"Mister Stone. This is Mister Odansooner. It's his gold you’ll be testing." Matt only caught half of what was being said as he emptied his case of vials and powders. He donned his gloves, mask, and then his plastic eye glasses. Matt reached for the ingot and tried to lift it. The weight caught him by surprise. He wasn't a small man, at six feet four inches and 250 lbs. On the second try, he lifted the bar. He judged its weight was about twenty or twenty-five pounds, and placed it on the floor. Matt took a knife from his pocket and made a scratch along the side of the ingot. He decided by the pressure that it was softer than ten carats, could be fourteen or eighteen, but not twenty-four. At twenty-four carats, a steal knife would slide almost right through, as if in soft butter. Next, he took a small sample and placed it inside a vial. Then he added a bluish powder, and finally the eye dropper of sulfuric acid. The blue powder fizzed and bubbled. Matt shook the vial and placed it on the test rack. He looked up at the gathering.
"We’ll know in about thirty seconds. If anyone wants to laugh, do it now," Matt said drily. He wasn't smiling as he watched the vial turn pale and then go crystal-clear. The sample he had placed at the bottom was still there, not hurt a bit. He picked up the vial and handed it to the giant. "Eureka, there be gold in them thar hills," Matt said as the smile returned to lips. Robert's heart almost stopped as he asked, "What's the value?” His voice took on an almost mechanical sound. "That depends on the carat weight," Matt replied, as he stood up and carried the bar back to the desk. "The carat weight has to be determined at a lab, but the mass weight can be done here." Matt went in the side of his case and brought out two hanging scales. One for grams, the other for ounces. "This is a little big for my scales," Matt said. "Would a bathroom scale work?" Tamry asked as she remembered a scale in the rest room. "Springs or digital?" Matt probed. "Digital." "They're the best. Springs give way after too much use, but those sensor chips never wear out. Only the batteries go dead." Matt said. Tamry went and got the scale and placed it on Margaret’s desk. "Better put that on the lobby floor for a good reading." Matt directed. She took the scale and placed it where he pointed. Matt got his one oz., eight oz., and one lb. weight from his case. He knelt down beside the scale to calibrate it. After a moment the reading was exactly one pound, nine ounces on the register. "Mister, ah?" Matt said. "Odansooner," supplied Robert. "Odhinsunar!"
Matt twitched at the sound of the deep voice and the accent. He looked closer at the mountain of a man as he stood by the desk, then into his ice blue eyes set among the reddish blond hairs. "Mister Odhinsunar," Matt said softly, "will you please bring the ingot over to be weighed?" As an afterthought, he added, "If you don't mind." Mister Odhinnsunar's eyes went narrow for a moment, trying to place the accent, the wording, and the look this man had given him. He turned and picked the ingot up with ease, and was standing beside Matt, in the next moment. From Matt's position he saw something on the bottom of the metal. Mister Odhinnsunar's large fingers were covering most of it, but Matt could make out half a wing and the number 943. When the man handed it over, Matt tilted it to read the rest. He saw in the middle of the bar a symbol under an etched eagle and the date 1943. Matt knew the Broken Cross in a circle, and the Iron Eagle that held it by powerful talons. Matt placed the ingot on the scale, markings face down, and watched the readout. The numbers stopped on twenty-three lbs., eight ounces. Matt thought to himself, Good Guess. He looked up at the man who was close enough to be touched. "How many bars do you have?" Matt asked. "I'm already here. Might as well get a scale weight on the entire lot." "Won't you have to test the others first?" Robert Holmes asked as he came closer. "It's just like fishing. If you've got two of the same lures, and one gets a fish, the other will work just as well." Matt said, as he looked back at Mister Odhinsunar and smiled up at Mister Holmes. Mister Odhinsunar, returned with the suitcase, and placed it by Matt's feet. When the last of the bars was weighed, the total was 235 lbs., give or take an ounce. Robert Holmes was busy with his calculator, and in his haste, came up with $240,106.08. This quote was due because he didn't know the current rate. His figures’ of $638.58 an ounce was a week old, and he was still not quite adept with the keys of his new calculator. Robert announced his findings to the bank populace with great glee. "Remind me to close my account here. Real soon!" Matt said, as he and Mister Odhinsunar exchanged looks. "That's what the calculator reading shows. Right here! Come look for yourself." Mister Holmes said indignantly. "The machine is only as good as the operator." Tamry said, as she came closer to the desk, paper in hand. "What fixed price did you quote per gold ounce?" She asked. Robert looked at his desk and stated, "$638.58." "That's last week’s fix.” Tamry said and placed the paper in front of him. "As of this morning, its $735.10 per ounce." Robert glared at his teller for being so brazen in front of customers, and what was worse, she was right. "Well, I'm not that far off the quote!" Robert said. "What was your total weight?" Tamry asked. She already had the answer, but wanting to see this guy squirm was worth losing her job. "Three hundred and seventy-six." Mister Holmes replied confidently. "That's supposed to be, 3,760 ounces. At $735.10, that comes to a grand total of $2,763,976.00. Give or take a dime."
It even took Margaret a moment for those numbers to sink in. The Price brothers both whistled out loud. "Whoa! Dat man's got some kind of wallet." Jim said. "Sure nuff," Willie said, "but there's not a pick pocket round who could carry it off." Matt Stone, was busy writing Mister Holmes a bill, for services rendered. He wrote a flat fee for Emergency Mineral Assessments. He walked over to the stunned banker, handed him the bill and waited for the reaction. It brought Robert back to reality quickly. "One Hundred and Fifty Dollars?!" Robert shouted. "That will be in cash," Matt said, "and have your head teller count it out. I like the way she plays with numbers." "Pay this Pirate and get him out of my bank. I have to make some phone calls," Robert said as he tossed the bill in Tamry's general direction and out of her reach. Mister Odhinsunar silently unfolded his arms and bent to retrieve the bill from where it had landed almost at his feet and handed it to her without so much as a word. Matt followed Tamry to the teller cage. She entered and started counting out twenty dollar bills. "Thank you." Matt said as he ticked off the bills mentally. "No, thank you," Tamry said, as she caught his hand, "for making him forget what I did." "Don't worry,I've got a strange feeling that things are about to change around here, real soon. If you don't believe me come by the store and have Maureen bring out her cards and read on this for you. Remember though, first reading is free, second’s for a fee. That's her motto!” Matt said with a wink.
Tamry had heard of Mrs. Stones card readings. The old women would gather around after closing to hear about all sorts of things. Of course, Tamry was a college graduate and all that Who-Do-Voo-Doo was for the uneducated. Mrs. Stone always smiled at this notion, knowing some professors that had come to her for readings. "We'll see how it goes," Tamry said, with a smile. Mister Stone shrugged slightly. "Good day, Missy." He said. However, when Mister Stone walked by Mister Odhinsunar, he wasn't smiling. He wore a look on his face that hadn't been there in over three years. "We have to talk. Soon." Matt said, as he stopped and looked into those ice blue eyes. "What do we have to talk about?" The big man asked as he looked down and his eyes narrowed. Only Matt could hear Odhinnsunar's words, as they were spoken in a very low tone. Matt could not help feeling the strength in this man growing. Still, he held his ground. "I think the time has come," Matt quoted, "to speak of many things, of sailing ships, candle wax, cabbages and kings." The blue eyes were now but slits, and even the Price brothers, who were a few feet away, could tell something was going on between these two white men. Something no one should get between. "You speak in riddles in the middle of the day?" Mister Odhinsunar asked. "Maybe this is more of your jesting that I have heard but do not understand." Matt Stone could sense, more than see the big man’s face. He only had one thing left to do and if he read this whole thing wrong he would play the fool, and laugh his way out of the bank. If that gut feeling was right then things were about to change forever in the small Louisiana town of New Hope. Matt never let his eyes drop from the slits a full foot above him as he unbuttoned the top of his shirt and pulled out a heavy silver chain. The giant’s gaze lowered to see what Matt was now holding. The ice blue eyes widened as they took in the detail and workmanship of the talisman. "Yes, we will talk of this soon," Mister Odhinsunar said softly as he studied the man. Matt rebuttoned his shirt and walked to the door. At the wooden chest he turned and asked, "Yours?" Without turning his head the giant grunted, “Ya.”
Margaret Holmes sat at her desk and simply watched Mister Odhinsunar replace nine gold bars to the suitcase. When he had reset the lid and bound the straps he lifted it with his right arm and carried it to the teller cage. Margaret had the feeling that this man had just put his last week’s laundry in that suitcase and not almost 235 lbs. of gold. She sat and wondered how he could walk around with that much weight. Robert Holmes was on the phone trying to contact the Branch President of Barclays in New Orleans. On the third ring it was answered. "Hello. This is Mister Whites’ office. May I ask who's calling?” The French embellished accented woman answered. At that moment, it didn't impress Mister Holmes. "Yes," said Mister Holmes, "this is President Robert Holmes of the Bank of New Hope. I would like a word with your boss." The secretary had been with Barclays for over ten years and she knew every bank president of Barclay’s Southeastern District. Robert Holmes was a name she knew well. About five years back, when his bank was obtained by Barclays in a buy out. Some fancy paper work had passed her desk and an audit was conducted of that affair. It was nip and tuck for a while, but everything seemed to check out and the deal went through. "One moment, sir." The phone started playing some Dixieland Jazz much to Holmes annoyance. In about a minute a man's voice came into the earpiece. "What's the problem? Holmes? Are you there?" "Yes. This is Robert Holmes. Is this Mister White?" "Yes it is! What can I do for you Holmes?" White asked. "Well sir, what is Barclays policy when it comes to gold?" There was a small hesitation on the line. "It depends on how much we’re talking about. Twenty dollar gold pieces, from time to time, even show up around here." Holmes swallowed hard. "Two million dollars worth, net." Holmes whispered. After a moment's hesitation, Holmes heard a small gasp. "What did you say?" "Two Million dollars." Came through the ear piece again. "Holmes, are you drunk, or is this a joke?" "I'm not a drinking man, and I never joke about money." Holmes said into the phone. He was upset that he had to place this call in the first place. Years back he could do as he pleased, until the buy out came into play. "Boy, if you are serious about this," White said, "we have got to call England. And we have got to send some people down there to do some tests to verify this claim. Hell, we've even got to call the Federal Boys and see what they have to say about this." Robert could tell by White's voice he was a true banker. Like sharks smelling blood in the water, his grandfather would say. "What should I do in the mean time with this deposit?" "Ah, have you any way of telling if it's real?" White asked, thinking fast. “I had one bar checked out. There’s more of the same." Holmes replied. "Well, make a deposit for the customer using that one bar. Besides, it can't be all that big a piece. Our people will be there in the morning." White had not heard or didn't understand the conversation Holmes thought. "Then you say I should make the deposit slip for $269,781.70, at today's fixed rate per ounce?" The figure quoted brought Mister White back to earth, hard. "How much for one bar did you state?" White yelled into the phone. Robert repeated the quote for 376 ounces to a bar, at $735.10. White's fast hand was on a calculator and figured backwards. Twenty-three pounds, eight ounces? Twenty-three pounds, eight ounces! "Holmes I will be there in two hours with my people. Don't do anything. Don't call anyone. Most importantly don't let that customer out of your bank. Do you understand?" "Yes, I understand, but you don't understand about this customer." Holmes was trying his best to keep a calm appearance when he noticed Mister Odhinsunar looking his way.
Matt Stone entered his jewelry shop and put the case down, as Maureen was entering from their apartment at the rear of the shop. She had a blanket over her shoulder, a picnic basket in her left hand, and Matt's tackle box and fishing-rod in her right hand. "What happened?" Maureen asked. "Did Holmes swallow the gold and make you wait for the proctologist to retrieve it?" "A calling was answered!" Matt said, and chuckled as he looked directly at his wife. "You don't mean . . . " Maureen stopped. She gazed at Matt and her eyes widened in amused surprise. "I sure do." Matt replied cutting her off. "Well then," Maureen stated, "let's celebrate now, because things are about to change in New Hope." She expelled a laugh that would have sent chills down most people's spines. Matt smiled fondly at his wife, because her laughter echoed his sentiment exactly. He reached up and caught the chain switch and pulled once as the overhead lighting dimmed. He opened the front door and flipped the Open sign to Closed. He helped Maureen place the gear in the back of their pickup truck.
As he started the motor, Maureen reached into her purse and produced a tape of her favorite singer. As the truck rolled away, many people heard them laughing and singing with the lead song as the sound of steel drums and Caribbean music filled the air and they were singing something about changes. Most people had seen them do this before, but today the sound of their voices was as loud as the speakers. They shook their heads and made more comments about those people from Key West. By the time they were out of town on the south road Matt started to remember his first time fishing at Taylor lake. It was only three miles to the south, and the bass was big enough to catch and eat. Then he started to remember the night that he had stayed too long. He'd forgotten windage on a cast and had to retrieve his newest lure from a tree. He had to wade out from the bank and had gotten wet up to his knees. Still, he had just bought the lure and it had already become one of his favorites and he felt triumphant when it pulled free from the branches. He thought about how late it was. Maureen would have supper waiting and he never liked to worry her, if he could help it. He'd gathered his gear and the keepers of the day and put them in the back of the pickup to start home. He recalled seeing lights along the road side by the Green's farm from a distance. As he came closer, he saw torches and people dressed for Halloween. His mind registered, What's wrong with this picture? Halloween is still four months away! Matt drove close to the side of the road and stopped the truck. He rolled down the passengers’ window and heard the screams coming across the field. Matt had heard stories, even in Key West, about the White Knights, but that was back in the thirties or forties. Surely not today? Then the loud scream of a woman broke his train of thought.
Matt had been in the service, and not too long ago. He had heard the screams of his friends when they were under attack. He also had his service 45-caliber automatic that he always carried when taking jewelry to and from shows in the glove box of the truck. He opened the glove box and checked his pistol. He kept his firearm in excellent condition, second only to his fishing gear. Matt turned off the lights and thanked the spirits that he had not replaced that burned out interior light last month. As if it were only yesterday, he quickly covered the distance from his truck to the center of the field. At this range Matt saw the whole ghastly picture. He wanted to close his eyes to it. Not more than fifty yards away was an old black man swinging from an ancient oak tree by his now stretching neck. The eyes were open and bulging from the pressure and the tongue hung out in grotesque evidence of the horrible suffering that brought about his untimely death. In front three black men were being beaten with sticks as two naked women were being raped. They screamed for help through their sobs. Matt saw a White Knight by the tree in which the old man swung, and heard the man say, "Bring another one up here so he can see the light." That was all Matt could take. He leveled the large bore pistol at the man's head and the trigger was squeezed. For a moment Matt didn't think the gun was working. His mind was processing these things much too fast. Then came the flash from the muzzle and the thunder of the charge. The bullet was red hot and from Matt's position he could see it tumble toward its target. The pointed hat that the Knight wore was thrown into the air and Matt realized his aim was high. What Matt saw next, made him sweat with anger. The Knights face was in full view and it was the town Sheriff, Jake Thomas. Matt saw the confusion on his face as he drew his pistol from his robes.
The cannon in Matt's hand erupted again, then again. The second round severed an oak branch in half above the sheriff and brought with it a spray of twigs and barks. The third found its mark in the shoulder of one Knight running next to the sheriff. Matt had almost forgotten what a 45-caliber slug did to the human body, almost forgot that a near miss is sometimes fatal. Yes, almost. You never forget all of it. Pandemonium raged and people were running everywhere as torches were being dropped. One of the three black men picked up a torch and set a Knights robes on fire. Screaming and shouting was the bill of fare right now. Matt wished for his M-14, or at least, back up from his old friend with his M-60. Matt knew both were empty thoughts, as he had placed that friend in the Silver Bullet coffin so many years ago. All Matt had to use now was the confusion as his backup, and he knew how to use that very well. He cut to the left a few feet and let two more shots go over the crowd, then quickly dodged right and forward while placing a shot in another Knights leg. The body was thrown back and he landed with an audible thump about six feet away. By now the sheriff thought there was more than one person in the field, and with the new moon sky, he couldn't tell how many more were approaching. He started yelling for the brotherhood to break up and go to the club. He started running and Matt could hear truck and car motors starting to become lively. Matt knew he was in a fix if those lights fell on him. So he did the only thing he could think of he went down in the furrow and covered his face with dirt. He thanked the spirits again when his hands disappeared in the mud that a late afternoon shower had made. He thought back to the lake and remembered how he wished it wouldn't dampen his fishing. Matt almost laughed at the thought. He laid in the field until he heard the last of the trucks pull away. Matt came up on his elbows and took a quick look before ducking back. He looked again a little longer and could see by the torches that the men were getting the women together and helping them put their clothes back on. He slowly rose in the field. "I'm coming in!" Matt shouted. "Any more snakes in the grass?" "All them snakes done crawled back in their holes." A black man called back as he looked in the direction of the voice. "Come on in, all you people, and thank you for stopping by."
Matt came up slowly with the pistol still at the ready. He lowered it when he got close enough to see the mens’ faces. Matt had never liked this part of the battles that he had fought. This was when you had to see the pain and misery of the survivors, up close and personal. "Sure be nice if all the brothers had them guns," the other man said bitterly. "We’d sure keep them white folk from doing this to us any mo’." Matt came closer to the torch lights and looked at his arms. They were covered in a thick black mud from the field and he knew his face was as well. The weight and damp feeling as it dried started to pull his skin tight. "I'm sorry I was late." Matt said, studying the feet of the old man being laid on the ground by two other black men. "I'm glad you came a'tall," One man said. "I was going to be next to Grandpa Green and rite soon." The other man was picking up the torches and placing them in a ring. Matt came in closer and started wiping the mud from his arms and face. "Who is dat?" One black woman asked now seeing flesh that appeared lighter, as the mud came away. "Name's Matt Stone." Matt said as he looked up from scraping mud off the back of his neck. "Why, you's a Whitey!" The black women cried as she backed up against the black man. "Guilty as charged, ma’am." Matt said, then smiled at her. "What you doing shooting at the White Knights? You being one of ‘em an all." The black man asked coldly. "Saving your black ass," Matt snapped as he angrily strode right up to the man and stood toe to toe, "and don't you ever say I'm one of those degenerated sacks of shit to my face again." Matt was hot and the smell of gun powder was still in the air. "Sorry sir. I apologize for my manners." "The name was and still is Matt. Call your father sir."
Matt was still hot but he was trying to calm down. He knew that soon the shakes would start again, as in the past. It was like that with him. Even as a youth when something went wrong Matt would just turn off, do the things that had to be done and then hours later the emotion would kick back in. Some medics called it a form of working shock. Some said it was a kind of craziness they heard about along time ago. When men caught up in battle would just charge into the fray without any regards to the danger. The old term was Berserker. Such warriors were feared by enemy and friend alike. "EARTH TO MATT." Just then Matt was pulled forcible back to the present by Maureen. "Do you want to have this picnic at the lake, or in the lake?" He stepped on the brakes just in time to stop the truck from going off the embankment and into a ten-foot drop off, where he'd caught a good size bass just last week. Matt sat there looking into the lake. Maureen could read Matt as well as the Tarot Cards. "Flashback?" She asked softly, "NAM?" "Green Acres." Matt said as he expelled a heavy breath. "The times they are about to change." Maureen said as she looked into the lake also. Maureen and Matt sat quietly as they each contemplated what the future was about to bring.
"Well sir, ah, it seems that I can't grant full expense for your gold." Robert Holmes said as he hung up the phone and smiled nervously at Mister Odhinsunar. “The main office is sending a more professional team of Assayers here, they will test your ingots. What I can do, is open a straight charge account against your tested bar of gold.” Robert Holmes hoped this would please the man and he wouldn't get too nervous and take all that gold with him. "How much?” Mister Odhinsunar asked. "Let's say around $200,000.00." Mister Holmes said, as he looked at his calculator and then back again. "Until we have the proper assay on all of the gold." Mister Odhinsunar looked over at Tamry and she nodded. "That will be fine for now." He said. "Well, good. Now all we have to do is fill out some paper work. It shouldn't take more than a couple of hours, ah, I mean minutes." "You fill out all the papers you want." Mister Odhinsunar had played this game before, and he played with the best Trickster in memory. He finished with, "Here's the one gold bar. When you need my mark, come to my farm!" Mister Odhinsunar lifted the suitcase from the desk and started to walk to the door. "You can't leave yet!" Robert Holmes blurted, as he jumped to his feet. Holmes felt a twinge of pain in the bottom of his stomach. He knew another ulcer was about to put him back in the hospital, soon. Then his mind started to register the form in front of his desk slowly turning back around. He thought of his last words and wondered, Did I really say that, like an order? His answer to that question came swiftly when he saw two thin slits of ice blue steel eyes looking down at him. "What did you say?" The force of the question pushed Robert to the back of his high backed leather stuffed chair. "Nothing, sir, nothing at all."
That was all anyone heard from Mister Robert S. Holmes until the door opened and Mister White, with three other men, walked in two and a half hour later. Mister Odhinsunar started for the door with Jim and Willie coming up fast from behind. "We'll take that chest for you, Mista Odie." Jim said. "Now that we works only for you." Mister Odie stopped by the chest and watched the two brothers grab the side handles. The brothers had worked together for years in the fields, houses, and shops of New Hope. They had carried, pushed, and pulled all kinds of equipment in their lives. Picking up an old oak chest should be child's play for them. Or that's what both thought until they tried to lift the chest. It didn't even give them a chance to think it moved. Jim looked at Willie. "Both hands now." Jim said and then they tried again. The only things that moved were the cords in both of their necks. Mister Odie motioned for them to stand clear. He shifted the suitcase with his left hand, and with his legs’ bent, he raised the chest to his shoulder with his right arm. He turned, went out the door and pivoted toward the south headed in the direction of the farm. Jim and Willie looked at each other then ran for the door to catch up with Mister Odie. They caught up with him, in front of the Stones from the Heart jewelry shop. He had stopped and was intently studying the front display with its many wares. “Mista Odie," Jim spoke first, "what's in that chest?" "I bet it's more of that gold you got." Willie said his dark eyes glowing with excitement and curiosity. "What is in this chest is better than all the gold on this world." Mister Odie said as he studied the brothers. "It is hope." The brothers looked at each other again. "There must be a powerful load of Hope if even me and Willie can't raise it off the floor." Jim said. "Hope is as light as air for the hopeful. But, for the hopeless, it has the weight of mountains." Mister Odie said, never taking his eyes from the display in the shop window. Mister Odie stopped when he saw in the back of the shop, a small felt square on one of the shelves. Attached to the purple felt were little silver stars on chains and below them were small T's with chains attached to the bases. Jim and Willie were also admiring the fine gold jewelry that the Stones had on display. "If you could have any of these things, what would you want?" Mister Odie asked the brothers. "I'd have that solid gold watch over there. I wanted that watch from the moment Mister Stone put it out over two years ago." Willie was quick to answer. "I'd want that gold crucifix on the top shelf." Jim replied next. "I'd put it over the mantle next to the one our grand daddy carved from his oak tree." "What would you do with that watch?" "Why Mista Odie, I'd be able to tell what time it was ever day of the week." Willie answered. "What time is it now?" Mister Odie asked gazing at Willie. "It be eight minutes past noon." Willie said holding out an old pocket watch for Mister Odie to see. "No! It is daytime." "Does gold make your faith stronger?" He asked Jim. "No, Sir. It doan, but it sure do help!" Jim said as he pictured the golden crucifix hanging on the wall at his home, next to the one that he had always cherished. He saw it adding to the faith, something old with something new. "Times are about to change around here." Mister Odie said as he turned toward Jim his eyes narrowed. "Some won't like the darkness while others will hate the light. You will see this happen. Be sure you know what you want the next time I ask. Now go home, eat well and rest, beginning at sunrise you will work for me.” "Mista Odie," Willie said, "me and Jim will work for you seven days a week if needs be." "Six days." Jim corrected, "Sunup to sundown." "That's right. Six days will do. No work on Saturday!" "You means Sunday doan you Mista Odie?" Jim asked, as he and Willie both stared at the big man. "Saturday." Mister Odie restated and returned his attention to the window display. "Now go home." The Price brothers turned and started for the east end of town where they lived. They were wondering how this news would set with their wives. Jim turned to go back to Mister Odie but he was nowhere to be found. Willed also stopped and looked around as well. "That man can move faster than a new Cadillac." Willie muttered, more to himself than his brother as they turned and started back home again.