The page in his notebook said Uncle Ciro. Nothing else. I thought I knew my mentor well. I had met his family - his kids, his parents, even his brother working overseas - but he never mentioned an uncle, let alone an Uncle Ciro. After several weeks of looking though my mentor’s files I came across an odd entry in his day planner from 1991. The Saturday entry said “UC TREMONT PA”.
“Where is Tremont?” I mumbled to myself.
A week later, I am heading west on 22 towards this anonymous coal town. It’s early in the morning on July fifth, as I jettison into the unknown. Each town is a carbon copy of the next – community after community sustaining itself slightly above the poverty level. Tightly manicured town parks housing war memorials littered with charred remains of Roman candles from the previous evenings’ festivities. Slightly faded red, white and blue banners proudly sag from the telephone and light poles, centurions standing at attention for the once proud Main Street. A big stone bank in the middle of town creates a feudalistic illusion of wealth and prosperity. Vacant auto mechanic lots crumble to extinction next to the omniluminant Sheetz and Wawas. Struggling row homes, half restored, half condemned, timidly positioned amongst the rugged hills, the unforgiving rocks, and the sprawling forests. It is obvious why one would not want to live here and it is obvious why one would never want to leave.
The car radio blared forth some syrupy optimistic bubble gum pop:
Take it hip to hip; rock it through the wilderness. . . .
I like my coffee black – too much sugar makes me sick. This song made me want to vomit. I desperately tried to change the station but the mountain nymphs would have nothing to do with it, blocking all other frequencies and taking pleasure in my disgust. A couple more scoops and swerves and my auto was barreling into Tremont.
My mentor came here almost twenty years ago. He had a purpose. He had a mission. I had a scrap of paper that meant absolutely nothing. So where do I start?
“Breakfast!” my stomach growled.
I parked the car along Main Street, placed my sunglasses in their case, and stepped out onto the sidewalk. This town looked like all the others that I passed through that morning. The streets were deserted, hung over from the previous evening’s patriotic processions. Burnt out skeletal remains of sparklers littered the sidewalks and street gutters. The smell of sulfur lingering in the morning air.
“They must have had a blast last night”, I thought to myself. I let out a quiet chuckle at my accidental pun. Now, why did my Mentor come HERE?
I looked across the street and a bright light caught my eye. I shielded my eyes with my hands. My first thought was that this was some heavenly beacon, calling me to an answer. I sidestepped a couple times until the reflection no longer blinded me. Across the street was structure the size of a double wide. It was paneled head to foot in stainless steel, and looked like it may have had a previous life shuttling cosmonauts across the galaxy. The glistening panels of the building popped in stark contrast to rest of this quiet coal town. The sign above the entryway stated “BEA’S MINER DINER”.
Well this answers my stomach’s question, I thought to myself. Hopefully it will also hold solutions to the questions echoing through my mind. I stepped off the curb, crossed the street, and pushed open the door to the Miner Diner.
Stepping through the door of the Miner Diner was like stepping through a portal into the 1950s. A long, black counter extended the length of the establishment. Fat leather cushions set on thick stainless steel posts acted as stools to rest the starving soul. Small booths stuffed around large plate glass patrolled the main street and my car across the way. Greasy ceiling fans lazily churned the atmosphere over the establishment, picking up the aroma of fried calamari and slightly burn tomato sauce and depositing it throughout the establishment. Timeless Frank Sinatra droned on behind the tidal din of pots, pans, and idle conversation. The diner was about a third filled with locals in blue jeans and flannel shirts – shirts too thick for the July heat, but too thin for the September cool. They sipped their coffee, grumbled about the weather, and reminisced about the way things used to be.
I took a seat at the counter and began to look over the menu on the paper placemat framed by ads for local realtors, an auto parts store, and a doctor or two. The Miner’s special sounded like the quick choice – two eggs, sausage, bacon and toast for $2.99. Little did I know my wallet would be significantly lighter than that when I left. A pretty young thing, dressed in a yellow atire that appeared to be taken from a rerun of “Alice”, strolled over and asked for my order.
“I’ll have the Miner’s special -- eggs fried -- rye toast – and a cup of coffee.” I mumbled back, trying to sound indifferent to my selection , when I really knew that was exactly what I needed.
“You got it, stranger!” she replied as she turned and tossed a slip from her pad back into the kitchen. Stranger, eh? Well I guess it’s hard to pass for a local when the town is this small. My cover is blown – I guess I just have to play this straight up.
A few minutes later a steaming plate of starch and cholesterol was slid before of me and a hot cup of caffine poured. “Excuse me, ma’am”, I peeped up; “Would you happen to know anyone around these parts names Ciro?”
“Ma’am?” my young waitress replied,”I’m sorry, I’m just not a ma’am yet.” With that my waitress put her hands to her mouth, cupped out a megaphone and shouted, “Does anyone here know a guy by the name of Ciro?” The room grew silent. I slunk down as low as I could on the bar stool. There was no hiding why I was here now. On the bright side, this method would probably work out better than any newspaper ad or call into the local radio talk show.
An older red-haired woman, maybe sixty and dressed identically to my pretty young thing waitress, hobbled down the aisle way to me. “You mean Crazy Ciro? What do you want with him.” Her voice was harsh and raspy. She had certainly sucked down her share of tobacco. Her features were weathered and beaten up. She looked like she carried the burdens of a thousand cities – and somehow managed to keep moving forward. She was a mess, but she had my interest.
She continued, “Hey there. I’m Bea, I run this place. Crazy Ciro was my Uncle. He died about twenty years back. He was a recluse – a hermit. He spent all his time up in those hills. We only saw him once or twice a month. But outsiders like you used to come by looking for him all the time. They wanted to ‘speak’ to him, or ‘get to know’ him. Some spoke strange languages and wore odd looking clothes. Some looked very rich. Some looked dirt poor. I have no idea how folks from all over knew him, but they did. Sometime Uncle Ciro would see them, sometimes he wouldn’t. When he saw them he would take them up in the hills, returning three, four even five days later – sometimes with the visitors, sometimes without. Uncle Ciro was a loon”
“What did they do up in the hills?” I inquired – hoping for some clue as to why I was here.
“Heck if I know!” replied Bea. “Maybe he was communing with nature, becoming one with the pines, pretending he was a rock. You’re not listening, HE WAS A LOON!” Bea stood quietly and stared through my eyes and into my soul. She was trying to read me to see how I would react. I held my poker face – at least I think I did. Bea leaned over the counter, put the tip of her nose on mine and rasped in her nicotine strained voice, “You know, he did give me something right before he died. You want to see it?”
This trip had not gone as expected. Normally I would jump as such an offer. Now I wasn’t so sure. I hesitated, and then nodded yes to Bea.
Bea reached under the counter with both hands and pulled out a box with a linen napkin resting upon it. She placed it on the counter between her and myself and pulled back the napkin. Under the napkin was a wooden box, about nine inches square and six inches high. The box was made of oak and stained in cherry. A beveled skirt surrounded the bottom of the box. The lid of the box has a centered pewter nameplate. The front of the box contained a single small keyhole. The three other sides of the box were encrusted with jewels – emeralds, rubies, sapphires, citrine, amethysts and a couple of diamonds – or at least cheap replicas of these expensive stones. It was a gaudy attempt at style. The gems overwhelmed the rest of the box. The cacophony of light and reflection made one’s eyes sore. Now Bea definitely had my attention.
“Uncle Ciro made this himself. He gave it to me just before he died. It’s a music box.” Bea opened the lid as an awkward tune struggled to emerge from the box. “He was a loon, AND a crappy carpenter.” Bea chirped. “Now I just use it to hold my tips.”
“It’s curious. . . . .” I murmured as I studied the box, “How much you want for it?”
Bea gave me a cautious stare. “Ciro warned me about people like you. . . “She began.
“Five hundred dollars”, I interrupted.
No sooner had the “R” in dollars left my lips, when Bea cried “Sold”. I emptied my wallet of a wad of cash, threw it on the counter, and grabbed the music box. I think I found what I was looking for. Maybe this trip was not a waste. I paid my bill, dropped a tip, stood up, and started walking towards the door.
“Ya know,” I heard Bea call out to me. “A box like that aint no good without the key.” I turned around to see Bea reach into her shirt and pull out a four inch long key, tied to a silver chain around her neck. The key was pretty ordinary, except that there were two more of the stones on the end of the key.
“Oh, thank you Bea,” I replied reaching for the key. Bea pulled it back and a devious grin came over her face.
“It’s a thousand more for the key.” Bea reached out her arm, palm open and up to receive more cash. I pulled out my wallet, grabbed the last remaining bills, and did a quick inventory.
“Bea, I have eight hundred left”
“Sold”, Bea replied. She grabbed the money out of my hand, pulled the key and chain off of her neck, and threw the necklace and key to me. “Come again”, Bea chirped with a greedy smile and a devilish chuckle.
I took my new belongings, stepped out of the diner, crossed the street, sat down in my car and looked at what I had just purchased. I could very well have been ripped off, but if my hunch is correct, this may very well be one of the best bargains.
The PMC2 is a series of fiendishly difficult puzzle created by 18 of the best Puzzle Masters in the Mid-Atlantic Region. In each of these caches you will find a user name and password. After you enter each user name and password into the site listed below, you will be taken to a page with a short puzzle and ultimately a final puzzle piece. Assemble these pieces and find the final cache!
BEGIN YOUR JOURNEY HERE
This series is designed to lead you on an epic adventure that will require Master puzzle-solving skills and extensive travel to unique locations. You must travel and log in at each cache in order to claim a find on the final. Due to the extensive time and effort put into this challenge, the cache can be done as a group but each member of the group must go to each cache site and sign each log. Dividing into sub groups and pooling their efforts will not be allowed.
All 18 caches will be released sporadically between now and the EVENT to be held in June. To make them easy to find we have created a WEBSITE that will have a complete list of all the available PMC caches in all 4 series as they are published.