The Mystery of Dogwood Cross
CHAPTER
33
Mom
There was no time to explain to Rhys that I wasn’t just a photographer, but also a swimmer. That if I’d stayed back in Tennessee this summer, I’d have been giving swim lessons and lifeguarding at the local community center, just like last summer. There was no time to tell him that I was trained, and there was no time to tell him that Mom, on the other hand, could not swim.
I dropped my camera bag and scrambled for the regulation lifesaver attached to the boat’s railing and handed it to Rhys. Before he could stop me, I was in the water.
A few yards from me, Mom surfaced. I fought the weight of my jeans and boots as I made my way to her, but her body was pulled under before I got to her. No, no, no. This is not the way our story ends. They don’t get to take my mom like they took Rhys’s dad.
I felt the hard undertow grab at my own foot, and panic rose in my chest. I focused hard and broke free, just as Mom surfaced again. I slipped my arm under hers and tried to swim away, but the current was too strong. Both of us began to sink under the water again. No, no, no!
A flash of white, and I grabbed hold of the life preserver with my free arm. The current swirled around our feet and seemed to crawl up our legs, like vines from a frightening fantasy. I fought to keep hold of her and the float.
Finally, a tug.
A tug from above the water, not the undercurrent.
Slowly, we were dragged into safer water.
Slowly, we were pulled back to the boat.
And slowly, I was able to lift my mom into Daniel’s strong arms.
Rhys, it turned out, was a fine sailor. He not only knew how to drive a boat, but he knew how to call for help from it, too.
The Coast Guard met us halfway to the mainland. I wish I remembered more about how it all happened, but after I did CPR (for the first time ever on a real victim, not just the training dummies) and her breathing stabilized, Mom still didn’t wake up.
We were transported to the (bigger, better, safer) Coast Guard boat, while one of the officers took the helm of the La Fitte. It wasn’t until we were on land and the EMTs were loading Mom onto an ambulance that I stepped away from her.
When I did, both Rhys and Daniel were waiting nearby. The rain had all but stopped, finally, but the night remained dark and heavy.
“My bag,” I said numbly. “I left it—“
“I got it for you,” Daniel said, and handed it over. I nodded my thanks to him, and he took a step back. He glanced at Rhys. “I’m going to talk to the police. I’m so sorry.” This time, he looked at me, too. “I’ll tell them everything, Miya.” He looked as sick as I felt. He turned and walked toward the blue lights that flashed nearby.
Rhys stepped forward and put his arms—both of them, around me. I bowed my head to his shoulder and let my arms, weak as they’d become, find warmth by returning his embrace. We stood there for minutes. Finally, he whispered into my ear, “Let’s go to the hospital. I won’t leave you alone.”
I nodded vaguely, but was so grateful. I needed him next to me.
“Oh my gosh!“ exclaimed Nadia. “You’re—you—oh, Miya! Rhys!” She rushed to us and sank down onto the puddles we’d created while we were drying off.
The hospital lights glared unkindly at us, but I was so glad to be somewhere both dry and safe. There were two policemen watching us, much to my relief. It had been a few hours, and outside, morning had broken. There were cops and other authorities on Dogwood Cross now, and both Maisie and Henri were in police custody.
“I got your texts,” Nadia told me. “But only when I got off work. I told my parents and they called the police and—,” she shook her head. “And when I got Rhys’s call...”
Nadia’s number was one of the few Rhys remembered, so he’d called her as soon as we we’d arrived. And you know what? I wasn’t even the slightest bit jealous. I was just grateful there was someone else nearby we could trust.
“Your mom?” Nadia asked me softly.
“She’s okay,” I said. “She had a concussion, but the doctors say she’s going to be fine.”
“Oh, good,” she breathed, relieved. “Hey, we brought clothes.” I looked past her to see Jason standing nearby, with two backpacks in his big hands. He offered me a gentle, apologetic smile.
“Thank you,” I whispered to them both. My voice was hoarse because I’d been soaked for hours, and as I moved to hug her, the gravity of what had happened hit me at once. Nadia was a good person, and I knew that not only because she cared about Rhys and me, but because she totally let my still-damp clothes and sudden burst of tears get her all wet, too.
A change of clothes and a phone call with my dad later, the four of us settled down at the hospital cafeteria for breakfast. I thanked Jason, like, sixteen times for buying me the lame, machine-mixed, faux cappuccino, which normally I’d turn my nose up at. Today, though? Today it tasted better than any drink ever. And the otherwise mediocre breakfast sandwich I scarfed down? It was every bit as amazing as Thanksgiving dinner.
“I’m really mad at you,” she told Rhys, but her tone was anything but angry. “Why didn’t you tell us you were okay?”
“Okay isn’t the word I would use,” he said, but half-smiled. “There was no way to get hold of anyone. They cut off our cell phones and the landlines didn’t work. They shut off the Internet service, too.”
“Well, kind of,” I said, and explained that I’d seen Maisie using RealTalk. “They’ve gone out of their way to isolate us. I just hate that we didn’t realize what was going on sooner.”
Rhys looked at me. “I’m sorry I didn’t trust you and your mom faster. We all could’ve been killed.”
“Daniel,” Jason said darkly. “He was part of everything. It’s as much his fault as it is that horrible woman’s.”
“Daniel swears he didn’t know they were that bad,” I said. “And we believe him, don’t we?” I asked Rhys, who nodded. I looked back at Jason in time to see him rest his arm around Nadia’s shoulders, and she instinctively leaned against him. I glanced back at Rhys, who obviously noticed it, too. He seemed cool with it. Good.
“What’ll happen to him?” Nadia asked.
I shook my head. “I don’t know. I hope they go easy on him.”
Not long after, I went back up to Mom’s room. She was sleeping, but I stayed with her until Rhys’s social worker, Mrs. Dunham, poked her head into the room. “Hi,” she said softly. “May I speak with you?”
“Yeah, of course,” I said, and joined her outside in a quiet waiting area near the elevators. She bought me a Coke and then asked all the basic questions, like how I was feeling (tired, a little sick) and if my dad would be able to come (yes, he booked the next possible flights from London to New York to Savannah), and if I needed anything (I shook my head vaguely, because I needed so much that I didn’t know where to start).
Then she got to the good stuff. “Maisie and Henri turned on one another,” she explained. “And police confirmed that Maisie is actually Jackie Rackham, and wanted for criminal activity in six states. She runs—or, rather, ran the fencing operation for Henri’s cargo theft ring.”
I wrinkled my nose. “Fencing? Like, swordplay?”
Mrs. Dunham laughed, but it wasn’t mean at all. “She receives stolen goods and finds buyers for them. They’ve been using the cave system on the island for years. When the Fontaines reclaimed the island, she began trying to clear things out, but Henri kept bringing new inventory in. It sounds like they’ve been fighting for months on what to do. While her answer was to vacate the island, his was to remove the Fontaines and everyone else.”
I stared at her, trying to understand. “I was down there, in the caves. I saw what was in one of the crates. Olive oil. He was willing to kill people for olive oil?”
She considered that for a moment. “Well, olive oil can get really expensive. I know at Harry & Harold’s it can go for forty dollars a bottle. So, a crate of that brand could easily pull in,” she trailed off, doing math in her head, “oh, $1600. If you have a hundred crates of olive oil, you have $160,000.”
I gaped. “Oh. Oh, wow.” Last year, my mom made me help with our family’s financials and I knew how much money my mom and dad made. Combined, it was less than half of that. “So, you’re telling me crime pays?”
She laughed again. “No! Never! I’m saying that the payout may look huge, but you have to work with people who will stab you in the back at any given moment, even when things are going good. Even if you get away with everything, it really, really doesn’t pay.”
It paid for Daniel’s truck, I wanted to say. But no one could pay me enough to be in his shoes right now. Or Maisie’s or Henri’s.
We talked a little more. I asked about Mary Ellen, the historian whose part of the gatehouse Mom and I were living in.
“The police are looking into what happened there,” she said. “She’s alive, don’t worry.”
“Oh, okay. Good.” One more question popped in my head. “Mrs. Dunham?” I asked. “The wreck that killed Rhys’s dad? I read that some guy was in prison for vehicular manslaughter. But if it was Henri…?”
“Henri admitted that he stole the SUV that night,” she explained. “Don’t worry, Blaine’s lawyers are already on it, working to get him out. It looks horrible for the local police department and justice system, of course, but he even admitted on the stand that he didn’t remember what happened that night.”
My heart hurt for him. Even though he’d be getting out, I couldn’t imagine how much he’d already gone through. I wondered if he questioned if he’d done it. It was a lot to think about. All I could do for Blaine and Daniel was pray.
Jason and Nadia hung out with us all day, even while adults arrived and made us tell the story over and over. Nadia’s parents seemed really cool, but I know I made a horrible first impression. I was exhausted and zombie-like. They were cool enough to not let it bother them, and after I checked on Mom again, I was released into their temporary custody.
“It’s been so long since I’ve had a sleepover,” Nadia said, teasing gently as we made it to the family’s high-end Land Rover. I looked across the parking lot to where Rhys walked with Mrs. Dunham. He paused at her little car—the one I’d ridden in that one time—and looked back at me. He shot me the smallest smile.
It was over.
It was all finally over.
“Go on,” Nadia said, and nudged me gently. “He’s all yours.”
Heat rose in my cheeks, but it didn’t stop me from crossing to Rhys.
He watched the approach, and his smile broadened. He held his hand out to me, and I took it. Then he pulled me close and looked down at me. “Thank you for helping me,” he said, and I felt his injured hand move to my waist. He let go of my hand so that he could slide his fingers to my jaw.
I didn’t have questions about him like I’d had about Daniel.
When I looked at him, I saw someone I admired. Someone I didn’t have to second-guess. Someone whose secret I understood.
And when he kissed me, I kissed him back.
Gladly.
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