Chapter Twenty Eight
At quarter past eight, the day looked dreary and cold as the wind scooped the newly falling snow from the ground and tossed it into the air. “Looks like a good day to stay home and curl up with your sweetheart,” said Karr, softly to his wife, as he glanced out the window. With a sigh, he kissed her then giving Karr Junior another hug, he joined Ben and Henry on the porch.
It had taken nearly an hour for them to decide the best way to thoroughly investigate the humongous house. They’d finished the hearty breakfast Lyla had cooked them and drained the last of the coffee, before deciding to concentrate their efforts on the general area around the attic where they’d seen the light.
“Stay close and keep your eyes open,” cautioned Henry, as they ascended the stairs to the back porch and quietly entered the door leading to the pantries.
Less than a month ago a crew of over a hundred men and women had worked from sun up to sun down to renovate the south wing, great hall and several other necessary rooms. They had washed, repaired, and painted the walls. New carpet or linoleum had replaced the old, the kitchen and huge pantries had been renovated and stocked with food and supplies in anticipation of Caroline’s arrival.
The rooms were now totally trashed! Food and other supplies had been ground into the linoleum. In other rooms, the furnishings were smashed or overturned. Irreplaceable portraits had been torn off the walls and slashed to ribbons. Filthy, sick innuendoes had been written everywhere. Guns in hand, Henry and his deputies scoured all the downstairs rooms closest to the house’s southern wing, only to see more damage.
Cautiously they made their way to the attic room where they’d seen the light. The only things that didn’t belong, were the footprints showing that two people had recently been there! Nothing looked as if it had been disturbed, and as far as they could figure, they were now the only people in the whole place.
Hours later, sitting around the kitchen table eating turkey and cheese sandwiches, and drinking coffee, Ben was the one that finally asked the question utmost on their minds. Who had vandalized Caroline’s place and why!
“I just don’t get it,” Ben said thoughtfully. “The place sets empty for years. No one even bothers to go near it. But, the minute Caroline spends a small fortune cleaning and repairing parts of the house. Some malicious malcontent destroys everything in sight, including everyone’s hard work! It just doesn’t make sense!”
“Or maybe it does,” said Karr. “What if whoever vandalized Caroline’s house, saw us going into Mary’s castle yesterday? While in the attic today, I noticed you could see practically everything in the garden, including the castle, from the attic windows.”
“What if whoever was in the attic saw us enter the garden, and realized the padlock and code had been changed because they could no longer access the key pad? It’s no secret we were restoring everything in Mary’s garden. If they’re smart enough to figure out we’d found what they’d left, they’d know we were onto them.” Said Ben.
“Maybe our seeing the attic light and shadows was no accident. Maybe the house was trashed to throw us off their trail. Think about it. We’d have to investigate anything suspicious. Which could take weeks,” said Karr.
“We need to figure out how they’re getting in and out of the house without being seen, and where they’re staying, if not in the house,” said Ben .
“Unless,” said Henry, “no one was even up there last night. I remember seeing a coat tree with several overcoats hanging on it, in the corner by the window. What if the room was set up to look like someone was up there and they left the light on deliberately?”
“The lightbulb could have been bad and the wind could have blown through the cracks around the attic windows, ruffling the coats, and making it look as if someone was moving around up there.”
“For all we know, whoever followed Caroline from Alaska to here, vandalized the house the same day they arrived. They could have waited until after all the workers were paid and sent home to do their dirty work, including leaving the footprints in the attic! I’m betting they were mighty upset to discover their hideout was no longer accessible, nor was Mary’s garden.”
“So where are they hiding?” asked Karr.
“I only wish I knew,” replied Henry, wearily shrugging his shoulders. “I guess if the two of you are through stuffing your faces, we should go check out the damage.”
The minute they entered the house, they heard the door slam. Drawing his gun, Henry motioned for Ben and Karr to do the same, as they fell into the formation they had practiced earlier.
With Henry in the lead, Ben and Karr covered his flank, as they moved in a loose back to back, triangular formation. Slowly making their way toward the northern wing of the house they were stopped twice, once by broken furniture and debris, and once when they’d gotten so close to the intruders, they could have reached around the corner and touched them.
Unfortunately, at that moment, they weren’t interested in who they were, but in what they were saying.
“Yea? Well you’d better hurry up and marry that old bat, before she croaks from a fatal dose of medicine or they show up and ruin everything!” They heard someone say, don’t worry, I’ve got the old bat so scared she wouldn’t dare defy my orders!” said another man roaring with laughter, as they slammed the door shut behind them.
Racing to the door, Henry yanked it open just in time to see two scruffy looking men jumping onto the snowmobiles they’d hidden in the shrubbery. They turned, looked at him and laughed as they raced down the wind-swept path that Karr and his crew had recently cleared of brush.
Henry thought he recognized one of the men as Caleb Mitchem. He knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the other man was none other than Jedidiah Morrison!
“I got it boss!” Ben exclaimed, interrupting Henry’s ranting.
“Huh?” said Henry, only half listening, as he mentally kicked himself for not seeing all the little things that should have connected the man to the kidnapping years ago.
“I said, I got them,” said Ben.
“Got what?” asked Henry.
“I got some right pretty pictures of their ugly faces as they were talking and laughing at their private jokes. Also, one of them going out the door, and one of them hopping onto their snowmobiles to make their getaway! So how’s that for a day’s work!” said Ben grinning from ear to ear.
“You did!” exclaimed Henry. “Great job, deputy Crowley, “great job!”
“Does this mean I get a raise?” asked Ben winking at Karr.
“Yea boss,” said Karr, “we should both get a raise. I switched places with Ben just so he could take those pictures of them scoundrels.”
“Yea, I couldn’t have done it without Karr here switching places with me,” said Ben grinning at Henry.
“No, you don’t get a raise, besides who said I was paying the two of you in the first place!” said Henry, trying to hide a grin.
It was well after five o’clock before they’d finished taking the photos. It had been impossible to determine the cost of the damage, as some of the items destroyed were irreplaceable heirlooms.
The Tomlins had been asked to do what they could to clean up the mess. They would wrap and store all damaged or destroyed items of value in one of the attics.
Karr remembered seeing a huge roll of material he thought was muslin, somewhere in the south wing of the attic, which might be used to protect the damaged items, until an appraiser could determine their value.
Heartsick at all the destruction, the men made their way back to the cottage to try and figure out where Caleb and Jedidiah had gone, and how to set a trap to catch them.
The minute Henry walked through the door, he went right to the phone. He missed Myrtle, and wanted to hear her voice. Besides, he should tell them the news, let them know he was okay and that he’d be home as soon as the roads were cleared. He was disappointed to discover that the phones were down again.
The men spent most of the morning discussing where Caleb and Jedidiah could be hiding, and the rest of it trying to figure out how best to capture them, without their partners, learning of their capture. Either way, someone would have to go to the hospital to arrest Zachariah and Jeremiah, while someone went after Caleb and Jedidiah.
By the time they were ready to return to the manor house, the howling wind had ripped several shingles off the roof of the caretaker's cottage and four shutters off the windows, as it whipped tornadoes of snow along the ground laying it bare one minute, and piling it into huge drifts the next.
After briefly discussing the situation, they’d reluctantly filled a couple of large thermoses with coffee, and one with Lyla’s delicious beef stew. They’d wrapped a loaf of fresh baked bread, and two rhubarb pies fresh from the oven in towels to keep them warm, then added three bowls, three cups, three spoons, three saucers, three forks, a knife and a table cloth to their packs. Strapping on their sleeping bags, and tying the trusty rope to a post on the porch, they headed in the direction of the manor house. They wanted to be there in case company came sneaking back, in the middle of the night.