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Chapter no 62 – JAMESON

The Brothers Hawthorne

The key in Branford’s hand was made of shining gold, encrusted with green jewels.

Branford found the key first. A dull roar in his ears, Jameson turned back. On his way out of the cave, he didn’t even bother feeling his way along the wall. He moved quickly, without a single safeguard in place to keep himself from falling.

Jameson hated losing.

He passed Katharine near the entrance but didn’t say a word to her. Bursting back into the sunlight, Jameson wondered how long Branford had been in the cave. Minutes, definitely. But how many?

How much did he beat us here by?

Given his uncle’s familiarity with the manor and the estate, Branford wouldn’t have had to work to find his way out of the house, wouldn’t have had to search for a way out to the edge or down the cliffs.

Had he even decoded Rohan’s verbal clue? Or had he just assumed that of course there would be a key in one of the caves? Was that particular cave known as the smugglers’ cave?

Had he played there with Jameson’s father as a child?

No. Jameson wasn’t going to go down that rabbit hole—or any rabbit hole other than figuring out where the hell the remaining two keys were.

Katharine and Branford are here. What about Zella?

What if she had already found one? What if the Game was already lost?

No. Jameson refused to give into that line of thinking. If Rohan

suspected how easily Branford would find the smugglers’ cave key, then it won’t be the one that opens the prize box.

But it might be the one that opens my secret.

“Jameson?”

Avery’s voice pulled him back to the present. Neither Katharine nor Branford had yet exited the cave. Unless there’s another way in and out. Yet another piece of information that Branford would have had from growing up here that Jameson didn’t.

“The odds are stacked.” Jameson said that like a fact, not a complaint. “Branford knows this place. He got to the key first. And Katharine—I don’t know who exactly she is, or how far her connection to this family goes back, but I’d guess pretty damn far.”

Jameson would have bet everything he had that this wasn’t her first trip to Vantage. She’d clearly known Branford since he was a child.

Since my father and uncles were children. Thinking about Ian was a distraction right now—and if there was one thing that Jameson was certain of, it was that he couldn’t afford a distraction.

Couldn’t afford to lose another key.

“We’ll head back up.” Avery’s voice was steady. “There are still two more keys out there, and given that four out of the five of us ended up at the caves first, I doubt this key is the key.”

Her mind had a habit of mirroring his own, and that meant that she knew as well as he did: The next key was theirs. It had to be.

 

 

They went back the way they came. And the entire time, Jameson was running through everything that Rohan had said before the start of the Game. The Factotum hadn’t just intimated that he’d given them enough information to find key; he’d suggested that they had what they needed to win.

What were his exact words? Jameson could practically hear the old man quizzing him. Hawthorne games were won and lost based on attention to detail. Fortunes were made and lost based on the same.

Jameson summoned an image of Rohan talking and played back the

words he’d said—exactly. If that’s your way of asking if I’ve made it easy for you all, Rohan had told Zella, I have not. No rest for the wicked, my dear. But it would hardly be sporting if I hadn’t given you everything you needed to win.

Jameson watched where he was going, made sure that his foot never slipped. Avery was ahead of him, and he watched her climb, willing his mind to see what others might miss.

No rest for the wicked…

It would hardly be sporting…

Rohan’s use of the term smuggle hadn’t been accidental. He hadn’t accidentally left that book. What were the chances that every other turn of phrase he’d used had been intentional, too?

Think back further. Jameson kept climbing up that cliff. Seventy feet off the ground. A hundred. No margin for error.

He went back over Rohan’s every statement, starting at the top.

Hidden somewhere on this estate are three keys. The manor, the grounds

—they’re all fair play. There are also three boxes. The Game is simple. Find the keys. Open the boxes. Two of the three contain secrets. Two of yours, as a matter of fact.

Jameson didn’t dwell on that. One foot after the other, a hundred twenty feet up.

So, two boxes with secrets. In the third, you’ll find something much more valuable. Tell me what you find in the third box, and you’ll win the mark.

It was called a mark. Not a chip. Not a token. A mark. And why was a mark necessary at all? It had already been established at that point that they all knew the stakes they were playing for.

Leave the manor and the grounds in the condition in which you found them. Dig up the yard, and you’d best fill the holes. Anything broken must be mended. Leave no stone unturned but smuggle nothing out.

The stone and the turning—that could have referred to the statue. But what if it didn’t?

Two hundred feet up.

Likewise, you may do no damage to your fellow players. They, like the house and the grounds, will be left in the condition in which you found them. Violence of any kind will be met with immediate expulsion from the Game.

That seemed straightforward. The only words that even remotely jumped out to Jameson were condition and damage.

Were they looking for something damaged?

Something for which the condition mattered a great deal? Art. Antiques.

Two hundred thirty feet up.

You have twenty-four hours, beginning at the top of the hour. After that, the prize will be considered forfeit.

“The top of the hour.” Jameson wondered how many clocks there were in the manor.

Two hundred seventy feet up.

If that’s your way of asking if I’ve made it easy for you all, I have not. Jameson was retreading old ground now, and he and Avery had almost finished the climb. No rest for the wicked, my dear. But it would hardly be sporting if I hadn’t given you everything you needed to win.

Jameson reached the top of the cliff and stepped onto solid ground. The Game starts when you hear the bells. Until then, I suggest you all let the wheels turn a bit and acquaint yourself with the competition.

“You’re thinking,” Avery commented, stepping back into her dress. “You’re in deep.”

Deep in his own mind, deep in the weeds of the Game.

Jameson zipped her dress for her, but this time, he didn’t linger on the task. “I’m going back through everything that Rohan said. There are certain phrases that stick out.”

Smuggle nothing out?” Avery suggested wryly.

“That would be one,” Jameson agreed, a low buzz building beneath his skin. “But not the only one.”

“No rest for the wicked.” That was the one Avery went for first. “No stone unturned.” She paused. “It reminds me of the first clue in my very first Hawthorne game. The idioms in your letters, remember?”

Jameson gave her a look. Of course he remembered. He remembered everything about those early days. “Technically,” he said, “that wasn’t your first Hawthorne game. The keys,” he reminded her. They were a Hawthorne tradition. “No rest for the wicked. No stone unturned. Let the wheels turn a bit. Dig up the yard. Fill the holes. Anything broken must be mended. The mark.”

The possibilities and combinations twisted and turned in Jameson’s

mind.

The gate to the stone garden was still open. The moment Jameson stepped through, the moment he looked out upon the thousands and thousands of stones that paved the ground, he saw it.

“Leave no…” he started to say.

“… stone unturned,” Avery finished. For a moment, they just stood there, staring out at this massive haystack, contemplating the possibility of one very small needle.

“There are probably a ton of stones in the manor, too,” Avery commented. “The walls of the room we started in were stone.”

Jameson’s hand came to rest on the cast-iron lock. It had been unlocked when they’d gotten here. He turned it around, and there, on the back, he found a message.

HINT: GO BACK TO THE START.

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