"Mr. Gordon, how were you able to find Joshua Madsen when the police were completely baffled as to where Bradford Stiles was keeping the child?"
That was the first question shouted, but there were dozens of reporters in front of the Richmond police station where Malachi Gordon had just finished the interviews and paperwork that completed the Stiles case as far as he was concerned. They were like a flock of ring-billed seagulls with their microphones.
Should've had someone sneak me out the back, he thought.
He raised a hand. "Please. It's been a long day and night for everyone involved."
At his side, Detective Andrew Collins supported his efforts to escape. "Everyone who worked this case is drained. There'll be a police spokesperson out shortly. Let Mr. Gordon pass!"
That didn't stop the barrage of questions or change the fact that Malachi felt as if he was being attacked by a flock of birds as he and Andy Collins made their way to the street and his SUV.
"Sorry," Andy muttered. "Should have"
"Yeah, yeah, should've gotten me out through the back. Or maybe I could've called for a 'Beam me up, Scotty!'" Malachi said. "Not to worrymy mistake. I guess we're all worn out."
They reached the car, which was behind a police fence so the reporters couldn't follow them that far. As Malachi slid into the driver's seat, Andy asked, "How the hell did you find that cabin in the woods?"
"Pure luck, I think. We'd all fanned out. I just got to it first. It's my neck of the woods, so I pretty much knew where it couldn't be," Malachi said.
"Well, another few hours and
That boy owes you his life."
Malachi shook his head. "Everyone worked on this."
"But his mom came to youand the case broke once you were on it," Andy said. "You know, if you admitted you were a psychic, no one would think less of you. I mean, yeah, some of those guys can be jerks, and they like to tease you about your voodoo powers and all that, but"
"I can't admit I'm a psychic, Andy, because I'm not," Malachi told him. "I'm going to go home and get some sleep. You need to do the same."
"Sure thing. Thanks, Malachi."
"Yep," Malachi said. He hesitated. On a case like this, cops could be hard-asses. Big tough guys, they still felt fear. Not fear of a junkie or a drug dealer or even a brutal killer, but fear of what they didn't know or didn't understand. After he'd left the force in New Orleans, he'd preferred to work on his own for that very reason. As a P.I., he didn't mind working with them; he just didn't want to be one of them. That way when the ribbing got bad, he could always walk out.
Some cops, though, like Andy, were all right. They didn't understand. Maybe they were even a little afraid. But they were willing to accept any help they could get, and they weren't afraid to be grateful for it.
"Andy," he said, "thanks to you and your lieutenant for letting me in on this, and for listening to me. The kid owes you his life."
"Hell, yeah!" Andy said.
Grinning, Malachi waved to him and revved the car into gear, leaving the parking lot. He headed out of the city then, anxious to get away. He'd never expected the publicity that would come with this case. He'd taken it on because Joshua Madsen's mother, Cindy, had come to him. She had broken his heart. Joshua had been abducted during the two-block walk from his school bus to his home yesterday afternoon. A neighbor had seen a nondescript white van pull away, and when that news came out, police had immediately suspected Stiles, the Puppy Killer, as he'd been called.
Stiles didn't kill puppies; he used puppies to lure young people to his van. They'd rescued a litter of golden retriever pups and their mom when they'd found Stiles and Joshua Madsen.
Malachi didn't consider himself particularly brilliant in finding Stiles. The police investigative work had been excellent. They'd narrowed down the white vans in the city, thanks to the keen eye of the neighbor who'd managed to give them a partial on the license plate. Soil found on one of the victims had placed him in a certain area.
Malachi had known the area.
And he lived not twenty miles away in a home that was over two-and-a-half centuries old and came complete with pocket doors so that it could serve as a tavern, way station, home and hideout when need be. And it also came with Zachary Albright, Revolutionary spy and resident ghost.
No need to try explaining that to Andy, even if they were friends, or any of the other cops. Because, frankly, Zachary didn't have all the answers; being dead didn't make him omniscient. Just like he'd been in life, Zachary was a passionate man with a strong sense of right and wrong. He wandered the grounds, and he'd been the one to note the reclusive hunting lodge near the river. He'd suggested it to Malachi, and Malachi had remembered ityes, the perfect place to bring a victim. Cries couldn't be heard and the sure-flowing water was always ready to wash away an abundance of evidence.
It occurred to him that he really shouldn't be thanked; he'd been observing the comings and goings on the trail when he was spotted by Stiles. He'd been forced to kill Stiles or be killed himself. The trail had led to a rundown shack but there'd been no sign of the missing boy. Police had searched the woods. Because of the "hideaway" in his own homefloorboards that lifted to reveal a six-by-six hidden room belowhe'd begun to tear apart the shack. And he'd found Joshua Madsen, bound hand and foot, dehydrated, unconscious
but still alive.
Kids were resilient, he told himself. And this time, Stiles hadn't had a chance to abuse the boy. They got him to the hospital and he'd been returned to the loving arms of his family. He'd make it, Malachi believed, without carrying the kind of abuse that might have made him an abuser himself.
Malachi wished he could say that about all kids who were abducted.
It was late, past midnight, and once he took the ramp off I-64, the country road that would take him home was dark. He turned down the air-conditioning in his car. Summer was quickly changing into fall.
He pulled into his drive and entered the old house he'd inherited from his uncle, an academic who'd never married, thus leaving him the place in his will. Mala-chi had spent time with him there from when he was a kid. He'd loved it, and his parents had owned a home just minutes away in a suburb of Richmond. He usually kept the pocket doors open. While the original structure had been maintained, it was also a home. It had always been a home, even when the original inhabitants had opened it as a tavern because of the economy. Yep, things didn't really change. Back in the 1700s, sometimes the only way to survive had been to serve up good old country fare and lots of locally brewed ale and use the home itself as income.
Malachi picked up his mail and dropped his keys on the side table as he walked in. He was immediately accosted by Zachary. Once, Malachi had been unnerved by the ghost. Now he was accustomed to Zachary, clad in the black frock coat and silk vest in which he'd been buried out back in the family cemetery.
"You found him?" Zachary asked anxiously. "We did. Thank you. If you hadn't mentioned that place"
"You would've thought of it. Eventually."
"And the kid might have been dead by then."
"Your jacket!" Zachary said. He touched Malachi's arm. Malachi felt the movement of air around him, nothing else.
"The killer fired at me."
"Good God, man, he was close!"
"Too close. I shot back. He's dead."
Malachi shook his head. "I didn't mean to kill him. We hadn't found the boy yet. But I assumed someone built the shack on the lines of old places like this, and I was right. Joshua Madsen was in the hideaway."
"So you saved him. Are you injured?"
"Only my pride. I didn't think Stiles had seen me. I was trying to watch the place and get closer, and I didn't realize he'd come out back. Not until the bullet grazed my shoulder. I liked this jacketnot as much as uninjured flesh, but"
"Then, all ended well," Zachary broke in, pleased. "I'm out to tell Genevieve!"
The ghost turned and left him, moving through what was now the kitchen and outside, dissolving through the walls. He was heading to the small family cemetery in back, Malachi knew. Zachary's wife and children were therethe three who'd died as infants and the three who'd survived childhood diseases to adulthood. Many of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren were there, too. Malachi had asked him once why he stayed around when he missed his Genevieve so much. Zachary had told him, "I believe I will know when it's time for me to follow my love."
Malachi never reminded him that he hadn't known when it was time to hide from the British during the Revolution. Zachary had been caught spying. They'd intended to hang him but he'd escaped and yet, in escaping, he'd been mortally wounded and had died in the arms of his Genevieve, right in the house, in front of the large stone hearth.
Then again, Malachi mused, he hadn't been that bright himself. Stiles had almost caught him in the chest with a .45.
He walked into the kitchen to pour himself a shot of his favorite single-malt Scotch. As he did so, there was a tap at his door. He immediately stiffened.
Aw, come on! His address wasn't public. The damned reporters hadn't found him out here, had they?
He decided to ignore the summons and remained unwaveringly focused on his shot of Scotch.
His phone rang. He glanced at his caller ID as he passed it. The number was unavailable, so he didn't answer. The ringing stopped.
The pounding at the door began again.
Swearing, he strode over to it. He lifted the little cover on the peephole and looked out. He was ready to swing the door open, oh-so-ready to berate whoever was knocking at this time of night.
He stopped, surprised by the sight of three somber and distinguished-looking men in suits. One was elderlypossibly around eighty or so. The other two were tall and appeared to have Native American blood in their backgrounds, though mixed with some kind of Northern European ancestry.
The elderly man held a cell phone. He hit the keys.
Malachi's cell began ringing again.
Seriously, what the hell? These guys had his number and they knew where to find him.
He opened the door and scowled at the three of them.
"Mr. Gordon, we're sorry to disturb you, but we've been trying to reach you," the elderly gentleman said. He held up his cell phone with a shrug.
"I've been a little busy," Malachi said. "And it is" he looked at his watch "almost 3:00 a.m. Who are you? I don't mean to be rude, but I've had a long day and a longer night. What do you want?"
"Your unusual talent, Mr. Gordon," the elderly man said, offering his hand. "My name is Adam Harrison. These are agents Jackson Crow and Logan Raintree."
"Uh, great, nice to meet you. What unusual talent?"
"The kind explained by your roommate," one of the other men said. Raintree, Malachi thought.
"My roommate?" Malachi said.
Raintree indicated someone who stood behind Malachi.
Malachi turned. Zachary was back in the house, watching himand the newcomerswith obvious amusement.
"I believe these gentlemen see me, Malachi," Zachary said.
"Yes, we see you," the man introduced as Crow acknowledged. "May we come in, please? You had a long and fruitful day, and we're pretty sure you don't intend to stop when it comes to protecting the innocent who are in imminent danger."
"We believe we can make you an offer you can't refuse," Adam Harrison said.
Harrison. Malachi thought he knew the name. Harrison had been around a long time; he was known for solving some horrible crimes, some cases that.
That had some kind of.
He opened the door. "Okay, come on in, but I was about to have a Scotch. You can join me or not. I'll listen to youbut that's it. I'll listen."
Harrison walked in, followed by the other two. Mal-achi closed the door behind them.
They saw Zachary.
He asked them to go ahead and sit down in the old parlor by the huge stone hearth. Back in the kitchen, he scooped ice into glasses and poured Scotch.
He paused, then added a second shot to his own.
He had a feeling his life was about to change.
"One day I'll fall, but I will fall to the law on the high seas, and not to the likes of you, Scurvy Pete! I will go with my shipand not with the dregs of the sea!"
"To the death, Blue Anderson! To the death!"
The two young fencer/actors played out the battle between Blue Anderson and Scurvy Pete Martin with passion and panache on a raised all-weather stage at the far side of the Dragonslayer parking lot. They were decked out in full pirate gear, colorful flared and embellished jackets swirling around them as they accomplished each choreographed step.
The wench they fought overa British admiral's daughter named Missy Tweedcowered in a corner while they fought. She was customarily played by a pretty young blonde from the local arts academy. Eyewitness accounts of the encounter in the river between the two pirates described Blue as a hero, even if he'd been a pirate. But Blue was known for being a staunch Englishman above all else; he didn't mind sacking a non-British ship of her treasure, and he only went to battle against enemies of the Crown. Blue swore he'd never be caught, nor would he abandon his crew. He never was caught; he sailed away one summer when storms were rampant and wasn't seen again.
The tourist performanceand come-on for the restaurantended with the death of Scurvy Pete, and Blue's announcement, "The lady may bring riches, but she'll not be disrespected whilst in my, er, care!" Abigail applauded with the others. She knew the two young actors playing the parts. Blue was played by Roger English, an old friend; they'd graduated from high school together. Without his long dark braided wig and beard, he had sandy-blond hair and deep brown, expressive eyes. Roger, who was an avid fan of Savannah's history, also ran one of the best ghost tours in the city.
She smiled, thinking about old times. Even as a kid, he'd loved to tell scary stories, some from history and some he'd made up. It had all paid off for him in the end.
Scurvy Pete was played by Paul Westermark, who'd gradated in the class before them. Paul sometimes worked for Roger, but he was also an accomplished vocalist and guitarist and spent many nights playing local venues.
While their audience, collected from passersby on the street and those who knew that the two pirates performed on Saturdays, grouped around to congratulate them on their performance or ask "pirate" questions, Abby hurried around to the front to reach the restaurant.
She was anxious.
Come home. I need you.
That cryptic summons had come from Gus Anderson, her grandfather, and had brought Abigail Anderson driving down from Virginia. He hadn't wanted to talk to her about "the situation" on the phone; he needed to see her in person. She feared the worst. Gus was in his early nineties and even if he was in excellent shape for his age, he was certainly no spring chicken. And while she would've dropped anything in the world to come home if he was in trouble, she couldn't help but marvel at his timing. She'd finished at the academy, and she was now waiting for her actual assignment. That made it a perfect time for her to drive home.