Night Creature: Crescent Moon Chapter 28
“Luc!” The sitter burst out the front door, pausing when she saw the three of us nearby. “I’m sorry, Mr. Adam, he slipped away again.
Hurrying forward, she scooped Luc into her arms. “You’re like an eel, boy.”
“Bye,” Luc said as she turned and carried him back to the trailer. The child cast curious glances at me the entire way.
“You don’t belong here,” Adam said.
His words hurt, but I was determined not to show it. “I know.”
“I’ll take you home.”
“Would you go?”
“There isn’t a loup-garou, Diana. You’re wasting your time. If you stay, someone’s going to get hurt.”
“People are dying. What’s killing them, Adam? You?”
“What if I was?”
I blinked. “I – uh – what?”
“What if I was killing them?”
“You said there wasn’t a wolf.”
“Exactly. So it must be a person.”
“But… the police found proof of an animal killing people.”
“Then it’s an animal, which means it isn’t me.”
“Unless you’re the loup-garou.”
“I’m not a wolf.”
“Yet you disappear under every crescent moon.”
“I don’t disappear. I stay at my shack.”
“Things happen under that moon.” He took a deep breath. “I mean things have happened. To me, in de army. I try not to remember, but – “
He let the breath out and his shoulders slumped. I wanted to touch his hair, hold his hand, but I knew he wouldn’t let me.
“Luc was wrong,” he said. “I don’t like de crescent moon; I despise it.”
Instead of answering, he took my arm and half-led, half-dragged me to the ancient Chevy parked in the driveway. The thing appeared to be at least forty years old. A little restoration would do wonders, just like the mansion. Right now the car was a mess – rusted, blotchy, no true color to speak of. Adam opened the passenger door and I balked.
“Get in,” he said through gritted teeth, “or I will make you.”
I glanced at the trailer. Luc waved from the window. I got in the car, wincing when a busted spring thumped me in the ass. The seat was badly torn, as if an animal had clawed it apart.
The car was so old, it didn’t have air-conditioning. In a near-synchronized movement, we rolled down the windows. The morning was already hot enough that the wind felt good in my hair.
“I’m not gonna tell you what happened,” Adam murmured. “I can’t”
The “can’t” stopped me. I understood that special ops were a secret.
“What happened to your wife?”
His fingers tightened on the wheel. “She’s gone.”
I imagined terrible things – things that had put the shadows in his eyes. Was this why he couldn’t love me? Death was something I understood.
“Packed up her stuff, cleaned out our bank accounts, and ran. The bitch.”
I gaped. “What? She’s dead.”
“I hope so.”
“Luc said his mother was dead.”
“She is to me. To him, too.” His gaze shifted to mine, then back to the road. “She isn’t coming back, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“I’m worried about your sanity. Why would you tell your child his mother is dead when she – ?”
“Took off. Abandoned him. Left when he was not much more than a year old and never came back. She didn’t want him. She hates him almost as much as she hates – “
His mourn snapped closed over the last word. But I could figure it out. His wife hated him. I doubted he’d tell me why.
“You didn’t see her again?”
“Didn’t hear from her?”
“So you’re still married.”
“Not in my mind.”
“Terrific,” I muttered.
“If I don’t know where she is, how can I send her the divorce papers?”
He had a point. Still –
“It was never a real marriage,” he insisted.
“You got a license?”
“Then it was real.”
“I never loved her. She never loved me. We got married because…” He shrugged and I understood.
“You couldn’t keep it in your pants. What a shock.”
Silence settled over the interior of the car. But I was unable to remain quiet for long. “Why did you tell me you couldn’t have children?”
“I can’t. Not anymore. After Luc I – ” He fell silent, as if he could no longer find the words.
I had no such trouble. “You were in an accident? Caught the mumps? What?”
“I had a vasectomy.”
My mouth fell open. I seemed to have that problem a lot lately. “Why?”
“I don’t make de same mistake twice.”
“But – What if you met someone? Wanted more children?”
My chest hurt, as if someone were pounding on it with a lead pipe, trying to break my heart.
“You can’t know that,” I managed.
“I will never marry again. Never have another child. It’s de way things are.”
I never planned to marry again, either, knew with utter certainty I’d never love anyone the way I’d loved Simon. I hadn’t wanted a baby with him; I definitely didn’t want one with anyone else. So why did Adam’s words bother me so much?
Because I smelled a lie in there somewhere; I just wasn’t sure where. Perhaps it was the lie of omission. He had another life, a family I didn’t even know about And if he’d lied about that, he’d probably lied about something else.
“Why didn’t you tell me about Luc?”
“My life in de swamp is different from my life with my son.”
I stiffened. “And I’m part of your life in the swamp? How flattering.”
“Diana, you don’t understand – “
“I think I do. You don’t want your precious son being contaminated by the trampy woman you’re screwing.”
His jaw tightened. “That isn’t what I said.”
“You don’t have to.” I crossed my arms and stared out the window.
“I’ll do anything to keep Luc from being hurt.”
I shot him a glare. “You think I’d hurt him?”
“Not on purpose. But – ” He lifted his hand from the steering wheel, then lowered it. “He wants a mother. I can’t give him one.”
“No,” he said with cold finality. “You plan on stayin’, cher? You want a ready-made family? A little cabin in de swamp? Drive a car pool? Make bag lunches? Soccer games and Little League?”
When I hesitated, he nodded. “That’s what I thought. So I keep him away. Why get his hopes up? He’s gonna have a hard enough life as it is.”
“Why is his life going to be hard?”
“That’s just de way Me is.”
“You know the future?”
“Sometimes I think I do.”
I stared at him as he stared out the windshield. “You say the strangest things.”
“I don’t want you to tell anyone about him.”
I spread my hands wide. “Who would I tell?”
“No one knows he’s my son. I want to keep it that way. People around here, they think I’m nuts.”
“I wonder why,” I said dryly.
He ignored me. “Luc should have as normal of a life as possible.”
“Why wouldn’t he?”
“My Me isn’t normal.”
“It could be.”
“No. I have responsibilities. Things I have to do – “
A thought broke through my confusion. “Are you still in the army? Some super secret agent crap?”
“No,” he said shortly.
“What, exactly, do you do?”
He didn’t bother to answer, which only made me more suspicious. But his next words hurt so much, I forgot all about that.
“I don’t want you to see Luc again.”
“Fine,” I snapped.
I didn’t plan on seeing Adam again, either. Just because I didn’t want children didn’t mean I was going to take kindly to being told I wasn’t allowed near one. Adam was making me feel bad, and I already felt bad enough.
He turned off the main road and slowed at the sight of a car parked in front of the mansion. Cassandra sat on the porch. As we pulled up she stood, hand raised to shield her eyes from the bright morning sunlight.
I glanced at my watch. Seven forty-five. Damn, I’d told her I’d call by 7:00 A.M. and let her know I was okay. I was surprised Detective Sullivan wasn’t here, too.
“Who is that?” Adam murmured.
“She don’t look like a voodoo priestess.”
“Exactly what does a voodoo priestess look like?”
“Hell if I know.”
Cassandra’s face flooded with relief when she saw me. Her gaze went to Adam, and her eyebrows shot up. I’m sure he had that effect on all the women.
I climbed out of the car. “Sorry. I forgot to call.”
“I can see why.”
I turned to introduce Adam, and he drove away. I was left gaping at the taillights of his Chevy. Sure, I’d planned to blow him off, but he hadn’t even given me the chance.
“Antisocial much?” Cassandra murmured.
“You have no idea.”
“What happened last night?”
“He isn’t the loup-garou,” I blurted.
Her only reaction was a slight lifting of her dark eyebrows. “How do you know?”
“I touched him with your knife, and he didn’t explode.”
“Not into flames anyway.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
She smirked. “You had sex.”
“See that in your crystal ball?”
“Didn’t have to. I can tell by the way you watched him go.”
“Hell,” I mattered.
“Isn’t it? So where were you?”
I opened my mouth to tell her, then remembered Adam’s admonition about Luc. Not that I’d promised anything. Not that I owed Adam anything. Not that Cassandra was any type of threat.
Then again I had no idea whom I could trust and whom I couldn’t I’d thought Adam and I had something – if not love, well, at least lust and extreme like.
Discovering he had a son, that he was, technically, married, had shaken my confidence. Go figure. Having him say he didn’t want me near his child hurt But I wasn’t going to make myself feel any better by telling Cassandra. I don’t think anything would make me feel better.
“Diana?” Cassandra pressed. “Where were you?”
“In the swamp.”
I nodded. We had been, most of the time.
I remembered something else about Luc – he wasn’t supposed to exist. I’d found no record of his birth at all. Had I missed it? Had it been lost, stolen, misplaced? I was so confused.
The sound of vehicles turning off the main highway made both Cassandra and I glance up. A delivery truck and an unmarked police car rattled down the driveway.
“Sullivan,” Cassandra murmured. She didn’t sound pleased.
“Ms. Malone.” He nodded at me, then Cassandra. “Priestess.”
He put a sarcastic twist on the title and Cassandra’s eyes narrowed.
“You better watch it or she’ll turn you into a toad,” I said.
“Wish I could,” Cassandra murmured.
Sullivan didn’t appear worried. “I’d be happy to call you Miss, Mrs., or Ms. if I knew your last name.”
“You mean you haven’t been able to uncover that information with your superior detecting skills?” Cassandra asked.
“I’ve been a little busy.”
“What is your last name?” I asked.
“I don’t need one. ‘Priestess Cassandra’ sets me apart. It isn’t as if there are two in town.”
I tilted my head. She didn’t want to tell me. How interesting. I never would have thought Cassandra had something to hide. Maybe everyone did.
“Which one of you is Malone?” the deliveryman asked.
“Me.” I took the clipboard he offered and signed next to my name.
The stuff from Frank had arrived. Thank goodness. In less than a week the crescent moon would rise and now I’d be ready.
“What’s that?” Sullivan asked as the delivery guy unloaded a cart with a long, thin box atop two shorter fatter ones.
“Cage, tree stands, tranquilizer gun.”
“You got a permit for that?”
I stopped in the middle of opening the box on the top. “I was told the gun laws in Louisiana are… lenient.”
Sullivan scowled. “You got that right. But trapping an animal and transporting it across state lines is a different matter.”
Hell. I hadn’t thought of that.
Luckily Frank had. On top of the dart gun lay documents, all made out and stamped nice and legal, signed by the governor and giving me the right to take pretty much anything anywhere I wanted to. Frank might be an annoying pain, but he was an organized, think-ahead, rich annoying pain with a lot of connections.
I handed the papers to Sullivan. Frustration washed over his face. He handed them back to me with a scowl. “Did you ever tell Adam Ruelle I wanted to talk to him?”
“We already had this conversation.”
“He still hasn’t contacted me.”
I shrugged. Adam wasn’t going to call the detective. Not in this lifetime.
“Why did you call me if it wasn’t about Ruelle?” he demanded.
I’d forgotten about the call I’d placed, the message I’d left, but I remembered the question I’d had.
“Did you ever identify the man who was strangled in the swamp?”
“Isn’t that strange?” Cassandra murmured. “Shouldn’t someone be searching for him?”
“Eventually. Maybe.” Sullivan shrugged. “You’d be surprised how many John Does there are in the world. Especially around here. Speaking of which, we never found Charlie Wagner’s body.”
I tried very hard not to look at Cassandra. Probably as hard as she was trying not to look at me. The detective glanced back and forth between us. His eyes narrowed.
Before he could ask us questions we wouldn’t answer, I asked one of my own. “The St. Tammany police thought there was a rabies problem in the swamp.”
“There’s something. My boss called in a specialist.”
“What kind of specialist?”
“There’s been a problem in several states with a new strain of rabies.”
“Really?” Cassandra murmured. “Funny we didn’t hear about it.”
“They try to keep information of that nature quiet. People panic.”
“Can’t imagine why,” I said.
“Guy should be here in a couple days. He’ll do his thing, and then we can concentrate on our other problems.”
“Who strangled a stranger and who’s stealing dead bodies.”
He squinted at Cassandra as he said the latter. She just rolled her eyes and turned away.
“Maybe you should wait to do your trapping until our rabies expert is finished,” he said.
“What if my wolf is the one with the rabies problem?”
And I kind of thought he was – if you considered rabies was a euphemism for the curse of the crescent moon.
“Then you’d definitely better back off. You don’t want rabies, Ms. Malone. Even with the new medicines, it isn’t pretty.”
Hey, I didn’t want to be baying at the moon, either. I wasn’t going to take any chances.
“You’ll wait until I give the go-ahead before you move forward with… ?” Sullivan made a vague motion toward the cage and the dart gun.
“Great I’ll be in touch.”
The detective climbed into his car and rumbled down the drive toward the highway.
Cassandra cleared her throat. When I glanced at her, she lifted a dark brow. “You really plan to wait?”