A Touch of Death Ch. 11byWine_Maker©
"You found another dead body," Ty said. "Who are you, Jessica Fletcher?" He lifted the canvas further and the light revealed a substantial stack of ruptured bags and a large spill of nuggets and coins covered in a fine patina of muck. The skeleton was laying half under the spill. The rotted remnants of clothes were visible, as well as a mostly disintegrated rope.
"This is hardly my fault," I objected, studying the body closely, "and everyone knows that woman was the world's cleverest serial killer. No one could find that many bodies without putting some of them there."
Damien made a quelling gesture with his hand. "Ty, this dive is over. Get one more good look and then we'll start drawing you back up. We'll call the police as soon as we get back to shore and turn this over to them."
"Roger," Ty said. "Stand by."
Damien pulled me aside. "I must admit I had reservations about your theory, but I take them all back. I'm flabbergasted. Maybe Steven's death wasn't as cut and dried as I imagined."
"The Sheriff's Department won't be able to ignore this," I agreed, "though I think that body went down with this ship seventy years ago."
Damien watched the monitor as Ty made a good scan of the area. "Who do you think it is? Someone connected with Wallace or Stanton?"
I shrugged. "I have no idea. I'm not even really sure how Stanton connects with Wallace. I don't think it'll matter, though. Once the police get their hands on Wallace I bet he talks. Then we'll all know."
He slowly nodded. "After I'm finished raising hell they'll damned well be tearing up the streets looking for this bum," he said grimly. "And they better hope they find him before I do."
"I hope you have better luck with them than I've had." The monitor showed Ty being lifted from the hold and starting his long trip back to the surface.
It seemed to take forever but they finally hoisted Ty over the side of the ship and lowered him to the deck. He grinned at me through his silt covered helmet while the crew swarmed all over him, extracting him from the suit. He shook his damp hair as soon as the helmet popped off and took a deep breath.
"I have to hand it to you, Candy," he drawled. "Hanging around you is never boring. Bodies, bullets, and now sunken gold. What will you do for an encore?"
"Hang around and you'll find out," I said with a saucy toss of my hair. "Get out of that suit, get cleaned up, and we can talk about it over lunch."
His grin got even wider. "Deal."
Damien got everyone moving and the boat turned back toward Angel's Point while they cleaned up the dive equipment and stored it. We were just dropping anchor two hundred feet from the Lodge's dock when Ty rejoined me on the deck.
"I can't wait to hear how you explain this to Cooper."
I gave Ty a quelling look. "There's no way he can lay this on me. He'll have to finally get on track and find Armstrong's killer now."
Damien singled out a crewman to ferry us to the dock and we were on our way. We'd covered almost half the distance when my cell phone chirped with Mom's ringtone.
"Shut up and listen closely," a male voice said. Jake Wallace's voice. My breath caught in my throat.
"I hope you found the gold on that ship because I have your mother. I'll exchange her for it."
"Don't hurt her," I said, my voice choked out of my suddenly tight throat. Ty and Damien glanced at one another. "I don't have any control over what they do."
Jake laughed without much humor. "I think you do and you better use all your wiles to convince them."
"What's going on?" Ty demanded quietly.
I covered the phone. "Wallace has my mother! He wants the gold!"
He took the phone out of my hand. "We can do that but salvaging the gold won't be easy. It's dangerous and it'll take some time." I couldn't understand what Jake was saying, but Ty's expression became even more grim. "That's sweet," Ty said. "Now let me tell you something. If you so much as touch her I'll hunt you down and put bullets in places you'd never dream of. You can have the gold or your fun, not both. Take the gold and walk away."
My stomach flipped over and I felt like I was going to throw up. What if Damien wouldn't go along? Did I trust the police to catch him before my mother got hurt?
Ty nodded his head. "Agreed. Now Candy talks to her mother or the whole deal is off." He handed me the phone. I listened intently.
"Candy? He means what he says, baby." She sounded terrified. "Please, give him what he wants. I-"
"There," Wallace said. "She's alive and well. For the moment. You have 24 hours to get that gold. I'll call you at this number and remember, no cops or she dies." The connection went dead.
"What do I do?" I asked Ty as the boat pulled up to the dock at the Lodge.
"We do what he says," Damien said. "We give him the gold. It's only money and we know he's dangerous." He jerked his head back toward the lake. "Take the lead on this, Ty. I don't want safety compromised but you can get everything set up for a dive first thing in the morning. The gold will be heavy so you'll need to figure out the best way to get it up safely."
Ty nodded. "I have some ideas that I think will work just fine." He pulled me into his arms. "We'll get her back. I promise."
I wanted to burst into tears but I didn't have time for that. I took a deep breath and held him for a moment longer. "We don't know he'll turn her loose. I don't dare tell the police but we have to do something to try and find them."
"Let Ty start the ball rolling and I'll ask some quiet questions," Damien said. "I'll bet my shirt that Stanton has a place or a connection to a place that he could be using. When Ty gets done, maybe we'll have a place to check out."
"What do I do?" I asked.
"He won't be out and about while he has a guest," Ty said. "No matter what he says, he won't hurt your Mom while he expects to get the gold. Keep pushing. Ask questions. Someone knows something and if we can find out where he is tonight I can get your Mom before he even knows I'm around."
Ice filled my belly and I shivered. I didn't really have a choice. Wallace's track record certainly didn't inspire confidence in me. Besides, he already knew I was digging into this whole thing. That might give me some slack while I tried to get a line on him because that might be the only way I got Mom back.
"Fine," I said at last. I laid my hand on Damien's shoulder. "Thanks for helping."
He shook his head. "I know about love. I'd do anything to get my wife back if she was taken from me. Go ask your questions and I'll do my part. I'm parked at the Inn so I'll have Ty drop me off."
We exchanged cell numbers and I gave Ty one last ferocious hug. "I'll see what property any of them has on the books. If they haven't figured out we know they are working together it might be that simple."
Ty nodded. "Good plan. Ride with me and we'll do it together. We can scout them and not stir up the police until we're sure where he's hiding."
I couldn't argue with that. Now we were doing something. I stuffed myself into the back seat over Damien's objection and we made the trip to the Inn in record time. Damien was on his cell and in his Mercedes by the time I was secured in the front seat.
"Let's go to City Hall. My friend Zach will be able to get what we need fast. Remember, don't mention anything about Wallace having Mom."
* * * * *
A quick visit to City Hall turned up a few interesting facts. Zach found several properties that were owned by Stanton and his wife. There was his house here in Angel's Point, a ski lodge north of the lake, a beach house across the lake on the California side, and a cabin in the hills above Angel's Point right up against the Toiyabi National Forest.
That last property was very interesting as it was right up against the mountains and the Toiyabi National Forest. Since there were no paved roads and or skiing, that made it stand out like a light in the dark. It would be a good place for a kidnapper to hide someone. I made a mental note of exactly where it was on the maps of the Tahoe basin on Zach's wall.
Zach made a quick call and gathered up some history for us. The cabin had been built by Jedediah Stanton, Edward Stanton's grandfather. It turned out that old Jedediah had a colorful history. A loner that wasn't even close to his wife and children, he was gold crazy. He roamed all over Nevada and California searching for gold without major success. Sometime in the late thirties or early forties he went on a trip and never came back.
Zach's gossip source said that rumors at the time were that Jedediah had a lead on a cache of stolen gold. Then, without prompting, Zach mentioned Rattlesnake Dick and a few other big heists where the booty was never recovered.
In addition, there was a shipment from the San Francisco Mint that was supposedly hijacked. It was supposedly because the government at the time denied there had been a robbery. Legend had it that cask upon cask of gold double eagles and gold ingots were lifted from a mint shipment and vanished without a trace. The supposed robber? Our old friend, Rattlesnake Dick. He must've been a busy little beaver before he was killed.
Ty didn't say anything until we were in his car and on the way back toward the Lodge.
"I think there's something to the mint legend."
I half turned in my seat to face him. "At this point I'll believe almost anything. Why?"
Wordlessly, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a coin glinting of gold. I picked it up off his palm. It was a bit more than an inch across and heavy. One side had a woman's head with some kind of diadem. It was inscribed "Liberty." The reverse had an eagle with a spray of stars above it and had "Twenty D." below it.
"That's an 1857-S Liberty Double Eagle," he said. "I logged into the computer on the dive ship and checked it on the Internet. I found it under the muck on the S.S. Tahoe and kept it. Maybe there's something to that mint robbery after all."
"You think Jedediah Stanton found Rattlesnake Dick's stash?"
He shrugged and turned into the lodge parking lot. "It's as good a theory as any, and better than most."
I tried to hand it back but he only shook his head. "Keep it. Change into something that will blend into the woods and find a sturdy pair of boots. I'll go change and meet you back here in twenty minutes."
I slipped the coin into my pocket and ran inside. It only took me ten minutes to change into something suitably muted and my sturdiest hiking boots. I spent the remaining time until he returned pacing the parking lot. It felt like hours before he returned.
He'd changed into a worn pair of camouflage pants and jacket. It looked like a military uniform stripped of any patches or insignia. A dark green canvas knapsack sat in the back seat. He took off as soon as I was inside, making me buckle up on the move.
"Okay," he said, "I'll park at the nearest approach to the cabin and we'll hike up. Once we get near the cabin, I'll slip ahead and scout the place. If he's there, I'll neutralize him."
"Like hell I'll just sit back while you go get my mother! I'm going all the way." I crossed my arms and glared at him.
He eyed me coolly as he turned up the hill and started up the winding road into the forest. "And you think rushing in will make her safer? Come on, Candy, think. If he has the least idea we're here your mother could get hurt."
"I can be quiet. I can do what I'm told. What I can't do is idly stand by. I'm going and that's the end of that. Stop wasting time arguing and let's do this."
His let his breath out in a hiss and sighed. "I'd forgotten just how stubborn you are. Fine. You follow me up and I'll work out a plan once I take a look at the layout of the cabin. For that I need to look at it without a greenhorn clomping behind me. I'll come back for you and we'll slip in together."
I eyed him suspiciously. "You swear?"
The corner of his mouth tugged up. "You'd make me pay if I double crossed you, so I might as well make the best of a bad situation. But if you don't do exactly what I tell you, I'll tie your shapely ass up and leave you in the woods. Understand?"
"You just wish you could tie me up," I retorted. "Deal."
He laughed. "I'd be happy to tie you up any time you like. Maybe after dinner, once we have your mom free and this scum bucket in a cage."
A thrill ran up my spine at the momentary vision I had of myself trussed up in my bed with him leaning over me. I shivered delicately and sternly told my libido to mind its priorities.
"You say the sweetest things. Let's do this thing and then we'll talk about it."
If we all got out this alive, I promised myself we'd do more than talk.
* * * * *
The road twisted high up the slope of the mountain and the occasional glimpses of the lake would have made me feel at peace any other time. It ended at a red and white barrier with a shiny new BMW convertible and Jake Wallace's beat up Pinto parked in front of it.
"That's Wallace's Pinto!" I squealed. I clapped my hand over my mouth. "I so did not just sound like an airhead," I mumbled.
Ty smiled and backed his car in beside them. "We might need to make a quick getaway. Someone must be up there with him. Probably Stanton. Come on." He grabbed his pack and we got out of his car. He rested his hand on the hood of each car in turn. "The Pinto is cold, but the BWM hasn't been here long."
I followed him around the barrier. A faint trail led deeper into the woods.
"It's probably a half mile to the cabin," I whispered.
"Don't whisper," he said quietly. "That carries further than just speaking softly. In fact, unless there's something pressing, let's not talk at all." I nodded my agreement.
The tall trees quickly cut off all but a trickle of light. Undeterred, Ty strode off into the gloom with me on his heels. The quiet of the forest and the smells of earth and pine surrounded me like a shield. It was hard to believe something so ugly as kidnapping could be connected to this place at all.
The path meandered a bit as if it was unsure of where it was going. It was heavily overgrown and I was thankful Ty had thought of grabbing boots. The only living creature we saw on the hike in was a squirrel who scampered up the closest tree while heaping abuse on us for intruding.
I was wondering if we'd missed the cabin when Ty stopped so suddenly I bounced off him. I managed to catch myself without falling or making any noise.
"There's a clearing ahead," Ty said softly. "Wait here while I check it out." He started to head off the path and stopped. "That means no sneaking up to take a peek."
I rolled my eyes. "Just go."
He slipped off into the brush with hardly a sound to mark his passing and was gone.
I tried to be good, I really did, but after ten minutes I couldn't just stand there waiting. I needed to see what was going on. Wary of making any noise or being spotted, I placed each foot meticulously and kept an eye out for the first sign of the house as I advanced.
The path opened up into a clearing with a stunning view of the mountains. In the center of the clearing was the cabin. I immediately stopped moving and crouched in place.
The cabin was still almost invisible through the forest. It was made of rough-cut logs and still looked solid enough, despite its age and semi-abandoned status. It looked stout enough to last another century. Old Jedediah might have had a screw or two loose, but he knew how to build. A single, shuttered window and a heavy timbered door faced me.
I'd barely had a chance to get familiar with the view when the cabin door flew open and Edward Stanton burst out. I must not have been nearly as well concealed as I thought because he stopped dead in his tracks, staring right at me. The only thought that popped into my head was how pissed Ty was going to be.
An eternity passed in about two seconds before he broke the tableau with a growl and started toward me. Exercising discretion, I bolted into the woods and hauled ass. Undergrowth tugged at my feet, trying to trip me, and limbs slapped me with wild abandon and dodged and wove trying to break contact. The sound of Stanton crashing through the brush right behind me inspired me to even greater speed.
I slowly pulled away from him and was beginning to hope for a total escape when my luck ran out. The brush opened up with shocking suddenness onto the lip of a gorge cut deep into the ground. I teetered for a moment before rescuing my balance with only my toes dangling over a hundred foot drop to the tumbled stones below.
A narrow gap to the left tempted me, but the ground gave way with a sharp crack before I could move. I screamed as I fell and grabbed at the side of the gorge. A handy tree root held me for a moment, long enough for me to slam into the rock wall, then it snapped.
I slid ten or fifteen feet before I grabbed a rock solid enough to hold me. A quick feel with my feet told me I was in a bad spot. No matter how I slid them, I couldn't find any purchase. I had to find something more solid before my arms wore out and I fell to my death.
A chuckle above me made me look up. Stanton's face leered at me from above. "Looks like curiosity killed the cat. I told you questions could be dangerous."
"Help me," I pleaded. While I didn't want to end up in his hands, that was better than dying. Besides, that would give Ty time to find us.
"I think... not. Jake underestimated you. I won't make that mistake. Break a leg. Or a neck." He gave me a two-fingered salute and disappeared.
I cursed loudly and started screaming for help.
Second by second, my fingers grew more numb. I forced myself to take a deep, calming breath. Panic wasn't going to help me. I needed a more secure hold or I was going to fall before Ty found me.
I didn't want to do it, but I risked a look below me. The long drop made my stomach do a slow, queasy roll.
"Focus, Candy," I muttered. I took another deep breath and limited my gaze to the rock wall itself. There, just below me was a crack that might be wide enough to take the toe of my boot. I'd be hunched over a little but a cramp was the least of my worries.
It took three tries to wedge my boot into the crack. There. That gave me some breathing room, literally and figuratively. Now I could call for help.
Call for help. I cocked my head. Maybe I could do just that.
I secured my grip as best I could and risked taking a hand away from my hold to grab my cell phone off my belt. One bar. Crap, this wasn't looking good. I hit the speed dial for Ty. For a few seconds I got nothing, then his phone rang.
"Where are you?" he answered as soon as he picked up. "Are you okay?"
"I need you right now," I said as calmly as I could manage. "I ran off the path and off a cliff."
"You're breaking up. What about a cliff?"
"I fell off a cliff. A CLIFF!"
I wanted for him to answer but the call dropped. I pressed redial to try again but my fingers slipped a little on the rock. The phone tumbled into the gorge and idiot me watched it fall all the way down and shatter into a million pieces on the boulder right under me.
Back to plan B. I started screaming again.
My voice had almost given out when Ty looked down from the cliff edge.
He vanished for a minute before a rope fell down beside me. He followed quickly behind it, using the rope to lower himself until his feet found purchase against the side. I'd never been rappelling or rock climbing before, but I'd seen others rappelling before. Thank God.
He quickly slid down to my level and did something at his waist to lock himself in place. "Don't let go," he commanded. He quickly tied another rope around my waist and snapped a metal clip to join us together.
"There," he said, holding me as I started shaking. "Are you okay?"