Dark Rites – Heather Graham

Alex Maple wasn’t sure, as he first became aware of himself, if he was alive or dead. He was miserable; he knew that. Alive—he had to be alive to hurt in so many places. He hadn’t opened his eyes. Slowly, he tried to do so. At first, he thought about the Undertakers—the duo of kidnapping killers who had recently terrorized Boston. He was probably buried—deep in the earth, in a hole, in a Dumpster, in newly poured roadwork… No. When he opened his eyes, there was light. Too much light, maybe. Looking around, he realized that he wasn’t buried. The harsh light of a naked bulb filled the room where he lay. He tried to move; he sat up. He saw that he was on a gurney. The walls had once been painted that awful sickly green color that graced most of the country’s hospitals. Paint was peeling; dust and dirt covered the floors; spiderwebs were visible around the hanging lightbulb.

There were several other gurneys in the large room—four or five of them. Scattered throughout and by the gurneys were tables, some made out of wood, some that appeared to be newer, made of stainless steel. There were tools on those tables. Knives, clamps, more—instruments that resembled those used by doctors years and years ago, some not so different now. He narrowed his eyes to study the one set. From the 1800s, so it seemed: bullet extractor, amputation knife, saw, cervical dilator, lithotome, scarficator and trephine, among others he couldn’t quite see. Surgical instruments—the trephine for creating gouges in the skull. And the strange shadowy color on some of the tables… Dried blood. He quickly turned to look at another table. Instruments for lobotomy, he thought—the controversial procedure invented by a Portuguese neurologist in the 1940s, known to create as many side effects as the initial mental problem, almost stripping the soul from a man.

He tried to rise from the gurney. It was only then that he realized that he was shackled to it. One huge chain on his left ankle. Another on his right arm. His heart raced; he couldn’t breathe. It seemed that his vision blurred before him and the world started to go black. What the hell? What in God’s name had happened to him? Kidnapped, taken, was he going to be killed? Worse—tortured and killed. The fear was nearly overwhelming! He fought the sensation. Hard! He didn’t have any kind of training for this type of thing; he hadn’t even been a Boy Scout. But he was bright, and he wanted to survive.

He was—not all that useful in such a situation!—a historian. He had to make do. Okay, that meant that, at the least, he was pretty darned sure he knew where he was. The Mariana Institute for the Mentally Unfit, opened circa 1840, closed down when the Commonwealth of Massachusetts had approved the disincorporation of several valley towns in order to create the Quabbin, a reservoir of water for Boston, in the 1930s. The Mariana Institute remained on high ground, ground that was deeply forested, now inhabited and visited only by the wildlife that proliferated the area—bobcats, black bears, moose, red foxes, eagles, deer, weasels, coyotes and more. It was supposed that it existed no more. But Alex was in it! According to official records, it—like so many other buildings—had been razed circa 1936. But clearly it hadn’t been, and he only knew that it was still here because of an obscure reference he had recently found in a book of incredibly boring records. Reading between the lines, he realized that they’d run late with the demolition—a complaint by the man in charge chalked it up to the fact that the doctors had been trying to find new placements for the remaining patients. And no more crews had been sent out after the date that it had been recorded as demolished.

The area was called “the accidental wilderness,” because no one had realized what a reserve they would create when they flooded the towns. He’d been so excited about what he’d discovered. He hadn’t been able to wait to…tell Vickie! The terrible thought filtered in: no one knew it was here. No one would know he was here! Of course, people hiked along trails that weren’t that far away. There was a visitor center, there were wildlife refuges… None of them near the site of the abandoned mental institute—which had just been left there as the Commonwealth of Massachusetts dealt with matters far more serious than a derelict building that most people wanted to pretend had never existed. It wasn’t anywhere near any kind of an actual large city, with no real roads left to reach it. The wretched place—known for death and mayhem—was not even up for grabs to the many entrepreneurs who loved to create Halloween horror houses or museums out of such old institutes. Massachusetts had a solid grip on the area. How the hell had he even gotten here? He couldn’t remember. He had just woken up and… Found himself shackled to a table.

Think! he commanded himself. He was supposed to have a brilliant mind. He was one of the youngest professors of history at one of the finest institutes of learning in the United States. That was, of course, why he could figure out where he was. None of this helped in the least in explaining how he had gotten chained up in a supposedly nonexistent mental hospital! Remember! Remember where he had been, what he had been doing. For a moment, his past eluded him. So he went back to the beginning: he’d been born in Auburn, Massachusetts. He’d grown up on State Street. He’d always been a nerd, but thank God, it was okay; time and society—and The Big Bang Theory—had made nerds acceptable. He was a hair over six foot three, but his weight was a mere hundred and eighty-five—no matter what he ate! One of the biggest, toughest football players in the school had been his best friend.

He hadn’t been stuffed into school lockers or had his head shoved into the toilet. He’d been treated like some kind of guru, really. And after high school, Harvard. Graduation. He’d dated Allie Trent; they’d been a good pair. But Allie had died, way too young, way too smart and lovely, to have been lost so sadly to the horrors of disease. That had been a few years back now. He’d gone on a dating website and had a few okay experiences, but nothing that had touched his heart. He indulged in a moment of regret, missing Allie again. His excursions with the opposite sex since had barely awakened his libido.

Maybe he needed a wilder libido. Not something to worry about now! Focus. So… He worked at the college, he came home and he researched historical events and whatever else grabbed his fancy; he loved coffee shops and acoustic music and… Then he remembered. Three weeks ago, he’d been savagely attacked right in front of his apartment. Struck so violently on the head he’d spent days in the hospital. He’d never known what had hit him. Although he’d been somewhat involved in the Undertaker case, but that situation had been solved. His friend Vickie Preston and FBI Special Agent Griffin Pryce had come to see him in the hospital; they —and the police—were still looking for the attacker or attackers, but they’d discovered nothing so far. But there had been a note left on his battered body. Hell’s afire and Satan rules, the witches, they were real.

The time has come, the rites to read, the flesh, ’twas born to heal. Yes, Satan is coming! The cops, he knew, had chalked it all up to some gang or even cult, acting out. Especially since he wasn’t the only one attacked; a young woman on Beacon Hill had been struck and left with the same note, as had an older man—one who had barely survived!—in Brookline. Boston had never been crime-free—not even during the days of the very harsh Puritan laws that had first ruled the Massachusetts Bay Colony. So far—in this rash of knock-’em-out-and-leave-’em-with-a-Satanic-warning attacks—no one had died. The police did what they could, but maybe they were busier with other murders than they were with the head-knockings by a would-be Crowley-esque cult. Vickie and her agent friend would be on it, though. He was certain! Alex had been left hurt but alive. And once he’d healed a bit, he’d looked up the rhyme that had been left on his chest. It wasn’t even original.

It had first been used in the 1600s by a man named Ezekiel Martin, the bitter leader of a shunned Puritan group, and then again in the 1800s by a gang of thugs in Fall River; it had been used there again in the 1970s. But there were no known serious Satanic cults holding forth in Massachusetts now—not the kind who drew any attention. The cops had watched over him for a couple of weeks. In fact, he’d become pretty friendly with the cop assigned to watch him most days. But nothing else had happened. Nothing had been found. He’d gone about his daily routine. And the city budget hadn’t allowed for police protection for him. Then there were other victims of other crimes. And life went on.

He’d accepted an invitation to a special art showing; he’d seen the newest superhero movie—he’d gone about life. He even went to see the duo playing at the coffee shop. That was it! The coffee shop by Faneuil Hall! He’d gone to sip a cappuccino and listen to a great musical set, a brother and sister with a pair of guitars, lead and bass. A pair of lovely out-of-time hippies, he thought, doing a delightful session of folk music. Professor Hanson had called him about the paper he would soon be publishing on relationships between the founding fathers. Milton Hanson was a friend—one who was helping him make his position at Harvard permanent. Since Alex had been attacked in the street, with centuries-old Satanic cult words written in bloodred marker on his chest, Professor Hanson had also been trying to help him with research in that direction. But that had little to do with the night… There had been the music. He loved music! Then there had been the girl. The girl! The waitress, who had waited on him even when he hadn’t really needed to be waited on.

She’d been great. He tried to remember what she had looked like. About five-six, a brunette—a bubbly brunette. She worked for the coffee shop, or so he thought. He’d gotten a chair before his drink had been ready. He hadn’t stood at the end of the counter waiting. The girl had brought him his cappuccino. She’d been so cheerful and nice. He remembered listening until it was late, until even that beloved and heavily trafficked area of Boston had gone quiet. He’d stayed to the last song.

He’d been thrilled because—right in the middle of it all—the pretty young singer had come to him and thanked him for being such a great audience member. He’d stood; he’d gone out to the street… And then the world had gone dark, and only images had swum before him, the people in line at the coffee shop, the musicians playing, the pretty singer, the bubbly waitress… Dark had turned to black. And he had woken up here, chained to the table. Why? Who the hell kidnapped a quiet and unassuming professor of history and brought him out here, far from Boston, to an abandoned mental institute in the wilderness? He wasn’t worth anything; he had no fortune. He sure as hell held no state secrets; he knew nothing about anything important. There was absolutely no reason to kidnap him, bring him here. Maybe someone who was mentally deranged themselves had done this. And they were just going to leave him chained here—leave him to slowly die without food or water, chained to the gurney, rotting away until something found him—a bobcat, a rare mountain lion or a black bear. Or even the rodents and insects that abounded… Stop; stop, he told himself. He was brilliant, or so they said.

He should be able to find a way out. Screw brilliant. He wished he was a mechanic—or a superhero. Yeah, a superhero with the power to break chains. He studied the metal around his wrist and the chains. At least he wasn’t a victim of the Undertakers. He wasn’t buried alive; he had plenty of air to breathe. He thought of Vickie Preston. They had first met at the coffee shop—she had asked for his help. He knew she’d been instrumental in catching the killers who had so recently terrorized Boston and the city’s surroundings.

Nice person, beautiful woman…she’d quickly become a true friend, visiting him at the hospital, working on the history of the note—she’d even gone to a concert with him. She was supposed to have been… Meeting him! Yes, with a friend! She would know that he wasn’t in the city—because he’d be standing her up! He could picture her now, emerald green eyes glazed with concern. She’d worry, twirling a lock of long dark hair as she wondered why he wasn’t there. She might even stand—tall and willowy—and pace. Surely she wouldn’t just think he’d suddenly become rude? Would she somehow know, and start to search for him, would she have any idea…? She had been working with the FBI. With the agent she’d brought to see him, the one who had probed the note, who had promised that he wouldn’t stop until his attacker or attackers had been found. He suddenly realized that he was thinking intently. Find me, Vickie, find me! Find me, find me, find me… He decided that his IQ statistics were wrong, and that he was an idiot—really, what kind of genius could he be? Did he really think that the woman had ESP and would hop up and send out the troops? But she saw the dead! True or not. He was a scholar. He believed in science but he also believed she spoke to the dead.

He had kiddingly accused her of it one day when he’d come upon her and she’d appeared to be talking to herself. Of course, everyone looked as if they were talking to themselves these days—because they were wired to their phones! But it had been different with Vickie. The way she’d flushed, the way he’d even felt as if something was there…someone else! He’d been joking, of course, and yet… He’d never had such a feeling. Naturally, as an academic, he was above such fantasy. And, then again, because he was an academic, he did mull over the concept of memory and self and… There was so much about her that was extraordinary. He’d seen that when she’d worked with the FBI during the recent rash of murders in the state. He’d seen her incredible mind. Find me, Vickie! Maybe, just maybe, she really did talk to the dead, and if that was true, maybe, just maybe, it was possible that she had ESP, too! He frowned, realizing there was a lump of something in the corner. He twisted around enough to rise and see what it was. Oh, God.

A body. A human body. And the head… Was gone. And there was movement upon the remains…rats running havoc! Terror raced through him, making it feel as if his blood ran hot and cold and then hot again, as if it tore through his muscle, turned even his bones into something more wobbly than gelatin. He fell back on the table. Then he heard the awful creaking sound of an old door, a sound something like a squeaky scream that cried out into the night. Someone…something…was coming in. 1 Griffin Pryce leaped over the fence that connected the houses and yards along the Hyde Park neighborhood. He’d been running hard, chasing a man in a red cape. A woman had just been attacked —the fourth victim of the thugs terrorizing the area.

This time, the attacker hadn’t gone unseen; a neighbor had called it in right when it had happened. Miraculously, Griffin had been about to have dinner with friends and was being dropped off by another friend—Detective Barnes—at a restaurant on Hyde Park Avenue when they had both heard the call for help come over the police radio. He’d reached the scene just as the attacker—down on his knees to leave the rhyme about Satan in red marker on his victim’s chest—had seen him. And run. Griffin had taken thirty seconds to assure himself that the woman was alive; the neighbor’s call to 9-1-1 meant that an ambulance and police cars were on the way. He could already hear the sirens. And so he ran after the attacker, who was wearing a red cape. Stupid, Griffin thought. You want to wear a cape and attack people? Makes it harder to run and leap fences—and stands out like a…a red light! But the young man was fast and agile. Griffin leaped fences, tore down alleys, ducked beneath drying sheets and leaped another fence.

At one point, he could nearly touch the young man. When he turned to glance at Griffin, his face was clearly visible. He couldn’t be more than twenty, twenty-five tops. He was clean-shaven with green eyes and a clear complexion, long nose, good mouth. Then he was gone. This time he ran into an alley that led to a seven-foot fence—no Dumpster to use to leap over it…nothing at all. The man threw himself against the dead end. “Stop!” Griffin demanded, pulling out his Glock and aiming at the young man. “Stop. Put your hands behind your head.

Get over here, and get down on your knees.” The young man stared back at him. “Throw down your weapon.” The man did; he tossed the club he’d used—it resembled one of the billy clubs used by British police—and shouted, “I’m not armed.” He started to open his cape. “Stop—I’ll fire,” Griffin warned. “Hey, just showing you… I’m not armed! So shoot me. Come on, shoot me.” “I’m not going to shoot you. I am going to arrest you.

Do as I say, get down on your knees, hands behind your head.” The man ignored Griffin. He reached for something in his cape; Griffin rushed the twenty or so feet that stood between them. The man stuck something in his mouth. Griffin shoved him to the ground, reaching into his mouth, trying to find what he’d taken. Too late. Even as Griffin sought whatever it was, the man began to tremble—and to foam at the mouth. Griffin swore, trying to support him as he began to thrash and foam. As he did so, Detective David Barnes—who had been close behind him all the way—came running down the alley. “Ambulance, med techs! He took something,” Griffin shouted.

The man stared up at Griffin with wild eyes—terrified eyes. Maybe he’d never really imagined what dying might be like. But he was defiant. “Long live Satan!” he choked out. Then he twitched again, and again—and went still. Barnes hunkered down by Griffin and the young man. “He’s gone. What a fool. He must have taken a suicide capsule!” “He wanted me to shoot him,” Griffin said, shaking his head. What a waste of life.

“Anyway, it’s over. People in Boston will be safer,” Barnes said. “You caught the guy, Griffin. Bastard killed himself. Sad as anything, but it’s over at least.” “Ah, hell, Barnes, come on!” Griffin said. He liked Barnes, didn’t mind working with the detective, and they had a pretty good rapport. But Barnes was way off base with this one. “It’s not over,” Griffin said quietly. “Why do you think he killed himself? They’ve got some kind of a pact.

There’s a cult working here.” “Well, yeah, obviously, this kid is some kind of Satanist. But, Griffin, you were right on top of this one. And we’re looking at one man. One man who smashed the skull of a young woman—and ran. This has been too hard for us because the attacks have been so random. But it’s got to have been the act of one crazy man. All he had to do was find someone alone on a dark street, strike fast, leave his message and run. It just took one person, Griffin.” “Yeah, well, we don’t know if it’s been the same one person.

I’m telling you, Barnes, we’ve got a real problem here. The violence isn’t going to stop.” “Griffin, you’re concerned because you thought you’d be heading back to Virginia by now. You chose to stay because of the attack on Alex Maple—Vickie’s friend,” Barnes told him. It was true; after the Undertaker case, he’d planned on going back to Krewe headquarters in northern Virginia. But it wasn’t just that Alex had been involved. The writing on the victims had been disturbing. His instincts told him there was more to it. “I wish I felt like celebrating, Barnes. I’m sorry.

I’m worried. I’m afraid that we have a Charles Manson, David Koresh or Jim Jones–type active here. I believe you’ve got someone out there who has been preaching witchcraft or paganism or—from what we’ve seen—the rise of Satan. If that’s true, you’ve got a group of people running around assaulting random but easy targets—and this won’t be the last attack.” * * * “He’s never stood me up—I’m worried,” Vickie Preston said to her longtime friend, Roxanne Greeley, looking at her phone again as she did so. She’d been looking forward to the evening; she had become good friends with Alex Maple. She really liked him. He was boyish and enthusiastic, smart as a whip—and it was wonderful to know someone who loved history as much as she did. Alex was a professor; Vickie wrote guidebooks, and she was known for making the history within those books readable and relatable. She’d called on Alex for help in the recent Undertaker case and they’d quickly become good friends.

And Alex had a great time talking to Griffin, as well. Ever since she and Griffin had come together during the horror and solving of the recent murders in the city, Vickie couldn’t imagine having friends who didn’t get along with Griffin. She was very much in love with him. As far as he and Alex went, they had similar taste in music and sports—Alex might be quite the intellectual, but he loved the Patriots. While others might scoff at the home team’s arrogance, in Alex’s mind they deserved to be a bit arrogant. Griffin had gone to dinner with old friends, members of his unit who were passing through Boston on their way to their home a bit north, in Salem; Vickie hadn’t gone with him only because she’d already made plans with Alex this evening, and she’d invited Roxanne—she had it all set up. She already regretted the fact that she’d made previous plans. She really wanted to get to know Griffin’s friends—Devin Lyle and Craig Rockwell. Craig was known as Rocky, she had learned, and he’d grown up in Peabody, Massachusetts, while Devin had grown up in Salem. Now they were a married couple, and though Devin was still a children’s book author, she had also gone through the academy and become part of the Krewe of Hunters unit down in Virginia.

But Vickie had never ditched one friend for another, or ignored a promise of a dinner date with one person to go out with someone else. She had thought of switching dates with Alex. That hadn’t worked, however, because she hadn’t been able to reach him. And she couldn’t just not show up—Alex had been so excited. He’d made what he thought was a pretty amazing discovery about something that had to do with Massachusetts. He was enjoying lording it over her—though he said he couldn’t wait to tell her about it. Even though their friendship was pretty new, Vickie felt she knew Alex. He was often crazy busy, and still, like her, if he’d made a date, he’d be there. He didn’t seem to be the kind of man who would simply forget a friend, under any circumstance. Not that unexpected things didn’t happen, but he did have a cell phone, and he should have called.

Naturally, Roxanne was aware that Vickie had been entertaining ulterior motives in insisting that she come with them to dinner at the café. They were both great people, and Vickie wanted them to get together. She wasn’t matchmaking; if they happened to like each other, that would be great. If not, it was just a dinner with friends. Vickie’s pretense to have Roxanne join them at dinner was that she was worried; Alex had taken quite a beating when he’d gone down. Vickie had said that she was afraid that she’d be ridiculously emotional, embarrassing everyone, if they were alone. Dumb excuse, yes. And Roxanne had finally accused her point-blank of trying to set her up. “You are playing matchmaker,” Roxanne said. “Never a good thing.

” “No, not usually a good thing,” Vickie had corrected. But Roxanne had laughed. “Let’s do it. My last affair fell apart quickly enough. Hot and heavy— and over in the two seconds we realized I love a good art show and he loves watching sports in his boxers and guzzling beer. I mean, lots of guys do that, but not twenty-four hours a day or every single second out of work! I don’t seem to choose well—maybe you choosing for me will be the right thing. How could meeting this guy be anything worse than what happened before?” Roxanne had been—for a brief time—growing heavily involved with an old boyfriend of Vickie’s, but in the rising intensity of the case just solved, she’d not only been seriously injured, but forced to rethink where she wanted to be in a relationship. And yes, Vickie wanted to set her up with Alex. But now, of course, the guy wasn’t there. Vickie dialed his number again.

No answer. “Maybe he knew I was coming,” Roxanne said. “That could scare a guy away.” “Don’t be ridiculous,” Vickie said. “You’re beautiful.” Her friend was beautiful: blonde, trim, with a great smile. She just didn’t have luck with men. Vickie continued. “I know he wants to see me. I’ve been working on all kinds of things having to do with his assault.

I was tracing that rhyme that was left written on his chest—and now, the same rhyme that was left on the other victims of this attacker, as well.” “Of course you have,” Roxanne murmured. She was a visual artist, filled with all kinds of insight and art appreciation, but she was nowhere near as fond of history as either Vickie or Alex. “Bear with me,” Vickie said. “That saying that was written on him—it goes back—way back. I don’t believe there were really any kind of Satanists running around when the whole thing started. I found reference to a man named Ezekiel Martin, who had studied to be a Puritan minister. He was never ordained, but he practiced his own brand of religion and managed to take a slew of people with him west into the woods to form a new colony and sect—one that he ruled through preaching a different higher power—that, apparently, being Satan. “In truth, he seemingly followed a young woman named Missy Prior, who had left of her own accord, being against the repression of the society. Anyway, Ezekiel had a thing for Missy—but she didn’t have a thing for him.

He managed to blame her for every ill that befell his community. He claimed to have found those words written in the ground near where Missy Prior lived, and that Missy was trying to conjure Satan, and that Satan came to him at night and claimed that Ezekiel would have Missy Prior. Naturally, he saw himself as Satan’s representative. Satan in the flesh until Satan should appear… His personal religion afforded him lots of benefits.” “Wow—and yuck! Even way back, people were going on icky ‘I’m close to God so I get to have all the sex’ trips, huh?” “I’m still trying to find more on Ezekiel Martin,” Vickie said. “Isn’t Alex a history professor?” “Exactly. He’s in a guest position, or whatever they call it right now—and he loves Harvard, so he’s hoping to stay on.” “And I’m sure he’s researching all this himself.” “He is, but that’s also why he’s anxious to meet with me. Compare notes.

” Their waitress came by, a pretty, gamine-faced young woman with dark brown hair. “You still waiting for your friend?” she asked. “We’re going to give him a few more minutes,” Vickie said. “Is it that fellow you’ve met here before?” Vickie looked at her with surprise, and then realized that the young woman usually wore her hair down, and that—yes, of course—she’d had her several times as a server at the coffee shop. “Yes, I’m waiting on Alex,” she said. The girl smiled cheerfully. “He was here last night. I’m sure he’ll be along.” “There—she’s sure Alex will be along,” Roxanne said. “He was here last night?” Vickie asked.

“Yes, he’s always in when the Dearborn duo are playing. He loves them,” the waitress said. “I’ll keep my eye out!” she promised as she moved on. “Thanks,” Vickie said. She’d been with Alex when he’d come to see the Dearborn brother-andsister performers before. They were talented guitarists and played folk music, ballads and covers of Simon and Garfunkel tunes, John Denver, Carole King and more. She’d heard that the pair were twins; if so, they were fraternal. He was blond with soft brown eyes; she had extremely dark hair and smoke-gray eyes. They were an attractive pair, and they definitely seemed to have a casual, easy way with a crowd. “I just wish that he’d answer his phone,” Vickie said.

“Vickie!” For a moment, her heart jumped. But it wasn’t Alex calling her. She looked through the milling guests in the coffee shop and saw Professor Milton Hanson, one of Alex’s closest associates. He knew Vickie’s father, though was more of an associate than a friend. Actually, her dad didn’t like him very much. “Who is that? Cool-looking guy, distinguished…dignified.” He was “smarmy,” according to her dad. A little too good-looking. A little too close to some of his students. “Hello, young lady.

How are you?” he asked, stopping by the table. He had an attractive woman on his arm; she offered Vickie a big smile. “Professor Hanson,” she said, introducing him to Roxanne. He, in turn, introduced his lady friend. “I wanted to come by to check out this café,” Hanson said. “Our mutual friend, Alex Maple, loves this place. But there’s no music.” “Yes, Alex loves it,” Vickie agreed. “But the music is on Saturday nights.” Roxanne opened her mouth; she was clearly about to say that they were waiting for Alex.

Vickie kicked her under the table. A little tiny squeak escaped her. “Saturday night. I’ll have to come then. Well, nice to see you!” Hanson said, and he moved on. “Hey! That hurt,” Roxanne said. “Sorry.” “Why didn’t you tell him we were waiting for Alex now?” Roxanne asked. “I don’t know.” “He’s still here somewhere,” Roxanne said.

“We could find him.” “No, I just don’t feel comfortable asking him about Alex.” “Okay. But Alex isn’t here. So, seriously, maybe something just came up,” Roxanne said. “Let’s face it. Not that I blame you—I mean, you were kidnapped and nearly killed recently—but you’re overly suspicious of the world. I’m overly suspicious, too, since that wasn’t such a great time for me, either. And I’m your basic coward, so that adds to me doubting everything. But honestly—aren’t you getting a little carried away, being so worried just because Alex didn’t show up for dinner? Maybe his sister was sick, or maybe he had to rush his dog to the emergency vet or something.

Things do happen.” “But someone like Alex, Roxanne, he would let me know. You know, maybe I am being ridiculous. I just can’t believe he’d be so rude.” “I’m sorry, Vickie. I love you—you really are the best friend and most courteous human being—but maybe his emergency was just more important than you.” “I hope that’s true,” Vickie murmured. Just as Roxanne spoke, Vickie’s phone rang. It was Griffin. “Hey! How’s it going? I wish I could have joined you,” Vickie said.

“Dinner didn’t happen. Barnes was dropping me off at the restaurant when someone called in an attack down the street from where we were—we heard it on the scanner. Anyway, to make a long story short, I gave chase, caught the guy—and he took some kind of a suicide pill,” Griffin told her. “So, he’s dead?” “Who’s dead?” Roxanne demanded, looking at Vickie with alarm. “An attacker,” Vickie murmured quickly. “That’s great!” Roxanne said. “No, I mean, not the dead part. He’s been caught, right? But… Griffin killed him? I mean, we shouldn’t want anyone dead. Except this guy really hurt a lot of people, so—” “He killed himself,” Vickie said quickly. “How, what, why?” Roxanne asked. “I don’t know! Let me listen,” Vickie pleaded. “Griffin? The attacker is dead?” Griffin didn’t seem to have noted her absence from the conversation to whisper to Roxanne; whatever had happened that evening, it was still consuming his mind. “Yes. Strange, he was trying for suicide by cop. I told him I wouldn’t shoot him. He took a pill before I could stop him.” “But it was the man who attacked Alex, right? I mean, was it? You just said that it was an attack. It was the same kind of attack—with the same words written?” Griffin hesitated on the other end of the phone line. “A guy is dead. A guy who was seen leaving the same note that was found on Alex and the other two victims. I’m sure Alex will be glad to hear that. Tell him for me, and that I’ll give him details in the morning. Except…” “Except what?” Griffin seemed to hesitate a long time. “What is it?” Vickie persisted. “I don’t think the man who killed himself tonight is the only one in on this,” Griffin said. “But hey, that’s for later. Anyway, I’m at the station. Devin and Rocky are going to stay at my place tonight. I told them I seldom use it and they kind of figured that. Salem is only forty minutes away—well, forty minutes or two hours, depending on traffic! They were actually taking a little personal time to check on their homes up there, see some family and friends. I’m glad they’re here, though. I can toss around what’s going on with them. You can give Alex the news that we’ve stopped one of them, anyway.” “I can’t tell Alex anything. He didn’t show,” Vickie said. “We’re still here—we’re having the café’s Sunday night special and hoping that he will make it eventually.” “He didn’t show? You know him better than I do, but that’s not like Alex, is it?” “No, it’s not like Alex at all.” “Did you call him?” “At least a dozen times. And I’ve left just as many messages,” Vickie said. Griffin was silent for a minute. “How long have you been trying to reach him?” he asked her. “Um, let’s see… I started calling him this morning, when you got the call from Devin telling you that she and Rocky were going to be heading up to Salem, and did you want to meet for dinner. So, I’ve called and texted all day.” “I can come and join you. Well, in a while. A woman was attacked—she’s on her way to the hospital. And a man died. I’ve still got things to do and, you know, paperwork.” Paperwork. She’d learned all about police paperwork during the Undertaker case. “Roxie and I will go ahead and have dinner and then head to my place,” Vickie said. “We’ll wait for you there. In the meantime, I’ll hope that Alex calls me with some kind of an apology!” “Is his family near?” “He grew up in Massachusetts, but his folks are living on an island off Georgia now—his dad started getting asthma,” Vickie said. “He has a little sister, but she’s studying in Europe somewhere.” “Okay.” Griffin was quiet for a minute. “I just have to report to the local office, get my statement in. And Barnes has to do the same, but he can kick this over to one of the task force members. Finish eating. I’ll get to you as soon as possible.” “I’ll head home,” she said. “I’ll see you soon.”

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