The word slithered from the bushes behind her, startling Catherine Bennett out of the few wits she'd managed to recover in the peace of the dark, quiet garden. Thready strains of violin music and the buzz of voices drifted across the lawn from the open door to the house. In the light spilling out from it, she could distinguish a couple of people sitting at a table on the deck. Cathy measured the distance with her eye. A good, heavy-duty scream would be heard, even over the party noises.
"Please, miss!" Tense urgency drove the voice as it called again.
She didn't need this. The evening had been disastrous enough already and a man hiding in the garden spelled trouble with capital letters. She got up and backed away, while turning to face the source of the call.
"Don't run away, please," the voice begged. "I won't hurt you. I promise. I just want to ask you something."
A ring of sincerity in the pleading tone kept her from sprinting straight back to the house, an action the more cautious part of her brain urged. Cathy strained for a look at the person in the shrubbery. The voice was male and adult, though probably not very old. "Come out where I can see you," she demanded.
"Shhh!" he ordered in a fierce whisper. Leaves rustled, and a slender shape detached itself from the bushes. In the darkness she couldn't distinguish his features.
A light breeze in her face set her shivering. "What do you want?" She backed another step away. They both jumped when a particularly loud laugh rang across the yard.
He turned to face the house. "You been at the party?"
At it, not of it, Cathy thought. She didn't say so; the young man wouldn't understand the distinction. "Yes," she answered.
"You know a guy named Peter Lowell?"
"Yes," Cathy admitted, wondering where this was leading.
The young man's indrawn breath sounded almost like a sob. "He's in there, ain't he?"
"Could you ask him to come out here?"
"I don't know. We just met tonight and I. . . I don't think he liked me very much. He might not come."
"Please. It's real important. You gotta try." A quiver shook the young man's body and voice. Tension or fear -- or both? Whichever it was, he sounded near the breaking point.
"All right. Who should I tell him is here?"
The clouds drifted apart and the moon emerged from their shadow. A sliver of light fell across the man's cheek and glinted off the sheen of perspiration there. "Tell him . . . Tell him it's Bobby. He'll come, I promise."
Cathy sighed. "All right, I'll try. Wait here." She turned toward the house when another noise sounded behind them -- the crackle of twigs or dried leaves underfoot.
Bobby's head jerked around toward the bushes, then he called again, "Wait!" There was no mistaking the sheer desperation in his voice now. "Please. Wait." He looked from her face to the shrubbery and back again. "I better give you the message. Tell this to Mr. Lowell, and no one else. Promise you won't tell anyone else?"
Cathy went back to him, found one of his arms, and pulled him back into the shadow of a large boxwood. The arm she held was trembling. "All right," she said. "What's the message?"
The young man looked around the yard and took a couple of quick, shallow breaths. "Tell him Danny was framed. I got the proof. Tell him--"
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