I took the Szentendre train twice each week. Early Monday mornings I stood at the station near my home and waited for the train to take me into Budapest, where I was an assistant professor of anatomy at Semmelweis University. Friday evenings I caught a train back to Szentendre. Between the two short train rides, my life was bland, grey, boring, and repetitive. In Szentendre I did my grocery shopping in the open market and prepared my meals for the week in the city. I was able to rent a cheaper flat in the city if I didn’t need cooking facilities. In Budapest I spent most of my time in my flat, and the rest of my time with my students.
Last autumn I began to wonder about my life. I had been on vacation for the summer, and the return to the routine of city life and work was objectionable to me. Weekends at home were no better. Lonely days and nights, some so lonely I just sat around my house and cried for hours. It took all my will to go to the train station in Szentendre that first Monday morning in September. The usual scattering of people was there, waiting for the train to Budapest. I kept my eyes down as always. I was not in the mood for idle small talk. My spirit was in turmoil. I wanted to be left alone, to avoid social contact. At the same time, I wanted love, affection, attention, and sex.
My husband… my former husband… was a dentist. He had run off with his office assistant three years before. I didn’t see it coming, and it put me into a deep depression. I wasn’t interested in anything, and I simply buried myself in my work. It had not always been so, but I was thirty-nine years old, living alone and longing for love. I would have settled for any old fool of a lover, just to be touched by a warm, tender hand again. I was grey. My hair, my complexion, and my spirit were all grey. I was a colourless lump of average looking, depressed, slightly overweight middle-aged female meat, and I felt like shit.
I plagiarized Gloria Steinem for this title. She’s about 82 now, and still attractive. I am finding old age quite fascinating. I’m my own research subject. Throughout my life, I never contemplated or even thought of myself as becoming elderly. Now that I’m here, with eight decades to look back at, it can be fun.
One thing that’s interesting is learning of the deaths of people one has known over the decades. Some of the people who have passed evoke feelings of sadness; sometimes regret sometimes happiness, sometimes satisfaction or even relief. Living an active, varied life for a long time teaches one many lessons through many adventures and more importantly, misadventures.
I’m not concerned at all about my inevitable death. Still, it interests me to not how many people pass away while I live on. My first wife died the other day. She was three years younger than I am. I’ve also learned that two of the nicest girls I dated in high school died several years ago. Also an old friend who I hadn’t seen in years died in ’03, I just learned. He owed me money. I guess that’s why I hadn’t seen him in years.
I realized I could look through obituaries and see who I’ve outlived. There was a new president brought in at a large, international company for which I worked. The new president was uncomfortable that a major client was deeply dependent upon me, and trusted my judgement completely. I guess he feared I’d take the client to another agency, so he set out to oust me. One by one, my clients where bled away from me until I was let go. The group head that had to tell me, thanked me for how I’d elevated his career.
I searched obits for those guys and a few others, and learned that I’ve outlived all of them. I even found out that a false friend that had back-stabbed me, died of a massive heart attack twelve years ago.
They pulled four Krugerrand out of a top row and each looked at one, and to see what it felt like to hold an ounce of pure South African Gold.
“Each coin is an ounce of pure gold. It’s recognized the world over as a reliable measure,” Rob Snitzer said.
“How much is an ounce of gold worth?” Solly Cohen asked.
“About fourteen hundred dollars,” Rob said.
“But that means this chest could be worth millions,” Caroline Rich said.
“We should count how many there are in one row, and multiply by the number of rows,” Phylis said.
“Fifty coins in one row,” Caroline said. “I just counted them.
“It’s exactly fifty Krugerrands,” Rob said. “Six rows across and four rows deep.”
“Six rows across makes three thousand times four deep makes twelve hundred Krugerrands,” Phylis said. “Wow!
“If gold is at fourteen hundred dollars an ounce or so, this chest is worth… uh… “ Rob said
“Over a hundred thousand fucking dollars,” Caroline said.
“One hundred and five thousand dollars,” Phylis said.
“We’re rich!” Solly Cohen sang out.
“Not so fast,” Rob said. “Don’t you think somebody’s gonna miss this stuff?”
“Sure, the guys who dumped it,” Solly said.
“I mean the people to whom it actually belongs,” Rob said.
“We don’t know, so we keep it, right?” Phylis said.
“I doubt it. First of all, what does one do with a Krugerrand?” Rob said. “We can’t just walk into a bank and deposit a few Krugerrands can we? I think we should stash it somewhere safe and see what we can learn about the loot. We wouldn’t want to steal it if it was meant to educate kids in the Congo or something, right?”
“Maybe if we can return it to somebody, we can get a reward,” Solly said. “After all, they’d still have plenty. Better than nothing, right?”
“On the other hand,” Caroline said, “if it’s money for an arms deal, selling weapons to terrorists, we would be obliged to keep it, right?”
“I don’t think it’s right to discuss it now, when we don’t really know what we have,” Rob said.
“What’s our next step?” Caroline said.
“In my opinion,” Rob said, “our next step should be to pack up and take off before that plane returns.
“That might not be for weeks or months even,” Solly said.
“Or it could be any minute now. Let’s hustle!” Phylis said.
They broke camp and packed everything securely in the two canoes. They left the Krugerrands in the chest and placed it on the floor of Solly and Phylis’ canoe. They pushed off and paddled calmly but swiftly along the small tributary toward another creek that will take them back to their car.
The sound of a single engine plane could be heard in the distance. As it drew near, the canoeists found a place where tall reeds grew out of the riverbank and overhung the river. The two canoes were guided beneath the reeds and rested against the bank. The aircraft was low over the treetops as it prepared to land on ‘Treasure Lake’. As soon as it passed, they pushed off again until they heard the plane returning.
“That’s it,” Rob said. “They know the chest is gone and they know it can’t have gone far. They’ll be hunting us down, for sure.
I first noticed my second wife because of her walk. I was a writer in an ad agency, and she was a temporary secretary to cover someone’s vacation absence. I’d sometimes be able to watch her walking down the long corridors in the office layout. From the rear, she looked wonderful. She was petite, about 5’2″ and 105 pounds.
There was as rhythmic sway to her walk that exuded sexuality. She swayed, but there was also an endearing little irregularity, in that she didn’t go in a straight line, but staggered slightly, side to side. It was cute. I spoke to her a bit at the coffee machine. She’d been born in Israel while her parents were making their way from Poland to Canada. Her older sister was born in Poland, and her younger sister was born in Canada.
Naomi had a shapely dancer’s body, and the sweet face like an Asian doll. I felt she liked me, and one day I did a reckless and illegal thing. She was walking down a corridor, carrying a tray of buns and coffee for some executives in a meeting room. I came up behind her and reached around to cup her breasts. I expected her to accept it, and she did. She laughed and admonished me gently that she could drop the tray. I went back to my office.
Later in the week, she came to my office during a break. We made a date. I eventually left my first wife and took up with Naomi. I got the punishment I deserved. Soon after I let her move into my apartment, she left the office temp job and became a stripper. She was very good at it, and she made a lot of money for working just an hour a day. She performed four 15 minute dances per day at about $100 each – plus tips, stuffed into her G-string.
Anyway, years later I realize she’s a sociopath, and doesn’t feel anything about anybody. I remember that early in our relationship, she told me she didn’t know what love is. I should have paid attention. She doesn’t know what any emotion is, because she’s never felt them. She was a beautiful, wonderful lover, and a disgusting, amoral person. Good luck to her.
The sun rose into a brilliantly golden sky. When the sun’s warmth reached over the bushes, it set the tents aglow. Before long the bright light and warmth of the morning sun penetrated the two small tents and prompted Rob Switzer and Solly Cohen to rise from their respective tents and start the day. They had gathered firewood the evening before, so they structured the kindling appropriately and started a happily crackling fire. Before the girls emerged from their respective tents, the boys were gazing out onto the water, memorizing as well as they could the location of the chest and the body.
Breakfast was prepared by Solly. A pan of bacon and eggs sizzled fragrantly beside a metal coffee pot that bubbled happily. A discussion went on about what the macabre scene of yesterday meant. They agreed that the most likely scenario was that some criminals had stolen something valuable and discovered an undercover detective had infiltrated them. Or one of their own people was doubted. Obviously, the plane would return at some time to collect the chest after the loot was no longer making news.
“What do you think we should do?”, Rob said to the group assembled around the fire.
“I think we should get away from here,” Caroline Rich said. “If they somehow find out we saw them, we’re screwed.”
“She has a point,” Phyllis Snitzer said. “Maybe we better pack up and take off.”
“I want to go after it,” Rob said.
“Do you have a plan of some kind for this crazy stunt?” Solly said.
“I figure the girls stay here, you and I paddle out. One of us stays in the canoe as a base, and the other dives. I doubt it’s terribly deep there.” Rob said.
Solly thought for a moment, while the two women protested being left behind. He put in a suggestion that they should dive together, and the women should be nearby in the canoes. Fully pack the boats for a quick getaway, and it wouldn’t hurt to have the benefit of ballast for the tricky move of getting out of a canoe without tipping it. Then Phyllis put in that she had diving experience as a camp counsellor and she should be one of the divers too. In the end, it was agreed that brother and sister, Phyllis and Rob dive for the chest while Solly and Caroline manage the canoes.
The siblings stripped down to swimwear and helped launch the loaded canoes. Solly took the stern of his boat so Phyllis could slip into the water at the bow. Caroline was in the stern of the other boat with Rob at the bow. With only a few dozen strokes of their paddles they were hovering over the area where they’d seen the body and the chest dumped. The two canoes circled slowly in ever widening arcs. The four treasure hunters were staring down into the crystal clear water. Phyllis was the first to spot the body with the rope leading to the chest. Rob took out the World War Two army surplus sharpened bayonet that he used as a camping knife. They had all agreed to leave the body there, and take just the chest. They couldn’t do anything with the body anyway. It was better that it stay where it is, deep in cold, dark water.
Using carefully learned techniques for leaving and entering a canoe, the Snitzers slid carefully into the uncomfortably cold water. Phyllis swam to the chest while Rob went to the cadaver and cut the rope from him. He took the free end of the rope up to the surface and handed it to Solly. Solly lifted the trunk up, hand over hand. Phyllis followed the ‘treasure chest’ up from the depths. At the surface, she held the gunnel and helped Solly lift the trunk up and over so he could gently put it on the floor of the canoe. Solly was a powerful specimen of young manhood, and could just manage to set it down without it doing any damage.
“Let’s get out of here now!” Rob said as he carefully climbed into the canoe. Caroline was an experienced canoeist, and held her stern position while Rob became the bow paddle. “It’s damn cold, too! We have to get a few kilometres up a tributary and make camp under some trees with heavy foliage.”
They didn’t go back the way they came because that would have meant paddling upstream, which would be slower and more work. They stroked briskly across the small lake and entered the mouth of a small tributary that fed out of the lake. Their GPS showed that, although narrow, this waterway led to another via which they could return to their vehicles.
As the sun rolled toward the western horizon, the canoeists found a spit of sand tightly surrounded by enormous Maple trees that provided dense cover from overhead. They all were pretending that they weren’t bursting with curiosity about the contents of the chest and busied themselves setting up camp. At last, tents up, fire crackling, food frying, they gathered around and cut the rope from around the chest and opened it. They couldn’t believe their eyes. Krugerrands! In neat, tight, horizontal rows. Eight rows to a layer, eight layers deep.
“There must be hundreds of them,” Caroline said.
“Thousands,” Rob said.
“Millions of dollars,” Solly said.
“What are Krugerrands?” Phyllis said.
“Each Krugerrand is one full ounce of pure gold,” said Rob. The four adventurers just stood in a circle, looking at the loot and at each other, each wondering, “what next?”
There were four of them, and they were going in two canoes. Robert (Rob) Snitzer with Caroline Rich in one canoe, Solomon (Solly) Cohen and Phyllis Snitzer (Rob’s sister and Solly’s girlfriend) in the other canoe. They were perfectly equipped and packed for their adventure, because Rob Snitzer had spent several summers as a wilderness tripper and teacher. All supplies were calculated to be ideal for four campers, each about twenty years old. They set their Magellan to recognize where they set out as ‘home’. After that, they could wander anywhere they wished, because the GPS would bring them right back to their vehicle.
They pushed off from the rocky shore of Whippoorwill Lake, the two girls in the bows of the two boats, and the guys were handling the stern responsibilities. It was mid-morning, and they planned to enjoy a shore lunch at Crayfish Point. The slight breeze across the water was blowing in their direction, so progress went well with a tail wind.
“You set the pace, Caroline,” Rob said as they began their steady paddle strokes. “I’ll match my pace to yours.”
“The same for you, Phyl,” Solly said.
With the easy pace established by the girls in their bow position, Solly and Rob were able to push the boats forward without much strain. After two hours at the comfortable pace, the rocky spit of land known as Crayfish Point came into view. This was as far as Rob had ventured in the past, when he’d taken five canoes full of camper kids on their outings. They had been travelling in familiar territory for the first two hours. From this point forward, they are going to go by instinct, and just choose river branches or marshland routes as they wish, on the spot.
They enjoyed a lunch of German sausages cooked on the open fire, with potatoes wrapped in aluminum foil, roasted in the coals. As they ate, they agreed upon which river branch they should follow. They cleaned up after lunch, securely packed their equipment and pushed off down the unknown channel.
The way was splendid. The river was wide enough for them to comfortably paddle alongside each other and chat. The river flowed very slowly between the wide banks, so progress was easy. The environment was breathtaking. The shoreline on both sides was covered with beautiful wildflowers and stands of huge weeping willow trees. In some places, the river bank was very high, dirt walls towering over the canoeists. In other places, there were thick reeds through which they paddled.
Just before evening, they found a good place to make camp, amid protective foliage at the water’s edge, where the river emptied into a large lake. The foursome decided to make camp to rest before the long paddle across the broad lake. Camp was made; supper of peameal bacon and scrambled eggs was prepared and served before the weary vagabonds entered their pop tents for the night. Rob and Caroline cuddled together in a double sleeping bag. Solly and Phyllis did not. Phyllis was not comfortable being intimate when her brother was a few feet away.
There was a trace of red sky across the western horizon when the natural cacophony of forest and water night sounds was interrupted by the sound of a small, single engine plane. It flew over them at tree top height and landed on pontoons the water. The four campers left their tents and watched the plane from behind foliage, in the fading light.
A door opened on the right side of the plane and a man stepped down onto a pontoon. He moved along the pontoon to a luggage hatch and opened it. The man looked very out of place in a remote forest area. He wore a pale grey suit, a loud tie and heavy city shoes. He reached in and pulled out what appeared to be a strong box. It was apparently heavy, because he did not move it easily. A chain was locked around the strong box and the chain led up into the baggage hatch.
The man reached into the hatch again and pulled a man half way out, who was apparently unconscious – or dead. As he dragged the limp man out through the hatch he pushed the strong box off the pontoon. The chain tightened and the end that was attached to the man dragged him out of the hatch, over the pontoon, and down into the depths.
“What are we gonna do?” Phyllis said.
“We’re gonna check that box out,” Solly said.
“Tomorrow, when the plane’s long gone,” Rob said.
(To be continued)
The hostess was a former model and a friend of my wife’s. My wife was an art director and many of her friends and associates were models, photographers, designers and other assorted phonies. My wife, I learned too late, was the Queen Phoney over all other phonies. So we went to the dinner party at the interesting old home of the boring old model.
I found out after I got there that the party was a bon voyage affair for a man who was moving to New York for an interesting job as a writer for a news magazine. His wife was to move with him of course. I looked across the table at Mrs. News Writer and was not able to stop looking at her. She was Israeli I was told. Her face was stunning, her complexion was smooth and tawny and something made me desire her. Her name is Rebekah.
I hope you’ve experienced that kind of thing so you’ll understand what happened to me. I looked into her eyes, dark and deep as an ocean. She spoke with a knowing smile, her voice low and throaty yet I could hear her in spite of the conversations going on around us. I didn’t notice if her husband noticed that his wife and I were flushed with unexpected and unwanted stimulation.
“Arthur is leaving in two days,” she said. “I’ll stay here while he finds a home in New York. I’ll fly down and we’ll make the final choice together. Then I’ll come back here for a couple of weeks to arrange the rental of our home and moving of our belongings to the new place.”
“Do you have kids to put into school there?” I said.
“My kids are adults,” She said. “One’s in university and the other is in the military.”
“You look much too young,” I said.
“Thank you,” she said. Conversations around the table had quieted as a next course of the meal was served. I was embarrassed to think that everyone had been listening to our conversation, although nothing out of line was said. I’m sure the intellectual mating dance was obvious to all, with the possible exception of her husband. He seemed to be oblivious to the incredible hotness of his wife.
“Where is your home here?” I said. “Perhaps I’d like to rent it from you when you’re ready to rent it.” My wife heard that and glared at me. I didn’t care. I’d already decided I was done with her phoniness, and had to move on.
She gave me her address and phone number and asked me to call first if I decided to look at the place so she could make it nice. I said I would, and we dropped the dance of seduction we’d been doing below the surface. We returned to the general gab around the table while we enjoyed really excellent squab. The hostess graciously accepted my compliments on the meal. My wife later told me that the hostess hadn’t cooked it, just ordered it from a caterer. It came with the uniformed servant who had brought the courses to the table.
Three days later I left the office at noon and drove to the address that Rebekah had given me. I called ahead from the car and she told me it would be convenient for her as well. She opened the door in a white terrycloth robe, a white towel wrapped around her head, drying the just washed hair.
“I wanted to be nice and clean for you,” she said. “I have a feeling you’re a cunnilingus kind of man.” I was caught off guard and hesitated a moment before I replied.
“You’re right,” I said. “Perhaps you’re a fellatio kind of woman, so please show me where the shower is.
We enjoyed each other that way three or four afternoons each week, until she moved to New York. It had to end, so it was just as well. My wife and I split up as we would have anyway. I enjoy my freedom, but I miss Rebekah.