Rumble Strip - A Blackstone Valley Mystery Novelette by Alena Gouveia

  Rumble Strip

  Blackstone Valley Mystery Novelette

  Book 1

  Lisa Shea

  Copyright © 2015 by Lisa Shea / Minerva Webworks LLC

  All rights reserved.

  Cover design by Lisa Shea

  Book design by Lisa Shea

  No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  Visit my website at

  ~ v2 ~

  Care for those around you.

  Rumble Strip

  Chapter One


  I jolted awake, my heart pounding, adrenaline racing through my body. My hands automatically clenched white-knuckled on the steering wheel. The right guard-rail was terrifyingly close. In slow motion, a thousand thoughts flickered simultaneously in my mind. I gathered in every drop of information.

  I was on Route 146 South, just entering the quiet town of Sutton, Massachusetts.

  To my right was Blackstone’s Country Café – the new restaurant which had moved in when the donut shop had failed.

  My car, a first-run Prius with far too many miles on it, was shuddering as if caught in the grip of a powerful earthquake.

  The sky was pitch black, just a shade darker than my skin.

  The sheen of black ice reflected in my car’s headlights.

  I was on the rumble strip.

  brr brr brr


  brr brr brr

  I yanked the steering wheel hard left to get back into the driving lane, barely able to breathe.

  There were no other cars at all on the highway, either before or after me. Just me, my Prius, and the now smooth sailing down 146 toward my home.

  I drew in several long lungfuls of air, willing myself to calm down. My heart thundered hard against my ribs, nearly exploding out through them like that alien creature which forever immortalized John Hurt.

  I glanced at the clock. Two a.m. Thank God. I could easily have hurt someone.

  Whoever it was that invented these rumble strips, God bless you. God bless your family, God bless your children, God bless your children’s children …

  My Prius moved past the old drive-in which had sadly been closed down years ago. Next I streamed beneath the new set of traffic signals which had gone through a baffling variety of configuration changes over the past year. Poor Tony’s Pizza had to endure multiple rearrangements to their entrance system. But I saw the sights distantly, as if a movie was playing on that drive-in’s decaying large screen.

  Breathe. Breathe.

  A few more turns, a crossing of the Northbridge line, and I was pulling up to my quiet, grey colonial, easing into the empty driveway. I turned off my ignition. My body was shaking so hard that I didn’t know if I could make it to my front door.

  More deep breaths.

  At last I gathered up my purse, opened the car door, and walked the short distance to my home.

  Without turning on any lights, I bee-lined straight for the maroon couch and flopped onto it as if my body had turned into a limp noodle. I turned my head to stare at my fish tank. The school of tiger barbs seemed to gaze in anticipation back at me, undoubtedly waiting for their shrimp snack.

  Thirty-five years old. I was thirty-five years old, and if I had been killed, the only ones who would really miss me were those patient tiger barbs.

  I shook my head. That wasn’t quite fair. I was sure my co-workers at the law library in Boston would note my absence. I was always the one they went to with the really challenging queries. The riddles nobody else could wrangle an answer for. And certainly the lawyers and researchers who relied on me would be grumpy about turning to someone else less efficient.

  But it wasn’t the same.

  My father had died in the line of duty some twenty years ago. My mother went eight years later of breast cancer. It had been a heart attack which took out my older brother – that and his morbid obesity.

  Which left just me.

  I closed my eyes.

  brr brr brr


  brr brr brr

  I groggily blinked my eyes awake. The clock on the cable box read just after five a.m. Man, but I was exhausted. I’d been working on that darn Vuong case all week, helping the family navigate the complex ins-and-outs of immigration law. I had been determined to wrap it up before leaving work Friday. Which had nearly resulted in my turning my Prius into an accordion. By all rights I should sleep straight through until Sunday.

  What was it that had woken me up?

  The sounds whirled in my head.

  brr brr brr


  brr brr brr

  I blinked again, sitting up on the couch.

  Dit dit dit.

  Dah dah dah.

  Dit dit dit.

  It was Morse code. And not only that, it spelled S.O.S. The universal call of distress.

  I shook my head, running a hand through my dark waves of hair. This was just silly. I’d been nearly asleep when I hit that rumble strip. The breaks in the sound could just be the gaps of my consciousness as I came into awareness. Or they could have been natural breaks in the roadway. Anything at all.

  I found I was pushing myself to my feet, and I set my lips into a frown.

  Stop that! You can deal with it on Sunday! After you get some decent sleep!

  I still had my jacket and shoes on – I had collapsed on the couch fully dressed from the car. Heck, the keys were still in my jacket pocket, rather than hanging on the hook in the kitchen. All I had to do was drive up north on 146, do the loop at Millbury, and come back south again. It’d take ten minutes at the most. And then, once I proved to myself that this was all a wild fantasy, I could truly sleep like the dead.

  The sane voice recommending staying home was ruthlessly squelched as I moved through the door and down the snow-covered slope of my front lawn. There was a reason I was one of the best law librarians in the state. It was my dogged desire to track down the truth. I’d managed to ruffle quite a few feathers over the years, and I probably wouldn’t win best-coworker award. But when it was the eleventh hour and something absolutely had to be figured out, they always came to me.

  The sharp cold of February pre-dawn hit me, and I shivered as I slid into the driver’s seat. A turn of the key, a shift of the lever, and I was off.

  The roads held only a scattering of traffic as I moved north past the construction wasteland which would soon be a Market 32 grocery store – the latest incarnation of Price Chopper. It seemed no time at all before I was doing the loop at Millbury and heading back south again.

  As I saw Lenny’s Liquors coming into view, I eased right onto the rumble strip.



  Despite all sanity telling me this was a good, normal thing, deep disappointment echoed in my heart. I had been so sure I’d heard it. So sure there was a mystery here for me to look into. Not the dry, legalistic ones of which sub-sub-portion of a bill might apply to a convicted child molester’s case, but something that might actually –

  brr brr brr


brr brr

  My mouth fell open, and I stared at the rumble strip ahead of me.

  brr brr brr


  brr brr brr

  My heart pounded against my ribs again, but this time it was out of raw excitement. There it was! There was something here! And it –

  brr brr BRRRRRR brr


  brr BRRRRRR brr

  My hands shook so much I came left off the rumble strip and back into the traffic lane. There was more to the message! There was an actual word here. What were those letters? Was that first one an F? My father had taught me Morse code as a child, long ago, but it was rusty and quite out of use.

  I carefully eased myself back onto the rumble strip.

  brr BRRRRRR brr brr


  brr brr brr BRRRRRR




  brr brr BRRRRRR

  I blinked, my eyes filling with tears. That sequence I knew. It was “love you.” The secret message my father and I used to play to each other when he was out on duty, patrolling the streets of Worcester. Our private code that had sustained us – right up until that tragic night.


  My eyes shone with fierce determination. There was definitely something here – something that I would figure out. And it began with another loop.

  The U-turn at Tony’s to head north. Another loop at Millbury to turn south.

  F O R

  T F C

  J A C K

  D R A G O


  L O V E

  Y O U

  S C R E W Y

  I shook my head and pulled back into the main road. Everything was blurring together. I could barely keep up with the noise and simultaneously translate. Clearly I’d have to take this one piece at a time.

  Another loop.

  S U T T O N

  Y I B

  K A T H

  D I N E N


  I sighed. I really should wait for the morning when I could do this properly. Get some sleep. But I knew that would never happen. At this rate it’d take me hours to listen, and re-listen …

  A bright thought sparked in my exhausted brain. Why not just record it! I could drive it once, record the sounds on my cell phone, and then go home. I could work on it at my leisure.

  A smile brought fresh energy to my tired body. Once again I was looping by the Bank of America, then looping again on Elm Street.

  Lenny’s Liquors came up before me and I reached for my cell phone, fumbling at the buttons to get it recording as I slid into the break-down lane.



  I looked up in surprise. Bright blue lights were flashing in my rear-view mirror. I had no idea how long they had been there.

  I groaned.

  I hit STOP on my phone. Then I pulled over further to draw to a halt in the middle of the rumble strip.

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