Shadow silence, p.24
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       Shadow Silence, p.24

           Yasmine Galenorn
 
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  * * *

  Forty-five minutes later Bryan came in through the kitchen door, carrying bags of food, and behind him, carrying more bags, was Deev. He immediately set them down on the table and went off to find Peggin, whom I had assigned to the task of stringing some Christmas lights over the hutches so that we could have pretty lights to decorate the tree by.

  Bryan set the bags down and wrapped his arms around me. “So, it sounds like it’s been one hell of a day.”

  “You can say that again. We’ll tell you what went down in a bit. I don’t want Peggin to have to go through it again and again.” Like she did with her story about the Lady, I thought.

  “I brought chicken and mashed potatoes and coleslaw, baked beans and mac ’n’ cheese and biscuits. Deev also thought it might be nice to add a holiday touch so we picked up some cranberry sauce at the deli, along with eggnog and Black Forest cake.”

  “Have I told you how wonderful you are?” I leaned into his embrace. “Thank you. At least I remembered to rent the movies this morning while I was out shopping.”

  “Movies are good. Music would be fine, too. Whatever works to take Peggin’s mind off all of this crap.” He let go of me and picked up Daphne, who had decided to investigate what smelled so good in the bags. As he set her on the floor, he said, “No, you don’t, young lady. Oof, you’re a big cat.”

  “Don’t say that—she’s a Maine Coon. They’re supposed to be big.”

  “Pardon me, then. I didn’t mean to insult your size, Miss Daphne. You’re full-figured and gorgeous.” He winked at her, and she suddenly gathered herself and leaped into his arms, knocking him back as she curled against his chest, purring so loud I could hear her from where I was standing. He laughed.

  Deev and Peggin came into the kitchen, Deev’s arm wrapped around her waist. “Next time Peggin forgets to call me when something like this happens, Kerris, I want you to read her the riot act. She’ll listen to you.”

  I snorted. “Do you really think she’s going to listen to anybody? You know her.”

  “Well, you’ve got me there.” Deev let out a snort.

  Peggin smacked his arm. “I might remind the two of you that I’m right here and can hear every word.” But she was smiling, and I breathed a long sigh of relief. Deev seemed to be good for her mood no matter what was going on.

  “And that’s the idea,” he said very softly.

  Just then, the doorbell rang. I glanced at the clock. “It’s a little early for people to start arriving. I asked them to come around seven o’clock and it’s only six thirty.” I wiped my hands on a towel and headed to the door. But, as I opened it, I realized it wasn’t one of our guests. Sophia, the chief of police, was standing there.

  “Hey, Kerris, is Peggin here?”

  “Yeah, she is. Do you want to come in?” Concerned given what had transpired earlier, I backed up, motioning for her to come in. “Is everything all right?”

  Bryan, Peggin, and Deev entered the room. Peggin’s eyes widened and I knew she was as worried as I was.

  Sophia nodded to everyone; she was still in uniform and had a harried look on her face. “Good evening, everybody. Peggin, I just wanted to drop by and set your mind at ease. I just took a phone call from Jack and he told me that he really doesn’t believe that you started the fire. I also got a call from the fire marshal.”

  “And?” She tensed.

  “No clear-cut answer yet, but it appears the fire started near the furnace. They found scorch marks on it that most likely indicate faulty wiring or a defective unit. I know you said that the furnace was relatively new. But that doesn’t rule out that there was some malfunction that didn’t show itself till now. Especially since it hadn’t been used in a couple of years and you recently turned it on. Now, the home inspector that Jack hired verified that he gave it the A-OK, but he pointed out that there are often issues not visible during a cursory inspection. As to the squabble between the two of you, that’s not my department and you’ll have to sort that out among yourselves. But for now, the fire is being labeled as accidental. We’ll know more later on in the week, but you can relax.”

  Peggin let out a long breath and visibly relaxed. “Can I go over tomorrow and see if I can find anything that survived? Everything I owned was in that house. Except for a suitcase full of clothing and my ferrets.”

  Sophia nodded. “The fire marshal said that you can come by tomorrow and look through the rubble. I warn you though, he said that there’s really nothing left and it’s also dangerous.”

  Seeing Peggin’s expression fall, she softly added, “I’ll have a couple of my officers come over and help you look. I’m so sorry this happened, but I’m very grateful that you and your ferrets survived.” She glanced at her watch. “I’ve got to go. We had an incident over at the Harlequin Theatre. Apparently one of the actors in the local production of A Christmas Carol came to rehearsal drunk, accused the costume designer of trying to sleep with her husband, and a brawl has ensued. Several of the sets were destroyed, and Tiny Tim has a broken leg for real. I have to go sort things out.”

  I tried not to laugh but couldn’t help myself. As I broke out in a loud guffaw, so did the others. Sophia looked put out for a moment, then joined us, shaking her head.

  “I swear, this season does things to people. I see you’re getting ready to trim your tree? Please, make sure not to overload any circuits or do anything stupid.”

  “Everything I bought for the outside is LED so it’s not going to take as much juice as incandescent lights. But I refuse to use them inside—I hate that neon glow inside my house. But we’ll be careful and make sure to use common sense.”

  “All right then, have fun. And I’ll see you tomorrow, Peggin. Call me when you’re planning to go over to the ruins of the house and I’ll have a couple people meet you there. I don’t want you hurting yourself on the debris.” And with that, Sophia skedaddled.

  “Well, that’s a relief. At least they don’t think I started the fire. But that furnace was new. And furnaces that new don’t usually fail like that.” Peggin twisted her lip into a frown. “At least I can go look through the remains of my life tomorrow. Corbin told me to take the week off. He’s also giving me an extra week’s vacation so that I won’t lose out on my pay. Which is a good thing, given I have very little in my savings account right now. I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do.”

  “I forgot, that reminds me. I have something for you.” Bryan pulled out his wallet and removed a check from it, handing it to her. “This is from Jack. He wants you to have your options fee back. I ran into him at the store while I was picking up dinner. He told me it wouldn’t be fair for him to keep it. He also said for you to call him tomorrow to discuss negating the lease. Obviously, there’s no house for you to live in.”

  Peggin looked at the check suspiciously. “Bryan, what did you do?”

  “I have no idea what you’re talking about. But this is yours. It’s made out for three thousand dollars plus the first month’s rent. So you should be able to use it to put a down payment or first and last month’s rent somewhere else.” He shoved the check into her hand, folded his wallet, and slid it back into his pocket, then turned back to the kitchen. “I’ll start unloading the groceries. Deev, give me a hand.”

  We watched them work together at the table for a moment.

  “What did you have Bryan do?” Peggin asked me.

  I opened one of the bags containing the new ornaments, carefully removing them from the plastic. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. Now get over here and help me. I’d like to get everything set up so that when people arrive we can just eat and start decorating.”

  Thankfully, at that moment the doorbell rang, announcing Ivy and Aidan’s arrival. Peggin gave me another smoldering look, but beneath the suspicious glare, I could see relief and the gratitude. I just smiled back as we all headed into the ki
tchen to grab a plate of food.

  CHAPTER 16

  By the end of the evening, we were all sitting around the glow of the tree. It was covered with sparkling ornaments, and everything felt soft and fuzzy and beautiful. I had turned off all the other lights, and we just finished watching It’s a Wonderful Life.

  “It’s too bad that we can’t summon up the Ghost of Christmas Past and have him tell us how those ship beams got there in the house. By the way, did Clinton have anything to say when you met him over there yesterday? I totally forgot that you two were meeting up, with our engagement and then the fire today.”

  “I forgot, too,” Peggin said. “I still think he seemed awfully eager to have me move out of there, though I guess he’s seen too many people sucked down by the Lady.”

  “What does Clinton Brady have to do with the matter?” Deev looked concerned. In fact, he looked so concerned that it caught my attention.

  “Do you have something against Clinton? He’s always struck me as a pretty good guy.”

  “I just . . . there’s something odd about his pub. Every time I go in there, I feel like I’m being watched. And the pub feels haunted.” Deev looked at a loss for words, which didn’t surprise me. He wasn’t all that chatty of a guy.

  “It probably is. The place is four hundred years old,” Peggin said. “Anyway, what did he have to say, Bryan?”

  Bryan took on long sip of his eggnog. “He agreed that the beams probably came from the Maria Susanna. As to how or where the original builder of the house found them, he has no clue. The shipwreck was never found, or any part of the ship. I had a closer look at them and I swear, they look like they were built right into the house as it was erected. So I’m guessing they were there all along, though Clinton disagreed. If I’m right, that means that Herschel Dorsey had to have found some part of the ship within a year after it went down. Because he built the house in 1920, and the Maria Susanna went down in 1919.”

  “I still think that the Hounds had something to do with that shipwreck.”

  “Do you think that they know that we found out about it?” Bryan gave me a long look. “It could be they don’t want anybody to know what really happened back then.”

  “I don’t see why,” Aidan said. “After all, anybody involved in taking the ship down would be dead by now. You can’t prosecute dead men.”

  “I just can’t shake the feeling that the Hounds are still involved and that they may have had something to do with the fire, though I don’t know why.” Bryan looked so worried that it began to worry me.

  I was about to say something, when I heard the call of crows. Startled, I began to stand up, but the next thing I knew I was standing in front of the Crow Man, and we were looking at the remains of the house.

  * * *

  There are bright glittering secrets hidden down there,” the Crow Man said, pointing to the remains of the basement. “And there are hawks looking for them right now. It’s a race, Kerris. And it’s a race you need to win.”

  I glanced back at the charred foundation. “But hawks don’t fly in the dark, do they?”

  “Neither do crows, but I’m out and it’s dark. And so are you, and you are the daughter of the Crow goddess. Sometimes birds fly at night. And old secrets could give new life to some of the battles that await in your future. Old secrets that could have helped your grandmother and great-grandmother.”

  The smell of burned wood drifted up to cloud my senses. I shivered. “Old secrets? How old?”

  “Oh, they go back years on the family tree, to the beginning. There was a wide span between spirit shamans, and during that time Whisper Hollow was extremely vulnerable. A gift was brought from the mother country, meant to be given to your great-grandmother when she arrived. The Heart and the lament singer joined forces to protect it. But the Hounds managed to weave their own magic, and the Heart and the lament singer lost track of the gift, and it vanished, hidden away. They died without remembering their secret. But time has a way of bringing the past to surface, and those who still seek to hide misdeeds fear the revelations.”

  I tried to sort through the riddle. “Are you telling me there’s something in that house, besides those beams, that I need to know about?”

  “Perception is the beginning of wisdom.” He laughed then, his voice ricocheting through the night. “I am the Crow Man. I lead the procession of the gods. I trick and I tempt. And I am the liaison of the Morrígan and her children. My messages are for you to decipher. I am not your oracle, but I am a whisper on the wind reminding you of what you once knew, of what you must know. Mind my gifts, they are only given to those who listen. But don’t wait—or you will be too late.”

  * * *

  I blinked, suddenly aware that I was back in my living room. “We have to go over to the house now. We can’t wait until tomorrow. Whatever’s there, and there is something hidden there, the Hounds are searching for it. They don’t want me to find it.”

  “Let’s go.” My grandfather grabbed his jacket from the hall closet, handing Ivy’s to her. Deev had draped his duster over the back of a kitchen chair, and now he slid into it, as Peggin grabbed her coat and my jacket from the wall pegs in the kitchen.

  “We’ll go in my SUV. It will hold all of us.”

  “No, head over to my place and we’ll take my SUV. You still have to get yours serviced and checked out, and I have a feeling you didn’t do that today.” Bryan gave me a sideways look. “I know the dents seem superficial, but I’d rather we know that it’s running in good condition before you go driving it around much more.”

  “I’ll make an appointment tomorrow.”

  We trooped out of the house, stopping to unplug all of the beautiful lights. As I locked the door behind me, the snow softly began to fall again.

  * * *

  After a stop at Deev’s to drop him and Peggin off—he wanted to get something, and he followed me in his truck from there—we eased into the driveway of the burned-out shell.

  Bryan stopped a good ways before the actual house. “I don’t want to accidentally drive over a nail or a piece of glass. We can walk from here. There are flashlights in the backseat.”

  Aidan fished around and found several flashlights in good working order. He handed one to Bryan and one to Deev, who was opening the tailgate of his truck.

  Deev snapped his fingers. An odd figure, squat and short on four massive legs, eased out of the truck. Made of brass and wood, it was five feet tall, about four feet long, and looked like it had been built of metal Legos and Tinkertoys. The head was featureless but it was wearing a jaunty bowler hat of enormous size. The creature came to attention.

  “What is that?” I cocked my head, intrigued.

  “This is Kyler. Kyler came to life last night and I couldn’t figure out why, but he was made to protect and to guard. When I was building him, I was focusing on the energy of a sentinel. Since he woke up last night I figured it couldn’t hurt to bring him along.” He smiled, sounding like a proud papa.

  “Well, I doubt he can hurt matters.” Bryan motioned to Deev. “Let him take the lead, if that’s okay.”

  With Kyler in front, we gingerly proceeded. The explosion had thrown debris right and left, and before we even reached the yard, we were encountering bits of wood and charcoal. I kept my eye on Peggin, realizing how close we were to the lake. She kept lifting her head, glancing through the trees as though she were hearing something.

  Kyler suddenly stopped, turning toward the tree line. One of his jointed arms reached out, pointing to the lake.

  “Do you hear her calling?” I asked, suddenly going on high alert.

  Peggin looked startled. “Actually, I do. I didn’t realize what was happening, but you’re right. I can hear her calling now. She’s singing, promising me that she can put an end to my problems. That she can make everything okay again.” Her voice was wistful, and I could tell she was str
uggling with the desire to answer the call.

  The look on her face scared the hell out of me. I had never seen Peggin look so enraptured.

  Deev was listening to our conversation and now he pulled up beside her and wrapped his arm around her waist. “You’re not going anywhere. Not while I’m here.”

  She flashed him a grateful smile. “Thank you. I’ve never felt like I needed a protector before, but I’m beginning to feel so helpless in the face of all of this. I hate that feeling. My life has spun out of control and all I can do is hold on while the ride takes me on a journey I never wanted to explore.”

  “Tomorrow night, the ritual will remove the Lady’s binding from you,” Ivy said. “It’s a dark descent, but it should take care of the matter.”

  Peggin shuddered again. “I don’t care what I have to go through. I want that mark off me. Every time I look at it, I can feel her watching me. And now that we’re out here tonight, I can feel her calling and I don’t want to hear her voice. I don’t want to listen to her whispers.”

  “Kyler, forward.”

  We started up again, Deev holding tight to Peggin’s waist as we approached the shell of the house. Three of the walls were partially standing, but they were leaning dangerously. The fourth was totally gone, and the upper stories of the house were nothing more than so much soot and ash. The air was filled with the smell of burnt wood, and as the snow settled down over the remains, it was starting to stick in places. I suddenly realized that the heat had been so intense that it had melted off every flake up until then.

  “I think we want to go down in the basement. The Crow Man kept talking about buried secrets. That would indicate underground to me. And given that that’s where the timbers were, I can’t help but feel that there’s something down there.”

  “That’s going to be tricky; we’ll have to watch our footing carefully or we could end up breaking our necks. For one thing the stairs are wooden and it looks like they’re mostly burned away. We have to find a different way down into the basement.” Bryan frowned, looking around. “I wish I had thought to bring a ladder.”

 
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