People in one time can communicate with inhabitants of the future. We know that. Letters, now probably e-mails or social media posts to the next generation seem easy enough. Time capsules have been used for many years as a means of communicating into the future. But can people in the present communicate back in time? Can people in the former time see or learn what is happening in the present?
Molly Parker Graham was about to find out. The subject was gold.
Gold. Nothing else quite captures manâ€™s imagination or drives him crazier than sweet yellow gold.
Chemical symbol: Au
Atomic Number: 79
Color: Bright Yellow (gold)
Properties: Relatively inert, corrosion resistant metal
Perhaps more than any other substance found in nature, this simple, beautiful metal has obsessed mankind for thousands of years, triggering wars and conflicts, supporting economies and empires, and causing something called "gold fever" that so takes over a man's mind that he can think of nothing more and do nothing more than pursue the faint hope of finding "color" and the riches that gold promises.
Human fascination with gold goes back to before the beginning of recorded history. Ancient Egyptian pharaohs and priests prized the yellow metal for their temples and religious icons. Since recorded history began, gold has served man beyond mere symbols and decorations, but as a medium of exchange. Gold was minted into coins used as currency. Gold provided a standard by which currency has been measured. Its perceived value has been so stable and reliable, gold has often been used as a means of storing substantial wealth. Gold, by itself, offers no explanation for this obsession. Rather, the answer, however puzzling, lies in manâ€™s perception and his fascination with this particular substance.
Gold is not necessary for human existence. It is not like water, food, clothing and shelter. Gold has no intrinsic value. Only man's obsession makes gold desirable and gives it artificial "value." Gold doesnâ€™t go away. Of the nearly 200,000 tons that have been found or mined from the earth, nearly all is still around, although most is kept under careful guard.
Men have labored long and hard to take gold from the land. Some men have preferred to take the gold from other men. Many have fought and died over gold.
When gold is around and possibly for the taking, whether from nature or someone else, otherwise sane and honest men go crazy, act in foolish, dangerous and often illegal ways. Honesty, integrity and honor disappear.
Lost or mislaid gold wakens the greed and avarice in many men. Throughout history, stories of sunken Spanish galleons and buried treasure abound. Men's desire, obsession and willingness to seek this yellow treasure at all costs drives them in one irreversible and self-destructive direction. As long as the gold continues to be missing and lost, the obsession continues. The search never ends.
In the summer of 1897 in the hills of western Wisconsin, the dog days of August were uncomfortably warm and dry. On a particularly hot and hazy day, GB&W Engine No. 7 rolled along the tracks pulling its tender, twenty-seven freight cars and a caboose bound for Winona on the Green Bay Route. Past the town of Arcadia, she generally followed the meandering Trempealeau River as it flowed south and west toward its confluence with the Mississippi. But No. 7 and its train would not follow the Trempealeau that far. She would cross the Trempealeau and then cross over the Mississippi at Winona on the river crossing bridge jointly owned by the Chicago, Burling & Quincy Railroad and No. 7's owner, the Green Bay & Western Railroad or commonly called GB&W. But, as it turned out, that wouldn't happen either.
The engineer peered through the haze, heat rising from the tracks ahead in waves that made the tracks appear to oscillate back and forth like waves of grain in a field. He figured the temperature would get well into the nineties by mid-afternoon. A hot day for working. As a kid, on a hot, lazy summer day like this one, he would find a way to spend the afternoon in and out of a stream or river like the nearby Trempealeau or the Mississippi. In his imagination he could feel the cool water. Oh, to be a kid again.
At first, he sensed the obstruction on the tracks more than he saw it. He applied the brakes hoping there was enough time and distance to stop the train. It slowed gradually and finally stopped just short of a pile of logs and lumber on the track.
Suddenly, several armed, masked men appeared on both sides of the track. Two remained by the locomotive with carbines trained on the engineer. Others moved back along the train.
"Hands up!" shouted one of the masked men. The engineer put up his hands where the riflemen could see them. He leaned back and waited. His fireman stood by, anxiously watching the robbers. Up the hillside away from the tracks and the river, the engineer saw four more men with rifles and a dozen or so horses being tended by another man, also masked.
The seventh car back behind the tender carried the gold he'd been told was on this run. He didn't know if the robbers knew which car or were even after the gold.
The "gold" shipment was $250,000 in gold and silver coinage being shipped from Chicago to Winona by Mississippi Valley Bank & Trust Company for distribution to its branches in Winona, Red Wing, Wabasha, Lake City, and La Crescent, all towns along the river. The coins were shipped in twenty-four Winchester strong boxes each carrying 500 - 600 coins worth over $10,000. Empty, the metal strong boxes weighed twenty-five pounds each. With the gold and silver, each box weighed from seventy-five to more than ninety pounds. The railroad used teams of men and heavy lifting equipment at the station to off load such heavy freight containers to other transportation vehicles. The engineer had seen only men and horses. If the gold shipment was their objective, he saw no transport method for getting the gold out of the area.
The shipment, he understood, came up from Chicago to New London where its boxcar was added to the train, continuing on toward Winona on the Green Bay Route. The National Express Company handled the shipping. An express agent and an additional armed guard inside the car guarded the gold. He'd heard other guards or detectives were aboard, but the engineer wasn't sure and hadn't seen any he recognized as such. Maybe some back in the caboose. He reached to his blouse pocket for his pipe.
"Hold it, there!" One of the men near the engine threatened with his carbine. The engineer held up his old briar pipe, his eyebrows raised, asking permission and, at the same time, showing the innocence in his move. By this time, the engineer had concluded he was in little or no danger provided he didn't do something foolish.
The man relaxed the rifle a little but shook his head in the negative. The engineer put his pipe back in his pocket.
From where he stood, the engineer could not see back along the train. The riflemen had directed him to keep eyes forward. With his peripheral vision, he could still see the men and horses up the hill. Several had mounted and were proceeding down the grassy slope toward the train farther back. Tiny dust clouds rose up from the dry ground and hung in the air behind the horses. Going to the caboose, he thought. Two more rode down to the engine where one of the engineer's guards held their mounts while they began moving the woodpile on the tracks that had stopped the train. One of the riflemen called his fireman down to help. Odd, thought the engineer. What did these guys care about what happened to them after they left?
Noises from commotion back along the train sounded like it could be in the vicinity of the seventh car back. Voices barking commands of some sort. After about fifteen minutes the shouts and noises stopped. A rider came forward, examined the progress of the obstruction removal and leaned down to speak to one of the riflemen. The man nodded and looked toward the engineer as the rider moved back along the train. He motioned with his rifle at the fireman who climbed back aboard. The pile of logs and lumber and other junk that had been on the tracks just ahead of Engine No. 7 was gone.
The rifleman waved in response from a shout from further back. He turned to the engineer. "Okay. Now, get out of here!"
The steam gauge showed they still had enough steam to get going. The big driving wheels spun a little with the throttle until they began to get traction and give power to Engine No. 7 to overcome the inertia of twenty-nine cars standing still and wanting to remain that way. Soon the train was on its way. In his mirror, the engineer could see men and horses and a stack of what he assumed were twenty-four Winchester strong boxes filled with $250,000 in gold and silver coins. Now what?
The engineer drove Engine No. 7 forward for what he judged to be about five miles. A curve in the track had quickly put the train robbers and their loot out of sight. At five miles away from the robbery site, the engineer figured it was safe to stop. Moving back along the train, the fireman and engineer found no sign of activity. The door to the seventh car back was locked with a heavy brass padlock. No key was anywhere in sight. The limited tools in the Engine cab would be of little use against that lock. They would get it eventually, but it would take time. The engineer pounded on the door and shouted. He heard movement and muffled voices.
"The caboose," he told the fireman who began jogging back toward the rear. Maybe there was something there that would work against the heavy lock. There was nothing in the engine that would do the job.
Scanning as much of the line of cars as he could from where he stood, he saw nothing. Nothing out of the ordinary but no activity of any kind, either. The fireman returned shortly with bolt cutters the size of pruning shears for hedges. There was something that should work. Why they were in the caboose, he couldnâ€™t imagine. With hardened muscles from years of shoveling coal into the firebox, the fireman made short work of the lock. The big door slid back revealing eight men, bound and gagged on the floor of the car. No one seemed to be hurt. The express agent, two men the engineer didn't know and the rest of the train crew. From the empty holsters and cartridge belts on the two he didn't know, he presumed they had been armed. Probably railroad detectives or private police. No weapons were in sight.
The men split up. Five returned to the caboose. Three joined the engineer and fireman in the engine. The engineer headed for the first stop where they could report the robbery.
Hours later, the authorities arrived at the site where the train had been stopped. The late afternoon sun, still high in a cloudless sky over the valley of the Trempealeau River, shone down on the men investigating. No shade to offer relief from the oppressive heat unless one wandered off to the trees along the river bottom. Some did. At nearly four in the afternoon, the air temperature had shone no sign of cooling. It had taken them that long to get there after receiving a telegraph report that the train had been robbed. Arriving on horseback and by buggy, they brought the engineer, fireman, express agent and one of the caboose crewmen with them as witnesses to explain what happened. The armed guard in the car carrying the gold was in on it, the express agent said.
At the scene, there was nothing.
"You sure this is the place?" asked a Buffalo County Sheriff's deputy, wiping his forehead with a red bandanna.
The engineer scanned the woods along the river for a pair of particularly tall pines that stood above the rest. He had noted them as landmarks while still under the watchful eye of the outlaws. He pulled his pipe and tobacco pouch. "This is it," he answered.
"Where did they offload the gold?"
The engineer touched a match to the fresh fill, took a few deep drafts on the stem sending clouds of blue smoke into the air. "Seven cars back." He nodded back along the track.
As the group walked back along the track, the engineer mentally paced off railway car lengths. He stopped. "Just about here," he told the deputies. Sheriffs and deputies from Buffalo and Trempealeau counties were joined by railroad police and some Pinkertons the express company had sent. They all wandered around the scene, tramping this way and that, walking over each other's tracks, much to the amusement, in part, and dismay, in a larger part, of the engineer.
"Over here," he said, finally. He pointed out an area near the track on the river side. The tall grass was bent down flat, like where a bear or deer had slept the night before. But where the engineer pointed, the flattened grass was not the shape of a nesting White-tail or Black Bear. The pressings in the grass were several and in rectangular shapes. The engineer recalled the view in the engine's mirror of boxes stacked, surrounded by men whose faces were masked by their bandanas pulled up nearly to their eyes.
A young Pinkerton man named Jensen asked him, "You say you saw the strong boxes stacked here where these impressions are?"
The engineer nodded. "I thought so. I was looking in the rear view mirror from the engine eight cars ahead."
Jensen nodded, studied the impressions in the grass some more and stared off toward the river.
Beyond the impressions in the grass, the assembled peace officers found nothing. No tracks, of men, horses or wagons. The engineer had observed nothing but men and horses. No wagons, draft animals or equipment that could run or be pushed or pulled on the tracks. How did they remove the gold? Did they remove it from the strongboxes? If so, what did they do with twenty-four boxes that weighed twenty-five pounds each, empty? And where did they take the gold, if they actually took it somewhere?
Jensen, still standing next to the engineer, shook his head. "Moving all that heavy gold and those strong boxes would have been difficult in any circumstance, but in this heat. You didnâ€™tâ€™ see any wagons or equipment?"
Expert trackers who later studied the scene, speculated that the thieves unloaded the strongboxes and hid or destroyed them, carrying the gold and silver some other way. Some thought the money was buried somewhere not far from the robbery site. Some thought they got the treasure to the banks of the Trempealeau River and floated it in small boats or canoes down to the Mississippi and getting away down the big river by boat or river barge. More Pinkerton detectives were brought in. Everyone searched. Nothing was found. No one was caught.
Nearly twenty-five years later, on a warm morning in June in the Minneapolis office of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, the wooden swivel chair creaked as Walter Jensen leaned back from his desk and the open file he was reviewing. Jensen was a veteran of the Agency, nearing retirement after nearly thirty years. The file was the case file on a train robbery that happened back in 1897 near Arcadia, Wisconsin. Jensen was little more than a rookie back then. Pinkertons had not been aboard when the train was stopped and robbed. They were called in immediately following the first report of the incident. Because he and a partner had been in Winona when the call came in by wire, they were able to arrive within hours along with local law enforcement. Jensen was fairly new then, still learning, but some experienced investigators and skilled trackers on the scene were mystified by the lack of physical evidence.
$250,000 in gold and silver coins isn't light. It isn't easy to move. How the hell did they do it? That question had bothered Detective Jensen for nearly his entire career. He had always held to the theory that the gold was put on boats in the nearby Trempealeau River and floated down to the Mississippi and from there in the boats or on a river barge out of the area and far away.
Train robberies had diminished in number since then as the country was becoming more civilized. Fast communications systems had improved. Remote places suitable to stop a train weren't as common as they used to be. Still, the Newton gang had taken three million off a train near Chicago just a couple of years ago. More importantly, though, thought Jensen, those cases were solved. The robbers were caught and killed or sent to prison. Not so with the case in the file on his desk.
Hugh Brandon came in. He looked at the file on Jensen's desk. "Walt! You still lookin' at that old Mississippi Valley/National Express case?"
"It's been twenty-five years, Walt. You ain't never gonna catch them now. We'll never know who they are, or were."
"I don't give up that easily," Jensen responded. "Remember the company slogan, 'We never sleep!' I've lost a few nights sleep over this one."
"I know you have, Walt. No one could ever accuse you of giving up easily." Brandon leaned against the wall of Jensen's tiny office. "You should give it up now, though. You're about to retire. I'm sure those guys retired years ago, if they're even still alive." He struck a match against a cast iron radiator and lit a factory-rolled cigarette. "You know, Walt, the robbery victims donâ€™t even care, anymore. The National Express Company no longer exists. It was absorbed by American Express several years ago. The Mississippi Valley Bank is still going strong, but the people who ran the bank when it was hurt by the train robbery are also dead and gone or retired. The current executives would probably love to get the money, if you found it, but they are comfortable running the bank successfully as it is."
Brandon tapped his cigarette on the edge of the ashtray. "The fact is, Walt, enough time has passed that nobody today cares, except maybe you."
After Hugh Brandon left, Jensen reviewed the file one more time. Nothing stood out. It was the same as it had been for years. There had been specialists who could have pulled off the robbery. But the James gang was long gone by that time, its members either dead or in prison in Minnesota. It was pretty far east for the Wild Bunch. Besides, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were killed more than a decade ago in Bolivia. Solving the case now wouldn't affect them much. Jensen had gone through the Pinkerton Rogue's Gallery several times over looking for outlaws who might have pulled it off. Jensen assumed, therefore, that it was somebody new. Somebody without a reputation or a record. Somebody who stole once and then disappeared into anonymity.
Jensen thought about what Brandon said. Did a case die just because people lost interest? He hoped that wasn't true. But, Hugh Brandon was probably right. The robbers would never be identified. The gold would never be found. Because nobody cared anymore. Jensen closed the file for the last time.
With inflation at an annual average of 2.82 %, it would take about $560 to buy today what a twenty dollar gold coin could buy in 1897. The spending power of $250,000 in 1897 would be the equivalent of over $7 Million, today. In reverse, although $250,000 in 1897 dollars, if they were accepted at face value, could purchase $250,000 worth of goods and services today, those goods and services would have cost less than $9,000 in 1897. A good reason not to hide savings in a mattress. Or in leathern bags, like Silas Marner.
However, as gold hunters know, the value of gold has out performed even inflation. The melt value today of a twenty dollar gold double eagle is over $1200. For 12,500 coins, that is over $15 Million. But the 12,500 coins in good condition, and these were newly minted when stolen, could be sold as coins through the right coin dealer at auction for as much as $1,500 to $2,000 apiece, giving the stolen treasure a current value of Eighteen to Twenty-five Million Dollars.
Where could it be? As long as it is missing, people will keep looking.
More than a hundred years after the Arcadia train robbery, Molly Parker Graham sat in the Great Room of Standing Pines Lodge, wondering what more could happen to her; wondering whether she could even survive what had already happened. At age twenty-seven, she should have her life in front of her with all its wonderful opportunities. She did have all that until four months earlier when it was brutally taken away by Taliban machine gun fire. Molly and Brian Wozniak were married little over a year ago. Molly had kept her birth name as it was the name she used in starting her career as a family law attorney in downtown Minneapolis. Brian was Staff Sergeant Brian Wozniak of the United States Army Rangers. He was planning to leave the Army at the end of his current enlistment later this year. With a baby on the way, he had decided to become a civilian and join Molly in beginning their life in the Twin Cities.
While deployed in Afghanistan, his team came under heavy attack while on patrol in the mountainous Kunar Province in the northeastern part of the country. With what the Army later described as "uncommon acts of heroism and valor," Sergeant Wozniak held off overpowering enemy forces until his team members could be rescued. He did so at the cost of his own life.
Sgt. Wozniak was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, posthumously.
Molly was devastated. She miscarried their child, a boy whom she would have named Brian Wozniak, Jr. Friends and family tried to make her feel better. Their efforts were born of genuine compassion, but they failed miserably. Not their fault, Molly knew, but no help nonetheless. It was her fault. It was Molly who couldn't understand this enormous change in her life, or didn't want to. While only a few months ago she had had everything to look forward to, now she had only a memory of a child who never was, a hero who would not come back, a Congressional Medal of Honor and a tri-corner folded American flag.
After Brian's death, Molly had been offered all kinds of support from a variety of compassionate and willing sources. Several governmental agencies and a few private charitable organizations tried to help. The Veterans' Administration sent people to see her and offer her grief counseling and other assistance. Others also stood ready to help with counseling, networking with other survivors and various therapies designed to keep her mind off her troubles. The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, acronym T.A.P.S., offered 24/7 services. Other organized groups offered the opportunity to meet other women, or men, or children and parents who had lost someone on active military service. One group of military widows had been formed during World War II. Gold Star Wives of America was started in 1945. Eleanor Roosevelt, widow of the Commander-in-Chief, joined and became one of its founding members. Its more than ten thousand members in twenty-six states are organized, have annual meetings, conventions and local and regional divisions.
But, these well-intended organizations were little help to Molly because she couldn't take the first step. She couldn't or didn't want to let herself meet with other survivors. They told her that was normal at first but would pass when she got involved. She didn't. Get involved, that is. It didn't. Pass, that is.
At first, the grief was overwhelming. The grief began to change to anger. Molly was mad. Mad at the Taliban. Mad at the U. S. Army. Mad the United States of America. Mad at whoever in government had us in Afghanistan in the first place and whoever in government that wasn't getting us out of there. Then, when she miscarried Brian, Jr., her anger turned to more grief and unbelievable guilt. Molly was not in any way responsible for Brian's loss in battle. She generally believed, but was not completely certain, and been told by all her health care specialists, that she was not to blame for the miscarriage, but the horrible feeling of guilt prevailed. Molly knew from her divorce work that children in a family going through a divorce inexplicably feel responsible and guilty when they were certainly not. They just do. Now, Molly understood. It might not be logical. It might not be rational. But, it was true. And so it was for her. Explanations or lack of explanations didn't matter. The grief, the anger, the sorrow, the guilt, they were all real.
Her boss, Jim Decker, a family law attorney who described himself as "just an old divorce lawyer," told her to take some time off and to see a consulting psychologist he knew and who was especially grateful for the handling of his particularly messy divorce. Decker knew that time could heal almost anything if given the chance. And he had advised Molly Graham so. "Get out of Minneapolis," he told her. "Go to that lakeshore lodge up near Hayward you always talk about. Some quiet time in Wisconsin's north woods will do you good. Don't worry about your cases. We'll take care of that. You take care of yourself."
And so, Molly found herself alone in the Great Room of Standing Pines Lodge staring at The Painting which had hung over the mantle of the huge stone fireplace for as long as she could remember. The mantle itself was a thick, rough-hewn timber that rested on four stones the mason had positioned to protrude out from the rest of his stone work. The Great Room was the centerpiece of the two-story lodge. The full two stories tall with a vaulted ceiling of knotty pine tongue and groove car siding supported by rafters of massive rough-sawn timbers, a side wall staircase leading up to an overlooking balcony that provided access to the upper bedrooms and baths, the Great Room was filled with overstuffed chairs and couches, tables, writing desks, and area rugs scattered over the wide-board oak floor. While the fireplace, whose stone chimney reached up to the high ceiling, dominated the room and always inspired remarks of awe and wonder when people first entered the room, it was The Painting that held Molly's attention. She had been staring at it for nearly an hour. Four old photographs of American Indian scenes hung against the stone work on either side of The Painting, two on each side. A pastoral scene in oil on canvas, The Painting had been the centerpiece of above-the-mantle art over the fireplace for as long as she could remember. She preferred not to think how long that really was. More than twenty years in her memory. But, The Painting had hung there much longer than that. Much longer.
Her first memory of The Painting was at age five or six. Her parents had brought her to the north woods to visit her father's grandfather, Arthur Morgan, Jr., and grandmother, Angela Marie Morgan, who lived in the pines and hardwoods between Lake Hammill and Lake Samoset near Cable, Wisconsin. As a little girl, she had been impressed with the immense lodge built back in 1916 with locally cut, hand-hewn logs. At that time, the forest was just renewing itself after being cut over in the first years of the Century. The big lodge provided a small child with an endless array of rooms, hallways, nooks and crannies. More than once she got lost. But, the most intriguing, the most attracting and the most fascinating to her was The Painting over the mantle.
"First Meadow" pictured a grassy meadow in the middle of a thick wood of tall White and Norway Pines, Balsam Firs and towering Oaks, Birches and Maples. A narrow, wandering pond, not a creek, meandered through the wood from the meadow to the top of The Painting. A late afternoon sun, assuming the view was toward the north, cast its rays illuminating the right or east side of the meadow and the trees on the wood's edge. A pine marten crouched by the meadow's edge near the pond's beginning, staring at something. By the marten's stare, that something had to be near a split trunk birch tree with an apparently broken lower branch whose leaves had turned to autumn yellow while the rest of the treeâ€™s leaves and the other deciduous trees in that forest were still mid-summer green. Wide, flat pine boards framed the old painting. Molly remembered sitting in the overstuffed leather chairs when her feet didn't even reach the floor, staring at the pond and meadow, imagining the forest animals that lurked just past the meadow's wooded edge. In her mind she saw red squirrels and chipmunks; raccoons, weasels and porcupines; and larger forest inhabitants like black bears, white-tailed deer and big cats.
Watched at length, The Painting drew a person into its scene. Once drawn in, exciting, alarming and enthralling images formed in one's mind â€¦ or were they actually in The Painting or in the pictured forest or meadow â€¦ or did it matter?
Molly stared. An eight point White-tail buck emerged from the wood, carefully approaching the pond's edge. As he stooped to drink from the clear water, a large doe stepped out from the trees followed by two spotted fawns who ran to the water's edge by their antlered sire.
Molly shook her head to get back to reality. The Painting. Its control had not diminished over the years.
"Still staring at that old painting, eh, Molly?"
She turned to see her older brother, Jack, standing in the entrance looking like he just returned from fishing. He wore a floppy hat and a fishing vest, both tan, both with various trout flies hooked into the material. The vest actually had strips of sheepskin above the breast pockets to which Jack had attached several flies. Had he a creel and waders, he would have looked like he just stepped out of a river or brook. Must have left them in his truck. Jack liked to fish the Namakagon River south of Cable and the smaller White River near Drummond.
"Hi, Jack. Any fish?"
"A few brookies," Jack answered. "But I think there are more mosquitoes than fish. Too many for me, anyway." Jack was a teenager when Molly was born. By the time she entered grade school, he was gone. But they had seen each other often when he came home to visit and when they were both at Standing Pines Lodge. Now, Jack and his wife Jennifer had their own teenagers, Molly's niece and nephew, Sue and Chris, ages eighteen and sixteen, whom she loved dearly.
"About my staring at The Painting, I like it," she answered his original question.
"I know. I think you have been staring at it since you were little."
"Sometimes it brings me comfort."
"I know that, too. If ever anyone might have need of comfort, right now it's you. If that old painting gives you solace, then keep staring. In fact, I came to see if there is anything I can do for you."
Thanks, but I'm struggling along. I will keep your offer in mind. Sometimes I might need an extra shoulder to lean on."
"I don't know that I would call them "extra,". But I've got two broad ones right here you can use anytime."
Molly had been at Standing Pines Lodge for over a week, now. It had been an unusually early and warm spring. The lakes were clear and cold. From a canoe, she had seen Bass and Crappies sitting on their nests or making them. Frogs were starting to sing in the evening. Everything was early, warm and beautiful. Some wild flowers were blooming. The plan for Molly's recovery had been for at least two weeks and maybe a month, then back to work slowly, only a few days a week at first. The plan had been sound. But, Molly could not tell if it was working. So far, not so good. Maybe support from family members like her brother Jack would help. She could only hope. But that was one of the problems. It seemed like she didn't really care.
Little over a mile north of Molly, two men stood on the sloping ground overlooking Dinner Camp Lake. All the way around the tiny lake, the wooded shoreline was devoid of structures of any kind except behind them where the lone old rough cabin had been. The high-water mark was right at the edge of the tree line. This year, the water was a little below the highest level leaving a few feet of long grass between forest and lake that was fairly uniform in width all away around the shore. By August the water level would probably be lower.
They looked back up the hill to what was now a demolition site.
"That's about it, Colonel," said the taller man. He wore denim work pants; tan, ankle length leather work boots with rawhide laces; a wool shirt and denim jacket. He had a two-day growth of reddish beard and wore a dirty, black baseball cap with a white outline of a shield proclaiming him to be a fan of the NFL's Oakland Raiders, whether he actually was or not.
The man he called Colonel knew that he was not. To the observation of the man who was called Colonel, the taller man was only a fan of himself. He looked up to where the old cabin had stood. Over a hundred years old, it had been the only one on Dinner Camp Lake. If anyone had ever had a boat or canoe on the lake, there wasn't one there, now. He didn't know if there were any fish in the lake, but it was small enough that he could imagine no gamefish at all. Maybe just minnows and pollywogs and frogs. Frogs he was sure of. He had heard them singing in the evening. He had also seen deer come down to the shore to drink, ducks and loons swimming, turtles and the occasional Bald Eagle silently gliding high overhead in search of prey.
The old cabin was simply a secluded two-room cottage with a beautiful view. An ancient outhouse had stood back in the woods. It had been replaced by a small addition to the cabin that people called a "wart" that held a small sink and a flush toilet. It was not clear whether the outhouse still functioned, but his men used it until that, too, was demolished.
It was the beginning of May. Thanks to an early warm spring and an early spring thaw, they had been able to work the ground. They didn't need it for the demolition work, but it helped with their digging.
"If there was anything there, we sure didn't find it," the taller man said, pulling off his cap, running his fingers through his thick, unruly, copper brown hair and replacing the cap all in one fluid movement. "And we looked good, Colonel. If there was anything there, coins, notes, a map or anything, in the cupboards, in the dressers, even in the walls, we would have found it. Nothing."
"All right," said the Colonel. I know you've dug up around the cabin, now do it under the cabin site. Do you have the metal detectors?"
"Yeah, but they ain't worth a shit, Colonel. They only go down three or four inches at best. You got to turn over the earth."
The Colonel nodded. What they searched for wasn't small, but he wasn't sure how it was packaged anymore. And, he had been somewhat less than forthright in describing it to his men. All they knew was old gold and silver coins. He didn't come close to telling them how much.
"Well, Jonesy, you get the boys at it. I'm off to Hayward to finish the arrangements for the modular home. Whether we find anything or not, we need to get done so the builder can bring in the pre-built home sections and put up the new cabin within the time limits in our building permit."
"Go get 'em, Colonel. We'll handle things, here," said Jonesy. "What about across the main road, over there? I don't think we're going to find anything, here."
Dinner Camp Lake is near the intersection of three roads that come together a few hundred yards east of the old cabin site. The cabin was, and the new modern home will be, located on the Bearsdale Road. A short distance to the east is the intersection. From there, Longview Road runs about straight north five miles or so to Bayfield County Road N up by Pigeon Lake, all in Drummond Township. From the intersection, the Tri-Lakes Road runs southeast a short distance, then turns south and winds around Lakes Samoset and Wilipyro ending at the Blue Moon Road about three miles northeast of Cable. Going away from the intersection, Bearsdale Road is a dirt road that becomes little more than a trail through the woods and a bog area known as Bearsdale Springs on its way to loop around to the north and also on up to County Road N. The main road to which Jonesy referred is a continuous blacktop country road called Longview Road north of the Bearsdale intersection and Tri-Lakes Road to the south.
The man Jonesy called Colonel said, "That's pretty big woods over there. If I remember correctly, to the north is a 480-acre tract with two small, private lakes called Half Moon Lodge. The lodge is nearly a hundred years old. The property south is a little over 200 acres extending down between the shores of Lakes Hammill and Samoset. It's mostly all thickly wooded. If anything is buried there, we'd have to have more information on possible locations. I'll work on that. I'll go back up to Washburn tomorrow and check ownership."
Jonesy did that thing with his cap again and nodded, seeming satisfied.
The next afternoon, the man whose men called him Colonel sat at a huge wooden table in the Bayfield County Courthouse in Washburn surrounded by large, thick and somewhat dusty record books. The volumes held records of deeds from many years ago. Instruments of conveyance of property from one grantor to a grantee and then from him or her or them or it to another grantee and so on and so on through the years.
He had tracked a particular name. One of many he had been seeking over a period of some years. Having found the name after searching newspaper archives, police reports, detective agency records and local phone books and city directories across the western two-thirds of the contiguous continental United States, he found the current owner of the property that may once have belonged to the owner of that name. That property was on Dinner Camp Lake. He had purchased it, torn down the old building and outhouse, searched the ground all around and come up empty. A new modular home would be trucked in and placed on the old cabin site. The property would be sold and probably at a profit, but not the profit he was looking for.
This was his second time at the records. This time he was on his third day. The staff people in the office of the Register of Deeds were getting used to seeing him there, even inviting him to share the coffee they brewed and the sweet rolls and doughnuts someone brought every morning.
He turned the page in the county plat book which he used as a guide. The maps it contained showed the other properties in the area of his search. The identification of those tracts and their current owners showed him current subdivision and ownership of the immediate area surrounding where the subject of his long and arduous search had once lived, or so he believed.
The human subject of his effort was only part of what the Colonel sought. What he truly was seeking, was not the person, who was long, long gone, as in dead, for probably more than fifty years, but the real object of his search was gold, that incomparably desirous and beautiful yellow metal that has possessed men's minds and, for thousands of years, caused them to take foolish, frequently dangerous and often illegal actions. The Colonel was a gold seeker. Not a miner, nor a river or stream panner, nor a hydrological engineer or a geologist. The Colonel was a treasure hunter. He had no interest in getting gold out of the ground unless it was in the form of invaluable golden objects or coins that someone had buried there. He was in the salvage business, the gold salvage business. He had gained some notoriety with some of his finds although he preferred to remain inconspicuous so his investigative efforts would not draw the attention of other less deserving and less skilled competitors. Some years back, he had been in the news with his recovery of gold and silver coinage from the Spanish Manila galleon, La Coruna, off the coast of Mexico near Acapulco. News media accounts reported the La Coruna as one of the most valuable treasures recovered from the sea. In another endeavor, the Colonel and his crew located and recovered Confederate gold from the Kentucky Bend of the Mississippi River near New Madrid, Missouri. That gold had been buried there toward the close of that war to keep it out of Yankee hands. Again he was the subject of unwelcome publicity. Also, in both cases, he had become embroiled in legal battles over ownership of the find and had been forced to accept much less than the total value recovered. Not this time. No publicity, this time.
The gold he sought had been taken from a train near the end of the Nineteenth Century. Despite the considerable efforts of local and railroad law enforcement and the Pinkerton Detective Agency, neither the gold nor the men who took it were ever found. The Colonel knew that the robbery had caused such a stir at the time, that disposition of the coins and conversion to cash or anything of value would be nearly impossible. So, even though they had pulled off a magnificent heist and not gotten caught, they couldnâ€™t do much with their loot. Moreover, thought the Colonel, they could not allow the coins to be found at all because of the chance that, once found, the gold would lead authorities to the robbers, whose identity had not been discovered.
The Colonel thought of himself as a uniquely skilled investigator of such matters. Better than the Pinkertons. Of course, he acknowledged that times were different. Equipment and investigation techniques were different. With the internet and available search engines, he could sit at a laptop at home or even while traveling and learn facts the Pinkertons couldnâ€™t dream of. Naturally, he conceded that the Pinkertons today could do everything he was doing, but they quit looking for this particular gold more than ninety-five years ago!
During his searches and his follow up field investigations over the past several years, the Colonel had discovered the Winchester strong boxes in which the gold and silver coins had been shipped. A farmer near Utica, Minnesota had them. The farm was southwest of the robbery site. His grandfather before him found them in a one of his fields many years earlier. Since then, they had been used for various farm purposes including tool storage, feeding bins for livestock and for the fruits and vegetables his wife canned and were stored in the root cellar on the farm.
The Colonel judged that the farmerâ€™s field was about forty miles from the robbery site. So, somehow the outlaws had transported the gold in those heavy boxes that far. How they did that, he didnâ€™t know. Or, maybe they unloaded the gold first and transported the empty boxes that far to hide them. He didnâ€™t care. He wasnâ€™t trying to solve the crime. He was trying to find the gold! Thatâ€™s what he was doing at the courthouse.
The Register of Deeds stepped out of her office. "Good morning, Mr. Dickerson. At it again, I see." She glanced at her watch. "It's after ten. Time for my morning break. Will you join me? There's fresh coffee and some wonderful caramel rolls from the bakery."
Helen Wojciak was a somewhat plump woman in her mid-fifties. The Colonel guessed at her age. Not easy because of hair coloring. Her medium- length hair was blonde with darker streaks. With a man, he could judge by graying hair or receding hairline. Women were not so easy. Helen did wear reading glasses which was some indication. From previous coffee breaks with her and her staff, the Colonel knew that she grew up in Bayfield, worked as an assistant Park Ranger in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and attended Northland College in Ashland, right across from Washburn on Lake Superior's Chequamegon Bay.
They sat in the records room at a table reserved for staff. Helen poured coffee. He accepted a caramel roll covered with thick white frosting. Helen said, in Washburn, these were called "sticky buns." The Colonel soon found out why.
"How are you coming with your records search?" Helen asked. "If we knew just what you are looking for, I'm sure we could help."
The Colonel knew she was just being polite, although perhaps a little curious, too. Being helpful was in her nature. Curiosity, perhaps as well. But, she meant well. She and her small staff insisted upon providing friendly helpful service to all those using the Register's office and records. The Colonel, however, did not want his true objective known or suspected. He fell back on a prepared cover story.
"You have been a lot of help, already, Helen." He answered while still chewing on a bite of sticky bun. He washed it down with coffee, wiped his face with a napkin and launched into his story. "I am doing a history on southern Bayfield County, the towns of Cable, Drummond and up as far as Grandview and the lakes like Cable and Wiley Lakes, Lake Owen, Lake Namakagon and some of the smaller lakes. It's a fascinating story. Just now, I have been reading that much of the land was bought between 1910 and 1920 from the Rust-Owen Lumber Company by people looking to build summer cottages with lakeshore or buy acreage for farming. Rust-Owen had vast tracts which it logged over at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. When the logging was done, the Company advertised the land for sale at what it said were bargain prices. It looks like a lot of people from the Twin Cities and Chicago areas took advantage of the opportunity. Very interesting."
"I would be interested in reading your work, when it's done, Alan."
So, was the cover story working? He thought so. Returning to his books, the Colonel finished his notes for the day. In his two times in Washburn, he had filled two new legal pads. Satisfied that he had the information, he packed his notes in a soft-sided leather briefcase and stood to leave. It was time to act. He would contact the owner of the next property make a deal, like he had the first time. First, he would stop by Helen Wojciak's office, not to say good-bye, but good afternoon only, as if he would be coming back soon.
"I'm leaving for the day, Helen."
"Oh, Alan. See you next week, then? We'll have more sticky buns."
"Not first thing, Helen. I have some obligations, elsewhere, I'm afraid. Maybe later. I look forward to your coffee and the sticky buns."
Outside, satisfied with the way he had left things, he climbed into his truck, steering his way out of the courthouse parking lot, down to Highway 13 and headed south toward U.S. 63. The hardwoods along the highway were just beginning to leaf out. The bright green of the new leaves contrasted with the dark green of the pines and balsams, the blue-green of the blue spruces and the reddish new buds of some of the oaks and maples. The Colonel looked forward to the coming color show in the forest that sometimes rivaled the colors of autumn. But, he mused, gold was still his favorite color.
That same afternoon, Molly wandered around the lodge, taking in all the favorite nooks and crannies that had excited her as a child. Memories came back of her fascination of the world of adventure the lodge had offered. She was an afterthought child, much younger than her brothers, but beloved and protected by both of them and her parents. Most of the time, though, she was alone, at least at home in Minneapois, when she wasn't in school or outside playing with friends. But, here at the lodge, she had a best buddy. Her cousin Irene Swenson, "Reney," as she was called, was the same age as Molly. Her family lived in Duluth, so they didn't see much of each other except at family holiday dinners in Minneapolis or vacations at the lodge.
At the lodge, Reney and Molly were inseparable. They played together. They ate together. They even slept together. A room at the far end of an upstairs hallway had two twin beds. Their parents had kindheartedly granted their request to share that room. Molly later believed it was as much for the peace and quiet of the parents and others and to keep the noise level down in the rest of the lodge. Their time together was wonderful. They played with toys and their dolls. They talked about school and the future. They talked about boys, how awful they were and other thoughts that were just beginning. They had everything to live for and to look forward to.
But Reney got sick. They said she had cancer, something called acute lymphocytic leukemia, whatever that was. She died in March, just before they would have started another year of weekends and vacations at Standing Pines Lodge. The funeral was in Duluth. Molly went with her parents and brothers. It was the most grief-stricken event she had experienced, even afterward and right up to just recently. Molly didn't fully understand what had happened to Reney or why. She was seven. Reney was almost eight.
It was about that age that Molly began to seek comfort from The Painting.
With the memory of Reney, reality came crashing back to Molly. She was no longer a little tomboy racing around the lodge, sneaking into its many hidden corners, spying on the adults, and playing hide and seek in the hallways and corridors and behind furniture. Reney was gone. Brian was gone. Their baby was gone. Everything that mattered was gone.
She had looked to this time at the lodge as therapeutic, taking her mind off her problems by bringing back memories of happier times. It wasn't working.
Thankfully, her thoughts were interrupted by her father's cousin, Caroline Smith.
"Oh, hello, Molly. I didn't know you were in here. Am I interrupting you?"
While reminiscing about her friend Reney, Molly had settled into an overstuffed chair in the library. It was the kind that fit with a good book, but put the reader promptly to sleep. Only a master novelistâ€™s suspense could keep anyone awake in that chair.
"No, Aunt Caroline, you're fine."
Caroline looked around the room. It, like most of the lodge, was a room Molly cherished. Knotty pine walls lined with shelves of old leather bound and clothbound volumes, many of which had been there nearly a century, surrounded a thickly carpeted floor that held an enormous desk, two small reading tables with library-style reading lamps with green glass shades, the overstuffed chair, several smaller chairs and a huge leather couch facing a small fireplace.
"I love this room," said Caroline. "I wonder what will happen to it?"
"Why should anything happen to it?" Molly asked.
"With Dad's passing, what happens to Standing Pines is unclear. There seems to be some question about what will happen."
Caroline Morgan Smith's father was Elliot Arthur Morgan. He passed away just two and a half months ago at the age of eighty-seven. He was in a nursing home in Minneapolis and had not been expected to live a lot longer. While sad, his passing did not cause pain and sorrow. He had lived a long and productive life, one to be celebrated, as they usually said at funerals for such people. Elliot Morgan was the grandson of old Arthur W. Morgan, called "A.W.," who started the lodge. Elliot had controlled it for the family for nearly fifty years, since his father, A.W. Morgan, Jr., passed away.
"You watch, Molly," Caroline said. "I think some of our 'relations' might disagree about the future of this place."
"Really?" Molly couldn't imagine anything happening to Standing Pines Lodge. It had been there on Samoset and Hammill for nearly forever and would be for all time, or so she had always thought.
"Oh, as far as I know, all the family members love Standing Pines and want to share it. That mutual love will prevent any actual fighting, but I think there will have to be discussions. Decisions will have to be made."
Molly had been so absorbed in her own misery, she had not given any thought to ownership of Standing Pines or how that was affected by the passing of Uncle Elliot.
"Will you be here for the meeting?" asked Caroline.
"This weekend. Family members are gathering for a meeting with a lawyer from Minneapolis. Apparently, Dad left some instructions."
"You mean a will?"
"Something. I think he had the property setup in a trust or something. Are you going to be here? Or are you going back to work?"
"Aunt Caroline, I am here for a while. My boss told me to get out of Minneapolis and get up here and take care of myself. That's what I am trying to do."
Caroline's expression showed her concern and sympathy. "I'm sorry. You have been through a lot. Your boss is smart. This is the place for solace and relaxation. Although, Molly, I'm not sure you should be alone. Are you?"
"I came alone, but there have been a few family members around since I got here."
"Well, you take care of yourself first. I didn't mean to trouble you with my concerns. You have enough to worry about. But, keep at it. You'll do just fine." She looked at her wristwatch, a wide-band, large-faced affair in bright pink. "My goodness! Look at the time! I'm supposed to meet your Aunt Mary for lunch at the Anglerâ€™s Bar in Hayward. You take care, Molly." She turned and strode from the room, a woman on a mission.
Caroline left Molly still sitting in the overstuffed chair in the library. How, Molly thought, could the family have any dispute over Standing Pines lodge? It had been in the family and used by all in the same way since it was built a hundred years ago. She hoped they didn't have a spat. Whatever, they did, she was in no condition, mentally or physically, to get involved.
Molly was still sitting in the library in the overstuffed chair when her fatherâ€™s cousin, Cheryl Belden, came in. She was actually her dad's second cousin since the closest ancestor they shared was their great grandfather, A.W. Morgan, the first. Molly smiled to herself. One time she had wondered about which relatives were what kind of cousins, first cousins once removed, second cousins and so forth. She had found an article explaining the relationships and decided the family practice of just saying cousin or aunt or uncle was best for her family, but she could not get her learning out of her mind.
"Oh, there you are, Molly! I'm glad I found you. This place is so big! I've been looking all over!"
Cheryl was someone Molly always thought of as unhappy with aging. She guessed most people might be, but Cheryl went a little overboard. Molly was sure she had had at least one facelift and maybe a tummy tuck after her successful endeavor at a weight reduction clinic. Today, she wore a red tunic, off the shoulder, too tight designer blue jeans and high-heeled platform sandals. For all that, Cheryl was well-liked by everyone. She meant well, they all said.
"Molly, we are going to Garmisch for dinner and wondered if you would join us. Would you?"
Uncertain what to say and caught off guard by the invitation, Molly, who did not want to go, said, "I guess so. Who else is going? What time are you leaving?"
"My brother, Fred, and his wife are joining us. We're taking our Suburban. We can all ride together. We'll pick you up in front at quarter after six, okay?"
"Good. See you then." Cheryl turned on her platform heal and left.
Molly hadn't left the big chair. She had hardly moved. One moment she was wallowing in grief, something Jim Decker's former client, the psychologist, said you had to do at least some of, and the next moment she had a dinner date with relatives. She loved Garmisch, but dinner there, now, was something for which she was not yet prepared. That was for happier times if happier times ever came.
The Beldens' big white Suburban pulled up to the front entrance of the lodge at precisely six-fifteen. The Doctors Frederick and Marilyn Swenson sat in the back. One of the middle seats was stowed beneath the floor, leaving a flat floor space Molly stepped through to sit in the remaining middle seat behind the driver, Jim Belden. Cheryl Belden sat up front alongside her husband.
Once seated and seat belted, Molly turned to greet the Swenson's. They were the parents of Molly's childhood friend, Reney. Molly had always felt sorry for them and couldn't imagine what it must be like to lose a child or a loved one. Now she knew both. The Swenson's, both doctors at a clinic in Duluth, had become embroiled in their work after Reney was gone. Molly had heard they did little else. People dealt with tragedy in different ways. Whatever works, she thought, if anything works.
About twenty-five minutes after leaving the lodge, they were on the drive into Garmisch on the shore of Lake Namakagon, a 3,200-acre lake with many bays, inlets and islands boasting good angling for Northern Pike, Crappies, Walleyes, Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass, Perch and Sunfish. Some say Muskie, too. Molly had read of the resort's history as it appeared on the old menus. Originally built as a resort, then a family retreat for a wealthy Chicagoan, it became a resort again and, in the mid-fifties, was purchased by new owners who named it Garmisch after the Bavarian ski resort town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen near Zugspitze, the highest mountain in Germany at over 9,000 feet.
Molly had surprised herself by actually enjoying the ride. The forest they drove through was beginning to awaken after a long winterâ€™s sleep with new buds and tiny new leaves coming out. Once off the highway onto Garmisch Road winding through an older, more pristine pine forest, she felt the old anticipation she always felt on her way into Garmisch. Maybe coming here for dinner was 't such a bad idea after all. She mentally thanked Cheryl for the invitation and looked ahead for the first signs of the resort.
They passed over a small bridge over the entrance to a lagoon where small fishing boats were moored. Continuing up the hill from the boat harbor on their way to the main lodge, they passed several of the more than a dozen guest cottages with names like Alpine Haus, Chateau des Alpes, Eidelweiss Haus and other less German sounding names like Bean, Frog and Grub. The huge main lodge came into view. Perched on the edge of the lake, its elegant dining room offered breathtaking views of the lake while the Beerstube served craft beers in a full bar and what were considered the most creative, if not the finest, Bloody Mary's around. Some called the Garmisch Bloody Mary "a full salad in a glass!"
Jim Belden led them into the Dining Room where a table by the windows had been reserved.
Standing by the table as they were being seated, Cheryl exclaimed, "Oh, isn't it wonderful! I never tire of this view!"
Molly felt the same. Looking west down a stretch of blue water lined by green wooded shores, one felt like she had been transported to an uninhabited place in the far north or back in time the better part of a hundred years.
Their server, a young woman, wore traditional costume, an Austrian dindl with black laced bodice and circular skirt, red apron and white blouse with short puff sleeves. Blonde pigtails topped off the ensemble. She began with a welcome to Garmisch and took drink orders. Jim Belden ordered a dry martini, "Gin, not Vodka," Cheryl had one of the "salads in a glass," and the Swenson's ordered Merlot. Molly had a glass of Pinot Grigio.
With drinks on their way, they studied the menu which offered a full selection of standard fare, including beef, pork, lamb, chicken and fish and a selection of German favorites. To Molly's surprise, she found herself looking forward to the meal. She felt like she might have an appetite, perhaps the first time in months.
The drinks arrived. The waitress took dinner orders. Cheryl ordered Kassler Ripchen, smoked pork chops and sauerkraut. Her husband had the German Combo Plate with pork tenderloin and a bratwurst served with a stuffed cabbage roll, sweet and sour red cabbage and sauerkraut. The Swenson's ordered the Rahm Schnitzel served in a mushroom cream sauce. Molly, not fully comfortable with her new-found appetite, went conservative with the Chicken Schnitzel.
When the waitress left with their orders, Jim Belden raised his glass in toast. "To Saturdayâ€™s meeting!" He sipped his martini and added, "It should be interesting."
"Why?" asked Fred Swenson. "What's going on?"
Suddenly, Molly's stomach felt uneasy and her appetite, only recently acquired was beginning to wane. This was a topic she had wanted to avoid since talking with Aunt Caroline.
"Perhaps the fight will begin on Saturday," said Belden.
"What fight?" asked Marilyn Swenson.
Molly sipped her wine, listening but intending to stay out of the conversation.
"The fight over who controls Standing Pines Lodge," Belden answered.
"Why will there be a fight?" asked Marilyn. "Does someone have to be in control?"
With a tiny plastic sword provided with his gin martini, Belden extracted a green olive, examined it, put it in his mouth, chewed, swallowed and explained. "Ever since Standing Pines Lodge was built back in 1916 by A.W. Morgan for his family, one person, one man, has owned and controlled Standing Pines, all two hundred plus acres for the benefit of family members. That system has worked well. First, it was old A.W., himself. Next it was his son, Bud, A.W. Morgan, Jr. Most recently it has been Bud's son Elliot who recently passed away. Now, the question is who should take over at this time and control Standing Pines for the coming years."
Molly thought Belden, who was part of the family by marriage only, was going into a lot of detail family members already knew. Fred Swenson had been around the lodge all of his life. None of this was news to him. Marilyn had been married to Fred and a member of the family for more than thirty years. Maybe, she thought, Jim Belden was reciting it for his own benefit and to show that he had knowledge of the family history going back even before he joined by marrying Cheryl.
They were silent for a minute, sipping their cocktails apparently considering what Jim Belden said and what it meant. Belden, Molly knew, was a financial planner for a company called Wealth Management of Minnesota with offices in Stillwater where the Beldens lived. Stillwater, being a little northeast of the Twin Cities is closer to Cable than where most family members lived. Their trip was shorter. They came often.
Dinner was served. The hearty German food kept everyone occupied. Jim Belden ordered a bottle of red table wine and glasses for all. Molly declined, sticking with her Pinot Grigio and ice water served in a carafe.
"A wonderful meal!" Belden said as he pushed his plate away. "I donâ€™t know how the Germans can eat like this and not weigh three hundred pounds." He signaled their server and ordered an after dinner drink. "A Brandy Alexander, please. Anyone else?" He turned to the others. Cheryl joined him. The Swensonâ€™s and Molly declined.
"So," Belden began, "back to Saturdayâ€™s meeting. We need a man to take over the management of Standing Pines Lodge like Elliot did and like his father and grandfather before him."
The server brought the drinks.
Belden sipped his Brandy Alexander and continued. "I am applying for that job and Iâ€™m hoping for your support." He looked at the Swensonâ€™s and then at Molly, eyebrows raised.
So, there it was. The reason for the dinner invitation. She wondered who else was interested in "the job," as Belden called it. Whatever or whoever, Molly wanted no part of a controversy over control of Standing Pines. In another time she might have gotten involved, but not now. Her mental state couldnâ€™t handle it.
Fred Swenson leaned over to whisper something to his wife. She nodded. He spoke.
"Jim, Marilyn and I like Standing Pines. Our daughter loved it. We like to come here once in a while, but our jobs are so demanding, we donâ€™t have time to be involved in its management. We need to have someone else doing that." He took his wifeâ€™s hand in his and said, "If you are willing to take on that responsibility, we will support you." Marilyn nodded.
Cheryl Belden grinned broadly.
Jim Belden turned to Molly. "Molly?"
Molly hesitated. Then she stammered. "I donâ€™t think I should be involved right now. I canâ€™t take a controversy if thereâ€™s going to be one."
"Youâ€™ll have to take sides sometime,". Belden said. His wife nodded. "Jimâ€™s right, Molly."
"Is there someone else who wants control?" Molly asked. "You said there might be a fight."
"Oh, I think there will be," said Belden. "Art Morgan, the fourth, is looking to run things."
Molly had no intention of getting embroiled in a family feud. She had enough to deal with.
When she didnâ€™t respond, Belden said, "Well, you think about it Molly. Iâ€™m sure by Saturday you will have made the right decision."
The trip back was a silent one. No comments about the beautiful scenery as dusk settled over the forest. No comment about the luscious meal or the usual, "I ate too much." No small talk. The trip back took forever, or seemed to. Back at the lodge, Molly quickly thanked the Beldens for dinner and headed up to her room. She didnâ€™t feel like talking to anyone.
"Molly." The next day, her older brother Jack found her in the Great Room staring at The Painting again. "I thought I'd find you here. Mom and Dad are coming up this morning and want to meet us all for lunch in Hayward."
"Who is 'us all?'"
"Jen and me. You. George and Polly are on their way up, too. I just got a text from them. They're coming across Highway 70 toward Spooner, now. You can ride with Jen and me."
Molly glanced at her watch. Nearly eleven-thirty. She was not in the mood to go have lunch in Hayward. She was not in the mood to be sociable. She rather wanted to be left alone. Staring at The Painting, getting lost in it, imagining the birds, the deer, an otter by the water and the ever-present marten had kept her occupied for more than an hour. That she hadn't been feeling sorry for herself during that time meant it had to be good for her, she reasoned.
"Molly, you okay?"
"What? Oh, sorry. When are you leaving?"
Jack checked his watch. "About twenty minutes."
Maybe she would feel better seeing her folks. "Okay," she sighed. "I'll be ready."
"Good. Youâ€™ll feel better seeing the folks."
Molly's family gathered at a big table at the Norske Nook in Hayward. The subject of discussion was the future of Standing Pines.
"The way I see it," said Molly's dad, "the family is divided into two main factions. Actually, I guess it is three. First there are those who want to sell. They either have little or no interest in Standing Pines or they have a strong desire to get at the money they think it's worth. Second, there are those who want to keep Standing Pines in the family. This group is subdivided into separate factions, each of which wants to have control or even outright ownership." He stopped and tasted his soup.
"Dad, you said there were three," said Molly's brother, George. At thirty-seven, George was ten years older than his little sister, Molly. Her brother, Jack, who was five years older than George was gone by the time Molly was entering school. But George was there for her. He took care of her. He protected her. She adored him. She loved both her brothers, but the relationship with George had truly been something special. After college, George, uncertain of what he wanted to do for a career, had gone to work for the 3M Company in St. Paul. He had been rising through the ranks ever since and had a promising career.
George's wife, Polly, was liked by everyone. Small, bright and always smiling, she was a yoga instructor and physical trainer at a local gym in Eden Prairie in the Minneapolis metro. She looked the part. Trim, fit, and healthy looking. Married less than five years, they were trying to start a family. Already thirty-five years old, Polly was a little concerned about her age, but doctors had told her she was in such good health, she shouldn't have to worry. Molly expected to soon hear about becoming an aunt again.
"The third faction," her dad added, "is composed of family members who don't want controversy and just want to go with the flow. They don't want the property sold, but they don't want the responsibility for it. They have been happy with Uncle Elliot in charge."
Molly immediately thought of the Doctors Swenson.
"But Dad," said Jack, "Uncle Elliot actually owned the property. What will happen, now?"
"That's right. He owned it. Just like his dad, Uncle Bud, and his grandfather, old A.W. Morgan, himself. Each of them owned the whole property, but managed it for all the family. It was an unspoken tradition among those three men. What happens now depends on these family meetings we are about to have. In his later years, I understand Elliot had his lawyers put the land in trust so it would be properly managed as long as he lived. A local caretaker was employed. You know Ed Grovnik on Holly Lake Road. A trust manager at the law firm takes care of finances. I assume the trust is over with Uncle Elliot's passing, so Standing Pines will go according to his will, whatever that says."
"So," asked Jack's wife, Jennifer, "doesn't that mean the property goes to Elliot's children?"
Betsy Graham turned to her husband. "Remind me who they are, John. I can't keep your family straight."
"My first cousins," Molly's dad answered, "Caroline, Webb, Bernie and Art."
"Doesnâ€™t that take care of it, then?" asked Jack. "Why are we having a meeting?"
"Because of the factions I mentioned. Some family members feel more strongly about wanting to be the owner/managers."
"I can tell you that Jim Belden does," Molly said, almost under her breath.
Molly explained about last nightâ€™s dinner at Garmisch.
"Jim Belden," her dad said. "Why am I not surprised?"
"What do you mean, John?" asked Mollyâ€™s mom. "I thought you liked Jim. Give."
"I do like him, but Jim Belden is a take-over kind of guy. It does not surprise me to hear that he wants to run things."
"Anyway, shouldnâ€™t it be a member of the family by birth and not just by marriage?" asked George. "Oh, no offense, Mom," he added.
"None taken, I think." She smiled.
"Well," said Molly, "I told Jim I didnâ€™t want to get involved. I donâ€™t think he was too happy about it. It was a pretty quiet ride home from dinner."
"Donâ€™t you worry, dear," said her mom. "You take care of yourself."
"See, thatâ€™s what I mean about Jim," her dad added. "Heâ€™s a nice guy and he means well, but he should not be pressuring you at this time, especially when you have said you werenâ€™t emotionally ready. Your mother is right. You need to take care of yourself, first. But if you need help, weâ€™ll sure be there for you." He looked at his two sons, who both nodded. Betsy Graham smiled with pride.
Molly felt their love and concern. She had always known she could rely on these three men for help and support and if there was the slightest hesitation on their part, her mom would steer them in the right direction.
The family meeting on Saturday morning was scheduled for ten o'clock. Entering the Great Room, Molly saw her parents with her brothers and their wives standing by the fireplace. She joined them. Her dad grinned with what Molly assumed was anticipation.
"Now, we'll see how this family operates!" he said.
"Take it easy, dear," cautioned Molly's mother. "Let's not cause a scene."
"Honey, I am just going to be an interested observer."
"I'll believe that when I see it. John Graham only an interested observer? Will wonders never cease?"
"Dad's right, Mom," said Jack. "We should remain quiet observers until we see what's going on."
Molly watched as more family members wandered into the room. They came in small groups of three or four, mostly, looking around and then finding a place to sit or stand. The Daniel Webster Morgans, Webb and Genevieve, and the Franklins stood near the sliding glass doors to the front deck. George and Marilyn Jensen, with their kids, Becky and little Margaret, stood near the roomâ€™s main entrance across from the kitchen. They looked apprehensive.
"Good morning everyone!" It was Arthur Wright Morgan, III, "Art" to his friends and relatives, who spoke. "We have a lot to discuss, so let's be seated and begin."
Standing next to Art, Uncle Bernie echoed his younger brother. "That's right! Find a seat and let's get started!"
"I should have guessed," muttered John Graham.
"John! Hush!" hissed Molly's mom. "Behave, now!"
Folding chairs had been added to the seating in the Great Room generally facing the massive stone fireplace. A speakerâ€™s table was set up near the fireplace, which Molly assumed was for the lawyer meeting that afternoon, but Art and Bernie had it now. The Painting was directly behind them. Molly and her family took seats in the back of the room near the stairs.
The rest of the family members began taking seats around the room. Molly watched to see how they lined up to see if she could identify the "factions" her dad had predicted. The Beldens sat near the fireplace and the speakerâ€™s table. Fred and Marilyn, the Doctors Swenson, sat with them. Molly noticed that cousins Jack and Florence Smith and their sons, Allen and George, sat away from the rest of the Smith family and near the table with the Stebners. The Stebners were Aunt Louise and her husband Mike, who were in their eighties, and their children, the Watkinses and the Winslows. An odd combination, thought Molly. But, they seemed to have gathered by design. They were all talking in lively conversation and directing their attention to the speakerâ€™s table where Uncles Bernie and Art waited. With the Jackson Smiths and the Stebners, Molly saw two people she didnâ€™t know.
Elliot Morganâ€™s sister Wilhelmina sat in a corner with her back against the wall surveying the crowd. Sheâ€™s analyzing the lineup just like I am, thought Molly. I wonder what she thinks of all this.
The rest of the relatives, another dozen or so, settled into seats in what appeared to Molly to be random fashion without any particular design or allegiance. Molly presumed these were the ones without a faction, according to her dad. They were the family members who favored keeping Standing Pines Lodge but having someone else be responsible for it or those who simply did not care for controversy and would go along with what the others decided. Like me, she thought. But, no. She loved Standing Pines. She wanted it to be there always. And, she wanted it run the way Uncle Elliot had done, not by some obstinate, power-hungry, take-over jerk like Jim Belden. Uh oh. She was feeling more opinion than she wanted. More than she should. Be careful.
"Okay!" announced Uncle Bernie, like he was the court bailiff or something. "Letâ€™s get started. My brother Art, Arthur Wright Morgan, the Third, has something to say."
Uncle Art stood up to the table. "We are here at Standing Pines Lodge on the shores of Lakes Hammill and Samoset to select a leader, a caretaker of sorts."
Mollyâ€™s dad groaned. "Hush!" commanded Mollyâ€™s mom.
Uncle Art continued. "Ever since my great grandfather, A.W. Morgan, built Standing Pines Lodge, a Morgan man has owned, managed and operated Standing Pines for the benefit of all family members. First, old A.W. ran things, himself. Then it was my grandfather, A.W. Morgan, Junior, who was called â€˜Bud,â€™ like my son. Then, my father, Elliot Morgan took over from his dad and ran things for over forty-five years! I am next in line. I ask that you give me the honor of continuing to serve the lodge and all of you as the A.W. Morgans have done before me."
"Do we vote?" someone asked.
"If the clear majority favor the proposed plan, we can just go ahead," answered Art. "But, if there are significant disagreements, we may have to have a vote of some kind."
Jackson Smith who was seated near the table rose to speak. He turned toward the crowd. "I think we should sell the property."
Someone in the back gasped.
"Sell Standing Pines?" someone else asked.
"Uh oh," whispered Molly's dad. "Here we go!"
"Easy, John," cautioned Molly's mom.
Jackson Smith continued. "I think we should sell Standing Pines Lodge because it is becoming too expensive to operate and it is costing us our inheritance. The longer we keep it, the less we each will get in the end."
"But Jack," said his sister Marilyn, "some of us use the lodge frequently. George and I come here often and bring our kids. Becky and Margaret have been coming here all their lives. Becky loves it here. Missy Morgan is her best friend."
"I'm with Jack," said Joe Watkins, Jr. who stood to stand by Jackson Smith. "The property should be sold. Marilyn, not all of us have the opportunity to use the lodge as much as you do. Why should our rightful inheritance be delayed or reduced in order for some family members to get the use of the lodge and therefore the use of our money?"
"Uh oh." Molly's dad muttered. "I never liked when people consider inheritance as a matter of right. When you inherit something that means it belonged to someone else who could have decided to leave you nothing. Whenever you inherit something it is a pure windfall and not a right. I only hope that people have not counted on something they don't have a right to expect or made some financial commitment that has speeded up their need for their 'inheritance.' It sounds like maybe some have."
"Dad," said Molly's brother Jack, "do you think so?"
Jim Belden moved to the speaker's table. "I don't think the property should be sold. Our ancestor, A.W. Morgan, intended the property be kept and used by the members of the family for as long as any of them wanted."
Art Morgan nodded.
"But I disagree with Art as to who the person is who should take over now that Elliot is gone. I have the training and experience to manage property and money. It is my business. I live in Stillwater which is closer. Cheryl and I can be here on short notice any time we might be needed."
"That's right," agreed Cheryl Belden from her seat. "Jim is the man for the job."
Art Morgan interrupted. "In the first place A.W. Morgan, the first, is my great grandfather and grandfather or great grandfather to many of us here, but not Jim Belden."
"Oh, my!" a woman in the back sighed.
"Just a minute, Art!" Cheryl Belden was on her feet. "I will not have you insult my husband like that! He's every bit the man you are and has done more for this family than you have."
"Looks like we may have to have a vote," said Jackson Smith. All in favor of selling the property and avoiding the fight that is brewing over continued ownership, say 'Aye.'"
"Wait a minute!" Art Morgan called out. "It can't be done that way. We need to specify the options and use paper ballots, so it is a secret ballot."
"I agree with Art," said Jim Belden. "And each proponent of a particular option should be given an opportunity to speak in favor of his proposal and against the others if he wishes."
"Why not vote, now?" Jack Smith persisted. "And why a secret ballot? I think we should know what the others think and want. I think you will find an open public vote will favor a sale. Iâ€™ve talked to enough family members to know that Art and Jim who both want to run the place have just a few votes each so far. Art has his family and his brother Bernie. Thatâ€™s about five votes and Iâ€™m not sure about his son, Bud, A.W. Morgan the Fourth. Without Bud and Beverly, Art has three votes to start out. Jim Belden maybe has six if you count his wife, Cheryl, her parents and Cherylâ€™s brother and sister-in-law, Fred and Marilyn Swenson. We have my wife, Florence and our two adult sons. Thatâ€™s four. We have the Stebner family. Thatâ€™s eight more. Thatâ€™s twelve. And we have two more that I will let Carter Winslow introduce."
Carter Winslow, husband of Maryann Watkins Winslow whose great grandmother Catherine was one of the daughters of A.W. and Louisa Morgan, stood by his chair. He was a rather short man with thinning reddish-brown hair and dark-framed eye glasses. He spoke in a surprisingly low, commanding voice. "Ladies and gentleman, I would like you to meet Georgette Wilson Downs and Bradley Wilson." He motioned to the man and woman Molly had not recognized. They stood and nodded to the crowd. Molly guessed them both to be past retirement age. "Georgette and Brad are the children of Jennifer Morgan Wilson, the last child of A.W. and Louisa Morgan," said Winslow. "A.W., the first and Louisa are Georgette and Bradâ€™s grandparents! The family had lost track of Jennifer and her family after she moved out east as a young woman. They were lost, but I found them!" he said with obvious pride. "Jennifer Morganâ€™s children are direct descendants of the Morgans, members of the Morgan family, entitled to a share in the Morgan inheritance and entitled to a vote, here. They are voting for a sale." Georgette and Bradley nodded and sat down, quickly followed by Carter Winslow.
The woman in the back said, "My goodness!"
"So," said Jackson Smith, we have fourteen votes already. Several times anyone else. And we havenâ€™t gotten to the rest of the family. Most of the family wants to avoid controversy above all and I believe we will have the votes in favor of selling Standing Pines."
"When do we vote?" Molly saw it was Marilyn Jensen.
Mollyâ€™s dad rose to speak. "Oh, God!" her mom whispered.
"You all know me. Iâ€™m John Graham. A.W. Morgan and Louisa Morgan were also my great grandparents. I hope we can keep Standing Pines. But, Art, Jim and Jack Smith are right. It looks like it will come down to a vote. And Jim is right that before we vote we should hear from each of them about what they propose and from anyone else who has anything to say on the subject. They all need to have time to prepare and the rest of us need time to think about this. We should take a break and continue this meeting at a later time. We have the meeting with Elliotâ€™s lawyer this afternoon, so we should continue this discussion until this evening or tomorrow. Besides, we should probably hear what the lawyer has to say before we make any decisions."
"I'm afraid Jackson Smith may be right," said John Graham as he gathered his family out on the front deck. "The group advocating keeping Standing Pines is divided. At the outset, those wanting to sell have more votes. Heâ€™s right, too, that many of the â€˜silent majorityâ€™ may prefer to avoid controversy and acrimony more than anything."
"What do you think will happen?" Asked Georgeâ€™s wife Polly. "George and I want to bring our kids here."
"Polly!" Betsy Graham touched Pollyâ€™s arm. "Do you have something to tell us?"
"I hope so. Keep your fingers crossed." She looked up at George and took his hand.
"Oh, Polly, thatâ€™s wonderful!" said Molly, giving her a hug. But, she felt a slight pang of jealousy and was immediately ashamed of herself.
Mollyâ€™s dad must have sensed some reaction in her manner. He put a hand on her shoulder and then answered Pollyâ€™s question. "Iâ€™m not sure what will happen, Polly. But Iâ€™m betting that if we feel as strongly as I think we do, we should start talking to our relatives about how to succeed in voting down a sale. We canâ€™t have Art and Jim Belden splitting the vote."
"Should we be doing that, now, John?" asked Betsy.
"I think we should hear what the lawyer says first."
The attorney arrived at two-thirty. Caroline Smith ushered MacClellan Winter into the Great Room where family members waited. He pulled a roller brief case with a collapsible handle extended for walking and pulling the case behind. The benefits of the human raceâ€™s invention of the wheel had finally caught up to lawyers whose heavy, paper-laden briefcases had ruined many a lawyerâ€™s back.
Caroline pointed him toward the table that had been set up near the fireplace. Winter recessed the briefcase handle, opened the case and placed a thin file folder on the table. Looking out over the gathered family members, he introduced himself and said, "Everybody calls me Mac."
Mac Winter looked like what Molly thought of when she mentally pictured a Trusts and Estates lawyer. He was clean-shaven, had wire-rimmed spectacles and wore a three-piece gray suit with a starched white shirt, a patterned, blue power tie and highly polished black wingtips. Molly judged his height at about five feet, ten inches. His trim physique suggested a runner.
Molly watched him work. She didn't know him, but knew his law firm. Winter was a partner in Beeman, Bjork and Berman, a three hundred lawyer firm that had been a principal player in the practice of law in downtown Minneapolis for more than fifty years. Local lawyers sometimes referred to them as the "Bees" or the "Bumblebees." The firm's litigators, Molly knew by reputation, were aggressive and tough. But Mac Winter was in the firm's Trusts and Estates Group where its lawyers dealt with estate planning, taxes, accounting and such matters. They would not deign to get mixed up in a thing as messy as "Litigation." Molly could picture him working at a computer in an orderly office with everything in its place, breaking for lunch to pull a nylon duffle from a closet and head to the gym. A four or five mile run and shower later, he would be back at his desk with a bean sprout sandwich on gluten free bread, drafting dull, lengthy documents designed to pass the clients' possessions to their heirs with the least amount of taxes or problems. Then it would be off to a meeting or an uncontested hearing in Probate Court in his three-piece suit. She imagined that he wore the suit, vest, coat and all, when sitting at his desk, no doubt sipping fresh-brewed Columbian coffee or Earl Grey tea from a delicate bone china cup on a saucer.
Sometimes when Molly was in the midst of a bitter, high stakes divorce, she found herself envying lawyers like Mac Winter with their staid, peaceful, non-controversial practices where they just ground out substantial fees and did not lie awake at night worrying about winning or losing.
Of course, probate and estate matters could get messy. In fact, "cabin succession," the very subject of this meeting, was a common subject of bitterness and acrimony. But when such happened, the Trust and Estates lawyer just turned the matter over to a litigation partner, thus keeping his or her hands and three-piece suit clean.
Mac Winter opened the file. Removing a document of several pages, he began his presentation.
"Thank you all for inviting me here. This is a beautiful place. It is, in fact, the subject of our discussion, here, today." He held up the document. "This is the Standing Pines Real Estate Trust. The Grantor of the trust is, or was, your relative, Mr. Elliot Arthur Morgan. I was truly sorrowed to hear of his passing. He was a true gentleman. However, I am honored to be here fulfilling his wishes. What Elliot did and what I, as his lawyer, did was too make arrangements for this wonderful property for beyond his life. And so, we, he and I, intended that one day, I would be here explaining this to you. Let me first explain what the trust is, what it does and why Elliot chose it."
"But a trust ends when the trustor dies," said a voice from the back. Molly looked for the speaker. It was Jim Belden, whose profession, as he had said earlier, involved certain types of estate planning and property management. The Beldens had moved away from the speakerâ€™s table where they had sat earlier. He persisted. "So why are we concerned with the trust, now? Elliot Morgan is dead."
Molly saw a few heads jerk at Jim's last remark and the way he said it.
"I'm sorry," said Winter, "I only have met a few of you. And you are?"
"I gather you are related to Mr. Elliot?"
Cheryl Belden stood beside her husband. "I am Cheryl Ann Swenson Belden. My grandmother was Catherine Parker Morgan Swenson, Elliot Morgan's aunt. I am a member of the fourth generation of the Morgan family. And this is my husband."
While there certainly was a bit of challenge in Jim Belden's question and so, too, in Cheryl's tone, Winter remained composed, smiling and unperturbed. He made a note on his legal pad and then responded. "Thank you, Mrs. Belden. Mr. Belden is correct. Elliot Morgan had a revocable trust during his life. That trust terminated upon his death. But within that trust, another trust, an irrevocable trust, what some people and some lawyers call a 'cabin trust,' was created. This property and certain other assets designed to pay or defray operation costs were transferred into that trust. Mr. Elliot Morgan's living trust was called the 'Elliot Arthur Morgan Living Trust.' The cabin trust is the 'Standing Pines Real Estate Trust.' It continues in effect and is an irrevocable trust."
"But we as beneficiaries can still change it. We can terminate the trust." It was Belden, still standing in the back.
"That's true as well, Mr. Belden. But that takes all of the beneficiaries to agree. It must be unanimous. The Wisconsin Trust Code does contain a provision for modification or termination if not all beneficiaries agree in which the court may, and I emphasize the word, 'may,' approve the termination provided the court finds certain things, one of which is that the interests of any beneficiary who does not consent will be adequately protected." Again, he raised the trust document up for everyone to see. "Since the expressed purpose of the Standing Pines Real Estate Trust is, and I quote â€¦," he read from the first page, "'to provide the members of the Morgan family as defined herein with continued use and shared occupancy of Standing Pines Lodge and its surrounding grounds, shorelines, docks, outbuildings and acreage within the property boundaries according to the metes and bounds legal description in the attached Exhibit A,'" he looked up from the document, "I feel comfortable in advising each and all of you that the courts will not approve a modification or termination to which any one or more of you objects. This is an irrevocable trust which owns the property and will manage it according to its terms."
"Mr. Winter?" Rita Dolan, sitting in the front facing the lawyer, raised her hand.
"Who's going to run it, you?"
"No, no. That would be the trustee. Our office provided trust management services to Elliot Morgan in his later years such as paying the bills, the taxes, investing the trust principal and providing a quarterly accounting of trust income and expenditures. We would provide those same services to the new trustee if requested."
Jim Belden stood again. "We can pick the trustee. Right?"
"Yes," answered the lawyer. "Technically, that's true."
Jim Belden nodded as though that fixed everything. He wanted to be in control. Had he solicited enough votes to get there? Molly wondered. What about Uncle Art? What about the split vote her dad was worried about?
"But," lawyer Winter went on, "that would be a modification of the trust and would therefore require that all beneficiaries agree."
Belden again. Still standing. "A modification of what? Elliot Morgan is gone. We just have to pick a new trustee."
"But Mr. Morgan has already done that."
"What? Who?" several people asked.
"First, one more comment in regard to Mr. Belden's question. If the trustee designated in the trust instrument declines the appointment, then the trust instrument provides that a majority of the beneficiaries may select a trustee."
"Whom did Uncle Elliot pick?" asked Uncle Webb, "And why hasn't he told us?"
"Yeah," agreed Uncle Bernie. "Here we've been meeting and trying to decide who will be in control, if anybody, and the guy Elliot appointed doesn't bother to tell us it's all decided." He looked around the room as if trying to spot the culprit. "Pretty thoughtless, I'd say."
"Elliot Morgan created his trust more than ten years ago when he was in his seventies," the lawyer responded. "What I have referred to as the cabin trust was included. No trustee was designated in the original instrument. About two years ago, Mr. Morgan added a caveat to the trust instrument designating the trustee for the cabin trust that would continue after his death. He chose to keep the identity of the trustee confidential. Even the designated trustee doesn't know."
"Do you know?" asked Belden. He obviously didn't like the way this was going. His patience with this subject and this lawyer appeared to be wearing thin.
"Yes, I do."
"Well, who is it?" demanded Belden.
Mac Winter turned the pages to the back of the trust document. "Exhibit C is the caveat. It reads as follows: 'For the irrevocable trust identified as the Standing Pines Real Estate Trust, created in the Elliot Arthur Morgan Living Trust, and which shall continue after my death, I hereby designate as the first Trustee,'" Winter looked up at the gathered crowd who were hanging on each word he read. Their palpable collective anticipation hung in the air in perfect silence.
Winter read aloud the name of the new trustee.
"Molly Parker Graham."
The room was silent for a moment. Then the reactions began.
"What?" a voice in the back cried in alarm. It was Joe Watkins, Jr. who was in favor of selling. "Yeah, why her?" said his wife, Marsha, in a rough whisper, but one that most people probably heard.
"That doesn't make any sense," said Jim Belden in a voice loud enough that Molly was sure everyone heard. "When did you say Elliot did this?"
"About two years ago," Mac Winter answered.
"Do we know if he was competent at the time?" Belden looked around at the seated family members. A woman near the fireplace gasped. Molly couldn't see who it was.
"I can assure you," Winter responded, "that Mr. Morgan was of sound mind when he executed the Addendum."
The shock was immediate. As much or maybe more so for Molly than the rest of the family. In her current state, she wanted little attention and no responsibility. She had enough to deal with. Jim Belden was right, she was sure. The choice of trustee could be changed by the beneficiaries. She would be the first to vote for the change.
The next day was Sunday. There was no vote. The "factions" John Graham had identified were busy meeting and talking about what to do. Everything was changed now.
Sunday was normally a day of specified but varied activities for most residents of Standing Pines Lodge. Many went to the morning church services in Cable. Old A.W. and Louisa Morgan had been early members of the Cable Congregational Church in town. A pew there was marked with a brass plaque in their name, presumably recognizing a contribution of some sort. Not as many of the family regularly attended the services as they used to, but some still did. Others enjoyed the fishing, swimming, but the water was still too cold for that, or made plans for a big family mid-day meal. Still others who were there only for the weekend, which at that time of the year was most of the family present, were packing and getting ready for the drive back to the Twin Cities or Duluth or wherever. Some left early to avoid the traffic or to get home for an early start on preparing for the coming work week.
But this Sunday was different. Molly, still in shock from the previous day's announcement, felt like she was being watched constantly. Upon her entering a room, people stopped talking and stared at her, some with apparent sympathy, others with barely masked hostility. What had she done? She didn't do anything. She was as much surprised by what Uncle Elliot had done as anyone. But she could see that most did not believe that.
In the Great Room, Jim Belden approached her. "Molly, we've got to talk," he said, looking around to see who, if anyone was able to hear. Molly's great Aunt Wilhelmina Parker Morgan, whose age Molly knew to be over eighty, came to stand next to them. Belden looked flustered. He left, saying, "I'll talk to you later, Molly."
Aunt Wilhelmina smiled. "Molly, dear, you really should be out enjoying the sunshine. Take one of the kayaks. I'm sure the Bass and Crappies on Samoset are still setting up their spawning beds. The water will be so clear this time of year, you can see them long before you actually get to them. And Hammill! Hammill, at this time of morning, will be beautiful. This early in the spring on a warm day like this, the water will probably be steaming. It's a magical ride then. Let's look!" She guided Molly to a window next to the fireplace. Looking out to the east, the view of Lake Hammill was spectacular. No wind. Aunt Will was right. Steam rose from the glass-like surface shrouding the lake in a low cloud of soft white cotton while the rising sun cast its rays on the top of the cloud making the whole scene warm and inviting.
Ten-year-old Melissa Lynn Morgan stood looking out the window. "Aunt Will, why is Lake Hammill smoking?"
"Steaming, dear. The lake is steaming, because the water is so cold compared to the air above it."
"But, Aunt Will," she turned and pointed to the windows across the room, "I was over there looking out and Lake Samoset is not smoking â€¦ I mean steaming. Why?"
"Because, dear, Lake Hammill is a deeper lake. It holds more water and the water is colder than Samoset."
"Oh." Melissa frowned as though she were trying to understand. Then she grinned, seeing her eleven-year-old cousin Becky Jensen coming down the stairs and ran off to play.
"See, Molly, you should get out there, before Hammill stops smoking," Wilhelmina laughed, then lowering her voice, "and get away from these relatives of ours who want to talk you into something. You need time to think. You need time to be alone and not be pestered. Out there," she pointed out the window, "you can do that. Not in here."
Molly took Aunt Will's advice. Out on Hammill, the spectacular conditions captured her attention, taking her mind off yesterday's startling developments. The fog closed in on her, limiting her vision to not much more than a few kayak lengths ahead while the overhead sun warmed her. The fog would soon burn off, but, at the moment, it felt cozy. She felt the peace and solitude she needed. When she got back to the lodge, she would be sure to report to Aunt Will, thanking her for the suggestion and the protection. She pulled her smart phone to take a picture to show Aunt Will it was indeed a magical ride.
Aunt Will was right, of course. Great Uncle Elliot had often said, "My sister Wilhelmina is always right!" This was no exception. Out on Hammill in the quiet and solitude of the morning fog, Molly had realized it. She had needed to be away from the relatives who wanted her to quickly decide to decline the appointment and, as Aunt Will had said, she needed time to think. And think she had. Now, instead of being ready to decline the appointment as trustee and vote for anyone who would take over those responsibilities, she had mixed emotions. If Uncle Elliot had chosen her, shouldn't she honor his decision and his faith in her by at least trying? Given her currently delicate constitution and state of mind, was now the right time? What to do?
There was nothing to be done that day. It was Mother's Day. Molly's parents and her brothers and their wives met for coffee and cake in the library for a Mother's Day celebration. Jack and Jennifer's teenagers were there. Honored were Molly's mom, Jack's wife, Jennifer, and tentatively, George's wife, Polly, who everyone hoped would be officially expecting soon.
Molly felt a momentary pang of grief and of jealousy. She was ashamed of the feeling and hoped she had successfully hidden it from the others. Her mother may have noticed. She took Molly aside. "Dear, I know this may hard for you, but it is the best thing to get past your troubles."
She dearly loved her mother and appreciated the comment, but that was the same thing everyone said. If it was true, and Molly wasn't sure, she should be feeling better by now. She wasn't. More relaxed? A little. Better? Not really.
Her dad put a hand on her shoulder. "So, what are you going to do, Madam Trustee?"
"John!" Betsy Graham intervened. "It's Mother's Day! If you want to talk family politics, do it on some other day. Maybe Father's Day, if you wish, but leave this poor girl alone." She looked at her watch. "Remember, we have to leave here early enough to stop and see your mother on our way home."
John Graham put an arm around his wife. "Betsy's right of course, as usual. But, Molly, if you need anything we are here to help. You know that."
"I know and thanks."
But Mollyâ€™s dad had asked the big question. What should she do?
The next day, Aunt Will called and asked Molly to meet her in the Great Room of the lodge.
"I have something to show you, dear." She went to the fireplace. From the mantle, she removed a leather-bound volume whose great age could only be guessed at from the outside, but could be precisely identified by the inscription inside the cover and the first entries. It proclaimed itself, "The Family Record of A.W. Morgan and Louisa Parker Morgan, married the twelfth day of June in the year of our Lord, Eighteen Ninety-Four."
"You're familiar with this book, of course," she said and looked at Molly for confirmation.
"I am, Aunt Will. I have spent many an hour, right here, looking through it. As a little girl, I marveled at the notes and quotes and the stories that were recorded there, and at the wonderful old pictures."
"Yes, it does go on at times, doesn't it? Well, I took it up to my room last night. I figured you had to see with what, or with whom you are dealing."
They sat together on the big couch. Aunt Will set the book on the coffee table and produced two sheets of standard typing paper. "I did this on my laptop. There's a printer in the library." She handed one sheet to Molly. "One for you and a copy for me. I put the living family members in bold print and the deceased members in italics. Kind of morbid, I know, but I thought it would make it easier to understand at a glance."
Molly looked at the sheet. It was a family tree of sorts.
THE MORGAN FAMILY:
1- Arthur Wright Morgan ("A.W.") (1872-1960) - Louisa Parker Morgan (1873-1960)
2- Wilhelmina Louise Morgan (1896-1987)
2- Arthur W. Morgan, Jr. ("Bud") (1899-1970) - Angela Marie Morgan (4 children)
3- Daniel Webster Morgan (1924-1944)
3- Elliot Arthur Morgan (1930 â€“2017) â€“ Dolores Elizabeth Morgan (4 children)
4- Caroline Morgan Smith (67) - Joseph Smith (70)
5- Jackson Thomas Smith (45) â€“ Florence Smith (41)
6- Allen Lee Smith (22) (college)
6- George Benjamin Smith (20) (college)
5- Marilyn Smith Jensen (36) - George Jensen (36)
6- Rebecca Jensen (11)
6- Margaret Jensen (4)
4- Daniel Webster Morgan, II. ("Webb") (66) â€“ Genevieve Morgan (60)
4- Bernard David Morgan (64)
4- Arthur Wright Morgan, III ("Art") (62) â€“ Cassandra Morgan (58)
5- Arthur Wright Morgan IV. ("Bud") (33) â€“ Beverly Morgan (29)
6- Melissa Lynn Morgan ("Missy") (10)
6- Arthur Wright Morgan V. ("A.W.") (6)
3- Wilhelmina Parker Morgan (83)
3- Catherine Morgan Graham (81)- Walter Graham (dec'd) (2 children)
4- John Morgan Graham (67) â€“ Betsy Graham (64)
5- Jack Robert Graham (42) â€“ Jennifer Graham (40)
6- Susan Mary Graham (18)
6- Christopher Lee Graham (16)
5- George Emerson Graham (37)
5- Molly Parker Graham (27)- Brian Wozniak (dec'd)
4- Mary Graham Franklin (62) - James Franklin (66)
5-Chester John Franklin ("Chet") (40) â€“ Nanette Franklin ("Nan") (40)
6- Wm Morgan Franklin ("Billy") (17)
5- Rita Franklin Dolan (36) â€“ Patrick Dolan (38)
6- Michael Patrick Dolan ("Mickey") (18)
2- Catherine Parker Morgan Swenson(1901-1989) â€“ Stephen Swenson (dec'd) (2 children)
3- Louise Anne Stebner (85) â€“ Michael Stebner (84)
4- Elizabeth Stebner Watkins (63) â€“ Joe Watkins (65)
5- Joe Watkins, Jr. (40) â€“ Marsha Watkins (38)
5- Maryanne Watkins Winslow (38) â€“ Carter Winslow (40)
3- Joseph Swenson (84) â€“ Melissa Swenson (85)
4-Cheryl Swenson Belden (56) â€“ James Richard Belden (59)
4- Frederick Swenson (62) â€“ Marilyn Swenson (62)
5- Irene Swenson ("Reney") (1990) (dec'd)
2- Jennifer Morgan Wilson (1911-2001) - Bill Wilson (dec'd) (2children)
3- Georgette Wilson (born 1941) (unknown)
3- Bradley Wilson (born 1944) (unknown
"The numbers you see in front of the names are my numbers for the generations beginning with my grandparents. I am third generation and you are fifth."
Aunt Will had taken the information from the book which was a record of births and deaths in the Morgan family. She began with her own grandfather, A.W. Morgan, "the first," she liked to say. She held up her copy which had some handwritten notes in the margins. "I made some calculations after this was done, you see.
"Apart from the two Wilson children of whom the family had lost track until Saturdayâ€™s meeting, thanks to Carter Winslow, there are, including spouses, fifty-two living descendants of my grandfather, A.W. Morgan, who built Standing Pines Lodge in 1916. Of the second generation, none are alive. Of the third generation, all but two are alive. My brother, Daniel Webster Morgan, died at the Invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944 at age twenty, God rest his soul. My brother, Elliot, just passed away at eighty-seven. My sister, Catherine, your grandmother, and I are still alive. Catherine is eighty-two and in assisted living. And, I, at eighty-three, am what I am." She paused. "What you see is what you get." She glanced at her sheet and continued. "There are seventeen fourth generation members alive, including spouses. Also including spouses, there are nineteen fifth generation members alive of whom you are the youngest. The sixth generation currently has ten members, two college kids, an eighteen-year old girl and three teenaged boys, cousins who love to come to Standing Pines, and the little ones. They are the brothers Allen and George Smith ages twenty-two and twenty, respectively, who are away at college; Susan Graham, eighteen, and her brother Chris, seventeen; Melissa Morgan, age ten, and her little brother, Arthur Wright Morgan, V., age six, called "A.W.;" Becky Jensen, age eleven and her sister little Margaret, age four; Billy Franklin, seventeen, and Mickey Dolan, eighteen."
Molly looked over the chart. Six generations. So many family members. Precise relationships were nearly impossible to figure out, much less remember. So, except for immediate family, they all referred to those in their own generation as cousins. Younger generation members were nieces and nephews. Anyone in an older generation was called "Aunt" this or "Uncle" that. But something Aunt Will said puzzled her. She looked out a window toward Lake Hammill. A gentle rain had fallen earlier giving the forest a bright and clean look. A loon floated on the surface. Molly could hear its wavering call. What Aunt Will had said bothered her.
"Aunt Will, what do you mean when you say, 'with what or with whom' I am dealing?" she asked.
"Molly, you are now the trustee of the trust that owns Standing Pines, all 220 acres of it. These family members are the trust beneficiaries. I'm sure they have thoughts about what should happen. I am equally sure, as you saw on Saturday, they don't all agree."
"At this particular time in my life, I don't need this, Aunt Will," she said in what she considered to be the understatement of the reasonably young century.
"Nonsense, my dear. Oh, I don't mean to make light of what has happened to you. But I refuse to speak sympathetic platitudes that encourage you to feel sorry for yourself. I'm sure enough people have already done that. You need to get on with living. This responsibility could be the best thing for you."
Molly smiled. "You sound just like my boss, Aunt Will."
"Oh? Who is that?"
"Jim Decker. He's the managing partner of my firm and the lawyer who has taught and is still teaching me family law. He told me to take time off, get out of Minneapolis, come up here and take care of myself."
"Smart man. I like him already."
"So?" Aunt Will directed her best inquiring gaze at Molly.
"So, are you going to take his advice?"
"I get the impression, you won't let me do anything else."
"You're right. I won't. With your permission."
"Okay, Aunt Will. If you think this trust business can help me, too, how do we start?"
Her face brightened. "That's the girl! Let's get to work!"
She started with history.
As Trustee of the Standing Pines Trust, an appointment about which she was still none too happy, Molly decided to refresh her knowledge of Standing Pines Lodge history and family history. With a cup of hot tea and an overstuffed chair in the library, she began her research with a three-ring binder entitled History of the Tri-Lakes Protective Association. The Tri-Lakes Association is an association of property owners on Lakes Hammill, Samoset, and Wilipyro. The early settlers, as they called themselves, bought properties on the three lakes around 1915 and began building their cabins the following summer. The settlers were a close-knit group, depending upon one another for supplies, help when needed, and companionship as they began a long relationship with Wisconsin's north woods. Most of them had land on one of the three lakes. Roy Williams, who started it all when working for the Rust-Owen Lumber Company, had property with lakeshore on all three lakes. Standing Pines Lodge, owned by A.W. and Louisa Morgan had land on Hammill and Samoset. At that time, the names of the lakes were Hammill, named after a family who owned and operated Hammill's Berry Farm on the east shore of the lake in the late Nineteenth Century, Upper Bass Lake, later Samoset, and Lower Bass Lake, later Wilipyro, named after early residents, WIlliams, LIttles, PYnes and ROberts.
The Tri-Lakes History Book told the story of the beginnings. The people in what became the Tri-Lakes community met, picnicked, helped each other build and even fought fire together. Early picnics were held in The Glen, a depression in the forest on Williams property running from then Lower Bass Lake to the southern end of Lake Hammill. They were called the Settlers' Picnics.
After, in the early and mid-1920's, they organized the "Tri-Lakes Tribe," following an Indian motif including a totem pole. The tribe met at the Pyne property on Wilipyro called "Innisfree."
Molly turned the page and found a photocopy of the invitation to the 1925 Tri-Lakes Tribe Pow Wow. It was on birch bark! These people were really having fun.
Another old photo showed the lodge on the Morgan property when the land between the lakes had hardly any trees. Just tall grass stood where the lumber companies had cut over the whole area at the beginning of the century. Six trees had been left. Fairly young white pines, one stood on the bank of Lake Hammill and five stood just a few feet south of the lodge. The one closest to the lodge had been hit by lightning many years ago and was gone. The other four were huge towering trees now, standing right outside the south wall of the lodge. The lodge had been named Standing Pines Lodge for those trees.
The history book had a chapter on property ownership over the years from the time of the Rust-Owen Lumber Company to the date the history was compiled a few years ago. Many original properties had been split up as the ownership passed to children. Some were subdivided for sale. Standing Pines Lodge and a few others remained intact. Standing Pines, Molly knew, had stayed together because a single family member always had title and was in charge for the benefit of the entire family. The title records in Chapter 7 confirmed what she had always understood. It occurred to Molly that now people might think she was in charge. No way. Aunt Will's good intentions notwithstanding, Molly was not about to take over and try to run things over the objections of many of the family members. The trust was at best a temporary thing which would be resolved by the family. Her responsibility and her involvement in decisions affecting the land would be over. She did, however want to keep coming to Standing Pines. She clearly did not want to lose contact with The Painting, always a source of interest and comfort and sometimes a crutch for support when needed.
The next day, Aunt Will decided to check up on how Molly was doing. Could she see the reticence Molly was feeling about undertaking the trustee responsibilities for any length of time?
"You take care of it, dear," she told Molly. "It's all for your generation now. It's a wonderful and magic place. Standing Pines has been at the front of my mind my whole life, wherever I have gone or been."
Molly and Aunt Will were in the Great Room. Aunt Will pointed to The Painting above the fireplace. "Do you like the picture? I like it. They say the artist, Wm Werner Wells was some kind of a scoundrel, you know. And, mind you, itâ€™s â€˜Wm Werner Wellsâ€™ not William Werner Wells. However you pronounce it, think â€˜Wm Werner Wells,â€™ just the way he signed it."
"Whatâ€™s the difference?"
"It was his choice. Not William, but â€˜Wmâ€™ and with no period."
"Why, then?" Molly was becoming confused, but anything about The Painting was spellbinding to her. And she was glad to have something else to talk about.
"Itâ€™s like Thos. Jefferson, Benj. Franklin or Geo. Washington. Old fashioned abbreviations for first names. But Wells insisted that Wm, no period, was his name. Although, even he pronounced it as William, he said it was just Wm and so written. Most folks just called him â€˜Wells.â€™ He and that Rollie Reed over on Wilipyro were friends. Reed was okay. A wonderful photographer. Most of the old families around here have some of his pictures. Mostly about Indians."
She moved to the fireplace and stared up at The Painting. "What do you see in "First Meadow?" she asked.
"I'm not sure," Molly answered. "A meadow, woods and a pond, I guess."
Molly was hesitant. "Sometimes, I think I see things, but I don't think they are really there."
"How long has that been?"
"As long as I can remember. Since I was five or six. It's a strange thing."
"Oh, honey, I've had that odd talent since I was five or six. That was back between the world wars, you know, and during the Great Depression."
"Who else sees things in the painting?"
"You are the first besides me that I know of. I knew someone else would come along eventually. I used to see you staring at the painting and wondered if you saw more than others. The rest of the family members just see what you said a minute ago, 'a meadow, woods and a pond.' Oh, they see the marten there in the middle, but not much else."
"Do they know you see more?"
"You are the only one I have told. I have been waiting a long time."
"Do you know how long we've had The Painting?"
"My grandfather Arthur Morgan acquired it in the 1920's. It was a gift. There's quite a story behind it."
Anything about "First Meadow" was fascinating to Molly. Here was a story she had never heard and from a person who had nearly been there! "Oh, Aunt Will," she implored, "you're going to tell me aren't you?"
"Yes, dear. First, may I suggest a cup of tea?"
They moved to the large kitchen. Molly put on a copper teapot. She set the rough-hewn wooden table with old China cups and saucers that had been there forever, paper napkins and a tray of cookies. The big table had been made from old pine beams from an ancient barn that had been torn down years ago. The tea service had its own china pot, but they didn't put that on the stove. Presently, the copper pot whistled. Molly poured the boiling water over tea bags in the cups. With their tea and cookies, Aunt Will began her story.
"You know of course about the original settlers, their picnics and the start of the Tri-Lakes Association?"
"I've heard many stories and I have just read the Association's history book, again. It's a fascinating tale."
"Well then, let's concentrate on The Painting. Grampa Morgan bought this land in 1915. The original lodge was built in 1916. There have been additions since then. The artist, Wm Werner Wells, lived with the photographer, Rollie Reed on Lake Wilipyro that was then called Lower Bass Lake. Then Rollie Reed sold his place to Helen Little who had a cottage on Dinner Camp Lake. She sold her Dinner Camp property to a woman named Etta Place. Rollie Reed moved away and Wells moved in with Ms. Place on Dinner Camp Lake where they lived together for several years. Dinner Camp Lake is just up the Tri-Lakes Road, now, but when this lodge was built, the Tri-Lakes Road didn't exist. The only road into this area was the Williams Trail that came north from Highway 63 to Chickhaven on Lake Wilipyro, the Williams property that touched all three lakes where they come closest together. From there, people walked or took boats to their cottages. Lumber and materials for this lodge came across Hammill from the land owned by the old Horlick's Malted Milk Company."
"Is that how Mr. Wells got to Dinner Camp where he lived with â€¦ what's her name?"
"So, did they get to Dinner Camp Lake by the Williams Trail?"
"I'm not sure. Either they walked from the end of the Williams Trail or there may have been a road coming down from the north. The Longview Road coming south from Drummond goes all the way down to Dinner Camp. Now, it becomes the Tri-Lakes Road at that point and goes around the lakes to get back to what is now Old Highway 63 or now called the Blue Moon Road. Maybe the Longview Road or its predecessor was in back then. I don't know. Also. I'm not exactly sure when the Tri-Lakes Road was put in. It may have been there by the time Wells lived on Dinner Camp." She sipped her tea. After some scrutiny of the cookie platter, she selected one and took an experimental bite. Apparently satisfied, she took a larger bite, another sip of tea and continued her story. Molly was on the edge of her seat.
"Wm Werner Wells was a curmudgeon in the extreme. He was a naturalist, a botanist, an artist, a poacher and a thief."
"I'm just telling it like it is â€¦ or was, dear. Most people around here didn't like him or trust him. My grandparents and Rollie Reed are about the only ones who cared for him. Have you ever seen a photo of old Wm Werner Wells?"
"A photo? I don't think so."
"Be a dear and go get the old photo box by the hearth. I think you want the black metal one and not the wooden one."
Molly ran to the fireplace. The ornate metal box on the hearth was something she had spent time with in the past. Many of the pictures were not identified. The pictures were so old, some were old fashioned tintypes. Most were in black and white, many posed in photographers' studios with the studio label on the back.
Aunt Will opened the lid. She began pulling photos from the pile in the box. They were not organized in any way. "I could shoot mother and dad for not marking these pictures when they still knew or could find out who these people were." She continued to sort through the stack. "Here. Here's one of Wm Werner Wells and Rollie Reed at Reed's cabin on Wilipyro which later was named 'Innisfree.' They lived together there for a while, you know. And here is another of Grampa Morgan here at Standing Pines with Wells. They were good friends."
Molly examined the pictures. It was hard to tell much about the man. She could see that he had a full beard and was somewhat scruffy looking in her opinion, but that's all.
"Ah, here is the one I was looking for." Aunt Will handed Molly a three by three inch print.
The photo was in color. Unusual, Molly thought, for as old as it was. The man had a full, thick beard, three or four inches in length below his chin. It appeared to be mostly white, but the mustache had a darker tinge that gradually disappeared into the dingy white appearance of the rest of the beard. He wore a wool longshoreman's flat cap. The man's eyes were squinted as though he were in bright sunlight, but the wrinkles suggested this was a permanent condition. He looked angry as though he had just heard a suggestion to which he was vehemently opposed. If ever there was a curmudgeon, Molly thought, this was it. She had difficulty imagining this man as the caring and gentle person who painted "First Meadow." The subject, the careful brush strokes, the attention to nature and detail combined to express the feeling the artist had when creating the masterpiece. Molly had read that Oscar Wilde had once said, "Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not the sitter." While "First Meadow" is a landscape and not a portrait of a model, Wilde's comment still applies, she thought. The qualities of the person who painted "First Meadow" are apparent from the painting. Those qualities are hardly what Aunt Will was describing.
"I see what you are thinking," said Aunt Will. "He hardly looks like the man who painted that." She pointed to The Painting. "But he did and he was a naturalist, a botanist, an artist, a poacher and a thief. A real curmudgeon."
"An interesting character."
"I have always thought so." Aunt Will turned away from The Painting to face Molly. "Molly, what will you do now?"
"I've been thinking about that. I don't think I can handle this trustee business, Aunt Will. You heard the things the family said. They don't want me."
"Nonsense! My brother picked you because he knew you could do the job and do it right despite some of our relatives. Pay no attention to what they think or say."
"Well, if I am going to try, even for just a while, I need to find out more about how Standing Pines operates, who pays the bills, what the bills are for, where the money comes from and so on. The lawyer, Mac Winter, has all that information. He's in the Cities. I need to check into my office sometime anyway. So, I think I need to go back there, but I am not sure when."
The next day, Caroline and Joe Smith planned a special evening dinner. Recently retired and enjoying their newfound freedom, they had stayed on past the weekend. The Stebners, who were in their mid-eighties were still there with their daughter, Elizabeth Watkins and her husband, Joe. The Beldens and Uncle Art had also stayed. Molly guessed Jim was either taking some time off or his business didnâ€™t need him to go on making money if he chose to stay away. Knowing Jim Belden, she assumed the latter. He was an astute business man, she knew. But she had no idea how or why Uncle Art had stayed past the weekend. She guessed that he saw that Jim Belden stayed and so he did, too.
Molly and Aunt Will helped Caroline. They set the table for twelve in the big dining room. After the table was set, they helped with the dinner preparations. Molly found she was enjoying the festivities. They were having glazed ham, cheesy baked asparagus, Aunt Carolineâ€™s famous potato salad, crescent rolls and a choice of fresh squeezed lemonade or chilled Pinot Grigio. For the most part, family members had stopped bugging Molly about declining her appointment as trustee. A few had seemed surprised and some appeared disappointed when she told them she was going to give it some thought and might choose not to step down right away. Most seemed satisfied, but a few were not pleased. Since most had gone home after the weekend, she was able to feel more relaxed about it. But, Molly thought some of them either believed she would change her mind or would be unable to satisfactorily perform the duties of trustee and have to be removed. The more they acted like she couldnâ€™t do the job, the more she determined to do it.
She had been at the lodge "on sabbatical," so to speak, for nearly a month. Although it hadnâ€™t done much to help her mental state at first, things seemed to be improving with the surprise trustee appointment she didnâ€™t want. Since then and for the last week, she was feeling better about herself. Aunt Will was right. Molly needed to get on with living.
It was during dinner that evening, that a thought occurred to her. She must have reacted in some way because Aunt Will, seated next to her. Looked at her funny, eyebrows raised.
"What is it, dear?"
"What is what?"
"You just jumped. And I thought I detected a smile â€¦ like maybe you had an epiphany or something.â€
Molly laughed. "Or something." She explained to Aunt Will. The thought that had occurred to her and apparently made her "jump" and "smile" was that maybe it was time to go back to work, not just go to the Twin Cities to see Mac Winter, but to actually go back to work at her own office.
"Maybe not full time, at first, Aunt Will, but I think itâ€™s time. Time to get started."
"When do you leave?"
"I just now thought about it, so I donâ€™t have a concrete plan, but I was thinking about tomorrow."
"Can I hitch a ride?"
"I need to get back to the Cities, too. I have things to do there that I have been neglecting. So, can I hitch a ride when you go?â€
"Iâ€™d love you to come along. Tomorrow?"
"You canâ€™t leave, Molly." Jim Belden caught her as soon as he heard. She was helping Aunt Will pack so they could leave for Minneapolis the next day.
"You canâ€™t leave while this trustee business is undecided."
Molly said nothing.
Aunt Will said nothing but the look on her face spoke volumes.
Apparently, Belden got the message. "Weâ€™ll talk more, tomorrow," he said and left.
They returned to Aunt Willâ€™s packing. Aunt Will muttered, "You know, the husband of my cousinâ€™s daughter Cheryl has always seemed like a good enough guy, but heâ€™s acting like an arrogant ass, now."
Molly smiled. Good old Aunt Will.
"Uh oh, Aunt Will. Here comes Uncle Art."
Arthur Wright Morgan, III., was heading right for them. He looked like he was on a mission.
"Molly! I've been looking for you. I'd like to talk to you about the trust. I know you have had your share of troubles. Trying to manage Standing Pines and this crowd is all you need. You know I am looking for the job. Can we talk?"
"Arthur," said Aunt Will, "I believe my brother and his wife raised their kids properly and that they turned out all right, including you. Don't prove me wrong, Arthur."
"Aunt Will, you know I just want to see Standing Pines continue to be available for the family and to do that the way my father did."
"And your father picked Molly to take his place. I assume he had good reason. From what I have seen of her, I think his choice was a good one and wiser than we may know. Maybe you shouldn't bother her about the trust, like Jim Belden is trying to do."
"Belden? I thought I saw him talking to you. I don't want him to take over. He's okay, but I think he is the wrong man for the job."
"So now, Arthur, now that we have had this little discussion, what are you going to do?"
Art paused for a moment, then smiled, shaking his head. He turned away from Aunt Will and spoke to Molly. "From the time I was a little boy, my dad warned me about my Aunt Will. He said, 'Always do what my sister Wilhelmina says. She knows what is the best thing.' 'Why is she always right?' I asked. 'I don't know. She just is,â€™ he told me. So, I suppose this is one of those times. Molly, I want what is best for Standing Pines. Please know that. You go ahead. I wish you the best of luck, but you won't need it. You're smart, strong and you have Aunt Will. Here." He handed her his business card. "My cell phone number is there at the bottom. If you need anything, I am here to help." He looked at Aunt Will. She nodded her approval.
"Well done, Arthur, you may go along and play, now."
The following day, the weather cooperated for a nice drive south. Mostly sunny and unseasonably warm. Mollyâ€™s mood was bright, uplifting for the first time in several months. Aunt Will was a blessing. Her companionship and wry sense of humor helped. They had managed to escape that morning without confronting Jim Belden, who, they had heard, was looking for Molly. "Escape" was Aunt Willâ€™s idea. Starting to get back to work was Molly's. She hoped she would be able to handle it and not have a setback. She believed her renewed interest in moving forward was a good thing. She had, for so long, not cared at all. Now she cared.
Mollyâ€™s first day back at the office started out as a struggle. Maybe it was too soon after all? But as the day wore on, things began to improve. Jim Decker was glad to have her back but cautioned against moving too fast. "We donâ€™t want you to have a relapse," he told her. "You know the more upbeat and confidant you get, the farther and harder you fall if you have a setback. Let Trish help you."
Trish Barber, paralegal to Molly and Jim Decker, had taken good care of Mollyâ€™s files in her absence. Where court appearances were scheduled, she had Jim Decker appear. When pleadings or briefs needed drafting, she did the work and had it reviewed and signed by Decker or one of the other attorneys in the office. Trish had kept the clients happy, not the easiest thing to do by anyone in a divorce practice. Thanks to Trish and Decker, Molly was in good shape on her caseload.
One of her cases had a contested motion hearing set for the next day. She decided to take it herself, spending the balance of her time with that file preparing for oral argument.
She took Deckerâ€™s advice and did not stay the whole day. Before she left, she called Beeman, Bjork & Berman and asked to speak with Mac Winter. She wanted to learn more about her trustee duties, her authority and how Standing Pines Lodge was managed. She scheduled an appointment with Winter for the next day at his office. Then she left to go home and change for a late afternoon run.
Meanwhile up near Dinner Camp Lake, the Colonel stepped across the Tri-Lakes Road and entered the thick woods. Perhaps Jonesy was right. The inhabitants of the Dinner Camp Lake cottage of some eighty or ninety or more years ago had not hidden the gold on their property or in or under their cottage. Of that he was now sure. Had they played it safe and hidden the gold somewhere off their property like across the road as Jonesy had suggested?
The land he walked lay between the Tri-Lakes Road and the northern end of Lake Hammill. The woods were thick, but he found what he thought must be an old logging road from way back. He followed it back, heading generally east by his reckoning. The trail ended at a ridge. At the top of the ridge, the Colonel looked down on a forest pond surrounded by green grass in the middle of a forest so thick that walking outside the grassy area was hard. The water and grassy waterâ€™s edge extended south for a few hundred yards before ending at a wall of thick woods and underbrush.
He saw nothing that might indicate a hiding place for what he sought. Not surprised, he figured the gold had remained hidden and untouched for as much as eighty years and possibly over a hundred. Any signs would have long been hidden by the growth of weeds, brush and trees.
One concern, he realized, was that in some directions, the woods seemed to continue on nearly forever. Not really, but where he walked, the forest was bound by the Tri-Lakes Road on the west, Lake Hammill to the east and Lake Samoset to the south. To the north, one could continue on to the Holly Lake Road before striking a boundary. Half Moon Lodge, with nearly five hundred acres and two small lakes, lay north of where the Colonel stood. He stood on what he thought was Standing Pines Lodge property, with more than two hundred acres and significant shoreline on two lakes, most of which lay to the south.
He started back. He knew he needed more information to narrow his search. Did anyone else know about the gold? Did they have information that could lead to its discovery? He had thought Mr. Elliot Morgan, the old man in the nursing home who owned the property he was currently walking on might know about the gold. But, when he visited Mr. Morgan, he found that wasnâ€™t true. Maybe someone else at that lodge? They bore watching.
And he would keep looking. Eventually he would find the gold, if it existed, and he was sure it did. If that much in new gold double eagles had been found or disposed of in any way other than hiding it, he would know. His research in matters of gold was flawless. No, the gold was still out there somewhere. He could feel that it was close.
On Friday, after spending the first half of the morning on her divorce files and fine tuning her argument for court that afternoon, Molly walked through the skyway system to Mac Winterâ€™s office at Beeman, Bjork and Berman. Her appointment was for eleven oâ€™clock. To her surprise, Mac greeted her in his shirtsleeves. She had previously imagined that this staid trusts and estates lawyer worked in his full three-piece suit. He offered her coffee which was served in the fine bone china cup and saucer she had imagined.
"So, Ms. Trustee," he began as he raised his own cup, "How may I help you, today?"
"Thank you for seeing me, Mac. Iâ€™ve decided I need to know more about the Standing Pines Lodge operation, whatâ€™s involved, what the costs are and where the money comes from to pay the bills, that sort of thing."
Mac picked up his phone. "Ginny, if Mary is in, would you ask her to join us and bring the current spreadsheets for the Elliot Morgan Trust? Thanks." To Molly, he said, "Weâ€™ll have that information for you in a moment, along with someone who can explain it better than I. He sipped his coffee. "But Molly, after our meeting up in Cable, I thought for sure your family was going to talk you into declining your appointment as trustee. Not so?"
"Some of them certainly tried. A couple of uncles and a few aunts felt that away. But, a stronger-willed aunt convinced me, or perhaps I should say, cajoled me into undertaking the responsibility."
"You know her?"
Mac Winter smiled. "Elliot told me about his sister Wilhelmina. Said if she were younger he would have named her trustee. He said she was smart, strong-willed, as you said, and always right. He told me everybody calls her Aunt Will."
After a light tap on the door, it opened and a woman entered carrying a thin file. She looked to be in her mid-forties, dark, three-piece suit, yellow open-collared blouse and black, low-heeled pumps. Must be the Trusts and Estates Sectionâ€™s standard uniform, Molly thought. The woman laid the file on Mac Winterâ€™s desk, took a seat next to Molly and extended her hand. "Hi, Ms. Graham, Iâ€™m Mary Booker."
Molly smiled, thinking of the firmâ€™s nickname.
Mary Booker caught her grin. "No, Iâ€™m not one of the Bumble Bees, yet, although some partners," she nodded at Mac, "have accused me of having designs on the whole Beehive and becoming Queen Bee someday."
Mac laughed. "Mary is an associate attorney in our Trusts and Estates Group, but as you can see, she is not intimidated in the least by this firm, itâ€™s size, itâ€™s long history, or even its nicknames."
Mary opened the file, beginning a detailed explanation of how Elliot and his living trust had operated and paid for Standing Pines Lodge.
"What are these payments from the Bank of Lake Superior in Ashland?" Molly asked, looking at a spreadsheet.
"We were never quite clear on that," said Mac. "Some investment Elliot had with the bank, I guess. The bank has made those monthly payments for years."
"Until recently," added Mary.
"Oh?" said Mac.
"They didnâ€™t pay in March or April," Mary said.
"Not since Elliot passed away?" asked Molly.
"Is that right, Mary?" asked Mac. "Elliot Morganâ€™s date of death was March seven. You say the bank has missed two payments since then?"
Mary referred to a spreadsheet from the file. "Thatâ€™s right. The bank paid the Elliot Morgan Living Trust like clockwork, sending its payment on the tenth of each month. We have not received payments that would normally have been issued and mailed on the tenth of March and the tenth of April."
"Have you checked with the bank?" Molly asked.
"No. We sent out notices of Mr. Morganâ€™s death and the change from his living trust to the bank along with other trust holdings who pay interest or other investment returns. The others switched the payee name on their checks to the Standing Pines Lake Trust and their payments continued as before. The bank may need more information or documentation."
"Mac, do you have some more copies of the documentation making me trustee?"
"Certainly. How many do you need? Three sets enough?"
"Probably." Molly toyed with her coffee cup. "I might need them as credentials. Iâ€™m not back to work full time, yet," Molly said. "Iâ€™m still spending time at Cable, supposedly for my health. Iâ€™ll be back at the lodge soon. I can give the bank a set and any other information they may need to transfer their payments to the Standing Pines Lake Trust. Maybe Iâ€™ll take a run up to Ashland and see the bankers in charge of Elliotâ€™s account."
Molly felt the perspiration beginning, her running shoes striking the pavement in a steady rhythm.
Nearly over, her short first week had gone pretty well, considering. On this Friday, she started early, meeting with her client in the particularly messy Cranston divorce case. Molly's file was already nearly a foot thick in four Redrope expanding file folders and they hadn't even had the Initial Case Management Conference, or ICMC. She hoped the ICMC would move things along, perhaps bring to the parties some realization of the reality of acrimonious divorce litigation, its expense and its impact on the parties and any children. In this case, there were two. At this stage, in this case, child custody was still a contested issue. A motion regarding parenting time was scheduled on the 1:30 court calendar.
Jim Decker had wondered if it might be too soon for Molly to return to work. Molly, however, was feeling better and stronger after spending time at Cable, despite the ongoing machinations of her family members. Perhaps having to deal with their various competing schemes and their continually changing alliances was giving her strength.
After the client meeting, she had seen Mac Winter and Mary Booker, learning more about Standing Pines Lodge operations and finances.
Now, she was out for a mid-day run out of the downtown YMCA, something she had done two or three times a week before her life was turned upside down. She turned onto the Loring Greenway heading toward the lake. Once around the lake and back to start would do it today. Usually, she had liked to run longer in the park before heading back. Maybe she would again.
Loring Park was one of the older parks in the Twin Cites at more than 130 years and the largest one in the downtown area of Minneapolis. Loring Lake, formerly called Johnson's Lake was surrounded by paved paths for walking, jogging, biking, rollerblading or just strolling. The Loring Greenway is a beautiful pedestrian walkway connecting downtown directly to the park amid gorgeous landscaping and colorful shrubs and flowers maintained by area residents who volunteer.
She cut her run short to get back to get ready for court. After a sandwich at her desk, she walked through the skyway to the courthouse.
â€œMs. Graham,â€ said the judge from his seat at the bench, â€œI believe this is your motion.â€
â€œYou may proceed.â€
Molly stood to begin her argument. It was a motion requesting a parenting time schedule because Mrs. Cranston was being overly restrictive about letting Mr. Cranston see his children. When she finished and returned to her seat, she felt better than she had for a while. It was good to be back. But, was it too soon?
Back in her office, Trish Barber appeared in the open doorway. "How'd it go?"
"I think it went well. The judge is sure to see that both parents have ample parenting time. There is no evidence that our client presents any danger, so time with him is in the childrenâ€™s best interest. Mr. Cranston was there. The judge could see his genuine interest and concern for the kids.
"That's good, Molly, but how did it go for you?"
"Pretty good, I think," Molly replied. "I wasn't sure if it was time, but, apparently, it was."
"I'm glad. Mr. Decker was worried it was too soon. May I tell him it went well?"
"Sure â€¦ but, no." Molly stood. "Thanks Trish, but I think I'll tell him, myself."
Trish smiled, nodding her approval. "He's in his office, now."
As Molly started for Jim Decker's office, Trish said, "Oh, Molly, I forgot. A Sergeant Shaughnessy from Minneapolis Police called. He asked to have you call him. Here's his number." She handed Molly a pink phone message memo.
Decker was pleased to hear that Molly's court hearing went well. He seemed to particularly like hearing the details of the argument and Mollyâ€™s strategy for the case as it would proceed after this motion hearing.
As she was leaving Decker's office, Molly found she was still clutching the pink phone message.
Back at her desk, she dialed the number.
"Sergeant Shaughnessy, this is Molly Graham. My legal assistant said you called."
"Yes, Ms. Graham. Thank you for returning my call. I am calling about a Mr. Elliot Morgan who passed away recently."
"He was your uncle?"
"Well, not exactly. He was my great uncle. What is this about, Sergeant?"
"I would prefer not to talk about it over the phone, Ms. Graham, but let's just say I am not satisfied with the circumstances relating to Mr. Morgan's death."
"What? What do you mean? Do you suspect negligence in his care? Or," she hesitated to say it, "do you suspect foul play of some kind?"
"I would prefer to discuss it in person. Could you come in to see me?"
Molly thought about it. "Of course. Where are you?"
"You know the city hall across from the Hennepin County Government Center?"
"You mean the old courthouse?"
"That's it. Just come to Room 130 and ask for me. What's a good time for you?"
Molly thought more about it and made a decision. She couldn't possibly do this without Aunt Will. Aunt Will would never forgive her. "Do you mind if I bring someone with me?"
"Not at all. May I ask who that would be?"
"My great aunt, Wilhemina Morgan. Elliot Morgan's sister."
"His sister? How old is she?"
"Do you think that's wise? The subject might be distressing."
"Not nearly as much as the aftermath will be for me if I don't bring her."
"You think she can handle it, then?"
"You haven't met Aunt Will but I think you are about to."
Molly called Aunt Will, telling her exactly what Sergeant Shaughnessy had said. Aunt Will didn't hesitate. "I'm going," she said.
â€œIâ€™ll pick you up at your front door. Twenty minutes?â€
That same afternoon found them walking the hallway of the old Minneapolis City Hall, a Romanesque structure built of granite with a clock tower whose clock faces in four directions. Built near the end of the Nineteenth Century, it has housed government offices since it was built. Once the home of both the City offices and Municipal Courts and the Hennepin County offices and District Courts, it was now the main City Hall, with a few offices still occupied by the County. While most of the downtown buildings are connected by an extensive skyway system, City Hall is not. Instead, underground tunnels connect it to the Hennepin County Government Center in one direction and the United States Courthouse in the other.
At Room 130, Molly asked for Sergeant Shaughnessy. They were escorted to a small office occupied by a very big man. Sergeant Michael Shaughnessy's gray hair was cut short, his complexion ruddy with piercing blue eyes that looked like they had seen everything. But, the most striking part of the impression he gave was his size. He was a big, big man. Molly thought he must be at least six feet, five or six inches and close to 275 pounds or more. He was not fat, but he was big. He wore civilian clothes, a Navy blazer, tan slacks, white shirt and a yellow tie. He shook hands with a grip like iron. Molly thought he was being gentle with her and still she thought it would take time for her fingers to recover. She helped Aunt Will into a chair before he had a chance at her delicate hand.
"Thank you, Ladies, for coming by. I'm afraid the subject I wish to discuss may not be the most pleasant for you."
"Sergeant, if you're not satisfied that my brother died of natural causes, I want to know about it. Don't worry about me. The unpleasantness may be for those doctors or staff or whoever may be responsible, I can tell you!"
"Let me begin with why I am concerned. The medical examiner sees no explanation for the death. Yes, Mr. Morgan had only months to live or even only weeks or days, but he didn't die of that."
"Whatever do you mean, Sergeant?" asked Aunt Will.
"Somethingâ€™s not right. My paranoids are inflamed."
"Your what?" asked a startled Aunt Will.
"â€™Paranoids.â€™ Like infected adenoids become inflamed. Only this is from my natural copâ€™s paranoia. I suspect everyone and everything. I once met an FBI agent from Milwaukee who used the phrase. I liked it. It fits me, too."
"But why would anyone do that?" asked Molly. "Why would anyone hasten the death, forgive me, Aunt Will, why would anyone hasten the death of a dying old man?"
"Exactly. Tell me more about your lake property and your family members."
Together, they filled the Sergeant in on the family and the history of Standing Pines Lodge. Molly produced her copy of Aunt Willâ€™s family tree which she still carried in her purse.
Sergeant Shaughnessy examined it, briefly. "May I make a copy?"
"Of course. Aunt Will?"
He stepped out, returning in a moment. As he handed Molly her copy and placed his new one in his file, he asked, "Do you have addresses and contact information for these people?"
Aunt Will responded. "I can get all that. Want me to e-mail that to you?"
Shaughnessy looked up, at first looking surprised, then handing her a card, said, "That would be fine, Maâ€™am. My phone and e-mail are on there."
She examined the card. She seemed satisfied. Then, she grinned at him. "Sergeant, you shouldnâ€™t address an old lady as â€˜Maâ€™am.â€™ Youâ€™re no spring chicken, yourself. Getting close to retirement, are you?"
Shaughnessy smiled. I meant no offense Ms. Morgan â€¦"
"Wilhelmina, or, if you prefer, Aunt Will."
Molly suppressed a grin, making eye contact with Shaughnessy.
"If someone killed my brother, Sergeant, I want it know about it and I want something done about it â€¦ If I have to do it myself! No offense, Sergeant."
"Well, here is a guy in a nursing home â€¦"
"Assisted Living Facility," corrected Aunt Will. "Donâ€™t say â€˜nursing homeâ€™ to an old person."
Shaughnessy raised his eyebrows.
Molly intervened. "Sheâ€™s like that. She doesnâ€™t mean anything by it."
"So you say," returned Aunt Will, grinning at Shaughnessy.
"So, here is a guy, eighty-seven years old, in poor health and living in an Assisted Living Facilityâ€¦" Aunt Will nodded and Shaughnessy continued, "and he dies under suspicious circumstances. If itâ€™s a homicide, why? Whatâ€™s the point? Wilhelmina, one of my investigating officers was told by the people at the â€˜Assisted Living Facilityâ€™ that your brother wasnâ€™t going to last very long. He could have passed at any time. He had just days or weeks left. A few months at the most."
"I had been told the same thing, Sergeant. None of the family suspected any foul play until you and your flaming paranoids, or whatever, came along."
"Inflamed. Inflamed paranoids. Iâ€™m going to have to stop using that metaphor." He picked up a ball point pen and slid a yellow legal pad in front of him. With pen poised, he looked at the two women. "So tell me about these members of your family." He placed his copy of Aunt Willâ€™s family tree next to the pad.
Molly put her copy in front of them. She let Aunt Will go through biographies of sorts of the living adult members of the family. "So there you have it," Aunt Will finished, "or there you have us and all our troubles."
"Well, it's a puzzle. Ordinarily if there is a question, an autopsy is done, although," Shaughnessy looked at Aunt Will, "that's not always something the family wants to happen."
"Sergeant, if an autopsy has to be done, it doesn't bother me and the rest of the family can just live with it."
"But Aunt Will, Uncle Elliot was cremated, remember."
"Oh, that's right. That happened awfully fast."
"I thought so," said Shaughnessy. "Whose idea was that?"
"Oh, it was Elliot's idea," said Aunt Will. "He wanted his ashes scattered over Lake Samoset when the fall colors were at their peak, his favorite time of the year. Elliot was a grouse hunter. He used to say his favorite thing was an autumn walk in the woods with a shotgun, whether he saw birds or not."
"So," said Shaughnessy, "his ashes haven't been scattered, yet?"
"Not yet. I'm not sure who is going to do it. There isn't a ceremony or anything planned. Not everyone thought it was a good idea. Molly, do you know who is going to scatter his ashes?"
"No. I don't."
"Where are the ashes, then?" asked Shaughnessy.
"They are at the lodge, unless somebody moved them." Aunt Will looked at Molly. "Aren't they still on the mantle in the Great Room in that awful vase?"
"Urn, Aunt Will. It's an urn."
"All I know is it's ugly and the whole idea is morbid."
"The reason I asked about the ashes, what people in that business like to call 'cremains,' â€¦"
"Oh my God! Morbid." Aunt Will shook her head. "I told you it was morbid. Sorry I interrupted you, Sergeant."
"That's quite all right. The reason I asked about the ashes is sometimes they can be tested for poisons, heavy metals and things that are not destroyed in the cremation fire."
"Poison?" Molly's voice rose. "You think Uncle Elliot was poisoned?"
"No. I don't think anything at this point except that a satisfactory explanation has not surfaced for his passing when he did. I want to exclude all other possibilities before I accept that he died of natural causes."
"Good for you, Sarge," said Aunt Will.
"If someone did this on purpose, then it's murder, isn't it?" Molly asked the Sergeant. "And, if it's murder who do you think did it or how will you find out who did it?"
"Who? We usually look for motives, then for opportunity and means."
"He means, Molly," Aunt Will answered, "who had a reason to kill Elliot or thought they did? And of those, who had the opportunity at the right time and who had the ability to pull it off? I read murder mysteries, too, dear."
Shaughnessy nodded and smiled. Molly thought he was beginning to like Aunt Will. He added, "So, ladies, can you get me some of the ashes for testing?"
They were back in Molly's car before they discussed Sergeant Shaughnessy's suspicions and his unusual request. As she wound her way down the parking ramp to Sixth Street, Molly asked, "Aunt Will, are you all right?"
"No. I'm not."
"Can I do anything to help?"
"Yes. You can help Sergeant Shaughnessy find out if someone killed my brother and, if so, help the sergeant to punish him or let me."
"You think, then, that someone killed Uncle Elliot?" Molly had difficulty thinking it, much less saying it to the aging sister of the man in question.
"Murder. The correct term is murder, Molly."
"So, you believe the sergeantâ€™s suspicions?"
"As you get older, Molly, you come to appreciate the intuition and hunches of older people. As I said to him, Sergeant Shaughnessy is no spring chicken. Heâ€™s been around. His flaming hemorrhoids are not to be ignored."
"Paranoids, Aunt Will," Molly giggled. "He called them inflamed paranoids."
"Whatever. He knows what heâ€™s talking about."
"What about his request that we get him Uncle Elliot's ashes? Are you okay with that?"
"Molly, Elliot's ashes mean nothing to me. Elliot and his memory do. As far as I'm concerned people can do anything they want with the ashes. I don't care. In fact, I wish they would so we can get rid if that ugly vase he is in. That thing is offensive to his memory."
"Still, you're okay with giving the ashes to the police for testing?"
"Then we have to go to Cable to get them."
"When do we leave?"
Though they had packed most of their things when they left the week before, family members knew they would be returning. They knew Molly was still on respite and recovery, her own version of "R and R," to gain back her mental and physical health. They knew that Aunt Will had become Mollyâ€™s companion and somewhat of a caretaker for Molly during this period. So, the adjacent single rooms they had been using were kept vacant and ready for them.
During the trip they discussed how to get the ashes.
"Do you think anyone will care?" asked Molly.
"I know Elliot wonâ€™t," Aunt Will replied. "If he had a say, he would support Sergeant Shaughnessy and tell us to give the sergeant all the ashes he wants."
As she steered her Jeep up the highway, Molly marveled at Aunt Willâ€™s attitude. She was undoubtedly right. She imagined that if the situation were reversed, Uncle Elliot would be demanding to know what happened.
"Now, Molly," said Aunt Will, turning away from the roadside scenery, "other family members, the living ones, I mean, might well care if we are taking Elliotâ€™s ashes. Perhaps, especially those who asked for cremation. I believe a clandestine operation on our part is in order."
Molly stifled a chuckle, staring straight over the steering wheel, eyes fixed on the road, trying not to show her amusement. Wilhelmina Morgan and her young sidekick, Molly Parker Graham, in a covert op? Molly imagined them sneaking into the Great Room in the middle of the night wearing trench coats, hats and maybe even masks of some kind. Or elaborate disguises? She didnâ€™t think so.
"Smile if you must, Molly, but I bet my morning meds that someone, if he knew, would not want us digging in that ugly vase."
"Urn, Aunt Will."
"All right, Aunt Will. When do you want to do it?"
"The sooner, the quicker I always say. She who hesitates is lost, they say. Procrastination is always a waste of time. When you get to be my age, that wasted time is more precious. It is a greater portion of what you have left, you know. But, tonight is too soon. We have things to do when we arrive. We donâ€™t know how much of our time the relatives may take when we get there. What about Monday?" she asked.
"Monday, I have an appointment with the Banker in Ashland."
"After you get back, then."
That evening, after they had unpacked and then gone down to dinner with relatives, Molly found herself alone in her room, too tired to think any more about what the next few days held for her. Perhaps going back to work, all the driving and meetings were too much, too soon. She went to bed, sleeping soundly. That was different. A long time had passed since she slept that well, and without a sleeping pill. She planned do nothing business-wise or lodge trust-wise for the remainder of the weekend. The weather report was favorable. Fresh air, sunshine and warmth beckoned. Maybe those pleasant thoughts helped her go to sleep so easily. Better than a sleeping pill, for sure.
Monday morning, after a breakfast of bacon, eggs and toast with orange juice and black coffee, Molly drove north toward Ashland. On Highway 63 passing through the town of Drummond, Molly thought about the questions she had for the bank. For the time that Mac Winter and his firm had managed Elliot's real estate trust, nearly ten years, the Bank of Lake Superior had been paying $ 3,200 each month to the trust. Elliot had not been clear with his lawyers about the reason for the monthly payments. When he created the trust, Winter told Molly, Elliot had deeded the Standing Pines Lodge property to the trust by Quitclaim Deed and placed the sum of $125,000 in cash and $75,000 in tax free municipal bonds in the trust as additional sources of income or principal to defray the lodge's cost of operation.
Molly remembered that Uncle Elliot had done substantial repairs and renovations about ten years ago when Molly had spent the summer at the lodge between her junior and senior years in high school. Then, apparently, he put the property in trust and used Mac Winter's law firm to manage the financial aspects of lodge operations while he still controlled the physical maintenance and operation. As Elliot got older, Mac told Molly, more and more of the maintenance and operation responsibilities were turned over to the law firm. The firm had accountants, bookkeepers and managers who handled such duties for the trusts they managed.
In the Bibon Swamp area south of Mason, she found herself going way too fast so she adjusted the cruise control to fifty-nine miles per hour. After cresting the ridge at Grandview, U.S. 63 dropped down into the swamp and headed straight north for miles and miles. Any car and any driver were likely to creep up well over the fifty-five mile an hour speed limit. Her Jeep Grand Cherokee, Brian's Jeep, she reminded herself, was no different. Much as she might have once liked to give a car it's head on a road like that, with her recent attitude, speeds like that were not a good idea. The temptation to just twitch the wheel to charge headlong into the swamp might be too great. Besides, she had been told that the Bayfield County Sheriff's deputies kept a sharp eye and radar gun on that stretch of highway.
At Molly's meeting with Mac Winter and Mary Booker they had explained how the trust was created and funded. Mary explained the finances, providing Molly with the latest income and expense report. Molly was surprised. Of course, she knew Standing Pines Lodge, like any other property would have regular expenses, she had not realized it was so much. She realized that controlling and operating Standing Pines Lodge, as old A.W., his son, Bud, and Uncle Elliot had done was an enormous responsibility. Was that her job, now? It would just be too much.
Well, first things, first. She had reached the south end of Chequamegon Bay where the highway ran so close to that part of Lake Superior, she felt like she could reach out the driver's side window and touch it. Waves lapped against huge rocks on the shore. Gulls flew back and forth in no particular formation above the icy water. Molly pulled over into the rest area, parking facing the lake. The fantastic view made her shiver at the immensity of it all, the big lake, largest fresh water lake in the world, the Apostle Islands just beyond the horizon. It all made her feel small and insignificant on the whole order of things.
She reached into the thin leather portfolio on the passenger seat. Thinking on the way up Highway 63 about her meeting at Mac Winter's office, she had decided to review the financial report. She would have some questions of the banker. She studied the one-page summary.
INCOME FOR THE YEAR:
Bank of Lake Superior $38,400.00
Money Market interest 7,335.34
Bond Interest 5,433.75
EXPENSES FOR THE YEAR:
Ed Grovnik, Caretaker $ 16,740.00
Car & ATV Insurance 3,542.00
Fire Insurance 2,200,00
Liability Insurance Umbrella 650.00
Vehicle Registration 378.00
Boat & ATV DNR Registration 347.00
Winter Boat Storage 1,938.00
Bayfield Electric Co-op 1,350.00
Norvado, phone & Internet 1,125.00
Waste Management, garbage 600.00
Snow plowing. 750.00
Real Estate Taxes 10,327.55
Road repair 1,112.00
Miscellaneous repairs 2,203.48
Good old Uncle Elliot, Molly thought. It apparently cost a lot to operate Standing Pines Lodge. But Elliot had provided. Expenses for the year of the report of nearly $45,000 but income of more than $50,000! Standing Pines was in good shape. Thank God, she told herself. But Mary Booker said those monthly payments by the Bank recently stopped. No doubt some new signatures were required since Uncle Elliot's passing. Today, Molly would find out what was needed.
She steered the Jeep back on the road. The highway, now U.S. 2 for the last few miles, continued gradually to the left and northeast around the end of the bay and entered the city. The highway became Lake Shore Drive, one of Ashland's main thoroughfares.
Molly turned right on Fourth Avenue West. One block later, she turned left on Main Street. She parked the Jeep in front of the Bank of Lake Superior.
The Bank of Lake Superior occupied a three-story red brick building on Main Street. Like other buildings in the block and all along that side of Main Street, it faced directly onto the sidewalk. After entering the building, she faced a bank of tellers' windows. Customers were conducting business at two of the three windows. To her right, she saw an information desk occupied by a stout, matronly woman of indeterminate age who looked like she could handle any problem or issue that might arise. A nameplate on the desk identified her as Gale Murphy. She looked expectantly at Molly with a welcoming smile.
"May I help you?" she asked politely.
Molly stepped toward the desk carrying her portfolio under her arm. She extended her business card that identified her as an attorney with Stratton, McMasters & Hines. " I am here to see Mr. Winkler. I have an appointment."
"Yes, Ms. Graham. He is expecting you."
The first two stories of the Bank's building were essentially divided in two parts. The front portion by the entrance from Main Street was open two stories high. Ms. Murphy's information desk and several chairs, two couches and side tables with an array of magazines occupied the front section. It looked like a waiting area in a dentist's office. The back section which was most of the floor area had the row of tellers' windows and some desks where bankers met with customers opening new accounts, arranging for loans or other confidential banking business. An elevator and a door marked "Stairway" stood to the side of the bankers' desks.
Above that portion of the first floor, Molly could see second floor offices with large windows overlooking the first floor reception area. Gale Murphy led Molly to the elevator. Inside, Molly saw that the control panel had stops for 3, 2, 1 and Vault, the latter apparently being in the basement.
On the second floor, Gale Murphy led Molly to a door marked "Rex Allen Winkler, President." Ms. Murphy tapped on the door. Molly heard a muffled voice from within. Ms. Murphy opened the door, introducing Molly to the man standing behind a large old desk.
Rex Allen Winkler was a rotund little man, probably in his mid or late fifties, who wore his charcoal gray, off-the-discount-rack suit like he thought it was Giorgio Armani Black Label. Even if it had been, the spotted yellow and mauve necktie over a beige shirt with black suspenders would have ruined the ensemble. Molly looked down to see if he wore spats. Nope. Highly polished, black, pointed-toed oxfords that looked like patent leather. Strange attire indeed. Then it occurred to Molly that this was Ashland, a comfortable little town perched on the shore of Lake Superior where most people didn't dress up on a regular basis.. Hardly anyone wore a coat and tie anymore except on unusual occasions. Even the lawyers frequently didn't wear neckties unless they were going to court and some judges in such communities were relaxing that rule for some hearings. All in all, based at least on first appearances, Molly was, as her eighteen-year old niece, Susan Graham would say, "underwhelmed."
"Ms. Graham, it is a pleasure to meet you," said the little man putting out his hand in greeting.
The hand was moist and limp. Not entirely unexpected, but disgusting nonetheless. The surprise was his voice. At least an octave higher than expected, the sound of his voice was almost squeaky. It was like maybe he had never gone through puberty. Maybe he hadn't.
"Please, have a seat, Ms. Graham," he squeaked, returning to his own chair. "Now, how may I help you?"
Molly sat, placing her leather portfolio on the desk. "I have some questions about my Uncle Elliot Morgan's accounts."
"Of course, Ms. Graham, you understand that such matters are confidential."
Perhaps it was the tone of his voice, the high pitch of his squeal or his demeanor as he delivered his message, but this little man was being condescending to her! As he looked up at her, more of which he would have to do if they were standing, he was really looking down on her!
"I can understand," he continued, apparently trying unsuccessfully to lower his voice, "that you might not be familiar with banking practices. Confidentiality to protect the privacy of our clients is very important."
Clients? Not customers or depositors? This little man definitely had an inflated view of his importance. Molly did not usually pass judgment on people, having been taught that she should be concerned about what other people thought of her and not worry so much about what she thought of them. But, she decided, she didn't like this guy. In fact, he was making her mad. But on the theory one should not get mad, but instead get even, Molly thought she might give his wife, if he even had one, something she might badly need â€¦ a discount on a divorce!
Smiling to herself at her vindictive thoughts, Molly decided to ignore Rex Allen Winkler's insulting comments and get to work. From her portfolio, she produced the trust documents showing her appointment as trustee. She handed them to Winkler. He took several minutes to study them. He looked up from his reading. He said nothing.
"Your 'client,' Elliot Morgan, is deceased. Standing Pines Lodge, his property in Drummond Township in southern Bayfield County near Cable and certain other accounts and assets were placed in trust some years ago. Those documents show that following his death, I have been appointed trustee. It is in that capacity that I am here to ask some questions about those accounts."
"This Bank has no accounts for Mr. Morgan."
"This Bank has no accounts for Mr. Morgan." The little man finished his comment with a smug grin Molly wanted badly to wipe off his face. His wife's divorce would be free!
She persisted. "I don't understand. The financial report I have from the trust managers shows that they have been receiving payments from this bank for Elliot Morgan for almost ten years. What account is that?"
"Ten years and three months, to be exact, but as I said, Mr. Morgan has no account, here."
"Do those monthly payments represent some kind of annuity, then?"
"This Bank does not sell or otherwise provide annuities."
"Mr. Winkler," Molly's frustration must be apparent to this little snot, "would you kindly tell me, as trustee, what these monthly payments to the trust represent?"
"Those payments have ceased."
"That's what I have been told. I am here in part to get them started again."
"Yes and I want to know what they are for."
"I don't think, young lady, that you understand. Those payments represent the installment payments pursuant to a Purchase Agreement in which Mr. Elliot Morgan was the seller and grantor and this Bank was the purchaser and grantee. Pursuant to that Purchase Agreement, those payments have ceased as of Mr. Morgan's death."
"Purchase? Sale? Purchase and sale of what?"
"Why, the land in southern Bayfield County you call Standing Pines Lodge. That purchase has been concluded. The contract and the deed are now being recorded over in Washburn."
To say Molly was stunned would be the understatement of the relatively young Millennium. She was floored! She packed her portfolio, stood and left the office without further comment. All the while, the little man sat watching her with that smug Cheshire Cat grin. She would like to shove the little jerk and his toothy grin down that famous rabbit hole and leave him to the Mad Hatter and the Queen of Hearts.
Back on the road, she was furious. Pushing the Jeep more than she should, she nearly lost it at the sudden, poorly-marked fifteen mile per hour roundabout at the junction of Highways 2 and 13. Nearly skidding around the turn, she settled down and set the cruise control but continued to fume. Driving through the Bibon Swamp area, she continued to seethe, impatient to get back to the lodge. But to whom could she express her frustration? This news would be devastating to the family. She had to learn more before she revealed this disastrous news. Aunt Will. She would talk to Aunt Will.
Arriving at the lodge. She jumped from the Jeep and went in search of Aunt Will.
"He sold Standing Pines?" Aunt Will nearly shouted when she heard.
Being warned by Molly that they needed to learn more before they told the family, Aunt Will pointed to the main entrance. "Let's take a walk, Molly."
They started south on the path around Lake Samoset. Strolling along through the woods, Aunt Will asked, "Why ever would my brother sell this land? And why ever would he do that and not tell anyone?"
"I have been trying to figure that out. I met with the lawyer, Mac Winter, and his trust managers. They gave me a financial report that shows the annual operating costs of Standing Pines Lodge are more than $40,000."
"Really? I had no idea."
"Elliot always took care of things like that. And our father and grandfather before him."
"We need to know more, Aunt Will, but I'm guessing that the costs got to be too much and the only way to keep the place going was to sell it on installments. I am still surprised he did that."
"So am I."
They reached the Narrows where Lake Samoset, a spring-fed lake, feeds into Lake Wilipyro. Standing, looking out over the lake, back toward the Standing Pines dock, Aunt Will turned to Molly. She asked, "How will you get the additional information you want?"
"I think I need to go to the courthouse in Washburn and check the land titles. I need to read this 'Purchase Agreement.' I need to review it with my real estate partners. I need to know more before we tell the rest of the family."
"Before you tell the family?"
"Right. I think if we tell the family, now, without more, our family members will go crazy. They will start trying to do something without enough information. What they might do could ruin whatever chances we might have to do anything to save the lodge. I want a review with a good real estate lawyer before we make any decisions. If we have any options, we need to see what the Purchase Agreement says and get a legal opinion. So, Aunt Will, I would prefer you don't tell anyone, yet."
"My lips are sealed. When will you learn more?"
"Tomorrow, I hope. I'll go up to the courthouse in Washburn. But, first, are you ready to get the ashes?"
"I'm not sure I'll ever be ready for that, but we gotta do it. The sooner the quicker. But, not today. There are too many people around. A bunch are going home tomorrow. Let's do it after you get back, tomorrow."
The next morning found Molly in the Grand Cherokee racing through the Bibon Swamp area, again. She was excited to see these documents that were said to represent a sale of Standing Pines Lodge. Once again, she reluctantly but wisely lowered her speed and set the cruise control. Patience, she told herself.
At the courthouse in Washburn, Molly found the Office of the Register of Deeds. She looked around for staff. Seeing no one, she started to go toward what looked like the books of deeds of record.
"May I help you?" asked a pleasant looking, middle-aged woman stepping out of an office. "I'm Helen. I'm the Register of Deeds. "I'm afraid I sent our staff on an errand from which they have not returned. Perhaps I can be of help?"
Molly produced her business card. "I need to look at a deed and some other recorded documents. "You have a grantor-grantee index or a tract index?"
"We do, Ms. Graham. Both, sort of. Do you have the legal description?"
Molly opened her portfolio, showing Helen the trust document with the attached legal description. It took up a full page.
"My goodness!" exclaimed Helen Wojciak.
"It's Helen Wojciak, isn't it? I saw the name on the door."
"Yes, but please, call me Helen."
"Helen, can you get me to the most recent deed on this property?"
"Do you know where this is, Ms. Graham?"
"I do and please call me Molly. This property is in Drummond Township, just a few miles outside of Cable."
"You can pick it out on a map?"
"It will be easy, then. Follow me."
At one of the large wooden tables among the deed books, Helen opened a copy of the Bayfield County Plat Book. Turning the pages, she stopped and showed Molly. "Should be about here."
Molly studied the map. "No, not there."
Helen turned the page. "Here?"
Molly saw the Tri-Lakes. "Right there." She put her finger on the map between Lakes Samoset and Hammill.
Helen looked, made a note on a scrap of paper and moved to a microfilm machine. The machine whirred as documents on the screen flew by. The images slowed as she found what she looked for. Then, they stopped. "Here it is, Molly. We have a Quitclaim Deed and several other documents that were recorded with it. These were just recently recorded." She adjusted her glasses and peered at the screen. "The recording date is May 15, just last week, in fact, although the date in the deed is ten years ago." She scrolled through several documents. "There is a death certificate dated the twelfth of May of this year. They may have been waiting for that." Helen stood. She gave Molly the chair, showing her how to operate the machine.
Molly sat. She studied the screen. "Will I be able to get copies?" she asked.
"Of course. Plain or certified?"
Molly paused to think. "Certified, I think, Helen."
She started with the Quitclaim Deed. There it was. Elliot Arthur Morgan was the Grantor. The Bank of Lake Superior was the Grantee. It transferred all right, title and interest to the Grantee that the Grantor had in the real property described in the attached "Exhibit A." The deed was signed by Elliot Arthur Morgan. His signature was witnessed by a Notary Public. The deed specifically provided that delivery was effective upon recording after the death of the Grantor. Molly vaguely remembered from law school that a deed was only effective to transfer title upon execution and delivery. In this case, apparently, delivery of the deed was conditional, occurring upon recording only after Elliot's death. The Purchase Agreement followed the deed on the microfilm screen. A certified copy of the Minnesota death certificate was also recorded. All the ducks in a row, thought Molly.
"I found something else, Molly." Helen stood at the big table, another map spread out before her.
"Well, I don't know if this interests you, but I checked the zoning in that area."
"Oh?" Molly moved to the table to see the map Helen was studying.
"See, here?" Helen pointed to the area around the Tri-Lakes. "Most of the lake properties are zoned R-2. That's Residential 2 shown on this map in orange. Some are R-1 which is more restrictive, shown here in red. But the parcel you're looking at is shown in blue. That's R-RB which is Residential-Recreational Business. But you see the asterisk there?"
"Down at the bottom, here, it says, 'Pending.'"
"What does that mean?"
"I didn't know, so I called Madge over in zoning to find out. She checked their records and told me that the Zoning Board had approved a zoning change and a conditional use permit for the property. It's to be converted into a commercial resort."
"That's what Madge said. It's 'pending' because the Board imposed a deadline for certain project requirements like a shoreline buffer restoration plan, sewage inspections, building inspections and so forth. Madge said she could get me a copy of the minutes of that board meeting."
Molly left Washburn with certified copies of the three recorded documents and the minutes of the meeting of the Bayfield County Zoning Board, thanks to Helen Wojciak.
Back at Standing Pines, Molly found Aunt Will.
"How did it go? Aunt Will asked.
"I got some information. I'll tell you later. What about the ashes?"
"Right. Need to do that. Not right now, I think."
Molly looked around. She didn't see anybody, but she had heard voices in the kitchen. She looked at the urn on the mantle. Her watch said six-fifteen. "Later, then. You're right. There are still too many people around, right now. More will be coming in for dinner or drinks. We wouldn't want to be seen stealing a cup of Uncle Elliot's ashes."
"A cup? A whole cup? As in eight ounces?"
"That's what Sergeant Shaughnessy told me we should try to get. How about later, say midnight or so?"
"Sounds devilishly mischievous and exciting." Aunt Will grinned. "Let's do it!"
They got to the Great Room at twenty-five after twelve after checking hallways and adjacent rooms for any of their relatives who were staying at the lodge. Everyone seemed to have retired for the night.
Aunt Will was grinning. "I feel like a cat burglar, Molly. Isn't it exciting?"
Aunt Will's acute sense of adventure never leaves her, thought Molly. Probably has something to do with her good health and attitude toward life in general.
They turned to the mantle. There it was. The urn. The thick, rough-hewn mantle rested on supporting fireplace stones and extended back along the stonework on either side to the adjoining wall. Placed against the wall at the end of the mantle to the left of The Painting, the heavy brass urn stood about ten inches high and was about six inches wide. Aunt Will was right. It was rather ugly. Molly hadn't paid much attention to it before. It just looked like a rather plain, unattractive vase.
"No offense to my dear brother, but I think it is rather gruesome."
Molly had to agree. The urn was tucked around the corner and kind of out of the way, but when one noticed it, and thought about it, it changed the wonderfully warm and comfortable atmosphere of the Great Room. It was as if another person was suddenly present. Was Uncle Elliot really in there?
"Judging from your expression, Molly, it's presence is having a similar effect on you."
"You know," Aunt Will said, "I think cremation is a good thing. Plan to have that done, myself. After all, we can't just keep filing up the Earth with decaying bodies, can we? I even think the scattering of the deceased's ashes is okay, if it's done without too much ceremony and in an appropriate place. But, this business of keeping the ashes close by in a vase is macabre. I dearly love my brother and his memory, but I think that thing is grotesque."
Aunt Will was getting worked up as she always did when she had a strong opinion and she always had a strong opinion.
"Do you know they make cremation necklaces so you can carry a bit of your loved one's ashes with you always? Tell me that isn't spooky."
"Well, hello, ladies. What brings you two here at this time of night?" Caroline Smith's husband, Joe, stood near the stairs. "Come on. Fess up, now. What are you two up to?"
We were just going to steal some of Uncle Elliot's ashes from that urn, Molly felt like saying. "We were just getting ready to go up to bed, ourselves, Joe. Has everyone called it a night, too?"
"I think so. I got the "munchies" and had to come down to the kitchen. There's a bowl of green grapes that are delicious," he said. "Anyway, I'm temporarily sated and on my way back to bed, so I wish you ladies good night." And, with that, he headed up the stairs.
"Nosy old fart," said Aunt Will.
"We are kind of sneaking around at a rather late hour."
"Bah. Let's get this over with."
Molly moved the urn from the mantle to a side table. She removed the cover while Aunt Will produced a spoon and an amber, plastic container with a white top from her shoulder bag.
"What's that?" asked Molly.
"It's a plastic prescription medicine bottle, dear. When you get older, you'll have a lot of them."
"I don't think that will hold a whole cup."
"Shush! I have three of them."
Aunt Will handed her the spoon. Molly looked in through the open top, spoon ready. She hesitated."
"What's wrong, dear?"
The urn was empty!
"Empty? But, Molly, where is Elliot?"
Aunt Will was upset. Molly was dumbfounded. They went up to bed with no answers.
The next morning, Molly quizzed everyone she saw about the ashes. Only one asked her directly why she was looking in the urn.
"I was dusting it and the top came off," she answered.
Finally, Jackson Smith, Caroline and Joe Smith's forty-five year old son and his wife, Florence, gave her the answer. "Uncle Bernie and Uncle Art scattered the ashes already, Molly. Over Lake Samoset, like Elliot wanted," said Jackson.
"I thought he wanted it done during the fall colors."
"They said it should be done sooner than that and in nice weather. It isn't like he could see the difference, is it?"
Florence added, "We were here that weekend, but we didn't know it had happened until they were done."
"That's right," said Jackson. "Flo and I were here in the Great Room when Uncle Art put the urn back on the mantle."
"Did my nephew, Arthur Morgan, the Third, say anything?" asked Aunt Will.
"I remember," said Florence. "He said, 'Dad is finally at rest where he wanted to be.'"
Molly was not satisfied. Either was Aunt Will. And, they both guessed, Sergeant Michael Shaughnessy would not be satisfied either.
"We'd better get back to our other problems, particularly the sale of Standing Pines," Molly told Aunt Will after the Smiths left.
"What about Sergeant Shaughnessy?"
"I'll call him."
Molly called while Aunt Will waited.
"Well?" Aunt Will had heard only Molly's side of the call as she explained to the Sergeant what happened. "What did he say?"
"You won't like this, Aunt Will."
"He asked if there was any residue left in the urn. I said I didn't know. He said to check to see if there is any residue left. If there is, we are to scrape it out and bring it to him."
Later, after they had indeed found some residuary Elliot Morgan which they scraped out and transferred to one of Aunt Will's prescription medicine pill bottles, Aunt Will said, "Earlier you said we need to get back to the Standing Pines problems. What's next?"
"I'm going in to Hayward this afternoon to see a member of the Bayfield County Zoning Board. Want to come?"
"Does the bear defecate in the forest? Of course I want to go. Who is the guy we are going to see? Why in Hayward and not in Washburn? I thought Hayward was not in Bayfield County."
"It's not. Hayward is in Sawyer County. The Board member's name is Lucas Miller. He lives just outside of Cable in Bayfield County. He works at Johnson Lumber in Hayward. We are going to see him at his job in Hayward. His day job, so to speak."
Just after one oâ€™clock, Aunt Will and Molly stood in the Johnson Lumber Company waiting area while customers' orders were being filled. "Bring your truck around to Building Three, Jim," a woman at the main counter told a young man in jeans, tee shirt, work boots and a dirty baseball cap. "You know where it is." He nodded and started for the door to the lumber yard. The woman looked at Molly and Aunt Will. "Now, how may I help you ladies?"
Molly handed her a business card. "We're here to see Mr. Miller."
She looked at the card. "He's out in the yard. I'll get him." She punched a button on a microphone and said, "Luke, you got visitors!" Molly could hear her amplified voice coming from speakers somewhere outside.
Lucas Miller appeared to be about sixty years old. He wore blue jeans and leather work boots, a shirt with the Johnson Lumber logo and a battered red ball cap with the same logo. He led them back to an office and offered them coffee.
"So," he said, "you're here to talk about the Lewis permit?"
"Lewis?" asked Aunt Will.
"C.W. Lewis. The developer. He wants to build a resort. With shoreline on two different lakes, he says it will be unique. A real money maker. He predicted long term property tax benefits for the town and the county."
Molly pulled the board minutes from her case. "Conrad William Lewis," she read from the application attached to the minutes. "His address is in Minneapolis, it says here."
"Yeah. He's from the Twin Cities."
"Excuse me, Mr. Miller," Aunt Will began.
"Luke, your tone suggests to me that you are not too fond of Mr. Lewis. Am I right?"
"You could say that. Sometimes these hotshots come up here from the big cities like Chicago or Milwaukee or Minneapolis-St. Paul and play games with our land and our lakes just to make money."
"You're from here originally?" Aunt Will asked.
"Grew up around Cable. Drummond High School. I wore the purple and gold for the Lumberjacks."
"Are you familiar with the Tri-Lakes?" asked Molly.
"Fished 'em all. Used to get fish fry on Friday nights at the old Blue Moon near there."
"Do you know Standing Pines Lodge?"
"I sure do. When I was a kid, one of my best friends was a kid named Fred Swenson who stayed there in the summers. We were together all the time. We paddled all over those lakes and fished and swam in all three. I slept over at the lodge lots of times. Fred's a doctor in Duluth, now."
"Did you recognize the property in this permit application?"
"I did. I was surprised it had been sold."
"So were we," muttered Aunt Will.
"What did you think of the proposed use?" asked Molly.
"I didn't like it. I voted against it. The most I could do was put in some environmental conditions and a timeline in which to get them done."
"Reading the minutes," Molly said, "I see that the deadline is not far away."
"Yeah, but he won't have any trouble. Most of what we required is just having plans and some sort of environmental impact statement. At the most, work has to be started in some instances, but nothing has to be finished."
"But he would have to have title, first."
"That or permission of the current owner."
They said little as Molly drove the Jeep north on Highway 63. As she slowed for Seeley, she heard Aunt Will mutter something under her breath. "What's that?" she asked.
"Oh, I was just thinking. If Elliot hadn't died, this guy Lewis probably wouldn't make his deadline."
Back at Standing Pines Lodge, they discussed what to do next. Aunt Will apparently sensed Molly's frustration. "We need to go back to the Cities, Molly," she said. "There are things to be done that have to be done there and can't be done here. You have to see this Lewis guy and find out what's going on. We have to take what's left of Elliot to Sergeant Shaughnessy. My periodontist is bugging me to get a teeth cleaning. Says I'm overdue. I called. They can take me on Tuesday. Let's enjoy the Memorial Day weekend and drive down Monday afternoon. Then on Tuesday morning we can see the Sergeant, I can get my teeth cleaned while you talk to the developer and we can drive back that afternoon."
"Well we won't be driving back Tuesday afternoon. I've got to work Aunt Will."
"I thought you were 'convalescing.""
"I am, but I am going to work a few days a week and gradually increase that as I get better."
"You'll get better when you find out what's going to happen to Standing Pines Lodge."
"I'll call for an appointment. You don't want to be at the meeting with Mr. Lewis?"
"No. You handle that and tell me later. You'll handle it better without me. It might just be better for me and for him, too, if I don't meet him."
Molly called the number listed on the zoning permit application. She made an appointment for Tuesday morning to see C.W. Lewis, the developer who wanted to turn Standing Pines Lodge into a resort.
For the remainder of the week and holiday weekend, Molly did "convalesce." She relaxed and enjoyed the warm weather by running, hiking, kayaking, reading in the library and getting lost in The Painting in the Great Room. On Monday afternoon, she and Aunt Will drove south to the Twin Cities.
Lewis Development Corporation, Inc. occupied offices in the Roanoke Building at Seventh and Marquette in downtown Minneapolis. On Tuesday morning, Molly parked in her nearby reserved parking space, stopped in her office in the IDS Center to make some copies and walked over through the skyway system. One of the older buildings in the downtown Loop, the Roanoke Building was part of a complex now called the Baker Center which was made up of four buildings: the Roanoke, the Baker Building, the Investors Building and the U.S. Trust Building. The first three were constructed in the mid-1920's. The U.S. Trust Building was built in the late sixties.
Molly rode the elevator to the eighth floor. The upper half of the door at 817 was frosted glass on which black enamel letters proclaimed the office as the home of Lewis Financial Group. Four companies were listed below: Lewis Realty, Inc.; Lewis Wealth Management Co.; Lewis Development Corporation, Inc. and Lewis Investments, Ltd. Below the list a single telephone number apparently served them all.
A young woman sat at a computer in a dimly lit reception area. She looked up from her monitor as Molly entered. "May I help you?" She smiled.
Molly gave her a card. I'm here to see Mr. Lewis."
The receptionist punched a button on a console. Almost immediately a door opened. The man coming through the door marched straight up to Molly extending his hand.
"Hi! I'm C.W. Lewis, but you can call me 'C.W.'". He grinned broadly, showing even, pearly white teeth.
His grip was firm. Almost too firm. Was it put on? Not sincere? Or, had Molly arrived with some preconceived notion about this guy. He seemed nice enough, at least at first. He escorted Molly back to his private office.
His appearance and dress made it difficult for Molly to judge his age. C.W. Lewis was about six feet tall. He appeared fairly fit and trim like he worked out regularly. He wore pearl gray slacks and a Navy blazer with gold buttons over an open collar, blue button down. A heavy gold neck chain showed in the open-collared shirt. On his wrists, C.W. Lewis sported more heavy gold jewelry. On his left, a large, expensive-looking wristwatch Molly guessed to be a Rolex and on his right wrist a heavy gold bracelet that looked like a match to the neck chain. The ring finger of his right hand held a large gold ring with a garnet stone, probably a University of Minnesota class ring in the school colors of maroon and gold, or one that looked like it. His left hand was clean of jewelry. He wore no wedding ring.
A steel and glass desk at one end of the office held only an elegant ebony and gold pen set with two pens, a telephone and a thin stack of neatly arranged files. Lewis did not go to his desk. He showed Molly to a sitting area with two upholstered wing chairs and a low coffee table. At Lewis's invitation, Molly sat, placing her portfolio case on the table. As he sat, Lewis adjusted his trousers at the knees, to avoid stretching the fabric Molly guessed. He crossed his legs, leaning forward to flick a bit of lint off a highly-polished tasseled loafer. "Now, how may I help you, Miss Graham. May I call you Molly?"
Although Molly was a woman in what was no longer, but used to be, a man's game, she did not think of herself as a card-carrying or flag-waving feminist. She was a young and unmarried woman, but she was also a widow. It was pretty certain to her that she was not a "Miss." Probably a "Mrs." In this case, and from this guy, she preferred "Ms." But she said nothing.
After a moment she started the conversation,"Mr. Lewis,"
"Please, call me C.W. Everybody does. I wasn't kidding when I introduced myself as 'C.W. Lewis, but you can call me C.W.' I always do that. I think it's funny. But I apologize for interrupting you. You were saying?"
"I have questions about a property outside Cable, Wisconsin you are trying to develop. Itâ€™s on Lakes Hammill and Samoset."
"Yes, a wonderful property. May I ask what your interest is?"
"I am a member of the family that has owned that property for the last one hundred years."
Molly opened her case. She held the minutes of the Zoning Board up for him to see. "It appears from these minutes that the Zoning Board granted a request by you to change the zoning from Residential to Recreational Business."
"R-2 to R-RB on that property. That's correct."
"But they set a deadline for you to do certain things. If you don't meet those requirements by September 15, the zoning change does not happen and your application for a conditional use permit is denied."
"Molly, your card says you are an attorney, but it doesn't identify your area of practice. Perhaps you don't understand how these things work. Bayfield County and Drummond Township will benefit greatly from the additional real estate taxes when this property goes from homestead to non-homestead and commercial. They want it. Standing Pines Resort will be one of the finest resorts in the area. The Cable Lakes Area has a number of fine resorts like Lakewoods and Garmisch and others, but none on two different lakes. The property is unique."
My God, thought Molly, he's planning to keep our name! She kept her cool. "And the deadline?"
"No problemo, As the kids say. It's mostly some testing and planning. We won't have any trouble."
"You are aware that people are still living there?"
"Once again, no problemo. We will accommodate them in every way during the transfer of possession. Right now, we just need to get in there to do some testing and take some measurements for our report to the Zoning Board."
I thought you had to start some kind of shoreline restoration."
"That, too, but that won't be a problem."
"You talk about 'transfer of possession' but you don't own the property yet, do you?"
"Just a matter of formality, Molly. We have a contract."
"A contract? With whom?"
"With the bank in Ashland."
"Mr. Lewis, if you don't mind my asking, how did you become aware of this property?"
"Don't mind at all. Actually, the property found me."
"Meaning I was in the Cable area working on a condo project out on Lake Owen when I was approached about Standing Pines Lodge."
"By whom?" Molly already had a suspicion.
"By a guy from the bank in Ashland. His name was Winkler. I forget his first name."
"Rex Allen," Molly supplied.
"You know him?"
"Kind of an odd little guy. Came to me out on Lake Owen with maps, aerial photos, tax records and other photographs of the property. To say I was impressed by the land and buildings would be an understatement. But the best part was the shoreline. Fourteen hundred and forty feet on one lake and twenty-five hundred feet on another! Two lakes! He took me in there. Everywhere you look thereâ€™s water! Itâ€™s a fabulous property. One of a kind. It will be one of the most unique resorts in that beautiful country."
He had been â€˜in there?â€™ Rex Allen Winkler took him in there? Was anyone there at the time? When was it? The word â€˜trespassâ€™ was on Mollyâ€™s mind. Criminal trespass. But those thoughts werenâ€™t going to get her anywhere. However, Rex Allen appeared to be as big an asshole as she had originally thought.
"Why would the bank seek you out?" she asked.
"This guy, Winkler, apparently had a sweetheart deal on the property. The bank had a deal with the owner that would transfer when the old guy died. And he was old. Late eighties, I think. I think when the old guy died and the Bank got title, this Winkler wanted to flip it and make a quick profit without a lot of fanfare."
"When did he contact you?"
"Last summer. Iâ€™ve been working on the deal for almost a year, lining up investors, working with Planning and Zoning and things like that."
"You know the family didnâ€™t know anything about it."
"Really? I should be surprised, but I guess Iâ€™m not. This Winkler is one strange dude."
Molly left, feeling that she had accomplished nothing. She had more information but what good was it?
"Well, what did he say?" asked Aunt Will when Molly called to report. She was back at her desk. Aunt Will was at home in her apartment near the Franklin Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis.
"It certainly wasnâ€™t what I expected. He gave me some information, but Iâ€™m not sure what to do with it. She gave Aunt Will the play by play of her meeting with "You can call me C.W." Lewis.
"Sounds like a charmer. Would you buy a used car from him?"
"Not if it were the last car on earth and he was paying me to take it."
"So, you didnâ€™t necessarily believe everything he said?"
"Not necessarily, no."
"Whatâ€™s next, then?"
"I think I'd better go back and talk to this banker."
After a quick lunch on the skyway, Molly spent the afternoon at her desk studying the financial statements of a business owned by her client, Marissa Holmes. Marissa was a beautician. She and her husband, David, had been married for eleven years. They had two children, Mary, age nine and Ricky, age six. David owned and operated an automobile service center in Roseville. Marissa owned her beauty shop in the Rosedale Mall. The finances of the businesses were all important to arriving at an equitable property division. Because Mary was mentally challenged and would never be self-sufficient, the issues of child support and spousal maintenance were huge. Child support obligations would be for life. The two businesses were the sources from which to pay the monetary expenses the family would face.
The study of the financial statements of small businesses was tedious work. Molly was trying not to think about Standing Pines, her family and her morning meeting with C.W. Lewis who wanted to turn their beloved lodge into a commercial resort. The Profit and Loss Statement of the Rose Beauty Salon was not succeeding in taking her mind off the lodge and her trustee duties. Maybe, she thought, her Uncle Elliot, the bank in Ashland and C.W. "but you can call me C.W." Lewis had already set things in motion that would relieve Molly of her duties as trustee, because the trust would own nothing. Of course, that meant that Standing Pines would be no more.
She shook her head and tried to go back to learning the income and expenses of her client's business. An accountant would have to be called in to value both businesses.
Three days later, she did meet with Mr. Rex Allen Winkler at the bank in Ashland.
"If Elliot Morgan didnâ€™t tell you about his sale of Standing Pines, I can understand your surprise and frustration, Ms. Graham, but I am sure he must have told someone in the family. Have you asked your relatives? Perhaps someone a bit older?"
"No one seems to know about it, Mr. Winkler."
"Not even his wife?"
"Uncle Elliot was a widower, Mr. Morgan. Aunt Dolores passed away over a dozen years ago. We have had family meetings about the future of Standing Pines Lodge. Iâ€™m sure if anyone had known of this sale to your bank, something would have been said. Elliotâ€™s lawyers didnâ€™t even know."
"Strange. Elliotâ€™s motives seemed to be family oriented, to preserve the property for his family during his lifetime. Of course, I donâ€™t really know what he did with the money we paid him."
Molly was startled by this comment. Had Elliot used some of the money for something else, some personal need or desire? Had he some debt he had to pay off? Was he a gambler that no one knew about? Molly was sure Mac Winterâ€™s law firm had been receiving the payments for a long time. She had assumed since the sale. Was that true? Exactly what was going on?
Winkler was no help. He just sat there, barely concealing a smug look like someone who has succeeded in stealing from the cookie jar and now everyone knows but itâ€™s too late to do anything about it.
Mollyâ€™s drive south through the Bibon Swamp was as frustrating as ever.
"My brother never gambled, Molly." Aunt Will sipped the tea Molly had poured. "He didnâ€™t believe in it. Oh, he wasnâ€™t against it. He just didnâ€™t care for it. Gambling was of no interest to him. Said he'd rather get his money in one-dollar bills and burn them to see the pretty flames than gamble them away."
"Can you think of some other obligation or need for cash that would cause him to sell the lodge?"
"I cannot. He loved Standing Pines. I can only think he needed the money to keep the place going, even if not forever."
Molly spent Saturday morning working on some divorce files she had brought from her office. Before lunch she went for a run up toward Dinner Camp Lake. After a quick dip in the still quite cold waters of Lake Samoset and shampooing her hair in the lake's marvelously soft water, she took a peanut butter and pickle sandwich and a can of Diet Coke out on Lake Hammill in one of the kayaks. Down in a small bay at the southern end of the lake, she watched two otters playing in the water. They chased each other and occasionally popped up near the kayak to stare at her and then disappear again. They were having fun. She wished for a moment that she could be an otter and not have to worry about family disputes and divorces.
But on Sunday, she drove back to the Twin Cities to get to work on both family and business issues. She was not an otter.
It had been a week since her meeting with the developer and three days since her last meeting with Rex Allen Winkler. Molly was frustrated. Nothing was happening. She was afraid it was her fault. But, what should she do? What could she do?
She sat at her desk at mid-morning working on the Morton divorce. She found she was using work as an escape. That was different. Like her boss, Jim Decker, she still used the term "divorce" instead of the so-called preferred term, "marriage dissolution." But unlike Decker, who stuck with the old name everywhere, even in court, Molly used it just within the office or at cocktail parties.
John Morton was a successful restaurateur. With five Morton Steak & Chop Houses in the Twin Cities serving the finest in steaks and chops along with premium wines, craft beers and signature cocktails, John Morton had done very well. But, a bit of indiscriminate hanky-panky with an employee had caused a spousal rift which was in the process of separating him from the bonds of marriage. The good Mrs. Morton, Sally by given name, felt that she, too, should do very well. She had J. Laughton Brown, a Minneapolis family lawyer with a reputation as hard hitting with no quarter given. He was merciless and untiring in pursuit of everything he could get for his clients. Because his clients were almost always wives in big money high-profile cases, he was sometimes called "The Ball Buster," "Ball Buster Brown" or often just "Buster Brown" with the underlying meaning barely hidden. When used, the nickname was spoken behind Brown's back, but the word on the street was he knew about it and was proud of it.
A deposition with Buster Brown was an experience for opposing counsel and pure torture for the husband. One man had a heart attack. As the paramedics were hauling him out on a gurney, Buster Brown yelled, "I'm not through with him, yet!" Just the mention of his name brought fear in the hearts, and other anatomical parts, of most of the men of the Twin Cities.
Molly's task was to prepare John Morton for what was likely to come, make him as comfortable as possible and take some of the wind out of Buster Brown's sails by making a reasonable and fair offer at the outset and pressing to get before a judge as soon as possible. A judge would have to treat both parties fairly and equitably no matter what Buster Brown said or yelled.
Her office door opened. Trish Barber stood in the doorway. "You have a visitor," she said. "Annie at the front desk thought you were not to be disturbed and so she buzzed me. Knowing you, I thought you would want to know who he is and what he wants to see you about."
"He's here now?" Molly looked at her watch, then at the Morton file spread out before her.
"Right out front. Should I send him away?"
"Does he say who he is?"
Trish handed her a business card. It was a plain, off-white card engraved with the name, Alan J. Dickerson and no other information. She turned it over. Nothing on the back.
"All right." Molly began to gather the Morton file to move it to her back credenza. "Show him in."
Moments later the office door opened again. Trish showed the man in and shut the door behind him.
Alan J. Dickerson was a rather short man wearing a blue business suit, black loafers shined to a high gloss, a yellow shirt and a blue tie. Power tie, thought Molly. She marveled at the male dress code. A man in business could get by with a couple of suits, a Navy blazer and assorted slacks, a pair of dress shoes and a couple of blue ties. In her short time in business, the man's power tie had gone from red to yellow, back to red and now to blue. The plainer the better. At most a muted pattern was permitted. She had observed them in the offices and streets of downtown Minneapolis, in courtrooms and, above all, on TV. Newscasters, guests, pundits, analysts and politicians all wore plain blue ties. A man could get by with a limited wardrobe and still be in style. It was another story for women.
Dickerson's dress fit the male pattern. His thick gray hair was cut short in what was once called a flat top. His manner and carriage suggested ex-military. Bushy gray eyebrows protected piercing blue eyes that apparently did not need glasses for distant vision. He didn't look like the kind that would go to contacts. The gray hair suggested he might need glasses for reading. From the pleasant expression on his face, she couldn't tell anything about what his objective might be, but he came to see her and therefore he wanted something. Time to find out.
"You're Mr. Dickerson?" She held up his card. "I'm Molly Graham." She extended her hand. He took it. They shook. Molly gestured to a client chair. Mr. Dickerson sat.
She noticed his hands as he put them on the desk in front of him. They were not office workers hands. Callouses, thick fingers and rough nails told of hard physical work, probably outside. His right hand had felt like old dried leather. Now that she noticed, his face also had the look of being out in the sun and weather. The suit and blue power tie were probably not his regular apparel.
"I owe you an apology, Ms. Graham. I'm sure you're wondering why I came to see you and what I want."
Molly nodded and held up his card. "I didn't get much from this."
He laughed. "I use that because I am different things at different times and serve different functions."
"What is it you do, Mr. Dickerson?"
"You could say I am a finder, a locator, a deal maker of sorts. A facilitator, if you will. I bring people together for their mutual benefit."
"What is it you are doing now?"
"I have a party who is interested in something you have."
Molly didn't like the sound of this. "And what that might be?"
"A tract of lakeshore property up by Cable, Wisconsin. It's owned by a trust and I am informed that you are the trustee."
"There is such a property and such a trust and I am the trustee. What is your client's interest?"
"Not my client, just an interested party I might be able to help, along with you."
Molly's phone buzzed. "Excuse me," she said, picking up the handset.
"Molly, you okay in there?" It was Trish. "Need any help?"
"Yes, thank you Trish, I will be out there shortly. Don't go far. The Johnson motion papers need to be served today, remember. I'll be out to sign them, soon." She replaced the handset. Of course, there were no Johnson papers. Molly didnâ€™t even have a Johnson file. Faithful and concerned Trish had given her the opportunity to create an escape excuse. Looking at Dickerson whose expression seemed never to change, she couldn't tell if he thought the call and her response was a ruse or not.
"All right, then," she asked," who is this interested party you represent?"
"I don't actually represent this party. As I said, I try to bring parties together and facilitate an agreement for their mutual benefit."
"But who pays you? I assume you get paid." Molly was getting frustrated.
"When an arrangement is successful and results in an accord, the parties usually agree on my compensation."
"Okay, so who is this interested party you don't represent?"
"I'm afraid I'm not at liberty to say at this time. But if you let me continue, I think you will find it to your interest."
Molly said nothing.
"I understand the property is a little over two hundred acres with about fifteen hundred feet of shoreline on Lake Hammill and twenty-five hundred feet on Lake Samoset. A choice property, indeed. Has it been in your family long?"
"A hundred years."
What was this guy really up to? He could easily get the acreage from the county records in the courthouse in Washburn and the shoreline distances from the deed. But, then he would have known how long they had it from the date on the original deed from the Rust-Owen Lumber Company to her great, great, grandparents, A.W. Morgan and Louisa Parker Morgan. What was he up to? What did he really want?
She reached under her desk and fingered a small button attached to the underside of the desk top. Jim Decker had installed panic buttons on desks in private offices where a lawyer or paralegal might be alone in an office with a client or someone behind closed doors. They were like the panic buttons judges have at their benches. When pushed those call bailiffs or deputies. These just alerted staff and someone would come in under some ruse or other.
"Ms. Graham, I can assure you that this other party is prepared to pay handsomely for this property and quickly. They do not want it to go on the market and will pay a premium to get it before that happens."
Molly decided not to tell Dickerson about Elliotâ€™s sale of the property or C.W. Lewisâ€™s intended commercial development. Was there some way this new interest in the property could be useful? "Mr. Dickerson, I need you to understand that whatever happens, it is a family decision, not mine alone."
"Have you ever had the property surveyed?"
"I'm not sure. I don't think so. Why?"
"Just wondering. How many buildings are on the property?"
Molly pause as in thought trying to count the buildings. She felt like she was being cross-examined.
He didn't wait for an answer. "Ms. Graham, do you know if your property extends up to Dinner Camp Lake?"
"Pretty close, but it doesn't cross the Tri-Lakes Road. Dinner Camp is across the road."
"Are you familiar with the history of the area and the early settlers around Lakes Hammill, Samoset, Wilipyro and Dinner Camp? And how do you spell Hammill? The maps show it spelled Hammil and even Hamel on some maps, but I have Hammill in my notes."
"I am familiar with the lakes and their history," she answered. "Your spelling of Hammill is correct. It's the way the Hammill family spelled it." Molly was becoming annoyed. What did the history have to do with anything? And he said Wilipyro so it sounded like Willie Pie Ro. That annoyed her. She knew from the History of the Tri-Lakes Protective Association, the three-ring binder, that Wilipyro had been named in about 1925. Before that, it was called Lower Bass Lake. The new name was after the first families on the lake. Wi for Williams, Li for Little, Py for Pyne and Ro for Roberts. For the most part, the pronunciation was the same as the names so it was Wi as in with, Li as in lips, and PyRo as in pyrotechnic. At least he had the spelling of Hammill right even if the county and state did not. But, she realized, that meant that he, or someone, had been looking at deeds up in Washburn and had seen the ownership records for the old Hammill Berry Farm from the turn of the nineteenth century.
It was time to stop this. She pushed the panic button.
"Mr. Dickerson, you or your interested party are free to make some kind of an offer to the family. I can't stop that. But, I don't think it will result in a deal as you put it. I â€¦"
The door opened after a sharp knock. Trish stood in the doorway. Molly could see Jim Decker in the background by Trish's workstation.
"Sorry to interrupt you, Ms. Graham, but you wanted the Johnson motion papers served today. Jimmy is waiting to run them over to the other lawyer's office now."
"Thank you, Trish. Molly rose. "Mr. Dickerson, I'm sure you understand I have obligations here I must attend to."
"May I have my card?"
That startled Molly. Why did he want his card back? Did he not want anyone to have proof that he had been here? Did he only have one card? What was the man up to? She handed him the card.
He borrowed a pen and wrote on the card. Handing it back to her, he said, "This is my cell phone. If anything changes or you have any questions, please give me a call." He turned and left. Trish escorted him out to the elevators.
Crossing the Crystal Plaza on his way to the skyway system, the Colonel considered what had just happened. For what he was hoping was somewhere on the Morgan family property, he was prepared to pay a substantial sum, through a straw man of course, making a huge profit if the gold was there and, if not, flipping the property and breaking even or developing it and still making a profit. Just like Dinner Camp.
But something was not right. He was good at reading people. Molly Graham was hiding something. There was something she was not telling him. He would keep an eye on the goings on at Standing Pines Lodge. Gold is sometimes called the noblest of all metals because of its inertness in certain chemical circumstances when lesser metals would react to other substances forming chemical compounds. While metal gold has no smell or taste, the Colonel, when he got close on a search, thought he could actually smell the gold he sought. When he was truly close, he could taste it. He thought he could smell it now. He knew he was getting closer.
"Molly, thereâ€™s a Sergeant Shaughnessy on the phone for you."
Molly picked up the desk phone. "Hello?"
"Ms. Graham, this is Mike Shaughnessy. We have the BCA lab results. Can you stop over here sometime this afternoon? I think we need to talk. Can you bring your Aunt Will along? I have some questions that might be better answered by both of you."
The test results must not be good, thought Molly. She knew from colleagues in criminal law that the BCA labs were swamped with testing and forensics requests. Requested tests took time. It had been just a little over a week since they gave Sergeant Shaughnessy a sample of Elliotâ€™s ashes. Shaughnessy must have some pull.
Molly arranged to pick up Aunt Will. They arrived at City Hall at two-thirty.
Shaughnessy got right to the point. "The lab report shows traces of arsenic in Mr. Morganâ€™s ashes. Arsenic is a heavy metal that survives the cremation process. I know this must be hard for you both, but I think, Wilhelmina, that someone hastened your brother's death."
Aunt Will stared at him but said nothing.
Molly was expecting this since Shaughnessy's earlier phone call to her office. She thought Aunt Will did, too. She had said little on the ride down. Now she just stared at Shaughnessy.
Molly broke the silence. "Sergeant, if you have evidence of homicide," she didn't want to say "murder" in front of Aunt Will at this time, "how will you go about finding who did it? Will you even be able to?"
"You mean, Molly," said Aunt Will in a low, angry tone, "finding who murdered my brother. Yes, Sergeant. How will you do that?"
"Old fashioned police work, I guess. Homicides are most often solved in the first hours or days following the incident. In one sense, this case is already stale as we begin the investigation."
"In one sense?" said Molly.
"Thatâ€™s right. Because nothing has happened, no alarm bells, no sirens, the responsible party or parties may have become complacent. He, she or they may think they have gotten away with it. That's sometimes when mistakes are made."
"Whom do you suspect, Sergeant?" asked Aunt Will. Her usual sarcasm was absent. Her razor-sharp wit was gone.
"Everybody, at the moment, Wilhelmina. We begin the process of elimination."
Molly and Aunt Will were silent. Sergeant Shaughnessy waited a moment to let his news sink in. "Ladies, I must say that I am a little concerned now for your safety."
"Us?" said Aunt Will. "Why"
"Well, Molly's appointment as trustee has upset the plans of a number of your relatives. You two have been nosing around at my request. Some of the relatives know about that, you said."
Molly thought. "That's right. Jack and Caroline Smith knew I had asked why the urn was empty."
"Surely you don't suspect them," said Aunt Will. "Do you, Sergeant?"
"I suspect everybody, Wilhelmina. Did they have any plans that were aided by your brother's death?"
Molly said nothing, thinking about the Saturday meeting and Jackson Smith's pushing for a sale of Standing Pines so they could get their "rightful inheritance."
Aunt Will was also quiet, obviously thinking back. Then she said, softly, "Yes, I think they did."
"What would that be, Wilhelmina?"
Molly and Aunt Will gave Shaughnessy a more thorough description of the events immediately before Molly's appointment as trustee than they had before.
"But, Sarge," said Aunt Will, "you think the family dispute over what to do with Standing Pines might include a motive for murder?"
"Wilhelmina, I chose my words carefully when I said I think someone hastened your brother's death. Someone couldn't wait. If for example, it became important to sell the lodge property in hurry and it wasn't going to happen while Elliot was still alive â€¦ well, you see what I mean."
Molly immediately thought back to her father's comment that Saturday when he said he hoped that people had not counted on something they don't have a right to expect or made some financial commitment that has speeded up their need for their inheritance. "Sergeant â€¦" she explained her father's concern at the family meeting.
"That's what I am talking about. We will need a lot more information about your relatives, especially those who took a strong position at that meeting that was really precipitated by Elliot's recent death."
"What do you want us to do?" Aunt Will was regaining her strength.
"Shaughnessy answered quickly. "Nothing. I want you two to do nothing. I said I was concerned for your safety. We don't know who we are dealing with, but we know he, she or they are capable of murder. You can talk to me. We will need information you can give us. But no more 'nosing around.'" He looked at Aunt Will. "Wilhelmina, I know you read mysteries, but don't pull a Miss Marple on me. You might get hurt. "
Aunt Will was definitely recovering. "I thought I was more like Hercule Poirot, Sergeant."
He grinned. "You know what I mean, Wilhelmina."
After the ladies left, Shaughnessy considered the situation. Their situation. Perhaps he had been remiss at letting them and even asking them to sneak around at odd hours getting cremation ashes, snooping into their relatives' activities, and whatever else they may be doing. Never mind that they were good at it. If murder was involved, and now it apparently was, then they needed to be more careful. And, they needed protection. He dialed a number in Bayfield, Wisconsin.
"Bayfield Police Department."
"Officer Brennan, please."
"May I tell him who is calling?"
"No! I am not coming back. You're welcome up here. I might even find a badge and a hat for you, but I am not going back there."
"Relax, Jim. I'm not trying to talk you out of your paradise." Jim Brennan, formerly Sergeant Brennan, had been with Minneapolis P.D. before retiring a few years ago to what he called a more relaxing position in the paradise of Bayfield and the Apostle Islands of Lake Superior. Shaughnessy had heard he even had a fishing boat.
"What I am trying to do is enlist your help up in your part of the country."
"Oh? That's different, Mike. What's up?"
Shaughnessy explained about Standing Pines Lodge and the Elliot Morgan case and his concern about Molly Graham and Wilhelmina Morgan. "Jim, they are up there in Bayfield County, just north of Cable, I think."
"Give me a minute."
"There I found it. I have the map on my computer screen. Lakes Hammill and Samoset. The lodge is right between them. The owner is a Morgan Trust, or was. I'm not sure how up to date this is. Mike, that is at the other end of the county from me. How can I help?"
"As I said, I'm concerned about the safety of those two. One is in her late twenties. The other is in her early eighties."
"Wow. Dependent and vulnerable, are they?"
"Hardly that. If you meet them, you'll know what I mean."
"We have a good working relationship with the Bayfield County Sheriff's office. I'll call someone I know over there and arrange to go down and have a look. Okay if your ladies know I'm looking?"
"Yeah. Go ahead and talk to them. And Jim, don't hide anything from them. If you try, they'll know."
"Can't wait to meet them."
Shaughnessy reviewed his notes on members of what Wilhelmina Morgan described as a "wonderful but currently dysfunctional family." He had the family tree that Wilhelmina had prepared. He had notes from the descriptions Molly and Wilhelmina had given him about the backgrounds of individual members and their most recent and, in some cases, potentially suspicious activities now that Elliot Morganâ€™s death was shown to be an intentional homicide.
Bernard David Morgan, whom everyone called Bernie, and Arthur Wright Morgan, III, called Art, were the ones who scattered Elliot Morganâ€™s ashes on Lake Samoset six months before the time Elliot had requested. He wanted it to be when the autumn colors would be in full early October splendor. They were at least six months early. Why did they do that? Was it done to get rid of the ashes so they couldnâ€™t be tested? They were two of the family members who were fighting for control of Standing Pines. Art wanted control and Bernie was supporting his younger brother. They were two of Elliot Morganâ€™s sons. Would they intentionally hasten their own fatherâ€™s death for that? Did hastening his death accomplish anything that improved their chances at control or would they have been in the same situation if Elliot had died a few weeks or months later?
Bernie Morgan, age sixty-four, was a pharmacist. Shaughnessy assumed he had familiarity with chemicals and even chemical testing, like of cremains, possibly?
Art, age sixty-two, was a senior chemical engineer at Medtronic up in Fridley in the northern suburbs. Art had taken charge of Elliotâ€™s funeral arrangements, the cremation and had transported the urn up to Cable, himself. Was his desire to be in control of the property and, in some sense, the family, that strong? So overpowering that he would prematurely end his own fatherâ€™s life? Shaughnessy had seen stranger things in his years of homicide investigations. Or, was there something else Shaughnessy was missing?
And what about this James Belden? Another control freak who wanted desperately to run things at Standing Pines. Did he have some ulterior motive? Or, was that enough motive in itself?
Jackson Smith wanted to sell Standing Pines Lodge. In Molly Grahamâ€™s words, "It seems like he canâ€™t wait to get his hands on his inheritance." Why? Some particular reason? Something that canâ€™t wait? Smith was forty-five years old. A yard manager for Howard Chemical Company in Bloomington, he managed more than twenty employees working two daily shifts. Shaughnessy guessed he did not earn as much as he would like. Perhaps he had rich tastes that surpassed his blue-collar income. Had he already spent to meet those tastes and now needed some cash flowing in his direction? And maybe in a hurry?
Then, there were Joe Watkins, Jr., and Carter Winslow. According to Molly and Aunt Will, both men were adamant about selling. Watkins managed a restaurant in downtown St. Paul. Shaughnessy guessed he could use the money.
Winslow was not a Morgan. He was an outsider who had married into the family. He would not have the same affection for Standing Pines Lodge as those who were born into the family. Perhaps not the same affection for Elliot Morgan, either, thought Shaughnessy.
Most family members were in what Mollyâ€™s father had described to his wife and children as the great silent majority faction or, he said, probably not a faction at all. They mostly hoped to keep Standing Pines Lodge but have someone else run it. Above all, they did not want controversy within the family. Prior to Mollyâ€™s appointment as trustee, it was not at all certain how any of them would vote. If any of them was the murderer Shaughnessy sought, whatever the motive was, it wasnâ€™t apparent â€¦ yet.
He worked with two younger detectives from the First Precinct. He put them to work on developing more complete histories on each of these family members of interest. Marcy Jordan took the sellers. Walt Adams took the control freaks.
"What about you Sarge?" asked Jordan.
"Iâ€™m going to the nursing home."
The next morning, with a lively tune, Molly's cell phone announced an incoming call. She had the ringer tone set on "Xylophone." Normally, she preferred the old phone ring, but she changed every once in while just for a change and to stay out of a rut. It was one of those things she used to do, hadn't done lately because she didn't care and had started again because she should, care, that is. The screen showed the call was from Aunt Will. Since that day they had tea and discovered the secret hidden talent they shared, Molly had kept Aunt Will in her favorites and on speed dial. They spoke by phone frequently, now.
"Hello, Aunt Will."
"How did you know it was me, honey? Oh, that's right these mobile phones are smart, now."
Aunt Will is, after all, eighty-three years old, thought Molly, but it seems that, once in a while, she plays the part a little more than needed. She is a lot smarter and wiser than she lets on sometimes. Molly believed that Aunt Will was being straight with her, but she had seen Aunt Will behave almost like the doddering old fool some people thought she was. That included many of the members of the family.
"What's up, Aunt Will?"
"Dear, I have to go to the doctor this afternoon. Can you take me?"
"Sure, Aunt Will. Where do you go?"
"It's not far from here. Doctor Foster is at the University Medical Center on Riverside Drive."
Molly drove up to the entrance to Riverview Manor where Aunt Will lived, just up West River Parkway from the Franklin Avenue Bridge. Aunt Will and most of the Morgan clan lived in Minneapolis. She had grown up in the Morningside area, now part of Edina. Now in a senior living facility near the hospital and doctor's offices, she was comfortable as long, she said, as she could get away to Cable every so often. Her great-grandnephews, Billy Franklin and Mickey Dolan, who were just finishing high school, had been driving her there at least twice a summer for the last few years. They loved the trip and staying in the lodge with nothing but fishing, swimming and hiking for two or three weeks at a time.
Dr. Allen Foster did not keep Aunt Will waiting. They were escorted to a small examination room. Moments later he appeared; a tall, thin, clean-shaven man with salt and pepper gray hair and steel-rimmed glasses dressed in a white lab coat with a stethoscope draped around his neck.
"Hello, Wilhelmina!" Towering over her, he grabbed her hand and shook it vigorously. Aunt Will introduced Molly.
"Will, I'm not sure why you are here. This isn't your regularly scheduled time,. I hope nothing's wrong." He turned to Molly. "Your Aunt Will is the healthiest eighty-three year old I have seen. Hell, she's healthier than most seventy-three or even sixty-three year olds I see."
"I'm fine Allen. Do you remember my telling you about a tendency I have to see things some others do not?"
"I do. Is that still going on?"
"Oh, my yes. Sometimes I think it is happening more and more."
"Will, no offense," he said, nodding toward Molly, "but I thought you wanted to keep that confidential."
"Molly has the same condition, or talent, if you prefer."
He answered. "I do prefer." He turned toward Molly. "I have never thought of your aunt's so-called 'condition' as an affliction or a disease, but more of a talent. You have it, too?"
"She says so."
"Allen, you have told me it's something to be enjoyed and not worried about and I appreciate that, but now we want to learn more."
What's going on? thought Molly. Aunt Will didn't need me to bring her to the doctor. She brought me to the doctor!
"I wondered when that inquiring mind of yours would want to know, Wilhelmina. "I want you to see a friend of mine. Dr. Faruk Bishara has been working with the power of suggestion and people who see things others do not. It's his professional interest and his hobby. I told him about you, Will, without naming you of course. He was anxious to meet you. I told him not until you wanted to meet him."
"What kind of a doctor is he?" asked Molly.
"Faruk is a clinical psychologist. He teaches at the med school, does research and sees and treats patients. Would you two like to meet him? If he finds out there are two of you, he will be excited to meet you both."
Molly looked at Aunt Will. Thanks for setting me up, Aunt Will, she thought. What she said was "What do you think, Aunt Will?"
"I think it is why we're here, honey."
Dr. Foster pulled a cell phone from the pocket of his lab coat, punched in a number and spoke softly. He smiled and turned to the two women. "How about now?" he asked.
"Right now?" said Molly. Aunt Will smiled.
"Dr. Bishara says he can meet you in his office in fifteen minutes. He's here in the hospital just heading back. His office is right around the corner in the Riverside Medical Arts Building."
"But, right now?" Molly looked at her watch and then again at Aunt Will.
"Dearie, when you're my age it doesn't pay to put anything off. Let's go!"
Molly shrugged her shoulders. "I guess we're going, Dr. Foster. Thanks for making the arrangements."
He spoke into his phone again. "They'll see you in fifteen, Faruk. Thanks." He wrote the name and address for Dr. Bishara on a prescription pad and handed the paper to Molly. "With your permission, I will e-mail him generally that your physical and mental health are normal. He understands you are coming to learn and not for evaluation and treatment. He already knows that, but just to be sure."
"Thank you," said Aunt Will.
Out in the car, before putting the keys in the ignition, Molly turned to Aunt Will who was struggling with her seat belt. "Well, sly old fox, what have you been up to and what have you done?"
She stopped struggling and returned Molly's stare. "Why, dear, whatever do you mean?"
Only a few minutes passed after they pulled out of the hospital ramp before they were searching for a parking space in the parking lot of the Riverside Medical Arts Building. The lot was full.
"There's one! Aunt Will exclaimed. Right in front!"
"That's handicapped parking, Aunt Will."
Aunt Will pulled a handicapped parking permit from her purse to hang on the rearview mirror. Molly watched. Aunt Will saw her. "One of the perquisites of old age, dear," she said. "Let's go see this guy."
They were seated in a small waiting room for only a few minutes when the doctor came out to greet them.
Dr. Faruk Bishara was a man of medium height, swarthy complexion and dark hair thinning in the back. He wore glasses with heavy black plastic frames. Molly looked through the lenses and could see both sides of his face inside the lenses. The reduction inside showed that the glasses were for distance and the good doctor was quite near-sighted. No doubt, Molly thought, from many hours of intense close order study as a boy and a young man when his eyes were still developing. Her own experience with all the reading in law school had not adversely affected her distance vision, but most of her classmates had gone to eyeglasses or contacts for myopia. Her father, who had a peculiar interest in such things, had told her that the eye was round and filled with liquid like a balloon is filled with air. Towing the eyes in to look closely, like putting your nose in a textbook, requires pushing on the side of the eyeball with muscle and, he had said, "You know what happens when you push on the side of a balloon. It's gets elongated. And an elongated eyeball is a near-sighted eyeball. Do it enough when you're under twenty-five and you grow into it as a permanent condition." He had suggested putting a patch over one eye to prevent the towing in when reading, but Molly had not been able to bring herself to wearing an eye patch in the law library.
The doctor wore a Navy blazer with pearl gray trousers, a white button-down shirt with a green and black plaid, wool, knit tie and black loafers shined to a high gloss. After introductions and shaking both their hands, he said, "I am glad you are here. Dr. Foster has told me about you, without naming names of course. I must say he has piqued my interest. He says you both see things other people do not see."
"That's what he says," said Aunt Will. "I have described these visions, or whatever you call them, to him many times in the past. He told me anytime I wanted to learn more, he had someone for me to talk to. I guess you're him, or, I guess it's that you're he."
"It is what I do. That is, what I study and have studied for many years." He paused as if uncertain what to say next. "Ladies, I am somewhat of an informal person. Do you mind if I call you by first names?"
"I think that is fine," said Aunt Will. "We all call her 'Molly' and I am called 'Wilhelmina' or 'Aunt Will.' Your first name is Faruk?" She stumbled over the pronunciation.
"Close enough," he said.
"Do you mind if we call you, 'Doctor?"'
"So, Doc, when I learned that Molly has the same condition or talent that I have, I decided it was time to learn more and asked Dr. Foster for this referral."
"And you do?" Dr. Bishara turned to Molly.
"Apparently," Molly answered.
"Tell me about it." He sat at his desk, lifted his coffee cup and waited.
Aunt Will began and Molly joined in. They told him about what they saw in things that others did not. They explained how they discovered that they shared this condition. They described The Painting and their visions, some different, some the same.
"Hmmh." Dr. Bishara stroked his chin, thinking. "Very interesting. I have some thoughts about what you describe. Some of it has been in the scientific literature for many years. Do you want to hear about it?"
"I believe that is why we're here," said Aunt Will.
Dr. Bishara nodded. "I am a teacher. If I appear to be lecturing a class, please forgive me. The style is ingrained in me after many years in academia." He pushed his glasses back up his nose and began.
He wasn't kidding. He approached a wooden cabinet on one wall. Opening the mahogany stained doors, he revealed a whiteboard with notes from some previous use. With an eraser, he rubbed out the past notes, then produced a marker pen from a shelf at the bottom and began to teach.
"There are several conditions or phenomena that can enter into what you are experiencing. Some of them that may be helpful in understanding what you two have experienced. We can start with visions people see in common objects or patterns." He wrote "VISIONS" on the white board as he spoke. Writing as he went, he continued listing the items or conditions and phenomena as he called them, which might explain visions that might be seen by those equipped to see them, or thought Molly, those crazy enough to imagine them.
As he wrote the last item on his list, Dr. Bishara stood back to examine his handiwork. The whiteboard read:
RORSHACH INK BLOTS
"These are in no particular order of importance, but this arrangement might be helpful. You'll notice some of the listed items have asterisks in front of them. Those are examples where the creator of the object of observation has taken a hand in managing or directing the image to be seen. That can be very important.
"Starting with visions in general, I'm not telling you anything you don't already know, perhaps better than most, but people see images in some of the most mundane, everyday objects. The example most people immediately recognize is seeing images in clouds in the sky. It's a game most of us have played with our friends and parents since we were little and have continued as adults."
Oh, boy, thought Molly. Here we go. Images in clouds? Really? Maybe this was going to be a waste of time. She looked at Aunt Will who shrugged her shoulders. But, as she thought about it, Molly remembered playing the game out in the backyard with her parents and her brothers. Lying on her back looking up at the clouds she saw many images. More than the others. They would say, "See the poodle?" or "See the rabbit?" She would say, "But see the alligator and the church steeple and the lamb and the old man with the beard?" They would look and after a while, say, "Oh yes, I see it!" Sometimes they did and sometimes they didn't even if they said they did. Maybe Dr. Bishara wasn't so far off with his approach. She turned back to listen.
"Some people see more images than others and in more places. Besides clouds, there are land and rock formations, buildings and common ordinary items like dirty towels, shower curtains and ordinary wooden boards, tree bark, leaves, ice formations and almost anything, really. Some are large. Some are small.
"On a large scale, think about the Arrowhead region of northeastern Minnesota along Lake Superior or the Indianhead Country of northwestern Wisconsin. It isn't because they find arrowheads or Indian heads in those places but because of the shape of those regions as perceived by someone and accepted by most. If you have ever been to Thunder Bay, Ontario, you have no doubt looked across the bay at the Sibley Peninsula and seen the sleeping giant who appears as a giant Indian lying on his back.
Dr. Bishara reached for his coffee cup and sipped.
"Some of the images take on a religious significance like the Sleeping Giant did to the early Indians of the region and like the many visions of the face of Jesus, the Buddha or even Elvis sightings. But you two know enough about that." He drew a line crossing out "VISIONS" on the whiteboard. "What you may not know about are the next two items which kind of go together."
Molly looked at her watch and glanced at Aunt Will who took the hint.
"Doctor, we will have to leave soon. Do you have much more?"
"I'm afraid I have been slow, I know, but this will take time. Will you be able to come back? These next two items will take some time and there's more after that."
"When are you available, Doctor?" asked Aunt Will, prompting a stern look from Molly.
"I can be available almost any day at your convenience, especially toward the end of the day." He set his cup on the desk. "How about tomorrow afternoon?"
Aunt Will looked at Molly. Molly shook her head. "I have got to work tomorrow. I have not been paying enough attention to my obligations, there."
"Thursday?" asked Aunt Will. She was pressing. The doctor nodded. He was pressing, too. Molly could feel his anticipation.
"Aunt Will, Iâ€™m meeting with Mac Winter at his law office on Thursday about â€¦" She stopped. Aunt Will knew why she was meeting with Mac and it was none of the doctorâ€™s business.
They made arrangements for another meeting on Friday.
"Ã look forward to seeing you then," said the doctor. He pointed to the second and third items on his list. "Apophenia and Pareidolia," he read. "Now these are fascinating."
Out in the car, Aunt Will fastened her seat belt and turned to Molly. "Well? Now arenâ€™t you glad you came?"
That same afternoon, Mike Shaughnessy drove south out of the loop to Franklin Avenue and east to the Jarvis-Hogan Health Care Facility. After passing a gate guard who examined his credentials and made an entry on a clipboard, he deposited his car in the small off-street parking lot and found himself standing before a front desk occupied by a rather large woman with a stern look that reminded Shaughnessy of an Army or Marine drill sergeant, which she could have been, he thought. She was a big woman, but solid, not fat. Her thick, dark brown hair was cut short in what Shaughnessy thought was called a pixie, but he was hesitant to use that term for this broad. She wore little make-up and no lipstick that he could see. Dark, trimmed eyebrows protected clear brown eyes that stared right through him. Reading glasses were pushed up into her hair.
"Yes?" she said, giving him the once-over and appearing to be less than impressed, despite his own great size. It meant nothing to her.
Shaughnessy, dressed in civilian clothes, displayed his badge. She was not impressed.
"Yes?" she repeated.
"I'm here to see your records relating to a former resident, one Elliot Morgan."
She stared at him, said nothing.
Shaughnessy was getting annoyed. "Nursing homes do keep records, don't they?"
"I wouldn't know what nursing homes do. This is a health care facility."
Oops! Shaughnessy remembered Aunt Will's admonition on the same subject.
"This the Jarvis-Hogan Health Care Facility," said the drill sergeant.
"My apologies, Ma'am."
"I refer not to be called 'Ma'am,' thank you very much."
This was not going well. He produced two sheets of paper. "These are an authorization from the next of kin, specifically, Mr. Morgan's sister Wilhelmina Morgan and an order of the Probate Court directing health care providers for Mr. Morgan to provide information to the executor of his estate."
"Is that you?" Sergeant Receptionist look at the documents like she was deciding whether to tear them up or push them back in Shaughnessy's face.
He handed her another sheet. "This is the direction from the executor authorizing and requesting that you give the information to me. Would you prefer a search warrant?"
Slowly, a smile took over the scowl on her face. "Oh, I think we can help you. Tell me. Have you always been a cop or were you military?"
"Army. A long time ago. Viet Nam."
"I thought so."
"Were you military?" asked Shaughnessy.
"Marines. Desert Storm."
"I thought so."
"So, Sarge, what do you want to see?"
Shaughnessy explained what he was looking for. "I want everything you've got on his care and what happened around the time of his death. Also, I notice I had to check in with a gate guard to get in here. Does everybody?"
"Nope. We just pick on great big guys like you." She grinned. "Of course, everybody checks in. Who you lookin' for?"
"I don't know, yet."
"When do you need this stuff?"
"As soon as possible. Yesterday."
"Have a seat, Sarge. Let me see what I can do." She picked up the desk phone and started punching numbers. "By the way, my name is Ruth."
"And mine is Mike, Ruth." He put out a hand. Mike Shaughnessy had a grip like iron, but this lady's was just as strong. He wondered if she arm wrestled in competition.
She turned her attention to the phone. "Yes Linda, I know, but he's got the authorizations and even a court order. Listen to me, Linda. This guy is ex-Army and now wears a blue uniform," she winked at Shaughnessy, "and carries a badge."
She hung up and called someone else. "That's right. I want the guest log for â€¦" she looked at Shaughnessy. He glanced at the court order, "March seventh and before, about six months."
"September through March, Jim." She listened. "Yeah, Jim. That would be fine."
Her phone buzzed. "Linda! Whadda you got for me, girl? Good job." She hung up.
"Mike, everything we got is being brought to the small conference room. You can look at it in there. I should have copies of those papers you showed me. You want coffee or a Coke? I'd offer you a beer but weâ€™re both on duty. Here, I'll show you the small conference room."
Ruth came around the desk. She wore black slacks over gray low-heeled pumps with a blue open-collared shirt and tan blazer. She must be over six feet, Shaughnessy thought. She led him to a small room where the records were stacked on the table.
Shaughnessy sat at the table in what was indeed a small conference room. He was not sure he and Ruth could both fit in there at the same time. She didnâ€™t try. The records looked like a regular hospital chart, about as thick as a ream of typing paper. The guest log consisted of daily sheets, three-hole punched and in a loose-leaf binder.
Shaughnessy began pouring through the chart. He was reminded why he went into police work and not medicine. In his junior year in high school he had been talked into taking Latin. Why study a dead language? he had thought at the time. But his adviser insisted that it would be good for him someday. Maybe this was that day. Trouble was, he couldnâ€™t remember the little he had learned in that class.
"How ya doin,â€™ Mike?" Ruth poked her head in the door. "Need another Diet Coke?"
"Youâ€™ve heard the phrase, â€˜Itâ€™s all Greek to me?â€™"
"Well, this is all Latin to me."
"It is Latin."
"I know, but thatâ€™s all I know. Thatâ€™s the problem."
"Let me see," Ruth said as she squeezed into the room, proving that the two of them could fit into the room at the same time, but barely.
They went through the chart page by page, beginning more than a year before Elliot Morganâ€™s passing. With Ruthâ€™s help with the complex names of procedures and medicines, Shaughnessy began to get a feel for Elliotâ€™s condition and prognosis. He was an old man. His health was not good, but not so bad for his age they said in several places. He did not suffer from dementia but his memory and ability to concentrate were fading. Nothing pointed to a specific condition that was ending his life.
"What are you looking for, if I may be so bold?" Ruth asked.
"From the little I have known you, Ruth, I donâ€™t think you have any hesitancy about being bold."
She smiled. "You noticed?"
"I noticed more than that. I noticed that although you sit out at the front desk like a receptionist, it seems like youâ€™re kind of the boss."
"Really. Working at one of these places is not easy. Youâ€™re dealing with people who often canâ€™t help themselves. Sometimes they are not receptive to the help they need. Sometimes they get a little feisty about it. Our employees need support and guidance, sometimes direction. I do that. Iâ€™m Ruth Hogan, the owner."
Shaughnessy could not hide his surprise. This woman was one surprise after another. "I hope I was not too demeaning when I arrived," he said to her.
"You couldnâ€™t be. I donâ€™t do demeaning. But, you know that by now."
"What about Jarvis?"
"Milt Jarvis retired three years ago. I bought him out, or, I should say, I am buying him out."
"I have one other question, or rather a suspicion, but about something that I suppose is none of my business."
"Oh? Whatâ€™s that? You might want to be careful here."
"In the Marines. Weâ€™re you enlisted?"
"An officer, then?"
"First lieutenant by the end of Desert Storm."
Shaughnessy smiled. "Well, LT, how about we hit the visitor log?"
Ruth grinned. "Okay, but before we do that, I asked what you were looking for in the chart. Did you find it?"
"I was looking for the cause of death and No, I didnâ€™t find it."
"Iâ€™ve always wondered about that. You never know when itâ€™s going to happen with people in Elliotâ€™s health and at his age. But, I sure didnâ€™t expect it when it happened."
Shaughnessy decided not to tell her that he now was sure he knew that the cause of death was arsenic poisoning. What the BCA technician had told him was that anyone with a small amount of arsenic powder could have given it to Elliot Morgan in his food or drink. It is virtually undetectable, he was told, in hot food or drink and fatal in small doses. The technician told him that arsenic was once called "the inheritors' poison." He had seen a note in the chart for the night nurses that Elliot like to have what he called "hot water tea" in the evening. It was hot water with milk, but no tea. He liked it because it settled his stomach and helped him sleep. Any visitor with a small amount of arsenic powder could have done him in. Maybe he would tell Ruth Hogan later.
"Did he have a lot of visitors?" he asked.
"About normal, I would say. He had a large family."
Shaughnessy handed her a copy of the Morgan family tree. "This was prepared by Mr. Morganâ€™s sister."
"You know her?"
"Sure, I do. You mentioned her name earlier, but at the time, I was sizing you up so I said nothing. Aunt Will is a wonderful person. Sheâ€™s a hoot! Youâ€™ll see her name in the log more than a few times. She visited a lot."
While Shaughnessy and Ruth Hogan started on the visitors' log, Molly sat at her desk following a contested court appearance at the Hennepin County Government Center. Her matter was on Judge Devereauxâ€™s 1:30 motion calendar. Opposing counsel, a lawyer from Stillwater named Alan Carson, gave what Molly thought was a powerful argument supporting his clientâ€™s request for temporary custody of the partiesâ€™ twin teen-aged daughters. Molly had the mother. She argued that her client had been and still was the primary parent and the girls should continue to live with their mother pending the outcome of the maariage dissolution proceeding. They would know Judge Devereauxâ€™s decision within a few days. He was not one to delay a decision when that delay was the equivalent of granting the request of one party over the other, at least during the delay. All too often, the delay in decision became the new status quo further affecting the situation of the parties and the children. Judge Devereaux would not let that happen. He was not one to delay a decision
Molly had decided that going back to work was a good thing. However, she found that work was interfering with her new family obligations or they were interfering with work or both. The work was taxing but in some ways exhilarating. The issues of her own family were frustrating. Mike Shaughnessyâ€™s revelation that Uncle Elliot had been murdered was disturbing and even shocking, although his previous doubts and the empty urn had aroused her own suspicions in that direction.
In the coming days, she would have office work, more court appearances, a meeting with Mac Winter regarding the Standing Pines Real Estate Trust and more.
Back at Jarvis-Hogan Health Care Facility, Ruth and Shaughnessy started on the visitors' log. The log book was just that. Like an old-fashioned hotel register but the entries were made by the gate guard who checked people in and then raised the gate for them. The entries were on a printed form that called for the visitorâ€™s name, the name of the resident they were visiting and the time they arrived. When leaving on the other side of the gatehouse, the gate opened automatically so there was not an entry or a record of the time they left.
Shaughnessy saw many of the relatives listed on Aunt Willâ€™s family tree. He looked for the relatives that Aunt Will and Molly called "the Scatterers," Bernard David Morgan and Arthur Wright Morgan, III, two of Elliot Morganâ€™s sons. Molly referred to them as her "Uncles Art and Bernie," though they were actually her fatherâ€™s cousins. They were Wilhelmina Morganâ€™s nephews. It seemed unlikely that two men in their sixties would conspire to kill their aging father, but Shaughnessy knew that within family relationships both good and estranged, anything was possible. He had seen it before. They certainly had taken action quickly to eliminate evidence of cause of death when they dumped Elliotâ€™s ashes in that lake much earlier than planned by the deceased. He made a note to have Detectives Jordan and Adams investigate Art and Bernie's personal histories and their relationship with their father.
"Something?" asked Ruth, watching him write on his pad.
Just thinking about what I have so far, which isnâ€™t much, but might give us some names to look for."
He checked his family tree for the exact names. "Bernard David Morgan and Arthur Wright Morgan the third."
"Art and Bernie?"
"You know them?" Shaughnessy had lost count, but this was about surprise number seven with Ruth Hogan.
"Sure. They visited a lot. Often together. Bernie is a big guy. Not as big as you, but big. Art is a little creep, pardon my Francais. I think he has small manâ€™s disease."
"Something I doubt you would put up with."
"What has Mr. Morgan, the third, done to get you so enamored of him?"
"Oh, he is just so impressed with himself. Bossy, you know. Acts like heâ€™s in charge, even in here. And, you know, heâ€™s not. I am." Then she smiled. "But his son Bud is okay and Budâ€™s wife Bev is a real peach. They have been here with their kids. Do you know that Bud is Arthur Wright Morgan, the Fourth, and the little boy is Arthur Wright Morgan, the Fifth? Can you just imagine? But, as it turns out so far, the kids are great. Little Missy is as cute as a bug and the boy they call â€˜A.J.â€™ is a six-year-old bundle of mischief that will capture your heart in a minute. He got mine."
"Letâ€™s look for Art and Bernie in the log."
"Okay." She began turning pages. Shaughnessy stopped her.
"Something I didn't tell you before, Ruth."
"Oh? And what is that?"
He explained about the BCA test showing arsenic in Elliot Morgan's ashes.
"Oh my God! You mean â€¦"
"You mean one of his visitors could have given him that stuff right here?"
Shaughnessy nodded again.
"Mike, I just met you and I think you are okay, but you can't keep things like that from me."
"I just met you, too, Ruth and I wasn't sure if I should tell you, but I just realized I should."
Ruth nodded. "Well thanks for that, I think." She turned back to the visitors' log.
Over the period of the log, Bernard Morgan and Arthur Morgan the Third visited periodically. As Ruth said, they came together sometimes and alone sometimes. Shaughnessy noted that later on they came more frequently and more often together.
"Mike, why are you interested in Art and Bernie?" Ruth asked.
"I am interested in everybody and anybody with opportunity. Art and Bernie as you and their family members call them are apparently the ones who decided on no autopsy. They are the ones who scattered the ashes earlier than planned, which meant the ashes couldn't be tested for heavy metals that would have survived the cremation fire like arsenic."
"How would they know to do that? Sounds like a lot of scientific knowledge on their part."
Shaughnessy opened his notebook. "Bernie is a pharmacist and Art is a chemical engineer."
They went back to the log. Ruth pointed out more visits by Art and Bernie. Shaughnessy saw the names of other members of the Morgan family, checking them off on his family tree sheet from Aunt Will has he went along. Ruth was right. Aunt Will visited a lot.
"Hereâ€™s a name I donâ€™t recognize," he said. "I donâ€™t see any connection to Elliot Morgan. Heâ€™s not on my list of relatives."
Shaughnessy pointed to the name in the log. "Rex Allen Winkler."
Ruth stroked her chin, thinking. "Oh, I remember that guy. Fat little squish. I can assure you he was not military."
"What was his connection with Mr. Morgan?" asked Shaughnessy. "If you know."
"Mike, you are going to learn that I know a lot and what I donâ€™t know, I make it my business to find out. This guy Winkler had some kind of business with Elliot. There were a few people like that that came around to see Elliot. I know there were two or three guys from a law firm in downtown Minneapolis that came to see Elliot every so often. Nice guys."
"What was this Winklerâ€™s business?" He looked at Ruth. "If you know," he added, suppressing a grin.
Ruth started to laugh. "You got me, Mike. I donâ€™t know. But, somehow I think you are going to find out for me."
"What makes you think Iâ€™ll tell you?"
"I see he stopped visiting a couple of months before Elliot Morgan passed."
"Oh? Let me see that." She glanced through the pages.
Shaughnessy noted Winklerâ€™s name on his pad and went back to the log.
"What about this guy, James R. Belden? Shaughnessy consulted his family tree. Looks like he is the son-in-law of Elliotâ€™s cousin, Joseph Swenson."
"I remember him. His wifeâ€™s all right, a little flashy for her age and for my taste, but heâ€™s kind of a jerk."
"Oh, just kind of pushy. You know I donâ€™t like that."
"That would have been my guess, Ruth." Shaughnessy turned a few logbook pages. "It looks like his visits got more frequent in the later months."
"Iâ€™m not sure. Maybe."
"Hereâ€™s two more names I havenâ€™t heard before."
"What are the names?"
"Richard A. Wolner and Arnold Dailey." Shaughnessy noted the names on his pad.
"Hmm." Ruth scratched her head. "I donâ€™t know Wolner. I can't picture him. If Dailey is the guy I am thinking of, I'd say he was retired military."
"The book stops here, at the end of February. It picks up again on March tenth."
Shaughnessy held the visitors' log up for Ruth to see.
"What the Hell?" She took the book and studied it. "Wait here."
Ruth was back in a few minutes. "I showed the log to the gate guard on duty. He has no explanation for the missing pages."
"Elliot Morgan passed away on the seventh of March. We don't have a record of who visited him in his last seven days."
The next day, Molly's time was occupied by the Morton divorce. In the morning, she prepared or tried to prepare her client for the deposition by Buster Brown scheduled for that afternoon. They met in Brown's office. Mrs. Morton was there, looking, Molly thought, as mean and vicious as she possibly could. Molly had heard that Buster Brown coached his clients to look that way. She didn't even need to be there. Her deposition was not scheduled. But, the Ball Buster never deposed a husband without the wife present to stare daggers at him throughout the testimony.
Brown surprised Molly. He was remarkedly polite by his standards.
The deposition was over in two hours. Molly left the office early for a quick run in Loring Park, a light dinner at home and an early night. She had another meeting with Mac Winter in the morning.
Mac Winter sat at his desk, a clean yellow legal pad and a black and chrome Cross rolling ball pen before him on the leather-sided desk pad. Just off the desk pad and to his left, within easy reach, was his bone china cup and saucer with what Molly presumed was fresh-brewed Colombian. A Royal Albert design in its Old Country Roses pattern, both cup and saucer had gold banding and featured burgundy, pink and yellow roses on a white background. Molly knew all this because Mac had told her. "Molly," he had said, referring to his cup and saucer, "in this crazy business, to be comfortable and relatively sane, you do whatever turns your crank or whatever floats your boat. In my case this cup and saucer lend some degree of elegance and tranquility to my workplace. It beats the paper cups with cardboard sleeves from Starbucks or the Nicollet Coffee Bar down in the skyway. It's what you wear, what you drive, what you eat or drink, or how you do it. Do you like Chinese?"
"Do you use chopsticks?"
"Tastes better that way, doesnâ€™t it?" he had said, sipping from his elegant cup.
Molly wasnâ€™t sure she agreed with Mac that the flavor was better with chopsticks, but she agreed that the overall dining experience was improved by the use of those skinny little pieces of wood.
"Your line of legal work dealing with the breakup of families can be particularly demanding and frustrating," Mac had said. "Do some of the little things in a way that makes you feel good, things that make you smile, and your survival probabilities are greatly enhanced. Besides, youâ€™ll have fun. Still driving that hot, red roadster?"
"Good. Donâ€™t sell it."
Mary Booker entered carrying a file and a large coffee with a cardboard sleeve from the Nicollet Coffee Bar, which was, according to the printing on the sleeve, "Where the coffee break lasts all day!"
Mary was joined by two others whom Mac had called in from the firm's real estate group. A tall, thin woman in a brown business pantsuit followed Booker. Her light auburn hair was pulled back in a severe bun high in back that gave her a definite librarian or study hall monitor look. Her companion stood about five eight or nine. Shorter than the woman, he appeared to be in his late twenties or early thirties. Mac Winter made the introductions.
"Molly, meet Louise Marshall and George Kimball. Lou is a real estate specialist and head of our real property group. George is the legal assistant who keeps Lou up to date and on the straight and narrow. Lou and George, meet Molly Graham."
George grinned at Mac's last comment. Louise Marshall nodded and said, "I have run into Molly before. I believe it was in that Scritzmeier divorce. A messy business, that, with a lot of real estate involved."
Molly remembered. They had actually been on the same side. Molly had the husband who owned many rental properties in the Twin Cities. Louise Marshall was his regular real estate lawyer.
"I remember," Molly said. "It was rather messy, for a while."
"Because of your questions about this sale of your family's lake property to the bank in Ashland," said Mac, "I called Lou in. She has looked over the documents. I must say, as I have already told you, I was surprised to learn of the sale. We were not involved and we were not informed. Lou?"
George Kimball handed Louise Marshall a manila file folder.
"We have gone over these papers looking for any irregularities or possible escape clauses. As I understand it, Molly, you or your family were surprised when you learned of the sale and would like to get out of it and keep the property. Right?"
"Well we began with the basics. The Purchase Agreement is in writing as a contract involving the transfer of real estate has to be. The language is clear enough to establish that the parties had a meeting of the minds on what they were doing. There is consideration for the property transfer. Whether the consideration is adequate may be a matter of opinion, but it is sufficient for contract purposes. The legal description in the attached exhibit appears in order. All in all, we found nothing in the documents that would void the deal or make the contract voidable. Also, as far as going outside the documents is concerned, we have it on good authority from Mac that the seller, Elliot Morgan, was of sound mind and otherwise competent at the time of the contract."
"That's Lou's roundabout way of saying you're stuck with the deal, Molly," said Mac.
"But Molly," said Marshall, "you do know you have a right of first refusal. I assume you saw that. Did the bank ever give you notice of the offer from the developer?" She consulted her notes. "From this C.W. Lewis?"
"Then you have the right to know the deal being proposed and match or better it. Sometimes it gets a little complicated once the other deal has been consummated and money has changed hands, so I would advise asserting your right of first refusal immediately. Do you know if the purchaser has paid and a deed has been delivered?"
"I don't know, Louise, but I was at the Register of Deeds office for Bayfield County. No deed from the bank to anyone had been recorded at that time, but that was over a month ago. In fact, the bank had just recorded its deed from Uncle Elliot."
Louise Marshall looked at George Kimball. "I can check," he said.
"Look," said Molly, "I appreciate your help, but I don't think we can exercise that right of first refusal. I don't know where we would get the money."
On her way back to the office, Molly pulled her cell phone to report in to Aunt Will.
"I was afraid of that," said Aunt Will, "but I guess it was worth a try. Tell me more about this right of first refusal. Whatâ€™s that all about?"
If the bank sells the property, we have a right to notice of the offer by the purchaser and can match or better it. If we had the money."
"How much money? I have some put away."
"Aunt Will, even the tax statement values the property at nearly a million dollars. It's all that lakeshore on two lakes. That number is probably low compared to what you could get selling it for development into a commercial resort."
"Oh. I don't have that kind of money, I'm afraid. But what if the whole family kicks in?"
"I still think we couldn't come up with the necessary funds. Besides, remember that some of our relatives wanted to sell Standing Pines when they thought we still owned it."
"Oh, dear. Is there nothing we can do?"
If there is, I don't know what it might be."
Their second visit to Dr. Bishara happened at three o'clock Friday afternoon. Molly wondered if the time was to leave the length of the session open-ended so the doctor could go on as long as he wanted. Not to worry, she thought. Wilhelmina Morgan won't let it go on any longer than she wants it to.
Dr. Bishara began by opening the cabinet doors revealing the white board and his list which still had only the top item crossed out:
RORSHACH INK BLOTS
"You will remember I told you these next two items are fascinating. They truly are." He reached for a volume from a shelf behind his desk. "Apophenia is a comparatively new term. Much newer than Pareidolia." He opened the book to a page marked by a paper bookmark. Glancing at the page, he continued. "Apophenia is a term coined by a German psychiatrist named Klaus Conrad in the 1950's in a study on the early stages of schizophrenia."
Aunt Will groaned.
Dr. Bishara grinned. "The article is entitled 'De Beginnende Schizophrenie. Versuch einer Gestaltanalyse des Wahns.' Excuse my pronunciation. I have enough trouble with English." He returned the book to the shelf. "Some in our profession did not give his work the attention it probably deserved. Partly, I think, that was because he had been a member of the Nazi party during the war. Anyway, I think that attitude about him is gone now. Conrad coined the term 'ApophÃ¤nie' or in English, 'apophany,' which is similar to 'epiphany.' You both know of course what that is?"
With her customary sharp and sometimes barbed wit, Aunt Will replied, "I think I'm having one now."
"Dr. Bishara laughed. "It's okay, Wilhelmina, for you to have an epiphany, but you don't want to have an apophany."
Molly waited for the explanation.
"An epiphany is the sudden realization of a truth. It's figuring out the answer, suddenly, often after much thought and work. Famous epiphanies are Isaac Newton realizing that a falling apple is pulled by the same force keeping the Moon in orbit, the discovery of gravity; Buddha under the Bodhi tree meditating for forty-nine days and the Awakening in which he attained Enlightenment; and, I dare say, although I can't say for sure, Albert Einstein's realization that everything is relative, the old E=MC2 and all that flowed from that."
Molly didn't have a clue what all this had to do with Aunt Will and her, but the doctor was a good speaker and an interesting teacher.
"An epiphany is a good and normal thing," he continued. "On the other hand, an apophany is not so good. It is similar but happens to people with certain mental illnesses. Like an epiphany, these people have a sudden realization, but they are wrong! The schizophrenic says, 'Now, I get it!' when he or she really doesn't. It might be seeing an image in something and believing it is a sign, like UFO sightings and messages on records played backwards. So, seeing a flying saucer in lights in the sky is okay but it becomes an apophany when you believe the aliens are landing.
"Pareidolia is seeing the spaceship but realizing it is just an image. Paredolia, the subject, if not the name, has been around a long time. When I said some of this stuff has been in the scientific literature for many years, I wasn't kidding. Leonardo da Vinci was writing about it in the early Sixteenth Century." He pulled another volume from the bookshelf, turned to a marked page and said, "He wrote about pareidolia as a useful device for painters. The literature reports that he wrote:
If you look at any walls spotted with various stains or with a mixture of different kinds of stones, if you are about to invent some scene you will be able to see in it a resemblance to various different landscapes adorned with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, plains, wide valleys, and various groups of hills. You will also be able to see divers combats and figures in quick movement, and strange expressions of faces, and outlandish costumes, and an infinite number of things which you can then reduce into separate and well-conceived forms.
"So even da Vinci knew about it 400 years ago. It is interesting to note that da Vinci was thinking about this ability to see visions in things, this pareidolia, as a tool for artists. You have mentioned a painting in which you both see images. Later, we will talk about what artists or other creators can and will do to direct pareidolia image perception." He looked at the clock on the wall. "My gosh! I have talked far too long. For that I apologize, but I find this subject awfully interesting. I hope I haven't bored you. With your permission, I would like to administer a pareidolia test."
"What does this test involve?" asked Aunt Will.
"Oh, nothing much. It's really a specialized Rorschach Ink Blot test using several images which are specially designed for the test. There are images we expect you to see and we are interested in what else you see that we haven't specifically put into the ink blots."
"You put things into the ink blots?" asked Molly. "I always thought they were just ink spilled on paper which was then folded over to double the image in a symmetrical pattern."
"That's why they all look like butterflies," said Aunt Will.
"I also understood that the Rorschach test as a personality test was no longer considered effective or useful," Molly added. "Although, I have seen it ordered by the Court for children in child custody cases."
"You are correct, Molly. Even Rorschach himself didn't intend that it be used for a personality test. He intended it to be used as a diagnostic tool, specifically to diagnose schizophrenia."
"Here we go again," groaned Aunt Will.
"We are not testing personality here, or schizophrenia. We are testing for pareidolia as an enhanced ability or tendency to see visions in random objects. We do not use Rorschach's original ten ink blots. For the pareidolia test, a number of ink blots have been created and then submitted to hundreds of normal, mentally healthy individuals to learn what they see. When a vast majority see something, that is identified as a correct answer. The test shows whether the person being tested sees what most people see and also records his or her creativity in seeing more if that happens. It only takes a few minutes."
"You want us to take this test, now?" asked Molly. She looked at Aunt Will who looked ready to stay as long as it took. Maybe she is afraid she won't get me back here, Molly thought. Maybe she's right.
"No. Not now. I have taken too much of your time and I have a meeting." He looked at his watch. "I do want to continue this conversation. There is more that I have to say as you can see from the whiteboard." The first three items on the list were now crossed out. "Also, I am hoping you will take our test."
As they stood to leave, Dr. Bishara said, "I should tell you that if the test shows either of you has pareidolia, I mean no offense, but some practitioners see this condition as an indication of a form of dementia. It's sometimes called Lewy Body Dementia involving protein deposits in the brain which can only been seen by post-mortem examination by microscope."
Aunt Will looked alarmed.
"Oh, don't worry, Wilhelmina, Dr. Foster assured me that you are healthy and normal. You don't have dementia or mental illness."
"Don't say 'post-mortem' to an old person."
Molly suppressed a grin. Aunt Will was truly a piece of work.
"Also, I may be able to help you more if I know what you are looking at. I don't have the visionary capabilities you both have, but I might see some factors or suggestions or techniques of the creator, if it's human-made."
Molly could see the man was nearly salivating over the fact that she and Aunt Will might have something that had them both wondering. Aunt Will shut him down, politely, but quickly.
"We have to do some thinking about what we have learned, Doctor," she said pleasantly. "We didn't realize we were going to get such an informative education. In these two meetings you have given us a lot to consider."
"And there's more." He pointed to the unfinished list on the whiteboard.
"And we thank you. Now we have to think about this for a while, to digest it so to speak, although 'digest' may not be the proper word for someone my age." She smiled that polite little smile that softened the hearts of the toughest.
But Dr. Bishara didn't look just softened, he looked crestfallen. "I may be able to help," he repeated. "Will I see you again?" He asked, hopefully.
"Oh, yes. I think so," Aunt Will answered. "We'll make an appointment. I think we'll sign up to take your test."
The good doctor brightened demonstrably. "Good! I'll take you out to the front desk. Esther will set you up."
Esther scheduled them for the pareidolia test and a later follow up meeting.
What do you think, Aunt Will?" Molly asked when they were back in the car.
"Well, I didn't want to get the good Doctor excited, he's excited enough, already, but I think this is very important. Hell, I am excited. Of course, as he says, maybe our 'condition' means we're both a little demented, but people expect that of me anyway."
"Aunt Will!" Molly grinned. "I realize you want others to think you are self-effacing, but I know better!"
"TouchÃ©. But, there's another reason we should be excited."
Surprised and curious, Molly asked, "What's that?"
"Have you noticed how you're feeling, lately? I have."
They took the Pareidolia test the following Monday.
"I feel like I am in school again on my way to mid-terms or worse, finals," said Aunt Will as she got into Molly's car.
Molly picked her up in her Fire Opal Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG cabriolet, two-seater roadster, the car Mac Winter had told her not to sell. When she was about a year and half into her family law practice at Stratton, McMasters & Hines, she considered buying the roadster. She had been one of the lucky few to get through college and law school free of debt. At the time, she still lived with her parents and had few expenses. She had talked with her boss, Jim Decker, the self-described "old divorce lawyer" who said, "If you want it and you can afford it, buy it!"
"You don't think it's a bit ostentatious?" she had asked.
"Of course, it is! That's the point!"
"Look Molly, you no doubt have heard lawyers talk about not driving a Cadillac. Instead, they used to say, drive a Pontiac or an Oldsmobile. Of course, they don't make those anymore, but maybe they would say a Ford or a Dodge or a Buick, today. They may be right when it comes to their practices, especially in smaller communities. They don't want to appear to be flashy or flamboyant. But divorce work is different. In a big money case where Mrs. Client is trying to get every ounce of blood out of her lowlife, philandering husband and Mr. Client is trying to save his gonads and as much of what he heretofore thought of as his hard-earned money as possible, who do you think they are going to hire, the conservative suited guy driving the Ford or the hot, hard-hitting, no mercy lady driving the bright red Mercedes cabriolet?"
So, Molly bought it and never looked back. Her personalized license plate said, simply, "DIVORCE." The license plate mounting frame had her phone number at the bottom. At first, she thought the plate and phone number might brand her in the eyes of some as a divorcee looking for action and handing out her number. She believed the opposite happened. Men who saw the car and the plate had their wits scared right out of them. Good, she had thought. As it turned out, those very men often hired her before their wives had the chance.
After she and Brian were married, they had two cars, her roadster and Brian's Jeep Grand Cherokee. After he was killed, she used his car, partly to be closer to his memory and partly because its height off the ground and four-wheel drive made it a more practical vehicle much of the year in Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin.
And so, there they were, Molly and her eighty-three-year old Aunt Will, gallivanting around Minneapolis in a bright red roadster, top down. And, thought Molly, it felt pretty good. Aunt Will, wind blowing her hair all over, was grinning like a kid, enjoying the ride.
She surprised herself when she got out the roadster to go get Aunt Will. It had been a while. Maybe she was improved now. Driving to Aunt Will's, the roadster performed like a dream. Being back in its driver's seat was a pleasure she had missed.
The test was administered in Dr. Bishara's office. He was not there. A Physician's Assistant named Margaret administered the test.
"Good morning, ladies," Margaret began. "We need to get some basic information on each of you before we begin the test. Did Dr. Bishara tell you what to expect?"
"Some," said Molly, "but not much."
"Well we will begin with your vital signs and then take you to your testing rooms."
"Rooms?" asked Aunt Will. "Separate rooms?"
"You think we will cheat?" Aunt Will said, kidding Margaret.
Margaret grinned. "Actually, we do."
"What?! You're kidding!"
"Just like being in junior high school. Right Aunt Will?"
"Molly, junior high school was so long ago, I can hardly remember. I think we did pass notes in class, but I don't think we did during exams."
Margaret was giggling. "Ladies we trust you. But, this is a pareidolia test. You're being tested because someone thinks you have certain abilities, levels of perception and perhaps enhanced communications skills. Because of who you are, you may have similar reactions to the test problems which may be increased by being in close proximity. So, ladies, it will be separate rooms."
Margaret wheeled in a piece of equipment with lots of wires and a video screen with flashing numbers. She took their blood pressure, temperature, pulse and maybe some other things Molly didn't realize. Her blood pressure was a little high.
"Understandable," said Margaret. "A little blood pressure elevation is to be expected before one of these tests."
Aunt Will's blood pressure was normal.
Margaret handed them each a test booklet and a No. 2 pencil. She led them to their separate rooms.
Molly was in a small, windowless room with two desks about the size of high school desks. She sat in a hard, wooden chair, pulled it close up to the desk and opened her test booklet.
Under the watchful eye of a test monitor, just like in high school, Molly went over the instructions for taking the test that filled the first page of her booklet. The "examinee" was cautioned to use only the No. 2 pencil provided. For true or false questions or multiple choice, the circle next to the selected choice was to be completely filled in with the No. 2 pencil. No checks or X's, please. Molly flipped through the pages. Most had Rorschach ink blots prominently displayed in the upper half of the page with questions below. But page 2 had several questions seeking more background information related to the test. "Do you see images in clouds? ___ Yes. ___ No. If so, what types of images do you see? ___ animals? ___ people? ___ other. If other, please describe."
Those with ink blots had, for the most part, the same questions for each. "What does the ink blot look like to you? What other images do you see?"
Leafing through the ink blot pages, she agreed with Aunt Will. They all look like butterflies. Fifteen minutes later, she was finished. As instructed, she closed her test booklet, took her No. 2 pencil, moved to the door and stepped into the hall to wait for Margaret. Aunt Will was already in the hall, standing by her door, booklet and No. 2 pencil in hand.
"What do you think?" asked Aunt Will as they drove back toward her home.
"Not much to think about," said Molly. "I put butterfly or bat for my first choice for more than half of them."
Aunt Will laughed. "Me, too. She nodded her agreement. More seriously, she added, "I think it's the same old, same old. Been there, done that."
"I don't think so, Aunt Will. I think there's a difference but one that's more apparent to the graders and the result evaluators than to those of us being tested. Dr. Bishara told us, remember, that these ink blots were used to test hundreds of patients and volunteers. So, we are being compared with the reactions of other people and what they saw in the ink blots. It's a comparison."
"You mean we are being graded on a curve? I thought that, ultimately, that's what all testing and grading is."
"I don't think we are being graded comparatively to others, but we are being evaluated on how our ideas and visions compare to the norm."
"Isn't that what I just said?"
"Arenâ€™t you interested in the results? Don't you want to know how we did?"
"Of course, I do," said Aunt Will. "I want to know if we have this pair of doilies business,"
Margaret had informed them that the test answers would be evaluated in a few days. She said Dr. Bishara had declared it "high priority." They would be called at that time to schedule an appointment with Dr. Bishara.
"Doctor will review the test results with you then," she said.
Molly went back to work hoping to take advantage of the remainder of the week. She had clients and files that needed her attention. No court appearances were scheduled, thank goodness. She needed that quiet time to do the thinking and strategizing that was necessary for her clients' best interests. It was one of the parts of her work she enjoyed the most. Civil and criminal trial lawyers always said the that the key to trial work was "preparation, preparation and preparation." Divorce work was no different. While she didn't have juries to persuade or convince, she had judges. Judges liked nothing better than a straightforward, organized presentation of the issues and the evidence. Judges had to issue complicated, detailed and sometimes voluminous findings of fact, conclusions of law and order for judgment. An orderly presentation got the attention of the judge every time.
In a hotel room up in Hayward, the Colonel sat at a desk studying a topographical map of the area across the road from Dinner Camp Lake. This U.S. Geological Survey map showed the terrain, the lakes and streams. Contour lines showed the elevation in feet. He noted that one of the highest points in the area, at just over 1500 feet, was the strip of land between Hammill and Samoset, the location of the Standing Pines Lodge.
The lines clearly showed the ridge he had encountered a month previously going in off Tri-Lakes on the old logging trail. Just beyond and north of that was a small lake the map listed as Holly Lake directly east of Dinner Camp. The Colonel knew of the Holly Lake Road to the north, but wondered why this little lake in the middle of the forest with no apparent occupancy and no access to that road had that name when two more lakes lay between the designated Holly Lake and the Holly Lake Road and the road went right next to a larger lake called on the map, Stewart Lake.
The names were like evolution in a sense. They started out one way and gradually evolved through usage to something else different. Back in May, after his first hike into the woods across from Dinner Camp, he had befriended an old timer at the bar in Metro's Ski Inn near the entrance to Cable's Mount Telemark Ski Area. After a few beers paid for by the Colonel, the old guy began relating stories about the area. Prompted by the Colonel's questions, he explained that the correct spelling of Hammill was just that, H-A-M-M-I-L-L after the Hammill family who operated the Hammill Berry Farm on the east shore of Hammill in the 1890's. â€œThe story around here is that they left after their young son drowned in the lake,â€ he told the Colonel. The other spellings like Hamel, Hammil and others are just plain wrong, he said. The Colonel knew the correct spelling from his own title research which was confirmed by Ms. Graham of Standing Pines Lodge.
The small lake in the woods the map showed as Holly Lake between Standing Pines and Half Moon Lodge, the old man said, was once called Lost Lake by some of the youngsters in the early twenties and thirties of the last century. The old guy's mom had met her boyfriend, later his father, there. Picture Lake at the corner of Tri-Lakes Road and Blue Moon Road was originally called Pitcher Lake because it was shaped like a pitcher, even having an island with a channel of water around it forming the handle. But, somebody misspelled it on maps because the locals pronounced both names the same anyway. Wilipyro, he said, was supposed to be Wipyliro after the Williams, Pynes, Littles and Roberts, but somebody in government couldn't pronounce it and it came out Wilipyro.
He sipped his beer and told the Colonel, "If you want to know more about this countryside, talk to the old locals, those over sixty. They remember."
The Colonel thanked him and took his comment as good advice. The people he was trying to track down had been in the area and left nearly a hundred years earlier. People aged sixty or even more were not there then, but they had heard stories from parents and others who were around in those times. The oral history of the area might give the Colonel more helpful information.
He rolled his U.S.G.S. map and thought about what to do next.
Back in Minneapolis, Molly met with Trish Barber over the Morton file. True to his reputation, Buster Brown had come out swinging. Molly thought he had been unusually nice at the deposition. Now he had served a motion claiming Molly's client was concealing property. He cited answers in the deposition and evidence he claimed showed substantial property that Mr. Morton had denied. The Ball Buster wanted John Morton held in contempt, requested an admission as to the alleged missing property and requested thousands of dollars in attorney's fees for the time, effort and expense caused his client by what he termed dishonest and devious behavior. Barely concealed was the suggestion that Morton's counsel had something to do with the coverup. That of course was designed to put Molly on the defensive. That wasn't going to happen. Nevertheless, she consulted with Jim Decker before deciding on a reaction.
As Trish and Molly planned their response, Annie from the front desk interrupted them. "Call for you on line one, Molly."
Ms. Graham, this is Margaret from Dr. Bishara's office. The test results are ready. Would Friday be okay? Dr. Bishara is anxious to go over them with you and your aunt."
Shaughnessy was in his office when Ruth Hogan called.
"Mike, I've been thinking. I don't think the last time Rex Allen Winkler visited Elliot was before Christmas."
"Oh? why is that?"
I remember seeing him in either late December or early January and since. In fact, once I said, 'Happy New Year' to him. I remember he acted kind of funny at the time. I thought it was strange."
Shaughnessy thought about it. They didn't have the log for the first ten days of March, but Rex Allen didn't appear there for the pages they had after Christmas and up until February 28.
"Just thinking, Ruth." He had learned to trust Ruth Hogan's memory and judgment. Something was working in the back of his mind. The two other names he had not recognized. What were they? Arnold something and Richard Wolner. Ruth had seen Arnold, thinking he was retired military by his bearing. Ruth was observant about such things. She didn't miss much.
"Mike. You still there?"
"Still thinking Ruth." He checked his notes. It was Arnold Dailey and Richard A. Wolner. Richard A. Wolner. Rex Allen Winkler. Could it be? Not an uncommon way to create aliases, using the same initials. Some said it was foolish. Others said it was the best way to remember and not get caught in conversation fumbling over the alias.
"Ruth, do you suppose Richard A. Wolner could be Rex Allen Winkler and the guard didn't know?"
"Nah. Our guards pride themselves on recognition of family members. Visitors like that.â€
"There goes that theory."
"Wait a minute! Mike?"
"Our regular weekend gate guard took another job right before Christmas. We hired a new man. He's very good and we still have him, but he didn't know anybody when he stared."
"Your terrific, Ruth. Remind me to tell you that in person, some day."
Shaughnessy called Jim Brennan.
"Jim, what's the protocol for getting a search warrant up there. The same as here?"
"Pretty much. What have you got?"
Shaughnessy believed that with the rather strange real estate deal with the decedent Elliot Morgan, the use of a false name and the fact that someone removed pages from the visitors' log, it might be enough for a search warrant for Rex Allen Winkler. He told Brennan.
"Sounds weak, Mike."
"I know, but it's what I've got."
"Put together an affidavit and e-mail me a copy. I think the judges up here are more cooperative in such things than they are in Hennepin County.â€
Friday morning, Molly and Aunt Will were back in Dr. Bishara's office. Being inside instead of running around up at the lodge kept them warm and dry. Outside up there and in Minneapolis and apparently everywhere in between, heavy overcast skies loaded with moisture pelted the land with intermittent heavy rain and occasional hail. It was not a good day for being outside or even in the car. Molly had chosen the Grand Cherokee over the roadster.
The doctor was back to his uniform of gray slacks, polished black loafers, white shirt and Navy blazer. This time he wore a blue tie. Power tie, thought Molly. Even for Dr. Bishara?
His assistant had provided soft drinks. Molly had coffee. Aunt Will had a Diet Mountain Dew Code Red.
Dr. Bishara was obviously excited. "I have your test results," he said proudly. "You both passed. You both have a heightened level of pareidolia like nothing I have seen. And there is one more thing."
"Uh oh," said Aunt Will. "I think we are about to have an epiphany."
Dr. Bishara continued. "You both scored 100 per cent. That is, you each got all the right answers. You saw all the images that most people see. But you far surpassed most other people ever tested by seeing more images than anyone else in our testing history. And here is the phenomenal thing."
"Uh oh. Here it comes, Molly."
Undisturbed, Dr. Bishara pressed on. "The phenomenal thing is for the images you saw that no one else sees, you both saw the same things!"
"What?!" It was Molly. She knew that she and Aunt Will had become close, but did they think and see alike, too? "How is that possible?"
"You tell me! It's incredible!"
"We didn't cheat or pass notes, Doctor," said Aunt Will sounding like a high school student called into the principal's office for cheating on an exam.
"I know. A colleague of mine said the results were impossible. You must have been communicating, he said. I checked with the technician. She said you were in separate rooms, having surrendered your cell phones and with a monitor in each room."
The man is genuinely excited, thought Molly.
"It's just phenomenal!" he said again.
Molly and Aunt Will said nothing.
"Well, if I can control my own excitement, I would like to continue my thoughts about what you are experiencing and then ask some questions. Is that okay with you?"
"In for a penny, in for a pound," said Aunt Will. "We're here, Doctor."
Dr. Bishara opened the cabinet doors. Again, his list was as he left it at the last visit:
RORSHACH INK BLOTS
Like a good teacher, thought Molly, he began with a review of their last meeting. The stuff about apophenia and pareidolia had been interesting the first time. Going as far back as Leonardo, it had some interest to Molly and explained some things for her. Watching her reactions, Molly thought Aunt Will had been interested, too. She had confirmed it in their discussions afterward in the car. Even now, in Professor Bishara's recap, she found the subject getting and keeping her attention.
But more important information would be introduced by Dr. Bishara next.
Finishing his review of the past discussion, he said, "Next on the list is Stereogram Puzzles. Do you know what they are?"
Molly said, "No."
Aunt Will said, "Yes."
Molly looked at her. "I do crosswords, too, dear."
Dr. Bushara smiled. "And, Wilhelmina, do you solve the puzzles? Do you see the hidden images?"
Doctor, I don't know what you are talking about. Stereogram puzzles? You mean like a stereoscope or like the View-Master I had as a kid? There's an old antique stereoscope in the library up at the lodge. It's got a stack of double image cards you put in the holder to see in 3-D. One set of cards shows Yellowstone National Park with Old Faithful, another is the Seven Wonders of the World and I think there is one on Mount Rushmore. It and the cards are very old."
"Very good. That's similar. But you don't need a stereoscope to see these. It's called parallel viewing. You see them most often in puzzle books like books with crossword puzzles, Soduko and the like. I used to see them sometimes in the paper on the page with the crossword. The viewing technique is to relax your eyes until they go walleye, that is, you are not towing your eyes in to see the puzzle. Then you are really seeing double, but you are seeing two slightly different images that appear to be a 3D image of an animal or something you couldn't see before."
"Oh," said Molly. I've seen those."
"I only mention them because you both have an affinity for seeing images and we need to talk about where images may be perceived, why and under what circumstances."
He crossed off Stereograms on the list.
"Now we turn to Camouflage and Suggestion. With your talents, I think the possibility of someone directing your imaging or in a sense communicating to you through a medium like a drawing or painting is a very real possibility given the level of your abilities. When we get to double images, we will see how it might be done. They are not necessarily directed or suggestive, but they are two or more images you see separately but not at the same time.
"Have you ever heard of camouflage painting?"
"Sure," said Molly. The army paints its trucks and tanks in a camo pattern so they aren't seen as well in battle. My husband wore camouflage uniforms. Hunters wear camo in the woods. I think Mossy Oak is a favorite color and pattern up near Cable."
"I don't think he means that, dear."
"I'm talking about artists who use camouflage as a technique to temporarily hide something in the painting, so you don't see it right away, but only on closer inspection. One of the chief proponents of this style is a much-revered artist named Bev Doolittle. Working in watercolors, she painted mostly scenes of American western landscapes, usually with animals, and Native Americans and their culture. Here I'll show you."
He reached to his bookshelf, retrieving a gray, soft-cover, pamphlet-style booklet. "This is a booklet entitled," he read from the cover, "Visions: The Art of Bev Doolittle." It was put out in 1988 by the Greenwich Workshop that has published many limited editions of prints of Doolittle's works. Here's what it says about the part of her work to which I refer:
The most popular and intriguing body of work created by Bev Doolittle is her unique camouflage art. In each image, she focuses our attention on a recognizable scene. The titles of the works hint that more is happening than what we first see. We discover an image within an image.
Dr. Bishara turned to a previously marked page. Take a look at this one," he said holding the booklet open, his finger pointing to a page full of abstract patches of white and reddish-brown or chestnut. Molly and Aunt Will leaned in for a closer look.
"Oh, my!" said Aunt Will.
Molly was impressed. On close examination, there were five wild pinto horses standing in front of a background of reddish-brown rocks and scattered patches of snow. Their coats were all chestnut pinto pattern on a white background. The horses were all staring at the observer. The fascinating thing was they saw you before you saw them!
"Amazing, she said.
"Me. too," said Aunt Will.
Dr. Bishara nodded in satisfaction. "It is called simply Pintos. Here is another of my favorites. He turned a page and held the booklet out. "This is called Woodland Encounter."
In the center of a forest of ramrod straight white birches with a hint of possible pines or spruces in the far background, stood a lone red fox. Molly's attention was drawn to the fox right away. It was not in the foreground, but some distance back among the trees. The fox was looking in the general direction of the observer, but, unlike the pintos, the fox's attention was on something else. It reminded Molly of the pine marten in The Painting. From the fox's quizzical expression, it was apparent that the fox didn't know yet what the something else was, but it was something and it was somewhere close.
Then she saw them. They were in the foreground. Still back in the trees a little, but in front of the fox. The fox hadn't seen them, yet. Two full grown Indians, fully clothed with feathered headwear were passing in front of the fox going from left to right. They were on horseback!
Molly was stunned. The immense skill of this artist astonished her. That two grown men and two horses between the fox and the front of the scene could be so concealed that they were not immediately and obviously visible was beyond belief. But she had seen it, or rather, she had not seen it or them at first. Astounding! She was speechless.
Aunt Will said nothing.
"Your silence tells me you get my point. We are discussing your singular aptitude for images and visions. This camouflage art is one aspect of that discussion. It includes suggestion as you can see from these paintings. Others direct image recognition by other similar means.
"Finally we come to Double Images." He selected a marker with which to cross off the remaining items on his list. "Double images are different in that one of the images is often easy and obvious, but there exists another rather opposite image just as obvious as the first, but many cannot see it. Nobody sees both at the same time. Now I have several of these images to show you. Iâ€™m sure you have seen some of them before. I found these online simply by Googling â€˜Double Imagesâ€™ and â€œOptical illusion images.â€ The first is one almost everyone has seen at one time or another.â€ He held up a sheet of photo copy paper. Molly recognized the black and white image immediately. The old woman in the scarf looked down to her left, her large bulbous nose dominating the image. But with a blink of the eye she was transformed into a beautiful young woman looking away and to her right. The old womanâ€™s nose became the young womanâ€™s cheek and chin. The old ladyâ€™s eye was the young womanâ€™s ear. Molly had always like that double image.
â€œMost people,â€ the doctor continued, â€œhave seen that old lady/young woman image and most, but not all, can see both of the ladies pictured. Now here is a less familiar one. He held up a drawing of a cat, that, at first glance was walking away, tail in the air. But on a second look, the cat was walking toward the viewer! Interesting, but not that impressive.
â€œAnd another.â€ This one was a phot of an old car that appeared to be going in one direction but on concentration could be seen going in another direction.
Aunt Will commented. "Doctor, I have enjoyed seeing that double drawing of the old lady and the young woman for many years. There are others with what you call double images, but I think that one is the best. It's fun."
"I agree, Wilhelmina. There are many others with double images or sometimes double meanings. I like that one best, too.
"But there are interesting variations. For example, some images change revealing different images when you rotate them or turn them upside down or even look at them in the mirror. I call these reversible images. Here is one of my favorites."
He produced another sheet of typing paper with a similar pencil drawing. Here is one I found in some mind games on the Internet. First, this way, here is another old lady." He held it up for them to see. It was a line sketch of only the subjectâ€™s head and neck without color, but the wrinkled old woman had what looked like white hair or in a photo or real life might have been slightly blue as old ladies used to do. She had deep set dark eyes and a large nose. Her mouth was turned down slightly. She was not in a good mood.
"Now,â€ said Dr. Bishara, â€œturn it over and the same sketch becomes a young woman." He turned the page over and held it up.
Molly was startled. The old woman was transformed into a young woman with long flowing hair who wore a crown! Her eyes sparkled. Her mouth turned slightly upward. She was pleased about something.
Molly looked at Aunt Will wondering if she had ever viewed The Painting upside down. Aunt Will seemed to know what Molly was thinking. She shook her head. She had never turned The Painting over.
Dr. Bishara went on. "Suggestive imagery from one pareidoliac, I just coined that term, myself," he said proudly. "Suggestive imagery from one pareidoliac to another can be completely hidden from normal persons. So, unlike the image we just looked at, maybe only other pariedoliacs would see the reverse image. Now then, I am finished with my lecture. We can turn to what is concerning both of you. You described a painting you have. Perhaps I could have a look at it?"
"In due time, Doctor," said Aunt Will, "I assure you you'll have that opportunity. However, we cannot do that at this time."
The doctor looked devastated.
"Don't worry, Doc. We'll see that you will get to look at it. I'm sure we will have some of questions of you and you of us."
"But, we have to get going, now, Molly." Aunt Will glanced at her wrist watch, perhaps as a signal.
Out in the car, Molly turned to Aunt Will. "Well?"
"Well, I think we'd better get our cute little behinds up to Cable as fast as we can go."
"Speak for yourself, Aunt Will."
"About our cute little behinds. Yours, maybe."
"Aunt Will grinned. So, can we go?"
"Two minutes at my apartment and I'll have a bag packed and be raring to go. You?"
"Let's go! We can eat lunch on the way."
They were on the road in less than an hour. The trip from Minneapolis seemed longer than usual. Heading north out of the Cities, the weather cleared. Driving was easier. After she left I-35 at Rock Creek Junction, Molly found the speedometer creeping up to well over the speed limit of 55 mph. She found she was up to 75 at one point. Too fast for these roads, especially when some spots were still damp from the earlier rain. She slowed down. Also, not a good time to get stopped or get a ticket. Even Aunt Will, the most complacent and contented person in the world was anxious to get there. After going through Grantsburg on Highway 70, Molly put the cruise control on at 59 mph and settled back to impatiently await their arrival at Standing Pines.
They arrived at the lodge just after 3:00.
"Hi there!" Beverly Morgan called from the front deck. She and her husband, Bud, who is Arthur W. Morgan, the 4th, thank you very much, were at the lodge with their two children, Melissa, age ten, and Arthur W. Morgan, the 5th, a very precocious and incredibly active six-year old who goes by "A.W." "Just up from the Cities?" she asked. "The weather up here has been positively wonderful! Of course, except for earlier today when the rain and even some hail hit us. But that cleared up hours ago. How long will you be here?"
"As long as we can, Beverly," responded Aunt Will with a smile as they unloaded their bags and made their way into the lodge. They dumped their bags in their rooms, met out in the upper hall and made their way directly to the Great Room. There it was, The Painting on the wall. Little A.W. came running into the room. His mother could be heard calling for him. He ran out just as quickly.
"There are too many people in the lodge, Molly. The chances are too great that someone will walk in on us. We'll have to come back later."
Aunt Will was right. The last thing they wanted now was to bring too much attention to The Painting. Molly couldn't be sure what the family would do or whether they could even agree on what to do. Better to come back later.
At 11:00 p.m., Aunt Will texted Molly. "Time?" she wrote.
Another black op, thought Molly. This was getting to be a habit. They met in the hallway and proceeded down to the Great Room.
"We've got to quit meeting here like this at these odd hours, Molly."
Aunt Will's acute sense of sarcasm never leaves her, thought Molly. In the most unlikely situations, she always has a smart remark. Probably has something to do with her good health and attitude toward life in general.
Standing before The Painting, Aunt Will said, "Well, shall we? Shall we turn it over, now, and have a look?"
"Wait a minute," Molly said, studying The Painting up close. "Aunt Will, have you ever thought there was something you were missing when you study The Painting?"
"Instead of just turning it over and looking, I wonder if we shouldn't find areas that might be different when turned over. For sure, we will examine it all once it is upside down, but I just wonder. You know, with Dr. Bishar's sketch drawing of the old and young women, we knew what we were looking at when he showed us the old woman. She was obvious. Here we don't know, so we might not recognize the change when inverted."
Aunt Will stood by the mantle, staring up at The Painting.
"Is there any particular place, Aunt Will, that you thought might have meaning but you couldn't see it?" Molly asked.
"That birch tree," Aunt Will said without hesitation. She reached up and tapped a spot where a paper birch stood at the back edge of the meadow.
"Me, too. Why?"
"That's where the marten is looking."
Molly smiled. "Me, too."
The birch was unusual in that it had a split trunk. About three or four feet off the ground, the white-barked trunk split into two parts in a Y formation. Each trunk continued upward into dense, leafy foliage above. Most birches back in the woods had single straight vertical trunks, growing close together, but in fields or meadows they sometimes spread out, looking more like a landscaper's installation in a suburban yard than a tree in the forest. Aunt Will was right. Whatever held the pine marten's attention was at or near that tree.
A large gray stone rested at the base of the tree. Above the split where the trunk on the right met the thick upper branches, a large flap of birch bark was rolled back displaying its black underside. A dead branch about an inch and a half or two inches in diameter with no bark and weathered to gray hung straight down extending to the undergrowth at the base of the tree near the gray stone. One of the lower branches was apparently dead or dying as its small round leaves had turned to the yellow color of birch trees in the fall.
Aunt Will had begun to study the rest of The Painting, stretching her neck to examine every inch. Molly did the same. This was not a new examination for either of them for they both had been studying The Painting all their lives.
Finally, Aunt Will said, "Ready?"
"Shall we take a peek, then?"
Molly reached up for The Painting. it was large, but not heavy. She managed to lift it off its hangers and move it to the couch. There she set it on the couch leaning against the back â€¦ upside down.
They both stared.
"Oh, my goodness!" Aunt Will exclaimed. "Will you look at that!"
Aunt Will was shocked. Molly was stunned. Neither said anything for several minutes. They didn't know what to say. The impact of that which The Painting had revealed to them was too much.
The Colonel was up late, too. Following his conversations at Metro's, he had taken the old guy's advice and sought out elderly locals who might have helpful information about what they all called "the old days." At the Cable Library, he discovered a book called the History of the Tri-Lakes Protective Association. Later, back in his Hayward hotel room, he poured over its contents and supplemented it with online research.
It was after midnight and he was still at it. Unfamiliar names like Roy Williams, Helen Little and Roland Reed were names of people who may have had some connection to the people he was following and had followed to the Dinner Camp Lake property.
The Colonel was enjoying himself. This was a part of the chase he loved. As with most searches for buried or sunken treasure, there was not a lot of competition unless and until you let the cat out of the bag. He had been careful not to do that. No one knew exactly what he was looking for. Except for his crew, no one knew he was looking for anything at all. Even his crew had no idea exactly what they sought. He had been careful about that, too.
He could feel he was getting closer.
Back in the Great Room, Molly and Aunt Will were silent for a moment longer, each considering what she saw. The tree had changed just like Dr. Bisharaâ€™s old woman and young woman pencil sketches. The tree stood at the edge of the meadow. Turned over, a bearded man dressed in rough clothes, holding a shovel stood there apparently about to start digging!
The lower trunk of the tree was his torso. The upper trunks above the split were his legs. The stone was the gray wool watchcap he wore. The hanging dead branch was the handle of his shovel whose blade was the underside of the rolled back birch bark. The small round leaves on the dying upper branch, already yellow in color, looked like a loose pile of gold coins!
The man was standing with his left foot on the heel of the shovel blade about to plunge it into the earth. He was making direct eye contact with whoever was looking at the painting. He was frowning! It was as if when they turned The Painting over, they caught him in the act and he was thinking or about to say, "What are you lookin' at?"
After few minutes, Molly brought herself out of the trance The Painting had her in. "We'd better get this back on the wall before somebody discovers what we're up to."
"Everybody has retired, I think," said Aunt Will. "But, you're right. Somebody might come down for a glass of milk or a sandwich or a piece of middle of the night pie. I'm sure they'd be surprised to find us here. No doubt questions would be asked I'm not sure we can answer right now."
Molly lifted The Painting off the couch, turning it over as she raised it to rehang it above the mantle. A piece of paper fell out of the back. Aunt Will bent over and picked it up. Adjusting her glasses, she unfolded it, reading as Molly finished hanging The Painting.
"You better read this, Molly."
Molly took the paper Aunt Will handed to her. It was smaller than regular typing paper like maybe old-fashioned notepaper people had when they actually wrote letters and thank you notes by hand in what kids learned in school as cursive handwriting. When they actually put their notes in envelopes that were made of the same paper as the notepaper. It was a different time. The envelopes and paper were often scented! This was a note, written in a graceful, sweeping hand on lavender stationary. Molly felt it gently between her fingers. It felt thicker than ordinary photocopy paper. Something about bond or weight that she vaguely knew of but didn't understand.
"Yes, dear. It was once fine, linen stationary. It was a different time when people wrote like that on fine stationary like that. It probably had a scent of roses or lavender when that was written."
For A.W. and Louisa on Lakes Hammill and Upper Bass.
Please accept this humble effort for your kindness to us. We will always cherish our time knowing you and will not forget you.
"First Meadow" is a unique work. It suggests a special place that may exist, somewhere. Hang it where it will be with you always. Someday it will bring you great joy and a prosperous future. It is a treasure in itself.
Wm Werner Wells
Molly looked at Aunt Will. "I repeat. Who is this guy and what has he done?"
The next day, Molly and Aunt Will had breakfast at the big kitchen table. English muffins, homemade blackberry jam and hot coffee. They were not alone. After breakfast, they walked down to the point on Hammill. They wore jeans, sweaters and light jackets against the nip in the morning air. At Cable, and between these lakes, a morning chill was always possible. The little kids and some watchful older kids were all at the swimming beach on Samoset. They neither cared about air temperature nor water temperature. If they weren't in the water, they were playing near it, chasing frogs or fishing. So, there on the shore of Lake Hammill, Molly and Aunt Will were alone, at least for the moment.
"Well, dear," asked Aunt Will, "what do you think, now? What has a night's sleep done to sharpen your thinking?"
"I'm not sure I slept much. I kept thinking about a glowering man with a shovel who writes pretty notes on lavender stationary."
Aunt Will giggled.
The sun edging above the trees on Hammill's east bank shone on the point taking the morning chill out of the air. Cool steam rose from the warmer lake water partially obscuring the far shore. The Hammill Pontoon moved gently against its dock lines in the slight breeze.
Molly wasn't sure how to answer Aunt Will. Their discovery of the previous night, while revealing, only complicated matters. New questions were raised. They had enough on their plate already.
"Let's sit down for a moment and think things over. They walked across the damp grass to the dock. Molly opened the pontoon boat's gate for Aunt Will. Aunt Will lifted a seat to grab a dry towel to wipe the dew off the vinyl cushions. She carried a small, green nylon backpack from which she produced a coffee thermos and two plastic cups.
Molly sipped the steaming coffee. The warmth felt good. Soon, the sun would warm up the day. Sweaters and jacket would no longer be necessary. She thought about a hike around Samoset or a run up the Tri-Lakes Road up past Dinner Camp Lake to Holly Lake Road. Might be a good release to clear up her head.
But Aunt Will couldn't go. They needed to work on this together.
"I think we need to learn more about this guy, Wm Werner Wells," she said.
Aunt Will peered over the rim of her cup through the steam. "What I know is from the history book and all the stories I have heard over the years. My grandfather, A.W. Morgan, used to tell stories about him, always in good humor and with fond memories."
"You told me he was regarded as a curmudgeon."
"He was, even by Grampa and Gramma, but they loved him. Rollie Reed may have been his only other friend around here."
"What did he do to earn that reputation?"
"As a curmudgeon? Some of it may have been his appearance, the yellowing beard, long hair and the flat cap he always wore and the permanent frown on his face, but according to my grandmother, he was an ill-tempered grouch full of his own ideas and opinions. But, she loved him anyway. She and Grampa told me Wells hated government, said there was too much of it. He drank too much. He poached deer, grouse, ducks and other game on occasion. Hunting seasons meant nothing to him. Where he lived on Dinner Camp Lake, he had a garden. One year, he went to town and wired the state office. He is alleged to have said, "Your deer are in my garden eating my vegetables. You get them out of there or I will!"
"Sounds like a real character."
"Yeah. Most of the early settlers didn't like him. When the settlers' picnics started, he wasn't invited. They didn't ask him to join the Tri-Lakes Tribe which started a few years later. Of course by that time he was living up on Dinner Camp Lake and wasn't part of the Tri-Lakes community anymore."
"He was a poacher?"
"Oh, yes. Gramma used to proudly tell the story about when Wells came charging up to the lodge with an illegal buck. The game warden was hot on his heels. Gramma got out a butcher knife and butchered the beast right there on that big kitchen table. She, Grampa and Wells stuffed the meat and hide into milk cans before the game warden arrived. You know, those big old fashioned milk cans?"
Molly smiled. "I know what they are. In fact I have seen a few around here somewhere."
"Probably the same ones."
"So your grandparents, my great great grandparents, covered for him with the game warden? Wasn't that a felony, even back then? I thought the Morgans were honorable and upstanding citizens."
"They were. Isn't it wonderful?"
"I still keep wondering about him, Aunt Will," Molly said, extending her cup for more coffee which Aunt Will poured. The plastic cups were insulated cups which helped keep the coffee's warmth against the morning chill. Molly's was red and white proclaiming the benefits of shopping at the Triple G in Cable, a gas station, and convenience store which offered "Gas, Goods and Gab at its one-stop shopping experience."
"Why would this curmudgeon," Molly sipped the warm coffee, "as you described him, this grouch, criminal and poacher, even if he was an obviously sensitive and perceptive artist, go to the trouble of painting a double image that maybe no one would ever see? From your description, I don't see him as the type to go to that much trouble."
"He was a complex personality, I guess," replied Aunt Will. "He was a poet, you know."
Molly wasn't sure she'd heard Aunt Will right. "A poet? The curmudgeon? You're not serious, are you?"
"Oh, yes." I'll show you."
Aunt Will reached into her backpack. I brought this along." She handed Molly a softcover pamphlet. "It has to go back to the library in the lodge."
Molly began reading. The cover's heavy black letters on its light gray background identified the publication as "The Poetry of Wm Werner Wells."
There were eighteen poetic entries in the booklet. The whole thing was only thirty pages long. Many were about the culture and the characters of the American Indians of the Old West. Some about Indians in the Midwest and even Upper New York State and Florida.
Some were poems that rhymed and followed some kind of pentameter. Molly didn't know which. Some weren't too bad. Some weren't too good. Some were more fluid, like the oral history of the tribes that has been handed down through spoken word through the centuries. As an example, "The Creation" told the story of the Creation and the Great Flood in Ojibway history.
In a footnote at the bottom of the page, the author explained:
[1The cultures of Indian tribes were usually based on a combination of religion and their particular subsistence method such as hunter-gatherer or agricultural. Most Indian peoples had what anthropologists call a "trickster," a kind of folk hero or character, usually in some animal form, often able to change forms to human, animal, plant or inanimate, often who made man's mistakes ahead of him to show man the way through the vagaries and challenges of the greater life.]
The story read:
In the village of La Pointe on Madeline Island, an old Ojibway chief describing the Apostle Islands of Lake Superior and their Creation, said to a gathered assembly:
"A very long time ago, the Anishinabe, the People, had come to know the spirits, the manidog, who cared for these Islands and these woodlands that had been created by Kitchi manido, the Creator, for the People to live in. The manidog sent Winabojo who gave us fire and tamed the winds, gave the men skill to hunt the animals, trap the fish, and protect the People; and gave the women the strength to bear children, build wigwams and put up the wood for the fire, and care for their men."
"Finally, Winabojo introduced the MedÃ©wewin priests to the manidog and gave the priests the knowledge and understanding to carry out the wishes of the manidog spirits. Foremost among those wishes was the care and preservation of the Mother Earth, the fish and game, the trees and plants, and these Islands themselves." The old chief shifted his legs and straightened his back.
"You see," he went on, "the manidog live here in the Islands. They are the Islands. And the "Anishinabe, are their Stewards and Caretakers. And we are the Anishinabe.
"The People worshipped the manidog of the Islands. Their prayers were led by the Holy Men, the MedÃ© priests.
"The People's prayers were answered with the Deer, the Beaver, fish, fowl and berries and other fruits, and all the things needed to live. With the guidance of the MedÃ©wewin, the People responded by taking care of their homeland and the home of the manidog, these "Islands you call the Apostle Islands."
Describing the Village of La Pointe on Madeline Island, the largest of the Apostle Islands, the old chief said:
In the Beginning, "Before the time of the Anishinabe, the People, on this Island, was the time of a great flood. So much rain fell from the sky above that all the land was covered. The burden fell upon Winabojo, our beloved hero and sometime rascal, to save the World. The water rose so high that Winabojo had to hang on to the highest branches of the tallest pine that stood higher than the rising water. Since he had something to do with this great deluge in the first place, he set out to fix it. He sent Nigig, the Otter, to find the bottom, but after a long while, the Otter floated to the surface of the water. He was dead. Winabojo blew the breath of life back into the Otter and then tried with Amik, the Beaver, but the same thing happened. Again he tried with Mang, the Loon, but the same thing. Winabojo gave the breath of life back to these animals, but they could not stop the water or return the Mother Earth.
"Finally, Winabojo saw Wajashk, the Muskrat. 'Help me, Wajashk!' he cried. 'Help me to save the Mother Earth! Dive to the bottom and bring me back some sand!' Like the others, the Muskrat was gone a long time and Winabojo feared the worst. And it happened. The lifeless body of the Muskrat floated up upon the surface. Winabojo breathed life back into the body of Wajahsk. As he did so, he noticed a few grains of sand between the Muskrat's claws. These grains of sand he dried in the sun and then he cast them upon the water.
"The grains of sand from the Muskrat's claws became the seeds of an island which grew and provided more sand with which to seed more lands. It all grew big enough that Winabojo could plant life and that was the beginning. That was the Chequamegon. That was La Pointe, where we stand today."
Another told of Coyote, the trickster of the Chiricahua Apache:
In the Beginning
Man was afraid
It was Woman he feared
And so he prayed
In the Beginning
Coyote was the helper of Man
But there were times when
He had a different plan,
But with man's fear of Woman
He was truly a savior
He helped Man get over
His senseless behavior
Man believed that Woman
Had deadly vaginal teeth
So he kept his business protected
Like a knife in a sheath
So Coyote seduced Woman
When she was ready beneath
He pushed a stone into her
Breaking off all the teeth
Or so he told Man
He didn't have to convince
Man has been praising
And thanking him, ever since.
The man is truly eccentric, thought Molly, shaking her head, or maybe just nuts. But who knows? This probably fits in the category of "You can't make this stuff up." There probably really was a Coyote story like this in Apache cultural history, but the quality of the poetic rendering was simply awful. The man was a better painter.
Continuing her reading, Molly found two of the poems, however, that piqued her interest.
A Golden Dream
At a time when one's sleeping
And when dreams abound
I dream of a meadow
Where there's gold around.
If you dream when you sleep,
Think about this gold
It could make you rich
Before you grow old.
Is it here? Is it there?
Or is it anywhere?
It's a puzzle for sure
Is it just in the air?
Is it the sun's rays alone?
The light of pure gold?
Or something more solid
Or something more bold?
And who belongs to this gold?
Is it free for the taking?
Better we search in our sleep
Than lose by our waking.
And if when you wake,
The answer's not clear
Go back to sleep!
The truth will appear!
The gold in the meadow
Is there for the taking
In your Golden Dream,
But after your waking?
Home of the White Tail
Back in the forest,
The big buck waited
For the hunter to pass
Where his family was located
'Twas the time to be cautious
Not to be bold
For it's not for the hunter
To find the gold
When the hunter was gone
The water was their desire
The fawns pranced and danced
Behind their antlered sire
Splashing and frolicking
Not yet a year old
Their father and mother watched
While he thought of the gold
At the edge of the meadow
Not easy to see
Or even to imagine
The riches to be
But the old buck knew
That it would come one day
That man would return
And take the gold away
But the buck also knew
His faith was unswerving
That whoever got the gold
Would be someone deserving.
The buck led his family
To their thicket to rest
The gold would remain
Until the moment was best
What was he writing about? To whom was he writing. Molly put out her cup. Aunt Will poured more coffee.
"Finished your reading, dear?"
"It's fascinating!" Suddenly, something dawned on Molly. "Aunt Will, did you ever meet Wm Werner Wells?"
"Oh, no, dear. He left the area before I was born."
"I wish I knew more about him."
Molly sipped her coffee. She was becoming totally fascinated with an old curmudgeon, long since passed away, who seemed to be speaking to her over a span of a hundred years. Besides being an artist and a natural history student of flora and fauna, he was apparently an anthropologist as well. A man of many talents, apparently. A man about whom she wanted to learn more. A man she wished she could have met.
"Wm Werner Wells continues to be amazing," Molly said as they continued their discussion on the Hammill pontoon. "But, still, based on what we found in The Painting last night that he undoubtedly put there, what do you think the curmudgeon was up to?"
"We haven't enough information to speculate," answered Aunt Will. "He has just aroused our curiosity. Which I suppose was his intention. Can you imagine his putting that into The Painting not knowing when or who would find it if ever? I can't help but wonder what was going through his mind."
"And the note?"
"I think it was his fail safe against no one ever seeing his insertion of the upside down man. Remember, Dr. Bishara said it could be one pareidoliac artist suggesting images to others, in this case to two pareidoliac women he not only never met but could only imagine would be looking at The Painting a hundred years later. But of course, even with the note, Wells was still mysterious about it. I guess it was his nature. Anyway, I don't think my grandparents ever saw it."
"The note came from inside the paper backing on the frame. There was a small tear in the paper. That's where the note was sticking out before it fell. Whether we caused the tear taking The Painting down, I don't know, but I'm sure the note had never been outside the framing before last night."
"But, why do it if no one would ever see it?"
"Like I said, I think it was his fail safe. If no one picked up on the message in The Painting itself, some day it would be thrown away or at least reframed and then someone might discover the note. But would anyone know what it meant? I expect the old curmudgeon reckoned if they couldn't figure it out, to hell with them."
"I think he was nuts," said Molly. "We don't understand the note and we have seen the upside down man. Nobody would think the note meant anything other than the gift note that it appears to be. It would not put them onto turning The Painting over and studying it for something they had no reason to believe would be there."
"Maybe it was meant for us, Molly."
The coffee was gone. The sun was above the trees on the opposite shore. The temperature was rising nicely. The steam, or maybe it was fog, had burned off the lake. Molly took off her jacket and stood to leave.
"I think I will get some proper shoes on and go out for a run. Sorry, but I know you can't come along."
"Quite all right, my dear. I'll find a spot on the deck, enjoy the sunshine and mild weather and work on my knitting."
"Aunt Will, you don't knit."
"I'm thinking about starting."
Molly did five miles on the Tri-Lakes Road. Out the driveway was nearly a half mile.
Left at the mailbox down the Tri-Lakes Road another 2.2 miles to Blue Moon Road and the same distance back. Round trip: about five miles. Just enough to ease the muscle tension that had been building in her neck and shoulders. The air was still cool and the run was pleasant.
She slowed to a gentle jog as she approached the lodge. Aunt Will on the deck, sitting in a bright orange Adirondack chair, waited.
"Where's your knitting," asked Molly as she went through her standard post-run stretch routine.
I decided against taking up knitting," said Aunt Will. "I chose thinking, instead. Did you know old A.W. kept a journal?"
The journal was kept in the library, Aunt Will explained. It was just up on a shelf with other books. Few people now alive have read it, or seen it, or even know of its existence.
"Of course, I read it years ago. I was shown it by my parents. I haven't thought about it for years. Sitting on the deck, not knitting, I remembered it."
"Show me!" Molly demanded. The Painting had been important to her all her life, but now, it might be important to solving a mystery! A mystery whose solution could affect Standing Pines Lodge! If The Painting's original owner, after the artist himself, kept a journal, she had to see it. Her shower could wait. Lunch could wait.
Aunt Will led Molly to the library. There she reached up to a shelf of hardbound books. The one she selected was dark brown leather-bound with gold lettering proclaiming it was, "JOURNAL of A.W. Morgan." A gift, probably. Aunt Will handed it to Molly who held her breath.
The old leather was soft and worn. Inside the cover was an inscription written in black ink in a fine example of that beautiful cursive penmanship from an earlier time when people took time to write legibly and carefully. It said:
To Artie with love.
Write what you see. Write what you do.
And write what you think!.
May 01, 1916
Louisa was Louisa Parker Morgan, Molly's great, great, grandmother and Aunt Will's grandmother. "It's beautiful!" Molly said at last.
"I've always thought so," said Aunt Will.
When new, the book consisted of empty, unlined pages with page numbers at the top. The first entry was on page three. The first sheet, pages one and two, was blank on both sides. Perhaps old A.W. intended to put a title there or something, but never did.
Molly flipped through the pages. Entries began on June 12, 1916, a Monday. The last entry was October 31, 1947. Scanning the pages, she saw that Grampa Morgan had not made entries every day. Sometimes he went months without an entry. Some were lengthy, some were just a few words. In 1918, for example, he wrote in his journal only three times, in August, in November and at Christmas. The August and Christmas entries were lengthy, describing a family hike through the woods to Rosa Lake in August, and in December, reporting the events of a large family gathering at the Morgan home in Minneapolis including a detailed description of the sumptuous Christmas dinner of roast turkey with all the trimmings. On November 11, he made a four-word notation:
The War ended today.
"Aunt Will, what was Grampa Morgan's birthday?"
"I know that without looking, dear. May 1, 1872."
"So this was his birthday gift from Gramma Morgan when he was forty-four."
"I expect so."
"How old was she?"
"Same age. No, that's not true. Her birthday was in October. He was five months older than she. She never let him forget it."
"So, in 1947, they would have been seventy-five."
Aunt Will nodded.
"He kept this journal for thirty-one years."
"A long time."
"Do you remember if he ever wrote about The Painting or Wm Werner Wells?"
"I don't remember specific entries, but I'm sure he did. He wrote about everything that was going on around him. Wells was a friend. You going to read it?"
"As soon as I can get out of these running clothes and get a hot cup of tea, I am."
After a quick shower and change, Molly did just that. In blue jeans, thick socks and moccasins, and an old U of M sweatshirt, she settled into the huge overstuffed chair in the Great Room with a mug of hot, steaming tea with lemon and Grampa Morgan's Journal.
She decided to read from start to finish, from June, 1916 to October, 1947. She was looking for anything about The Painting or Wm Werner Wells and was afraid she would miss it just looking at entries at random. For a moment she wished the journal was a modern Word document so she could open the navigation pane and search for what she was looking for. Shame on you, Molly, she thought to herself, considering the heirloom she held and the history it contained.
Molly drank from the mug of tea. She began to read. This one man's thoughts and observations from nearly one hundred years ago were fascinating. Molly was captivated. A.W. Morgan's bold hand took her through the seasons year after year, winter-spring in Minneapolis, spring-summer-fall at Cable and back to the Twin Cities to close out the year. Molly knew from history that A.W. Morgan was an executive at the Crosby-Washburn Company which owned and operated several flour mills on the banks of the Mississippi River and which later became General Mills. So, before he retired, except for extended summer vacations and hunting trips in the fall, the recorded events at Standing Pines Lodge while he was still working took place on holidays and weekends.
Early entries were devoted to describing how they had acquired the property from the Rust-Owen Lumber Company and documenting the planning and construction of Standing Pines Lodge. No mention of Wm Werner Wells, although his name was next to Rollie Reed's in a list of early settlers among those living on Lower Bass Lake.
She turned the next page. She caught her breath. There it was! The name! Wm Werner Wells! His full name wasn't there. Grampa Morgan just referred to him as "Wells.". Here was one of the entries she was looking for.
Wells was here, today. We were clearing away the tall grass at the south end of the garden to put in some rhubarb and asparagus. For an artist and a poet, the man can work. He swings a scythe with a rhythm that he can keep up all day. He and Etta stayed for supper.
As she turned the pages, she found more.
Fishing with Wells on Upper Bass Lake. He was catching small perch. Says he cans them or pickles them or something. Puts them up in Mason jars. He says they're good. Taste like pickled Herring.
He promised me a few jars. I haven't asked Louisa, yet.
This one from Saturday, June 13, 1925.
Leave this page openâ€¦â€¦
Entry date: March 15, 1926
Last June, Wells drove into Standing Pines in his old Ford, a prime buck in the back. Too early for full antlers, but they were going to be big. "Game Warden Troubles," he said. Louisa yelled at us to bring it into the kitchen. She butchered and we stuffed the venison and the hide into milk cans put into the pantry. When the game warden showed up, there was nothing here.
I left this blank for quite a while to avoid creating evidence.
And another. On August 15, 1928, this time mentioning The Painting!
Wells came by today with a large painting he had done. A rather pretty scene of a woodland pond and grassy meadow with a pine marten as the central figure. It is a gift. Louisa really likes it. She wants it hung over the mantle in the Great Room. Etta agrees.
Wells says it will bring us prosperity. I like his work, but he's not Rembrandt or Monet.
The last entry Molly found about Wm Werner Wells was dated August 23, 1931 in Grampa Morgan's sometimes concise style.
Wells and Etta moved away, today.
There were no journal entries mentioning Wm Werner Wells, or just Wells, after that.
Molly thought about what Grampa Morgan's journal entries said and what they didn't say. What she was looking for wasn't there! What did The Painting mean? What about the upside down man with the shovel? The pile of gold coins? Did Grampa Morgan not know about any of that?
When she was finished, Molly returned the journal to its shelf and went to find Aunt Will. Over ham and cheese sandwiches on rye bread with tumblers of pink lemonade at the big kitchen table, they talked about the journal, the poetry of Wm Werner Wells, The Painting and the note.
"So, what do you think we should do, Molly?" asked Aunt Will.
"I think itâ€™s time for some good old-fashioned research â€¦ with the help of modern technology."
That afternoon, Molly set up her laptop at the small desk in her room. Armed with a flash drive, two yellow legal pads, an assortment of different colored ballpoint pens, two sharpened No. 2 pencils, and a Diet Coke on ice, she got down to work.
The lodge had internet access through the old Chequamegon phone company, now called Norvado, whose offices were in Cable. The lodge network was called Hammill01. The password was Samoset01.
She waited. The network connected. Google was at her fingertips, that is to say, at her mouse's command. She began with a search for Wm Werner Wells. She got search results for lots of people named Williams, William, Werner, Wells and Welch, but none with the exact name she had requested. So, she put the name in quotes and searched again. Nothing.
She tried "First Meadow." First, she got a video on cut-throat trout fishing in a place called "Slough Creek-First Meadow" in Yellowstone Park. Other results were for a place at Slide Mountain Forest House in upstate New York (with a picture), a place at a Colorado dude ranch, and a "Kids First Meadow Lake" northwest of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, none of which remotely resembled the meadow in The Painting or seemed a possible place for hiding buried treasure.
Undaunted, she tried something else. To Molly, that's just the way computer research worked. You started out with specific descriptive words and kept changing until you got somewhere, eliminating possible directions of inquiry as you went. A rat in a maze followed the same technique. Hardly the Socratic Method, but actually not that far from it either.
Her next search was "gold coins." After reading about a treasure of old gold sovereigns found in a piano in rural Shrewsbury, England, she switched her search to "Gold Coins U.S.". Her screen showed her lists of ads about how and where to invest in pre-1933 U.S. gold coins. One of the ads explained that President Roosevelt had issued an Executive Order in 1933 recalling most gold coins, gold bullion and gold certificates. Because The Painting was known to exist as of 1928, according to A.W. Morgan's journal, Molly knew that if the upside down depiction of gold coins meant anything, they were older than that. The search results went on to discuss value. According to Molly's search, a $2.50 gold Liberty Quarter Eagle or Indian Quarter Eagle had a current value of over a hundred and fifty dollars! Molly calculated that was a six thousand per cent increase!
If there were a bunch of old gold coins buried somewhere, they likely were stolen, thought Molly. So, next, she googled gold robberies. Again, she got global results. One was called the "Great Gold Robbery" that occurred on May 15, 1855 when ninety-one kilograms of gold worth Â£12,000 then and Â£1,011,341 today, was stolen off the Southeastern Railway while en route from London Bridge Station to Folkestone for shipment across the Channel to France. Interesting, but not helpful. She changed her search to "gold robberies U.S." Little success. She got an article on an armed robbery of a gold medalist at the Summer Olympics and one one calling FDR's executive order "The Great Gold Robbery of 1933!". Again, interesting, perhaps, but now was not the time. Molly had long ago learned that, at least for her, internet browsing could take her so far astray, it was hard to imagine. Like the rat in the maze, she could get so distracted she would lose the original purpose of the search. Fun sometimes, but now she was on a mission.
A search for "bank robberies U.S." was not productive.
She tried "train robberies, U.S. before 1930." In the first result, Wikipedia said that most train robberies occurred when the trains were slower and most occurred in the American Old West. The article listed famous train robbers as Jesse James, Butch Cassidy, Wm. L. Carlisle and Bill Miner. Continuing her browsing through the websites and links this search produced, she found an article giving a brief bio on several notorious outlaws like Jesse James who died in 1882, Robert Leroy Parker, aka Butch Cassidy, who died in 1908 and Baby Faced Nelson and Bonnie and Clyde who died in more modern times.
Back to the primary search. Listed websites described train robberies but not gold, the history of railroad police, the history of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, but nothing that aroused Molly's interest. Then she saw reference to an 1897 news article in the New Republican, a newspaper published in Winona, Minnesota. The headline read:
GOLD COINS MISSING IN TRAIN ROBBERY NEAR ARCADIA, WISC.
A knock on her door. "Molly! You in there?" Molly's watch said nearly six o'clock. She had been at the computer for almost three hours! She minimized her screen and answered the door. Cousin Marilyn Jensen stood there.
"Molly! There you are! George is doing bratwursts on the grill. He and Daddy have set up quite a spread! We wondered if you would care to join us. You would? Wonderful! Is Aunt Will with you? Do you know where she is?"
The internet research might be just beginning, thought Molly. She would have to eat some time. She shut down the computer and headed downstairs.
A group was gathered at the picnic tables by the barbecue grill. Marilyn's husband, George Jensen and her father, Joe Smith were tending the grill. The grill was set into a massive stone structure over ten feet wide with a brass hood tapering up into a central stone chimney. Built in the 1950's when outdoor cooking was becoming popular but before the mass production of stand alone charcoal grills, Webers and other popular brands, it boasted three large cooking surfaces and a fireplace. On the left end, the stone work surrounded an old wood burning kitchen stove with a flat cooking surface that served as a griddle or a warming surface. Next to that was a built-in barbecue grill that had long ago been converted to propane gas. Next, a grill for the occasional purist, an open grill provided cooking with charcoal briquettes or over oak or applewood for flavor. On the far right, an open, raised fireplace stood ready to provide a pleasant evening campfire, which it often did. Underneath the fire pit, open space housed firewood from a huge nearby firewood stack and kindling and birch bark gathered from the surrounding woods. Near the left end of the grill stood a heavy plank side table for holding utensils, side dishes and from which diners could be served.
George and Joe had sauerkraut and baked beans warming on the stove which had also been converted to propane. Buns, condiments and paper plates were on the serving table. A cooler by the side table held cold beer and pop. George stood by the central grill turning sausages, waiting for just the right color. With long-handled tongs, he put a bunch into steel bowl which he placed on the stove top and hollered, "Come and get it!"
At the fireplace end of the barbecue, George's father-in-law, Joe Smith was tending a small campfire in the raised fire pit. Colorful flames danced above birch and oak logs that had been cut and split some time ago to dry for burning. Later, no doubt, some would gather around it to sing songs and tell stories by the fire after dark. Molly had seen a guitar case leaning against one of the tables.
Molly and Aunt Will got their brats, kraut and beans and sat together at one of the picnic tables. Molly had a Diet Coke. Aunt Will had a bottle of a German pilsner beer called Radeberger.
"Joe really enjoys cooking on the grill," said Aunt Will. "especially when he has George to help him. He says, next, they are going to set up the electric spit and slow grill a leg of lamb with mashed potatoes, asparagus, mint sauce, mint jelly and fresh baked dinner rolls. All the trimmings. I want to be here for that."
"What about the gravy?" Molly asked. She didnâ€™t consider herself much of a cook, yet, but you had to have gravy with lamb. "You canâ€™t have gravy if the lamb is turning on a spit over hot coals. Can you?"
"I said the same thing to Joe. He told me there will be gravy. He has figured out how to use what he calls a drip tray to collect the juices from rotating lamb with which to make what he predicts to be rich, delicious lamb gravy."
Fond memories of Sunday dinners came to mind. Mollyâ€™s mom had made the best leg of lamb with mashed potatoes and gravy. The whole family gathered, Mom, Dad, George and Molly and even Jack when he came home to visit, which seemed often whenever he heard they were having lamb. Molly remembered thinking George alerted him. Her mother used to say, Jack hasnâ€™t been home for a while. We better have lamb."
Taking a pull on her beer bottle and lowering her voice she asked Molly, "How's your research going?"
"Slowly but interestingly."
"Research?" asked Marilyn, who overheard. "You doing research, Molly?"
"Legal research, Marilyn. I've got a complicated issue in a difficult divorce case waiting for me back in Minneapolis. The Minnesota State Bar Association provides its members with a pretty good online legal research database I can use from anywhere on my computer."
"Oh, boring! But I suppose it means you can be here instead of stuck in the Twin Cities. That's good."
Molly nodded. Aunt Will grinned.
That night after dinner with another can of Diet Coke and a glass of ice, Molly returned to her research. She fired up her laptop. When she'd accepted Marilyn Jensen's invitation and left her room for dinner, she had shut down the computer. At least for the time being, her research was her own business, or maybe Aunt Will's, but some of their relatives could be pretty nosy. Cousin Marilyn Jensen was one of them. So, she waited while the computer went through its start up routine. Finally, she reentered the search criteria in her browser and was back on her last search results. Scrolling down the screen, she found and reread the headline:
GOLD COINS MISSING IN TRAIN ROBBERY NEAR ARCADIA, WISC.
Beneath the headline, a short story followed.
On Wednesday, a Green Bay & Western R.R. freight train was robbed on the Green Bay Route, just west of Arcadia on its way to Winona. Robbers stopped the train and got away with $250,000 in gold and silver coins destined for Mississippi Valley Bank & Trust Company's branch banks located along the river at Red Wing, Wabasha, Winona, Lake City and La Crescent. Bank officials reported that $225,000 was in newly minted gold $20 Liberty Double Eagles.
National Express Company handled the shipping. Sources indicate that the shipping agent aboard the train told law enforcement officials that the armed guard with him was in on it and left with the thieves and the gold.
So far, neither the thieves nor the gold have been found. Law enforcement from Buffalo and Trempealeau counties, the state police and the Pinkerton Detective Agency are working the case.
Molly tapped a return arrow to go back to the search list. Another headline from a week later, still in 1897. The same newspaper. The Republican Herald from Winona:
GOLD COINS STILL MISSING
Law enforcement officials said Friday that no progress has been made in the search for the gold stolen from the GB & W train robbed a week ago near Arcadia. Business owners and retailers are asked to report anyone spending large amounts of new gold $20 Double Eagles.
The original newspaper account said the $250,000 shipment was $225,000 in twenty dollar gold Liberty Double Eagles and the rest in silver, all newly minted. Molly applied the six thousand per cent increase to current value from her previous search. Fifteen Million dollars today! She went back to her previous search for the current value of twenty dollar gold Liberty Double Eagles. The coins were minted from 1849 to 1907, which fit into her time frame. The current melt value was reported at $1,211.21! Each? thought Molly. The idea was astonishing! She used the calculator on her phone. Her calculator said that was a six thousand and fifty per cent increase! She wrote that in her notes on the legal pad. More calculating showed that $225.000 increased by six thousand and fifty per cent would be $13,626,000. Thirteen point six Million! Without the silver! The research results also indicated that coins might be worth more depending on condition, the best being "uncirculated." The Winona newspaper said these were newly minted on their way to the shipper's bank branches. They were uncirculated, if they were still buried somewhere. So, they could be worth even more!
She poured the Diet Coke over ice and sipped. What was she getting into? Was it even remotely involved with Standing Pines, Wm Werner Wells and The Painting? Was she off on one of those tangents so typical of computer research and rat-maze tests?
She kept going. Back at the search list, Molly found another Winona newspaper article. This one was from 1922. The author reported on an interview with a Pinkerton detective retiring after thirty years with the agency. He was interviewed about the 1897 Arcadia train robbery. He had been there. Detective Walter Jensen said the case had always bothered him. It was his only unsolved case. He told the reporter that he had always felt there had been specialists around at the time who could have pulled off the robbery. The James gang was long gone by that time, its members either dead or in prison in Minnesota. Jensen had gone through the Pinkerton Rogue's Gallery several times over, looking for outlaws who might have pulled it off. "Fits the Wild Bunch," he had said, "but too far east for them, maybe. Anyway, old Butch and Sundance died in Bolivia in 1908, so they can't be caught or punished anymore, anyway."
But, Jensen had assumed, however, the article said, that it was somebody new. Somebody without a reputation or a record. Somebody who stole and then disappeared into anonymity.
For many years, the article continued, Jensen had been the only one even looking at the cold case. As he was retiring, he finally agreed that his partners were probably right. The robbers would never be identified. The gold would never be found. The article further noted that the victims of the crime had since gone out of business. So, the article concluded, except for the Pinkertons, through Detective Jensen, and a few treasure hunters, no one was even looking for the missing gold coins.
The possible amounts were staggering! Was that much buried somewhere? Where? Did Wm Werner Wells know where? Was The Painting his treasure map? Where the hell was it? Where in the world was that meadow?
Molly continued her search. Wild goose chase or not, she found it interesting and even exciting. Back to the train robberies search, she found biographies of the famous train robbers listed by Wikipedia. Jesse James was a good choice but was killed in 1882, fifteen years before the Arcadia train robbery. Cassidy lived to 1908, Carlisle to 1964 and Bill Miner to 1913. So, James was out. The other three were possible. Or was Detective Jensen right? Was it someone new, without a previous reputation, who stole and then disappeared into anonymity?
Bill Miner, who could have been active in 1897, was sometimes called the "Gentleman Bandit" and reputed to be the originator of the outlaw phrase, "Hands up!"
Wm Carlisle, it turns out robbed his first train in 1916 at age twenty-five, so he was out. He was only nine when The GB &W was robbed at Arcadia.
Butch Cassidy was thirty years old in 1897, still active in the U.S., mostly in the west and leader of the Wild Bunch, famous for later robbing the Union Pacific Overland Flyer in Wyoming. He was born Robert Leroy Parker. He took the name, Butch Cassidy, "Butch" from working as a butcher in his teens and "Cassidy" in honor of a cowboy who had befriended him. He formed the Wild Bunch with a half dozen other outlaws. Harry Longabaugh, the Sundance Kid, joined the gang, becoming a close friend and confidant of Cassidy.
Later, in 1901, when the gang had broken up and pressure from the Pinkerton and other law enforcement agencies became too much, Butch and Sundance and Sundance's girlfriend left for New York and then on to South America where they continued to steal and rob. The trio purchased a ranch near Cholila, Argentina. They robbed two banks in Argentina. Longabaugh brought his girlfriend to San Francisco in 1906, returning to Cassidy in South America. In 1908, a courier carrying a company payroll near San Vicente in Bolivia was robbed by two bandits believed to be Cassidy and Sundance. The bandits were trailed to San Vicente where they were shot and killed by a unit of the Bolivian Cavalry on November 6, 1908.
Molly went back to the outlaw Bill Miner. Further research showed that Miner served nearly twenty years of a twenty-five-year sentence to San Quentin Prison near San Francisco being released in 1901. So, he's out. He was in prison in 1897. Back to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. To Molly, the story was fascinating. The bodies of the two slain outlaws were buried at the small San Vicente cemetery in unmarked graves. Although attempts have been made to find their unmarked graves, no remains with DNA matching the living relatives of Cassidy and Longabaugh have yet been discovered. Rumors followed that Cassidy or Longabaugh or both survived. A doctor reported that he saw Cassidy in the 1930's. Cassidy, the doctor said, told him his face had been altered in Paris and showed him a repaired bullet wound that the doctor had done on Cassidy.
Another survival story, Molly learned, said that Longabaugh died in 1936 in Utah. Another that Cassidy died in Nevada in about 1945. One story was that an attractive woman approached the United States Vice-Consul in Chile for assistance in obtaining a death certificate for Longabaugh. It was presumed that this woman was Longabaugh's girlfriend. Her name was Etta Place!
Molly pushed her chair away from the desk. She took a deep breath. Her Diet Coke was long gone. It was after midnight. What should she do? It was time to talk to Aunt Will. She closed out her computer and got ready for bed. Sleep was out of the question. But, as her grandmother had taught her when she and Reney were too excited to sleep, "Just closes your eyes, girls. Keep them closed and you will go to sleep eventually." She tried.
Molly was up early the next morning. She got coffee and waited for Aunt Will who appeared shortly. After checking to see that no one else was near, Molly got right to the point.
"Aunt Will, to whom did you say Helen Little sold her place on Dinner Camp Lake?"
"Her name was Etta Place. Why?"
"You won't believe this!"
"Just listen. By the numbers, here we go:
"One. In 1897, a train carrying $250,000 in newly minted gold coins is robbed near Arcadia, Wisconsin. The thieves are never caught or identified. The gold coins are never recovered.
"Two. Twenty-five years later, a retiring Pinkerton detective named Jensen said he thought it was like the work of the Wild Bunch, but farther east than their usual territory.
"Three. The leaders of the Wild Bunch were Robert Parker, aka Butch Cassidy, and Harry Longabaugh, aka the Sundance Kid.
"Four. Cassidy and Sundance were supposedly killed in Bolivia In 1908 but the bodies were buried somewhere and never recovered. Rumors were circulated that maybe one or both survived.
"Five. Sundance had a girlfriend who traveled with them, including to Bolivia. Her name was Etta Place!
"Six. The first anyone hears of Wm Werner Wells is in 1918 when he was living with Rollie Reed on Lake Wilipyro.
"Seven. When Helen Little bought Rollie Reed's place, she sold her Dinner Camp Lake cottage to a woman named Etta Place!
"Eight. Wm Werner Wells is then living on Dinner Camp with Etta Place!
"Nine. Wells, who has become a friend of Grampa and Gramma Morgan, gives them The Painting, saying keep it close and it will bring them prosperity.
"And Ten. Nearly a hundred years later, we turn The Painting upside down and see a man with a shovel and a pile of gold coins!"
Aunt Will frowned. "You think the coins in The Painting are from that old robbery?"
"The connections between events are too great for me to think otherwise, Aunt Will."
"You think Wm Werner Wells was part of this Wild Bunch gang of outlaws?"
"Maybe. Maybe even the Sundance Kid or Butch Cassidy since he was later living with Etta Place."
"What do we do?"
"We need to find out where the place in The Painting is."
"How do we do that?"
"I have no idea."
"Didn't you say their stomping grounds were out west?"
"In Wyoming, that's right.
"Can't we hire a forester or tree expert to look at the trees in The Painting and tell us where out there it might be?"
"I'm very afraid it may be hopeless."
Later, Molly and Aunt Will sat by the fireplace in the Great Room. Aunt Will said if they were going to discuss any of what was going on, she felt more comfortable near The Painting. "So that Wm Werner Wells can listen," she said. "Perhaps the old curmudgeon will advise. He owes us one. He got us into this. As Oliver Hardy often said to Stan Laurel, â€˜This is another fine kettle of fish youâ€™ve gotten us into.â€™ Wells is responsible, Wells can help us figure a way out."
Molly looked up at The Painting. She saw the split trunk birch. She stared until she vaguely saw the upside down man with the shovel and pile of gold coins. Well, old curmudgeon, is Aunt Will right? Are you going to help us?
"Molly!" Aunt Will visibly brightened. She sat forward in her chair. "Didnâ€™t you say the lawyers said we could buy Standing Pines back from the bank?"
"Yeah, we have a Right of First Refusal â€¦ if we had the money." She paused. "You donâ€™t mean â€¦?"
"I certainly do! And so does Wm Werner Wells! He liked my grandparents. He gave them The Painting. He said in a note for someone in the future, thatâ€™s us, that it would give them great joy and a prosperous future!" She sat back looking smug. "The future is now, Molly!" Aunt Will looked up at The Painting. "Thanks, old man. That wasnâ€™t so hard, was it?"
"I donâ€™t know," Molly said. "Even if we found the gold, weâ€™d undoubtedly have to give it back."
"Oh crap! What about possession being nine tenths of the law. What about â€˜Finders, Keepers?â€™"
The next morning, sitting with Aunt Will over coffee in the kitchen, Molly dialed Mac Winter's number on her cell phone.
The melodious voice of an experienced receptionist who took pride in her work answered. "Beeman, Bjorklund and Berman. How may I direct your call?"
"Mac Winter, please."
"One moment, I will see if Mr. Winter is available. May I tell Mr. Winter who is calling?"
"Hello? Molly? What can I do for you, today?"
"Mac, I have an unusual request for you."
"Is your aunt with you?"
"Then I am not surprised. Say Hi for me. Better yet, put your phone on speaker and Iâ€™ll do it myself."
Molly tapped the screen and put the phone on the table between them.
"Wilhelmina Morgan. How are you Aunt Will?"
"Iâ€™m fine, Mr. Winter. And you?"
"I was just fine until a minute ago. Now, Iâ€™m waiting to find out. Whatâ€™s up, Molly?"
"Mac, if we found something and it had value, would we be able to keep it or sell it and keep the proceeds of the sale?"
"I canâ€™t tell you that, Mac."
"Molly, are you two in some kind of trouble?"
"No." Not yet, she thought.
"May I pose your question to one of my partners?"
"If you wish."
"Attorney- client privilege?"
Molly heard the sounds of Macâ€™s phone being placed on his desk and what she thought was him walking away. Moments later his voice came through her cell phone.
"Molly, Iâ€™ve got Paul Erickson with me and we have you on speaker, also. He says heâ€™s heard of you."
"And Iâ€™ve heard of him." She heard laughter.
"Not all bad, I hope. Hello Molly."
"Okay, Molly," said Mac Winter. "Letâ€™s have your question again."
"I asked if we found something and it had value, would we be able to keep it or sell it and keep the proceeds of the sale?"
"And youâ€™re not telling us what you have found?" asked Paul Erickson.
"We havenâ€™t found anything at this time."
"So this is like a hypothetical?"
"Do you or will you know who the rightful or original owner is?"
"Iâ€™m not sure they exist any more."
"Well, and Iâ€™m just thinking out loud here," said Erickson, "the laws vary from state to state and there may be certain federal laws involved. Certainly, there would be tax issues involved, perhaps both state and federal. If I had a client with your hypothetical situation, I would begin by researching the laws of the state involved and follow with federal law and with the tax statutes in both jurisdictions. Did you want us to do that?"
"Not now, Paul," Molly replied. "Iâ€™m just trying to get a general idea of where we might stand, hypothetically."
Aunt Will stifled a grin.
"Speaking hypothetically, Molly," said Mac Winter, "I think you two should be careful what you are doing."
"I agree," said Erickson. "Molly, not doing the right thing could result in liability and even possible criminal charges."
Molly thanked them and closed out the call.
"See what I mean, Aunt Will? It doesnâ€™t look good."
"Lawyers! I believe they could talk for hours without saying one thing for sure. Those guys didnâ€™t come close to answering your so-called hypothetical question. How will we find the answer?"
"I can start some of the legal research Paul mentioned, I suppose."
As they stood to leave, Aunt Will looked up at The Painting again. "Well, you old curmudgeon, weâ€™re working on it."
Back in Minneapolis, Shaughnessy answered his ringing phone. "Shaughnessy."
"Jim Brennan, Mike. The Ashland County Circuit Judge signed the search warrant. It covers the bank, Winklerâ€™s home and his vehicles. Ashland P. D. is going to serve it at both locations, tomorrow morning. You want in on it?"
"Iâ€™ll leave now. See you for dinner?"
"Call me when you're going through Washburn. We can have dinner at Maggie's. You can crash at my place and weâ€™ll go down to Ashland in the morning."
Driving north from the Twin Cities, Shaughnessy thought about what they hoped to find.
At the bank, its records could show more detail to what Molly Graham had already told him. Details showing who actually got the profit from the purchase and subsequent sale of Standing Pines Lodge. Molly's information from Luke Miller from the Zoning Board, which Shaughnessy had confirmed with Luke by phone, was that if the land developer, C.J. Lewis, did not meet certain environmental requirements quite soon, the required zoning change would not occur, the planned development wouldn't happen and the deal with the bank, whether it was with the bank or really with Winkler, would fall through. Lewis couldn't do anything on the property until he had title or the owner's permission, meaning if the bank had title. The bank would not get title until Elliot Morgan died. Hastening Elliot's death also hastened the transfer of title to the bank. Motive.
At the house, Shaughnessy hoped to find a connection between Rex Allen and the substance that they believed was used to hasten Elliot Morgan's death. Means.
At either place, they hoped to find notes, calendars, credit card receipts or other information showing Rex Allen's travels in and around the time of Elliot's death. Opportunity.
At the intersection of U.S. 63 and U.S. 2, Shaughnessy turned right, traveled east on Highway 2 a short distance and turned left, heading north on Highway 13 toward Washburn and Bayfield. In Washburn he called Brennan.
They ate at Maggie's on Manypenny in Bayfield, a small bar and restaurant that Brennan claimed served the best hamburgers anywhere. Shaughnessy was not disappointed.
Julie Brennan joined them. "We have a guest bedroom that is quite comfortable," she said, "but I'm not sure the bed is big enough for you."
Having long ago got used to such remarks about his size, Shaughnessy just nodded and said, "It'll be fine, Mrs. Brennan, and thank you."
"Please, call me Julie."
They met the next morning at the Ashland Police Department in City Hall. The plan was to hit the bank and the Winkler home at the same time. Shaughnessy and Brennan went with the group to Rex Allen Winklerâ€™s house.
Rex Allen's home was a modest two-story on East Lakeshore Drive with a detached garage. This street, also U.S. Highway 2, followed the shore of Lake Superior through downtown Ashland and beyond to the northeast. The lake side of the highway was occupied by mostly small businesses, a power plant and a marina. The other side was a mixture of small businesses, fast food restaurants, government facilities, and private homes. Traveling farther east, the road turned away from the lake, the number of business locations decreased and the number of homes increased. Rex Allen lived within a block of a gas station and convenience store on the lakeside of the street. Less than a mile further east, a Walmart Supercenter offered a wide variety of groceries and merchandise to the surrounding community from Bayfield to Ironwood, Michigan.
Ashland Officer Sam Cleary, Search Warrant in hand, knocked on the door. A woman with her hair in pink curlers and wearing a baggy house dress answered the door.
Officer Cleary was in uniform. He handed her the search warrant and explained that they were there to search the house. Shaughnessy thought she seemed particularly unperturbed.
"What are you looking for?"
"That's explained in the warrant, Ma'am. May we come in?"
As she opened the door wider, Cleary asked, "Are you Mrs. Winkler? Mrs. Rex Allen Winkler?"
"Yes, I'm afraid I am." Mrs. Winkler turned her back on Cleary, saying, "I'll be in the kitchen," and disappeared down a hall, carrying her copy of the warrant.
Their thorough search produced very little. Nothing about the purchase and sale of Standing Pines Lodge, but Shaughnessy didn't expect that. A search of the bathroom, the kitchen --Mrs. Winkler, coffee at hand and nose in a newspaper didn't move and barely looked upâ€”, a basement work room and the garage turned up nothing regarding the arsenic Shaughnessy was particularly looking for. Returning to the living room, he found Brennan looking through mail and bills at a small desk in a corner.
"Anything?" he asked.
"Nada. I was hoping for credit card receipts to show his travel. I found them, but not for January, February or March. I have several trips he took to the Cities before that. He usually used a Holiday Express card for gas and a Mastercard for hotel and meals. Even if he didn't stay overnight and didn't eat, he just about had to buy gas at least once each way from here to the Twin Cities and back. Do you suppose he was smart enough to pay cash on the trip or trips we are interested in?"
"I doubt it. I don't think Rex Allen is the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree. I'm betting his wife doesnâ€™t think he is, either."
On the way to the bank it began to rain.
The bank search produced little more. At a meeting back at City Hall, Shaughnessy said not to worry. He had copies of certified copies Molly had given him of Register of Deeds records that showed the recording of the bank's deed after Elliot Morgan's death and of the minutes of the Zoning Board showing the deadline for required environmental protection actions. They were at least the beginning of a showing of motive. He was certain more would come with the questioning of Rex Allen and the developer, C.J. Lewis. Rex Allen had not been at the bank. The woman at the information desk wasn't sure where he was. He had been in earlier that morning and left.
Back in Ashland P.D. headquarters in nearby City Hall, Officer Cleary said, "I don't understand why we didn't find the receipts for that time you were concerned about. So, where are they? Dan Seppa and Tracy Vance are still working the warrant at the bank, but they donâ€™t expect to find anything. Dan said Tracy is talking to the staff, trying to get an idea where Winkler might put something for safekeeping that we might have missed. Sheâ€™s good at that."
"Wait a minute," said Shaughnessy. "Did you say you didn't find any receipts for January or February or March?"
"Nope. Didn't find them," answered Brennan.
"So, he could have paid with a card and we just don't have those months' statements?"
"That would be correct. What do you think we should do?"
"How friendly is your judge?"
Rex Allen Winkler set his windshield wipers on high as he sped through the driving rain on U. S. 2 heading for Duluth. Heâ€™d called home on his way to work. His wife demanded to know what was going on. The police were there with a search warrant. "What kind of trouble are you in, now?" she had asked with that sarcastic tone in her voice that he hated. His plans did not include her. He was leaving the bank, Ashland and her behind. He had hoped to get the final bonus from the sale of Standing Pines Lodge. Now he would have to settle for the interim payment now due. Still, a lot of money. Enough to go away forever.
Molly stayed at the lodge. These new matters took priority. She called Monday morning. Trish was taking care of things at the office and would call with any problems. She called the Chequamegon National Forest headquarters in Rhinelander.
"You did what?" Aunt Will asked Molly the next day as they had iced tea in the library at the lodge.
"I called the office of the Chequamegon National Forest. The office is in Rhinelander. We are in the Chequamegon Forest, you know."
Aunt Will gave Molly a withering look. "I know, dear, I know."
"It was your idea."
"It was. It was you who asked if we couldn't hire a tree expert to see even what part of the country, the scene in The Painting might actually be."
"I remember. You thought the gold stolen in that train robbery was probably hidden out west somewhere. Wyoming, you said."
"Well, I called. They gave me the number of one of their foresters right here in Cable. I called him. Heâ€™s coming this afternoon."
"Here. Should be here in a few minutes. His name," she consulted a note, "is Jeffrey Saunders."
Molly and Aunt Will took their iced teas to the Adirondack chairs on the deck. They waited only ten minutes before their guest arrived. Jeffrey Saunders drove up to the lodge in an army green, four-door Jeep Wrangler. As he climbed out of the Jeep, Molly saw that he was a tall, well-built man. In his early thirties, she guessed. He wore faded blue jeans over dusty, brown cowboy boots and a green shirt and green baseball cap with some official looking emblem on the cap. Dark brown curls escaped from under the hat. He was clean-shaven and wore aviator sunglasses. As he strode up to the deck, he removed his sunglasses before speaking. He had green eyes. "Good afternoon, Ladies, I'm looking for Ms. Molly Graham."
"You found her," said Molly. "You're Mr. Saunders?"
"I am. Jeff Saunders at your service."
"I am Molly Graham and this is my great aunt, Wilhelmina Morgan."
"Pleased to meet you Aunt Will." He stepped up onto the deck and extended his hand.
Aunt Will stood and approached the man hand extended. To Molly, she said, "I like him already." She took Saunders' hand, saying, "How did you know they call me Aunt Will?"
He grinned. A little hobby of mine. Like a poor man's Sherlock. I figure things out about people. Like I tried to imagine nieces and nephews calling you 'Aunt Wilhelmina.' It's a beautiful name, but a mouthful for a kid. So, I figured it got shortened. Aunt Will seemed the most likely."
Aunt Will smiled. Aunt Will was no pushover, Molly knew, but this man had her hook, line and sinker in less than a minute!
He turned to Molly. "They called me from the office. Said you had some pictures of some trees you want identified. I live and work out of Cable, so I got the duty."
"You mean you got stuck with us?" said Molly. Aunt Will frowned at her.
"Oh, no! You are taking me away from a necessary, but horribly boring timber survey up by Grandview. Besides, when I saw the Tri-Lakes Road address, I wondered if this was the place. I've heard about it but never been back in here. Wow! Gorgeous big lodge, different lakes with different fish on either side. It's spectacular!"
"You know these lakes?"
"How? These are private lakes."
Saunders sent a knowing smile towards the ladies. "When you're a kid growing up around here, you get to know your way around these woods. Hammill has some Walleye, Smallmouth Bass, Crappie, Perch and Sunfish. Samoset has Largemouth Bass, Crappie, Perch, Sunfish and Northerns, some pretty big."
Molly thought, Aunt Will is not alone. I like this guy, too. She shook off the distracting thought. "What I called about is in a painting inside."
"Yes," said Aunt Will. "Here, we'll show you."
They led Saunders to the Great Room. Standing in front of The Painting, to which they had directed his attention, he stood staring at it, stroking his chin, then leaning closer to examine a specific part, then stood back, staring and stroking his chin again.
"We want you to tell us, if you can, Mr. Saunders â€¦," Molly started to say.
"Please, everybody calls me Jeff."
"Jeff, we think this scene may be from out west, somewhere, but can you narrow it down for us at all?"
Saunders examined The Painting for another full minute. Then, he said, "This isn't anywhere. Not around here. Not anywhere."
He pointed to a group of trees beside the meadow. "These are White Pines. Typical for these woods. They have shorter needles than a Norway or Jack Pine, both of which also grow around here. They have just two needles to a cluster while the White Pines have five to a cluster. See the fuzzy look to the whites? But, these over here with the twisted trunks are Lodgepole Pines. They don't grow anywhere near the Chequamegon Forest. They are from the western United States.". He examined The Painting more closely. "The artist is mistaken here, but I think he knew what he was doing."
"Why do you say that?" Molly asked.
"His rendering of the different tree species, especially the conifers, is remarkable. The best I've seen. He knows a White Pine from a Jack Pine and both from a Lodgepole Pine."
He pointed to the birch tree at the edge of the meadow. Molly held her breath.
"This birch tree is strange. This split trunk so low to the ground is odd. Sometimes you see this in old farmer's fields, but not in the middle of the woods or near a small meadow like this one. And these dead leaves on this lower branch that have turned yellow. The painter is spot on with his depiction of birch leaves in the upper branches, but these just aren't very accurate. His attention to detail failed him right there, but nowhere else that I can see." He shook his head. "Nope. Not around here. Not around anywhere that I know of. Sorry, Ladies. Wish I could help more."
"What you are saying, Jeff, is that this artist knew his trees, could accurately depict them in paints on canvas and he intentionally put trees in one scene that don't grow together, not anywhere in this country," said Aunt Will. "Is that right?"
"That's right, Aunt Will. That's what I see. I guess I'd have to do some research to be sure. Is it important that you know if this is a real place and where it might be?"
"It could be very important," Molly answered.
Let me do some research and talk to some people I know. Some of them are in different parts of the country. May I take a picture of this to use when talking to them?
Molly thought about it. She was hesitant. He probably meant well, but â€¦ Aunt Will intervened. "Certainly, you may, Jeff. Do you have a camera?"
"I think my phone will do the job I need." He took several shots of The Painting from different angles. "It will take a couple of days. Can I reach you on your cellphone, Molly?"
"Okay, the number is â€¦"
"I have it on my phone from when you called me. I'll call as soon as I have anything."
After Jeff Saunders was gone, Aunt Will said, "Molly, you seemed hesitant about letting him take pictures."
"Just like you with Dr. Bishara, Aunt Will. I'm not sure how many people we want knowing about the Painting or having pictures of it. Especially with what we have recently discovered."
"But I think Jeff is different, don't you?"
"I'm not sure."
Up in her room after dinner, Molly fired up her laptop for more research. Legal research, this time. She logged on to the Minnesota State Bar Associationâ€™s website and chose "Fastcase," its computerized search engine for legal research of federal law and the law of the fifty states.
Starting from her discussions with Aunt Will and the Beeman law firm, she began searching for case or statutory law related to ownership of found propriety of value including money. Initially, she started limiting her search to the case law of the State of Wisconsin.
The search was difficult and tedious. She wasn't finding the right keywords. "Gold" and "money" were not specific enough. "Lost gold" wasn't much better. "Who owns lost and found property?" was better. While Molly was hesitant to enter "buried treasure," it turned out that wasn't far from the right one. "Treasure-trove" was the one to use. She made notes on a legal pad as she worked. She would be reporting to Aunt Will soon.
Molly was looking at the question of ownership, that is, whether they could keep the gold or part of it, if indeed they found some. Tax issues would also exist, she was sure, but she would let tax lawyers figure that out. She didn't pretend that the subject of tax law was within her area of expertise, except those tax issues normally involved in divorce cases. She also did some internet research into the National Express Company and the Mississippi Valley Bank & Trust Company, the victims of the train robbery and the original owner of the gold.
National Express Company, she learned, had gone bankrupt and was absorbed by American Express in 1915. The bank had closed its doors in 1930 at the beginning of the Great Depression when a nationwide run on banks caused 744 banks to fail in a ten-month period.
Therefore, owners of the gold in The Painting, if it existed at all and if it was from the train robbery, no longer existed and had not for more than eighty years!
She met Aunt Will in the kitchen where Aunt Will had brewed tea and set out a plate of scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam. As she poured, Molly took a seat at the big pine table and spread out her notes.
"What we're talking about here, Aunt Will, is called 'treasure-trove.'"
"Aha! Buried treasure. I knew it. If we find it, we can keep it. Can't we?"
"It's not that easy. First we need to figure out if it is treasure-trove or not."
"It is a term of art in the old common law originally applied to gold or silver and since modified to include currency that represents gold or silver."
"Case law as opposed to statutory law. But we need to look at both."
"Sounds complicated. But, did you do it? Look at both? And, what did you find?"
"I did. At first, I thought we had something, but there are some definite problems."
"Do lawyers always find problems? Is in your nature? Sometimes, I think it is necessary to preserve your ability to make a living or something." She suppressed a grin, taking a scone, spreading jam on it and taking large bite.
"No lawyer bashing, Aunt Will. Do you want to hear what I found?"
"Sorry." She dabbed her mouth with her napkin. "Yes, I do. Tell me."
"So, the problem we have or, I should say, one of the problems we have, is treasure-trove is not lost or misplaced property."
"Then what good is it to us?"
"Aunt Will, that's one of the good things, sort of. Most states, including Wisconsin, have a statute dealing with lost, mislaid or abandoned property. The statute requires notices to be published in the paper, appraisals of the property and more. If the gold is worth what I think, and if we find it, people will see the published notices and come out of the woodwork and from all over to claim it. Teams of lawyers will be involved. Litigation will go on for years. If we want to use the money now for our current problems, we won't be able to."
"Oh. I thought you said it was one of the good things. There are bad things too?"
Molly sipped her tea. The scones looked good. She was working up an appetite. "The good thing," she said, "is that in 1948, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin held that Wisconsin's statute did not apply to treasure-trove."
"That sounds better. And the bad thing?"
"The bad thing is that one of the characteristics of treasure-trove is that the owner didn't lose or misplace it, but put it somewhere, knowingly and intentionally.
"Buried treasure. I thought so."
"Except this gold was stolen. The owner or owners didn't place it anywhere, the robbers did. Even though the owners are long gone, it still would not be treasure-trove."
"Yeah, so I'm not sure right now what good the gold would do us at least in the current situation."
Aunt Will pushed the platter of scones aside and rose to put the tea set away.
Molly helped with the dishes. At the sink, Aunt Will washed while Molly dried. Holding one of the delicate cups and carefully rinsing it under the hot water tap, she stopped, obviously in thought, warm water spilling over her fingers. "Molly, who knows the gold is stolen?"
Molly placed the saucer she was drying in the cupboard, being careful not to drop it. Aunt Will. Her brain never quit working. And, as her brother had so often said, "Wilhelmina is always right!"
Of course! It wasn't just that people today might not connect this gold with the robbery. Even if they did, or thought they did, as Molly had, there would be no proof that it was from the old train robbery of 1897. Her research showed that the coins contained no lot numbers, serial numbers or other marks except the mintmark, which at the time was an "S" for the San Francisco Mint and no mintmark for the Philadelphia Mint. If it could not be proved to be stolen, there wasn't any question that the gold is treasure-trove and the lost property statutes do not apply.
Aunt Will was holding the cup out toward Molly to dry. Molly took it and began to dry and polish with the dishcloth. "You are wonderful, Aunt Will! You should have been a lawyer!"
"Molly, dear, sometimes it takes a non-lawyer to get down to the truth of the matter. So, now what?"
"We've got some tax issues to resolve and we have got to find that gold!"
On Wednesday, Brennan called. "Mike? Itâ€™s Jim Brennan. Are you sitting down?"
"I am. Do I need to be?"
"Maybe. You remember I said two of Ashlandâ€™s cops were still working the bank search warrant?"
"Yeah, Dan somebody and Tracy somebody."
"Thatâ€™s right. Dan Seppa and Tracy Vance. Dan tells me that Tracy kept working on the staff. She found a young teller who seemed happy to think her boss was in trouble. Apparently he made unwanted advances toward her."
"Winkler? From what I have heard, he doesnâ€™t sound like someone any woman would find remotely attractive. Ruth called him a â€˜squish.â€™"
"Someone I met not long ago."
"Hmm. Well, anyway this teller told Tracy that Winkler used one of the safe deposit boxes in the vault."
"Yeah. And he was secret about it, but this teller knew."
"Do they have a key?"
"Yeah, but it takes two keys, the bankâ€™s and the boxholderâ€™s."
"What can you do?"
"Already did it. When a boxholder loses the key, the bank charges a fee and drills the lock. They didnâ€™t charge us a fee."
"You opened it?"
"Well," Brennan paused, apparently for dramatic effect, "Iâ€™d say the box was â€˜smokin.â€™ You remember the medicines we found at Winklerâ€™s home?"
"One of them was Lisinopril, a blood pressure medicine."
"In the safe deposit box, there was an amber medicine bottle with a white plastic top from Walgreens with his name on it."
"So?" Getting information out of Jim Brennan was like pulling teeth, sometimes.
"So, it didnâ€™t have Lisinopril tablets in it. It had a white powder."
"We had it tested. Itâ€™s Arsenic Trioxide, chemical formula is As2O3. Common name is White Arsenic."
"Oh, son of a bitch," Shaughnessy sighed. "'Smokin' is right."
"Yeah, and thereâ€™s more."
â€˜Wilkerson has an account at U. S. Bank. Are you ready?"
"Heâ€™s got $67,302.40 in a checking account and in a separate money market savings account, heâ€™s got $334,560.76!"
"Now where do you suppose he got all that? And why do I think his wife doesnâ€™t have any idea?"
"I donâ€™t think anybody has any idea except Rex Allen. Not even his own bank," said Brennan. "I thought these banks had periodical audits."
I thought so, too, but you never know. Small town like Ashland. Small bank like the Bank of Lake Superior. When itâ€™s the bank President doing the stealing, you just never know."
"But Rex Allen apparently did." Brennan shook his head. "You know there was another twelve grand in cash in the box."
"Why didnâ€™t he he take that?" Shaughnessy wondered. "And why did he leave the poison and the bank statements?"
"I think he saw us coming and didnâ€™t have time to go to the vault."
"Yeah. The receptionist said he was there when our officers first arrived. But when they went up to his office, he was gone. Winklerâ€™s office has a glass window overlooking the bankâ€™s main floor. Dan and Tracy were in uniform when they served the search warrant. He must have seen them and took off. Thereâ€™s a back entrance."
"The people at the bank say he drives a two-year old, maroon Ford Fusion that belongs to the bank. They hadnâ€™t found the plate number yet when I talked to Dan Seppa, but they are looking. The bank pays the insurance and registration, so we should have that soon."
"Whereâ€™s the nearest U.S. Bank branch?"
"Duluth. I think there are several branches there."
"Shaughnessy paused to think. Something bothered him. Something was missing. Obviously Rex Allen Winkler had been plotting and planning something for some time. The limited bank records Brennan found in the safe deposit box showed the current balances at U. S. Bank had been accumulated over a period of years. Anything quicker would have been discovered. Even over time, it surprised Shaughnessy that it wasnâ€™t.
"Sorry, Jim. Just thinking."
"Care to share?"
"Sure. If Rex Allen is our killer, as I now believe he is, he had to have a motive. This money he stole he already had. He had that no matter what happened to Elliot Morgan. I think he had a big score coming connected to his sale of the Standing Pines property to the developer who was going to turn it into a resort. I donâ€™t think he would disappear without at least trying to get some of that, if he could."
"Where is the developer?â€™
"Right here in Minneapolis."
"What do you know about him?"
"Not much, but I know someone who knows more than I do. Molly Graham."
Mollyâ€™s cell phone rang. She looked at the caller I.D. on the screen. Sergeant Shaughnessy.
"Molly, what can you tell me about this developer you went to see?"
"You mean C.W., â€˜but you can call me C.W.,â€™ Lewis? What do you want to know?"
"Everything you know and anything else you may have guessed or surmised."
"Heâ€™s probably all right, but he comes off smooth and slippery. I donâ€™t trust him." She told Shaughnessy about their meeting at the Lewis office. "I said I donâ€™t trust him. Heâ€™s too smooth and artificial, but I didnâ€™t get the impression that he was dishonest. In fact, I thought the opposite. He is deeply involved in what he does and takes pride in the result. He is excited about our lodge as a resort. I certainly disagree with him there, but itâ€™s because I donâ€™t want it to be commercialized. No, I donâ€™t think he is dishonest. He is a businessman."
"Do you know if he has paid the Ashland bank anything or made a commitment to pay?"
"I donâ€™t know. I thought the papers called for some advance, but I donâ€™t how much or even if it was in there. Want me to check? I have copies of what was recorded. In fact, I gave you copies of everything, I think."
"I think you did, but Iâ€™m not going to try to interpret that legal gobbledygook. Would you look for me?"
Molly grinned to herself. "Sure, Mike. Can I call you back?"
"Iâ€™ll be waiting. Thanks."
Molly found her copies of the Purchase Agreement and other sale documents. After a brief winnowing of them, she called Mike Shaughnessy.
"There were two advance payments, Mike. The first, a small one was due when the Zoning Board technically approved the zoning classification change. A larger one, actually fairly substantial, was due upon recording Elliotâ€™s deed giving the bank title. Mike, recording happened some time in May."
"Elliot Morgan died on the seventh of March. Why so long to record the deed?"
A death certificate was recorded along with the deed. The certified copy was issued by the Office of Vital Records in May."
"How much is the payment you say is now due?"
"Half of the remainder of the price. One point Eight Million Dollars."
"Thatâ€™s due now?"
"If it hasnâ€™t been paid, yes, she answered. "Whatâ€™s going on, Mike?"
"It would be a mistake to tell you, now, but we may be getting somewhere. Iâ€™ll let you know."
Shaughnessy called Brennan back. "Jim, Rex Allen may be about to get a One point Eight Million Dollar payment. I donâ€™t think heâ€™ll leave that behind on his way out of Dodge."
"What do you want me to do?"
"Call Duluth P.D. Ask for Pete Olsen. Tell him I gave you his name. Give him what youâ€™ve got so he can start on a search warrant and affidavit for your signature. Then drive over and go with him to the judge. Iâ€™m sure Pete will take it to Judge Moss or Riley. That should give you access to the U.S. Bank records. My bet is he is going to or already has stopped there to get his money out and heâ€™s headed for the Twin Cities. Give Pete a description of the Ford Fusion and the plate number as soon as you have it. Pete can put out an all points on the car that will get the highway patrol on it between Duluth and the Twin Cities. We want to know where the car is but not stop it. I want to watch him go for his big score, if he does."
"Got it, Mike. And you?"
"Iâ€™m going to go see a real estate developer about a check."
Rex Allen Winkler felt exhilarated as he rode the elevator to the eighth floor of the Roanoke Building. On the way south from Duluth, he had encountered rain near Forest Lake which increased to a real gully washer by the time he got to downtown Minneapolis. But it couldnâ€™t dampened his spirit. He had made it to Duluth, got his money out of his accounts with out difficulty and got more cash from a safe deposit box he had in the bank vault in the Superior Street branch. Now he was on his way to get the big prize, the payoff he had been waiting for. He had never really expected to get the whole purchase price before he flew. That would take too long and was too risky. But he was on his way. Soon he would vanish into the air, free and rich.
He had managed to stay dry despite the pouring rain. Parking inside a downtown parking ramp. He walked the few blocks to the Roanoke Building in the comfort of Minneapolisâ€™s second story skyway system.
The elevator opened facing the door to Lewis Financial Group. As he entered the office, Winkler was greeted by a receptionist who addressed him.
"Mr. Winkler, Mr. Lewis is expecting you. May I show you to his office?"
"Yes. Thank you."
C.W. Lewis rose to greet him. "Rex Winkler! We meet again. May I say I am excited about our little venture. Have you spoken to the Morgan family about my getting onto the property to start those environmental projects the Zoning Board wanted?"
"I have," he lied. It made no difference, now. He would soon be far away where no one would find him.
"Oh, good. I am anxious to get started. I also assume you are anxious to get things moving so your final payment becomes due to the bank."
"Thatâ€™s right," he said. "The bank wants things to run smoothly for everyone."
"So do my investors," Lewis said. "Well, letâ€™s get to the matter of your interim payment, shall we? I believe the Purchase Agreement calls for a certified check. You agree?"
"I do." Winkler was trying not to show that he was practically salivating over the thought.
Lewis opened the top drawer of his desk, producing a thin Manila file folder. He opened it.
Winkler could see the check!
"Iâ€™ve got the check here for â€¦," and he read, "one million, eight hundred thousand and no one-hundredths dollars. You agree thatâ€™s the correct amount?"
"Yes, thatâ€™s correct." Winkler could barely contain his excitement. He wanted the check and he wanted out of there. Now. He already had arrangements for negotiating the certified check. In a matter of little over an hour, he would be on his way, financially secure forever, and headed somewhere beyond the horizon where he would never be found.
"Lewis laid the check on the open file cover. He extracted a letter-sized sheet, handing it to Winkler. "This is a receipt showing you have received this payment on behalf of the bank and acknowledging Lewis Development Corporationâ€™s proper performance of the terms of our Purchase Agreement."
Winkler quickly took the paper and glanced at it. He forced himself to look at it. If he were doing this for the bank, he would of course read it over carefully. For himself, he would slap his signature on it, grab the check and be gone. When he decided he had looked at the receipt long enough, he looked up and nodded at Lewis who handed him a thin gold pen from an ebony and gold desk pen set.
He struggled to conceal his impatience as he accepted the pen and put his signature on the designated line. As careful as he was, his signature looked like was in the hurry he really was. He handed the pen and the receipt back to Lewis who glanced at the signature, looked up at Winkler and smiled.
"I always like to see a deal move forward," Lewis said. "Pretty soon you begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel and know the project will come to fruition."
Winkler mentally forgave Lewisâ€™s inordinate use of metaphors, sometimes in a mix that was inexplicable. But all was well. If he would just hand over the damned check!
"Rex, who did you talk to at Standing Pines about starting the environment protection plans? I may need to contact him directly."
What about the god damned check, asshole? Next, heâ€™ll be offering me coffee or tea for Christâ€™s sake. The check still lay atop the file cover. Winkler stared at it. Either he could, or he imagined he could, see the printed numbers after the dollar sign and the words where the amount was written out. One Million, Eight Hundred Thousand Dollars!
"Oh, excuse me." He wasnâ€™t sure how to answer. But he remembered the young woman who came to see him at the bank and knew nothing about the bankâ€™s purchase of Standing Pines Lodge from Elliot Morgan. Hell, even the bank didnâ€™t really know. What was her name? Molly something? "I think it was someone named Molly â€¦"
"Yes, I think thatâ€™s it."
"I met her. She came to see me a couple of months ago. My girl should have her number. If not, do you have it?"
"Not on me."
"Back at the bank?"
"I expect so."
"When will you be back up there?" asked Lewis. "If we donâ€™t have it, my girl can call you?"
Winkler took his eyes off the check long enough to look at his watch, which was a subterfuge, anyway. "Probably not to the bank until tomorrow."
"Not going back today?"
"I am, but I have other business here before I leave to go home." The lying was getting easier. The part about "other business" was actually true.
"You know," said Lewis, "Ms. Graham did not seem at all happy about her familyâ€™s lodge being turned into a resort. She indicated her family didnâ€™t seem to know about the sale to your bank. Didnâ€™t he tell them?"
"I donâ€™t know about that."
"Did you see him? Didnâ€™t you talk about the transition of ownership to the bank and how that would affect the family?"
Even more careful, now. "Not really."
"Whenâ€™s the last time you saw Elliot Morgan?"
Winkler had to be careful, here. He had used a false name the last few times when he saw they had a new gate guard who didnâ€™t know him from previous visits. He went with it. "I think it was a couple of months before he passed away. Before Christmas, I think."
Lewis made no move to give Winkler the check. Finally, being able to stand it no longer, Winkler said, "Well, I must be able to get on. My other business canâ€™t wait much longer. Now, if youâ€™ll just hand me that check, Iâ€™ll be on my way."
A voice deeper than that of C.W. Lewis, coming from the office entrance said, "Youâ€™ll be on your way, all right, but not where you think. And, your â€˜other businessâ€™ will have to wait."
Winkler turned in his seat to see a big, big man standing with two uniformed police officers. The man showed him a badge. The uniforms stood with hands on the butts of revolvers on their hips in utility belts.
"Iâ€™m Sergeant Michael Shaughnessy, Minneapolis P. D. These gentlemen will escort you a few short blocks to our headquarters where we have a few questions."
One of the uniforms hand cuffed Wrinklerâ€™s hands behind his back while the other patted him down before they led him out of the office.
Shaughnessy sat in the chair vacated by Winkler. "Well done, Mr. Lewis. I appreciate your cooperation."
"Youâ€™re welcome. I wasnâ€™t sure I was getting the responses you needed. Did I?"
"You did fine. He lied several times and we can prove it. We have it on tape so we can prove what he said and we have other evidence to show what he said here were lies. That will be a big help when we question him."
Lewis picked up the check, examined it and tore it in half.
"Wasnâ€™t that a certified check?"
"Not really. Oh, it looked like one, all right, but after you called me, I got my bank to make up a dummy. No bank would cash this. But," he said, returning the two pieces to his file, "I donâ€™t like even a fake check for that amount of money lying around."
Shaughnessy stood to leave. He was ready to go see Rex Allen in the interrogation room.
â€œWhat will you do next?â€ asked Lewis.
â€œA little creative questioning and a little pressure.â€ Ruthâ€™s Description of Rex Allen came to mind. â€œI plan to lean on the little squish.â€
That morning, while Rex Allen was driving south from Duluth Jeff Saunders called Molly. She invited him to meet with them that afternoon in the Great Room by the fireplace.
"I did a little online research and called a few friends," he told them when he arrived. "They all wondered the same thing I was thinking. Maybe it's an arboretum."
"What?" said Aunt Will. "An arboretum?"
"Thatâ€™s right. There are arboretums, I guess the plural is really â€˜arboreta,â€™ all over the world. They are places where the creators or preservers have created or preserved certain kinds of trees or other plants or foliage. In many cases, they have trees from other parts of the world. So, an arboretum might have an Australian collection or rain forest or English Oak. And they can be big, some as large as a hundred and fifty or two hundred acres. But usually, the exotic trees or those not native to the area are maintained in a separate collection growing as they would in their native land. Having an odd tree here or there that is clearly out of place doesnâ€™t make sense to me or the colleagues I called."
"Who would put an arboretum in the middle of the woods, anyway?" asked Aunt Will.
"Out in California, the Los Angeles Arboretum is a hundred twenty-seven acres across the street from the Santa Anita Racetrack. Chicago's got one, about twenty-five miles up the Lake Michigan shore. It's three hundred and eighty-five acres and it's not exactly out in the sticks.
"Aunt Will, this painting tells us nothing about what lies just beyond what you see there. And, it has no sound. If you were there, you might hear the sounds of traffic on a nearby freeway. It might be across the road from a shopping mall.
"I donâ€™t think so," said Molly. "The Painting has been here in this lodge for nearly one hundred years. Itâ€™s been hanging right there since before there were any freeways or shopping malls."
"A hundred years? Well, many arboretums are hundreds of years old. I agree there werenâ€™t any malls or major highways back then, but there could be now. And, you are looking for where this is today, right?"
"True," said Molly.
"If it was painted nearly a hundred years ago, then itâ€™s not near here somewhere, unless the artist was painting the future."
"What do you mean?" asked Molly.
"This general area was logged over at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. A hundred years ago when this lodge was built, the forest was just beginning to recover from that logging. The woods in this painting are too tall, I think, for the time you say it was painted. And these towering Oaks are way to big for the time. The loggers were after virgin pine from the old growth forests. Pine logs for construction. Pine logs that float well for log boom transportation on the rivers and lakes. Iâ€™m not sure they were taking oaks, but in the old growth forest in this part of the country, I donâ€™t think there were many oaks or other deciduous trees. The thick cover of the big Pines didnâ€™t leave much light at the forest floor for anything else to grow."
Saunders stood and examined The Painting carefully once again. "I still donâ€™t like it. Having these few out of place trees in an otherwise normal Upper Midwest forest makes no sense, but there they are."
"Well, Jeff," Aunt Will asked, "what do you make of that?
Jeff Saunders smiled. Molly believed he was as enamored with Aunt Will as she obviously was of him.
"I don't know Aunt Will. It's almost as if the artist was trying to send someone a message. But what that message could be, I can't imagine."
"A smart young man, don't you think, Molly?"
Careful, Aunt Will, thought Molly. You be real careful. She thought, I don't like the way Aunt Will is looking at me and then at Saunders and then back at me. And I'm not sure I like the way Saunders has been looking at me, either. That's the trouble. I'm not sure!
Saunders asked Molly, will you be here long?"
Molly thought about how to answer but was saved by another family member.
"Hi, guys!" Daniel Webster Morgan, II., entered the room.
"Jeff, this is our cousin, Daniel Morgan," said Molly. "Uncle Webb, meet Jeff Saunders."
The men shook hands. "Thanks, Molly, but I always think that introduction is confusing." To Saunders, he said, "My full name is rather unusual. It's Daniel Webster Morgan. While it might seem that I am named after the famous statesman and politician, I am actually named after my late uncle, Daniel Webster Morgan, who died, before I was born, on Omaha Beach in the Invasion of Normandy on D-Day, the sixth of June, 1944. Everybody calls me Webb."
Webb Morgan stared at the emblem on Saunders' hat that he still carried in his left hand. "What kind of trouble have these two gotten into that the Government is needed? Watch out for them. They are a real pair to draw to. They can be trouble." He grinned. Aunt Will frowned.
Saunders glanced at his hat and explained. "I'm a forester. Trees are my special interest. Trees from all over the continental U. S. These ladies had some questions about the trees depicted in this painting." He pointed to the wall above the mantle.
"You mean that old painting of Deer Lake?"
They all stared at Webster Morgan.
"Uncle Webb, you mean you know where this is?"
"Molly, I've been coming up here almost all of my life. I haven't been to Deer Lake in a long time, but I used to go there a lot." He moved to the fireplace, pulling a thin stick from a kindling box by the hearth to use as a pointer. "See up there where the water widens at the top? There's an old corduroy road going across right here." He pointed with the stick. "The loggers put it in around 1900. When the water's low, you can walk across it.
"Over here," he tapped the stick on a grassy slope to the left of the water, "I had a deer stand, three years running. And this meadow at the bottom is what the kids at the north end of Hammill called 'First Meadow.' That's where I thought the painting got its name."
Molly stared at him in silence. Aunt Will stared at him in silence. Jeff Saunders asked, "Where is this Deer Lake?"
"Just off the north end of Lake Hammill."
"Uncle Webb, how long have you known the location of the scene in The Painting?" asked Molly.
"All my life, or almost, I guess. Grampa Morgan first took my brother Bernie and me up there when we were little. Our younger brother, Art, was too little. Aunt Will didn't he take you?"
She shook her head. "No, I think that must have been just for the boys. It was a different time. I'm sure he must have taken my brothers, but I never heard of anything called Deer Lake around here."
"That's right. Dad said he and his older brother, my namesake, went with Grampa Morgan, too. After Grampa died, we used to go up there with Dad and then by ourselves when we got older.
"You mean old A.W. Morgan knew where this was?" Molly pointed at The Painting.
"Well, I don't know if he ever called it 'First Meadow,' but I know he knew where Deer Lake was. He taught me, my brother and our cousins."
After Webster Morgan left, Molly, Aunt Will and Jeff Saunders stayed in the Great Room. No one said anything for several minutes. Saunders moved closer to the fireplace, studying The Painting again. "Well, I'll say one thing," he finally said. "If this place is right off the end of Hammill and within a mile or two of here, then the artist had some purpose for these trees that don't belong. And that marten. What's he staring at?"
Aunt Will looked at Molly, one eyebrow raised. Molly shook her head, no. They were not telling this guy what they knew.
They led Saunders back out to the deck.
"Molly?" Saunders asked.
"Before your cousin came in, I was asking how long you would be around here."
Molly tried not to show her discomfort. She didn't know why he needed to know her plans, but it was clear that Aunt Will thought she knew why.
"I'm not sure," she answered. "I have obligations, here, but I am also trying to get back into my law practice in Minneapolis. They both keep me hopping. I really can't make any plans." Aunt Will sent her a disapproving look. Molly hoped her response did not appear too vague or evasive. But, she just met this guy. She wasn't interested in getting to know any other persons any better than she already knew them.
Jeff Saunders looked a little down as he said his goodbyes and made his way back to his Jeep.
"Well, Molly," Aunt Will said in one of her criticizing tones, "you certainly cut him off at the pass, no pun intended."
"Maybe a pass is just what I was worried about."
"I don't know if you would call it a pass, but I think he was about to ask you out to dinner. Did you see how crestfallen he looked when he left? Too bad. I like him."
"I know you do, Aunt Will."
Rex Allen Winkler sat at a table in the interrogation room at police headquarters. Sergeant Mike Shaughnessy and two other detectives did the questioning. They switched off asking, each suddenly entering the conversation with a change of subject designed to keep Winkler off balance. When they did the good cop, bad cop routine, Shaughnessy was the bad cop or, with three of them, he was sometimes in the middle between the good cop and the bad cop. His size alone made him intimidating to anyone.
"Have you ever used an alias or false name?" asked one of the younger detectives. Without waiting for an answer, "Do you know who Richard A. Wolner is?"
They peppered him with questions. Shaughnessy believed, or knew, that Rex Allen was lying, had been lying at C.W. Lewis' office and would lie now. He had told his team to hammer him with questions, to keep him off balance and not give him time to think up another lie.
It worked. After two hours of questions, Rex Allen stumbled. When asked about his visits to see Elliot Morgan at the nursing home, he acknowledged visiting him after January first.
"But you just said the last time you saw him was before Christmas," snapped one of the detectives. "And that's what you said at Mr. Lewis' office. We have that on tape. Would you like to hear it?"
Rex Allen was beginning to unfold. He acknowledged being the one who used the name, Wolner in later visits. They confronted him with the arsenic in the blood pressure medicine bottle they had found in the safe deposit box at the bank. He stared at it, appeared to know he was caught and said, "I guess I'd better have that lawyer now."
Shaughnessy turned off the video tape and directed one of the detectives to bring Rex Allen a a phone.
Rex Allen was transported to Ashland where the County Attorney and local police had questions for him regarding certain embezzlement issues at at the bank. Shaughnessy followed along. After the questioning in Ashland, Minneapolis officers took Rex Allen back to be held in the Hennepin County Jail awaiting his first court appearance there.
On his way back to Minneapolis, Shaughnessy stopped by Standing Pines Lodge to report to Molly and Aunt Will. Jim Brennan, who had business in Hayward, followed in a Bayfield squad car. Together they briefed Molly and Aunt Will on the interrogation of Rex Allen Winkler and his ultimate confession.
"When his lawyer arrived, they met alone for about an hour. Then they came back to us looking for a deal. We let the County Attorney's office handle that. They reached an agreement. We have his signed confession. His sentence will be determined by the attorneys and the Court.
"I donâ€™t suppose youâ€™d let me get my hands on the little shit."
"Aunt Will!" Molly knew Aunt Will could turn a phrase now and then, but she had never heard her use anything close to profanity other than a very occasional "damn" or "Hell."
Shaughnessy grinned and looked at Brennan. Turning back to the ladies, he said, "No, Wilhelmina, I donâ€™t think we would, much as I might like to. As you know, I asked Officer Brennan to keep an eye on you and whatâ€™s happening up here in Bayfield County because I was concerned for your safety. Now, I think you can rest easy and so can I. With Rex Allen behind bars, you are safe, no matter what you two might be up to next."
Jim Brennan spoke up. "I think Mike is right, ladies, but if you need anything give me a call. I can always be here in about an hour and I can have a sheriff's deputy here in minutes.
After they left, Aunt Will remarked, "I didn't realize we were in danger, did you?"
"No, but I knew Sergeant Shaughnessy was concerned. Remember he said something right after he determined Uncle Elliot's death was not natural."
"Well, I'm glad they caught the little jerk. I wonder what will happen to him."
"He will be prosecuted in Hennepin County District Court. I'm sure Sergeant Shaughnessy will keep us informed. You might even have to testify."
"Really? I could get into that."
Later, Molly and Aunt Will met alone to decide what to do. They thought they now knew where the gold was buried, if there was gold at all. Uncle Webb and Jeff Saunders knew they were looking at a nearby place called Deer lake, but they didn't know about the suspicion of gold. Molly was convinced that if the family knew about their suspicions of buried treasure, everybody would charge into the woods armed with shovels and who knows what else. They should continue to keep their suspicions quiet. Aunt Will agreed.
So, they decided they needed a reconnaissance trip. Molly had driven up Tri-lakes Road to where she thought they would enter to walk to Deer Lake. She found that the underbrush was so thick and full of sharp branches and even some thorns that her shorts and sandals were no good. She didn't believe Aunt Will could handle the hike that would be necessary. They would come back properly dressed. Aunt Will would stay in the car. They would go the next day.
Later that day, Aunt Will sat in the Great Room near Molly. Molly knew Aunt Will was watching her. Molly sat in her favorite big chair staring at The Painting. The pine marten still stared in the direction of the birch tree. Molly was having a hard time looking to the spot where the marten was looking, without seeing the birch tree as she knew it was when viewed upside down with the man with the shovel and the gold coins.
"I see you are enjoying the lodge's above-the-mantle art, again." Uncle Webb had entered the room without Molly realizing it, she was so preoccupied by The Painting. "You know there more of those up in the attic?"
"Yes, Webster, I know," said Aunt Will." Mr. Reed gave quite a few to Great Grampa Morgan. Are they of Indians, too?"
"I don't mean Rollie Reed photographs, Aunt Will. There are some of those up there, too, for sure. But I mean the paintings, the Wm Werner Wells paintings. They aren't as big as First Meadow, but they are very good."
"What?" said Molly. "You mean more paintings? By Wm Werner Wells?"
"That's right. I think there are three or four. They've been up there for years."
The man they called Colonel watched from the shelter of the covering bows of a Balsam Fir. The Balsam stood on the edge of the meadow, its thick bows hanging out over the meadow grass. A good place for a whitetail to hunker down in weather, thought the Colonel. A good place from which to watch. A good place from which to ambush. He rested his rifle against the trunk of the tree and waited. The meadow by which he waited was long, narrow and bisected by a small pond, wider at the north end and narrowing down to nothing at the south end. An old corduroy road from logging days in the early years of the past century crossed the wider part of the pond barely above the water level.
He had conducted his own surveillance of the woman called Molly Graham for some time now. Ever since they met and she overreacted, he thought, to his questions about her family's property, he had thought it prudent to watch out for her and to watch her. The surveillance may be paying off this very morning. At first, her actions meant little to him. Gradually he began to believe that she might be onto the possibility of hidden gold in the area. He had observed her park on the side of the Tri-Lakes Road the day before. She stared into the woods, taking a few steps. But she was not dressed for it. Her shorts, bare legs and open-toed sandals wouldn't work in this thick forest. So, he had gone in where he believed she would go and he waited. He had been at his stand yesterday afternoon and all of today since first light. He planned to stay as long as it took. He could go in each morning early and come o ut after dark if she didn't show.
He watched. If today was the day, she should be coming in from the other side of the meadow. From the west. A pair of gray squirrels who had been chasing each other in the branches of a nearby oak suddenly stopped. They looked across the meadow. Then he saw her. Her yellow windbreaker appeared, moving through the trees about forty or fifty feet back in the thick woods.
The Colonel was normally a patient and cautious man. He had nearly five years invested in this search. Now, with what he estimated to be more than fifteen million to be realized, if you knew where to go and how to make a deal with uncirculated gold double eagles, and he did, he was anxious, eager and less than patient. He reached for his carbine.
He was alone. By choice. He had always kept the exact object of this particular search a secret from his team. He did that intentionally. When this job was done, he was done. They knew he was after something, but they had no idea it was this big. On previous jobs, when they had failed to find that for which they searched, they just went on to the next project. It was not an easy business. Nothing was guaranteed. He knew if he could locate the gold by himself, he could convince them that they had simply been unsuccessful and they should move on. It had happened before more times than he liked to think. Once he learned the location, he could leave it and come back at his leisure to remove it to a place under his control. That's if it remained a secret. He would have to see to that. By her actions, the Colonel figured that whatever Ms. Graham knew or suspected about the gold, she had kept it to herself. Otherwise she wouldn't be sneaking around out here by herself. And the Colonel knew how gold affected the minds of men and women. It was simply natural to keep one's knowledge of hidden gold to one's self. Her secrecy would have to stay that way.
He checked the action of the carbine insuring that a round was ready in the chamber. The rifle he carried was a Winchester 30-30 lever action carbine. A typical deer rifle in those woods. It would do the job.
His grip tightened on the rifle as she stepped out of the woods into the meadow. She was carrying a small shovel! She approached the water's edge, walked across the old corduroy road and followed a path along the narrow part of the pond towards the other meadow at the south end just beyond where the water stopped.
She seems to know where she's going. He watched her pause and look at a sheet of paper, then look ahead and start walking along the water's edge again. My god! Does she have a map?
The Colonel had always believed there had to be some kind of map. The gold was buried or hidden so long ago that the people back then would have to leave a map for others in the future. After all, he mused, it had been about a hundred years. Maybe more. Nothing was found at Dinner Camp Lake when they searched the old cabin, but it had been so long, it would hardly have survived unless it was well hidden.
The woman disappeared into the brush at the south end of the pond. He could just make out her yellow jacket moving through the alder brush. Carbine in the crook of his left arm, he crawled out of the Balsam thicket and started after her.
When he got to the end of the water, he could no longer see her. He could not afford to lose her! He went through the alder brush as quietly but as quickly as possible, emerging on the other side into another meadow that was beginning to become overgrown. A few young trees they called popples around here, that he knew as Aspen out west, and white pines were filling in. If the new trees kept growing and multiplying, it would no longer be able to be called a meadow. The new growth wasn't much more than five feet high in most places. The young trees were sparse enough to see in between, but could provide cover when needed. He looked. She was gone! He moved ahead cautiously. Then he heard a metallic sound to his right. Straining to see, he finally picked out her yellow jacket moving slightly. Moving closer, he saw that she was poking at something with the shovel near the base of a paper birch tree, its trunk rising straight into the air above the meadow. She pressed the tip of the shovel into the ground, placed her right foot on the heel of the blade and pushed. The shovel sank into the soft ground.
"That's enough," the Colonel said as he stepped around a young pine and leveled the carbine at her. "I want to thank you for finding it for me. Now," he gestured with the rifle, "lay the shovel on the ground right there and step away."
The woman followed his direction. She looked frightened but did not say anything. Good. I hope she is frightened enough not to try anything. Keeping the rifle trained on her, he pulled his cell phone to take pictures. He photographed the ground around the shovel. Then, he moved the shovel and took more photos. Finally, he slipped a two-inch, gray tile in the ground where the woman had pushed the shovel tip. Spreading some leaves over the shovel's scar in the ground, he was satisfied and turned back to the woman who had not moved.
Returning his cell phone to his pocket, he looked at the woman. "Do you have a cell phone?" she nodded. "Give it to me." She started to reach into her jacket pocket. "Hold it! I'll do it." He stepped closer to her. Keeping the rifle ready in his right hand, he reached in her pocket with his left. Her cell phone was in a red plaid case. The Colonel dropped it on the ground and smashed it with the butt of the rifle. He picked up the shattered phone, examined it and, satisfied, he put the remains in his own pocket. "Now let's get out of here," he said, gesturing with the rifle.
Things were going according to the Colonel's plan. Now he knew where the gold was. Since she had come alone, he didn't think she had told anyone. No one else knows! It's just me and her! And soon, it will be just me. It's wonderful when a plan comes together.
The USGS topo map and Google Earth had showed him extensive areas of roadless forest to the north. Not endless like in northern Minnesota, but for at least a mile or two to the north and a half mile to the east or west without roads or buildings. A place where a well-hidden body would not be found for years. Maybe never.
He carried the shovel and motioned to the woman with his rifle. Getting her started back toward the pond, he followed closely behind. He would not be back too soon. People would know when she went missing. If she drove, which he assumed, since she had driven before, her car would be found out on the road. The woods on both sides of the road would be full of searchers. But he would be long gone, to return another day. He had waited a long time and could wait some more When he did return to this meadow, he would easily find the site by using his smart phone to locate the tile and the buried treasure it marked. The small tile sent a signal that his phone could recognize through an app he got with the tile for fifteen dollars. It was made to keep people from losing their keys and similar functions. He would be able to see its location on the phone's screen and even make it sound a tone if he wanted. All he had to do was get within a hundred feet of the location. Fifteen dollars for Fifteen Million. Not bad. Technology was great.
But, first things first. They began to work their way through the alder brush at the base of the pond.
Molly walked slowly up alongside Deer Lake. Her knees felt like rubber. The uneven ground at water's edge made walking difficult in the best of circumstances. She pictured her Brian, the Army Ranger, coming out of the woods to save her. But that, of course, wouldn't happen. Instead, the man behind her prodded her with the end of the barrel of his rifle, saying, "C'mon. Let's move along, now."
The end of the rifle barrel felt hard and cold even through her windbreaker and shirt. Maybe it was just her apprehension. They were heading north along Deer Lake. At the north end, she would turn to the left and head west through the woods back to the road where Aunt Will was waiting in the car. She didn't think they were going to head west. She expected he would continue to push her north farther into the woods. Or, was it further into the woods as in being farther away and in further trouble. My God, she thought. I am going nuts!
That she was scared enough to go nuts was clear. She tried to think of a way out of her predicament, but she was too frightened to think straight.
They reached and crossed the corduroy road. Molly started to turn to the west.
"Hold it, there! We're not going that way. Straight ahead please." He pushed her in the back with the rifle barrel again. It was as hard and cold as before.
"Where are you taking me?" She could barely speak loud enough to be heard.
But the man heard her. "Don't you worry about that," he said. "We'll be there soon enough."
They left the north end of Deer Lake and walked at what Molly reckoned was about due north. They were headed into an area of Federal land between the Morgan property and Half Moon, a 500-acre tract with Half Moon Lake and Horseshoe Lake, both small private lakes, and a two-story lodge not unlike Standing Pines Lodge and about the same age.
The forest got thicker and thicker as they walked. Walking became more difficult.
The Colonel looked around. The woods were thick. There wouldn't be anybody here until at least grouse season or more probably deer season and then it was unlikely they would see her with what he had in mind.
"That's far enough," he said.
Molly stopped. She turned and looked at him. The cold fear she felt was like nothing she had ever experienced. Her knees were shaking. Although it was not warm, she felt sweat forming on her forehead. The inside of her mouth tasted like aluminum foil.
He raised the rifle, pointed skyward as if he were raising an arm to point. "Over there." He gestured with the rifle.
"That's far enough for you!" another voice said.
A shot rang out. Another.
Molly saw the man drop his rifle, grab his left leg and collapse, bleeding and moaning in pain.
Molly's young cousin, Mickey Dolan leaped from behind a balsam and grabbed the man's rifle. His cousin, Billy Franklin, emerged from behind the same balsam carrying two rifles, presumably his and Mickey's. Mollyâ€™s older brother, George appeared carrying a carbine like the man had held. He walked toward the man, looked at him and then turned to Molly. She collapsed in his arms. He handed his rifle to Mickey, using both arms to hold Molly tight. Mickey and Billy each set aside one rifle and held another pointed at the man writhing on the ground.
"Oh, God!" Molly sobbed. She looked up at George. Where did you come from? How did you know?"
"Aunt Will," he answered. "Cell phone." He turned to the boys. "Billy, you'd better call Aunt Will and let her know Molly is safe. Mickey, keep that rifle trained on that son of a bitch." He turned back to Molly. "Can you walk?"
She nodded. "I think so."
"We'll get you back. Then, Sis, we'll talk about what you have been up to, what you have done and not done. But, I'm not sure what to do with him. Just as soon leave him here, but he might survive." He thought for a moment. "Billy, can you call 911 on that thing?"
Billy nodded and began punching numbers.
"When you're done, call the lodge and get someone out here to wait for the Sheriff's deputies. Do you know where you are?"
Billy looked at him like he was nuts, as if to say, "Are you kidding?" or "Does the bear shit in the woods?"
"Right," said George.
Mickey Dolan grinned, then kept the rifle where the man whose men called him Colonel could see it. He had stopped writhing. He didn't move and didn't take his eyes off the rifle in the young man's hands.
Fifteen minutes later, Patrick and Rita Dolan, Mickey's parents, came thrashing through the woods on a four-wheeler. The woods were too thick where the boys, George, Molly and the man were, so they hopped off and ran the last twenty yards. Seeing her eighteen-year old son holding a rifle on the man lying on the ground, Rita Dolan ran to him and said, "Mickey, if this son of a bitch moves, shoot him! Did you hear that, prick?" She raised a foot to kick the man, thought better of it and ran to comfort her cousin Molly.
"Thanks for coming, Pat," said George. Sheriff's deputies should be on their way. We need somebody to watch this guy while we get Molly out of here."
"No problem. We'll watch him. I couldn't have kept Rita away when she heard. Billy talked to her first, when she heard about Molly and then that Mickey was here, she had us out the door so fast, I barely had time to find the keys to the ATV. How were you able to get off a shot without Molly getting hurt?"
"We got lucky. He had his Winchester aimed squarely at the middle of her back and just a few feet away. There was no chance at a shot or to stop him with a command without Molly getting shot or us being in a stalemate. But, then he raised the rifle to gesture with it to tell her where he wanted her to go. When the barrel went skyward, I yelled to distract him, you know, like whistling at a moving deer will stop it in its tracks for a moment. I fired at his lower body, hitting him in the leg. One of the boys fired, too."
"They both looked at Mickey. "Billy," he said.
"You better start back, George," said Rita. "Aunt Will is in the car out at the road beside herself with worry."
Back at the lodge, a small group gathered at the big kitchen table. Rita Dolan brewed coffee, putting steaming mugs in front of Molly and Aunt Will. George Graham stood across the table from Molly with the demeanor of the older brother he was. Pat Dolan, Caroline Smith and Billy Freeman's parents, Chet and Nanette were seated around the table.
"We are a little more than curious about what you were doing out there in the woods, Molly," asked George.
"You won't tell our folks, will you, George? It would shatter them both."
"That won't be his decision alone, Molly," said her older brother, Jack, just entering the room with his wife, Jennifer. "But I think you're right about the possible effect on our parents if they hear their little girl was being marched deep into the forest at the business end of a .30-.30 lever-action carbine."
Molly was surprised and apparently showed it.
"George told me about it. I'm sure we'll be able to keep the scariest parts from the folks."
"But George and I and some others around here would like to know what you and your 'partner in crime,' there, were up to."
George and several others nodded.
Mickey Dolan and Billy Franklin, the inseparable cousins, appeared in the doorway. "Sheriff's deputies came along with an ambulance," said Mickey. "The guy was hurtin' pretty bad. Uncle George, we think your bullet probably hit the bone. Soft lead like that would have expanded and destroyed the bone. Anyway, the EMT's gave him something that calmed him a little. They were going to run him down to Hayward and, if necessary, on over to Duluth."
"Thanks guys. Thanks for the help. We were just about to hear what your Aunt Molly and your Aunt Will were doing out there, weren't we ladies?"
Molly and Aunt Will exchanged glances. Aunt Will held her mug up to her lips like she was trying to hide behind it.
"Oh, and boys?"
"Yes, Uncle George?" they said in unison.
"Boys, what you are about to hear remains in this room. Your involvement and help is something for which we are all grateful. I think you are entitled to hear the explanation we're waiting for, but don't spread it around. Okay?"
"Yes, sir," they answered.
George turned to Molly. They were all staring at her. "Well, Molly?"
Molly began her story.
She told how she and Aunt Will had always been interested in The Painting by Wm Werner Wells, how they read his poetry and the journal kept by A. W. Morgan so many years ago. She did not mention Dr. Bishara or pareidolia or about turning The Painting upside down. She told how their interest in Wells got Molly started on her internet research. She told of the remarkable discovery of Etta Place, the woman who bought the Dinner Camp property in 1919 and was an auxiliary member of the Wild Bunch. She described their meetings with the forester, Jeff Saunders, and the revelation from Uncle Webb that the scene in The Painting was Deer Lake, just north of Lake Hammill.
"After that, we just had to go gold hunting," she said.
"Well," said Jack," after that, the little sister I know would have been smart enough to tell us about it and take along some help."
"Yeah," agreed George. "Why didn't you?"
"We thought you would think we were crazy. Besides, you all have seen how this wonderfully unified family came apart into what our father calls 'factions' as soon as the future of Standing Pines came into question."
"Imagine if those 'factions' thought there might be buried gold somewhere on the property," said Aunt Will. "It would look like the 1849 California Gold Rush around here."
"She's right," Molly said. "That's why I want this story to be kept quiet until we know what we have, or at least what's there or not there."
Molly looked around the room. All those present agreed.
They started out right after breakfast. Molly's brothers, George and Jack, with Molly and Aunt Will in Molly's Jeep Grand Cherokee, Billy Franklin and Mickey Dolan in the lodge's four-wheel Drive Ford pickup and Patrick and Rita Dolan on their four-wheeler. Chet and Nanette Franklin, Caroline Smith and Jennifer Graham stayed at the lodge to fend off any questions from curious relatives. Billy and Mickey had digging tools and canvas duffle bags in the back of the pickup.
Off of Tri-Lakes Road they found an old logging road that went close by the meadow. Leaving the Jeep out on the blacktop, they piled into the back of the pickup. Aunt Will was given the passenger seat. Mickey Dolan put it in four wheel drive and followed his parents who led the way on their ATV.
At the meadow, which she now thought of as "First Meadow," Molly led them on foot to the location of the birch tree. It was not, as she found out at her first visit, a birch with a split trunk. Jeff Saunders had been right about that shape of birch being out of place. This one had a straight, tall trunk like others in the forest. Wm Werner Wells had changed the tree to help him create his double image.
"This is the place." She pointed to the ground about two feet from the base of the tree. "That gray thing is something that that man put where my shovel hit something."
"You never saw what you hit?"
"How do you know it's the gold you are looking for?"
"I don't. But this is where Aunt Will and I thought looking at The Painting and where the pine marten was looking. I was about to start looking when I was interrupted. That man seemed to know something."
"What is it that he put down, there," asked Rita Dolan.
Billy leaned in and studied the gray plastic object. He straightened.
"Find-your-phone-tile," he said.
"A what?" asked Jack.
"It's for tracking lost things like a cell phone, car keys, wallet or just about anything. They make different size tiles. Some have holes so you can put the on a key chain or tie them to something that might get lost or misplaced. Then you can use your phone or iPad or other device to find it. The app will give you a map and show location of what you lost and even ring your phone when you get close. It's cool."
"So, he marked the spot with an electronic tracker?"
"It looks like it, Uncle Jack."
George said, "Well, let's get to work. We're burnin' daylight! I always wanted to say that."
Billy and Mickey handed out digging equipment they had brought from the truck. George put the point of a long-handled digging shovel where Molly pointed and pushed it in with his foot.
"There's something there," he said. "Only about seven or eight inches below the surface."
He started to dig, lifting dirt to one side. Gradually, a dark object came into view.
"What is it?" asked Rita Dolan.
"Can't tell, yet. But it isn't hard. It's like a tarp or something." George poked it with the shovel point. A tear in the fabric began to open. In the sunlight pouring into the shallow hole the gleaming reflection was unmistakable. Gold!
The people all stared. They held their reflective breath. No one said anything. Finally, George gave the old fabric another jab with the shovel. Shimmering yellow-gold coins poured out into the hole!
"Oh my God!" exclaimed Rita Dolan. "Would you look at that!"
Mickey Dolan got down on his knees to help George scoop up some of the coins. They filled the shovel which George then raised and held out for the rest to examine.
Hands reached to touch the treasure. Some held a few coins for a moment and then returned them to the shovel. Billy Franklin ran back to the truck for the duffel bags.
"What do we do, now?" asked Patrick Dolan. "We have no idea how much is in there."
Aunt Will answered. "We get it back to the lodge. Under cover. We count it. We don't tell anyone, while Molly checks with the lawyers in the Cities."
No one disagreed. They did just that.
Monday morning, Molly listened to the electronic sound indicating a telephone at the other end was ringing.
"Beeman, Bjork and Berman. How may I direct your call?"
"Mac Winter, please."
"He is in his office. I will let him know you are calling."
Barely a moment passed. "Mac Winter."
"Mac, itâ€™s Molly Graham. Do you have a minute?"
"Of course, Molly. What esoteric, law school type question do you have for us this time?"
"Of course. Understood."
"Mac, I asked you at our last meeting about ownership of found money if we found something."
"I remember. A hypothetical. You were pretty closed-mouthed as I recall."
"I had to be. I only had suspicions, then. Well, now we have found it."
"Found what, exactly?"
"Gold? What gold? Molly, just have you gotten yourself into?"
Molly gave Mac Winter an abbreviated rundown on their finding of the gold and her research that led her to believe they might find it. She did not tell him about The Painting or its role in their search for and discovery of the lost and buried gold.
Mac was silent for a minute. Molly thought maybe he had left his office with the phone off the hook. Finally, he said, "Molly, how important this matter is or is not depends, I suppose, on how much you found or the value of what you found."
"We found old gold and silver coins, Mac. If it is from the source I am thinking, its face value was about Two Hundred and Fifty Thousand Dollars."
"Uh, huh. A tidy sum."
"I don't know how the real value. Of course inflation has lessened its purchasing power by a lot compared to what it could buy back when the coins were in circulation. But this is gold. My online research suggests that the gold value alone might be worth Fifteen Million Dollars, today. The coins may be worth more."
"My God, Molly!"
"Yeah. Mac, I am not going to try to figure out tax consequences even if we can keep it. Not my area of expertise."
"After our last meeting, my partner, Paul, suggested I tell you to be very careful. The Internal Revenue Code requires the payment of taxes on all income, defining gross income as â€˜all income from whatever source derived.â€™ State income taxes are based on federal tax calculations. Paul says you have to pay in the tax year in which the money is found. He says, â€˜Donâ€™t screw around with Uncle Sam!â€™ Thatâ€™s a quote."
"Thatâ€™s what I thought. And I wonâ€™t, â€˜screw around,â€™ that is."
"Molly, I presume you think your gold may be worth more than the face value of the coins because they are old and rare and collectible?"
"Thatâ€™s right. I need to get them appraised or something. I don't know how to do that."
"Molly, my practice takes me to many unusual areas of interest. Lots of estates include old coin collections that have to be appraised and often sold through a dealer. They sell them at advertised auctions. Apparently, that's the way to maximize the prices realized."
"You know a dealer? How do you know whom to trust?"
I have used Petter-Mark Trading Company. They handle rare coin transactions by consignment or purchase and resale. They do certified appraisals. They have auctions all over the country at which coins, currency and other goods are advertised in advance to attract likely bidders. My impression is that they get the best prices for their clients. If you give me a description of the coins involved, I'll be happy to call Aaron Bader at Petter-Mark. I have worked with him many times in the past, but not with the amount you're talking about. If you give me a description of the coins and even a hint of how many you have, he'll be on a plane and here by tomorrow, I am sure."
"I suppose there is a fee."
"You bet, but I think it's like personal injury lawyers. With the right ones, you will net more with them than without."
"Okay. Do it. Thanks, Mac."
Molly closed out the call and tapped in the numbers of the bank in Ashland.
Later, with Aunt Will in the kitchen, Molly put together her plan. "I see the bankâ€™s new president tomorrow. Mac Winter has a rare coin appraiser coming in on Wednesday. I hope to have everything put together by the end of the week. Aunt Will, I think we are finally in the driverâ€™s seat!"
"Well, as the kids say, â€˜Put the pedal to the metal and donâ€™t look back!â€™ Being slightly more conservative, I say, â€˜Both hands on the wheel, eyes on the road ahead and move forward slowly and carefully.â€™"
"I think your version fits better in this situation, assuming I can get the vehicle under control at all. Do you think you could set up a family meeting for this Saturday?"
"No problem. And I know where to get some help. Itâ€™s the Fourth of July weekend. Most of the family will be here, anyway."
Molly had nearly forgotten. The Fourth was Tuesday. While Monday was technically not a holiday, most took it off to get what amounted to a four day weekend, a mini-vacation. If she could get all the loose ends tied up, it would be a good time to bring things back to normal and erase the pall that had hung over Standing Pines for too long. IF.
With Aunt Will busy arranging a family meeting for Saturday, Molly spent the rest of the week getting ready. After phone calls with Mac Winter and the new president of the Bank of Lake Superior, she had sat at the desk in her room with a legal pad, listing what needed to be done. All of the issues the family had back in early May had to be addressed. More than that, they all had to be solved, if at all possible.
She went back to Minneapolis, switched the Grand Cherokee for her roadster, the better, she felt, to attack her list of what needed to be done. She was excited. She felt exhilarated. The roadster complemented and went with those feelings. She began a list of appointments, some scheduled and some not. She first visited Mac Winter and Aaron Bader, the Petter-Mark appraiser, at Mac's office.
Aaron Bader was not what Molly expected. A rare coin appraiser and gold dealer was rather like a diamond merchant, she thought. Medium height and weight, trimmed beard, hat, rimless spectacles, stern, business-like aura. Wrong. Aaron Bader was tall; runnerâ€™s physique; thick, wavy blond hair; clear blue eyes and a relaxed, easy smile. Molly found herself subconsciously checking his left hand for a wedding ring, something she had not done for a long time, except for Jeff Saunders, she realized.
"Molly," Mac Winter began, after introductions, "I gave Aaron the description of the coins you gave me. He says heâ€™s familiar with both."
"Thatâ€™s right, Molly. May I call you that?"
"Please." He was relaxed, polite and still good looking.
"Molly, Mac says you have some Morgan Silver Dollars and some twenty-dollar gold Double Eagles, both 1897. In the world of old coins, these are old, but not that old. But, they are collectible and can bring a good price. A lot depends on their condition, of course."
Molly reached into her purse and handed Bader a small package wrapped in tissue paper.
He took it, placed it on Mac Winterâ€™s desk and began to slowly and carefully open the wrapping. Molly could see the anticipation on his face. As the wrapping came open, his eyes widened. A look of amazement took over his face. He said nothing. In the light of the desk lamp, the coins shined brightly, the gold and silver sparkling like the coins had their own light source.
"Why, these look new!" Bader exclaimed. From his jacket pocket, he produced a jewelerâ€™s loupe with which he closely examined the coins, first a gold one, then silver, then all the rest. Finally, he looked up, stared at Molly, then at Mac, then back at Molly. Clearing his throat, he asked, hesitantly, "How many more of these do you have?"
Molly answered. "Of the silver dollars, about ten thousand. Of the gold, we have roughly twelve thousand, five hundred."
Baderâ€™s shock was complete. Mac Winter grinned. Obviously, he had not given Bader any idea of the size of the lost treasure.
The conversation continued. Bader was excited about the sale opportunities. This would top the auction calendar, he said. They discussed arrangements, dealerâ€™s fees, appraisal and using a bonded shipper to transport the coins.
Molly thanked them both and left to visit Mike Shaughnessy. Later, she found Uncle Art at his office and then stopped to see Jim Belden in Stillwater on her way back north. After going through Trego, she pulled the roadster in to a rest stop along the Namakagon River to call Joe Watkins, Jr. and Carter Winslow.
The last big item on her list was a meeting with the bank. On Thursday, she drove the roadster up to Ashland. She was on a mission. The roadster seemed to know it. Through the flats of the Bibon Swamp, there was no holding it back. Molly didnâ€™t try. The new bank president, a pleasant man called Randolph Jordan, turned out to be quite cooperative. Molly figured the bank had its own issues to be put to rest, if possible. An accommodation was reached. The trip back to Standing Pines Lodge was quite pleasant. Molly felt she was ready for the family meeting, at least as ready as she would ever be.
The Fourth of July Weekend was always a huge weekend at Standing Pines Lodge, a mid-summer celebration when most of the family had at least three days off and sometimes longer. This year Independence Day was on a Tuesday. Those who could, took Monday off as well, getting a four-day weekend. A mini-vacation. But this holiday weekend had family business to attend to. As requested, Aunt Will had called a meeting for Saturday morning in the Great Room. The meeting began at ten o'clock in the morning.
Family members gathered in the Great Room as before. Aunt Will set up a table like last time. She scurried around like a courtroom bailiff getting people seated and asking for quiet as the meeting was about to start. All she didnâ€™t do was command, "All rise!" as the meeting began. Molly saw that, for the most part, family members gathered in the same groups and in pretty much the same locations as that first meeting seven weeks ago. Uncles Art and Bernie sat near the speakerâ€™s table. Uncle Webb and Aunt Genevieve stood with the Franklins near the sliding glass doors to the front deck. The Jensens stood near the main entrance. The Watkinses, Winslows and Jack and Florence Smith were together again. The Beldens and Swensonâ€™s sat near the fireplace and the speakerâ€™s table. Mollyâ€™s own family stood behind them by the fireplace directly below The Painting.
And it wasnâ€™t all family. Molly had asked Sergeant Shaughnessy to join them. C.W., â€œbut you can call me C.W.,â€ Lewis was there. Molly suspected Aunt Will of inviting him, or maybe he invited himself. The way things were turning out, Molly didnâ€™t care. In fact, Dr. Faruk Bishara was coming this weekend for that promised look at The Painting. But he wasnâ€™t coming until Sunday or Monday. The assembly had quieted down at Aunt Willâ€™s assistance. They waited to hear from Molly.
She moved to the speakerâ€™s table, opening a thin three-ring binder. "Good morning, all!" she began. "Thank you for coming."
She briefly went through the events of the past weeks. Although many knew some of what had happened, few knew it all and no one, except Aunt Will knew everything she had accomplished in the last few days. A certain amount of leakage and gossip was unavoidable, Molly knew. It became apparent as she began to be peppered with questions. Her orderly, planned presentation didnâ€™t happen.
Rita Dolan asked the first question. "Molly, what happened to that asshole who had a rifle on you back in the woods? The jerk that George and the boys shot?"
Molly shuddered, remembering the scene back at First Meadow and being marched up past Deer Lake toward her last breath when brother George and nephews Billy Franklin and Mickey Dolan had come to her rescue. Rita had appeared on the scene moments later. Before answering, she looked for her parents. She had not talked to them since that incident. They were standing near the fireplace with her brothers and their wives. They did not appear to be shocked by Rita's question. Her brother Jack nodded to her. Thank goodness he and George must have explained things.
"I donâ€™t know all the details, Rita," she answered. "You were there and I thank you for that. I understand he was called the Colonel. He was shot and wounded, as you said. I am told that after we left, Sheriffâ€™s deputies arrived and took him into custody. I donâ€™t know any details after that."
"Well, I hope they nail his ass!" Rita Dolan returned to her seat.
"I have a question, too." It was Chester Franklin.
"The police were looking into Uncle Elliot's death. I never heard how that came out."
Molly answered. "Yes, Chet, that's true. Sergeant Shaughnessy of Minneapolis P. D. handled that. I'll let him tell you. Mike?"
Shaughnessy rose from his chair. Everyone looked up at him. Way up. Most were obviously astonished at his great size. "We were initially dissatisfied with the conclusion that Mr. Elliot Morgan had passed away from natural causes," he began. "The evidence was inconclusive. Then the testing lab found traces of a heavy metal in some of his ashes." Another gasp from across the room. "We began investigating, including all of you, I'm afraid, since everyone is a suspect until excluded by evidence showing they could not have done it or evidence showing someone else did it. Eventually, our search led us to a man named Rex Allen Winkler, the president of the very bank in Ashland to whom Elliot Morgan sold this property. We found he had visited Elliot Morgan several times at the nursing â€¦,," he paused, glancing at Aunt Will. The woman seated next to him jabbed him in the ribs. He recovered and continued. "â€¦ at the Assisted Living Facility in the Twin Cities. We also found that he had possession of a chemical substance consistent with the lab's findings. With the help of Mr. Lewis, the intended developer, we set Winkler up, caught him in several lies and arrested him. Faced with his own lies during our interrogation, Rex Allen Winkler broke down and confessed. The Hennepin County Attorney has brought charges for which Mr. Winkler will be prosecuted.
"While I am standing here, I will tell you that Mr. Andrew Dalton, otherwise known to his work crew as the Colonel was in fact a retired Marine Colonel. He used several false names including Alan Dickerson and Arnold Dailey. He currently is in jail in Washburn, being held on charges of assault and attempted murder." He sat back down. Molly noted that Jim Brennan sat on one side of Shaughnessy and a particularly tall muscular woman, the one who gave him the rib shot, sat on the other side.
Caroline Smith called from the back of the room. "Molly, we heard the property was sold to be developed into a commercial resort. Is that right?"
"Yes, Aunt Caroline, that's right. Uncle Elliot sold Standing Pines to the bank in Ashland to get funds in the form of monthly instalment payments to help pay the operating costs of this property. According to their agreement, title to Standing Pines passed to the bank on Uncle Elliot's death and the subsequent recording of the deed. The bank entered into a purchase agreement with a developer who planned to make it a commercial resort, adding more cottages. Because of the two lakes, the developer thought it would make a wonderful resort that could compete with Lakewoods and Garmisch."
"Oh my God!" a voice in the back yelled.
"But," Molly added, "we have come to an understanding with the bank. We had a right of first refusal, but we didn't have to use that or pay the big price the bank was going to get from the developer. The new bank president felt he had some banking regulation issues to deal with and was more than happy to arrive at an accommodation with us. We are paying the bank back all the money it paid to Elliot with interest. We have a quitclaim deed from the bank to eliminate any title objections."
"But what about the developer?" asked Molly's brother, Jack. "You said he had a purchase agreement. What about that?"
Molly stared to speak, but was interrupted. "I can answer that. Standing, the man said, "I am C.W. Lewis. Iâ€™m the one who was going to develop this property."
A murmur went through the crowd.
"Ms. Graham is right. I was going to turn this place into one of the best resorts around with this lodge, cottages, boats, hiking paths and, the piece de resistance, two separate lakes."
Someone across the room groaned.
"Right," Lewis acknowledged. "I learned more about this property and this family and decided I wasnâ€™t going through with the development. Of course, as things turned out I couldnâ€™t get the necessary title to do it anyway. Frankly, I was glad. This property should stay in this family to be loved and enjoyed by you all."
A couple of people in the front nodded their appreciation.
Lewis went on. "I love this country. Iâ€™ve had projects on Lake Owen, Namakagon some smaller lakes in the area and a few down towards Hayward. But I have had none on a property like this. This is unique and should stay that way. Anyway, I have decided to get out of the real estate development business."
Molly was stunned. Was this the "You can call me C.W." she had met not long ago?
"Yes, maybe it is this property or this family, but I have decided to put my energy into another long existing property that needs to be preserved as it is. When I learned it was coming on the market, I bought Garmisch USA, that wonderful lodge and resort on Lake Namakagon." He must have heard the gasp from the back because he said, "Not to worry. We are keeping things the same, with the same friendly staff and the same menu including the German special dishes."
If Molly had been stunned, now she was flabbergasted. She saw that others were, too.
"In fact, I owe this family a great deal, since it is all of you and this place that persuaded me to change my lifestyle. Two weeks from now on Saturday evening, the fifteenth of July, we are closing the dining room for a private party. You are all invited. The menu will be limited but with very special choices, I can assure you. It will be free that night, but you will have plenty of opportunity to come and spend your money there in the future." He smiled and sat down.
The crowd was quiet. Then someone started clapping. Everyone joined in. C.W. Lewis smiled broadly.
"Thank you, Mr. Lewis," said Aunt Will. "I think I will call you C.W. from now on. I plan to be at that party. Now," she looked out at the crowd. "any other questions?"
"Yes, Aunt Will." It was Marilyn Swenson of the Duluth Doctors Swenson. "Molly, where will we get the money to pay back the bank?"
Those involved in the finding of the gold coins had agreed to keep that quiet. During the past week, when Molly was meeting with the "faction" leaders, she had told them but extracted promises of secrecy. At this meeting, they had remained remarkably silent. Now it was time to tell all.
Before she could start, a voice said, "Yeah, Molly. What about the gold?"
Molly looked around to see. It was Uncle Webb. He shouldnâ€™t know. She found her coconspirators. Art Morgan, Jim Belden, Jackson Smith, Joe Watkins, Jr. and Carter Winslow. They all shook their heads.
"What gold?" someone else said.
"Let me explain." Molly carefully avoided talking about pareidolia and Dr. Bishara whom Aunt Will had invited to the lodge and would be arriving later in the weekend. They had sworn Dr. Bishara to secrecy, his price for seeing The Painting for himself. She did not tell how The Painting had given Aunt Will and her the idea there might be gold somewhere. Instead of The Painting, she attributed their suspicions to the artist, Wm Werner Wells, his poetry, his notes to the first A.W. Morgan and A.W. Morganâ€™s journal.
"So, Marilyn, we did a lot of internet research and stumbled on the old train robbery in 1897 where gold coins were stolen and never recovered. Old history of this area showed that the cabin on Dinner Camp Lake was purchased by a woman called Etta Place. At one time, she was a member of the Wild Bunch, a western band of outlaws and train robbers. The artist who created The Painting above our mantle, Wm Werner Wells, lived with Ms. Place at Dinner Camp Lake."
"Do you think he was also a member of the Wild Bunch?" asked George Jensen.
"Who knows? I donâ€™t know for certain. But, I suspect he was either Robert Leroy Parker or Harry Alonzo Longabaugh."
"Who?" someone asked.
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."
"Are you serious, Molly?". Patrick Dolan called from the back. "I saw the movie. Paul Newman and Robert Redford. They died in a shootout in Bolivia."
"Are you sure, Molly?" someone else asked.
"No. But I think so. I guess weâ€™ll never be sure."
"But, Molly," George Jensen stood next to his wife near the main entrance. Becky and little Margaret stood in front of them being remarkably well-behaved. "What can you do with this gold? Can you keep it? What about the original owners? If you can keep it, what about taxes?"
"All good questions, George. We have considered them all and with legal counsel other than me or my law firm. The answers to those questions are, yes, we can keep it and yes, we have to pay taxes. The original owners no longer exist, but even if they did, Wisconsin law says we found it and we can keep it." She was hoping not to have to tell them all the value of the gold. She tried sidestepping that issue.
"The coins are being sold through a rare coins dealer. Ownership of the proceeds will be in the trust Uncle Elliot created for Standing Pines. We will pay off the bank and set aside enough money to own and operate Standing Pines for the benefit of all Morgan family members for the foreseeable future. In addition, amounts will be distributed to family members according to their level of generation, the third-generation members getting the most and the sixth generation the least. But, I should tell you that the amount going to little A.W. will be enough to pay his college tuition, books and room and board for wherever he wants to go and for as long as he might choose."
"Oh my God!" The voice from the back again.
"What about the big question, Molly?" asked Uncle Webb. "What will happen to Standing Pines? That was a big issue back in May."
Molly saw her mother and father and two brothers looking to see what she would say. Her brothers knew what the plan was. She could only assume they had told their parents. Based on that first meeting several weeks ago, she had decided as trustee that the decisions should not be put to the entire family. As trustee, she had certain powers to decide. As the finders of the gold, she and Aunt Will could decide what was done with the money.
She had explained her research into the Wisconsin Finders-Keepers law and the advice she had been given regarding tax consequences. She had not told the family the net amount they would realize for the gold.
Molly looked at her co-conspirators who nodded. "At that Saturday meeting back in May, you may remember we had certain factions within our ranks who had differing ideas about what to do with or about Standing Pines. I have spoken in the last few days with the most vocal of the family members at that meeting. We have reached an agreement about the plan I am describing. There is more. I will remain as trustee honoring Uncle Elliot's choice, retaining the duties and authority of the trustee. But, I have named a management committee to manage Standing Pines and to address the financial holdings of the trust. I will ask them to stand as I name them. Art Morgan."
Arthur W. Morgan, III stood by his chair.
"Jim Belden. Jackson Smith, Joe Watkins, Jr. and Carter Winslow."
They all stood by their chairs.
"These gentlemen have all expressed concern about the management or handling of Standing Pines Lodge, as you know. I have spoken with each of them in the last few days. They have all agreed to serve on the committee I am creating. The committee will manage Standing Pines for the benefit of all family members, pay the bills, maintain the property and the buildings, maintain and purchase, when necessary, all vehicles, boats and so forth. The committee, with the help and advice of the Minneapolis law firm of Beeman, Bjork and Berman, will manage the financial holdings and income of the trust. Annually, the committee will determine if a distribution to family members is appropriate and, if so, direct its payment.
"I think you should all appreciate what these men have agreed to do and give them a hand."
The audience clapped for several seconds. The men smiled and returned to their seats.
"Thank you, gentlemen. So, to you all, I can report that all is well again. Standing Pines Lodge is secure. Once again, it is ours as it has been for the last hundred years. We can all enjoy it now and for the foreseeable future." She closed her binder and looked out at the crowd.
Someone in the back began clapping. Another yelled, "Hear, hear!"
Molly scanned the room, seeing her family, looking proud, her father and mother both smiling broadly. Molly looked to Aunt Will who nodded and smiled. She took a deep breath and stepped away from the speakerâ€™s table.
With the family meeting finally concluded and the crowd dispersing, Molly felt relieved. Several relatives stopped to congratulate her. Aunt Will patted her on the back, smiling broadly and saying, "Well done, Molly. Well done, indeed."
Mike Shaughnessy came by with the big woman Molly had seen with him. He shook her hand completely enveloping it in the palm of his own giant mitt. "Molly, Iâ€™d like you to meet a friend. This is Ruth Hogan." Her grip was as strong as Shaughnessy's and not as gentle. She looked down at Molly, smiling. "Pleased to meet you, Molly."
"Molly," Shaughnessy asked, I was always bothered about why your uncle's ashes were spread earlier than planned. That had me sidetracked for a while. Did you ever find out why they did that?"
"I can answer that, Sarge," said Aunt Will. "By the way, Hi, Ruth. It's good to see you."
Ruth Hogan nodded and smiled. "Good to see you, too, Aunt Will."
"Well, Sarge, I asked my nephews why they scattered my brother's ashes when they did. They told me they went online and found that the DNR had issues with scattering human ashes in public waters. Sometimes I think it's just more bureaucrats telling the rest of us what we can and can't do. The boys told me they heard that it could be considered littering and if it were done, the DNR did not want it to be a big display or attract the attention of others who might object. So, they thought March, when things are pretty dead around here was better than summer or fall during the height of the autumn colors. They thought it was a better way to honor their fathers' wishes. I can't say I disagree." She leaned close to Shaughnessy. "Although they might have told someone," she added.
As Shaughnessy and Ruth moved on, C.W. Lewis stopped by to say congratulations.
Several family members stopped to shake her hand or give her a hug.
As the crowd thinned and left to consider what had happened and get back to the business of enjoying Standing Pines, Molly and Aunt Will were left standing in the Great Room. Before they left, each followed her long-standing habit of looking at The Painting.
The next day was Sunday of the Fourth of July weekend. Things seemed remarkably back to normal. A crowd of kids swam and played at the beach on Samoset. The college kids, brothers Alan and George Smith, and Susan Graham were lifeguards. Billy Franklin and Mickey Dolan were fishing from kayaks on Hammill. Everyone seemed happier than they had been for months.
"Good job, Molly," said Aunt Will as they sat on a bench at the top of the hill by Samoset's beach. "For a while, I thought I might never see it like this again. You have solved everything. Everyone is grateful."
"I wasn't exactly acting alone. You were there all the way. And, we had some help."
"True, but you were the driving force and the brains behind the solutions. Everyone thinks so. You know, some are planning a big dinner tomorrow afternoon."
"Good. That will be fun. I hope they don't try to do anything to me or for me, though. I had enough to suit me, yesterday."
"Oh, I'm sure you will enjoy just seeing them all together and happy again."
The next afternoon, Aunt Will held court out by the barbecue. Joe Smith had a pleasant fire going. Caroline stood with him handing him birch fireplace logs when he asked. She smiled broadly as she surveyed the group. Molly could see she was enjoying herself. Caroline Smith was a social person. She liked a crowd. She liked a party. She was good at small talk and working a crowd. Molly liked sometimes to be alone. Caroline Smith did not. Solitude was not her game. Everybody liked her.
The Smiths, with their daughter and son-in-law, Marilyn and George Jensen had put on the promised grilled leg of lamb dinner with mashed potatoes and gravy, asparagus and fresh baked dinner rolls. Beverly Morgan had served a special salad with strawberries, bacon bits, purple onion, and glazed pecans over romaine lettuce with poppy seed dressing. The whole dinner was quite a spread enjoyed by a large portion of the Morgan family gathered to celebrate the reclamation of Standing Pines and Molly's success. Molly was somewhat embarrassed about it, but Aunt Will and the others insisted.
When the dishes were cleared and everyone had his or her after dinner wine, coke or other beverage, Aunt Will tapped a dessert spoon against her wine glass and called the assembly to attention.
"Thanks to the Smiths and the Jensen's for a wonderful dinner," Aunt Will began. "Beverly, I would say that salad was 'to die for,' but I quit using that phrase a few years ago. We are here gathered at our -it is ours again- Standing Pines Lodge to thank our Molly for all she has done to restore the lodge to us. My brother Elliot, God rest his soul, knew what he was doing when he picked Molly to be our trustee." She looked into the crowd. "Bud, you have the presentation?"
"I do." Arthur W. Morgan, IV., called Bud, husband of the salad maker, Beverly, and father of Missy and little A.W., approached Aunt Will carrying a parcel wrapped in brown paper.
Oh, God, thought Molly. This was the kind of thing she had never felt comfortable with. It was embarrassing.
"Molly," said Bud, "we all wanted you to know how much we all appreciate what you have done for us and for Standing Pines Lodge. I got the honor of being the one to tell you. This wonderful place has been in our family for just over a hundred years. While none of us has been here close to a hundred years â€¦"
"Speak for yourself Bud," Aunt Will interrupted. If a crowd can collectively giggle, this one did.
"I stand corrected Aunt Will. While most of us have not been here anywhere near a hundred years and none of us has been here quite that long, we all have enjoyed the lodge, the woods and Lakes Samoset and Hammill all or most of our lives.". He glanced at Aunt Will. She nodded her approval.
"So," he went on, "we wanted to present you with a token of our appreciation. He reached across the picnic table to put the package he carried down in front of MolÅ‚y. "We had a hard time figuring out what to get for the lady divorce lawyer who drives a hot roadster and appears to have everything. It was Uncle Webb â€¦" He stopped, looking around at the gathered relatives. "Where is Uncle Webb?"
"Over here!" Webster Morgan stood at the back of the crowd.
"There you are! Molly, what's in here is something Uncle Webb knew you would appreciate but never ask for. Go on, open it!"
Molly was flustered. Her face suddenly warm, she was sure she was blushing. Everyone was watching. Never wanting to be the center of attention, she was now. Aunt Will was looking at her, smiling. I'll bet you had something to do with this, old girl.
She carefully untied the twine, spreading open the paper wrapping. She held three paintings on canvas signed by Wm Werner Wells! They must be the ones from the attic that Uncle Webb had mentioned! How wonderful! "I don't know how to thank you all," she said, her voice starting to break.
"There's more, Molly," said Bud.
"What? No. You've done too much already."
"We all know how fascinated you are with the painting called 'First Meadow' that hangs above the mantle in the Great Room. We know you have had that fascination since you were a little girl. Now, it's yours!" He handed her several pages stapled together.
"What? No. you can't. It's too much."
"That paper says that you now own The Painting, 'First Meadow.' Everyone signed. It's yours now."
Molly was overwhelmed. Aunt Will smiled at her and nodded as if to say, you deserve it. Everyone was looking at her. She hoped no one called, "Speech!" No one did.
"This is too much. You shouldn't have. I don't know how to thank you."
"Nonsense, Molly!". It was her dad's sister, Mary Franklin. "Without you Standing Pines would be lost. It is we who should be thanking you. And, we are trying to do just that."
Molly was overwhelmed with their gratitude. Molly felt a hand take her arm. She turned. Jeff Saunders.
"An after-dinner drink? I'd ask you to dinner, but you have already had leg of lamb and all that goes with that. Garmisch?"
Molly nodded and accepted his arm.
As they were leaving, C.W., "You can call me C.W.," Lewis caught Molly's other arm. "Ms. Graham, are you leaving? I had hoped for a minute to apologize for my arrogance when we first met."
"That's quite all right, Mr. Lewis. After yesterday afternoon, I am quite satisfied that that was not the real you."
Jeff Saunders interjected. "We are going for an after-dinner drink at Garmisch,"he said. "We heard there will be new management soon and we wanted to get in before the old management is gone." He winked at Molly.
"Indeed, there will be new management soon," Lewis said. "In fact, the transition has already started. You two go ahead and have a good time."
Twenty-five minutes later, they entered the Garmisch Resort property on Lake Namakagon. Molly expected a drink in the Beerstube, but Saunders escorted her to the main dining room. The room was full, diners enjoying the fine cuisine and engaged in lively conversation. Servers hustled back and forth attending to their tables.
To the maÃ®tre d', Jeff said, "I'm sorry, we don't have a reservation, but I wondered if you might have a table by the windows. The maÃ®tre d' glanced at her table chart. "Are you Mr. Saunders and Miss Graham?"
"Your table is ready. Please follow me."
"I don't understand," said Jeff.
"Mr. Lewis called. Your table is this way."
A reserved table awaited them beside the picture windows looking west over the waters of Lake Namakagon, the scene that Molly liked so much. As dusk approached darkness, the view was spectacular. Still waters, wooded shorelines, ducks swimming near the shore made a scene of such peace and beauty, Molly thought it was hard to imagine the problems facing mankind on a global level and everyday men, women and children on a personal level. She ordered a glass of Pinot Grigio. Jeff Saunders had the same.
The waiter brought their drinks.
They stared out at the incredible scene as the images began to fade into the coming darkness.
"A hundred dollars for your thoughts, Molly."
"That's a pretty big offer for something that's hardly worth the penny that's offered in the original version."
"You know what I mean. You have just been through a great deal. How are you doing?"
A damned good question, she thought. You know? I'm doing good. She really had not thought about it, but it was true.
"You know, Jeff? I'm glad you asked. I'm doing okay. Really okay. For the first time in a long time."
He took her hands in his. " I'm glad," he said. "Really glad."
On the afternoon of the Fourth, Molly and Aunt Will sat in the Great Room sipping raspberry iced tea. They chatted about all that had happened, how happy Molly was, her future bright. Their conversation stopped as they both stared at The Painting, looking beyond the surface of the paint into the living scene itself, each experiencing what The Painting wanted to tell them, as they had each done nearly all of their lives.
Aunt Will moved closer to The Painting, examining the signature. "'Wm Werner Wells,'" she read aloud. " I think he would be pleased, if only he were here today."
"Maybe he is."
"In The Painting," Molly said. We can see him, at least if we turn The Painting upside down. Do you think he can see us?"
Aunt Will leaned closer, studying the birch tree. "Hmmhâ€¦"
Mickey Dolan & Billy Franklin entered the room. Each carried a long slender fly rod. Billy had to drop the tip to avoid hitting a chandelier. They laid the rods on a table. "Aunt Will and Aunt Molly," they both said. "Hi."
"What are you up to, boys?" asked Aunt Will. "Going fishing, or just coming back?"
"We're just going out, Aunt Will. We'll be on Samoset, fly fishing for crappies with poppers," Mickey answered.
"Yeah," Billy said. "should be pretty good about now. We just stopped by to see if The Painting was still here." He looked toward the fireplace mantle.
"Did you think it would be gone, Billy?" asked Molly.
"Well, we wondered. Since it's yours now, we figured you would take it back to Minneapolis to your house or your office."
"I don't think The Painting is going anywhere, boys," said Aunt Will. "Giving it to Molly was probably the surest way of making sure it stays right there where it has always been."
"That's good to hear. We were worried."
Billy Franklin nodded his agreement.
Molly's curiosity was aroused. " Molly asked, "Boys, what do you see in The Painting?"
They looked hesitant. "A pond, a meadow, trees and that marten in the middle, I guess," Mickey Dolan answered. Billy Franklin looked uncomfortable.
"One time," said Billy, hesitating, "Mickey saw a buck, a doe and two fawns at the waterâ€™s edge. I thought he was nuts, you know, like losing it. Then I saw them, too!"
Molly decided to find out what they knew or could know. "Turn it over and tell us what you see."
Aunt Will nodded, smiling.
They got The Painting down from the wall above the mantel and turned it over as they were told. Their eyes got big as saucers. As Molly suspected, they see it! "Boys, do you see the frowning bearded old man with the shovel?"
Billy Franklin got a strange look on his face and shook his head. Mickey Dolan answered. "No."
Molly was surprised. She had been sure. "You donâ€™t see it?"
Mickey looked at Billy who nodded in the affirmative. Mickey said, "Aunt Molly, we see the old man with the shovel, but heâ€™s smiling."
The boys turned the upside down Painting for their Aunts Molly and Wilhelmina to see.
"Well, Iâ€™ll be God damned." Aunt Will muttered, a smile forming on her face. "Why, that old curmudgeon!"
Molly was flabbergasted, speechless.
"Boys," said Aunt Will, patting the couch beside her. Sit down and let me tell you a fascinating story about a pair of doilies."
The boys had their fly rods in hand, preparing to leave when Doctor Faruk Bishara arrived.
"There you are ladies! I thought I might find you here." He paused in front of The Painting as if to pay homage. He was an invited guest for yesterday's party and stayed the night in the Namakagon Motel in Cable. "I just came by to say thank you for the invite and the wonderful time and to tell you I am leaving." He pointed to The Painting. "I took several photos of that, if you don't mind."
"Not at all, Doc," said Aunt Will, "as long as you keep the confidence we mentioned."
"Oh, I will, Wilhelmina. It might even fall under doctor-patient privilege." He smiled. "Besides, I don't see what you see, anyway. But, I am working on it. So, thank you again. I hope to see you both again sometime back in the Cities." He turned to leave.
"Just a minute, Doc," said Aunt Will. She turned to Billy and Mickey. "Boys, you both go to college, this year?"
"We do, aunt Will. Weâ€™re both going to the U on the main campus in Minneapolis," Billy answered. "Classes start in September. We have Freshmen orientation in August."
Molly was sure Aunt Will was asking something she already knew from the boys' parents. She guessed this was for Dr. Bishara's benefit.
Dr. Bishara had been following the conversation with mild interest at best. Then the look on his face changed, like he was having one of his own epiphanies. He looked at Molly, then at The Painting, then back at Molly, his eyebrows raised.
Molly smiled and nodded.
"What will you be studying?" Aunt Will continued.
"We arenâ€™t sure what we want to do," said Mickey. "Weâ€™re starting out as psych majors."
"Boys, I would like you to meet a friend of ours, Dr. Faruk Bishara."
Bishara was busily chatting with the boys as they all left the Great Room. Molly could only imagine the plans the good doctor might have for them.
Alone again in the Great Room, Aunt Will asked, "Molly?"
"Yes, Aunt Will?"
"Have you looked at Wm Werner Wellsâ€™ other paintings, the three smaller ones that came out of the attic?"
"Not really. I was waiting for you, Aunt Will. I saw that one was of a young Indian warrior and an Indian maiden in a desert area that looks like the old west. The other two are pastoral scenes like The Painting, one of which appears to be a cattle drive and the other of woods and a stream in the mountains that looks like what I have seen of the Black Hills in South Dakota."
"Well, shall we?"
The paintings were stacked against a wall on a side board. Molly went to them. Without a tape measure, Molly judged they measured about twenty-four inches wide by twenty inches high. In each case, the framer or the artist had stretched the canvas tight over a wooden backing with no other frame.
"Which one do you like first, Aunt Will?"
"I like the Black Hills."
They pulled their chairs close, so they could look at it together. Molly held the painting. They both studied it. The scene depicted a forest area near a small stream. A mule deer fawn drank from the stream. A nervous doe stood nearby. A large gray rock partially covered with moss occupied most of the left side of the scene. Peering from behind the rock, a large cat looked hungrily at the fawn. Molly wasn't that familiar with the fauna of the Black Hills or similar countryside, but it looked something like a Lynx, to her, with a silvery brown coat and tufted ears. A Great Horned Owl surveyed the scene from a nearby overhanging branch.
As they studied, one or the other would point to a part of the painting. They were engrossed in its many features.
Finally, they decided to turn this painting upside down. Molly held it. They both stared.
"Oh, my God!" Aunt Will exclaimed.
AND THE STORY CONTINUES â€¦