Read Dead Low Tide Online

Authors: Eddie Jones

Dead Low Tide (7 page)

BOOK: Dead Low Tide
10.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

“But if I was going to do all that, why would I leave my backpack in the boathouse?”

“Because you’re only a kid and not smart enough to know better. Tell you what I’ll do. For now I won’t charge you with making a false emergency call. I’ll wait until I have more information. But you’d better believe if it turns out you made up this story about your sister, I
will
file charges.”

I fought to keep my legs from trembling, that’s how mad
I was.
Me? You think I’m the one behind this? How about you tell me where you were last night when my sister was abducted. Tell me that, Corporal Kevin J. McDonald!
I didn’t say this, of course. The fact that my phone made the first call pretty much meant McDonald would never believe Wendy and I hadn’t planned the whole thing.

Unless he was behind her kidnapping. Then he would know I was telling the truth.

Flustered, I blurted out, “Who did you interview last night besides me?”

“Just you, those teens at the bonfire, and that girl you saw me talking to. She’s the one who suggested I check the boathouse. Good thing I did, too. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have found your backpack.” He stood. “Now, I need to get on that conference call.”

I remained seated. “Last night you pointed to someone standing by the cart path. You said it was the manager of the activities center. Any idea what time
he
arrived at the creek?”

“Just after you did. You want to interview him, be my guest. He’s in the building. I can get him for you, if you want.”

“That’d be great.”

Officer McDonald went out without closing the door and left me alone in the office to sort out facts surrounding my sister’s disappearance.

Talk about being confused. It didn’t make sense that someone would sneak back into the boathouse to use my phone to report her abduction unless … unless someone
knew
Wendy
and I would be in that boathouse. But who? I thought about the anonymous comment posted on the
Cool Ghoul
website, the one that first alerted me to the mysterious appearance of Laveau’s body. It was that posting that had lured me to the boathouse.
But why would someone want me to be at the creek during low tide?
The answer came to me and it chilled my blood. “Should have been you in the canoe,” the caller had said. “Thought it was.”

I’d been set up from the get-go.

And I was still being played.

McDonald returned and introduced me to a young man with shoulder-length black hair and a stubble beard.

“Dirk, meet Nick Caden. Nick’s sister is the girl who went missing.”

I stood and we shook hands. Dirk had a lanky frame and broad shoulders. He was a good six inches taller than me, with an amiable manner about him.

Tossing back shaggy bangs, he looked at me with chlorine-blue eyes and flashed a big smile. “Officer McDonald said you wanted to chat, but now isn’t good for me. We’re both getting ready to go into a meeting. Can we meet in, say, an hour in the parking lot of the main beach access?”

“Yeah, I guess, but how do I get there? I don’t have a ride.”

“A shuttle can drop you off.”

Before I could find out where the shuttle stop was, both men slipped into the conference room across from Officer McDonald’s office. As the door was beginning to shut behind
them, I saw Officer McDonald lean over and whisper something. Dirk looked back quickly and the door closed, leaving me to wonder if I’d gotten too close to the truth and was about to become the second Caden to go missing on Palmetto Island.

CHAPTER TWELVE
DUNE OUR THING

S
tanding in the shade of the shuttle bus stop, I checked my cell. I’d turned off the volume for my meeting with Officer McDonald, but now a text message from Ms. Bryant let me know she was on her way to a home on the beach called “Dune Our Thing.” If I wanted to chat, we could meet there.

At a quarter after one the shuttle dropped me off in front of a three-story home with silver-gray cedar siding. A white wooden sign mounted by the mailbox asked that visitors respect the privacy of the owners and avoid using the private beach walkway. No cars in the drive. The front lawn of carpeted Bermuda grass needed cutting and a row of bushes trimming, but
otherwise the place looked immaculate. I approached the home and peeked through a downstairs window that looked into the garage. An assortment of beach toys hung from the ceiling and walls: kiteboards and Windsurfers and kayaks.

Ignoring the privacy warning, I followed the wooden walkway around the corner of the house and up the dunes. I took a seat under the gazebo to await Ms. Bryant’s arrival. A short ways up the beach a young father unlimbered a blue umbrella and began spreading towels. Two small boys emerged from the dunes dragging boogie boards across the sand. Some distance behind, the mom followed carrying an infant in her arms.
A nice young family enjoying their vacation — sort of like the way we used to
.

Small, brown-green swells slapped the sand. Birds with toothpick-thin legs skittered away from the surf rushing up the sand.

I thought about what had happened to Wendy and the
Cool Ghoul
website and tried to make sense of it. I wondered why someone would want to snatch me from a canoe at dead low tide. When the puzzle appears out of focus, the thing to do is sort the pieces into piles.

Officer McDonald was one piece. At first he’d been eager to find my sister, but not anymore. The way he’d lunged at the notion that I was the first one to call the emergency operator suggested he was eager — maybe too eager — to pin the blame for Wendy’s disappearance on me. Which got me to wondering what I’d find if I looked in the trunk of his cruiser. A wet
suit, maybe? Perhaps a sodden party dress, rubber skin, and fake blood?

McDonald’s cousin was another mystery piece. Given the growth of radio services like Sirius and XM, along with Internet-streaming apps like Pandora and Rhapsody, I imagined maintaining a steady listenership for conventional radio would be difficult, especially with kids my age. What better way to grab the younger audience than to make it appear that a zombie had abducted a young teen? And who better to carry out such a stunt than a struggling actor with a bit part in a slasher movie? I made a mental note to circle back and find out if Matt Carter and McDonald’s cousin knew each other.

Kat was another odd fit. She seemed nice enough, but why the pressure for me to meet Poke Salad Annie? Were the two working together? Had Kat grabbed Wendy and passed her off to the Gullah gal? And if so, why?

My parents were perhaps the oddest piece of all. They had been determined to keep bugging Officer McDonald until he found my sister, but now both seemed resigned to the fact that their youngest child had simply slipped off to spend the night with friends. It occurred to me that I might not be the only one getting mysterious messages. Maybe Mom and Dad had been warned to back off, too.

With the swipe of my thumb I unlocked my phone and brought up the TV Crime Watchers home page. Maybe if I could dig deeper into the zombie episodes I’d reviewed earlier, I could get a better idea of who was behind my sister’s
disappearance. Instead of the normal log-in screen, a large headline appeared on the home page warning visitors that they’d just downloaded a virus. Quickly I powered off my phone.

“You the young man who stopped by my office earlier?”

Startled, I looked over my shoulder. The middle-aged woman wore dark blue slacks, a gold belt, and a white blouse with a gold cross hanging from her neck. With each step, glossy blonde bangs bounced. Her face, arms and hands were tanned to the color of butterscotch. She was attractive in the way businesswomen can be when they are confident and successful. I knew the type. Mom had projected that same look when she’d sold real estate in Lawrence.

She offered her hand. “Liz Bryant.”

Ms. Bryant’s grip was strong and soft. I introduced myself as Frank Caden’s son.

“Caden, Caden, don’t tell me, it’ll come to me.”

She closed her eyes and pressed a knuckle to her golden-brown forehead. Shiny rings adorned fingers on both hands.

“Three-bedroom townhouse on Turtle Dove Lane. The one with a view of the eighth hole. You are the young man we hired to haul off those limbs and other debris, am I right?”

“Um, no. You had dinner with my parents last night, in Savannah.”

“Oh,
that
Frank Caden. Sorry, I have my sales hat on. This place is coming back on the market and I was thinking about all the landscaping and yard work that needs to be done.”

I looked around at the dunes, sea oats, and sand. “But it’s on a beach — who cares what the yard looks like?”

“Honey child, you have no idea. People who buy homes in this price range care about
everything
. If you want, I’ll show you around. I have to check on a few things, anyway.”

“I doubt my parents would ever be able to afford something like this.”

Right now we can’t even afford to buy a refrigerator box to sleep in
.

“Never hurts to dream.” She waved in the direction of the three-story home, adding, “And beach dreams are the best kind.”

I waited in the shade of the front porch while she slipped a key into the lock. She bumped open the door and a blast of cool air assaulted us. I followed her into a large open room that was at least twice the size of the whole downstairs in our old home in Lawrence.

“What was it you wanted to talk to me about?”

“My dad. I was wondering, is he a serious candidate for the sales job?”

“Absolutely. Why?”

“Mom thinks it’s all a scam, that you only brought us down here to trick us into buying property on Palmetto Island.”

Ms. Bryant put her purse on the kitchen counter and faced me. “I mean this in the nicest way possible, but your parents couldn’t afford the rental deposit on the unit you stayed in.” She must’ve seen my cheeks redden because she quickly added,
“Oh, don’t think I was being nosy. But I had to run a full background check on your father before I contacted him about the position. We can’t afford to invest this kind of time and effort in a candidate without vetting them first. Here, let me show you the kitchen. Your mother would die to have a kitchen this size.”

The backsplash tiles were light beige with a scalloped sea-shells design. Recessed lighting under the cabinets reflected off black granite countertops. Hardwood floors, polished smooth, reflected the light streaming in from the floor-to-ceiling front windows. Ms. Bryant opened a double-door stand-up freezer that looked as if it belonged in a restaurant.

“Let me take you upstairs to the man cave. If you and your dad like watching sports, you’ll never need to go to another live event again.”

I followed her up the staircase. “Why Dad? I mean, he’s spent his whole life revamping assembly lines.”

“That’s precisely what makes him the ideal candidate. He understands the importance of the process and execution. If you give your father our sales manual, what’s he going to do with it?”

“Read it, highlight it, study it.”

“Exactly. I bet in a month he would be able to recite the whole manual word for word. Men like your father are not rare, but they are special. I hate to use the phrase ‘old school,’ but that’s what he is. He learns things from the ground up. With your father, there are no shortcuts, am I right?”

“Oh, he’s by the book, that’s for sure. Especially when it comes to school. Once I had this Language Arts teacher, Mrs. Harris. She was a nice woman who had absolutely no business being in a classroom. When she wasn’t looking we’d throw paper airplanes across the room. Everyone in the class made As but that’s because we were cheating on her tests. Come January, after our Christmas break, we found out Mrs. Harris had suffered a nervous breakdown. They gave us a sub but everyone still ended up making pretty good grades. After the school year was over, Dad found out I’d cheated and he went and told my guidance counselor. She said since the grades had already posted she couldn’t change them, but I did start the next year with detention. So yeah, Dad’s a stickler for the rules. Except when he’s driving. Then the rules don’t apply to him.”

At the top of the stairs we turned down a hallway. She showed me bedrooms, bathrooms, and a master suite nearly the size of the condo we’d stayed in.

“You met my assistant,” said Ms. Bryant. “What was your impression of him?”

“Thought he was rude and stuck up.”

“Most clients think so, too. He’s been with me almost three months and still doesn’t know the first thing about customer interfacing. If I put your father in that job, he’d be the most upbeat, engaging salesperson you’d want to meet, am I right?”

“So long as he’s not in rush-hour traffic, yes.”

“A go-getter like your father is just the sort of person I need working for me.”

“So the job offer is for real?”

“It’s listed with professional recruiters and on all the major job search websites. That’s how legit it is.” We’d stopped outside a door at the end of the hallway. “Ready?” She pushed open a bright red door.

The man cave looked like a miniature sports bar. Monitors covered the front and side walls. Trophy cases filled with sports memorabilia stood on either side of the door. Banners from the SEC universities hung from the ceiling and hand towels of NFL teams lay draped across armrests. An angry-looking rooster was stitched into crimson carpet, indicating that the homeowner was a University of South Carolina Gamecocks fan.

“There are thirteen monitors,” boasted Ms. Bryant, “with another three on the upper deck for night games under the stars. The room seats fifty. Last February, the owner had more than two hundred people over to watch the Super Bowl.” Turning toward me, she motioned toward the monitors and chairs. “So what do you think? Does this give you any ideas? Make you want to dream?”

“Thing is, I’m not really into sports. Except for the X Games. Those I like. I’m more into skateboarding. But I could see where having all these monitors tied to close-circuit video feeds of certain high-crime areas would be helpful. I could sit in one of those chairs and actually watch detectives investigate crime scenes.”

Ms. Bryant’s smile dipped momentarily. Regaining her bubbly enthusiasm, she directed me back into the hall. “Let
me show you the Cinderella room! You have a sister, right? Couple of years younger?”

“Actually, that’s sort of what I wanted to talk to you about. By any chance, did you mention anything to anyone about my dad coming down here? Like, maybe your assistant?”

“Heavens, no. If Matt had any idea we were interviewing candidates for his position, he would become totally impossible to work with.”

“If he’s so bad, why haven’t you fired him already?”

“I believe in giving people second and third chances. Matt is on his fourth. Once we get the new hire in place, I’ll move Matt into some other role where he doesn’t have to interact with clients.”

We’d stopped at the top of the staircase. I looked at the open room below the banister and imagined what it might be like to live in a palace at the beach.

“The job is straight commission, but your father didn’t seem bothered by this. In fact, I think he took it as a challenge. Whoever we put in that role will need to hit the ground running and work hard and fast.” She paused and looked me up and down. “I must say, I’ve never had a family member of a prospective employee interview
me
before. It’s a little off-putting.”

“I care about Dad’s job, sure, but the real reason I wanted to chat is because of my sister. She went missing last night while my parents were having dinner with you. I’m trying to figure out who might have known the two of us would be home alone.”

“Oh my gosh, I had no idea that was …”

“Thing is, I’m pretty sure someone knew Dad was coming down for the job interview.”

Instantly her bubbly personality switched into one of concern. “Come out to my car. There’s something you need to see.”

I followed her around the house while she turned faucets on and off, flushed toilets, and replaced burned-out light bulbs. In the downstairs guest bath she added toilet paper and filled a hand soap dispenser. Back in the driveway, she unlocked the passenger door and thumbed open the glove box.

“This arrived in the mail last week.” She handed me an envelope. “It is addressed to the director of sales and marketing. At first I thought it was a job application, so I tossed it in the basket with the others. But when I finally got around to looking at it, I realized it was a letter of recommendation for your father. You said you thought someone knew your family was coming to Palmetto Island. This might help you figure out who that someone was.”

To whom it may concern,

Mr. Caden has asked me to write a letter in support of his application for employment with your firm. To be honest, I am dumbfounded. Not only am I astonished that he has the nerve to ask me to write such a letter, but also that he would seriously consider going into sales.

I met Mr. Caden some months back. He distinguished himself by rarely appearing attentive or interested in the
people around him. As a consultant at our manufacturing plant, he was obnoxious and unreliable and completely overwhelmed by the intricacies of our assembly line. On those rare occasions when I permitted him to actually work alone, his performance was marred by mistakes, excuses, and blame cast upon others.

I can think of no one less qualified for real estate sales work than Frank Caden. I suggest you toss his application in the trash.

Sincerely,

K.G.B. Savior

“Wow, someone really hates my dad’s guts.”

BOOK: Dead Low Tide
10.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Last Resort by Richard Dubois
Winter’s Awakening by Shelley Shepard Gray
Missing by Sharon Sala
After River by Donna Milner
Clawback by Mike Cooper
The Rook by Steven James
The Dance of the Seagull by Andrea Camilleri