RICK RAIDER #1
DANGER ON THE GOLD TRAIL
(c) 1980, 1999 Mike DeBaptiste, all rights reserved.
Chapter One: THE PROSPECTOR’S STORY
Rick Raider sat on his snowmobile and looked warily up at the threatening winter sky.
"Yo, we’d better head back home," he urged his friends who were with him up in the snowy hills. "Looks like a bad storm is blowing in."
"Does it ever," agreed Sally Anderson, a pretty blonde who was sitting snugly behind Rick. "Look at the dark clouds. I bet we’re in for a blizzard."
"That’s all right by me," chimed in Charlie Connors with a laugh. He was sitting on his own snowmobile, stopped right next to Rick’s. "The more snow the better! I hope the old Lake Erie snow machine really kicks up now that we have these Snowcats."
Charlie was referring to the lake-effect snow caused by cold Canadian air blowing over the warmer waters of Lake Erie that often buried the north coast of Ohio. It was late afternoon and the three friends had stopped in a clearing in the wooded hills behind the rural road they lived on. The boys had just gotten the snowmobiles the week before and had driven them far out into the hills today on a long excursion.
Sally pulled her hood up against the biting wind. "They’re awesome, aren’t they?" she said, patting the side of Rick’s machine affectionately. "It used to take forever to hike way up here on snowshoes. Now we can get here in just a few minutes."
Rick turned the ignition key and the engine of his snowmobile roared to life. "They sure are sweet, all right, and we’d better open them up all the way now. I don’t want to get stuck out here in a storm."
Charlie grinned as he fired up his machine. "No chance, Raider. We’ll fly back home on these babies!"
Rick shifted into gear and his snowmobile leaped ahead. Charlie followed right behind and the two vehicles sped across the clearing and into the woods. Following the same trail they had taken out, the boys flew down the hillside taking the hairpin curves expertly. Sally clung to Rick and looked ahead excitedly as they twisted and turned through the trees.
"Talk about fun," she shouted. "This is really the max!"
"Yo! Ditto on that," Charlie yelled from behind. "Like a roller coaster in the snow!"
Rick’s eyes were intent on the winding trail ahead. "Watch it, buster.
We’re coming to another incline."
Another hill rose up ahead of them and the two snowmobiles attacked the grade almost effortlessly, engines whining. The trees whizzed by and the snow, having now begun to fall, stung the riders’ faces like
thousands of tiny little pellets. Upon reaching the crest of the hill, they plummeted down the other side, the Snowcats dipping dangerously as they whizzed around curves and bends.
"Yahoo!" Charlie cried. "Here we come, Riders of the Purple Snows!"
"Oh, come on, Connors!" Sally turned to shout at him. "The snow isn’t purple. It was sage - purple sage! And they rode horses, not snowmobiles!"
"Sage, snow, purple, shmurple! This is just too cool for words!" Charlie was having the time of his life. He laughed tauntingly as he pulled up close to the rear of Rick’s machine.
Just then, as the grade leveled off, the figure of a man loomed in the trail directly ahead. Rick blinked, taken completely by surprise. The man, startled, turned to look at them, and Rick saw a terrified expression on a rugged bearded face. He downshifted with a slam, trying like crazy to slow down his machine.
"Whoa, man! Watch out!" Charlie shouted. But it was too late. His snowmobile banged right into the rear of Rick’s.
Sally gasped as Rick swerved to the side, Charlie right on top of them, and they all saw the man up ahead leap into the air. The next moment they were whizzing off-trail through the forest, crashing through the underbrush. Branches whipped at them, slapping at their faces, as Rick and Charlie wildly careened their snowmobiles in and out of the trees. Sally gaped ahead, open-mouthed, terrified that they might crash into one.
When they finally came to a stop, Charlie was right on their tail, having bumped into them a consecutive number of times. With a dazed look on his face, he shook his head. "Jeez! Talk about a close call!"
Sally glared at him. "You could’ve caused a wreck! Do you have to drive right on top of us?"
Charlie tried to hide his guilt with a laugh. "Hey, I like to be close to my friends."
"Close?" Rick had surveyed the damage and fortunately there were only a few scratches on both the machines. "You may as well leave your Snowcat at home and ride with us!"
"All right, dude, next time I will!"
Sally burst out laughing. "Yah, right. We won’t get very far with you on board too."
Charlie was just about to fling out another retort when Rick silenced him. "Knock it off. We’d better check on that man we almost hit. I hope
"He really took a flying leap," Charlie said as he switched off his engine. "Last I saw of him he was soaring through the air like Superman."
They jumped off the snowmobiles and began to trudge through the deep snow and underbrush back out to the trail. When they got there, no one was in sight.
"Look here." Rick pointed to the ground. "This is where he landed after he took that leap."
The snow was disturbed and packed down where the man had fallen at the side of the trail. Snowshoe tracks led off into the woods.
Charlie looked around, frowning. "I wonder why he took off? If he wasn’t hurt, you’d think he’d at least stick around to see if we’re okay."
Rick peered into the woods in the direction of the tracks, but there was no sign of the man in the heavily falling snow. He lifted his shoulders in a shrug. "Maybe he’s in a hurry to get home because of the storm. Probably somebody who lives in the neighborhood."
"We’d better get going too," Sally advised. "It’s snowing like crazy
Rick nodded. "I guess he’s okay. Wouldn’t have taken off like that if he was hurt."
As they turned to go, a bright object in the snow caught Rick’s eye. He stooped down to pick it up.
"What is it?" Sally asked, peering over his shoulder.
Rick turned the object over in his hand. It was a small buckle with about a half inch of leather attached to it. The leather was frayed at the end where it had torn away from the rest of the strap. Rick was just about to answer Sally’s question when his brow furrowed and a
shocked look swept his face.
"Hey, what’s wrong?" Charlie asked. "What is that thing?"
Rick pushed himself up and shoved the buckle into his jacket pocket. "Just a buckle from somebody’s snowshoe bindings," he said hurriedly.
"Probably tore off when that man fell."
Sally eyed him curiously. "Are you sure, Rick? You looked so startled."
Rick started back toward the snowmobiles. "It’s no biggie. We’ll look at it later. Let’s go home and get out of this storm!"
The heavy snow was being whipped into swirling gusts by the wind as the three friends hurried back through the woods. They were soon back on the trail again, traveling at a much slower pace now as they made their way down from the hills. By the time they arrived in Rick’s
backyard, the blizzard had hit in all its fury. The winds shot the snow horizontally through the air, and the trio were covered with it as they pulled up behind the Raider home.
"Come on in," Rick invited. "Aunt Bea was brewing up some soup earlier.
Should be ready by now."
"Sounds yummy," Sally said as they jumped off the Snowcats. "Homemade soup is the perfect treat on a cold winter day."
"Right," Charlie agreed. "And Aunt Bea’s is the best in town!"
Rick’s aunt was his dad’s sister. She’d been living with them since the death of Rick’s mother when he was a little boy. A spinster, she had devoted her life to taking care of her brother and Rick, and -as Charlie put it - ‘feeding them until it came out of their ears’.
They were brushing off the snow from their jackets and jeans as they hurried into the hall through the side door.
"Mmmmmm." Sally sniffed the air as she pulled off her boots.
Charlie grinned. "Do I smell chicken soup or what?"
"You sure do, bud." Rick hung his jacket and ski cap on the hall rack. He winked at Sally. "And you’d better eat some, Charlie. Aunt Bea’s feelings will be hurt if you don’t."
Charlie snorted. "When have I ever been known to refuse food in this or any other house?"
"Never!" It was Sally who answered. "At least not to our knowledge."
The three friends were chuckling as they walked up the stairs to the kitchen, but their laughter died instantly when they saw Aunt Bea. She was hanging up the receiver on the wall phone across the room, a frightened look on her usually smiling face.
A line creased Rick’s brow. "Aunt Bea, what’s wrong?"
The woman stared at them, her hands trembling. She opened her mouth but no words came out. She looked at Charlie and then at Sally, as if she couldn’t talk in front of them. But then she went ahead anyway and blurted, "Oh, Rick! There’s bad news. Your father is missing!"
"What? Dad’s missing?"
Aunt Bea fingered her apron nervously, her face tense with worry. She looked at Charlie and Sally again, but then shrugged her shoulders and went on. "I just had a call from InterTell. Your dad has not reported in the allotted time. He’s classified as missing-in-action."
Rick plopped down on one of the chairs at the kitchen table. His father, Randolph Raider, was an agent for InterTell, a government secret service organization.
"Missing-in-action?" he repeated, letting out a nervous groan. "Jeez! Guess I never thought anything could ever happen to Dad."
"None of us did," Charlie agreed, looking at Rick worriedly. He and Sally knew about Mr. Raider’s work, but only because of events in the very recent past that had made them part of the secret.
Aunt Bea shook her head, sighing wearily. "I always dreaded the worst would happen someday. Why does he have to have such a dangerous job? A secret agent! He could own a Burger King or something!"
Sally’s face was pale as she sat down on the stool by the phone.
She feared the very worst. Her own father, Professor Anderson, a member of the faculty at Lake University where she, Rick and Charlie were students, had accompanied a scientific expedition to the Yukon Territory in northwestern Canada a few months ago. Some time later, when no word had been received from the expedition, InterTell had sent Mr. Raider in search of it.
She looked at the others, her pretty features drawn and tense. "I can’t believe this! First my father and the entire expedition disappear, and now Mr. Raider is gone too. What’s happened to them all?"
"That’s what I want to know!" Aunt Bea sat down at the table and
drummed her fingertips on its shiny top. "But InterTell won’t tell you a thing. What are we going to do?"
Rick sighed, running his fingers through his dark wavy hair. "First thing is that we keep cool. Working up a panic won’t do us any good.
And they’ve got to be sending more agents to check it out."
Aunt Bea nodded. "Yes, I was told the investigation would continue. Agents are most probably on their way right now."
Charlie wasn’t too confident about their success. "I hope they don’t
vanish into thin air too!"
"It wouldn’t be much of a surprise at this point," Sally said. She made a hopeless gesture, looking close to tears. "It’s all so mysterious. We don’t know why my dad went to the Yukon in the first place. What’s going on up there? What was the purpose of the expedition? And what happened to them all?"
She shook her head and added, "And I’m so worried about Dad. He’s a college professor, not an adventurer. Oh, I know he’s in great shape but Yukon winters are treacherous. It probably gets down to a hundred below zero. I’m afraid something terrible has happened to him."
Charlie joined Rick and Aunt Bea at the table. "Yow! Talk about a frustrating situation. I wish there was something we could do."
Rick was watching Sally and he couldn’t bear to see her so upset. He looked thoughtfully at his aunt and Charlie and a determined look came to his face. He knew he could not just sit still and stay quiet any longer with his own dad and Sally’s dad in what could be mortal
"There definitely is something we can do," he said to the others. "It’s semester break. Charlie and I have nothing of importance to do. We can go up to the Yukon ourselves and search for Dad and Professor Anderson."
Charlie shot him a surprised look. Then his eyes lit up. "Duuuuude! Now you’re talkin’!"
Aunt Bea was astounded. "You’ll do no such thing! The Yukon is thousands of miles away. What do you boys know about the far north and how to survive in it? Especially in winter!"
"I know quite a bit about the Yukon," Rick answered her patiently. "We studied the territory in high school and I wrote a paper about the Gold Rush of 1898. And Charlie and I love winter. We ski and snowshoe and have gone hunting and winter camping dozens of times. There’s no
reason we can’t go to the Yukon."
Charlie pushed back his chair. "Tell her about it! I’m going home right now and let my folks know. We’ll make like Indiana Jones and find that lost expedition pronto!"
"Now just a minute!" Aunt Bea’s voice was such a screech that Charlie sat right back down. "What’ll you do when you get there? You don’t know anything about the expedition or to what part of that vast territory it was headed. It’s all classified information. Sally and her mother don’t even know."
"That’s right," Sally agreed. "Dad couldn’t tell us anything about it."
Rick sat back and folded his arms across his chest. The others were looking at him and he knew it was time to level with them. For a moment he wondered if he should’ve done it before.
"I know all about the expedition," he told them, "and all about my dad’s assignment to investigate its disappearance."
The others looked at him with opened mouths.
"You do?" Sally asked in disbelieving tones.
"What do you mean?" Aunt Bea asked. "That’s secret government information."
A muscle quivered at Rick's jaw. "I’ve worked with Dad as a research assistant on several of his recent assignments," he told them. "I’m a member of a work/study program InterTell is conducting with a few students throughout the country, grooming them for the agency. I got on the program because Dad’s a top gun there, and my academic record in high school and at the University helped. Plus, I have access to it’s library. Lake University’s library is one of the most extensive
research collections in the world."
The others gaped at him for a moment. Then Charlie blurted, "Are you serious?" He looked angry enough to punch Rick. "You work for InterTell? That’s why you put in all that time at the library? And I
thought you were studying."
Sally looked at Rick accusingly. "So did I. Why didn’t you tell us?"
Rick was exasperated. "I&rsqu