Secrets Among the Shadows

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Chapter 16

Eliot focused on opening the door as he ignored the soundless, angry voice that demanded he stay away from the house. It’s not your house! It’s mine. You have no right to be here.

Opening a door wasn’t normally a particularly demanding task, but opening this door was one of the hardest things he’d ever done. The wooden rectangle seemed to weigh a thousand pounds and move in slow motion on frozen hinges.

As the house opened to him, for an instant his vision blurred. Get out of my home! Edward’s presence surged through his mind so strongly, it was almost physical. Panic rushed over him. Was Edward going to take control? Eliot stood on the threshold of the house, focusing all his energy on blocking Edward, pushing him away, retaining control of his own mind and body.

Finally when he could no longer hear Edward’s voice, he drew in a deep breath and dared to enter the house.

The furnishings were spare, subdued and traditional—similar to the way his condo was furnished.

No, he corrected himself. It was even more spare than his condo and had the stylized feel of the rental furniture he remembered from his college days—sofa, chair, coffee table, two end tables with two lamps. The room held no personal essence...no artwork on the walls or tables, no newspaper or beer can left lying carelessly about.

“Does anyone really live here?” Leanne whispered, her words and tone echoing his thoughts.

Maybe, somehow, this was all a senseless joke, a set-up of some kind. But even as the thought entered his mind, Eliot knew it was a desperate, futile hope.

“Over here,” Thurman called, standing outside an open door along the short hallway. The older man rested one hand on Dixie’s head, and Eliot could see the tenseness of her posture, the raised hackles on her back, her obvious disquiet. He lifted a hand and rubbed the back of his own neck, certain his hairs must be standing up the same as Dixie’s.

Moving like a robot, he walked across the strange yet eerily familiar room, past the furniture placed there by unknown hands—his?—down the hall to where Thurman stood. Down the hall to Edward’s bedroom.

This room had an occupied look.

A portable television rested on top of a chest of drawers across the room from the bed. A nondescript beige blanket and white sheet lay in a tangle at the foot of the bed. Two pillows were bunched in the middle at the top. A charcoal streak Eliot recognized as familiar from his smoking days marred the bottom sheet. An overflowing ashtray sat on the laminated surface of the night stand beside a remote control. A telephone crouched next to the remote.

“What’s going on with you?” Thurman asked from beside him. “How are you handling this?”

Eliot walked over and touched the bed, picked up a cigarette butt and laid it back down. He had obviously slept there. Smoked that cigarette. Watched that television. He shivered as he waited for something...a memory, recognition, a loss of control that signaled Edward was taking over.

“He didn’t want me to come in,” he said in answer to Thurman’s question. “I feel like I’m snooping in a stranger’s house. I feel like someone’s going to come in at any minute and call the police, have us arrested for trespassing.”

“You have a key to the door,” Leanne reminded him softly. She crossed the room to stand beside him. “Your money pays for this place. You have the right to be here and to look around.”

Logically, he knew she was right. But it didn’t feel right.

As if feelings could be trusted.

He lifted the phone receiver and held it close to but not touching his ear, as if touching would constitute using it, would connect him to Edward.

The dial tone sounded unnaturally loud. Someone lived there, and he’d be willing to bet this phone responded to the private number Edward had given Kay.

He clenched the plastic as hard as he could, wanting to feel it crumple beneath his fingers, wanting to do something to end this nightmare. He had to bring Edward into the open and get him under control before Edward took control of him. Before Edward hurt Leanne.

He yanked open the drawer of a nightstand, determined to expose all the secrets of the place even as he felt he was invading a stranger’s privacy.

Until he saw the contents of that drawer.

In disbelief he picked up the first picture in a stack. An Easter portrait of his parents and him. A picture he’d last seen in an album in the back of his closet. He threw it on the bed and yanked out more photographs from his past.

“He stole my pictures!” he exclaimed, suddenly feeling that his own privacy had been invaded.

But they weren’t all his. He held up a handful of pictures of Leanne’s house, of Leanne leaving her house and her office.

“The bastard’s been spying on you.”

And he was the bastard.

Leanne took the pictures from his nerveless fingers, and he heard her sharp intake of breath.

“We’ve always known it,” she said, her tone subdued. “But it feels very strange to see the evidence, to know that someone was watching me when I wasn’t aware of him.”

Eliot restrained the desire to reach for her, touch her, comfort her, reassure her. That option wasn’t open to him, he reminded himself as disgust wrapped around him like a gray, slimy shroud. He could scarcely comfort her when he’d been the one watching her, the one who’d upset her.

Her clear blue eyes searched his face, fear but no condemnation in their depths, and he knew that she could no more connect Edward with him than he could, irrational as they both knew that concept to be. His arms ached to hold her against him, bury himself in the feel of her, blot out the images on those photographs, this house, this entire nightmare.

Thurman reached into the drawer, startling Eliot. He’d momentarily forgotten the man was there.

“Who’s this?” Thurman asked, holding up another glossy square.

Eliot’s hand trembled as he took the picture of himself with his arm around a red-headed woman. “That’s Kay Palmer,” he whispered. “And me.”

“No,” Leanne disagreed faintly. “It’s Edward. I’d recognize that smile anywhere.”

Thurman took the picture from him and studied it for a moment then handed it back. “Eliot,” he said briskly, his tone all business, “tell me how you feel when you look at that picture.”

“Sick.” It took all Eliot’s willpower not to tear the picture into shreds, to burn it and crush the ashes. That would accomplish nothing, he told himself, clenching his jaw. He couldn’t afford to lose control and indulge in senseless acts. He had to focus his entire attention on getting through this, somehow resolving this horror.

He tossed the picture back into the drawer and slammed it shut.

“Does it bring back any memories?” Thurman pursued.

Eliot resented the question but admitted its necessity. “None,” he said, then turned away and strode across the room to open the chest of drawers, determined to expose whatever ghastly mementos crouched yet undiscovered in Edward’s lair.

But the rest of the drawers yielded only socks and underwear, all fairly new, all in the styles and colors he wore but with cheaper labels.

The closet revealed the same...clothing similar to his, all new, all cheap. It was as though, he thought, Edward had just recently been born. He had only the essentials, all new, nothing with any past.

Except the photographs that lay scattered on the bed. The photographs—his past—that Edward had stolen from him. He snatched them up and stuck them into his pocket along with the pictures of Leanne. Took back the ones that belonged to him and took away the images of Leanne that Edward had no right to possess.

Damn it, Leanne and Thurman were wrong. He couldn’t accept this creature as a part of himself. He wanted rid of Edward every bit as much as Edward wanted rid of him.

He went back to the chest of drawers and began tossing out the articles of clothing, looking for anything of his that might be hidden underneath. When he left he’d take with him everything he owned. He didn’t want anything of his to touch Edward’s possessions. He had to separate them.

He yanked the drawer out, turned it over and looked underneath.

Leanne wrapped her arms about herself and shivered as she watched Eliot’s frantic actions.

Or was he still Eliot?

Dixie and Thurman were there. She was safe. But she didn’t feel safe.

She glanced at Thurman who was studying Eliot—Edward?—dispassionately. He met her gaze and lifted one shoulder in a helpless shrug.

“Eliot?” she asked tentatively.

He stopped and turned to her, his face turbulent with rage and agony...and undeniably Eliot. Edward had never shown signs of agony.

He shoved the drawer back into the bureau and ran a hand through his hair. “It’s me,” he said wearily.

She nodded, the movement jerky.

He studied her for a moment, and she knew her fear must show on her face. His expression changed to one of self-loathing, and he stalked past the two of them, out the door and down the hall to the second bedroom.

“Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea,” she said.

“Is that your head or your heart talking?” Thurman asked.

She looked around her at the room that somehow felt obscene. “My heart, I suppose. I seem to have lost all detachment.”

He nodded. “I know. Come, Dixie.”

Leanne followed Thurman and an obviously agitated Dixie down the hall to the second bedroom.

Eliot stood just inside the doorway. A large desk and two smaller tables filled the small room. A new computer, a printer, a phone that matched the one in the bedroom, CDs, a multitude of books and other computer related paraphernalia covered every surface, including much of the floor.

“Computers have always been my hobby,” he said, his voice a monotone. “If I hadn’t wanted to be like my dad, I’d have probably gone into the field.”

He walked slowly through the room, around the tables, looking but flinching away from touching anything.

“This is eerie,” he said, his voice a monotone. “I can almost see myself working in here, but I’d be willing to swear I’ve never been here before, never seen any of this.”

He pulled a chair away from the desk and sat tentatively on the edge then reached over and pushed a button on the hard drive tower. The computer whirred and beeped to life, the small sounds echoing around the room.

Eliot studied the screen intently, rolling and clicking the mouse, maneuvering through programs and files.

As if by mutual assent, neither Leanne nor Thurman spoke or moved.

Other than an occasional curse, Eliot performed his actions silently for several minutes.

Finally he leaned back in the chair and turned to them, anger and defeat warring on his face.

“He has a list of my dry cleaners, my florist, my barber—everything. Even my bank accounts and transfer codes. He’s got some pretty sophisticated programs on here.”

“That’s how he got my address,” Leanne whispered.

Eliot nodded, his lips compressed. “With the software he’s got here and enough expertise, he could get into records all over the country. No secret is safe from Edward.”

No one is safe from Edward. She heard the words even though Eliot didn’t verbalize them.

He turned away, yanked open the top desk drawer and pulled out a handful of loose papers then flipped through them while Leanne held her breath.

“A lease on this house dated two months ago,” he said, studying one of the papers. “It’s only a six month lease.” He picked up another document. “The furniture’s rented, too. For six months. It’s all rental except the computer. He paid cash for that.”

Leanne bit her lip and refrained from expressing her thought—that Edward only needed temporary quarters until he could take over Eliot’s home...and Eliot.

Eliot tossed the papers aside carelessly, not at all like his usual meticulous manner, and Leanne tensed, waiting for Edward to emerge and smile that ersatz smile that sent chills down her spine.

But instead Eliot scowled and smoothed a folded piece of paper. “What the hell?” The brief, hard exclamation didn’t hide the panic in his words.

Leanne crossed the room warily to look over his shoulder. On the desk in front of Eliot she saw a bill from a florist shop in Ft. Worth, half an hour away from Dallas. The recipient was Mary Lunden at an address in Ft. Worth. The order was signed Eliot Kane.

“It’s my handwriting,” Eliot said quietly. “Not quite as precise as usual, but definitely mine.”

“Do you know her?” Leanne asked, dreading to hear the answer.

“Yes.” The word was so soft, she could barely hear. “I went out with her a few times last year. She was a nice person.”

Leanne’s thoughts darted frantically to the corners of her memory, trying to recall if she’d heard anything on the news about Mary Lunden...if Mary Lunden had been murdered.

Eliot looked up at Leanne, his eyes like flint, his jaw set. She could tell that he maintained his control by the merest fraction of an inch. “I’ve got to find out about her,” he said. “See if she’s all right.”

All right. What a world of meaning he wrapped into those two little words.

She knew what he was wondering. The same thing she was. Had Edward stalked Mary the way he stalked her? Had he dated her the way he dated Kay Palmer? Most importantly, had he killed her?

“Call her,” Leanne suggested, picked up the phone and set it directly in front of him. She knew he wasn’t thinking about calling the woman. He wanted to see her in person, the way he’d needed to see Wayne Palmer.

Eliot made no move to take the phone. He folded the invoice and stuck it into his pocket, then continued to examine the other papers as though nothing earth shattering had happened.

But she knew it had, and such control was unnatural and unnerving. She wanted to touch him, to hold onto him tightly, desperately, keep him from ever leaving, keep Edward from returning. At the same time she fought an urge to run away, a gut reaction that she was standing entirely too close to him in case he should suddenly explode into Edward.

He stood abruptly, shoving back the chair, his body inches from hers, his face a study in torture. “I’ve got to get out of here.”

He moved past them, his steps long and rapid, almost running. Thurman followed with Dixie at his side. The dog’s movements were jerky, her stubby tail turned downward, the hairs on her back slightly raised.

The three of them were already standing stiffly on the front porch when Leanne caught up. She sagged with relief to be out of Edward’s house.

Eliot locked the door behind them, then stepped back and regarded the structure for a moment.

“I’d like to tear the damned place down,” he grated. “Burn it to the ground.”

“That wouldn’t solve anything,” Leanne said.

Eliot looked directly at her. “What would? How can you solve something like this?”

“Therapy. You fight and get well.” She heard the words come from her lips and hated herself for the pat answer.

She couldn’t look at him any longer, couldn’t deal with the frustration she saw in his eyes.

As she moved down the cracked sidewalk, she realized Eliot and Thurman weren’t following. She stopped, looked back and saw them standing on the porch talking. Although she knew logically that Eliot should be talking to his therapist now, that she’d seemingly callously brushed aside his concerns only a few seconds ago, she felt left out and alone.

The two men saw her watching and walked out toward her.

“I need some time to think about all this,” Eliot said. “I promised Thurman I’ll phone him tonight.”

“Let me know, too,” she said.

He nodded curtly. “All right.” Turning away, he headed for his car.

Thurman stood silently beside her as Eliot drove away.

“He’s pretty upset,” she said.

“Yes,” Thurman agreed, “he is. I think Edward’s become real to him for the first time.”

“I suppose that’s good.” But she remembered the pain on his face when he’d stood up from the desk.

“I suppose so,” Thurman agreed.

At the unsure tone in his voice, she looked at him. “You’re the doctor. Don’t you know?”

He shook his head slowly. “Nobody ever said psychiatry was an exact science.”

“Meaning you have no idea how this is going to affect him.”

“Why don’t we order a pizza, and you can come over to my house and wait for his phone call?”

She gave him a quick hug for his understanding. “I’ll be over as soon as I feed Greta.”

As they left Edward’s house behind and approached Thurman’s minivan, Dixie’s demeanor became calmer, her movements fluid, her gait a happy trot, her tail in the air. She eagerly jumped inside the car.

Though Leanne didn’t have Dixie’s well-developed sense of smell, she also felt calmer getting away from the house. Edward’s essence lingered there as it had seemed to linger in the street the first night she’d seen him watching her. How amazing, she thought, that he could leave a part of himself behind on inanimate objects but not on the body he occupied at intervals.

***

They had invaded his home! Eliot had brought the woman there. Eliot had brought her in and shut Edward out of his own home just as Eliot had shut Edward out of his life for so many years. It was one more betrayal to add to the list. Soon, though, Eliot would pay for all of it. Soon Edward would be in charge, and Eliot would be rotting in prison. Then Eliot would beg Edward to take him out, and he’d refuse.

Soon it would be his turn.

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