The cove, p.29
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       The Cove, p.29
 

         Part #1 of FBI Thriller series by Catherine Coulter

  Sally pulled a small notebook out of her purse and began to write down the names on the headstones. She walked around the periphery of the cemetery, ending up with a good thirty names. All the people had died in the early to late 1980’s.

  It didn’t seem right. Thing was, this was a very small town, grown smaller with each decade. Thirty people had died in a period of only eight years? Well, it was possible, she supposed. Some kind of flu epidemic that killed off old folk.

  Then she noticed something else and felt the hair rise on her arms.

  Every one of the headstones bore a man’s name. Not a single woman’s name. Not one. Not a single child’s name. Not one. Just men’s names. On one of the graves, it just said BILLY with a date of death. Nothing more. What was going on here? No women died during this period of time, just men? It made no sense.

  She closed her eyes a moment, wondering what the devil she’d discovered. She knew she had to get this list to David Mountebank and to James. She had to be sure that these people had lived here and died here. She had to be sure that these people had nothing to do with all the reported missing folk. The thought that there might be a connection made her want to grab James and run out of the town as fast as she could.

  She shook her head even as she stared down at one headstone in particular. The name was strange—Lucien Gray. So it was an odd name; it didn’t matter. All these names were legitimate, they had to be. These were all local people who’d just happened to die during this eight-year stretch. Yeah, and only men died. She found herself looking for Harve Jensen’s grave. Of course there wasn’t one. But there was that one headstone with Lucien Gray scripted on it. It looked very new, very new indeed.

  She was beginning to sweat even as her brain raced ahead.

  No, no. This town was for real.

  This town was filled with good people, not with evil, not with death, more death than she could begin to imagine.

  She put her notebook back in her purse. She didn’t want to go back to Amabel’s cottage.

  She was afraid.

  Why had that poor woman whose screams she’d heard on two different nights been taken prisoner in the first place?

  Had she seen something she shouldn’t have seen? Had she heard something she shouldn’t have heard?

  Why had Doc Spiver been murdered? Had he killed the woman and someone else in town had found out about it and shot him so there would be a kind of justice?

  She tried to empty her mind. She hated to be afraid. She’d been afraid for too long.

  28

  SHE STOPPED AT the World’s Greatest Ice Cream Shop. Amabel wasn’t there, but Sherry Vorhees was.

  “Sally, how good to see you. You here with that cute Mr. Quinlan?”

  “Oh, yes. Can I try the banana walnut?”

  “It’s yummy. We’ve sold more of this flavor in a week than any other in the history of the store. We have so many repeat customers now—coming in regularly from a good fifty-mile radius—that we might have to hire on some of those lazy old codgers out there playing cards around their barrel.”

  Velma Eisner came in from the back room, which was curtained off from the shop by a lovely blue floral drape. She snorted. “Yeah, Sherry, I can just see those old coots selling ice cream. They’d eat it all and belch at us and try to look pathetic.”

  She turned to Sally and smiled. “We discussed having the men involved. Of course, they’d grouse and complain and say it was women’s work. But we decided to keep them out of it just so we’d be the ones bringing in all the profits.”

  “You’re probably right,” Sally said and accepted her ice cream cone. She took a bite and thought her taste buds had gone to heaven. She took another bite and sighed, “This is wonderful. I wonder if Helen would marry me.”

  The women laughed.

  Sherry said, “We’ve come a long way since we used to store ice cream in Ralph Keaton’s caskets, haven’t we, Velma?”

  Velma just smiled as she took $2.60 from Sally.

  Sally took another bite. “I went to Amabel’s cottage, but nobody’s home.”

  Helen came in from the back room. “Hi, Sally. Amabel went down to Portland.”

  “For art supplies and shopping,” Velma said. “She’ll be back in a couple of days, she said. Probably by Friday.”

  “Oh.”

  She licked at the ice cream, felt the taste explode in her mouth, and closed her eyes. “This has to be more sinful than eating three eggs a day.”

  “Well,” Helen said, “if you eat just one ice cream cone a week, what does it matter?” She turned to say to Velma, “I saw Sherry eat three cones last Tuesday.”

  “I did not!”

  “I saw you. They were all double dip chocolate.”

  “I didn’t!”

  The three women started sniping at each other. It was obvious they’d been doing this for years. They knew each other’s red buttons and were pushing them with abandon. Sally just watched, eating her banana walnut ice cream cone. Velma had the last word. Before Sherry or Helen could pipe up, she turned to Sally. “No, we won’t let the men get behind the counter. They’d eat everything.”

  Sally laughed. “I’d be as bad as the men. I’d eat the entire stock in one morning.” She finished her cone and patted her stomach. “I don’t feel quite so skinny now.”

  “Stay here, Sally, and you’ll look all pillowy and comfortable like us in no time,” Sherry Vorhees said.

  “I was admiring the town,” Sally said. “It’s so beautiful, so utterly perfect. And all those flowers, every spring flower that will bloom is out and planted and wonderfully tended. Even the cemetery. The grass is mowed, the headstones are well cared for. I was wondering if you ever forgot anything at all that would make the town look even more perfect?”

  “We try to think of everything,” Helen said. “We have a town meeting once a week and discuss improvements or things that should be repaired or brought up-to-date.”

  “Whatever were you doing in the cemetery?” Velma asked, as she wiped her wet hands on her apron, the same cute blue floral pattern as the drape.

  “Oh, just wandering around after I realized that Amabel wasn’t at home. I noticed something kind of unusual.”

  “What was that?” Helen asked.

  For a moment, Sally wondered if she shouldn’t just keep her mouth shut. But no, these women were sniping at each other about ice cream, for God’s sake. They knew who had died and when. They’d tell her. Why not? There was nothing frightening going on here. “Well, there were about thirty graves on the perimeter of the cemetery. All those people died in the eighties. All of them were men. There was nothing special on the headstones, just a name and dates of birth and death. The other headstones have personal stuff. There was one in particular, just said BILLY. I just thought it was strange. Maybe everyone got tired of being personal. So many men died, not a single woman. You must have been surprised at that.”

  Sherry Vorhees sighed deeply and shook her head. “A terrible thing it was,” she said. “Hal was so depressed that we lost so many of the flock in those years. And you’re right, Sally, it was all men who died. All different reasons for their deaths, but it still hurt all of us.”

  Helen Keaton said quickly, “Don’t forget that quite a few of those deaths came from folk living in the subdivision. Their relatives thought our cemetery was romantic, set near the cliff as it is, with the sea breezes blowing through. We let them bury their dead here.”

  “Did that poor woman Mr. Quinlan and I found at the base of the cliffs get buried here?”

  “No,” Velma Eisner said. “Her husband was a rude young man. He was yelling around that we were somehow responsible. I told him to look at our muscles and do some thinking. As if we could have had something to do with his wife’s death. He stormed out of here.”

  “He didn’t even buy an ice cream cone,” Helen said. “We had vanilla with fresh blueberries that week. He’s never been back.”

  “Well, that wasn’t ve
ry nice of him,” Sally said. “I’ve got to go now. Thank you for the ice cream.” She turned at the door. “I didn’t see Doc Spiver’s grave.”

  “He isn’t there,” Velma said. “He wanted to be cremated and sent back to Ohio. He said there was no way in hell he was going to let Ralph Keaton lay him out.”

  Helen Keaton laughed. “Ralph was put out, I can tell you.”

  “No, Helen,” Sherry said. “Ralph was pissed. Put out is something you are when Ralph doesn’t throw his shorts in the hamper.”

  The women laughed, Sally along with them. She walked straight across the street to Thelma’s Bed and Breakfast.

  Sherry Vorhees flipped the curtain back down on the windows of the World’s Greatest Ice Cream Shop. She said to the two other women, “There are three FBI agents in town and Sheriff David Mountebank.”

  “Those big shots should keep everyone safe,” Velma said.

  “Oh, yes,” Helen said, taking a swipe of ice cream on her fingers and slowly licking it off. “Safe as bugs in a miner’s winter blanket.”

  Quinlan finally hung up the phone. “It took a while to read out all those names and dates. Dillon’s right on it. Finding out the stats on all those guys will be a piece of cake for him. He’ll get back to us soon.”

  Sally said slowly, “I told the women at the World’s Greatest Ice Cream Shop that I hadn’t seen Doc Spiver’s grave. They told me he’d been cremated and sent back to Ohio.”

  “Interesting,” Quinlan said and picked up the phone again. “Dillon? It’s Quinlan again. Find out if a Doc Spiver was cremated and sent back to Ohio, okay? No, it isn’t as important as the other names, just of interest to Sally and me. Supposedly Doc had no relatives alive. So why would they cremate him and not bury him here in their own cemetery?

  “Now, don’t say that. It isn’t polite. I bet Sally heard that. Yes, she did, and she’s shaking her head at your language.”

  He was grinning, still listening. “Anything else? No? All right, call us as soon as you’ve got something. We’re staying here for dinner and the evening.” When he hung up, he was still grinning. He said to Sally, “I love to hear Dillon curse. He doesn’t do it well, just keeps repeating the same thing over and over. I tried to teach him more vocabulary—you know, some phrases that connected a good number of really bad words, animal parts, metaphysical parts, whatever—but he just couldn’t get the hang of it.” He gave her some examples, adopting a different pose for each example. “Here’s the one that Brammer does best, but only when he’s really pissed at one of the agents.”

  She rocked back on the bed, she was laughing so hard. Then she sobered. Laughing?

  “Stop it, Sally. It’s fine to forget. It’s great to hear you laugh. Keep doing it. Now that I’ve taken care of all of your lewd instincts, let’s go have Martha’s cooking.”

  It was a feast, better than Thanksgiving, Corey Harper said. Martha brought in a huge platter with a pot roast in the center, carrots, potatoes, and onions placed artistically around it. There was a huge Caesar salad with tart dressing, garlic bread that indeed made your teeth snap, and for dessert, an apple crisp. And there was eggplant parmigiana on the side. Thelma hadn’t waited. She’d wanted her eggplant at four-thirty.

  Martha appeared at just the right times to refill their wineglasses with the nicest Cabernet Sauvignon anyone had tasted in a long time.

  She clucked primarily around the men, encouraging them to eat, until finally Quinlan dropped his fork, sat back in his chair, and groaned. “Martha, any more and God will strike me down for gluttony. Just look at David—his shirt buttons are about to pop off. Even Thomas, who’s skinny, would fill out in no time here with you. Since I’m polite, I won’t refer to how much the women poked down their gullets.”

  Sally threw the rest of her garlic bread at him. She turned to a beaming Martha. “You said apple crisp, Martha?”

  “Oh, yes, Sally, with lots of French Vanilla ice cream from the World’s Greatest Ice Cream Shop.”

  They had coffee with amaretto, a treat from Thelma—who was eating in her room since Quinlan had worn her out earlier with all her talk, or so she claimed according to Martha. Actually, Thelma had to sleep off all that eggplant parmigiana she’d eaten.

  After Martha returned to the kitchen, Sally told Thomas Shredder, Corey Harper, and David Mountebank, who had easily been persuaded to return for dinner and another conference, about the cemetery.

  Quinlan said, “I called Dillon. Knowing how fast he is, I’ll probably hear back from him tonight. If it’s something weird, I’ll wake all of you up.”

  “I don’t know if anyone will be able to wake me up,” David said, as he sipped at his coffee. “Forget the coffee as a stimulant. This is the best Amaretto I’ve ever tasted. I’m already feeling like I want to put on my jammies. I hope my girls don’t try to climb up my body when I get home. With luck, Jane will already have them in bed.”

  Sally didn’t say anything. She hated Amaretto, always had. She’d taken one drink, then discreetly poured her coffee into Quinlan’s cup while Corey Harper was telling a story about a guy in training school at Quantico who’d arrested some visiting brass by mistake after a bank robbery in Hogan’s Alley, the fake USA town set up at Quantico for training. The biggest of the brass had thought it a great exercise until one of the trainees had clapped handcuffs on him and hauled him off.

  Quinlan promised he would call if Dillon found out anything urgent. But he couldn’t imagine waking up even if the phone rang off the wall.

  “I think you’re tipsy,” he told Sally as he held her up with one arm and unlocked the tower room door with the other.

  “I’m tipsy?”

  “I think Ms. Lilly would get a kick out of seeing you now.”

  “Next time I see her, I’ll have to tell her that even though I was tipsy I had your pants off you in record time.”

  She was laughing so hard that when she jumped on him, he wrapped his arms around her back and brought her down to the bed, on top of him. He was kissing her, his breath warm with the tart taste of Amaretto.

  “For a small favor I won’t tell Martha what you did. You know, pouring your Amaretto in my coffee cup. Now, what’s this about getting my pants off?”

  She tried to give him a sultry look. He nearly doubled over laughing. Then she touched him and he groaned, his laughter choking in his throat. His eyes closed, his neck muscles convulsed.

  “Jesus,” he said. He began kissing her, his tongue in her mouth, and she loved the feel of him, the taste of him. His hands were on her bottom, strong hands kneading her, pressing her against him. He was hard as the bars on her windows at Beadermeyer’s sanitarium. Oh, God, why had she thought that?

  She felt a shiver of cold. No, that was just a horrible memory that belonged in the past. It couldn’t touch her now. She kissed him again. His mouth was slack. He wasn’t so hard now against her belly. He wasn’t rubbing his palms over her buttocks.

  She lifted herself on her elbows and stared down at him, preparing to see him wink at her, preparing to have him toss her over onto her back.

  “James?”

  He smiled vaguely at her, not moving, not winking, nothing. “I’m tired, Sally,” he said, his words soft and slurred. “Aren’t you?”

  “Just a bit,” she said, leaned down, and kissed him again. Suddenly he closed his eyes, and his head fell to the side.

  “James? James!”

  Something was wrong. He wasn’t teasing her. Something was very wrong. She pressed her fingers to the pulse in his throat. Slow, steady. She flattened her palm over his heart. The beat was solid and slow. She lifted his eyelids and called his name again. She slapped his face.

  No response.

  He was unconscious. The damned coffee had been drugged. She’d had just a single sip of it, thank God, and that’s why she was still conscious. There was no other explanation. She tried to pull herself off Quinlan, and she did manage it, but her arms and legs felt soft and wobbly. Just one drink o
f that amaretto was doing this to her?

  She had to get help. She had to get to Thomas Shredder and Corey Harper. They were staying here, just down the hall. Not far, not far at all. Oh, God, they’d drunk the coffee too. And so had David, and he was driving. She had to see if Thomas and Corey were unconscious. She had to go to their rooms and see. She could make it.

  She fell off the bed and rolled. She lay there a moment on her back, staring up at the beautiful molding that ran around the edge of the ceiling. There were even Victorian cherubs at each corner, naked, holding up harps and flowers.

  She had to move. She got herself up on her hands and knees. What room was Corey Harper in? She’d told her, but she couldn’t remember. Well, it didn’t matter, she would find both of them. Their rooms had to be just down the hall. She crawled to the door. Not far at all. She managed to stretch up and turn the knob to open the door.

  The hallway stretched forever to her left, the lighting dim and shadowy. What if the person who had drugged the coffee was waiting in those shadows, waiting to see if someone didn’t succumb to the drug, waiting to kill that person? She shook her head and managed to heave herself to her feet. She made her feet move, one step at a time, that was all she needed to do, just one foot in front of the other. She’d find Thomas and Corey. Finally, a door appeared on her left—number 114. She knocked.

  There was no answer.

  She called out, her voice only a miserable whisper, “Thomas? Corey?”

  She knocked again. Still no answer. She turned the knob. To her surprise, the door opened. It opened quickly, and she stumbled into the room, her knees buckling under her. She fell on her side.

  She called out, “Thomas? Corey?”

  She managed to get onto her hands and knees. There was only a single lamp burning, on top of the bedside table. Thomas Shredder was lying on his back, his arms and legs sprawled out away from his body. He was unconscious. Or he was dead. She tried to scream. She wanted to scream, but only a small cry came out of her mouth.

 
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