First hailed as a hero for his dramatic water rescue of a little boy, thirteen-year-old Brady Parks soon makes a discovery that puts him at the heart of an enormous tragedy. Alone with his dark secret, Brady is ultimately forced to choose between loyalty to his lifelong friends and doing what he knows in his heart is right. Priscilla Cummings weaves a suspenseful, multilayered tale of three teenage boys caught in a wicked web of their own making.
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Priscilla Cummings lives in Annapolis, Maryland.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
We did not waste time. Crack of dawn the next morning we made our way down to the creek, where a thick mist rose above the still, dark waters. A great blue heron squawked at us for making too much noise and, indignant, took off from a nearby bank as we boarded my father’s boat.
Miss Amanda’s deck was slick with dew. We stepped carefully so’s not to slip as we settled the gear on board.
“Easy now. Remember, this ain’t no hot rod!” Dad warned, handing me the key.
Hot rod. Only my dad would say something like that.
“I’ll be careful!” I called back over my shoulder as I went up front to turn the key in the ignition. Once the engine was running, I adjusted the radar controls on board the boat while my father reached over to the dock and cast off the lines.
“Go ahead!” Dad hollered as he tossed the last line into the boat.
Leaning into the front window, I looked hard to port to be sure I was clearing the last piling as we pulled out.
Dad went to work getting the grapnel hook ready. He didn’t think it was necessary to use the oyster dredger. I was glad, because it would have taken most of a day and a half to get the contraption hooked up. Dad said that if the kayak was still there, we could snare it with the grapnel hook, which was actually an extra anchor he kept on board. It had several pointy flukes on it, so if it caught hold, we could wrap the lines around the machine that acts like a high–powered winch to pull in crab pots and hoist it up that way.
I hadn’t slept much, but I was alert and pumped full of adrenaline. Finding the kayak and getting the truth out once and for all was my mission. It didn’t matter what kids at school thought or what happened afterward. It was something I had to do.
The motor hummed as we moved out, the only boat on the creek. Heavy, gray clouds obscured the sunrise, and a few raindrops already warned us it wasn’t going to be a beautiful day. But I didn’t care. We needed the rain. It was long overdue, I thought, lifting my eyebrows, just as what I was doing was long overdue.
When Dad came forward and took over steering, I went back to sit on the engine box. We entered the Corsica and then went directly to the opposite bank and the opening off the river where I had discovered Ben and where I’d spotted the sunken kayak last April. As soon as I saw the rotten pilings jutting out of the water, the events of last April tumbled forward in my mind and my stomach lurched.
Backing off on the throttle, Dad carefully maneuvered the boat through the narrow channel along the sandbar. Then he threw the boat in neutral and came back toward me.
I stood at the side, staring into the water near the tip of the sandbar. “Right there,” I said glumly, pointing and already disappointed. “That’s where I saw the kayak last April.”
We both leaned over the edge, trying to get a better look. Although it was starting to sprinkle, the water was clear and shallow enough that we could see the sandy bottom. But there was no sign of the kayak, nor any part of it.
The feeling in my stomach got worse. I’d always known there was a good possibility we wouldn’t find it.
“You’re sure it was here?” Dad asked.
“Positive,” I replied. The scowl on my forehead deepened.
“Why didn’t you say somethin’ about it last spring?” Dad asked.
I shook my head. “I didn’t think it mattered then.”
My father didn’t ask why it mattered now. He walked forward to a second set of gearshifts in the back of the boat and moved her up a few feet. Again, both of us peered into the river. But the water was deeper—and darker, too. We couldn’t see a thing. Plus the rain came harder, churning the surface.
“Not the best day to be doin’ this,” Dad commented.
“Please. Can we look just a little longer?” I begged.
Dad sighed. Then he put a foot up on the railing and studied the water. “Brady, isn’t this the old fishin’ hole where you and J.T. and Digger used to come? Place was right smart of fish if I ’member correctly.”
“It is,” I acknowledged. “Remember I told you? We went swimming here, too. On the other side of the sandbar, it drops off big time. Most of that old dock was here then. We could climb up and dive off.”
While he listened, Dad rubbed his chin with one hand, the way he does when he’s thinking hard on something. “This is where she tried to come in, right?”
“Right,” I told him. “She put Ben on that piling—the one right there, but then she got pulled back out by the current.”
Dad nodded. “The tides are strong comin’ in and out of this channel. Especially in the spring.”
“You think the kayak went out with the tide, then?” I asked.
Dad stopped rubbing his chin. He resettled his hat. “Not necessarily. I think what you’ve got here, Brady, is a littoral drift.”
“A literal what? What’s that?”
“Littoral drift,” he repeated. “Look.” He took his foot down, pointed behind us, and swept his finger back and forth. “Tides comin’ in and out this openin’ here push the sand up along the edge, creatin’ the sandbar. But as the waves come around the corner, you get this swirlin’ effect.
It creates a backwater eddy—a dimple, if you will. That would be your swimmin’ hole. I’d wager a guess that if the kayak sank anywhere near that sandbar, it got sucked into that hole.”
“Let’s drop the pole and see!”
“Slow down. We’ve got to move closer to do that, and I don’t want to run aground, Brady.”
Carefully, we inched the Miss Amanda around the sandbar without beaching her until we were directly above the deep water. Dad set out one anchor so we wouldn’t drift and run aground, then he fetched the pole we’d brought along and slowly lowered it into the water to feel around down below.
It didn’t take long. Dad hit something right off. Something hard and long. We pulled in the pole and threw out the grapnel hook, watching the attached rope spin from its coil on the boat floor.
“Whew! Must be fifteen, twenty feet!” Dad declared. He bounced the hook up and down until he felt it catch hold. “You ready we start haulin’ in?”
“I’m ready,” I said.
“All right, then, let’s go.”
Dad wrapped the line around the bar of the machine that pulls in the crab pots and started moving it slowly. It hummed and made a grating noise.
I stood beside my father and waited, holding my breath, until we saw something break through the surface.
It was a grill. Somebody’s damned old Weber grill.
“Must have fallen in off the old dock,” Dad said.
“Shoot!” I muttered.
After hauling the piece of junk over the side, I kicked it.
“Can we try again, Dad?”
A little puzzled, he shrugged anyway. “Sure.”
We heaved the anchor back in. When it landed, Dad pulled up on the line a few times until he felt as though he had hooked something else. Again, the machine did its work. But after a minute or so, it ground to a stop.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
Dad shook his head. “I don’t know.”
“Is it too heavy?”
“Shouldn’t be. But maybe,” he said. “If it’s the kayak, it could be full of sand.”
He tried to get the machine started, but no luck. “Here, grab the line and we’ll haul it in,” he said.
I stood behind my father, and each of us got hold of the rope. Then, hand over fist, we pulled. It took all the strength each of us had and then some. I was bracing myself to see a dumb tree branch or cement block somebody had tossed in to anchor a buoy come up. So when I saw the tip of that dirty red kayak break the surface, I was ready to cry with relief.
“Look a–there!” Dad exclaimed. “Be damned!”
Finding it this easy, I knew it was meant to be.
The kayak started slipping, though.
“Don’t let go!” Dad shouted.
I jammed my feet against the gunnels and pulled as hard as I could.
“Hold on!” he shouted.
With one more tug, Dad was able to reach over the side and catch the opening of the kayak with his hands. I did the same, and the two of us pulled with everything we had.
The kayak weighed a ton because it was full of water and covered with slimy mud and algae. But we got it up over the rail.
“Watch out!” Dad hollered.
Jumping back, we let it drop heavily inside the boat.
We were whipped from the effort. Dad sat on the engine box while I knelt on the floor. I tried to catch my breath, all the time staring at the kayak, which had landed bottom up, water and sand dripping onto Miss Amanda’s deck. A tiny crab fell out and skittered into a corner.
The steady, gentle rain felt good on my face. The other thing that rain did, it gradually washed away the gunk from the underside of the kayak. In slow motion, right before our eyes, little rivulets of rainwater pushed aside the slime until we could see, my dad and I, how three holes had been drilled into the bottom.
Dad didn’t say anything at first. He got up, then squatted beside the kayak, touching two of the holes before he looked at me.
He wore a pained expression I’ll never forget. “What is this, Brady?” he asked.
I swallowed hard, and with Dad in front of me, one of his hands still resting on the kayak’s hull and the rain pouring down, I told him.
I told him everything.
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