“We need to build something.”
Paulus shook his head. “Forget it. The sewing machine has been done. The washing machine has been done. As have the typewriter and the bicycle. A steam car would take a machine shop, which we cannot afford. It’s already being worked on, anyway. Anything we can do that can be done, has been done. Sure, we can make wooden toy planes in the open shop time after school and sell them to Woody’s so he can sell them by the gross but we won’t get rich that way. We won’t even make a good living at it.
“What is left will take lots of money. We do not have a room full of dolls or a garage full of plastic bottles to sell and no one is going to lend us large amounts of money. So even if you come up with the next great invention we cannot build it anyway.”
Peter sighed. He knew Paulus was right. It just didn’t seem fair. All summer, and every weekend now that school was in session, he pushed a food cart around town selling ice cream sandwiches. Shortly, when the weather got cold, the company would go back to selling hot food. The man he worked for was only a few years older than he, and the guy had been plucking chickens down at the market until he started making dumplings. Now he was rich. “Surely we can come up with some way to make a fortune.”
“Peter,” Paulus countered, “I didn’t say we couldn’t. All I said was that if it’s easy or obvious, it’s already been done. The only people in Grantville who aren’t trying to get rich already are rich. There are so many students wanting to take the business program they have to have more than one class, and every student in there is dreaming of getting rich.”
“Not everybody,” Ebert chirped. “Some people are just trying to save enough money to go home.”
“Shut up, Ebert.” Paulus said.
Peter knew what Paulus’ kid brother was talking about. If their father had the money to go home and open a cobbler’s shop, he’d do it. Even knowing he couldn’t compete with the shoes in the catalog and would go broke eventually, he would still try it. He was a cobbler and that was the life he knew.
Peter also knew he didn’t have room to talk. If his own father had the money they would go back to the village and farm. When they fled, and the village was looted and burned, his dad shared a half-farm with his uncle, so they had a quarter-farm, and did a bit of blacksmithing on the side. Right now his uncle was farming the whole half-farm and doing all the smithing the village needed and he was just getting by.
Papa dreamed of having the money to lease a whole farm. There were two still idle in the village. But it would take a lot to get started and the landlord wouldn’t provide any help.
Peter nodded. “I don’t want to go home and farm. That’s no way to get rich. It’s not even a good way to make a living.” He paused. “We need something. Shoveling snow is not going to get-er-done.” Two winters ago clearing sidewalks had been a big deal and seemed like a lot of money at the time.
Ludwig looked up from his lunch. “What we have got to do is figure out what is being overlooked. What do we see that no one else has thought of yet?”
“Well, what ever it is it has to be something that doesn’t take a lot of money to get started,” Paulus said.
Peter scooped the last of his cold soup out of the plastic bowl, put the lid back on tight to keep the dribbles from leaking out, and put it back into his lunch pail. A bowl of soup and a heel of bread was lunch five days a week when there was leftover soup. Otherwise lunch was just the bread, even though the school served a good lunch menu at a very good price. They actually sold lunch for less than it cost to make, but it still wasn’t in the family’s budget. “The people making paper bowls are getting rich. The guy who is steaming horn in a pressure cooker and using a press to make fake plastic spoons is getting rich, even if he isn’t passing them off as being up-time plastic any more.” He put the lid back on his lunch bucket. “The tinkers aren’t getting rich but they are making a good living. It’s too bad we can’t make paper bags.”
“Yeah!” Ludwig replied.
Paulus mumbled around his apple. “Paper bags, paper bowls, plastic spoons, plastic bottles . . . they had so much money they could throw it away.”
“I wish we could go to a dump and dig them up,” quiet little Ebert, Paulus’ kid brother, squeaked.
Peter looked at Ebert, the youngest of the gang of four and probably the brightest. He was studying over his age level. “Ebert, you’re a genius. Sometimes. But there isn’t a dump in Grantville. I’ve heard a bunch of up-timers complain about that. Besides, my brother worked with the Garbage Guys for awhile, before he joined the army. Less and less is getting put in the trash cans and what is, is all getting sorted and recycled now.”
“Hey, didn’t Hermann say there used to be a coal mine on the farm where his family works?” Paulus asked.
Ludwig got excited. “Yeah! He said when the coal ran out they started using it for a dump. But it isn’t very big.”
“Right, and you know good and well Hermann isn’t about to share it with us,” Peter answered.
Ludwig slumped. “Yeah.” Then his eyes got big. “That’s it. That is what we know that everyone else is overlooking. Do you remember that abandoned mine we found when we were looking for mushrooms? What if it got used as a dump?”
“Old mines are dangerous,” Peter said. They had a lecture about it in class once. The point being that they should stay out.
“Yeah, they can blow up if you light a candle,” Ebert said.
“So?” Ludwig reasoned. “We take a flash light. There is one at the house. It needs new batteries but we can afford to buy them. There’s rope in the garage. We can go out there Saturday.”
“What do you need a rope for?” Ebert asked. “You might want a shovel, though.”
Peter answered, “A rope might come in handy, and a shovel is a good idea.” Peter pictured the spot in a ravine on a hillside, near one of the high edges of the Ring Wall, where an opening to a closed dog mine had been exposed. There was a spring farther up the hill and there had once been a small dam for some reason. When it gave way, from neglect, the flash flood had wallowed out the ravine and washed away enough of the dirt covering the opening to the mine so the boys could wiggle through. They knew it was a coal mine. The short shaft was small. It was supported with timbers. But the sunlight did not penetrate very far. Before they’d had a chance to go back with candles for a second look, the lecture on safety warned them off. Now, though, they weren’t going just for the fun of it. Now, there might be a fortune in up-time trash down there. Now was different.
“I’ve got to work Saturday,” Peter said. He was the oldest of the crew. He was also the farthest behind in school. This didn’t stop him from being the leader of the pack. “I’ll buy the batteries. That will cover my share. Then if you find anything I can quit my job and we can go to work for ourselves.”
Peter pushed the ice cream cart up the hill to the garage attached to the caterer’s kitchen. It had been a long day and he was tired. He could see his friends waiting for him at one of the picnic tables in the side lot next to the kitchen. When they saw him, Ludwig stayed with the backpacks on the table. The others hurried down the hill to help him. He really didn’t need help, but they were excited and in a rush.
“You found something,” Peter said. It wasn’t a question. There was no need to ask. Their body language was screaming loud and clear.
Ebert looked at Paulus and giggled. “Some glass jars.”
“Shush,” Paulus said, glaring at his younger brother.
“Glass?” Peter asked, disappointed. Of the up-time relics, glass bottles were the least marketable.
“You’ll like these,” Paulus said. “You’ve seen the big half-gallon canning jars with metal rings and lids, right?”
Peter perked up. Canning jars were worth more than old bottles, especially if they still had a useable lid. “How many?”
Ebert giggled again. “Four hundred.”
“Ebert, shut up!” Paulus hissed.
Now Peter knew why they were excited. Or at least, he thought he knew. “What can we get per jar from Old Solomon?”
Ebert giggled again.
Before he could say a word, Paulus said, “I said, shut up Ebert. We don’t know what he will give us for them, Peter. I don’t think we want to sell them to Solomon.”
“Why not? Of all the relic buyers in town, Solomon pays the best price for junk.”
“This is a bit outside of his field.” Paulus said. “You’ll see. Let’s get you checked in and then we can talk about it.”
At the house, where their families each had a sleeping-room with privileges—they shared the kitchen, bathroom, living and dining rooms—the boys retreated to the tree house in the back yard. The shared residence had brought them together. All three of their fathers worked in the coal mine and dreamed of returning to a past that was gone forever. The boys had a different dream. Ebert’s tote was handed up and the rest of the baggage was left on the ground.
“Okay, let’s see it,” a very excited Peter demanded.
Ebert lifted a jar out. It was full of mushrooms.
“Mushrooms?” Peter asked.
“Hey,” Ebert said, “My mother likes them.”
Paulus stuck his hand in the bag. “There were a few growing down there, so Ebert brought them home. That’s not important. There was a slight breeze when we first got in, so we followed it and found a place where we could see daylight. We couldn’t stand up and the sides, they looked caved in. The beams holding the roof up didn’t look too good, either. There was a streak of light twenty or thirty feet long and no more than a foot or so wide, but there was a drop off. So we tied the rope to Ebert and he squirmed out to the edge. Good thing we did too, because the lip gave away and we had to pull him back.”
“Yeah, and it was long way down too,” Ebert chipped in.
Paulus continued, “So we went back to where there was an electrical line.”
“That should be worth something,” Peter said.
“We would have brought the wire but we found something better.”
Well, we can get it later, I guess.”
“Yeah, anyway, we followed the wire. You can stand up doing that. And the worst of the beams looked like they’d been replaced and the floor was mostly clear. So we followed the line to see where it went and to make sure nobody owned it. Scavenging is okay, but we’re not thieves.”
The boys nodded.
“The tunnel ended in daylight, high over the lake. So we followed it back the other way and more wire went down a side tunnel. There was a lot of new wood holding the roof up and we found where the wire was going.”
“Yeah,” Ebert butted in. “And there was buried water hose that went back to where we came in.”
“Ebert . . . ” Paulus voice was full of annoyance. “We think that’s where it went,” Paulus said, squashing his little brother’s enthusiasm. “We didn’t dig it up all the way, but it looked like that was where it was going.
He pulled out a second half-gallon canning jar with a half burnt stick in it, which didn’t account for the weight. At a second glance, Peter could see it was full of a nearly clear liquid.
“Is that . . . ?” Peter let the question hang unfinished.
Three heads nodded.
“It was in the mine?”
Again three heads nodded. “Along with four hundred others, just like it, all stacked in boxes!” Ebert volunteered. “And that’s the full ones. There are hundreds more empty ones.”
Paulus saw the question in Peter’s eyes and nodded a confirmation of Ebert’s statement.
“We are rich.” Ebert giggled.
“But it belongs to someone,” Peter objected.
“I don’t think anyone knows it’s there. Everything was covered in dust or bat droppings. There were no footprints at all. Well, no people prints anyway.
“There were overhead lights and an electric range like the old one that was out in the garage before the landlord hauled it off for scrap when he rented the garage out for storage. There is a big copper still, sitting on all four burners. But the first thing we saw was over a dozen dried-out old beer barrels.
“Whoever it belonged to was left up-time, Peter. This batch has been sitting there for at least four years now. We’ve found it; I figure it’s ours.”
Ludwig and Ebert were both nodding like bobble heads.
Peter thought it over. “Let’s take this one down to the Gardens and ask what it’s worth.”
“Why not?” Peter asked.
At the back door to Grantville’s most popular bar, the boys asked to speak to the manager.
“What about?” a cook asked.
“Whiskey.” Ebert giggled.
“He won’t sell it to kids,” the cook said. “Beer is one thing, hard stuff, though, will get the up-time crazy women picketing the place.”
“We want him to buy it, not sell it,” Peter said.
“He’s got a regular supplier. He don’t need something you kids have cooked up. Try across the street.”
At the back door to Club 250, Julio yelled, “You kids get out of here. You don’t need to be hanging around.”
“We want to talk to the manager,” Peter said.
“Yeah, well he don’t want to talk to you,” Julio growled.
“Yes, he does.” Peter lifted the jar out of the tote.
“Get los—” Julio stopped in mid-word. “You boys wait right there. I’ll get Ken.”
Ken looked up when Julio stepped in from the backroom without a load of glasses.
“Ken, I’ll cover the bar. You need to talk to some boys at the back door.”
“Julio, you know I don’t sell out the back door, especially to kids. You want to get us shut down?” Ken shuddered. “Remember the League of Women Voters? Damn, those broads are scary.”
“You do remember old man McAdams, don’t you.” It wasn’t a question. Old Jack died in a car crash caused by a heart attack, or a heart attack caused by a car wreck. Either way, it happened years ago. “His property taxes were due so he was raising some cash money. The trunk of his car was full of moonshine he was carrying into Pittsburg.”
Ken nodded. “How could I forget?”
“You remember how he sold it in half-gallon canning jars with a toasted piece of oak so it would taste like it was aged in barrels.” Again, it was not a question.
Ken looked a bit dreamy. “Oh, yes.”
“Well the boys you need to talk to just showed me what I think is one of McAdams’ jars.”
Ken’s eyes widened just a hair. Running a rowdy bar takes a good poker face.
“Nobody ever did find where he kept his still,” Julio said. “I’ll cover the bar. You go talk to the kids.”
Ken handed Julio the bar towel. “If you’re right and someone has found Jack McAdams’ stash, anything they found has to be over ten years old. McAdams was the best. Pure corn liquor, no sugar, or other grains.”
McAdams, Ken knew, didn’t even use brewer’s yeast, just corn malt, corn, and spring water. Jack was one of the old-timers who appreciated the art, took pride in his craftsmanship, and usually only sold his product to people he knew. Other bootleggers bought his stock when they wanted something to drink and weren’t about to drink their own product. If someone had turned up the fabled lost McAdams’ stash, Ken’s financial salvation might be to hand.
The bar was falling on hard times. His customer base kept shrinking as people moved away or left with the army or got too cozy with the locals and did their drinking elsewhere. Ken was hanging on, but pretty soon he was going to have to open the private club up to the general public Yes, that meant letting krauts drink in Club 250. If they would come, considering everything. Like his son and that kraut girl. And that whole business with Dreeson. Ken was going to have to do it, though, or go out of business.
But having the only supply around of aged corn liquor would make a difference. It might even bring in enough business to make enough of a difference to stay open without compromising too much. Ken hoped so. His wife was hinting that he really should shut down and let her turn the club into a beauty parlor since she had more business than she could handle running it out of the front room of their home.
Ken looked at the jar. It sure looked like what McAdams used to sell. A two-quart canning jar with a one by four inch charred oak stick floating in it. That was practically McAdams’ trademark. Best of all, the stick wasn’t floating at the top like it would if this was newly made liquor. Old Jack didn’t sell it until the stick was floating free without touching the top. This stick was touching the bottom. He held it up to the late sunlight. It wasn’t water clear, new white lighting. It was the slightly amber shade of charcoal-aged whisky.
“Can I taste it?” Ken asked.
“Are you going to buy it?” one of the boys countered.
“If it is what I think it is, yeah, I’m going to buy it.”
“Sure, go ahead.”
Ken twisted the top off, sniffed the contents like it was brandy, then took a sip. He rolled it over his tongue, then closed his eyes. He could feel the smile on his face, and took a long hit. It went down as smooth as . . . in his mind he could hear old Jack’s voice . . . “as smooth as a baby’s bottom on wash day.”
“Where did you get this, boys?”
“We found it.”
The boy shrugged.
“How much do you have?”
“We’ve got four more.”
“Kid, let’s cut the bullshit. If you can get more of these—” He held up the jar. “—then, I know who made this.” Ken could see the boys looking at each other and getting ready to run. He took another sip. Ten-year-old McAdams corn liquor was just plain good.
“Now he’s dead and gone and ain’t none of his kin in town. All the kids and grand kids moved off to Detroit years and years ago. The old home place wasn’t much and the family sold it off after Jack died. It was over the line anyway, so it stayed up-time.
“If I didn’t have this in my hands, and someone claimed to have found it, I wouldn’t have believed them. It’s a local legend, like the lost Dutchman’s gold mine, but you wouldn’t know about that. I can tell you this much, I can’t count the number of people over the years who’ve gone looking for it. Some of them were cops, and some of them were moon shiners. The cops generally swear up and down that it doesn’t exist. The shiners claim it was hidden by the devil himself. There’s even supposed to be a map. But I always figured it was a fake. Jack sure didn’t need it. So, if you found it, good for you. As far as I’m concerned it’s yours.”
The boys relaxed.
“Now, I don’t know how you found it, but if you didn’t find over a hundred of these, then keep looking because there’s at least that many, probably more. Maybe a lot more. And I want every last one of them.” Ken named a price and hid his smile while the young men’s eyes tried to pop out of their faces and swallow their heads.
“That price is good for all you can find.” Ken paused. “But only if you promise not to sell any of it anywhere else. I’m paying top dollar. I don’t need this turning up with the competition. Do we have a deal?” Ken stuck out his hand.
The oldest-looking boy shook on it, then turned to the youngest ones. “Go get the other six.”
The two younger boys left at a dead run.
Ken caught the discrepancy. “Six? I thought you said you only had four.”
“We wanted the other two to shop around. But you’re going to buy them all so we don’t need to keep a sample.”
Ken smiled at the boy, took another sip, fished the charcoal stick out of the jar and put the lid on. “Good.” That one word described the moonshine he just bought, the deal he just made, and his opinion of the kid he’d just made it with.
After they delivered six jars to Ken and pocketed the money, Peter got in touch with Friedrich to cover for him with the ice cream cart. Then they went shopping and bought two big backpacks, one for Peter and one for Paulus. Ebert inherited his brother’s old one.
Sunday morning, dark and early, Paulus and Ebert stirred about.
“Where are you two getting off to?” their mother asked. “It’s Sunday.” Meaning they needed to go to mass as a family.
“We went last night, Momma,” Paulus said.
“Well, you still haven’t said where you’re going.”
“Back to where we found the mushrooms, Momma. I want to see if we can find any more,” Ebert answered.
“Let them go,” their father said. “If they went to mass last night, then it’s all right.”
When they brought in the second load from the hidden cave, the Club 250 was open, so they stopped there instead of taking it to the tree house, like they had the first trip. Ken counted forty jars, which was all they could get in the backpacks. At somewhere close to five pounds a jar, it was a brutal load to be humping up and down the steep West Virginian hillsides. “Let me get you the money,” he said.
“Why don’t you wait until the end of the day?” Peter suggested. “I don’t want to carry the money around.”
“I can do that.”
At the end of the day, with the fifth trip behind them and the light of day fully spent, they had delivered a hundred and sixty jars. The first forty were still in the tree house, it was nine o’clock at night and the lads were dragging. For twelve hours they had argued and dreamed, schemed and planned, discussed and priced one option after another. Through the long day of debate over how to spend the money; no one said a word about stopping. It was more money than they knew what to do with, more money than they had dreamed of having. They wanted the golden liquid out of the mine where it belonged to anyone who found it, and safely turned into hard cold cash.
With the last of the bottles counted, Ken said, “You’re calling it a night, right?” It wasn’t really a question. He could see they were beat and while he didn’t know where they were going, other than the fact it wasn’t much less than a three-hour round trip, he was worried about them trying to hike up and down the hills in the dark. “Let me write you a check. I don’t have this much cash on hand.”
On Monday right at twelve noon the pack train was back. It was their second trip of the day. Now there were eighty jars in the tree house. “What are you kids doing?” Ken demanded. “It’s Monday. You’re supposed to be in school.”
“Yeah, but if the treasure is ours because we found it, then it could belong to anyone else who finds it before we get it out.”
Ken couldn’t argue with the logic. Still he had visions of the cops complaining that he was contributing to truancy. “How much more do you have to go?” Ken asked.
“There’s not quite a hundred more full jars,” Ebert volunteered. “We figure to have them out today. Tomorrow will take care of the empties and the other stuff.”
Paulus glared at him.
“What?” Ebert asked in response to the dirty look.
“Do your parents know you’re cutting school?” Ken asked.
No one said a word. Not even Ebert. Ken just shook his head.
When they got home that night, after only making four trips instead of Sunday’s five, three irate mothers and a not-quite-as-irate father were waiting for them.
“Where have you been?”
“The school called!”
“They knew you all couldn’t be sick.”
“Education is important!”
“I ought to take a belt to your backside.”
“Well, what do you have to say for yourselves?”
“You’ve been seen running in and out of the back side of Club 250. You’ve got no business hanging around a place like that.”
By prior agreement, the checks were not mentioned. Peter pulled the rest of the cash out. “We’ve got a job cleaning out for somebody. Mister Beasley is willing to buy some of what we agreed to get rid of. But it has to be done right now. We will be finished tomorrow.”
“You will be in school tomorrow,” Paulus’ mother said.
“If they’ve agreed to do a job, then they need to finish it,” her husband countered.
“You should have asked,” another mother scolded.
“You will be done tomorrow?” the third mother asked.
“Yes, Momma, and it pays very well.”
“Well.” That last was the winning argument. Her husband had a job, but things were tight. If little Ludwig could help, then it was a good thing. “Next time, tell us beforehand!”
Tuesday saw a total of one hundred and twenty jars of white lighting in the tree house. The rest of it was bought and paid for and sitting in Ken’s stockroom or overflowing into the kitchen.
Ludwig sat down on a rock behind Ken’s bar. “I’m beat.”
“There’s a lot of empties up there. And the wire and the still, plus the light fixtures,” Paulus said.
Ebert flopped down next to Ludwig. “I’m beat, too.”
“Look, we’ve only made two trips today,” Paulus reasoned.
“Yes, but the good stuff is out. The rest isn’t worth that much. It can wait till Saturday,” Ludwig countered.
“You wouldn’t have said that last Friday,” Paulus said.
“Last Friday I hadn’t made a dozen trips up the hill and back carrying half a ton on my back. Last Friday we didn’t have three checks to put in the bank. Besides, we’ve got to carry what we’ve got in the tree house over here.”
“Not, today, though,” Peter said when he joined them after going inside to get the day’s check. “Mister Beastly asked us to wait. He doesn’t have anywhere to put it, so we’ll store it there for a few days.
“Let’s go deposit this in the account and get some cash, then we can decide what to do.”
The teller did not ask the usual, “May I help you” question. His eyes singled out little Ebert and he asked, “Shouldn’t you be in school?”
“We need to make a deposit,” Peter said.
The teller stared sharply at them before he asked, “Checking or savings?”
“Savings, for now,” Peter said. “We will need to open a checking account later, we hope.”
“And how much are you depositing?”
Peter put all three checks in the window. “All of it except for two hundred and eighty dollars.” They had agreed that they deserved some spending money, and they would have to give some money to their parents. It needed to be enough to justify two days work.
When the teller saw the dollar amounts, he said, “Please wait,” and left with the checks. After a considerable amount of time he returned with the manager.
“Where did you boys get these?” the manager asked looking at the checks in his hand.
“From Mister Beasley, like the check says,” Peter answered.
“What seems to be the problem?” Another adult male voice entered the conversation from behind them. The boys turned around to see Officer Lyndon Johnson of the Grantville police. The bank manager had left the boys standing there and only approached them when he saw Lyndon answering the call they put in to the station.
“These boys are wanting to deposit some questionable, possibly fraudulent checks,” the manager said. “That’s why we called.” He handed the checks to Lyndon.
The officer looked at the checks and asked, “What’s wrong with them?”
“Look at the amounts. And the circumstances are suspicious. It’s a school day, and usually when minors come in to deposit or withdraw large sums of money they’re accompanied by their parents.”
“Have you called Ken?”
“Why don’t you do that? Sort of seems like you could have saved me a trip, if you’d called him in the first place.”
The manager picked up a phone at a desk.
Lyndon asked the boys, “Shouldn’t you guys be in school?”
“Our parents know we are working today.”
“I can check that out, too,” Lyndon said.
Peter shrugged. “Go ahead.”
After a bit, the bank manager put his hand over the receiver and waved Lyndon over and handed him the phone.
“Mister Beasley, do you know about some young truants who are trying to deposit some sizable checks written against your account?”
“Tell me about it,” Ken said sarcastically. “I ain’t got that kind of money in reserve. I wrote those checks against my line of credit.”
“Can you tell me what’s going on?”
“Sure, Lyndon. You’ve known about the lost McAdams’ still?”
Lyndon said, “People have been looking for it for years.”
“Well, it looks like the boys found it. I figure it qualifies as abandoned property, so it was theirs to salvage. McAdams is dead and his family is long gone.”
“Yeah, I see your point,” Lyndon said.
Lyndon concluded the conversation and hung up the phone. He chatted briefly with the manager.
When the manager returned to the counter he told the teller, “Go ahead and make the deposit.”
“No.” Peter said. The comment about being accompanied by a parent to make a withdrawal had not gone unnoticed. “If we have trouble putting the money in, we might have trouble getting it out. Cash the checks. We will take our money to the Abrabanels.”
“That’s a lot of money!” the manager objected.
Lyndon stifled a snort which focused the manager's attention.
“We should check with their parents,” the manager said.
“No,” the word came out of four young mouths almost as if it were one voice.
“I don’t think we need to do that,” Lyndon said. “These boys made that money; the checks were made out to them.” There had been some trouble between working minors and their parents over just how much of what they made the parents were entitled to.
“It is the bank’s policy: when a minor wants to withdraw a large sum of money we ask for parental consent,” the manager objected.
“Yeah, but since it was never deposited then they aren’t withdrawing it . . . are they?”
“No, I guess not.”
“Look,” Lyndon said, “if they’re old enough to make it, it seems to me they should be old enough to put it in the bank of their choice. You’ve got some unhappy customers. Why don’t you just give the boys the checks back? I’ll run them over to the Abrabanel’s office.
“You fellows don’t need cash,” Lyndon told the boys. “The Abrabanels can handle checks just fine.”
“But . . . ” the manager sputtered.
“It seems they don’t like the service here.” Lyndon held out his hand for the checks and the teller gave them to him. “And I can’t say I blame them.” He handed the checks to Peter. “Come on. I’ll give you a ride to the Abrabanel office and then I’ll take you home and make sure your parents really did know you were cutting school.”
In the car Lyndon asked, “You wouldn’t care to tell me where you found what you sold to Mister Beasley, would you?”
Four quiet boys became even quieter.
“I see. Well, I was just curious. You’ve found something people have been looking for for years. So, unless someone else found it first and you’re stealing it from them or you had to break in someplace someone is actively keeping locked up, it’s yours.”
“No,” Peter said. “We aren’t stealing it and it wasn’t locked up. It was just lost.”
“Let me guess,” Lyndon said, “You aren’t through clearing it out and you want to keep it secret.”
Again the only answer he got was total silence.
“Well, when you’re through cleaning it out, if you ever decide to tell anyone about it, I’d like to see where it was. Grantville isn’t that big a place and there are people who think they know every rock and hollow and they couldn’t find it. I’d offer you a reward for the information. But, with the kind of money you guys are sitting on, I don’t think I can tempt you with what I could afford to offer.
“Here we are. Let’s get your account opened.”
Joshua Abrabanel was surprised when a uniformed police officer and four school boys were directed to his desk. “How can I help you?” he asked, making eye contact with Lyndon.
“These young gentlemen need to open an account,” Lyndon said.
“Well, Officer . . . ” Joshua left the end of the title on a rising tone making it a question and a prompt.
“Johnson. Lyndon Johnson.”
“Officer Johnson, we normally only handle business accounts.”
“Yes, we know. That’s why we came here. Give the man the checks, Peter.”
When Joshua saw the amount on the checks his attitude changed. Finally he addressed the boys. “Do you want a deposit account, a money market account or mutual funds?” Joshua assumed, correctly, that he wouldn’t have to explain the difference. Students, starting in junior high, seemed to soak the language of finance in over the lunch table.
Four young head came together for a quick conference. “Mutual funds, please.”
“I’ll set you up with the ninety/ten fund. That’s ninety percent low risk with a ten percent high risk, high gain venture. There will be some paperwork to fill out. Can you stop in tomorrow with your parents?”
“The boys would like to keep their business dealings separate from their family life,” Lyndon said.
“Lyndon, I can’t put their money at risk without a legally consenting adult’s signature. I probably shouldn’t even open the account.”
“I see.” Lyndon looked at Peter, “How old are you?”
“Seventeen next month.”
“Guys, is there someone else? Someone, any grown up one of you is related to, who could agree to this for you?”
The boys fell to muttering amongst themselves. Finally, Ludwig said, “Maybe. Maybe my mother. She likes it here. Do we have to tell her how much?”
“I don't see why.” Joshua said as he opened a desk drawer and took a form out of a file. “We can fill this out, then. Officer Johnson can take it home for you and witness her signature. I’ll keep the checks and give you a receipt for them, all right? Now what do you want to call your joint venture?”
The boys looked blank.
“Well, if you want people to know who you are, then you can combine your names. If not, you pick a name that says something about what you plan to do or how you made your money. You know, like Barbie Consortium, or Higgins Sewing Machine, or Other People’s Money?”
The boys looked at each other. Joshua could almost see the gears of thought turning.
“Not our names,” Peter said. There were nods of agreement.
Ebert spoke up, “How about, ‘We want to be rich’?”
Joshua and Lyndon tried but did not manage to completely swallow their laughter. The agreement in the eyes of the boys changed.
“So, not our names and not our goal, which leaves where the money came from.”
“McAdams’ mine?” Ebert asked.
Paulus shrugged. “Why not?”
When silence answered all, Joshua said, “McAdams Mining it is then.”
On the way to their home to get an adult signature, Lyndon tried to probe the boy’s desire to keep their parents out of the loop. He wanted to make sure there wasn’t any child abuse going on. The boys were keeping one secret. They might be keeping more than one.
“No,” Peter said. “It’s not that we’re afraid of our parents. The problem is that if our parents . . . especially our fathers . . . had the money, they’d leave Grantville and go back home. We don’t want to leave. We like it here.”
“Yeah,” Ebert said. “I don’t want to be a cobbler; I want to be rich.”
Ludwig agreed. “My dad is working in the mine. He doesn’t want to be a miner. I don’t blame him. I don’t want to, either. Here I can be anything I want to be. Nobody is going to assume that I will do the same thing my dad did.”
“So, that’s it?” Lyndon asked. “The only reason you don’t want your parents to know about the money is that they would use it to leave town?”
“Mom wants new winter coats for everybody. Dad says we can’t afford them. We don’t really need them. But if she knew we had the money, she’d spend it,” Ebert said.
“Shut up, Ebert,” Paulus whispered.
The members of McAdams Mining stood looking at the electric range with the copper boiler for the still sitting on all four burners. The only other things left were the half-rotted cardboard boxes and the dried out wooden staves of the barrels McAdams had use to ferment his mash before he ran it through the still. Even the barrel hoops were gone.
“How are we going to get this out of here?” Ludwig asked. “We can take the stove apart, it’s scrap anyway. But there is no way we are going to get that thing—”He pointed to the hundred gallon boiler. “—out the opening.”
“Not without a lot of digging,” Paulus said.
“And that would mess up the mushrooms,” Ebert objected. There always seemed to be a few of them growing in the mulch near the entrance.
They were still debating whether the tunnel they came in through was dug by the miners for an air shaft or the distiller to bring in water. There was no way it was ever used to take coal out. It wasn’t large enough to stand up in, or wide enough to pass a coal car and there had never been a road to it. They didn’t dare ask anyone who might know for fear of losing their secret, so the debate went on.. Every time it rained, more dirt and leaves washed in. Clearly there was no way the boiler was going down the tunnel much less out the opening, which was smaller still.
“It would be a crying shame to cut it up. Then it’s only copper scrap. If we can keep it whole we should be able to get a good price for it as a still,” Paulus said.
Ebert chipped in, “Hey, there’s two more openings you know.”
“Hush up, Ebert,” Paulus said. “They both give out into thin air.”
“So? There’s a lake down there. We can push it out and then go get it with a boat.”
“Or we can lower it with a rope,” Peter said. “Let’s go look.”
“Not without a rope we don’t,” Ebert squeaked. “I’d have fallen out last time without a rope.”
“Let’s bust the stove up and get it out of here. We’ll bring a rope tomorrow,” Peter said.
A month after he’d last seen them, the boys stopped by the station after school looking for Lyndon. “What’s up?” Lyndon asked.
“You still want to see where McAdams ran his still?” Peter asked.
“You mentioned a reward?”
“Well, it won’t be big enough to make a difference to the likes of you fellows.”
“Actually, we thought we’d let you work it off. The only thing left is the still. We could take it apart like we did the stove and sell it for scrap. But it will be worth a whole lot more if we can get it out and home in one piece. If you can get a four-wheel-drive pickup Saturday morning and help us get it into town, you’d know where it came from.”
“Yeah,” Lyndon said. “I can do that.”
On Saturday Lyndon was surprised when Peter climbed into the cab of the truck alone. “Where are your cohorts?” Lyndon asked.
“They’ll meet us there,” Peter replied.
Then Lyndon was even more surprised when Peter sent him across the Ring and around the south side of the cliff face. By and by Peter pointed and said, “Do you see the white sheet hanging off the cliff there? Get as close to it as you can without getting stuck.”
Lyndon recognized one of the holes in the cliff wall where coal had been mined out. He knew for a fact that in ’32 someone had rappelled down from the top for a look. The report said it was stripped and unsafe. Two other seams had been scouted the same way. One was now in production. When Lyndon stopped at the edge of the new lake Peter told him, “Flash your lights.”
When he did, the sheet disappeared. Then a big copper ball popped out of the hole and started slowly down on a rope.
“This is going to be cold,” Peter said. He got out of the cab, left his shoes at the water’s edge and walked into the lake.
Lyndon, struck by a premonition, ran down to the edge of the water and yelled, “Peter, that water is too cold to go swimming. You come back here right now.”
“I’ll be fine,” Peter said.
But Lyndon could hear the boy’s teeth rattling. “If you don’t come back here right now, I’ll leave you.” It was an empty threat but it might work.
Peter called his bluff. “Then I guess I will get plenty cold rolling it back to town.”
“Shit,” Lyndon said quietly, not wanting the lad to hear him. There was nothing he could do but wait and worry.
As he watched the water around Peter started splashing. Lyndon looked up to see the edge of the mine crumbling. Either the rope broke or the boys let it go. The copper ball finished the decent at the speed of gravity. “Look out, Peter!” Lyndon yelled pointlessly. It was all he could do. From the bank it looked like the young man was right under the falling still.
When the big copper pot hit the surface of the lake it threw water everywhere. Lyndon lost sight of Peter in the flying wetness for an eternally long fraction of a second, which was more than enough time for Lyndon to put in a prayer, “Help.” When the air cleared Peter was still there, alive and afloat. A second prayer followed the first. This one was also one word long. “Thanks.” The copper kettle plunged completely under the water, bobbed to the surface and started to sink again. Peter swam toward it frantically. At about one-third full it stabilized, and bobbed in the ripples. Peter fished up the rope and headed for shore.
When he came out of the water, Lyndon shook his head. “Are you crazy? You could have gotten killed! You still might. Get in the truck before you freeze to death.”
“After we load the still,” a shivering Peter objected.
Lyndon took the rope. “I’ll get this. You get in the truck and get warm.”
The boy nodded and complied.
By the time Lyndon had the still to the shore Peter was back, still shivering but dressed in the dry clothes he’d had the foresight to bring along. “Get back in the truck. That thing is half full of water. I’ll have to use the truck to drag it up the bank and then we can pour the water out. When it’s empty, will the two of us be able to lift it into the truck or will we need a ramp to roll it up?”
“We can lift it.” Peter’s teeth chattered.
“Get back in the truck or I swear I’ll leave this thing where it is and take you to the hospital right now.”
“Let me get my shoes,” was all Peter said.
“So, I rappelled down to the opening and followed the boys trail back to where they came in.”
“That was it?” Chief Richards asked with a chuckle. “McAdams was running his still down an old coal mine?”
“Yeah,” Lyndon said.
“I’d have liked to have seen that.”
“Well, there isn’t much left. Those kids took everything except the skin off of a dead cat.”
“I hear they got a good price for the still.”
“They would if anybody could. Yeah. It was all copper, including the rivets. I guess McAdams always did do things right. Old-timers talked about his whisky like it was the holy grail. I always thought it was just so much good old boy bullshit until I had a shot. That stuff is everything they claimed it was. I tried to buy a jar from the boys wholesale. They still got a tree house full. I’m not about to pay what Ken is asking. But they said they couldn’t sell it to anyone one other than Ken. He’s got dibs on it but asked them to wait a while. Then they shocked the life out of me when they gave me a jar for hauling the still into town for them.”
“As I recall, McAdams’ whisky was first rate,” the chief said.
“It’s as smooth as anything I’ve ever tasted. Bar none. Ken’s fortune is made and so is the boys.”
“What do you think they’ll do with the money?” the chief asked.
“I don’t know. But I’m sure of one thing. Every last penny of it is going to be screaming in pain before it gets away from them.
“Come to think of it, there is another thing I’m sure of. They were lucky this time. Someone had better keep an eye on those hooligans before they get into something they can’t get out of.”
Friday when the boys got home from school there was a note from Lyndon asking them to come down to the station in the morning. When he left it he assured Ebert’s mother that the boys were not in trouble, he just wanted to talk to them.
At eight o’clock Lyndon had five cups of hot chocolate with whipped cream waiting in the conference room.
“Did you fellows notice the mushrooms growing in McAdams’ mine?”
“Sure!” Ebert said without thinking. “Momma likes them.”
“How many have you picked?” Lyndon asked.
“Nearly a gallon altogether. Why?”
“Well, I picked a pocket full when I was there. If you’ve picked a gallon then it seems to me that we’ve got a small, self-seeding mushroom garden going. Fresh mushrooms sell well, especially off season. If we hauled in some stable muck they just might take off. If they do then someone is sitting on a regular income.
“I’ve checked to make sure. The mine is government property. We can register a claim to it for a percentage of what we bring out. That can apply to mushrooms as well as coal.
“If you fellows want to do the work, I’ll pay half the expenses against half the profit until the startup capital is recovered. After that I want twenty percent of the net profit.
“It will take a while most likely, so we’re looking at a long term investment.”
The boys put their heads together for a quick conference. Two heads were bobbing up and down. A third was wagging back and forth.
Finally Paulus looked up. “Officer Johnson, why don’t we put up the labor and you put up the capital, and split fifty/fifty.”
“I may not have that much spare cash,” Lyndon said. “And you should have some liability.”
“But we do. We’re putting up our labor. If you’re short of cash, we can loan it to you. But that is a separate deal. You pay it back whether your mushroom scheme works out or not.”
“Tell you what. You guys pay the filing fee under the joint venture. That gives you some coverage if anybody ever objects to you looting the site. After that, I’ll put up the money for a half of the gross.
“Half of net,” Peter said.
“Nope. If you want to split the net then cough up the cash. Otherwise it’s fifty/fifty gross.”
Four serious heads came together. When they separated a smiling face said, “Deal.”
“Any thought on where we can get the best deal on mucking out and hauling off for someone?” Paulus asked Lyndon.
“Hadn’t thought of that yet,” Lyndon said. Actually he had priced having it delivered. He was pleased that his new business partners weren’t about to pay someone else to do the work.
“Have you priced wheel barrows?” Paulus asked.
“I’ve got one to start with.”
“Is it from up-time with a rubber tire?”
“If we sell it, we can get four made up with iron wheels and still have money left over for shovels and rakes. Unless you don’t want to sell it, in which case we probably shouldn’t use it because it could get damaged or stolen,” Paulus said.
Lyndon smiled. The amount of actual cash he needed to get started just went down significantly.
“Hey,” Ebert chirped, “Is this mushroom mining or mushroom farming? Either way, one of us is doing something he said he’d never do!”
All four voices, including Ebert’s, spoke the same words at the same time. “Shut up, Ebert.”
Art Director’s Note: The 250 Club Bar illustration is based on a photo by Wood Hughes of a bar in Mannington. The image is not canon, it is my interpretation. -Garrett W. Vance