The Secret of the Lost Robber Baron Gold

 

 

     © 2011 Dennis James Browne


 

I cheat my sons every chance I get--it makes 'em tougher!"
--Cornelius Vanderbilt

 

 

CHAPTER 1

 

------In 1868 a new dawn began spreading across the land. The Civil War, that had pitted brother against brother for half a decade, was over. It was time to get back to the business of growth and prosperity, which seemed to hold even brighter promise after five years of bloodshed, darkness and chaos.

-----Everywhere the mood was upbeat—greenbacks were flowing like water, and roguish wunderkinder like Jim Fisk  and Jay Gould became America's darlings, amassing overnight  fortunes through dazzling takeovers and Wall Street gambits that left lesser men breathless with awe and trepidation.

-----Even Washington displayed an unprecedented flair for financial wizardry. While the Revolutionary War had been financed with a record $80 million in 4% bonds, the Civil War had to be financed—and refinanced again, so that by 1869 gold and greenbacks had parted ways to the tune of $1.6 billion. Congress was delightfully imaginative in offering the public a smorgasbord of investment vehicles for reducing this record deficit: short-term treasury notes, certificates of indebtedness, notes for up to forty years, and their piece de resistance, the famous 5-20’s, tax-exempt bonds for which the interest was payable in gold—a smashing hit with the public, until it realized that the bonds included no provision for repayment of principle.

-----For the quick and nimble, money could be made almost everywhere. Hundredfold profit-taking in railroad stocks—aided by a bullish nudge from Commodore Vanderbilt, or a bearish shove from Daniel Drew—were commonplace. Real estate fortunes were made overnight. And the money game wasn't only reserved for aristocrats because the Civil War had created a shortage of almost everything in sight. With a little hard work, a trader in ordinary goods like timber, cloth or hardware could indeed make a handsome living.

-----Or if a man possessed larger appetites, like the fabulous captains of industry—J.P.  Morgan, Nicholas Biddle, Thomas Scott or Russell Sage—he had the opportunity to start out in rags and place himself among the richest men in America as the president of a bank or railroad...

-----Unfortunately, many of these same men found themselves standing in bread lines when the economic bubble burst, as it inevitably did.

-----But to many, poverty was only a temporary setback. These were the days when men went through fortunes like bottles of champagne, and poverty only made them thirsty again, an insolent challenge that made them look around and shout—

-----How can I lose?

-----Indeed how could they lose? So many greenbacks had been printed that the Treasury found it impossible to convert them back into gold. Banks became legal counterfeiting shops, fueling the economic boom and making credit dirt cheap for such a dazzling array of means, schemes and dreams that for an aspiring millionaire it seemed the most difficult choice was—which game to play.

-----It was into this tumultuous world, full of tantalizing choices and opportunities, that two brothers born in the small village of Tropeia, Greece, were cast. They were raised in America by their father's brother, a widower with no children of his own, who had the good fortune (or bad luck, depending on one's point of view) of bringing the two children to America when their parents were killed in a rockslide while harvesting olives.

-----The brothers were only a few years apart in age and were trundled off to America while still quite young. Upon entering school, Alexander immediately proved himself to be an excellent student, but Niko had problems, at times unable to speak either English or Greek. They both soon forgot about their natural parents, and came to know their only real father, Uncle Jiannos, as a towering, usually dormant volcano of a man, who was capable of exploding into bloodcurdling eruptions of anger, of which the verbal shock waves alone were enough to straighten out his wards like hapless reeds.

-----Curiously, however, as the boys grew older and came to know their uncle better, they at times experienced an even greater dread if he failed to erupt.

-----One day the younger brother Niko had the poor judgment to bring home a stray dog, which immediately sent big brother Alexander into gales of laughter. Not only did the dog have a limp like Uncle Jiannos, but its jowly, morose face was his perfect caricature. The similarity escaped Niko completely, and when he happily bounced into the house with the dog at his side only Alexander caught the depth of startled chagrin on his uncle's face—chagrin that quickly transformed into smoldering anger as he and the dog stood facing each other, the ancient mutt assessing his human counterpart with a vague look of recognition.

-----Suddenly Jiannos shot Alexander a look that made his heart stop. This look, cold as ice, was a clear indictment of an ungrateful nephew for an unprovoked insult.  Logic had nothing to do with it: his uncle was Greek. For Alexander to try to deny that he had spent years searching for the only dog on earth that looked exactly like his uncle, and then had gulled his brother into playing this cruel and heartless joke on the man who loved, clothed and fed them, was useless. He was an ingrate, and he was going to pay for it.

-----But Alexander's mind was already quicker than his uncle's hand. He instantly dropped to his knees and began hugging the foul-smelling mutt like a long lost brother—all the while echoing his brother's plea that they be allowed to keep such a great, handsome dog as their pet.-

-----The strategy seemed to work. Uncle Jiannos kept looking at him for some time, then turned away, evidently dismissing the incident with little further thought.

-----Take him out back and tie him up.”

-----Niko, brimming with joy, led his brother and the shambling dog out to the back yard where he tied it up to a tree.

-----It was the last either of them ever saw of the dog. Niko spent most of the next day in tears, searching the neighborhood for the ill-fated mongrel, but Alexander didn't join him. He knew it was useless to look for the dog, which could have simply gnawed through its leash and run off, but they both secretly suspected that one of Uncle Jiannos’ men had gotten rid of it in the middle of the night. If this was true, they were more curious about the manner in which the dog was dispatched than the heartlessness of the deed, and for several days they were tempted to ask Aristaphanos, Uncle Jiannos’ old servant and lifelong friend, what happened. However, even at such a tender age they knew that certain things were best left alone. They kept their mouths shut, and the incident served only to sharpen their already wary perception of their uncle.

-----Neither Alexander nor Niko ever really knew what their uncle did for a living, and when they repeatedly asked him over the years, he always had the same brusque reply:

-----"I invest."

-----As Alexander and Niko came of age, they both realized that whatever their uncle's line of business was, it was fraught with danger, intrigue—and large amounts of money. When they were children, Uncle Jiannos often left home for days at a time, and when he returned he'd always give each of them a gold eagle, the beautifully minted ten dollar gold piece that in the face of greenback inflation would soon become an even more valuable currency. Ten dollars was a fabulous sum to both Niko and Alexander, but, as with most everything he did, Uncle Jiannos placed a heavy condition on keeping such a gift. This condition, quite simply, was that the boys must prove themselves clever enough to warrant such a handsome reward. He did this by conjuring up some rigged game in which he, Uncle Jiannos, made up most of the rules—often as the game progressed. He then took a bearish delight in snatching back the coins, which the brothers barely had time to touch, let alone spend.

-----This game, which Jiannos, for reasons known only to himself, playfully dubbed “chrystiglos,” grew fiendishly more lopsided as the boys grew older. It was first played soon after the brothers came to America. Uncle Jiannos, just back from one of his many mysterious business expeditions, offered his wards two gold eagles, then proceeded to explain to them the rules of draw poker—only once and far too quickly to follow.  Then, after dealing out a single winning hand and again pocketing the gold coins, he proceeded to what he enjoyed most about chrystiglos—a lecture. The brothers found this first lecture as tedious and annoying as all the rest: a rambling sermon about how dangerous life in America was, how everyone was after his money, and that in order to put food on the table he had to be quicker and stronger than strangers—xenos—especially the Anglos, his mortal enemies who were everywhere.

-----Alexander cherished this first game of chrystiglos more than the rest because it was the closest he and Niko ever came to winning. As their uncle finished his lecture, Niko, who had just finished eating a bowl of Aristaphanos’ soup, threw up all over his uncle's lap.

-----As Alexander and Niko grew older, Uncle Jiannos took many such business trips, and the games that invariably accompanied his return home became less and less enjoyable...

-----"Come in, my sons. My trip was a great success and I have two wonderful presents for you!"

-----Alexander and Niko had just walked in from school. They glanced at each other as Uncle Jiannos sat at his desk, magically weaving a pair of silver dollars between his fingers.

-----“Come—Come over here.”

-----The boys walked up to their uncle's desk. He set two gold eagles on the blotter before him. Then, leaning back in his armchair with a sudden frown, he pulled out his  pocket watch.

-----"Why are you two not still in school? It's only two o'clock.”

-----Niko took out his own watch.

-----"No it's not. It's ten after three.”

-----Alexander smacked his brother across the shoulder.

-----“No it’s not. It takes us longer than that to walk home—it has to be at least three-thirty!”

-----Niko pointed at the large grandfather clock that stood behind his uncle’s desk. Uncle Jiannos nodded, shaking his watch.

-----"Yes, yes, I think you're right.”

-----He said nothing more. He simply sat at his desk, smiling at this nephews like they were about to become one of his favorite steak dinners. But before he could say another word, Alexander quickly snatched up the coins from his desk.

-----"Thanks for the beautiful eagles, Uncle. Nikki and I have to help Aristaphanos with the wood. May we go now?"

-----"Yes...You are good boys. Do your work, and let me know how you spend your money. Understand?"

-----The brothers stared at each other in disbelief.

-----"Yes, Uncle, we certainly will!"

-----They turned and dashed across the room, almost reaching the door.

-----"Just a moment. I have one question...”

-----The brothers stopped dead in their tracks. Niko could practically feel his new hunting knife slipping away through his fingers, and Alexander cursed not making good their escape because he'd already devised a plan to keep his own coin. He'd return home before dinner and tell his uncle that he'd lost the gold eagle while doing his chores. He realized that he'd be heavily punished—for either lying or telling the truth, whichever position Uncle Jiannos chose to believe. But in either case he'd still have the money, which otherwise his uncle, sooner or later, would take back anyway.

-----Uncle Jiannos sat behind his desk, quietly tapping his pocket watch with his finger.

-----"My watch has stopped...Still, I'll wager two gold eagles that only I know which timepiece in this room is exactly correct. Now then, Niko, what do you say?"

-----While Niko had fully expected his uncle to come up with some rigged scheme to steal back his gold eagle, such utter nonsense as betting on the correct time was more than he could bear! His eyes darted back and forth between Uncle Jiannos and his brother, as though caught in some kind of ridiculous conspiracy. Then, out of sheer desperation, he blurted out the following explanation:

-----"Alexander's watch is wrong because I know we left school at three o'clock and it took us a long time to get home. Your watch is wrong because it stopped. The grandfather clock behind you says three-thirty...so I'll say the grandfather clock!”

-----Alexander stared at his brother, amazed by his sudden burst of perspicacity.

-----"Yeah, he must be right. I'll say the grandfather clock too!”

-----Uncle Jiannos shook his head. He then slowly extended his hand across his desk, snapped his fingers and held open his hand.

-----"Wrong! How long will it be before you two learn that you cannot survive by picking olives in America?"

-----"But we're right. We have to be!”

-----"Again, you're wrong! My watch has stopped, but because it has stopped it will be exactly correct two times each day—a ticking clock, like so many other things in life, is only an illusion—the only way it will ever be exactly correct is if it has come to a complete stop."

-----Alexander groaned. He and Niko reluctantly handed back their gold eagles. Then Alexander smacked his brother across the head.

-----“Idiot!"

-----Niko, only moments ago brimming with confidence, was now more confused than ever. How could a broken watch be right? He looked over his shoulder toward Uncle Jiannos as Alexander dragged him toward the door...

-----"Your watch—aren’t you going to have it fixed?”

-----After being subjected to dozens of such pointless exercises, the boys finally informed Uncle Jiannos that they simply refused to play chrystiglos any more. He was both angry and dismayed by their decision. He told them that such contests were for their own good—he was only helping them to learn how to survive in a cruel and unjust world. They must never give up, no matter how impossible the odds, because sooner or later they would prevail! Faced with his brooding displeasure, insults and endless sermons about their countless enemies and inevitable failure without his help, the boys relented and finally resumed playing chrystiglos, the outcome of which was always as predictable as the morning sun and the gold eagles as elusive as the Holy Grail.

-----One day, however, the brothers came up with a scheme they were sure was foolproof. They bet Uncle Jiannos that Alexander could beat him in a footrace. The wager was six months’ allowance versus two gold eagles. At first they didn’t think that their uncle would even accept the challenge because of his age and his limp (which had an annoying tendency to completely disappear when he was chasing them around the house for a strapping), and also because of the fact that he smoked like a chimney. To their mutual astonishment, however, he readily accepted, and the bet was on.

-----The race was to be exactly one mile long, from the barn to the cherry orchard, and Niko would be the referee, following alongside the contestants for the entire length of the race in a horse and buckboard. When the race began, Uncle Jiannos and Alexander ran head-to-head for the first quarter mile—then, exactly as the brothers had planned, Alexander out-cheated the Lord of All Cheaters by suddenly jumping up onto the buckboard while he kept on jogging in place! Niko cracked the whip and Alexander waved farewell to Uncle Jiannos with a big grin. They were on their way to certain victory—until suddenly they heard a shot ring out--and then the old farm nag pulling the buckboard suddenly dropped like a stone in the middle of the road! Seconds later Uncle Jiannos jogged past the sight of Niko and Alexander squirming like a pair of pinned weasels under the overturned buckboard, a Colt .45 still smoking in his waistband...

-----"Go clean up and get ready for dinner!"

-----Not only did the brothers lose the bet, they had to pay for the horse.

-----However, by the time Niko and Alexander were in high school, they actually looked forward to chrystiglos. Their confidence (if not their wisdom) was growing by leaps and bounds, and they began openly challenging their uncle to serve up the most impossible challenge he could think of. They could handle it.

-----(After all, they had nothing to lose—and a twenty dollar fortune to win!)

-----Finally their big chance arrived. Uncle Jiannos had been on a business trip for only two days and when he returned, he was brimming with good will. Late that evening he called his nephews into his study...

-----"Gentlemen, I have a new test for you...What will be the closing price of the great Erie Railway Company common stock at the bell next Thursday afternoon, exactly one week from today? My own answer I shall now put in writing right here, while the two of you will have until next Wednesday evening to submit your own predictions. Should either of you come closer to the correct price than my own prediction, you will receive two ten dollar gold eagles. Any questions?"

-----Since the brothers’ combined knowledge of common stock was limited to what could be found in a bowl of soup, only one question remained:

-----"How could you know that? Aren't there hundreds—thousands of stocks traded every day?"

-----Uncle Jiannos chuckled deeply as he reached across his desk for a cigar.

-----“Very good. Indeed—indeed there are!"

-----Alexander persisted.

-----"Then how could you know the exact price of just one stock exactly one week from today?”

-----The brothers watched a perfect ring of cigar smoke drift over their heads. Their uncle smiled and quietly replied:

-----"Because I cannot afford to be wrong.”

-----Uncle Jiannos then wrote down his prediction on a piece of paper and deposited it, along with two gold eagles, inside a silver box that he locked with a brass key. He then placed the box inside the top drawer of his desk, which he also locked. He again informed the brothers that their answers must be submitted to him in writing no later than Wednesday of the following week. He added with a dry smile that if they knew little about the stock market and even less about Great Erie common shares, they'd simply have to rely on their wits to come up with the best answer.

-----His final remark was that beautiful gold eagles such as the ones in his desk would fly only to those who were quick enough to catch them.

-----The brothers followed their uncle's speech in glum silence. After he finished they left the house, walked over to the large oak tree at the end of the drive, sat down and spent most of the afternoon plotting their strategy. They soon realized that this latest chapter of chrystiglos was in reality Uncle Jiannos’ way of displaying his own cleverness by indirectly informing them that his latest investment involved manipulating the price of Great Erie common stock with some of his business cronies. To even dream that they could ever reach such sublime levels of chicanery was of course impossible...

-----That left them only one other choice: cheat by breaking into Uncle Jiannos’ desk.

-----The obvious solution was to steal the keys to the desk and silver box, which Uncle wore on a ring around his belt. Not so obvious was how to get these keys, since he always wore the belt and at night kept his bedroom door locked.

-----It was at this point that both Niko and Alexander realized that it was impossible to win this latest game of chrystiglos. Even if they did break into his desk and discover his Erie stock quote, submitting the same number on Wednesday would be tantamount to an outright confession that they'd cheated.

-----Alexander burst out laughing at the thought. So what? Even if they were caught cheating, it would still be worth it to see the expression on Uncle's face when all three "predictions" were exactly the same!

-----Late that afternoon Uncle Jiannos left the house and the brothers sneaked into his study. In the waning sunlight, they met with unbelievable good luck: the lock on their uncle's desk drawer was nothing more than a simple lever that they quickly jimmied open with a letter opener. The small, elaborately carved silver box inside the desk posed more of a problem. Its lock was quite intricate, and no amount of jimmying would open it, but then, after closer inspection, Niko discovered that the bottom of the box was a removable plate secured by a single tiny screw. Clearly the box, a non-functional object d’art, was designed in such a way as a defense against a lost key.

-----Uncle Jiannos' Erie common stock quote was $90. Unknown to the brothers, he and his shady partners—Anglo insiders whom Uncle had no qualms dealing with when it came to profits—were running up the stock, so that by next Thursday’s close, Erie Railway common would be trading at a new high of $90--a perfect setup for short selling and huge profits.

-----At this point a thought occurred to Alexander...What if Uncle Jiannos was wrong in his "prediction"? Even though he knew little about stocks, because so many shares were traded every day he still found it hard to believe that anyone could know the exact closing price of any given stock a week in advance—even if the final stock price were fixed.

-----And since the winner of the bet would be whoever made the closest guess to the correct closing price, Alexander finally decided on a strategy of his own. He would write down a price of $91, and Niko would write down a price of $89, thereby boxing in Uncle Jiannos’ quote of $90. No matter how fixed the final Erie share price was, Alexander was convinced that it had to close either higher or lower than $90, and when it did, one of the brothers would win and they’d split the profits. (Of course they also ran the risk of being thoroughly whipped once Uncle Jiannos found out they'd cheated. Their defense would simply be that they just wanted to be successful investors like him—the only rule on the road to riches being that there were no rules!)

-----On Wednesday after dinner Uncle Jiannos asked for the brothers’ final price quotes. With professorial aplomb he unlocked his desk drawer, and without looking at either piece of folded paper, dropped them inside the silver box.

-----He then proceeded to inform the brothers that Thursday's closing stock prices would appear in the early Friday morning edition of The New York Gazette. Since the Gazette was delivered while both boys were in school, it would be easy for Uncle to cheat by changing his answer before they arrived home later in the day. When they raised this point, Uncle Jiannos roared with appreciative laughter and assured his nephews that they could remain at his side until the Gazette was delivered.

-----Early on Friday morning a special messenger on horseback arrived with some documents and The New York Gazette.  With Uncle Jiannos at their side, the brothers quickly saw that on Thursday afternoon the common stock of the Great Erie Railroad had closed at $94—four points over Uncle Jiannos' guess of $90! Alexander was right: even Uncle Jiannos and his crooked partners couldn't fix the exact closing price of a stock! And since Alexander’s own quote of $91 was closer to the magic number $94 than $90, that meant that he and Niko had won their first game of chrystiglos!

-----However, Uncle Jiannos seemed completely undisturbed by what appeared to be certain defeat. He sat behind his desk and continued stirring his coffee, took a sip and then set down the Gazette on the table. He then removed the silver box from his desk, pausing only for a brief eructation. Slowly, with the savory flair of a magician, he removed his nephews' pieces of paper and folded them open on the desk. The brothers held their breath as he stood examining the bold caricatures of his own handwriting...

-----"$91 for Alexander and $89 for Niko. Not exactly correct, but most interesting..."

-----Then he reached over to reveal his own quote—but before he did, he glanced over at his wards with a cagey smile.

-----"Now then, again—what was the exact price of Great Erie common stock at yesterday's bell?"

-----The brothers blurted out together:

-----"$94!”

-----Uncle Jiannos then opened his own piece of paper and turned it open on his desk facing the brothers. The large, flamboyant script fairly screamed in their faces:

-----$94—the Great Erie’s exact closing price!

-----The flush of victory instantly vanished from the brothers' faces. They stared at the paper in stunned silence...

-----Uncle Jiannos had outcheated them again!

-----Niko glared up at his uncle, his hands clenched at his side.

-----"You—”

-----Uncle Jiannos' eyes flared.

-----“--I what? ”

-----Alexander grabbed Niko by the arm. Niko looked at him. Suddenly he clammed up, knowing his brother was right...

-----What could they do—accuse their uncle of outcheating them?

-----Uncle Jiannos slipped the gold eagles into his pocket, then took out one of his favorite cigars.

-----"I hope that both of you have learned a lesson from our little game. Llife is also a game, and as you grow older, you will discover that in the real world gold coins do not just fall from the sky. And if you wish to have much gold, you cannot be an honest man because no great fortune can be earned honestly. The pursuit of gold, like the pursuit of a beautiful woman has but one rule—there are no rules! You must work harder and be more clever and stronger than other men or you will fail. Mistakes will cost you dearly...and you must not think me either unfair or unjust in my ways, for as you both know I am a deeply religious man and my ways are the ways of the Lord...”

-----A few moments later the scent of cigar smoke lingered in the air as the study door closed.

-----Niko walked over and sat down in the plush leather armchair behind his uncle's desk. He reached over and helped himself to one of his uncle’s cigars.

-----"Game...some game. If you're on the side where all the big shots are it's a game all right, but what if you're on the other side, where there aren't any big shots--what's a game about it?"

-----He placed the cigar in his mouth and glared at his brother.

-----"Nothing—no game!”

CHAPTER 2

-----In the nineteenth century, the era of the great Robber Barons, one man alone stood out, a dark genius so feared by his peers that Daniel Drew—no angel himself—remarked of his nemesis:  "His touch is death.” This man was Jay Gould, the notorious "Mephistopheles of Wall Street".

-----Unlike other titans of the day, such as Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, a huge, crude man of herculean strength and insatiable sexual appetites, Jay Gould generally shunned the company of his fellow man, and had little if any desire for women or any other worldly appetites that his legendary wealth could have so easily satisfied.

-----Nor was great wealth in itself his goal. He once confessed that making money meant little to him. Instead he seemed consumed by the Machiavellian purity of his schemes and his ability to humiliate and destroy his enemies, who were inevitably swept away by his legendary campaigns.

-----Physically, Jay Gould was a small, pleasant looking man who had the bad luck of having tuberculosis. In his greatest moments of victory, he would spend the nights walking the streets around his estate or lying awake in bed, tossing up gouts of blood in terrible spasms. Perhaps it was the agony and despair of this affliction that colored his view of the world with a dark cynicism, a cynicism that was invariably reflected in each of his ruthless schemes.

-----Not once did Jay Gould purchase a railroad or monopolize an industry with the thought of seeing it grow—in the normal sense of the word. Rather his role was to attach himself to a corporate victim like a bloodthirsty parasite and over a period of time, through a variety of manipulations such as watered stock issues, phony dividend payments or fraudulent accounting practices, he would drain the enterprise of its cash lifeblood while simultaneously creating the impression that his victim was in the greatest of health. Once his appetite was sated, he would divest himself of all interests in the company (at a profit of millions), and leave the rosy corpse to equally rapacious, but far less astute investors.

-----A wiser Jay Gould might have more discreetly limited the number of his vulture forays and achieved far greater success, but his fevered mind gave him little rest, and, possibly realizing that he was a dying man racing against time, he regarded public opinion with the same contempt as all his enemies...

-----As a result, public hostility against him grew, and within a few decades Jay Gould became the most hated man in America.

-----However, it was long before such a time that another man, a small, unknown diamond merchant, had closely observed the young Gould's brilliant coups. In his younger days in Krakow, this merchant had been a soccer coach, and like any coach who has a keen eye for young talent, he regarded Jay Gould with awe, respect, and more than a little envy.

-----This man was a Jewish diamond dealer, an immigrant from Poland with a  teenage daughter. As he watched the young Gould pass by his shop each day, he too studied and learned the ways of Wall Street, and in his own small way, because he followed the stocks that Jay Gould bought and manipulated at immense profit, he too shared in the Master’s profits.

-----Then one day as he read of Jay Gould's acquisition of the Erie Railway Company, the cornerstone for Gould's later conquests, something suddenly occurred to this small man with big dreams. This revelation, which he was convinced could place him among the richest men in America, was as simple as it was brilliant, and, not surprisingly, it was an extension of his former career as a soccer coach...

-----It was better to own Jay Gould than Erie Railroad!

-----Unfortunately, Isodore Pulver Zacchariae was not a man of action. He was simply an ordinary man who spent many quiet hours alone in his shop, spinning fancy dreams of wealth and power. And while he was clever enough to conceive a theory of riches, he had neither the connections nor the courage to execute it. And so it seemed that Isodore Zacchariae’s wonderful scheme to own Jay Gould was destined to failure from the moment of its conception...

-----Until the day that he met  Jonathan English.

-----As was his daily habit when business was slow (which it usually was), the diamond merchant sat in his small shop with the big front window, watching the human parade of strollers, businessmen and shoppers pass before him. Of particular interest to Isodore Zacchariae were the women who so often accompanied their wealthy escorts to and from the halls of the newly constructed New York Stock Exchange building. These women the diamond merchant found to be irresistible and fascinating—especially their clothing, which was so much more brightly colored, daring and tantalizing than the apparel of the few women he had ever known. At times these women, with their impossibly tight bodices, narrow waists and great plumed hats had such an agonizing effect on Zacchariae that he took comfort in the rationalization that once stripped of these fancy candy wrappings, these women were nothing extraordinary at all.

-----(The diamond merchant fostered the story that he'd been celibate since his wife had died many years before, leaving him with a small daughter, a daughter who would never know that her mother really hadn't died, but had left him one cold October evening for a wealthy tobacco merchant.)

-----But there was one woman whose beauty was the exception to all of Isodore Zacchariae's rules. Her appearance was extraordinary in every sense of the word. Tthe manner in which she dressed was a dazzling cut above her Wall Street competition, and her pale white skin was made intensely more alluring by piercing blue eyes, and lips more red and voluptuous than a man like Isodore Zacchariae could ever dream of kissing.

-----The diamond merchant had only seen the woman twice, but he would never forget her. The second time he spotted her was late one Tuesday afternoon. It had been raining steadily all day, transforming Wall Street into a muddy thoroughfare of horses, carriages and pedestrians. By late afternoon, however, a warm, bright sun emerged and activity outside the diamond merchant's shop had picked up considerably. It was then that Zacchariae saw the woman's distinctive lavender carriage coming down the street. It was moving rapidly—far too rapidly for street conditions, and as it approached, the merchant observed that it raised a sudden spray of muddy water that left several pedestrians soaking wet...

-----Three men, expensively attired as they strolled down the walk, were now between the carriage and Zacchariae’s store. The carriage driver had moved to the center of the road to avoid splashing any more pedestrians, but the woman's companion, a man who was clearly drunk, stuck his head out the carriage door and gestured toward the three men. The driver responded with a hearty outburst of laughter. A moment later the three men stood at roadside, their fine clothes drenched in mud.

-----Isodore Zacchariae's attention quickly shifted from the trio to the carriage as it stopped directly in front of his store. He continued staring as not one, but two drunken men proceeded to work their will on the most beautiful woman he had ever seen...

-----What happened next occurred so quickly that even in his memory Isodore Zacchariae could scarcely believe it. The three mud-soaked men who had been assaulted by the carriage suddenly appeared at its side. In a fleeting instant the diamond merchant caught their image—a very large man and a pair of stocky companions, each with streaked gray hair. What remained in his memory were the looks on their faces. There was none. The three of them, drenched from head to foot in mud, moved to their task without the slightest trace of emotion...

-----It was over before Zacchariae had time to catch his breath. The huge man ripped open the carriage door and moved so quickly and efficiently that the carriage seemed hardly to move. Simultaneously his companions leaped up and seized the carriage driver, who made a lame attempt to defend himself with his whip...

-----Then, as suddenly as they appeared, they were gone. What remained behind could only be described as a battle scene. It was as if a cannonball had made a direct hit on the carriage, tearing open its door and throwing all three of its occupants—including the most beautiful woman in the world—face down into the mud with their clothes half ripped from their bodies. The driver appeared to be paralyzed from some terrible injury, his mouth open in a horrible rictus, and his hands limp and quivering in his lap, as though in supplication.

-----The woman and her two lovers were not dead. The crowd that quickly gathered around the carriage pulled them up from the mud, or they surely would have been. Isodore Zacchariae heard that the driver had been crippled, and weeks later when the lavender carriage again appeared on Wall Street, he was no longer at the rein.

-----The incident was reported nowhere. It vanished from memory as quickly as it occurred, and, aside from occasionally spotting the flamboyant carriage from afar, Zacchariae never again saw the most beautiful woman in the world...

-----But the man who nearly killed her walked into his store exactly one week later. Zacchariae had just opened for business and was seated behind his counter. The bell over the door tinkled musically. Zacchariae looked up and there he was...just the two of them, facing each other, alone in what Isodore Zacchariae suddenly realized was a very small and insignificant diamond shop.

-----“Could—Could I help you, sir?”

-----Zacchariae’s small display of diamonds had caught the huge man's attention. He continued studying them a moment before speaking.

-----"These diamonds. How much are they worth?

"--Would you like them?"

-----For the first time the stranger turned and looked at the proprietor. Isodore Zacchariae remained motionless behind his counter, smiling idiotically.

-----The stranger continued staring at him.

-----"I did not come here to buy. I came here to sell.”

-----He reached inside his vest pocket and withdrew a velvet pouch. He dropped the pouch on Zacchariae's counter. Zacchariae remained motionless, his smile gone.

-----The man frowned.

-----"What's the matter, man, are you ill?

-----"Yes—yes, my breakfast. Lochs—never eat lochs for breakfast!”

-----The man's frown suddenly deepened into an even more alarming expression. He stared at Zacchariae.

-----"Locks? You eat locks for breakfast?

-----At first Zacchariae didn't know what to say. For a moment, judging from the look on the giant's face, he thought they shared a liking for the same food, and that he had committed some terrible breach of etiquette by eating lochs for breakfast. Then, in sudden terror, he realized the man didn't know what lochs were and that he—Zacchariae—was apparently trying to be funny, which the giant clearly interpreted as an insulting provocation.

-----“No—no, of course not! Forget it, I'm all right!”

-----Quickly Zacchariae cleared his throat and opened the pouch. He spread several dozen stones over his counter, all approximately one caret in size. The color of each stone was perfect, and for the moment, out of professional instinct, his fears were overcome by a growing fascination.

-----The giant leaned forward with a gleam in his eye.

-----"How much are they worth?

-----"I'll tell you in a moment.”

-----Zacchariae studied one of the stones under his loupe. A few moments later he was about to speak, but caught himself and again studied the stone, this time more closely. As he did, he felt his astonishment increasing. To confirm his thoughts, he reached out and studied a second stone, then a third...

-----"This is amazing, truly amazing...”

-----The large stranger leaned over further on the desk, his eyes now coming alive with greed.

-----“They are perfect, yes? Tell me, man, how much are they worth?”

-----Zacchariae set down the last stone and looked up in astonishment.

-----“These are the most incredible stones I've ever seen!”

-----"Yes—yes, I know, but how much are they worth?”

-----Zacchariae stared at the stranger, then leaned back in his seat.

-----"Worth? They're worth nothing. These stones are fake—all of them!”

-----This was not the answer the giant stranger had expected. His look of unbridled greed was suddenly replaced by shock—then a slow, burning look of terrible anger.

-----Suddenly he slammed his fist down on Zacchariae’s desk.

          

  -----"I knew it—I knew it all along! That's why he was so quick to...”

-----The huge man's voice trailed off, lest he further expose the obvious...

-----Someone had cheated him!            Zacchariae quickly held up his hand.

-----"No—wait, I don't think you understand. It's true. These stones are all fake, but they are absolutely the best fakes I've ever seen. They are in fact nearly perfect. Where did you get them?”

-----The stranger scooped the stones into the pouch, growling under his breath:

 -----"Mind your own business, diamond man—and forget that I ever came here!”

-----Zacchariae leaned over and grabbed the giant's hand as he began to pick up his pouch.

-----"No—wait! I don't think you understand...If you play your cards right, there’s a fortune here!"

-----The giant growled suspiciously.

-----"What do you mean?"

-----"I mean that these stones are nearly perfect—so nearly perfect that I think I know a man who will think they're genuine. And if he does and you ask the right price, he may give you the fortune you’re looking for...Does that interest you?"

-----The stranger slowly removed his hand and stood up, leaving the pouch of stones on the desk. Zacchariae opened it and removed one of the fake diamonds, again savoring its near perfection.

-----"This isn't a diamond, and it's not zircon either...What kind of stone is this?”

CHAPTER 3

-----Just over a hundred years ago Manhattan Island was a far cry from today's congested madhouse of high finance and commerce. A time traveler would likely be amazed at the rural atmosphere of the city: no automobiles, with wide open streets, many of them lined with trees and still unpaved. Not only was there plenty of space between buildings, but the air was clean enough to see for miles. The East River, future dumping ground for toxins and cadavers, was still a place where a teenage boy could not only fish, but eat the fish he caught.

-----It was in such a world that our Greek brothers, Niko and Alexander, spent many hours fishing. And on one eventful day, a Saturday, the day started out sunny and clear, but after awhile an extremely thick fog began creeping over the island, a fog so thick that Niko and Alexander, who had been fishing some distance apart on the river's bank, became further separated—in itself no cause for alarm because both brothers were quite familiar with the terrain and Uncle Jiannos’ farm wasn’t far away.

-----It was as Niko walked along a muddy road beside the river that he first heard a man's cry for help. In the dense fog, the cry sounded odd, heavy, so that at first he wasn't sure what it was. He cautiously edged toward, slowly at first, then quicker, with his fishing pole and pail clenched in his hand...

-----"Alexander--Alexander! Where are you?”

-----A few yards further down the road he noticed deep carriage tracks suddenly veer sharply off the road down the river bank, but the fog prevented him from seeing through the thick underbrush.

-----"Alexander!"

-----Niko’s outburst brought still another cry in response. This time he could hear two voices—the man's and a woman's. Moving as quickly as possible in a fog that was almost palpably thick, he struggled down through the weeds and bushes until he finally reached the spot where the carriage tracks ran into the river. The water was quite deep in this particular spot, and the current treacherous. When the fog cleared for a moment, he could make out the sight of an overturned carriage only a few feet away from shore, nearly completely submerged in the water.  Its team of horses was nowhere to be seen.

-----Then, suddenly, he again heard a cry. It was the woman's voice this time not more than a few yards away.

-----"Over here—help us! God, please help us—I can't hold on much longer!”

-----Niko stared past the treacherous current into the fog. For a split second he thought he saw a woman and a man clinging to the branches of a half-submerged tree. But a moment later the fog crept back again and he saw nothing.

-----Niko was paralyzed with fear. He was an excellent swimmer, but he was also small and he knew too well the current's unforgiving message: one slip and he'd be dragged into oblivion. Only a few weeks ago while fishing, a cat had fallen into the river in the same spot and he saw it struggling only a few feet from shore, pawing feverishly toward land. For a moment it seemed like the cat would make it back to the river bank, but then, as though following the same playful ritual as the cat enjoyed in tormenting its own victims, the river delivered its death stroke with a sudden rush of water, and the hapless creature was swept away to its death.

-----”The rope—for God’s sake, whoever you are, get the rope in the back of the carriage. Hurry!”

-----Niko still saw no one in the shrouded waters, but it was clear that neither the man nor the woman could hold on much longer.

-----"Henry—please hurry! My arms—I can't feel them any more!”

-----Niko dropped his pail and fishing pole and cupped his hands to his mouth, shouting at the top of his lungs.

-----"Hold on, lady—I’ll get the rope!”

-----He cautiously edged into the water and climbed onto the back of the carriage where he spotted a utility chest. He pried it open and inside found a large coil of rope. He grabbed the rope, scrambled back onto shore and looped one end around a tree. The other end he tied to a heavy, broken piece of wooden spoke from a carriage wheel...

-----"I've got the rope—where are you?”

-----Again a voice broke through the fog—somewhere off to his right.

-----"Over here—quick, throw it over here!”

-----"Hurry--please!"

-----Niko hurled the wooden spoke into the fog and stood watching as the rope trailed after it in a high arc. Then there was a loud splashing sound.

-----”No—No, over here—more to your left!”

-----Niko quickly reeled back the spoke and rope and again flung it toward the submerged tree branch. There was another splash.

-----Suddenly his heart swelled with relief. The rope was being pulled taut across the water. He quickly tied the opposite end around the tree as the lady’s voice again broke the silence.

-----"Oh, Arnold, thank God—thank God!”

-----Niko sat against the tree, pulling the rope between his legs, desperately trying to help reel in the river's victims...

-----Then, suddenly, he heard the woman cry out—struggling words that made his blood run cold!

-----“Arnold—no! No, please don’t! Please, Arnold—Arrr...”

-----There was no mistake. The woman's cry was one of sheer terror—a cry that was suddenly cut off by the distinct gurgling sounds that she was drowning!

-----Then there was no sound at all.

-----Niko sat frozen beneath the tree, staring into the fog. He stiffened as the rope once more pulled tight between his legs...

-----The woman's murderer was pulling himself to shore!

-----Paralyzed with fear, Niko tried to get up and run away, but the rope was tangled around his legs, pinning him to the ground. He again screamed into the fog.

----- “Alexander—Alexander, where are you!?”

-----Suddenly the murderer began emerging from the water, only a few feet in front of him.

-----"Come on, kid, pull the rope—for God's sake, gimme a hand here!”

-----Niko could only stare at the man in sheer terror. He pulled himself up on shore and stood clutching the rope. Then he stopped, staring straight at Niko. He was short and thin with a frilly white dress shirt that had one sleeve torn away. He stood dripping wet only a few feet away, catching his breath. His face was long and lean with dark, intense eyes.

-----Finally he flung aside the rope and pointed back into the river.

-----"My God, you lost her—you lost my wife!”

-----Niko said nothing. His hand edged toward the spoke that lay on the ground beside him. But the man seemed unconcerned about the boy. His attention was now on the carriage that was half-submerged in the river. He again grabbed the rope and eased himself back into the water.

-----"Just keep a tight hold of that rope, kid, I'll be right back...”

-----The stranger held onto his end of the rope with both hands, then suddenly disappeared beneath the water.

-----Niko still sat beneath the tree, watching the carriage start rocking from the man's weight...Now was his chance to get away—climb back up the bank and run back to the farm as fast as he could!

-----But he couldn't run. He couldn't even move! It was as though he weighed a thousand pounds, trapped in some kind of horrible nightmare created by his own mind. And at the same time he felt a delicious tingling sensation throughout his entire body, as though he were actually enjoying the sensation of facing imminent death!

-----Suddenly the murderer's head burst clear of the water.

-----“Damnit, kid, don’t just sit there, pull on the rope—quick!”

-----The man's arms were still submerged, pulling at something heavy that he had tied to the end of the rope.

----- “—Hey, kid, you deaf? Gimme a hand here!”

-----Niko remained sitting beneath the tree in complete shock. He could only watch as the man hauled a large chest up out of the water. There was no mistaking the sound as he hauled it onto the grass. It was filled with coins.

-----The man stood up beside the chest, completely exhausted.

-----"Christ, kid, what’s the matter? You're pale as a ghost—you all right?”

-----Suddenly the man stopped and looked toward the road, as though he heard something in the fog. A moment later he again turned to Niko.

-----"Come on, say something, you damned little fool! Why did you take so long to get that rope to us—why didn't you move faster?”

-----Niko clutched feebly at the wooden spoke.

-----"I—I moved as fast as I could...I—I’m sorry about your wife.”

-----The man scowled, then ran up, reached down and grabbed Nikos’ shirt with both hands. His face was now only inches away and Niko caught a heavy reek of liquor. The man began throttling him, screaming at the top of his lungs:

-----”Sorry? I hope to God you're sorry! You not only cost me my wife, but my driver—that’s right, my driver! He was out there with us—unconscious. I was holding onto him. When you got the rope to us he woke up, panicked and dragged my wife down with him—all because of you, you goddamned little tortoise!"

-----Niko struggled to free himself.

-----"--You're lying! It was you—you drowned your wife!"

-----Niko tried to swing the heavy spoke, but the stranger was too quick. Niko suddenly found himself pulled up onto his feet, facing the river with the man twisting his arm behind his back.

-----"Well, well, well...So you heard everything, did you? That doesn't leave us much choice, does it? Looks like you're going to die a hero, my little tortoise!"

-----The man started forcing Niko toward the river. Niko desperately tried digging his heels into the bank, but the grass was wet and slippery. All he could do was drop to the ground. The man pulled him back up and with his arm still locked around his neck, kept forcing him closer and closer toward the treacherous waters...

-----Then, just as Niko felt himself about to fall into the swirling abyss, he heard an ear-splitting scream!

-----He suddenly broke free—and fell backward onto the bank. He looked up. Standing over him was his brother, Alexander...

-----Alexander was considerably larger and stronger than Niko—and the stranger as well, as was evidenced by the fact that he had wrapped his string of bass around the man's neck with one hand while wrenching his testicles back between his legs with the other.

-----The man kept on screaming as Alexander forced him to the edge of the bank—then unceremoniously kicked him in the backside, hurling him headfirst into the river!

 -----“Alexander—what are you doing?”

-----Niko pulled himself to his feet as the man started drifting away into the fog-shrouded water with the string of bass slowly unwinding from his neck like a surreal necklace.

-----"Save me—God save me—I’ll give you gold—all the gold you want!”

-----The boys stood watching the man continue to struggle away in the treacherous current.

-----"You don't know who I am!"

-----A moment later he was gone and there was an eerie silence. The brothers now stood alone on the river bank. Alexander turned and looked down at Niko, who was still sitting in the mud.

-----"Alexander, he's gone. You just killed him!”

-----Alexander remained impassive. He reached over and helped his brother get up.

-----"He would have killed us both, the same way he drowned his wife.”

-----Niko stared.

-----"Then you heard...”

-----Alexander walked over to the chest full of coins. His back was turned as he spoke.

-----"I was sitting on that rock over there. I've been here since you took the rope off the carriage."

----- “—What?!”

-----Suddenly Niko’s eyes burned with tears of rage. He scrambled to his feet, raced over and began wildly beating his fists against his brother’s chest.

-----"You bastard—you no good bastard—you could have gotten me killed!”

-----Alexander stood deftly parrying his brother's blows, for the first time displaying some trace of emotion. He was smiling.

-----"My favorite little brother? I doubt it.”

-----Niko stopped flailing and collapsed back onto the ground, completely out of breath. The brothers stared at each other for several moments...

-----Then they both burst out laughing.

-----Niko jumped up and scrambled toward the heavy wooden chest.

-----"Let's break the lock and open it up—it’s full of gold, I know it, I just know it!”

-----Alexander quickly joined him.

-----"Not here. Wait until we get it up to the woods.”

-----Alexander reached for one of the chest’s brass handles. Niko picked up his fishing pole, but then, suddenly, the enormity of what had happened filled him with an icy fear. He stood motionless, shivering and pale.

-----"I can't believe this...he's dead. They're all dead. What are we going to do?”

-----Alexander frowned.

-----"Look, get hold of yourself. That guy murdered his wife and he would have done the same thing to us. He was scum—the world's a lot better off without him.”

-----"But what about the police?”

-----”What about the police?"

-----"What if they find out?"

-----"About what?"

-----”Us—the two of us being here?

-----"It's already starting to rain—in a few minutes our tracks will be gone. Nobody will ever know we were here.”

-----"But shouldn't we at least tell Uncle Jiannos?”

-----"If we tell Uncle Jiannos, you can kiss whatever’s in this box goodbye.”

-----"Yeah, but—“

-----"Look, do you remember Uncle Demetrius? What happened to Uncle Demetrius? Tell me!"

-----"He shot that guy who robbed a carriage.”

-----"No, that's wrong. He shot the guy who robbed the carriage after the guy killed the woman and her two kids who were inside the carriage...and what was uncle Demetrius' reward for this good deed?”

-----"He went to jail."

-----"That's right. And what do you think my reward will be for saving your life and shoving that murderer into the river?”

-----Niko’s eyes lit up with a big smile.

-----"You'll go to jail?"

-----"Very funny."

-----Alexander grabbed his brother by the shoulders and started shaking him.

-----"Listen to me! We'll tell Uncle Jiannos nothing! We'll never tell anyone anything that happened here today—never!—or both of us could end up in jail. Do you understand me?”

-----Niko stared at his brother a moment, then slowly nodded.

-----"Now pick up everything—we have to hurry before this fog clears.”

-----Niko knew his brother was right. He had to control his emotions. The stranger would certainly have murdered them both if given the chance...Besides, Uncle Jiannos had warned them repeatedly about the treacherous Anglo legal system: Uncle Demetrius had been sent to prison for avenging the rape and murder of an innocent mother and her two children...

-----Why?

-----Because he was an outsider—a Greek—who had attacked a prominent  Anglo businessman (who also happened to be a rapist and a murderer) with an illegal weapon!

-----What would their reward be for cleansing the earth of the rich and powerful scum who had murdered his own wife and driver?

-----Niko shuddered at the thought, then put the dead man out of his mind and gathered up his fishing pole and pail.

-----It took only a few minutes for the brothers to haul the heavy chest up the bank. They rested awhile in the dense fog and rain, then started down the road again toward Bingham woods. As they walked and carried the heavy chest, Alexander suddenly dropped his voice in perfect mimicry of Uncle Jiannos.

-----"My son, in the real world gold coins do not just fall from the sky...The  pursuit of gold, like the pursuit of a beautiful woman, has but one rule—there are no rules!”

-----He glanced over at his brother.

-----”Nikki, I got a feeling we've finally won a game.”

-----"Game? What game?"

-----Alexander winked, then broke into a big smile.

-----Chrystiglos, my little tortoise—chrystiglos!”