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Authors: Olivia Claire High

The Black Feather (6 page)

BOOK: The Black Feather
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Perhaps not, but Suzanne couldn’t help thinking that her father didn’t mind having other peoples blood on his. She also couldn’t ignore the nagging voice inside her head that reminded her despite everything this was still her father and Cissy had gone to a lot of trouble for him.

“I promise not to say anything. I can’t apologize enough for him calling you.”

“Just don’t let anyone else know.”

She looked at her watch.

“I should be going now.”

“Go through the kitchen, out the back way.”

Cissy clutched her purse to her chest like a shield.

“Oh! Am . . . am I going to get into trouble?”

“No. I’m just suggesting this as a precaution.”

“Okay. To tell you the truth I wasn’t looking forward to facing your friend again. He’s a very intense person, isn’t he? I sure hope you know what you’re doing, Suzanne.”

“Actually, I’m not sure about much of anything these days, but lucky for me, Thad is.”

They hugged each other and promised to get together for a more leisurely lunch once things were settled with Suzanne’s father. She watched her friend leave, praying that Cissy would be safe.

Suzanne returned to the table and told Thad Cissy had to get home to her baby. They stayed to finish their beer. He sat silently watching her until Suzanne had the feeling he was actually able to read her guilty thoughts. She wouldn’t be surprised if he did. The man didn’t miss much.

“Your friend seemed a little edgy.”

“I don’t think she’s getting much sleep these days with taking care of her baby.”

Thad took another slow swallow of beer and nodded toward the front entrance.

“I didn’t see her leave.”

“I thought it would be best if she went out the back in case someone did follow us here.”

“Good idea, but I’d be interested to hear what you said to convince her that was necessary.”

“It wasn’t difficult. You made her nervous, and she wanted to avoid having to see you again.”

“Is that so? And here I thought I was being quite charming. Are you sure there isn’t something else I should know about?”

Suzanne sighed.

“Are you going to be suspicious of everyone who wants to talk to me?”

“Being suspicious goes along with my job.”

“If you must know, she’s having marital problems and needed a sympathetic ear.”

“So you’re Dr. Ruth now?”

“Of course not, but I am her friend and sometimes just having someone listen can help.”

Suzanne amazed herself with how glibly the lies came, but then she’d learned from the best. No one could prevaricate any better than her father, and no one was better at using people. It didn’t matter if that also included his own daughter.

Suzanne was willing to do anything if it meant he was ready to go to the authorities. If she saved her dad, she might be able to save herself. She peered at Thad from beneath her lashes. All she had to do was figure out a way to get in touch with her father without her diligent bodyguard finding out.

But how in the world was she going to keep a bloodhound like Thad off her trail when just about everything she did made him skeptical?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Six

 

Sometimes inspiration came from the simplest of things and at the oddest of times. Hadn’t she discovered that more often than not during her teaching career? This particular brainwave came while Suzanne stood at the kitchen counter mixing up a batch of dumplings using her godmother’s recipe.

“Always be grateful for whatever inspires you,” Nanadoo used to say. “There’s usually a good reason for it.”

Suzanne recalled the words and wondered if it was okay to be thankful that she was going to lie to one man, so she could help another. Did one deed justify the other?

She was about to find out.

“Thad, I’m going to take the chicken and dumplings left from our dinner to my neighbors next door,” she said as soon as they’d finished eating. “They’re elderly and not in the best of health. I sometimes cook for them. I’m afraid it’d be a little intimidating for them if you join me, so I’d appreciate it if you’d let me go alone.”

Suzanne busied herself loading the dishwasher and kept her back to Thad while she talked. She waited, bracing herself, expecting him to argue.

“All right.”

She allowed a quiet, relieved breath to slip between her lips before she turned to face him.

“Thanks for not giving me a hard time, and don’t get all antsy if I’m not back in five minutes. They like me to visit whenever I go over there.”

“Fair enough. Just don’t decide at the last minute to take any detours.”

“As if I would.”

Suzanne had to dig deep to maintain her composure as she continued to cultivate the delicate rapport they’d been working on since that morning. She also had to make sure Thad wouldn’t in any way be suspicious of her actions. The piece of paper from Cissy felt like a weight in her pocket. Every time he looked her way she imagined he had Superman’s x-ray vision and could see right through her jeans.

She’d gone over and over in her mind different ways she could get in contact with her father since seeing Cissy, without Thad finding out and had finally come up with this idea. She wasn’t happy that her plan would mean using the old couple. She hoped to God it wouldn’t end up causing them any harm. Too many people had already been dragged into this calamity.

Suzanne hated herself for what she was about to do. It reminded her too much of her father. She wished she could make herself not care about him. But even in her anger she still
loved him. She had to remind herself the
main reason she decided to call his number was to try and get him to go to the police.

She picked up the container of chicken and another with fruit salad before walking to the door. Thad opened it for her. “Need any help carrying that?”

“No thanks, I have it. I’ll see you in a little while,” she said and forced herself to smile again.

“I’m counting on it.”

 

The man answered the doorbell.

“Hi Greg. I brought you and Mary dinner. Chicken and dumplings with a side of fruit salad.”

“Well, bless your heart. Come in, come in.” He stepped back to let her enter. “Mary’s in the kitchen right now trying to decide what to fix.”

“Looks like I arrived in the nick of time. I also have a favor to ask.”

“Anything.”

“My house phone is on the fritz and would you believe silly me forgot to charge my cell? I was wondering if I could use your phone.”

“Of course you can, darlin’. Take the one in our bedroom. It’ll give you more privacy.”

“Thank you, but first let’s get this food into the kitchen.”

Suzanne left them as soon as they sat down to eat. She felt bad enough lying to Thad, but taking advantage of these good people made her feel lower than pond scum. She picked up the phone and made her call. Her father answered after the first ring and sounded genuinely terrified.

“Thank God it’s you. Are you calling from a safe phone?”

“If you mean is it bugged? No it’s not, and hello to you too, Dad.”

“I’m in trouble, honey. A real barrel of trouble.”

“I know, and it’s spilled over onto me. Thanks to your escapade I’ve been shot, had to hide out in the middle of a jungle, and now I’m forced to have a bodyguard move into my house to protect me.”

“You have? I didn’t know. Well, things are a real mess here, too. You’ve got to help me.”

“Thanks for asking if I’m okay.”

“What? Oh, yeah. I’m sorry, but you sound all right. I need you to do something for me. I’d do it myself, but I’m being followed.”

She pulled in a breath.

“What makes you think I’m not? I can’t even go out for a simple lunch without having someone chasing me. I want you to stop running and turn yourself in. Let the police handle this now.”

“That’s easy for you to say. You’re not the one who’ll end up in a pine box if the people I’m running from finds me.”

“I’m also not the one who stole a truckload of money, either. You promised to cooperate with the authorities by giving them evidence on the Montane brothers. Why haven’t you followed through?” 

“How’d you find out about all that?”

“I got it from the man who’s staying with me. He said you could have those men put away for good.”

“I do have plenty of stuff on them, but they got wise to me. I barely escaped with my hide intact. I’ve decided to use the money I took to go to some nice little island and live out my days in comfort. The problem is I’ve got to be sure the Montanes are behind bars, or they’ll hunt me down like a rabid dog.”

“But not all the Montanes want to harm you. Right?”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m talking about Muriel Montane.”

“So you know about her, too,” he said after a few seconds hesitation. “She’s a sweet girl. The only way we can be free of her family is to be sure the evidence I gathered gets to the police.”

“Then mail whatever you have to them and leave me out of it, for heaven’s sake.”

“Well – see, that’s the problem. I don’t have the stuff with me.”

Suzanne pressed fingertips to her eyes, willing the headache away that had started to emerge.

“What did you do with the phones?”

“I put them in a green canvas bag and tossed it into the bushes in the backyard at our old house. I knew the Montanes were getting close. I didn’t have much time to think about what else to do.”

“Which old house? We lived in more than one if you’ll recall.”

“The one on Daisy Drive. It’s okay because no one’s living there now. I checked. I thought it’d be easy to go back later, but I don’t think I should take the chance. I’ve got to keep myself safe for Muriel’s sake. I need you to go there, get that bag, and turn it over to the police, honey.”

“I can’t. I’m being watched too closely myself.”

“You got to a phone to call me, didn’t you? You’ve always been clever. I know you’ll figure out a way to help your old man.”

“It’s kind of crappy that you’re not worried about me as much as you are about your lady friend.”

“Of course I’m worried about you, but Muriel has to be my priority right now.”

Her shoulders sagged.

“It’s nice to know where I stand in the pecking order. Why is she so special?”

“She’s pregnant.”

 

Suzanne decided she was worse than pond scum. She was the primordial ooze that seeped up from the bowels of the earth. She’d not only tricked her friends into using their phone, but she took the cell phone sitting on the dresser. If that wasn’t bad enough, she swiped money out of Greg’s wallet lying there because she’d had to leave her house without her purse.

Greg’s phone was very basic and she knew he only used it for emergencies. This was definitely an emergency. She took it in case she needed to call for help. Her father said their old house was empty, but what if someone followed her? Something could happen to her and no one would even know where she’d gone. The only thing she could think to do was phone Heather and tell her where she was headed.

Suzanne told Heather she felt obligated to go, when her friend tried to talk her out of it. She knew her dad was using her and that hurt. Still, she hadn’t been able to refuse him. Maybe she needed counseling? Why else would she allow herself to be manipulated into doing something so dangerous?

The pattern between them had been set long ago. She’d always been willing to do anything, short of murder, to please her father in an effort to win his love. But this was the first time she’d been asked to protect an unborn child. Her dad’s child, she reminded herself. Well, she was his child, too, even if she was an adult now.

Thad was right when he described the kind of home she wanted. Maybe that was because she’d never had that life growing up. People who claimed you couldn’t miss what you never had didn’t know what they were talking about. There were all kinds of hunger in the world, and not just for food.

Thad must have discovered she was gone by now. Suzanne hated deceiving him. He’d inadvertently given her the idea to use her neighbor’s yard and call a cab to meet her a few blocks away. She prayed she’d find the bag, so she could turn it over to the police before the Montane brothers ruined more lives. It made her feel better to focus on the idea that she wasn’t doing this just for herself, or her father. The Montanes had done bad things to good people. If she had the power to end their reign of terror, wasn’t that a noble quest?

Maybe if she succeeded it might make her father love her. Or maybe she should grow up and stop believing in fantasies. But sometimes fairytales were all there was, and not for the first time in her life Suzanne wished for something she couldn’t seem to have.

She had the cab driver drop her off a few houses from her destination. She walked at a quick pace in her anxiousness to find her father’s bag and get away as fast as she could. The streetlights spaced out along the route made it easy to see where she was going. But she made herself stay in the shadows as much as possible in case someone might be watching her progress.

Suzanne doubted if she would ever get comfortable with having to look over her shoulder. She enjoyed a good cat-and-mouse game as much as the next person. But not when she was the mouse.

A few stars were just beginning to dot the sky, winking like tiny rhinestones on a bed of dark gray velvet. She glanced at the houses as she hurried along. Most of them had lights on giving them a friendly, lived-in appearance. Suzanne remembered this as a neighborhood with a lot of young families. She wondered if anyone she knew still lived here.

She experienced some happy times here, but all too often they were overshadowed by unhappy moments. Like the day her father gave her precious bike to his latest paramour’s little girl to impress his lover when he was in between jobs and short of cash. Or the time her mother made the one and only parent/teacher conference at school and ended up trying to seduce the young male teacher.

But she wasn’t here to reminisce. Nostalgia could have no part in her return to this childhood home tonight. She found the house she sought at the end of the street in a row of houses all very similar in style.

Her old house stood out from the others mainly because of its neglected appearance. The windows were dark and without curtains. Several advertisement newspapers yellowed by the weather lay on the front walk that divided the two patches of front lawn. The grass was badly in need of mowing and weeds had taken over the flowerbeds flanking the three steps leading up to the porch.

An empty field bordered one side of the house, silent and shrouded in darkness, while the neighbors on the other side were obviously having a party in their backyard. She sniffed the air and smelled the distinctive aroma of grilling meat. Loud music, bright lights, and laughter spilled over the flimsy fence. Suzanne remembered going to a birthday party in that yard once upon a time. She wondered if the same family lived there after all these years.

The boy had been eight and in her class at school. Her mother had forgotten about the party and gone off to lunch with friends. No gift had been bought, so Suzanne shook all the money out of her Unicorn bank from Nanadoo and used the meager cash to buy a present.

She ran six blocks to the nearest Mom and Pop store and had just enough money to buy the boy a thin coloring book and a small box of crayons. She hurried back home and wrapped them in paper towels using one of her hair ties to keep the ends of the paper closed.

The boy hadn’t opened her gift with the others and when she got ready to leave, she saw his mother scoop it up and toss it in the trash with the discarded wrappings from the other presents. Suzanne stood there now flinching, not wanting to remember, but unable to forget.

She couldn’t help envying the people partying there now who seemed to be enjoying themselves while she had to skulk around like a thief. And skulking was a lonely business. She darted around the side of the house to the back. She skidded to a stop at the sight that greeted her. If she thought the front was overgrown, the backyard looked like a jungle. It reminded her of her time in Belize.

Whoever occupied the house last hadn’t bothered to do any yard work from the looks of things. Her parents didn’t do much gardening when they’d lived here, either, but the plants were young and small then. She could see everything had definitely flourished over the years. How did her dad expect her to find anything in
this tangle of vegetation that seemed to fill almost every available space? She’d need a machete or better yet, a bulldozer to get through this mess.

BOOK: The Black Feather
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