The 1960’s were a historic era of cultural and political upheaval worldwide, and Los Angeles along with San Francisco were at the west coast epicenters.
The 1970s amped the Vibe; from the grit of L.A, and glitz of Hollywood, to the sunny beach-lined communities north and south of the Los Angeles International Airport.
There was a thriving evolution of new ways to live, to expand one’s mind, and new ways to do business. And one of the rising big businesses was within the Drug Culture.
The times were ripe for anyone to grab the reins and take hold of whatever they could. All ideas, trends, and concepts if not new, were brought forward from the past to be celebrated. With these near daily new enterprises and concepts came great ideas implemented for the good and some for the bad.
William Trent, a young private investigator, maintains his office and living space above the garages of an adjacent apartment building in the “Ghost Town” area of Venice, California.
Will’s office was open for anyone who needed his services. Will was experienced in both deductive reasoning and altered states of consciousness. He had taken nearly every drug, hallucinogen, and psychotropic known, and used those experience’s benefits to become successful enough to hold down his own one man investigation business.
There was much to be said for certain stoners’ abilities to use their clouded stoned appearance to actually gain detailed insight on those who momentarily let their guard down due to thinking that they were dealing with just another stoned Hippie.
Tonight’s 1973 Episode: “The Treasure Chest ”
It was a Sunday night and Will was in the middle of watching his favorite TV show “Columbo” when his phone rang and at the same time someone knocked at the door.
He picked up the phone: “Hold just a sec.”, set it down on his desk and went to the door.
Will: “Who is it?”
There was no answer.
Will opened the door, there was an envelope on the mat. Will caught sight of the delivery boy running away down the alley.
Will shut the door and picked up the phone: “Sorry, two things at, (he stops) yes, what can I do for you?”
The person on the other end of the phone hung up.
Will figured if important they’d call back, unless – he looked at the envelope and wondered – unless that call was just a verification of receipt for the sender.
Will sat down at his desk and opened the envelope and inside was a letter that read;
sit down and finish watching Columbo and then meet me at the Reef at 10:30
Will did just that, but during the commercial breaks and before Columbo was over at 10 PM he had a new mystery to solve: who was he to meet?
At the first commercial break Will deduced that it was someone who knew that he’d be watching Columbo, where his office was, and was possibly a local, due to the employ of the local “messenger”, a kid Will had seen around the neighborhood.
Then Columbo came back on.
At the second to last commercial break Will deduced that if the ultimate message was to meet at 10:30 PM then it was probably about business, but why all of the mystery?
Columbo was back on and Peter Falk’s character was just about on the murderer’s last nerve; Will smiles.
It was the last commercial break before Columbo forces the murderer to confess or get caught.
Will had his mystery down to three possible people, but it was just one hint of a moment that gave it all away.
When Will picked the phone up off of his desk and just before the person on the other end hung up there was a sound, a familiar sound, a low breath, a sigh, a sigh that Will knew. He had heard it in his ear many a time. A sound that started with a sigh, that turned into a moan, and then a sexy growl. Yes, Will knew who it was, and so did Columbo, all along, but now the murderer was charged and arrested, and Will solved his little mystery too, it was Daphne.
The Reef was a beachside bar and grill that was known as a sometime hangout to certain levels of criminal clientele. It was not a family restaurant. The waitresses wore skimpy “mermaid” outfits and there was a fight every week that needed to be settled out on the beach.
Other than that, the food was great, the drinks were not diluted, and the pool sticks were straight – it was the table that was warped.
It was 10:30, Will walked in and saw her in a corner booth. Will smiled and sat down across from his friend and sometimes girlfriend, Daphne Rogers.
Daphne smiles: “Shaggy.”
Will acts ashamed like anyone heard or cared: “I thought the Scooby Doo stuff was only for the bedroom.”
Daphne: “It’s for anywhere I want it.”
Will: “You know I never got why I wasn’t Fred, isn’t Fred the obvious guy that would hook-up with Daphne?”
Daphne: “Fred was no fun. Shaggy was an animal in bed.”
Will, now proud of his Shaggy persona: “Why yes, he was.”
After a bit more of fun playful repartee, Will gets down to business.
Will: “What can I do for you?”
Daphne: “I want to hire you to help me locate . . .” she hesitates and is now the one whispering as if anyone heard or cared ”. . . a treasure chest.”
Will trying to hold back any sarcasm: “Really?”
Daphne, building good will and incentive: “We were good together on that jewelry store case.”
Will agrees: “That was fun.” “So what’s the treasure and where’s the chest?”
Daphne: “Well, that’s the tough part, I don’t know, but I know that it exists.”
Daphne opens her purse and unfolds a map.
Will: “Really? A map?”
Daphne: “Yes, my Aunt passed recently and she used to tell tales about a map and a treasure chest, we all just went along with the fun, we all knew that she was just kidding, but look, this was in among her things.”
Will looks at the map: “Where is this supposed to be?”
Daphne: “I don’t know, that’s why I want to hire you, if anyone can decipher this it would be you.”
She continues: “I don’t have any money, but (she says excitedly) I’ll split the treasure with you when we find it.”
Will finds the venture more like chasing an old lady’s fantasy, but sees the expectation in Daphne’s eyes, she really wants Will to join her on this quest.
Will: “Alright, I’m in!”
Daphne gives Will a big smile, folds the map and hands it to him.
Will: “I’ll study this tonight; come over tomorrow around noon and we’ll get started.”
Daphne agrees and they both leave.
Back at his office and home Will sits down at his desk, turns on the lamp, and unfolds the map.
The map is crude with little symbols representing parts of the map. There are triangles that appear to be mountains, an oblong circle that maybe represents a body of water, and an X to mark the spot where the treasure chest is.
Will shook his head thinking that this was really obscure; it could be anywhere, the elements were too generic to be anyplace noticeable.
To get a better look he pulled his extendable round magnifying glass lamp surrounded by a tubular bulb and focused it level and then slowly moved the map.
At first this only revealed the magnified world of paper fibers, discolorations, smudges, foreign particles, and . . . a fine line, and then another, lines so fine that without the magnifying glass it was not seen by the naked eye.
Will noticed that the paper was a sort of vellum, a kind of paper that has different grades of transparency.
He set his favorite old ‘50s lamp on the floor, took apart a framed picture from his wall, removed the glass, laid the glass on the large flat top of the shade, and laid the map on top of the glass, then he turned on the lamp.
The fine lines were everywhere. As Will stood over the map he could see that the symbols that were plain to see before, were now parts of a bigger picture. There were even thin North, South, East, and West initials at the edges of the map.
Will was sold, this was a bona fide map that someone took a lot of time and care to prepare.
Will was so stoked that he spent the next couple hours taking mental and paper notes.
The next morning he called Daphne and told her to forget noon and to come over as soon as possible as he had good news.
When she arrived Will had drawn the drapes to darken the room. He walked her over to the map on the glass on the lampshade.
Daphne: “What’s this?”
Then Will turned on the lamp.
Daphne: “Will, how did you, look at all, this is amazing!”
Will: “Yes, it is. Now does any of this look familiar to you or would have been relevant to your Aunt?”
Daphne seems deep in thought: “Well, she had a cabin . . .”
Will stops her and points to a place on the map: “Look close.”
Daphne focuses and sees the barely visible lines of a structure, a cabin.
Daphne: “I know where this is, it didn’t look familiar until the cabin, this is up at Malibu Lake.”
Daphne continues: “We only went there a couple weekends in the summer when I was just a kid; she sold it long ago.”
Will: “That’s alright as the X is near, but not at the cabin.” “C’mon, let’s take a ride.”
They drove up Pacific Coast highway to Malibu Canyon into the Santa Monica Mountains to Mulholland Highway and then onto Lake Vista Drive.
Will: “Should I just cruise or do you remember where your aunt’s place was?”
Daphne: “It’s on the other side of the lake.”
Once on the other side of the lake Daphne pointed: “Will, turn up this next street.”
The street was in a wooded area as was the whole area surrounding the lake.
Daphne told him to keep going, and at the end of the rural street was the cabin, it hadn’t changed, it looked the same as she remembered it.
Will: “Well, Mystery Incorporated have arrived.”
Daphne smiles at Will: “Now we just have to find the X.”
Will starts to get a strange feeling; so far the vibes have been fun in detecting clues and getting to this point, but something was off.
Will: “Does anyone else in your family know about this map?’
Daphne: “Not that an actual map exists, but sure, like the treasure chest It was just a little family fun that no one really believed.”
Will: “Then why did you?”
Daphne: “Because one night when I was a kid I stayed at her house in town while my parents went out for the evening and she told me something very seriously, she said, “When I’m gone don’t forget about the treasure.” “Then I grew up and forgot, until now.”
Will: “Did she ever say what the treasure was?”
Daphne: “No, that was the mystery, no one believed she had anything of real value, or what would constitute a treasure.”
Will motioned to Daphne to follow him. There were no cars about the cabin so Will went to the front door and knocked, there was no answer. They both peeked through windows to see what they could see. The place was vacant, no one was living there.
Will pulled out a magnifying glass from his car’s glove box and put the flashlight under the map near the cabin and the X. There, through the magnifying glass and underneath a smudge were what looked like tiny dots or little tiny footprints that led from the X to the cabin. While they could have been part of the smudge, Will thought not.
Will and Daphne went around behind the cabin and Will jimmied the door open, they went in. Will told her to look for a hidden door. They searched the whole house there was nothing that looked or acted like a hidden door, but as Daphne passed by a window she saw an old barn out back and remembered that her aunt told her not to go into the barn because it was dangerous; she never said why and Daphne never asked.
Once she told Will they both headed for the barn.
Will opened the barn door just enough for them to slip inside. It was dark and dank. Will used the flashlight to quickly scan the insides; there were old rusty tools, remnants of musty hay and straw on the ground, some wooden pallets, tarps, and an old ‘53 Ford pickup truck flat on the ground with no tires or engine. Will was stumped. Even though the map was not to scale, Will wanted to check out the area between the cabin and wherever the X may be.
Daphne, from over behind the truck: ”Will, you need to see this.”
Will joins Daphne looking at the truck bed missing a tailgate.
Daphne: “Does that look like, a doorknob?”
Will reaches down and pulls the truck bed “door” open to reveal an opening in the ground with a few wooden steps that stop and become rock steps that lead down. Will and Daphne look at each other with kid-like smiles.
Daphne was a lot like Will in her curiosity of mysteries and her adventurous nature. Although she was an employee at a major department store her night and weekend amateur sleuthing was her obsession, and she actually helped Will out on a successfully-solved case.
Will turned on his flashlight and took the dozen or so steps down and then Daphne followed. Will shined the light down an apparently man-made narrow tunnel. They both walked cautiously and Daphne took Will’s hand. The tunnel seemed to be on a descending path and had a couple turns, and around one a faint illumination could be seen reflected on the walls, then around another bend the illumination was brighter. Will turned off his flashlight.
Will and Daphne both peeked around the edge of the tunnel wall – Scooby-Doo style.
They had gone deeper underground than they thought. The light source came from what looked like a filtered hole in the cave’s ceiling and shone down on an old chest. Again, Will and Daphne look at each other with kid-like smiles.
Daphne starts to move toward the chest and Will stops her.
Will still sensed a negative vibe.
Daphne: “What? C’mon let’s see what’s in the chest!”
Will: “Hold on a minute, what was it your Aunt told you about the barn, to never go in there because it’s dangerous.”
Daphne: “But it’s not, there’s the treasure, right there.”
Will realizes that the Aunt not only told her not to forget about the treasure, but also to beware of the barn, which seemed a contradiction as the barn led to the treasure.
Will: “Maybe the barn wasn’t the only entrance.”
Will: “So look around the chest, see that white around it on the ground, that looks like Sodium Hydroxide and when mixed with water is caustic, it will dissolve your skin.”
Will deduces: “There’s a tripwire or activator between us and the chest that will trigger the water source and activate a moat of lye.”
Will scans the walls with his flashlight and stops on a rock wedged at the corner of the floor and wall. There was the slightest discoloration from water around its edges, probably condensation from a minute underground tributary from the lake – unplugged it was the water source. At this point Will didn’t want to test deactivating any trigger where there may even be a second one. That rock looked innocent and not tied to anything, but Will was smart when it came to this level of derring-do, it was derring don’t.
Will: ‘“C’mon, let’s see if we can find another way in.”
Daphne: “But, but . . “
They backtrack through the tunnel and up out of the truck bed as Will rewalks a mental above ground route in his mind.
He takes Daphne’s hand and starts walking in the direction of the underground treasure chest.
As he mentally walked off the steps and bends in the tunnel, he began to feel the vibe, they were near.
The overgrown brush was thick around the trees but opened to a little clearing where an ornate circular headstone served as a solo pet cemetery for Daphne’s Aunt’s family dog, Buster.
Will walked behind the headstone and looked closer, there on the backside bottom seemed to be a hinge disguised within the base’s antique designed cement sculpture. Will reached out and pulled on the headstone; it tipped backwards revealing a hole.
Will took out his flashlight and shined it down the hole.
Will: “Daphne take a look at this.”
Will held the flashlight as Daphne looked down the hole – there directly below, about twenty feet down was the treasure chest!
Just then Will and Daphne heard leaves crunch to see two men in skull masks with guns.
Skull 1: “Where’s the treasure?”
He cocks his gun pointed at Daphne.
Skull 2 cocks his gun pointed at Will: “We’re not kidding, don’t end up like the ol’ lady.”.
Daphne is angered, these were her Aunt’s killers, Will grabs her arm to restrain her.
Will acting all chummy and nonchalant: “Hey, guys no need for violence, we found a way in but she got scared (Will casually points to Daphne with a “chicks, man” attitude) so we turned back and were looking for another way in when you guys showed up.”
Skull 2: “Show us this other way in. Not both of you.” He motions for Will to show Skull 1 the way in. “I’ll stay here with the girl.”
Skull 2 sits down on a boulder with his gun trained on Daphne.
Will goes back underground with a gun to his back. When they finally reach the opening in the cave with the treasure chest in the middle Skull 1 moved to Will’s side to get a better view, that’s when Will took advantage of the moment, nailed him with his flashlight, and knocked him up against the rock wall which caused his gun to hit the ground and skid across the cave floor into the Sodium Hydroxide. Will ran back through the tunnel to rescue Daphne.
Skull I shakes off the hit, forgets about Will, and yells to Skull 2: “I found it, I found the treasure.”
I can’t open the lid, it’s . . . AAAAAAGHH!
Skull 2 stood up, and as he moved toward the screams coming from the headstone, Will’s running leap from a small rock ledge took down Skull 2 but did not dislodge his gun.
Will was up and ready for action with Skull 2 ready to shoot him, when Daphne, with a tree limb bigger than herself, whacked the mask off Skull 2’s head along with some scalp – he was out.
Will was impressed: “Thanks Daphne.”
Daphne: “Back atchya Shaggy.”
With the killer unmasked Daphne makes a discovery: “That’s my brother-in-law!” “He killed my Aunt!”
She goes over and kicks him hard a couple times.
Will: “He’ll pay.”
Will rips the unconscious killer’s shirt off of him and uses it to tie his hands behind his back and at his ankles.
Will: “Now let’s get that treasure.”
Will runs back to his car, gets his trusty rope with a metal hook, and returns to play fish with the chest’s handles. While not a good fisherman, he was good with space relationships and gauged the hook-up correctly.
Once above ground they carried the chest off to Will’s car, loaded the chest in the trunk, and left for the nearest payphone. Will reported to his local P.D. guy that the two killers of Daphne’s Aunt were underground and in the woods; both needing an ambulance, and warned of the Sodium Hydroxide underground.
Back at Will’s place they lugged the chest upstairs and set it down on the floor. It was old and it looked just like the ones that pirates kept their treasures in, only smaller. The brass bands were oxidized and the lock popped open with just the right amount of applied crowbar pressure.
Will removed the lock, stood up and looked at Daphne: “Well, here it is, the result of the treasure hunt, open it up.”
Daphne looked at the chest, got down on her knees, reached out, and was just about to open it when she stood back up.
Daphne looking enlightened: “Will, if I open it one of two things, well, maybe three, but two for sure; will come about; there will be something of value or nothing of value.”
Will, knowing where she was going with this line of thinking: “You won’t know until you open it.”
Daphne: “What if I never open it. What if that is the treasure; the value of the unknown, the exciting possibility of something that could be life changing, positive or negative, or neither, or just an empty chest filled with an old lady’s dreams?”
Will, with a response he knew she’d appreciate: “You have come along nicely Grasshopper.”
Daphne smiles and is glad she made this journey with Will.
After a pause, and while they both look at the mystery treasure chest before them.
Will: “The decision is always which is more valuable; an answer, which will become a fact, or the unknown, which will maintain the thrill of mystery for as long as you want.” “It’s your choice.”
Copyright 2018 00individual TLL
Written spontaneously over a few hours during August 17 – August 19, 2018 with only The Stoned Private Eye, The 1970s, The Treasure Chest, and a Noir Vibe as inspiration.