Secrets Among the Shadows

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Chapter 6

There it was, then, a link between his dreams and the real world, between him and the murdered woman. In a perverse way it was almost a relief, a validation of his fears.

“I don’t know where she would have gotten my name and phone number,” he told the detective. It was the truth, as far as he knew it.

“Your number’s unlisted, isn’t it?”

“It’s unlisted, but it’s certainly no secret. I even have one style of business card with my office, home and cell numbers.”

The two policemen exchanged glances, and Eliot knew with a sinking feeling what was coming.

Stockton settled leisurely into one of the chairs and leaned back. Eliot braced himself.

“As a matter of fact, we found one of those cards in her apartment. Want to change your story about never seeing her?”

Eliot shook his head, the movement seeming to him to be in slow motion. “I don’t know how it got there.”

He could tell by their bored, dubious expressions that they didn’t believe him. He wasn’t sure he believed himself.

“Some of her friends have mentioned how she was real taken with you. They said she told them you’d gone to school together, but she moved away and didn’t see you again until you showed up recently,” Stockton continued.

That almost stole Eliot’s final remnant of control.

“I was not going out with that woman, and as for going to school with her—” He frowned, searching his memory, recalling the uneasy feeling he’d had that Kay Palmer had seemed familiar. “I don’t know. My high school class was large, and I haven’t kept in touch with my classmates.” His chest tightened so that he had to force out the words. “Off hand, I don’t remember anyone by that name.”

Stockton took a package of cigarettes from inside his jacket. “Do you mind if I smoke?”

“I’d rather you didn’t. I quit a few months ago, and I’d prefer not to be around it.”

Stockton returned the cigarettes to his pocket, his face a carefully schooled mask. If he was offended, he didn’t show it. “So you’re denying that you dated Kay Palmer?”

“Yes. I deny dating her.” At least, he had no memory of it.

“What about manicures?”

“Manicures?” The change of subject took Eliot by surprise. “What does that have to do with this woman’s murder?”

The men exchanged glances again.

“The dead woman was a manicurist,” Easton said.

“I don’t do manicures. I don’t have time for that kind of indulgence.” But as he spoke, something tickled the back of his memory, something to do with manicures.

He clenched his fists in his lap, suddenly afraid to check his nails for fear they’d be smooth and polished rather than slightly ragged from the irregular care he gave them.

“Your name was in her appointment book. Several times,” Stockton informed him. “The other women who work in the shop, they remember you coming in.”

Incapable of speech, Eliot stared at him.

The evidence was mounting that he had been involved with Kay Palmer. Maybe he should tell these men about his dreams, let them arrest him and put him in jail so no one else would be in danger...so Leanne Warner wouldn’t be in danger.

But even as the thought of being imprisoned—trapped—ran through his mind, his lungs constricted. Every breath became an arduous task. His claustrophobia closed around him. Sitting in the middle of his familiar office, he was becoming light-headed, the air heavy against him.

He turned his attention to the open windows of his office, to the wide vista of buildings and parking lots.

“You okay?” Stockton asked, and Eliot could hear the suspicion in his voice.

He nodded, not trusting himself to speak until his breathing became easier.

He couldn’t go to prison. He’d kill himself before he went to prison.

Kill himself? Where had that insane thought come from? As overpowering as his claustrophobia might be, suicide had never entered his mind.

At least, not the part of his mind that he controlled.

“I’m fine.” He turned his attention back to the detectives.

He really had nothing to tell the men. All he had was a dream, a nightmare. If he told them about it, they’d think he was nuts—and they might be right.

Stockton sighed and leaned forward, resting his elbow on Eliot’s desk. “Mr. Kane, we’re not accusing you of anything. We don’t care if you had an affair with the murdered woman. You’re not a suspect right now. We just want some information.”

Eliot forced himself to stand, to appear confident and unconcerned. “Gentlemen, I wish I could help you, but I don’t have any information. If there’s nothing else...?”

“Just one more thing. Where were you between the hours of nine to midnight on September tenth?”

“At home.”

“Alone?”

“Yes.”

“Any phone calls? Anybody who can verify that?”

He shook his head. “No.” Fred, the doorman, could unless the older man had dozed off, as he sometimes did. But Eliot was reluctant to mention him, fearful the detectives might check with Fred and discover Eliot had left home that night.

Stockton took one of Eliot’s cards from the holder on his desk, put it in a battered, bulging wallet and offered one of his. “If you think of anything that might help us.”

Eliot accepted the card. He noted with a small degree of satisfaction that he was able to keep his hand from trembling as he took it.

Then his eyes darted involuntarily to his fingers. He thought surely the other men must be looking at them, too.

His nails looked the way they always did. If he’d had a manicure, it hadn’t been recently.

But then, Kay Palmer had been killed over a week ago. How long did it take fingernails to lose the manicured look? He had no idea.

Eliot accompanied the men out, somehow managed to put one foot in front of the other in a reasonable semblance of normal walking, smiled and told them he’d call if he thought of anything. His smile felt a little tight, and he didn’t offer to shake hands for fear his would be damp and clammy and suspicious.

“Is everything all right, Mr. Kane?” his assistant asked as he stood watching the detectives leave.

Eliot looked at the small, gray-haired woman who had worked for him for five years. She sounded genuinely concerned. For five years he’d passed her several times a day, so occupied with business he’d failed to register that she was a real person. He didn’t even know if she had a husband, children, grandchildren.

He forced himself to squeeze out a smile. “Thank you, Ms. Greer. Everything’s fine.”

She nodded, though he could tell from her expression that she wasn’t convinced.

Would she be so concerned about his welfare if she knew he was consulting a psychiatrist, that he could be mentally ill, that he could be a murderer? No, she’d turn away in horror if she knew the truth about him.

“You had a couple of calls,” she said, handing him two pink slips.

“Thanks.” He took the messages and went back into his office then slid into his chair before he collapsed. For several minutes he stared out the window, his gaze unfocused, as he tried to regain his composure, to collect his thoughts.

It wasn’t possible. How could he do things he didn’t remember?

But the dead woman had his card.

Not proof. He gave out thousands of those cards.

She told her friends they were dating, the women in her shop had seen him in there having a manicure.

Someone with the same general description and the same or a similar name.

None of which explained the dream.

He needed to talk to Leanne. She always had a calm, rational explanation for the unexplainable, and he wanted desperately to believe the possibilities she presented.

He brushed away the need with a surge of irritability. Leanne was a damned attractive woman, a woman who could tempt a man to lay his head in her lap and let her replace his pain with other, more pleasurable sensations.

And betray you!

That voice in his head was becoming more frequent and stronger. How much longer would he be able to retain control of his own mind?

He shouldn’t have been thinking of Leanne in those terms, anyway. That wasn’t the role she played in his life. She possessed skills he didn’t have, and he needed her expertise. But in the end, the only person he could rely on was himself.

He needed to do something. He couldn’t continue to sit around and wait for the next incident, for further proof of his insanity.

But what the hell could he do? If it were that easy, he’d have already done it.

He picked up his message slips and thumbed through them, looking at but not seeing the names and phone numbers written on them in Ms. Greer’s neat, unremarkable handwriting.

The niggling feeling he’d had when the detective had told him the dead woman had been a manicurist returned.

The message slips. It had something to do with them.

Suddenly, like a television picture coming into focus, he remembered.

A few weeks ago Ms. Greer had given him a message telling him his manicure appointment had been changed. He’d assumed it was a joke predicated on the well-known fact that he resented taking time off from work for things like haircuts, and he certainly wasn’t likely to indulge in a manicure.

He had no problem with jokes, but he had no time for them either. He’d pitched the note without really reading it. He had no idea if Kay Palmer’s name had been on it.

He picked up the phone and dialed Ms. Greer’s extension. “A few weeks ago you gave me a message regarding a manicure. I don’t suppose you happen to remember that.”

“Yes, sir, I do remember. You’d never mentioned manicure appointments before.”

His secretary knew more about him than he knew about her. “Do you remember the name of the person who called?”

“No, sir, but I can find out. We make copies of all calls.”

“I would greatly appreciate it if you could find that message.”

Several minutes or an eternity later Ms. Greer brought him a report with one line highlighted. “Here it is.”

“Thank you.” He focused on a spot on his desk to one side of the piece of paper, unable to face what the message might tell him.

“Do you need anything else?” Again he thought he detected concern in her voice. Again he ignored it.

“No. That’s all.”

He heard the door close and knew he was alone with whatever information the report contained.

It was probably nothing of any consequence. Likely a joke, as he’d suspected. The name would be something like Queen Elizabeth or Madonna.

Whatever it was, he had to know.

Moving his gaze to focus on the highlighted line of the report seemed to take a physical effort. The date was three weeks ago. Kay at Executive Styles called. Needs to change your manicure appt. from 4:00 to 5:00. Call if this is a problem. You have the number.

He read the words again, his gut clenching as the air around him turned frigid.

Kay… You have the number.

He slid open his desk drawer and retrieved a stack of business cards.

He found it right after Bradley Orson’s card. Kay Palmer’s business card.

He yanked it out of the stack, stared at it, tried to remember how it got there. But it was no use. He’d never seen the card before.

At least, not that he could remember.

But—he forced himself to look at the facts—he couldn’t speak for anyone else who might inhabit his body. Had someone else placed it there using his hands, read it with his eyes? Had that someone else thumbed through to the appropriate alphabetical position and placed it there? Did he have the memory of those events stored somewhere in his brain, somewhere only Edward could access?

The card fluttered from his suddenly numb fingers. Perspiration started on his upper lip.

Edward.

Where had that name come from and why did it sound so right?

Edward.

He must have a relative with that name. He didn’t think he had conjured the name out of thin air.

But who?

His real father’s name had been Thomas Wayne Dalman; Dad’s was Theodore Keith Kane. He ran through the short list of uncles and cousins.

He couldn’t think of anyone named Edward.

Unless this was someone he’d created out of his own psyche.

Which was, he realized with a terrible feeling of doom, exactly what he’d done.

The memory slid into place, tugging at his heart, and he was amazed he could ever have forgotten.

He’d been an only child, and Edward had been his imaginary playmate. He and Edward had piloted space ships to Mars and hunted down Billy the Kid. He’d shared his childhood secrets with Edward, and Edward had never told. Edward had cried with him when he fell and broke his arm and celebrated with him when he got a new bicycle.

The memories brought a bitter sweet smile. Life had been so happy then, so simple.

The only shadow in his small world had been that his Mom and Dad, normally lenient and relaxed in their parenting, had sternly and surprisingly disapproved of his fantasy friend. And he, normally an obedient child, eager to please his parents, had dug in firmly and refused to give up Edward. He’d taken Edward to school with him, insisted that Edward wanted to learn to read and write, too.

Edward had been so much a part of his life, so important to him, that the other children had even accepted him as a constant companion.

He turned back into the room with a frown. When had he given up his fantasy? When had Edward ceased to be a part of his life, and why had he blocked the memory until just now?

Had it happened gradually as a part of growing up, or had his parents finally prevailed? Somehow it seemed important that he remember.

He could recall the Halloween parties when he’d improvised a costume for Edward since his parents refused to buy him one. At Christmas he’d bought presents for Edward.

But then something had happened. Things had changed.

As he grew older, the kids at school had begun to laugh about Edward. And he’d finally stopped talking about Edward, but he didn’t stop playing with him.

Until childhood games stopped. Until he grew up. Until he developed a crush on Kay Becker.

He picked up Kay Palmer’s card again. The letters swam before his eyes.

Kay Becker. Kay Palmer.

Someone he’d gone to school with.

He’d been thirteen and totally enthralled with the changing bodies of the girls he once played baseball with...especially Kay’s which seemed to be changing the fastest. When she came to school with her long, light brown hair bleached blond, he knew he was in love. They met at the movies, held hands in assembly, kissed furtively at a friend’s birthday party.

Edward had still been his best friend though he’d learned to refrain from discussing their relationship. But he’d trusted Kay, wanted to share everything with her. He’d told her.

And she’d told all her friends. The laughter had started behind feminine hands but soon spread to male faces. His best friend Jason had confronted him and called him nuts.

His teenage heart had been broken. He’d never gone out with Kay again, and gradually the laughter and the jeers stopped. But he never spoke about—or to—Edward again. Kay moved to Mesquite, and at an age where everything changed so fast, his classmates soon forgot.

Even he had forgotten until now, forgotten that he had a reason to hate Kay Becker.

It was possible Kay Palmer was Kay Becker. She could have married and changed her name, dyed her light brown hair red.

Maybe he did know Kay. And maybe he’d never really let go of his childhood playmate but had taken him inside, somehow given him a life and turned him into something evil.

The voice in his head had warned him that Leanne would betray him...the way Kay had betrayed him.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Eliot and Edward. Two people—no, two halves of the same person.

***

An hour later Eliot stood outside the Executive Styles shop. Through the windows he could see the women cutting hair and giving manicures.

He looked down at his hands, clenching and unclenching them. Had he sat in one of those chairs while Kay Palmer smoothed his hands with lotion then buffed his nails?

In his dream her nails had been long and red...and two of the tips had broken off as she fought for her life. He’d scoured the news reports but had never found that detail mentioned. However, he’d heard that the police often withheld certain details of a crime in order to weed out the false confessions. What would they say if he asked them about the broken fingernails?

One of the women inside looked up, then smiled and waved. Woodenly Eliot lifted a hand in a return greeting. Did she know him or was she only being polite to a potential client?

He had to go in. Much as the possibility of what he might discover frightened him, nevertheless he had to know the truth. He straightened his tie, took a deep breath and pushed through the door.

“Hi, Eliot,” the receptionist greeted, and he felt the blood leave his face and freeze in his veins.

“Hi—” He checked the name plate on her desk. “Hi, Patsy.”

“I’m real sorry about Kay,” she said.

“Yeah, me, too.” More sorry than you can ever know. “Do the police have any idea who did it?”

Patsy leaned forward confidentially, and he moved closer to the desk.

“Wayne was coming over that night. She was going to tell him she wanted a divorce. Did she tell you that?”

Eliot could hear the blood roaring past his ears as he listened to Patsy’s revelations. “No, she didn’t tell me.” But he didn’t know if she’d told Edward.

Patsy’s forehead wrinkled. “You did know she was just separated, not divorced, didn’t you?”

“Sure,” Eliot lied. “I knew that.”

“Well, Wayne didn’t even like the idea of them being separated, so he probably didn’t take too kindly to a divorce. I think he killed her in a rage, that’s what I think. Wayne Palmer had a terrible temper, especially when he’d been drinking.”

Eliot ran his tongue over suddenly dry lips. “So I was to blame for her death.”

At Patsy’s shocked look, he realized he’d spoken the words aloud. “Oh, no,” she protested. “Don’t you even think that. You made her happy. She was so excited that day. She had her hair done and her nails sculptured just for you. If Wayne agreed to the divorce, she was going to call you right away on your private number, the one that was just for her to use, so the two of you could celebrate.”

“Sculptured? Does that mean her nails were long and red?” All the woman had to do was say no, and he would be able to breathe again.

“Yeah!” Patsy grinned. “Real long and real red. Just the way you liked them.”

Real long and real red. The air seemed to have gone out of the room. He couldn’t get his breath.

“You okay?”

He gave one brief, jerky nod. It was the best he could manage.

“Why don’t you come around here and sit down?” Her voice was kind, a kindness he didn’t deserve.

“I’m okay,” he croaked.

“She didn’t call you that night, did she?”

“No. No, she didn’t call me.” She hadn’t called him, but she could have called Edward.

“I didn’t think so. I told the police Wayne was probably the last person to see her alive.”

“Yes,” he agreed. “Wayne.”

“You really don’t look so good, Eliot. You’re taking this pretty hard, aren’t you? Oh, I know you’re a big, strong, macho man, but I also know you had some real feelings for Kay.”

He wanted to nod, but feared if he started, his head might never stop bobbing.

“Thanks for talking to me, Patsy.” He turned away, his movements stiff and mechanical as he made his way to the door.

“Sure, Eliot. You come back any time.”

Eliot strode away from the shop, afraid to look back, certain he could feel the hot breath of the hounds of hell pursuing him.

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