Geronimo’s Gold

imposters

While attending the funeral of a former Wall Street colleague, Matt Hawkins is confronted by the sister of the deceased.  Kate is adamant that her brother did not commit suicide, as the police claim—he was murdered.  She believes he had stumbled upon a subversive plot to corner the world gold market.  But before he could blow the whistle, he was pushed in front of a New York City subway train.

Matt and Kate’s search for the truth leads them back in time to a series of seemingly unrelated historical events—from a vast gold deposit first discovered by Indian warrior Geronimo; to a puzzling cover-up by President Theodore Roosevelt; to a secret society with its roots in one of America’s oldest universities.  As they connect the dots from past to present, they are determined to get to the bottom of the gold conspiracy.  But to succeed, they must contend with a powerful alliance of adversaries intent on finishing the financial war they started.

 Reviews

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A fast-paced, fully loaded action novel that simply sucks the reader in and leaves them breathless. With great flow, believably rich and quirky characters, and tremendous background research, Mr. Richardson presents his stunning fiction novel to the hungry world of readers.
–San Francisco Book Review

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“Richardson has done an admirable job creating a thoughtful thriller…An involving tale that proves a modest artifact can lead to a grand adventure.”
–Kirkus Review

Read the first two chapters below.

Prologue

Early 1880s

Mogollon Mountains in Southwestern New Mexico

The small band of Chiricahua Apaches had evaded the U.S. Cavalry yet again.  Their warrior leader, Geronimo, had driven what was left of his ragtag collection of followers, half of whom were women and children, relentlessly.  He had little choice.  He had to gain separation from the more than four thousand pursuing U.S. troops.  Two days earlier they had crossed the border from Mexico back into the newly designated territory of New Mexico in the United States.  After their third successive all-night march, they were finally in range of their homeland.

After years of press exposure, Geronimo’s name had become synonymous with lawlessness and savagery in the minds of the American public.  East Coast newspapers branded him a butcher and sensationalized the many raids he and his Apache warriors had conducted throughout the Southwest.  But for Geronimo and his followers, the raiding and plundering of ranchers, prospectors, and anyone else with food, supplies, or horses to steal was simply a matter of survival.

Geronimo finally relented and let his small party of sixty people pause to rest.  They had reached the Gila River valley at the base of the Mogollon Mountains.  Geronimo knew that only the rugged mountains of his homeland would provide his people with the secure refuge they so desperately needed.  During the brief respite, Geronimo and a handful of his warriors rode on ahead to scout the best route up into the towering peaks that rose imposingly in front of them.  With a large Bowie knife strapped to his side and rifle slung across his shoulder, he cut an imposing figure.  The sun glinted off the silver-washed barrel on his Winchester Model 1876 lever-action rifle as he led his men forward.  Although he was not tall, he was powerfully built and had a grim determination that both intimidated and impressed his followers.  He was also believed to possess shaman-like powers that only added to his mystique. 

This land was familiar territory for Geronimo.  He had been born nearly sixty years earlier not far from the valley they had just entered.  With green peaks that reached ten thousand feet high, steep canyons, and rocky ravines, it could be an unforgiving place—but not for Geronimo.  He knew this place better than most men; perhaps better than anyone else alive.  In his youth he had hunted elk, buffalo, and deer here.  And he fished and trapped along the Gila River that flowed in a looping southwesterly direction toward the neighboring territory of Arizona. 

This is the place where he had learned how to fight and been initiated into manhood.  At the age of seventeen, after successfully participating in a number of raiding parties, he had been formally accepted as a full-fledged warrior.  Since then, he had led more raids and killed more men than he could count.  He knew he was nearing the end of the line—that the army of soldiers chasing him would not give up until his head was at the end of a pike.  But he forced these thoughts from his mind and set his sights on the terrain in front of him.  He had an uncanny knack for reading the land, so it didn’t take him long to locate the best route around the cavernous ravine that lay just ahead.

A few hours later, Geronimo and his followers had snaked halfway up the first peak, leaving behind them the prickly cactus that clung to the lower slopes of the Mogollon Mountains.  Still not satisfied, he pressed his people forward.  It wasn’t until he noticed that Douglas fir and aspen had replaced cactus and oak as the predominant vegetation that he eased his pace.  He only relented because the changing terrain signaled to him they had reached an elevation at which they would be safe.  He dismounted from his horse and signaled to his people this was where they would make camp for the evening.  They had arrived not a moment too soon.  Flashes of lightning from a fast-approaching late summer storm lit up the dusky sky and large drops of rain began splattering noisily on the rocky ground.

—————–

The next morning, Geronimo arose at dawn.  He needed to visit a special place from his youth—and he needed to do it in secret.  He slipped quietly out of camp, moving as if his feet never touched the ground.  Geronimo was a master not only at reading the land but also at traveling without leaving a trail.  If he didn’t want to be tracked, then no man alive could follow him. 

On foot, he moved swiftly through the thick forest, following natural landmarks that had meaning only for him.  Five miles later, he came upon a confluence of two rivers.  He paused and breathed in deeply.  He knew he was close.  His mind raced back to a time before all the raids, the killings, and the running.  He couldn’t have been more than ten or eleven years old when his mother had brought him here.  The memory of his mother, who was murdered by Mexican soldiers during a raid thirty years earlier, brought back anger as raw for him as the day she had died.  But that anger was quickly replaced by sadness—at her death and the deaths of so many of his people over the last half-century.  What was once a thriving and proud tribe of more than three thousand now numbered in the hundreds. 

Before entering the mouth of the hidden cave, he reached into a bundle strapped to his belt.  He carefully removed a still smoldering ember he had wrapped in damp tree bark back at camp.  He proceeded to assemble a makeshift torch by wrapping a resin-soaked cloth around a large stick he found on the ground nearby.  He blew on the smoldering ember until it sparked, and touched it to the cloth.  The cloth erupted in flame.  With torch in hand, Geronimo entered the sacred place. 

He followed a route from memory that took him more than four hundred feet deep into the subterranean cave.  The rough, naturally carved sidewalls dripped with moisture as he made his way further into the abyss.  His heart pounded in anticipation as he remembered the spot he had seen only once before, a lifetime ago.  Suddenly, the tunnel angled sharply to the right and widened into a vault-like chamber.  Geronimo knew he had reached his destination.

The only sound he could hear was water weeping from the walls of the cave—and his own breathing.  He extended the torch out in front of him.  As if by magic, the room was instantly bathed in a golden yellow glow.  A smile crept slowly across his normally grim face.  He took one step closer so he could see the source of the reflection more clearly.  There were veins of gold as big as pack mules embedded throughout the quartz-filled walls of the chamber.  In awed reverence he reached out and touched the golden treasure with the tips of his fingers.  He felt a familiar energy surge through his body.

Somehow this golden cave had escaped discovery by both the Spanish conquistadores in the 1500s and those who had sought their fortunes in the centuries since.  In the late 1850s and early 1860s, prospectors from the East Coast began arriving in the hundreds to the new town of Pinos Altos just south of Chiricahua country in the new territory of New Mexico.  Their arrival was precipitated by a large gold strike just north of an old Spanish copper mine.  For a time, the prospectors respected Apache territory.  But eventually the lure of riches drew them further upstream.  Their infringement upon Apache land led to inevitable confrontation and eventually an all-out war that lasted close to a decade.  Ultimately, the flow of prospectors subsided—partly because of the threat of Indian raids but mostly because the initial gold strike near Pinos Altos was never replicated.

As Geronimo exited the cave and began walking back to camp, the words of his mother reverberated in his mind.  This sacred golden place, she had told him, would endow Geronimo with great Power.  To receive the Power, his mother had said, all he needed to do was reach out and touch the golden wall.  The Apache Indians believed in the concept of Power—and that a chosen few were endowed with more Power than others.  The source of this Power could come from the natural or supernatural world.  He had listened to his mother that day years before and placed his hands on the largest vein of gold embedded in the wall.   Afterward, she made him swear to never tell another living soul about their special place.  If he did and the golden chamber was unearthed, Geronimo’s Powers would be destroyed forever. 

His mother had spoken the truth that day.  He touched the golden walls and they had helped him become a great warrior and fearless leader of men.  His followers revered what they believed to be his supernatural Powers.  They believed he could make it rain; that no bullet could ever kill him; and that he could heal the sick.  The Power had worked.  And Geronimo had never revealed its source. 

This latest journey home had been long and arduous.  But Geronimo had come for a reason.  He was desperate.  He needed to visit the golden chamber one more time, because he needed the Power of invincibility now perhaps more than at any other time in his life.

1

Present Day

New York, NY

The fluorescent lights in the drop ceiling above his desk hummed like a nest of angry wasps.  The air-conditioning in the forty-two-story Wall Street office building had automatically switched over to its warmer overnight setting more than two hours ago.  It wasn’t particularly hot, but the back of his blue button-down oxford was wet with perspiration.  He leaned back in his chair and loosened his tie a notch further.

A door slammed at the end of the darkened corridor.   He glanced down at his Rolex—it was almost eleven o’clock.  He got up nervously from his desk to have a look.  But it was only the night janitor emptying wastepaper baskets from under the desks of his coworkers on the trading floor.  The wheels beneath the fifty-gallon garbage can squeaked noisily.  Headphones planted firmly in the janitor’s ears made him oblivious to the noise.  The man continued on down the hall, head bobbing up and down to the music.

“Pull yourself together, man,” Adam whispered to himself.  He took a deep breath to calm his nerves before returning to his desk.

Adam Hampton was the thirty-nine-year-old director of the Commodities Trading Group at Morton Sinclair, one of the largest investment banks on Wall Street.  The firm actively traded in most of the major commodity markets, but its primary focus was in the oil and gold sectors.

Adam had been recruited heavily by Morton Sinclair because he was confident, aggressive, and brilliant.  He had worked for two other blue-chip investment banks prior to landing at Morton Sinclair a decade earlier.  Since then, he had made countless millions in profits for the firm.  His efforts had been rewarded with a promotion to the head of the commodities desk.  He was very good at what he did and he loved his job—at least until recently.

When he stumbled upon some irregularities in a series of commodity trades a few months earlier, he had thought nothing of it.  But then those same irregularities popped up a few weeks later.  After some digging, he noticed a distinct pattern to the timing of trades that dated back more than two years.  But his curiosity turned to outright suspicion when he got stonewalled trying to determine the name of the client for whom the trade orders had been executed.  The account in question was known as a “shadow account” because the identity of the client was hidden behind a series of ambiguous shell companies.

Undeterred, he dug deeper and began to uncover a financial conspiracy so massive that at first he didn’t believe it.  From what he could determine, not just his firm but at least five other major U.S. investment banks were complicit in the scheme.  But much of what he had uncovered was circumstantial evidence.  He knew he couldn’t blow the whistle unless he had ironclad proof.

After some internal debate, he made the decision to enlist the help of a computer hacker.  He needed to gain access to the commodities trading history of the other investment banks he suspected of participating in the conspiracy.  He paid the hacker to surreptitiously breach the computer database systems of the firms involved so he could prove their wrongdoing.  With this decision, he had reached the point of no return.

He knew what he was doing was illegal, but he had no choice.  The men behind the scheme were corrupt and he couldn’t just look the other way and let them get away with it.  He was raised on the principles of fair play.  There was a right way to live your life and a wrong way.  If someone was cheating the system, it was your obligation to call them out.  In the three weeks since he hired the hacker, he had secured enough evidence to make his case.  But he also received something he hadn’t counted on.

For the last two hours, he had been sitting at his desk reading and rereading the latest set of encrypted files.  They had been sent to him earlier in the evening from his diligent albeit less-than-principled hacker friend.  He ran a nervous hand through his hair because he still couldn’t believe what he was reading.  This was a game changer.

He knew right from the start he had stumbled upon a widespread financial conspiracy.  But with this latest information, it had become clear the endgame was much more insidious than simple fraud.

This revelation not only scared the shit out of him, it also made him realize he was in way over his head.  He needed help.  The question he had been wrestling with for the last hour was what to do about it.  Finally, he picked up the phone and dialed the number of a man in whom he had recently confided—a man he believed he could trust.

—————

 

Adam finished his call quickly and rode the elevator down to the lobby.  He exited the building.  It was approaching midnight and the streets of downtown Manhattan, comprised mostly of office buildings, were deserted.  He walked two blocks west to the Wall Street subway station to catch the Uptown 4 train to the Upper East Side.

He found himself walking faster than usual and looking over his shoulder at the slightest sound.  He knew he was probably being paranoid, but he couldn’t help himself.  A lot of people were involved in the conspiracy he had uncovered.  And, as he had startlingly discovered that evening, some of those people were very powerful.  He would be glad when this whole thing was over.  Maybe he’d finally get a good night’s sleep again.

He made his way down the steps beneath the streets of lower Manhattan.  The oppressively humid updraft from the depths below hit him like a summer gale.  Far from fresh however, this breeze was a stale-smelling mélange of urine, dirt, steel, and the sweat from tens of thousands of straphangers that rode the trains every day.  He remembered when he first arrived in Manhattan.  He couldn’t imagine how anyone could stomach the smells and the claustrophobic confines of the New York City subways.  Seventeen years later he knew he couldn’t survive a day without them.  In fact, the subterranean sights and smells barely registered with him anymore.  He had become a true New Yorker.

He swiped his disposable subway card through the electronic reader and hurried through the turnstile.  The loudspeaker announced that the train below was preparing to leave.  He ran down the last set of concrete stairs, two steps at a time.  But by the time he made it to the lower platform the train had already started to pull away from the station.

“Damn it,” he cursed his bad luck.  He looked up and down the length of the platform and discovered he was the only person in the station.

He spotted a wooden bench nearby and sat down to wait for the next train.  He realized his heart was racing again.  He’d visited his doctor the month before because he hadn’t been sleeping and had lost more than ten pounds.  The doctor advised him these were classic symptoms of work-related stress.  If only he knew.  He prescribed antianxiety medicine and told Adam to take some time off.

Unfortunately, the patient had done just the opposite.  He spent the ensuing days running the frenetic commodities trading desk at Morton Sinclair and evenings attempting to discreetly unwind a financial conspiracy of growing proportions.  As a result, he hadn’t gotten more than three hours of sleep any night since his initial discovery of the trading anomalies.

He reached into his jacket pocket, pulled out a bottle of pills, and popped one in his mouth.  He hoped it would settle his racing heart and jangly nerves.  He found it hard to sit still so he got up and began to pace.  He walked to the edge of the platform and craned his neck to peer down the tracks.

There was still no train in sight.

He heard a noise coming from the far end of the platform.  He could see the tops of a pair of men’s black dress shoes slowly descending the concrete stairs.

Five minutes later, the shattered body of Adam Hampton lay lifeless on the tracks.

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