There is no sex in this story. Sorry
Thanks to the Hip & Knee doctor for editing assistance.
1793 strawberry = a rare variety of a large cent.
Condition Census = a roster of the finest known examples of a specific variety of coin.
Penny Whimsy = reference book written by Dr. William H. Sheldon
I was sitting still, as if I was paralyzed, as my wife of twenty-five years, explained to me why she was handing me divorce papers. I was only hearing about half of what she was saying.
"Gary, are you listening to me? You look like you are in a daze. Pay attention, will you? This is important."
"I'm sorry. My mind drifted off for a minute. What were you saying again?"
"The terms are straightforward. There is nothing to contest. I am asking for nothing. Do you hear that? Absolutely nothing. You keep the house, the cars, and all the money in the bank. If you sign it, everything will be over in three months."
I did not know what to say. Marcie and I had been married since high school. We had raised two, beautiful twin daughters. Cindy and Sandy were both at Columbia studying International Banking. We had a nice house in the suburbs and we both drove Volvos. Marcie had her own credit cards and cell phone. I denied her nothing. I never cheated on her, or abused her verbally or physically. She had never indicated that she was unhappy or complained about anything. There was no way I could have prepared for this. I never noticed that anything was wrong. Maybe that was the problem: I wasn't paying enough attention.
"I understand the mechanics of the divorce, Marcie, but can you tell me why? I guess it is too late for me to do anything about it, but I'd like to know why."
Marcie sort of slumped in the kitchen chair. It was apparent that she did not want to discuss the reasons why, and was hoping that I would just sign the papers and let her get out.
"Just give me the short version, Marcie. What the hell did I do wrong?"
"You didn't do anything wrong, Gary. You were a perfect husband. I sometimes hoped that you would screw up so I would have a reason to leave, but you never did. You did a great job raising the kids and getting them into college. You always gave me everything I wanted, even if sometimes I was unreasonable. You bought me a beautiful house. My parents love you. Don't ever feel that you did something wrong, because you didn't."
She looked good for forty-five. She had a nice complexion and perfect hair. It was light brown and she had highlights that glistened in the sunlight. She jogged regularly and her body was nicely toned and tanned. She was a "Lands End" type of girl during the week, but was glamorous when she had to be. Marcie was as perfect as she claimed I was. I just could not understand the reasoning behind it.
"I'm sorry. It doesn't make sense. There has to be a reason. You can't say that everything is fine and then leave. There has to be a reason."
"Gary, I am trying to do this without hurting your feelings and without making myself look like a sleaze. Can we just leave it at that?"
"Gary, I found somebody else. He is a developer. He has a nice condo overlooking the river and drives a beautiful black Mercedes. He is good looking, rich, and is madly in love with me. You are, and always have been, a produce clerk in a supermarket. I am not demeaning your job because you always took care of us and always made enough for the family to be comfortable, however you will always be a produce clerk. I wanted more. I couldn't see you doing that for me. You were always content with what you did, and I could not see you trying to improve."
That hurt. I was the manager of the produce department and she still thought of me as a clerk. When I had had the chance to advance and move out of town, I had turned those opportunities down to keep the family together; now look at how I was being rewarded. It hurt, but it was not worth mentioning.
"Does this rich, good looking guy, have a name?"
"Clayton Manning. He is the president of the Keystone Development Company."
"How long have you known him?"
"Have you slept with him?"
Marcie sat straight up in her chair. Her eyes darted around the room and finally she looked me in the face. " Yes. I was trying to avoid the subject, but since you insisted on bringing it up, yes."
"You were still married."
"Yes, I was still married. I cheated on you. I was an adulteress. I was a whore. Are you happy now?"
I sat for a moment and then reached over and grabbed the divorce papers, I signed three places, initialed two, and pushed them back across the table to her.
"I guess he is a better man than I was. Sorry for the disappointment."
I got up and as I was walking out of the room, Marcie cried out: "No damn it. That was not the reason. He was not better than you, just different. Don't you dare go away believing that Gary, don't you dare."
By that time, I was out the door.
I was so wrapped up in my work and hobbies, that I had not even noticed that Marcie had been gradually moving her things out of the house. By the time she presented me with the papers, she had moved most of her clothes and personal items to Clayton's condo. She thoughtfully left all the wedding pictures and family photographs for me to enjoy in her absence.
When I returned to the house, she was gone. Her Volvo was still in the driveway, so I assumed she wouldn't need it anymore. She left a power of attorney to sell the house and her car on the kitchen table. I spent the rest of the night getting rid of the beer that was in the refrigerator.
I figured it was a done deal by this time. There was no going back and I had no desire to. Marcie was gone and she would stay gone. The next morning I called into work and took three months of overdue vacation. They were always nagging at me to take time off, so I didn't have any problem. I had plenty of vacation time and sick leave accrued. I made a quick call to the girls at school and briefly explained that we were splitting, but refused to give them any other information. They wanted to call Marcie, but I didn't have her new phone number. I had three months to get myself together and to decide what I was going to do.
I had the landline phone disconnected. I had my cell phone number changed and cancelled the one Marcie had. The Volvo dealer gave me low book value for Marcie's car. I had a friend from high school, Terry Davis, who was now a real estate broker. He agreed to sell the house with no listing, for a low price with a quick settlement. Just to be sure, I cancelled all the credit cards and opened new bank accounts. I cashed in my life insurance policies. It was time to clean house.
I went over the entire house and gathered together everything that might have belonged to my wife. There was enough stuff to fill three trash bags. I packed the girl's personal belonging in boxes and took them to a storage unit near the house. I spent three hours sorting through the family photos. I put all the pictures of the girls in a box for them. All the pictures with Marcie went into the trash. It was juvenile, I know, but I didn't give a shit.
The big problem I had, was a lack of direction. I had no idea what I was going to do after the three months were up. Would I stick around or move away? Would I continue working or find something new? I had two hobbies. I collected coins, primarily Indian head cents. They were easy to collect and readily available. I bought and sold on eBay and enjoyed myself doing it. My second passion was geocaching. It gave me an excuse to get outdoors and get some exercise. Marcie hated it because of the ticks, poison ivy, and walking required. I didn't see how I could make a living with either of my pastimes.
When I wasn't busy with my hobbies, I spent my time with the Wall Street Journal. Cindy and Sandy gave me a subscription every year for Christmas. I had no interest in the stocks or bonds, but read everything concerning farm commodities. I knew more about sugar, wheat, and corn than most market analysts. Of course, it was just a hobby. I had no money invested in any of it.
I researched everything available on Keystone Development and Clayton Manning. Terry Davis was able to get more information on Clayton and his present project, than I could. He was crosschecking some of the information with a friend of his, at one of the local commercial banks. I was anxious to see what he came up with.
Seven weeks had passed. I had not seen or heard from Marcie the whole time. The girls called every week, but they had not heard from their mother either. I got the feeling that they were on my side, but Marcie was their mother, and I am sure they would have to support her to some extent. I had several yard sales and unloaded a ton of stuff. I kept just enough furniture in the house so that it would show fairly well to any prospective buyers.
Marcie and Clayton had their picture in the society section of the Sunday newspaper. They were at a political rally, enjoying wine with the local movers and shakers. Several more weeks passed.
Terry got me an offer on the house. It was pretty low compared to the appraisal, but they wanted to close in sixty days, which would be perfect. He had some interesting background on Clayton and wanted to talk about it. We set up a date for lunch.
I decided to get out of the house for a while. I needed a break.
Hayes Mountain was one of the best places in the area to hike and geocache. Unfortunately, I had found all the hides there. There were however, three benchmarks on the mountain. Benchmarks were survey reference points placed all over the country by the government. Surveyors and land developers used the benchmarks to put out property lines. They come in several forms, but usually they are metal rods embedded in concrete. Finding benchmarks is an interesting side game for serious geocachers. I figured that today, I would get the three of them on the mountain. In addition to my GPS, I would have to take my metal detector. Finding a piece of rebar in the woods is difficult and I needed all the help I could get. The GPS would get me to the approximate area.
Most of Hayes Mountain was part of the Madison Land Trust. It was close to two thousand acres, but they were always looking to add to it. Subdivisions and industrial parks were taking up most of the available land and the Trust had to survive on donations. There was an orchard and farmhouse beside the Trust parking area with a big "For Sale" sign in the front. After parking the car, I found myself wandering over to the fence by the orchard, just to look. It seemed a shame to think that in a short while, this beautiful property would probably be bulldozed over, to make way for progress.
"You going to buy it or just look at it?" I couldn't help but smile at the old guy walking toward me. He wore coveralls, but instead of a straw hat, he had on a John Deere baseball cap. He introduced himself as John Smerd.
"Well, if I had a million, I would be more than happy to take it off your hands." We both got a snicker out of that.
"You are not going to have any trouble selling this, are you?"
"Well, I got people interested, but I am trying to hold out as long as I can."
"Why is that?"
"I was hoping that the Land Trust would buy it, but they can't seem to come up with the money. They want to let the fruit trees go natural, which is fine with me. It beats the hell out of the developers who want to doze it over. I think it would make a fine addition to what is there now."
"How can the Land Trust compete with the big boys?"
"I gave them a better deal. The listing is for a million even, but I will let the Trust have it for six hundred thousand. Trouble is, they can't seem to be able to raise it right now. If they can't do it in ninety days, I'll have to take the option from the damn developer. That son-of-a-bitch calls me every week and I am getting tired of it."
" An option isn't a sale, is it?"
"No. The buyer buys a promise from me, to sell him the land in the next six months for the million dollars. He pays a hundred thousand for the option. If he can't raise the million, he forfeits the option payment. It is a good deal for me, I guess, but I just don't want him to have it. He has the million locked up, so he will be safe. The trouble is he has to get all six properties to make the deal work. That is why he is willing to pay more than the place is worth."
"What happens if you don't sell him the option?"
"He will lose his ass, lock, stock, and barrel. Since the Land Trust can't raise the money, it looks like Keystone has a sure thing. However, if he doesn't get this piece, he will lose the whole deal, including the money he paid for the options on the other five parcels. That's probably close to a million. His backers will walk away and leave him hanging."
"If I had the money, I'd help you out."
"Yah, that's what they all say." We both had another laugh and I left to take my hike. I found his reference to 'Keystone' to be interesting.
The benchmarks were a mile apart. That was, 'as the crow flies'. On the mountain, it was twice that. The first two were fairly easy to find and were standard surveyor markers. The last mark was a lot older and a lot harder to locate. When I finally zeroed in on it, I found a small, brick monument with a bronze plate fastened to it. It was buried under years of leaves and debris. I took a picture of it to post with the log. That is when my life changed. The metal detector was still on. As I walked away from the marker, it started to beep. It was faint, but it was definitely there. I put the headset on and started scanning the area about ten feet south of the benchmark. I finally zeroed in on it and carefully started to probe. You don't normally find metal in the middle of the woods
Five minutes later, I had a small iron box. It was wrapped in a heavily oiled piece of canvas. There was a lot of surface rust, but the box itself was still solid. The lock was heavy bronze but was still doing its job. Quite often, finds of this type on public lands, are considered treasure and must be turned over to the government or some historical agency. For some reason, that option did not make sense to me today.
I dropped the box in my pack and left for home.
On the drive home, I couldn't help but think about what was in my little box. Gold coins, was the first thing that came to mind. Maybe it was full of important documents from the civil war or earlier. The possibilities were limited only by the size of the container.
I cleaned off the kitchen table, got out a Foster's, and studied my find. I hated to destroy the lock, but I could not figure out how to open it otherwise. I had no idea if the mechanism inside the lock was still functional. I decided the lock would be sacrificed. My bolt cutter did a quick job of it.
Inside the box was another piece of the oiled canvas. I carefully unwrapped it, and found twelve pennies. Why would anyone go to the trouble to bury twelve pennies? They were not regular, everyday, pennies: they were old large cents. The newest date was 1814. The oldest was 1793. Despite their age, you could easily read the date on each of them. Amazingly, there was no green corrosion on them, which is common on old copper coins. I never bothered to collect large cents, because I felt I could get more for my money by buying the newer, Indian head cents. I did, however, have a book my grandfather left me, called Penny Whimsy. It was all about the different types and die varieties of large cents. I found it dull, since I didn't have any of them. It had been on the shelf collecting dust for close to thirty years. Tonight, it would get good use. I was up till sunrise with my grandfather's book and a magnifying glass. My scanner made beautiful, high definition pictures of each of the coins. Every die crack and scratch was perfectly displayed, and the condition of each coin was evident.
I slept until noon. I called work, just to check in. They told me that Phil Williams, one of the company executives was asking about me. They didn't know any more than that. I had other things on my mind, so I didn't pursue it any further.
A trip to the bank would be necessary to obtain a safety deposit box. After several hours on the Internet, I realized that my pennies were worth several million dollars. It wasn't their age exactly, but their condition and die variety. I now knew why drug dealers had to go to so much trouble to launder money. There was no easy way to turn my precious coins into hard cash. More work would be required. As I was eating breakfast at the IHOP, I noticed another picture in the paper of Marcie and Clayton at the opening of a new art gallery. She was wearing a black cocktail dress and holding a glass of wine or champagne. They were both smiling for the camera. My next step became clearer in my mind, as I looked at the picture.
After getting the safety deposit box, I called John Smerd, and asked him to hold off on making any decisions about the land for a few days. He seemed pleased with the phone call. I drove to the Land Trust office, and ask for information about how to make a donation to the organization. They were overjoyed to help me.
It would be four weeks until the divorce would be final. For some reason, I felt that this time frame was important. I spent the rest of the day researching coin dealers and auction houses. I wasn't looking for advertisements, but for litigations. I finally zeroed in on Towers and Burnes, in New York City. They had a strong financial position, and seemed to be able to handle controversial sales, with little problem and low publicity. I made an appointment with them for Monday afternoon. I called the girls and told them to keep Monday morning open so we could have lunch together.
The front of the Towers and Burnes office was a glitzy showroom. There was a lot of glass and lights. Display cases held the standard variety of collectibles and the walls were covered with other numismatic supplies. I identified myself and was led back to a far less showy section of the building.
"Welcome to New York, Mister Simmons. I understand you have a few interesting coppers to show us. Is this your first time to the city?"
I sat down in a straight back chair across the desk from James Towers. His picture was in the ads, but now he looked about ten years older. "Thank you. My daughters are both attending Columbia, so I have been here before, but never on business. I am not questioning your knowledge of coins, but do you happen to have someone on your staff that specializes in early copper coins? If so, I think their presence would be beneficial."
"I am not that sensitive and I think it would be a good idea also." He leaned toward an intercom on the desk." Marie, have Cookson come into my office please." Maurice Cookson had published several reference books on large cents and half cents. I was pleased with his availability. Mister Cookson also appeared older than his pictures. I guess nobody likes to look old.
"Gentlemen, I have twelve special coins I am offering for sale.
I hope to sell four of them today and leave a fifth one with you for your consideration. The seven other coins I am holding for later. If everything goes well today, I will offer them to you also. I know this seems unbelievable but I think that six of the coins will fall under the condition census status. I am sure Mister Cookson will determine if I am close or not. Since condition census cents do not come on the market often, I was hoping you would be interested."
"Where did these coins come from?"
"My grandfather left them to me when he died."
"I don't want to be insulting Mister Simmons, but that story is difficult to believe. What do you have to show us?"