Darkfever, p.3
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       Darkfever, p.3

         Part #1 of Fever series by Karen Marie Moning
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  She silenced me with a quelling stare no doubt perfected by half a century of practice. “Out! Now! And don’t you be coming back in here. Not tonight, not ever. If you can’t keep your head down and honor your bloodline, then do us all a favor—go die somewhere else. ”

  Ow. Still blinking, I fumbled behind me for my purse. I didn’t need to be hit over the head with a stick to know I wasn’t wanted. A few knuckle-raps did just fine. Head high, eyes fixed straight ahead, I backed away just in case the nutty old woman got it in her mind to try to bean me again. At a safe distance, I turned and marched from the bar.

  “And that’s that,” I muttered to myself as I stomped back to my cramped, unwelcoming room at the inn. “Welcome to Ireland, Mac. ”

  I couldn’t decide what had been more disturbing—my bizarre hallucination or the hostile crone.

  My last thought before I fell asleep was that the old woman was obviously crazy. Either she was or I was, and it sure wasn’t me.

  THREE

  It took me a while to find the Pearse Street Garda Station the next day. Things looked a lot different when I was walking on the pretty little map instead of looking down at it. The streets didn’t branch off at quite the same tidy angles, and their names changed without rhyme or reason between one block and the next.

  I wandered past the same outdoor café and independent newsstand three times. Man Sees Devil in County Clare Cornfield, Sixth Sighting this Month, one tabloid blared. The Old Ones Are Returning, Claims Psychic, another proclaimed. Wondering who the “Old Ones” were—an aging rock band?—on my fourth trip by I broke down and asked the elderly vendor for directions.

  I couldn’t understand a word he said. I was beginning to see a distinct correlation between age of speaker and unintelligibility of accent. As the grizzled gentleman fired off a spate of lovely lilting words that made no sense to me at all, I nodded and smiled a lot, trying to look intelligent. I waited until he wound down, then took a gamble—what the heck? my odds were fifty-fifty—and turned to go north.

  With a sharp clucking sound, he grabbed my shoulder, turned me in the opposite direction, and barked, “Air ye deaf, lass?”

  I think. He might have called me a hairy jackass.

  Smiling brightly, I went south.

  The morning desk clerk at The Clarin House, a twenty-something woman named Bonita (whom I’d understood with little difficulty), had assured me I wouldn’t be able to miss the Garda station once I got there. She’d said the historic building looked a little like an old English manor house, made of all stone, with many chimneys and rounded turrets at each end. She was right, it did.

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  I entered the station through a tall wooden door set into a deep, high stone arch and checked in with the receptionist. “I’m MacKayla Lane. ” I got right to the point. “My sister was murdered here last month. I’d like to see the detective that handled her case. I have new information for him. ”

  “Who’ve you been working with, luv?”

  “Inspector O’Duffy. Patrick O’Duffy. ”

  “Sorry, luv. Our Patty’s out for a few days. I could set you an appointment with him on Thursday. ”

  An appointment on Thursday? I had a lead now. I didn’t want to wait three days. “Is there another inspector I could speak to about this?”

  She shrugged. “Could. But you’ll be having the best of luck with the one who worked her case. If it were my sister, I’d be waiting for Patty. ”

  I shifted impatiently from foot to foot. The need to do something was burning a hole in my gut, but I wanted to do what was best for Alina, not what was the most immediate. “All right. I’ll take an appointment on Thursday. Do you have something in the morning?”

  She put me down for the first appointment of the day.

  I went to Alina’s place next.

  Though her lease had been paid up through the end of the month—nonrefundable—I had no idea how long it might take to sort through her things and get everything boxed up to send back to Georgia, so I figured I’d better start now. I wasn’t about to leave a single shred of my sister four thousand miles from home.

  There was police tape over the door, but it had been cut. I let myself in with the key Inspector O’Duffy had mailed to us in the small package of personal effects found on her body. Her apartment smelled just like her room back home, of peaches-and-cream candles, and Beautiful perfume.

  It was dark inside, the shutters drawn. The pub below hadn’t yet opened for the day, so it was quiet as a tomb. I fumbled for the light switch. Though we’d been told her place was thoroughly ransacked, I wasn’t prepared for it. Fingerprint dust was everywhere. Everything breakable was broken: lamps, knickknacks, dishes, even the mirror set into the mantel above the gas fireplace. The sofa was sliced, cushions torn, books ripped up, bookcases smashed, and even the drapes were shredded. CDs crunched beneath my feet when I stepped into the living room.

  Had this been done before or after she’d died? The police had offered no opinion on the timing. I didn’t know if what I was seeing was the by-product of mindless rage, or if the killer had been searching for something. Maybe the thing Alina had said we needed to find. Maybe he’d thought she had it already, whatever it was.

  Alina’s body had turned up miles away, in a trash-filled alley on the opposite side of the River Liffey. I knew exactly where. I’d seen the crime-scene photos. Before I left Ireland, I knew I would end up in that alley, saying my last good-byes to her, but I was in no hurry to do so. This was bad enough.

  In fact, five minutes in the place was all I could stand.

  I locked up and hurried back down the steps, bursting from the narrow, windowless staircase into the foggy alley behind the bar. I was grateful that I had three and a half more weeks to deal with the situation before her lease expired. Next time I came, I’d be braced for what I would find. Next time I came, I’d be armed with boxes, trash bags, and a broom.

  Next time I came, I told myself, as I dragged a sleeve across my cheek, I wouldn’t cry.

  I spent the rest of the morning and a good part of a drizzly afternoon holed up in an Internet café, trying to track down the thing Alina had said we needed to find—a shi-sadu. I tried every search engine. I asked Jeeves. I ran text searches in local online newspapers hoping for a hit. Problem was, I didn’t know how to spell it; I didn’t know if it was a person, place, or thing, and no matter how many times I listened to the message, I still wasn’t sure I understood what she was saying.

  Just for the heck of it, I decided to hunt for the odd word the old woman had said last night—too-ah-day. I had no luck with that, either.

  A few hours into my frustrating search—I shot off several e-mails too, including an emotional one to my parents—I ordered another coffee and asked two cute Irish guys behind the counter who looked about my age if they had any idea what a shi-sadu was.

  They didn’t.

  “How about a too-ah-day?” I asked, expecting the same answer.

  “Too-ah-day?” the dark-haired one repeated, with a slightly different inflection than I’d used.

  I nodded. “An old woman in a pub said it to me last night. Any idea what it means?”

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  “Sure. ” He laughed. “It’s what all you bloody Americans come here hoping to find. That and a pot o’ gold, wouldn’t that be the right of it, Seamus?” He smirked at his blond companion, who smirked broadly back.

  “What’s that?” I said warily.

  Flapping his arms like little wings, he winked. “Why, that’d be a wee fairy, lass. ”

  A wee fairy. Right. Uh-huh. With Tourist stamped all over my forehead, I took the steaming mug, paid for the coffee, and escorted my flaming cheeks back to my table.

  Crazy old woman, I thought irritably, closing down my Internet session. If I ever saw her again, she was going to get an earful.

  It was
the fog that got me lost.

  I would have been okay if it had been a sunny day. But fog has a way of transforming even the most familiar landscape into something foreign and sinister, and the place was already so foreign to me that it quickly took on sinister attributes.

  One minute I thought I was heading straight for The Clarin House, plowing down block after block without really paying much attention, the next I was in a dwindling crowd on a street that I hadn’t seen before, and suddenly, I was one of only three people on an eerily quiet fog-filled lane. I had no idea how far I’d come. My mind was on other things. I might have walked for miles.

  I had what I thought was a really smart idea. I would follow one of the other pedestrians and surely they would lead me back to the main part of town.

  Buttoning my jacket against the misting rain, I picked the closer of the two, a fiftyish woman in a beige raincoat and a blue scarf. I had to stick close because the fog was so thick.

  Two blocks later, she was clutching her purse tightly to her side and darting nervous glances over her shoulder. It took me a few minutes to figure out what she was frightened of—me. Belatedly I recalled what I’d read in my guidebook about crime in the inner city. Innocent-looking youths of both genders were responsible for much of it.

  I tried to reassure her. “I’m lost,” I called. “I’m just trying to get back to my hotel. Please, can you help me?”

  “Stop following me! Stay away,” she cried, quickening her pace, coattails flapping.

  “All right, I’m staying. ” I stopped where I stood. The last thing I wanted to do was chase her off; the other pedestrian was gone, I needed her. The fog was getting denser by the minute and I had no idea where I was. “Look, I’m sorry I scared you. Could you just point me toward the Temple Bar District? Please? I’m an American tourist and I’m lost. ”

  Without turning or slowing in the least, she flung an arm out in a general leftward direction, then disappeared around the corner, leaving me alone in the fog.

  I sighed. Left it was.

  I went to the corner, turned, and began walking at a moderate pace. Taking stock of my surroundings as I went, I stepped it up a bit. I seemed to be heading deeper into a dilapidated, industrial part of the city. Storefronts with the occasional apartment above gave way to rundown warehouse-like buildings on both sides of the street with busted-out windows and sagging doors. The sidewalk whittled down to barely a few feet wide and was increasingly trash-littered with every step. I started to feel strongly nauseated, I suppose from the stench of the sewers. There must have been an old paper factory nearby; thick husks of porous yellowed parchment of varying sizes tumbled and blew along the empty streets. Narrow, dingy alleyways were marked at the entrances with peeling painted arrows, pointing to docks that looked as if the last time they’d received a delivery was twenty years ago.

  Here, a crumbling smokestack stretched up, melting into the fog. There, an abandoned car sat with the driver’s door ajar and, outside it, a pair of shoes and a pile of clothing, as if the driver had simply gotten out, stripped, and left everything behind. It was eerily quiet. The only sounds were the muted muffle of my footsteps and the slow dripping of gutters emptying into drainpipes. The farther I walked into the decaying neighborhood, the more I wanted to run, or at least give way to a vigorous sprint, but I worried if there were unsavory denizens of the human sort in the area, the rapid pounding of my heels against the pavement might draw their attention. I was afraid this part of the city was so deserted because the businesses had moved out when the gangs had moved in. Who knew what lurked behind those broken windows? Who knew what crouched beyond that half-opened door?

  The next ten minutes were some of the most harrowing of my life. I was alone in a bad section of a foreign city with no idea whether I was going the right way or headed straight for something worse. Twice I thought I heard something rustling about in an alley as I passed. Twice I swallowed panic and refused to run. It was impossible not to think of Alina, of the similar locale in which her body had been found. I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something wrong here, and it was something far more wrong than mere abandonment and decay. This part of the city didn’t just feel empty. It felt, well . . . forsaken . . . like I should have passed a sign ten blocks ago that said Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here.

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  I was feeling increasingly nauseated and my skin was starting to crawl. I hurried down block after block, in as straight a general leftward direction as the streets would permit. Though it was only supper time, rain and fog had turned day to dusk and those few streetlamps that hadn’t been broken out years ago began to flicker and glow. Night was falling and soon it would be as dark as pitch in those long shadowed stretches between the weak and infrequent pools of light.

  I picked up my pace to a sprint. On the verge of hysteria at the thought of being lost in this awful part of the city at night, I nearly sobbed with relief when I spied a brightly lit building a few blocks ahead, blazing like an oasis of light.

  I broke into that run I’d been resisting.

  As I drew nearer, I could see that all the windows were intact, and the tall brick building was impeccably restored, sporting a costly updated first-floor facade of dark cherry and brass. Large pillars framed an alcoved entrance inset with a handsome cherry door flanked by stained-glass sidelights and crowned by a matching transom. The tall windows down the side were framed by matching columns of lesser size, and covered with elaborate wrought-iron latticework. A late-model sedan was parked out front in the street beside an expensive motorcycle.

  Beyond it, I could see storefronts with second-floor residences. There were people in the streets; perfectly normal-looking shoppers and diners and pub-goers.

  Just like that, I was in a decent part of the city again! Thank God, I thought. Though later I wouldn’t be quite so certain about just who had saved me from danger that day, or if I’d been saved at all. We have a phrase back home in Georgia: Out of the frying pan and into the fire. The soles of my shoes should have been steaming.

  Barrons Books and Baubles proclaimed the gaily-painted shingle that hung perpendicular to the building, suspended over the sidewalk by an elaborate brass pole bolted into the brick above the door. Alighted sign in the old-fashioned, green-tinted windows announced Open. It couldn’t have looked more like the perfect place to call a taxi to me if it had sported a sign that said Welcome Lost Tourists/Call Your Taxis Here.

  I was done for the day. No more asking directions, no more walking. I was damp and cold. I wanted hot soup and a hotter shower. And I wanted it more than I wanted to pinch precious pennies.

  Bells jangled as I pushed open the door.

  I stepped inside and stopped, blinking in astonishment. From the exterior I’d expected a charming little book and curio shop with the inner dimensions of a university Starbucks. What I got was a cavernous interior that housed a display of books that made the library Disney’s Beast gave to Beauty on their wedding day look understocked.

  I love books, by the way, way more than movies. Movies tell you what to think. A good book lets you choose a few thoughts for yourself. Movies show you the pink house. A good book tells you there’s a pink house and lets you paint some of the finishing touches, maybe choose the roof style, park your own car out front. My imagination has always topped anything a movie could come up with. Case in point, those darned Harry Potter movies. That was so not what that part-Veela-chick, Fleur Delacour, looked like.

  Still, I’d never imagined a bookstore like this. The room was probably a hundred feet long and forty feet wide. The front half of the store opened all the way up to the roof, four stories or more. Though I couldn’t make out the details, a busy mural was painted on the domed ceiling. Bookcases lined each level, from floor to molding. Behind elegant banisters, platform walkways permitted catwalk access on the second, third, and fourth levels. Ladders slid on oiled rollers from one sec
tion to the next.

  The first floor had freestanding shelves arranged in wide aisles to my left, two seating cozies, and a cashier station to my right. I couldn’t see what stretched beyond the rear balcony on the upper floors but I guessed more books and perhaps some of those baubles the sign mentioned.

  There wasn’t a soul in sight.

  “Hello!” I called, spinning in a circle, drinking it in. A bookstore like this was a fabulous find, a great end to an otherwise awful day. While I waited for my taxi, I’d browse for new reads. “Hello, is anyone here?”

  “Be with you in a trice, dear,” a woman’s voice floated from the rear of the store.

  I heard the soft murmur of voices, a woman’s and a man’s, then heels clacking across a hardwood floor.

  The full-bosomed, elegant woman who came into view had once been stunning in the way of movie-star divas of old. In her early fifties now, her sleek dark hair was gathered back in a chignon from a pale-skinned, classic-boned face. Though time and gravity had traced the supple skin of youth with the lines of fine parchment and creased her brow, this woman would always be beautiful, right up to the day she died. She wore a long tailored gray skirt and a gauzy linen blouse that flattered her voluptuous figure and revealed a hint of a lacy bra beneath. Lustrous pearls glowed softly at her neck, wrist, and ears. “I’m Fiona. Is there something I can help you find, dear?”

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  “I was hoping I could use your phone to call a taxi. Of course, I’ll buy something too,” I added hastily. Many of the local businesses posted placards advising that phones and bathrooms were only for paying customers.

  She smiled. “No need for that, dear, unless you wish. Certainly, you may use our phone. ”

  After paging through the phone book and dialing up a cab, I set off to make good use of my twenty-minute wait, collecting two thrillers, the latest Janet Evanovich, and a fashion magazine. While Fiona was ringing me up, I decided to try a stab in the dark, figuring anyone who worked with so many books surely knew a little of something about a lot of everything.

  “I’ve been trying to find out what a word means but I’m not sure what language it’s in, or even if I’m saying it right,” I told her.

 
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