Love & Light, Book 5
Written Musings (August 1, 2011)
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A Love & Light Book – Romantic Suspense with a touch of Magical Realism
A young girl is missing, and her only hope is a blind woman who can see through her eyes…
Eight-year-old Phaedra Burns has been kidnapped by a madman who believes her sacrifice will assuage his rage. Olivia Howe knows that rage; sixteen years ago, she escaped his clutches. The psychological trauma stole her sight but gave her something in return: a psychic connection to abducted children. Now, that connection is Phaedra’s only hope, if Olivia can face the terrors of her past — and an inescapable new nightmare.
Phaedra’s kidnapping is the case that could push Detective Max Callahan over the edge. Especially when his key witness — or suspect — is a beautiful blind woman with a crazy claim. But her fragile beauty isn’t the only thing that draws him to her. And as their lives and passion twist together, a killer stalks their every move.
Read an Excerpt
Detective Max Callahan eyed the empty coffee pot. He was always the lucky stiff who got to make it. He maneuvered around in a break room so small, it had obviously once been a closet. While the coffee percolated, he grabbed a stale donut from the box and took a bite. He dumped the remainder in the trash as Detective Sam O’Reilly walked in
Sam pulled out the pot and poured himself a cup. The coffee kept brewing, jumping and sizzling on the burner. He seemed oblivious, topping off Max’s mug before returning it to the maker.
“You all right?” Max asked, wiping the dripping mess with a paper towel.
Sam dumped way too much sugar into his mug and drank it without stirring it. He came back from whatever faraway place he’d been in when he saw Max staring at him. “What?” Sam had been lost in his thoughts a lot lately.
“You all right?”
Sam blinked “Yeah, sure. You forget to comb your hair again or something?”
Sam knew Max’s brown hair was genetically predisposed to the mussed look, so Max figured he didn’t want to talk about whatever had his attention. Max said, “Don’t forget poker game’s at my place tonight.”
“I’ll be there.”
Max, Sam, Mathers and Graham tried to get together for a game once a week. Betting currency consisted of Budweiser, Miller Genuine Draft, and whatever exotic beer Nick Mathers had recently added to his collection. Max was the youngest of the group by over twenty years. Tom Graham was the most recent addition to the group, a bit of a hothead who hated to lose and accused someone of cheating at least once a night. The original three had a side pot going on when the guy would crack a smile. He didn’t even groan at John Holland’s bad jokes.
Sam said, “Ran into the director at Big Brothers/Big Sisters yesterday. She said they really miss you playing Santa Claus, that you were the best Santa they’ve ever had. Mathers didn’t cut it last year. They got somebody else to do it this year.”
“I didn’t have time.” Max had told himself that his mind was made up, that he’d never wear the costume again. But after the director had called him three weeks ago he’d found himself in the station’s storage room looking for the suit. The empty box made it easy for Max to walk away. “You should have done it. You’re the all-American guy here.”
Sam should have been a screen star, with his silvery-blond good looks, bright blue eyes, and just the right amount of unshaven shadow. Sam had been a confirmed bachelor in his forties until meeting and marrying Annie, a woman fifteen years his junior. A year later, Annie had gotten pregnant.
“That’d make it too easy for you, me doing it. All right, forget Santa. Petey’s party is this weekend. You’re going to come this year, aren’t you? You used to be like an uncle to him, you know.”
Max tipped his head toward the door. “I’ve got something for him.”
Sam followed him into the large room crammed with desks, people, and noise. Max had learned long ago to tune it all out. Someone’s radio was playing Christmas music. Red and silver tinsel decorated the walls in crooked waves, and the faded tree in the corner drooped under the weight of plastic ornaments. For a few years, while his daughter had been alive, he’d been able to enjoy Christmases again.
The box wrapped in silver paper blocked the walkway that separated his desk from the far wall. Max could hardly get his arms around it as he handed it to Sam, who stood holding his cup and not twitching a finger to take it. After an awkward minute, Max set it on the floor again. “It’s one of those motorcycles for kids. You know, with a motor, battery, and all.”
Sam eyed the box with contempt. “This don’t mean squat if you’re skipping out on his party again. I made excuses for you the last two years, man. I’m not doing it again. You tell him why you can’t drag your sorry ass to his party this time.”
Max settled against the edge of his desk. He wanted to tell Sam to shove the box and his words into a really tight space. “Look, my days as Superman are over.”
“No one said you have to be a damned superhero. He’s too old for costumes anyway. Just come as yourself.”
“Myself,” he said in a low voice. He pushed the box closer to Sam with the toe of his shoe and muttered, “Whoever the hell that is.”
“You’re an ass, is what you are. You say you don’t want to do the superhero thing, yet you always buy him the biggest, most expensive present.”
“He’s a good kid. I want him to have something special.”
“Then how about you show up? That’d be real special.”
“How about you shut up? That’d be real special, too.”
Max imagined the party, the kids playing in the small yard, balloons tied to the chair at the end of a long table covered with bright paper. He could see Petey with his curly brown hair and blue eyes, a mirror image of his mother. Max’s daughter Ashley was there, too, teasing Petey like she always did. The flirting kind of cat-and-mouse games kids play when they’re too young to know what it really means. Hell, even in his early twenties Max had been too young to know what it meant.
He bowed his head and rubbed the back of his neck, trying to ignore the burning pain in his chest at the memory of his daughter. “Maybe I’ll come by.”
“Maybe, hell. Commit, yes or no.”
Max started to say yes, but the thought of that party without Ashley tore at his gut. “No.”
“I know you loved them, but it’s been two years now and—”
Max shoved himself to his feet. Between gritted teeth, he said, “I didn’t love them enough.”
“You’re a coward, Callahan,” Sam muttered. “You might as well climb in the grave with them and get it over with.” When Sam spotted Huntington striding to his office, he gave Max a disappointed shake of his head and walked over.
Max had an insatiable urge to pound Sam for calling him a coward.
Do it! a harsh voice shouted. Do it, you little coward!
With a shudder, he closed the box those memories were packed in and cursed the man who, even in death, wouldn’t let him go. He rubbed his hand down his face and then glanced around to see if anyone had been listening to their conversation. Everyone was busy with their own business, their own causes.
Every case had been a cause for him once. He’d been reprimanded many a time for what his superiors had called his pit bull tactics. But he’d had the highest case closure rate back then, and they sure hadn’t complained about that. Maybe he was no longer that brave cop who had once traded himself for a hostage and put himself in the hands of a cop killer. But he wasn’t a coward either. That left him somewhere in between, just short of nowhere, the way he figured it.
He dropped down into his squeaky chair and pulled the file for one of his current cases. Mundane crap was all they gave him now. Prostitute, transient and drug-related murders. Nothing too heavy. That was okay with him. After the Stevens kidnapping case, that was all he was up to anymore. He didn’t want another case that would suck him in, chew him up, and spit him out in pieces. The Stevens case had done more than that—it had destroyed his life.
Max settled in with the murder conspiracy case he’d been trying to crack. Two business partners, a buttload of money, and just enough temptation to push one of them over the edge of murder.
A few minutes later, Huntington’s voice boomed through the cacophony. “Callahan, in here!”
When the lieutenant called, there wasn’t an officer in the place who’d linger a second before responding. It wasn’t because Basil Huntington was tall or imposing. With his receding hairline and a nose so large, it dominated his face, he looked like he belonged behind the desk at a bank. He had a gap between his front teeth, and those rare times when he did smile, his cheeks nearly compressed his eyes shut. His iron command transmitted through his body language, his steely blue eyes, and his expectation that his men would jump. Though the man could be hard as hell, Max appreciated the slack he’d cut him since his life had crashed and burned.
Sam was standing in front of the desk, and Max took his place next to him and faced the lieutenant. “Yes, sir.”
Huntington pulled a chew-up pencil out of his mouth. “Seven-year-old girl went missing at Toyland. The store went into lockdown mode, but they haven’t found her yet. I want you and O’Reilly over there.”
For a moment, Max couldn’t speak at all, and then, “Shouldn’t Kilpatrick be working this case?” He’d had taken Max’s place as the station’s hotshot.
“He’s eye-deep in the Hayward murders. This one’s yours.”
“Lieutenant, I don’t think—”
The lieutenant eyed him. “Can’t you handle it?”
Do it! his father’s harsh voice shouted. Do it, you little coward!
“That’s what I wanted to hear.” He went back to his paperwork, dismissing Max and any further protest he might have by humming a lethargic version of the usually cheery “Jingle Bells.”
This wasn’t going to be like the other case. The girl was hiding somewhere, that was all. And if she wasn’t…
“Let’s find her,” Max said to Sam as they headed out into the sunny, cool morning.
* * * * *
Two hours later, Toyland was in a state of what Max considered organized chaos—the same way his stomach felt. Uniformed policemen had cleared the store of customers and were now questioning employees. Other uniforms were scouting the area for witnesses. There was no getting around it: the girl had been abducted. The media was camped out front waiting for any nugget they could broadcast. They’d been given enough details to run a story in hopes that someone would recognize Phaedra.
Earlier, Sam had been in an upstairs office with Flora Burns, mother of the missing girl, and her husband, Pat. Her wails had scraped at the edges of Max’s nerves. He knew that depth of agony too well. After getting a statement, Sam had walked them out and then returned to the upstairs office to help ready the security videotapes. Max worked with the crime scene investigators as they went over every square inch of the storage room until a uniform had called him out to talk to the security guards posted at the front door.
“Like I was telling that other officer, the only person out of the ordinary was a woman who came to the front doors acting kind of crazy,” one of the guards said. He looked more like a bouncer at a bar with his buzz cut and brawny looks. “She was all upset, saying the missing girl was in the back room. Said she saw someone putting a chloroform rag over the girl’s mouth.”
Awareness prickled over him. “Had she been inside the store?”
“No. She came from over there somewhere,” he said, gesturing vaguely to the right. “But here’s the weird part: when she told us this, the kid hadn’t been reported missing yet.”
“Wait a minute,” Max said. “Why didn’t you say anything about this before?”
“We did. We told the first guy who was questioning the employees, and he told us to hang tight until you could talk to us.”
Max tamped down his annoyance. “Did she say she’d seen the girl being taken? Like maybe she’d been by the back exit?”
The second guard was stringy; only his scarred face gave him any menace. “I don’t think she could see anything. She looked…blind. She had one of those guide dogs, and her eyes didn’t focus on anything.”
The first guard said, “But she said she saw things, like in a psychic way.”
A cold chill snaked down Max’s spine despite the fact that a blind woman wasn’t a good lead. Unless she wasn’t blind, or she was trying to create a diversion for someone else to get the girl out of the store. He wasn’t even going to delve into the psychic claim.
“Callahan!” Sam was waving him upstairs. “They have the security video ready.”
Max nodded to the two guards. “Come up.” He headed up the stairs and met Sam at the top. Max gestured for the guards to stay put and walked into the manager’s office with Sam. “You got anything?”
The grooves running from Sam’s nose to his mouth deepened as he frowned. “Nothing yet. Mrs. Burns had been talking to a friend when Phaedra went into the remote control room.”
Max had interviewed the employees on the first floor while Sam had taken the customers who had been nearby. Max asked, “No one saw anything? None of the other kids in the remote control room even?”
Sam leaned against the desk. “One boy said he saw a man who looked like a maintenance worker go into the room, but didn’t pay much attention to what he looked like other than he was about my age and wearing a gray uniform. He was too entranced by the Super Hot Rod Buggy, which he was able to describe in excruciating detail. Another kid thinks he saw Phaedra Burns chasing one of the cars, but didn’t see her leave the room. There were several kids, but they were all too busy playing to notice anything unusual.”
The only other exit out of that room led to a storage area where the suspect apparently lured the girl and then took her outside from there. Exactly where the blind woman said the girl would be.
Sam said, “There isn’t a camera at the back door. They figured with the door wired for the alarm, they didn’t need it. The suspect knew what he was doing. He knew the layout of the store and how to cut the wiring on the door without tripping the alarm.”
Max said, “Could be someone on the inside. An employee or former employee. The manager is pulling all employee records for us now. We’ll start by running background checks, see if anyone has any priors. We’re also pulling the records of all recently convicted child molesters in Palomera. We’ve got Sarasota doing the same, and they’re putting out a bulletin on the girl over there, too. Fliers are being made now, and they’ll be distributed all over the region.”
“Hopefully we’ll see something on the security video,” Sam said as he led the way into a small conference room.
Max waved the guards in, and they gathered around the television with the Toyland’s chief of security. Bob Thornton was a tall, thin man whose balding head reflected the overhead fluorescent glare. “We rewound the tape to when the store opened. This is the one facing the entrance. We have another camera pointed toward people leaving the store.”
Max said, “Fast forward it to right before lockdown.” He turned to Sam. “There’s something I want you to see.”
Everyone in the room leaned forward as the grainy black and white film sped ahead in fast motion.
“Who’s that?” Sam asked when someone in a Santa costume walked in.
“That’s our Santa, Claude Fernley.”
Max nodded. “We’ve verified that he was upstairs doing his Santa gig when the girl was taken.” He glanced at Thornton. “Keep going.”
The people coming and going seemed perfectly normal…until the woman ran into view. “Stop and rewind a little,” Max said. “This is it.”
The woman approached from the north and gestured crazily, but unerringly toward the rear of the store. The guards spoke with her, one putting his hand on her arm.
Max said, “This woman came in warning the guards about the missing girl. Get this, before anyone knew she was gone.”
Sam leaned forward. “Whoa, that’s something. What’s she saying?”
As the guards relayed the woman’s words, Max watched her movements. She had long, dark hair that swung with her frantic gestures. He couldn’t see her face clearly, but she looked attractive and well dressed. Her dog, tethered on a leash by a harness, had its tail between its legs. They watched the guards escort her outside.
The beefy guard said, “She tried to get someone outside to help her. You have to understand, we just thought she was crazy. Holidays bring that out sometimes. We didn’t know a girl was missing yet. We watched, ready to subdue her if necessary. Then she left.”
The thinner guard said, “A minute later, the girl was reported missing, and the store went into lockdown mode.”
Max watched the woman walk away when no one would help her. “Where did she go?”
“I think she crossed the street,” the other guard said.
“You ever seen her before?” Max asked.
“Not that I remember, though I just moved here,” one guard said.
“I’ve never seen her.”
Max ran his hand over his face. He turned to the officer who was in the room with them. “Okay, let’s get both tapes down to the station and have our people analyze it. Have them look at everyone who came in and match them up with everyone who came out. The one who never came out is our man—or woman. Odds are, the suspect’s a guy and went in alone. I want a print of the woman’s face, as close as we can get. We’ve got to find out who she is.”
One of the officers knocked on the open door. “Got someone you should talk to.” He brought in a lanky young man wearing a green smock with the bookstore’s logo on it. “Tell them what you just told me.”
“When the officer asked if we’d seen anything unusual, well, this definitely fell into that category. It’d be kinda cool if she was involved, and I had the missing piece that got her.”
“All right, let’s hear it,” Max said.
“I was helping this blind woman buy a book, and she kind of freaked out at the counter.”
“A blind woman?” Max repeated, getting out of his chair at the same time Sam did. “What’d she look like?”
“Medium height, long, dark brown hair. Nice-looking, too, probably in her late twenties.”
Sam was already instructing Thornton to put in the tape again. “Is this her?” he asked a moment later.
“Yeah, that’s her all right.”
Adrenaline shot through Max like intravenous caffeine.
The kid said, “When she was checking out, she got all weird and slumped against the counter.”
“Did she say or do anything just prior to, er, freaking out?” Sam asked.
“We were talking about stuff, you know, just normal stuff. I was asking her how she knew what bills were what, that kind of thing. She seemed real nice about it. Then she checked her watch by pressing a button, and it said the time. It was right after eleven, I remember, because I was thinking, cool, it’s only an hour before my lunch break.”
Max and Sam traded looks. She was sounding exactly like a planned distraction, checking the time, getting ready for a rendezvous. Sam asked, “Then what happened?”
“That’s one of the weird things.” The kid made sure he had their attention. “She said, ‘He’s got her. Oh, God, he’s got her.’ Like she was in pain or something. Then she said she had to get to the toy store.” He smiled triumphantly when the officer lifted the bag he’d been holding. “That’s the book she bought. She left it.”
Sam took it and pulled out a book—and a receipt. “Credit card. Smith, run a trace on it and take the security tapes back to the station with you.”
The officer carefully took the bag and the tapes and left.
All right, maybe this case wasn’t going to be so hard after all. Then Max remembered something the kid had said. “You said ‘one of the weird things.’ What was the other one?”
“Well, she’s blind, right? Has the dog, had me lead her to the book section and describe what was in the book. When she was freaking out, wanting me to tell her how to get out of the store…she called me by my name.” He touched the nametag pinned to his apron. “And I’m sure I never told her.”
Praise & Reviews
“The plotline of paranormal mystery, Blindsight, is similar to many other thrillers of this ilk, but its sensitive characterizations and incisive descriptions separate it from the pack. … Wainscott cleverly keeps the suspense rolling by introducing a handful of red herrings and penning a number of chilling close calls and near encounters. Though Wainscott hasn’t yet reached the popularity of Kay Hooper or Lisa Jackson, this intoxicating thriller is on par with those authors’ best works.” —Publishers Weekly
“Incredible! I could not put this book down. It caught me from page one and refused to let me go until the very end. Author Tina Wainscott has the shining talent of being able to combine the genre of “thriller” with the genre of “romance” and somehow make it work! Once again, Tina Wainscott delivers a heart-stopping story that will make many readers stay awake reading long into the night!” —Huntress Reviews
“… Wonderfully drawn suspense that is gritty, chilling and frighteningly eerie. Author Tina Wainscott has really found her niche!” —RT Book Reviews, TOP PICK!
“The plot has more twists and turns than a labyrinth, and the suspense just keeps building. Readers will be on the edge of their seats for most of this white-knuckle thriller. With characters and a story you’ll remember long after the last page is turned, Blindsight is a strong contender for the best romantic suspense book of the year.” —Susan Lantz, NewandUsedBooks.com