The excerpt today is from Chapter One of my chick-lit mystery A FIERY SECRET and occurs after Catherine’s conversation with Jake.
My daydreaming came to a stop when the phone rang. It was Adam, my brother. He didn’t waste any time and said, “I need to talk to you about Tracy. She’s upset and she doesn’t want to talk to her dad about it.”
Tracy is the daughter of Mayor Pat Connelly and presently Adam’s girlfriend. Adam is an architect and works for a company in Park City. Adam knew my dislike for Mayor Connelly didn’t include Tracy. When the mayor tried to put an unnecessary higher city tax on the citizens of Park City, I wrote a scathing article in the paper. Mayor Connelly said my facts were misleading. He demanded an apology, which I refused to give.
I leaned forward in my chair. “What’s she upset about?”
“She found a hidden box in her mom’s closet with pictures of Max Hartman when he was younger.”
Before Max died in a freak accident, he’d been a janitor in Park City High School. “That’s strange. Why would Karen Connelly have pictures of Max?”
“It appears Max was her boyfriend. There are several pictures of them together. Max apparently went to the same high school as Karen. Tracy thinks it’s strange her mom never mentioned it, but there’s more.”
Tracy must have found something big. “What is it?”
“She wants to show you a note. The note reads, ‘I know your secret. It’s going to cost you.’”
“Maybe she should ask her mom.”
“Her mom’s out of town. Tracy doesn’t want to talk to her on the phone, and she’s afraid her mom won’t tell her the truth.” Adam sighed. “Tracy said after Max died, her mom was preoccupied all the time and looked like she’d lost her best friend. She asked her mom what was wrong. And get this, Karen said, ‘Tracy, never rush into anything. Always think about the consequences.’”
I bit my lip and thought for a moment. “I remember Max saying he grew up in Columbus, so if Karen went to high school with him, then I wonder if she’s the reason he moved here. I doubt he moved here for the custodian job.”
“Tracy mentioned that, since Max never talked about having any family here. Except Dana, but that was a lot later.”
“That’s right. She moved here a year before he died. Max said he divorced Dana’s mom before he moved to Park City.”
“And Dana told Tracy how she loved Max like a father.”
Jake stopped a few feet away from my desk, and I watched him pretending to drink from a cup and pointing to the direction of the break room. I shook my head at his pantomime of asking me if I wanted coffee. He winked and grinned at me before he walked away. Of course, he had a sexy grin. And hey, I knew he did that on purpose to torment me like I tried to do to him with my hundreds of drinks a day.
“Catherine, you still there?” Adam asked.
“I’m thinking about the note Tracy found.” I moved a lock of hair off my forehead. “I bet someone was or is blackmailing Mrs. Connelly and maybe she couldn’t go to her husband about it. But she decided to confide in Max since he loved her enough to move back to Park City.”
“If she did, I wonder if Max took care of it before he died.”
Max’s death. Maybe it wasn’t an accident. He’d been efficient in the maintenance of the school building. Nothing got past him. When he wasn’t keeping everything clean and running smoothly, Max was there for the students. Five years ago when he died, I thought how strange it was that the fire department and police blamed Max for the explosion. Mom knew him from teaching at Park City High School and had said, “I never thought Max would make a fatal human error in the place he loved.”
I tapped a finger against my mouse pad. “Oh, Adam, you don’t think Max was murdered, do you?”
“It was definitely weird the fire marshal claimed Max’s carelessness caused the boiler room explosion.”
“Maybe Max was being blackmailed and he showed the note to Mrs. Connelly because the secret involved her.”
“That occurred to me, too.”
I poised my fingers over my keyboard and typed in my favorite word, investigation. “We need to investigate Max’s death.”
“I was hoping you’d say that.”
I peered at my cup of coffee and saw a nasty film on the top. I should’ve nodded to Jake when he wanted to get me a fresh cup of coffee. I heard Adam say he’d check with Tracy to see when we could get together to brainstorm about Max, the note and Mrs. Connelly. I felt like a terrific cup of Mom’s coffee. “Hey, if it’s okay with Tracy, we can meet at the coffeehouse this evening.”
I was proud of Mom. She quit teaching after Adam graduated from high school. Actually it was the same year Max died. After teaching ten years, she wanted to own a coffeehouse with a bookstore included. She worked at Starbucks for a year to learn as much as possible before opening her own shop. I remembered her researching the coffee and tea industry by reading trade manuals, visiting different shops and interviewing the owners and workers. She even went back to college to take finance courses.
I’d talk to Jane about writing the story after I listened to what Tracy told me. From that little bit of information Adam had given me, my mind churned all kinds of possible scenarios and my fingers flew over the keys. I couldn’t wait to get the go-ahead from Jane. I loved being an investigative reporter.
Adam and I were fortunate in getting certain genes from both parents’ academic strengths. From my math professor dad, Harrison Steel, I received the deductive and analytic skills I used in solving problems. My love of words and interest in news work had to come from my mom, Leslie Steel. She majored in English and Speech. I always went to her when I got stuck in unraveling a case since she had a creative, imaginative mind.
I stared at my monitor for a moment before I started typing again. I listed several questions.
Why had Karen Connelly been upset after Max died?
Had she still been in love with him?
Or was she distressed because she knew someone murdered him?
Was the note Tracy found from a blackmailer?
Who would want to blackmail Karen Connelly?
Was Max murdered?
If so, what was the motive?
Because everyone loved Max, our class had dedicated our yearbook to him. The decision had been unanimous among the seniors. As yearbook editor, I still remembered one person’s opposition to our selection. The school secretary, Miss Evelyn Kent, flung open the door to the yearbook room, shouting, “The yearbook shouldn’t be dedicated to a janitor. Mercy, students, think. Teachers, administration, coaches… All have had positive influence on your lives. How could you choose Max for this honor?”
But Miss Kent was wrong. Max deserved the honor. When a student had a low test score, a fight with a best friend or just seemed lonely, Max had been there to help with a warm smile, reassuring words or advice. With his big heart and compassion, there was nothing to dislike about Max. I hoped he hadn’t been murdered. It would be sad. But if he had been, I planned on finding the killer.
Btw, I wrote about a school janitor because I have fond memories of Archie, the custodian from my rural school, Liberty-Benton. I attended the same school from first grade through twelfth grade. The year I would have gone to kindergarten was the first year for it at Liberty-Benton. Because there wasn’t school transportation for the new kindergarten class, I couldn’t attend. My mother didn’t drive. My sister Lois offered to leave work during her lunch hr. to drive me one way, but it was just too much driving.
If you’d like to know more about Max’s secret life, please buy A FIERY SECRET. It’s available in print at Samhain, Amazon, Reader to Reader and Barnes and Noble. Also it’s available in ebook format and if not in your local bookstore, they can order A Fiery Secret.
Amanda and I made pizza on Tuesday evening. We used 3 packages of Martha White deep pizza dough mix. We like Prego spaghetti sauce instead of pizza sauce. One small jar is enough for 2 pizzas. Amanda enjoyed putting the mixture of cheeses and pepperoni on the pizzas. I added cooked onion and green pepper to a section for Tom. I can’t believe what I thought of for dessert. One of my old favorites that I haven’t had for years - a banana split. It was yummy. I had a carton of Neapolitan ice cream, low fat whipped cream, and bananas. Chocolate and strawberry syrup was left over from when we made ice cream on the 4th. Of course, I made small splits for Tom and me. Amanda and Sara wanted ice cream cones instead.
I’m anxious to hear good news from Black Lyon Publishing. A partial of WHITNEY IN CHARGE was requested by the publisher so I’m hoping she’ll want to read the rest of it.