It was late morning and Jake Pierce was still under the covers, trying to forget his troubles. Suddenly someone knocked at the door.
“Mr. Pierce, where is the rent money,” exclaimed Mrs. Patterson. “I need it now!”
Mrs. Patterson was his old landlady, a woman with a shrill voice and the personality to go with it. Pierce had a habit of being late with the rent or for that matter with every bill that he had to pay. It was just his way of living life. That was a recurrent theme with Pierce; not having enough money for all the necessary of life or to enjoy it. At least, not enough to have the enjoyable life that he wanted. In other words, his wants exceeded his ability to pay for them. By far.
“Mr. Pierce, I will come back later tonight, and you’d better have the rent money or I will throw you out you lazy bum!” exclaimed Mrs. Patterson. She stomped back in a huff towards her apartment.
Being a freelance photographer Pierce’s income flow was irregular; it was feast or famine and lately, he had been famished. He was running from job to job, peddling his pictures of people and events to newspapers and magazines. Sometimes he hit it big, selling pictures of famous people out on the town but usually it was nothing. He liked it that way as he had a lot of freedom, either to sleep in and of course to starve. He saw himself as an artist and if life was not easy, he accepted it. He felt it suited his personality best.
Pierce opened one eye and then another, trying to force his way out of bed. It was as if he were resting on a fluffy cloud. Then he opened both eyes, looked at the clock and said, “Holy shit!” He knew that today was Sunday, April 10. It was the day that his uncle Stephen was to be buried at Holy Oaks cemetery and the service was to start at 10:00. It was now was 09:55 and it was obvious that he would be late.
Rapidly Pierce threw the sheets away from him and exploded out of his bed, a man bent on a mission. He ate, showered and dressed in record time and by 10:15 he was on his Ducati 500cc, racing the little roads of New Stanton. He liked speed and his motorcycle was perfect for him, giving him that rush of adventure that he loved in life. Woe to any little old lady bent on crossing his path at that time.
As he turned the bend he saw the old cemetery with a small crowd of people. They all turned towards him at the sound of his motorcycle with looks of disapproval evident on their faces. As he proceeded to find a place to park he looked at those faces and was unable to recognize a single person there. This was not surprising as the Piece family was rather large and Pierce himself rarely or ever bothered attending family gatherings. He just did not care enough to attend them and found them supremely boring.
He finally parked just outside the main entrance and proceeded to walk the short distance that separated him from the small gathering. As he approached the mourners and was able to see them up close, he began to recognize a few familiar faces from the past. Here was Aunt Louise, the old unmarried woman who was so religious. There beside her was another uncle of his, Albert, the younger brother of his deceased uncle Stephen. He was the opposite of his brother; a solid family man who never drank nor smoked in his life. They nodded at him in a stern way, as if they were acknowledging him simply because they had to. He nodded back and smiled at them.
As he took his place beside the mourners the priest began his short homily. Pierce did his best to appear sombre yet they all knew him too well; a man who cared only about himself, about his needs and wants and who did not mingle well with others. In short, a mean son of a bitch.
Everything was done quickly and in less time that one cares to remember the coffin was in the ground and ready to be forgotten. Two cemetery workers appeared out of nowhere and began the task of shovelling earth on top of the coffin. At their appearance the mourners began to disperse. It was at that point that someone grabbed Pierce’s arm.
“Mr. Piece I presume?” said a man that had seen better days. Dressed in his best, with an astounding red tie that was in symmetry with his red hair. He was a short man, with a rather muscular build. He must have been quite a catch in his youth but he was now in his early 70’s. He was the man that was taking care of the affairs of his late uncle, and his name was John P. Stevens, attorney.
“And who wants to know?” said Pierce, in a defensive way. He knew quite well that all sorts of people were looking for him, mainly of the unfriendly kind who wanted their money.
“I understand your fears Mr. Pierce. You seem to collect unpaid bills,” exclaimed Stevens.
“And even if I do, what is it to you?” replied Pierce, ever ready to land a blow to that jutting jaw of Stevens. The old man was taken aback with that reaction.
“Now now Mr. Pierce, no need to be hostile with me. In fact, I am bringing you good news. I am sure that you will love it. Here, take this and come and see me later today. “ Stevens handed him his business card which said:
John P. Stevens, attorney.
Best prices in town!
It was mid-afternoon when Pierce finally arrived at the office of John P. Stevens. It was located in the downtown area of the city where the chic boutiques are and pretty girls abound.
He had dressed in a casual way; polo shirt and jeans with his baseball cap on. He was intrigued by what Stevens had told him. Moreover, Stevens was well informed about his money problems and that bothered him. How did he know? Obviously he had snooped around.
He finally arrived at the address, 241 Mason Avenue. It was a skyscraper full of offices, with the office of Stevens on the third floor. Pierce took the elevator as he tended to avoid walking like the plague. At the third floor he stepped out and began hunting for 309. It was 14:45.
“Mr. Pierce,” said Stevens as he saw Pierce approach him, “I was expecting you, as you can see.” The office door had been left open on purpose.
“Well you’re offer to solve my financial problems was too good to miss.” said Pierce as he shook hands with Stevens. “You know, I have no idea what is the link between my late uncle and me. As far as I knew, he had very little money and I am sure that once the creditors learn of his death, like a bunch of vultures they will descend on his estate and eat it up.”
“Well let me re-assure you. Your uncle was not poor, far from it. He was a miser you know, not a spendthrift. He had accumulated a large amount of money before his death and he knew about you, even if you barely send him a postcard through the years.”
“Well I am shocked to hear this. “said Pierce. “I may have met him a few times at some family gatherings and that was all.”
“I understand your surprise, “said Stevens, “and you will be even more surprised when I read you the will.”
“You mean to say that I was left sole heir to his fortune? “exclaimed Pierce.
“Indeed Mr. Pierce, you are. But there are strings attached. Let me read you the will if I may.” At those words Stevens fished out his glasses and began reading.
My Dear Nephew,
I am sure that you will be surprised that my attorney contacted you. After all, you and I never had much contact and yet I know all about your money problems. I can solve your money problems for good. However, there is a catch; you must accomplish certain actions before the money can come to you. And it will come to you but not in one bunch. It will be delivered to you piece by piece. My attorney, John P. Stevens will be the arbiter in this little contest. Do what is expected of you, find what I want you to find, and the money will be yours. My attorney is the only one you should contact for help as he will hold the purse strings. He will tell you informally what I want you to do. Be careful!
Your uncle, Stephen.
“Alright, “said Pierce, “tell me how I can get the money. But first, nowhere in the letter does my uncle tell me how much he would leave me?”
“Yes, I understand that money and how much of it will accrue to you are the crux of the matter and I will tell you now: your uncle is leaving you 10.5 million dollars.”
Pierce looked at the attorney with a sense of disbelief. After all, it was known that his uncle had lived in a small apartment, had driven a used car and generally was not known to be a flashy dresser. In short, no one looking at how he lived would make the mistake of taking him to be a rich man. And yet, he had been filthy rich.
“I don’t understand,” exclaimed Pierce, “this man could not have been rich, looking at his lifestyle. How is it possible and how did he made so much money?”
Stevens replied. “The explanation is simple. Your uncle was rich, but did not want the world to know about it, or more precisely, he did not want certain people to know this. He was afraid for his life. That is the problem for you as you must not tell anyone about his money because there are people who may covet these riches and other artefacts that your uncle had.”
Steven’s went on to explain how the uncle of Pierce achieved such richness.
“Your uncle in his younger years accompanied the famed explorer Hiram Bingham in discovering various Incas cities that had long been forgotten. However, what was not explicitly said by the explorer is that he too, as those before him, was looking for El Dorado, the famed city of the Incas. Gold flowed in abundance there and numerous conquistadores went and lost their lives in attempting to discover the city. Well, it seems that your uncle saw a glint of it and profited richly. As far as he told me, he did not discover where it was, but had a good idea of where it was located and more importantly, he did discover gold artefacts.”
Pierce was listening to the story wide-eyed and open mouth. Suddenly, he burst out laughing and clapped his leg.
“You mean to tell me that the old goat found gold and never told anyone about it? But why didn’t he? “
“I told you, he had been involved in conflicts with the natives and afterward in his life he told me that he thought that he was being watched. It seems, according to him, that there are people out there looking out for the secret and protecting it. That is why you must never say a word about all this. Your life could be in jeopardy.”
At those words Pierce became serious once more. If this meant that his life could be endangered, he would need Stevens to show him some of the money. He needed a firm advance, not just promises from Stevens.
“Very well, it does sound promising and I do need money as you seem to know. But I want some of the money upfront and not when some conditions would be fulfilled.”
Steven’s remembered what the uncle had said about Pierce; that he was a lazy person that never amounted to much and that his lust for money drove him. The uncle had told him to whet his appetite but not to satisfy him completely. Let him work for it.
“Very well. Your uncle agreed that a small stipend should be provided to you to start you out. Here is a check, for 5,000 dollars. Can I give you the details now? “
“You know, 5,000 dollars is nice, but not nearly enough for me. I need more to cover my debts and further living expenses.”
At these words, Steven’s grew impatient. He decided to play hardball with Pierce, knowing that he was the only game in town if he wanted to solve his financial woes.
“Mr. Pierce, it is 5,000 dollars and not a penny more. It is a take it or leave it offer. If you refuse, you will have to wait one year before getting the same offer I am now telling you but with less money!” Stevens was grinning from ear to ear, knowing in what dire financial straits Pierce was.
“Fine. “said a sullen looking Pierce. “I agree to the amount, now tell more about the details and what are those artefacts that you talked about?”
Stevens rose slowly from his desk and walked over to a large painting that was hanging in front of him. The painting represented the explorer Bingham as he discovered Machu Picchu. He slowly removed the painting that revealed a safe and began dialling the numbers. Pierce approached him slyly as he was curious to see the contents of it. But Stevens had noticed him creep up behind him and in one swift motion he took some money with two wooden sticks and quickly closed the safe. He turned and faced Pierce again with a smile on his face.
“Be careful Mr. Pierce, being too curious can be just as dangerous as not being enough.”
Stevens began to count the money. In all, he was giving him 1000 dollars cash and the rest as a check. Then there was the matter of the two wooden sticks and the part that they played in the whole story. Pierce was counting the money and was paying scant attention to Stevens who took the sticks and was pointing them at Pierce.
“Now look here, Mr. Pierce. These two sticks are of utmost importance to your future. Look at each one.” said Steven’s. “Look at the two elongated holes on the top part of the sticks. One hole is enlarged towards the bottom while the other one is toward the top. There is a crystal in both of these holes. At some point, they must face each other at the proper location. “
Pierce took the sticks in his hands, looking carefully at them. He noticed the writing on them, going from top to bottom. They looked like Egyptian hieroglyph but they were not exactly similar. These sticks were of about two feet in length and about ¼ of an inch in diameter and round. He then looked at the holes.
“What are they for, to let the wind pass through or perhaps they are musical instruments?” At that, Pierce took one of the sticks and tried to blow through the hole. Stevens was incensed by this. He extended his hands and snatched the stick from the hand of Pierce.
“Look, these are not toys and they could well be instrumental in fulfilling the wishes of your uncle and of course, assure your financial future. So behave.”
Pierce slumped back in his chair slightly bored at the whole affair. He had what he wanted, the money, and he dearly wanted to get out of Steven’s office. Nevertheless, the sticks and the story that Stevens recounted to him intrigued him. If his uncle was that rich and had left him with such an amount of money, perhaps it was best to play along he thought.
“Now here is the plan Mr. Pierce. You are to organize an expedition to Peru, in the area where Machu Picchu is. There you will contact a woman named Maria Hernandez who lives in Lima. Contact her and move on from there. Let me remind you that you are on a tight deadline; you have less than three months to find something interesting. If you are too lazy and simply enjoy your new money then our association will be terminated, am I clear?”
Pierce knew what the correct answer was. “I understand Mr.Stevens. I will fulfill my end of the bargain. Make sure your end is secure as well.” Pierce said as he grinned at Stevens, looking at the money and the check. He shook Stevens hand and left the room.