Some people say that there is a world of ‘is’! And then again a world of ‘not’s’. How the two fit together is anybody’s guess? But they do! How did this all get started in the first place. That’s a question that’s been asked by everyone at one time or another. And there are a fair share of wise acre’s that make their fortunes being the one in the know. But anyone with any common sense knows that they don’t! And as some other’s say, maybe there is no such thing as a God? Some supreme being that creates everything yet never seems to show up when you need him. But I don’t know if I believe, or if I do not believe. I just don’t know? When you are young everything is possible. But by old age the innocence of youth gets cast into an iron tight bucket filled with your disbelief and lined with your repression. So then, who is to say what the true definition of evil really might be? Too much? Or too little? Is someone who lives outside the confines of the moral strictures of society evil?. Or is someone who considers themselves as part of a natural elite at the top of the money pyramid good? Most of us may dream but we will never if it is so or not. At least most of us. Because sometimes there are exceptions to the rule whose lives just work out that way. Not because they wanted it or dreamed it, but because they just happened to be in the way of finding out whether they wanted to or not.
Nicholas Brewer was someone that for the most part had gone through his adolescence unnoticed. He had been born into a ‘brown’ family in a ‘black’ community that was completely surrounded by ‘white’ aspirations. Though for the most part he was color blind. Kindergarten, grammar school, high school! All his conceptions about the world, the way it worked, what one should want, all fueled by the desires of his parents, his teachers, and his community. In other words, everyone but him! Now on the prescipise of going away to college, he like so many of age wasn’t sure about any of it. Nobody that he knew about could say with any certainty where they would be living, working, or what they would be doing in even a year from now. Yet everyone was an expert on giving advice to people like him who wanted to figure a few things out before he was ready to commit? Some time to see what was beyond the city limits and beyond. But though he had worked when he was in high school he didn’t see where he could get the money to finance taking a trip to some of those places that one saw in the movies. He sure knew that his parents wouldn’t understand how a young man of theirs could lose his mind and let such crackpot ideas mess with his head and even think about going off with diddly squat in his pocket. By way of their common sense reasoning his own desire just didn’t make any sense! And so he didn’t bother to let anyone know what was in his head or heart in terms of what he wished or wanted to do. He was just waiting for the right opportunity.
The school that had accepted his gradepoint and met with everyone’s approval was in the next state. His family had mobilized their resources as might a general in preparation for a military campaign. Everything was figured out to the last red cent with little thought for any variation. Nick could almost hear ‘that’ jail door shut. He was locked in with no way to beg out. If he didn’t go through with the schedule as planned and graduate there would be great guilt to be reckoned with in terms of having squandered the family resources. All ‘their‘ sacrifices gone to waste! How long would it be? Four years? Or with a Masters degree in something, another two years? Who could say it the world would even be remotely the same or if the degree would be worth anything in terms of a job that would allow him to pay back those that ‘had sacrificed’ some of what they had provided? Would he ever have a chance to find out what he wanted to find out ever again?
The morning before the big day of his departure Nick was getting ready to pack. The old suitcase that his grandpa had provided his parents on their honeymoon was hauled down from the attic and the cobwebs and mold cleaned out of it. The idea of hauling something half as big as he was and perhaps twice as old made him queasy. He had some money secreted away from his last paycheck at the local variety store. A crisp twenty dollar bill that had escaped observation from the family steering committee. There was an old resale shop two doors down from where he had worked that sometimes had luggage in decent shape and with a name brand. It was worth seeing if he could scare up something decent that wouldn’t make everything he wore stink like old mothball mildew. It didn’t seem like his parents would mind if he told them that he wanted to take off to make some goodbye’s to a few of his friends in the area. “Be back by one!“, his mother cautioned him. “Your Aunt Sarah is coming over with little Janey to say good bye.” An ‘OK mom’ and the screen door slamming and he was out the back heading over to see what he could get.
The resale store looked like it might have been one of those long out of business places where the owner had just up and left from the look of the the haphazard jumble of old junk resting dustily behind each of the two old showroom windows that framed the alcove on each side of the location’s entrance. A well-worn yellow shade hung on it’s inside to block after hours views was fully drawn but the cardboard sign hanging just before it said ‘open’. Nick wondered as he entered if he might be risking going from the frying pan into the to fire in terms of being able to find something that might be in any better condition than the that had already been marked out for him back home? A creaky old voice rang out from just out of sight, “Can I help you?” “I need some luggage, a suitcase of a big pack!“, Nick said. “Look over by the back wall on the shelves to your left!“, the disembodied voice replied, “I have some items there.” “They’re all marked with the price tag on the handles.” “I’ll be right here in the back if you see anything you like.” Nick took a long look trying to adjust his eyes to the gloom. The store looked like it had been here when his grandpa was his age. Piles of items and over-filled shelves of bric a brac, obsolete electrical appliances, racks of dusty garments, all forming an obstacle course of stuff that to a modern eye was no longer saleable. A row of briefcases, their handles peeking up over the mountainous confusion of items before them, sat waiting for inspection in the remote corner. He hesitently took a couple of steps forward carefully trying to avoid knocking into items stacked to either side of the main aisle nearly blocking it, but still managing to bump into one with his hip nearly causing an small avalanche. A collection of items some of them appearing like suitcases stacked all the way up the the ceiling greeted his approach. One by one he carefully dislodged some of them from the Rube Goldberg arrangement of merchandise having to create another haphazard pile of his own just to be able to inspect them. The selection was disappointing, most of them being women’s overnight cases, soft gym bags, or gigantic over-worn beat up looking leather suitcases that seemed at least twice the size as his grandpa’s. And just as stinky! Some with prices too high for what they were really worth or beyond his budget. He struggled to dislodge some smaller ones lodged half way up the pile partially visible upon a shelf behind the pile when he felt a sharp bang upon his noggin. Sinking backwards fallen flat on his ass in the aisle he found himself under a jumble of items.
An odd looking yellow leather eye imprint staring back at him from the side of a medium sized model sitting in his lap. As he slowly regained his senses he saw that though it looked extremely elegant on the order of what one might have expected to have been originally handmade. The heavy leather bottom corners were badly scuffed as if it had been carelessly dragged about for much of its life. Yet the eccentric nature of the emblems tooled upon it seemed to strangely connect with the boy inspiring a fascination as to what sort of individual might have had it before him. The shadowy bent form of the shop’s owner was now standing before him. “Are you alright!?” Nick rubbed his head with his hand and seeing no hint of blood replied, “I think I’ll live!” Holding out the bag from his lap to the proprietor he asked, “How much!” The old man looked intently at the bag’s handle which was bare of a tag, “I don’t know?“, scratching his own head as he continued, “This one might be new here or the price just fell off when it hit the floor!” Nick got up and dusted himself off. “I’ve only got twenty bucks to spend!”, he declared. “Well?“, the man looked quizzically, “It’s probably worth a lot more but since it seems to have taken a liking to you, okay!”
His reception back home was marred by the arrival of his aunt and his annoying little ragamuffin cousin. Nothing was said about his new acquisition which was fine with him. One could only wonder what sort of profession or social class the originally owner might have been in as the more that Nick had time to study the outside with its strange emblems the more mysterious it became and the more attached he became to it. To his further surprise, the inside of the case was lined with a particular type of kit leather a corner of which contained a small envelope-like pouch. Perhaps he thought a place to secret valuable or money. It also bore a strange enigmatic stamp that seemed to be as eccentric in its design as the impressed ones found on the bag’s outside. One could almost make them out as characters or even letters of a strange cryptic language. He found to his satisfaction that most of the items that were important to him fit within the case’s interior and he snapped it shut and went downstairs having been hailed several times by his mother and finally his father to join the others at his going away dinner.
The next morning Nick was preparing to leave checking to see if all the stuff was properly packed inside his new suitcase he noticed going through the various corners that the pouch within inside corner had a twenty dollar bill in it. He stood looking at the note now in his hand wondering if he had unconsciously placed this twenty there or if the old man had placed it there to make up for compensation to make up for the accident that had happened in his store? One twenty dollar bill being impossible to discern from any other if the measure of memorizing the serial number had not been taken he couldn’t be sure if for some reason his parents might have placed it their moments earlier when he was in the shower? Though he didn’t want to be considered a thief, perhaps this was a good omen signaling a positive start into a new phase of life? After all it would be the first time that he would be off on his own, even if it was to a college dormitory. The fact of this windfall could have been also explained by one of his family giving him some extra money in a way that the other one would not be aware of it. His name was already being called from downstairs and it was time to set off to the rest of his life such as it seemed it was meant to be.
The university’s dormitory was a taste of a world that Nick was here-to-fore not easily familiar with. There were all sorts of faces not necessarily brown like his but then again some were brown but not at all familiar with his own home style of culture. His assigned room was to be shared by a young man from the Middle East named Rasheen here on a scholarship come of winning a prodigious scholastic prize. The two of them nervously engaging in a politely distant initial encounter of going about their business while peripherally minding the reaction of the other. The first thing that hazarded any interest by the other boy was Nick’s suitcase with the eccentric looking emblems on its sides. “You have a funny suitcase Nick!“, the other boy declared. “Funny? Funny how?”, Nick replied bemused. “That logo on the side is in ancient script.”, other boy continued, “But I cannot read it.” “Ancient script, huh?“, Nick replied, “That’s cool.” And then went back to putting his stuff away on his side of the room. It wasn’t till the next morning just before class that he realized he hadn’t taken out the twenty dollars from the case’s hidden pocket. Not that he didn’t trust his new roommate who seemed not to be the thief type but then he had been taught by his elders not to leave anything valuable laying about lest the temptation to others become too strong. Rasheen was already gone to class so he pulled the bag down from the upper shelf of his closet and opened it on his bed. Sure enough he could see the corner of a twenty there. But as he took hold of it to his surprise there was not just one twenty dollar bill there but twenty of them! Nick was dumbfounded! He knew that his roommate was exceptional but was he rich and wacky enough to stuff four hundred dollars into the valise! No one that he knew would have ever been that crazy! He replaced the bag high up on the shelf on his side leaving the bills in place. If this was some sort of joke he was going to play dumb and see what would happen.
Rasheen arrived back at the room an hour later with his backpack stuffed full of books and his laptop computer and went straight to the desk on his side of the room. Nick lay back upon a pillow on his own bed with a textbook open pretending to read while watching Rasheen at work out of the corner of his eye. His roommate continued on about his studies oblivious to Nick’s careful observation. If this thing had been a joke then one would have thought there would be some sort of nervous impatience on the part of the jokester to see if there rube had taken the bait. Another thought crossed Nick’s mind while he continued his surreptitious vigil. Could Rasheen be trying to set him up as a thief? After all four-hundred dollars was a lot of money to play a trick with? The fact that Rasheen didn’t even bother to say hello might mean that he had something against him? Maybe the fact that he was an African American? But that didn’t make sense either because Rasheen was darker than he was! He decided to ask Rasheen a question. “Rasheen, can I ask you a question?“, Nick said as politely as possible. Rasheen stopped and swiveled his chair around,”Sure Nick, what would you like to know?” “Does anyone make trouble for you here at school?“, Nick speaking in a quiet searching tone. “Oh, one or two have acted strange, not a problem. I just ignore them.” Rasheen replied matter of factly. “Is your question about my being Muslim?“, he continued? Nick felt an unexpected stab of conscience. “No, its just that being an African American here I wonder if anyone here has run into an occasional racist?” “No, no, so far so good!”, Rasheen smiled and then swiveled back matter of factly to his laptop and resumed typing.
That night Nick had trouble falling asleep. He lay awake hour after hour listening to his roommate peacefully snoring away waiting to see if he might quietly arrise to go to the case and work some mischief. When Nick awoke it was almost an hour after his first class. He initially began to dress but an impulse directed him first to the case and he pulled it down unceremoniously and placing it on the bed quickly opening it. There on the side of the small corner of the pocket was a small pile of twenties. Nick wondered if he might still be dreaming? He pinched himself and then gathered up the bills and counted them out looking to see if any of them looked like phonies. It took him nearly fifteen minutes to straighten out the mess and count and then recount until it became clear that he was now holding a total of 400 twenty dollar bills for a total amount of eight thousand dollars! Nick fell back upon the bed awestruck! There was no way that this was some silly ruse played by his roommate. The stack of bills was nearly three quarter inch thick. Something very scary was going on here and the only thing that he could figure was that it had to do with his bizarre looking suitcase. The emblems on the side and that crazy sign over the pocket. The bank notes weren’t phony or if they were they were thye had to be from a perfect set of counterfeit plates! But why then would they be in an old case of a college schoolboy going to some out of the way university? No one was following him about that he could know about since he left home? He figured the best thing he could do was to stuff the stack back into the corner and put the case back on the shelf and get out of there. If someone was stashing cash there they would surely come back for it. And he figured that if were out of the way then he would get in trouble if that party found him.
An hour later he was sitting on a bench outside of his dorm watching the outside window of his room to see if anyone had come in the room. All the while Nick tried to put two and two together and figure how he kept coming up with the stack of four thousand? Nothing made any sense. In the two days he had been here money had appeared in that weird looking old case twice. If someone was stashing cash then why would they start with one number of bills that was exactly twenty times his twenty and then the next day leave twenty times that? There was no sense to it in terms of another party using his valise to hide this sort of ill gotten gain. He didn’t really believe in magic but there was the possibility that the markings on the case itself held some sort of answer. Maybe to the identity of the one that was doing this. And then the real question in his mind of why him? He decided to go back up to his room and look at the ancient signs and see if he could figure out a clue.
He returned and found the case undisturbed and exactly where he left it. He pulled it down again and looked inside and found that the stack was still stuffed int he small corner pocket untouched. He found a piece of blank paper and with a lead pencil made a rubbing of all the emblems upon the valise. Then he replaced it carefully using an old spy trick he had seen in the movies of pasting a single hair over the edge of the shelf and the bottom of the case so that if someone moved it when he was gone he would know it. He left to find the part of the university that might know what language these symbols were using and after checking the history department office was directed to the archeology wing. There was an old professor type there that was the head of the department. Nick gave him the rubbing and asked if he might have an idea of what it was about. The man studied the rubbings carefully and after consulting a couple of thick volumes on the shelf above the back of his desk turned to Nick. “The script is written in an ancient form of Sanskrit.” , the old graybeard said rubbing his temple. “The small one translates to ‘twenty times daily all good fortune’ and the larger to ‘bountiful freedom the price for those that dare’“, the professor now looking with strange curiosity at Nick. “Do you know what it is?”, the old man continued? Nick felt a cold chill up and down his spine, “No!” The professor then began to relate a story about a fabled chest that had originally been found within a temple in the orient in the late nineteenth century that had supposedly been spirited away from some sub-continent rajah a century before that. It was called the Midas chest and had been the stuff of modern supernatural fable since history immemorial. Only a few had have been known to have been in possession of it. And they always disappeared never to be heard of again. As the professor finished his speech he could tell that the old man’s eyes were keenly upon him in a way that made Nick especially uncomfortable. The old man finished up with a last few words. “Supposedly this is a fountain that will never cease offering riches as long as it has some morsel within it to multiply unceasingly.” The expression upon his experts face had descended to a hungry leer several decades younger than his years. Nick jumped up and grabbed the paper back from off the desk of the old man calling out his thanks as he hurriedly left without further explanation. It was all too obvious that this would have led to further embarrassing questions by the man whose unwelcome curiosity had become greatly amplified during their encounter.
It was past dark when Nick was sure that no one had followed him and he felt safe enough to return to his own dorm room. The case was still exactly as he left it, hair in place, undisturbed and his roommate had not returned The money was still inside where it had been stuffed by him that morning. Though there was no way of knowing for sure it seemed evident to Nick that it was only a matter of time until that someone would arrive to look for the bag to take it from him. If it had been a known art treasure that had been stolen then the old professor would have mentioned it in his tale. But it was obvious that the rubbing had created a fervor in the old geiyser that would soon end up on Nick’s doorstep. His own reaction in initially finding the four thousand that day told him that it was too attractive a target for anyone to just forget once they suspected its existence. He spontaneously stood up from the bed and then pulled the case down from the shelf and quickly left the room. He ran out the back entrance not considering where he might be going next. That final expression of avarice in the old man’s face like a phantom driving him forth into the night and on to the train station where he bought a ticket for the first train out of town.
He was never heard from again.