My imagination and nerves being somewhat overly stimulated, I half expected to hear gunshots, but all was silent after the engine noise faded.
Devlin trotted toward me, phone pressed to his ear. He spoke rapidly, listened for a moment, then hung up. “Did you get a look at the driver?” he asked.
“No, sorry. It happened too fast. What about you?”
“Never got close enough. Couldn’t make out the tags, either.”
“Then you won’t be able to track him down, will you? And I’ll be stuck with all the damage.” I glanced forlornly at my broken window.
He gave me a strange look before turning toward my car. “Can you tell if anything is missing?”
“My briefcase is gone.”
“It was in the back?”
“In plain view?”
“Not exactly. It was behind the rear seat. You’d have to peer into the window to notice it.”
“Anyone see you put it in there?”
I thought about it for a minute, then shrugged. “It’s possible. I spent the afternoon at the university library, so I suppose someone could have seen me toss it in when I left.”
“You came straight here?”
“No. I went home to shower and change first.”
“Did you take your briefcase inside?”
“I left it in the car. I don’t always take it out at home. There’s nothing valuable in it. Just work-related stuff.”
“Like photos of Oak Grove Cemetery?”
I honestly hadn’t made that leap yet.
I suppose my real world instincts had been severely stunted by the solitude of my profession and avocation.
“You don’t think this could be connected to the body found in the cemetery, do you?”
He didn’t answer. “You say you have other copies of the photographs?”
“Of course. I always store my digital images online. I’ve had too many hard drive crashes to leave anything to chance.” Shock was starting to set in and my disquiet now had very little to do with John Devlin’s ghosts. I could no longer see them. It was as if the negative energy surrounding my car had chased them deeper into the shadows. Or maybe they were being pulled back behind the veil. Whatever the reason, I knew they would eventually return. His warmth would lure them back because they couldn’t exist for long without him.
I wrapped my arms around my middle and shivered. “What should I do?”
“We’ll get you a police report written up and you can file a claim with your insurance company.”
“No, I mean…if this is somehow connected to a homicide, then the killer knows who I am. And if he did this to get his hands on those pictures, he’ll figure out soon enough that I have copies.”
“Then we’d better find him first,” said John Devlin.
Twenty minutes later, Devlin and I walked through the gates at Oak Grove. Even under the best of conditions, the place had an unnerving effect. It was an old graveyard, dark, lush and gothic. The layout was typical of the nineteenth-century Rural Cemetery movement and at one time, it must have been lovely and pastoral. But now under a shrouded moon, the crumbling statuary took on a ghostly patina, and I imagined a lurking presence, something cold, dank and ancient.
I turned and peered through the darkness, searching for a diaphanous form in the fog, but there were no ghosts in Oak Grove Cemetery. Even the dead didn’t want to be here.
“Looking for someone?”
I kept my gaze averted from Devlin. The magnetism he radiated was palpable. It was odd, but I’d felt the pull even more strongly once we passed through the gates. “Excuse me?”
“You keep glancing over your shoulder. Are you looking for someone?”
“Ghosts,” I said, then waited for his reaction.
His demeanor gave nothing away as he reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a small blue tube. “Here.”
“What is it?”
“Eucalyptus vapor. I can’t promise it’ll ward off evil spirits, but it should help with the smell.”
I started to tell him that I had no intention of getting so close to the body that I would need to worry about masking the smell, but already I’d caught the trail of something fetid, a malodorous undertone to the earthy fragrances of the ferns and wild hyacinths that blanketed the nearby graves.
“Go on,” Devlin said. “Take it.”
I rubbed the waxy stick onto my finger, then smeared the balm across my upper lip. The medicated vapor burned my nostrils and tightened my throat. I put a hand to my chest and coughed. “Strong.”
“You’ll be glad of that in about two minutes.” He pocketed the tube without using it. “Ready?”
“Not really, but I suppose there’s no turning back, is there?”
“Don’t sound so fatalistic. Your part will be over soon enough.”
I was counting on that.
He turned without another word and I followed him into the maze of headstones and monuments. The stepping stones that marked the path were slippery with moss and lichen. I trudged along behind him, mindful of my footing. I wasn’t properly attired for the cemetery. Already my shoes were caked with mud and I felt the sting of tiny nettles nipping at my bare legs.
The rumble of voices grew louder and I could see flashlight beams moving along the pathways. The scene was eerie and surreal, reminding me of a time when bodies were buried by moonlight and the glow of the grave digger’s lantern.
Up ahead, a small crowd of men in uniforms and civvies had gathered around what I assumed was the unearthed victim. My view was mostly obscured, but I noted the silhouette of the headstone and scanned the surrounding monuments so that I would later be able to pinpoint the location of the grave on my map.
One of the cops shifted and suddenly I caught a glimpse of pale skin and milky eyes. A wave of nausea drenched me with sweat. I retreated down the path on shaky legs. It was one thing hearing about a murder; coming face-to-face with the gruesome aftermath was quite another.
I’d spent most of my life in cemeteries—my graveyard kingdoms. Each a calm, sheltered, self-contained world where the chaos of the city seemed anathema. Tonight, reality had stormed the gates, wreaking havoc.
Drawing in long breaths, I stood there wishing I’d never mentioned my dinner plans to Dr. Ashby because then Devlin wouldn’t have been able to find me. I wouldn’t have known about the murder. I wouldn’t have glanced into those frosted eyes.
But with or without Devlin, I’d been drawn into the violence the moment my briefcase was stolen. On the way here, I’d managed to convince myself the theft had been random. Someone had seen my briefcase through the back window and decided on impulse to take it. Now that I’d glimpsed the body, I feared the worst. If the killer felt threatened by something captured on one of those images, he could be acting purely out of instinct and self-preservation. What if he tried to break into my house to get at my camera and computer? To get at me?
Pulling my raincoat tightly around me, I watched as Devlin joined the circle around the body. Even in my current state of distress, I couldn’t help taking an interest in his interactions with his colleagues. He was shown respect, reverence even, but I also sensed an overall air of uneasiness. The other cops kept their distance, which intrigued me. But clearly Devlin was in charge and in his element, and I found it a fascinating dichotomy that he should seem so alive and vital in the presence of a violent death.
Or maybe it was because his ghosts hadn’t followed us through the gates.
I turned away, letting my gaze wander through the shadowy necropolis, lingering here and there over broken statuary and vandalized crypts. If most cemeteries offered solace and evoked hours of deep meditation and self-reflection, Oak Grove stirred dark thoughts.
My father had once told me that a place need not be haunted to be evil. I believed him because Papa knew things. Over the course of my childhood, he’d imparted much of that wisdom to me, but he’d also kept things from me. For my own good, I was certain, but those secrets drove a wedge between us where once there had been none. My first ghost sighting had changed us both. If Papa had withdrawn deeper into his own private world, he’d also become even more protective of me. He was my touchstone, my anchor, the one person who understood my isolation.