R.W. Van Sant
The librarian sat behind a desk stamping books, a solitary guardian of the accumulated knowledge of Puerto Villa. “We close in an hour,” she announced.
“Thanks.” That was all right with Jerry; he begrudged every moment of his vacation in a library lost to the library.
The building that housed the library was a re-purposed house. Ted led the way as they walked through the maze of rooms, each labeled fiction, history, and so on. All Jerry could think of, however, was the nursery, the teenage girl’s room, den and dining room. They reached a stairway leading to the basement, above the stairwell, a sign read ‘records room.’
The room was stuffy and had no windows. It was small and might have once been a bomb shelter or wine cellar. Wooden shelves filled with leather-bound books and round map cases lined the walls. Dust had settled over almost everything. Jerry had to fight off a sneezing attack. A wooden table scarcely larger than a card table occupied the center of the room. Jerry opened a folding chair and sat down.
Ted walked to a bookshelf and pulled out a large leather-bound book, one of the few items in the room not covered in a layer of dust. He set the book down on the table and opened it with particular reverence. Jerry moved closer so that he could see what was important enough to merit wasting what little time they had remaining of the day. He saw an inviting looking beach nearby that he would have rather been sitting on.
The yellowed pages produced a cracking sound as Ted gingerly turned each to reveal the faded ink markings. The words on its spine had almost entirely faded away. Jerry, however, could barely discern the phrase ‘Mahoney Imports.’ Near the end of the large ledger, the pages were considerably less stiff, most likely from recent use. Ted had obviously spent lots of time studying those last few fragile brown pages.
Ted moved past page after page of discolored handwritten entries. Each listed a ship’s name, dates, weights, and cargoes. At the bottom of each entry was a signature and date confirming delivery. Ted stopped on a manifest for the Morning Sunshine and moved over so Jerry could get a better look at the entry. It looked just like the others, except that it lacked the signature at the bottom. The company representative never affirmed delivery.
“This is it,” Ted held out his arms as if he was presenting him with the secret of the universe.
“That’s what?” Jerry did not see where Ted was going. There was nothing of value on the manifest; cloth, spices, fruits and carpets, nothing that could survive even a few days in salty seawater let alone a century and a half.
“The Morning Sunshine. She set sail from India February 10, 1877. April 23 she ran into a storm off the coast. That’s according the insurance report,” Ted reached into his case and brought out some photocopied papers. “She hit a submerged reef and sank with only a single survivor.”
“Yeah.” He ruffled through the pile of copy paper and handed it to his obtuse younger brother. “Read this.”
It was a personal journal entry. The copy was dark, but the words were still readable.
Matthew Teller, Captain
I finally received the Idols. They cost quite a penny, but I’ll make a hefty profit selling them in San Francisco. Nine golden statues, I’ll be a wealthy man. Perhaps I’ll pay off the Sunshine once and for all.
“It’s from his personal log,” Ted said.
“Where did you get this?”
“From a local collector.”
“He sold you copies of an old log book?”
“No, I have the book.”
“If you have the originals why not just show me?” An old journal would be more persuasive than barely readable Xerox pages.
“The book is too fragile. It’s back at the house.”
“Okay, but what makes you think that the statues are still there?”
“Oh, they’re there.”
“It’s been well over a hundred years. It’s a real long shot, Ted. The captain could have retrieved them long ago; I would have.”
“After seeing what the sharks did to his crew and passengers, I’d never go near the water ever again.”
“He could have hired someone. Seriously, Ted, the man stuck around for a reason.”
“He didn’t get them. I’ve read his papers. I know he didn’t.”
“Okay, say you’re right. He never got them. Let’s give you the benefit of the doubt and say he built the house to guard the treasure. What happened after he died?”
“No one knew about it.”
“Well, how about the person who sold you that book? He’s probably read it too. He could have gone after the statues himself. Hell, a lot of people might have read it before you got it.” Jerry could not understand how his usually weary brother could buy that crap so completely.
“No one else has seen this book. It has been with the estate since Captain Teller disappeared.” Ted pulled his hands through his hair and then sat back in his chair with a deep exhale. “A few decades back, the executor of the estate had to sell some of the captain’s possessions to pay back taxes. That’s how I got it. The whole place was about to go up again for tax sale, all I had to do was pay the back taxes. Anyway, the journal was in some old trunks belonging to the captain. The dealer is superstitious; he believes the cove is cursed. He won’t go near it, or let anyone else either.“
The whole thing sounded like a swindle. “He let you near it, didn’t he? Who buys cursed books? Why did he sell the book instead of destroying it? This situation doesn’t add up Ted.”
“He had no choice; it wasn’t his.” Ted shut the old book abruptly. “Look, the man’s name is Al Wallace. He was close to the Teller family. He’s been taking care of the place for the family, in case they ever came back to claim it. There’s more you need to know. It’ll all make sense, I promise.”
“You trust him?” Jerry stood up.
“Yes, I do. You can too. If anything ever happens, you can go to Wallace. He understands.”
“He’s a friend of yours then?” The man did not sound very reputable, but then many of Ted’s friends would match that description. Superstition and gullibility were not good traits in a dealer of antiquities.
“Will you trust me? He’s on the level. He’s a lawyer; he helped me with the paperwork to get the cove.”
“He’s a lawyer?”
“Old man Teller died poor. I turned the house inside and out. It’s not there. I’m telling you it is still here, sitting on the bottom of the cove, on that ship.” Ted tried to explain.
“The cove can’t be all that deep. Even I know that a shallow wreck attracts divers. People get off on diving to sunken ships. It’s exactly the kind of thing that makes people think of lost treasure.” Jerry put the page back into the open briefcase next to a picture of a young couple standing next to a motorboat.
“After what happened to his crew folk around here are eager to believe the cove is cursed. The captain spread enough wild stories to give that entire part of shoreline a bad rep. No one goes there.”
“Tell that to the jet skier I saw this morning.” Jerry picked up the photo for a closer look.
“The locals actually believe there is a monster in the cove.”
Jerry looked at him. Surely, Ted did not buy into all this.
“Well some of them do. The occasional shark attack only makes them more afraid. I’m telling you the captain wasn’t crazy; he was friggin brilliant. Fear keeps people away from his ship. I wouldn’t doubt that he chummed the waters around the cove for decades to change the shark’s feeding patterns.”
“It’s too wild to believe, sorry.” There was something very familiar about the man and woman in the photo. “I don’t see how there could still be anything of value there after all these years.”
“I’ve studied, done research.”
“You?” Ted flunked out of high school because he hated to study.
“The treasure never appeared in any museum. Al looked too. I’ve read every newspaper I could find, going all the way back to the time of the wreck. Such a discovery would have made the papers somewhere. There are things that I can’t go into in public. We’ll talk more at home, okay.”
“Ted?” Jerry held up the picture.
“Mom and Dad. That’s probably the last picture taken of them.”
“I don’t remember a boat.” He studied the ship more carefully, ‘Desert Dreams’ painted in bold golden letters on the back. His parents looked happy posing around their new toy, oblivious that they would die on it.
“Why haven’t I seen this before?”
“I haven’t had it that long.”
“I want a copy.” Jerry put the photo back in the case.
“We’ll make you one. I was thinking about getting it blown up, into an eight by ten. We’ll do two, okay?” He closed his case. “Let’s get out of here. I’ll tell you the whole story.”
“Sure, why not?” If Jerry went over his brother’s research, it would be easier to point out the flaws in Ted’s logic. There were bound to be several, and then he could get to the beach and do some girl watching. Ted grabbed the old ledger as they left the room.
“My name is Ted Lujan. I’m finished with this book. It was an interlibrary loan. Thank you.” He informed the librarian on their way out. Jerry was impressed his older brother even knew what interlibrary loan was.
“Thank you.” The librarian only half lifted her head, her eyes following them out the door.
The sun was setting as they walked back to the truck. It was Jerry’s first day in California, and he had wasted it sleeping in and sitting in a library. That did not bode well for the remainder of his vacation.
“It’s a bit complicated. If I try to tell you in pieces, it’ll probably give you the wrong impression.” Not a promising beginning, Jerry thought. Ted started the old truck and drove onto the highway. “I’m not sure where to begin.”
“Babbling won’t help.” Jerry could see his spring break plans evaporating before his eyes.
“Okay, Okay, I’ll start with Grandma.”
“Uncle Ernesto found some documents when we were going through some old boxes.”
“They led me here. I found Alfred Wallace.” Ted said.
“The book collector slash lawyer?”
“Yes and no. He owns an antique store, and he has a law degree, but he’s kind of a relative”.
“A relative? Of Grandma’s?” Their grandmother had never talked about family. Both he and Ted assumed she was an orphan.
“Yeah, he is Grandma’s cousin by marriage. They grew up together. From what he told me, they were pretty close, like you and Arturo. He’s been looking after grandma’s estate since she left.” This was a lot to take in all at once. “I’m sorry, I got ahead of myself.”
“Teller’s Cove,” Ted said. “It was Grandma’s.”
“Just wait, slow down. Grandma didn’t have any property. How many times did she almost lose the house in Albuquerque? If she had some property in California, she could have sold it instead of scraping pennies to get by in New Mexico. Why would she do that?”
“I don’t know. Something happened when she was young. She left and never came back, not even for her money.” He pulled over to the side of the highway, opened the briefcase, and pulled out a document. It looked like an old birth certificate. The name on it was Martha Kay Teller.
“It’s no wonder that grandma never talked about her childhood,” Jerry whispered. “I know she married young and that grandpa died in Vietnam.”
“It’s because she had a madman for a great-grandfather. Mr. Wallace told me that her parents died young and the captain raised her. He disappeared about the time she married. After grandpa died, she left the state, her life—everything and never came back.” Ted said. “The house, the land, the cove and…the whole shebang, she was born there, raised there. She inherited it after the disappearance of her great-grandfather. As Grandma’s only surviving heirs, it belongs to us, Jerry. You and me.”
If what Ted said was true, it went pretty far toward explaining his older brother’s attachment to the dilapidated old place. Ted associated it with their grandmother. Jerry, on the other hand, wasn’t at all sure he liked the idea that his family was intimately associated with a place that was seriously creeping him out. “And the book?”
“Mister Wallace protected it. The state wanted to foreclose on the property; he had to auction off some of grandma’s stuff to pay the taxes. He bought the book himself, to keep it safe. When I came along, he was more than happy to get rid of it. He even helped me to pay off the current taxes and take possession of our estate.”
“Our estate?” Jerry wanted a house, but he was not sure he wanted that house. The thought sat in front of him, refusing to take hold. For a brief instance, he wanted to convince Ted to sell it all: house, cove, and the land. But then again, it was all he had left of their grandmother, and some part of him felt like they should keep it, to honor her.
“Yep, both of ours. According to grandma’s will, we each received an equal share of whatever she had. We are co-owners of the whole enchilada, including the ship.”
Jerry sat silently, lost in thought.
“Look Jer, if you don’t want your half I’ll do what I can to buy you out, but I need your help. The treasure has been a family secret since the old man wrecked the Sunshine. I can’t trust anyone else. They might try to get it before us or cheat us out of it. Like it or not Jerry, it’s ours, both of ours, including whatever is at the bottom of the cove.
“And you want to go after it?”
“Yes, you got something against being rich?”
“And the secret of the golden statues has stayed within the family the entire time?” It was starting to make sense. Even if there had been divers, they would not look too hard for spices, cloth, everything listed on the manifest was perishable. A couple of small statues are easy to miss in a shipwreck. Could it be possible that their family kept something like that a secret for so long? If the logbook remained locked in the captain’s trunk all this time, then maybe no one ever learned about the treasure.
“It’s ours by right. Hell, with as much money as we could get from the wreck, we could clean up the place. We could dredge the cove, put up shark nets to keep them out, make it nice and clean. I can even picture a high-class hotel where the house is sitting. Can you imagine us, resort owners?”
“You’ve given this a lot of thought I see.” It was all too easy to get drawn into Ted’s vision.
“Yep, a whole lot little brother, a whole lot.”
“I’ll listen, and I’ll look at your research, but no promises. I need to think about this.”
“Sure, but I got a good deal on the rental of diving equipment, but we have it only till Friday.”
“I can’t learn by Friday.” Jerry’s guts tightened, he could not possibly be ready in a week. He would have to put off the expedition until they were better prepared. If he went along with his plan, Ted would have no choice but to agree to the postponement when it became obvious they needed more time. After a century, another few months would not hurt.
“Sure you can? It’s not that hard.”
Ted started the truck again and pulled back onto the highway. It suddenly occurred to Jerry that the condition of the vehicle might be because Ted was broke again. How much could he have left after paying the back taxes and doing those repairs to the house? His plane tickets and renting the gear for his mad expedition might have wiped him out. If everything worked according to Ted’s plan, in a week, they would not have a money worry in the world. If they did not, he was going to be hurting. This was exactly the kind of risk Ted would take.
Jerry perused the papers in Ted’s briefcase: The tax papers, birth certificates and other assorted papers, all verified Ted’s claims. Appraisal documents listed the value of the cove at tens of millions. Jerry’s hand shook as he read the papers that provided incontrovertible proof that he would soon be a millionaire.
“Okay Ted, I’ll give it a try.” If the fates wanted him to be filthy rich, who was he to argue. The fates always won. He was going to be a treasure hunter.
While driving through the pass, Jerry caught sight of the murky waters of the cove, looming beyond the old house. Ten million dollars sure did not buy much in California
“There she is, and she’s half yours.”
“I’ll take the dry half.”