But their plans are shattered the very first night when they witness a murder. Or did they? Despite their intentions of leaving the investigation to the police, narrow misses and creepy encounters lure them in. Is there really a body floating in the underwater currents of the lake? The closer they get to the truth, the deeper into danger they get. Too late they see the trap. Now each of them must face their own buried fears . . . just below the surface.
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Below the Surface
By Tim Shoemaker, David Conn
ZONDERKIDZCopyright © 2014 Tim Shoemaker
All rights reserved.
Vacations were all about having fun—or running from something not so fun. Cooper needed this vacation to be about both. The fact that he was starting high school in a matter of days wasn't what gnawed at him. Not really. It was something way deeper. Buried. And he intended to keep it there.
The more he packed his days with fun, the more effective his escape would be. And thanks to The Getaway—rather, thanks to Dad's uncle, who gave them the old cabin cruiser—that's exactly what he planned to do. He stood on the teak deck and looked out over Lake Geneva, or rather Geneva Lake, as it was officially named.
"Hey, Coop." It was his cousin Gordy's voice.
Gordy bobbed in the two-man inflatable raft by the back of the boat, his white-blond hair blowing back from his forehead. He grinned and pointed at the bucket of dead fish propped between his knees. "We doing this or not?"
Cooper eyeballed the target of their prank—the Malibu wakeboard boat tied to a buoy about halfway between them and the beach. "Absolutely."
Hiro gave him a questioning look, as if she wasn't sure this was a good idea. Predictable.
Cooper smiled and hustled to the stern of the boat. He peeled off his T-shirt, swung over the transom rail, and dropped onto the attached swim platform below. The buoy his dad had rented was among a dozen others anchoring pontoon, sail, and speedboats in a corner pocket of Lake Geneva bordering Big Foot Beach State Park. Like the heel of a giant sock, the lakeshore curved in two directions away from where the boats were anchored.
The south shoreline ran nearly straight west from this elbow of the lake. And in the other direction, the beach jutted north along Lake Shore Drive and the park. Eventually this shoreline wound around Maytag Point and on toward town.
The swim to either the beach or to the south shore looked to be about a hundred yards, give or take ten strokes. The Getaway was tied to the farthest buoy from either shore, which meant nothing but water between them and the horizon. The spot—and the lake—was absolutely perfect.
"Lunk's gonna wish we'd waited for him," Gordy said. "But we'd be crazy to miss this chance."
"You're both crazy to take this chance," Hiro said.
Whether Hiro was worried that something would go wrong or that her dream of being a cop someday conflicted with pulling a prank like this, Cooper couldn't be sure. And he wasn't about to ask.
Cooper glanced at the Malibu wakeboard boat again. The extreme green fiberglass hull with yellow accents practically glowed in the setting sun. Only a navy blue sailboat sat buoyed between them and their target.
Hiro rested her forearms on the rail above him. "Let's go for a walk on the beach instead. You guys can skip stones or something." She smiled and nodded.
Gordy laughed. "Nice try."
Hiro's black braid hung over one shoulder as if it were pointing at them. Accusing. "This is a bad idea, guys."
She was probably right. The Malibu was empty, but not for long. If they were going to do this, now was the time.
"We're on vacation, remember?" Hiro said. "No trouble. No worries. Just fun."
Cooper nodded. "That's exactly what we're doing. Having fun."
Hiro raised her eyebrows. "Is that what you call it?"
Gordy grinned. "Your problem is that you don't know how to have fun."
"I can think of a lot more enjoyable things to be doing than planting stinky fish in some innocent stranger's boat." She smiled and shook her head. "What is it with guys?"
She used the word enjoyable like that was the goal all along. Which only proved she didn't understand guys at all. This was about taking chances. Risks. And living to laugh about it later. "It gets the adrenaline pumping," Cooper said. It wasn't much of an answer, but it was the best he could do. She wasn't going to get it anyway.
"That's it? That's your explanation?" Hiro looked incredulous. "Five minutes ago a guy built like Superman tied that boat to the buoy and rowed his trophy date to shore."
"He doesn't look anything like the real Superman," Gordy said.
Hiro tilted her head to one side. "The real Superman? And here I thought he was a fictional character."
Gordy looked at her like she was weird. "You've never watched the old black-and-white TV show? It's like from back in the fifties or something."
"You might find this hard to believe," Hiro said, "but I find better things to do than watch old TV shows or pull pranks."
"You're right." Gordy didn't even look up. "That is hard to believe."
His jab didn't even faze her. "Did you notice the guy and his date—what was really going on there?"
"Yeah," Gordy said. "They crossed the street and went into the pizza place. Blah, blah, blah. We all saw that. What's the problem?"
Hiro sighed that way she did when she was about to make a point. Here it comes.
Cooper smiled and climbed into the inflatable.
"When guys are around girls, they like to show off," Hiro said slowly. "Impress them. Prove how tough they are."
Okay. Maybe Hiro understood guys better than Cooper thought.
"And while Superman is chowing down on pizza and romancing his babe, we're going to leave a little surprise in his boat." Gordy grinned. "We'll see how impressed his date is then."
"Exactly." Hiro looked up at the darkening sky like she was hoping for a little help. "You aren't seeing the red flag here?"
Ah. The red-flag approach. One of Hiro's favorites.
Cooper shrugged. "Looks like a green flag to me."
Gordy laughed. "Or a checkered one." He shielded his eyes with one hand and scanned the beach. "I'm not seeing a red one anywhere."
Cooper loved Hiro's exasperated expression. Yeah, this vacation was going to be exactly what he needed.
Hiro sighed. "I hate to sound like the mom here, but you two are running with scissors. You know that, right?"
Gordy shook his head like he was trying to make sense out of what Hiro had just said. "What?"
"You're living dangerously. Run with scissors and eventually you'll get cut."
Gordy waved her off. "It's a harmless prank."
"Hmmm." Hiro didn't look convinced. Or impressed. "We'll see how harmless it is once Superman comes out and catches you two messing with his boat."
Hiro was always seeing the danger in things. Trouble was, Cooper knew she was usually right.
"He's not going to catch us," Gordy said, "unless you keep delaying us. C'mon, Coop."
Gordy scooted to make room in the inflatable. "Sure you won't join us, Hiro?"
"You two have your fun," she said. "I'll watch from here. Excuse me if I don't see the point in all this."
"Point?" Gordy looked confused. "We're not trying to make a point. There is no point to it."
Hiro smirked. "So it's pointless. Thanks for clearing that up for me."
Gordy reached into the bucket, grabbed a bloated sunfish by the tailfin, and tossed it at Hiro. She ducked and screamed. The dead fish nearly hit her in the face, then slapped the water on the other side of the boat.
Cooper and Gordy laughed.
Hiro glared at them, but the smile was still there. Sometimes she worried about them more than she needed to. Cooper understood that.
"We'll be right back." Cooper pushed off from the swim platform and paddled with his arms toward the speedboat. How long had the couple been inside the pizza place? If they were dining in, there was still plenty of time. But if it turned out to be a carryout order—he'd be wishing they'd listened to Hiro.
He paddled harder. Getting caught doing a prank took all the fun out of it—the mark of an amateur. Not to mention the fact that he really didn't want Hiro to have the satisfaction of being right.
They paddled past the sailboat. Probably a twenty-eight-footer. Small cabin for sleeping. Ra Ra Avis was painted on the stern. Now the Malibu was in plain view.
Gordy scooped with both hands. "Surgical strike or buckshot?"
Cooper eyed the boat. Buckshot was the quickest— which made it safer. Just get within throwing range and lob the fish into the boat. There'd be no control over where the fish landed—and the boaters would spot them immediately when they got back.
Where was the fun in that?
But a surgical strike meant pulling up alongside the boat and at least one of them going inside to strategically hide the fish. He looked back at the restaurant. No sign of the boaters. "Surgical."
"Agreed." Gordy grinned.
A light breeze out of the northwest kept the green wakeboard boat in a perfect position to block the view of anyone watching from shore. Hiro, on the other hand, would have a perfect view—if she decided to watch.
They quickly closed the distance between them and the Malibu. Cooper grabbed the corner of the swim platform and pulled the inflatable close.
Gordy nodded in the direction of the name painted on the transom. "What's that all about?"
"Krypto Night." Cooper read the name aloud. Immediately he thought of Hiro's nickname for the driver: Superman. The boat's name was obviously a play off the fictional kryptonite that drained Superman of his strength. Was the boat's owner being clever? "Maybe he thinks he's Superman, and this boat is his one weakness." It made sense, in a way. The boat was kryptonite green. And what guy wouldn't love a sweet boat like this?
"Well, I hope Superman has a strong stomach." Gordy tapped the bucket. "Some of these fish are getting really ripe."
The boat looked brand-new, and the dead fish weren't going to make Superman happy. Cooper hesitated. Did he really want to do this? He pushed the thought out of his head. He was on vacation. "One of us needs to stay with the inflatable."
"I'm on it," Gordy said. "You can have the honor of planting the fish."
Cooper glanced toward the pizza place. There was still no sign of the boat's owner.
"Okay." Cooper crawled onto the swim platform. "Here we go." He climbed over the motor hatch and crouched on the deck. Staying low, he made his way to the side of the boat. "Ready when you are."
Gordy poured out most of the water, then handed the bucket up to him. "Have fun."
With the water gone, the fish reeked. He lifted a white seat cushion and hesitated. The guy might never get the smell out of the boat. The boat was too nice—or maybe Cooper was. Besides, if he dropped a fish into the storage compartment underneath, the guy would smell it immediately. Figuring out who did it would be easy.
An ice chest sat on the floor just behind the driver's seat. Cooper lifted the lid. Jackpot. Ice and drinks. He scooped three dead fish into the cooler. When somebody reached inside for a cold drink, they'd get a real surprise. Cooper stared at the bottles and suddenly knew that Superman wasn't planning to eat in the restaurant. He was going to bring the pizza to the boat. Time to move.
An air horn blasted nearby—from The Getaway, to be exact. Cooper raised his head just enough to see over the side of the boat. Hiro was motioning wildly as if she were waving a flag—and it definitely wasn't a green one.
"Coop," Gordy said, "Superman just left the pizza place. Let's fly."
The guy and his date walked lazily across Lake Shore Drive. Pizza box. Carryout. Terrific.
The thing about pranking was keeping your head if something didn't go according to plan. And this was one of those times.
Cooper kept his eyes on Superman. "He'll see me crawling over the side. Start paddling. I'll catch up."
Once Gordy started paddling, Krypto Night would block any chance of the inflatable being spotted from the beach.
Gordy looked up at Cooper one more time as if to be sure, then laid back and paddled for Ra Ra Avis. The sailboat was half the distance to The Getaway, and all Gordy had to do was get the inflatable behind it. Cooper turned his attention back to the beach.
Superman hauled a small rowboat off the sand. His date was already inside, holding the pizza box on her lap. Superman boarded, took a seat with his back to Cooper, and pulled on the oars.
Go. Cooper tossed the bucket over the side. The thing would sink, and they could find it later. Right now it would only slow him down. Staying on all fours, he crawled to the open bow seating area. He glanced toward shore. The guy's back was still to him. Hopefully the girl wouldn't spot him. But if he stayed in the boat much longer, they both would. Cooper slid over the side and into the water without a splash. His head never dipped below the surface.
Gordy had a huge lead, his long arms reaching and pulling. He skimmed around the nose of the sailboat and disappeared from view almost completely.
Now all Cooper had to do was join him without being spotted.
Cooper struck out for the sailboat with strong, fast strokes. Krypto Night wouldn't screen his escape for long. He knifed through the water, turning his head to the side to gulp fresh air on every third stroke.
His mental clock was spinning. He didn't dare look back. Superman would be pulling up to Krypto Night any second. They'd see him for sure.
Fifteen yards. So close, yet so far.
Ten yards. He'd have to go under. It would be slower, but it was the only way to reach the other side of the sailboat without being seen.
Cooper took a deep breath, jackknifed, and dove. Instantly his heart pounded in panic. Something was down here. Waiting for him. He opened his eyes to a blur of dark greens and black—and let out a gurgling scream. He was going to die. He sucked in a mouthful of water, triggering a violent spasm of coughing and choking and gulping for air. More water went down his windpipe. Was he dying? Surrounded by suffocating blackness, he kicked and spun and clawed his way toward daylight.
After breaking the surface, Cooper thrashed at the water, choking, gasping, and choking some more. Get out of here! Get out of here! Everything was a blur. Grabbing something, he frantically pulled himself up on it.
"What are you doing?" The voice sounded far away. "Coop, you're going to sink us."
Everything was still spinning. Cooper grabbed and held on.
"Let go of me, Coop. What's wrong with you?" It was Gordy's voice. Closer now. "Coop! You're safe. Easy now. Easy."
Cooper didn't let go, but his coughing eased up and his vision started to clear. He was inside the inflatable—curled up on the bottom like a half-drowned puppy and clutching Gordy's ankle. How did he get here?
"Tell me this is all an act," Gordy said.
Cooper tried to steady his breathing. His whole body was shaking, and his heart was still doing the mambo.
"Okay. I get it," Gordy whispered. "What did you see down there?"
What did he see? Blackness. But that didn't mean there was nothing there. Whatever it was, it was something that reached right through his skin and wouldn't let go. The invisible hand of death. Cooper let go of Gordy's ankle and looked up at him.
Gordy jerked his hand from the water and scanned the surface of the lake. "Tell me you didn't see an alligator." Gordy looked terrified.
Cooper didn't want to move. He didn't want to talk. He just wanted to get back on dry ground, hop on his bike, and ride and ride and ride. What had just happened to him?
Yet somehow he knew—or had a sense, anyway—that something he'd buried months ago wasn't really dead. And now it was rising from its grave.CHAPTER 2
Hiro stared at the inflatable. What was Cooper up to? He should have made it to the other side of the sailboat easily—but he surfaced just seconds after going under. He loved the water. Was more likely to swim underwater than on the surface. But he'd thrashed around like someone who couldn't swim at all. And he'd practically pulled Gordy into the water with him while trying to climb into the inflatable raft.
She smiled to herself. It must have been part of his strategy. Act like you're a total novice in the water, and they'll never suspect that you swam to their boat to prank it. Coop definitely looked convincing—a little ammo to tease him about.
Hiro watched the girl holding the pizza box. She was wearing a plain white T-shirt and tight jean shorts. Pretty. Trim. Probably eighteen or nineteen years old, if Hiro had to guess. There was something fluid and purposeful about the way the girl moved—like she'd gone through high school swinging pom-poms.
Excerpted from Below the Surface by Tim Shoemaker, David Conn. Copyright © 2014 Tim Shoemaker. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERKIDZ.
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