The Myth Hunters
Oliver shivered and crossed his arms, trying to warm himself from the cold that touched him now within as well as without. “The girl who was killed. She was pretty young?”
“Yeah, really terrible.”
Kitsune moved nearer to him, lowering her hood. The kid was almost mesmerized by her nearness. “He removed her eyes, correct? That is how she died?”
“Yeah,” the teenager said, nodding as though lost in an unpleasant dream.
The wind blew a flurry around their heads. “The Sandman,” Frost whispered.
Oliver did not have to ask for elaboration this time. The Sandman had taken his first child in centuries. And there would be more. He knew there was nothing he could do. That he couldn’t stay, or the Hunters would catch up with him and his companions. But the urge was there to do something, to help, somehow.
Kitsune pulled at his arm and Oliver started away from the kid. But this was a bad idea. They were headed right for the police, two strangers walking out of a park where a horrible murder had occurred what must have been only hours earlier. And Oliver without a coat. They were going to notice him for sure. Talk to him. And if they became suspicious and wanted to speak to them in a more official capacity, that would mean they would be doing little more than sitting around waiting for the Hunters to come.
“This way,” he said, turning toward the train station. The steam engine was still puffing in the station. No one used steam trains anymore, so he assumed it was some kind of local attraction. That didn’t matter, as long as it would get them out of the center of town without running into the police. The forest around the town was probably state-owned. If he understood the laws of the magic used to create the Veil, that would be sufficiently public for the Borderkind to cross.
The station looked as though it ought to have been in the English countryside, not some quaint village in Maine. Smoke rose from fireplaces at either end. As they crossed the park toward the lot in front of the station, he could see people in line inside the well-lit building, but the line was moving, people boarding the train.
This is good. This will work.
“Hey!” a voice called. The kid with the snowball.
Oliver and Kitsune walked faster. Whatever mesmerizing effect her presence had, it clearly did not last.
“Hey, how did you know that? About Alice’s eyes?” the kid called. “How did you guys know that?”
With a silent curse Oliver glanced toward the quartet of cops. All four of them had turned to see what the yelling was about. The question was whether or not they could make out the kid’s words from that distance. Their reaction was gradual, one of them starting into the park, the others taking a few steps to peer at Oliver and Kitsune, but they were moving. They had heard. One of the cops went to the nearest police car and ducked inside, reaching for the radio handset.
The other three set off on a diagonal route across the park toward the train station. The kid kept calling after them, but now one of the cops— the first to have moved— began shouting as well. There was a hesitation in him and the other two, for they still held their coffee cups. Walking fast, but not running. Curious and guarded, but not alarmed. Not yet.
Oliver and Kitsune ignored them.
Police officers do not like to be ignored.
The one in front was the first to drop his coffee cup and start really moving. The other two followed suit. Oliver snatched up Kitsune’s hand and began to run. For the second time in minutes, in two different worlds, they ran up a short set of stairs toward a door. Even as he grabbed hold of the handle and hauled it open, he could see that the last of the line had disappeared from inside the station, going out onto the platform to board the train.
Its whistle blew and steam blasted into the December night. People cheered. Oliver and Kitsune ran through the station. A woman at the ticket counter shouted at them not to run. An old man in a blue uniform warned them that they would need tickets if they wanted to get on the train.
As he pushed through the back door and out onto the platform, Oliver looked back. The cops were just coming through the front door and not one of them hesitated. Their eyes locked on him. The officer who had been first to react at every step reached down and released the strap holding his service weapon in its holster.
“Fuck,” Oliver snarled.
A family of five were just beside them. The oldest girl gaped at him with obvious surprise while the mother glanced down at their toddler to make sure the word hadn’t registered on the boy’s ears. The father glared at Oliver with utter contempt.
“What’s wrong with you?” the man demanded.
Kitsune went past him as though he wasn’t even there, and Oliver followed suit. There were many more people than he’d imagined, all of them jockeying to be next onto the train. Most of them had coffee or hot cocoa and every other adult had a backpack or shoulder bag. He and Kitsune began to weave amongst them as quickly as they could, bumping their way through when they had to. They were cursed and derided and one man gave Oliver a shove, but it only propelled him in the direction he wanted to go, toward the front of the train.
But they were still on the platform. The train was still steaming, but it wasn’t moving. People were still getting on board.
“This isn’t going to work,” he said through gritted teeth, glancing back to see the police sliding through the crowd. People got out of the way for the cops, especially when they looked serious, as these men did. Oliver understood that. He would be equally grim in the aftermath of a little girl’s vicious murder. He wished he could stop and explain himself to them.
As if he could have explained anything at all.
They were nearing the engine. Steam churned out from beneath it, making the winter air warm and damp.
“What the hell are we going to do?” he asked Kitsune.
She gripped his arm. “Hurry.”
The steam from beneath the train turned cold and he realized the wind had kicked up. Snow swirled up from the platform. A powerful gust propelled them forward. He had meant for them to board the train, to escape that way, but they were out of time. Kitsune began to run, and Oliver kept pace with her.
“Stop! Police officers! Stop where you are and turn—”
The rest of their commands were drowned out by the scream of the winter wind that drove at Oliver’s back, and a moment later they reached the edge of the platform. Kitsune was two steps ahead of him and he saw her jump. Knowing there was no other course, he followed suit, leaping off the edge of the concrete slab and landing in three feet of snow. But the police would not hesitate to come after them. He glanced around, saw that they were nearly at the front of the engine, and then he realized that this had been Kitsune’s intention.
They ran through the snow, kicking the white stuff into a kind of cloud around them with every slogging step. The police were still shouting. One of them jumped down and Oliver was sure it would be the same man— the first to follow them, the first to drop his coffee, the first through the door.
“Faster!” Kitsune shouted, and when she took his hand it seemed to him that he did move a bit faster, that he was more agile. It might have been his imagination, or perhaps just the urgency of her touch, her power to influence.
Her cloak flowed out behind her in the snow.
It was not just being thrown about by the wind now. The December night had been clear and full of brilliant stars, but now the firmament was obscured by heavy gray winter and snow had started to fall from the sky.
They rounded the front of the engine. In the bright lights of the cab they could see the silhouette of the driver.
The snow was even deeper on the other side of the railroad tracks and beyond them there was only woods. Lovely, dark, and deep. The cops kept shouting but their voices were muffled by the night and the storm.
As Oliver and Kitsune ran toward the woods, the wind struck them like a hurricane and the night was a blizzard, a complete whiteout, as though they were surrounded by a wall of snow that erupted from the ground and poured down out of the sky. The cold cut into Oliver and he could not move. Kitsune grabbed hold of him, wrapped him in her arms, her cloak enfolding him, and he felt the warmth of her fur.
And then the storm took them up in a cradle of snow and gale, and carried them away. Tossed in the night upon the wind and covered in snow, Oliver had never been so cold. He kept his eyes tightly shut, feeling Kitsune against him, and gave himself over to the winter man and the blizzard, wondering if he would ever be warm again.
In recent years, sleep had been a reluctant visitor to the home of Ted Halliwell. Not, perhaps, so reluctant as his daughter, but near enough. Oh, he drifted off easily enough. Most nights he fell asleep during the eleven o’clock news, right between the weather and the sports, but by half-past two he would be wide-awake and staring at the ceiling or at the gauzy, dusty curtain that hung across his window, draping his view of the darkness and the stars. What happened in those lonely hours was not something upon which he liked to dwell. Truth be told, however, Halliwell saw ghosts in the wee hours of the morning, phantom shades of people who were not dead, but simply gone. The ghosts of his wife and daughter visited him as the night rolled toward dawn. He would gaze about the room at wisps of memory, of Jocelyn ironing in front of the television, of Sara using the bed as a trampoline, of lovemaking and Christmas morning and spring cleaning.
As the sky would begin to lighten, he often managed to tumble back into an uneasy slumber for an hour or two. Most nights he did not manage more than four hours of sleep in total. Halliwell had realized long ago that his house was haunted, but that he himself was the spirit wandering its halls. In so many ways, he was a ghost. There were days when he felt trapped in that house, just as if he were damned to haunt it forever, and other days when he felt free to leave and could not get out of there quickly enough to suit him.
On Monday morning, the day after he had been sent on a fool’s errand by Max Bascombe, the sheriff woke Halliwell shortly after eight A.M. with a phone call.
“Ted, it’s Jackson.”
“I’m not due in till two o’clock, Sheriff.” Halliwell felt at home with the Wessex County sheriff’s department. It wasn’t the big leagues, not by a long shot, but it was real work with honest men and women who cared about the law. As comfortable as he was, though, he was not normally so abrupt with Jackson Norris. The man had hired him and told him often how grateful he was to have Halliwell around, but that didn’t make them brothers, or even friends.
Ted Halliwell had played gofer for Max Bascombe yesterday on the sheriff’s behalf, and it left a bad taste in his mouth. Waking up to the ringing of his phone after only a few hours’ sleep had also put him on edge. If Jackson Norris was bothered by Halliwell’s tone, he didn’t let on.
“I’m aware of that, Ted. Sorry to say, your day’s going to start earlier than you planned.”
Something in the man’s voice made Halliwell frown and sit up in bed. “What’ve we got?”
“Max Bascombe is dead. Murdered. The Kitteridge boys are following up right now, but it looks like the daughter is missing.”
Halliwell swore, massaging the bridge of his nose. The heat had been working overtime during the night and the air in the house was so dry it had given him a headache.
“Is she a victim or a suspect?”
“That’s what I want you to find out,” the sheriff replied.
“Won’t Kitteridge P.D. feel like we’re stepping on their toes?”
“Stomp away, Ted. I’m going to have Bascombe’s firm breathing down my neck. They have this impression that I owe them, and maybe I do. I can’t afford to have them as enemies. I assured Bascombe that you were the best around, and now they’re going to want you. Kitteridge P.D.’s idea of detective work is finding a stolen bike or filling out burglary reports so people can file their insurance claims. Now, get on over there before they’ve screwed the crime scene so badly that you can’t get anything out of it.”
The vote of confidence might have been genuine, but it sounded hollow. The sheriff needed him; that was the bottom line. And even if Halliwell was the best around, it was faint praise. It wasn’t as though every department in the state had Holmes and Watson working homicide.
“On my way,” he said, and hung up the phone.
Twenty-two minutes later he was on his way to Kitteridge. Snowdrifts were ten feet high in some places, and the mounds made by the plows were even higher. A supermarket parking lot had a mountain of white stuff right in the middle. They had nowhere else to put it. Some towns had managed to clear the sidewalks so local kids could go to school, but others had not quite gotten the job done.
When he arrived at Rose Ridge Lane he found two police cars blocking off the end of the Bascombes’ driveway. The men standing sentry there were in uniform. Only one of them was familiar to him, a broad-shouldered, thick-necked cop with a crew cut who would have looked far more at home in a state trooper’s uniform. His name was James Bonaventure, and he was the nephew of Kitteridge’s chief.
“Detective Halliwell,” Bonaventure said as Ted pulled up and held his I.D. out the window.
“Jimmy. Hell of a thing, isn’t it?”
The cop nodded grimly. “Haven’t even seen it, but from what I hear, I don’t think I want to.”
The other officer watched this exchange with curious eyes and a strange kind of disapproval. Whatever he’d heard about the rivalry between the local cops and the sheriff’s department, it wasn’t jibing with the friendly tone here.
“Want to let me by?”
Bonaventure smiled. “There a reason the county’s interested?”
Halliwell did not return the smile. “Already my case, Jimmy. I spent all day yesterday looking into the disappearance of the DOA’s son. Now the man himself turns up dead? The Wessex D.A. and the sheriff are going to want a hand in figuring out what happened here.”