She’d been stuck on her manuscript for a month now. Her deadline was fast approaching, and she knew if she didn’t finish her novel’s outline in time, her whole book deal would be in trouble.
She brushed her fingers through the new titles she’d acquired from a warehouse book sale. One of the books caught her interest, and she plucked it from the rest. What she found inside it made her throw it to the floor.
Carrie was an aspiring writer from Barstow, California, and had spent her life waiting for a big break. Now in her twilight years, she was stunned when she landed a publishing deal.
Her publisher was so impressed with her short stories that they requested a whole novel. Knowing this was the opportunity she had searched for her entire career, Carrie signed the deal. She didn’t know how much impact it would have on her career.
Aside from being a lover of literary worlds and characters, Carrie was a single mom to Damian. Even though he was eighteen now, everything she did, including the anthology that landed her book deal, was centered around her boy.
She was dead set on giving him the best life possible, and this novel would help her do just that. She set to work immediately, gathering everything she’d need to craft the perfect story.
As dictated by the terms of her deal, Carrie was supposed to write historical fiction. Already a lover of the genre, she settled for ancient Rome as her setting.
Carrie had always been fascinated by the Romans. Although she knew a lot regarding the topic, she quickly found that she needed more intricate details for her story. So began the search for the book that would forever change her outlook on life.
Carrie set out to find books that would bolster her knowledge of the Roman empire. YouTube videos had worked at first, but she’d quickly burned through them. The local library was her next option.
Again, she found nothing worthwhile. One last place that had never let her down was a seasonal warehouse book sale just around the corner. Carrie attended and bought a bunch of books there, not knowing how special one of them was.
Carrie came out of the sale with a haul like no other. All the books were second-hand and worn, but she was glad they were in her possession now. She perused through some, pleased that they would help with the ideation process.
Carrie resumed her writing, creating the outline for her novel. She drew from the different books she’d acquired from the sale, crafting the perfect world. But something was still missing.
Carrie felt like a level of authenticity and immersion was missing in her outline. Although she’d worked on a massive chunk of it, it missed the flair that would keep her readers glued to the pages.
Knowing she had to return to the drawing board, Carrie pulled out the stack of books from the sale. Her mind seemingly settled on one, and she grabbed it, utterly wrong about the secrets it held inside.
“The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” was the book Carrie picked. Although the original book was published in 1776, this particular copy was an abridged version from recent years.
Carrie was confident it would help her bring the punch her story needed despite the publication differences. Already picturing the book’s secrets fleshing out her novel, she flipped the first page.
The book’s first page was as ordinary as any other. The page had faded to a slight sepia, indicating the book’s age, but nothing else was out of the ordinary.
Carrie perused through the table of contents and skimmed through the initial pages As she paged further in, she could swear the book’s center was turning hollow. Curious to know why, Carrie flipped to the middle of the book, throwing it away with a shock at what she found.
The middle of the book was hollowed out, but that’s not what freaked Carrie. Thick rolls of hundred dollar bills stuffed the space, so many that they filled the book.
The cash spilled out of the book as it hit the carpet, rolling all over Carrie’s living room. Not sure what to do, Carrie called her friend Liza, who came running in. She told Liza everything, and her reaction was priceless.
“This is mob money,” Liza said, detailing how crime syndicates loved stuffing money in old books to move them around the world.
“It has to be,” said Liza. “Haven’t you ever heard of how the mob passed heirlooms down to family members?” Liza then asked Carrie something that she’d been thinking of the moment she saw the cash bounce out of the book.
“What are you gonna do with the money?” Liza asked. “Find its owner,” Carrie answered almost immediately, shocking herself.
She’d considered buying her son something nice or maybe going for a trip. But wouldn’t it be more wholesome to return the money to its rightful owner? Liza’s response to her answer made her lips part.
“Your good heart is a blessing to society, my dear,” Liza said. “I’ll help with anything you might need: checking in on Damien, running errands. Let’s find whoever this money belongs to!”
Carrie’s lips curved, and she held out a hand to her friend. “I just had the wildest idea,” she squeezed Liza’s hand then dashed to her laptop.
“What are you doing?” Liza asked after her. “Updating my novel’s outline,” Carrie spat out as her fingers flew all over the keyboard, so fast they were a blur. “I think the idea of hidden treasure in Roman scrolls from a crime family will give this story the oomph it requires!”
She turned around, grinning at Liza, “Thanks to you and that book, this story is going to be mindblowing!” Although they celebrated that night, Carrie wondered if they’d find the cash’s owner.
Carrie and Liza spent the next week scouring the internet for the book’s previous owner. They liaised with the book sale where Carrie first acquired it.
The last owner had left no contact information while donating the book. Stuck with the cash, Carrie still had no idea what to do. The book had given her a concept more valuable than anything but the cash made her feel uneasy like something terrible would happen.
Carrie decided to look up Liza’s theory about the cash being mob money. She had watched movies where things like this happened, but this was real life. “Surely not,” she thought. Her research fascinated her more and more.
Mob history in the U.S was well documented. After all, who hadn’t heard of Al Capone? Carrie thought she was clued up on this world until she dug deeper. She realized there was much more to the stories than she ever knew.
The deeper Carrie dived into the history; the more intrigued she became. She realized how sheltered she had been. The mob didn’t only feature in history but had many syndicates still alive and well today.
There were so many notable ones over the years. The list was endless. Names like Capone, the Rizzutos, Gambino, and Bonanno jumped out. Carrie was beginning to worry now. Could the cash really have belonged to actual mobsters?
Carrie was becoming a little obsessive about her research. Her fascination with the book owner’s original owner was at a fever pitch now. She just had to know.
Now that she was an amateur mob-history aficionado, Carrie learned a new fact. There was a famous mob museum in Vegas, and it wasn’t that far away from Barstow. Carrie excitedly called Liza and asked, “Are you up for a road trip?”
The two old friends were both over fifty, an age when most people start thinking about slowing down. Instead, the pair giggled like a couple of schoolgirls as they spontaneously hit the road for Vegas.
Like one of the detective novels she had loved as a child, Carrie was thrilled by the notion of uncovering a real-life mystery. Reaching sin city, the pair had no idea what awaited them as the museum came into view.
The museum itself was a treat. Neither Carrie nor Liza had ever thought to visit an attraction like this before. The exhibits spanned historic courtroom settings, authentic mob outfits, a gallery of “made men,” and so much more.
By the time the tour was done, the ladies were both enthralled by the fascinating history it contained. Carrie listened closely to the curator’s narration of the exhibits, searching for a clue to the mysterious cash.
The ladies visited the museum three times over the next few days. Staying at a casino hotel, Carrie used her evenings to keep writing to not fall behind with her book.
With so much extra knowledge swimming around in her head, the book was writing itself. She had never been more inspired as a writer, which showed in her work. She decided to speak to the curator directly the next day.
The museum’s senior curator was a pleasant woman named Jessica Campos. After confiding the story of the cash to her, Jessica confirmed that it indeed sounded like something the mob would do to evade tax.
It was time for the ladies to head home, but Jessica promised to check in with all her “contacts” to see if they could find a lead. Jessica was excited and felt they had likely stumbled across something more significant than they knew.
After all the excitement of hunting down the cash’s owner, life back home felt a little bland. To compensate, Carrie put all her energy into her book. The words were flowing, and she found creative ways of weaving her real-life adventures into the story.
When she was done, she had never been more proud of her work. It was finally complete and ready for submission to her publishers. Carrie was a bag of nerves as she awaited their response.
After years of working as a freelance writer, Carrie dreamed of being published. When her publisher contacted her with the news that they loved her manuscript, she was ecstatic.
She had finally made it and secured her future as a writer. She owed the mysterious book of cash so much. It had set her on an inspired path. She thought that the mystery would never be solved until things all changed.
Carrie and Liza had been celebrating the success of her book one evening. They hadn’t thought of the mysterious book and the cash or heard back from Jessica. They had given up on finding its owner.
As the ladies reveled the evening away, the book was suddenly thrown back into their minds. It started with an ominous knock on the door.
When the ladies heard the knock, they immediately exchanged nervous glances. It was too late for visitors. Liza instinctively looked towards the mystery book that sat atop Carrie’s bookshelf the whole time.
They both wondered who could be calling at that time of night and if it had anything to do with the book. As the women froze for a moment, the knock grew louder.
Carrie nervously approached the door. When she opened it, she gasped. They were two official-looking agents wearing navy jackets. The visitors were already intimidating enough.
They each had hardened jawlines and stone-faced expressions. Carrie couldn’t believe what was happening. When she saw the famous words “Federal Agents” in yellow, she turned cold with fear.
After letting the men in, they explained that they were from the fraud and counterfeit unit and were following up a lead. Carrie and Liza’s nerves finally settled when the men told them they were not in any trouble.
It turns out that Jessica had contacted them after finding a lead on the mysterious cash. As Carrie and Liza listened, the tale of the money was as dramatic as they could have ever imagined.
It turned out that the book and the money had belonged to a notorious counterfeiter named Harold Dumont. Last year, he had passed away, and his family members had discovered the operation he was running.
While most of the fake money had been recovered, Harold had stashed lots of it in various hiding places. Examining the book, Carrie was surprised when an agent showed her a dent in the spine where an old letter had been wedged.
After conducting some tests on the bills, it was confirmed that they were indeed counterfeit and bore Harold’s signature marks. The money was taken away as evidence, and Carrie was glad to be rid of it.
The book and letter had been a gift from Harold’s uncle, a former mob member arrested in the 1980s for money laundering. The last piece of missing evidence traced, the case was closed; Carrie and Liza’s detective adventures finally ended too.