I shivered at his foreboding tone. “How ominous-sounding. Well, you’ve certainly gone to a great deal of trouble to track me down, so I suppose you may as well tell me why.”
His gaze swept the darkness behind me and I had to resist the urge to glance over my shoulder. “The rain uncovered a body in one of the old graves at Oak Grove.”
It wasn’t unheard of for old bones to wash up over time, due to rotting coffins and eroding soil.
“Do you mean skeletal remains?” I asked with some delicacy.
“No, I mean fresh remains. A homicide victim,” he replied bluntly. His gaze lit on my face, studying me intently as if gauging my reaction.
A homicide. In the cemetery where I’d been working alone.
“That’s why you want my photographs. You’re hoping they’ll help pinpoint how long the body has been there,” I said.
“If we’re lucky.”
This I understood and was only too happy to cooperate. “I use a digital camera, but I print out most of my shots. I happen to have some enlargements in my briefcase, if you’d care to follow me back to my car.” I nodded in the direction from which we’d both come. “I can email you the rest of the images as soon as I get home.”
“Thanks. That would be helpful.”
I started walking and he fell into step beside me.
“One other thing,” he said.
“I’m sure I don’t have to school you on cemetery protocol, but there are certain precautions that have to be taken when dealing with an old graveyard like Oak Grove. We wouldn’t want to inadvertently desecrate a burial site. Dr. Ashby mentioned something about unmarked graves.”
“As you said, it’s an old cemetery. One of the sections is pre–Civil War. Over that much time, it’s not unusual for headstones to get moved or go missing altogether.”
“How do you locate the graves when that happens?”
“Any number of ways, depending on whether cost is a factor—radar, resistivity, conductivity, magnetometry. Remote sensing methods are preferred because they’re noninvasive. As is grave dousing.”
“Grave dousing. Is that anything like water witching?” His tone gave away his skepticism.
“Yes, same principle. A Y-shaped rod or sometimes a pendulum is used to divine the location of a grave. It’s been roundly debunked in scientific circles, but believe it or not, I’ve seen it work.”
“I’ll take your word for it.” He paused. “Dr. Ashby said you’d completed the preliminary mapping, so I assume you’ve already located the graves by one means or another.”
“Dr. Ashby is being optimistic. I have a lot more research to do before I’ll know where all the bodies are buried, so to speak.”
He didn’t crack a smile at my feeble pun. “But you must have a general idea.”
Something in his voice bothered me and I stopped walking to glance up at him. Earlier, I’d thought his dark good looks had an almost fallen angel quality, but now he appeared merely tough and persistent. “Why do I get the impression you’re not just asking for a copy of my map?”
“It would save us a lot of time and potentially some bad PR if we have an expert consultant on hand during the exhumation. We’ll pay you for your time, of course.”
“Since you’re dealing with an old grave, I suggest you contact the state archaeologist. Her name is Temple Lee. I used to work for her. You’ll be in good hands.”
“We’d be hard-pressed to get someone down here from Columbia tonight, and as I said, this can’t wait until morning. The minute that body was discovered, the clock started ticking. The sooner we get an ID, the greater our chances for a satisfactory resolution. Dr. Ashby seems to think your credentials will pacify the committee.”
“Local preservationists, members of the Historical Society, fat cat alumni. They’ve got enough clout to raise a real ruckus if we don’t handle this thing according to procedure. You know the cemetery and you know the rules. All you have to do is make sure we don’t step on any toes. So to speak.” This time, I did see a faint smile.
“And that’s it?”
“That’s it.” He glanced out over the water. “Once the fog lifts, we could get more rain. We need to get this thing done.”
This thing done.
What a portentous turn of phrase.
“As I said, we’ll pay you.”
“It’s not that.” I didn’t like the idea of going out to Oak Grove after dark, but I also didn’t see how I could refuse. Civic duty notwithstanding, Camille Ashby currently controlled my purse strings. It was in my best interests to keep her happy. “I’m hardly dressed for the occasion, but I suppose if you think I can be of some help…”
“I do. Let’s grab those photos and head on out there.” He took my elbow, as if to propel me forward before I could change my mind.
His touch was strangely magnetic. It both attracted and repelled me, and as I pulled away, I found myself dredging up my father’s third rule and silently repeating it like a mantra:
Keep your distance from those who are haunted.
Keep your distance from those who are haunted.
“I’d rather drive myself, if you don’t mind.”
He gave me a sidelong glance as we continued along the walkway. “Whatever you want. It’s your call.”
We fell silent as we walked back through the mist, the lights from the East Bay mansions softly illuminating the ghost child floating between us. I was careful not to touch her. Careful not to look down as I felt the chilly brush of her hand against my leg.
The woman trailed behind us. It was odd to me that the little girl seemed the more dominant of the two, and I wondered again about their relationship to Devlin.
How long had they haunted him? Did he have a clue they were there? Had he experienced cold spots, electrical surges, inexplicable noises in the middle of the night?
Did he realize that his energy was slowly being drained away?
The subtle radiation of his body heat would be irresistible to the ghosts. Even I wasn’t entirely immune.
As we stepped into the haze of a streetlamp, I stole another glance. The illumination seemed to repel the ghosts and as they drifted away, I caught a fleeting glimpse—a remnant, nothing more—of the vital man John Devlin had once been.
He cocked his head, as unmindful of my scrutiny as he was of the entities. I thought at first he was listening to the distant wail of the foghorn, but then I realized the sound that had captured his attention was closer. A car alarm.
“Where are you parked?” he asked.
“Over…there.” I pointed in the direction of the alarm.
We hurried across the damp parking lot and as we rounded a row of cars, I glanced anxiously down the line, spotting my silver SUV beneath a security light where I had left it. The back door was ajar and shattered glass sparkled on the wet pavement.
“That’s mine!” I started toward it.
He caught my arm. “Hold on…”
Several rows over, a car engine revved.
“Wait here!” he said. “And don’t touch anything.”
I tracked him as he wove through the glistening cars and only turned away when I’d lost sight of him and the sound of his footsteps faded. Then I walked over to the open back door of my vehicle and peered inside. Thankfully, I’d left my laptop and camera at home, and I had my phone and wallet on me. The only thing that seemed to be missing was my briefcase.
The sound of the engine grew louder and I glanced around just as a black car skidded around the corner. Headlights caught me in the face and for a split second, I froze. Then adrenaline shot through me and I dove between my vehicle and the next as the car sped by me.
Devlin appeared out of the mist just as I picked myself up off the pavement.
“You okay? Did he hit you?” He sounded anxious, but his dark eyes gleamed with the thrill of the hunt.
“No, I’m fine. Just a little shaken up—”
He sprinted away, cutting through the rows of parked cars in a futile effort to head off the culprit before he could get away. I heard the whine of the motor and the squeal of tires as the driver stomped the accelerator and swerved into the street.