The Secret Keeper [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Dorien Grey
eBook Category: Mystery/Crime
eBook Description: What happens when you take a 90-year-old multi-millionaire, add his dysfunctional and greedy family, a garden, a private detective's good-natured partner, a questionable suicide, a missing will, and a secret passed on without the recipient's knowledge? Why, book #13 in the popular Dick Hardesty Mystery series, of course.
When Clarence Bement's death is ruled a suicide, his grandson Mel doesn't believe it, and hires PI Dick Hardesty to prove it was murder. There's no lack of suspects, given Bement's less-than-cordial relationship with most of his offspring, and when rumor arises he'd made a new will before his death it provides a reason why someone likely wanted him dead. It's up to Hardesty to find out the truth, and unravel the tangled secrets that may be putting the ones he loves in deadly danger.
eBook Publisher: Zumaya Publications/Zumaya Boundless, Published: 2009, 2009
Fictionwise Release Date: March 2010
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13 Reader Ratings:
About two-thirty that afternoon, I got a call from Jonathan saying someone had called him at work for a quote on a small landscaping project out near Prichert Park, a forest preserve on the edge of town. Since he was without a client for his freelance work at the moment, he had agreed to run out there after work, and asked if I'd mind picking Joshua up at daycare.
I'd had an appointment with a prospective client scheduled for three o'clock, but luckily the guy had called just before Jonathan did and rescheduled. Still, much as I hated myself for it, I felt a little less than happy by another last-minute notice.
It was nearly six o'clock when Jonathan got home, and I'd started dinner. Even before we finished our group hug, I could tell something was bothering him.
"Something wrong?" I asked.
While I fixed my evening Manhattan, Jonathan took a Coke out of the fridge, pouring Joshua a small jelly-glass full, remembering to put a maraschino cherry into it. We then went into the living room to sit down.
"I drove all the way out there," he said, taking a swig of his Coke, "and I must have written the address down wrong. I was sure he said Woods Road, but there's no such address there. As a matter of fact, there's not a single house on that whole stretch of road.
"He didn't give me his phone number, so I don't have any way to call him to explain. He's probably mad at me for not showing up." He sighed, then added, "As if that wasn't bad enough, I drove all the way to County Line Road then turned around and came back. Just before I got to a stop sign where some dirt trail crosses the road, I had to swerve to avoid a pothole and a stone broke my windshield! I haven't any idea where it came from--it's a gravel road, but nobody was in front of me, and nobody passed me. I must have kicked it up myself, somehow. Anyway, I'm going to have to get it fixed."
"How bad is it broken?"
"Not bad, really, just a hole with a few small cracks around it. But the rain will come in, and--I just hope my insurance will cover it."
I was fairly sure his deductible was higher than the cost of a replacement windshield would be--contrary to their ads, altruism is not an insurance company's primary motivation in selling policies--but I didn't want to say anything. He was already unhappy enough.
Maybe I've been in the PI business too long, but something about the broken windshield niggled at me. It was not until I'd gotten home Tuesday--Jonathan's chorus practice night--that I realized why.
I'd stopped on the way home to pick up a bucket of chicken, since time was a factor in his being able to get to rehearsal. In deference to time, I forewent my usual pre-dinner manhattan.
"How was your day?" I asked, setting the sack on the counter and transferring the bucket of chicken and tubs of mashed potatoes and cole slaw to the table, which Jonathan and Joshua had just finished setting. Jonathan took a gallon of milk from the refrigerator and filled our glasses. "Did that guy call back?"
"No," he said as we sat down, "but something kind of strange happened."
The muffled sound of alarm bells echoed through my head.
"What's that?" I asked, as casually as I could.
"I think someone was following me when I left work."
The mufflers came off, and the bells were impossible to ignore.
"How do you know?" I asked, feeling rather stupid the minute the words left my mouth. Jonathan may be naive, but he's certainly not stupid. If he says he was followed, he was followed.
The conversation was interrupted by Joshua's nearly knocking the bucket of chicken over in search of a drumstick.
"About half an hour before we got off work," Jonathan said, ladling out scoops of mashed potatoes and cole slaw onto Joshua's plate, "I had to go out front to bring in a couple shrubs we're going to be delivering tomorrow. I noticed a black Mercedes just up the block. You don't see many Mercedes in that neighborhood. It had tinted windows, and the driver's window was rolled down. I'm sure I saw someone sitting in the driver's seat, but I couldn't be sure.
"Anyway, as I was pulling out of the lot, I noticed that the Mercedes was still there. And then, about two blocks from work, I looked into my mirror and saw the same black Mercedes several cars behind me.
"I turned on Froberg, like I always do, and sure enough, the Mercedes did, too. Why would anyone be following me? It doesn't make any sense."
"Coincidence, probably," I said. I was lying.
"I don't think so. Just to be sure I was right, when I was the last car through the green light at Kling and I saw he was stuck there until the light turned again, I took a quick left onto Kling and then, as soon as I couldn't see his car, I turned into the alley right behind the row of stores. I watched in the mirror and sure enough, he'd turned left on Kling, too. I saw him drive past the alley, but I don't think he saw me. And then I came on home, and didn't see him again."
I was impressed, but didn't want to add fuel to his concern.
"Well, like I say, probably just a coincidence," I said, not believing it.
He looked at me with a slightly raised eyebrow. "Do you suppose it was that guy who called me, and he's really mad at me for not showing up?"
"I doubt it," I said. Damn, I hated lying.
I had little doubt it was whoever had made the call that had lured him out onto a deserted road on the edge of town, and I was sure the guy wasn't concerned about Jonathan's not having shown up. I was rapidly becoming convinced Jonathan had shown up exactly as he was supposed to--but that whoever it was had just missed the chance to kill him.
I was suddenly very interested in having a look at Jonathan's windshield.
"You know, if your windshield is broken maybe you should take my car to practice tonight and to work tomorrow. I can take your truck in to get the windshield fixed. We might as well get it taken care of right away."
"Would you mind? It isn't a very big hole, but it goes all the way through, and there are a bunch of cracks around it. They'll only get worse."
"Consider it done," I said, and we finished our dinner.
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As soon as Jonathan left for practice and Joshua and I had cleaned up from dinner, I said, "Let's go take a walk downstairs for a minute. I want to take a look at Uncle Jonathan's truck."
Joshua, who never passed up an opportunity to go somewhere--anywhere--waited impatiently by the front door while I rummaged through our top dresser drawer to find Jonathan's spare set of keys.
Since Jonathan always backed the truck in, the minute I unlocked and opened the door to the garage and switched on the light, I saw the hole, almost directly in the center of the windshield, just to the left of the driver's seat as seen from the front. I moved up for a better look. Though it was warm in the garage, I felt a definite chill.
"Where are we going?" Joshua asked.
"Nowhere," I said. "I just want to look for something." Wanting to keep him from getting into any mischief or wandering into the alley while I was about it, I said, "Tell you what--why don't you sit in the driver's seat while I look."
"Can I drive?" he asked excitedly.
"You can pretend-drive," I said, "but don't touch any of the buttons, okay?"
"Okay," he said, unconvincingly.
I let him in the driver's side and moved around to the passenger door, stepping partly into the truck to check for what I was afraid I was going to find. And I found it--a small round hole in the upholstery about a foot to the right of the driver and in line with but slightly lower than the hole in the windshield.
Luckily, the truck had a split seat, so I was able to pull the passenger's side forward without disturbing Joshua. He couldn't reach the brake or clutch pedals, or anything on the dashboard, without leaning far forward, which of course he tried to do until my loud "Ahem!" stopped him in mid-motion. He returned to moving the steering wheel rapidly back and forth and making "brrrmmmmmmm" sounds.
Returning my attention to the issue at hand, I saw a dent in the back wall of the cab and, searching the floor, spotted a flattened blob of metal--obviously, a bullet.
Leaving it where it was, I put the seat back, got out of the truck, closed the door and went back to the driver's door.
"Okay," I said. "Let's go."
"But we just got here!" Joshua observed plaintively. Reluctantly, he turned to get out of the truck, and I lifted him down to the floor.
"You're a good driver," I said, tousling his head, and he beamed.
We then left the garage, closing and locking the door behind us.
When we returned to the apartment, Joshua ran off to his room, and I went right to the phone to call Marty Gresham's number at police headquarters. I knew he wouldn't be in, but left a message for him to call me the minute he arrived in the morning.