A waning moon, p.10
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       A Waning Moon, p.10

           Bliss Addison
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  “No, Mr. Whit,” she said from close by. “No one.”

  “Okay, thanks.” He walked to the sofa and looked at Lyron. “Should we worry?”

  Lyron shook his head. “Not about him. Dixon, though.” He chewed his bottom lip.

  “One of us should file a missing person's report.”

  The doorbell rang, and Whit jumped.

  Lyron grinned. “Getting too much for you, huh?”

  “This may be old hat to you, but not for me.”

  “I'll get it, Mr. Whit,” Mrs. Butterworth sang from somewhere.

  Whit paced the length of his study, thinking about the lives he put in jeopardy, albeit indirectly and unintentionally, because of the reward. If he could prevent anyone else from getting hurt, he would. “I'm going to rescind the reward.” When Lyron gaped at him, he said, “Malloy almost lost his life because of it.”

  He stopped and rubbed the ache in the nape of his neck. “Can you arrange to have someone guard his room in case Baleman intends to finish what he started? I'll pay for it.”

  Lyron nodded.

  Whit spun around as a horrible thought struck him. “There's a good chance Dixon suffered the same mishap as Malloy. He may already be dead. Christ.”

  “You didn't know this would happen. Don't beat yourself up and don't jump to —"

  “Mr. Whit?” Mrs. Butterworth said from the doorway.

  He turned. “Yes, Mrs. Butterworth?”

  “Detective Quinn is here to see you.”

  Whit glanced at Lyron, then said to his housekeeper, “Show him in, please. Thanks.” He strode to his desk and leisurely sat.

  “Let me do the talking,” Lyron said. “Don't volunteer anything and keep your answers to yes and no.”

  As a lawyer, Whit was used to giving that advice to clients, but hearing those words from someone who once earned his living as a cop made him smile.

  Thirty seconds later, Quinn entered the room, nodded at Whit and Lyron.

  “Good. You're both here.” He took a coiled pad from his jacket pocket. “I'd like to ask you a few questions about what happened tonight to Mr. Malloy.”

  Whit nodded and Lyron said, “Shoot.”

  “You were the ones who found Mr. Malloy?”

  Lyron gave Quinn the hairy eyeball and said, “Why don't you cut to the chase and save us all a lot of time and ask the questions you don't already have the answers to?”

  “Good enough. I forgot you used to be a cop. How did you get into the apartment?”

  “Through the door. It was unlocked.” Lyron looked Quinn directly in the eyes.

  “Did you touch anything? Either of you?” Quinn looked at Whit.

  Lyron walked to the desk and rested a hip against it, blocking Quinn's view of Whit. “I touched the doorknob when I opened the door, of course, but other than that, neither of us touched anything.”

  “I see. What business brought you to Mr. Malloy's tonight?”

  “I received a tip he had information for us regarding the whereabouts of Mr. Hawkes' sister.”

  “Uh-huh. And do you always just walk in to a stranger's home uninvited?”

  “Mr. Malloy invited us in when he cried for help after I knocked,” Lyron said.

  “Did you see anyone leave Mr. Malloy's apartment, or anyone hanging around the building or the street?”

  Lyron shook his head.

  “Do you have any idea who beat up Mr. Malloy?”

  Lyron crossed his arms against his chest. “No.”

  “Would you tell me if you did?”


  Quinn flipped his note pad closed and looked sternly at Lyron. “I didn't think so. I could haul you in for obstruction.”

  Lyron shrugged. “How's the investigation going into the disappearance of Mr. Hawkes' sister? Any leads?”

  Quinn shook his head. “We feel confident we'll locate her shortly.” He peeked around Lyron and looked at Whit. “Is this how you saw everything happening in Mr. Malloy's apartment tonight, Mr. Hawkes?”

  “To the best of my knowledge.”

  “Do you have anything to add to Mr. Otten's statement?”

  Whit steepled his fingers beneath his chin and shook his head. “Nothing.”

  Quinn nodded. “That'll be all for tonight, gentlemen. I may need to ask you more questions at a later date, so keep handy. I'll find my own way out.”

  When he walked through the doorway, Lyron said to Whit, “Maybe you should show him the way to the door. He has trouble finding his way out of bed in the morning.”

  “He knows we're hiding something.”

  “Uh-huh, and that he has no idea what it is will sit like an unreleased belch in his stomach.” Lyron grinned.

  Whit couldn't help but smile. “You're getting some perverse satisfaction knowing that, aren't you?”

  “Damn straight. The guy is as crooked as a fork in a road, and just because the charges against him were dropped in the missing hash incident doesn't mean it ain't so.”

  The doorbell rang again.

  Whit threw his hands in air and said, “What is this tonight? The Do-Drop Inn?” He took a deep breath and reined in his temper, wondering how much more he could take without reacting explosively.

  A moment later, Mrs. Butterworth poked her head in the doorway. “Mr. Whit, there's a lady and gentleman here to see you.” She moved into the room. “The gentleman said to give you this.”

  Whit took the plain white business card in his hand and looked at the gold embossed letters that read: I. Pendexter Mahoney. He flipped the card over and found it blank. The card warmed his hand. He frowned. Lyron walked over to him. “What is it?”

  He handed him the card and watched as Lyron repeated what he had done a moment ago. He hefted the card from one hand to the other and said, “It feels heavy. Strange. And what kind of business card is that with no details on it other than a name?”

  Whit shrugged. “The old kind. It's a calling card.” He looked at Mrs. Butterworth.

  “Did they say what their business is with me?”

  She shook her head.

  “Show them in, please.” He stood, buttoned his shirt and tightened his tie, and slipped into his suit jacket while Lyron resumed his position at the front of the desk.

  With the sound of a double set of footsteps approaching, Whit walked to the door and waited, preparing to dismiss them abruptly if they tried to sell him something.

  The woman came into the room first. When Whit looked into her face, his legs elasticized and time stood still for him again.

  “You,” he said.

  Chapter Fourteen

  “You,” Blossom said. The shock of coming face to face with her stalker even after this many years froze her through and through. With time, she'd been able to purge the episode from her memory, but now, the unpleasantness of it all came flooding back. She put her hands against cheeks that were deathly cold but warmed quickly beneath her fingers. Her stalker smiled at her, and her hand went instinctively to her heart in the same second her mouth went dry, her throat closed and her upper lip dampened. She willed her legs to move, but they refused to co-operate.

  “You two know each other?”

  The question came from Ian, and while it bounced off the walls of her brain like an echo, her stalker said, “Yes. We've never formally met, but I recognize the young woman from Memorial campus.” He looked at her. “Perhaps you remember seeing me?” He extended his hand. “Whitfield Hawkes.”

  Did she remember seeing him! She couldn't avoid him at the time. Where she was, he was. Where she went, he ended up there, too. One time, he had even followed her into the ladies room. Luckily, the window provided a quick exit. Shortly after, she dropped out of college and that was the last she'd heard or seen of him. Praise be.

  She stared at his outstretched hand wondering if he actually thought she would take it.

  After a half-minute, Ian stretched his arm around her and grasped her stalker's hand in a gentlemanly grip. “Ian Mahoney,
sir. I'm afraid my cousin is weary from our journey and has forgotten her manners.” He looked at her. “Mr. Hawkes, meet Blossom McDougall, my cousin. Distant cousin. Many times removed, in fact.”

  What was Ian doing? She hoped he wasn’t making her available. She looked at him. He winked. He was! Lard t’underin’.

  She needed to leave. Now. The ever-present dread that idled beneath her skin rushed to the surface, paralyzing her with fear of happenings over which she would have no control. No control over her life — normal events where people make their own decisions and choices. Big or small, petty or great, others had choices she could only wish to experience and all because of Hesper's curse.

  Before she could rein in the self-pity, her chin quivered uncontrollably. A voice, calm and soothing and unrecognizable to her, penetrated the wall of emotion and impacted hard into her brain: Fear you not, beautiful darlin', happiness awaits, lest you forgot.

  She hoped against hope this event was a bizarre coincidence, and they merely happened upon the wrong place at the wrong time. Or perhaps there had been a mix-up along the cosmic airwaves. Or maybe this was a temporary misdirection that would straighten itself out and place them on the correct path.

  Even as this argument formed in her mind, a rebuttal came as quickly and more powerful than anything she ever experienced. This is where you should be, Blossom. This is the life you were predestined to live.

  Live it.

  Live it.

  Live –

  On the periphery of cognizance, she became aware of the wind whistling at windowpanes, and the chime of a pendulum clock, sounds familiar yet foreign. She managed to quell those first tendrils of fear, the ones that made themselves known just before out and out panic, the ones she looked back on and thought: Ah, yes, that's when I lost it. This time, however, the Curse had snuck up on her, had come at her from a different direction. Not from right or left or front or back, but from below, probably from the coal pits of Hell.

  For many months, she had wisely used every minute of her life, forever conscious that destiny might bombard her with doom at any given second, always mindful of fate, evermore compulsive about taking control of her life, and utterly obsessive about the time she had left. With good reason, the superstitious would say.

  She had lived a solitary existence since her last divorce — keeping company with the ol' folks, passing time with the dogs in the park, and talking up strangers on the other end of a wrong number — and she had not encountered one temptation, not even the littlest one. Not that this black-haired man was a temptation — the man was as ugly as great-granny's mortal sin. Maybe, though, this was a curve in the Curse.

  Maybe by micro-managing her life, she had forced the evil behind the spell to change tactics. In one of her mother's letters, she had written that she couldn't escape the jinx. “Don't mistakingly believe you can, Blossom. The Curse will win, one way or another.”

  Of course, this might well be fate coming at her. Fate did that — hit when it was least expected. Without warning. Out of the blue. Smack! Right between the eyes.

  There was one thing she knew for sure. She couldn't stay here, not in such close proximity to this man, even with Ian at her side. She turned and looked into Ian's eyes. “Get me out of here now.”

  Ian took her elbows in his hands and asked with concern, “Darlin', what's the matter?”

  She jerked her head toward Hawkes. “He stalked me when I was in college.” Though she spoke in a whisper, the bugger overheard.

  “Stalked you?” Whit threw his head back and laughed. “Is that what you thought? I'm sorry. I was trying to meet you, to introduce myself. I wanted to ask you out, but every time I got close, you disappeared.”

  Ian lifted her chin with his forefinger and looked into her eyes. “See? It was a simple misunderstanding, Blossom.”

  Was what happened as simple as that? Could she have misconstrued the whole thing? She turned and looked into her stalker's eyes, eyes that virtually twinkled. Maybe she had been mistaken. Would a stalker, when confronted with the truth, look so innocent, appear so cordial? Honestly, he looked like he wanted to take her in his arms and hug her. His wide smile almost had her smiling. Almost.

  Now that she studied him, he didn't seem the stalker type.

  Were stalkers types? Would she pass one on the street and think: Stalker?

  She doubted it.

  Still, though, she would keep on the defensive around him. She was here because Ian seemed to think there was a link between her and the missing kids, which would lead the way to undoing the Curse, whatever that was. For now, she'd tolerate Whitfield Hawkes. Ian would protect her. God would protect her. Faith was everything she needed.

  When this was over, and it would eventually end, she'd tell Mr. Too-Cool Hawkes to take a flying leap off Lover's Bluff.

  Ian extended his hand to the man standing beside her maybe-not-stalker.

  “Lyron Otten,” the man said. “Mr. Hawkes' private investigator.”

  Ian nodded. “You're looking into the disappearance of Mr. Hawkes' sister. How's that coming?”

  “Why are you here, Mr. Mahoney?” Otten looked at his watch. “Not to be rude, but we have matters needing our attention.”

  Ian smiled. “I'll get right to the point, then. I think we can help each other.” He looked at Hawkes. “Perhaps you recall similar disappearances three years ago? Jennifer Lamb and Theodore Hanscomb?”

  Hawkes nodded. “Yes. A young woman and her boyfriend, rumored at the time to having run off together. In fact,” he drew his brows together, “I recall hearing something about them being spotted in Niagara Falls. Outside a wedding chapel, if memory serves.”

  Ian shook his head. “That may not be true, at least not according to her grandmother.”

  “What is your interest in all this, Mr. Mahoney?” Otten asked.

  “I've been asked by Jennifer's grandmother to look into her disappearance. When I learned your sister,” Ian turned to Hawkes, “as well as her boyfriend had disappeared, too, which seems to be the same case scenario as what happened three years ago, I thought we could collaborate.”

  “Do you have any investigative experience or investigative skills, Mr. Mahoney?” Otten asked.

  Ian shrugged. “I'm on hiatus at the moment, limbo-esque you might say, but in another life, I worked for the IRS. Does that help?”

  Blossom watched Ian perform. She had been skeptical he'd be able to finagle his way into their investigation. The doubt faded. With that smile and those sincere-sounding words, who could refuse him anything?

  She looked at Otten, who bit the inside of his cheek, obviously weighing the prudence of agreeing to the alliance. Feeling someone scrutinized her, she peripherally eyed the man who she thought had stalked her and became uneasy under his gaze. Maybe he wasn't a stalker, but there was something about him that frightened her. She grabbed Ian's arm. “Why don't we leave and give Mr. Otten and Mr. Hawkes time to discuss your proposal in private?”

  “No!” Hawkes said.

  She jerked her head toward him, as did Ian and Otten.

  Hawkes cleared his throat. “Excuse my outburst. In my desire to find my sister and with the offer of additional help, I'm afraid I became over-zealous in my response.” He smiled and looked at Otten. “He does have a point, Lyron. We could use the help. Four heads would be better than two, and I'm sure Mr. Mahoney has demonstrated his worth with his area of employment. What do you think?”

  Otten shrugged. “Whatever you decide is fine.”

  Hawkes slapped his hands together and smiled. “Great. Now, since we'll all be working together, we should probably be on a first name basis.” He looked from Ian to Blossom. “My friends call me Whit, and,” he indicated Otten, “this is my friend, Lyron.”

  Ian said, “Mine call me Ian.”

  Blossom, the sides of her legs hugging Ian's, said, “Mine call me Blossom.”

  Whit grinned and splayed his hand toward the sofa and chairs. “Why don't we sit an
d Lyron and I will bring you up to date on what we've discovered so far. Once you hear what we have to say, you may change your mind about joining in our search, though.”

  “I don't scare easily.” Ian grabbed Blossom's elbow and whispered in her ear as he ushered her farther into the room. “This Whit guy is handsome, don't you think?”

  She looked at Ian. “I didn't notice.”


  She shook her head.

  Lyron grabbed Whit by the arm and said, “While you tell Ian and Blossom about our investigation so far, I'll attend to the two matters we discussed earlier.”

  Whit nodded. “Good.”

  Lyron excused himself.

  Blossom made herself comfortable into a corner on the sofa and Ian sat beside her. She turned to Whit when he cleared his throat.

  In a matter of minutes, he brought them up to date with everything that happened from the moment he discovered his sister missing. “A short while ago,” he said, “Lyron and I found Mr. Malloy bleeding to death on his living room floor. There's a chance as well that our other informant, Jerome Dixon, might have suffered a similar fate. He appears to be missing at the moment. Still want to join forces?”

  “I don't frighten easily," Ian said. “According to the newspaper report, you believe your sister was abducted. That's an interesting choice of words. Why not "kidnapped"?”

  Whit shrugged. “Kidnapping implies taking for ransom. That's not the case.”

  Ian nodded and stared at the floor, obviously pondering Whit's conclusion. After a few seconds, he looked up. “Assuming the disappearances of these four missing kids are linked, why would someone want to abduct them? They're too old for the usual perverted reasons.”

  “Lyron and I have discussed it at length and we can't think of one logical reason.”

  Blossom had little to contribute to the discussion that followed, but enjoyed paying particular attention to Whit's articulate speech, how his eyes included both Ian and her in what he had to say. Typical lawyer, she thought. Self-absorbed, calm, confident. How could a woman fall in love with a man like that? She'd bet he was conceited, over-bearing and chauvinistic, too. Why, his body language virtually screamed, Look at me, ladies. Aren't I a prize?

  Harrumph. She wouldn't give him directions if he were lost. She forced herself back to the present and joined Whit in mid-conversation.

  “And Lyron thinks it would be worthwhile to check out the gay bars in town. See if someone remembers seeing this Baleman fellow. We could do that tonight if you feel up to it.”

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