The Slider, Chapter One: The Old Man and the Court Order

JOHN CAVANAUGH

I was 98 years, three months, and two days old when they came for me. Had it not been for the dream warning, I’d have been sound asleep, taken unaware. As it was, I’d been up for hours. Pacing, going over the details of my plan. Waiting to see if I was right, if my alleged heirs had really sunk that low. Maybe I should have split already, probably should have, but they’d been spiking my coffee for nearly a year before I figured it out. My mind still wasn’t entirely clear. Maybe never would be.

And…here they came. Two Sheriff’s deputies, for Pete’s sake. Roger, the social worker, complete with his partner in state crime, Sally Blue. What’s-her-name, the Victim Advocate. At the rear, my greedy ex-wife Jessica and two of my biological brood, Little Miss Piggy and Kermit the Toad. Not charitable to think of one’s blood kin in those terms. I knew that. Then again, Margaret and Kerm weren’t exactly the types to inspire charitable feelings in anybody. I remembered when Margie was a fair-haired toddler, blue eyed, dimpled cheeks, charming as a young Shirley Temple. Now, at sixty-something, she looked more like a vicious female version of Buddha, no disrespect to Buddha. Kermie, two years younger, rail thin and narrow minded to fit. How dare I keep on living, keep on keeping their inheritance of millions from them? They’d fix me, they would. All they needed to round out the picture was a fully geared up SWAT team and a sniper or two.

All to take one frail, senile old man into custody, deliver him to the state hospital at Warm Springs. Thank the Lord and pass the biscuits, I’d cultivated enough friends at the courthouse. Shirley had told me the truth of it. “Judge Emenson signed the order. Seventy-two hour hold for evaluation. Allegations of mental incompetence, potential danger to yourself and others.”

“Thanks, sweetheart.” I’d hung up then, having things to do and unable to listen any longer to the sympathy in her voice. Shirl knew damn well my mind wasn’t gone even if it did get a little foggy sometimes. “Sometimes” meaning every time I fixed myself a cup of coffee. I’d finally figured it out. Barely in time. The fog was still there. It might always be there. Didn’t know what the hell they’d put in my Folger’s, whether it was short-acting or did permanent damage. Obviously crossed the blood-brain barrier. Messed up my thinking and my gut.

But not enough. By the stars that shine, not quite enough.

I lifted the little digital camera, aimed through the picture window, and took a few shots of the Crazy Man Capture convoy. One day I’d hang the best print on my office wall. Maybe.

“Time to scoot,” I muttered, turning away from the glass. If they ever had me imprisoned in the nuthouse, even for this so called “hold for evaluation,” I’d never get out. Pig Girl had her connections.

They weren’t but a few hundred yards from the parking pad now, easing over the rutted trail to my four thousand square foot country home with attached garage. I was cutting it too close. Across the room, down the hall, hang a right, out the back. Nothing to carry; everything that needed to be gone was already gone. Down the steep bank to the creek bottom. “Scoot, scoot, scoot,” under my breath. Into the brush, plenty of leaves for cover during this fine rainy month of June. Across the swollen waters, soaked to my waist, would have gone down in the current with all those slick, round river rocks underfoot but the old man ain’t stupid. Double rope across, ready and waiting. No way to screw it up.

Well. There’s always a way to screw it up. Didn’t, though. On the far bank, pull the rope end, slipknot lets go from around the young cottonwood, haul the rope across, gather it up, hurry hurry hurry.

Good. Got the rope. In deep cover now. Plenty of cover, all three miles upstream to where my horse is waiting. If a griz or a pack of wolves hasn’t gotten her.

Squat. Sit. Listen. If anybody ias going to scream in frustrated rage, it will be my fat daughter.

“AUGH-H-H-H-H!”

Aha. I grinned, silent as a snake hunting gophers, motionless as a hawk perched on a telephone pole but not out there in plain view. Oh no. Not me. During my baseball days they’d called me The Slider ’cause of my signature pitch and the way I stole bases. I’d just slid out from under their cast net. They’d put the word out, not so much the authority types but the alleged heirs, spend what money they had trying to track me and my millions down.

Good luck with that, assholes, I thought. Good luck with that.

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INSIDE THE HOUSE

“He didn’t! Oh no he didn’t!” Margaret Cavanaugh Jones had finally quit screaming but her head was waggling from side to side in denial.

“He obviously did.” Her brother was no less irritated but he hid it better. He also wasn’t nearly as short on funds as his spendthrift sister.

The senior deputy had a question. “Either of you know anything about this?” He pointed to the message on the whiteboard, printed in big block letters.

SHERIFF DUNMORE: YOU MIGHT WANT TO TEST THIS CAN OF COFFEE FOR ILLICIT DRUGS. IF I’M NOT MISTAKEN, MY BELOVED CHILDREN HAVE BEEN SPIKING THE STUFF ELEVEN MONTHS OR SO. CAN’T TELL YOU WHAT TO LOOK FOR EXACTLY BUT THE SYMPTOMS INCLUDE EXCESS FATIGUE AND A FOGGY MIND. NOTE: I’M NO CRAZIER NOW THAN I WAS THE LAST TIME I VOTED FOR YOU, SO THEY WON’T GET ANOTHER SHOT AT ME. THIS IS JUST FYI. ONLY SEEMED RIGHT YOU SHOULD KNOW, SEEING AS HOW YOU’RE KERMIE’S GODFATHER.

Not-so-little Miss Piggy let out a little piggy squeal and lunged for the whiteboard. Deputy Fina was quicker, aided by the fact that it takes a while to get 450 pounds of fat woman moving. “No, ma’am. Not saying there’s a crime here the County Attorney can prosecute, but we have to treat it as a crime scene for now regardless.”

The scene went downhill from there.

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JOHN CAVANAUGH

The hike like to tuckered me plumb out. Not so much because of my age. More because I’d been lazy for a good long while. Whatever they’d put in that coffee had stolen a lot of my natural motivation as well as my natural energy. Every preparation had to be made by the application of sheer will. No fun at all.

But I’d gotten it done.

The bay-and-white pinto hadn’t been eaten. Glory be, I wasn’t going to have to hike another forty miles. Or soak my britches again. We had a few creeks to cross en route.

I got the little camp shovel out of the pack and buried my old stuff under an uncaring sage bush, in between the roots. Put a hefty rock over it, too. Didn’t want some ambitious prairie dog digging it up. Everything Cavanaugh was gone now. Driver’s license, Social Security card, credit cards (deactivated), debit card (deactivated), voter’s registration card, Medicare card, Safeway grocery discount card, the works.

From a hidden pouch inside the left saddle bag came the new stuff. I was now Tom Slider–yeah, I know, irony of ironies, but there was a reason. Age 55, not 98. The guy in the photo didn’t look exactly like me but the resemblance was close enough as long as facial ID software wasn’t involved. He didn’t look 98, but then, I didn’t either, and he certainly looked a lot older than 55. The original Tom Slider had not aged well. Brand inspection and ownership papers for the horse said she belonged to Tom Slider.

Well…Thomas S. Slider, technically, but young Tom’s parents hadn’t been the swiftest namers on the planet. Try saying all that and you came out sounding like a slithering snake. Thomas-s-slider. So, Tom Slider.

Tom Slider’s pickup and horse trailer were parked outside of Lincoln. We’d be riding the rest of the day and much of the night to get there. “But we’re tough, right, Belle?” I mounted up, leaned over to pat the mare on the neck. She flicked her ears and moved out, traveling in long, low strides, head bobbing in contentment.

“We done done it, girl,” I told her. “Makes me want to yell happy, you know? But we’ll wait a while on that. Wouldn’t want to spook you. Besides, I can yell in the truck, once you’re settled in and we’re rolling over Rogers Pass.” And when I was feeling a little safer, a little less paranoid.

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ALL AROUND THE COUNTY

Armed with their copy of the court order, Margaret and Kermit stormed into the First National Bank, collared the branch manager, and demanded that a freeze be put on all eight of John Cavanaugh’s healthy bank accounts. It was their first step. They would fix him.

The manager scratched an ample jowl. “Don’t believe I can do that.”

Kermit thrust his sharp jaw forward. “You can’t comply with a court order?”

“Not this one. The–”

“I bet you can go to jail for refusing, Mr. Dessent.”

“Mrs. Jones, I’m not refusing.”

“Then what–”

“John Cavanaugh closed his accounts with us three months ago. We were sorry to see him go. He was a good customer.”

“AUGH-H-H!” Little Miss Piggy had found her default response to these setbacks. The bank manager covered his ears.

It took the siblings the rest of the week to cover all the bases. In the end, they were beyond devastated. John Cavanaugh had sold his interest in the Healthy Eatin’ CafĂ© six months ago. John Cavanaugh had sold his lake property four months ago. John Cavanaugh had sold the Leafy Shores apartment building six weeks ago. And on and on and on, until the final insult: John Cavanaugh had sold his foothills residence much more recently; the two million dollar property had closed nine days ago.

“We’re screwed,” Margaret told her brother on Friday night over ribeye steaks and more than a little blackberry brandy.

“Maybe not.” Kermit Cavanaugh was a real estate attorney. He knew about these things, though he wasn’t nearly as smart as he thought he was. “He’s obviously rolling in cash.”

“Yeah? So?”

“So this. Number one, nobody except crazy people, organized criminals, and terrorists deal in that much cash, so the government requires financial institutions to notify them when large amounts of money are taken out in cash. Government overreach, some say. Others point to law enforcement, tracking bad guys.”

She stared at her brother, slit-eyed. “So there’ll be a record of those transactions with the feds. So what?”

“So the IRS, or whoever, might do some legwork for us. FBI investigation, maybe. Bet they can find him. Sooner or later, they might even arrest him, and then we’d know where he was and could likely get him committed. We’d have to prove the money was legit so it would come to us as heirs or via Power of Attorney, naturally, but….”

Margaret used her napkin to mop grease from her lips and sweat from her lard-filled armpits. “Lot of ifs, maybes, and who knows when.”

“True. But I’m not done yet, sister. There have to be at least twenty million dollars involved, ten for you, ten for me, screw the ex-stepmom. Don’t know what she thinks she can get out of the deal. No legal standing at all. So for ten mil per, we’re not quitting, are we?”

“No more than a Supreme Court Justice quits before he dies. Or she dies,” she amended. Female judges still rubbed her the wrong way but she had to get with the program, right? At least in public.

“So. Believe it or not–you’re going to love this–all we have to do is convince the PD or the Sheriff’s office to put out a national Welfare Check Notice.”

“A what?”

“Not sure that’s exactly the right term, but you know how we’ve gotten officers to go see if Dad was okay when we hadn’t heard from him in a long time? That’s a welfare check. Usually local, but my wife tells me it’s stone easy to get one put out nationally. It’s like an all points bulletin.”

“Will they look very hard?” She asked doubtfully.

“Not usually. What’s one more old man wandering around loose in the grand scheme of things, right? But if we get the media involved, stir them up with a few teasers about his millions and wonder if foul play could be involved, throw in a reclusive Howard Hughes reference or three, they’ll eat it up. Heck, sis, we could even put up a reward for his finding, say $50,000, and every eyeball in the country would be peeled, looking for him.”

“Hm.” That sounded like a lot. $50,000. But between the two of them, they could swing it. Margaret Cavanaugh Jones could be spendy but she had her rainy day fund. And let’s see, $10,000,000 would be a twenty thousand percent return. Or something like that.

“Good,” she decided. “I can’t wait to see that old skinflint in a strait jacket.” He hadn’t really been a bad Dad, but come on. Refusing to die just to spite your kids? He deserved what was coming to him.

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TOM SLIDER

It was a few minutes past midnight when Belle and I reached the truck. A 1995 Dodge Ram, Cummins diesel engine, far from new but perfectly maintained. Before the horse was loaded up, she got her saddle and blanket and bridle off, replaced with a leather halter, and a quart of oats as a reward. While she was happily munching away, I took advantage of the moonlight filtering through the pines to check the secret compartment in the fifth wheel trailer. Looked like all six hundred pounds of gold bullion were still right where they should be. At today’s spot prices, that translated to a bit more than twelve million dollars worth. The other four hundred pounds were already stashed at my new location.

I couldn’t help chuckling. Bet those kids of mine were already trying to track it down. Me, too, but mostly to get to the gold. They wouldn’t succeed. Under current statutes, large sales of gold by an individual had to be reported but large purchases did not. If I decided to make any big gold-cashing moves in the near future, I’d have to use a few shadier brokers. That would cost me dearly but there’d be no paper trail.

In a word, I was golden.

Appearance was another security concern, but hey. I had makeup in the truck, ready to darken my skin tone to match the driver’s license photo. Also Instant FaceLift which would dramatically reduce wrinkles–those “cracks in my face”–for eight, ten hours at a stretch. Dye for my hair and the moustache I’d be growing. Dressing differently would take some getting used to, but I’d do it.

Best of all, my mental fog seemed to be lifting. I should be dog tired but I wasn’t. My synapses were starting to fire properly, make the right connections, allow my view of the world some clarity. Could be the coffee contaminants were short-acting after all. Or I was just fired up from escaping the Offspring Trap which is the flip side of the Parent Trap. Or those two had been hitting me with psychic attacks all this time but were having trouble targeting me through the ethers now.

“Time to get you loaded up,” I told the mare. “Miles to go before I sleep.” The sooner we were out of Montana, the better.

Once everything was ready to roll, I knelt right there beside the truck and offered up a heartfelt prayer of thankgiving. The Lord had delivered me from my enemies and my gratitude was boundless.