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My Cousin, The Rabbit
Published by Thunder Valley Press
Copyright 2011 by Annie Reed
Cover art Copyright 2010 by Ljupco at iStockphoto.com
I was balancing my morning coffee and a bag of donuts in one hand and fumbling with the key to my office with the other when my cell phone rang.
I’m not a morning person. I’m also not the world’s greatest cook. Even though I live in the apartment upstairs from my office, I go out most mornings for coffee and something my mother would not approve of as breakfast food. So when I recognized the ring tone I’d assigned to my mother — a snazzy little number that sounded like the music from Psycho right about the time Anthony Perkins goes gonzo on Janet Leigh with a knife in the shower — my first reaction was to drop the bag of donuts like a hot potato.
What? Donuts? Not me, mom. I’m going upstairs to fix myself sprouts and granola right this minute.
Not that I had sprouts and granola in my apartment. I barely had enough food for my cat.
The bag split open when it hit the sidewalk, spilling all that sugary goodness on the wet concrete. So much for breakfast. At least I still had my coffee.
I managed to get the office door unlocked and my cell phone out of my pocket before the call rang over to voicemail.
“Your cousin’s missing,” my mother said before I could even croak out a hello.
No wonder she was calling me at this ungodly hour. Along with my partner, I run D & D Investigations, and as the sign on our front window says, Missing Persons Are Our Specialty. Since my mother was calling me and not the police, I knew which cousin had to be missing.
Unlike a lot of people, I only have two cousins. My cousin Stacy lives with her perfect husband and two perfect children in a perfect little house in an exclusive — and very expensive — neighborhood on the south end of Marlette Island. I live across the bay in a dinky one-bedroom apartment on the second floor of my office building, which happens to be located in a not-very-exclusive neighborhood on the mainland side of Moretown Bay. If perfect Stacy had gone missing, my mother wouldn’t be calling me. She’d have called out the National Guard.
That left only one cousin.
“Harold?” I asked.
“Harold,” my mother said. “Gloria’s a mess.”
Gloria is my aunt, my mom’s older sister. Harold is Aunt Gloria’s son. He’s ten years older than I am, single like me, but unlike me, he still lives with his mother.
I sighed and settled into my semi-battered executive chair behind my battered wooden desk. D & D Investigations manages to keep its doors open — barely — but our furnishings are strictly second-hand, garage sale rejects. Not that I’m complaining. My chair may have seen better days, but it’s darn comfortable.
I peeled the plastic lid off my coffee and inhaled the aroma, trying not to think about the donuts melting into a gooey mess on the sidewalk thanks to this morning’s misty rain. Our office building used to house a bakery, and it still smells sugary sweet when it’s damp, like this morning. Well, like nearly every morning in Moretown Bay. There’s a reason my hair frizzes more than curls. Right now the ghostly smell of croissants past was making my stomach grumble, and coffee alone wasn’t going to cut it.
Not if my day was going to be spent chasing my missing cousin.
“Want to tell me what happened?” I asked my mother.
“He didn’t come home from work last night, so Gloria called Mr. Fistler.”
Of Fistler’s Fine Furnishings, where I’d bought my semi-battered executive chair. The furnishings Frederick Fistler sold weren’t fine in the sense of rare or unique, but more in the sense of they’ll do fine in a pinch. Old man Fistler had given Harold a job when no one else would, so that made him more than okay in my book.
“Mr. Fistler told Gloria that Harold left at noon yesterday,” my mother said. “Harold said he had some errands to run and he’d be back late, only he never came back. Gloria spent the night calling all Harold’s friends, only none of them had seen him all day and no one had any idea what kind of errands he was running.”
I pinched the bridge of my nose. My mother and my Aunt Gloria tried to maintain the impression that Harold was just fine, that he had friends and a regular social life and ran errands like everyone else. I knew better. If Harold had more friends than I could count on the fingers of one hand, I was an elf.
I’m not an elf, by the way. The elfly half of D & D Investigations is my partner, Diz, and a gorgeous elf at that, if in a grouchy, The Rock kind of way. I’m a regular old mortal like my mom and my Aunt Gloria and poor, missing Harold. Well, maybe not exactly like the rest of my family.
“Can’t you do that thing?” my mother asked.
That’s why she was really calling me. “That thing,” as my mother calls it, is the bit of magic sight that sometimes lets me catch a glimpse of things that are about to happen. My mother doesn’t have any great confidence in my abilities as a hit-the-streets, work-the-clues kind of detective. She does, however, think I have a crystal ball inside my skull that lets me see the future. She believes my ability to predict what’s going to happen as much as she believes in the spiritual advice she gets from her neighbor who reads tarot cards for all the women in Merlin Heights, the subdivision where my mother and father have lived for the last forty years.
No matter how many times I’ve told my mother that my precog ability doesn’t work that way, she still insists on telling people I’m her little fortune teller.
“I’ll make some calls,” I said just as Diz opened the front door.
He raised a cinnamon-hued eyebrow at me. I mouthed my mother and pointed at my cell phone. He placed a white paper bag on my desk and tiptoed into the back office.
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