Authors: Joan Lowery Nixon
Books by Joan Lowery Nixon
A Candidate for Murder
The Dark and Deadly Pool
The Ghosts of Now
Ghost Town: Seven Ghostly Stories
In the Face of Danger
The Island of Dangerous Dreams
The Kidnapping of Christina Lattimore
Laugh Till You Cry
Murdered, My Sweet
The Name of the Game Was Murder
The Other Side of Dark
Playing for Keeps
Search for the Shadowman
Secret, Silent Screams
The Weekend Was
Whispers from the Dead
Who Are You?
The Making of a Writer
Cary Amberson’s father is running for governor of Texas.
Cary Amberson is running for her life.
When the phone jangled me awake, I groped for it and squinted at the clock. Two fifty-five. Rubbing my eyes with one hand, I managed to mumble something into the phone.
The voice was slurred again, but I knew who it was. “Why did you come nosing around here?” she asked. “Are you that stupid?”
I was awake in a hurry and sat up in bed, cupping the phone and keeping my voice down. With two closed doors and a hall between us I didn’t think that Mom and Dad could hear me, but I didn’t want to take chances.
“You called me,” I told her. “You wanted to tell me something.” She didn’t answer, so I said, “I think you wanted to warn me.”
“That’s what I’m doing now! Don’t come around here anymore!”
“I need to know what you were going to tell me.”
“You know too much already. And they know you know.”
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Text copyright © 1991 by Joan Lowery Nixon
Cover illustration copyright © by Tim Barrall
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House LLC, New York, a Penguin Random House Company. Originally published in hardcover by Delacorte Press, New York, in 1991.
Laurel-Leaf Books with the colophon is a registered trademark of Random House LLC.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available upon request.
Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.
For a special friend
NORMA JEAN BACHO
With grateful appreciation for their advice and encouragement to political administrative advisers Allie Page Matthews, Deputy Director of Office of Child Support Enforcement, Health and Human Services Department, Washington, D.C.; Donald G. Carlson, Chief of Staff, Office of Congressman Bill Archer, Washington, D.C., and Houston, Texas; and Norma Jean Bacho, Staff Assistant, Office of Congressman Bill Archer, Houston, Texas; to Joe Nolan, Assignments Director, KPRC-TV, Houston; and to Kevin Henry, Director of Security, The Adolphus, Dallas, Texas.
stepped out onto the darkened country club terrace and shut the heavy carved door behind me, muting the music and the laughter coming from the ballroom. It was like popping them into a bottle and holding my finger over the top. If I took my finger off—if I opened the door—the noise would blast out like fireworks.
Later, I’d go back, but for a little while I needed to be alone.
I walked over to the railing and leaned on it, taking deep breaths of the warm night air and wishing that Justin were with me. The moon was as slight as a chalk mark, not bright enough to pierce the blackness beyond the terrace; and a pungent bitter-orange fragrance rose from the shrubs below the railing. A setting for romance. But Justin was dancing with Cindy Parker, and I was trying to avoid obnoxious Mark Steadman, who was intent on stalking me with his camera. So what if it
Mark’s party. He didn’t have to be such a dork.
“Hey, Cary! One more!” he’d yelled at me just before I’d ducked into the ladies’ lounge to escape. “If your
dad gets to be governor of Texas, these candids of you will be valuable.”
“Leave me alone!” I snapped, but the flash went off before I could close the door between us.
It was a rotten party, and for at least a few minutes I wanted out, so when I peeked out the door and saw that Mark was busy talking to someone and wouldn’t notice me, I slipped out of the rest room, through the hallway, and outside to the terrace.
My thoughts were suddenly interrupted by Mark’s booming voice. I turned to see him standing near one of the large ballroom windows, his dark hair in his eyes, his tie crooked. No matter what Mark was wearing, he never seemed put together the right way.
I knew if Mark looked outside he might be able to spot me in the light that spilled through the glass. I slipped out of my shoes and silently ran in my stocking feet across the cool, smooth slate to the place where the terrace makes an abrupt turn as it curves around the dining area. In my shadowed, corner niche I pressed against the wall, trying to become invisible.
A deep voice spoke so close to me that I jumped, ready to run again, but I saw the glowing end of a cigarette arc through the air and fall to the grass, and I realized the man who had spoken was standing just around the curve, his voice carrying in the night’s stillness. “There won’t be any problem? You’re sure of this?”
A second voice answered. It was a strange, scratchy voice that sounded as though each word had been dragged over gravel, then spit out. “Positive. We’re
back in the ball game—at least as long as the
“And it’s up to us to see that it doesn’t.”
There was silence for a moment, and I felt creepy. I didn’t like eavesdropping.
The first man said, “I don’t mind telling you, I was worried. I never thought Gil would—”
“Well, now he won’t. You could say that because of his big mouth, he’s up a creek.” His chuckle was as rasping as an emery board scraping a broken fingernail.
The door to the terrace was shoved open, and Mark bounced through. “Cary?” he yelled. “I know you’re out here. Lee saw you. Where are you?”
Feeling as guilty as though I’d been caught snooping on purpose, I stepped from my dark corner, waving my arms as I tried to signal Mark to be quiet, but it was too dark for him to get my message. He caught only a shadowy movement and galloped toward me.
“There you are!” he shouted.
“Mark!” I warned. “Be quiet!”
I could hear approaching footsteps on the side terrace as Mark aimed his camera and said, “Gotcha!”
The brightness of the flash blinded me. “Mark,” I pleaded as I rubbed my eyes and tried to see. “You’re not funny.”
“I’m not trying to be funny,” he said. “If your dad gets to be governor, I’m going to sell these pictures of you. Maybe to
“Go jump,” I muttered. I stumbled into my shoes and stalked toward the door to the ballroom. There was
only silence behind me, but I didn’t dare look around to see if the two men on the terrace were watching.
Mark trotted after me. “Justin’s looking for you,” he said. “I’ll help you find him.”
“I can find him myself!” I threw open the door and plunged into the noise, and the brightness, and Justin’s arms.
“Where were you?” he asked.
“Hiding from Mark,” I answered.
“How about a picture of the two of you?” Mark asked, and before we could answer, the camera flashed again.
“No more pictures.” Justin looked down on Mark. “Unless you want to eat your camera.”
“Okay, okay,” Mark said and grinned. “That was the last one on this roll anyway.” He laid his camera on a small, carved table near the terrace doors, and zeroed in on the buffet table.
Justin smiled at me. “Slow music, Cary,” he said. “Come on. Let’s dance.”
I melted against him, my arms around his neck and my head against his shoulder. I closed my eyes as we swayed back and forth in rhythm with the leisurely beat.
Justin is tall and maybe a little too thin, with red-orange hair and freckles. He might not be the best-looking guy at school, but I don’t care. He looks great to me, and he has a super sense of humor. We laugh at the same things and like the same movies—even the same things to eat. I love being with Justin. In fact, I think I love Justin.
When the music stopped I pulled back, smiling, but I
could see beyond Justin to the terrace door. It was slightly open, and just outside, barely discernible in the shadows, was a large, stocky man dressed in a dark blue business suit. He squinted as he peered from face to face. It took just an instant before his gaze met mine, and he stopped as though he’d been hunting for me. His look was so intense that his eyebrows drew down into a frown.
I didn’t know how to interpret it. Was he angry? Was it my imagination, or did he even look a little scared?
Justin was following my gaze. “Who’s that?” he asked.
The man drew back, closing the door behind him.
“I don’t know,” I said.
“That was some look he gave you. I wonder what’s bugging him.”
“Maybe he was one of the men on the terrace,” I said, and explained, adding, “I didn’t mean to listen in, but I couldn’t help it.”
Justin glanced in Mark’s direction and mumbled, “Mark can really be a nerd.”
At the moment I wasn’t concerned about Mark. I shivered, remembering the strange expression on the man’s face. “The way that guy looked at me was scary,” I told Justin. “What I did wasn’t that bad. I wasn’t listening in on purpose.”