That got my attention. "Come again?"
"I had a dream about Ham Brooks. We were talking. He said something about his old law firm, and then gave me a name: Silas Poteet. I asked him what the name meant, but he just smiled and put a brightly-wrapped package in my hands. Then I woke up." Clark paused, looking at me. "I think God was giving me a vision."
"Could be. Have you ever used the name Silas Poteet before?"
"Not that I recall."
"OK." I didn't doubt the possibility; I had seen it in my own life. "Looks like a good lead." I wrote down the name, and a few notes on the dream. "Let's get some sleep and give them a call in the morning."
The next morning we got the number for Ham Brooks' former law firm in New York, and called it. Clark spoke to several people before he got the attention of one of the senior law partners. Sure enough, the name Silas Poteet got their attention. They transferred us through to the senior partner, Douglas Martin.
Martin explained that years ago, shortly before his suicide, Ham Brooks entrusted a package to their hands. Out of respect to the man, they accepted the charge, and the cryptic instructions to turn it over only to Silas Poteet. They asked Clark a few questions of confirmation, then got our address, informing us that they would send the package via Overnight Express.
That aside, Martin stated he wanted to speak privately with Mr. Poteet. We were put on hold for a minute, then Martin picked up the conversation. He informed us that he was in his office, and that the door was locked.
"Sir." He paused, reluctantly. "I have to ask....," Martin's voice suddenly quavering with uncertainty and doubt. "Are -- are you -- him?"
Clark paused. "Am I....who?"
"Doc Savage." He said the words in hushed, reverent tones, as if he was afraid of being overheard.
Clark's voice remained calm and level. "He hasn't been seen in many decades. He's probably no longer alive. Why do you ask?"
"Mr. Brooks was a good friend to me when I was just a legal aide new to this firm. He took me under his wing and helped me. I owe much to him. I know he was very loyal to Mr. Savage." He paused, ashamed. "I-I'm sorry, Mr. Poteet. I have wondered for years about that box, and who it was for. You can understand, it's easy for an old man to speculate."
"Yes, it is." Clark paused. "Have you ever met Doc Savage?"
He seemed to relax in his memories. "Once, many years ago. During the holidays."
Clark suddenly smiled. "Christmas party. Nineteen forty-three," Clark ominously remarked. "You smoked a pipe with Latakia tobacco."
There was an audible gasp at the other end, then a pause. "Thank you," he said solemnly. "Is there anything else I can do for you -- sir?"
"Would you allow me to utilize your firm's services, should I need it?"
You could hear the beaming smile on the other end. "Why, of course, sir! I would handle the matter personally."
"And I can be assured of your confidentiality?"
"Without question," he answered, slowly and in dead seriousness.
"Good." He paused. "Ham chose wisely, and correctly. I shall be in contact. Thank you. Good bye."
He hung up the phone.
I cocked my head slightly. "Are you sure that was a good idea?"
Clark looked at me and smiled. "Without a doubt. Like I said, Ham chose his associates wisely."
"Okay." I nodded. That was good enough for me.
"Now we wait," I concluded. "It'll be here tomorrow."
By noon the next day, we were looking over the package. But it was more than just a package. It was a large steamer trunk, and took both of us to carry it upstairs to my room. He estimated it to be over a hundred pounds. The sturdy trunk contained two built-in combination locks, which I looked at with resignation. "Oh, great. We can't get in without the combination."
Clark looked it over for a moment, then smiled. "Wait. Let me try something." He quickly spun a series of numbers, and pressed the locks. They popped open with a smooth double click, and Clark opened the trunk down the vertical separation. I looked dumbfounded.
"The one on the left, my birthday. The one on the right, his birthday," Clark explained.
"Well, of course," I said with exaggerated nonchalance. I rolled my eyes to the ceiling. "Praise the Lord."
The inside of the trunk was quite elaborate, with drawers on either side. Each drawer contained thin velvet padding separating layers of what appeared to be rows of one-ounce gold ingots. If my suspicions were correct, we were looking at a small gold mine. "I'm no expert on the price of gold, but I think we're looking at considerable nest egg Mr. Brooks provided." I paused, then ventured, "Millions?" My eyes glazed over at the thought.
But Clark wasn't concerned about the gold. When the trunk was opened, two envelopes fell to the floor. The smaller one was inscribed 'To Doc,' and Clark was reading the handwritten note that had been inside. "It's from Ham," he said, soberly, then read it aloud:
"Doc - If you are reading this then you have indeed returned from the dead as we had all presumed these many years ago. In the hope that you were yet alive, I have prepared this for you. Considering the events of the day that are a monstrous whirlwind moving far too fast about us all and threatening our very lives, these preparations are far from what I would have preferred, but it should advance you in continuing your life and mission. In this you will find sufficient funds to work with, and instructions on contacting Hidalgo. In anticipation of the events that have unfortunately come to pass, I have taken the liberty of modifying the manner of accessing the gold in the Valley of the Vanished. The flow will only continue on strict obeyance of the instructions inside this package. My time is short. I have failed you, Doc. For this I am deeply sorry. I hope that, by this action, this may serve some penance against my wrongs. Your humble servant and friend, Brigadier General Theodore Marley Brooks."
I placed a hand on his shoulder. He looked back at me, his eyes sad.
"I'm sorry," I offered in empathy.
Clark nodded silently, then walked over to a chair and sat, still holding onto the note.
I opened the other envelope, and looked over the contents. I blinked at the characters on the paper, then handed it to Clark.
He smiled. "It's written in Mayan," he explained. "Ham, you rascal! You knew only a few of us could read this -- it would be gibberish to anyone else, and would keep the instructions safest. Very good, brother."
Clark read through the documents. They included instructions on contacting Hidalgo, via shortwave radio at a specific time of the day, on a specific frequency. There was a list of coded phrases and passwords. It identified where the gold would be deposited, and the account names and numbers. I observed that it would be then a simple matter of withdrawing the funds from the account via electronic funds transfer.
Within the hour, Clark and I were sitting offside, discussing our next move. I had a steno book for notes.
It was obvious that we would soon have all the funding we would need, assuming we'd be able to establish the Hidalgo connection. And even if Hidalgo was a dead-end, we estimated that Ham's litte 'Care package' gave us a good half million dollar bankroll. Therefore, we were off to an excellent start.
Considering all the major moves we were making, it had become almost a natural thing to pray together before we did any discussing. So, once more, we were down on our knees in supplication for wisdom, to be worthy stewards of that which He had provided, and to make the Hidalgo connection come together for His glory.
Then, with a collective deep breath, we began looking over the situation.
Noting that large influxes of currency might arouse Federal suspicion, we prayed over the matter, then sought the advice of Mr. Martin in New York. He made some suggestions on financial institutions which Mr. Brooks had utilized in the past, and were quite discreet in this regard. We contacted the local branch, and opened an account with them. They were able to convert the gold into currency. A modest backup went into my home checking account, then half was converted into traveler's cheques, and the rest was deposited into the new account.
Next, we worked on our shopping list.
The first two items were obvious. A first class shortwave radio, installed if need be. Then clothing for Clark. I commented, "You have an unusual tendency to rip through shirts." I thought of the seventeen garments that were now shredded in the rag bin. Clark just grinned innocently. I wrote 'CLOTHES: EXTRA-STRETCHY SHIRTS', and underlined it.
Then we discussed our traveling itself. This trip was more than just getting from Point A to Point B -- it that were the case, we could take a jet and be there in hours, not days. This was to be a ministry outreach, a way to expose Clark to what God wanted of him. Besides, there were several advantages to having a vehicle rather than flying and renting vehicles: costs, accessability to the public, the advantage of having a 'mobile command base' from which to operate from, and freedom of mobility itself. At first we talked about just a converted van, but that idea grew into a van camper, just a bit bigger and able to live in during the 3,000-plus miles from Portland to New York City. I took our notes and would run them past some RV places over on 82nd.
"Also, I'd like to get a cell phone to have a way of keeping in touch with us wherever we are. And perhaps a notebook pc for the road -- I could use it to keep in touch with Jack via email, check on things ahead of us, and hold all my research in a small portable package."
Clark nodded. "You know more about that than I do. But I do understand about keeping lines of communication open."
We talked for almost an hour, taking notes and discussing strategy and logistics. We got an early night's sleep, because tomorrow would be a busy day.
The installation of the shortwave was done by early afternoon. With Jack and I looking over Clark's shoulder, he worked the controls like a pianist at a Steinway. It only took a few minutes to establish contact with the Valley of the Vanished in Central America. Our breathing was shallow in suspense, and we prayed hard. Clark followed the instructions given by Ham Brooks, and, although there was a few moments of uncertainty, there seemed to be much celebrating on their end -- Doc Savage was alive!
We took a collective deep breath after Clark signed off, and praised God.
Because there was much work to be done Hidalgo's end, they said it might take a week before the gold shipment arrived at the pre-arranged bank. This would give us time to set up the transportation and computer setup -- we could put some money down on it, and pay off the balance when the gold came in.
On Monday, we took delivery of the completed van camper. It was a modified 25-foot Argonaut. The first thing Clark noticed was the running boards. He looked at me and I just grinned back. "My present -- for old times' sake."
I gave him the tour and explained some of the features. It had been modified to add extra height and extra length, both to accommodate Clark's size. The color was a nondescript black with white pinstriping, and the large side windows had a one-way privacy tint. We considered calling it the "Black Beauty." Inside, I gave him the layout. "The driver's seat and passenger seat at the front. Behind the driver's side, we have the dinette table and bench seats -- I can sit there and work with the pc -- and the lavatory's behind that. On this side, behind the passenger seat, we have the galley and storage closet. You'll note that the galley's got a small sink, stove, microwave, and refrigerator. Behind those doors there --" I motioned to the rear of the vehicle. "-- are the sleeping quarters. Twin beds. I arranged to have a special extra-long bed on the one side -- I hope you like sleeping on the left -- so you can stretch out. We can put a table between the beds if we need to, and there's storage space both overhead and below the beds for our gear." I gave him a quick rundown on the technical specifications of the van camper, and covered some of the special "extras" we added -- the security system, the cellular range booster pack that made our cell phone's range virtually unlimited, and the satellite link dish on top that would connect with the pc's cellular modem.
Clark was impressed. While I finished the work with the dealer, Clark climbed in and made himself at home.
Next we got the pc from the computer store. It was a top-of-the-line, fast-as-lightning notebook pc, loaded with all the software I had requested. I quickly ran through some of the features with Clark, and went online for a quick test. Now I was impressed. Satisfied, I tucked the pc into a special backpack and set it on the floor of the van. We went to a couple of specialty electronics shops, and a military surplus supply store, and we headed for home. We would save the grocery shopping for later.
As we drove home, we considered the gold delivery.
"How much money are we talking about, realistically?" I asked out of curiousity.
"To be honest, I'm not sure. I know there's an unlimited supply of gold in the Valley of the Vanished. I've seen it -- I've handled it. But Ham handled much of the financial and legal aspect of the accounts." He paused, caught up in memories. "There was no want, no matter how much we needed to help others. And we could always contact Hidalgo for more." He paused, thinking. Then he turned to me and declared, "There was at least a couple of million dollars in the average shipment."
"And that's with 1940's gold prices." My eyes glazed over. "Woof," I said as I struggled with the thought of that much money.
Six days after making contact with Hidalgo, the cell phone bleeped. I jumped.
Not many people knew this number, so I eagerly took the call. It was a Mr. Gilbert, in Central America. I recognized the name of his bank from the Brooks instructions. He introduced himself, and explained that he was calling us to notify us of a deposit. I thanked him, and asked him how much the deposit came to, converted to American dollars. He excused himself for a moment to calculate the conversion based on the most current gold prices, then returned to the phone and gave me the figure.
My eyes went blank and I stopped breathing.
"Mr. Liston....Mr. Liston....are you there?" The voice over the phone brought me back, and I immediately understood Mr. Gilbert's extreme politeness.
"Yes!" I gasped. "I'm here. I'm sorry, I was -- distracted -- a moment. You are certain of that figure?"
"Considering gold prices, it can always fluxuate. But that is the figure at this hour."
I swallowed hard and tried to remain calm. "Fine." I asked him about electronic funds transfer to our new account, and he said they were fully capable of doing that. He asked me how much, and I gave him a figure, and the account number. He said that he would tend to it immediately, and it would be complete, at most, within the hour.
I expressed my appreciation with as much cool as God would give me, and hung up the phone.
Then I lost it.
Jack and Clark never knew what hit them. They were halfway up the stairs, their arms full with shopping bags, when they heard an ear-piercing "PRAISE THE LORD!!" followed by hysterical laughter. They turned to each other with puzzled looks for an instant, then dropped the bags and headed in my direction to see what was happening. I was laughing and praising God, running back and forth down the halls. I saw them and gave them big hugs. They accepted it with curiosity, but then Clark caught on.
"Hidalgo?" he asked.
"YES! YES! YES!" I screamed with joy. "Remember how much we figured it would be?"
"A million at least."
"Two-point-three million is good."
"Not million, dear brother! BILLION!! Two-point-three BILLION DOLLARS!!" I then continued laughing and thanking God.
Even Clark was stunned.
Jack grabbed my arm to keep me from getting away. "Are you sure?" he asked cautiously.
"Oh, YES!" I answered, grinning widely. "I asked them to transfer two million into our bank account. They just called and verified the deposit!!"
We all froze. There was silence for all of five seconds while the reality of the moment sunk in. Then all three of us lost it, whooping and dancing and praising God at the top of our lungs.
However, we had not been unnoticed by the rest of those in the house. I noticed that we had attracted a crowd, curiously watching from the bottom of the stairs. I conferred with Clark and Jack in a quick huddle, then addressed them. "Brothers and sisters! Tonight we are going to have a pizza party this neighborhood is going to talk about for years! Darrin -- start dialing! The rest of you, invite everyone!"
That sent cheers from most of them. Others quickly split off to spread the news. A few shook their heads in confusion and talked among themselves.
The elation passed, I put a hand on Clark's shoulder and confidently declared, "The mission begins."