In 1982 I answered a classified advertisement from someone looking for a ghost writer. My friend, Billy Egli (Werner J. Egli) was the one who pointed it out to me. I used his phone and called the guy who’d posted the ad. The guy told me he wouldn’t discuss the job over the phone – only in person. He did say that I would make more money that I ever believed possible.
So, Billy and I climbed into my pick-up and drove to this guy’s address. He was located in a senior mobile home park near South Tucson. It was a ratty looking single-wide mobile home. The guy was about seventy years old. He seemed to function okay… not crippled or anything. He invited us to sit around an old chrome and Formica kitchen table in his dining area. He sat in a recliner and began by asking us how many books we had ghost written. Billy explained that we were both young authors and were getting our work published. (Billy more than me) I spoke about OIL SPILL, my first novel, and about the current work, (PARTNERS). I also spoke of my journalism background. Billy explained that he wasn’t applying for the job because all his writing was in German since he was Swiss.
To shorten the story, this guy pulled out a bunch of maps, photos and other evidence that he had discovered the lost 7 cities of gold. He’d discovered it back when his wife was alive and they had taken an enormous amount of wealth out of the cave and lived high until she died. He wanted me to write the story and if the book was published he would provide us the exact location and we could have half the treasure.
I told him I wanted twenty dollars for each page; a page representing approximately two-hundred-fifty words. I explained how I would write the story, bring him ten pages to review and edit, and then he would pay me $200.00.
This pissed him off. He reached into the side of the chair, pulled out a pistol and told us if we were going to hold him up we should use a gun. I looked at Billy and he gave me the ‘let’s get the hell out of here look’.
So, to extract ourselves from this nut case, I just mentioned that if he didn’t have the money we could work out some kind of payment program or trade for the jewelry he made.
Well, that pissed him off, too. He jumped out of that chair and went into the kitchen. He opened the freezer and took out two foil wrapped bricks and tossed them on the table. “I have money!” he shouted.
Some of the frost and foil came off one of the bricks and by fingering through the stack I could tell it was not just cash, it was a hell of A LOT OF CASH. Grover Cleveland on the face of some of the bills. Others in five hundred denominations. There looked to be a quarter of a million dollars lying in the middle of that old table.
I glanced at Billy. His eyes were the size of goose-eggs. I gave him a questioningly look and he shrugged. “Okay, you have our attention.”
The old bugger pulled out his pistol again and waved it for effect. “Don’t even think about robbing me. I will kill you both!”
We were there about an hour longer and looked more closely at his notes, photos and maps. The site was located at Elephant butte near Tubac, AZ. Just a short drive from Tucson.
I believe it was Billy that came up with the excuse that we had to leave to pick up his daughter at soccer practice. That was a lie; he had no daughter but was getting worried about this crazy old man. I told the guy I’d work up an outline and come back in a couple of days.
Neither of us ever went back. I often wondered about all that money. Egli speculated that it may have come from his diseased wife’s insurance policy. I kinda agreed but often though the math didn’t work. His wife had died only a couple of years before but the 500 and 1000 denomination bills had been out of circulation for a few years. Of course, the bricks may have been ‘hustler’ props; a couple genuine bills of large denominations wrapped around a bunch of fakes. We’ll never know because we went on with our lives. Billy Egli went back to Switzerland to promote his books. I went back to running my ranch and raising my son. I drove out to Elephant Head butte two years later and poked around. I hiked in a few miles and was able to reach the summit on a well worn trail. I recalled all the research data the old guy showed us and it didn’t resemble anything I was witnessing from where I stood. I looked at the clouds rolling in from the East and then saw another butte the resembled an Elephant’s head. The butte off in the distance actually had more definition than the one on which I was standing. I charted the location in my mind for further research. I decided to go back and see the crazy old man again. That didn’t happen until a year later. Billy came back into town, we talked about the old coot. His prognosis was that we would probably get shot if we arrived unannounced. He was probably right so we dropped it. My friend, Rick Daily had been advised of the original meeting and one day we were in the general neighborhood. We drove by the mobile home park and inquired about the crazy old man. The owner said the old guy had moved away and didn’t know if the guy was still alive. (This happened 5-6 years after the first meeting)
Years later, I wrote a pilot for a TV series that depicted the discovery of seven cities of gold being stored in a limestone cave in the second Elephant Butte near Tubac. It had four layers of flashback scenes; starting with present time and going back to the Spanish enslaving the Indians in this particular mine. I’m reviving that story that was shot down by the TV network executive as “too complicated”. I’ll write it as a novel and see where it takes me.