“You better let me go!” Marnie cried. “The cops are coming!”
“Will you shut up!” the bad man yelled.
The bad man half-carried and half-dragged Marnie to a shabby cabin on the eastern side of the island. It was a log cabin with a big porch. Cobwebs and trumpet creeper clung to log columns of the porch. A large window at the front of the cabin had a crack running through it, and all of the windows were in serious need of a cleaning.
The bad man backed up the front steps onto the porch, and pushed the door open with his backside. Once inside, he dragged Marnie across the room, and down a small hallway. He struggled to open a door, and then clumsily hauled her down a set of stairs into the cellar.
“This is your home for the next coupla hours,” the bad man growled. Still holding Marnie in the crook of his arm, he scanned the cellar for a place to lock Marnie away for a few hours. An old, leather sea chest sat in the far corner. His mouth curled up. Lugging Marnie across the room and into that chest wouldn’t be easy, but he would do it just to shut her up.
“My father is going to be here soon. He’s going to be real mad at you for hurting me,” Marnie said meekly.
The bad man laughed, and taunted her. “Your father ain’t gonna do shit! The cops ain’t gonna do shit! I’m gonna put you in this trunk, go kill your friends, come back here, kill you, and be outta here by the time the cops get here!”
Marnie stomped down hard on the bad man’s foot. Her flip-flops had fallen off while the bad man dragged her through the woods, and her small, bare feet did nothing to phase the bad man.
“Haha! Didn’t hurt!” the bad man said with a laugh.
He bent, and struggled to open the trunk with his left hand – his fingers were so swollen and sore he couldn’t grasp the hasp.
“Open the trunk!” the bad man ordered, leaning closer to the trunk.
“No!” retorted Marnie.
The bad man squeezed Marnie’s neck. “Open the damn trunk! Now!”
Marnie cried out. “Ow! You’re hurting me!”
The bad man squeezed a bit harder. Marnie reached out and pulled up on the hasp, but it wouldn’t open. The bad man bent, and grabbed the hasp with his left hand. Wincing, he pulled up the lid. There was nothing in the trunk but some old rope and fishing nets. He grabbed Marnie by the back of the neck, and shoved her into the trunk. He dropped the lid quickly, and closed the hasp.
Marnie kicked and screamed. “Let me out! Let me out!”
The bad man kicked the side of the trunk hard. “Shut up! If you don’t shut up, I’m going upstairs to get my gun. I will shoot you! I will kill you right now!”
Marnie lay still. She heard the bad man’s footsteps on the stairs. The slam of the cellar door jiggled the windows. Marnie strained to hear – and then distant footfalls – maybe in the kitchen. She closed her eyes and spoke softly. She knew Papa Jack would hear her – he would tell her what to do.
Tom snuck around the back of the cabin. He peered through a kitchen window, and ducked fast when the bad man walked into the room. Tom squatted behind the scrubby plant that surely had been shrubs or flowers once upon a time. Tom felt the thud of his heart against his chest, and heard it in his ears. He tried breathing through his nose, but it didn’t work. No matter how hard he tried not to be frightened – he was terrified. Closing his eyes, he counted to ten, and thought of Annie, only this time she didn’t appear.
Tom stiffened at the sound of a door slamming. It was the front door of the cabin. He ducked down even further and tucked himself close the cabin. Uh-oh! Tom winced. The crunch of dirt and old leaves under boots grew louder, and then the bad man appeared at the side of the cabin where Tom was crouched.
Tom held his breath. He counted to 15, and just as a breath nearly burst from his lungs, the bad man walked back toward the front of the cabin. Tom exhaled loudly, and then sucked in air. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw the bad man walking toward the far side of the island where Sam’s friends had been swimming and laughing moments before. It seemed like a long time ago to Tom. He stood and wiped dirt and gravel from his hands onto his shorts. Glancing left and then right, he wondered, “Where’s Annie?” Shaking his head, he focused on why he had come to the cabin. Tom peeked through the window again.
“Where are you, Marnie? Where’d the bad man take you?” Tom muttered to himself.
“Papa Jack, are you sure?” Marnie asked. She shuddered in a breath, and then clumsily rolled onto her side and sighed. She opened her eyes and listened. Silence. The bad man had left. The slam she had heard a few moments ago must have been the bad man leaving the cabin.
“Ssh!” Marnie whispered.
A door closed quietly. Light footsteps above – someone was moving through the cabin. Marnie thumped with her fist on the side of the trunk. She rolled onto her back and kicked the lid of the trunk, and banged her fists on the sides of the trunk. Then she lay silent. A door opening. Feet on the cellar stairs. Marnie froze. “What if it’s the bad man?” she thought.
Marnie tilted her head – a whisper – she heard someone whisper her name.
“Marnie? Marnie are you down here?” Tom whispered loudly.
Marnie pushed herself up onto an elbow. “Tom! Get me out of this trunk! Open the trunk, Tom!” she shouted.
Tom grabbed a hold of the hasp, and pulled up hard.
“It’s stuck!” Tom yelled. “I’m gonna find somethin’ to open it!”
Tom scanned the musty room. Dust floated in the air. The windows were dirty and rippled with age, but enough light was coming through that he wasn’t in pitch blackness. Tom spotted a screwdriver on a workbench close to one of the grimy windows.
“That’ll work,” Tom said – partly to himself, and partly to Marnie.
“Tom!” Marnie cried. “Tom, where are you?”
Tom ran back to the trunk with the screwdriver in his hand. “I’m right here! I’ll get you out, Marnie!”
Pushing the screwdriver between the chest and the hasp, Tom finagled the hasp free. He dropped the screwdriver and threw open the lid of the trunk. Marnie popped up to her feet, scrambled out of the trunk, and wrapped her arms around Tom in a big bear hug.
Tom pushed Marnie away. “Stop it, Marn! We gotta get outta here before the bad man comes back! We gotta go!”
Marnie put her fingers to her lips. “Shh! I’ve got to tell you something,” Marnie whispered.
Tom leaned close – eyebrows raised. “What?” he whispered back.
Marnie leaned closer to Tom, and whispered, “Mr. Barnes has a secret. My Papa Jack told me.”
Tom stepped back and stared at Marnie. “What did your Papa Jack say?” Tom asked.
Marnie glanced around to see if anyone was listening to their conversation. She saw no one – living or dead – hiding in the shadows of the cellar.
“Mr. Barnes killed his wife!” Marnie whispered loudly. “She’s buried under the bridge near an old ice shack.”
Tom crinkled his nose. “An ice shack? What the heck is an ice shack?” Tom asked.
Marnie stuck out her bottom lip and shrugged. “I don’t know. That’s what Papa Jack told me. Papa Jack said there’s a treasure hidden in the coal chute, too.”
Tom quirked up one side of his mouth. “What’s a coal chute?”
Marnie shrugged again. “I don’t know, but I think it’s down here,” she whispered.
Marnie and Tom wandered through the cellar looking for a coal chute. Neither knew what one was, but Marnie was convinced they would know it if they saw it. Tom stumbled over a cardboard box, and fell against Marnie. Marnie lurched headlong into a wooden bin.
“Blah! Blah! Tom! What… I’m all dirty! You pushed me into dirt!” Marnie yelled. She stood up, held her arms out, and looked at the black dust covering her arms.
Tom’s eyes widened. “I’m sorry! I tripped! I didn’t mean to push you!”
Marnie turned in a half circle. “Hey, Tom! It think this is coal dust. I know what coal looks like. Dad told me and Sam that if we didn’t help with chores, Santa was going to leave coal in our stockings. He even brought a piece of coal home to show us what it looks like.” Marnie bent down and picked up a piece of coal from the bin. “See, Tom! This is coal! This is what it looks like!”
“I’ve seen that stuff before. My grandpa puts it in his barbecue!” Tom shouted with pride.
Marnie tipped her head to the side and examined the wall on which the coal bin sat. She took a few steps closer to the wall, and her upper body disappeared into a hole. “Look, Tom! That must be the coal chute! Look! It goes outside! I can see light up there!” Marnie’s words were muffled, but Tom heard everything she said.
Tom climbed into the coal bin, and joined his friend by the chute. Both stood looking up into the chute to daylight at the top.
“Where’s the treasure?” Tom asked.
Marnie pointed up. “There it is! It’s right there!” Marnie reached up and pulled a piece of twine, and an oilcloth sack fell into her arms. “Wow! It’s heavy! I bet it’s a genie lantern!”
“Nah! Genies aren’t real! That’s only in movies! It’s probably a pirate’s treasure! Gold and silver!” Tom shouted.
“Well, a lot of people say ghosts aren’t real – and they are wrong! So maybe genies are real, too!” Marnie argued.
“C’mon, Marn! Let’s open the bag!” Tom suggested, as he climbed out the coal bin.
Marnie handed Tom the bag, and then scrambled over the side onto the dusty cellar floor.
Shaking her head, she said, “No, let’s wait until we get outside. We’ve got to leave now! The bad man is going to come back!”
Tom nodded. “Yeah. Let’s get outta here!”
Tom and Marnie ran up the cellar stairs, and just as they reached the top, the door flew open, and Mr. Barnes stood at the top. His face dark – angry – scary.
Marnie was one step ahead of Tom. She pointed her finger at Mr. Barnes. “You need to go now! We’re not afraid of you! We know what you did!”
Tom nudged Marnie with his shoulder. “Marn, please don’t make him mad,” he whispered.
Marnie turned head. “He can’t hurt us, Tom. He’s a ghost.”
“I can do more than you think, Marnie Reilly!” Mr. Barnes bellowed – his words echoed through the house. “Put my treasure back where you found it!”
“No!” Marnie shouted. “Get out of our way! We’re going to get the cops!” Marnie took a step up. A cold blast of wind pushed her backward into Tom, and she and Tom tumbled down the stairs to the cold floor beneath.
Tom hit his head hard on the stone foundation wall at the foot of the cellar stairs. Marnie’s landing was a bit softer. She fell on top of Tom, but put her top teeth through her bottom lip when she landed. Stunned and scared, Marnie and Tom looked up the stairs. Mr. Barnes slammed closed the cellar door – both Marnie and Tom heard the latch turn.
“Geez, Marnie! Why’d you go and make him mad?” Tom struggled to sit up.
Marnie rolled off Tom, and stood at the bottom of the stairs. “He was already mad! Papa Jack told me. Mr. Barnes did tell us to leave when we got here, remember?”
Tom nodded. He reached a hand back, and felt a bump growing on his head. He bent over. “Marn, is my head bleeding?”
Marnie inspected Tom’s head where he was pointing. There wasn’t any blood, but there was a huge goose egg.
“Nah! You’re not bleeding. Am I?” Marnie pushed out her bottom lip for Tom to inspect.
Tom nodded. “Yeah! Your lip doesn’t look too good!”
Marnie shrugged. “Another scar. I’ll bet when I’m a grown-up I’ll have better ones. It’s just a little cut, right?”
Tom nodded. “I guess so. Hey! How are we gonna get out of here?”
Marnie glanced around the cellar. The windows were too high for them to reach, but she did have an idea. Tongue poking out the side of her mouth in concentration, Marnie snapped her fingers awkwardly.
“The coal chute!” Marnie yelled. “We’re gonna put the treasure back up there so that Mr. Barnes doesn’t chase us. Then we can crawl up the walls like Santa Claus does when he goes up the chimney. We can come back and get the treasure later. Sam will bring us back.”
“Good idea, Marn!” Tom replied.
Sam frantically paced up and down the forest floor. He ran his fingers through his hair, and then dragged both of his hands over his face. Staring up at the tree branches overhead, he sighed loudly. “Hey, guys, I’ve gotta go find my sister – and track down Tom. My dad is going to be here soon. If Marnie and Tom aren’t with me, he is going to kick my butt.”
Stephanie strolled to his side, and placed a hand warmly on this arm. “Sam, this isn’t your fault. You didn’t know that there was a madman on the island. How could you have known?”
Sam stared straight ahead – focused on the path where Tom had darted away into the woods. He clenched his jaw. “My sister warned me. If she tells my father that she warned me, well, I’ll be grounded for the rest of the summer.”
“Marnie isn’t a tattletale, Sam,” David Bennett assured.
Sam shook his head, and ran a hand over his face. “Not on purpose, no. She tattles accidentally. She doesn’t get me into trouble on purpose. Marnie blurts things out without even realizing what she’s saying.”
Stephanie wrinkled her forehead, and shot a glance sideways. “What do you mean your sister warned you? How could your sister warn you if you came to the island together?”
Sam sighed, and turned to Stephanie. “My sister sees stuff. She hears stuff. Stuff that the rest of us don’t see and hear. You know – ghosts.” Realizing he had just outed Marnie’s gift to his friends, Sam turned his back on the group.
Stephanie burst out laughing. Two of the other girls shot one another knowing glances and giggled. Two of the girls stared down at their toes. Stuart and David Bennett nodded knowingly in Sam’s direction. The other boys stared blankly – not sure what to make of Sam’s strange admission.
Sam’s face reddened with anger, and he spun around – glaring at the girls. “It’s not funny! Marnie’s been kidnapped by a psycho! What’s funny about that?!”
Stephanie’s shoulders stiffened. “Geez, Sam! We are just teasing, but seriously! Your sister sees ghosts? You were obviously embarrassed that she thinks she can see ghosts! You turned your back on us!” Stephanie giggled, and the other girls joined her.
Furrowing his brow, Sam cocked his head to one side. “I’m not embarrassed that my sister can see ghosts. I’m angry with myself. I broke my promise to her to not to tell anyone about her gift when I told you.” Sam’s frown deepened. “Wow, Stephanie! I didn’t realize that you were one of the mean girls. I thought you were different. Ha! I was going to ask you to the dance next weekend.” Sam shook his head. “I guess I’ll take a girl who doesn’t make fun of my sister – especially when my sister’s life is in danger.”
Stuart and David Bennett, and the other two boys glanced sideways at one another. The girls rallied around Stephanie.
“Sam Reilly, don’t be mean. How dare you say I’m one of the mean girls? I’m not mean! I just think it’s ridiculous that you think your sister can see ghosts! Of course, she can’t! There’s no such thing as ghosts!” Stephanie stomped away from the group. Two of the girls chased after Stephanie. The other two girls remained with Sam and the boys.
Sam, hands on his hips, stared down at the ground. He pushed a spiny pinecone around with his toe, and then announced, “Okay! I gotta go find my sister. Everybody stick together. If that bad man comes back, you don’t want to be wandering off alone.”
“We’ll come with you,” replied Stuart Bennett, pointing a finger between his brother David and himself. “Joe and Alex can stay here with the girls. We don’t think you should go alone.”
Sam nodded reluctantly. “Yeah. That’s a good idea. He has the crowbar. We’ll have to find some big sticks and rocks along the way. He’s injured, but he’s strong.”
Stuart and David agreed with nods of their heads.
“We were going to catch some fish for lunch, so I’ve got my filet knife in my bag. We can bring that,” Stuart suggested.
Sam shook his head. “Hmm. We sure don’t want him to get his hands on that! He’s got Marnie! If he gets it away from you… I don’t know, Stuart. Until we find Marnie, I don’t think it’s a good idea. He’s already taken the crowbar. What if he got a hold of your knife?”
Stuart drew in a long breath, and then exhaled loudly. “Geez, Sam! I hadn’t thought of that! I guess it was kind of stupid.” Stuart dropped his head and his shoulders.
“It wasn’t stupid, Stu. It’s just… well… I don’t know. I just want to make sure Marnie and Tom are safe, that’s all. Let’s find some big sticks and rocks, and leave the knife behind,” replied Sam.
Stuart nodded. “Okay. Let’s go get Marnie and Tom.”
Sam turned to Joe and Alex. “If my dad gets here before we get back, tell him where we went.”
“Yeah, sure, Sam. We’ll stay here. If the bad man comes back, we’ll all yell really loud,” Joe said.
Sam agreed. “Okay! We’ll do the same. If he gets anywhere near us, we’ll all yell as loud as we can!”
Sam glanced over at Stephanie and the other girls. He thought that he should apologize for getting angry, and then quickly changed his mind. She had been mean. She shouldn’t have said what she said. Dang it! I’m not going to apologize. She should apologize to me. Sam nodded in agreement with himself.
“Okay! Let’s go get my sister!” Sam took a confident step forward, and then disappeared into the woods with Stuart and David following close behind him.
“Hey, Marn, maybe we should take the screwdriver with us – you know, we can stab the bad man if he comes after us!” Tom ran back to the sea chest and picked up the screwdriver. He wielded it as a pirate would a sword. “What do you think?”
“Yeah. I think that’s a good idea,” Marnie agreed. She twisted her mouth in thought. “Umm… What else is down here that we can use to hit the bad man?” Marnie began scouting out possible weapons.
“Hey! Is that a matchstick? That looks like the one my dad used to whack down weeds at the back of our yard!” Tom shouted.
Marnie’s eyes followed Tom’s gaze to a machete. It hung on a peg over Mr. Barnes’s workbench.
“If you boost me up, we can get the matchstick, Tom! That looks scary! I’ll bet the bad man would be afraid of that!” Marnie skipped across the dusty floor, and stood next to the workbench.
Tom got down onto his hands and knees; Marnie stepped up onto his back, and then crawled up onto the workbench. She reached up, grabbed the handle of the machete, and pulled it out and then off the peg. Handing it carefully to Tom, she jumped down off the workbench.
“It’s pretty rusty,” Tom said.
Marnie shrugged. “That’s okay. We can still whack him with it.”
Tom and Marnie walked back to the coal bin, dropped the screwdriver and machete into the bin, and then scuttled over the side.
“How the heck are we gonna get up there?” Tom asked, staring up the coal chute.
“How the heck should I know?” Marnie shrugged, and stared up the shoot with Tom.
Tom and Marnie exchanged quick frightened glances. Footsteps crunching on the leaves and the gravelly road echoed down the chute from outside. Marnie held a finger to her lips.
Sam, Stuart and David crept up to the cabin. They kept low so that the bad man wouldn’t see them should he be at a window looking out.
“Do you think he’s got Marnie in that cabin?” Stuart whispered.
“I don’t know. She has to be here somewhere. We’ve looked everywhere else,” Sam whispered. “We still don’t know where that bad man is. If he’s in there, and Marnie is in there, we’ll never get her out.”
“Maybe he stashed Marnie, and came for us?” suggested David.
Sam gave a curt nod, and then stared off into the woods. “Yeah, maybe. The only way we’re gonna know if he’s in there is to go look through the windows. You guys stay here. I’ll go look.”
Sam crept to the back windows of the cabin. He stood on his toes, and peeked into the kitchen. He couldn’t see anyone, and so next he crept around to a side window. Again, no one appeared to be home. He turned back to David and Stuart, motioning for them to join him.
Marnie and Tom could hear voices coming from outside. They could also see feet through the one of the grimy windows. It definitely wasn’t the bad man – the feet were wearing flip-flops, and there were three sets of flip-flops.
Marnie grabbed Tom’s arm. “It’s Sam! It’s Sam and his friends, Tom!”
Tom wrapped his arms around Marnie in a huge bear hug, and twirled her around.
“Yell really loud, Tom! Yell really loud!”
Both Marnie and Tom shouted at the top of their lungs. “Sam! Sam! Down here! We’re in the cellar! Sam!”
Sam turned to face the cabin. “Do you guys hear that?” A smile spread across Sam’s face. “That’s Marnie and Tom! They’re here! Listen! They’re in the cellar!”
Colin Reilly tied his boat up to the dock – his face grim. He bent down and took the rifle that his wife, Sophia Reilly, was handing up to him. Sam’s and Marnie’s father was a tall man, wearing khaki cargo shorts, a grey New York Giants T-shirt, and tan boat shoes. His strawberry blonde hair, freckled nose, and green eyes told anyone who cared to notice that Marnie took after her father. His broad shoulders, lean build, and strong, rough hands told anyone who cared to notice that Colin worked hard. He was a carpenter – probably the best carpenter in Creekwood. Colin Reilly was known about town as the guy who could get anything done, and done right. He was a coach in the town’s Little League program, he sat on the school board, he was a volunteer at the Boys and Girls Club, he was an avid hunter, angler, and he was the pitcher on his softball team.
Sophia Reilly held out her hand to her husband. Colin helped her navigate her way off the boat and onto the rickety dock. Sophia wore cut off denim shorts, a white tank top, and white Keds; and around her waist, she wore a black canvas fanny pack. Her honey blonde ponytail poked neatly out the back of her navy blue, Creekwood PD baseball cap. Sophia Reilly was a force of nature. She ran 5 miles every day. She belonged to the PTA; she coached the girls’ high school volleyball team; and she volunteered at the local animal shelter every weekend. Marnie’s and Sam’s mother had a reputation for speaking her mind – honestly and fairly. She also had a reputation for not suffering fools easily, which was a good thing because Sophie Reilly was Creekwood’s town judge.
Marcus arrived a few moments after the Reillys.
“Marcus, can you anchor, and swim in? There won’t be room for the police boat if you dock here?” Colin shouted.
Marcus nodded, dropped the anchor, and swam to the Reilly’s boat. Colin helped Marcus aboard, and Sophia handed Marcus a towel.
“What can I do to help?” Marcus asked.
“How about you stay here so that you can wave the police boat in when they get here?” Colin suggested.
“Sure, Mr. Reilly. I’m happy to help any way I can.” Marcus sat back into a seat, and then warily glanced back at the shore.
Sophia noticed the concern on Marcus’s face. She nudged her husband, and directed her gaze in Marcus’s direction.
“You know, Marcus, there’s a flare gun under the captain’s chair. If you have any trouble, send up a flare, and then reload,” Colin advised.
Marcus grinned. “Thanks, Mr. Reilly. I was thinking that the bad man might come this way. He might want to get off the island. I don’t think he would worry about stealing a boat.”
“You’re probably right. We’ll be back as soon as we gather everyone up. You said the Bennett boys are here, two other boys and four girls. Is that right?” Colin Reilly asked.
“Yes, sir. They were all together in a clearing in the middle of the woods,” Marcus replied.
“Don’t worry, Marcus. We’ll find them – Marnie and Tom, too,” Sophia assured him.
Marcus’s eyes grew wide, and a frown spread across his face. “He’s a really big dude! Be careful!”
Colin laughed awkwardly. “Hmm. He took Marnie. He had better be careful. That little girl is a force of nature, just like her mother. Our own little tempest, and if Sam is as angry as you say he is… Well, Sam will be tailing that big dude, and he’ll be sorry he wrangled with the Reilly family.”
Sophia knew that Colin was hoping that his children were exactly as formidable as he was saying. She knew they could both be spirited, and a handful. She just hoped that they were as resourceful as Colin and she believed them to be.
Sam picked up a large rock and smashed in one of the grimy cellar windows. He cleared the glass away, and then stuck his head through the window.
“Man, am I glad to see the two of you!” Sam said.
“Sammy Bear!” Marnie shouted. She hopped from foot to foot, and threw her arms in the air.
Tom stared up at the broken window. “The bad man is gonna be mad!”
“I don’t care if he’s mad. Are you two locked down there? Can you come up through the house?” Sam asked.
Marnie shook her head. “Nah! Mr. Barnes locked the door! He knocked us down the stairs, and then the locked the door! He’s an ass!”
“Marnie! Don’t cuss!” Sam yelled.
Marnie glanced down at the floor, and then up at Sam. “Well, he is an ass. He’s mean!”
Sam nodded, and turned his head to hide a grin. “Okay, Marnie. He’s an ass. Now, c’mon over here. Stuart and David are going to hold my feet, I’m going to stretch my arms down, you’re going to grab a hold of my hands, and then I’ll pull you up.”
“Okay! Tom, you go first. I’ll matchstick the bad man if he comes down here to get me,” Marnie said, holding up the machete like a sword.
“You sure, Marn? I can matchstick the bad man!” Tom offered.
“One of you get over here! We don’t have a lot of time!” Sam shouted.
Tom jumped, surprised by Sam’s tone, and then ran to the window, held onto Sam’s hands, and Sam pulled him up, and through the window.
“C’mon, Marnie! Let’s go!” Sam scooted back through the window, and held out his arms.
Marnie raced to the window, and handed Sam the machete. “Here, take the matchstick! We can whack the bad man with it!”
“It’s called a machete, Marnie,” Sam corrected her, and took the blade carefully. He handed it back to Stuart, and then he reached down for Marnie.
Marnie reached up, and grabbed Sam’s hands. Holding tight, Sam pulled Marnie up and through the window. Sam stood and brushed gravel and dirt from his clothes, and then gave Marnie a tight hug.
“Thank you for getting us out of there, Sam!” Marnie hugged Sam tightly, and then asked, “Do you think the bad man is coming back?”
“I don’t know where he is, Marnie. C’mon! Let’s get back to the others!” Sam grabbed Marnie’s hand.
Sam, Marnie, Tom, Stuart and David rounded the corner of the cabin’s veranda, and stopped dead in their tracks. The bad man stood in front of them with a gun – aimed directly at Marnie.
“You’re not going anywhere!” the bad man growled.
Stuart, who was in the lead, quickly hid the machete behind his back. Sam saw the machete, and moved a step closer to Stuart. Marnie darted away from Sam, bent down, and snatched up a handful of gravel. With all of her might, she heaved it at the bad man. As the bad man turned to aim his weapon at Marnie, Tom scooped up a handful of gravel, and threw it at the bad man. David did the same. Sam took the machete from Stuart’s hand, and charged the bad man. Dazed by the commotion, the bad man turned his head left, then right, and then took aim at Sam. Marnie scooped up another handful of gravel, and let it fly at the bad man. Tom, Stuart and David all picked up handfuls of gravel – bombarding the bad man with flying stones and dirt. Sam charged forward, and wildly waved the machete in front of him as he ran. Confused, the bad man backed up, and then took aim at Sam again.
A fist-sized chunk of granite flew through the air from the woods and hit the bad man in on his right shoulder. He waivered and turned abruptly, now aiming his pistol to his right – in the direction of the woods. Shush-shick! Birds scattered and Sam eased back – he knew his father had arrived, and he had brought along his hunting rifle.
“Drop your weapon! Put down the gun, now!” Colin Reilly shouted from his position in the woods.
The bad man turned toward the children, and took aim at Marnie. Chick-chick! The distinct sound of a round being chambered drew the bad man’s attention to his left.
Sophia Reilly, handgun drawn and aimed at the bad man’s chest, emerged from the brush on the opposite side of the cabin.
Sophia quickly scanned the faces of the children, planted her feet, and calmly warned, “Freeze, asshole!”
The bad man met Sophia’s gaze – a slight grin appeared on his face – he was daring her to shoot.
Colin Reilly moved from his position in the woods, directly opposite his wife – his rifle aimed at the bad man’s leg. He shot a stern “don’t move” face at the children.
“Put the gun down. We don’t want to shoot you. Put the gun down, and kick it over here.” Colin Reilly worked hard to hide his fear with his cool, steady tone.
Glancing warily between Sophia and Colin, the bad man considered his options. Marnie scrunched up her nose and poked out her tongue. His decision was easy. He took aim at Marnie once again.
Birds scattered in the woods behind the bad man. He turned his head slightly, and Sam lunged forward with the machete. He whacked the man’s right arm. Shrieking with pain, the bad man dropped the gun, and grabbed his arm. David Bennett ran behind the bad man, knelt down behind him, and then Stuart Bennett rushed forward and drove his shoulder into the bad man’s stomach – forcing him to trip backward over David. Landing hard on a bed of pine needles – the bad man’s left hand continued to cling to his wounded right arm. Another shriek of pain escaped him as Colin Reilly placed his foot on the bad man’s right arm, and pointed the rifle directly at the bad man’s chest.
“Don’t move!” Colin growled.
“Careful, Dad! He’s fast! He got away from us today!” Sam ran to his father’s side, and glowered down at the bad man.
Colin nodded grimly. “Don’t worry, son. If I’m not mistaken, I think I heard the police arrive.”
Sophia put her gun into her fanny pack, and ran to Marnie. She checked Marnie’s arms, legs, and head to make sure she had no broken bones; she hugged her quickly, and then checked Tom, Stuart and David. Once she was certain they were okay, she rejoined her husband, and retrieved her gun from the fanny pack. Sophia stood over the bad man – her gun aimed at his chest.
Sophia glanced up at her son, and then back down at the man wincing beneath her husband’s foot. “Sam, are you okay? Are you hurt? Did he hurt you?”
“I’m okay, Mom,” Sam responded with a shrug.
Sophie glanced up again. “Sam, look at me.”
Sam’s grey eyes met his mother’s soft blue gaze. He looked older to her than when they had left for the island this morning. She knew Sam wasn’t okay. She knew that this had been a terrible ordeal for him – and for his sister – but Sam had had the burden of looking after not just Marnie, but her friend too.
“Thank you, Sam, for taking such good care of your sister,” Sophia said – a warm smile spread across her face, and her eyes teared up.
Frowning, Sam replied, “Yeah! I did a great job. I let my sister be kidnapped.”
“Did you get her back? Did you do everything you could to protect her?” Colin asked – taking his eyes off the bad man for only a moment so that he could see his son’s face.
“Well, then you did the best you could, and it’s better than a lot of boys your age could have done. You did well, son. You did well.” Colin looked around the group of children. “You’ve all done well.”
Struggling to hide tears, Sam stared into the woods and shrugged.
Marnie skipped to Sam’s side, and wrapped her arms around his waist.
Two police officers in uniform and a man wearing jeans, a t-shirt, suit jacket, and boots, raced into the clearing.
“Mr. and Mrs. Reilly, please put down your weapons. We’ll take it from here.”
“Whew! Pete! Lou! Are we glad to see you!” Colin Reilly sighed, lowered his rifle to his side, and stepped away from the bad man.
“Yeah. The cavalries here,” Officer Pete Sterling replied.
“How are the kids doin’?” asked Officer Lou Beaumont, nodding toward the children.
“They’re as well as can be expected. Marnie and Sam have some bumps, cuts and bruises…” Sophia began – only to be interrupted by Marnie.
“Tom has a big, bumpy goose egg on the back of his head!” Marnie yelled out.
“Well, if none of them need care urgently, we’d appreciate it if you could take the kids to the hospital after we’ve had a chance to speak with them. We don’t want them to forget anything,” Officer Sterling advised.
Sophia wrapped an arm around Sam’s shoulders. “Maybe we could take this back to our house. It’s been a difficult day, and we’d like the children to be comfortable when they speak with you.”
Sophia glanced in Tom’s direction, and then back to Officer Sterling. “I’ve tried to reach Tom’s parents, but haven’t been able to get through to them. They’ve been in Saratoga Springs most of the day, and are planning to pick him up at 7:00. I think it’s best we get the children home.”
Marnie poked her head around her mother, and looked up at Officer Sterling. “Yeah! And I’m hungry! We didn’t get to eat our lunch ‘cause that bad man locked me in a trunk!” Marnie put her hands on her hips and glared bravely at the bad man.
The man who was wearing jeans stepped forward. “I think that would be fine. We’ll finish up here, and then meet you at your house. Pete, you know where the Reilly’s house is, right?”
“Yeah. I know where they live.” Officer Sterling nodded.
The jeans-cladded man put his hand out to Sophia. “I’m Lieutenant Mac Gregg. I’m here in Creekwood helping out for a few days while their lieutenant is on vacation. We’ll come over as soon as we’ve finished.”
Sophia shook Lieutenant Gregg’s hand warmly. “Thank you so much. It’s just that the children…”
Lieutenant Gregg shook his head, and waved his hands. “No need to explain. I understand. I would want to get them home, too. I have two myself – just about Marnie’s age.” Lieutenant Gregg reached out a hand and ruffled Marnie’s hair.
Marnie glowered up at the lieutenant. “Hey! How did you know my name?”
Lieutenant Gregg laughed. “She’s a pistol, isn’t she?” The lieutenant knelt down, and smiled. “Well, Marnie, your mom mentioned your name when we first arrived. Why don’t you go home with your mom and dad, have something to eat, and we’ll see you soon.”
Marnie gave the lieutenant a sideways glance – one strawberry blonde eyebrow raised. Sophia recognized the look on Marnie’s face, and before Marnie could blurt out something inappropriate, she agreed wholeheartedly with the lieutenant.
“Yes, I think that is for the best. We’ll get the kids home, feed them, and then they’ll be ready to have a nice long chat with you,” Sophia agreed.
Colin playfully messed up Marnie’s hair and agreed, “Yeah, and maybe Marnie won’t be so grumpy once she’s had something to eat.”
“Don’t bet on it!” Marnie growled.
Colin laughed, and then glanced in the direction of the bad man. “Any idea who this guy is?”
Lieutenant Gregg ran a hand through his thick brown hair, and then pulled a notepad from his pocket. “Yeah. His name is Jethro Barnes. He’s Cy Barnes’s stepson… uh… adopted son. He’s bad news. He’s been in and out of trouble since he was 15. His mother, Ida, married Cy when Jethro was 5. From what I can tell, it wasn’t a happy family. Jethro was released from Bayview two years ago. His parole officer lost him, and we’ve been looking for him in connection to a few armed robberies. Ida Barnes has no known whereabouts. Cy Barnes put in a missing persons on Ida about 6 years ago. We’ve always figured she was fed up, and just took off.”
“When did Cy pass away? I don’t remember it being in the newspaper,” Colin asked.
“A couple of officers went out to the island two years ago to do a welfare check. People in town hadn’t seen him in a while. Anyway, they found him dead in his vegetable garden. They thought it was a stroke, but I’m wondering now,” replied Lieutenant Gregg, glancing over his shoulder at Jethro.
Officers Beaumont and Sterling had helped Barnes sit up. They had his hands secured with handcuffs behind his back.
Marnie walked toward Barnes slowly. She stopped directly in front of him, and narrowed her eyes. She leaned forward slightly, and whispered, “I know you killed Mr. Barnes, and I know he killed Mrs. Barnes. I’m gonna tell the cops when they come to my house tonight. You’re a bad man!”
“If you tell them anything, you are dead,” Barnes growled quietly.
“You’re going to jail. You can’t hurt me,” Marnie whispered.
“Marnie, get away from him! Get over here,” Colin called out.
“Just a sec, Dad! I want to see if his nose still hurts!” Marnie called back, and then turned back to Barnes. “Does your nose still hurt?”
“A little girl like you can’t hurt someone like me,” Barnes replied – an evil grin spreading across his ugly face.
Marnie took one step back, rolled her little hand into a tight fist…
“Marnie! No!” shouted Colin.
Marnie turned to her father for a split-second before turning back to Barnes, and punching him square in the nose.
“Does it hurt now?” Marnie glowered at Barnes.
“Marnie!” Sophia shouted.
Nudging one another gently, the children giggled and quietly celebrated Marnie’s pugilistic effort. The police officers hid their amusement by turning their backs.
Barnes blinked back tears of pain as blood oozed down his anger-reddened face. “I will kill you!”
“You’re going to jail!” Marnie scrunched up her face, poked out her tongue, and then ran to her father’s side. Wrapping her arms around one of his legs, she tipped her head up, and grinned at him.
“Marnie, you don’t punch people!” Colin scolded his daughter. He knelt down in front of her. “We’ve talked about this!”
“He hurt me! He locked me in a trunk, and he hurt Sam, and he shook me real hard, and he killed Mr. Barnes, and…and…” Marnie gasped for a breath, and then burst into tears. She wrapped her arms around her father’s neck and wailed.
Colin hugged his daughter close. Picking her up in his arms, he turned to his wife. “It’s time to get these kids home. She’s exhausted. They all must be.”
The aroma of grilled hamburgers and hot dogs, and the sounds of barking dogs, children laughing, silverware clattering and Johnny Cash on the stereo greeted the policemen when they arrived at the Reilly home at just a little past 6:30.
Marnie and two dogs met the policemen at the door. “Hi! Mom and Dad are in the kitchen. This is Murphy and this is Jack.” Marnie pushed open the screen door. The dogs sniffed at the policemen as they entered the house.
Lieutenant Gregg scratched Murphy’s ears, and bent to pat the top of Jack’s head. Officer Sterling walked widely around the dogs, and Officer Beaumont patted Marnie on top of the head.
“C’mon! I’ll take you to my parents!” Marnie grabbed Lieutenant Gregg’s index finger, and pulled him through the living room, dining room, and into the big country kitchen. Murphy, Jack and Officers Pete Sterling and Lou Beaumont followed closely behind.
An old oak trestle table with long bench seats sat in a nook by a bay window that looked out over the backyard. The table held a stack of paper plates, silverware, plastic cups, and napkins. Mustards, ketchup, salad dressings, and relish bottles were placed in the middle of the table with bowls of potato, macaroni and green salad. Two pitchers of lemonade and two pitchers of ice water sat on a sideboard on the back wall of the kitchen, near the backdoor.
“Mom! The cops are here!” Marnie announced. She pulled out a bench, and sat at the table. Murphy and Jack curled up at her feet under the table. “Can I have a hot dog with sauerkraut and mustard, please?”
Sophia emerged from the pantry with hamburger and hot dog rolls in her hands. “Yes, Marnie. “I’ll check on dinner with your father. Officers, would you like something to eat? We have hamburgers, hot dogs, and three types of salad.”
Officer Beaumont rubbed his hands together. “That would be great! I’ll take a hot dog with everything!”
Officer Sterling sighed deeply. “We’re not here to eat, Lou. We’re here to question the children.”
“I think something to eat would be just fine. Maybe we could sit with the children – get to know them a bit better. It may make them more comfortable,” suggested Lieutenant Gregg. “Uh… where are the other children?”
“They’re outside – except for Tom. Tom is in the den watching TV. He has a headache from that bump on his head. I keep checking on him to make sure he’s awake. Poor thing. I don’t think he has a concussion, but that bump is going to hurt for a few days,” Sophia replied.
Colin pushed open the screen door with the tray of hamburgers he was carrying. Sam came in behind him with a tray of hot dogs. David and Stuart Bennett, Marcus, Stephanie and other children trooped in behind, and hovered over the table waiting their turn for food. Tom wandered into the kitchen a few moments later, and slid onto the bench next to Marnie. David Bennett sat on the other bench, opposite Marnie.
“Dad, is it okay if we go out and sit at the picnic table?” Sam asked.
“Sure. Does everybody have a drink?” Colin replied.
“And a napkin? Don’t wipe food on your clothes,” Sophia said. “And don’t forget to put your plates in the garbage can when you’re finished. And bring the silverware into the house – do not throw out my silverware!”
Sam rolled his eyes. “Okay, Mom!”
The screen door slammed, and the teenagers were gone.
Officer Sterling took a seat next to David Bennett. Officer Beaumont took a seat next to Tom.
Sophia and Colin sat at the small breakfast counter where they could easily here the conversation without intruding.
Lieutenant Gregg stood next to Marnie – who was swinging her legs under the table. “Can I sit next to you, Marnie?” he asked.
Marnie shrugged. “Sure.” She picked up her hot dog and attempted to take a bite. She winced, and set the hot dog down. She put her fingers up to her swollen lip, and scrunched up her nose. “Ow!”
“Your lip looks mighty sore, Marnie. Did Jethro Barnes do that to your lip?” the lieutenant asked.
Shaking her head, Marnie replied, “Nah! Mr. Barnes did. He pushed us down the stairs. That’s how Tom got the goose egg on his head!”
“Mr. Barnes? But Mr. Barnes wasn’t there, Marnie,” the lieutenant responded.
“Yes he was! He pushed us down the stairs! Ask Tom! Tom’ll tell ya!” Marnie shouted.
Tom took a big bite out of his hamburger and nodded. “Yup!”
“Marnie, Mr. Barnes wasn’t there. Mr. Barnes died two years ago,” Officer Sterling commented from across the table.
Lieutenant Gregg narrowed his eyes and shook his head at Officer Sterling. Sterling purposely did not look in the lieutenant’s direction.
“Pfft! I know that! He killed his wife you know! My Papa Jack told me he killed his wife. She’s buried under the bridge near the ice shack. Mr. Barnes got killed by Jethro!”
“Who is Papa Jack?”
“My grandfather. He talks to me sometimes. He’s a ghost, just like Mr. Barnes – but Papa Jack is a nice ghost. Mr. Barnes is a mean ghost,” Marnie said matter-of-factly, looking to Tom for confirmation.
Tom nodded in agreement.
Officer Sterling smirked, and then laughed. “A ghost? My goodness, you two have active imaginations!”
Marnie frowned, and held up her hands. “I don’t get it. Why are you laughing at us?”
Colin and Sophia exchanged glances. They knew this was going to be a difficult conversation.
Officer Sterling smugly replied, “Well, Marnie, I’m a grown-up. I don’t believe in ghosts.”
“That’s okay. They don’t believe you in you either,” Marnie replied with a shrug. “That lady behind you called you a nincompoop a few minutes ago. She says you were born grumpy and grew up to be… umm…” Marnie squinted her eyes, and tipped her head to one side. Her aquamarine eyes focused directly over Officer Sterling’s head. “Bombastic! That’s what she said! Bombastic!” Quirking up the corner of her mouth, Marnie shook her head. “I don’t know that word. What does it mean?”
Officer Sterling gasped. “Who told you that?”
“She says she’s your mom. She says you’ve been a pain in the ass your whole life. She says she told you so!” Marnie grinned, and picked up her hot dog. She turned toward her parents. “Dad, can you cut my hot dog for me? It’s ouching my lip.”
The adults contained their laughter to save Officer Sterling’s dignity, but David and Tom giggled.
“Haha! Marnie, you said a swear word,” Tom giggled.
Marnie turned to Tom, and then pointed toward Officer Sterling. “No! His mom said a swear word. She told me to say it.”
Colin and Sophia stood, but before either could say anything, the lieutenant spoke.
“Hey, Pete, how about you go out back and get statements from the other kids. Beau, how about you go with him. You can divide the kids up, and we can finish this quicker so that the Reillys can get on with their night.” Lieutenant Gregg stood, and walked out the back door with Officers Sterling and Beaumont.
“Mom, what does that word mean? Bombastic! It’s fun to say! Bombastic! What does it mean?” Marnie’s wide-eyed innocence of naively insulting Officer Sterling made her father smile.
“Well, Marnie, how about we talk about that later. We’ll get out the dictionary and look it up once everyone has gone home. How does that sound?” Sophia offered.
Marnie frowned. “Okay. Is bombastic a naughty word, Mom?”
Sophia stood over Marnie while she cut up the hot dog. She shook her head. “No, it’s not a naughty word, but you shouldn’t use it to describe people. It could hurt their feelings.”
Marnie glanced sideways in thought. “Mom, is Officer Sterling bombastic?”
Colin burst out laughing. He turned his back, and then stepped outside so that Marnie wouldn’t be encouraged to continue with her line of questioning. Marnie did love an audience.
Sophia nodded curtly. “Perhaps just a little bit, Marnie.”
Marnie picked up a bit of the hot dog. Before popping it into her mouth, she replied, “Okay. It means he’s annoying.”
Sophia turned her face away so that she wouldn’t be caught smiling, and was saved by the lieutenant’s return.
Lieutenant Gregg returned to the kitchen. “Okay, Marnie, can we have chat?”
“Sure!” Marnie grinned up at him, and popped another bit of hot dog into her mouth.
Marnie told the lieutenant about everything that had happened on the island, with Tom and David adding to the story. He left the table twice – once when Marnie told him about Mrs. Barnes’s body being near the ice shack under the bridge; and again to hide his amusement when Marnie asked him if he thought that Officer Sterling was bombastic.
Lieutenant Gregg stood up from the table. “Thank you, Marnie, Tom and David for helping me. You did very well. I’m going to go back to the station, write my reports, and I’ll let you know if I have any more questions. Do you have any questions for me?”
Tom sat forward, leaning his arms on the table. “Do you always carry your gun?”
“I carry it everywhere, but at home. At home, I lock it in a cupboard,” Lieutenant Gregg responded.
“Have ya ever shot anyone?” David asked.
“Yes, but not in a very long time,” the lieutenant answered. He glanced away, picked up his notebook and pen, and tucked them in his pocket.
Marnie put up a hand – her eyes filled with tears. “Stop asking him about that! It makes him sad!” She wiped tears from her eyes.
A knock at the front door, and the squeak of the screen door opening, interrupted the children’s questions.
“Hello! We’re back! It’s Abigeal and Declan! Sorry we’re a little late. We had a flat tire on the way home!” Tom’s mother called out from the front hallway.
Tom hopped up from his seat and ran to the door. “Mom! Dad! We went to the island today, and I got a bump on my head, and Marnie got locked in a trunk, and…”
“Whoa! What did you say? You bumped your head?” Abigeal Keller pulled her son to her – she checked his head for the bump. “Oh my goodness, that is a big bump. Are you feeling okay? Tom, look at me. Are you feeling okay?”
“I’m okay! C’mon in the kitchen. We’re talkin’ to the cops!” Tom turned and raced back to the kitchen.
Abigeal and Declan Keller exchanged bemused glances.
Abigeal shook her head and chuckled. “We better go find out what mischief Tom and Marnie have gotten into this time.”
A call came through for Lieutenant Gregg while the Reillys were giving the Kellers a rundown of the day’s events. The lieutenant excused himself and stepped outside.
When he returned to the kitchen, he studied Marnie for a moment. How could this little girl have known where to find Ida Barnes’s body? Is it possible that she really did see ghosts? Is it possible that she really does speak with ghosts? His own son talked about ghosts quite often, but the lieutenant had thought it was simply the overactive imagination of a child. His wife Carol had disagreed. She told him it was common for children to see spirits. She also told him that her mother, Margaret, was quite “gifted” in the area of the paranormal. He had thought it was nonsense – until perhaps now.
Colin Reilly offered a cup of coffee to the lieutenant. “Coffee? Hey, are you okay?”
Lieutenant Gregg took the cup. “Ah, thanks. Mr. Reilly? Does Marnie really see ghosts? I’m asking because Ida Barnes was exactly where Marnie said she was. She couldn’t have known that. The officers found nothing in the house that would have indicated where Ida Barnes’s body was buried.”
Colin laughed. “She tells us things all of the time. Things she would have no way of knowing, unless she was “conferring with spirits” – as her mother calls it. She’s been doing that since she could talk – and before she could talk she would smile or frown or cry or laugh at things we couldn’t see. I don’t know. I guess I do believe she does speak to them because she is never wrong when she tells us stuff.”
The lieutenant furrowed his brow. “Huh. My son tells me that he sees ghosts. I may have to start taking it seriously. Thanks, Mr. Reilly.”
“Call me Colin, please. Are you all set? Do you need any more information from the kids?”
“We’re all set. I’m heading back up North in a few days, but I’ll be back for the trial – – if it gets that far. Pete and Lou will take it from here,” replied Lieutenant Gregg.
“Hey, mister! Are you leaving?” Marnie stood in front of the lieutenant – a chocolate Fudgesicle smile on her face.
“Yes, Marnie, I’m going back to the office. It was very nice meeting you,” the lieutenant replied.
Marnie took his hand and pulled him toward her. The lieutenant bent down so that his eyes met Marnie’s eyes. Marnie kissed him on the cheek – leaving an imprint of chocolate lips on his face.
“Thanks for getting the bad man, sir,” Marnie said with an impish grin.
“You’re very welcome. Thank you for helping us get the bad man, Marnie,” the lieutenant replied.
Marnie giggled. “No sweat! See ya!” Marnie raced off to join Tom and David in the backyard. It was a perfect night to catch fireflies.
Sam appeared in Marnie’s bedroom doorway with his sleeping bag and a pillow in his arms.
“Hey, Squirt, do you mind if I crash in here with you tonight?”
Marnie sat up and patted the side of her bed, inviting Sam into her room. “Are you scared, Sam?”
“Nope. Are you? Is it okay if I sleep on your floor?” Sam asked.
“Sure! We can have a slumber party! No, Sam, I’m not scared. You won’t let anything get me, will you, Sam?”
“I’ll always protect you, Marnie. Always!” Sam replied.
“Cross your heart?” Marnie asked.
“And hope to die,” replied Sam.