Authors: Nancy Roe
Secrets Can Be Deadly
Copyright © 2013 by
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Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric purposes. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental.
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Secrets Can Be Deadly/ Nancy Roe. -- 1st ed.
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To Jeff and Shadow,
the greatest two guys in my life.
Thanks for making my dreams come true.
Map of Iowa
Tuesday, January 16, 1968 (Sam)
hree days after my ninth birthday, my life changed.
day sparkled from the bright Iowa sun and the temperature finally rose above freezing for the first time this year. Winter was unpredictable. One day I could be playing in the snow, helping my big brother build a snow fort, and the next day Mom wouldn’t allow me outside in the blizzard and minus-twenty wind chill.
Bundled in my new blue parka, striped scarf, and matching mittens,
I hopped into the back seat of the family’s new red 1957 Plymouth Fury. Dad brought the used car home on my birthday.
car, I told my big brother—my birthday car.
The trip from our house in
rural Delmar to the doctor’s office in downtown Maquoketa took fifteen minutes. Mom drove while I stretched out on the back seat, imagining being in the comics with Archie, Veronica, Betty, and Jughead.
Mom pulled into t
he doctor’s parking lot. I could see the hospital out the back window. Two weeks earlier, I’d stayed overnight at the hospital after getting my tonsils out. Now, it was time for a checkup.
“Come on, Sam. Let’s go see the doctor.”
“What room did I stay in at the hospital?” I asked. “Can you see it from here?”
Mom opened the back door and waited for me to get out of the car. “You were in room 315. And no, you can’t see the window from here. Your room faced the back parking lot.”
A bell rang when Mom opened the front door of the small brick building. The receptionist looked up, told us the doctor would see us shortly. I counted seven blue chairs in the waiting room. A woman with a red nose and several tissues in her right hand sat in a chair next to the front door. Mom grabbed my hand and we walked to the other side of the room to a group of three chairs.
“Sit still and don’t touch anything. I don’t want you picking up any germs,” Mom whispered.
“It smells funny in here,” I whispered back.
“It’s the alcohol they use to keep the doctor’s office clean.
Fifteen minutes later
, we followed a nurse down the hall to a small examination room. I sat on the exam table, swinging my legs side to side. Mom stood next to me, tapping her foot on the gray speckled linoleum floor.
Willett came in the room and washed his hands in a small silver sink, using lots of soap. He wiped his hands on a couple of paper towels, then grabbed a big popsicle stick from a glass jar.
“Good afternoon, Sam,” Dr. Willett said. “Let’s see how things look. Open wide and say ah.”
“Your throat looks very good.”
Dr. Willett reviewed the hospital chart with my mom. He told me I’d been a very good patient. Before we left, he gave me a grape sucker.
Mom decided we could splurge on an afternoon treat at Dairy
Queen before we headed home. Dilly bars were my favorite. I had on my good clothes so I needed to be very careful not to drop any chocolate on my shirt or pants or Mom would get mad. We sat in a booth next to the front window. I stretched my neck over several napkins Mom had put on the table. I watched people get in and out of their cars.
“Look, Momma. The stick from my dilly bar looks like what the doctor used, only smaller.”
Mom smiled. “Yes, it does. Now wipe your face and hands. We need to go home. It’s getting late.”
I took a few clean napkins and wiped my face. “Does my face look okay?”
“You missed one little spot.” Mom licked her index finger, rubbed my cheek.
We’d stayed at Dairy Queen two minutes too long. We pulled up to the crossing just as the engine of the a
fternoon train went by. On the other side of the tracks, the gravel road to our house.
The train went
past our house in the country twice a day—once in the morning, once in the afternoon.
I looked out the side window
, watching the train whiz by with its red, blue, and yellow boxcars. One, two, three. The train moved to fast to keep count. Instead, I imagined what was inside—fudge bars, bicycles, squirt guns, basketballs.
Mom sang along to a song on the radio
Come on baby, light my fire. Try to set the night on fire.
I loved hearing my mom sing. She didn’t sing very often, but when she did, it made me smile.
After the caboose
passed, we crossed the tracks. Suddenly, the car jerked forward. Mom stopped singing. The car started swerving. Mom slowed down.
she yelled. “Not my house!”
, Momma?” I looked out the front windshield and saw dark gray smoke billowing in the air. Black streaks ran down Momma’s face.
“Please, please let my baby be safe
was your baby.” I didn’t understand her strange actions.
A fire truck and ambulance were in the driveway. F
ive firemen were spraying water on a few lingering flames.
Mom abruptly stopped
near the house, threw open the car door, and ran to one of the firemen. He shook his head, pointed to a blue tarp inside the house. She pounded her fists on the fireman’s chest, then collapsed.
Only a few
charred pieces of the house remained. Black water puddles dotted the front yard. All my birthday presents were gone.
I slowly got out of the car, weaving around the black puddles until I reached
Mom. “Where’s Daddy?”
“This is your fault! If you hadn’t been sick we could have saved them
Mom had yelled at me before when I did something wrong. Now, she scared me. I started to take a step backward, but she was too quick. She
grabbed both my arms and started shaking me. She was crying and yelling. I tried to get away. Her grip got tighter. All of a sudden, she stopped shaking me, stared into my eyes, and shouted, “Your father and brother are dead because of you!”
fireman pried my mother’s grip from my arms and took her to the back of the ambulance.
froze with fear. Why would my mom yell and say those hurtful things to me? I started to cry when a gray-haired woman in a red wool sweater took my hand.
, sweetie. You can stay with me tonight. My name is Abigail.”
Wednesday, January 16, 1980 (Mason)
ive-thirty. Mason Pierce’s alarm clock buzzed. He turned, stretched his arm from underneath the covers, shut off the alarm. The cold air hit his arm and he immediately slid it back under the blanket. Mason wished his father had settled in Florida instead of Iowa. Sheldon was a nice town, but growing up he wished they’d lived in Miami, Florida near the beach.
Today was going to be a tough one. It was every year. He wished he could stay in bed all day and sleep, but duty called. Mason
threw back the covers, sat up, and covered his face with his hands, resting his elbows on his knees. After a couple of minutes, he walked to the bathroom to get ready.
in the shower, letting the warm water flow down his back, he thought about the day. Today was the twelfth anniversary of the day his mom and younger sister died. He was ten when his dad told him their car skidded off an icy road, drove down a steep embankment, and burst into flames.
ny pictures of his mom or sister had burned in the house fire when the gas line ruptured. The one vivid memory of his sister was the night they were caught trying to launch a bottle rocket three days after the Fourth of July. His mother had been furious. She had sent them to the small cement block basement, locked the door, turned off the light. Mason remembered holding his crying sister in his arms as they huddled in the narrow slot between dad’s workbench and the water heater. A sliver of light from the full moon slipped through the boarded broken window above the workbench. It was the only reason he didn’t cry that night. Only scattered memories remained of the house, his mother, his sister.
stepped out of the shower, wrapped a towel around his waist, and looked at the clock. He’d been in the shower too long. He quickly combed his hair, brushed his teeth, and put on his uniform. A new officer was starting today and he needed to be in the police chief’s office by six-thirty to discuss training.
had played cops and robbers growing up with his best friends, Carl Barnes, Todd Austin, Jeff Stoller, and Paul Goode. As they progressed from grade school to high school, their friendship and love of detective skills had grown. They created their own version of
and often tested each other’s reasoning. Mason had wanted to become a cop since eighth grade. When he was younger, he often rode his bike past the Police Chief’s house, hoping to see the Chief in his yard so he could stop and ask questions. Mason took college courses during his senior year and joined the Sheldon Police Department after graduating from Northeast Iowa Community College with an associate’s in criminal justice.
Milton Franklin had been Police Chief twenty years when
Mason joined the department. The Chief’s hair had turned gray and he was fifty pounds heavier than their first meeting at an eighth grade career day event. The Chief was a stickler to the rules and formality of his position.
was sitting in his oak swivel chair, reviewing an accident report when Mason knocked on the open office door.
Mason,” the Chief said. “Looking forward to training the new officer?”
” Mason lied. He’d rather be home asleep trying to remember his mother.
and Sophia Knox, his girlfriend for two years, had spent the previous night talking marriage and children. He remembered only bits and pieces of his childhood. His father never wanted to talk about the days before they lived in Sheldon.
Chief Franklin pointed to a thick black binder on his desk. “That’s the policies and procedure manual I want you to go over with Officer Walker. Make sure he understands everything. Give him the book to review tonight. I’ll give him a verbal quiz in my office tomorrow. I want to see how
he handles himself.”
was twenty-three, born and raised in Sheldon, Iowa. His great-grandfather was mayor from 1922-1934.
The best mayor in Iowa
, George always said. His grandfather had been the high school principal. His father, a police officer, had died of a heart attack at thirty-six. George decided after three years of college that he wanted to be a cop, like his dad. After graduation, he spent six months working odd jobs waiting for the opportunity to join the Sheldon Police Department. Now, he was finally getting his chance because of staffing changes.
Mason was leaning on the front desk talking to
Georgette about the week’s schedule when George walked in the front door.
Morning, George,” Mason said.
Happy to be here.”
“I’ll be training you this week. Chief had a board meeting this morning
. He’ll officially welcome you to the department this afternoon. Want some coffee?”
Had my one cup at home this morning, thanks.”
Ambrose is one of our day dispatchers,” Mason said as he led George to the main office area. “Billy Arnold’s desk is over there, Paul Goode’s is against the partition. On the other side is your desk, and mine is right here.”
Mason stopped behind his desk. “
You can hang
your coat on the back of your chair. Three officers work at night—on patrol, mostly. They might use your desk from time to time. Chief’s office is in the corner. Break room, bathrooms down the hall. Enough with
the tour, let’s get started. Today you’ll learn all the policies and procedures of the Sheldon Police Department.” Mason pushed the black binder toward George.
“I feel like I’m back in college.”
“Pay attention this time,” Mason chuckled. “I’ve heard stories of your beer drinking days. The Chief will walk past our desks and ask us random questions to make sure we understand the rules.”
Mason wondered whether George had presumed he’d get special treatment because of his family’s connections. “Yes, really. When I first started, I was ready to quit after two months. I realized the Chief was only trying to make me a better cop. There’ll be a verbal quiz by the Chief tomorrow so you better pay close attention. And read the manual carefully.”
Mason quizzed George all afternoon. George answered most questions correctly, but stumbled when Mason posed a trick question.
“You’re going to have to learn to think outside the box
. It’s five-thirty. You’ve learned a lot today.”
“I’m just nervous. First day and a
ll. I want to impress the Chief.” George stood and put on his coat.
You start thinking that way, you’re going to fail. Know the rules, take care of the community, and solve crimes. If you do those three things well, you’ll impress the Chief. He doesn’t give a lot of compliments.”
“Any other helpful tips you want to pass on so I don’t look like a fool
“Never be late, do what you
’re asked, stand up for your principles.”
“Thanks, Mason. I’ve got some studying to do
. See you in the morning.”
It was six-thirty when Mason left the station. His stomach growled as he walked to his black Camaro. He only had time to eat half his turkey sandwich at noon, busy making phone calls on a stolen car case. Mason decided he’d stop at Pizza Hut before going home. Stopping Wednesday nights for the pepperoni special had become a ritual ever since Sophia started volunteering at the local library reading to children.
Mason enjoyed living in a small farming community. Sheldon was
town—a town of five thousand, two traffic lights. The police station stood at the corner of Main Street and Glaster, across the street from the town’s only grocery store. A block away at Main and Broadmore, Mason passed Burkley’s Drugstore, Patty’s Thrift Shop, Posy Place Florist, and a boarded-up restaurant that once served the best roast beef sandwich around.
drove to the west end of town, passing the bowling alley, Neel’s Hardware, and the nursing home. Four trucks were in the Pizza Hut parking lot. He backed into a parking space at the end of the building. A car with three teenage girls pulled up next to him. He held the front door open as they walked past him, chatting about someone’s new hairdo.
“Evening, officer. You want the special?” Caleb asked.
“Please. Make it to go.”
Be right up.”
high school senior, had been working at Pizza Hut two years. Mason was one of his regular Wednesday night customers.
sat in the corner booth, two away from the three girls. He couldn’t help overhear the girls describe the newest must-have jeans and the cutest senior boy. At a center table, a little girl in a high chair played peek-a-boo with her older brother. A family of four held hands and prayed before digging into their deep-dish supreme pizza.
Caleb motioned to
Mason. “Your pizza’s ready.”
paid, grabbed a peppermint from the plastic bowl. “Thanks, Caleb. Have a good night.”
the car door and set the pizza on the front passenger seat. Looking out the windshield, he saw something underneath the windshield wiper. Mason surveyed the area. Lifting the wiper blade, he removed a white envelope. Handwritten in capital letters with a black felt tip marker were the words
. He carefully opened the envelope and pulled out a sheet of white paper with a message in the same black felt tip marker in capital letters.
family secrets are hard to hide
re-read the note. It didn’t make any sense. Was this for real, or were his friends playing a practical joke? Looking around again, he paid close attention to the cars in the parking lot. He recognized each one, matched them to the people in the restaurant. His stomach growled again. Mason got in his car and drove home.
lived in a small house on the east side of town. Six months ago, Dwight, his father’s best friend, had asked him whether he wanted to buy the house—brick, three-bedrooms, two-bathrooms, furnished. Dwight’s mother had lived in the house thirty years till she moved to the nursing home last fall. The furniture didn’t match a man’s taste, but it was better than living with his father. Mason knew he wanted to marry Sophia in a couple of years. Then they could buy new furniture together.
put the pizza on the coffee table. He walked into the bedroom, took off his uniform and got comfortable in jeans and a sweatshirt. Still thinking about the note, he went to the kitchen, grabbed a cold
beer. He turned the TV on, slumped on the couch, and grabbed a slice of pizza.
Eight is Enough
had just started.
The phone rang.
Someone has bad timing
, he thought. “Pierce.”
The voice was low and muffled.
“Did you get my note?”
“Who is this?”
“You’ll find out soon enough.” The caller hung up.
slammed the receiver down. Someone was playing a bad practical joke, surely. He thought of Paul, Jeff, Todd, and Carl. Any one of his friends was capable of pulling off this stunt. The phone rang again.
now?” he shouted.
“Did someone have a bad day at work?”
Sophia’s soft voice was music to his ears.
, sweetheart. I think the guys are up to something. You caught me off guard.”
Carl. He gets in the most trouble.”
Mason had told Sophia
many of the practical jokes the guys had played on one another—switching Todd’s bedroom and living room furniture, reassembling Paul’s motorcycle in a tree house, making Jeff believe his car had been stolen and sold for parts.
“Have you seen the forecast for tomorrow night?
” Sophia asked. “Sixty percent chance of snow. Maybe three inches.”
“No, I didn’t know that. I
trained George all day and missed the news.”
, I leave for Alta Vista tomorrow to visit my aunt and uncle. I’m going to leave from the bank right after lunch. Too bad you won’t be able to come. I could use some company on the drive.”
t’s less than a four-hour drive. You’re a great driver. It’s the
people I’m worried about. Leave as early as you can so you don’t have to drive in the dark. Call me once you get there. Love you.”
Love you, too. Be nice to your prankster. See you in four days.”
looked at the note again as he grabbed another slice of pizza.