Authors: Janet McNulty
Tags: #Mystery: Cozy - Paranormal - Ghosts - Vermont
I scooped up one of the bags. Inside was a variety of items: some of it made from gold, letters, journals, a few rolls of money, a gun dating back to the 1800s, and a few other items I didn’t know. “Is this the treasure?”
Gill and Stark nodded. “It’s what we found.”
“Not much in the way of treasure,” said Rachel.
“I don’t think so,” I replied, “Some of this you could sell to a collector for a lot of money. These journals would be of immense value to any historical society.”
Jackie’s voice echoed throughout the caverns. By the tone I knew she was in trouble.
“You obviously don’t need us,” said Gil.
Rachel waved the shovel at him and he and Stark shied away from it.
I took off with the bags and the others close behind. It didn’t take long for me to reach the hole in the ceiling where I had fallen through.
“Jackie!,” I shouted as I reached the hole.
“Hold it right there,” said a harsh voice. Peering into the sunlight, I noticed it was Poppy. He held Jackie by the neck with a gun pointed at her.
“I’ll take care of him,” said Rachel.
“No,” I hissed. “What if that gun goes off and hits Jackie?”
Huffing, Rachel remained where she was.
“Mellow Summers I presume,” said Poppy. “I know you have the treasure. Do not bother denying it. If you wish to see your friend again, be at that made up town on the ranch by noon tomorrow with the gold.”
“Noon! It took us three days to get here.”
“Be there at noon, or say good-bye to your friend.”
Poppy disappeared with Jackie. I heard her scream and struggle until she fell silent and only the galloping of hooves remained as they slowly faded.
“How could I have let this happen?” I asked.
“Mel,” said Rachel.
“It’s all my fault!”
“No, it’s not,” said Aunt Ethel. “It’s no one’s fault. We’ll just have to be at the town tomorrow like he says.”
“But won’t there be people there?” asked Rachel.
“That place is usually empty on Sundays,” said Jedidiah. “That man reminds me of an Indian that used to roam these parts. Mean son of a bitch. He didn’t like people being in his territory. Didn’t matter if they were Indian or white. If you wandered into his territory, he killed you.”
I just stared at Jedidiah wondering what the point of his story was. Who cares about some Indian that lived over 130 years ago when Jackie’s life was in danger?
“The proper term is Native American,” said Gil. I guess he not only heard Jedidiah, but saw him as well. It was Rachel who remained invisible while still holding the shovel.
“He was no more native to this land than I was,” said Jedidiah, “And it doesn’t matter what the proper term is. I have spent the last thirty years watching people come out to this Dude Ranch, as you call it, with their fancy gadgets, strange dress, and snobbish attitudes. They think that by coming out here for a week they are learning what it
was like to settle this land.
“In my day the only heat you got was from the kindling you were able to gather. Your food was what you killed or managed to grow. There was no relief from the heat in the summer. Water was what you could dig out of the ground not something you bought at a store.
“You modern folk think you know so much with your gadgets and fancy reading material. You think that those of us who left our comfortable homes in the east and came out here did so because we wanted to kill Indians or rob them. Well, I got news for you. Those of us who came here were looking for a better life. We had nothing back home after the war and we just wanted to be left alone. I came out here after some carpetbagger conned me out of my savings and a bunch of drunken Yankees burned what property I had left.
“When I came to these parts I found a harsh and uninviting land that was colder than the ice queen herself. The people who settled here had to be just as tough. My first winter here I came upon an Indian boy. He had gotten caught in a blizzard and separated from his family. His foot had turned black and I brought him to the nearest outpost w
here the surgeon amputated it.
“Sometime later, I was out trapping animals when a blizzard sprang up. It was mid-January and I should have known better. Two days I wandered around until I could walk no more. A few days later that same Indian boy found me, though he had become a man by then. He must have recognized me because he returned the favor by bringing me t
o the nearest Calvary outpost.
“Of course by then both my legs had turned black and were amputated. I remember every bit of it. I died a few days later from infection. You want to know who stayed by my bed the entire time? That Indian boy. He even said the words at my funeral.
“So don’t you ever try to brand me as some Indian hater. I know more about their ways and have more respect for them that you will ever have. The only thing you know about them is probably what you’ve seen on that box with the moving pictures.
“Now you may not have liked my story about the murdering Redskin, but the moral is the same. That Poppy character is just like the Indian that hunted people down for pleasure. Do you honestly think he will let any of you live once he gets the gold? He ain’t going to risk letting you turn him into the law.”
“So what are you saying?” I asked.
“It’s a trap,” replied Jedidiah. “You give him those bags and he will kill you and your friend.”
“So what do we do?” I asked.
“Well first, I need to get up there and get that rope so you can get out. Unless those two remember how they got down here.”
Gil and Stark looked at each and shrugged their shoulders. “We don’t remember,” said Stark. “We ended up down here by a happy circumstance.”
“So how were you going to get out with the gold?” asked Aunt Ethel.
“Uh, we didn’t think that far ahead,” said Gil.
“Yeah, Gil here got lost in his own closet once,” said Stark.
“That doesn’t surprise me,” said Rachel.
Jedidiah shook his head. “The Lord must love stupid people. He makes a lot of ‘em.” He disappeared and moments later the rope lowered itself down.
“Jesus it’s a ghost!” shouted Gil as he jumped back. “It’s a ghost—a real live ghost!”
“Can I please just hit him once with this shovel?” pleaded Rachel.
As tempting as it was I replied with a soft, “No.”
Rachel chucked the shovel to the ground which hit Gil in the foot. “Oops,” she said in a not so innocent tone.
I gave her a reproachful look.
“It slipped,” said Rachel.
We each clambered up the rope. The horses remained where we had left them.
“So what’s the plan?” I asked.
“Obviously, we need to get the sheriff to the town,” said Aunt Ethel, “Though I do not know how that is possible short of Rachel kidnapping him.”
Rachel’s face brightened at that prospect. “Kidnap the sheriff! That is a brilliant idea. I’ve never done that before and the best part is they can’t ar
rest me cuz I’m already dead.”
“Rach—” I tried to say, but she had already disappeared.
“How are we to get to that town by noon tomorrow?” asked Aunt Ethel.
“Poppy probably knows a short cut back now that he knows where the treasure was,” said Jedidiah. “Thing is, I know one too. If we ride through the night we should be able to make it.”
“What about those two?” I asked pointing at Gil and Stark who each had resorted to picking their noses.
Jedidiah sighed. “I guess leaving them here would be cruel and unusual punishment. They’ll have to come with us. And we’ll have to double up on the horses.”
We ended up riding through the entire night not even stopping to rest our horses. Turned out that when we discovered the underground river, Jedidiah recognized some of the landmarks and knew right away where we were and how to get back to the ranch quickly. Short cut after short cut and we managed to crawl out of the Badlands around sunrise. After that we rode hard across the plains to the “Old West Town” that the ranch owner had built for his guests.
I felt my horse tiring underneath me as we rode. Even I was exhausted, but stopping was not an option. Jackie’s life hung in the balance and I knew that if we managed to make it out of the canyons in a short time, Poppy did too. Just before noon we came upon the town. Jedidiah stopped us before we got too close.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Remember what I said about the trap?”
I nodded my head.
“You are going to ride in there alone with these bags.” Jedidiah handed me the bags containing the buried treasure. “The rest of us will position ourselves around the town and hide. One of us will cause a distraction. When that happens, you get Jackie out of there.”
“Why do I have to ride in alone?” I asked, “Won’t he be expecting all of us.”
“I have to agree with, Mellow,” said Aunt Ethel.
“I doubt he’ll be expecting those two,” Jedidiah pointed at Gil and Stark, “And he doesn’t know about me. As for you, ma’am, he won’t be expecting an old woman to be able to ride through the night.
“Sending, Mel, in alone should set him at ease and she was the one he was talking about.”
The plan sounded solid enough. Where was Rachel? I had hoped she would be here already, but she seemed to be running late. After the others disappeared, I rode into town.
I felt like I had actually traveled into a western movie as the horse’s hooves clopped on the ground with slow, determined movements. I adjusted my cowboy hat slightly to shade my eyes from the bright midday sun. The clouds from the day before seemed to have vanished into thin air. Looking around, I didn’t see any sign of P
Once I reached the middle of town, I dismounted and tied my horse to one of the rails. Carefully, I placed the bags on my shoulder and walked into the middle of the dirt road. An image of two cowboys with cigarettes hanging out of their mouths meeting at high noon for a duel filtered through my mind. Where was Poppy?
“Hold it right there,” said Poppy as he appeared from an alley.
Well that answered that question.
I stopped. I watched him strut out into the middle of the road dragging Jackie behind. The look of pain in her face told me that her ankle had gotten worse during this ordeal.
“You alone?” demanded Poppy as he held a gun to Jackie’s head.
“Yes,” I replied.
“I don’t believe you.”
“My aunt is in her sixties and can hardly move that fast. And you have the third member of our party so you do the math.”
“Toss the bags to me,” said Poppy.
“Let Jackie go first,” I said.
“Toss me the bags or say good-bye to your friend.” I heard the click as Poppy cocked the gun.
Knowing there was nothing else for me to do, I threw the bags to his feet. ”You have the gold, now let Jackie go.”
“You must think I’m really stupid,” said Poppy.
Actually, I had a few other words in mind for what I thought of him. “Look, you have what you wanted now let her go.”
“You know I won’t,” said Poppy, “No witnesses.”
My heart sank. Things were happening exactly as Jedidiah had said they would.
“Your aunt will probably die out there in those canyons. You and her though will be another matter. By the time they find your bodies out here, there won’t be much of them left.”
Suddenly, a series of pops that sounded like gun shots went off. It turned out to be firecrackers, but it served as a big enough distraction. Poppy whirled around in surprise. Using this chance Jackie smashed her fists into Poppy’s face at the same time that I tackled him.
Quickly, I grabbed Jackie and yanked her to her feet ignoring her yelps of pain. Poppy fired his gun at us. Bits of wood splintered in our direction as the bullet hit a nearby building just as I pulled Jackie around the corner. I searched for a place to put her until we could subdue Poppy. It turned out, that I needn’t have worried.
Sirens echoed around us as a bunch of cop cars careened into the town. Sheriff Judson spilled out of the lead car dazed and a bit confused. I noticed Rachel in the driver’s seat. The car itself had a crumpled hood, a flat tire, and a broken windshield. Way to go Rachel.
Poppy turned and opened fire upon the sheriff and his deputies who promptly returned fire. Then, out of nowhere a flying feather coat headed straight for Poppy.
“Shoot my Mellow, will you?” shouted Aunt Ethel as she crashed into the stunned Poppy and knocked his gun out of his hands. She wrenched him off the ground, placed him over her knee, and spanked him. I don’t know how she did it, but that woman had some muscle.
Rachel walked up with a metal bar and placed it in my aunt’s hands. Of course, all Poppy saw was a metal bar floating through midair to my aunt. His wide eyes said it all.
“I’ll teach you to attack my Mellow,” scolded Aunt Ethel as she hit Poppy with the metal bar. “And what about that Michael Evans, did you kill him?”
“Yes! Yes! Let me go you crazy old bat!”
Poppy managed to knock my aunt over and sprinted for freedom. He didn’t count on Rachel, however. She tripped the man and he crashed into Sheriff Judson who quickly put him in handcuffs.
“Poppy, I’m arresting you for the murder of Michael Evans, for kidnapping, and attempted murder. You have the right to remain silent…”
The sheriff finished reading Poppy his rights as Jackie and I walked over. Well, Jackie hobbled while leaning on my shoulder. I handed her over to Aunt Ethel as I picked up the bags with the buried treasure.
“Here,” I said handing the bags to the sheriff, “This is the fabled treasure of the badlands. We found it before Poppy tried to take it.”
Sheriff Judson took the bags. “I distinctly remember telling you to not try and solve this case.”
“I didn’t,” I said, “I set out on a treasure hunt which just happened to result in the solving of a murder.”
“Actually,” began Gil, “we—”
Rachel slapped her hand over Gil’s mouth shutting him up. He jumped back from being struck by seemingly nothing.
“I’ll need you all to come down to the sheriff’s office and give your statements,” said Sheriff Judson, “But first I’ll have one of my deputies take you to the doctor’s office to get that ankle looked at.”
He waved one of his deputies over. I told Aunt Ethel that I would meet her back at the ranch house after we took care of Jackie’s ankle.
“So,” said Rachel.
“So,” I whispered not wanting to be talking to thin air.
“Aren’t you going to ask how I got the sheriff here?”
“Well, I’ll tell you anyway,” said Rachel, “First, I had to track him, which actually took a while. That man can be difficult to find. Finally, I found him. I threw him into the passenger seat of his car, crashed it into one of his deputies’ vehicles so that they would chase us. Then, I high tailed it out here. Great work, right?”
“Yeah,” I said. What else do you tell a ghost that is extremely proud of herself? “You saved our bacon. Look, I’ll meet you back at the ranch later. I need to get Jackie to the doctor.”
“Sure you don’t want me to come along?”
“I think I can handle it.”
I crawled into the car with Jackie as Rachel waved to us.