A Cautionary Tale
Her breath caught as she pulled the zipper, not knowing what the bag held.
She’d heard the stories and prayed she wouldn’t end up as a cautionary tale on the news.
With her heart thumping, she opened the bag, her eyes piercing its dark depths. She had no idea what sort of trouble she was getting herself into.
The cold North Carolina morning wind beat at her, ruffling her hair. It had snowed through the night, and she’d hoped the downpour would end by sunrise.
But it had only gotten worse, blanketing parked vehicles and blocking roads all over the neighborhood.
Knowing she still needed to report to work, she’d gotten ready and embarked on the three-mile walk that separated her house from her workplace. She didn’t know this would be the last time she walked this path.
A Peaceful Life
For Meghan McCalister, life had always been simple. A retired teacher working in the local farmer’s market, the sixty-year-old had found the perfect way to provide for her family.
She lived alone in a humble bungalow just outside town and had two grandkids in college who never failed to make her proud.
Their parents had passed, and it fell on Meghan to care for them. But her peaceful life would soon take a different, much more chaotic turn.
A Day In Her Life
Meghan loved the tranquility that came with her age. She’d wake up early, feed her cats, then drive to the farmers market to sell vegetables and fruits.
The drive to work was short and refreshing, a needed change from her bungalow, which, although cozy, could turn suffocating after a whole day cooped up inside it.
But as winter came, everything changed.
A Hectic Drive
Meghan was driving to work when her car’s engine screeched, all the dashboard lights coming alive.
She barely pulled to the side of the snowy road, wondering what was wrong.
Her late husband taught her a few things about her vehicle’s engine, so she had no problem opening the hood to investigate. This one decision would change her life forever.
Meghan discovered that her engine had knocked. She phoned a tow truck and towed the vehicle to her favorite mechanic as fast as she could. But she soon found that a faulty engine was the least of her worries.
The vehicle had every problem she could imagine, from faulty brakes to a head gasket on its last functional lap.
When the mechanic shared the amount she’d need to fix the vehicle fully, she knew she was better off walking to work.
Walking To Work
And so Meghan started commuting to work on foot, leaving the house early in the morning and returning in the afternoon.
Despite her advanced years, she immensely enjoyed the six-mile walk there and back, looking forward to it as the week passed.
But the winter season was intensifying, and the once accommodating weather outside was becoming unbearable. But without a car, what could Meghan do?
The Best Way Out
She doubled up on her layers, wearing several sweaters and thick winter jackets to keep the cold at bay. Although this didn’t work as well as she had hoped, she kept walking to work.
She’d never been pessimistic in life. “Everything happens for a reason,” she always told herself.
Who would’ve thought such a simple mindset would lead her down a dark and scary path?
A Peculiar Sight
Meghan was on her way to work when she caught the seemingly harmless handbag in the snow. The bag’s scarlet leather exterior gleamed in the faint morning sun.
Like a drop of blood on a white sheet, it called to Meghan from afar. She had no clue what it was but knew she would be dumb if she didn’t investigate.
She should have looked away the moment her eyes landed on it.
An Expensive Piece
The sun had just risen, and the roads were still empty. Meghan looked around, searching for any woman who could’ve dropped the bag.
It was your standard designer bag, fitted with all the niceties that came with such expensive accessories.
Just looking at it, Meghan could tell whoever owned it must’ve been moneyed. If only she knew the truth.
Studying The Bag
The unsuspecting grandma picked up the bag, quickly studying it. She turned it over, her brows drawing up at the Hermes designer logo on its side.
The red leather that had drawn her attention earlier was soft to the touch, exotic.
It was clean, too, as if someone had just thrown it into the snow not a minute ago. It was also heavy.
Curious as to what was inside, Meghan decided to take a peek. Her fingers reached for the zipper – a red leather extension at one of the bag’s exquisite ends.
She dared pull it, but a crow cawed above her, snapping her attention away from the bag.
She stared at the bird, her brows knitting. Was it a sign that she should drop the bag and run?
The black-feathered bird continued gawking and cawing at Meghan until she decided not to open the bag. But she also couldn’t leave it behind.
Stifling a shiver, she tucked the red bag under her arm and continued on.
Since the farmer’s market was just a block away, it was only a short time before she entered the building’s door and got ready to start her day. But nothing about this day would go as expected.
Enough Is Enough
Meghan was an hour into her shift when she decided enough was enough.
Curiosity had been burning through her since she walked in, and she couldn’t wait to go on her break so she could look into the bag.
She’d placed it under her station next to her effects, and each time she walked past it, it would call to her. Taking it behind the counter, she pulled the zipper open.
Thinking It Through
With her heart thumping, she dragged the zipper across the bag’s length. She’d heard scary stories about malicious people leaving explosives in bags.
Such occurrences were always chilling, making her wonder if she was in that same boat now.
These thoughts made her halt, and her hand trembled in place. What if the bag was rigged with something dangerous? What if her curiosity cost the lives of everyone in the farmer’s market?
It’s Not Over
Meghan slowly zipped the bag closed. But instead of placing it aside, she grabbed it with both hands and sprung to her feet.
She called one of her co-workers, asking him to watch over her station for a few minutes. She jutted her chin at the restrooms and tapped at the bag. The man nodded, thinking Meghan needed to relieve herself.
Inside The Bag
Outside, in a secluded part of the snow-covered parking lot, Meghan finally cracked open the bag. She’d expected to find something malicious inside but was taken aback at what stared at her.
Carefully placed inside the bag were wads of cash strapped into stacks with rubber bands.
Meghan took out the first wad, counting the one-dollar bills to five hundred dollars. But that was just the beginning.
The second stack had hundred dollar bills, the third a mixture of a hundred and one-dollar bills.
Meghan was awestruck, forgetting that she was out in the biting cold.
Her body ran warm as she continued counting. She was now past the ten thousand mark, with more cash stacks still waiting for her. If only she knew who the money belonged to.
A Hefty Sum
Meghan ended up with fifteen thousand dollars in her hand, not to mention the bag the cash came in, which could fetch a hefty sum at a second-hand shop.
Excitedly, she snapped several photos of the money and sent them to her granddaughters in college.
She thought about how this money would come in handy in buying them school supplies. She could even fix her car with it! But people rarely walked around with such massive amounts of cash, let alone threw them into the roadside snow. At once, the excitement that had taken over Meghan’s body froze into ice.
It’s Dirty Money
What if the cash belonged to someone dangerous – a criminal gang or someone who made terrible life decisions and was looking to pay up or get rid of the money?
These thoughts had Meghan throwing the bag and the money on the snow, stepping back with her shaky fingers against her lips.
She took in a deep breath in a bid to calm her head. What kind of trouble had she gotten herself into?
Maintaining The Peace
For Meghan, the biggest downside to living a quiet life was the constant fear of everything falling apart. She didn’t like the idea of chaos looming just outside her door.
She’d never been caught with the wrong crowd in her long life. She’d rarely slept in a police station because of breaking the law.
Of course, she’d had minor runnings with the authorities, but none of it was ever serious. Fifteen thousand dollars of unexplainable money would surely put her where the sun never shined.
“Keep calm,” Meghan whispered to herself. Maybe the money belonged to some ordinary woman who lost it while driving down the road.
Maybe someone’s kid took the bag without knowing what was inside and left it in the snow. None of these reasons seemed sensible, but Meghan needed something to keep her mind steady.
Breathing in again, she hurried down and collected all the money, stuffing them into the bag. Although she didn’t like what she was about to do next, she knew it was the only right thing to do. She’d deal with the consequences as they came.
I Need To Go
Meghan hurried back to the building with the bag under her arm. She told her boss she had an emergency and needed to visit the police station immediately.
Her boss tried to pry, but Meghan didn’t divulge any information about the bag or what it carried.
She only insisted she needed to go to the station, saying it was urgent.
Reaching Their Destination
Her boss, Mr. Chaplin, offered to drive her to the station. He gave her the rest of the day off and walked her to his Jeep.
The next thirty minutes saw them cut through the midmorning traffic into the local station.
Meghan walked in with the red bag clutched tightly under her left arm. She didn’t let Mr. Chaplin look inside. She hadn’t mentioned it in their conversation here.
A Full House
With her heart pounding and sweat slicking her forehead and neck, she went into the station and asked to see any officer on duty.
The place was packed, so a deputy came to listen to her issue.
He stared wildly as Meghan presented the bag, taking out stack after stack of cash. Even Mr. Chaplin looked dumbstruck. But Meghan didn’t stop.
She explained how she found the bag that morning and why she opened it. She asked the officer if she was in any trouble. With a smile, he assured her she wasn’t.
She’d done the right thing by bringing the money to the station. The officer reached for the cash, took a few bills, and shone them under a desk lamp beside him.
But his smile slowly receded, his head tilting. Something was wrong.
Where Did You Find It?
“Where did you say you found the bag again?” he asked, pushing his chair back. “Beside the main road to town,” Meghan answered.
The deputy’s face had changed from that of wonder to one plagued with worry. An unsettling feeling washed over Meghan, rooting her in place.
Without an explanation, the officer walked away with the bag.
Meghan sat with Mr. Chaplin, studying the officers, who were a few desks away, discussing in hushed tones.
The officer she’d talked to returned, a single hundred dollar bill in his hand.
He pulled the chair as if needing to sit but stared at it for a few seconds before sighing. His gaze locked on Meghan. What he’d share would turn her world upside down.
“Mrs. McCalister, I’m afraid there is a problem. We might need to keep you here for questioning if that’s alright.”
He slid the dollar bill across the desk and said, “It’s fake. All of it is fake.”
Meghan took the cash and looked at its details. It looked okay from her point of view. “Here,” the officer reached for the bill. “Let me show you.”
“The most common way to know if cash is fake is to hold it against any light. If it doesn’t have a visible serial strip, then it’s fake. You can also rub it between your thumb and index finger. If it’s papery, oddly soft, or smooth, then chances are it’s counterfeit.”
He helped Meghan do the tests on the bill, and to her surprise, the money didn’t have a serial strip and was soft to the touch. “It’s fake,” he said. “You look like a good person, Ma’am. What we have here is evidence that fits directly into an ongoing investigation. I’d suggest you lawyer up. What comes next will be very messy.”
Disclaimer: To protect the privacy of those depicted, some names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed and are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblances to actual events, places, or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.