This thing has taken on a life of its own and demanded a longer telling. The story has turned into a three-parter. Sorry about that. Last week, we ended the story when Frank Lund called the County Sheriff’s Office after finding his wife’s remote trading post in the western part of New Mexico looted and his wife missing.
THE WARREN TRADING POST CAPER (Part 2)
The county cops immediately called in the state police, and within an hour a detective by the name of Walter Black drove into the parking lot and got out of his unmarked car. After perfunctory introductions, John and I escorted him inside the trading post where he inspected the gaping hole near the spot where the missing safe had sat. He looked over the scene much more dispassionately than either one of us.
“You say your wife is missing, Mr. Lund?”
I confirmed this fact and said she wasn’t answering her cell phone before I provided a description of Marlene Warren Lund, a five-foot, two, 110-pound blonde with sky blue eyes and fetching dimples. In response to a question, I advised that I had last spoken to her at 5:00 a.m. this morning on the rather disjointed telephone call that sent me racing to the trading post. I had not seen her since the prior Sunday when I left for Albuquerque. I informed the detective the missing safe was a large container weighing approximately 1000 pounds, big enough to accommodate all of the pawn items the trading post held.
In the midst of his interview, the state’s forensics team arrived, and one of its members pulled Black aside. A few moments later he returned with a quizzical look on his face.
“Either of you know anything about some sort of craft flying in this area last night or early this morning? A helicopter, maybe.”
Both John and I shook our heads. “Don’t know anything about it,” I said.
“You know anyone with a chopper or a small plane?”
Neither of us had personal knowledge of such craft, but John mentioned that the gas plant owned a helicopter. About that time, the head of the forensics team chased us outside. Black warned us not to leave the area, and then went around behind the trading post to take a closer look at the outbuildings. I leaned against the fender of my car and worried about my wife while John took out a can of tobacco and rolled a cigarette. After I declined his offer of one, he lit the crude affair with an old-fashioned wooden match and settled back to wait with me. John wasn’t much of a talker, but somehow his presence was welcome. He was a connection to Marlene’s past and that was comforting.
Black came from around behind the main building talking earnestly on his telephone. As he drew near, it was apparent he was concentrating on trying to run down the aircraft, or whatever it was, that someone had reported seeing near dawn this morning. Judging from his end of the conversation, things weren’t going well. All anyone had really seen were lights flashing in the general area.
After the detective reentered the trading post, John bestirred himself to speak. “Big Hat ain’t gonna take this too good. He’s gonna come flying when he hears about it. You better get ready.”
I knew all about Big Hat. Or at least the tall, good-looking Indian that hung out under the gigantic Stetson. His name was Charles Menda, but nobody ever called him anything but Big Hat. Even Marlene called him that when they were going together. They’d been an item for a couple of years before we hooked up. As a result, Big Hat wasn’t too kindly disposed toward me.
“You keep that guy away from me, you hear?”
John gave an uneasy chuckle. “I don’t keep him away from nobody. He don’t ask my permission.”
Black came outside and beckoned me over. “Mr. Lund, the Albuquerque Police tell me your wife is at home.”
“At home? And the police are there. Is she all right?”
“Seems to be unharmed. Confused, but unharmed.”
“How did she get there? Her car’s in the garage out back.” Another thought struck. “And why are the police there?”
“I asked them to check the house. The detective I spoke to said she’s confused about what’s happened. Said she seems disoriented.”
“I’ve got to go to her.” I turned to John. “Can you get someone to seal up the hole in the wall?”
Black spoke up. “You stay right where you are. I’m having her brought here.”
“Why? She’ll be better off at home.”
“This is where the crime was committed. So this is where I want her.”
Black was adamant, so I switched from protesting to making arrangements with John for his brother-in-law, who did some construction work on the nearby reservation, to patch the hole in the trading post’s wall after the forensics team turned the building back over to us. After that, I tried to phone the house in Albuquerque, but got no answer. Apparently, Marlene was already on the way.
My wife and the Albuquerque police and Big Hat all got to the trading post at the same time. Marlene got out of the police cruiser and sort of wobbled over to me. When I enfolded her in my arms, she began crying.
“It’s okay, honey. You’re safe.” I noticed Big Hat watching from the cab of his truck.
“It was horrible, Frank. Horrible!”
Black stepped up and stood uncomfortably close. “Mrs. Lund, I’m Detective Walter Black of the State Police. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t say anything until after I interview you. We can go to your living quarters at the rear of the store where you’ll be more comfortable.”
I insisted I was going with them, but Black was just as insistent that I wasn’t. He and his badge outweighed me and my wedding license. They entered the building without me.
As soon as the door closed behind them, Big Hat got out of a blue Dodge Ram pickup outfitted with a host of steel boxes. He was a mechanic who apparently hauled his tools around with him.
That huge brown Stetson floating toward me atop a lean, six-two Indian seemed to exude suppressed violence. “Lund, I find out you had anything to do with this, I’ll take you down personally.”
I drew up to my full five foot-nine height and poked a finger at him. “She’s my wife, Big Hat, and I’ll thank you to keep out of our business.”
“She might be your wife, but she’s my friend. What’s going on? Tell me right now.”
John stepped between us. “Take it easy, man. We don’t none of us know what this is all about.” He shrugged. “Other than taking out the west wall of the post and hauling off a big safe. Oh, yeah, and some lights hovering around somewhere about dawn this morning.”
We spent fifteen minutes arguing and making threats while John patiently filled Big Hat in on what little we knew. After that, a sullen silence grew as we waited another three-quarters of an hour until Black emerged from the post. Marlene wasn’t with him. Big Hat and I both started for the door.
“Hold on there,” the detective said. “Who’re you?” He addressed the Indian.
“My name’s Charles Menda, and Marlene Warren is a friend of mine.”
I forgot for the moment he was bigger and tougher than I was. “Marlene Lund, you lunkhead,”
He ignored me. “What did Marlene tell you?”
Black paused for a moment before answering. “That she was abducted.”
“Abducted,” I said. “Abducted by who?”
The detective speared me with his eyes. “Aliens.”
“You mean Mexicans?” Big Hat asked.
Brown lifted a finger skyward. “No, I mean aliens.”
To be continued…again. Hope it’s been interesting enough to draw you back one more time.
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