the heron island mystery (part thirty-six)

This story started here.

I pulled out drawers and opened cabinets (which were mostly empty), including looking under shelf paper and under drawers. I was just looking, not looking for something specific, so I had to be as thorough as possible.

There was a small cabinet in one corner which was locked with a padlock. It was obviously for things that the owner didn’t want to share with the tenants, but none of the items inside struck me as interesting or relevant.

I stood in the center of the room and looked around. The peaked roof was just boards — no attic or crawl spaces. I looked through the glass doors at the beach and the ocean.

I knew I needed to look around the deck, but I decided it was time for a sandwich and one serving of coffee. I got the thermos and a sandwich from my knapsack and sat at the rickety table.

Rhonda had been impatient with my employer’s theorizing. She wanted to find clues, preferably clues that pointed in a specific direction, and then she could arrest somebody. And, of course, she had deputies who she could dispatch in various directions in search of those clues, in addition to whatever State Police resources she had access to.

And now that the case was becoming a public sensation, I’m sure she felt that pressure, too.

I wouldn’t have minded sitting for another few minutes, looking out at the ocean, thinking about the case, but I wanted to finish examining the other cabin before it started to get dark.

I stood up, stuffed my sandwich wrappings into the outside pocket of my knapsack, and put my thermos away. Obviously I didn’t want to leave any trash behind me (and, yes, I’d been wearing gloves throughout).

Lifting my knapsack, I looked at the rug under it. And then, as I perhaps should have done before, I lifted the rug and saw the trapdoor.

I moved the rug to one side and examined the floor more carefully. The “trapdoor” was a rectangular area where the boards didn’t match the rest of the floor. There was no handle or anything to use to pull it up, though. I tried to get my fingers under the edge, in the tiny gap, but there was nothing to grab hold of.

I had seen tools in the locked cabinet, but I didn’t want to break into whatever was below the floor without knowing more about it.

I went out the front door and looked at the side of the house. The house was at ground level in the front, but the sand sloped off toward the beach at the rear, so I was able to circle around and look under the deck and see below the floorboards. There were some sort of handmade baffles there, hanging down from the floor of the house. I crawled under and looked behind them, and there was nothing there.

So, evidently there had been something there at some point. Probably, based on my knowledge of cottages in the area, it had been a floor furnace to heat the cabin. They were gas-fired, and had a tendency to have their pilot lights blown out in high wind, hence the improvised baffles. Evidently, when the furnace had been removed, for whatever reason, the floor had been awkwardly patched, and then the rug used to hide the patchwork.

Well, before I searched the other cabin, I decided to find out if it had the same kind of below-floor structure.

It did, and here there was a wooden box resting on the sand, hidden by the wind baffles.

It is, I guess, a measure of how I’ve been trained that, even after I saw what the wooden box contained, I still searched the second cabin, just as carefully as I’d searched the first one, before I did anything else.

  To be continued…

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