A Gentleman's Shootout
Jonathan Wilder could not believe his luck. A bag of ancient golden relics jingled as he pulled it out of the sandy encampment. Next, he dug further into the hole underneath the center of the giant rocks permanently fixed at the edge of the desert, hoping to find more treasure.
Jonathan Wilder could not believe his luck. A bag of ancient golden relics jingled as he pulled it out of the sandy encampment. Next, he dug further into the hole underneath the center of the giant rocks permanently fixed at the edge of the desert, hoping to find more treasure. When he found none, he shoveled back the sand, put his hands on his hips, and surveyed, proudly, the vast empty arid land around him. No one was here; just him and a bag full of ancient gold, worth millions of dollars.
Today, he admitted, was the best day of his life. No one on earth, he decided, was as lucky as he was today. After motoring around a sun-scorched barren land for a long time, Jonathan finally surpassed his father’s treasure hunting legacy by finding treasure a thousand times more valuable than any his father had found in his lifetime.
Rest in peace old man, our family prestige is restored.
His father, Donald Wilder, had passed away a year ago. With his father’s demise, Jonathan inherited an estate worth half a million dollars. Somehow, he squandered his father’s lifetime earnings on gambling, women, and booze (in six months). But no one told him, inheriting your father’s wealth meant inheriting his debt. Because very soon, debtors came calling, with threats of court cases and prison sentences.
Jonathan wasn’t treasure hunting in a desert because he loved it. He did so because he wanted desperately to avoid jail and forced sodomy. Now, thanks to sheer luck and an old rusty metal detector, his life was about to change. He inspected the rustic bag once more; counted about twenty-five different gold relics, and wrapped it in a brown paper bag from a burger sandwich he ate a while back.
After confirming the magnitude of this life-changing fortune, he mounted his motorcycle for departure. He adjusted his cap, scarf and goggles, before having a quick look at his wristwatch. The time was just shy of two o’clock. He had been in this desert for a little over six hours; even his supple skin was starting to tan.
“The county’s treasure trove closes by six,” he muttered to himself, “I can make it with an hour to spare.”
Jonathan started his motorcycle engine. The ignition shrieked, the engine coughed, but the motorcycle failed to start. He cursed and gave it another try. But the motorcycle was determined not to start, and only, now, vibrated in muffled silence.
He inspected the fuel tank—still half full; the plug—still shiny and free of soot; and finally the engine—as good as new. So, what was the problem? He tried the ignition once more, twice more, then thirty more times before kicking the motorcycle hard in the tires.
The nearest town was at least, three hours away on foot. If he walked, he would have to carry along a broken motorcycle, a four- foot- long metal detector, a heavy satchel of gold and a supply-stocked backpack. He made his choice swiftly because half an hour later, Jonathan slugged his way through the sand with a satchel around his waist, a metal detector in his arms, and a backpack on his shoulders.
After walking an hour, Jonathan’s luck struck again. He espied a wagon-rider approaching him from the dunes west of him. He was saved. He waited patiently for the wagon-rider to come close before approaching.
“Are you lost?” the wagon-rider asked, eyeing Jonathan rather suspiciously from atop his two-horse driven carriage. He was a handsome lad, half-native by the looks of it, with long ebony hair flowing down to the small of his back. In comparison with Jonathan who was chubby from daily drunkenness, sweaty from coffee addiction, and anxious from a lack of cigarette inhalation; this young man was vibrant, physically fit and gentle.
Jonathan explained his situation, omitting the part about the treasure. He begged the young man to take him directly to town. The motorcycle, he concluded, was worthless compared to the fortune he now had.
“Can’t be lost in the desert buddy,” said the man on the wagon, still weighing up Jonathan’s physique. “Can get robbed here—have you ever been robbed?”
A queer question, Jonathan found himself affirming the negative.
“Lucky you,” said the lad, “I was robbed two days ago by a very ugly man—my father says I should never trust ugly men.”
Jonathan shook his head. He knew where this was going. “I’ll pay you.”
“Why, get on then!”
The young lad offered to help Jonathan with his metal detector, to which he gladly accepted. And then he wished he hadn’t, because the young lad fumbled the tool and sent it crashing into Jonathan’s bag; the one full of gold.
“My God!” cried the young lad, apologizing profusely as he watched Jonathan hastily recover the pieces of gold that had spilled.
For a moment, they didn’t speak. It was an awkward situation and they didn’t quite know what to say. The young lad finally broke the silence. Smiling, he said, “Can be assured of my payment now.”
Jonathan grumbled in response.
“Wait!” said the young lad all of a sudden.
“What?” Jonathan asked, startled.
“Do you have a gun?”
A small gust of wind whistled past and blew sand in their stern faces. This was a trick question, Jonathan figured. This was the Wild West; of course everyone had a gun tucked somewhere.
“No, I do not,” he lied. “Do you?”
“Never held one,” said the young man, nodding thoughtfully as he ushered Jonathan into his wagon.
The journey to the nearest town was smooth. Jonathan soon struck a keen friendship with this young man. They talked about certain things like women, alcohol and parties; anything but the satchel of gold tucked in Jonathan’s belt. Talks of careers soon emerged, and the young man explained his work as a wagon rider. Apparently, he was some sort of rescuer for people stranded in the desert, and he sold fresh produce to local villages in the forests surrounding the desert.
Jonathan revealed many about his profession (although he had none), saying confidently that he was an archaeologist working under the administration of the county. To this, the young man responded amicably, expressing openly his dreams of becoming a scientist.
“Well,” said Jonathan, “If you can drop me off at the treasure trove, I’ll put in a good word with my employers—maybe get you a job there.”
Of course, there were no employers, but Jonathan, in his kind heart, had decided to hand this man a portion of his wealth once they arrived at the treasure trove. That he would do; he swore on his father’s grave.
Very soon, evergreen trees and savannah grasses became prominent. They were now; an hour away from town; and Jonathan could see local farmers lugging away their hoes, shovels and matchets to signify the end of a day’s work. The time was now past five. Jonathan mentioned this to the young man.
“Don’t worry, I know a faster route,” the lad said. And then he spurred off into the thick of the woods, where no one would think to live.
After treading this off-road path for a quarter-hour, the young man halted his wagon. He announced a ‘poo break’; much to Jonathan’s disapproval, and ventured into the bush to make his toilet. Jonathan waited patiently, in the middle of a muddy forest trail, a firm hand gripping his satchel.
Then it started to rain in bits and drizzles.
Jonathan started to wonder what took the wagon rider so long when a resounding crack echoed from behind him. He doubled to the ground in pain, feeling for the back of his head which throbbed alarmingly. He withdrew a blood-stained hand.
“You bastard!” he yelled.
And there was the bastard, the wagon-rider, standing in front of him, sinisterly, with the thickest bamboo stick Jonathan had ever seen. There was no time to waste; Jonathan reached into his pocket for his gun and brandished a very fine pistol.
“I thought you didn’t have—”
Jonathan didn’t wait around. He fired five rounds at the wagon rider who instantly escaped into the woods. In his situation, a wet bloodied hand and throbbing brain, it was only right that Jonathan missed all five shots. But at least it bought him some time, because soon, he was back on the wagon, holding onto the reins of the horses.
Without proper readjustment of his sitting position, Jonathan ran those horses hard into anywhere that wasn’t here. He made them gallop for almost half an hour before stopping to catch his breath by a precipice that overlooked the county below.
“I’m saved!” he squealed with delight. There was no way the young man would catch up to him now. And then he laughed at himself because he ran. Men with guns don’t run from a swordfight, he read in a book somewhere—or was it a movie?
But that wasn’t important right now. With twelve minutes left till six, Jonathan had enough time to turn in his treasure.
He reached for his bag, surprised at the fact that it didn’t jingle when he touched it.
He scraped at the brown paper bag, clawing into the satchel that lay underneath. He tore open the satchel and gasped at what lay inside.
It can’t be.
Not a single gold piece could be found in his prized satchel. His satchel had come undone by his belt, and all his treasure had spilled along the muddy road. The rain, which poured in abundance, made it hard for him to find a single gold piece; and he almost ran mad from trying. By now, the rain would have washed away his treasure to the far beyond the valley below.
Jonathan stood at the edge of the precipice and screamed his voice out. He could never return home now. He would never go to prison for his father’s debts. He clicked his pistol and pointed it at his head.
If he pulled the trigger, no one would even miss him.
“Did you hear that?”
Two people stood outside a government building, sharing one umbrella, dressed in oversized raincoats. They stood outside the remotest office in the county; the one next to the hills; the county’s least visited office: Kansas Treasure Trove. One fiddled with the keyhole while the other held the umbrella aloft.
“All I hear is rain,” said the co-worker holding the umbrella. “Shut the office door quick and let’s go.”
“That sounded dangerous, like a gunshot—what if someone’s in trouble?”
“You and I will be in dutch if we don’t get out this rain.”
After a short while arguing, the impatient co-worker agreed with the first, because she was a woman; and women always get their way. They followed the off-road trail away from the town towards the neighboring villages across the valley. The ground was slippery and wet and it took them a while to find something out of the ordinary.
When they did see something, they prayed to erase what it was. But it was too late; their eyes followed the watery blood trail, glistening in the lightning sparks to where a headless person knelt on the edge of the precipice. The female co-worker shrieked and instantly started to sob.
The male co-worker, eyes wide in disbelief, found his mouth muttering fuzzy words,
“Whatever happened to him?” he asked no one in particular.