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Sneak Peek: Just Lost and Found – Chapter 2

Summer Snoops and Cozy Crimes

featuring Just Lost and Found (Lucy Fong #1.5)

Available July 24, 2018

I will contribute a Lucy Fong short story to this charity anthology. All proceeds from the sales will go to the no kill shelters of AniCira and Jefferson SPCA.

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Chapter 2

When Lucy became conscious again, she heard a low murmuring from above her. There was also the sound of clamoring and clicking but no cat meowing pitifully. Where was Raspberry?  

She opened her heavy eyelids and saw a light at the end of a long tunnel. She blinked. There were jagged ends on the rotten floor boards above her. Faces appeared at the opening—the police chief, the fire chief, and her cousin Stella.

“Lucy! Are you okay?” Stella called out. “Anything broken?” 

“Gimme a minute,” Lucy said, trying to take inventory of her injuries.  She moved her legs, and they seemed fine. When she tried to push herself off the ground, a sharp pain ran up her arm. She bit her lower lip to stop from crying out. “I might have a broken arm.” 

“Sit tight,” Stella called out. “The fire department is setting up to lower somebody down to rescue you.” 

Lucy gave her cousin the thumbs-up sign even though she wasn’t sure her cousin could see her in the dim light. “Take your time. I’m not going anywhere.” 

She sat up, cradling her right arm close to her body.  The room spun in front of her, and her stomach did a flip-flop.  She patted her head tenderly and found the lump on the back of her head. A broken arm and a concussion seemed like a small price compared to a broken neck. 

“Stella, is Raspberry up there with you?” Lucy asked.

“I can’t find him anywhere. I don’t think he’s in the house anymore,” her cousin said. 

All this trouble and Lucy still didn’t have her sister’s cat. She was an idiot for rushing into a dilapidated cottage the way she did. But as her foster grandma would say: no pain, no fame. 

She would definitely have her fifteen minutes on the front page of the weekly  newspaper.  The incident would be discussed in detail at the newspaper’s online forum tonight. Casserole dishes would appear at the PI office the next morning because folks wanted to see her full body cast. Things had a way of exaggerating a hundredfold on the Internet.

Lucy reached for her cell phone.  The screen was cracked, but the flashlight app  still worked perfectly fine. She moved the beam of light around her. The space she fell into was about the size of a 10 x 10 room dug into the ground. The thick layer of dried leaves and twigs were probably why she didn’t break her neck. In the far wall—an aged red brick that would fetch a pretty penny among the urban yuppies—was a cavernous opening much like the tunnel boarded up underneath her mom’s PI office.   

While Morro Cliff Village wasn’t a mining town, it was home to pirates and smugglers long before California became a state. There were rumors of a network of tunnels connecting the sea caves, cliffs, and the basements around town. Lucy wondered if the previous lighthouse keepers knew about this tunnel and where it led. 

She shifted so she could shine the light behind her. There were barrels and half-rotten burlap bags in one corner like someone had tried to tidy up. The beam of light from her cell phone fell on the shadow behind a barrel. Her mouth dropped open. Was that shadow a treasure chest?  

She got up on shaky legs and shuffled toward the object. Her hand reached out and touched the aged wood. The chest was about the size of a three tiered jewelry box with one opening on top. Her hand ran along the smooth surface until it encountered the iron lock. She jiggled it, but it didn’t budge. This was no gimmick. She was able to lift it awkwardly with one arm. It weighed about ten pounds.  

“Holy Toledo, I found our tourist attraction,” Lucy whispered. Even if there wasn’t anything of value inside, she could spin a yarn about its significance to the generations of lighthouse keepers. 

A few minutes later, the fire department wrenched Lucy and the treasure chest from the hidden chamber of the lighthouse keeper’s cottage. The emergency medical technicians strapped her arm in a sling and asked her various questions about her medical history. They wanted to take her to the emergency room, but a trip to urgent care would be cheaper and faster. By the time they released her, the other first responders had packed up their equipment. Since no crime was committed, the police chief admonished her to be more careful and left with the firefighters. It was all done in less than an hour. 

Damien North, the town’s newspaper reporter, had shown up with the rescue squad. He was in his early forties and about five feet eleven. His black hair, doe-brown eyes, and tan skin suggested Hispanic genes in a distant branch of the family tree.

Lucy had heard him calling out for Raspberry along the cliff while the EMTs worked on her arm. “No sign of the scamp?”

Stella shook her head.

Damien picked up the chest and the three of them made their way to the meandering dirt path to the parking lot. “I’m sorry that I can’t find Raspberry for you.”

Lucy cleared her clogged throat. “The rascal will turn up. He has nine lives after all.” Though she wasn’t sure how many he had left. She was not crying over him. It was from the pain in her broken arm.

Damien slung his other arm around Lucy’s shoulders and gave her a quick squeeze. When she glanced at Stella on the other side of Damien, her cousin gave her a mischievous smile and thumbs up with her hands. Somehow her cousin had picked up the role of matchmaker.

The EMTs were eating sandwiches on a large boulder by the parking lot. Their ambulance was a few yards away, parked next to a gray Buick. When they saw Lucy's party, they did the manly chin nod. Damien returned the head tilt, and Stella waved.

Damien set the chest on the pavement next to Lucy’s car. “Let’s open the chest. I’m curious to see what’s inside.”

“We need to get Lucy to the urgent care center to get that arm set properly,” Stella said.  

He glanced pointedly at the strap around Lucy’s arm. “Another ten minutes won’t make much of a difference.”

“It’s locked,” Lucy said. She was curious, but she wasn’t sure if she wanted to open the chest in front of him. After all, the mayor might not want the reporter to spread the news about what was inside the chest before City Hall had a chance to decide what to do with its contents. “If this is an artifact, I don’t want to break the lock.”

Damien handed the chest to Stella. “I have a set of lock picks in my car. I can open it without damaging anything.” He opened the glove compartment in his car and returned with a small leather bag.

Lucy exchanged a glance with her cousin. Why did he have a set of lock picks in his car?

Damien didn’t seem to notice the exchange; he was too busy examining the lock and selecting the tools he needed. And sure enough, in less than five minutes, he removed the lock from the chest. He rolled his hands in a ta-da motion. “Lucy, will you do the honors?”

Lucy exchanged another glance with her cousin. The man was full of surprises.

She lifted the lid. Nestled in thick red velvet was a gold monkey statue in an ancient Chinese warrior outfit. A thin band crossed his brow, and he held a staff. Underneath the statue was a layer of ancient Chinese coins— circular like the modern-day coins, but with a square cut into the center.

Stella peered into the chest. “Looks priceless.”

Damien’s eyes gleamed and held the statue up for a closer inspection. “I wonder if the Monkey King is an original?”

Lucy held out her hand. “Give me the statue. It belongs to the town.”

Damien reluctantly put it back in the treasure chest. “Better lock it up before the treasure hunters get wind of this.”

Lucy glanced pointedly at Damien. “Not a word to anyone.”

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