In his cramped office at the Ashland Police Station, Detective Winston Radhauser leaned back in his swivel chair and propped his feet, in their hand-tooled cowboy boots, on top of his desk. He stared out the window at the Plaza, where the maple trees turned gold and red.
There was no shortage of visitors in September as the Shakespeare Festival was still in full swing and students had returned for fall semester, frequenting local cafes and pubs. They spread their multi-colored blankets out on the lawn in nearby Lithia Park—there to study, or make out, or just sleep in the autumn sunshine with the lulling sound of water tumbling over the rocks in Ashland Creek.
He tossed a wadded-up ball of yellow-lined paper into the small basketball hoop attached to his trash can. It was a gift from his wife, Gracie, for quiet days like this one. He hadn’t had a big case since the murders of two high school kids back in January. The case cost Radhauser his best friend, Dillon Van Horn, who’d moved back east to avoid the shame of the murders his wife committed. And if that wasn’t bad enough, his partner for more than a decade, Detective Robert Vernon, had retired over the summer. Radhauser missed his sense of humor and the chess games they’d played when things got too quiet.
In truth, Radhauser was bored, and whenever that happened, he wondered if he’d made the right decision to leave Tucson and move to this quiet little Elizabethan town in the foothills of the Siskiyou mountains. He’d mostly done it for Gracie. She wanted to raise their children on a small horse ranch in the beautiful place where she’d grown up. And, if the truth be known, she’d also wanted to get Radhauser away from Tucson, where the memories of his first wife and son had loomed in the very air around them.
Gracie didn’t know when death happened with such swift and violent brutality, you carried it with you no matter how far away you moved. And idleness had a way of beckoning those two ghosts, who all too often refused to stay buried.
Hazel Hornby, the police station’s administrative assistant, interrupted his musings with a couple taps on his doorframe. Her gaze darted to the yellow balls of paper in his trash can. She chuckled. “I see Michael Jordan has been practicing his jump shot. There’s someone here to see you. Rishima Reynolds. She says you know her.”
He sat up straight, removed his feet from his desktop. Rishima was the young woman he’d met at the beginning of the year when the American Heritage Club, a white supremacist and anti-gay organization, still existed in Ashland. She was one of the three kids branded on their abdomens with homophobic slurs. He hoped something like that hadn’t happened to her again. “Tell her to come on in.”
Rishima was tall and reed slender with coffee-colored hair falling over her shoulders in loose waves. She seemed older and more confident as she stepped into his office and stuck out her right hand.
Radhauser stood and took her outstretched hand. It was a firm handshake, but there was still something fragile and vulnerable about her.
“I don’t know if you remember me or not. But I’m Rishima Reynolds.”
He nodded toward a chair in front of his desk. “You’re hard to forget.”
When she sat, he did the same. “Your name is Hindu and means moonbeam. How could I fail to remember something that beautiful?”
Rishima’s eyes sparkled and she gave him a huge smile, obviously pleased. Her teeth were even and very white. She was strikingly pretty with dark, soulful eyes and perfectly-applied makeup. Today, she wore a long black skirt that fell just above her ankles and a white satin blouse with pearl buttons. Her red leather boots had high, narrow heels and laced up the front like something from the Victorian era.
It was mid morning and a bright spot of sunlight through the east-facing window held her in its beam and gave a golden glow to her skin. She wore dangling rhinestone earrings. They caught the light and shimmered against her dark hair. A young girl like this could break some hearts if anyone was brave enough to let her inside.
“How’s your baby?” she asked. “You’d just had a son the last time I saw you.”
He smiled. “Jonathan is doing great. He’s nine months old now and pulling himself up. When he takes a few steps holding onto the coffee table, he looks up at me and grins like he just swam across the English Channel. And, of course, he’s into everything. But you aren’t here, with a worried look on your face, to ask about my son.”
She bit her bottom lip. “You’re right. I want to report a missing person.”
He pulled a pad of paper from his center drawer. “Okay, let’s start with a name.”