Taran was hot, tired, puzzled, and feeling overwhelmed when he left the scene. Blake Fellows hadn’t asked him to get statements this time. This time he was having his own people do it. Of course, the condominiums were technically out of Taran’s jurisdiction, but just. Not that he knew the people there, not like he did in the rest of the town. The people in the condos, by and large, worked at the tech firm. A few others, attracted by living off the beaten path and good housing prices for the area, telecommuted to Raleigh or Charlotte. The condominiums had only started selling less than a year ago, the first people moving in about seven or eight months before.
The dead man was Austin Marino. Taran was left with knowing only that, frustrated by the hole that his lack of knowledge left. Taran didn’t remember playing football with him, watching him play, or listening to stories about his games. He didn’t remember hanging out at the diner with him, enjoying his company or jealous of his success.
Austin had moved there from Raleigh about four months earlier. He lived with a girlfriend named Margot Walker, who was currently out of town.
So far there were no suspects. The two women who lived next door, Belle and Siobhan, hadn’t seen anything, nor had they heard anything. Both telecommuted from their home having reconfigured the downstairs to accommodate two small offices, or so they said. Taran hadn’t gone inside, hadn’t cared to go inside. Walking through Austin’s home had been enough.
He wondered what the death meant for Zoe and the threats against her. He turned the car towards her home. He had the window down as the day had cooled when the sun lowered in the sky. Headlights on, the radio drowned by the whoosh and occasional clack of the road, Taran hung an arm out the window, holding onto the roof like he remembered his father doing years ago when he was a kid.
He breathed deeply, clearing the smell of death from his nostrils and filling them with the smell of French fries as he passed the McDonald’s, and later fried chicken when he got close to the grocery store. The rest of the time the air held that unique aroma that could only be found in Corbin Meadow, clean and crisp, faintly piney, and sometimes overwhelmingly floral like an old lady who had splashed too much perfume on her body. All of those scents were always mixed up in the town like layers of memories that overlaid the actual happenings.
Taran worried about what he’d do if Kay was still at Zoe’s, but he pushed that aside. She’d been there early in the afternoon. Surely she would have left. Maybe he ought to call to be sure. His hand twitched, the one holding the wheel. He felt the muscles in the arm resting on the car door tense, as if they were trying to make a decision his brain didn’t want to make.
The car continued rolling towards the Hyer house, the destination set as if in stone, and Taran was going there no matter what. It felt a little like destiny. He breathed again, wondering if it was fate or destiny and how bad it could be.
The same bronze-colored SUV was in the driveway when he pulled up. Getting out of the car he heard the slight ticking of the SUV’s engine as it cooled after a drive. Taran looked inside, saw the same pile of suitcases, too many for a short trip, too few for a homecoming. They looked like Kay—not that his ex looked like a square cloth bag for carrying clothing, but rather they looked like something she would purchase and use. Her style.
He walked up the path to the door, noticing as he did that the porch light was on. Through the closed curtains he saw hints of shadows as people moved around inside, at least two, perhaps more. He hoped for more, hoped that Ed was there to help diffuse tension as he talked to Zoe, made sure she was still okay, and then had to face Kay, which was almost as difficult as having to face the fact that he didn’t believe the people in his town had been killed by human hands.
Taran reached out his hand and rang the bell, listening as he did so to the chimes playing their tune, softly fading away, footsteps already making their way to the door.
Ed opened the door, dressed in dark jeans, almost black, and a blue and cream plaid short-sleeved shirt.
“Chief Rees!” Ed said loudly. The murmur of voices in the background stopped, waiting.
“How are you?” Taran asked.
Ed opened the screen, gesturing for Taran to come in, his head going out to peer around the garden, as if making sure Taran hadn’t been followed, or perhaps he was looking for a swat team coming to swoop in and take away his daughter.
“Been worried,” Ed said.
Zoe and Kay were both standing in the big living room. They held glasses of something to drink. Kay had part of a sandwich in her hand. Zoe didn’t. There was an empty plate near a chair, as if he’d interrupted a casual chat over sandwiches, no doubt provided by Ed.
“Taran,” Kay said quietly.
Taran nodded at her.
Zoe said nothing, just looking at him, and her look said something to him deep inside. He wanted to go to her, to hug her, to make sure she was still real, but he stood there, his eyes going back to his ex-wife who still frightened him a little bit.
“There was another murder,” Taran said. “In the condos.”
“We saw the sheriffs,” Zoe said, moving a step towards him. It brought her even with Kay, who stood near the closest chair. Kay set the sandwich down on a plate, which forced her to turn slightly to do so.
Taran waited, putting on his expectant look, saying nothing.
“We went to have a chat in Lenoir. The sheriff went racing by us,” Zoe continued, filling the silence.
He nodded. Ed had moved back into the family room, leaving him to chat with the women.
Zoe and Kay exchanged a look. Kay gestured for him to come closer. He did so, his feet moving more easily than his brain in this supremely uncomfortable situation.
The two women moved back to the corner of the room near the fireplace. Kay and Zoe leaned in.
“We talked to it,” Kay said, her voice a whisper, her breath warm against the side of his face.
“We’re meeting with a paranormal expert tomorrow at Redwellyn,” Zoe said. “We were just going to go tonight, but I called and got an appointment for tomorrow at noon. The professor sometimes sees students on weekends, I guess.”
“We might still go tonight,” Kay added.
“But you’re safe?” Taran whispered. Clearly Ed hadn’t been filled in.
“I asked that she be safe,” Kay said. “You’ve seen it?” Clearly she was referring to the creature.
Taran didn’t need to nod. Zoe was already doing it for him. Kay gave them both a look but said nothing. If it bothered her, there was no outward sign.
“It said I had to stay in Corbin Meadow to protect people,” Kay said. “I’m not sure I understand why.”
“It—Emrys, Kay called it—said that there were others killing people because they were bringing in too many humans to the town,” Zoe added. Her voice was further from his face, her whisper softer to his ears, though no less clear.
The idea of why gave him something to look into for Austin Marino. Who was he? What had he wanted to bring in or change? Taran would have to find out.
“Wouldn’t it be safer for other people if Kay stays in town?”
Kay frowned. She didn’t like the idea. She wanted to run. That would be like her. She’d always hated the fact that it was such a small place. She felt like it was a prison.
“But we don’t know what will set them off. If Kay knows about something she can ask for this Emrys to protect them, but I’m not sure he can protect everyone generally,” Zoe said.
“What if she just wished no one was murdered?” Taran asked. “In town, of course.”
Kay and Zoe exchanged a look, as if wondering why neither of them had thought of that idea.
Chapter 42 will be coming next Friday. Don’t want to wait? Find the book here.