Raising Innocence(Rylee Adamson #3)(16) by Shannon Mayer
The station was quiet, with only a few officers at their desks when we got there. I weaved my way through the main room to the desk I’d been assigned the day before and sat down. Alex whimpered at my feet.
Pointing to his belly he whispered, “Alex really, really hungry. Going to die!”
On cue, his stomach let out a rolling grumble.
“You have to wait for Will.”
Throwing himself to his belly, his limbs splayed out as if he were a trophy rug, he said, “Stupid late kitty.”
Laughing to myself, I pulled the files out and started to go through them, my eyes taking everything in, my head listening to O’Shea’s voice.
Check again. Something small, something only you would notice. That’s what you’re looking for.
I was halfway through my next go round with the files when Will showed up, fast food in hand.
Alex shot up to stand on his back feet, making gimme gestures with his claws. Will tossed him a bag and the werewolf dropped down, chowing the greasy food with gusto.
“And you didn’t call me because . . .?” Will handed me a can of orange juice and a bagel with cream cheese.
Spreading the cream cheese in a thick layer, I took a bite of the bagel, speaking around the mouthful. “Figured you would be at work. Thanks for breakfast.”
Will smiled. “You’re welcome. Now, what can I do to help?”
I handed him the half of the files I’d gone through twice already. “Read, find similarities, or do whatever it is that cops do to break cases.”
He took the files and we got down to work. Boring, pointless, ridiculous work that made me want to scream in frustration. I Tracked Berget while I worked, felt her emotions skim along mine. She was happy, healthy, her threads were strong and vibrant. How would our reunion be? Would she be happy then? Or was she happy in her life as it was? The fear that perhaps she might not want to come back with me hit me between the eyes like an unexpected hammer blow. A possibility I hadn’t considered until that moment. I mean, it’s not like I’d be taking her back to a happy family unit. Our world had been destroyed when she’d gone missing . . . there was a very good chance she had a better life where she was than if she came back with me. Fuck it all to hell.
Jerking to my feet, I gripped the edge of the desk, the room seeming to sway as I struggled to get in a good breath. “I’ve got to go for a walk, get some fresh air,” I said, not liking the way my voice sounded.
Breathy and out of control, clamping down on my emotions, I motioned for Alex to stay behind. Will could look after him for a few minutes; I needed to be alone.
Head down, I burst out onto the sidewalk, gulping the cool air, the now sleeting half-rain, half-snow coursing down my cheeks. The moisture quickly turned from just wet to miniature ice crystals that stabbed at me. My steps were silent on the wet pavement as I walked, my brain rushing around the idea that Berget might be happier without me, without her family. Why did that have to hit me now? Shit, this was not the time to be freaking out.
“Come on, Rylee, pull it together,” I said softly. I stepped onto a grassy embankment, working my way to a long stone and wrought iron fence. Finding handholds, I climbed over, and dropped on the other side without a sound. Blinking, I wiped rain from my eyes and took a sharp breath.
The cemetery was old, as in older than anything I’d ever been in before. In the far distance I could see a church, the bell tolling the hour, and closer was a caretaker’s hut. Picking my way around the graves, the scent of mold and death greeted me, curled around my senses and brought the smell seeping from my memories.
It smelled just like the boiler room, exactly like what the supernatural left behind after snatching Johnny. There was a short list of supernaturals who frequented graveyards and only one I knew of strong enough to make children disappear as they were. And no, it wasn’t a vampire. Contrary to popular fiction, vampires aren’t much into graveyards and coffins.
The problem was, even I didn’t know much about this particular supernatural I was suspecting, so if I was right, I was going to be in for some surprises.
Breaking into a jog, I was at the caretaker’s hut in no time, banging on the door. Suspicions were all I had, but if I was right, I at least knew what we were dealing with when it came to the kidnapper. Or at least it was a start.
“Hello? Anyone home?” I banged my fist on the door again, rattling the thin wood on its hinges.
A muffled voice shouted out at me. “Bloody hell, give me a minute to get me pants on!”
I stepped back as the door opened, an older man with long grey hair and squinting eyes peeking out at me.
“What you want? A burial?” He shooed at me with his hands, “Go to the church, they do the arranging of burials for you. I just dig the hole.”
He started to close the door and I put my hand on it, stopping him. “No, I’d like to ask you a question. Do you get many grave robbers here?”
His eyebrows shot into his hairline and I thought perhaps I’d been wrong. Staring at me, he shook his head. Damn it, I’d thought I’d been on to something. Looked like I was back to square one.
I turned to walk away when his voice stopped me.
“How did you know?”
I spun around. “Know what?”
“About the graves that have been disturbed. Robbed isn’t quite the right word for what happened here.”
“Will you tell me about them, the disturbances?” Fingers crossed, this could be the break I needed.
He beckoned me in. “No one would take me seriously, just brushed me off like I was a crazy old coot.”
I followed him into his hut, the heat from an antique pot belly stove taking the chill out of the air.
“I’m the caretaker here. Name’s Harold. Have a seat.” He pointed to a solidly built chair.
l lowered myself into it. “I’m Rylee.”
“Good name. Warrior name, I think,” he mumbled as he bent and rifled through a box next to the stove. “Was going to burn these papers, just never got around to it.”
With an almost casual toss, he flopped a stack of papers onto the table in front of me.
Each paper contained a number, name and date, along with pictures in many cases. There were over a hundred sheets.
Harold pointed at the paper on top. “That number there designates the grave, the name of the deceased and the date the grave was disturbed.”
“Why do you have all these? I mean, I understand you’re the caretaker, but this is . . . .” I looked at the stack of pages, knowing without counting that there were a lot. More than just keeping records. “Extremely detailed.”
Giving me a smile, he looked over my shoulder, as if seeing things that weren’t really there. “My pa was a details kind of man. Taught me the importance of keeping things until they were no longer needed. If you’d been a day or so later, might be that all these would be gone.”
I flipped through the pages quickly, staring at the few pictures that Harold had pinned to the pages. Each grave looked not as if it had been dug up, but more like it had been dug out. Like whatever had been in the grave had clawed its way to the surface.
Gripping the paper, a shot of excitement zipped through me. “Can you show me some of these graves?”
Harold bobbed his head, and then grabbed his coat. “But you know, they stopped—all the grave robberies stopped. Haven’t had one in, oh, about—”
I finished it for him. “The last two years?”
Blinking his squinty eyes of indiscriminate colour up at me, he smiled. “Yup, that’s right on the mark. You a bobby?”
Staring at him blankly seemed to get my point across that I had no idea what he was talking about. He cleared his throat and clarified. “A police officer?”
“Private investigator,” I answered without hesitation.
“Ah, I see. Makes sense, the police, they’re too busy to be bothered with grave robberies. Too busy by far.”
He grabbed two umbrellas and handed me one. But the weather wasn’t bothering me anymore. Shit, this was why O’Shea liked to ask questions. Because when the puzzle pieces came together it was a freaking high like no other!
We made our way around the graveyard, Harold pointing out the graves that had been disturbed. All of them were children, all under five years old, with the exception of one—the oldest grave.
From close to a hundred years ago, the kid was the oldest of the group as well. Twelve years old, a girl, and—I bent to read the tombstone better—she died of the wasting disease.
Brittany Mariana Tolvay. Nothing else but her name and the dates. No, that wasn’t true. I bent down and brushed the grass back from the base, the words faded with age and weather, but I could read them still.
Beloved daughter. Cleansed by fire in the hands of God. Gone for but a moment.
“This one was dug out?” I pointed at it, not sure if what I was seeing fit or not.
Harold stepped forward. “That one there is strange, the only one where it looked like a proper grave robbing. Someone trying to get in.”
But if the kid’s body had been burned, there wouldn’t have been anything left to steal. This was the only one that didn’t fit with the others. This was the starting point.
I shook myself. No, what I was seeing confirmed my suspicions. I had some proof, and I was ready to rumble. The a**hole stealing kids from their deathbeds was about to get a nasty surprise on his doorstep.
I saw Harold back to his hut, thanked him for his help and turned to go, papers tucked inside my jacket; but something pulled at me, like string tied around my waist, I felt it vibrate under my skin.
Standing quietly, I let my senses guide me. Someone was throwing around a lot of power, so much so that even my miniscule abilities with detection were picking it up. The church bells tolled and I frowned. The time was wrong for the bells to be tolling. Hell, it was twenty-two minutes passed the hour, not even close. And churches were, if nothing else, particular about their rituals.
Setting out once more in a brisk walk, I made my way to the church, feeling the power of whoever it was grow the closer I got. Like a wash of home I felt the hum of magic and knew it was a witch battling it out in the church. For one brief second, I wondered if it was Milly. But no, whoever this was throwing power around was stronger even than Milly; besides Milly was an ocean away, it wouldn’t be her.