Linda Weaver Clarke

Mystery on the Bayou

Chapter 1

Amelia was sitting on the deck, watching the ocean waves gently lap toward the beach. The lounge chair was comfortable and the morning was pleasant and serene. She was not an early morning riser, but when she awoke and could not go back to sleep, she decided to watch the sunrise.

She had seen plenty of sunsets in her lifetime, but this would be her first sunrise. She was amazed at the brilliant colors glowing off the feathery clouds. It seemed to be a mixture of pink and orange and lavender. The view was breathtaking.

Amelia glanced at the cozy little cottage behind her. She liked the fact it had a nice porch so she could sit and watch the waves as they gradually made their way toward her.

She then gazed at the pile of burned wood on the beach where she and Rick had a small bonfire last night. They had had such a grand time roasting hot dogs and marshmallows. It had been Rick's idea and she loved it. Afterward, he played soothing music on his guitar as they gazed at the stars.

The atmosphere was so relaxing and romantic. When he had put his head on her lap, she smoothed his hair away from his face and they talked for an hour or more. It had been a wonderful evening and they stayed up late. So why was she awake so early this morning?

Amelia looked at the wedding ring on her left hand and smiled. They had been married for two weeks. Rick was in charge of planning the honeymoon and he had done an excellent job. The little cottage was just south of Tallahassee, Florida where the sand was as white as snow.

They had spent each day walking along the beach, swimming in the ocean, playing board games, and laying in one another's arms. She had never imagined that Rick could be so attentive and romantic toward her.

Each day she found out something new about her husband. Rick knew how to cook. Being a bachelor for so long had its advantages. She was surprised when he presented her with a delectable steak and spinach salad on their first evening together. That was one thing she had never learned to do... to cook a steak so it was tender.

Amelia sighed as she watched the sun rise above the horizon. The wispy clouds hid the glare from her eyes and created a pinkish glow. "Wow!" breathed Amelia.

After a moment, she noticed someone standing on the beach, watching the delightful sunrise. She recognized the six-foot-three woman. Millie was in her thirties and trekked along the beach every day. She reminded Amelia of a beautiful tall model.

A few days ago Amelia was gathering shells from the beach and ran into her. They talked for a long time and Amelia enjoyed their conversation, but she sensed that Millie was stressed. As they spoke, Amelia told her that she was a private investigator, specializing in missing persons.

Millie's face had brightened as she said, "I may need your help."

Now Millie was walking toward her. When their eyes met, Amelia smiled and waved to her. As she approached, Amelia could tell the woman had something on her mind.

Millie walked up the steps of the deck and said, "Good morning, Amelia. I've been doing a lot of thinking. If I'm to have any peace of mind, I need your help."

Amelia patted the chair beside her. "Have a seat and tell me what's bothering you."

"I believe my son has inherited a genetic disorder that may threaten his life."

Amelia looked into Millie's eyes and could see her anxiety. "Go on."

"When I was a freshman in college, I had what you call a whirlwind romance. I soon found out that he was not in love with me and I was devastated. Nine months later I gave birth to a beautiful son. I couldn't raise a child on my own. I was only eighteen and had no means of support. By the time my father found adoptive parents, my son was nine months old and a bond had been created between us. It was heartbreaking to give him up and I asked God to forgive me, but I had no other choice." Millie looked down as she nervously squeezed her hands and shook her head. "I regretted it later… when it was too late. That was sixteen years ago."

"Was it a closed adoption?"

"Yes," said Millie with a look of despair.

"So the records are sealed."

Millie nodded. "That's right. I went to the doctor a few months ago to get a check up and found out that I have a genetic disorder that can be passed down to my son."

Amelia tilted her head curiously and asked, "What kind of disorder?"

"It's called Marfan's Syndrome. It's a disorder of the connective tissues, which can result in optical and cardiovascular problems. In other words, I shouldn't participate in sports because the activity could cause the aorta to rip or detach from the heart. If I fall down and bump my head, it could tear the retina and cause permanent blindness."

"Oh my gosh!" exclaimed Amelia. "I'm so sorry."

"It's okay. As long as I know my limitations, I'll be fine."

"How likely is it that your son might have this disorder?"

"A fifty percent chance. He had some of the physical characteristics at birth such as long fingers, ultra skinny legs, and a concave chest. Although with some kids the chest can protrude outward. Being unusually tall is also a sign." Millie looked down at her long legs and smiled. "When my son was nine months old, he looked as if he were much older. I just figured he inherited his height and sunken chest from me. I didn't realize I had a life-threatening disorder."

Without hesitation, Amelia said firmly, "Then you need to get in touch with the courts and tell them."

"I did and they told me that I would have to wait in line to have my case heard. I was okay with that, but lately I've been having dreams about my son. They're so realistic, as if it's a warning of danger." She looked into Amelia's eyes and said soberly, "Do you believe in women's intuition?"

Amelia nodded. She most certainly did.

"In my dream I see my son participating in school sports. So I pull him aside and try to warn him to be careful and he looks at me as if he doesn't know who I am. Then suddenly he sees something behind me and becomes frightened. The fear in his eyes is so real and I know he's in danger." Millie bit her lip and sighed. "I know this may sound strange, but the dreams are coming more frequently."

Amelia could tell the woman was anxious and was about to tell her something of great importance.

Millie creased her brow as she said, "After one month of waiting, I found out the courts still hadn't gotten around to my case. So I marched into Judge Smith's chambers and gave him a peace of my mind."

"Oh my!" exclaimed Amelia. "I don't believe that's the way to soften a judge's heart."

Millie nodded with regret. "I guess I shouldn't have done it because I made him mad. You see… Judge Smith and I go way back. During the past several years, I have petitioned to get permission to visit my son. Each time, the parents denied it. The last time I asked permission, Judge Smith said they had moved away and he wasn't in the business of finding people, so he denied my request. After that, I gave up, thinking I''d never see my son again."

"But this case is different," said Amelia firmly. "It's about saving your son's life."

"I know, but Judge Smith said he checked it out and only one out of five thousand people get Marfan's. So he doubts my son has the disorder. Not only that, he doesn't believe in women's intuition and says my dreams are not pertinent to the case. He then denied my request to disclose the parents' names."

"I've heard it's near to impossible to get the records of a closed adoption."

"Tell me about it!" exclaimed Millie with exasperation.

Amelia tapped her fingers on her chair and looked into Millie's eyes. "Hmm. You're asking me to find your son, aren't you?"

Millie nodded as she looked at the horizon. "I have a feeling he's in danger. I'm not sure whether it's because of this disorder or something else." She turned to Amelia and said softly, "Sure, I made a mistake, but I want to rectify that. I want my son to be safe. And I want him to know that I love him… and giving him up was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life." Millie's voice cracked with emotion as she said, "Every night I pray that he's okay and ask the Lord to bless him… and to forgive me."

Millie pulled a Kleenex from her pocket and wiped the tears that were trickling down her cheeks.

With concern, Amelia said, "You realize he's under age. So this won't be easy."

"I know. All I ask is for you to find him and get the message to his parents." She gave a shy smile. "I would like to have permission to see him if it's possible."

Amelia thought about Millie's request as she watched the waves roll toward the beach. This woman needed help and had nowhere to turn. Since it was a closed adoption, where would she start?

Turning back to Millie, she asked, "Did you go through a law firm?"

Millie nodded. "It's in Tallahassee, just north of here."

"Who was the lawyer who set up the adoption?"

"His name is Henry Cooke." Millie gave a sigh as she said, "Mr. Cooke was so nice. He really cared that my baby went to the right home. He said the woman was gentle and caring and knew my son would be loved. He described her so well, as if he knew her personally. That made it easier to give him up."

"Why didn't you visit Mr. Cooke instead of Judge Smith?"

"I couldn't find him in the phone directory. When I called the law firm, the receptionist was so rude to me. She finally said she hadn't heard of him. I think she was new. It's a big place. I guess I figured I'd have the same trouble with him as I did with Judge Smith, so I just stuck with the judge."

Millie then pulled two papers from her pocket and gave them to Amelia. One had her contact number, the name of Mr. Cooke's law firm, and Judge Smith's phone number and address. The second paper was a signed document from Millie's doctor verifying that she had Marfan's Syndrome.

As Amelia scanned the papers, she realized this would be one of the toughest cases she dared take on. It did not look good but something inside her wanted to take on the challenge.

Would she be able to talk Henry Cooke into helping her? After telling him about the genetic disorder, would the lawyer give her the names of the parents so she could find them? Hopefully they stayed nearby and did not move too far from Tallahassee.

"Thank you so much," said Millie as she took a cashier's check from her pocket and handed it to Amelia. "Here's a deposit."

When Amelia looked at the sum, her eyes widened. "Oh no! This is way too much. I don't know how much this will come to until we're done. I can't take..."

Millie put her hand up to stop Amelia from arguing with her. "When I told my parents what I wanted to do, they insisted on paying for it. They want to make sure their grandson is taken care of."

Amelia did not know what to say. She usually took a partial payment before pursuing a case and the rest at the end. But this was much more than what she usually charged for a partial payment. Probably more than the whole case would add up to in the end.

Millie stood and said softly, "My prayers are with you." She turned and walked toward the beach but then stopped, as if she had forgotten something. She looked over her shoulder and said, "My boy's name is Thomas. I don't know if his parents changed it or not. But that's how it was recorded. Thomas Brown."

As Amelia watched her new client walk away, she wondered if she had bitten off more than she could chew. The birth records were sealed. What would Rick say? Would he think she was crazy for accepting this case?

When she felt strong hands rest on top of her shoulders, Amelia smiled as she looked up and saw her husband standing above her.

"I was just thinking about you," she said.

"Good," said Rick. "As it should be, Mrs. Bonito."

Amelia smiled when he leaned down and kissed her neck several times.

Rick was in his mid-thirties with chocolate brown hair, dark eyes, and an olive complexion that he inherited from his Italian ancestors. His dark stubble was close to his face, giving him a rugged look.

It was obvious that he worked out each morning. His shirt could not hide the muscles rippling across his shoulders and chest. Yes, he was totally ripped.

Looking up at her husband, she said, "You missed the sunrise."

"Mmm," said Rick as he sat in the chair beside her and leaned back. "You should have awakened me."

"But you looked so peaceful. I didn't have the heart."

Rick raised his brow. "Who were you talking to?"

"Millie."

"Is she that tall woman you met the other day?"

Amelia nodded. "She's our new client."

"New client?" Rick's brow rose with disbelief as he sat up straight. "You're working on our honeymoon? No way! Don't tell me you were promoting our business."

"Hey! It's not my fault," defended Amelia. "She just walked up to me and asked for help. I couldn't refuse her. She needs us."

"How did she know you were a P.I.?"

Amelia pursed her lips tightly to prevent a smile. "Umm. You see. I, Well..." She stood and sidestepped toward the cottage. "I'm thirsty," she said as she bumped into the sliding glass doors.

Rick stood, narrowed his eyes, and put his hands on his hips.

"I couldn't help it," said Amelia as she fumbled with the door handle.

"Why you little rascal!" said Rick as he walked up to her. He rested his hands against the glass door on each side of her, preventing her escape. "I can't believe it. We're on our honeymoon, and you're drumming up business."

Amelia shook her head. "No! That's not true."

With a mischievous glint in his eyes, he pushed her short honey-brown hair away from her face and raised his eyebrows flirtatiously. With a cocky grin, he leaned toward her and kissed her lips tenderly.

When he began spreading whispering kisses on her jawline and along her neck, a warm sensation went up her spine. Rick knew exactly how to distract her. During their honeymoon, he had found out her weaknesses.

"Okay," whispered Rick as he nibbled on her ear. "Tell me the scoop. What does Millie want?"

Amelia sighed as goose bumps spread down her arms. She was not able to think and could not respond. His delicate kisses were turning her brain to mush.

"I'm waiting," he said as he pulled back and waited for a response.

Amelia opened her eyes and saw him gazing at her. "Now?"

"Yes! Now!" replied Rick with a satisfied grin.

"Millie wants us to find her son."

"I see," said Rick as he slid the glass door open and led her inside the cottage. He pointed toward a small table. "While you were drumming up business, I was making eggs benedict."

Amelia ignored his teasing remark when she smelled the delightful scent of freshly toasted English muffins.

"Have a seat," said Rick as he pulled out a chair for her. "Then you can tell me all about Millie and her son."

After a prayer was said on the food, she explained Millie's dilemma in detail.

Rick gave a nod as he cut into his English muffin. "I'm glad you accepted this case. I believe in women's intuition, too. I got into trouble quite often because of my mother's keen intuition."

Amelia laughed as she pulled the cashier's check from her pocket and handed it to Rick.

"Whoa!" he exclaimed as he stared at it.

"Yeah! That was exactly what I thought, too."

"They must be well off."

"I'd say so. She didn't even flinch when she gave it to me."

After a moment, Amelia creased her brow and frowned.

Rick laid the check on the table and asked, "What's wrong?"

"Do you think we should change the name of our agency?"

He wiped his plate clean with the last piece of muffin and put it in his mouth. "Why?"

"Because now I'm Amelia Bonito."

He laughed. "You're Amelia Moore Bonito. You worked hard to make the Moore Detective Agency what it is today. It was your idea and your dream."

"With your help!" she exclaimed.

He shook his head and said firmly, "There's no need to change the name."

"But..."

"End of discussion!" he said as he took her hand and kissed her fingers tenderly. "Even though we're partners, you're still in charge. Understand?"

She laughed and gave a nod.

Amelia was the founder of the detective agency. With Rick's help, the business was flourishing. She had hired him over two years ago and now she was married to her partner. Life couldn't get better!