I nodded. “She gave me one when we signed the contracts.”
“You haven’t loaned that key out to anyone in the past few days, have you? It hasn’t gone missing or anything like that.”
“No, of course not.” I stared up at him in alarm. “You’re not suggesting that the killer used my key to get in, are you?”
“I’m merely asking you the same questions I asked Camille Ashby. It doesn’t appear the lock was tampered with, so the logical conclusion is that the killer used a key.”
“Maybe he didn’t come through the gate. He could have climbed over the fence like those kids.”
Devlin glanced around. “Those walls are ten, maybe twelve feet high and overgrown with vines and briars. It would be one thing to climb over with a bottle of Jack or a six-pack. Dragging a body over…not so easy.”
“He could have had help.”
“Let’s hope he didn’t,” he said, something dark and chilling running beneath his words.
I wondered what was going through his head at that moment. He struck me as a very thorough man, one so meticulous and driven he would leave no stone unturned until he found his answers.
Which brought me back to his ghosts…
Were they bound here because of him?
In spite of what my father had told me about the parasitic nature of spirits, I’d come to the conclusion that some did linger because of unfinished business, be it theirs or the unwitting host’s. This made them no less dangerous to someone like me. On the contrary, those entities worried me the most because they were often desperate and confused and sometimes very, very angry.
We fell silent and the night grew still. The mist muted the voices of the police personnel as they went about their grim business.
I started to ask Devlin how much longer he would need me, but another officer came up just then and he turned to speak to him in low enough tones that I couldn’t hear. I didn’t want them to think that I was trying to eavesdrop, so I moved away and went back to my silent lurking.
No one paid me any attention, and after a while, I decided I could probably just leave and no one would notice. The idea tempted me greatly. I wanted nothing more than to be home, safe and sound, in my own private sanctuary, but I resisted the urge. I couldn’t just leave after giving Devlin my word. I was a Southern girl raised by a Southern mother. Duty and obligation were as deeply ingrained into my psyche as the need to please.
As Papa had, my mother had instilled in me a certain set of rules by which she expected me to live my life. The more superficial edicts I’d long since discarded—I no longer ironed my bed linens and I didn’t always use a tablecloth when I dined alone. But going back on my word…now that was something I would do only under pain of death.
The hair at the back of my neck prickled a warning as the air around me stirred. I knew Devlin had come up behind me again, and I turned before he could touch me.
“The coroner’s finished,” he said. “They’ll be moving the body soon. After that, you can take off. We won’t be able to do much out here until daylight.”
“I’ll let you know where to send your invoice.”
“I’m not worried about that.”
“Why not? You earned it tonight. Just one thing, though. When word of this gets out, reporters are going to hammer the university for a statement. If your name is mentioned as a consultant, they’ll likely want to get something from you on the record. I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t release any information without first clearing it with me.”
I had no intention of talking to the press about the grisly discovery in Oak Grove Cemetery. All I wanted to do was go home, crawl into bed and put this night behind me.
But a tidy ending was not meant to be. Everything in my world was about to change forever.
Including my father’s rules.
My house on Rutledge Avenue was pure Charleston—a narrow, two-story clapboard with upper and lower verandas and a front garden surrounded by a wrought-iron fence.
More important to me, it was one of those places my father had long ago taught me to seek out. There were no ghosts in this house. It was a sanctuary, a safe haven, the ground beneath hallowed, but I had no idea why. In the six months I’d lived here, I hadn’t been able to dig up much of its history, only that the house had been built in 1950 after the original structure had been torn down.
Sometime in the 1990s, the owner had installed central heating and air-conditioning and divided the house into two apartments. Both units had access to a low-ceilinged, dirt-floor basement with brick walls and crumbling mortar—the only part of the original structure that remained—and a quaint backyard garden that smelled like heaven in the late afternoon when the Queen of the Night on the east side of the house started to bloom.
A medical student named Macon Dawes rented the upper level. I didn’t know much about Macon. Our paths rarely crossed. He worked a crazy schedule at the hospital and I often heard him coming and going at odd hours.
As I arrived home, I hoped to see a light in one of his windows and his old Civic parked in its usual spot. We were barely on a first-name basis, but tonight of all nights, I would have welcomed his presence. I didn’t relish entering an empty house alone, even one protected from the other world. Ghosts couldn’t penetrate the walls, but there was nothing to prevent a desperate killer from breaking a window or picking a lock to gain entrance.
But the house was dark and silent, the driveway empty. Palmetto fronds hung heavy and still over the fence as I approached the side gate, door key clutched in my hand. As I stepped through into the garden, a police cruiser pulled to the curb in front of the house and a uniformed officer got out. I didn’t allow myself to panic. In fact, I was relieved to see him.
He came through the front gate and we met at the bottom of the porch steps.
“Miss Gray? Amelia Gray?”
He nodded politely and touched his brim. “Evening, ma’am.” He spoke with a thick, country drawl that left me wondering briefly about his background. He was tall, thirtyish and attractive, from what I could see in the dark, but I barely noted his appearance. I was far more interested in whatever new discovery or revelation had brought him to my doorstep.
“Is anything wrong?” I asked, bracing myself.
“No, ma’am. John Devlin asked me to keep an eye on your place tonight.”
The use of Devlin’s whole name gave it a subtle formality, and I was reminded of the way the other cops had seemed so uneasy around him at the cemetery. What were they afraid of? Or perhaps more aptly…why did Devlin make me so edgy?
The officer’s gaze swept over me with more than a passing interest. Whether his curiosity had been triggered by Devlin’s request or my own bedraggled appearance, I could only guess. He hauled out his wallet and flashed his ID. After the evening’s events, I was annoyed with myself that I hadn’t thought to ask for it straightaway.
“I understand you had some trouble earlier,” he said.
“Someone broke into my car and stole my briefcase.” I nodded toward my parked vehicle, even though the shattered back window wasn’t visible from where we stood.
“Rash of that lately. Punks looking for something to hock and nobody ever sees squat.” He gave me another long look. “Reckon it could be connected to that cemetery business, though.”
He seemed to expect an answer so I shrugged. “I hope not.”
“Best keep your eyes peeled, just in case. I’ll do drive-bys for the rest of my watch.” He fished a card from his pocket and handed it to me. “My number’s right there on the back. You see or hear anything out of the ordinary, don’t be afraid to holler.”
I took the card and thanked him before climbing the steps to my porch. Once inside, I flipped the dead bolt, turned on a light and glanced out the window. The officer had climbed back into his car, but he didn’t pull away from the curb. The interior light was on and I could see a cell phone pressed to his ear. I wondered if he was reporting back to Devlin, wondered why the notion of that both relieved and bothered me.