Incriminating Evidence(12)

By: Amanda Stevens

And yet the room that flitted at the edge of her consciousness was very different. Tiny and dim with pictures cut from a storybook taped to a drab wall. She could hear a man’s voice, distant and angry, and a woman softly pleading. The sound frightened Catherine. She tried to rouse herself, but sleep tugged her deeper. The tinkle of a music box muted the voices and lulled her senses. She floated on those melancholy notes until her eyes fluttered open and she waited for the music to stop.

Fully awake, she bolted upright in bed. She could still hear a distant tinkle. She tried to convince herself that her landlady had returned. The older woman suffered hearing loss so perhaps she’d turned up the volume on her TV or radio. But the house was too far away and noise had never been a factor in the two years Catherine had lived in the apartment.

She clutched the covers to her chest, paralyzed with fear, though she couldn’t say why exactly. The sound of a music box was hardly threatening, and yet dread clawed at her spine as she swung her legs over the side of the bed.

Barefoot and trembling, she crossed the bedroom and peered down the narrow hallway toward the living area. Nothing moved. She reached for the light switch but checked herself. She knew her way around the apartment with her eyes closed. If someone had broken in, the dark would give her an advantage.

Retreating back into the bedroom, she grabbed a baseball bat from the closet and then returned to the hallway, easing her way to the front of the apartment where she stood in the dark as the haunting melody washed over her.

The music box wasn’t in her apartment, she realized. The notes drifted through her front door. Inching her way along the wall, she peeled back the curtain to peer out into the wet night. A set of wooden stairs led from the garden up to a tiny covered porch dimly lit by sconces on either side of her front door. An old-fashioned swing hung from a tree limb at the bottom of the steps. The chains squeaked ominously in the breeze, and for a moment, Catherine imagined someone sitting there staring up at her.

No one was there. But someone had just been there. The music box was only now winding down.

Gripping the handle of the bat, Catherine unlocked the dead bolt and pulled back the door.

She didn’t see anything at first, but then her gaze dropped. The music box had been shoved up against the wall, protected from the rain by the porch roof. As the notes faded, the tiny ballerina froze in a suspended pirouette.

Catherine knelt to examine the box even as her gaze scanned the night. Someone had been on her porch moments earlier. They’d wound the spring and left the music box for her to find. But why?

Rising, she walked to the edge of the steps and stared down into the soggy garden.

“I know you’re out there,” she whispered. “Who are you? What do you want?”

The breeze blew through her hair and the rain dampened her nightgown. It almost seemed to Catherine that she could feel the cool caress of her mother’s hand against her cheek. But Laura March hadn’t left the music box on Catherine’s porch nor had she followed her to LaSalle Investigations that afternoon.

Someone very much alive knew who she was. And they were trying to make contact.

Chapter Three

The oak trees were still dripping the next morning as Nick let himself in the gate and made his way along the flagstone pathway to Catherine’s apartment. The rain had slackened sometime before dawn but the weather forecast called for more thunderstorms in the afternoon.

The gloom wore on Nick’s mood, but the unexpected phone call from Catherine had given him a lift. He hadn’t planned on contacting her until he heard back from Finch’s attorney. If that source didn’t pan out, he’d have to figure another way to get a visitor’s permit for the Twilight Killer. He could always find a work-around, but first things first.

Pausing at the bottom of the outdoor staircase, he scoped out his surroundings. The garden was lush and redolent with the scent of flowers stirred by the heavy rains. The main house was historic, with gleaming columns and wide verandas, but the garage apartment was rustic and weathered. As his gaze moved over the facade, he saw a curtain flutter at a front window.

Catherine was up there watching him. He felt a prickle of awareness at the base of his spine, one that seemed equal parts attraction and trepidation. She hadn’t elaborated on her need to see him, but there’d been a hushed quality to her voice and an underlying excitement in her tone that heightened his curiosity even as it deepened his unease.

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