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Authors: Juliet Rosetti

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Romantic Comedy, #Suspense, #Humorous

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BOOK: Tangled Thing Called Love
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“Mr. Fanchon?” Mazie asked shakily. “Gil Fanchon?”

He squinted at her, keeping his arrow aimed at Labeck. “Do I know you?”

“I’m Mike Maguire’s daughter. I’m Mazie.”

“Mike’s girl?” He lowered the bow, though he still kept the arrow on the string. He pointed to Labeck. “Who’s that, then? Can’t be a Maguire, not with that size on him.”

“He’s with me. His name is Ben Labeck. Ben, this is Gil Fanchon, Fawn’s dad.”

Ben nodded but kept his eyes on the bow.

“Well, I guess you two’s all right, then.” Fanchon lowered the bow. “I wouldn’t’ve really skewered you. I just use the bow to scare off those goddamn kids that go down by the crick, drink and smoke dope and holler, ‘Fawn, you out there? Come on out, Fawn—I want to kiss a ghost.’ And other stuff I won’t repeat in front of a lady.”

All the light had seeped from the sky. As it grew dark the spring peepers stepped up their volume, and they had to raise their voices to be heard.

“Know what the worst thing is?” Gil Fanchon released the arrow from the bow and carefully set it back in his quiver. “When them kids bring teddy bears and what-all and set ’em on Fawn’s rock. Like at those highway sites where somebody got killed. That rock down there ain’t a grave site. Because my Fawn isn’t dead.”

He clamped his hand over his heart. “I’d feel it in here if my baby girl was gone. I walk down here to the crick every night because it makes me feel close to her.”

“You still live nearby, don’t you?” Mazie asked.

“Yup. Just a couple miles.”

“Can we offer you a lift back to your place?” Ben asked.

“Why, I appreciate that. Been a long day, and my legs ain’t what they used to be.”

Gil sat in the backseat and gave Ben directions. He lived in a trailer on a blacktop road that ran along the perimeter of the swamp. “You two come on in now,” Gil ordered as they stopped in the trailer’s dirt driveway. He got out of the car, carefully holding his bow. “I’ll pay you back for that ride with a nice glass of iced tea.”

Ben cocked an eyebrow at Mazie, a gesture that meant:
I want to do this, okay?

He wasn’t doing this just to be polite, she guessed; he was after something.

They followed Gil into the trailer, its living room crammed with furniture he’d evidently purchased at Big Howie’s House o’ Tacky Taste. Green vinyl sofa and recliner with built-in cup holders, chrome coffee table, and floor-to-ceiling entertainment center with a large television perched precariously on a too-small pedestal. Mazie looked around the trailer for signs of kids, but the place had a bachelor air—no skateboards, backpacks, or sneakers strewn around.

Gil placed his bow in a rack on the wall and went to the refrigerator. The kitchen appliances were new and shiny, Mazie noticed, studying her reflection in a chrome toaster. Her face glowed radioactive red from her bike ride today.

“Where do you work, Mr. Fanchon?” she asked.

“It’s
Gil
, honey. Don’t ask me where I work. Say, ‘What do you work for?’ Go on, ask.”

“Okay.
What
do you work for?”

“Chicken feed.”
He guffawed. “Birdseed of all kinds. I work at the Chik-K-D birdseed factory out on the highway. Fifteen years I been there. Funny thing how even when they don’t have food to put on their table, folks still shell out money for the birds. Fawn used to have a pet parakeet. Died after she went missing. The younger ones didn’t take care of it.”

“Fawn’s little brothers. Are they still—”

“All out on their own these days. Fawn, now—she was my brightest. Wanted to go to college. Got accepted to a bunch of ’em, only I wouldn’t sign the loan papers for her. That’s how come she went in for that Miss Quail Hollow foolishness—she wanted the scholarship money.”

Gil scooped ice cubes into three tumblers and took a pitcher of iced tea from the refrigerator. He poured tea into the tumblers with a practiced twist of the wrist. “I didn’t want Fawn going off to college, see? Wanted her to stay here and take care of the rugrats so’s I could keep on with my barhoppin’.”

Mazie leaned against the kitchen counter, sipping her tea, eying Gil’s bow on its wall hook. It looked like a traditional Indian bow turned inside out. It was stainless steel with space-age string and all sorts of complicated gadgets affixed to it. It looked capable of not just bringing down a deer, but skinning and dressing it, too. A weapon like that couldn’t come cheap. How did a guy who worked for birdseed get the money for a bow like that?

“When Fawn comes back I’m going to show her the money I got saved up for her,” Gil said. “Tell her now she can go to any damn college in the country if she wants.”

Ben shot Mazie a look, and she was sure he was thinking the same thing she was: Gil Fanchon was in free fall from reality. If she were alive, Fawn would be almost thirty-one, maybe with kids of her own.

Ben cleared his throat. “Gil,” he said. “I work as a cameraman for a Milwaukee television station, but I also do independent film projects.”

“That right?” Gil was a twitcher, jiggling his feet, scratching his arms, cracking his knuckles. Probably an ex-smoker whose fingers still itched for a cigarette. “You mean like the History Channel? I watch them shows a lot, especially the World War Two stuff.”

“I think people would be interested in an investigative journalism story about your daughter.”

Gil’s eyes widened. “Abso-damn-lutely. You investigate the hell out of my baby girl’s disappearance. Show it on that
Great Unsolved Mysteries
program. I bet folks would be poppin’ out of the woodwork saying they seen Fawn. Hell, she might see it herself and come home.”

“I can’t guarantee a cable network would pick this up,” Labeck said. “But if you’d allow it, we could do some preliminary filming this week—right now, in fact. I’d like to get some background on your daughter.”

“What do you mean, background?”

“Photos, diaries, home video—anything that gives a sense of Fawn’s personality.”

“Dunno.” Gil waggled a finger into his right ear. “Them things are sort of sacred. Would I get paid for this? It’s kind of like … invading my baby’s privacy.”

Ben fished out his wallet and thrust a fifty-dollar bill into Gil’s hand. “If we get financial backing, there’ll be more down the line.”

Gil stuffed the money in his shirt pocket. “This ain’t for myself, understand. It’ll go toward the Fawn Foundation.”

“The Fawn Foundation?” Ben said.

“Some folks hereabouts set up a fund to help find my daughter. Five bucks here, ten bucks there—people far away as China and Japan send money. Okay, now—how’s about we start with Fawn’s bedroom?”

“Great,” Ben said. “Just give me a sec to go out and get my camera.”

He went out to the car while Mazie followed Gil down a narrow hallway and into a bedroom barely large enough to contain a twin bed and a dresser.

“I never changed a thing. All ready for Fawn when she comes back.” Gil picked up a photo that sat atop the dresser, wiped off dust with his sleeve, and handed it to Mazie. It was a ten-by-twelve in a silver frame and must have been taken the night Fawn was crowned, because she was wearing a long pink gown with a sweetheart neckline and cap sleeves. The
Miss Quail Hollow 2001
sash was draped across her chest and she was holding a huge bouquet of red roses. The tiara was a circlet of intertwined rhinestone hearts with a tiny jeweled bird on top—a quail.

The tiara had traditionally passed down to the new queen each year, but when Fawn had disappeared, the tiara had vanished too, replaced by a new, cheaper model. Studying the photo, Mazie saw how apt the name
Fawn
was. She had wide-set doe eyes framed by long, black lashes and an alert, slightly wary look, as though she was always on the lookout for predators. If Fawn was still alive, she would be a beautiful woman.

“Fawn made that dress.” Gil pointed to the gown, moving so close to Mazie she could smell his breath. “Ran it up on her ma’s old sewing machine, ’cause I didn’t have no money for fancy store-bought dresses.”

Ben returned with his camera. He took a still shot of Fawn’s photo, then started videotaping the room, starting with the posters above her bed: Spice Girls, Nirvana, Backstreet Boys, Limp Bizkit, and half a dozen others.

“How old was Fawn when her mom died?” Mazie asked.

“Fourteen,” Gil growled. “It all come on real sudden. One day Danielle—that’s my wife—started complaining about her belly aching. Wouldn’t go see a doctor—she was scared of doctors—kept putting it off until the pain got so bad she collapsed. I drove her to the emergency room. The docs said it was a ruptured appendix and operated on her right away, but her insides got all infected. She went into cardiac arrest and died.”

“I’m so sorry,” Mazie said.

“Yeah. It was rough. Fawn took over, though—she was like a little mother to the three boys. Cooked their meals, got ’em off to school on time, stayed home with ’em if they was sick.”

Gil shoved open the door of a cardboard wardrobe. “That’s all her stuff in there. Hung up on hangers all neat. Fawn couldn’t stand to see a mess.”

Feeling like a gawker at a traffic crash, Mazie surveyed the outfits—a museum of the millennium. Baby-doll tops, cargo pants, denim jackets, peasant skirts, and off-the-shoulders tops. “Did the police check through her things?” she asked.

Gil gave a bark of laughter. “You bet your sweet tushy. Went over this place with a fine-tooth comb, looking for bloodstains and what-all. In case you weren’t aware of it, the Fanchons don’t exactly have good reputations roundabouts here. Seeing as how we live out in the country, the county sheriff’s department handled it, but on account of Fawn last being seen in Quail Hollow the police had their noses in it too.”

He fingered a plastic lei draped across Fawn’s dresser mirror. “Know what still bothers me? I didn’t go to see Fawnie in the pageant. I meant to. But I stopped in at the Pirate’s Den after work. Planned to get on home, pick up the boys, and take ’em over to watch Fawn up on that stage. It got to be ten o’clock, eleven—then it was too late. The bartender took away my car keys, but I had an extra key so I drove home, fell into bed with my clothes on. I didn’t even know Fawn didn’t come home that night until the boys woke me up, wanting their breakfasts, whining for their sister.”

It was heartbreaking. A lump came to Mazie’s throat and tears stung her eyes at the thought of those little boys who’d lost their mother and then their sister. Still, she couldn’t help feeling that there was something a little prefab about Gil Fanchon’s spiel, like a pitchman on late-night television. An air of the huckster clung to Gil.

Ben kept one eye on Mazie as he videotaped. He didn’t trust Fanchon one inch. Every time Mazie turned her back, the guy’s eyes tracked to her ass. Ben had already discounted 90 percent of what Fanchon had told them. He was a big-time bullshitter, and Ben didn’t like the way he was playing on Mazie’s sympathy.

Tomorrow, Ben vowed, he was going to do some investigating, and he wouldn’t be one bit surprised to discover that the person behind Fawn Fanchon’s disappearance was her own father.

Chapter Eleven

How not to start your morning: with a phone call from a teacher.

“Is this Miss Maguire?” asked an unfamiliar woman’s voice.

“Yes?”

“I’m Abby Stowe, the third-grade summer school teacher?”

Summer school. The greatest advancement in education since chalk as far as Mazie was concerned. It provided a bright yellow school bus that siphoned up the twins and didn’t regurgitate them until five hours later.

“I believe you’re the contact person for Joseph and Samuel Maguire?” Miss Stowe went on. “Did you give the boys permission to bring a dog to class?”

“No, I did not.” How had the little weasels managed to pull off a stunt like that? One of them must have popped Muffin into a backpack just before getting on the bus. Assuming that Muffin was in the kitchen with Gran, Mazie hadn’t noticed him missing. She and Ben had hurriedly left right after the boys, both of them eager to get started on their investigation of Fawn Fanchon’s disappearance.

Their first stop had been the Coulee County Sheriff’s Department. There was a surprising amount of information available to the public under the open records law: three thick manila file folders, in fact. The sheriff’s department hadn’t started computerizing its files until 2004, so there was no way to search or cross-reference material; everything had to be gone through one item at a time. It was a mess—not indexed or alphabetized and with papers virtually exploding out of the folders. But Ben was looking at it as though it were breakfast and lunch combined.

“What are we looking for exactly?” Mazie asked him.

“Possibilities. In the documentary, we want to be able to provide half a dozen alternate scenarios: Fawn being abducted by a stranger, or meeting her secret lover, or the devil thing—”

“Do we have a point of view? Are we leaning heavily on the random rapist, or do we want to have Fawn living in a Florida trailer park with—” Abruptly Mazie lowered her
voice. She’d forgotten she was in the scuttlebutt center of the world. Margery Kienast, the sheriff’s department secretary, was hovering nearby, pretending to file paper, but eavesdropping so blatantly it was a wonder her ears didn’t lift her off the ground. Margery was not a believer in the “loose lips sink ships” approach to life, and the news that someone was poking into Fawn’s disappearance would be all over the dirty-laundry clotheslines by noon.

“No, we don’t have a point of view,” Ben said, lowering his voice as well. “We’re open to all possibilities. Can you get hold of a computer? I’d like to see what kind of video is available on Fawn, see what the news coverage was like at the time.”

“I could use one of the library computers,” Mazie suggested. She heard how tight her voice sounded, and realized that she and Ben were on a cautious footing with each other this morning. There was a sense of unfinished business between them. Mazie had expected Ben to come to her bedroom again last night, but if he had, she hadn’t noticed. Exhausted, she’d slept heavily, dreamed vividly, and hadn’t wakened until Gran had rapped on her door in the morning.

BOOK: Tangled Thing Called Love
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