Message in a Bottle

Union Pacific Railroad Company.

This wasn't the "A" Train...

“Find any more buried treasure today, Gus?”  Velma Boyer had seen her neighbor, Gus Kolb, take his metal detector out every Saturday for two years, barring bad weather, to search the town’s old abandoned Army fort in hopes of finding artifacts. Just about everyone living on the cul-de-sac snickered about “old man Kolb, the treasure hunter.” They stopped laughing when he came home last month with a large, green tinted Mason jar full of Double Eagles. Now many of those sarcastic naysayers were spending their weekends searching, too.

“Not today, Velma,” he replied. “I think the old fort is about tapped out. Too many newbies out there, pokin’ and hopin’, trying to find more gold coins.”

“Maybe you should try a new area? Somewhere people haven’t picked over yet.”

Gus lifted one eyebrow, slowly turning his head side to side as if checking to see if anyone could overhear their conversation. “I’ve already got a new spot picked out. It’s over by Little Creek. This one could be big. Really big.”

Velma liked Gus. They were both single again after having long, happy marriages. Having both lost their spouses to cancer, she and Gus felt a kinship. They often had dinner together, occasionally going to a movie, too. The news of Gus’ next treasure hunt concerned her.

“Little Creek? That’s over five hours away. What could be so big that you’d want to spend a whole day traveling?”

“A strong box.”

Velma put down her tool box. She had been putting in new spark plugs in her pickup truck when she had seen Gus return. “A strong box? Like a safe or something?”

“It’s from an old Union Pacific train robbery, back in 1926. Back in those days, trains were being robbed all the time. Hell, things had gotten so bad that Coolidge even ordered Marines to post guards on the trains. As a last resort, conductors had special strong boxes hidden in the locomotives, specifically reserved for the first class passengers or objects of special value.”

“And you have found one of the boxes?”

“Oh, no. I haven’t found the box yet. That’s why I have to go to Little Creek.”

Velma wasn’t sure this was a good idea. Something didn’t seem right. “Gus, I don’t like it. You and I both aren’t getting any younger and now you want to drive half a day to Little Creek to search for some train box? What if something happens?”

“Not to worry. I have a map. Found it at the fort today. Just don’t mention this to anyone, especially those Grimes boys. What a bunch of knuckleheads.  They would have found the map themselves if they had the right gear, but all they brought was a shovel. Talk about finding a needle in a haystack.”

“Did you talk to them today? They didn’t see you with the map, did they?”

“No way,” Gus said. “I did hear them talking about getting skunked, but I knew that no one had been in their area yet. I just waited for them to leave.”

“Then you found the map?”

“Then I found the old bottle that had the map.  Nothing gets past this old metal detector so thank goodness the bottle cap was still attached. Anyhow, this strong box had a payroll bag from the fort and in those days, soldiers were often paid with gold ducats. Looks like it was an inside job with one guy taking the bag from the fort and hiding it on the train. Later, the accomplice robbed the train, hiding the bag near Little Creek. The inside man must have hidden the map in the bottle, burying it until the heat died down.”

“And now you have it. The bottle and the map.”

“Yes, and next Saturday morning I’m going on a road trip to Little Creek. You want to come along?”

Something still didn’t seem quite right. “You know, Gus, I think I’ll pass. I have to finish working on the truck anyway. The wiring needs a lot of work. May need a new battery.” Velma was certain something was amiss. The Grimes boys were well known for their vandalism and small-time larceny. They had spent a few weeks in the slammer, all told, but Velma knew it would only be a matter of time before the boys up’d the ante into a higher echelon of crime. She was hoping next Saturday would not be that time.

“Suit yourself. If I find any treasure, I’ll spring for dinner.”

“Got yourself a deal, treasure hunter. Go get ‘em.”

The week passed slowly, with Gus studying maps, doing Internet searches, even restacking the Double Eagle coins to make room in his own safe for the soon-to-be-acquired “payroll.” Velma kept working on the electrical system of her truck, all the while keeping an eye on the cul-de-sac. She still had an eerie feeling about the trip to Little Creek.  Gus invited Velma over for dinner on Friday, to which she happy accepted.

The big day finally arrived. His car packed, Gus blew a kiss towards Velma then sped off to catch a train so to speak. Velma popped the hood on her truck and started working. She knew it would only be a matter of time.

Velma Boyer’s hunch could not have been more correct. Something was definitely wrong with the whole “message in a bottle” scenario. An hour after Gus had left, the Grimes boys showed up, knocking on Gus’ door.

Hearing no one inside, the two boys edged around the house to the back door. Velma, hidden by the raised hood of her truck, could see the hoodlums break in and make their way to Gus’ office, where he kept his safe.

“Okay, boys. Let’s see how you like a little juice…”

Velma connected a stray red wire to her truck battery and took a sip of her coffee. “This won’t take long,” she thought.

Gus returned Saturday evening to find the Sherriff parked out in front of his house. He immediately asked if Velma was alright.

“Oh, she’s fine, Gus. As a matter of fact, she is doing quite well. She helped us catch a couple of cat burglars. We’ve been watching these two guys for a long time and now Velma caught them red-handed. She’s inside if you want to see her.”

Gus picked up his pace, still worried about his Velma. Once inside, his jaw dropped. “What the heck is going on here? Did you cuff these guys yourself?”

Velma smiled, saying “Yep, right after they got the shock of their life trying to break into your safe.”  After Friday’s dinner, Velma had run a few wires from the safe to the window. Afterward, she connected them to a portable transformer sitting next to her truck. All she had to do was power up the transformer using her truck battery. The Grimes boys took a few thousand volts each when they grabbed hold of the safe. Cuffing them was easy, since they were still knocked out cold when she got there.

After the Sherriff had left, giving the Grimes boys a ride to the graybar hotel, Velma asked Gus if he had found anything in Little Creek.

“No treasure in Little Creek today, but that’s okay.”

“Are you sure, you have a weird look on your face.”

Gus Kolb lifted one eyebrow and slowly turned his head left and right, as if to see who might be listening. “I’ve found my treasure right here. How about dinner?”

Gus and Velma were married a month later. Gus still goes out treasure hunting on Saturdays, but now Velma goes with him. As for the Double Eagles, Gus sold them to pay for their upcoming honeymoon.

© D.J. Lutz – May 2011

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