Read Grave Surprise Online

Authors: Charlaine Harris

Grave Surprise (10 page)

Tolliver woke me up a couple of hours later. “Hey,” he said gently. “How are you? They told me when I came in that you'd had a problem with a man in the lobby, and some knight in corduroy had shown up to rescue you.”

“Yeah.” It was taking me a minute to gather up my senses. Tolliver had turned on my bathroom light, and he was a silhouette sitting on the edge of my mattress. “Nunley was waiting for me, and he was all ‘How did you do this, you imp of Satan?' and so on. Well, he didn't go into the evil stuff so much. He just thought I was dishonest. But he clearly thought I was a big fraud, and he was mad you'd called him, and he wasn't nice about it.”

“Did he hurt you?”

“Nah, grabbed my arm, but that's all. You remember that older man in the class, the one we were wondering about? He was in the lobby, too, waiting for me to come back. He stopped Nunley, and the guy from the desk sent him on his way. Then he told me some interesting information. The only thing is, after that I got a hell of a headache, so I took some medicine and dropped.”

“How's the leg?”

One problem often triggered another. We'd been to maybe ten doctors, and they all said that my problems were psychological—whether or not we told them about the body-finding thing. “The effects of a lightning strike are over when you leave the hospital afterward,” one particularly
pompous jackass had told me. “There are no well-documented long-term effects.” Sadly, the problems I had with the medical community were common among lightning strike survivors. Very few doctors knew what to do with us. For some of us it was much harder—the ones who couldn't go back to work and were trying to get workmen's comp or disability payments, for example.

At least I didn't have tinnitus, which affected so many survivors, and at least I hadn't lost my sense of taste, another common problem.

“The leg's a little shaky,” I admitted, feeling the muscle weakness as I tried to achieve a leg lift. Only the left leg rose. The right one just quivered with the effort. Tolliver began to massage it, as he often did on the bad days.

“So, tell me the interesting information about the man from the class.”

“He's a private detective,” I began, and Tolliver's hands stopped moving for second.

“Not good,” he said. “At least, depending on his goal.”

I tried to recall everything Rick Goldman had said to me, and Tolliver listened to it all with absolute attention.

“I don't think this really has anything to do with us,” Tolliver said. “He may not believe you're a genuine talent, but since when did that matter? Lots of people don't. He just hasn't needed you yet. As far as the board of trustees, or whatever, you've already been paid a retainer by the college. It wasn't much, anyway. This was more for the good buzz than anything else.”

“So you don't think Goldman can hurt us?”

“No. And why would he?”

“He didn't seem really angry or upset,” I admitted. “But he might think we were defrauding the college.”

“So, what's he gonna do about it? He's not the guy who writes the checks. We were hired to do something, we did it.”

I felt a little better about Rick Goldman after that, and I decided not to think about Clyde Nunley any more, though I knew Tolliver had a slow burn going about the professor being rough with me. Maybe we wouldn't run into him again. To change the subject, I asked Tolliver how his Beale Street jaunt had gone.

While his long fingers worked on my leg muscles, he told me about Beale Street, and his conversation with a bartender about the famous people who'd come to the bar to hear the blues. I grew more relaxed by the moment, and I was laughing when there was a knock at the door. Tolliver looked at me, surprised, and I shrugged. I wasn't expecting anything or anyone.

A bellman was there, holding a vase of flowers. “These came for you, Ms. Connelly,” he said.

Who doesn't like to get flowers? “Put them on the table, please,” I said, and glanced at Tolliver to see if he had the tip. He fished out his wallet, gave me a nod, and handed the bellman some bills. The flowers were snapdragons, and I didn't think anyone had ever sent me snapdragons. Actually, I didn't think anyone had ever sent me flowers before, unless you counted a corsage or two when I was in high school. I said as much to Tolliver. He pulled the little envelope from
the plastic prongs in the foliage and handed it to me, no expression on his face.

The card read, “You have given us peace,” and it was signed “Joel and Diane Morgenstern.”

“They're very pretty,” I said. I touched one blossom lightly.

“Nice of Diane to think of them,” Tolliver said.

“No, this was Joel's idea.”

“Why do you say that?”

“He's the kind of man who thinks of flowers,” I said positively. “And she's the kind of woman who doesn't.”

Tolliver thought this was foolishness.

“Really, Tolliver, you've got to take my word on this,” I said. “Joel is the kind of guy who
thinks
about women.”

“I think about women. I think about them all the time.”

“No, that's not what I mean.” I tried to think of how to put it. “He doesn't just think about wanting to fuck women, when he looks at them. I'm not saying he's gay,” I added hastily, since Tolliver was looking incredulous. “I'm saying that he thinks about what women like.” That still wasn't quite it, but it was as close as I could come. “He likes to please women,” I said, but that wasn't exactly right, either.

The phone rang and Tolliver picked it up. “Yes,” he said. “Hello, Diane. Harper just got the flowers; she says she loves them. You really shouldn't have done it. Oh, he did? Well, thank him, then.” Tolliver made a face at me, and I grinned. He listened for a few moments. “Tomorrow? Oh, no thanks, we'd feel like we were intruding…” Tolliver looked acutely uncomfortable. “That's too much trouble,” he said next. His
tone was carefully patient. He listened. “Then, all right,” he said reluctantly. “We'll be there.”

He hung up and made a face. “The Morgensterns want us to come to their house tomorrow for lunch,” he said. “They've had a lot of people bringing food by, they can't eat it all, and they're feeling guilty that we're stuck in Memphis because of them. There'll be other people there,” he assured me when he saw my face. “The focus won't be on us.”

“Okay, good. That would have crossed a line, after the flowers. There's such a thing as overdoing the gratitude. After all, it was an accident. And we're getting the reward. Joel said so. You should have asked me before you said yes. I really don't want to do that.”

“But you see that we pretty much have to.”

“Yes, I see that,” I said, trying not to sound resentful. I thought that my brother wanted to see Felicia Hart again.

Tolliver nodded, a sharp gesture to close the subject. I wasn't quite sure I was through whining, but he was right. No point in discussing it any longer. “You ready to go back to the cemetery?” he asked.

“Yes. How cold is it?” I stood up, experimentally stretched the leg. Better.

“The temperature's dropping.”

When we were all bundled up, I called downstairs to have our car brought around. A few minutes later, we were making our way back to St. Margaret's. The weekday nighttime traffic in downtown Memphis was not heavy. Nothing was going on at the Pyramid, and Ellis Auditorium looked dark, too. We drove east through depressed areas, shopping
areas, and old residential areas until we got to the streets around Bingham College. The few people on foot were bundled up like urban mummies.

I began to recognize a few landmarks from the morning before. This time we didn't take the main drive through the college, as we had previously. Tolliver drove around the campus to reach a small road at the back of the college property. It had those white barriers that you pull back across the entrance, and yesterday they'd been pulled shut but unlocked, he'd noticed.

The same was true tonight. Rick Goldman, private eye, should tell Bingham their security had a few holes in it.

We passed between the open barriers. The crunch of gravel under our tires sounded especially loud. After a short stretch of landscaped lawn all around us, we entered the wooded corner of the campus. Though the city lay all around us, it felt like we were miles from nowhere. We drove slowly through the trees surrounding the old site, our headlights catching on the branches and trunks as we passed. Nothing moved in the cold stillness. We reached the clearing of the church and its yard. In the small graveled parking lot, we drove up to the low posts connected with wire that kept cars from pulling onto the grass. There was a security light on a high pole at the rear of the church, and one on the far side. They provided just enough light to make the shadow of the dilapidated iron-railing fence obscure the graveyard.

“If this was a horror movie, one of us would be a goner,” I commented.

Tolliver didn't respond, but he wasn't looking any too
happy. “I thought the lighting would be better than this,” he said. We made sure our coats were buttoned and zipped, gloves on, flashlights ready. Tolliver loaded some extra batteries into his pockets, and I did, too.

There was not even a night-light on in the old church.

When we shut the car doors behind us, the slams sounded loud as gunshots. Tolliver shone his flashlight on the wire so I could step over it, and I returned the favor. Then we opened the gate, which creaked loudly in approved horror-movie fashion.

“Just great,” Tolliver muttered. I found myself smiling.

The ground, which had seemed fairly level in the daylight, was rough walking at night. At least, it was for me. I negotiated it slowly, worried about my faltering right leg. But I didn't ask Tolliver for help. I could manage.

From the entrance gate, we needed to work our way southeast to reach the secluded corner where I'd found Tabitha in Josiah Poundstone's grave. Of course, that was the darkest place in the whole cemetery.

“It feels bigger tonight,” Tolliver said. His voice was just one step up from whispering. I almost asked him why. Then I realized I didn't want to talk out loud, either. As we neared the open grave, I wondered if they'd dug up poor Josiah, too—and if so, what they'd done with him. The familiar vibrations of the dead began to sound louder and louder in my head.

“Have we ever been to a cemetery at night?” I asked, trying to shake off the uneasy, prickling feeling that was riding my shoulders. There was no definite reason for me to feel
anxious. In fact, I usually felt alive, alert, and happy in graveyards.

Certainly, no one else was around. The cemetery was surrounded on two sides by thick stands of trees, on the third side by the parking area (beyond which were more trees), and on the fourth by the old church. It wasn't too far off a busy, modern street, but I'd noticed on our previous visit how isolated the graveyard felt. Bugs and birds had sense enough to keep silent and lay low.

“There was that time the couple in Wisconsin wanted you to do a reading at midnight on their son's grave,” Tolliver said in my ear. It had been so long since I'd spoken, I had to recall the question I'd asked.

I was immediately sorry to be reminded about Wisconsin. I'd been trying to forget, to stuff that night into the closet where I kept horrors. Just to add to the weirdness of the couple and their request, they'd requested Halloween night. Plus, they'd invited about thirty best friends. I guess they'd figured if they were going to pay us that much money, they were going to get some mileage out of the event. They'd been mistaken about what I could do, though I'd never tried to mislead them. Right out there, in front of all their friends, I'd blurted out what had really happened to the child. I shuddered, remembering. Then I made myself shake off the memory.
Focus on this night, this dead girl, this grave,
I told myself. I took a deep breath, let it out. Then another.

“I know the body is gone,” I said, almost in a whisper. “The body's always been my connection, but I'm going to try to recreate what I got from her yesterday.”

“We're in an isolated graveyard in the dark,” Tolliver muttered. “At least you're not wearing a long white nightgown, and at least we're together. And believe me, my cell phone battery is fully charged.”

I almost smiled. Usually, I felt most comfortable in a cemetery; but not this one, not this night. I stumbled again. Cemeteries are tricky going, especially the older ones. So many of the new ones have the flat headstones. But in the older ones, there are broken headstones in the grass, which is often uneven and tufted with weeds. In more secluded cemeteries, the living often leave trash on top of the dead—broken liquor bottles and crushed beer cans, condoms, food wrappers, all kinds of stuff. I can't count the times I've found underpants suitable to both sexes, and once I found a top hat set jauntily upright on a stone.

St. Margaret's graveyard was free from debris of that sort. It had been mowed and trimmed at the end of the summer, so the grass was fairly low. Our flashlights bobbed through the darkness like playful fireflies, sometimes crossing their beams and then floating away.

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