by Jackie Calhoun
Evie Harrington knew that her husband had been keeping secrets from her. But when he turns up dead, she quickly realizes that someone had been willing to kill for what he was hiding. No matter where she goes, someone finds her. No matter how secure the house, someone gets inside.
Evie finds herself turning to attorney and ex-high school classmate Charley (Charlotte) for help. To keep Evie safe, Charley takes her to a place where she’s certain nobody can find them.
Over time, Evie begins to think there might be something more than a friendship between them. But with no idea who they can trust, and suspicion around every corner, Evie and Charley learn there is no escaping those who follow, and the only way to survive is to trust each other.
FROM THE AUTHOR
"Evie awakes late in the night. She is alone in the house, and she hears footsteps downstairs. Where to hide? Thus begins my latest book, so different from the others.
When I can’t sleep, I sometimes imagine footfalls downstairs. An intruder. The deep walk-in closets of my parents’ house come to mind. Places to hide.
An idea takes form and grows."
Evie awakened with a start and sat straight up in bed. Immobilized by fear, she listened to footsteps moving around downstairs. The clock on the nightstand read 12:32 a.m. She was alone in the house, without a weapon. Not that she knew how to use a gun. She’d probably shoot herself.
Her mind foraged for a safe place to hide. Under the bed? First place an intruder would look. Out the window onto the roof? It was raining, the drops sliding down the glass, and the roof would be slippery. In a closet? There were two closets—one with a huge traveling trunk and the other with a door on the end that opened into an attic space. She’d be trapped in either, but less so in the attic.
She slid out of bed and straightened the covers so that it looked like no one had been in it, then crept toward the closet just as she heard the first footfall on the stairs. With long, panicky steps, she slipped inside the closet and made her way around the suitcases and winter coats to the far end, where she fumbled for the door handle and pulled—gently at first and then with a hard jerk. Cold air rushed at her and she grabbed an old blanket from a stack on the floor and hurried inside, shutting the door quietly behind her.
The floors were old wood, and she picked her bare feet up carefully, not wanting splinters. Cobwebs—at least she hoped they weren’t spiders’ webs—brushed against her. She wished she had a flashlight because it was dark as sin, but a light would give her away if anyone opened the door.
She bumped into something solid and thought her heart had stopped until it picked up speed again. A scream came out as a squeak, as she adjusted to the lack of light. Shadows emerged where a few seconds before there had been only a black impenetrable curtain. The shadows turned into objects, mostly boxes, along with a few pieces of furniture covered with tattered, filthy sheets. She sat down on a chair that was behind a dresser. Dust rose around her as she wrapped herself in a blanket. She heard someone rooting around in the closet and held her breath.
A light bounced around the attic, missing her legs by inches. She pulled her feet onto the chair. A scream caught in her throat. The door shut. Paralyzed by fear, she remained motionless, although every nerve quivered, knowing he—it had to be a he—could be trying to fool her. Eventually, she fell asleep.
The door opened again. Footsteps echoed, breaking into her sleep. When the steps stopped, she looked up and saw a leering face.
She screamed and screamed.
A hand grasped her shoulder. “For Christ’s sake, get a grip, Evie. What are you doing in here?”
The familiar voice penetrated her fear and her eyes popped open midway into another scream. “Ted, thank God you’re home,” she whispered in a hoarse voice. “Someone was in the house. I woke up and heard him downstairs.”
His mouth twisted impatiently. “That was me.”
“No. You would have called my name.”
“And what time was it? Around twelve thirty? I poured myself a little brandy and sat down with the newspaper.”
“And who was it that came into the closet with a flashlight and never said a word?”
“I was looking for you and saw nothing but dust.”
“Oh. I thought you were coming home tomorrow. I was scared senseless.”
“You are senseless. Come on. Let’s get out of here.” He pulled her to her feet and led her out of the attic. “You’re filthy.”
She was tired. So tired that her arms and legs had no strength. She leaned against him, but he held her away with a stiff arm.
She washed her face and feet, put on a clean pair of pajamas and climbed into bed with Ted. He was turned away from her. She could hear him breathing, feigning sleep. After twenty-three years of marriage, she knew the sound of his sleeping.
She turned her back and eventually fell into a dream-laden sleep, where she hid behind bushes, trees, buildings, screaming her head off and no one seemed to hear her. The footsteps were behind her—relentless in their pursuit, finally catching up. She sat up, fearful and confused.
“Stop that screaming. How is anyone supposed to sleep?” Ted spoke through clenched teeth.
“Sorry. Bad dream,” she mumbled.
Morning came. A gray light gradually filled the windows. She watched it bloom into daylight. Ted was gone from the bed. She figured he had moved to the guest bedroom. Never once had he tried to allay her fears. It seemed as if he was always angry with her.
The cat jumped on the bed with a loud meow. He brushed her face with his whiskers and purred. Where had he been last night? Had it been real? He meowed in her ear. She laughed. “Okay, Georgie, time to eat.” Knowing she’d never go back to sleep, she dragged herself out of bed, even though the clock read 5:55. Georgie would keep her awake, and besides, she didn’t want to dream anymore.
She padded to the bathroom and after using the toilet, got dressed. She went downstairs with Georgie walking in front of her as if to lead the way. She had to gently push him on with her foot.
Ted sat at the table, drinking coffee and reading the Sunday newspaper. “Those fuckers just won’t give him a break,” he snarled.
“What fuckers won’t give who a break?” she asked, pretending not to know as she fixed Georgie’s breakfast. The cat rubbed against her legs and purred.
“Those goddamn left-wingers won’t give the president any rope.”
She put Georgie’s food down. “So he can turn us into a Russian satellite?”
“I should have left you in the attic,” he growled, looking at her over his glasses.
What had happened? He had once loved her. She would have sworn to it. “If something happens to me, you’ll give Georgie to Angie, won’t you?”
“What makes you think something is going to happen to you?” He cracked a smile and became handsome again. “You think I have a price on your head?” His laughter startled the cat, who crouched and stared at him.
“Promise me,” she persisted.
He laughed harder. “You sure Angie wants him?”
She stood with hands on hips and mouth pursed.
“Why don’t you give him to Rebecca?” he asked.
Rebecca was her best friend, whom she desperately wanted to talk to right now. Angie was her daughter, their daughter. They both loved Georgie, but Rebecca had a dog and Angie had roommates.
“Forget it.” Chills raced up and down her body. It hadn’t occurred to her that he’d go so far as to put a price on her head. Now she’d never feel safe.
“What’s for dinner?” he asked, snapping the newspaper.
“You are so not funny. I could tell the police what you just said.” She told herself she was crazy to aggravate him and added, “I thought I’d pick up a roasted chicken.”
“We had one of those last week.”
“Two weeks ago. I thought you liked it.”
“Not every week.”
“I can use the leftover chicken for soup.” Which they’d also had two weeks ago. She poured herself a cup of coffee and took a gulp, burning her mouth. “Ted, would you be willing to see a marriage counselor with me?”
He looked up as if startled, before starting to laugh. “A little late for that, isn’t it?”
“I don’t know. Is it? And if it is, why is it?” She sipped the coffee and watched him.
“You’re just clueless, aren’t you?” He sounded disgusted.
“I guess I am. Want to tell me why?”
“You bore me,” he said cruelly.
“Have you found someone who doesn’t bore you? Is that the problem? If you want a divorce, why don’t you say so?”
His eyes narrowed. “I suppose you think you deserve everything.”
“The house, the vehicles, the cottage, the investments I’ve made over the years.”
Stunned, a picture of the cottage, its windows overlooking the lake, popped into her mind. She imagined the smell of pines, felt the warm sand beneath her toes. Longing built up inside her. She’d live in a hovel to keep the cottage. He seldom went there anyway.
“You planned well, didn’t you? How much money do you think you can squeeze out of me?” he asked.
“I didn’t plan anything. You’re the one who seems to hate me.”
He shoved Georgie away with his foot.
Georgie meowed indignantly and she jumped to his defense. “Don’t take your anger out on him.”
He shrugged and returned to reading the paper.
Fucker, she thought, picking up Georgie and snuggling him close. The cat pushed away from her and she set him down.
“I’m meeting Rebecca for lunch.”
“Whatever,” he said as if he were a kid.
Rebecca looked up from a booth in the Coffee Mill and took in Evie’s frazzled appearance in one glance. That’s what Evie loved most about her friend, how she could read her. “What happened?”
“He asked if I thought he’d put a price on my head,” she whispered as she slid in opposite her friend. Then she told Rebecca the gist of their conversation.
Rebecca’s green eyes widened as she listened. She reached across the tabletop and covered Evie’s hands with her own. “You have to get out of there.”
Evie looked at their hands and blinked back tears. “I can’t afford to live alone.”
A frown etched itself on her friend’s face. Her auburn hair hung in perfect waves to her shoulders. With her eye-catching figure, Evie thought Rebecca was beautiful. She’d never understood what Rebecca saw in her. She felt sometimes she just dumped her problems on her friend. Rebecca could have anyone for a best friend, but she’d chosen Evie with whom to spend most of her free time.
“You could stay with us,” Rebecca said. “John would understand, and Gracie loves you.”
Evie smiled as she shook her head. “And I love her. But I wouldn’t impose on you. Besides, I’d have to take Georgie with me. Duke wouldn’t like that.” Duke was Rebecca’s dog, a chocolate lab that yearned to be a lap-sitter.
“Duke would be fine with Georgie. He would want to play.”
Evie laughed. “Yeah. That’s what I mean.” She envisioned Duke chasing Georgie. It might be fun for Duke, but not for Georgie. She let out a sigh when their salads were placed in front of them.
Rebecca’s hand again covered hers.
“It’s okay.” Evie thought of going home and chills raced through her.
“You could move in with Angie,” Rebecca said.
“And the two other girls she lives with? I don’t think so.” She briefly thought of her son, Dave, who lived in a studio apartment. He was still a student at UW-Milwaukee.
She had started to feel unsafe when her kids left home. “Have you settled on a college for Gracie?” she asked.
“I think so,” Rebecca said. “She loves UW-Madison, but it’s hard to get into. She might have to go to UW-Eau Claire or La Crosse or Stevens Point first.”
“Jimmy is at Madison. Does that help?”
“Just because he’s her brother? I don’t think so.” She met Evie’s eyes. “How did you manage when your kids left home?”
“I worried about empty nest syndrome before they left, but it was okay. There was less to do. You know? Less clutter, less clothes to wash, less cooking. And I got a job. No matter how Ted laughs at what I do, it fills the gap.” She was a teacher’s assistant for first grade, and she loved the kids and liked the teachers, some of whom might have been Angie’s age.
Rebecca nodded at Evie’s salad, which she hadn’t touched. “Eat, Evie. You getting thin and skinny isn’t pretty.”
Evie grinned. “And I’m so pretty?”
Rebecca met her eyes, a forkful of food halfway to her mouth. “Oh, but you are. You look like a gypsy with that black, curly hair and those dark eyes and dusky skin. Or at least what I think of as a gypsy.” The fork tines disappeared into her mouth, and she winked at Evie.
Evie grew hot. She’d forgotten how to handle compliments. Ted no longer gave her any. It was the wink, though, that made her blush.
Sooner or later she had to go to the store and decide what they were going to eat next week besides rotisserie chickens and fried rice. She also had to figure out what she was going to wear Monday.
“Call me, if you’re afraid,” Rebecca had said before they separated. She hugged Evie and gave her a little shake. “I mean it.”
“I know you do. Say hi to Gracie and John.”
Before the kids left home, she’d loved the weekends. Now it was the other way around. She didn’t want to spend time with Ted, so she found things to do on the weekend—lunch out, walks in nearby parks, exercising at the Y, all with Rebecca. But then she began to worry about leaving Georgie alone with Ted.
When she walked into the kitchen from the garage, she put down the grocery bags and gathered Georgie in her arms, cooing at him. When she picked up his bowl to put food in it, she thought it looked kind of greasy, so she washed it in soap and hot water. Then she picked up his water bowl and imagined it smelled funny.
As she dumped the water and washed the bowl, Ted said, “What? Why are you washing his bowls?”
Her heart jumped at the sound of his voice. She hadn’t heard him enter the room. “They were greasy.”
“I gave him a piece of my breakfast bacon. He loves it.”
“It’s not good for him, and it’s not good for you either.”
“Jesus, Evie, you’re the one who buys it.” He headed into the den and turned on the TV.
She bought it for certain dishes she made, but she said nothing.
That evening, she watched Doc Martin with the cat asleep at her side, his legs straight up in the air. She planned to sleep in the guest room that night because she wanted to read. She didn’t want to keep Ted awake like last night. That’s what she told him anyway.
“Good. If you scream, I won’t hear you.” He came over and ruffled Georgie, who awoke with a squawk.
“Hey, don’t be so rough.”
“I was just saying good night.”
“A gentle pat would suffice,” she said.
“I’m driving to Chicago tomorrow morning. We’re golfing with clients in the afternoon, and I have an early Monday meeting.”
She looked at him after he gave her a peck on the cheek, instead of the mouth. He was tall with a full head of brown hair, turning gray. The dark bags under his eyes made them appear bruised, instead of dark blue. Yet he was well-built, probably because of all the golf he played.
Was he having an affair? She inwardly shrugged. Did she care? She would be insulted, of course. Was he beginning to feel old? Looking for a younger woman? As if anyone could bring back his youth.
“If I don’t come home Monday, I’ll call.”
She turned back to Doc Martin and waved him away. “Good night.”