Our story so far: Bellingham landscaper Rex Hunter found an unmarked grave in Bayview Cemetery disturbed. Police say they are puzzled, but a mysterious woman says the grave may have belonged to an outlaw who terrorized Whatcom County in the early 1900s. As Rex digs into the past, he disturbs the present. He’s found himself torn between pursuing an unsettling encounter at the cemetery and acquiescing to his wife’s growing concern for his well-being.
Rex Hunter's sweat soaked his brow, and he watched as it dripped onto the map of the cemetery. A wave of nausea washed over him. He realized he had been working all day but hadn't eaten, so he stuffed the map, which he had brought along to study more closely, into his coat pocket and made his way downtown to Bayou on Bay.
The sun was setting as the waitress set a mojito on his table. His order of sweet potato fries hadn't yet come, and for a moment Rex debated whether or not to drink. He stirred the mint and lime with a straw and decided a few sips wouldn't hurt.
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By the time the food arrived, Rex handed the waitress an empty glass and ordered another. As she stepped away toward the bar, Rex caught a glimpse of a familiar face.
Angela, the woman he often saw alone at Bayview Cemetery when he walked his dogs there, was sitting at a nearby table. She was a widow whose husband was buried in the cemetery.
Rex was accustomed to seeing her crying, but tonight she looked almost happy. He didn't know that she was discretely seeing an old flame from Bellingham High.
When she noticed Rex, she joined him at his table. Rex found himself searching for words. He had never seen Angela outside of the cemetery, and even then they rarely spoke at length.
"Didn't know you liked this place," he finally said, motioning to the bar, its high walls crammed with paintings.
"A friend and I come here. It's his favorite."
"Mine too," Rex said, as the waitress set down his second drink. He rose his glass, clinking it against Angela's.
"To fond memories," he said, pulling out the straw and taking a big swig.
Angela quietly sipped her Cajun Coffee and nibbled on her Bayou Chocolate Cake as she watched Rex pull a piece of mint from his mouth and rub it into a napkin.
"Long day?" she asked.
"Something like that," Rex said with an exhausted sigh. The last few days had seemed like something out of a mystery novel. First was the discovery of the empty grave, then finding the strange map, then the ghostly figure in the cemetery who handed him an old ring. He still hadn't told his wife, Ali, about the map or the ring.
"Are you alright?" Angela asked as she placed her hand around Rex's wrist. Her touch freezing against his skin.
"I'll be fine," Rex said, grabbing for a sweet potato fry as a way to release himself from her tightening grip.
"I think I know what you're going through," Angela said. "It's the empty grave. ... Does it keep you up at night, too?"
"It's been on my mind," Rex said.
"What do you think happened?"
"Oh, I don't know. Kids, probably ... pulling some prank," Rex said as he nervously stirred the ice in his drink.
"You don't really believe that," Angela said, leaning in closer and noticing a corner of the cemetery map peaking out of his coat pocket.
"What's that?" she asked, her head nodding toward the paper.
Rex searched for excuses, but the mojito had dulled his mind. He told Angela the truth about discovering the map in the cemetery. After hearing the story, she demanded he show her.
Rex unfolded the map, which showed different plots with numbers and names assigned to them.
"Is it a map of Bayview?" Angela asked.
"I think so," Rex said. "I recognize most of the names, but there are others I've never seen before."
"Let me take a look," she said, studying the map closely.
Suddenly, her eyes lit up. "Wait, I know this."
"What is it?" Rex asked, leaning in closer.
"Look at this top row. Look at these three names here: Websterr, Romeo, O'Mally."
"My husband's last name is Moore. The two people buried on either side of him have the surnames Brewster and Malloy."
It took a moment for Rex to realize what Angela was getting at, but when he understood, his heart began to race.
"They're anagrams!" he exclaimed, before looking around the bar and deciding to lower his voice. "Why would someone disguise the names of the dead?"
"To keep a secret, I suppose," Angela said, her voice wavering.
"Where's the plot for the empty grave?" Rex asked. "Is it on here?"
"My husband is buried north of the cemetery office and that includes these six rows here," Angela said, pointing. "That leaves only two more rows, which would put the empty grave ... in this area." Angela's finger trailed down the page, coming to rest on one lone plot.
"That's odd," she said. "I've seen more plots there than it shows."
"What's the name?" Rex asked, as he saw Angela suddenly turn a whiter shade of pale.
"Unearthli," she said.
"Unearthly?" Rex asked, perplexed and scared. "Meaning, not of this earth?"
"But with an 'I', instead of a 'Y,'" Angela answered.
A chill went down Rex's spine. He looked outside and realized the sun had long since sunk and the sky had turned black. All that was left of his mojito and fries were some melted ice cubes and salty crumbs.
"Give it back," he said, pulling the map from her grasp and stuffing it back into his pocket.
"What are you doing?" Angela asked, alarmed.
"I'm going home. I've got to think about this."
"Wait, let me help you," Angela pleaded. "We can figure out the name together."
"No, not tonight," Rex said. "Maybe another time."
He laid a $50 bill on the bar, caring little about receiving change. He hurried out the door.
His mind was so busy trying to rearrange the letters of the mystery plot that he didn't even think to catch a bus. When he finally walked up to his front porch, Rex realized it was past 11 o'clock. He was never out this late without calling his wife.
"Poor, Ali," he thought, and in that moment his heart froze as the letters of the anagram finally unscrambled in his head and he was left with one name: Ali Hunter.
COMING NEXT SUNDAY: What secret has Ali been keeping from Rex? Check back Sunday, Oct. 10, when Jim Donaldson continues our story.