Email Sent: July 26, 12:29 a.m.
To: Francesca Cartolano Bright
From: Charlotte Elizabeth Carpenter
Subject: KILLER WALKING OUR STREETS?
Hey, Girlfriend: I guess you’re already in dream land. But you know me; when I smell a mystery, I can’t turn my brain off long enough to crash. Writing things out always helps, and you are my best audience. (Don’t tell Marc I said that! Mr. Ex-Detective believes he’s the key to my sleuthing success. Let’s let him keep on thinking that, shall we?)
He’s sound asleep, by the way. A long day of chain sawing and clearing storm debris really took it out of him. Lord, that man is gorgeous when he’s sleeping. Or awake. Or . . . well, you know!
Speaking of storm debris, can you believe a tornado passed right over Oakwood today? Thank goodness Katie and I were able to take shelter in that spooky tunnel that runs from the stadium to the high school furnace room. I’m so grateful no one was killed, and that all of our homes came through it with minimal damage. I’m going to miss that big hawthorn tree, though. Remember when I found a dead body over there?
Did I mention smelling a mystery? That old journal I found in the tunnel is written entirely in some sort of secret code! One of my “Park Avenue Irregulars” is going to try his hand at cracking it. Those kids are obsessed with the new forensic science elective Oakwood’s offering. I guess they all want to be CSI’s when they grow up.
A codebook is intriguing enough, but that’s not even the most mysterious part. I showed the journal to my dad tonight, and he thinks it may have belonged to a girl named Regan Fletcher. Name ring any bells? She’s the high school senior who was murdered 40 years ago. Supposedly she used that tunnel to elope with her boyfriend, Carter Magellan. Marc says it’s the most famous cold case in Oakwood history. Carter was convicted of the crime, but he never stopped protesting his innocence. After he served 20 years in prison, some other convict confessed, and they let Carter go free. But get this: The convict recanted his confession—and then died the next day! Carter’s been living as a virtual recluse in the old Magellan house ever since.
I know what you’re thinking. How is a murder that happened 40 years ago keeping me awake? A couple of things have me smelling a rat. First of all, do you remember Mr. Vance, the grumpy old custodian from our high school days? He’s still there, running that place like a prison. Well, when he saw I’d found something in the tunnel, he got super hostile, insisting it was school property and demanding I turn it over. I managed to hide the journal and just gave him the moldy old backpack it was in. His behavior was highly suspicious, if you ask me. My dad says Vance was a witness in Carter Magellan’s criminal trial, but a lot of people believed he knew more than he was telling. If that old geezer had something to do with Regan’s death, could he have guessed the backpack was hers?
That’s not the only thing setting off my detective radar. A whole lot of details about this case just don’t add up. Why would a prisoner confess to a crime he didn’t commit, and then change his story? And why on earth, if the cops were so certain Carter was guilty in the first place, did they suddenly believe this other guy did it? And what happened to the fabulous diamond necklace that Regan supposedly stole from her mother? Oh yeah, there’s a missing necklace. This mystery just keeps getting better and better.
I’d rather you don’t tell Marc about this, but I’m pretty certain someone followed me when I was walking home. The entire way there, I had that prickly feeling I get when I’m being watched. I can only think of one reason: Before I could stop her, Katie posted pictures and the “spooky tunnel/coded journal” story all over social media. What if someone saw those pictures, someone who knew Regan back in the day? What if that someone recognized the journal?
Which leads us to the crux of the matter: If this journal does belong to Regan, WHY did she write it in code? Was that poor girl afraid of someone? What secrets might be in there, waiting to be revealed?
And, since both Carter and the convict claim their innocence, does that mean the real killer has been walking around Oakwood for the last 40 years, having gotten away with murder?!?
You see why I can’t fall asleep. This case is crying out for a fresh pair of eyes—make that pairs, plural. I’ve decided I’m going to round up the entire Oakwood Mystery Club for this one. You want in? Of course, you do. I suspect our fellow book clubbers will be just as eager to help with cracking this coded conundrum. If I’m right about being followed, then this cold case is about to turn smoking hot in a big hurry.
Frankie, my adorable partner in crime, it’s time for some shut eye. See you tomorrow—well, I suppose that’s this—morning. I’ll have the coffee pot on overdrive.