The Lost – Irina Shapiro

A sweet silence descended on the house, the kind of silence one could only hope to enjoy when two children under the age of five went down for their afternoon nap, and the third was still at school. Quinn closed the door to the nursery softly behind her and returned downstairs, eager to enjoy an hour of peace. She turned on the electric kettle, then went into the lounge, where she picked up several toys and fished Mia’s still-full sippy cup from beneath the sofa. Having marginally tidied up, she made herself a cup of tea and settled at the kitchen table with her laptop, ready to catch up on her emails and work on an article she was writing for a well-known periodical. She’d meant to finish it this morning while the children were at nursery school, but she’d had several errands to see to and then stopped by the institute to meet Gabe for a quick lunch, which was as close as they got to date night these days. Quinn had always meant to return to work after Mia was born, but since the baby’s arrival, she’d found it hard to commit to a regular schedule and missed the flexibility of working on the Echoes from the Past series. If she were honest, she missed other things as well, including using her gift of experiencing a dead person’s memories by holding an object they had owned. She missed the highs and lows, the anxiety that coiled in her belly as she neared the final act of the person’s life, and the joy of sharing what she’d learned with the viewers. She missed working with Rhys as well. They still saw each other socially, but their get-togethers were infrequent, and nowadays, mostly with the kids. Rhys’s daughter Vanessa was almost the same age as Mia, so the adults enjoyed lunch in the garden or a quiet takeaway in the lounge while the children played. She was happy, though. These days, her family was the heart of her, and her income from Echoes had been replaced by royalties from Gabe’s bestselling book, A Traitor’s Heart, which dealt with the plight of noble-born women during the Wars of the Roses. It had started out as a work of non-fiction, but the narrative had taken on a life of its own and become something of a crossover, the history of the period seen through the eyes of two families whose loyalties lay on either side of the political divide. Gabe had been surprised and elated by the success of his first book and was considering a follow-up outing into the literary world.

Quinn was more than happy to support him and help him in any way she could and secretly hoped he might come across some artifact in his research that would allow her to use her gift to give him that much-needed edge. Having dealt with her professional correspondence, she turned her attention to private emails. There was a message from Jude, who was currently stationed in Germany, and a brief missive from Brett, who was in his third year at Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge, pursuing a degree in business management. Brett sent Quinn an occasional email, and she always replied, feeling it her duty to maintain contact with her brother. According to their father, Brett had really turned his life around. He was doing well in school and seeing a girl Seth and Kathy heartily approved of. Quinn hadn’t seen Brett since just before Jo died and hoped he wouldn’t be in a hurry to return to the U.K. An occasional email was one thing; seeing him in person would be quite another. She wasn’t ready to take their relationship to the next level, not after what she’d suffered at his hands.

Thoughts of Jo always made Quinn sad. It’d been two and a half years since her twin had been killed in a hit-and-run accident outside her building in East London. No one had been charged, and the investigation had been closed soon after the funeral, since the police had found no evidence to lead them to the driver of the vehicle. Quinn and Gabe no longer spoke of Jo. In fact, no one mentioned her much at all, not even their birthparents, Sylvia and Seth. Jo’s nomadic existence and her lone-wolf nature had precluded her from forming lasting relationships, and the people who had tried to get close to her had paid for their attempts in spades. But it still rankled that Jo’s death had been so meaningless. Had she died while on assignment in some war-torn country or even from an unexpected illness, Quinn would have had an easier time accepting the tragedy, but knowing that Jo had been mowed down while standing in the street and left there, mangled and bleeding, with only the distant stars for company as the life drained out of her, still had the power to devastate. What sort of person would hit a woman and just drive away, not stopping to help? What sort of monster went on with their life, going about their business and enjoying themselves as though nothing had happened, while Jo was gone, her life snuffed out at the age of thirty-two, all her potential squandered? Quinn didn’t think she’d have ever forgiven Jo for what she’d done to hurt her, but some small part of her still missed the sister she’d never truly had a chance to know. She still mourned the relationship they might have enjoyed had they known each other since childhood rather than meeting only a year before Jo’s death.

Jo’s adoptive sister, Karen, had offered Quinn a keepsake when she’d cleaned out Jo’s flat, but Quinn had refused, not trusting herself not to let a misplaced need for closure drive her to delve into Jo’s tortured psyche. She hadn’t taken a single thing, not even a photo. She had several on her mobile that she and Jo had taken when they’d finally met at the military hospital in Germany, and that was the way she wished to remember her, as the amazing long-lost sister she’d finally found, not the jealous, competitive, and cruel woman Jo had turned out to be. Quinn sighed and closed the laptop. She had at least another half hour until Alex and Mia woke from their nap, and she was eager to begin reading a book she’d downloaded yesterday. She had laundry to do and dinner to start on, but the chores would wait. She had just settled in her favorite spot on the sofa with her Kindle when the doorbell rang. Quinn sprang to her feet and hurried to the door before the caller could wake the children by ringing the bell again. “Rhys!” Quinn exclaimed, surprised to see him on her doorstep. Rhys wasn’t the type of person to just come round, not anymore.

He always rang first. Not that he came over by himself very often. “This is a surprise.” The dark shadows beneath Rhys’s eyes and his pursed lips weren’t lost on her. “Any chance of a coffee?” Rhys asked as he followed her into the kitchen. “Of course.” Rhys leaned against the worktop and crossed his arms, looking pensive. “Are you all right?” Quinn asked. “Just tired,” Rhys said. “Vanessa’s been having nightmares.

I haven’t slept through the night in at least a week. I try to let Katya sleep,” Rhys explained. “She needs her rest.” “So do you,” Quinn replied. Although nearing his mid-fifties, Rhys didn’t look a day over forty-five. Marriage and fatherhood agreed with him—most of the time, anyway. Quinn stood across from him, imitating his pose, and smiled. “Is there something you’re not telling me?” Rhys’s tired smile said it all. “We’re expecting. Katya hasn’t been feeling well, physically or emotionally.

She’s convinced this one is a boy, and I think she’s right. This pregnancy is so different from the first one.” “Is that why Vanessa is having nightmares? Jealous of a new sibling already? Surely she’s too young to understand.” “It’s not the baby,” Rhys said. “We haven’t told her yet. Katya wants to wait until the second trimester to tell Vannie. It’s a Russian thing, apparently. Telling people too soon might cause a miscarriage.” “But you just told me,” Quinn pointed out. “And you will never reveal my indiscretion to Katya,” Rhys replied as he accepted a mug of coffee.

“I think it’s a silly superstition, but she truly believes it.” “My lips are sealed.” They took their coffees into the lounge, where they settled comfortably, Rhys on the sofa and Quinn in the armchair. “What’s up?” she asked him, sensing his hesitation. Rhys wasn’t one to mince words, but there was something in his eyes that put Quinn on guard. “I need to ask a huge favor, Quinn,” Rhys began. He exhaled loudly. “You know what they say about the road to hell, right?” “Yes, it’s paved with good intentions,” Quinn replied, wondering where this was going. “Katya loves to swim,” he said, as if that was meant to explain everything. “So?” “So, I decided to put in a swimming pool at the new house.

I wanted to make her happy. The workers broke ground last week.” Rhys took a sip of his coffee and glanced toward the window, his shoulders sagging against the back of the sofa. “They had to cut down two old trees and extract the roots in order to clear the space.” “Oh, God. Don’t tell me,” Quinn said. Now she saw exactly where this was going. Rhys nodded miserably. “I am telling you. They found skeletal remains trapped amid the roots.

Of course, the police were called in, but they ruled it a historic burial, filed a lengthy report, and happily left me to deal with the situation.” “And have you?” “Not exactly.” “Why not?” Quinn asked, arching her brow. Generally, any human remains that were not the subject of an ongoing investigation or a cold case were left where they had been found or reburied at a local cemetery. There were countless dead sleeping peacefully beneath every corner of Britain, many of them having lain undisturbed for centuries. “Vanessa was there, playing in the garden, when they found the skeleton. She saw the whole thing.” “Did she understand what she was looking at?” “She understood enough to be frightened. I would have been able to talk her round if Katya hadn’t become hysterical.” “Why?” Quinn asked.

Ekaterina Velesova Morgan was one of the calmest, most rational people Quinn had ever come across. She was intelligent, resourceful, and confident enough to put up with a man like Rhys, who didn’t suffer fools gladly. Quinn couldn’t reconcile the Katya she knew with a woman who’d give in to superstition or become hysterical at the sight of a skeleton. “Katya’s grandfather’s younger brother had gone missing during the Second World War. They lived near Kiev then, in an area occupied by the Germans. Oleg was fifteen when he disappeared. His parents searched everywhere for him, asked all their neighbors and even approached the German command, but no one seemed to know anything. They eventually came to believe that Oleg had run away to join the Partisans.” “Did they ever find out what happened to him?” Quinn asked. Rhys nodded.

“It was more than ten years after the war ended that ground was broken for a new block of flats. The site was half a mile from Babi Yar. Have you ever heard of it?” Quinn nodded. “Sounds familiar, but I can’t recall the details.” “It’s a mass grave where more than thirty-three thousand Ukrainian Jews had been executed and buried. There’s a monument there now, but at the time, the Soviets wanted to obliterate any sign of what had taken place there and were building on the bones of the people who’d been murdered.” “And Oleg was one of them?” Quinn asked. “Oleg wasn’t Jewish, but he must have been caught in the vicinity of the killing ground. Perhaps he’d witnessed some of the atrocities, or maybe he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. They found his remains trapped in the roots of a tree they’d cut down to clear the ground for the building site,” Rhys said.

“How were they able to identify him after all that time?” Quinn asked, ever the archeologist. “His wallet was still in the pocket of his trousers. His identity card was legible enough to make out his name.” “Had he been shot?” “No. All his fingers had been smashed and his neck was broken, a leather belt still tied around it. He’d been tortured and hanged, then buried in a shallow grave beneath the tree.” “That’s a dreadful story.” “Katya feels strongly about giving this person a proper burial and maybe even finding his or her descendants and notifying them. It’s very important to her. Finding Oleg’s remains was tragic, but it gave the family closure, and they were able to bury him and mourn him properly.

” “Are you asking me to investigate?” Quinn asked, feeling an unexpected flutter of excitement in her belly. “I’m asking you to investigate,” Rhys replied, his gaze holding hers, a pleading look she wasn’t accustomed to seeing in Rhys’s eyes. “Have you found anything that had belonged to the deceased?” Quinn asked, her mind already on the case. “Yes.” Rhys reached into his pocket and pulled out a small plastic bag. He handed it to Quinn. Quinn lifted the bag to the light, eager to see the contents. A tarnished, dirt-encrusted silver band lay within. “This was the only item found with the remains,” Rhys said. Quinn set the bag on the coffee table, her gaze drawn to the dull glint of the ring.

“Was there nothing else? No buttons, buckles, bits of leather?” she asked. “No. Just this.” Quinn nodded. “The deceased must have been buried in a shroud, which would explain the lack of metal objects since the body was most likely stripped naked before being wrapped.” “That would make sense,” Rhys agreed. “So, that would suggest that the person had been buried with some care. And if that were the case, why would they bury the body beneath a tree rather than in a graveyard? Is there a graveyard nearby?” Quinn asked. “Yes. There’s the parish church.

” Quinn nodded, ideas already taking root in her mind. “This person might have been a plague victim, but then again, a plague victim would most likely have been buried in whatever clothes they died in. Or perhaps it was someone who wasn’t of Christian faith and wouldn’t wish to be laid to rest in a Christian graveyard. What have you done with the remains?” “I’ve asked the workers to cordon off that bit of the garden. The remains are in situ, waiting for you to examine them.” “Good. Will you be there tomorrow?” Quinn asked. She’d speak to Gabe tonight, but was in no doubt that he wouldn’t object to her excavating the remains. “I will be there whenever you need me to be.” “What about Katya and Vanessa? I wouldn’t want them more upset than they already are.

” “They’re at our London flat. Katya will not return until the skeleton has been removed, so you have free rein.” “All right. I’ll see you tomorrow, then. Around ten?” “Perfect. Quinn, are you all right with this?” Rhys asked. “I wouldn’t want to pressure you into something you don’t want to do.” “Yes, I’m all right,” Quinn replied, and meant it. “All right enough to agree to an Echoes from the Past Christmas special?” Rhys asked, grinning wickedly. “Now you’re pushing it.

” Quinn laughed. “You know what, let me see what I’m dealing with, and we’ll go from there. If there’s an interesting story here, then I might be persuaded to come out of retirement for one more episode.” “Deal,” Rhys said. He set down his mug and stood. “I really do appreciate this, Quinn. More than you know.” “I’m happy to help. I can understand the need for closure,” she replied. “I know.

” Rhys kissed her cheek and headed for the door, looking a lot better than he had when he’d arrived. “See you tomorrow.” “See you.”

.

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