A man in his early or middle twenties smeared a cloth between the syrup dispensers that lined the ebony wood counter, maneuvering around the mug of a woman seated at the corner. The room was perfumed with the rich aromas of berries and roses as patrons retrieved their teas and seated themselves at a round table, or in an indigo recliner close to the bookshelves.
Calder raised his blackberry tea to his mouth as a woman with her auburn tendrils in a crisp wave opened the door and peered around, the maroon carpet beneath her indented by her navy pumps. He rose and approached her with an extended hand. "Calder McCallister."
"Mary Woodson," she accepted his clasp and moved to seat herself across him. She released the breath in her rose cheeks and removed the onyx satchel from her shoulder before she started to speak. "My granddad was temperamental and abused my mother and her brother. Eventually, he was imprisoned with multiple assault charges and his wife and children abandoned him. He is my sole relative now, and despite the past, I want to reconnect with him if he deserves a second chance."
She reached into her satchel and removed a file to set between them. Calder opened it and scanned the photo of a stout man with a reflective vest and hard hat, the résumé with previous employments, hardware and vehicle part magazines addressed to him, and a driver's license dated to 1980 with an image of a portly man with narrow eyes.
"Michael Bade," Calder read as he examined one of the pages.
"My relatives all distanced themselves from him, so I apologize this is all I have."
A sharp whistle beside them gave her a start. A man seated close to them released a second whistle and started into an ephemeral melody between bites of chicken salad. After he swallowed, he released another whistle and repeated the same eight notes with a pause in the middle.
"Anyway," she stared down at the smudged graphite on the outside edge of her right arm and hand, "He used to spend some time in this area, so that is the reason I asked you here. I can be reached at any time and for any reason. I apologize I do not have more information to trace him with."
"If you had, I may not have a case."
The man beside him slammed his palm against the table and released another whistle and melody. He started to drum his fingertips on the wood, but the man behind the counter came around and knelt beside him. After speaking to him as a child, he pulled him up by the arm and guided him, struggling and reaching toward the roses around the shelves, out into the sunshine.
"Well, I appreciate your time," Mary Woodson reached out to shake the hand of her investigator and rose to leave. He examined the papers a second time and started to note on a page of lined paper which facts could assist his search and the various sources he could use. The barrister returned and resumed his service behind the counter with an apology to the patrons perusing the pastries in the compartment.
"Excuse me." Calder raised his eyes to see the woman in a leather coat who was seated earlier at the counter, her silken dark chocolate hair pulled back at the sides. "Is the seat across you occupied?"
She scraped the chair back and seated herself, crossed her arms, and stared past him with eyes as pale and opaque as glaciers. "My name is Calla Lily, and I couldn't help but overhear. You mentioned a case, and it sounds as if you might be searching for someone in the area. I see everyone around here on a regular basis, so maybe I could show you around – for the price of a second cup of tea."
Calder stared at her. "Pardon me; I assumed you were blind."
Her harsh features lit up when she smiled. "Honey, just because I'm blind, doesn't mean I can't see."
He snorted his amusement and opened his laptop to start his search. "Done. Order anything."
She raised her palm in the direction of the counter, and the man came around to answer. "Aaryn," she said, "may I have a cup of jasmine tea?"
"Yeah, I'll make it now."
He disappeared again and Calla Lily crossed her arms with closed eyes and silence as Calder searched the arrest records of the missing man. A smattering of assault and narcotics convictions stained a decade of his life until all records suddenly severed. He opened another page and searched employment and medical records to no avail. Then he started scouring records of death certificates, newspaper obituaries, and cemetery contents with no awareness of the steaming cup of tea being placed on the wooden table. Calla Lily raised her palm over it a moment before leaning down to breathe across it.
"See anything in his records?" she asked and raised it to her mouth. "I hear the keys when you type."
"Not anything current," he closed the screen and returned the laptop to its case. "Do you know a man called Michael Bade?"
She sipped her tea and set the cup down. "No."
"Do you know the man who was making strange noises?"
"Everyone calls him Cadence. He is a mute and he has some mental retardation, but he can communicate with noises and motions. He showed up about a decade ago and lived on the streets, but the community helps him. He comes in here in the middle of the day and gets a meal, the shelter has a volunteer doctor and a dentist, and someone there cuts his hair."
"Do you know anyone in this area that may be particularly knowledgeable of the people here?"
"Depends on who you ask. The people at the churches and the shelter recognize the homeless, but the people at the market may recognize someone who lives close enough to shop there."
Calder etched all she said in cursive, and she slurped the last of her tea. Then she rose.
"Anytime you're ready. I'll be outside."
He assembled his possessions and paid at the counter. When he emerged into the sunshine, Calla Lily caught his elbow and pointed down the street.
"The market is at the corner, and the shelter is across the street. Up and down each side are shops. This is a small enough community that if your missing person lives anywhere near here, there is a decent chance someone will know who he is."
He examined the plaster structures with their splashes of color, the mossy brick shelter across the street, and the spire of a steeple at one end. Cars passed up and down the street, stopping often for the people darting between them or crossing at the corners. Pigeons scavenged about outside restaurants.
"Shelter, church, market."
"Right. Let me introduce you to Carlton McCullough; he runs the shelter."
She allowed him to steer her across the street and into the shelter, where he reached into his pocket and produced the expired license to ask about Michael Bade, but no one claimed to know him. Calla Lily assumed the responsibility to catching the attention of pedestrians so Calder could ask them, but no one seemed to have seen him. She asked a couple transients passing by. She asked some of the shopkeepers and a Gardaí officer on patrol. She asked the preacher at the church and the employees at the market. At last, she reached the vendor selling roses and asked him. No one admitted to knowing him.
"Starting to suspect he may not live here," Calder mused, despite the intuitive sense he did.
"Wish I knew what I could do to help," Calla Lily answered. She seated herself in a metal chair outside a bistro and spat a tendril of hair away from her mouth as the wind blew it. "But I come here often, should you come up with something."
"Do you have a means of getting home?" he asked.
"Yeah. Two elder brothers and one younger. They treat me as if I was a princess, escorting me where I want to go and coming back when I ask. Do you have any brothers?"
Calder snorted. "Six."
"Must have your hands full," she rose as a car steered up beside them and moved closer with her arms reaching to touch it. Calder steered her in the right direction as a man peered out the passenger window as he reached to pop the door open.
"Thank you, sir. Ready, Calla?"
"Yeah," she reached into her purse and retrieved a pen and a scrap of paper. She scrawled something on the side of the car and passed it to Calder. "Let me know if I can help. Have a great afternoon."
After she disappeared into the car and it started down the street, he seated himself and removed his laptop a second time. This time, he entered the name into a database with ancestral records. He sought anyone without a death date and discovered his children to be alive. He searched their contact numbers and called the daughter to no avail. The second was Martin, who answered after a second or two.
"Excuse me. My name is Calder McCallister, and I'm a private detective hired by your niece to trace your father. Have you been in contact with him, or know where he might be?"
"No one has. We're not even positive he's alive."
Calder typed in the surname and searched the general internet. Articles appeared instantly regarding a cold case. Bernice Bade was murdered in her home after being struck with a table lamp. Her antique jewelry was also stolen. No physical evidence was discovered at the scene. No one was seen entering or leaving the premises.
"You said Mary asked you to trace him? Why does she want to know where he is?"
"Potential reunion. Your mother –"
"Was murdered six days after he was last released from prison. He was identified as a person of interest, but it never went beyond that."
An article closer to the middle of the page announced that the case was recently reopened. A man said that he came out of his room as a boy to see his mother staring out the window at a strange car. It was a recent model with a peculiar blackberry color. He remembered this moment after spending the day with his mother and she asked him about it. Her dementia convinced her it was a recent event.
"What do you suspect happened?"
Martin released the air in his lungs.
"Do you suspect he's on the run?"
"No paper trail, right?" Martin snorted and Calder imagined him shaking his head. "That was what made me curious if he was dead. Couldn't imagine him giving up the life of crime after he started, after what he did to us. My mother not only left him; she ran. After the divorce, she moved into a house in a quiet area and severed all contact. She changed her phone number, exchanged her car, and altered her last name to Bard. But that woman was a saint. She was an affectionate mother and worked in pharmaceuticals. I can't imagine anyone else hating her so much. You know, I suspect that may be what Mary is really after. She's a prosecuting attorney."
"Any contact with her lately?"
"No. She goes her own way. Why?"
Calder extracted his notes and scanned them with a shiver down his spine that prickled down his arms. "She and I may have had a miscommunication."
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A drizzle of morning rain splattered the windows behind Calder when he seated himself in his office prior to class. He swallowed another sip of coffee and sorted the stacks of graded assignments and worn books amidst his private investigation cases until he was positive he knew the locations of everything. A knock at the door startled him as he swallowed more of his drink and set it aside.
The door opened to the pleasantly surprised visage of Mary Woodson, who came toward him and seated herself in the chair across when he asked her to. She straightened her skirt when she sat and clasped her hands on her lap.
"You already have information, I presume?"
"You lied," he answered crisply. The pleasantness drained out of her and the surprise intensified. She gathered herself rapidly and tucked a tendril of hair behind her ear with a strained smile. As she started to stammer an explanation, he elaborated, "I research my clients when I must. You have relatives. You are a prosecution attorney, and he was suspected of murdering your grandmother."
She dropped her eyes and cleared her throat. "Yes, I am seeking him to press charges. We always suspected he may have something to do with her murder, but I was never more certain than when a fresh lead was called in. There was a dark vehicle seen at her house, and his old car was black."
Calder leaned his elbows on the arm of his chair. "So why lie?"
"This is a case where reuniting a broken family is more appealing than executing justice."
He snorted. "Miss Woodson, I am an investigator who seeks out criminal as well as civil cases, and who is a forensic artist for the Gardaí. I would assume that, as a prosecuting attorney and a paying client, you would learn about a prospective private investigator before you hired him."
She leaned toward him and said, "Because my grandfather was associated with a lot of evil people who would not like to see him in a position where he could reveal some of their activities. This case is a dangerous one, but someone has to see if he's the one responsible for the death of my grandmother."
Calder slapped his notebook open and snatched a pen. "Don't you suppose that might be relevant information in this investigation?"
"Pardon me," she apologized, "I misjudged your character. I asked two more investigators to search him out prior to this, and neither would agree to it. Besides, I have no idea what their names were, or even what they were involved with. My grandmother only told me mother and uncle what I told you."
As Calder stared at her, she darted her eyes away and down with rosy cheeks. He cleared his throat. "A man should make a decision on a case presented to him based on all relevant information. That decision is not anyone else's to make. And when there is a particular element of danger, I'd say that is especially relevant information, considering the investigator gets to probe around these people."
She reddened even more. "You're right, and I apologize."
"Anything else I should know?"
"My mother was told that her da associated with dangerous people who would not want to see him caught, because he could give them away. That is all the information she gave me."
She twisted around and saw someone peering at them behind the window portion of his door.
"Excuse me, but I believe you have a student with a question."
She rose to leave Calder with a mind aroused with curiosity and an edge of trepidation that repudiated any assurance in his own courage. He battled the tormenting apprehension when his student arrived to receive an assignment she missed when she was home with a cold, when he gathered his physics agenda at noon and started toward the classroom, and as he explained the theories scheduled to discuss that day. He misplaced the stack of assignments he was to return, and excused himself to retrieve them from his office desk where he had left them. By the end of the afternoon, he seated himself in his office chair and slumped back with the emotional exhaustion of the assailing anxiety.
He closed his eyes with a prayer for protection and reached to open the Bible in his desk drawer. He leafed to the Psalms and darted his eyes to the passages regarding courage. He swallowed and nodded in a silent promise that he would continue with the case.
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That evening was crisp with the scent of rain and shower of stars shimmered in the twilight as the sun disappeared, leaving remnants of tangerine streaks across the horizon. Calder realized as he arrived that about twenty minutes remained until the coffee shop closed, so he strode down the side of the street at an accelerated rate. Between two stores was a pair of feet with heels protruding through the black sock holes. Covers were piled on the rest of their person to keep him warm despite the rain.
As Calder continued down the street, he could hear squelching steps amble behind him. A melodious whistle made him start. A stolen look over one shoulder revealed Cadence stalking several yards behind him. After another whistle, he ducked into the brick coffee shop and positioned himself beside the door. His pursuer entered after him and passed by with a smile en route to his seat. There, he removed a crimson toy Ferrari out of his pocket and rolled it across the mahogany table.
"May I help you?" Aaryn asked behind the counter. A mere two people were already served and seated, so Calder meandered to the counter as he squinted at the colorful menu scrawled in cursive on a blackboard in a seemingly endless array of combinations all crammed together. He shook his head clear.
"Espresso. Two shots."
Aaryn started as soon as he answered. A steady rhythmic drumming sound made Calder swivel around to see Cadence with his fingertips drumming the table as though he was playing a piano, expression matching that of a dedicated musician. As Aaryn completed the request and placed it on the counter, he called to Cadence, "You want a nectarine?"
Cadence raised his eyes with an anticipated smile.
"All right. I'll get you one and the usual tea."
Calder sensed his spine prickle with the idea that something mysterious transpired in plain sight. He seated himself with his back to the corner of the room and pulled his laptop out of its case. As he cracked it open and started it up, Cadence resumed the imaginary piano and whistled the same peculiar melody as the last time. Its clash against the cello music playing in the speakers made the two people close by stare at him.
The door was pulled open and a woman with her golden tendrils pulled back and curled at the ends came behind the counter to give Aaryn a peck on the cheek. She gathered some of the syrup bottles that were almost empty and carried them out the door close to the counter. Calder peered around and saw that there was a pocket of an area with a pair of bathrooms close to the entrance, a curved wrought iron staircase to the right, beneath which was a mess of covers he suspected were used by Cadence, and an exit down the short hall to the left of that.
"Brita," Aaryn called as he scribbled something down on a note sheet.
"Yes?" she reappeared and met him at the counter.
"A couple more syrup flavors have been released, so I added them to the restock list. French Vanilla and Marshmallow. We could combine the latter with chocolate syrup and make a sort of campfire special. Doesn't that sound like it might be a hit?"
"Yeah, we just have to decide what we can do to add a graham cracker flavor."
The current cello song ended and a more upbeat one started. The man seated close to Calder removed a small bottle from his coat pocket and dribbled its amber contents into the remainder of his tea. Cadence received his nectarine and tea with a smile. Aaryn also produced a square of decoratively iced carrot cake and set it on his table, causing him to clap as an excited child. He twisted around and sent a smile to Calder. Another wave of chills washed over him and receded like the tide. He whistled his melody in a deliberate and melancholy manner and drummed his fingers without breaking eye contact.
"Sir," Aaryn snatched his attention, "we close in ten minutes."
"All right," he answered as Cadence returned to his meal. He ran another search on Michael Bade and discovered several news articles. He was convicted of extortion, multiple assaults, and an attempted murder. He was suspected of assisting in more crimes, but charges were dismissed due to insufficient evidence. The last article mentioned was the one that alarmed him the most: Felon Possibly Connected to Allegedly Disbanded Crime Syndicate.
"Time to close," Brita announced and gave Calder a start. He raised his eyes and realized that he was alone in the shop aside from Aaryn and Brita. He shut down his laptop and closed it to return it to its case. He then rose and slung it over his shoulder, and with a word of gratitude, strode outside and into the bitter evening. The skies cleared and stars were scattered across, diminished by the street lamps.
As he returned to his car behind one of his shops, he peered around him to ensure his own security. A single whistle darted his attention down one street, but he could see no one. The wooden sign beneath the lantern startled him with a realization: Kestrel.
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"Calla Lily, this is Calder McCallister."
"Good morning. You sure seem to hit the ground running."
The skies were diluted patches of dusty lavender and dainty rose above tangerine. Remnants of the storm were revealed in a couple violet streaks. Street lamps reduced what was left of the night shadows in the most popular pedestrian routes. Calder peered at the autumn plaid shirt and jeans sprawled on the covers beside him.
"This case has made me suspect the person I'm searching for is a dangerous man, and that there are more like him who will strive to keep him out of the authorities' custody. Since we spent an entire afternoon asking everyone we saw if they knew him, it would perhaps be safer if you stayed out of this area until he has been discovered, at least."
"Well," she answered after a moment, "sounds like you made some interesting progress."
"About right," he smiled and continued, "I'm concerned someone may assume the same about you."
She snorted. "What am I, a blind woman, going to do that would help catch a criminal?"
"Identify him by voice, scent, location –"
"Fair enough," she admitted and cleared her throat. "But I must admit, if you consider it dangerous that I'm involved, seems you may be in a worse position. You have a lot more to offer, for one. Are you sure you're able to come out of this intact?"
"That's the plan."
He retrieved a pair of shoes out of his closet and set them beneath his jeans. Amongst the clothes were a pair of sunglasses Tristan designed to reveal who was behind him and a recording device lay beside his long range camera. The small container of mace seemed pathetic amidst his concerns.
"Let me add to that plan: When you come out of this, we can get another cup of tea and enjoy the town with one less criminal on the streets."
Sunlight reached across the wooden planks beneath his shoes and the sparrows sang with a kestrel outside his window.
"So what would you have me do?"
The two brothers strode down the side of the street wearing ebony and navy coats, hands in their pockets to keep warm. A couple pigeons strutted around restaurant entrances and patios in search of a snack. Calder dropped his tone to a murmur to ensure discretion.
"There is a man who eats at a particular coffee house around the same time each afternoon. He has been whistling something that I suspect might be a series of music notes that mean something. All I ask is that you see whether or not that is so."
"Liam is much better at this," Callum admitted as he drew the door open and allowed his brother to pass, "but I will do everything I can."
Callum received a cup of unsweetened jasmine tea and a square of crumbling coffee cake at the counter and moved aside to let Calder order while he sorted out cash to pay. His brother pointed to the raspberry tea, and it was given to him in cup with steaming water. They seated themselves across each other in the rear of the room to keep an eye on the door as a piano streamed out the corner speakers.
"Quiet day," Callum remarked as he peered around the empty room. Calder saw Aaryn Stark raise his eyes and dart them down again. A student came in to study and sip tea, a mother rewarded her son with a slice of chocolate cake, and an elder woman asked about directions to a particular part of town. Then Cadence entered, met his eyes, and seated himself ahead of them.
"Clare over her cold?" Calder asked as he swirled his maroon tea around the cup.
"Almost," Callum answered, staring down at the table. "She's coughing at night still."
Cadence started to drum his fingertips along the wooden table, staring at Calder. "Want a sandwich?" Aaryn called. He brightened and raised his eyes in the direction of the counter.
"She passed it on to the other girls, right?" Calder continued.
Callum nodded and set his tea cup down on the saucer. "Yes. Played the piano all night, but nothing helped. The poor girls were miserable without being able to sleep."
Cadence slammed his palm down on the wood and released the same kestrel song as earlier. Calder met eyes with his brother and listened as Cadence paused to drum his fingers across the wood and whistle the same two sets of notes. He then drummed his fingers and repeated the melody.
"B," Callum mouthed and closed his eyes. He murmured the notes when Cadence repeated them another time. "B-E-A-D. Bead?"
Calder opened his mouth with surprise. Callum started with surprise when the man slammed his palm down. Aaryn raised his eyes with a curious scowl.
"Cadence," he scolded. "Calm down, man."
Cadence received his chicken salad sandwich with a smile and ripped away the first bite. He chewed with a contented smile. Callum released his breath and shook his head. Between bites, Cadence stopped to whistle the tunes another time. Callum reached down to his brother's satchel and removed a scrap of paper and a pen. He scribbled out a series of letters and slid the page across the table.
Bade and Bead? Calder etched the kestrel sound above the letters and stared at the assembly of clues. The pulsation of fingertips on wood continued. He sensed someone staring at him. Assuming the reasonable interest of Callum, he answered the silent inquisition. "Absurd. Random drivel is all this is."
A picture of a tapping telegraph flashed in his mind. He snatched the pen again and scrambled to scribble out the symbols to translate into a legible word: Roses. Adrenaline made his heart almost beat down the prior obstacles in his mind as he remembered the rose vendor on Kestrel Street.
"Know the rose vendor?" Calder remembered asking as Calla used her fingers to comb her hair back from the wind. She aimed her eyes in his direction and answered, "Beady? Yeah, sweet homeless man. A woman on the edge of town lets him attend to and prune her roses, since she is elderly, and sell them."
"Come on," he gathered his assets and rose to leave with his brother in pursuit.
Sunlight polished the heavens into a pearl veil intense enough to make them squint beneath the shelter of their raised palms as they started up the street to Kestrel. Upon arrival, Calder could see the angular man addressing potential customers with an array of roses spraying out of the stand.
"How about a flower for the lady of the hour?" he asked an elegant couple as they strode by. When the woman smiled and turned him down, he averted his attention to a youthful woman and her mother and said, "Don't you suppose your mother would enjoy this rose?"
"That man is called Beady," Calder explained to his brother.
"And that explains the roses and the kestrel," Callum agreed.
As the woman and her mother meander down the street with an ivory rose, the brothers approached the stand and examined the assortment. They were arranged to frame the stand window, with scarlet across the sill, ivory across the top, buttermilk up one side, and peach down the other. Mixed individual roses stood in vases of water on either side, including some lavender and a stark pink.
"I hear you are the man to get roses from," Calder stated.
"And is there a girl behind this referral?" the man smiled with a gap where an incisor should have been. "Bring the chick and have her take her pick."
"She says you've done this a while. Must have, to grow such lovely roses."
"Now that lady sounds a mite shady," Beady squeezed his small eyes shut when he laughed. "Been here since before you been here on earth, man."
"So direct me to the sweetest smelling rose you have," Calder requested. He stared a moment at the rather excessive flesh that sagged beneath the man's arm when he pointed to a section of scarlet roses.
"Sweeter than honey, and'll only cost a little money," he gestured with one hand.
Calder snorted and smiled. "That's a clever endeavor."
"Son, everyone loves a pun. You'll be a sorry sight if you stay so uptight."
"He may be right," Calder pursed his lips to suppress his smile when Calder darted a scowl at him.
"Are you done?"
"Let him have his fun," Beady extracted the rose he pointed to and said, "Smell that."
Calder breathed in the rich aroma and agreed. "Let me get that one."
"And I will get one of those, please," Callum pointed up to the ivory roses. As soon as the purchases were made, the two started down the street to their car. The sky was starting to clear and a dragonfly or two darted past. Calder was silent as he ruminated over his suspicions and theories until he heard a shuffle behind them and saw a third shadow. As he reached into his pocket for his mirrored sunglasses, he heard a hollow clack.
"Do not move."
Calder scarcely allowed himself to breathe, as though perhaps that movement alone would end his life. As the man approached, he darted his eyes alone to one corner and strained to see his brother, who appeared to be staring down with hunched shoulders as if he could hide in plain sight.
"Put these on."
The man reached around each with a pair of sunglasses, breath spoiled with alcohol and smothered in the stench of nicotine. Calder pined for his own pocketed pair, but accepted those provided and put them on. They were blackened with paint. His heart beat pulsed against his ribs as he stove to breathe.
"Walk. I'll guide you."
"Please, do not hurt us," Callum murmured.
"Come with me," breathed the malodorous voice in their ears as his mouth came between them and an arm came around the shoulders of each brother. Something tapped the chest of Calder beneath his coat, and he realized the man pressed something sharp against him. Blood became ice in his veins.
The clack of heels and the aroma of marigold alerted him to a pedestrian, as did the clearing of a male throat. Then the warmth of sunshine engulfed them as he presumably came out of the alley. He started to falter with surprise, but was steered to the right until the earth beneath them grew uneven.
"Watch your step," warned their captor. Within a moment, there was a wrench downward and Callum gasped as he was yanked up. He reached the edge of a dry creek before Calder, and his reaction was enough to prevent the same error in his brother.
The sedentary chitter-chatter of sparrows above impressed upon Calder the suspicion that as they crossed the creek, they were entering the rural periphery of the town with its many birch trees.
"What do you want with us?" he demanded under his breath.
The man remained silent, but shoved them ahead. "Get down on your knees."
Calder started to breathe rapidly with his racing heart. "No."
There was a sharp gasp beside him as Callum was wrenched back. "Do not move. I have me arm around your brother's throat. Get down on your knees, or I shoot him."
"All right," Calder raised his hands in surrender and lowered himself to his knees. "Let him go, take what you want, and leave."
"This is what happens when you put your nose in someone else's business, private investigator."
A boot against his back slammed him down into the dirt. His spine crackled with the pressure of the man atop him. The second boot drove several sharp kicks into his ribs despite the pleadings and protests of Callum. By the time the pressure rose and allowed him to breathe, his ribs were almost too sore to do so. The man remained above him. He sensed his shadow, heard his breath.
Then the man snorted. "And I will take what I want. Do not move, or I kill your brother."
Calder's breath hastened as the rustling of clothes and crunching of boots grew more distant, but pain pierced his ribs. "Stop! What are you doing?"
"Shut up or I shoot!"
He could reach toward his phone and call for help. But what if the man saw this and shot Callum or him? He could shout, but the man could shoot before any help arrived. Something must be done. Please, God, help us. He could scarcely hear any movement. Was it safe to rise? He gathered his breath to call out enough to get the attention of someone close by, but the crunching of shoes approaching at a rapid pace seized his breath. Someone stopped beside him and dropped down on one knee. A palm lay against his back.
"Calder," the gentle voice wavered with concern. He peeled his eyes open and raised his head so the blackened sunglasses dropped to the earth. Callum was kneeling beside him with a wan smile, and he reached down to help him up and pulled him into a relieved embrace.
"Are you all right?" Calder asked when he released him.
"Yes," he nodded. "He made me give him me wedding ring and all I had in my pockets. Then someone asked him what he was doing, and he ran. He could have killed me, and whoever interrupted him, but I suppose he panicked."
Calder nodded and started toward their car. "Let's go."
That night was spent in silence. He lay on his back with his arms crossed behind his head, staring into the darkness until the early morning rays revealed shades of dawn across his ceiling. He analyzed each article of evidence in his mind until he started to unravel the mystery into various theories. His heart was beating rapidly the closer he came to the answered he craved.
Sunlight streaked across the wood beside his bed as the sun managed to peer above the horizon and sneak to his northern window. As soon as he saw the rays, his phone rang and startled him out of the vortex of ideas in his mind. He reached and snatched it up to answer with a murmured, "Hello?"
"Hello, Calder, this is Josh McGrath. I'm sorry to contact you so early this morning, but we have a body downtown we want to know if you will recognize."
Within the hour, Calder was standing over a body at a taped street. The man was in a pool of blood, strained eyes open with portions of his body crushed and an imprint of tire tread on his clothes. The area reeked with the stench of nicotine and alcohol. Shattered shaded lenses were scattered close to his jeans pocket. Calder analyzed the corpse until he staggered back and Josh caught his arm.
"Sorry, I know you don't have the stomach for this sort of thing."
"No," Calder agreed. "But I saw this man at An Sionnach Rua the other night. He poured alcohol into his tea. And between the smell of alcohol and nicotine, and the contents in his pocket, I suspect this is the man I reported. Have you heard anything about him?"
"His name is Terry Elms," Detective Sergeant McGrath casually peered behind him to provide Calder with another subject to direct his attention. "Witnesses say he was run over sometime before dawn by a large vehicle, perhaps black, with the plates removed."
"Continued right down the road after running the man over," Josh pointed down the street crowded with curious people squinting to see the crime scene. "I appreciate you coming out here to see if you recognized the victim."
"You're welcome. By the way, I have something I want to ask of you tomorrow."
"Good morning, Mary. I know where Michael Bade is."
That next morning could not come soon enough. Although the crime scene downtown prevented any progression in field work the afternoon prior, it challenged Calder to suspend his investigation until dawn. He could sense the anticipation when Mary answered the phone, and when he made his announcement, she released her breath and he could hear her smile.
"I cannot express my appreciation enough," she said. "Where is he?"
"He is a rose vendor downtown called Beady. He has lost enough weight since you last saw him that there is almost no resemblance between him then and now. But listen, I am about to meet detectives downtown to speak with Bade. You are welcome to come see this through with us, but stand aside. We can't predict his reaction."
The skies were clear and the air crisp when Calder started down the street to the detectives he recognized at the corner. He reached out to greet them with an outstretched hand and thanked them for coming out a second time in two days.
"We appreciate any help solving this case," Detective McGrath replied as he accepted his grip and raised a cup of coffee to his mouth. "So you suspect this man is the one who murdered his wife."
"The circumstantial evidence seems to support it, although I would leave all that to you."
"Fair enough. Is there anything you have to ask him, or should we handle that?"
"Unless something comes up, go ahead."
Down the street they went. People streamed up and down the rows of shops and the sparrows were chattering with liveliness. There was pleasantness in the atmosphere that seemed to challenge the prediction of rain in the approaching days.
A woman waved in a plum car as it passed by, and Calder pointed. "That is Mary Woodson. I expect she will meet us at the street where the rose vendor is."
She was, at a matter of fact, standing close by in a navy skirt and jacket over an ivory blouse. A scarf was wrapped around her neck. She smiled when they approached and reached out her hand. "Good afternoon. My name is Mary Woodson. I appreciate your coming out here."
"Detective Josh McGrath," he answered as he accepted her hand. "These are Detectives Jeremiah Paul and Anna Grazia. Really, we appreciate you taking time out of your work day to come here."
"Not a problem," she waved her hand. "I am an attorney close by, and we get a decent break."
"Well, stay here while we speak with him, all right?" Detective Grazia said as she peered at the man who waved at them with a smile.
"You brought yerself an entire party!" he called merrily.
"You already spoke with him?" Calder hissed.
"Chatted," she returned sharply. "I wanted to get a sense of who he is."
This unsettled Calder to an extent that surprised him. There was something he missed, and although he could not say what it was, he was sure it was something crucial
"Good afternoon," Detective McGrath said cheerily as he approached and swept his eyes across the lovely roses. "Are you Michael Bade?"
The man dropped his smile. "Haven't heard that name in quite some time. Who are you?"
"Detective McGrath," he raised his badge so the man could lean over and inspect it. "There has been recent eyewitness reports in regards to the murder of your ex-wife. Would you be willing to come down to the station with us and answer some questions?"
"Where have you heard my name?" Bade asked. "I changed my life, changed my appearance, and came down here to start anew. The one man who ever heard me name is that mental vagrant that lives in the same camp I do, and he's mute (which makes him a decent listener). So how did you know?"
"Sir, please be calm," McGrath said.
"I erased myself on paper! How do you know my name?"
The cart was decorated with silk butterflies pinned to the canvas stretched across the top and jewelry that appeared to be primarily homemade dangled beneath the side edges. Calder moved up beside the detectives to inspect them. There was one that appeared to be an aged golden locket with a rose border. He reached to touch the edges until he discovered the hinge and opened it. There was a photo of a woman on one side that he recognized as Bernice Bade, and two children on the opposite side he assumed were her daughter and son. He removed the locket from its hook and his stomach churned when he realized the metal was warm.
Detective McGrath caught sight of the locket beside him and started to move around the cart. "Sir, you are under arrest for the murder of Bernice Bade—"
"What?! I've avoided her since the divorce! What part of fresh start did you not understand?"
Calder searched the area behind him as McGrath apprehended his suspect until his eyes reached a plum colored car. The shade almost resembled a deep violet. Adrenaline started to scramble his stream of ideas when he saw Mary with crossed arms and her eyes down at her shoes. The locket was warm in his palm. The churn in his stomach was almost too much to bear.
And everyone did, apparently stunned at the word. Calder gave himself another moment to process all his ideas before he peered over his shoulder again at Mary.
"It was you."
"Ridiculous!" she snapped her eyes up.
"What makes you say that?" Detective Paul asked curiously.
"This locket is still warm," Calder weighed the jewelry in his hand, eyes still on Mary. "You must have carried it here with you and put it on the cart when you approached Bade."
"No!" she shrieked.
"Do you have more than that?" Detective McGrath was positioned behind Bade to grip his wrists together. Bade was squinting at Mary with a mixture of curiosity and astonishment.
"Mary Woodson," he said in awe. "Me granddaughter. What are you doing here?"
"She is a prosecuting attorney," Calder pointed out with an air of triumph. "And the education means acquiring a lot of debt. She was in college when Bernice Bade was murdered. And because Bernice had the reputation of an affectionate woman, and because she worked in a successful field, I would venture she offered to help Mary pay for her education."
He saw her start with surprise and set her jaw in defiance.
"The divorce must have cost her dearly. Maybe she realized she couldn't help pay after all. That must have made you angry, because you argued about it at her house," Calder realized he was venturing out on a limb, but the sense he was in the right direction fueled his momentum. "You argued with her, smashed a lamp over her skull, and killed her. You stole her jewelry, maybe to sell it or to make the crime resemble a home invasion robbery. But that car your neighbor saw was described as a sort of blackberry color, which would match your car at night."
"Stop!" she screamed, attracting several onlookers. Calder recognized a slender man in a long black overcoat with a white tee shirt and black jeans behind her. He met his eyes and disappeared amidst the crowd. But Mary raged on with a flaming complexion. "I loved my grandmother! How dare you accuse me? This man," she pointed at bade with venom in her voice and a spray of spit from her mouth, "was the one who despised her. He made her life miserable, and she fought back!"
"You loved her," Calder affirmed with a nod. "But you lost your temper, and all it takes is a moment to kill someone in the heat of rage. You hired me to investigate your grandfather when new information came up, and you withheld facts relevant to this case."
It could have been the confidence in his reasons, or perhaps she couldn't dam her emotions anymore. After a moment of silence, tears streamed down her cheeks and she bowed her head with shame.
"You have no idea how much I regretted all this!" she managed around her tears. "I reminded her that she promised me she would help, and there was no way I could afford my degree on my own. She said she was sorry, but that there was nothing she could do. I was so mad that I grabbed and swung the lamp in one motion," she paused as she released another stream of tears. "I sold the jewelry, except that locket. I couldn't let go of it. But that testimony about my car… I couldn't risk anything else being discovered, so I decided that I would get him," she pointed at Bade, "back for everything he did to my family. He already ruined his life as well as ours, so it seemed right by her to pin it on him. I am the one who helps put criminals like him in prison!"
"Mary Woodson, you are under arrest for the murder of Bernice Bade," Jeremiah Paul approached her as she released all the tears she withheld during her explanation. Josh McGrath released Michael Bade, who was stunned as he stared at his granddaughter.
"She speaks the truth," he admitted suddenly. "I deserve to be arrested much more than she does."
"That is not ours to decide," Anna Grazia reminded him respectfully. "I'm sorry for our error today."
The crowd was dispersed by McGrath as Mary Woodson was led away. Michael Bade switched his attention to Calder and gave him a meager smile.
"That was quite a show."
"Yeah, that was about as theatrical as it has ever gotten. Sorry about… everything."
"You did right by me, and everyone else here. Look here," he picked up the richest red rose out of his collection and passed it to the private detective. "I have little to give, except roses. Give this to someone special. You both deserve it."
Calder accepted the rose. "I appreciate that."
"I appreciate this surprise," Calla Lily said as she breathed in the aroma of her rose mixed with cologne. Calder hooked his arm through hers and clasped it against his side as they strolled up the street. "You know, I get the sense Aaryn was looking at us a couple times while we were there."
The evening was crisp and scented with rain. The veiled stars were almost invisible, prompting Calder to raise his umbrella above them and release the button so that it burst open.
"Did you hear that…?" Calla asked as she raised her squinted eyes above them. The scent of rain and the sound of droplets made her smile. "You knew it was about to rain. That was an umbrella."
"That's right," he smiled, amused.
"So that case. I assume you solved it, since we're here?"
"Right again. And it was an interesting one."
"Really. You should tell me about it."
He explained to her the public details of the case, which she absorbed intently until they reached his car and climbed in. Her presence made him more insecure about his driving than ever. He sneaked glimpses of her as she swayed with his turns and laughed as she lurched at his stops.
"You want me to drive?" she teased.
"Might be better if you did," he smiled as he eased to a stop to attempt to read a street sign almost enveloped in an oleander bush.
"Yeah, this feels like about where home is," she confirmed, and he steered into the lengthy driveway.
She expressed her appreciation when he stopped the car and came around to escort her to the door. Rain showered then as they hurried up the wooden steps and stopped at the entrance.
"I appreciate this evening so much," she emphasized once more. To her surprise, he kissed her cheek.
"So have I."
She recoiled with a smile and rosy cheeks as she entered her house. "See you soon. So to speak."
He chuckled as the door closed. "See you soon."
But when he returned to his car, curiosity prodded his mind. He started the engine and swiveled the car around to aim in the direction of the An Sionnach Rua.
Rain streamed down the drainpipe beside the coffee shop and into the street when he arrived. Aaryn was alone, smearing a dampened cloth across the counter when Calder strode in.
"Sir, we're about to close."
"Exactly," Calder approached the counter and leaned on his elbows. "Cadence pointed us in the right direction in this case with subtle clues. I get the idea by your relationship that you know he is not who he portrays himself to be. So," he continued despite the skeptical expression, "who is that man?"
Aaryn searched his eyes until he decided he could be trusted. Then he dissolved into an amused smile. "He's brilliant," he emphasized with an edge of pride. "I collected the books there and in that reading corner," he pointed at the shelves by the entrance and at the rear, "to interest anyone here who wanted to read something. He has read all of them, and learned at least a couple languages by them. It makes sense that he could put clues together. Come with me; there is something you should see."
He locked up the shop before leading Calder through the door close to the counter. There was a set of bathrooms almost immediately, and a utility room to the right. Beside this was a painted black metal spiral staircase that met an apartment door.
"He stays with me sometimes when the weather is cold or rainy," Aaryn explained as he climbed the stairs ahead of him. When he reached the door, he pushed it open to reveal an apartment with rich, chocolate wooden paneled walls and raspberry wine carpet. Straight ahead was a sitting area, and to the left of that was a kitchenette with a rustic restaurant booth. To the sharp left was the hall that led to the bedrooms and bathroom. "You here, Ry?"
After a moment, the man known as Cadence appeared in the shadowed hall and stopped. There was alarm in his eyes with the sharp rage at having been betrayed.
"The private detective says you have been dropping clues," Aaryn said as he stood ahead of the door. Calder darted his eyes to the booth and Cadence reluctantly started toward it.
When seated across each other, Cadence propped his elbow on the table and rested his chin on the heel of his palm, knuckles squishing his cheek. His eyes pierced Calder with intense suspicion and something close to contempt.
"Are the two of you planning to speak? Because this is getting really awkward."
As Aaryn piped up, Calder analyzed the man ahead of him. The shade of his hair and his stature reminded him of someone. The curvature of his eyebrows and the color of his eyes resembled a portrait he once made. Yes, the expression confirmed it. "Ryan Morgan Cogburn," he breathed in astonishment.
There was no visible reaction.
"Where have you heard that name?"
"In the media when you went missing. Then I investigated your case last year."
"And what did you discover?"
"Not you, clearly. All I could ascertain was that your parents may have been involved in criminal activity and that you attempted to escape beneath your house. What—?"
"Why are you here?" Cadence interrupted.
"To express my appreciation toward your assistance. And out of simple curiosity."
"Has that been answered?"
"More than I expected. It is great to see you alive," he added with sincerity. "That is a rare miracle in my profession. But stop scowling at me. I'm not about to reveal your secret. God knows I value privacy."
"Anything else?" Cadence seemed more settled.
"You see crime around, I presume?"
"Have you wondered if you have ever brushed shoulders with a murderer or shaken hands with a crook? Because if you have in this town, chances are that I know about it."
"You must see some crazy things."
"You would not believe what people do to each other. I've seen people robbed, children slapped, drug deals made, and even attempted murders. But I've also seen the homeless fed, stray animals taken in, and secret acts of kindness the recipients don't even know about."
"Do you know who attacked me brother and me?"
"Yes. He used to partner with Michael Bade in crime sprees."
"Do you know who stopped him?"
Cadence hesitated. "Yes."
Calder smirked with satisfaction. "Someone has reported crime in this area several times, determined to remain anonymous – and that would be you."
"Not so anonymous anymore."
"We appreciate it. Please, do not stop. I suppose I ought to let you two settle in for the night," Calder rose and started toward the door when Cadence added:
"I saw who murdered Terry Elms."
Calder stopped, returned to the booth, and seated himself again. "Who?"
"One man in an association of criminals. I could not see him clearly, but I am aware of them."
"You see everything," he straightened with the spark of an idea. "Sometimes I pay people in exchange for information that can help a case. You are in the perfect position to get important evidence and intel. I want to pay you as a confidential informant to provide us with anything we can use to catch those in that association. Any legal evidence you can deliver could be compiled into a case against them."
Cadence peered at him. "Use someone else."
"Who? You are in a prime position!"
"Mr. McCallister," Aaryn chimed in at the door with his arms crossed. "Stay for supper. You two can discuss all this while we eat."
After twenty minutes, all three men were seated with a bowl each of parsnip and apple soup and a side of buttered toast. There was silence as they settled into eating, until Calder raised his eyes to Cadence and asked, "Has making law enforcement aware of crime in this area not been important to you since you have lived here?"
The man swallowed his soup. "In my own time and with my own methods."
"So why refuse my proposition?" Calder responded. "You can do as much as is safe for the situation. I will reimburse any expenditures, and pay you anytime you have information."
"Is that not what you have wanted? A meaning and productivity?" Aaryn asked his companion.
"On my terms," Cadence answered. "I can get evidence and statements to you, as I see the chance. I must be anonymous. We shall have to plan a system where I can get evidence to you and store it in a secure place."
"The Garda stations—"
"No. We store evidence here until I have enough to get them all. We catch one, we spook the rest and the cockroaches scatter in the dark. Perhaps a safe deposit box. You two each have a key so I can make you accountable. And you tell know one who I am."
"Deal," Calder reached across the table and watched as he apprehensively accepted and shook his hand. "I appreciate your compliance with this idea. We can sort out the details. You let me know where your strong areas are, and we will use that to our advantage."
Cadence snorted as he swallowed more soup. "You know, I have pretended to be someone else so long that I have no idea where my strengths are. All I am is a colorful local character, endeared by and provided for by many; a burden who has not the strength to carry his own weight, much less the responsibility of cleaning up a community. I have no idea my strengths are."
"Aaryn does. Said you are brilliant."
"That's true," Aaryn answered as he scooped another spoon of soup. "You have been brilliant and clever since I knew you in primary school. Although, you may not realize that you have become loyal and shrewd. Might seem mad, but we can all see that you can do this."
"Ryan," Calder met his eyes with earnest. "'Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.'"
"Not sure William Shakespeare ever saw a case like me. But go on and thrust all the greatness you can muster, and we can see how this goes."
"After we eat, we can discuss the details."
Cadence raised his shoulders in a shrug. "Let's do it."
The apartment above An Sionnach Rua radiated with a dim luminosity until late into the evening as an alliance was made and Calder realized he had become a part of something bigger than he knew.