Carrots: A Shelby Nichols Adventure (20 page)

“I’m not sure. It’s hard to believe you got it for that price.”

“I know. It’s crazy, huh?”

“Yes. I guess we can keep it. For now. I just hope it’s not stolen or something.”

Alarm buzzed through me. Could it be a stolen car? Was Chris right? I hadn’t even thought about that. If it was, how had Tony been able to sell it to me? Didn’t he have to have all the right paperwork to get a license and everything?

It was hard to get to sleep after that. Every time I shut my eyes, I kept seeing my new car blow up. When I finally drifted off, dreams of falling off a cliff plagued my sleep, and when I wasn’t falling, I seemed to be drowning in a pool of muck. I woke the next morning exhausted. If I didn’t know better, I’d think the stress was getting to me.

I got out of bed, glad that Chris hadn’t left for work yet. For some reason, I had an overwhelming urge to hold him, and tell him what was going on. He hugged me, but was pre-occupied, and running late.

“What’s on your schedule for today?” I asked.

“We’re wrapping up Mr. Hodges’ case. The kid accused of stealing his jewels is probably going to go free, but Mr. Hodges shouldn’t have any problem getting the insurance money. I think we established that the jewels were definitely stolen.”

“Oh, that’s good.” I took a deep breath. “Could we talk tonight? There’s something I need to tell you.”

His eyes jerked to mine. “You’re finally going to tell me what’s going on?”

“Yes. I need your help.”

Hope surged through him, then wrapped around me like a blanket. I was shocked by the intensity of his feelings. He’d been waiting for this for such a long time. “Finally! I wish I didn’t have to go.”

I smiled. “It’s okay. Tonight’s soon enough.”

“All right.” He kissed me, and hurried out the door, relieved to know I had finally come to my senses.

“Wow,” I said aloud. “What an idiot I am! How could I be so stupid?” I should have been talking to Chris all along. I closed my eyes. It would be such a relief to tell him everything. I didn’t know if I had enough to stop Uncle Joey from using me, but maybe there was something Chris could do. All I needed was some leverage of my own.

After the kids left for school, I got some toast and orange juice, and sat at the table to read the newspaper. A picture on the bottom half of the front page caught my attention. It looked like a burning car, and my heart stopped when I spotted Uncle Joey in the background. Standing next to him in a black wig and no glasses was me!

The caption read, ‘Car Bomb Explodes in Parking Lot of Sunset Mortuary’. I quickly scanned the article. At least there was no mention of my name, but it was clear that the car belonged to Mr. Manetto.

I stared hard at the picture, wondering if anyone could possibly recognize me. It looked a lot like me, but wouldn’t the dark hair throw people off? No one would expect me to have dark hair and bangs, so if they saw the picture, they would probably think it looked like me, but it wasn’t me because of the dark hair. Besides, what would I be doing with Uncle Joey at Sunset Mortuary?

I was getting that panicky feeling again, and starting to feel faint. I put my head between my knees and took deep breaths. After a minute, I felt more calm and rational. It wasn’t as bad as I thought. I just needed to calm down.

I jerked when the phone rang. It was my mom. Should I answer it? If I didn’t, she’d probably call Chris. That would be bad. “Hello?”

“Shelby? What are you doing on the front page of the newspaper?” How did she know? Should I act dumb? Before I could answer she continued, “Of course the dark hair and bangs aren’t you, but the face is you.”

“I noticed that picture too,” I improvised. “I guess it kind of looks like me, but I don’t see that big of a resemblance.”

“You don’t think so? I think it looks just like you.” She wasn’t going to back down.

“That’s kind of creepy isn’t it? To think there’s another person that looks like me running around? Thank goodness we have different hair; otherwise, I’d be really freaked out.”

Silence from the other end of the line told me she wasn’t buying it.

“Anyway, I’d better go. I’ve got to get ready for work.”

She sighed. “Fine, but just for the record, I know it’s you. So how is your new job going anyway?”

This topic wasn’t any better, so I said the first thing that came to mind. “Oh that? I’m quitting. It’s not working out too well. I’ll probably finish out the rest of the week, but that’s it.”

“Why? What happened?”

“I just don’t get along very well with the boss. I mean he’s nice enough, but I think I’d rather try something else. Like flower-arranging. Something more creative and artistic. That sounds a lot more fun to me.”

“You’d be good at that,” she said. We talked for a few more minutes and then hung up. I hated lying to her, but it was better for her that she didn’t know the truth.

With the funeral and car bomb, I’d been distracted from my goal of getting something on Uncle Joey. What kind of leverage would make him back off, or better yet, put him in jail? If I could expose him as Stephen Cohen’s murderer, that would do it.

I tried to think if there was another way, but kept coming up blank. Since I had decided to tell Chris, maybe it would be helpful to have more background information on Stephen Cohen. I was also curious if the police had anything more on Johnny’s murderer. Maybe I should pay a visit to Dimples and find out. After that, I could drop in at Chris’ office, and do some poking around.

I drove to the police station in decadent luxury, feeling like a million bucks. I had taken extra care with my hair, scrunching it to curl softly around my face. I’d also found my crème-colored jacket and jeans outfit that matched the car perfectly. With a light blue shirt to match my eyes, I looked like I belonged to that car, and it belonged to me.

I pulled into the police station with a slight twinge of unease, hoping the car wasn’t really stolen. If it was, I was pretty stupid to drive it here. When I walked inside, the officer at the desk recognized me from before, and ushered me right in to see Dimples.

“Shelby. Good to see you,” he was pleasantly surprised.

“Hi. I was just driving by and thought I’d check up on that lead about the guy who robbed that store. Did you find his stash?”

“Yes, we did. I was just going to call and thank you for your help.”

“Good, I’m glad it worked out. He sure was cocky wasn’t he?”

“Yes. We’ve still got a lot to do for a conviction, but I think we have all the evidence we need to put him away for a few years.”

“Great. Glad to help.” I was trying to think of a casual way I could ask about Johnny’s murder investigation. “I noticed it was Johnny Falzone’s funeral yesterday.”

“Yeah, there’s more about it in today’s paper.” Dimples pulled out the newspaper and set it on his desk. “After the funeral, there was an attempt on Mr. Manetto’s life. Someone planted a bomb in his car. We think it’s probably related.” He was studying the picture, then studying me. “This lady sure looks an awful lot like you, except for the hair.”

I looked at the picture like I hadn’t seen it before. “Wow, that’s weird isn’t it? Kind of gives me the creeps.”

“Yes, I’ll bet it does. Do you have any premonitions about this?” He motioned his hand to indicate the article.

“Umm…this might seem strange,” I lowered my voice. “But there was an unsolved murder that happened a long time ago. I keep getting impressions that it has something to do with this case.”

“Who was murdered?” Dimples asked.

“I’m not sure, but I think the last name starts with a C. It’s something like Coburn, or Cohen. I know it’s not much, but maybe you could check it out.”

“Sure. I’ll look into it.” I’d never steered Dimples wrong yet, so he was willing to take a look.

“Well, I’d better get going.” I stood and shook Dimples hand.

“Thanks for your help,” he said, standing. “I’ll call you if something comes up.”

I left quickly, hoping I’d done the right thing. If Uncle Joey found out, I was dead. I hurried to Chris’ office, thinking it was almost lunchtime and maybe we could go to lunch together. I was also going to ask him if he could find out more about Stephen Cohen. At this point, what did I have to lose?

When I arrived, Chris’ secretary told me he was still in court, and would probably be there for quite some time. I’d forgotten he was there for Mr. Hodges case. Maybe I’d go over and see how it was going. “That’s okay,” I told her. “I’ll just leave a note in his office.”

I found some paper and quickly explained what I wanted in the note, then wondered if I should leave it there. What if someone else saw it? Someone like Kate? She would probably wonder why I wanted Chris to look into the death of Stephen Cohen. With her connection to Uncle Joey, she might even know why Stephen Cohen was killed. Either way, she was sure to tell Uncle Joey, and I didn’t want that to happen. I needed to protect Chris as long as possible. I stuffed the note in my purse, and walked down the hall.

As I passed by Kate’s door, I realized she was in court with Chris. Maybe now would be a good time to take a look in her office. I checked the halls, and since no one was around, I opened the door and slid inside. I stood quietly by the door, listening for footsteps, but when none came, I let out my breath, and hurried to her desk.

There were several files scattered there, along with a half full mug of coffee. They looked like cases she was currently working on. Nothing I wanted to see. I moved to the filing cabinets by the wall and opened one. These files were in alphabetical order, and I scanned down until I found the C’s. I didn’t expect to find anything, but I was still disappointed when I didn’t.

I sat back down at her desk, and started opening drawers. The top drawer had pencils and pens along with paper clips and erasers. The one below it was a large file drawer. I tried to pull it open, but it was locked. I rummaged through the top drawer again, and hit pay dirt when I found the key under a small notepad.

As I inserted the key, my heart pounded, and my hands started to sweat. I knew I was taking a chance of getting caught, but I couldn’t stop now. I turned the key, and the lock clicked. Holding my breath, I carefully pulled the drawer open.

There were several files inside. One had Mr. Hodges name on it, another I recognized from my encounter with Kate at the police station. These were the files that had something to do with Uncle Joey.

I sucked in my breath at the name on the last file. It was Stephen Cohen. The file contained two manila folders, and I carefully placed the first one on top of Kate’s desk. The first few pages looked like cases he had worked on. They were dated over thirty years before, and many had his personal notes attached. As I turned the pages, the cases got closer to the date of his death. Next, in red letters someone had written the date of his death over the newspaper article I had already read, with a copy of the obituary. The last part of the file contained the name and picture of the man convicted of Stephen Cohen’s murder, along with transcripts from the trial.

Why would Kate have such an extensive file on the man Uncle Joey had murdered? Did she know Uncle Joey had murdered him? I checked the clock, hoping the secretary was right, and Kate wouldn’t be back for a while longer. My hands were already shaking with nervousness. Still, I had to check the second manila folder. Who knew when I would have another chance?

This folder had totally different information. It looked like bank accounts, with numbers circled in red and cross-referenced to other pages. Were they money transfers of some kind? Someone had written Uncle Joey’s name next to one of the account numbers and Stephen Cohen’s name beside the other. It looked like Uncle Joey was giving Stephen Cohen a lot of money. Was he blackmailing Uncle Joey?

Next was information on an actual case Stephen Cohen was working on. Thrasher Development was the plaintiff and Berkley Construction was the defendant. I couldn’t understand all the legal jargon, except that it looked like Thrasher Development won a huge settlement against the construction company. Had Stephen Cohen transferred the money from Uncle Joey’s account to his own? Would Uncle Joey have killed him for that?

I checked the clock again, realizing I’d been there for a little more than half an hour. It was time to go, but what should I do with the files? I decided to put the bigger file back, but couldn’t bring myself to part with the smaller one. I knew the information was important, and taking it might be a really dumb thing to do, but still, how could I pass it up? When would I get another chance like this?

Footsteps and talking came from outside the door, and I froze. The doorknob turned and Kate’s low voice spurred me into action. I dove under the desk, and pulled my knees up to my chin. I held as still as I could and tried to calm my pounding heart.

“I can’t believe I left it on my desk,” Kate called to someone in the hall. The carpet muffled her footsteps, and I cringed when she came closer. The tips of her shoes were visible under the desk, and I held my breath. If she came any further, she’d find me.

She picked something up off the desk, and thought about how satisfying it was to finally get Chris to go to lunch with her. She undid another button on her blouse, and expertly applied some lipstick, glancing in a mirror she pulled from her purse. Then she turned, and walked back toward the door. “I found it,” she called.

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