"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, the recent book he wrote entitled The Valley,and is now a new opera, 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 hadn’t left the pavement. Even his lumberjack red flannel shirt looked out-of-place, knowing the man as he did

The large black Silverado 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, and some said the city.
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 hammered screen. Warmth rolled from the pine logs and soothed the crisp fall air that had snuck into the room during the night.
“Please take a seat, Jake.” 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, the last time they spoke, his father claimed that Egyptian officials had followed him back to the United States and were trying to kill him. “…As I said in the truck, he called me from a pay-phone that we traced to Ely, Minnesota.” Hacksby shuffled a stack of papers that sat at the side of his desk.
Jake did not look up from a sculpture that rose above a beautifully figured veneer table that he had stopped to examine.
“We only know your father’s location because he made a collect call to my desk and the phone company registered the place of origin in their system.” Hacksby huffed as he adjusted himself in his chair. “This is a copy of that transaction.” His head and wrinkled jowls shook as he lifted it from the pile of prearranged documents. “How he arrived in Canada from there is anybody’s guess.”
Jake didn’t know, but he assumed that the speculation would point to a canoe and the unguarded boundary waters between Minnesota and Ontario. He spoke from across the room as he continued reviewing the priceless artwork and unexpected trinkets from around the world that covered the surface of each wall and table. “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. 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 stepped up and 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 onto the chair that sat just in front of Hacksby’s domain. “And why did it take a whole day to notify me that he was…” Jake swallowed uncomfortably, “dead?”
“We’re looking into that now. I sent my best detective to Atikokan to conduct an investigation. As to the notification process, according to the police department handling the case, where there is trouble identifying the deceased, the sheriff must file a report with investigative authorities that outlines sufficient proof of who the individual is before the family can be notified. According to the email we received, the report did not arrive in Thunder Bay until Wednesday, a day after the incident. Before they could contact me, it took a couple more hours to finalize the death certificate and dot all the ‘i’s. I notified you as soon as I had the information in hand.”
“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. “If only ashes, maybe they made a mistake? Maybe it wasn’t my dad?”
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 to 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. “…they found these in the debris.”
Jake turned back toward Hacksby as his father’s prized dog-tags tapped down against the desktop and a sobering jolt of any hope went dim.  
“As for the reason they called me first, my number was in the discarded wallet, that was inside a backpack that the investigating authority found in a dumpster behind the hotel.” Hacksby’s voice rose as he lifted a set of stapled documents signed by the Thunder Bay investigating official.
Jake could not believe that his father… his father, the person that had raised him and loved him more than any other in this world, wasn’t returning to him.
Jake stopped at a chair that stood to the right of the fireplace and lowered himself onto the smooth white and tan cowhide, his strength to stand, suddenly gone.
“I understand your frustration, Jake, but this is not a normal case. It took place outside of U. S. borders. To make matters worse, it took place in a small, unconventional town. Unfortunately, you must understand the unusual circumstances and take them into consideration.” 
Hacksby held his courtroom stare as Jake fought the will to turn away.
“I’ve been told that 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.”
“—What else did they find of his?” Jake asked in a soft clear voice.
Hacksby shuffled some papers and read the list of items. “According to the documenting Officer, in the backpack was a wallet containing my business card, a credit card from USAA, a phone card with seventy-eight minutes remaining, two hundred and thirty-one U. S. dollars, and in a hidden pocket, inside the pack, a small journal with 302 pages of handwritten notes and drawings. Next to it, loose but attributed to Thomas, were two shirts, two pairs 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 but that is yet to be determined.” 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 to this office any of your father’s items already examined.”
“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 from across the room. 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 in front of him on his desk. “This is going to be quite a day for you.”
“I imagine it will.” Jake slid himself up off the cowhide. 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 studied Jake. He could remember the boy in his dusty 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, watching him strut toward 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 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 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 other friends, had reaped the benefits of his giving spirit in death.
Reaching the chair directly in front of Hacksby’s extravagant desk, Jake lowered himself against the stiff leather padding.
Hacksby lifted the top sheet and spoke. “As printed in the notarized documents, these are your father’s final requests.” In the deep voice Jake understood reserved for meetings with the company, he read: “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 asset value 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—.”
“—What” Jake stood up.
“To Thomas Cline, I leave with pride and gratitude my 1,000 acres in Snake Gulch. And 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 dangled loosely, as if unattached before it found footing on Hacksby’s desk. “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 reach out and grab the handle before it struck again, but the ax in front of him looked dull and heavy and unable to achieve such destruction. It did not swing. It just stared back with a sort of apathetic pride. “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 fist on top of Hacksby’s desk again, this time with a thump as he stepped back and fell into the chair.
“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 some mistake?”
“Under any other circumstance I would agree, but there is none. I will get you a copy for your records.”
“Records? I don’t keep records. We paid you to keep records.” His voice was weak and barely audible.“ Records? What are you talking about, Roger? What does this all mean, for me?”
Hacksby pulled in a deep breath. He knew what to expect and had prepared. “It means you are no longer in the employment of Gatry & Son, all of your bank accounts and assets have been frozen since they were in the corporation’s name, Tom owns your favorite trout stream, your condominium will go on the market tomorrow morning, and I no longer keep your records.”
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 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 had disappeared and 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 his pocket.” Hacksby sneered though he may not have known it. “Changing your clothes and surrounding yourself with hard-working folk like me and your father doesn’t make you one of us. Thank God,” Hacksby pointed toward the documents, “he finally realized what he had done to you.”
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 actual 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 owned was in the name of the company.” Hacksby continued. “This means, currently, the only possessions you legally 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 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. “What did they kill him for, Roger?”
Hacksby stopped speaking and scrutinized the question, startled that they had returned to that topic.
Jake continued. “He must have found something relatively important if they were willing to kill him and then burn down an entire building to hide the evidence.”
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 his friend, a professor at the university, spoke about,” he shuffled a sheet of paper, “…and a mask.” Hacksby looked uncomfortable with the subject and smiled to lighten the mood as he continued, as if settling his own fears. “You know how those stories in Archeological Digest would get him all wound up.”  
Jake turned the envelope in his hand. “Go on.”
Hacksby obviously did not wish to continue, but did, choosing his words carefully. “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. “Yes?”
Hacksby continued. “I don’t know. Like I said, it could have been the mask he had spoken of.”
“Who was following him?”
“Who?”
“Who was following him? Did he speculate?” 
Hacksby smiled again as his eyes dropped away 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 didn’t care. “He must have found something important to someone.” 
“I don’t know what he found, but I do know the Egyptian government believed he had and were—.” Hacksby stopped, suddenly realizing he had said too much.
“They contacted you?”
“Yes!” Hacksby stared deadpan before continuing. “Yes, the Egyptian government contacted me. I don’t know why but they were evidently convinced that he had found something of historical importance and 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.”
“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. I didn’t know where he was at the time, and I didn’t know what he had found.”
“—Where are they now?”
Hacksby looked stunned that it had gone this far. “I don’t know.” He paused as his mood suddenly changed from one of assistance to one disassociated with the person asking the questions. “Give me a call later today, and 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? Did the Egyptian government order the hit?” 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 two hundred and thirty-one U. S. dollars and all the 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.”
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 money-clip. “Take this.”
Jake looked at the one hundred dollar bills, tucked neatly together, 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.”
Before turning away to leave, Jake took one last piercing glance at 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 hadn’t left the pavement. Even his lumberjack red flannel shirt looked out-of-place, knowing the man as he did

The large black Silverado 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, and some said the city.
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 hammered screen. Warmth rolled from the pine logs and soothed the crisp fall air that had snuck into the room during the night.
“Please take a seat, Jake.” 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, the last time they spoke, his father claimed that Egyptian officials had followed him back to the United States and were trying to kill him. “…As I said in the truck, he called me from a pay-phone that we traced to Ely, Minnesota.” Hacksby shuffled a stack of papers that sat at the side of his desk.
Jake did not look up from a sculpture that rose above a beautifully figured veneer table that he had stopped to examine.
“We only know your father’s location because he made a collect call to my desk and the phone company registered the place of origin in their system.” Hacksby huffed as he adjusted himself in his chair. “This is a copy of that transaction.” His head and wrinkled jowls shook as he lifted it from the pile of prearranged documents. “How he arrived in Canada from there is anybody’s guess.”
Jake didn’t know, but he assumed that the speculation would point to a canoe and the unguarded boundary waters between Minnesota and Ontario. He spoke from across the room as he continued reviewing the priceless artwork and unexpected trinkets from around the world that covered the surface of each wall and table. “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. 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 stepped up and 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 onto the chair that sat just in front of Hacksby’s domain. “And why did it take a whole day to notify me that he was…” Jake swallowed uncomfortably, “dead?”
“We’re looking into that now. I sent my best detective to Atikokan to conduct an investigation. As to the notification process, according to the police department handling the case, where there is trouble identifying the deceased, the sheriff must file a report with investigative authorities that outlines sufficient proof of who the individual is before the family can be notified. According to the email we received, the report did not arrive in Thunder Bay until Wednesday, a day after the incident. Before they could contact me, it took a couple more hours to finalize the death certificate and dot all the ‘i’s. I notified you as soon as I had the information in hand.”
“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. “If only ashes, maybe they made a mistake? Maybe it wasn’t my dad?”
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 to 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. “…they found these in the debris.”
Jake turned back toward Hacksby as his father’s prized dog-tags tapped down against the desktop and a sobering jolt of any hope went dim.  
“As for the reason they called me first, my number was in the discarded wallet, that was inside a backpack that the investigating authority found in a dumpster behind the hotel.” Hacksby’s voice rose as he lifted a set of stapled documents signed by the Thunder Bay investigating official.
Jake could not believe that his father… his father, the person that had raised him and loved him more than any other in this world, wasn’t returning to him.
Jake stopped at a chair that stood to the right of the fireplace and lowered himself onto the smooth white and tan cowhide, his strength to stand, suddenly gone.
“I understand your frustration, Jake, but this is not a normal case. It took place outside of U. S. borders. To make matters worse, it took place in a small, unconventional town. Unfortunately, you must understand the unusual circumstances and take them into consideration.” 
Hacksby held his courtroom stare as Jake fought the will to turn away.
“I’ve been told that 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.”
“—What else did they find of his?” Jake asked in a soft clear voice.
Hacksby shuffled some papers and read the list of items. “According to the documenting Officer, in the backpack was a wallet containing my business card, a credit card from USAA, a phone card with seventy-eight minutes remaining, two hundred and thirty-one U. S. dollars, and in a hidden pocket, inside the pack, a small journal with 302 pages of handwritten notes and drawings. Next to it, loose but attributed to Thomas, were two shirts, two pairs 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 but that is yet to be determined.” 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 to this office any of your father’s items already examined.”
“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 from across the room. 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 in front of him on his desk. “This is going to be quite a day for you.”
“I imagine it will.” Jake slid himself up off the cowhide. 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 studied Jake. He could remember the boy in his dusty 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, watching him strut toward 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 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 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 other friends, had reaped the benefits of his giving spirit in death.
Reaching the chair directly in front of Hacksby’s extravagant desk, Jake lowered himself against the stiff leather padding.
Hacksby lifted the top sheet and spoke. “As printed in the notarized documents, these are your father’s final requests.” In the deep voice Jake understood reserved for meetings with the company, he read: “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 asset value 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—.”
“—What” Jake stood up.
“To Thomas Cline, I leave with pride and gratitude my 1,000 acres in Snake Gulch. And 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 dangled loosely, as if unattached before it found footing on Hacksby’s desk. “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 reach out and grab the handle before it struck again, but the ax in front of him looked dull and heavy and unable to achieve such destruction. It did not swing. It just stared back with a sort of apathetic pride. “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 fist on top of Hacksby’s desk again, this time with a thump as he stepped back and fell into the chair.
“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 some mistake?”
“Under any other circumstance I would agree, but there is none. I will get you a copy for your records.”
“Records? I don’t keep records. We paid you to keep records.” His voice was weak and barely audible.“ Records? What are you talking about, Roger? What does this all mean, for me?”
Hacksby pulled in a deep breath. He knew what to expect and had prepared. “It means you are no longer in the employment of Gatry & Son, all of your bank accounts and assets have been frozen since they were in the corporation’s name, Tom owns your favorite trout stream, your condominium will go on the market tomorrow morning, and I no longer keep your records.”
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 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 had disappeared and 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 his pocket.” Hacksby sneered though he may not have known it. “Changing your clothes and surrounding yourself with hard-working folk like me and your father doesn’t make you one of us. Thank God,” Hacksby pointed toward the documents, “he finally realized what he had done to you.”
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 actual 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 owned was in the name of the company.” Hacksby continued. “This means, currently, the only possessions you legally 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 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. “What did they kill him for, Roger?”
Hacksby stopped speaking and scrutinized the question, startled that they had returned to that topic.
Jake continued. “He must have found something relatively important if they were willing to kill him and then burn down an entire building to hide the evidence.”
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 his friend, a professor at the university, spoke about,” he shuffled a sheet of paper, “…and a mask.” Hacksby looked uncomfortable with the subject and smiled to lighten the mood as he continued, as if settling his own fears. “You know how those stories in Archeological Digest would get him all wound up.”  
Jake turned the envelope in his hand. “Go on.”
Hacksby obviously did not wish to continue, but did, choosing his words carefully. “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. “Yes?”
Hacksby continued. “I don’t know. Like I said, it could have been the mask he had spoken of.”
“Who was following him?”
“Who?”
“Who was following him? Did he speculate?” 
Hacksby smiled again as his eyes dropped away 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 didn’t care. “He must have found something important to someone.” 
“I don’t know what he found, but I do know the Egyptian government believed he had and were—.” Hacksby stopped, suddenly realizing he had said too much.
“They contacted you?”
“Yes!” Hacksby stared deadpan before continuing. “Yes, the Egyptian government contacted me. I don’t know why but they were evidently convinced that he had found something of historical importance and 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.”
“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. I didn’t know where he was at the time, and I didn’t know what he had found.”
“—Where are they now?”
Hacksby looked stunned that it had gone this far. “I don’t know.” He paused as his mood suddenly changed from one of assistance to one disassociated with the person asking the questions. “Give me a call later today, and 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? Did the Egyptian government order the hit?” 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 two hundred and thirty-one U. S. dollars and all the 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.”
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 money-clip. “Take this.”
Jake looked at the one hundred dollar bills, tucked neatly together, 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.”
Before turning away to leave, Jake took one last piercing glance at 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, I had the idea to carve a wooden mask, place it deep in the woods, and then writing a mystery that would lead others to the site if they had the courage to accept the challenge. So, on a warm Thursday morning, September 13, 2001, two days after the tragedy of 9/11, I left the Twin Cities and headed up to the Minnesota Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCAW). Accompanying me on the trip was a very heavy Old Town canoe (which has since departed), my wife’s friend, LeAnn, and a carved pine mask. We 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, we loaded up and started our long paddle en route to the location initially selected for the final resting place of the mask. On the way across the first lake, we noticed campsites with large American flags strung between pine branches in tribute to the horrors that had taken place days earlier.

As we 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 we came upon a group of adventurers. The group had been on their trek for more than a week. After speaking for a few minutes we realized that these students and there professor had not heard about what had happened in New York and a friendly conversation between them changed to one that I can vividly remember because I wuickly realized that the person I was speaking to did not believe me. “I could see it in his eyes. He thought I was crazy,” I wrote in my journal later. The young man signaled for some of the rest of his group, along with a group leader, to come over and listen to my 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 so many years later, and spent a crisp night just down from the mysterious face in the rock, outlined in the first jake Gatry book.


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