The Lighthouse by Bill K

Chapter 10: "The Long Shadow of Dennis Flynn"

        Daria Morgan turned on the radio, hoping to find out what had happened in the world since she'd gone to sleep a far too short seven hours ago. She was searching for anything of local interest. National and international events she could download off of the web. It was her immediate situation that interested her.

        As she sat alone at the table in the kitchen of the lighthouse keeper's cottage, Daria sipped at hot tea, munched on toast and twisted the tuner knob with increasing frustration. To her growing irritation, she was finding that Skeffington's Harbor was far too small a hamlet to have its own radio station. She could get signals from Machias and Ellsworth, several Canadian stations out of New Brunswick, the clear channel station out of Boston, and even a faint signal from Portland. However, no news about Skeffington's Harbor appeared on those stations because no one in those cities gave one whit about Skeffington's Harbor.

        "Oh, wouldn't it be nice if this town joined the twentieth century," muttered Daria.

        The woman got up and began absently pacing the kitchen, her cup of tea in her hand. Ever since this operation began, she'd depended upon Denise, the woman masquerading as Donna Young, to filter into town and gather the latest news. Through Denise, she could gauge whether the police were becoming suspicious of the operation here at the lighthouse.

        But her eyes and ears wasn't here. Denise was gone. She'd gotten separated from the group during the previous night's run to the coast. And, though Daria didn't and wouldn't show it, she was becoming worried. Something had happened to Denise, and just at the time Daria needed her most. Now, more than ever, she needed Denise to filter into town and find out one single piece of information that was critical to the future of this operation.

        Was Dennis Flynn dead?

        She'd set him up to be shot by the police. She'd had Denise call the Constable and practically gift-wrap him for them. If the Reeves woman got killed too, so much the better. The plan had been for Denise to drop by and find out what had happened, but now Denise was missing. If Dennis had escaped the trap, he was a loose cannon with a lit fuse pointed directly at her heart.

        Daria looked out the window of the cottage, surveying the Atlantic washing up against the craggy shoreline, the blue of the previous day shrouded now in a dour, lifeless gray that probably spoke volumes to those unfortunates who'd been trapped here their entire lives. To Daria, it spoke of a trap that seemed to be slowly closing around her.

        "Arthur," she called into the next room. After a few minutes, a burly giant of a man with slicked back black hair and the hewed skin, muscles and features of someone who had worked hard his entire life ambled in. He dwarfed Daria, but stood neutrally, deferring to her position. "I need you to go into town. I need you to find out something, but you have to be subtle."


        "Don't ask any questions. Don't speak if you don't have to. Don't call attention to yourself. The locals around here are suspicious enough as it is. Find some place where the locals gather, like a restaurant or store or something. If you hear some of the locals buzzing about something, try to listen in. Got that?"

        "Got it. What are you trying to find out?"

        Daria inhaled, to steady her courage.

        "I need to find out if anybody's been found dead recently."

        "Are you sure you're all right, Carol?" Harrington asked for the fifth time. Normally Caroline Englehart would have been annoyed by his overprotective attitude. However, after what she'd just gone through, it seemed comforting. She glanced up at him, seeing his fierce strength and his gentle concern and wondered what it would be like to spend the rest of her life with him.

        "I'm all right, Bobby," Englehart said gently. "Don't fuss." Reflexively she righted a box of rubber gloves on the counter next to her, noticing the red chafe marks on her wrists. "So why are you here? Not that I'm not grateful, but you usually don't show up here at this time of day unless it's business."

        Harrington glanced nervously in the general direction of Loharo, standing in the doorway, and suddenly Caroline loved him all the more.

        "Um, well, I . . ." he stammered. "Yes. We've got a body in the truck. But if you're not up to it, Carol . . ."

        "Who is it?" Caroline asked, her professional personae slipping on with practiced ease. It easily masked the trepidation she felt, given who she met last night and what had happened to Loharo as well.

        "It's . . ." Harrington began, then glanced again at Loharo. "We think it's Donna Young."

        Instantly Caroline's gaze went to the black woman. She felt tremendous sympathy for her, knowing as the whole town did the deep friendship between them. Loharo returned her look with some pain in her eyes, but with another emotion Caroline didn't expect, that being hope. Some people just couldn't accept the death of someone close to them and Caroline hoped Loharo wasn't deluding herself.

        "I hate to ask you this, given what you went through," Harrington struggled to say, "but I need the bullet for ballistic matching, as well as any other post-mortem evidence you can find."

        "Ballistic?" gasped Caroline. "Was she shot?"

        "Executed. We think it was Flynn."

        A shiver passed up Englehart's spine.

        "Bring it in, Bobby," she said softly. "I'll do my best. Um, Loharo, you might not want to stay for this."

        "I understand," Loharo said. "I wasn't planning to." They she glanced at Harrington, giving him a non-verbal nudge.

        "Um, Carol, before you start," Harrington said uneasily. "I need to get prints from the body. I just need to get confirmation on the identity if I can."

        Caroline glanced sympathetically at Loharo. "Of course, Bobby. Whatever you need."
        As the body was wheeled into the doctor's office, Harrington escorted Loharo into the waiting room.

        "I'll send these out as soon as I get them," Harrington told her. "I promise. Where will you be if I need to reach you?"

        "I'm," Loharo started to say, then stopped. What was her next course of action? Faith - - she had to find Faith. "I'm going to go up to Donna's cottage. I want to see if I can find some address for her family back in Texas." Then she added reluctantly, "just in case."

        "You have a key?"

        "Donna gave me one. Just to her place, not the lighthouse." Loharo thought a moment. "Constable, do you remember if the light in the lighthouse was on last night?"

        "I think it was. Why?"

        "Well, Donna always put it on right at sunset. If it wasn't on, it would mean her killer had prevented her from doing it. Might help your investigation."

        "I'll make a note of it," Harrington replied in that irritatingly patronizing manner he could adopt when he was humoring someone.

        Loharo's lips thinned, but she didn't pursue it. Instead, she headed out the door and north toward the lighthouse. That explanation had been a ruse anyway. The real reason she wanted to know if the lighthouse had been lit was to gauge her safety. If it was still on when she got there, the place was probably empty. If it was off, that meant someone turned it off - - probably the bespectacled stranger she'd photographed. If so, she'd have to be very cautious.

        It didn't daunt her, though. That woman knew where Donna was. She probably knew where Faith was, too. Loharo Reeves was going to get some answers.

        Crawling across the floor had been as much agony for Faith as the police training center's obstacle course. Bound as she was, gagged and blindfolded, not to mention weakened from sleep deprivation, thirst and hunger, the simple act of squirming across the floor and maintaining a continual stream of muffled grunts was taxing. But she had to keep it up - - the grunts to encourage her fellow prisoner to grunt as well, the squirming to close the distance between them - - if she was ever going to get free and escape before her captors decided she was a bigger threat to them alive than dead.

        As she worked her way across the floor, Faith tried to occupy herself with the mystery of the Lighthouse. What was going on? Why did they need to keep her and the other woman quiet? Whatever was going on, the people running it were big enough to either corrupt Loharo's friend or replace her. Faith tended to believe the former, no matter what Loharo said, but either way it was a lot of effort to hide something in this sleepy little backwater. But what?

        Faith hit her head on a wooden obstruction as she pushed herself forward. She let out a muffled exclamation, which drew an answer from her fellow captive. The person was close - - just behind her. As she began scooting backwards, Faith examined her new clue. The wood felt rough and unfinished, so it wasn't the molding on the wall. It felt more like a crate of some sort. Something was being stored up on this floor besides the two of them. But what: contraband of some sort, perhaps stolen goods or arms? She began to ask herself why a little town like Skeffington's Harbor, but at once knew the answer. The little town's police force would be ill equipped to handle a major smuggling operation. It could operate freely so long as it kept under cover, and if discovered could fold up and be away before the town's small police force could mobilize.

        Her next scoot put her up against the hip of someone sitting against one of the crates. Faith heard an exclamation of surprise. She let out an exhausted sigh. Freedom was in sight. Now all she had to do was find her fellow captive's wrists and pray she wasn't shackled. The redhead began twisting her body around to get into position. As she did, she noticed her fellow captive was either a woman or a very slight man. It was hard to tell with the person wearing jeans.

        At once, Faith recognized a problem. The other person's wrists were between their back and the wall, concealing them from her grasp. Faith began to gurgle out a plea for the person to turn around, but her request was hopelessly muffled and the captive didn't understand. Frustration set in, and Faith began pushing on the person's hip with her hands. This elicited a muffled reproach from the other person.

        Exasperated, Faith shimmied far enough away, then began trying to pull herself up into a sitting position. It was difficult, fatigued as she was. Several times she teetered on the brink of success, only to have gravity force her back down to the hardwood floor. A voice inside Faith's head was trying to seduce her into giving up, but she knew she couldn't.

        "Come on, girl," she mentally whipped herself. "It's no different than when ye were in training for the force and all of the men made it extra difficult for ye. Just do it and shut them all up!"

        The eleventh try proved successful. Faith gained the position she wanted, then sank back against the crate to gather her strength. She couldn't rest long, she knew, but her heart was thumping in her chest and she was gulping in as much air as she could get through her nose. Perspiration covered her body.After too long a rest, she shoved herself up and turned her back to her fellow prisoner. Faith grasped the forearm of the person next to her, only then realizing that it was a woman. She tugged, hoping the woman would get the idea and move back to back.

        "Christ in Heaven!" thought Faith when she still didn't seem to understand. "What the bloody Hell's wrong with this woman?"

        Finally exhausting her patience, Faith jerked on the woman's forearm, sending her crashing to the floor. She let out an anxious squeal as she hit.Undaunted, Faith felt down the woman's arm until she found the wrists. They were tied with rope, just as she was. As her fellow captive continued to babble into her gag with alarm, Faith felt along until she found the knots. Only when she began plucking at them did the other woman seem to understand and quiet down. The knots were pulled tight and Faith's fingers had seen better times. They fumbled with the knots, tugging at them with reduced strength and dexterity. Faith grunted through her gag involuntarily. It would be easier if she could see what she was doing.

        Just then the door opened. Faith froze.

        "Doing some socializing while I was gone?" Faith heard the flat monotone of her captor and the steady click of approaching footsteps. She cursed into her gag. If only she'd had more time.

        "MMMMMMMMMMMMFFFF!" screamed Faith as fingers laced into her copper locks. She was dragged by her hair across the room to the far wall. The hand released her and Faith flopped down on the floor, allowing the pain in her scalp to recede.

        "Mmmm! Mnnnn nnngh!" added the mystery captive to the muffled chorus.

        "Sorry, kiddo," Daria replied. "No breakfast this morning. I may have to leave in a hurry and I wouldn't want to leave dishes in the sink."

        "Leave in a hurry?" thought Faith. What did that mean? Were they folding the operation? If they did, would they release their captives, take them along, or just kill them?

        The searchlight in the lighthouse was off. Loharo got a momentary pang of doubt when she saw that, but kept going. She couldn't chicken out now. Faith probably needed her. Donna did, too, wherever she was.

        Approaching the cottage through the woods, Loharo kept a sharp eye out for anyone. Nobody belonged around the cottage except Donna, so anyone was a potential threat. As she crept through the woods, Loharo couldn't help imagining Dennis Flynn lunging at her from every shadow and every tree. What would she do if Flynn were at the cottage?

        "That's easy," Loharo thought. "Run like hell to town and tell Harrington."

        As she inched closer to the cottage, something began to itch Loharo's brain. Harrington had said Donna had called the Constable's Office and reported Flynn was stalking her. But that Donna was the fake Donna, and she was working with Flynn. Or was she? Had Flynn been double-crossed by the two women in the lighthouse? Had they set him up to be arrested?

        No, that wouldn't work. Flynn would betray them to the police in a second. Loharo pondered this. But Flynn wouldn't go peacefully if confronted by the police. That man was crazy. He'd shoot first and not even bother asking questions. And if they knew that, it meant they had set him up to be killed by the police. Regardless, Flynn was probably on the outs with the others and most likely wasn't at the cottage.

        Still, Loharo eased around to the back door. The extinguished light meant someone was there. If it wasn't Flynn and if that was the fake Donna at Dr. Englehart's office, then it was probably the woman with the glasses. She was an unknown, so Loharo decided to try stealth.

        The key turned slowly in the lock. The knob eased clockwise and the door inched open. Loharo peered around cautiously. The kitchen was unoccupied. As she silently pressed the door closed, Loharo noticed a cup on the counter next to the sink. She walked over, picked it up and examined it. There was liquid in the very bottom; tea, from the looks of it. A spoon and a saucer sat on the table. Someone had been here recently, probably the woman with the glasses. Maybe she was still here.

        Easing into the hall that connected the front door to the stairwell and the kitchen, Loharo listened for sounds of activity. As she reached the door to the room Donna used as her office, she peered in. Nobody was there. There was a notebook computer she knew wasn't Donna's. For a moment, she thought of looking through it, but thought better of the idea. It probably had a password lock on file access and she was nowhere near skilled enough to hack into it.

        As she neared the front door, Loharo could hear noise coming upstairs. Someone was there. She could hear something dragging across the floor and the muffled, unintelligible buzz of a voice. Her heart began to beat faster. Two people at least were up there, but she could hear only one voice. It was probably the woman with glasses. Maybe Faith had been captured and she was holding her up there. Maybe Donna was there, too. Loharo's pace quickened as she passed the doorway to the front parlor on her way up the stairs.

        It was at that moment when a hand reached out and clamped over Loharo's mouth.

Continued . . .

Story is (c)2000 by Bill Kropfhauser

Chapter eleven.

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