(More mystery adventure. This posting was delayed by fantastic weather and unscheduled work distractions)
Looking over the maps and documents that Charles had acquired took over a day, even with Leo helping out between checks on Mrs. Wiltman. Charles worked almost frenetically to gather the details he needed to pin down a search area. It was late the next evening before they formed solid plans. They sat back and had drinks while they discussed final preparations. Their office was empty, not unusual for a Wednesday evening, and a sense of urgency had settled over both of them.
Leo sipped at a modest quantity of gin. He was still turning the whole, ancient story around in this head.
“Humour me,” he said to Charles while looking into his glass. “Let’s have it from the start, again.”
Charles was happy to oblige. His brother had been unusually supportive and helpful, so there was no point in rocking the boat. Besides, his brother was a good investigator, even if he was too conservative in the field. Another telling, especially in light of their latest findings, might not be out of order.
“All right, then,” Charles said, putting down his drink and gesturing to their working copy of the map. “Gilbury was not much of anything in 1857; a tiny farm town without much more than a church, a general store and a recent stop on the Great Western Railway. The majority of the land was actually owned by the Gibson family, who held an estate a short distance from the downtown, such as it was. Publicly, the Gibsons were an upstanding lot of good farmers. They were blessed with old money from Europe and were hard workers, blah, blah, blah. It has since been determined that the old, European money was largely gained from illegal activities. The Canadian branch of Gibsons was probably not involved much those affairs. Still, they were anything but squeaky clean.”
“It would be nice to know more about their degree of involvement,” Leo commented as Charles paused to take a drink.
“Absolutely!” Charles agreed. “That would clear up a few things. But we do know they knew about it. So let’s switch the story to fact mode. Fact: the European Gibsons start sending gold to the Ontario Gibsons as early as 1821. Speculation: that gold was stolen and definitely hidden with or disguised as lead articles. Fact: As early as 1833, these shipments start including precious gems. More speculation: this was probably the European Gibsons trying to hide ill-gotten money. Fact: the Gibsons, whether they got sloppy or unlucky, had two shipments discovered by outsiders. Speculation: we are ninety-nine percent certain they murdered the first fellow, a wagon driver that carried the stuff to the estate. Fact: the second discovery was in 1857 by a railway baggage clerk, Reginald Bannington, who inspected a damaged chest. Fact: Bannington foolishly approaches Henry Gibson, the head of the Ontario Gibson family, about it. Fact: Bannington disappears within a day, his body later discovered in a ditch out in Trunkville. Speculation: Bannington was probably fishing for a bribe and may have got one, only the Gibsons wanted to completely cover their tracks.”
“Right,” Leo chimed in. “It’s too ridiculous for him to have gone to the estate, otherwise.”
“Exactly,” Charles went on. “Lucky for us that Bannington was greedy and had a big mouth. The diary of Carol Benick was such a find. It was meant to fucking be!”
“She’s the daughter of Bannington’s friend, right?” Leo asked.
“Yeah, and she mentions that her father was told by Bannington about the gold,” Charles said, trying to contain his excitement as if he had just figured things out. “Wisely, her father, John, shut up about it.”
“Which had nothing to do with Bannington’s sudden disappearance, I’m sure,” Leo added.
“Right,” Charles said. “Now, we fast forward to the prohibition era. The Gibsons are still into farming, but as a cover. They returned to their criminal roots, if ever they left them, by entering the booze trade. In 1920, the estate is raided and the cops find booze and various items made of gold. According to police reports, fifty pounds of gold items were seized.”
“Which they mistook for the proceeds of alcohol traffic,” Leo cut in. “Only they didn’t know about their real origins.”
“I have only recovered fragments of paperwork related to those gold and gem shipments,” Charles said, “but the Ontario Gibsons probably received an average of four shipments a year, averaging twenty-five pounds each. I can verify that the first shipment was in 1821 and the last in 1883. So, let’s get conservative. If half of those shipments were decoys, and only half of the weight was actually gold, we are still looking at 1550 pounds worth. Any quantity of gems would be over and above that.”
“And you figure it has to be in the swamp?” Leo asked.
“Where else?” Charles said. “When they raided the estate, they also hit their other property and came up with nothing.”
“Any chance the cops just shut up and split it among themselves?”
Charles raised an eyebrow to that. “It would have been awfully tough to cover that up. Could they cover that with the twenty-ish cops involved? And the Gibsons never said anything about it, either. The swamp bordered their main estate. It’s a half mile from the house and there is no reason to go there. It would also explain the Gibson’s territorial nature. Between 1846 and 1887, there are a dozen complaints from locals being threatened, beaten or shot at for trespassing.”
“And that was all near the swamp,” Leo said. “And you think the Gibsons all died before this could be passed on?”
“Anybody who was anybody in the family either dies in the 1920 raid, or they died in prison. The Gibsons who took over were all young, and somewhat disconnected from the hierarchy. It is very unlikely they knew anything.”
Leo sipped his gin, letting things sink in. Wading through a swamp for a fortune in gold was making him heady. He wondered if Charles had been feeling this way for some time.
“These old maps are vague,” Charles went on, “but they note trails into the swamp. The notes go on to say the Gibsons claimed to hunt and trap there. Un-bloody-likely!”
“What worries me is how far in they hid the stuff, and how well they might have hidden it,” Leo said, looking at their map, covered in scribbles. “For instance, a good chunk of the swamp is still on Gibson property, and the rest is a conservation area. That’s a risky venture.”
“Shit,” Charles laughed, taking a drink. “Who cares about the conservation area? We play dumb and the worst we get is a fine. And nineteenth century people never accounted for metal detectors, so we don’t need to worry about digging aimlessly.”
“Actually, Charles,” Leo said, finishing his drink, “I wasn’t worried much about conservation officers. The modern Gibsons are pretty tough customers, and not unfamiliar with violence. What happens if Red or Tanner catch us prowling around in the middle of the night?”