A Touch of Death Ch. 12byWine_Maker©
The hand belonged to Jake Wallace. He lay sprawled, very dead, beside the bed. A bullet hole made a very messy third eye in the center of his forehead.
Ty stood up and brushed his hands on his pants. "He hasn't been dead long. I'd guess he bought it just before we drove up here."
"I don't want to sound callous," I said, "but screw him. Where's my Mom?"
"Search everywhere. Look for anything that might give us a clue. Stanton didn't take her with him so she must be somewhere in the area."
The simplest explanation filled me with dread. They might have killed her and dumped her in the woods. Oh, God, please let her be okay.
Ty began searching Jake's body, a task he was welcome to, while I made a circuit of the room. There was more here than I'd seen at first glance. Some sturdy cabinets held a few chipped plates and old pans. A dark blue Igloo cooler sat in the corner. The cooler held some ice, sandwich materials, and some bottled soda. Nothing useful.
There had to be something more. There had to be! I slowly scanned the room, looking for anything. I even examined the floor for a concealed trapdoor. Nada.
Ty stood up, holding several things in his hand. "Jake had his wallet, a baggie of what looks like weed, a bong, his car keys, and a padlock key. Did you find anything?"
I shook my head. "Nothing," I said, frustrated. "I even looked for a trapdoor."
"I'll start a search around the perimeter. Call for the Sheriff's department. It's far too late for them to screw anything up and we can use the extra eyes. Make sure they bring an ambulance. Just in case."
"Give me your phone. I dropped mine."
He handed it over and dumped Jake's things on the table. "Someone will have to wait here for them. Since you have the phone, you're tagged."
"You had the phone before," I groused. "The damned thing probably won't have any reception anyway. And I don't want to stay in here with a dead body so just accept that I'm going out to look around, too."
The corners of his mouth inched up. "Which direction is that gorge? Can you find it again?"
I frowned and waved my hand in the general direction I thought it was. "Somewhere over there, I think. What has that got to do with anything?"
He pointed almost behind me. "It's that direction and if you can't find it, the odds are that you'll be lost in the woods inside ten minutes."
"Then it's a good thing I have your phone because I'm going anyway."
He shook his head. "I can see I need to get you a GPS tracking collar to keep a handle on you. Hell. I can't keep you here anyway so at least try to keep some kind of trail marked." He opened his backpack and pulled out a sheathed bowie knife and handed it over. "Strap this on and cut a small wedge in the trees every once in a while." He made chopping motions with his hand.
"What do I do if I find something?"
"Do what you do best: scream."
I mimicked what he said silently, sarcastically at his back as he went back out the door. I didn't scream all the time. Not even most of the time.
The cell phone had no connection so I slid it into my pocket to try again in a few minutes. Right now I needed to figure out how best to start searching the woods. Jake's scattered possessions caught my attention as I turned toward the door. I bit my lip and clenched my fist. I didn't want to lay myself open from anything connected with Jake but one of them might have a vision linked to my mother. I had to try.
I gingerly picked the objects up one at a time. One by one, I got nothing until I got to the padlock key. As soon as I touched it I was plunged into the past.
My... I really needed a word for people I occupied during these visions, especially if I was going to keep doing this. Subjects? Hosts? Hosts. That worked. My host was walking down a tunnel cut through the dirt and stone. One hand held a flashlight and the other held a revolver. In front of him, awash in the pale hand held light walked my mother and Josh Cavanaugh, their hands cupped behind their heads.
"You don't have to do this," my mother said. She was trying to sound calm, but an undercurrent of fear tinged her words.
"Quiet," my host - Jake - said. "You'll be fine once your daughter comes through. I suggest you pray real hard she doesn't try to screw me. It might be a long time in the dark if she stalls."
A bolt of pure rage shot through me. The bastard left my mother in the dark? I was suddenly glad he was dead. If he hadn't been, I might have shot him myself.
Josh whirled and his hands shot out to grab Jake, but he was too far away. Jake's revolver went off like the trumpet of doom, the gunshot magnified by the enclosed space. Josh grabbed his leg and fell backward onto the ground. Mom screamed and knelt quickly beside her injured lover.
"You bastard," she forced out between her gritted teeth. That looked to be directed at Jake, not Josh. Josh clamped his hands around a spreading blood stain on his upper left leg. Jake stepped back and aimed the light down on them. That let me see something new. A pair of metal rails in the center of the tunnel. Or, rather, I guess it was a mine.
"Naughty boy, no supper for you," Jake smirked. "Get up. Your new home is right around the corner."
"I'm not going anywhere until I put something on this," Mom said defiantly.
"Move or I shoot him again and you can wait alone in the dark."
The look she shot Jake was undiluted hatred. She helped Josh to his feet and draped his arm across her shoulders. "I need bandages, alcohol."
"You'll get what I give you and be happy to get it. Move."
With grunts of pain from Josh, the two of them hobbled forward. Jake followed them around a gentle curve in the tunnel. The shaft widened and a dark opening appeared off to the left. A side tunnel. The rails continued on down the main shaft and the new opening was closed off by an old, rusted metal grate.
"Inside," Jake said.
With the hinges groaning like a damned soul, Josh pulled the door open. The side shaft only went a couple of dozen feet before it ended in a blank wall. That created a large room that had a few old wooden crates a filthy pile of blankets lined against the rear wall. The front wall had a couple of new card tables and the model of Lake Tahoe I'd seen in Jake's house before he fled.
Jake forced them to the back of the room and pushed the door shut. He pulled a key on a string out from under his shirt and locked the lock that had been laying open in the hasp, sealing them in. He tucked the key back into his shirt. He gestured toward the tables.
"There's a duffel under the tables. There's a first aid kit inside it. There's some bottled water and old army C rations, too. I'd ration if I were you. No telling how long little Candy will take to come through."
He turned the flashlight off, plunging the mine into pitch darkness. "There's a penlight in the duffel. If you use it sparingly it might last you quite a while. If not, get used to this."
"You can't do this to us," Mom pleaded.
"Keep me," Josh said. "Let Linda go. At least take her out of here."
"Sorry sport," Jake chuckled. "She's the important one here. You're the one that I can spare."
"Then let him go," Mom said in a rush. "Please."
"Be happy you're in this together," Jake said. "If I take him out it won't be to let him loose. You two walk out together or not at all."
"Leave us more light, then."
"I don't think so," Jake purred. "I like the thought of you sitting in the dark, wondering what is sneaking up on you."
"What?" Mom sounded even more frightened.
"You know, things that scurry underground, looking for an easy meal. Rats, for one."
"Rats? No, not rats."
Oh, my God. She was terrified of mice and rats.
"Lots of rats," Jake assured her. "Pray Candy hurries along."
He turned around and used his hand on the wall to guide him around the corner before he turned the flashlight back on. Behind him, my mother started screaming and he laughed.
Inside his head, I screamed in rage. I wanted to wrap my hands around his neck and strangle him slowly.
Unaware of my feelings, he walked back up the mineshaft. Another gentle turn showed some light ahead and in less than a minute he walked out of the dark and onto the side of a hill. He snapped off the light and took a deep breath. "I love being me," he said to himself.
Desperately, I searched what he saw of the forest below for any clue of where he was. The lake was visible off in the distance but that was no help.
Jake started down the hill and onto a path that wound around the hill slowly. Off to his right opened a wide gorge that ran right past the hill. I blinked my eyes, once again in the cabin.
I was halfway to Jake's body before I managed to stop myself. Kicking the crap out of him now wouldn't change a thing. I needed to get to that mine as quickly as I could.
I took a deep breath and thought furiously. He had a flashlight. Stanton hadn't been carrying it so it must be around here somewhere. Holding my breath, I went to Jake's body and started looking around. I found it under the bed, wedged up against the wall. It was on and the beam was nearly dead. Dammit!
A quick search failed to turn up any more batteries so I was just going to have to do without.
Ty's cell phone still didn't have signal when I stepped outside the cabin. I oriented myself and stared at the mountains rising from the hills above me. They were somewhere up there.
I considered and rejected calling out for Ty. He was going to be pissed, but I couldn't explain how I knew where the mine was. Well, I could but it would be too long and painful a conversation. I could imagine how he would look at me and he was the last person in the world I wanted to have measuring me for a straight jacket. I'd still have to explain, somehow. Maybe I would think of something between now and then. Maybe he wouldn't ask. Maybe I'd win the lotto.
The trip back to the gorge was easier the second time. I didn't remember to start notching the trees until I arrived at the cliff top. Yet another thing he was going to be pissed at me about.
I avoided the edge of the cliff and walked toward the mountains just inside the forest. The path widened out after about half a mile and started to wind up the side of a hill, away from the gorge. This was it. God, let this be it.
The cell phone had connection the next time I tried it, halfway up the hill. I called 911.
"911 operator. What is your emergency?"
"My name is Candice Kane and I'm up at the edge of the National Forest above Angel's Point. I need an ambulance." I gave her a concise set of directions to where the road ended.
"Are you injured?"
"There's a cabin at the end of the trail. If they go north from that, there's a trail at the top of a gorge. Turn right and follow it up the hill about half a mile to an old mine. Please hurry. A man and woman have been trapped in the mine overnight and the man has been shot in the leg."
"I'm dispatching mountain rescue. Is he conscious? Do you know who shot him?"
I couldn't very well answer those questions without finding them first. "Hello? Are you still there?"
"Ma'am, can you hear me?"
"I think I've lost signal. I'll try to call you again." I hung up the phone and slipped it in my pocket. Yet another thing for Cooper to tear me up about when he caught up with me. That jail cell was looking like a real possibility.
The trail opened up into a natural cleft that turned into a mine shaft almost immediately. It was as black as the pit of hell. The thought of rats in the dark made me shiver but I forced myself to walk into the Stygian blackness.
I immediately found the rail by tripping over it and sprawling on the rough ground. Pain shot up my abused arms but I just gritted my teeth and got back up. My fingers found the rough stone on the right side of the tunnel and I started slowly down the slope.
Should I call out? I considered and rejected doing so. I would be at the door in a couple of minutes and I didn't need to try and hold a shouted conversation while stumbling in a pit.
After what seemed like an eternity, the wall sloped away from me. I knew that meant the door was right in front of me. I felt along until I touched cold metal.
"Mom?" My voice sounded hoarse and sharp in my ears.
"Candy?" She answered. "Baby! You found us! Josh is in here. He's been shot! Do you have a light? He won't answer me."
"Hang on." I fumbled to mate the key and the lock, but finally managed to unlock and open the door with a screech that sounded even louder in person.
"I don't have a light. Talk me over."
I heard her climbing to her feet and followed the sound of her voice until my hands touched hers. We hugged each other for a moment. I thought she was going to cry, but she pulled herself together with an audible effort.
"Help me pick Josh up."
Josh was breathing, thank God, but his heartbeat was fast and weak. Time to step up to the plate and do what had to be done. He wasn't a small man, but we got his arms over our shoulders and supported his weight between us. I didn't think I could move, but I forced myself to take one step after another. In stages, we dragged Josh up the tunnel until we emerged into the sunlight. The two of them were filthy. That couldn't be good for a wound.
Gently, we lowered him to the ground. Blood soaked his pants leg. Some was old, but not all. Mom tore his pants open and revealed a bloody bandage that wasn't stopping the blood any more.
I ripped off my shirt and handed it to Mom. It was far from clean but it was cleaner than anything else we had. She shook it out and folded it into a rough bandage which she pressed on the wound. Then she started to cry.
I held her face in my hands. "He's going to be okay. I already called for help. They'll be here soon." I hoped I wasn't lying.
"Josh and I were in the parking lot at the Lodge. This man just pointed a gun at us and forced us into his car. Right there where anyone could have seen him." She swallowed harshly. I wish I'd thought to bring up some water.
"It must've been the man that shot at you," she continued. "Josh tried to stop him from locking us down there and he shot him."
I kissed her cheek. "He's not going to hurt anyone ever again. Hold together. Josh needs you. I'm going to try and get a signal and call 911 again."
She nodded jerkily and focused herself on Josh. The pain, concern, and love radiated from her like heat from a stove. He would keep her from falling apart, for now.
The phone still hadn't picked up any signal strength by the time I walked halfway down the hill, but it didn't matter. Just coming out from the forest below me was a group of men. EMTs and mountain rescue, from their gear. And leading the way, his face set with determination, was Ty.
I was so dead.
I waved at them, shouting out that Mom and Josh were up the path. Ty broke into a run and beat them to me by fifty feet. He snatched me off my feet and into a fierce hug. I didn't want to cry, but I couldn't help myself. I was such a girl.
"You are in so much trouble," he murmured in my ear as the rescue team swarmed past me and up the hill. "Can you do anything you're told?"
"No," I sobbed.
He laughed and cradled me in his arms. "Of course not. It's a good thing you're cute. Come on, let's get you into something a little less revealing."
I frowned at him for a moment before I realized what he meant. I'd been standing out in front of everybody in a scrap of cloth that barely counted as a bra. I flushed and started laughing. I didn't even try to stop as he covered me in his shirt. It had been that kind of day.
* * * * *
They stabilized Josh and called for Life Flight. Inside twenty minutes a helicopter landed at the base of the hill and the rescue folks hustled Josh inside. It promptly lifted off and arrowed south toward Stateline.
Mom and I were cleaned up and helped down the hill and back to the cabin, with her on a stretcher. Just in time to meet Deputy Cooper and his fellow Deputies. With an expression as dark as a thundercloud, he descended on me.
"You're just trying to piss me off, aren't you," he demanded.
"Back off," Ty said, his expression grim. "You got to get in line to be pissed off at her. I'm number one, got it?"
Cooper's lips curled up with dark humor. "So that's the way it is? Fine, but you better do a right proper job, boy, or I'll toss your ass in a cell right next to her. Now what the hell is going on here and why the fuck didn't you call me?"
"Are you going to lock me up?" I asked suspiciously.
"Don't tempt me. Start talking and don't stop until you tell me everything."
I sighed and slumped a little. "It's a long story."
"I've got all day," Cooper said. "Milbank, take Walker here off and get his statement. See that Mrs. Kane gets an escort to the ambulance and take her statement, too."
Ty gave me a hug, but no sympathy, before he let Andy lead him away. The EMTs took Mom down the path without me. I longed to go after her, but I couldn't.
"What about me?" I asked indignantly.
"I might - might! - let you go if I'm satisfied I've wrung the entire story out of you. Not one second earlier. Talk."
I gritted my teeth and counted to ten. Twice.
"Fine. Shall we start with Jake Wallace?"
"If he's responsible, yes."
I pointed at the cabin. "He's in there, shot dead."
Cooper's eyebrows crawled up his forehead. He pointed at one of the other Deputies. "Secure that building." The man headed off with a nod as Cooper's attention returned to me.
"You're like a bad luck charm," he ground out between his clenched teeth. "This has to do with all the gold down on the Tahoe, doesn't it? And both the dead man with it and Armstrong."
"How do you know about that," I asked, astonished.
"Damien Manchester called me about an hour ago and filled me in," he glowered. "Like you should have. Though he left out that little fact your mother had been kidnapped. What were you thinking?" He held up a hand. "Never mind. You weren't thinking. Who shot Wallace?" His eyes strayed to where Ty was being questioned by Andy.
"Not Ty," I said quickly. "I think it was Edward Stanton."
He had someone find me something to sit on and ran me through everything again and again. We kept going back over everything until I thought my brain would run out my ears. It was almost dark by the time he relented and allowed Ty to take me away from this place.
* * * * *
Ty drove us to the hospital in Stateline and I went in search of my mother. I found her in a private room guarded by a police officer that didn't want to let me in. Ty pulled me back a little when I growled at the offending minion of the Law.
"Down, Tiger," Ty said. "Who do we go through to get her cleared in, officer?"
The officer examined my ID and grudgingly let me in. Alone.
A nurse was checking a hanging bag of fluids and my Mom was asleep.
"Is she okay?" I asked quietly.
"The doctor just wanted to keep her overnight. I gave her something to make her rest. She wouldn't stop pestering us about her son and the doctor said she needed to sleep."
I repressed a smile. "That's, ah, her boyfriend. How is he?"
Her eyes widened and she looked back at my mother. "She's got that young thing on the string? Hot damn! Ahh, he's in intensive care but the doctor is optimistic. He was awake by the time the helicopter got here." She checked her watch. "You can have five minutes but please let her sleep."
I sat beside the bed as the nurse bustled out. Mom looked so tired, so alone. "I'm sorry," I whispered. I held her hand for a few minutes and then slipped out quietly. I'd be back first thing in the morning.
Ty broke off his conversation with the policeman when I came out. "How is she?" he asked.