Jerry sat at the dining room table perusing the journal his great-great-great grandfather—the nutcase. He should have been studying for his classes, but the sooner he could show Ted the futility of the whole endeavor, the sooner he could enjoy his vacation, and get used to the idea of his newfound wealth.
The book emitted a strong, musty smell that caused Jerry’s eyes to water. It was all he could do to suppress his near constant urge to sneeze as he turned the aged pages. As expected, perusing the records proved to be as tedious as the reading assignments he had been ignoring from his Composition and Literature class.
At least reading took Jerry’s mind off the disaster that dinner promised to be. It was a long established fact in his family that Ted could not cook. The sounds coming from the kitchen only reinforced his apprehension of an inevitable culinary catastrophe. His mind drifted frequently, and he found himself thinking of some of the restaurants he had seen earlier. A few were quite close. One specifically sprang to mind. It would not take long to reach them, provided the truck did not break down. Jerry wondered if it would be smart to rent a car for the week.
The fragile paper produced a faint cracking sound as he turned them no matter how careful he was. The book was old, and he feared it would fall apart in his hands. As verification of its antiquity, small pieces along the edges sporadically flaked off as he read. The captain’s flowing handwriting presented a challenge to reading. Schools no longer taught such elaborate penmanship. Jerry was only vaguely familiar with script, and he had to guess at several of the letters. The book was a priceless relic and should have been a museum or library where the curators could preserve it and place it on display.
The entries in the first third of the book were mundane: loading cargo, charting courses and assigning crew members to their respective watch duties. No one who said the life of a sailor was exciting had sailed with his ancestor. It was incomprehensible that the man who wrote those pages could possibly be the same raving loon who haunted the rooftop on stormy nights. Finally seeing the first reference to Teller’s, or should he say Ted’s, “treasure,” was a relief.
Matthew Teller, Captain
I was approached by a stranger on the dock today as we were unloading the cargo. At first, I tried to ignore him as his attire and smell, marked him as a person of low birth, and little culture. His clothing was that of a porter, one of the labors who made their living walking in long lines carrying packages like a mule, and most likely worth as much to whichever master he most certainly escaped. However, this little man was persistent, and I must say more than a little persuasive. I agreed to listen to his appeal, although I was well aware that whatever he had to offer most likely wasn’t his to begin with.
The story he told validated most of my suspicions, he was indeed a porter for a British hunting party that went deep into the jungle. Several men were sent out to forage for wood, he said that went further into the bush than most, on the occasion he spoke of, he came across a temple so old as to be nearly hidden by the vegetation. Inside, he claims to have found six small golden idols on a dais of carved marble. He hid them and returned to his duties. When the opportunity presented itself, he escaped into the jungle and retrieved the stolen treasures. In hopes of buying his way to freedom, he came to the docs searching for a ship with American flags.
Although uneducated, the man has a sly look about him. He asked a ridiculously small sum considering their intrinsic value, but being a porter, he may be naive of their potential value. I would be suspicious of fraud but for the fact that the man’s price also included passage. It is my experience that Con men do not long stay with their victims, let alone book passage with them. Furthermore, I could see fear in the man’s eyes. I believe the man is running, but he does not strike me as dangerous. These foreign lands place harsh penalties on runaway slaves, and even harsher ones on thieves. What penalty would be exacted for a temple robber, I shudder to contemplate? Whatever this man was fleeing seems to have caused him to trade his future for a pittance and a chance to escape to sea. Still, I believe we can do business, I’m not hampered by his superstitious beliefs, and I feel no qualms about making a profit of another man’s indiscretions.
I agreed to me meet with him again, in the bazaar in five days’ time. If he has the idols, and they are as represented then I believe we can make a deal.
Matthew Teller, Captain
Mahoney Import Company finally arrived with the cargo, almost a week late. I feel it will prove to be a costly blow to my already tight schedule. It will take a day to stow the cargo properly, another day lost. I intend to file a complaint and demand a penalty payment for the damage the delay did to my schedule.
The native man arrived at the bazaar on time. I brought along a few members of my crew in case it was a trick. Far from being upset about the security measures, the man apparently seemed relieved. I examined the small statues in a back alley where we couldn’t be observed. They surpassed his promises, showing a very high degree of craftsmanship and antiquity. Each one represents some heathen god, although I couldn’t say which. He agreed to take payment in American dollars and passage to Australia.
P.S. There have been some strange looking men loitering around the port giving more than usual attention to the Sunshine. Their garb marks them as members of some religious group, yet I know not the sect. Their actions strike me as covert rather than official, so I do not believe they act for the local authorities. If they want to cause trouble, well my crew is better than most in a fight.
Matthew Teller, Captain
Jerry recognized the page as the one Ted had photocopied as “proof.” He perused it again. An unpleasant odor spread out from the kitchen and filled the house, making it difficult to focus on the reading. Jerry tried to ignore it and focused his attention back on the book.
Feb 9 noon,1877
Matthew Teller, Captain
When the sun came up this morning the number of heathens, wearing the strange monkish garb had increased. I ordered preparations be made to quickly disembark if anything should happen. Once again, my instincts proved correct. Mid-morning, our passenger, came above deck. Upon seeing him, the strange men produced bows and started shooting. Ever quick with a rifle the first mate opened fire driving them off. One of the men shouted in broken English that those who hold the treasures of the gods would be forever cursed.
The ship was unharmed; the same cannot be said of our new passenger. During the exchange, he received an arrow in the chest. The doctor believes the wound will prove fatal.
Luckily, we met with fair seas, and the remainder of the cargo was easily stowed before mid-day.
Matthew Teller, Captain
The passenger died of his wounds. Although we did not know his name or what god he worshiped, we buried him at sea and said a few prayers over the water. God save him and grant him reprieve from whatever grievous sin led to his demise.
Having lived up to my end of the bargain, I feel justified in keeping the statues. I have retrieved my payment from the dead man, as he will no longer have need of it. This will help compensate me for the loss of business that I will no doubt incur because of the delays in India.
The entries again grew mundane. The delay in delivery of the Duggan Imports cargo had caused numerous problems for the captain. Most devastating was the loss of a large shipment further down the coast. Although he made good speed, he learned upon arrival that because of his delayed arrival, he had lost the contract to another ship. The Sunshine needed that cargo to fill the remaining half of her hold. Carrying only half a load across the Pacific was a situation that would have caused severe financial hardship for the captain. It might even have cost him his ship, if not for his secret cache.
Instead of heading directly back to San Francisco, the captain decided to chart a new course, for Hong Kong. It was a large, busy port and he hoped to pick up another cargo shipment and perhaps fill up the remaining room in the hull with Chinese immigrants. There was a high demand for immigrant labor in San Francisco.
“Food!” Ted’s voice erupted from the kitchen.
Jerry sat the book down carefully on a side table and went to eat. The fish sticks on his plate seemed safe enough, although Jerry could not figure out which spices Ted sautéed them in. From the smell and the reddish tint of the macaroni and cheese, Tabasco sauce was a definite possibility.
He knew what he was getting into when he agreed to let Ted do all the cooking. Nevertheless, he was starving and dove into the food that would have destroyed the stomach lining of a lesser man. Luckily, there was beer to wash it down. It killed the burn but did not do much for the taste.
“I’ve got some books that I need you to study tonight,” Ted said between mouthfuls.
“I’m on vacation,” Jerry said.
“They’re diving instruction books,” Ted replied. “If we’re to get you certified tomorrow you’ll need to have studied some stuff.”
“I didn’t know you could get certified in a day.”
“Usually you can’t unless you’re in the Bahamas or something.” Ted smiled. “Or unless you know a certified instructor.”
“And you do?”
“Yep, and I’ve paid for private lessons for you tomorrow. You’re smart; you’ll breeze through.”
Jerry wanted to argue, then decided better of it. He was half-afraid that Ted was going to teach him himself; he would much rather be trained by a professional. Despite his arguments to the contrary, Ted could not have much experience. “Yeah, okay.”
Jerry choked down the food quickly. Ted agreed to clean up as Jerry looked at the books. He needed to try to memorize hand signals, dangerous animals, the different pieces of equipment used, and dive tables. To be certified, Jerry would have to pass the test. He opened the first book and started reading. Ted finished in the kitchen and joined him on the couch with a six-pack of Budweiser. After each chapter, Ted gave him a verbal test. Jerry was amazed to discover how much information he retained. Perhaps the vacation was helping, or maybe the higher oxygen content in California’s air made his brain work better. They finished the booklets and the beers almost simultaneously.
“We should get an early start tomorrow,” Ted said crushing the last beer can in his hand for emphasis. “We’ll need to go into town and get you fitted for a wetsuit.”
“San Francisco?” It sounded fun, but the truck was not exactly trustworthy to handle another trip.
“Nah, there’s a place in Puerto Villa. Paul, the guy who owns the dive shop, is a friend of mine.”
“Okay, sure.” The faint sound of distant thunder and increasing winds seemed ominous. “If we don’t get rained out.”
“Should be cleared up by tomorrow, these storms usually don’t last too long. Besides, most of your training will be in an inside pool. The rest will most likely happen at the beach in town.”
“A beach? Not the cove?”
“You need training before we attack the cove. The beach would be easier, although it’s a little crowded and the bikinis may get a little distracting.”
“That’s a risk I’m willing to take.” Hope swelled. The plan guaranteed lots of time on the beach.
“I’m sure Paul will have something in your size. If you’re lucky, you won’t get stuck with one of the ugly ones he rents to tourists.”
“Butt ugly. If you end up with one of those, all you can expect from the babes is laughter. Maybe pity.”
“I’ll take pity. Some of my best dates started that way.” Ted had to be joking; no business stays in business by renting ugly suits.
“I’ll bet.” Ted rose to his feet. It’s going to be a long day tomorrow.”
“Yeah, I’m bushed.” Jerry downed what remained of his beer, to help him sleep better.
The curtains were still open as he entered his room. Looking down at the moonlit cove filled him with a dread that persisted until he shut the curtains tightly. He could not explain his reaction, except that the house reminded him of every haunted house he had ever seen. Alfred Hitchcock would have loved it. After this week was over, he considered calling a Native American friend of his to come out and cleanse the house with some sage. It was going to take several smudge sticks, however, to chase the spirits out of that place.
He turned out the lights and lay in bed, listening to the growing sounds of thunder. The storm was coming closer. The wind picked up whistled through the attic. The house creaked under its assault. He could almost envision a ghost coming through the wall, or peering in through the windows. He pulled the quilt closer around his neck. Haunted or not, the house was half his. A loud howl from the attic, offset by thunder once again cause him to shudder with uncertainty. There is no such thing as a haunted house, right?
Weather-proofing the attic would be one of the first things they fixed after they get the gold. With each new noise came a new idea to remedy it. Jerry stared at the cracked plaster on the ceiling and contemplated how he would fix up his room; a new paint job, a TV in the corner, dish on the roof. In the far corner, a computer with a good stereo just by the wardrobe, and polishing up the old pitted hardwood floor would make the room truly habitable.
The outside would also need work, perhaps vinyl siding or stucco. He visualized a lawn, green and mowed extending to the edge of the cliff with a tall fence and a new stairway leading down to a boat dock, with a chain link gate. The property included nearly fifty acres, more than enough room for a pool and a hot tub.
Ted’s development ideas had some merit. There was more than enough room on the bluff for a hotel. It will be like spring break all year long. Dredging the cove and dumping sand to create a beach for recreating and they could have one of the hottest spots on the coast. It could become like a paradise. Ted said the place had potential; Jerry was beginning to see some of it.
Even though the lightning flashes seeped through the gaps in his curtains sending streaks of bright bluish light across the room, the sound of the rain was relaxing. His bed is comfortable, and he was secure in his warm down cocoon. He quickly drifted off to sleep, sure that whatever the morrow brought, he would never be poor again.