Another author joins the 'fun'...
A DEADLY SECRET
What does she know?
That—even more than the identity of the person—was the question kept recurring to Karen Stahl as she stood holding the phone in one hand and nibbling at her lower lip with an overbite she usually was at odds to conceal. The phone crackled and an automated voice said, “If you’d like to make a call please hang up and dial again.” The comment was repeated again before Karen responded.
Like everyone, Karen had secrets. But were any so dire they should have prompted a call from a person she didn’t know? She hadn’t even recognized the woman’s voice and she’d been too surprised to reply before the caller hung up.
“I know your secret and I’m going to tell.”
That was the extent of the message. Short and sweet. Not exactly a blatant threat. Yet these simple words sent chills up and down Karen’s spine. Her hand shook as she replaced the phone on its cradle. She clasped her arms around her and bent forward to peek out through the curtains. A warm summer day. A child blithely peddling by on a bicycle. Mrs. Blackwell seated on her front porch swing and smoking a cigarette across the street. Nothing…
Karen’s throat suddenly went dry. Mrs. Blackwell. That old bitch. Was there anyone more nosy than her? Could she know…what? What could she know? I haven’t done anything. Though it was probably only her imagination, Karen thought she saw the woman glance in her direction. She stepped back away from the window, trying to recall the woman’s voice, trying to grasp what her neighbor might know about her.
The woman was always stationed on her porch, eyes peeled and ears perked for any activity she was quick to share with anyone handy to listen. Mrs. Blackwell actually knew about Reese’s promotion before Karen did. Where she’d picked up that tidbit was anyone’s guess.
Reese. Was it possible…no. How could she? Then, with a horror that chilled her like a wet spring rain, Karen remembered. It was last summer when she and Reese had been going through a rough time. They weren’t speaking to one another, not for weeks. They were on the verge of breaking up.
It was then, in a moment of weakness, she’d fallen prey to Larry Wagner’s charms. It was easy. He was so handsome, so caring and always there on the verge of her life. She’d known him since high school. She knew his reputation. But she had been so vulnerable.
The affair hadn’t lasted long. Only a matter of a week or so. Then Reese, realizing what was happening to them and not wanting to lose what they’d had, revitalized their love and brought Karen back to her senses. Things between them had never been better since then. They were happy with one another and the life they’d created together. Karen didn’t want to lose that.
But it was in jeopardy now.
During the brief interlude back then Mrs. Blackwell had seen her and Larry together. Karen had forgot all about it, thinking it of no consequence.
Now fear rose up in her like a wave. Mrs. Blackwell was going to tell Reese. She was going to ruin their perfect life. Reese grew up in this house. Mrs. Blackwell had always been his neighbor. The woman doted on him and was always cold to Karen.
Karen clenched her fists and looked out the window again. Mrs. Blackwell was coming down the walk toward the street. As she stepped into the road, Mrs. Blackwell glanced toward Karen’s house. Did she smile? Karen wasn’t sure but another chill passed over her.
Mrs. Blackwell didn’t have a phone. Reese had allowed her to use theirs on a few occasions in the past. There was a public phone box down at the end of the hill. Was that where the woman was headed now? Was she going to call Reese and tell him of Karen’s misadventure?
No! She mustn’t. I can’t let her.
Karen hurried to her front door.
The old woman was already out of sight. Karen’s hands shook. Fear gripped her like some angry beast. I’ve got to stop her. She looked around. Her car sat in the driveway. Karen staggered toward the vehicle.
Karen backed out of the driveway, bumped over the curb and sped down the hill. Tears welled up in her eyes and she brushed them away with one hand. There. Down at the bottom of the hill. Mrs. Blackwell had just stepped into the phone booth.
Karen tramped down on the accelerator. She bit her lip as the car bounced over the curb and plunged into the phone booth. Mrs. Blackwell’s scream arced over the sound of shattering glass and scraping metal.
“Mrs. Blackwell?” Karen asked.
Reese shook his head. “She didn’t make it to the hospital. What happened?”
“I don’t know. I must have passed out. I’m sorry—about the car.”
“Karen, I’m not worried about the damned car. I’m just glad you weren’t …”
Aside from a bump on the head, a split lip, bruises and a sprained ankle, Karen had come through the accident all right. She regretted Mrs. Blackwell’s death but at least her secret was safe now and Reese would…Why was he looking at her like that? “Is something wrong?”
He shook his head again, reached out and took her hand in his. “I can change the plans. We’ll do it later.”
“What? What can we do later?”
Reese squeezed her hand and smiled. “Your birthday party. I know you don’t like to make a fuss about it. But I wanted it to be special this year. I wanted all our friends to be there. I wanted it to be a surprise. It won’t be now but we can still do it later.”
“Yes. Didn’t my secretary call you? She was supposed to let you know the secret was out and we were telling everyone.”
J.R. Lindermuth has published seven novels, including three in his Sticks Hetrick mystery series. His short stories have appeared in a variety of venues, including Mysterical-E, Flash Fiction Offensive, A Twist of Noir, Crime and Suspense and Mouth Full of Bullets.