Authors: Jeff Mariotte
“But no sign of an intruder?” Beckett asked. “No old man with a gun?”
“Nothing like that. Anyway, if he had a gun, why would he open her up like that? Why not just shoot her?”
“I wish I knew the answer to that. Did you fi nd any footprints or anything, either here or by the Sawyer place?”
“Some over there, across the street. Good one right outside one of their windows, like someone raising up on tiptoes to look in.”
“Figure that’s our geezer?”
“That’s my guess.”
“I had a call on my way over,” Beckett said. “Another sighting of the old man, less than a block away from here. I drove around for a couple minutes,
didn’t see anything, and I don’t have enough bodies available for a full-on search.”
“You think he’s looking for another victim?”
“At this point, I don’t necessarily like him for the murder at all. Like you said, he’s got a gun. This lady wasn’t shot. I don’t know what opened her up, but that’s no bullet hole.”
Trace fell silent. That was okay with Beckett. He didn’t want to have to think, but sometimes there was just no avoiding it. Mayor Milner didn’t want anything getting in the way of the mall opening, and he understood Milner’s position.
But a man didn’t live for a long time in Cedar Wells without hearing whispers of a murder cycle, 74 SUPERNATURAL
as that young reporter had called it. Especially when he made his living in law enforcement. People talked about it after a few drinks over at the Plugged Bucket, or at backyard barbecues in the summer when the beer came out of ice-filled coolers and the smoke was thick and nobody listened to anyone else’s conversation. And sometimes a sheriff could just be walking down the street and one of the town’s oldsters would call him over, summon him with that imperious attitude the truly ancient sometimes assumed when dealing with whippersnappers who were merely in their forties or fifties, and whisper to him that it was this year, wasn’t it? Come summer, or spring, or whenever they got it in their head the fortieth an-niversary was, people would start to die again. That, finally, was what had convinced him that it was all a local legend—the fact that none of the people who had been adults here forty years before seemed to agree on when it was supposed to happen.
If he was wrong, though—if it was real, and the forty years was up, and it was all beginning again—
then he would be in for a bad week or two, however long it would last. And opening a mall during that time would be a heroically bad idea. Bad enough when there were a few victims spread around the area. How much worse might it be if there were several thousand inside the mall, and whoever or whatever was behind the murder spree decided to try some kind of terrorist stunt? A bomb, a small plane flown into the mall, something like that. The death Witch’s
count could easily rise into the hundreds in a matter of minutes.
The thing was, could he convince the mayor and the mall management to call it off?
Not without more evidence than he had so far.
He had to find that old man. Or the soldier from the mall parking lot. Or whatever had torn up Ralph McCaig. Ideally, they were all the same guy. Jailing one man was a lot easier than jailing a figment or a legend.
Mrs. Frankel, the silver-coiffed librarian, wore perfume just musky enough to make Dean wonder if she had a secret life. He and Sam had returned to the library after their mall visit, with a different goal in mind than last time. Before, they had been in search of information about the previous episodes of unexplained murders, in 1926 and 1966. This time they wanted to find out if the old soldier was the spirit of someone who bore a grudge against the town.
The fact that neither of them were familiar enough with military uniforms to know precisely when the soldier might have lived would, they realized, make the quest somewhat diffi cult. Hence the up-close-and-personal conversation with Mrs. Frankel.
“I’m surprised the
is so interested in the minutiae of our history,” she said when Dean explained what they needed.
“Our readers are an inquisitive bunch,” Sam said.
“The more interesting details we can provide, the more they like it.”
“Well, here in Cedar Wells and Coconino County, we certainly have our share of ‘interesting detail,’” she said. “Lots of kooks, I guess you’d say, have settled here or at least passed through. I can’t think of any off the top of my head who might have a grudge like you’re describing, though.”
“Maybe the grudge would never have revealed itself,” Dean suggested. “Maybe he was just someone who felt like he’d been badly mistreated.”
“That sort of thing happens all the time, of course,” Mrs. Frankel said. She twisted a thin gold necklace around her left index fi nger. Dean noted that there was no wedding ring on her ring fi nger, although she had definitely introduced herself as
Frankel. “People feel like local government singles them out for maltreatment, or like it has let them down in some way because their particular case or cause isn’t its top priority. And some, of course, have legitimate grievances. I can think of half a dozen of those, but those are all just in the last few years.
Going back to the old days . . . well, that would be a matter of going through the newspapers, I guess. As far back as they go.”
“How far is that?” Sam asked. “The soldier we’re looking for might have been here late in the nineteenth century.”
Mrs. Frankel released her knot of necklace and tapped her fingertips against her chin. “Oh, I don’t think the papers go that far back. The
didn’t start publishing until 1920 or thereabouts. Well after the national park was established. Before that, there just weren’t enough people in the area to make a newspaper worthwhile.”
“How can we get information on
might have been here before that?” Dean asked.
She glanced toward a series of wooden fi ling cabinets shoved up against one wall. “There are some records from Camp Hualpai, a local military post from the late 1860s to early 1870s. It didn’t exist for long, but you’re certainly welcome to see what’s there.” Dean caught Sam’s eye. That sounded like a lot of hard, boring work. He didn’t necessarily have a problem with hard, boring work that had a reasonable chance of success. The problem here was that they were hunting for the proverbial needle in the haystack—complicated further by the fact that they didn’t even know in which farmer’s fi eld the right haystack could be found. Sam gave a minute shrug.
“Maybe a little later,” Dean said. “We’ll defi nitely keep that in mind.”
Outside, Sam grabbed his arm before they even made it to the car. “I could tell you didn’t want to sit in there and read those old files, but do you have any better ideas? We’re kind of running out of time here.”
“Of course I have an idea,” Dean said. Sam released him and stood on the sidewalk, waiting to hear it. The snow, which started out falling lightly, had intensified, as if the clouds themselves had shredded and spun to the ground as confetti. Since Dean Witch’s
didn’t actually have an idea, he watched the sky for a moment, hoping one would come to him. “Only not so much, at the moment.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought. Fortunately, I have one.”
“Why didn’t you say so? What is it?”
“We’re looking for a soldier, right? Someone who died in the area, which is why his spirit is still here.
So let’s check the local cemeteries. We can scan them for electromagnetic frequency activity. If nothing else, sometimes military graves are marked, and if we can find one that’s out of the ordinary in some way, maybe we can kill two birds with one stone and dig it up right away.”
Little brother comes through again.
“That’s good, Sammy. That’s good. Can’t be too many cemeteries around here, can there?” As it turned out, there were three.
The first one didn’t have any graves older than 1954, which it took twenty minutes of wandering, bending over, sometimes scraping off snow that had started to accumulate on headstones, to determine.
The second one was behind a Catholic church. A priest looked at them from inside, so they tried their best to appear solemn and respectful as they perused the graves. It was cold enough that Sam pulled up the hood of the sweatshirt he wore under a canvas jacket. Dean had a leather coat on, no hat, but in the pockets were gloves that he tugged onto his hands.
Some of the graves here were older. They found a 80 SUPERNATURAL
few from the 1890s, but none that could be identifi ed as belonging to military people, and none that suggested unquiet rest, either visually or on their EMF reader.
“One more to go,” Sam said when they were back in the car.
“Yeah, this was a great freakin’ idea,” Dean complained. “Freezin’ our asses off out there in the snow.
I see dead people.”
for a dead guy!”
“I know. I just . . . I don’t like the snow, okay? I mean, snow’s cool and all, but I like it better when I’m inside with a hot toddy and a roaring fi re.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a hot toddy,” Sam said.
“I don’t even think I know what’s in it.”
“I don’t, either,” Dean said. “But I like the idea of it more than I like the idea of losing a toe to frostbite.”
“We’re not going to lose any toes, Dean.” The route to the third cemetery took them through what passed for a residential neighborhood in Cedar Wells, a couple of blocks off Main Street. The houses were old, mostly wood and brick, with snow covering their slanted roofs and fenced yards. Smoke wafted from a few chimneys, scenting the air and sending gray curls skyward. Snow gathered on the road, except where tires had carved through it, making black streaks that looked like miniature roads themselves, viewed from the clouds.
Dean slowed, fighting the Impala’s desire to fi shtail into a parked truck. “You’d think a town like this would have snowplows.”
“They probably have a snowplow,” Sam said.
“And they’re probably using it to keep Main Street clear. And maybe Grand Avenue.”
“All three blocks of it.”
“Hey, it’s a small town.”
“Which is gonna get a lot smaller if we don’t fi nd this spirit.” The more time that passed, the more possibility that other people were dying. Dean hated that possibility, and while he didn’t want to snap at his brother, anger pushed itself to the surface.
Besides, what good was having a brother if you couldn’t snap at him once in a while?
“Dean!” Sam grabbed Dean’s sleeve, startling him.
He twisted the wheel to his right, started to slide on wet slushy pavement, corrected to the left. The Impala shuddered but maintained course.
“Don’t do that, Sam.”
Sam pointed to a house up the street, about a quarter of a block away. From the road they could see a screened-in porch in front of the door, three stairs up from the street.
Emerging from the door was a big, dark bulk. The wrong shape to be a person. “What the hell . . . ?” Dean stopped in the middle of the lane, watching.
A black bear nosed out the screen door as if sniff-ing the air. Apparently finding it to his liking, he pawed it out of the way and dropped to all fours to descend the stairs. Rump swaying, he crossed the snowy yard and headed for the woods behind the house. The screen door, on a spring, slammed closed behind him.
“A bear just came out of that house,” Dean said.
“Maybe he lives there.”
“Like what? A circus bear? I don’t think—”
“I’m kidding. Come on, we’d better check the place out.”
“Gee, you think?” Dean pulled the car awkwardly toward the curb and got out. Sam was out his door before the vehicle stopped moving. Dean caught up to him as they reached the steps. The air smelled like bear—or like animal, anyway, since Dean wasn’t too sure what a bear actually smelled like in person.
Muskier than Mrs. Frankel, but not as manurelike as a zoo.
They climbed the steps. Sam opened the screen door, and they went through; the bear had left the front door open. “Was he raised in a barn?” Dean asked.
Sam ignored him. Dean didn’t blame him a bit.
Sam paused and leaned inside the open doorway, holding onto the jamb with both hands. “Hello! Is anyone here?”
No one answered. He released the jamb and stepped inside, Dean following close behind him.
The bear had not been as tidy as he might have. In the front room, a couch was overturned, its cushions spilling onto the carpet. A small table had stood in front of it, but it was splintered now, with only one leg remaining whole. Mud and claw marks marred the off-white carpeting.
“Why do I feel like Goldilocks?” Sam asked.