by Kate Calloway
The last person private investigator Cassidy James expects—or wants—to hear from is her ex-lover, psychologist Maggie Carradine. But when a distraught Maggie calls begging for help, Cassidy puts her anger and hurt aside and agrees to meet Maggie face-to-face. Her misgivings are reinforced when Maggie reveals the bizarre manner in which she has just witnessed not one, but two, separate brutal murders. The victims are both connected to clients of Maggie’s and the gruesome clues intensify Cassidy’s fear that the killing has just begun.
Originally published by Naiad Press 1999.
Cassidy James Mystery Book 6.
|Publication Date||June 13, 2019|
|Cover Designer||Sandy Knowles|
“Don’t hang up,” she said.
“Maggie?” My voice cracked in disbelief more than uncertainty.
“I know you don’t want to see me, Cass. And I have no right to ask this of you. But I need help.”
“Go on.” My heart was hammering.
“I think I saw someone being murdered.”
I paused, letting the words sink in. “Let me give you Martha’s number,” I said finally. Martha was my best friend and a detective on the Kings Harbor Police Force.
“I still know her number, Cass. It’s you I need right now. Will you at least hear me out? I wouldn’t ask if this weren’t important.” Before I could respond, she went on. “I’m at the county dock. If you don’t want to come pick me up, I can rent a boat.”
“No,” I said too hastily. “I’ll meet you at Lizzie’s.”
There was no way I wanted Maggie Carradine in my house. Lizzie’s would be full of noisy locals which would provide a much safer environment for my first encounter with Maggie since her return to Oregon.
“Thank you,” she whispered. The line went dead and I was left holding the receiver against my cheek.
I grabbed my boat keys, called good-bye to the cats and jogged down the rampway to my boat.
* * *
Spring had finally arrived in Cedar Hills, and the late afternoon sunshine was bouncing off Rainbow Lake in a vain attempt to warm the nippy air. A westerly breeze rippled the water as I sped toward town in my blue, open-bow Sea Swirl. The canvas top was up but even so, I hugged my jacket around me. It wasn’t the cool air that had me chilled, though. It was the prospect of seeing Maggie Carradine.
When she had first left for Paris to take care of an ex-lover who was dying, I could scarcely believe it. Out of the blue, she had announced her decision, and there wasn’t a thing I could say or do about it. It was a noble mission, an act of kindness, and I did my best to be supportive, but in truth, I was hurt. When the ex had gone into remission and they’d decided to traipse off to Switzerland together, my hurt slid right into anger.
I’m not normally the moody, disconsolate type, and mooning around didn’t suit me. After many long nights of self-analysis, I finally gave myself permission to get on with my life, and I even began dating another woman. Though brief, my time with Lauren had been passionate and made me feel alive again. Now, months later, just when I was feeling like my old, confident self again, here came Maggie asking for help. I’d known she was back in town, of course, but, so far, had managed to avoid her. I steeled myself against the unexpected fluttering in my stomach and tried to concentrate on the fact that someone had been killed.
Lizzie’s is really named Loggers Tavern, but nobody calls it that. Located across from McGregors, the only grocery store in Cedar Hills, it’s the favorite watering hole for most locals. By the time I docked at the marina and made my way to Main Street, it was nearly five and the tavern was bustling with the usual Friday evening crowd. Lizzie Thompson greeted me from behind the bar as I squinted in the dimly lit room.
“She’s in the back!” she called. I waved my thanks and headed for the far corner.
Maggie sat against the wall, her dark curls framing high cheekbones and green eyes that never failed to unnerve me. She had lost weight, I noticed. Not that she had needed to. She looked almost gaunt and her eyes had a haunted look I hadn’t seen before. There was sadness there. And maybe fear. But the change did nothing to make her less striking.
“Thanks for coming.” She pushed a glass of Cabernet toward me as I slid into the seat across from her. She had taken the liberty of ordering for me and I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. “You look good,” she said. Her gaze was intense as she studied me, making me instantly uncomfortable.
“You’ve lost weight,” I pointed out.
She nodded, sipping her wine.
“I was sorry to hear about Cecily. I mean, I can imagine how difficult that must have been.” She shrugged. “What’s this about a murder?” I finally asked.
She swallowed and met my gaze. “I’m not sure how to say this so you don’t think I’m nuts.”
“Don’t worry about what I think. Just tell me.”
Maggie looked at me, her green eyes pleading with me to understand. “I dreamed someone was killed and then they were.”
Anyone else, I would’ve thanked her for the wine and gotten the hell out of there. But this was Maggie Carradine. She wasn’t prone to exaggeration. She didn’t make things up. She wasn’t overly dramatic. She was a trained psychologist with both feet on the ground, a clear, sharp mind and a big heart. Unless she’d gone completely around the bend, I thought, taking a sip of my wine.
“I know what you’re thinking, Cass. Just hear me out. You probably know that when I came back I pretty much had to start my practice from scratch.”
I nodded. I knew it hadn’t been easy. She’d not only left me when she went to Paris, but she’d left her entire clientele, farming them out to colleagues in Kings Harbor and neighboring towns. Now that she had returned, she couldn’t just take them back. I’d heard she was working in other towns, as far away as Eugene, although her office was still in Kings Harbor, just ten miles away from my place.
“About six weeks ago,” she went on, “I started a therapy group. Victims of Abuse. I’ve had the idea for some time, and when I ran it by my colleagues, they referred some of their clients to me. It’s really taken off. I’ve got people coming from all over. We meet twice a week.”
“You meet in Kings Harbor?”
“Yes. It’s actually the most central location. And I can use my own office. Anyway, last Wednesday, I had a dream in which I was killing someone, hitting them over and over with a baseball bat. It was horribly gruesome and I woke up quite disturbed. I didn’t know who I’d been killing or why. And I wasn’t really myself in the dream. It was more like I’d stepped into someone else’s body. You know how that happens sometimes in dreams, where you’re someone else?”
I nodded and Maggie drew a deep breath.
“It never dawned on me that it might be a premonition, Cass. I know you’ve always teased me about being psychic, but this is different. I’ve never thought I was anywhere close to being clairvoyant. But what happened the next day really blew my mind.” She sipped her wine, her green eyes holding mine. “You know how I feel about client confidentiality. But I realize that if I want your help, I’m going to have to tell you things I normally wouldn’t.”
“Go on,” I said.
“One of the group members is a nineteen-year-old, a real sweetheart named Stella Cane. She revealed to the group about a week ago that she’d been beaten by her boyfriend, Hector Peña, since she was fourteen. She loved him, she said. He was good to her most of the time, but he was possessive, overly jealous, and had a temper. She wanted to marry him more than anything in the world. She already had one child by him, but she was afraid of him. And now he’d hit the baby, a three-year-old. Naturally, the other group members were adamant. She should lose the bum, take the kid and run. It’s funny how they give advice so easily to one another…Anyway, on Thursday, the night after my dream, Stella came in hysterical. Hector was dead. He’d been beaten to death. Bludgeoned with a baseball bat.”
“Exactly. I don’t think I heard a thing anyone said the rest of that session. I have no idea what I said. My heart was absolutely racing.”
“Are you saying you somehow witnessed this guy’s murder while you were dreaming? Is that what you think?”
Maggie sighed. “I don’t know.”
“Is it possible that somehow this Stella telegraphed her intentions to you while you were sleeping? I mean, could she have killed him and for some reason you picked up on what she was doing?”
Maggie shook her head and shrugged. “I just don’t know. I’m sure the police consider her a suspect, though. She’s from Eugene, and when she didn’t make it to this Tuesday’s session, I called several times. There was no answer at the number she gave me. I think it was the boyfriend’s apartment.” She paused, playing with the ring on her finger. It was one I had given her. Not a wedding band or engagement ring. Just a silver and turquoise band that she’d admired at a county fair. That she still wore it surprised me. “You want to hear the weird part?”
“We haven’t gotten to the weird part?”
Maggie managed a weak smile. “Weird might not be the right word. Last night, I had another dream. This time I killed an old man. It was totally different from the first dream. Not as violent, but just as upsetting. The man was old and frail but still able to get around in his electric wheelchair. He drove it right to the edge of a cliff, overlooking the ocean. He was enjoying the breeze, watching a fishing boat on the horizon. I sneaked up, behind him, released the brake and gave his chair a fierce push. I leaned over the edge of the cliff and watched his body smash against the rocks. The whole time he was falling, I was laughing.”
“Maggie, maybe you should talk to someone about these dreams. I mean one of your colleagues.”
Her laugh was short and painful. “Yes. I’ve thought of that. But I don’t think I’m losing it, Cass. I think I’m seeing something that’s actually happening. This morning I found this in the Herald.” She unfolded a newspaper and pushed it across the table. It was on an inside page under “Happenings Up and Down the Coast,” a weekly column with local news and tidbits. It was just a paragraph. Still, I read it over several times.
Maynard Ferguson, 84, fell to his death yesterday on the cliffs near his oceanfront estate in Gold Beach. An autopsy is pending. The police hope to learn whether the octogenarian, who had a history of heart problems, suffered an attack prior to the fall. The son of famed lumber baron Pike Ferguson, Maynard is survived by his son, Jake, also of Gold Beach, and a granddaughter, Maylene Maclntyre, who currently resides in Bandon.
“You’re right, weird isn’t quite strong enough.”
“Maylene Maclntyre is one of the members in my group.”
Her words sent chills down my spine. “I’m afraid to ask, but what is Maylene’s history?” I felt like I knew the answer before I asked.
“Sexually molested by her grandfather most of her childhood. Her family never knew and she never told. In fact, she claims she didn’t even remember until recently. A classic case of repressed memory. She’s almost forty and just now dealing with the trauma of all this. She said that before he died, she wanted to confront him about it, let him know that he’d ruined her life. Both of her short marriages were a disaster and she hasn’t been able to have a normal sexual relationship with anyone her whole life.”
I drained my wine glass and looked around for Lizzie. She must’ve been watching because before I could turn my head, she was setting two fresh glasses on the table.
“She looks good, doesn’t she?” she said, pointing her chin at Maggie.
I nodded politely. No way was I going to get into a discussion about how good Maggie looked. “Why haven’t you called the police?” I asked when Lizzie was out of earshot.
“And tell them what? That I think I’m dreaming murders before they happen? I can see the look on their faces now. Besides, no one said the old man was actually murdered.”
“Martha would listen, Maggie.”
“Martha has no jurisdiction. The first one happened in Eugene, the last one in Gold Beach. The only connection between them is that both victims were connected to clients of mine.”
“Jesus, Maggie. They weren’t just connected! They were the people victimizing your clients. Someone is killing the people who have abused your clients. It could be someone in the group itself.”
“Maybe. I mean, it’s possible the old man did kill himself.” I arched an eyebrow and she sighed. “Just because for some unexplainable reason I’m picking up on these deaths doesn’t mean that someone in the group is killing them. I mean, maybe I’ve just tuned into these guys because I’ve been hearing about them. They may be totally unrelated.” We stared at each other in gloomy silence. “Okay,” she finally said, sipping her wine. “Let’s say that what you’re thinking and what I’m thinking is right, that someone in the group killed those two people. Why am I dreaming it? And what in the hell am I going to do about it?”
“I don’t know, Mag. You’re the expert on psychology. Isn’t there something in those books you study that deals with this?”
She laughed. “Having prior knowledge of a murder isn’t exactly standard textbook psychology. It’s more in the realm of parapsychology, which isn’t my area of expertise. I’ve been racking my brain, trying to think of someone who might help me understand what’s happening. I have no idea why I’d suddenly start experiencing this kind of premonition. It doesn’t make sense.” I started to speak but she cut me off. “And don’t tell me I’ve always been psychic because this is totally different. I’m scared to death.”
“I know you are, Maggie. That’s why I think you should call Martha.”
“And have the police question every group member? I’m bound by client-confidentiality. It’s bad enough I’m telling you. It’s not that I don’t trust Martha, but then she’d have to tell someone else, and the whole thing would be out of my control.”
“It’s already out of your control, Mag. What if someone else is killed? Are you willing to take that chance?”
“Are you willing to help me?”
The ball was in my court. I could get up and walk out now and she’d have no choice but to call the police. Which is what she should have done in the first place. But would she? I sipped my wine, mentally going over my schedule. I’d just finished working on a runaway teen case, which had ended when the kid, finally out of cash, had decided to come back home. I knew full well that my schedule was clear. So what was stopping me? It’s not like I needed the money, I thought. When my first lover, Diane, passed away, I’d suddenly found myself the beneficiary of her sizable estate and life insurance policy. Not knowing what else to do, I numbly agreed to let a stock broker friend of mine invest the money for me. I hadn’t paid much attention at first, but when, in less than a year, the money had nearly doubled, I began to take notice. As my friend wheeled and dealed on my behalf, the market continued to boom and my investments grew by leaps and bounds.
So I quit my job as a teacher, moved to Oregon, bought a lake-front house and thought about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I hadn’t become a private investigator for the money. I’d done it because I had some weird impulse to right the world’s wrongs, to thwart the bad guys. I wanted my life to count for something. I wanted to make a difference. I sighed and looked at Maggie. “What do you want me to do?”
“I want you to join the group.”
Slowly, I nodded, knowing this was a good idea, even if it was the last thing in the world I wanted to do. Maggie must have read my hesitation.
“I need someone who’s objective to see what’s happening, Cass. I need to know if this whole thing is some unexplainable coincidence, or if one or more of the group members really is out there killing people. Before I go to the police with this, I’ve got to have a better idea of what’s happening.”
I leaned back in the chair and studied the ceiling. My head was reeling and it wasn’t the wine. I did not want to do this. I certainly did not want to join some therapy group mediated by Maggie Carradine. The idea of sitting in a closed room across from her, talking about inner secrets, seemed unbearable. I wasn’t even comfortable being this close to her now.
“You’ve always been so easy to read,” she said, smiling. A blush rode right up my face.
“Yeah, well. That’s because you’ve always been psychic.”
“Not with everyone, you know. You were always so open. And you used to know what I was thinking, too. Remember?”
Of course I remembered. I remembered everything about our time together. “Look, Maggie, I don’t think this is such a hot idea.”
“Cass, I’m not asking you to forgive me. I’m not asking you to be cordial, even. This isn’t a date. I want to hire you to find out if one of my clients is a murderer. If I knew another way to do this, I’d try that first. You think this is easy for me, coming here when I know how much you must despise me?” There were tears in her eyes and I felt my throat clamp up.
“I don’t hate you, Maggie.” It was all I could get out.
“It was a stupid idea,” she said, getting to her feet.
“Well, you know me,” I said, pushing back my chair. “A sucker for stupid ideas if ever there was one.”
We were both standing now, inches apart. Her green eyes still brimmed with emotion. “You’ll do it?”
I took a deep breath. “Yes,” I said.
And cursed myself the entire way back across Rainbow Lake.
Whenever I’m upset, I cook. As soon as I got home, I put Phantom of the Opera on the CD player and set about making a loaf of sourdough. There is something relaxing about kneading dough. The rhythmic push and pull began to calm me as my fingers coaxed the mound into a silky texture. Finally, I set the loaf in a bowl to rise and looked around at the floury mess, deciding I might as well make some pasta while I was at it. Since the moment I’d heard Maggie’s voice on the phone, my insides had been in turmoil. But by the time I had strands of linguini draped over the dowels spread around the kitchen, I was beginning to think more clearly.
While the pasta dried, I punched down the bread and put it in the oven, then chopped red bell peppers, onions, mushrooms and garlic to saute in the olive oil that was heating on the stove. When the vegetables were done, I poured some wine into the pan and poured myself a small glass. With nothing left to do but boil the pasta, I turned off the music and tried to concentrate on what I’d gotten myself into.
It was true that Maggie had always been a little psychic. In fact, the two of us had often been on the same wavelength. I’d been that way with my first lover, Diane. I was that way to some extent with Martha. But Maggie and I had shared an almost eerie ability to tune into each other’s feelings.
Not that either one of us could control it, I thought, remembering a time we’d tried just that. We’d both come to the conclusion that whatever extrasensory powers we possessed were somehow beyond our control. A thought would emerge, unbidden, like a snatch of a song, and we’d both blurt it out at the same time. Images would pop into my head nanoseconds before Maggie would describe exactly what I was seeing. She said the same happened to her and I believed her.
Whether influenced by the moon, the time of month, or some other hidden force, we began to notice a definite pattern in our psychic cycles. Whereas we might go three weeks without a particularly noticeable psychic experience, in the span of a few days we’d have literally dozens. It became natural for us to spend a lot of time together during those days. It was also the time we had the most extraordinary sex.
I did not want to think about that, though. I closed my eyes against the image, willing myself to concentrate on the facts. Even accepting the idea that Maggie was more psychic than your average person, why would she suddenly become clairvoyant? Was that possible? And was that really what was happening? The truth was, I didn’t know all that much about extrasensory perception beyond my own experiences. If I was going to understand what was happening to Maggie, I’d need to learn more about ESP in general.
I was almost through with dinner when I decided what to do. While my laptop booted up, I cleared the dishes, gave both cats a kitty treat and then bit the bullet and called Maggie. When she didn’t answer her home phone, I tried the office number.
“Dr. Carradine’s office, can I help you?”
The voice threw me. Young with a slightly Southern lilt. Maggie must have hired a secretary. But wasn’t it kind of late for her to be working?
“Hi. Is Maggie in?”
“Uh, just a sec. She’s upstairs, I think.” The woman sounded young and perky, and a ridiculous stab of jealousy knifed through me. A minute later, Maggie’s voice came on the line.
“Who’s the teenybopper?” I asked. I couldn’t help it.
Maggie chuckled. “That’s Buddy, my new assistant. She’s just a college kid, but she’s a godsend. I’m finally computerizing all my files. What’s up? You haven’t changed your mind?”
I didn’t tell her how tempting that sounded. “Just doing a little preliminary homework. What I need are the names and addresses of the group members.”
“Cass, you can’t question them. They have to think you’re a client, part of the group. If they see you beforehand, it won’t work.”
“Give me a little credit here. No one’s going to see me. I just want to know a bit about these people before we actually meet.”
She sighed. “I’m sorry. That was stupid of me. Hang on, I’ll get my files.”
After I copied the pertinent information, I told her my plan to search the Internet for sites that might help explain what Maggie was experiencing.
“You’re going to join a chat group?”
“Well, it’s worth a try. And I’m also going to talk to Martha. I know you don’t want the police involved, but you’ve got to trust me on this one too. I won’t give her all the names or specifics, so you don’t have to worry about confidentiality. I just want to get her perspective…” Before I could go on, Maggie’s phone started beeping.
“Damn,” she said over the noise.
“Oh, nothing. It’s this new phone system. Buddy hasn’t quite got the hang of it yet. She must be trying to transfer another call. I’ve been trying to reach Stella Cane all evening. It could be her.” I let her go, thinking that I’d like to talk to Stella Cane myself.
Instead, I folded myself onto the floor and sat in front of my coffee table. I knew it would be more ergonomically correct to go into my study, but I preferred to stay with the cats near the warmth of the fireplace. While Panic swatted a half-chewed toy mouse around the living room and Gammon rolled onto her back so that I could rub her impressive belly, I began scanning chat groups. I was amazed at the range of topics. I was tempted to join a few, just for laughs. Raunchy Poets, Beer Lovers, Cowgirls Looking for Studs on Steeds, Believers in Hale-Bopp’s Second Coming—the list was endless. I selected a search engine and typed in Psychics. A new list appeared, almost as intriguing as the first. There were subjects ranging from Near-Death Experiences to Angel Experiences, Psychokinesis to Telekinesis, Out-of-Body Experiences to Friends of Aliens. There were regional groups, age-oriented groups, you name it. I finally opted for PSI-Chat NorthWest and registered to join.
There were currently seven people registered but no one was actually chatting. I decided the fastest way to get what I wanted was to leave a message on their bulletin board and hope that someone would get back to me.
“Help!” I wrote. “Novice psychic needs to know more. Especially interested in dreams that seem clairvoyant. Can you enlighten me? Is it possible to dream something that happens to someone else before it actually happens? Call me Just Curious.”
After a brief hesitation, I left my e-mail address and waited. I don’t know what I expected, but I was disappointed when, an hour later, I still hadn’t received a reply. Apparently all the psychics were sleeping. I decided to join them and hauled myself off to bed, the cats following faithfully behind me.