For those who have read “Gasparilla’s Treasure” by Scott Clements, and are looking for a sequel, you’re in luck. Here’s a little sample of the sequel titled, “The Forgotten Secret“. It’s the prologue and first 3 chapters of the book, and for those who have not read the first book, you’ll see that you can easily enjoy “The Forgotten Secret” without having read “Gasparilla’s Treasure.”
Be sure to grab your Kindle version for $4.99 by clicking here.
Timucua Territory – 1300 B.C.
Degotoga’s feet, bare and weathered, effortlessly glided across the hazardous ground below. He moved silently, with grace and ease found only among his fellow Timucua natives. The hidden life force of the land, trees, and all of nature reached out to embrace him as he neared the end of his long journey. He knew he was faster than any other thirteen-year-old Timucua, but he found it hard to believe he had traveled this far in so little time. He felt he could easily travel another thousand miles without tiring.
Degotoga felt lucky to be delivering something of such importance to Chief Hania. The chief could have chosen many boys who were stronger and smarter, but there were none faster or more graceful than Degotoga. That is why he was given the honor of carrying The Sacred Lion of Strength.
The thick, tangled forest started to thin, and a few of Degotoga’s friends joined him in the run. They fell into perfect step, driven by the same force that had sustained Degotoga for the last three days. He felt the ground beneath his feet soften as the forest gave way to the vast, grass-covered field that stretched to the edge of the village. Excitement grew in Degotoga as more villagers joined him. They wore painted faces and carried spears, torches, and ceremonial shields. There must have been more than 100 with him now.
The sound of drumming and chanting filled his ears as he took the final steps across the field and reached his journey’s end. From the number of people gathered, he knew every Timucua within 100 miles must have made the journey to his village to join this celebration.
A massive fire reached toward the heavens as 20 of the most decorated warriors circled the flames and performed the Dance of Acknowledgment. Degotoga always enjoyed the village ritual of giving thanks for their many blessings. The chants were powerful, and the dance invoked feelings of oneness among all villages. He let the sounds fill his soul, but as he approached the center of the celebration, the sounds faded, the music died, the dancers became still. Soon the only sound that could be heard was the roar of the raging fire.
For the first time since his journey began, Degotoga felt the peace escape him. His stomach began to swim as he noticed every eye was on him—every person silent. How many people were there? They stretched as far as the eye could see. At least 5,000 had gathered, probably more. The Timucua nation had never experienced anything this important.
“The running boy has returned,” announced Chief Hania, breaking the silence. “Our people have been waiting for this day for over 1,000 years. Today, three become one, and the Timucua will receive unimaginable power and wealth from the newfound gifts of wisdom, strength, and love.”
A smile stretched across Degotoga’s face as he heard the people around him talking of peace, love, honor, and understanding. The promise of a better time would be fulfilled today. No more wars. No more suffering. No more struggles. The Overseers had promised this so many moons ago, and Chief Hania was a man worthy to wield such power.
“It is time, Degotoga,” Chief Hania continued. “Bring me The Sacred Lion of Strength.” The pounding of the drums returned as Degotoga made his way through the crowd toward the chief. Chanting mixed with the drums, this time creating an eerie mood. His heart pounded in unison with the drums as he carefully placed one foot in front of the other. His feet, which just moments ago had effortlessly found every correct step, now felt like they were stuck in quick sand—almost impossible to move.
“The Timucua have lived in fear of our enemies long enough!” bellowed Chief Hania. “With this newfound power, I will lead our people to the far reaches of this world. All will bow to our mighty power or be destroyed in our wake.”
Degotoga found it increasingly difficult to move forward. This did not sound like the peace and love The Overseers had promised. It didn’t sound like the promises of unity the chief had made just a few weeks back. It sounded like Chief Hania was planning on using this gift of unimaginable power for bloodshed and conquest.
“The Timucua will rise and wield the power of The Overseers,” continued Chief Hania, madness filling his eyes. “This is our time! We will own the lands, oceans, and the stars.”
“Enough!,” came a powerful, angry voice from the group of chiefs and elders gathered around Chief Hania. It was Chief Apenimon of the Northern Tribe. “The land belongs to no man. It is of the spirits, freely sharing its life force. You promised us peace and honor, and now you talk of war and bloodshed. This will not be allowed!”
“The Timucua are mighty,” boomed a different voice from the chiefs. “We deserve the greatness Chief Hania suggests. It is a future in which the Timucua will rise and be mighty.”
More voices joined the argument, spreading through the thousands and thousands gathered. Voices of peace and voices of war, mixing and rising into the sky like smoke from the fire—becoming violent, hot, and destructive. Words quickly turned to action as spears stabbed and hatchets swung. Degotoga did the only thing he could think of; he clutched The Sacred Lion of Strength tight in his arms and ran.
He ran faster than he ever imagined he could—his feet a blur. As he distanced himself from the raging battle, he welcomed the peace of nature’s life force as it wrapped around him like a cocoon, protecting the life within. He did not know where he was taking The Sacred Lion of Strength, but he trusted the peace within to give him the answer.
University of Florida – Present Day
Trip Montgomery felt uneasy as he stared into the darkness in front of him. The only light in the room was from a video projector mounted on the ceiling. He was nearing the end of his presentation and experience had taught him that people would either decide he was telling the truth and believe a couple of kids from St. Augustine, Florida, could find a treasure like this, or they would think he was a complete fraud. He drew a deep breath and continued.
“And this is a picture Josh took right after the passageway opened,” said Trip, referring to the giant projection screen behind him. “These spiral stairs led us to a cramped tunnel, which opened into a small room, pictured here.” He advanced the picture on the screen to show the cave where, just a few months ago, he thought his quest for Gasparilla’s treasure had come to an unsuccessful end. He remembered the sinking feeling he had felt in his stomach when he opened the chest full of Native American arrowheads, expecting to find pirate treasure. He had almost given up.
“Thanks to the clumsiness and the hard head of a fellow classmate,” continued Trip as he aimed his laser pointer at the screen, “we realized we could break through the rock wall here, and make a passage into another cave. And that’s where we found this.” Trip paused a moment. This was it. This was the moment. If they believed him, the last hour of lecturing would all be worth it. He wished he could gauge the audience’s reaction, but the bright light coming from the projector made it impossible for him to see anything as he advanced the picture. The audience gasped and broke into whispered conversations. The crowd had been so quiet, he had forgotten how large it was. With more than 800 people in attendance, this was the biggest presentation he had given since he and his best friends Josh and Sarah had found Gasparilla’s treasure.
The murmurings of the crowd grew louder and Trip took a moment to look at the screen behind him. He had never seen Gasparilla’s treasure room projected so large. It took his breath away. Golden statues lined the stairs that led down to the center of the room. The floor was scattered with gold coins, ornate weapons, and jewel encrusted goblets. Everywhere he looked, a valuable piece of treasure. The whole room, illuminated by fire from above. And in the center of the room, the Fountain of Youth.
This would be the perfect place to end his presentation. The members of the Society of American Archeology seemed to accept everything he had said so far, that a couple of thirteen-year-old kids managed to find the greatest treasure of all time. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and decided to risk continuing.
He advanced the picture and a hush fell over the crowd as they took in the self portrait of Josh with the Fountain of Youth in the background. “Here you get a great view of the Fountain of Youth, that is if you can manage to look past the goofy look on Josh’s face. Of everything you’ve seen today, this is the most impressive. This is the water Gasparilla drank to stay alive for over 200 years, guarding his treasure.”
The crowd burst into heated conversations. Trip tried to make out what they were saying. He heard one voice say, “This discredits his entire lecture. What a waste of time!” Others seemed to disagree. The crowd seemed split down the middle on Trip’s story, and Trip didn’t wait for them to quiet to finish his lecture.
“Thank you for your time,” Trip said into the microphone. His voice echoed through the lecture hall, and he could hear the disappointment in his own voice.
It took longer than Trip expected, but after 45 minutes of questions and hand shaking, the crowd had finally thinned to only a handful of people, still finishing private conversations. Trip was surprised at the number of people who had congratulated him on such an important find. As he packed his laptop and notes, he decided the lecture had been a success.
A man in an expensive suit walked down the center aisle, and Trip hoped he wasn’t coming to talk to him. He was ready to get out of here and get back home. Some of these post-lecture conversations could last longer than Mom’s “talking-tos” about chores or being responsible. And those seemed to go on forever.
“Mr. Montgomery,” said the man, extending his hand. “My name his Juan Gonzalez.” Trip shook the man’s hand, and was surprised to find himself instantly liking this man. His voice was warm and inviting, his smile sincere, and his personality made Trip feel instantly comfortable.
“Please, call me Trip,” said Trip. “I’m no mister, and don’t plan on being one for a while.”
“Fine. Trip it is,” replied Gonzalez with a chuckle. “Then you should call me Juan.”
“No, thank you, sir,” said Trip. “My mom would kill me if I started calling adults by their first names, and I’m not ready to die just yet.”
“I can understand that,” said Gonzalez. “That was a great presentation you gave today. You and your friends are quite the treasure hunters.”
“I don’t know if I’d go that far,” said Trip. “We just barely scraped by with beginner’s luck.”
“Don’t sell yourself short,” encouraged Gonzalez. “Anyone who can hunt down a treasure like that deserves to call themselves treasure hunters. And that was quite a story about Gasparilla still being alive.”
And there it was. Mr. Gonzalez was here to heckle Trip. Why did people find it so easy to believe that he, Josh, and Sarah had been able to find a treasure no adults had been able to find, but when he told the truth about Gasparilla, they only saw a child with an active imagination?
There had been a short time when Trip thought maybe Gasparilla had been a figment of his imagination. But Josh and Sarah remembered all the same details.
They had just climbed down the stone stairs, and arrived in the center of the treasure room when they had heard his voice. Gasparilla was there holding his staff, claiming he had been using the Fountain of Youth, along with Arbol de la Lechuza, to stay alive to protect his treasure. Then he took the cast iron plate they had used as the key to the treasure room, and used it to activate some sort of self-destruct mechanism in the cave. Gasparilla had vanished into thin air. Trip, his friends, and his mom had barely escaped with their lives as the cave crashed down around them.
As Trip thought back, he realized it did seem pretty unbelievable. But it had happened. Josh, Sarah, and Mom had all been there, and they had seen Gasparilla, too. Who cared if people believed them? They had found the treasure, and the finder’s fee had given them the extra money they needed to keep Pappy safe in the Good Ole’ Times Retirement Community. That was what mattered.
“You OK, Trip?” asked Gonzalez, concern in his voice. “You look a little distressed. Did I say something to upset you?”
“No. Everything’s fine,” huffed Trip as he stuffed his last few things into his bags. “I’ve just gotta get out of here. That’s all.”
“Before you go,” said Gonzalez. “Let me just finish. Like I was saying, that was quite a story about Gasparilla. I wish I could have been there to see him. I’ve been researching him for years, and have been searching for his lost ship and treasure. It must have been amazing to see him up close—face to face like that.”
“You … you believe me?” asked Trip. “You honestly believe Gasparilla was still alive?”
“Well, of course I do,” replied Gonzalez. “It’s common knowledge Gasparilla carried Arbol de la Lechuza on the top of his staff. I would have thought the powers of Arbol de la Lechuza would have been enough to keep him alive, but you say he also needed water from the Fountain of Youth?”
Trip found himself thinking Gonzalez must be a nut case if he believed his story about Gasparilla, but then he realized that wasn’t fair. Trip was judging the first person who truly believed his story.
“Well, enough about Gasparilla,” said Gonzalez, his voice quieting. “That is not the reason I’m here. I’m here to ask for your team’s help with a quest. A quest of much greater importance than Gasparilla, but woven in the same shroud of mystery. I need your help finding El León Sagrado de Fuerza. Or to be less dramatic, The Sacred Lion of Strength.”
Trip recognized the dreamy tone in Gonzalez’s voice—the far-off expression. His experience with his great-grandfather Pappy had taught him what to expect from a delusional person, and this guy seemed to be living in his own fantasy world. Trip noticed Gonzalez studying him with a puzzled look.
“You don’t believe me?” asked Gonzalez, sounding a bit hurt. “I thought sure the boy who found Arbol de la Lechuza and possessed the missing map key would have no problem believing my story.”
Trip could not believe what he was hearing. He, Josh, and Sarah had decided they would not tell anyone about Arbol de la Lechuza. They had not even discussed it with Mom or Pappy. No one knew… at least they thought no one knew. And they had not told a soul about the piece of paper they found in the secret storage space of The Staff of Gasparilla.
They had not been able to figure out anything from the piece of paper. At first glance, it had looked like a small map. But after they sat down and really studied it, it was a series of lines and symbols that made no sense. Sarah had suggested it might have been a map key, but they had no idea what to do with it. How did Gonzalez know about this?
“Listen, Trip,” said Gonzalez in hushed tones as he leaned in close. “I know you donated the treasure to museums, and I know you made some money from your share of the finder’s fee. Enough to hire private planes to take you to speaking events like this, enough that your mom doesn’t have to worry about the bills, and enough that you can have that expensive laptop in your bag. But it was only a finder’s fee. It’s not enough to fund the quest for El León Sagrado de Fuerza. You have the map key, and I have the money. I’ve been researching this for more than 10 years, and your map key is the only missing piece. I want you and your team along on this. You’ve proven yourselves, and I can use a few keen minds to help me get to the next step. You kids see things differently than adults, and I need your perspective.”
“Look, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Trip, unconvincingly. “But even if what you’re saying made any sense, I can’t commit to anything like that without Josh and Sarah.”
“Take all the time you need, Trip,” said Gonzalez, his voice smooth and friendly. “I’ve been waiting a long time. If you don’t want to help me, fine. I’ll find El León Sagrado de Fuerza eventually. It’s just a matter of time.”
Gonzalez’s expression looked so sincere and heartwarming. Trip wondered if this was the same look a proud father might give his son. Trip did his best to hide how much he desperately wanted to blurt out, Are you crazy? Of course we’ll help you. It was even harder to hide how much he wanted that fatherly approval.
“Whatever you decide,” continued Gonzalez. “You and your friends have found the greatest treasure known to man, and you’ll go down in history among the finest treasure hunters. If that’s enough, great. It’s more than most men will ever accomplish.”
Trip had never thought of it that way. He had made his mark on history. At age 13, he had accomplished the greatest thing he would likely ever accomplish.
“But I think you want more,” said Gonzalez. “I think you want to help unlock all the secrets, the bigger secrets, the secrets that are hidden all across this planet of ours. I have the resources and the technology to unlock those secrets. And you deserve to be on that journey with me.”
Trip’s mind was swimming. He had no idea what to say—what to do. He just stood there, trying to make sense of it all.
“You let me know what you decide,” said Gonzalez, handing Trip his business card. “Call me when you’re ready.”
Gonzalez walked away leaving Trip alone in the giant lecture hall, wondering what his future might bring.
Trip asked Josh and Sarah to meet him at his house early the next morning. He told them about Gonzalez, his quest for El León Sagrado de Fuerza, and his offer to bring them in on the quest. Sarah clicked through websites on Trip’s laptop as Trip and Josh played on the GameSmash X7A.
“Aren’t you glad I got you this thing?” said Josh, more as a statement than a question. “It’s got the latest graphics chipset and the fastest RAM of any gaming system out there. Sarah, are you sure you don’t want me to set one up in your house? Then all three of us could have one.”
“You can’t be serious,” snorted Sarah. “I find it hard to believe you can’t think of anything better to do with your portion of treasure money than buy some silly video game.”
“Silly,” blurted Josh in disgust. “The GameSmash X7A is not silly! It’s the latest breakthrough in gaming. The controllers give the most realistic game management to date, and the graphics make you feel like you’re in the game. Do I call all those books you buy silly? Well I guess I did, like a hundred times, but still, the GameSmash X7A is NOT SILLY!”
“Whatever you say, Josh,” said Sarah, still searching websites. “You guys could be helping me with this Gonzalez thing. There’s a famous baseball player, and a journalist, but your Juan Gonzalez seems to be invisible on the internet.”
“What difference does it make?” asked Josh. “The man wants us to help him find the Great Something Lion of the Something, and he’s got tons of money. That’s what Trip said, and it sounds like fun, so what are you so worried about?”
“Don’t you think someone with that much money would be easy to find on the internet?” asked Sarah. “And why did his business card only have his name and phone number? No company name, no logo, no email—nothing. Don’t you think it’s all kind of weird?”
“No,” answered Josh pausing the video game. “What’s weird is you being so worried about this guy. You’re obsessing over it. Either he’s telling the truth and he has all sorts of cool gadgets, and money, and stuff—and we get to go on some sort of amazing adventure. Or he’s not telling the truth. We should be able to tell really quick by saying something like, ‘Hey can I see one of those amazing gadgets you were talking about.’ If he shows us one he’s telling the truth, if he can’t show us, he’s lying. It’s that simple.”
“Trip,” said Sarah, annoyed. “You’re being awfully quiet over there. Tell him you think we should be cautious and check this Gonzalez guy out.”
“No,” retorted Josh. “Tell her she’s wasting her time and being really annoying in the process.”
“Well, Trip,” said Sarah, crossing her arms and giving Trip a look that made his eyes burn. “Which is it? What do you think?”
Trip could not stand it when Josh and Sarah went at each other like this. Did they really think he was going to take sides? He looked from Josh to Sarah and was amused to see they both had their arms crossed, heads cocked to the side, and wore identical expressions of disgust. Trip tried to suppress a laugh. It didn’t work. He let out a burst of quick laughter, followed by a huge belly laugh. He raised the controller of the GameSmash X7A and used the onboard camera to snap a picture, which showed on the large, flat panel TV.
“Look at you guys,” laughed Trip. “You look exactly the same. It’s like you’re brother and sister or something.”
“You know,” said Josh. “We really are starting to look alike. We better quit spending so much time together or people might start thinking I’m not cool anymore.”
All three of them burst out in laughter.
“Cool anymore?” questioned Trip, still snickering. “When did they start thinking you were cool in the first place? I don’t think anyone’s ever made a mistake that huge.” Trip took a deep breath and managed to control his laughter. “And I agree with both of you. We need to be careful, but at a certain point, we have to trust Gonzalez if we’re going to do this.”
Neither Josh nor Sarah liked this answer. Josh unpaused the video game, and Sarah returned to the internet search. They did not talk again until Trip broke the silence a full five minutes later.
“Sarah,” said Trip. “If Gonzalez knows so much about Gasparilla and has been hunting his treasure, maybe you could try a search for his name and Gasparilla together.”
“Good idea,” said Josh. “That just kicked my mind in gear. After you do that search, maybe you could search for…”
“That’s it!” screeched Sarah. “Or at least it’s something. Juan Gonzalez is part of the legend of Gasparilla. It says he sailed with Gasparilla, and when he was an old man, he hired two men to dig up one of his treasure chests. When they came to his cabin to get the location, they found the old man had died. They searched his cabin and found a piece of copper with a map and some symbols on the back. They say Juan Gonzalez made the most famous map to Gasparilla’s treasure.”
“Correction,” said Josh. “Trip’s Pappy made the most famous map to Gasparilla’s treasure. That old man’s map was just to one treasure chest.”
“Look,” said Sarah. “My point is: This is our link. Maybe our Gonzalez is linked to the old man in the cabin.”
“Maybe you can ask him when we meet with him later today,” said Trip. Sarah and Josh stared blankly back at him. “Did I forget to mention we have a meeting with Gonzalez at 3 o’clock?”
“Trip,” challenged Sarah. “Are you sure this is the right move? You have no idea if you can trust this guy?”
“It’s only a meeting,” said Trip. “We’ve spent the last three months staring at that piece of paper we found in Gasparilla’s staff. We all agree it’s just a small corner of a much larger piece of paper, and it’s likely a map key. Gonzalez says he has the map and just needs the key. So the way I see it, we only have one choice.”
“Steal Gonzalez’s map,” said Josh. “It’s the perfect plan! I want to be the nerdy guy in the surveillance van that runs tech support and gets to make wise cracks through your earpiece while you’re breaking in and stealing the map.”
“OK,” said Trip. “I guess we have two options. Option one, we break into the wealthy man’s super secret map hiding place and steal his map from under his nose while Josh runs tech support from a van, or option two, we work with the nice, wealthy man with all the latest high tech toys.”
“Well it’s obvious when you lay it out like that,” said Josh. “Option one it is! No brainer. This is gonna be so much fun! Where are we gonna get my tech van?”
“Josh,” said Sarah. “You are totally missing the point. There is no option one. Either we work with the guy or we continue on our own. And we are getting absolutely nowhere on our own. ”
“That’s two options,” said Josh. “You said there was no option one. You just laid out two options, so therefore, there is an option one.”
“Josh!” begged Sarah. “Will you please focus. We need to decide if working with Gonzalez is the right move.”
“Before we make any decisions,” said Trip. “We should all go meet the guy and see what he has to say.”
“Isn’t that a decision?” asked Josh.
“What?” asked Trip. “What decision?”
“You just said, ‘before we make any decisions we should talk to the guy’. Isn’t talking to the guy a decision? So how can we go talk to him before we make any decisions if we have to make a decision before we can make any decisions?”
Trip and Sarah glanced at each other, then back at Josh, shooting him looks that would make an annoyed mother proud.
“What?” said Josh. “I was just sayin’.”
“I really think we should go see Gonzalez and hear what he has to say,” said Trip. “But first, there’s someone else I want to talk this over with.”
Trip hurried through the common area at the Good Ole’ Times Retirement Community. He needed Pappy’s help to sort things out. Pappy had spent 80 years of his life on the quest for Gasparilla’s treasure. If anyone was qualified to discuss the Gonzalez situation, it was Pappy.
“Why the rush?” called Mr. Anderson from across the room. “Come over here and tell me more about how you kids found that treasure.”
Trip liked Mr. Anderson, and under normal circumstances, he would have stopped to talk. Mr. Anderson was 87 years old, and had been a policeman in New York. He had lived an amazing life, full of adventure, and always told Trip exciting stories of hunting down bad guys and running undercover sting operations. But today, Trip didn’t have time to stop and chat.
“Sorry, Mr. Anderson,” Trip answered. “I’ve got to see Pappy right away. It’s important.”
“All right,” said Mr. Anderson, his voice sounding frail. “Maybe some other time.” Trip registered the heavy disappointment in Mr. Anderson’s eyes as he blew past. He felt terrible, but he needed to hear what Pappy had to say about Gonzalez.
“Yoo hoo,” came the sing-song voice of Mrs. Helen. “Over here, Trip. Do you have time for a quick game of dominoes? I think you owe me a rematch.”
Mrs. Helen, at 96 years old, was the oldest of Trip’s friends at Good Ole’ Times. She didn’t talk much, but she was the best domino player Trip had ever met. He did manage to beat her a couple of times, but he still wasn’t sure if Mrs. Helen had let him win or not.
Looking at Mrs. Helen’s frail frame, it was hard to believe she had once been a member of the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots, otherwise known as the WASPs. She and the other women of WASP flew planes for the military during World War II. They flew planes from factories to bases, transported cargo, and participated in simulated missions. And now Mrs. Helen sat alone and forgotten at the domino table as Trip hurried by.
Trip couldn’t do it. No matter how desperate he was to see Pappy, he couldn’t just brush them off. He decided to make some time for Mr. Anderson and Mrs. Helen… not much time, just a couple of minutes.
An hour and a half later, Trip opened the door to Pappy’s apartment and laughed out loud at what he saw. Pappy was dancing around like a Native American wearing nothing but his boxer shorts and a beat up old undershirt. He held a broom in his hand like a war staff and was chanting and singing a bunch of words Trip couldn’t understand.
“Hey, Pappy,” Trip called over Pappy’s singing. “It’s me, Trip.”
Pappy stopped his dance and studied Trip, a look of wonder on his face. He moved hesitantly towards Trip, and paused. He studied Trip’s face even harder now, and took a few more uncertain steps.
Trip looked on in amusement, watching Pappy live out his latest delusion. He loved guessing what crazy fantasy Pappy was playing in his head, and then he would join in. Pappy reached his hand towards Trip’s face and touched his cheek as if the answers to all the mysteries of the world lay in that touch.
“Skin, white,” said Pappy in a terrible Native American accent. “White skin no protect from sun. Why you come Florida? Why you bring boats and weapons?”
Trip grinned as he thought about how flawed Pappy’s fantasies were. It appeared Pappy thought he was a Native American warrior meeting a white man for the first time, and yet he used the name Florida, which was a name given long after the natives met the first white man. But history didn’t matter in Pappy’s fantasy worlds. Trip joined in, hoping he could play this out and get the real Pappy back to discuss Gonzalez.
“How,” said Trip, holding up his hand to display his palm in a Native American greeting. He knew the Native Americans never actually said or did this, but he also knew Pappy would think it was a proper greeting.
“My name is Trip,” Trip continued. “I come in peace.”
“You no come peace,” said Pappy in his stilted accent. He sounded irritated. “You come, you take land, you chase Indians away.”
“No,” replied Trip, still playing his part. “I come seeking truth and answers. I come seeking the wisdom of Chief… Chief?”
“Me name Chief Dancing Broom,” replied Pappy, his anger growing. “You come. You chase my people away. You destroy land, you kill my people.”
Trip didn’t like the direction of this conversation. If Pappy got agitated, it would take forever for him to calm down. He had to choose his next words wisely. He had to say something that would lighten Pappy’s mood.
“High-ho Silver, away!” said Trip, using the catchphrase of one of Pappy’s favorite fictional characters, the Lone Ranger. Pappy had told Trip stories of gathering around the radio as a kid to listen to the first radio broadcast of the Lone Ranger. Pappy watched the TV show, collected the comics, and loved anything to do with the Lone Ranger. Trip chose to portray the Lone Ranger because he had a best friend named Tonto, who was a Native American. Sure, Tonto was just a Hollywood creation and was nothing like a real Native American, but he was someone Pappy remembered fondly.
“Sheriff have sickness in head… cannot fix with medicine,” said Pappy, quoting his favorite Tonto line. “Me name Chief Dancing Broom, you look for Tonto. Me find Tonto for you.” Trip smiled, happy the mood had changed.
“Tonto glad you come,” said Pappy. “When Chief Dancing Broom tell me you come, I rush right over.”
“Tonto,” said Trip. “I need your advice on something.” Trip proceeded to tell Pappy all about meeting Gonzalez, the map key, The Sacred Lion, and Gonzalez’s request to team up. By the end of the story, Pappy sat motionless wearing a sad expression.
“Well, Pappy,” said Trip. “What do you think? Should we team up with Gonzalez or not?”
Pappy’s breathing became labored and his eyes glistened with newly formed tears as he locked eyes with Trip. Pappy lay down in Trip’s arms and Trip held him like a baby, neither one saying a word for what felt like an hour.
“The secret was entrusted to me,” Pappy said in a new voice, finally breaking the silence. “I have protected it my whole life.”
Trip didn’t like hearing Pappy’s voice so weak. If he hadn’t realized Pappy had slipped into a new delusion, he would have worried something was seriously wrong. But Pappy now spoke with a thick Spanish accent, so Trip knew he was just living out another fantasy.
“I am the last of the keepers,” continued Pappy. “I am the only one who still knows the secret.”
“What secret, Pappy?” soothed Trip. “Tell me the secret.”
“I’ve sworn to never reveal the secret,” said Pappy, his eyes still locked with Trip’s, as if the connection was feeding him the energy to stay alive. “It must not fall into the wrong hands. I cannot tell the secret. But if I die, the secret dies with me.”
“Who are you?” asked Trip. “What’s your name? I can help you.”
“My name is not important,” said Pappy, slowly shaking his head. “What’s important, General, is that I told you the secret. And now you must protect it.”
“What?” asked Trip, confused. “You didn’t tell me the secret.”
“Of course I did, General,” said Pappy. “And now you must make sure El León Sagrado de Fuerza is safe. I probably should not have told you, but someone must protect it. The natives are vicious, and the Americans are expanding into Florida. I had to tell someone, and you seem honorable. It’s up to you now, General. Protect this secret, because if you don’t, the caretaker of sinister forces will reign over all and destroy humanity as we know it.”
Pappy lay there in Trip’s arms, letting this all sink in. His breathing came easier now and his eyes dried. Behind Pappy’s eyes, Trip could now see a mischievous twinkle.
“What am I doing lying here taking a nap, when there is so much work to be done,” said Pappy with a tone that breathed sunshine into the gloomy room. He popped up and began pacing around the room. “The matter/antimatter chamber needs a complete diagnostic, and we need to install the dilithium crystals the captain delivered earlier today. Now let’s get to work, Ensign Montgomery.”
Trip was relieved the mood had lightened, although he could have used more information about “the secret” and the “caretaker of sinister forces.”
“I think it best if you work with Mr. Gonzalez on this mission,” said Pappy. “He is the foremost expert on dilithium crystals.”
“Wait,” said Trip, taken off guard. “Are you telling me we should team up with Gonzalez?”
“Perhaps you need to report to sick bay and have those ears checked, Ensign Montgomery,” said Pappy. “I think my orders were perfectly clear.”
“Thanks, Pappy!” howled Trip. “I knew you were listening!” Trip and Pappy spent the rest of the morning together, and Trip was having so much fun, he nearly forgot about “the secret.”