Runaway Nudist [Nudist Series Book 1]
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by Byron McAllister, Kay McAllister
Description: In a prequel to Undercover Nudist, murder once more turns up at Oak Grove Nudist Camp. Suspect number one is Barbara Bassett, self-proclaimed thief--"not a robber, they're violent!" who turns up at the camp while looking for a place to hideout from a would-be partner in crime. Unaware that Barbara is a "nice" sort of thief who specializes in stealing things people don't really need--like art and jewelry--Ned Nackero and Carola Szegy befriend the self-proclaimed thief and cook for her while seeking a solution to the crime. At Oak Grove, Barbara has found new friends and a safe haven. In fact the only real complication seems to be that she's falling for the local Sheriff--not necessarily a great choice, given her line of work.
eBook Publisher: ebooksonthe.net, 2006
eBookwise Release Date: February 2006
6 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [309 KB]
Reading time: 213-299 min.
If it hadn't been for that nasty murder, I might never have settled in Motherlode, Montana. I like it here, despite my unfortunate introduction to the place, and I intend to stay--especially now that I'm married to a man who grew up here.
I'm Barbara Bassett and, until 1962, I made my living as a burglar. That year, I turned into--more or less--a crime-fighter, although it wouldn't be accurate to say I solved a crime, unless maybe one I committed myself. They were small potatoes, compared to killing.
The notorious sixties had just started, with all the decade's calamities, such as hippies, Beatles, and Woodstock. Oh yes, and especially the Vietnam War. A widespread motto among young adults and older teens right then was, "Don't trust anyone over thirty." Since I'd just turned thirty-five, and since I didn't really trust the kids either, I stayed busy taking a little bit here and there to earn my way through life--I already told you how.
On my birthday, I considered throwing a party, but decided not to. What if some invitee, poking around in my room--the only location I could party in for free--figured out how I obtained my small income? One of my great uncles, reminiscing about World War Two, used to say, "Loose lips sink ships." Wise old guy, I figured.
Besides, I didn't know anybody within commuting distance to invite.
Meantime, the wonderful, trusting people of Salt Lake City had laid up so much stuff for me to acquire that I ran into storage problems. You can't keep much loot in a rented room. Unfortunately, I wasn't acquainted with a reliable local fence, and in '62 I still thought of a trip to the west coast as rather time-consuming. My specialty was stealing things people don't miss, at least not immediately. So if I took off for, say, Oregon--my favorite--and if, while I was gone somebody noticed that things they'd thought of as secure had vanished, the resulting rumors could start everybody checking the security of everything they own. There'd then be too few unprotected resources, and my pickings would be slim. Worse, the danger of my getting caught would increase. On the other hand, if I could somehow solve my superabundance problem and manage to stay put, the fact that I could read and I could listen--eavesdrop, to be precise--would keep me in touch with what people were saying. If things didn't sound so good, I could take it on the proverbial lam. I had Denver in mind as a next working area.
One day I discovered rental storage units. Silly me--I imagined I'd be the very first thief, ever, to use mini-storage to hide loot. I went out and rented units at several different places. I used fake names, of course. My booty didn't come close to filling even one of them, but I was nervous about putting all my eggs in one basket.
One morning, as I closed up a locker, a stout, redheaded guy in a green checked suit strolled up to me, offered me his huge hand to shake, and said, "Hi Beautiful. I'm Red Silberhaar." He didn't spell his last name, but I know a bit of German, and he pronounced it old world style, the S like an American Z and the AA like A in "far," and my guess as to the spelling proved perfectly correct. Silberhaar, literally, means "silver hair," but the nickname "Red" would have come from the actual color of his tresses. Was it Juliet who suggested there's nothing in a name?
Silberhaar's accent was slight, and I didn't think he came from Europe. I worked on a Master's in linguistics--until I realized I wasn't good enough to make it pay--and my judgment is fair on such matters. As for his greeting style, a lot of women object to being addressed as "Beautiful," but the only time it bothers me is when it's sarcasm.
We met in front of a row of the units, and nobody else was in sight, but instead of running, I shook his paw. I stay fit, so I can be pretty mean if I have to, and I kept my left hand ready to chop his arm--or his neck--if necessary. Fortunately, his gesture was just a handshake, not the first step in an assault.
Testing for the source of the Teutonic in his speech, I told him my name was Rosine von Weissblech. I said it as if reciting a perfectly ordinary German name, but it wouldn't be. Rosine is not a name, at least not in that language. It means raisin. As for Weissblech, it was simply the first Prussian sounding disyllable I came up with. Not likely as a surname, it's an alternate word for tin. If Red Silberhaar knew the language--even only as well as I do--a person named Raisin from Tin should have made him ask questions. He didn't even look at me funny. So, nope, his accent wasn't brought over from the old country. He'd got it by living among Germans someplace in the US--like, maybe, northeastern South Dakota. All of which told me only irrelevant stuff, such as that he was likely to have done farm work in his youth, and that he probably enjoyed hunting and fishing. Oh, yes--and drinking.
"How'dja like a drink, Rose?" he offered.
I was willing to let him abbreviate my Rosine-the-raisin to Rose, but I turned down the chance to nip at his bottle. Taking illegal possession of other people's property is a ticklish line of work, and drinking can cause errors.
He said, "I been lookin' for a partner."
So he wasn't a masher. It looked like maybe it was worse than that: like the man had figured me out. I thought it best not to be too talkative.
He leaned close. "Ever hear of Motherlode?" (Whiskey breath.)
Actually, I'd heard of mines called Motherlode in several western states, because the expression "mother lode" usually refers to what every gold-panner hopes to find, a principal natural deposit of gold from which the local placer deposits had washed free. I'd even lived, briefly, in a town in Nevada named after one such mine. That was before I took up theft, with its guarantee of employment no matter where I went.
"It's in Montana. Easy drive there--half a day. County seat of Random County."
I'd lived in Montana, too. In two different places: Havre and Glasgow. Almost a year altogether: a year of very slim pickings. There are 58 counties in the state, and I knew Random County to be one of them, but I'd never been inside its boundaries, much less visited its county seat. Anyway, Silberhaar didn't know much about geography, because no place in Montana is an easy half day's drive from Salt Lake City. From Salt Lake across a chunk of Idaho to the Montana border is about six hours--five for young speed demons--but the border isn't exactly a destination. Places in Montana tend to be more than half a day's drive even from other places in Montana. It has the fourth largest area among the states, although only about eight or nine hundred thousand people live there. That number may be a slight underestimate, now, because wealthies were beginning to move in--people who think what you do with a beautiful view is build an expensive, ugly house in the exact center of it.
I asked, "So, what's in Motherlode? Ranches? Mines? Timber?" I tried to recall what people do for a living in Montana, but I could only think of raising grain or cattle, digging for precious metals, and chopping down trees. I'd forgotten catering to tourists--the state is very nice to vacation in, except, maybe, when it's on fire. But that only happens in drought years--only about one year in five on average. Even their supercooled winters continue to attract skiers in.
"Nah. People just live there. I dunno what they do. I guess out away from town the ranchers ranch and the loggers log. Motherlode itself, people just live there. County seat, but that ain't worth much. Gotta already have plenty to live in Motherlode. Actors and literary agents and rich people like that're just starting to find out about it, but it's gonna turn out like Aspen. Discovered."
Not an exciting prospect. When a mountain town is "discovered" it goes directly to Hell without passing Go. I'd seen it in both Colorado and California. People will move there to get their kids away from the gangs, unable to comprehend that their unsupervised brats are the gangs. Others come to get away from the big city traffic, but their rat race habits turn small towns--unprepared for population increases like that--into snarls of automobiles. The snarls may aggravate the new arrivals less than the ones back in L.A. or Minneapolis did, but the locals aren't used to it, and it drives them crazy.
One thing that especially serves to pull folks into Montana is a yearning to get away from nature's nastiness. Stuff like earthquakes and droughts. Talk about stupid! You might be that lucky for a few years. But even in California you can be that lucky for a few years. In either place, your luck only holds while it holds.
However, I wondered, what if this guy is onto some sort of good thing? Why should I let anti-Aspen prejudices get in the way? After all, people who deliberately move into a "discovered" place are mostly both pretty rich and pretty naive, which makes them sitting ducks for my kind of theft.
"What's in Motherlode you or I might want?"
"Lotta money in Motherlode," said Red Silberhaar, whispering now, the whiskey continuing to be perceptible. "Ever'body's rich. Money lying all over their houses."
Another paroxysm of introspection was called for. I've heard of people who actually do keep stashes of money in the house--under the mattress, say, or on a closet shelf in a pasteboard box. Not usually very big stashes. And I've heard, too, about misers who pile up lots and lots of greenbacks; or, preferably, gold coins, but that's not very common. Those people--whenever they get a private moment--get all that cash out and look at it. And count it. And remember the count. That's not the sort of situation I try to work with.
Silberhaar went on, "I heard about this one gal--she inherited a pile. Then she took her money to Europe. Bought jewels and paintings."
That was more to my liking. Not the paintings, because, although some are extremely valuable, people usually hang them on the wall in plain sight. If one gets get stolen, the fact is obvious right away. Jewelry, on the other hand, especially if it's bought as an investment, can stay in the safe for months or years at a time, and only be brought out for a special social event. Maybe not even then.
"Who's the crazy person?" I asked, not really expecting him to tell me.
"Kinderlitch, Kinderhook, some name like that. Collects stuff. Jewels, paintings. Million apiece, some of 'em. I got a diagram of the house, shows where it all is. Friend gave it to me."
"One of your friends gave it to you? How'd he get it?"
"Nah. Not my friend. Family friend of the Kinder-whoosits. Ex-actress. Sleeps with one of 'em. Did anyhow. Said for all she cares I can go over to Motherlode, load up a truck and haul it all away."
Sure. Everybody's paramours go around handing strangers maps of the house and inviting them to loot the place. And how come one needs a map of the house to find the valuables? Could it be that big? I doubted it. I said, "Sorry, Mr. Silberhaar. Not interested."
Actually, I was a wee bit intrigued, but the truth is, I don't like working with a partner. Why? Well, I hate fights about shares, and I loathe the little failures in communication that endanger the operation. Since I work alone, everybody on the job always has my best interests in mind.
Nevertheless, before I'd realized it, I'd made an appointment to meet Silberhaar the next morning.
It's not like me to go on considering an opportunity I'd already decided to turn down. I felt so uncomfortable about agreeing to meet him that I decided to take the night off and think about whether to go through with it. I spent the rest of the daytime lolling around, mostly at Liberty Park. In the evening, I gave myself a pedicure, took a shower, and went to a movie, gradually deciding I wouldn't keep my appointment after all.
Page one of the next morning's Salt Lake City Tribune included an article that revealed how lucky my indolence had made me. The cops had run surveillance on the exact neighborhood I'd meant to visit. In the process, they'd picked up a "prowler," one Jakob S. ("Red") Silberhaar, 42, formerly resident in a small town in northeast South Dakota.
I suspected that when they began to squeeze Silberhaar, he would postpone telling about himself by revealing all he knew about me. That would include directions to at least one of my mini-storage units. Did I dare assume he only knew about the unit where we'd met? Probably not--there was no telling how long he'd had his eye on me.
"Barbara Bassett," I told myself, "you'd better just abandon everything Red Silberhaar could possibly talk about. It's time to work on a new town."
Okay, but where?
Well, I figured Silberhaar would carefully avoid mentioning his Montana prospects to the police, so how about if I went to visit Motherlode and cleaned it out, while my redheaded non-partner waited for his appointment with the judge?
Just so you'll know, a lady burglar avoids contact with troublesome types. In fact, on the job, we avoid contact with everybody. That applies to male burglars, too, actually, and it's the difference between a burglar and a robber. Robbery depends on the fear of violence, so a robber is always involved with at least the threat of it. A burglar, on the other hand, sneaks in when nobody is supposed to be around, preferably avoiding even the faintest chance of having to endure--or impart--any kind of bodily harm. It's a whole lot cleaner profession. Even so, I've always jogged, run, and done personal calisthenics enough to stay familiar with the smell of my own sweat. I practice "dirty moves," too. When your life is in danger, it makes no sense at all to keep the battle so clean that you lose. Still, I try to avoid putting my life in danger. As a burglar, I emphasized not getting caught and I'd always been successful.
I spent the rest of that day at the Salt Lake City Public Library reading up on western Montana--all the stuff that should have interested me when I lived in the state. I would have researched Motherlode specifically, but the only definite reference I could find was a Random County telephone directory from five years before. I don't know how they even happened to have it, but since that was all I could find, I tried to glean everything I could from the combined white and yellow pages. I actually thought about ripping out the street map of Motherlode for my own use, but I didn't do it. Some thieves are crude and thoughtless like that, but they're from bad families.
I tried my darnedest to memorize it, however. The map, not the whole book. Not much of a chore: it showed a mere eight north-south streets and a dozen east-west, including a couple that only run a block or two. I learned them all, plus information like the fact that Motherlode Creek comes out of the mountains from the west, flows eastward between Sluicebox Street and Raki Street and exits onto the surrounding high plains through the same water gap by which the road from Dotney to Motherlode enters.
"Raki Street." That name intrigued me. It looked Turkish. I pronounced it to rhyme with Rocky. Actually, I know now--I didn't then--that the Turks would leave the dot off the letter i at the end, indicating a slightly different sound, but all I could think of at the time was that the street was named for a Mediterranean alcoholic drink. In case somebody's never been to any liquor store but the one on the corner, Raki is sort of a Turkish version of Greek Ouzo, which, in turn, you might compare to a nearly unsweetened anisette. (If you only drink whiskey and only one brand at that, you're probably not reading this story in the first place.) The point is, I was intrigued. I get intrigued easily.
I had the pleasant thought that perhaps no town in the west is too small to have somebody in it with at least the beginnings of culture--and sometimes with a sense of humor, as well.
Finding out Motherlode had a Raki Street tipped the scale. I would take up temporary residence in the town and find Red Silberhaar's "Kinder-something," meantime checking out other portions of the town--and of the rest of Random County--for burglarious possibilities.
Superficial planning, you say? Maybe, but it got me to Motherlode and that ended up okay.