Well, folks, the story finally let me finish it. It’s probably more accurate to say that it finished itself. Either way, here’s the conclusion of The Warren Trading Post Caper.
The story ended last week with Marlene getting strange phone calls in the middle of the night. Calls from people – or creatures – with odd, metallic voices. Calls that turned her into a demanding sex machine.
THE WARREN TRADING POST CAPER (Part 4)
A week to the day after Walter Black checked out the recording of the mysterious early morning calls, he summoned us to the Warren Trading Post. It was a trip we needed to make anyway because Marlene’s ’09 Chevy Malibu was still sitting in the garage there. She hadn’t left the house enough since her abduction to make the hundred-mile drive worthwhile.
We arrived before the appointed hour and entered the post hesitantly. As soon as we walked through the door, my wife moaned and sagged against me. The restored western wall seemed to have shaken her badly. John’s brother-in-law had done a good job repairing the gaping hole, but the spot where the safe had stood was highlighted by a big rectangle of wood darker than the surrounding area.
“You can wait outside, if you want.”
She blinked a couple of times. “That’s all right. I want to take a look around to see what else is missing. Then maybe I’ll go lie down in back.”
A few minutes later, she had completed her inspection. “Nothing else seems to be missing. Think I’ll lie down now.”
She didn’t have much of a rest because Black arrived soon thereafter, accompanied by a couple of state troopers. He’d barely said hello before other vehicles began arriving. John Benchley walked through the door, followed closely by Big Hat and another Navajo built in the same mold. The stranger was introduced as Delbert, who I gathered was a cousin of Big Hat’s. The Indian under that huge Stetson started for my wife but halted when I put an arm around her.
In Marlene’s dad’s time, the post had been a social gathering place, so a number of old oaken chairs were still scattered around the showroom area. Black had the troopers assemble enough of them so everyone had a seat … except for the two uniformed policemen. They stood behind the detective’s chair and watched everything through expressionless eyes.
Black “ahemed” for attention, and everyone settled down. “There have been a couple of developments I thought everyone should know about. First off, we found the empty safe.”
He allowed time for the inevitable “oohs” and “ahhs” but not for questions before informing us swimmers had found it in Greenwater Lake not ten miles from where we sat.
“Empty? How was it opened?” I asked.”
“It wasn’t burned open like you’d expect. It was totally undamaged except for some scratches likely done while dragging it through the wall. Mrs. Lund, who has the combination to that safe?”
She seemed startled. “Why … just me. And Frank, of course.”
“Did you open the safe for your abductors?”
“N-no. But I don’t remember things, too clearly.”
“And why is that?”
“What kind of question is that? Shock, of course,” I said.
“Witching.” John quietly stated his opinion.
“Aliens took her mind.” I think Big Hat said that.
Black adopted the look of an impatient parent dealing with children. “Let’s be clear about this. We aren’t dealing with aliens.” He looked at John. “Or witches, either.”
“What about the craft someone saw flying around?” Big Hat asked.
“And strange lights,” John put in.
“And a big hole in a three-foot, hundred-year-old adobe wall?” I added. “Not to mention carting off a big safe that weighs half a ton empty. And the weird voice on the telephone.”
Black paused and looked at everyone sitting before him one-by-one. I don’t know about the others, but his gaze provoked a sense of guilt in me – and I hadn’t done anything. “Finding that safe is what convinced me we aren’t looking at aliens or witches. This caper was done by human beings. Perhaps even by someone in this very room.”
I expected gasps and protests, but everyone went absolutely quiet until John asked ta simple question. "How's that?”
“The safe was dropped into the lake from a bluff on the west side, and it took out part of the embankment before settling in shallow water. If some alien or witch was responsible, he – or it – would have plopped the thing down in the middle of the lake in a hundred feet of water. No, this was the work of human beings.”
He looked at me. “As far as the metallic voice on your nighttime telephone calls, that’s a simple electronic device that alters the human voice. Our lab people are certain they can filter it out and get the true voice of the caller. It’s just a matter of time.”
“What about demolishing a three-foot wall?" I asked. "I didn’t see any signs of explosives."
“Our people reconstructed the pieces of that wall in our lab up in Santa Fe and found a hole bored through the adobes.”
Big Hat spoke up. “There you go. Lasers. Those aliens are good with lasers.”
“Not lasers. Plain old masonry drill bits. They drilled through the wall, snaked a big cable through, put a steel plate on it, and jerked out the wall with a truck. To make matters easier, they sawed into the adobe in a few places to further weaken the wall.”
John took off his hat and scratched his head. “And drug off a thousand-pound safe?”
“Plenty of winches in this country capable of that. Big Hat’s got one on the back of his truck, for example.”
“And I’ll bet you’ve got a drill with some extended bits in there, as well. What say we go take a look, Hat?”
“You got a warrant?” There was an emotional tremor in the tall Indian’s voice.
“As a matter of fact, I have.” Black said. “Based on a description of a truck seen leaving the vicinity of Lover’s Leap Bluff at Greenwater, a judge signed a warrant for me.”
“Go ahead. You won’t find nothing.” Hat stood and dug a ring of keys out of his denim trousers.
Black handed the keys to one of the troopers behind him. As the officer walked out the front door, Hat started after the man. Black stopped him. I could see from the glint in Hat’s glittering brown eyes that he considered defying the detective. But he backed off and sat down.
“Something else corroborated my rejection of any otherworldly events being involved. Mrs. Lund, you described one of the articles in the missing safe as an extremely rare peace pipe with the stem covered by beaver fur and eagle feathers attached. Is this it?” He held out a photograph.
Marlene leaned forward to examine it. “Yes, that’s it. It’s called a calumet. It’s over two hundred and fifty years old. Where did you find it?”
“In a pawn shop up in the town of Shiprock. This and several other stolen pieces were found yesterday. We also have a video of the individual who pawned the items.”
The man introduced as Delbert got to his feet and started edging toward the entrance.
“Hold it right there, Mr. Adelberto.”
Big Hat’s cousin broke for the door, but when he snatched it open, he ran straight into the burly trooper who had gone outside to check Hat’s truck. The second policeman helped put the man in handcuffs.
When we all settled back down, I noticed Big Hat was no longer in the room. Black took notice, as well.
“Mr. Menda seems to have slipped out.” He nodded to his men. “Put Adelberto in the patrol car and go after Hat.”
The two troopers hustled to obey. Black didn’t seem too concerned at Big Hat’s disappearance. “We have the keys to his truck. He won’t get far on foot,” he explained.
Marlene, sitting at my side, gave a small gasp. That told me all I needed to know. I’d been battling with myself ever since Black’s little show-and-tell had started. Now, all the denial building inside me collapsed.
“Check the garage,” I said. “My wife’s car is there, and I’d guess he has a key.”
Black drew his gun, a big black semi-automatic, as he headed for the door. He was shouting at the other policemen as a car roared up from behind the post. Then we heard several shots and a crash.
I sat numbly and watched Marlene go pale. She looked as if she was going to faint, but I didn’t care. Not really. Not even as one human being feeling for another. Before I finished my thought process, Black returned.
“Mrs. Lund, I’m afraid your car is demolished. I’m sure you heard the commotion. Big Hat tried to drive right by us, and we had to put the vehicle out of commission.”
“Is … is he …”
“He’s unharmed, but in custody. It’s clear what happened. Hat and his cousin planned and executed the robbery very carefully.”
My stomach fell even farther when he didn’t say “and abduction.”
“What about them lights and the craft somebody saw?” John asked.
“Nobody actually saw a craft, Mr. Benchley. All anyone saw was lights. I checked the weather report for the night of the robbery. There was a low bank of clouds. All Hat and his cousin did was use the spotlights on their vehicles to play the beams across the low-lying cloudbank. Pieces of colored plastic in front of the spots made different colors appear."
Black flipped a chair around and sat down facing my wife, his arms resting on the upright back. “The only question is how much you were involved, Mrs. Lund.”
“I … What do you mean? I was abducted.”
“I don’t think so. It took quite a while to drill through and weaken the west wall of the building. You were living here. Even from the living quarters at the back, you’d have heard the racket that drill and the masonry saw made. And, of course, you claimed you’d been abducted by aliens.”
“Hat drugged me. And he threatened me if I didn’t do what he wanted.”
“And I suppose he made you open the safe, as well.”
“Y-yes, that’s right! He forced me to do it.”
“With respect ma’am, that’s simply not true. I’m sure I’ll find every key to this trading post on Hat’s key ring. And his tire tracks are in the garage beside where your car was. I’m pretty sure he’s been living here for quite some time.”
“You can’t prove that!” Marlene’s voice held a snarl and a plea.
“You’re right. I can’t prove that … yet. But I will. Or one of the men will turn on you to make it easier on himself. You can count on that. But for the moment, I don’t have enough to arrest you.” He paused. “You know, you might have gotten away with it if one of those guys hadn’t gotten greedy and sold some of the loot inside the state. Probably Adelberto. Big Hat’s smarter than that.”
I sat where I was for a long time after everyone else left. Marlene had disappeared into the living quarters at the back. I shuddered and groaned a couple of times as I worked my way through my emotions. But eventually, my stomach returned to its proper place and my mind stopped seething.
Then Marlene was suddenly there in front of me. She took the seat Black had been using, folded her long shapely forearms over the worn wood of the chair back, and placed her dimpled chin atop them. Her big, velvet eyes regarded me closely. God, she was beautiful. I wanted her something terrible right at that moment.
“Frank, surely you don’t believe all that garbage Black was saying, do you?”
That was a mistake. On her part. I heard the false note. Saw the hardening of the muscles around her mouth. Discerned the treachery in her eyes. And she wasn’t so attractive any longer. Nor as desirable.
“I’ll tell you how much weight I give his words.” I put as much syrup in my voice as I could summon. “I’m filing for divorce tomorrow morning.”
Whew! That’s done. Wonder what will show up next Thursday.
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New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.