She reread the note. The handwriting was shaky, but she sounded clear and tough. She knew the smuggler—who could it be?—would follow directions. Because...millions.
All she had to do was put the letter in the bag with the photo, return to the tree and drop them off, and not get caught by someone who... Briefly, she shivered. Someone who might be violent.
She would not chicken out. Better do it now. She donned dark clothes, pulled a dark wool hat over her blond hair and ran in a crouch back to the tree. She put the plastic bag in the hole at the base and a rock on top of it. She raced back to her cottage, and every moment she felt the back of her neck crawl. When she was inside, she locked the doors, checked the rooms, sat on the bed and stared at the collection of statues.
They stared back, solemn, angry, cruel.
They gave her the creeps, so she packaged them up again and stashed the box in the closet.
The next morning, the sun was shining. She went to work and apologized for being late. Annie was, as always, a sweetheart. That skinny exercise freak and spa director, Mara Philippi, invited her to attend the new self-defense class. One of the pilots who flew guests into the airstrip confided that he was a war hero and hinted at a tragic disposition that only a woman's true love could cure.
As Priscilla worked on the resort's supply orders, she began to think she had a future here. She began to have second thoughts about demanding money from a smuggler who, well, might be willing to kill for a fortune. Millions. Maybe she shouldn't have sucked down that entire bottle of wine...
At noon, she returned to her cottage, got the box, brought it to the resort and stashed it.
But now what? She couldn't give those statues to the authorities. She had incriminated herself by writing that note. She needed to retrieve the note. Then she would take the box of horrors to Mr. Di Luca and tell him...tell him what happened, but say she forgot about it. Or she didn't realize what was in it.
No, not that. Better to pretend she hadn't opened it. Whatever. She'd figure it out.
She spoke to Sheri Jean Hagerty, the guest experience manager, and volunteered to lead a tour of the property. Sheri Jean was surprised, but civil. She gave Priscilla a stern lecture about how to behave to the paying guests, then anointed her official Yearning Sands expedition guide.
Priscilla promised to do everything precisely right. She put on the charm for the guests, made a point of taking them to the tree and explaining why it was called the One-Finger Salute and glowed when they laughed. She directed their attention to the nearby stack of boulders and explained it was called the nut sack, because the rocks were shaped like walnuts, and she pulled a disbelieving face. They laughed again. With some surprise, she realized she could be good at this. She directed them to the path leading to the Butler Lighthouse Viewpoint, told them it was a great spot to watch for whales.
While they were off exclaiming about the panorama, she checked on the plastic bag.
It was gone. In its place was something that looked like... She leaned down and brushed at the dirt. Something mostly buried... She brushed a little more.
A finger. A hand.
A woman's hand. With polished nails. And a ring. A hand. Dear God, a hand, a hand, a severed hand.
Priscilla didn't scream or throw up. She had enough sense for that. Head swimming, she stood, wanting to get away from the vile thing. That threat. That promise of death and dismemberment. What should she do?
Run away. Now.
"Are you okay? You look ill."
She jumped, looked up at the older woman, a guest with concern on her plump face. The hand in the ground was revealed, crumpled in death's agony, so Priscilla made eye contact with the woman and started shoving dirt into the hole with her shoe. "I don't feel well. A sudden sickness... Flu season has started..."
The woman took a step back. "You should head back."
"You're right. I should. I'll call the other guests..."
"No!" The woman took another step back. She didn't want to be infected. "Send somebody from the resort for us."
"Thank you. I'm sorry." Priscilla must look bad. White. Sweaty with fear.
She was going back to her cottage to pack. Now. Put everything in her car and run away. And whoever found that box of cursed statues could keep it.