The other boat was getting close--the spotlight beam swept back and forth across the waves, searching. I was freaked out of my mind!
Liz Austen dives into trouble after arriving in romantic Victoria for the wedding of her best friend, Tiffany. They are swept up in the strange world of the ancient Thirteen Oaks mansion and its troubled inhabitants, the deMornay family. Many dangers lurk in this exciting new adventure from Eric Wilson!
"I liked the first chapter . . . I hope the rest of the book is just as good as the beginning. -- Alex W., Kitchener, Ontario
This chapter may be photocopied for classroom use.
Our boat was the greatest -- a classic cruiser called the Amor de Cosmos.
But I wasn't happy.
I almost screamed as our cruiser heeled over. Cold spray whipped my face as we raced through the night. I grabbed for support, thinking I'd tumble into the dark sea waters.
From above, on the command bridge, came laughter. It was my friend, Tiffany, who was feeling good. Tiff was beside the man she soon would marry--Paris deMornay. As I watched, Paris fed more horsepower to the twin turbocharged diesels--our cruiser leapt forward even faster through the waves, making me stagger.
Paris was movie-star handsome. A spotlight shone on his perfect face as he smiled at Tiffany. Paris was 22 and wore shorts, a T-shirt and a gold necklace. Apparently his deck shoes had been shipped from an exclusive shop in Hawaii; Paris bought almost everything on the Internet.
The deMornay family was very wealthy, and so was Tiff's. The families were a unit, bonded together by the friendship of the two mothers. Paris was three years old when Tiffany was born; at the time the mothers quipped that eventually Paris and Tiffany should marry.
Then the family joke turned into reality. Tiff fell totally in love with Paris during her teens. It happened so easily--the families spent a lot of time together. Tiff and Paris made a natural couple.
Recently, though, tragedy had struck. Two years ago Paris lost his parents in a terrible car crash. He was especially devastated about his father, and Tiff had spent a lot of time consoling Paris. Then one day I learned that Tiffany had accepted his marriage proposal.
Now I was in Victoria for the wedding. But I was feeling upset--somehow, things didn't seem right. Sighing, I looked at the sky. A silvery moon watched from the glorious heavens; below, whitecaps raced across the dark Pacific waters.
"The lights of Victoria look so pretty from out here," I said to Tiffany, as she came down a ladder from the bridge. "Thanks for inviting me to British Columbia for your wedding. Imagine, two full weeks in Victoria--and I love it here."
Tiffany flashed her blue eyes my way. Tiny, blond and pretty, 19 years old, she'd been raised in the exclusive world of the ultra-wealthy. With her own personal fortune Tiff could have bought and sold some countries, but she was the sweetest and most natural person. We'd met volunteering at a children's hospital in Winnipeg, and our friendship was the best. Tiff was two years older than me, but it didn't matter.
"Tiff," I said, "remember all those times Paris came to Winnipeg to see you? He was such a fun guy, and I was so happy about your wedding. But somehow he's changed."
"Of course he has!" There was an edge to Tiff's voice, and I realized I'd touched a nerve. "How would you feel, Liz? His parents have died, and he's still grieving."
I braced myself against the rolling of the sea. "I guess you're right, Tiff. You know what? You always find the good in people."
"Liz, he needs me. Besides, I want children and a husband. I like the West Coast--I can be happy here." She lovingly touched her engagement ring. "Paris and I are in this together. Through the good times, and the bad. We've got so much in common--"
Then Tiffany screamed. "Look out," she yelled at Paris. Tiff pointed across the sea. "That's the Clipper, and we're going straight at it!"
I stared at the Clipper as it raced out of the night. A high-speed catamaran carrying tourists between Seattle and Victoria, the Clipper rode above the water on two pontoons with an open space between.
Now I saw what Paris planned--he was trying a daredevil stunt, aiming our boat directly at the space between the pontoons. "We'll never make it," I yelled into the shrieking wind. "Don't be crazy, Paris!"
Grinning, he fed more power to the diesels. From the Clipper, a loud horn split the night air--warning us of the danger. Tiffany and I grabbed the railing tightly, horrified at the vision of the Clipper coming swiftly at us.
Suddenly our boat heeled over, changing course. With a laugh, and an arrogant wave of his hand at the other vessel, Paris took the Amor de Cosmos safely out of danger.
Grabbing the steel rungs of the ladder, I climbed to the command bridge. It rolled and pitched as Paris hot-dogged the cruiser across the sea. Before him, on the control console, blue dials glowed.
"Listen, Paris," I said, "how about cutting back on the throttle."
"Sure, Liz, no problem."
The engines slowed, right down to a low growl. I heard whitecaps crashing against each other in the night.
"I was just having some fun," Paris added.
I didn't want to object once again to one of his stunts, so I said nothing about the Clipper. Instead, I commented, "This is a beautiful boat."
"It belonged to my father."
"You miss him, eh?"
"Yeah," Paris sighed.
"Listen," I said, "thanks for letting me stay at your estate while I'm in Victoria. That's generous of you, Paris."
"Hey, Liz, you're my fiancee's closest friend and one of her bridesmaids. I'm only sorry you can't be maid of honour. Why's that, anyway? Tiffany never told me."
"The maid of honour has to be at least 18 to sign the wedding register. I'm a year too young."
"I'm sorry about that," Paris said, with genuine sympathy.
"Robbed of the chance to be maid of honour at my best friend's wedding. Gee, you could have waited a year! But Tiff wants wedding bells, and the pitter patter of little feet."
Paris grinned. "Tiffany sure loves kids. Me, too. I want a son and heir. We'll name him for my father."
Then Paris opened his cell phone; it had commanded attention by loudly playing Jingle Bells.
"Yes?" Paris said. He listened for a moment, then said, "Four-K on Bigoted Earl. That's all I can manage. Goodbye, now."
Turning to me, Paris smiled. "I was going to mention, Liz, a lot of smuggling happens here. I thought you'd be interested." Paris looked across the water at the lights of a distant city, sparkling on the shoreline of the United States. Above, the Olympic Mountains rose into the night sky. White snow glowed on some peaks, even though it was summer.
"That's Port Angeles over there," Paris explained. "It's in the state of Washington." He turned toward Victoria. "I can always spot the smugglers--maybe we'll see one tonight. They come out of Canada, moving fast, with no running lights. They carry drugs, forged credit cards, illegal immigrants. If someone can make a buck smuggling, they'll do it. Personally, I think it's crazy."
Tiffany joined us on the command bridge. As she cuddled against Paris, I took the other seat. From here, the view was beyond awesome. It was a total panorama--not a single tree or building blocked the horizon. I could see every star, even little faint ones. It was so romantic.
Tiffany snuggled closer to Paris. "Remember when you called me `princess'? When we were kids? I loved that, Paris." She smiled at me. "We used to play wedding, and Paris would be the groom. I was Lady Diana."
Paris kissed her cheek. "Tiff, you'll always be my princess."
I smiled at him. "How'd you come up with your boat's name?"
"Amor de Cosmos was an actual dude, long ago. He arrived in British Columbia in the nineteenth century and ended up as premier, running the place. He started life as William Smith, then picked a new name--cool idea, eh? Amor de Cosmos means `lover of the universe'."
Tiffany touched his dark hair. "That's a perfect description of you, sweetheart."
"My Dad was quite the guy," Paris told me proudly. "A sports champion in his time, and adored by all the cuties. He bought this classic cruiser when he was young. The Amor has a cedar strip hull on oak. I added the twin diesels for real power. They're turbocharged."
Tiffany glanced at her Rolex. "Let's head home, Paris. Daddy will be calling soon."
"Phone him on my cell, and we'll stay out longer."
Tiffany shook her head. "Daddy needs to know I'm safely home from the sea. Otherwise he won't be able to sleep."
"He's staying downtown at the Empress Hotel?" I asked.
Tiffany nodded. "Daddy loves that place."
Before long we approached Oak Bay, Victoria's luxurious neighbour. Through binoculars I studied the Oak Bay Beach Hotel, then the expensive mansions, houses and condos along the shoreline. Lights glowed from the windows, looking cozy.
"What a sight under a full moon," Tiffany said. "It's like being in a dream."
"Hey," Paris exclaimed. Grabbing the binoculars from me, he looked north along the water in the direction of Thirteen Oaks, the estate owned by his family. "I see some boat, stopped abeam of my house. No running lights. Let's check this out."
"Could it be a smuggler?" I asked excitedly.
"Be careful," Tiffany warned, as Paris fed maximum RPMs to the twin beasts that roared below decks. "This could be dangerous!"
We moved north along the shoreline, feeling the wind on our faces. As we approached the mystery craft, Paris studied it through his state-of-the-art night binoculars. "It's called the Outlaw. There's an open deck and a wheelhouse. Some guy's inside--I can see him. He's got blond hair, and two gold earrings. Looks maybe 20 years old, 25 max."
Above the cliff stood an ancient mansion. Moonlight glowed on the ivy embracing its walls. The stone building was very large, dominating the enormous estate known as Thirteen Oaks. There were several chimneys; smoke curled from one. From the gardens of the estate, a crooked path led down to a beach. Nearby was a small island with no signs of habitation.
The Amor de Cosmos powered forward, moving in on the mysterious Outlaw. Suddenly a spotlight glared across the water. A man's voice yelled, "Clear away!"
Paris swore angrily. Veins bulged in his throat as he screamed, "Forget it jerk. And what exactly are you doing? I live in that house up there." The engines rumbled as Paris moved our craft closer. "Who are you, anyway?" he cried across the water. "Identify yourself."
Silence from the Outlaw. I gripped the railing, aware of the painful throbbing of my heart. I was so scared.
Then Tiffany screamed. "A gun! Paris, he's got a gun!"
I stared across the tossing waves. "Holy Hannah." A nickel-plated revolver shone in the spotlight's glow. "That thing looks real. Let's--"
Fire burst from the muzzle. Something hummed past into the night, and then I heard the shot. It was total confusion on our boat as I dove for cover beside Tiffany while Paris grabbed for the throttle, and our cruiser leapt away across the waves.
"That was a real bullet," I yelled.
Paris looked behind. "He's coming after us, but we'll outrun him. This baby can really move."
The other boat fell away into the night as we escaped north. Then, without warning, the mighty roar of our engines turned to a coughing gasp, followed by utter silence. Out in the night, we heard the Outlaw coming our way.
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THE EMILY CARR MYSTERY.Copyright 2012 by Eric Hamilton Wilson
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