Chapter 21

This entry is part 22 of 44 in the series Smile

Chapter Twenty-One — Gold Bricks

The next morning about ten o’clock we were headed out of town. Chuck and Pedro were in the cab of the Palace, Cortez, the assayer, and I were riding in the rear of it. We drove by an airport where there were a couple of small planes then took a right turn on a rough, narrow, dusty road leading to the mountains.

At last we stopped. I opened the back door of the Palace, put down the ladder and Cortez and I climbed out. Two horses and a mule were tied to a bush. The horses were saddled and bridled ready to go. The mule wore a pack saddle. He would carry the gold, I concluded.

I had given Chuck his orders. “Don’t turn your back on these guys for one second. If they turn out to be crooks, our very lives are in danger.”

Chuck had his big forty-five strapped on. He grinned. “Don’t worry, Joe. I learned how to use this in Korea.”

Cortez obliged me to put a black handkerchief over my eyes. He helped me on a horse, mounted himself, and we started up the trail. We twisted and turned, uphill and down-more up than down. At last we stopped and I got down from my horse. The blindfold was taken off.

Cortez grinned. “Enjoy the ride?”

“Not bad,” I said. “I sure could never find my way here again.” We tied the horses to trees, then he led the way to a dense growth of very tall cactus. Cortez got down on his hands and knees and crawled. I crawled behind him. No one would ever stumble upon this hiding place, that was for sure.

Finally we came to the mouth of a cave barely big enough to allow a man to crawl through, but we made it. Cortez turned on a flashlight. My eyes almost popped out of my head. There it was, the Yaqui gold! Gold bricks! Hundreds, maybe thousands of them. I stood there speechless.

“The reason I brought you here is to prove to you that we have the gold; otherwise maybe you would buy only one brick for ten thousand dollars down payment and we might never see you again. Now that you see the bricks for yourself, it would be foolish for you not to buy many of them.”

“We will buy them all, if it takes a year!” I exclaimed.

We had a hell of a time getting that one brick out through those brambles. I was stuck with tiny thorns from one end to the other, but somehow I didn’t mind. Again the blindfold was put on me and we headed back down the trail.

Now I was worried about Chuck. I had hidden the ten thousand in the upper compartment of the refrigerator, because when Chuck needs ice, he always uses the lower one. I wasn’t worried about Chuck stealing the money, but he could have met with foul play. If so, I would be next. I began to sweat. It seemed a long way back but at last we arrived. The blindfold was taken off. I blinked my eyes and looked around. Chuck was standing in the doorway of the Palace, grinning from ear to ear. Everything seemed to be fine.

“Now,” said Cortez, “you have the gold, so we shall make the transaction.”

We put the brick on the table. The assayer had come prepared and he weighed it. It was a fraction over forty pounds. He took a small drill and bored several holes through it and put the shavings into a little glass, poured some liquid over them and for several minutes sat there watching it. Finally he smiled. “Very good gold,” he announced.

The Indians had come through. Now it was my turn, so I went to the refrigerator, brought out the ten grand and gave it to Cortez.

Soon we were all on our way back to town. We should reach the main road within a few minutes.

Suddenly we came to an old truck that blocked our way. Chuck blew the horn but there didn’t seem to be anyone around to move the vehicle. Chuck stopped the Palace and this brought a dozen or more Indians out of the bushes, all of them armed with rifles. Enough guns to blow us all apart!

They lined us up by the side of the Palace and searched us. They took the ten grand from Cortez, what few bills I had and the gold brick. It seemed to me that they knew what they were looking for and where to find it. Most of my money was in travelers’ checks so they didn’t take those. They got the keys to the Palace and threw them far back into the bushes, then they jumped into the old truck and drove off fast.

There was another set of keys on a magnet under the steel bed of the truck, so we managed to get them and drive back to town. We were a sick bunch indeed.

I felt terrible. Brother Bill had trusted me and I had let him down. There had been a slip-up somewhere. Cortez and Pedro seemed to feel as bad as I did. I wondered if the assayer had been in on it. Had Chuck done some talking the night before. I didn’t know. All I could think of was that I had lost Bill’s money. I felt like a heel.

I hated to call Bill but it had to be done. All he said was, “As long as you’re all right, Joe, it’s the only thing that matters. Stay where you are and I’ll be there tomorrow. Remember what Dad always said, ‘If you lose something, the best place to look for it is where you lost it!'”

Chuck and I were at the airport when the yellow and black plane came gliding in. With Bill was Orren Child. Chuck had a big stew on the stove. We opened some beer and had a good meal while I gave them the complete story of the robbery.

“Don’t feel bad,” Bill said. “I would have done exactly as you did.”

That somewhat revived my spirits.

“The only thing we can do,” he went on, “is buy another brick and keep on buying. Two transactions and we’ll be far ahead in this game.”

“Do you have another ten grand?” I asked.

“Just happen to have,” he said, pulling out his wallet. “Closed a deal yesterday. That’s what kept me from coming when you first phoned.”

After dinner we drove into town to see Cortez.

“We got off to a bad start,” Bill said to him. “We were both robbed, but you have proved that you have the gold. We have proved to you that we keep a bargain. There is no need for us to go to the cave again because we know the gold is there.”

Bill spread bills on the table. “Here’s ten thousand dollars,” he said. “Would you like to count it?”

Cortez shook his head. “Your word is good. I can see the money.”

“You will bring another brick tomorrow,” said Bill. “Bring it to the main road by the airport where there are no bushes for the bandits to hide in. If they intend to rob us again, they will be watching the camper. They want the U.S. money a lot more than gold.”

Cortez nodded. “We will meet you at seven o’clock tomorrow evening,” he said.

Around six o’clock we drove out to the airport.

Orren Child could fly the plane, so Bill began to give orders.

“There will be no slip-up this time,” he said. “Child, keep the engines warm, ready for a takeoff in case something goes wrong. Is the Palace full of gas?”

Chuck nodded. “Both tanks. We have enough to go at least six hundred miles.”

“Good. Do we all have guns?

Chuck looked ill at ease. The bandits had taken his gun and I had left mine under my bed. Bill had a couple of extra ones so he gave them to Chuck and me.

“If they try something today we’ll be ready.”

“Yes, but how are we going to test the gold, Bill?”

I asked. Shouldn’t we get an assayer?

“Maybe the assayer was behind the robbery. This time we aren’t taking chances,” Bill said frowning.

He opened a small bag and took out a small hand operating drill, much like the one the assayer had used to test the gold. He also took out a pint bottle containing some yellow liquid. “I’m not an assayer,” he said, “but back home a friend of mine who’s a druggist sold me this bottle of acid. We tried it out and I know it works. You pour this on copper or brass and it will start smoking if you leave it on long enough it will eat up the metal. It’s powerful stuff and will dissolve anything but gold. I dropped some gold nuggets in some of it and nothing happened. I poured some over some copper and it immediately started smoking.”

Bill was smart, as I well knew. He had thought of everything.

A little before seven o’clock Orren had the engines warmed up. Chuck was sitting on the front bumper of the truck and Bill and I were up inside. We didn’t expect the Mexicans to keep their appointment with us at the time agreed. Mexicans are seldom on time. Maybe they wouldn’t show up at all. But at seven thirty they drove up in an old pickup. There were only two of them. They climbed down from the truck smiling. When Bill asked them to come inside the Palace. They did so quickly enough and we all followed them.

“Here is the brick,” said Cortez laying it on the table. “Now you will give us the money.”

“Not so fast!” said Bill. “I want to test it first!”

Cortez and Bill sat on one side of the table, Pedro and I on the other side. Bill took the little drill and started boring holes. He put the shavings into a glass. Then uncorked the bottle and poured some of the acid on the shavings as we all watched. A thin wisp of smoke came curling out of the glass! For a few seconds no one said a word.

A strange look came over Bill’s face. First it was one of amazement, then it slowly turned to anger. There were lights in his eyes I had never seen in them before. He seized Cortez by the neck, bent him backward over the table and snatched up the bottle of acid, holding it over Cortez’ face.

Bill was wild with fury. “You son-of-a-bitch!” he yelled. “I’ll pour this acid all over you!”

“Bill, no Bill, not that — not his eyes — his eyes!” I cried horrified.

“His eyes, hell! Trying to sell us a brass brick! We know who the bandits are now!”

“Bill please! Kick hell out of him, but don’t pour that acid on him! I begged frantically.

Slowly the fire in Bill’s eyes died. He put down the bottle, picked Cortez up as if he were a child and tossed him out to the road. The Mexican’s body must have skidded twenty feet. He started to get up but Bill was upon him.

I hadn’t been idle. My .45 was in Pedro’s ribs. I wished he would start something. Why not? I thought, he deserves punishment too. I threw my gun on the upper bunk out of reach, grabbed Pedro by the arm and gave him a heave toward the door.

He was strong and wiry. He lit on his feet like a cat. I jumped out after him and it nearly cost me my life. A big knife had appeared in his hand, and before I could move in any direction, the knife slashed out cutting the front of my shirt. I could feel the blood run down my stomach.

I kicked him in the crotch where it would do the most good, and the knife fell from his hand. Then I hit him in the belly. He looked sick and fell on his face. I sidestepped and aimed a kick at his jaw and almost missed. The brass toe of my miner’s boot slid along his jaw peeling the skin, almost tearing off his ear, left it hanging by a thin piece of flesh. He hit the hard road and rolled over. His ear laying in the dust. It looked like an oyster ready to fry.

I glanced at Bill now standing over the inert Cortez. A trace of a grin came over Bill’s face. “Good going, Joe. Quite a brawl, huh?”

The airplane engines were roaring ready to take off.

“Let’s get the hell out of here,” said Bill. “Anything can happen now. You head south, Joe. Call me in a few days!”

He started toward the plane on the run, stopped, turned around and came back. “The brick!” he said. “I’m going to take the damned thing with me. Maybe it will remind me never to trust these s.o.b.s again!” He picked up the brick then raced to the plane.

I watched the mechanical bird take off. Then I jumped into the cab of the Palace. Chuck wasn’t there. I leaped out, and yelled, “Chuck?”

“Just a minute!” he answered.

I looked behind the Palace and saw him. He was on his knees beside the lifeless Cortez.

“Come on, Chuck, let’s get out of here! What the hell are you doing?”

“We came here to find gold, he said, “These teeth of Cortez look like the real thing to me, and I’m getting it.

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