The Scholarship, страница 1
Table of Contents
By the Author
Chapter 1: The Interview
Chapter 2: The Delicate Balance
Chapter 3: A Room with a View
Chapter 4: Ghosts
Chapter 5: Take Me Out
Chapter 6: Cold Sweat
Chapter 7: The Neighbors’ Daughter
Chapter 8: Fun in the Sun
Chapter 9: Backyard Barbecue
Chapter 10: Suspicious Minds
Chapter 11: The Scholarship
Chapter 12: The Loose End
Chapter 13: Tee Time
Chapter 14: Dirty Laundry
Chapter 15: The Scholarship Committee
Chapter 16: Dinner Date
Chapter 17: A Suspect
Chapter 18: Business and Pleasure
Chapter 19: The Girlfriend Did It
Chapter 20: Confessions
Chapter 21: The End of the Loose End
Chapter 22: Exposure
Chapter 23: Overnight Shift
Chapter 24: The Pumpkin Patch
Chapter 25: Beyond Suspicion
Chapter 26: Prove It
Chapter 27: The Motive
Chapter 28: Reasonable Doubt
Chapter 29: Dracula’s Secret
Chapter 30: Celebrity Cruise
About the Author
Books Available From Bold Strokes Books
Looking to find harmony, Ella Townes leaves a big Philadelphia college and returns to the mountains where she spent her youth. She quickly makes a friend—Cassidy Ryan, a woman with Down syndrome who is the neighborhood busybody and sister of a very attractive ER doctor whom Ella finds equally charming. Under the watchful eye of Cass, Ella and Reese begin a promising friendship. Then Ella writes a scholarship in memory of a childhood friend who was murdered, and things begin to unravel. The scholarship stirs interest in the cold case, and soon the murderer is maneuvering to protect his secret. After Cass is brutally attacked, Ella and Reese question her. The killer’s identity becomes clear, but after twenty years, is there enough evidence to bring him to justice?
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© 2017 By Jaime Maddox. All Rights Reserved.
ISBN 13: 978-1-62639-076-4
This Electronic Original is published by
Bold Strokes Books, Inc.
P.O. Box 249
Valley Falls, NY 12185
First Edition: August 2017
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
Editor: Shelley Thrasher
Production Design: Stacia Seaman
Cover Design By Tammy Seidick
By the Author
The Common Thread
The main character in this book is a fund-raiser, and I am fortunate to be related to the Fund-raiser of the Year. Thank you to my sister Carol for sharing her exploits in development with me. It is a more authentic book because of her.
One of the biggest challenges for me in writing is naming my characters. Thanks to my niece, Ella, and my nephew, Townes, for lending me their names.
The great people at Bold Strokes Books work tirelessly to put out such good works every month. Thanks to Rad, Sandy, Ruth, Cindy, and Stacia for all your hard work. I’ve never worked with anyone except Shelley Thrasher, so I’m not kidding when I say she’s the best editor I’ve ever had. Thanks to her, this book is much better than it would have been without her.
Carolyn, Jamison, and Max are the loves and lights of my life, and I appreciate the time with me they sacrificed while I was working on this manuscript. It’s a crazy life sometimes, but you guys make it wonderful.
To my son, Max,
for teaching me the meaning of unconditional love.
It was dark. Though the earlier rain was no longer falling, the clouds that had given birth to a ferocious downfall now cloaked the heavens in darkness. Even the moon, which would only have given off a small crescent of light, was nowhere to be seen in the night sky.
The darkness matched his mood; the intermittent swipe of the wipers across his windshield mocked his efforts at blotting the flow of tears that seeped from his eyes. What had happened to his life? Why had it fallen apart this way? He was a good kid. Did what he was supposed to, fulfilled his obligations, and avoided trouble. Was it the Bible or the fabled American dream that told him his goodness would be rewarded? If it was the Bible, did he have to wait until the next life for happiness to find him? He couldn’t wait that long. He wouldn’t. He wanted it—he deserved it now.
She was not going to take it from him. Thinking of her, of the decision she’d so callously made, he felt his face flush as the blood in his veins boiled with anger. He pushed his foot down harder on the gas pedal, then immediately braked as he entered a bend in the country road. It wouldn’t do to die now, he told himself as he slowed both the car and his breathing, gaining control of both by the time he reached his destination.
The house was surprisingly well lit, considering her parents were out for the evening. He’d confirmed that fact before coming over. He didn’t want any witnesses to his shame. He parked beside the garage, on an extension of the driveway that came in handy when the Gates family threw one of their famous lake-house parties. On those occasions, a dozen cars filled the drive, and dozens more lined the road in front of the house. On this Friday, a week before Memorial Day weekend, his was the only car around.
A week from now, everyone who summered at the lake would be there, rain or shine, to open their houses for the season. Cars would come and go in all directions, and every house would be lit from top to bottom as people aired out the winter and welcomed the spring. Every surface would be scrubbed to a shine, and the smell of backyard barbecues would fill the air. Everyone would be here, and they would all know what she’d done to him.
He had to stop her before she told anyone. He still had time, if he acted quickly.
He turned off the car and stepped out into the light drizzle. Following the winding flagstone sidewalk along the front of the house, he ascended three stairs to the front porch. Or was it the back porch? Or maybe the side. The massive house was oddly angled on the lot, optimizing the views from every window, with covered patio-porches accessed via French doors. Only the garage, which faced the road, lacked a lake or forest vista, and even that wasn’t bad. The front yard was landscaped with flower beds, now just blooming, and dotted with dwarf trees.
Anxiously, he pushed the doorbell, and in the quiet night, he heard it ring on the other side of the tall, half-glass door. No answer. Thirty seconds later, he rang again, this time tapping his finger several times against the glowing white button. Again he heard it, but no answering call of a human, no footsteps heralding her arrival at the door. Growing angrier with every second she made him wait, he depresse
Fuck! He knew she was home; she’d called him to tell him the awful news. Called from her balcony, overlooking the lake, telling him how peaceful she felt with her decision. Peaceful! Even as she was tearing him apart, throwing his world into chaos, she felt peaceful.
That was it! The balcony. He’d climbed the trellis beside her balcony on more than one occasion, and if she was going to hide in the house to avoid him, he’d just have to climb it again. If she wouldn’t come to him, he’d go to her. She couldn’t hide.
The walkway circled the house, and he followed it to the side, past his car and into complete darkness. He saw no welcoming lights in this part of the house, and the irony of that absence didn’t escape him. He certainly wasn’t welcome here anymore. He could barely make out the wooden structure, and if the trellis had been painted any color other than white, he wouldn’t have been able to see well enough to make the climb. In a minute, though, he swung his leg over the top and stepped onto Steph’s balcony.
Obviously, Steph was way ahead of schedule with her summer decorating. Already her balcony was furnished with side-by-side chaise lounges and benches, and a table with four chairs. He shook his head, pushing away the memories of Steph and him enjoying this very space the summer before. They were good times, but they were over.
His eyes had adjusted to the night, but here, light poured out from Steph’s bedroom and filled the void. He took a step, still hidden in the darkness, and watched her.
Standing before a full-length mirror, Steph brushed her long brown hair and then shook her head, allowing it to fall where it wanted. She turned left, and then right, studying her reflection, tilting her head up, then down. He shook his head, filled with sadness. Was this what girls did? Break a guy’s heart and then worry about how they looked in the mirror?
Steph sat on a big, cushioned bench before a smaller mirror, leaned in, and added a touch of color to her winter-white cheeks. Again, she turned each way to survey the results. Beautiful, he said softly. You look beautiful, Steph. Don’t you know that?
Her eyes were next, and suddenly he became concerned. What was she doing? It was after eight o’clock. What was she getting ready for? Was she going out? Or was someone coming over? The thought infuriated him as he watched her dab gloss onto her bottom lip, then rub it across the top one. After smiling at the effect, she turned off the vanity light and stood.
Surveying the room as she’d just studied her reflection, she went to the bed and rearranged the pillows. Next, she repositioned the photos on her dresser and then angled the ottoman before a large chair in the corner. She switched on the lamp behind it and then turned it off.
She was preparing the room for someone! That fucker really did have a date. He couldn’t take it anymore. Summoning his courage, he stepped into the light and knocked softly on the sliding-glass door’s frame.
A smile spread across her face as she turned toward the door, but a frown quickly replaced it. She knew it was him, he realized, and she wasn’t at all happy to see him.
Not surprising, considering the conversation they’d had a few hours earlier. It didn’t matter, though. He had to talk to her. He had to make it right, before she humiliated him before the entire world. Before she ruined his life.
Her stride was not the normal, confident one he was accustomed to. She walked slowly, as if measuring each step, gaining time—to gather her courage or her thoughts. It was harder to face someone than deliver bad news over the phone, and it seemed she was just coming to grips with that fact now. She was nervous. Good. Maybe she’d reconsider her ridiculous decision.
She pulled the door back and stepped onto the balcony, rubbing her arms as she did so, reminding him that it was a little cool out. He hadn’t noticed. Emotion had driven him and apparently was warming him, too.
“Hi,” she said. After stepping through the threshold, she closed the door behind her. “What’s up?”
So she’d rather talk to him outside than invite him in. How quickly her manners had eroded. Didn’t she say they’d always be friends? Wasn’t that what she’d told him as she’d cast him aside hours earlier? Now she’d withstand the cold to avoid inviting him into her room. He took a breath and blew it out, slowly. He had to stay calm, find his reasonable voice.
He held his hand out to her. “I had to talk to you in person. Face-to-face. Talk some sense into you. Why are you doing this to me, Steph?” He realized he sounded pathetic, and it angered him. He’d wanted to sound authoritative. He wanted to tell her to change her mind, not ask her to.
Sighing, she reached across the distance, touched his shoulder. “I’m sorry. Things changed. I changed.”
She looked out over the lake, barely visible in the darkness, but there, its blackness was another mirror for his despair. Her source of peace. He followed her gaze and felt nothing but angst.
“I wish I could explain it,” she said softly as she looked at him with pity. Then she turned back to her beloved lake, and her voice grew stronger. Resolute. “Maybe one day. I just can’t talk about it right now.” She seemed convinced, and he knew her decision was final.
“You’re ruining my life!” He raised his voice, and he hated that. She was growing calmer while he was falling apart.
“I’m not ruining your life! This is such a small thing. In the whole course of our life histories, it won’t even really matter.”
“Maybe not to you, but to me, it’s huge! Don’t you have a heart?” What had become of him? Now he was begging, like a bum on the street hoping for a little loose change.
She sniffed back the products of the cool night air. “Of course I have a heart. And I’m following it. I have to do what’s best for me.”
“And it’s just fuck me, then, huh?”
The tone of the conversation had shifted, grown angry, and Steph seemed to sense that. She stepped back, signaling an end to their conversation. “I’ve made my decision. I’m sorry, but it’s done.”
Turning, she reached for the door handle.
He made no conscious decision, just reacted. Driven by his rage, his frustration, his humiliation, he reached for the statue beside the door. It was perhaps eighteen inches high, carved in white faux marble, and it gleamed in the sliver of bedroom light as he swung it toward her.
The sound as it hit her skull was a sickening thud, and he immediately wished he could take the blow back. She fell into the glass, and he reached for her, catching her before she could fall. “Steph,” he called softly as she collapsed against him. “Steph, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean it.”
Easing her onto her back, he couldn’t help noticing her weight. She was tiny—only five feet tall and a hundred pounds, but she suddenly felt much heavier. As he lowered her to the stone balcony, her head dropped back, her mouth fell open.
So did her eyes. In that cruel light that sought him in the darkness, he saw her eyes, blue and lifeless.
“No! No!” he said, shaking her as tears fell from his face. “Steph, no! Don’t die.” His pleas were unanswered, and he held her, sobbing. After a minute, he composed himself, then collapsed to the balcony floor. Leaning back, feeling the weight of her on top of him, he began to sob again. He’d just killed one of the most important people in his world. He’d just killed himself, really, for what would become of him now? His life had just gone from bad to incredibly worse.
More tears came, and he again blotted them with his sleeve. And then he took some breaths as his mind raced, realizing he had more wiping to do. This was not the end for him. His life wouldn’t end because hers did. Jerking his sweatshirt over his head, he picked up the statue. It was now covered in blood, but he’d only touched the top, where he’d gripped it when he picked it up. He rubbed it with his shirt, from top to bottom, removing the blood and, hopefully, his fingerprints.
What else had he touched? Probably just the top of the balcony and the trellis. How to kn
What to do?
Using his shirt, he deliberately wiped every surface of the balcony and then stepped around the lifeless body on the floor. He opened the door and walked through her room, to the jewelry box on the dresser. Again, leaving no prints, he opened it and scooped out a handful of gold. After glancing at her once more, he walked into the hallway and found a similar box on the dresser in her mother’s bedroom. He raided that one as well, then quickly descended the grand staircase and raced out the front door, without bothering to close it behind him.
Seconds later he pulled out of the driveway, grateful for the darkness that concealed him.
You were great! he told himself. Way to think on your feet! The police will suspect a burglar, and there’s no evidence to implicate you. Steph had only told him her decision a few hours earlier, and he’d asked her if she’d told anyone. She hadn’t. At least she’d denied telling anyone else. With no one to give the police reason to suspect him, they’d never think it was him. He was a good kid. An honor student. Without having a motive, they wouldn’t look twice in his direction.
Now all he needed was an alibi.
He didn’t know where to go, what to do next. The rain that had helped cover his crime had stopped, and it made him nervous. It was a Friday night in May, people were out and about, and the clearing skies meant someone might notice him. He drove faster, distancing himself from Lake Winola and the dead body on the balcony. The farther away he got from the Gateses’ house, the less likely he could be tied to the murder. He’d wiped away the evidence; there was nothing to incriminate him.
Moonlight filtered through the window as he stopped at a traffic light in Clarks Summit, and it drew his attention to the passenger seat of his car.