A hidden message, an ancient key, and a missing fortune. Can Rita solve the puzzle?
|Rita tore at the decayed felt in the bottom of the box. Hidden underneath was an old, tarnished, key, but to what?
Three weeks had passed since her mother’s funeral and Rita sat at the kitchen table looking at her meager belongings. All her clothing had been left behind at the nursing home, to be given to anyone who wanted anything. What was left? Her mom’s old wooden jewelry box and a file box full of photographs.
Her husband, Mitch, sat next to her with his arm around her shoulders, offering some comfort. Tears filled her eyes as she looked through the photographs, some of when she was a baby, all the way up to a few taken just a few short months ago. Rita knew when she gave her mom, Gladys, these photos for her birthday, the end was quickly approaching.
She felt kind of selfish about missing her so much, after all, they had a good life together. Gladys had suffered from a brain aneurism that ruptured, taking a big chunk of her memories, but other than forgetting a lot of her past, she recovered and lived a normal life. In fact, she had just celebrated her 95th birthday a few months back and was alert and full of energy, but her heart was worn out, she needed to have a steady stream of oxygen delivered through a small tube connected to a green canister.
At the time, she was still walking with the help of a walker, but shortly after, even that was too much for her heart and she had to trade the walker for a wheelchair. The last few weeks she was too weak to move herself around and had become dependent on others to push her around. Rita and Mitch visited her at least once a week, but the last few weeks they had stopped in everyday, knowing they wouldn’t get much more time. They had been there the day she passed. It was a nice afternoon, and Mitch had pushed her chair outside so they could visit in the fresh air.
Gladys seemed to be doing much better, but when Mitch pushed her inside for dinner, she wasn’t hungry. Instead she wanted to go to her room and lie down. Rita helped her get into bed, pulled the covers up and helped her sip on some water. “I’m fine now, Honey. I just want to take a short nap, then I’ll eat a little.”
Rita kissed her gently. “I’ll stick around for a while; after your nap we’ll join you for a late dinner. I love you, Mom.”
Gladys eyes were shut and her breathing had slowed. For a minute Rita thought she had already fallen asleep. Then she looked up and smiled, “I love you, too. You and Mitch, I love you both so much.”
Gladys closed her eyes and drifted into a deep sleep with Rita sitting on the edge of the bed, holding her hand. Later, when the nurse came in to give Gladys her medications, it was discovered she had passed away peacefully in her sleep.
A few days after the services, the administrator had called, asking about Gladys’s personal belongings. The cloths were given away, the rest packed into a box that Mitch picked up. Rita was too heartbroken to go, and so far, had been unable to even look through the items packed in the box. Now, they were out on the table and with Mitch’s arm around her she fought to hold the tears back as she looked though years of photographs, cards, and even her old report cards from school.
Most of the older photos had dates and names written on the backs, pictures of her mother’s friends from back when she was a chorus and showgirl; Rita had seen many of these before. Gladys had done some dance and variety shows when she was young, but stopped when she became pregnant with Rita. As she went through the old photos, she explained what she could to Mitch about them.
She also explained how her dad, Clayton, had met her mom after a show and soon they were engaged and married. Her mom was young and beautiful and an only daughter to a pretty wealthy family. Her grandparents had died before Rita was born; she had never known them. Gladys was the only living relative and should have inherited the entire estate, but there was some kind of lawsuit filed and most of the estate was sold to settle it.
“My dad liked to gamble, but he wasn’t very lucky, what inheritance my mom did receive was soon spent, and once the money ran out, so did my dad. I was only a baby when he left and about year after he took off my mom read in the paper he was arrested while trying to rob a bank. She never remarried; she never trusted anyone to get that close again, I guess.”
She was silent for a few minutes, then turned to look at Mitch. “I think a big part of her getting together with my dad was because she was devastated when my grandparents died so suddenly. They came to visit when my mom was chosen to perform in a show. That’s when grandpa told her that they were involved in a law suit. When F.D.R. confiscated gold in 1933, my grandfather supposedly stashed a large amount someplace along with a bunch of government gold certificates and family jewelry.
Mitch held up a picture of Archie, Rita’s grandfather. “He stashed a bunch of gold?”
“From what my mom told me, grandpa never trusted banks and kept a lot of money and valuables in the company safe. Back then, paper money was issued in gold certificates issued by the government. When the interest rates started climbing in 1928, along with all the economic problems, grandpa cashed in many of his certificates, for fear they wouldn’t hold value.”
Rita sipped on her coffee, which had gotten cold. She set the cup back down and Mitch took it to the sink, dumped it and refilled both of their cups, then sat back down. “If he cashed them in 28, how could he be liable in 33?”
“Well, from what I was told, he cashed them in for gold and precious stones, something that would hold value if the bottom fell out. Which it did. In 1933, the government had everyone turn in any gold they had as well as any gold certificates, but grandpa didn’t turn hardly any in. The government seized his books and searched for the gold, but no gold or certificates were found. They charged him and he was taken to court. He tried to fight it, claiming the money had been spent through bad investments, but with nothing for proof, eventually they forced him to liquidate what he owned, the factory, his home, everything. When it was all settled, there wasn’t much left, and he was too old to start over. Grandma and him purchased a small cabin in Colorado and retired.”
Rita had picked through more photos while she talked and now handed a picture to Mitch of her grandmother, grandfather, and mother. “This was taken when they came to celebrate with mom when she got her first part in a show. She told grandpa she had to learn how to box, the show was a musical that had a boxing scene in it.”
She put the photo back and sipped on her coffee, then continued, “She told me how grandpa and grandma had stayed for a few days so they could watch her rehearse. It was real hot that summer and instead of staying inside the studio, they had gone to the roof. Grandpa had taken a picture of the girls up there practicing. The company was still auditioning for some of the positions, but mom wanted to start practicing the boxing part right away. Grandpa told her she needed a lot of practice after she fell over during the practice. It wasn’t real punching, just staged; the gal swung just shy of mom’s chin and when she ducked back to look like she got hit, she lost her balance and went right over.”
Rita’s eyes started tearing up again as she went on. “After they went back home, they surprised mom by coming back out about a month later, for her birthday. Grandpa gave her the photograph he had taken of her as she was falling over. He had it blown up and framed and then surprised her with boxing gloves and a big punching bag in the back seat. I remember mom saying it was almost as tall as she was, and weighed about as much as she did, too. It took all three of them to get it hung up in the garage so mom could practice her swings.” She wiped at the tears rolling down her cheek and Mitch pulled her closer. “It was the last time mom seen them, they died in a car accident a few weeks later.”
She turned and cried on Mitch’s shoulder while he held her. After a few minutes she got up and grabbed a couple cans of soda from the fridge, then sat back down. “Want one?”
Mitch nodded, “Thanks.”
Rita continued to go through the old photographs and found an ancient birthday card at the bottom of the box. It had a picture of a ballerina on the front and inside was a hand written note. The ink was faded but still readable. Rita carefully read the lines out loud, “Happy birthday Gladys and best wishes with the show. We know you will do great and with a lot of practice, that old punching bag will make you rich one day. You may not ever make a boxer, but a good inside swing is worth a fortune. Love you, Mom and Dad.”
By the time she finished, she had tears streaking down her cheeks again. Mitch helped her put everything back in the box, then gave her a big hug. “Maybe that’s enough today. We can go through the rest tomorrow.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. Do you feel up to a walk?”
“Sure I do. Where you thinking of going?”
“I thought maybe we could walk down to the Deli and get something for dinner at the park.”
“Sounds like a good idea, I’ll grab our jackets, just in case it gets chilly later.”
The next morning Rita woke to the smell of bacon. Mitch was in the kitchen cooking breakfast. “Up already? I was going to surprise you with breakfast in bed.”
“Your sweet. I can go dive back in if you want.”
“Up to you, but if you dive back into bed, I may just dive in with you, and then we will have burnt bacon.” He swatted her on the butt as she walked past. “What, no kiss? The magic is gone!”
She turned and kissed him deeply, enjoying his arms wrapped around her and holding her tight. “Now that we got that done, I need coffee.”
She poured a cup and sat down at the table, “I want to go through this stuff after we eat. You up to comforting a big cry-baby?”
“Sure thing as long as you’re up to it. How do you want your eggs, fried or scrambled?”
They enjoyed a quiet breakfast, then cleaned up the dishes together before going through the box of pictures again. This time, Rita picked through them faster, pointing out various ones to Mitch. She set aside most of the yellow envelopes that held her report cards and worked her way through some old letters and cards. When she came to the birthday card of her mom’s she looked like she would start crying, but she held back the tears and read it again.
“I wondered about this last night while we walked. Why didn’t Grandpa and Grandma just get a regular birthday card instead of this blank one?”
“I don’t know, maybe because of the show, they wanted one to fit both occasions.”
“Maybe, but the wording is kind of strange. Look at these letters my mom got from them, grandpa was always very serious, not joking like in the card. And, if it’s about the show, it was more dance than boxing, it was just a spoof with some swings like a boxing match, mom said it was the dancing that she needed the most practice for. That’s why she lost her balance, she was dancing while trying to look like she was boxing. It’s probably nothing, but it has me curious.”
“Curious about what?”
“Well, remember I told you about grandpa being found guilty of cashing in all his certificates and then not having the gold?” she didn’t give him a chance to finish, “What if grandpa did hide it all and died before he could get it. If the government was still watching, he wouldn’t dare try and recover it, but he could leave a message for mom telling her about it.”
Mitch took the card and read the faded writing. “But this doesn’t say anything about gold or where it’s hidden, it’s just about her acting and getting rich from it.”
“I don’t think so. Back then, these variety shows didn’t pay an awful lot and the kind of acting mom did kind of just faded as movies came out. Mom stopped when she got pregnant, but after my dad left, she could have gone back. Instead she worked as a waitress and eventually a cook. She told me she made better money waitressing with tips than as a chorus girl, that’s why she never went back and how we eventually moved to Minnesota.”
“I don’t know Rita. Maybe. I think your wild imagination is working overtime on this. You really should consider writing stories, you’d be great at it. Your first book could be, The Case of Grandpa’s Gold, or something.” He smiled at her.
“I know. I admit, I do have a very vivid imagination, but Mitch, there’s more to this than just my imagination. The question is, are there anymore hints?”
“All right, I’m up to a treasure hunt, but we need more clues if we are going to do anything other than speculate. We’re also going to have to figure out what that card really means—if it means anything other than happy birthday and good luck.”
They went through all the pictures, letters, and cards but found nothing else. Rita looked disappointed as she read the card again. “I’ll have to think this over some, hopefully between the two of us, we get some idea what it may mean.”
Rita set the box aside and put the wooden jewelry box in front of her. She opened it and looked at the items inside. Her mom didn’t have any valuable items inside, they wouldn’t have been safe in the home. Her watch was in there, some earrings and necklaces, an old bracelet, and a couple of broaches. Rita had her mom’s wedding ring on her finger, she had insisted that Rita have it for her own wedding. She also had a couple of more expensive necklaces of her mom’s in her own jewelry box, more gifts her mother had given her when she first went into the nursing home.
Rita lifted the tray up and looked in the bottom. There was an old pendant shaped like a heart that opened. Inside was a tiny picture of her grandpa. It didn’t have a chain anymore, and Rita could not remember her mom ever wearing it. “I don’t think I ever seen this, Mom must have kept it hidden. I suppose it was her greatest treasure.”
There was also a charm bracelet and some small trinkets in the bottom, along with years of dust and lint. Rita took out every item and then turned the box upside down to dump out the unwanted accumulation of time. The felt lining sagged from the bottom, hanging partially out of the box. When she turned it right side up, there was a clink as something landed against the bottom. Rita ran her fingers over the wrinkled felt in the bottom and felt another item under it.
She carefully inspected the felt, looking for a hole that may have let an item slip under it, but she found none; the old felt was still intact. Pinching it between finger and thumb, she lifted it up. It was still attached to the top of the sides, but with a little tug, it came completely out. There, hidden below, was an old, tarnished, brass, key.
What could it be for? Rita set the felt down and picked up the old key. “Well, we have another clue.”
Mitch took the key and turned it in his fingers, looking it over carefully. “It looks kind of like a house key, we had one like this when I was growing up.”
“We did too, but why would Mom keep a key to our old house? She sold it when I was still in high school. We moved into an apartment and she lived there until she moved into the nursing home.”
“Maybe she had one key tucked away, in case it was ever needed.”
“But, Mitch, this wasn’t tucked away, it was hidden under the felt lining. Why would she have hidden a key for a house or apartment we no longer lived in?”
“We could try it and see if it fits the old house or apartment, unless the locks have been changed.”
“Well, I know it’s not for the apartment, that key was like our house key, this one is a lot longer and bigger. If it’s for the old house, we won’t be able to try it since the house burned down a few years after we sold it.”
Both Rita and Mitch were surprised a few days later when a manila envelope arrived by certified mail from Archie Janis, Attorney at Law. The letter inside stated that this was the final settlement of Gladys’s last will and testament which transferred property in Colorado from Gladys’s name to Rita’s. Along with the deed was a legal agreement signed by Rita’s grandfather, stipulating the transfer of property to Gladys, along with the terms of an escrow account to cover maintenance costs, upkeep, and taxes on said property, to be transferred with ownership of the property. Rita had Mitch read through the papers because he was more familiar with legal jargon.
“What it states is that there is an escrow account set up by your grandfather to pay for the upkeep and taxes on this section of land and all buildings on it. It transferred to your mom after your grandfather passed away, and now it’s transferred to your name. You don’t have to do anything except present a bill for maintenance, and the Law Office of Janis and Gwinn will pay it as long as there is money in the account. They also pay the taxes and have since your grandfather bought the place. He set this up when he purchased the property.
Mitch read through the letter, which was two pages long. “It seems Mr. Janis was a partner in your grandfather’s business, as well as the company’s attorney. It says here that in 1928, they dissolved the partnership but Mr. Janis was retained as an attorney. He said your grandfather purchased his half of the company but insisted on paying twice the estimated value. Mr. Janis also received a percentage of all income until the time the business was auctioned. He invested this money and created the escrow to help your grandfather out after he lost everything.”
Rita stared in disbelief. “You mean my mom still owned the property in Colorado?”
“Yes, and now you do. You also have the same escrow account, and it looks like someone has been collecting money for looking after the place all these years. That means it’s still good shape, or at least should be. We should go talk to Archie and find out the rest of the details.”
They set up an appointment to meet with Mr. Janis. The following day the met with Archie Janis Jr. Archie’s son who had taken his father’s place in the law firm after his dad has passed away. “Your grandfather and my dad were very close. In fact, he took my dad in like his own son and paid his way through law school, gave him a part of the business and helped him get established in his own law firm. I don’t know the details of why or how this relationship came to be, but I know my dad had invested most of the money he received from your grandfather. When he found out your grandfather was losing everything, he set up an escrow to make sure he would have a decent retirement but your grandfather wouldn’t except it. They did agree on setting it up to maintain the property in Colorado, pay the taxes, and ensure that it was protected from being taken for fines and money owed. In fact, it was in my dad’s name until it transferred to your mom, after your grandfather passed away and everything was settled in the lawsuit.”
“I wonder why mom never said anything about this to me?”
“At the time of the transfer, your mom was afraid that your dad would force her to sell the property, if he knew she had it. By law, he was entitled to half the value of the property and the escrow. My dad and your mom decided it was best to keep this transfer secret until after the divorce. But, the terms of the divorce stated that your dad was entitled to half of everything from the time they married to the time of the divorce. That meant if he ever learned of this, he could still collect his half. It was kept secret, and over time, forgotten.”
Archie got up and walked around the desk, sitting on the corner. “When your mom passed away, our firm was to execute the terms of her will, which included all of this. I researched the old files and here we are. I also searched for your dad, he died ten years ago. The escrow has been paying the taxes every year as well as a caregiver to keep the place up. When I drew up the paperwork the escrow was at one hundred and seventeen thousand and some change. It still receives annual dividends from the original investments.”
Rita was still having a hard time believing all of this, even after seeing on a county plot map where the property was. “Let’s take some time off and go see it, Mitch.”
Two weeks later they pulled into the long gravel driveway and drove up to an old, but well maintained log cabin. It wasn’t extravagant, but it was very nice. The caregiver met them at the cabin and let them in, showing them around. “How long have you been taking care of the place?” Rita asked.
“Well, my dad was the first caregiver. He did that for a lot of folks that had vacation homes around here. When he retired, I took over keeping up a few of the places. This is the first time I’ve ever had anyone visit the place, but my dad had a woman come here a couple of times after the original owners died. I guess that was your grandparents, and your mom who visited it a few times.”
The cabin had an open loft with two bedrooms off of it, the main area being downstairs. A big rock fireplace was built into the wall dividing the living room and dining room, open to both. There were old pictures on the walls, old china and silverware, everything just as it had been when Rita’s grandparents had died. Upstairs they found an old trunk full of antique items her grandparents brought with them when they retired. Old cloths still hung in the master bedroom closet, all bagged up to preserve them. All the furniture was covered and in good condition as well.
“You and your dad did a wonderful job taking care of everything.” Rita stated as she looked through the rooms.”
They went to the second door, but could not get into the room. “This door has always been locked since I can remember. I have keys to the front and back doors, but they don’t fit this lock. I have no idea why it’s locked or what’s inside.”
Rita looked at Mitch, then back at the door as she presented a key from her pocket, the key from her mom’s jewelry box. It fit perfectly and with a turn the tumblers clicked and the bolt retracted. Rita turned the doorknob and pushed the door open with a loud screech from the old, unused hinges.
Inside the room was a bed, dresser, and vanity, all covered with sheets. In the center of the room was another sheet covering an odd shaped item. Rita grabbed the sheet and pulled. Hidden under it was an old leather covered trunk and a large, canvass punching bag, now yellow with age. Rita started to cry, knowing this was the last gift her mom had gotten from her grandparents. The caregiver excused himself, “I think I should go, give you folks some time. You have my phone number, let me know if you need anything. Um, let me know if you folks will want my services anymore.”
Rita thanked him. “Yes, I have your phone number. I’m not sure what we plan; I’ll call you as soon as we figure it out.”
Mitch walked him to the door and thanked him again for everything. After he left, Mitch went back upstairs and into the room with Rita. She had the trunk open and was sitting on the bed holding a framed picture. “Look, it’s the picture Grandpa took of Mom. Remember, I told you about her boxing?”
Mitch sat beside her and looked at the framed photo of a bunch of women on a rooftop. Two were boxing and one was falling over backward; she was much younger, but Mitch recognized Gladys right away. “She aged over the years, but never changed much, did she?”
Rita shook her head. “No, not much. I hope I age as well as Mom.” She had streaks on her cheeks from the recent tears, but had stopped crying. She went through the trunk, looking at old posters of shows her mom had been in, costumes she had worn, and a sealed envelope that had been tucked along one side. The only thing written upon the yellowing paper was, “Rita”.
She carefully worked her finger under the flap and the old glue released without the paper tearing. The letter inside was in much better shape, being preserved by the envelope. Rita unfolded it and read it out loud.
My Dearest Rita,
I’m sorry for keeping all this secret from you. But, I have to or your dad may discover this and I’d be force to sell. I came here after Grandpa and Grandma died. Mr. Janis was kind enough to drive me here and show me the cabin. He also helped me bring my trunk and gift here, but had to hire a couple of big, strong, men to move that punching bag.
I started a new life after you were born, Rita, but kept these things for you to have someday. I had once thought that perhaps you and I would be here together, but now it looks like I may not get the chance to share these things. I talked to a doctor about these headaches I’ve been having, and he found an aneurism.
For now, I’m fine, but it could burst anytime and he doesn’t know if I would survive or not. I’m not telling anyone; I want to live a normal life for as long as God wills it. Just in case Clay outlives me, however, I wanted to visit here one last time and write this letter. I have also written a will and Archie will make sure everything is taken care of.
I love you so much, Rita. I wish we could be sharing all of this together, but if your reading this letter, then my time has passed. Please, don’t be sad. Things work out the way they do for a reason, and now, after all these years, you are finally home. I have no regrets, Rita, and have lived a wonderful life. I just wish I could leave you more.
Loving you from heaven,
Rita had started crying again as she read the letter to Mitch. He took the paper from her trembling fingers and set it on the bed beside her, then held her in his arms until she stopped crying. She looked up at him and kissed him. “She had a stroke and forgot a lot of her past. She recovered but never recovered all of her memories. She must have forgotten all about this place, and everything about it.”
Rita put the letter back in the envelope and tucked it in the trunk, then closed the lid. I guess we have to figure out what we are going to do next. I would love to live here; I wish we could just quit our jobs and sell the house, then move here and live in this beautiful cabin in the mountains. Okay, maybe it’s not right in the mountains, but they practically start in the back yard.” She was turned now, looking out the window.
“I know; it would be a dream come true to live here. But, we have our jobs; it’s kind of a long commute from here to Minneapolis. We can come and vacation here and one day, maybe retire here. After all, that escrow account will take care of everything for as long as we’re around and then some.”
“Yeah, I know. For now we have a full week to enjoy here. Give me a hand getting things cleaned up and let’s see if maybe we can’t stay the night here instead of in a motel.”
“I think that’s a good idea, everything was been well taken care of over the years. Well, except for this room, no one has been in here for years, look at the dust on everything.”
“Then we start in here, it needs a good cleaning. Give me a hand with this trunk and we can move it into the loft.”
They moved the trunk, then returned to move the punching bag from the middle of the floor. Rita grabbed the top and lifted, but it was too heavy for her. “Wow, this thing ways a ton, give me a hand. I think we can stand it up and maybe drag it out to the loft.”
Mitch grabbed the top and together they lifted. “Heavy isn’t the word for this thing, it has to way a couple hundred pounds. How did grandparents and mom ever get this hung?”
They managed to stand the big bag on end and drag it out of the room into the loft. Then worked together to clean the cabin up, starting in the spare bedroom. The kitchen was sell stocked on cleaning supplies, the caregiver had used on his monthly visits and they found an old vacuum in the closet under the steps.
After they finished, they drove the ten miles back to a little town they had passed through on their way to the cabin and picked up some groceries. They ordered a pizza and stopped at a liquor store for some wine for dinner. While Rita put the groceries away, Mitch hauled in some firewood stacked between two trees and lit a fire in the fireplace. They dined on pizza and wine, then took a walk around the yard. There was an old shed that was still in good repair, an outhouse, and an old hand pump.
“I’m glad the caregiver installed a bathroom and running water in the cabin, I don’t think I would like having to haul water and use that outhouse, especially in the winter.”
Rita had started pumping the handle and soon water came gushing out of the pump. “Still works, they did a great job of keeping everything in working order. Yeah, I agree. Mr. Janis said they had to install a modern septic system to comply with county ordinance so it was paid out of the escrow account. They must have put in a modern well at the same time.”
They enjoyed the quiet of the cabin for the next few days. Together they uncovered old furnishings and went through the cupboards, cabinets, and closets. Everything was antique but in great shape, just like it was when her grandparents retired here. The cook stove in the kitchen still had the wood firebox, but like the plumbing, electric, and heating system, had been upgraded over the years.
Now, they had a choice to burn wood in it or use gas to cook. There had also been a gas space heater installed in the crawlspace under the living room to keep the cabin from freezing up after the bathroom had been installed. A big, white, LP tank supplied fuel. The wiring had also been upgraded and there were outlets and electric lights in all the rooms along with the old lanterns and candle holders that had once served her grandparents for light.
As the end of the week approached, they both found themselves longing to stay. “I’ll give the caregiver a call and tell him to continue on. I’m glad there’s money set aside to keep the place up until we can manage to move here.”
“I know. We know he’s done a great job and will continue to. I wish we could win the lottery and move here right now.”
“Who knows, maybe we will. At least it’s a dream we share and we can come here as often as possible until we win.”
“Mitch, remember that card my mom had?”
“Yeah, I remember. What about it?”
“Well, I’ve been thinking about what it said about that punching bag making her rich and an inside swing being worth a fortune. What if that’s the secret to where Grandpa hid his fortune? What if he hid a map or something inside that tells where the money was stashed?”
“There goes your imagination again. Sure I suppose it would be a great place to hide a treasure map, that things so heavy no one could haul it away. But how come your mom didn’t find it then?”
“What if she never figured it out? What if she was so broken up over their death that she never even thought about it. She must have stored that stuff here when we moved, never even thinking anything about it. Let’s look inside, what do we have to lose?”
“Okay. At the least, it will quench your imagination, and at the most, we find a hidden map to Grandpa’s gold.” Mitch chuckled.
They went up the steps to the loft and Mitch and Rita stood the heavy bag on end. Mitch used his pocket knife to cut through the seam around the top of the old canvass bag, then flipped it to one side. It was full of cotton fiber packed around a second canvas bag inside. Laying the bag on its side, he looked at Rita. “Are you sure you want to do this? I doubt we will ever get this all packed back together again.”
“Yes, I’m sure. Besides, once we un-stuff it, we will be able to move it out of here.”
Mitch grabbed the top of the inside bag and pulled while Rita held onto the outer bag. They wrestled with it for five minutes, pulling the inner bag out, bit by bit. Cotton had been packed around the inner bag to provide some cushion when hitting the bag. “They must have sewn the outer canvass on, there’s no way it was stuffed inside like this.”
“I think this cotton was batting wrapped around the inner bag but fell apart with age. Look at the top of the inside bag, it’s sewed different than the side seam.” Mitch had the inner canvas bag standing up and Rita was running her finger over the crude stitching on the top.
Mitch cut through the course thread and opened the inner bag. It was full of some kind of grain husks. “Seems awful heavy for just being packed with grain hulls. I wish we had something to dump it out in.”
Rita didn’t hesitate about the mess and tipped the bag over, spilling grain hulls all over the hardwood floor. “We can sweep it up, what’s inside?”
Mitch had grabbed the bottom of the bag and tipped it upside down, dumping it out on the floor. Another bag, half as big as this one, and made of heavy burlap fell out with the grain hulls. They stood and stared at it for a minute. Could it be the secret treasure map inside?
“I bet it’s full of sand for weight. It’s way too big to just be for a map or something. Look how it’s tied shut on top, like a bag of potatoes.”
Mitch grabbed the top and tried to stand it on end, but the old burlap was too weak to contain the weight inside and to their amazement, spilled its contents out on the floor. It was filled with smaller cloth bags, all tied at the tops with draw strings. Rita picked one up and opened it. Inside sparkled gold coins. “It’s Grandpa’s money! He hid it in the bag.”
They spent an hour opening the smaller bags, some had various types of gems inside, most had gold coins in various denominations, a few had rolls of old gold certificates. Everything was dated 1928 or earlier and a count of the coins alone held a value of over a thousand dollars face value. The certificates added up to a couple thousand more. They had no idea the value of the gemstones, but with the amount of rubies, emeralds, and diamonds, they knew it was a small fortune.
“Then it’s true, your grandpa cashed in most of his assets for gold and gemstones. He must have thought that in time the certificates would regain value, too.”
“I wonder how much this is all worth? Can we even cash the certificates?”
“I don’t know, but we will find out. I’ll call that lawyer, Archie and have him look into it. I think we may need to retain him ourselves to make sure we can claim all this. I mean, what if the government still claims it was supposed to be turned in?”
“Good thinking. Maybe tell him we found a couple of old gold coins and a certificate in Grandpas stuff and want to know if they are worth very much.”
“That’s a great idea, then we won’t have to disclose how much we actually found until after we know more.”
They retied all the little bags, then Mitch asked, “Where are we going to keep all this?”
“We can empty out Mom’s trunk and put the treasure in there for now. We are going to need a safe.”
Once it was all safely tucked into the trunk, Mitch called Archie and told him about the coins and certificates, being careful not to disclose how much they had found. The next day, Archie called back. “The certificates hold no legal value, but they are worth quite a lot to collectors, depending on their condition, they could be worth thousands. The coins are worth face value if you were to take them to a bank, but again, collectors will pay a great deal for them, if they are in good shape. You may be sitting on a small fortune depending on the mint, condition, and if you are interested in selling them. As for any claims against them, there are none. They are yours through the transfer of property. If you want, I can arrange for a safe storage of the items and arrange to have a dealer estimate their value.”
“That sounds great. I think we need someone to help us with this. Would you be willing to take the job?”
“I’m not sure what you need me for, except to arrange for a place to keep things and get an estimate, but if you want to hire me, that would be great. I’m not sure about a fee, not until I know more.”
“I don’t know quite how to explain it, but maybe if you could come out here and we could show you. I promise it will be worth the trip.”
Archie Janis did make the trip and he did see why Rita and Mitch wanted to hire him. He arranged for the treasure to be transported safely, stored in a safe vault, and arranged for the sale of some of the items.
Two weeks later, Rita and Mitch left his office with a cashier’s check for two hundred thousand dollars. The certificates were in mint condition and worth a small fortune to collectors. The gold coins were worth even more. Just the value based on gold weight was enough for Rita and Mitch to retire on; they also had another fortune in gemstones, rubies, emeralds, and diamonds valued at over two million dollars.
“Archie said he would take care of the sale of the house and everything we aren’t taking with. He set up an account for everything, and we’re set to retire. Better than winning the lottery, wasn’t it Rita?”