The Mystery of Dogwood Cross
CHAPTER
25
Between Dunes and Sea Oats
“She has Internet,” I told Rhys. “She said there was no Internet out here!” I finished spreading the blanket over the sand and straightened a corner. The day had grown blazing hot, without the island’s usual humidity, and I didn’t know how long we’d last out here. It was the safest place to talk, I figured. I even scouted the area for a dune to duck behind, in case someone decided to drive a certain delivery truck up the beach. I wasn’t the only one who’d gotten good at hearing vehicles: Rhys seemed to have a sixth sense when it came to people approaching.
We settled on the blanket, our backs to the sun. I took out my camera and snapped a few shots as I talked. “She said it would cost a ton of money to get Internet connected to the gatehouse,” I told him. “I don’t understand that, because if she has some kind of connection all the way at the cottage, at the far end of the island, then why can’t we get it at the gatehouse?”
“She said there was no connection?” Rhys frowned. “That’s a straight-up lie. We had a fast connection and wireless when we lived at the gatehouse, and Grandpa did, too, at his house. I figured she just quit paying the bill.”
I shrugged and put my camera behind me. “Either she has a magical Internet fairy or she’s cut us all off somehow. But she totally was online. I even got a few pictures through the window before I ran away.”
“Did she see you?” he asked, concerned.
“No? I don’t think so. I pretty much just raised my camera up into the window a little and snapped pictures blindly. The lighting was terrible, so I won’t be able to adjust enough to see until I load them onto my computer.”
“Oh, okay. Did you see who she was talking with?”
“A man. Fair complexion, looked maybe 20-something? I don’t know, I’m so bad at estimating age. He was skinny, though.”
“Did he have reddish hair?” Rhys asked.
“Maybe? It was through the window, over her shoulder. Hard to tell.”
Rhys frowned more, then his eyes lit up a little. “A mole, right here?” With his functional hand, he tapped his right cheekbone, just under his eye.
“I don’t know, I—,” I started, but thought really hard about it. “Yes! He did!”
“That’s Slim. He’s one of her minions.”
“How many minions does Maisie have?” I asked, and so could not help but make a face because being a Minion of Maisie was probably the worst thing ever.
“I’ve seen about half a dozen on the island. Henri’s the only one who ever stays.”
I hesitated, then asked, “And Daniel?”
He looked me in the eyes for a split second, then looked away. “Yeah. Daniel’s a minion who stays.”
Silence rushed in between us like the rolling waves not too far down the shore. The call of gulls above the rustling sea grass helped me relax, and at length, I looked over at Rhys. “Your grandfather said something about finding Ty’s files. That something about the caves would be in them. Any clue what he meant?”
Rhys stared at the beach. “Ty’s my dad,” he said quietly. “So I guess his files, maybe in his computer? But I don’t know what they did with his stuff.”
“Would the computer be a laptop?” I gave him the description of the laptop I’d found.
“Yeah, that sounds like it. You’ve seen it?”
I nodded a lot. “Yeah, I like, well, I rescued it. From the piles dumped in the bathroom.”
“They dumped my dad’s stuff in the bathroom?” His anger was clear, and I didn’t blame him at all.
“No?” I said quickly. “I mean, most of it looked like it belonged to a woman. The woman who lived there before we moved in?”
“Mary Ellen,” he said, and frowned again and more.
“Do you know the password to your dad’s computer?”
“420Lexington,” he said. “Capital L.”
Well, if nothing else, that was one question answered. I just needed to dig for the power cord now. “Do um, do you want to look through the computer with me?”
“No,” he answered quickly. “I mean...not yet. I’m not ready to look at his stuff yet.”
“Okay, fair enough. So, Mary Ellen? Where is she in all this? It’s like she left a gorgeous house empty, you know?”
“I don’t know,” he said, softening with concern. “One day she was just gone.”
“Do you think they, you know...?” I didn’t want to say the words, so I shrugged.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “Because no one’s come around to investigate or anything? She has a mom who lives in Charleston, and she was down here nearly every weekend to visit. So if something was weird, wouldn’t she have called the cops to ask questions?”
“Good point,” I said. “I’ll look into where she is, too.”
“She was really nice,” Rhys said quietly. “She baked fresh biscuits every Sunday morning and shared them with us.”
His profile, backlit by the bright white midday sky, showed his sadness. Again, the sounds of the coast filled my ears, and the salty air moved through my lungs. Rather abruptly, he looked at me. “I know you like him,” he said. “Daniel, I mean. I—I mean, he’s not a great guy, okay? He’s working with Henri and even though I don’t think he had anything to do with what happened to my dad, he’s doing something illegal. I know that much. I saw him loading crates from the pavilion into the truck one night. He’s in on whatever it is they’re doing. And he’s got to know what he’s doing is wrong.” He fell silent for a minute, then mumbled. “He’s even taken stuff from me.”
“What kind of stuff?”
“My PlayStation, for one. I guess he thinks I can’t use it, but he totally just took it out of my room. And that truck? Maisie must be paying him a lot. He shouldn’t be able to afford a truck like that until he was, like, forty.” Then Rhys shook his head. “I guess that stuff doesn’t really matter. I just want you to be careful. I don’t want you getting hurt, okay?”
So Daniel really was a minion. And Maisie wasn’t the only one to blame. He was doing stuff that wasn’t good, just because. The knowledge stung me in a deep place, somewhere I couldn’t name. Some place I didn’t know I had.
I took a deep breath. “Thanks, Rhys. I’ll be careful. And we’ll move as fast as we can. The more I know about Dogwood Cross, the less I like it. No offense.”
He laughed humorlessly. “None taken. I hate it, too.”
I bet he did.
“Rhys?”
“Yeah?”
“I need to tell my mom. Before she tangles with Maisie again.”
He looked at me then, so seriously. “Yeah, you probably do. Do you think she’ll believe us?”
There was something great about the way he said ‘us.’
He knew he wasn’t alone anymore. He had someone on his team. Someone in his corner.
I smiled at him. “Yeah, I think so. She knows Maisie’s shady and mean. And she likes you.”
He nodded, then offered me the smallest, shyest smile. “I like her, too. And you. I like you.”
“Yeah?” I said, and smiled back at him. “Good. I like you, too.”
A grin still on his face, he looked back down the coastline. I couldn’t stop my smile, either, so the best I could do was hide it. I turned and reached for my camera bag, but a figure caught my eye.
Between dunes and sea oats, Daniel stood, his gaze solidly on me.

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The Persistence of Memory

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