* * *
She opened the crumbling sack on a small worktable and withdrew a plain metal box, covered with patches of surface rust, carrying a heavy patina of age and distress. Deep green paint was flaking and faded, but the elaborate scroll letters S. I. P. could be seen in an oxidized gilt pattern on the cover. All sides of the box were badly gouged and dented, and one corner had been neatly sliced off in a triangular pattern that involved two sides and the top. Curiously, fragments of wood adhered randomly to the exterior almost as if they had been glued in place, still emitting a faint pine scent.
She released the badly dented hasp and slowly levered the top open, feeling resistance from the rusty hinges. A bundle rested inside, wrapped in yellow oilskin fabric faded to dirty gray. She removed the bundle and delicately unwrapped it, pieces of rotted oilskin falling on the examining table and the floor.
The odor of mold filled the room. Inside the wrapping were a packet of parchment certificates and two loose sheets containing badly smeared longhand entries; apparently the contents had sustained progressive water damage during the years of Sarah's temporary storage. The certificates in the packet were folded over and secured with a bow-tied ribbon, once red but now a faded pink.
Laura unfolded the packet, removed a single certificate, and slowly smoothed it on the examining table, eagerly scanning the easily legible words. The room was entirely still for several minutes, then her green eyes looked up at Pablo, "This is a stock certificate for 10 shares of a company called Sierra Intermountain Partners, Ltd." She frowned, turned the certificate over and pointed an un-lacquered nail at the reverse side, "Here in the Transfer of Ownership section there's a signature, I guess by an officer of the firm, releasing the stock. But no new ownership signature. And it's undated."
Pablo reached for the certificate and studied the back. After a minute he raised wiry gray eyebrows and shrugged, "This was bearer stock once it had been signed out - negotiable by whoever possessed it; a dangerous business. I can't imagine why any prudent person would let such an instrument out of a vault, or a bank." He was puzzled by the inconsistency, "I don't know Laura, is all of this something or is it nothing? It would take some digging to find out."
Laura studied the two loose parchment sheets, "These are much more deteriorated than the certificates, I guess they were on the outside of the bundles, and heaven knows where Sarah kept this stuff all those years. One of these sheets is slightly readable in spots though: some kind of notarized receipt. I can't make out anything on the other one."
She handed the unreadable sheet to Pablo, who puzzled over it, finally lifting it to the overhead light to enhance the faint and water-damaged writing, "The only thing I can read here is a date at the top, where the water damage is lighter, September 24, 1867."
Laura was counting certificates. She looked up at Pablo, squinting in the unflattering fluorescent light. He looked tired; older than yesterday in the office. Turning back to the pile, she completed the count, 45 certificates, and each one for 10 shares of common stock, "Pablo, I have no idea what all this means. Sarah never mentioned anything about stock that I can recall. And when I knew the family, they were desperately poor. These must be worthless. But why would she bother to leave them to me, and what does her note mean?"
He looked past her, deep in thought, "Leave a sample certificate with me. Part of my duty as executor is to value the estate; I can certainly do a bit of historical digging with the Arizona Corporation Commission. Probably take me a few weeks."
* * *