My car is freezing. I’m freezing too. I’d start it up and get the heat going, but with the price of gas I’d rather be cold.
I have my radio on, but I’m not really listening to it. They are interviewing an author who wrote about a new conspiracy theory involving J.F.K.’s death. I’m not interested in anything that happened that far back in time. I have enough to worry about in my own life. I have enough to worry about in my own car.
I left my job at around 2:30 pm today. I was supposed to give a presentation on our company’s financial future. The future didn’t look good and I was to blame. A half an hour before the presentation I packed up my things, threw them in my car, and started driving. I didn’t care where I drove to. I just needed to drive.
As I drove I didn’t look at a single road sign. I was lost in a vast desert of thought. Before I knew it, it was 5:15 pm and my car made the familiar beep signifying a need for gas. I sighed and began searching the roadside for a place to fill up. About ten minutes later I pulled over at a place called Swan River Trucking.
After a stretch and a yawn, I exited my car, swiped my credit card, and squeezed gasoline into my little Honda. Looking around at the place it seemed a little unusual. Thinking back on it, it was more than unusual—it was bizarre.
Next to me a man badly in need of a bath, puffed on a tiny piece of a cigarette while pumping fuel into his rusty pickup and chatting with a police officer. Behind the gas station an old man was screaming at a group of preteen boys for bothering his two peacocks (If I heard him correctly the bird’s names were Buzz and Cheryl).
But the strangest thing I saw while filling my vehicle was a single engine plane landing in a field a few hundred yards away from the station. The plane taxied its way through the field and drove into a handicap space in front of the truck stop.
“What in the world is that guy doing?” I screamed above the engine’s noise in the direction of the police officer.
“No worries!” the officer replied. “That’s just Charlie.”
A forty something year old guy hung a disable parking permit on the windshield of his plane, leapt out, and effortlessly skipped into the building. The officer continued to shoot the breeze with the smoking gas-pumper. The old man comforted his peacocks while feeding them some sort of seed.
Whaaaaaaaaat….. was all I could think.
After I topped off my gas tank, I noticed a small diner attached to the station. I was starving and the customers at the station seemed like they would provide an entertaining environment for a meal.
I decided to eat there.
The diner was covered in photos of fish and dead animals. I noticed one of the photos featured the pilot that was parked outside. I figured he was a regular.
“What can I get you to drink?” a slender waitress with pleasing curves and a perpetual smile asked me.
I sat down in a booth near the front window and asked her for a Diet Coke.
Through the window I saw the smoker pull away in his truck. The police officer and the peacock owner came into the diner together.
“Woweeeeee!” The pilot screamed as he trotted out of the men’s restroom. “I had to drop some payload so bad. Yer’ lucky I didn’t give you guys a chance to do a Pearl Harbor reenactment. Bombs away!”
The pilot, the old bird man, and the officer laughed. The waitress shook her head and smiled.
“If air toileting isn’t illegal, than it really should be, no doubt about that,” The officer said. The police man, the bird man, and the pilot sat down at a booth two rows away from me and screamed their orders at the waitress who was getting my Diet Coke.
The menu was old and grubby, much like everything else in the diner. On it there was a long list of meals, but almost most all of them were crossed out with a red pen.
“Are you ready to order?” the waitress asked me when she finished pouring my Coke. I ordered an omelet and a poppy seed muffin. For some reason breakfast sounded good.
“It’s a beautiful day,” I over heard the bird man say.
“A great day,” the officer replied.
“Ahhhhhhhhhh no,” the pilot screamed. “You guys want to go treasure huntin’ again, don’t ya?”
“We’re close, I can feel it,” the police man said.
“I need that treasure,” the bird man added.
“Well I don’t need nothin’, I’m happy without it,” the pilot replied.
Something strange came over me when I heard the word “treasure.” I felt like an evil pirate from a children’s movie. I was suddenly certain a treasure could solve all my problems. I could pay my bills, quit my job, and have an adventure of a lifetime.
I pivoted in my booth and asked, “What treasure?”
Everyone in the diner busted out laughing. I turned bright red and tried to hide my face. I couldn’t figure out what was so funny.
“Ya’ look like an out-a-towner, you smell like an out-a-towner, and you think like an out-a towner,” The pilot said as the other two men chuckled.
“Don’t mind Charlie,” the officer added. “Hell, it’s just that everyone who lives up here knows the story. I’ve been hearing the story of the Hill City Fortune since I was a tiny thing.”
The bird man nodded in agreement with the officer. The waitress brought each of my new friends a beverage. The pilot, Charlie, got a Mello Yellow and the other two each got a beer.
“My names Sherriff Hurley, this is my friend Al, and of course I’ve already introduced you to Charlie,” the officer said.
“The story of the Hill City Fortune begins way way back when. Back before I was born. It starts in Japan. Well, in Japan there lived a business man who owned dozens of fishin’ boats. His name was Akira Shimizu. The boats fetched different kinds of fish from the Sea of Japan. Every year, Akira would buy a few more boats. Soon, he was one of the wealthiest men in all of Japan.”
The other two men weren’t paying attention to Sherriff Hurley’s story. It was obvious they had heard the tale numerous times before.
“In 1937, the Japanese began the Second Sino-Japanese War. This was a war with China. The Japanese wanted to take over China so they could steal all of China’s resources. In order to accomplish this, they needed a big old navy to transport troops and weapons to China. I don’t know what the Japanese were thinking. Crazy Japs!
“Anyways, the Japanese government needed docks to park their new massive navy. Apparently, they were desperate and stole dock space from fishermen like Akira. The government didn’t pay for the docks and they didn’t really even ask. Akira was madder that mid day badger. He had no where to park all his boats.”
I was absolutely enthralled by Sherriff Hurley’s story. He was a talented story teller. While he spoke, I picked up my Diet Coke and moved into the booth with the three other men.
“Akira tried to get his docks back, but it was no use. Everyday he was losing money. In August of 1941, he sold off all of his boats and all his possessions. He put all 12 million dollars of his fortune into an American bank account and emigrated from Japan to California, USA.
“For the first few months in America, Akira lived with his cousin in Los Angelus. They bought a fishing boat and started a new business. Everything was going great, until December 21, 1941.
“On December 21, the Japs sent nearly their entire air force in the direction of Pearl Harbor. I wasn’t alive yet back then, but I know that it changed the world forever. Not only did it affect those in Hawaii, but it sent a shock wave that even hit our little town of Jacobson, Minnesota.”
The cute waitress strutted over to our table and set my omelet and muffin in front of me. She gave Hurley a little wink and wiggled her butt flirtatiously as she disappeared into the kitchen. All three of my fellow diners stared. I stared a little too.
“… Ummmm, where was I?” Sherriff Hurley asked.
“The shockwave that hit up Jacobson,” Charlie replied.
“Yes, Yes,” the sheriff continued. “When those bombs hit Hawaii, it sent a shockwave around world—a shockwave that affected our little town of Jacobson. You see when the U.S. declared war against the Japs, the government decided to put all those from Japan in camps… they called them internment camps. It was in 1942 when President Roosevelt issued executive order 9006, which told the military to gather the Japanese and send them to strange places around the country. They forced over 100,000 Japanese Americans into these prisons. It’s amazing if you think about it. How could they do something like that right here in America?
“A week after the president issued 9006, Akira and his cousin where forced by gun point into a crowded train and brought to Minnesota. Neither Akira nor his cousin had a jacket or single personal possession. They left their house with only the clothes on their backs. They would never see their boat or their house again.
“They were shipped to a camp just outside of Hill City. That’s about 15 minutes from here. You can see pictures of the camp at the Hill City Historical Center.”
The old bird man, Al, stretched out and said, “One thing I never understood was how Akira escaped. It don’t make sense to me.”
“Keep listening to my story… old friend, I’m not to that part yet,” Sherriff Hurley said. “When Akira got to the camp, he was abused, malnourished, and treated like an animal. He knew he had to get away. The security system at the Hill City internment camp was simple. If someone tried to run away they would freeze to death in the Minnesota woods. Some of the Japanese tried running, but their cold bodies would always turn up a few days later.
“The camp that Akira was sent to was originally a summer camp for children. Many of those that traditionally worked the camp in summer helped out the military when the Japanese came. One of those helpers was a dark-skinned Indian woman who washed dishes in the kitchen… I can’t recall her name… but will just call her Sarah. Well a couple of days after Akira arrived at the camp, Sarah and our Japanese friend fell in love.”
The cute waitress emerged from the kitchen again. She brought each of my table-mates a different kind of burger. One had mushrooms, one had bacon, and Hurley’s had two patties with a creamy white sauce. They all looked pretty good.
Hurley paused and watched the young girl walk away.
“You were talkin’ about how the Jap and the Injun fell in love,” Charlie reminded Hurley.
“Of Course… of course,” Hurley continued. “Every night Akira and Sarah would sneak away together and do what lovers do. A couple weeks into the affair, Akira told Sarah about his fortune. Well, it didn’t take Sarah long to hash out a plan. You see—Sarah decided that she would take the train down to Minneapolis, withdraw Akira’s fortune, and use the money to get Akira, his cousin, and herself into Canada… the Japanese were free there.
“The plan started off without a hitch. Sarah took a leave from the camp and made her way to Minneapolis. She took smaller amounts of cash out from various banks in thw Twin Cities over the course of a month. Pretty soon, the entire fortune was in a burlap bag.
“Sarah was pretty darn discreet about withdrawing the money. But not discreet enough. A lone scruffy Ojibwa woman taking out thousands of dollars rose more than a few eyebrows.
“A group of no-goods caught on to Sarah and followed her on the train to Hill City. The no goods were apart of a gang called the Johnson Brothers. It was a funny name because the Johnson Brother’s gang had no one named Johnson in it. I ‘spose the gang figured that would throw the cops off their trail.
“When the train stopped in Hill City, Sarah lugged her burlap bag along with the rest of her luggage to an old friend’s house. After she arrived, her friend offered to give her a ride back to the internment camp in his Ford truck. Sarah accepted the offer. On the way to the camp, The Johnson Gang rode on horse back, just out of site, directly behind the truck.
“…Meanwhile, Akira had never been so excited in his life. He was going to run off with the girl of his dreams to a strange beautiful land. It was like a great romance novel. Akira and his cousin waited patiently at the camp’s gate.”
The Sherriff stopped and took a giant swallow of his beer.
“The rest of the story… well we have some theories… but we’re not telling anyone. The only thing we know for sure is that a few days later, The Johnson Gang was found in a shallow grave next to the frozen bodies of Akira, the cousin, and Sarah. They found them on a strip of land in between Big and Little Ball Bluff.”
My Omelet was gone by the time he finished his story. I was a little disappointed that he left portions of the tale out, but I could see why.
After I paid my bill, I left the truck stop and began my drive south. I felt like a different person than I was on my trip north. I thought about my life. I dreamed about the treasure. Not a single thought about work crossed my mind.
That brings me to where I am now.
I pulled over at a rest stop about an hour and a half south of the diner. I figure I’m about half way home. This rest stop over looks a beautiful body of water called Knife Lake.
I’m still cold.
I still don’t know what I’m going to do. I think I’ll just stay here and think for a bit longer.
That was a long way to go for an omelet…