A waning moon, p.21
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       A Waning Moon, p.21
 

           Bliss Addison
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  Ian cocked a brow. “I don't know. How did you see the day unfolding?”

  “Well, for one, I thought this Jason fella would indirectly lead me to my sister.” He had envisioned being reunited with his sister, the Curse on Blossom being banished, Lyron bringing Mary Ellen's abductors to justice, and he and Blossom living happily ever after, as cliché as that sounded. Now, just like that, the day blew up in his face. His and Blossom's lives were not that much different. The best laid plans….

  “And for another?” Ian asked, his hands jiggling change in his pocket.

  “I thought Jason would lead Blossom toward finding a way to banish the Curse.” Whit shrugged. “Things don't always go the way we plan.”

  “Nor are things as we see them,” Ian said.

  “Ain't that the truth.” Whit studied him, remembering how he had embraced Blossom, his tender promises for her welfare and his heartfelt reassurances for her future.

  After twenty awkward and uncomfortable minutes where Whit shifted from foot to foot and nary a word was said by any of them, Lyron concluded the cabin had been swept clean. “It's as though no one was here,” he said, running his hand along the grate inside the fireplace.

  “There was,” Blossom said and walked to the middle of the room. “It wasn't my imagination, and I didn't make any of this up. Jason was here.” She turned and pointed to the pine-paneled wall at her left. “There was a cuckoo clock on that wall. And …and….” She burst into tears. “I didn't get to say goodbye to him.”

  A pain stabbed Whit's heart for what she must be feeling. He understood loss and understood what it was like to lose someone without having a chance to say goodbye.

  Yo, peckerhead.

  At the sound of the unfamiliar voice, Whit broke free of his thoughts, looked around the room and searched for the origin of the speaker.

  Yes, you. Are you just going to stand there like a piece of driftwood, or are you going to comfort the woman you love? Don't make me regret recommending you as a suitable paramour for her, the voice said.

  Whit immediately looked at Ian who stood with his hands in his trousers looking as innocent as a newborn.

  “Something the matter?” Ian asked.

  Whit shook his head, then rushed to Blossom and took her in his arms.

  “Everyone here believes you. We know you didn't make any of this up.”

  Lyron walked over to the fireplace. “Whoever was here doesn't want us to find them.”

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

  Whit looked at him and frowned. “Get what?”

  “Your cell phone. It's ringing.”

  “No, it's not,” Whit said, feeling argumentative. Just then, his cell rang.

  “You just weren't hearing it,” Ian said, smiling in that I-know-I'm-right way of his that until that moment had never bothered Whit.

  Whit reached inside his jacket pocket and freed his phone. He flipped it open and answered the call. “Whitfield Hawkes.”

  “Right pew, wrong church,” a male voice said.

  “Baleman,” Whit said loud enough for everyone in the room to hear and motioned to Lyron to join him. When he did, he placed the phone at shoulder height between them.

  “You're wasting your time. You won't find what you're looking for there.”

  “And what's that?”

  “Something that would lead you to your sister's whereabouts.”

  With a circular motion of his hands Lyron indicated to Whit to keep the conversation going. “Maybe,” Whit said, nodding to Lyron that he understood the message.

  “Don't play games with me, counselor. I'm not in the mood and tell your PI not to bother to get his friends in blue to trace this call.”

  Whit steered the conversation toward a comfort level for Baleman, hoping to form a camaraderie. “Losing someone we love is difficult, I know.”

  “Stop the psychobabble. I might change my mind and walk away and you'll never find your sister or the other three kids. Is that what you want?”

  “No, of course not,” Whit said. Beside him Lyron took notes.

  “Why don't you turn yourself in to the police and I'll put in a good word for you with the prosecutor? We'll work something out. In return for your cooperation —”

  Baleman laughed, a throaty laugh that sent chills through Whit.

  “Okay, then. It's obvious you want something. Tell me what it is and I'll make it happen.”

  “Good. I like a man who recognizes his priorities. In exchange for the whereabouts of your sister, I want your assurance and that of your private investigator that you will keep my participation in your sister's abduction out of the hands of the police.”

  Lyron nodded.

  “Done,” Whit said.

  “To ease your mind, your sister wasn't hurt.”

  “I'm glad to hear it.”

  “Don't waste your time tracing the ownership of the cabin. It's a rental and the owner's never met me, at least the real me. I used a fictitious name, and paid the rent in cash in advance for two years. I covered my tracks.”

  “Okay.”

  “One more thing. I was being blackmailed into doing what I did.”

  “And what was that?”

  “All in due time, counselor. All in due time. Now return home and wait for me to contact you.”

  “Wait —” Whit listened to dead air.

  Chapter Thirty

  “Christ,” Whit said. He flipped his cell closed and swore again. “Does he think this is a contest for his amusement?”

  Lyron cleared his throat. “The man's smart, and he's ensuring his freedom.”

  Blossom bounced in place. “Did he say anything about Jason?”

  Whit shook his head, debating whether he should keep his thoughts to himself or tell her. He decided on the latter. “He didn't say, but I got the feeling that Jason didn't make it.” She turned away from him, but not before he saw her eyes fill with tears. Jason's death probably meant the end for her, as well. He didn't believe in all that superstitious mumbo-jumbo nonsense. Well, maybe he did, but definitely not to the degree Blossom obviously did. “I'm sorry.”

  She nodded. “S'okay.”

  When Blossom recovered, he filled in Ian and her on his telephone conversation with Baleman. He checked his watch. “We should get back to the house.”

  His heavy footsteps across the living room floor reverberated through the cabin. A cursory glance over his shoulder motivated the group into motion and a second later their boots pounded the hardwood floor.

  Outside, his heart thudding and temples aching, Whit inhaled a lungful of pure, frosty air in an attempt to cleanse his mind of negative thoughts and what ifs.

  A moment later, the silence deafened him.

  He looked toward the horizon where the sun reddened the skyline. A wind had picked up, an icy northeastern gale that would freeze exposed skin and eyeballs in minutes.

  “Cover up. Get those balaclavas on under your helmets. Make use of your goggles, too. We've got an Arctic blow.”

  He walked to his snowmobile, donned his paraphernalia and climbed on.

  “Let's go.” He looked at Blossom, and their gazes met and held and for a breathless second. He read in her eyes that she saw him as he had wanted her to see him, her friend, her lover, her husband, the father of her children.

  Now that they knew the way around the mountain, he couldn't see any reason for Blossom to lead. “Why don't you ride with me?”

  She looked at Ian as though seeking his approval.

  Whit's temper sparked. She shouldn't feel the need to ask his permission…for anything.

  Ian nodded and Whit released the breath he held.

  After Blossom climbed on behind him, he started the snowmobile and, knowing instinctively the others would follow, steered off the steep incline.

  ***

  Blossom sat rod-straight behind Whit, her hands clutching the metal handles on the edges of the seat. She closed her eyes, leaned her head back and embr
aced the crisp air and wide-open space of the lake.

  She brought her head forward and stared at Whit's back. The man thought he was in love with her. Damn fool. They'd only just met. He was pathetic. She felt sorry for… A fluttering in her stomach paused her thoughts. A second later her heart swelled with a wholehearted appreciation for Whit…oh no…she thought. She was in love with him, too.

  I can't be.

  Why not?

  Because…because…

  Exactly!

  No. She wouldn't believe it. She couldn't let herself. The disappointment of another failed marriage would be too much to bear. The Curse. Remember the Curse.

  Whit was looking really good to her. She could almost feel how his arms would feel around her. How his chest…

  Whoa. She forced her thoughts to a halt.

  Don't confuse lust with love.

  Profound advice.

  I was never in love before. Maybe this is love.

  Bollocks.

  Why was her life so complicated? She shouldn't have to ask. The Curse. Everything came back to the repercussions from great-granny's hots for a married man.

  She straightened her shoulders, jutted her chin, and decided to work on forgetting Whit, formulating a plan of escape, and putting the distance between St. John’s and Dickeyville between them.

  She took her hands from the grab bars and placed them around Whit.

  Hugging him close, she denied feeling anything for him. With the wind at her back, she laid her head against him and thought no way she loved him. No way.

  She would see this out, then leave. Ian might require convincing, but she was reasonably sure she could make him see things her way.

  Her thoughts settled for a moment before she wondered what she had to lose. One part of her, the logical part, argued for her to stay and let the days play out, while the other part, the impulsive part, argued she should stick with the original plan, which was to return to Dickeyville and wait. Wait for what? Death?

  She lifted her head from Whit's back.

  No.

  She wouldn't curl up and die.

  She would see this through.

  Maybe she would even tempt fate. Something she’d never done. The time had come for change. She rested her cheek against Whit's back as he raced the snowmobile over the frozen water of Lake Tatamagouche.

  Uneasy that thought would make her reconsider her decision to stay, she blocked her mind. Fearful thoughts and determinations of danger and unhappiness circled the wall, searching for a vulnerable entry point.

  She refused them admittance.

  ***

  Whit brought the snowmobile to a stop at the steps leading to the back door of his house. He helped Blossom to her feet and followed her up the stairs with Lyron and Ian trailing behind.

  Standing in the middle of the kitchen, he shucked his gloves, threw them on the serving cart, and said, “I wonder why he wanted us here.”

  Lyron shrugged, pulled out a chair from the table and sat. “Maybe he'll tell you when he calls.”

  “I'll make coffee,” Blossom said.

  Whit watched her with appreciation as she found her way around the kitchen and unwittingly turning coffee making into an erotic and adult rated show. Feeling like a voyeur, he focused his attention on sitting comfortably. After a moment, he drummed his nails on the tabletop and thought about Baleman.

  Something about the call bothered him. What, he couldn't say. “Having us come back here might have been a ruse to get us out of the cabin.”

  Lyron ran his fingers over a brow. “Might have,” he said, like the thought had already crossed his mind.

  “Any idea why?”

  “Nope.”

  “At least nothing you want to share.” Whit looked at Ian who made sitting look like an art form.

  “Petey wants a cracker. Wh-Whit's a la-lawyyyyer. Wassup, boy-o. Squawk. Squawk.”

  Whit issued the parrot a stern look, not that he expected Petey to abide the indirect request. The bird had a mind of its own, and did what he damned well pleased.

  Blossom walked to the cage and stuck her finger between the bars. “He doesn't always stutter.”

  “I'm sure you can guess then who taught him what phrase.” Whit grinned. “The evidence is in the talk.”

  “Not necessarily,” she looked over her shoulder at him. “Someone could have imitated Mrs. Butterworth.”

  “True, but…” Whit decided to show her instead. He called to his housekeeper. “Would you come to the kitchen, please?”

  Thirty seconds later, Mrs. Butterworth entered the kitchen.

  Petey flapped his iridescent green wings, shuffled from claw foot to claw foot, and squawked crazily. “Wh-Whit's a la-lawyyyyer. Aye ca-carumba. Wh-Whit's a la-lawyyyyer.”

  “Were there any calls while we were out?” Whit asked, managing a straight face.

  “None, sir.”

  “Thanks. Would you take Petey with you?”

  “Of course.” She took hold of the stand and wheeled him from the room.

  On his way out of the kitchen, Petey said, “Oh, oh. Petey done do me wrong.”

  When the echo of her footsteps ebbed to silence, Whit said, “See?”

  She rapped a finger against her chin. “The aye ca-carumba stuff is compliments of Mrs. Butterworth, and Petey done do me wrong is compliments of Mary-Ellen?”

  “You got it.”

  Laughter filled the room.

  A sound Whit needed to hear.

  The telephone rang, louder and brasher than its normal ring, he thought. “I'll get it, Mrs. Butterworth,” he said and lifted the phone from the secretary's desk and placed it on the table.

  His heart thumped. His fingers trembled, he noticed, when he lifted the receiver. “Hawkes here,” he said into the mouthpiece, forcing calmness through his body.

  “Whitfield.”

  B’y t’underin’. “Candace.” He looked at the group around the table who had moved to a semi-standing position, then promptly plopped themselves back onto their chairs with dramatic eye rolls and sighs. He fully understood how they felt.

  “I'm sorry, Candace, but this isn't a good time for me. I'm waiting for contact from Mary Ellen's abductor.”

  “Really?” she said. “You heard from him? Did he say what he wanted? If it's money, Daddy can help. He's not in Chambers now, but I'm sure he wouldn't mind recessing for an important matter as this.”

  “I don't know what he wants yet, Candace. But I don't want to miss his call.”

  He lowered his head toward the cradle. “I have to let you go.” His head lowered another inch. “I'll call you when I have more information.”

  “Whit, wait! There's something I need to— ”

  “I'm sorry, Candace, but I have to go.” With a cuss, he slammed the receiver on its cradle. “The woman is unbelievable!” He looked at Blossom and could virtually read from her expression the jumble of questions that traversed her mind. The most prominent one being: Who is Candace? As soon as possible, he would tell Blossom about Candace and that she meant nothing to him.

  The telephone rang again. Lyron mouthed, “speakerphone.” Whit nodded and checked call display. Private caller. He looked at Blossom who held crossed fingers in the air for him to see as he answered the call. “Hawkes here.”

  “Mr. Hawkes,” Kinlock said.

  Whit hit the speakerphone button and placed the receiver in its holder. The group leaned in closer to the telephone on the table. “Baleman,” Whit said.

  “I'll only tell this story once, so listen good. Don't waste time trying to trace this call. You can't.”

  “Understood.”

  “I'd like to start by saying Jason took no part in the kidnappings or what happened thereafter.”

  “He knew about them, though,” Whit said as any prosecutor would and thinking accessory after the fact. He hoped to dupe Baleman into divulging information.

  “Don't go there, counselor. Besides, it's a moot point now.”

 
; Whit understood what he meant. “Jason passed away.” He could hear Baleman's deep breath.

  Across from him, Blossom held shaky fingers to her lips, tears brimming her eyes. He wanted to console her, but Whit's primary concern at the moment had to be Mary Ellen. “Go on.”

  “I won't tell you who is behind the scheme, but I've made sure he'll get what's coming to him. Three days from now, a friend of mine will be delivering to the Mayor a package that outlines my part in the operation, as well as the records I kept and the recordings of every telephone call I received from him.”

  “What about Trevor Malloy,” Whit said, remembering the beating he took.

  “I didn't hurt Malloy.”

  Whit recalled Trevor's recanted statement and said the obvious. “You administered to his injuries.”

  “I went to his apartment that night to warn him, but it was already too late. When you and Mr. Otten arrived, I escaped through the living room window onto the fire stairs. I didn't shoot your friend, either.”

  “You're a doctor, then, or at least have medical training.”

  “Something like that.” Kinlock sighed. “I know what you're doing, Mr. Hawkes. I won't mistake you as a friend and tell you something I shouldn't.”

  Whit nodded. “Fair enough. You want something. What is it?”

  “A day more of running time and your word that you won't come after me. I know how relentless you can be, and revenge is a powerful motivator.”

  “What about the kids? The police will ask them for your description. Haven't they seen you?”

  “Not the real me.”

  “You said before you were being blackmailed because of something Jason did, something you had a hand in covering up, so the only person who knows you were a part of these kidnappings is your blackmailer. Jason's demise doesn't put an end to the blackmailer's hold on you. He can still keep you hostage for your complicity in the abductions.”

  “That's why I'm running. I can't continue what I'm doing, and now I have no reason to, not now that Jason is dead. Trust no one, Mr. Hawkes, with what I've told you.”

  “There are ways to learn your identity,” Whit said.

  “Hopefully, I'll be somewhere where there's no extradition when that time comes. I'm only asking for a little more time. I didn't have to make this telephone call to you. I could have left those kids to die.”

  “What about the police? How will I explain the kids' sudden reappearances?”

  “You're a lawyer, Mr. Hawkes. I'm sure you can come up with a plausible story. Do we have a deal?”

 
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