Gold. Gold everywhere. On the frames of the doors, the murals on the ceilings, even worked into the grout between the tiles on the floors. “Dear lord,” Kate murmured. “It’s like Liberace’s wet dream.”
Kevin turned to his dad. “What in the world is this place?”
“Son. This is a room that was built with money given to John Brown by abolitionists in Albany, New York along with money that was placed in his trust by his business partner, Simon Perkins. These monies were first used to fund activities with the Underground Railroad after the Fugitive Slave Act was passed. In order to disguise the fact that they were using this money, it was written down as operating losses from a business that Brown and Perkins had trying to sell wool from Western Massachusetts to England. Later, the money was used to purchase weaponry and pay for fighters from Ohio during the Bleeding Kansas struggle.”
The group continued to look around the shining room. “But Hunter,” Kate replied, “John Brown was, to be blunt, sort of a maniacal idealist. He wouldn’t ever let funds for his band of freedom fighters be used for such extravagance.”
“He didn’t,” Hunter continued, “As part of the deal that Brown made with Territorial Governor Geary, he had to turn over the money and the guns to the territorial government. That allowed the fighting to stop, and probably allowed Brown to make it back to Virginia with his skin still attached, which was becoming chancier by the day. Geary turned the money over to the state. When the Capitol was built, it was decided that there were better things to do with gold than just stack it up in a vault.”
They all looked at the gold stacked on every available flat surface. “Looks like they still had plenty to stack,” muttered Kate’s grandfather.
“This isn’t all leftover from then. Most of it is money that has been stored here by a corrupt cabal that has been involved with sundry plots to siphon money from various taxpayer funded projects since the New Deal,” explained Hunter. “Bianca and her goons were just the operatives of that group who were drafted for this particular swindle. This is far from over.”
Kevin began to shake with anger. These bastards had condemned his father to slow death, threatened his and his mother’s lives, killed a coworker, and beat the holy hell out of the first woman that he had cared about since high school. He was going to have someone’s guts for garters over this little affair.
“Point me in the right direction, pop,” Kevin said, his voice barely a whisper made slightly tremulous with fury. “I am well past the point of fooling around with these fools. This has gone on long enough. I was raised here. Topeka is in my blood, for better or worse and someone is going to bleed for this.”
“Now hold up there, cowboy,” Kate’s grandfather interjected. “You are going about this the wrong way. Who do you think you are? Batman? This is bigger than you. This is a conspiracy on the highest level and you don’t want to find yourself on the business end of an assassin’s gun.”
Kevin whirled on Grandpa George. “So what, let the FBI take over? They obviously couldn’t give two shits about this little affair. They decided to send 2 retirees to do their investigation and if it hadn’t have been for a freak supernatural occurrence that I can’t begin to explain, what precisely would they have done to keep the six of us from getting our asses shot off by Bianca and the goons who are currently assuming room temperature. I don’t have much faith in them.”
“Five.” Madeline was staring at Hunter, sorrow and rage fighting for dominance on her face. “Five of us. Let’s not forget that your father had a gun in his hand as well.”
“Maddy…” started Hunter.
“Don’t you dare ‘Maddy’ me, you son of a bitch!” shouted Madeline. “You were holding a gun on your son, you rotten bastard! Your son! Who’s betraying who, now? You were neck deep in alligators before you ever let on a single word about any of this. You can talk all you want about how you only wanted what was best and were being forced into a bad situation, but the fact remains that you stood not ten minutes ago ready to kill your son.”
After this outburst, some of the energy seemed to wash out of Kevin’s mother and she slumped to the floor. Hunter tried to get close, but she growled, “Don’t you dare touch me.” and he prudently took a few steps back. “I tried to get you out of this situation in any way that I could. I sent all of those clues to Evelyn to try to point her in the right direction, hopefully get the police involved. I didn’t know that she was going to decide to be Nancy Drew.”
Kate was feeling the shock wearing off and being replaced by cold anger and steely resolve. This was turning into a red letter day for familial betrayal. She couldn’t believe that her sweet, caring grandparents were hiding something as big as this from her for even a minute. The news footage of the smoking hulk of Evelyn’s burned out car flashed in front of her memory as she said, “Besides, Grandpa, how do you know for sure the FBI isn’t compromised. Someone with an intimate knowledge of Bureau affairs and you and Grandma’s investigating styles could easily have sent you here knowing that you would shake the bushes and find the clues that would lead us to the Capitol. There are plenty of nooks and crannies in this building to hustle us off to and have a merry little execution party. Then the apparent spirit of a 19th century abolitionist decides to lead us here, saving them all the trouble of finding a perfect place for mass murder. Nice and hidden, away from prying eyes, oh so easy to off everyone that had knowledge of this that was left alive.” She whirled on Hunter, “And if you think they would’ve left you alive after they killed us, you are the dumbest civil servant on the face of God’s green earth.”
George looked at Kevin and Kate. With the fire in their eyes and the set of their jaws, they could be he and Emily when they first found themselves partnered up and taking on the resurgence of the five families in the wake of the Castro assassination plot. “Alright, you two. I can see I’m not going to be able to talk you out of this, but we need to think for a minute if you hope to come out of this upright and drawing air.” Kevin started to make another remark, but George stopped him with an angry slash of his hand through the air. “No, sport. I understand that you’re pissed off and you have every right to be, as do you Kate, but you are dealing with things so far outside of your experience that you don’t even know what you’re about to deal with.” He walked up until he was standing only a few feet away. Emily joined him.
“You’ve watched a lot of cop movies and spy movies I imagine, but all they are are movies. If you behave in a way that emulates them, you are going to get cold-slabbed, toe-tagged, and sent home in a body bag. Do I make myself clear?” A murmured agreement was taken as cue to forge ahead. “You need to be using your brains more than weapons. You need to rely on each other for back up, and if you see anything coming down the road that looks like it might get you in over your head, you turn the other way and run like your hair is on fire and your ass is catching. This ain’t reality TV, kids. This is real life, and one of the things about real life is that it can end abruptly when you least expect it. If you don’t believe me, step through that door and ask the bad guys for their thoughts on the matter.”
These words sobered up the two young people. The resolve hadn’t lessened, but George could tell that now they were thinking and that was good. Maybe they would live through this, even better maybe they would succeed.
Emily chimed in, “Now I hate to interrupt a good lecture, but we need to get a move on. Evelyn’s car being bombed is being handled by the state police for now.”
“Good point,” George thought aloud. “Since 9/11 though, a bombing brings folks from Washington like cow shit brings flies.”
“ATF first, most likely,” added Emily.
“Then FBI,” continued George.
“CIA will want a piece.”
“NSA won’t be able to stay away either”
“OK, probably not. They’re a bunch of tech geeks these days, but Secret Service are a distinct possibility.”
“And once it comes out that the underlying crime is tax fraud, the IRS will be all over that.”
“The main point,” George said, exiting his reverie, “is that in less than 24 hours, there will be feds all over this. At that point, it won’t take more than 60 seconds for even the most wet behind the ears rookie to figure out that the 2 of you are most likely linked to it.”
Emily added, “After that point, you won’t be able to sneeze without a fed knowing what color the snot was”
“If you two want to make any headway in this, you need to be out of town by the time the sun comes up.”
“But where do we go?” asked Kate.
“I think there is someone here that knows,” snarled Madeline from her position on the floor. The look that she was shooting at Hunter should have by all rights rendered him as a smoldering shadow on the opposite wall. “If you want any hope at redeeming yourself in my eyes, this is where you learn a nice tune and sing it well, my loving husband.” The last three words dripped venom.
Hunter sighed, “What the hell,” he said. “Even if I don’t talk, they’re going to think I did. I need to save my own skin and get out while I can. And the best bet is for you two to go ahead and show up exactly where they were going to try to catch you. And then hope for the best.”
Hunter looked up at his son. His eyes were sunken, his shoulders hunched with a thousand unforgiven sins. “Well, kids, Are you ready to go to California?”
Keep reading! Chapter 20 by Anne Pepper and Lissa Staley
About the Author
Jason Whisnant is a more or less balding (more), more or less broke (more) father, poet, tech geek and knitter. He was born in Kansas, went to high school in Oklahoma and Kansas, college in Kansas, and decided that it would be the most fun to stop growing up somewhere in the midst of all of that. He currently resides in Topeka full-time, but plans to leave someday to live anywhere he doesn’t have to drive by Westboro Baptist on his way to the damn grocery store.