The roses hit the weed-spotted gravel as Ali sprinted to Nana's grave in the quiet, unnamed graveyard off South Pass Road.
Frantic, she dropped to her knees and clawed desperately at the ground near the headstone. Coffee-colored dirt caked under her nails, but her hands came up empty. Nana's words coursed through her veins. They were her words now, too, her stories, and they were gone.
Rage like an electric charge shattered her usual easy demeanor. Her cheeks flushed redder than her hair, making her green eyes look supernatural in contrast.
"Where are they?" she screamed. "Where are my letters?"
Never miss a local story.
For an uncomfortable moment, librarian Dale Harris was silent. He'd read volumes about history. He knew the power of a woman wronged, and here was Ali, wronged and mad as hell, and he was holding the shovel. What he didn't know was what, exactly, she was talking about.
"Letters?" he asked, taking a quiet step away from Ali and the disturbed grave. His assistant from Western Washington University was less discreet, jogging back to the truck to get out of the line of fire.
"There were letters here. Letters I wrote to Nana every year," Ali said, revealing a secret not even her husband knew. "I put them under her headstone, and now they're gone, and you're going to stand there with dirt on your knees and a shovel in your hands and tell me you have no idea where my letters are?"
"I don't think the letters you write to your gran, may she rest in peace, are going to lead us to any treasure," Dale said.
He had all but abandoned the pretense of academic research. He liked Ali, and her husband, Rex. They were good neighbors. Lying to her didn't feel good. Neither did digging up her grandmother's grave, but he had pushed that feeling aside when the prospect of treasure arose. He had been sorely disappointed when his trip turned up nothing but stale dirt.
"I'm sorry," Dale continued, "but I haven't seen any letters here or at any other cemetery, or anything else for that matter."
Looking at the empty place under the headstone, Ali couldn't help but think of her Nana's life, captured piece by piece, letter by letter, year by year. She shuddered as tears welled up in her eyes.
If he would dig here under the guise of academia, she worried that her Bayview secret was also in danger. Ali had added something special last year, and now she regretted it terribly. She had drawn up a map of Bayview Cemetery and stashed it under a rock near the Angel Eyes statue. The map was a copy of one that Nana used to draw for her when she was younger, when she'd talk about her adventures and the legacy she wanted to leave behind.
On the map were the names of people buried in Bayview Cemetery, and in the center was Ali's name. Somehow, with Nana, it wasn't morbid. It was beautiful.
"Those men belong to those graves, and what is in those graves belongs to those men," Nana would tell Ali. "But this grave, what's in this grave belongs to you."
It was going to be Ali's next great adventure. When life grew stagnant, she would spin wild tales of what she would find in that grave, and how her life would change. It was her internal escape from the occasional drabness of life in the city of subdued excitement.
Last year, Ali thought it might be fun recreate the map with a little word scramble. That had been one of Nana's favorite activities as she got into her later years and it became too difficult for her to pick berries for her pies or to prowl Old Town for antiques.
The jumbled names on the map were probably the only thing protecting Ali's secret, but the ransacking of the Bayview grave meant someone had found and figured out the map. Now, whatever was in that grave was probably in someone else's greedy hands.
Ali's pristine dream had been destroyed. She was going to take back what was hers.
Ali snapped back to the present, where she was still crumpled on her knees in the loose dirt. The anger she had been suppressing since she heard about the disturbed grave at Bayview bubbled to the surface in the direction of Dale, still standing with his shovel.
"And what in God's name are you doing here digging around at my grandmother's grave? What gives you the right to do something so ... so," she grasped for the word.
Vile? Yes. Illegal? Certainly.
"So completely wrong? You're not going to get away with this."
Ali wiped her hands on her jeans and reached into her pocket for her cellphone as she stood up.
"You better have a seriously good explanation for this," she told Dale, "or at least a decent lawyer."
"I, I, I," Dale stammered. "I thought you knew what we were doing. After all, it was your boss who gave us the idea to come here."
"My boss?" It was hard to imagine that someone so angry and ready to strike could have a boss, but, of course, Ali did. But she was having trouble comprehending.
"You know, Charlie DeWilde," Dale said, taking another step away. "He was the one who told us about your grandma and the stories her grave might have to tell. But it looks like someone got to those stories before I did."
Ali clenched her fists and grabbed the keys to her Miata. Charlie's house was 30 miles away, and no furlough was going to stop her from seeing him.