Here is the first chapter of the final book in the series featuring gospel singing amateur sleuth Alexandra Walters:
The Final Note
A maid at the Santa Fe, New Mexico Holiday Inn Express watched a tall, darkly handsome man crouch down as if he’d just pushed something under a room door. He stood up and tipped his hat at her like someone in an old movie. His smile sent a chill down her spine as she turned around and headed back to the elevator.
Note found slipped under Alexandra Walters' hotel room door:
Hope you had a nice swim. I’m having room service bring up some lunch for you and your little girl. Please enjoy this at my expense. You have a long trip to Texas so I won’t keep you.
A secret admirer
Life on the road stinks, I thought as I hit my head against the wall of the bus while trying to sleep in a tiny bunk that allowed you to feel every bump in the road. I had been on the road for twenty days and somehow it just wasn’t what I remembered it to be traveling as a kid with my family singing gospel music.
Sure, it was cool touring the country in a converted Greyhound bus. Except of course for the fact that you seldom saw anything but the inside of the bus as you rambled past the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, and most other tourist sights, in the middle of the night. And during the day we usually just saw the inside of a mall for a few hours before arriving late afternoon to set up at the next church for a concert; if we were lucky.
Sometimes we spent the night in a hotel, which was my favorite part. I had always loved hotels; would live in them if given the chance. You never had to cook, no housework, no worries except what cable show to watch while lounging on your bed, or what book to read.
I sighed. When my family showed up at my doorstep, and said they were hitting the road for a Walters Family reunion tour and would I like to go, it sounded great. Of course I was being stalked by a mysterious stranger, had brought two men to blows over me, and just solved a murder, so going away anywhere would have sounded good.
Escape—yes that was what life on the road was really about. That and the music—I’d never get tired of the music. And I had my little girl, Jessica with me. What else did I need?
I shook my blond mess of hair and rolled my eyes. Oh, I don’t know, maybe ten minutes of privacy? Or not to have my folks talk to me like I was twelve and decide for me when and where we eat. It wasn’t really that bad, it was nice being with my family again. My brother Jonathon had already won a hundred games of Skip Bo—only to be tied with my dad. But I was ready to go home; well almost. If only I didn’t have to choose between two men. And if only I didn’t have someone stalking me.
Unfortunately, I’d been unable to escape the mysterious stranger who was now following me. Every church and hotel had an envelope, package, or flowers waiting for me. It was creepy and my sort of boyfriend, PI Stephen Carlucci, had been unable to find out who it was. Since he was the best PI in California, that was saying something.
Whoever this person was they were smart, even if they were crazy. He managed to cover his tracks even when he had room service send breakfast up to our room in Sante Fe. Paying with cash, he managed to stay invisible and unknown. Perhaps I was being stalked by the Invisible Man or a ghost.
He had also started sending typewritten notes instead handwritten and I found myself wondering why. Everything else was the same-same blue stationery, same creepy messages.
I gave up trying to sleep and headed to the front of the bus. I grabbed a soda from the fridge and went to sit on the step by the driver. My dad turned his head and smiled at me. “Hey, Kid too bumpy back there? These California roads are the worst we’ve been on.”
“It’s not so much the roads.”
He nodded. “Not ready to face home. Well, we still have a couple more concerts to go so don’t worry about it yet.”
I hadn’t told my dad about the stalker but he’d been witness to the fight between Stephen and Detective Wright. Will. “I’ll survive, Daddy. Always have. You see the problem is there just isn’t a man that can compare to you.”
His deep, soft baritone laughter made me smile. I’d always loved his laugh. “I don’t know about that, but Pepsi should make things all better.”
Our family were Pepsiaholics. Whenever things were bad we reached for one--whenever we needed to relax, we reached for one. We single handedly kept Pepsi in business. Yikes—it was worse than my friend Dorian and coffee. When we started the tour there were probably more Pepsi’s in the bins underneath than CD’s.
We sat in silence for several minutes as the dark road sped along underneath the big tires. If only I could figure out who the stalker was—then somehow I’d deal with Stephen and Will. I hadn’t even heard from Will, which was a disappointment. Will had said he would give me my space, but made it clear he expected an answer when I got home. He’d remained true to his word. I had the feeling though he was checking up on me through my little brother Tommy. They’d hit it off really well.
“Still a night owl I see,” said Tommy, making me jump. He sat down in the chair behind me and I twisted around to frown at him.
“Thanks for the heart attack.”
He laughed, sounding a lot like dad. His appearance though looked very little like our father’s. Tommy’s long, wavy hair fell past his shoulders, instead of being tied back in a tidy ponytail like during the day. But he did have the famous Pepsi in hand. I laughed. “I swear this bus must be half filled with Pepsi. I’m surprised this thing can even move. Think of how our gas mileage would improve without that load. Why are you up?”
A frown creased his forehead.
“Ah, you don’t want to go home either.”
“Not so much that—I’ve had my fill of reliving the good old days. No offense, Dad.”
“None taken, Son. I’m ready to go back to the easy life in North Carolina myself.”
“Unfortunately, I don’t have a home to go back to. I left the band before coming to see you and the lease is up on my apartment in San Francisco. All of my stuff is in a storage unit in Oakland. I have no clue what I’m going to do beyond this week.”
“You could move in with me, at least for awhile. Emilio is on tour with his band for about three months so I have a spare room.” I had an old two-story home I rented rooms out in and Emilio was one of many tenants and friends. Besides Jessica, the house was the only good thing my ex had left me.
I smiled. “And you did seem to enjoy snooping around with me on that last case. Maybe you should ask Stephen for a job.”
He looked at me with blue eyes identical to Dad’s. Wow, did we really become our parents? “That’s a great idea. I need something different. Thanks, Sis.” Tommy got up and headed toward the back.
“Able to sleep now?”
“No way, I have planning to do for when we get home.” The mischievous twinkle in his eye made me laugh. Wow—this was scary. I didn’t want to become my mom. Not that I didn’t love her, I just wasn’t anything like her. Or at least I didn’t think I was. Now I had one more thing to worry about.
The morning sun slipped through the blinds on the window by my bed and woke me way before I wanted to get up. I’d finally managed to sleep but it had been fitful and full of dreams about mysterious strangers and rats—I’d never really recovered from being trapped in a burning barn with rats last year.
Dad had stopped hours ago at an RV Park near Sacramento in a small town called Woodland. I lay there on my bed and listened to the quiet of the morning. Not a sole on this bus was a morning person. Not even my little girl Jessica—my Boo Boo Kitty.
The quiet was nice. Once the day actually started by nine or ten the bus would be a bustle of activity. Everyone vying for their shot at the tiny shower, mom cooking Dad’s bacon and eggs, Jessica jabbering away at whoever would listen. It saddened me that she’d be going to kindergarten soon—I just wasn’t ready for that.
I rolled over and looked at my cell phone sitting on the windowsill. It was only seven-thirty but I knew no more sleep would be coming. I grabbed the phone and quietly rolled out of bed. My clothes retrieved from the drawer under my bunk, I headed for the tiny bathroom. It took awhile for the water to get warm but once it did, I enjoyed the feeling as it washed over me, taking the chill from the morning.
Morning clean, I dressed, combed my hair, put on a bit of makeup and headed for the front of the bus. I left a note on the table and headed out the door. Downtown Woodland was just a short walk away and for a change, I allowed myself to enjoy the morning.
This had always been a favorite town of mine. Though the modern world was creeping up on it, Woodland retained much of its quaint character. The downtown was filled with little shops, coffee houses and restaurants--one of my favorites being an awesome BBQ place. This was the part of traveling I loved. Seeing and experiencing new places. I did more of that now traveling on my own than we’d ever done as a family. Then it was more about getting from service to service on time and killing time once you got there.
I stopped at a corner and felt an odd chill run down my spine. I’d have sworn someone was following me, but I turned around and saw people walking by, but no one who seemed the least bit interested in me. Perhaps it was Tommy practicing to be a PI. No, too early for him too.
A little coffee shop caught my eye and I went inside and slid into a corner booth.
“May I help you,” asked a red haired waitress who looked to be about twenty. She reminded me of Missy, the waitress at the NoName Café back home in Donlyn, now only about four hours away.
“Waffles sound awfully good. And coffee.”
Off she went and I turned to look out the window. Not that many people were out on the streets this early, but there were a few here and there. For a second I swore a man in a dark suit was looking right at me, but then he walked away. I had too active an imagination.
I jumped when I noticed the waitress was standing there staring out the window too. “That was an odd looking fella, wasn’t it? Friend of yours?”
“Uh, no. Why do you ask?”
“He was looking right at you.” She poured the coffee and left without another word.
Odd. Was she right? Was he my stalker? A chill ran down my spine again. What did he want? What did he plan on doing? I found myself wanting to run back to the bus and keep Jessica safe. But it was time to stop running. I had to find this man and stop him.