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Chapter 34

T HE TURNOUT FOR E DNA F ARRELL'S FUNERAL WAS LARGER THAN I expected, given that she'd been dead more than half a century. In addition to members of her family, much of Bryson City, and many from the police and sheriff 's departments had gathered to lay the old woman to rest. Lucy Crowe came, and so did Byron McMahon.

Stories of the Hell Fire Club now eclipsed accounts of the Air TransSouth crash, and reporters were there from across the Southeast. Eight seniors butchered and buried in the basement of a mountain lodge, the lieutenant governor discredited, and more than a dozen prominent citizens jailed. The media were calling them the Cannibal Murders, and I was forgotten like last year's sex scandal. While I was sorry that I could not shield Mrs. Veckhoff and her daughter from the publicity and public humiliation, I was relieved to be out of the spotlight.

I hung back during the graveside service, thinking of the many exits our departing lives can take. Edna Farrell didn't die in her bed but departed through a much more melancholy door. So did Tucker Adams, at rest under the weathered plaque at my feet. I felt great sadness for these people, so long dead. But I felt comfort in the knowledge that I had helped bring their bodies to this hill. And satisfaction that the killings were at last at an end.

When the mourners dispersed, I approached and laid a small bouquet on Edna's grave. Hearing footsteps behind me, I turned. Lucy Crowe was walking in my direction.

“Surprised to see you back so soon.”

“It's my hard Irish head. Impossible to crack.”

She smiled.

“It's so beautiful up here.” My gaze swept over the trees, the tombstones, the hills and valleys spreading to the horizon like orange velveteen.

“It's why I love the highlands. There is a Cherokee creation myth that tells how the world was created from mud. A vulture flew over, and where his wings beat down, there were valleys. Where his wings rose, there grew mountains.”

“You are Cherokee?”

A Crowe nod.

Another question answered.

“How's your situation with Larke Tyrell?”

I laughed.

“Two days ago I received a letter of commendation from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner assuming full responsibility for the misunderstanding, exonerating me of any wrongdoing, and thanking me for my invaluable contribution to the Air TransSouth recovery. Copies were sent to everyone but the Duchess of York.”

We left the cemetery and walked up the blacktop to our cars. I was inserting my key when she asked another question.

“Did you identify the gargoyles on the tunnel entrance?”

“Harpocrates and Angerona were the Egyptian gods of silence, a reminder to the brothers of their oath of secrecy. Another gimmick borrowed from Sir Francis.”

“The names?”

“Literary and historic references to cannibalism. Some are pretty obscure. Sawney Beane was a fourteenth-century cave-dwelling Scot. The Beane family was supposed to have slaughtered travelers and taken them home for supper. Same thing with Christie o' the Cleek. He and his family lived in a cave in Angus and dined on passing travelers. John Gregg kept the tradition alive in eighteenthcentury Devon.”

“Mr. B?”


“Very good.”

“A Kwakiutl tribal spirit, a bearlike monster whose body was covered with bloody, snarling mouths.”

“Patron saint of the Hamatsa.”

“That's him.”

“And the code names?”

“Pharaohs, gods, archaeological discoveries, characters in ancient tales. Henry Preston was Ilus, the founder of Troy. Kendall Rollins was Piankhy, an ancient Nubian king. Listen to this. Parker Davenport chose the Aztec god Ometeotl, the lord of duality. Do you suppose he was aware of the irony?”

“Ever take a close look at the seal of the State of North Carolina?”

I admitted that I hadn't.

“The motto is from Cicero's ‘Essay on Friendship’—‘ Esse Quam Videri.’”

The Coke-bottle eyes held mine.

“‘To be rather than to seem.’”

Winding down Schoolhouse Hill, I couldn't help but notice a bumper sticker on the car ahead.

Where will you spend eternity?

Though placed in a broader time frame than I'd been considering, the decal posed the same question that was on my mind. Where would I spend the time ahead? More pointedly, with whom?

During my convalescence, Pete had been caring and helpful, bringing flowers, feeding Birdie, heating soup in the microwave. We'd watched old movies, engaged in long conversations. When he was away, I spent hours recalling our life together. I remembered the good times. I remembered the fights, the minor irritations that simmered, then eventually escalated into full-scale battle.

I had resolved one thing: I loved my estranged husband, and we would always be bound in our hearts. But we could no longer be bound in our beds. While handsome, and loving, and funny, and smart, Pete shared something with Sir Francis and his Hell Fire mates: His hat would always be off to Venus.

Pete was a wall I could beat myself against forever. We made much better friends than spouses, and henceforth, I would keep us that way.

I turned onto Main at the bottom of the hill.

I'd also considered Andrew Ryan.

Ryan the colleague. Ryan the cop. Ryan the uncle.

Danielle was not a paramour. She was a niece. That was good. I considered Ryan the man.

The man who wanted to suck my toes.

That was very good.

Because of the wound Pete had inflicted, I'd been hovering on the edge of a relationship with Ryan, wanting to get close but keeping my distance, like a moth drawn to a flame. Attracted but afraid.

Did I need a man in my life?


Did I want one?


What were the words of the song? I'd rather be sorry for something I did, than for something that I didn't do.

I'd decided to give Ryan a try and see how it went.

I had one more stop in Bryson City. A stop I couldn't wait to make.

I parked outside a redbrick building at the corner of Slope and the Bryson Walk. When I entered the glass door, a woman in surgical scrubs looked up and smiled.

“Is he ready?”

“Very. Have a seat.”

She disappeared, and I settled into a plastic chair in the waiting area.

Five minutes later she led Boyd out. His chest was taped, and one foreleg had been shaved. Seeing me, he gave a little hop, then limped over and placed his head on my lap.

“Is he in pain?” I asked the vet.

“Only when he laughs.”

Boyd rolled his eyes upward at me, and the purple tongue dropped out.

“How are you doing, big guy?” I nuzzled his ears and touched my forehead to his.

Boyd sighed.

I straightened and looked at him.

“Are you ready to go home?”

He yipped and his eyebrows danced.

“Let's do it.”

I could hear a laugh in his bark.


@by txiuqw4

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