Authors: Terry Odell
Tags: #Mystery: Thriller - Police Chief - Colorado
|Terry Odell - Mapleton 01 - Deadly Secrets|
|Mapleton Mysteries |
|Terry Odell (2011)|
|Tags:||Mystery: Thriller - Police Chief - Colorado|
A Mapleton Mystery
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Copyright © 2011 by Terry Odell
Cover design by Dave Fymbo
Discover other titles by Terry Odell at her
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All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
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A Mapleton Mystery
“You have a visitor. A gentleman. Would you like to meet in the sunroom?”
The old man shook his head. “No,” he said, perhaps a little too harshly. He gave a mental shrug. What did it matter? If nothing else, being old and dying excused all sorts of rudeness. “Here is fine.” He managed a weak smile.
This nurse’s aide was nice, not like the regular nursing staff—fat old battleaxes who acted like you should be grateful they bothered to check on you at all. Or pinched old biddies who seemed barely able to carry a food tray. The young ones were sweet, but they burned out fast. A wave of pain snaked through him, and he wondered if he’d be gone before she quit.
She plumped his pillow and raised his bed. “I’ll be back in a jiffy.”
She returned a moment later, escorting his guest. After pulling a chair closer to the bed, she flashed a sunshine-bright smile. “Ring if you need anything.”
His visitor waited until she left, then closed the door behind her. He introduced himself, handed over a business card. The old man couldn’t read the card without his glasses, but he knew the name that would be printed there. And the voice.
Reversing the chair, his visitor straddled it and folded his arms across the vinyl back. “Good news. I found him.”
The old man whirred his bed up straighter. After three years of searching, could it be possible? His heart fluttered. “You’re certain?”
He studied his visitor. They’d never met face to face. The man appeared older than he’d sounded on the phone. Craggy face, broad nose. A fringe of gray hair circled a freckled pate. The odor of stale tobacco hung like an invisible cloak. The old man inhaled the long-denied pleasure of a smoke.
The visitor nodded. “I’ve got the address right here.” He patted the chest of his baggy tweed sport jacket. “You have the money?”
“You’ll get it. But—no offense. I’d like to see some ID.”
The visitor shrugged. “No problem.” He hoisted a hip and dug a wallet from his pocket.
The old man fumbled through his bedside table clutter for his glasses. Tucking them over his ears, he squinted at the driver’s license the man held. “Very good. If you wouldn’t mind, there’s some stationery in the desk drawer.”
His visitor brought the paper, with an envelope and pen as well. Without asking, he sat in the chair in front of the television and picked up the remote.
The old man moved the bed table and tilted it to a comfortable writing angle. He’d written the missive countless times in his head, but had never committed it to paper. Too many snooping eyes.
Frustrated that his hand shook, he concentrated on keeping the writing legible. Twice, he tore the paper into small bits and started again. To the annoying background noise of channel surfing, the old man managed to finish his letter. He folded it in thirds, slid it into the envelope and licked the seal. After taking a sip of water to wash the glue taste from his mouth, he tapped the envelope on the table to get his visitor’s attention.
“I need the address,” the old man said.
“Like I said, you’ll get it.” He tore a clean sheet of paper in half, wrote a note, folded it in two, and scrawled a name and address on the reverse. Handing it to the man, he said, “Give this to Phil. He’ll get you the cash.”
The visitor frowned, but they’d already discussed it. This damn nursing home demanded all his monetary assets. He’d managed to stash some cash before he’d moved in—for personal emergencies.
His visitor took a paper from inside his jacket. “Here it is. Took some doing, I tell you. Mapleton, Colorado is a one-horse town.”
Hands trembling from more than infirmity, the old man addressed the envelope. Should he call? An ache that had nothing to do with the cancer filled him. What could he possibly say?
“There are stamps in the desk.”
The visitor took the envelope and stuck a stamp on it. “Nice doing business with you.”
“Wait. One more thing. When you get the cash, Phil will give you a small package. Mail it to the address you found for me. There will be enough money to cover your fee and the postage.”
“Guess I can do that.”
“You’ll mail the letter right away?”
“Of course.” The visitor slipped it into his jacket, tossed the remote onto the bed, and left.
The old man, filmed in a cold, clammy sweat, heart pounding, sank against the pillows. He thought about ringing the call button. No, not now. The nurse would come in with more drugs. He needed to think.
Five years later
Gordon Hepler yawned and rubbed his eyes. Next time, he swore he’d send Vicky McDermott out to deal with Betty Bedford and her ghosts. Vicky was a damn good officer, and Betty might listen to her—one of those woman-to-woman things. He’d told Betty to put in surveillance cameras, but she swore the ghosts in her shop wouldn’t show up on tape.
Yeah, but the customers who pick something up and put it back somewhere else would.
Then again, dealing with the woman was a break from his normal routine as Mapleton’s Chief of Police. Budgets and paperwork. Damn, at thirty-six, he was too young to be riding a desk. He stared at the spreadsheet on his monitor. At this rate, he’d be blind before his contract was up for renewal. Would he accept it?
A promise was a promise, he reminded himself. Even if the person you made it to wasn’t around anymore.
Shaking away the ever-recurring doubts about why Dix had insisted he take the job, Gordon grabbed his eye drops from his desk drawer, tilted his head, and dripped the fluid into each eye. Blinking, he waited for his vision to clear, then picked up the first night report. Car blocking a fire hydrant on Ash Street. Nice fine for that one. The Mapleton town council would be pleased.
He continued through the stack. Mostly citizen complaints. Barking dogs, rowdy teens. He stopped at an altercation at Finnegan’s Pub. Triggered, apparently, by an article in the
Gordon found his copy of the paper and turned to the article in question.
Holocaust: Fact or Fiction?
Great. Another one of Buzz Turner’s articles, trying to parlay his job into one at a big-city press. Tabloid was more likely.
Drug use caught his eye on the next report and he read more carefully. His town didn’t need drug problems. Officer smelled marijuana, but didn’t find any hard evidence. Gordon checked the name. Willard Johnson. Not one he recognized. Address was Flo and Lyla Richardsons’ B&B. Not a local, then. Table that one for now, until he talked to the officer.
He shoved his chair away from his desk and grabbed his jacket. He stopped at Laurie’s desk. “Anything urgent?”
“No,” she said. “Except your direct line’s made it onto the telemarketer’s list again. I’ve had a few calls.” She waved some message slips.
“Save them. I’ll handle it later. Meanwhile, if you need me, I’ll be—”
“At Daily Bread.”
He stopped and glared at his admin’s grinning face. “I could be going out on a call, you know.”
“Of course, Chief. The cinnamon buns should still be warm. Bring me one.”
“One day I’ll have a prune Danish just to prove you wrong.”
“Change of routine might do you good.”
“You saying I’m predictable?”
Laurie gave him an eye roll. “Who, me?”
Gordon grumbled to himself as he ambled along the three short blocks to Mapleton’s most popular café. Ten o’clock was a perfectly normal time to take a break. And nobody in town would dispute the quality of the coffee and cinnamon buns at Daily Bread. En route, he checked the parking meters along the street, picking up his pace as he strode past Vintage Duds, Betty McDermott’s shop. He’d deal with her another time.
At the door to Daily Bread, he paused, schooling his features into a casual expression. He adjusted his jacket and pushed open the door.
Angie smiled his way, her blue eyes twinkling. “Hey, Chief.” She poured a cup of coffee, placed a cinnamon bun on a plate, and set them in front of an empty seat at the counter.
Gordon sat. “I want a Danish this morning. Prune.”
“Need more fiber in your diet, Chief?”
Heat rose on his neck. “Forget it. It’s a joke.” He tugged a hunk off the warm pastry and popped it into his mouth.
Angie spent more time than necessary wiping the counter around Gordon’s place. He recognized her look.
“Out with it, Angie. What’s bothering you?”
“Nothing.” She glanced around the room. “Can you keep a secret?”
Better than she could. “As long as it doesn’t involve breaking the law.”
Her eyebrows winged upward. “You know me better than that, Chief.” She lowered her voice and made a show of wiping the counter some more. “Megan Wyatt’s coming into town later today. To surprise the Kretzers. But you can’t tell her I told you. And don’t breathe a word to them.”
The squawk of his radio cut the conversation short.
Megan Wyatt ribboned the silver Chevy rental out of the Denver airport, finally leaving the interstate traffic for the tree-lined road to Mapleton. To Rose and Sam. Foothills soon gave way to serious mountain terrain, and long-unused driving reflexes surfaced. Slow when entering a turn, accelerate through it.
After navigating a series of switchbacks, a blue car appeared in front of her, seemingly out of nowhere
And watch out for idiots admiring the scenery.
Megan hit the brakes, avoiding both a collision and swerving off the side of the mountain. Resigned to following someone who had to be a card-carrying member of the ten-miles-under-the-speed-limit club, she settled in behind the sedan. Florida plates. A flatlander. Probably scared to death at altitudes more than twenty feet above sea level.
. And trying to use a cell phone? Here in the land of no bars? If he wasn’t careful, he’d take the shortcut down the mountain. Straight down.
Tamping back her impatience, she eased off the accelerator, aware she had another twenty minutes before she’d be able to pass. She inhaled deeply and relaxed. Sunlight dappled the road.
How long had it been since she’d visited? Guilt filled her. Three years? Rose’s seventieth birthday. A quick recalculation dumped another bucket of guilt. It couldn’t have been seven years. How easy had it become to make excuses not to visit? In retrospect, they sounded so flimsy, but Sam and Rose had never complained.
We know how important your job is, sweetie. We’re so proud of you.
And if Angie hadn’t called, Megan might have kept putting off the visit until a funeral demanded it. No job should be that important. The phone conversation echoed in her head.
“You’ve got to get back here,” Angie had said. “For Rose and Sam.”
Her heart had skittered into her throat. “Are they all right?”
“Please come, Megan. It’s been too long. Something bad’s going to happen, I can feel it.”
Although Angie’s obsession with hyperbole hadn’t diminished since grade school, Megan couldn’t deny her friend’s concern had been genuine. And, she admitted to herself, if she waited until things slowed down at work, it would be another seven years. Or seventeen. Things
slowed down at Peerless Event Planners. There was always one event running, one waiting, and one in recap.
Ahead, the blue car’s emergency flashers went on. Was there a problem? She watched as the car slowed and pulled onto the shoulder. Should she try to help? Call 911? As if she’d get a signal here.
The driver opened his door, glanced her way, and adjusted a pair of sunglasses. As she approached, he waved her on. Glad to have clear road ahead of her, she passed, keeping an eye on him in her rearview mirror.
He rounded his car, walking into the forest. What could he be doing in the middle of nowhere?
Answering nature’s call, idiot.
She drove on, trying not to imagine what would have happened if she’d approached him. She could picture it. “Hi. Need any help?” She shook the image away.
Half an hour later, she pulled onto the main drag of Mapleton, where time seemed to stand still. The grassy park with its red brick paths filled the center of town, framed by the stately Methodist and Episcopalian churches on one end, the modest synagogue on the other. Government center and official businesses to the east, shops and eateries on the west. The same cracked sidewalks, the same planters filled with juniper and potentilla.
Nostalgia drew her around the square, slowing at what had been Sam’s bookstore. When he’d retired—was it five years ago already?—the new owner hadn’t lasted a year, unable to compete with the big chains and the Internet, not to mention the digital book revolution. Now, Vintage Duds, a second-hand clothing shop, stood where Sam had once fulfilled his dream. A rack of dresses sat on the walk outside the window.
She shook off the reminiscing—and a little more guilt at not being with Sam and Rose to celebrate his retirement.
She’d better let Angie know she’d arrived safely. Her friend was expecting her; Rose and Sam weren’t. Megan parked in the city lot and headed for Daily Bread. As soon as she pushed open the door to the coffee shop, she was engulfed by the familiar aroma of Angie’s famous—and all too filling—cinnamon buns. Knowing Rose would insist on feeding her, Megan settled for a deep inhale.
Angie had her back to the entrance as she stocked the display case. Megan took a seat at the counter. Smiling, she rapped the salt shaker against the Formica. “Hey, what does it take to get some service around here?”
Angie whirled, a brief scowl replaced by a huge grin. “Megan! You made it.” She rushed around the counter and threw her arms around Megan.
After returning the embrace, Megan inspected her friend. Other than her blonde hair cropped short instead of the ponytail Megan remembered, Angie hadn’t changed any more than Mapleton had. Still a petite bundle of energy.
“Safe and sound,” Megan said. “Wanted to let you know. You didn’t tell Rose and Sam, did you?”
“Of course not. I can keep a secret.”
For five seconds.
“Cinnamon buns are warm,” Angie said. “Want one? On the house.”
“Another time. I need to get over to Rose and Sam’s. There’s a law you have to arrive hungry, you know.”
Angie laughed. “Rose is probably my biggest competition, and she’s not even in the business. Coffee?” Angie didn’t wait for an answer, merely poured a cup of the steaming aromatic brew into a thick, white mug. “How’s everything in the world of event planning?”
Megan took a minute to enjoy the first sips. “Crazy. But Peerless will have to do without me for two weeks. I warned them I was going to be away from e-mail and Internet connections.”
Angie pointed to the “Free WiFi” sign. “Got hooked up here four years ago.”
“Last time I was here, you couldn’t even get a decent cell signal.”
“Still hit and miss.”
“So, how’s business? Place looks busy.”
“Yeah, we’re getting the hunters, fishermen and nature photographers.” Angie winked. “And the word seems to be out that our baked goods are worth the detour. Keeps me busy.”
“That’s great.” Megan glanced around. The other diners were engrossed in their food or their newspapers. She lowered her voice. “I’m here. Tell me the truth. Were you exaggerating, or is there anything concrete you can tell me? About Rose and Sam.”
Angie’s smile faded. “Not really. But they seem so…draggy. Right after Justin showed up.”
“Justin?” Rose and Sam’s grandson. “He’s in town? How long?”
“He’s been here close to two weeks.” Angie leaned forward. “I don’t know. I have a…feeling. And you know my feelings.”
Yeah, Megan did. Angie had a minimum of five a week. Eventually, the law of averages said one of them would be true, which, of course, merely reinforced Angie’s belief in all the rest.
“And you think Justin could be up to something? You’re talking about Jumbo Justin? Justin the Jerk? Get real. He’s a lump. Never gave a damn about anything. But he wouldn’t harm Rose or Sam. He wasn’t that kind of kid. Appeared, sat around, went home.”
“Well, he’s not sitting around now. You should see all the repairs he’s convinced them to make on their house.”
“Repairs? Then of course they’d be draggy. Living with contractors is exhausting. Especially if you’re Rose and feel obligated to feed them.”
Angie wiped the counter. “Maybe I overreacted.”
Yeah, just a little.
“No matter. Thanks for lighting the fire under me. It’s been too long since I’ve been home. If there’s a problem, I’ll get to the bottom of it.”
Megan waved off a coffee refill and gathered her jacket and purse. “I’ll be in touch.”
As she rounded the corner to the parking lot, the
of a siren filled the air. She stopped as an ambulance sped down the street.
When she realized the ambulance was headed in the direction of Rose and Sam’s, she ran the rest of the way to her car. Coincidence? There were plenty of other homes out that way.
She tossed her jacket and purse into the car and peeled out of the lot.