The September sunlight brightened the parchment colored restaurant tinged with sage moss. Robust snapdragons thrived in baskets beneath the ebony framed colonial windows. Vincenzo's was scrawled in black cursive above the door that stood propped open with the distant sound of "That's Amore" seeping into the crowd migrating up and down the sidewalk. Calder hoisted his satchel higher onto his shoulder and slipped into the restaurant. An assembly of rectangular tables against the left wall and round tables toward the middle and back were draped with rust cloths, and a mural of a quaint town in Italy was painted on each wall. A sharply featured man with silvery hair emerged from the kitchen amongst the colony of waiters and waiting diners.
"Are you Mr. McCallister?"
"I am," Calder assured him.
"Then I will be right with you," he disappeared back into the kitchen. Calder meandered to the side and observed the ivory tiles beneath his shoes, whose ebony vines swirled into an intricate design. The man reappeared with an extended hand.
"I apologize," he said as Calder received his strong grip. "Fred Lynch. Please, come to the back with me, and we'll discuss the issue at hand."
Mr. Lynch proceeded down the middle of his restaurant to a round table at the back right and seated himself. Calder eased himself into the chair across from him and studied the downcast cobalt eyes and clasped hands ahead. Eventually, he raised his eyes and inhaled sharply.
"Beatrice was a sweet girl, but with lots of fire. She was never afraid of confrontation, when she believed she was right about something. Her mother was the same way. She and I struggled to… to compromise anywhere in our marriage, and she left us when Beatrice was twelve. I immersed myself here, at the restaurant, striving to earn enough to support the two of us alone. I suppose it was also a means of keeping me mind from what we lost.
"Anyway, Beatrice got it into her head that I didn't care about her anymore once her mother was gone. Said that the reason why I turned down her invitation to go to the cinemas and such was because I wanted her to leave as well. She was wrong, to be sure, but she cleaved to the idea with an iron grip nonetheless. She went to school and stayed out late with a particular lad, returned home and spent dinner with her assignments, and went to sleep. I missed her company, and asked her often if she would come to the restaurant with me and help me close at night. She refused.
"We grew apart until she was about fifteen. Then one night, I made that request a command. We were a man short when Boyle here," he nodded toward a young waiter as he placed drinks on the table beside them, "was at the hospital with his sister, good lad that he is. Beatrice was obstinate. She crossed her arms and refused to move one centimeter in the direction of this restaurant. Voices were raised. Some of her mother's glass figurines were thrown. She said that perhaps if she was so unhelpful, she should leave. In me anger, I agreed. I came without her, and when I arrived home, a section of clothes was missing from her closet and she was gone."
"And you said the Garda has abandoned this case?"
"Yes. They searched a bit, but it was clearly her choice to leave, and the case was not a priority."
"How long has she been missing?"
"Two years. I—"
"And what made you postpone contacting me for two years?" Calder asked with a trace of astonishment in his tone. Mr. Lynch dropped his eyes and shook his head in dismay.
"She ran. I knew she went on her own accord, and I knew where she went. Amy Gallagher has been a sister to her since they were five, and her brother Caleb was the lad Beatrice was seeing. No doubt she spent at least some time with them. Their mother, to be sure, assumed exactly what I did – that Beatrice's anger would dissipate after a bit, and she would return home. I was afraid I would drive her away if I pursued her. But she never did return, and I assumed she remained with them – until Amy came into the restaurant yesterday and said she was concerned. Beatrice ran from their home soon after she arrived. She assumed she was all right," his voice accelerated with frustration, "but she never knew. And she only just realized that she was uncomfortable with the way things turned out. Here is Beatrice."
He opened the notebook beside him and presented Calder with a portrait of a freckled young woman with luminous aquamarine eyes, a sparkling golden stud in her nose, and dense strawberry blond hair plaited over one shoulder.
"I need the contact information of any mates your daughter has."
Mr. Lynch snorted and ran his fingers through his short hair. "There were many acquaintances content with her imperfections, but only two real companions – those already mentioned. She also has an aunt she got along with quite well."
"All right. I still need contact information for them."
"Right," Mr. Lynch extracted a pen from his breast pocket and reached for a receipt someone accidentally abandoned beneath the silverware rolled in maroon cloth napkins. "I would have suspected that to be something you would do."
"Yes, well, your assistance hastens me progress."
"Here," he shoved the receipt across the table and rose. "I appreciate any information you can provide. Please, spend as much time as you need here. Anything on the menu is yours at no charge."
"That will not be necessary—"
"I insist," Mr. Lynch smiled and reached for a menu that Boyle tipped toward him as he passed down the aisle again. "I will bring you a glass of water momentarily."
He plopped the menu beside Calder, who opened it as he reached into his pocket for his cell phone. Yes, a glass of water and a plate of spaghetti alla carbonara would make a lovely early supper after a day of teaching.
He scheduled an appointment to speak with the Gallaghers after he graded the first exams of the school year, secretly curious if there was any relation between this family and another whose daughter once ran away as well. As soon as he ate the last of his meal, he gathered his papers and the city where they resided close by.
The streets were lined with colorful rectangular townhouses and the occasional parked car. Calder strolled up the side and searched the addresses for the one he scribbled down after calling the Gallagher family. At the middle of the right side, between scarlet and canary homes, stood an emerald townhouse with a young brunette woman standing in the door. "Are you Mr. McCallister?"
"Yes," he reached to grasp her hand. "I need to ask you about Beatrice."
"Right," her smile dropped away, and she moved aside. "Please, come inside. Pardon the mess, but we just got out of work. Caleb should be home within the hour. Me mother Carol is in the kitchen. Do you want to sit down in the chair here?"
She pointed to a maroon recliner on the maple floor. The room was a perfect square, with a television on a small stand in the middle of the room, and the kitchen was straight ahead through the open door. He seated himself in the recliner and noticed the basket of clothes to one side, and a couple of plastic cat toys were scattered around.
"So what would you like to know?" Amy asked and seated herself at the edge of the sofa against the left side of the room, so she could lean on its arm and make eye contact. Calder reached into his satchel and extracted a note pad and a pencil.
"The circumstances of her living here," Calder answered. "And the manner in which she left."
"Beatrice came here with a suitcase and said she was done living with her dad. We agreed that she should stay with us, where we knew she would be looked after, until she was over what she was so furious about. She and her dad had a strained relationship since her mother left, but this was the first time she ever lost it," Amy pressed her lips together and cleared her throat. "After twelve days, we all agreed to encourage her to make amends with Mr. Lynch. She said she would not do that until he asked her to. He never said a word to her since she left, you know. She said that confirmed what she had said about him being more concerned with the restaurant than with her. Eventually, I said I was going to contact Mr. Lynch and let him know she was all right. She stormed out, saying she would live somewhere else – perhaps with her aunt. I believed her. She loved her Aunt Sherrie. But," she crossed her arms and dropped her eyes, "we never saw her again. She should have been able to forgive us by now, right?" she raised them to him again. "I mean, we were best mates. And she has been gone two years. Maybe something happened to her."
"That is what I am trying to find out," Calder mused as he completed his notes on what she said. He sensed her gray eyes penetrating his skull.
"Do you suppose something happened to her? I mean, does it seem to be a possibility?"
"Anything is possible," he raised his eyes. "But I don't know if it's probable."
She nodded and smoothed the braid over her shoulder. "You're honest and direct. I appreciate that. Me family loves her as much as I do, and they keep assuring me that everything's all right, but I…" A tear escaped down her cheek, but she swiped it away and cleared her throat. "I'm going to fetch some tea. Would you care for some?"
"Much obliged, Miss Gallagher."
"All right," she rose and rushed to the kitchen. Calder propped his elbows on his knees and rested his chin on his hands. He closed his eyes and listened to the two voices in the kitchen and the clatter of silverware and the clinking of porcelain. He considered the clearly awful gut feeling Amy seemed to have about the disappearance of her friend, and how she seemed to think Beatrice would have forgiven them by that time. Perhaps she was right, and Calder should expand his search elsewhere. The shrill whistle of a kettle signaled the momentary appearance of Amy. She emerged soon after with a wooden platter with a pair of clover patterned teacups and a matching pot. She set it on the coffee table ahead of him.
"Do you prefer sugar?"
"Unsweetened is perfect," he poured himself a cup and raised it to his lips while Amy clasped her hands together and stared at the maroon leather sofa arm beneath her elbows. Calder searched his brain to encourage her with something that didn't make any promises or lead her astray, but not one thing came to mind. He cleared his throat and prayed for words before saying, "There are still many possibilities. I have been praying for Beatrice while I search for her, and I won't give up until I find her."
Amy raised her brightened eyes and managed a small smile. "Thank you so much."
A calico cat meandered into the room and released a yowl at the door. Amy rose and peered through the peep hole at the door.
"She does that when Caleb comes home. Yes, there he is. He's getting out of the Acura."
She moved aside and opened the door to reveal a chestnut man close to her age. She received him in an embrace, but his naturally amiable expression sobered when he caught sight of Calder over her shoulder. "Excuse me. I didn't know someone was here."
"Caleb," Amy pulled back and swung her arm toward Calder. "This is Calder McCallister. He's investigating the disappearance of Beatrice."
"Beatrice," his startled eyes darted between his sister and Calder. "What can I do?"
"I'd like to speak to you alone, if you don't mind."
"Right. I'll go help Mamma in the kitchen," Amy gave his arm a rub and started toward the door. Caleb released a shuddering breath and moved toward the sofa. The calico scampered after him and smeared her head against his jeaned shins when he dropped down.
"Well," he said, "What would you like to know?"
"You and Beatrice were seeing each other?"
"That's right. At first, we wanted our parents to get married. Then we started seeing each other in secondary school, when we were fourteen. My mother said we were too young, but I suppose we couldn't help ourselves. You'll see how stunning she is, if you meet her," he released a smile, but it died within the moment. "I really hope you get to meet her."
"I will do everything in me power to see that I will," Calder assured. "Did she say where she left to?"
"No, she never said a word about it," Caleb murmured with dropped eyes. "I have asked meself that so many times, but I honestly can't imagine where else she would have gone. Did Amy mention her aunt? That was the only person that came to mind, but surely Sherrie would have said something."
"Yes, she mentioned Sherrie."
"Well, she that's not where she is, I have no more ideas," there was a desperate edge to his voice and the shake of his head. Calder rose and clapped a hand on his shoulder as he moved slowly past.
"I am going to ask your mother something as well," he said gently. "Then I will be done here."
"I appreciate your looking into her disappearance," Caleb said as his eyes sparked with revelation. "Wait, has there been a discovery? Recent evidence to reopen her case?"
"No," Calder answered down to him. "But I hope there will be."
He moved toward the kitchen as Amy reappeared with a start, another teacup in her hands. "Excuse me," she said. "I wanted to bring this to Caleb."
"That's all right," he stepped aside to let her pass. "I only want to see your mother."
"Go right ahead," Amy smiled. "She's cooking supper."
"I'll be concise," Calder entered the kitchen to see a woman with a brunette pixie cut chopping carrots and celery at the counter to the right. She never raised her eyes as she dropped them into a pot on the stove and continued the preparation. Calder cleared his throat and rapped against the frame.
"Excuse me. May I ask you something?"
She gave a murmur of approval and dialed up the burner. The dull thuds of his black shoes as he approached her seemed to drive her into overdrive as she hastened her pace. Calder evaluated the simple rectangular table to the left, the cabinets painted white, and the pair of goldfish swimming around a bowl sitting on the wooden counter beneath one of said cabinets.
"You've given up hope," he remarked.
The woman swiped a tear away from her eye and continued working, but managed in a strained tone, "I maintained a strong composure to keep up the spirits of Amy and Caleb, but either something has happened to her, or she is gone and doesn't want to be discovered."
"Do you have any evidence to support the idea that something happened to her?"
"She's been gone two years. Is that not enough?"
"Not for me," Calder assured as he stepped around the kitchen, noting the stacked dishes on the coral and ivory tiled counter beside the sink. "I'm going to search until I know where she is."
She snorted and poured a small amount of milk into the pot. "You're an optimist, I suppose."
He managed a smile, despite the aggravated heat in his cheeks. "I'm more a stubborn realist."
"Well, the reality is this," she slammed the knife down that she had been slicing vegetables with and whirled around to glare at him with misty gray eyes. "That wherever Trixie is, she's not coming home."
"I will learn for certain if that is the truth," Calder answered decisively.
Carol stared at him another moment and spun around to continue slicing onions. "You know, it's strange," she spoke with a watery tone. "Sometimes I could swear I see her in town, around the shops. All tattered. But I look a second time, and she's gone. I hear some people do that when people they know have died. It seems cruel that such a thing would happen to someone who has lost a loved one."
"You mean that town down the road?"
"No, about an hour from here. There is a lovely shop there I go to at Christmastime."
Calder rose and stepped closer to the counter. She threw a glance at him and edged away. But Calder set his notepad with a pencil down on the counter and eased back to give her room.
"I would appreciate if you would write down that town."
"What good would it do?" she sniffed and wiped her eyes again.
"Confirmation for me."
She stopped slicing and smeared her hands down her apron before taking up the pencil and jotting down the town name. "There. Lot of good it'll do ya, you'll see."
"Thank you. Here is me contact information, should you need it," Calder withdrew a card from an inside coat pocket and set it on the counter beside her. He gave a polite nod and made his way toward the door. "I'll update you if I learn anything more."
"You won't ," she called after him. After he gathered his things and gave a polite goodbye to the siblings, he stepped into the waning evening sunlight, whose rays illuminated the pair of silvery clouds above, and strolled down to his car.
At home, he contemplated his next move. Curiosity burned him until he got online and searched the missing people in Ireland who disappeared within the last two years. He scrolled down the list of Jane Does until he discovered four that approximately matched the age of Beatrice.
One was reported to be in an alley, beaten to death. She wore a leather jacket with jeans and a pair of boots. But she had lengthy brunette hair and was about two inches taller than Beatrice. Another was a smaller blond woman between the ages of twenty and thirty, whose scantily clad body was dumped in a field somewhere close to town. A third Jane Doe was described as a girl with matching height to Beatrice, who was discovered in an abandoned home with needle marks in her arm. She was around the same age, but with caramel hair. Yet Beatrice could easily have dyed her hair to prevent discovery, Calder realized. He checked the last Jane Doe. She was around the same age and height, with strawberry blond hair and blue eyes. She was discovered coasting down the River Boyne.
She is not dead. I am not going to give her loved ones that report.
His heart was thundering in his chest. Instantly, he emailed the Garda stations where the last two victims were discovered with a request for their autopsy photos, with a summary of why they were needed, with his cell phone number. He had done criminal sketches for each of them several times, so he trusted they would be willing to enclose such information to him.
The aunt was the next step. Perhaps eight was late to call to some people, but surely not for someone missing a beloved niece. He dialed her number and rose to stare out the window at the setting sun. The last golden rays penetrated a sky as burgundy as wine.
"Sherrie?" he asked when she answered the phone.
"Yes. Who's this?"
"Calder McCallister. I am investigating the disappearance of Beatrice Lynch."
There was silence. "She ran away two years ago."
"Yes, that is why I am searching for her. May I speak to you in person?"
"I would love to help in any way I can, mister, but I have a severe cold that I would rather not pass to you – especially if you're searching for our Beatrice."
Calder considered this. "All right. Have you seen her since she left her father?"
There was a pause. "No, not since she was living with that Gallagher family. She asked if I knew where her mother was. I do not, and I told her so. She said she really didn't want to contact her anyway, after she thought about it. Still, Niamh is her mother. I always said she must have gotten desperate enough to contact her. Do you know anything more about her disappearance?"
"Still exploring possibilities."
"I see. You will contact me if you learn anything?"
"Yes. What is her mother's maiden name?"
"Connelly. I supposed she moved to England."
"I appreciate the information, ma'am," Calder rushed to the computer to type the name into a search engine. "I will contact you if I learn anything significant."
"Good night, Mr. McCallister."
Calder placed the phone on the desk beside him and continued to search for she whose name was Niamh Connelly. Several turned up empty, and he decided there was one more woman who desired not to expose her location. Lord, please make this possible. He searched more one database and discovered a woman matching in name and approximate age in Kent. She purchased her home soon after Mrs. Lynch abandoned her home in Ireland. He penned her phone number and set it on the keyboard.
The alabaster moon shone in the night sky. It streamed across Calder as he lay in his twin bed and closed his eyes. A prayer squeezed between the theories and speculations and inquiries jostling around his brain. He then listened in silence as much as his mind would allow.
After about two hours, Calder leaned on his arm beside a sheet of paper and carved the shape of a telephone line with his charcoal. The perspective peered down the street and to the ocean, with homes on each side of the road.
When he was done, he crawled between his sheets again. They chilled him more than when he was up and about, and he only stared at the pale ceiling while his brain was dense with more theories and speculations. He closed his eyes and said another prayer for Beatrice, striving to listen afterward.
After another hour, he stood several steps behind his bedroom door with a dart in his hand. He closed his brown eye and stared with his blue eye at the middle of his dartboard. He released the dart and nailed his target, then stepped back once more and aimed another dart.
He almost collapsed into his bed one last time until the sun rose, and its rays seeped through the small Northern windows of his room. Soon after awakening, he stared out at the pastel clouds illuminated with carnation sunlight with a mug of coffee in one hand.
He answered the ring of his phone to hear that an email with autopsy photos arrived in his inbox. He dove into the chair at his computer and pressed its power button. After a couple minutes, he got into his email and clicked on the recent messages. There were two, and he was astonished by the prompt responses. He praised God in his heart and mind as he clicked on the first and downloaded the image.
The pixels seemed to appear one at a time. Eventually, the pale visage of the deceased girl discovered in the abandoned house emerged into clear view. The eyes were spaced well apart, and the thin lips and complete deficiency of freckles. He released the breath he had been harboring with a curt "That is not her. Go raibh maith agat."
The second one made his heart thunder in his ears. As the image was revealed to him, the color of her hair matched. There were freckles scattered across her pale complexion. He was not aware of the sound of his own breath as he studied the girl on the screen. All at once, the remainder was there – and the dense brows and structure of her round face denied her the identity of Beatrice Lynch.
He heated himself a biscuit and a cup of tea before dressing in his coat and jeans and exited his own townhouse. He drove with the scribbled town name on his dashboard as he made a call to Niamh with his car. "Good morning. Me name is Calder McCallister. Are you the mother of Beatrice Lynch?"
"Why do you want to know?" she demanded.
"Are you aware that your daughter has been missing two years?"
There was a clatter and he suspected she dropped the phone. Then came a sharp voice as she shrieked "Me daughter is missing?"
"Yes. She ran away and has not been seen in some time. You know nothing of her disappearance?"
"No, I do not!" she snapped. "Why would she run away? Beatrice would never do that!"
"With all due respect," Calder answered, "are you positive?"
There was a momentary silence and a released sigh. "No, I suppose not. What can I do?"
"If you have any information, I could use it. But otherwise, say a prayer and I will keep searching until I have something to report."
"Right. Do that. Do not stop until you know where she is."
"That's the plan."
Eventually, he discovered the street of aged shops. He stopped his car at the side of the street and slammed the door, surveying the area. There were people milling up and down the sidewalk, and he immersed himself in the crowd. There was no one who resembled Beatrice, so he started into one of the shop doorways to evaluate the people. He savored the sweet aroma at the entrance as he searched the corner to see if he could recognize a panhandler resembling Beatrice, but he saw no one of the sort. After a moment, he decided to enter instead.
Ruby roses scrawled up the bricks with swirling emerald vines. The path of wooden floors inside were illuminated by the overhead lights with a warm glow, and much of the rest of the room was covered in easels and displays of bright lighthouses by Thomas Kinkade, lovely portraits by John Singer Sargent, striking cityscapes by Van Gogh, realistic oil paintings of people by Da Vinci, and more.
"Good morning," a woman with pearly curls rushed to greet him with a smile. "Welcome to the gallery. May I show you around a bit?"
"Much obliged. But I need to ask if you have seen someone."
"Certainly," she moved closer as he extracted a photo from his pocket and revealed it to her. "Lord Almighty. Charles! Charles, come see this!"
A man with wisped ivory hair about her height hobbled closer. "What is it, Mrs. McCarthy?"
"Look!" she pointed at the photo. "Is that not Trixie?"
"Why, yes," he snatched the photo from between Calder's fingers. "Why do you want to know?"
"I am searching for her. She has a father and several other loved ones curious what happened to her after she ran away two years ago. Do you know her?"
"Yes," the woman's powder blue eyes sparkled with excitement. "She is the homeless girl who sleeps in our doorway at night. But she said someone has been watching her, although she has never seen him, so we have allowed her to sleep in our spare room above the gallery."
"Does she sleep here every night?"
"Yes. We have seen her every night for months."
Calder smiled and gathered himself again. "May I ask something of you?"
"Yes, if we can be of some assistance," replied Charles McCarthy. "Trixie never mentioned a family, but I suppose there was very little she did mention, am I right, Mary? But if you are positive she has one, please let us know what we can do to help her."
"May I return tonight to speak with her?"
The elder couple exchanged concerned glances before Mary McCarthy said "Well, lad, I am afraid she refuses to trust most people. I daresay we are an exception to that rule, and I fear that if you attempt to approach her – especially when she is sure she is being pursued – you will only scare her away. Why, even if we were to tell her you wanted to speak with her, she would probably assume you are the one who's been watching her!"
"Right, well," Calder murmured as he considered his options. "I may have an idea."
He returned to the restaurant around lunchtime to present his idea to Mr. Lynch, after reporting all that he learned.
"Beatrice is sleeping at a gallery in an old town about an hour away. She panhandles during the afternoon. The couple at the gallery said that she is positive she is being stalked."
Fred Lynch closed his eyes and dropped his chin to his chest. "Homeless and with a predator?"
"I have an idea," Calder answered. "She needs to know you still love her. And I may be able to deliver a message you send. But I need your permission to explain your situation to a brother of mine."
"Why is that a requirement?"
"I am not able to assume an identity contrary to me own," he said drily. "But I have a brother who is able to melt into another personality in an instant. He has gone so far as to act professionally. Beatrice will not trust a man that she suspects may be stalking her, and I do not believe she will approach you or anyone else she once knew. But another homeless man may not rouse her suspicions."
Mr. Lynch rubbed his palms up and down his cheeks. "You want your brother to pretend to be a homeless man to deliver a message from me?"
"Yes. I believe he can accomplish that."
Mr. Lynch released a sigh and ran his hands over his eyes. "Phone him and explain the situation."
"Right. And I ask to enact this plan as soon as possible."
Calder accomplished what he promised and explained his plan to Rearden. Afterward, he completed grading the remainder of the twenty-five exams each in the advanced mathematics class and scheduled an appointment at the Garda station to ask a victim of a purse snatching about the thief and sketch what she remembered of him. He only managed a prayer and a scarce moment of silence to prepare for the events that night, but Luke 19:10 leapt out at him: "The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost." Christ, you are the King of reparations and restorations. Please go before us and help us.
By the time he reached the restaurant again early that evening, it was when his stomach growled its desire to eat supper to no avail. He promised himself he would heat stew and compile a salad with tomatoes the moment he returned home that night as he seated himself in the lobby. The second his client discovered him, he implored him to seat himself at the table beside the door and explain the plan. Calder declined and asked to wait until his brother arrived, so as to not have to explain it all twice.
A shadow cast across the carpet when a silhouette darkened the doorway. Ginger hair reached his shoulders, and great brown eyes sparkled behind wire glasses. His chocolate tweed coat was patched in some areas, and holed in others. His jeans were in a similar state. He stared down at Calder and Mr. Lynch with a crooked smile until the latter rose and moved toward him.
"May I help you?"
"It seems to me," the man whistled through his warped teeth as he answered with a deep, but wavering voice, "that I may actually be able to help you."
"Rearden, get in here and shut up," Calder said without raising his eyes. Mr. Lynch rolled his eyes at the realization he had been deceived and dropped back down into his chair. Rearden seated himself between them and removed his plastic dentures and set them on the cloth napkin as Lynch observed with apprehension. "Mr. Lynch, do you have a message you want delivered to Beatrice?"
"I will pick it up on me way out the door. How will this be done?"
"We need to get to the town. I will explain the use of surveillance and the role Rearden will play while I drive."
Rearden snatched his keys the moment he withdrew them from his pocket. "Assuming you want us to arrive alive, I am going to be driving us. You'll thank me if you ever have the displeasure of seeing him in action," he added to Mr. Lynch with a mischievous smile while Calder glared at him.
"And you believe that this plan will work?" Mr. Lynch asked Rearden.
"Me brother is essentially a Vulcan," Rearden answered. "I trust his judgement."
And so, Mr. Lynch entrusted he restaurant to the supervision of his employees, and the trio exited into the sunlight. He stopped suddenly at the doorway, causing the brothers to swivel around.
"Beatrice loves snapdragons. I gave her a snapdragon as an apology anytime I made a mistake. She preserved every single one," he reached into the window basket and picked the richest, robust scarlet snapdragon and scrambled into the rear seat of the immaculate raven car.
"We each will have an earwig in our ears," Calder explained as Rearden maneuvered the car out of its space and continued down the street. "And Rearden will wear a small pin with a cross that has a camera. Mr. Lynch, we will use these to confirm for certain that this is Beatrice, and to guide him if any misfortune should happen until we are done."
"Such as what?" he asked curiously.
"Always be prepared to handle anything, expected or not."
The father closed his eyes and remained silent as Calder directed his brother to the aged town and crowded street where he suspected Beatrice could be. He ordered him to ease the car between two others down the road and passed him the pin. He then slid his seat back and situated his computer on his knees, removing his obsidian leather gloves to allow him to move. To Rearden, "Are you clear on what we discussed between the directions I gave?"
"Yes, Spock," Rearden smiled and received the snapdragon, winking as he exited the car and shambled down the street to search for the brick gallery his brother described. At least one eye of each person that passed by seemed to be locked on him, so he smiled a toothy grin and sent compliments out until he reached the archway. There, he grunted with mock effort to drop to his knees and stretch across the path to the door. The shops were all closing while he listened to the mass exodus of people returning to their cars and homes while others lingered and chatted.
A chilled draft swirled around the doorway as Rearden rested his cheek on his curved arms. The snapdragon was secure in his breast pocket, suspended between his chest and the bricks. He could not imagine living on the streets each day and every night.
Shadows surpassed sun rays as evening settled into night. There were a couple people still milling around, and he sensed their stares of apprehension and pity.
After some time, there was a sentence or two in a small voice somewhere down the street. She called something inaudible, but he heard her father say "That's her!" in his ear. He remained still and allowed himself to completely relax, despite sensing the presence of someone close to him.
There was the sound of sniffing and soft snarling in his ear as a girl approached and said "Excuse me, but I have to get in there." He pressed his palms into the bricks and pushed himself upright with a wan smile. Beatrice was in a tattered olive coat and jeans with a split at one knee. Densely knotted strawberry blond hair reached her waist, and her turquoise eyes flashed with cynicism. Still, the shouts of Mr. Lynch in the distance that she was his daughter did not distract Rearden's mind out of staring at the more prominent being in his vision, which was the fawn patched pit bull analyzing his character with her nose. Rearden raised his hands with mock surprise.
"Well, I don't mean t'get in yer way."
"Parley!" Beatrice snapped, and the dog returned to her master with a disappointed whine. Suddenly, Beatrice caught sight of the robust snapdragon in his pocket. "Where'd you get that?" she asked quietly.
"Be honest with her," Calder advised in his ear. He spit the crooked teeth into his hand and slipped them into a pocket on the inside of his coat.
"Your dad sent this as a message to you," he answered as he gently removed the stem from his breast pocket and extended it to her. He was met with no response, almost as if she were still listening to him speaking. "He misses you so much that he asked me brother to find you. The Gallaghers and your aunt are all petrified that something may have happened to you."
She chewed her lower lip as a single tear carved a stream down her smudged cheek.
"He never asked where I was. Not for a long time."
"He assumed you were with someone you knew, and he was afraid to scare you away. When he realized you were gone completely, he cast himself into a panicked search. And I am going to be honest, Beatrice, the gallery owners here told me brother that you believe you are being stalked. You are not safe out here, day or night. Miss, it's time to come home. Please, for the sake of those who love you."
She squeezed her eyes shut and covered her mouth as tears cascaded down her cheeks. She accepted the apology and dissolved into trembling sobs until Rearden rose to envelop her in his arms and give press a consoling hand against her back.
"You're all right. See, so many people love you. Come on, your dad is within a mile down the street."
The girl withdrew and gathered the crimson leash around one hand. "Parley, you're going to meet me dad, and a lot of other people, too."
They started down the sidewalk in contented silence. The moon had risen and peered at them from down the street. Rearden smiled at this until Calder said "That man…" in a severe tone in his ear. He dropped his eyes to see a man about to pass them on the edge of the street, staring. Rearden raised his arms to shield Beatrice, but the man suddenly threw a fist against his mouth and sent him sprawling on the ground, scattering his wig and glasses aside. He heard Calder shouting in his ear at Mr. Lynch to stop running to save Beatrice and that he would endanger her more. He scrambled up again to see the perpetrator with a hand over her mouth, hauling her back into the shadows with a knife aimed at him.
"Easy," Rearden soothed as calmly as he could manage. "You're scaring the girl and the dog."
Parley was snarling at him, and rushed to bite down on his shin. He screamed and kicked out in an attempt to shake her loose. Beatrice shoved a trembling hand deep into one pocket and carefully withdrew a can. She strove to adjust it in her grip, despite the tremors.
"What are you aiming to get?" Rearden eased closer, but the man raised the sort of dagger at his eye level. "Maybe we could make some sort of deal. I have some money on me, and we can exchange."
Beatrice squeezed her eyes shut and darted the can above her shoulder to spray. The man released her with a cry and shielded his eyes with one arm. Rearden careened into the man as Beatrice rushed behind him, and crashed down atop him with the endeavor to pin the arm against his chest that clenched the knife. Despite his grimace of effort, the man managed to wrench his arm loose and threw him aside in his terror.
But the moment he leapt to his feet, a second man came plunged into him and cast him to the earth again, sending the knife skittering across the cement. Rearden dropped to his knees and shoved down the rising shoulder of the man who started cursing and screaming at them.
"Dad," Beatrice wailed and covered her mouth again. Parley was barking sharply at all the men and lurching against the end of her leash. Mr. Lynch peered over his shoulder and gave a watery smile.
"You're all right," he promised.
Suddenly, Calder emerged at the end of the street, running as swiftly as his lengthy legs allowed. He reached them breathless, and one glimpse at Rearden's bleeding mouth sent him to the head of the perpetrator. "You attacked an innocent girl and threatened me brother. His first child is due in October."
He had knelt down to snarl these words, but Rearden caught him by the arm. "We're all right. Don't get yourself into trouble because of him. Mr. Lynch, go be with your daughter and call the Garda. We'll keep the pervert pinned down."
Mr. Lynch rose to console his daughter, and Calder pressed a knee down on the shoulder of their prisoner to keep him down. Rearden spat aside the blood that seeped from the cut in his lip. Calder stared at him with apprehension.
"And now, I get to explain this to me wife," Rearden lamented in aggravation to the man, who chuckled at his own accomplishment. Calder sneaked an eye down to the droplet of blood that sprinkled his hand where it was shoved against the man's chest. He breathed as evenly as he could manage and closed his eyes as Rearden searched his demeanor. "No, look at him instead of me or your hand. Come on, get your eyes on him!"
Praise be to God, Mr. Lynch caught what was happening and threw himself back down to help until the Garda arrived.
. . .
The peach and butter smeared sunset denied the crisp October atmosphere when Calder entered Vincenzo's to see Beatrice standing beside her father, his arm around her shoulders, at a table surrounded by Rearden and Sarai, the McCarthy couple, the three Gallaghers, and a ginger woman he presumed to be Aunt Sherrie. All applauded his entrance and sent the blood to his cheeks.
"Stop that, or I'll leave," he snapped with lowered eyes as "Mambo Italiano" became audible through the speakers. "Any good that comes of me searching is a gift from God, and nothing less."
"You're an eager servant," Rearden reminded him as he rose to embrace him with a strong slap on the back. "So eat something, because Mr. Lynch asked everyone to order something on the house."
"We have discussed this, Mr. Lynch," Calder answered with exasperation as he seated himself beside his brother. "I was reluctant to accept one meal. There is no chance I am going to accept two."
"You're going to have to accept it," said Mr. Lynch with a smile.
"We wanted to thank each of you in all the ways you helped me with this meal," Beatrice announced with a smile. With her turquoise dress and the sides of her hair were pulled back while the remainder reached her waist, she resembled a princess. "Dad and I still were at it with each other even until this week, when we realized there was still a relationship to salvage. I know it's not going to be easy, but it will be worth being at home with a family."
Caleb scraped his chair back and stood while she received him into her arms and pressed a kiss against his cheek. Parley meandered around beneath them to eat whatever appetizer morsels she might discover. The variety of meals was soon served. All ate their share of soups and pastas, garlic breads and steaks, and salads with merriment as the atmosphere outside grew lavender in the evening sunlight.
"Yes, we are young," Beatrice agreed with a smile. "But after all these years, Caleb and I know each other enough that I can say I love him. You're not married, Calder?"
Calder snorted and sneaked a glance at his bare ring finger. "No, I never gave any relationship enough time to develop into love. I have too many other things to attend to."
Rain showered the earth for several seconds and ceased, cleansing the atmosphere with its own fresh scent as the horizon deepened into a rich azure with scattered stars. Chatter and periods of laughter resonated throughout the entire restaurant, particularly when Parley squeezed around all the obstacles beneath the table to reach the tuft of bread that Beatrice reached down to her. Fred Lynch groaned with dismay, then chuckled to himself.
"You know, I rather enjoy having such a girl around," he patted the smooth head with an affectionate smile. Beatrice gave his shoulder a teasing shove.
"And what about me?"
"You know what I think about having you back," he grinned and gently elbowed her arm.
"I agree, Mr. Lynch," Rearden smiled at Beatrice. "You have a lovely spitfire here."
He chuckled and agreed. Suddenly, Sarai grasped her husband's arm with alarm in her dark hazel eyes. "Rearden, we have to go."
"Are you all right?" he asked.
She released a meager smile that startled Rearden upright. He gave his hand, and when she accepted it, he pulled her upright and drew her chair out from behind her.
"Does this mean what I assume it does?" Beatrice asked with an excited smile.
"Yes," Sarai prattled as Rearden rushed her to the door with an arm around her shoulders. "Excuse us as we leave early, but I am going into labor right now."
"I will phone Ma and meet you there later," Calder called after them.
"Much obliged!" Rearden returned as the door closed behind them.
Mr. Lynch secured an arm around his daughter. "It is a gift to be a father. He will be a decent one."
* Driving to town: "Moving Mountains" by Thrice