by Douglas, Lauren Wright
Caitlin Reece is back…and facing her greatest challenge.
It’s not enough that the so-called Full Moon Rapist is prowling the streets of Victoria, BC. Sean Macklin has just been paroled. This particular man, the personification of everything Caitlin holds evil, is the reason she left the Crown Prosecutor’s office years ago to ply her lonely and demanding profession.
The release of Macklin, who has sworn vengeance on his victim and on Caitlin herself, coincides with Caitlin’s newest case: to find Jess, heir to a trust fund, who has secreted herself within a women’s commune.
Led to the commune by magnetic Diana McNeil, Caitlin discovers the Daughters of Artemis—women bonded together with an agenda that presents a profound moral dilemma for Caitlin…
Falling under the spell of the alluring Diana, vulnerable as never before, facing the menace of Sean Macklin, Caitlin must be strong as never before. Lives depend on it…
Reacquaint yourself with Caitlin Reece, the gutsiest private eye around, and her very special friends, cats Jeffrey and Repo, Francis the ferret, Lester, and the wonderful, mystical Ng.
Originally Published by Naiad Press 1991.
Late night phone calls scare me witless. In my experience, they mean nothing but bad news. A car plunges over a cliff, a plane drops from the sky, a heart stops: burdens too great to carry through the narrow door of morning. All must be told now, transferred onto other shoulders, made bearable by sharing. This burden was no different.
“Caitlin, it’s Sandy.” The Scottish burr on the other end of the line belonged to my good friend Detective Sergeant Gary Alexander of the Oak Bay Police Department.
“Mmmph,” I managed, sitting up and swinging my legs over the side of the bed. I snapped on the light and looked at the clock. Just after one. “Okay, I’m awake. What?”
“Now, be calm. I’ve something to tell you.”
Be calm—was he kidding? After that particular admonition, my heartbeat accelerated by about fifty percent. “Your wife, is she—”
“It’s nothing like that,” he broke in. “It’s Sean Macklin.”
“Wake up and listen to me, lass. It’s Sean Macklin. He’s out. He’s free.”
Sean Macklin. I woke up. And remembered. Sweet-faced Sean Macklin. Soft-voiced Sean Macklin. Kidnapper and rapist Sean Macklin. Sick Sean Macklin. When I worked in the Crown Prosecutor’s office, back in the days when I believed in justice with a capital J, Macklin was one of my first solo victories. Almost six years ago I had sent him away for a dozen years. Or so I’d thought. “What in hell is he doing out?”
“Och, the silver-tongued bastard,” Sandy said in disgust. “He talked his way into some experimental rehab work-release program. He’s been a good boy, so he’s out.”
“Of course he’s been a good boy!” I shouted. “There aren’t any women for him to victimize in prison. For God’s sake, Sandy. He can’t be out. He can’t be!”
“Nevertheless, out he is. And he’s going home.”
“Damn it to hell!” I grabbed the phone and leaped off the bed. Home was Saanich. Home was where his victim lived. Macklin had threatened both me and Sandy as he was dragged away from the courtroom, but he had saved his really creative threats for his victim. “Did you notify Wendy Murdoch?”
“I’ve tried,” he said. “There’s no answer. So I called you. Our mole in the prison hospital just came on shift. He’s been hearing rumors about Macklin’s being released and sure enough, they let him out.This afternoon, if you please.”
“Oh, Jesus, Sandy. Isn’t anyone from the prison going to call Wendy Murdoch?”
“Apparently not,” he said. “And the Saanich cops aren’t interested. Mr. Macklin hasn’t done anything, has he? He has every right to go home. And Saanich is out of my jurisdiction, so I ought to keep my nose out of it. But I’ve got a bad feeling about this. And I thought you…well, you do these kinds of things now…”
“I’ll take care of it,” I told him, fear squeezing my heart. “Can you pull her address from your files?”
“I already did. Seven-fifty-three Lochside.”
“I’m leaving right now,” I told him. “And keep phoning.” I didn’t wait to hear his reply.
I peeled off my sweat bottoms, tugged on jeans, socks, and sneakers, and grabbed my .357 and a speedloader from the box in my closet. At a dead run, I plucked my windbreaker from the coat tree, slammed the front door behind me, and threw myself into the front seat of my MG. She’s forty minutes away, I told myself. Maybe forty-five. You can make it. And you will make it because you bloody well have to. I floored the accelerator and roared off to the highway.
* * *
Seven-fifty-three Lochside was dark and quiet. So were the neighboring houses. In fact, the whole damned street looked tucked in for the night. A small, white frame bungalow, Wendy Murdoch’s home sat on a rather large lot, a sidewalk bisecting the neat yard. A streetlamp on the corner enabled me to see a couple of lawn chairs and a wicker cat bed on the wide, covered front porch. Parked on the gravel driveway was an elderly gold Datsun.
I took a deep breath and eased the MG’s door open. Patting the .357 clipped to my jeans, I crouched, running from the shadows across several lawns, and around the back of seven-fifty-three. A kitchen window spilled a wedge of yellow light onto the darkened grass, and I looked around for something to stand on. Upending a metal bucket I found near a coil of hoses, I placed it just below the window and, balancing on one foot, peered cautiously above the sill. A small, dark-haired woman in a blue terry cloth robe sat at a pine table, a ceramic mug in one hand, a pencil in the other. An open textbook and a yellow legal pad lay on the table in front of her, the pad half-covered with notes. Clearly, she was studying. And just as clearly, she was alone. I almost fainted from relief. But why hadn’t she answered her phone when Sandy called?
Jumping down from my perch on the bucket, I went around to the front door and knocked. In a moment the light went on, and a face peered at me through the glass. I heard the sound of a deadbolt, and then the door opened a crack.
“Wendy, it’s Caitlin Reece. You may not remember me, but I prosecuted Sean Macklin six years ago.”
The door opened a little wider. “It is you,” she said. “Hey, you sure look different.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t work for the CP’s office any more. And I just got out of bed. Listen, I have to talk to you.”
Fear made her prescient. “It’s him, isn’t it? Macklin. He’s coming to get me, just like he said he would.”
I equivocated, not wanting to scare the daylights out of her. “I don’t know about that,” I said. “But he’s out.”
“Come on in,” she said grimly.
Fifteen minutes later, I came up from checking the phone in the basement, wiping my hands on my thighs. Wendy met me at the top of the stairs. She had changed into jeans and a sweatshirt. I didn’t blame her. Pajamas make me feel vulnerable, too.
“That phone is okay, too,” I told her. “The trouble has to be outside.”
I took the flashlight she gave me and went down the back porch steps, hunting for the place where the phone line came into the house. I hunkered down and shone my light carefully up and down the wire. It took a minute, but I found what I was looking for. At about knee height, the line had been cleanly snipped and some kind of tiny high-tech gizmo no bigger than the first joint of my finger had been fastened to the bottom piece of the line. I was willing to bet that this gadget closed the phone circuit and prevented the telltale busy signal that a cut line otherwise gives. I decided to leave it in place for the cops. Damn it all. I had been nursing an irrational hope that Macklin would have forgotten about Wendy. And about me, too. No chance.
Suddenly I felt keenly, mortally vulnerable. When had he done this and where the hell was he? Behind a bush out there in the darkness? My skin itched at the thought of it. I forced myself to stand upright, telling my protesting brain I did not look like a target. Loping for the back door, I tore it open, slammed it shut, then locked it after myself.
“Pack your bags,” I told Wendy. “The phone line’s been cut.”
To her credit, she didn’t ask a single question. Within three minutes she was packed and ready. We met back in the kitchen.
“Do you have somewhere to go? People you can stay with?”
“Yeah. Some friends of mine at work.”
I had this twitchy feeling between my shoulder blades. If I were a gambling person, I would have bet big money that the rehabilitated Mr. Macklin would pay this place another visit. Soon. After all, he needed to follow up on the severed phone line. My only surprise was that he hadn’t already done so. But Wendy deserved a large break from fate. Maybe this was it. I looked around the kitchen. “Don’t leave your address book there by the phone,” I told her.
“Right.” She stuffed it in a bag. Then she ran into the dining room, returning with a small armful—a brown leather notebook, the BC Tel white and yellow pages, and some smaller directories. “I write numbers and addresses all over the place,” she explained.
“Whatever,” I said. “C’mon now. You drive your car. I won’t be right behind you, but I’ll be following. If I pass you and honk, or pull up and flash my lights, pull over. Got it?”
She nodded. “Caitlin, I’m scared,” she said, as if she had a monopoly on the emotion.
There was no time to be kind. “I know you are,” I told her. “Just do it anyway.”
* * *
When Wendy turned onto the coast road, I hung back for as long as I could without losing her, but no other car appeared. So I fell in behind, the Datsun’s red taillights preceding me like a pair of demon’s eyes in the dark. The ocean was on our right—the sleek, rippled pelt of a monstrous ebony beast, tipped here and there with silver. A full moon hung in the night sky, and by its light the road stretched ahead like a giant haberdasher’s ribbon tossed carelessly over the hills.
When we reached Sidney about fifteen minutes later, I followed Wendy to a modest brick house near the water. I pulled into the gravel driveway after her and got out. She ran to the door and knocked vigorously. After a few moments, two women stood in the doorway and, as Wendy spoke a few words to them, they embraced her. I walked to the bottom of the steps, relieved. My work was done for tonight. One of the women walked with Wendy over to the Datsun, collected some of her belongings, and hurried back inside. While Wendy dug around on the back seat, the other woman came down the steps and looked at me appraisingly. She had frizzy blonde hair and a lavender wool sweater over red plaid pajamas. Tall and stocky, she frowned at me, arms crossed.
“Wendy was going to sell her house this summer,” she said. “Dammit, this isn’t fair. Why can’t you guys do things right? This stinks.”
Tell me about it, I thought. Then, stung, I said, “Hey, Wendy isn’t the only one who has to scurry around watching her tail. Macklin threatened me and the cop who finally brought him in. We’re all going to be looking over our shoulders. And for your information, I’m no longer part of the legal system. I’m a private detective.”
“Thanks, Caitlin,” Wendy said, coming up and taking my hands. “You probably saved my life.”
“Call the police first thing tomorrow,” I told her. “Tell them to go out there and take a look at the phone wire. They’ll help.” I looked from her to her friend.
“But sooner or later, you’ll have to go back. When you do—”
“She’s not going back,” the blonde stated.
I have to,” Wendy said sensibly. “For clothes and so on. To pack up. You know.”
“Hmmf,” Viv grunted.
“When you go back,” I repeated to Wendy, “take someone with you. Viv, maybe.”
Viv brightened at that. I sensed she’d like to go a few rounds with Macklin.
“And be careful driving back there. If he’s hanging around, you don’t want to lead him right to you.” I scribbled my phone number on a piece of paper and handed it to her. “Call me if you have any trouble.”
“People like us can’t pay your prices,” Viv declared, as if penury were a virtue. “A private eye? C’mon. We’re not rich.” She gave me a smug smile, full of secret knowledge. “Anyway, you don’t need to worry about Wendy. We’re going to take her to some people who’ll be only too happy to help her. For nothing.”
Oh sure. I decided to ignore the big blowhard. Turning, I took Wendy by the shoulders. “Listen to me,” I said gently. “You call me if you need me. For anything.”
“But, what Viv said about money is true,” she told me earnestly. “We all work at the mill. I only make nine-fifty an hour.”
“This is on me. As far as I’m concerned, it’s unfinished business.”