In this riveting novel from the author of the acclaimed Dream with Little Angels, a killer’s release is the catalyst for shocking revelations in a small Southern town…
At twenty-two, Sylvie Carson has known a lifetime’s worth of trouble. When she was a child, her baby brother was shot to death by a man named Preacher Eli. Orphaned by her teens, Sylvie is now raising her own baby with no partner in sight. That’s why Leah Teal, Alvin, Alabama’s only detective, tries to stay patient when Sylvie calls the station day and night, always with some new false alarm. But now Preacher Eli is out of prison, moving back to town—and Sylvie’s panic is mounting.
As far as the law goes, the old man has paid his dues—though Leah’s twelve-year-old son, Abe, strongly disagrees. Between that and his relentless curiosity about the daddy he hardly knew, Abe’s imagination is running in all directions lately. While Leah struggles with how much to tell him, she’s also concerned about Sylvie. Something tells her the girl might be a target after all. It’s a hunch that will be tested soon enough, as secrets and lies from both sides collide…
“Hiebert does a masterful job of building suspense.” —Publishers Weekly
“A very good, sometimes emotional, mystery that will stay with you long after it’s over.” —Suspense Magazine
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Close to the Broken Hearted
By MICHAEL HIEBERT
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 Michael Hiebert
All rights reserved.
Seventeen Years Later
"Dewey," I said, "if I say it was blue, it was blue. Why the heck would I say it was blue if it was some other color? It's not like the important part of the story has anything to do with it bein' blue."
"I just ain't never seen one that's blue," Dewey said. "That's all, Abe."
"You ever seen one any other color?" I asked.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, have you ever even seen one at all, blue or not? This one was the first one I'd ever seen. I mean other than in movies and on TV an' all that. It's not like you see 'em every day."
This question seemed to stump Dewey for a bit as he thought it over. Least, I think he was thinking about it. He may have been pondering the aluminum foil he was unrolling around my mother's living room floor. "Not sure," he said. "Not that I can remember."
"I think that's enough aluminum foil, don't you?" I asked. "How much is in a roll?"
He read the side of the box. "Fifty feet."
"And you had four boxes? That's two hundred feet, Dewey."
"I know, but when I paced off your livin' room, it was ten by twelve. Right there we have a hundred and twenty feet. And it ain't like the foil's gonna be laid down flat. And I reckon for this to work, Abe, we're gonna need to go into your dinin' room, too."
"Well, there ain't no more foil," I said. "My mom's already gonna be mad we used up two brand-new rolls."
"I took two from my house, too," he said. "At least we're sharin' responsibility."
"But the difference is that you reckon this is gonna work. I don't."
"We need two more rolls," he said.
"We ain't got two more rolls, Dewey. I reckon if two hundred feet don't do it, two thousand feet ain't gonna make no difference."
He thought this over. "You might have a point. At the very least we should see some indication of it workin'. Then we can show your mom and she'll gladly buy us two more rolls."
"My mom ain't gonna want aluminum foil runnin' around the inside of her house, Dewey."
"She is when she sees what it does for her television reception," he said. "Think of how much money we're savin' her."
"How do you figure?" I asked.
"On a satellite dish."
"She ain't buyin' no satellite dish."
"Why aren't we doing this at your place?" I asked him.
"Abe, my mom's home. It's hard enough to do anythin' at my place when my mom ain't home," he said. "You're lucky your mom works all day shootin' people."
"She don't shoot people all day," I said. "I don't reckon she's ever actually shot anyone." My mother was the only detective the Alvin Police Department had, and, if she had shot anyone, she certainly hadn't told me about it. And it seemed like the sort of thing she'd probably mention.
"I reckon she has."
"She hasn't," I assured him.
"I bet she thinks about it, though," Dewey said. "A lot."
"Can we just get this finished so I can have it cleaned up 'fore she gets home?" I asked him.
Dewey was taking the aluminum foil and rolling it into a sort of shiny rope. He made sure all the new pieces fit tightly against the old ones, making one solid snake that ran around the inside of my living room, starting and ending at the back of the television set.
"So why was they all blue?" Dewey asked. "The knights, I mean. Or was there other colors, too? They can't all be on the same side. Be awful confusin' if they was all blue."
"The other ones were red. I saw one of them later."
"Which ones were the good guys?" Dewey asked.
"How do you mean?"
"There's always a good side and a bad side, Abe. Were the blue ones the good ones or the bad ones? These colors make it hard to know. Usually they use somethin' obvious like black and white. Then you know who you should be rootin' for."
"Do you root for the good guys or the bad guys?" I asked.
Dewey stopped laying down his aluminum foil pipeline and considered this. "That depends on when in my life you had asked me. When I was little I always wanted the good guys to win. Then I went through a phase where I secretly hoped for the bad guys."
"And?" I asked. "What about now?"
"Now I guess I just want to see a fair fight," he said. "Did the blues and the reds both have swords?"
I started to get excited. The swords had been the best part. "You shoulda seen the swords," I said. "The red blades actually glowed the same color as the knights, and they were huge. They looked so big I doubt I coulda lifted one off the ground. And each sword had a different gem in its pommel and smaller ones all over its hilt. They actually had real swords for sale in Sleeping Beauty's Castle, but Mom refused to buy me one. She told me I'd wind up takin' somebody's eye out with it or somethin'."
"Wow," Dewey said, looking off into the distance and seemingly speaking to himself. "A real sword. That would be somethin'." His attention came back to the living room and all the foil. He looked me straight in the eyes. "Especially if we both had one. We could have sword fights."
"Are you even listenin' to a word I'm sayin'?" I asked him. "These were real swords, Dewey. We couldn't have sword fights with 'em. We'd wind up killin' each other."
"Still, it's fun to think about."
I hesitated. "You're right. It is fun to think about."
Dewey's aluminum foil rope ran along the walls of the entire living room, running behind the big stuffed chair and coming right up to the back of the TV. We'd even pushed the sofa away from the wall so that we could make sure it was as long as possible.
"Okay," I said, just in case Dewey had other ideas, "I think we've done as much as we're doin' with the foil. Now what?"
"Now I unhook the cable from your TV and attach the foil antenna with these alligator clips," he said.
"Can I ask where you got this idea?"
He shrugged. "While you was at Disney World I started an inventor's notebook. Turns out I'm pretty smart. I got lots of great ideas. They're probably worth a million dollars."
I glanced around the room. My mother was going to have a conniption when she saw what we'd done to it, and especially when she found out we'd used up two brand-new rolls of her aluminum foil. "Probably," I said. "You give off a glow of genius, that's for certain."
The light falling in through the window above the sofa was starting to turn purple and orange, which meant it was getting late. This further meant my mother would probably be home soon — unless she wound up working late like she sometimes did. I took another look at Dewey's tinfoil snake and hoped this was going to be a late night for her.
Dewey hooked up the alligator clips to the screws attached to the electronic box where the Cable Vision wire normally attached to the television. "That should do it," he said.
"So now what?"
"Now we turn on the TV and enjoy havin' all the stations folks get with satellite dishes without payin' a cent. All it cost us was the price of four rolls of aluminum foil."
"It didn't cost us nothin'," I reminded him. "We stole the foil from our moms, remember?"
"Even better," he said, rubbing his hands together. He pulled the button on the television that turned the set on. For a minute the screen stayed dark, then it slowly grew into a picture of white static.
"Works well," I said sarcastically. I snuck another glance out the window. The weather had cleared up considerably from this morning. It had been four days since we'd gotten back from Disney World, and every day since we'd returned had been full of pouring rain, including the beginning of this one. This afternoon, though, the sun had finally broken through the clouds and cleaned up the sky.
Dewey changed the channel to more static. "Somethin's wrong. We didn't hook somethin' up properly."
"You know what's wrong?" I asked. "You're tryin' to get satellite TV with aluminum foil."
"Wait, this has to work. I had it all figured out." He started rapidly switching channels. Then he came to a channel that was clear as Mount Bell on a brisk autumn morning, as my mother would say. "Look!" he said, nearly screaming it. "It works! Look how clear it is!"
I had to admit it was clear.
"Told you it would work!" He went around the dial the entire way and found three more channels we could get. All tremendously clear. This seemed to satisfy him immensely.
"So you're happy with your invention?" I asked.
I looked at him and blinked. "I'm a little confused."
"Who exactly you'll be marketin' this to."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, is this for folk who can't afford Cable Vision but happen to have a surplus of aluminum foil and one or two favorite channels they simply cannot live without?" I once again looked at the foil running along the edge of the floor everywhere. "Or will you try and make it some sort of home décor product? Not to mention the fact that you can't really charge more than the price of four rolls of aluminum foil for it or people will just go out and buy their own and set everythin' up for themselves."
Dewey frowned, perplexed by my complex questions. "It's a start, okay? I have many inventions. I've already filled half a notebook," he said. "You may have been wastin' time in Disney World with blue and red knights, but at least I was doing somethin' productive."
Nodding, I said, "Okay. Now, do you mind if we try to get all this put away and see if we can make the television work properly again 'fore my mom gets home from work?"
Dewey glared at me. "You just don't know genius when you see it."
"You're probably right. I don't. I've never really been much of a noticer of brilliance."
He unhooked the alligator clips. I began to roll up the two hundred feet of foil.
Just then my sister, Carry, came into the living room. She'd been out with some friends all day and I hadn't even heard her come home. "Abe?" she asked quietly. I looked up into her blue eyes. Her blond curls swayed on either side of her face. "What the hell are you two doin'?" she asked.
"Preparin' ourselves for the future," I said. "It's comin'. And it's full of aluminum foil."
"And other inventions!" Dewey said. "Wanna see my notebook?"
"Mom's gonna kill you," Carry said.
"I know," I said.CHAPTER 2
Leah Teal pulled her squad car into the driveway of the home of Sylvie Carson. She was attending because of a call Sylvie made to the station saying something about somebody illegally trespassing on her property. Leah wasn't entirely sure of the report that was taken because she hadn't taken it. Her partner, Officer Christopher Jackson, had. Like most times when Sylvie Carson called, Officer Jackson laughed after hanging up the phone.
"Guess who that was ... again," he had said.
It bothered Leah when Sylvie was made fun of, especially when it was by Chris. She had a pretty good hunch as to why it irked her so much, too.
"You know," she had told Chris, "it wasn't so long ago that I can remember folks makin' all sorts of a ruckus 'bout you bein' hired by the department."
"Yeah, well, those folks were wrong. They just like to hate people," Chris said. "Especially black people. This is different. The woman is nuts. She calls the station every week."
"This isn't much different, Chris. Sylvie can't help the way she is no more than you can help the color you is."
"What's wrong with the color I am?"
"That's not what I meant and you know it." Leah looked back at Police Chief Ethan Montgomery's office for a little backup but his door was closed. She could see through the partially opened blinds hanging down over the window in his door that the chief was sitting back in his chair with his hands behind his head watching the television that hung from the ceiling in the corner of the room. The chief loved to watch his sports.
Chris wouldn't let things go. "Leah, most people get better over time. But Sylvie's gotten worse, far as I can tell. Her calls are coming in at an all-time high." That was likely true. Leah had at least noticed them more, and she was the one who usually ended up attending to them.
"And every single one turns out to be some sort of false alarm," Chris said. "I don't know why you even bother showin' up. I stopped takin' her seriously a long time ago."
"Because it's our job to show up, Chris. Because for every hundred or so false alarms, there might actually be one real emergency and it's for that real emergency I attend to the ninety-nine others. Besides, what else do I have to do? We live in a town of barely two thousand people; it's not like our phone's ringin' off the desk."
"I'd rather do the crossword than deal with Sylvie," he said. Leah couldn't believe how heartless he was being. She was about to tell him that when he started talking again. "I'm sorry," he said, "but I've just reached the end of my wits with her. I think it's on account of the baby. I think she must be all hormonal or somethin'."
Okay, Leah knew then it was time to end her conversation with Officer Christopher Jackson, or she would say something she definitely would regret.
Grabbing her pistol from her desk, she headed for the door. "Well, I'm gonna go see what she needs. At least one of us is gonna represent this department."
Chris laughed behind her. "Have fun."
It was the part about the baby that had almost pushed Leah over the edge. Even now, sitting in her car in front of Sylvie's house, thinking about that baby kept Leah worked up to a degree that wasn't healthy for nobody.
Generally, Leah tried not to think about Sylvie's baby, especially when she was off shift. It was the sort of thing that would lodge itself into her head and wouldn't get unstuck for hours while she lay in bed trying to fall asleep. To make matters worse, she couldn't even refer to it as anything but "The Baby" because Sylvie Carson hadn't given it a name yet. It had been three months now, and the girl still called her daughter "The Baby." Whenever Leah asked her why she hadn't named her, Sylvie told her, "It's so much responsibility. I get too overwhelmed thinkin' that whatever I come up with is gonna be with this girl for the rest of her life. It's a huge decision that's gonna affect everything. Nothin' I think of is good enough. Not for my daughter. Not for her whole life."
Leah couldn't argue with her. It was pointless telling Sylvie that anything was better than "The Baby." So Leah just let it lie as best she could. But her brain wouldn't let go of it quite so easily. It hung on to things like the baby not having a name and how that might affect the rest of her life. Or what effect having a mother who could barely manage to keep herself together an entire day might have.
Some babies come into the world with better chances than others right from the start. This one seemed to come in with a pretty bad poker hand, at least in Leah's eyes, which was probably one of the big reasons Leah felt compelled to take Sylvie's calls seriously.
Leah also suspected she had a soft spot for Sylvie because deep down she felt they weren't so different. If fate had changed up some of the pitches Leah had been thrown, her life might have turned out very similar to Sylvie's. In some ways it had.
They were both single mothers. Sylvie had The Baby and Leah had two children: a fifteen-year-old daughter named Carry, and a twelve-year-old boy named Abe.
Both Leah and Sylvie had lost the fathers to their children unexpectedly. Sylvie's was named Orwin Thomas and he had been barely an adult when Sylvie got pregnant. He just up and disappeared one night without even leaving so much as a note. There was no indication the day before that anything was wrong. He took Sylvie's car, a few dollars cash they'd kept in a jar, and some clothing. He left her three months along in a pregnancy she then had to face all alone.
Leah's husband, Billy, coming home from work after pulling an overnight shift, had accidentally run his car — headlights first — into an oncoming car while passing an eighteen-wheeler. Abe had only been two. Those had been very hard times for Leah. She didn't like to think about them, even now.
Neither Leah nor Sylvie had living parents. Sylvie's had died tragically when she was in her teens; her mother was murdered and her pa took his own life shortly thereafter. Leah had lost her parents when they were older; her ma from a stroke a year after Leah had lost her husband, and her pa to cancer three years later.
Excerpted from Close to the Broken Hearted by MICHAEL HIEBERT. Copyright © 2014 Michael Hiebert. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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