It was more cash than he’d ever seen in his life, at least to date. It was also more than he could abscond with and remain inconspicuous. He was presently equipped with only a pair of pockets and a backpack. It was imperative that he decide quickly and correctly.
He’d been hiking with one other in the nearby mountains, foothills as they were so referred by the locals. Trailhead was an hour’s drive from his current residence, a studio apartment, give or take the traffic variable. They had been off the main trail following an obscure path when he excused himself for a nature break. The morning Slurpee on the drive seemed to have unfavorably comingled with his breakfast bowl of Grape Nuts cereal. It was there, behind and partially covered by low-lying bushes and heavy tree canopy, that he saw it. A duffle bag, black, caked with dirt and signs of having absorbed a good deal of weather in its stint at this locale. What gives? There was no lock, the zipper, though rusty, remained intact sealing the contents. An irresistibly curious find. Of course he’d open it.
Bundles of cash! Twenty-dollar bills all banded together as if withdrawn from the bank in an orderly fashion. It was a medium sized duffle, not over stuffed, but absolutely more than he and his pal could handle. What now? Take what he could carry? Tell his cohort? Or just keep this secret and reduce the chance of anybody else finding out about the stash?
He decided to take a little taste for himself. Two bands of bills were removed from the duffle and placed in his backpack. If he was going to keep this secret he couldn’t and wouldn’t tell his pal. They weren’t really friends anyway, he justified in the moment, work acquaintances that liked talking football Monday mornings before the team meeting. These two ended up on today’s hike together merely because the third person, the mutual close friend who bound them together, was a last minute cancellation. He would not share the wealth he decided. ‘Keep it to myself and there’ll be no awkward questions at work. No rumors about the source of the money every time I pull out a $20 to pay for lunch,’ he thought to himself.
Before walking away he also decided he’d never return for the balance of the cash, that’d be too risky. He didn’t know from whence the duffle came, if the bills were marked or if someone would be looking for it. Maybe there’d be a transponder indicating the location of this stash and he wouldn’t want the transponder to lead to his apartment. Heck, ‘marked bills,’ he didn’t even know what that meant, just a term he heard in some movie. He was an office wonk, a guy who rocked a desk 40 hours per week. He wanted nothing to do with anyone who had anything to do with this bag ending up here.
He opened the duffle bag, removed another 16-20 bands and stuffed them deep into his backpack, closed the duffle, rubbed dirt on the zipper thinking it may jumble his fingerprints. He hastily returned to his hiking partner, having forgotten to take his ‘break,’ they hiked on. No mention of the find.
He had been feeling tired and worn-out, his knees and thighs aching for a rest. Understandable since this was a 12-mile hike with a 4,000-foot incline and 9,300-foot peak. He felt now only rejuvenation, plus a sense of being watched. The cash added only four pounds, but the increased volume made it an awkward load that now dug savagely into his shoulders. He liked the pain, though, and stubbornly showed no outward signs of physical discomfort.
They peaked, enjoyed the view, he ate a leisurely lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwich, soda pop, apple, and several fistfuls of candy. The sugar would fuel his downhill and distract him from the anticipated painful knees, feet and ankles.
They hiked back to the parking lot and drove down the hill. He offered to pay for fuel and lunch including milk shakes! “Thanks for driving today, my treat as a show of appreciation.” At inception he had peeled off a few bills and put them into his pocket for easy access. The two parted ways until Monday morning’s meeting at work.
He was delivered to his car in the public lot. Without taking another look inside his backpack he simply loaded it into the trunk of his car, changed shoes, pulled an unopened cold bottled water from the cooler and drove home. It had been a five-hour hike, a very profitable way to spend a sunny Saturday morning. He didn’t know where he was going to put this load of cash. He didn’t know what he was going to do with it. He knew only that he couldn’t simply roll into the bank for a deposit of $40,000 in cash. He’d have an hour’s drive home to come up with answers and an action plan by which the bills would be concealed and employed.
[to be continued . . .]