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Authors: Amy Patricia Meade

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Shadow Waltz

BOOK: Shadow Waltz
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Copyright Information

Shadow Waltz
© 2011 Amy Patricia Meade

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any matter whatsoever, including Internet usage, without written permission from Midnight Ink, except in the form of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

As the purchaser of this ebook, you are granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this ebook on screen. The text may not be otherwise reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, or recorded on any other storage device in any form or by any means.

Any unauthorized usage of the text without express written permission of the publisher is a violation of the author's copyright and is illegal and punishable by law.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

First e-book edition © 2011

E-book ISBN: 978-0-7387-1813-2

Book design by Donna Burch

Cover design
and image by Ellen Dahl

Midnight Ink is an imprint of Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd.

Midnight Ink does not participate in, endorse, or have any authority or responsibility concerning private business arrangements between our authors and the public.

Any Internet references contained in this work are current at publication time, but the publisher cannot guarantee that a specific reference will continue or be maintained. Please refer to the publisher's website for links to current author websites.

Midnight Ink

Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd.

2143 Wooddale Drive

Woodbury, MN 55125

www.midnightink.com

Manufactured in the United States of America

One

“You nearly killed her!”
declared the desiccated man, his voice rising in indignation.

Creighton Ashcroft did a double take at Walter Schutt. “I beg your pardon?”

“Our Sharon. It nearly killed her when you took off the way you did,” the wizened bookstore owner explained. “Without so much as a word! And then breaking off your engagement to be with t
he McClelland girl. It's disgraceful!”

Creighton ran a hand through his chestnut hair and heaved a loud sigh. “Mr. Schutt, Sharon and I were never engaged.”

“No ring was exchanged, no, but there was an understanding.”

Creighton shook his head in disbelief. To the other residents of Ridgebury, Connecticut, the year was 1935, but to Walter Schutt and his narrow frame of reference, it may as well be the turn of the century—the nineteenth century. “Understanding? We had no ‘understa
nding.' I took her to the pictures a few times—that's all.”

“You were courting her, weren't you?”

“No … maybe … perhaps, in a manner of speaking.”

“Well, to you it may have been just speaking, but to her it was serious.”

“Now see here, Mr. Schutt, I never promised Sharon anything.”

The shopkeeper pulled a face. “No, young fellas like you don't promise anything, do ya? But you do your best to lead a sweet young t
hing like my Sharon to believe otherwise!”

The presence of the words “sweet” and “Sharon” in the same sentence made Creighton wince. “Think what you like, Mr. Schutt, but my intentions toward Sharon were never anything less than honorable. I'm sure she can verify that I never laid a finger on her.” Creighton cringed again as he envisioned physical contact with the moon-faced girl.

“Even more reason for her to believe you were a gentleman.” Schutt clicked his tongue chidingly. “Poor thing cried into her pillow every night for a week.”

With this statement, the spherical shape of Sharon Schutt appeared from behind a curtain that divided the shop from a rear office. The girl was grinning ear-to-ear as she launched her piglike countenance into a cupcake piled high with whipped cream and topped with a maraschino cherry.

“Isn't that right, Sharon?” Schutt placed an affectionate arm around his youngest daughter.

“Hmph?” The girl questioned as crumbs streamed from her mouth.

“I told Mr. Ashcroft how you cried into your pillow every night for a week after he left.”

“Huh?” Sharon answered distractedly between chews, her gaze never once moving from the partially consumed treat in her hand.

“You cried, my blossom,” Schutt repeated loudly. “Every night. Remember?”

Sharon paused, obviously debating whether or not she should answer before taking another bite. “Yes,” she stated flatly. “I was devastated.” She turned her eyes briefly toward Creighton and bit, viciously, into the cupcake.

“I'm sorry, Sharon. I never meant to hurt you,” the Englishman apologized. “But let's look on the bright side: this situation has
n't seemed to have affected your appetite. That's a good sign!” He flashed a radiant smile.

Schutt sneered. “That's only just returned this week. Until then she wouldn't eat a bite. Mrs. Schutt and I were very worried about her. Wasting away, she was!”

Creighton surveyed Sharon's corpulent figure and estimated that it would require several months of fasting before she was in any danger of “wasting away.” Given Schutt's current attitude, however, he thought it best to refrain from stating so. “I thought you looked rather … um …
svelte
.”

The Schutts glared at him.

“Well, as it appears I'm no longer welcome here, why don't we get down to business? I believe you have a book for Miss McClelland. May I have it please?”

Schutt scowled and reluctantly pulled a book down from the shelf behind him. “Seventy-five cents.”

As Sharon returned her attention to the cupcake, Creighton hurriedly counted out the proper change and placed it on the counter
, eagerly anticipating his freedom.

The bookseller eyed the three quarters on the counter and handed the book to the Englishman. However, before Creighton could get his fingers on it, Schutt pulled it back with a quick flick of the wrist. “You know, if the economy were better, I wouldn't sell this book to Miss McClelland. Why, on principle, I shouldn't sell it. After all, she's just as guilty in this as you are!”

“Guilty!” Creighton sputtered. “Guilty? Why, my good man, don't you see that she's the victim in this whole thing? The truth is Marjorie only broke off the engagement with Detective Jameson because she found out he had his eye on some other young woman. Marjorie was desolate. Desolate!”

Where, why, or how the farfetched story had formed in his feve
red brain, Creighton had no idea. He had once heard of men who had faked their own deaths to escape from prison, debts, and clinging wives and could only imagine that the same desperate state of mind was causing this spate of lies to exit from his lips. But whatever the cause, the ship had been launched and Creighton had litt
le choice but to steer it to the next harbor.

Sharon, in the meantime, had allowed the remainder of her cupcake to drop to the floor with a soft
plop
. “Some other young woman?” she quizzed, a dab of whipped cream on her nose and her eyes agog with excitement.

“That's not how Detective Jameson tells it,” Schutt challenged.

“Of course not,” Creighton agreed. “What man likes to admit he's wrong?”

Schutt was stoic. “He's a man of the law. Fine. Upstanding.” He folded his arms across his chest. “I don't believe it.”

“Fine and upstanding have nothing to do with impressing a girl or her parents. Parents …” Creighton's eyes lit up. “Say, Jameson has been to your house for dinner more than once over the past few weeks hasn't he?”

Sharon tittered breathlessly, hopped on one foot and waved her hands in the air as if stricken by some bizarre seizure.

“He has been to our house for dinner,” Schutt mused. “And he did ask for a second helping of Louise's rhubarb pie. I've never seen anyone do that. I find it only tolerable myself.” Lost in thought, and the prospect of marrying off his seemingly ineligible daughter, he dropped the book he had been clutching so tightly onto the counter.

Creighton snatched it up and tucked it beneath his lightweight summer suit jacket. “Why don't you invite him for dinner, Daddy?” Sharon requested. “I can make a peach pie. You know everyone loves my peach pie …”

With that, Creighton snuck out the door of the bookstore and onto the Ridgebury village green.

Two

Tap, tap, tap, tap!
The knocks fell upon the front door in rapid succession.

Marjorie McClelland paused from typing and sighed at the page of words that had been flowing so effortlessly from her shiny new 1935 Remington typewriter.
If I don't answer, maybe they'll go away …

Her wish was met with another series of raps—louder and more urgent than the first set and this time mingled with the piercin
g wail of a young child.

Marjorie quickly combed her hair with her fingers and hastened to the door. The woman standing upon the doorstep was approximately twenty years old, slight of build, and she looked as if she hadn't slept in days. “Miss McClelland?” she inquired as she tucke
d a wisp of dark hair behind one ear and rocked the screaming toddler in her arms.

“Yes. May I help you?”

“Oh, I hope so!” she exclaimed. “I certainly hope so! I don't know who else to turn to.”

Marjorie searched the young woman's face suspiciously, but sympathy, as usual, won out over common sense. “Come in,” she replied and beckoned toward the living room.

The young woman nodded and took a spot on an overstuffed floral sofa. She balanced her son upon one knee and placed a protective arm around him, but the youngster continued to cry.

“May I get you something? Some water? Something for the baby?” Marjorie offered as she smoothed the skirt of her navy blue polka-dot dress.

“No, thank you. I've already intruded upon you enough.”

“Don't be silly. You've piqued my curiosity.”

“I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be so dramatic. I should've at least told you my name.” She leaned toward the armchair Marjorie now occupied and offered a gloved hand. “I'm Elizabeth Barnwell. And this is my son, Michael Jr.”

Marjorie grasped her hand in warm welcome and smiled sweetly at the little boy. “Hello, Michael. You're not having a good day,
are you?”

“Neither of us are.” Elizabeth's brown eyes brimmed with tears. “You see, my husband—Michael Sr.—has been missing for two days now, and I need your help.”

“My help?”

“Yes, I remember reading something about you in the papers a few months back. I know you were involved in a case since then, but the one I remember was a missing person's case just like mine
.”

Ah, the Van Allen affair
, Marjorie mused. It seemed so long ago. Since then, she had been involved in the Nussbaum case and, her reputation as a professional sleuth established, she had been asked by local townspeople to help locate all manner of things, from runaway cats to misplaced spectacles. One enthusiastic college professor had even invited her to France to participate in a hunt for the legendary Holy Grail. Marjorie was tempted, but declined after Creighton informed her that the professor's interest in her was spurred, not so much by academic esteem, as by the full-length photograph that accompanied the article:

“Darling, you're joking! Calling the Holy Grail the ‘Hilly Girl' and then saying he wanted to leave from London, fly directly to Brest, and then move south toward the Pyrenees? I hate to tell you, but I don't think he's interested in your mind …”

She shook her head and turned her attention back to the young woman on the sofa. “Mrs. Barnwell, I would love to help you, but I'm a writer, not a detective. The Van Allen case was a fluke and the Nussbaum case—well, I got involved in it strictly by chance. Now, I suggest you go home and call the police. Explain your problem to them. They—”

“I have called the police,” she interjected. Michael responded to his mother's change in tone with a loud scream. “They told me this sort of thing happens all the time. ‘Lots of men need a break from their old ladies,' they said. ‘He'll be back before you know it,' they said. But he's never done this before, Miss McClelland. It's not like Michael …” Her voice broke into sobs.

Marjorie rose to search for a clean handkerchief but was interrupted by the sound of the front door swinging open. “Hullo, darling! Boy, do you owe me—oh, I'm sorry. I didn't realize you had company.”

“It's all right, Creighton. Mrs. Barnwell, this is my associate, Mr. Creighton Ashcroft.” The writer took the screaming child from his mother's lap and gathered him into her arms. “Mrs. Barnwell's husband is missing.”

Creighton stepped forward and handed her the handkerchief from his front suit pocket. “I'm terribly sorry, Mrs. Barnwell. Is there anything we can do?”

“Yes, you can help me find Michael.” She blew her nose loudly. “That's why I came to Miss McClelland. I remembered seeing the two of you in the papers—about your being detectives and all.” She dabbed her eyes with the handkerchief and smiled at Marjorie, who held a now sleeping Michael Jr. “Oh, you have a way with children, Miss McClelland. A natural mother.”

Creighton's blue eyes twinkled. “Yes, Marjorie's very maternal. Why, on many occasions, I, myself, have fought the urge to rest my head on her breast and call her ‘Mother.'”

Marjorie narrowed her eyes in defiance, but she could not suppress a bit of a grin. “And many times I've wanted to spank you and send you to your room,” she rallied before looking at the child in her arms. Her gaze automatically softened. “Poor dear. He has no idea of what's going on.”

“That's why I came to you for help,” Elizabeth spoke up. “You're a woman. I knew you'd understand. We sense things that men would normally dismiss.”

Marjorie took a deep breath. However emotional Mrs. Barnwell might be, she had a good point. Men had always dismissed Marjorie's sense of intuition, however accurate it might be. Even her former beau, Detective Robert Jameson, had taken little heed of her warnings regarding the Van Allen case. The only man who had ever considered her as something more than a hysterical female was her father. Her father and Creighton.

Marjorie flashed her fiancé a proud smile before replying to Elizabeth Barnwell. “All right, we'll take the case. We'll take the case and do what we can to find your husband. But first, we need more information. What does your husband look like? What does he do for a living? Where does he go in his spare time? Did you two have an argument before he disappeared? Does he have friends or family with whom he might be staying?”

Elizabeth's face brightened. She leaned forward in her seat and answered Marjorie's questions as if by rote. “I'm afraid I don't have a photo of Michael, but he's twenty-four years old, about six feet tall, very thin, has dark hair, dark eyes, and a mustache. He works as a clerk for an insurance company. He takes the seven o'clock train to work every morning and then comes home by six for dinner and to help me put the baby to bed. He's devoted to little Michael. That's how I know something's wrong.”

“And he never goes out? Not even for a drink with the boys?”

“He's not a drinking man, but he does play poker on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I don't know who he plays with or where. That's his business. I asked him once, but that's what he said. It was his business.”

Marjorie frowned. A husband who was reluctant to state his whereabouts was up to no good. Period. “And you're certain that relations between the two of you were perfectly normal? No arguments that morning or the night before? Tell me everything now, Mrs. Barnwell, because it will eventually come out.”

“No. No arguments. It was a typical day. He went to work like he does every morning, but he never came home for supper that night. Even on poker nights he'd come home for supper. He always came home for supper …” Her voice trailed off again.

“And you noticed nothing strange about his behavior? Nothing that might help us find him?”

She dabbed her swollen eyes with a damp handkerchief and extracted a large key and scrap of paper from her purse. “I did find these. They were in the pocket of the suit he was wearing the night before he disappeared. I always check the pockets before I bring his suits
to the cleaners. Bought him a Christmas present once with all the change I saved.”

Creighton smiled sympathetically and took the items from Mrs. Barnwell's hand. He turned the key over and read its number aloud. “7905. Looks like a key to a safe-deposit box.”

Marjorie, the sleeping child still in her arms, moved from her seat and perched on the arm of Creighton's chair. “No, I don't think so. It's too big for a safe deposit box. What's written on that scrap of paper?”

“An address and a phone number. 23 Lakeview Road. Exeter19.”

“Try calling and see what you get.”

“I did already,” Mrs. Barnwell interjected. “No one answered.”

Creighton stood up and headed toward the phone on Marjorie's desk. “Doesn't hurt to try again.”

A couple of minutes and a few tries later he replaced the handset on the cradle with a loud sigh. “Still no reply. Maybe we should check out that address. The key might open something there.”

Marjorie shook her head. “I know that area. Small bungalows near a lake. I can't imagine any household lock that would require a key like this. Although we should probably check it out anyway. It might—” She turned the scrap of paper over. “Wait one minute. This is a train schedule.”

“What?”

“This scrap of paper is from a train schedule.”

“So?”

“So, when someone scribbles a number and address, they use the first thing they have available. In this case, Michael used a train schedule, meaning he was most likely in the train station at the time or, at the very least, had just left it. Leading us to believe that the key most likely opens something there.”

Creighton grinned and held the key aloft. “Something like a locker?”

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