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The Treasure Keys to Christ's Return By Paul Blake Smith

Right away I noticed a bright light and an angelic voice that drew everyone's immediate attention. It was my pretty red-haired girlfriend, Faye McMullen, age twenty-six, sitting behind a table under a special fluorescent lamp in the church basement. Faye was sporting a nice ocean blue pantsuit – her “Sunday best” as they used to say – and beaming pleasantly before a group of nearly twenty seated small children.
The Treasure Keys to Christ's Return
The Treasure Keys to Christ's Return By Paul Blake Smith

When Faye smiled, the world smiled back, she was that sunny and charismatic. I called her “Vi-Faye-cious,” only half-joking. Boys and girls of various ages, all in informal attire, were each riveted to her every word, since it involved a supernatural story that every Christian feels is not only amazing nonfiction, but an exciting, uplifting tale for all ages. I had opened the door from the hall to hear every word of it for myself, my beautiful Miss McMullen possessing such a glowing connection with children. Even elderly Mrs. Melson - like upbeat Faye a modestly-paid church secretary - sat off to one side of the table at the front of the room, attentive and anticipating. A good-sized wooden box sat on the carpeted floor between them, one they called “the treasure chest” just for grins.

I snuck in and shut the door silently, then stood near the rear wall, unnoticed. Only one problem: it was storming outside the closed windows, making it tough to hear at times. A typical Miami burst of nature's fury, coming in off the Atlantic, complete with thunder and lightning.

“Now in the hills not far away from the little town of Bethlehem, sheep were grazing in the evening’s moonlight,” Faye began quietly. “Shepherds wearing simple robes were walking around in the fields, using long wooden sticks to help guide and protect their sheep. Danger was afoot. Predators were all around in those days. Leopards, jackals, bears, wolves, snakes… and thieves. People who know right from wrong but willingly do bad things anyway.”

I nodded in agreement as I stepped over to a chair and sat quietly in back, noticed by smiling Faye. At six-foot-two, and two hundred and twenty pounds, it’s never easy for me to duck into any room unnoticed, but I think I pulled it off. The clattering, peace-shattering thunderstorm outside helped. It had been a very rainy Sunday morning in Virginia Key, the small island just barely connected to the mainland, near Key Biscayne. Bay waters and ocean tides seemed to surround our idyllic isle, but we in the twin keys felt safe enough, at least for weekly services in our local, modest, nondenominational Christian house of worship. Maybe we felt safe and distracted just because of Faye's presence; she was always like an upbeat glue that held our little church together. Even when it rained, my lovely lady seemed to shine. That bright lamp helped, of course, but it was currently turned off.

I watched as freckled, unruffled Faye delicately pulled out little figurines of shepherds and sheep from the open, unpadlocked chest on the floor next to her, setting them on the table that was covered with a black cloth. These were some pretty cool dolls or “action figures” a church member had donated some years ago, anonymously and generously. They made for fine visual attractions, not distractions, for the famous Biblical tale, although some needed repainting. They were great for creating little stage-plays and stirring young imaginations.

Faye continued: “The shepherds had to keep on the move, to guide sheep and lambs towards water and safe places to rest, often at caves in the limestone bluffs of the countryside. Sheep could graze on straw in there, like a manger. There was little to graze on, for the land was pretty rocky, with thistles and thorns from plants like the Jujube tree. Very spiky and painful to even touch. Well, anyway… both the people and the animals were pretty tired by nightfall. Suddenly, they all grew very startled, even a little scared. Do you know why?”

I knew why, but I still wanted to hear. Faye’s rapturous voice kept everyone involved; she also toiled silently on weekends as our church newsletter writer/editor. She reached into her wooden box and deftly pulled out the figure of angel in white, but kept him hidden. As if on cue, Mrs. Melson flicked on a higher level of the nearby lamp, which brightly lit the Biblical scene on the table.

“A great light shone forth, up in the sky! It was a star in the heavens. A very bright star that seemed to hover low over the nearby city of Bethlehem. The shepherds all stopped to stare at the glowing light. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, an angel appeared. He was enveloped in a growing bright halo, of sorts. He seemed to glow all over! The shepherds were frightened – at first. But the angel smiled and spoke calmly to them, saying “Do not be afraid.””

Faye gently set the angel on the table before her, alongside the shepherd figures and the small sheep. ““I am the angel Gabriel. God has sent me to you tonight. I bring you good news of great joy, for all the people.”” Mrs. Melson reached for another lamp setting. “Today in town a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord. This will be a great sign to you. To everyone on Earth.” The shepherds stared at the angel and at each other. All had to be thinking: “This is quite supernatural and exciting!””

I smiled and nodded in agreement again. My lovely lady knew her Bible stories quite well, since she used to be in her church choir and Sunday school when growing up in Gladview, Florida, about fifteen miles west of Virginia Key. She also went to a Bible college near there and attended our church services, usually with me, with great regularity. “Miss M” as I sometimes called her, volunteered many a Sunday morning to teach youngsters these factual tales.

““You will find this baby born tonight, in town. Laying in swaddling clothes, in a manger,” the mighty angel declared. Suddenly, a great company of other angels appeared…” Outside, a handy flash of lightning struck, and briefly lit up the room even more impressively, just as Faye reached over and pulled off a black cloth covering a beautiful background scenery board, just behind her. White-robed angel figures were depicted in this artwork, of all shapes and sizes, on the land and in the starry sky, impressively timed to a roll of thunder outside. Mrs. Melson flicked the lamp switch and the scene shone even brighter. The children and I were still riveted. Even a bit spooked. Just like those shepherds outside of Bethlehem over two thousand years ago.

“God’s heavenly, uh, “army of angels” is actually mentioned several times in the Bible,” Faye told the group. “These radiant spirits all sang and praised God together, in the growing white light all around the amazed shepherds and sheep. It had to have been quite an amazing sight to behold.”

“And then...” I silently sat forward in my chair, still unnoticed, as Faye first she shut off the lights and covered the backdrop with the black cloth, with Mrs. Melson’s help.

“The angels with white robes finally all disappeared from view! Things on that hillside grew quiet and dark again, lit only by the moon and the stars. Then the shepherds talked things over and agreed that some of them would hurry off to Bethlehem, a few miles away, and see what this was all about. Was there really a special child born in a manger, near town? A Savior for all the Holy Land? Or for all of the people of Earth? This was huge news!” Faye smiled and the children watched her set the angels back in the chest. “So leaving behind a shepherd or two to protect the flocks on the slopes… a group of these men walked very fast over the hills to finally reach the little town, which was actually quite full of people. The Romans who ran the city government had demanded everyone register their names and property there, to get a count of the census and properly collect taxes. That is what brought a young man named Joseph and his new bride Mary to the city. Joseph and his family owned land there.”

Miss McMullen plucked Joseph and Mary dolls from the treasure box and set them on the table before her. Time for the big finish. Mrs. Melson smiled and even ceased scratching herself. Some of the kids sat up further in their seats, anticipating...

“Joseph was a woodworker, a carpenter. And Mary was his new wife, heavy with child. She was going to have a baby when they arrived in town, but they found every available house and hotel all full. No room at the inn. A standing-room-only crowd in Bethlehem! Joseph was forced to settle for a manger to spend the night. As I mentioned, this might have been a cave.” Faye stalled a bit, fishing around in the box with her free hand. “Caves were often used by people to bed their animals down for the night… with plenty of straw... and simple supplies like cloth and water... which was perfect for the birth of Joseph and Mary’s child.” Faye stuck her hand down deeper and gazed at the box’s contents, puzzled, as she continued stalling. “Caves were often good places for hiding things. People are still… finding caves in the Holy Land... with all sorts of ancient treasures and artifacts…”

Quizzical Faye finally stood up, bent over, and sorted through the cluttered box, aided by Mrs. Melson. The kids watched with growing smiles as the disparate duo placed every Biblical figure imaginable on the table, some of them falling over, to the class’s amusement. The children giggled loudly when the two secretaries lightly bumped heads as they searched, and even I had to laugh. Finally smiling Faye held up a small crib of sorts, with golden straw painted brightly – but no infant child to place on top of it. “We're missing our key player,” she told us somberly. The children now stared back with more interest than ever, curious. Faye searched again, scowling, visibly irritated. Finding Jesus amiss was clearly most jarring to her.

“I don’t believe this! I was just cleaning and touching up every figure in this box… last week,” flustered Faye informed us all. So there we were, missing Jesus. Just like so many souls on Earth, I guess, people who were willfully missing out in fully understanding God’s plan for our race, our planet, our future. Some were missing love for Jesus, God’s creation two thousand years ago. But I digress. Perplexed Mrs. Melson checked her wristwatch, gestured Faye towards it, and smiled wanly. Faye nodded and stood upright but empty-handed. “Okay, class, I’ll just summarize quickly and we’ll be done for the day.” I watched with fascination as my girlfriend talked fast over the continuing storm rumbling on, just outside the soaked, narrow windows high up on the basement walls.

“The shepherds found Joseph and Mary at their manger scene… with that bright star hanging up overhead, low in the sky. They saw the shining baby Jesus, with his noticeable glowing halo. The shepherds told them what the angel of God had said about their new child, and Mary treasured their surprising words. Then the shepherds hurried off to tell everyone in the town about this great miracle from the Lord. Soon the word spread and… uh, so they went back to see Jesus and Joseph and Mary again. They all praised God for all that they had been allowed to see and hear and experience. The angels had told the shepherds the truth, every word of it. The end.”

Faye smilingly dismissed the class and I stood up, almost as fast as the children. I deftly opened the door to the hall as the pleased, chatty kids filed out. I was a bit hurt that none of the noisy group seemed to recognize me, but I had to remember I was wearing my Olympic bronze medal down inside my shirt, underneath my dark gray suit. Maybe most folks were used to seeing me in the sports page, perhaps wearing just my boxing gloves and colorful shorts. I had won only this particular medal in the most recent Olympic Games, for a light heavyweight boxing match, despite much sweaty training, competing, and testing. But at least I suffered no broken bones or concussions, so perhaps I was blessed. I had survived all of these adventures to stand with the greatest in my sport, but seemingly always in third place, at best. The gold and silver medals always eluded me, something that Faye would tease me about good-naturedly, now and then, just to make sure I didn't grow a big head. My mom, and my friends. And some of the fine folks who frequented my beachfront restaurant in Virginia Key, one that I inherited from my deceased dad. I didn't care, I sported my circular bronze Olympic medallion with great pride. Maybe a bit too much of that, I say now sheepishly.

I was still getting used to saying “my” restaurant. It was for three decades my father’s establishment, really, but just after he was able to watch me stand with two other awarded champions in Olympic boxing, on live international television the previous summer, he passed away of a sudden heart attack. It was a great shock, but as my beloved mother managed to say: “God has His plans for us, and sometimes they don’t always match up with our own.” And her sister, my aunt, also helped to ease the blow by giving a sports analogy: “We can’t all cross the finish line at the same time.” They were quite right, and I always keep such thoughts in mind.

Now I was in charge at the eatery, having worked my way up from teenage waiter, to door greeter, to assistant manager. I had leapfrogged over the current manager and became the owner/proprietor, since my mother had not trained in business. Her side of things was to provide recipes, serving tips, and décor advice. The place nowadays needed fixing up – badly. I discovered over the years that the salty sea air and some seawater in the sewer system (thanks to rising ocean levels and Climate Change), plus normal wear and tear, can take its toll on any wooden building. I was not the greatest businessman in the world, either, and in the last months my finances had been taking a hit. I was relying on my locally somewhat-famous name and reputation as a semi-successful boxer to draw customers, and this barely kept a steady crowd in most nights. I frankly needed money and prayed to God for guidance in how to earn it and channel it to the right restaurant repairs, which were adding up.

Well hold on a sec! I just now realized that I have not properly introduced myself. Where are my manners? My last name is Rhodes, but some people call me “Tony.” (Or “Rhodey,” or “Tony Al” at times.) Most folks just go with the nickname “Rig.” I would tell people that as a boy I had a thing for the “Big Rigs” (huge tractor-trailer freight trucks) on the roads (“Rhodes”). Nowadays it was more of a reference to my considerable size, too. Going by “Big Rig Rhodes” in some TV and print commercial endorsements in the last year helped bring me extra notoriety and revenue, but even those seem to have trickled out. I’ll answer to most any of the above, as long as it is stated in a friendly or respectful way. But I'll let you in on a secret: this was not my actual name. My real given full name remained a mystery to everyone but myself and my mom, and I preferred to keep it that way.

The last of the excited children walked past me and out into the hall with a worksheet. Mrs. Melson quietly led them upstairs. I stepped over and gave Faye a big hug, then we held each other as we stared down at all of the Biblical figures on the table. Then at the empty “treasure chest” on the floor. Miss M shook her head, still baffled. “I just don’t understand where our baby Jesus went, Rigsy! I keep this locked and only Mrs. Melson and I have a key. And she sure didn’t steal it.”

“Maybe one of you dropped it somewhere, in the office, and-–“

“No, I don’t think so. But let’s go check.”

We walked hand-in-hand upstairs, the storm outside abating somewhat. Faye produced the key to the lock on the box, kept in her blue jacket pocket. It was small and silver and shiny. “I usually keep it tucked away in a drawer in my apartment. No one knows where I hide it, except you now.” Mrs. Melson had a duplicate key, but she kept hers always in a locked desk, untouched. I agreed it was all very strange, especially when we searched the church offices for the baby Jesus. It was as if the figurine had vanished off the face of the earth!

“There’s one other possibility. Also remote,” Faye assured me as we walked to my jeep in the parking lot minutes later, the violent storm mostly over. Only a light mist fell now. “That someone got into the church office closet, pulled out the chest, and picked the lock. And then only stole the baby Jesus, somehow locked it all back up without any markings… and put the thing back without anyone noticing.”

I nodded as we got in my vehicle and shut the doors. “Pretty senseless.”

“So is your driving when you’re in a hurry, Rig. Slow down.”

“I just started the engine!”

“Yeah, but I know where we’re headed. Where we always go when it stops storming, quick as possible.”

Faye McMullen was as insightfully sharp as she was gorgeous and infectious. She realized I was headed home, to my restaurant, where I lived in a small upstairs apartment. But it wasn’t the eatery we would be spending time at soon, it was its “back yard.” That is, the sandy beach behind the property.

“You never know what driftwood or old knick-knack is left--“

“I know, I know, and those coins you found last month were a knockout, I’ll admit.”

“Nice boxing pun.”

“Thanks.”

Before I go any further, I must explain that I get fairly excited when it rains and the wind blows. That’s because for many years – as far back as I can remember, really – bits of an old shipwreck might possibly wash up on the shore that runs right behind my family’s beach property. Mostly bits of rotted wood and rope from the hull and the mast, decaying old junk that has no great value. Driftwood, really. A few larger pieces were polished up and placed on the walls of my eclectic restaurant décor. {It really didn't fit in with my boxing gloves and framed pictures of me in the ring, so I put those items in the foyer.} But now and then something of real value would be scooped up, either by me or my relatives or friends, scanning the sands and surf after a storm, or by a neighbor up or down the gorgeous shore. Last month I had rather hit a mild jackpot when I scooped up from the sea floor a trio of silver coins, European and nearly mint, hundreds of years old and valuable. I rather swiftly sold them, to help pay for repairs to the roof. I am pleased to report that after this latest squall, the new roof held just fine. It was the rest of the place that was springing leaks, in a general financial sense. I sure needed more than just a few old coins and hunks of weathered wood.

I stripped down to my swim-trunks and waded into the ocean behind “Tony’s” Italian restaurant that Sunday afternoon, properly oiled with suntan lotion as the burning rays of Mr. Sunshine had now returned, the storm clouds blown fully away. Faye didn’t feel like getting wet and stayed on the bright white sands, where it was always possible something valuable might have washed up, or was left behind by fellow beach-goers. People would now and then leave money, keys, a cell phone, a hat, sandals, or even a bikini.

On this Sunday afternoon after church, the usual bits of wood, rope, and rusty rot were floating here and there, reiterating there was indeed an old shipwreck offshore as rumored. Some said it was a genuine pirate ship with treasure that went down off the coast in a storm, a few hundred years ago, although I had no confirmation of that. Frankly all sorts of vessels have sunk to the briny deep off Florida's coast over the past centuries, not just shady ships laden with buccaneer booty. Or bounty. Or bullion. Or bling. Or whatever they called it then.

Faye scoured the sand with a metal detector, seemingly half-interested, her mind elsewhere. She was not finding anything, minus some beer cans and a few pennies.

I stomped around barefooted on purpose, hoping to step on something of value in the surf. If I hit anything hard I would stop and pick it up. In the past it was usually a seashell or a crab, or someone’s old hotel room key, floating the shores long after some poor soul was locked out of his vacation site or suite. But once in a great while I would stumble upon something interesting. Like bits of jewelry, apparently, and once most of an old necklace (when I was a kid). Again, such maritime artifacts either went up on our walls; went into our trash dumpster on the side of the restaurant; or went up for auction. Today, I finally hit on something solid, more meaningful, and it wasn’t a joke. And it didn't wind up in either of those three places...

“Tony! What’s that?” Faye hollered, and pointed about fifty yards down the shore. An object of some sort was sticking up out of the rolling, frothy surf. I hurried through the mildly choppy waves and eyed the oblong item with growing excitement. Whatever it was, it was pointing up at an angle, pushed by the waves in the direction of the restaurant, perilously close to the hotel property line next door. The closer I got to it, the more my heart pumped, for clearly this was a well-defined vase… or a special jar… or a unique old bottle of some kind. Intact! I could clearly see a thick, dark brown cork sticking inside its top. I reached down into the ocean to hold onto the dark orange object, then tugged it out of the white sand and the rolling blue-green waters. I stepped a bit further back to wash the sand and seaweed-like crud off the item.

“Well big-boy, what is it?” Faye eagerly asked, splashing into the surf after having impulsively kicked off her sandals, metal detector still in hand. The water was now up to our waists, soaking our clothes pretty good, but we didn't care in the excited anticipation.

“I don’t know, but it feels kinda heavy, like something's inside.” I gave the vessel a bit of a shake and heard nothing, but to be fair the noisy waves were pouring in around us. Faye and I inspected the surf area around the “clay jar,” I guess I’ll call it, and saw nothing unusual or manmade. My lady held up the metal detector to it and it sounded off, intriguing us further. I scanned around the landing site of the small vessel but saw nothing else. This was it for sea prizes for one day. But we did catch a glimpse of something else, an unexpected visitor. He swam right up to me, all toothy smiles, very friendly. Faye screamed and dashed for the safety of the beach. She didn't care for saltwater crocodiles, and neither did I! This one made me jump out of my skin, practically, and I unfortunately lost the clay jar in the process. It fell the four feet or so to the sandy ocean floor. If only the creature opening his big mouth to attack me was four feet, I could have stood my ground. He was instead about seven feet long, at least, counting the tail. Maybe over a hundred pounds, and hungry. So I backpedaled, having no choice but to fight back.

I wasn't too surprised to see our special guest. There was a pier about a half-mile downshore, and it was common for carniverous fish, sharks, and occasionally crocs to swim there looking for food, like bloody bait or old meals dumped into the warm waters by sloppy fishermen. This wayward green critter thought he had found himself a free meal on the way there, I figured, when he encountered my hairy legs in the clear water. Little did he know he had a prizefight on his, uhh, “hands.”

“Keep his mouth clamped shut,” I told myself as I literally wrestled with the slippery, scaly crocodile, trying to avoid becoming his catch of the day. We splashed and rolled around in the water, me stumbling over the clay jar I was determined not to lose. The croc was equally determined to make a snack out of my arms, outstretched to try desperately to hold him down and push him away. Through the surf we tumbled and thrashed, his tail proving to be very powerful. So was my right hook, right to his rough snout. I didn't learn the fine art of pugilism for nothing. The Sweet Science. My days of training against opponents bigger and more muscular than me were paying off. I wasn't prepared to fend off a huge mouth full of rows of sharp white teeth, snapping at me, just missing my face. This was no boxing “feint,” I really did have to duck and dodge and nearly fainted in the process, but kept battling.

As our bout wore on, Mr. Croc proved to be short-armed, short-tempered, and short on smarts. I staggered now and then, but flipped him around by his snout, then a second time, his big body sending salty spray in all directions while Faye shrieked on shore, still holding the metal detector. He scratched me up a little in places, but eventually I planted my feet in the sand, grabbed and heaved-ho, and sent him on his way. He didn't stick around for an autograph, and I didn't stick around for a medal. I would see his cousins a few days later, and perhaps my reputation had spread in the croc 'hood as I was not attacked that time around.

Needless to say I jogged back to the shore for a few minutes, watching the dark figure of the croc swim away, catching my breath. Miss M was beside herself, or myself, with nervous fear, clutching my arm to inspect some marks on the skin. I was lucky to have no real wounds, and to have triumphed in front of my favorite female. I thanked God for surviving. It seemed safe now. Against Faye's wishes, I marched back into the sea and scoured it for the clay jar. After a few minutes, I found it, keeping an eye out for my reptilian friend and any of his family, should they have been also touring the neighborhood.

I hustled ashore with my prize and Faye followed, both of us pretty soaked and shaken but excited with growing anticipation. What was inside this hard-fought prize catch? Something made of metal, that was pretty certain. Coins? Jewelry? Golden idols? Great treasures?

As we looked over the object within my restaurant's upstairs apartment, we could see that the discovered and recovered jar was shaped like a big vase that one would put flowers in, but the opening on top was rather narrow, only about five or six inches across. The object was about a foot or more long, and about half a foot wide. It was less dark orange as it dried, in my bedroom above the dining hall, where I smuggled it in past customers and employees wrapped in a beach towel. I didn’t want any strangers or staffers to see it, not yet. This mysterious vessel was going to remain top secret for a while, which only helped build the intensity of my curiosity, and Faye's, as to its hidden contents. Visions of sugar plums – or sellable pieces – danced in our heads.

Neither Faye nor I bothered to get cleaned up much; we simply toweled off and sat on the edge of my bed, our shorts and shirts still damp. We carefully wiped the old jar with another, older bath towel. The find was in pretty good shape and featured a faded fleur-de-lis design imprinted on the side, with a Cyrillic “LF” emblazoned on it, I noticed upon closer inspection. The old French logo for a lily flower. “That's the “LF,” right?” I asked rhetorically. I toyed with the top of the dark, weathered cork that kept the contents a secret. Should I just get a pair of pliers and rip out the stopper? After some discussion and inspection, we both realized: YES, I should.

I went downstairs to the maintenance room of the restaurant, wearing my simple outfit, and flip-flops. Oh, and my usual bronze Olympic medal necklace. I rummaged through the tools and found a couple of different pliers, a corkscrew, and a flashlight, for perhaps peering into the jar once I got it opened. When I passed through the dining hall, I got a sudden standing ovation! Apparently our diners had been watching my croc “wrasslin' match” from their tables and wanted to shower me with congratulations. I winked and bowed modestly, but kept moving.

Faye meanwhile rummaged through the pages of my Holy Bible, resting on my nightstand near the mysterious prize laying next to her on my bed. She stopped on a page and thumbed down the text as I returned. “The Apostle Paul… said in 2 Corinthians 4:7… “But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.”

I stopped and nodded, impressed, then got to work immediately with the tools as Miss M shut the door. We both could hardly stand the anticipation as I carefully picked at the cork, trying to get a grip with the smaller of the two pliers. I managed to dig into it with the sharp edge of the corkscrew, to create an opening in the smelly, rotting material to better shove the pliers in more tightly. To get a grip. Frankly, both Faye and I needed to get a grip; we were both mildly shaking with such excitement it likely took me longer to do the job than normal.

Finally I plucked the main body of the thick cork out, inch by inch. It must have been about four inches long and dry at the bottom. The contents of the vessel were initially still a mystery as it was dark inside, but at least it was very dry down in that “vase.” No liquid came pouring out, which was a good start. I felt down in and around with my index finger and it was rather soft and filmy.

Faye took the flashlight and shined it down into the jar. We both poked our faces in close to take a gander. I must say that what we found initially disappointed us. But as our knowledge and wisdom grew, our attitudes changed greatly. What we discovered was actually the start of a great quest, an amazing sea adventure, and a very perilous (for us) step forward in mankind’s overall quest for an everlasting “peace on earth and goodwill towards men.” It eventually was truly “the stuff dreams were made of.”





CHAPTER TWO





300 Clams Rents 72 Hours for 4 Primed Chums





I carefully used my shaky fingers and the silver pliers to slowly pull and pry loose the contents of the open clay vessel, turning it over on its side to help it drop out. “Maybe I should keep my Olympic medal in a clay—“

“Straw!” Disappointed Faye blurted this out with much disgust as I tugged the first bits of material from the ancient jar. “And more straw.” She was right, and it wasn't even fresh and yellow. It was more like brittle and brown, falling into dust in places.

“Nothing but… oh wait, here’s something…”

I tugged harder and produced the top of a thin wooden stick. Two, actually. Trying to be gentle, I pulled the two sticks up amid the old straw, both of us noticing there was something wrapped around it. Paper. Yellowing but still intact. A document, of some kind, all rolled up.

“A stick and a scroll. Wow.” My lady’s disappointment was reinforced. I gently pulled the rolled-up paper around it. It was bound together somehow as I used the pliers to remove it entirely from the LF vessel. With more straw and bits pouring out all around, I managed to set the stick and the scroll out on my bed. The paper document was held together in the center of its roll with a red wax seal. Faye looked it over as I inspected the simple wooden stick. It certainly appeared to be one rod, actually, broken in two, perhaps in order to fit it inside the jar.

“So far, not so good,” I chimed in with general dismay. Nothing of great value here, seemingly. “Just old junk they wanted to keep dry.” Whomever “they” were.

Faye pointed out the same fleur-de-lis and LF design on the wax seal attached to the paper as on decorated on the vessel’s exterior. It didn’t mean much to either of us, frankly. I turned the object over, upside down now, and more straw poured out, onto my bed-covers, making a mess. Then… finally… a small pot at the end of the rainbow. Or at least, something shiny and metal at the bottom of the jar, now plopped out onto my lap as I sat upright with my disappointment barely held in check. I brushed off straw-dust from the object and noticed it was a key – and quite a shiny gold one at that. Maybe solid gold, and therefore of monetary value.

“Well, now we’re talking,” Miss M smiled as she watched me hold the key up to the nearest light. “It sure looks like real gold, almost like it was made yesterday.” I agreed, then watched as my girlfriend’s smile turned upside down. “But what good is it?” she asked. “We’ve got nothing to stick it into. No lock, no treasure chest. And no, I don’t think it will fit into the one at church, either.”

Faye looked over the key, which was about five inches in length, only somewhat ornate with no inscription on it. The teeth were simple and the “handle,” or opposite end, was rounded. It could have been quite old and desirable, but that was for now wishful thinking.

I shook the upside-down jar firmly; it was clearly now empty. Faye shone her flashlight’s beam down into the vessel and saw nothing further. I set it down on my nightstand and looked over our strange cargo. Our “haul,” or “catch of the day.” If this was pirated treasure, it seemed awfully slim and slummy. A key, a scroll, and a stick. Oh, and plenty of bits of dead straw, strewn across my boudoir floor and bed-covers.

“Well, what do we expect for free?” I asked with a smile.

“Maybe we could get the key appraised. If it’s worth a few hundred, you could cash it in, and make some more repairs. And start on the women’s restroom downstairs, it’s really-–“

“I think we should open this scroll. Maybe it’ll tell us about the key. And the stick.”

“I guess so,” Faye sighed, looking the exterior of the paper and then down into its rolled contents; there was obviously writing on it, in black ink, she said. We pondered the wax seal and noticed how brittle both it and the paper were. Taking the sharp edge of the corkscrew, I gently chipped away at breaking the old dry wax. After a few seconds, it popped away from the rolled-up paper. “Easier than I thought,” I muttered as we each used two hands to gently unroll the scroll, under a bright nightstand lamp's glow. The red wax seal lay on the bed, ignored, and perhaps rightly so. Perhaps it had served its purpose for many centuries? Now its secrets were to be revealed…

“Oh, it’s in French!” Faye groaned, trying to read the script. “I can recognize only a couple of words, and none of them are in English.”

“Great. Now what?”

“Don’t worry, Jana knows French.” This was my vibrant lady's reference to her apartment roommate, the calm grad student who was a few years older and wiser, but a little homelier and quite single, her nose usually pressed into a book somewhere.

“Yeah, hey, sure!,” I perked up, “She’s the Sociology Major, maybe she’ll dig this junk.”

“Maybe it's some sort of great historical document, like the Magna Carta.”

“Well, we're alone, so...” I pulled a small object out of my shirt pocket, one that I rarely used and certainly not in public. It was a transparent item that earned me the nickname “Colonel Klink” - the weak-eyed, pompous German commandant from TV's “Hogan's Heroes” - from the very few people that have seen me wear it. You don't really see folks use these things any more. It was round and thin and made of glass, and it fit my left eye socket nicely. It was, of course, a monocle. Okay, go ahead and laugh, I'll wait. But the dark secret surrounding and explaining the abrupt end of my amateur boxing career was that towards the end I had suffered eye damage in my left cornea and pupil. It affected my vision. Eyeglasses would be a dead giveaway, and wreck my chances of any return to the ring. I had to disguise my weak left eye if I wanted to fight again (I did), and therefore receive any commercial endorsements. {Ironically I needed monocle assistance in reading the very paper such deals are printed on.}

I inspected the yellowed old scroll with my monocle, holding the parchment up to the light of a lamp. It was fascinating, I admit, but... I don't read French and can't appraise antiques.

“I see Captain Crunch has arrived for inspec-tion,” Faye quipped.

“That's Colonel Klink. And the inspection is now over.” I let the scroll go and it rolled up neatly back into its centuries' old shape. I set this enigmatic French message aside. “It's a tantalizing mystery,” was all I could come up with. I looked over the wooden stick and tried to put it together at its break point, then set it down gently. “There’s got to be some real meaning behind all of this. I mean… why bother to save these things like this? Right?”

“Maybe,” Faye replied with a shrug, “but for all we know this could be an old lineup card for a French ballgame.”

“And I suppose this stick was once an early baseball bat?”

Faye grinned and nodded as she pulled out her cell phone, thinking about roommate's whereabouts. She had the Miami U. grad student, age twenty-nine, over to my good-time eatery within the hour, having given an ample description of our find and the offer of a free meal in exchange for her historical and cultural expertise.

“Jana went to Columbia in New York City before she moved here,” Faye informed me. “She speaks pretty darned good French. And all that sociology and anthropology she took…”

It was only after a nice mid-afternoon lunch – or was it an early dinner? – that slightly overweight and highly educated (but always friendly) Miss Jana Barbara Schwartz took a close look at the scroll, still kept in my locked bedroom. Even Jana humorously referred to herself as “your Jewish friend,” and always had a kind word for everyone she met. She was overall not that bad looking, but had put on some pounds over the past few years, partly due to romance woes. And perhaps due to studying intensely for some sort of exam or thesis paper in a seated position, often while snacking. In what few hours I had spent in her presence in the past months, Jana often talked of dieting “soon,” but her plan never seemed to gain much traction in attempting to deny tasty temptations.

After the meal, I fingered my bland gray metal bedroom door key but it just did not compare to the bright gold one that Faye showed her best friend, who was busy translating onto a piece of notepaper. I gestured Jana across my bedroom to a good-sized wall safe I had just opened, one that was usually hidden behind a tall table in a corner. “Here's where we've stored this stuff.”

Jana glanced and nodded. “Yes, I see that, it’s very nice, but…” Jana was clearly distracted and mildly annoyed, focusing her concentration back on the lettering on the old paper, held in four corners by my bottles of aftershave, to keep it from rolling up – or smelling bad. I had cleaned up the straw, creating a tidy pile in a bowl nearby. The smaller bits and the dust Faye vacuumed up without even my asking. She and I were a good team, even in doing simple things together. Jana fit right in, she was so kind and thoughtful; she would give me a ribbing, just like Faye, whenever we'd be out in public and only the occasional stranger would recognize me or my Olympic medallion. Even fewer folks would ask for my autograph, but whenever requested, I happily obliged, perhaps in part to feed my ego. It never seemed to impress Faye or Jana.

We found a magnifying glass to better scrutinize everything from the jar that Sunday evening, so I kept my monocle in my pocket, but… the device proved rather pointless. There were just no extra hidden clues or small facts to be revealed – minus the printed ink message on the scroll. Jana finished scribbling her translation as Faye and I sat on chairs next to my now-made bed. Miss Schwartz seemed pleased that her years of scholastic training was paying off in the real world. She cleared her throat and read her notes aloud, speaking carefully:

“To be delivered to brother Jean in the New World, Bimini Bluff. One of three jars to be carried on three ships, the king’s most valued treasure. Taken by the Crusaders from the Holy Land, long ago. Kept guarded by French kings for centuries. The owner receives the favor of insight into God’s return. Hidden at the headwaters. Fit this key into the triangular Trinity Chest with the other, at the same time, to open the most priceless of all crowns. Keep this rod ready for that time.”

Faye and I looked at each other again, growing less disappointed and more excited by the second. “So this means… it’s a key to a special royal box,” I repeated.

“A “Trinity Chest.” I guess... a triangular treasure chest? With a great crown inside?” Faye asked, hoping to simplify or translate hidden meaning in the French words translated for us.

Jana shrugged. “Meh. I guess so.”

“What are “headwaters”? And what box is “triangular?”” Faye asked innocently.

It wasn’t entirely clear, but it seemed as though we would need to find out at the start of a river somewhere in the world somewhere. River headwaters. And then a second key to open a unique triangle-shaped box. “Along with this one,” Jana replied as she held up the gold key. “I should imagine then it really is solid gold.”

“The first time you’ve won something gold, Riggy!” Faye chuckled. Jana joined in. I laughed too, not minding a few left jabs at my expense. I was a big boy, I could take it.

“But this plain wooden stick? What's so great about this... “rod”?” I held up the stick and toyed again with fitting it together; all it needed was some glue. I went limp, emotionally. “Maybe... I mean... was this all just some sort of joke, from one pirate to another?” Faye inspected both halves of the relic, both of us definitely unimpressed. She shrugged. Jana did like-wise, again.

“I suppose it could be anything, but if this scroll is to be believed… French royalty valued it, for some reason. And pirates too,” Faye summed up. She was good at that.

Jana nodded and chimed in: “French kings allegedly kept this stuff for many centuries after they were looted from what we call Israel now. Old Palestine. The Holy Land. “Judea,” back in the day. My ancestral home, I suppose. Even though I've never been there.”

“Maybe it belonged to King Herod,” I speculated. “He was a little nuts, right?”

“Where are some “headwaters” there? Like where the River Jordan starts, maybe? Or if it was in France…” Miss M asked aloud, trailing off. We had no answers, only rhetorical questions like this for a few minutes, baffled but very, very intrigued.

“I think you should keep all of this in your safe, at least for a while,” Jana somberly advised. Our helpful friend pulled a packet out of her pocket and opened it up. At first I wanted to tell her “Please, no smoking in here,” but I stopped short, surprised, when the “packet of cigarettes” Miss Schwartz was taking out for a “smoke” turned out to be candy cigarettes! It was quite a cute quirk for an otherwise mature adult; Jana was giving up smoking and trying to find substitutes for her tobacco addiction. It had come to her actually sticking white, chalky, candy “ciggies” in her mouth, and even blowing the powdered sugar end of it into the air, like a smoke ring! Faye and I had a good laugh as Jana eventually smiled and chewed up her sweet treat.

We looked again at the clay vessel and it seemed bland and inexpensive, unexciting and pointless now that the contents were out. Yet the well-schooled and worldly-wise Miss Schwartz informed us that may well have been the whole point, when it came to thievery. “If you didn’t want to call attention to something, you stuck it inside something ordinary just like this. Clay jars were a dime a dozen back then. Even as far back as crazy Herod’s day. Soooo... a good cover for smuggling.”

Faye agreed, adding “Obviously this one was water-tight and held together well.”

We further speculated that not only did the straw protect the items inside the corked jar, it made sure the key did not rattle, and give away “the prize inside.” Like a box of Cracker Jacks, Faye noted, starting to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” swinging the wooden stick again like a Louisville Slugger.

“You've spent too much time with Jausto,” I replied, referring to one of our waiters at the restaurant downstairs. Jausto Reynoso's father was a Cuban immigrant who played a little major league baseball two decades earlier. His baseball-obsessed teenage son aspired to achieve the same goal someday. More on him a bit later. For now, Faye giggled at the reference, but Jana remained serious and pondering aloud.

“If this really is from a shipwreck... a pirate ship?... and you’ve found some fairly valuable old coins in the past… well, I’d hold onto all of this and tell no one, if I were you,” Jana somberly intoned, reaching for another “cigarette.” “But get back out there and start poking around in the water again - soon.”

Faye nodded and added: “Maybe a real treasure box with the king’s crown is right outside, waiting to be found!”

“Yeah, or maybe a real pack of cigarettes?” I chuckled.

Jana only stared at the scroll. “A Trinity Chest. A three-sided triangle box. Very cool.”

The thought was so enticing, I proceeded to do as suggested. Search. In fact, both Faye and I spent many an hour over the next few days hunting the shore, the nearby surf, and the ocean floor as far as we could walk it, staring out at the Atlantic Ocean and its occasional passing modern ship, wondering where in the world else-wise I could find further artifacts to help resolve this intriguing mystery. Maybe something a little more valuable and electrifying this time. We received for our efforts a nice tan but sore backs from bending over a lot, scanning and panning the sand for gold, finding only rusty metal and wood chunks again. We did see some beautiful dolphins, jumping out of the water, zipping past with noticeable splashes, chasing their lunch. When we were done, I felt like chasing mine.





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