Authors: Richard Houston
A Treasure to Die For
Copyright © 2014 Richard Houston
. All rights reserved. Including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof, in any form. No part of this text may be reproduced in any form without the express written permission of the author.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events or locales is entirely coincidental.
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with.
Cover Art by Victorine Lieske
Also by Richard Houston:
A View to Die For
Book to Die For
The author could not have finished this book without the help of his editors and beta readers:
And for her great cover art, Victorine Lieske,
This book is dedicated to all my fans and loyal readers who have told me how much they love this series.
And to my family for all the time I spent shut up in my room to write this novel.
For several months now, I’ve been thinking of ways to commit the perfect murder. It’s not that I’m a violent man, or I’d own a Doberman instead of a Golden Retriever. No, it’s because after I inadvertently solved a couple of murders, I thought I might try to write a murder mystery. Well, to be fair, Fred should get most of the credit for finding those killers, but I did help. He’s great when it comes to fetching rocks and sticks, but really sucks at speaking, so together we make a pretty good team, like Scooby Doo and Shaggy.
Fortunately for Evanovich and Patterson, I couldn’t get past the first chapter of my book. Good writers need to get into the heads of their characters and I couldn’t for the life of me understand why someone would want to kill another human being. All that changed the day Shelia’s boyfriend tried to kill Fred.
My brief journey into the dark side started like most days when I was between jobs, which lately, was far too often. Fred and I would spend half our morning walking around Evergreen Lake where a normal forty-five minute walk takes a couple hours if I let him swim and retrieve sticks. Little did I know then that I was about to get involved in a real murder.
Bonnie, my neighbor and friend, had talked me into joining her for a signing at a small bookstore in town. She had taken it upon herself to keep me busy ever since my wife, Julie, died last year. Bonnie thought I should be at the signing because the author was supposed to be talking about a hidden code in
. She knew Julie had bought me a copy of the book on our first date. It was some kind of omen, she said, and insisted I had to go because a friend of hers, who bought and sold rare books, would be there and could tell me how much my copy is worth.
I told her I wouldn’t sell the book for a million dollars and did everything I could to get out of going; including the fact that Fred would probably be soaking wet after his swim in the lake. That was when she insisted on walking the lake with us so she could help keep him out of the water. She would have better luck taking an alcoholic on a tour of Coors’ brewery and not letting him sample the merchandise.
Luckily for Bonnie, Evergreen Lake isn’t much more than a large pond with benches strategically placed where she could stop to catch her breath. Catching a breath for Bonnie consisted of lighting a cigarette and smoking half of it before flicking it into the water. She had recently turned sixty-nine, but refused to let her age stop her from living, as she put it.
About halfway through our walk, Bonnie needed another break and plunked her thin frame down on a nearby bench. “Let’s take five, Jake. We don’t want to be the first ones there.” She was right, of course. I had a habit of always being too early, like the last time I picked up my first wife from work and saw her on her boss’s lap. Sometimes it pays to be late.
“Sure, Bon, Fred needs off this leash anyway.” We were on the backside of the lake, away from the fishermen and most of the morning crowd so I let him loose. He ran straight to a nearby stick and brought it back to me. I instinctively threw it into the water.
Bonnie tried to look perturbed, but her smile gave her away. “Jake, you promised he wouldn’t get wet.”
I answered with a frown when I saw her reach inside her purse for a pack of cigarettes. “And you promised to cut back on those.”
Her smile faded to a pout while we watched Fred swim after the stick. I tried to forget I had agreed to sit through a boring reading by a local author. My mind had drifted to when Fred and I used to take these walks with Julie. Unlike my first wife who would yell and scream when Fred shook himself dry after a swim, Julie only laughed. Then she would shake her head so her ponytail would swing back and forth before picking up the stick to throw it back in the water. Julie had died just when I thought life couldn’t get better.
Fred kept me from becoming totally depressed, and it wasn’t long before I was back to writing how-to articles and doing odd jobs to pay the bills, even if it wasn’t always on time. I knew the real reason I didn’t want to go to the reading was because I was jealous. I couldn’t for the life of me fathom how this guy was not only published, but made it to the
New York Times Best Sellers List
and was selling his book faster than they could be printed.
Bonnie woke me from my trance with a sharp jab of her elbow. “She has a nerve coming back here.” At seventy-two-hundred feet, we were high enough to enjoy the warm morning sun and escape the haze from Denver, but not high enough to escape from its rudest residents. I didn’t see Shelia and her boyfriend until it was too late.
“Hello, Bonnie,” Shelia said, standing between us and the lake. She had been a neighbor of ours until last year when Bonnie tried to poison Shelia’s husband.
Bonnie glared back and didn’t say a word. Bonnie’s daughter, Diane, had been killed in a terrible hit-and-run accident twenty years before. Then last year, I discovered the car that hit her was a Corvette owned by Shelia’s husband. Only after the attempted poisoning did I find out the driver who killed Diane was Shelia.
Fred came out of the water, dropped his stick at my feet and started shaking like an unbalanced washing machine on the spin cycle. He started with a roll of his head and then really got into it with water flying off his neck and torso until every hair on his body was spraying Shelia and her friend like an untethered garden hose.
“Get that frigging mutt away from me!” Her friend yelled, before picking up the stick and raising it to hit Fred.
That was when I realized why people murder one another. I literally wanted to kill this jerk before he had a chance to kill my dog. I wasn’t close enough to block the blow and found myself looking for another stick, or rock, to throw at the jerk who was about to kill my best friend. But then Fred’s retriever instincts saved his life, or at the very least, a bruised rib. He was in the water and swimming toward where he thought the stick would land before the guy could hit him with it. Jerk lost his balance and fell into the lake when his downward thrust failed to connect with Fred.
Shelia screamed while I broke out laughing. It was better than the perfect murder. Even if he couldn’t drown in the shallow water at this end of the lake, I still had my revenge without the threat of life in prison. The water temperature was barely above freezing, ideal for a Golden Retriever, but hypothermic for us less hairy mammals.
My laughter was cut too short when Bonnie broke her silence, pointing her cigarette at Shelia’s face. “What are you doing here? I told you before I’d see you in hell if you ever show your ugly face up here!”
Shelia didn’t back away, nor did she bother to help her friend climb out of the chilly water. “It was an accident, Bonnie. I told you before, I’m sorry. Why can’t you let it go?”
Bonnie’s eyes filled with tears. “She was only sixteen. She had her whole life in front of her.”
I was captivated by a vision of a burning poker piercing Shelia’s eyeball until a gathering audience woke me from my trance. A couple of joggers had stopped to watch the commotion, so I thought it would be best to put Fred back on his leash. Not because of the joggers, but because he might get it in his mind to help the person who had tried to kill him.
Jerk finally made it to dry land, shivering from his ice-cold bath, and walked over to us with a raised fist. “That mutt is dead meat! I’ll get him and you for this!”
Shelia grabbed his shaking hand and pulled him away before I could answer. I was still thinking of a comeback when Bonnie beat me to it. “You harm one hair on his head, and I’ll see you both in hell!”
Shelia didn’t wait for her friend to answer, and dragged him away without another word. Bonnie turned her attention to the joggers and apparently surprised them enough with her knowledge of anatomical places to put one’s finger that they decided to leave, too. Sailors and construction workers could learn a lot from her when she was upset.
Bonnie was still upset when we made it to the bookstore, so I kept on driving and parked outside the Little Bear bar a few blocks down the street.
“Why are you parking here?” She had been too busy fiddling with her purse to notice until I shut off the engine.
“Those things never get started on time, and even if it does, we won’t miss much. How about we go sit on the patio where you can calm down with a cigarette and a drink?”
Bright sunlight shined through the windshield exposing every wrinkle in her tired face. She looked up at me with bloodshot eyes, holding the pack of cigarettes she had been looking for. “Thank you, Jake. That’s a splendid idea. And then I can refresh my makeup in the little girl’s room before we walk over to the bookstore.”
By the time Bonnie recovered and redid her makeup, she was gabbing away about how she could spend the money if we could decode the location of the treasure the author wrote about. It wasn’t until we entered the bookstore that her excitement ceased and she went quiet. The place was packed tighter than a revival tent in Mississippi. Using powers of deduction that would make Hercule Poirot envious, I quickly reasoned that the guy reading at the front of the audience with a poster next to his table that read,
Twain’s Enigma by Paul Wilson
, was the author. He didn’t bother to look up when we took a seat toward the back with my wet dog.
I already knew, without using any gray cells, that the book was about the somewhere near Breckinridge. Bonnie had told me all that beforehand, and the press had played it up because a similar book that sold a million copies recently made national headlines. Paul Wilson looked like a copycat to me.
The bookstore was small compared to the big-name stores in shopping malls scattered in and around Denver, but that was thirty miles and twenty-five hundred feet down the hill from our little town of Evergreen. I thought the place was quite cozy, even if it was cramped. There was only one chair left, so I let Bonnie have it and stood behind her, holding Fred on a short leash. He had dried off sufficiently, but not enough to ease the odor of wet dog. I suppose I was used to it, and didn’t notice until a couple next to Bonnie got up and left. Fred looked up at me and smiled when I took a seat. I bent down to pat him on the head to let him know how lucky I was to have him when I felt an elbow in my ribs.
“It’s him, Jake,” Bonnie said, before poking me again. “It’s that creep from the lake. And look who’s sitting next to him.”
I stopped massaging my side in time to see Shelia turn around and stare at us. Maybe she didn’t know it was a pet-friendly bookstore, and Fred was a regular, or maybe she was simply surprised that Fred would be interested in literature. I expected her friend, the guy I only knew as Jerk, to turn around too, but he seemed far too mesmerized by what the author was saying. “Shh, Bon,” I whispered, holding a finger to my lips.
Shelia snickered, then turned back to listen, too.
“But that’s impossible,” Bonnie whispered. “He was soaking wet only an hour ago. How’d he dry out so soon?”
Several people from the row in front of us turned and gave the universal sign for her to be quiet. It seemed to work and everyone went back to listening to the author.
“‘Andrew Jackson Drakulich, or Drake as his niece, Penny, called him, removed the last pack from his frozen mule and stumbled to retrace his steps back toward the shelter of the abandoned mine. It was less than twenty yards, yet he could no longer see the path he had made just a few minutes earlier. Sixty mile an hour winds hid every trace of his return with several feet of new snow. Drake swore at the cold wind biting his face and continued toward where he thought the mine should be.
“‘Once back inside, Drake struggled to close the splintered aspen door against the gale-force wind, and cursed again when the wind violently caught the door and tore it out of his hands like a kite from a child. Then just as viciously as it had been torn from his grip, the door slammed back as though connected to a coiled spring, and hit Drake full force on his outstretched fingers.
“‘Drake had seen men's fingers crushed by misdirected sledge hammers before, a common occurrence among novice miners, and he could have accepted that, but nothing in his sixty-two years had prepared him for what the equivalent of a twenty-pound sledge could do in subfreezing weather. In that brief moment between realization and pain, he stared at his fingerless glove with all the astonishment of a gold strike. Then, before the pain completely hit him, and before the wind could blow the door open again, he dropped the latch beam in place with his good hand and screamed every obscenity he knew.’”
Wilson stopped to catch a breath and take a sip of water. It was just long enough for Jerk to cut in. “Can you get to the part of the treasure? The paper said you were going to show how Mark Twain put a secret code in his book on where to find a fortune in lost gold. It didn’t say anything about you reading to us like a bunch of preschoolers.”
The look on the author’s face would have made Medusa jealous, but I doubt anyone noticed. Jerk must have changed his shirt, but his pants were still wet, making it look like he had a bladder accident.
“Craig, please. Not here,” Shelia said, turning to face him. Her cheek was bright red, and obviously it wasn’t because she had too much sun at the lake, or embarrassed by his remarks. Even I knew it would soon turn a dark blue. She should have let him drown.
I whispered a little too loud to Bonnie, “I think the name Jerk suits him better.”