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Standing on a small ridge facing into the sunset I knew that I would never get past this, unless I confess. This sadness and guilt that I have felt for nigh on sixty-two years will only go away once I admit to the horrid thing I have done. It seems to be an eternity; the days drag so slowly when one is constantly waiting for judgment to come. The first few years I lived in perpetual fear that I would be found out, but after all of this time no one suspects a thing.
I suppose when they are told I will be punished, banned from society. I am willing to take that punishment; heaven knows how badly I deserve it. On my way down to the sheriff’s office I went over in my head what I would say. Opening the heavy wooden doors, taking what might be my last breath of fresh air, I walked in the office and went to stand in front of his desk. The office was rather small; the massive oak desk took up most of the space. There were two plush chairs in front of the desk, and a larger chair behind the desk in which sat the sheriff. The sheriff himself was a calm, prudent young man, in his early thirties. He nodded towards one of the chairs, asking me to sit.
“ What brings you to my office today Charlie, anything I can do for you?”
“Yes sir there is.” He waited for me to explain, but my mouth had gone dry. I motioned to the water cooler to the right of the desk he got up fill a cup then handed it to me.
“Now what do you need?”
I took a large gulp of the water and cleared my throat before beginning.
“I need you to arrest me.” I said, watching a bewildered look spread across his face.
“You want me to arrest you? What for?”
“The murder of William Brash.” My voice was shockingly steady.
“Wait a minute, you expect me to believe that an eighty two year old man murdered someone, and is here turning himself in. Tell me what is going on here Charlie.”
“Well sheriff I guess I should start at the beginning…
We were the best of friends, Will and I, closer than brothers. He moved in next-door to me when we were about eight, on a bright summer morning in the great year 1838. The very next day I beat him to a pulp behind my house, after that we were inseparable. We were polar opposites, he had the brains and I had the muscle. Two young boys learning about life while exploring and romping around the woods surrounding our houses. We knew each other’s thoughts, and never lied to each other.
The year we turned nineteen the word was out about the California gold rush. So we did what any sensible young man our age did, packed up and headed across the country to strike our fortune. We landed in a small mining community by the name of Mokelumne Hill. I remember it like it was just yesterday, the thrill, the excitement that right under our feet could be enough gold for us to live like kings. Will, being the smart fellow he was, drew up a map of the areas most likely to contain gold. The very next day we started to work at the first site he had on the map. The work was grueling, but we kept digging. The thought that the gold could be just an inch away kept us working, we dug day and night to no avail.
A year, three months and twenty-one days later we had been through six of his maps, and had only one site left to work. We had decided the night before that if we didn’t find any gold, we would pack up and head home to Missouri. Sure we found some gold at the other sites, but just enough to buy some more clothing, and food for us as well as food for our animals. We went out early that morning and began to dig; the area was a small branch off the main river, not more than a small creek. There was a large precipice on the right of the creek and that was where Will said we should start. I figured his guess was better than mine so I made no objections. We worked hard, and by the time we stopped for dinner we had carved deep into the sheer wall of dirt and rock. As the sun set, leaving me to work in the wavering lantern light, I dug my mattox deep into the dirt and pulled it lose. A large rock, about three feet in diameter, came lose with it, almost landing on my feet. I shoved it out of the way with every intention to keep digging, when I happened to glance down. It had rolled over exposing a side of solid gold. Time stopped as I stared at it in awe, then William’s voice broke through my thoughts, guessing by the irritated tone of his voice I figured that it wasn’t the first time he had called my name.
‘Charlie! What’s wrong, are you going deaf?’
‘Will, you need to see this.’
‘What is it?’ he asked, impatiently stomping over to me. All I could do was point. We both stood stock still for a moment, just staring, neither of us fully able to comprehend what we were seeing. Then disbelief melted into jubilation, we began to jump and shout. We held the lantern over it, trying to see it better through the meager light.
‘I bet it’s worth at least a million dollars!’ Will estimated. My head began to fill with thoughts of all that money and what I could do with it. Imagine that, me a millionaire!
‘That means we get about five hundred thousand dollars apiece!’ Will calculated, breaking into my thoughts. Now five hundred thousand dollars was a good deal of money, but it didn’t sound nearly as nice as being a millionaire. That is when I started planning. I did my best to justify what I was about to do. It wasn’t like I was really hurting Will or taking anything away from him. He would just go home and take up work there, like we would have done if we hadn’t found the gold. There was no way I could allow myself to let that kind of money slip through my hands. I decided to wait until the middle of the night, load up the gold and head out. I couldn’t let Will think I had stolen the money, it would kill him. Mining communities were rough so murders over gold or other things were fairly common. Every minor had guns and knives for protection and finding a murderer would be impossible, so there were never any investigations. So I decided to fake my own murder, make it look like another miner had been stealing our gold and I tried to stop them, so they killed me and threw me in the river. I killed one of the chickens and made a trail of blood going to the river. It would look like I had been stabbed and then thrown into the river.
I waited until the opportune moment that night to start loading up the gold. The fire we had made for our supper was nothing more than a lump of smoldering embers. I was almost finished with the setup for my scheme, when a voice made me jump out of my skin. My reflexes took over, I turned around and shot before I realized who it was. By the time I did it was to late. I had shot him high on his left shoulder, but there were no doctors, and even if there were it wouldn’t have done much good. I ran over to him holding his head in my lap. Do you want to know what his last words to me were?
‘It’s o-okay Ch-ch-charlie, I know y-you didn’t m-mean to, w-was an accident. J-just an a-accident.’ ”
At this point the sheriff was staring at me, eyes wide with shock. He was silent for a moment, and then a confused look came over his face.
“But Charlie, you aren’t rich, you don’t even break middle class.”
“Well that would be because there was never any gold. After I buried Will the next morning I planned on taking the gold into town. When I got over to where the gold was, and saw it in the daylight I realized it was nothing more than fool’s gold.”