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Authors: Terri Persons

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BOOK: Blind Sight: A Novel
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Eve Bossard
.

Garcia came up to her with a cup of coffee in each hand. He passed her one.

She sipped. Scalding, black, and bitter, exactly how she liked it. She told Garcia about the Mother Teresa obstetrician.

“We can follow up tomorrow,” he said. “She might have seen the kid in her clinic.”

She checked her watch. “We’ve still got a lot to do here to night.”

Bernadette and Garcia went down the hall, strategizing. They had to talk to four more nurses, a janitor, and a radiology tech. Though the disinfectant smelled fresh, they didn’t want to rule out anyone who’d been in the building the previous twenty-four hours, and who had knowledge of the storage room/morgue. They’d finish interviewing the second shift, catch the third as they were punching in, and stay for the morning crew.

Garcia dragged a hand down his face. “Let’s have our Minneapolis guys do the cafeteria ladies and office folks. You and I will stick with the medical people.”

“No cameras, spotty security at the door,” said Bernadette. “Reality is, anyone could have walked in off the street, jimmied the lock, and slipped into the room.”

“They’d have to know about the room,” said Garcia. “It’s kind of a secret.”

“Try keeping a secret in a small town.”

CHAPTER SIX

I
t was shortly before midnight, in the cinder-block basement of a house on the edge of the forest. Twenty black-robed adults stood in a circle around an altar, which in its previous life had been an oak dining-room table. The rectangle was covered with a purple cloth, its center embroidered with a pentacle. Pillar candles flickered at each corner of the table. The altar stood in the center of a five-pointed star that had been drawn on the concrete floor.

Two robed couples stood at the altar, a set anchoring each end of the table. The younger couple carried a baby boy dressed in a black velour romper, gold pentacles embroidered on the front and back. The boy was crying and hiccuping, and his mother and father kept passing him back and forth to each other.

“Come on, sweetie pie, one burpy” cooed the mother, holding the infant over her shoulder, which was draped with a Winnie the Pooh spit rag. “Come on, Tommy.”

“You shouldn’t call him that,” the father whispered into her ear.

“The ceremony hasn’t started,” she said. “He doesn’t have his pagan name yet.”

“You can still use it,” he said, taking the boy from her.

“It’s against the rules,” she said, and looked across the table toward the older couple, the priest and the priestess. “Isn’t it?”

The white-haired, bearded man shrugged, and his silver-haired female companion whispered to the younger pair, “We’re not following a set form here, dears. This coven doesn’t have hard-and-fast rules. We do our own thing. Just go with the flow.”

“What about the ceremony?” asked the younger woman, adjusting the hood on her robe. “This isn’t just a bunch of made-up stuff, is it? I want it to mean something.”

“It will,” the priest reassured her.

“We got the ritual from a coven out East,” added the priestess. “Tweaked it a bit to make it our own.”

The other adults ignored the discussion that was taking place inside the circle. Two of the robed men had pushed their hoods back to have an animated argument about the value of various ice-fishing electronics.

“If you ask me, a depth finder that goes for under five bills has gotta be shit.”

“Any depth finder is shit if you don’t know how to use it.”

Three of the women were comparing corn-pudding recipes.

“A box of that corn-muffin mix, a can of creamed corn, a can of regular corn, three eggs, a carton of French onion dip from the dairy case, and a stick of melted butter.” The woman tucked her hands into the voluminous velvet sleeves of her robe. “Make sure you spread the batter out in a wide pan or it’ll never bake through.”

“I like to use fresh corn when it’s in season; otherwise I stick with frozen.”

“Fresh, canned, or frozen, it all tastes the same if it’s buried in a hot dish. This one time I tried substituting the onion dip for a carton of—”

“Time to get started,” announced the priest, clapping his hands together.

“Quiet, please,” said the priestess, stepping over to the wall and dimming the lights. The black-painted walls of the room became blacker.

Hoods that had been pushed off were put back up and the room fell silent, except for the sound of the hiccuping baby.

The silver-haired woman retrieved a bowl of salt from the altar. Standing with the bowl cupped between her hands, the priestess addressed the group in a clear, strong voice. “This child has chosen to be born to our sister Cerridwen and our brother Odin.”

“In his past life, he played and worked and walked among us,” continued the priest, fingering his beard while he spoke. “He has reincarnated, and elected to come back to those who knew and loved him before.”

“Though his spirit is old, his body is brand-new,” said the priestess.

“Therefore it must be introduced to the ancient ways,” said the priest.

Tipping her head to the parents standing on the other end of the altar, the priestess whispered, “Go ahead, dears.”

The man passed the baby back to the woman. Holding the boy under the armpits, the mother faced him to the north. The priestess went over to the infant, sprinkled salt on his downy head, and said, “I Isis, named for the consort of Osiris, call to the north. Creatures and powers of earth, welcome this babe with open arms. Bestow upon him your great blessings.”

The mother turned her baby to face the east. The priestess returned the salt bowl to the altar while the priest retrieved a bowl smoking with incense. Moving the bowl in front of and under the dangling infant, so that the incense wafted around the baby, the priest said, “I Osiris, named for the beloved of Isis, call to the east. Creatures and powers of air, welcome this babe with open arms. Bestow upon him your great blessings.”

The baby hiccuped loudly, and one of the corn-pudding witches chuckled. The mother passed the infant over to the father, who burped the child and turned him around again, this time to dangle facing the south.

The priest set down the incense and picked up a dagger from the table. He touched the flat of the blade to the baby’s head and said, “I Osiris call to the south. Creatures and powers of fire, welcome this babe with open arms. Bestow upon him your great blessings.”

While the priest set the dagger back, the priestess lifted a chalice from the altar. The child’s father held him facing the west. The priestess dipped her fingertips into the water and sprinkled the infant’s head. “I Isis call to the west. Creatures and powers of water, welcome this babe with open arms. Bestow upon him your great blessings.”

The parents went back to their end of the altar with their baby while the priest and the priestess returned to theirs. The infant had stopped hiccuping and was starting to doze off in his father’s arms.

The priestess: “Odin and Cerridwen, what Wiccan name have you selected for your boy child?”

The baby’s mother took a small cup from the altar, dipped her fingertips into it, and traced a pentagram on the sleeping child’s forehead. “With this blessing oil, we name thee Herne.”

The infant’s father: “God of the wild hunt, god who is celebrated in the autumn months when deer go into rut.”

A murmur of approval from the males in the circle.

The priest: “Herne, you have honored your parents by choosing to be born to them. Now they honor you with these vows.”

Together, the parents recited, “We promise to love, honor, and respect you. We shall protect you from all that is evil and leave you free to enjoy all that is good.”

The priestess went around the table and gently lifted the sleeping child from his father’s arms. “The gods and all present bear witness to the naming of this boy child.”

As the priestess walked in a clockwise direction around the circle, each person she passed touched a hand to the top of the baby’s head. Some offered their own impromptu blessings.

“The gods be with you, Herne.”

“Bless you, little boy.”

“Live long, Herne.”

“Be a good deer hunter like your old man, kid.”

After the baby was returned to his parents, a chalice of red wine was passed around clockwise. Before sipping, each drinker raised the goblet toward the child and said, “I honor you, Herne.”

After the naming ceremony, everyone went upstairs for cake and decaf coffee. Most removed their robes first, however, tossing the heaps of black velvet over the coats and jackets they’d deposited in the guest bedroom.

The three corn-pudding ladies plopped next to one another on a sofa, their cake plates balanced on their laps and their coffee mugs locked in their fists.

“Did you see the cake before they cut into it?” asked the one in the middle. “It was one of those photo cakes from that bakery in Park Rapids. It had his hospital picture on it. Adorable.”

“I didn’t get a chance to see it,” said the witch on the right, taking a sip of coffee.

“My grandson had one of those for his graduation open house,” said the witch on the left.

The one in the middle took a bite of cake and declared, “Marble. A little dry. I would have ordered the chocolate instead. That bakery does a good chocolate.”

“I’ve got the best recipe for carrot cake,” said the witch on the right, and the other two leaned toward her to hear it.

Herne, named for the god of the wild hunt, was in the bathroom getting his diaper changed.

Separated from the group, two of the men stood whispering in a corner. Both were tall. One was bony and haggard, and the other was carrying extra weight around his middle. Each had a paper coffee cup in his hand, but neither was drinking out of it. Neither seemed very happy.

“I warned her to leave it alone, but she did it anyway,” growled the gaunt man.

“What’s done is done,” said the man with the gut.

“Should we tell the others?”

“No need to agitate them. We agitate them, one of them might do something rash and foolish.”

The gaunt man chuckled dryly. “You mean more foolish than has already been done?”

“I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”

“We have to talk about it. What if the feds come after one of us? We all need to be telling the same story, otherwise they’ll know.” The narrow man swept the room with his eyes. “I say we tell the group. They’re all here.”

The man with the big gut finally took a sip of his coffee and shuddered. It was ice-cold. He tipped the cup back and swallowed. “We don’t know who we can trust. Hell, for all I know you did it.”

“You know for a fact that tonight I was—”

“I’m not talking about tonight. I’m talking about last night.”

“What about you?” the gaunt man growled. “Where were you? It could have been you.”

“That’s my point. It could have been you. It could have been me. It could have been any of us.”

He surveyed the room again, finding potential fiends instead of friends. “You really think one of ours did it? Why would they?”

“I don’t know why.” The fat fingers crushed the paper cup. “But if it was one of our own, I say we take care of it ourselves.”

CHAPTER SEVEN

T
hat was a workout,” said Bernadette as she and Garcia trudged to the truck. She checked her watch. It was ten in the morning. They’d spent fourteen hours in the hospital and she’d been without sleep for twenty-four. She’d also consumed about a gallon of coffee. She was both exhausted and wired.

“No solid suspects beyond the witch,” said Garcia, squinting into the falling snow.

Seth’s deputies had taken off at dawn, but the Minneapolis agents were staying behind to do some mop-up at the hospital. The ERT guys hadn’t yet showed at the facility—they were still at the tented crime scene—and the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s wagon, though on the road, was an hour away. B.K. had been assigned to stay planted outside the storage room/morgue. “Maybe he should be relieved,” said Bernadette as they came up to the truck. “Poor kid was standing in that hallway all night.”

Garcia fished his keys out of his pocket. “What is it with you and Cahill?”

“It’s just that he’s so … I don’t know … green.”

“He’ll be fine.”

Bernadette yanked open the front passenger door and climbed in. Their next stop was the Ashe place. “Delores said we should call ahead because of the dogs.”

“Like we’re gonna give them some warning.”

“I know. Just thought I’d point it out. Dogs and guns. Guns and dogs. Be ready.”

“Imagine everyone up here has at least a shotgun,” said Garcia, getting behind the wheel and starting up the Titan. “As far as dogs go, I like dogs.”

Their breath filled the interior of the cab, and Bernadette clapped her gloved hands together. “The inside of this thing is colder than it is outside.”

Garcia cranked the cab’s heat on maximum. “It’s got a great heater. We’ll be toasty in no time.” He reached behind his seat to grab an ice scraper and hopped out with it.

Watching Garcia’s face through the windshield while he shaved the ice off the windows, Bernadette remembered Martini’s comment. When he got back inside the truck, she passed it on.

“Erik Estrada?” Garcia navigated the truck out of the parking lot and headed for Paul Bunyan State Forest. “I wish.”

While Garcia steered, Bernadette tried to navigate using the map Delores had scratched out for her. They were heading north on Minnesota 64, the highway that sliced vertically through the south section of the forest. As soon as they turned off the highway, they got into trouble.

“Maybe you’re holding it upside down,” offered Garcia as they reached the end of what appeared to be an old logging trail. The narrow, snow-clogged path came to a dead stop at a thick stand of trees. No houses or other vehicles were anywhere in sight.

Bernadette flipped the slip of paper, frowned, and flipped it back. “Have you got a map?”

“Look around.”

She reached under her seat and pulled out an ice scraper, a flashlight, a stocking cap, and a first-aid kit. The only thing inside the glove box was the Titan’s manual, another flashlight, and a bag of licorice, the red sticks as hard as icicles. With raised brows, she held up the sack of candy.

“Emergency Twizzlers.” He took his arm off the square rest that sat between them on the bench. “Check in here.”

Bernadette lifted the lid. Loose change, sunglasses, a box of Kleenex, and candy. She plucked out a Baby Ruth, peeled off the wrapper, and gnawed on the frozen candy bar.

He surveyed the woods around them. “Where in the hell are we?”

“Let’s get back on the main road,” she suggested.

Garcia tried to turn the truck around, but there wasn’t enough room. He threw an arm over the top of the seat, looked behind him, and started backing up. “If we get stuck, I’m going to be pissed.”

Bernadette looked through the windshield at the morning sky. The temperature was in the single digits, and snow was still falling. “Should have brought a GPS.”

Garcia got them back on 64. “For sure it’s on the east side of the highway?”

“According to Delores,” said Bernadette, peering through her window. “She said the road is visible from the highway but not the house.”

After two more wrong turns, they finally hung a right onto a road that looked as if it was meant for more than logging trucks. It was a little wider, and had been visited by a plow.

“This looks promising,” said Garcia.

Bernadette studied Martini’s scribbles. “There should be a sharp right pretty quick here.”

They took the first right that came up, and immediately realized that it was another logging road. Garcia put the truck in reverse and backed out. “I’m getting pretty good at this.”

The next right led them down a road that seemed better cleared than the highway. “This has gotta be their place,” Bernadette said.

“Why do you say that?”

“The boyfriend drives a plow.”

The snow was getting heavier, and Garcia activated the truck’s windshield wipers. “Gonna be a busy boy today.”

“A
postal box and an address marker,” said Bernadette, pointing.

“Since deer don’t receive mail, that’s a good sign,” said Garcia.

The trees on either side of the road started thinning and then stopped altogether as they came to a clearing. Garcia braked so they could scope out the scene.

At the far end was a rambler with an attached two-car garage, and next to the garage was a barn. There was a plowed driveway in front of the garage and another in front of the barn’s double doors, but no vehicles were parked in either of them. A collection of snow-covered heaps littered the yard, however: Rusty station wagon with fake wood paneling on the sides. Turquoise Volkswagen Beetle. Camper top resting on a set of blocks. Purple conversion van with plastic taped over the missing back windows. Cherry-red convertible, its cloth top in shreds and its interior filled with snow. A half-dozen ancient snowmobiles.

“The boyfriend must like to work on engines,” said Bernadette.

“Let’s see if anyone is minding witch headquarters,” said Garcia, taking his foot off the brake and rolling toward the house.

Bernadette pointed to a massive woodpile alongside the barn. Another mountain was stacked against the side of the house. “I’ll bet all that wood is for her kiln.”

The road branched off, the right leading to the barn and the left to the house. Garcia took the left fork, pulling up to the garage. One of the garage doors had a plastic road sign nailed to it. Against the yellow background was the black silhouette of a witch on a broom, and the words
SAVE A BROOM
.
RIDE A WITCH
. On the other garage door was another road sign declaring,
PROUD TO BE A PAGAN
. Beneath the words was an upright five-pointed star with a circle around it.

“I remember that lawsuit over dead Wiccan vets not being allowed to have those symbols on their government-issued markers,” said Bernadette.

“The one on the girl was inverted, though.”

“That makes it satanic, not Wiccan.”

“Doesn’t exclude the witch from our short list,” said Garcia.

“I agree,” said Bernadette. “If Ashe doesn’t have something to do with the murder and the star, she has to know someone who does. There’s gotta be a connection.”

“If nothing else, someone wanted us to land on her doorstep.”

“Let’s do this.”

Both opened their doors and hopped out. With one hand still on the open passenger door, Bernadette caught a movement out of the corner of her eye. She glanced toward the area between the garage and the barn. Bounding out from behind the barn’s woodpile were two thick-necked pit bulls.

“Tony! Dogs!” She jumped back into the cab and shut the door. The snarling animals hurled themselves against her side of the truck with such ferocity that the Titan rocked.

Garcia dived inside and slammed his door. “Jesus Christ!”

Two more pit bulls dashed out from between the garage and the barn, one of them running to Bernadette’s door and the other circling around to Garcia’s side. The agents had to yell in order to hear each other above the barking.

“Crap!” hollered Bernadette. “I was expecting hunting dogs!”

The pit bull on Garcia’s side jumped so high, its front paws hit the middle of the window. “Hunting dogs, my ass!”

Wondering if someone would hear the racket and come out, Bernadette scanned the front of the house. “The windows are covered with black paper!”

“Pit bulls and blacked-out windows! You think there’s something naughty going on inside?”

Two more dogs came running toward the truck to join in the frenzy. Bernadette instinctively looked up at the truck’s ceiling for a shotgun and realized that it hadn’t been fitted with a gun rack. “How many of these monsters do they have?”

Garcia took out his Glock and put his hand on the door. “I’ve had enough of this!”

The dogs on the passenger side were standing on their back paws and clawing madly with their front, as if trying to dig a hole through the metal. “God almighty!”

The instant Garcia opened his door a crack, one of the dogs shoved its head into the opening. As Garcia kicked at the snarling animal with his boot, the dog latched on to the heel. “Shit!” Garcia yelled, and aimed his weapon.

“Don’t! You’ll blow your foot off!”

“Fuck!” Garcia wiggled his foot out of the boot.

Bernadette threw herself across Garcia’s lap, grabbed the door handle, and slammed the door against the animal’s head. The pit bull fell away from the truck, the boot still clamped between its teeth. As Garcia and Bernadette both wrestled the door closed, two other dogs hurled themselves against the driver’s side of the Nissan.

Panting, Bernadette collapsed against her seat. “Are you okay? Did he bite you?”

“I’m fine.”

Glancing through the window, she saw that the dog with the boot was shaking its head furiously. “I don’t think your boot is going to make it.”

“Funny,” said Garcia, looking through Bernadette’s window.

Bernadette ran a hand through her damp hair. She had worked up a sweat. “Let’s get out of here and come back with animal control.”

Garcia adjusted his grip on the gun and put his left hand on the controls for the driver’s window. “Fuck animal control!”

Bernadette watched as Garcia rolled his window down an inch. “What are you going to do?”

Garcia poked the muzzle of his Glock through the gap. “Empty my gun!”

As if they knew Garcia’s intent, a trio of barking dogs attacked the driver’s window, their paws clawing at the glass and nearly reaching the gap.

“Tony you can’t!”

“Watch me.” Garcia angled the barrel down toward the pack of pit bulls. “Eat this, assholes!”

BOOK: Blind Sight: A Novel
2.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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