On The Rocks: A Coven Cafe Mystery

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Chapter 3

“Did your doctor tell you how long you need to take it easy?” Harriet asked Ian over breakfast. “Cause you’re welcome to come to the Y with me and do some lifting. To get your strength back.”

Harriet Felch co-owned the Coven Café as well as the spacious Victorian home where Angelica had been living since the summer. She and Erica Gold, Angelica’s sister, were partners of every kind. Ian had known both Angelica and her sister since they were young kids--they had grown up only blocks apart--but Harriet was a relative newcomer to Nyack. As far as he could tell, she was a good egg, despite the fact that she outweighed him by more than fifty pounds and all of it was muscle.

“The doc said nothing strenuous for now. So I’ll have to take a rain check on the Y.” Ian shoveled some more scrambled eggs with lox into his mouth. “This stuff is great, by the way.”

Angelica smiled indulgently. “You like the eggs better than the burdock, I guess. How’s the tea?”

“Not too terrible,” he lied, taking another small sip. He was pretty sure she had told him it was dandelion root, but it mostly tasted of dirt. As did the burdock root. Maybe she had forgotten to scrub them.

“I scrubbed all the roots before I cooked them,” she told him in an aggravated tone.

She was driving him crazy with this mind-reading.

“Sorry.” She caught his eye and grinned. Obviously not sorry.

“I’ve got to get over to the station. I’m hoping to get my badge back today. Then I can be a real detective again.” He scraped the last bite of egg and salmon onto his fork. “Thanks for breakfast. Feeling stronger already.” He flexed his biceps to prove it. Harriet had to bite back a laugh.

“I hope you’re not just saying that to get out of eating more of my cooking.” Angelica rose from the table and walked with him to the door.

“Nope. I’m totally serious.” It was Ian’s turn to grin at her.

“Will I see you later?” She came close for a hug.

“Not sure. I’ll call you when I know what’s going on.” He gave her a squeeze and kissed the top of her head. There was no way she was going to be satisfied with this for long.

“I’m not going anywhere,” she assured him.

Without opening his mouth, he mentally screamed at her, “Stop reading my mind, woman!”

She just laughed as she shut the door behind him.

The station was less than two blocks away, an easy walk. The day was deceptively sunny, with a freshly scrubbed blue sky, but brisk and chilly. The wind rattled through the branches of the bare maples that grew along the sidewalk. Ian jammed his fists into the pockets of his woolen overcoat.

It was Wednesday. Only a week and a day until Thanksgiving. He hadn’t spoken to his sisters about the holiday meal yet, but felt certain Angelica would want him to be with her. She hadn’t mentioned anything. Not anything he could remember, anyway. There seemed to be some gaps and holes in his memory these days.

His entrance into the station caused only a minor stir this time. Lorraine at the front desk managed to give him a quick smile as she pulled a pencil from her hair to jot down a note. Darlene, the dispatcher, jumped up for a hug and gave him a peck on the cheek. He ducked into his office without running into anyone else.

“I was wondering when you’d get your ass in here.” Detective Longuria greeted him from behind the desk with a sneer.

“Didn’t the chief ask you to vacate the premises?” Ian stood in the doorway, his overcoat halfway off.

“What are you gonna do?” Longuria leaned back and lifted his feet onto the desk. “Shoot me?”

Ian sighed. He wasn’t up for matching this asshole’s juvenile antics tit for tat. “Nope. Not planning to do any shooting today. And you can give up tailing me in your maroon Olds. I made you the minute we left the Hilltop last night.”

“Wasn’t me, Boy Wonder.” Detective Longuria dropped his feet to the floor and leaned forward, elbows propped on the desktop. His eyes bored into Ian’s. “But you’ve got my attention. Who else do you think might want to keep tabs on you?”

Ian’s instincts told him the sleazebag was probably telling the truth. If it wasn’t this guy tailing him, then he had more to worry about than he’d thought. “Not a clue,” he admitted.

“Huh.” Longuria narrowed his eyes. “Well, the reason I’m here occupying your majestic office space is that I need to speak with you. If you’re not too busy, that is.”

“Of course not. And please make yourself at home.” Ian hung his coat over the back of a chair and took a seat. The sooner they got started, the sooner he might get this jerk out and have his office to himself.

“When was the last time you saw your wife?” Longuria helped himself to Ian’s yellow legal pad and grabbed a pen out of the cup on the desk.

“It was weeks ago. Maybe a few days before I got stabbed. I think it was a Tuesday…” Ian suddenly realized he was sweating. So this was how it felt to be in the hot seat. “My memory has been a bit off lately.”

“A Tuesday? That’s the best you can do?” Longuria shook his head sadly. His greasy black hair didn’t move at all. “You’re gonna have to give me more than that. C’mon. You know how this works.”

Ian set his jaw. “It was the Tuesday after Halloween. I remember now. We were driving into the city to do some interviews.”

“Who’s we?” Longuria’s pen hovered above the pad.

Shit. “I misspoke. I was tracking down some potential suspects from NYU. It was just me.” Would the sleaze know he was lying? He had taken Angelica with him into the city that day, which wasn’t strictly in line with department policy.

Longuria’s eyebrows lifted. “And where did you see your wife?”

“She was walking into our apartment building with an older man. I was far away so I didn’t get a good look at him. Middle-aged, I’d guess. Not very tall.”

Longuria scribbled a note on Ian’s pad. “So you didn’t recognize this guy? He wasn’t familiar at all?”

“No. I don’t think so.”

“Did they look all cozy? Do you think she was having an affair with him?” The sleazebag wasn’t pulling any punches.

“They were arm-in-arm. So I guess they were friendly. Not really sure how friendly. She hadn’t come home for a few nights before that, though.”

Longuria paused. An ugly grin spread across his face. “Oh yeah? Then you see her going into your building while snuggling up to this guy? And you’re not sure if she was boinking him?”

Ian just shrugged and gritted his teeth. He knew this sleaze was trying to rile him, maybe get him to spill something in the heat of anger. Wasn’t gonna happen.

“Did your wife have a history of running around on you?” Longuria leaned back and opened his arms. “For example, did she stay out all night on a regular basis?”

Ian’s jaw muscles were getting quite the workout. “This wasn’t the first time. But I wouldn’t call it a ‘regular’ thing.”

“How many times has your wife cheated on you, would you say? Ballpark guess.” Longuria was openly enjoying himself. Ian got the feeling the guy had probably tortured ants with a magnifying glass as a kid.

“I honestly have no idea. I never thought to keep count. Our marriage has been dead for years.”

“Dead?” Longuria sharpened his gaze, like an eagle zeroing in on a fleeing rabbit. “That’s an interesting word to choose, detective.”

She wished she were dead.

Her stomach had never been so empty in her life. The open sores on her back and thighs burned like a bitch. Fresh purple bruises along with older yellow ones covered every inch of skin. She couldn’t see too well with her eyelids so swollen. She was pretty sure her nose was broken because she was having trouble breathing. Her mouth was dry. He had forgotten to leave her any water.

He had also taken her last two cigarettes. She was being punished. But this time was worse than before.

She used to feel like he needed her. Like she was important to him. He used to look at her different before, not like he wanted to fuck her. Well, okay, like that, but different, too. When he touched her hair with his fingertips, she felt special. Not loved, exactly. But she could see that he liked the way she looked. He thought she was beautiful. He used to whisper that word in her ear, over and over again. Beautiful

She wasn’t beautiful anymore. He had taken care of that.

“Beautiful. Just beautiful.” Charles Vanderwald the Third was seated on a bench in Memorial Park facing the river, his wife Bunny by his side. The place was deserted. The playground’s empty swings twisted in the wind, their chains rattling. “You’ve been on the case for more than three weeks and you’re telling me you’ve got nothing.”

Detective Frank Longuria, on the far side of the bench, gave the couple an appraising look. “Not exactly nothing. My gut tells me your famous son-in-law, the Boy Wonder, has nothing to do with this.”

“Your gut must be mistaken.” Vanderwald kept watch over the rippling river as he spoke.

“Charles, don’t you think we should listen…” Bunny began. Her voice cracked as though she might be getting ready to cry.

“No.” Her husband cut her off. “I don’t think we need to listen to hunches and gut feelings from this…this…” Vanderwald took a deep breath and appeared to rein in his temper. He dragged his eyes from the water’s surface to the detective’s face. “This case could make or break your career, Detective Longuria. I thought I made that clear. I expect you to take my wishes seriously. Find out what my son-in-law did with my daughter.”

“You’re absolutely sure Ian McDaniel is behind her disappearance?” Longuria met Vanderwald’s eyes. They were the same color as the river. And they possessed the same unsettled turbulence.

“There is no doubt in my mind.” The retired judge reached for his wife’s hand. “Bunny agrees with me on this.”

Longuria glanced over at the wife. Bunny didn’t nod in agreement.

He could see the resemblance between Bunny and the photographs of Janice they had lent him. The missing woman’s face was tattooed on his brain. He’d had posters made and plastered on every telephone pole and community cork board within the village of Nyack. A full-page ad had been printed in the Sunday Journal News. But no one calling in on the tip line had seen Janice in the past three weeks. She had vanished into thin air.

“How do you know it was him?” Longuria had to shout to be heard. The wind coming off the Hudson River roared like a train.

“He never loved her.” Charles looked off in the distance, across the river. “I knew it from the moment I met the man. If you want to call him that. He was barely more than a boy when he got her pregnant, and she was adamant about keeping the baby. As far as I was concerned, there was only one thing to do. He went ahead and married her, but once she lost the baby...”

“Why didn’t he just divorce her?” Longuria was ready to get back in his rented Ford Taurus and crank up the heat, but there were still some pertinent questions he needed answered. “Couldn’t they go their separate ways at that point?”

“She took it badly. The loss. In fact, she never quite recovered.” Bunny spoke these words so softly, Longuria had to strain to hear her against the wind. “For all of Ian’s faults, he didn’t desert her. But she couldn’t forgive him once he started the affair.”

“Affair?” Longuria thought he should pretend to know nothing of McDaniel’s indiscretions. This way, he might learn something new.

“Janice came to us shortly before she disappeared. She was terribly upset, saying she knew her marriage was over because Ian had met someone else. She said he had fallen in love.” It was Bunny who continued the explanation.

“Did Janice know who the woman was?”

“No. But we do now. When we went to file the missing person report, we met the harlot. She was wearing…” At this point, Bunny choked back tears and had to pause while she pulled a tissue out of her Gucci bag. “She was wearing Janice’s sweater. The raw silk one I bought for her at Macy’s. The woman’s name is Angelica Davenport.”

Detective Longuria was certain this must be the woman he saw next to McDaniel’s hospital bed. She didn’t look anything like Ian’s type, with a shaved head, multiple ear piercings, probably a tattoo hidden someplace under the bizarre clothing she wore. And Ian seemed so clean cut. Like this couple seated next to him. But then, there was no accounting for taste.

Maybe it was this Davenport woman who did Janice in. After all, jealousy was a powerful motive. Maybe she got rid of her competition.

As soon as Ian entered the Coven Café, Felix, the new hostess, rushed forward and grabbed him in a bear hug. “Our hero!”

Bruce hurried around from behind the bar to embrace the detective as well.

"A handshake would do the trick," Ian told them.

“We prayed for you every single day while you were in the hospital,” Felix whispered into Ian’s ear, still hugging him tightly.

“So good to have you back again,” Bruce added in the other ear.

“Watch the rib cage, guys.” Ian extricated himself with an uncomfortable smile.

Angelica raised a hand and waved at him over the heads of the other customers. Ian made his way to her table in the back corner, behind the overgrown black bamboo plant. She was gathering up her deck of tarot cards.

“Looks like you’re done with your last reading for the day.” Ian leaned over and gave her a peck on the cheek. His jacket fell open, revealing his leather shoulder holster.

“Yup. And I see you got your gun back.”

Ian didn’t like to admit it, but he felt much more secure with his weapon nestled inside his holster. No one had ever taken the service weapon away from him before, and he hoped he’d never have to hand it over again. “How was your day?”

“Not too bad.” Preoccupied, she shuffled the cards.

Ian took a seat across the table and tried to catch her eye. Angelica continued to gaze at her deck of cards.

“Is something wrong?”

“Don’t look now, but there’s a guy sitting at the bar. He’s been nursing a Diet Coke for more than an hour. Hasn’t spoken to anyone but Bruce. But every time I look away, I can feel his eyes on me.” She paused. “His eyes feel slimy. I think he’s up to something.”

Instead of taking her advice, Ian swiveled his head and caught sight of the man at the bar. He was sliding off his bar stool and leaving a tip on the counter. The helmet of greasy, dyed-black hair gave him away, even from the back.

“Don’t worry. I’ll fix this.” Before Angelica could protest, Ian rose and followed the man out the door. No need for an ugly confrontation inside the Coven.

“Hey!” Ian caught up with the detective on the sidewalk.

“What? Can’t a guy have a drink in a friendly local establishment?” Longuria raised his hands, the picture of innocence.

“Is there some reason you feel the need to spy on my friend?” Ian herded Longuria around the corner and into the narrow alley next to Persian Carpet Palace. “She has no clue where Janice went. She’s never even met my wife.”

“How can you be so sure? Have you asked her?” Longuria sneered at him. “I have it on good authority that your girlie has ‘special’ powers.”

“If you’re insinuating that Angelica is hiding something from me, then you’re barking up the wrong woman.” Ian instantly realized that wasn’t the correct phrase, but it was already out of his mouth. The Vicodin was playing tricks on his tongue.

Longuria whistled through his teeth. “She’s got you wrapped around her little pinky finger, I can see that much. But ask yourself this, Boy Wonder: who benefits from your wife’s disappearance? From where I’m standing, I can only see two people who get anything out of her being gone. You and the wacky witch in there.”

Ian ignored the jibe aimed at Angelica. “You’re forgetting one more person. If Janice was abducted, whoever took her benefits in some way. But I believe she ran off. Or committed suicide somewhere remote and we just haven’t found her body yet.” Ian was shocked to hear his own theories, previously unstated, now pouring out of his mouth in such a matter-of-fact manner.

“Huh.” Longuria seemed to be studying him, maybe trying to decide if he was full of hot air. Or something smellier.

“I honestly don’t think suicide is such a long shot.” Ian sighed, suddenly feeling very tired. “I need to get back inside. Will you leave Angelica alone?”

“Can’t promise you that, Boy Wonder. Gotta do my job.” Longuria gave a little salute and headed out of the alley. He threw a glance back at Ian, his trademark smirk firmly locked in place.

The sleazebag was about as obnoxious as they came, but Ian couldn’t help thinking he was actually trying to do the job.

Back inside the Coven, Ian sank into the chair opposite Angelica. “That was the detective from the city. His name’s Frank Longuria.”

“The sleazeball that came to the hospital,” Angelica remembered. “I didn’t recognize him. But I’m guessing he thinks I had something to do with Janice’s disappearance.”

“Yeah. He questioned me this morning and I told him about the last time we saw her, with that middle-aged man. I’m not sure why he isn’t off hunting that guy down. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the Vanderwalds are paying him to keep an eye on me. And maybe you, too.”

“Do you really think they suspect you? And me?”

“I’m sure they never liked me. I wasn’t remotely good enough for their precious princess. She deserved a doctor or a lawyer. Maybe a duke or an earl.”

Angelica smiled but it didn’t reach her eyes. “Listen. While you’re here, maybe I could do a reading for you about Janice. If you want.”

“A tarot reading? But I thought this was all a bunch of crap.” Ian gestured at her cards.

“Hush up! Someone might hear you.” Angelica leaned forward and whispered, “I’ve been studying since the summer. I’m much better at it now.”

Ian looked into her eyes. He didn’t want to hurt her feelings, but he also didn’t want to be seen in public getting his cards read. How would that look? He was already wounded, weak from his extended stay in a hospital bed, losing brain cells by the minute as a side effect of the painkillers. The last thing he needed was to be labeled some kind of new-age freak.

He hadn’t spoken a word, but he could see Angelica’s expression morph with his thoughts. She looked hurt.

“I don’t think you’re a freak,” he assured her. “I just can’t afford to have people thinking I need this kind of help to do my job.”

Angelica looked around the café. “The people who hang out here are some of the warmest, kindest souls I have ever met. Who do you think is going to judge you that way?”

Ian shook his head. She just didn’t get it. Angelica was one of those kind, warm souls herself. She didn’t realize how cutthroat the world could be. Or maybe she possessed so much inner strength that she never needed to worry about looking stupid. Or weird. Or weak.

He envied her that strength.

“I’d like to help, but I’m not going to push you into doing something that makes you uncomfortable. You can let me know if you change your mind.” She still looked hurt.

He had planned to stay and have dinner with her, but his appetite was fading fast. The weight of guilt pressing down on him was like a granite boulder on his chest. First he had driven his wife away; who knew what happened to her? He had shot a serial killer less than a month ago, and probably needed therapy. And now he had inadvertently hurt the one woman who could potentially assist him. She had done so in the past, more than once. So why was he rejecting her help now? Why did he feel this need to push her away?

“Sorry,” he mumbled as he stood and pulled on his overcoat.

Angelica watched Ian walk out the door.

He’d been acting strange ever since he’d gotten out of the hospital. She guessed it was probably post-traumatic stress disorder. This was something she understood, having experienced the same thing after her “accident” in the woods. In fact, she still woke up in the middle of night on occasion, sweating, heart pounding, throat raw from screaming, as if she were on fire all over again. And her own trauma had occurred almost ten years ago.

She idly shuffled the tarot cards, thinking about Ian’s wife. Although she had never met the woman face to face, she had seen her once from across the street. Janice was petite and pretty, with thick honey-colored hair. Angelica closed her eyes and pictured Janice walking arm-in-arm with that middle-aged man. He looked old enough to be her father, but she had met Janice’s father up close, in front of the police station. Janice’s father was tall and aristocratic, with a swoop of graying hair. Not balding. Not paunchy.

Keeping Janice’s face in mind, Angelica began to arrange the cards. As she placed each one face down onto the table, she silently asked the tarot to reveal Janice’s current situation. Was she alive? Was she in danger? Was she being held against her will?

The first card she turned over was the High Priestess. This must represent Janice. But the card was upside-down, indicating that its traditional meaning should be reversed. And this told Angelica that Janice was harboring secrets. She had some type of hidden agenda.

Next, she flipped over the Sun card. This was a clear indication of life. Angelica knew now, beyond a shadow of a doubt, Janice was still alive. And hiding something.

The next tarot image gave her pause.

It was the Fool. This card showed a life-sized man as a puppet, dangling from a set of strings. Angelica believed Janice to be the puppet master behind the scene in this case. Whose strings was she pulling? What was her hidden agenda?

And should Angelica share any of this information with Ian?

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