Jimmy Chief walked into the living room while balancing a bowl of cereal in one hand and a cup in the other hand. He said, “Figure out any thing more about the black box filled with those old gold coins in it, Dad?”
The twelve inch square black box sat on the coffee table in front room of the log cabin at Chrissie’s Resort on Squaw Lake. The Northern Wisconsin resort was one of the favorite R and R haunts for the two six foot tall Native American detectives. They had known Chrissie and her curmudgeon mother for years.
However, their vacation had been interrupted. Their friend, Ron Soaring Eagle, left the black box with the Chiefs along with the story behind it.
Charlie looked up from the couch at Jimmy. “Only what Ron wrote in the note before rushing off. We should get the rest of the story from Ron tomorrow. He said he’ll be back for the black box. He trusted us with all these gold coins, and I trust his word. We’ve been friends ever since we called the reservation our home.”
Charlie referred to the Ojibwa Reservation near the Chippewa Flowage in Northwestern Wisconsin.
Jimmy sat down on a comfortably broken-in La-Z-Boy chair. “That takes you two back to the days when you were kids on the reservation, even before you met Mom. Wonder what’s with all those gold coins? It’s not your birthday and Christmas is months away.”
The mention of Charlie’s wife brought back memories of her accidental death five years earlier. Thankfully he found a new love, this time with Ann Quate. He’d phone her in the evening with a report about the black box. Hopefully there’d be more to tell her then the sketchy story Charlie had at present.
Charlie glanced around the roomy log cabin. Like all the cabins and the lodge, it was built more than seventy years earlier from pines cut from the surrounding forest. The logs still glowed under coats of varnish. He drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair. This sitting around waiting got on his nerves. He craved action.
Pausing a moment, Jimmy smiled. There always seemed to be a smile lurking behind even his most solemn expression. “I’ll bet Ron could tell some wild stories about your escapades way back when.”
“Rub it in, Jimmy,” Charlie said while he too smiled. “That was before I went off to Northland College.” He referred to his and Jimmy’s Alma matter in Ashland Wisconsin. Except for streaks of gray in his black hair and a few wrinkles in his bronze complexion, Charlie felt he and Jimmy could be mistaken for brothers. Charlie looked at his watch. “Nothing better to do, I’m going to read Ron’s note again.”
Jimmy stood and looked out the window at Squaw Lake. “We could always go fishing.”
Charlie nodded but didn’t stand up. Unfolding the note he’d received along with the black box, he began reading:
Charlie my friend,
I need someone I can trust to keep the black box under cover for the time being. While I was working on the job here at Chrissie’s, I found an old map stuffed back in a wooden cabinet in one of the cabins. I got curious and followed the directions. I guess I got detective blood in me like you, Charlie. Anyway, I found the black box buried under the icehouse. It could a been there for ages. Since you’re here, I thought I’d give you the box for sleuthing and safekeeping. Being a detective, you’ll probably look inside. It’s full of a couple hundred old Indian head U.S. gold coins back from the 1920’s. I bet they’re worth plenty, or as you’d say “a king’s ransom.”
I told Chrissie about the stash. She got real scared and shook. I thought she’d faint. Chrissie’s mother wasn’t there. Her mother, Chrissie the first, is a former burlesque showgirl.
Charlie knew about Chrissie the first. Charlie put the note aside. Ma Harker always winked at him and called him “big boy”. She was into hugging and gave him a hearty hug whenever she could get close enough. He picked up Ron’s note again.
Her mom is a sweet little lady, most of the time; but she can be gruff and tough as nails, Harker was her married name and Lucas was her husband. Ma Harker told my boss, Chrissie, that years ago gangsters used to hide out at the resort. Could the black box and gold coins be that old?
Chrissie thinks we should just bury the black box where it was and not tell nobody and leave well enough alone, in case some gangster returns for the gold coins. I told her that you have it for the time being.
I dread to find out what happens when Ma gets the lowdown from Chrissie. I expect I’ll be seeing you shortly. Ma might even be stomping over to see you.
After finishing reading the note, Charlie hummed a song off key, signaling that he was sifting clues through his thoughts. Those gold coins could bring trouble in the shape of somebody claiming them as the owner. Real ownership could be a touchy subject.
His curiosity in high gear, Jimmy figured now was a good, better than good, time to urge opening the box. “Let’s see the gold coins inside the box again. Maybe they’ll tell us a story that’ll benefit Ron and Chrissie?”
Before Jimmy finished talking, Charlie grabbed the box and opened it. It was over two thirds full of $2.50 Indian head quarter eagle gold coins. “My guess, Jimmy, is these are loot from some long ago robbery. Maybe you can find something over the Internet? Could Chrissie’s mother be mixed up in anything illegal? It’s no wonder Chrissie got scared when Ron told her he’d unearth the black box.”
Jimmy said, “The Internet was the first place I checked. Except for a couple of mentions of gold coins, there’s nothing much so far. It looks like one coin is worth close to five hundred dollars. I think I’ll put the black box in the chest in a bedroom.” He picked it up and lugged it into the bedroom, closing the door behind him.
Having finished reading Ron’s note, Charlie put it on the coffee table. Thumps on the front door signaled a visitor.
Charlie got up and walked to the door, expecting to greet his old friend, Ron. Charlie looked through the small window on the wooden plank door.
Instead of Ron, Charlie glimpsed a squat, gray-haired man wearing a Navy colored jacket. Wrinkles around his eyes and sagging jowls added to his years. A scowl on his face did not bode a friendly visit. He stood there, poised to knock again.
Sensing trouble, Charlie called out loud enough for Jimmy to hear, “I’ll be right there to get the front door.” If Jimmy got the hint, he would be ready as backup should the situation get hairy. Charlie opened the door.
The man barged in, leaving the door ajar. He looked around. “Are you Ron?”
“No, I’m Charlie Chief.
A snarl in his voice, the man said, “Hand it over. All you Indians look alike.”
This was no way to get on Charlie’s good side. His fiancée called him tall, dark, and handsome and said she could pick him out in a crowd. He asked, “Hand what over, and what’s your name?”
The man shot back an answer. “I ain’t got no name. Old Ma Harker says you got my black box, and them gold coins better be in it. I wants it now!” He pulled out a pistol from under his blue blazer and waved it about. “This ain’t no time for a Powwow as you people calls it.”
Hoping Jimmy caught on to his holler, Charlie tried not to look beyond the intruder towards the doorway. He shifted his glance towards the intruder’s shoulders. Was that Jimmy’s shadow that passed across the window? All he could do was stall and hope. “OK, since you’ve got the drop on me, I have no choice but to hand it over.” A small smile crossed Charlie’s lips.
The front door opened. Jimmy looked inside. His lips clenched, he tiptoed inside and across the room. No creaks in the floor announced his presence. He paused, right behind the man. Jimmy inhaled. With a quick motion, he grabbed the man’s shoulder and spun him around. At the same time, he drew his fist back and whacked the man square on his jaw. The man fell to the floor with a thud. KO’ed.
Charlie shook Jimmy’s hand. “Looks like we’ve wrapped this one up for Ron and maybe Chrissie and her mom, too. There could be a reward for closing the black box caper.
Still shaking his father’s hand, Jimmy said, “Maybe we can get on with some fishing now?”
Ron burst into the cabin. Rawboned with a pointed chin and nose, Ron pointed. ““Is that the guy? What’s with the gun on the floor? Ma told me she called some guy and told him about his black box and gold coins being found. She said he was fuming to say the least. So, what happen, Charlie – Jimmy?”
Catching his breath, Ron confided, “Years ago this guy” - He nodded towards the no-name, unconscious hoodlum. – “told her it was just for safekeeping. He gave her money to keep things hush-hush, but Ma didn’t say how much she got.”
At that moment the guy on the floor moaned. “What hit me? It felt like brass knuckles.” He sat up, while rubbing his jaw.
“My fist. I’m Jimmy Chief.” He swung a roundhouse right. “Pow! That’s the way we American Indians Powwow with hoods. The police are on their way. What if anything has this fracas taught you?”
Alert but still rubbing his chin, the old thug said, “Keep away from the Chiefs when I go for the gold. I ain’t sayin’ no more.” He clamped his mouth shut.
Charlie nodded. “Famous lust words.”
Charlie’s play on words got smiles and one thumb up from Ron and Jimmy and a grunt from the old hoodlum.
Bio - Ed Pahnke’s first short story appeared in “Et Al” in 1971. Since then he’s had numerous short stories and articles published in periodicals. He wrote and edited a bimonthly newsletter for twelve years.
In 2004 he published Northern Knights, a mystery novel set in Wisconsin’s North Woods in the early 1930’s.
In 2009 he published a chapbook of “jest for pun” jokes.
Recently, Calderwood Books published The Chiefs Investigate, a book of fifteen mystery stories featuring a father and son team of Native American private investigators. More Chief mysteries are forthcoming.