Authors: Julie Hyzy
Tags: #amateur detective, #amateur sleuth, #amateur sleuth murder mystery murder, #female protaganist, #female sleuth, #murder mystery, #mystery, #mystery novel, #series, #suspense
Copyright 2010 Julie Hyzy
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All rights reserved. No part of this book may
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form or by any mechanical means without permission in writing from
the author. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places,
and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are
used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or
dead, or to any businesses or locale, is purely coincidental.
In memory of Mom and Dad,
Whose words of wisdom I miss every day.
Believe me when I tell you there are more
people to thank than I have pages in this book. Far too many to
list, but a few notables:
Memories of a cold Hell
Night served to inspire a key scene in
. Thanks to my
fraternity brothers, the Gamma Pi chapter of Delta Sigma Pi—You
know who you are.
My heartfelt thanks to my wonderful family:
Curt, Robyn, Sara, Biz, and Paul. Your support, encouragement, and
love have given me wings.
The problem was, I couldn’t leave.
My cell phone chirped, shattering the
awkward, magazine-reading silence of the crowded waiting room. In
the quick moment it took me to haul my purse from the floor to my
lap, the phone chirped again, and the two strangers flanking me
shook their heads in annoyance.
As the phone continued its high-pitched
signal, I scrambled out of my seat, dug for the handset, and headed
toward the wall-mounted display of blank adoption file requests in
the far corner. The space afforded me a modicum of privacy as I
checked Caller ID, then answered.
Back in Chicago, my assistant talked fast. I
could tell by the hollow sound of her voice that she kept a hand
cupped over the mouthpiece. “Bass is furious. He wants to know
where you are.”
Bass was always furious about something, but
the tension in Jordan’s voice—practically pinging over the
connection—had me worried.
Don’t know. He isn’t
saying much except for bugging me to find out where you
What did you tell
I could almost see her dark face grimace. “I
sure as hell didn’t let on you were in Springfield, if that’s what
you’re asking,” she said. I could always count on Jordan for sass.
A beat later, her conspiratorial tone returned. “What do you want
me to say?”
My mind raced. “Tell him I have a doctor’s
appointment. I’ll be in as soon as I can.”
A doctor’s appointment?
Girl, you’re four hours away. He’s not going to believe any
doctor’s appointment takes that long.”
Tell him it’s female
troubles. That’ll make him squirm.”
She let out a short laugh, then sobered.
“You best get back here as soon as you can. I think it’s something
to do with that priest story of yours.”
Oh, shit,” I said, hoping
no one nearby heard me, cupping my own hand over the phone now,
too. “Did Milla change her mind about talking to us on
Bass hasn’t told me squat
about what’s going on. All I know is, he’s been on the phone all
morning, screaming at people. He’s flipping out, let me tell you.
And he says you better get back here, pronto.
A stern voice from behind the far desk
called out my name. “Alexandrine St. James?”
I gotta go, Jordan,” I
said. “They just called me.” I waved to the woman, who acknowledged
me with an absent-minded nod. Making my way toward her, I spoke
into the phone again. “I’ll call you when I’m done here. Hold him
off as long as you can.”
You got it, Alex, but he
said if you aren’t back by lunch time, your ass is
* * * * *
With a tight smile stretching my face, I
waited in the warm cubicle, seconds ticking by like years. I sat up
a little straighter, allowing trickles of perspiration an express
path down my back. “Guess I’m getting a late start on this search
compared to most folks, huh?” I said, trying to both break the ice
and quicken my caseworker’s pace.
My fingers drummed a silent beat against my
leg as the woman scanned my adoption request.
I wore a khaki skirt and white sleeveless
blouse, hoping my look said “trustworthy.” In any event, I was glad
to have chosen something cool. It was unseasonably warm for
October, and I’d debated wearing a business suit.
No,” she answered, not
looking up. “We get all kinds.”
All kinds. Like me.
I was living on borrowed time and I knew it.
Bass expected me back in our Chicago office any minute while I
sat—trying to look patient—two hundred miles south, in Springfield,
Illinois. The realization made my smile muscles ache. I was on
borrowed time in another sense too. Every day I waited made it ever
more unlikely that I’d find the man and woman who’d put me up for
adoption more than thirty years ago.
The woman seated across from me had all that
information at her fingertips. And maybe if I played this right,
I’d be heading back to Chicago with my biological parents’ names in
my pocket in plenty of time to keep Bass happy.
Jordan had mentioned the Milla feature
story. I hoped to God the girl hadn’t gotten cold feet about
appearing on camera. I knew I should try to put it out of my head,
just for now, but found that impossible to do. I needed to get back
to Chicago, post-haste.
I smiled harder. Never too proud to suck
My caseworker, Marlene, looked like someone
who might be swayed by a little apple-polishing. Her sausage
fingers, with their gleaming pearlescent nails, hit the keyboard
with a vengeance, now that she’d perused my file.
I released a sigh of gratitude. We were
starting to move.
Clicking at the keyboard so fast I thought
the letters might start bouncing up, she glanced at me. “Give me
your name again, honey.”
Alex,” I said.
“Alexandrine St. James. Also Szatjemski.” I spelled it for her.
Polish last name, dark-Irish looks. An adoption office was the one
place where unusual combinations like that wouldn’t raise
Szatjemski your maiden
No, I’m not married. My
dad had it changed.”
She glanced over the rims of her half-moon
glasses. “I’ll deal with that later.” I didn’t think that bode well
for me. She seemed the sort of person for whom rules were
everything. Her smiles were doled out at prescribed intervals—when
she introduced herself, and again when she sat down behind her
desk. My fear was that she’d have another ready, a sad smile this
time, when she told me that there was nothing she could do to help
She looked up again.
Thank you.” Her tone was
automatic, without inflection, and she moved into a rhythm. Typing
while wrinkling her nose at the computer, she’d stop, hands poised
over the keyboard, and tilt her head up to peer through her glasses
at the screen, while making a little “o” with her mouth. Type,
stop, type, stop. Tiny beads of sweat formed a perfect outline of
her upper lip. The cubicle was warm, making me doubly glad I’d
chosen something sleeveless. They say women don’t sweat; they
glisten. Blowing out a breath to calm myself, I knew I was
glistening but good.
I scooted forward till I perched at the edge
of my chair, hoping for a glimpse of the computer display, but it
was blocked from my view by a gizmo I’d never seen before. Much
like the blinders they put on horses before a race, the side of the
monitor near to me had a plastic barricade. Set on a hinge, it was
designed to flip across the front of the monitor with a quick push
of the fingers, should the need arise.
I imagined they got a lot of adoptees
craning their necks to catch a glimpse of otherwise classified
Marlene didn’t seem to notice my eyes make
their futile stray toward her monitor. “You know …” She typed a few
more characters, her tiny clacking movements slower than before. “I
should run two separate inquiries here. As if I’m following two
cases. To be sure that we cover both last names.”
I nodded encouragement and thanked her. It
wouldn’t hurt for her to know I appreciated her efforts. The nose
wrinkled again. I was getting used to it.
If I could only get access to the computer
system. For just one minute.
She turned to me. “I’m sorry,” she said. My
heart dropped before she added, “This computer is so slow today.
And we have the problem about your last name. It makes things much
more complicated.” This last admonishment was accompanied by a
little shake of her head, as though it had been my fault that my
parents had changed it.
But at least she was still looking.
Margot and Ed Szatjemski, my adoptive
parents, had recently retired to Arkansas with the hope of enjoying
those much-advertised bubbling hot springs. They didn’t know I was
here today, didn’t know I’d taken some extra time after my visit
with them before heading back to Chicago. But my mother might have
suspected something. She asked me at least four times why I hadn’t
brought Lucy along.
Lucy didn’t know I’d made the trip,
actually. My parents’ biological child, and three years my senior,
Lucy suffered from Williams Syndrome. As handicaps go, it’s a
cheerful one, but its ravages left her without the necessary skills
to live on her own. Pulling her out of the group home to have her
tag along would have jeopardized my quest, so I’d lied and told my
mother that I was under deadline this week. No time.
Hmmph,” Marlene said
again. But this time, she pushed her chair back and lifted a finger
to her lips. “I can’t get this to tell me if your birth mother is
open to contact. Let me get the file and I’ll check. Just a
I sat back as she got up, listening to the
quiet hum and murmurs of conversations in the cubicles around me.
The place was hopping. Most of the others in the waiting room had
been in their late teens, early twenties. I was a late bloomer
where this investigation was concerned. My parents would be crushed
if they knew I was here today. Until they’d retired and moved out
of state, I hadn’t even risked an attempt for fear they’d find
I peered around the corner of Marlene’s
cubicle to watch her depart. I lost sight of her just about the
same time I could no longer hear the slapping of her sandals
against the bottoms of her feet. No one was walking the short
corridor she’d just left, everyone busy in small conversations and
smaller cubicles of their own.
I eased into her seat and adjusted the
monitor toward me. It squeaked on its plastic stand and I held my
breath for a moment, worried that some matron-like administrator
would pounce on me, slap my hands for sneaking around, and banish
me from the records office forever.
The blinder that Marlene had flipped across
the front of it opened with no problem, but she hadn’t simply
minimized the file, she’d exited.
I grabbed the mouse, moving to access most
recently viewed files. It had to be there. And it was. Szatjemski,
A. P. My breath fell out in a whoosh so loud that it echoed in my
With what seemed like slow-motion movements,
I double-clicked, my foot tapping out a staccato rhythm of
nervousness under the pressure of Marlene’s return. The little
timer came up and I know I made a sound of frustration, keeping one
ear open even as the cheerful cybersand thing turned one way, then
another. “C’mon,” I whispered.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
My pager blared, clanging like a gong on my
I panicked. My fingers flew to my side and I
hit the silent button. It took all of a second and a half but it
felt like forever.
Breathe, I told myself.
In those scant seconds that I silenced the
alarm, the timer stopped turning and the computer sounded an
indignant beep. A tiny gray box appeared mid-screen, asking me for
the code to access this record.