Dwennon Garrison: Lost and Found.

I

Buffalo, New York was one of those big cities that didn’t have such a good reputation. It wasn’t as if there wasn’t crime and poverty in other big cities, but when your big city lacked glamour and was named after a bovid, and not a cool-sounding one like an impala, the crime and poverty stood out like a sore hoof.

And the worst of it all, was Dwennon Garrison knew what a bovid was because he was sitting in his Buffalo motel room and using a search engine to find out what kind of animal a buffalo was.

The motel was a dive, but this was the place Dwennon was currently calling home. He renovated several rooms on his dime, and paid generously. The motel owner, Shirelle Robinson let Dwennon be as eccentric as he wished. He was more than a good customer and tenant: he brought them breakfast every morning and cappuccino and they’d sit together in her office and eat together as Dwennon’s cat Billy had his own dishes where he also ate whatever Dwennon brought from the restaurant.

The two of them used to talk a lot, but for the most part, she didn’t throw any pro bono business his way. Her customers were tourists and transients who didn’t usually confide in her.

But Dwennon was known to the underclass of the city as the gumshoe who’d work for free if you were in a jam and had no financial means to get help.

But they didn’t know much else about him. They knew he was getting his doctorate in child psychology, but they didn’t know he was orphaned at eight when his parents were slaughtered by a serial killer. They didn’t know he went to their trial and testified, all while living in foster care as he and his older brother Felix literally had no other relatives. They didn’t know that his young face was plastered in every journalism textbook because a pack of reporters cornered him after the guilty verdict and tried to interview the frightened boy right after his parents’ killer whispered to him that he vowed to torture and slaughter Dwennon like he did his parents.

They did know he worked as a columnist and journalist in Chicago, but few knew that he was Canadian, lived in Kingston in his youth, but spent the early part of his adult life in Toronto.

They knew he wasn’t married and didn’t have children, but a cat. They didn’t know he was divorced from a woman he never loved, but his heart always ached for the girlfriend he had two beautiful and happy years with, but were torn apart by circumstances beyond their control.

They knew he had a brother whom he was estranged from, but they never knew why.

They didn’t know until recently that Dwennon was a member of a dark international cabal known as La Nuit du bas, and that he was in it against his will since he was in college when his older brother signed them up.

His wife was a member of La Nuit. So was his ex-girlfriend, but the girlfriend was infiltrating it to write an exposé on them. Dwennon always suspected, but never said anything to her about it.

That ex-girlfriend even had a lofty position in La Nuit – as their in-house detective, solving unsanctioned murders of La Nuit members before the police got involved. Eventually, Dwennon had the same job, and it was the reason he was a crack detective.

He was one of the best detectives in North America, only second to his former flame.

He could have written his own ticket once he was free from La Nuit.

Instead, he moved to Buffalo where he quietly gave his services to any desperate innocent who needed a detective to save them from slaughter.

It was his way with dealing with the pain of a profoundly unhappy life. He amassed an impressive war chest and he had millions of dollars stashed away.

So, he decided to make certain no one ever had to be left groping in the dark alone, like he had done for all but two distant years in his own tortured life, until he could heal enough to know what he wanted to do with the rest of it.

Shirelle had been used to the people looking for Dwennon at all hours, but more often than not, people would go to the pet food store where he bought Billy’s outrageously expensive cat food and ask for him at the cash register where the employees had Dwennon’s phone number and call him so he would go to them instead.

Dwennon always went without fuss, got the job done with his weirdo friend Weasel, and then went back to his rooms with Billy as he studied or watched Japanese baseball on cable.

Today, however, Shirelle had something to share with her favourite tenant.

“Someone I know needs your help, Dwen.”

He looked up as he put down his fork. “You?”

“Me? I can take care of myself. This is someone whose son got arrested last night for embezzling from the office he works for, but it’s a bogus rap.”

“He’s an accountant?”

“An unpaid intern.”

Dwennon smirked. “Let me guess: they think he paid himself with company funds.”

“That’s the thanks you get when you work for nothing.”

“I work for nothing.”

“It’s not the same. Myron is being exploited because he wants to make something of himself. You obviously have big money to burn, spending on your big-headed cat Billy like he’s going to be the next messiah…”

“Leave Billy out of this. His head isn’t that big…”

“Dwen, that cat’s head is as big as a basketball…”

“There is nothing wrong with his head. What’s with the whole head-shaming, anyway?”

“Head-shaming?”

“He is a happy, cute kid who gives me no trouble.”

“Kid?”

“He’s all I got, okay?” Billy came happily running and jumped into Dwennon’s lap as he purred. “Forget Billy. What about this jammed-up kid?”

“You’ll take his case?”

“If he didn’t do it, then I will help him out. Just tell me the particulars, and I’ll be right on it after breakfast.”

II

Myron Banks looked glum and frowned in such a way that there was no questioning how sad he was. The kid was barely twenty, hard-working, bright, friendly, and law-abiding, and yet he got arrested for embezzling, and the idea that someone that hard-working and bright would ever be accused of something that bad and serious was disillusioning.

Dwennon wanted to tell the kid that Dwennon was also all those things, too, when he was young, and ended up with murdered parents, a conniving brother, and stuck in a ruthless Illuminati group that ended the only good romantic relationship he ever had. So contagious was the frown, that Dwennon had to fight not frowning like that in sympathy because the last thing Myron needed was a confirmation of life’s suckery.

He bailed Myron out of jail, and took the young man to a small diner so they could talk and the young man could eat a hearty meal, but Myron’s frown was too distracting, and Dwennon wanted to give the young man hope and not push him over a cliff of despair.

And the guy was in despair – so much so, he failed to notice Billy sitting in the booth beside Dwennon happily eating sausages and eggs that Dwennon took the time shred for him. Billy put his big paws on the table and sat up, devouring everything that was on the plate as he purred in a sing-song voice.

That should have been enough of a distraction to cheer up anyone, but to Myron, he was in too much pain to even see it.

“Your mom’s friend Shrielle Robinson told me you’re innocent, and I believe her,” Dwennon said trying to engage the young man, “Just tell me everything that happened and everything that you know, and I’ll straighten up the mess. Think of me as your unpaid intern detective.”

Before Myron could reply, a familiar man pushed his way into the booth, and saluted the young man, shocking both Dwennon and Myron, but Billy did not even glance up as he was now eating the hash browns.

It was Bobo “Weasel” Starsky, Dwennon’s self-appointed guardian, embezzler, animal sanctuary overseer, and global village gossiper.

“Hey, kid,” Weasel said brightly as he snapped his fingers and pointed at the young man, “Don’t be draking on us. We just need to know what’s key.”

“I don’t know what happened. Yesterday, I come into work at the office…”

“What kind of office?” asked Weasel.

“They sell glass for lampworking. Art stuff. Totally lit, right?”

“You’re an artist?”

“I want to be a glass artist, but it’s expensive. They have kilns there to anneal the glass once you use a hothead torch, but I just take and fill orders there, but I get to learn about the tools and the equipment, and stuff.”

“Do you like your job?”

“Until yesterday, it was goat…”

“Goat?” asked Dwennon.

“Greatest of all time,” said Weasel, “Man, what cave do you live in?”

Dwennon shot Weasel an angry glare as Myron continued to speak.

“Anyway, I come in early as I always do to turn the coffee machine on, and clean the dust the reno guys leave, you know, adulting, but yesterday, they were done and gone, and everything was already cleaned up, so I make the coffee, and go through my email as usual. Everything seemed gucci…”

“Gucci does glasswork?”

Weasel dope slapped Dwennon. “Gucci means what you old timers would call ‘cool’. Don’t be a nerd.”

Myron smirked at the exchange as Billy finished eating and began to pounce Dwennon who petted him on his head.

“So, Mr. Carruthers the owner, comes in, and he’s acting salty and thirsty, right? So I ask him what’s wrong, and he says someone has been embezzling company funds, which kind of surprised me because business has been pretty dead. There were a couple of beading stores that taught lampworking and bought supplies from us, but they went out of business, so things have been slow. He walks to his office, and literally, the next thing I know is the cops show up, and arrest me for it. Nothing else – no phone calls, no emails, nothing. No tea to spill, I swear.”

Dwennon nodded, realizing he had no idea what the kid was talking about, but Weasel seemed to be in the know, and could translate for Dwennon once they left. He would have to search the offices of whatever this Carruthers arty glass place was to get a grip on something as the language usage was an enigma to him.

III

After they dropped Myron back home to his worried mom in Dwennon’s old, but meticulously maintained Strobe Car, Weasel took particular pleasure telling Dwennon the finer points of modern slang, which Dwennon responded with good old-fashioned profanity. Dwennon made numerous stops, with several breaks for Billy to eat and relieve himself. Just as Weasel thought there was no more to do, Dwennon had one more stop – Carruthers Glass Supplies.

The office had already been closed, but Dwennon broke in, but not before jamming their surveillance and alarm systems with two small devices.

“Hey, where did you get those toys?” asked Weasel as he and Dwennon walked inside with Billy on a harness and lead following happily behind them.

“La Nuit du bas gave me those when I was their in-house detective, and I kept them. I had to solve murders for them, and then take out all of the evidence that would reveal their stupid schemes.”

“Your ex never had those things.”

“She didn’t need them, either. She had her goons break into places for her.”

“I wish I had some goons.”

“Nobody needs goons. Even Magsybelle didn’t need them, and she spent most of her time getting them to rearrange her clothes or look after our cat Jenny.”

“I thought Jenny was just her cat…”

“She was our cat,” snapped Dwennon angrily, suddenly looking teary-eyed, surprising Weasel, “She was our cat. Jenny was ours, and I’ll never forgive my brother for tearing my family apart and taking away the one thing that ever gave me peace.”

“Billy could get offended.”

“He knows I love him. I don’t want to talk about the past. I have to see what’s going on here.” He frowned. “Surveillance here really stinks. Not a lot of supplies, either. Furniture is relic. Even the computers are old. Lots of filing cabinets. This place was very old school.”

Dwennon studied the offices and walked over to the small warehouse before coming back.

“Whatcha doing?” asked Weasel.

“Looking for clues.”

“Cool. Need help?”

“Not particularly.”

“What’s the point of an escapade if I don’t get to do anything but babysit Billy Big Head...?”

“What’s with everyone bullying my cat?”

“It’s the truth. He has a big, giant head for his body.”

“It’s a perfect head, okay? Just like the rest of him. Leave it alone.”

“Ooo, touchy.”

Dwennon looked up at the ceilings before seeing a tile that was slightly out of place. He took off his shoes, climbed up on the table, but still couldn’t reach it. He turned to Weasel. “Grab me that chair.”

Weasel saw a small cluster of waiting room chairs, shook one by one until he found a stable one, took it, and placed it on the table. Dwennon climbed up on the chair, took out a pair of rubber globes from his trench coat pocket, put them on, and removed the tile before rooting around, and pulled out a satchel. He got down to the table as Weasel removed the chair and placed it back as Dwennon got down and opened the bag.

“What’s in the bag?”

“Money.”

“The stolen money?”

“I don’t know, but it’s the best guess going.”

“Someone didn’t have time to take the money and run.”

“Then why stash it up in the ceiling? You need something tall enough, and that takes time.” Dwennon made a face as he looked around. “They did renos here recently. Myron said as much, even though nothing else in here is new.”

“Still, it means, most likely there was a ladder handy.”

“Still a clunky way to hide the dough.”

“Yeah, but where did this dump get the money to do renos?”

“Loan?”

“They were so tight, they resorted to part-time staff and unpaid interns. Their stockroom is half-empty, and the stock they do have has dust on it. No bank is going to give them money.”

“So that leaves out the owners. They could make up numbers or hide the cash in a better place.”

“Unless someone came in unexpectedly. I can’t exactly interview them.”

“Maybe when they’re asleep?”

“What the hell is wrong with you?”

“Nothing. Your ex-girlfriend could interview people in comas, you know.”

Dwennon kept quiet as Weasel raised an eyebrow. “You didn’t know about that trick? Huh.”

“She never said anything, or did it when she was infiltrating La Nuit.”

“That was her specialty when she was infiltrating the Circle in the Sky when she was solving crimes as their detective. Cool, huh?”

“Yeah, I’m just gobsmacked.”

“Brit slang?”

“No, sarcasm.”

“Dr. Hunter Colby was wittier.”

“I don’t care about her boyfriend from that time.”

“He was in the Circle, too, and they were work partners, but then they had real chemistry, and started dating, according to Maggie’s mom Nikki…”

“Why are you talking in plot summaries about things I already know?”

“You never know, we could all just be characters in some comic book, and it pays to be helpful to an author…”

“You’re an idiot.”

“Hey, I run an animal sanctuary, and my furries and feartheries need me; so I am keeping on any creator’s good side...”

“By embezzling money and ripping off rich people…”

“They’re all scum, and it all goes to the animals, not me. Besides, you didn’t know about her reading people by pulse and micro-expressions.”

“I think you’re just using that as an excuse to talk about Dr. Colby.”

“He was a pretty smart and hunky Aussie.”

“I know. I need to solve this case and not gossip about any heartthrobs I can’t compete with.”

“Well, he lost Mags, too; so it’s not like any of that helped him. He took it way harder than you did…”

“What’s with you?” snapped Dwennon, “Hunter was a smart, attractive guy, and he knew it. He probably got married and has kids…”

“No, he’s in a coma in a nursing home in Toronto. Nikki told me.”

Dwennon went cold. “What happened?”

“He tried to kill himself and it didn’t go to plan.”

“I had no idea.”

“Neither did Maggie until Hunter’s dad tried to lure her in some fake case a long time ago, and she figured out he was blaming Nikki for the breakup and his son’s depression, and wanted to distract her daughter, which also didn’t go to plan. Apparently, Dr. Colby blamed himself for his mother getting killed, but turned out it was the Circle all along, and they figured out that’s why he really joined them. Maggie took the news hard, apparently, and made the Circle cough up the files and pay for his hospital care. Nikki suspects she visits him every once in a while, to try to snap him out of the coma, but she’s not sure. To be honest, I didn’t know until a couple of weeks ago when I brought up his name, and she let me know.”

Dwennon said nothing, but could feel himself tremble and was becoming increasingly nauseous. Somehow, that news was like a kick to the gut and made the room suddenly seem colder and darker than it was.

IV

When Dwennon, Weasel, and Billy entered the motel room, Weasel turned around, and suddenly frisked Dwennon, pulling out the satchel and shaking his head in disapproval.

“Stealing again? Dwennon, that’s real cash money in there. That looks like your client told you where he hid the stash.”

Dwennon snatched the satchel back and emptied it, revealing the contents to be nothing more than old receipt books.

“I didn’t take the money. That I hid somewhere else in the building, but the only thing that looked off were the receipts; so, I took them to have a better look at them. They look forged.” He picked Billy up, placed him on a table, and took off the four red booties as Billy serenely complied.

Weasel picked up the receipts and studied them. “These are very lousy forgeries, and the dates are out of order.”

“The problem is they’re brilliant forgeries. I took Hal Carruthers’ signature and Myron’s and it looks like a blend of them both.”

“So it looks like your client tried to forge his boss’ sig.”

“Except it’s not his handwriting.”

“The boss trying to frame the kid?”

“Not his handwriting, either. I think it’s a third person trying to frame Myron. I dealt with forged signatures before; and this is the first time I’ve seen it.”

“So, the mistakes were deliberate.”

“Myron is a precise kid. He wouldn’t be this careless.”

“Who do you think did it?”

“Someone from the inside, and considering there aren’t too many employees, it should be pretty straightforward to figure out. I can wrap this matter up in a couple of days, tops, and then get back to my dissertation.”

“Ooo, Mr. La di da.”

“What are you talking about? You’re a lawyer with a doctorate in psychology. You’re two up on me.”

“Yeah, but I’m a really nerdy badass. You’re just a grumpy emo.”

“Would you cut it out speaking like a fifteen-year-old?”

“Can’t, bruh. It’s how I roll.”

“What are you here for, anyway?”

“Babysitting Billy’s pops.”

“I don’t need babysitting. You’re never helpful.”

“Who got Myron to talk? Not you, he with a geezer’s heart.”

“I am doing all the legwork here…”

“Mostly, you’re just stealing stuff, probably so you’ll get arrested, and make the one phone call to your ex, hoping she’ll come running and bail you out. I hear make-up sex is even better when one or both of the participants gets placed in handcuffs for real.”

“What is wrong with you?”

“I saw that twinkle. You got off on that visualization.” Weasel looked at a stack of files Dwennon had on his desk and began to look through him.

“More research on your dead bad boy hero who was a La Nuit thief.”

“Look, Norton A. Dunlop got a bum rap, all right?”

“He was a cat burglar in the 1920s, stealing from Toronto’s wealthiest families. You even said as much.”

“He did work with orphans all that time. It was his form of protest.”

“Oh, I see. He was woke. So it makes it all okay. That’s your narrative about the slimy no good scoundrel.”

“You steal from rich people to give to animals.”

“That’s different. I never tried to frame two innocent gorgeous sisters or ruined the promising psychological field of Method Research from another stunningly gorgeous psychologist who happens to be the great-grandmother of your ex-girlfriend. Or are you going to get righteous about that, too? Accusing me of thief-shaming or something.”

“I don’t want to yell in front of my cat; so this is the new rule: no making fun of Billy’s head, no dissing Norton Dunlop, no ragging on me for taking evidence to examine it before I put it back, no mentioning Nikki Oxley – and no more talk about me and Magsybelle getting back together.”

“Forget it. You’re not the boss of me. I am all about free speech.”

“You’re all about annoying me.”

“Whatev. You have to figure out who is the real embezzler.”

“Not easy, they hid the money in the ceiling, and if there was a problem, they could put the money back. I have to figure out a way to smoke them out and clear Myron.”

V

The next day, Weasel broke into Dwennon’s motel room as Billy ran happily to greet him, while Dwennon sat in front of his laptop and looked up with a sour expression.

“If Billy was a dog, he’d maul you for breaking in here.”

Weasel took out a can of gourmet cat food from his trench coat pocket, opened it, and placed it on the floor as Billy happily devoured it. “Yeah, but Billy Big Belly is bribable.”

“He’s not bribable. He’s too trusting of you.”

“He knows who’s looking out for him and his helicopter daddy. I thought you might need some help with your case; so, I consulted Dr. Nikki Oxley about it…”

“You what? Why do you keep gossiping about me to my ex-girlfriend’s mother?”

“Well, she is a world-renowned psychologist with killer gams, and would have piercing insights.”

“Why would she care about this case?”

“Well, she doesn’t, but she found it interesting that you have substituted a wife and child with me and your cat…”

Dwennon screamed, causing Billy to jump and run under the bed before a guilty Dwennon got up, and kneeled under the bed, coaxing Billy to come out, and picked him up when he did.

“Oh,” added Weasel as if nothing had happened, “She proffered that it was most likely an older secretary who holds a grudge against the boss. Check it out. She’s always right, you know.”

Dwennon got up, shooting Weasel a dirty look.

“The secretary?”

“It’s always the secretary.”

“It’s not always the secretary.”

“It’s always the secretary. They have affairs with their shady bosses, and he exploits them, getting them to do all of the work, but he gets all of the glory, and then one day, she sees her best years are behind her as he is living it high on her back, and then snaps as she puts the screws to him.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Nikki knows it, and I always side with Nikki. She is the granddaughter of my historical heartthrob Dr. Jane Carrington; so that means she’s never wrong.”

“How would she know it was the secretary?”

“Come on, you saw that dump. She threw it all away for a non-starter lampworking empire. That means she’s a total loon with diabolical tendencies.”

Dwennon made a face. “I did some more digging. It’s the secretary.”

“Huh. So, I was right to trust Dr. Carrington’s brilliant and voluptuous descendant. Go me.”

Dwennon put Billy on the bed as the feline then threw himself on his back and began to roll from left to right, “I followed her and figured out she has a partner in crime, but the kicker is, he was arrested on an outstanding warrant for unpaid traffic tickets the day before Mr. Carruthers reported the money was missing.”

“She was going to give it to him, but couldn’t; so she hid it in the ceiling.”

“And now she is having a meltdown because I hid the money.”

“So what now?”

“Figuring out the way to smoke her out.”

VI

“Breaking into these offices again?” Weasel said disapprovingly as he sat in the office chair while holding Billy’s lead as Dwennon removed the stolen money from the top of a storage shelf. “One day, you are going to get caught, and Billy will be an orphan.”

“Shut up.”

“Maybe your ex-girlfriend will take him in. She’s got a couple of cats now, you know.”

“You have told me this piece of barnyard gossip multiple times. Socks and Mittens, and Socks is the sensible one, and Mittens is the moody one.”

“She has a third cat that kind of came with the place, but he is a real hermit and grouch. His name is Ludwig.”

“Ludwig?”

“He mostly sleeps on her bed. He wandered in after her OC Jenny passed away.”

“OC?”

“Original cat.”

Dwennon grabbed a chair, and placed it on the same desk as he climbed up and looked in the now empty pouch hidden in the rafters.”

“Now this is interesting,” said Dwennon, “The secretary obviously checked for the money, saw it was gone and filled with something else, but puts the pouch back in the hiding place.”

“Weird.”

“It tells me there is someone else involved, and she didn’t want to be the one who owned to finding the pouch empty…”

“So she puts it back and pretends she couldn’t get access to it. Sit tight, and let it be someone else’s problem.”

Dwennon placed the money back in the pouch, and then replaced the tile, climbed down, and then placed the pouch in Mr. Carruthers’ office desk along with the receipts.

“What’s the plan?”

“Tonight, I call the cops with a tip that Mr. Carruthers made up the embezzling, and that the evidence is in his office.”

“Will they bite?”

“They will when I use a social media account to blast it online to the civil liberties people. Let’s go. This ends tomorrow morning.”

“But framing the boss?”

“I’m not framing the boss. This is his scam.”

“But the secretary…?”

“Oh, she thinks she’s the mastermind, but the boyfriend who’s in jail works as Mr. Carruthers’ handyman, and guess who posted his bail?”

“The boss man. So why frame Myron?”

“He’s just a convenient pawn. While the secretary thinks she gets the loot, she leaves town, never to be seen or heard from again.”

“He plans to off her?”

“His handyman is mostly likely a hitman, too.”

“I suppose a hitman is a kind of handyman. Cleans up lots of messes.”

“Well, this is a mess he won’t be able to clean. Let’s go.”

“Hey, how did you know the guy is a hitman?”

“I played a hunch, ad found out every place he got a parking ticket had an unsolved murder within a block of where his car got tagged.”

“Sloppy hitman eludes the cops.”

“He didn’t elude me.” Dwennon picked up a purring Billy and left with Weasel.

VII

The next morning, Dwennon, Billy, Weasel, and Myron all congregated in the front entrance as the police were searching inside as they not only found the money, and the doctored receipts, but also all three of the guilty party shouting and having an out and out brawl as the police has to subdue them.

“And that’s it?” asked a stunned Myron.

“The charges were dropped five minutes ago,” said Dwennon as he showed the young man a text. “You’ll be getting a call soon yourself. It’s almost done.”

“Almost?”

“You need a job, kiddo, and there is an art school in Amherst looking for someone to teach art to kids, and they said they liked your work. Your mom gave me some of your drawings…”

“You’re the coolest, Mr. Garrison.”

“No problem. You lost your rap, but found a better place to work.”

“Thanks, Mr. Garrison and Weasel,” Myron said happily as he waved goodbye, “For saving my hide and for finding me a job that actually brings home a paycheck! Say hi to Ms. Robinson for me!”

He ran inside his house which was across the street as Dwennon, Weasel, and Billy walked to Dwennon’s car.

“You okay?” Weasel asked.

“No, to be honest.”

“Something about this case not sit well with you?”

“No, that’s all wrapped up, and Myron finally got a paying job. I’m cool with that.”

“So why do you look like you’re at a funeral?”

“Because nothing’s ever right, even when it is. Billy and I have somewhere to go.”

“Where?”

“Across the border.”

“You finally screwing up the courage to see Mags?”

“No, someone else. I’ll see you whenever.”

Dwennon and Billy walked away as Weasel walked in the other direction as he whistled a jaunty Anita O’Day tune.

VIII

Dwennon sat on the chair next to the bed and stand with a large bouquet of beautiful white roses, and sighed as Billy lay down at the foot of the bed. The gaunt and pale man in a coma was a far cry from the robust and dashing psychologist from almost twenty years before. He finally looked around the room and saw the photographs of Hunter Colby with Dwennon’s ex-girlfriend Magsybelle, and got up to look at them, as painful of an exercise as it was. She was as beautiful and radiant as ever, but every picture betrayed how much Hunter adored her. They were a genuinely happy couple, but Magsybelle’s pictures with Hunter were far different than the ones she took with Dwennon where she was always laughing and looked carefree. She was more serious and less silly in these photographs. Dwennon’s head dropped down in shame: of course, they were: she already had her heart broken once when she and Dwennon split, and the reality of that truth seared into his soul.

She was ever so slightly reserved. The trauma of one broken relationship had cruelly intruded into this one that had more promise than the impossible pairing of Dwennon Garrison and Magnus Demeter Lyme.

Dr. Hunter Colby, under any other circumstance, should have been The One. Even Dwennon could see it clearly in front of him.

Hunter wasn’t one of those guys who was full of himself. He was warm and kind as he was sensitive and loving.

And now, he was lying in a nursing home in some sort of coma because he tried to kill himself and somehow screwed up.

Dwennon turned around and looked at Hunter sadly. Life sucked horribly and then spat in your face just because it could.

He shrugged his shoulders, walked over back to the chair and sat down.

“You don’t really know me, but I was Magsybelle’s first boyfriend, Dwennon Garrison. We lasted longer by a year, but to be honest, I think she loved you more.” He sighed dejectedly. “You’re the reason I had a meltdown and went into a tailspin and married someone I didn’t love because that’s when I knew there was no me and her ever getting back together, and that was the worst hurt in my life.”

Dwennon could feel his lower lip tremble. “You know, Hunter, we have a lot in common. More than just Magsybelle. You didn’t join the Circle because you believed their junk. I didn’t join La Nuit because I believed it. My brother Felix – who I am no longer speaking to – signed me up behind my back when I was at college, and I was stuck there for most of my adult life. I am out, just the way you’re out of the Circle. My parents were murdered by a serial killer, and your mom was murdered by someone in the Circle. That’s why you joined them – to figure out who did it, and get proof, but then you met Magsybelle, and then you knew she wasn’t in there for real. She wasn’t in the Night for real, either, and I figured it out pretty quick, but I never told her. I bet you didn’t tell her, either.

“We both got chewed up and spat out because of those cabals. We both felt like losers and failures, and we both lost her in the bargain. I know they say you tried to kill yourself because you thought you were responsible for your mom’s death, but I know the truth. It was the trauma of having someone you love get torn away from you, even when you did your best, and then you feel worthless. It ate at your soul the way it has been eating at mine.

“You know, I don’t hold any grudges. I see all those pictures of the two of you, and she loved you, too. I know she loved me. I got divorced because I was sick of the lies, and by some miracle, there were no kids in that equation. You know Magsybelle isn’t married, either? She never took the bait. She’s dating Brad Stoney, but that’s even more reserved because she got her heart ripped out twice, and we’re both responsible for that.

“I don’t think she’s ever going to get married. I hear Theodore Nathanial who owned Dreaminate has been eying her and will probably manage to push Stoney aside. He looks a lot like the both of us: a real nice guy who is happy having a single soul mate. Sometimes I wonder if I should just go up to him and tell him not to even try because it’s just going to end badly, and neither one of them needs a trauma. She can’t have someone that close to her when she has a thousand knives at her throat because she won’t want to drag another person in that viper’s den with her. She’s there all by herself, you know, but she knew it going in, and she’s way too independent to want some husband hanging around. But, you know what? I would still go to her right this second and tell I’ll risk it because I am in the same pit, but I look like a seventy-year-old man who sucked on a lemon since birth as some dogs thought my face was a chew toy.”

He silently chuckled to himself. “I was so insanely jealous of you. You had everything, and I had nothing. I worked like a lunatic, and now I can speak several languages fluently, and I am earning my doctorate in psychology just so I know I could have been good enough for her.”

He touched Hunter on the shoulder. “You know, if you ever come out of that coma of yours, give me a call. We can form a support group or something. She came to see you, you know. She hasn’t come to see me, yet. I sort of screwed that up by going to her front door, then just leaving toys for her animals and leaving. That sort of sent the wrong message that I didn’t want to see her. I just didn’t want her to see some wrinkled old prune who’d probably blubber how heartbroken and ashamed I am…”

Dwennon took a moment to compose himself. “I’m sorry; it’s just I don’t have parents or any friends, except for some lunatic named Weasel, and my cat Billy. You’re the only one who’d understand. I am rooting for you. I’m sure your dad would be really happy and proud of you if you could wake up. I can’t take up any more of your time, but I meant it when I said you do have a friend in me.”

He got up and slowly walked out of the room with Billy jumping down and then walking by his side as Dwennon wondered which one of the two men had it better – or worse.