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DeBaptiste, Mike - Rick Raider 01 - Danger on the Gold Trail

By Manuel Tucker,2014-06-12 23:48
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DeBaptiste, Mike - Rick Raider 01 - Danger on the Gold Trail

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’s okay."

     "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

    now."

     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

    danger.

     "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’m not supposed to! The only reason you found out about my dad, Sally, is because your father was missing. The agency knew our families were close friends and to help comfort your mom they allowed the information that my dad would be on the case." Rick glanced at Charlie. "And then we had to let Bozo here in on it too, he was so suspicious."

     "Darn right I was!" Charlie was glaring at them. "Everybody being

    so secretive. Here, my best friend’s dad was James Bond and I didn’t even know about it. I believed that stupid story you tell everyone that he’s a traveling salesman."

     Rick couldn't help laughing at that, and it helped to ease the tension amongst them. Once Sally knew that Rick’s dad was a secret agent, they knew they had to tell Charlie. He was suspicious and would not leave them alone until they leveled with him. They knew that the strong bonds of their friendship would keep the secret intact.

     "It’s not funny," Charlie growled. "And now you tell me you’re James Bond Junior, and I didn’t know a thing about it!"

     Aunt Bea sighed. "Goodness! I guess there goes the national security."

     Charlie pounded a fist on the table. "I’ll never tell a soul!"

     They all laughed now, and it was a much needed laugh. Aunt Bea looked to Rick. "I’m proud the agency has such confidence in you. But don’t you think you should go into a line of work that isn’t so dangerous?"

     "No chance of that," Sally told her before Rick could reply. "Rick and Charlie are always talking about working for InterTell after college."

     "Well, we’re not going to wait till then," Rick said. "We’ll start right now. I know where my dad went and why he went there, and I intend to find him and Professor Anderson."

     "Tell me about the expedition," Sally asked. She got up off the stool and joined them at the table. "What was it all about? Why did they go to the Yukon?"

     Rick looked at her as she sat down, then at Aunt Bea and Charlie. "This is classified information. We can’t let anyone else know about it unless they can help us find Dad and Professor Anderson."

     There was a silent nod from the others.

     Rick leaned forward and rested his elbows on the table. "This is the straight skinny on all of it. I won't hold anything back. I went over Dad’s directives with him and did additional research at the library and on the Internet. Ever since the Yukon Gold Rush in 1898, it’s been rumored that the motherlode, the largest vein of gold in the Klondike area, was never discovered. Prospectors have continued to look for it throughout the decades. Last year, an old prospector named Dan McGraw claimed he’d discovered a hidden valley in the mountains near the

    Klondike River. He called it ‘Bonanza Valley’ and said that within it lies the motherlode of the Klondike gold. He and his partner had sunk a shaft uphill from one of the creeks into what he believed to be the largest vein of gold ever discovered up there."

     Charlie’s eyes widened. "That's awesome. What happened next?"

     "One night, several men broke into McGraw’s cabin," Rick continued. "They abducted him and his partner, and took them into a series of caves

    in the mountains. The caves led to a small underground settlement."

     "How weird," Sally breathed. "An underground city in the Yukon?"

     Rick nodded. "Exactly. According to McGraw, about a couple hundred people were living there, and many of them had never been to the outside world. They were being held in a state of captivity by their leaders."

     "But why?" Aunt Bea asked, frowning.

     "Gold," was Rick’s quick reply. "It was being mined in the valley. McGraw thinks that the leaders of the town were hardened criminals who had come from the outside and were using the people of the settlement to work the mines. Then they sold the gold to foreign countries on the black market."

     Charlie let out a low whistle. "Pretty radical, man. Gold is being mined in a Canadian territory and then secretly being sold to foreign countries? It’d make world-wide headlines if that news leaked out."

     "I should say so," Aunt Bea agreed. "Who are these people, Rick? Does the underground settlement have a name?"

     "The underground is known as ‘Ophir’, most probably named after an

    old gold rush town that used to be in the area. McGraw and his partner were imprisoned by the Ophirians and made to work in the mines, but he was later able to escape. But not before he learned the strangest secret of all."

     Sally leaned forward, her green eyes curious. "And what was that?"

     "Oil," Rick answered. "There’s oil in the caves and valley. Vast deposits of it. They use it to heat the underground during the long northern winters."

     "Way cool," Charlie's eyes burned with excitement. "No wonder the Ophirians locked up McGraw and his partner. They don’t want anyone from the outside to know. With the demand for gold and oil today, that secret valley wouldn’t be a secret for long."

     Rick nodded. "You got it, bud. But after McGraw escaped from Ophir and went to nearby Dawson, no one would believe his story."

     "You can hardly blame them," Sally offered. "It does sound too fantastic to be true."

     "You’re right. It sure does." Rick smiled. "They probably thought he was just a wacky old-timer. But he didn’t give up. His partner was still a prisoner in Ophir, and he wanted to be able to work their claim without the threat of violence."

     "What’d he do?" Charlie asked.

     "He went down to Calgary, a big oil town in the province of Alberta, south of the Yukon. He took his story to the executives at the North American Oil Company, figuring they’d be interested in the oil in Bonanza Valley. He was able to get through to them, too, and they listened. They researched his story and learned that ever since the gold rush days there actually had been rumors in the Yukon of a secret society

    of people who lived out in the wilds. Of course, most Yukoners believed it was just a legend, a scary story to tell around the fire on cold winter nights."

     "But Dan McGraw knew better," Aunt Bea said, mesmerized by the strange story. "Those people really do exist."

     "They sure do, Aunty," Rick replied. "Once they learned that McGraw’s story could be true, the executives at the oil company contacted their head office here in the States."

     "And the U.S. office instructed them to send out a scientific expedition to see about the oil deposits in Bonanza Valley, right?" Charlie interjected.

     "Check," Rick agreed. "And they also contacted the Canadian government who, in turn, brought InterTell in on the case. Two agents accompanied the expedition to check out the black market gold angle. McGraw went with the expedition, of course, and your father was asked to go, Sally, because he's one of the leading authorities on mineralogy in North America and has done a lot of work out in the field for the North American Oil Company in the past."

     Sally shook her head slowly. "And he and the others must’ve all been captured by those people from Ophir!"

     "That’s got to be what’s happened," Charlie agreed. "And when the expedition wasn’t heard from, InterTell sent Mr. Raider and his partner to find them. They must’ve been captured too!"

     "I’m afraid so, Charlie." Rick’s hands clenched into tight fists. "The Ophirians are obviously desperate criminals, the kind who’ll stop at nothing."

     "But they can’t hold all these people indefinitely," Aunt Bea reasoned.

     "I think they intend to do that and more," Rick quickly replied.

     "More?" Sally looked at him quizzically. "What do you mean?"

     "Hold on a minute." Rick got up from his chair and went out to the hallway. When he returned, he held in his hand the buckle and piece of strap he’d found up in the hills.

     He tossed it on the table. "Look at this."

     "What is it?" asked Aunt Bea.

     "A piece of bindings from a snowshoe." He quickly told her how it had been found.

     Puzzled, Sally picked up the buckle. It was of an old-fashioned design and looked like it had been handmade by a craftsman. She turned it over and her eyes suddenly widened in surprise.

     "Oh my God!" she blurted. "I don’t believe it! Look at this, Charlie."

     She handed him the buckle. A moment later he had the same startled reaction. "Holy smokes! Look at this, Miss Raider. It says ‘Ophir YT’ on the back."

     Aunt Bea looked at the small engraving that Charlie’s finger was pointing to on the underside of the buckle. She looked at Rick, biting her bottom lip. "But…that must stand for ‘Ophir, Yukon Territory’. What does this mean, Rick?"

     "It means," Rick said, "that the man we saw up in the hills is from Ophir!"

     Charlie could barely suppress his excitement. "This is incredible, dude! No wonder you looked so shocked when you found it."

     "But why would any of those people come here to Lake City?" Sally asked with a shaky voice.

     But before Rick could answer, Aunt Bea pushed back her chair and shot to her feet. "Call the police!" she screeched. "Right now! If any of those people are out there it can only mean trouble. He might try to break into the house! He might be looking for papers about the investigation! He might…." A frightened expression contorted her face. "Rick, he might have come to kidnap you!"

     "Now calm down, Aunty," Rick told her. "I intend to call the police. I don’t know what that fellow’s after, but if it’s me, he’s going to have to chase me all the way back to the Yukon where he came from. I’m heading there tonight!"

     Aunt Bea started to protest but Rick silenced her. "No more objections. I’ve made up my mind. Charlie, go home and tell your folks

    our plan. Pack your duffel bag and snowshoes. Sally, you can call the airline while I pack. We have to get to Dawson, Yukon, as fast as possible."

     Rick looked over to the wall clock to see what time it was. Suddenly his eyes, wide and startled, riveted to the window below it.

     The others turned to look. Outside the window stood a man, a ski cap pulled low over his brow. There was an ugly scar under his left eye, and his bushy beard was white with snow.

     Seeing that he’d been observed, the man flashed them a malicious,

    defiant look.

     Then, without hesitation, he turned and fled into the swirling, blowing snow!

Chapter Two: DESTINATION NORTH COUNTRY

     For a few seconds, Rick and his friends stood there amazed and tongue-tied. Then Aunt Bea uttered a startled shrill cry.

     This brought Charlie to life. He flung back his chair and jumped up, still gaping at the window. "That son-of-a-gun was listening to us! He may have heard everything we said!"

     Sally had found her voice too. "Probably not, Charlie. It’s pretty

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