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
No one said there would be trouble here too …
“Mom! Come with me! You can’t go out there! What if someone really did leave a bomb?”
Panicked, I pulled on her arm, but she pulled back, and our struggle swung us out of the little hallway into the kitchen. Mom suddenly stopped tugging, and I stumbled into her.
“Look,” she said, pointing at the floor just inside the kitchen door. “It’s not a bomb. It’s a letter.”
Neither of us moved to pick it up, watching the small envelope as though it might suddenly slither across the floor and strike.
“It’s only a letter,” Mom finally said, and before I could stop her she broke away from me and picked it up, slipping a single sheet of paper from the open envelope. “Short and to the point,” she said, and read aloud, “ ‘Get out of Kluney before it’s too late.’ ”
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 © 1994 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 1994.
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.
First Delacorte Press Ebook Edition 2013
Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.
With love to Hershell Nixon,
the number one inspiration in my life
woke when the German shepherd barked, his sharp warning slicing through my dream. Without streetlights or moonlight my room was so dark I was disoriented, and I fought to kick off the sheet that was tangled around my legs.
This wasn’t our apartment in Houston. Where was I?
As I struggled from sleep I recognized the excited bay of the yellow Labrador far down the road and the snarling slathering of the rottweiler on the nearby Emery place. As my head cleared I remembered that I was in the old beach house that Mom and I had moved to a few days before. I knew, from just my limited experience with that row of hyper, fenced-in dogs, that not only had someone just walked down the road that dead-ended at our house, but whoever had come this way was still out there. We didn’t
have a dog, but we didn’t need one. Those three were watchdogs for everyone on the road.
The illuminated numbers on my bedside clock glowed one-twenty. No one had any reason to be on our road at that time of night. Quietly, I moved inch by inch toward the glass French doors that overlooked the north side of the house, trying not to stub my toes on the books and shoes and other things I’d scattered across the floor. Before I’d climbed into bed I opened one of the doors a few inches so I could enjoy the sound of the wavelets that slapped the shore and the salty-sour dampness of the night air, but now I felt an urgent need to close and lock the door.
Just as my fingertips touched the cool metal knob, a voice whispered in my ear, “Katie! Hurry!”
I jumped and squealed at the same time, and the door banged shut.
Mom reached across to turn the key in the lock. “Don’t make so much noise,” she cautioned. “Someone’s out there.”
We pressed our faces against the glass, trying to peer through the blackness, but the pale light from the thin slice of new moon was too faint to penetrate the shadows. The dogs, having given their warnings, began to lose interest, but they kept up an insistent barking, as though they weren’t sure when they were supposed to stop.
My heart jumped, and I grabbed Mom’s shoulder as near the road a dark shadow shifted. “Something just moved over by the gate,” I whispered. “See … under that twisted oak tree? I think there’s a person standing there.”
The muscles in Mom’s shoulder tensed. “Yes. And over
there … next to the garage … There’s more than one of them.”
“More than one of
?” I asked. “Who’s out there and why are they here in the middle of the night? What are they doing?”
Mom suddenly reached up and pulled the heavy cotton drapes across the glass doors. She flipped on my bedroom light and picked up the phone on the table next to my bed. “That’s for the sheriff to find out,” she said, and jabbed at the buttons on the phone.
The dogs suddenly went into action again—this time with the rottweiler working himself into a frenzy, the shepherd joining in, and the Lab in the distance picking up the pace. The shadowmakers who’d been outside our house were heading away.
“The sheriff will be here in about fifteen minutes,” Mom told me as she hung up the phone. “I’m going to make some coffee. Do you want a cup?”
“Sure,” I said, and reached for my T-shirt and jeans, but Mom stopped me by wrapping me in a quick hug.
“I thought Kluney would be safe and quiet. I’m sorry, Katie,” she said apologetically.
“Why are you apologizing?” I tried to keep resentment from my voice. I hadn’t wanted to come to Kluney in the first place, but I didn’t have a choice. “We don’t know who was out there or why. What makes you think they’d have something to do with you?”
“The letters …” she began, and let her words drift into silence.
I knew what letters she meant—insulting, ugly things,
some even with veiled threats, all of them anonymous, of course. It wasn’t the first time Mom had received angry letters after one of her newspaper exposés had been published.
After a record number of Brownsville babies had been born with serious birth defects, Mom had questioned the activities of the factories in the Brownsville area. Had toxic wastes been dumped into the water that fed the resacas? Or had pesticides used on the large farms upstream seeped their poisons into the water? She’d been accused of fabricating charges in an attack against big business.
Mom demanded answers and urged the local people to demand a government study. The residents were promised the study, but were told that it would take at least two years in order for it to be accurate. Mom is, was, and always will be a crusader. She couldn’t ignore the plight of those babies born without brain stems, and their heartbroken parents, and she also couldn’t ignore the suspected toxic contamination that might have caused it. She
to make it public through her national column.
“You’ve told me yourself that most people who write angry, mean letters never follow through,” I said. “And if they really wanted to hurt us, wouldn’t they think of something better to do to us than hide by our fence and stare at the house?”
“You’re right, Katie,” Mom answered, and tried a smile that was more wobbly than reassuring. “Better get dressed. The sheriff should be here soon.”
As I pulled on my jeans and a T-shirt, then sat waiting
for the coffee to finish dripping into the glass pot, I thought about Mom’s work and her achievements.
A few years ago a man was sentenced to death in Huntsville, but he maintained he was innocent. Mom believed him when he said evidence in the case was first withheld, then “lost.” Mom covered the situation, and her columns—added to other newspaper stories and television coverage—helped people get angry enough that legal steps were taken. The man was freed, and rightly so.
Then there was a businessman who tried to murder his wife and incriminated someone else. Mom’s columns helped bring about the just outcome in that situation too. National and regional magazines feature her articles, and because of the investigative coverage, lots of people know her byline. She hasn’t won a Pulitzer prize yet, but Mom never stops until she gets the story.
As she put a cup of steaming coffee and a small pitcher of milk in front of me, we heard a car pull up in front of our gate. Heavy footsteps thumped across the cement walk that led past the French doors in my bedroom around to the kitchen door.
This house, which Mom inherited from her uncle Jim, is a compact, one-story wooden structure without a real front door. The front room and the covered porch beyond it overlook a broad stretch of dunes and sea grass rolling down to the sea, so everyone who comes to the house has to enter through the kitchen.
That didn’t seem to bother the sheriff. He was a large, paunchy, beef-red man who more than filled out his uniform. “Everett J. Granger,” he growled, after Mom introduced
us to him. He shook her hand. “I remember you from when you used to come to see your uncle. Last time you were in town was at his funeral.”
Mom pulled out one of the rickety wooden kitchen chairs for him, and I winced as he lowered his stocky frame into it. The chair shuddered, but it held tight.
He took a sip of the hot coffee, then looked around the kitchen before he spoke. “It’s been a while since I was sittin’ here with your uncle Jim. This house stood vacant so long, I wondered if Jim’s kin would ever come around to make use of it.”
Mom nodded. There was no reason she had to explain why we were here, but Sheriff Granger didn’t see it that way. “So how come, after all these years, you show up now?” he asked.
Not many people get Mom flustered, but the sheriff managed to do so, maybe because in this case Mom wasn’t too sure of herself.
“You make it sound like such a long time,” she said. She stirred her coffee vigorously, then dropped her spoon with a clatter. “My uncle died only four years ago.”
“And …?” One of Sheriff Granger’s eyebrows was poised higher than the other, like a bushy question mark. He waited for Mom’s answer.
She took a deep breath and straightened her shoulders. “I’m a writer,” she said. “I write a syndicated newspaper column.”
His eyebrow came down and he said, “That’s common knowledge. So’s the fact that you’re used to pokin’ around
courthouses, pryin’ into private records, and makin’ people mad.”