A waning moon, p.19
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       A Waning Moon, p.19
 

           Bliss Addison
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  He remembered feeling this same sense of loss the night of Baleman’s visit when she’d been knocked unconscious. He couldn’t lose her. Despite the chilling temperature inside the car, he broke out in a sweat.

  Blossom looked at him and asked, “Are you all right?” She placed her hand against his forehead. “You're burning up.”

  He took her hand in his, kissed her fingertips and mustered a smile. “I'm fine.”

  “It's a lot to absorb.”

  “Ah.” How profound of him. With his education and been-there-done-it knowledge, ‘ah’ was the best he could come up with?

  She resembled a little girl lost. He wanted to put a smile on her lips and a sparkle in her eyes. Wry humor always worked for him, but nothing came to mind. He couldn't make out the position of her eyes in the faint light of the moon, but he saw her blink repeatedly in the same second her mouth fell open.

  “Is that all you have to say?”

  He shrugged, thinking that platitudes such as: a run of bad luck; wrong place wrong time would incense her. They would him.

  “Okay,” she said. “What do you have to say about this then?”

  He cleared his mind and listened with the attentive ear of a lawyer as she related the happening of the stranger she saw in the back yard of his home, being hit unconscious and waking up on the sofa in a cabin owned by two homosexuals.

  In legal jargon, he wanted to rip apart the beast who had hurt her. For the moment he would satisfy his desire for comeuppance with the thought of seeing the look of surprise on the stranger's face when the police fitted his wrists with metal bracelets. He swept away the scratch in his throat with a cough. “Your head. It's okay? No dizziness, headaches, nausea?”

  She shook her head. “I'm still as crazy as ever.”

  He laced their fingers together. “That's good to know.”

  “You're weird,” she said, her right eyebrow lifting high on her forehead.

  He must be, otherwise, he wouldn't still be sitting here after hearing the stories Blossom made him privy to. The trouble was — how would Lyron receive this news? Well, there was only one way to find that out. He pulled his cell from his jacket pocket.

  “Who are you calling?”

  “Lyron. He needs to hear everything you just told me.”

  She exhaled, loudly. “That should be fun.”

  He cocked a brow. “You got that right. After I'm finished with this call, we'll take a thorough look around the tavern. Maybe the rubbers guy resurfaced in the minutes we spent talking.”

  On the drive home, Whit promised himself he would keep Blossom safe, even if that meant sticking to her like static. He was afraid for her life. These people played for keeps and would kill anyone who got in their way. The thought of losing Blossom, of having to live the rest of his life without her, chilled him to the bone.

  “I wish we would have found the rubbers guy,” she said.

  “Obviously, he's not keeping a low profile so he'll show up again.”

  “I hope I'm around when he does. I have something to say to him.”

  “Me, too.”

  Chapter Twenty-Seven

  Blossom looked up at the darkened house as Whit pulled into the driveway. The chill of the evening inched through her body.

  “Looks like we're the first to arrive,” she said, checking the clock on the dashboard.

  “Where were they when you called?”

  “Bogie's.”

  “That's mid-town. They should be here by now.” She chewed the inside of her lip.

  “Don't worry. They'll be along shortly.”

  She looked at him. “I'm not worried.” Truthfully, their tardiness gave her the crawlies.

  “You always bite your bottom lip when you're worried.”

  She never realized she did. That Whit noticed spoke volumes for his attentiveness to her.

  “You can trust me,” he said.

  She peered into his eyes and reckoned she could.

  She wondered whether he would still believe they were soul mates if she weren't under the influence of a curse.

  Tension eased from her neck. Her stomach muscles unclenched. From one moment to the next her perception of him changed as well as how she saw him. In a blink, she envisioned him as the world saw him — a handsome, well-bred, well-educated man — then in the next, she saw a man without a face. A strange occurrence, to be sure.

  She remembered his kiss — fleeting, light, lips barely touching hers. He had her puzzled. The kiss hadn't rendered her senseless or made her want to jump into bed with him. The whole affair seemed out of character for him, a man who was accustomed to getting what he wanted…unless…unless he'd manipulated her.

  Like a couple in love, they walked hand in hand the short distance to the front door. Whit unlocked the dead bolt. “I could use a coffee. How about you?”

  “I could use one.” With a shot of whiskey. She felt a familiar tingle in her toes. Oh God. Please, God. No. What was happening to her? Whit never affected her in that way before.

  Upon entering the kitchen, she returned the parrot's, “Hidey-ho,” then set about making coffee, all the while salivating at the shepherd's pie in the deep blue glass baking dish on the butcher's block. Suggesting they reheat the pie for a pre-midnight snack might make her look like a gourmand. Four hours had passed since supper, though. The beer had whetted her appetite for food.

  She stood perfectly still in the middle of the kitchen as memories of her mother surfaced in her mind. Her freckled face smudged with flour, her fingers gently kneading flaky pastry.

  “Mrs. Butterworth went to a lot of trouble making supper,” Whit said, rubbing his chin.

  She nodded, never taking her eyes off the pie. “Which no one touched.”

  Whit pruned his face. “She may take exception to it.”

  “We wouldn't want to hurt her feelings.”

  “For sure not.”

  She looked at him. “Heat it up?”

  “Heat it up.”

  Someone looking in might consider them married for many years. The scene appeared light and airy as they chatted, completing each other's sentences, smiling when their fingers accidentally touched and anticipating with the clarity of hindsight what the other needed or wanted.

  She looked at the rectangular maple table with place settings for four and Mrs. Butterworth's home baked pastries set out in the middle of the table. Perfect, but for one thing. “Whit, where do you keep —”

  “The napkins are in the cabinet to your right.”

  Ian and Lyron strolled into the kitchen as Whit drew the blinds on the windows.

  Blossom pulled Ian to one side and briefed him on her disclosure to Whit. “I told him everything.”

  He raised his eyebrows high on his forehead. “How’d he take it?”

  She shrugged. “Good, I guess.”

  “No questions?”

  “Well, yah, ‘dere were dos.” She giggled.

  He smiled. “I bet.”

  After they ate and over second cups of coffee and at Whit's suggestion, Ian took charge of the meeting. He told her story in an orderly fashion, unlike her who had hopped back and forth from year to year and subject to subject. He answered all of Lyron's questions and provided the occasional clarification to Whit.

  She sat back, sipped coffee and watched Lyron's facial expressions change from skepticism to exclamations of disbelief and surprise, raising brows, frowning, gaping mouth, wide-eyed. The normally unflappable private investigator was flappable, after all. Her story sounded so out there. If she were on the receiving end of the tale, she might not be as receptive or willing to believe.

  She felt the heat of a blush on her cheeks. Airing great-granny's knickers to virtual strangers embarrassed her. She crossed herself and asked for forgiveness.

  At Whit's urging, Lyron took a moment, several, in fact, to absorb what he'd been told.

  Now that Whit and Lyron knew her story she wondered where they would go from here. Nothing had cha
nged. Mary Ellen was still missing. The Curse was still in effect. What she knew for sure was that she wouldn't worry about a future she might not have.

  “When you went back into the bar to look for the rubbers guy, there was no sign of him?” Lyron directed his question to both Whit and Blossom.

  Blossom shook her head in time with Whit.

  “And, Blossom, you're sure the man in the bar was the same man you saw in the back yard, the one who knocked you out?”

  “I only caught a glimpse of him at the bar in my peripheral vision, but judging from his bearing, how he carried himself and height, I'd say it's a definite possibility.”

  “That means rubbers guy is not Baleman.” Lyron looked at Whit. “Agreed?”

  “Agreed.”

  Blossom piped in. “Whit showed me the composite sketch of Baleman and the two men don't even remotely look alike.”

  “We have a new player on the field.” Lyron threw his napkin on his plate and pushed himself away from the table. “It's quite possible the rubbers guy is who Baleman gets his orders from.”

  “What was he doing in the back yard?” Blossom asked.

  Lyron shrugged. “Casing the place. Maybe he's the one who took shots at Whit. The one who plugged me, too.” He rotated his shoulder. “I owe him one. What about your new friends, Blossom? What can you tell me about them?”

  Blossom described Jason but didn't go into a detailed description of his illness. AIDS needed no explanation.

  Lyron wrote furiously in a little coiled pad. “Did Jason ever mention his friend by name? Take your time and think about your answer.”

  She did, replaying in her mind the couple of times she was with him. “No. He referred to him as "my friend".”

  Lyron focused at a spot in the middle of the table. “And you never met this friend?”

  “No. He's the one who found me wandering around on the frozen lake and brought me back to the cabin. He was supposed to take me back here after work but he never showed.”

  “Did Jason get any phone calls while you were there?”

  She broke off a piece of croissant, put it in her mouth, chewed, and swallowed. “No.”

  “How did Jason explain his friend's absence?”

  She shrugged. “He didn't. I made a comment on the hour and that I really should be on my way, but didn't know how to get to Whit's. I didn't know where I was. Jason was kind enough to draw me a map and loan me a snowmobile to get to the lake. From there, I walked.”

  Lyron tugged on his ear lobe.

  Something occurred to Blossom. “You think this is all connected to Mary Ellen's abduction, don't you?” She noticed Lyron's eyes flicker. With awareness, she thought. “You think Jason's friend is Baleman.”

  “Were there any pictures of the two of them in the cabin or any personal items laying around?”

  She visualized the cabin and shook her head. “Now that I think about it, the place seemed very clinical. They either just moved in or hadn't planned on staying that long.” Anyone could have been living in that house there were no clues to their identity she realized.

  Lyron nodded and turned to Whit. “First thing in the morning we're going out to that cabin.” He rapped his thumb against the table and looked at Ian. “You look damn good for a dead man.”

  Blossom looked from Lyron to Ian. "What's he talking about?"

  "St. John's finest ran my name for outstanding warrants, etcetera, and learned I died in nineteen seventy-four."

  "You must have some whopping tales to tell, huh,” Lyron said.

  Ian crossed his arms against his chest and grinned like a proud papa. “There was this one time —”

  Blossom watched Ian's face turn ruby red, looking like the breath had been sucked from his lungs. “What's the matter?” It wasn't until he winked at her that she realized he was playing Lyron.

  He cleared his throat and shook his head. “I don't know.” He rubbed his rump. “Strangest pain just shot through me. Like …like I was stabbed.”

  Blossom went along with Ian's joke. She looked upward and downward. “Maybe someone's warning you not to tell tales out of school."

  Ian scowled and rubbed his backside. “He could have been more subtle.”

  Lyron looked from Ian to Blossom. “You fellas are pulling my leg, right?”

  “No,” Ian said seriously.

  “No,” Blossom said just as seriously.

  Lyron took in a deep breath, looked around the kitchen — the corners, the ceiling, the doorways — as though he expected to see Jesus himself. When he obviously hadn't, he blew out the breath he held and said, “You are pulling my leg.” He wagged a finger at both of them.

  Blossom smiled. “Because you cannot see, does not mean you cannot believe.”

  “I prefer —”

  Whit interrupted. “I hate to bring this interesting theological discussion to an end, but can we get back to the matter at hand?”

  Lyron slapped his thigh. “You're right, of course. So, we'll pay a visit on Blossom's new friend first thing in the morning and hope that Baleman will come calling on you soon, Whit.”

  Blossom looked at Mary Ellen's parrot when he flapped his wings. “Petey seems upset.”

  Whit peered over his shoulder at the bird. “No one's paying any attention to him. He likes to be the center of attention.”

  Petey jumped from one claw to another on the wooden bar spanning across his cage. “Squawk! Squawk! Ga-ga-go la-lawyyyyer Wh-whit.”

  “He stutters?” Blossom laughed along with Ian, Whit and Lyron.

  “Mrs. Butterworth stutters after too many taste tests of the cooking sherry.”

  Chapter Twenty-Eight

  Blossom came awake with the same piercing ache in her head she fell asleep with despite the two extra-strength acetaminophen tablets that endorsed pain relief.

  She stared out the window, remembering the litany of questions Lyron had asked after she'd thought he had asked every question of an inquisitive mind.

  “Are you sure you don't have any idea who the rubbers guy is? Are you sure you never saw him around the city?”

  “How's your head?”

  “Do you think he hit you with something or do you think it might have been a martial arts blow?”

  “What time did this happen?”

  “What time did you wake up in the cabin?”

  “When did you leave the cabin?”

  “When did you get back here?”

  Blossom slammed her lids closed. The night had been enjoyable until that inquisition, and she had thought everything had gone smoothly. Lyron's apparent acceptance of her story had been a ruse. The man was suspicious of her. What kind of investigator would he be if he were not? Through it all, Ian sat in his chair like a knot on a tree, letting her fend for herself. Maybe he knew she'd hold her own.

  She believed her answers had satisfied Lyron, at least for the time being. The man was still open to the possibility of ill doings on her part. That much was visible in his eyes. She didn't like not being trusted but understood why he would mistrust her.

  By the time she had headed upstairs to bed, the mother of all headaches had snuck up on her. How she fell asleep with a jackhammer pounding in her head was one of those little mysteries in life.

  The sun, rising over the city after a night of slumber, sent bright light into her eyes. Pain shot through her head like an electric current. She groaned and pulled the blankets over her head.

  “Is that going to solve anything?”

  Refusing to rise to the challenge, she ignored Ian's question and overlooked that he'd entered her bedroom again without knocking or a word or sound to indicate his presence.

  “I would never have pegged you as a crawl-under-the-covers-and-wait-to-die type of girl.”

  That, she took exception with. She threw off the thermal blankets. “If you knew all I suffered through, you wouldn't suggest I'm that kind of girl. I've been to hell and…” She stopped abruptly when he grinned slyly. Her blood cooled,
and she relaxed. He'd played her. “That wasn't very nice.”

  “Whatever it takes.” He plopped onto the bed and turned toward her.

  She yawned and rubbed the sleep from her eyes. “I don't like the idea of barging in on Jason. We're not that good of friends. He's so sick. I wish I could call him and ask his permission to come calling. That's what well-mannered, well-bred people do.” She looked at him. “Is there any way you can get his cell number?”

  "No."

  Sometimes Ian's responses made Blossom wonder about his investigative abilities. It seemed she did all the thinking and all the work and he did very little except provide her company. “What do you think we'll learn from Jason today?”

  “I don't know.”

  There it was again — negativity. Ian had told her he'd help her, but she couldn't see in what way he had. Time was running out for her, and she was no closer to banishing the Curse than before he came into the picture. Ian had become an important part of her life, but some problem solver he was.

  She checked the time. 7:45 “Lyron said we'd leave first thing in the morning. He probably meant daybreak. I should make myself presentable.” There was something she had to discuss with Ian and now seemed as good a time as any. “He's a strange little guy, isn't he?”

  “How so?”

  “I don't know, but don't make the mistake of thinking he's our friend. He's not.” She looked for a sign that suggested he'd take her word, but didn't see any. “Put it down to women's intuition.” She watched his mouth flatten to a thin line. Disapproval or acquiescence, she couldn't be sure.

  He slapped her leg. “Get a move on, little lady. Breakfast is getting cold. Sausage, ham, pancakes, bacon, eggs.”

  “I feel my arteries clogging already.”

  “Should that matter to you?”

  She whacked him hard on the head with a pillow.

  ***

  Whit paced the width of the study, carrying the telephone in one hand while the other hand held the receiver against his ear. The cord, taut as a tightrope, stretched behind him.

  If he weren't in such a good mood, he would tell Mizz Buff to get a life of her own rather than live vicariously through the lives of others. Of course, his mood had nothing to do with whether he would give the reporter a diplomatic tongue-lashing for calling him at seven forty-five in the morning at his home and intruding upon his privacy. The media, like lawyers, were a necessary part of life. And a necessary evil, some might add.

 
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