Veiled eyes, p.11
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       Veiled Eyes, p.11

           C.L. Bevill
 
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  When Anna took a step inside the cottage, she could also see that someone was sitting in the isolated chair as if he intended to set a fire against the impending chill of the evening. When she took another step inside, she could see that he was dead.

  It was Gautier, and someone had shot him in the back of the head.

  Chapter 11

  Wednesday, December 17th

  The superstitious one will never walk upon a grave. It’s said that it’s sinful in the day and terrible bad luck in the dark.

  Anna didn’t know what to do. Gautier Debou was dead. It was as if someone had approached him from behind and stood exactly where she was standing. Then the person had lifted his or her gun and shot him. She could see the spray of blood and brain material over the side of the fireplace now. Before it had blended into the growing pattern of shadows, and she hadn’t noticed it.

  She swallowed convulsively and couldn’t bring her shaking knees to move. Not some hunting accident was this. Gautier had been shot from inside his own home. He had turned his back on the individual with the gun and went to light a fire. Anna glanced around slowly as if she could fathom a reason for wanting to kill this man. There was a light switch by the door, and she reached for it with a quivering hand, quickly discovering that there was no electricity.

  Glancing around, she realized something else. No electricity and no phone. Going to have to go to some neighbor’s house to call the police. Anna trembled. She’d never seen someone dead before. In the light of day, Dan’s little Polaroids on his wall of horror in the sleeper were a drugged vision and didn’t quite seem real. But in Gautier’s case it was up close and final. The back half of his head is gone. Gone. GONE!

  Anna blinked. Had this happened because of her? Had someone killed Gautier because they didn’t want him to talk to me? Or was it more likely that someone who was described as a giant with crazy eyes would have enemies that have nothing to do with me?

  Jane is right. Bad luck follows me around like I was dragging it attached to my ankle with a chain. Anna couldn’t help the impulse she felt. She knew she couldn’t help this man. He might be my father. But she stepped forward and knelt at his side. She ignored the terrible wound above and took his wrist in her hand. Shocked by the warmth, she checked for a pulse. Can he possibly still be alive with that done to his head? Two fingers rested on the vein that would relay the beating of his heart. He wasn’t.

  Comprehension hit Anna like a power driver. He was warm because he had only died recently. Her head went up, and slowly her gaze circled the room. She eyed the dark shadows where someone could be standing, silently watching her. She had heard the shot. Only minutes before she had found his mailbox. Only minutes before she had stepped onto the porch. No one had passed her on the lane.

  Anna came to her feet and looked around her again. Darkness had come. In one of the remaining windows she could see deepening purple outside with the twinkling whiteness that was a single star come out to shine. She stepped back and tripped over a stack of newspapers on the floor. Scrambling to her feet, her state of frozen apprehension had been broken. She fled outside and found a world full of obscuring murk, concealing any kind of person that might have been waiting and watching for her.

  Has Dan Cullen escaped from jail? Is this his twisted method of revenge? Anna bit back the cry that almost escaped her lips. Her sense of reason told her the answer to that. Dan wouldn’t know that this man might have been her father. And if he had escaped, Sebastien and the rest would have surely told her. No, it was someone else.

  She let the door shut behind her and restrained herself when the hinges made their unholy wail once more. Stepping toward the gloomy lane that would take her out of this place and down the bluff, she braced herself for the longest walk she might ever have to take. In the clearing it seemed to her that she was as visible as a bright, shining beacon, while whoever had shot Gautier was well hidden in a wealth of night-clad darkness.

  Watching me. Waiting to see what I’m going to do. Wondering if they’ll have to kill me too. Anna took another step. I’m not afraid. I’m not afraid. I refuse to be afraid anymore. Just another step. One foot in front of another. I can do this.

  Then he was there again. No figment of her imagination. Clear in her mind, no dream, and no passing fancy of an exhausted state. His thought patterns were as strong as if he stood beside her talking into one of her ears. It was an urgent note, and she abruptly knew he could feel her fear, taste it like it was something caught uncomfortably in his craw. What’s wrong, Anna? What is it?

  Anna jerked her head around as if he were there. Who could she trust? The whistling man. Was he whistling in the dusk? Looking at her. Wondering if she needed to die as well?

  What the hell? Tell me what’s happened? I’ve never hurt you, Anna. I’d never harm you. It would be like stabbing myself with a machete if I did that. Can’t you understand I just want to…

  She had been inching forward, silently willing her feet to move increment by increment. The voice in her head was real. She didn’t even have to shut her eyes to hear it. But she didn’t know if she could trust herself, much less an anonymous articulation in her mind. There was a sudden noise in front of her, directly in her path of escape. A large shape moved through the lane, the blackened figure of someone in a hurry. It moved inexorably toward her, intent on its prize.

  Anna turned around and bolted. She didn’t know exactly how she’d done it, but the cottage slipped behind her, and she was suddenly on a well-used trail carved out of the impenetrable shrubbery of the forest above the lake. She didn’t stop to question why it was there or how it was that it was as smooth as a cement-lined sidewalk. She flew over its curves and listened to her breathing grow harsh with distress. Someone followed her through the forest.

  The trail twisted back and forth and Anna did not hesitate. She prayed her feet would hold true to the path. After long minutes, she thought she was making ground. The path began to lead downhill as if coming off the bluff where Gautier had called home. She thought she might surely run into some other residence. Even some little shack where protection might be meager at best, but there was nothing but an opaque barrier that prevented her from hiding in the shadows.

  She paused for a moment and cocked an ear. There was nothing there. No sound of another person’s heavy breathing, no animals moving in the night. There was nothing to tell her if she had been successful in eluding who was pursuing her. There was only the unremitting sound of her breaths laboring for oxygen. I should take up jogging. Apparently men are dying to chase me around.

  That’s not funny.

  Who asked you? Anna came back with the thought before she could bite it back.

  Where are you?

  In the woods. Dark. Deep. Miles to go before I stay alive.

  There was a silent note of derision. Can’t help you if you don’t let me. I liked it better when you were drugged. You were a lot more cooperative. Behind the acerbic words was a biting edge of worry.

  Reminding me of that particular event isn’t going to get you anywhere, Anna thought. I’m not afraid. I’m not afraid.

  You’re not afraid, the voice reassured. Why should you be afraid?

  Whistling man. Anna heard movement back along the trail. Someone had caught up to her. The hell I’m not afraid. She twirled and ran. Something seemed to throw itself into her path, and she tumbled to the ground.

  Instantly there was someone there, yanking her to her feet, insistently saying, “Are you hurt? What the hell is wrong with you?”

  Anna struggled with the man until he shifted his grip to her shoulders and shook her briefly. “Stop wiggling. I’m not going to hurt you.”

  Then she realized who it was. Gabriel stood there, holding her shoulders, gold eyes staring down into gold eyes. “I’m not hurt,” she said finally. The quiver in her voice was back, and she found it distasteful. “Someone was following me.”

  “That was me,” said Gabriel. His chest was rising and fal
ling rapidly with exertion. “Didn’t you hear me calling your name? You run like a deer.”

  “Gautier…” she stopped for a breath, and then started again, “Gautier is dead.”

  Gabriel was hooded in shadows, but she saw his mouth open wide. He turned his head in the direction of the cottage and seemed to silently regard it. Then he twisted back to her, adjusting his grip on her shoulders. “Why were you were running?”

  “He was still warm,” she said faintly. “He was still warm, and there was someone there, coming up the lane, chasing me. Was it you?” It occurred to her that Gabriel was wearing nothing more than jeans and a T-shirt. He didn’t have a weapon with which he could have shot Gautier, and there was no place on his person to hide it. He could have dropped it. Hidden it? But why do that?

  “I came up the bluff trail,” he jerked his head over his shoulder. “It intersects this trail just after you enter the forest. You ran right by it. But that’s understandable; it’s not as well-worn as this one.”

  “We need to call the police.” Anna couldn’t quite understand why Gabriel wasn’t alarmed. She had told him that Gautier was dead. Didn’t he understand?

  Even in the darkness she could see his gold eyes. They glowed in the night, almost as brightly as the fireflies that had begun to pop up around them. “The police? Pourquoi? I mean, why?”

  Anna broke loose of his grip and stepped back. With a small cry she realized what it was that she had tripped over in the first place. It was a gravestone. A large gravestone made of dark granite with a cross on top of it, all alone in the forest with a well-worn trail leading right to it. She shivered involuntarily, not wanting to think about what it meant, for some reason not daring to kneel closely enough to read the name carved there. “He was murdered,” she said softly. “Someone killed him.”

  A bat fluttered by them in search of fireflies and Gabriel stood frozen. Anna looked down at the gravestone and shuddered again. “That’s why you were afraid?” he asked gently. “You think someone killed Gautier?”

  Anna looked back up. Her mouth opened, but she couldn’t bring herself to say the words. She didn’t know if Gabriel had been close to Gautier, been a friend, fished with him, had him to his little cabin, but these people had already given her an indication of what it meant to be one of the family. Gautier might have been crazy but he was still La Famille. Like cement…

  “I think he was my father,” she whispered.

  Gabriel sighed. “Perhaps he had a heart attack, Anna. He must have died suddenly. No one…”

  “I heard the shotgun blast!” she shouted suddenly. “And most of his head is on the wall, so I’m damned well not mistaken about it! It didn’t fly off by itself.”

  Gabriel jerked backward as if he had suddenly been pulled. “I would have known,” he muttered. “It’s because it’s Gautier. C’est tout.” His head came up. “His body was warm, you heard a shotgun? You ran because you were afraid of someone else in the forest.” He suddenly made a decision. “It must have been quick. He must not have seen who it was. He wasn’t…afraid.”

  The words jumbled in her head. There were the other words there as well that interfered with the ones coming out of Gabriel’s mouth, words that rattled around compulsively in her brain. It’s the bloodline. Gautier didn’t have veiled eyes. He was of La Famille, but he didn’t have the gift. When he needed help, no one could hear him.

  Anna focused on one phrase. She’d heard it before from the twins. She repeated it, “Veiled eyes?”

  Gabriel was slowly looking around them, paying close attention to the depth of woods and the soft breeze that fiddled with Anna’s hair, pushing her bangs into her eyes. He sharply turned back to her. His voice became harsh. “You know. You don’t want to admit it. But you know. Veiled eyes are what the family calls the gift of second sight. You call it your little helper. You’ve had it for as long as you can remember. Sometimes you dream of being someone else, a man whose face you can never see. A man who waited for you.”

  One foot went behind her carefully. She bumped into the gravestone, not able to go any further, and made a distressed noise. She didn’t want to admit that Gabriel was right. The words seemed incomprehensible to her ears. “How do you…”

  Because I am he. The man you’ve dreamt of all your life. Viens avec moi, chère. Come with me. We can’t stay here anymore.

  * * *

  The parish sheriff’s department came after that, and Anna could see their flashing lights as Gabriel guided her out of the forest. The last vestiges of fear faded from her, and Gabriel sighed loudly.

  “How did they get here so quickly?” she said.

  Gabriel glanced at her. His eyes were visible in the lights that were rapidly filling the open patch of land that contained Gautier’s wretched little cottage. He looked at her, and his eyes rolled. “How can you be so dense, chère? Are you mentally deficient?”

  Anna yanked her arm out of his grip. “Hardly,” she snapped. “At least I have some manners. I don’t pretend to know everything there is about “the family.” And I’m not going to pretend that this so-called gift is something to be taken for granted.”

  Uniformed men were setting up lights in the yard. Gabriel looked at them. “I know you’re not…deficient,” he said, grating his teeth. “I will tell you what you need to know. And the first rule of the family is that outsiders don’t know about the gift.” He nodded toward the sheriff’s deputies. “Le shérif and his députés, they do not know. True, there has been family in law enforcement. But not now. Le shérif respects our community. He has worked with us in the past, but he doesn’t know about that. And you will not tell him.”

  “I don’t like to be told what or what not to do,” Anna snarled back. “You could have simply asked me. Emphasized its importance.”

  Please, Anna. It wasn’t his voice or his thoughts. But it was someone else, someone who had a soft lilt and a delicate frame of mind. Anna couldn’t help but look around her as if to see if someone else was standing there.

  Gabriel sighed loudly again. “Camille,” he said in answer to Anna’s unasked question. “She called le shérif.”

  “Can you people do that all the time?” Anna barked.

  “And you, if you want.”

  “To anyone in the family.”

  “You weren’t listening before,” Gabriel admonished her with annoyance in his tone. “Not all of us have the gift. Those with the strongest bloodlines are those with veiled eyes. Relatives and close loved ones are…blessed with the strongest connections.”

  Anna digested that. “Relatives?” she repeated. “And you say Gautier didn’t have it.”

  “Oui,” Gabriel’s voice became thoughtful. He abruptly realized that Anna had missed the point he’d been so clumsily trying to make and focused on something else prominent in her mind. He wanted to throw his hands up in the air in disgust, but suddenly she let something slip through her control. He read her as clearly as the sound of a church bell. “Ah, non. Your mother did not have the gift.”

  “I don’t like you knowing everything I’m thinking about,” Anna gritted.

  “Stay angry then,” Gabriel advised. “I cannot hear a damn thing when you’re angry. It’s an effective block to me.”

  “You were the one who found me,” she marveled abruptly. “It wasn’t any kind of hallucination. It was you. Asking me where I was, what the truck looked like. That night you saved my life.” She stared at him. He had turned away to look at the police vehicles and was steadfastly ignoring her. The line of his profile was mulishly stubborn as if he didn’t want to discuss that topic. “You were so angry. I told him that. And he thought I was delirious.”

  “Oui,” Gabriel whispered. “I was angry. I could have ripped his lungs from his body. That miserable son of a bitch.” His head turned slowly to look at her, but it wasn’t her face he concentrated on. It was the scabs and bruises that circled her wrists. “I’m sorry I couldn’t get there faster.”

  Anna’s
mouth opened. Nothing came out. But her thoughts said it all.

  Finally, she said, “And Gautier?”

  “Gautier has done things in the past. Drugs. Gambling in questionable games with questionable men. He has been in jail a half-dozen times for assault. Once he beat an outsider to within an inch of his life. There are men who would have cheerfully slit his throat for a carton of cigarettes. Trust me, this is coincidental.” He held out his hand. “I— we need you to not tell the police about our gifts. You can understand why this is so. After all, you’ve never shared your own abilities with anyone. Not even Jane.”

  Anna stared at his hand. There were things he wasn’t telling her. And she knew it was a lot more than he had already told her. Finally, she put her smaller hand in his much larger one. His warm fingers closed over hers. “I won’t tell them.”

  “I know,” he said. “I think I’ve always known.”

  Chapter 12

  Thursday, December 18th - Saturday, December 20th

  Some old women whisper that a child born with a caul will have veiled eyes or more commonly known as the gift of second sight.

  Within an hour, the parish coroner pronounced Gautier Debou’s death a homicide. Police officers littered the little clearing and most of them were grim-faced and taciturn to a point. Having already seen what they were seeing, Anna was not surprised.

  The sheriff questioned her intently about her presence on the bluff, asking her specifically about the shotgun blast she’d heard before she’d turned down the lane. “You say you heard something before you reached the cottage,” he reiterated.

  “It sounded like a gunshot to me. I’ve heard a few before. One of Camille’s twins said it was hunting season,” Anna answered, “and that if I stayed on the trail, I wouldn’t get accidentally shot. I thought it was a hunter. Don’t they hunt deer at dusk?”

 
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