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Seven Cities

of Greed

 

 

 

 

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Seven Cities of Greed is available in print and Kindle on Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

hand carved leather journal purchased at a Chicago book auction promises an adventure in New Mexico for Jacqueline Tracy and her friends, a group of 'women of a certain age.' Instead, they find themselves followed by a modern day conquistador who will stop at nothing to have the book and the secrets it holds. 

Pedro’s journal described an expedition that began in February of 1539 led by the Franciscan friar, Marcos De Niza on a search for the mythical Seven Cities of Gold. Pedro accompanied the Spaniards disguised as a priest, but his writings suggest he was far from holy.

As the group follows ancient clues and maps to the Land of Enchantment, Samuel Barnes uses his wealth and influence to track them. Are the adventure-seeking Chicagoans ready for a show down with the man who believes himself the Emperor of Cibola?

 

ISBN: 978-0-9723541-7-2
282 Pages
 

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I embark upon a journey in this year of our Lord 1539 with Father Marcos de Niza. The priest will lead an expedition through uncharted lands north of New Spain where we will search for the Seven Cities of Cibola, the Cities of Gold. I have heard that compared to these cities, Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital destroyed by Cortés, was a village of paupers. My life began in poverty, but it will not end the same way. The Spaniards can have the land. I will have the gold.

 

 

Chapter 1

 

An almost forgotten child’s face startled Jackie as it appeared through the haze. “I’m asleep,” she muttered, basing her hunch on decades of experience with the unconscious state. That knowledge failed, however, to explain the ghostly image. If it meant to resolve a real life problem, as dreams often did, understanding the message might require a course in dream analysis or code breaking. 

Pale yellow hair, soft as corn silk, flowed over the young girl’s shoulder as she knelt to wave a reproachful finger. The air around her moved in a suggestive flutter, like gauzy curtains at the first hint of a storm. It gave the scene a fairytale quality and reminded Jackie of a fable she’d read long ago. In it, an evil witch imprisoned three maidens in a cave and forced them to spin flax into golden threads. The spun gold hair of the child fit nicely, but her voice sounded harsh beyond its years. “You weren’t supposed to come here. Don’t you remember what happened last time?”

Other senses stirred. Noxious fumes of rubber and oil stung her nostrils and cast doubt on the sleep theory. For as long as she could remember, rose and lavender scented the air of her bedroom, not petroleum products. There were noises, too soft and muffled to identify, but they echoed as if she were in a small space. She wondered if she was in the garage, but why would she be on the garage floor?

Jackie stretched, or tried too, only to find vague unresponsive lumps where she remembered arms and legs. Something flickered—a memory—or perhaps a movie seen long ago. A woman stepped from her car and while searching for house keys heard a noise. Before she could react, a thick arm wrapped around her neck and pressed a hand over her mouth. A needle punctured her sleeve. Almost at once, her vision darkened and the house blurred. Someone drugged her, but Jackie had no idea what followed.

The slab began to vibrate and when she recognized the accompanying sound, it filled her with terror. It was a car engine, and the small space she occupied was a trunk. She renewed her struggle to break free—not from a dream, but from a nightmare that even sleep would not allow.

*

“Geez.” Pat smashed the remote’s power button in disgust and tossed the control to the coffee table. Her limited budget allowed only stations attracted to the digital antenna. Cable was out of her budget, but she wondered if it mattered. Would having more shows to choose from improve the content? “How bad does this crap have to get before I stop watching?” She cleared a space on the table for her glasses and shifted to face the sofa’s course fabric. Anything was better than the offending screen.

At one hundred and eight pounds, Pat’s five-foot-two-inch frame defined petite. Her lack of body fat had little to do with watching what she ate. She simply didn’t think about food.

A tap on the top of her head drew her attention from the drab green upholstery to the pushy black paw of her cat, Zodiac. The feline stretched across the sofa's back in a potentially hazardous pose, and Pat lay directly in striking range. One of Zodiac’s many duties was to remind her distracted human when they needed to eat. Sometimes a quick swat proved the most practical solution.

She lifted the cat to her stomach. “Hi, Zoey, did my whining disturb you? Sorry.” At fifty-three, Pat had a comfortable grasp of her priorities. When she heard the phone ring, she closed her eyes and scratched a furry black ear to wait for the machine to retrieve the call and identify the caller. Only a rare voice could tempt her to move once she’d snuggled in with Zoey.

“Patricia, pick up. It’s Gwen. Pick up the phone. It’s important.”

One of those voices belonged to Gwen, a person who seldom sounded anxious or upset. Pat sat up and placed the cat on her perch to dig around the coffee table for the phone. “This better be important,” she told Zoey and pressed talk. “Hi, Gwen. What’s up?”

“Jackie’s missing.”

Patricia Sexton, Dr. Gwendolyn Garcia-Wilson, and Jacqueline Tracy co-owned Zodiac’s Rare & Used Books, named after their not always silent partner. The meager profits didn’t support any of them, but they all loved books and somehow kept the doors open.

Gwen, a semi-retired psychiatrist, continued to see a few patients and do the occasional lecture. She and her husband enjoyed a comfortable life and it calmed her to putter around the bookstore. Jackie worked in finance, an occupation equated with witchcraft by the other two women, and Pat and Zodiac made their home in an apartment above the store. Pat managed day-to-day operations and supplemented her slim share of the profits doing freelance computer graphics. When in the proper mood, Zodiac graced book buyers with her stately presence.

Opening the bookstore had been Jackie’s idea, and her friends knew why. Besides offering a space to nurture her lifelong love affair with books, it gave her an opportunity to help someone she loved.

“What do you mean she’s missing? We saw her less than four hours ago. If she stopped for dinner or had some other business she might not be home yet.”

“No, she went home to change and planned to come back and pick me up for dinner. She never showed. Pat, that’s not like her.”

Gwen was right. Jackie’s nature did not allow for bad manners. She was punctual to a fault and expected the same of others. If she found herself running late or saw she would be unable to make an engagement, she notified the waiting party as far in advance as possible. “It is a little out of her norm, but what can we do, Gwen? I don’t think the police will even look into it until she’s been missing twenty-four hours.”

“The police? Should we call the police? Do you think she’s in trouble?”

Pat had pulled the phone from her ear at Gwen’s louder than normal response. “No, I didn’t say we should call the police. You tried to reach her at home, right?”

The doctor took a breath. “Yes, I’ve been calling for an hour. I keep getting a notice that they can’t connect to her voice mail.”

“Maybe she had a family emergency or one of her business associates had an urgent situation and she’s been in a conference.”

“I suppose anything's possible in that business, but Beth is her only family and she’s in Europe. Patricia, I have a terrible feeling.”

Gwen’s near hysterics convinced Pat to share her concern. “Why don’t you pick me up and we’ll take a drive to Evanston and see if she’s home. Maybe she spaced out dinner and turned the phones off to take a nap.”

“I’ll be there in ten minutes.”

Pat rubbed Zoey’s neck as she retrieved her glasses. “Madame Zodiac, I need to step out. Your Aunt Jackie has gone missing. You’ll stay out of mischief while I’m gone, I trust.” The cat stretched, directed two yellow eyes in her mom’s direction, and blinked. “I’ll take that as a yes.”

 

Late November in Chicago meant cold temperatures, although not cold enough to warrant the heavy down coat Pat grabbed from a hook as she left the bookstore. Along with no cable TV or smart phone, her unfortunate financial situation did not allow for an additional lighter coat during those weeks between denim jacket weather and heavy coat season. Pat had decided long ago that if the choice were hers, she would rather be too warm than cold. The chill she felt as she waited for Gwen had more to do with her missing friend than temperatures. She tried not to consider that Gwen had good reason to panic. Jackie would never forego dinner without a call.

The previous day, Pat and Nick had arrived at her house ten minutes late for Thanksgiving dinner. They hushed their growling stomachs to listen as she gave her ‘importance of punctuality’ speech. Luckily, they heard a shortened version because their catered dinner waited on the table and Jackie had indulged in a glass of wine.

When Gwen pulled to the curb, Pat put a gloved hand on the door handle and decided not to worry until she knew a problem existed. Her confidence deteriorated when she opened the door and found that the drive had done little to calm Gwen. “This is so not Jackie.”

“It’ll be okay,” Pat reassured her as she secured her seatbelt. “Huh. How’s that for role reversal? Me telling you it’ll be okay.” The doctor’s warm smile reflected in the windshield as she merged into traffic. She had helped Pat through a difficult time in her life, and to Pat, Gwen Garcia-Wilson was part woman and part angel. If Jackie was missing, Pat could not think of better company than her friend Gwen the psychiatrist, except maybe her friend Nick the detective.

 


 

I am Amate Jayn. My skin is as fair as that of a Spaniard, but I am a Moor and therefore became their slave. When the ship on which we sailed crashed in New Spain, I freed myself from the shackles in the galleon’s hold. My good fortune continued when I found a dead priest and took his robe, prayer book, and his name. My servitude in the monastery before the voyage has proved useful. I know the ways of the order and deception is easy. The pompous Spaniards thought their slaves too dull to understand, but I listened and learned of the Seven Cities of Cibola. When I heard of Marcos de Niza’s expedition, I offered my services as a humble priest.

~Amate Jayn, for now, Pedro Fernando

 

 

Chapter 2

 

A man with an insatiable desire for wealth needed brains and commitment to feed that hunger. Samuel Barnes enjoyed intelligence and passion beyond even that of the conquistadors he revered, but unlike the Spaniards, he served neither king nor god. Personal gain motivated his every action.   

His interest in the explorers began as a youth, but his enthusiasm soared after he arrived in Chicago and saw an exhibit at the Field Museum. Intrigued by the conquerors and their conquests, he taught himself Spanish and studied everything written about their search for wealth and power. One of his champions was Hernán Cortés who had a reputation for military prowess, shrewdness, and a distinct lack of morals. His knack for making enemies of powerful people almost cost him his commission as commander of the army chosen to invade Mexico. His shrewdness helped him avoid capture by sailing out of Cuba before troops from his own kingdom arrived to arrest him. When he conquered the Aztec Empire, the success of his victories changed his political position and history.

The more Barnes learned about the conquistadors, the greater his appetite for artifacts of the warriors he considered kin. That well-known passion recently led to a phone call from an antiques dealer in Phoenix about the discovery of an ancient journal. The book identified the location of Cibola and the Seven Cities of Gold. It, Barnes believed, held the key to the only thing on earth with the power to satisfy his thirst.

*

The drug’s grip on Jackie lessened and her brain cleared enough to consider the situation. The horrible tasting stuff over her mouth was duct tape and it might have covered her eyes as well. That would explain the lack of light and her inability to produce a noise louder than a groan. As feeling trickled into her limbs, she found they had met the same fate. She had no idea how much time had passed, and the restraints and limited space kept her from changing positions. Her right shoulder pressed against the cold floor and alternated between a sharp pain and complete lack of feeling. When the frigid temperatures registered, she shivered.

She had left home that morning wearing a navy blue wool pantsuit and a calf length lined trench coat. The coat, she remembered, was on the passenger’s seat of her car. When she returned that afternoon, her intention was to run in, change, and come right out, but someone altered her plans. She was meeting Gwen for dinner. Gwen would realize there was a problem and call Nick. She would be home and safe in no time. The car left smooth pavement and bounced along a road, jarring the comforting thought from her mind.

Moments after the vibrations stopped, two doors slammed. She tried not to move as the trunk opened, or as the owner of the thick arm picked her up and placed her over his shoulder. At six feet, Jackie never considered herself a lightweight, which meant the person tossing her around was enormous. He carried her inside a structure and laid her surprisingly gently on the floor. She remained as unmoving as her trembling body would allow.

Her hearing, one of only two available senses, told her nothing about her surroundings. No one spoke and she heard no other noise. Her sense of smell, however, perked when she sniffed cigarette smoke. She had quit the soothing vice a few years earlier and still had the occasional craving.

A voice broke the silence. “Why don’t I just yank that tape off her mouth? That’ll bring her around in a hurry.” The floor rumbled beneath her as the lighter of the two men approached. She imagined an old black-and-white cowboy movie where a scout put his ear to the ground and listened for horses. She wasn’t expecting the cavalry, but a small posse would be nice—a small posse and a cigarette.

“Ow. Shit.” She shouted in astonishment and pain when he ripped the tape from her mouth. “Who are you? What do you want?”

“Keep your mouth shut,” said the man who removed the tape. “Put her on the couch and take those boots off her feet. They look dangerous.”

Thick Arm lifted her from the floor and carried her to the couch. With her hands still taped behind her, she perched on the edge uncomfortably and in increasingly bad temper. “What do you want? You know, you can’t just pick someone up off the street and take them home.”

“Trust me, lady. You wouldn’t be my first choice to bring home. I don’t want to hear nothing from you except where to find that journal.”

She hesitated for the briefest moment to wonder what he found unappealing, but decided at her age there was nothing to consider. A distinct sound from somewhere nearby distracted her and she lifted her head. It was the lid of a Zippo lighter flipping open. She heard the small wheel scratch against a piece of flint and a soft whoosh told her the wick had ignited. Seconds later the intoxicating fragrance of lighter fluid mixed with fresh burning tobacco awoke an old craving. She sighed and responded sharply. “I have no idea what you want. Release me at once.”

An unexpected slap surprised her as much as it stung and knocked her backward into the couch. It also frightened her enough to stop talking. Thick Arm removed the tape from her boots and pulled them from her feet. She knew why the kidnapper thought they were dangerous. The dagger thin heels would have made an impressive weapon. If she could have kicked him, she would have found an excellent place to plant one or both.

“Tie her on the bed and belt her if she says anything except where she put the journal.”

“Why would you tie me to a bed? Do you think I’ll just mosey on out the door?”

“Shut up. Get her out of here.”

Thick Arm laid her on her back and taped her hands to the headboard. When he finished, the man who wanted the journal joined them. “I’m a patient person, Miss Tracy. You’ll tell me where the book is before you leave this place, dead or alive. It makes no difference to me.”

She stiffened and tilted toward his voice. “How do you know who I am? Who are you?” He smacked her again and her head dropped to the mattress. The ‘keeping her mouth shut’ plan needed work, but in a short time, a pin pricked her arm and numbed her body. When she tried to call him a few choice names, the most venomous thing to escape her mouth was drool.

*

The headlight beams bounced across the open gate as Gwen turned into the Tracy’s driveway. Both women gasped and Pat’s hand flew to her mouth. It did not muffle her scream. “Oh, God. The gate’s open. The gate’s not supposed to be open.” She tried to remain calm, but the gate should not have been open. Any lingering composure dissolved when they drove between the pillars and saw Jackie’s Mercedes in the drive with the doors and trunk lid open.

Gwen pulled behind it and jumped out. “That’s why she hasn’t answered her cell phone.” The device lay crushed next to the car.

“Gwen, call the police. All the lights are on and there shouldn’t be anyone here but Jackie.” Pat knew from her visit the previous day that the cook, Maria, had resigned because her baby was due. She also knew that the housekeepers were off for the holiday and Jackie considered wasting electricity a crime punishable by a lengthy jail sentence.

Jacqueline and her aunt, Elizabeth Tracy lived in Evanston, a suburb north of Chicago, in a fourteen-room brick home built in 1925. The Colonial style structure sat hidden amid rows of ancient trees on a two-and-a-half acre lot with a private beach on Lake Michigan.

Pat gripped the handle and found the front door slightly open. It swung wide when she pushed and her eyes took a second to adjust to the bright interior. Every light burned, illuminating the turned over, emptied out, and tossed aside furniture. Curtains, ripped from the windows, covered the floor along with stuffing emptied from shredded chairs, couches, and cushions.

“Jackie, are you here?” She ran up the curved oak staircase to the second floor, slowing at the thought of what she might find. “Jackie?”

As Pat disappeared to the upper level, a voice startled Gwen. “Stay right where you are.”

She spun to face a police officer at the front entrance. He had a gun pointed in her direction. “You almost gave me a heart attack,” she shouted. “Please, put that away.”

The policemen did a quick scan of Gwen’s short sturdy body and satisfied she posed no immediate danger, slid the weapon in its holster. That might have been his first mistake. “Did you call about a missing person?”

Gwen continued to clutch her chest and was about to answer when Patricia flew down the stairs. “She’s not here. She’s not anywhere. They tore the entire house apart.” She stopped when she almost ran into the dark blue uniform.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“I’m Patricia Sexton, that’s Gwen Garcia-Wilson and we’re,” she waved her finger between them, “friends of the woman who lives here, Jacqueline Tracy. She’s missing.” Pat stopped to gulp air.

“How did you get in?”

The young officer had no doubt thought it was a reasonable question, but Gwen was in no mood to be reasonable. “For heaven’s sakes, the door was open.” She spread her hands. “You can see that someone tore this place apart.”

 “Why are you here?” He was a man of few words. Gwen was not. She explained her dinner plans with Jackie in detail. “Okay. I get the picture. Give me your names and phone numbers and you can go.”

Along with their contact information, Pat and Gwen made sure he understood how important punctuality was to Jackie. When they were ready to leave, Gwen saw the squad car in the driveway. “You’re blocking the gate.”

“Then maybe you’ll have to wait until I finish my investigation.”

Events had left the doctor in a rare nasty mood and the prospect of waiting until he finished was not an option. “Be serious, Officer. You want two menopausal women to hang around here with nothing better to do than help you with your investigation?”

Pat snorted as he processed Gwen’s remark. He dropped his notebook in a pocket, pursing his lips at Gwen’s crossed arms and spread feet. She was a big-boned gal and knew how to carry those bones to her advantage. Without another word, he left through the front door.

Two minutes later, Gwen and Pat drove out the gate. “What could have happened? I didn’t see a ransom note, and she doesn’t have family except for Beth, who is unreachable when she’s on vacation.”

“Have you noticed Jackie acting strange lately, Pat? How was she yesterday at dinner?”

“As hyper as ever, but that’s normal behavior for her. Her brain’s always going a million miles a minute.”

“No, I mean, did she seem different or preoccupied?”

“Not that I remember.” The line of red brake lights they trailed hypnotized Pat. Even at eight o’clock at night, every street in or out of Chicago had bumper-to-bumper traffic. She sighed.

“I’ll call Nick. She’ll find her.” Nick Jordan, longtime friend of both Patricia and Jackie, was a retired Chicago police officer turned private investigator.

Gwen agreed. “Good idea, Pat, and I’ll see what Hugh thinks.”

“Hugh’s an accountant.”

“Accountants are detectives. They detect numbers instead of crimes. Sometimes they detect numbers that are crimes.” She grinned. “Besides, he loves puzzles.”

“We should try to remember what’s happened in the last few days or weeks, Gwen. Maybe that’ll give us a clue about why someone tore her house apart or why she’s missing. Outside of money, what could Jackie have to make someone kidnap her?”

The unsettling silence returned and Gwen glanced at the passenger’s seat. “I don’t think they’re after money, and that scares the hell out of me.”

*

Pat recognized Nick’s voice on the phone and began shouting. “Nick, Jackie’s lost. Her house is a mess and someone dumped everything out of her car. We found the gate open and the lights on.”

“Calm down, Pat. I heard your message. What do you mean she’s lost?”

“I mean as in not anywhere to be found. She and Gwen had dinner plans, but she never showed up and didn’t call. We found her phone smashed in the driveway.”

“That’s not good. Do you have any idea why they trashed her house, or what they might want? Did you call the police?”

“Yes, we called and they came right over. And no,” Pat groaned. “Besides money, I can’t imagine what they wanted. If it’s money, how can we come up with it for them?”

“We can’t do much until we know who it is and what they want. Let me make some phone calls and put some notes together. If I don’t find her tonight, I’ll come by the store in the morning. Try not to worry, Pat.”

Nick had not switched the lights on when she entered her office. A streetlight just outside the grimy uncovered window provided ample illumination in the depressing room—a room not a great deal larger than her desk and two mismatched chairs. As she ended the call, her eyes followed the halogen intruder out the window to the surrounding neighborhood. She studied the recent additions to the gang graffiti decorating the otherwise dull brick building across the street. The signs and symbols of adolescent power mongers appeared only hours after the city’s ‘Graffiti Busters’ departed.

When she decided to open the agency, she had considered working out of her home, but discovered that people were not comfortable hiring a detective without an office. Most people wanted a private investigator that looked and sounded like Bogey. On some mornings, she could manage the voice, but she was a fair-skinned redhead without a trench coat or a hint of five o’clock shadow.

The first time Jackie visited the office she opened the door and frowned. “You can’t stay in this neighborhood, Nick. You’ll spend your time chasing the crooks who stole your computer.”

“It’s what I can afford. Once I’m on my feet, I’ll rent a space in a better neighborhood.”

“Aunt Beth and I use investigators to check out our potential deals and the people involved. Why don’t you work for us and move to a better, and possibly bigger space.”

“That’s a generous offer and I’d be delighted to work for you, but I’ll keep the office until I’m sure I have a productive agency. If you were my only client, what would I do if something happened to you?”

“If you were my detective and wanted to keep your job, you’d make sure nothing did.”

Something had happened to Jackie. Nick turned off her computer and leaned back drawing a groan from the chair. On those occasions when she echoed the groan, she wondered if the agency would make it. She had spent twenty years on the Chicago Police force, but two years earlier, a near fatal shooting started her thinking about change. Opening the agency was exciting. Establishing it was a challenge. Except for Elizabeth and Jacqueline Tracy, work was slim.

Her last birthday, ‘the big five o’, had an emotional impact that surprised her. She also recognized that the physical part of the job was a greater challenge than a decade earlier. She worked harder to chase a crook down an alley and throwing herself over a six-foot fence no longer fit in her job description. Maybe it was time to take life easier, but before that happened, she had to find Jackie.

 

 

 

See complete reviews

 

Jean Sheldon has given us another great summer read. Warning: Her research may inspire you to visit the great Southwest.

Alice Lynn, author Wrenn and Volunteer for Glory

 

 

Ms. Sheldon has mixed adventure, terror, history, and the beauty of New Mexico into a story I didn't want to put down. The characters, even the worst of them, molded a certain fascination into the story.  I want to keep my eye on this author's output, I'm sure it will be interesting.

Reviewed by Betty Gelean
ReviewTheBook.com

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Jean Sheldon’s latest book, Seven Cities of Greed, sets a new gold standard for mysteries. …her descriptions are very vivid, and along with her excellent knack at character development and creating characters who seem three dimensional, Jean Sheldon is quickly turning into one of my favorite mystery authors.  There’s plenty of mystery and suspense throughout the novel, and you want to keep reading late into the night to find out what happens next. If you love reading mysteries full of action and adventure, you should mine this rich vein of gold today, and strike the mother lode for yourselves, as I did!

Reviewed by Douglas R. Cobb Bestsellersworld.com

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Seven Cities of Greed is a light-hearted Indiana Jones type mystery.  The plot moves swiftly and there is good character development.  I enjoyed reading it quite a bit and give it 5 out of 5 stars.

Reviewed  by Jud Hanson ReviewTheBook.com
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Seven Cities of Greed is an insightful and very highly recommended pick for general fiction readers.

 

Midwest Book Review

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