Read An Excerpt
Mystery, Amateur Sleuth, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Was I having second thoughts about buying the house? Was that why I was stalling? Barry Hickey of Hickey & Hickey Plumbing—aka my boss—said it was a good deal, but could he be sure? How much did he really know about the condition of the house?
There was only one way to find out.
I pulled a mask over my nose and mouth, blocking out the musty smell that seeped from the crawl space, and wiggled through the opening. I wanted to get this over with before Sandra Neverall—mother, bridezilla extraordinaire, and doyenne of Whitlock Estates Realty—came home and decided to supervise.
I tried to get my bearings, mentally picturing the floor plan above my head. To the far right was a wall that divided the house from the garage. On this side of that wall was the kitchen.
I could start there.
I crawled between the footings, my flashlight casting a narrow line of bright light in the darkness. Cold seeped up from beneath me, penetrating the heavy denim of my coveralls. The calendar might say it was summer, but the dirt under the house hadn’t got that memo.
The pipes under the kitchen were galvanized steel, no surprise given the age of the house. There was no way to know what shape they were in, since they corroded from the inside out, but the life expectancy of galvanized was only about thirty years.
I would likely be replacing pipes in the near future.
I scribbled a few notes in a small notebook and stuffed it back in breast pocket of my coveralls. This was one place I agreed with Barry. A pencil and paper were the best tools for the job—I wouldn’t want to drag electronic gizmos under a house with me.
I turned left, moving slowly between the footings, imagining the rooms above my head. I moved under the dining room, toward the living room, bedrooms, and bathroom beyond.
Up ahead, about where I thought the hallway should be, a sliver of light caught my eye. I doused the flashlight for a minute, letting my eyes adjust to the low light. Sure enough, there was a narrow band of light in the floor above, outlining a square about three feet on a side.
On the dirt below the strip of light there was a deeper shadow. A large box, maybe. Had mom stored something under the house? As far as I knew, everything was stacked neatly in labeled boxes in the attic.
What was down here in the cold and damp?
I turned the flashlight back on and worked my way toward the object. In the beam of the flashlight I could see that it was several smallish boxes stacked on top of one another.
Something stuck out from one end of the pile of boxes. It wasn’t another box; the shape was irregular, though most of it was hidden from sight behind the stacked boxes.
The crawl space was more than musty, and I was grateful for the small protection of the face mask. I had the sinking feeling I was going to find a small deceased animal somewhere in my travels, judging by the odor that seeped under the mask.
I was close enough now to see that the boxes were wooden shipping crates. Only a couple feet on each side, they could easily have been lowered through the opening faintly outlined above.
My curiosity was piqued. I wanted to know what was in those crates, and why they were hidden under the house I was buying—my mom’s house and my old family home.
It was like a buried treasure.
I suppose I could have crawled back out and called Mom to ask her what this was all about, but I didn’t want to wait for an answer, or give her another chance to discuss every minute detail of the wedding. Why couldn’t she just elope to Reno or Las Vegas?
I got close enough to make out a shipping label on one box. It was addressed to Gregory, my soon-to-be stepfather, with a return address in Paris—France, not Texas.
A shiver ran through me. I couldn’t think of a single good reason for Gregory to get a shipment from outside the country and hide it under my mother’s house.
I could think of several bad reasons.
I wondered if my mother might have a big problem.
Then I realized I was kidding myself. Just because Gregory wasn’t the man I’d choose for Mom to marry, it didn’t mean he was running guns or hiding nukes.
I moved to one side, trying to guess how many boxes were stacked under the house.
I shined my flashlight over the scene in front of me, trying to make sense of what I saw. Something didn’t look right, no matter how I moved the light or turned my head.
I heard a scream. It took a few seconds to realize it came from me.
Mom’s problem just got a lot bigger.
The lumpy shape behind the boxes was Gregory Whitlock.
And I was pretty sure he was dead.