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BuriedTrustFront.Cover 213w

BURIED TRUST: A MYSTERY NOVEL

Two years have passed since Kingsley and Todd Henning recovered their kidnapped infant son (Vanished: A Trust Mystery). They’ve earned their peaceful country existence. Abruptly, everything changes when felons launch a criminal enterprise on the farmland next to the Henning’s. Angered by late-night operations, zoning violations, and a violent foreman, the Hennings investigate.

Confrontations escalate. The criminal bosses attempt to buy, scare, and terrorize the Hennings, whose sleuthing threatens their lucrative operation. When nothing forces them from their property, the perpetrators plot murder. Risking their lives, the Hennings dig to expose the true nature of the enterprise. But they realize that every close attempt on their lives has been thwarted by unexplainable circumstances. They suspect that their home, as rumored, is haunted by a spirit with an agenda of its own. Click Here to see more information about the book 

 

 Buried Trust

Prologue

Summer, 1849

“She terrible sick,” the young mother whispered to their children’s father. She ministered to their little daughter with heart-felt anguish, having nothing but a wet rag to sooth her fevered brow. The mother dipped it in the tepid water again, which did little to lower her temperature. “What we gonna do?”

August heat and humidity pressed on their companions, huddled in the underground shelter. Black fabric covered the window wells, and a lone candle lit the cavernous space. They remained silent as statues, knowing that exposure might betray them to killers. They had followed the route by night, then would proceed tonight when the knock came.

“She can’t travel.” She followed her husband’s gaze to their three other children, the youngest barely two, and made a decision. Setting the five-year-old in her father’s arms, she headed toward the steps, shrouded in shadows cast by the solitary candle.

Mounting the cellar steps on all fours lest she stumble, she eased open the door. It made the tiniest squeak but nobody in the great house responded. Ahead, ambers glowed beneath a kettle hung in the kitchen’s corner fireplace. The house, otherwise, seemed dark. Silently she proceeded, groping, hoping to find something—anything—to help her child.

As she rummaged in the kitchen, the homeowner appeared as quietly as a spirit. Swallowing her fear, the mother begged, “Missy, please help. My baby awful bad sick.” From somewhere nearby a clock bonged twelve times.

Her hostess followed her into the vast darkened cellar. “There,” she said, pointing to the little girl, cradled in her father’s arms. Three distinctive knocks on the exterior wooden door that led to the woods echoed through the basement. Twenty-six men, women, and children jumped to their feet. The anguished mother sobbed, torn about the risk to her daughter.

“Leave her with me,” their hostess said. “I’ll nurse her, then send her with those who follow. What is her name?”

“Sarah.” The hidden cellar door to freedom opened and a scruffy mountain man beckoned to the travelers. Silent as shadows, each gathered their bundles and headed outside, single file. “Go with your family,” the homeowner insisted. “They need you,” she added, nodding to the tiniest boy. “I’ll hide and care for your little one until she’s well enough to rejoin the travelers.”

“God bless you, ma’am,” she whispered, entrusting Sarah to the lady. With a final kiss to her daughter’s forehead, she herded her others into the line that disappeared into the inky, moonless night.

Mrs. Krick made a hasty nest for their newest guest in one of their grown children’s old bedrooms while Mister closed the draperies. Ordinarily, their travelers stayed below briefly, but the dank cellar was no place for such a sick child. Gently she removed the drowsy child’s rags and bathed her. The little angel was skin and bones with sores on her ebony skin.

She dressed her in a muslin nightshirt she’d dug from the old steamer trunk, cradled and rocked her while spooning small sips of water through her parched lips. Mentally, she inventoried the herbal remedies and tinctures she had on hand and what herbs to harvest from her kitchen garden. She’d gather garlic, bergamot, and calendula for teas and mullein’s large velvety leaves to cover her poultices.

“Poor little thing. She needs the doctor.”

“Can’t risk it. You’ve heard him condemn Mr. Lincoln. He’d tell. And the bounty hunters would find us. Brew her a tonic; mix up some salve. Then it’ll be in God’s hands.” The pair offered prayers on her behalf for His intervention.

 

Chapter One

Present Day

“Did you see those weird lights again last night?” Todd Henning called to his wife, Kingsley, through the break in the white pine fence row they were planting. He tossed the post hole digger aside to part the branches and hear her response.

“Just those three other times,” she replied, angling to see him better. “It’s strange. I thought the Amish farmer to our west was buying the land for his son who’s getting married. It’s their custom to buy a farm for the next generation, adjacent to theirs, if possible, to farm together. Those sixty acres to our east would have been right-sized for farming with horses or mules.

“If he bought it, why would he be prowling around at night with lanterns? They go to bed as soon as it’s dark to get up at five for milking.”

“I suppose we could check with the recorder of deeds. Or a realtor. Or the township, since you’re so curious. In the meantime, pass me the metal measure and a screw driver.” They landed near her feet with a thunk. “Thanks.” She anchored the tape’s metal loop into the ground with the screwdriver, then dragged the retractable ruler to mark the exact distance, securing it with a rock to prevent it from retracting. “I’m surprised he didn’t buy our land when it came on the market,” she continued, momentarily neglecting her job to mark another pine’s position.

“Way too expensive with that historic stone house. They’d have to retrofit it to make it plain. And the Historical Society would pitch a fit. Besides, our seven-acre property is too small for their kind of farming. No, much better to build a house and barn on undeveloped farmland like the property next door,” he replied.

“That would have been ideal for us if the Amish bought it. We’re so used to the previous owner renting it for crop farming. What if a developer has bought it and throws up hundreds of track houses? Or worse, what if zoning is changed from agricultural to commercial? We could end up living next to a rendering plant.”

Silence caught the mother’s attention. “Where’s Billy!” She dropped the metal measure and frantically scanned the front yard. “He was right behind me a minute ago.” Todd stopped what he was doing, and the pair jogged through the yard, calling frantic orders for their two-year-old son to show himself immediately.

“Could he have gone into the house?” Kingsley called, skidding to a stop, gasped, having circled the exterior of their home.

“He can’t manage the door. Oh, dear God—the road.” They plowed through the twelve-foot wild honeysuckle bushes, rhododendron, and mountain laurel that separated their front lawn from the rural two-lane. A quick look left, then right revealed no dark-haired toddler in a red hooded jacket.

“You go east; I’ll go west,” Todd said, pointing and sprinting toward the Amish farm while she ran toward the property of their recent discussion. No little boy.

Panting, Kingsley wailed to Todd. “Not again!” Burned in her subconscious, no matter how much therapy, yoga, and prayer, she could not stop the day-and-nightmare residual left from their then-infant son’s being kidnapped. Kingsley rarely let Billy out of her sight unless he was secure with family or responsible adults. She knew that wretched things can and do happen to ordinary people.

Circling to the back lawn a second time where a play gym anchored the back-left corner, the frantic mother stopped. Billy, trotting from the farmer’s field, was clutching the filthiest little dog Kingsley had ever seen. Not wanting to alarm her child and cause it to bite Billy, she summoned her most soothing voice. “Put the puppy down, Billy.”

The child scowled and stuck out his lower lip. “Mine!”

“No, honey, that puppy belongs to somebody. And they’re probably worried about him.” Billy clutched the mutt to his chest, hugging its skinny body against his muddied red jacket, the little dog’s feet reaching the child’s knees, its mouth inches from Billy’s cheek.

Not wanting to frighten the dog and cause him to snap, she tried another tactic. “Some little boy will be worried—Billy—stop! You’re squeezing him. That might hurt.” If the child released his grip just a little, maybe the pup would wriggle free and run home. Instead, the dog covered Billy’s face with sloppy kisses. The cat-loving mother scrunched her face in disgust. Oh, yuk!

At that moment, Todd ran around the east corner of the house, braking hard. He grinned. “What have we got here?”

“Your son has found the grungiest little dog and won’t give him up.”

“Put him down for a minute, son. Let’s have a look. Maybe he has a collar with some ID. Then we can locate his owner. By the looks of him, he’s had a romp in the creek.”

Rather than following his father’s instructions, Billy clutched the dog tighter, swiveling his back to his parents. “No! Mine!”

“What are we going to do?” Kingsley mouthed to Todd.

“Billy, if we’re going to find his family, we’ll need to clean him up first. Do you think he’d like a bath in the laundry tub? You can help shampoo him.”

Billy peered over the dog’s head at his father as if he knew he was being played. “Maybe the puppy would like a treat?” Todd suggested. Billy’s little brain appeared to be working the new angle. “Do you think he’d like Pandora’s kitty treats or a cookie? Mommy, are there enough cookies for Billy and the pup?”

Billy smiled. “Cookies. The big ones. With the chips.”
“We’ll need to fashion a collar and leash so he won’t get lost in the house. Mommy, do you have something of Pandora’s we can use?”

Cats do not have leashes, you fool, she telepathed, but instead verbalized a reasonable response. “I’ll see what I can makeshift. In the meantime, why don’t you see if you can keep Billy safe?” she hissed over her shoulder. At the front door, she glanced back at her filthy child who was beaming with delight at the pup that was licking his chin.

Shortly she returned with a skinny leather belt, a leftover from her pre-Billy size zero wardrobe. She handed Todd the belt and a leather punch she’d snagged from the basement workbench. He eyeballed the dog, gauging the size of his neck, and punched several holes near the buckle. Approaching cautiously, he slipped the loop over the animal’s head and fastened it securely. “There. Do you think you can walk him to the door?”

“Todd! Persian runner?”

“Easy, Mom. I’ll pick him up if we can get someone’s cooperation.”

If only. Kingsley knew she’d wish later that they’d grabbed a camera. Filthy dog and child, standing side by side on a crate in the basement, watching Todd half-fill the tub with warm water. Her precious boy looked for all the world like a miniature of her husband with his crystal blue eyes, curly dark hair, and dimples when he laughed. When Todd reached for liquid detergent, she reacted. “Eyes!” And leapt to remedy the situation by running upstairs for baby shampoo.

Todd lifted the dog into the water, letting Billy maneuver his plume of a tail. The dog tolerated his bath surprisingly well, bracing his front paws on the divider that separated the double tubs while licking his muzzle continually when Todd hosed off the shampoo. Blackened water cursed down the drain, revealing a beige dog with black tips on his ears. Todd laughed. “He’s adorable!”

Oh, brother! Not you too. “Daddy,” she hissed in her best executive-banker voice, “Do not get attached. We need to find his owner. He’s merely clean enough to ride in the Explorer.” Her husband looked up quizzically. “Well, he’s not getting in my Lexus,” she preempted.

“Dear—it a may have sentimental value since your Grammy left it to you, but it’s ancient.”

“But it’s my ancient clean car. Dog. Dad. SUV. You get it?”

“Yes’m.”

****

“That’s Scruffy! At least that’s what the kids call him,” said Jacob, the Henning’s next-door dairy farmer. He’d just hiked uphill from the barn, wiping his florid face with a red bandana. “We thought he was black!”

“So, he’s yours?”

“Well, we’ve been feeding him. Took him to the vet. Got his shots. He sleeps in our summer kitchen then spends the day out and about. Sneaks in the coal bin to nap. One of these day’s he’s going to get hit on the road. He has the wanderlust.” The Amish man gazed at the two-year-old, planted in the grass, his arm around the pup that was snuggled against him. The pair looked adoringly at each other.

“He must belong to someone,” Kingsley said. “Any idea who? Is he chipped? Anyone reported him missing?”

“Vet said no. He’s been around, ah, maybe six months. Someone put him out on the highway when he was a puppy and sped off.” He frowned. “But I wouldn’t worry about him. Won’t be long now till he’s just a splat on the highway.”

Kingsley’s temper flared. “That’s a terrible thing to say!”

The farmer shrugged. “Tis true. Couple of our cats get hit every year, but we have no mice in the barn. Guess it’s nature’s way.” The Amish man nodded toward the boy and dog. “Boy loves that dog.”

“But. But. I’m a cat person.”

“Yeah. Got a few dozen of them ourselves.”

“But we’re gone all day. Who’s going to let him out?”

The farmer approached the dog, and with no objection from the pup, pried his mouth open to look at its teeth. “He’s a young’un—I’d say, maybe a year? House train him and he’ll be good for twelve hours. Dogs hate to soil. Wait here. I’ll get you the name of the vet. She can tell you all about him.”

Kingsley looked from Todd to Billy to Scruffy, shaking her head. “First off, that name’s gotta go. It’s undignified.”

As they entered their home via the front door, Kingsley remembered Pandora, her long-haired tuxedo cat who arrived when Kingsley had no intention of adopting a pet. Her best friend, Barrie, had brought the kitten one stormy night, complete with her motorized litter box and plenty of food. Same ploy—the kitten was doomed to the kill shelter unless someone would take her. Kingsley had left her own adorable Pesto with her parents when she left for college, after which her mom refused to return her. Pandora and Pesto could have been twins, Barrie having seen Pesto’s photo on Kingsley’s desk. The cat lover was hooked.

The Hennings foursome stood on the same square yard in their foyer not sure what to do next. Pandora was nowhere in sight. “Go for it,” Todd said, encouraging Kingsley to unbuckle the leash and let the puppy explore. Nose down, he sniffed in widening circles, finally picking the living room to his left. “Nose brains,” Todd said. “They can go blind and deaf, but as long as they can smell, they can adapt.”

What caught the pup’s focus eventually was Todd’s leather sofa, a remnant of his bachelor condo days, its back to the front wall and flanked by double-hung windows with deep window sills. As they stood watching—aghast—the dog lifted his leg and emptied himself. “Nooooo!” Kingsley howled at the dog, leaping to snatch him and rub his nose in it. She hustled him on her hip like a football toward the front door. “Very bad dog! Horrible beast! Bad! Bad! Bad! She yanked open the door and planted the dog on the ground just beyond the brick entrance. Storming back into the house, she slammed the door.

In her absence, Todd had located an old dish cloth and mopped the couch, the pine floor, and the puddle. Thankfully the dog hadn’t nailed the Persian rug under the old trunk that served as their coffee table. Billy stood transfixed, watching the drama unfold, his parents darting to and fro, calling directions. Out front, Todd found a sturdy stick, and tying the dish cloth to it, drove the stick into the ground. He returned to the foyer.

“Do you think he got the message?” Kingsley asked Todd, who had grown up with black labs. She was ashamed that her son had witnessed his mom’s wrath in its extreme.

“He got the message!”

Sniff.

Kingsley glanced at her toddler. Anchored to the spot, a single tear rolled down his cherubic cheek. From outside the walnut door, a pitiful whimper broke the silence. Todd cracked the door and in slithered the most sorrowful looking creature Kingsley had ever beheld. He slinked on his belly through the foyer and down the hall, turning right into the kitchen. He scurried under the kitchen table, head down on his front paws, eyes rolling left and then right, as if braced for whatever punishment came next.

Kingsley crouched to his eye level, overwhelmed with compassion for the dear little dog that couldn’t weigh more than fifteen pounds. In grabbing him, she had noticed he was mere skin and bones under all that fluffy fur. She wouldn’t have blamed him if he snapped at her as she offered her hand, palm down, to sniff. He gave her fingers a tentative lick, permitting her to stroke his head. As she smoothed his long silky ears, he closed his eyes in contentment.

“You must be hungry,” she said, repurposing one of Pandora’s heavy water bowls and adding leftover pot roast. She offered him a morsel under the table, but didn’t have to coax him toward the bowl. While he was scarfing his meal, she rescued Pandora’s food and water dishes and moved them to the counter. She’d worry about territorial disputes later as she watched him drain a soup bowl of water.

Todd snapped their makeshift leash on an old collar Jacob had given him. Kingsley watched the three males troop down the hallway to the front door and head for his spot in the lawn. Pandora, we girls are officially outnumbered, she mused. Going to the foot of the staircase, she spotted Pandora, stalk still on the landing, her yellow-green eyes riveted on the door below. “It’s okay, baby,” she cooed, as Pandora turned from the landing to mount the remaining six steps to the hall that led to their bedroom in the front quadrant. “We’ll keep the interloper downstairs.”

The little dog reclaimed his position under the kitchen table while the family ate dinner. Even though it was past Billy’s bedtime, forgiving his bath was hardly an option. In spite of cleansing his face and hands before dinner and stripping his clothes, he was filthy. As the parents mounted the stairs, the little dog waited, as if needing an invitation to follow. It occurred to Kingsley that stairs might be a foreign concept in his short outdoor life, and the smooth wood was slippery. When he tested with one front paw, Kingsley froze mid-step, glared at the dog, and said, “No! Stop!” And he did, flopping instead at the foot of the staircase. After Billy’s bath was finished, the dog hadn’t moved.

Hand on the banister, Billy two-foot hopped downstairs to the dog. Sitting on the bottom step, the dog wriggled under his outstretched hand. “Where’s the dog going to sleep?” Todd whispered to Kingsley.

“Not upstairs. Let’s nip that idea in the bud.”

“How do we keep him from sneaking upstairs?”

“Let’s put him in the basement behind a baby gate. We don’t have a dog bed, but I doubt a little highway dog would even know what to do with one,” she said.

“Our neighbor said he curled up on an old rag rug in their summer kitchen. I’ll look in the basement among the drop cloths and kneelers we used during the renovation. First, let’s tuck Billy in, read him a story, say prayers, and then deal with your horrible beast.”

With the baby monitor engaged and Billy’s door shut, the parents hustled downstairs to consider the dog that was waiting patiently at the foot of the stairs. “Pandora!” Kingsley remembered the cat. “Aaaah! Her litter box is in the basement. Why don’t you take you-know-who outside and I’ll lure Pandora out from under our bed?”

“There goes the basement doggie den concept. Any other ideas?”

“I have an aunt with a willful, nasty schnauzer. He slept in a doggie bed in the kitchen attached to a very short leash that was clipped to his bed. Has since he was a pup, and doesn’t expect to be anywhere else, although the leash is long gone. Maybe we could loop his leash over a doorknob above an old throw rug.”

“Should work.”

As Todd was bringing the pup back inside and Kingsley was descending the stairs with Pandora anchored on her hip, the animals spotted each other. Both froze. Before either adult could react, Pandora erupted from Kingsley’s hold. Instead of fleeing, she hurtled the remaining stairs, hissing and spitting, her fur electrified from nose to tail tip. She yowled.

The dog, in a delighted spurt of energy, yanked free from Todd’s grip on the leash and darted toward Pandora, skidding to a stop on the pine floor a foot from her face. In a flash, claws extended, Pandora swiped, raking his nose. Yelping, he slinked behind Todd. Head erect, Pandora stalked around the banister and trotted down the hall to use her potty and find her supper, ending the shortest turf war in their family’s history.

“Is he bleeding?” Kingsley asked Todd, trying to get a better look at the dog’s face.” Together they parted his fur and inspected the damage. “Poor thing,” she empathized with the wounded creature. “Let that be a lesson to you. Make friends, but never underestimate her.”

“Sage advice for any male,” Todd said, giving his wife a playful squeeze.

 

Chapter Two

Around midnight, Kingsley heard whimpering. She often joked that before leaving the delivery room every new mother was issued a second pair of ears. She was no exception. She, who could sleep through a thunder storm, woke if her baby coughed once. She listened. Then heard it again. Todd, of course, was sound asleep.

Wriggling into her slippers and flannel robe, she padded down the hall to Billy’s room. Like his dad, he was fast asleep. She sighed. It wouldn’t be long before he outgrew the cherry spindle crib her father had crafted for his first grandchild. It was especially meaningful to her dad, since she and Todd had been diagnosed as being unable to have children. Surprise! And then, when Billy—just eight weeks old—had been kidnapped… Saying her thousandth thank you to God for the safe return of her baby, she eased his door shut and headed downstairs.

The pup raised his head as she descended, hopping to his feet. He did a little dance, seeming to be begging at the door. “Outside?” she asked. He leapt up and down as high as the doorknob, as if he had springs for legs. She disengaged the security system and, without turning on any lights, stepped onto the front stoop into a velvety black spring night. Instead of heading toward his spot, the dog alerted, stock still, staring east into the darkness.

Then she heard and saw it too—an engine and a strange light simultaneously. The dog uttered a menacing growl deep in his chest. She stooped to him, smoothing his head while murmuring that it was okay, even as her own hackles rose. In the pitch-black Amish country, with all the Henning’s lights extinguished and no nearby civilization, she trusted that they were invisible.

She strained toward the sound as a strange pair of lights pierced the darkness and seemed to be moving back and forth. Judging from her own property’s dimensions, she figured the machine was several hundred feet back from the access road and a quarter mile from their eastern border. The light and faint rumble continued back and forth, back and forth. A bulldozer? Had to be. But why late at night? Having seen lights on previous nights, she had made a point of glancing at the neighboring corn field for a contractor’s signage or advertisement for a coming business enterprise or housing development. But there had been nothing but the corn stubble remnants from the previous fall’s harvest.

Kingsley almost forgot why she was standing there until the little dog tugged at his leash. “Go take care of yourself,” she urged, and he dutifully trotted to the stake, squatted, and finished his business.


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©2022 Nancy A. Hughes. All Rights Reserved.

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