Digging Up the Past Chapters 7 and 8

Digging Up the Past | A Paranormal Mystery Novel by Sandi Brackeen
Digging Up the Past Chapters 9 & 10

Digging Up the Past Chapters 9 & 10

Sandi 10/06/2020 0
Digging Up the Past Chapter 9Inside, Jason had stretched out on the sofa and was drinking a soda.“Hey,” I said when I walked in. “No beer?” Jason always limited his intake, but he usually had a beer when he got back from the dig. Summer in Texas star...
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Posted by Sandi 19/05/2020 0 Comment(s) Digging Up the Past,

Chapter 7

“Anything that might affect the case?” My suspicious nature always takes over at the least flutter of uncertainty. Whatever he’d seen, or done, in the past could have a direct bearing on how he’d react on this case, especially if it affected whether his beast was likely to come to visit at an inopportune time. I had to admit, though, it was getting harder and harder to believe that the stories I’d always been told were true. The more time I spent around Cam Delaney, the less likely he seemed to ever lose control.

“Not really. I was in the military, and my unit spent a lot of time in jungles and places that are supposed to be so much more primitive than we are because of their beliefs in the supernatural and magic, voodoo, Santeria, or whatever their particular brand of spell casting. After I’d been there a while, I began to wonder who was really the more primitive.”

What he said made sense. Science can heal, but I’ve seen magic do the same. Science can kill, but it usually leaves some trace of itself in the doing. Magic doesn’t necessarily leave a trace, and is often a much more horrible death. Spelled objects leave traces if you know what to look for, but only a magic-user can trace the spell itself. Science hasn’t got a chance.

“Then I came home on leave,” he continued, “and found out that Lia is telekinetic.” He grinned. “She swears she’d have never had a date if she hadn’t been able to threaten us, and she could be right.” His grin faded. “Shortly after I got back, my folks were killed. Lia didn’t take it well. She was only a child, and just coming into her power.

“Luckily, just before my folks were killed, they had enrolled her in a private school that deals with psi talents, or she’d never have made it. Their counselors were wonderful, and, of course, the boys and I tried to help her as much as possible, but you know how boys are.” His face brightened again. “She can hold her own, though.” The pride was evident in his voice. “I wouldn’t want to be the kidnapper if he comes up against Lia.”

“Sounds like you’re a very responsible man, Cam Delaney.” I grinned at him.

He laughed. “I try to be, but why do you sound like that’s such an unusual thing to be?”

I looked down at the remains of my burger. “It’s a long story. I’ll tell you about it sometime.”

Cam flashed me a smile. “I’ve told you more about my life than I think I’ve told anyone outside the family other than Jeff. You can’t hold out on me now. Besides, I’ve got half a burger left, so it’s your turn to talk.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. “I don’t know that there’s really that much to tell. I started out with HSS, but as soon as I found out about DUE, I requested a transfer, and my empathy got me in. I’ve been with them about five years. Sometimes I don’t think there’s much I haven’t seen, but almost the second I think that, someone or something comes along to prove me wrong.”

“What made you join HSS in the first place?”

“I got involved with a very bad man. I didn’t know how bad until my brother died.”

“Now I’m sorry.” His eyes softened. “What happened?”

“I was engaged to the boy next door. He was like a member of the family, or so we thought. What we didn’t know was that he was a member of another kind of family. My brother Ray knew, though, and was involved in the business with Joe. They were trying to expand their territory into an area that already belonged to the competition. My brother was fished out of Lake Grapevine with a dozen bullet holes in him.

“After my brother was killed, two men from the FBI approached me. They wanted information. By the time they’d convinced me they were telling the truth about what had gotten Ray killed, I was furious.

“Joe had always been so careful around my parents and me. He appeared to be an upstanding, honest man, and we’d known him for most of his life. My parents knew his parents, and there was never any indication that his parents were involved in any way. Apparently Joe’s uncle was not the same kind of person as Joe’s father. The uncle took Joe into his business, and later, Joe took Ray in.”

“What did you do?”

“Worked with the FBI while I continued to date Joey and began spying on him. When they had enough evidence, I testified against him, and they sent him away for a very long time.”

“So how did that get you involved in HSS?”

“The folks and I went into witness protection, but the danger aspect of it was like a drug for me, so I got a degree in criminal justice and joined HSS.” I laughed. People also look at you funny when you enjoy danger. Telling Cam was the first time I’d said it, even to myself, and I still don’t know what prompted the revelation. I also wondered if he’d also noticed that neither of us had mentioned heritage. My scent would tell him my background just as his told me. Maybe that was enough, for now.

Cam swallowed the last of his burger and grinned. “See, that didn’t hurt, did it?”

“I don’t know,” I said. ”You realize, of course, that I now have to kill you.”

Cam laughed. “Well, before you do, let’s go see what’s in that journal the Bradens found.” He signaled to the waitress, and we got our checks.

Back in his SUV, we headed north on I35 to the dig site. The previous summer, some kids digging a fire pit out at Lake Lewisville had found some pieces of bone. They reported it, and when the bones were collected and tested, it turned out they were from around 1500 AD, so the university and some of their backers decided that perhaps the lake was worth another look.

When the Bradens returned from their dig in Peru last fall, the new site was waiting for them. It was my theory that the university wanted them to stick around so they could use the Braden name and some of their more famous finds to pump up donations to the archaeology department, but then, I’ve been called cynical. I prefer to think of it as practical.

Work was well underway by the time we got to the dig site, but Professor Jackson directed us to the section John Braden was working.

“Sorry to interrupt you, Dr. Braden,” Cam said as John Braden looked up from the area he was scraping, “but if you tell me where the journal is, I can go get it.”

John stretched as he stood from his work. “No problem. I need to stretch my back out every now and again, anyway. It’s in the tent.” He motioned us to follow as he headed to the tent area away from the digging.

When we got to the tent, he lifted the flap and motioned us inside. He reached under the desk, pulled out a file box. From the file box he took a leather-bound book with a tan ribbon tied around it to hold it closed. “And here it is.” It was on top of the files for the dig site, so anyone who needed into the files for anything would have handled it. So much for fingerprints.

He handed the book to Cam just as Nick stuck his head in the flap.

“Riley, I thought I saw you come in here. Are we still on for tomorrow night?” Nick’s white smile seemed to gleam against the deep tan of his skin.

“Sure. I’m looking forward to it.” I returned his smile. He seemed very nice, in an oily kind of way, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that seeming isn’t always being. I didn’t really expect trouble, either from him or because of him, but I would be armed when we went to dinner.

Cam glanced over at me. I couldn’t quite identify the look in his eyes.

Back in the car, I couldn’t stand it any longer. “What was that look for?”

“What look?”

“You know what look. The one you gave me when Nick asked about tonight.”

“Nothing really. Just thought it kind of strange for you to be going out with him, that’s all. Your job requires you to date the suspects?”

“How else are we going to find out anything about him? His background’s clean, yet this is the third one of the Bradens’ digs he’s been on. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never believed in coincidence.”

“No, I’m not a big believer in it either; point taken. There’s just something about him that bothers me. I can’t quite put my finger on it.”

“Me too. That’s why I need to get closer to him. His emotions are very controlled, so it’s difficult to get any particularly strong vibes from him one way or the other. Have you ever been tested for psi talent?”

“No. I don’t think it’s anything like that. He just reminds me of a used car salesman, or a snake-oil salesman.”

“A snake oil salesman?”

“You know, back in the 1800s it was a guy who went around selling elixirs that were supposed to cure all your ills. A con artist.”

“Well, he could well be, but until we can get some more information, we can’t prove a thing, so I’m going to get to know him a little better.”

“That makes sense, but it doesn’t mean I have to think it’s a good plan.”

His concern touched me. The more I learned about Cam, the better I liked him, and that’s not something I can say about most of the people I meet. Usually the reverse is true. True, I also found him attractive. Okay, hot, and his scent said he was attracted to me as well. He could make things low in my body tighten with just a look, but the job comes first. I pulled out the journal and began reading.

Halfway back to Denton, Cam glanced over. “Anything interesting?”

“Mostly notes on the Peru dig, and that should be helpful when we begin piecing things together. There’s a lot of information about the climate and the scenery around the site, and it has a list of the major pieces found at the site. The spade’s not listed, though.” I flipped through a few more pages. “Oh wait, it is mentioned. I wonder why it never made the list.”

“What does it say about the spade?”

I read. “I think the spade found today may be the Spade of Apocatequil. Everyone appears to be familiar with the legend, but no one is putting much stock in the powers of the spade. I fear that will be our undoing.”

Cam grinned. “Could they be any more dramatic?”

“I know what you mean,” I said, laughing. “You can almost hear the suspenseful music. Part of the phrasing is almost archaic, even though it obviously came from the Peru dig last year. Interesting.”

On the way back to the safe house, we stopped at Emma’s Copies and made several duplicates of the journal, so we could put the original away, and I continued reading until we were back in Denton. Cam exited the highway and turned north on Carroll, heading for the safe house. We both needed to get back. Angel needed to be walked, and Cam had to check in with his on-site security team. There’d been some talk about the Bradens going home, but nothing had yet been decided. I don’t think John or Sonya was real keen on the idea of returning home while someone was trying to kidnap Keesha, especially since the kidnapper was willing to kill people to do it. Couldn’t say that I blamed them. I feel the same way about protecting my family.

When I go home for a visit, I take elaborate precautions, not only because of the case I built against my ex-fiancé, but also because of my job. I love what I do, but I don’t want to drag my parents into danger. My bringing down Joey, after Ray’s death, had been almost more than they could handle. They weren’t happy with my choice of career. On the other hand, my father hasn’t been terribly happy with me since we found out I couldn’t shapeshift but had psi talent. My mother has always been supportive, but she worries a lot. That bothers me some, but I can’t live my life in hiding.

When we drove up, Cam pulled out his cell phone and checked in with Mike, the head of the team watching the Bradens’ home. While he did that, I headed inside to check on Angel and Keesha. Angel greeted me at the door. Keesha was laughing and singing along with the music on the video she and Lia were watching, but when she saw me she ran over for a hug.

“Hi, Keesh, have you been having fun?”

She nodded vigorously and began telling me all about her day in that peculiar language that no one over the age of two can truly understand. I nodded back and said “oh really” a lot, and it seemed to satisfy her. Lia had been sorting through some papers while they watched the video, but she put them aside and came over.

“Hi,” she said. “We didn’t get much chance to talk earlier. Cam said you could probably fill me in on anything in the basic routine that Gina hadn’t already told me.”

“Sure,” I replied, “be glad to. I’m sure Gina’s filled you in on Keesha’s and her parents’ schedule.”

“Yeah. I was hoping you would help me take Keesha outside to play. We grew up in the country, and I think all kids need to be able to play outdoors, even now. Cam said he thought you and Mena took her to the park at times.”

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea right now.”

“No, I don’t think the park is a good idea either, but there is a lovely back yard here, and I’m excellent at defense,” she said with a grin. “If you act as an early warning system, we should be safe enough.”

“Cam trying to dump me on you?” I returned her grin. If I were hauling around someone who was injured, I’d probably be trying to dump them off too.

Lia laughed. “Only for a while. He has a meeting with a new client. Jeff will handle their security, but they both like to meet all clients at least once. I really would like to take her outside for a little while, though. She’s been inside for three or four days now, since the last call, and she needs to be able to run off some of that energy.”

“Sure,” I said. “I need to take Angel out for a while anyway, and I don’t want to take her far. I’ll be glad to play sensor so Keesha can go outside too, but Cam could have just told me that he had a meeting. He didn’t have to get you to ask.”

“I told him that, but you know men. He didn’t want it to seem like he was dumping you off on me because he really didn’t mean it that way.”

We both laughed this time. Then we gathered Keesha up and took her outside to play in the sunshine. The big open yard had some widely spaced trees that shaded the yard without minimizing security, and one of the trees held a tire swing. The sandbox that Lia set Keesha down in looked like it had been around for quite some time, but it was well maintained. Lia and I pulled up a couple of lawn chairs and sat down to watch the little girl play with the dog and the mounds of toys that Cerberus had apparently felt she needed. On the other hand, perhaps, they were some more of Cam’s failed experiments from the first morning.

After the last couple of days, I think I needed the sunshine as much as Keesha did. I let the clean warmth wash over me. The hatred that had battered me from the guy in the school basement, along with the after-effects of the spell eating away at my body and my psyche, finally felt like they washed away as we watched the child play. No one tried to attack us, and all too soon it was time to go back in. Cam got back about twenty minutes after we went in, and gave me a ride back to my house.

“Doesn’t look like your partner is back yet,” he said as we pulled into the driveway.

“No, but he should be here soon. You really don’t need to worry about me. I’m not an invalid.”

“I’m not worried.” He moved closer and looked down at me. “On the other hand, I did give your partner my word to look after you, and we haven’t had much chance to go over this journal.” He flashed me what I thought then was his sexiest smile. Sometimes it’s nice to be wrong.

I couldn’t help but smile back. “Fine, come on in. Do you want a beer?”

“Sure,” he said as he followed me in.

I grabbed two beers out of the fridge. We pulled the big round coffee table that was another of those miraculous finds the department came up with over next to the sofa, grabbed some pens, highlighters, and a legal pad, and began spreading out the copies of the journal pages. We spent some time going through and numbering the pages on both copies we were using so we could find things.

I made a few notes to mark the entries I had gotten through in the car. Most pertained to the dig. The notes on the sectioning of the site and the list we’d already been over were all included. After the mention of the spade, there were some more general notes on the site, and then one entry, in particular, caught my eye.

“Now here’s a cryptic note,” I said. ”’DO gng fr spd.’ Okay, so ‘DO’ is going for the spade probably, but I wonder who DO is? There’s no mention of a DO of any kind in our files. Do you have a DO in your case records anywhere?”

“No, all the players in our files are present and accounted for, and none of them have DO as initials, a nickname, or anything else.” Cam copied the note to the legal pad and added that this DO wasn’t mentioned in the files any of us had received.

“Would it help if you held the journal? It worked with Mena’s laptop.”

“We can try it, but it’s not likely to help since empathy is my main talent. That’s the only time that’s ever happened to me. It was like she was standing beside me telling me what she meant. I could feel her and hear her. Since I knew her, it might have come from lingering emotions that I was able to somehow recognize, or the alternative is that I actually channeled her, but that’s unlikely since channeling is also not one of my talents.”

“It’s worth a shot,” Cam said as he got up and went to the truck to retrieve the journal itself from the locked glove compartment.

I settled in the lotus position on the sofa and grounded myself. I held out my hands for the journal, and he passed it over to me. Nothing. Wait, there was something. I focused my empathy on the journal. I could feel a lingering trace of fear and something else, something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but nothing that told me who DO was. “Sorry,” I said. “Someone who’s handled it is, or was, afraid of something when they held it, and I get a vague sense of some other emotion, but nothing that helps us here.”

“Okay,” he said with a sigh as he sat beside me. “I guess we’re back where we started from.” He went back to the journal pages. “Maybe we’ll find out when we get further in.”

We continued reading the journal, side by side on the sofa until I turned to ask him a question. Our eyes met and held. My breath was shaky in my throat, my pulse racing as he leaned closer.

Slowly, ever so slowly, his mouth closed on mine. His lips were firm and warm, his arms strong and tight around me, and as the kiss deepened, I heard him moan softly.

Lost in the kiss, we barely heard the door open. Jason was home.

“Hi,” he said as he came through the door. “Am I interrupting?” His grin said it all.

“Uh, no,” I said, straightening from where I’d been leaning against Cam. It felt like my whole body was blushing.

“Did you get the journal?”

“That’s what all this is. Copies, at least,” I said indicating the pages scattered over the coffee table.

“Have you found anything?”

“Just a couple of cryptic messages that refer to someone either called DO, or with the initials DO. Does that ring any bells for you?”

“No.” He paused, seeming to think about it. “No, it doesn’t.” He headed for the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. “Who needs a new beer?”

“None for me, thanks,” Cam said. “I need to get back to the house to brief the team on duty tonight.”

“No more for me,” I said. “I’ll keep reading and see what I can turn up.” I had volunteered to be the designated driver when we went to meet Giles, and I was sure Jason would order a pizza before we left.

Jason strolled back into the living room with his beer. “Is there another copy of the journal? Bring me up to date, and I’ll help.”

“You can use this one,” Cam said as he stood up. “I have the actual journal and another copy in the car. I can get the notes from Riley tomorrow.”

“Cool.” Jason slid into the spot on the sofa that Cam had vacated. “Looks like you’ve made quite a bit of progress.”

“Getting through it, yes,” I said. “Gaining useful information, not so much.”

Jason grinned and he lifted his nose slightly. “Ah, but the master sleuth is on the job now, so let’s see what we can find.”

I couldn’t help but chuckle at his silliness. “Well, oh master sleuth, did you find out anything new at the dig?”

The grin faded into a grimace. “Not really. I saw Nick poking around the supplies tent, so I slipped over to see what he was doing. He seemed to be looking for something, but he didn’t find it, so I don’t know if he was trying to get the journal, or if he was looking for something else. Everyone’s had a chance to claim the journal. Even after Cam called, John reminded us all that it was there, and asked if anyone wanted to claim it.

“Other than that, Barb is about to get on Sonya’s last nerve, and Uli and Carter may come to blows over Monica, but nothing really useful.”

“Jason, if you drop Riley off at the safe house in the morning, she can hang with me tomorrow,” Cam said as he started toward the door. He turned his attention to me. “We can continue working on the journal, and whatever else you need to do.”

“Great,” I said. “I need to go back to the school and talk to some of the kids who went to Peru for part of the dig there. Some of them aren’t working on this one.”

“I’ll see you about eight-thirty?”

“Sounds good. See you then.”

Just as Cam reached for the doorknob, his phone rang. He glanced at the readout on the phone before answering.

“Yeah, Jack. Where? I’m on my way.”

All work on the journal was forgotten as we looked up at Cam.

“We have another body.”

Jason and I were right behind him when he went out the door. We followed him to an alley four blocks from the Bradens’ house. Most of the people at the scene were police, but some of the Cerberus crew were already on the scene, clustered around a body propped up against a dumpster. All were dressed in black, but they seemed to be evenly split between male and female. I recognized none of them.

“What have you got?” The group parted to let us through.

“According to his ID, his name is Peter Nowlin.” A tall black woman with latex gloves flipped through a wallet. “He’s a student at UNT.”

“He’s one of the student diggers on the site,” Jason supplied. “He and his girlfriend, Rena, haven’t shown up the last couple of days.”

The blue aura was visible around the knife that was sticking out of his chest. We needed to hurry.

“Who found him?” Cam directed his question to a tall balding man who appeared to be the team leader.

“Daniels found him when he was on a neighborhood sweep.” A young man of about twenty-three said as he stepped forward.

“Did you see anyone other than the victim?” Cam asked him.

“No, sir. I was on my way back when I saw him just sitting there. When I went to check him out, I saw the knife and called Jack.”

“Good enough. Everybody back to it. Daniels, you stay with me and call 911.”

“Yes, sir.” Daniels reached for the phone clipped on his belt as the rest of those on the scene faded back into the scenery. Cam walked Jason and me back to the car.

“No sense in taking a chance with your cover,” he said as we got in the car. “I’ll fill you in tomorrow morning.”

Back at the house, Jason and I called the number Giles had slipped us on the cup. We had missed the meeting Giles had set up for us, but we had reason.

“We’ve got another body,” Jason said. We’d put him on speaker when we started the call, so I knew what was going on when Jason spoke.

“Who is it this time?”

“One of the student diggers who was also on the Peru site.”

“Damn. They’ve certainly upped the ante. We need to get this wrapped as soon as possible.”

“We’re working on the journal, and I’ll be going back to the school tomorrow to talk with some of the students who aren’t working this dig. Hopefully that will turn up something useful.”

“I certainly hope so. Things are odd enough around here as it is.”

Jason and I looked at each other. “How so?”

“Word’s come down that upper brass wants to know everything that’s happening on the search for the spade, but no one in the upper offices will admit that it’s at all important. They were bugging any office that you, Jason, or I might have any reason to be in.”

“That can’t be a good sign.”

“You’re right there, but until I can get some more information about why they’re so focused on this particular case, and especially why they want to keep their interest under wraps, I think we probably want to keep our conversations more confidential.”

“Understood, sir.”

“We’ll be down in the morning to pick up the police report.”

“I’ll have it by nine.”

“Thanks.”

“And Riley?”

“Yes?”

“You and Jason watch your backs.”

“Will do. See you in the morning.”

“Good night.”

After the call, we settled in to cover some more ground in the journal. The unknown author had written about the site, the surrounding countryside, the crush Barb had on John, and Sonya’s reaction to it. He, or she, had written about conflicts with John Braden, about the growing attraction between Peter and Rena, and about being afraid. The journal never specified who, or what, the writer was afraid of, but the spade figured prominently in all those entries. Jason and I made notes, just as Cam and I had, to keep the most pertinent information close at hand.

“Hey,” Jason said, pointing. “Look at this. It says here—”

“Page number,” I interrupted.

“Forty-five,” he replied. “It says here that an old shaman visited the site right after they found the spade. Whoever wrote this didn’t hear the conversation, but rumor has it that the shaman warned the Bradens that the spade must be returned to its resting place before it fell into the wrong hands. At this point, I’m kind of thinking they should have listened.”

“There certainly seems to be quite a bit the Bradens forgot to mention.”

“Good point. Looks like we’re going to need to talk to the Bradens again, or get the guys from Cerberus to. Otherwise, we seem to be missing quite a bit of information.”

We worked steadily for the rest of the evening. By one in the morning, my eyes were blurring from the hours spent concentrating on journal pages, and I gave it up for the night.

In the morning, I followed my nose down the hall to the fresh coffee. Shortly afterward, the caffeine hit my system, and I felt almost human, despite having eyes that seemed to be filled with grit from the long night before. My arm was hurting less, but I still let Jason remove the bandage before I got in the shower, and he rewrapped it afterward. By eight o’clock we were ready to head out.

I took Angel out for a short walk first thing. Cam came along with me, and I filled him in on the scant bit of additional information we’d found in the journal the previous night. I pitched our idea of having him or someone else from Cerberus ask the Bradens some questions about bits and pieces of information they’d left out. We set up a plan to separate them for questioning, hopefully without arousing their suspicions.

 

 

Chapter 8

 

Angel seemed to be making decent progress on her recovery, pretty much without my help, so I just changed the dressing on her wound. Then Cam and I headed into town to find the grad students I had been planning to talk to when I’d had my run-in with the crazy kid. We still had no clue what he’d been referring to when he called me a “devil loving slut,” and I still couldn’t figure out how he’d known to look for me at school. On the other hand, so many things didn’t add up about this case that I didn’t find that terribly surprising.

We took I35 to McCormick St. and went in a back way, hoping to find a place to park on Avenue A. When that didn’t work out, we went to the pay lot off Fry St. that put us across the street and only about a block from where we wanted to be. Cam hadn’t seen this section of town before, and like most newbies to the area, he wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.

Fry St. generally contains an eclectic mix of students, merchants, musicians, drunks, and panhandling Goths in chains. All this is contained in a busy little three-block area that has more bars than anything else, almost as many hair salons as bars, one bank, a few retail stores and restaurants, and a liquor store. The scariest thing about the area is that, for some reason, anyone with untrained psi ability seems drawn here. We ignored the panhandlers as we walked down the sidewalk and crossed the street to the school.

I was very careful to try to sense people around us as we went down the stairs to the graduate students’ basement offices. I let out the breath I was holding when I found the place bulging with frustration, and panic, all perfectly normal for the offices of teaching fellows. Having been a teaching fellow at one time myself, I could identify with the frustration and the panic.

The frustration comes from trying to teach students who were only there because it was a required course, or forced into taking it because it was the only thing open in the time block they were trying to fill. The panic comes from trying to write your own papers, study for your classes and tests, write theses and dissertations, all while trying to create lectures and grade papers from students who have only a passing familiarity with the English language, and generally even less familiarity with their textbooks.

Jan Maitland, who had been a digger on the Peru dig, was in the first office on the left side of the hall, so I stuck my head in the open door and found her grading papers. Jan sat at the back desk in the office, and her chair faced the door. Another desk faced hers, and yet another desk sat on the side nearest the door. A bookshelf ran the length of the back wall. Space was at a premium in the graduate student offices. One more thing in the office and there would have been nowhere to move.

“Hi, Jan. Got a minute?”

“Hey, Riley. Sure, come on in.” She took one look at Cam and followed with “Who’s your friend?” I was a little surprised to find that her question bothered me.

“This is Cameron Delaney from Cerberus Security. Cam, this is Jan Maitland. She worked the Peru dig with the Bradens.”

“Oh man, is this about the kidnap threats? We heard what happened at the Bradens’ house the other day. Those poor people. Do they know who did it?” She was looking at me, but the attraction she felt for Cam was so strong it was blasting me.

“Nothing yet,” I replied, trying to bring her attention back to me and away from Cam. “That’s why we’re here. We wanted to ask a couple of questions.” Since Cam was from the security company guarding the Bradens and could legitimately ask questions, we’d decided to go with the straightforward approach to save the time and trouble of me trying to casually steer the conversation around to the Peru dig. That way, we could hold anything I could do in reserve for later if we didn’t get what we needed now.

“We’re just trying to find out if anyone saw or heard anything at all unusual while you were there.” Cam’s voice held just a hint of flirtatiousness that I hadn’t heard him use before, and he flashed her that perfect smile. I was more than a little annoyed to find that irritated me as well.

“Nothing I haven’t told the cops,” Jan said, returning Cam’s smile.

“Would you mind going over it again?” he asked, taking out a notebook.

“Sure,” she said. “No problem, but I don’t know that there’s a whole lot to tell. I don’t remember seeing anything unusual. There were local people from the area that would come around sometimes, but we were really pretty remote on that dig. There were only a couple of small villages nearby, so we didn’t even have many sightseers come around.”

“Do you remember a shaman from one of those villages?” I asked, and even to me, my voice sounded sharp.

“A shaman? Oh, yeah, I guess that’s what he was. He came around right after we found the spade. I didn’t talk to him, though, so I don’t know if he had a particular reason for coming by or if he was just checking us out. Is he involved?”

“We don’t know yet,” Cam said. “Do you know who he talked to?”

“I don’t know for sure, but he probably talked to John, and I think I saw him talking to Nick and a couple of the other diggers.”

“Did you know the people he was talking to?”

“Not well, except for Nick. They weren’t there very long.”

“What can you tell us about Nick?” Cam asked.

“Not a lot, really. I don’t know him all that well personally. He keeps to himself for the most part, but he goes out for a beer with us occasionally. He seems like a nice enough guy. The Bradens seem to respect his opinion.”

“What about the other people you saw the shaman talking to? Do you know their names?”

“Oh, yeah, Jude Foster and Donny Smith. I always think it’s just a trip when somebody is actually named Smith or Jones, don’t you?” She actually batted her eyes at Cam.

I always think it’s just a trip when women bat their eyes at men, don’t you? I was ready to leave. Actually, I was ready to hurl, but I would settle for leaving. I really didn’t want to explore the annoyance I was feeling, but the longer we were there, the more annoyed I got.

“Do you know where they were from?” I clamped down on my temper as I asked the question, and managed to make my voice sound normal. “Or how we could reach them?”

“Jude was from SMU, but I think Donny was from the University of Missouri. Jordan got to know Donny fairly well. He might have an address or something.”

“Thanks,” Cam said, flashing that smile again. “You’ve been a big help.”

“You bet,” Jan gushed. “Any time.”

One of her office mates came in just then, so we made our exit and headed further down the hall to talk to the next name on our list, Jordan Rigby. He didn’t have much more information than Jan did, but he did have an address for Donny Smith, and at least he didn’t gush at Cam the whole time we were talking to him.

Back out on Hickory, we stopped at the pizza place across the street from school and grabbed a couple of slices of deep dish before we went to check with the security team watching the Bradens’ house. The crime scene tape was gone, and for the past two days, members of the Cerberus crew had been living in the house to see if anyone would make another try for Keesha, but no one had. If today passed like the previous ones, the Bradens would be able to come home tomorrow. With a full security team in place, the Bradens would be under guard at all times.

Cutting back through town to the Bradens’ Montecito neighborhood, we laid out a plan for talking to Jude Foster and Donny Smith. My date with Nick was tonight. Hopefully, I would be able to get some information from him. The security team had traded cars with the Bradens so that the proper cars were in the driveway. We pulled up at the curb in front of the house and walked slowly to the door.

The emotional energy of the last few days still hung heavily in the charged air around the house. Inside it was even stronger, but I could tell it was beginning to fade. The security crew being in the house had helped a little. When the Bradens returned, the sense of family would return, and eventually, the movements and feelings of everyday life would absorb the rest of the negativity.

“My brother Micah is heading the security team here at the house,” Cam said as we walked down the hall. I recalled Cam mentioning that he had brothers who were triplets, and I had already met one of them, Matt. Mitch was the other one, but he was in the army.

In the living room, Cam’s brother Micah, who looked exactly like Matt, and presumably exactly like Mitch, sat in the living room looking over some blueprints.

In two weeks, the archaeology department would throw a party to court backers for the Lake Lewisville dig and thank the backers of the Peruvian dig. Some of those backers overlapped, some didn’t, but it would be a good opportunity to see if any of them were involved.

Unfortunately, unless we could find a way to narrow down our suspect list before then, empathy wouldn’t be just a whole lot of help, but I could probably pick up any seriously negative or fearful emotions. Even if I couldn’t pinpoint one person, we might be able to narrow the field a bit. With luck, some of the suspects would be eliminated before then, but so far, everyone was a suspect.

Micah looked up when we came in. “I’ve got the layout down, and I’ll want to go over positioning with you before the party, but otherwise, we should be in good shape.”

“Great,” Cam said. “How are things here?”

“It’s been quiet. The remote team hasn’t seen a thing. We’ve had someone leaving and returning at the same time the Bradens normally do, and we’ve had them tailed, just like you said, but nothing’s happened. I think they can probably move back in, and as long as we keep the remote team in place I don’t foresee a problem.”

“In that case, we’ll probably move them back in tomorrow, if they’re comfortable with that,” Cam said as he crossed to the coffee table and took the diagram that Micah held out to him. He nodded while he looked it over. “Looks good. I would have put Eastman just inside the door, and Jennings behind the daïs, but this should work just as well.”

From the look on his face, I could tell that Cam was proud of his brother for handling both situations well. He’d done a good job raising his younger siblings, and he had a right to be proud. We briefly inspected the house before we left, but we’d already found what there was to find. His team had been in the house for several days now. If there were anything else, they’d have found it, so we drove back to my house to continue working on the journal.

In the entries, Jason and I found several more allusions not only to visitors to the dig site but also to some unusual occurrences that I wanted to go over with Cam. We set up at the table again while I showed him the new items we’d found.

“According to this entry on page fifty-three, on the third day after the spade was uncovered, one of the diggers reported seeing a man walking through the dig site, but when she went over to see what he wanted, he just vanished.”

“Aren’t there often reports like that on dig sites? I’d think that would be a fairly common occurrence,” Cam said.

“That’s true enough, but one of the odd things about the dig in Peru is that there were no actual graves unearthed. On most digs like this one, you can tell where the cemetery for the community was. Not so in this case. According to this, there were enough bits of bones, but they were mixed in the same locations with your basic household pottery, almost as if everyone died in their homes or was buried with their household possessions. That’s possible, but there’s been no discovery of another site for a city.”

Cam looked thoughtful. “I suppose it would make life far too simple to have an explanation in the journal.”

I grinned. “’Fraid so. Nothing comes that easy.”

“Yeah,” he said and returned my grin. “Why do you think no one has mentioned any of this?”

“You got me. If it were my daughter who was being threatened, I’d be spilling my guts to anybody who could help.”

“Me too, but it’s not just the Bradens, no one has mentioned it. Not the strange sighting, not the oddity of the bone placement.”

“Yeah, that’s what’s bothering me the most. I’ve seen government cover-ups, financial cover-ups, and even metaphysical cover-ups, but this doesn’t make any sense. Why wouldn’t you help the people who’re trying to keep your child from being kidnapped?”

“You know,” Cam said, “they probably think people would think they’re crazy. Most of the psi races have come out, but psi powers among the general public aren’t really acknowledged yet.”

“That may be the reason, but people will have to acknowledge them soon. Almost everyone either has some psi power or knows someone who does. I think it’s becoming way too common for that to be a serious fear.”

“I don’t know,” Cam said. “We do security for all types of people, and a lot of them are as prejudiced against those with psi powers as people were about race at one time. Cerberus doesn’t broadcast that we’ve got a kinetic on staff. Most of our clients think Lia just looks young. They know she’s got a black belt in four different martial arts disciplines and has been training almost her entire life, so it never occurs to them that she really is that young. They have no idea that she’s kinetic. They see only the martial arts credentials and assume she’s older. Between the two, though, she’d be damned hard to kill, which is the only reason we can use her on a number of jobs. A mundane operative who fits that physical type would be anybody’s meat.”

I looked up at Cam. “You may have a point,” I said at about the time he realized why I pulled the assignments I did. I didn’t quite laugh as the flush flowed up his neck and colored his cheeks.

“Preaching to the choir, am I?” He grinned at me.

I couldn’t help but smile back. “You might say that.” I knew what he meant. I was intimately familiar with that kind of prejudice. I had dealt with it my whole life. “Okay, so they may have a valid reason for not mentioning it. Doesn’t make me like it any better.”

“Ah, a woman after my own heart. I hate not having all the information available. I hate even worse not knowing why I don’t have all the information available. Always makes me feel like I’m being set up.”

“Exactly. And if you’ve done much work for the government, you almost know you are.”

“True enough. So where do we go from here? How do we convince the Bradens to give up the information,” Cam paused before he said, “willingly?”

I understood why he’d paused, and I couldn’t blame him. I could almost see Cam’s mind working. For nearly five months, the Bradens and everyone else we’d talked to had been sitting on information. That information could have saved Mena’s life. Cerberus would never have sent a mundane into a mystical problem.

“We could have Lia throw something at them,” Cam said. I would never do that, of course, but right now, the thought was infinitely appealing. In addition to losing someone I’d come to consider a friend, Jason and I had spent the last four months looking for mundane thieves, which we now knew was a complete waste of our time. We might not have found any more than we already had, but at least we’d have had a better idea of what to look for.

Cam grinned. “As tempting as that is, Cerberus company policy prohibits assaulting the clients except in extreme emergencies.”

“Mighty narrow-minded policy if you ask me,” I said, returning his grin. “But since you do have such a narrow policy, the only option I see is to confront them directly. We have the journal now, so we can ask them point-blank or, well, you can. Since some of your clients are prejudiced against talents, it would be better if I did it, and I think I can arrange that. Then, I think we need to revise our plan, or at least put in the first step of confronting them with the information in the journal, and getting their responses to that.”

I pulled out my cell phone to call Giles. The way things looked now, we’d be in better shape if I were not undercover, at least to the Bradens, while still leaving Jason under. He had a better chance of overhearing something on the dig site if he was under, and I had a better chance of being where I needed to be if I wasn’t. I knew Giles, and he could usually finesse a way for DUE to be unofficially called in by someone, and with our unusual status, almost any department could call us in without getting approval. That didn’t mean there wouldn’t eventually be problems with the PTBs because of it, but it did mean I stood a good chance of getting what I needed, in this case, anyway.

I dialed Giles’s cell phone number. He answered on the second ring.

“Giles here.”

“Giles, it’s Riley. We need to talk.”

“Where are you?”

“At the house. Cam’s here too, and we’ve got some information that changes the face of things a bit.”

“Can you meet me?”

“Sure, if you can meet us halfway. I’ve got a date with the anthropologist from the dig, and he’s picking me up here.”

“Okay, how about Fox and Hound in half an hour?”

“We’ll be there.” I hung up and turned to Cam. “He’s meeting us at the Fox and Hound in thirty minutes. I think I can arrange for someone to call in DUE. That will let me ‘come out,’ so to speak, as the need arises. To the Bradens, for example, so you don’t have to put Cerberus in the middle. You guys are way too valuable to risk.”

“Sounds like a plan. I don’t mind Cerberus taking it on myself, but I’d hate to undermine the company’s effectiveness if we can avoid it.” Cam stood and picked up the keys off the end table. I grabbed my bag, and we were out the door and on our way to meet Giles.

Back out on the highway, Cam asked, “What makes you think you can get DUE called in?”

“Giles has some interesting connections that can circumvent standard departmental protocol. Once he sees what we’ve found, and finds out that it could have been avoided, he’ll get us called in.”

I spent the rest of the ride making notes about the journal pages and lining out my argument for Giles. He’d be much easier to convince if I could give him something to pass on to his contacts as valid reasons for calling us in, and I was so caught up in it, we were there before I knew it.

As usual, Fox and Hound was loud. The wall of TVs was on, and there was sound coming from a minimum of three of them, in addition to what I guessed was supposed to be background music. In addition, the place was packed. We found Giles in our regular booth in the back corner. The waitress was at the table when we got there, and we ordered a beer.

“Show me what you’ve got,” Giles said. “If I know you, I’ll probably need to get back and try to get something done today.”

I laid out what we’d found for him and gave him one of the journal copies that we’d brought. We’d highlighted all the pertinent passages, so I took him through them and the questions we’d asked at the university. Then I made my pitch.

“I want to break cover,” I said it bluntly. There was no point in beating around the bush; Giles was telepathic. He couldn’t always read people’s minds, especially if they were shielded, but he could cut through the bullshit in a heartbeat.

He looked up from the journal pages, surprise evident in his expression. “You think that’s necessary? You’re sure that’s our only option?”

“We had Cam ask the questions at school, but we’d really be risking everything Cerberus has built, both for themselves and in their value to us by putting them in the middle of this. DUE needs to be called in. I think it would be better for Jason to stay under, and since very few people know we’re roommates, it shouldn’t jeopardize his cover for me to come out to specific people such as the Bradens. No one else at the dig site needs to know. I believe the Bradens can manage to keep it to themselves.”

“Unless they’re not as innocent as they seem,” Giles countered.

“Well, if they don’t keep the secret, that’ll tell us something too.”

“You’re awfully quiet. What do you think, Delaney?” Giles always used all the input he could get when making decisions.

“It’s Riley’s meet, and I wouldn’t argue with taking my company out of the middle of this because we do have clients who have expressed extreme prejudice toward the talented. It would limit our future effectiveness. We will, of course, still be providing security and backup, and if you want us to take the flack, we will. I would need to let my partner and our people know, so they can be prepared for the fallout. As for the case, I think DUE should have been called in originally, but since no one has come forward with any of the information we found in the journal, it’s been pursued as a mundane case. If we’re going to make any progress, that has to change.”

Giles sat back in the booth and looked at us. “I understand the position this puts Cerberus in, but I don’t like risking my people any more than you like risking yours.”

“I understand that, and I don’t blame you,” Cam said.

“Excuse me,” I said, “still sitting here.” They turned to look at me. “Since it’s my butt that’s going to be on the line, this is not something to be decided between the two of you.” They both found something else to look at.

“Sorry,” Cam said and focused on his beer.

Giles winced, but came back at me. “Yes, but the entire operation, including your butt, is my responsibility.”

“Yes, I know, but—”

He cut me off. “No buts. Give me your word that you’ll only break cover when it’s absolutely vital, and you have reasonable assurance that the break will go no further, and I’ll get us called in.”

“Thanks, Giles. You have my word.” I understood his concern and appreciated it, but I’ve always believed that you can be too cautious, and that doesn’t solve cases. Jason would probably pitch a bitch too when I got home.

“Fine. Let’s finish our beers and get out of here, so I can get this in motion.” Giles was never one to waste a beer, and you’ve just got to love that about a man, especially a boss. That was just one of the many things I loved about Giles. Not only was he my mentor, but his wife was also one of my closest friends, and he made her happy, so he was tops in my book.

Cam and I headed back to Denton. I needed to start getting ready for my date with Nick, and Cam needed to get back to check on his security teams. Jason’s car was in the drive when we pulled up at my house, so I grabbed my bag and started to open the door. Before I could get out, however, Cam reached over and put his hand on my shoulder. I turned to face him and saw concern in his eyes.

“You take care tonight. We haven’t been able to find out much about this guy.” He reached up and ran his knuckles along my jaw.

My stomach and places lower clenched. I took a breath to steady myself and my voice. “I always do. Anyway, my arm is much better today.”

“It’s not your arm that concerns me,” he said, giving me that lopsided grin that made my heart pound.

“I’ll be careful,” I said and slid out of the car, almost running to the house.

 

 

 

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