"A Worthwhile Book By A Guy That Spells "Service" With Two S'es! How Can You Ask For Anything More Extraordinary?"

- drinking buddy

324

Pages

14

Journal Entries

21

Miles To Tomb

1

Masks

The Reviews Are In

“This book may never win any awards, take up space in a bookstore, or open the door to a radio interview, but I recommend it to anyone who is looking for a really fun, clean, and easy read… that also provides the opportunity to get wet, fall off a cliff, and be eaten by wolves.”

-unclaimed… but I think I know who it is.

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C. J. Bartels

Chris has picked up red-striped golf balls at 4:30 am, flown helicopters over the sands of Iraq, and lifted cutbows from pristine waters of Montana with friends that are still friends. Currently, he spends much of his time looking down at the ground and turning over rocks with his family.

A first generation American, Chris has flown helicopters in Korea, Europe, and throughout the Middle East. While in China, he met his wife's parents, and then 12 months later, while in Germany, met their daughter, now a mom to their four wonderful children. Since then he has built a house that he and his family live in, recorded music that didn't sell very well, gone fishing with friends that are still friends, and tried a whole lot of other endeavors that didn't always go as planned. In fact, Iudicium was supposed to be a musical...

Chris works from a studio in NorthEast Minneapolis, MN.

Other stories by C. J. Bartels
"A Letter From Brazil" – a young girl growing up on the plains of North Dakota is moved across America as her father looks for work in the Puget Sound Naval Shipyards during World War II. At the same time, a young boy in Germany turns sixteen and 7 weeks later, in 1945, is sent to the Eastern Front as Germany loses ground and the end of the war draws near. Based on a true story of how his parents grew up during the war, met in America during the last three weeks of a visit sponsored by the Marshall Plan, and marry in Brazil at the request of a letter. "Where The Valley Lies" – a mystery and the inspiration for a new opera set to debut in 2018. "Whispering" – a story of suspense and espionage started while hunkered down in a forward operating base on the border of Iraq. "Charlie Teeter Peeked" – a children's story for around the holidays. And "Dep-Camp 1099."

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A Great Mystery. A Wonderful Adventure. The Perfect Graduation Present.

Every father wants the best for his child. Thomas Gatry is no different. But when a friend suggests that he made a grave mistake by making his son’s life too easy, an unexpected turn of events creates an outcome filled with suspense, forbidden love, and murder.


The Will


Hacksby’s truck smelled like manure though Jake knew it had not left the pavement. Even his lumberjack red flannel shirt looked out-of-place as if it had been hand-tailored on Rodeo Drive. They pulled up to the office that had once housed the mayor back before the turn of the century. Its three-stories, large dormers, and wraparound front porch, majestically towered over the corner lot. The stairs to Hacksby’s office were wide, cherry, and creaked with each step. Inside, a fire crackled behind the outline of intricately carved wood and thick wire screen. The warm air rolled from the pine logs and soothed the fall air that had snuck into the room during the night.

“Jake, please take a seat.” Hacksby did not like to waste time, and Jake made note that this meeting, even under the grave circumstances, would be no different. The company attorney lowered himself into the chair that sat behind his desk and took a moment to collect his thoughts.
He had taken care of some of the details about Jake’s father in the truck. For one thing, according to a call made to Hacksby’s office a few months earlier, his father claimed that Egyptian officials had followed him back to the states and were trying to kill him. In addition, the last time they spoke, Thomas Gatry had called from a pay phone in Ely, Minnesota. “…We only know this because he made a collect call to my desk and the phone company made a note of the location on the bill.” Hacksby huffed. “Please take a seat.”
Jake ignored the offer as he studied a figured veneer table top, and unique sculpture that rose above its surface at the front corner.
His father’s attorney slid an invoice toward him. “This is the bill linking your father to Ely, as I told you in the truck.” His head and wrinkled jowls shook. “How he arrived in Canada from there is anybody’s guess.”
Jake knew that the speculation pointed to a canoe and the unguarded boundary waters between Minnesota and Ontario. He let the invoice lie on the desk. “What about his remains?” 
“According to the police report, the hotel caretaker discovered his body around nine Tuesday morning. By the time he returned to the front desk to call the authorities, the room was in flames. Your father’s body, and whatever evidence there may have been at the scene, was destroyed.” Hacksby shuffled his hand over some loose documents.
“Meaning?”
“Meaning, at the moment, we’re still trying to sort it out. I am sorry, Jake.”
“What about the ashes?”
“We’re doing all we can. Hopefully, in the next few days, I’ll have more information for you.” Hacksby coughed into his fist, still trying to catch his breath from the climb up the stairs. 
Jake placed his hands on the front edge of Hacksby’s gold-leaf Louis the 4th mahogany desk and leaned in. “What happened, Roger? Why would someone kill him?” Jake lowered himself and sat back in the chair facing Hacksby’s desk. “And why did it take a whole day to notify me?”
“We’re looking into your first question now. I have my best detective in Atikokan conducting an investigation. As to the notification process, according to the police department that is handling the case, where there is trouble identifying the deceased, the sheriff must file a report with investigative authorities that describes sufficient proof of identification before family member notification. The report showing this did not arrive in Thunder Bay until Wednesday, a day after the incident. A couple more hours to finalize the death certificate and clean up all the details, and I did not have confirmation until late Wednesday afternoon. I notified you as soon as I got off the phone with them.”
“Proof of Identification? If there were only ashes, how can they be so sure of their proof of identification?” Uncomfortably, Jake stood back up and stepped over to the fireplace. He watched the flames dance between the oscillating embers and the blackened wood and waited for a response.
Hacksby opened his top desk drawer, picked something up, and lifted it in his closed fist. “We have a visual ID from the caretaker who handed him a key for the room just a couple of minutes before the attack. We have a confirmed ID from the caretaker who entered the room immediately after hearing three gunshots. And…” Hacksby unclenched his fist as a small tarnished steel bead chain slipped through his fingers, revealing a set of old military identification tags.
Jake turned back toward Hacksby as they tapped down against the desktop.
“…They found your father’s army dog-tags in the debris.”
Jake felt the sobering jolt as hope went dim.  
“As for the reason they called me first, my number was in the discarded wallet that the investigating authority found in a dumpster at the back of the hotel.” Hacksby’s voice rose as he lifted a set of stapled documents signed by the Thunder Bay investigative officer.
Jake could not believe that his father wasn’t returning to him this time. His father resembled immortality in its purest form, though he knew he was flesh and blood.
Hacksby continued. “On page two of the report that the officials received in Thunder Bay, detailing the crime scene, Officer Carey wrote that they ‘“found a bag belonging to Thomas Gatry in a dumpster behind the hotel.”’
Jake stepped back to the chair and lowered himself onto the smooth cowhide, this time feeling his strength to stand, gone.
“This is not a normal case, Jake. It took place outside of U. S. borders. To make matters worse, it took place in a small, unconventional town. I understand your frustration, but you must understand the unusual circumstances.” 
Hacksby held his courtroom stare as Jake fought the will to turn away.
“Evidently, there is no operating courthouse or homicide investigation center in Atikokan. It’s a couple of hardworking local boys in uniform, trying to figure out a bad situation. They are not accustomed to handling cases the way we might down here.
“—What else was found?” Jake asked in a soft clear voice.
Hacksby shuffled the papers and read the list of items. “According to the documenting Officer, a wallet containing my business card, a credit card from USAA, a phone card with seventy-eight minutes remaining, and two hundred and thirty-one U. S. dollars, along with a leather satchel containing a journal with 302 pages of handwritten notes and drawings, two shirts, two pair of briefs, one pair of worn jeans, four socks, a pen, three international postage stamps, a receipt for one canoe purchased in Ely, Minnesota, and a small container of undetermined spices, possibly a narcotic.” Hacksby set the top sheet to the side as he leaned back in his chair.
“I see.” Jake felt beaten.
“The police in Thunder Bay have already scoured most of the items for clues and will notify me, probably still today, if they come up with anything else that will help in the investigation. I knew you would want something of his during this time of grief, grief shared by all of us, so I requested that they send the items already examined to my office.”
“Thank you.”
“Some of the contents arrived this morning. You can sign for them on your way out.” Hacksby shifted the tone with a rise in his voice. “Your father was a dear friend of mine. I do understand your concerns, but I am doing the best I can to make this as painless as possible.”
Jake stared back at Hacksby without a word. Hacksby appeared uncomfortable with making the transition but went ahead with it anyway.
“In either case, Jake, there is more to discuss this morning.” The attorney tapped the top of a neatly stacked pile of documents set to the side of his desk. “This is going to be quite a day for you.”
“I imagine it will.” Jake slid himself back in the stiff chair. He had never stopped to think of the amount of money his father had accumulated. He had never stopped to consider the cost of anything before.
“I spoke with your father about three months ago, just before he started to run into trouble in Egypt. We had a long talk.” Hacksby paused as he studied Jake. He could remember the boy in his dirty jeans riding horses with his only daughter, Anastasia, out at their ranch in Chico Hot Springs. He never thought the boy had much determination, and now, as Jake sat in front of him, with his tailored suit and slicked-back Hollywood hair, he knew he was correct. “At that time, your father asked me to look into his net worth so he could update his Trust, and after I gave him the full amount he adjusted his estate’s benefactors, to my genuine surprise. I received his notarized document two days ago in the mail, and I’ll be honest, I couldn’t believe what I read.”
Hacksby let his words settle between the two of them as if quietly replaying his previous astonishment at Gatry’s request.
“I think there is enough to go around, Roger.”
“Yes, there is more than enough to go around. Your father has always been very generous, I must say. I guess I didn’t expect such…” Hacksby stopped again as an awkward form of regret seemed to creep up on him and go for his throat.
“…Generosity?” Jake finished Hacksby’s sentence. He knew how generous his father had always been while alive. He was certain Hacksby, as well as his father’s other friends, had reaped the benefits of his giving spirit in death.
Hacksby lifted the documents and set them directly in front of himself. In the deep voice Jake understood reserved for meetings with the company, he read the top sheet: “To my trusted friend and colleague, Edward Branston Gladder III, I willfully leave the entirety of Gatry & Son Financial, with the condition that none of its assets be sold or passed on to my son. Jake L. Gatry’s position at Gatry & Son Financial is officially terminated as of this reading.
A lock of black hair slipped across Jake’s face, as did the effects of his hangover, in the form of pale.
“To my dear trusted friend and colleague, Roger Hacksby, I leave all of my Bozeman, Montana, factory and industrial real estate holdings with one-third of the forty-seven million dollar real estate and assets to go directly to his daughter, Anastasia. The condominium suite where Jake presently resides is to be sold immediately and the money given to a charity of my son’s choosing.”
Jake stood up. “What—”
“To Thomas Cline, I leave with pride and gratitude my 1,000 acres in Snake Gulch. To my son, the person I love more than all in this world, I leave the rest of my belongings.” Hacksby let the sheet fall to the desktop. ‘“It is your turn.’” 
Jake’s arm dropped off the armrest and dangled loosely, as if unattached. “It is your turn? What does that mean?”
“I don’t know. He wrote it at the end of his declaration.”
Jake watched Hacksby’s figure waiver as nausea dizzied his vision. Everything he had ever known had just been chopped from his grasp. He wanted to throw up as he looked for the cause, but the ax in front of him looked dull and heavy. It did not swing. It just stared back with a sort of hidden glistening pride like a lumberjack eyeing his most recent fell. “The rest of his belongings? What’s left?”
“Well, really nothing, Jake. It’s more of a formality. There is the bag that came from the police investigation—”
“—Socks? He left me socks?” Jake slumped forward and dropped his hands on top of Hacksby’s desk with a thump.
“It has all been notarized and returned with your father’s signature.”
Jake took the sheet from Hacksby’s hand and reread the same words Hacksby had read aloud. “There must be a mistake?”
“Under any other circumstance I would agree, but there is none. I will get you a copy for your records.”
“What does this mean?” His voice was weak and barely audible.
Hacksby pulled in a deep breath. He knew what to expect and had prepared. “You are no longer in the employment of Gatry & Son, all of your bank accounts and assets have been frozen since they were under the corporation, Tom owns your favorite trout stream, and your condominium will go on the market tomorrow morning—.”
Jake gathered a forced smile. “—You’re kidding?”
“I am sorry, but this is not a joke. It is exactly as your father requested.”
Jake lowered himself back into the chair, and gazed across Hacksby’s desk, though he did not focus on anything in particular.
“Should I continue?”
Jake did not respond.
Hacksby lifted a sealed white envelope from the desktop. “Before you interrupted, I was about to give you this.”
“An envelope?” Jake slowly lifted his hand and took it from Hacksby.
Hacksby watched Jake turn and twist the thin packet. “It arrived this morning in the mail, redirected to our address with your father’s name on it. It has not been opened so we assume your father did not receive it before his death.”
“What’s in it?”
“I have no idea. It has a postmaster’s seal, and although it came to our front desk, it is addressed to your father, so legally I cannot open it. However, since you have been granted “‘all other assets,’” it is yours.”
Jake studied the slight bulge in the middle of the envelope. “Money?”
“Perhaps,” Hacksby spoke from above his fingers that now propped-up his bottom lip and thick jaw.
Jake had seen quite a lot of money clipped together in one thin stack. “Maybe someone owed him from a poker game and finally decided to pay up?” The joke did not lift his spirits. “God knows I can use it about now.”
“I am surprised at you, Jake. You have always been one to place yourself above everyone else. Begging’ your pardon, because I saw your father as a brother, but you spoiled little punk.” His words tightened against his lips as if they had been lying in wait under his thick tongue for some time. “You’ve never had anything that your father didn’t give you. Even when you tried to run away from your family and went to Alaska, you kept your hand in your father’s pocket.” Hacksby sneered though he may not have known it. “Changing your clothes and surrounding yourself with hard-working folk doesn’t make you one of them. Thank God,” Hacksby pointed toward the Will, “your father finally realized what he had done to you. Let’s hope it isn’t too late.”
Jake silently studied Hacksby. He knew the guy blamed him for taking his daughter to California. Besides, he spoke the truth. He hadn’t worked a day that ended with him realizing the true value of the paycheck. “Thank you for the comfort, Uncle Roger.”
Hacksby let the comment pass before lifting something from the side of his desk. “One last thing that your father requested.” Hacksby dropped a debit card on top of his desk, within Jake’s reach. “Your father asked that I open an account for you with three thousand dollars. When it’s gone, it’s gone.”
Jake slid forward and lifted the card. Had it really come down to this?
“Do you understand what I have told you here today, Jake?”
Jake twisted the envelope and debit card in his hand as he rose.
“Everything you own is in the name of the company.” Hacksby continued. “This means, currently, the only possessions you own are the ones in your pockets. Your credit cards will no longer work, and your plane is already on its way back to California…”
Jake stared at Hacksby’s thick frame as he leaned forward and over his desk. His lips continued to move; yet, Jake could not hear a word. He had shut out everything around him as his thoughts twisted and turned. “—What did my father find in Egypt?” Jake quietly interrupted. His voice grew louder. “Why did they kill him?”
Hacksby stopped speaking and scrutinized the question, startled that they had returned to that topic.
Jake lowered himself onto the front edge of the uncomfortable cowhide chair. “He must have found something of importance if they killed him and disposed of his body in a fire that burned down an entire building. What did he find?”
Hacksby remained propped over his desk. “He went in search of a dream and dreams don’t always exist as one might imagine.” He could see that Jake demanded more. “I am not sure what he found, but he spoke about a lost tomb and a mask. You know how those stories in Archeological Digest would get him all wound up.”  
Jake turned the envelope in his hand. “Go on.”
“I already told you. According to a phone call your father made to me, prior to his return from Egypt, he had finally discovered the artifact he had been searching for and felt he was in danger.”
Jake could not remember Hacksby ever being so uncertain with details. This man prided himself on facts. “You know more than you are telling me. What did he discover?”
Hacksby gathered his thoughts before continuing. “I don’t know.”
“Who was following him?”
“Who?”
“Who was following him? Did he speculate?” 
Hacksby smiled. His eyes dropped from Jake’s face. Pushing up against the thickly carved armrests that supported him, he lifted himself from his chair, ending the meeting. “I’m not sure.”
Jake did not care. “He must have found something.” 
“I don’t know what he found, but I do know the Egyptian government believed he had and were—.”
“—Were what?”
“They were confident that he had taken it out of the country, which is illegal.”
“You said you didn’t know who was following him.”
“I said your father speculated that Egyptian officials were following him.”
“—They contacted you, didn’t they?”
“They contacted me—” Hacksby stopped as the air suddenly grew thick and silence swept between them.
“What did you tell them?” Jake spoke slowly with an unexpected shift of blame.
Hacksby looked away from Jake as his words fell toward the hearth. “I told them nothing that would jeopardize your father’s well being.”
“—Where are they now?”
Hacksby looked stunned that it had gone this far. “I don’t know, but if you give me a call later today, I’ll get you a number to an office in Washington that may be able to help you find out.”
Jake looked down at the envelope as he spoke. “My father has left you with an awful lot of property. The least you can do is answer a few questions for his son.” Jake caught Hacksby in his despondent glare. “When did the Egyptians contact you?”
Hacksby’s courtroom confidence had melted. The skin at the sides of his face hung still until a soft tone from between his cheeks made it shudder. “A few months ago.”
“Do you have any idea how he died? I find it difficult to believe that he died at the hand of some thief not smart enough to take the money out of his wallet. Who murdered him? I need to know, Roger. Were they Egyptian? Where they sent the Egyptian government?” Jake’s cutting glare passed through Hacksby as if he stared into a crystal ball that held all the answers. “Why would any common thief leave the money and credit cards in a stolen wallet?” He stared eye to eye with the large man who stood across from him. “Who did this to him? You have to tell me if you know. Please, Roger.”
Dropping his shoulders, Hacksby slumped back down into his chair. Jake could feel the floor move as he hit the thin cushion. The attorney’s voice rang stale, like a politician stalling. “I received the call from the Canadian officials in Thunder Bay pertaining to—”
“Roger!”
“—his death yesterday. No autopsy could be done. There was no body, just ashes. We don’t—”
“Roger!”
“—know what happened to him.” Hacksby stared off toward the crackling fire that rose in the old fireplace. He never expected it to go this far.
Jake held himself from going through the desk as he watched Hacksby lament a past decision.
Hacksby set his pen down on top of the documents as he reached the resolution he had expected. It would all be worth it in the end. “Jake, if you would like to stay with Joan and me for a couple of nights, you are welcome.”
Jake knew this conversation was over. “No thanks, I’ll be fine.”
Hacksby did not expect Jake to take him up on the offer, nor did he want him to, but he needed to end the conversation. He dug into his pocket and pulled out a roll of bills. “Take this.”
Jake looked at the one hundred dollar bills, tucked neatly beneath a round clip, as though a payoff for some past debt lay inches away. “He left that for you.” Jake lifted the envelope and debit card. “This is mine.” His hand hung forward as he met Hacksby’s powerful grip. “You’ll take care of informing the others of the good news?”
“Yes.”
No wonder Gladder came in to size up his office earlier in the morning. Now he understood why Hacksby had called him.
“Thank you.”
Jake studied Hacksby. Something in the old man’s eyes gave away a side of him that he had never seen before. He felt as if he stood ringside as honor and truth were quietly being defeated by fear and greed. Jake knew his father’s old friend held a secret.  

The Will


Hacksby’s truck smelled like manure though Jake knew it had not left the pavement. Even his lumberjack red flannel shirt looked out-of-place as if it had been hand-tailored on Rodeo Drive. They pulled up to the office that had once housed the mayor back before the turn of the century. Its three-stories, large dormers, and wraparound front porch, majestically towered over the corner lot. The stairs to Hacksby’s office were wide, cherry, and creaked with each step. Inside, a fire crackled behind the outline of intricately carved wood and thick wire screen. The warm air rolled from the pine logs and soothed the fall air that had snuck into the room during the night.

“Jake, please take a seat.” Hacksby did not like to waste time, and Jake made note that this meeting, even under the grave circumstances, would be no different. The company attorney lowered himself into the chair that sat behind his desk and took a moment to collect his thoughts.
He had taken care of some of the details about Jake’s father in the truck. For one thing, according to a call made to Hacksby’s office a few months earlier, his father claimed that Egyptian officials had followed him back to the states and were trying to kill him. In addition, the last time they spoke, Thomas Gatry had called from a pay phone in Ely, Minnesota. “…We only know this because he made a collect call to my desk and the phone company made a note of the location on the bill.” Hacksby huffed. “Please take a seat.”
Jake ignored the offer as he studied a figured veneer table top, and unique sculpture that rose above its surface at the front corner.
His father’s attorney slid an invoice toward him. “This is the bill linking your father to Ely, as I told you in the truck.” His head and wrinkled jowls shook. “How he arrived in Canada from there is anybody’s guess.”
Jake knew that the speculation pointed to a canoe and the unguarded boundary waters between Minnesota and Ontario. He let the invoice lie on the desk. “What about his remains?” 
“According to the police report, the hotel caretaker discovered his body around nine Tuesday morning. By the time he returned to the front desk to call the authorities, the room was in flames. Your father’s body, and whatever evidence there may have been at the scene, was destroyed.” Hacksby shuffled his hand over some loose documents.
“Meaning?”
“Meaning, at the moment, we’re still trying to sort it out. I am sorry, Jake.”
“What about the ashes?”
“We’re doing all we can. Hopefully, in the next few days, I’ll have more information for you.” Hacksby coughed into his fist, still trying to catch his breath from the climb up the stairs. 
Jake placed his hands on the front edge of Hacksby’s gold-leaf Louis the 4th mahogany desk and leaned in. “What happened, Roger? Why would someone kill him?” Jake lowered himself and sat back in the chair facing Hacksby’s desk. “And why did it take a whole day to notify me?”
“We’re looking into your first question now. I have my best detective in Atikokan conducting an investigation. As to the notification process, according to the police department that is handling the case, where there is trouble identifying the deceased, the sheriff must file a report with investigative authorities that describes sufficient proof of identification before family member notification. The report showing this did not arrive in Thunder Bay until Wednesday, a day after the incident. A couple more hours to finalize the death certificate and clean up all the details, and I did not have confirmation until late Wednesday afternoon. I notified you as soon as I got off the phone with them.”
“Proof of Identification? If there were only ashes, how can they be so sure of their proof of identification?” Uncomfortably, Jake stood back up and stepped over to the fireplace. He watched the flames dance between the oscillating embers and the blackened wood and waited for a response.
Hacksby opened his top desk drawer, picked something up, and lifted it in his closed fist. “We have a visual ID from the caretaker who handed him a key for the room just a couple of minutes before the attack. We have a confirmed ID from the caretaker who entered the room immediately after hearing three gunshots. And…” Hacksby unclenched his fist as a small tarnished steel bead chain slipped through his fingers, revealing a set of old military identification tags.
Jake turned back toward Hacksby as they tapped down against the desktop.
“…They found your father’s army dog-tags in the debris.”
Jake felt the sobering jolt as hope went dim.  
“As for the reason they called me first, my number was in the discarded wallet that the investigating authority found in a dumpster at the back of the hotel.” Hacksby’s voice rose as he lifted a set of stapled documents signed by the Thunder Bay investigative officer.
Jake could not believe that his father wasn’t returning to him this time. His father resembled immortality in its purest form, though he knew he was flesh and blood.
Hacksby continued. “On page two of the report that the officials received in Thunder Bay, detailing the crime scene, Officer Carey wrote that they ‘“found a bag belonging to Thomas Gatry in a dumpster behind the hotel.”’
Jake stepped back to the chair and lowered himself onto the smooth cowhide, this time feeling his strength to stand, gone.
“This is not a normal case, Jake. It took place outside of U. S. borders. To make matters worse, it took place in a small, unconventional town. I understand your frustration, but you must understand the unusual circumstances.” 
Hacksby held his courtroom stare as Jake fought the will to turn away.
“Evidently, there is no operating courthouse or homicide investigation center in Atikokan. It’s a couple of hardworking local boys in uniform, trying to figure out a bad situation. They are not accustomed to handling cases the way we might down here.
“—What else was found?” Jake asked in a soft clear voice.
Hacksby shuffled the papers and read the list of items. “According to the documenting Officer, a wallet containing my business card, a credit card from USAA, a phone card with seventy-eight minutes remaining, and two hundred and thirty-one U. S. dollars, along with a leather satchel containing a journal with 302 pages of handwritten notes and drawings, two shirts, two pair of briefs, one pair of worn jeans, four socks, a pen, three international postage stamps, a receipt for one canoe purchased in Ely, Minnesota, and a small container of undetermined spices, possibly a narcotic.” Hacksby set the top sheet to the side as he leaned back in his chair.
“I see.” Jake felt beaten.
“The police in Thunder Bay have already scoured most of the items for clues and will notify me, probably still today, if they come up with anything else that will help in the investigation. I knew you would want something of his during this time of grief, grief shared by all of us, so I requested that they send the items already examined to my office.”
“Thank you.”
“Some of the contents arrived this morning. You can sign for them on your way out.” Hacksby shifted the tone with a rise in his voice. “Your father was a dear friend of mine. I do understand your concerns, but I am doing the best I can to make this as painless as possible.”
Jake stared back at Hacksby without a word. Hacksby appeared uncomfortable with making the transition but went ahead with it anyway.
“In either case, Jake, there is more to discuss this morning.” The attorney tapped the top of a neatly stacked pile of documents set to the side of his desk. “This is going to be quite a day for you.”
“I imagine it will.” Jake slid himself back in the stiff chair. He had never stopped to think of the amount of money his father had accumulated. He had never stopped to consider the cost of anything before.
“I spoke with your father about three months ago, just before he started to run into trouble in Egypt. We had a long talk.” Hacksby paused as he studied Jake. He could remember the boy in his dirty jeans riding horses with his only daughter, Anastasia, out at their ranch in Chico Hot Springs. He never thought the boy had much determination, and now, as Jake sat in front of him, with his tailored suit and slicked-back Hollywood hair, he knew he was correct. “At that time, your father asked me to look into his net worth so he could update his Trust, and after I gave him the full amount he adjusted his estate’s benefactors, to my genuine surprise. I received his notarized document two days ago in the mail, and I’ll be honest, I couldn’t believe what I read.”
Hacksby let his words settle between the two of them as if quietly replaying his previous astonishment at Gatry’s request.
“I think there is enough to go around, Roger.”
“Yes, there is more than enough to go around. Your father has always been very generous, I must say. I guess I didn’t expect such…” Hacksby stopped again as an awkward form of regret seemed to creep up on him and go for his throat.
“…Generosity?” Jake finished Hacksby’s sentence. He knew how generous his father had always been while alive. He was certain Hacksby, as well as his father’s other friends, had reaped the benefits of his giving spirit in death.
Hacksby lifted the documents and set them directly in front of himself. In the deep voice Jake understood reserved for meetings with the company, he read the top sheet: “To my trusted friend and colleague, Edward Branston Gladder III, I willfully leave the entirety of Gatry & Son Financial, with the condition that none of its assets be sold or passed on to my son. Jake L. Gatry’s position at Gatry & Son Financial is officially terminated as of this reading.
A lock of black hair slipped across Jake’s face, as did the effects of his hangover, in the form of pale.
“To my dear trusted friend and colleague, Roger Hacksby, I leave all of my Bozeman, Montana, factory and industrial real estate holdings with one-third of the forty-seven million dollar real estate and assets to go directly to his daughter, Anastasia. The condominium suite where Jake presently resides is to be sold immediately and the money given to a charity of my son’s choosing.”
Jake stood up. “What—”
“To Thomas Cline, I leave with pride and gratitude my 1,000 acres in Snake Gulch. To my son, the person I love more than all in this world, I leave the rest of my belongings.” Hacksby let the sheet fall to the desktop. ‘“It is your turn.’” 
Jake’s arm dropped off the armrest and dangled loosely, as if unattached. “It is your turn? What does that mean?”
“I don’t know. He wrote it at the end of his declaration.”
Jake watched Hacksby’s figure waiver as nausea dizzied his vision. Everything he had ever known had just been chopped from his grasp. He wanted to throw up as he looked for the cause, but the ax in front of him looked dull and heavy. It did not swing. It just stared back with a sort of hidden glistening pride like a lumberjack eyeing his most recent fell. “The rest of his belongings? What’s left?”
“Well, really nothing, Jake. It’s more of a formality. There is the bag that came from the police investigation—”
“—Socks? He left me socks?” Jake slumped forward and dropped his hands on top of Hacksby’s desk with a thump.
“It has all been notarized and returned with your father’s signature.”
Jake took the sheet from Hacksby’s hand and reread the same words Hacksby had read aloud. “There must be a mistake?”
“Under any other circumstance I would agree, but there is none. I will get you a copy for your records.”
“What does this mean?” His voice was weak and barely audible.
Hacksby pulled in a deep breath. He knew what to expect and had prepared. “You are no longer in the employment of Gatry & Son, all of your bank accounts and assets have been frozen since they were under the corporation, Tom owns your favorite trout stream, and your condominium will go on the market tomorrow morning—.”
Jake gathered a forced smile. “—You’re kidding?”
“I am sorry, but this is not a joke. It is exactly as your father requested.”
Jake lowered himself back into the chair, and gazed across Hacksby’s desk, though he did not focus on anything in particular.
“Should I continue?”
Jake did not respond.
Hacksby lifted a sealed white envelope from the desktop. “Before you interrupted, I was about to give you this.”
“An envelope?” Jake slowly lifted his hand and took it from Hacksby.
Hacksby watched Jake turn and twist the thin packet. “It arrived this morning in the mail, redirected to our address with your father’s name on it. It has not been opened so we assume your father did not receive it before his death.”
“What’s in it?”
“I have no idea. It has a postmaster’s seal, and although it came to our front desk, it is addressed to your father, so legally I cannot open it. However, since you have been granted “‘all other assets,’” it is yours.”
Jake studied the slight bulge in the middle of the envelope. “Money?”
“Perhaps,” Hacksby spoke from above his fingers that now propped-up his bottom lip and thick jaw.
Jake had seen quite a lot of money clipped together in one thin stack. “Maybe someone owed him from a poker game and finally decided to pay up?” The joke did not lift his spirits. “God knows I can use it about now.”
“I am surprised at you, Jake. You have always been one to place yourself above everyone else. Begging’ your pardon, because I saw your father as a brother, but you spoiled little punk.” His words tightened against his lips as if they had been lying in wait under his thick tongue for some time. “You’ve never had anything that your father didn’t give you. Even when you tried to run away from your family and went to Alaska, you kept your hand in your father’s pocket.” Hacksby sneered though he may not have known it. “Changing your clothes and surrounding yourself with hard-working folk doesn’t make you one of them. Thank God,” Hacksby pointed toward the Will, “your father finally realized what he had done to you. Let’s hope it isn’t too late.”
Jake silently studied Hacksby. He knew the guy blamed him for taking his daughter to California. Besides, he spoke the truth. He hadn’t worked a day that ended with him realizing the true value of the paycheck. “Thank you for the comfort, Uncle Roger.”
Hacksby let the comment pass before lifting something from the side of his desk. “One last thing that your father requested.” Hacksby dropped a debit card on top of his desk, within Jake’s reach. “Your father asked that I open an account for you with three thousand dollars. When it’s gone, it’s gone.”
Jake slid forward and lifted the card. Had it really come down to this?
“Do you understand what I have told you here today, Jake?”
Jake twisted the envelope and debit card in his hand as he rose.
“Everything you own is in the name of the company.” Hacksby continued. “This means, currently, the only possessions you own are the ones in your pockets. Your credit cards will no longer work, and your plane is already on its way back to California…”
Jake stared at Hacksby’s thick frame as he leaned forward and over his desk. His lips continued to move; yet, Jake could not hear a word. He had shut out everything around him as his thoughts twisted and turned. “—What did my father find in Egypt?” Jake quietly interrupted. His voice grew louder. “Why did they kill him?”
Hacksby stopped speaking and scrutinized the question, startled that they had returned to that topic.
Jake lowered himself onto the front edge of the uncomfortable cowhide chair. “He must have found something of importance if they killed him and disposed of his body in a fire that burned down an entire building. What did he find?”
Hacksby remained propped over his desk. “He went in search of a dream and dreams don’t always exist as one might imagine.” He could see that Jake demanded more. “I am not sure what he found, but he spoke about a lost tomb and a mask. You know how those stories in Archeological Digest would get him all wound up.”  
Jake turned the envelope in his hand. “Go on.”
“I already told you. According to a phone call your father made to me, prior to his return from Egypt, he had finally discovered the artifact he had been searching for and felt he was in danger.”
Jake could not remember Hacksby ever being so uncertain with details. This man prided himself on facts. “You know more than you are telling me. What did he discover?”
Hacksby gathered his thoughts before continuing. “I don’t know.”
“Who was following him?”
“Who?”
“Who was following him? Did he speculate?” 
Hacksby smiled. His eyes dropped from Jake’s face. Pushing up against the thickly carved armrests that supported him, he lifted himself from his chair, ending the meeting. “I’m not sure.”
Jake did not care. “He must have found something.” 
“I don’t know what he found, but I do know the Egyptian government believed he had and were—.”
“—Were what?”
“They were confident that he had taken it out of the country, which is illegal.”
“You said you didn’t know who was following him.”
“I said your father speculated that Egyptian officials were following him.”
“—They contacted you, didn’t they?”
“They contacted me—” Hacksby stopped as the air suddenly grew thick and silence swept between them.
“What did you tell them?” Jake spoke slowly with an unexpected shift of blame.
Hacksby looked away from Jake as his words fell toward the hearth. “I told them nothing that would jeopardize your father’s well being.”
“—Where are they now?”
Hacksby looked stunned that it had gone this far. “I don’t know, but if you give me a call later today, I’ll get you a number to an office in Washington that may be able to help you find out.”
Jake looked down at the envelope as he spoke. “My father has left you with an awful lot of property. The least you can do is answer a few questions for his son.” Jake caught Hacksby in his despondent glare. “When did the Egyptians contact you?”
Hacksby’s courtroom confidence had melted. The skin at the sides of his face hung still until a soft tone from between his cheeks made it shudder. “A few months ago.”
“Do you have any idea how he died? I find it difficult to believe that he died at the hand of some thief not smart enough to take the money out of his wallet. Who murdered him? I need to know, Roger. Were they Egyptian? Where they sent the Egyptian government?” Jake’s cutting glare passed through Hacksby as if he stared into a crystal ball that held all the answers. “Why would any common thief leave the money and credit cards in a stolen wallet?” He stared eye to eye with the large man who stood across from him. “Who did this to him? You have to tell me if you know. Please, Roger.”
Dropping his shoulders, Hacksby slumped back down into his chair. Jake could feel the floor move as he hit the thin cushion. The attorney’s voice rang stale, like a politician stalling. “I received the call from the Canadian officials in Thunder Bay pertaining to—”
“Roger!”
“—his death yesterday. No autopsy could be done. There was no body, just ashes. We don’t—”
“Roger!”
“—know what happened to him.” Hacksby stared off toward the crackling fire that rose in the old fireplace. He never expected it to go this far.
Jake held himself from going through the desk as he watched Hacksby lament a past decision.
Hacksby set his pen down on top of the documents as he reached the resolution he had expected. It would all be worth it in the end. “Jake, if you would like to stay with Joan and me for a couple of nights, you are welcome.”
Jake knew this conversation was over. “No thanks, I’ll be fine.”
Hacksby did not expect Jake to take him up on the offer, nor did he want him to, but he needed to end the conversation. He dug into his pocket and pulled out a roll of bills. “Take this.”
Jake looked at the one hundred dollar bills, tucked neatly beneath a round clip, as though a payoff for some past debt lay inches away. “He left that for you.” Jake lifted the envelope and debit card. “This is mine.” His hand hung forward as he met Hacksby’s powerful grip. “You’ll take care of informing the others of the good news?”
“Yes.”
No wonder Gladder came in to size up his office earlier in the morning. Now he understood why Hacksby had called him.
“Thank you.”
Jake studied Hacksby. Something in the old man’s eyes gave away a side of him that he had never seen before. He felt as if he stood ringside as honor and truth were quietly being defeated by fear and greed. Jake knew his father’s old friend held a secret.  

Interesting Side Story

From The Author

In 2000, the Eyes of Kek was carved out of pine. On Thursday morning, September 13, 2001, two days after the tragedy of 9/11, Chris left the Twin Cities and headed up to the Minnesota Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCAW). Accompanying him on his trip was a very heavy Old Town canoe (which has since departed), his wife’s friend, LeAnn, and a carved pine mask. They arrived in the evening on the banks of their entry point into the BWCAW, hunkered down for the night, and waited until morning. At first light, they loaded up and started their long paddle en route to the location selected for the final resting place of the mask. On the way across the first lake, they noticed campsites with large American flags strung between pine branches in tribute to what had taken place days earlier.

As they moved deeper into the remote wilderness, the flags and people disappeared and what remained was vast and easily underestimated by those unfamiliar with the land’s many moods. The sun rose higher and before long they came upon a group of adventurers. The group had been on their trek for more than a week. After speaking for a few minutes they realized that these students had not heard anything about what had happened in New York and a friendly conversation between them changed to one that Chris can vividly remember because he said, he immediately realized that the person he was speaking to did not believe him. “I could see it in his eyes. He thought I was crazy.” The young man signaled for some of the rest of his group, along with a group leader, to come over and listen to this outrageous tale. Unfortunately, we all know it was true.

“It was an emotional moment, but I remember the rest of the day was filled with excitement. We found the site now described in the book and spent a crisp night just down from the mysterious face in the rock.”
-C. J. Bartels

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