Laura regained her breath after he set the old car down a few blocks from the service station, outside the city that was over a hundred and fifty miles from her home. Her watch told her that they’d flown that distance in mere minutes. She had just enough cash left to get half a tank of gas to get into the city, and see the people she needed to see. The director at the museum had been a bit snobbish at first, until she opened the brown paper sack she carried, and pulled out the satchel, pistol, and broken lock. When he pawed though the papers, journals, and dispatches, he nearly whimpered like a child at Christmas, who wasn’t sure which gift he would first open! “And… there’s more?” he asked when he looked up at last to eye her.
She knew what he thought she looked like. A dowdy old housewife. A nobody.
She smiled smugly, and nodded. “Much, much more,” she told him, remembering all Clark had described for her to entice the man. “Weapons, uniforms. Various items a soldier might carry with him, and all in quite good shape,” she added purposely.
“This is… I mean, it’s… well, I believe we can take it off your hands for…”
“Before you make an offer, I wouldn’t mind help with another matter.”
“What other matter?” the gaunt, bespectacled director of the museum asked, as he looked down at the satchel as if afraid it might vanish if he let it out of his sight.
“I’d have to ask you to come outside for that. I couldn’t carry it with me, so I left it in the car.”
Silas Gardner didn’t have a clue as to what else she might have out there. Still, he was beyond any pretense of being not interested. This woman had just dropped the find of the century into his lap, and if she had more… “All right. Shall we leave this…?”
“I’ll keep it with me,” she smiled at him as she slid the papers back into the satchel. “We wouldn’t want anything to get lost,” she told him with a knowing smile as he couldn’t help but stare at the satchel she carried out.
He said nothing as he followed her out of the museum, out to the parking lot, and to the oldest, most disreputable-looking vehicle he had seen in some time. Standing next to it was a tall, dark-haired man who was an absolute monster. He looked not unlike one of those overgrown men his son watched on wrestling. “Ah, Mrs. Hastings,” he murmured a bit anxiously, conscious of his own slight stature as they approached this tall man who looked quite powerful.
“Clark is a friend, Mr. Gardner,” she told him. “Now, this is what I was speaking of,” she added in the same breath.
“I was hoping you could tell me who best to contact concerning how to handle it.” She went to the trunk, and opened the hatch with a dull creak as she pried it up. Pulling back a burlap feed sack, she stood back, and gestured.
“Dear God,” the older man gasped as he stared at the gold bar. “Is it…?”
“Stamped with the CSA seal,” she grinned. “And there’s more where it came from.”
“And where is that?” he asked anxiously, looking up at her, and then over to Clark.
“Let’s just say it’s someplace safe, and leave it at that,” she told him.
“Oh my, well….yes. You should contact the state treasury department. They can best help you dispose of…gold….. But there is also the historical value, and… oh, my, Mrs. Hastings, I don’t think you realize what you have here. You…”
“I have a very good idea,” she told him. “And I just want to get enough to save my home. So, would this entice you enough to write me a check to go towards that,” she asked, holding up the satchel.
“Ordinarily, Mrs. Hastings, I’d have to contact the museum’s investors, and the board, and get a consensus, but…I think I can state uncategorically that we would be more than glad to be the ones to handle this find. As to remuneration, well, obviously we couldn’t give you a value until we surveyed the entire find, but, I can tell you that,I would be more than fair in giving you say, a fifty thousand dollar deposit to secure our rights to review the find at the least.”
“I’ll need an invoice, and a cashier’s check, if you don’t mind. For tax purposes, and my bank’s insistence I pay them on time,” she smiled as she closed the trunk. She laughed at his expression, adding, “My late husband was an accountant. He taught me a few things.”
“Of course. Of course. Just come back to my office,” he told her, heading back to the museum trembling with excitement. “Your…ah, friend, is trustworthy?,” he asked a bit anxiously, once they entered the museum again, glancing back to where he still stood by the car.
“I wouldn’t be here at all without him. I doubt there is anyone else on the planet I trust as much as Clark,” she told him firmly.
“Ah, well…that’s good. This is quite a find. Quite a find!” he exclaimed.
“I thought you might want to see this, sir,” Anna Graves told the director as she held out a small town paper for him to read.
“Local Woman Strikes Confederate Gold,” he read, frowning at the dowdy woman on the front page.”What does this have to do with our mystery man,” he demanded.
“Last paragraph, sir,” she told him.
“Last paragraph,” he grunted, turning the page, and scanning the end the of the article.“The site is of inestimable value to historians…..”
“Further down, sir,” she pointed.
“Mrs. Hastings credits her discovery to the aid of a young man known only as Clark. He refused any credit, obviously proving he is one of the last real good Samaritans in this world, claiming he was only doing a job for a woman that took a chance on him.” “So,” he frowned. “This still doesn’t tell us….”
“Sir, I did a little discreet checking. The woman was bankrupt. About to be evicted from her place when she suddenly takes in a nameless vagrant with no background that I could find, and strikes it rich.”
“I repeat, what…?”
“I also went out there a few days ago to poke around. This vagrant also happens to be wearing a blue flannel shirt described from the theft a few weeks ago,” she added. “It’s a tenuous link at best, but…..”
“No pictures,” he asked her.
“He wouldn’t sit for one. Oddly enough, any camera aimed at him only got ruined film for their efforts. But he looked enough like our flying man to make me suspicious.”
James Carter rose from behind his desk, his eyes grim as he grabbed the paper. “Get me a jet ready NOW!”
“Standing by at the airstrip, sir,” she told him. “Shall I have the local authorities, or Guard ready for us?
“No,” he snapped. “If he can shrug off missiles, and tear jets apart, I doubt a few weekend warriors are going to bother him.
“We need to play this one quiet, and discreet.”
“Of course, sir.”