With trembling fingers Molly Griffin struggled to insert the key into the lock of the mausoleum door. It was a hot and humid July evening. The waning light didn’t help; her hands were covered with perspiration, making it even more difficult to control the key. Beads of sweat trickled down her back; others formed on her forehead and upper lip, adding to her discomfort. In spite of the unpleasantness, Molly continued her efforts with dogged determination. She’d rather not been there, but it was a job that had to be done and she was the only one who could do it.
Her third stab at the lock was successful. Gripping her flashlight tightly she tried to open the door. It wouldn’t budge; she put her shoulder to it and pushed with all her strength. Slowly the door moved inward, accompanied by the sound of metal grating across concrete. Suddenly it cleared the resistance and swung wide open, carrying the surprised girl with it. Darkness and the musty air of the burial vault suddenly engulfed her. Holding her breath she scampered back outside, filling her lungs with the heavy but fresh air while fighting the bile rising in her throat.
After several seconds Molly regained control of her body and emotions. She looked longingly toward the shape of her car, parked ten yards away on the main cemetery road. Then she forced the thought of leaving from her mind and got back to the business at hand. Taking several deep breaths, she ordered her legs to take her back to the door to the crypt.
Molly was twenty-eight; her hundred and thirty-five pounds were carried on a five-foot-five frame. Blue eyes complimented her medium length light-brown hair. She had sparkling white teeth and a smile that could warm the coldest heart. But just as important as her physical attributes was her personality. Warm and friendly, she was intelligent and a joy to be around.
These qualities, along with running a successful business in Manhattan, generated a number of would-be suitors. Although she enjoyed male companionship and dated frequently, she never allowed herself to get too involved. She had responsibilities to her company and its employees requiring her full attention; serious romance and related commitments would have to wait.
Everything had been going great for Molly until the phone call two nights earlier; then her world seemed to crumble.
When she answered the phone that night, there was no reason to suspect what was coming. It was, after all, her home phone. The number was unlisted and, she thought, only known by close personal friends or business associates. Even the fact that she couldn’t recognize the man’s voice didn’t cause her immediate concern. He had asked for her by name and his voice was pleasant enough.
It didn’t take long for the conversation to turn confrontational, however, and his tone to become menacing. The first sign of trouble came when he mentioned her parents. They had been killed nearly two years earlier in a freak automobile accident on the Taconic Parkway. That had been bad enough; but even worse, she had been in South America at the time doing volunteer work with the Peace Corps and hadn’t received the news until weeks after their deaths. She was their only child. In her absence the only other relative, an aunt from California, handled all the arrangements. She never even got to say good-by; a fact that continued to haunt her.
The caller said her parents weren’t really the nice people she probably believed them to be. In fact, he insinuated they had really been cold-blooded and cruel; not caring who they hurt as long as their business continued to grow and the money rolled in. In his opinion, the business itself was contaminated by the sins of her parents.
Molly sat stunned and silent as the man spewed his filth. Her mother and father had been caring and loving parents. They were highly regarded in their social circle and business community. And the business, Griffin’s Imports and Exports, which she had inherited, was considered the yardstick against which similar companies were measured.
She wanted to scream obscenities at him; tell him what a lying slime he was, but her mouth was inoperable. He raved on while she fought back the tears forming in her eyes.
Like a fighter systematically dismantling an opponent, the caller’s first accusations were like a series of body blows; designed to hurt; to punish but not disable. He now delivered the knockout punch. He hinted that the incident that took her parents from her might not have been an accident at all. They may have been murdered as payback for their misdeeds.
Molly was unable to keep her emotions in check any longer. Uncontrolled sobs racked her body. The caller waited patiently until the episode was over, and then went on.
“I know what you’re thinking,” he said. “You’re wondering if I’m some kind of a head case; you think only a nut would have said what I did. And you want me to offer some specifics, some proof. Beyond that, you want to know why I’m contacting you now. What do I want from you, you’re asking yourself. But the most pressing question; what you want to know more than anything else, is who in the hell I am. Isn’t that right?”
Molly was taken aback yet again; those were exactly the questions she was asking herself. She tried to respond but could only utter something that resembled a croak.
“That’s okay,” he said with a humorless chuckle, “you don’t have to answer. I’ll tell you how you can find out if I’m for real. Go to the family mausoleum and see if your parents are where they’re supposed to be. That’ll be simple for a smart girl like you, and if you really want to know the truth, you’ll do it.”
He had been right. So here she was two days later, in the land of the dead. For two hundred dollars and a seductive smile, she had been able to get the key and other assistance from the caretaker. In a few minutes she’d know whether this was just a brief but unpleasant experience, or the beginning of a nightmare.
Stopping just inside the doorway, Molly turned on the flashlight and directed the beam around the interior. True to his word, the caretaker had removed the marble slab, allowing her full access to the tomb. She continued into the interior, moving quickly in an effort to get done before her nerve deserted her.
She hesitated briefly as the caskets came into view, and then willed herself forward. The burial chamber contained shelves for six coffins, three on either side of the room. The lower and middle shelves on both sides were occupied. If everything was as it should be, this was where the bodies of her grandparents and parents were residing.
She directed the light to the right side. The ray fell on the two dark mahogany caskets. Stepping closer, she saw the nameplates located just below the split in the lids. Molly was gripped by trepidation as she read the names of her parents and knew what came next. Giving her attention to the lower casket, that of her father, she found the release mechanism just below the lid, where her funeral director acquaintance had told her it would be. There wouldn’t be room to open the top fully, but there was sufficient space for her purposes.
With increasing dread, eyes closed, Molly slowly raised the cover. When it hit the bottom of the shelf overhead, she took a deep breath and opened her eyes. Her gaze fell on the peaceful, waxy looking face of a young man; a man she had never seen before.
Now shaking badly, she closed that lid and repeated the procedure on the coffin above. This one was empty. The bodies of her parents were indeed gone.
Two hours later Molly had just finished her shower. She was still a very disturbed young woman, but much more composed than during the drive from the cemetery back to Manhattan.
She answered the phone on the first ring. “Well?” the man asked.
“I … I don’t know … I haven’t decided whether I’m going to do what you suggested or not,” she said, stalling for time.
“Don’t lie to me!” the man snapped. “You were there … so was I … I watched you. Don’t pull that crap with me!”
Molly felt the hair rise on the back of her neck; this creep had been there all the time. Keeping the anger out of her voice, she hurled questions at him in rapid fire.
“Enough!” he barked, stopping her in mid-stream. “Tonight I’ll only answer one of your questions, understand?”
He was in the driver’s seat. “Yes,” she said meekly.
“You wanted to know about the empty casket?”
“It’s real simple. In case you don’t cooperate, I’ve saved that space for you.”