Nicole Parker anxiously awaited her graduation from high school and the opportunity to escape the small logging town in which she had lived all her life. In just a few months she and her best friend, Sherry Johnson, would embark upon the next stage of their lives. But a murder in their hometown would forever change their plans, and lives.
Frank Thomas, a former homicide detective in Los Angeles, was looking for a quiet place to complete his distinguished career. Molalla, Oregon looked to be the perfect place to do that. He was hired as the Chief of Police and his plan to wind down was going as scheduled until a cold, wet morning in January. The small-town murder would be as challenging to solve as anything he'd experienced in Los Angeles...and every bit as dangerous.
Every Step You Take has twists and turns that lead to a chilling and riveting conclusion. Based on an actual murder case in which new facts have come to light, fiction may not be fiction.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.76(d)|
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EVERY STEP YOU TAKE
By KEVIN SCHUMACHER
Abbott PressCopyright © 2014 Kevin Schumacher
All rights reserved.
Wednesday morning, January 23, 1985
It never ceases to amaze me. I'm talkin' about how much blood the human body holds, which is about six quarts, I'm told, and how much blood that body spills out when multiple bullets tear it apart. It looks more like six gallons. I've seen it all too many times over my forty-year career. Not here, though. I moved to Molalla, Oregon, from Los Angeles in '83 to get away from it all. All that blood takes a toll on a guy, and all I wanted to do was finish out my career quietly, away from the bloody crime that happens in large metropolitan areas.
Molalla is located about thirty-five miles south of Portland, in the foothills of the Cascade Mountain range. Molalla is one of those Indian names that no one knows how to pronounce unless they grew up there.
"It's MO-lal-la," the mayor told me early on, "with the accent on the first syllable and the last two syllables said fast, so they just roll off your tongue. MO-lal-la."
My name is Frank Thomas, born to John and Cora Thomas in 1920. I grew up in the Northwest, in a small town called Puyallup, which is pronounced pew-AL-up, again said fast, with the accent on the second syllable. Puyallup, another Indian name of course, located up in Washington State. I started my law-enforcement career patrolling the streets of Tacoma, just twenty minutes away from my hometown. That was in January of 1941.
When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor later that year, I answered the call of duty for my country and enlisted in the army. I had police experience, a whopping eleven months' worth, so it was decided that I would be an MP—military policeman. I served for four years, a year of it in Germany.
I came home and went back to work for the Tacoma Police Department. After a couple of years, I got restless, wanting something more exciting, adventurous, and that's how I ended up in LA, where I stayed for good. That is, until two years ago. Both of my parents died several years ago. I was an only child, and I never did find the right girl to marry. Most people would consider it a very lonely life, but I never did. I was okay with it. I had friends and was content to keep it that way.
Eventually, I became a homicide detective with the LAPD. My partner of nearly twenty years, Richard "Dickey" Cook, was my closest friend. Dickey was like the brother that I never had. Two years ago, Dickey and I were in the midst of investigating several homicides that were gang related drug wars, turf wars. I hated it and Dickey did too. Back in the day, murder used to be, well, cleaner. It used to be that a jealous husband would kill his wife's lover and maybe his wife too. Or partners in crime would get greedy and want it all for themselves, so one bad guy would whack another bad guy. They were clean murders, good old-fashioned murders, Perry Mason kind of murders—but not anymore.
It seems like they're all gang related now—whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, you name it. Punks whack other punks, and sometimes whack the police. That's what happened to Dickey. We were in the wrong place at the wrong time and Dickey paid the price. He didn't die that day, but his career was over. He retired from the department with full honors, and a cane that would be his companion for the rest of his life. That's when I decided to get out. Move somewhere, maybe back to the Northwest where life was much slower and not nearly as bloody.
I started my end-of-career job search and when I saw that the small town of Molalla was looking for a new police chief, I applied and got the job. It was quiet. Not much happened here—a few burglaries, some kids vandalizing the school on a Saturday night—things like that. Nothing too serious. Some of the crimes were even funny.
I hadn't been in town very long when I heard about the White Horse Tavern, a local landmark. It sits right in the middle of town just a hundred feet east of the four-way stop. In front of the building is a big white stallion—not real, of course, but lifesize—mounted up high, rearing on its hind legs in the classic western style. One early morning, some graffiti artists decided to paint its underside blue, if you know what I mean. And that's how it came to be called the Blue Ball Tavern. At least by some. That's about as serious as crime got in Molalla.
And homicides? There hadn't been one for years, not since the Miller brothers—Fred and Frank—were drinking and playing quick-draw in the hills above town. Fred shot Frank, went to get help, and then couldn't find his way back to the scene—too much Jack Daniels in the system. By the time he did find Frank, he was already dead. It was declared an accident, but some of the locals thought otherwise. So now I'm here and things are going pretty much as I hoped they would—quiet, uneventful, and boring. Boring is not a bad thing when you get to be my age.
But unfortunately, it didn't stay that way. It all changed in one day.
It was cold that morning. I was just getting ready to go out the door of the one-bedroom house I called home and down to the police station on North Molalla Avenue, just around the corner from the White Horse. The phone rang before I got out the door so I went back to answer it. It was only seven fifteen, kind of early to be getting calls around here. Being the only full-time employee in the police department did have its drawbacks, like being on call 24-7.
I lifted the receiver to my ear.
"This is Chief Thomas."
"Chief Thomas? This is Robert Payne. We have a problem down here at the high school. Could you come down here, like right now?"
Robert was the principal. He'd been here five or six years now.
"Sure, Robert. I was just headin' out the door. What's up?"
"Well, it seems we have a lot of blood in the bus garage, at least I think it's blood. Chief, I've never seen so much blood. It looks like there's six gallons here on the floor!"
"Blood? From what?"
This was farm country with lots of hunters and lots of animals around. It could have been just some kids' idea of a joke.
"I don't know, but if it is blood, whatever it's from isn't alive anymore. There's no carcass or nothing, just a lot of blood."
"All right, I'm on my way. Be there in five minutes." It didn't take long to get places in Molalla.CHAPTER 2
Thirteen hours earlier
Nicole Parker didn't give much thought to the cold, wet, and dark weather in northwest Oregon as she waited on the steps of Molalla High School. It was January, got dark early, around four thirty, and it had been another boring day of school. It wouldn't be long before she graduated with the class of '85. Nicole couldn't think about much else. She wanted to get out of this small logging town in which she had lived all her life, and when she graduated, she intended to do just that: get out!
"Hey Nicole, what ya still doin' around here?"
Sherry, her bestfriend since elementary school, came out the front door of the ancient redbrick school building built in the early 1900s. Not much changed in Molalla. Sherry had aspirations of being an actress. Like Nicole, she would be graduating come June and couldn't wait to escape the town that used to have more sawmills and taverns than anything else. Some of that had changed in recent years because of the spotted owl. The tree huggers' campaign was successful. The mills were struggling to survive, but the taverns continued to thrive.
"I stayed after today to work on my senior project," Nicole said. "I have to get that done soon if I want to graduate on time. I'm just waiting for Dad to come and pick me up. How's the play coming along?"
Sherry was starring in the last play of her high school career, a murder mystery called Power Play.
"It's goin' good. We still have a month before it opens, so it should come together by then."
As Sherry turned to go back to practice, two gunshots sounded from inside the building. Nicole jumped at the sound.
"I hate those immature sophomores. They're always messing around," Sherry grumbled, explaining that during the break from play practice, a few boys had decided it would be fun to play with the prop pistol, with blanks of course. But it still was some good kind of fun for teenage boys.
"Okay. I'll see you in the morning, Sherry."
"Tay. Take care."
Nicole ignored the tay that really annoyed her, and continued the watch for her dad who never seemed to be in a hurry to pick her up. She rode the bus most of the time, on the way to school and back home, but on the few occasions that she stayed after, her dad would pick her up. But he would make her wait. He was a good dad though. He loved his little girl who was growing up all too fast. And the fact that Nicole wanted to leave home after graduating made his eyes a little teary when he thought about it.
Nicole watched the street, looking the direction from which he would be coming. Two lone streetlights shone on the black, wet pavement, looking frozen. "I can't wait to get out of this place," she said to herself out loud. Then there were headlights coming around the corner. It was about time!
The vehicle came into view, but it wasn't her dad's '64 Chevy pickup. It was the school's activity bus. The bus had already dropped off its load of jocks—basketball players and wrestlers. The bus slowed and stopped at the front of the school and the folding bus doors opened.
"Hey, Nicole! You need a ride?" Sandi Riggs didn't quite yell it, but almost, in order to be heard over the noisy bus. Nicole walked toward the bus to answer.
"Hi, Sandi. Thanks, but my dad should be here by now. I'm sure he'll be here in a minute or two."
"You sure? It's no problem. I just have to park the bus, get my car and I'll take you home. It's cold out there—don't want ya gettin' sick!"
It was definitely cold, the temperature hovering around freezing. A storm coming in from the Pacific Ocean would provide plenty of moisture, and the cold Canadian air coming down from the Arctic regions would combine for a good snowstorm, the first of the winter.
"No, thanks, but I'm fine. He'll be here. If he got here and I wasn't, he would be pissed."
"Well, I'll see ya tomorrow then, Nicole."
"Okay. See ya, Sandi. And thanks again for offering."
"No problem." The bus doors closed and Sandi drove down the street to park the bus.
Nicole walked back toward the front steps and waited. It was already five forty-five, but it could be six o'clock before he came, maybe six fifteen. She thought about Sandi. She grew up in another small logging town about sixty miles south of Molalla called Mill City. There weren't any mills there anymore and it was hardly a city. Sandi was still young, around twenty-five or so, but she hadn't gotten away from the small-town environment, annoying as it was. I guess some people like it, Nicole thought to herself.
Sandi had worked here in Molalla for a few years now. A guy named Steve Carlson was the reason she stayed. He was a Molalla native who hadn't moved away from his hometown. Steve and some buddies decided to go to Seaside one summer day a few years ago. That's the place to go for guys who wanted to pick up girls, and that's where Sandi met him. They hit it off right away. It didn't take long, only a few weeks, before Steve talked Sandi into coming to Molalla to move in with him.
A year or so later Steve got the idea to join the Marines. So off he went, leaving Sandi behind. She decided to stay in Molalla and wait for him to come back home. It was a long four years, but Sandi believed that they had something special, so she waited. And he did come back, six or seven months ago, and their relationship picked up where it had left off. But then something happened. Nicole didn't know what it was, but they weren't living together anymore. Too bad, she thought, they made such a cute couple.
Six o'clock," she muttered, her teeth chattering as she pulled her sleeve back down over her wristwatch. Three more gunshots sounded, farther away than the previous ones. The boys must be roaming the school. Shivering, Nicole thought she should have at least followed Sherry inside, but who knew her dad would take this long? Now the doors were locked, leaving her out in the cold. The '64 Chevy pickup came around the corner five minutes later.
Five days earlier
He looked at his watch with the cracked crystal. There were still three hours before quitting time and the beginning of the weekend. Even though he was late for work, missing the first hour of the five-to-one swing shift, time was passing slowly.
Every week was the same boring, monotonous routine, and every week he waited for the weekend to arrive. Not that anything exciting would happen on the weekend. Not in Molalla. Steve Carlson mindlessly pulled the lumber from the green chain onto the loads of lumber at Brazier Forest Products. There was one good thing about this job—a guy had plenty of time to think. Looking back on the last five or six years, he asked, 'What if?' a lot. Back then, Sandi and he lived together for about a year and a half and things were going good, but he felt like he was going nowhere. He felt trapped. One night, while he and Sandi were watching TV, a commercial came on saying that the U.S. Marine Corps was looking for a few good men. And that moment he decided to enlist. He slept on his decision and the next day, he went to the recruiting center. That decision changed his life ... and Sandi's.
He was stationed in Beirut, Lebanon, one of twelve hundred or so Marines whose mission it was to assist in stabilizing the new Lebanese government and its army. October 23, 1983, would be a day that Steve would never forget. Two suicide truck bombs struck separate buildings that housed American and French forces. Two-hundred twenty Marines died that day, and if Steve hadn't been on guard duty in another part of the compound, there would have been 221 casualties. He saw more blood that one day than he ever wanted to see in a lifetime. Friends died that day. He wanted out. He was ready to go home.
It was early summer in 1984 when he landed at Portland International Airport. There was no hero's welcome for him. His mom and Sandi were the only ones there to greet him. But that was okay. He was happy to be home and knew he was one of the fortunate. He dealt with guilt though. There were so many who didn't come home, but he did, and he wondered why.
It came out as a shriek when she saw him emerge from the tunnel that led from the plane to the terminal. Sandi fought her way through the crowd of off-boarding passengers to reach him.
"O baby, I'm so glad you're home. I missed you so much."
"Me too." It was all he could say as he took her in his arms.
Steve's mother approached after giving the couple a few moments.
"Anyone remember me?"
"Mom! Mom, I'm so glad to be home!"
Steve took the two women into his big arms as they walked down to the baggage area. He retrieved his bags from the carousel and stepped out of the terminal and into the Oregon summer. It felt so good. Arriving from the hot and humid hell hole called Beirut, he felt like he had just stepped into paradise. It was good to be home.
That was almost eight months ago. He looked at his watch again—still two hours before quitting time. Steve didn't care much for swing shift, but there weren't any openings on days, and he needed the work. And no longer did it feel like paradise. Things hadn't gone as planned, far from it.
The first month had been great. He was back with the woman he felt would one day be his wife. A melancholy smile crossed his face as he thought of the old Neil Sedaka song ...
Oo, I hear laughter in the rain
Walking hand in hand with the one I love
Oo how I love the rainy days
And the happy way I feel inside
But it didn't last. He moved back in with Sandi when he got home from Beirut, back in the cozy one-bedroom up on the river. It was their place. But when September rolled around, their relationship soured. Sandi was back driving bus for the school district, transporting kids to school and back home again. She often volunteered to drive the extra runs as well. There were ball games and the after-school activity bus. Occasionally she would drive for longer trips, like last spring when the school's band went to Reno for a jazz competition.
Excerpted from EVERY STEP YOU TAKE by KEVIN SCHUMACHER. Copyright © 2014 Kevin Schumacher. Excerpted by permission of Abbott Press.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The fact that this book is based on an actual murder case here in Oregon makes it an intriguing read. The author claims to know facts about the actual case that were not presented at the trial doubles the interest. Well written, especially for a 1st time author. It's worth picking up.