Read The Sholes Key (An Evans & Blackwell Mystery #1) Online

Authors: Clarissa Draper

Tags: #Mystery & Crime

The Sholes Key (An Evans & Blackwell Mystery #1)

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Copyright

WiDo Publishing

Salt Lake City, Utah

Copyright © 2012 by Clarissa Draper

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the written consent of the publisher.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, organizations and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or organizations is entirely coincidental.

Cover design: Amie McCracken

Print ISBN: 978-1-937178-14-7

www.widopublishing.com

To
ISJ & RFA
Thanks for bearing with me.

Table of Contents

Copyright

Dedication

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Epilogue

About the Author

Prologue

Remembering the sounds sent a quiver up his spine. An extraordinary crack—the impact of an iron ball hitting bone. He lived to hear it, to feel it, and tonight he would experience it again. The sweetest sound in the whole bloody world. He did it for her, always for her, his sweet, sweet kindred spirit.

A movement roused him from his thoughts. Lorna McCauley stepped down from her doorway onto the dimly lit East London road. He slunk down, but knew she wouldn’t notice him in the nondescript car. She never did, too distracted in her fantasy world to notice anything important. No, she was a selfish little whore. This was her time. Her quick, easy steps told the story. Well, tonight it would be his as well.

It wasn’t her first trip out late at night; he had been watching her long enough. Once a week at least, she headed out to the shops after midnight. Did she really believe no one knew she abandoned her son? Tsk, tsk, didn’t she know it was dangerous leaving the boy alone? What if his mother didn’t make it back? He stroked the iron ball in his lap. He had purpose tonight. Giving her a head start, he started his saloon car and drove to the next destination.

Steven wouldn’t understand why his mum had to die. Not immediately. But he would. He did it for Steven and all the children. It was better now than later. Someday he would understand. Not Steven’s fault Lorna left him alone. Not his fault his mother became so distracted she couldn’t watch her own son while she shopped, too embarrassed to bring him along anymore. Train a child in the way he should go, that’s what the Bible says. It wasn’t Steven’s fault, it was his mother’s. Others noticed, too. He did it for them, for the ones who cared.

Exactly eleven minutes later, he watched Lorna round the corner and enter the mini-market. Tonight, she placed Benylin and Vicks VapoRub along with her standard purchase of milk and fags on the counter. Poor Steven must be sick; with no one to care for him, of course he was.

With a smile and a wag of her bum in her tight trousers, Lorna stepped back onto the street again. He waited and watched her walk down the street. Timing was crucial now.

As she approached the alleyway, she slowed and poked her head round the corner. She hated the alleyway. A walk late at night was all right, but a small, dark roadway was too dangerous apparently. What was she afraid of? A cat? He knew what she would do next—predictability, his favorite word—she would take three giant steps to cross the alley faster. He wasn’t wrong. Lorna clutched her bag, stood on her tiptoes, and bounded like a ballerina. Her last step was broken by a bottle of Porter. She lurched forward and, unable to let go of the bag in time to break her fall, landed sharply on the side of her foot.

The situation was so pitiful it was sad, not funny. So easy. So predictable. She rolled off her flattened grocery bag. White liquid streamed out of the milk carton. She quickly set the milk upright to salvage the last third. She was so stupid, and it was all so perfect. Just as planned.

When she rose, with an obviously twisted ankle, he knew it was time to make his move. Assured that they were alone on the street, he moved his car forward and drove alongside her for hundreds of agonizing steps. She didn’t even turn to look at him; she just puffed on her cigarette.

He took a deep breath to calm his excitement and pulled up beside her. She must have heard the window descend but she didn’t stop. He inched forward some more.

Finally she froze, turned, and bent her head down to face him. “Can I help you?” she asked.

“It looks like you’re the one in need of assistance. Do you need a lift home?”

“Oh, it’s you,” she breathed out. “You gave me quite a fright.”

He ignored her coldness and said, “This neighborhood is not safe. I’d feel better knowing I gave you a lift home. Especially with your leg; is it your ankle? At the rate you’re walking, it will take you an hour.”

She bit her lower lip. “Under normal circumstances, I’d never accept your offer but with my ankle… I don’t live far.” She smiled at him.

After he moved the iron ball behind her seat, he pressed the unlock button. She hopped on one foot toward the car and fumbled with her bag trying to open the car door. He leaned over and opened the door for her. Throwing the bag at her feet, she breathed heavily and plopped down in the seat.

“Kevin, right?” she asked.

No, it’s not Kevin, but what does it matter?
He nodded.

“I thought so,” she said. “Take your second right. Thanks again for your help. Normally I like to shop in the day but my son’s sick. Thought I’d pop to the shops and run back. But then my ankle…” She pointed to her leg.

He listened to her lies, knowing that soon she wouldn’t be able to tell them; not to him or to anyone.

“It’s my worst fear, it is, the fear of Stevie waking and finding himself alone. I always imagine the worstcase scenario—him falling down the stairs or falling and banging his head on the table again—it makes me sick.”

He looked at her straggly hair and imagined the blood that would shortly be running down her scalp, matting her hair to her head. He licked his lips and gripped the steering wheel tight. Soon. Soon.

“I’m a good mother, I am. Taking care of Stevie alone is hard work. Never a break. Work and then home, no social life. I can’t remember going to a movie above the rating of Universal.” She laughed. “At least I have my books, eh?” She punched him in the arm.

Why does she talk so much? Is she nervous? No need to feel nervous. Death isn’t painful, only life is painful.

“And, I’m not getting my damn child maintenance. I keep telling the stupid sod I’d go to court. It’s becoming ridiculous. What is he bent on proving? No, now I’m determined. I’ve had enough—enough of the lazy bastard. Anyway, you don’t want to hear about my problems. Thank you so much for the lift.”

“It’s not a problem.” He smiled.

“I didn’t know you lived round here.”

You don’t know anything about me,
he thought.

With his dark eyes, he stared at her. She became quiet and looked out the passenger window. What was she looking at? Escape? She couldn’t escape. All the houses were dark. No one was awake. Where would she run?

She reached up to her neck and grabbed her locket. Was she thinking of her son? He was home alone. She left him home alone. She can’t help him now. She can’t even help herself.

She turned to him. “Thank you for taking me home. My son, he’s sick. I have medicine for him, for his fever.”

“Not to worry,” he replied. He stared straight ahead and smiled as he watched the road. One hand reached behind her seat in the special pocket that held the iron ball.

Chapter 1

Sophia Evans darted into the forest. The looming trees surrounded her, casting shadows across her path. Only ten or twenty more steps, she was close. Arms out in front, she pushed the foliage away from her face and ran faster. Her heart pounded in her chest, and the cold air filled her sore lungs. Her body wanted to give out, but she used the adrenaline of the chase to propel her onward.

How close were they? She stopped, leaned against a tree, and listened. Silence. Now that she was in the woods, the two men would have difficulty finding her. She tied back her long brown hair with the elastic around her wrist and looked down at the glowing GPS in her hand. The package lay buried somewhere ahead. She had to retrieve it before the men caught up with her.

Who were they and why were they after her? “I’m a bloody analyst. I’m not trained for this,” she muttered as she hurried forward. “Foxton had better have this under control.”

After a two-hour drive and a mile foot race, she was determined not to pass the mark. She re-checked the numbers and prayed they were right. She had spent the last seventy-two hours decoding a set of random integers to achieve these coordinates. She couldn’t afford to be wrong now. The lives of thousands depended on it.

After a few more steps, she stopped again. A message appeared on the screen. This was it, the spot, the X, the mark. She bent down and lifted the leafy green ferns carpeting the forest floor. Nothing. She circled a few trees and small bushes without success. Panic set in. Was she wrong? Had she come all this way and risked her life for nothing?

As the last question entered her mind, Sophia spotted the large green munitions box three steps off, hidden among some roots. She crouched down and drew the dusty box from its resting place. How long had it been stored there? An old Army surplus box, not the usual type of thing found hidden in the forest. It excited her—it always excited her to know she had solved the riddle and found her prize.

When she heard a noise to the right, she lowered the box and listened. She saw a squirrel running up a tree, knocking leaves to the ground as it climbed, but she kept listening. About thirty feet off, she heard a sneeze. She had to hurry. As she was about to open the lid, her mobile phone vibrated. From her front trouser pocket, she pushed all the buttons to silence it.

She lay flat on her stomach against the cold ground, under the cover of ferns and bushes, and stared at the caller’s ID. Oh, please not now. Her boyfriend Marcus Masters had been ringing non-stop for the last hour but Sophia, distracted by the car trailing her small Peugeot 107, never answered. Her life was becoming too complicated. Marc would be suspicious if she continued to ignore him; and his suspicions could jeopardize five months of undercover work, or worse, her life. But, for the moment, the two men on her trail were the greater risk.

The sound of heavy steps neared.

Sophia held her breath and listened. The two men were on the path that passed less than two feet from her head. She held her arm out, aimed the mobile’s camera up, and as the men appeared, snapped a picture of them. Drawing her mobile back, she lay face down and still. Had they seen her? The steps felt like mini earthquakes to her over-adrenalized body. Her heartbeat rushed to her ears as if she were underwater.
Go by, go by,
she repeated.

They did. Her panic diminished as the men rushed farther away. She emailed the blurry photo to her assistant for identification, stuffed her mobile back in her pocket, and looked at the box in front of her. With care, she lifted the lid, cursing under her breath each time the hinges let out a squeak. Sophia had found hidden items before, but usually she could mull over the contents in peace. Not this time. She placed the contents of the box carefully inside her shoulder bag: a plastic-wrapped Bible, a picture of an old ship, and a piece of paper filled with rows of random numbers and letters.

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