A waning moon, p.6
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       A Waning Moon, p.6
 

           Bliss Addison

  Through the windowpanes at his back, he could hear the fierce breath of the wind and when the wind settled, the distant howl of a coyote. Another soulful cry set his nerves more on edge.

  He swiveled his desk chair and stared out the garden doors where snow still fell heavily. The pot lights under the eaves cast the trees and shrubs in a yellowish hue. Evening came upon them early and quickly, the stars invisible above a thin layer of cloud.

  In his mind, he saw Mary Ellen, as she had often done, meander the five acre lot, making friends with the squirrels, rabbits and the occasional deer that happened through.

  What if he couldn't find her?

  For the first time since she'd gone missing, it seemed a real possibility.

  He wouldn’t let himself think it. He opened one of the files he brought from the office. Busy work, something to occupy his thoughts while he waited for news on Mary Ellen. Nothing was more important to him than finding his sister.

  He read the client name. “Let's see, Mr. Cousins, what kind of mess you got yourself into and how I'm going to help you.”

  He read his notes on the assault charge from the initial consultation, reacquainting himself with the case, but his mind was not completely on the matter. After several seconds of staring at the file, he gave in and chucked the dossier. He looked at the phone, willing it to ring. The doorbell rang instead.

  Anticipating Lyron had come by to give him a report, he strode through the wood-paneled hallway toward the foyer, hopeful his investigator had good news to impart. He swung open the door. “It’s about time –– ” His words died on his lips when he saw his girlfriend, a tall, blonde-haired, blue-eyed beauty and the daughter of a judge, standing on the stoop. “Candace.” He couldn’t mask his disappointment, but she didn’t seem to notice.

  She pecked him on the lips and let herself in. “Since you haven't answered any of my voice mail, I decided to come in person.”

  From her specific enunciation of each word, he deduced the level of her irritation — red zone — and knew from experience how this would play out if he didn't employ diplomacy. “I'm sorry. I should have called.”

  She ignored his apology. “Has there been any news on Mary Ellen?”

  Closing the door, he said, “Nothing. The police are typically stymied, and no one has come forward with any information.” He helped her out of her mink coat and draped it across the hall table.

  “Someone must have seen her, seen something.”

  “You'd think so.” He led her into the living room.

  She sat on the provincial sofa. “Daddy said to tell you if you need any doors opened to let him know. He can call in favors.”

  “Tell him thanks.” Whit hoped it wouldn't come to that. He didn't want to be indebted to her father, or anyone else. “Would you like a drink?”

  “My usual. You look like you could use one, too.”

  He walked to the bar, poured her a glass of Chardonnay, a Glenlivit for himself and sat across from her in the leather wingback chair next to the fireplace.

  “Have you been sleeping at all?” she asked.

  He noticed how concerned she sounded. An act, he knew. The only person Candace cared about was Candace. Everyone else, including him, she played. “Not much. Every time I close my eyes Mary Ellen's frightened face flashes on my eyelids.” He gulped his drink, enjoying the slow burn down his throat.

  “Oh, you poor dear.” She set her glass on the table and walked over to him.

  Standing at his back, she gave him a neck rub.

  “That feels good.” He lost himself to her touch, though he suspected her compassionate act was self-served.

  “Why don't we go upstairs, and I'll give you a full body rubdown?”

  Ah. There it was. Candace's answer to everything was sex. Lately, it perturbed him. “As much as that tempts me, I can't. I have work to do, and I expect Lyron will be here any minute. We wouldn't want him to catch us in an embarrassing moment.”

  "We'll lock the door."

  Using her body as a promotional tool, she coaxed him into submission.

  It was always this way. She never took ‘no’ for an answer. One of the things about her he had found enticing. Now her uncooperative attitude vexed him.

  Last week, before Mary Ellen's disappearance, he'd decided to break it off with Candace this weekend. If he ended their relationship now, she would argue he wasn't thinking straight because of Mary Ellen's abduction, that he was hurt and frustrated and wanted to lash out. Then she'd tell him to use her as his personal mental punching bag, knowing full well, of course, he wouldn't.

  Whit inched off the bed, careful not to disturb her. He slipped on his boxers and skulked to the bathroom, praying she wouldn't wake. He needed a few minutes of solitude.

  He turned on the faucet and splashed cold water on his face. She — not Candace but the mystery woman — flashed in his mind. The woman with no name, the woman of his dreams, the woman who'd stolen his heart. He pictured her vividly — red curly hair framing a heart-shaped face, smoldering green eyes, full lips, the spattering of freckles across her nose. He could even remember how the air smelled the first time he’d seen her, and how leaves, caught in an autumn breeze, fluttered across the grass. Regret built slowly within him for the years he'd lost with her, wasted years that could have been better spent, then, within a moment, the repentance became so powerful he found it difficult to breathe.

  He'd been love-struck, but she'd wanted nothing to do with him. He told himself to forget her. Damnedest advice he'd ever been given. No woman before or since had touched him like she had. If their paths crossed again, he'd pursue her until he won her heart.

  Lost in thought, he jumped when Candace's arms encircled his waist. He mustered a half-smile and laid his hand on her arm, ready to break the embrace. “Lyron will be here soon,” he said.

  Her fingers ran a circle around his navel. “Surely, we have time for a shower.” She pressed her naked breasts into his back, leaned in, and kissed his shoulder blade.

  “I can’t. I’m sorry.” He untangled himself from her arms and turned, holding her away from him.

  “But now we're both in here….” She looked at him, batting her mascara-ed lashes seductively. “I'll loofah your back.”

  He brushed a strand of hair from her eye and said softly, “I'm not good company. It’s probably best you leave.”

  “Your front, then?”

  The woman was merciless. Taking her elbow in his hand, he ushered her to the bedroom.

  While he dressed, she lounged naked on the rumpled sheets.

  “Why can't I spend the night?”

  He had used Mary Ellen as the reason for her not sleeping over before, and now he needed a different excuse. “I'm up and down all night and what sleep I do manage is troubled. You’ll be more comfortable at home.” He sat beside her and took her hand in his, awaiting her argument.

  “We discussed marriage, yet I haven't spent an entire night in your bed. It's stolen moments here and there. I deserve better, Whit. I deserve more.”

  He nodded. “You do, but you know my reason.”

  “Yes, Mary Ellen, but she hasn't been living at home for the past four months and she isn't here now.”

  Could the woman be any more callous and self-serving? Other than a meager sigh, he kept silent.

  She pulled the sheet to her chin. “I don't like to see you alone at a time like this. Let me be here for you, Whit. Why can't I stay?”

  “I know it’s unfair. I can’t ask any more of you than I already have.”

  She stared into his eyes. “I've been more than patient, haven't I?”

  “You have.”

  “And when you insisted I keep living with Daddy, I agreed, didn't I?”

  “You did.” The one argument he'd won.

  “For awhile, you said.”

  He squeezed his brows together as lawyers tend to do when their words boomeranged. “I don't recall saying that.” The cold look in her eyes prompted h
im to add, and only because he wasn't in the mood for a fight, “But if you say I did, then I must have.”

  “Trust me, you did.”

  Whit didn’t want this relationship anymore. Not because she argued or that he couldn’t win an argument with her, but because she didn’t see her future as he saw his.

  He wanted children, lots of them. She couldn't stand the “little buggers,” as she referred to kids, not thinking for a moment she was a child herself once and probably a “little bugger” as well. Not thinking, either, that if her parents had felt that way about children, she wouldn't exist.

  He wanted relaxing nights at home before a roaring fire. She wanted nights on the town, social functions and her name in the society column.

  Candace knew from the onset of their relationship how important it was for him to set a good example for Mary Ellen. Instead of giving her more fuel for the firestorm she attempted to start, he said, “I'm sorry things didn't turn out the way you anticipated.”

  “I'm not getting any younger, Whit. I don't want to be an old maid when I walk down the aisle. Six months is a long time for any woman to be on stand by.”

  Did women really consider six months a long time to wait? He didn’t know and certainly wouldn’t ask. “You're right. I appreciate your patience and the sacrifices you made and the proposals I'm sure you missed out on because we were together.” He smiled.

  “You know, I could have my pick of any of the men in this town, but the truth of it is, I don't want anyone else.”

  He knew she meant that and it caused him concern. She would not take their break-up well, not that he ever thought differently.

  “Whit?”

  “Yes?” He looked at her.

  She stared into his eyes and frowned. “I shouldn't have to ask, but I will. Do you feel the same way about me?”

  Knowing this was not the time for honesty, he forced a smile and agreed with her. “Of course, sweetheart.”

  “Since you're hell-bent on spending the night without me,” she rose to her knees and wrapped her arms around his neck, “why don't you show me how much you'll miss me?” She locked onto his lips, sucked his tongue into her mouth, and fondled him through his trousers.

  He broke off the kiss and stood, stepping back out of her reach. Where the hell was Lyron? “As tantalizing as that is, I really need to get some work done.”

  Another lie. He hated himself for it.

  She pretended to pout, but he knew better. She meant every sulky crease. He laced his shoes and left the bedroom, forcing himself to take slow steps.

  A few of the stair treads creaked as he fled down the steps. He found the sound relaxing and reminiscent of his childhood home. The Queen Anne style house had come on the market when he had about given up his search. He knew what he wanted and when he gazed up at the house, he had to make it his.

  After years of neglect, it had needed a major overhaul. He included Mary Ellen in the renovation process and she enjoyed it as much as he.

  He wound his way through the hall and entered his study, the house as silent as a monastery. He flicked on the television and listened to the news, keeping an impatient eye on the clock. Where in hell was Lyron?

  Ten minutes passed before the melodic chime of the doorbell sang through the house. “It's about damn time.”

  Whit arrived at the front door at the same time as Candace.

  She opened the door, paying no mind to Lyron, turned to Whit and kissed him on the cheek. “I'll call you later.” She reached up and smoothed his eyebrow.

  “I'll look forward to it. Careful on those roads. The snow is piling up.”

  "I'm using Daddy's car service. Besides, it’s not that far a drive. I'll be fine."

  Relieved she left on a pleasant tone, he smiled and welcomed Lyron in with a greater degree of graciousness than he might have given his investigator’s tardiness.

  Lyron, a retired cop with a full head of hair the color of the setting sun, watched Candace as she walked down the front steps. “She's a looker all right.”

  “She is.” And pompous, bourgeois and of no substance. “Let's go into the study.” Whit led the way. “I expected you earlier,” he said over his shoulder.

  “Have you been outside at all?” Lyron asked.

  “When are you going to break down and get something suitable to our weather?”

  “Actually, I was helping someone else from a snow bank this time.”

  Whit entered the study and waved Lyron to a chair in front of the desk. “What have you got for me?”

  Lyron flipped through his coiled note pad, came to a stop, and read from his notes. “Jerome Dixon, a sophomore at the university, remembers seeing Mary Ellen in the library with a guy on several occasions.” He looked at Whit. “Dixon overheard him introduce himself as Anthony Baleman. He hasn't seen him around since your sister disappeared.”

  “Suspicious.” Whit nodded along with Lyron. “Any chance of it being a coincidence?” When Lyron shook his head, he asked, “What did you find out about this Baleman guy?”

  He filled his lungs with air and blew out the breath through pursed lips. “He doesn't exist.”

  Whit stated the obvious. “An alias.” He sat back, thinking about what it meant. “If he has Mary Ellen, this was a carefully orchestrated plan. For what purpose?” he asked more to himself than Lyron.

  “When I find him, you can ask.”

  “Did you get anything else from Dixon?”

  Lyron shrugged. “Not much. He described Baleman as slouching, brown-haired, disheveled, and poorly dressed.”

  “Could be any one of a number of kids today. Why did Dixon notice him?”

  “He said Baleman was always looking over his shoulder, like he was making sure no one watched.”

  Whit nodded. “Did the police do a thorough job in Mary Ellen's dorm?”

  “They collected trace evidence on every fiber, carpet, clothing, everything, belonging to both Mary Ellen and her roommate. She's a strange one, that one.”

  “Mary Ellen said. Fingerprints?”

  “Only Mary Ellen's on her side of the room and high double digits on the roommate's side. She entertained a lot and had her own little marijuana farm growing. Used condoms, empty coffee cups, empty boxes of pizza, Chinese take-out containers gathering mold. She slept, ate, toked and screwed in the room. You name it, the girl did it — everything, apparently, but study. Her marks weren't cutting it.”

  Whit stood and ran his fingers through his hair, thinking about what Mary Ellen must have gone through rooming with a high-flier. He paced the length of the study, cursing himself again for suggesting she live on campus.

  Lyron cleared his throat. “Why would Mary Ellen put up with it? She had options.”

  Without breaking step, he said, “She wouldn't want to complain. Anything else?”

  Lyron unwrapped a mint candy and popped it in his mouth. “That's it so far.”

  “Did you get fingerprints from any surface where this guy might have touched in the library?”

  “Whit, you know I won't be able to get a solid —”

  “Try. I don't care how long it takes. Get them. Get them all.” His temper spiked. He drew a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Did you get anything from Earley's dorm?”

  “Nothing other than he had it bad for your sister. Her name is written on every piece of paper I found in his room.”

  Whit noticed Lyron frown and knew intuitively he wouldn't like what Lyron was thinking. “What is it?”

  “They could have run off together." Lyron shrugged. “It's possible.”

  “Uh-huh, but not probable.” Whit sighed. “We've already been through this, Lyron. Mary Ellen wouldn't just run off.” He gave Lyron a look that said he didn't want to hear any more on the subject. “How did you do on the list I gave you of people who might have reason to take Mary Ellen to get at me?”

  “They all checked out. Solid alibis for the night she went missing.” Lyron shifted his eyes from Whit's
face and peered over Whit's shoulder. In the next instant, he sprinted around the desk, unholstering his side arm as he moved. “Stay here,” he said over his shoulder. “Someone's in the back yard.” He flung open the garden door and bounded across the snow-covered terrace.

  “Wait – ” The reverberation of a gunshot pierced through the sound of howling winds, stopping the words in Whit’s throat.

 

  Chapter Nine

  The bullet shot past Whit, missing his head by a hair's breadth. He dove to the floor on the side of the desk, his heart thumping. As he told himself this couldn't be happening, another bullet tore into the desk inches from his face.

  He peeked out from the desk. Snow, caught in a gust of wind, blew in the open doorway. Through the haze, he saw Lyron crouched behind a flower planter, returning fire.

  Without taking his eyes from the trees at the far end of the yard, Lyron yelled, “Cut the lights and call the police.”

  Whit stood and flicked off the lights. He called 9-1-1 on his cell, and shouted for police units to be dispatched to his home. “Shots fired! Move it!”

  From his position against the wall on the side of the doorway, he said loud enough not only for Lyron to hear but also for the person firing at them, “The police are on their way.” He hoped it would scare the shooter away.

  The sound of another gunshot cut through the roar of the wind.

  Whit heard a thump followed by a thud, sickening sounds that made his stomach flutter. He looked out and saw Lyron sprawled on his back, blood already saturating the snow around him. Above the growl of the wind, Whit could hear him groan.

  Lyron rolled over and made it to his knees, swayed, then collapsed on his stomach.

  Whit leapt out, grabbed Lyron's gun, fired two shots wildly into the yard then hefted Lyron over his shoulder and carried him into the study.

  At the sound of sirens wailing, Whit breathed a sigh of relief as he laid Lyron on the sofa. He propped his head on a cushion. The air hung heavy with the scent of blood and gunpowder.

  Lyron moaned and his eyes rolled back in his head.

  “Stay with me.” Whit peeled back Lyron's jacket. Blood ran from the wound below his right shoulder blade. Whit pulled off his dress shirt, wadded it and applied pressure to the wound.

  Lyron grunted. “Bet you never thought you'd have a chance to use your paramedic training practicing law, huh? How bad is it?”

 
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