The Vanishing – Jayne Ann Krentz

emplated the gray mist that hung over the water. Some of the old-timers in town claimed that before the Incident, the lake had not been perpetually shrouded in fog, but neither Catalina nor Olivia could recall a time when sunlight had sparkled on the water. The gray mist on Fogg Lake was omnipresent, night and day, regardless of the time of year. It made boating a treacherous business. Navigation instruments didn’t work. A few people in town had small boats with outboard motors, and some had rowboats, but they only went fishing in the summer, when the fog retreated somewhat. And even on the brightest, sunniest day of the year, boaters were careful to stay within eyesight of the shoreline. If you got lost in the fog, odds were that you would never find your way back. You would spend whatever was left of your life drifting in the mist. The fog got heavier at night. It slowly enveloped the town and shrouded the narrow, winding road that led down the mountain to the main highway. No one with any sense tried to drive in or out of Fogg Lake after dark. “It wasn’t one of your visions, was it?” Olivia said. “We both saw that guy with the shaved head murder the man with the glasses. I’ll never be able to forget the way the dying man’s aura sort of flickered and then just … disappeared.

It was as if someone had blown out a candle.” “I won’t be able to forget it, either, but we’re going to have to stop talking about it, because we don’t have any proof,” Catalina said. “No one believes us. They think we still lack control or that we were under the influence of the energy in the cavern.” “What if he comes back?” “The killer?” Catalina thought about that. “It would be a huge risk for him. He knows we can identify him.” “But he also knows there’s no evidence that he committed murder.” “True,” Catalina said. “Still, I don’t think he’ll want to take a chance like that if he can avoid it.

” “I wonder what he and the guy with the glasses were looking for.” “Who knows?” Catalina said. “Dad told me that from time to time strangers still show up asking questions about what happened in the caves all those years ago.” “Those two weren’t asking questions. You saw them, Cat. They knew where they were going, and they had some kind of high-tech gadget that they were trying to tune. They were looking for something.” “I know,” Catalina said. She hugged her knees and studied the fog. “I wonder if the killer found what he was searching for.

Maybe that’s why he disappeared.” Olivia perked up. “In that case he doesn’t have any reason to come back.” “If he does, we’ll tell our parents. That’s all we can do. Meanwhile, we have to get our act together and at least look like we have full control. Otherwise we’ll be stuck in this town for the rest of our lives. Dad says that on the outside they put people like us in institutions.” “Ms. Trevelyan told Mom that you and I will probably have some really bad nightmares for a while on account of we’re at a sensitive state of development or something.

She gave my mother a tisane to help me sleep.” “She gave my mom some, too.” Nyla Trevelyan was the local healer. If you broke a leg or developed heart problems or an infection, you made the trip down the mountain to a regular medical clinic. But if you were plagued with insomnia, parapsychological disorders or lack of control over your senses, you sought help from Nyla, because she was a member of the community. She understood that seeing visions and auras and other manifestations of the paranormal did not automatically mean you were crazy. “Do you think we’re going to have some kind of PTSD from this whole thing?” Olivia said. “Who knows? We’re from Fogg Lake. We’re weird.”

Seattle, present day … I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news,” Catalina said.

She used the gentle, consoling voice she reserved for announcements that she knew would either break the client’s heart or send her into a rage. Or both. “I’m afraid our investigation turned up a lot of red flags. I’ll be blunt. Angus Hopper is not the man he pretends to be.” That was putting it mildly, she thought. Hopper was a very bad piece of work. The background investigation she and Olivia had conducted had turned up strong evidence that he was a slick, smoothtalking con man who specialized in bilking vulnerable women out of their life savings. But that wasn’t the worst part. Hopper had a history of violence.

“I know I should be grateful to you,” Marsha Matson said. “You saved me from making what would no doubt have been the biggest mistake of my life. But I was hoping for a different outcome.” Matson was a thin, tense woman in her early forties. A successful real estate broker, she had made a considerable amount of money in the hot Seattle market. But her personal life was a string of disappointments. She had been married and divorced twice. In both cases she had been dumped for younger women. Now Catalina had been obliged to inform her that her latest Mr. Right was another Mr.

Wrong. “I understand,” Catalina said. “My associate and I also hoped that the results would be more satisfactory. Here’s what we know: Most of what Hopper told you about his past is a lie. He never served in the military, and he never received any medals. He did not graduate from Stanford. He never made a fortune with a tech start-up. But I think you suspected the truth. That’s why you came to Lark and LeClair.” “There were just too many stories about his exploits in various war zones, and that garbage about the tech start-up sounded a little too good to be true.

” Marsha pushed herself up out of her chair and went to stand at the window. She stood quietly for a moment, watching the rain dampen the city. “I’ve been a businesswoman my entire adult life. I like to think I’ve got a fairly good bullshit detector, but it almost failed me this time.” “You were right to listen to your intuition,” Catalina said. “Too many people fail to pay attention to what that inner voice is trying to tell them. They choose to believe what they want to believe, or they are afraid they’ll look foolish or paranoid if they act on what their intuition is telling them.” It was that astonishing observation that had sparked Catalina and Olivia’s decision to go into the private investigation business. They had been brought up to trust their intuition. Everyone in Fogg Lake accepted it as a normal and natural thing.

Sure, occasionally it provided misleading or confusing information, and there were certainly times when people deliberately chose to ignore a subtle warning sign, but for the most part they at least acknowledged the risk. It had come as a startling revelation to discover that people in the outside world routinely overrode their intuition, especially when it came to matters of money and matters of the heart. Catalina and Olivia had founded Lark & LeClair six months earlier, in the wake of what they privately labeled Catalina’s Total Fiasco. Catalina had had no option but to reinvent herself after the scandal that had cost her a job she loved and a relationship that, while admittedly not the kind to set the bed on fire, at least appeared to have a solid foundation. For her part, Olivia could have happily continued with her career at a local art gallery, but she had pounced on the notion of joining Catalina as a partner in the new venture. Somewhat to the surprise of both, it turned out they had a knack for the investigation business. Their business model was based on targeting a niche market—smart, savvy people who knew that it was a good idea to take a second look at a potential spouse who looked like Mr. Perfect, a charming investment counselor who promised you a steady return of 20 percent on your money or a long-lost relative who showed up just in time to get himself into your will. Lark & LeClair had struggled at first, but business was finally starting to pick up, thanks to word of mouth from satisfied customers. The firm was careful not to advertise or promote the psychic angle.

Catalina and Olivia feared it would draw people who wanted their palms read, their fortunes told and advice on which numbers to play in the state lottery. There was also a very real possibility that any claim of paranormal abilities would attract the attention of some flat-out crazies. “After my last divorce I promised myself I would never marry again,” Marsha continued. Her jaw tensed. “But sooner or later the loneliness gets to you.” “I understand,” Catalina said. She waited because she knew there would be questions. The client always had questions. Marsha sighed. “How did you do it?” “How did we discover the truth about Hopper?” “Yes.

I did some research myself, online. I couldn’t find anything but what he wanted me to find.” “I’m not surprised,” Catalina said. “He did a good job of cleaning up his online profile. But my partner and I employ some extremely sophisticated search programs here at Lark and LeClair.” That was the truth, more or less. There was no need to explain that she and Olivia had begun the search by simply taking a very close look at Angus Hopper. It had been a straightforward, routine step for a couple of investigators who could see auras. She and Olivia had waited in a car outside the restaurant where Marsha and Hopper were scheduled to have dinner one evening. Olivia had examined Hopper’s aura when he walked past the parked vehicle.

“That is one scary creep,” she announced. Catalina had studied the way Hopper focused his attention on Marsha and picked up a whisper of a vision. “He’s dangerous,” she said. “He’s hurt women before and he’ll do it again.” After that it had been a matter of old-fashioned investigative work. Hopper had scrubbed a lot of his past off the Internet, but there wasn’t much he could do about the memories of the people who had come in contact with him over the years. The women who had known him had nothing good to say about him. Explosive temper. When I finally ended things, I thought he would kill me. He stalked me for weeks.

I was so relieved when he finally left town. Catalina clasped her hands on top of her desk. “Hopper is smart. Thus far he has managed to keep from getting arrested. I think the women he’s hurt were afraid to file charges. But sooner or later he’ll go too far or get careless. He’s a ticking time bomb.” Marsha pulled herself together, squared her shoulders and turned around. Her eyes were bleak but resolute. “We were supposed to have dinner together tonight,” she said.

“I’ll let him know that I can’t make it. Business. He won’t think that’s strange. Everyone knows real estate people work odd hours.” Something about Marsha’s grim expression sent a chill of anxiety across Catalina’s senses. “Be careful,” she said. “Keep your distance from him, Marsha. I told you, he’s dangerous. The people we talked to said he has serious anger management issues.” Marsha had been about to move toward the door.

She paused. “Do you think he’ll try to hurt me?” Catalina hesitated, sorting through possibilities. “My colleague and I believe that his first instinct is to ensure his own welfare. He is smart enough to want to avoid arrest. He’s like a snake that would prefer to slither away out of sight rather than attack. But we think he is also somewhat unstable. Our advice is to slide out of the relationship without provoking him. Take a vacation. If his past behavior is any indication, he’ll cut his losses once he realizes his con isn’t working. He’ll go hunting for another potential victim.

” Marsha shook her head. “Some other poor fool who will fall for his lies, you mean.” Catalina got to her feet. “I want to be very clear about what happened here. You did not fall for Angus Hopper’s lies. You heeded your intuition and you paid a substantial fee to this firm to investigate that con man. We confirmed your suspicions, but the only reason we were able to assist you is because you had the intelligence and common sense to question a man who seemed too good to be true. We hope you will accept the results of our inquiries.” Marsha looked surprised. “Of course.

I’m not an idiot.” “I know. But some clients in your position refuse to deal with the facts that we present to them.” Marsha nodded somberly. “They wanted different answers.” “We always provide hard evidence, but you would be amazed by how many people ignore our advice.” For the first time Marsha’s mouth curved in the barest hint of a smile. “Which is why you insist on getting your fee up front in the form of a retainer.” Catalina smiled, too. “Yep.

We learned that lesson back at the start.” Marsha absorbed the small pep talk in silence for a few beats. Then some of the nervous tension seeped out of her. “Thanks,” she said. “I’ll be careful, but what I’d really like is to see that bastard go to jail.” “We don’t have the kind of evidence that will stand up in a court of law,” Catalina said. “And none of the people we talked to are willing to testify. Eventually Hopper will cross the line and get caught, but until he does, he’s a menace.” “He’s also one hell of a con artist, I’ll give him that. Thank you, again, Catalina.

I’ll be back if I run into any other dates who seem too good to be true.” Catalina hurried around her desk and crossed the room. “Goodbye,” she said. She opened the door. “And please remember what I said. You should thank your own intuition. You saved yourself because you were smart enough to sense that you were being conned.” “Right.” Marsha gave her a wry smile. Tears glittered in her eyes.

“Think that will keep me company at night?” “I’m sorry,” Catalina said again. There was nothing else she could say. Sometimes she suggested that clients consult a counselor or a therapist but her intuition told her that Marsha would not take that advice well. Marsha strode down the hall to the reception area. Daniel Naylor, ensconced behind the sleek receptionist desk, jumped to his feet and opened the outer door for her. She brushed past him and disappeared out into the hall. When she was gone, Daniel closed the door and looked at Catalina. “Is Ms. Matson depressed or just mad as hell?” he asked. Daniel was in his early twenties and possessed the computer skills that Catalina and Olivia lacked.

They had grown up in Fogg Lake, after all, where high-tech phones, laptops and other cutting-edge devices did not function well, if at all. Sure, they had picked up a working knowledge of computers in college, and they were becoming increasingly competent with the various programs required in the course of the investigation business, but there was no way they would ever become as nimble on the Internet as someone who had grown up wired to his tech, playing online games and navigating social media. In addition to his skills, Daniel had a gift for putting tense, nervous clients at ease. He also had style. As if by magic, he made the casual street gear look that characterized Pacific Northwest fashion appear effortlessly cool. “She’s both depressed and pissed off,” Catalina said. Olivia emerged from her office. She had grown into a striking woman endowed with an artistic, bohemian vibe. Today she wore rust brown wide-legged trousers that flowed with every step. She had topped it off with a sleek long-sleeved silk blouse in deep yellow ocher.

Her auburn hair was cut in an artful wedge that framed her hazel eyes and delicate features. Next to Olivia and Daniel, Catalina always felt like a fashion failure. She had tried to find an appropriate style; really, she had worked hard at it. Olivia had taken her shopping innumerable times. But somehow nothing had ever felt right except her uniform of basic black. Today she was wearing black trousers, low-heeled black boots and a black crew-neck top. Her dark hair was caught back in a stern twist at the back of her head. Olivia folded her arms and lounged in the doorway. “Marsha Matson is definitely pissed off.” “She’s got every right to be angry,” Daniel pointed out.

“Yes, but I worry that she’ll confront Hopper face-to-face,” Catalina said. “I tried to reinforce the idea that he could be dangerous if cornered but I don’t think she was paying attention.” “You did all you could do,” Daniel said. “He’s right,” Olivia said. “All we can do is offer advice. It’s not your fault if Marsha Matson doesn’t follow through on your suggestion of how to handle Hopper.” “Right,” Catalina said. “Now if only I could convince myself of that.” Olivia sighed. “If only.

Well, let’s just hope she calms down before she does anything rash, because I agree with you. Hopper is volatile.” “I’ll give her a call later and see what sort of mood she’s in,” Catalina said. Daniel glanced at his watch. “It’s after five. Unless you need me for something else, I’ll be on my way.” “That’s it for today,” Catalina said. “See you in the morning.” Olivia waited until the door closed behind Daniel before she turned to Catalina. “Well, this is the big night,” she said.

“Emerson is cooking for me at his place. I’ve got to pick up the wine. Wish me luck.” “You know I wish you all the luck in the world, but are you sure you want to go through with your plan? Emerson’s a nice guy. The two of you enjoy each other’s company. Why take the risk of messing up a good thing by dropping the bombshell on him?” “I can’t wait any longer, Cat. Things are getting too serious between us. It wouldn’t be fair to string him along. And to be honest, I need to know if our relationship is going to go somewhere good or if it’s doomed.” “You think he’s the one, don’t you?” “Maybe.

I hope so. I know he’s attracted to me. He’s kind. Thoughtful. He cares about art and he’s got a good relationship with his dog. A man’s relationship with his dog says a lot about him. In addition, his aura is stable. Healthy.” “You know as well as I do that you can tell only so much about a man by viewing his aura,” Catalina said. “Granted, Emerson Ferris is not a sociopath, and he’s not mentally fragile, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be comfortable accepting the truth about you.

” Olivia straightened her shoulders and got a determined look. “If he can’t handle my psychic side, then I need to know now. Until I see how he deals with it, I’m trapped. I can’t move forward with our relationship until I’m sure it’s right for both of us.” “You know I understand,” Catalina said. “But I’m so afraid he’ll react badly. You were devastated when that bastard McTavers told you that you needed psychiatric help. I don’t want to see you get hurt again.” Olivia’s brows rose. “The same way you were hurt when you realized Ben Thaxter wanted to use you as a test subject for his crazy research project?” Catalina held up both hands, palms out.

“I admit I screwed up when I got involved with Thaxter, but I learned my lesson. Just because a man is curious about your psychic vibe doesn’t mean he doesn’t secretly think you’re delusional.” “It’s not like things worked out for you when you hooked up with someone who did understand and accept your talent,” Olivia said. “Roger Gossard used you until he was afraid you’d become a liability to his business. When he concluded that you were a threat to his brand, he couldn’t throw you under the bus fast enough.” “Okay, that relationship didn’t end well, but there were extenuating circumstances. Once again, lesson learned.” Olivia’s expression softened. “You got over Thaxter and Gossard and you will try again. Give me some credit.

If Emerson tells me he thinks I should check into a psychiatric hospital, I will be hurt but I’ll survive, just like you did.” “All right. I’ll shut up now.” Catalina crossed the room to hug her friend. “I really hope things go well tonight.” Olivia returned the hug. “I know you do. Don’t worry, if it turns out to be a disaster, you’ll be the first person I call. I’ll stop by your apartment for some therapeutic wine and sympathy. But if you don’t hear from me this evening, you’ll know Emerson took the news well and that I’m spending the night at his place.

” “Right.” Catalina took a step back. “Just promise me you’ll be careful, okay?” “Careful?” Olivia’s gaze sharpened. “Don’t tell me you’re concerned that Emerson might be dangerous.” “No, of course not. I just want you to protect yourself.” “I can’t,” Olivia said gently. “Not in the way you mean. But I can be strong. That’s all that matters.

” Catalina smiled. “Yes, that’s all that matters.”

.

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