If Anything Should Happen, page 1
Table of Contents
A Selection of Recent Titles by Bonnie Hearn Hill
A Selection of Recent Titles by Bonnie Hearn Hill
IF ANYTHING SHOULD HAPPEN *
* available from Severn House
IF ANYTHING SHOULD HAPPEN
Bonnie Hearn Hill
This ebook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author’s and publisher’s rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.
This first world edition published 2015
in Great Britain and the USA by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
19 Cedar Road, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM2 5DA.
Trade paperback edition first published
in Great Britain and the USA 2016 by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD.
eBook edition first published in 2015 by Severn House Digital
an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited
Copyright © 2015 by Bonnie Hearn Hill.
The right of Bonnie Hearn Hill to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Hill, Bonnie Hearn, 1945- author.
If anything should happen.
1. Women radio talk show hosts–California–Fiction.
2. Murder–Investigation–Fiction. 3. Detective and
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-8530-2 (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-84751-634-3 (trade paper)
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-693-9 (e-book)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
This ebook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited, Falkirk,
For Jen Badasci and Christopher Allan Poe,
who have taught me the meaning of family
My thanks to my agent Laura Dail, for believing in this book and providing valuable feedback. It wouldn’t have happened without you. Thanks to my brilliant Saturday critique group, Jen Badasci, Ann and John Brantingham, Hazel Dixon-Cooper, and Chris Poe. And to my husband Larry Hill and my talented support sisters and brothers, Brandi Bagley, Stella Barberis, Meredith Booey, Lisanne Harrington, Rochelle Kaye, Michaelsun Knapp, Michael Ko, Kara Lucas, Stacy Lucas, Brenda Najimian Magarity, John Milburn, Bob and Carol O’Hanneson, Sylvia True, Unni Turrettini, and Anne Whitehurst.
‘If anything should happen to me,’ my mom said, ‘I want you to know that I wrote you a letter.’
If anything should happen to me. It was just like her to resort to euphemism for anything unpleasant. Funny thing, though. Right then, in the middle of the long, crowded hall of the Seattle airport, I couldn’t say the D-word either. Not that there was any reason for us to be discussing my mother’s mortality. A borderline health nut, she ran to the doctor as frequently as she did to Joyce, her dermatologist, and Doug, her colorist, as she called him.
With auburn highlights, weekly Pilates classes at one of the health clubs she owned, and a diet that included a kale breakfast juice so green that I had to look away when she drank it, my mom looked vibrant and, yes, young enough to be my older sister. Now, that was a scary thought.
She stopped. I leaned against the handle of the bag I’d been dragging along behind me and came to a halt as well.
‘Fifty is hardly terminal,’ I said. ‘Pardon the pun.’
‘That’s not funny.’ Her lips tightened the way they did only when she was thinking of Mick, my dad. She picked at the fabric of her black jacket, as if lint could possibly have the poor judgment to settle there. ‘Fifty-one, and I’m serious, Kit. Families do need to discuss these things. There’s a letter for you in the safe, right on top of my other papers.’ She reached out and stroked my hair the way you’d touch a dusty car that belonged to someone you cared about.
At that moment, I didn’t want to know how I looked to this near-perfect woman, with my braid a little too messy, my tank top a little too tangerine-orange, and my jeans a little too tight.
‘You’re telling me this at an airport?’ I asked. ‘Ten minutes before I’m supposed to take off?’
Although her expression was as perfect as carved stone, I saw desperation in her hands. She patted her hair with stiff fingers. ‘It’s the only chance we have to talk.’
‘We’ve had a whole weekend to talk.’ I glanced down at my watch. A gift from her, it looked more like a bracelet, and I feared those stones gleaming like multifaceted stars around the band might be ‘the real deal’, as my best friend Tamera suggested. If I ever wore it to work, Farley would laugh me off the air. ‘Mom, if we stand here much longer, I’m going to miss my plane.’
‘I’ll see you as soon as I can. Mother’s Day, for sure.’ We began walking again, moving closer to security, where I would go on, and she would go back. I felt a heaviness pulling me, and knew it wasn’t just my luggage. ‘You could come to Sacramento.’
‘And sit in that little house of yours? They never let you off the air long enough to have a life.’
‘I have a life,’ I corrected her. ‘It’s called a blog. The radio show just feeds it. That’s all.’
‘You don’t have to tell me about radio.’ She glanced past me, as if focusing on the past or maybe the future. ‘Just remember, you can be on top today, thinking the way you sound on the air is enough to see you through the rest of your life. And then, time passes, and in a moment, it’s all gone.’
‘I’m not my father.’ I lowered my voice so we didn’t become the airport’s free entertainment. ‘Farley and I talk about unsolved mysteries. We aren’t playing records or anything.’
‘But you are on-a
‘I always thought I got that quality from you.’
She started to speak. Then she bit her lip and tried again. ‘I just don’t want to see you get hurt the way Mick did when his ratings dropped.’
‘I won’t get hurt,’ I said. ‘I have a cause.’
‘Unsolved crimes.’ She made a face.
‘What’s wrong with that?’
‘Nothing, I guess. As long as that young man’s family continues to fund you.’
That stung. ‘One day, I hope I can help the Brantinghams find out who killed Alex,’ I told her.
‘It will never happen, regardless of the number of blogs you write. Whoever killed their son is long gone and not listening to talk radio.’
‘Well, it’s my dream,’ I repeated, as I had to her many times before. ‘In the meantime, I’d like to see anyone whose lives have been destroyed by crime get the answers they deserve.’
‘You’re not listening to me.’ She sighed and followed me to the security line.
‘I’m trying, Mom, but I need to go now.’
She continued holding on to my arm. ‘I’d like to just stand here if you don’t mind.’
I took off my shoes and tossed them in a gray plastic tub. Then I removed her hand, squeezed her into a hug, and said a parting, ‘I love you.’
‘I love you, too.’ Her tight lips, the same shade as the fuchsia camisole under her jacket, curved up in a way that was both self-righteous and endearing. ‘Remember what I said.’
‘I always remember what you say.’ The line through security picked up speed. I threw my backpack and my phone into another bin. She stepped away, and I waved.
On the plane, I turned up the music loud enough to let me forget how much I hated to fly. I cranked it up each time I remembered that there was nothing between me and the ground.
My goofy mom. The thought sneaked in there somewhere between Portland and Beyoncé. My crazy, goofy mom, with her melodramatic mention of a mysterious letter at the same time my career was taking off and I was actually doing some good in the world. How much of a coincidence could that be? She had to be scared for me. That was all. Afraid her nerdy little girl would end up like my dad, spirit broken and trying to live in the past, regardless of how much I earned. I cranked up the volume, leaned back, and closed my eyes. No way to tell. With my mom, there was never a way to tell.
The next day she was dead.
My dad called from Vegas at the end of my shift at KWEL Radio on Monday morning. Our show had been about as uneventful as my flight home. For reasons I couldn’t figure out, Farley and I were both off our game, and the half hour limped to an inconclusive end. Before we finished, an investigator called in to say that a tip we’d received from an ex-con about Alex Brantingham was false. Knowing that Alex’s parents and sister, the current mayor of our city, were listening only worsened our situation, and everything we said to each other after that sounded like Pollyanna on speed.
For a moment, I was jerked back to an early memory: a pre-school teacher telling my mom there was something wrong with me because I rarely spoke. The teacher mentioned medication. Not long after, about the same time my parents separated, I began attending private school. Only later did I realize my mom financed that education we couldn’t afford with the first gym she bought with her divorce settlement.
Now, though, as Farley and I left the studio, I knew we hadn’t delivered the show we could have. Not that I was worried about losing the Brantingham sponsorship. Alex’s parents had committed for the long haul. I was just sorry the tip fell through, and I was embarrassed that we hadn’t done a better job on the air.
‘Happens to everyone,’ Farley said, and I nodded.
‘Not too often with us, at least.’
‘Breakfast?’ he asked and gave me that surfer-boy grin.
‘Next time.’ I needed to work on my blog, and Farley never needed a reason.
I said hi to Tamera as she passed me in the narrow hall. All hair, jewelry, and sass, she was on her way to the control room to debate with her conservative partner Jimmy J Vincent, probably over immigration reform. That’s what they’d been at all week. Jimmy J, as he was known on the air, sailed through the door right behind her. Short, with spiked salt-and-pepper hair, he could be annoying if challenged, but the station was big on multiple viewpoints, and Jimmy J fit the profile.
Tamera flashed me a grin that lit up her dark eyes. ‘Meet you for lunch?’ she asked.
Before I could answer, Jimmy J stopped in front of me. ‘Hey, why don’t I join you two?’
‘Another time,’ Tamera told him before I could come up with an excuse. ‘I haven’t seen Kit since she got back, and we need to catch up.’
‘Cool.’ He gave me his version of a seductive smile. ‘Another time it is.’
So I hadn’t imagined that he’d been subtly hitting on me since Richard and I separated.
I nodded and made eye contact with an amused-looking Tamera. ‘See you there.’
Our Monday lunches at the sandwich shop down the street from my place had pulled me through those last four months without Richard.
Tamera hurried to catch up with Jimmy J, and I continued thinking about the bad lead Farley and I had chased. Someone had to know who had murdered Alex Brantingham.
I’d barely gotten to the door when my phone rang.
‘Kit?’ My dad, Mighty Mick Doyle, as he was known to his shrinking legions of Top Forty fans, spoke in the deep, raspy voice they used to call ballsy in the industry. Never mind that too many cigarettes had kept it that way.
My mom had feared more than anything that I would end up like him. Not that he was such a poor role model. His voice still collected residuals from syndicated oldies stations, and in real life he operated a recording studio and advertising agency from the motorhome he shared with his wife Rachel, the widow of one of his clients.
‘Hi, Mick. How’re you doing?’ That’s the way I’d been raised. First name only, at least after he and my mom broke up.
‘Where are you?’
Where did he think I was? A year ago, he wouldn’t have known my schedule, but from the day Richard and I separated, he’d checked in at least once a week.
‘I’m almost to my car,’ I said. ‘My shift just ended. I’m heading home to do some work on the blog.’
‘I know. That’s why I waited.’
I stepped into the parking lot. In spite of the purity of the day and the rush of fragrance that meant the rose bushes clustered around the edges of the station were aligned with spring, I felt a chill. ‘Waited for what?’
‘Kit, I hate to tell you this way.’
I leaned against my car. ‘What’s happened?’
‘Elaine. I mean, your mom,’ he said. ‘She had some kind of attack this morning, and they couldn’t save her.’
‘What do you mean they couldn’t save her? What kind of attack? Where is she?’
‘She’s dead, Kit.’
‘She can’t be. No, she can’t be.’ My mom couldn’t be dead. She couldn’t. Not my mom.
‘I’m sorry.’ His husky voice broke, and I knew he was crying, something I’d never seen him do.
As quickly as the surroundings had blurred, they clicked into focus. Trees, asphalt, white lines, tight green bushes. My mom was dead. Just yesterday she had hugged me and said she loved me. She was too young to be dead, too healthy.
‘How?’ I choked out.
‘They don’t know yet. They’re doing an autopsy.’
‘Why would they do an autopsy? What happened to her?’
‘She’d been jogging in a park. I think that when you— When it happens in a public place, they have to—’
I unlocked my car, like a creature emerging
‘I am.’ Mick’s voice was soft. ‘They found her a couple of hours ago. I waited until after your shift.’
I started to swear at him. Then I reminded myself that he couldn’t help it. He wouldn’t dream of calling me while I was on air. My father was a radio machine who believed the shift, as he called it, had priority over real life, real people. And, oh my God, my mom was dead. I’d never see her again. I’d cut her off at the airport, been abrupt, maybe rude. That would be my final memory of her.
‘I need to see you.’ I almost added Daddy.
‘Say the word, and I’ll be in Sacramento tomorrow.’ An unspoken but trailed at the end of his voice.
‘I’d love that.’ I wiped tears from my cheek. ‘What about services?’
‘She wanted to be buried in Seattle. I’m working with a big automotive client on a series of commercials and I can’t leave the day gig for long, but I’m going to fly up there as soon as they release her.’
So, in spite of his offer, my father couldn’t come to Sacramento, couldn’t leave his job voicing commercials long enough to see me until the funeral.
‘Then I guess I’ll meet you there, whenever it is,’ I said.
‘Sure, honey. We’ll be able to spend some time together, just the two of us.’ I’d studied his voice like a road map all my life, but just then I couldn’t read the meaning behind his tone.
‘Do you know anything about a letter?’ I asked.
A sudden click was followed by the unmistakable sound of a cigarette being lit and someone blowing out smoke. He told me he quit a year ago. ‘What letter?’ he asked.
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