Every old ranch has its secrets, and that went double for a place that had been in one family for more than four generations.
Still, Jerry Hopper had been surprised to stumble across the cemetery at the back of his property not long after he bought it from young Tim Staley.
Heck, the Staleys were one of the richest clans in Copperhead County, and Tim’s parents lay in the gaudiest mausoleum down in Peaceful Gardens. But all those folks who died before fortunes were made had to be planted somewhere. Jerry just wished it had been someplace else.
One of the problems was that a few Staleys still dropped by from time to time to pay their respects. They were family, but trespassing of any sort made Jerry itch.
Far worse were the grave robbers — five encounters in three years, the last in July and ending with a slug in Jerry’s hip. An inch in any direction and he’d have been dead. As it was, his leg burned like fire most days.
Worst of all, though, Jacob had found the cemetery, too. Jerry warned his 10-year-old son to stay away, but the boy couldn’t resist. After the shootout, Jerry made no bones about it — if he caught Jacob in the graveyard again, he was going to tan the boy’s hide.
That threat worked until a chilly October evening when Jerry heard Jacob’s voice lilting from the graveyard. Jerry stomped through the foliage — his hip felt good for once — and recoiled at what he saw.
Jacob knelt in front of a freshly-dug grave … and prayed.
Horrified, Jerry stalked closer to his son.
“You’d better have a good explanation, Jacob …”
The fire left Jerry’s voice as he read the inscription on the cross in front of the kneeling boy: “RIP Jerry Hopper.”