Authors: Karen King
Tags: #Interactive & activity books, #Juvenile Fiction, #Children's Fiction, #Crime Fiction, #Podcasts
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There it was again. I frowned at the distant flashing light, just visible over the rooftops from my attic bedroom. I’d been up late, talking on the Internet to my buddies back home in the USA, and had glanced out of the window before getting into bed. That’s when I’d noticed the light.
It had been flashing for over five minutes now, and I was sure it was a signal. It wasn’t an SOS – I’d counted the flashes and they weren’t the three short, three long, three short of the distress signal – but more like on, off, on, off as if to say ‘Hey, I’m here’.
The sound of a door opening below and footsteps on the landing distracted my attention from the window. I crept across my bedroom, opened the door and peered over the banister, but I couldn’t see anyone – they must have been too far down the stairs. I guessed who it was though – Mr Hodgkin, one of Gran’s guests. He had arrived at
, Gran’s B&B, on Friday afternoon, two days ago. He drives Gran totally loco because he goes out every night to watch badgers and then spends all morning in bed catching up on his sleep. How weird is that?
When I went back to the window and stared out, the light had stopped flashing. I shrugged. It was probably the beam from the lighthouse; the beach was over in that direction. I mean, who’d be flashing a light at one thirty in the morning? I dropped the curtains, climbed into bed and snuggled down to sleep.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
I could see Gran was in a bad mood as soon as I walked into the kitchen the next morning. She was banging the plates down as she laid the table, her lips pursed and her face tight and pinched.
I glanced at the clock. Seven thirty, so I wasn’t late for breakfast and, thankfully, I’d had a quick shower, pulled on some shorts and a tee shirt and combed my hair before I went down. Gran hated it if anyone turned up at the breakfast table without getting washed and dressed first. Maybe, for once, it was someone else who had upset her.
Not Mr Winkleberry, of course. He was making a pot of tea and looked very much at home, as usual. He’d been staying at the B&B for years and was here for the whole summer. He and Gran seemed to be getting a bit sweet on each other, which was really cringeworthy. I mean, they’re both pretty ancient.
‘Do you need any help, Gran?’ I asked, tentatively. When Gran had that look on her face she was liable to snap my head off just for breathing.
‘You could set out the cutlery, please, Amy.’ Gran banged another plate down on the table and then glanced over at me. She looked real mad. ‘Of course, Mr Hodgkin won’t be joining us for breakfast. I heard him come in at half past five this morning. Half past five! Can you believe it? Now he’ll be in bed until lunchtime again and I won’t be able to clean his room and put fresh towels in there.’
‘Would you like me to have a word with him, Sue?’ Mr Winkleberry asked. ‘You shouldn’t have to put up with this.’
‘No, I’ll deal with it,’ Gran said. ‘I’ll speak to him later, but thank you for the offer.’
‘How long’s he staying for?’ I asked.
Before Gran could answer, a waft of sickly sweet perfume drifted through the door and then Miss Pearce floated in, dressed top to toe in designer gear and dripping with gold jewellery. She’d arrived yesterday afternoon and for some strange reason seemed to have taken a shine to Mr Winkleberry, even though he must be at least ten years older than her. They’d spent a couple of hours chatting last night. She homed in on him now.
‘Good morning, David.’ She flashed him a dazzling smile, then nodded at Gran, ‘Mrs Carter.’
She sat down at the table, completely ignoring me. ‘Are one of those cups of tea for me? Oh, how lovely! You are kind.’ Another dazzling smile at Mr Winkleberry.
I tell you, I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I wolfed down my breakfast as fast as I could, loaded the plate in the dishwasher, muttered ‘I’m off for a walk,’ and made a quick exit.
Fluffy, Gran’s bichon frise, followed me, watching forlornly from the doorstep as I walked out of the backyard. I would have taken her, but I was heading for the beach and I knew that Gran would go seriously nuts if I got any sea water or sand on her precious Fluffy’s curly, white fur. Fluffy was not only her pride and joy, but a champion show dog; she was one pampered pooch.
Before I’d even turned the corner of Gran’s end terraced house, I heard footsteps running after me.
‘Where are you sneaking off to?’
It was Max, the kid next door. I might have known he’d be looking out for me. He was like my shadow now he’d helped me solve two cases: the kidnapping of Fluffy and the sabotage of Old Joe’s cottage. Mind you, I was the one who’d done all the super-sleuthing – I’d done some crime busting back home in the US so was pretty experienced at it – Max had just tagged along for the ride. Trouble is, now he thought we were best buddies, but hanging around with a nine-year-old kid is so not cool.
‘I’m not sneaking around. I’m going for a walk along the beach,’ I told him. ‘See you later.’ I shoved my hands in my pockets and sauntered around the corner.
Max caught up with me. ‘I’ll come too, just in case you get lost,’ he said.
That was always Max’s excuse for hanging around me. I’d only been in Little Cragg for a few weeks – my parents were touring Europe with the musical show they starred in, so I’d come to stay with Gran in England for the summer – but I pretty much knew my way around by now.
‘I can manage, thanks,’ I told him. ‘Does Mummy know you’re out?’
He scowled. He hated it when I reminded him how much younger than me he was. Four years to be exact, which by my reasoning made me the boss, though Max didn’t always see it that way.
‘Okay, go by yourself … but you’ll never find the smugglers’ caves.’
‘Smugglers’ caves?’ I tried not to sound too interested.
‘Yeah, not many people know where they are. But you go off by yourself.’ He turned and started to walk back.
I hesitated. Max was always doing this. It made him feel good if he knew something I didn’t. I’d read a bit about Cornwall before I’d come over and had been fascinated by its smuggling history. It would be seriously mega to see the caves, but I wasn’t about to let Max know how desperate I was.
‘You can come if you like,’ I told him. ‘It’s up to you.’
I carried on walking. Sure enough, Max was soon back by my side.
‘My great-great-grandad used to be a smuggler,’ he said.
I looked at him to see if he was lying. ‘Straight up?’ I asked.
He nodded. ‘Mum told me all about it. He was known as Smuggler Ben. He used to store his stuff in the caves I’m gonna show you.’
Well, that sounded pretty exciting. Exciting enough to put up with Max’s company anyway.
To my surprise, instead of heading for the main beach, Max went down towards the harbour. ‘Are we going to the dog beach?’ I asked. It was Craggmor Beach really, but the locals called it ‘the dog beach’ because it was the only beach you were allowed to take dogs in the summer. I knew where it was because when Fluffy had been dognapped the blackmailer had asked us to meet him there with the ransom money.
‘No, Smugglers’ Bay – it’s further along than Craggmor Beach. Just follow me.’
Even though it had just gone nine, the harbour front was crowded with tourists wanting to make the most of the sunshine. They walked along the middle of the road, three or four abreast, regardless of the car drivers hooting their horns angrily at them. We weaved in and out of the crowds, which, thankfully, dwindled once we left the harbour front. Then, Max led the way past the dog beach, around a couple of corners, down a side street and then stopped at some stone steps, almost hidden by a high wall. I peered over the wall and saw a stretch of golden sand in front of me. Amazing! I’d never have guessed a beach was hidden here. There was no sign of any caves though.
‘Where are the caves?’ I asked.
‘You can’t see them from here,’ Max said.
The steps were narrow and broken here and there, so we had to go down real careful – one slip and we’d be at the bottom a lot quicker than we planned and probably with a couple of broken bones in the process.
As soon as we reached the bottom I looked around for the caves. Some big, black rocks towered above us on the right like a high wall, gradually getting smaller and smaller until there were only boulders scattered along the beach. In front of us was the ocean, to the left the beach stretched as far as I could see.
‘The caves are behind those rocks. There’s another beach there, it’s like a secret cove,’ Max said.
We took off our trainers, stuffed our socks in and carried them as we walked barefoot over the sand to the smaller rocks. The sea lapped gently over the rocks and I couldn’t resist paddling in it before climbing over.
I jumped down and gazed in awe at the scene in front of me.
We were in a little cove, flanked by a huge, black cliff so tall that when I looked up I felt dizzy. Several rugged caves were formed in the cliff; deep, dark holes that held centuries of secrets.
I was seriously excited. I put my trainers down on the sand, whipped out my cellphone and snapped away, taking photos of the caves, the cove and the sea.
‘Told you!’ Max said, triumphantly. He was already snapping away with his phone. Ever since Old Joe had given me a top-of-the-range racing bike and Max a snazzy new cellphone to thank us for helping to catch the person who’d been sabotaging his cottage, Max had been taking photos of just about everything. I often teased him that he acted just like a tourist.
‘Mum said that the smugglers unloaded their cargo off the boats and piled it in one of the caves. Then, they carried it through a secret tunnel to another cave at the back. I tried to find the tunnel once, but didn’t get very far,’ he told me.
‘Let’s look for it now,’ I suggested, eagerly. We brushed the sand off our feet and put our socks and trainers back on before going into the cave.
We checked out the first cave but it was really shallow, and so were the next couple. Then, we found a bigger cave, set right back in the cliff. It was huge inside. Jagged rocks were scattered here and there, covered with slippery seaweed, and half of the cave wall was covered in algae. It was just the sort of cave I could imagine smugglers using. It was so dark, I had to switch my cellphone camera to night-time mode before I could take any photos.
‘Now you’re acting just like a tourist,’ Max said, grinning.
a tourist,’ I reminded him. ‘Anyway, I want to send some photos to my buddies back home. They’ll be green with envy when I tell them I’ve been in a real smugglers’ cave.’
‘What about finding the secret tunnel?’
‘I’m onto it.’ I put my phone back in my pocket. ‘It’ll probably be at the back of the cave. Look for a hole or a narrow opening in the wall.’
We searched the cave thoroughly, scrutinising the walls and looking behind all the rocks and boulders. The cave inclined upwards and there were lots of nooks and crannies at the back, so it took a while.
Max had disappeared around a corner. ‘Hey, look at this!’ he shouted, poking his head around the rocks. ‘There’s another cave behind this one.’
He was right – there was a narrow opening leading to another, smaller cave. Max had already stepped into it. I followed him.
‘Do you think this is the secret cave?’ he asked, gazing around it.
I sized it up. ‘I dunno. It’s not exactly hidden, is it? Anyone who walked around here would spot it.’
‘I guess so,’ Max agreed. ‘But, maybe the secret tunnel’s in here.’
I thought that was a strong possibility. We searched the cave thoroughly but, to our disappointment, didn’t find a secret tunnel.
‘This is hopeless!’ I sighed, climbing onto a wide ledge at the back of the cave to gather my thoughts. ‘Maybe there isn’t really a secret tunnel.’
‘There is,’ Max insisted, sitting down beside me and pulling a grubby bag of toffees out of his pocket. ‘My great-great-grandad used it. Mum said her dad told her all about it when she was little.’ He held out the bag to me. ‘Want one?’
I eyed the bag dubiously. It looked like it had been in his pocket for weeks. ‘Are they wrapped?’
‘Yep.’ He opened the bag and I took out a liquorice toffee, my favourite. It was a bit squashed, but I figured it would be okay. I peeled off the wrapper and popped the toffee into my mouth.
We sat there talking for a while, and then got back off the ledge and checked around the cave for the secret tunnel again. Zilch.
‘Let’s check out the main cave again,’ I suggested. ‘Just in case we missed anything.’
As we walked over to the opening, I noticed that a pool of water was creeping through it. I frowned. Where had that come from?
Then there was a splash and more water poured through, spreading over our feet.
‘The tide must have come in!’ Max gasped. ‘We’d better get out of here quick or we’ll be trapped!’
We waded through the opening and around the corner, the water getting deeper all the time.
‘Oh no!’ Max clutched my arm and gazed in horror at the scene in front of us. The cave floor was completely covered in water.
I stared, stupefied, as a huge, foaming wave gushed into the cave entrance, lashing furiously against the rocks. The water level had risen to our knees.
‘Amy!’ Max’s voice wobbled with fear.
‘Don’t panic, it’s only knee-deep. We can wade out,’ I told him.
I’d forgotten that the cave inclined upwards, so the water would get deeper as we walked closer to the entrance. Within seconds the water was up to my waist and Max’s chest. There was no way we could make it out. We turned back.
‘We’re trapped!’ Max gasped, leaning against the cave wall, his face white. The water was now swirling around our knees again and I knew it would soon rise.
For a moment I panicked. I froze with sheer, absolute terror.
Then, I remembered my cellphone. ‘I’ll phone the police and they’ll send someone to rescue us,’ I said, already dialling 999. I raised the phone, ready to speak. There was no dialling tone. I looked at the screen. Drat, I had no signal! ‘Have you got a signal on your phone?’ I asked Max.
He took his phone out of his pocket, looked at it with trembling hands and shook his head.
‘We can’t call for help and no one knows we’re here! What are we going to do?’ he yelled, hysterically.
Another foaming wave surged into the cave mouth, crashing against a nearby boulder and sending a spray of water over us. Max grabbed my arm; he was whimpering softly.
‘Get back into the other cave!’ I shouted. ‘We’ll have to wait in there until the tide goes out.’
We paddled back to the opening and through into the other cave. The water here was only ankle deep.
‘Do you think this cave will flood too?’ Max asked, his eyes like saucers.
I glanced at the cave walls and my stomach flipped as I noticed the green algae growing halfway up them, way above our head level. We were in serious trouble.
‘If there is a secret tunnel we need to find it FAST!’ I told Max. ‘It might be behind a boulder or something so look everywhere.’
We searched frantically, the water around our feet getting deeper and deeper. It was now almost up to Max’s waist.
‘There isn’t one!’ Max was almost crying. ‘We’re trapped. We’re going to drown.’
‘No we won’t. We’ll climb back onto the ledge and figure something out,’ I told him, trying to get him to calm down. ‘How long does the tide take to go back out?’
‘Hours and hours,’ Max said. He tried to wade over to the ledge, stumbled and fell into the swirling water. I grabbed him, pulling him back up just as his head went under. ‘You okay?’ I asked, keeping hold of his arm.
He sniffed, wiped his face with his wet hands, then nodded.
I kept a firm grip on him until we reached the ledge and then helped him onto it before pulling myself up.
The sea kept pouring in, getting higher and higher until it had almost reached the ledge.
I started to shiver uncontrollably as I watched the sea lashing around wildly and tried to keep a rein on the panic that was threatening to engulf me.
How could I have been so stupid? Why hadn’t I kept an eye on the tide? How many times had I seen the harbour beach completely covered by the sea? And these caves were nearer to the shore than the harbour so the sea would reach them first. Hell, it had actually been lapping around the rocks when we’d crossed over them into the cove. I should have realised the tide was coming in.
Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.
Now what were we going to do? The water level was still rising fast.
Keep calm. Keep a clear head. Think! I wondered what Vince Bronson, my favourite FBI agent would do. Whenever he and his sidekick Mac got in a dangerous situation he’d say there was always a way out, you just had to think of it. Well, right now I needed to think of it pretty quick.
‘Should we try and swim?’ Max was trying desperately hard not to cry.
The same thought had occurred to me. I hesitated, wondering how well Max could swim and whether I was a strong enough swimmer to take us both to safety if he got into difficulties. I could swim pretty well and had my lifesaver’s badge, but we’d be taking a big risk. There were lots of rocks and boulders under the water that we might knock against and injure ourselves. And there was no way of telling how strong the current was or how deep the water was outside the cave.
Keep calm. I took some deep breaths, inhaling the air down into my chest, then exhaling out very slowly, like I’d seen my mom do when she had a panic attack. Max was a kid, I had to stay strong and get us both safely out of here.
‘Amy!’ Max screamed and got to his feet as another wave surged into the cave. We both knew that this one would raise the water level to the height of the ledge.
‘Let’s stand on that boulder!’ I shouted, pointing to a big boulder that was against the wall at the end of the ledge. As I climbed onto it I lost my footing, slipped, reached out for the cave wall to support myself and found my hand floundering around in empty space. Max grabbed my arm and I managed to steady myself.
‘Thanks,’ I said, climbing down from the boulder. It was then that I noticed a small space behind it. I tugged at the boulder, trying to pull it away from the wall, but it was too heavy.
‘What are you doing?’ Max asked.
‘There’s a gap behind this boulder. It could be the secret tunnel,’ I told him. ‘Help me to move it, quick!’
We both pushed, pulled and tugged at the boulder, moving it little by little away from the wall. And there, right behind it, was a hole. It was big enough for us to stand up in.
‘It’s the tunnel!’ Max exclaimed.
I hoped it was. I grabbed Max’s arm and pulled him into the opening, just as the water reached the ledge and submerged it.