Standing in the ankle-deep weeds and brambles, Haley stared at the old store front watching the reflections of passing cars scrolling across the surprisingly intact display windows.
Carefully she moved through the over-grown parking lot stepping around broken pieces of asphalt peeking through the grass. After slapping her bare arms a few times, she cursed Carlos for not insisting more convincingly that she apply insect repellent. She would have to ask him to check her for ticks when she got home. That thought of fastidious Carlos picking through her hair like a preening chimp made her laugh.
She cupped her hands against her temples and leaned into the dirty window trying to see into the unlit building. She tried to wipe the grime off the window with the hem of her shirt only to smear the greasy, grayish-green film that covered the glass.
The front door was pad-locked, the bracket too shiny to be as old as the building. Haley searched unsuccessfully for something she could use as a hammer to break the lock. Circling the building looking for another way in, Haley was glad she wore jeans. At least, that was one piece of advice from Carlos that she followed.
Small trees were poking through the roof, and out-of-control ivy blocked the back door. Haley pulled aside branches and vines looking for a way inside. Near the southeast corner, a small, high window was open, probably leading into the store’s bathroom. As annoyed as Haley was over all the scratches and cuts she endured forging through the overgrowth, she was even more grateful for the natural ladder it provided to the only unobstructed entrance to the abandoned store.
Squeezing through the opening, Haley pulled a vine along with her to ease her descent to the floor. Landing in years of dust and decay, Haley stirred up clouds of yellow dust and grit. She pulled up the edge of her shirt to use as a mask only to reject the idea when she remembered it was covered in window grime. Her hand over her mouth, she slowly shuffled through the building to keep the dust cloud to a minimum.
Haley fished a small flashlight out of the side pocket of her cargo pants. Turning it on, she held it at shoulder level as she searched the murky darkness. She wasn’t sure what she was looking for exactly, only that she would know it when she found it.
The sounds of tiny vermin, and not so tiny creatures, scurrying away from her light and noisy feet, caused Haley to jump and spin in circles looking for beady eyes and hairless rat tails. Using what linoleum tiles remained on the floor as a guide, Haley stepped on each square like she was a human chess piece. When she touched a tile that was slightly darker than the others, she heard a muffled “click.”
Stepping back, Haley shined her light on the floor. The layer of dirt over the tile looked undisturbed. She said a short prayer, hoping the hiding place had not been robbed already. Holding the flashlight in her teeth, she knelt and worked her fingernails into the seam between the squares and pried up the tile.
Haley wasn’t sure what she expected – ethereal lights, spooky music emanating from the recess. Finding a nondescript, metal strongbox was a little of a disappointment. She lifted the box, pleased that it had some heft to it, then replaced the tile.
Finding the back door to the building, Haley pushed through the tree limbs and vines to get outside. Once in her car, she laid the box in the passenger seat and opened the lid.
Inside was a tiny top hat, a miniature cane, and a frog.
As Haley drove away, visions of fortune and fame dancing in her head, the baritone amphibian entertained her with a little soft-shoe and a ragtime tune…
Slide, ride, fly to Michigan
Stomp, romp, hop to Michigan
Jump, hop, up to Michigan Rag
That lovin’ rag…