A waning moon, p.11
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       A Waning Moon, p.11
 

           Bliss Addison
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  Blossom had no intention of traipsing from gay bar to gay bar. She opened her mouth to ask how she would occupy herself in the interim, but Whit's housekeeper appeared in the doorway.

  “Mr. Whit, supper is ready. I'll be retiring to my quarters now.”

  “Thank you, Mrs. Butterworth. Have a good night.” He turned to Ian. “Would you care to stay for supper?”

  Ian smiled and winked at Blossom. “We'd love to – ”

  Blossom stood and continued from where she’d interrupted Ian, “But we should really get checked into a motel for the night.”

  Lyron strode into the room. “No one is going anywhere.”

  Chapter Fifteen

  Kinlock marveled at how easy it was to make his captives believe they were being held in a high-security complex. Of course, their naiveté worked to his advantage. At their age, he might have believed just as readily, too.

  He flipped his cell open and punched in a series of numbers. He drummed his fingers as he waited through three rings. Come on. Answer the call. Everyone knows how important you are.

  The man infuriated him. Always playing the hot shot.

  Another ring that seemed to stretch longer than the last, annoyed him no end.

  Answer your frickin’ phone.

  He waited through two more rings before his blackmailer answered his call.

  “Yeah.”

  “Now is that any way to answer your phone?”

  “Modern times. Caller ID.”

  “So, you reserve your civility for others.” Kinlock huffed a frustrated breath.

  “I know who you are and what you did, remember? That little mistake in the ER you covered up for your boyfriend makes you mine. How is he, by the way?”

  Kinlock’s temper flared. “Jason is off-limits to you. Leave him out of this. I've done what you asked. I kept my side of the bargain. You keep yours.”

  “Relax. Your secret is safe with me.”

  “I mean it. Come near him and I swear to God I'll —”

  “You'll what, Kinlock? Kill me?”

  The sound of his raucous laughter chilled Kinlock to the core. The same cold he experienced when he imagined Jason dead. “Shut up, you son-of-a-bitch.”

  “Chill, pretty boy. Not that I'm not enjoying this trip down memory lane, but why did you call? Problems with the inmates?”

  Kinlock breathed deeply and blew the air from his lungs. “The Tucker kid. She's Type 0 negative. It's a rare blood type. Only —”

  “I'm not an idiot, Kinlock. I know how rare it is.”

  “It might pose a problem.”

  “Well, if it does, I'm sure you'll be prepared for it.”

  “If she needs a transfusion, the blood will be hard to come by, and in case you've forgotten, we're not exactly living in a metropolis.”

  “If it comes down to that, you know who comes first, who you must save.”

  Kinlock nodded and sighed. “Yes. The baby.”

  “Good boy.”

  “You're a callous son-of-a-bitch, you know that? Someday you'll pay for playing with people's lives.”

  “If I pay, so will you. Don't ever forget it.”

  Kinlock pressed End on the keypad and wished he could sever the relationship with that arrogant s.o.b. as easily. One day he would, just not today.

  The cries of that young man rang in Kinlock's ears. He closed his eyes and Malloy's terror-stricken face flickered on the backs of his eyelids. He groaned, despising himself for what he had become.

  He grabbed his parka from the hook behind the door and walked through the hall on leaden legs. When he opened the basement door beneath the abandoned church, a gust of wind rocked him back on his heels. “Damn weather.” He pulled the hood of his coat over his head, ducked his face against the onslaught of ice pellets and dashed to the shed.

  Sitting astride the snowmobile, he pressed the electronic start and the machine roared enthusiastically to life. “We all need a purpose.” He doubted, though, that what he was doing was what God had intended for him.

  Five minutes later, deep into the woods and two miles north of acres of spruce and pine trees, Kinlock guided the snowmobile along what was the gravel drive in the summer months. He accelerated and sped along for a half mile, then slowed for a sharp turn at his marker – a thick clump of birch trees – barren and lifeless now, like him in a way, he supposed. He rounded the bend effortlessly but breathed a sigh of relief nonetheless that he hadn't landed in Tatamagouche Lake.

  He maneuvered a sharp turn to the right and chugged up the steep hill, the tracks of the snowmobile dug down into the heavy, sodden snow. Kinlock rose to a kneeling position and opened the throttle wide. “Come on, baby. You can do it. Just a few more yards.”

  At the top, set a distance away on the hill, stood his temporary residence — a log cabin amid dense compilations of every tree indigenous to the area — spruce, pine, juniper, their limbs reaching fifty feet toward the darkened sky with maple, birch and oak trees beside them trying to measure up.

  He pulled to a stop in his usual place in front of the covered veranda, cut the engine and breathed in a deep breath of ice cold air. He jumped off the machine and looked around. But for the wind whistling through the trees, the night was dead to birdcalls and the chatter of wildlife.

  On the top step, Kinlock took another moment to look back, knowing what he would see but unable to stop himself from doing otherwise. Just as he expected, everything looked white. Beneath that blanket, though, lay beds of tulips and daffodils, rock gardens, a Koi pond, the clear, blue water of the lake, the rose bushes he helped Jason plant last spring that he tenderly nourished to full, luscious blooms of pink, red and white.

  Deflated by the thought that Jason might never see another spring, he shambled across the snow-covered cedar floor of the veranda and turned the doorknob.

  The cottage was quiet when he entered. Lights set on a timer came on a second later.

  He removed his parka, brushed snow from his face with a sweep of his hand, and climbed out of his boots. The inside of the structure had grown cold in his absence. He walked to the stone fireplace that stretched from the floor to the cathedral ceiling and tossed logs onto the dying embers from the fire he had built before leaving at noon. He added birch bark to ignite the wood. Satisfied the fire would take, he jogged up the hardwood stairs leading to the bedroom loft he shared with Jason.

  The sight of his lover's emaciated body curled beneath layers of thermal blankets and a hand-made quilt made his eyes water and his heart flutter. As he always did at these times, he felt at such a loss, helpless to save the man he loved from the virus that was slowly robbing his life.

  Jason opened his eyes, stared up at the ceiling a moment, then turned his head and smiled at him. “You made it home. I knew you would.”

  In that moment, Kinlock became a man who could do anything, a man who could overcome any obstacle. He moved to the bed, crouched and took Jason's bony hand in his. “How do you feel? Did you take your meds?” He looked at the pine bedside table and noticed the pills he set out for him at noon were gone.

  “Yes, Doctor. At four o'clock as you instructed.” He pushed himself up on the bed. “How was your day?”

  Kinlock fluffed the pillows beneath Jason's head. “Fine.” His day hadn't been fine at all. He hated what he was being blackmailed into doing, but he wouldn't burden Jason with the details.

  Jason studied him. “Why do you insist on doing that?”

  “Doing what?” Kinlock gave him his poker face, the same face he once used to render bad news to his patients.

  “Protect me from the truth.”

  “I don't.”

  Jason laughed, a laugh that sent him into a coughing fit that only time would extinguish. Each one of his coughs stabbed at Kinlock's heart. He felt so helpless.

  When he lay back against the pillows, Kinlock fed him water through a straw.

  “I'm so sorry I put you in the position that you felt you had to cover up my mistak
e. If only I could turn back time.” Jason stared up at the ceiling and let out a wheeze that sounded both wistful and regretful to Kinlock's ears. “I'd do things differently.”

  “It's all in the past now, and you didn't force me to do anything. You didn't know. We've been over this, Jase.”

  “I suspected I had AIDS, though.” He shook his head. “One slip with that scalpel and my blood flowed with hers. I killed her, Alex. I killed her.” He sobbed into his hands.

  Kinlock cradled him in his arms. “Shh. You made amends and you made your peace with God. We've been over this.” When this was finished, when Jason succumbed to death, Kinlock would have nothing to lose. Nothing. Everything that meant anything to him would be gone then, forever, and he would take great satisfaction in busting open his blackmailer’s money-making operation.

  Yes, great satisfaction, indeed.

  Chapter Sixteen

  “There's another major storm hitting us,” Lyron said. “After it's all said and done, we'll be shoveling out from under twenty-four inches of the white stuff, according to the meteorologist.”

  No, they couldn’t be stuck here. No. No. No. Blossom jumped from the sofa, stood blinking rapidly for a moment, then tore across the study to the nearest window. She peered out, aware of the silence that had befallen the room. Then, as though more definitive evidence than heavily falling snow and high-velocity winds battering the windowpane were needed, she dashed to the garden doors and flung aside the velvet drapes like a mad lady. She couldn't deny what her eyes saw and what her mind registered. The woman, her, of course, staring back at her with a frantic-looking expression mouthed the word, ‘no’.

  She needed to calm down. While she forced her breathing to an even rhythm, a voice in her head said, You can't stay here. You need to leave. Your life is in danger.

  Her heart thumped. She didn't want to die. Not yet. When she grew old and gray, sure, but not now. Not before she held her firstborn in her arms. Not before she smelled her baby's breath. Not before she knew her child's love. Distantly, she heard someone ask — Whit, she thought — if she was all right. Without turning, and though she experienced an intense sensation of imminent danger, she nodded.

  She placed the palm of her hand against her forehead, took a long, deep breath, and spun around to the men, prepared to answer questions intelligently and return enquiring looks with innocent ones, but no one, not even Whit, paid her the least attention.

  Relieved, she walked to the sofa and sat.

  Whit and Lyron appeared deep in conversation about someone named Dixon and how his grandmother's demise probably saved the young lad's life. While they discussed ways to keep him safe once he returned to the city, Blossom decided to use the time to convince Ian to leave.

  “Let's go,” she whispered. “The storm isn't as bad as Lyron said. Visibility is still good and the plows should still be clearing the roads. We can make it downtown. There's this quaint B&B on Old New Water Street that you positively have to spend a night in.” She smiled, sidled closer to him and linked her arm through his, purposely brushing her breast against his forearm in a shameless effort to entice him to agree.

  He kissed the top of her head and unhitched his arm from hers. “Not tonight, love.”

  Her mouth dropped open. No man had ever refused her before. Arghhh! What an infuriating man. She was about to tell him so when Whit stood and slapped his hands together. “Now that Mother Nature is keeping us under this roof for the night, I say we should make the most of the situation by putting our heads together and coming up with a plan to find these missing kids. First, though, why don't we adjourn to the dining room and have something to eat?”

  Blossom jumped back when Ian sprang to his feet. She was a bundle of nerves.

  “An offer I can't refuse. I always think better on a full stomach.”

  As she followed behind Whit, she ventured one good excuse after another hoping he would retract his kind invitation. Not that anyone sane would send anyone outside to battle blizzard-like conditions, but that didn't stop her from trying to convince him. “You weren't expecting company. It wouldn't be right to put your housekeeper to the trouble —”

  “Mrs. Butterworth is used to cooking for ten. I'm sure there's more than enough for us all. There always is.”

  “We're strangers.”

  “I feel like I've known you all my life. Besides, you wouldn't get too far in weather like this. Have you forgotten about the snowstorm?”

  Damn. There it was again. The Curse working its magic and buggering her up. Old lady Higginbotham probably looked down on her at that very moment, enjoying every second of her mental and physical anguish. She stared up at the ceiling, closed her eyes tightly, and concentrated hard. Here's to you, Hesper. She gave the departed old woman the finger.

  Feeling childish, she glanced at Ian keeping stride with her through the hallway. If his wide smile were any indication, he enjoyed himself. How could he when he must know the distress she experienced? Lardy, he was disgusting. She turned and studied Lyron trailing behind. He, on the other hand, seemed irritated by their presence. The scowl on his face gave him away.

  Not wanting to be there anymore than he obviously wanted them there, she could commiserate. She pulled Ian aside, smiled at Lyron when he passed, then attempted again to persuade Ian to leave. “Why don't we pack it up for the night, express our sincere thanks, and decline his kind invitation?” Her words came out rushed, her voice carrying the tone of a crazed woman. “If we hurry, we can catch happy hour at The Busted Goose.”

  “What's the matter with you?”

  “Nothing.” If Ian was right in his hypothesis, and they needed Whit to change her destiny or banish the Curse, that meant they'd spend time with him, probably a great deal of time and that, for reasons she couldn't explain, frightened her more than the thought of suicide. As though to establish the validity of her concept of the situation, her heart flip- flopped.

  “Why do you want to leave so badly? I don't understand. Didn't you tell me one of the side affects of the Curse is that you want to jump any handsome man you come in contact with?”

  She returned Ian's frown. “Yes. So?”

  He jerked his head in Whit's direction. “He's handsome.” Then, as though he experienced an epiphany, his face took on the solemn look of someone giving confession after a fifty-year hiatus. He hit his forehead with the heel of his hand. “Sometimes I can be so dense. That's it, isn't it? You're sexually attracted to him and want to leave before you do something to embarrass yourself.”

  She shook her head. “I don't find him good looking at all.” At his doubtful expression, she added, “I don't. Really. Trust me. You'd know if I did. So would he.” Unable to hold the nervous laugh back, she giggled.

  Ian elbowed her in the ribs. “I'd love to see pictures of your ex-husbands. I can only imagine what they look like.”

  She closed her eyes. Visions of Whit following her around school flashed in her mind. He wanted her, then. Now, all these years later, nothing had changed.

  What if he couldn't control his desire, his urges? She imagined him grabbing her by the hair and dragging her cave-man style down a steep set of stairs leading to a dank and dark basement where he would shackle her to water pipes with the handcuffs he had hidden in his back pocket.

  No, that was the Curse and her fertile imagination at work. Remember your promise to yourself? Not one more minute... not one more thought about the Curse. Not one.

  She watched Whit as he paused in the hallway, waiting, no doubt, for them to catch up. He turned, said something to Lyron, and laughed. How could he laugh and smile when no one knew what happened to his sister? The man was certifiable.

  Ian ushered her forward. She looked at him, comforted that she had him to protect her. Whit wouldn't make a move on her with witnesses around.

  Her breathing returned to normal.

  Whit led them into a spacious dining room where a rectangular cherry wood table and four chairs sat elegantly in its
center. Four place settings had been laid out, obviously the doing of the housekeeper. Above the mahogany wainscoting, professionally-framed needlepoint and cross-stitch patterns decorated the azure walls. In the opposite corner, a flourishing fichus stood next to a silk-screen with renderings of exotic birds in golds and blues. Two matching chairs kept each other company below the piano window at the far end of the room.

  She hesitated only a moment when Whit cupped her elbow and guided her to a chair at the far end of the table. Ian took a seat to her right and Lyron to her left.

  Blossom conceded that Whit's invitation to supper shouldn't surprise her. Any Newfoundlander worth his wing tips would offer house and home to friends and strangers alike. The way Ian strutted himself he obviously thought his dimples and blue eyes had won the invite. She would set him straight later and take great pleasure doing so. The man was just too cocky. The fact that she wanted to take Ian down a peg had nothing to do with her not getting her way. Nothing at all.

  Whit removed the lid from a warming dish and smiled. “I hope everyone likes fried cod tongues.” He parted a red-checkered cloth over a wicker basket revealing home baked rolls before uncovering steaming bowls of mashed potatoes and green peas.

  Blossom and Lyron answered enthusiastically while Ian murmured less so. The three looked at him, like they couldn’t believe he hadn’t tasted this delightful dish.

  “I’m sure I’ll love it,” he said rapidly.

  At Lyron's urging, Ian related some of his work-related experiences with the IRS, while they ate.

  Blossom listened half-heartedly to Ian poking fun at a blonde who got caught holding a bag of money that belonged to Uncle Sam. “Oh, is that what those cute little forms are used for? I thought they were solicitations for donations.” Robust laughter drowned her groan of distaste. Only men could enjoy dumb blonde jokes.

  She cleared her throat roughly, getting everyone's attention. “Not all blondes are dumb.”

  Lyron slipped his linen napkin from his thigh and dabbed at the corners of his mouth. “Name one who isn't. Quick. Right off the top of your head.”

  She searched her memory for a name or a face but envisioned instead a dark, boundless and empty space. The question had come at her too fast for her to think clearly. “Er…um —”

 
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