Chapter 11

Cathy darted across the next room and toward the stairs up to the house, not bothering to look back. Nora was nowhere in sight, which must mean she had made it upstairs and might already be outside. Cathy had to catch up with her, help her with the ropes tying her wrists. Then they could cut through the woods, toward the highway.

She reached the top and saw Nora waiting there. "Turn around," Cathy said, but Nora shook her head.

"No time. They'll be right behind you."

It was true. She could hear someone on the stairs. Nora darted toward the back door and Cathy rushed behind her.

It was dark, now, and black as a tomb inside the house.

They heard the car coming around the corner of the house and through the back door saw the sweep of headlights as it turned and pulled to a stop. Nora turned and started back toward the front of the house. Cathy whirled and darted after as Nora passed her. For a moment they must have been silhouetted against the glare through the back door. Cathy saw someone -- she thought it might be Marvin -- coming up the stairs. She caught a glint of light off the metal of a gun, but she was close enough to grab the basement door. She slammed it on him as hard as she could just as he started through it. He yelled like a banshee as the door banged into his face, and she could hear his body clattering against the stairs as he fell back.

She could still hear him yelling after he stopped falling. She hoped his back was broken.

Two gunshots tore holes in the basement door, but by that time Cathy was in the front room. She heard another shot. Nora was turned around, trying to open the front door with her hands still bound behind her back.

Cathy pushed her sister aside and turned the knob. As she threw the door open, she said, "Run to the woods. I'll catch up and if there's time, I'll get those ropes off you."

"Stay with me and you won't have to catch up," Nora said, and Cathy thought that was wise advice. They darted toward the woods.

Three shots exploded behind them as they almost reached the woods. Cathy heard the whip of a bullet hitting one of the trees and the slap of another against leaves. Nora said, "Never mind the ropes, keep running. Get as far away as possible before we stop."

It was hard running on the ground. Weeds slapped against her shins and ankles, rocks and pebbles tore her feet as she ran. But there was no slowing down, now, no giving up. She stuffed the paper Nora had found in the Iron Maiden into her bra and kept running.

The darkness of the woods closed around them.

Cathy glanced back. She could see someone at the edge of the woods, a man, she thought.

She could hear a siren, too.

It was on the road, coming toward them. Through the trees she saw a car pull into the yard, with a scream of brakes. The headlights caught the form of Bernard, at the edge of the woods. As it stopped someone -- she could see him well enough to know he wore a police uniform -- leaped out and pointed a gun at Bernard and yelled, "Drop the gun, you, and be lively about it."

Cathy knew that voice. Ralph Healy. He'd been on the force when her father still wore a uniform.

Suddenly a shot exploded and Cathy saw a bloom of light in the house doorway. Healey yelled with pain and dropped like a lead weight to the ground. A man ran from the house, paused to check Healy, then came toward the woods.

The man who'd gone to get her car was back, of course. She'd seen him drive up. And he'd killed poor Ralph Healy.

There was no sign of Nora, no sound. The two men were pausing and she could hear their voices, though not make out what they were saying. As quietly as she could, she moved behind some bushes and crouched down.

It was just past sunset. When Healy failed to phone in, the cops would send somebody out to look for him. More than one somebody, she guessed. How long would that be? Midnight? Could she and Nora hold out until then?

The bigger of the two men moved off toward the road. The other one stood for a couple of minutes, waiting. When Bernard was out of sight in the darkness of the woods, James took two three or four cautious steps forward then stopped. Faint starlight glinted on the automatic in his hand. "If you give up," he called, "we won't hurt you."

Cathy didn't think she believed that at all.

James tried again. "We won't even tie you up. We'll lock you in an upstairs room until we've finished our search. We'll be finished by morning. And when we leave, we'll slip the key under your door and you can let yourself out. Just give us five minutes to drive off, that's all." There was a pause while he listened to the silence of the night. "We'll even give you something to eat."

He moved further into the woods, but didn't lower his gun. Cathy remained crouched and motionless, watching him.

"You're cold," he said. "Cold and miserable and starting to get hungry, I suspect." Now he was part of the darkness, visible only by his movement. "The police officer is dead. There's no one to help you. You could die out here of exposure. Your only hope of survival is to trust us. I give you my word, you won't be harmed."

He stood perfectly still in the darkness then, until he blended in with the night. There was no sound, no wind in the trees, no rustling of either girl moving through the woods.

How perfectly peaceful it all was.

Then Nora screamed.

Off in the woods, somewhere, closer to the road. Cathy started at the sound and half rose from her crouch.

James turned toward her and Cathy realized her mistake. She fell to the ground as his gun went off, then scrambled to her feet and ran. She was deeper into the woods before he could fire again.

"I got her!" yelled Bernard, off in the woods. "I got her."

"Get off me, you bastard," Nora yelled. "Get your hands, off --"

"Get over here, Leavenworth. Get over here now, before she wriggles loose again."

Cathy was pressed against a tree not forty feet from where James Leavenworth stood. But from the way he looked around she knew he couldn't see her in the darkness. For a moment he was torn between finding her and rushing to Bernard's assistance -- not that Bernard needed help. Finally, the bird in the hand won and he moved away into the darkness, toward the road.

When he was faded into the shadows, Cathy moved away from the tree.

James was making no attempt to hold down his noise as he ran toward Bernard and Nora. Cathy went after him, trying to maintain silence but mostly counting on his noise to mask hers.

Bernard yelled, "Ow!" and the sound was followed by a smack and Nora cried out, then was silent. Leavenworth called out, "What's going on?"

"She's like a tiger," Bernard called. "But I took care of her."

James Leavenworth stopped running and Cathy had to stop also, to keep from being heard. She crouched down behind some bushes. The men were speaking in normal tones now and she couldn't make out what they were saying, except for James, who said, "Let's get her back to the house."

She waited. She could hear them walking. Then she saw the shadowy form of one of the men -- from his size it was Bernard -- walking close by. Nora was thrown over his shoulder. She didn't move. They passed by and Cathy waited until they had vanished into the shadows before rising to her feet.

She could barely think, her mind was in such turmoil. After all they had gone through, Nora was going back into that house, unconscious and helpless. Cathy didn't think there was much time. She wasn't sure why they hadn't already killed Nora, the way they killed Ralph Healy.

She started to move after the others. Suddenly a strong arm curled around her midriff, pinioning her arms. A hand, huge as the hand of a gorilla, clamped over her mouth. She struggled and tried to scream but she was all but completely helpless and the scream came out of a barely audible snort against the palm of her captor's hand.

Chapter 12

"Easy, Cathy," a familiar voice whispered in her ear. "You're safe, girl. Just don't make any noise."

She stopped struggling and trying to scream.

The hand came away from her mouth.

"Oh, god," she said. "Jack? Jack Manning? Is that really you?"

He had loosened his hold around her waist. She turned and threw her arms around him and hugged him.

She looked up at him, not letting go. "What the hell are you doing out here? And what took you so long to show up?"

He said, "It's a long story. Here." He was wearing a leather jacket. He slipped out of it and handed it to her. "Put this on."

She slipped it on eagerly. It was shorter than his suit jacket would be, but on her it came down to the tops of her legs. It felt wonderful and warm.

"I was fishing believe it or not," he said. "At Badger Creek. Naturally I had my police radio on --"

"You have a police radio?" she asked in astonishment. "When in hell did you get a police radio? For that matter, when did the Diamondville cops get one?"

"I'm thinking one of these days they'll start putting them in police cars," Manning said. "Actually, they have started. Must have radios in at least three cars by now."

"Never mind. Badger Creek's way on the other side of town."

"You asked why it took so long, didn't you?"

"Well, you're here now," she said. "Give me your backup gun and let's get Nora. And don't tell me you don't have a backup. You're not that big a fool."

"Look, my car's back on the road a ways --"

"Mine's right over there, in back of the house," she said. "To hell with where your car is, give me your damned backup gun. Or else give me your regular weapon and you can go wait in the car."

He bent down and hiked his pants leg up so he could remove a small revolver from a holster strapped to his ankle. "You know, it's my ambition to some day win an argument with one of you sisters."

"It's my ambition to lose one to you, and I'm sure Nora shares it. But not today." She accepted the gun.

"What's going on here, anyway?" Manning asked.

"I'm not sure," she said, "though the madwoman who appears to be one of the gang leaders explained it to me. They're all down in the basement searching either for some money or a map to where the money's hidden. Oh!" She remembered something then. "Nora found something in the iron maiden."

She turned around.

"Iron maiden? What iron maiden?"

"They have an iron maiden in that basement." She pulled the folded paper out of her bra and turned back around. She handed the paper to Manning.

"What is this?"

"I haven't had a chance even to unfold it, but I suspect it's whatever they're hunting for."

"Check the right hand pocket of my jacket and see if you don't find a small flashlight," he said.

She found it and handed it to him.

They crouched down. Manning positioned himself to shield the light as much as possible and turned it on. Cathy held it while he unfolded the paper. "It's a diagram or map, all right" he said, still whispering.

"That's the basement. It connects with a series of caves. That's what's making their hunt so complicated."

"Well, then," he said, scrutinizing it carefully. "It looks to me like we have an ace in the hole."

"Or something to trade Nora for, at least."

"Yeah, but let's take some precautions," he said, taking the map from Cathy's hands.

He folded it again. "We need a hiding place."

"Why not just put it in my car?"

"Your car's behind the house, you say? They're probably watching it, expecting you to run for it. Come on, let's move back toward the edge of the woods while we think this out."

She said, "Well, there's an argument you won with me. I hadn't thought about that."

While they made their way back, he asked, "How about getting into the house?"

"Not good. I only know of two doors, the one in front and the one in back. It would be easy to watch them both from inside. As for windows," she added, "the house is too old. They'd hear them if you tried."

They stopped where they had a clear view of the house. Manning said, "There aren't enough of us to rush the place. We're going to have to come up a plan and a damned good one to outwit them."

"One of us goes in the front door, the other one the back," she said. "And we go in shooting."

"I'd like to be a bit more clever than that -- though right now that beats what I've managed to come up with. How many you say is in there?"

She told him about the gang and he nodded, thoughtfully. "Leavenworth, you say?"

"You know them? You ever tangled with them?"

"It's a smaller world than I like to think about. I played a role in their pet gorilla losing his hand, as a matter of fact."

"Then that isn't a metal glove?"

"No indeed. It's a mechanical hand, invented and designed by James Leavenworth himself."

"How did he lose his hand?"

"He threw a hand grenade at me. I threw it back. He caught it. It's a shame it wasn't a more powerful grenade."

At that moment the front door opened and someone stepped out of the house.

It was too dark to see clearly, but the walk and size of the man told Cathy it was Leavenworth himself.

"If you can hear me," he said, "I'd like to propose a trade. You have something we want. We have something you want. We're willing to do a straight trade." He waited a moment. "Well?"

From where she stood in the shadows of the woods, Cathy said, "What is it you want?"

"Just come in with the map, that's all. You give it to us and we can find what we came after and get out of here. When we go, we set you free."

"I don't trust you."

"Well, think it over anyway, and get back to me. But don't take too much time," he added. "We've buried your sister alive in the basement and she doesn't have much air."

Leavenworth closed the door as soon as he finished the words.

"Oh, God," said Cathy. "They'd do something like that, too."

She slipped out of Manning's jacket, handed it back to him.

"You're not going back in there," he said.

"Here, take the gun, too. I don't have anywhere to hide it."

"I said --"

"I know, Jack," she said, "but don't you see? I have to. It's the only way to get them to dig Nora back up if they've really buried her -- and I think they have."

"You'll need the map," he said, handing it back.

"No, you keep it. I'll bluff them. I'll tell them I saw where the treasure is hidden and lure them all into the basement again. That way, you can sneak into the house through either door. As soon as Nora's out of the ground, you can surprise them."

"That's not much of a plan," he said, grimly.

"You got anything better?"

"Of course not, damn it."

"It isn't as if I'm proud of it," she said. "But it's all we have."

She turned before he could say anything else, and in the darkness she ran back toward the old house.

Somewhere an owl hooted.

She crossed the yard, heading for the front door. The old house loomed in the night, a place for ghosts; but not for new ghosts, she hoped, except perhaps Leavenworth and his crew.

She reached the door. It was closed. She opened it and went inside.

She closed the door behind her, loudly.

A flashlight came on and she was standing full in its beam. Behind her, Leavenworth said, "It's good of you to come back to us, Cathy. I'm sure Nora will be grateful."

"You bastard."

He came up behind her. "I hope you didn't come across anything out there that you figure might double as a weapon. You know, a heavy stick, a rock." She could feel his hands on her body, though even in the light of the flashlight he could clearly see there was nothing concealed on her. He was taking his time, enjoying himself. She gritted her teeth and held still until he was finished.

He pushed her then toward the hallway.

"Let's go back down stairs and see where you managed to conceal that map, sweetheart."

She walked ahead of him. "First thing is you dig Nora up. First thing."

"First thing is that map. Then Nora."

They came to the door and she opened it.

The flashlight she saw was held by Bernard. He was behind the light and she couldn't tell anything about the injuries he had suffered from the iron maiden, though it was evident they weren't nearly as serious as she'd hoped. But that had been evident when she saw him carrying Nora.

They let her go down first.

Marvin was sprawled near a wall. Leavenworth said, "That fall down the stairs seems to have done him in."

"I heard him screaming after he landed," she said.

"Well, he might have had some help from me," said Mrs. Leavenworth, standing at the bottom of the steps. "But his usefulness was ended, and I don't think we need to drag a man with two broken legs along with us when I leave here."

They reached the bottom.

"Now show me the map, Cathy," Leavenworth demanded.

"Start digging up Nora."

"No need," said Leavenworth. He pointed across the room.

Cathy turned. She couldn't see Nora, but she could see the coffin and the open grave beside it. Cathy ran over to the coffin and bent down beside it.

The lid was heavy but she managed to lift it up and slide it off. Nora sat up. She was gagged again and made rasping noises behind the handkerchief. Her eyes were wild with panic. There couldn't have been much air in the coffin with that lid on.

Cathy reached for the gag. Leavenworth grabbed her wrist.

"She needs air," Cathy said.

Leavenworth pulled her away from the coffin, pushing her to the floor, and said, "She can have plenty of air after you hand over the map."

"I don't have the map," Cathy said.

"What?" snarled Mrs. Leavenworth.

"I do hope you're lying," James Leavenworth said. "Because if you're not, you're in for a very unpleasant evening, my dear. Very unpleasant." He said it so calmly it chilled her to her marrow.

"I got a chance to look at the map out there," she said. "I saw where the stuff is hidden."

"It's too dark."

"When the police car came into the yard, I had enough light from its headlights."

"You're lying."

"That's easy to find out," she said. "I can show you where the stuff is hidden. But first take that gag off Nora so she can breathe."

"You're pushing it," said Mrs. Leavenworth.

"Indeed you are," her husband agreed. He was silent a brief moment, the said to his wife, "Take her gag off."

"What?"

"Why not? No one can hear her out here. The only reason she was gagged in the coffin was so she couldn't give away our little game to her sister."

Mrs. Leavenworth bent down and untied the knot behind Nora's head.

"Now untie her arms and legs," said Cathy.

"I don't think so," Leavenworth said. "No more demands from you. You lead Bernard and me to the hiding place you claim to know, and your sister stays here and Frances stays here with her."

Nora said, barely able to speak the words, "Don't count on him keeping his word."

"She'd better," said Leavenworth. "If she can't lead me to the treasure within fifteen minutes, back she comes and the two of you can scream all you want. Inside that coffin. While we bury the both of you."

"I have a better idea," Mrs. Leavenworth said. "She can copy the map and you can go after the treasure alone. Bernard and I can handle her."

"I bet you can," her husband said. "Do we have paper?"

"Of course we do, and a pencil as well."

"No," said Cathy. "I don't remember it well enough to draw it."

"Just well enough to show us where it is?" Leavenworth said. "I don't think so."

He stepped toward her. Cathy backed up but he reached down and grabbed her by the shoulder. The barrel of his gun was inches from her face.

The explosion of the shot filled the room like a cascade of thunder, echoes reverberating all around and from the adjoining galleries. Cathy screamed and jerked away from him as blood poured across her face and body.

But not her blood.

Leavenworth's fingers loosened their grip on her and slid slowly away as he toppled backwards.

Mrs. Leavenworth screamed and turned toward the staircase where Manning stood, a smoking automatic in his hand. Bernard gave a snarl and yelled incoherently and sprang toward Manning, blocking Mrs. Leavenworth's shot.

Manning's gun fired. The shot smashed into Bernard's left thigh.

Mrs. Leavenworth was bringing her own gun up. But before she could fire, Cathy threw her weight against her. They went sprawling. Cathy came up on top and smashed Mrs. Leavenworth's jaw with a hard left. Mrs. Leavenworth yelled out, but the yell stopped abruptly and she was still. Cathy gaped at her a moment before realizing the woman was out. Then she climbed to her feet, looking around.

Bernard was clutching his leg, a grimace of pain on his face. A pool of blood was forming on the floor.

"I hope he doesn't lose the leg," Manning said. "It doesn't look like Leavenworth will be able to build a replacement for him."

He handed his backup gun to Cathy. She took it mechanically and went over to untie her sister, who had already raised her arms over the edge of the coffin.

Chapter 13

"The police recovered the loot yesterday," Manning said. It was two days later, and they were in the offices of the Casey and Casey Detective Agency, in the Flatiron Building, in downtown Diamondville. "The map helped, of course."

"Of course," said Cathy. She was seated on the corner of the single desk in the office. Nora occupied the chair behind the desk. They were both dressed in nice, conservative dresses, like good little business women.

"It came to $79,452 and a bit of change, and the bank is so grateful that they're going to get it back, that they've agreed to pay the reward they promised. Ten percent."

"Ten per cent?" Nora said, sitting up in her chair. "That's a year's income."

"You should be so lucky," Manning said. "Turns out what Mrs. Leavenworth told you was pretty much true. So now maybe you'll be able to spring for a second desk for Cathy. Who knows, maybe even a third desk for your other partner."

"Other partner," said Nora. "Who's that?"

"Me."

"You're almost never around."

"Don't quibble," Cathy said. "He's usually around when we need him. He was there when Leavenworth needed to be shot, wasn't he?"

"I'll certahtminly grant that," Nora said. "But look at the size of this room. It's barely big enough to hold two desks, much less three."

"It was just a thought," Manning said. "You're right. I don't really need a desk. But an extra filing cabinet would be nice. We're going to need it with all the cases you two stumble into. Plus the ones my friends back in New York keep sending you."

"About those friends," Cathy said. "I get awfully curious about them."

"Let's just say my boss likes to keep to the shadows" said Manning. And he laughed.

It was a very strange, macabre sort of laugh.

The End