Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Read The First Three Chapters of The Gifts


Corrine Larson bit her lip, stifling a scream as she turned slightly, struggling to open her eyes. She’d never heard a death rattle, but she recognized it now, deep inside her chest, with each shallow, painful breath. Her body was begging to shut down. She didn’t know if he had beaten her for one hour or six. She was dying, but the son-of-a-bitch wouldn’t get the satisfaction of knowing she wanted to die.
Corrine managed only a narrow slit with her left eye, just enough to stare at him, convey her hatred. He’d used her, and because of her, others would die. She fought the thoughts threatening to overwhelm her, concentrating instead on the new pain caused by the salty tears coursing down her face. Her tortured mind honed in on her one satisfaction, that one ray of light in the darkness. She hadn’t told him everything.
He whistled softly, a haunting rendition of I Saw the Light as he loaded the gun. Corrine drew in one last ragged breath, closed her eye, and allowed the feel of the cool damp concrete to soothe her burning body. It was almost over.
Her thoughts turned to Sarah and her child. She’d written an article once about a psychic who believed your dying thoughts could travel across time and space, influencing the outcome of events to come. She hoped the psychic was right. Maybe she could at least undo some of the damage she’d done. Warn Sarah.
Rough hands jerked at her hair, raising her from the bloody warehouse floor. She felt the cold steel pressed against the back of her head, heard the sound of the gun cocking. Funny, she had always thought her dying thoughts would be of Rob or Gavin; instead, she could think of nothing but Sarah and her child. As the bullet shattered her brain, she held the image of Sarah in her mind and silently screamed, He’s coming Sarah. He wants to destroy you.
Murder is a sin. You’ll go to hell.
It wasn’t murder—it was self-defense.
He hated the voice in his head. She was always bitching at him. Always butting in. Preaching. A cruel smile twisted his handsome features. Today it didn’t matter. Today was a day of celebration. Soon he’d have what was rightfully his. All the years of waiting would be over. Whistling softly, he pulled away from the dumpster and parked the car. Just a few little things to finish. He pulled the police cap down low as he entered the apartment building.
“Evening officer, can I help you?”
“Just delivering some luggage to Ms. Larson.”
The security guard checked the register. “Looks like Ms. Larson is out this evening.”
“Yeah, I know. She gave me a key and told me to set it inside the door. Working on some big story and needed to meet the mayor or somebody. Don’t know why the city wants to waste the taxpayers’ money and use me as her damn courier, but here I am.”
The guard grinned. “Yeah, I know what you mean.” Shrugging in sympathy, he turned his attention back to the crossword puzzle. “Go on up.”
He walked slowly, taking his time. The bitch had been tougher than he’d thought. She’d cost him a whole fucking day. He wouldn’t rush things now, though. Everything had to play out just right. All he had to do was make it look like she’d never left town.
What if she told someone?
The thought enraged him. He cursed softly as he slipped the key into the lock. That was the trouble with women—they talked too damn much. He frowned as the pain in his groin started again. No satisfaction. He hadn’t even wanted her. Too old. He liked them young; firm, breasts just starting to bud. The throb increased as he thought about the young girl he’d glimpsed just inside the alleyway on his way into the building.
And she wouldn’t scream, would she?
He clenched his fists. The bitch just wouldn’t scream. Unclenching his fists, he ignored the voice. It didn’t matter. He had what he wanted. After setting the luggage inside the door, he relocked it and pulled out the faded snapshot from his shirt pocket. She would scream. It was all her fault. Six long years. But time had given him a bonus. Oh, yes, a definite bonus. Maybe he’d let Sarah live and just take the child. He liked that idea.
The throbbing in his groin increased, reminding him he had a mission to complete. Checking his gun, he screwed the silence into place. The cameras had seen only what he wanted them to see, but the guard would have to be dealt with. He chortled. Everyone knew about the corruption in the police ranks. The bitch had actually written an article on it. By the time they stopped chasing that lead, he’d be long gone.
The security guard glance up as the elevator doors opened. “Everything okay, buddy?”
“Everything is just fine now,” he said raising the gun. He snickered at the look of surprise that crossed the guard’s face, right before the bullet pierced his heart. The world was full of stupid people.
Murder is a sin.
“I told you, it’s not my fault. She’s the reason I have to kill.”
You like killing.
He whistled as he exited the building and glanced at the dumpster. He didn’t like killing. He was just cleaning up the trash.
Clouds hung low in the sky, threatening to open up any minute. He listened to the whimpers coming from the alley. She was still there. An omen. It really was his lucky day. He approached her slowly, his voice low and gentle. “Aren’t you a little young to be out this late at night?” The girl stopped her whimpering and looked at him. He saw the fear reflected in her deep blue eyes slowly dissipate as she looked at the uniform. She nodded. Smiling, he held out his hand. “Come on, I’ll take you home.”
Excitement coursed through his body as she placed her small hand in his. This one would be a screamer. Whistling softly, he buckled her in and brushed the blonde curls away from her face. “Did you know tomorrow is Mother’s Day?”


Gavin McAllister groan, fighting the pink swirls, the arms reaching through the mist. They were calling him, their tiny hands reaching through the fog, begging, pleading. Help us Gavin. You have to hurry.
Terror built inside him. He could hear the laughter in the distance coming closer. Hollow, evil, maniacal laughter. Felt the eyes boring into him from the darkness just outside the mist. Black eyes. The quintessence of all that was evil.
The mist turned red, seeping into his brain, enveloping him in pain. Excruciating pain. Laughter. Pain. Black eyes. Screams.
Too late. You’re too late, McAllister. Every day is Mother’s Day.
Like all the times before, the scream jerked Gavin from the nightmare. Throwing off the covers he sat up, trembling and glanced at the bedside clock. Four fifty-five a.m. He groaned and ran a hand through his thick dark hair, waiting for the trembling to stop. The nightmares were getting stronger, the screams louder, closer. Different. This time there had been blood and pain. The knot in his stomach still hurt, and there was a strange ache in his chest. An eerie sadness.
“What the hell have I done?” he whispered.
His gaze strayed to the phone, mentally willing it not to ring, but knowing in his heart it would. It was Mother’s Day, and somewhere out there was the body of a young girl. The phone would ring. It always rang.
Feeling less shaky, he made his way through the dark apartment to the kitchen. Hesitating, he gritted his teeth and flipped the light switch, his gaze immediately going to his hands. He expected to find them covered in blood. The blood of the innocent. The blood of those who came to him in dreams, the ones he couldn’t save.
He cursed softly as he ground the coffee beans, started the pot to brew, and headed for the shower. He might as well be ready. It would be useless to try to go back to sleep.
The hot water from the shower helped to clear his head and ease the knot in his stomach. He needed to write down the dream, compare it to the others. Five years. The son-of-a-bitch had been inside his head five years, playing games with his sanity. Gavin examined the image in the mirror, searching for answers he could never seem to find, listening to words echoing inside his head. Too late. You’re too late, McAllister.
“Shit,” he muttered at the sound of the phone ringing. Wrapping a towel around his body, Gavin walked to the bedroom. He didn’t need to look at the caller I.D.; he knew who was on the other end.
“Hey, Rob.”
“We’ll pick you up in thirty minutes.”
“I’ll be ready.”
Dressing quickly, Gavin picked up the overnight case sitting by the bed. Rob hadn’t told him to pack a bag this time. The ache in his chest deepened, the eerie sadness spreading. This time something was different. As he sat down on the edge of the bed, he bowed his head, his thoughts in turmoil. He should have refused to work with Rob on this. All the steps he’d taken to protect his adopted brother, even changing his surname to McAllister, would be worthless if the truth came out. He was running out of time.
The ringing of the doorbell pulled him from the depths of despair. He couldn’t go there now. There would be time for that later.
“You’re early,” Gavin stated, nothing the grim faces of the two FBI agents.
“Yeah, well, traffic is kind of light this time of the morning.” Rob Walker pushed past Gavin and tossed his jacket on the nearest chair.
“I hope you made it strong,” Carl Jackson muttered, closing the door.
“Just the way you like it, Carl.”
Gavin turned his attention to his brother pacing in the small kitchen. Something was bothering Rob. Something more than the early morning call.
“I’m getting too old for this, guys. The only reason a man should get up at five in the morning is to go fishing.” Carl followed Gavin’s stare and turned to watch his partner pacing back and forth.
Gavin squeezed Carl’s shoulder and shook his head. He’d heard this song and dance the past ten years. Carl Jackson had been with the Bureau more than forty years. No matter how much he moaned and groaned, he would never retire.
“Catch this guy and I’ll buy you a fishing boat.” Rob stopped pacing and poured three cups of the strong coffee.
“The way it’s going, I’ll be too old to use it,” Carl muttered.
“We’ll catch him, Carl. No matter what it takes, we’ll get this damn bastard!” Rob gripped the coffee mug, his light blue eyes darkening into grim turbulent pools.
Gavin studied his brother over the mug of steaming coffee. “Something eating at you, Rob?”
“Yeah, the son-of-a-bitch got personal.”
Gavin raised an eyebrow in silent question.
“Hollywood Cemetery. Hit us in our own backyard.”

Traffic was light, and Gavin used the time to gather his thoughts. He’d never told Rob or Carl about the dreams. He’d entered the investigation unofficially on his own time, and he’d been surprised when Chief Walsh called him in, asking for his help. Well—not his help—the help of the famous private investigator, Jacody Ives. The master of uncovering secrets, unmasking killers. Gavin had long ago forgotten where the character in his books stopped and he began. Someone along the route, the two had become one. Or maybe they’d always been one.
The sun was just rising over the James River. Gavin watched its reflection shimmering, creating dancing diamond glints on the rippling water, as the rays penetrated the shroud of mist that surrounded Belle Island. Gavin’s thoughts turned inward, pensive, as he watched the fog separate—a thousand ghosts, dissipating in the early morning light. Places like people, rarely showed the ugliness of what lay just beneath the surface. Unlike the majority of tourists who traipsed and jogged over the hiking trails, Gavin saw the ugliness of the island. It had once been a Civil War prison harboring almost 10,000 prisoners. No one was sure just how many prisoners had died and were buried here. There were no marked graves. History was forgotten. The small island had been turned into just another tourist attraction for hikers and joggers. He wondered if the tourists ever thought about the bodies they strolled over.
He turned his attention to the road as they crossed the Robert E. Lee Bridge and pulled up to the gates of the cemetery.
“Stop a minute, Carl.” After exiting the vehicle, Gavin examined the gates for signs of forced entry.
Rob scowled, watching as Gavin examined the gates. “Nothing. How did he get past the gates? There’s no other way in.”
“Told you he’s a fucking ghost,” Carl answered.
“What do you think, Gavin?” Rob asked.
Rising from his crouched position, Gavin flexed his legs to ease the cramps. “Ghost or man, let’s see if we can’t send him to hell.”
They returned to the car and resumed their trip deep into the cemetery.
Gavin’s thoughts turned to the history of the cemetery. Harvie’s Woods had been named after Colonel John Harvie and covered acres of ground, winding over hills and valleys. Some magazine had referred to it as America’s most beautiful garden cemetery. Gavin had always thought of it as the Garden of Angels. That was what he remembered from childhood. The haunted faces and sad eyes of the angel statutes that must forever stand in silent vigil.
Presidents John Tyler and James Monroe were buried here. His mother had always said its random, timeless beauty housed the eternal dreams of people’s lives, their loves, laughter, sorrows and hopes.
“Remember when Mom and Dad brought us here all the time?” Rob turned around in the seat facing Gavin. “Said they wanted us to know our history. Learn reverence for the past and hope for the future. We ran around reading the epitaphs for hours.”
Gavin laughed. “Yeah, you would read the epitaphs and then rush to the history books to find out who killed them and why.”
Rob grinned at him. “What about you? You couldn’t wait to uncover what the epitaphs didn’t say. Always looking for secrets.”
“Your parents were both history teachers weren’t they?” Carl asked, glancing at the two brothers.
“Yeah. Mom always said you could chart the future by knowing the past.” Rob’s face turned thoughtful, his eyes reflecting the sadness that thoughts of his parents still evoked even after eight years. “Ever wonder what would have happened, Gavin, if Mom and Dad had known you were a twin and adopted Cory, too?”
Gavin shook his head and laughed. “Hadn’t thought much about it. Of course the Larsons could also have adopted both of us. Then I wouldn’t have to spend all my time looking out for you.”
Rob grumbled something unintelligible.
Gavin continued to grin. “Esprit de l’escalier, little brother?”
Gavin ignored the comment, continuing his teasing. “Of course if the Walkers had adopted both of us, then Cory would be your sister. Not getting cold feet are you?”
“No way. Cory is everything I ever wanted in life. Which reminds me, don’t forget about tomorrow. Tux fittings for both of you.” Rob grinned at Carl.
“Shit, we really got to wear them money outfits?” Carl grimaced.
“We’d better, unless we want Cory to take off our heads.” Gavin laughed. “I have been thinking though, Rob. When you and Cory get married, that makes my brother my brother-in-law and my sister my sister-in-law. So, when you two have kids, what does that make me?”
“The babysitter.” Rob smirked.
“Not in this lifetime. I’ll be the favorite uncle. Distant uncle, that is,” Gavin stated.
“Hey, don’t forget about Uncle Carl. I’ve had to watch this sorry wimp sit around moon-eyed for a year now before she finally said yes. I gotta get something out of this.” Carl feigned his best pained look.
Gavin laughed. “Okay, you can be the favorite uncle. . .and babysitter.”
The laughter stopped abruptly as they arrived at the center of the cemetery, taking in the scene before them. Carl pulled over to the side, parking the car out of the way.
“Why here?” Rob wondered out loud.
Carl shrugged, but Gavin had been wondering the same thing. Was the killer sending some message to them? Disposal sites were often picked at random. Convenience played a key role. This site had taken some serious thought and planning.
“Looks like the Blue Boys have secured the perimeter,” Carl stated flatly.
“Don’t let them hear you call them that,” Rob cautioned as they exited the car. “Politically correct, it’s Boys in Blue, or better yet, Officers in Blue.”
“Shit, everybody calls them that,” Carl muttered.
The medical examiner looked up and shook his head as they approached. From all appearances the young girl could be calmly sleeping, her blonde curls brushed delicately to the side, head turned, hands positioned under her cheek. A picture of innocence nestled among the angels watching over her. Her clothing had been carefully arranged to protect her from prying eyes. Gavin knew what the medical examiner had found beneath the clothing. What had been found four times before.
“Morning , Rex. Was it here?” Rob asked.
Rex Bray nodded as he handed over the plastic bag containing a small pink gift card.
“Kept it under wraps until you guys got here.”
Rob nodded his thanks. Rex had worked the previous cases with them and knew to keep news about the cards quiet. They’d been lucky so far. Rex had managed to convince the other medical examiners of the importance of keeping the cards secret. All they needed was a worldwide panic every Mother’s Day.
“Who found the body?” Gavin asked.
Rex nodded his head toward the young officer standing about twenty feet away. “Talk to Officer Preston. I think he was the first one on the scene.”
Rob and Carl approached the young officer, flashed their badges, and introduced themselves.
“Rob Walker and Carl Jackson, FBI,” Carl stated. “This is Gavin McAllister. Who found the body?”
“Groundskeeper when he came in this morning. Said he thought maybe she’d gotten lost and just fell asleep on the ground. Didn’t realize she was dead until he got closer.”
Gavin breathed deeply, letting it out slowly, frustration causing the knot in his stomach to catch, twist. The more people who had walked over and around the scene, the harder it would be to find anything of significance. Not that the bastard had ever left anything of significance. Even the cards were generic, found in any department or drug store across America.
Carl nodded to Rob. “We’ll need to interview him.”
Officer Preston shook his head, glancing, and then averting his gaze from the small lifeless body.
“Be a little hard. Poor guy suffered a heart attack right after he called it in. I found him when I got here. He died on the way to the hospital.”
Gavin walked a short distance from the trio, studying the ground, searching the faces of the angels. The groundskeeper’s death would be put down as natural causes, but Gavin knew it wasn’t natural. It should be recorded as a homicide. The bastard had gotten two for the price of one. And they were still stuck with no clues. Literally, another dead end.
“Okay, you guys can leave. We’ll take over from here,” Carl stated.
Officer Preston nodded. Gavin knew the young officer was glad to turn this one over to someone else. Glad he wouldn’t have to be the one who had to look into the eyes of grieving parents and tell them that their child had been murdered.
“Let’s go to work,” Rob growled.
Gavin watched as Richmond’s finest exited the scene, and wondered, work on what? The cities had changed, but nothing else. Five long years, and not one clue other than those damn cards.
“Yeah, let’s go to work,” Carl muttered.
Gavin glanced at Carl’s slumped shoulders, realizing for the first time just how old Carl really was. He should have retired years ago. The once black springy hair was not totally white. The Bureau had tried to retire him to a desk ten years ago, but Carl had fought like hell. Chief Walsh had finally given in and paired him up with Rob. Gavin figured the chief thought Rob could take care of Carl if they got into trouble. It was the other way around. Carl had ended up taking care of both of them after their parents’ death.
Rex Bray had just finished packing up his equipment and was overseeing the loading of the body.
“Same as usual. Repeated lashings with some type of belt or paddle, genitals show signs of vicious rape. Death by suffocation. Can’t tell you more until the autopsy.” He shrugged, knowing there wouldn’t be much more to tell.
“Think anybody saw the card?” Rob fingered the package hidden in his jacket pocket.
“Don’t think so. It was under the body and I put it out of sight as soon as I arrived. You need to get this guy.”
“Yeah, we know,” Rob stated, pulling the package from his pocket.
Gavin noted the look on Rob’s face, and took the package from him. “I’ll read it.”
Rob simply nodded. Gavin knew that Rob and Cory wanted children. A case like this screwed with your head. Made you doubt your ability to protect your own child. He knew that Rob was thinking about that now.
Pulling on tight surgical gloves, Gavin took out the small card, grimacing as he read the message.
A gift for you.
Ah, sweet little one, the salt of your tears, the music of your screams brings joy to my ears. Every day is Mother’s Day.
Not quite the same. Gavin shivered as he ran his fingers over the words on the card. Every day is Mother’s Day.
The ringing of Rob’s cell phone broke the uneasy silence.
Gavin mentally shook himself, pulling away from the darkness of his thoughts. He stopped looking at the card to listen to the one-sided conversation.
“What’s up, Chief?”
Frustration and anger darkened Rob’s features.
“We just started here. Wait a damn minute. This is our case.”
Rob listened another second before slamming the cell phone shut.
“The chief wants us at the office. You too, Gavin.”
“What’s up?” Gavin asked.
“He wouldn’t say. He’s sending Johnny and Brad out to the scene.”
“Shit, they’re just novices. Not ready for this kind of scene.” Carl reached for a cigarette. “Damn,” he grunted, realizing he’d left them in the car.
“Yeah, well, tell it to the chief,” Rob snarled angrily as he strode toward the car.
Gavin felt as if he were wearing lead shoes, each step a slow painful process. The wind had picked up, and the rustling through the leaves whispered to him. Too late.


Sheriff Sarah Burns pulled off the road and parked near the site of Saturday night’s tragic accident. Unnatural deaths were rare in Glade Springs, and she couldn’t shake the feeling that she’s missed something. An image of Morgana Nelson clutching the body of her daughter, her heartbroken cry echoing through the morgue, flashed through Sarah’s mind.
Maybe it was only wishful thinking. The Nelsons were good people, and Johanna had been their only child. The accident made no sense. Johanna wasn’t the typical eighteen-year-old. She didn’t run off to Edgewood or Richmond after graduation, looking for a larger city, more excitement. She didn’t stay out late. She didn’t drive fast. She didn’t drink. So why had she been here, driving so fast she missed the curve? The toxicology reports weren’t in yet, but the body reeked with the smell of alcohol. The Nelsons had questions, needed answers.
Climbing out of the Explorer, Sarah walked toward the curve as she closed out the noises around her, traveling the path Johanna had driven. Emotions were strong here. She could feel the sadness—and the anger. Johanna was upset.
Sarah moved into the curve slowly, feeling the shift in the emotions surrounding her. Panic took over, quickly turning to fear. She retraced the path the car had taken as it skidded off the road into the huge oak tree.
Crouching near the point of impact, she placed her hand on the earth and closed her eyes. For a brief moment she felt physical pain and then all emotions ceased.
Sighing, Sarah stood up. She wasn’t sure what she had expected to find. Let it go, Sarah, she chided herself. Some questions have no answers.
Heaving another sign, Sarah started toward her vehicle. She was tired, looking forward to a quiet evening at home. Last night’s dream had upset her. All day she’d been haunted by the image of the dark brown eyes filled with pain, the heart-wrenching cry that had jerked her from an uneasy sleep. The whispered message that had kept her lying awake, trembling as she listened to the sounds of the night.
She hated the dreams. Hated the feeling of helplessness they created inside her as the dying reached out, sending messages to loved ones, or crying out for vengeance against their attacker. Only this time the dream had been different. This time the message was for Sarah.
Sarah shook herself mentally, pushing away the memories, the fear. It was just a dream. And this was just a horrible accident. Accidents happened—especially when teenagers drank. Her foot touched the passenger tire track imprinted in the soft earth near the tree. A feeling of panic clutched at her, growing stronger, making it hard to breathe.
“Jesus,” she muttered as she stepped away from the track, breathing deeply.
Kneeling, she touched the earth, holding her breath, as emotions flowed through her fingertips. Unlike the driver’s side, the panic here continued to escalate. There was no physical pain, no ceasing of emotion. This was what had been bugging her. The something missing. Johanna Nelson had died almost instantly, but she hadn’t died alone. Someone else had been in the car with her when she crashed into that tree.

The trip to Parham Road was a forty-five minute drive from the cemetery, but Carl seemed determined to make it in twenty. Gavin watched as Carl weaved in and out of traffic, cursing and blowing his horn. The old man’s hands were gripped tightly around the steering wheel. They were all feeling it. Ninety percent of all investigative work was instinct, and instinct told them something bad was wrong.
“God, I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” Rob stated, breaking the uneasy silence in the car.
Carl nodded. “Yeah, me too.”
Gavin remained silent. The knot in his stomach had returned, a burning, gnawing pain. His heart still ached with a loneliness that spread throughout his soul. Somehow he knew what waited for them would forever change their lives. Time had run out.
Jennifer Warner looked up as the three men entered the office. “You guys must have been moving,” she stated looking at her watch. Only twenty-five minutes had passed since she’d placed the call for the chief. “The chief wants. . .”
Rob brushed past her, heading for Chief Walsh’s office. “Yeah, we know what the chief wants.”
Not bothering to knock, Rob opened the door, ready to blast out his anger and frustration. One look at the chief’s face stopped him.
“Close the door and sit down, Rob. Carl. Gavin, it’s good to see you again.”
Gavin nodded, watching the chief fidget with paperwork on his desk as he waited for them to take their seats. Gavin remained standing. He studied Chief Walsh’s face. Walsh was a hard man, but a good man. His face revealed little, but the pale gray eyes held a look of compassion and sadness. Whatever he was about to say, it wasn’t good news.”
Chief Walsh sighed. “There’s no easy way to say this. The body of Corrine Larson was discovered in a dumpster outside her apartment this morning. She was murdered.”
Gavin heard his brother’s whispered word as he reached out, grabbing onto the chair to steady himself, struggling to breathe. He knew he should go to Rob, but his head felt light, as if a huge fist had slammed into his gut, knocking the breath from his body. Shock washed over him in waves.
“That’s not possible. She not even here. She’s off somewhere researching a story. It’s not her. We’re getting married next week.” Rob was rambling.
“It’s her, Rob. She’s already been identified by a co-worker at the paper. I’m sorry.” Chief Walsh avoided meeting Rob’s eyes.
Leaping up from the chair, Rob yelled at the chief. “It’s not her!”
“Where is she?” Carl asked the question quietly, his voice filled with reverence.
“County morgue.”
Carl nodded. He knew what had to be done. Rob had done the same thing for him five years ago when Sharon had been killed in an automobile crash. You had to see the body. It was the only way. Taking Rob’s arm Carl pulled him toward the door. “We’ll call you,” he stated, as he opened the door and pushed Rob through it.
Gavin stood silent as Carl pulled and pushed Rob through the door, not waiting for an answer, or for Gavin to follow. Carl knew Gavin would follow. After all, Gavin was the strong one. Right now, Rob needed Carl the most. Partners were often closer than brothers. They knew each other’s secrets, pains, hopes and dreams. Gavin knew them, too. He knew that Carl was wishing for a cigarette. And he knew Carl regretted not listening to his wife, taking early retirement and buying that fishing boat.

The trip to the morgue took less than ten minutes. Carl parked the car in front, ignoring the “No Parking” sign. The morgue was dreary on a good day. Today it was dark, malevolent.
“It’s not her, Carl.”
“You gotta do this kid. You gotta know.” Carl placed his hand on Rob’s shoulder.
Gavin felt as if his face had turned to stone. He wanted to say something, but no words would come. Instead he watched, his thoughts muddled, painful, as Carl offered Rob comfort. It should be me, he thought. I should be comforting him. A cold, steady reserve enveloped him. A numbness that seeped through his heart and mind. No, not me. This is my fault.
His legs felt stiff as he followed Carl and Rob. He retreated deeper into his mind, seeking the comfort of his alter ego, Jacody Ives. Jacody would know what to do. And he wouldn’t feel anything. Couldn’t afford to feel anything. Too many demons in his head. Too many losses in his life.
A sliver of pain sliced through Gavin’s heart as Carl pushed open the double doors. Too late, McAllister. You’re too late.
The attendant barely glanced up as he stated, “Viewing room is upstairs. Who do you want to see?”
Carl glared at him before flashing his badge. “No viewing room. We want to see Corrine Larson.”
The attendant looked at the badge, shrugged, and glanced down at the papers before him.
“Number eighteen.”
“She ain’t no goddamn number, buddy,” Carl growled.
The attendant started to make some flippant remark, but changed his mind as he looked into the murderous glint of Carl’s dark eyes. “Hey, it’s not personal.”
No one bothered to answer. This time it was personal. Too personal.
Gavin followed silently behind the others, still examining his feelings. Cory was his twin, the other half of his soul. Would he hurt worse if he’d known her longer? Fate had separated them as babies. The Larsons had adopted Cory only one day before the Walkers adopted him. For twenty-nine years he hadn’t known she existed. Only that something was missing from his life. Something vital. Now, she was gone, just as if she’d never been there.
The attendant had stopped in front of the drawer number 18. He reached for the handle and Carl stopped him.
“Get out.”
Rob stood frozen in front of the drawer. Inside lay his hopes, his dreams, his future. With trembling hands, he grasped the handle and pulled out the shelf. His eyes focused on the white sheet over the body, his hands shaking as he reached to pull it back.
“Want me to do it?” Carl moved closer.
Rob shook his head and took a deep breath. It wasn’t her. It was all a mistake. It couldn’t be her. Rob touched the sheet and slowly pulled it away from the body. Pain hit Gavin, a bolt of lightning, starting in his gut, forcing the air out of his body.
“Dear God…” Reaching out, Rob touched her hair and drew back his hand, looking at the traces of dried blood on his fingers. Her blood.
“Son-of-a-bitch.” Carl pulled him away from the body, holding him as Rob bent forward, retching. The smell of vomit filled the air.
Gavin forced himself to look at the body. It bore no resemblance to the pretty young woman he remembered. Gone was her laugh, her love of life. He didn’t feel the same shock as Rob. Somehow he’d known. He’d known since he woke up this morning that the dream was different. Laughter filled his head. You’re too late.
Gavin felt his jaw tighten. Everything seemed distant. He heard the sobs of his brother, smelled the vomit. Watched as Carl wiped the blood from Rob’s hand with his handkerchief. He welcomed the numbness that spread from his mind, through his body, settling around his heart. Turning to what remained of the other half of his soul, he whispered, “As God is my witness, Cory, I’ll find whoever did this. And may God have mercy on him, because I won’t.”
Gavin pulled the sheet up over the body. He wanted to say something. Needed to say something. For the first time in his life words failed him. He closed the drawer.
“Let’s go, kid. We can’t do anything else for her. We need to get Rob out of here.”
Gavin nodded, following Carl out of the building. He checked his watch. Five hours had passed since the early morning call. A lifetime. The warmth of the sun touched his face as his gaze drifted to the morning edition of the Herald. The headline branded its message inside his head.


Gavin sat nursing his third glass of brandy, as the apartment grew dark around him. In the past two days he’d grown to hate the light. Everywhere he looked he saw Cory. She was everywhere in the apartment—the drapes, the paintings on the wall, the furniture, the French cameo vase. He remembered her face the first time she’d come here, her words. Gavin Colin McAllister, this is a disaster. She’d immediately set about changing everything in the apartment. Her zest for beauty an inspiration, she’d turned the drab apartment into a home.
Gavin rose from the sofa, walked to the bar, and poured another glass of brandy. No matter how much he drank, he couldn’t get the headline out of his head. Just words. He was a writer, made his living with words. He knew the impact of words was in direct correlation to the motions of the reader. Words could be twisted, knives to open up wounds long hidden. Maneuvered to evoke buried nightmares. Bare the soul, expose the wound, and you had a best seller. Make them laugh. Make them cry. But above all, make them feel something. He was an expert at manipulating words for emotion.
But he’d seen the body.
He emptied the glass of brandy, welcoming the burn in his throat. The blinking red light on the answering machine was a constant reminder of his shame, his guilt. He should have erased the message. Instead, he tormented himself by playing it again.
Gavin, it’s Carl. Rob collapsed. I’m taking him to the hospital. I’ll call you.
Carl would call, but he wouldn’t answer. It was better this way. Better for all of them if he simply disappeared. The darkness followed him. And wherever the darkness was, death was close behind.
Gavin, you have to help them.
Cory was standing in the shadows of the living room. “Cory?” His mind registered what his heart refused to believe. Cory was dead. He closed his eyes, counted to ten and reopened them. She was still there, her beautiful ethereal form a light in the darkness.
Gavin, please protect her.
She drifted across the room, stopping in front of the stack of mail he’d tossed on the coffee table. She smiled at him, a small wistful smile that broke the ice around his heart. Tears began to flow down his face. “Cory?” He choked on the word, reaching for her. She drifted away from him.
Protect her Gavin. If she dies, my death will have no meaning.
Swallowing the lump in his throat, he wiped his eyes. “I don’t understand, Cory. Who?”
Her light shimmered, fading into the darkness.
Gavin stood motionless, his mind blurred by the brandy. He was drunk. That had to be it. Hallucinating.
How many hallucinations ask you to protect someone?
“Go away, Jacody.” Gavin groaned slumping on the sofa, head between his hands. He’d never cried before. Not even at the death of his parents. He felt strange inside, hollow.
She came here to tell you something.
“God, I need a drink.”
You can run, but there’s no place to hide, Gavin. We have to protect them.
“We?” Gavin laughed hollowly. “You’re a character in a book. There is no we.”
Now we’re getting somewhere. You have to protect them, or her. A mystery. Secrets.
Gavin curled his hands into fists. Raising his head, he focused on the red blinking light of the answering machine. Jacody had always been his voice of reason. The hero. Now, it was his turn. There was no story, no book rights. Cory was dead, and Rob needed him. And if Cory was right, somewhere out there, someone else needed him.
He picked up the stack of mail. The wedding invitation on top started a new wave of pain, but he tossed it aside, digging through the envelopes until he found the small postcard. He ran his fingers over the writing, closing his eyes. He allowed himself a moment of grief, feeling her love, her warmth wash over him. Trembling, he opened his eyes to read the card.

Gavin, I’ve found a great story. I’m worried though, because it
may have something to do with this case Rob is working on.
The Mother’s Day thing. I’ll call you tonight. Love, Cory.

He fought the rage that threatened to consume him. Fought the tenebrosity that pulled at his soul. Cory deserved better than that. She’d died to protect someone.
He examined the card, the old building burning its image in his mind. The Lodge, Glade Springs, West Virginia.
Cory’s words echoed in his mind. The Mother’s Day thing. What was it Rob had said? The son-of-a-bitch got personal. Hit us in our own backyard.
It wasn’t a story this time. This time it was personal. The demon of his nightmares had no name, but now he knew where to look for him. Glade Springs had secrets. And no one uncovered secrets better than Jacody Ives.

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