Unbinding love, p.1

Unbinding Love, page 1

 part  #3.40 of  Angela Panther Mystery Series


Unbinding Love

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Unbinding Love

  unbinding love

  an angela panther




  Carolyn RIdder Aspenson

  June 2016


  This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.

  Attribution — You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work).

  Noncommercial — You may not use this work for commercial purposes.

  No Derivative Works — You may not alter, transform, or build upon this work.

  Cover Design by Tatiana Vila

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to similarly named places or to persons living or deceased is unintentional. Maybe.


  For my parents,

  Rita D. Ridder & Richard L. Ridder

  I miss you every moment of every day.

  unbinding love

  an angela panther mystery novella

  I jumped back as a glass vase flew off the fireplace mantel and soared across the room, shattering to pieces as it smashed onto the wood floor less than a foot in front of me.

  “Seriously?” I yelled. “That almost hit me.”

  I ducked and bobbed as another vase filled with dying yellow roses and cloudy water levitated above the mantel. It skimmed my arm as it rocketed across the room and crashed near the kitchen table.

  “Ouch. You drew blood with that one, you big baby.”

  The ghost bowed up, his energy encircling him and glowed an angry shade of red. He growled, or maybe it was a moan, I wasn’t sure; either way, it wasn’t a happy sound.

  I held my own, even though internally I squeezed my womanly parts to stop from wetting my pants. I gave myself a figurative smack on the head for not practicing those kegel exercises my mother told me about.

  “You wanna get all scary ghost on me?” I waved my hand like I was a pro at dealing with scary ghosts even though I was barely a novice. “Bring it tough guy. You’re nothing compared to what I’ve seen.” I sat on the couch and leaned back like I didn’t have a care in the world. “Oh, but when you’re done acting like a child, let me know. Then we can get on with finding your missing son. Capiche?”

  The ghost’s nearly transparent mouth dropped open, and his eyes bulged. He’d have been perfect for a late night horror movie with that look. I crossed my legs, shooting for the bored-and-relaxed-psychic-medium look over the squeezing-her-thighs-together-so-she-doesn’t-stain-the-couch-psychic-medium one. It must have worked because the ceiling height curtains—a revolting plaid pattern of yellow and pink—rustled violently even though the room was filled with stale, stagnant air because the windows were locked.

  Candelabras and framed family photos resting on two bookcases surrounding the fireplace shot into the air and then crash-landed on the floor near me. I pushed myself off the couch and using moves from my twice a week boot camp sessions, dodged and lunged as the irate ghost threw a hissy fit. My butt burned from the sudden motion, but at least I was getting in a mini-workout.

  The power flickered, and the smoke alarm went off, piercing my ears and sending a vibrating hum across my jaw. Through the whole ghostly temper tantrum the homeowner Emma Marx hid under the kitchen table, screaming make him stop like a toddler at the dentist.

  It wasn’t even ten a.m. on Monday morning, and my temples already pulsed, a sure sign of the start of a migraine. I’d had enough. I had no desire to be laid up for hours, maybe even days, because of a cantankerous ghost and his equally cantankerous ex-wife. I stood in the middle of the room, raised my hands, and screamed at the top of my lungs while stomping my feet, mostly for effect. My voice squeaked out and cracked like a teenage boy in the midst of a puberty-induced voice change. “Both of you stop. Now.”

  The curtains stilled, and the few knickknacks left upright on the bookcases wobbled, but they didn’t fall. The smoke alarm shut off, thank God. Emma Marx whimpered instead of screamed. I turned toward her and growled, “Zip it.”

  She shut up. Sometimes psychic mediums were similar to miracle workers, and this was one of those times. I pivoted back toward the ghost and pointed my finger at him. “For the love of God, this isn’t helping Justin, so knock it off.”

  “He’s the—“

  I flipped back toward Emma, stuck my finger out, and flung it at her like my mother used to do to me. “Don’t make things worse.”

  Emma’s eyes resembled those popular of Japanese anime cartoon characters, big and round and always shocked. “I didn’t do anything,” she said, still cowering under the dang table.

  “It’s all her fault. She’s responsible for this,” the ghost yelled. The vibration of his voice shook the room. It was kind of impressive, actually. Apparently the anger and resentment from divorce lived on in the afterlife too.

  I dropped onto the couch again, flung my head back and swore under my breath. The couch had the same hideous pattern as the curtains. Honestly, I couldn’t say what upset me more, the childish behavior of the divorced couple, or their horrible decorating theme. I closed my eyes and attempted to relax, a better option than telling them both to bite me as I walked out their door.

  I whipped my hand under my chin and flicked it outward, an Italian hand signal for losing all patience. “I’m done, okay? Done. Now can you two please act like adults, for cryin’ out loud.”

  Emma crawled out from beneath the table and wobbled in the middle of the breakfast area. “I will if he will.” She slurred, and spit flew from her mouth as she spoke.


  Her ex-husband Bill Marx floated into the center of the family room. “Fine. But she needs to own—“

  I shot up from the couch and cut him off. “Eh, eh, eh. Don’t start, or I’m outta here, you got that?” I wagged my finger, and realized I’d done that more in those fifteen minutes than I had all week. I’d officially become my mother.

  He sulked, his transparent chin bobbing to his transparent chest. “Fine.”

  I ran my hand down my face. “Emma, I need you to tell me everything that happened the night Justin went missing. And I mean everything, okay? If you ate a bag of potato chips, tell me. You understand?”

  She lowered her eyebrows. “I understand.”

  “And Bill, time to put on your big ghost undies, and keep the temper tantrums at bay. Please.”

  He nodded, too, and I thought I heard a bit of a groan.

  “Thank you.” I shifted toward the hallway that fed into the two adjoining rooms. “Mel, you can come out now. The coast is clear.”

  My best friend and unofficial assistant stepped out of the vanity bathroom, her humongous purse covering the top of her head. “I’m not gonna get hit by a flying object, am I?”

  I shook my head. “Bill promised to behave.”

  She sat at the kitchen table and grabbed a pen and spiral notebook from her purse. “Good. My insurance deductible is high, and you don’t pay workers’ comp.” She flipped open the notebook.

  “When I get paid, you’ll get paid.” I pulled out a chair and pointed to it. “Emma, sit.”

  “What about me?” Bill asked.

  I waved him over to the opposite end of the table. “You can hover here but don’t even think about doing anything ghost-like, you understand?”

  “Does your husband—“

  I stopped him before he could say something I knew he’d regret. “Bill, if you want me to help you, ditch the attitude. Got it?

  Emma drank from the watered down glass of scotch she must have poured before we arrived. As she lifted the drink to her mouth, her hand trembled, but I wasn’t sure whether it was because of alcohol withdrawal or missing her son. “He always was a jerk. That’s why I divorced him. For that and a few other reasons.”

  Mel pushed back her chair. “Annnnd there’s my clue to head back to the toilet.”

  “No, stay please. I’ve got this,” I said.

  Bill bucked his lanky, skinny, ghost apparition chest. “I wouldn’t have been a jerk if you weren’t such a b—“

  I held my palm out in front out him. “Keep it PG, please.”

  “Pain in the butt,” he said.

  “Thank you. Now that we’ve got out all of our aggression,” I aimed my eyes at the ghost. “Can we get started?” I glanced at Emma again. “I’ll try again. Start from the beginning of the day Justin went missing, okay?”

  My unofficial and non-paying boss, Aaron Banner, a detective with my city’s police department, had already given me the details of their son’s disappearance, but I wanted to hear it from Emma herself. Usually Aaron had me talking to the spirits of victims, but when he’d been assigned the Marx boy case and experienced Bill’s tantrum up close and personal, he knew he’d have to get me involved.

  Aaron wasn’t with us that morning, probably because he’d had a disagreement with his new girlfriend—my best friend and unofficial assistant—or because he was a chicken when it came to incensed ghosts. Come to think of it, he was a chicken either way, and I made a mental note to give him a hard time about it later.

  Emma guzzled her drink and made a beeline to the counter for the half empty bottle of scotch.

  “Why not just drink straight from the bottle, Em?” Bill asked. “Come on, you know you want to.”

  I narrowed my eyes at Bill and mouthed, “Knock it off.” Ghosts with baggage weren’t new to me, but he hadn’t won my sympathy and needed to build a bridge and get over his if he wanted my help in getting his son back.

  Emma grabbed the bottle and brought it back to the table. “He was home and playing his video games, like a normal twelve-year-old boy. I’d had a long day and was tired, so I don’t know, I guess I fell asleep on the couch, and when I woke up the next morning, he was gone. I thought he’d done what he always did. Got up and got ready and took the bus to school. He’s a good boy like that. I never did need to get him up, he just did it on his own. But then I got that email, you know, the one the school sends out when your kid doesn’t show up. When he didn’t come home that day, I knew something was wrong, and I called the police.”

  Bill hovered next to me, shaking his mostly transparent head. “When she’s drunk she reverts back to her redneck talk. Always hated that.”

  Bill was kind of a jerk. He’d probably have driven me to drink if I’d been married to him. “And what did the police do when they got here?” I asked Emma.

  She swirled the ice in her glass. “Asked me a bunch of questions. I gave ‘em my answers, and they said they’d send out a detective to follow up. And they did.”

  “Ask her what that detective said,” Bill said. “About the drinking.”

  I knew what he meant and from the looks of Emma, didn’t need to ask, but I did anyway, in a way that didn’t sound accusatory. “Did the detective tell you what he thought may have happened?”

  She picked at her shirt and avoided making eye contact, then, ironically, jiggled the iced in her glass and swallowed a gulp. “He said maybe I got the times mixed up because I was drunk.”

  “Were you?”

  “I had a few drinks but I wasn’t drunk.”

  I doubted that, given her drunken state at that moment. “Did he say anything else?”

  “He wanted to know if I’m a drunk. Said my kid might have run away because of it.”

  “Bingo!” Bill yelled.

  His yell upset me, but I didn’t acknowledge him otherwise.

  “But I told ‘em I ain’t no drunk. I might have a drink or two every now and then but that don’t make me no drunk.”

  Mel caught my eye and mouthed, “And I’m a virgin.”

  I coughed to hide my smirk and looked Emma straight in the eyes. “Are you sure? It looks like it to me.”

  The ghost laughed. “I like your style, ghost hunter.”

  I narrowed my eyes at him. “I’m a medium. I don’t hunt ghosts. Know the difference.”

  He held up his hands. “Didn’t mean any disrespect, ma’am.”

  Emma’s eyes bulged, her hands shaking more than before. “You talking to him? Is he still here?”

  “You haven’t answered my question, Emma.”

  “What question?”

  The one I’d apparently not made clear, I thought. “Do you have a drinking problem?”

  I’d learned a lot about body language in the few years since I first saw my mother’s ghost. Mostly so I could handle the cynics. So when Emma’s upper lip twitched after saying no, I knew she was lying, though she probably believed it to be true.

  “I told that detective I didn’t have my times or nothing mixed up. I knew Justin was home the night before because I remember talking to him while I watched Criminal Minds. The new Criminal Minds with that actress that did what you do, not reruns of the old ones.”

  She’d lost me there, and it distracted me. “That actress that did what I do?”

  Mel coughed. “Jennifer Love Hewitt is on Criminal Minds now.” She pressed her lips together to hold back a laugh.

  “What does that have to do with me?”

  Mel dropped her chin and tilted her head. “Seriously?”


  She made quote signs with her fingers. “In order to tell you my story, I have to tell you theirs.”

  That triggered the light bulb in my head. “Oh geez. Ghost Whisperer.”

  Mel often compared me to Hewitt’s character on the show, except she said I was the older, more wrinkled version. She chuckled, and I knew that reference would come up again, whether I wanted it to or not.

  “Yeah,” Emma said. “That’s the one.”

  “Okay, so you were watching Criminal Minds, and you remember talking to Justin. What happened next?”

  “I already told you,” she said, the impatience in her voice obvious. “I woke up and figured he’d gone to school, but I got the email saying he was a no show so I waited till he was supposed to get off the bus, and when he didn’t, I called the police.”

  If I’d received an email from my son Josh’s school saying he was absent without my knowledge, I would have called the school immediately, and then contacted his friends as well as their parents. Emma Marx hadn’t done any of that. Instead she sat on her couch and drank. Had it not dawned on her that her son could have been in trouble, or was she unable to think clearly because she was still tanked from the night before? Either way, she wouldn’t win any mother of the year awards.

  “So what did you do between getting that email and calling the police?” Mel asked.

  Tiny beads of sweat formed on Emma’s forehead. “I…I…I figured everything was fine and he’d be home on the bus. I didn’t think nothing was wrong.”

  “She was drinking,” Bill said. “You see what’s happened? It’s because of you, Emma.”

  The bottle of scotch slid across the table and crashed onto the floor, but Emma didn’t flinch. She just left the broken bottles pieces where scattered on the floor.

  “I know where the other ones are hiding too, and I’ll smash them all,” Bill said. “If you weren’t a drunk, our son wouldn’t be out there, probably dead, for all we know.”

  “Bill, calm down,” I said.

  He flung his hands in the air and then disappeared, but I wasn’t worried. If I needed him, I’d find him later.

  “How long has your ex-husband been deceased?” I asked.

  “Four years.”

  “What happened?”

  She made eye contact, her eyes stone col
d. “He was a piece of crap husband who didn’t deserve me or his son. I didn’t lose nothin’.”

  Not exactly an explanation of how he died but I didn’t push it. I checked Mel’s face, wondering if that’s how she felt about her ex, Nick. I hoped not, for her kids’ sake.

  My heart ached for Justin Marx. “Did you call his friends and their parents?”

  “Why are you asking me the same questions that detective did? Can’t you get the report or something? I’m tired, and my ex has been here gettin’ on my last nerve, throwing my stuff around, and making sure I know he’s pissed.” She dragged herself from the table. “I’m tired, and I have a headache. I need to rest.”

  Definitely wouldn’t win any mother of the year awards.

  “Hold up,” Mel said, jumping out of her chair. “Your son is missing, and you’re more interested in getting drunk, and passing out than you are in finding him? What the hell is wrong with you, woman?”

  Oh boy. I stepped back to let Mel have her say. When my best friend’s Asian temper flared, I knew better than to get in her way. Besides, I agreed with her. Emma Marx deserved a verbal butt kicking.

  “He’s not in danger,” Emma said, rubbing her arm. “He’s a kid. He probably went to school, and then one of his friends convinced him to ditch, and they’re just out having a good time. Kids do that all the time.”

  He’d been gone two days. Emma Marx was fooling herself. We already knew Justin Marx hadn’t got on the bus that morning. He was a straight A student who hung out with the geek crowd. They weren’t the kind to skip school, and be gone for days at a time, and she knew it. Emma Marx was just too drunk to care.

  Mel shook her head and sighed. “Keep swimmin’ in denial, woman. That’ll help your kid.”

  “I think we’ve got enough,” I said. “Thank you for your time, Ms. Marx.”

  She jiggled the ice in her cup and sipped the few drops left. “Tell that ex-husband of mine to get lost and not come back. I’m tired of him making my life hell.”

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