Wednesday, April 16, 2014

One Of The Twelve Harbors - Part 3

Jan dipped her spoon into the bowl.  “Can we eat this?”
“Sure; it’s pretty good actually. Just don’t swallow the coin by mistake.”
“The coin?” said Jan. “What coin?”
I swirled my spoon around till I heard a clink, and then scooped it out to reveal a silver coin about the size of a half dollar.  “This one,” I said.
“What the hell kind of coin is that?”
“It’s an obol.  The kind people used to put in the mouth of a dead man before they buried him, so he’d be able to pay the ferryman who was taking him to the afterlife.”
I dropped the coin onto my napkin and wiped it clean. There was a horse on one side and a Roman numeral III on the other.  “Man, I always get this,” I complained.  “What’s on yours?”
Jan had scooped her coin out of the bowl and was frowning at it.  “It looks like a crown, and . . . sorry, I don’t know what the hell this is on the other side.”
She handed it to me.  “That’s a folded piece of cloth,” I said.  “Which is the letter S in Egyptian hieroglyphics.”
“You know Egyptian hieroglyphics?  Wait, of course you know Egyptian hieroglyphics.  Uhm, how do you know Egyptian hieroglyphics again?”
I gave her a shrug and a sheepish grin.  “I never went to college.”
“You taught yourself Egyptian hieroglyphics?”
“I’ve had a lot of boring-ass day jobs.”
“And I have,” said a voice behind me, “what looks like either a snake or some kind of dominatrix whip thing.”
I turned around. Standing behind me was the author, holding her own obol.  I peered at it and nodded.
“It's a lasso,” I said.  “Standing for the letter O.”
The author pulled out the chair I'd been sitting in before I moved, eased herself down onto it like it was the driver's seat of a limo, and crossed her legs.  “Mind if I join you?” she asked sweetly.
Jan and I both cracked up.  “I think we have to keep you,” Jan said.
 After we traded introductions, the author looked at me and asked, “So who found the buried treasure of Dutch Schultz?”
“Bugsy Siegel.  Who was just as crazy as Schultz was. He took the treasure with him to Las Vegas, and kept it under lock and key in the Flamingo.  When he was killed in 1947, the Mob had it shipped back to Manhattan.  Which is when Meyer Lansky set up the twelve harbors, so that the treasure would never be in one place for more than a month.   After a year, the order and location of the harbors would totally change, to make sure there was no pattern to it.  And since the original list of potential harbors numbered over 50 bars and restaurants, the treasure could theoretically move around for over four years without ever once being in the same place twice.”
“Fifty bars and restaurants?” Jan asked.
“All of which paid protection money to the Mob.”
“So who decides where this year’s twelve harbors are going to be?”
“Beats me,” I said.
“The King of New York,” said the author.
I pulled out my Moleskin and started writing a note.  “New York has a king?” I asked.
The author nodded.  “He's elected every year before Mardi Gras, like King Felix III in Mobile.  The election takes place at a party on Twelfth Night in the Morgan Library, with a guest list made up of people chosen by last year’s King.”
“Who was the first King?” I asked, scribbling away.
“Boss Tweed,” said the author.
I nodded; made sense.  Then I raised an index finger.  “So how does the King of New York tell everybody what the harbor calendar is?”
“No idea,” said the author.  “I heard about this from my publisher, so somebody in the office must have gotten the information somehow.”
“It has to be word of mouth,” said Jan.  “It’s the safest thing ever.  If it isn’t written down, it doesn’t exist.”
“Which doesn’t explain the guest book,” I said.
“There’s a guest book?”
“Yup.  Dating from 1947. Rumor has it that the first signature is Frank Sinatra’s.”
“Wow,” said the author.  “So Sinatra saw the, uh, treasure?”
Jan looked at the author, looked at her coin, leaned back against the booth, dropped her eyelids to half mast, and gave me a feline smile.  “Don’t you mean the, uh, body?” she asked.   “The embalmed dead body?” 

I slow-clapped four times.  “Advantage: Harding,” I said.  “How did you figure it out?”
“Oh, y’know,” she said casually, “time difference to Egypt; dawn in Alexandria; hieroglyphics.  And a coin that’s only placed on a dead person’s tongue?  We’re going to be seeing an Egyptian mummy at eleven o’clock, aren’t we?”
I smiled.  “Not quite.  We’re going to see something that was found in Egypt.”
“But it is a dead body?”
“It is indeed a dead body.  Summer house?  The first word is a corruption of soma, the Greek word for corpse.”
“And this is where Napoleon comes in,” the author announced with a delighted grin.  She leaned forward.  “My publisher said Napoleon found it near the Sphinx when he invaded Egypt.  And then he sold it to Thomas Jefferson as part of the Louisiana Purchase.  And then the British tried to steal it back during the War of 1812, and actually burned down the White House because they couldn’t find it.  And they couldn’t find it because it was in New York, in a house owned by a woman named Eliza Something Or Other, last name begins with a J.”
I felt a shiver go up my spine from tailbone to neckbone.  “Eliza Jumel?  Eliza Bowen Jumel?”
“That’s it,” said the author.  “Who is she?”
“She’s the woman Aaron Burr married in 1833.  One of the richest women in New York. It was a love match—Burr loved money, and that's what he married her for.  Well crap.  Now I want to go visit her house again.”
“It’s still around?”
“Oh yeah.  It's the Morris-Jumel Mansion near Coogan’s Bluff. Oldest surviving house in the borough of Manhattan.  So when did John Jacob Astor get the treasure?  Because I heard that Astor was the one who had it when John Wilkes Booth saw it.”
“I just heard that when this Eliza woman died, the treasure—okay, the body—went to Cornelius Vanderbilt; and when Vanderbilt died, it went to JP Morgan.”
"And you heard all this from?” Jan asked.
“My publisher."
Jan turned to me.  “And you heard all this from?”
“A harbormaster," I said.  "Do you remember a bar called The Naughty Pine?”
“That was down in the Village, right?”
“Yup.  On Bleecker Street.  I was one of the upstairs regulars.  It was at the Naughty Pine that I had my first bowl of French Canadian bean soup.  All because I slept with a bartender, and a famous movie actor was an asshole.”
“Ooh—ooh—which famous actor?” Jan asked.  “Do I know him?”
I said his name.
“That asshole!” Jan said with feeling.  “What did he do—what did he do?  Tell me—tell me!”  And then she grabbed my forearm and dug her nails in like fishhooks and went, “Waitaminnit, waitaminnit—YOU ACTUALLY SLEPT WITH ONE OF YOUR BARTENDERS?!?”  



Part 1
Part 2

Part 4

Copyright 2014 Matthew J Wells

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