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The Woods (#1)

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya


As our second offering to our new Tales from the Sangha section, Ming Zhen Shakya, writing as Anthony Wolff (her father’s name) presents THE WOODS, a detective story that involves characters introduced in her 15 novellas series, Zen and the Art of Investigation.


A baby is kidnapped and held for ransom.  Is it a ploy by the baby’s biological father to obtain money from his rich parents? The detectives are forbidden to call the police.  How can they outwit the kidnappers without resorting to force when the baby is in the line of fire?  Can they survive in a wilderness without an ability to contact the outside world?  Without matches how can they start a fire?  Without equipment how can they find food? And when their truck is submerged in a lake and the kidnappers keep them submerged by shooting at them, what tricks will enable them to breathe?

Salvation means more than mere survival in the reclaimed strip-mining forests of Pennsylvania.  No one knows that more than their ruthless enemies. 

Photo Credit: National Geographic
Photo Credit: National Geographic

The Woods

by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)

Part One

Thieves of a lower order are seldom motivated by justice when committing a crime.  Their victim is likely to be targeted for no other reason but that he is both rich and vulnerable.  His breeding and commercial importance are irrelevant. But other more discerning thieves have a conscientious regard of justice and select their victim not only because he is rich and vulnerable, but because he has committed some sort of social infractiona loan that was denied; less wages than were expected; a haughty disposition or contumelious nature; or even a failure to respond to a charitable request, however dubious.  Numerous causes lend merit to their intentions.

In the Cayman Islands, two brothers, Tommy and Jack Fielder, tipped their kitchen chairs back and, inspired by ganja joints the size of Montecristos, envisioned the ease with which they could obtain justice and money from the owner of the sloop Sesame. The owner, a con woman they knew as Harriet Williams, had hired Tommy to captain the vessel and three passengers from its berth in the Barcadere Marina in George Town, Grand Cayman, to Cayman Brac Island, some hundred miles distant. Tommy, along with everyone else he knew on Grand Cayman, had always liked the mousy woman who deferred constantly to her oversized husband; but the large man had shrunk in the last months from a serious illness; and while a temperate soul might expect to find Harriet even more solicitous of her husband’s welfare, Tommy, at least, had noticed that her attitude towards him diminished in tandem with his shrinking size and she regarded him with what Tommy thought was… well… contempt.

The third passenger on board the Sesame was a young business associate whom Tommy knew as Willem van Aken. Harriet had seemed inordinately fond of Willem, yet never would Tommy have suspected that anything untoward existed between them – except that when the three passengers went ashore to visit Willem’s brother who lived at one of the highest points on Brac’s mile-wide island, she had drastically changed her appearance.  She mysteriously looked to be twenty years younger and rather glamorous.  She wore lipstick and face powder and combed out the braid that always lay like a sausage at the nape of her neck and she also did not seem to be wearing underwear since her breasts jiggled insouciantly beneath a blouse that mousy Harriet would have regarded as sinful.  There being no port or harbor at the Brac, it was necessary that they drop anchor in an indentation in the shoreline that was near the island’s small hotel; and as they climbed down the ladder into the rowboat that would be taking them ashore, Harriet winked a mascaraed eye at Tommy and said, “You’re a good man, Tom, and there’s nobody I’d rather see take permanent command of this good ship.  So do yourself a favor… do all of us a favor… and say absolutely nothing to the police if you’re asked what you witnessed here at the Brac.  Do we have a deal?” The improbable change in the woman’s appearance lent credulity to the improbable suggestion that she might give him the ship; and Tommy, startled and immediately cooperative, managed to say, “Aye, Madam.  I will know nothing at all.”

It has always been a quirk in the maritime personality that the man who captains a vessel takes a proprietary interest in its welfare.  From royals to rudder, she is his to command; and like a marriage consummated daily, she is his faithful and obedient wife. “Till death us do part,” is a landlubber’s conceit that is never uttered at a funeral service.  A true captain anticipates no elegy more eloquent than the whisper of love that he hears as he goes down with his ship.  Tommy Fielder had learned his skills in the world’s most dangerous profession: he had been for twenty years a fisherman; and now, at the age of thirty-five, having survived hurricanes and rogue waves, he could afford to be a romantic in such matters.  He was sufficiently infatuated with the million-dollar sloop Sesame to suppose that fate had cast them together in some kind of nuptial arrangement.  This, of course, was nonsense.  But the woman he knew as Harriet Williams was a consummate trickster; and she could read him as a wily gypsy reads the mind of an eager ingenue.  Her intimation that he might acquire rights to the vessel in exchange for his supportive silence was an obvious ruse by which she played him.   But time and THC have a way of converting a ludicrous suggestion into a legally binding contract. And Tommy’s hopes grew.

For the few days that he was alone on the sloop, he caressed the cedar rails as he waited, expecting Harriet to return with the Sesame’s title in her hands. He smiled as he whispered to the bridled sails the wonderful adventures they would have when they were properly wed in the Maritime Registry Office. He apologized for being a humble man who would have to live with her as business partners – but it would be as partners of the classiest kind: they would jointly host persons of importance for upscale private parties – a honeymoon perhaps, or for two couples who liked to play bridge, or for academic types who yearned to linger in strange waters as they inspected cenotes and caves, or the adventurous souls who wanted to search old wrecks for Spanish gold.

Curiously, these vagaries became more substantive when Harriet, her husband, and her young business associate, Willem – who in real life was actually her son – failed to return to the ship. And then, quite mysteriously, Willem’s “brother” Claus rowed out to the ship to give Tommy a thousand dollars with the instruction that he hire a few hands and sail the Sesame back to the main island, adding that he did “not care what the hell happened to the ship and did not want to be bothered about it again.”

Tommy summoned his brother Jack who quickly flew to the Brac.  Under ganja’s nutrient rich atmosphere, Harriet’s offer and the thousand-dollar payment grew into the unmistakable evidence of pledged ownership.  Tommy and his brother sailed the vessel back to Grand Cayman, labored to maintain its trim condition, paid various fees, began to live aboard the vessel, and convincingly answered the maritime investigator’s questions about the missing registered owner of the Sesame and also about the events that occurred when the ship had dropped anchor at the Brac.

Tommy responded with crisp authority. “I heard that Harriet, her husband, and Willem van Aken were all picked up by a ship on the other side of the island. Her husband, as everybody knows, was pretty sick and they were going to get him some new treatment.  They weren’t sure they’d have a use for the Sesame again; but,” he added with jingoistic enthusiasm, “she couldn’t bring herself to break her relationship with the good folks here in the Islands; so she thought we could use the ship for private parties until she knew more about her husband’s condition. I thought it was a great idea, and so her and me and Jack agreed to start leasing the Sesame for private pleasure cruises.  Naturally, Jack and me will be aboard for every trip – we won’t let anybody else take the helm.   Harriet has agreed to give us 60% of the profits.”

“That’s gross income,” Jack interjected.  “She’ll pay for the insurance and maintenance out of her end. If all goes well we’ve got an option to buy the Sesame outright.”

“That’s a good deal for you,” the investigator said.  “But let us know as soon as you hear from Harriet.  And if you talk to her, tell her we all wish Martin a quick recovery. But you do realize,” he added, “that without a recorded contract, this ship stays put. It might be wise for you to consider living back on land.  Without authorized permission, you really don’t have the right to live aboard the vessel.”  He said this in such a firm but harmonious tone that no room was left for the dissonance of discussion. Effectively, they had been ordered off the ship.

It was unfortunate that the maritime authorities were so fussy about executed contracts since the brothers did not know how to obtain one. They had not imagined that such legalities were rigidly honored in the tropic’s laid-back environment.  Yet, in his next visit to their on-land apartment, the investigator found it necessary to remind them of international maritime laws. “Seizing the ship of another and using that property for personal gain is a bit more than theft.  Different jurisdictions have their own interpretations of Piracy.”

Chilled by hearing the word “Piracy,” the brothers assured the investigator that they would contact Claus immediately at the Brac.  “He’d be likely to have the necessary documents,” Tom said. “After all, Claus, Willem, Harriet, and Martin had been in business a long time, and after Martin suddenly got so sick and Harriet ended all their business and charitable affairs, she probably dumped all the paperwork on Claus when she took Martin away for treatment.”

Jack added, “Claus, no doubt, is still trying to organize things.” The reason seemed plausible enough.  “We’ll take our Daysailer up there within the week and get things straightened out.”

“That’s a lot of ocean for a 14 footer,” said the investigator. “The weather’s been ‘iffy’ and if I were you, I’d fly. But maybe you can catch Claus down here.  He’s been spending a lot of money on clothes and on furniture for that house of his.”

Before he ended the interview, the marine investigator renewed his request for more information about the events that had occurred when the Sesame had anchored at the Brac. “What do you know about that?”

“Know?” Tommy responded quizzically, “I know nothing.  But yes, I’ve heard a lot of improbable gossip that as a responsible man I didn’t want to repeat.  But if you insist, I can tell you that I’ve heard that a young American woman had been dropped off by a Cuban vessel.  That, in itself, is laughable.  Nevertheless,” he added, “I didn’t see her myself.  I also heard that she had stayed at the old mining house Claus occupies high on the island.  And then an American private investigator named Wagner had come to the Brac supposedly ‘to rescue her’ – that was how people put it – and then the American had taken her back to the U.S. so quickly that the police had no chance to question them about anything.  All this,” Tommy averred, “was crazy compared to the reasonable truth that Harriet was trying to get some new treatment for her sick husband and that young Willem van Aken – who had had a profitable business relationship with them for years, had volunteered to accompany them.”  He shrugged.  “Harriet is so fragile, that if Willem hadn’t offered to help her, I’d have done so myself.”

Such heartfelt affection seemed to satisfy the investigator and he left saying that he’d return in another week or so to visit them again at their home address, and then he used again the “P” word… saying that pirates often met with terrible ends.  The brothers nodded their agreement.


Tom and Jack Fielder suspected, but did not know to a certainty, that Harriet, her husband Martin, and Willem van Aken were safely dead.  They also suspected that Claus van Aken had killed them.  But even without murder in the mix, they had an intuitive fear of Claus.  He was different from most islanders… aloof… cold… independent to the point of singly sailing his own ship, The Remittman, a Bermuda sloop that was best handled by at least three crewmen.

There was much that was mysterious about Claus.  As Tommy thought about it, he doubted that Claus could have killed three people alone. With the American’s help, however, it could be accomplished. Given the rocky terrain up at his house, the disposal of the bodies would be a problem. “They’d have to be ‘deep-sixed’,” he told his brother, “since the stench of decaying flesh, not even if it came from the bottom of a mine shaft, would be noticed.”

Jack Fielder concurred. “Yes, the American had to help him.” Both brothers – who were now equal partners in their planned “party-boat” business – agreed that ultimately the suspicions about Claus and Wagner were cause for comfort and encouragement since the dead could not speak and the killers were not likely to be talkative on the subject.

But they had run out of time waiting for Harriet to contact them or for Claus to make them an offer. If he were willing to pay for more silence, they would have enough money to pay for phony documents. But, for all they knew, he might already have legitimate title to the Sesame and a little old-fashioned pressure might get things moving in their direction.  They had already told too many people about their intended business plans – people who were now beginning to smirk at the mention of the Sesame.

The news that Claus was buying clothing and furniture needed explanation.  Tom expressed his concerns at a local pub, and a patron who worked at the post office confided that Claus used another name when he wrote to people in the U.S. Further, when Claus sent little baby cards and gifts to “Master Eric Haffner”  he sent them to the very same address in the suburbs of Philadelphia that he used when corresponding with Miss Lilyanne Smith – who, as everyone at the Brac knew, was the American girl who had spent a few weeks with Claus around the time the Sesame had anchored there.  “That business about her having been dropped off by a Cuban vessel,” his informant confided, “gave Customs the right to open photograph-carrying envelopes; and sure enough there were baby pictures and the Smith girl’s notes in which she called Claus ‘Eric’. There ain’t no doubt about it,” he said, “Claus and Eric are the same man.” To the brothers, this information was surely worth the price of at least part of the Sesame.

Through his connections, Jack learned that Claus van Aken had made reservations for a flight to Philadelphia ten days hence, on October 16th.  All those new clothes, he surmised, were for this flight.  “And if he doesn’t come back for months?” Jack asked his brother. “Then what?”

“I think it’s time we got tough,” Tommy Fielder said.  “Let’s make a quick visit to Claus and if we don’t get satisfaction, we can put a call into cousin Terry… and talk to him about possibilities. And if that bastard Claus doesn’t come through willingly with enough dough to keep us quiet,  then we can really get tough.  These people have money and a big hunk of it ought to come to us.”

Jack agreed. “The guy’s using a goddamned false name.  He must have connections who can phony-up documents.  So let’s just fly to the Brac and confront the s.o.b.   Maybe he wangled title to the Sesame out of Harriet before he killed her.  As he got it from her, we can get it from him.  If he’s not home, who knows what evidence we’ll find if we look around. Ain’t nothin’ stopping us from flying to Philadelphia.  I don’t like blackmail any more than you do, but as a way of making money it seems to work. So does kidnapping.”

“Right,” Tom nodded. “All over Europe people are taken for ransom and nothin’ ever happens to them or the kidnappers. We’ll need cousin Terry’s help, but it’s doable.  Who the hell do these people think they are?  They get us to cover up their sins… or maybe they’re even setting us up to take the rap for them.”  He called the airport and reserved two seats on the next flight to Cayman Brac.

It was not until the following week that the maritime agent returned to inquire about the disposition of the Sesame contract.  “We talked to Claus,” Tom explained, “and he’s going to look into it.  He’s pretty sure that he can help us.”

“Good,” the investigator replied.  “I’ll check back with you next week,” he said, turning to leave. “The annual rental fees on the slip will be due again.”

A moment later, Tom and Jack Fielder called Kentucky to talk to their cousin Terry Rourke, a man of considerable experience.  “Blackmail,” said Terry Rourke, “has a kind of backfire danger.  I knew blackmailers who lost their gig when the person they was tryin’ to squeeze turned around and shot ’em.  A better bet as far as I know would be to kidnap the kid and let Claus be your… like… cheerleader for payin’ up and keepin’ things quiet.  The guy’s got two names, right?  He’s not gonna call the FBI in to help unmask himself.  I’ll think on this and work out a plan.  Nobody will get hurt and we ought to get a couple million at least for borrowin’ the kid for a couple days.  Make some reservations to meet me at an airport motel in Philly.”


Eric Haffner, a.k.a. Claus van Aken, had plans for more luxurious accommodations.  He would be meeting his parents whom he had not seen in twenty years.  The Haffners were an old and respected Austrian family of financiers; and Eric, as a young man, had become enamored with members of a small group of sexually perverted confidence men.  Reputation being the indispensable asset of  financiers, the family found it necessary to put distance between themselves and their son. They sent him monthly checks in exchange for his never setting foot in or near the continent of Europe.

But Baby Eric and the absence of other male heirs had softened their resolve; and Eric was finally going to be reunited with his parents at the home of Lilyanne Smith, the mother of his baby son who was going to be a year old in another month.

Wednesday,  October 16,  2013

Tom and Jack Fielder not only looked like brothers, they had the same taciturn disposition.  On land, they drank too much, but at sea, both responded with alacrity when given a command; and when they gave commands, they did so with confidence.  They knew and loved the sea and their only regret was that after years of serving her, they had so little to show for their devotion. The Sesame would reward them for their fidelity if she were allowed to do so.  They proceeded calmly in their determination to help her with the grand reunion.

Their cousin Terry Rourke was of an opposite disposition.  Just having been released after serving eighteen years in a Georgia prison, Terry was an irredeemable alcoholic.  Local farmers donated large quantities of slightly old fruit which they said were intended for dessert menus, but an accommodating kitchen staff either used the fruit to make pruno as a finished product or distributed it as ingredients which the prisoners could ferment themselves. During the winter and spring months, farmers would supply members of the various work details with jugs of ethanol that the men could divvy up as they choose.  Annually, Terry pruned trees and raked orchards and became an alcoholic.  His mind was not yet addled, but his hands moved about uncontrollably, sometimes even looking like they belonged at the wrists of a man who was playing a Liszt concerto. When he was beyond earshot, Jack advised his brother not to put a rifle in the man’s hands.  But Terry already had two rifles which he had stolen from the cleaning room of a sportsmen’s club.  “I got them in Kentucky,” he said, “so they can’t be traced back to me.

“Look,” said Terry, as they ate breakfast in a motel cafeteria, “I got the rifles buried outside town; but what’s more to the point, I got my gal to rent a new pick-up truck for us, and I stocked a cabin in the woods that I rented.  I’m out twenty-six hundred that I borrowed from her folks. You better not be blowin’ smoke up my ass about these people being good for the ransom.”

“Relax,” Jack said. “The Smith girl’s loaded.  Her old man not only sent a P.I. to the Brac to find her but he had them picked up in a private jet. That’s another way to spell m-o-n-e-y.  Claus or Eric or whatever his name is booked a flight to Philadelphia for this weekend. We’re not stupid.  We booked an earlier flight ’cause we couldn’t risk being on the one he came in on… and we needed to be in place before he arrived.  He’ll have to help get all the ransom money together. His people are supposed to have dough, too. So let’s not screw any of this up.”

Not having fully prepared for the Pennsylvania autumn, the brothers had purchased hunting jackets with imitation fur-lined parka hoods at an airport mall sporting goods shop.  The long strands of fake fur plus their tropical sunglasses functioned as masks they thought, and their fear that the bright orange jackets might attract attention were allayed by the shop owner who assured them that since these were the normal garb of hunters, they’d attract more attention without them.  To be on the safe side, they purchased a third jacket for their cousin.

All of the equipment they needed had been obtained by Terry.  Aside from the two rifles he had stolen, he went to a gun fare and obtained ammunition; a grappling hook and rope to scale the estate walls; a powerful stun gun to use on anyone who guarded the baby; several pairs of handcuffs; and from a grocery market, enough baby food and supplies to stock the cabin for a week. Additionally, he purchased a case of cheap whiskey which he referred to as bourbon.  His new girlfriend, who believed he intended to do honest work, had used her good credit to rent the truck, a new Ford F 450.

A possible source of trouble in the relationship occurred when Tom Fielder offered a twenty percent interest in the private-shipboard party business to Terry who also sought a new identity. Tom, tending to spend money he did not already have, had guaranteed him citizenship in the Caymans, one that included a new and virginally innocent identity… an expensive passport, driver’s license, birth certificate… the works.  All things considered, Jack Fielder regarded the offer of twenty percent of their business as overly magnanimous.  Prudently, he decided to wait until the ransom money was paid before he voiced an objection to the division of spoils.

This, then, was their plan.  Terry, who was completely unknown to anyone who lived in the Cayman Islands or at Tarleton House, the Smith’s estate, would watch the house from the rear of the property.  The weather was good so it was a certainty that somebody would bring the baby outside. They’d subdue the person with a stun gun, take the baby into the truck, leave a ransom note… demand a few million dollars for the return of the kid, and use as their hideout a cabin in the Appalachian Mountains.  Terry, despite having been confined to a concrete cell for eighteen years, considered himself a woodsman, and the brothers, as helpless on land as they were useful at sea, deferred to his proclaimed abilities.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

George Roberts Wagner arrived early at the airport gate and sat restlessly trying to think.  When it came to wives, he decided, he was not the overbearing type.  He regarded it as a form of slavery to treat a woman as chattel and in any way to force her to do as he wished. Worse, some men used their incomes as intimidating leverage that would make wives yield to their desires.  “A woman has to do what she wants to do,” he’d announce, “or a man is just financing or otherwise enabling his own betrayal.”  This, especially in the case of his bride-to-be, was a prudent approach since her net worth was easily a million times greater than his.

Lilyanne Smith was an only-child-heiress to a candy fortune and George Wagner was a somewhat disabled police detective who retired to head his own private investigative agency, Wagner & Tilson. George tended to overlook financial matters whenever he offered his pro-feminist points of view.  There were limits, of course, to such liberality, but as of 2 p.m. on that Saturday afternoon, he had not yet reached them.  The plane that carried Eric Haffner to Philadelphia was due to arrive at 2:20 p.m., and the boundaries of George’s cosmopolitan savoir faire would then be tested.

George further tended to regard as only a slight inconvenience that Eric Haffner was the father of Lilyanne’s young son.  On one hand, George regretted not killing Haffner back on Cayman Brac when he had the chance; but on the other, his bride-to-be had begged him to spare the fetal father’s life and it pleased her to know that the crook was still alive. George curtailed the hours he had spent figuring out ways to off the guy and get away with it.  He did not, however, forego the pleasure of such reveries entirely.  But now as he waited for Haffner to arrive, he wondered how he would greet him.  Several years of hating someone cannot easily be removed from memory. George, who took inordinate pride in his own full and naturally wavy hair was startled to see Eric emerge into the waiting area with much more hair than George had remembered.  “Christ,” he whispered to himself, “did he get a rug or are they plugs… or what?”  As Eric came closer George could see that he had not gotten plugs.  To himself he said, “Those chemicals that you rub-in twice a day must work,” and he then proceeded to smile a greeting.

Haffner extended his hand.  “I was expecting my parents,” he said warmly, “but frankly I’m glad it’s you.  You’re easier to talk to.”

“Your German getting rusty?” George asked, forcing his gaze away from Haffner’s hairline. “Don’t worry. Ma and Pa Haffner are starting to pick up our lingo. How was your flight?”

Eric grinned, hearing his high-born parents referred to in such homely terms.  “Boring which means good.  How’s Lilyanne and the baby?”

“Fine.  The baby’s getting ready to walk and talk, and Lily’s been busy with your parents redecorating the guest house so that they… and you… can visit any time of year.”

“What does he call you?” Eric asked pointedly.

“Jeh Jeh,” George replied.  “He calls Everett ‘Pa Pa’ and your father ‘Poppy.’ If properly encouraged, he’ll call you, ‘Da Da’ – if that’s what you wanted to know.”

“It was… and you have my sincere thanks.”

It was not until they were driving back to Tarleton House that George and Lilyanne’s wedding plans were discussed.  “You know,” Eric confided, “that we won’t be there for the ceremony.  Lily invited us, but the Smiths have been too gracious as it is. It would be excruciatingly awkward to have us there for the nuptials.”

“You won’t get any argument from me,” George said.  “Where will you all be?”

“I know you’d like me to say, ‘Mars’; but as it happens they’ve arranged a full social schedule for the Christmas holidays.  They want to show the baby off.  Your in-laws will be staying with us in Vienna, so your honeymoon can be free of worry. Is the wedding still on for November 23nd?”

“Yes.  At Saint Joseph’s Church with a reception at Tarleton to follow.  We’ll be sure to save you a piece of the cake.”

“Hmm!” Eric acknowledged the less than sincere offer of cake.


Since  the woodland cabin was less than a hundred miles away, Terry saw no reason to bring anything special for Baby Eric for the time that he would be a passenger in the pickup.  Tom disagreed.  He not only knew more about babies, he thought, but he was counting on his continued good luck and being able to take the child sooner rather than later.  Of the three, he was the most anxious to get each stage of the project completed.

Terry had also honed his literary skills while in prison and would take charge of the communications’ end of the ransom demand. The fear that some recognizable Caymanian accent or figure of speech might inadvertently creep into the negotiations made him the logical choice to do the talking and the writing for the group.

The three men got into the pick-up truck Terry had rented, went to a deserted forested area where they could practice shooting the two rifles Terry had stolen, and then stopped at a gas station’s convenience store to acquire beer, gas, and a baby’s temporary necessities.

While Terry, who was now driving, stayed with the truck, Tom went into the store and asked the clerk to sell him some nappies.  “Nappies?” said the clerk. “Do you mean napkins?”  “No, for a baby.”  “Oh, you mean a bib.”  “No, God damn it, nappies for ‘im ta poop in.”  “Oh,” said the clerk, “Sorry… you want diapers.”  She naturally remembered the man in the sun glasses, orange jacket and fake fur hood that hardly needed to be worn indoors.  Tom also bought a gallon of milk, a couple of baby bottles, and two six-packs of beer.  He saw Philadelphia Eagles’ hooded sweat shirts for sale and bought one for Baby Eric.  He did not intend that it should fit the child, but when it was wrapped around him several times it would certainly keep him warm.  He paid cash for his purchases and left the store.  The clerk was curious enough to look out the window and see the man climb into the dark pick-up truck that was parked at pump-aisle #2.  Another man got out of the truck from the driver’s side, entered the station office and presented a hundred dollar bill to the clerk, telling her he intended to top off the tank.  She said fine, and she turned on Aisle #2’s pumps.  When he went to fill the tank, the first man got into the driver’s seat. She did not see the license number of the vehicle but she did know that the surveillance cameras were fully operative.

From the station they drove to Tarleton House, the address of which the postal clerk had given them.  They were prepared simply to “case the joint” from the property’s rear, but when they drove past the front gates of the Smith estate, they had to laugh at the unnecessary equipment they had brought: grappling hooks for scaling walls, handcuffs and a stun gun.  It all was unnecessary.  A guest house on the property was being renovated and the estate gates stood open to accommodate the constant passage of workmen’s vehicles.  “Even on a Saturday,” Terry remarked. “Time an’a half.”

It was four o’clock Saturday afternoon as they parked in roadside shadows, giggling to themselves as they swilled their beer and, in Terry’s case, “bourbon.” Finally they watched George Wagner and the American Lilyanne proceed down the driveway in a navy-blue pickup truck, exit the gate area unimpeded, and turn towards the highway that led to downtown Philadelphia.  “They’re probably going to Confession,” Tom quipped; and the three men laughed at what they regarded as a definite sign of good luck.

The men did not know who else was inside the various buildings, but at least two of the most serious obstacles to a successful kidnapping were out of the way.

At five o’clock in the afternoon, just as the sun was going down, the various workmen gathered their tools and headed for their vehicles. “Let’s go over this one more time,” Tom insisted. “We gotta make sure we’re on the right chapter ‘n verse with this thing.  Pay attention. If they have motion detectors they won’t have turned them on as yet; and until the last truck is out of the guesthouse parking lot, they won’t close the gates. So get ready.  My guess is zero hour is comin’ up.”

Jack agreed.  “Haffner bragged about his private rooms in the guesthouse and that’s probably where he’ll be at least until dinner time at the big house.  He’ll be sleeping-off his booze-filled flight and since he came to see the baby, the kid’ll probably be nearby with a nanny.”

“Bring the stun gun and act natural,” Tom added. “Let’s just drive up to the parking area outside the guest house and stop there before the last truck or van leaves. Terry can carry in the tool box and put the kid in it.  We tried it out with a radio inside.  Closed right,” he looked instructively at Terry, “nobody will be able to hear him if he shouts his head off. I’ll be in the truck and Jack will be your back-up with the stun gun.  And remember: if it doesn’t work out for some reason, act dumb and say we just came to the wrong address.  Be sure to say, ‘Sorry ’bout that,’ and walk – don’t run – to the truck and we’ll just drive on out.”

Inside the guest house, upstairs, Eric Haffner discussed window treatment for his rooms with the interior decorator his mother had hired.   Baby Eric sat in a playpen downstairs in the living room, watching the colorful shapes of cartoon figures moving on the TV screen, while his two grandmothers were holding drapery swatches up to the windows in the dining room.

Cecelia Smith had intended the guest house to have a rustic atmosphere; but the Haffners were intent on making it a miniature version of Versailles. There would be no hand-dipped candles or braided rugs.  Crystal drops tinkled from the newly installed chandeliers and the cozy wallpaper had already been replaced by heavy crimson silk paneling. Gold leaf accentuated the curvatures of leaves and blossoms that had been carved into wainscoting, ceiling trim, and mantlepiece. The two women lugged the swatch-book around, hoping to find the precise shade of cream that would compliment the crimson panels and not clash with the woodwork or the floors which fortunately were oak parquet that were now mostly covered by silk rugs – imported into Austria from Iran.  The two women actually liked each other and were able to by-pass any nationalistic prejudices by chatting in natural French which both had learned as children.  Cecelia wished that she could just as easily import silk Persian rugs, but what could a person do when politics preempted beauty?  “When you’ve finished re-doing this place, perhaps you’d give me a hand with the main house,” Cecelia conceded.  “I’ve completely overlooked how drab it has become.”

“Of course.  I’d be delighted,” said Erica Haffner as they walked back to the living room. “It will be fun.”  It was then they noticed that Baby Eric was not in his playpen. Just as Cecelia Smith began to remark that perhaps Eric or her daughter had taken the baby up to the main house, Erica found a note in the corner of the playpen.   She read, “Do not call police if you want to see baby alive again.  Get 2 million unmarked bills ready and we will call later about where we will make the change. No police and he stays healthy.”

No one noticed that the big black pick-up truck that had parked at the end of the driveway was no longer there.

(Go to “The Woods” Part Two)

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