The Mystery of Dogwood Cross
CHAPTER
31
Inside
For all the weeks I’d been on the island, I had never ventured close to the big plantation house. Standing there now, in the dark and ceaseless rain, with every muscle in my body aching, I remembered the day Daniel had driven us around it.
“Most of the floor’s been torn out where it wasn’t already completely rotted away. And there was a fire in the back.”
If that was the case, then where were they keeping Mom and Rhys?
Only one way to find out.
With a quick look down the long drive to be sure no one was coming, I darted from my place under the willow and ran to the base of the curved front stairs. If this house was in the kind of condition Daniel made it out to be, I knew I’d be lucky to make it up onto the porch without the wood rotting away under my feet.
I, for once, was lucky.
The front side of the house was all huge windows, or so it seemed. If anyone was by those windows, they’d see me.
I was pretty sure that the bad guys weren’t keeping Mom and Rhys in the front parlor, and I was even more sure that waltzing through the front door was not a good idea. Also, I needed to get away from the front of the house, in case anyone drove up.
My heart thudding in my chest, I clung to the wrought iron railing and moved as quickly—and lightly—as possible to where the porch wrapped around the side of the house. Shielded by an oak laden with Spanish moss, I pressed against the outer wall and peeked into a window.
There was no sign of people. No lights, nothing.
I prayed for my luck to hold out, and I reached down, pulling up at the window sash. It didn’t budge.
“Note to self,” I murmured, “buy some new luck.”
I moved past that window to the next, which was also the last window accessible from the porch on this side. After seeing that room was dark, too, I tried the sash. “Come on, luck,” I whispered.
It budged.
It totally budged.
I changed position and pushed, then shimmied it a little, and then pushed again.
This time, it opened a few inches.
I kept at it, and, with only a minute’s more work, was able to get it open enough to fit through. I slid my camera bag off and carefully put it inside, and then followed. I tried to shut the window again, but it got stuck about halfway down, and I didn’t want to waste time, so I grabbed my bag and tried to get my bearings.
Outside, lightning burst again and lit up the room for a second—just long enough for me to glimpse the interior of the room.
A library.
Vast shelves that reached from the floor to the ceiling were built into the walls, but none of the books remained. I followed the blackness out to the hallway, and could feel the decades-old dust and mold particles attacking my lungs almost immediately.
I choked down a cough and tried hard to breathe without wheezing. Just like I was trying to walk without making any sound.
In the hall, darkness loomed to both my left and my right. I fumbled for my phone and quickly dimmed its screen, and with it lighting up only a few inches in front of me, I went right, toward the front of the house, since the back was supposed to have burned.
I clicked my phone off as I approached another door, and I paused in the hall, listening. Nothing, save for the wind and rain outside.
After a useless look inside, I blindly moved through that threshold and through a narrow hallway, one that must have been used for servants back when servants were a thing. At the end of the hall, warm orange glowed and flickered. I paused again to listen.
A radio crackled on, but I couldn’t make out what orders came from it. I did hear a guy’s voice reply, “We just going to leave these people here, or what, Maisie?”
I swallowed hard and strained to hear her reply, but I couldn’t make it out. I didn’t need to: the guy’s response made my blood run cold.
“You’re cruel, Maisie. I ain’t never gonna get on your bad side, trust me.”
Whatever she had in store for Mom and Rhys, I couldn’t let it happen.
The only problem was, I was just one person, and not a particularly violent one unless I was being tickled. Oh, wait. There was a second problem: I still wasn’t sure where Mom and Rhys were being held. Oh, oh, and three? I had no plan at all for finding them or exiting with them.
A huge crash came from somewhere behind me.
“Who’s there?” the guard shouted. “Come on out. I’m armed!”
I pressed against the wall again and tried to make myself invisible, but knew I couldn’t stay here long. I crouched down low and looked around the corner. The guard, a gigantic man who could probably bench press Gladys, walked away from the light and out of sight.
I hoped he was the only one minding Mom and Rhys, because I was already moving toward the place he’d been.
There were a dozen nooks and a dozen more crannies between me and where he’d stood, and I made notes of places to hide. I stopped just in front of the room with the light and looked inside.
It was what had once been a dining area, but like Daniel had said, the rear had definitely been on fire at one point. Boards covered the glassless windows, and sections of the floor were covered in tarps, with yellow CAUTION tape around the edges.
A chair sat on the safe edge of the room, in front of a door. Beside the chair, the walkie-talkie, an open soda can, and a jumbo bag of cheese curls waited for their owner to return. If he was guarding anything, it was the door behind the chair.
I made it over as fast as I could and tried to open the door.
Locked.
I dropped my hand into my bag and searched for the Swiss army knife, but even as I groped around, I realized I had no idea how to break a lock. Even the locked door at the gatehouse had opened on a fluke that one time.
My hand found the red-handled utility knife. I pulled it out and was about to select a blade, when a hand covered my mouth. Another hand grasped the wrist of the hand holding my knife. I was dragged backwards, into more shadows.
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