City of the lost part fi.., p.1
City of the Lost: Part Five, p.1Part #5 of City of the Lost series by Kelley Armstrong
PUBLISHED BY RANDOM HOUSE CANADA Copyright (c) 2015 K.L.A. Fricke Inc.
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Armstrong, Kelley, author
City of the lost : part five / Kelley Armstrong.
eBook ISBN 978-0-34581619-1
Cover design by Terri Nimmo
Image credits: Foxes (c) Airin.dizain / Shutterstock
About the Author
Previously, in City of the Lost ...
Casey finds local resident Jerry Hastings crudely disemboweled and left for dead. The killer has struck again.
Diana breaks her silence with Casey. But Diana doesn't want to reconcile--she wants help. Isabel, the owner of the local brothel, thinks Diana is "freelancing," but Diana maintains it's all a lie. Casey is not so sure.
While cave exploring, Casey learns that unlike everyone else in town, the brooding sheriff, Eric Dalton, is a Rockton native. Casey is then reminded that everyone in Rockton has a dark past, even the handsome deputy, Will Anders.
This lesson hits home when she finds another dismembered limb--that of innocent, carefree Abbygail Kemp. Dr. Beth Lowry, Abbygail's mentor, is especially shocked, and clings to Eric for support.
To escape Beth, Casey and Eric go to Dawson City to conduct research. They determine that the killer cannot simply be targeting residents who've committed violent crimes. Instead, the killer must be murdering for sport.
Before they fly home, Eric takes Casey for a bonfire at a lookout over Dawson City. Casey begins to see Eric--the unflappable sheriff, the compassionate naturalist, the coffee-shop intellectual--in a new, tender light.
The next day, Casey receives a hot tip: Before Abbygail disappeared, Abbygail and Eric were seen kissing--then fighting. Everything changes. Could Eric be the murderer, acting on a twisted impulse to protect Rockton?
I need to talk to someone who isn't a fan of Dalton. Perhaps "fan" is the wrong word. He definitely has them. But there are plenty of people in Rockton who support him, and even most who are divided on the issue will grudgingly admit he's a good sheriff. The only people I've heard openly say otherwise are Hastings, Diana, Jen, and Val.
I only have to say nine words when Val cracks open her door: I need to speak to you about Sheriff Dalton. She ushers me in with, "Five minutes, detective. I have things to do."
Her home ... No, again that's the wrong word. This is not a home. The living room looks exactly like mine did when I moved in. While decor isn't a priority in Rockton, people still need to feather their nests. Petra's secondary source of income is sketching and selling wall art. Others knit blankets, quilt pillows, and make crafts from whatever else they find on the forest's edge.
The only thing Val has added to her room is a shelf of writing journals. One book is open upside down on the end table, with a pen beside it.
She doesn't offer me a drink. Doesn't even offer me a seat. I still lower myself to the sofa. She seems inclined to stay standing but then, with obvious reluctance, perches on the armchair.
"You don't have a high opinion of Sheriff Dalton," I say.
"I have an adequate opinion of his ability to function in his position."
A twist of her lips, as if she's holding back a sneer. "No, nothing more."
"May I ask why that is?" I say, then quickly add, "I'm not here to challenge your opinion. But as I investigate, I need to consider all possibilities, and you seem to be one of the few people who might balance the prevailing view of Sheriff Dalton."
"One of the few willing to badmouth him, you mean. If you're considering him for these crimes, detective, I'm inclined to say don't bother. Not because he isn't capable of murder. He is. But he isn't capable of such careful crimes. Dalton is a blunt instrument. He's unsophisticated. He's uneducated. He's barely literate."
"Based on his written reports?" I hold back a note of incredulity.
"His reports are verbal. I doubt he's capable of writing them down."
"Besides feeling as if Dalton is undereducated--"
"Ignorant, Detective Butler. He is ignorant. A lack of education combined with an innate lack of intelligence. Have you heard his language? I'm sure you know that profanity and ignorance rise in direct proportion, and I've rarely heard it rise as high as Sheriff Dalton's. I don't think he even knows a word over two syllables."
I bite my tongue.
"Eric Dalton is a walking stereotype," she continues, "and he's too ignorant to even realize it. You've seen him sauntering down the street like the tin star in a spaghetti western. He has no desire to change, to better his life. He reminds me of the boys who used to ride past my grandparents' farm. Hooting and hollering at me from their rusted pickups, throwing beer cans out the window."
I open my mouth, but she's on a roll, her face animated.
"I told my grandparents they made me nervous, and do you know what they said? Come down off my high horse and get to know them better. I decided maybe they were right. So the next time those boys catcalled and offered me a ride home, I said yes. They drove me to the woods for a 'party' instead. Laughed when I insisted they take me home. Mocked my diction and told me to stop being so stuck-up and have some fun. I calmed down and pretended to go along with it. Then, the first chance I got, I ran. I told my grandparents, and they said I'd misinterpreted. Because, apparently, kidnapping me was just those boys' way of being neighbourly. That taught me all I need to know about men like Eric Dalton. And about how other people admire them and make allowances for them."
"Has Er--Dalton ever done anything like that?"
"To me?" She laughs. "I'm not exactly a teenager anymore."
"So that's his preference? Young women?"
She stops. "Do you mean Abbygail?"
Val goes still. She cups her hands in her lap, and her voice lowers, that strident note vanishing as she says, "God, I hope not. You think he--?"
"No." I'll give her nothing she can take back to the council. Dalton must have the full benefit of my doubt until I find irrefutable proof.
I continue. "I'm investigating all possible romantic links with the victims. There aren't many younger men in town, and Dalton was close to Abbygail, so I can't ignore that avenue."
"She was a good girl," she says, in that same soft voice. "I didn't think that when she first came. This isn't a place for girls like that. Runaways. Addicts. Whores."
I stiffen at the last word. I know she only means prostitutes, but it is a horrible word to use, especially for a teenage girl who turned tricks to survive on the street. What Val means is that Abbygail was not the kind of girl she'd been, and therefore she found her lifestyle distasteful--a sign of ignorance and low intelligence. Which I suspect, to Val, is the worst possible failing.
"You don't have a problem with Isabel, then? Her line of work?"
"If women are willing to debase themselves in that way, then it only means other women don't need to worry about men acting on their urges."
There are so many things I could say to that. Not about Isabel or her occupation, but about the idea of championing strong women while tearing down those you view as less strong. Less morally upright, too. I suspect that's a big deal to Valerie. Women are either good girls or bad. Men are animals at the mercy of their "urges." As for the role Dalton and Mick and other men in Rockton played in Abbygail's recovery? Irrelevant.
I say none of that, just nod and plaster on a thoughtful look.
"Abbygail had a bright future ahead of her," Val says. "To take that away ..." She sucks in a breath and leans back, and I might not like this woman, but there is genuine grief in her face.
She continues. "If Sheriff Dalton was taking advantage of that poor girl, I certainly hope someone would have told me. But even Elizabeth is charmed by his swagger. She wants him to be a good person, and so she sees a good person. But he's not good, Detective Butler. There's something savage in him. He hides it, but ..." She leans forward. "You know about his fascination with the forest, I presume."
"Do you know what's in that forest, Casey?" She's switched to my given name, relaxing with a sympathetic audience.
"Settlers," I say. "People who left Rockton to live on their own. And what the locals call hostiles. The dangerous ones."
"Dangerous ones? They're all dangerous. They live in the forest with the animals because they are animals. The first month I was here, I went on a group outing. I wanted to experience this life fully. I got separated from the others and ran into two men deep in the forest. They made those redneck boys back home look like civilized gentlemen. What little language these two knew, they used to tell me they were going to teach me a lesson about trespassing on their land. They took me to their camp and ..." She straightens. "Like those boys, they were of such low intelligence that I was able to escape the next morning."
"But you spent the night in their camp."
"Yes, I could not effect my escape sooner. However, the point--"
"Were you ... assaulted?"
Her face goes hard. "Of course not. I'd die fighting if they tried. That was certainly their eventual goal, but they did not touch me that night."
"All right. So--"
"They did not touch me," she repeats, growing agitated. "I wouldn't have allowed that."
Which is a lie. The hostiles did rape her, their way of teaching a woman a lesson, and then either they dumped her or she escaped. She'd told no one about the assault. Perhaps she even convinced herself it had never happened. But as she sits there desperate for me to believe her, I finally begin to understand Valerie Zapata. What happened to me in that alley twelve years ago is not something that ever goes away. The shame of the beating, of feeling like I should have been able to avoid it, been stronger, been smarter. That is what Val feels.
"I called Rockton a hellhole," she continues. "That's not exactly true. Hell is out there, all around us. Hell and unspeakable savagery, and Sheriff Dalton embraces it. He lets people go on excursions. He refuses to hunt down and exterminate those savages. The council listens to him. We could have a paradise here, Casey. An unspoiled Eden. But he will not allow it."
She leans forward. "He embraces that forest because it is a reflection of his own soul. Dark and twisted and savage. If you want to know who murdered Abbygail and the others, I say look to that forest, to the monsters out there. If you honestly believe it was someone inside this town, then yes, perhaps you should look at the savage in our own midst: Eric Dalton."
As I leave Val's, I try to weigh the information she gave me against her own experiences and prejudices. I know she's wrong about Dalton. Wrong in many ways. But there are kernels of truth in what she says, and I need to pick them from the raw and ugly mass of her own hate and fear.
Mick is jogging toward me. It's the first time I've seen him more than in passing since I found Abbygail's remains. When I ask how he's doing, he shrugs and says, "Managing. Like I said, I was certain Abby was dead. I guess there was still hope, though ..." He shifts his weight and then straightens. "Isabel insists on going rock climbing with me this afternoon. She absolutely hates it, and I'm trying to talk her out of it, but she's determined to cheer me up." He manages a wry smile. "At the very least, I'll admit it's amusing seeing her try to scale a rock face."
"I'd ask for photos if we had cameras."
His smile grows more genuine. "There is a Polaroid for special occasions. Maybe I'll take it along. Anyway, I came to find you because I have something. Remember how I said someone left raspberries for Abby? Someone I suspected had also followed her?"
He shakes his head. "Not Lang. I liked him for it, because the way he looked at Abby made my gut burn. As if he was attracted to her but didn't want to be. You know what I mean?"
Given Lang's history, I know exactly what he means.
He continues. "But I could never connect him to the damned berries. Now I have a better suspect. Someone who should have gone on that list but, well, he was gone by the time I gave it to you, so I didn't see the point. Which probably explains why, on the job, I was never going to make detective. My brain doesn't work that way."
"Is it Powys?"
"Hastings. He made a few moves in Abby's direction. Sleazy-uncle stuff. You know: Here, little girl, let me help you with that, huh-huh. Abby just thought he was a creep. She said she could handle it, and he never made an actual pass at her, so I let it slide. But after we found her ... Well, I started thinking I should have given you Hastings's name. He was alive when she disappeared. So I did a little detective work of my own. He went on a raspberry-picking excursion and bribed Rodrigues--the guy in charge--to let him keep a pint. You can ask Rodrigues."
"I will. Thank you. Oh, and while I have you here, can I ask something completely unrelated?"
He manages a smile. "I would be very happy to talk about anything unrelated."
"I know. Thanks. It's about Eric. It's kind of personal, but, well, you worked with him, and you know him, and ... It's about his, uh, dating habits."
Mick had tensed when I said "personal." But now he relaxes with a chuckle.
"If you're asking if he's seeing anyone, the answer is no."
"But he does ... date, right?"
"You mean one-nighters? Not in Rockton. Too many complications now that he's sheriff."
"When you say 'not in Rockton' ..."
"I don't pry into his personal business, but obviously I don't want you to get the idea he doesn't date or doesn't date women, because I think you should go for it. You'd be good for him. So from what I understand, he has one-nighters when he's down south. Here, though? According to Isabel, it's been years since he had a relationship."
"It went bad?"
"You mean did he get his heart broken? Nah. It was just a casual thing that was less casual to her. She wanted him to go down south when her term was up. He refused. Iz says it got kind of ugly, and kind of public. I don't blame him for taking a break and getting whatever he needs off-campus, if you know what I mean."
"I do. Thanks."
I avoid Dalton for the rest of the day. I need to process everything I've heard and continue investigating and draw conclusions, and I cannot do that with the man himself in front of me, because if he is, I'll dismiss it all.
Steering clear of him is tougher when I'm back at the station, and every time I duck his notice, I can see his radar honing in on me. As soon as my shift ends, I take off. Bad headache. See you in the
On the way home, Diana hails me and I don't brush her off. This business with Dalton has me off balance, feeling uncomfortable in a place I'd embraced only days ago. Diana is my link to my other life, and right now I need that. She's thrilled to see me and seems to sense I need her, because she insists on me staying for dinner.
I agree, planning to use the opportunity to talk to her about Dalton. She's another of his non-supporters, and she doesn't know him as well as the others do, but I want to get her take on him.
Except, as it turns out, she didn't insist on dinner because she could tell I needed a friend. She needs one. She's having trouble at work, and her boss is threatening to fire her. That's no light matter here. Job disputes go before a committee to see if the issue can be resolved. If it can't and the worker is at fault, she'll end up on shit jobs for the duration of her stay.
According to Diana, this issue is entirely her boss's fault. Diana slept with the woman's ex, and her boss claimed that was fine, but obviously she's jealous, and now the bitch is out to get her. I cringe just listening to Diana, because I know there's more to it. Her boss wouldn't risk losing her own job over this.
I remember what Dalton said about Diana inventing issues to get my attention. I'm uncomfortable with that because, in a weird way, it feels vain--thinking our friendship is that important. In my gut, I suspect the answer is far less flattering to me. I have been her rock, the one who is always there for her. The guaranteed friend. The one who has to stick by, because Diana knows what I did to Blaine. She's never threatened to tell anyone, but ...
Oh, hell, I don't know what I'm thinking. Maybe Dalton's low opinion of her is colouring my own. And considering what I'm currently wondering about him, he should be the last person whose opinion I consider.
We never get around to talking about Dalton. I give Diana support and commiseration and then, after dinner, I go home to bed.
I wake to a pebble ricocheting off my cheek, scramble up, and peer down to see Dalton in the moonlight.
"Hey!" I call, my voice tight with anger. "Can't you knock?"
"You wouldn't hear me. And I didn't want to yell up to you and disturb the neighbours."
City of the Lost: Part Five by Kelley Armstrong / Mystery & Detective have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes