Authors: Patricia Fry
“Looks like Lawrence is free to go,” Margaret said as she climbed into the backseat of Craig’s unmarked car. “I see him heading toward his quarters. His whereabouts last night must have been verified.”
“Yeah, why would they hold him? He doesn’t look anything like Amos and he doesn’t seem to be wearing a tool belt,” Savannah said as she scooted in after Margaret, with Rags in her arms. “Hey,” she said, “tool belt. I forgot to tell that officer about the tool belt.”
“What tool belt?” Craig asked.
“Well, like I told the gals, when I saw that face, I caught a glimpse of what looked like a tool belt around the waist of the intruder. So it wasn’t just a face floating in the air, which is what it appeared to be. There was a body—there had to be a body, because it was wearing a tool belt. I’m sure of it.”
“Savannah, are you saying you believe Amos is alive and living in the cabin?” Iris asked, quietly. “How is that possible?”
“Think about it. It’s vacant most of the time. I mean, how often do you come up here?”
Craig and Iris, who were both sitting in the front seat, looked at each other. “Practically never,” she said.
“How old would he be?” Colbi asked.
“According to Ellen’s journal, he’d be around seventy, right?”
“My mother’s journal?” Craig asked.
“Yes, we—well, the cats—found it and we read it,” Savannah admitted.
“While drinking your whiskey,” Margaret said.
Craig glanced back at Margaret in the rearview mirror.
“She wrote all about Amos and their visits to the cabin,” Iris explained. She focused more intently on her husband. “Did you know she was afraid of him? She considered him evil.”
Craig was quiet, then said, “No. No, I didn’t know that.” He thought for a few minutes, then said, “My dad seemed to feel a responsibility for Amos. My mom and I never did understand it. Mom told me Dad wanted to bring Amos into our home after my uncle died. But she put her foot down about that.” He paused. “I didn’t understand until…”
“Until what?” Iris prompted.
Craig spoke more quietly. “Dad told me something on his deathbed—a secret he didn’t want to take to the grave. Mom was in the nursing home by then, pretty much out of it from a stroke. I guess this had been eating at him for many years and he felt a need to unburden himself.” He paused before saying, “I wish people would realize that by unburdening themselves, they often burden someone else, dammit.”
“So what did he tell you?” Margaret asked from the backseat.
The others chimed in. “Yeah, what?”
“Well,” he said, clearing his throat. “He told me Amos was actually his son—my half-brother. Amos was gone by then, so it didn’t matter much. I remember my parents telling me years ago that he’d died in the mental hospital.”
“That’s what they told you?”
“Yes, Iris, that’s what they told me.”
Colbi shifted in her seat to accommodate Dolly. “You mean, they never said anything about the fiasco Amos was in up here forty years ago?”
“No, not a thing.”
“Your father had an affair with his brother’s wife?” Margaret asked.
Craig shook his head. “No, they weren’t married and neither was my father. Dad evidently dated Aunt Sue briefly; she was probably a one-night stand. Then he met my mother. They had a whirlwind romance and married. Shortly after that, my uncle announced that he was marrying Sue—he told everyone that he had knocked her up. So I guess both brothers were dating her at around the same time. Once, before I was born, my aunt was liquored up and she told my dad that Amos was his—that she knew she was pregnant with him before she married Uncle Al. Amos was just a kid then—maybe seven or eight. So when my aunt and uncle drowned in that…accident, Dad felt he owed it to his brother and the boy to step in. It doesn’t sound like it went very well.”
Savannah tapped Craig on the shoulder. “Was there a question about how the couple died? You insinuated that maybe it wasn’t an accidental drowning.”
Craig took a deep breath and made brief eye contact with Savannah in the rearview mirror. “Well, there were no charges or arrests, so I didn’t think much about it one way or another until one day when I heard my mother and father arguing again about Amos. Something she said that day piqued my interest and I actually followed up on it when I went to work in the sheriff’s department.”
“What was it, Craig?” Colbi asked.
Iris’s eyes lit up. “Yeah, was there foul play?”
“Probably, but nothing in the report was conclusive.”
“How did they drown?” Savannah asked. “Were they swimming? Was there a flood?”
“They were in a boat in the ocean. There was a squall. They’d evidently lost their engine and put out a May Day signal.” He paused before saying, “When they found the boat it was pretty well beat up and the only person aboard was Amos. His parents had disappeared. Their bodies washed up later and were identified.”
“The boat was damaged in the storm?”
“No. Not unless a shark had jumped in and thrashed around in there for a while. It was the inside that was damaged, like someone had taken the gaff and slammed it around, breaking windows, cabinets, and things. But there was Amos sitting quietly in the cabin when they found the boat, and I guess he rarely spoke after that. He had always been a strange kid, but he became even more so after his folks died. I thought it was because of what happened that day—the storm and his folks falling overboard, and all. But sometimes I wonder if it was actually something he did—if he pushed them overboard either in a rage or if he became so frightened he didn’t know what he was doing. That’s a question we’ll never have the answer to.”
“Unless…” Colbi said.
Craig frowned. “Unless what?”
Speaking more quietly, she said, “Unless he’s still alive and living secretly in your cabin.”
More than an hour later, Craig pulled his car up in front of the Sledge cabin.
a long drive, isn’t it?” Savannah remarked.
Margaret hugged herself. “But a whole lot warmer.”
After allowing the women and the cats to enter the cabin ahead of him, Craig said, “Savannah, show me where you think you saw this dude, will you?”
“Okay.” She sat down on the sofa where she’d slept the night before and released Rags from his harness before continuing. “I had just gotten back into bed here when I heard something. I looked up and saw the figure in the doorway of the guest room.” She pointed. “That room. The door was only partially open, but he must have pushed it almost closed after I saw him, because a few minutes later, Dolly opened it wider and came strolling out of there.”
Craig walked slowly toward the bedroom, pushed the door open, and stepped inside. Savannah, Colbi, and Iris followed, as did the two cats. They all stood in the center of the room, looking around.
“Hey, who ate the last two biscuits?” Margaret called from the kitchen.
“There were biscuits left?” Iris asked.
“Yeah, two,” Colbi said.
“Maybe that girl ate them,” Savannah suggested.
Craig faced Savannah, his brow creased. “What girl?”
She waved her hand in front of her face. “Oh, we’ll tell you about her in a few minutes,” she promised.
Just then, Margaret poked her head into the bedroom. “No. They were there when we left for that creepy boat ride. I almost grabbed them on our way out last night.”
“Do you suppose…?” Iris started.
“What?” Colbi asked. “Are you thinking the…intruder ate them after we left?”
“He must have,” Savannah said. She glanced around the room. “Hey, where’d the cats go?”
“They were right here,” Colbi said.
Margaret, who still stood in the doorway, claimed, “They didn’t come this way,”
“I thought I saw them go in there,” Craig said, pulling the accordion door open wider. “Not much of a closet, is it?”
“No, that’s what I thought,” Savannah said. “Do you mean you’ve never noticed that before?”
He shook his head. “I don’t come in this room much.”
Savannah walked closer. “I think that’s a false wall. Why else would it be so shallow in there?”
When Craig turned to exit the closet, the women backed up and they all stood staring at the space, contemplating the situation.
Within a few seconds, Dolly appeared from out of the closet, Rags on her tail.
. Dolly said, staring up at Savannah with round eyes.
“Now, that’s strange,” Craig said, stepping back into the closet. “Where did they come from?” He began pushing and tapping on the wall, then suddenly he said, “Well, I’ll be…”
Savannah moved closer. “What?”
He stood back and scratched his head, then pointed toward the closet floor. “It’s kind of a doggie door, isn’t it? Look, it’s hinged and it swings, but it’s small.” He turned back and looked at the women, “Colbi, come here. I’ll bet you could fit in there.”
She clutched her hands to her chest. “In where, Craig? Why me?”
“Because you’re the smallest, that’s why. Come on; let’s see where it takes you.”
“Oooh, I don’t think I want to go there, wherever it is,” she said, as Savannah and Iris pushed her along toward the closet.
“You don’t have to go in, just open that little doggie door—booby hatch thing and look in there using this flashlight,” Craig prompted.
“Okay,” she said reluctantly, as she walked cautiously into the closet. Once she was in position on the floor, she pushed on the swinging door. “Wow!”
“What?” the others wanted to know.
“Now that’s just plain weird,” she said. “Hey, I’m going in. I see a door. I think it leads to that basement where we found the wood the other night. You all wait right there in case I need you, okay?”
“Yes,” Craig said, watching her disappear through the trap door. When he didn’t hear from her, he called, “Colbi, everything okay?”
They heard nothing.
“Colbi?” he said more sternly.
“Oh yes, I’m okay. Just mesmerized by what’s in here. Let me see what’s on the other side of that door.” The next thing they heard from her was, “Darn. It won’t budge.” She called out, “Hey, I’m sure it leads into the basement. Go down the stairs and see if you can spot the door.” She took a deep breath. “You’re not going to believe this.”
The group hurried through the living room, into the kitchen, then down the stairs to the basement.
“Where?” Craig called.
That’s when they heard Colbi knocking.
“Over here, Craig!” she shouted, her voice muffled.
Craig followed the sound. “Good God, I never noticed that before.”
“Where is it, Craig?” Savannah asked.
“I’d say behind this pallet.”
Savannah watched with interest as he attempted to slide the wooden pallet aside. When it wouldn’t budge, she suddenly pointed. “Look, it’s attached.”
“What? Well that’s strange. Why would they nail it to the wall?” Upon closer examination, he said, “Oh wait. There’s the door behind it. It’s nailed to the door.” He scratched his head and chuckled quietly.
“So the door stays hidden whether you close it from the outside or the inside,” Savannah said as if to herself. She shook her head. “Pretty clever, isn’t it? I’ll have to tell Michael about this. I’ll bet it’s something he’s never thought about doing.”
“Why would he?” Iris asked. “It takes a devious mind and Michael doesn’t have a devious bone in his strapping body.” When she noticed Craig feeling around for a door latch with one hand, she said, “There! Under the edge of the pallet. Whoever did this camouflaged it pretty well.”
“Sure did,” he said, unlatching the door. “So what’s in there, anyway?” he asked, stepping inside. “What is all this stuff?”
Margaret entered next. “Holy cow,” she said, her mouth agape.
Iris walked in and turned in place. “Well for cryin’ out loud.”
Savannah was the last to enter. “Costumes!” she exclaimed.
“A little dressing room,” Margaret said, “barely big enough for someone to hide out.”
“Yeah, it’s cozy in here, that’s for sure,” Colbi agreed.
Craig rubbed his chin. “Obviously made for one—but why?”
“Originally, I’d say to escape,” Iris explained.
Colbi nodded. “Yeah, Ellen was sure Amos was going out at night. Looks like she was right.”
“But what’s with the costumes?” Margaret asked. “She didn’t mention that he was into Halloween or drag or anything.”
“I don’t think those belong to Amos at all,” Savannah said.
“Well, who then?” Iris asked.
“Think about it, Iris—who do we know who likes to play dress-up?”
“Oh, Lawrence,” Margaret said.
Iris put her hands up to her mouth. “Oh my gosh, girls, was he here spying on us last night? That’s plain creepy.”
Suddenly Savannah let out a shriek. The other three women froze.
“What?” Margaret shouted in a panic.
Her voice barely audible, Savannah said, “There’s the tool belt.”
“So what you saw was real,” Margaret said.
“Yeah, and look at all these wigs,” Colbi said.
Savannah jumped. “Hey, there’s one that looks like Amos.”
“And here are some little round glasses!” Margaret shouted.
Savannah gasped. “Oh my gosh! Lawrence must have been impersonating Amos. But why?”
“You gals sound like my investigation team,” Craig said, chuckling. He looked around. “Shall we get out of here? I’m getting claustrophobic.” He took one last look and shook his head. He then turned toward the basement door, but suddenly stopped in his tracks. “Wait! What’s this?” he asked, aiming his light toward the floor, then stooping to pick something up. “A cell phone.” He held it up. “Does it belong to any of you?”
When no one claimed it, he dropped it into his jacket pocket and led the group back into the kitchen. Immediately, Savannah began tending to the fire and the others stopped off in the kitchen to choose something to drink. “Wine, anyone?” Craig asked.
Margaret perked up. “You have wine? Where? We didn’t find any.”
He grinned. “In my car.”
“Yeah, I’ll have a glass,” Margaret said, then she scowled. “Wait, what time is it?” She looked at her watch. “Hmmm, not quite ten.” Her face lit up when she added, “It’s gotta be five o’clock somewhere. Besides, I’m on vacation.”