Authors: Patricia Fry
Savannah jumped in. “No, he wasn’t. I saw him heading back to his quarters by himself before we left. They let him go.”
“Yeah, they didn’t have anything on him other than the fact that he’s a screwball,” Craig explained. “Now lock up after me, will you?”
“Craig,” Savannah said before he could step out, “will you call Michael and let him know I’ll be home tomorrow?” As an afterthought, she said, “Don’t tell him anything that would worry him, okay?”
He nodded with a wink and headed out the front door when Margaret called, “Hey, bring back more booze. It looks like it’s going to be a long night.”
As Savannah stoked the fire again, Colbi stood looking out the living room window. “It’s so pretty up here. I love the view. But I’m going to close these drapes, anyway, okay?”
“Yes, good idea,” Margaret said, sliding the drapes over the kitchen window. “We don’t want to be sitting ducks.”
“Hey, you guys wanna go through the rest of Amos’s stuff?” Colbi asked.
Iris headed for the basement. “Yeah, did Craig leave the box down there?”
“No, here it is on the counter,” Margaret said while making a pot of coffee.
Colbi grabbed the box and headed into the living room. “Oh goodie.” After settling comfortably on the green sofa, she began removing the contents. “Here’s the notebook,” she said, setting it aside. “There’s also a stack of loose pages. Shall I just spread them out on the coffee table?” She appeared pensive. “He was quite a prolific writer for someone who didn’t speak.”
Savannah sat down next to her. “I guess he found a way to communicate. I wonder if he ever showed these to anyone.”
“I doubt it,” Iris said. “It didn’t seem like Ellen knew about them.” Glancing at the pages in front of her on the table, she noticed, “Look, he prints—no cursive.”
“Yeah, a lot of people prefer to print,” Margaret said. “I had a boyfriend once who printed all his love notes to me.” She laughed. “He couldn’t spell worth a darn.”
“So what did Amos write—fiction?” Iris asked.
“Seems to be fiction,” Colbi said, flipping through the pages.
“But he wrote one thing we think was true,” Iris reasoned. “Maybe there’s more.”
“Or maybe there’s some truth in some of these stories he’s written,” Savannah said. “Hey, let’s read them out loud, or are they too spooky?”
“It’s still light out,” Margaret observed. “Shouldn’t be too scary.”
“Gads, what an imagination,” Margaret said after they’d read several of the pages.
Savannah tapped her finger on the story they’d just finished reading. “Now that’s similar to what he says in his letter, don’t you think?”
Colbi nodded. “Yeah, there’s some similarity, I guess—only what’s up with the ropes around the necks of the people living in an underwater city forever and evermore, never to be discovered? That’s way weird.”
“Yeah,” Savannah said, “he seems fixated on water—bodies of water and people in the water. I wonder if it was always that way for him or if that started after he drowned his parents.”
Iris let out a sigh. “Poor Ellen. If she’d only known what the kid was capable of, or what was going on in his mind, she would have freaked out. She’d never come here again…with him, anyway.”
“Oh, she knew something was wrong—even suspected she was in danger. Remember how much fear she expressed about Amos?” Savannah suddenly sat rigid. “Hey, someone’s here.”
Margaret stiffened. “Should we hide?”
“Where what?” Margaret asked. “Where should we hide?”
“No, where is someone—in that room?” Colbi asked, her voice strained.
“What if it’s Lawrence?” Iris hissed, looking toward the guest room.
Savannah pointed. “No. Someone’s outside. I heard a car.”
At that, the women stood, grabbed hold of each other, and moved together slowly toward the living room window. “Peek out there,” Iris said.
“No, you peek out,” Margaret insisted. “It’s your house.”
Suddenly, they heard a swoosh and a thump behind them. Filled with terror, in unison they turned just in time to see Amos’s papers fly off the table and scatter around Rags, who had skidded across them and onto the floor. He then leaped to the back of the black chair, near where the women stood, and poked his head through the drape panels.
“It’s the police,” Colbi said. “I saw a police car through the slit in the drapes.”
Just then they heard a voice. “Sheriff. Please open the door.”
As the four women moved toward the door, Rags raced ahead of them, sat down, and stared eagerly at the doorknob. “I don’t think it’s for you, Rags,” Savannah said, unlocking the door and cracking it a little. Seeing that it was indeed sheriff’s officers, she picked up Rags and opened the door wide enough to greet them. She noticed that one officer stood near the patrol car looking around the area. “Please come in,” Savannah said to the deputy on the porch.
“Thank you, ma’am,” he said, “but we’re here to keep an eye on the outside of the property. You haven’t had any problems this afternoon, have you?”
“No,” Savannah said.
Iris jumped in. “But you might want to look around—there’s a secret passageway and someone was hiding in there last night. We don’t think anyone has sneaked back in, but it’s probably a good idea to check.”
“Sure.” He turned to his partner. “Bill, you hang out here. I’ll secure the inside.” As he walked into the house, he said, “I’m Deputy Clausen. Which one of you is Sledge’s wife?”
“I am. Iris Sledge,” she said, offering her hand.
He shook her hand briefly. “So you ladies have been here all weekend, have you?”
“Yes, celebrating my birthday.”
“Happy birthday,” he said. He then asked, “Now, where is this secret space you mentioned?”
“There’s a doggie door in the bedroom closet,” Iris said. She pointed. “In there. And it leads to the basement.”
The deputy stopped in the living room and gazed into the kitchen. Gesturing, he asked, “Is that the door to the basement?”
When Iris nodded, he walked through the kitchen and disappeared down the stairs.
“Everything looks in order,” he reported upon his return. “My partner and I’ll be outside there, if you need us.”
“Want a cup of coffee?” Margaret asked.
He looked at her. “Yes, I would. Thank you.”
Once the officer had left the cabin with a cup of coffee in each hand, the women refilled their coffee cups and started picking up the papers Rags had scattered.
“He got them all mixed up,” Colbi complained. “I don’t know which ones we’ve read and which ones we haven’t.”
“Does it really matter?” Savannah asked. “We have nothing else to do this afternoon, do we?”
A few hours later, without the cabin occupants having noticed, darkness began to enshroud the majestic forest. The coffee pot was empty and they’d read nearly all the pages. While the other three conversed quietly, Margaret relaxed with her eyes closed, when suddenly they heard the thunderous sound of shattering glass. “My God!” Iris shrieked as a large log landed a few feet from where they sat; shards of glass scattering around them. The women jumped from their seats and ran toward the kitchen, turning in time to see a cloaked figure dressed in black appear between the drape panels.
“Give me your car keys!” he bellowed. When the frightened women didn’t respond, he brandished a crowbar. “Now, give me the keys!”
“You’ll never get away, Lawrence,” Savannah said rather boldly.
He hesitated and looked at her through the eyeholes in his black ski mask. “Who? Who do you think I am? Lawrence?” He cackled. “Oh no. You’ve got it wrong, girlie; I’ve only been impersonating the actor, for many, many years. I took over his identity when he died rather…suddenly.” The women stood mute, and he continued, “Don’t believe me? Watch.” As he stepped farther into the room, he carefully removed the ski mask, revealing a head of light-brown hair, which hung over his eyes. He pulled out a pair of round eyeglasses and put them on. “Recognize me now?” he asked, cackling again.
Savannah felt Colbi’s grip tighten on her right arm. Margaret’s nails dug into her left and they all trembled in fear.
“Now, where are your keys?” he shouted. “Hurry!” he said, raising the tool menacingly.
Breaking loose from the others, Savannah put her hands out in an effort to calm the intruder. “Okay, okay,” she said, walking cautiously toward the living room to retrieve her purse. She reached out to pick it up, when, without warning, someone stepped through the large window and grabbed Amos Sledge from behind.
“Craig!” Iris said breathlessly.
“Get out of the way!” Craig shouted to Savannah. He then ordered the intruder to drop the crowbar. “Drop it! Drop it, now!” But Amos wouldn’t turn loose. “Damn, you’re a wiry SOB,” Craig said, straining to gain control. Finally, the weapon hit the floor with a clang and the tussle continued. After a few moments, Margaret saw her chance. She rushed to the green sofa, pulled something out from under it, and brought it down on the intruder’s back. With a howl, he collapsed onto the floor.
Craig glared at Margaret. “What part of ‘get out of the way’ don’t you understand?” he scolded.
She grinned, quipping, “‘Thank you’ would suffice.”
“Everything all right in there?” called another voice from outside the cabin.
Craig rolled the suspect over and cuffed him, pulling him up to a standing position, then answered, “Yeah, I got you a prisoner here. Come get him, would you?” Once Iris had unlocked the door allowing the two deputies to enter, Craig shouted, “Where were you, for cripe’s sake?”
“Uh, this is a big piece of property…with a lot of trees,” Deputy Clausen stammered. “Everything was so quiet here…a…we spread out to make sure no one was sneaking in from the highway.”
“Well, he musta come across the lake,” Craig cranked. “Good thing I got here when I did and saw the busted-out window.”
“Yes sir,” the deputy said. “We can take him off your hands now. By the way, who is he and what are we charging him with?”
“Um…” Craig started, when Colbi spoke up.
“Craig, it’s Amos.”
“Yeah, Babe,” Iris said, “your brother.”
At that, Craig spun the prisoner around and looked hard into his face. “Naw, I don’t think so.”
“Yeah, it is,” Margaret agreed. “We can show you the picture your mother drew.” She started to walk toward the bedroom. “I’ll get her journal.”
“Naw,” Craig said. “This ain’t no relative of mine.” He reached out and tugged at the man’s wig, yanked his mask off, then turned him toward the women, who gasped. “Do you know who this is?” he asked.
Margaret scowled. “So he’s a multi-costume-wearer.”
“He wears more than one costume at a time. Quite an impersonator, I’d say.”
“Thank you,” Lawrence said, bowing slightly.
“Not a compliment,” Margaret spat.
Iris tilted her head. “Hey, why’d you have to break our window, anyway? You have keys to this place, don’t you?”
Hanging his head and blinking as if still woozy from Margaret’s attack, Lawrence responded. “For show. It’s all about the entrance.”
“So who is he?” Deputy Clausen asked, reaching out to take the prisoner into custody.
“Lawrence Baker,” Craig said, “a suspected serial killer.”
After the deputies had left—the prisoner in tow—Savannah asked in a panic, “Where are the cats? We’d better find them and lock them up until that window’s repaired.”
Colbi followed Savannah toward the bedrooms. “I saw them hot-foot it in this direction when that log came through the window.”
In the meantime, Iris reached for a broom and dustpan. “Come on, Maggie, let’s clean up that actor’s mess.”
“All secure,” Craig announced several minutes later, after having covered the large window with plywood. “Everyone okay?” he asked.
“Yeah, I think so,” Savannah said as she poked at the wood in the fireplace. “Is it safe to let the cats out?”
“I’ll get them,” Colbi offered.
At the same time, Iris walked toward the kitchen. “Coffee, anyone?”
“Oh wait,” Craig said, heading for the front door. “I brought you something.” When he returned, he held up two large bottles of wine. “Red or white?” he asked.
“Oooh, thank you, Craig,” Margaret said.
“Yeah, you’re a lifesaver,” Colbi added, grabbing the red wine and heading for the kitchen.
“I’ll have white,” Iris said, taking the other bottle. Turning, she asked, “Who else wants a jar of white wine?”
In the meantime, Savannah approached the detective. “Craig, while you were making calls over in the hotspot, did you speak to Michael? Is everything okay at home?”
He nodded and chuckled. “He said Lily has learned a new word.”
“Really?” Savannah said, her face lighting up.
“Yeah, I guess he taught it to her quite by accident and now he’s trying to erase it from her vocabulary.”
“Oh no, a swear word?”
“Yeah, what does he have to swear about? You brought the household troublemaker with you,” Margaret quipped.
Craig grinned. “Well, I don’t think the word’s that bad.”
“What is it?” Colbi asked. “What naughty thing is our princess saying?”
“Poopie,” he said. “Michael said to her, ‘looks like you have poopie pants,’ and she glommed onto the word and is running around the house saying, ‘poopie’ now.”
Everyone laughed and Savannah said, “Well, if that’s as bad as it gets, I’d say we’re in pretty good shape with our daughter.”
“So did you find some interesting reading?” Craig asked once they were all seated around the fireplace with their beverages.
“Oh yes,” Colbi said.
Before she could tell him about Amos’s writings, Craig noticed he was being visited by one of the cats. “Hi there, Rags. Whatcha doin’?” He petted the lanky cat, who had leaped up onto the arm of the recliner where Craig sat.
At the same time, Dolly walked up and began pawing at something she saw on the chair.
“What is that?” Savannah asked.
She stood and walked toward Craig. “There’s something in the chair. Get up, Craig, I want to see what that is.”
“Just when I get comfortable…” he protested, lifting slowly from the chair.
“Looks like it came from Amos’s pages,” Savannah said, retrieving a piece of paper from between the cushion and the arm of the chair. She turned it every which way. “But what is it?”
“Maybe a map,” Colbi said, peering around Savannah at the page.
Craig took a quick look and agreed. “I think you’re right. It’s a crude map. But of what?” he asked, sitting back down in the chair with it.
“Well, what do you think?” Iris asked after watching Craig study the drawing. “Have you figured out what it means?”
“Maybe,” he said, still staring at it.