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Chapter One

Nettie had a determined look on her pretty face as she walked into the dining room of her new-to-her home carrying a large hammer.  She loved the old house, but she wanted to make some changes to the interior.  She preferred a home with an open concept layout on the first floor, and that was going to mean knocking out a few walls.  Nettie was more than capable of doing the work; she worked on a construction crew, and she was experienced at tearing out walls and making over spaces so that they functioned and looked better.  Of course, it was going to be like working overtime without any pay to work all day and then come home to her fixer-upper and put in more time on her own remodel.  But, when she was done, she would have a beautiful home she could live in or sell for a profit.  By doing all the work herself she would be building equity and doing things to suit her own tastes for a change.

Nettie was careful as she started knocking holes into the wall she wanted to tear down.  You never knew where the ductwork was located, or electrical wires.  It was safest to go slowly until you knew what you were getting into.  Nettie was fairly certain that this wall had been added long after the house was built in 1945.  It was obvious that someone at some time decided they wanted a formal dining room in addition to the eat-in kitchen, and they slapped in a wall, making two smaller rooms instead of one larger one.  She worked steadily, and once she was positive there was nothing inside the wall, she used a lot more force and soon had it down to the studs.

All of a sudden something in the corner of the wall caught her attention and she walked over to investigate.  It was a large satchel that someone had placed between the two walls of dry wall.  She knelt down and tugged hard to remove it from between the studs.  She couldn’t imagine why anyone would put a satchel inside a wall!  It was obviously old.  The leather was cracked, and opening the lock on the bag took patience.  When she finally got the lock to give way, Nettie looked inside the bag and gasped in shock!  It was money!

*****

“Hey, Sutton, there’s a hysterical broad on line two.  She wants to speak to a Detective and she won’t tell anyone what’s wrong.”

Detective Sergeant Samuel Sutton controlled his temper with practiced ease.  Jerks like Delaney were a dime a dozen on the force.  He should let the Captain know that Delaney was still referring to women as ‘hysterical broads’, but figured he’d save that for a day when he was bored and could be there to watch the Captain chew on Delaney’s ass and send him to sensitivity training once more.  Delaney was a lost cause when it came to treating women with respect, but he was good in a fight and had your back.

“Detective Sergeant Sutton.  May I help you?”

“Yes, I hope so.  I found something in my wall, and I need to speak to you in person and show you what I found.”

“What did you find?”

“I don’t want to say over the telephone.  I’d be too afraid.  I don’t know who I can trust.”

“Very well.  May I have your name and address?”

“Yes.” Nettie answered him, and then asked, “How long will it take you to get here?  I’ve got all the doors locked, and I don’t want to open them to anyone but you.  Will you please hurry?”  Nettie didn’t know why she trusted the man with the silky voice, but she did.

“I’ll be there as soon as traffic allows, Miss.”

“Good.  What do you look like?”

“Six-five, dark hair and eyes.  I’m wearing a dark blue suit with a red tie,” he replied, smiling, and positive the woman was overreacting to something.

“Okay.  Thank you for not calling me crazy; I’m not.  I’m just very frightened, and I don’t like feeling this way.  Please hurry.”

Sam promised he would, and he left the station as soon as he told the Captain where he was going.  He used his personal car at work.  It was a lot more reliable than anything the city provided for plain clothes officers.  It was cheaper for them to give him a reimbursement for mileage and gas than it was to provide a reliable car and pay the insurance on it.  He found the little cottage and immediately started to think how he would renovate it.  That came from working for his father’s construction company in high school and during college, and even now he pitched in when his dad was shorthanded and Sam could take time from his own work to do so.  Sam had an eye for detail and could see the house needed some TLC.

He knocked on the door and had the feeling he was being stared at.  The door finally opened a crack and a cute female put her freckled nose in the crack and said, “Show me your ID, please.”

Sam was ready for that.  The female was afraid, and she didn’t trust anyone.  He wondered what she found in that wall, and knew that he wasn’t getting inside until she was positive he was who he claimed to be.  “Miss, are you being threatened?” he asked, his dark eyes looking for any sign of trouble.

“No, not yet, but I am afraid.  I don’t feel safe right now.”  Nettie pushed his ID through the crack, and then she undid the chain, and she let him in the house.  “Oh my gosh, you are really tall!”

Sam smiled.  “You are really short!”

“Yes, I am.  I’m 4’10” short, and I get teased all the time at work because of it.  I’ll bet you get teased about your height, too…?” She guessed in the form of a question.

“Some, but not as much as I did as a kid.  Miss Carpenter, if you would tell me about your problem, I will try to help you.”  She did not seem the sort of person who imagined things, and he truly wanted to help solve her problem.  She brought out all of his protective instincts.

“Okay.  I trust you, Sam.  And please don’t call me Miss Carpenter; I prefer Nettie.”

“Nettie is a pretty name,” Sam found himself saying, and then he wanted to kick himself in the behind.  He wasn’t supposed to make comments of that sort on the job.  If Nettie got angry over something, she could use the compliment against him.

“Thank you, Sam.  I promise to talk soon.  I’m still pretty shaken, and it takes a lot to do that, believe me.”  She took several breaths, and then said, “I bought this old house to fix it up.  I decided to take out that wall first.” She pointed toward the one with just studs there.  It is a simple fix because it isn’t load bearing, and now I am thinking it was built to be a sort of bank for the man who owned the house for many years.  I found a satchel full of money.”  There, she said it.

“How much money?” Sam asked.

“I haven’t counted it, but it is a lot, Sam.”

“Let’s use your coffee table here and we’ll start counting.  A satchel full of ones might look like a lot, but it probably won’t be so much.”

“Sam, don’t insult my intelligence.  I know a ‘lot’ when I see a ‘lot’.  Let me make sure the front door is locked.  I am so nervous at having this much money in the house.”

Sam did his best not to smile.  Nettie Carpenter was the cutest female he’d seen in a long time.  He would love to ask her out on a movie date, but he never mixed work with pleasure.  “I am here with you, Nettie, and I promise I will protect you should it be necessary.”

“Thank you, Sam.  I do trust you, but someone did break into this house right after I bought it, but before I moved in.  There was no sign of forced entry, and it makes me think that someone has a key, and they knew or suspected this money was here.”  She picked up the satchel and then said, “Hold your breath now.”

Sam could only stare as Nettie covered her coffee table, and the floor around it with piles of money.  The bills were hundred dollar bills, and a hundred of them to a stack.  Sam’s dark eyes were wide. 

“There is something else in here,” Nettie said, trying to shake it out.  To her surprise, it was a journal.  She dropped the satchel and then picked up the blue book and a piece of paper fell out.  She picked it up and started reading.  “This book is the property of Robert Stillwater. The money I’ve saved is from a lifetime of hard work.  I figure that whoever ends up buying this house will someday knock down the wall I built to hide my savings.  That gives me pleasure.  I just don’t want my greedy nephew, Gerald Brinkman, to get his hands on even one penny.  He is a squanderer, and he wouldn’t work if he had to.  If you have knocked down a wall, then you are not afraid of work.  If you were hired to do the job, then I insist you give the money to a church for charitable works.  I guess I’ve just written my last will and testament.  Thank you for honoring my wishes, and use the money wisely.”  Nettie looked at Sam.  “Is he seriously just leaving this money to me?” she asked.

“It sure sounds like it.  What is in the book itself?”

“It is dates and the amount that he’s put back from each pay, or extra job he did for someone.  He sure didn’t keep out much to live on.  Oh, he also has dates listed when he went to the bank and traded in ones, fives, and twenties to get hundred dollar bills.”

“That is good; a written record of where the money came from.  No one can claim this is stolen money… and if you own this house, the money is yours.  Do you still want me to help you count it?”  Sam admitted he was curious as to the amount, but he really didn’t have a right to stay.

“I do not want you to leave!  I was terrified until you got here.  What if someone breaks in?  This is a lot of money to worry about, Sam.  I won’t breathe until I get to the bank and make a deposit.”

“Okay, I’ll stay,” Sam promised.  “At least until I get called to go to a crime scene.”

“Thanks, Sam.”  They started counting, and by the time they were finished, there was well over a million dollars.   Nettie was in shock.  “What am I going to do, Sam?  I work hard for a living, and I don’t know what to do with all that money.”

“First of all, we take you to your bank and get it deposited.  We also keep quiet about it until you figure it out.  You don’t have to spend it right now, but it will be a nice nest egg for your future.”

“Please stay here with me.  I really am afraid.”  Nettie’s pretty green eyes filled with tears.  She hated feeling so vulnerable, and right now she was terrified.  What if the person with the key was to come back?  She swung a mean hammer, but it was hard to do so when you were so afraid you couldn’t move.  She thought she’d put the past behind her, but fear was fear… and it brought back all the ugly memories.

“I’ll stay with you, Nettie,” Sam assured her.  “Just let me call in and get off the clock.”

Nettie listened, her eyes wide, as Sam called in and told his Captain that he needed to take some personal time.  She heard the Captain ask in concern if there was a problem, and Sam said, “No, sir.  I have a friend who needs some help.”  Nettie smiled; it was nice to have a new friend.  She liked Sam.  He made her feel safe, which was a shock.  She might work with men, but she seldom spent time alone with one.

“There now, Nettie.  I’ll keep you company and take you to your bank in the morning.  Do you have anything in the house to eat?” he asked after his stomach loudly reminded him that he hadn’t eaten for several hours.  “Or do we need to order a pizza?”

“I have a stocked kitchen,” she said proudly.  “I’ll cook.”

“I don’t want to be any trouble,” Sam quickly stated.  He was breaking all sorts of rules he’d created for himself!  He didn’t want to make anyone he helped in the line of duty feel obligated to do anything for him!  “I can just call and order a pizza.”

“No, please!  Cooking will take my mind off of things.  Besides, you just called me a friend, and I would like to cook for my newest friend.”

She smiled and Sam knew he was hooked but good.  He’d always been partial to redheads, and Nettie was cute as could be.  If she could cook, too, well… he was hooked.  “What can I do to help?” He found himself offering.

“Just keep me company,” she said with a smile, but then she frowned.  “What should we do with the money?” she asked.  “Leaving it out in the open like this just doesn’t seem very wise.  What if that person with the key comes back and has a gun…?”  Her eyes were wide with fear once again, and she swallowed hard.  “Oh, I know I’m being a big baby!”

“Having this much cash in the house is bound to make anyone nervous, Nettie.  We’ll put the money out of sight, though.  That is a really good idea just in case someone comes by.  You don’t want to have to explain to anyone.  It’s no one’s business but your own,” he said firmly.

“Where can we hide it?” she asked, looking around.  “Oh, I know!” she suddenly exclaimed. 

Sam watched as she pulled the coffee table away from the sofa, and then she removed the cushions from the old sofa.  “There used to be a hide a bed in here, but someone took it out and built in storage.  See…?” She lifted the fabric covered lid and sure enough, there was a box underneath!  Nettie put the bag of money inside, covered it with a couple of blankets, and then put the lid down and tucked the quilted fabric, which looked like a regular lining around the lid. 

“That is the best I can do,” she said, the doubt showing in her lovely eyes.  “What do you think, Sam?”

“Ingenious.”  He had to admit that he’d never seen anything like it, and he’d seen some pretty strange hiding places.  “I’ve never seen anything this clever,” he admitted.  “It looks like a regular sofa, with no hint that it could be a hide a bed, and yet, when you take the cushions off, it looks like a normal sofa.  Where did you get it?” he asked curiously.

“At an auction,” she replied.  “I needed something to sit on, and didn’t want to spend good money on a new sofa.  So, I went to a lot of garage sales, and auctions.  Pretty much everything I own is second hand.  I wanted to buy a house of my own,” she told him.  “So, I saved and saved, and I was finally able to buy this place.  It needs a lot of work done, but that is perfect.”

“I don’t know too many women who would agree with you,” Sam said, following her into the kitchen.  He looked around and started planning what he would do to ‘fix it.’

“I’m not like most women,” Nettie seriously proclaimed.

“I didn’t mean that as an insult, Nettie.  It was a compliment.” Sam hastened to reassure her.  “I used to work construction, and I still give my Dad a hand if I’m off and he needs help.  I think it makes sense to buy a house like this one and make it your own.”

“I agree.  I haven’t decided yet if I am going to fix this for myself to keep, or to sell at a profit.”

“It needs a lot of work, and it will cost quite a bit to get this kitchen done, Nettie.  I could ask my Dad to give you an estimate if you’d like.”

“No thanks,” she said with a giggle.  “I plan to do the work myself.”

“That might not be a good idea,” he said softly.  “There is a lot of work that goes into a kitchen, Nettie.  Electrical, plumbing, and you need permits for most of it.  Hanging cabinets the right way is also pretty important.  In an older home, the walls might not be straight, and…”  He stopped talking when she burst into laughter.  “I’m sorry; did I say something to amuse you?”  He was trying to give her some serious advice, and she was laughing at him.  Sam Sutton was not used to being laughed at!  He was suddenly irritated, and he felt his palm itch.  He wanted to give her rounded backside a firm swat, but he restrained himself.

“I agree with all that you said, Sam.  However, I am used to doing everything you just mentioned.  I work in construction,” she admitted, then waited for him to make fun of her.  To her surprise, he didn’t crack a smile.  “This is where you are supposed to tell me that I’m too little to work construction, or make some remark about my being the only woman in an otherwise all man crew.  Or ask me why I think I should work a man’s job…?”  When Sam scowled at her, she felt her tummy whirl nervously.  Somehow she’d upset the man and now she was feeling a bit of fear as she waited for him to say something… or even worse, move towards her.  Her eyes went to his hands, which were resting on the table, and she sighed in relief when he didn’t appear to be ready to strike her.


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