For a second or two he crouched there, heart thumping, as the red taillights vanished down the highway. He pushed out of the flowering branches and continued up the hill, sticking to the deep shade till he reached the top of the drive.
Every light in the house appeared to be on. So…a good sign? Maybe not.
The house had started life as a single-story beach bungalow. The Barbys had made a number of home improvements, including a gazebo and, most notably, a front deck with a firepit. Ellery couldn’t help noticing all the patio furniture had been put away for the season. Nor was there any sign of Skipper, the Barbys’ wire fox terrier and four-legged alarm system. And, ominously, the teal-colored front door stood wide open.
Ellery crouched by the hedge, watching, but saw no sign of anyone.
After a minute or two, he sprinted to the corner of the raised deck and waited again for any sign that he had been discovered.
When the only sounds that met his ears were the crickets and night birds, he moved quietly along the deck, down the side of the house—staying low to avoid the brightly lit windows—and finally across the back of the house until he came to the big kitchen windows overlooking a putting green.
He was going to feel very silly if the Barbys were sitting out back, having a glass of wine in their gazebo.
But the Barbys were not sitting out back. There was no sign of anyone, inside or out.
Cautiously, Ellery raised his head over the sill and peered through the window.
The spacious kitchen featured black granite counters, an open-island setup, and gleaming stainless-steel appliances. A small fleet of wine bottles crowded every bit of space on the counter and island. One solitary wineglass sat out on the bench, with a tipple in it.
Either the Barbys were having one heck of a wine-tasting party, or their cellar was being liquidated. Ellery was pretty sure it was the latter.
The house appeared to be empty. Were the burglars making trips back and forth with their loot? That much wine wasn’t going to be easy to safely transport. You couldn’t leave dozens of wine bottles bouncing around the back of a van.
A door led from the kitchen into a huge living room. From Ellery’s vantage point, he could see a large natural-stone fireplace, a humongous wall-mounted TV, and an elaborate stereo system with what looked to be surround sound.
Wouldn’t burglars want that TV set and stereo system? But no, Jack had said the thieves only took small, easily portable objects. That TV was the size of a small sofa.
As Ellery considered, someone moved past the living-room doorway.
He ducked down, breathing fast.
Okay. Thank God he hadn’t made the mistake of going inside. It seemed that not all the burglars had gone in the van.
He needed to phone Jack now.
Actually, he needed to have phoned Jack half an hour ago. But now was better than never.
Ellery found his phone, the screen lighting as he scrolled for Jack’s number.
The crunch of footsteps on gravel reached his ears, and his heart sprang into alarmed tempo. Someone was coming.
He thrust his phone in his jeans pocket, dousing the light. How the heck many people were on the premises? This wasn’t a gang; it was a freaking army.
He dived toward the path leading to the gazebo, wincing at the crackle of dead leaves underfoot. Once again he slipped into the shrubs—this time rosebushes and less welcoming. He smothered a yelp as a thorny branch scraped across his cheek, just missing his eye. He prayed for the branches to stop moving.
The silence seemed to reverberate. He waited, trying to hear over the rush of blood in his ears. Maybe he’d… Maybe they’d…
His heart nearly stopped at the sharp whistle from behind him. He peered cautiously through the leaves and saw a shadowy figure at the head of the path.
Had he been seen?
Was there any chance he hadn’t been seen?
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