Wallace looked hard at his companion, his face half-hidden by the shadow from the corner of the building they were hiding behind. The pale glow from the street lamp was the only light on this moonless night. Rawls stifled a snicker and took a deep breath as he tried to collect himself.
“Sorry, dude, I get the giggles when I’m nervous.”
“Rawls, you said you wanted to be part of this. If you can’t control your nerves, take your tools and get back to the dorms before they miss us.”
“It’s after two, the Prefect has surely gone to bed by now,” Rawls reminded. “I said I wanted in on this, Wallace, and I meant it. I’ll keep myself together.”
“Good, you’d better.” Wallace checked his watch for what seemed like the umpteenth time since they had crept up the edge of the building facing the park where The Obelisk stood. From the corner of his eye, a black streak whirled and passed into the street. Wallace fell back off balance, barely catching himself before his back hit the ground, “Geez!”
“Easy dude, it’s just a cat,” Rawls snickered under his breath. “Who’s nervous now?”
But Wallace ignored the dig from his associate as he played over in his mind the plan they had discussed every day for the past week. They would dress all in black and camouflage to blend in with the night. Each would carry a set of tools, so if they were split up the other could finish the job. His thighs were heavy with the weight of the twelve-inch iron crowbar and the multi-head screwdriver he had in the pockets of his cargo pants.
They hadn’t bothered to bring flashlights. Wallace had walked the route every day since they decided to do this thing. He memorized the path from his dorm, through the adjacent woods, to the street bordering his college campus. Rawls accompanied him on two occasions, both times in the daylight hours. They had portrayed, for anyone who cared, carefree college students, making their way through the city park to the convenience store or the local pub.
It was one of these visits to the park with Rawls when they bothered to take a good, long look at what had come to be known as The Obelisk. Some people would stop to look at it, maybe even circle it to look for a plaque, but most just came to see it, or rather not see it, as just another decoration in the park. It was at least twelve feet tall, four-sided, black plexiglass, wider at the bottom with a slight taper to the flat top.
“You’re sure Mikki is gonna make it here with the ladder?” Rawls asked as he too was remembering the plan.
“Yeah, I’ve pre-programmed my phone to give him a buzz when we know the coast is clear,” confirmed Wallace. “Look, there go the cops now.” They pulled themselves back into the shadows as he pressed the send button on his phone. “C’mon, we’ve got twenty minutes until they come back this way.”
Each was cautious as they stood up and trotted across the street to the big glass-like structure, the light of the streetlamps shining on the smooth black surface, reflecting onto the concrete walkway before it. They had reached the walkway when a small pickup truck pulled up alongside the park. A man, also dressed in black, got out of the driver’s side of the still-running vehicle, to pull an eight-foot ladder from the bed. He spoke not a word as he delivered it to the others. Wallace met him to help carry it the last few feet to the obelisk. With surgical precision, they set up the ladder next to one of the corners of the large black object.
Wallace nodded his head, “Thanks, Mikki, I’ll call when we’re done.”
Mikki just nodded in return before he wordlessly trotted back to his truck and drove away to wait for the next signal.
All the while, Rawls had been kneeling next to the structure as he worked with his screwdriver to remove the screws on the lower end of one seam. The truck had barely left curbside as Wallace climbed the ladder, and taking out his own screwdriver, began to remove the screws on the upper portion of the seam.
Rawls grunted as he started with each new screw, “These babies are tough – but once you get them started – they come right out.” He slipped another screw free, placing on the ground around his feet.
Wallace had climbed the ladder to a height even with his friend’s face if he were standing, “Shhh, boy you have a loud whisper,” he reprimanded, keeping his own voice low. He never looked down while he worked the next screw free, “We’re lucky the city keeps this thing pretty clean, no rust to have to fight with.” Every screw he removed he placed on the painter’s shelf of the ladder and hoped it wouldn’t fall.
As he worked each screw free, he thought back to the first time he had learned of The Obelisk. It was during the New Student Orientation tour of the town which hosted his university. He remembered he had also met Mikki and Rawls during that tour, so in a way, he felt it was fitting they were involved in a mission to reveal what was hidden behind the shiny black plastic plating.
Rawls must’ve had similar thoughts as he shifted to an adjacent corner to remove the screws there. “Remember when you asked the tour guide what was inside of this thing?” He must’ve have taken to heart Wallace’s warning about the tenor of his voice because he worked hard to make sure his words came out in a hushed tone.
Wallace had finished removing the last screw and was starting his descent, “Yeah, remember how confused she looked? It was like no one had ever asked before.” He placed his last foot on the ground and grabbed up the A-shaped ladder by the legs to gently lift it around where his partner was working. It was awkward and made a slight dragging sound, “Rawls, can you stop a moment and help me move this thing?”
“Yeah sure, man.”
He put down his screwdriver and quietly got up to face Wallace on the opposing side of the ladder. The both lifted but, without coordinating their strength, it lifted higher on Rawls’s end and some of the screws fell off the paint shelf onto the concrete at their feet. Horror struck, they both stopped in their tracks, Wallace looked like there had been an explosion, and Rawls expected one from the top of Wallace’s head. The screws bounced and rolled into the grass, and with the silence of the night, it sounded to them more like pots and pans had been dropped, as opposed the diminutive clink of the tiny metal hitting the ground.
They stared at each other, waiting for something that wasn’t going to come, but when they realized they were still the only people on the empty street, they both sighed and continued to relocate the ladder. Wordlessly, Wallace climbed back up to start his task. They had lost time, he thought, so he picked up the pace to finish well before the expected return of the police making their rounds.
To each, it felt like an eternity, but really it had been less than ten minutes, and soon the men were finished with dismantling the one wall of the encasement. Rawls gave a wide smile as he stood waiting for Wallace to climb down. Without having to give instruction, they each took their sides of the ladder, and this time, gently moved it out of the way. Wallace felt lightheaded as he realized his goal of revealing the secret of The Obelisk was at hand.
He stood on the left and Rawls on the right. The illumination from the street lamps was bright enough Wallace could see his face in the shiny black surface, his smile broad and his eyes bright. “This is it,” he thought, “three years of waiting, over in an instant.” He raised his crowbar and began to pry between the now unsecured sheets of plexiglass.
Rawls did the same on his side. He wedged the splayed end of the tool in the small crack and applied pressure at about a foot up from the ground. He worked it until the sheet gave way, no longer connected to anything. Moving about eight inches upward, he would repeat the action, each time the plastic pulling a little further and further from the stationary wall it was once attached to.
As he worked his way up, Rawls began to giggle. Wallace wanted to stop him, but the thrill of opening this sarcophagus to reveal something unimaginable had overwhelmed him as well. Finally, with a crack, the plumbers putty which had been used for waterproofing the seam broke loose. The hands of the two men were the only thing supporting the free panel.
“We’re gonna bring it down, aren’t we?” asked Rawls, giddy with exhilaration.
“Yeah, but first I must call Mikki, he needs to see this too, you know.” Wallace freed one of his hands to reach into a pocket, pull out his phone, and like before, wordlessly signal his other friend to join them. He replaced his phone and put his other hand back into a position which would allow him to ease down the panel. He looked at Rawls, nodded twice, and together they started to lower the sheet of plexiglass.
Slowly, the sheet pivoted on its base as the men walked backwards allowing it to fall forward towards the street. It was heavier than they had imagined. Mikki’s truck arrived in time for him to jump out to help his friends place it on the ground. The three men looked at each other with congratulatory smiles. They approached their open treasure chest with a quiet reverence to surveil their prize. The light from the street did not penetrate far into the darkness. Mikki pulled a small flashlight from his pocket and shone it onto the still figure which had been encased for who knows how long.
“It’s a statue,” Rawls exclaimed. “A statue of an old man in a funny uniform. Look at his sword, and those weird gloves.”
“I think they called that a saber,” corrected Mikki.
“Yeah, but of who is he?” Wallace asked, not knowing whether he should be disappointed. “Here, Mikki, shine the light on the base.”
Mikki had been surveying the concrete statue with his torch from the top to the base, but finally rested it upon a bronze plaque placed below the man’s booted feet. The three men leaned in to read, ‘In memory of the valiant soldiers of the Confederacy’.
“Confederacy? What’s that?” Mikki asked.
“I don’t know, but it’s important enough that someone thought to place a tribute to it,” answered Wallace in a solemn tone.
Rawls had been scratching his head as he tried to make sense of the dedication, “I know, Confederacy, do you think they might’ve meant confederate?”
The other men looked at him with a ponderance, could Rawls have solved the puzzle of the meaning of the plaque?
“Think about it,” he continued, “doesn’t confederate mean bad, like in confederate money?”
Wallace’s mouth dropped open, he tried to speak, but, there were no words adequate to criticize his friend’s misbegotten logic.
“That’s counterfeit money, stupid,” chided Mikki. “Either way, I figure we’ve been out here way too long.”
Wallace snapped out of his fugue, “Mikki’s right, we can figure this out later C’mon, help me with the ladder.”
Mikki turned off his flashlight and ran back towards his still running truck. Rawls pushed up the paint shelf of the ladder as Wallace collapsed it, then the two carried it to the curb where they placed it in the bed before they hopped in themselves. As Mikki drove off, Wallace looked back at the now exposed statue, the plexiglass front still lying before it on the ground, a collection of screws scattered about. He knew he had to research the meaning of the plaque or tonight’s events would just be chalked up to a juvenile college prank.
It was barely after sunrise the next morning when two men in coveralls stood in much the same way the trio had before the now exposed contents of The Obelisk. Patches on their backs read Department of Public Works. The younger of the men just stared at the statue while the other started looking down at the grass around the supine plexiglass sheet.
“Do you think we’ll be able to find all of the screws?” he asked.
“Why would anybody do this? I mean, deface a public monument like this?” his companion asked as he turned away from the concrete man towards the one of flesh and bone.
Getting down on his hands and knees to pick screws out of the grass he responded without looking up, “I don’t know, it happens every decade or so. I don’t understand why the city doesn’t just take it down.”
“Every decade or so, how long has it been here?”
“I don’t know really. The Obelisk has been here as long as I can remember.” The older man stopped his exploration long enough to take a long look at the concrete soldier and sighed, “C’mon, help me get this glass up. I think I have enough screws to at least keep it upright until we can replace the others.”
Both men squatted down on either side to lift the black sheet, tilting it upward, a reversal of the way it had come down. Once in place, they each took some screws, fit them in place, and secured it enough for them to let go, sure the sheet would not fall back to the ground.
The older man started walking back to the city truck parked at the curb. “That should hold it until we get some plumbers putty and some more screws.” He had reached the side of the truck before, he noticed his coworker had not followed and was still looking at The Obelisk as if he could see the statue through the black plastic walls. “You’re coming, or are you just going to stand there all day?”
His companion joined him at the side of the truck before he asked the question which had burned in his mind since he arrived at the park, “Yeah, but why would the city make a monument to this soldier and then decide to box him up?”
The older worker turned once more towards the monument, shrugged his shoulders, and then turned back to his truck shaking his head, but as he opened the door to get in said, “Hell if I know, politicians!”
P.A. O’Neil has been writing professionally for four years. In that time, her stories have been featured in multiple anthologies (many of them international best-sellers), as well as on-line journals and magazines from several continents. She released her first collection, Witness Testimony and Other Tales, in April 2020 in both ebook and paperback. It has met with great success. She and her husband reside in Olympia, Washington, with her adult children living nearby. Links to stories she has had published online, go to her Publication Resume in the Notes section of her FB page, for links to books which feature her stories, look under the Photo section. Follow her career on the Facebook author page, or visit her Amazon author page: P.A. O’Neil.