Raiders of the Golden Altar

By BobbyRica | June 27, 2011

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I’m not a very religious man. In fact, I’ve probably done a lot of things that religious men haven’t. But whenever I get the chance to go to church, my first stop would always be the Iglesia de San Jose (read the Church of San Jose) in Casco Viejo in Panama City.

Outside, the church doesn’t have much to offer. It basically resembles a lot of churches that you’ve probably seen before. But its true beauty is on the inside. There you’ll find the “Altar de Oro” or the famous Golden Altar. Made from carved wood and covered in gold flake, this ancient altar has made the San Felipe district of Panama famous throughout the world.

It was a hot, sunny day when I found myself in that church again, admiring the altar and its intricate designs. There were only a few people inside since the mass had ended earlier and I came mainly for the sights. But something bothered me that day. Sitting just behind me were three men who looked like they didn’t belong here at all. In a few moments, I would learn why.

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Just as I was about to leave, one of them placed his arm around me as if I were an old friend. But the look in his eyes told me this stranger was not here to socialize.

“Bobby, we’ve been looking all over you,” the mustached man spoke. He didn’t resemble any of the religious types you normally encounter in church. In fact, he looked more like a wrestler. He was big, tall and wore a dark, heavy coat.

“Really?” I said, “And why is that?”

Before he could answer, he was joined by his two other companions who now sat beside me. They were as big as him and looked equally threatening with their bulging muscles underneath their dark coats.

“I’m here to make you an offer. An offer you can’t possibly refuse,” the stranger spoke.

“I’m sorry, gentlemen, but if you’re selling something, I’m not interested. Besides, I already gave at the office.”

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“Very funny, my friend, but do we look like we’re from the Salvation Army?” he snapped back.

By now, I was getting nervous. Most of the churchgoers had left, leaving me at the mercy of these three gorrilas.

“We’re here to steal the Golden Altar, Bobby, and we need your help. You’ll be our ticket out of here. My friends say you know all the places here in Panama. For sure, you know the quickest way to make a fast getaway,” he said.

“But, I don’t…”

“Don’t interrupt me,” he answered before I could finish my sentence. “I won’t accept no for an answer. Frankly, you don’t want to disappoint me, Bobby. That would make me very angry.”

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The man called Jose signalled his two other companions to act. Seeing that nobody else was inside the church, they quickly bolted the doors and one man remained outside to serve as the lookout. The other man called Joe pulled out a heavy bag from beneath the church pew. Inside were some tools and sticks of dynamite. Clearly, these men mean business and I was helpless to argue with them.

To be continued.

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