Unsafe Keeping

Paperback | July 15, 1995

byCarol Cail

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Reporter Maxey Burnell is co-owner - along with her attractive, infuriatingly irresponsible ex-husband, Reece - of an alternative weekly newspaper in Boulder, Colorado. Driving home late one night Maxey is nearly sideswiped by a runaway van - victim of a teenager's prank, according to the police. But soon after, her landlady, Mrs. Waterford, is killed in a similar accident, and distraught Timothy Waterford asks Maxey to look into his grandmother's death. As Maxey investigates, murder and mayhem get a little too close for comfort. The van incident was only the beginning, and before she's through, the complaints will include arson and attempted murder.

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Reporter Maxey Burnell is co-owner - along with her attractive, infuriatingly irresponsible ex-husband, Reece - of an alternative weekly newspaper in Boulder, Colorado. Driving home late one night Maxey is nearly sideswiped by a runaway van - victim of a teenager's prank, according to the police. But soon after, her landlady, Mrs. Wate...

Carol Cail is the author of Unsafe Keeping and If Two of Them Are Dead.

other books by Carol Cail

If Two of Them Are Dead
If Two of Them Are Dead

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:228 pages, 8.25 × 5.5 × 0.85 inPublished:July 15, 1995Publisher:St. Martin's PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0312291949

ISBN - 13:9780312291945

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Unsafe keeping1  The traffic light turned yellow when Maxey was twenty yards from the intersection. Her right foot shilly-shallied between brake and accelerator while her mind did a quick calculation of the pros and cons of running it.Almost midnight. No traffic. No pedestrians. Minor cross street. Her toe pointed at the accelerator.On the other hand ... Coming toward her from half a mile ahead was a vehicle the color and contour of a Boulder police car. Maxey's foot wavered left.Ex-hubby Reece would never fail to run a stale yellow ... Maxey stepped firmly on the brake.As the Toyota coasted to a stop, two things happened. Her tape deck clicked over to a second side of Genesis, and a stealthy black shape catapulted left to right across her path."Uh," she said, flinching, grinding her shoe into the brake pedal of the already-stationary Toyota.The blur became a panel van that cleared the intersection, didn't make the gentle bend in front of the UniversityMemorial Center, jumped the curb, and uprooted four news racks and a mailbox.Maxey's two hands clamped the steering wheel, vicariously steering the still-careening van. Phil Collins's drums began to wrap the Toyota in a seductive, inappropriate beat.Dragging one ruptured news rack, the van lumbered across the grass and tackled a stocky cottonwood. The tree doubled over as if the wind had been knocked out of it. The van stopped dead.Maxey shut her mouth and reached across the passenger seat to crank the window down. The soft May night slipped inside, smelling of lilacs, until it began to smell like gasoline. When she snapped off the tape player, she could hear the rustle of the wounded tree and a creaking of metal against metal.White and red lights strafed the area as the patrol car that she'd spotted earlier reached the intersection, slid into the turn, and rocked to a stop. The siren burped one warning growl. Then the policeman was out of his vehicle, walking briskly toward the ruined van, his hand on his gun hip.Maxey twisted her steering wheel hard right and parked the Toyota three feet from the curb. She was vaguely conscious of her heart and lungs dancing independent tangos as she grabbed notebook and pen from the next seat and swung her feet into the street.The dragged news rack had skinned a path through CU's young grass. Maxey followed it toward the policeman, who, hands cupped around his eyes, peered into the van's left-side window. All the glass was tinted the sinister opaque black that made Maxey glad she didn't have to pull strangers over for speeding. Hugging notebook to chest, she waited beside the back fender."See anyone?" she said.Winding his fingers into the handle, the policeman lifted and pulled the door open. When he hauled himself inside and the door fell shut, Maxey converted a shudder into meaningful activity, opening her book and writing a description of the scene so far.Damn it, why were her fingers so shaky? She'd witnessed worse smashups than this.The van thumped and shivered and the back door banged aside, letting the policeman out."Get away from it," he said, striding back toward the street. "It could always explode."Stumbling in his wake, she tried to catch a normal breath. "Is someone hurt in there?""Nobody in it.""A runaway, huh?"Opening the cruiser door, he reached in to the dashboard and hauled out a microphone. For the next several seconds, he talked to his dispatcher in numbers and acronyms.The throbbing roof light changed his breast ID from blood red to bleached white. T. D. Martinez. Maxey jotted it into her notebook and added a description of him: "Set mouth and blank eyes of a public servant doing his goddamn job."Returning the mike to its cradle, he straightened, set one black shoe on the sill of his open door, and whipped out his own pocket notebook. "Could I please see your driver's license, ma'am?"She had to hunt it out of the shoulder bag she'd left on the floor of the Toyota. Most driver's license pictures look like mug shots. Maxey's was taken the day she cut her blond hair herself, and she'd blinked her eyes at the wrongmoment, so the photo looked like a crime-scene shot of the victim.Handing the license to Martinez, she sucked in her stomach, hoping she could still pass for five foot four, 120 pounds."You were proceeding north on Broadway and had stopped at the Sixteenth Street intersection?"She was very glad to be able to say yes. When she had the time to think about it, glad might be too mild a word.The officer wandered a few steps away to get a reading on her license plate. "Mind telling me where you were going?" he called."Home." Though she didn't see that it had any bearing, she had nothing to hide. "I'd been at Chautauqua."He walked back, lowering his voice. "To a concert or something?""I was interviewing the program director about the upcoming season.""You a reporter?"She nodded. "For the Regard."Maybe he'd smile now, recognizing her. Boulder County residents could be divided into two groups: those who were devout readers of the little alternative paper and those who had never heard of it.Martinez didn't smile. He handed back her driver's license."Hey!" The voice was faint, but it kept getting louder. "Oh no. Oh no! What the--oh no."A tall man jogged toward them down the Sixteenth Street hill. The streetlamps at the intersection gleamed on his balding head and transformed his vaguely sinister clothing into a dark navy shirt and slacks.He panted to a stop beside the police cruiser and gaped at the mangle of van and tree.The cop raked him with a practiced eye. "Is this your van, sir? May I see your driver's license?"The man drew out a wallet and fumbled through it, muttering. "Somebody tried to steal it, right? Damn.""There was no one in the vehicle. The parking brake is off and the gear's in neutral," Martinez said. "What does that suggest to you, sir?""I must've forgotten to put it in park. Jesus." He offered the license and abruptly bent over. Maxey backed away, expecting vomit on her shoes, but he was only holding his knees, catching his breath, muttering curses."Why don't you sit in the backseat here while I fill out the accident report." Martinez' inflection was command rather than question.Hanging around the open door, Maxey jotted notes of her own: "Kelly Sheffer--visiting friends half block up Sixteenth. No proof of insurance."When Martinez was through with him, Sheffer hauled himself out of the patrol car as if every joint needed grease. He started across the grass toward the wreckage."Don't go too close, on account of an explosion," Maxey advised, drifting after him."Where's the restore key when you need it?" he mourned."Sorry?""The computer command that lets you cancel the last dumb thing you did.""Oh. Yeah, I see what you mean." She scribbled it into her notes."So you saw it happen, huh?" He kicked at a divot the news rack had gouged."Yes. Too bad it was all over by the time you arrived. Since it's going to cost you, you should at least have gotten a few thrills out of it."His smile was a wince. "I'm just glad nobody was hurt. Thank God the light was red. You could've been killed. Look out--here's the tow truck."Snapping the notebook shut, Maxey backed out of the way of the chirpy-springed truck jouncing across the lawn. Suddenly, she wasn't Maxey Burnell, star reporter. She was little Maxine Diane, sobered and shaken by some real or imagined close call.As she stared into the dazzling cruiser beacon, she rubbed at the chill in her arms and relived that split second--the one where the traffic light switched to yellow and she had to choose the accelerator or the brake.  She drove home with exaggerated care, riding the brake pedal.Finding a spot for the Toyota half a block from the apartment, she yanked up the parking brake, got out, locked up, and pressed her nose on the side window to double-check she'd engaged the parking brake.Two cars hummed past in the time it took her to walk to the white Victorian three-story house. By day, Spruce Street busily accessed the center of town. By night, it was a drowsy, residential street.A light glimmered deep in Mrs. Waterford's living room, reflecting on the gray-glossed porch floor. Maxey's landlady, a night person, usually played the TV too loudly, well past Maxey's bedtime. Tonight the house lay quiet.Crossing to the far west end of the porch, Maxey poked her key into the lock of her stair door and then paused, thinking about the silence. Mrs. Waterford had recently celebrated her eightieth birthday with a trip to Las Vegas--"Because it was there." Spry and independent, she was, nevertheless, a very senior citizen.Backtracking to the screen door, Maxey rapped and called through it: "Mrs. Waterford?"What sounded like a kitchen chair scraping on wood flooring was followed by a reedy, "Yes?""It's Maxey. I was just coming home and saw your light." Now she'd have to borrow a cup of sugar or something. Mrs. W. wouldn't like the idea of being monitored."Come in, dear," came the summons, and, as Maxey found the door hooked, Mrs. Waterford's slow tread progressed through the house, from back to front. "Oh, you can't--just a minute." She cruised across the living room, the floor creaking and her nyloned thighs swishing against one another. "Come in, come in." She bumped the hook out of its loop.Mrs. Waterford wasn't fat, but she was large--tall and big-boned. Even now, when she had old age for an excuse, she didn't stoop or slouch. Maxey could imagine the younger version of this dignified lady--riding a bicycle, dancing the Charleston, driving a roadster, being called "a fine-looking woman" by male contemporaries.Maxey had to look up at her to ask, "Would you mind if I write you a rent check tonight? Since we're coming up on the first?" That sounded more reasonable than needing to borrow cake ingredients at one o'clock in the morning."Why certainly, if you're that eager to give away your money," Mrs. Waterford said, leading the way toward the light. "There's someone I want you to meet."Through the dining room archway, Maxey could see a corner of the kitchen table and a pair of blue-jeaned legs lounging beside it."We were having coffee," Mrs. Waterford said. "Don't you want a cup?" She didn't slow, setting a course for the range top, sure of the answer.The jeans belonged to a young man, who nodded, serious-faced, at Maxey. She reflected the nod and the failure to smile."This is my grandson ... Timmie. My upstairs neighbor, Maxey Burnell. She owns the Blatant Regard. You know, our wonderful little weekly newspaper." Having tipped a teaspoon of instant coffee into a white china cup, Mrs. W. splashed teakettle water over it. Now she offered it to Maxey on an almost-steady saucer."Hello." Maxey stretched out her free hand to the young man. "Tim is it?""Timothy," he corrected, raising his backside a foot off the chair. He squeezed her hand. Finally, he smiled, and Maxey was reminded of a boy she'd known in high school--a slightly overweight, too pale artist, whose hair always needed combing and jaw always needed shaving, but whose smile was as sweet and warm as honey on homebaked bread.Timothy wasn't going to lose any pounds today, judging by the Winchell's doughnuts box beside his left hand."You're the publisher of the Regard?" he said. "Hey, that's quite the controversial publication. Good job. Great job."Maxey thought she could like this kid. She sipped at the coffee, wondering if there were any doughnuts left."Sit down," Mrs. Waterford insisted, clearing magazinesoff one chair and a stack of folded laundry off another, as if Maxey might want a selection to choose from.Settling on the closer chair, Maxey unzipped her shoulder bag to search out her checkbook. "Do you live in Boulder, Timothy?""For now. I'm going to the university. Home is Colorado Springs.""Uh-huh. What are you studying?" Maxey uncapped her roller-ball pen and squashed the checkbook flat to write."Just liberal arts for now. Can't make up my mind." He removed the Benjamin Franklin spectacles and rubbed at his eyes with thumb and forefinger. "I'm kind of leaning toward journalism.""Oh?"Mrs. Waterford had sat down at the far end of the table and was tracing the paisley pattern of the yellow oilcloth with one gnarled forefinger, her chin propped on the other long-boned hand. She said, "Timmie's dad--my son--was a sportswriter for the Rocky Mountain News."Maxey ripped out the check. "Gosh, I didn't know. Is he retired now?""Dead now," Timothy said. "Mom, too.""I'm sorry to hear it," Maxey said, handing him the check to pass down to his grandmother. "Well, then you know not to get into the business expecting to make a fortune. I mean, some people do, but most don't.""Yeah." Hooking the glasses back into place, Timothy smiled his angelic smile. "You making any money?""Nope.""And proud of it, right?"She glanced up, more startled than offended."Way to think," Timothy said. He offered one palm fora high five, and Maxey, grinning, lightly swatted it. Then Timothy frowned into his coffee cup. "Me, I want to write, but I sure do hate being poor.""Have you been writing any freelance stuff?"Nodding, he leaned away, all his weight on the twin hind legs of Mrs. W.'s antique chair. "Science fiction, mostly. Some poetry.""And anything published?" For right or wrong, this was the question that usually separated the scribes from the scribblers."Not yet. I will." He put the same heavy inflection on will that Reece had used when the minister asked if he'd love and honor till death. Maxey hoped Timothy's vow would stand up to time better than her ex's had.Swallowing the last of her coffee, Maxey stood. "Gotta leave. I gotta go to sleep so I can wake up."Mrs. Waterford insisted on seeing her to the door."I can find it." Maxey laughed. "Or are you afraid I'll lift an antimacassar on the way out?""Oh, for heavens--if you want one, you're welcome to it," Mrs. Waterford assured her.Trudging up the steep chute of stairs to her apartment, Maxey could hear Moe, closed in at the top, meowing her on."Coming, coming," she promised, thankful someone was glad to have her home, even if the gladness was mostly due to Maxey's skill at dispensing kitty surf 'n' turf.The gray-and-white corpulent cat had been part of Maxey's inheritance from Jim Donovan, the founder of the Regard. Jim, her employer and friend for less than three years, had died ten months ago. Maxey still couldn't unlock the news-office door or scratch Moe's greedy little chin without feeling a pang of loss."Let's ask Ernestine for our phone messages, shall we?" Maxey said, punching the rewind button of the telephone answering machine as she reached for the can opener.Scraping Moe's aromatic meal into his bowl, she grimaced as Reece's mellow baritone said, "Hey, boss." He knew how she hated to be called that--especially since, Jim having willed half the newspaper business to him, Reece was as much "boss" as Maxey."I won't be in until after noon tomorrow," Reece was saying. "I want to interview somebody somewhere about something."Probably a broad in a boudoir about her vital statistics, she thought.The answering machine beeped and another sonorous masculine voice began to speak. "This is the Boulder PD, Ms. Burnell. We got some information you were involved in a traffic incident tonight. I'd like to take you down for questioning, if it's not too late when you slink yourself home."UNSAFE KEEPING. Copyright © 1995 by Carol Cail. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.