Gold Mountain
Chapter 19

Copyright© 2020 by Graybyrd


The sun had fallen. Marilee saw no light through the cracks in the barn wall. Without the light beams tracking across the floor, she had no way to estimate the passage of time. She guessed it had been at least an hour since sunset; possibly less. The misery of laying cold and naked in the filth of the old barn floor stretched time into agonizing minutes that passed like hours. Her mother lay shivering against Marilee to share body warmth.

The near door opened, its hinges creaking violently in protest. She turned her head. She saw a dark figure lean down to set something on the floor. Then it pulled something from under one arm and tossed it, a formless shape, in her direction.

“Food, water, blanket,” a growling voice said. The shape moved away and pushed the door shut with another loud squeal of complaint from the hinges. She heard another small squeak of a rusty hinge and the ‘snick’ sound of a padlock snapping closed.

“Mother, I’ll move over and see what’s there. If there are blankets, I’ll toss one to you. If I can do it without spilling it, I’ll move the food and water closer.”

Madeline sat up. Marilee rolled onto her bound hands and knees. She ‘inch-wormed’ her way to the door, carefully steadying herself on spread knees to reach out, slowly, her hands taped together, to feel around. She felt a rough blanket. She pulled it to herself, wadding it up.

“Mom. I’m tossing the blanket to you.” She swung her arms around, releasing the blanket towards the manger and her mother.

“Got it,” Madeline answered. “Is there food? Water? Oh, please, let there be water at least!”

Marilee carefully searched along the floor, sweeping her hands from side to side. Yes! A cold jug. A paper sack! She reached into the bag. Sandwiches!

“Mom, there’s a jug of water and a sack of sandwiches. I’ll bring them over.” She found it very difficult to move herself with the jug and sack. She rose up to support herself on her knees, moved the jug, and then the sack, as far forward as she could without falling forward. She placed her hands on the floor just behind them, and scooted her knees forward. Reach and scoot; reach and scoot. She tore her bare knee on something. A nailhead!

Damn that hurts! An old, rusty nail had worked itself up out of the plank floor. It gashed her left kneecap. Blood began running. Filthy floor litter crusted on the wound when she brought her knees down again to move back to the stall.

I must wash it! she thought. Make it bleed clean, then use a little water.

It was a gallon glass jug, the kind with the molded finger hole below the neck. She could just spread her hands enough to hold it up and drink. She took two swallows. Then she held it out to her mother.

“You put a finger through the grip hole, Mom. I’ll hold the bottom to take the weight and steady it while you drink. I took two swallows. Let’s be careful and make it last.”

They found two sandwiches in the paper sack. Bread and bologna, with cheese slices, the kind that comes in plastic wrappers. Nothing else.

Marilee rested the jug on the floor and sat close to it. Her mother tipped it forward carefully to pour a trickle of water into her extended, upturned hands. “Enough,” she cautioned. She slapped the water onto her left knee before it trickled away. She rubbed the wet crust of blood and filth away. “Again, please,” she asked. Twice more she flung water against her knee and scrubbed with her bare palms. She ignored the pain. The nailhead had torn a ragged gash. It began bleeding again, free of the clotted dirt. It will stop, she thought. I’ll have to keep it off the floor, keep it clean.

The blanket was rough wool, thick and dark, although it was impossible to see color in their dark confinement. If she snuggled tight against her mother, they could lay on half the blanket and pull the remainder over themselves. The night dragged on. She could feel the cold on her face; the temperature was falling fast. After a time her mother stopped shivering as their body warmth grew under the blanket.

Oh, Graydon! We need you! her mind called, over and over in a silent plea. She called to her love. She called again and again, calling out their plight: the abandoned barn, the cold night, laying naked and bound in the stall. Long minutes, long into the night, she called. It calmed her. Somehow she knew. He would hear her mind’s plea. He would come. She fell asleep. And the dream came.

Graydon fell asleep, physically exhausted and emotionally distraught. He blamed himself for failing to consider the threat to Madeline, to Marilee. He tossed about, the sheet and blanket wrapped around him, binding him. He woke sweating and half-panicked. He glanced to the other motel bed; Mike slept, his breathing ragged and irregular. He, too, was troubled. His dreams must be very bad, Graydon thought.

He left the bed, padded in bare feet to the bathroom and using the light coming from the window, rinsed his face and unwrapped a plastic glass. The water tasted stale and reeked of chlorine. He sluiced the phlegm and sour taste from his mouth, wondering if the chemical taste was any better substitute. He relieved himself, returned to his bed, and lay awake on his back for a long, silent time, staring up at the ceiling.

She is calling ... she is hurt, in pain, bound and helpless ... she is calling...

Graydon heard the call in his mind, in his dream, repeating, insistent. He came alert in his dream state.

Nighthawk! he cried.

She is calling! Nighthawk replied. They are hurt.

Hurt! How badly? Where are they? Are they together?

small hurt but it will grow worse, much worse. She and her mother, they are together. She does not know where.

Please, nighthawk! I must see her, talk to her.

Reach out to her. Answer her call. She waits. Seek her. You will find her waiting. Nighthawk faded from his vision. A faint call came from a far place. Graydon, frantic, urgent, fearing for her, focused on that dim, far voice.

... need you ... pain ... cold ... help us.

Marilee! he cried. He soared forward, the dreamscape rushing past. He saw in the darkness, two forms huddled together under a blanket lying on a filthy floor in a stall. He hovered, casting about to see a location. Nothing but darkness. He could see nothing surrounding the vision.

Marilee! he cried again. A small, frightened girl rose to meet him, hovering. Her arms were bound at the wrists; her ankles bound tightly together. An ugly gash reached part way across her knee.

Graydon! You came. You heard! Oh, my love...

You are hurt! he cried. Where are you? We will come. Do you know where?

No, she cried. We were drugged. We woke up here in this place. I ... we can’t see anything. Just the sun shining through the cracks between the old boards. I can’t get close enough. I can’t see out.

We must find you! Graydon urged. When did they take you from the house?

I’d just got home from school. I came straight home. Then somebody knocked at the door. They crashed in!

Was it still daylight when you woke up, where you are now?

Yes, but the sun was low. The sunbeams through the cracks in the wall stretched across the floor, in long streaks. I woke up, then I think it was maybe an hour, Mom woke up. The sun was still up but very low. I can only guess how long we were here before I woke up. An hour? Less? A little more? I don’t know, Graydon. I just don’t know!

That’s fine, love. You can’t be more than a few hours from home. Sunset was about seven thirty. You got home from school not long after three thirty, when school got out, right?

Yes, it was nearly four o’clock when Mom answered the door.

Alright. From four o’clock to seven thirty, minus an hour while you waited for your mother to wake up. Figure another half hour they spent loading and unloading you guys, that’s a maximum of three hours they could drive. On local highways, and being careful not to be spotted, and maybe changing vehicles. And then driving over who-knows-what roads to get to that barn. I would figure no more than a hundred miles, at the absolute most.

Graydon, it must be open to the west from here. The sun was very low before sunset. It didn’t go behind a mountain or anything.

That helps. You can’t be in the valley. The mountains and hills on both sides are too steep.

Graydon! I heard something earlier! It ... it was an airplane, not far away. I was trying to sleep. I kept waking up. It was cold. Mom was shivering, and my knee was hurting and I was so...

What kind of airplane? What did it sound like? And after dark! Close enough for you to hear it? It wasn’t a jet, an airliner. They fly too high. You wouldn’t hear it loud enough to notice.

No! Not one of those. This was ... different. Only one engine, with a big rumbling sound. And it was funny. It sounded like it kept going back and forth. It would get loud for a moment, and then kinda make a diving sound, and then sound like it was flying low and straight, then it would get loud like climbing, and then ... it kept doing that over and over, Graydon. What was that? It was a big rumbling engine. It sounded powerful. Not far away, maybe a mile or two?

Wonderful! Oh, Marilee! You’ve nailed it! That was a powerful, single-engine airplane, alright. It was a crop-duster! That’s what they do. They fly at night, so the air is still and the spray doesn’t drift and cause problems for the neighbors. And they fly back and forth across the field. They climb and make a hard turn at each end, line up with their flagman’s light, and make another level run. You described exactly what they sound like! Marilee, what direction was it from where you are?

North, or maybe northwest of us. The sunset came through the cracks at the far end of this old barn, to our left; and the sound came through the wall in front of us, which would be the north wall. Does that help?

Oh, you wonderful smart girl. Yes, it helps. Marilee, how did you get hurt? How bad is it?

Just after dark; it got really, really dark. Somebody brought water and a couple of sandwiches. He ... it must have been a man, because he only said three words and it was like a low growl. And he set them on the floor, just inside the door, and he backed out. So trying to scoot the stuff back to our stall, I snagged my knee on an old nail that worked up from the floor plank. It tore my knee open. It bled and got really dirty. Oh, damn it, Graydon. It hurts and I’m scared and I’m whining like a little girl!

You ARE a little girl, sweetheart. You’re your daddy’s little girl, and you’re MY precious girl. So you’re allowed to cry and complain a little. but only a little, okay?

You goof! I’ll have a good cry when this is all over. Please, come get us?

Immediately, if not sooner, love. Okay?

Graydon lay awake after that, thinking, thinking ... planning. It was obvious what needed doing, given the priceless information about the crop duster. He’d have to wait until dawn. Then he and Mike and Molly would call all the known crop duster bases in the immediate region. When and where did they make any night flights? And was there any abandoned barns within a couple of miles of where they’d sprayed?

“We got it! Molly shrieked, bouncing around the motel room, almost forgetting to let go of the telephone handset before jerking everything to the floor. “Greenfield Aviation, a small one-man crop duster outfit. Off of Anderson Field, the Brewster Airport! Gus Greenfield said he had a job last night, a big haying operation. Eight hundred acres of alfalfa with a bad weevil infestation, across the river just south of Monse.”

“Brewster! That’s easily within my distance estimate, guys!” Graydon stared back at Molly, who’d stopped bouncing around. “Does he know of any old barns in the area?”

“There’s a lot of old homesteads between Brewster and Okanogan, Graydon. Before the Columbia dams, a lot of hopeful homesteaders tried to make it near the river, but most of them couldn’t hang on. Times got hard. It was expensive to pump water from the river, and lots of things were against them. Now that the reservoir is there from the new dam, that’s all changed. Big outfits have taken up with huge sprinkling systems. Anyway, we’ll go take a quick look. We’ll find that barn!”

They were minutes away from the Okanogan airport and Molly’s airplane. Mike sat beside Molly in front; Graydon sat in back. Molly announced their takeoff on the unicom frequency to alert any aircraft in the area, and they were flying.

Jim Brightman and Frank Jacobs rousted Abner Goode. He drove them to the courthouse to warn Sheriff Johnson and his deputies to be ready when Molly called in a probable location.

“I have the aircraft VHF radio. Sheriff Johnson has his own radio system, but it’s probably not capable of tuning the aircraft band. So I asked Gus at the airport to stand by and monitor; when I radio in a probable sighting, he’ll relay by telephone to the Sheriff. That’s the best we can do, with what we got,” Molly explained.

The Monse area, a tiny cluster of homes surrounded by orchards and hayfields, was just a few minutes flight southeast from Okanogan, following the Columbia River.

“I don’t want to fly too low or circle anything too close,” she explained over the airplane’s headsets. “If somebody is there, we don’t want to spook them. Graydon, grab those binoculars from the side pocket back there. Pass them up to Mike. I can ease up and go slow and steady so he can give whatever we find a good look.”

They spotted their prospect south of the huge hayfield complex. The strip of land, overgrown in weeds and brush, lay between the hillside sagebrush flats, the irrigated fields, and the steep river banks. A rutted two-track road connected it, winding up through the sagebrush to intersect with the highway a mile away. It was the only possible approach to the derelict farmhouse. A weathered gray barn, roofed with rusted steel panels stood a short distance away alongside small outbuildings. Most of those were fallen over or standing open to the weather, their roofs gone. A van sat parked by the house, close to the side away from the highway. Nobody would ever spot the house or the van except from the neighboring field or from the air.

“Mike, I’ll ease back on the throttle and glide for a minute to steady us. Get those glasses on that van. Read that lettering on the side, and try to get a read on the license plate.

“Got it. Oh, my! It says ‘Cascade Telephone’ on the side. The back license plate is muddied up to obscure it, but I recognize the general pattern. It’s a Colorado plate! That’s got to be the kidnappers!”

“Great! We’ve been high and distant so we’ve done nothing to spook them. I’ll bear off to go hang over the hills. We can watch and provide oversight and guidance. I’ll call Gus now.”

The plan came together very quickly. Sheriff Johnson, realizing he had ‘eyes in the sky,’ dispatched a deputy and his car to Anderson Field to provide a radio link from Gus Greenfield’s aviation base radio to the Sheriff’s repeater system. He called the hospital to request that an ambulance be dispatched to attend him, to stand back from the rescue scene and wait for his call. He then called all of his remaining deputies to prepare for a hostage rescue. It was still early morning. FBI Agent Dougherty had not reported in.

“Amber, did you call the Feeb’s motel room?”

“Yes sir. His room phone didn’t answer. Shall I try again?”

“No, ma’am, that won’t be necessary. Please log that we attempted to inform Agent Dougherty but he was not available. Also note that he neglected to inform us of his location this morning.”

Amber, his dispatcher with eighteen years experience, smiled her trademark evil smile. Oh, boy! Sheriff Johnson grimaced. When he shows up and nobody’s here but her, she’s gonna humiliate his ass until he crawls all the way back to Seattle!

“That’s fine, Amber. Log it and start a new, separate log for this operation. Add Molly Brubaker and her passengers and the ‘N’ number of her airplane. If this comes together like I think it will, she’s in for a commendation. I can feel it in my old bones!”

“Haul those old bones out of here, Justin, or your kidnap victims will die of old age before you get there!” She hit him with another one of her evil grins.

“We’re outta here. Log all the aircraft calls, too. They’ll be relayed through Arnie down at Anderson Field.”

“Got it. Now git outta here, boss!”

“Okay, fellas. We don’t want to go charging across that sagebrush track with a whole fleet of vehicles raising a dust cloud to let everybody within three miles know we’re here. Russ, bring the Suburban around. All you guys except Tony, load up with your sidearms and the carbines from the weapons locker. Tony, you grab the sniper rifle; bring it. You ride with me.

“So, we’re going to ease in, real slow, and careful. I’ll lead. I don’t want us raising a dust trail and I’m going to use our eyes in the sky to watch the place for anybody who might come out or be walking around outside. She’ll also have her crew watch the track behind us, just in case somebody shows up we’re not expecting.

“Once we’re at a good place to park the rigs out of sight, we’ll go in on foot. Steve, Rick, Pat ... you three ease on around and surround. Stay well separated. One of you try to be in place to intervene between the house and the barn to protect the victims if something goes south. Pat, you do that. Your special forces training will help you move without being obvious. All of you, charge your carbines with a live round, but safe them. Be ready.

Tony, as soon as we get to a place where you can belly down and keep the scene in your crosshairs, do it. If somebody comes out of that house with a weapon in hand, drop ‘em. Don’t wait. Okay, we’re getting close. Time to start walking. Any questions?”

Sheriff Johnson grabbed his handheld radio, plugged in an earpiece to cut out the speaker, and called his deputy at Anderson Field.

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