A waning moon, p.15
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       A Waning Moon, p.15
 

           Bliss Addison
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  Blossom, feeling like she floated through air, opened her eyes, then promptly closed them. Her head hurt too much. She reached out. Her hands fell on muscled arms. She was being carried.

  A short blast of wind, warm and smelling of mint breezed past her face.

  “Who are you?” she asked.

  “You're going to be fine.”

  “What happened? Where am I?”

  “You must have fallen and bumped your head. I found you on the ice. I'm taking you somewhere safe where you can rest and recover from your injury.”

  “I don't remember what happened.” She squinted her closed eyes, hoping to force the recollection from its hiding place.

  “You may be suffering from short-term amnesia. It'll come back to you. Don't force the memories, though. Do you know your name?”

  “What kind of stupid question is that? Of course, I know my name. It's…It's… what is my name?” Her mind went blank. “Damn. I can't remember.”

  “It's okay.”

  “No, It's not! Gotta remember who I am, otherwise…” Her voice trailed off.

  “Otherwise what?”

  “What? I don't know. Can't remember that, either. Bajaysus.”

  “I'm sure it'll come —”

  “Yeah, yeah. Come back to me, too. Blossom Tahnee Drummond Patterson Anders McDougall.”

  “Who's that?”

  “Me, silly.”

  “No wonder you had difficulty remembering.”

  “You asked.” She worked up saliva in her mouth and swallowed. “It's my curse to bear.”

  “You mean cross.”

  “Cross, curse. Tomato, tomahto.” Her mind turned black.

  A bird chirped above her head. Blossom sang along with it. “Cuc-koo, cuc-koo.”

  Something warm and soft clutched her hand and a gentle voice told her to rest.

  “Thanks. I think I will. Feeling tired.” She snuggled into blankets that smelled of a crisp autumn morning and closed her eyes to let sleep come. She imagined star-lit skies and bright, sunny days where no one could hurt her and where bad luck couldn't reach her.

  Against the chill in the air that was her dream, she pulled her sheepskin coat tighter around her and stopped in the breadth of an open doorway. Feeling the familiar rush of excitement from freedom the great outdoors brought, she turned her face upward and welcomed the warmth of the sun. She stepped onto snow-packed ground and walked toward the woods. Her breath, coming evenly, formed milky clouds before her face. She wouldn't hurry. If she did, like a house of cards, this moment would come tumbling down.

  A gust of wind came at her through the branches of pine trees, bringing with it the scent of pine, cedar and fir trees. Flecks of snow spattered her face. She laughed, the sound carried backward on the wind. A bird, perhaps a partridge, frightened by her presence flapped its wings in protest, then sought refuge in a towering pine deeper in the forest.

  She came upon a clearing. The path she walked continued ahead in a straight line, branching to the left and to the right. All roads appeared well-traveled.

  Something stirred. A bear, maybe, waking early from hibernation. The idea of coming face to face with a wild animal of mammoth proportions scared the courage from her. She scanned the area for a hiding place. It was one thing to enjoy nature and an entirely different matter to come too close, especially with one of nature's beasts grumpy to be woken early from its winter nap. The nearest tree with limbs strong enough to support her weight stood approximately twenty yards away. Too far away to reach quickly.

  She looked over her shoulder and wondered if going back weren't wiser and safer. When she turned, the path to her left seemed more traversed than the one on which she stood. A voice in her head said, “Take that path.”

  For the first time in her life, she turned a deaf ear to intuition. She put her legs in motion and veered to her right, taking the path least journeyed.

  Why, she didn't know. Where her journey would end, she didn't know, either.

  On the edge of consciousness, Blossom became aware of movement around her, or perhaps above her, and the sound of someone talking, distant and muffled.

  She opened her eyes and stared at a pine-paneled ceiling supported at even intervals by rough-hewn pine logs, then downward at the scattered rugs spread haphazardly over hardwood flooring.

  The tick-tock of a clock sounded strangely familiar and welcoming. She looked backward at the wall clock just as small double doors, all but hidden in the peak of a miniature chalet decorated with carved leaves and animals, opened and a bird slid out, singing, “Cuc-koo…cuc-koo” while the clock struck on the hour. She counted the number of birdcalls.

  T’underin’, it was six o'clock. She’d been gone since eleven this morning. Ian would be worried. She had to get to him. She threw back the patchwork quilt and sat up, taking a moment to wait out a wave of dizziness that would have forced her to lie back down at any other time. She swallowed the bile in her throat, walked to the foot of stairs leading upward and stopped, listening for the voice she’d heard.

  The odor of illness hung like a curtain in the air, bringing back memories of her father. She had vowed never to remember him smelling of anything but Old Spice, cinnamon and musk. After her father closed his eyes for the last time, she refused to fall asleep as though staying awake would keep her father alive in her heart. She managed three days.

  “I just checked on her,” a man said. “She's still sleeping…. Her vitals are strong…. No, I'm not overdoing it…. Yes, I took my meds….Yes, I'll rest now.”

  What happened came back to her in a dizzying blur: Arriving back at Whit's from her excursion into the city; the man skulking in the backyard; her walking around the side of the house to investigate, then blackness.

  She glanced out the floor to ceiling window at the front of the cabin and wondered if this man had rescued her. She ventured up the stairs, one step at a time. The fourth stair from the top, she stopped.

  “Come on up,” the man said. “Don't be shy. I won't bite.”

  Kneeling on a step, she peeked through the rails at the man lying beneath a colorful mix of blankets that added width and depth to his emaciated shape. She quickly determined her life and virtue were not in jeopardy. The blond, blue-eyed man staring back at her appeared too weak to pose a threat.

  His lips curved in a devilish grin and he said, “You're not going to make me come to you, are you? I have to warn you. I may pass out from the exertion then you'll feel obligated to get me back in bed. I'm heavier than I look.”

  Blossom drew in a deep breath, raised to her height and let out the air in her lungs. She climbed the remaining stairs and walked toward him. “How did I get here?”

  “My friend found you traipsing on the Tatamagouche. Aren't you happy the lake was frozen?” His laughter sent him into a fit of coughing. A minute later, the cough tapered off to throat clearing.

  “I’d like to thank him for rescuing me. Is he around?”

  “Not at the moment.”

  She looked out the window. There didn’t seem to be anything but hills, trees and snow for miles. “Where's here?”

  “Deep into the woods in the middle of nowhere on the east side of Bear Lake.”

  “Never heard of it.” His skin, almost translucent and tight against fine bone structure, shone in the light from the bedside lamp. How could someone so close to death look so peaceful? A burning need to know pressed at her, but diplomacy tamped the question before it came from her lips.

  “Not surprising. My friend will be back shortly. He'll give you a lift across the lake, or if you like, I'll show you from the turret window how to get to our secret path off the mountain. There's still a little light left….”

  When his voice trailed off, she nodded, but didn't see the urgency of leaving immediately. In fact, she felt the opposite. She wanted to stay.

  “I'm Blossom.” Drawing closer, she became aware of the odor of medicinal alcohol mixed with the scent of emollients. She held out a han
d toward his slender fingers. Piano-playing fingers, she thought, but he didn’t seem a pianist. She remembered the many hands she’d held and squeezed when she practiced nursing. “Everything will be okay,” she would say as she looked into the terrified faces of patients. She blinked, recalling how hard she’d thought those words and how fervent and strong she made them seem so that no one, not even God, would dare go against her.

  He stared at her outstretched hand. “I'm Jason. Jase, to my friends. I have AIDS, in case you haven't guessed.”

  On steady legs and keeping her eyes determinedly averted away from the prescription bottles lining the bedside table, she moved closer to him, refusing to drop her hand so much as an inch. She caught his hand in hers before it fell to the bed. “Pleased to make your acquaintance, Jase.”

  With nothing to support the knowledge, she knew they would become very good friends. “Do you feel up to a little company? I'll like to stick around and personally thank your friend for saving my life.” When he nodded, she asked, “Do you have a phone I can use? I need to call my friends to tell them I'm okay.”

  While she spoke to Ian, Jason sat there, head resting against a striped pillow and looking intrigued. She could virtually see the questions rolling around in his mind: Who is this woman standing before him? Why is she refusing to leave?

  She liked that she was mysterious to him. He needed excitement.

  She liked that she’d forged this friendship. He needed a friend.

  ***

  Whit's knee bounced nervously beneath the kitchen table. He glanced at his watch. Six o'clock. “Where is she? She should have been back by now.”

  “Relax,” Ian said, taking a chair across from him. “She knows her way around and can take care of herself.”

  Whit shook his head. “Something's wrong. I can feel it.”

  A minute passed, then another.

  “Has she ever done this before?”

  Ian looked at him. “Done what?

  “Disappeared.” Hadn't he always known on some level that life with his mystery woman would be fixed with ups and downs, twists and turns, chance and risk?

  “She hasn't disappeared. The Mustang is in the driveway, and there's no evidence that anything happened to her. She probably went for a walk.” Ian looked out the window. “It's a lovely night for a stroll.”

  “You're as worried about her as much I am,” Whit said. “Why won't you admit it?” Ian was an enigma. Whit followed the direction of Ian's eyes, staring into the darkness settling in for the night beyond the windowpanes. “There are no street lights on this road. Soon it'll be so dark she won't be able to see her hand in front of her face.”

  When Ian opened his mouth, Whit held up a hand, palm outward. “Don't tell me to relax.”

  “Actually, I was going to suggest —”

  Lyron strode into the kitchen and placed a single sheet of paper in front of Ian.

  “All jokes aside about the competency of our boys in blue, Quinn is right. You are dead, Mr. Mahoney.”

  Ian let his hands fall flat onto the table. “Please, one crisis at a time.”

  Whit stood. “While you boys sort that out, I'm taking another look outside for Blossom.”

  Lyron watched Whit leave the kitchen, then turned to Ian. “What's with him?”

  “Don't ask. Now, what's this about my living status?” Ian skimmed the printed page. “This is for Ean B. Mahoney. My first name is spelled Ian and my middle name, the name I use in business, is Pendexter, with a P. Besides, this poor fellow died ten years before I was born. That's some brilliant detective work on Quinn's part, huh? But I can understand how you would have mixed them up, Lyron. You were just seeing what you expected to see.”

  Frowning like he read the printout for the first time, Lyron said, “The stupid, son-of-a-crow Quinn.”

  Whit sprinted into the kitchen and threw Blossom's handbag onto the table. The purse slid across the polished surface.

  Ian caught it before it hit the floor. “This is Blossom's. Where did you find it?”

  “In a snow bank around back. Now tell me I have nothing to worry about.” Whit swept his hair off his forehead and looked at Ian, an uneasy feeling settling in the pit of his stomach. “Didn't I tell you there was need to worry? There always is when it comes to her. She flits into my life, and then wham, she vanishes. She didn't just decide to take a walk. Someone took her.” He put his hands on his hips and stared at Ian. “I swear to God, if I ever catch up to her, I'm never letting her out of my sight again.”

  The phone rang.

  Whit let it ring.

  “Aren't you going to get that?” Ian asked.

  “Mrs. Butterworth will get it. She's screening my calls.”

  Then, as though on cue, the housekeeper stuck her gray-haired head in the doorway. “Telephone call for Mr. Ian. It's Miss Blossom.”

  Ian looked at Whit. “Didn't I tell you she was fine?” He pointed to the phone on the wall. “Is it all right to get it in here?”

  “Go ahead.” Whit gripped the back of the chair and hung his head.

  “Hello,” Ian said into the receiver. “Uh-huh…really…. I understand...uh-huh….uh-huh… Who would have thought? Sure, not a problem. Whit found your purse…Okay, I'll do that. Take care. See you soon, darlin'.”

  Ian whistled his way across the kitchen. “She's fine and spending the night with friends. She said to thank you for finding her purse and that she must have dropped it in her excitement when she noticed her friends pulling into the driveway behind her.”

  Whit nodded, once, twice, then stared at his shoes. When he looked up, he said, “And you believe that story?”

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  The next morning a soft knock sounded on Blossom's bedroom door. “Come in. It's open.” In the reflection of the vanity mirror she watched Ian stride into the room.

  “I heard you come in last night," he said, getting right to the point. "Where were you really?”

  “Nothing gets past you, huh?” She tied her hair in a ponytail, deciding he needed an apology. “I'm sorry I didn't tell you the truth. I can't explain why I didn't. I just didn't. Perhaps, it was the Curse working its evil.” She looked at him, silently pleading his forgiveness. He nodded as though the matter was already forgiven and forgotten.

  “So, where were you?”

  She related what happened — the where, when and how — and leaned her head forward when he insisted on examining the back of her head. “I'm fine. Two doctors examined me, and their prognosis is the same. I'll live.” She winked. “At least, the bump won't do me in.”

  “That's not something to joke about. What are the names of these doctors?”

  “Are you planning on suing for malpractice if they're diagnosis is wrong?”

  He scowled. Obviously, her flippant remark didn't sit well with him. “One is Jason. I have no idea what his last name is, and I don't know the first or last name of the other one. Just that he's a friend of Jason's. He was supposed to get me back here last night, but he didn't show up.” Her thoughts turned to Jason. There was no hope for life for him, yet he was filled with hope. There was hope still for her, yet she found herself helpless.

  “How'd you get home? Taxi?”

  “No,” she said, laughing as she envisioned the hill atop which the cabin sat. “There isn't a plowed road leading to their place. They travel to civilization by snowmobile. To answer your question, I snowmobiled part way and walked the remainder.” She stood, strode to the window and lifted the curtain. “That wide-open space you see at the end of the tree line is a lake. Tatamagouche Lake. And up there…” Noticing he hadn't followed the direction of her finger, she took his chin in her hand and raised it. “High in that mountain is where their cabin is.”

  “You walked that distance?”

  “Not all the way. Jason let me borrow his snowmobile, and I drove myself to the lake, parked the machine on an old wharf, covered it with a tarp and walked the rest of the way with the help of a flash
light.”

  “Can you tell me anything about the man you saw studying the back of this house?”

  “Just that he was tall and wore an overcoat, dress pants and rubbers.” When his face took on the look of someone who checked his mental dictionary, she said, “Those little rubber thingies that fit over dress shoes.”

  "Spats." He nodded. “Not much use for those in Minnesota. Anything else?”

  She shook her head. “Just that he might have been bald.”

  “Might have been?”

  “He wore a hat, but I got the impression his head was as hairless as a parsnip.”

  “Take it from the top and tell me exactly what happened after you walked to the back of the house.”

  “The rubbers guy must have knocked me out, carried or dragged…”

  Shaking his head, he said, “Carried. There's no evidence of drag marks.”

  “Okay, carried me to the lake and dumped me, probably hoping I'd freeze to death. I came to, how much later I don't know, and instead of walking toward this place, I walked away from it. That's where Jason's friend comes into the picture.”

  She frowned. He noticed.

  “What is it?”

  “Jason told me his friend said I walked like I knew where I was going, like I walked toward something.”

  “A destination, perhaps?”

  She remembered her dream. Maybe someone, someone like the Hand of God, or someone who loved her, directed her by showing her which path to take. “Perhaps, though I don't know how because I don't know the area. Thankfully, Jason's friend does. There's nothing around for miles except forest and wildlife, and suspected something was wrong with me.”

  “Thank goodness. We could have lost you last night. The temperature dipped to minus ten.”

  An intense feeling came over her that someone had watched over her last night. “And the prophesy of the Curse would have been fulfilled. Are you going to tell Whit the truth about what happened to me last night?”

  “He was already hypothesizing someone took you, but since the man in the back yard last night doesn't appear to be the one these guys call Baleman, I'm thinking no.”

  Blossom tied a yellow ribbon around the elastic holding her hair in place.

  “The man who knocked me out may have some bearing on Mary Ellen's abduction. He's a very dangerous man, if what we've determined is accurate.”

 
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