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Chapter 18


Traffic whizzed by, normal people on their way to normal places.

I was staring in the rearview mirror when the cruiser's door opened and Lucy Crowe climbed out. My first reaction was relief. Then she put on her hat, squared it carefully, suggesting this was not a social call. I wondered if I should get out too, decided to stay put.

Crowe walked to my car, looking tall and powerful in her sheriff 's livery. I opened the door.

“Mornin',” she said, giving her inverted nod.

I nodded back.

“New car?” She spread her feet and placed hands on her hips.

“Borrowed. Mine took an unscheduled sabbatical.”

Crowe was not asking for a license or posing the usual questions, so I assumed this was not a traffic stop. I wondered if I was about to be arrested.

“Got something you're probably not going to want to hear.”

The radio on her belt sputtered, and she adjusted a knob.

“Daniel Wahnetah turned up last night.”

I almost couldn't ask.


“Very. Knocked on his daughter's door around seven, had dinner with the family, then went home to bed. Daughter called me this morning.” She spoke loudly over the rush of traffic.

“Where was he for three months?”

“West Virginia.”

“Doing what?”

“She didn't offer that.”

Daniel Wahnetah was not dead. I couldn't believe it.

“Any developments on George Adair or Jeremiah Mitchell?”

“Not a word.”

“Neither really fits the profile.” My voice was tight.

“Guess this doesn't help you much.”


Though I'd never allowed myself to say it, I'd been counting on the foot belonging to Wahnetah. Now I was back to zero.

“But I am happy for the Wahnetah family.”

“They're good people.”

She watched my fingers worrying the steering wheel.

“I heard about the news report.”

“My phone's ringing so much it's now off. I just left a meeting with Parker Davenport, and there was a crazy media scene outside the Sleep Inn.”

“Davenport.” She hooked an elbow over the top of the car door. “There's a real peckerwood.”

“What do you mean?”

She looked up the road, then back at me. Sunlight glinted off her aviator shades.

“Did you know that Parker Davenport was born not far from here?”

“No, I didn't.”

She was quiet a moment, lost in memories that were hers alone.

“I take it you don't like the man.”

“Let's just say his poster's never going to hang above my bed.”

“Davenport told me that the foot is now missing and accused me of taking it.” I had to pause to keep the tremor from my voice. “He also said that a data technician who helped me take measurements has also disappeared.”

“Who's that?”

“An elderly black lady named Primrose Hobbs.”

“I'll ask around.”

“You know this is all bullshit,” I said. “What I can't figure out is why Davenport is gunning for me.”

“Parker Davenport has his own mind about things.”

A truck rumbled by, blasting us with a wave of hot air. Crowe straightened.

“I'm going to talk with our DA, see if I can't inspire a push for that warrant.”

Something suddenly struck me. Though Larke Tyrell had cited trespass when he'd banished me from the investigation, the issue of the courtyard house hadn't been raised today.

“I tracked down the owners.”

“I'm listening.”

“The property has belonged to an investment group called H&F since 1949. Before that it was owned by Edward E. Arthur, before that Victor T. Livingstone.”

She shook her head.

“You're talking way before my time.”

“I've got a list of the H&F officers in my room. I could bring it by your office after I check on my car.”

“I need to swing by Fontana when I'm done with the DA. We've got Fox Friggin' Mulder over there thinks he's found an alien.” She looked at her watch. “I should be back by four.”

I drove back to High Ridge House, feeling feverish with anxiety. To work off the tension I offered Boyd a jog. I also felt I should make up for breakfast. Not one for grudges, he accepted with enthusiasm.

The road was damp from yesterday's rain, and our feet made soft popping sounds on the muddy gravel. Boyd panted and his tags jingled. Jays and sparrows were the only other creatures breaking the stillness.

The view was another Impressionist tableau, an endless expanse of valleys and hills polished and buffed by a brilliant morning sun. But the wind had shifted overnight and now carried an edge. Each time we moved into shadow, I sensed winter and shortening days.

The exercise calmed me, but not much. As I climbed the stairs to Magnolia, my chest tightened at the memory of Monday's intrusion. Today my door was closed, my belongings intact.

I showered and put on fresh clothes. As I turned on the phone it rang in my hand. I answered with rigid fingers. Another journalist. I hung up and dialed Pete.

As usual, a machine took the call. Though I was anxious for an opinion on my legal situation, I knew it was useless to try his other numbers. Pete had both car and cell phones, but rarely recharged either. If he did progress that far, he'd forget to turn the unit on, or he'd leave it on a dashboard or bedroom dresser.

Frustrated, I dug out McMahon's fax, stuffed it in my purse, and headed downstairs.

I was making an egg salad sandwich when Ruby backed through the swinging door into the kitchen, a blue plastic laundry basket in her arms. She wore a white blouse, fake pearls, sweatpants, socks, and slippers, and her hair roll looked freshly lacquered. Her appearance suggested a morning outing, followed by a change from the waist down.

“Can I do that for you?” she asked.

“I'm fine.”

She set down the basket and walked to the sink, slippers flapping against her heels.

“I'm real sorry about your room.”

“I had nothing of value up there.”

“Someone must have come in while I was to market.” She picked up a dish towel, sniffed it. “Sometimes I wonder what the world's coming to. The Lord—”

“These things happen.”

“We've never had stealing in this house.” She turned to me, the towel twisted between her hands. “I don't blame you for being angry.”

“I'm not angry at you.”

She took a quick breath, opened her mouth, closed it. I had the impression she was about to say something, changed her mind, wary of how the telling might impact her life. Good. I was too strung out for sympathetic listening.

“Can I get you a drink?”

“Do you have lemonade?”

She tossed the towel into her basket and crossed to the refrigerator. Withdrawing a plastic pitcher, she filled a glass and set it next to my sandwich.

“And that television business and all.”

“All through school, I was never once voted most popular.”

I smiled, not wanting Ruby to see how agitated I was. The gesture must have looked as strained as it felt.

“It isn't funny. You shouldn't let them do this.”

“I can't control the press, Ruby.”

She got a paper plate, placed my sandwich on it.



She added three sugar cookies, then looked straight into my eyes.

“‘Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely.’”

“The people who matter know these accusations are false.” Keep cool.

“Then maybe you need to be controlling someone else.”

She hoisted the basket onto her hip and left without a backward glance.

Hoping for more rational conversation, I went outside to lunch with Boyd. I was not disappointed. The chow inhaled the cookies, then watched without comment as I ate the sandwich and considered my options.

Arriving at the garage, I learned that the problem with my car was minor, but a pump was required. The absent letter, either P or T, was in Asheville, and would try to obtain the part. Assuming that mission went well, repairs could be finished the next afternoon.

Could be. I noticed that the Chevy, Pinto, and pickups remained exactly where they'd been the day before.

I checked the time. Two-thirty. Crowe wouldn't be back yet.

Now what?

I requested a phone directory and was handed a 1996 edition, dogeared and reeking of petroleum products. Two hands were required to part the pages.

While there was no entry for the Eternal Light Holiness-Pentecostal House of God, I did find a listing for L. Bowman on Swayney Creek Road. P/T knew the intersection but could provide nothing more. I thanked him and returned to Ryan's car.

Following P/T's instructions, I headed out of town. As he'd predicted, Swayney Creek dead-ended into Highway 19 between Ela and Bryson City. I stopped at a filling station to ask directions to Bowman's house.

The attendant was a kid of about sixteen with greasy black hair, separated down the crown and tucked behind the ears. White flecks littered his part like snowflakes along a muddy creek.

The kid put down his comic and glanced at me, his eyes scrunched as though sensitive to light. Picking a cigarette from a scalloped metal dish, he drew deeply, then jerked his chin in the direction of Swayney Creek.

“It's about two miles north.” Smoke billowed out with his answer.

“Which side?”

“Look for a green mailbox.”

Walking out, I felt squinty eyes on my back.

Swayney Creek was a thin black tongue that dropped sharply after leaving the highway. The road descended for the next half mile, then leveled off and passed through a long stretch of mixed-conifer forest. A creek ran along one side, the water so clear I could see individual pebbles littering the bottom.

Driving north, I passed few signs of habitation. Then the road curved east, climbed slightly, and I spotted an opening in the trees, a rusty green mailbox to its right. Drawing close, I saw the name “Bowman” carved on a plaque hung below the box with two short segments of chain.

I turned onto the dirt lane and crept forward, hoping I had the right Bowman. Pine, spruce, and hemlock towered above, choking off all but a few shoots of sunlight. Fifty yards up, Luke Bowman's house squatted like a solitary sentinel guarding the forest road.

The reverend lived in a weathered frame bungalow, with a porch at one end and a shed at the other. Together they were stacked with enough firewood to heat a medieval castle. Bright turquoise awnings angled over windows to either side of the front door, looking as out of place in the gloom as the Golden Arches on a synagogue.

The “front yard” was black with shade and carpeted with a thick mat of leaves and pine needles. A gravel path crossed it, leading from the door to a rectangle of gravel at the road's end.

I pulled next to Bowman's pickup, cut the engine, and turned on my phone. Before I could get out, the front door opened and the reverend appeared on the stoop. Again, he was dressed in black, as though wanting to remind even himself of the soberness of his calling.

Bowman didn't smile, but his face relaxed when he recognized me. I climbed out of the car and walked up the path. Small brown mushrooms bordered each side.

“I'm sorry to disturb you, Reverend Mr. Bowman. I left a shopping bag in your truck.”

“You surely did. It's in the kitchen.” He stepped back. “Please, come inside.”

I brushed past him into a dim interior heavy with the odor of burned bacon.

“Would you like something to drink?”

“No, thank you. I can't stay.”

“Please, have a seat.”

He gestured into a small living room crammed with furniture. The pieces looked as though they'd been purchased by the roomful, then placed exactly as on the showroom floor. Only closer together.


I sat on a brown velour sectional, the centerpiece of a three-piece grouping still covered in plastic. Though the weather was cool the windows were open, and the perfectly matched brown plaid curtains billowed inward with the breeze.

“I'll get your things.”

He disappeared and a door opened, allowing the muted voices, bongs, and applause of a television game show to drift out. I looked around.

The room was devoid of personal items. There were no wedding or graduation pictures. Not one snapshot of the kids at the beach or the dog in a party hat. The only images were of haloed persons. I recognized Jesus, and a chap I thought might be John the Baptist.

After several minutes, Bowman returned. The plastic slipcover crackled as I rose.

“Thank you.”

“It was a pleasure, Miss Temperance.”

“And thank you again for yesterday.”

“I was glad to help. Peter and Timothy are the best mechanics in the county. I've taken my trucks to them for years.”

“Reverend Mr. Bowman, you've lived here a long time, haven't you?”

“All my life.”

“Do you know anything about a lodge house with a courtyard near the spot where the plane went down?”

“I remember my daddy talking about a camp out that way near Running Goat Branch, but never a lodge.”

I had a sudden thought. Shifting the bag onto my left hip, I dug out McMahon's fax and handed it to Bowman.

“Are any of these names familiar to you?”

He unfolded and read the paper. I watched closely, but saw no change in his expression.


He handed back the fax, and I returned it to my purse.

“Have you ever heard of a man named Victor Livingstone?”

Bowman shook his head.

“Edward Arthur?”

“I know an Edward Arthur lives over near Sylva. Used to be Holiness, but left the movement years ago. Brother Arthur used to claim he was led to the Holy Ghost by George Hensley himself.”

“George Hensley?”

“The first man to take up serpents. Brother Arthur said they made acquaintance during Reverend Hensley's time in Grasshopper Valley.”

“I see.”

“Brother Arthur's got to be close to ninety by now.”

“He's still alive?”

“As God's holy word.”

“He was a member of your church?”

“He was one of my father's flock, as devoted a man as ever breathed God's air. Army changed him. Kept the faith for a few years after the war, then just stopped following the signs.”

“When was that?”

“Around forty-seven or forty-eight. No. That's not right.” He pointed a gnarled finger. “The last service Brother Arthur attended was for Sister Edna Farrell's passing. I recall that because Papa had been praying for the renewal of the man's faith. About a week after the funeral Papa paid Brother Arthur a visit, and found himself preaching down the barrel of a gun. After that, he give up.”

“When did Edna Farrell die?”

“Nineteen forty-nine.”

Edward Arthur had sold his land to the H&F Investment Group on April 10, 1949.


@by txiuqw4

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