Crown of death, p.1
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       Crown of Death, p.1

           Keary Taylor
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Crown of Death


  Table of Contents

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Crown of Death

  Book One - Crown of Death Saga

  Keary Taylor

  Copyright © 2017 Keary Taylor

  All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the author.

  First Edition: December 2017

  The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

  Taylor, Keary, 1987-

  Crown of Death (Crown of Death) : a novel / by Keary Taylor. – 1st ed.

  Contents

  Also by Keary Taylor

  Connect with Keary

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Also by Keary Taylor

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  Connect with Keary

  About Keary

  Also by Keary Taylor

  THE HOUSE OF ROYALS SAGA

  THE FALL OF ANGELS TRILOGY

  THE EDEN TRILOGY

  THE McCAIN SAGA

  WHAT I DIDN’T SAY

  To view all of Keary’s books, click HERE.

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  Chapter 1

  Random muscle spasms can happen up to twelve hours after death.

  I should have remembered that. This is what I do for a living, after all.

  But I work on the body, in the basement of the funeral home, in the dark.

  So when something suddenly pops me in the side as I take the dead man’s socks off, a loud scream rips through my lips, echoing off the walls.

  I whip around to see recently-deceased Paul Saundusky has smacked me in the ribcage as his muscles contracted one final time.

  Skin and muscle tissue can continue to live for hours after death. And Mr. Paul has been dead for four of them.

  “That wasn’t nice, Mr. Paul,” I say as my heart rate slowly relaxes toward a healthy rate. I shake my head as I return to his other sock, removing it. “Scaring a poor girl like that, all alone at work. It’s late. You’re the one who went and died, calling me into work after hours. You didn’t have to be rude and go and freak me out, too.”

  I move on to his pants, slowly stripping the old man down.

  “I bet you loved a good scare, didn’t you?” I continue talking to the dead Mr. Paul over the sound of a new song playing from my speakers. “I bet you were always jumping out from around the corner at your poor wife. Or making ghostly sounds at your grandkids. You were a prankster, weren’t you?”

  Mr. Paul doesn’t answer. None of them ever do, despite me talking to them, asking about their lives, telling them about mine.

  They’re dead.

  Every one of them.

  But somehow I enjoy their company.

  “I know your type,” I say as I finish undressing him. I move on to bathing and disinfecting his body. “My mom’s dad was a little like you before he died. He was always teasing me and my little brother. He teased everyone. Especially girls, which let’s face it, he probably shouldn’t have been doing. He thought he was hilarious. Most of the time he was, but that man.” I shake my head, wiping Mr. Paul’s body down. “He could get a little sexist.”

  I bathe the dead man in water and chemicals. Killing off the germs that will only speed up the decomposing process.

  On and on I talk, asking him about his wife. His kids. His grandkids.

  I say he has five kids. Three girls, two boys. He only has four grandkids so far, because his youngest three kids are being stubborn about growing up and moving on with their lives.

  “I’m sure they’ll figure it out soon,” I say as I wheel Mr. Paul over to the refrigerator and transfer him. “The traditional route isn’t for all of us.”

  With a well wish goodnight, I slide Mr. Paul into the dark and close the door.

  I sigh, looking over at the clock on the wall.

  It’s eleven o’clock. I officially got off work at three today, only Emmanuel, my boss and owner of Sykes Funeral Home, called me and told me we had a pick up. He’d gotten the body here with my help, then left to go enjoy the night with his wife and two kids.

  Leaving me to start the grunt work.

  I guess I am his apprentice, after all. If anyone around here is supposed to be the dead body grunt, it’s me.

  I lock up and step out into the fresh, non-formaldehyde-scented world. The late-June Colorado air is still warm. I climb into my car, start the engine, and head in the direction of home.

  Greendale, a suburb outside of Denver, has been my home for the past two years. The community college was the only one in the area that had the program I wanted—Mortuary Science. I finished my associates just two months ago. I’ve been in apprenticeship at Sykes Funeral Home for a year, and have two more before I can take my licensing exam and strike out on my own.

  The night is fairly quiet already as I drive just a few blocks to my apartment building. It’s a run-down building, the kind where you don’t look your neighbor in the eye for more than two seconds, and definitely the kind where you don’t listen too hard to the conversations you hear through the too-thin walls.

  But it’s cheap, and the only two-bedroom place Amelia and I were able to afford.

  All that’s about to change, though.

  I lock my car as I head up the stairs to the upper floor. I’ve read all those advice articles, the ones on how to protect yourself against predators. I already had my keys out and ready, so I immediately unlock the door and walk in.

  The sounds of hissing, cooking food, and the fast-paced music of a dance party on the TV mix and assault my ears the moment I close the door behind me.

  “Hey guys,” I say with a surprised smile. “What, your TV not working?”

  Amelia grunts an affirmative noise, and doesn’t even look up at me, her gaze fixed on her movie. Her boyfriend, Tanner, has his arm around her. He absent-mindedly twists his finger around a lock of her hair.

  I won’t admit it out loud, but I’m happy to see them here. It’s been awfully quiet the last two months. Amelia was my roommate for a little over a year. But two months ago she moved in with Tanner.

  Now, it’s usually just me in this rundown apartment.

  My stomach immediately growls at the scent of food. I follow my nose toward the kitchen.<
br />
  “You smell like dead people,” Amelia says without looking away from the screen.

  “You know you want to grind up all on this,” I tease her, looking over my shoulder.

  A little smile creeps onto her face, but she doesn’t say anything.

  I round the dining room, and the kitchen opens up.

  Revealing Eli.

  Cornelius Rath, or Eli, as I have always called him, takes the garlic from the cutting board and dumps it in the frying pan. He only glances up at me once as he goes back to his work, moving on to a salad in a big bowl.

  “How was work?” he asks.

  I give a little sigh, feeling myself relax.

  Family. Someone I trust. Someone who’s always here for me. Just the sound of his voice makes me feel calm. It’s always so even. But, dark and wise.

  Eli is a medium-toned man, with curly black hair, and black eyes. A single piercing holds a gold hoop in his left ear. Black, always, always black clothing hugs his toned body.

  A single gold ring sits on the middle finger of his right hand, the crest of a raven set upon its surface.

  “Fine,” I say. “Pretty standard night. We’ll finish preparing the body tomorrow, once the family knows how they’d like to proceed from here.”

  Eli nods, going back to the chicken, which from the smell of it, is nearly done.

  My phone vibrates. Wondering who the hell is texting me this late, I reach into my back pocket and pull it out.

  The name across the top—Shylock—sends my heart into my throat.

  You haven’t paid the next installment yet. Bring it tomorrow, or that pretty little roommate might look a little different the next time you see her.

  Thud, thud, thud. My heart surges my blood through my body with hurricane strength.

  Shit. Shit, shit, shit.

  I’ll get it to you tomorrow, I text back.

  “What’s wrong?”

  My head whips up to find Eli studying me with narrowed, concerned eyes.

  “Nothing,” I lie, the word coming out a little too quick and panicked-sounding to be believable. “How was your day?” I squeeze into the kitchen behind him, washing my hands in the sink, even though I washed and disinfected them at work.

  “Uneventful,” he says as he continues his work, busying around the kitchen.

  Be cool, I tell myself. You’ve got the money. Amelia’s not going to get hurt.

  I nod, drying my hands off. I wander back over to the table, a dated, round thing we picked off a curb with a piece of cardboard taped to it with FREE written in black marker.

  I don’t really understand what Eli does for a living. Something with security companies. Something with computers. Something that’s during the day, a nine-to-five that must pay him fairly well.

  “What are we eating tonight?” I ask. I lean back in my chair, kicking my feet up on another. I watch Eli as he works.

  “Teriyaki chicken with a balsamic salad and jasmine rice,” he explains. “I was going to make this earlier, but when I got here, Amelia said you’d been called in late.”

  “Thanks for waiting,” I say.

  He only makes an affirmative grunt.

  I live in Greendale now, but I grew up in Cherico, the next town over, twenty minutes outside of Denver, my entire life. The same two-story brick house from the time I was a baby until I graduated high school two years ago.

  When I was a freshman, Eli Rath moved into the cute, little white house across the street and down three houses.

  To say he stood out was an understatement.

  It was a family neighborhood, with kids and boring housewives and overworked dads. Eli was young, single, with a little bit of a dangerous edge to him.

  But somehow he became a part of our family. He became friends with my parents. They’d stand out in the driveway talking for a long time, smiling and laughing politely. Soon he was invited over for family barbeques. Next it was Easter dinner, and by my senior year of high school, it was every holiday and most Sundays that he was in our house, like that was where he belonged.

  And then I graduated. I moved here to Greendale for school, even though it’s only thirty-five minutes from my parents’ house.

  Just a month into school, Eli had texted, telling me his office had moved here to Greendale, and he’d bought a new condo not too far from the school.

  My best friend, the man who had always been there for me, for my family, was now only a few blocks from me at all times.

  Over these past two years, he has always showed up once or twice a week with bags of food and an even smile on his lips. He’d cook for Amelia and me, and we’d spend the night chatting and laughing over dumb stories.

  Eli looks over at me and I give him a little smile.

  It’s hard to classify Eli. Protective as a father. Wise as a grandfather. Loyal as a brother.

  He’s always been there for me.

  I try to do the same. But I see it there. A little flicker of…something in his eyes.

  Something a little dark. Something a little sad.

  Something a little withdrawn.

  But I’ve known Eli long enough now to know he’ll never share whatever put that darkness in his eyes.

  Chapter 2

  “Hello?” I groggily say into my cell phone Friday morning. My eyes squinting against the bright light, I check the time. Five-freaking-twenty-one in the morning.

  “Logan, I need you down here now,” Emmanuel’s voice cuts through the phone with an edge to it. “We got an…interesting one down here.”

  I groan and roll over onto my stomach. “Can’t it wait until I’m supposed to come in at nine?”

  “They’re wanting to bury the poor woman tomorrow morning,” he says. “And this one is going to take some…serious work.”

  I moan again and roll into a sitting position. “Fine,” I say. “I’ll be there in twenty.”

  Emmanuel doesn’t even say anything else, just hangs up.

  Rubbing my palms against my eyes, I stagger from my bed, into the bathroom.

  Twenty-four minutes later, I unlock the doors and walk into the funeral home. Down the stairs I trudge, still hardly able to keep my eyes open. I hang my bag on the hook and pull on my lab coat.

  “You said it’d be twenty minutes,” Em growls as I push through the double doors. “That was five minutes ago.”

  “My alarm said it was supposed to be three hours from now,” I say as I pull on some gloves. “We can’t all get what we want.”

  I turn, and see the body that Emmanuel is trying to work on.

  I say trying, because the poor woman is resting on the table in two pieces, the rest of her in ribbons.

  “Holy hell,” I breathe as I walk over, taking her in.

  Her head has been torn from her body. It nearly looks like it was bitten off. The skin of her neck, though now gray and flat from loss of water, is torn and obviously ripped. The rest of her lies just below the head. She’s covered from head to toe in bruises and scratches.

  I see four indents and then long scratch marks. As if she were grabbed, tried to run, only the assailant didn’t let go.

  These marks are all over her body.

  Her fingernails are broken and ragged, torn off.

  “She fought hard,” I say, taking her hand and holding it, looking at how some of them are broken clean off.

  “Yes, she did,” Em agrees, pausing, looking at this poor woman. “Every bit of her shows signs of beating. Like whoever did this played with her first. Like a cat and its prey.”

  “Have the police caught who did this?” I ask.

  I’ve seen some pretty rough things down here in the basement of the mortuary. A lot of blood. Other bodily fluids. Gunshots. Rope burns around necks.

  But even my stomach turns at the sight of this woman.

  Emmanuel shakes his head. “Not yet. But the family is desperate to give her closure. To move on. Her body has been with the coroner for two weeks already. They just released it to me this
morning. Family wants to bury her tomorrow.”

  “Open casket?” I ask in horror.

  Emmanuel’s gray eyes slide over to mine, and his own face a little pale, nods.

  I let out a slow breath between my lips. I nod.

  And we get to work.

  Having to deal with Shylock and giving him most of my money was bad enough. And now this…

  The news is filled with all kinds of horrible things that lead to dead people. Explosions. War. Mass shootings.

  Sometimes you see pictures of bodies scattered about. Maybe all their parts aren’t still connected to them. Your stomach turns. You say a little prayer.

  Your life moves on.

  Those bodies move on, too.

  To people like Emmanuel and myself.

  We do the best we can to put them back together. To make them look like they once did. So that those loved ones still here in this life can move on.

  One square inch of her at a time, we move. Stitching up. Using wax to close over parts of her that cannot be pieced together. We use tubes of makeup. Carefully, so carefully not to pull any of it out, because it’s been so much time, we brush her hair and carefully arrange it.

  We return her head atop her shoulders. For hours we work on making it look like there aren’t huge chunks of flesh missing. We cover it all up.

  “Who would do this?” I say in a whisper. Half to Emmanuel. Half to this woman. As if she could answer me and tell me the horrific truths of what she saw in her final moments.

  “A monster, that’s who,” Emmanuel says as he gently dresses her in the clothing the family provided.

 
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