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A man named Ali was dead. Though elderly, he had not allowed age to stop him from fulfilling his civic duty. Every able-bodied man in the town was required to devote a day and a night each month to standing guard inside the little house, pledging his life to the protection of the most sacred items inside. Ali was known to be alert and attentive to his surroundings, but in the darkness someone had gotten the better of him. Ali’s brother, who was scheduled to be the old man’s relief, had found him face down on the floor, a pool of blood around his head. He had been struck hard from behind—and then struck several more times, after he was down, to make sure he didn’t get up. Afterwards Ali’s murderer had taken his bloody prize. And although rage at the killing and the subsequent theft of their beloved relics now drove the crowd, in each heart that morning there was also a great sense of shame. For untold years their ancestors had guarded what lay within—but this generation had failed in its duty.

There was nothing to do now but await the consequences.

Chapter One

The Letter

Dear Mr. Weldon:

I was pleased to hear about your new employment, and I have every confidence you will do a superb job. My only regret is that you must now leave our beautiful hometown of Summerville, Georgia. I enjoyed your visits over the past several months, and would have liked to see them continue; however, I feel sure you’ve made the right decision.

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