They first found out about the discovery at the same time and in the same manner as the rest of the world--via television. The Judge was watching one of his own networks, Heritage News Channel, in the middle of the afternoon, when the cable network inserted one of its fluff "feature stories." It was something the Judge might have missed, as he usually ignored such nonsense. Then again, even if he had missed it the first time, he was certain he would have been informed in fairly short order. One of the others would have picked up the significance and relayed it to him.
The graphic at the bottom of the screen read HISTORICAL FIND IN OKLAHOMA. The video was of an earthmover breaking ground in an open field. The reporter, male and young, spoke in voice-over. "I'm Dan Manning at the Fort Washita Historical Site, between Madill and Durant in far southern Oklahoma. A huge cache of Civil War-era weapons was found buried here, as ground was being broken for a new museum dedicated to the 1840s-era frontier fort."
The Judge leaned across his huge walnut desk, eyes riveted to the plasma screen TV. The video shifted to a long table, on which were piled rusting long rifles, their wooden stocks weathered, barrels encrusted with nearly a century and a half of grit. "This is only a portionof the weapons found. The Oklahoma Historical Society, which owns Fort Washita and the property adjacent to it, has turned the artifacts over to historian Nick Journey at nearby South Central College of Oklahoma. He estimates more than five thousand rifles"--the reporter came down hard on the word thousand--"were buried here. And that doesn't take into account dozens of disassembled artillery weapons. Some still bear the insignia of Civil War regiments. Interestingly enough, the heavier weapons seem to have come from both Northern and Southern units, yet they were buried here together."
The Judge grabbed a pen and pad and began to write, his heart pounding. The video cut to a middle-aged white man whose dark reddish brown hair was shot through with gray. He was of average height, slightly thick around the middle, lined face and calm brown eyes, thoughtful demeanor. He was wearing a blue denim shirt. The graphic identified him as NICK JOURNEY, PH.D., CIVIL WAR HISTORIAN.
"We're just starting the process of analyzing the artifacts," Journey said into the microphone. "It'll take a while to sort it all out."
"Any theories?" the reporter asked.
The Judge held his breath. "No," Journey said. The historian dropped his eyes away from the camera. "No theories. Not yet."
The video ran to an exterior shot of the Fort Washita guardhouse as it overlooked a narrow two-lane highway, then back to another table, on which rested a rusting metal strongbox, the kind that had once been made to transport gold and other valuables. The camera zoomed in for a tight shot of a gold pin that rested beside the box. The reporter, blond and fair-skinned with the well-scrubbed but unremarkable looks that permeated TV news, stepped into the shot and picked up the pin. "Adding further to the intrigue, this metal box was found buried at one end of the pit that held the weapons. Professor Journey tells us some documents were also in the box, but they haven't been released to the public as of yet."
The shot returned to Nick Journey. "The Oklahoma Historical Society has granted me custody of all these materials, and I'll be working to determine just how they came to be here at Fort Washita."
"What can you tell us about the papers that were found in the box?"
"Nothing at this time. But the documents will be secure."
"What is the condition of the papers?"
"Very good, from what we can tell. The box is made of tin and coated with copper. Someone was very serious about preserving the contents of this box. Our document conservators at the college are working on the papers now, to make sure we are physically able to handle them. After that, I'll start analyzing them for content to see if we can figure out where they came from and who buried them here. Believe me these items aren't going to be very far away from me for the foreseeable future. We have very specific chain of custody procedures for historic artifacts."
"Do you think you'll get to the bottom of this?"
"That's my job, Dan."
The camera cut back to the reporter, who walked to the table and picked up the gold pin. "This little bit of jewelry has been cleaned up, and it appears to be made of solid gold." He turned it toward the camera and ran his fingers over the letters. "Who was G.W.? Perhaps when we know that, we'll know more about this very curious discovery at this off-the-beaten-path historical site. Historian Nick Journey will be trying to find out just what all of this means. For now, though, it's a bona fide historical mystery. I'm Dan Manning for HNC, in Bryan County, Oklahoma."
The piece ended and the anchors in Washington were back on screen. The Judge muted the TV's sound and sat back in his leather chair. He folded his hands together as if praying, then unfolded them several times. He swiveled in his chair, facing the picture window that looked across the green West Virginia hills. The Judge had come here years ago, settling in this state that had been born out of the Civil War. It was a symbol of his commitment to the cause. He had spent most of his life searching, looking for what a random construction project had just turned up in Oklahoma, of all places. Not the old weapons, of course. But the "documents" buried with them--he needed the documents.
He and the others had waited. The names and faces came and went. The old ones died off and young ones were carefully recruited. Thousands of them waited now, in secret bases across the country--they came from the military, the intelligence services, law enforcement, even from the business, technology, and academiasectors. All waited for their opportunity to move into action. For many of them, their trails were obscured, their lives reshaped, just as he had reshaped his own life. The media, even his own employees, liked to call him "reclusive." And he was, since he had turned the day-to-day operation of his companies over to subordinates, MBA types who knew nothing of his real purpose. To them, he was just a rich old man who had once been well known and was now content to sit back at his home in the hills and make his money. Newspapers, magazines, radio and TV stations, cable networks, Internet portals ... he owned them all, but they were only the means for achieving his true life's work--work that was closer to reality today than it had ever been. The Judge turned back to his desk. He had scrawled Nick Journey, South Central College of Oklahoma on the legal pad. He picked up his phone, waited a moment, then said, "Have you heard?"
"Just now," said the man on the other end of the line. "Did you see it?"
"Yes," the Judge said. "What this man has found will fill in all the holes. It's the actual document. Did you see the pin?"
"Yes. We must have the document in our hands. Start working on the man, this college professor, Journey."
His mind shifting, racing, turning like an undammed river, the plans that had consumed him for so long--just as they had ruled the lives of his father and grandfather before him--began to come into focus. After hanging up the phone, the Judge unlocked his desk drawer and withdrew the ancient pages. He read the ornate writing, ran his hands across the words. Then he pulled out another page and felt the raised seal: two swords, crossed at their points, with USA and CSA on their respective hilts, a single silver star occupying the space between the two points, and below that, between the hilts of the swords, a bloodred American eagle. This was all they knew for so many years. Now the other pieces would fit together. Now they would be complete.
The Judge turned the lapel of his jacket inside out and touched the gold pin there, a round piece of jewelry with the letters G.W. engraved on it.
Copyright © 2011 by B. Kent Anderson