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Isabella Moon


Kate was surprised when the stern-looking young woman at the duty
desk told her to take a seat instead of just asking her name and
sending her on her way when she announced, in a voice she could
barely keep from shaking, that she knew where they could find the
body of Isabella Moon. Maybe it was the hesitant way she spoke, her
purse clutched protectively against her stomach. Although there
were deep shadows beneath her eyes, with her auburn ponytail and
cashmere sweater and tweed slacks, she knew she didn’t look
like a standard nutcase—she wasn’t coffee-splattered or
disheveled, she wasn’t waving napkins with lipstick maps on
them. She looked like a patient mother of young children (she had
none), or perhaps a librarian (she was not). She looked
trustworthy, she knew. But more than once during the bleak, endless
hours of the previous night, as she’d waited by her window
for the stubborn sunrise, her resolve to tell what she knew had
flagged. If she was so filled with doubt about her own sanity, what
right did she have to imagine that the sheriff would think

She settled into one of the molded plastic chairs facing the wire-
studded window that separated the waiting area from the
sheriff’s inner office. Not wanting to look like she was
staring, she tried to keep her eyes on the clock on the wall above
the sheriff’s desk. She’d had no breakfast and her
mouth was dry. A water cooler sat on a stand only a few yards away,
but she was so nervous that she didn’t trust herself to cross
the room.

Behind the glass, the deputy leaned over the sheriff’s desk,
presumably telling him why she was there. For a brief moment
Kate’s eyes met the sheriff’s, but she quickly looked
away. She’d seen him on the street before, but not up close.
Jessup County was prosperous, but not so wealthy that politicians
spent campaign money on billboards bearing their photographs. She
had voted for him in the last election not because she liked him or
knew anything about him, but because the man running against him
had brushed purposefully against her while they waited for their
take-out lunches at the crowded counter of the Carousel Café.
It wasn’t even so much that he touched her but that he had
reeked of stale cigarette smoke.

As soon as she looked away from the sheriff—his eyes had been
frank and curious, not at all dismissive as she’d
feared—she regretted it. People who lie avoid eye contact.
And she wasn’t lying. At least, not about this.

Most days, Sheriff Bill Delaney really liked his job. Given that
Carystown was a county seat, he found himself spending more time
than he liked in the courthouse, but it was the rare day that he
couldn’t make his way home for lunch with his wife, Margaret,
who was the director of the Cary-Lowe House, a museum in the
historical district that bore her family’s name. Back before
he’d made detective in Louisville, he worked hellacious hours
that kept them apart nights. He would let himself into their
apartment after his shift ended at 8:00 a.m. to find breakfast in
the oven and a note on his pillow, but there was no substitute for
Margaret herself, whose curved, soft body molded itself to his
hands with an urgency that never ceased to amaze him. Now, even
though he wasn’t much more than a tax collector with a
sidearm, he couldn’t imagine going back to those lonesome,
empty days.

The young woman on the other side of the glass seemed to have
sharper edges than his Margaret. He’d seen her going in and
out of Janet Rourke’s insurance agency and in restaurants
with a local guy who worked for the timber company. There was a
closed-in look about her, but she was a pretty thing, fine-boned
and slender in the way of young women from the city and the junior
matrons around town. He didn’t know for a fact how long
she’d been in Carystown, and was only sure she was newer to
the area than he was. Twelve years hadn’t bought him too much
familiarity. He only had his job because the
Lowes—Margaret’s family—had been among the first
settlers in the area and Margaret herself was liked by the local

“She seems all right,” Daphne said. “Looks a
little stuck-up maybe.”

It was a very Daphne sort of judgment. Daphne herself bordered on
the homely, but she bore her elegant name with bravado. How many
times had he heard various town jokers refer to her as
“Deputy Daffy” to her face? She was a quick sort who
either gave it right back to them or made sure they knew she
wasn’t in a mood to play. She was also a mean shot with her
.45 Glock. With the exception of Frank Skerrit, an ex-Marine who
was his most reliable deputy, he would rather have Daphne at his
side in a shoot-out than anyone else. He was particularly leery of
the younger ones who only went to the range when their annual
qualifications were coming up. Plus, Daphne was built like a truck,
and her narrow, hooked nose and seemingly permanent scowl meant
that only the drunkest of her charges were distracted by the fact
that she was a woman. Margaret liked to say that Daphne’s
infrequent smiles were like “sudden rays of sunshine in a

“Go on,” Bill said. “Bring her in and get us both
some coffee. She looks like she’s had a rough

But instead of going straight for the coffee, Daphne stood up to
her full five-two height and looked to the ceiling and

“Please, ma’am,” Bill added.

The case of the missing girl was still open but had been on the
back burner for most of the last year for an almost complete lack
of evidence—lack, even, of a body. It was his personal
opinion that the child had run away. She had a crazy hippie for a
mother and lived in a kind of commune without any other kids around
for all of her nine years. But of course the woman on the other
side of the glass probably had no idea how things stood. He just
hoped that she wasn’t going to tell him she was some kind of
psychic. He had zero time for that kind of bullshit.

Isabella Moon’s disappearance almost two years before had
filled the town with satellite trucks and frantic reporters, male
and female, trailing grubby young men with shoulder-mounted cameras
and racks of bright lights. He had grown weary of their changeable
faces and instantly sincere smiles. Far stranger, though, was the
small collection of earnest amateur psychics and healers that had
shown up in his office. Several of them eventually drifted over to
Iris’s Whole Foods and Tea Shoppe to congregate after Daphne
put them in their places, one after the other. A couple had never
left town.

It was a damned shame that the child had never turned up, dead or
alive, but he sure didn’t miss the circus that had engulfed
Carystown for weeks. He wasn’t looking for it to return,
ever. But he decided there was no reason to give this woman a hard
time. She was good-looking, and they did have to live in the same
small town.

Finally seated across the desk from the sheriff, Kate accepted the
paper cup of coffee from Daphne with a grateful “Thank
you.” She hadn’t even bothered to ask for decaf, as she
usually would. Her body felt hollowed out. Anything warm would do.
She was sure that she would never sleep again anyway.

As she gingerly sipped the strong brew, the sheriff sat back down
in the chair from which he had risen to greet her and motioned to
the delinquent tax roll printouts on his desk.

“Funny how no one wants to pay their taxes,” he said.
“But just let the county miss one garbage pickup and
they’re lined up from here to Sunday.”

Kate thought to say that death and taxes are the only sure things
in life, just as she’d often heard her grandmother say. But
then she remembered why she was there.

They sat in silence for a long minute. The telephone on Bill
Delaney’s desk buzzed once, startling them both into brief,
nervous smiles, but Daphne was quick to pick it up at her desk.
When the sheriff got up to close the door, which Daphne had left
open a few inches, Kate relaxed a bit. She’d wondered if the
deputy left it open on purpose.

“It’s been a long time since anyone’s come
forward with information about that child,” he said.
“Several months anyway. Folks have lost interest.” He
absently crossed a line through a dead woman’s name on the
tax roll. “I’m guessing we fielded ninety, a hundred
calls a day from all over the country when it first happened. A
couple came in from England. You can imagine they weren’t
much help. More of a novelty for Daphne.”

“It was strange to see the town on the news everyday,”
Kate said. “But it never actually looked like Carystown on
television. It was like they were talking about somewhere

“We had a couple movie agents and such interested, thinking
the story might sell, I guess,” Bill said. “In the end,
there didn’t turn out to be much of a story, did

Kate shook her head. “No. I guess not.”

As Bill leaned back in his chair, it made a painful squeak.
“How long have you lived in Carystown, Miss

Kate took a deep breath. This was more like what she had expected.
If he believed her at all, he was sure to look at her as a suspect

“A little more than two years,” she said. “I have
a house south of town near the old candy factory. It’s an
antique mall now, but everyone still calls it the candy

The wind still sometimes carried the scent of chocolate through her
windows. It had been on just such an afternoon that she’d
rented the house after living in an inexpensive motel out near the
highway for a few weeks. The factory building hadn’t yet been
converted when she moved in, but was just a cavernous brick
fortress with boarded windows, fronted by a long, crumbling porch.
Such a vast emptiness so close to her house had overwhelmed her in
those first months, but the smell of the chocolate was something of
a comfort. And in those early, alone days, she had needed it.

“Best peppermint sticks in the country,” Bill said.
“Never cared much for their chocolate stuff. Moved the
operation down to Mexico about five years ago. Too bad.” He
shook his head.

“We get a lot of tourists in for the antiques,” Kate

“Ah, yes, the tourists,” Bill said with apparent
distaste. “So, have you ever been to Mexico? Is that a travel
agency you work for?”

Kate wondered how long he was going to play with her. She was sure
he’d want to hear what she had to say.

“Insurance,” she said. “Janet Rourke’s
agency.” She looked at her watch. “I should be there
now to open up. Janet had a breakfast meeting.”

“Good Rotarian, Janet. Assertive,” he said. “Gets
things done.” What Janet Rourke really was was a bitch on
skates. But he guessed that his opinion wouldn’t be a
surprise to this young woman. “You from somewhere south of
here, Miss Russell? Alabama, maybe? Georgia?”

Kate straightened in her chair. “I lived in South Carolina
for a long time. Around Charleston.” It was enough of the
truth. Just because he was some kind of policeman didn’t mean
that she could trust him. “But this isn’t about me,
Sheriff,” she said, knowing she was breaking one of the
cardinal rules of southern conversation. One didn’t blurt out
one’s business right off, one was supposed to come around to
things gradually, delicately, give everyone involved time to know
exactly who stood where on a subject. There was a lot of courtesy
involved. Only Yankees came at things straight on.

But it had taken her so long to come to the decision to speak to
someone, someone who might be able to help her, that she just
wanted to get on with it. The girl was dead, yes, but she was
hardly resting in peace. She seemed almost as alive to Kate as in
the weeks before she disappeared two winters before, when
she’d occasionally walked past the agency in her bright
yellow coat and red snow boots. Isabella Moon hadn’t been an
extraordinarily pretty child, but Kate had noticed her (thanks to
the coat, probably) and wondered at her careful, self-possessed way
of walking, as though she were much older than she appeared.

The suffering of the girl’s mother also caught her attention,
and disturbed her. She had seen Hanna Moon on the news and, more
frequently, on the streets of Carystown. Hanna Moon looked lost to
her, and, somehow, more childlike than her daughter had been. Truth
be told, she looked a little crazy. Even in cold weather she wore
colorful, loose linen dresses of the sort favored by the women of
the area’s hippie community and woven sandals. Her thick
black hair was often twisted into a braid that hung down to her
waist and tied with a ribbon, just as her daughter had worn hers in
the photo that had been reproduced and taped into windows and
nailed to telephone poles all over town. Sometimes Hanna Moon
appeared to be talking to herself, or, at least, to someone who
wasn’t there.

Isabella Moon
by by Laura Benedict

  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0345497678
  • ISBN-13: 9780345497673