“It’s alright, Jude. I want to help catch the bad man.” Oh, if life were only so easy and simple.
I sighed, as resigned to this as I could be. We’d realized we couldn’t just send Celia into the middle of nowhere without some sort of adult supervision and I’d won by virtue of being the only person who’d ever astral projected before. Joy.
We were in my private parlor, having deemed the room the most secure. Not from demons or vampires or anything evil. Just from the various people roaming through the house. I could have posted a guard outside the door, but all that would do was attract a crowd. Which would have started gossip. Which we didn’t really need.
The only light in the room came from the fire and I was grateful for the small glow. Something about doing this little mission in complete darkness like Rian suggested freaked me out. A lot, not a little. Bad things happen in the dark. The events of a few months ago had firmly ingrained that little pearl of wisdom into my mind.
We’d pushed the furniture back to have enough room to cast a circle in the center of the room. After Elizabeth found Lies and told her the plan, Lies had swallowed her gum. Down the wrong pipe. So this excursion was already off to a kind of bad start.
Everyone looked tense. Theo popped his elbow repeatedly, something he did only when worried. Lies rocked onto her tiptoes and then back down while Rian drummed his fingertips against his thigh. Elizabeth just stood there, eyes boring into Rian’s. If anything went wrong, things were going to break that might not be able to be fixed.
Sighing again, I took Celia’s hands between mine, rubbed them in what I hoped was a soothing manner. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes. “Ready when you are.”
Just that fast, we were gone.
We weren’t in my parlor anymore. We weren’t anywhere. Everything was black. Not dark, but black. No light. No sound. I held Celia’s hand in a death grip, scared of losing her. Something told me if you lost someone in this blackness, you never found them.
I concentrated as hard as possible on Jack. Duprees had grumbled about procedure but he’d let me take the letter out of the evidence bag. I’d ran my fingers over the softness of the paper, the richness of texture I knew meant expensive, unique. Although doing so made my stomach churn, I’d breathed in the scent of Deiadre’s blood from the paper. I’d gritted my teeth and let the strong iron smell soak into my memory.
It was that smell of not quite fresh but not quite old blood which led us to Jack.
The blackness faded away, slowly at first, and then quicker as the room began to emerge, like fainting in reverse, the way light and color started at the edges and made its way toward the center of vision. I blinked, little spots of color obscuring some of my sight as my eyes adjusted. And then I had to press my free hand over my mouth to keep from screaming.
Thank God Celia couldn’t see this. Thank God.
We stood in a wine cellar. Which shouldn’t have been scary. A very rough count put the number of bottles at close to two hundred, maybe a little less. Like every wine cellar I’d ever seen in a movie, it was meticulously organized, even boasted a little corner with a table and a few chairs, I guess for private tasting parties.
The racks were divided into sections. But not by wine type. By person. And they each held a small shelf with a set of pictures. Before and after. Before each woman was drained of blood. And after.
I’d rather face a homicidal maniac with a chain saw than whoever owned this wine cellar.
I bent, scooped Celia up and braced her weight on my hip. Turning my back on the rows of dead women, I started up the stairs, trying to move on the balls of my feet as much as possible. Thankfully, there weren’t any creaky steps and the door at the top stood slightly ajar.
Anytime things started out this well, they tended to go downhill. It was just a given.
The door opened into the kitchen. The only odd thing about the room was it wasn’t. Odd, I mean. After the basement, I’d expected chrome and stainless steel and marble. Instead, we found faded wood and laminate. And cows. There were cows on every available surface, even a cow shaped cookie jar.
Like I said, odd. Because it wasn’t odd.
A faint glow of light came from down the short hallway and Celia and I moved toward it. She hadn’t moved since we’d shot into the black and if it wasn’t for the faint wheeze of her exhales I’d have worried she’d stopped breathing. Elizabeth told me Celia’d been born with asthma, but hadn’t experienced an episode in years. I hoped that little bit of luck held.
The walls were painted a pale taupe color, with motel room art and staged family photos spaced along the length. Again, the sheer normality made everything odd. This was going to be one of those cases where when the neighbors found out the truth, they’d swear he’d never hurt a fly. Or Jack had killed whoever lived here, then refitted the basement to his own exacting specifications.
I wasn’t sure which one would be more horrible.