The Legend of Smuggler's CaveBy: Paula Graves
The front door was unlocked. Jenny never left it unlocked.
Hair rising on her neck and arms, Briar Blackwood took a careful step backward on the porch and drew her Glock 27. Not her weapon of choice; her Mossberg 835 shotgun was locked in the cabinet inside the cabin. But the Glock would do.
She stayed still for a breathless moment, listening for movement within the cabin. Was she overreacting? Maybe her aunt had fallen asleep on the sofa without locking up.
No. The break-in a month earlier had rattled Aunt Jenny’s nerves. She hadn’t been comfortable staying at Briar’s place with Logan alone at night since. She always locked all the doors and windows the second Briar left and wouldn’t even answer the door unless she knew the voice on the other side.
So why was the door unlocked now?
Everyone who mattered to Briar was behind that unlocked door. And she could stand here holding her breath, or she could go in there to see what was what.
But not through the front door.
Briar edged to the corner of the porch, making herself a harder target if someone inside started shooting. Tightening her grip on the Glock, she pulled her cell phone from her jacket pocket and dialed the cabin landline. She heard the phone ringing through the cabin walls.
Now she knew for sure something was wrong. Aunt Jenny was a light sleeper. She never slept through a ringing phone.
Shoving her cell phone back in her pocket, Briar slid between the wood slabs of the porch railing and dropped three feet to the ground below. Stopping below the big kitchen window, she peered up at the jars of fruits and vegetables stacked in three tight rows in front of the window. The colorful jars took the place of curtains, both as a dash of brightness in the small kitchen and as a privacy screen, keeping out the unwanted gazes of strangers who might be lurking outside the mountain cabin.
They were still intact. Last time someone had broken in, they’d shattered the jars and left a huge mess in her kitchen.
What could they want? She was poor as a church mouse. Her new job as a Bitterwood police officer would do little more than pay the bills and allow her to put aside a little bit for her son Logan’s college fund.
Could it be her job that had drawn the intruders to her door?
She edged her way around to the root cellar door and eased it open, wincing at the low creaks of the hinges. Six concrete steps took her down into the tightly packed cellar, where shelves full of canned goods filled one side of the room, and bins of root vegetables filled the other. She used the flashlight app on her cell phone to illuminate the narrow path between shelves and bins, but she still managed to stumble into the shelves near the stairs. With a muttered curse, she barely caught a jar of tomatoes as it started to topple off the shelf above.
Setting it right, she shined the cell-phone light up the stairs. The door to the cabin was closed. She crept up the stairs and tried the doorknob. Locked, as expected. She eased her keys from her pocket and inserted the right one. The doorknob turned smoothly, and she carefully slipped into the hallway, shutting off the phone light.
She went very still, just listening. There was no sound at all, she realized. Not even the hum of the refrigerator or the whir of heated air blowing from the wall heater nearby.
The power must be out. Had someone cut it?
Glad for the rubber soles of her work shoes, she went silently into the living room and took a quick scan of the situation. Her eyes had begun to adjust to the low light, allowing her to see that the living room was a mess. Sofa cushions had been pulled from the sofa and ripped open, the stuffing lying all over everything. The intruders may have spared her jars of fruits and vegetables this time, but most of the contents of her refrigerator lay scattered across the floor and counters of the tiny kitchen, going to ruin.
She stepped back into the hallway, her heart pounding with equal parts adrenaline and dread.
Please, God, let Logan and Jenny be okay. Please, please, please....
The door to her own bedroom was closest. That was where Jenny slept when Briar was working a night shift, as she’d done during her stint as a dispatcher, and as she’d be doing for the first few months on the job as a police officer. But when Briar tried to push the door open, something was blocking it. She peered through the narrow space between the door and the frame and saw a pale white hand outstretched.