A waning moon, p.22
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       A Waning Moon, p.22
 

           Bliss Addison
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  Without hesitation, Whit agreed. “Deal. You have my word. I, or any of my investigative team, will not come after you and I'll hold off telling the police as long as I can. Now tell me what your boss wanted with these kids.”

  Kinlock inhaled sharply and let the breath out slowly. “He had a baby making operation going. Jenny Lamb, the first of his kidnap victims, gave birth to three babies, which he sold. Apparently, the demand for made-to-order children is high, and people will pay a handsome amount to have a child tailored to their specific desires.”

  A chill sped up his spine. “Mary Ellen…was she impregnated?”

  “Your sister is in the same condition as when I picked her up.”

  Whit cast his gaze heavenward and bid a silent thank-you that Mary Ellen had been spared that traumatic event. “Where will I find my sister?”

  Lyron wrote furiously on a note pad as Kinlock gave him directions.

  Chapter Thirty-One

  Whit clenched the steering wheel of the Land Rover as he turned off the highway and headed for Bevy-Debly Parish. He gritted his teeth thinking his assurances to Baleman would mean zip if he’d hurt Mary Ellen in any way.

  He cast a sideways glance at Blossom sitting next to him. “Nervous?”

  She smiled. “For you, yes. I hope this ends well.”

  He clutched her hand and gave it a squeeze. “I'm glad you came along.”

  “Where are Ian and Lyron?” She looked over her shoulder out the back window. “They left just after us.”

  “Lyron's hanging back, watching for a tail just in case this isn't what we think it is.” Fearful he had frightened her, he said, “He's being overly cautious.”

  “Uh-huh.”

  “I won't let anything happen to you.”

  “I know.”

  Her faith and trust in him broadened his shoulders. He sped through Earl of Westshire Township, past old farmhouses with white cedar siding and black shutters on every window. Red barns, some listing heavily to one side, separated acres of farmland from the adjacent house.

  “Olive was right after all,” Blossom said, breaking the silence. “She never gave up faith. She knew in her heart her granddaughter was alive. Everyone in town thought she was bonkers. The laugh's on all of us.” She shook her head.

  “Who would have thought? A baby-making operation. The man must be a monster.” She shuddered. “How much does a baby go for on the black market these days?”

  “It depends, I suppose, on the buyers and how badly they want a child. A half-million, perhaps?”

  “Jenny produced three babies for him, so that's a million and a half. Baleman mentioned something about babies made to order. What do you suppose he meant? That he was making babies according to a client's specifications?”

  “Maybe that's where the young fellas come in. Blonds and brunettes, blue eyes and brown...it makes sense and it would probably mean more money, too.”

  “Jennifer may want to find her babies. I'd want to. They'd be difficult to find, I'd imagine.”

  “Maybe the prosecutor will cut a deal with the blackmailer. Clemency in exchange for names and whereabouts.”

  “I understand those deals are made all the time. Penitentiaries are a drain on taxpayer's money and trials are expensive, but felons should be punished. Would you help Jennifer find her children if she asked?”

  “I gave my word I wouldn't come after Baleman.”

  “Uh-huh. Didn't you say something like, I or my investigator will not come after you?”

  He returned her grin. “Picked up on that, huh?” She continued to surprise him. He liked it. “I have no control over what someone else does.”

  “Are you sure you don't want to bring the cops in on this? We could be walking into a trap. Though Baleman sounded genuine, didn't he?”

  “He did. I'm not worrying and neither should you.”

  She nodded, feeling safe. “The days are getting longer. It's four-thirty, and it's still light. Who's Candace?”

  “A mistake.” He had anticipated the question.

  “One you'll rectify forthwith?”

  He returned her smile. “Of course.” He couldn't understand how or when it happened, but somewhere along the way he had become important to Blossom.

  “There's the marker for the turn-off.” She pointed to a hubcap hooked to a hydro pole on her right.

  “He said it was an old abandoned Catholic Church.” He pulled the vehicle to a stop as close to the snow bank on the shoulder of the road as he could.

  “When did the Catholic Church start closing churches?”

  “A few years back. Participation is down in most parishes and priests are hard to come by these days. They're bringing two, sometimes three dioceses together in the rural areas. From what I hear, laypeople sometimes say mass when a priest is unavailable.”

  “I don't think I'd like that.”

  “Neither would I. See anything?” he asked, looking down the unplowed tree-lined drive.

  “She peered through the window. “Trees are blocking the view.”

  “It must be somewhere along that path. We'll have to trek it from here.”

  “No one would ever suspect there's a building in those woods.”

  Whit looked in the rearview mirror when headlights shone brightly from the rear. “This must be Lyron and Ian.”

  Blossom checked the side view mirror. “Are you ready?”

  His stomach was in knots and his heart felt like it would leap from his chest with every beat. Unable to trust that the truth wouldn't blurt from his lips, he smiled and nodded, applying himself to look convincing. “Wait in the car.”

  “Yeah, right.”

  To argue would be useless, he realized. He grabbed the flashlight from the rear seat. The sun was setting fast now, and it would only be a matter of minutes before darkness enveloped them.

  Whit and Blossom joined Lyron and Ian at the back of the Land Rover.

  “I'll take point,” Lyron said. “Follow close behind and keep your eyes open and your ears pealed.” He pointed at Ian. “You take up the rear.” He took his gun from his shoulder holster and checked the clip. “Whatever I tell you to do, you do it. No hesitation. No questions. Got it?”

  Blossom and Ian nodded.

  Whit said, “Got it.” This was it. The moment that would destroy his trust in God and shade his outlook on life forever if Mary Ellen was not in the same condition as when she had been abducted.

  Nervous sweat dampened his palm as he pressed through knee-deep snow behind Lyron on the narrow path. With Blossom and Ian at his back and following Lyron's example, he stopped, crouched, and listened in synchrony with him.

  One half mile along the twisting roadway, a church with proper cedar siding painted white and large dormer windows projecting from the steepled black-shingled roof came into view.

  “Just as Baleman advised,” Whit said, coming to a stop behind Lyron and looking over his head. “The place looks deserted. No tracks or footprints. No one's been here at least since the fall.” His heart dipped low. Baleman had lied about this part. Maybe the entire story was a fabrication. It made sense to him now. The time they spent at his cabin, the time on the phone, the time it took for them to return to his house and more time on the phone had allowed Baleman to get a head start out of the country. Damn. Whit grimaced. How could he have been so foolish, so taken in by a man he barely knew?

  Lyron nodded, eyeballed the area, and, with a flick of his fingers, moved them forward along the drive at the side of the structure. When he raised a hand in the air, Whit brought the others to a stop.

  Whit saw a shoveled path leading from a tool shed to a door in the basement of the church. His faith in Baleman might not have been misplaced after all.

  Lyron pointed it out.

  “I see it,” Whit said. He dared to hope Mary Ellen was behind that door, untouched and unharmed.

  Lyron led them behind a bushy spruce tree and huddled them together in a tight circle.

 
What's the plan?” Whit asked, his voice catching in his throat. It took all of his will not to dash into the building.

  “I'm going in alone,” Lyron said. “The three of you will take cover behind the shed.”

  Whit shook his head. “I'm going with you.”

  “So am I,” Ian said.

  Lyron looked at Whit. “I know you too well to argue.” He looked at Ian.

  “I can't get hurt. I'm a spirit, remember?”

  “Yeah, right. Well, time to put that to the test, then.” Lyron looked at Blossom.

  “I'm not staying out here by myself,” she said in a huff.

  Whit winked at her. He would rather have her behind him where he could protect her than off somewhere on her own, where God knew who or what could hurt her.

  Lyron nodded. “Follow my lead.” Crouched, Lyron scurried across the shoveled path to the back of the church.

  Whit gave Blossom's hand a squeeze before following in Lyron's footsteps and taking his place on the opposite side of the door. A moment later, he felt Blossom's hand rest lightly on his back. He watched as Ian arrived and bent low behind Lyron.

  When Lyron nodded, Whit turned the knob and swung open the door as silently as possible. The interior of the basement sat in stark blackness and was as quiet as a monastery.

  Lyron shone the Maglite from side to side.

  Whit saw the four-foot wide corridor directly ahead. To his left, there were four rooms. The two doors nearest him hung open. He peeked around the corner and noticed that the opposite wall mirrored the one he had been looking at.

  With his gun and flashlight extended in front of him, Lyron moved into the basement, looking into the open rooms as he passed. He came to the closed doors and tried the doorknobs on each of them. “Locked,” he whispered.

  Whit shone his light on the wall beside the door and pointed to a key hanging on a hook. Just then the hallway became brightly illuminated. Startled, Whit pivoted in random with Lyron.

  “Thought you might want more light,” Ian said as he removed his hand from the switch.

  Lyron scowled, then turned to Whit. “See if that key works. I'll cover you. Remember, no going all Rambo on me.”

  Whit unlocked the deadbolt and turned the knob, giving the door a little push to open wide. He peered into the room. His heart skipped a beat. She was there, sprawled on her stomach width-ways across the bed, reading. If he had envisioned Mary Ellen any way, this would have been how he would have seen her.

  “Mary Ellen,” he said, his voice barely audible to his ears.

  She turned and looked at him. “Whit?” she asked as though she couldn't believe her eyes.

  His throat caught at the sound of her voice. When her eyes filled with tears, he realized she had given up hope that he would rescue her. He rushed to her.

  With a whoop of delight, she hopped off the bed and threw herself into his arms. “Is it really you?”

  He hugged her tightly and said in her ear, “It's me, angel. It's really me.”

  “I-I thought…” She sobbed into his jacket.

  “Shh. It's all over now. You're safe.”

  She drew away from him and slapped him on the chest. “What took you so long!”

  Suddenly, the room filled with laughter and excited voices as Mary Ellen became reunited with Graham and formally introduced herself to Jennifer Lamb and Theodore Hanscomb. Hugs were exchanged all around.

  When the excitement died down and Mary Ellen and Graham were ensconced in a corner huddling and chatting, Whit took Blossom by the hand and led her to a vacant room. Baleman's lab, it looked like.

  Without preamble, he asked, “Do I have a chance with you?” He wanted to know how much of a fight he had ahead of him. His direct tact took her by surprise, he noticed, judging by her wide, open-eyed look.

  “Yes,” she said as though something inside her pushed out the word.

  At first, the positive answer did not register with him, probably because he had expected resistance. When it sank in, he took her in his arms. But before he could express how her answer affected him, she asked, “What's that?”

  He held her at his arm's length. “What?”

  “That.”

  Only after looking where she pointed, he understood what she meant. “I don't know.”

  She moved with him to the counter where a rectangular shaped box packaged in brown wrapping paper sat.

  “It's for you.” He pointed out the address label. “Baleman must have left it.”

  When she continued to stare at the box, he asked, “Aren't you going to open it?”

  That was all the motivation she needed. He watched as she cut through the packing tape with a letter opener she found on the counter.

  She separated the cardboard tops and looked inside, not saying a word.

  He couldn't wait her out. “What is it?”

  “It's the cuckoo clock from the cabin.”

  “There's a note.” He motioned to the vanilla-colored parchment sheet tucked against the side of the box.

  She opened the note and smoothed the center grease. “It's from Jason.”

  Blossom sat on a stool.

  “I'll give you some privacy,” Whit said.

  “Thanks.” She smiled and read the letter.

  Dear Blossom,

  I'm sorry we didn't have more time together. Our ancestors would have made for interesting and entertaining stories, I'm sure.

  This clock belonged to my great-grandmother, Hesper. I thought it fitting that it should be passed on to you.

  Please don't judge Anthony too harshly. What he did, he did to protect me.

  There never was a curse, Blossom. Hesper played on your great-grandmother's guilt by pretending she'd cursed her. The entire story is set out in her journal. I wish I had it to give you, but it went missing years ago.

  Take care, Blossom. May you have all of your heart's desires.

  Jason~~

  All these years and all those lives lost because of a curse that never was. The whole damn thing was a hoax. Her life was nearly destroyed because of it. She wanted to scream.

  Forcing calm, she looked on the brighter side. After all these years, the past would be laid to rest. No more living her life beneath a cloud of guilt for great-granny's sin. No more superstition. No more thoughts of suicide. Ian would be so pleased this nasty business would finally be put to rest. Her eyes watered at the thought. She couldn't wait to tell Ian. First, though, she'd like to take a closer look the clock.

  “Knock, knock,” Whit said.

  Brushing away a tear, she turned and smiled.

  “Everything okay?” he asked.

  “More than okay.” She shoved the letter in the back pocket of her jeans and motioned to the box. “Would you help me?”

  Together, they lifted the cuckoo clock from the container.

  “This belonged to Jason's great-grandmother,” she said. “The woman whose husband my great-grandmother bedded.”

  She examined the clock. “Why isn't it working?”

  “Maybe the chains need to hang.”

  She ran her hand over the wood. The sleeve of her sweater caught on something. She tugged on the thread, but it wouldn't break.

  “Don't pull," Whit said. "I'll free it.”

  With each passing second, excitement built within her. “Hurry. I have something to tell Ian, something he needs to know.”

  Whit fiddled with the piece of metal that held the knit fabric of her sweater firmly in place.

  Impatient, she tugged her arm and freed the sleeve. “Thanks.” About to walk away, she turned back when something hit the floor. “What was that?”

  He picked the wooden panel from the floor and turned it over in his hand.

  “Part of the back of the clock.”

  “Did it break?” She hoped not. The clock would sit on a wall in her living room and keep company with the other heirlooms of her descendants.

  Drummonds and Higginbothams cohabiting. Imagine that.


  He peeked inside the clock. “There's something tucked in here.” He pulled a leather bound book from the crevice and handed it to her.

  She blew one layer of dust from the cover and removed the remainder with a brush of her hand. Hurriedly, she undid the ribbon holding it closed.

  “What is it?” he asked, looking over her shoulder.

  She scanned the first page. “It's Hesper's journal,” she said, wanting to scream the words she was so happy. “Where's Ian? He's got to see this.”

  “He was wandering the hall the last time I saw him.”

  She took off at a sprinter's clip, stopped in the threshold, then turned and ran back to him. Standing on tiptoes, she gave him a quick kiss on the lips. “More later.” She exaggerated a wink and rushed from the room. She loved him. She knew that now.

  From the open basement doorway, she looked down the corridor and called out to Ian. When he didn't respond, she stepped outside onto the walkway and called out to him again.

  “Maybe he's taking a potty break,” Whit said as he draped her jacket on her shoulders.

  “Thanks.” She put her arms through the sleeves and looked around for Ian.

  “Do you see him?”

  Whit walked several steps down the path and searched the area.

  “Anything?” she asked.

  He shook his head. “Nothing.”

  “He must be inside.”

  Blossom.

  Ian's voice sounded soft and melodic and seemed to come from every direction around her. “Where are you?” she asked, squinting into the semi-darkness. “I have good news.”

  I know.

  The branches of the evergreens swayed, catching her attention. Hesitantly, she walked toward them.

  “Maybe he went to the car,” Whit said.

  She turned and stared at Whit, surprised he hadn't heard Ian. “Don't you hear him?” She stepped in front of Whit to get an unobstructed view of the back property.

  Frowning, he shook his head.

  He can't hear me, Blossom.

  "Whit," a female voice called. "Whit, where are you?"

  "That's Mary Ellen," Whit said.

  "Go to her," Blossom said.

  "I won't be long."

  "Take your time," she said, turning and looking at him. "Your sister needs you."

  "Promise you won't go anywhere."

  "I promise." She smiled and crossed her heart. When he was inside the building, she turned back to face the woods. "Why can't Whit hear you?"

  I'm speaking only to you. I am no longer on your plane.

 
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