It’s strange to contemplate my good fortune. I worked hard when I had to and was willing to take calculated risks, but others were more driven and grasped new disciplines more easily. I suppose my greatest strength was efficiency — I was often lazy and took short cuts. Hence I had an advantage over the more industrious who were apt to stay the entire course.
I was also distrustful. I don’t remember being cheated by anyone specific, but I had the sense I might be at any moment. And not nickle and dime-level cheating like someone skimming from a tip jar, but that an abyss might drop out from under my feet. Maybe I would lose my job and wind up homeless. Or my savings would be wiped out in a market collapse. Or the authorities would find some tax I had inadvertently neglected to pay, some clerical error I made, some form I didn’t file.
My mission became clear: I needed to accumulate sufficient wealth with tolerably little effort in a short enough time and without risk of ruin. Then I needed to store that wealth securely and with minimal risk of seizure or confiscation.
I could recount how I accumulated the trove of gold and precious jewels, the shrewd investments I made, as well as the mistakes, but it’s not especially interesting. Others were more successful, visionary and tolerant of risk. Instead, I want to describe how I preserved my wealth, though for reasons of operational security, obviously I cannot be as specific as I’d like.
There’s a small town near a larger town near which someone I knew once rented a home. I went there only once, and actually I never saw him because I showed up on the wrong day. As I approached his door, it was oddly quiet for a would-be large gathering, and when I knocked no one answered. I reached into my coat to double-check the address on the invitation (it was correct), but then I realized the date was wrong.
It was okay — I had had other business nearby, I could smell the fresh air from the woods around the house and I was happy to go for a walk. Around a duck pond and past an old church. I walked another mile or so on the narrow path, and I did not pass a single person. There were other less-worn paths diverging deeper into the woods, and I took one. It led to another area with accessible, interesting — well, let’s call them “nooks.” It occurred to me a person could hide something in these nooks, and the likelihood of someone finding it by accident would be virtually zero.
When I got home several days later I could not stop thinking about my walk and the hidden nooks. At the time I had accumulated a fair amount of gold and a few jewels, but even though I had three thick deadbolts on my front door, iron bars on my windows, a combination safe hidden underneath a trap door, covered by a rug in my living room (where only 10 percent was kept) and an empty space in the wall one could only access by breaking into it (where I kept the other 90), I never felt my holdings were safe.
Ever since the authorities began issuing paper currency of increasing denominations to fund civic projects and pay the local police, there had been more burglaries. Criminals were stealing heirlooms, art, jewels, gold and other appreciating items. Often they staked out houses and waited for owners to leave, but they had become increasingly desperate of late. I had heard of one man’s wife being held at knife-point until her husband showed them where they hid the jewels. In a robbery of a remote farmhouse, at a fair remove from its neighbors, the thieves took axes to the walls and floorboards, tearing the structure nearly to its foundations before leaving with only some seeds and fresh eggs.
The authorities did little to prevent these crimes, and while there were some prosecutions initially, the incidents had become too commonplace. Worse, there were rumors the authorities had begun to confiscate gold and silver because merchants were offering discounts when people paid with precious metals rather than their paper currency.
Few people knew about my stash, and I figured if burglars or police officers were to call, I’d feign resistance and just before the threat of violence or criminal prosecution turn over the 10 percent in the safe. But I worried my acting abilities would be insufficient or that I’d get the deranged sort who hit the farmhouse with the axe. Moreover, some of my business dealings were in the public record, and the authorities might wonder, given the modest trappings of the house, what I had done with the rest of my profits. Any treasure on my person was a liability, and the thought had kept me up many nights.
But the idea of hiding the gold somewhere no one else would ever suspect or locate, far from my home, gave me hope. There was still risk, of course, what if I couldn’t remember the turn-off in the woods, or the markings along the less-worn and soon-to-be overgrown path? If I were to go through with this plan, I needed to map the location as precisely as possible and test myself by repeating the trip — ideally at dawn when no one would be around — until there was no way to forget it.
Of course, I needed also to make a precise written map. One hundred paces to the left, turn at the large rock, 25 paces to the right, in case I forgot details, fell and hit my head or met an untimely demise. I don’t have children, but I’d like to leave something for my nephews and nieces and also provide for the children of my housekeeper of 20 years.
I didn’t have a lot of time — so I traveled back to the site the following week, this time booking a room in the area under a fake name, and I did the walk on consecutive mornings. I crossed paths with no one, and I counted my paces and double-checked my makeshift map.
A week later, I went back to the site with a small water-tight bag inside a second bag containing most of my net worth. I had a small hand-shovel in the bag I removed only at the site, and given the unique natural characteristics of the nook, I was able to bury the bag without leaving a trace. It was protected from the elements, completely hidden and in a place across which perhaps only a handful of people had ever stumbled.
When I got home I hand copied my directions on a second piece of paper. The first I cut in half — one part with the description of the town and the other the directions to the site. I sealed the first part to take to my trusted attorney, and the second I would bring to my sister to keep sealed and present to my executor in the event of my death.
The second copy was placed casually in my desk drawer, only I changed the name of the town and altered the directions to the site in easily decodable ways if you knew the area well. I also made a diagram with messily jotted notes with my nephews’ names and the words “Easter Egg Treasure Hunt.”
For the first time since I could remember, I slept soundly and awoke without remembering my dreams. The wealth I had worked to accumulate my entire life was now safely stored, not physically in my house, but virtually in my mind, backed up, albeit imperfectly, in two separate places. Instead of having the trove itself, I had something lighter, more nimble and more resilient: exclusive knowledge of how to retrieve it. The more I thought about it the physical gold and jewels were only symbols of my accumulated wealth, proof to others of its existence, but only mementos of the work and value I had once provided. My knowledge of their location was therefore no less real than the embodied elemental symbols themselves. Symbols upon symbols denoting the stored labors of my time on earth.
At least as of this writing there has been no knock on my door. No one has broken in yet, and the gold I have accumulated since, more than enough for my modest lifestyle, is stored 90/10 in my safe and the compartment in my wall. I have yet to go back and visit the site of the trove to verify if it’s even still there — the risk of exposing it by going is greater than leaving it alone until I (or my heirs) need to retrieve it. Sometimes I wonder whether I have imagined the whole thing and merely hypnotized myself, so to speak, in order to sleep more soundly. But, whatever the case, it worked. And should they come for me, I know I am free to leave behind everything, walk out my door, undetected, with untold riches, the coordinates of which stored safely in my mind.