It was almost six when the phone was answered by Iona’s daughter Jackie. Myrtle quickly explained the emergency, and asked if Iona was available to mind the store, as she usually did when they went on one of their mini vacations in search for their missing daughter, Martha.
Jackie had helped her mother run the Deli on several occasions and loved the hustle and bustle of the job. She quickly assured her aunt that she’d be happy to run the Deli for however long it took, as her mother would be out of town for a while.
Once Jackie’s twenty-three year old daughter Rose-Marie heard there were two young children at Angelia’s, she immediately offered to care for them so the ladies could finish their work on Caroline’s house.
“You do know I’m a kindergarten teacher, don’t you,” she reminded her aunt. “I also love kids, so what do you say, do I have the job?
“How would you like to go to school?” Myrtle asked Billy and Kimmey.
“My niece Rose-Marie is a teacher, and she’s invited you to spend a few days with her while your Mommy is in the hospital.”
“Hooray!” said Billy and Kimmey excitedly jumping up and down. “We’re going to go to school!”
An hour later Jackie and her daughter arrived at Angelia’s to pick up the key to the Deli and the children.
Ben had arrived promptly at nine to find Angelia, Myrtle and Henry disorganized and Mary gone.
“I can‘t believe we forgot you were coming,” exclaimed Myrtle.
“I’m glad you’re here, because we’re going to have to figure this whole miss out without Mary’s help!” Henry said with a sigh.
“Thank heavens for coffee! There is some left. Isn’t there?” Asked Myrtle, taking a cup from the cupboard, and handing it to Angelia, before turning to Ben and asking, “Coffee?”
“Well,” Angelia said in answer to Henry’s statement, “If we had the right questions, maybe we could come up with the right answers! And yes, there’s a fresh pot of coffee on the back of the stove.”
“If we only knew who had given her that photo! We‘d have a lead on at least one of the kidnappers, seeing that they would be the only ones with access to the photo, after they were kidnapped,” said Henry.
“What kind of low-life scum gives a photo to a child, then threatens them with arrest if they’re ever caught with it in their possession?” Asked Angelia.
“I still can’t believe she actually thought I’d arrest her for having that photo, the creep that told her that is a real winner, if you ask me.” Henry said in disgust.
Angelia seeing the perplexed look on Ben’s face, said, “It seems our Mary won’t be here after all, Ben. She was rushed to the hospital around four thirty this morning, shortly after asking me if Henry was going to arrest her for having the photo.”
“So I guess we should just concentrate on doing what we can to get things ready before Caroline arrives,” said Henry, rubbing at the irritating whiskers that were springing up on his chin.
“Have you hired a staff yet?” Ben asked. “If you haven’t, I know the perfect family for the job, Mavis and Dennis Tomlyne. Their daughter, Jenny, was head cook at the Castle Heights Country Club until the owner died and they closed the place.”
“Mavis is an excellent housekeeper. Dennis drives a delivery truck and their son Tommy worked for Lance landscaping, until it closed for lack of business.”
“Are all the cottages three bedroom units?” Asked Myrtle.
“Yes and they’re all basically alike,” replied Angelia. “They all have a large living room with fireplace, eat in kitchen, three large bedrooms, bathroom with an enclosed toilet, a bathtub and a separate shower. It also has a woodshed and attached garage. Two cottages are furnished and one is unfurnished.”
“I believe the job is still available, isn’t it?” asked Myrtle, looking around the table to see if everyone agreed. “How well do you know the Tomlins?” she asked Ben.
“Well enough, I guess,” he said. “They live next to one of my boys. From what I hear, they’re well thought of and hard workers. They’re just down on their luck like many of the folks here about and this job would be perfect for them.”
“I think you’re right, Ben. If they’re interested, have them see Gus Nickelson for a key. I’ll write them a check for a month supply of groceries and any other necessities so they can move in this afternoon.”
“They’re crew is hauling supplies, but I’m sure they’ll pick up a key after work tonight.” said Ben.
Ben had just left when the phone rang. Angelia, quickly grabbed the receiver.
“Is the sheriff there?” asked the voice on the other end of the line. “If he is I need to talk to him.”
“This is the sheriff, what can I do for you?” asked Henry.
“Sheriff, Karr here. Sorry to bother you, I’m at Rosebud Cabin, on Rosebud Lane. We’ve stumbled onto something truly bizarre to say the least. I really think you should check it out. Oh, and sheriff, I’d really appreciate it if you could bring four or five flashlights and a couple of shovels with you when you come.”
“What for?” asked Henry. Focusing his eyes on the original blueprint, he followed the tunnel with his eyes. It seemed to go beyond the garden and end in a small copse of trees. As he studied it, his heart began to beat a loud tattoo in his ears.
“I’d rather not say over the phone,” replied Karr, “and sheriff please hurry!”
“Sounds pretty important,” said Henry, wiping the suddenly appearing sweat from his brow.
“It is,” said Karr without hesitation.
“Doesn’t Rosebud set on a knoll in that little thicket of trees, about a mile from Mary’s Garden?”
“That’s the one,” said Karr.
“Okay, I’ll be there as soon as I pick up the flashlights and the shovels. See you in about thirty minutes,” replied Henry.
“What’s going on?” Asked Angelia.
“Where are you going?” demanded Myrtle.
“Why do you need flashlights and shovels?” They asked, before he could grab his hat and coat and escape out the door.
“Oh no you don’t Henry Patterson! You aren’t going anywhere until you tell us what’s going on!” said Myrtle, grabbing his arm to stop him.
“Let go, Myrtle,” demanded Henry. “This is strictly police business. I’m not at liberty to discuss it with anyone, including you ladies.”
“I know something is suspicious at Rosebud. I want to know what it is,” Myrtle demanded.
“All I can tell you is, I was asked to bring a few flashlights and shovels to Rosebud Cabin. That’s exactly what I intend to do. I’ll call you when I have something to tell you. Take it or leave it.”
He’d barely stopped before Karr grabbed a flashlight and a shovel. Yelling, “Back here,” Karr headed around the cabin, his crew right behind him. Grabbing the last flashlight and shovel Henry quickly caught up with him.
“Okay, what’s so all fired important?” roared Henry, as he rounded the corner. He would have pitched head first into a pile of loose, dirt and rotted wood, if Karr hadn’t grabbed him and pulled him back. Shocked, Henry stared at what appeared to be a pile of rotting trash, but was a large, gaping hole.
“What in the blue blazes! Where did that come from?” asked Henry.
“At first we thought it was just a hole,” said Karr. “But it’s actually a very cleverly concealed tunnel.”
“A tunnel!” roared Henry. “Why would anyone need to build a tunnel all the way out to here, in the first place?”
“I haven’t a clue, but the tunnel isn’t why I called you,” said Karr, “It’s what’s in the tunnel that you need to see.”
They quickly scrambled down the rickety old ladder Karr had found in the barn. Shoveling fallen dirt and debris out of the way they came to a small door built into the tunnel wall.
“Why anyone would put a door here is beyond me,” said Henry, as he looked past the door to where the tunnel disappeared into the darkness.”
“We found the door when we checked out the tunnel,” said Karr, “but we couldn’t get it open.”
“That’s odd, there’s no doorknob,” said Henry.
“My thought’ exactly, so I got this when we went back to the cabin,” Karr said, brandishing a crowbar.
“If that doesn’t work nothing will,” said Henry with a big grin.” I once tore down a whole building using one of those things.”
In less than three minutes Karr had the door opened. One look inside and they were wishing they had never found the door in the first place!
All it took was one look at what was inside. Sickened, and horrified at the sight that met their eyes, the men knew they were seeing things straight out of a nightmare.
Stunned Henry carefully looked at the six crude little beds setting against three of the walls. On each bed lay a, torn pink party dress, a rotting piece of rope, and a frayed men’s handkerchief. Henry would have bet a month’s salary that the handkerchiefs had gag six little mouths.
His eyes blurring and fighting a battle within, he finally gained control of his emotions. He knew he had to tuck them out of sight before he lost it completely. He had a job to do and couldn’t do it if he fell apart.
Desperately, he cast his eyes around looking for something, anything to fasten them on. That’s when he saw the six little piles of what appeared to be human hair. They lay, one pile each, on the little beds. Each pile seemed to be a slightly different shade or color.
Carefully, one by one, Henry studied each little pile, starting with the one on the bed closest to the door. Slowly he looked from one pile, to the next pile, to the pile after that one. It wasn’t long before he found the one he was looking for, the one that confirmed his suspicions and brought him to his knees by the little bed.
The little pile of light brown hair still had the barrettes fastened to it. On the barrettes was written, “Daddy’s little girl.” Henry had bought the barrettes for Martha to wear to Mary’s party, telling her they would make her the prettiest little girl there.
The thought of the children’s hair being used as nests for rats and their offspring made him shudder. Heartsick he shifted his eyes to the once pretty dresses that now lay faded and torn. The frayed ropes and rotten gags were a malicious, cruel, reminder that six little children had not gone quietly. “Thankfully, the children are not here,” said Henry, to the man in the room who was also studying the evidence.
Why had the kidnappers so carelessly left all the evidence behind? Was it because they somehow knew that they’d escape detection? Thought Henry warily to himself.
“Hey boss, come look at this,” shouted a voice from down the tunnel.
“What did you find?” asked Henry, wiping tears from his eyes. Shoulders sagging, he left the room and started down the tunnel. Going around a curve, he saw a man pointing at something in the loose dirt.
“Hershel, could I get you to bring me those shovels we piled against the wall back there?” shouted Karr to a man hunched dejectedly against the wall.
The man’s daughter Clara had been one of the six missing children on that long ago summer day. His stomach was churning, as his mind screamed a reminder that one of those little dresses had belonged to his only child. He knew he must not think about that miserable little room or he’d lose it!
With a bone weary sigh, he quickly retrieved the shovels, hoping that the digging would take his mind off the vile things he’d just witnessed.
“What in the world! Is that what I think it is?” asked Karr, in shock and disbelief as he stared opened mouthed at what they had just uncovered.
“Yea, it sure is,” said Hershel angrily, “And they’re definitely not the tracks old man Gilfords used to move all his gold on! No! Whoever put these here was up to no good, like stealing six helpless little girls!”
Pointing back down the tunnel he asked, “How many here knew my Clara, was a prisoner in one of those beds or that one of those pretty little dresses was hers? He said, wiping tears he could no longer hide from his eyes.
“I know,” said Henry. “We both lost a daughter that day and that room is one heck of a reminder!” Henry said, fighting back his own tears as he clasped the man’s shoulder in empathy. The fact that a part of Clara was also back there had slipped Henry’s mind until Hershel had mentioned it.
The men murmuring their sympathy, were now asking several questions. Everyone had suddenly assumed that because he was the sheriff, Henry would have all the answers.
“Well,” said Henry, side stepping their questions and rubbing ferociously at whiskers that seemed to grow longer and scratchier by the minute. “Don’t you think the first thing we need to do is find out where these tracks go?” He asked.
Ten minutes later they heard the faint muffled sound of voices and hammering, as huge chunks of earth from above them gave way showering them with dirt and debris. Three minutes later, the men were stopped dead in their tracks, as they literally ran into a brick wall!
“What in the name of all that’s decent is going on here,” exclaimed Henry.
“Why would anyone build a wall a crossed the middle of a tunnel?” asked Karr in exasperation.
“Maybe it’s here to hide what’s behind it,” said Henry thoughtfully.
“Maybe, someone should go back to the Gilfords and bring back enough tools and men to tear it down,” someone suggested.
“That just might work,” said Henry thoughtfully. He had just opened his mouth to ask if anyone wanted to volunteer for the job, when they heard a faint gasp of surprise, and an unfamiliar voice coming from the other side of the wall.
“What the - - -,” someone exclaimed, before shouting, “Hey! Ben, will ’ya look at this!”
Seconds later Henry heard Ben exclaim, “What the - - -! What’s going on here? Why on earth would anyone build a brick wall five hundred feet from Mary’s castle and right across these tracks?”
The men, hearing their voices, pounded franticly on the door yelling Ben!
“Who’s there,” shouted Ben, startled at hearing his name being called repeatedly by the voices coming from the other side of the wall.
“Ben, it’s Henry,” this ceiling looks like it might collapse at any minute, so I’ll be brief. See if you can find anything that looks like a hidden passageway or door. I’ll do the same on this side.” He shouted, as dirt continued to fall around him and the men.
They were carefully scanning the wall when a whoop from the other side sent more dirt falling onto their heads.
“I found a latch of sorts,” shouted Ben, causing more dirt to fall.
“That’s great, Ben,” shouted Henry, “now can you get us out of here before the ceiling collapses and you have to dig us out!”
“Sure thing boss,” said Ben pushing, pulling, twisting, yanking and turning the latch. Nothing!
The crew was getting nervous as dirt piled around their knees. Henry wondered if the tunnel would be their final eulogy, a sort of parting gift from the kidnappers, if something didn’t happen fast.
“B e e e e e e n!” shouted Henry, angrily slamming his fist into the door. “We’re getting buried in here!”
The door immediately swung open, knocking Ben backwards in the process. Hearts beating in their heaving chests, the men bolted through the door slamming it shut behind them.
“Boy! That was close!” said Karr, sinking to the floor and gasping for breath.
“You’re not just a kidding,” said Henry, dropping down beside Karr and resting his head onto his drawn up knees. That was way too close for comfort!”
“Amen to that,” said the rest of the men dropping wearily down beside them.