Authors: Patricia Fry
“Me too,” Colbi and Iris said at the same time.
“Savannah?” Craig called into the living room.
She shook her head. “No wine for me, we’re leaving pretty soon and I’m the designated driver.”
Craig stopped on the way out to his car. He cleared his throat. “Well, I’m not sure about that.”
“About what?” she asked.
“That you’re leaving today.”
“What? What do you mean, Craig? Michael’s expecting me home today.”
“But we haven’t even had my birthday party,” Iris whined. When everyone looked at her, she said, “Remember, I didn’t get to open my gifts.”
“Oh my gosh, that’s right. I’m sorry, Iris,” Savannah said, hugging her. “We could do that now. But I really do need to get home. We should leave in a little while.”
“The investigators may not let you leave. Did they say anything to you?” Craig asked.
Savannah shook her head. “Not to me.”
“Well, I suggest that you plan to stay until tomorrow.”
“Here?” Iris screeched. “Are you crazy?”
“No way, Craig, future father-in-law or not,” Colbi said, shaking her head vigorously.
Savannah folded her arms and plopped down on the green sofa in a pout. “I want to go home.”
“I’ll stay here with you,” he said, hoping to reassure the four women. “We need to get the sheriff out so he can see what we uncovered just now.” He looked sternly at Savannah. “I’m sure he’ll have more questions.” More pleasantly, he added, “Hon, it’s just one more day. You can leave in the morning.”
“And night,” Margaret said.
Craig looked at her. “Huh?”
“The days we can handle, Craig. It’s the nights that are terrifying.”
Savannah took a deep breath. “Okay, then, bring on the wine. And let’s open your gifts, Iris…after I finish building the fire.”
Once the women were all seated around the roaring fire, Colbi held up her mason jar, which was one-quarter filled with wine. “A toast to Iris. Happy birthday and many more good ones!”
“Yes,” Savannah said, “and thank you for sharing this one with us.”
Margaret looked from Savannah to Colbi and Iris. “Ditto, I think.” When Iris became sullen, Margaret said, “No really, it’s been a blast. Thank you for including me and happy birthday, old girl.”
“You had to use the word, didn’t you, Maggie?” Iris said scornfully.
“What word?” she asked, looking innocent.
“Old.” She then laughed and added, “You’ll be catching up with me in a few months, right?”
“Yeah, so?” Margaret said.
“Just remember, payback is a killer.”
“Oh, don’t use that word, Iris,” Colbi complained.
“Yeah, just open your presents,” Savannah urged.
In the meantime, Craig sat at the kitchen table studying the cell phone he’d found and smiling at the banter he heard coming from the living room.
“Let’s see, I think I was opening my future daughter-in-law’s gift when we were so rudely interrupted last night,” Iris said, smiling at Colbi.
“No, you were opening mine,” Margaret groused.
“Which one’s yours?” Iris asked.
“There,” she pointed. “The gift bag.”
“What a pretty bag, Maggie. You do know how to make a good presentation.” Iris winked at her. “Now let’s see if it’s a good present.”
“I think you’ll like it,” Margaret assured her.
“Ohhh, you’re right about that,” Iris said. “They’re perfect. I’ve been needing new silver hoop earrings.”
“You can exchange them for gold, if you want,” Margaret said. “But I’ve seen you wear a lot of silver lately, so I thought…”
Iris nodded. “Yes, I am wearing more silver and I’m mixing the metals, too. It’s sort of like anything goes these days when it comes to jewelry.” She smiled at Margaret. “Thank you. I really love them. They’ll look great when I wear my hair up like this. Good job,” Iris said, reaching out and giving Margaret a one-arm hug.
“Open mine next,” Colbi said, handing her the blue box with a large white bow.
Iris smiled warmly at Colbi as she opened it, then said, “It’s exquisite.” She held up a chain with a red coral and silver pendant. “Boy, do you know my taste. It’s going to be a pleasure having you in the family.” She reached over and hugged her. “Thank you,” she said pulling back and draping the necklace around her neck.
“Looks nice on you,” Margaret said.
“Okay, Savannah; what did you bring me?” Iris asked, examining the small box wrapped in paper with tiny cats all over it. “Love the paper,” she said, smiling. She winked at Savannah. “Looks like more jewelry. Goodie.”
“Maybe,” Savannah teased.
“Oh my gosh,” Iris said when she opened the box.
Seeing what was inside, Colbi squealed, and she and Savannah began laughing. “‘Like minds, as they say,’” Colbi recited.
“What are the chances?” Savannah said.
“You mean you didn’t plan it this way?” Iris asked, bemused.
Savannah shook her head.
“No,” Colbi said. “It was strictly serendipitous that we both picked out the same piece of jewelry for you. You can take mine back and choose something else, if you want.”
“I don’t think so. You know me—the more the merrier. I’ll just put one on a shorter chain and wear them in tandem…with my smashing hoop earrings.” She stood and moved around the room hugging each of her friends. She then approached Craig. “Babe, did you see all my loot?” “Huh? No. What did you get?”
“Hey, did you find out whose phone that is?” Savannah asked from the living room, when she noticed him still staring at the screen.
He shrugged. “My guess is either a morbid kind of guy or the coroner.”
The four women looked at one other.
“What?” Savannah asked.
“The coroner?” Margaret repeated.
“Yeah, there are pictures in here of dead people.”
“Ewww,” Colbi said, making a face.
“For real?” Margaret asked.
Craig nodded. “Yup.”
“Who?” Iris asked.
“I have a hunch some or maybe all of them are in our missing persons file.” He shook his head. If I’m not mistaken, this is the dude you girls dug out of the lake last night.”
“What?” they echoed.
“Yeah,” he cleared his throat. “I think that serial killer you mentioned is closer than we thought.”
While three of the women chattered nervously, Savannah stood and joined Craig at the kitchen table. “So you think some of those people are still missing?”
“Yes, I imagine they’re shark bait by now.”
She hesitated, then said quietly, “Or they’ve been cremated.”
“What?” he asked, staring at her.
“This morning I saw a big incinerator behind the store. I took the cats back there to go potty. Do you suppose…?”
In the meantime, Iris picked up the phone and started glancing through the photos. Colbi moved up next to her and both of them made faces and comments as they swiped through the album. Suddenly, Iris said, “Oh my God!”
Colbi gasped. “It’s him, isn’t it?”
“Who?” Craig asked.
“Amos,” Iris said, her voice pinched. “Isn’t that him?” she asked showing the phone to the other women.
They nodded. “Sure looks like him,” Colbi said.
Savannah examined it more closely. “But this isn’t a phone picture of Amos. It looks like a picture of an old ID, don’t you think?”
Colbi agreed. “Yeah. But this wouldn’t be Amos’s phone—there were no cell phones in the seventies.”
“Unless he’s still alive,” Iris offered.
“Where are you going?” Iris asked when Craig suddenly stood and walked toward the basement door.
“To see what I’ve missed,” he muttered.
Savannah’s eyes widened. “You mean clues, Craig?”
“Yup.” He turned to face the curious women. “If my…brother has been living here for all these years, or if someone has moved in and is impersonating him, he might have dropped a clue or two—something we haven’t noticed over the years.” He shook his head. “We didn’t know about the hidden room, for cripe’s sake.” He started to leave the kitchen when he turned and asked, “Savannah, where’s your cat?”
She glanced around the room. “Uh…I don’t know. Why?”
He winced. “I might need his help.”
“Really? What do you think he can do?”
“Yeah, besides get in the way and foul things up,” Margaret said, snickering.
“Maggie, I hear ya,” Craig said, “but the cat has some uncanny senses that I sure don’t understand.” He turned the knob on the basement door and started to descend the stairs when he jumped back. “Holy moly, Rags, you sure know how to give a guy a heart attack!” Craig quickly headed toward the living room after him. “Hey, he just came out of the basement carrying something. What is that?”
Margaret leaped onto the green sofa pulling her feet up under her. “Looks like a rat. Is it dead?”
“I hope so,” Iris said. “Or maybe I don’t,” she added, under her breath.
“He’s not going to put it in my bed, is he?” Colbi shouted, jumping up and racing after the cat into the bedroom. The next thing the others heard was a shriek, then, “Rags, darn you. Ick!”
“What did he do now?” Savannah muttered as she headed for the bedroom.
She arrived in time to see Colbi jumping up and down and shouting, “He put it in my suitcase! Get it out. Ewww! Get it out, Savannah!”
Not at all eager to touch the thing, but feeling somewhat obligated, she pulled a tissue from her sweatshirt pocket and gingerly picked it up. She chuckled a little. “Colbi come look at this.”
“I thought you were a tomboy.”
“Not anymore, I’m not. Get that thing out of here!”
Savannah held it up for her to see. “This
is a piece of dried moss. Look. It’s not a rodent at all.”
At that, Colbi turned and took a look. “Oh, sure looked like a rat…or worse.”
Once the two had joined the others in the living room and reported on the item, Craig simply said, “Moss, huh? I wonder how it got in the basement.”
“So, do you want me to bring Rags down there, Craig?” Savannah asked, following him through the kitchen, still holding the moss in the tissue.
“Yeah, let’s see what he’s interested in, shall we?”
“Let me toss this and get my jacket. We’ll be right with you.” Before Craig stepped out the door, she said, “Oh my gosh. Craig, look at this.”
“What now?” he asked, sounding annoyed.
“Well, there’s something caught in this moss. I think it’s part of a glove—just a few fingers left of an old glove.”
“There’s a label,” he said while examining it. He strained to read it. “O-S-S. The rest of it’s gone.” He showed it to Savannah. “Looks like a name label, don’t you think? You know when someone’s institutionalized, as in prison, they have their name sewn into their clothes.”
“O-S-S…” Colbi said. “A-M-O-S-S-L-E-D-G-E.”
Craig winked at her. “Could be.”
“But what does it tell us?” Iris asked. “I mean, Amos did stay here, he lived in an institution, it’s not out of the question that something with his name on it would show up.”
“But Iris,” Savannah said, “this looks like it was in the water for a very long time.”
“Maybe it was,” she said. “There’s nothing odd about that, is there? He might have lost it forty years ago and Craig or one of the boys caught it on their fishing line and accidentally carried it back here.”
Craig looked at Iris, then said, “Savannah, would you put that in a plastic bag? Bring your cat and let’s see what else we can find.”
“Savannah, when are you coming back up here?” Colbi called down the stairs half an hour later. “The fire’s going out.”
“Well, put on another log.”
“We’re out of logs.”
“Then come down here and get some more,” Savannah suggested.
“Can I?” Colbi asked.
Savannah glanced at Craig, who nodded.
“Come on, Iris, Maggie,” Colbi said. “Let’s get more wood.”
The three women stepped carefully down the stairs, all the while looking around the basement and studying Craig’s and Savannah’s demeanor. Iris was first to speak. “So, what have you found?”
Savannah waited for Craig to respond.
“Not much,” he mumbled.
“Anything incriminating?” Colbi asked.
Craig grinned at her. “Ever the reporter, aren’t you, Colbi?”
“Sure,” she countered, “it’s in my blood like police work’s in yours. I have the same curiosity.”
“Me too,” Margaret said from the stairs. “So, did you find anything interesting?” she asked, looking from Craig to Savannah.
“Yeah, did the cat find any clues?” Iris asked.
Just then Margaret let out a screech and fell to her knees.
“Oh my gosh, Auntie, are you okay?” Savannah asked, rushing to help her up.
Colbi and Iris also came to her aid.
“Yeah, I’m okay,” she said, easing back up onto her feet. That darned stair railing gave way. “What did I break?” she asked, looking around on the floor. “I heard something hit the cement.”
“I don’t see anything broken,” Colbi said. “I did hear a clang, though.”
“Yes, something smashed against the floor,” Margaret insisted. “What’s that?” she asked, pointing.
“What?” Craig asked as he approached.
“That old rag. Is something under it?”
Just then Iris gasped, reciting, “Lightweight plaid flannel shirt.”
“Oh my gosh,” Colbi said. “That’s what Craig’s father snuck in after the massacre.”
“What are you talking about?” Craig asked, furrowing his brow.
“Better take a look and see what’s under that old shirt,” Colbi suggested.
The women watched quietly as Craig moved toward the object. Using his pen, he pulled at the fabric until it lifted enough to reveal what was hidden beneath it.
“Good God,” Craig said, “it’s a hammer.” Upon closer examination, he added, “And if I’m not mistaken, that’s blood there on the face of it.” He stood and looked around. “Where did it come from, anyway? Maggie, do you know?”
“Um, not really. Maybe it was there on that workbench.”
“I don’t think so, Maggie,” Iris said. “See, when you fell, the railing smashed into that shelf under the bench. It might have been sitting on that lower shelf.”
“Or under it,” Craig said quietly. “Look, there are some wood splinters.” He squatted and began moving the pieces around with his pencil. Then, shifting to his knees, he reached under the lower shelf with his handkerchief and pulled something out. “It’s part of an old box someone may have attached under this shelf.” He looked up at the women. “…and it’s not empty.”
“What’s in there?” Colbi asked.
The others huddled around him, hoping to get a peek.
“I can’t see with you all in my light,” he grumbled. Once the women had moved aside a little and he had the light he needed, he said, “Well, I’ll be darned.”
“What, Craig?” Savannah asked.
In response, he held up a playbill for the others to see.
“Who is that?” Margaret asked, narrowing her eyes. “Some movie star?”
“I thought you ladies might know.” He turned to Iris. “Didn’t you tell me the store proprietor is a frustrated actor who likes to dress up as Dracula?”
She nodded and looked at the playbill again. “Oh my gosh. It’s him, isn’t it? A young Lawrence.”
“And there’s more,” Craig said. “It’s signed.” He read, “To Amos, a fellow who also marches to his own drumbeat. Forever in the world theater, Larry.”
“Huh?” Iris said. “They knew each other? How could that be?”
“How old do you think that guy, Larry…Lawrence is?” Craig asked.
“Probably about your age, Craig,” Savannah suggested. She turned to the others, “Wouldn’t you say?”
“Yeah, sixty-five or so,” Iris agreed.
Colbi faced Iris. “But according to Craig’s mother, Amos wasn’t one bit social.”
“Maybe around them he wasn’t. Maybe he and Lawrence could relate to each other; they’re both pretty weird.”
“So was this Larry…Lawrence in the area during the seventies? Do you know? Have you talked to him much?” Craig asked.
Colbi said, “No, he’s kind of off in his own world.”
“Like Amos,” Margaret added.
“Yeah, so do you suppose the two of them met when Amos was out gallivanting at night and they made some sort of macabre connection?” Savannah asked.
Iris stood wide-eyed. “Then people start going missing and Amos disappears in the mêlée.”
Colbi gulped. “And Lawrence moves into Amos’s secret room.”
“You ladies have it all figured out, do you?” Craig noted.
“Yeah,” Colbi said, “doesn’t it make sense?”
Craig grinned at the four women as they stood around him discussing their theories. He then asked, “Want to see what else is in here?” When the women all shouted out in the affirmative, he removed a notepad from the box and a flutter of pages floated to the floor. Glancing around at the scattered pages, he said, “It looks like young Amos could communicate, after all.”
“No, Rags!” Savannah said, making a grab for the cat as he trotted toward the pile of papers. “Oops, he got away with one,” she said, rushing after him. When she caught up to him, he was sitting on Colbi’s bed and the note was nowhere to be found. Suddenly, she heard the sound of paper crinkling. “Dolly, no!” she scolded, when she saw the tabby sitting on the floor between the two beds, holding the note down with her paws and pulling at it with her teeth. “No, no, no, Dolly,” she said, easing it out of her grip.
“What did she do?” Colbi asked, entering the room.
“I didn’t know she was a shredder,” Savannah said with a chuckle. “I guess Rags brought the paper to her and she was bent on shredding it.”
“Destroying evidence, are you, sweet girl?” Colbi crooned. She then focused on the page in Savannah’s hand. “So what is it?”
Savannah stared down at it. “Hmmm, this could be Amos’s last hurrah.”
“What do you mean?” Colbi asked.
“Let’s go show it to the others, shall we?”
By then, everyone had returned to the living room and were huddled around the fireplace. Craig had added a couple of logs and was stoking the fire.
Margaret was first to ask, “What was it?”
“Here, read it, Craig,” Savannah suggested. “I think it’s rather telling.”
After hanging the poker in place, he took the page and studied it for a moment. “It looks like Amos wrote it. He says here that Larry…” he glanced up at the others, “…Lawrence…threatened to tell his uncle on him, so he was going to have to do to Larry what he’s been doing to the other men.” Craig winced. “Wow!” He then read, “He knows my secret. He says he’ll tell if I don’t help him with the men. I may have to do to him what he’s been doing to them—they can’t tell. I will fix him so he can’t tell, either, just like I did my father and my mother. They caught me and said they’d tell. I had to fix it so they couldn’t tell. They said I need to be locked up. I can’t stand to be locked up, that’s why I had to find a way out of this place. My uncle would never lock me up if he knew the truth—if he knew why I pushed my parents into the water. And he doesn’t know that I almost did the same to him that morning on the river. We were so close to where Larry keeps the young men tied.”
“What?” Colbi said. “Lawrence tied up young men? Held them prisoner? Craig, do you recall hearing about men being held hostage up here in the seventies?”
He shook his head. “No, but I’m sure going to make some calls.”
“Well, according to that old ranger guy, people have been going missing up here for years,” Iris said. She gasped. “Lawrence was holding them prisoner?”
Margaret peered at the page Craig held. “Is that all?” she asked.
Craig turned the paper over. “Yup. Isn’t that enough?” he asked, smirking at her.
“Lordy, lordy, I’d say so.”
“What’s the date on that, Craig?” Savannah asked. “Is it dated?”
“February 21, 1976.”
“Gads, the day before Amos and those other men went missing and that one was found dead.”
“But, obviously Amos didn’t do anything to Lawrence,” Iris said.
“Yeah, maybe he tried to and Lawrence overpowered him,” Savannah suggested.
Craig pointed at Savannah. “I’d say you’re probably pretty close to right, there, young lady.”
“But there’s something that doesn’t make sense,” Savannah said.
The three women chuckled rather nervously and Colbi said, “Nothing that’s happened up here this weekend makes much sense, do you think?”
Before she could answer, Craig asked, “What are you thinking, Savannah?”
“Well, it just seems strange that the hammer, which we know your father, Frank, carried into the cabin wrapped in that plaid shirt, was found with Amos’s things.”
As Craig contemplated the comment, the other three women chattered about Savannah’s revelation.
“Maybe Frank knew about Amos’s secret box and he put the hammer there for safekeeping,” Colbi suggested.
“Yeah,” Iris said, “or it wasn’t actually in the box with Amos’s things. Maybe Frank…” she grinned, “my father-in-law…just shoved the hammer under the shelf to hide it and he didn’t know about Amos’s box.” She raised one finger, indicating that she had another thought. “Or it was Frank’s box and he’s the one who hid those things belonging to Amos.”
“Very good,” Craig said, smiling at the women. “But there’s another possible scenario. “Maybe this is Amos’s box and what my father brought in wrapped in that shirt wasn’t the hammer at all.”
“Oh my gosh, how do you guys ever figure out ‘whodoneit,’ Craig, when there are so many clues that don’t seem to connect?” Margaret asked.
He grinned at her, then said, “Well, I’m off to make a phone call. I’ll send a patrol out here to stay tonight in case that phony actor’s running around loose again.”
“They had him in custody when we left, didn’t they?” Colbi asked.