The Mystery of Dogwood Cross
“Shh,” the person who held me hissed. “It’s me. Daniel.” He pulled me back a few steps into the darkness of the next room and released me.
Fully tense, I turned to look at him. “What are you—?”
“Shhhhhhh,” he repeated, more urgently this time. “Nate is as mean as they come.”
As if on cue, we heard Nate come back into the kitchen. Daniel looked at me and whispered, “Stay here, Miya. I came to help your Mom and Rhys. I’m on your side.”
I wanted to growl back, “Since when?!” Instead, I did what he said.
From my place in the shadows, I watched Daniel step into the light. “Hey,” he told the huge guy. “I need the key to the pantry.”
“Geez, Danny!” Nate said. “Was it you that came in through the window? Why would you do that? Use the door next time!” Even though he was upset, he handed Daniel the key without question.
“The doors in this place are almost as warped as you,” Daniel snorted. “Look, I’m supposed to take the woman. Henri wants you to go find her daughter. Probably up at the gatehouse, hiding from the storm.”
“Yeah? And what about the dumb kid?”
“Leave him here. It’s not like he can tell anyone what he saw, anyway, right?”
“Gimme your keys,” Nate ordered.
“Why? Afraid you’ll melt, Princess?” I heard the keys jingle as they were tossed and caught.
Nate snorted. “Naw, I just wanna trash your precious truck.”
I could almost hear Daniel roll his eyes. “You break it, you buy it, Jerk.”
“I do what I want,” came Nate’s retreating reply. Daniel moved to the locked door. I took a step to follow, but Nate returned and I stepped back into the shadows, my heart pounding. “Hey.”
“What am I supposed to do with the girl when I get her?”
“Take her to Henri,” Daniel said. “He has plans for her.”
This seemed to appease Nate, because once more he turned around and left. This time, Daniel and I both waited until we heard the front door open and close.
“Coast is clear,” he said, and unlocked the door to the butler’s pantry.
“Mom!” I said, and moved to the door as he opened it. “Mom?”
Light spilled into the large closet, revealing Mom, tied to a chair. A black bandana lay on her lap, no doubt having once served as a gag. “Miya!” she said, and strained against the ropes. Behind her, almost completely hidden in the shadows, Rhys stood.
“Mom, it’s okay, we’re here to get you out.” I immediately set to work on her ropes with my Swiss. I looked back at Rhys. “Daniel came to save you guys,” I said.
“Miya, Rhys isn’t as injured as we thought—he was—“
“Faking it,” I completed. “I know. I’ve known a few days, we were just—“
“Faking it?!” Daniel said, incredulous. “What? How long?” He knelt to help with the ropes binding her ankles to the legs of the chair.
“Months,” Rhys replied. Then to me, he said apologetically, “My hands don’t work well enough. I was only able to get the gag off. Were you able to call the police?”
This caused Daniel to shoot another disbelieving look between us. “You were working together?”
“It’s okay, Rhys,” I said, and then glanced at Daniel. “We were trying to get evidence against Henri.” One of the ropes popped off, and I was able to untangle Mom’s hands.
“Henri—is he the one who grabbed me? The one with the Creole accent?” Mom asked.
“Yeah,” Daniel said gruffly. “Yeah, he’s—he and Maisie are my bosses. I’m so sorry. I never meant for any of you to get hurt.” But instead of looking at me like I expected him to, he looked at Rhys. “I didn’t know they were responsible for what happened to your dad. I swear. I should’ve expected it, but—I’m sorry, Rhys.”
Rhys looked at him hard, but then he nodded his acceptance. “I believe you. But if we don’t get out of here fast, we’re all going to end up like he did.”
“How long until the police get here?” Mom asked, one foot breaking free of the rope.
“They said it was at least half an hour, and that was...” I let Daniel take over sawing at the remaining rope to look at the call log on my phone. “That was almost a full thirty minutes ago.”
“That would’ve been about the time I came back,” Daniel said. “But the water was rising fast. It was almost at the surface of the bridge. If it washes the road out, the cops won’t be able to help us.”
“The coastal road,” Rhys said. “It’d take longer, but they could—“
“We took down all the signs,” Daniel said. “Months ago. They’ll never find it in the dark.”
I had been here weeks and this was the first I’d heard of it. How many other secrets was Daniel hiding? Once we were safe, I was so kicking him in the shins. Both of them. One at a time. Probably really hard, too.
Mom’s other foot now free, she stood and stretched. “We can’t wait for the police to get here. We have to get somewhere safe. Daniel, your truck—“
“Nate has it. And your car won’t get far in the standing water.”
Mom sighed. “They took my keys, anyway. So what do we do?”
Silence fell between the four of us, and the two guys, I realized, were having a silent conversation. As if to confirm my suspicion, Daniel said, “The weather is horrible, Rhys.”
Rhys took a deep breath, then shrugged his good shoulder. “We’re safer there than we are on the island.”
Daniel looked at him a moment longer, judging whatever decision they’d come to. “Okay. But we have to move fast.”
That wasn’t the jab it could’ve been. Rhys understood it, too, and nodded. “Let’s go.”
Going back into the tunnels was the second to last thing I wanted to do.
The last thing I wanted to do was to go back into the storm.
Even so, as we all carefully descended a ladder and waited for Daniel’s signal to run through a narrow passage I’d never been in before, I was grateful I wasn’t out in the storm.
I dropped down to the floor of the cavern and then helped Rhys negotiate the last few rungs. When he was safely on the ground, Mom joined us. I stepped out of the ladder’s alcove just enough to see Daniel’s signal. When it came, he led the way and we followed in a tight pack.
I could already tell that the cave system was far more intricate than what the gypsum map showed. After a minute, or maybe three, we paused at the entrance to another cavern—I recognized it as the one with the olive oil crates—and Henri’s accented voice cut through the area. “I say once we get these last crates loaded into the truck, we blow these tunnels up.”
“And what would be the point in that?” Maisie retorted. “We’d just end up collapsing the big house. That might get notice from the Coast Guard. Don’t be an idiot, Henri.”
Too late, I thought. But then I realized Rhys was supposed to be locked up in that house for—for how long? Forever? My stomach turned at the thought. I wasn’t able to linger much on it, because Daniel was on the move again, and us with him.
While the path I’d taken in from the pavilion had been wide and the ground mostly smooth, the tunnel we followed away from Maisie and Henri rapidly grew narrow. And soon enough, we were walking at a sharp incline. Daniel led us around a corner that led to what first appeared to be a dead end. He shined his flashlight at the walls until it fell on an incredibly steep, stone staircase. One by one, we climbed the slick, ancient stairs, and I wondered how many more passages like this wound through the island.
The last step up took a lot of effort even for Mom, who was easily the most lithe of us all, and it took the three of us to help Rhys negotiate it. I was last in line, and once Rhys was safely on the upper level, Daniel reached for me. I took his hand, and after a strong tug, I found myself in his arms.
We stood there for a moment.
And then another.
I was pretty sure I saw apology in his eyes, and...something more.
Near us, Mom cleared her throat.
“Thank you,” I finally said, and stepped back. I looked around and realized this tunnel was the one I’d been in earlier that night—it was the one in which I’d dodged Maisie.
“We’re going to the pier?” I asked, and my voice simply burgeoned with are you kidding me? “The pier is insane on a good day. Tell me we’re going to the beach to build an SOS fire or something.”
“My dad’s boat should still be at the pier,” Rhys said. “We have to take it to the mainland.”
I stared at him.
My mom was staring at him, too.
This was not the brilliant plan we’d been hoping for.
Our stunned silence was well-timed, because it allowed us to hear a shout echo faintly in the tunnel: “FIND THEM!”
There was no time to freak out about the boat.
There was only time to run.
So we did.
The cave mouth, narrow and short enough that we all had to hunch over to exit, offered the last shelter before the powerboat that we couldn’t even see from shore. Heavy rain and strong wind assailed us as we darted toward the stone pier. But as we climbed up to the walkway, we slowed to almost a crawl. There was enough room for two of us to walk together, so I held onto Rhys. Daniel led the way and Mom followed us. Angry gust after angry gust threatened to push us over one edge or the other. Salt water sprayed into my eyes, slowing me even more. I had no clue if we were being followed, and even if I dared to look behind me, I wouldn’t have been able to see.
Finally, the white boat became visible. It struggled against whatever anchored it there, but somehow it had managed to stay afloat through the night’s rage. We were so close, but still, we had to negotiate the slippery steps to the boat.
And then we had to get the boat to a mainland dock without capsizing or otherwise dying.
It occurred to me that I had never been on a boat before.
If I survived this, I probably never would again.
“Help Rhys first!” I yelled at Daniel. He nodded and reached his hand out for Rhys’s. Rhys balked for only a moment, but then took the help that was offered. Mom and I didn’t dare try to negotiate those dangerous steps while the guys were on them. If we slipped, we’d probably take them both out, too.
Mom wrapped her arm around me and hugged me tightly to her. Tears sprang to my eyes—great, just great, as if I needed to be able to see even less—and I put both my arms around her. “I was so worried,” I told her. “I’m sorry I kept the secret about Rhys from you.” If I’d told her, things never would never have gotten this far out of hand.
“It’s okay,” she said, but I could tell she was in tears, too. I moved in to hug her again, but when I opened my eyes, my heart flipped in my stomach.
Behind us, three circles of light shone brightly.
It was hard to tell how far off they were, but my gut told me they were close. On the beach, and with the way they moved to create a line, they were coming to the pier.
The cops wouldn’t know to look for us out here.
It had to be Maisie, Henri, or their minions.
“Go!” I yelled at Mom, even though she was right beside me. “GO NOW!” It was all I could do not to shove her to the stairs.
“No—you first!” she argued. I knew from years of testing our wills that she would not give in, not at all. She wasn’t going to budge until I was in the boat. Inwardly, I cursed her stubbornness, but I started the descent to the boat. This time it was Rhys whose hand took mine and helped me make the final dangerous step.
“They’re coming,” I told him. “They’re coming right now!”
“Daniel’s getting the boat started,” he said. “They never found the spare keys my dad had on here. They were still hidden.”
I nodded, and looked up just in time to see my mom, the graceful former ballerina, lose her footing. I screamed and lunged for her, but it was too late. She disappeared under the hostile water.
Note: I’ve posted a few more author journals, which can be accessed from the Table of Contents. And because I haven’t said it lately, thank you SO MUCH for reading this far!
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