Authors: C.J. Urban
Tags: #Mystery: Thriller -
|C.J. Urban - Julie Townsend 01 - Hidden Intent|
|Number I of|
|C.J. Urban (2014)|
|Tags:||Mystery: Thriller - Hidden Diary - California|
BOOKS BY C.J. Urban
Published by C.J. Urban
Copyright © 2
014 by C.J. Urban
All rights reserved.
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To my uncle for his constant support.
The house wasn’t as bad as Julie had anticipated. She pulled her black Ford truck over and parked, taking a long look around. She’d never been to Dupont, a small town just south of Sacramento, before. Julie felt a warm breeze blow through her hair as she glanced at the neighboring houses. She was relieved to see that most of them were well kept.
Summer was Julie’s favorite season, but she knew that moving into the new home in this heat was going to be unpleasant. She got out of the truck, walked around to the passenger side and peered through the window at her younger brother, who frowned and narrowed his eyes.
“Come on Sam, don’t sulk.”
“I’m not getting out,” Sam said, crossing his arms.
Julie kept her patience. “Fine, but you’re going to get awfully hot sitting in the truck with no air conditioning.”
“I don’t want to live here, Julie,” Sam whined.
“It’s a little late for that, Sam,” Julie told him. “Mom and Dad would have wanted this for us. Please don’t be difficult.”
Sam slowly opened the door and got out, still sulking. Julie loved her little brother more than anything, but his mood swings and depression were starting to concern her. He’d been through a lot. So had she, but Julie was older, and taking care of Sam was her responsibility.
All she wanted was for this move to be easy, but she knew that Sam would probably have a difficult time adjusting, and she couldn’t blame him. This small, hot, dusty town was a far cry from where the two had grown up in Huntington Beach. It was definitely a change, in more ways than one.
Julie took her brother’s hand and gently led him away from the truck, toward the house. The cracked, uneven sidewalk leading to the walkway caught her off balance, and she tripped slightly. Sam giggled for the first time all day as he watched her regain her balance and composure. Julie giggled along with him. Sam had their mother’s smile, she thought to herself. It both broke her heart and filled her with joy whenever she saw it.
They reached the bare, wooden front door and Julie knocked hard. She and Sam waited, staring at the faded and chipped gray paint on the house. She turned toward Sam to catch his reaction, but his f
ace was stoic again. Julie looked past him to the dead lawn and weed-filled flowerbeds. It wasn’t all that bad, she thought to herself, but it definitely needed some work. She reminded herself that they were incredibly lucky to live there rent-free.
The door finally opened, and a kind-looking, middle aged woman stood at the threshold. “Well, hello there.”
“Hi, I’m Julie Townsend,” Julie said, her voice faltering slightly.
“Yes, of course. I’m Gloria Hanson, your Uncle Oliver’s friend. And this must be your brother, Sam.”
“Yep,” Julie said, brushing the blonde hair out of his dark green eyes.
“It’s very nice to meet you, Sam,” Gloria offered. Sam gave her a smile but said nothing. His eyes wandered to the front of the house as he rolled a dead branch beneath his foot.
“Thanks for taking the time to meet us here,” Julie said. “The process of moving such a long way has been a little intimidating for us.”
Gloria smiled at Julie. “No problem at all, dear. Oliver has always been a good friend of mine. I wish I could do more to help him.”
“We really appreciate all you do for him.” Julie knew that Gloria was one of the few people who regularly visited her uncle at his retirement home. He didn’t have many friends to keep him company.
Gloria nodded. “Well, come on in, and I’ll show you two around.”
Julie stepped over the threshold and into the house, with Sam shuffling in her wake, and gazed around. The place was completely empty, except for quite a bit of dust, and cobwebs hanging from the corners. The emptiness felt eerie. Julie hoped that once the movers unloaded everything and she’d unpacked, she would feel more at home. According to the moving company, the truck would be there sometime between two and three that afternoon.
“Let’s start with the living room,” Gloria said over her shoulder. “Oh, and your uncle asked me to tell you that he has only one rule as long as you live here.”
Julie held her breath, suddenly anxious. She hoped the one rule wasn’t something too eccentric or hard to adhere to. “What rule is that?”
“The only thing he asks is that you not remove any of Tara’s things.”
“Not a problem,” Julie said, letting go of the breath she was holding. “I only need two of the bedrooms, anyway.”
Julie looked around the empty living room, visualizing where she would place her furniture. She and Sam didn’t have much, but she was fond of what she did own, as she had purchased everything herself; in her opinion a huge accomplishment for a twenty-three year old.
“Let me show you the rest of the downstairs,” Gloria said, walking into a room directly in front of the living room. As Julie took in this area, she thought it must have been used as a dining room because of the tile flooring. The tile was a forest green with cracked black grout, and although she didn’t much like the color, she knew it wouldn’t show much dirt.
Gloria then led them into the kitchen, which was more spacious than Julie expected. The darkly stained cabinets stretched across two of the walls, leaving the other two bare and yellowed. The counters were covered with dark blue tile, and an island stood in the center. The cabinets were scratched and in need of repair, but functional. Julie was just grateful that Sam could now live in a house again, and not the tiny studio apartment they had left behind, even if they had left the beach behind as well.
With Julie and Sam following, Gloria made her way back into the entryway and motioned for them to follow her upstairs. They climbed the creaky staircase and reached the landing.
“There are four rooms up here,” Gloria began. “Three are empty, and Tara’s is either locked or stuck, I’m not sure which.”
Julie peered into the lock hole beneath the doorknob of Tara’s room, wondering how to get the door open. She didn’t like the idea of having a room in her house that she couldn’t get into. She put a hand on the door, and a chill went through her. Julie quickly pulled her hand away and stepped back. She took Sam’s hand, whether out of her own unease or protection for her brother, she wasn’t quite sure.
But determined, she asked Gloria, “Is there someone in town who can help me open it? I don’t want to remove anything, I just want to have a look, you know?”
“I don’t blame you,” Gloria answered. “I’d be curious, too. My son, Skye, works at the hardware store in town, and has a friend who’s a locksmith. Go down and talk to him, and he’ll be able to point you in the right direction.”
Julie kept herself and Sam clear of her dead cousin Tara’s bedroom door as she said, “I’ll go see him. Thanks.”
“Here are the other bedrooms,” Gloria said, opening the three doors. “I hope you can make yourselves comfortable here.”
One of the rooms was larger than the other two. It was, Julie thought, as close to a master bedroom as a fifty year old house could get. There was a set of windows that opened outward, under which a small sitting area lay.
“Can this be my room, Julie?” Sam asked, and Julie smiled at his enthusiasm. It was at least something.
“Sure,” Julie answered.
“Cool! I’ll have room for all of my toys in here!” Sam ran into the room and twirled around in circles, celebrating finally having a large room for his own.
“Well, there’s not much else to show,” Gloria said, rubbing her chin as she glanced around the dusty hall. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a set of keys for Julie. “These are the house keys, one for the front door and one for the back. It was great meeting you and Sam.”
“Thank you, Gloria, for all of your help,” Julie said genuinely. She felt like she’d already made a friend in this new town.
“No problem. If you two need anything, just let me know.”
Gloria sauntered lazily back down the stairs, leaving Julie standing in the hall, listening to the woman’s footsteps fading, and finally the front door closed. She suddenly felt lonely.
Sam, done goofing off, came to her side and put an arm around her waist. The darkness of Tara’s closed door contrasted the sunlight filtering through the other opened doors.
Sam looked from Tara’s room up to his sister. “I don’t like that room,” he said.
The closed door did give off a foreboding vibe, but Julie shook it off. She hugged Sam tightly, thinking that she was failing him in some way. She knew she could never replace their parents, who had been suddenly and tragically taken from them, but she was doing the best that she could.
And she wanted to give Sam back that sparkle in his eye. “I have an idea. Let’s go visit Gloria’s son, Skye, at the hardware store, and find out how to get that door unlocked.”
know if I want to,” Sam said with all honesty.
I bet it won’t seem so weird once we see inside. You’ll see. And, we have a few things to pick up there anyway.”
“Okay,” Sam said, resigned. “I guess seeing what’s in that room might be fun.”
Julie smiled at him and winked. “Definitely.”
Sam raced past the door and down the stairs. Julie put a hand on the door a final time before following. It might be fun to see what’s in there, she thought to herself. But then again, she was afraid that she might not like what they would find. Not at all.
Outside, Julie locked up the house and she and Sam climbed into her truck. She realized she had no idea whatsoever where to find the hardware store, so she grabbed her GPS from the glove compartment and snapped it into the dash mount. She searched, and found the only hardware store for miles around. She figured it had to be the one Gloria had mentioned. The town of Dupont was so small that Julie assumed it probably had only one of every kind of store.
She eased her truck away from the house and headed into town, hoping Skye was working today. About ten minutes later, they arrived at Dietrich’s Hardware and Julie saw Gloria walking out of the shop, holding a large bag of bought goods. Gloria spotted them and gave a warm wave before getting into her grey Pontiac and driving off.
Julie made her way into the store, with Sam trailing behind her. She glanced at the various signs, and navigated to the left corner of the store to one that read
Lock & Key Services
When they reached the counter Julie found a young man who looked about the right age to be Gloria’s son. He was sitting on a stool, carefully working on an ornate brass key. He had a straight nose and a defined jawline, and his bright blue eyes had a little mischief behind them. His long, wavy jet-black hair and slight facial stubble gave him a relaxed appearance that suited him.
“Excuse me,” Julie said, “Are you Skye Hanson?”
“Depends on what you need,” he answered, looking up from his work with a slight grin.
Julie didn’t quite know how to answer. The young man laughed. “I’m just kidding. How can I help you?”
Something about him, maybe the look in his eye that seemed to dare Julie to kid along with him, made Julie feel like a giggly teenager. She struggled to compose herself. “We just moved into a house that has a locked door, and we need to get it opened. Do you know of any way to do that?”
“Sure,” he answered confidently. “But first, how old is the house?”
“I’m pretty sure it’s about fifty years old,” Julie answered, wondering if the blush she felt in her cheeks showed. She hoped not.
Sky paused, thinking, and then ducked down behind the counter, searching through what sounded like several sets of jingling keys. He whistled a song while he looked, and Julie wracked her brain to place the tune. She knew she’d heard it before. Sam wandered a little, checking out the various hardware tools and gadgets.