I grew up in Florida and except for a short time in the Coast Guard I have lived here all my life; therefore, I know very little about snow and ice, and even less about mountains and climbing them; unless they are titled Space, Splash, and Big Thunder. The only snow I like is a cone with mango flavoring. But I never let my ignorance stop me from helping someone.
I was in the Animal Kingdom conducting surveillance. I had been hired by the lawyer who represented a mother going through a custody battle with her ex-husband. This is the best way to get hired, because even if you do not get the results that support the case, they pay you. Lawyers bill the customer and I do not have to worry about getting stiffed. A law firm that bilks a private investigator is likely to run out of gumshoes to hire really quick, there just are not that many of us.
But like I said I was doing surveillance and not getting the results the mother wanted, she wanted to prove the father took the kids on vacation and spent all the time paying attention to his new girlfriend and her kid. If anything, the father spent more times with the kids then he did with the girlfriend. She would stay back at the room and read by the pool; the dad spent the day in the parks playing with the kids.
I had just gotten some great pictures of the dad and kids on Kali River Rapids having a blast, I even got to hit the button squirting them with the elephant trunk at the end of the ride. They were heading towards Expedition Everest, I imagined to dry off when I saw something that stopped me dead in my tracks and brought my surveillance to an end.
Carlos was the son of a former client; the client was his mother and a Cast Member whom I had helped find something she had been accused of stealing. Not on Disney Property, as I draw the line at messing with Disney’s internal affairs when it comes to the employer/employee relationships. Carlos had ‘helped’ me out with a few errands when helping his mother out and I liked the kid. I had seen him a few times since then and he was the nicest kid around. So, what was he doing clocking the comings and goings of Cast Members in the Fast Pass lane on Expedition Everest. I only had to watch him for about ten minutes to figure out what was going on as I did the same sort of thing when I was conducting surveillance, albeit not so obviously. I walked up to him and he smiled at me and I feigned a smile as I grabbed him by the upper arm and gave it a more than friendly squeeze and said quietly. “Don’t cause a scene and come with me.”
Luckily, he did not make a scene and closed his little notebook and walked alongside me till we were on the bridge between Dinoland and Asia, that is where I stopped and raised and eyebrow in a stern questioning manner. “What are you doing?”
“Nothing.” Carlos said unconvincingly.
I folded my arms across my chest and shook my head. “Game recognizes game.” He was about to deny his activities again, but I stopped him with a held-up hand, not wanting him to entrench himself deeper in denial. “You were conducting surveillance on the Cast Members manning the Fast Pass Lane,” His faced showed I had uncovered his activities plainly. “and doing it in such an obvious way someone was going to catch you at it in another five minutes and they would have called Security and said there was a suspicious person.” My pronouncement shook him a little. “Security would have asked for your Park Pass, which I am guessing is an official Guest Pass tied to your mother’s name and the next thing your mother comes home with at the minimum a written reprimand on her permanent employee record.”
Carlos had the good sense to look both shocked and embarrassed and I saw him give up the lying right there and then. “I was that obvious?”
I chuckled. “You were only twenty feet from your target, you had a notebook and kept looking at your watch then writing stuff down. To tell you the truth I am surprised you were not invited backstage already.”
“I only started ten minutes ago.” Carlos said showing me his notebook.
I reached out and took the ninety-nine-cent notebook out of his hand without even opening it and walked to the closest trash can and threw it away. I gave Carlos a buck I fished out of my money clip without an explanation. Then I leaned against the railing and continued. “Okay I know I am going to be sorry I asked, but ‘Why were you tracking the Cast Members.”
Carlos now looked happy. “I met this girl, yesterday.”
“Well last night, Candace is really pretty and we started talking.”
I held up my hand and Carlos stopped; I ran my fingers through my hair. “I got a feeling this is going to require a drink in AC.”
We left the Animal Kingdom via bus and ended up at the Animal Kingdom Lodge in their quick service area, I grabbed a beer and I bought Carlos a Coke, I picked out a table in a corner away from the hustle and bustle. Luckily, it was mid-afternoon so most people were still in the parks or at the pool cramming in as much recreation into their vacation as possible.
“Okay tell me about Candace.” I said once we were situated.
The next twenty minutes he outlined what she had told him, and how she had asked for his help in stealing an item from the ride queue at Expedition Everest. Carlos had let slip that he had a PI friend who taught him about surveillance and it needed to be done before any really heist could be done. I rolled my eyes at that; I had told him a few things about surveillance when he ‘helped me’ with his mother’s case. I guess I forgot to tell him about positioning and doing things in a covert manner. But I had no idea that eleven-year-old would try and use that knowledge four years later.
Carlos was a good kid, but he would not be the first good kid lead astray by a pretty face asking him to do a dumb thing. I needed to meet this Candace and get to the bottom of the story, maybe fill in a few details as to why she would want to steal from Disney. Carlos said I could meet her at his house tonight as she was coming by for dinner.
My ears perked up, a meal at the Lopez house, his mother made the best tamales I have ever tasted and I hoped they were on the menu. Carlos called his mother and cleared it with her and I went back to the park to see if I could pick up the trail of my family although I thought I had enough billable photos for the lawyer. Even lawyers do not like to pay for photos that do not back the narrative they are trying to portray in court.
I arrived at the Lopez home at six pm sharp. I went up and was about to knock when the door was thrown open by Carlos’s younger brother, who grabbed the cake I had brought and ran to the kitchen leaving me standing there. As I entered Grandma gave me a kiss on both cheeks and called said “muy guapa.” The rest of the meal was one of fun chaos, with unfortunately no tamales. But Carlo’s mom made tasty burgers and fresh corn on the cob which was a great meal for a guy who lived alone.
Candace came in just before we were seated so I was not able to engage in a one-on-one conversation with her to gauge her. I did discover over dinner she worked for Carlos’s mother, Vivian as a College Program Cast Member and Carlos had met her at a welcoming party his mother had thrown the night before. It was not until after dinner, when Carlos’s little brother left and Abuela went to watch TV in her room that we got down to business.
I wanted Vivian to sit in on the conversation, and when Carlos told her what I had caught him doing I could see her begin to boil. I was able to release some of her steam when I assured her, he was not caught doing anything by Disney Security, that is when Candace spoke up.
“I am really sorry that you thought I was serious, I thought you were joking when you said, ‘we should steal the ice screw.’ Candace said. Then turned towards Vivian. “I was very emotional last night, as I just found the ice screw earlier in the day and I guess I got carried away with a crazy scheme and then Carlos said he knew about surveillance and planning.” She said then faced Carlos. “I am sorry you thought I was serious.”
Miles saw a tear run down her face and suddenly the girl said, ‘excuse me’ and got up and practically ran to the bathroom.
Vivian looked over at her son frowning. “If your father was home, he would probably would have given you a good smack. And since when do you think you know how to steal things.” Carlos mumbled something under his breath and his mother said. “Speak up.”
“I watched Ocean’s Eleven a bunch of times I firgured how hard could it be.”
I tried not to laugh but a snicker came out and Vivian stared daggers at me. My mouth seal broke and my laughter came out. Luckily, my laughter was infectious and Vivian started laughing and then Carlos did as well. Vivian got up from the table and started to walk to the bathroom to retrieve Candace, but she turned around came back to Carlos, gave him a soft cuff along side his head and said. “Ocean’s Eleven.” while rolling her eyes.
A short while later Vivian came back with Candace and I took charge. “Okay Candace tell us the story from the beginning, and what is an ice screw?”
The story went as follows.
I grew up in Colorado and my brother Richard loved climbing. A self-labeled and proud ‘climbing bum’. He world revolved around climbing, lived in a van taking odd jobs in various locations just so he could be close to climbing. One Christmas when I was five, he was home, he explained to me about climbing frozen waterfalls and glaciers using ice screws. I did not know much about climbing but I knew he could fall unless he used ice screws. I was scared for him and thought I could do magic and stole one of his ice screws from his van. I snuck into the garage and painted the ice screw gold with a can of spray paint I found. My Dad caught me and instead of punishing me he helped me clean up and wrap the ice screw up as a present.
Richard loved the ‘magical ice screw’ and for the next couple of years he carried it with him everywhere. It became a running joke over the years and he would always tell me he had his magical ice screw and he would be safe on his next climb.
Richard got his dream job guiding trekkers in Nepal, During his second season in Nepal we got the bad news, Richard while doing a supply run to Lukla from Everest base camp and he was killed in a traffic accident. My family was devastated and when the family received Richards gear along with his body, everything except the ‘magical’ ice screw was there.
We talked to all his friends and we even talked to some of the people he guided and no one ever knew what happened to the gold painted ice screw. They all said he had it in Nepal, and whenever he went anywhere with his backpack it was mounted on the outside of it. We never discovered what happened to it.
But yesterday while going through the Fast Pass line at Expedition Everest I looked up and there it was, hanging on the wall in the ‘gear shop’.
Candace showed us a picture of Richard holding the ice screw on the top of El Capitan in Yosemite. The picture was in full color and had great detail to it. It was evidence in my mind that if the screw in the Gear Shop matched up then a case could be made that it was the one that belonged to Richard in Nepal. I knew Disney went in for as much authenticity as they could when it was possible. I remember seeing an interview with the Head Imagineer Joe Rhode talking about bringing artifacts back from Everest for the queue. So, the chain of custody was there, at least from Nepal to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. I was lost in thought when Vivian poked me, everyone around the table was looking at me.
“Do you think we can prove that it is Richard’s?” Candace said looking at me.
I looked around the room and nodded slightly. “Maybe, let me talk to some people.”
I slept in the next day, no cases to work on except for sending my findings to the law firm and sending an invoice. My office greeted me with bills stuck in its slot which I pointedly ignored and sent off my own bill which I hope would not be ignored. I looked up a number for an acquaintance that worked for Imagineering, I received a text back soon afterwards saying we should meet for lunch as she was in Florida.
“How you been?”
“Great, down here for a bit then back to California in couple of days.”
“Where are they putting you up this trip?
“The Contemporary, its not the Grand, but it’s not the All-Stars either.” This was a running joke between us. I had met her while I was working a case at the All-Star Movie Resort and had struck up a conversation with her in the food court. I did it mostly as cover for surveillance, but when I learned she was an Imagineer we swapped contact information.
Lunch went well, we caught up on things, and talked about our jobs, it finally got down to why I called. “Something I can help you with Miles?” Casey asked as the waitress refilled their drinks again.
I told her about Candace and about Richard passing away in Nepal. “I was wondering if we could get the background of an item, something mounted on the wall of an attraction.”
“It is not a museum piece, is it? Because that is another department than what I do.”
I waved my hands. “Not a museum piece in fact I think it can be touched by the guests.”
“Oh well then that is my area.” Casey said smiling. “Give me the details.” Casey said getting out her notebook and pen.
I liked her professionalism. “Expedition Everest, Fast Pass Queue, the item is an ice screw,” I paused while Casey caught up with her notes, while she scribbled, I wondered if there was an ice nut, or an ice nail. “with gold spray paint on silver colored metal.”
“That is all you got?”
I looked at her confused. “Why do you need a more detailed description?”
Casey gave an embarrassed laugh. “No, I was being sarcastic. I thought this was going to be difficult. Usually when I get requests it is a lot more ambiguous, and the person can’t say tell me anything except a basic location and maybe it’s color.”
“Oh, you want me to be more vague so you can be challenged.” I said joking. “Okay, it’s a thing, hanging on a whatchamacallit, in that land with all the green trees.”
“That would be a lot harder.” Casey said laughing now and closing her notebook. “Give me a day or two and I will tell you what I can about it.”
We said our goodbyes and I went back to my office to do research. Research meant going through videos and articles about Joe Rhode and his Imagineers who built Expedition Everest. There were a few clips of the Imagineers trip to Nepal but not much else. I learned a lot about the ride, but as far as finding a picture of Joe Rhode picking up an ice screw with Richard the Climbing Bum in the background, I was a no go.
The rabbit hole was entertaining and I did learned a lot about trekking in Nepal and about how Sir Edmund Hillary, and Tenzing Norgay climbed The Goddess of the Sky.
Norgay started a successful climbing and trekking business. Hillary devoted a good portion of the rest of his life teaching around the world about environmental awareness and helping people of the Himalayan region by building schools, hospitals, and dental clinics.
I leaned back in my chair and let my brain rest and was rudely woken by a ringing phone and I was given another job, this one a paying gig. It was a few days later that I got back to the missing ice thingy when I got text from Casey an met her for lunch at The Wave. The Wave is a little bit expensive so I just opted for French fries.
Casey’s job with Imagineers is as a database manager. Casey and her partner, a photographer, travel to new rides and attractions and document everything right before a ride opens. And when I say everything, I mean everything. If it is a permanent fixture, a light switch, a fan, a security kiosk, a picture is taken and put into a database with proper labeling. That way if something is damaged or they want to duplicate the ride or hotel on another continent it can be done with almost eerie precision.
Imagineers leave nothing to chance ever. I heard a story about the Droid Depot in the Star Wars area of Studios. Before it was opened officially the Imagineers were doing the finishing touches, they went into the Droid Depot, which is supposed to be a hodge podge of components and half-finished robot parts. The area behind the conveyor belt was a jumble of part and pieces. The Imagineers took down the bits and fragments that were already there and meticulously recreated a layout they had drawn up, down to the last robot arm, nut, and bolt.
Imagineers have a plan for everything. Not saying they are perfect, even the best laid plans sometimes go amiss. Ask the Yeti on Everest if you do not believe me. Joe Rhode and his team made the biggest audio animatronic in the world at twenty-five feet tall, moving vertically and horizontally with moving arms, covered in yak hair, but something went wrong thus his inactivity since 2009.
Casey handed me her tablet after the meal was over and she let me see the extract of a document. There in a list of with other items was a description of an ice screw, sixteen centimeters long, with old gold paint on it, found at a secondhand shop near Namche Baza; Nepali.
I handed the tablet back to Casey. “Well, that is good, at least we know the ice screw came directly from where Richard was, but we do not know how one of his few prized possession got from his hands into a secondhand shop.”
“Sorry I could not help you more.” Casey said.
“Hey, you helped me a lot, this might just be one mystery that will never be solved.”
“At least let me pay for your lunch.” Casey said as she waved to the waitress for the bill and signed off charging it to her room upstairs. I kicked myself mentally for not taking advantage of her Disney per diem by ordering a hamburger.
I broke the news to Candace and Vivian that night as they were getting off work. Carlos just happened to be nearby, typical of a young man who had a thing for a pretty lady, unfortunately I saw that the older college woman had placed Carlos in the dreaded friend zone. But like most young men, hope springs eternal at least until they are attracted to the next object of affection comes along.
“That is all the Imagineers have on the ice screw.” I said closing my notebook.
Candace’s face was neutral, and Vivian her boss put a hand on her shoulder for comfort. Candace smiled at the gesture then spoke. “Well, I think it is Richard’s but I guess there is no way to prove it,” she sighed, “but it is good to know it made its way back to a place my family can see it.”
I saw a look cross Carlos’s face, the idea of stealing it was just about to come out of his mouth again and I gave him a scowl and sent a mental message to him. ‘Don’t be stupid.’ I saw that he got the message, which proved not only was he a good kid, but he was smart enough to read other’s expressions.
“They only thing I can think of is to travel to Nepal talk to the shopkeeper, but there is no guarantee he or she would even remember the ice screw and where they got it from.” I said, sad they I could not help Candace out even further.
Candace sighed. “Thanks for all your help, Mr. Mitchell, you did something extraordinary already, simply confirming where the ice screw came from and all, I am going to call my parents now.”
A few months later I was leaving Epcot via the Monorail, I had borrowed my best friend Daniel Dewey’s car for an overnight surveillance on a no tell motel case. I was heading to the Ticketing and Transportation Center to catch a Lynx bus to get to my office. I was walking up the ramp to the platform after handing Daniel the keys when I glanced over and saw a tourist in a red t-shirt with the slogan for the American Himalayan Foundation.
I am not sure I believe in god, big or little g, karma, or fate. I do believe that if you pay attention in life and listen to that little voice in the back of your head good things happen. The little voice helps you, especially when you trying to do good for others.
Being in a bit of daze due to lack of sleep I did not put two and two together very quickly. The man had a shirt about Nepal on, I could never recall seeing a Nepalese shirt, flag, or indication that someone had been to the region in the park before, this could mean something my little voice said.
Unfortunately, the little voice came to this conclusion as the doors closed on the monorail and I started the six-minute trip to the TTC. I panicked; I do not know why but I knew I had to talk to this guy. I reached for my phone.
“Daniel, I need a favor.”
“I just let you borrow my car overnight, what do you want now my left arm?”
“Just shut up and listen, white guy, forties, white bucket hat, red t-shirt that says, ‘American Himalayan Foundation’, probably just went through the turnstiles.”
“I thought you did not have any cases in the park today.”
“Just find the guy and keep an eye on him till I get back from the TTC.”
I made the turn around from the TTC I stayed on the monorail as it returned to Epcot. As soon as I got beyond the touch points, I called Daniel joined him in the Land Pavilion. He made a lot of noise about how many I owed him and I promised him a really good lunch somewhere, the naming rights to my first born, and a kidney if he needed one. It was after all these promises were made that he pointed to the man and his family sitting in the revolving Garden Grill currently having lunch with Farmer Mickey Mouse and pals.
Daniel walked off muttering about how my son would be named Dewey Mitchell or if it was a daughter Danielle Mitchell. I ignored him and found a place to wait until the red shirted man finished his lunch.
“Candace this is Doctor of Dentistry Gerry Counts and he has a story he wants to tell you.” I said introducing Candace who had joined us in a corner of the Polynesian Lobby where the good doctor was staying.
Candace smiled and the Doctor began.
“I volunteer with the American Himalayan Foundation; I have traveled to Nepal numerous time and donated my time as a dentist to help the people out.”
“My very first trip I did time at a bunch of clinics and my last one in my rotation was at Namche Baza. The clinic was run by a Nepali dentist and I was just there to lend a hand. My first patient was a little boy who would not sit down in my chair until after a few hushed words with the technician and she handed him something which he held as he hopped into my chair with no problem clutching something in his hand. After I did my examine and finished up with a demonstration on how to brush his teeth his mother led him out the door but he turned and handed me the thing he had gripped so tightly throughout the procedure.”
I watched Candace for this next part.
“The little boy handed me an ice screw painted gold.”
Candace gasped and her eyes got wide, the doctor continued.
“A couple years before I got there was another dentist at the clinic. It seems that one day an American carried a little girl in that had been kicked by a donkey and she had some severe teeth damage. The girl clung to this American and he stayed with her until the anesthesia kicked in. Somehow the girl had latched onto his gold ice screw and even when she was under, she clung to it tightly.”
Candace simply nodded.
“The American told the girl’s parents she could keep it as a good luck charm but he would return in a couple of days to get it back as it was a gift from his sister, and it would keep her safe as it had kept him safe climbing all these years.”
I looked over at Candace whose eyes were watering now, I think, I am not sure because mine were blurred, damn allergies.
“The American never came back, and when the little girl recovered and she passed it along to another child who came in crying. Each dentist was told the story about the American and gold ice screw and it seems the children told each other about the magical ice screw.” The doctor paused for breath. “The clinic was destroyed by an earthquake and the gold ice screw was lost; we think that it might have been taken by someone collecting scrap.”
Candace turned and hugged me. “It really was magical.”
“The best kind of magic, the magic from being kind.” I said hugging her back.
Other Miles Mitchell Mysteries.
The Case of the Unhappy Camper