**Editor's Note** Should you have missed the first installment of this humble tale, scroll down to the post below or click here. Much like the little drummer boy, this is all I have to gift you with. I can only hope that this season gives you half the joy I had in writing this and you get that special gift you so richly deserve.
They all met up at the front gate and Clayton lead them out into the parking lot and the late December chill. Clayton insisted on carrying their luggage as, "It only seems proper," he explained, but the luggage only amounted to two briefcases and one small canvas gym bag. The snow on the pavement wasn't deep, but there was a thin layer of ice beneath it that made the quarter mile trek a little hazardous for the the men from afar, while Clayton stepped with the surefootedness of a mountain goat.
"Lot X," said Clayton with a sense of triumph as he pointed to the sign on the light pole, "Here's where I parked my truck."
"Mr. Clayton Delaney sir, please, is this not lot P?" Pang asked.
"Naw, some fool kid has just spray-painted a P over the X sign. I don't know what they call it in China, but here we call it graffiti." They walked down the row until they came to a red, late model Ford pickup truck that was more rust and dirt than vehicle.
"There is someone in the back of your truck!" Amir said in a startled whisper as he pointed to the light in the bed.
"It's alright," Clayton said reassuringly as he lifted the back window on his truck cap, "these are my fishing and shepherd buddies Matt, Markus, Luke, Johnny, Zeke, Sam, the other John, and Frank. They saw the angel too. Say hello fellas." The boys looked up from their cards long enough to wave, say hello, and stare with smiles against the light of the flashlight that illuminated their game.
"Climb in front fellas," said Clayton, "It'll be a tight squeeze, but we'll make it. Mr. Pang, you had better sit next to me as you're the shortest and this is a four-on-the-floor." Pang looked as if he didn't understand but hopped in nonetheless. Amir went in after him and Umpala had to wedge himself in and it took three tries to close the door behind him.
The engine started with a throaty roar and it wasn't long before they were doing sixty-five down the highway. Clayton turned the heat up and got a fresh chew. The whole time Pang, Umbala, and Amir kept looking out the windows and pointing out clusters of stars once the got away from the city lights.
"This is fertile land. You must be very proud Mr. Delaney" said Umbala.
"Mr. Delaney was my father's name. Just call me Clayton, and yes, this is good country but it ain't nothing like home. I'm an Ahia boy, born and raised, but Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Akron, Dayton, that ain't the Ahia I knowed. Too damn many paved roads and people for my liking. Let me take you inta Licking county and you'll start to see some real country. Rich fields, lotsa woods, clean water, good huntin' and fishin', and full of good people. God-fearin' people who would give you the shirt offa their back," Clayton paused, "but then I'm sure you fellas feel the same way about your home."
"I spent most of my life in state school," said Pang quietly, "There was no home, only school, and then the next school. Not much play like other children, only learn so that I can be useful tool for the state when I am a man. No family, only friends now and then. Lonely life." Pang shrugged as if to dismiss cold memories.
"I know something of Clayton's pride in his home. Where I am from the lands were beautiful and rich, but the people were always very poor," Umbala said as he tried to rearrange himself into a more comfortable position as he was cramped against the door, "The land gave good crops, but the warlords take most of the harvest every year to feed their army and to fight the next warlord. One became a soldier, a peasent, or ran away to seek a good life elsewhere. I was fortunate. My father sold most of his land and sent me away to school in Israel, but the warlord was angered that he didn't get a share of the sale, and killed my father when he couldn't pay." Umbala turned to look out the window at the stars and grew quiet.
Amir sat and thought about growing up in Paris and his father's little flower shop, and the wonderful childhood he had known playing in the streets, but this didn't seem like the right time to talk about it after hearing the other's tales. He wished he could have one of his Gitanes.
"Whut do you say Mr. Amir? You're the astro-, um, star mapper. Are we getting close?" Clayton asked.
Amir pressed his face against the windshield and gazed up at one particularly bright star. "We need to head further west," he said. Pang agreed.
"Alright, we'll get off on Route 36 and follow it. There is an all night McDonald's just past Coshocton. We can stop there and have a pee break and stretch our legs."
"Would it not be better to continue on? We must get there quickly." Pang suggested.
"Well the boys in back have been drinkin' beer all night and I know they would appreciate a five minute stop to take a whiz. Besides, this ol' Ford ain't a camel Mr. Pang. I'm gonna need some gas." Clayton said.
Twenty minutes later they pulled into the McDonald's restaurant parking lot and as soon as the truck stopped, every door opened and men poured out like a circus clown car emptying. "You fellas get some grub. No telling how much farther we got to go. I'll gas up the truck and meet you back here," and with that, Clayton pulled into the BP station next door.
Twenty minutes later Clayton strode into the McDonald's with a scowl on his face. "Gentlemen, we have a problem," he said in a serious tone. "The gas station won't take my credit card on accounta their lines bein' down. I ain't got any cash on me and the ATM is busted. Who's got sixty-five dollars in cash?" The bleary-eyed shepherds and fishermen shook their heads and explained that they had just spent the last of their money on burgers and fries. "I have a few Euros," offered Amir.
"Naw, that ain't going to do it. The redneck behind the counter wouldn't know a Euro from a Yugo, and he ain't going to take an I.O.U. 'cause I already tried that. Ain't you got any American money?" They all shook their heads. Clayton took off his Browns ball cap and scratched his head and tried to think off something.
"Perhaps I can help," Umbala offered with an air of deep sadness. "lets find my bag in the truck. Perhaps he will trade." The twelve men gathered up their sacks of greasey burgers and headed for the truck. Frank climbed in and handed out the canvas gym bag and Umbala opened it on the tailgate. He pulled out a well worn sock that was stuffed with something. He upended the sock and it's contents struck the tailgate with a hard thud, and there in the glare of the sodium lights of the gas station rested a shiny gold bar the size of a loaf of bread.
"Good Lord!" Clayton exclaimed. "How the FUCK did you get that past Customs?"
"Please, do not ask me," Umbala replied with shame. "I can part with some of it but the rest must go to the King," he said firmly.
"Don't you worry none Mr. Umbala. Just a corner of that sucker would be enough to buy the whole gas station. Frank, hand me that hacksaw out of the tool box in there."
In a few minutes there was a small chunk missing from the gold bar. Clayton held it in his hand to judge it's weight. "That's gotta be at least an ounce and a half right there. Fellas, climb into the truck. I'll start it up to get the heat going, but stay in the truck. If he don't go for this, we might have to leave in a damn big hurry." Clayton turned to Amir, Umbala, and Pang and said, "Gentlemen, you come with me, but let me do all of the talking. It takes the mind of a country boy to talk to another. Don't say anything, just look mean and stay behind me. If something goes bad wrong, and God willing it won't, but if it does, run for the truck and go like hell. I'll stay here and keep the cops busy when they show up. It don't matter if I make it or not, and it won't be my first time in jail, but you three have GOT to get there. Unnerstand?" The three wise men nodded and followed him in.
"Didja collect enough money from your drinkin' buddies to pay for the gas or are you gointa walk home Mister," the clerk said with a malicious smile. "Who are these dudes? You gotta to bring your parole officers with you where ever you go?" he snickered.
"I tell you whut," Clayton began in a friendly voice, "I've got somethin' here that is better than cash-"
"If you are going to offer to blow me, that ain't gonna cut it. My gate don't swing that way," the clerk interrupted, "and stand back a bit son. You reek like a brewery!"
Clayton dropped the chunk of gold on the counter and it struck with a majestic clang. The clerk's eyes grew wide and he snatched it up and held it up to the light, then he slid his glasses from the top of his head to examine it further. "It's gotta be fake," he said softly.
"It ain't." insisted Clayton. "Bite it. You can always tell if you bite it." The clerk tentatively put it between his few remaining teeth and bit down. "Now that there has got to be at least an ounce and a half. That should more than cover sixty-five dollars in gas. Hell, it's got to be worth...um..." Clayton faltered.
"This morning gold was trading at $844.44 an ounce on the world market," Amir offered with a smile.
"Yea," Clayton said, "that's at least over a thousand dollars worth you've got in your hand. So what do you say?"
The clerk smiled from ear to ear as he slid it into his breast pocket. "I believe we can come to some kinda understanding," he said.
"Alright fellas, wait for me in the truck while my new friend and I hash out the details," said Clayton. The wise men had barely settled into the front seat when Clayton came out with his arms full and headed to the rear of the truck. A cheer rose up from the bed, and then Clayton climbed in behind the wheel.
"Please, Mr. Clayton Delaney, what was that about?" asked Pang.
"Well I convinced the clerk that we should get a little more than just a tank of gas for that nugget that Mr. Umbala ponied up, so he threw in six cases of beer, some beef jerky, chips, peanuts, and looky here," he said as he passed over a small paper bag, "I got three hundred dollars worth of prepaid phone cards for the King. I figure this will help to get the word out, and His momma is gonna want to call the family."
"Very thoughtful Clayton," Amir said with a smile.
"We know whut Mr. Umbala brought but how about you two?" Clayton asked.
**So ends part two. The conclusion will be published tomarrow**