by Chesney Parker
When my business partner, Chet Butcher, fell off his horse, he knocked his head on a rock and was unconscious for nearly thirty minutes.
It was his own fault, really. He had never ridden before and insisted on choosing the stallion as his first mount. Being a cautious person, myself, I had chosen an old mare. This was one time, however, when Chet’s pretentiousness not only caused the usual gasps of exasperation from those around him, but also brought him considerable grief. And the episode did not end there, for the impact apparently loosened something in Chet’s mind.
The next morning, his head still aching somewhat, he said to me, “I had the weirdest dream last night. I was in the hills somewhere, burying golden treasure. There were hundreds of pieces and the whole thing was so real, I could swear it was actually happening.”
“Really?” I said. “It’s a pity you couldn’t bring some of it in here to pay the bills.”
“Hey, don’t worry about that. I’m the best salesman in Sydney. As soon as I close the Fletcher account, all our money worries will be over. But let me tell you about my dream.” He had that smile on his face that most people consider condescending. “There was this cave, see, and it went in about a hundred metres, then there was a narrow hole that lead through to a second chamber and that’s where we put the gold. It was all stacked up around the walls, sometimes as high as the ceiling.”
I had been shuffling some of the papers on my desk while Chet was speaking, then I found what I was looking for; the most recent bank statement. “I noticed a $500 cheque you wrote last month that has no explanation on it. Do you remember what that was for?”
“Yeah, sure. Don’t worry about it. I took old man Fletcher out to lunch.”
I sat back in the chair and raised my eyebrows. “A $500 lunch? So how come you complained about my car rental expenses on that last trip to Melbourne?”
“Because the lunch was important. And you can’t serve cheap wine to a guy like Fletcher. You have to understand, when I spend money there’s always an important reason. I mean, if it wasn’t for me, we’d have no income and no business.” Chet sat down and picked up the phone, dismissing me as if I was an unimportant lackey.
It was an unlikely partnership, actually; we were so different in temperament. We were also different in our abilities, but the differences (luckily) were complementary. Chet can sell practically anything to anybody, even if he does bludgeon some of his clients into submission. And I have a pretty good way with figures, as well as providing the necessary level of caution in the way we operated. This synergy was probably the reason we managed to stay together.
Later in the day I became aware that Chet was doodling, which was quite out of character for him. The reason I noticed this was because that it had become so quiet in the office, which was also unusual when Chet was around. I stood up to see what he was doing and saw several sketches scattered across his desk. Each one showed the inside of a cave stacked with gold and treasure. I was genuinely surprised at the detail and artistic appearance of the drawings and picked one up to look more closely at it.
“I didn’t know you could draw,” I said, looking over the sketch with the practised eye of one who bought investment art from time to time.
“Yeah, it’s pretty good, isn’t it. I always had a good eye. It’s one of the many talents I haven’t had time to exploit yet.”
I raised his eyes to the ceiling and cursed myself for giving my partner yet another opportunity to show off. I resisted the urge to refer to his dubious equestrian talents. “I suppose these scenes are out of your dream.”
“Sure are. We stacked it all up in the inner chamber. Then we sealed the entrance and I put a curse on it to prevent anyone from breaking in. Then I killed all the slaves so there’d be no witnesses to the event.” He said this last in a matter-of-fact voice that implied it was the most normal thing to have done.
“Naturally,” I said, but my sarcasm was lost on Chet, who put a few finishing flourishes on his latest sketch and then laid it aside.
“You know,” he said, tapping his pencil against the side of his head. “I almost know where this place is. It’s right there on the tip of my tongue.”
“That’s nice,” I said, sitting down again at my desk. “How did you go with Fletcher when you phoned him? I was out of the room.”
“He wasn’t there. I’ll catch him later,” he said, with a total lack of enthusiasm (or even interest), then he picked up the pencil and began drawing a new sketch. I stared at him for some time, wondering whether the bump on the head had caused more damage than the doctor had diagnosed.
The next morning, Chet burst into the office at eight o’clock, which was highly unusual, since he did not normally arrive until well after nine. I was there, of course, as I always am at that time. “Dave! I’ve got it! I had that dream again last night and this time I remembered where it all happened.”
“The gold, man! The gold! I know where it is!”
“What do you mean, you remembered?”
“Just that! Don’t ask me to explain it; I can’t. All I know is I can recall quite clearly the whole thing, just as if it was yesterday. Maybe there really is some truth to this past life thing. But that’s not important. What’s important is I know where to go and collect it all. It’s in Peru!” He sat down at his desk and started rifling through some papers in the bottom drawer.
I said, “Chet. There’s no such thing as past lives. You’ve had a mild concussion and your mind is playing tricks on you. Why don’t you take some time off and relax. Anyway, how do you know it’s Peru?”
“Do you remember when we were there last year on the way back from the New York convention and I noticed a funny rock formation on the side of a hill? It really struck me as something special at the time, but I couldn’t put my finger on why. Now I know. The cave entrance is just below it! Remember, we were talking about deja-vu for a while after that? Well it’s true! I have been there before. It must have been hundreds of years ago.”
He sat back in his chair for a minute and gazed off into the distance. “The foreigners were battling their way through from the east coast, collecting all the gold along the way, so I took my treasure and hid it in the cave.” He sat forward again and resumed his search, “Where the hell did I put those photos?”
As he said all this, I stared at him, dumbfounded. Finally he found what he was looking for; the photographs he’d taken during our Peruvian tour. He quickly flicked through them, then stood up and shoved a picture under my nose. “There. That’s the place. That’s the rock formation I was talking about. You can see the cave entrance just below it. See? There!” He punched his thick finger at a tiny dark patch that could easily have been caused by a flaw in the negative.
I stared at it for a few seconds, then looked up at Chet with a distinct feeling of foreboding. “So what do you plan to do?” I already knew the answer, of course, but I had to ask.
“Why, go there and pick up the loot, of course. We’re rich, Dave. Richer than we could ever be in this crummy agency. We’ll leave next week. You book the tickets and arrange the visas, etc. I’m off to buy some good walking boots and some camping gear.” He turned to head for the door, then he said, “I wonder how cold it is this time of year.”
“Oh,” said Chet, interrupting in his usual insensitive style, as he walked out the door, “And you’d better find out what the laws are regarding national treasure in Peru. We might have to smuggle it out.”
“Chet! Come back here!” It was the first time I had ever raised my voice or done anything assertive where Chet was concerned and it had the desired effect; Chet stuck his head back through the door. He had a slightly quizzical expression on his face.
“Whatever it is, be quick about it. I haven’t got all day. This is important.”
I stood up and said, “God damn it! It may be important from your point of view, but this is a partnership we have here. Don’t you know what that means? Don’t you think that in something as important as an overseas trip, there ought to be some sort of agreement?” I was leaning forward on the desk and became aware that my right arm was trembling slightly.
“Sure. I’ve agreed to go to Peru and pick up untold millions worth of gold. Either you agree to go along, or the partnership ends here. Which is it to be?”
I sagged back into my chair, staring at the half open door. Chet had done some pretty weird things in his time, but this really was the limit. Even so, I knew I’d have to play along with my bull headed partner. I always did. I knew that, once Chet made up his mind about something, there was no stopping him and I had too much money tied up in the firm not to go along and protect as much of it as I could. “Ok. Go on then. I’ll make the bookings.”
“That’s my partner,” he said, grinning as he closed the door. Then he stopped and poked his head through one last time to say, “Oh, by the way, make those first class tickets,” and then he was gone, leaving me to figure out where to find the money, as always.
The trip to Peru was peppered with the usual embarrassing arguments with airline officials and hotel receptionists about the level of service and the size of the rooms, etc. I was used to this by now, of course, having travelled with Chet on many previous occasions. I just turned away and pretended to be looking at something else whenever Chet’s booming voice cried out, “I demand to see the manager…” It wasn’t that he had a complex, or anything like that; he really did feel he was more important than everyone else.
When we finally reached the foot of the hill in Peru that supposedly contained the mysterious cave, Chet was bubbling over with enthusiasm. He could hardly keep from blabbing about the true nature of our mission in front of the locals who were carrying our gear (including twenty empty crates, clearly market ‘Rock Samples’).
I had spent most of the time keeping track of the money we were spending and biting my tongue every time I had the urge to protest about the viability of the venture. I knew, of course, the whole affair would be a total loss; I was just trying to keep from going too far into the red. So I was certainly glad to have reached the end of the trail, for now we could establish that it was, in fact, a wild goose chase and go home. Alternately, we could take a few extra days admiring the breathtaking beauty of the mountains and forests of the region.
At dawn that morning, as we broke camp, I had seen the sunlight hit the distant snow capped peaks and turn them pink. Then the mists turned to crimson and began to slowly swirl and disperse. And all the while the birds went about their noisy morning ritual, adding life to the spectacular display. For that, at least, I was thankful to have returned to Peru.
As we climbed up the final slope, I was quite surprised to see that there was indeed a cave entrance just beneath the rock formation Chet had indicated.
“See, I told you so,” he said, as we crunched our way through the last few metres of scree. “It’s just as I remember it. When we get inside, you’ll see the ceiling is all blotchy.” And sure enough, he was right. The ceiling was a mixture of black granite and brown sandstone.
Chet raced forward and ran the full length of the cave, shining his light straight ahead, seeking out the entrance to his secret chamber. His footsteps echoed eerily against the dark forbidding walls and I kept looking around as I followed, half expecting to see some ancient Inca warrior step out and challenge us. When I reached the end, Chet was already feeling around the edges of some of the rocks, muttering to himself, “Now I’m not real clear on how to open this; the dream was a bit cloudy on that point.”
“Oh really?” I said, panting slightly with the effort of the day. “Don’t tell me there’s actually something you don’t know.”
“Keep quiet Dave, this is important.” He poked at a small crevasse between two rocks. “In fact, why don’t you go back and make sure the natives keep out of the way until I find out how to get this thing open. We don’t want them catching sight of what’s inside. I mean, they might claim national heritage, or something, and then where would we be?”
I was really becoming quite fed up with the whole thing by now. In fact, I was beginning to wonder if it might not be better to simply dissolve the partnership and head for home, while I still had a home to head for (I had taken out a large second mortgage on my house to help finance the trip). I walked back the length of the cave and out into the sunlight, where I instructed the crew to start unloading the crates in the clearing below. Then, when they had left, I turned back and peered in through the entrance. I could see Chet at the far end, silhouetted against the torch lit rock face, pushing and poking like a man possessed.
I was about to step inside again when Chet suddenly yelled, “That’s it! I remember now. I’ve got it!” Then he reached up and pulled down on the corner of one of the protruding stones, after which there was a loud snap. “That’s it! We’re in, come and…”
His words were cut off by a deep rumbling vibration and we both looked up as cracks began to appear in the ceiling. I saw Chet slap the palm of his hand against his forehead as he yelled, “Oh shit! I forgot about the booby trap.” Then he started running towards the entrance as, one by one, the large black lumps of granite began to fall from the cracking sandstone, striking the floor with deafening thuds.
He didn’t make it. The quantity of falling debris increased as he ran until, finally, one large black stone, which must have weighed at least a ton, landed squarely on his back and he disappeared in a cacophony of dust and thunder.
His body was recovered the next day when we finally dug our way through the rubble at the entrance. And the surprising thing was, once we had cleared that initial blockage, the remainder of the tunnel was intact all the way to the end. In fact, when I pointed the torch in that direction, I could see that another chamber was now in view and, even from a hundred metres away, the glint of gold in the torch light was unmistakable.
The Peruvian government was grateful when I handed the Inca treasure over to them. There were several tons of pure gold in the haul including countless works of art from the country’s cultural past. The reward I received from the government, wasn’t much, but it covered our expenses.
Now I’m still not sure if I believe in past lives, but I’ve always believed in present lives and, being a cautious person, I had taken out additional partnership insurance before we left. The payout amounted to over two million dollars; enough to set me up for the rest of my life. But out of that, I did pay for a very nice funeral for my deceased ex partner. After all, some people really are important, even in death.