Tainted Mind, страница 1
Copyright 2013 Tamsen Schultz
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Cover Design by Greg Simanson
Edited by Julie Molinari
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to similarly named places or to persons living or deceased is unintentional.
PRINT ISBN 978-1-62015-118-1
EPUB ISBN 978-1-62015-108-2
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Library of Congress Control Number: 2013935896
To Nav, even though you don't share my love
of white wine and country music
To the boys, because you inspire such a range
of emotions and give me lots to work with
MORE GREAT READS FROM BOOKTROPE
VIVIENNE DEMARCO GUIDED HER CAR onto the shoulder of the country road and peered out through the windshield into the black night. Her eyes skirted to the side windows as she tried to see something, anything. When that failed, she turned her gaze to the rearview mirror then let out a long, slow breath. There was nothing. Nothing but the darkness and the deafening sound of rain hammering her car.
It was a dark and stormy night, she thought to herself with a rueful sort of inevitability as she loosened her grip on the steering wheel. Here she was alone, in the dark, on a deserted road, and in the middle of a torrential spring downpour. Her life had become a series of clichés lately and tonight was no different. Like in a bad movie, she'd been felled by a simple flat tire.
She craned her head forward and looked up through the windshield again, debating whether or not to risk the pelting rain. She knew storms like this moved on as fast as they came in. And so, after listening to rain drops the size of New Hampshire lash at her car, Vivi put her faith in experience and opted to wait.
Still, as she sat listening to the metallic sound of her roof taking a beating, the cliché-ness of the situation—of the past year—did not escape her. She was just a woman who'd thrown herself into her job after a searing loss—a job that had propelled her to the brink and finally catalyzed a meltdown of epic proportions. A meltdown that drove her away from everything she knew in an effort to find herself again. Honestly, all Vivi needed now was the urban legend hitchhiker scratching his hook along her window. But at least the hitchhiker would make a good story. As it was, her life story was all so prosaic that, if it were a book, it would never make it past an agent's slush pile.
With a sigh, she pulled her mind from her uninspiring existence and glanced at her GPS. Judging by the tiny map, she wasn't all that far from her destination, a place she'd been hearing about for years from her aunt. Windsor, New York, was a small town in the Hudson Valley and, having been in her fair share of small towns, Vivi figured if she saw anyone on this night, he or she was more likely to stop and help than stop and slit her throat. But either way, the storm was letting up and she wasn't going to sit around and wait for help, or anything else, that may or may not come. She knew how to change her own tire.
But in the dark and wet, what should have taken her no more than twenty minutes took forty and, after tightening the last bolt, she needed to stand and stretch out the kinks in her back and shoulders. The now gentle rainfall had soaked her clothes, and water was running under her jacket's hood, down her neck, and onto her back. At least the job was done.
With the smell of wet earth hanging in the humidity, Vivi paused. Taking a deep breath of the heavy air, she inhaled the cleanliness of it, the purity of the scent. No pollution, no smells of the dead and decomposing. And knowing Windsor would have somewhere she could stay for the night, Vivi ignored how uncomfortable she was for a moment and savored the peace as a sense of calm settled over her.
But as if to object to her enjoying such a small luxury, an owl screeched in the night, jarring Vivi back to the here and now. Gathering her flashlight and tools, she tossed the jack into the car, wiped the grease from her hands with a wet rag, and shut the trunk. She turned toward the driver's door as a sound behind her, muffled by the dense air, caught her attention. Vivi stilled and cocked her head. It wasn't a car and it hadn't sounded like footsteps either.
There, she heard it again. Vivi frowned. Judging by the gentle thuds and cracks, it was nothing but a few rocks tumbling down the shoulder behind her. But there wasn't much wind to speak of now that the storm had reduced to a drizzle, nothing strong enough to move rocks around. Shining her flashlight onto the water-soaked road, she realized that it was possible the runoff from the storm was stronger than she thought and the rain had dumped enough water to loosen the soil under the asphalt. Or maybe there was something else causing the disruption.
This thought came out of nowhere and disturbed her more than the sound itself. Despite her experiences, despite her job, she was not one of those people who saw danger or evil everywhere she looked. And, more to the point, she didn't ever want to be one of them. So, forcing herself to come up with some alternate logic for her errant thought, she remembered her aunt telling her that bears were endemic to the area. Maybe one had come out for the night, dislodging the earth as it made its way into the field across the road?
Yes, bears—or maybe even a deer or a fox. That made more sense than anything else out here on this quiet road. That option gave her a small sense of relief until she realized that, while she might know how to change a tire, she knew nothing about bears. What did someone do when encountering a bear? Run? Stay still? Vivi's mind had just started spinning when she brought it to a purposeful halt. She was getting ahead of herself. She had no idea what, if anything, was out there. And so, with some trepidation, she made a half turn and swept her flashlight across the road. Nothing.
She glanced to her left. A forest of elm and birch trees lined the road. Even if she shined her flashlight in that direction, which she did, she wouldn't see more than a few feet into the dense woods, which she didn't. To her right, and steeper than she had originally thought, the side of the road dropped down about ten feet before leveling out onto a cornfield filled with stalks about a foot high. Curiosity got the better of her, and she moved a step away from her
She pointed her light along the line of corn at the edge of the field, looking for some sign an animal had disturbed the crops. After two passes, the only thing she saw were neat rows of baby stalks, their tops and leaves battered by the heavy rain. Vivi should have felt comforted by the lack of wildlife, but she didn't.
As she took another step away from her car, the night encompassed her. Steamy fog was rising from the road, casting eerie shadows that drifted in the weighty air and made the hairs on her neck stand up. She thought about getting in her car and driving away—she hadn't gathered up the courage a few weeks ago to take a much-needed leave of absence from all the violence of her work only to step right back into the thing she was trying to get away from.
But it wasn't in her makeup to let fear guide her response, so Vivi took a deep breath, moved away from her car toward where she thought the sound had originated, and stopped. Standing silent and still, she let the night become familiar. After a few moments of hearing nothing but cicadas and frogs, Vivi directed her beam down the edge of the road as far as the light would go. But the fog and shadows blended with the black of the night and the darkened roadway, so it was hard to see much of anything.
Rather than move farther along the road, she redirected the light down the side of the slope to the field's edge, the contrast of the lighter dirt making it easier, just a bit, to see any anomalies. Starting below where she stood, she swept an area in a straight line away from her as far as the beam would go. Then, shifting it up a foot or two, she brought it back toward her, searching the area in a grid-like way, looking for what might have made the noise.
Standing on the side of the road, wet and exposed, combing the area for something unknown, Vivi couldn't ignore the reality that, to her dismay, she had become one of those people—one of those people she never wanted to be. She no more expected to find a simple little rock slide than she expected to see Santa Claus. The pain and death and evil she worked with every day had filtered into her life and colored her experiences.
The irony of her situation did not escape her. Whatever was compelling her to stay and find answers on the side of this country road was the same thing that had gotten her here in the first place. She didn't like to let things go, and because she couldn't let things go, she had almost destroyed herself with her last case. She'd taken to the road to escape, to maybe find some balance. If she were to hazard a guess, though, she'd say that whatever balance she'd found in the past few weeks was about to be tipped.
And, as if to give weight to the direction of her thoughts, about fifteen feet away from her position and about halfway down the embankment, her light landed on a small collection of rocks. No, not rocks, pieces of road that had broken away from the winter-weakened, rain-pummeled lane and tumbled down to rest a few feet away.
Vivi kept her beam trained on the pile as she walked closer. Tracing a line up the embankment, she could see an approximately two-foot by one-foot section of the road cracked and starting to cave in, the edge beginning to break away.
As she contemplated the small sinkhole illuminated by her flashlight, a gust of wind picked up. Her wet jeans pressed against her legs, her ponytail lifted, and her skin broke out in bumps from the sudden chill. Another piece of the road cracked and tumbled down the slope.
And there, at that crumbling edge, barely visible in the dark and shadows, was the unmistakable form of a human hand.
VIVI MADE A GENTLE LEFT TURN onto Windsor's quiet Main Street where, according to her GPS, she would find the police station. She had thought about calling in what she'd found—about staying on the side of the road and dialing 911. But even if she'd had cell service—which she hadn't—she knew from experience how short staffed local law enforcement probably was in this small town, especially after a hard rain had slicked up roads and downed power lines. And besides, as glib as it sounded, what she had found was no emergency. A tragedy? Yes. An emergency? No.
From where she sat at the south end of town, Main Street looked so short it was hard to tell if she would find her destination in one block or three. Easing her foot off the accelerator, she slowed to a crawl. As she passed through town, Vivi took in the solid-looking brick, stone, and mortar buildings that lined the streets—buildings built long before the whimsies of the Victorian era by men and women who seemed to have had every intention of staying. She was used to seeing the old clapboard towns that littered New England, but this was different. The sturdiness of the place, the permanence, shouldn't have come as a surprise, but for some reason, it did.
And the fact that the shops she drove by looked well maintained led her to believe that, while this might be a small town, it wasn't as desperate a place as some other small towns. She passed a restaurant called Frank's Fed-Up-And-Fulfilled Café on the left, followed by a bakery and a used bookstore. After passing several more darkened shops, she saw the only two lively looking places—a movie theater and an ice cream shop. Judging by the times on the marquee, the movie was in progress. Vivi suspected the streets would fill with people in an hour or so when the movie let out, but as it was, the old fashioned sign, which Vivi noted carried the name of a recent movie, and the lights from the ice cream shop were the only signs of life she could see this time of night.
One more block down, she pulled through a wayward roundabout and up to the front of the police station. There was no question in her mind that she needed to stop and report what she had seen, but she wasn't looking forward to having the conversation. Mostly because she didn't have any answers. It was always harder when she didn't have answers.
Anchoring the north end of Main Street, the aging brick police station had white trim and was built in much the same style as the rest of the buildings she'd passed—functional and solid, if somewhat sagging around the edges.
She spared a thought for the charm of the village but didn't stop walking until she was at the entrance. Wanting to get the meeting over, she pushed the door only to have it refuse. She paused, thinking that couldn't be, and then tried again with the same result. The police station was closed.
Stepping back from her determination to unburden herself, Vivi took a closer look at her surroundings. Except for maybe one or two lights that looked more like safety lighting than anything else, the building looked quiet. The street was also empty of any police or sheriff cars. In fact, the street was empty of all cars except the few parked in front of the theater.
For a moment, she imagined calling 911 and hearing it ring inside the station, unanswered. But her snarky thought was mostly due to the fact that she was tired, cold, and wet. The reality was most small towns consolidated their switchboards after hours; if she called, she knew someone would answer.
Looking at her cell, she noted that she had service. But after a quick internal debate, she opted to try one more discreet way of locating the local police before dialing 911. If the police were out on calls that affected the safety of living people, she didn't want to take them away from that. And, while she was concerned with preserving evidence—any more road that caved in or fell away, or any car that drove over the sinkhole could compromise the remains—even in that she held little hope that the local law enforcement, or even a more sophisticated team, would find much after such a long a time—and it had been a long time. And so, she made her decision.
She'd passed a place called The Tavern before hitting Main Street; it wasn't hopping, but she remembered a few cars and trucks in the parking lot and light filtering out through the windows. Climbing into her car, she headed back south down Main Street. After pulling in next to a mud-splattered Jeep, Vivi gave a thought to her hair and wet clothes before giving up; there wasn't much she could do about them anyway.
As she entered, the handful of patrons turned to see who'd come i
“Can I help you?” the man asked, meeting her at the end of the bar furthest away from the other customers.
“I'm looking for the local police. I was just down at the police station and they appear to be closed.” She couldn't help the bit of wry cynicism that crept into her voice.
“Everything all right?” he asked, drying a glass.
“I would just like to the talk to the local law enforcement.”
He set the dry glass on the rack and studied her for a long moment, but she wasn't about to say more. “You can call 911,” he offered, picking up another glass and indicating the pay phone against the wall with a jerk of his head.
“I could but would rather not. It's urgent but not an emergency.” She didn't have to, but she pulled out two IDs and slid them across the bar. He glanced down at the items before tipping his head in acknowledgement.
“I'll call Ian for you,” he said, moving away and pulling out his cell. Two minutes later he came back. “He'll be here in fifteen minutes. In the meantime, you can hang your coat up there,” he pointed to an empty coat rack. “And can I get you something to drink? Coffee? A beer?”
“Thanks,” she responded, removing her damp coat. She had noticed the sign for The Tavern and Inn when she'd entered and hoped that it wasn't just an antique advertisement. “I'll take coffee for now and a room, if you have one? And a glass of whiskey would be nice once I've talked to…?”
“Ian MacAllister, Deputy Police Chief,” he supplied. “I'll bring you some coffee and make sure we have a room ready.” He was already moving away before he'd even finished the sentence.