|Meet Marcus Hamilton and John Blake
Jefferson,Ohio awoke to a wonderful fall day. The leaves on the maple trees shone in sunlight, showing off their brights reds and golds. People wandered the streets of the small city on errands and enjoyed the last wonder days before the blustery winter weather arrived.
Marcus Hamilton hunched over his battered desk, intent on a file. His brow was furrowed and his bald head shone in the filtered sun trying to come through the dirty window. Crumpled papers covered the entire surface. An empty stained coffee cup sat near the buried phone. “Aarrgghghh!!! Where oh where is it! I swear! How does this happen!!!” Marcus buried his head in his hands. He bellowed “Rose! I need you!” His torn leather chair creaked as he rose to meet her entering.
A slim young woman raced into the office. “Yeah Marc?”
“I need you to check something. You remember that book.” Marc sunk back into the worn chair and rolled back to his desk.
Rose frowned. “Gee, I seem to have flunked the mind reading class at school. What book?”
Marcus waved her away. “The one we sent to John Bradley. You know the one. Check our records. Find it!!!” His chair rolled over to a battered file cabinet and he proceeded to pull out another file, discarded it and sent it to the floor. This action was repeated over and over until the floor was littered as Rose watched.
“Are you still here? Go!”
Rose hurried to the outer office of ‘Hold Ancient Manuscripts’. Marcus Hamilton had delusions of grandeur she had always thought. But it was a job and she needed one. So she would jump through yet another hoop.
A quick computer search showed no file for John Bradley. ‘Great, not in the database.’ Rose thought to herself. ‘Now I have to go to the dungeon and search through all those bank boxes’. Marcus had records in the basement of the building. Records from twenty years ago, records that had never been put into the computer. John Bradley was a name Rose was not familiar with. She put a note on the door and hiked the three floors down to the ‘dungeon’ as she so affectionately called the dark storeroom.
Dark corners creeped her out. “I need a flashlight.” Boxes upon boxes in the Hamilton space. “Bad, bed, br, bra, ah here we go.” Brad, Norman then Braden, James and then it jumped to Branson, Ellen. Rose kicked the nearest box and yelled. “You gotta be kidding me! Where are you John Bradley?” She slumped into a nearby chair.
Three floors up, Marcus Hamilton had finally given up on the file cabinet. The floor was covered with file folders and papers. “I have a headache, John Bradley. And it’s all your fault. But I will find you and your book.” He opened a bottom drawer and pulled out a bottle of scotch and a small glass. “Here’s to you, Bradley. You old devil.” He raised a glass to his old partner. “I will find you. I will hunt you down. I will find that book.” He drank and shuddered just a bit.
“Beware of H.A.M.”
Rose entered Marcus’s office to find him sprawled in his chair. “Phew! It smells like closing time at the bar!” Marcus fell out of his torn leather chair and let out a curse. He stood and grabbed the rolling Scotch bottle.
“NO John Bradley in the dungeon, boss. Any other ideas?” Rose questioned Marcus. She was just the teensiest miffed and not just a little dirty.
“UHmm, uggghh, well, let’s see.” Marcus put the Scotch bottle to the side of his desk as he sat down. “I guess we should next try the good old postal service. So, let’s get our thinking caps on.”
Rose sensed panic in the room. It had a smell of Scotch overlaid with sweat and old, unwashed socks. “Okayyyy, how do you want me to proceed?”
Marcus reclined in the squeaky old chair. “Tell you what, Rose, let’s go home and mull this over. I’m calling it a day. It’s 5:00 somewhere, right? Go home. See you tomorrow.” He dismissed her with a wave and a twirl in the chair away from her.
She stood for a second, then turned and walked out of the office and out of the building. “I need a drink. Or two. After all, like he said, it’s 5:00 somewhere.”
In Pray, MT John Bradley was busy with numerous customers in his shop. “The Devil’s Slide” sold tourist gee-gaws, trinkets and postcards along with some collectibles and antiques. He counted on the traffic to and from the national park down the road for his revenue. Tourists were big business and he needed the money.
John looked at the clock. It was almost 5:00 and that meant another day was nearly over, thank goodness. ‘This place will be the death of me,’ he muttered to himself. A quick glance showed at least 5 people in the store. A loud sigh and off he went to shepherd them to the cash register and then out the door.
“Well, folks it’s getting on to that time! I need to be closing in about 5 minutes!”
“ReallY? Gee, well, we’re just about ready here. Can you get that picture down for us?” A portly man in hiking pants and a too-small tee pointed to a poster high on the wall. As he pointed, his belly poked out from under his tee. John tried to not look.
This poster had been there so long John had almost forgotten about it.
A woman stood beside the man. John assumed it was the man’s wife, but on second thought, hmmm. Perhaps not.
“That one there? Good choice. That’s a shot by a local photog. Devil’s Slide.
It’s a geological formation down the road formed by…..”
“Yeah, yeah that’s the one. She likes the colors. How much?”
John seemed to remember there was no price on this perfectly horrid piece of “art”. “$49.99 and it’s yours.” He had a feeling the man would pay any amount for this woman’s happiness.
“Sold - we’ll take it.”
Yep, not a wife. But money is money. As the couple left with their purchase, the other three customers came up to the register and left with $3 worth of postcards.
“Have a great visit! Come again!” John called out to the last customers as they got into their rental car and left. He locked the door and went to the register to tally the receipts. $52.99. For an entire’s day worth of being nice and polite and standing guard over all the treasures.
“There has to be better way to make a living!”
John walked around turning off lights. As he circled the store, he straightened the shelves, put misplaced items back where they belonged and made things tidy for the next day. Arriving at the back of the building, he called out “Betty, I’m done in here. Are you ready?”
No answer from Betty. John went to look for his wife. She was usually in the back of the building, in their living area. To keep expenses down, John and Betty lived in a small apartment attached to the shop. All they needed was a bedroom and a place for meals. That and a bathroom. If they wanted to read or watch TV, they migrated to the shop office.
Betty was outside in the garden. John could see her sitting in her favorite chair. Her long blonde hair shone in the late summer sun. Jet, the black dog, lay at her feet.
“Betty! I’ve been calling for you! I’ve just closed up. Are you ready?”
She turned around, smiled and waved.
“Ready for what? You’re always up to no good. What is it this time?”
“We’re going to town. Meeting that guy that has that stuff.”
“Gosh, I’m all tingly. Talk about vague. What guy and what stuff?”
John walked over to Betty. His tall form blocked out the sun, he put his hand on her shoulder and leaned in for quick kiss.
“Don’t you remember? Eric from Ahmedabad, India. He has some jewels he wants to unload. I said I would take them off his hands, if the price was right.”
“Is this one of your get-rich-quick schemes? Sounds pretty sketchy to me.” Betty rose as did Jet.
“I’m sure it’s pretty harmless. Probably some amethyst and topaz, things like that. We can probably unload those for a good price here. People always like sparkly stones.” He held up her hand and the large diamond gracing her hand.
“Seems to me you like this one.”
“Only because it came from you. Well, let’s get going before it gets any later.”
The three trundled into the Jeep and rolled down the road to Emigrant. Eric was staying at a small inn. They quickly found him in the Pine Creek bar nearby.
An East Indian man stood out among the local ranchers and farmers. His jet black hair and dark skin as well as city clothes branded him an outsider. Eric sat alone near a window nursing a beer.
John and Betty approached the man. He smiled as they stood in front of him. “You must be Betty and John. Please have a seat.” His faintly accented English caught the attention of the patrons nearby. A few looked their way.
“And you must be Eric. Forgive me, I have forgotten your last name.” John ushered Betty to a seat across from Eric then took a seat himself.
Eric smiled and then said “My last name is not important at this point. What is important is your willingness to buy my product. Is that correct?”
John glanced at Betty, who gave him a blank stare. Evidently she would be no help tonight. “Tell me again what it is you have for sale and the terms. We want to be sure we are all on the same page, so to speak.”
“But of course, my kind man. I have for sale a package of the most unusual gems you have ever seen. These gems come from the most unusual mines in the world, rubies, emeralds, opals, tanzanite. Wonderful stones! Unusual colors that are so vibrant you will think they are artificial. And they can be yours for a great price.” Eric picked up a brown leather briefcase from the floor by his feet and placed it on the table in front of them. He patted it a few times, then pushed toward John. “They’re all in there.”
“I’m almost afraid to ask the price for all the ‘unusual’ in that case, Eric. And then I’m afraid as to how I would ever sell these wonderful stones. Have you looked around? We live in the back of beyond out here. Not much going on most days, as you must have seen as you drove here from the airport.” John leaned over the table and pushed the briefcase back to Eric.
“I’ve heard about some dealings you’ve had in the past, John Blake. I am confident you can work your magic this time as well.” Eric leaned back and drained his glass of beer.
“Well, then, let us think this over tonight. We’ll be in touch. Nice to meet you.”
John rose, then helped Betty from her seat.
Eric rose as well. “The pleasure has been all mine, John. Betty. I look forward to hearing from you soon.”
The two drove home in silence, Jet the dog between them.
The next morning, Betty went back out to the garden. After his coffee, John joined her. “Do you remember where you buried them?” he asked.
“No, not really. I didn’t mark the spots. Guess we’ll just have to dig some.”
Jet wagged his tail. He loved to dig. Digging was his favorite thing to do.
“Well then let’s get going. We have to let Eric know what we want to do, and we have to find them before we can answer yes or no.” John shouldered the shovel and headed for the garden gate.