Monday, July 25, 2005

The Cabinet of Dr. Cartografi

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The panel that unlocked the hidden door to the secret map cabinet was still ajar, and I wondered if Dad realized it. He had gathered his samples of Oklahoma crude oil in front of him and was preparing vials to insert into his new geo-frequency detection equipment.

“I’m going to spend some time with Stanton this weekend,” I announced to Dad. He looked up from small vials of crude oil from the wells he had discovered over the years. I was sitting across the laboratory from him, and I began making notes on the report he wanted me to revise before we presented it to our partners.

Dad wanted me to update the reports, and I didn’t want him to think that there was any possibility that I could do it on the weekend.

“If you can get the information to me today or tomorrow, I can do it before we take off on Friday evening,” I remarked. I took a sip of coffee from the mug I had placed on the worktable in front of me.

“You’re what?” Dad put down the Sharpie he had been using to write on the plastic label. “Did you say something about Stanton?”

I was painfully aware that the last time I had spoken about Stanton I had described him as the devil’s own spawn. It had not been a good day, and I had exaggerated for effect. Now I was going to have to eat my words.

“Do you think that’s such a good idea?” he said. He looked curious. “The two of you couldn’t seem to make much of a go of it two years ago. Besides, I thought he had moved to California or Colombia or somewhere he could work with that Navy SEAL buddy he had.”

“I never bought the story that Grist was a SEAL,” I said somewhat bitterly. I looked down at the report and started making more meaningless marginalia. “Do you have a new map I can insert on this page?”

“We need to get the report out as soon as possible,” said Dad. “I’ll be leaving on a trip and I want to have this wrapped up.”

“Okay. I’ll do it this afternoon if you can get the information for me.” I was glad for the deflection. I didn’t want to talk about Stanton with Dad. On the other hand, he was a patient listener. That was because he wasn’t really listening, I reminded myself. He was always somewhere else, planning ahead to his next trip or thinking about his latest project.

“You were pretty miserable, you know,” said Dad, quietly. “It took you almost a year before you could stop seeing your therapist every other day.”

“I made a lot of mistakes,” I said.

“Be sure you’re not making another one,” he said. I felt tears well up behind my eyes. The pressure on my eyes was almost unbearable, and I felt my heart tighten.

“Well, no one likes being alone. What you are feeling is understandable,” he said. I could tell he was groping for a way to change the subject. “Have I shown you the maps?”

I held the back of my hand up to my cheek hoping that my cool skin would calm me, and diffuse the tears that had started to cascade against my will.

Dad stood up and walked to the panel, opened it, and stood back as the expensive mechanism slid the panel smoothly into the wall. Dad’s laboratory now had another room, one filled from floor to ceiling with map cabinets.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever told you about all that I have here,” he said. “I have every map I’ve ever worked on with my various pieces of equipment. All the surveys. All the field studies. They’re all here.”

The maps were organized according to state, and within each state, by county. They detailed all his investigations, the mines, the test holes, everything that had to petroleum and mineral exploration.

“Here’s what you might find interesting,” he said. “All the treasure maps are in this cabinet.”

He walked to an antique map cabinet that had been handcrafted in cherry with delicate brass pulls and mother of pearl inlays. A brass placard had been affixed to the top drawer: Dr. Cartografi.

“Who was Dr. Cartografi?” I asked. Dad smiled.

“I think it was some sort of brand name.” He opened a middle drawer. “Do you recognize this?”

I looked at it and felt a shock of recognition.

“Marcus? His mom’s map? The Farley Kritzof map?” Dad nodded.

“They are all there. The Blue Cave. The Lost River of Gold. Kokoweef. The Treasure of Tumacacori. Four Corners. Pahrump, Nevada. All of them,” he said.

Tears started streaming down my face, this time in earnest. Years and years of treasure quests, of hunts for smuggler’s gold, outlaw hideaways, western myth and magic.

“If you and Stanton get back together, maybe the three of us can go out and finish up some of these searches. I think I’ve got most of them either located or eliminated. I can’t do it alone,” he said.

For the first time, I became aware that Dad really did want me to help him find what he had been looking for during the better part of his adult life. I wasn’t sure what to say. I should have been elated. He was including me.

Instead, I felt my knees tremble. I thought of Stanton, of the lean, muscular harshness that he had acquired in the two years since we had last seen each other, the dark brooding eyes, the chiseled jaw, the lips set a bit too tightly together, as though self-control was the only virtue he believed in any more.

God’s Hostage.

It impacted all of us in ways we were only beginning to understand.