by Margaret S. Hamilton
Enjoy this never before published Easter short story with a touch of mystery.
Lizzie climbed out of her van and called to Claire. “I’ve got a load of special Easter eggs.” Daylight was fading in the park. Clumps of vivid yellow daffodils dotted the wildflower meadow, paired with blooming forsythia.
Nick pulled in next to her, his car piled high with garbage bags of plastic eggs.
Lizzie handed Claire an itemized list. “The eggs with vouchers from each vendor are separated into different shopping bags, so scatter them all over the area.” Local businesses had donated coupons for pizza and ice cream, movie tickets, and games at the bowling alley. Claire’s friends grabbed the bags and started up the hill to a wide, open field at the top.
Nick handed over bulging bags of plastic eggs filled with candy. “I think that’s it.”
Lizzie blew a huge sigh of relief. “All those eggs, all that candy, all over the cottage. It’s a wonder the dogs didn’t eat everything.”
He grabbed two lanterns, gave her one, and took her hand. “It’s for a good cause. How many kids are turning up?”
“Claire closed registration at fifty, with ten eggs for each child.”
They checked in with the other parents assisting with the food tables and first aid station. Each participant would receive a glow necklace and plastic shopping bag for their eggs.
Lizzie and Nick climbed up the hill to their assigned spot at the edge of the egg hunt area, next to the wildflower meadow, which was cordoned off with police caution tape. Lizzie pulled on a knit hat and gloves, and stomped her feet, encased in hiking boots and wool socks. “It’s freezing out here. What happened to spring?”
Nick wrapped her in a hug. “Better?”
“Our job is keeping kids out of the wildflower meadow?”
“Yup. The Garden Club ladies pitched a fit when they found out about the twilight hunt. They were out first thing this morning stringing the police tape. I think it adds a nice crime scene touch, don’t you?”
“Criminal Easter bunnies?”
“What a great idea. Next year.”
Kids lined up behind the start line, holding bags and baskets, wearing hooded sweatshirts with big pockets. Some of the girls wore bunny ears and pink tutus. The boys were stretching and jostling for position, intent on making a fast start.
Claire warned the kids to stay out of the wildflower meadow, and not to wander off into the park. She announced flashlight turn-on, and then blew her whistle. The horde swarmed up the hill, screaming in delight.
“Whoa, here they come.” Lizzie laughed and clung to Nick’s arm.
The hillside was ideal for the hunt, open and grassy, planted with mature trees. Lizzie saw plastic eggs tucked on branches, scattered around bulging tree roots, and nestled in hillocks of grass. The kids swarmed onto the open field at the top, shining their flashlights on the uneven ground near the wildflower meadow.
A group of boys stopped to examine their eggs, gobbling candy and comparing coupons. “Hey, I got two games at the bowling alley.” Several found free movie tickets. Another shook his egg. “I hear money inside. I wonder how much?”
His egg was taped shut. “Probably just an arcade token,” someone called out.
Lizzie approached him. “Can I help with the tape? You found an egg that’s not part of the hunt. I want to make sure it’s safe.” She pulled off her lanyard with her car keys, and in the light of Nick’s lantern, slit the tape on the plastic egg. Lizzie glanced up at Nick. “Do you think it’s safe to open it? I hate being such a worrywart.”
The boy shook it. “It just sounds like a coin. Come on, let’s open it.”
He twisted the two parts of the egg apart, and pried it open. A dime-sized gold coin was inside.
“All that for nothing. It’s just a toy coin.” He threw the plastic egg on the ground in disgust.
Lizzie picked up the coin and pulled on her reading glasses. Nick trained his flashlight on it. “It’s an American Eagle gold coin. The face value is five dollars, but it’s worth much more than that. Its value is based on the gold content.”
The boy’s face lit up with excitement. “Five bucks? That little coin is worth five bucks?”
“My guess is over a hundred dollars,” Nick said.
“Wow,” the boys shrieked. “Where’d you find that egg with the tape? Let’s find some more.”
Lizzie tucked the coin in her glove for safekeeping.
The boys scattered over the field, scanning the uneven ground.
“What do you think?” Nick asked.
“I’m stunned. I wonder if one of the garden club ladies left it. I’ve seen advertisements for the coins, usually the big ones with a full ounce of gold, but I’ve never held one.”
“We can do some research when we get home,” Nick said. “But what do we do about the gold coin? Notify the police?”
“Not a bad idea. I doubt it was left here by mistake.”
Nick called Officer Bethany Schmidt, who was in the crowd of parents at the start line, and explained the situation. She walked up the hill to join them, talking on her phone.
“Ha ha,” Lizzie replied. “I’m inclined to get the kid’s name and address, and let him keep the gold coin.”
Bethany smiled. “The police chief agrees with you. Finders keepers, for now.”
They stood as darkness fell, watching the kids race up and down the hill, green, red, and blue glow necklaces marking them in the dark.
Lizzie glimpsed a flash of white in the woods. Probably the white tail of a deer, she thought, wondering what all the excitement is about.
Claire blew her whistle. “Egg count time. Does everybody have ten eggs?”
The kids rummaged in their pockets and bags, counting.
The boy ran up to Lizzie. “We found more eggs wrapped with tape. Will you help us open them?”
“Of course.” She pointed to Bethany. “This is Officer Schmidt. She’d like your names and addresses, but you can keep the coins.”
A crowd of boys, and one girl wearing her soccer uniform, crowded around them. Lizzie and Nick shook each strange egg, and then slit the tape with their car keys. Bethany jotted down contact information. The eggs were all hidden at the very top of the hunt area, along the edge of the wildflower meadow. Each held a five dollar American Eagle gold coin.
Bethany finished taking names. “Okay, listen up. These little gold coins are worth a lot more than five dollars.
Don’t lose them. Put them back in a plastic egg, screw it shut, and keep it safe. Take the coins home and explain to your parents how you found them. If they have questions, tell them to call me at the station.”
The kids nodded, wide-eyed. Lizzie returned the coin she held, and helped the kids secure their golden eggs and tuck them securely in a pocket or bag. The crowd of boys took off down the hill, screaming. “We found gold coins.”
“Great,” Lizzie said. “Now everybody will want one.” She and Nick shined their lanterns, checking for stray kids in the open area, and then in and around the wildflower meadow, as they walked back to the starting line.
Bethany walked down with them and asked for everyone’s attention. The kids were devouring cupcakes and juice, faces smeared with chocolate and coconut. “Parents, do you have the same number of children you brought to the hunt?” The parents cheered and applauded. “Good, we haven’t misplaced anyone.”
Bethany shifted so everyone could see her. “We’ve had an interesting development at the hunt. In addition to the five hundred plastic eggs hidden by the organizers, an unknown person left an additional twenty eggs, each containing a gold American Eagle. Those coins are valuable. The police chief instructed me to take names and contact information of the kids who found them. The police will be in touch with their parents, when they make a final determination of ownership.”
The crowd broke into excited chatter, some kids ready to charge back up the hill. Bethany shouted, “The hunt is over, and the park is closed. It’s time to go home, folks.”
Nick was anxious to get on the internet and learn more about the gold coins. Lizzie dealt with the dogs, and assembled soup and sandwiches for Claire and her friends. The girls took over the sunroom; Nick and Lizzie settled in front of the gas fire in the living room. Nick poured two glasses of wine, and settled on the couch with his printouts.
“Did you notice if the coin had a date in Roman numerals?”
“According to a quick search, that indicates the coins were minted between 1986 and 1991; after that, they used regular numbers. The coins are American gold, minted as an investment item in various weights and denominations, from five dollars to fifty dollars.”
Lizzie gazed at the printed image of Lady Liberty on the front of the coin, an American eagle hovering over a nest on the reverse. “They’re beautiful. I wonder where you buy them.”
“Coin dealers, I would imagine. The small coins are sold in stacks of twenty. The police will have to determine if the kids can keep them. Finders keepers laws indicate they can.”
Lizzie nestled next to him. “It’s all a mystery, but we’ll get it resolved. Otherwise, the event went well. I’m sure Claire’s group will be asked to do it again next year.”
The next day, Lizzie and Nick were grubbing in the sunny garden and playing with the dogs, the spring wind gentle. Miss Betty came through the fence gate.
“Folks, I’ve just been at the wildflower meadow taking down the caution tape. No damage, thanks to you. But what’s this I hear about gold coins?”
Lizzie grabbed water bottles, and they sat on a bench in the sun. She told Miss Betty how the kids had found the coins, and the results of Nick’s limited research.
“Well, if that doesn’t beat all,” she exclaimed.
“Sorry you missed all the excitement?”
“You know it, girl.” She drank her water in thirsty gulps, and wiped her lips.
Lizzie waited, sure Miss Betty would have an idea about the source of the coins. She had lived in Jericho forever, teaching school for forty years. Miss Betty thumped her feet on the ground and sat upright.
“I’ve got it. I remember those gold coins. Years ago, we had a coin shop in Jericho. Moe’s. It was a little hole in the wall behind Main Street. Moe was robbed in the late eighties, or maybe 1990. The insurance company reimbursed him, but he gave up the shop and continued as a coin dealer from his home. I’m wondering if the gold coins came from that heist.” Her bright blue eyes sparkled under her white curls.
Lizzie smiled. “You are right on, as usual. The coins were minted during the eighties. Is Moe still with us?”
“No, he died a while ago. I miss him.” She shook her head. “The robbery was never solved. The coins can be bought and sold at any coin shop, so Moe figured they were long gone.”
“Maybe not, they could still be right here in Jericho.”
Miss Betty snorted. “People are all over the park right now with metal detectors, convinced there are more eggs filled with gold coins. We’re having a terrible time keeping them out of the wildflower meadow. Once word gets out, every tool shed and attic in Jericho will be ransacked for those coins.”
“Excuse me, may I have a word with you?” he asked. He escorted her to a table in the deserted children’s section, and pulled out a chair for her.
“My name is George Emerson. I live just outside of town, near the park. I walk there every day. I saw the signs about the twilight Easter egg hunt, and decided to have some fun with the kids. I’ve got all kinds of coins, and nobody to give them to. So I took a roll of those five dollar gold coins, and put them in plastic eggs. I taped them up real good, and left them at the very edge of the egg hunt. I watched, from the woods, as the kids found the eggs. You were right to be cautious about opening the strange eggs. I didn’t think of that.”
Lizzie smiled. “It wasn’t a deer I saw in the woods, it was you.”
George took a deep breath. “I wanted to do some good for the town. I gave the kids the excitement of finding the coins. You and your friend were smart to realize that the coins were real. I thought with what the twenty coins are worth, the kids might figure out some way to help the town.”
“Why don’t we ask them?”
A week later, with police assistance, Claire’s group had collected all twenty gold coins, and turned them in to a nearby coin dealer. George joined them when they presented a sizeable check to the Food Pantry.
Miss Betty held George’s arm, beaming. “The Garden Club is mounting a big project in the park, building benches and a shelter in the field at the top of the hill. George will be supervising the Eagle Scouts working on the project.”
George turned to Lizzie. “And that daughter of yours made me promise to work on another fund-raising project for Halloween, as well as a repeat of the twilight Easter egg hunt next spring.”
Lizzie shook his hand. “With thanks to you, George. You’ve already taught the kids a valuable lesson. I suspect you’ll be teaching them a lot more.”
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