A waning moon, p.2
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       A Waning Moon, p.2
 

           Bliss Addison

  Quinn couldn’t figure out what Littleton was fired up about.

  If the boss wanted the case solved and the matter closed, or if he really thought someone abducted those kids, why had he assigned Quinn to the case? It didn't make sense. Everyone knew Quinn cared more about the bottle than he did his job.

  Maybe the Chief had a hidden agenda. A lot of people did, especially in that precinct, and especially where Quinn was concerned.

  If he were still of an age and the frame of mind where opinions of his integrity and worth mattered, he'd show them.

  Wouldn't the Chief and his colleagues be surprised if he solved this case?

  That'd bugger up the Chief’s plan, it would.

  The idea appealed to Quinn, but only for a moment.

  Screw the Chief. Screw them all. He didn't need to prove anything to anyone. He was innocent of any wrongdoing, which was more than he could say about a few of his fellow police officers. The Chief had something going on the side, too. Quinn didn't know what. If he were so inclined, he could find out.

  He took Mary Ellen Tucker's photograph in his hand and studied her. If ever a face said “studious,” hers did. No make-up that he could see, not even lip-gloss. Her mousy brown hair fell to her shoulders and a spattering of freckles grazed on her nose. High cheekbones that many women would die for accentuated her face. Finely arched, dark brows framed blue eyes that would mesmerize, if she wanted. Nothing in her facial expression indicated it, but he sensed she was at odds about having her picture taken, as though shyness had overcome her.

  Where are you, Mary Ellen? What happened to you after you left the Harlow campus library Thursday night?

  And, you, Mr. Graham Earley, where are you?

  Quinn ran a hand over his balding pate and replaced Tucker's photo with Earley's. His straggly brown hair, acne, large black-framed glasses, and clothes one size too large for his small frame virtually screamed “nerd”. He didn't smile into the lens. His brown eyes appeared distant, as though he computed calculus equations in his head. Earley had lived all of his life in foster homes until he turned eighteen when he moved into a roach-infested apartment something like Quinn's. Earley held down two jobs, working his way through college with help from student loans and grants. Average in every way except intelligence, which went for his girlfriend, Mary Ellen, too. Both were exceptional students. From their first years in school, they surpassed the above average, often making perfect grades.

  According to a couple of their roommates, Tucker and Earley studied and ate together but slept apart. They had no friends other than each other. Quinn understood. They would have little in common with the other students.

  He’d seen kids go crazy with a taste of freedom. They’d party, do drugs and booze ‘til dawn, then turn up on a park bench or the backseat of a car in a drunken stupor or drug-induced haze, wondering what happened.

  Social ostracism, including verbal and physical violence, sometimes forced students to disappear, though none of these scenarios would apply to Tucker or Earley.

  Nothing fit.

  Kidnapping? he wondered.

  The Tucker kid's stepbrother, Whitfield Hawkes, a millionaire, would pay a ransom, but no demand for one had been made.

  What about Earley? How did he fit into a kidnapping? The wrong place at the wrong time seemed the sensible conclusion.

  Quinn thought back to the Jennifer Lamb and Theodore Hanscomb disappearances. At the time, he suspected they’d run off together and hadn’t put too much effort into finding them, reasoning they’d reappear at some point. No one had missed them, and the investigation was eventually bumped by higher priority cases.

  What were the odds that Tucker and Earley had run off too? Slim to none, especially taking into consideration both these kids were too involved in their studies to take part in something not of an academic nature. They weren’t attention-getters, either. Maybe someone pulled a prank on them. No, that wasn't it. Their fellow students hardly knew their names.

  Okay, then, what in hell happened to them?

  He’d talked to every student in Tucker and Earley's dorms, all of their professors, and anyone even obliquely familiar with them. As he had done in the case of Lamb and Hanscomb, he'd gone through the process — nationwide APB and missing-persons report through NCIC, but nothing. People didn't vanish into air or disappear without a trace, although it was what seemed to have happened in all four cases.

  Superficial bastard, as if you really care, Quinn's mind heckled. Why don't you just admit you're putting in the hours until retirement so you can sit by a cozy fire in your camp and drink, fish and hunt to your heart's content? He didn't need his conscience to tell him he hadn't done all he could on the Lamb and Hanscomb disappearances.

  His thoughts turned back to his earlier argument with himself. As a matter of form, he got the cases no one else wanted, and given Tucker's connection to Whitfield Hawkes and his status in the community, Quinn should not have been given this assignment. Yet, he had. Any one of his colleagues would have leapt at the chance to work this case.

  Again, Quinn asked himself why him? Why did the Chief assign him to the case?

  Something wasn't right, not right at all, and he didn't need to have a genius IQ to realize it. If the Chief wanted the case solved, many of Quinn's colleagues were better qualified for the task and would have jumped at the chance to prove to Whitfield Hawkes they knew how to do their jobs.

  The answer came to him.

  The Chief didn’t want the case solved.

  Why?

  There had to be something in it for him.

  What?

  Quinn drew a blank.

  He looked up from the file when Jocelyn Kerr, his bean-thin partner of six months, sat in the chair across from him.

  “Here're the files you asked for,” she said.

  “Thanks.” He’d wanted the Lamb and Hanscomb files to make comparisons, but now he didn't need to look through his notes to see the similarities between the four cases.

  “Anything on the missing kids?”

  “No." Quinn picked up a paper clip and clasped it tightly between his thumb and forefinger. "Were you able to get anything new from the girl's brother?”

  “Step-brother. Nothing we don't already know. He's upset we haven't made any progress." She shook her head. "Both these kids can't have gone misplaced.”

  “Kids like them get misplaced in plain view all the time. Other than intellect, they neither stand out nor blend in. They're the kids left standing after the teams have been chosen.”

  “I know what you mean. The first question the students asked was, "Who?" Then, "Oh, her". Then they'd become surprised and say, "She's missing? Since when?" Then when I told them how long, their reaction was, "Really?" It was the same for Earley. Neither of these kids left a lasting impression with anyone.”

  Quinn cleared his throat, knowing precisely what she meant. “If they were druggies or boozers, we'd think they crashed somewhere.” He dropped the paper clip on the files, massaged his face and let his hand fall flat on the desk.

  “How can two people disappear like they never existed?” he asked puzzled.

  “Your guess would be as good as mine.”

  He laughed a hoarse laugh from too many years of booze and cigarettes. “I don't even have that. If I did, we'd at least have something.” To keep his hands busy, he flipped through Lamb's file, then Hanscomb's.

  “Are those cases related to ours?”

  “See for yourself.” He handed her the files, leaned back in his chair and waited while she read his notes.

  Five minutes later, she looked up, sat back, and studied him. “Same scenario — kids disappearing without anyone seeing anything. Highly intelligent students, average looks, low to average income backgrounds and, with the exception of the Tucker girl, no relatives.” She looked at Quinn. “You think these latest disappearances are linked to Lamb and Hanscomb?”

  “Don’t you?”

  “I might, if Tucker d
idn’t have a relative interested in whether she was alive or dead.”

  “Supposing these kids were all intentionally taken, would an abductor know Tucker had a brother? On her admission form, she listed Hawkes as her guardian, not step-brother, and their different surnames make it appear they aren't related.”

  She studied him from across the desk. “What are you suggesting?”

  “You tell me.” He didn’t know what he was getting at exactly, but whatever it was appeared too preposterous for him to voice.

  “You think these kids were kidnapped and by the same kidnappers.”

  He shrugged, hoping to make the idea not appear as incredible as he thought it was. “It's possible, isn't it?”

  She stared at the floor.

  Quinn let her ruminate.

  After several seconds, she looked up. “Why? What would anyone want with them?”

  Quinn took his pen in his hand and flicked his thumbnail on and off the top. “That's the big question.”

  She took the photos of the four missing kids from the files, spread them side by side on the desk, and looked at them. "Something..." She rapped her finger against the desk.

  Quinn looked at the pictures, then at Jocelyn. “What is it?”

  “I don't know.” She pursed her lips. “They're all ordinary. One blond and blue-eyed, one brown-haired and brown-eyed, one red-haired and green-eyed, and one black-haired and blue-eyed.”

  He didn't understand what she was implying. “So?”

  “Seems like a variety. Almost like they were hand-picked.” She stared at the pictures of the missing kids, then squared her hands and looked through them as she would a camera lens. “Fix them up a little...nice clothes, flattering hair-dos and a little make-up on the girls and they'd all be someone to look twice at.”

  He studied their photos and understood what she meant. “What are you thinking?”

  She shook her head, looking like he felt a couple of minutes ago — too embarrassed to say. He had an idea and, now that his foolish notion had been said, he was no longer too ashamed to talk it through. “Slaves or play toys.”

  She stared at him, a surprised expression forming on her face. “Maybe.” She chewed the inside of her cheek and shook her head. "Seems farfetched, though."

  He watched her place a strand of hair behind ears too large for her head. “What's your take on this Hawkes guy?” he asked.

  “He seems genuinely concerned about his step-sister, and Earley, too, for that matter, and knows all the right questions to ask. He should, I suppose. He's a lawyer, after all. He knows people who know people, and won't be shy about calling in a favor or owing one. He’s respectful enough of our position and efforts and appreciates that we looked into his step-sister's disappearance unofficially before she could be officially declared missing.”

  Quinn swiveled his chair and looked out the window at the parking lot where dirty plastic bags fluttered in the air and gusts of wind sent powdered snow swirling across the panes of glass. He picked at a hangnail and said absently, “He can put the heat on us.”

  “In some circles, we are the heat.”

  “To criminal defense attorneys, we're bugs to be squashed,” he said, without turning. “Anything else?”

  “He paid her bills and kept a close watch on her, though he was the one who insisted she live on campus. Giving her responsibility and independence, I expect.”

  “I bet he's kicking his ass now.”

  Chapter Three

  Blossom took the dish from the oven and shut off the timer, reflecting on her failures and the choices she'd made over the years. Deep in those thoughts, Ian startled her when he entered the kitchen.

  “Sorry. I’m light on my feet,” he said.

  “Nothing to apologize for,” she said and smiled.

  “Need any help?”

  “I’ve things under control. We'll eat after I serve my tenants, if that's all right.”

  "No problem."

  She set three plates on the chrome kitchen table and heaped pie onto them.

  Ian eyed the pan and asked, “Do you bring your tenants supper every night?”

  “Mostly.”

  “That's very commendable.”

  She shrugged. “They're old, have a hard time seeing and getting around, and have no one, at least no one who wants anything to do with them.” She covered the plates with plastic wrap and placed them on the serving cart.

  Wheeling the trolley toward the door, she said over her shoulder, “I'll be back da rackley. Make yourself comfortable.”

  He walked fast to catch up with her. "I'll tag along, if you don't mind."

  "Not at all." She led a very dull life and wondered how long this Minnesota man would last should his business keep him in town.

  Ian darted around her and opened the door.

  She walked through the hall toward the front of the building and knocked on the apartment door next to hers. “It's Blossom with your supper. Open up.”

  After hearing the last of the three dead bolts being thrown, she moved the serving cart in position in front of the door and waited while Lawrence undid the safety chain and turned the key in the lock.

  “Trusting sort, isn't he,” Ian said.

  “He fears vandals will break into his home, beat him up, and steal the money from his mattress.”

  “Things like that happen in Dickeyville?”

  “No, but it happens in other towns and cities. He watches the news and too many movies.”

  “Ah.” Ian nodded as though he understood.

  “Thing about us Newfoundlanders is that there's no need to steal. We'd gladly give you what money we had believing you needed it more.” She looked at him questioningly. "You wouldn't know that because you were here such a short time and a long time ago, but your step-mother is a born and bred Newfie. Didn't you notice – "

  The door creaked open, taking Blossom's thoughts from Ian to her tenant.

  Lawrence Peet, a slim man with hair as dark as dates, lively nut-brown eyes, with nary a deep wrinkle on his face, rested his liver-spotted hand on his walking cane and said wet-blanket-like, “You're late.”

  Actually, she wasn't. “I know. I'm sorry,” she said, moving past him and into the apartment. She made room for Ian and watched as Lawrence redid the locks.

  “How old is he?” Ian asked.

  “Seventy-five,” she said out the side of her mouth.

  Ian raised his eyebrows in obvious surprise. “He doesn't look it.”

  She kept her voice low. “He uses age-defying creams.” At his skeptical expression, she said, “I pick them up for him.”

  Blossom introduced them.

  Lawrence let on like Ian was invisible.

  Blossom leaned in close to Ian and said, "Don’t be offended. He's anti-social sometimes."

  Ian nodded again.

  “Your usual place?” she asked, taking Lawrence's dinner plate in her hand.

  Lawrence led the way into the living room, muttering about the strange things that happened in the building.

  Blossom wondered what he was talking about but wouldn’t ask. She followed behind him with Ian keeping step beside her.

  “Who's the next meal on wheels for?” Ian asked as they walked from Lawrence's apartment.

  “Rose Andrews. She's a young seventy-four-year-old with white hair down to her waist. She has a little problem with her weight and doesn't take guff from anyone. Try not to say anything that'll upset her because she'd tell you where to go.”

  Ian grunted. “Wherever that is, I'm sure I've been there. Been a flea on a man's ass before and half a cabbage up someone's ass, so a fat old lady will not, I can guarantee, frighten me.”

  “If you say so.” She grinned and knocked on Rose's door.

  “Come in. It's open.”

  In Rose's living room, Blossom set a dinner plate on the coffee table and introduced Ian.

  Rose grunted and examined the meal through a magnifying glass. “Braised rabbit again?”<
br />
  “I'm sorry. I forgot we had it last week.”

  With some effort, Rose stood to her five-foot height and assembled her three hundred and fifty-pound weight into one unmoving mass before walking across the room.

  Ian gasped. “Lord in Heaven," he whispered. "The woman’s frickin' huge.”

  "Didn't I warn you?"

  "Not sufficiently enough." He chuckled.

  “Aren't you coming?" Rose asked. “I always eat in the kitchen. You know that.”

  If she had found Rose in the kitchen, she'd say she always ate in the living room. “I'm sorry. I forgot.”

  She followed Rose into the kitchen where Blossom set Rose's supper on the table, and made a hasty exit with Ian playing catch-up.

  In the hallway, Blossom walked to Olive’s door and rang the buzzer. “It's Blossom.”

  “Use your key, dear.”

  Blossom took her keys from the pocket of her jeans, unlocked and opened the door then made her way through the hallway and into the living room. “Hi, there.”

  Olive turned and smiled, gazing briefly at Blossom before moving on to Ian. "I didn't know you were bringing company," she said, fluffing her hair. "I'd have put on lipstick."

  "Olive, I'd like you to meet Ian Mahoney. He's the step-son of my Aunt Zella here from Minnesota on business."

  "That's nice, dear." Olive smiled and took the plate from her hand. “Dinner smells wonderful. I thought of nothing else all day.”

  Blossom recalled Olive having a different opinion on her rabbit pie that morning when she was in the shop.

  The telephone rang.

  When Olive didn't make a move to answer, Blossom said, “Your phone's ringing.”

  “I know, dear. I never answer on the first ring. Wouldn't want the caller to think I sit by the phone waiting for someone to call.” Olive drummed her finger on her knee and stared straight ahead.

  The phone rang a second time.

  “Yeah, yeah,” Olive said, huffing a sigh. “Don't get yer bloomers in a twist, I'm coming.” She leaned over the armrest, plucked the receiver from its cradle on the end table, and put it to her ear. “Hullo.” She waited a moment. “Is anybody there?” She waited another moment. “Jennifer, is that you? Why won't you talk to Grandmamma, baby?”

  Blossom heard enough and took the receiver from Olive's hand. She listened to the monotonous hum of a dial tone. “Whoever it was, hung up.”

  Olive shook her head. “It was Jennifer. I just know it. She's trying to get in touch with me, but something's preventing her.”

 
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