The 9th Hour (The Detective Temeke Crime Series Book 1) (19 page)

THIRTY-TWO

 

 

Ole looked at the girl on the bed, dark and delicious like the coffee he had in his hand. Sitting astride a wheel-back chair, he rested his cup on the top rail and listened to her breathing. It wasn’t late. It was just dark.

The urge to be caught was becoming stronger every day and he left clues, like a trail of crumbs in the dirt. He listened to the snow dropping from the gutters and the intermittent drip of water. It reminded him of ringing bells. He wanted to sing then.

Untouchable. That’s what he was. No one would find him in the hunter’s cabin. No one knew it was there.

He’d dreamed last night of bright lights like dragon’s eyes blinking in the darkness. It was all he could do to shield his face when the lights grew brighter, like the blaze of sun and moon. He saw trees burning and then guttering out, leaving a misty trail along the ground. And he knew what it meant.

It was Odin’s calling.

With a deep voice, be began to sing.

 

The hardy Norseman's house of yore,

Was on the foaming wave!

And there he gathered bright renown,

The bravest of the brave.

Oh! ne'er should we forget our sires,

Wherever we may be;

They bravely won a gallant name,

And rul'd the stormy sea.

 

The girl’s eyes blinked open, face inclined to his voice. Illuminated by a silvery moon through an open window, she reminded him of a Botticelli angel.

It must have taken her a while to focus, eyes flicking around the room, settling first on the door and then back to him. There was a deep-seated fear behind them as if she was scraping together every last scrap of courage.

 

What tho our pow'r be weaker now

Than it was wont to be,

When boldly forth our fathers sail'd,

And conquer'd Normandie!

We still may sing their deeds of fame,

In thrilling harmony;

For they did win a gallant name

And rul'd the stormy sea.

 

When he finished, her eyes narrowed and she tucked her knees up against her chest. A mild breeze came in through the open window and he watched her pull down the arms of that thick black sweater.

“Where are we?” she asked.

He thought it was a respectful question, the way she included him, and dipped his head. After all, most girls stared wildly around the room as if he would sooner hurt them than talk. That always made him angry. He wasn’t frightening to look at. Quite the contrary.

“Cimarron,” he said, realizing his voice was taut, words slow and sharp. He saw her look at the photographs on a chest of drawers, the ones he’d taken from her house. She would feel at home now. With her sister.

“You’re not a police officer, are you?”

Ole smiled slightly. “It’s a shameless disguise. Hardly original, is it?”

“No,” she said, looking down at her boots. “Are you the man that took my sister?”

“I am.” Ole found himself staring at her, drinking in those deep brown eyes. She was a very brave girl. “It was you I wanted. You probably want something to eat.” Her eyes seemed to widen at that.

“May I have a sandwich, sir?” she said.

The voice struck him as reverent, humble. What was it about her that made him want to hesitate. To delay.

“Call me Ole.”

“Well, Mr. Ole, I’m sure glad to meet you.”

And she held out her hand. Just like that. A beautiful brown hand he really wanted to shake. He remembered what he was and ducked his head instead. Shouldn’t touch the angels and dirty them. Odin wouldn’t like that.

He studied the sparkle in those brown eyes where there was only a hint of white in each corner. Perhaps she would like to know about the ravens. Who wouldn’t want to know about the ravens?

“Do you know about the ravens?” he said, feeling more content than he had been in days.

She didn’t flinch. She merely cocked her head to one side as if she could hear better. “No,” she said, trembling a little. It was the cold because he knew she wasn’t afraid.

“Odin gave them names.
Thought
and
Memory
. They were his eyes, his mind, flying out at dawn and coming back at dusk. They knew every man’s whisper, every man’s dream. That’s why Odin’s so wise. But there’s always a price to pay. Mimir knew what that price was. And so will you. That’s why you’re here.”

“Who’s Odin?”

A voice so perfect, something in the diction. Like the children in Scandinavia. Sophisticated. A cut above the rest.

“He’s the god of creation.” Even as he said it, he felt a flutter in his belly.

“No,” she murmured. “That’s not his name. It’s Yahweh. You know, our Father, who art in heaven. Remember?”

She smiled when she said it. Like God was a movie star or something.

“He made us in his image. He made you,” she said. “In fact you probably look just like Him. Same chin, same eyes, same nose. Only a little smaller.”

Ole felt himself smile. It came from somewhere deep inside. A gushing, like the curtain of snow that had just begun to flicker outside in the darkness. It caught his attention for a brief moment and he turned to the window, setting the cup of coffee on the sill. He saw each flake bigger than he ever remembered them.

Whiter.

That’s when he remembered the horse his father used to ride when he went hunting. Glidehoof… that was his name. There wasn’t a drop of gray on him, not even on his muzzle. He was like a ghost in the snow.

He loved his old papa and the gentle shake in his hands. He wasn’t perfect. Ole wasn’t perfect. Not even close, not with a heart blacker than the coal mines of Svalbard. “Why is there so much hate in here?” he said, pumping his chest with a fist. “Why am I so different?”

“Adam messed up,” Tess said. “That’s when everyone’s hearts turned black. Mine. Yours.”

He found himself staring at the angel on his bed. His little Botticelli angel. She would have to fly away soon. He didn’t believe in what she believed. All fairy tales. Lies. If he told her the words would only come out of his mouth in a foul drivel, a tiger’s snarl, and he wished he could articulate his feelings in the same perfect way she did.

It made his intestines twist and boil. Like the snake in his mind, black and yellow with stripes around its head. And where was Odin? That unseen ghost of a god that promised Morgan his life.

He wanted to tell Tess all about Kizzy, how she used to sing. It was a hymn come to think of it. Something about walking by faith and not by sight.

All he remembered of that night was how he’d thrown up after he killed her. Couldn’t stop. Why was it so harrowing to do what he was born to do? Kill.

“Please may I have something to eat, sir?” Tess said, cutting into his thoughts again. Smiling.

Ole smiled back. She said
please
, didn’t she?

He knew once he’d left the room she would pace around like a lioness, looking through the window at a thick wall of trees and wondering if it was worth the jump. If he took his time, she’d be out faster than a cat from a burning house. The thought excited him.

He locked the door and rushed down the stairs to the kitchen. If she jumped, that tender young mind would be the most resourceful yet. Only she’d break a leg if she did.

That’s why he had stuffed her in the trunk and would have forgotten about her if it wasn’t for her moaning. She could barely walk when he took her out, had to lift her up the stairs into the bedroom. Pity he left that tight metal chain behind. It would have been handy if only he’d thought to bring it.

It reminded him of Patti just after she had tried to run away with the little one. He’d locked her in the downstairs bathroom and he could still hear her crying if he listened for long enough, like a distant scream of wind in a lonely tree. But she wasn’t there. She wasn’t sitting on the floor leaning against the sink, rope grinding around the pedestal each time she moved.

He stood in the kitchen remembering those pale eyes, still beautiful behind a curtain of dark hair. She wanted him to stay with her, kiss her. He had said no to both. But when he saw those lips, sweet and honeyed with tears, he bent down and kissed them and he heard the tender voice against his ear.

“Untie me… please. I won’t run away.”

He wanted to hold her and feel her skin against his. He wanted to believe what she said. They had once had common thoughts, common dreams. She was the only palpable loving creature he knew.

“Later,” he said, running a finger beneath her chin, sensing a breath of turmoil.

He left her in the dark, left her to a welter of tears.

No point dreaming of the dead, he thought. No point feeling… what was he feeling? Couldn’t put it into words even if he tried.

Standing in front of the kitchen counter, he pasted a ball of peanut butter on a single slice of bread. Reaching for the bottle in the cupboard above, he prized apart the two yellow capsules, sprinkling the powder liberally before folding the bread in two. The hatchet leaned against the wall, head and shaft drop-forged of one piece of steel. Brand new.

He had to do it. And quickly.

He lifted his head at a grating sound, heard his car keys rattle on a nearby hook, intermittent, like the chattering of teeth. Footfalls, slipping, sliding and then something smashed on the pavers below. A tile.

Tess was on the roof.

Ole grabbed a gut-hook hunting knife – it was all he could find – and rushed up the stairs to the bedroom. It was bathed in an iron-gray pall from the moon, bedspread rumpled where she had once been. There was no sign of her. He didn’t expect there to be. When he leaned out of the window he saw a limping shadow rushing for the trees, heading west toward a stand of maple before barreling through a thicket.

He followed her as far as the thicket, hunching low as he slipped through it, sniffing the air and listening. She was about thirty yards to the north of him, he could hear the snapping twigs, the screech of a bird that lifted into the sky. She was unstoppable, immortal, tearing off like a great black dog with wild eyes and gritted teeth.

She was fast, although there was no reason to assume she was as fast as he was. Large hamstrings, thighs like a tree branch, he was designed for speed and stamina. It was the latter that saved him from the hunter, the one that killed his brother. He ran three long miles back then without stopping.

Here he was under a wintry light, feet crunching through snow and detritus, drifting rather than running. He felt the chill through his shirt, creeping down his spine like a thousand tiny spiders.

Beyond an array of tree stumps where woodsmen had once felled over fifty trees, the ruins of a second cabin loomed ash gray in a clearing. Out of the darkness to the right side, came the girl, walking slowly along the margin of the trees toward the front door. In the windless night he could see the vapors pouring from her mouth and he could almost hear a pounding heart.

Her face was radiant, unearthly, looking on the world with her extraordinary eyes. Nothing could prevent its true nature from sparkling through, a guiltless face well suited to smiles and laughter. He could imagine a face like that painted in the vaulted ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It was painted in the frescoes of the papal conclave and if you looked hard enough it was in Perugino’s painting of Moses, if indeed an angel could ever be a young girl.

As she moved toward the cabin, toward the freakishly black shadows beyond the front door, her chin went up, moving from side to side. If she was a dog, her ears would be flattened against her head, nose quivering at a scent.

The only scent he could sense was old creosote and rotting timbers, and the room was crowded with cobwebs and shadows. He was surprised she even considered going in. But she did, pushing back the door with one hand, bolts grinding in their knuckles.

Ole eased around the back of the cabin and as long as he remained low, he could watch her through the grimy windows, marveling at the icy beam that shone through the hole in the roof. She found the matches he had left over three months ago and the metal lantern.

An orange glow seeped around the abandoned house, bringing the old place alive again, giving it a warmth it hadn’t seen for over thirty years. It reminded Ole of Norway with the snow and pine trees, swirling around the house like a snow globe. Only this time, he was on the outside.

He felt a lump in his throat and shook his head, sensing a few cold drops down his nose. The nose she said was the same as God’s. Because he was made in His image.

Surely, no man was made in one image. Men were strong and brilliant. Weren’t they unique?

Convinced she had spotted him, he took a step back, twigs snapping under foot. He saw her hesitate, but only for a moment, face turned to a fresh shower of snow that fell like a crystalline screen outside the window.

Did she smile? He wasn’t sure. And then he heard it, softly at first as her lips moved.

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