Darkfever, p.22
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       Darkfever, p.22

         Part #1 of Fever series by Karen Marie Moning
 
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  I’m adopted. The thought had me whirling, rootless, in a tornado, and still that wasn’t quite the worst of it.

  The part that really bit, the part that had its teeth in me and wouldn’t let go, was that the only person I knew for a fact I’d been related to was dead. My sister. Alina. My only blood relative in the world, and she was gone.

  I was stricken by an awful thought: Had she known? Had she found out we were adopted and not told me? Was this one of the things she’d meant by, There are so many things I should have told you?

  Page 82

 

  Had she been here in Dublin, like me right now, feeling this confused and disconnected?

  “Oh God,” I said, and my tears turned to great shuddering, hurtful sobs. I wept for me, for my sister, for things I couldn’t even begin to put into words, and might never be able to explain. But it felt something like this: I used to walk on my feet. Now all I knew how to do was crawl. And I wasn’t sure how long it was going to take for me to get up off my knees and regain my balance, but I suspected that when I did, I would never walk the same way again.

  I don’t know how long I sat there and cried, but eventually my head was pounding too hard for me to weep anymore.

  I told you back at the beginning of this story that Alina’s body had turned up miles away from The Clarin House, in a trash-filled alley on the opposite side of The River Liffey. That I knew exactly where because I’d seen the crime-scene photos, and that before I left Ireland I would end up in that alley myself, saying good-bye to her.

  I dragged myself up off the couch, went to my borrowed bedroom, stuffed money and my passport in my jeans pocket so nothing would interfere with a swift extraction of the contents of my purse, slung it over my shoulder, yanked a ball cap down over my eyes, jammed on sunglasses, and went outside to flag down a cab.

  It was time to go to that alley. But not to say good-bye—to say hello to a sister I’d never known and never would: the Alina that was my only true kin, the one who’d been tempered in Dublin’s forge, who’d learned hard lessons and made hard choices. If, after all her months here, she’d stumbled across even half of what I had, I understood why she’d done everything she’d done.

  I remember that Mom and Dad had tried to visit Alina on two occasions. Both times, she’d refused. The first time she’d said she was sick and terribly behind on classes. The second time she’d used a punishing round of exams as an excuse. She’d never once invited me to fly over, and the one time I’d talked about trying to save up the money, she’d instantly told me not to waste it, but to spend it on pretty clothes and new music and go out dancing for her—a thing we used to love to do together—while she studied, and before I knew it she’d be home.

  I understood now what those words must have cost her.

  Knowing what I knew was out there stalking and slithering along Dublin’s streets, would I have permitted anyone I loved to come over here and see me?

  Never. I’d have lied through my teeth to keep them away.

  If I’d had a baby sister that was my only blood relative, safe at home, would I have told her about any of this and risked dragging her into it? No. I would have done exactly what Alina had done: protected her to my dying breath. Kept her happy and whole as long as I could.

  I’d always looked up to my sister, but now I had a whole new appreciation for her. Gripped by it, I needed to be somewhere I knew she’d been. Some place imprinted by her, and her apartment didn’t fit the bill. Aside from the scent of peaches and Beautiful perfume, I’d never gotten a very strong sense of her there, as if she’d not spent much time in it, except when talking to me on the phone or sleeping. I’d gotten no real feeling for her on campus, either, but I could think of one place I knew I’d feel her intensely.

  I needed to go where she’d been run to ground, four hours after she’d called me. I needed to confront the final awful grief of standing in the same spot on the cobbled pavement where my sister had drawn her last breath and closed her eyes forever.

  Morbid, maybe, but you lose a sister and find out you’re adopted and see what you feel compelled to do. Don’t accuse me of being morbid when I’m merely the product of a culture that buries the bones of the ones they love in pretty, manicured flower gardens so they can keep them nearby and go talk to them whenever they feel troubled or depressed. That’s morbid. Not to mention bizarre. Dogs bury bones, too.

  I see lines of demarcation everywhere I turn now. The River Liffey is one of them, dividing the city, not merely north and south, but socially and economically as well.

  The south is the side I’ve been staying on, with the Temple Bar District, Trinity College, The National Museum, and Leinster House to name but a few of its many attractions, and is generally considered the affluent side: rich, snobby, and liberal.

  The northside has O’Connell Street with its fine statues and monuments, the Moore Street Market, St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, the Customs House overlooking the Liffey, and is generally held to be the home of the working-class: industrial, blue-collar, and poor.

  As you’ll find with most divisionary boundaries, it’s not absolute. There are pockets of the opposite on each side of the river: wealth and fashion to the north, poverty and decay to the south; however, no one will argue that the overall feel of the southside is different than the northside and vice versa. It’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t spent time on opposing banks of the river, heard the talk and watched the walk.

  Page 83

 

  The cabbie that drove me to the northside didn’t seem real happy about dropping me on Allen Street by myself, but I tipped him handsomely and he went away. I’d seen too many truly scary things lately for a rundown neighborhood to have much of an impact on me, at least not in the daytime, anyway.

  The dead-end alley in which Alina’s body had been found didn’t have a name, was cobbled in the old way, with stone that time and weather had heaved and cracked, and stretched a good several hundred yards back from the road. Trash cans and Dumpsters were wedged between windowless brick walls of a decaying subsidized-income tenement building on the right and a boarded-up warehouse on the left. Old newspapers, cardboard boxes, beer bottles, and debris littered the alleyway. The ambience was similar to that of the abandoned neighborhood. I had no intention of remaining in the area long enough to find out if the streetlamps still worked.

  Dad didn’t know I’d seen the crime-scene photos he’d tucked beneath the blue-and-silver folder containing the financial plan he’d been working on for Ms. Myrna Taylor-Hollingsworth. In fact, I had no idea how he’d gotten them. I was under the impression the police didn’t ordinarily release such things to grief-crazed parents, especially not shots so graphic and gruesome.

  Identifying her body had been bad enough. I’d found those pictures the day before I’d left for Ireland, when I’d gone into his office to swipe a stash of pens.

  Now, as I walked to the end of the alley, I was seeing the photos superimposed on the scene. She’d been lying just there, to my right, a dozen feet away from the twelve-foot brick wall that cut off the alley and had aborted her run. I didn’t want to know if bits of her fingernails were broken off in those bricks from a frantic attempt to climb the sheer face and escape whatever had been pursuing her, so I looked away, down at the spot where she’d died. They’d found her slumped back against the brick wall. I’ll spare you the details I wish I didn’t know.

  Driven by some awful darkness inside me, I dropped down onto the dirty cobblestones and slumped into the exact position in which my sister had been found. Unlike in the pictures, there was no blood splashing the stones and brick walls. Rain had washed away all signs of her struggle weeks ago. Here she’d taken her last breath. Here all of Alina Lane’s hopes and dreams had died.

  “God, I miss you so much, Alina!” I felt every bit as brittle as I sounded, and once more the tears came. I swore it would be the last time I cried. And
it would be, for quite some time.

  I don’t know how long I sat there before I noticed the cosmetic pack Mom had given Alina for Christmas, half-buried beneath the trash. Twin to the one I’d had to abandon at Mallucé’s, the tiny quilted gold bag had been badly weathered, bleached by the sun and soaked by rain. I pushed aside old newspapers, picked it up, and cradled it in my hands.

  I know what you’re thinking. I thought it, too—that there would surely be a clue in it. That Alina had tucked away some clever reduction of her entire journal or some sophisticated little computer chip that held all the information I needed to know, and miraculously the police had overlooked it and serendipity had steered me to this alley at just the right moment to find it.

  Life is rarely so convenient, as Barrons would say. We’ve all seen too many movies, I would say.

  There was nothing inside the battered pack except for the items Mom had chosen for us, minus the tiny metal fingernail file. Nothing in the lining, nothing tucked away in a compact or lipstick. I know, because I practically ripped everything apart looking for it.

  I won’t burden you with my thoughts of Alina as I sat there, or the grieving I did. If you’ve lost someone, then you know what kind of things go through your head and need no reminder from me. If you’ve not yet lost someone—good—I hope it’s a small eternity before you do.

  I said good-bye and I said hello, and as I was pushing myself up to go, my eye was caught by the silvery glint of metal near my feet. It was the tip of Alina’s fingernail file, badly scraped and dented. I bent and pushed aside the trash to retrieve it, not about to leave one bit of her behind, and sucked in a sharp breath of disbelief.

  I’d comforted myself with the hope that Alina had died quickly. That she hadn’t laid in that alley alone, bleeding to death for a long time. But she couldn’t have died too quickly, because she’d used her fingernail file to gouge something into the stone.

  I knelt on the pavement and brushed away the trash, then blew off the dust and grime.

  I was both disappointed and grateful she hadn’t written more. Disappointed because I needed some major help here. Grateful because it meant she’d died in minutes, not hours.

  Page 84

 

  1247 LaRuhe, Jr. was all it said.

  TWENTY-ONE

  Inspector O’Duffy, please,” I said briskly. I’d snatched up the phone as soon as I’d let myself into Barrons Books and Baubles and rung up the Pearse Street Garda Station. “Yes, yes, I can hold. ” I drummed my fingers impatiently on the cashier’s counter at Fiona’s station while I waited for the duty officer on the other end of the line to transfer my call to the detective who’d handled Alina’s case.

  I had another clue for him and this one was etched in stone: 1247 LaRuhe. I was going with him when he went to check it out, and if he wouldn’t let me, then I’d just have to tail him. Surely with all the slinking around in the shadows I’d been doing lately, I’d acquired a measure of stealth.

  “Yes, Ms. Lane?” The detective sounded harried when he picked up, so I explained quickly where I’d been and what I’d found. “We’ve been over this,” he said when I was done.

  “Who’s been over what?” I asked.

  “The address,” he said. “First, there’s nothing to prove she wrote that. Anyone might have—”

  “Inspector, Alina called me Junior,” I interrupted. “And her fingernail file was right there at the scene, dented and scarred from gouging at the stone. Even without knowing the significance of ‘Jr. ,’ I’m surprised one of your people didn’t find it and put two and two together. ” Not to mention the cosmetic pack. Hadn’t they examined the scene at all?

  “We saw the address, Ms. Lane, but by the time we were notified of the body, the scene had been contaminated by onlookers. If you were just there yourself, you saw how much trash is in that alley. We could hardly catalogue everything on the pavement. We had no way of knowing if anything in the area originated inside her purse. ”

  “Well, didn’t you think it a little odd there was an address gouged in stone right next to her body?” I demanded.

  “Of course we did. ”

  “So? Did you track it down? Did you go there?” I asked impatiently.

  “Couldn’t, Ms. Lane. It doesn’t exist. There is no 1247 LaRuhe in Dublin. Not an avenue, street, boulevard, or lane. Not even an alley named that. ”

  I bit the inside of my lip, thinking. “Well, maybe it’s outside of Dublin. Maybe it’s in another city nearby. ”

  “We tried that, too. We were unable to find any such address, anywhere in Ireland. We even tried variations of the spelling from Laroux to something as simple as La Rue. No 1247 anywhere. ”

  “Well, maybe it’s in . . . London or something,” I persisted. “Did you check out other cities?”

  Inspector O’Duffy sighed deeply and I could picture him on the other end of the line, shaking his head. “Just how many countries do you think we should search, Ms. Lane?” he asked.

  I took a breath and let it out slowly, biting my tongue on: However many you need to in order to find my sister’s killer. I don’t care if it’s a thousand.

  When I didn’t reply, he said, “We sent her file to Interpol. If they’d found anything, they’d have notified us by now. I’m sorry, but there’s nothing else we can do. ”

  Armed with spear and flashlights, I hurried down the darkening streets to a gift shop/café in the Temple Bar District that offered a wide selection of maps, ranging from beautifully laminated close-ups of Dublin to detailed spreads of Ireland, to the equivalent of Rand McNally road map books. I bought one of each, tossed in England and Scotland for good measure, then went back to my borrowed bedroom and, as full night fell, sat cross-legged on the bed and began searching. A foreign country’s Gardai couldn’t be half as motivated as a vengeance-hungry sister.

  It was nearly midnight before I stopped, and then only because five hours of squinting at tiny print had turned the pounding of my earlier headache into an all-out attack on my skull with small jackhammers. I’d found many variations of LaRuhe, but none at 1247, or 1347, or even 1427, or any other number that seemed close enough that Alina might have made a mistake, not that I believed she had. She’d carved out a message with her dying breath and I just couldn’t see her getting it wrong. There was something here, something I was missing.

  I massaged my temples gently. Headaches aren’t a common thing for me, but when I do get one, it’s usually a killer and leaves me drained the next day. I folded the maps and stacked them on the floor next to my bed. Barrons might know, I decided. Barrons seemed to know everything. I would ask him tomorrow. Right now I needed to uncramp my legs and try to get some sleep.

  Page 85

 

  I stood, stretched gingerly, then padded over to the window, pushed the drape aside, and stared out into the night.

  There was Dublin, a sea of rooftops. Down in those streets was a world I’d never imagined.

  There was the darkness of the abandoned neighborhood. I wondered if I’d still be looking out this window in a month—God, I hoped not!—and if so, would the darkness have spread?

  There sat three of the four cars of the O’Bannion entourage. Someone had taken the Maybach and closed the doors of the others. All sixteen piles of clothing were still there. I was really going to have to do something about them. To someone in the know, it was the same thing as staring out the window at sixteen corpses.

  There were the Shades, those lethal little bastards, moving around down in the alley at the edge of the Dark Zone, pulsing at the perimeter as if angry at Barrons for keeping them at bay with his toxic barrier of light.

  I gasped.

  And there was the man himself: stepping into the abandoned neighborhood, moving from the safety of his floodlights into complete darkness.

  And he didn’t have a flashlight!

  I raised my hand to knock on the wind
owpane. I don’t know what I was thinking, I guess to get his attention and call him back before he did something stupid.

  Then I paused, my knuckles half an inch from the glass. Barrons was anything but stupid. He did nothing without a reason.

  Tall, dark, and graceful as a midnight panther, he wore unrelieved black beneath his long black coat, and as he walked, I caught the glint of steel on his boots. Then even that was gone, absent the light to reflect it, and he was just a lighter shadow in the shadows.

  You must never, Ms. Lane, ever enter the abandoned neighborhood at night, he’d said not so long ago.

  Okay, then why was he? What was going on? I shook my head and paid for it instantly, as tiny jackhammers fell over, then righted themselves and renewed their attack with vigor: rat-a-tat-tat-TAT-TAT! I clutched my skull and stared down uncomprehendingly.

  The Shades weren’t paying Barrons the slightest bit of attention. In fact, if I were a woman given to fancy, I would have said the oily darknesses actually peeled back with distaste as Jericho Barrons passed by.

  I’d seen the husks the Shades left. I’d seen the evidence of their voracious appetite. The only thing they feared was light. They kill with vampiric swiftness, Barrons had told me. I’d written that in my journal, appreciating the phrase.

  I watched him move deeper into the abandoned neighborhood, black on black, until he and the night became one. I stared blankly down the alley after him for a long time after he’d gone, trying to make sense of what I’d just seen.

  There were really only two possibilities I could think of: either Barrons was lying to me about the Shades, or he’d struck some kind of dark bargain with the life-sucking Fae.

  Whichever it was, I finally had my answer to whether or not I could trust him.

  That would be a great, big NOT.

  When I finally turned away, brushed my teeth, flossed, washed my face, moisturized, ran a brush through my hair, slipped on my favorite sleep shirt and matching panties, and crawled beneath the covers, I wasn’t sure of much, but I did know this: I wasn’t going to be asking Barrons any questions about addresses tomorrow.

 
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