Welcome to my blog, readers of Tuesday Tales! I'm giving you a sneak peak at my mystery/family saga novel work-in-progress "Secrets And Lies". The gist of the story is that Robbie Weston discovered his father's bludgeoned body, and his brother-in-law Ian Stanwood (also a town cop) is helping to conduct an investigation. As he and Robbie inspect the house for various entrances, Ian mentions the tunnel by the fireplace hearth. Could the killer (if there was a killer - that's up for debate) have entered the house via this tunnel? The story is set on the island of Caleb's Woe, which is the city for this week's prompt. This city is based in part on the cities of Gloucester and Rockport, Massachusetts.
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Enjoy my excerpt!
"How many entrances?"
"Front and back doors. French doors open into the sitting room, where Matthew sleeps. They're right behind you. The sitting room has another set of French doors that open to the topiary garden. The upstairs balcony outside the master bedroom has a door. There's a trellis next to it. Easy climb."
"Don't forget the windows. How about a basement?"
"Yes. One door. It jams with the weather changes. It's been raining a lot lately, so it probably wasn't easy to open if it was used. Oh, I almost forgot. The tunnel."
That caught Sark's attention. "Tunnel?"
"It's right over here." Ian walked to the fireplace with Sark on his heels. He placed his hands against the left side of the back wall and applied all of his weight to it. A portion of the fireplace wall moved away to reveal a staircase. Mildew and dust burst in a cloud around both men.
"Well, I'll be damned," Sark said, impressed. "I haven't seen anything like that before in my life."
Ian pulled a flashlight from his pocket. He aimed the beam through the opening. Sark saw brick stairs that descended into gloom.
"Where's that go?"
"Into the Common. About a half dozen homes here have tunnels. They're a few hundred years old."
"I thought they were an Underground Railroad thing."
"It came up this far but it wasn't tunnels. Mostly hiding out in people's houses. The tunnels in Caleb's were mainly for smuggling liquor during Prohibition and for hiding goods from tax collectors. Before Prohibition, pirates used them to smuggle their goods on and off the island. I think some of them connected family homes. Others open onto beaches or in the woods. They could be used as root cellars, too."
"Any chance someone used this one to access the house?"
"I doubt it. Too much trouble. The Common is two miles away, and there's nowhere to park, unless you drive something that can float on a swamp. It's easier to park behind the house. You can't see back there from the main road."
"I need to see what's down there."
"Be careful. There's no hand rail, and the steps are narrow."
They tied rubber bands around their shoes so that their footprints could be identified, not that it mattered, since one look at the accumulated dust made it clear that no one had walked down those steps in years.
The stairwell cooled as they descended. Once they reached bottom, Sark looked around. There wasn't much to see. The tunnel was oval, and hewn of brick. To his right, it disappeared into darkness. Six dark green plastic garbage bags that contained God knows what lay in a corner to his left. A large stack of boxes leaned against one wall.
"This is it. Not much to it, as you can see," Ian aimed the beam down the passage, but the light didn't reveal much. "That goes on for about two miles."
Sark stared into the void in silence for a few seconds.
"Why would there be a tunnel to the Common? There's nothing there."
"Not three hundred years ago. There were a few families living out there. They refused to move to the coast. Stubborn, but that didn't stop them from going to town when they needed supplies. The passageways made it easier for them to get to the town center, especially in bad weather. I know there's one passage that starts by the Clementine ruin and opens next to Saint Mark's Episcopal Church. It's not located inside a house. There are probably tunnels around here that no one has ever found. Plus the Common and these tunnels were great places to hide goods you didn't want to see taxed to the hilt. Remember that we were still fighting the British. This was at about the time of the American Revolution."
"Are the homes still standing?"
"No. They were reduced to rubble centuries ago."
"What's the story behind this tunnel?"
"Smuggling. Two hundred years ago this house was owned by Nathaniel Weston, a merchant who had funded several privateers who visited the area. Pirates are privateers that fell out of favor with the governors for one reason or another. Pirates and privateers are pretty much the same thing, the main difference being whether they worked for themselves or if they worked for the government or a private benefactor like Weston. I think Nathaniel Weston is Kate's great-great-great grandfather. There were rumors that he had made deals with Captain Kidd, but that story has never been verified. Neither have the stories that Kidd buried his treasure here on Caleb's Woe. Lots of Indiana Jones wannabes came here over the years dreaming of buried loot. They dug so many holes that Caleb's looked like Swiss cheese. The town council passed an ordinance -- I don't remember when -- forbidding that kind of digging, or at the very least requiring a permit. The requirements to get one are so stringent that no one bothers anymore. There are all kinds of stories about where Kidd buried his treasure, but all of them have panned out. It's never been found. Kidd traveled up this way. He was captured in Gloucester, and sent to jail in Boston. There was a great deal of pirate activity in Marblehead and Isles of Shoals, just off the coast of Maine. Blackbeard was up in this area, too. Nathaniel Weston had the smuggled goods brought from the shores to the house, transported them through this tunnel, and hid them in the Common. He was rewarded with a percentage of the goods and gold for helping the pirates keep one step ahead of the authorities. He used part of the fortune to build additions to this house and that topiary garden in the back yard."
"How could the tunnels be built through all that granite?"
"The island isn't composed only of granite. There's a great deal of soft earth beneath the rock. Most of the tunnels go through dirt."
"Huh. Learn something new every day. What's in the boxes and bags?"
" I think the bags were supposed to go to Goodwill years ago, but everyone forgot about them. Nothing expensive went down here. The moisture would rot the good stuff in no time."
"Wouldn't moisture have destroyed the good stuff years ago when the pirates used these tunnels?"
"This one was a transport tunnel. It wasn't designed for storage. I'm not sure why, but it's had moisture problems for the past ten years or so, especially when it rains. The other tunnels are cool and dry. Three of the houses in town have tunnels with brick storage rooms attached." He pointed the flashlight beam into the gloom., softly illuminating a long, dark two miles to the Common. "You want to see any of it?"
"No reason to. Let's head back up. This tunnel is making my hair stand on end, what little hair I have left." Sark laughed at his own joke but Ian was too taken aback to say anything.