“Witley is gone.” Gabe’s voice was very even. Too even. “He told some friends that he was taking a vacation. He’s not at his house. No one has seen him for a few days. Heard from your investigator yet?”
“No.” Lillian clutched the phone very tightly. “Where are you?”
“We’re on our way back to Eclipse Bay. It’s almost four o’clock. We should get there around seven.”
“I’ll hold dinner for you both.”
“Now that we know for sure that Witley has disappeared, I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to be there alone. We don’t know where he is or what he’s doing.”
“I’ll be fine until seven tonight, for heaven’s sake. Claire Jensen is here with me now, as a matter of fact, so I’m not alone.”
There was a murmur of conversation in the background. Lillian realized that Mitchell was speaking to Gabe.
Gabe spoke into the phone again. “Mitchell wants to send Bryce over to baby-sit until we get back.”
“That’s not necessary.” Lillian checked her watch. “Look, I’m going stir-crazy here. I need to run into town and pick up some groceries for dinner. I’ll leave the house right after Claire. I’ll do the shopping and then I’ll stop and see A.Z. at the hospital. That will keep me busy and I won’t be alone. Call me at the hospital when you get into town and I’ll meet you back here at the cottage. That way I won’t be alone for any extended period of time.”
Gabe hesitated. “All right. But don’t take any long walks on the beach by yourself, okay?”
“I thought you didn’t want to scare me.”
“I’ve changed my mind. I figure if you’re scared, you’ll be careful.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t wander off by myself.”
“Good. See you soon.”
Lillian ended the call and put down the phone.
Claire gave her a quizzical look. “Something wrong?”
“To tell you the truth, I don’t really know. There have been a couple of small incidents lately. Someone broke in here the other day while I was at the old Buckley place with Gabe.”
Claire frowned and slowly lowered her cup. “Anything taken?”
“No. Sean Valentine thinks it’s the same guy who tried to burglarize A.Z.’s place.”
“I heard about that. It’s all over town. They’re saying it was a transient.”
“I know. But the thing that’s worrisome is that there was another possible break-in at my apartment in Portland. Nothing taken there, either. Gabe leaped to the conclusion that the culprit might be a guy named Witley.”
“A former boyfriend of one of my clients.”
“But why on earth would he break into your apartment and this place?”
“The theory is that he blames me for ruining his relationship with his girlfriend.”
“You mean because you matched her with someone else?”
“Uh-oh. Are we talking stalker here?”
“It looks like a possibility. A remote one, I hope. You know, a friend told me I was courting a lawsuit in the matchmaking business. But I never considered this kind of thing.”
“We worry about stalkers when we plan security for candidates. There are always a few nutcases running around. But I must admit, I never thought about it in your line of work.”
“My former line.”
Claire blew out a deep breath. “And I thought I had problems.”
“A matchmaker’s life is never dull.”
“I can see that.” Claire got to her feet. “Well, at least you’ve got Gabe Madison looking out for you.
Things could be worse.”
“There is that.”
“I’d better be on my way. I can see you’ve got other things to worry about than my little scene in the Crab Trap. Promise me you’ll be careful.”
“Don’t worry, I will.” Lillian rose and followed her out into the hall. She got Claire’s coat out of the closet and handed it to her. “You said you had something you wanted to tell me.”
“What? Oh, yeah.” Claire shrugged into her coat. “But it seems a little petty compared to this stalker business.”
“What was it?”
“It’s about Marilyn. I’m no shrink, but like I started to tell you before Gabe phoned, I really do think she may be a bit paranoid. When you add that to the fact that she’s a very determined woman who always gets what she wants, well, I just think you might want to watch your step around her, that’s all.”
“Because you’ve got something she wants,” Claire said.
“Well, shoot and damn.” Mitchell watched Gabe disconnect the phone. “We’ve got ourselves a problem here, don’t we?”
“Maybe. I sure don’t like the fact that Witley has disappeared.”
Mitchell watched him for a moment. He’d seen that same look of focused determination back when Gabe had been a twelve-year-old kid doing his homework at the kitchen table. Nothing had changed, Mitchell thought. Gabe was a different kind of Madison. But not that different.
“Wasn’t talking about Witley,” Mitchell said. “We’ll get that sorted out. Meant this situation between you and Lillian.”
“Way it looks to me, you’re in up to your neck and sinking deeper by the minute.”
Gabe navigated a turn, accelerating smoothly on the far side. “What are you talking about?”
Mitchell absently massaged his arthritic knee. He tried to remember if he had taken his anti-inflammatory medication. Things had been a little busy today.
“Had what you might call a chat with Lillian,” he said.
“I heard about that. Stay out of this, Mitch. My relationship with Lillian is none of your business. You don’t have the right to interfere.”
“I’m your grandfather. Course I’ve got the right.”
Mitchell watched the road. There was very little traffic now that they had left the city behind. The last of the daylight was evaporating. The white lines on the pavement marked the path into the darkness.
He braced himself for the old memories. No matter where he was or what he was doing, they always came back to haunt him for a while at this time of day; the point when the oncoming night could no longer be ignored. He knew from long experience that once the transition to full dark was made, the specters would fade. They would not return for another twenty-four hours.