SECRETS THAT KILL
A SHELBY NICHOLS ADVENTURE
When I was a kid, the best part of my trip to Disneyland wasn’t the park, the rides, or the entertainment. It was the swimming pool at my cousin’s house where we stayed. I loved going to their house after a long hot day, and gazing into the pool’s clear blue water. With the pool light turned on, there was just something about that water that made me want to jump in. With the dark starry night overhead, it was soothing and magical.
That’s why, on the last day of our vacation to Orlando, I found myself sitting beside the pool. It was late, and most everyone had gone to bed, so I was there by myself. If I could have gone swimming, I would have, but the pool had just closed for the night. So I sat back in a chair and gazed into the water, smelling the slight odor of chlorine, and feeling the tension ease out of my body.
It felt so good to have my thoughts to myself that I almost cried. Hearing people’s thoughts in all the crowds these last two weeks had been murder on my poor brain. I had put up my shields as much as I could, but it left a constant tension between my eyes, and worse, I was sure I had new wrinkles to show for it.
I had no idea there were so many different theme parks and attractions in Orlando. We had visited at least five parks, with several other attractions thrown in. Although we’d taken a couple of days off in-between to recover, mostly for my benefit, the constant barrage of thoughts had gotten on my nerves, making me irritable and short-tempered. I’d done my best, but I knew that Chris and the kids were happy to leave me at the pool and go inside for bed. Chris tried to understand, but I knew it bothered him.
It bothered me too, but for different reasons. Sure, I had the ‘super-power’ of reading people’s minds, but this vacation had proven that even I had my limits. I might have handled one week, but two was over-kill. Today had proven that. I cringed to remember how I’d yelled at the father who was only ‘thinking’ his cute daughter was a pain in the butt, and today was one of those days he wished she’d never been born. I’d told him to quit being so selfish and enjoy this time with her. That she’d grow up before he knew it, and he’d be sorry and full of regret for his poor attitude.
The problem was, she was just a baby, and had thrown up all over him. So I had probably over-reacted. His first thought in reaction was guilt that I was right. But his second impulse quickly over-rode the first, and hot anger turned his face red. How dare I chastise him in front of all these people when he hadn’t done anything wrong?
Acting fast, Chris wisely pulled me away and apologized over his shoulder, telling the guy I had forgotten to take my medication. My outrage at Chris quickly changed to embarrassment and then self-loathing. Chris couldn’t believe I could be so callous and mean. What was wrong with me? Where were my shields? My behavior was totally unacceptable. Not only that, but he was so embarrassed he could hardly stand it.
But he only thought all of those things, so I couldn’t be too angry. Especially when he also thought being privy to everyone’s thoughts had to be rough on me, so he needed to cut me some slack. Still…
Shame and regret flowed over me, so I shoved the memory away and glanced up at the stars. Our flight tomorrow didn’t leave until three o’clock in the afternoon, so we still had some time in the morning to relax. Or at least Chris and the kids did. I had an errand to run for Uncle Joey. He was the mob-boss I had to work for since he knew my secret.
Although he compensated me for my time, we had a tenuous relationship. It had evolved over the last few months, and I liked to think it was now based on mutual respect rather than fear that he would kill me. Still, it was a balancing act to work for him on my terms rather than his.
When he found out I was coming to Orlando, he’d asked me to deliver a letter for him. Not a big deal, right? So I’d saved his errand until the last moment, hoping it wouldn’t ruin my vacation. That was a big mistake, since thinking about delivering the letter everyday had done exactly that. I should have just delivered it the first day we’d gotten here instead of dragging out the torment. That was just plain stupid.
First thing in the morning, I’d take care of it. Then we could go home. Our vacation was over. With the exception of that embarrassing incident today, we’d had a fun time here, and I was grateful we’d come, but now I was eager to go home and get back to normal. Plus the extra space from all the people wouldn’t hurt.
Ha! Who was I kidding? I could hardly wait to be alone in my own house. Just thinking about it brought such a profound sense of relief that I was a bit giddy. Did that mean I was losing it? Had the stress finally gotten to me? Maybe I did need some kind of medication. What I’d done today was…I shook my head and sighed. A cool breeze brushed my skin, making me shiver. It was time to put a stop to these gloomy thoughts and go to bed.
Chris checked the address one more time. “Are you sure you’ll be all right delivering this by yourself?” He was thinking how worried he was about me, and wishing I hadn’t waited until the last moment to do this. He could have come with me if I’d gone earlier. What was I thinking?
“Yeah. It’s no big deal. I’ll be fine.” I gave Chris a reassuring hug and kiss, wanting to ease his worry and escape his censure. “See you at the airport. Bye kids.” Engrossed in their packing, they absently waved.
I took the elevator to the lobby and hurried out the door. A cab was waiting for me, and I got in, giving the driver the address. “How long will it take to get there?” I asked.
“About twenty-five minutes,” he replied.
“Okay,” I answered. It was a little before ten a.m. and I didn’t have to be to the airport until one, so I had plenty of time. I would probably get to the airport long before Chris and the kids, but I wanted to play it safe and not miss my flight.
“How far is it from this address to the airport?” I asked the driver. I probably should have checked a map since I was basically clueless as to where I was going.
“Um…probably about twenty minutes,” he said.
“So do you think I’ll make it by one?” I asked, mostly for his benefit so he’d know I was on a schedule.
“Of course,” he said. “Unless you plan on staying for more than a few minutes, you should be to the airport by…eleven-thirty or so.”
“Oh, okay. Thanks.” Maybe I shouldn’t have left so early, but with my luck it was probably better to plan for extra time.
I spent the drive making sure I had everything in my carry-on bag that I needed for the flight. Chris was in charge of my luggage, so I didn’t have to drag it around with me, but I still felt loaded down with both my carry-on and my purse. Luckily, my carry-on was just a big bag so I could carry it over my shoulder. In fact, if I moved things around, there was probably enough room to stuff my purse inside as well.
That accomplished, I heaved a sigh of relief, grateful I wouldn’t have to worry about lugging two bags around. Before zipping it all up, I found the letter from Uncle Joey that I’d put in a special compartment, and pulled it out.
It was addressed to Warren Peace, which I knew had to be a fake name, or maybe even a code of some sort, and held it gingerly. Getting rid of this couldn’t come fast enough for me. I’d tried to tell Uncle Joey to mail it, but he wouldn’t, saying he needed my ‘special touch’ so I could tell him what Warren was thinking. That worked fine as long as Warren didn’t take it out on me. Especially since I had a feeling that the message it contained couldn’t be good.
The cab pulled to the curb and came to a stop. I glanced up at an apartment complex, and realized I was in trouble if he wasn’t home. What was I going to do then? I didn’t even have a phone number.
“I’ll only be a minute, if you don’t mind waiting,” I told the cab driver.
“No problem, as long as you know the meter’s still running.” He sent me a friendly smile and settled back in his seat to wait. He hoped I’d take my time and pulled out a book to read.
I got out, taking my bag with me, and scanned the apartment numbers. I found the one I was looking for on the bottom level, which was basically in the basement. The outside light was on, and for some reason that made me nervous. Did that mean he wasn’t home? What would I do then?
Taking a deep breath and letting it out, I started down the stairs and rang the bell. I heard some rustling inside before the curtain parted and someone glanced out at me. I caught sight of a bearded face and glasses, before the door opened a crack.
“I’m not interested,” he said, and began to close the door.
“Wait,” I said, pushing against the door to keep it open. “Are you Warren Peace? I have a letter for you. Then I’ll go. Here…” I held it out, “Just take it.”
His eyes widened, and he glanced behind me, then stuck his head out the door to look up the stairs. “Are you alone?” he asked, frowning.
“Yes. I’m only here to deliver this letter and take your response back to Uncle Joey.”
He hesitated, then his thoughts filled with about every swear word imaginable repeated several times. I would have held my hands to my ears if it had done any good. “All right,” he finally said, still not taking the letter. “You’d better come in.”
I hurried inside and he closed and bolted the door behind me. “Did anyone see you come here?” he asked.
“Well, no…just the cab driver. He’s waiting outside for me.”
This time he cursed out loud. “You’ve got to get rid of him! A yellow cab like that will draw attention. Quick, before someone notices.”
“I can’t,” I said, alarmed that he was freaking out. “He’s taking me to the airport. Just read the damn letter and tell me your answer!” I tried to shove the letter into his hands, but he held them up.
“I don’t have to read it. I know what he wants, and I just can’t do it.” He sent a searching glance at me, desperation filling his eyes. “You’ll have to do it for me, or I’m a dead man. Please…I just need you to take what Manetto wants back with you. You can give it to him for me. If you don’t, I swear I’ll be dead by morning.” He grabbed a wad of bills from his pocket. “Pay off the cabbie and I’ll take you to the airport. It’s not safe for you or me with him sitting out there like a yellow beacon. Manetto has no idea what he’s gotten you into here…Hurry! Go!”
I took the cash and hurried out the door. He wasn’t lying about my safety, or anything else he’d said, and that scared me. I paid the cabbie, giving him an extra twenty for a tip, and hustled back to the apartment. Warren waited at the top of the stairs, watching up and down the street until I came back. He ushered me into the apartment, locking and bolting the door behind us.
“Hopefully, we have a little time,” he said. “At least I’ve prepared for this moment. I just didn’t know Manetto would make his move so soon.” He was thinking about everything he needed to get before we left. He had stashed all his cash along with his passport and ID in the freezer.
“Wait,” I interrupted. “Read the letter first, and then tell me what’s going on.” I shoved the letter into his hands, and planted my feet in front of the doorway to the kitchen.
With great reluctance, he tore open the envelope and pulled out the letter. As he read, I heard the words in his mind.
Warren…I need the information you’ve obtained for me. I know it might put you in danger, but I’ve discovered through my sources that it’s time you moved on anyway. Bring it to me without delay, and I’ll help you disappear. The lovely woman delivering this letter is Shelby Nichols. Tell her you’ll bring the item to me, and then send her on her way. If anything happens to her because of you, you’re A Dead Man. Don’t keep me waiting. Yours…etc…Joe E. Manetto.
Warren glanced at me and licked his lips. Maybe he’d been too hasty in sending the cab driver off and enlisting my help. Manetto didn’t make threats he wasn’t ready to keep. “What time does your flight leave?” he asked.
“Three o’clock,” I answered.
“Oh good,” he said, checking his watch. “We’ve got plenty of time. Should be a piece of cake.” He was thinking it would be close, but it could still work. As long as I hadn’t been spotted by Carson’s goons. “I’ll get my stuff, and we can leave in a few minutes.”