Authors: Francis, Suzanne
Copyright (c) 2010, Suzanne Francis
First published in United Kingdom in 2010 by Mushroom eBooks.
This eBook edition published in 2010 by Mushroom eBooks, an imprint of Mushroom Publishing, Bath, BA1 4EB, United Kingdom
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher.
To Mike, Fabienne
I'd like to recognize Stephen McCabe, who provided the excellent photograph I used to create the cover of
. And, as always, I must thank Martyn from Mushroom eBooks, my patient and tireless editor.
Many of the characters in
first appeared in an earlier series of mine, called
Song of the Arkafina
, also published by Mushroom. You will find out much more about Jack and Katy Bennett, as well as Tom Finn, within those four volumes, beginning with
Heart of Hythea
A bird without legs must always fly.
Theodore Black, PhD,
Powwaw Speak: Shamanic Wisdom of the Irrakish
* * * *
"Do you think it's possible to fall in love with a ghost?" This from a slender blonde woman, who spoke to her companion in a smoky voice that seemed a little low-timbre for her pixyish face and haircut.
"Why, have you?" The dark-haired female at her side sounded pleased. Her voice was higher, almost shrill.
"Kind of... I've been reading my grandmother's journal."
Jane's lips, dark against her creamy complexion, parted in a grin. "Hooray! I would much rather see you with a dead guy than Ted Black any day. Can't imagine what you see in that troll."
Her words, caught in the stiff breeze that tried to push them backwards as they walked along
, reached the ears of the teenagers following them. One of the boys, a youth with the shoulders of a fullback, grinned and elbowed his partner. But neither spoke.
More conversation drifted back. The tall woman, Dr. Tessa Kivelson, spoke again. "Really, Jane. Ted is a brilliant researcher, very witty, experienced..."
"I'll say. He has at least thirty extra birthdays on you. Practically old enough to be your..."
"It's twenty-two years, and he looks very young for his age. I know you don't like Ted, but you might as well deal with it. He and I
getting married." The blonde's tone was affectionate. "But you know you'll always be my best friend."
Jane grimaced. "Not for long. Turdy Black will see to that. He wants you all to himself."
One of the boys, hearing their anthropology professor described in such colorful terms, had to stifle a sudden giggle. The blonde turned her head sharply, but they had already ducked into the darkened doorway of a warehouse. The smaller of the two spoke in a furious whisper. "Keep it down, Tree. Do you want them to hear us?"
Tree glanced around the corner at the retreating backs of their quarry. He shook his head firmly. "Course not. Come on, they're gonna get to the alleyway before we do."
The smaller boy, Stan, sprinted with all the fleet grace of a running back towards the next cross street. Tree followed more slowly, huffing and puffing. Once they turned the corner, Stan whispered, "Don't be an idiot. Those chicks won't see us coming. All we have to do is climb over the fence into the container yard, and then drop into the back of Provedore's. We can cut them off easy."
Tree grunted in agreement as he hauled his bulk up the chain link fence that enclosed the wharf yards. Stan dropped over easily, avoiding the rusty barbed wire slung along the top.
Tree's clothing caught. He wobbled precariously on the top before a ripping sound accompanied his fall to the hard-packed dirt of the yard. "Shit! I shredded my shirt just now. Coach will be pissed if I cut myself."
A dog began to bark in the distance, quickly followed by a high and terrified yowling. Within a few seconds, all was silent.
Stan wasn't paying attention. He peered over to a three-high stack of containers. "Shut the fuck up, Tree. I saw a light over there, just now. If we get busted for trespassing it isn't going to look good." The light swept the side of the bottom container, revealing a faded blue star, and the words "WorldPak Shipping."
Tree shrugged, his big shoulders rolling like an avalanche. "Quit worrying. I got a couple friends on the force. These yard dicks don't count for nothing." He shambled off across the fenced-in square, heading for the south corner, where Provedore Way backed up to a high, locked gate. Stan followed, somewhat reassured by his friend's lack of caution. The lights followed as well, but neither boy turned his head to look.
"What does Dr. Black want with those two, anyhow?" Tree slunk into the shade of the giant crane that handled cargo from the container ships that came and went in
"Something real lame." Stan grinned. "He said he wanted Blondie's purse so he could get her keys and then decorate her office for some sort of surprise party."
Tree chuckled. "Well don't that beat all. Wonder what he really needs 'em for?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean he's a stinking liar. I heard lotsa stuff about Dr. Black from my Dad, 'cause they went to school together. Dad said he cheated on every single test. So, old Turdy will have to pay plenty to keep me quiet. Otherwise, they can nail him for conspiracy to commit assault. That's worth five in the slammer."
Stan gawked at him. "Really? He must want something bad to risk that. Well, I'm in for everything we can get. But we have to catch those chicks first. Come on, lardass. The entrance to
is over here." They slunk across the yard, keeping to the shadows.
The two women continued along
, not hurrying. The shorter one, Dr. Jane Piper, shivered and hugged her arms to herself for warmth. "I wish you would move some place closer to town, Tessa. Walking in this wind is killing me. And the neighborhood just keeps getting worse and worse."
"Oh?" Tessa wasn't really listening. She added dreamily, "I love living by the water, in Gran's old house. It still smells like the sugar cookies she used to bake..."
Jane punched her in the arm, abruptly bringing her out of her reverie. "I said did you read the article in the paper about the murder here a couple of weeks ago?"
Tessa grinned and raised her hands in a gesture of ignorance. "I don't subscribe to the paper. Nothing but ads and depressing stuff."
"It was all over the news..."
"No TV either, you know that. Look, why don't you just tell me about it?"
Jane frowned. "Well, there were these two thugs, wearing black suits. They stomped some poor homeless guy practically to death. Only one witness, some big blond guy. Apparently, he tried to help, but when the cops arrived, he split before they had time to ask him any questions. Homeless guy was a mess, died soon after. Guess who had to do the autopsy?"
Tessa sighed patiently. "Was it you? That must have been awful."
Her friend shrugged. "I've seen worse. Why only last week I..."
Tessa broke in, not really wanting to listen to another grisly anecdote from Jane. Her work as a pathologist at St. Luke's Hospital meant she had a ready supply. "Remember I told you a while ago how I accidentally knocked a tile loose when I was cleaning the fireplace?"
"Well, I finally got around to fixing it yesterday afternoon. I was about to slap on some mortar, but I saw something sort of shiny in the crack. When I pulled the tile away I found a secret hiding place."
"Really? Sounds like a scene straight out of Nancy Drew. What was in it?"
"A funny old mirror. There was an old journal of my Gran's as well. I started reading it last night."
The wind picked up a chill and they were glad to turn the corner onto
, a narrow lane skirting the wharf. Street lamps barely penetrated the gloom between the two and three story warehouses on either side of the street. They walked along the center of the road, arm in arm.
Jane stared at the shadowy aisles in dismay, listening to the shrieking calls of gulls disturbed by their passage. "Is this where you met your ghost? Wait! Don't tell me until we get back to Seadrift. This place gives me the creeps."
Tessa laughed. "You let your job get to you too much. All those dead people have made you paranoid." She took a deep breath and looked at the stars, shining like sugar crystals on a deep blue cupcake. "Cheer up. It's a nice night for a walk, especially after all that Mexican food we just ate. Weren't those tamales delicious?"
* * * *
Stan and Tree, from their hiding place just inside the alley, heard the women approaching. "I'll take Dr. Kivelson. Dr. Black said we mustn't hurt her, just make sure we get her purse. You can take the other one -- Jane, I think her name is."
Tree's brow formed laborious creases. "Do I got to get her purse too?"
Stan shook his head and chuckled quietly in the darkness. "It doesn't matter about her. Actually, I think old Turdy-boy would be pretty grateful if you put that smart-mouthed bitch out of action for a while. Might be worth an extra-good grade."
Tree formed a fist and then cracked his knuckles. Two black shadows, moving as silently as a warm breeze, wavered behind them.
"OK, are you ready? Here they come. Now remember, don't hurt
? Leave her to..." Stan gave a startled gurgle as he felt strong hands wrap around his throat. His feet left the ground, as if by magic. "Quit messing around, Tree!" Stan's voice was reduced to a furious whisper as he made a grab for the vise-like fingers that were slowly closing off his windpipe.
Tree had been wearing a t-shirt, he never felt the cold -- way too much bulk. But the hands that were unhurriedly suffocating Stan emerged from long sleeves of some heavy woolen material. Spots swam before his eyes as he began a belated struggle for survival. His terrified jerky twists made so little impact on the arms holding him that they might have been made of stone.
Next to him, Stan could sense that Tree was engaged in a similar battle. The hands around his neck shifted effortlessly, pinning his neck in the crook of an elbow. With his windpipe almost crushed, Stan could only squeak in agony as a blunt finger like a steel cable dug first into one eye socket and then the other.
Other equally implacable fingers drove Tree's jaw sideways, until the bones and tendons ripped apart like a shucked oyster. As his tongue lolled out, with a tormented grunt, they closed the jaw with crushing force, severing the tip. It landed on the dusty ground at his feet, while warm gouts of blood splashed all over the toes of his two hundred and fifty dollar Nike sneakers.
Jane and Tessa strolled by the opening of the alley, without looking inside. Tessa was saying, "I can't wait to show you the journal. There is something very odd about it."
Stan and Tree didn't hear any more of their conversation. Two meaty hands gripped two right ears with lethal precision and then the boy's necks snapped percussively, like frozen twigs. One of the dark figures picked up both limp bodies with easy strength, and walked back down the alley towards the chain-link gate. The other carefully smoothed its black suit and stepped on to
Just then, Jane's mobile phone erupted into a tinny rendition of "Poison" by Alice Cooper. She groaned. "That had better not be the hospital." Sighing, she checked the caller ID. "Sorry, Tess, I need to answer this."
Tessa leaned against the side of the nearest warehouse. "Take your time. I'll have a smoke."
Jane frowned her disapproval, but was soon distracted by a deep discussion about something that sounded like "mesothelioma." After digging in the bottom of her voluminous purse, Tessa pulled out a very tatty looking leather pouch. Inside was a quantity of pipe tobacco and a small meerschaum, stained yellow with age. The bowl had been carved into a delicately shaped unicorn's head. Beads and charms adorned the stem. Tessa spent a moment packing the pipe and then lit up. The smell of apples and smoke hung motionless in the cold winter air, reminding her once again of Grandmother Markku. The pipe had been hers as well.
Across the street, the shadow in the dark suit paused in a doorway and lit a cigarette of its own.
Jane was soon deep into another case. "Look, just make a new tray of slides and I will sign them out first thing in the morning." Tessa, puffing peacefully on her pipe, stared off into the gloom, trying not to listen. Not that Jane's job was all that different from her own, as her friend fondly pointed out from time to time. "Archaeology... Pathology... It's all dead stuff, Tessa. Mine is just a little fresher."
Too fresh, at times...
Tessa thought to herself, remembering the homeless guy.
"That's why the morgue uses toe tags, silly." Jane laughed blithely as she chided her partner on the phone.
Her job sometimes exposed her to the worst in human behavior, making Jane a rather cynical companion, though she balanced it with a dark sense of humor. Tessa had learned to ignore her dire pronouncements about the state of the world. She wasn't worried about her safety, living by the docks on
Just then, the dark suited figure threw down the cigarette butt and began a leisurely stroll down the street towards the two women.
"OK, then. See you tomorrow."Tessa knocked the ashes from her pipe and replaced it in the pouch as Jane's conversation wound down. Now that she no longer had the phone call to distract her, Jane launched into her favorite tirade. "I should show you some slides of squamous cell carcinoma. When are you going to give up that disgusting habit?"
Tessa frowned at her in mock anger. "Tomorrow is Saturday, you know. Working too hard is just as bad for your health as smoking."
Jane shrugged as they started along the street again. "We are short staffed, but the boss doesn't want to hire anyone new." She stared out into the bay, at the lights reflected in the water. "One of these days, I swear I am going to buy a boat and just sail away."
Tessa rolled her eyes. She had heard this all before, many times. "You need to learn to handle one first, Jane. The yacht club has lessons on the weekends. Why don't we go sometime?"
"I'd love to but..." A muffled bang and tremor made her quickly turn her head. "What was that? Sounded like something heavy hitting the ground."
"Probably just someone else working too hard. This is an industrial area, after all." Tessa grinned as Jane made a face at her.
Neither noticed the thing in the dark suit picking up speed as it closed the distance between them. A second dark figure slid from around the corner of the next cross street.
"Hey! Over here!"
Tessa stopped and peered across the lane. A tall man with long reddish-blond hair waved and shouted in their direction.