From the Case Files: Case #201-BEESWAX

 

DAY 1 –

This sucks.

I have to pay the rent.

No, I am not complaining, per se. Everyone pays rent or a mortgage, or whatever.

That’s life. But I have to pay rent AND I am a Private Investigator.

It’s a shit job. But, beggars can’t be choosers. I want to work in Law Enforcement and since the FBI door slammed shut (my fault, I know), well, it’s better than waiting tables.

Barely.

I wish I had a patron, like on Magnum P.I.  But that’s a total fantasy.

This is more like Rockford. Shitty trailer and no one pays their bills. Only, I don’t live in a trailer.

I had to move out of Seattle proper. Thanks Amazon. WAY too expensive.

Sea-Tac is a dive but it’s cheap. And it’s close to the city. Not that I ever get much work IN the city. I seem to get mostly divorce cases.

Which I hate. No one wants to hire a P.I. because it means the end of something sacred. And guess who gets to be the bad news messenger?

Yep. This gal.

Bad news means grumpy clients. Grumpy clients are not too happy when the bill comes. Then come the excuses. Blah Blah.

So, this sucks.

Then the phone rings.

Landline. I never give my cell to a client.

“Hello? Bobby Kwan.”

“Um, hi.” A meek voice.

“Is this Bobby Kwan, the Private Investigator?”

“Yes.” I just said that I was.

“Oh, you’re a woman.”

I get this all the time. Bobby. I get it.

“Yep. I’m a woman.”

“Sorry, I just got confused for a moment. My name is Maggie. Maggie Johnson.”

“What can I do for you Maggie?”

“Do you handle missing persons cases?”

I didn’t expect that.

(don’t get excited, don’t get excited)

“Ahem, yes. I most certainly do.”

“Oh, thank GOD. Um, how much do you charge?”

Well, it was good while it lasted.

“Well, tell me some details and I can. . .”

“NO! I don’t have time. He’s missing, and I am terrified!”

“Ok, Ok. It’s alright. $250 a day plus expenses.”

(told you it was just like Rockford)

Here it comes.

(silence)

(silence)

“Oh, thank GOD.”

“Huh?”

“No, it’s just, WOW, you are SO much cheaper than. . .well, never mind, that’s great. So, you’ll take the case?”

Hang on. Cheaper? Than who?

Crap.

“Yes.”

“Yes, I’ll take the case.”

DAY 2 –

Every morning I have a bad habit. But I LOVE my coffee shop.

I don’t love my barista.

No matter how many times I have been in, and order the EXACT same drink, she NEVER gets my name right.

Today is no different.

I walk the three blocks (in the rain to the corner shop). NOT a chain store, fyi.

She sees me come in, grabs a cup of the right size, and begins to make my tall, double mocha.

“The usual?”

“Yep, thanks.”

“Name?”

SEE?!  WTH??!!

“B.O.B.B.Y.”

“Oooooh, riiiight.”

Scribble scribble

Whatever. Going on 2 years.

My corner booth is open, and I sit. I am meeting my new client. I have not had a missing person’s case for a while. They are always a mixed bag.

Is the person ACTUALLY missing?

Are they missing on purpose?

How long have they been missing?

How is the person reporting the case related to the missing person?

Are the police involved?

Rarely are people truly missing, they have not been missing for very long, only the person reporting MISSES the person, the police are useless, they are a close friend or family member/lover who reports the case. The person shows up in a matter of days surprised anyone missed them.

I still get paid for a few days’ work.

“BIBBY!!?”

FML

SMH

Good thing the coffee is fabulous.

DAY 2 Continued

Maggie arrives at promptly at the agreed upon time.

A whisper of a woman, she blows in with purpose and makes a B Line towards me.

“Ms. Kwan?”

“Bobby, please. Ms. Johnson.”

“Maggie is fine.”

“Ok, Maggie. Coffee?”

“Oh, no, no thank you.”

“Ok, let’s dive in.”

And with that, the tears started.

“It’s my boyfriend, well, not exactly, or, um, officially, er. . .”

“Take your time.”

“It’s, well, see, I am a graduate student at University of Washington. Anthropology.”

“Ok.”

“Now, this next bit is, um, SUPER secret.”

Super Secret? What is this, I Spy?

“Ok.”

“Well, you see, I am his Teaching Assistant. He is the head of the department.”

“Oooooooooh.”

“Right. Yes. You see now?”

“Yep. I do. Discretion is imperative.”

She nearly jumped from her seat.

“EXACTLY.”

Immediately regretting her outburst.

“Oh, jeez. This is so messed up. But the thing is I have not heard from him in three days.”

“Is that unusual?”

“Well, we were supposed to meet for dinner yesterday.”

“Has anyone else heard from him?”

“No, and he didn’t show up for a lecture. That is not normal.”

“And no one from the school has called this in to the police?”

“No, they have not, and I don’t understand why, and I can’t really ask.”

“How come?”

Here it comes.

“He’s (sob) he’s married.”

Day 2 Details

Maggie finally gets herself together and lays out the particulars of her case.

The Professor studies American archeological sites at old mining camps, towns, and claims. Washington State is loaded with old mines that have been decommissioned.

This is all new and fascinating to me. Since I am not from here.

It seems a lot of copper came out of the Cascades. These days the mining towns are busted and in various sates of decay. Some are popular ghost towns.

There is a lot of hidden history in those broken buildings. Professor Nickels is a history detective.

“He went up to the Springer Chapel Mine last week to begin a new dig. No one has heard from him since.”

“Um, has his Wife reported it?”

“Well, I can’t really ask. . .”

“Why not, you are his TA right?”

“I’m a horrible liar, she would see right through me and I would crumble.”

“Right. So, we have no idea if the police are even looking.”

“I know. . .I know. . .I feel terrible, but I.. .”

“HE COULD BE HURT, or worse.”

Waterworks.

Dammit.

“Alright, fine, shh, shh, it’s ok. I’ll make some calls. DISCREET calls.”

Before she leaves I take down some particulars about the man she is secretly dating.

As a criminal profiler (in training) at Quantico, one of the most important things I learned is that an investigator learns as much as possible about a victim.  Assuming the professor IS a victim. Know all the connections to a victim and begin to include those connections or remove them when they are deemed irrelevant to an investigation.

The hope is that what you are left with is, most likely, your criminal. (or situation)

The most important part of this type of investigation is to assume nothing and suspect everyone. INCLUDING THE VICTIM.

So, it is time to “become” a student again.

Day 3 Back to School

The U-DUB campus is beautiful in the spring. The rows of cherry blossoms are incomparable. Views of Lake Washington and Mt. Rainier are breathtaking.

But not today.

Today is typical Seattle Gloom. Which makes the “school uniform” much easier to choose. Sure, I can pull off the “self-centered sorority chick in spring” chic, but I would rather not.

I reserve leg shaving for other occasions.

Layers, rain jacket (no umbrella), baseball cap with pony tail, stuffed backpack, transit pass and Starbucks cup, simple. I blend in with absolutely everyone. And with record high enrollment, I should virtually disappear.

I am fortunate that I can walk to the Link Light Rail station because the parking is a joke. Driving to UW from Sea-Tac is a bigger joke. So, I can sit back (or stand) and enjoy the ride.

Maggie meets me on campus and is immediately a sore thumb.

“Omygawd this is so exciting. Real undercover detective shit.”

Yep, just like Rockford.

“Just get me into the professor’s office, QUIETLY.”

As a Graduate Teaching Assistant, Maggie has free reign in the Science Department.  The heads of the Department have not yet designated Prof. Nickels as missing or even absent. So, her access has not been hindered.

His office is nothing as I expected. The man has taste. Warm woods and soft fabrics line the walls and furniture. His bookshelves are so organized I fully expect to find a Dewey decimal system.

Maggie spots his planner.

“He left his planner, it’s right here.”

“Who still uses those? Seems old fashioned.”

“Look around, he is old fashioned.”

For a man in his early 50’s, I’d call him a renaissance man.

“Ok, wow. This is pretty convenient. It’s open to last week.”

Maggie takes a good long look.

She seems confused.

“What, is something not right?”

“This doesn’t make any sense. This says he was going to be visiting the Granite Mountain Claim.”

“That is not right?”

“Well, no. He was researching Springer Chapel Mine.”

“So, maybe he did go there, and something happened, or he just hasn’t checked in?”

Tears start to well up in Maggie’s eyes.

“What?”

“He has no grant for The Granite Mountain Claim research.”

“So, why is he there? Who DOES have that grant?”

She pauses to control herself.

“His wife.”

Day 3 Case Closed?

Well, I would like to think this revelation ends the case. The man is not missing but is actually with his wife.

Just a case of a jilted lover?

Good thing I am an experienced investigator. I learned the hard way that while a simple answer is usually the correct one, it isn’t wise to wrap up a case on an assumption.

I sent Maggie home.

I didn’t tell her I was going to visit that old mine.

My failure at the FBI taught me about the value of questions. Answer all of them before you close a case.

Did Mr. and Mrs. Nickels visit the claim together?

Did Mr. Nickels go by himself for some reason?

Did Mrs. Nickels suspect her husband of cheating?

Has anyone heard from Mrs. Nickels?

I really don’t care about any of this. It isn’t my job to care.

My job is to determine the whereabouts of Mr. Nickels. Period.

Preferably alive.

A lover’s quarrel means nothing to me. It’s none of my business.

But if the Professor has met a deadly end, my job may take a very different direction. I would be obligated to involve law enforcement.

I get paid either way. So, spending the extra effort and time by visiting the mine equals income.

And I get to rent a car.

Day 4 Copper

Copper mining in Washington State was a pretty strong industry in the early 1900’s to mid-1930’s. But once World War Two ended, the price of metal ores dropped.

A number of mines and the towns that grew around them, known as Boom Towns, withered and busted.

This left a bunch of abandoned Ghost Towns and Ghost stories in the foothills of the Cascade Mountain Range.

Many of these towns virtually disappeared. But due to the efforts of historians and preservationists, the stories about these forgotten places are being written. Some for the first time.

Since many of these places have only recently been rediscovered, there are few, if any, safety improvements to the sites. Enter at your own risk, as it were.

Armed with a flashlight, a water bottle, jacket, and a camera, I venture to find the trail head that will lead me to the site.

The drive isn’t a long one. Just 45 minutes from downtown Seattle is Snoqualmie Pass. It’s another 20 minutes from there to the trailhead.

It isn’t a popular trail so there aren’t a bunch of hikers here. In the winter the snowshoe crowd is surprisingly large. Only small traces of snow remain even though it is early Spring. The State has been flirting with drought conditions for the better part of a decade, until recently. Since today is a little overcast and mid-week, I have the trail to myself.

Well, almost.

About two miles into the hike I hear the strangest sound. A dull whirring. Not mechanical, but strangely familiar.

It gets louder as I continue.

It isn’t a whirring at all.

It’s BUZZING.

“Oh Crap! BEES!!”

Day 4 BEES

“HOLD STILL!”

A disembodied voice in the woods calls out.

“Huh?”

“They won’t bother you as long as you don’t panic.”

Likely story.

“Um, okay. . . .”

“Just slowly back up.”

“You said to hold still.”

“You can’t stand there forever, can you?”

“I might surprise you. I hate bees.”

“Everyone says they hate bees, but really, everyone LOVES bees.”

I turn on my hiking booted heel.

“What?”

Standing before me is a short, Asian, man, roughly in his early thirties. He holds a small, smoking, can.

Yes, I said smoking.

I also look around. How I didn’t notice several apple crate sized boxes SWARMING with bees, I’ll never know.

“It’s called an Apiary.”

“Huh?”

“The boxes of bees? Apiary. You know? Bee hives.”

“Why not just call them bee hives?”

He giggles a little.

“They are bee hives. A lot of them in one place is called an Apiary”

He walks past me and makes the can of smoke more, uh, smoky. He aims it at a box of bees that seems a little testy.

They all calm down, immediately.

“You learn something new every day.”

He gets the bees settled and has me follow him into another clearing.

“What brings you out here today?”

Private Investigator Rule #17, never divulge your name or reasons for being somewhere.

Why?

Because you never know who or what may impact your investigation.

“Oh, I just LOVE ghost towns.”

“You talking about that old mine up the way?”

“You bet, ever been there?”

He pauses.

“Uh, no, not really. Seen a few folks go up there though.”

“A lot?”

He pauses again.

“Hardly, it isn’t a well-used trail.”

“Well, thanks for the ‘rescue’. I should get moving, is it much farther, Mr…?”

He gets really involved with his smoke can for a second. Then he smiles a big smile.

“Um, SURE, don’t mention it. The bees are harmless if you leave them alone. You have a bit of a hike ahead of you, so, yeah, take it easy.”

And that is that.

He never tells me who he is. (mental note)

Day 4 The Mine

The trail is pretty rough. It is hard to follow because of heavy spring growth and winter damage.

It is not a popular trail either. So, it gets very little attention from the Forest Service.

I begin to regret coming out here alone.  I reach down to my ankle holster for reassurance.

Yes, it is illegal to carry out here.

Yes, if caught I could lose my license.

But this is another instance of learning things the hard way. (I’ll save that story for another time)

I have my hopes up regarding a ghost town.  I want old-west-looking buildings, a dirt road, and creepy sounds.

Nope.

What I get instead is a whole lot of nothing. Just a lot of trees, shrubs, and rocks.

Oh, and mud. Lots and lots of mud.

The Granite Mountain Mine isn’t a mine, per se. It is a claim.  Intent to mine but no actual commercial mining ever occurred.

So, what is so interesting about the place that this couple is competing to study it?

I arrive at the coordinates from the maps in Dr. Nickels office. How anyone would even know they arrived is beyond me.

That’s when I catch a familiar whiff of stink.

My stomach begins to protest.

Something is definitely dead, and it is nearby.

I suppress a gag and let my nose hunt.

“Please be an animal, . . .. please be an animal. . .”

The scent takes me well off-trail. I think thirty feet or so.

There are traces of blood.

A trail of it leads deeper into underbrush. I have to use a long stick to move branches and fallen debris.

Bear scat. Oh, this is not good.

It’s dawn for hibernating bears.

My gun is in my hand.

The smell is overwhelming. I cover my nose and mouth.

A shoe.

“Oh shit. . .!”

Two human bodies.

“Mr. and Mrs. Nickels, I presume?”

Day 4 A Whole New Case.

I practically run back to my rental car. Cell service is super spotty.

I drive almost 40 minutes before I can get a clear signal.

But by then I reach the Ranger Station, so I stop in.

It’s Forest Service land and they have their own Law Enforcement.

“I would like to, um, I mean, I need to report a dead couple.”

The front desk administrator gives me a quizzical look.

“A couple of dead what?”

“Oh, sorry, people. Dead people who are, uh, were, a couple.”

She stops typing and gives me a librarian look over her glasses.

“I’ll need some more information Miss?”

“Kwan, Bobby Kwan, Private Investigator.”

A quick double take.

(I’m used to that)

“Ok, Ms. Kwan. Assuming you are actively investigating something and are LEGALLY licensed to do so, whereabouts did you see this alleged couple?”

“Oh, they’re a couple alright. Or were you suggesting they weren’t dead, I got lost there.”

She gets up.

“ID please, including your license.”

I produce both.

“Ok, tell me what you were doing and where.”

I fill her in.

Excluding the bee farm.

“You are sure they were dead?”

“Oh yes. Very. My nose told me so.”

Her demeanor changes.

“Oh, my goodness. Ok. I’ll radio the Ranger.”

An hour later the Ranger finally arrives.

At least they have coffee here. Terrible Government Coffee, but it’s available.

Now, before I continue, I should mention that I have an embarrassing fetish.

I love Ranger uniforms.

So, now I am buzzing on cheap coffee, have to pee, and am crushing hard for this late Ranger man.

“(to myself) Keep it together Kwan. Don’t get stupid.”

Day 4 Kwan Gets Stupid.

(to myself) “Stay cool. Do NOT turn into a 14-year-old girl.”

The Ranger introduces himself.

“Hello, Rick Peterson.”

YEP. RANGER RICK.

I am NOT shitting you.

Just like that, the 14-year-old escapes.

“Hee hee. Bobby.”

“Bobby? Bobby what?”

“Oh, shit, sorry, uh, Kwan. Bobby Kwan, Private Investigator.”

I said shit, didn’t I?

“Sorry, about the shit. He Hee.”

GAWD.

“Yeah, ok. You say you found two dead bodies?”

“Ahem. Yes.”

“I need some details.”

“Oh, ha ha, yeah. You do. Sorry.”

Shake it OFF Kwan.

“I’m on a missing persons case that seemed to become NOT a missing person. So, I investigated the last known location of the, uh, person not-missing and found him and his wife dead. In the woods.”

Ranger Rick (tee hee) takes some notes.

“Ok, where was this and who is the deceased?”

“The Granite Mountain Mine. Claim. Mine. Well, it’s a claim, but it’s called a Mine. For some reason.”

“Yes, I know it well. Did you get stung?”

“Huh?”

“The bees?”

“Oh, wow. Yeah, I mean, no. I didn’t get stung.”

He knows his forest.

“and the names. . .”

“Oh, yeah, sorry. Professor Nickels and his wife.”

“First names?”

I scratch my head. I barely took notice of their first names.

It comes to me.

“Gary and Linda. I think they were estranged but I can’t be sure of that.”

He pauses.

“Your client claimed he was missing, but not the wife?”

Oh, he’s good.

“Yes. Teaching assistant.  Uh, sensitive situation.”

He writes some more.

“Ok, seems pretty straightforward.”

He get’s up, grabs his keys.

“Show me.”

“Huh?”

“Show me where you found the dead, not-missing, Mr. and Mrs. Nickels.”

Looks like I might get stung after all.

Day 4 Back to the Mine, Claim, Mine. . .

Instead of following me to the site, I get to ride shotgun (literally) in Ranger Rick’s pristine 1989 Jeep Cherokee.

“How do you keep this thing so clean?”

He seems surprised.

“What, the Jeep? I take good care of her, so she takes good care of me.”

This guy.

“You could just requisition a new one, so this one must be special.”

He pauses.

“We’ve been through a lot.”

“Couldn’t tell by looking at it, er, her.”

“Thank you.”

We reach the trailhead.

“So, how far in are they?”

“The bodies? Pretty near the claim. They must have been checking it out when. . .”

“Right. Let’s go take care of them.”

Fortunately, it is still early afternoon.

Plenty of light.

“Um, shouldn’t we have a CSI team or something?”

He finishes repacking a “Go Bag” of supplies.

“We’ll call forensics for extraction once I verify the find.”

Verify? Ok, now I’m feeling my proper self.

Goodbye 14-year-old.

“VERIFY?!”

He catches my drift.

“Oh, I believe you saw something. I just have to see it myself and verify it isn’t something else.”

Arms folded, eyes squinted in disbelief.

“It’s not personal Ms. Kwan. It’s standard procedure.”

Hmmm

“Right.”

All right, fair enough. I have used that same line plenty of times.

At least this time I remember the Apiary of bees.

The bee keeper is nowhere to be found.

Rick notices.

“Chan is not here. It’s harvest day.”

“Harvest?”

“Honey.”

“Yes, dear.”

Oops. I couldn’t help myself.

“Huh?”

“You said honey. . .”

Nothing.

“Never mind.”

At least now I know the bee keeper’s name.

I can still see my footprints in the mud from my earlier trek as we close in on the site.

I prepare myself for the smell.

“Sniff.”

Nothing.

“SNIFF!”

Still nothing.

“Are we close?”

“Um, yes, we should be right on top of them.”

“I don’t see anything. Are they obscured by debris or. . .”

I don’t even see blood.

Or the bodies.

“I don’t understand. They were right here. I even moved the branches and leaves that covered them, and I don’t even see that stuff.”

“Hmmm.”

“And there was a lot of blood. WHAT THE HELL!?”

Day 4 Beeswax

Any thoughts about my new crush are, well, crushed.

My story is in total doubt now.

“Someone cleaned up the site.”

Ranger Rick keeps rummaging through debris. That’s a good sign, right?

“You are sure we are at the right location?”

Now I doubt myself.

“Well, yeah, I think so.”

I survey the area again.

“Yes, that is the root I tripped over, right there. From that spot I noticed the distinct smell of old blood.”

There are a lot of new prints in the mud.

“See these prints? Someone was here after me.”

“It is a hiking trail.”

“Yes, but not a popular one. Play the odds.”

“Ok, why would someone want to clean it up? Why not leave it and let it be discovered? Let it look like a crime of passion?”

I consider it.

“There must have been some evidence to the contrary. My discovery may have spooked the killer into cleaning up?”

He considers that.

“Ok, so someone is aware of the discovery and waited for you to leave. Pretty risky.”

“So is murder. Never stops anyone from committing it.”

“Good point. But, unless I have some evidence, I don’t have a case. Sorry.”

Whomever did this could not have gone far in the amount of time I was gone. I refuse to just leave.

“There has to be something left. No one is THAT thorough.”

Rick sighs.

“I’m sorry but I can’t help right now. I have other duties to perform. But, knock yourself out. If you find anything, don’t hesitate to call.”

“GAHHHHH!!”

Something bites me.

“YEOUCH!”

Something bites him.

The noise is sudden and VERY frightening.

“BZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz”

A cloud of FLYING DEATH approaches from all sides.

“SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT!!”

We both run in no particular direction.

Day 4 – Nightfall

I have no idea where Rick went. All I know is there are a billion stingers coming right for my butt.

Have I told you how much I hate bees? (do they sense that?)

I try and get my bearings.

Nope. I have no idea where I am.

And what’s worse, it’s getting darker.

Hang on, doesn’t that mean the bees should be going to bed?

I think I saw that once watching a particularly dreadful horror film about “killer bees.”

The sting tells me a different story.

“OW! SHIT!”

I need a place to duck out. I remember that this “mine” is just a claim and has no structures.

Then I see a structure.

It is surprisingly new. Like, BRAND new.

It’s pretty much a shed. Not very big. Something you find in an urban backyard to store the yard tools.

There had been a lock but that is broken and loose.

I don’t hesitate. In I go.

No buzzing.

I’ll just sit this out a spell.

Uh oh,. . .

That familiar stink is back.

Shit.

I know where the bodies went.

So, what do I do now?

My instinct is to get the hell out of there and find Rick.

My OTHER instinct says BEES!!!!

Several of those little bastards are on the little window. Blocking out whatever light remains.

AND, a dark closet with stinky, dead bodies.

 Ok, Universe, ANYTHING ELSE!!??

Day 4 – SOMETHING ELSE

Do bees go to bed?

No, really, I have no idea. Do they?

Does dead body smell penetrate your clothes and hair and stuff?

Wait, who moved them into this shed? Who knew the bodies had been discovered?

Do they know I was the one who discovered them?

Oh Crap.

That means the killer probably knows I am in here too.

Are they out there right now?

Stupid federal land gun laws. I miss my FBI badge.

I can’t stay in here anymore.  I have to risk the bees. . .

And a killer.

I dare a peek out the small window.

A lot of the bees have gone, so now is my chance. But, it is also twilight and I don’t have a flashlight.

That’s one merit badge I didn’t earn.

Emergency Killer Preparedness.

I don’t see any other activity. Slowly I release the door latch.

Yeah, the door squeaks and it sounds SUPER loud.

“shhhhh” I say to no one.

I make sure the door too the shed is closed behind me. I need to preserve as much evidence as possible.

A quick survey around the shed shows no other obvious bits of evidence. No blood, no litter.

A few lingering bees swirl and buzz but none seem all that interested in me.

“Whew. Luck me.”

“Yeah, it’s your lucky day.”

“Wha. .who?”

The beekeeper comes out of nowhere.

And he is pointing a gun right at me.

Day 4 – Lucky Me

“You couldn’t leave it alone.”

I am not going to argue.

“What choice did I have?”

He doesn’t stop to consider an answer. He just waves his gun at me.

“Now you get to help me.”

“Why would I do that?”

He simply looks at the gun.

“Right.”

I consider dragging this out.

“Any reason you can’t tell me what happened?”

I figure the James Bond formula regarding bad guys spilling their guts before killing the super spy was worth a shot.

“Nope. Go back in.”

He waves me towards the shed.

I don’t know if he knows that Ranger Rick is loose somewhere, or I am unaware that maybe Beekeeper Chan has already shot him. So, I can’t really mention him.

But if there is a chance. . . .

“I am assuming you are responsible for their deaths?”

“Shut up, get in there.”

I’m really not eager to do that, but the gun is a motivator.

“Can you at least tell me why these people are dead? I had been looking for them and my curiosity is pretty high?”

This gets his attention.

“Why were you looking for them? Tell me NOW!”

“Ok, Ok, jeez. The professor didn’t show up for work and I was hired to find him.”

“By who?”

“Whom.”

“What?”

“Whom, not who. I’m a grammar Nazi.”

“Just, just shut up and tell me.”

“I’m not at liberty to discuss. . “

“I have a gun.”

“Yes, and if you shoot me, you won’t know who hired me. So, the threat isn’t a good one.”

I may have confused him.

“If I tell you why they died, you tell me who hired you aaaand maybe I won’t shoot you.”

I don’t buy any of that but if it keeps him talking. . .

“Ok, deal.”

Pause.

More pause.

“This is the part where you tell me why they died.”

Day 4 – Why they died.

He seems troubled. Like he isn’t sure where to start.

So, I help.

Pointing at the dead bodies.

“What did these two find that led to their deaths?”

Still nothing.

“There is nothing here. It’s just a claim. What did they do?”

This wakes him up.

“NO. It isn’t just a claim. It’s a mine.”

I look around.

“There is nothing here. No one has mined this claim.”

Now he is angry.

“NO. Not true. It’s just grown over. This mine is older than most are aware of.”

“How old? And how do you know?”

“BECAUSE THIS MINE BELONGS TO MY FAMILY!”

At that he walks over to a pile of brush I had not noticed.

He uncovers what looks like very old wood.

“This was a part of a sluice.”

“Sluice?”

“Ever go to a theme park with a log ride?”

“OOOOOh, sure. But how is that related to mining?”

To be clear, I am pretty sure I know, but the goal is to keep him talking, instead of, you know, killing me.

“It’s how you sift through the dirt and silt to reveal the ore. It takes a lot of water.”

“Ooh, right. Cool. Well, how come there isn’t more of that laying around and stuff.”

He seems a little forlorn.

“It was a long time ago, and. . “

Long pause.

“And what?”

He motions for me to move into the shed.

“Not yet, c’mon, it’s a good story. It was a long time ago and . .?”

His face, sorrowful and angry at the same time.

“THEY KILLED MY FAMILY!”

“Who, who killed your family.”

“Those dirty Walker Boys!!”

Ok, so, I still have no idea why he killed them.

But, at least I am still breathing.

Day 4 – Those Dirty Walker Boys.

In the early days of mining in the Pacific Northwest (Washington, Oregon, Idaho and even Montana) claim jumping was a real problem and common.  There was very little law enforcement in those days, so violence could erupt at any moment.

Less reported were abandoned claims that were re-claimed by others. The Chinese workers could not own mines but would work abandoned claims to eek out what they could get.

Sometimes they got really lucky.

But luck usually runs out.

(Ask me later how I learned this.)

“Dirty Walker. . .?” I feel like I missed a memo.

“The Walker Family started the claim in 1932. But they were lazy and impatient. So, they abandoned it.”

“So, why isn’t it called the Walker Mine?”

He looks at me with a sort of “c’mon” look. Like I should know this.

“History only favors the victors.”

“Victors?”

“WHITE PEOPLE!”

I better play along. I forget that I am Asian sometimes.

“Oh, well, of course white people. Heh heh, I thought you meant something else.”

“Like what?”

 “I don’t know, that is why I asked.”

Yeah, real quick thinking there.

He gives me a hard stare.

“Ever heard of the Asian Exclusion Act?”

Ok, this is actually getting interesting.

“Yes, I have. Otherwise known as the Chinese Exclusion Act.”

“Right. Know why it was created?”

“Enlighten me.”

“The Chinese built the railroads of the west. They did it fast and cheap. White labor cried foul because they were losing jobs to cheaper and better labor.”

“Yes, I know all this, how does this relate to mining?”

“To preserve jobs for white folks, the Chinese (and all other Asians, because white folks don’t know the difference) were prevented from coming to America and those who were already here were not allowed to own anything that white folks wanted. So, smart, hardworking, enterprising Chinese got busy making Chinatowns in big cities and small rural townships in the hills to support miners. The proverbial “Chinese Laundry” and “chop suey” restaurants popped up all over the place.”

He motions for me to work while he talks.

I am not keen on handling week-old dead bodies, but, I am still not dead, so I cooperate.

“Those mining towns eventually die and are abandoned. Mines go unclaimed. Guess who commandeers the claims?”

“Um, the Chinese?”

“Yep.”

“Ok, so, how does that relate to these people?” I point to the dead bodies I am about to get to know really well.

He smirks.

“Ancient Chinese Secret!”

Day 4 – Ancient Chinese Secret

His patience is low, and he points at the bodies.

“We have to move them now.”

I look around.

“Where too?”

“You drove here.”

The rental. Well, at least some rental car agent is going to have a hell of a story to tell for the rest of their lives.

“I can’t carry them by myself.”

“I know, we will take two trips.”

I protest.

“It’s getting dark!”

“Yep, so stop talking and get moving.”

Well, at least this means another extension on my life expectancy today.

Moving Mrs. Nickels wasn’t as hard as I feared. And there was just enough light to not have any major accidents on the way.

She even fit in the trunk of the rental with no problem.

But Mr. Nickels is another story.

“Eew. He’s slippery.”

I drop my end of the dead Professor.

Chan, frustrated, ponders a moment.

“There is a tarp in the shed.”

He makes me retrieve it and we push/roll/slide Mr. Nickels onto it.

While he IS easier to pick up now, carrying him is hard. He weighs MUCH more than his wife.

He makes me walk backwards which makes it all the more difficult and slower.

“This is going to take all night.” I grunt. “So, you might as well tell me how their deaths relate to that mine.”

He shrugs and then lets it all out.

“In 1934 the Walker Family walked off the site. They just couldn’t make it work. They lacked man power and patience.  Essentially giving up their claim, or at least, leaving it unprotected. So, another family took over.”

“Let me guess, a Chinese family. YOURS?”

He smiles broadly.

“Oh yes. MINE.”

“Can we stop for a second? My arms are about to drop off.”

His arms are probably tired too. He makes a show of displeasure, but I can tell he needed a break.

“So, your ancestors moved in and took over the claim. Did they get anything?”

“Oh yes. Quite a lot actually. But word got back to the Walkers.”

“They came back?”

He lowers his head.

“Yes, they murdered my family.”

“That’s terrible.”

“Yes. Horrible. 12 men, all massacred and dumped off a cliff.”

“Did the law get involved?”

“Of course, but they claimed, ‘insufficient evidence’ and dropped it.”

This gets him angry.

“Pick him up, let’s finish this!!”

“Ok, but. . .”

“Yes, I know. What happened next?”

“Yeah, that doesn’t explain why the Professor and his wife are dead.”

“My family is large. The Walker Family wasn’t.”

“Wasn’t? Past tense? That sounds ominous.”

He gives me a bit of an evil grin.

“The Walker Boys never saw them. Their bodies were thrown off the same cliff. No one ever figured out it was the Chan family.”

He stops and simply looks at me.

“What?”

Nothing.

Then I put it together.

“Ooooooooh. The Nickels’ figured it out?”

Just then a flood of lights blinds us.

I drop my end of the body and duck, my eyes on fire.

“STOP WHERE YOU ARE!!”

HOLY SHIT, IT’S RANGER RICK!!

Day 5 – Case Closed.

I wake up in my bed still a little confused about the events of the previous night.

I didn’t get to bed until 2am.

The events of last night are still a bit of a jumble.

Apparently, after the bee attack, Rick went one way and I the other. My adventure is well documented, but Rick’s was a mystery to me.

Once Chan was in cuffs and placed in the back of the Jeep, Rick found me and explained.

“I came back but you were gone, I had no idea where you ran off to, so I headed back to the trail head. That’s when I saw Chan. He had a gun. So, I made sure he didn’t see me, as I had begun to suspect him of interfering with an investigation.”

I was shocked.

“But you never said. . .”

“That’s because I didn’t REALLY know where you fit in either.”

“Ok, fair enough.”

He continued.

“Once I saw that he had you at gun point, I knew I couldn’t risk your safety, so I called for backup. Standard procedure.”

“Right.”

“I watched you move the body of Mrs. Nickels and listened to Chan’s story. Once you went back for Mr. Nickels I set up the arrest in the parking lot here. I am glad you took a while because I wanted to set up some bright lights to stun Chan. His gun would not be out since his hands were busy carrying Mr. Nickels.”

“Well, all’s well that ends well, I guess.”

And that was that. I drove home after I gave my statement.

Now I just need to bill my client.

I make my own coffee because I am just too tired to walk to the coffee shop and I am SO not presentable.

I always request a background check and credit report of new clients, so I turn on the computer to check on the report. It was due two days ago.

(Yeah, I know I should never start a case until AFTER I get a report, but, hey, desperate times. . .)

And there it is.

I open the report.

I don’t see it at first. I am pre-occupied with my near-death experience. But I see Maggie Johnson’s credit is clean. Not unusual for a student. A little bit of credit card debt is normal.

It’s isn’t until I look for her bank account information that a stunning realization hits me.

Her name isn’t Johnson.

Well, it is, but it is a married name. From two years ago.

She is legally divorced, but then I see her maiden name.

Maggie Walker.

“OH SHIT!”

“She set me up!!”

Day 5 – Case Closed. For real.

An hour later, Maggie is sitting across from me at the coffee shop.

Smug as hell.

“Well, I guess you got what you wanted.”

She smiles.

“We both did. Here is your check.”

I play along.

“Thanks. So, when did you realize the mine was yours?”

She surveys my face and considers her answer. She looks around and then leans in.

“What the hell.  I was a student, that is true. But I was never his Teaching Assistant. I was hers.”

“His wife?”

“Yep. I stumbled upon her research about the mine and never knew it’s darker secrets until she started to complain about his research. He was getting in the way and she was super pissed.”

“In the way?”

“Yep. His work started to cross over into hers and, when grants are on the line, things get heated. She thought he was trying to include her stuff into his and was going to get the college to agree. Then she would lose her grant.”

“And that’s when you learned the secret of the mine?”

“Not at first, she complained, and I pretended to listen. So, she started to feel safe around me. Safe enough to get REALLY loose lipped. After a few weeks of playing BFF, she revealed the big secret, the two massacres. That’s when the real name of the mine, WALKER, hit me.”

“And that was when you hatched the plan?”

This surprised her.

But not enough to make her quit. That’s thing about conspiracies, people get comfortable when they think they won. Then they talk.

“You are a smart one, aren’t you? Yes, that was when I started shopping for wild-grown honey. That Chan guy is a good beekeeper. When I realized it was his family that was involved I started dropping hints to him AND the good Professor. I knew that eventually the two would connect.”

“But how did you get him to kill for you?”

She looked around again.

Leaned back in.

“That was the easy part. I got cozy with the Professor, dropped hints around the other students. Eventually the rumors got to his wife. I cozied up to her too, and explained I did it FOR her and, I’ll be damned if she bought it.”

She leaned in again.

“And here’s the best part. I got cozy with Chan too. He thought I was working for him.”

I put on my best smile.

“And then you set up a meeting.”

She laughed out loud.

“HAH! YES. It was perfect. I even supplied the gun. That stupid beekeeper wanted to just talk to them, work something out, But I convinced him that they didn’t want to talk and were plotting to kill him and keep the mine.”

“That’s brilliant.”

She sat back. VERY pleased with herself.

“And now I wait for the reward money.”

“What reward money?”

“You didn’t know, but the wife’s family put up a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest. So, I hired a PI, you, to dig it all up for me. I, of course, am at the top of that list now.”

“Well, you were.” Says Ranger Rick, sitting inconspicuously behind her.

My turn to be smug.

“Yeah, I left out a few details of my own, honey.  That reward will be mine now.  Get it, MINE?”

He arrests her on the spot. Of course, she tries the tears again. But that man is a robot.

The barista calls out “BARBIE!”

Dammit.

End Case File.