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Chest of Hope

Thorran Odhinsunar appeared at the north edge of a sleepy Louisiana town. The sign post up ahead, through several well-placed bullet holes, read New Hope. With a sad smile, he lifted his old leather bound suitcase with one hand and a large wooden chest with his other. Resting the wooden chest upon one massive shoulder, he started walking toward the town. The heat of the day bore no obstruction to his seven-foot, six-inch body. The sun brightened his red hair and beard, which made it appear that his head was ablaze. His stride was crisp as he covered the distance to the Barclay Bank, located in the middle of town.

As with the sign, the town had seen better days. Most of the store fronts were empty and For Sale notices were visible here and there. He observed the glossy white new BMW, astride the equivalent red GMC 4x4 parked at the bank. Well, at least some things never change, he thought to himself. Contemplating the position of the sun, he calculated, nine, maybe ten a.m. He was never any good at telling this kind of time. To him, it just didn't matter. Sunup-work, sundown-rest; at least that is how it should be. At the bank Robert Holmes entered the lobby. He noticed the usual glass of sweetened iced tea, placed on his desk next to the name plate that registered President. Robert thought, What a great way to start another day of banking.

Robert started to remember the events that had led him to where he now found himself. He recalled his early life and relished in his past triumphs. Knowing that he had passable good looks and an eye for the ladies. His vocabulary was his best suit, and he wore it well. He had served a small stint in the army, then attended college for a brief period. However, that required more dedication than he cared to exert, so he started selling cars. Robert never regretted what had to be the best day of his life. It was the day he sold the banker’s daughter her first car and later, himself. Margaret Holmes entered the bank, and Robert thought the fates were smiling on him to this day. Across the small expanse, her nitch in his life was a plaque that read Seal of Realtors. She displayed it with pride on her oak desk. It was a good addition to the bank's stark interior. Margaret, until finally passing the Realtor’s exam, had been the bank's cashier for the past fifteen years. To her friends, she liked to state that she was the head teller. Margaret was born to money and liked to flaunt the power it afforded her. She would not even shop for clothes in New Hope, preferring instead to travel to New Orleans. However, she had never been out of the deep south. Margaret strolled to the teller’s cage and began talking to Tamry Greenwood. This was her first day working for Barclay's. Tamry, at twenty-four, had just graduated from L.S.U. Surely, she knew nothing of the world of banking, or so Margaret thought.

Tamry listened to her politely, and thought that if it wasn't for her mother’s illness, she would now be working in that job as a junior executive in New Orleans. She had applied for a position at one of the more prestigious marketing firms, and had been hired last month. Tamry had unwillingly declined because she knew her mother would never leave this town, as she was the third generation to be born and raised here. She was confident that she would put a stop to that tradition after graduation, and begin to experience the world. The sudden darkness caught everyone’s attention, as a shadow cloaked the lobby floor. Everyone turned toward the front door as it opened; a large dusty work boot entered, followed by the titan frame of Mister Thorran Odhinsunar. He placed the chest by his left leg, which to Tamry appeared to be the size of a tree trunk, and the suitcase to his right. When Robert found his tongue, he said in his best banker's voice, "Good morning, sir. How can Barclay's be of service to you? I'm Robert Holmes, Bank President." Robert approached the man, thinking that it must be an optical illusion played by the sunlight and shadows. No one could really be that huge. To his disbelief, as he closed in, the man seemed to grow even larger. His hand was extended, as if programmed on greeting, but it was too late to pull back, when he saw it disappear under the grasp of the massive right hand. He recalled his grandfather’s hands being this size, when Robert was six years old. To his relief the pressure was slight compared to the strength Robert could only imagine the hand could bring to bear.

"I've come to buy a farm." The man said in a deep voice. He scowled down at Robert. His ice blue eyes were set in a hardened face, roughly worn with countless worry lines sown to his brow. Robert was about to introduce this man to his wife, when Margaret came around his side announcing, "Oh, we have many farms to choose from. I'm sure we can come up with just the right one for you! Please follow me, and I'll show you my collection of properties." She turned to her husband, and with her best business smile and said, "Robert, get some refreshments for our guest, and join us, if you're not too busy." Robert cringed inwardly again at her tone of voice. He had heard it much too often since they were married. He asked the man what he would prefer. "Water," was the simple reply.

Mister Odhinsunar looked at the two chairs in front of Margaret's desk but selected the divan with the small coffee table, on the other side of the lobby. As he settled on the cushion, the couch groaned under his weight. Margaret, with her album in hand, was displeased by his choice, since it meant that she could not sit behind her newly polished desk. She heard the couch creak and remembered the last time it had occurred. The bank auditors were there to go over Robert's books. She recalled that they were both portly men and would have been close to 500 lbs. The couch must be getting old, and the weather is taking its toll on it, she thought. She rolled her leather backed chair to the edge of the coffee table and placed the album down for the man to pursue. Margaret started with the newest addition to her file, being only a week old. "Here we are," she began, "this farm is on the west side of town. It has 400 acres of good growing land, and the house has five bedrooms, three baths, and a two-car garage. The owners are also offering the tractor with this deal." "NO!"

Margaret was startled at the tone of the man's voice and she was sure he’d yelled at her. Turning to her husband, she realized it had only been a mild whisper. "Too big for me," Mister Odhinsunar said, in a very low voice. "I see," Margaret stated, a little peeved by missing out on the large commission that also went with this sale. "I have some lovely four bedroom farms near the north. If that will do?" Mister Odhinsunar shook his head. "Too big," he replied, again. Margaret bristled on the edge of irritation. "Well, what are you looking for in a house?" "The house is of no matter. The barn must have a forge. There must be a large stand of oaks on the property," Mister Odhinsunar said, as his ice blue eyes peered into the depths of her soul, and narrowed, as his meaning was understood. When he released her from his gaze, she exhaled heavily, and clutched her chest. "Well, that sounds just like the Green’s farm, at the south edge of town," Robert blurted out before she could speak, as he sat in the chair that he had rolled over. Margaret could have knocked him out of his chair, if there wasn't a customer present.

The Green’s Farm was the logical choice for this man, but it had been on the back pages for more than three years. Ever since those people put it up for sale, after that terrible thing happened in the woods. Its commission was hardly enough for one payment on her BMW. Robert was feeling pleased with himself, for his knowledge of the properties Margaret handled. He wore a smug look to get back at her, for the waiters’ routine.
"I will see it. Now!" The man said, as he rose to his full stature, before Robert could move. Margaret closed the album, and went to her desk, for her car-keys. She eyed the soiled work boots, and told Robert that he should let the customer ride in his 4x4, as he would surely enjoy being in a larger vehicle. She thought back to the day Robert asked her about the truck at the lot. After a small tiff she agreed to let him purchase it, but only if he parked in back of the house. "Where are you parked?" Robert asked, as they went outside. "I don't drive." The man answered, as he walked to the side of the 4x4. Tamry was happy to be alone in the bank, and she had enjoyed this morning's events. The red-haired giant had put the boss’ wife through her paces. Now, she busily caught up on the financial reports of the day, and saw how the stock market stood. Tamry wasn't going to let this little set back break her stride after receiving her B.A. in business finance. Happily, she thumbed through her Wall Street Journal. She smiled when she remembered how Mrs. Holmes had thought it was a Dollar Saver Circular, for furniture or appliances that would be needed to set up house keeping. Oh well, Tamry thought, today is Tuesday, and the bank would be vacant for most of the day. Fridays and the first of the month are always the busiest. That’s when the whole town invades, with deposits, withdrawals and transfers. So, a little time to oneself, is a time to be enjoyed.

Margaret Holmes pulled to a stop at the dirt drive of the Green's Farm, just ahead of the Red 4x4. She had forgotten how run down the place had become, in the three years of neglect. The once well kept white-picket fence was now completely broken down, and the house windows were almost all broken. Teenagers must have thrown bottles and rocks after their parties. She saw the yard had become overgrown with weeds. Chickens were walking about, scratching and clucking. The front porch was sagging, and the screen door barely clung to one hinge. 'How am I going to sell this place and not have to sink a lot of time and money in it for repairs?' She wondered. Margaret heard the 4x4 stop behind her, and with a last look in the rear view mirror, she said to herself, 'It's Show Time', and got out of her car. Robert Holmes was shocked by what he saw. Was this the beautiful little farm house he had visited a short time ago, when he finished the mortgage papers for the Greens? Surely, he had made a wrong turn on the way out of town. Yet, his wife was there. So this must be the place. Regardless, he still could not believe how decrepit the place seemed. On the way there, Mister Odhinsunar had not spoken a word. He was satisfied with studying the houses, shops, and countryside. He was lost in thought of what had to be done, and how long it would take him to finish. But then, all that didn't matter, did it? The only thing that really mattered was that things would have to change. He eyed the Holmes’, as they walked toward the farm house porch. The giant wasn't interested in the sorry condition of the property, nor the papers and trash that covered the yard. Not even the chickens, which rushed by him, came to any notice. As they came to the porch, Robert saw what he thought was a snake and yelled to Margaret, “Don’t move!”

She looked where he pointed and saw a long twitching tail by the top step. She realized it was not a snake, just an old cat. The cat's head appeared around the porch and meowed, then growled at the intruders, who were disturbing his nap. Its yellow eyes were wide and its calico colors were a bit dirty. The cat sized up the man and then the woman. Its head began craning upward to get a look at the third person, just coming up the walk. Margaret watched the cat's eyes grow even larger and its back arch, as if to spring away. Suddenly, it sat upright, straight as a figurine. Margaret heard the big man's voice saying words she didn't recognize as English. The last sounds uttered, appeared to be 'foot song sooner'. She watched the cat leap from the porch and go under the house. Margaret turned, and was amazed that the man was standing right beside her. She started her sales pitch in her best rehearsed manner. "It's really not as bad as it looks," she said, a little too hard on the bad. I'll have to work on it some more, she thought. "With a little cleaning and some paint, it will be right as rain." Even she would have to admit this pitch would take the Academy Award, if she sold this place in its present condition. Mister Odhinsunar curled his lips in what would almost pass for a smile and said, "The barn?" Robert took the lead and said, "It's right out back. I’ll show you the way." Robert turned to move as the big man strode past him, and in two movements was ten feet ahead of them. Margaret came up quickly, almost breaking into a run and glanced over at Robert's face. They were thinking the same thing, 'How could any man that big, move that fast?' The barn was of modest size, not as grave in appearance as the house. The red paint was faded and flaked. Its roof had several holes that could be easily seen. The doors had a rusted chain and lock pulled across them. "Damn," Margaret cursed, under her breath, realizing she had forgotten to bring the keys which were still at the bank.

Next to the barn was a large oak chopping block, with an old rusty axe head firmly stuck in the middle. The broken handle was on the ground a few feet away. Margaret started to apologize for forgetting the keys, when Mister Odhinsunar walked over to the block, and without much effort, extracted the axe head with one hand. Robert backed two steps and watched as the axe head went through both chain and lock, as if they were made of paper. He wiped his forehead and recalled the handshake. He felt his knees start to shake. The doors swung wide as the smell of rotted hay and seed came drifting to them. Mister Odhinsunar strolled inside to have a look. Robert and Margaret stood where they were, until they heard the sound of the man's voice. "Vunderbar!" He appeared by the door and waved them to enter. As their eyes and nostrils became adjusted, they saw him standing next to the back wall, where a stone foundry had been built. Mister Odhinsunar announced as they came closer, "I'll buy it!" Margaret wasn't sure if he meant the farm or the pile of rocks he was standing next to. "I beg your pardon?" She asked. "I'll buy it. All of it. Now!" The giant restated, firmly. "Good, good! We should get back to town. Talk price and payments, at the bank. It will be a bit cooler, and not so stuffy," Robert said a bit too quickly. As they rounded the house, Robert and Margaret Holmes took no notice that the chickens were gone from sight. All they thought about were the contracts to be signed and the new account to be opened. Mister Odhinsunar noticed the calico cat on the porch. The cat watched him as he rode away in the new red truck.

Upon arriving at the bank, Robert did notice the Price brothers, Jim and Willie, standing outside looking haggard. Not again, he thought. This will make the third month of listening to these poor blacks, with their tales of woe, on how they can’t make their mortgage payments. Hell, it's only $300 a month, for that four-bedroom house they wanted so badly. Anyone can make that easily, if they worked hard enough. "Mista Holmes, Mista Holmes, we needs to talk to you, real bad," Jim, the older of the two by five years, said, as he stood at the front of the truck, with Willie to his side. "Good morning, boys. What's the problem this time?" Mister Holmes asked curtly. Jim started, "We just come up a little short this month, with the payment and all." "Times is hard Mista Holmes. What with the textile mill closing down, and a heap of farmers doan have much work for us no more," Willie chimed in. "That be true enough. Even Mista Reynold's farm is cuttin' back this time of year, and us bein' part time, ain’t got no work at all," Jim continued. Willie was the first to notice the shadow appear over the group of men. He turned and stopped short when he saw the pocket buttons that were behind and above his older brother's head. Willie looked down, wondering if Jim was standing on the street, but when he saw the large dusty boots behind Jim, he looked up again. Jim saw his brother, then turned to follow Willie's gaze. About half way round, he let out a yell and jumped back into Mister Holmes.

"Sweet Jesus in Heaven!" Jim exclaimed, in his fright. He had never seen a man of this size in his life. Not to say he'd never seen large men. He'd worked many farms and even a couple years on the railroad. However, this man was the biggest he had ever come across, in height and width combined. He excused himself to Mister Holmes, as he tried to calm himself. Mister Holmes understood Jim's confusion. He, also, was still trying to get used to the size of the latest farmer in New Hope. “We can talk all this over inside.” Mister Holmes told them. One by one, followed by the giant, they went into the bank. Jim felt a little better as he spoke to Mister Holmes, "We have half the payment with us now. In a couple of weeks, or so, we can probably come back with the rest." "Boys, you don't understand banking. What you are paying on, is the interest, not the principal. If you make half payments, the money rolls over next month, and it's like you never paid at all." Mister Holmes frowned. "No sir, Mista Holmes. We writes down all the money we pay this bank every time," Willie interjected. "The money you pay now is on the interest, not the property. I'm afraid that next month the bank will have to foreclose on your home, if you don't make full payments or have steady income," Robert tried again. "Mista Holmes, that's the only home our Grand Daddy left us with. We been tryin' real hard to keep up the payments every month," Jim replied, looking like he had been stabbed in the heart. “I’m sorry about all of this, but the bank had its rules. If there’s no income we must . . . " "ENOUGH!" The voice carried like a rifle shot in the small bank lobby. Even Tamry dropped her paper and pencil at the sound. All three men were startled, and Robert's knees started to shake, again. The man's voice was low as he came closer. He gazed at Jim, then Willie. Both men tried to hold their eyes up, yet something seemed wrong with their manners. "You both work hard?" The big man asked. "Yes sir, but there's just not enough work around here to keep honest folks busy," Jim said. That remark scored directly on Robert Holmes face, and the big man noticed it also. "Starting at sunrise tomorrow, you will work for me." "Now, now, Mister, ah, by the way, I didn't get your name," Mister Holmes broke in. "Odhinsunar."

The brothers looked at one another and repeated as much as they could. 'Mista Odie' was as close as they could get, and the big man smiled. "Mister Odansooner and I have some business to take care of. He's about to take over the Green’s Farm," Mister Holmes said to the brothers. With those words, the men backed up a step, and looked at each other. They stood silently, as Mister Holmes and Mister Odie walked away. As they made their way across the lobby, Robert called out to Tamry, "Miss Greenwood, get out the preliminary mortgage contracts from the files, and fix some tea." Tamry looked at him and shrugged. She walked to the file cabinets, and began opening drawers, pulling all the needed forms. Bringing them to Mister Holmes, she looked up at Mister Odhinsunar. He was observing the front door. This was the first time she had been this close to the giant. She was even more amazed by his height. She could look directly at his belt buckle, with its ornate design. It resembled some type of twisting serpent, but not exactly. "Would you also care for tea?" Tamry asked and placed the forms on the desk. "Water will be fine. If you don't mind," Mister Odhinsunar replied, gazing down into Tamry's soft brown eyes. The gentle voice, which came from his heavily red bearded mouth, stunned Tamry. She was expecting the harsh rasp she had heard earlier. She remained standing there, when Mister Holmes said, "Where's my tea, girl?" "Ah, yes sir. Be right there, sir."

She left them and went to the back office, where the copier and coffee area were found. The tea was made a little strong for her taste. She found a large pitcher and filled it with ice and water. As she returned, Mister Holmes was about to start explaining interest rates, closing costs, points on properties, and all the things that impressed the locals when they come to do business at the bank. What most people didn't know was that the figures’ Mister Holmes quoted were from a week old newspaper that he received from the New Orleans main branch of Barclay's. Tamry was the only one who kept a day to day running quote on Fixed Prices, posted in the Wall Street Journal, that arrived at her mother's house each morning at six. As Tamry approached the desk, the front door opened and Mrs. Holmes entered, accompanied by her designer handbag, and a large stack of papers in her hands. "I had to go to the courthouse for all this paperwork on the property. I never would have guessed that farm was so old. The records go all the way back to the Civil War. It seems some old plantation owner granted that property to his slaves, after we, ah, they lost the war. It's been handed down from family to family ever since. At least up until now, that is," Margaret said, as she started placing stacks of papers neatly upon her desk.

Margaret looked at Mister Odhinsunar and noticed he was staring at the Price brothers, who she had not noticed until then. "Oh, is it time for your payments already?" “Yessum, I reckon so," Jim said, dropping his head slightly. "Tell Lotty to do better in my bathroom," Margaret said to Willie, in a voice that she would have used on slaves, if she ever had any. Willie knew his wife's work was the best anyone could ask for, and this was just Mrs. Holmes way of letting people know that she had hired help to do her bidding. But they were raised properly and had respect for others, no matter what their personal feelings. "Yessum. I'll tell her what you said," Willie answered. Robert Holmes motioned for Margaret to take a seat at his desk, asking Mister Odhinsunar if he would care to be seated. "I'll stand," Mister Odhinsunar replied, as Margaret sat. "Well Marge, what is the selling price of this property?" Mister Holmes asked his wife. Margaret opened her folder and looked at it for a short while. She was confused by all the figures that stared back at her. At the bottom left an amount was written, $49,000 asking. She looked at her husband and with a painted smile on her lips said, "Forty-nine, firm." Robert started to work his calculator, with the digital read out, with that figure. "Let's see how we stand now. $49,000 times the current interest rate, prorated annually for a 30-year mortgage with 10% down, comes to about $638.47 in monthly payment," he said, looking up at Mister Odhinsunar smiling. The smile vanished when he heard the word no. Mister Odhinsunar turned and walked over to his luggage that he’d placed, not more than an hour ago, near the door. He stopped, lifted the suitcase and gently placed it on Robert's desk, almost breaking the new calculator. He unbound the old leather case, and flipped the lid to one side. The light shown from inside the case, as it illuminated the entire bank's ceiling. The reflected sunlight gleamed off ten gold ingots. Mr. Odie took one bar from the case and placed it next to Mr. Holmes.

"This should be enough," he stated to the President of Barclay’s Bank. Robert Holmes had to force his mouth shut, something his wife could not do for a minute or so. "Is this real?" Mister Odhinsunar lifted his eyebrows in response. Robert's mind was whirling, as he tried to decide what to do first. Then it came to him, he had to run an assay on the metal bars. The only person able to do such a thing was the jeweler. "Miss Greenwood, go see if Mister Stone can come here, quickly. Tell him to bring his gold testing kit." Robert whispered to Tamry, who edged closer to see what had everyone so quiet. Tamry saw a piece of an ingot from the side and knew it was a large bar of something. She turned and started for the door when she heard one of the Price brothers say, "It must of come from Ft. Knox." As she turned up the street toward the only jewelry store in town, her mind was going over the paper she had read this morning. The gold index was up, the highest it had been in more than twenty years. Then she thought ingots weighed between eight and ten lbs. She was trying to compute the worth as she opened the front door of the 'Stones from the Heart' jewelry store.

Matt Stone with his wife, Maureen, were inside doing their daily dusting of the counter tops, and rearrangement of the displays, when Tamry waltzed in. The Stones were new to this town. Three or four years ago, a hurricane almost wiped them out in Key West, Florida. Their shop, along with five blocks of ocean front properties had been leveled. Maureen Stone had said then, "That's it! We're going somewhere that nothing ever happens, except sunup and sundown." The Stones greeted Tamry and wondered what had brought her by at this time of the day. "Mister Holmes needs’ you to come to the bank, right now, and bring your testers," Tamry announced as she entered. Matt looked at her for a second and smiled. “Why? Has your boss broken one of his toy airplanes?” Matt asked, and smiled at his jest. Tamry didn't get the remark about modelers glue and restated, "He wants you to test a bar of gold!" "I would have thought he could have bit into it to tell if it's real or not. If it tastes like something he has never had in his mouth before, it’s gold." Maureen said as she walked from behind her now spotless jewelry case. Both of the Stones laughed and Tamry broke into smiles. "There's a giant at the bank with a lot of gold," Tamry said, with excitement. "Was there a small boy named Jack, and a goose running around somewhere too?" Matt asked smiling. "Come and see for yourself. The Gold is there. Don't forget to bring your stuff to prove it," Tamry replied, annoyed at this banter, as she turned and walked out of the store. "I guess you'd better go see what the Grand Poobah wants. Before you go, let me give you the bill book for this emergency call." Maureen said to her husband, with a smile on her face.

Maureen felt no love lost for Robert Holmes. She remembered how he wanted to charge her five dollars for a notary fee, on the sale of their store front apartment. Matt gathered his test equipment, with all it’s formularies and a book on carat weights. He had only used this equipment once, in the Keys, for a diver who had thought he'd struck it rich. It turned out to be an old piece of copper, from a sailing ship that had been long lost. He went to the door and turned to Maureen, "This shouldn't take long. Let's close early and go out to the lake for a fish dinner cooked over a camp fire." "Sounds good to me," Maureen replied. "Do you think the fish will be taking your lures today?" "If they don't, I know you will!" Matt said with a chuckle and kissed her. He gathered his equipment and went out the door.

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