By Mary Adams Belk
Sonny Banks jumped from the boxcar as the train slowed down outside of town and hurried along the path through the woods to the cemetery. Standing in the brush, he could see below where the family had already gathered under the tent—Roland and Bonnie, Uncle Buck, and Aunt Peg. Mama had been right. It looked like the whole town had turned out, even Doc Thornton and the sheriff.
Sonny turned back and ran the short distance to the cave overhang. At the entrance, he pulled a small flashlight from the backpack that hung from his shoulder and patted his shirt pocket to make sure Mama’s letter was there. He’d read it so many times he knew exactly what it said.
It started, “Dear Sonny, the doctor at the clinic says I have cancer in my stomach, and there’s nothing that can be done about it. I’ve made a plan so you can get the money, but you have to follow what I say so you don’t get caught and have to go back to jail.”
Sonny smiled just thinking about Mama in her white choir robe at the Mt. Zion Primitive Church. Nobody ever suspected her of a thing. All these years, everybody feeling so sorry for her after her baby boy turned out bad.
The hardest part had been waiting at his buddy’s house, checking the Daily Observer every morning, waiting for the obituary to be there. But that’s what Mama had told him he had to do.
Using the dim light, he ran his fingers over the jutting rock formations. Behind the third shale ledge, he felt a metal container the size of a large shoebox.
Sonny pulled the metal army surplus box out and opened the latch. Sure enough, it was there, the wads of five hundred dollar bills stuffed in big freezer bags, wrapped inside a burlap feed sack.
Sonny was laughing, cramming it quickly into his backpack. He couldn’t believe it had been so easy.
“Don’t leave the tin box out,” Mama had written, so he shoved it back into the opening, pushing it as far as he could reach.
Sonny froze, listening, as he heard a faint sound, something like the shaking of a gourd. As he recognized the dry, distinct rattle of the snake he’d aroused, a sharp pain like the sting of a hornet shot through the vein inside his wrist.
Sonny fell to his knees and screamed for help, but down in the tent, the a-cappella voices belting out ‘Amazing Grace’ had reached a frenzied pitch.