In the darkness, Ralph squinted toward the low hanging branches of full leaved maple trees. They seemed to be a black impenetrable wall. He hoped no one was hiding there. A ways from the wall, two roads triangulated the land he was standing on and led to the machine-gun-turret protected Jungle Inn Casino. It was 1934. In the center of the land, a man, the world thought was in prison, stood below a black and white street sign perched on top of a steel pole. Although the sign read, 'PETROLEUM', no streets ran alongside the sign.
Standing in grass up to his knees and making sure they weren't being watched, Ralph surveyed the area. Then he looked up at the sign. "Is this it, Snorky?"
Snorky placed his hand on Ralph's back. "Well, Mister Ralph Alsman, can you think of a better place to keep your money out of the FBI's hands?"
Ralph took a moment to consider the question. As he watched dim moonlight beam down on the grass and brush-filled patch of land, he answered. I can't think of anyplace better, but I'm still not used to being called Ralph."
Snorky adjusted the white fedora on his head. "For a million dollars and freedom for the rest of your life, I think you'll get used to it pretty quick."
As if getting ready to do some serious work, Ralph freed the top button on his white shirt and loosened his tie. His dark vest fit perfectly, and he seemed to be comfortable. He smiled a faint smile. "Where do we dig?"
Snorky bent over, placed a weird brass key in the base of the steel pole supporting the Petroleum sign, and pushed. The pole tilted to a forty-five degree angle. He inserted another brass key at the base of the pole and pushed the pole back to an upright position. The ground rumbled. Right before Ralph's feet, a steel plate slid back revealing a hole with a set of wooden steps. Snorky flicked a flashlight on and stepped into the hole. "Let's get your first half of the million."
When Ralph followed Snorky into the hole, he descended into one of the many abandoned coal mines of the area. But a lot of work had been done to this mine. Before them, at the other side of a concrete floor, a long brass vault, as big as a coffin, lay on a stone pedestal.
Snorky stepped to the vault and opened it. Except for a brown envelope and a piece of folded brown paper sewn shut like the string on the top of a dog food bag, it was empty.
Ralph grabbed the cleft in his chin and gasped. "That folded paper's not big enough to hold a half million dollars. Did somebody take the money?"
"Looks like it, doesn't it?" Snorky gestured to the brown envelope. "If I'm not here, and if by some unforeseen chance your money's not here, put an IOU in the vault. That way, I'll know you've been here before I had a chance to drop the money." He pointed to the sewn-shut, folded brown paper. "That's for the man who took my place in prison. It should be gone when you come back.
Sliding his hand along the smooth brass surface of the vault, Ralph said, "It seems such a waste to use a big brass vault just for two little pieces of paper and an IOU."
Snorky closed the vault and patted it. "Don't judge a vault by its cover. If someone finds your IOU in the vault, they'll think you took all the money out."
He reached under the pedestal and pulled out a stone the size of three bricks. Then, he reached into the opening and pulled out a long metal box. "Here's the real vault." He opened the box. It was filled with a long line of banded bills.
Exhaling a measured breath, Ralph reached over and ran his hand across the money. Snorky closed the box and handed it to Ralph. Then he bent over and placed the stone back in the opening below the pedestal.
Pointing to the stone, Ralph asked, "Is that where the other half will be, too?"
Snorky stood up and brushed his hands together. "Just as soon as you're officially dead, the money will be there."
Gripping the box, Ralph nodded. "Anna's going to rat me out. My official date of death will be July 22, 1934."
Smiling, Snorky patted Ralph on the back. "Okay, Ralph Alsman, after you're dead, your picture's going to be all over the front pages of the newspapers. We don't want to take a chance on anyone seeing you after you're supposed to be dead. Come directly here and pick up your money."
Even though his picture and the news of his death were everywhere, on July 23rd, accompanied by a beautiful girl, Ralph drove a black 1933 Hudson Terraplane Eight to the mine, but someone was already there. A 1932 Chevy Phaeton with full white-wall tires and flashing spoke wheels sat alongside of the road. Although it was dark, Ralph admired the car's light-blue body and dark blue fenders that ran the length of the running boards.
The last time Ralph had seen Snorky, the lapels on his tailor-made suit were hand-stitched. A silk tie had stood out on his white-on-white shirt, and a gold tie clasp showed the man didn't go for cheap crap. After today, Ralph would be able to wear tailor-made suits and wear gold tie clasps for the rest of his life. He figured the Phaeton was something Snorky would buy. He proceeded to the mine to see Snorky.
When he got there, a thin man with a mustache was crawling up the steps. As he held his side, blood flowed from between his fingers. With a pleading look, the man reached up with his other hand. "Get me out of here."
In an effort to help the bleeding man out of the mine, Ralph took the man's hand and pulled. Grimacing in pain, the man struggled out of the hole and stood up. With labored breaths, he managed the strength to speak. "Thanks, Ralph."
No one was supposed to know Ralph was still alive. He wanted to know who the man was. He looked into the man's face. "Who are you?"
Wincing, the bleeding man collapsed to the ground. With his arms outstretched and his hands clawing at the ground, the man's breath caused blood bubbles to form on his wounded side. Then the man's hands quit clawing. His body became motionless. He was dead.
Another man, with blood trickling from one of the open gashes on his face, walked up the blood-soaked steps, grabbed the pole, and hung on.
Before Ralph could help the man, a uniformed cop appeared out of the darkness and shouted, "Hey, jackass, where do you think you're going?"
The man holding onto the steel pole looked as if he were about to pass out. Apparently not wanting more injuries, the man cowered next to the pole. The cop reared back and lifted his huge foot to kick the man from the pole.
Ralph yelled, "Leave him alone! This wasn't part of the deal."
Instead of kicking the man, the cop dropped his foot to the ground and lifted his hand. "Where you're going, you won't have to worry about any deal." In his hand, he held a police officer issue 38 Colt. He laughed once and fired right into Ralph's chest. Ralph grimaced, but didn't fall over. The cop's old 1927 police-issued Colt didn't have enough velocity to penetrate the bulletproof vest Ralph had stolen from the police station. Once again, the vest had saved his life.
As if there were something wrong with it, the cop looked at his Colt.
In pain, Ralph groaned. "What did you do that for?"
Surprised, the cop could only gape.
Ignoring the pain, Ralph turned in fury, pulled his own 38 Colt Super, and emptied it into the cop. The man hanging on the pole grabbed his side and collapsed. Ralph made sure the cop was dead and went over and checked the man's pulse. He was still alive. Ralph ripped a length of cloth from the dead cop's shirt and placed it on the man's bleeding side. Holding the cloth on the man's wound, he looked over his shoulder and shouted toward the beautiful girl sitting in his Terraplane, "Billie, come here!"
Billie's lovely legs swished through the tall grass until she stopped at the man's feet. Ralph took her hand and placed it on the cloth covering the man's wound. "Hold this here. I have to make the withdrawal."
After Ralph made his way into the mine, he reached under the pedestal, pulled out the secret stone and pulled out another long metal box. It felt light. When he opened it, it was empty. Snorky had not made the drop. He put the box back.
For a moment, Ralph studied the big brass vault and wondered why such a worthless object was secretly entombed in the mine. But he didn't have time to worry about it. He hoped Snorky would come back, find out he had been there, and put the other half of the million in the box. He lifted the vault's lid and placed in his IOU.
Back up top, Ralph closed the mine and dragged the cop and the other dead man into the Chevy Phaeton. Then, Billie and he gently placed the wounded man from the pole into the Terraplane.
Standing next to the Terraplane, Billie asked, "What do we do now?"
"Jump in the Terraplane and follow me." Ralph pointed to the Phaeton. "After I get rid of that, you can pick me up."
Billie tilted her cute head toward the man in the back seat. "What about him?"
"We'll drop him off at the hospital."
With Billie following in the Terraplane, Ralph drove the Phaeton to a place called Patagonia and stopped at the top of Myers Hill. He placed the car in neutral and gave it a big push. The Phaeton and the two dead men sailed down the hill and slid into the deep dark waters of the Shenango River.
Even though the river raged, churned, and twisted around rocks and eroded stony banks, the Phaeton would stay on the bottom until the spring floods. Then, the powerful force of tons of water would sweep the Phaeton and anything in its way downriver.
With his new identity, a half a million dollars, and the FBI no longer after him, Ralph got married and moved to Oregon.
The vault remained in the mine.