A Trace of Terror

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From the Adventures of Grant McSwain, Doer of Amazing Deeds, Dashing Explorer of Dangerous Locales, and Reclaimer of the Treasures of Antiquity...accompanied as always by his hapless assistant, Teagan O'Daire, the Ginger of Galway

A Trace of Terror

Rickety stalls and wooden carts laden with produce or hand-craftedgoods blurred as Teagan raced past, and her heart pounded in her chest like a steam engine. Panting for breath, she kept her eyes on Grant and tried to ignore the burning sensation in her side.

Even with the noise and bustle of the Caracas market, she heard his angry voice clear as day. "I can't believe you gave him the actual map!"

"He had a gun!"

Grant's wide shoulders slammed into a rack of jewelry, sending beaded necklaces flying. He spun off the impact and regained his pace.

An old woman yelled a string of curses that made Teagan's freckled cheeks burn. "Lo siento," Teagan said as she dashed by.

"Why didn't you do some of that sleight-of-hand, thief-y stuff?" Grant asked, seemingly unfazed by the exertion of their frenetic chase.

"He checked the map," Teagan said, breathless. "And he knew... what he... was looking for..."

The small clusters of people moved for Grant as he barreled down the street. Teagan had to weave and elbow her way between bodies.

Grant paused at an alley, and Teagan caught up to him again.

"Dead end," he said, and pointed at a distant warehouse between the wooden stalls and back doors of stores. He started down the alley, checking for any sign of the German thief and muttering to himself. "After all that work pulling the Corazon de Oro out of the water, discovering the topographical map etched into the ridges on the side..."

He left out the part where Teagan nearly drowned, and she wasn't sure whether the omission was out of kindness or simply because it hadn't crossed his mind.

He wiped his brow and stared down the alley. "Now that damn Kraut has the only lead to the source of Vallarte's treasure."

Teagan caught her breath and shot Grant a glare. "If only someone had a photographic memory!"

Grant's eyes narrowed. "Just because I can remember the map you traced doesn't mean I can find the hidden mines. They could be anywhere in the Carribbean." He lowered his voice and his cheeks flushed. "And you saw that I can't produce even a remote facsimile."

Teagan stifled a snicker. She'd seen toddlers with better control of charcoals. The 'map' Grant drew only led to a headache if one stared at it too long.

They checked the shops as they moved down the alley, but saw no sign of disturbance. Then they reached the warehouse and found the doorframe busted where the lock had been forced. A heavy chain and lock held the wide shipping dock doors closed.

"I don't see any other exits," Grant said. He slipped inside and held the door for Teagan.

Dust motes floated in sunbeams shining on stacked crates of furniture marked for shipment to Europe. The room smelled like sawdust and wood polish. A nearby ladder provided access to a grid of walkways ten feet above the floor. Grant grabbed the rungs and ascended. "I'll take the top, you take the bottom."

Teagan opened her mouth to protest, but Grant had already disappeared. The floorboards above her creaked at first, and Teagan winced. Then Grant moved with unexpected stealth for his large frame.

Suddenly, the silence felt oppressive, and every noise sent a jolt of fear down Teagan's spine. This is a terrible plan. She looked around for a makeshift weapon, and eventually found a crowbar.

White-knuckling the bar over her shoulder like a baseball player waiting for a pitch, she crept through the maze of boxes. With each squeak of a floorboard, with every scrape, she spun toward the sound and her heart skipped a beat.

"Grant," she whispered. No response.

She hissed out his name a little louder. Still nothing.

By force of habit, she almost put her hand in her pocket, reaching for the Saint Nicholas medallion she always carried. But the crowbar provided an immediate and tangible sense of security, one she wasn't willing to give up even for a moment.

The hammer of a revolver clicked into place behind her, loud as a gunshot in the silence. Teagan froze.

"Set ze crowbar down," a soft-spoken man said, "on ze crate next to you."

Teagan did as commanded and raised her empty hands level with her head.

The man behind her chuckled. "You couldn't just let ze map go? Vas ziss treasure vorth your life?"

Panicked, Teagan's gaze flickered around the crates in search of an escape route or at least some cover. But the German couldn't possibly miss at such close range.

"A shame," he said, "to kill a rather competent and intelligent voman. You showed promise. But my employer desires no vitnesses..."

He raised the gun toward Teagan.

Grant's bulky form crashed into the thief from above, knocking his arm down and to the right. A gunshot echoed and the board of a wooden crate snapped. The men fell into a heap.

Grant scrambled atop the thief and smashed a fist into the German's face before pinning the man's arms beneath his thick legs. Teagan snatched the gun.

"Where's the map?" Grant screamed, fist raised to deliver another blow.

The German laughed, coughing up blood that speckled his blonde hair. "Fools! I don't haff it."

Teagan waved the gun at the man, hoping it seemed threatening. "But you accosted me in the hotel and demanded my tracing of the corazon."

"Did you know," he said with a grin, "that I haff a twin brother?"

Grant chuckled. "Really?" Then he punched the man in the face again, knocking him unconscious.

Teagan gasped. "What was that for?"

"When we find his brother, we'll be able to tell them apart."

To be continued in Teagan Oh-Hair versus the Barbaric Barbers

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