Aila followed Minna over to a writing desk. She opened a box, which Aila saw was full of letters. She lifted the top one out and held it out.
Aila quickly put on her white cotton gloves, used for handling archival material, and took the letter.
October 7, 1939
My dearest daughter,
My time on this Earth is coming to an end. I can feel it. As the Germans rush across Poland, the Russians are amassing on our borders. These twenty years of freedom for our people have been marvelous, and I have been privileged to lead them, but freedom was still only a fleeting dream. I only hope that in the future our people will rise again, and build a world for themselves once more.
I’ve taken out an insurance policy to that effect. My trusted advisers have hidden our nation’s wealth – that of it kept in Latvian banks – and all departed from this country before they could be picked up by Russian agents who are seeking to learn these secrets. One last member of my trusted circle knows the truth, and that is the man bearing this letter and last gift to you.
But it is not so much a gift as a responsibility. This gift holds the key to recovering our people’s wealth. Reveal it only to someone you trust, and only when freedom is within grasp once more. Return it to the people – not the government, because the government can misuse it and the power it wields.
No one knows that power corrupts better than I do. Preserve my words, preserve my memory and make sure my people know that all I ever did was for them. It was not enough, but I tried. I only wish I could have been a better father. But I hope that you understand why I did what I have done, and that you will forgive me and see to it that our people have the freedom and security that I was not able to give them.
Karlis Augusts Vilhelms Ulmanis.
Aila took a deep breath and looked up from the letter. “Wow. That is certainly something worth hiding with great secrecy.”
“Why didn’t you reveal this twenty years ago, when Latvia was about to regain its independence? It would have significantly boosted Latvia’s economic recovery.”
“I was not confident that things would unfold positively. I didn’t want to let it go until I knew it was necessary. But independence was solidified, Latvia joined the European Union, and I thought maybe I didn’t need to drop an explosive secret like this into everything. Then the economic crisis came. I thought maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, but then young Latvians started fleeing the country because of the economy, and I thought if any time was right it would be now – Papa wanted Latvians to be able to live in a free and prosperous Latvia. It isn’t right if there is freedom, but people are still leaving. So if this money they hid can help prevent that, now is the time.”
“And your 100th birthday? That’s when you revealed it?”
“It seemed appropriate. But only to Jolene. None of my children or other grandchildren know. She was always the one who was interested in our history. I searched for someone experienced with Latvian research, and I found you. I asked Jolene to make the call, and you know the rest.”
“So what is this gift that your husband brought to you?”
Minna returned to the writing desk and pulled a wooden box out from a compartment in the back. She set it down on the table carefully and opened the lid.
Aila peered inside and saw a row of disks strung together on a dowel. The disks had letters written on them. It was a code tool of some sort, but Aila was not completely sure of its origins.
“This is what my father sent me. He always admired Thomas Jefferson and his commitment to the founding of the United States. He wanted to be Latvia’s Jefferson.”
“Did he steal this from some museum?”
Minna laughed. “I’d imagine not. It has Latvian letters on it, so it can’t have been a Jefferson original. The only one of those known is in the museum in Monticello.”
Aila lifted the device from the box, turning some of the wheels this way and that. Minna was right – the letters on the disks were the Latvian alphabet, not the English one. The alphabets were mostly the same; while Latvian did not have Q, W, X or Y, it did have a few extra letters with diacritic marks. The alphabet was not in order on any of the disks.
She turned one of the knobs on the ends of the dowel, and saw that it came off, revealing a number stamped into the side of the end disk. She separated the disks gently, seeing that each disk was numbered.
“Had you noticed these numbers before?”
Minna put on her glasses and looked closely. “No, I haven’t. What do you think they could mean?”
“It is unlikely that they hid the hoard of wealth in one place. Possibly rearranging the disks would lead to the different locations.”
“Do you think the locations are all in Latvia?”
“I would imagine so. Too risky to take so much abroad.”
“Maybe not… let me show you something else my husband brought with him to America.”
Copyright 2013, Antra Celmins.