Small-Town Secrets. Debra Webb
that what she felt at those sincere and comforting words was relief, but the truth was, in this case, she felt fear. Fear and dread.
Was she putting the past behind her…or the rest of her life?
WILLIAM SPENCER TYPED the conclusion and hit Print. His first “final” field report was finished. He’d worked six months for the Colby Agency before being assigned a case where he was the primary investigator. Until then he’d done research and assessments. It felt good to be a full-fledged Colby investigator. The work here gave him a sense of accomplishment and self-satisfaction—something that had been sorely missing in his former career as a child advocacy attorney.
He gritted his teeth when he considered the numerous times he’d helped remove a child from harm’s way only to have another judge overrule the decision and place the child right back into dangerous territory—typically with his or her own mother or father. The last child he’d rescued using his legal expertise had been returned to his mother and stepfather only to end up dead twenty-four hours later.
Spence had walked away from his firm. Enough was enough. He wanted to be at a place where his efforts actually did some good for the long term. Landing at the Colby Agency was the best thing that could have happened to him, professionally as well as personally.
A distinct buzz drew his attention to the telephone on his desk. Anticipation zinged through him. He pressed the speaker button. “Spence.”
“Spence,” Victoria said, “I have a client, Ms. Dana Hall, in my office. Could you join us?”
“Absolutely.” His pulse quickened as he tapped the speaker button to end the connection and grabbed his notepad and pen. The idea of being assigned a new case immediately after completing his first had him practically sprinting toward Victoria’s office.
Grinning, he gave Mildred a little salute. She smiled back at him. That was another thing he loved about working at the Colby Agency. The staff operated like one big family. Since he had no family of his own, not since he was sixteen anyway, the camaraderie filled a long, empty void.
As he entered the boss’s office, she announced, “Ms. Hall, this is William Spencer.”
The obviously nervous client extended her hand as he approached. “Mr. Spencer,” she said softly.
“Ms. Hall.” Spence gave her a firm handshake then settled into the chair next to hers.
Dana Hall was blond and petite. She dressed like most female white-collar professionals, skirt and matching jacket, with a starched white blouse and practical shoes. But it was the big brown eyes filled with sadness and intense worry that overwhelmed her attractive oval face. This was a lady with heavy personal baggage. He knew that look.
Victoria briefly reviewed Ms. Hall’s situation. Spence had to admit that he was a little surprised he was chosen for the case considering the three children involved were deceased, more specifically murdered. The only homicide he’d been involved with had happened in the present. Personally, he wasn’t sure he was the right man for the job. But he trusted Victoria’s judgment. She had a reason for asking him to sit in on this meeting. And if she asked him to take the case, she had her reasons for that as well.
“I’d like to be closely involved with the investigation,” Ms. Hall said when Victoria had finished bringing Spence up to speed. “The police haven’t been very cooperative with any of my past efforts. I need to have an active part in solving this painful mystery once and for all.”
“That’s understandable,” Victoria granted. She turned her attention to Spence. “Ms. Hall’s participation will likely be an asset, don’t you agree?”
“I do,” Spence concurred. Dana Hall would know those closest to the victims and would likely recall the players involved in the official police investigation that followed the murders.
“I’d like to get started as soon as possible,” Dana went on to say. “I’ve lived with this a very long time. It will be a tremendous relief to put this behind me. The sooner the better.”
When she spoke of the murders, she avoided eye contact with him, Spence noted. There could be a number of reasons for that, none of which were particularly good. “I’m available immediately.” He’d finished the final report on his last assignment. There was no reason he couldn’t get started right away.
Dana met his eyes now. “When can we leave?”
Brighton was only a few hours’ drive from Chicago. “I’ll make the necessary arrangements this evening, and we’ll meet here at nine tomorrow morning. We can be there shortly after noon.” She nodded and he went on. “I’d like you to compile a list of any relevant details and names you recall that we haven’t already discussed. We’ll go over those on the way and lay out our strategy.”
Dana took an audible breath. “Excellent.”
As the meeting concluded, Spence watched Dana interact with Victoria. Every instinct warned him that the lady wasn’t being completely open. He had worked with the parents of abused and neglected children long enough to recognize deception on any level when he saw it. This lady was hiding something…something she understood was relevant to the case.
The only question was why.
Dana hadn’t been back to her birthplace in sixteen years.
Nothing had changed.
Brighton was one of those towns where time seemed to stand still.
Her stomach twisted into knots as if her thirteenth birthday had been just yesterday. Images from the party…her and her sister, Donna, wearing silly pink party hats. Balloons floated everywhere and the clown dancing around the room laughed loudly. Dozens of kids played and sang—then everyone had gone home. Night had come and their parents had tucked them into bed. They’d giggled and whispered, too excited to go to sleep. Donna had wanted to sneak out to play in the woods behind their house. Dana hadn’t wanted to…but she’d caved beneath her sister’s pleading. She’d never been able to say no to Donna.
Dana remembered playing in the damp grass beneath the moonlight. Even now she could almost feel the wet blades tickling her toes…the crisp air whispering against her skin.
But she remembered nothing beyond that.
In the wee hours of the following morning, after an intensive search by local authorities and neighbors, she and her sister had been found deep in the woods behind their home. Her sister was dead, and Dana was disoriented and suffering from mild exposure.
Dana blinked away the past, stared out the car window at the storefronts lining the main street that split the town in half. A left turn would take one to the downtown area where the courthouse dominated a well-manicured square of shops and offices. Beyond the town square were neat rows of streets dotted with brick ranch homes and painted bungalows. A right turn revealed the smaller, mostly rundown homes of the poorer residents. The railroad, light industry and warehouses were interspersed with blocks of tiny duplexes and walk-up apartment buildings. A mile or so outside the town limits lay a stretch of road with a few scattered houses surrounded by big yards and woodlands.
A place so calm and quiet. Not at all the type of town where one expected to encounter evil.
But it had been here.
And now she was back.
Would anyone suspect her motive?
Banishing the disturbing thoughts, she dragged her attention back to the driver. “Sorry, I was lost in thought.”
“Which way to the police department?”
Dana frowned, surveyed the street name on the corner sign