Robert slid the box under the bed with his heel and stood up in one smooth, silent motion. He took a long, steadying breath and moved slowly toward the door, taking care to avoid the two creaking floorboards he had discovered during his initial inspection of the room.
As he stood next to the door Robert counted his breaths in an attempt to slow his racing heartbeat, to maintain order in a mind suddenly lurching towards panic. He reminded himself that all that was left was to hand over his burden to one of Jacob’s sons and then it would all be over. No one else knew to find him here - Jacob would have made sure of that.
“Your name or a bullet hole - your choice,” he called through the door, praying his bluff would not be called. He abhorred guns and had never touched the evil instruments, much less owned one. Even after all he had been through he refused to arm himself with anything but his wits – and in that regard he considered himself a dangerous man to confront.
“It’s James, open up old man,” came the quick reply. James? Jacob you damn fool, you’ll get us all killed.
Robert unlocked the deadbolt and the oldest son of his fallen friend came rushing into the room, slamming the door behind him. The dark suddenly felt confining rather than concealing, menace replacing serenity. Robert returned to the bed and thumbed on the lamp, the muted light easing his discomfort as he stood between the secret and the son.
“Were you followed?” he asked, needing to ease his own fears before handing over his albatross; needing time to forget the arguments he had made against this choice.
“Of course not,” James snapped back as he looked wildly around the room. “Where is it? It is here, isn’t it? Give it to me.”
Robert studied the boy… no, the man across from him. So brash, so eager to get involved in this fiasco that had buried his father. Maybe this zest would be enough to see him through to the end. How much had Jacob told him?
“You have the key?” Robert asked, watching James’ face closely as he took another sip of the comforting wine.
“The wh-yes. Of course I do, let’s get this over with.”
The hesitation had been slight, the confusion in his eyes brief – but Robert had not missed either reaction. He had not survived this long by being careless and trusting blindly.
Robert placed the wine glass on the table beside its bottle and began to sweat. He was beginning to realize that suddenly his part in this mess was far from over.