‘Me?’ Taya squeaked as her father came into the kitchen.
‘Well, she asked for the little blonde girl, so I’m guessing she doesn’t mean your mother. Now scoot! Where are your manners? She’s waiting outside.’
‘I hate this place,’ muttered Taya, stomping across the room and retrieving her shoes. ‘Why did we have to come here? Nobody ever listens to me.’
As she reached the front door, she took a deep breath, stepped out and looked around. To her right, sitting on a large rock, was the woman from the pier.
She was small, not much taller than Taya was, and very thin. The woman nodded and held out a bony fist as Taya walked slowly toward her. Taya shivered as she remembered that claw-like hand grasping her wrist, but, realizing that the woman was holding something, held out her own hand to receive it.
‘Yours,’ said the woman, tilting her head to the side and dropping a silver chain with a tiny flower charm attached into the palm of Taya’s hand.
Seeing it lying there, Taya’s mind flashed back to the struggle on the pier. Of course, the bracelet must have come off then. She looked up to see the old woman hurrying away along the pathway. Fear forgotten, Taya started after her.
‘Hey! Wait! Stop! I want to talk to you!’ she called. ‘Thank you,’ she gasped when she caught up. ‘Thanks for bringing it back.’
The woman stopped, turned her head and tilted it sideways in that odd way again.
‘I liked the little flower on it.’
‘It’s meant to be a forget-me-not, you know, the little blue flower. See, on the back, it’s got my initials, TJB: Taya Jeanne Bayliss. My mother gave it to me because of my blue eyes.’ She stopped talking and took a breath.
‘Sorry. I’m babbling. I do that when I’m nervous. Why did you push me off the wall?’
Taya waited for the woman to respond but she just shook her head vigorously, turned and continued on along the pathway.
How rude, thought Taya, following and falling into step beside the old lady. For some minutes they walked, side by side without speaking. Just as Taya began to think that she should give up and go back to the cottage, the woman spoke.
‘Mae,’ she said. ‘My name is Mae. I did not push you. I pulled you back. I saw you falling and I pulled you back.’
They had reached the turn onto the seafront road where there was an outcrop of rock with a seat cut into it on the sheltered side. Tourists could rest there and enjoy the view with some protection from the strong west winds. Mae stopped and sat, motioning Taya to sit beside her.
‘This is a good spot,’ she whispered. ‘They can’t see us here.’
Taya sat and looked around. ‘Who can’t see us? Who are we hiding from?’
Mae tucked her white curls more firmly up under her hat and looked out at the sea.
‘Garnett Shaw and his dopey friend. They follow me everywhere. Never leave me in peace.’
‘Because they think I have hidden treasure,’ Mae replied, quietly.
Taya looked at Mae to see if she was joking. Hidden treasure? First she knocks me off the sea wall, Taya thought, then she pulls me back, then she tries to kidnap me or something, and now hidden treasure! Whatever next? But, judging by the look on her lined face and the way she was twisting her scarf, Mae was completely serious.
‘And.do you? Have hidden treasure, I mean?’ whispered Taya, trying to appear calm, when inside she was bubbling with curiosity.
‘Well, of course not, you silly girl. Who has hidden treasure these days? What do you think I am, a pirate or something?’
Mae stood up and brushed down the front of her coat and trousers as she peeked around the side of the rock.
Apparently there was no sign of Garnett Shaw or the dopey friend, because Mae darted off down the seafront road without a backward look.
Taya stood too and watched her go.
‘Mad,’ she said, shaking her head. ‘Totally mad.’
A shower of pebbles rained down on her from the top of the huge rock and she hopped back quickly to the shelter of the seat to avoid being hit. The sound of running feet had her peering around the side of the rock, just as Mae had done, in time to see two young men following the white haired figure that was hurrying along the seafront road.
Taya felt a stab of fear for a moment but then released a long breath as she realized that Mae was no longer visible amid the crowd of tourists. The two followers had stopped and were pushing each other, obviously not pleased.
Taya walked back to the cottage slowly, running through the day’s events in her mind.
Is Mae really as loopy as she seems? Why is Mae being followed? Is there a treasure after all? What is really going on in Bascombe Bay?
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