I'm excited to share the first chapter of my upcoming book with you. I'd love to know what you think.
This work is copyrighted and is an excerpt from my upcoming book, Wrong Number.
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CEDAR FORT, INC.
Unauthorized distribution prohibited
Written by Rachelle J. Christensen
Aubree dug through a pile of papers on the kitchen counter, searching for her cell phone. She finally noticed the familiar silver gleam under a stack of bills. She grabbed the phone, flipped it open, and groaned. The battery was dead.
“My cell phone died again!” Aubree yelled up the stairs. She heard Devin muttering as he climbed out of bed. Plugging the phone in, she watched the empty battery image flash red and frowned. “I can’t wait for it to charge.”
Devin poked his head around the corner. “How many times have I told you to pick up one of those car chargers?” He ran his fingers through the matted portion of his curly hair and yawned.
Aubree smiled at his disheveled hair and then rolled her eyes. “I know. I know.” She tapped her foot. “Can I take your phone today?”
“Sure honey, no problem. I charged it last night.”
“Thanks. I brought the paper in for you.” She tapped the front page. “I’ll read it tonight after you’ve marked it up.”
Devin whistled at her just before she opened the door. “Love you, babe.”
Aubree turned and smiled at her husband. “Love you, too.” She blew him a kiss and stepped out into the crisp morning air.
She unlocked the door to her car and climbed inside, pulled the seat belt over her bulging belly and took a deep breath—seven months pregnant and still fighting morning sickness. Whenever she was too rushed in the morning, her stomach churned. With another deep breath, she backed her car out of the driveway.
She glanced out the window, and her blue eyes narrowed at the sun, wishing it would go into hibernation for a while. The freckles sprinkled across her nose and arms had multiplied over the summer. Aubree brushed her strawberry-blonde hair away from her face and smiled when she felt her baby move.
As she drove along the busy highway to her real estate office, she turned on Devin’s phone and changed the ring tone to a louder setting. She was about to dial into her phone’s system to have all of her calls forwarded to Devin’s cell, when it rang. The traffic light at the intersection turned red suddenly, and the ringing phone slipped from her hand as she stepped on the brake. Lifting it back to her ear, she heard a harsh voice.
“Tidmore did the job, and the body is hidden in the manhole on
32nd street like we talked about. By the time they find him, we’ll be in the green. The intruder will clear the way.” The words were followed by a gruff cackle. Aubree’s heart raced. If Devin was playing some kind of trick on her, it wasn’t funny.
“Hey, don’t I at least get a congrats? What’s up with you? I even kept his uniform for you.”
Aubree cleared her throat. She was about to speak when a horn blared behind her. The light had turned green. She pressed the gas pedal and said, “I think you have the wrong number.” The other line went silent. She looked down at the phone and saw that the call had ended.
The man’s voice echoed in her head… “the body is hidden…
32nd street…” She felt the blood pulsing in her ears, and her hands trembled. Maybe it was a prank call; people were always pulling stupid jokes on each other like that.
Aubree pulled her car to the side of the road. She dialed the number to her house, hoping Devin would answer. After four rings, it went to the answering machine, and she hung up. He might be in the shower, or maybe he had left early for work. She looked at the dashboard clock— 7:30 a.m. Devin never left that early. She dialed her own cell number. It went straight to her answering service. The battery hadn’t charged enough yet.
She pulled out a mini-phonebook from under her seat and found the listing for the police department. Hoping she wasn’t being paranoid, she dialed the number and willed herself to sound calm.
“San Diego Police Department, how may I help you?” a woman’s voice greeted her.
“I just received a strange phone call, and I’m not sure if it was a prank. The man said something about hiding a body, and I’m worried.”
“Did you recognize the caller’s number?” the dispatcher asked.
“No, he called my cell phone and I—”
“Did it sound like anyone you know?”
Aubree frowned. “No, I think it was a wrong number.”
“What’s your name?”
“And your birth date?”
“I’m twenty-eight, I mean—uh,” Aubree bit the end of her fingernail. “Look, I’m on my way to work right now, and I’m running behind. Maybe it was a prank. I wasn’t sure what I should do.”
“That’s okay ma’am. We can have an officer check things out.”
“If you think it’s necessary,” Aubree said.
“Ma’am if you think this is anything more than a prank call, it is necessary.”
“Okay, the man said the body was hidden in a manhole on 32nd street.” Aubree closed her eyes and tried to control the shiver moving up her spine.
“I’ll contact the officer on duty in that area and have him check it out,” the dispatcher said.
“I don’t want to be a bother.”
“Don’t worry. Give me your phone number and work address, and if we have any more questions, a detective will contact you.”
Aubree gave the dispatcher her information and hung up the phone. She felt even more nervous than before. What if there really was a dead body? Would she be a suspect? Shaking her head, she gripped the steering wheel. Maybe she was overreacting.
She dialed the number to Devin’s office and hung up when his answering machine came on. She didn’t want to leave a message and have him worry about her, so she shoved the phone into her purse and pulled her car back into the hectic morning traffic.
An uneasy feeling shadowed her all the way to the office. It probably was a prank call, but the way the man had laughed disturbed her.
Aubree called a couple of her clients and made appointments for showings later in the afternoon. She twirled a pencil between her fingers, re-checking the details of a home for sale. It was difficult to stay on task when the man’s gruff voice and horrible laugh kept echoing in her head.
At ten o’clock she called Devin again but still couldn’t reach him. She pushed the papers into a pile on her desk and gazed out the window. When someone knocked on her office door, she jumped.
The secretary, Carla, poked her head in and whispered, “There’s a police officer outside, and he says he needs to talk to you.”
Aubree’s pulse accelerated. “Did he say what it was about?”
“No. Are you okay?”
“I think so.” Aubree tried to remember to breathe. She got up slowly and walked out of her office. A husky policeman with graying hair stood with a frown at the front desk.
“I’m Aubree Stewart.” She tried to ignore the click and grind of the fax machine as it ran out of paper. She noticed the lines and wrinkles on his face, and guessed him to be in his late fifties.
“Mrs. Stewart, I’m Officer Haskins.” He offered his hand, and Aubree shook it. Her palms felt like she’d just taken off a pair of winter gloves, or maybe his were just unusually cold.
“I wonder if you could come down to the precinct with me to answer a few questions.”
“Why?” Aubree felt the blood draining from her face. She noticed bits of sunlight reflecting from his gold-toned watch from the skylight above.
The officer lowered his voice. “It’s about the phone call you received this morning.”
“Did they find a body?” Aubree said. Carla gasped.
“I’d rather not say too much until we reach the station. Can you come with me?”
Aubree’s heart pounded in her ears. She put a hand to her temple and glanced at the couch in the waiting area, wondering if she could make it there before she fainted. The officer moved toward her in alarm, staring at her protruding stomach.
“You’d better lie down for a minute and take some deep breaths. It’s dangerous for the baby if you pass out.” He helped her to the couch, and Carla brought her a bottle of water.
“Do you want me to call your husband?” she asked.
Aubree nodded and took a sip of the water. Her neck felt hot and clammy. She took a few deep breaths. “Carla, can you get my purse from my office? I’m going to go with this officer. Cancel my appointments for the day.”
The officer knelt beside the couch. “I’m sorry to have frightened you that way.” He cleared his throat. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yes, I have a weak stomach and well…” Aubree patted her belly and tried not to look as miserable as she felt. Her mind kept clicking through scenarios that would explain why the police officer had come to her office. What if they had found a body, and now they thought she had something to do with it?
Carla handed Aubree her purse and a damp paper towel for her forehead. “I can’t reach your husband, but I’ll keep trying.”
“Thanks. You’re a lifesaver.”
“Do you need to call your doctor?” Carla helped Aubree to her feet.
“No, no, I’ll be fine.” She concentrated on breathing as the officer helped her to his patrol car, and she wondered where Devin could be. It was usually easy to reach him at work. Aubree thought of the computer programs her husband helped write and repair and she smiled. Maybe he was listening to some 80s band on his iPod—working “without interruption.” Aubree shook her head and hurried to follow the police officer.
Officer Haskins walked a couple paces in front of her and she noticed he limped slightly, favoring his right leg. He told Aubree they needed a brief statement from her and tried to reassure her. As she leaned back into the seat, she wondered what kind of trouble she faced.
The drive to the police station only took about fifteen minutes, and Aubree tried to think of something to calm her nerves. It was hard to concentrate on anything besides the police radio which periodically barked reports amid static. She could hear a lot of commotion going on as they neared the station and the phrase, “10-85 echo, echo confirmed,” was repeated several times. She didn’t understand the code, but Officer Haskins kept leaning forward to listen, the fibers of his neck stretching with tension. She wondered if the police chatter had something to do with the call she reported earlier.
When the patrol car came to a stop, Aubree undid her seatbelt with shaking hands. Officer Haskins helped her out of the car. She followed him inside the precinct and blinked as her eyes adjusted from the bright sunlight outdoors to the fluorescent lights of the waiting area.
“Come this way,” Officer Haskins said.
Aubree took a few steps to follow him, but stopped abruptly and gasped as she felt a brief pain shoot across her abdomen. She winced and held her stomach.
“Are you okay?” Haskins asked.
Biting her lip, she nodded.
“We’re just going to the end of this hall, and then you can sit down.”
“I think I better use the restroom first.” She pointed at the sign for the women’s bathroom, and he nodded. Aubree hurried inside and locked the stall. As she dialed Devin’s work number on the cell phone and listened to it ring, her lip trembled—he still wasn’t answering. She’d never been inside a police station before, and she wished Devin could be there. Pausing in front of the bathroom door, she waited for the rising fear to subside.
She tried to reassure herself of her innocence and the validity of her story. She wasn’t guilty of anything and had nothing to hide, but Officer Haskins was treating her like a suspect. What if he didn’t believe she’d heard about a dead body because of a wrong number? The truth was all she had to rely on and she couldn’t linger in the bathroom, so she decided to face her fears head on.
Opening the door, she smiled at Haskins and walked with him down the hall. A colorful boondoggle hung from his cell phone case, and Aubree surmised that under his crusty exterior, there was a grandpa on the verge of retirement.
Near the end of the hall, Haskins opened a beat-up metal door. Aubree shrank back before taking a step inside the interrogation room. It didn’t look exactly like the movies. The walls were painted light blue, and the furniture looked comfortable, yet worn. When she saw another officer sitting at the end of a rickety table, she swallowed several times.
He stood and extended his hand. “I’m Detective Rawlings. I’d like to get some more details on the phone call you received today.”
“Do I need a lawyer?” Aubree asked.