Authors: Patricia Fry
“Tell us, tell us,” Margaret insisted as the women gathered around behind Craig.
He cleared his throat. “Well, you see, this looks like water here, don’t you think?” he asked, running his finger along the bottom half of the paper.
“Or birds flying,” Colbi said. “That’s how I make flying birds.”
Savannah grinned at her. “I agree with Craig. That’s how I draw water, with those little waves.”
Iris pointed. “What are those circle thingies?”
“Well, I think they’re heads.”
“Heads?” Margaret screeched. “I’ve heard of floating heads, but this is…”
“They look like they’re tethered,” Colbi noticed. “Is that rope?”
Craig nodded. “I think so.”
“What does it mean?” Savannah asked.
He looked up at her briefly. “These could represent bodies. Now what did Amos say— ‘bodies tied in the water?’”
Margaret shivered. “Holy cow! Craig, are you saying…?”
“I’m not saying anything, Maggie. It’s too crude to take very seriously, but when you put two and two together, yes—it could be that those missing bodies have been hidden somewhere underwater for all these years.”
“Where?” Iris asked. “Not under the boathouse, I hope.”
“I don’t think so,” Craig said. “According to this drawing, probably upriver a ways in a quiet inlet. See,” he pointed, “this could be the lake here and this area looks to be upstream from it.”
“Craig!” Savannah nearly shouted. When he looked at her, she said, “We saw Lawrence one night wearing what looked like a wet suit under his cloak.”
“That’s right,” Iris said, raising her finger toward Savannah. “But who would get into that freezing water, even wearing one of those things?”
Craig looked at her. “Someone with a secret he doesn’t want anyone to discover.”
“Hey!” Colbi nearly shouted. “That’s the same night we found the body in the lake.”
“Yeah?” Craig said.
“Maybe he untied that guy and hoped he’d float down to the ocean.”
Craig shrugged. “Could be, I guess.”
“That makes sense,” Iris said. “He was afraid the cops were closing in—that the gig was up—and he decided to release his collection of bodies.”
“Gross!” Margaret said, wrinkling her nose.
Just then Craig walked to the kitchen window and looked out. “Investigators,” he said, relaxing a little. He glanced at the women just before opening the door. “They need to take a look around.”
After introducing themselves, Investigators Brice and Conway followed Craig through the kitchen, into the basement, and toward the secret room. The detective showed them possible clues he’d discovered in the basement, then he pointed out the box of Amos’s writings. “I think you’ll find this of particular interest,” he said, placing the map on the kitchen table. “I have reason to believe this could represent the bodies of some of our missing persons.” When Brice scratched his head, Craig explained, “As you’ll discover in the kid’s writings, he talks about bodies tied underwater. This could be a drawing of something he’s seen or maybe just heard about. It appears that Amos Sledge and Lawrence Baker were friends at one time—or at least acquaintances.”
The investigators stared down at the drawing for some time, then Conway picked it up, saying, “You know, the old Baker place is up the river a piece. It burned maybe twenty years ago—all that’s left is the dock.”
“So Lawrence Baker has been in this area for a long time, has he?” Colbi asked.
When Conway stared at her, Craig grinned. “She’s a reporter. Always has a question or two.”
“Yeah,” she said, “how else do you get any answers?”
“Well, to answer your question, miss,” the investigator said, “yes, we’ve learned that he was one of the original mountain brats, having come here with his parents in the sixties. He inherited the place and moved back up here with his wife and son after his acting career took a dive. So he’s been around this area for most of his life.” He shook his head. “According to locals and visitors alike, he’s one oddball, but no one has ever known him to cause any real trouble.”
Craig cleared his throat. “You know, if I were you, I’d go check out that old dock you mentioned. How far upstream did you say it is?”
“Roughly, half mile.” Conway’s demeanor became lighter as he continued, “Some say there’s good fishin’ in that area, but the anglers also come up with a lot of trash. It’s known as ‘the trash hole.’”
“What kind of trash? Left from the fire?” Savannah asked.
“I suppose—old shoes, gloves, pieces of clothing, sunglasses—things like that.”
Craig let out a deep sigh. “Probably all belonging to the victims.”
The investigators studied him for a moment.
“Craig, are you saying that body we found in the lake really could have broken loose from the dock upstream?” Savannah asked.
Craig nodded. “It’s beginning to look that way.”
“Or he cut it loose,” Colbi insisted. When everyone looked at her, she tilted her head, “I’m just sayin’.”
Investigator Conway turned the drawing over in his hands and asked, “So how did you come upon this piece of possible evidence, sir?”
Craig gestured toward Rags, who was sitting on the kitchen counter, staring out the window. “We think the cat had it,” he said, matter-of-factly.
“The cat?” he asked suspiciously.
Both investigators looked at Rags, then they started to leave. Before reaching the front door, however, Investigator Brice said, “Hey, is that…?” He looked at the women and back at Rags. “I’ve read about a cat in Hammond who…”
Craig nodded. “That’s him. Rags, the best investigator on the force.”
“Well, I’ll be,” Brice said, scratching his head. He gestured toward the cat. “Okay if I…”
“Sure,” Savannah said. “He loves attention.”
At that, the investigator pulled out his phone and snapped a few pictures. He then reached out and petted the cat. In the meantime, Rags sniffed at the man and rubbed against his hand.
“Friendly, isn’t he?”
What happened next surprised everyone. Rags sat up on his haunches and snagged something out of Brice’s shirt pocket, then jumped down off the counter and ran into the bedroom with it.
“Hey!” he called. “Come back here!”
As everyone laughed heartily, Brice started after the errant cat. He stopped, asking, “What’s he going to do with it? I need that. He won’t tear it up, will he?”
“He might,” Savannah said, laughing. She walked briskly toward the guest bedroom, calling for the cat. “Rags, bring that back. Rags, where are you? Oh no, I think he went into the secret room. We’d better go open it up.”
“We left it open,” Craig said, walking through the kitchen toward the basement door. Everyone followed.
“There he is,” Colbi pointed. She laughed. “It looks like he and Dolly are discussing what to do with their latest piece of contraband.”
At that, Savannah rushed toward the cats and snagged the paper. She laughed when Rags swiped at it, trying to grab it back. “Here,” she said, handing it to the investigator.
“Better check to make sure you still have your badge and gun,” Margaret joked. She grinned when she saw him make a quick check.
Once the investigators had left, Savannah added more wood to the fire. “It’s harder to keep it warm in here without those double-paned windows.”
“Well, there are plenty of blankets,” Margaret said, pulling a quilt around herself.
Craig watched as Dolly played hide-and-seek under the quilt at Margaret’s feet, then he headed for the basement. “I’ll see if I can find some tape to put around the plywood. That might help keep the warm air in. He’d just finished up when he said, “Sounds like we have company.”
Iris pulled a wool blanket up under her chin. “Now who? What is this Grand Central Cabin?”
Rags perked up his ears and sauntered toward the door, while Dolly peered out from under the quilt with one eye.
When Craig saw Margaret start to reach under the sofa for the iron skillet, he cringed and shook his head, to shutter the idea. With his hand on the weapon in his shoulder holster, he moved toward the front door.
“Who is it?” he asked.
There was silence, then a quiet voice. “Maribelle Baker.”
“That’s Lawrence’s wife—the chef,” Savannah said, heading for the door.
Craig stopped her. “Stand back,” he said, opening the door a crack. He looked beyond the woman, who wore a heavy overcoat, and noticed a dark-colored van parked next to his car. “Are you alone?” he asked. When she nodded, he pulled the door open wider and escorted her inside.
“Maribelle,” Savanna greeted. “What? Why?” she started.
The woman wiped at her eyes. “I didn’t know where else to go. You all seemed so nice. I hope you don’t mind. Her eyes darted around the room. “I just needed…” When she noticed Craig looking at her rather suspiciously, she stopped speaking.
“Come in and get warm near the fire,” Savannah invited. She motioned toward Craig. “This is Iris’s husband, Det…um, Craig.”
Maribelle acknowledged him, then lowered herself onto the fireplace hearth. “I’m sorry, I’m just so upset. I was halfway to town, when I realized I had nobody there.” She looked up at Savannah. “I’m confused. I guess I need some sort of validation.” She began to sob. “I don’t know what to think…what to believe.”
Savannah eased down next to the distraught woman and took her hand. Colbi sat on Maribelle’s other side. After a few moments, Savannah said, “Let me take your coat, Maribelle. You’re going to roast in here with that on.”
Their guest stood, and removed it. Smoothing her tan oversized sweater with her hands, she sat back down, looked around at everyone, and said, “I understand my husband broke into your place.” Frowning, she asked, “Is it true?”
Savannah looked from Craig, to Iris and glanced at Margaret. She stuttered, “Well…you see…I guess it’s been going on for some time.”
“You weren’t aware of your husband’s comings and goings?” Craig asked.
Maribelle’s eyes flashed contempt. “Well, we don’t keep tabs on each other, if that’s what you mean.” She paused before continuing in a slightly more relaxed manner. “We maintain separate quarters, and I stay over in town sometimes when I pick up supplies. So no, I don’t always know much about his comings and goings. But the news that he…”
“That he was hiding in our cabin?” Craig said.
She clenched her teeth. “Yes, that was…unexpected. I don’t know why…”
“Your husband seemed to be up to no good, Ms…”
“Maribelle,” she reminded him. “What do you mean, no good?” She burst into tears. “Why did they arrest him, anyway?”
“You don’t know?” Savannah asked gently.
“No. No one has told me anything for sure—just rumors and suppositions... They pretty much locked me out of my home and the restaurant with very little explanation.”
Craig lowered himself onto the sofa closest to where Maribelle sat. He looked her in the eyes. “Ma’am, it seems that your husband has been taking his drama classes more seriously than anyone knew. It’s alleged that he’s been living some of those roles he likes to play.”
“But they’re accusing him of horrible things,” she said. “What they told me…that certainly can’t be true.” She rested her forehead in her hands. “Oh my God, my God.” She then sat upright. “Ernie!”
“Who’s Ernie?” Craig asked.
“Our son. He’s on his way up here.”
“He’s coming here?” Iris asked.
Maribelle looked across the room at her. In a weak voice, she said, “I hope it’s okay. He was going to meet me in Preston, but I called him at the bottom of the hill and told him I was coming over here, instead.” She glanced up at Craig. “I need answers. I hoped I could get some from you all.” She rested her head in her hands again, briefly, then said, “Ernie’s going to be devastated. He so wanted to please his father, which is why he went into acting instead of following his heart and opening a gourmet pizzeria in Los Angeles. But when he hears what’s been going on here…” She shook her head. “I guess now he’s free to do what he wants to do. But will he really be free?” Sobbing, she said, “I can’t bear to see him hurt like this.” Quickly standing, she pulled her cell phone from her pocket and said rather frantically, “I’d better call him and tell him not to come. I’m not ready to face him with this awful…”
“I’m sorry,” Savannah interrupted, “we can’t get cell service here.”
“Oh, that’s right. Oh no. Maybe I should take a boat across and make the call. I must keep Ernie from making the trip. I don’t want him…”
“It’s too late, Mother.”
“Ernie,” Maribelle said, her eyes darting in search of him.
Craig stood and headed for the front door to let Ernie in.
The younger man walked toward Maribelle. “I heard you through the window, just now. So what is going on, Mother?” he asked, glancing around at the others. “Where’s Father?”
Maribelle stood and faced her son. “Oh, Ernie. Why don’t you just go back to LA? I’ll join you in a couple of days, once I know what this is all about. There’s nothing for you here.”
“Where is he?” he insisted. He took her hands in his. “Mother, what’s going on?”
“Your father’s in jail,” Maribelle said, quietly.
Ernie pulled back from her, a confused look on his face. “He’s been arrested? Why? For scaring people? All he did was give people a scare. It was all part of the script.”
“What are you talking about, Son?”
“Father—he dressed up at night and I’d take him to places where he was apt to be seen. He just wanted to be seen. He lived for the reaction. He didn’t mean any harm—it was all for the reaction.”
Savannah tightened her lips. “So Ernie, what we saw Friday night on our way up here was your father…playacting?”
“He was purposely trying to give us a heart attack?” Margaret spat.
“Yeah, he loves to see the look of fear on people. But he never hurt anyone. He meant no harm.”
“All he lived for was to see the look of fear on his victim’s faces?” Craig asked.
“Victims?” Ernie repeated. “I don’t know if you’d call them victims.”
“Oh yes, Ernie,” Craig said, “there were victims. Evidently his desire to frighten people wasn’t enough. There came a time when he needed something more—he wanted more realism.”