by Gary Hoffman
Enjoy this never before published mystery short story!
“What architect from hell drew up these blueprints?” asked Richard Shelby.
“No architect. Mumford.” Tony Jackson said.
“And just what is a Mumford?”
“Not a what. A who. Hemp Archibald Mumford. The man who’s building this complex. Got the nickname Ham from his initials.”
“And just what did Mr. Ham do for a living to be able to afford to build something like this?”
“He worked as a fisherman, and he can afford all of this? I’m in the wrong business,” Shelby said.
That got a small laugh from Jackson. “The money came from his winning the power ball lottery about three months ago. You remember. The biggest purse in history. He was the only winner, so from what I understand, after taxes, he cleared out over five hundred million.”
“Holy crap. He could buy his own country, not use it to build a museum.”
“True, but when you have that kind of money, you can do pretty much as you please.”
“And he pleases to build a museum?”
“Yep. And all dedicated to fishing. Salt and fresh water fishing.”
“And he figured all this out?”
“And you, as the contractor, if you win the bid, get to build it for him and put up with him.”
“Put up with?”
Jackson smiled. “Let’s just say he has his own ways and is pretty set in them. Apparently this is something he has dreamt about for years, but, of course, never had the money to make it happen. It was just a grandiose idea fun thinking about in his spare time. I’ve seen pictures he has in a notebook from twenty years ago where he put down what he would do if he had the money.”
“And what’s your part in all of this?”
“I’m an attorney.” He handed Shelby a business card. “Anthony Jerome Jackson, attorney-at-law. Ham hired me to make sure everything that goes on is on the up and up. In other words, I get to approve any and all checks going out to build this place.”
“You want to help explain some of this to me. I mean, this looks like a boat in this building.”
“It is. The last commercial fishing boat he ever worked on. It’s named the Anne Bonny.”
“Wasn’t she a famous woman pirate?”
“The one and only. Anyway, he bought the boat from the owner who was thinking about retiring. Now he wants it in the museum.”
“Just how big is this boat?”
“Forty-two feet long and about thirty-five feet tall when you include the radio antenna, which will, and I stress the word will, be included because it was what the ship actually looked like.”
“And just how does this boat get inside this building?”
“A crane. Ham has already contacted the company who is going to do it. If you check over the blueprints, there will be holes left in the second and third floors so the masts and antenna can all fit in properly. Everything on that boat is to be as original as possible. He wants the public to see what life was like on a fishing boat. As soon as he bought it, he hired guards to keep everyone off it. Even the other two crew men could only get their personal items and under his very strict supervision. If the items could be replaced, he replaced them. If they couldn’t and the other men really didn’t want them, he bought the items from them at a very generous price.”
“Wow. Maybe money does buy happiness.”
“People will be able to tour the boat. There will be monitors there to see that only so many people can go at one time and to watch and see they don’t try to steal anything. You’ll get to construct the fixtures holding the boat and steps going up to the main deck so people can take the tour.”
“And what is this large glob of something here on the second floor?” Shelby said.
“That will be a fiberglass model of a right whale. Will be actual size in every way. Ham has already contracted for a company to build it.”
“And we hang this whale from the ceiling?”
“Suppose so. It can’t swim there.”
“Cute. Don’t need that right now,” Shelby said.
“Good Lord. How big is it going to be?”
“Well, Ham has done his research on this as he has most everything else. In order for his aquarium to be listed as one of the top ten largest aquariums in the world, it has to hold slightly over one million gallons of water and over fifty thousand species of marine life. His plans call for that.”
“I’ll just bet they do,” Shelby said.
“Did you notice the moat he wants around building one? The entrance to the whole museum will be across a draw bridge over the moat.”
“Thirteenth Street runs between the two buildings. How does a person get from one building to the other?”
“Look closer at the blueprints. There’s to be a skywalk from the two fourth floors. He’s already got a permit from the city to build it since it’s over a city street.”
“Has this guy even gone out and looked around the neighborhood he’s building this in? That moat will end up being a mess. Kids are gonna try and swim in it during the summer, and everyone will be tossing trash into it.”
“Oh, he knows the area,…very well. He’s already demolishing several blocks of old ratty buildings to build his dream.”
“What’s this on the fifth floor of building two? Looks like an apartment or suite of some kind.”
“He intends to live there. There’ll be an elevator from the fourth floor up to his living quarters. That’s all that elevator can be used for. He’ll have a code to run it, and that code is the only way to operate it.”
“Sounds like he’s got all this thought out. Shame it probably isn’t going to work.”
“He’s got it all thought out, down to the penny. And he’s going to work like hell to make it work.”
“Is he going to have a directional map somewhere so people can find out where things are?”
“Yep. Those blueprints you’re holding are going to be mounted in a display case along with some of his other notes he made while planning this place. He thinks that will be of interest to people.”
“How are people even going to find out about this place? Does he have enough money left for advertising?”
“He’s depending on word of mouth, and the news coverage he gets as soon as the place opens. Even though it will be mainly local news coverage, he thinks the word will spread.”
“For his sake, hope he’s right.”
It took Richard Shelby and his construction company a little over two years to finish the museum. Richard spent a lot of time shaking his head. The grand opening was somewhat less than grand. The two men Ham worked on the boat with, Pete and Spit, showed up and were awed by all the displays and the fact that the boat they spent a lot of their lives working on was inside the building and still looked the same as it did when they put in their time there.
Six months after the grand opening, money from admissions was only enough to cover employees salaries. Electric and water bills, animal food, and other expenses were coming out of Ham’s pocket. His ship was sinking, and there were no other ships in the area to come to his rescue.
It was the last Monday in February. Ham sighed as he looked at the daily admissions. February was turning into his worst month yet. Mondays were always slow, and today it had been rainy, another feature which slowed down people coming to his museum. It was also coming to the end of the month. People didn’t have any money left to spend on something unnecessary.
Everyone was gone for the day. He looked at the daily information posted by his manager. Nothing on his bank of computer screens looked promising. Then a red light started blinking on one screen showing there was movement in the men’s restroom on the first floor of building one. His first thought was that someone had gotten locked in my mistake. It had happened once before. He headed out.
He pushed open the rest room door and said, “Anybody in here?”
There was no answer, but a toilet flushed to his right. He walked down the row of stalls until he saw feet showing under the door.
“We’re closed, sir. You’ll have to leave.”
The door swung open, and Pete, one of the crew members he had worked with on the boat, was standing there pointing a pistol at Ham’s head.
“What the hell?” Ham said.
“Just a friendly visit to our ole buddy,” Pete said. “Ain’t that right, Spit?”
Another man had come up behind Ham. “Sure enough, Pete.” Spit had earned his nickname because of his ability to spit great distances through a gap in his front teeth. “Just need his help for a little bit. He knows the codes to get the drawbridge open so we can get out of here.”
“What the hell’s going on?” Ham said.
“Well, it started a long time ago,” Pete said. “Almost three years. You probably don’t remember, but one night when we pulled into Panama City, we moored beside that boat that had been out diving. Captain said they had been trying to find old shipwrecks, but hadn’t had any luck.
“Spit and I went out drinkin’ with a couple of his crew members and found out different. They brought back a bunch of gold, but didn’t want to report it to anyone because of all the claims that might be made against it. They was lookin’ for a quick buck, so they sold us some gold coins for next to nothing, but with a promise we’d have to wait a couple of years before we tried to move them. Figured things about the discovery would have calmed down by that time.
“Then you come along and buy the damned boat and have it under guard. Our gold’s still on the Anne Bonny. You still got it guarded, so the only way we can get to it is when you’re closed.”
“Whatever’s on that boat is mine,” Ham said.
“We figured you see it that way,” Spit said. “That’s why we’re gonna get it and take you with us as a hostage in case things go sideways somehow. We don’t think anything will go wrong, but just as insurance. Know what I mean?”
“You’ll never get away with it,” Ham said. “Someone will be able to track down where those coins came from.”
“Not if we sell them to the right people, they won’t,” Pete said. “Now let’s go board that old treasure chest of ours.”
“So where’d you hide the coins?” Ham asked.
“It was real easy. Loose board right at the head of my bed. They’re right there waiting for us. Now move it.”
Once on the boat, Pete went below to get the coins. Spit kept Ham under gun point in the main cabin.
“Somebody nailed this thing tighter,” Pete said.
“Probably when minor repairs were made,” Ham said. “We tried to do a good job here at Mumford’s Museum. Look,” he said to Spit, “there’s a small pry bar in that drawer behind you.”
“Why would you help us?”
“Don’t want you tearing up things anymore than need be.”
“Don’t do anything stupid now while I get it.” Spit pulled the drawer open but kept his eyes on Ham. He glanced down to find the pry bar. “Got it,” he said to Pete.
“Toss it to me.”
Spit glanced away long enough for Ham to turn the radio to the coast guard band, which automatically powered the radio on, and to push a button to keep the microphone active. Once the mic was on, no one could call in and alert Pete and Spit.
“So what have you two been doing the last couple of years?” Ham said.
“Where you headed when you leave here?”
“Wherever there’s wine, women, and song.”
“What do you plan to do with me after all this is over?”
Spit paused. “Pete says we’ll just turn you loose wherever we feel safe. Probably be somewhere where you can’t get anybody after us for a while.”
“Don’t you think he’ll have to kill me? I mean, after all, I know who you two guys are. I could turn you in later.”
“I think we’ll be far away on some island who doesn’t give a crap about anything except money. And we’ll have plenty of that.” He looked down to the sleeping quarters. “How you comin’ down there?”
“Well, they put some real good screws in when they repaired this. Can’t pry them out. Gonna need a good Philip’s screwdriver.”
“One in that same drawer,” Ham said.
Spit tossed the screwdriver to Pete. After a few minutes, they both heard Pete. “Damn-it-to-hell, the bag we had ‘em in busted. I’m gonna have to take out more boards to reach all of them.”
“Try not to wreck too much,” Ham said.
“I’ll tear this whole frickin’ boat apart if I have to.”
“Figured as much.”
Spit and Ham listened as Pete tore into the boards. Ham tried to make as much small talk as possible during the fifteen minutes they waited for Pete to find all the coins.
“You remember how many coins there was?” Pete said.
“Twenty-five, I think,” Spit said.
“I’m short one. Got a flashlight up there?”
“Same drawer,” Ham said.
A rumbling noise echoed through the building. Ham knew it was the drawbridge opening. His manager had to be back and hopefully bringing help.
“What the hell is that?” Spit said.
“Automatic fish feeders. They all feed at the same time.”
“No wonder you live in the other building. That noise would drive me crazy goin’ off like that.”
“Just like the diesels on the boat. You get used to it.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Found the other one,” Pete said.
Ham saw movement out of the corner of his eye. A policeman was crawling into the door. Several more followed. Spit kept looking down for Pete to come up.
The arrest at Mumford’s Museum and the additional story about the gold coins drew national news coverage. Ham appeared on several nationally televised talk shows. A book deal was offered to him. The Mumford Museum was floating again but on profitable waters.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.