THE CASE OF THE HOLE IN THE WALL Part 9
Updated: Mar 24
Ridley insisted upon leading the way back through the crevasse although it hadn’t been the way he’d entered the hidden world. Mena trailed at his heels leaving Heath to bring up the rear. The trip back through was easier thanks to Archedelphos Fizwick stretching it wider, which Heath appreciated considering he had assumed the role of mule for the return trip. The laden pack rested on his back once more, he’d reclaimed the rifle he’d dropped at the cave’s terminus the day before, and had been handed the bundle of food Hyckate forced on them for the journey back to the scientific camp as well.
Ridley’s voice echoed in the confined space as he enjoyed a monologue of his own devising. He detailed the possible wonders yet to be found in the world they’d just left, apparently having forgotten what had brought him and his partner this far west. But Mena was back on target, Heath knew. Now that Ridley had been found alive, her mind returned to the business she’d journeyed west to solve.
Heath found it interesting that when Ridley scrambled over the edge of the drop back to the desert floor on their world’s side of the hole in the cliffside, Mena was in no hurry to follow him.
“I’d like your opinion, Heath,” she whispered, although considering Ridley’s voice drifted up to them as he detailed each hand and foothold he used on the climb down, there was little need. “As Daisy was not stolen but escaped, the assignment the Director gave us is mute. However, if Macus is selling off the finds for his own profit, he still needs to be brought to justice, does he not?”
“Unless the magenta haired minx was hired to transport further finds,” Heath cautioned. “However, I think that is doubtful. Macus is lining his pockets, but considering the price offered for the bones, he isn’t likely to get rich. Call if petty larceny.”
“You aren’t saying he should be allowed to continue,” she hissed, “are you?”
“Devil a bit, darling. He needs to be nailed to the proverbial wall. You have in your hands the ability to ruin the pompous arse. I say, do it.”
Her lovely form was outlined against the clear blue western sky of their own world. Though her face was in shadow as she faced him, Heath thought she grinned.
“Your Ridley will no doubt be all for taking Macus in, but I believe he will be doing it for a different reason than you, sweetums.”
“Don’t be ridic—”
“Quietly, darling. He may yet be near enough to hear us,” Heath warned. “Was Broxton-Alverdeen trained as a paleontologist or was that merely what you both were pretending to be?”
“He did attend the university between the wars, but he didn’t finish. He was interested in science but not that of the bone hunters,” she admitted. “Why?”
“I’m willing to stake the fee you promised me that what he did study was geology,” Heath murmured.
When she gasped, he knew the fee was safe.
“Your man saw the gold and plans to come back for it,” he said.
Heath withheld further comment. His silence tipped the scales though.
“He does,” Mena admitted. Her stance wilted then she squared her shoulders and straightened her back, obviously having decided to face the truth. “Not that he told me so, but I saw the way his gaze would return to the rock face when he thought everyone’s attention was elsewhere.”
She sighed. “He’s not the man I thought him, is he?”
She didn’t need an answer. She had it already. “Keep him close. Watch him.”
“What’s delaying you two?” Ridley yelled from below them.
Heath glanced over the edge. The man had reached the ground and assumed an irritated stance, fists balled on his hips as he glared up to the crack in the rock where they stood. “We’re plotting against you, of course, Alverdeen,” Heath snarled down at him. “Stop being a git. Your partner didn’t want a misstep on her part to result in knocking you as well from your perch on the wall. Not wishing to drag two corpses back to camp, I agreed wholeheartedly with Miss Katchemjammer’s delaying tactic.”
“That isn’t her—” Ridley protested before Mena cut him off.
“Oh, do leave it be,” she snapped at him. “He knows it isn’t. But he’s my employee, not yours, Ridley. If anyone has the right to berate him, it is I.”
“You were lost and now you’re found, mate,” Heath said as he assisted Mena in safely finding the first foot hold. “Considering it was managed in record time, I rather think that deserves a bonus for fast retrieval, don’t you?”
Since she wasn’t burdened with gear, Mena moved easily to the next hand hold, dropping lower on the cliff face. “Both of you, just be quiet. I am anxious to return to camp and to the rail town as soon as possible. I’ve had quite enough of the western wilderness, thank you very much.”
“Amen, halleluiah, and pass the collection plate,” Heath declared in perfect accord. With a final check on the security of his multiple burdens, he maneuvered down the rock in Mena’s wake.
“While you’re waiting for us, see if you can’t find your Galileans, Ridley,” she suggested loudly, though Heath heard her mutter to herself, “to make yourself useful for a change.”
Ah, the honeymoon with her partner had definitely ended, Heath noted, amused at her change of heart. Unfortunately, the burke’s interest in the wide veins of gold in Archie’s world remained. For all this job had sounded fairly simple when he’d taken it, it was now fraught with the sort of peril he’d previously assumed was only favored in dime novels. Or hinted at in those bloody stage plays that decreed he deliver villainous sneers to titillate maidens’ hearts. It was definitely time to put the western theatre circuit behind him, Heath decided.
Whether Ridley bothered to look for his lost equipment or not, when Heath’s foot touched ground once more the man glared at him with unadulterated hate. Considering Alverdeen failed to wear his gun in an easily drawn position, Heath knew he’d beat the git in a quickdraw challenge easily. The ponce would likely shoot himself in the foot trying to pull the pistol free.
Fortunately, rather than enter a debate with lead, when Mena started for the camp without a word to either of them, Ridley stomped after her swaying hips.
Rather than follow them immediately, Heath shrugged off the pack on his back, swung the strap on his rifle free, leaned back against the cliff face and enjoyed one of his remaining cheroots. The two agents were halfway back to the scientists’ encampment when he heard a scraping growl in the rock above him. Heath craned his head, looking up to where they’d exited the rock face not long before and watched as the crack vanished as the crevasse sealed itself.
Heath smirked in satisfaction. That blighter Ridley would be right pissed when he returned with pick and shovel, he mused, and leisurely finished his smoke before turning toward the camp himself.
It was damn irritating to find he’d lost the minimal comfort of the previously allotted cot in the geologist’s tent. Apparently, it had been Broxton-Alverdeen’s before his disappearance and he’d simply reclaimed it. Great bleedin’ Orpheus! Heath swore. He’d be so glad to get back to civilization, he’d never disparage whatever accommodations were arranged for a troupe again.
As the only other spare makeshift bed had been taken by Mena, Heath sought out Ishmael, deposited the pack, his reclaimed saddlebags, and tossed a blanket on the ground near the fire the groom kindled that night. He shared the untouched picnic Hyckate had packed for them that morning. Ishmael didn’t question its origin, but simply made short shift of the feast.
Heath stayed away from Macus and the other scientists, though that didn’t mean he missed the monologue Ridley delivered of his adventures. Fortunately, the man made no mention of the thunderbird or where it had taken him or the riches in the hidden world. Instead, he invented an unlikely tale of a lone horseman finding him and patching him up after his fall, supplying provisions, then riding off. Heath doubted the Cog agent held back the truth because of the vow he made to Archedelphos Fizwick. No, Broxton-Alverdeen didn’t intend to share anything about the gold he’d found.
Unless he did with the geologist in the sanctity of their tent.
On the opposite side of the campfire, Ishmael already snored loudly, his back turned to the flames. But sleep evaded Heath as he mused on the likelihood of Ridley forming such a partnership, a contemplation easily shelved when Mena slipped from the shadows and took a seat next to him on the ground.
She’d donned skirts again, though it was the sturdy desert colored ensemble worn the day she sprang him from the cell back in town. Rather than greet her verbally, he offered her the bottle of whiskey he’d been nursing. The level had dropped considerably since they’d left the rail town and would likely vanish entirely before they set out for the return trip. A very thirst driving trip, but at least the carrot of a variety of saloons awaited him at the end of it.
Besides, she looked like a stiff drink was required. Not necessarily for medicinal purposes.
The fact that she accepted the offer and tilted the bottle back for a quick swallow, proved him right.
“Do you think that Macus is interested in illegal mining as well?” she asked quietly once she had her breath back after choking on the far from quality rotgut.
“No,” Heath admitted. “He’s a pompous git taking the chance to make a few bob on the side, but I can’t see him as a mastermind.”
“You think Ridley is?”
“Hardly, darling,” Heath murmured and cast a look at the lamps glowing in the tents on the other side of the campsite. Only he and Ishmael bedded down near the animals. “He’s biding his time. While he may leave with us, even journey back to report to your superior, my guess is that he’ll soon make an excuse to leave such employment and return for an illegal harvest. Therefore, I must beg a favor of you.”
“What sort of favor?”
“Ensure that he never rides behind me on the way back.”
“Why ever not?”
“Because he needs to remove witnesses, darling. Anyone who saw the gold is a problem he needs to solve.”
“Don’t be ridic—”
“He’ll solve it with lead in my case. He’ll eliminate you in a different way. Does your Society train operatives in the use of poisons?”
“Oh,” she said. Heath felt it was answer enough. Mena might have fancied herself in love with her partner, but she hadn’t blinded herself to of what he was capable. Not as an Allegory Society agent, nor as a man.
“That means we can’t travel with him and we can’t travel without him,” she whispered. “But until he actually does any illegal mining—”
“Which he can’t,” Heath interrupted. “Fizwick’s sealed the fissure. Not a sign that it ever existed remains.”
“Does Ridley know that?”
Heath shook his head. “It vanished after you were both well on your way back to camp, so no, he doesn’t. As long as he thinks it’s there to return to, we’re standing between him and ill got gains, my dear. You can’t arrest him for thinking about doing a thing. You have to wait for him to do the thing, which he won’t be able to do.”
“Bother,” she snarled.
“I believe slightly stronger words are required, darling,” Heath murmured in amusement. “Might I suggest –”
“No, you may not,” Mena said and got to her feet. “We’re safe unless we leave the camp. Therefore, there is time to sort out this conundrum and—”
“I’m afraid there isn’t, dearest,” he warned. “You weren’t paying attention to Broxton-Alverdeen’s ramblings to Macus and company, were you.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that bleedin’ burke announced to one and all that we were returning to the rail town tomorrow. We leave at dawn.”
TO BE CONTINUED!
We draw ever closer to the big finish...
but what will it be?
Well, gentle reader, wait but a week longer.
Yes, we know it taxes your patience,
but come March 22nd all will have been told!
And you'll no doubt be wondering when the next Cog adventure begins.
We're sort of wondering that ourselves!
But if you missed out on the previous two Covert Cog adventures
"starring" two entirely different sets of agents
Look ye for
THE CASE OF THE SHOOTIST’S FINGER
THE CASE OF THE REPURPOSED MAN