CHAPTER 4—A VERY MESSY BED
By 10:20 the next morning, Mai and I were riding the scooter down the beach to Shorty’s. A thick fog had rolled in while we slept. The lighthouse flashed its beam around but it was as useless as my headlight. In order to see the road, I had to drive super slowly. It was taking forever to get anywhere. I began to worry Mai would be late for work.
Except for a foghorn, the only other sounds were my scooter buzzing and the waves crashing. So it was really noticeable when, as we neared the lighthouse drive, we heard loud music. A car was approaching fast. Its headlights looked like a pair of ghostly balls that bounced right and left and up and down. The people in the car were either drunk or joyriding or both. As the wild car barreled closer to us, the throbbing music got louder until, finally, it was deafening.
I was trying to figure out how to avoid getting hit when things got even worse. As we were passing the lighthouse drive, a little dog darted out and ran right in the path of the oncoming car.
Mai recognized it. “Emma!” she shouted. It was Otto the lighthouse keeper’s dachshund.
I had to act quickly. I jerked my handlebars to the right and shone my headlight in the dog’s eyes. The brightness dazed her and she froze in her tracks and stopped running. Because I’d turned the handlebars so radically, my scooter left the packed sand of the road. It hit a pile of soft sand and pitched Mai and me headlong onto the ground.
I sat up in time to see the boom car whiz past us, barely missing Emma. It was a black Jeep with no roof, just roll bars. The music had so much bass I could feel it pound in my chest. A guy was driving. A girl was with him. She had her arms wrapped around his neck and was practically sitting in his lap, kissing him.
My mouth fell open when I saw who she was.
The guy stuck his head out and looked back at me. “Hey, keep your stinking dog out of the road,” he yelled above the blaring music, “or it won’t be so lucky next time.” Then he threw out a beer bottle and sped off.
I was stunned. “Oh, my gosh, Mai! Did you see who that…”
But Mai wasn’t paying attention to them. She had run to get Emma. “You naughty girl!” she cooed, holding her up, “you scared us half to death!” Tears trickled down Mai’s cheeks and Emma licked them. Then Mai pressed her close to her chest and zipped her up in her hoodie.
I rolled the scooter onto the road and we jumped on. Sand spewed from beneath our wheels as we sped toward the lighthouse drive and Pelican Point. We had to take Emma home.
By the time we reached the tip of the Point, a light southeasterly wind had begun blowing away the fog. At the center of the lighthouse compound, a red pennant flapped on the flagpole along with the American and Texas flags. The red flag told of a storm coming.
We parked by a white Jeep Cherokee topped with a red police light. It was one of two Coast Guard SUVs used by the lighthouse keepers. Either Danny or Otto was out in the other one.
We searched but couldn’t find anyone around. The lighthouse was locked. Danny’s cottage was empty. We checked all the other outbuildings. Vacant. Otto’s cottage was our last hope to find someone to tell of Emma’s escape. Otto’s old Buick was parked in the carport space beneath his elevated cottage.
As we neared the gate to Otto’s, I noticed a single tire track in the sandy gravel. A motorcycle had parked there recently. We found the gate to Otto’s front yard standing wide open. That explained how Emma had gotten out.
We walked through the gate, crossed the front yard, and climbed the stairs to the covered porch of Otto’s cottage. The screen door was closed, but the inner wooden door was open. We pressed our faces against the screen and called, “Hello! Anybody home?” But there was no reply.
Mai said, “Well, we can’t very well leave Emma here without food and water. Do you think Otto would mind if we went inside for a minute?”
“No, that should be okay, I think,” I said, “but, just in case, I’ll write him a note.”
We let ourselves in.
My eyes had difficulty adjusting to the dimness, because the lights were off. What was left of the fog outside made it even darker in the cottage. Mai charged back to the kitchen.
Because I have such a sharp eye for detail, I could have described Otto’s living room blindfolded. It was simple, old-fashioned, and orderly. Otto owned only a few pieces of furniture, but those few were true collector’s items. On the wall opposite the front door, a large oil painting of a wooden ship hung over a brick fireplace. A rocking chair sat to the right of the fireplace and, at its feet, was a small, round rag rug. To the left of the fireplace, an open window framed by white lace curtains offered a sea view. A breeze blew in through the screened window, catching the curtains up in a bundle, and billowing them out like sails. Through the window came the comforting sound of the sea washing the rocks piled up around the Point.
On the right-hand side of the room was Otto’s office. The walls were hung with a brass barometer, charts, maps, thermometers, and assorted other nautical tools. Otto did his work sitting at an old-timey, antique, rolltop desk, the kind with oodles of stacked drawers, shelves, and nooks. He kept some of the drawers locked. The desk had a rolling top made of wooden slats that slid down over the front, hiding the desktop.
I scooted back the straight-back chair and sat down at the desk. I pushed up the rolltop cover. I had no trouble finding pencil and paper. As I wrote, the only sounds I heard were the ticking of the grandfather clock in the hall and the sea. I had just finished signing my name to the note and closing with “P.S. Call me!” when the clock chimed. I left the note on the desk and went to find Mai. It had to be close to 11:00 by now.
The hallway was lined with photographs of Otto’s relatives. All were dead. All Otto had in life was Emma. At the end of the hall was the grandfather clock. It could have come from a castle in Europe. Its face was made of ivory silk. The hands and numbers were painted in gold leaf. At the bottom of the clock, below the clockworks, was a small, closed wooden cabinet with a door. The interior of the cabinet contained a little crawlspace. It was about as tall as the area under the kitchen sink just not as wide or as deep. I’d always wanted to look inside the cabinet. I looked at the clock’s face. The time was 10:45.
“Oh, no. Mai!” I called down the hall. “Come on! You’re going to be late for work!” I went into the kitchen. Mai wasn’t in there and neither was Emma. Emma’s food bowl sat untouched.
I found the two of them in Otto’s bedroom. “What are you doing in here?” I asked.
“Emma ran in here looking for Otto,” said Mai. She pointed down at the bed. The sheets, blanket, and bedspread were tangled in a knotty pile. She giggled. “Our Otto is a secret slob.”
I did a quick survey of the room. Everything but the bed was extremely tidy. Then I spotted something odd. Otto’s blue woolen cap sat on top of his dresser, next to his wallet and keys. “Hey, wait a minute. That’s weird. I’ve never seen Otto without his cap before.”
“Maybe he was in a hurry and…” Mai began, but then we heard a truck drive up. We ran to the kitchen window with a view of the front drive. The other Cherokee had driven up.
“It must be Otto and Danny,” I said. Mai grabbed Emma and we dashed out of the house, down the stairs, and over to the Cherokee.
The driver door opened. But it wasn’t Otto or Danny who stepped out. It was a stranger wearing a lighthouse keeper uniform. He was tall and thin. His dark hair was cut short, military style. His eyes were deep set and shaded by dark, heavy brows.
“Uh…hello…” I uttered. Mai went silent.
“Just what do you think you’re doing here?” he barked. “This is government property!”
“Uh, well, sir, you see,” I mumbled, “we thought you were Otto or Danny. I’m Jacey Turner and this is…”
“Never mind who you are. Do you know who I am?” He narrowed his eyes to slits. “I’m Sid Fykes and I represent the Department of Homeland Security. And, as for Danny, I took his job, and Otto…” Here he stuttered. “Otto’s gone away.”
I was stunned. “What? Otto’s gone away? When?”
“Why…Sunday morning, yes, it was Sunday morning.” His left eye began to twitch.
Mai interrupted, pointing to her watch. “Jacey, we’ve got to go.”
I wanted to find out more but there wasn’t time. We made a beeline for the scooter with Emma still in Mai’s arms.
Traveling on the beach road toward town, we came across the trail left by Mr. Fykes’ Cherokee. He’d come from the same direction we were headed. Oddly enough, the motorcycle track I’d found outside Otto’s cottage led that way, too. It ran like a center stripe between the two Cherokee tracks. We followed their tracks until the trail went cold inside Pirate’s Cove.
As we puttered through the cove, Mai stared in awe at the new mansion. She gushed, “Those marble pillars must have cost a…ugh!”
“Cost a ugh?” I asked, unable to turn and look, keeping my eyes on the bumpy road.
“Jacey! I just saw the creepiest guy ever! He was up in that round tower, looking out the second-floor window. His face was so evil it sent a chill up my spine. He looked like a cold-blooded killer! When he saw me looking up at him, he stepped back into the shadows. Then someone shut the drapes.”
Read the next chapter, Chapter 5: Strange Lights.