We are excited to share a book installment on Wednesdays and Saturdays! Hidden Danger by Jennifer Pierce is the first in the Small Town Guardians series. If you love mystery and romance, come read the next chapter below!
Chapter One / Chapter Two / Chapter Three / Chapter Four / Chapter Five / Chapter Six / Chapter Seven / Chapter Eight / Chapter Nine / Chapter Ten / Chapter Eleven / Chapter Twelve / Chapter Thirteen / Chapter Fourteen/Chapter 15
Maggie ran past him, not saying a word. He’d been scanning the parking lot and hadn’t seen anything to cause a reaction like that. He glanced at his car; she must have seen something in it. He could see the outline of something in the passenger’s seat. He needed to stop Maggie before she got hurt, and then he could assess the situation.
“Maggie, stop!” He caught up to her in three long strides, grabbed her shoulder as she made it to the stairwell, and spun her around to face him. Eyes wide with fear, she stared into space behind him, not focusing on anything, her breath coming in ragged gasps.
“Maggie.” He placed his hands on her cheeks, turning her face to his. “Look at me, honey.” He stared intently into her eyes, hoping for a connection to help calm her down.
She stared off in the direction of his car.
“Breathe,” he said.
She continued to pant.
He brushed hair from her forehead. “Breathe with me.” He took a deep breath and released it. Then he took another and released it. On the third breath, Maggie looked at him and started to breathe with him. After several calming breaths, Maggie fell into his arms and buried her face in his chest.
“She’s dead.” Her words were muffled, and he wasn’t sure he understood her.
He pulled back slightly so he could see her eyes. “Say that again?”
“There’s a dead woman in your car!” Her breathing started to pick up again.
He spun her around and pushed her toward the stairs. Knowing if what she said was true, they would be in danger standing out in the open like this. Instinctively, he unholstered his gun and disengaged the safety. Once in the covered stairwell, he made eye contact with Maggie, making sure she was focusing on him and what he was about to say.
“We are going to go back to the hotel room. I’m going to take the lead. Stay behind me and do as I say, do you understand?”
She nodded her understanding. Stepping in front of her, he led the way up the stairs, pausing at the opening to the balcony. He reached into his back pocket, pulled out his wallet, and handed it to Maggie. “Get the key card out and be ready to unlock the door.” With shaking hands, she took the key card from his wallet.
He peered around the corner, checking to make sure it was clear, then led the way down the hotel balcony and stood watch over the parking lot while Maggie unlocked the door. Once she was safely in the room, he backed in, shutting the door and locking the deadbolt.
He engaged the safety on his gun, holstered it, and then lead Maggie to a chair. He pulled his phone from his pocket and dialed 911 as he walked to the hotel window. He pushed the curtain slightly to the side so he could get a good look at the parking lot.
“Nine-one-one, what’s your emergency.”
“This is Sheriff Cody Smith. I am at the Tumbleweed Inn on Highway 65. I have a 10-54. Civilian claims there’s a dead body in a black Chevy Impala. No immediate threat noted but the area has not been secured. I have the reporting civilian in room two-oh-seven and will be going to investigate the claim.”
“Ten-four, Sheriff. Units have been dispatched. I’ve also notified EMT and the coroner.”
He disconnected the call, put the phone back in his pocket, and turned to Maggie. “I need to secure the area and make sure the woman you saw in my car doesn’t need medical attention.”
Wrapping her arms around her midsection, she stood and paced. “Cody, she doesn’t need medical attention.”
Cody crossed the room and placed his hands on her shoulders to stop her pacing. “Did you recognize the woman in my car?”
“We don’t know that Dee had anything to do with this. We won’t know until we can get out there and have a look.”
She shook her head. “No, Cody. It was Dee. Dee is the dead woman in your car!”
He stared at her like she was speaking a foreign language.
“Are you sure it was Dee? You said before that you had never seen her before that day at the sheriff’s office.”
“I’m sure. I may not have seen her before that day, but I know that is her in your car.”
She shook his hands off her shoulders and resumed pacing in front of the television. Turning around, he walked back to the hotel window and moved the curtain to look out over the parking lot. He couldn’t see anyone else outside. He wanted to go down, check out the scene, and start securing the perimeter, but he couldn’t leave Maggie alone. Not after what she saw.
“Cody, you don’t have to stay up here to babysit me. Go do your job.”
“I am. My job is to protect you. There is nothing I can do for Dee now.”
“I’ll lock the door behind you and not open it for any one.”
He looked at her and then back out the window, thinking of all the possible scenarios that could happen. Faint sirens reached his ears. Backup was almost here. He could have an officer sit with her while he checked things out.
A Prairie’s Grove cruiser pulled into the parking lot and parked in front of his car. A young officer slid from the driver’s seat.
“Maggie. I’m going to step outside and let the Prairie’s Grove officers know what’s going on. I’ll be right outside the door.”
She nodded solemnly.
He opened the door and closed it behind him. He pulled his badge off his belt and yelled to the officers in the parking lot. “Excuse me.”
Both officers turned their attention to him, hands instinctively hovering over their service weapons.
He raised his arms, one hand showing his badge. “Cody Smith. Dale County Sheriff.”
The men relaxed. “You call it in?”
“Yes. I’ve got the witness up here.”
The other officer opened the car door with a gloved hand and bent slightly to reach into the car. He stuck his arm in and felt for a pulse. Pulling it out a few seconds later, he turned Cody’s direction and shook his head. He closed the door, removed the glove, and followed the first officer.
The officers joined him on the balcony. The first officer stuck out his hand. “I’m David Jenson, and this is Garrett Masterson. Tell us what you know.”
“We were headed to my car when Maggie Jones, the witness, found the body. I haven’t seen it myself. Maggie says it’s Dee Abrams. I can give a positive ID when I get down there. I just don’t want to leave Maggie alone.”
Officer Jenson took notes. “What makes her believe it’s Dee Abrams?”
Cody gave them a recap of the last several days. “If one of you wants to stay up here and take Ms. Jones’s statement, I can go down and positively ID the body.”
“I can take her statement, and Masterson can go down with you.”
Cody let Officer Jenson into the room and introduced him to Maggie. “Maggie, I’ll be right downstairs. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
He followed Officer Masterson down to his car. “You said this was your car?”
Officer Masterson put on another glove and opened the car door. Cody stepped around him and peered inside. Her body was situated in the passenger’s seat. Her brown eyes were open wide, staring at something she’d never see.
“It’s Dee Abrams.” A pill bottle was clutched in her left hand and several bottles were scattered on the floorboard. He bent over to get a better look. There were prescriptions for antidepressants and painkillers. All prescribed to Iris Grainger.
The air swooshed out of his lungs. Was Dee responsible for Iris’s death? He straightened and pointed to the pills. “This may be connected to one of my old cases. Those belong to another one of my dispatchers. She took her own life, too.”
“What’s that?” Officer Masterson pointed to a piece of paper in Dee’s hand.
“It’s probably a note. Take some pictures and let’s see what it says.”
Masterson walked to his cruiser and retrieved a digital camera. He took several pictures before removing the paper and unfolding it.
Six for Gold. I’m sorry.
Cody ran his hand through his hair and looked to the sky. Lord, when I prayed for an end to this I never imagined it’d end this way. Tires on gravel alerted him to the arrival of more people. It was the coroner’s van followed by a Dale County Sheriff’s cruiser.
“I heard it on the radio and thought I’d come see if I could help,” Grainger said as he stopped next to Cody.
“It’s not something we should be involved with. It’s Dee.”
“No.” Grainger looked in the car like he didn’t believe him.
“Yes. Since you’re here and my car is a crime scene, can you give us a ride to the station?”
“Sure.” Grainger’s voice was low and raspy.
They went upstairs and waited for the officers to give them the go-ahead to leave.
Cody watched Maggie in the rearview mirror from the front passenger’s seat of Grainger’s cruiser. Though she said it was to give him time to talk to Grainger, he suspected she had insisted he sit up front because she needed time to think and process what she had seen this morning. There wasn’t much conversation between him and Grainger, though. Cody looked back at Maggie. She sat motionless in the back seat, her head leaned back, and her eyes closed.
His mind went back to his car. The note Dee left was a blessing for him. Without it he would be sitting on the wrong side of an interrogation table.
“Cody?” Maggie’s soft voice filtered through his fog of thoughts.
He turned in his seat so he could see her better. “Yes.”
“What do you think Dee meant when she said Six for Gold?”
When he had seen the note, he knew immediately what it was referring to. Maggie didn’t have any knowledge of law enforcement or their procedures and wouldn’t know what it meant. He looked at Grainger, trying to figure out how to explain it to her. Grainger gave him a barely perceptible nod. Turning back to Maggie, he cleared the emotions from his throat. “People refer to police officers as blue, like men in blue. We consider our dispatchers to be invaluable. They are golden, so we refer to them as gold.”
Her face fell, perhaps she understood why he and Grainger were saddened by Dee’s death. Yes, she had done some terrible things, but that didn’t lessen the pain.
“Iris was a dispatcher, too. We’ve lost two dispatchers in less than a year, both committing suicide,” Grainger added, and his voice caught.
Maggie slumped back into her seat. The remainder of the ride into Whitehaven was filled with silence. Cody had thought Dee was working with someone, but her suicide didn’t make sense if that were true. Now that she was dead, they would be able to search her house. Maybe they would find out how she knew so much about Maggie.
Dee’s death created more questions than it answered. Something at the scene of Dee’s suicide made him reconsider the angle that had been taken in Iris’s case. Grainger pulled into the Sheriff’s department and parked near the entrance, cutting into Cody’s thoughts. “Grainger, I need to talk to you, so don’t wander too far away.”
Grainger nodded. “Sure thing. I’ll be in the break room. Nice to see you again, Maggie. I wish it was under better circumstances though.”
“Likewise.” She waved as he turned down the hall.
Cody gestured her into his office. He closed the door, shutting out all the noise on the other side. Crossing to his desk, he grabbed her purse and belongings one of the deputies had brought back from the first hotel. She took it, her fingers brushing his, sending a spike of adrenaline through him. He crossed his arms and leaned against his desk. “I haven’t told Grainger this yet, but the pill bottles Dee had belonged to Iris.”
“How did she get her pills?”
“That is what I intend to find out. My hunch is that Dee may have been the one terrorizing Iris. I’m afraid we may even have to reopen Iris’s case and reinvestigate her suicide.” He let out an exasperated sigh and ran his hand through his disheveled hair.
“I should probably go so you can talk to Grainger. Do you have someone who can give me a ride home?”
Disappointment shot through him. He nodded and turned to open the office door, hesitated a moment, and then turned back to her. This couldn’t be the end of them. She was safe now that Dee was dead, but Cody still wanted to see her. He wanted to mend the relationship he had destroyed. He didn’t know if things would ever be the same, but he’d hate himself if he didn’t at least try. “I know now is not the best time, but once this is all settled, I’d like to see you again. I mean, outside of the role of sheriff.”
“I—I don’t think that’s a good idea, Cody.” She walked around him, opened the door, and stepped into the hall without saying another word.
His shoulders sank. She’d forgiven him, and he’d thought she was warming up to the possibility of them. Was she still harboring insecurities because of him? Once everything was cleared with Dee, he planned to talk with her. He couldn’t let her keep believing the lies she’d been telling herself.
“Deputy Minton,” he called to his deputy sitting at the information desk, “could you please take Ms. Jones home?”
“Yes, sir.” Deputy Minton led the way out the front door, Maggie following. She didn’t bother saying good-bye.
He stood in the doorway of his office watching Maggie’s retreating figure. Her dismissal was a blow he hadn’t been prepared for.
“Hey, boss, you wanted to talk?” Grainger stood next to Cody, following his gaze. “How are things going mending that relationship?” Grainger had been Cody’s closest friend since the summer he’d ended things with Maggie and subsequently distanced himself from Jake. Grainger knew they had dated. As a matter of fact, half the town probably knew.
One night, about a year and half ago, he and Grainger were consoling Deputy Minton at the diner. Mrs. Minton had left him, and Cody was trying to encourage him to fight for his wife, not to give up like he had done with Maggie. The diner was crowded so he had to speak loudly, and anyone there could have heard their conversation.
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“That bad, huh?”
“I thought telling her the truth would at least be a step in the right direction. But she’s not interested.”
“Man, I’m sorry.” Grainger clapped his hand on Cody’s back. “At least she’s safe now. Give her some time to sort through the last couple of days.”
“Speaking of that, step into my office. We need to talk.”
Grainger’s face darkened. “Why do I get the feeling I’m not going to like this?”
Cody followed him into the office and shut the door. “Have a seat.” Cody took his chair behind the desk while Grainger took one that faced the desk.
“What’s this about, Sheriff?” Grainger adjusted his utility belt to better fit the chair.
“How well did Iris know Dee?”
Grainger’s brows knitted together as he tilted his head to the side. “They were coworkers. You know that. But I don’t think they did much outside of work. Why?”
“I’m going to be completely honest with you, and I hope you’ll do the same.” Cody didn’t want to open old wounds. He’d watch his reactions to the conversation before he’d make a decision about removing him from the case.
“I always am.”
“We found prescription bottles around Dee’s body. They were all prescribed to Iris.”
Grainger’s eyes widened, and he blew out a heavy sigh. “Whoa. Are you thinking Dee was Iris’s stalker?”
“I don’t know for certain, but it’s definitely an avenue that needs exploring now.”
Grainger leaned farther back in the chair and hung his head back, staring at the ceiling. He sat motionless for a minute. Cody was about to say something when he sat up. “Now what?”
“Now we go through Iris’s case again and see if we can connect Dee to anything. We also need to find out how Dee got Iris’s prescriptions. What did you do with them when you cleaned out her house?”
“I took them to the pharmacy and turned them in.”
Cody made a mental note to call the pharmacy when they were open and ask what the process would have been after they were turned over. “Do you think you can go through Iris’s file with me? If you need to take some time, it’s perfectly understandable.”
Grainger straightened. “No. I’m fine to continue.”
Cody had been watching him the entire time. His face had portrayed the sadness he undoubtedly felt. “Okay. I’ll grab the file and meet you in the conference room.”
They spent the better part of the next two hours going over the things that had happened to Iris, trying to see if there was any clue that Dee could have been the stalker and found nothing.
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About Jennifer Pierce
Jennifer Pierce currently lives in Arkansas with her husband and two children. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and River Valley Writers, where she serves as secretary.
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SMALL TOWN GUARDIANS SERIES