Sage knew all the names of the flowers. She used to help Mom in the garden. The pagoda was a great play area. Many times Mom warned Sage and I not to fall into the lake or we would be in serious trouble. Not that we’d drown, but that we’d be in trouble. When my parents had garden parties, they’d opened the pagoda and served food and drinks inside.
I kneeled, placing my helmet on the ground. I plucked weeds, freeing up the iris bulbs. I miss you, Mom. I looked at the lake. One summer Sage had thrown all my Barbies into the lake, telling me they would be eaten by the lake monster, all because I wouldn’t let her play with Astronaut Barbie. I had been so mad at her and swore I would never ever play with her again.
I chuckled. I tugged at a dandelion and something shiny flashed. What was that? I pulled out more weeds and that’s when I saw it.
A signet ring.
I picked it up. Too big for my fingers. A man’s ring size. I brushed away the dirt and saw the letter “J”.
Jules’s signet ring.
He had been here on the night he had been murdered. Had he visited my father? I had last seen him getting into James’s Mercedes.
I stood and looked at the pagoda. I walked to the door. The latch was fastened with a new lock. I stepped back. Had this peaceful building been used as an execution chamber? I walked slowly around the balcony. Were those drops of blood? Or was that dirt and nature’s age spots?
Father’s motor boat was tied up to the side of the pagoda. I walked over to it. The blue tarp flapped. I kneeled, grabbed the corner of the tarp and looked under. Nothing. Clean. Very very clean. I stood and stepped onto the grass and walked along the side, trying to find something, anything. I grabbed my motorcycle helmet and crouched on the rock embankment and looked under at the stilts. Grunge, mold, spider webs and more weeds. My gaze shifted to the lake. Was Jules killed in the pagoda and his body, weighted down, tossed into the lake like Astronaut Barbie?
I stared at the water ripples. Saw a frog spring from a rock into the water. He wasn’t giving anything up. Insects fluttered from lily pad to lily pad. Pink Japanese Bottlebrush grew in patches around the lake. Not here. Please. This had been Sage’s and my refuge. Yet, the logistics made sense and the shiny new lock on the pagoda door. Had the murderer removed Jules’s ring, keeping it as a trophy but accidentally dropped it? Oh, Jules. I placed his ring in my coat pocket and zipped it up. That’s when I noticed the shape reflected in the water.
The reflection gradually grew bigger as the man snuck up behind me.
The pointed light grey tip of a hoodie, its strings pulled tight, hiding most of the man’s face.
I gripped the chin guard of my motorcycle helmet.
My pulse pounded.
Stay . . . calm. Move now and he’ll push you in and drown you. Wait.
The man leaned forward. His hand reached out.
I swung around and smacked my motorcycle helmet into his nose. My helmet flew from my hand.
The man screamed, stumbling back, covering his nose with his hands.
I took off. The trees. I knew this garden. He didn’t. It would take too long to get to my bike and he could catch up or there could be more men waiting. I could hear him, chasing me, cursing.
I ran up the wide cement steps, batting at the maple branches. I burst into the treed area. Twigs snapped under my feet. Uneven ground. I splashed through mud puddles, looked back and my foot caught on a tree root. I was airborne. I landed hard on my chest. I couldn’t breathe. I slid my hands through leaves, trying to push myself up. I wheezed. Air. I needed air. Move. I stumbled forward. Stinging nettles clawed my skin. I looked back.
He was close. Too close.
An evergreen branch swung above my head and smacked the man in the face, knocking him off his feet onto his back.
I heard a groan.
Mom’s ghost grabbed the branch as it swung back in my direction. She looked at me. Terror in her eyes. “Run!”
I took off, careening into a stump. I lurched around it.
Up ahead was the path. Further ahead the road. Traffic. People.
I heard cars. Saw the embankment. I clambered up it. The man was coming, not moving as fast but closing in. My feet gave way to pebbles. I clambered up the side of the road, my fingers scraped raw against stones.
Not one single car.
I hobbled in the direction of the city. My ankle gave out and I fell.
The man clambered up and stood at the side of the road, panting, his face and hoodie covered in dirt and blood.
I tried to put pressure on my foot and fell again.
“It’s over,” he shouted, his voice hoarse. He walked toward me.
I scrambled back along the side of the road.
Then I heard it.
The throttle . . . of a Harley.
I looked behind.
A single headlight came over the hill, then a lone rider on a motorcycle. The rider flashed her headlight and behind her four more motorcycles fanned out forming a “V” taking up both lanes.
And the MotoCityDolls.
Five dark silhouettes in the lilac sunset.
Sage cranked the throttle and accelerated. The MotoCityDolls did the same.
The man looked at me. Looked at them. Cursed and slid down the embankment and stumbled into the forest.
They formed a ‘U’ around me.
Sage flipped up her visor. “You all right?” she shouted.
Joanna Vander Vlugt is an indie author and illustrator. She hosts a podcast called JCVArtStudio from the Dressing Room which provides authors and artists an opportunity to tell their story–a dress rehearsal before taking their book launch or art show on the road.
Her legal thriller The Unravelling was a Canadian Book Club Awards finalist. Her previous publications include her short essay No Beatles Reunion for the Dropped Threads 3 anthology, Beyond the Small Circle; Egyptian Queen for the Dead in the Water mystery anthology and The Parrot and Wild Mushroom Stuffing for the Blood on the Holly mystery anthology.
Joanna is currently fine-tuning Dealer’s Child, the sequel to The Unravelling which is scheduled for release in August/September 2021.
Categories: book excerpt