An Ice Cold Grave Page 10

The young pharmacist was certainly conscientious. "Ma'am, you understand you have to take these with food," he said, holding up a brown plastic pill container. "And these have to be taken twice a day. If you have any of these symptoms listed here on this sheet, you need to call a doctor." After we'd discussed that for a moment, Tolliver asked where we paid, and the pharmacist pointed to the register at the front of the store. I had to get up to follow Tolliver, and when we got to the checkout clerk, we had to wait for another customer to get her change and have her chat. Then we had to reveal to the clerk that our insurance didn't cover a pharmacy bill and that we were paying cash for the entire amount. She seemed surprised but pleased.

We'd actually stepped outside the store to get back in the car when the sheriff found us. We got so close to being out of Doraville.

"I'm sorry," she said. "We need you again."

It wasn't snowing at the moment, but it was still gray everywhere. I looked up into Tolliver's face, which seemed as pale as the snow.

"What do you need?" I asked, which was probably stupid.

"It's possible there are more," she said.

WE had to renegotiate. The consortium hadn't written me a check for the first successful episode, and I didn't work for free. And the reporters were everywhere. I don't work in front of cameras, not if I can help it.

Since the parking lot at the back of the police station was protected by a high fence topped with razor wire, we got in the back door of the police station without anyone the wiser - anyone among the media, that is. Everyone on duty that wasn't out at the burial site made an opportunity to walk past Sheriff Rockwell's office to have a peek at me. With my arm in a cast and a little bandage on my head, I was something to look at, all right. Tolliver sat at my good side so he could hold my right hand.

"You need to be in bed," he said. "I don't know what we're going to do about housing if we stay. I gave up our motel room, and I'm sure it's gone by now."

I shook my head silently. I was trying to decide if I was up to any more bodies or not. There was always the fact that it was the way I made our living; but there was also the fact that I felt like hell.

"Who do you think the bodies are?" I asked the sheriff. "I found all the locals that were missing."

"We went over the missing persons reports for the past five years," Rockwell said. "We found two more, somewhat over the age range of the boys in the Davey homesite."

"The what?"

"That house and garage and yard used to belong to Don Davey and his family. Don was a widower in his eighties. I barely remember him. He died about twelve years ago, and the house has been empty since. The relative who inherited lives in Oregon. She's never come back over here to look at the property. She hasn't made any move at all to dispose of it. She's about eighty herself and very indifferent to the idea of doing anything at all with the land."

"Did anyone offer to buy it before?"

Rockwell looked surprised. "No, she didn't mention anything like that."

"So where is this other place?"

"Inside an old barn. Dirt floor. Hasn't been used in ten years or more, but the owners just left it to fall down."

"Why do you think there might be more bodies there, specifically?"

"It's actually on the property of a mental health counselor named Tom Almand, who never comes this far back on the property. With all the to-do at the Davey place, the next-door neighbor, a deputy named Rob Tidmarsh, thought he'd check it out because it meets the same criteria as the Davey place: secluded, not in use, easy to dig. The barn floor's mostly dirt. Lo and behold, Rob found some disturbed spots on the floor."

"Have you checked it out yourself?"

"Not yet. We thought you could point us in the right direction."

"I don't think so. If the spots are that easy to make out, just sink a rod in and see if smell comes up. Or go for broke and dig a little. The bones won't be that deep, if the surface disturbance is so easy to see. It'll be a lot cheaper, and I can get out of Doraville."

"They want you. Twyla Cotton said they had money left, since you found the boys in one day." Sheriff Rockwell gave me a look I couldn't read. "You don't want the publicity? The press is all over this, as you found last night."

"I don't want any more to do with this."

"That's not my call," she said, with some apparently genuine regret.

I looked down at my lap. I was so sleepy, I was worried I'd drift off while I sat there in the sheriff's office. "No," I said. "I won't do it."

Tolliver rose right along with me, his face expressionless. The sheriff was staring at us as if she couldn't believe what she was hearing. "You have to," she said.


"Because we're telling you to. It's what you can do."

"I've given you alternatives. I want to leave."

"Then I'll arrest you."

"On what grounds?"

"Obstructing an investigation. Something. It won't be hard."

"So you're trying to blackmail me into staying? What kind of law enforcement officer are you?"

"One who wants these murders solved."

"Then arrest me," I said recklessly. "I won't do it."

"You're not strong enough to go into jail," Tolliver said, his voice quiet. I leaned against him, fighting a feeling of terrible weariness. His arms went around me, and I rested my head against his chest. I had a few seconds' peace before I made my brain begin working again.

He was right. With a cracked arm and a head that hadn't healed, I wouldn't have a good time even in a small-town jail like the one in Doraville. And if the town shared a jail with other nearby towns, as was probably the case, I might fare even worse. So I'd have to do what "they" wanted me to, and I might as well bite the bullet and get it done. But who were "they"? Did Sheriff Rockwell mean the state police?

I had to pull myself away from Tolliver. I was accepting his support under false pretenses, and sooner or later I'd have to admit it.

"You need to eat," he said, and I thudded back down to reality.

"Yes," I said. I did need something to eat, and it would help if we had a place to stay afterwards. I'd need to rest, whether or not the result was a fresh crop of bodies.

"All right then," I said. "I'm going to go eat something, and then we'll meet you."

"Don't think you can get out of town without us seeing you," she said.

"I really don't like you," I said.

She looked down. I don't know what expression she wanted to hide. Maybe at the moment she wasn't too fond of herself.

We stole out of the back of the station and finally found a fast-food chain place that looked pretty anonymous. It was too cold to eat in the car. We had to go in. Fortunately, no one in there seemed to read the papers, or else they were simply too polite to accost me. Which meant there weren't any reporters. Either way, I got to eat the food in peace. At least with food this simple, there was nothing Tolliver had to cut up for me. All the aid he had to supply was ripping open the ketchup packets and putting the straw in the drink. I ate slowly because after we finished I'd have to go to the damn barn, and I didn't want to.

"I think this sucks," I said after I'd eaten half the hamburger. "Not the food, but the situation."

"I do, too," he said. "But I don't see how we can get out of it without more fuss than doing it will be."

I started to snap at him, to remind him that it was me that would be doing the unpleasant task; that he would be standing by, as always. Fortunately, I shut my mouth before those awful words came out. I was horrified at how I could have ripped up our relationship based on a moment's peevishness. How many times a week did I thank God that I had Tolliver with me? How many times did I feel grateful that he was there to act as a buffer between me and the world?



"You're looking at me weird. What's the matter?"

"I was just thinking."

"You must have been thinking some bad thoughts."


"Are you mad at me for some reason? You think I should have argued more with the sheriff?"

"I don't think that would've done any good."

"Me, either. So why the mad face?"

"I was mad at myself."

"That's not good. You haven't done anything wrong."

I tried not to heave a sigh. "I do wrong things all the time," I said, and if my voice was morose, well, I just couldn't help it. I knew I wanted more from Tolliver than he could or should give me, and I had to hide that knowledge from everyone, especially from him.

I was definitely on a "my life sucks" kick, and the sooner I got off of it, the better life would be.

We called Sheriff Rockwell on our way back to the station so she could meet us outside. We parked our car and climbed into hers. "He doesn't need to come," she said, nodding her head at Tolliver.

"He comes," I said. "That's not a negotiation point. I'd rather talk to the reporters for an hour than go somewhere without him."

She gave me a very sharp look. Then she shrugged. "All right," she said. "He comes along."

As she turned out of the parking lot, she turned yet again so she wouldn't drive past the front of the station. I'd wondered if she might be a glory hound, yet she was avoiding the media. I couldn't figure her out at all.

Even though I'd had some food and some time out, by the time we reached our destination at the very edge of town I was realizing my body was far from healed. There were some pain pills in the pharmacy bag back in our car. I wished I'd brought them with us, but I had to admit to myself that I wouldn't have taken one before I worked. I didn't know what would happen if I fiddled with the procedure. For a moment, I entertained myself with a few possibilities, but the fun of that palled pretty quickly. By the time Sheriff Rockwell pulled to a stop, I was leaning my head against the cold glass of the window.

"Are you feeling well enough to do this?" she asked reluctantly.

"Let's get it over with."

Tolliver helped me out of the car and we walked toward the cluster of men standing at the entrance to a barn that had formerly been red. It wasn't in as bad shape as the garage of the house in the foothills, but there were gaps between the boards, the paint was only clinging to the boards in streaks, and the tin roof seemed to be all that was holding the structure together. I looked around: there was a house a distance away at the front of the property, a house that seemed in much better condition than the barn. So, someone hadn't wanted to farm or keep livestock; they'd just wanted the house and maybe some space around them.

The little knot of men unraveled to show two people standing huddled at its center. One was a man about forty, wearing a heavy coat that he hadn't buttoned. He was a small man, no larger than Doak Garland. The coat engulfed him. I could see a dress shirt and tie underneath. He had his arm around a boy who was possibly twelve. The boy was short, thickset, with long blond hair, and he had a huskier build than his father. At the moment he looked overwhelmed with shock and a kind of anticipatory excitement.

Whatever was in the barn, the boy knew about it.

The sheriff didn't pause as we passed the two, and I let my eyes linger on the boy. I know you, I thought, and I knew he could see my recognition. He looked a little frightened.

My connection is with the dead, but every now and then I come in contact with someone who has his or her own preoccupation with the departed. Sometimes these people are quite harmless. Sometimes such a person will decide to work in the funeral industry, or become a morgue worker. This boy was one of those people. I'm sure a lot of times I don't pick up on it - but since the boy didn't have all the mental guards and trip wires of the average adult, I could see it in him. I just didn't know what form this preoccupation had taken.

The barn had an overhead bulb that left more in darkness than it illuminated. It was a fairly large structure, quite open except for three stalls in the back full of moldy hay. They looked like they hadn't been touched in years. There were old tools hanging on the walls, and there was the detritus of a household: an old wheelbarrow, a lawn mower, a few bags of lawn fertilizer, old paint cans stacked in a corner.

The air was very cold, very thick, very unpleasant. Tolliver seemed to be trying to hold his breath. That wasn't going to work.

This was more a job for Xylda Bernardo than me, I could tell already.

I told the sheriff so.

"What, that crazy old woman with the dyed red hair?"

"She looks crazy," I agreed. "But she's a true psychic. And what we've got here isn't dead people."

"Not corpses?" It was hard to say if Rockwell was disappointed or relieved.

"Oh, I think we've got corpses. They're just not human. There's death, but I can't find it. If you don't mind, I'll call her. If she can tell you what's here, you can give her my fee."

Rockwell stared at me. The cold had bleached the color out of her face. Even her eyes looked paler. "Done," she said. "And if she makes a fool out of you, it's your own fault."

Xylda and Manfred got there pretty quickly, all things considered. Xylda came into the barn wearing her ratty plaid coat, her long dyed bright red hair wild and tangled around her head. She was a big woman in all ways, and her round face was lavishly decorated with powder and lipstick. She was wearing heavy support hose and loafers. Manfred was a loving grandson; most young men his age would run screaming before they'd appear in public with someone as crazy-looking as Xylda.

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