the many opportunities for wildlife viewing. Maybe the traces of wild boar activity contribute to the ominous feeling. At least boars going after their quarry will not present a problem this time.
“I think this is a good spot,” Helena says. “I think there will be people tomorrow, the weather look promising for a bright day. It will only be a few hours before the first people will come into the park, I guess, and they will probably trample this thing further into the ground.” She stamps on the freshly covered soil a few times herself. She looks up. “It will also probably rain tomorrow. That is good, it means that the soil will sink further in and make this spot virtually undetectable.” She nods. “What do you think?”
Rick nods too. “I agree. Let’s fill this thing up.” They start to shove the soil back, working hard together side by side, when suddenly they hear a sound in the dark. It is not the sound of a scurrying animal or falling leaf. It is, in fact, the sound of a person trying to make no sound at all. It was preceded by a bird flapping wildly away through the holly bushes that stand out as a patch of even darker texture in the night. The silence that follows this disturbance is deafening. Helena and Rick stand stock still, listening intently. Rick’s eyes seek hers and they just stand and look and listen and wait. There are no animals in the meadow now, of course, and no further movement can be detected. Nothing happens, and it is this absence of anything that convinces Helena that she is right in her suspicions. She bends down to pat the soil with her shovel and pulls some twigs and weeds over it, then straightens up.
“Time to go home. It is well after midnight, and the deed is done, the thing is over, whatever you like to call it.”
“Fat lady sings?” he winks.
“Fuck off Rick.” Helena shoulders her shovel with a groan. “I need some peace and quiet after all this, boy” she says, “I am too old for this shit!”
Rick laughs. “And you wanted to be a ranger?”
“Ah. You’ve got me there. I think my chances of becoming a forest ranger, even a volunteer, in Hertogsbos have gotten extremely slim by now. If I am lucky I get to stay on at the gift shop, if my annoying manager will let me get on with my work! But seriously, I have done what I can to keep this estate in the Trust’s hands, and that is something. There is no telling what anyone would do to get their grubby little hands on these lands. Even if those hands are well-manicured.” She rolls her eyes.
They make their way through the underbrush, past the silent holly bush, to the waiting bikes on the main trail. It is going to be a long way back to the shed, and the car, and Marina’s home. But Helena feels a little lighter already.
“Hold on!” Helena stops just before they reach the trail. “Do we need to mark this spot? What do you think?”
tl;dr Helena and Rick borrow bikes from the shed and bike around the park in the dark, stopping here and there to dig holes. At their final location, they decide to call it a night. Should they mark the spot?
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