Lie Still The Dead Cover

Lie Still the Dead by Matthew Heilman and Ryan Henry is a standalone sequel to Come Forth in Blood, and introduces a mysterious, unpredictable, and cruel vampire driven by spite and a madness that spans the centuries. Combining modern police procedurals, dark academia, and atmospheric gothic horror, this novel promises to leave readers shaken to their core.

Lie Still The Dead is now available in Hardcover, Paperback, and eBook formats from Stygian Press. Read a preview of Chapter 1 below.


Amongst the many trials to which the human mind is subjected, that of holding intercourse, real or imaginary, with the world of spirits: of finding itself alone with a being terrific and awful, whose nature and power are unknown, has been justly considered as one of the most severe. The workings of nature in this situation, we all know, have ever been the object of our most eager inquiry.

Joanna Baillie
Plays on the Passions

They laid her where the four roads meet,
Here in this very place.
The earth upon her corpse was press’d,
This post was driven into her breast,
And a stone is on her face.

Robert Southey
“The Crossroads”

How wretched is the man who never mourn’d!

Edward Young
Night Thoughts (IV)

All is not lost; th’ unconquerable will,
And study of revenge, immortal hate,
And courage never to submit or yield.

John Milton
Paradise Lost

Chapter 1

WILLIAMSPORT, VIRGINIA. OCTOBER 2016

An unmarked cruiser pulled to a smooth halt beside the Williamsport Police Forensics Unit step van. Detective Nathan Alderson opened the door in one fluid motion. He ducked out, straightened his long black coat, and smoothed his damp reddish-blond hair. Alderson leaned against the car door, rubbed his cleft chin, and took a moment to adjust the Glock 32 in his shoulder holster.

Although personal tragedy had recently taken a toll on him, Alderson looked much younger than forty-five. He was lean and muscular—in better shape than many of the junior officers on the force. He had only been a detective for two years, but none of his peers treated him like a rookie. With his sharp mind, acute instincts, and keen eye for detail, Nathan Alderson was destined for the higher echelons of police work.

Alderson walked across the muddy soccer field. He weaved through parked vehicles and members of a dispersing search party. As he struggled to don a pair of latex gloves, he noticed a woman in a reflective vest sobbing into the shoulder of a white-haired man. Alderson turned away as the retiree glanced at him with pleading eyes. The detective continued to tug on the gloves and adjust them over his hands.

“Nate!” A familiar voice called out to his right. As Alderson continued toward the periphery of the woods, Frank McCain approached, his features hardened and sour. McCain’s hands were shoved into his pockets and the older man shivered in the morning cold. The two detectives stopped and sized each other up in silence. Finally, McCain spoke. “You ever pass through a search party without starin’ everybody down?”

“Come on, Frank.” Alderson surveyed the thick forest ahead. “Nine times out of ten, the killer’s in the search party.”

“Jesus, Nate.” McCain coughed, and pulled his coat tighter to ward off the chill. “You been briefed on what’s in those woods yet?” McCain nodded at the sprawling copse of trees before them.

Alderson removed a leather-bound tablet and a ballpoint pen. “Seven-year-old kid named Tyler Marshall. Reported missing by his mother after sundown last night. She made the call from her cell after trying to find him herself, or so she told the 9-1-1 dispatcher. Mitchell and Davis arrived shortly afterwards to scour the woods but couldn’t find the boy. Fearing he may have been abducted, backup was called in and an AMBER Alert went out to every cell phone in the Tidewater area.”

He continued to comb the tree line with sharp eyes.

“Then Sergeant Perez took charge of the investigation. She made some calls and organized a civilian search party, which didn’t ramp up until around nine o’clock. They fanned out through the forest but couldn’t find the boy anywhere.”

“Yeah, that’s exactly what—”

“Perez called in the K-9 units around midnight,” Alderson continued, unmindful of McCain’s interjection. “The unies with the dogs made a few passes through the woods with the search party. A civilian found the boy’s body much further along the trail just before sunrise. That about cover it?”

“Yeah. That’s the story.” McCain coughed again.

“Fingerprints?”

“Handprints, if you’d believe it. But there are a few oddities. Ash Townsend’s in an uproar.”

“Oddities?” Alderson adjusted his shoulder holster again as he closed his notepad.

“To start with, Forensics can’t match the prints to any registered sex offenders or any other potential suspects in their database.”

“Uh-huh. What else?”

“The kid wasn’t, uh… violated.” McCain grimaced as he corrected himself. “Well, not like that, at least. So we’re lookin’ at a particularly gruesome murder, but there’re no signs of sexual assault.”

Alderson acknowledged his partner with a solemn nod of his head. He stepped onto a footpath leading into the forest. “Lead the way.”

“Hold on, Nate. I haven’t really talked to you since the funeral. Are you and Kelly still seein’ that shrink? The grief counselor?”

Alderson’s senses were attuned to the swaying trees around him and the moist ground beneath his feet. His voice remained detached and uncaring. “Yeah. I think it’s doing her some good.”

“How ’bout you, buddy?” McCain rested a hand on Alderson’s shoulder.

The detective flinched. “It’s a goddamned waste of time, Frank. There’s nothing that doctor can say that’s gonna bring Cody back.” He paused, reflecting on his deceased son, and pointed to a tree with his pen. “Did Forensics turn up evidence of anyone besides the kid or his mother entering the forest from this direction?”

The scanner on McCain’s belt warbled. He reached down to mute it. “Just the Marshall kid’s shoe-prints.” McCain gestured at the ground. “And his mother’s. The deputies did a good job keepin’ everyone off the trail.”

“Here’s what I don’t understand. The initial report from Forensics indicated the kid was murdered off-site, then dragged and dropped in the woods by the perpetrator.” Alderson flipped through his notepad to a page of barely legible scribbling.

“Well, they—”

“But that doesn’t wash with the story from the kid’s mother, who said she brought him to the playground, and he bolted into the woods.” Alderson tapped his pen on the paper as droplets of rain slicked the surface. “He outran her, and she got lost. Those were her words. The boy didn’t come out of the woods alive. So the killer was lurking in these trees somewhere and entered the forest from another location. Why did Forensics assume the boy was killed elsewhere?”

“You didn’t hear?”

“Hear what?” Alderson looked puzzled.

McCain beckoned. “You need to see the body for yourself. It’s quite a hike, but we’ll get there eventually.”

Alderson followed, still searching the surroundings for clues as they walked deeper into the overgrown forest. “You know, I grew up in Williamsport,” he reminded his partner. “A few years after I graduated college, a little girl went missing back here. Must’ve been the summer of ’95.” Alderson furrowed his brow. “You were on the force then. What was her name? I can’t remember it for the life of me.”

“It was more than just one little girl. A couple kids disappeared in these woods around the same time,” McCain answered. “But the forensics report for this case was carefully tailored. D’Amato wants to make sure there’s no connection with those missing kids before any public statement’s issued. Shit, as far as I know, their faces are still showin’ up on milk cartons.”

“Did Rudy Pettit work that case?”

“Yeah.” McCain droned on as they walked through the underbrush. “It’s closed now. I mean, two decades’ve passed since then. Like I said, he never recovered any bodies. He was pursuin’ the usual sex crime and kidnappin’ angle. Came up with nothin.’”

“It’s too coincidental to have kids disappear in these woods and then have another turn up dead in the same damn place.” Alderson ducked under a low-lying tree limb. “I’ve got a hunch that the perpetrator who abducted those kids also killed the Marshall boy.”

“How you figure?”

“The perp got booked on an unrelated offense and did some hard time up at Sussex II.” Alderson batted away another branch. “Got out and picked up where he left off. That kinda shit happens all the time.”

Frank McCain gestured to a pair of moving figures. A camera flashed through the trees. “If I were you, I’d reserve judgment ’til you get a good look at what happened to this kid. Then you’ll get an idea why the chief doesn’t want all the particulars of this fiasco gettin’ out.”

The pair approached the barricade. Yellow crime scene tape was woven loosely between the trees. Alderson scratched his head and picked up his pace.

The younger detective surveyed the parameters of the crime scene. Two forensic specialists, their shoes covered in plastic booties, prowled around the shrunken corpse of Tyler Marshall. The remains had been partially covered by loose branches, mud, and dead leaves.

Ashley Townsend, the senior forensic technician, approached the detectives. She began to ask her usual procedural questions. “Detective Alderson, did you shave this morning? Any open cuts?”

“No on both counts.” Alderson spoke before she could continue her lecture on the dangers of decomposing human remains. “Did you call time of death?”

Townsend placed a gloved hand on her hip and blew a strand of bleach-blonde hair away from her face. “We couldn’t get a temperature reading. But rigor mortis puts the, uh, speculated homicide sometime between five and seven o’clock last night.”

“Am I missing something? What about postmortem lividity?” Alderson tapped his pen against his open palm. “What’s that tell you about the approximate time he was killed? Two hours is a huge gap, and I need something to corroborate the mother’s story.”

Townsend’s expression sank. She glowered at McCain. “You didn’t tell him why there was nothing in the report? No livor mortis?”

The older detective clenched a cigarette between his teeth. “I thought it’d be better if he saw this for himself.” McCain flicked the lid of his silver Zippo, lit a cigarette, and took a deep drag. He exhaled the smoke through his nose.

Alderson stepped between his partner and the forensic technician. His eyes were still fixed on the nearby corpse of the boy. “Both of you. Stop fucking around and tell me why postmortem stains aren’t present on that body.” Alderson pointed at the child’s half-buried remains a few yards away.

Townsend held her arm up to her forehead. “Well, uh, he was completely exsanguinated.” She looked at the ground in disbelief. “There’s no blood left in him.”

As if possessed, Alderson charged toward the corpse. McCain and Townsend followed. The forensics tech tried in vain to get his attention.

Townsend gestured around herself. “As you can see, there are bloody handprints on a couple trees here.” She waved a finger towards the footpath. “The boy was dragged here off the trail. My guess is the killer was interrupted and only managed to cover the lower portion of the body under those branches. But there’s nothing else.”

“Is that why your report said the body was deposited here? Even though you knew the kid entered the woods and ended up like this?”

“There was nothing plausible to tell Chief D’Amato,” Townsend replied. “And I’ll maintain there’s no rational explanation for what happened here. But the forensic evidence is pretty fucking clear. The child was abducted, murdered somewhere else, and the body was transported to this location and dumped here. In that order.” She shook her head. “No other account leaps to mind. At least none that I’ve ever seen.”

Nathan Alderson squatted beside the corpse of Tyler Marshall. “Of course there’s an explanation.” Using his pen, he shifted the soil piled beneath the boy’s pallid arm. There was no postmortem stain. “You said it yourself.” He assayed an open wound on the child’s throat and looked up at the pair standing around him. “The killer took the kid’s blood clean out of him. Drained all of it. And it was probably done right here.”

“What, like in a bucket or somethin’?” McCain shrugged. Alderson and Townsend ignored his suggestion.

“But Detective, if that happened, there would’ve been spillage around the wound. On the ground where the carotid artery was opened. There’s nothing. It’s as if the perpetrator—”

“Drank the Marshall boy’s blood? What do you make of the throat lacerations? Do they look like human teeth marks to you?”

Ashley Townsend nodded in disbelief. “Yeah. That’s what they are. But what you’re suggesting—that the perpetrator drank this child dry—is impossible from a scientific standpoint.”

“You’re looking at the empirical data right here.” He nodded at the boy’s sunken remains. Tyler Marshall’s t-shirt was filthy, and his blue jeans were covered in mud. A sneakered foot protruded from the earth. “Can you tell me anything at all about the perpetrator? I was told you ran the fingerprints and came up with nothing.”

Townsend confirmed Alderson’s question with a strained nod. “That’s correct, Detective.”

“There was a case two years ago.” McCain spoke in a loud voice that got the attention of everyone inside the yellow tape. “Back in town. A girl was attacked by some pervert. Same shit. Guy bit her neck and tried to drink her blood.”

“Yeah.” Townsend nodded. “Jennifer Stroud. I did her rape kit and tox screen. Pettit was looking for a serial—”

“Whoever attacked her didn’t do this,” Alderson insisted. “The same perpetrator isn’t gonna go from college girls to little boys. There’s a world of difference between a serial rapist and a child murderer.”

Alderson rose and stepped over the body to examine a nearby tree. A splayed, blood-soaked hand had left a discernible mark. The detective held his hand two inches from the tree trunk, comparing the size of the handprint to his own. Finally, he spun around to face Townsend. “When you ran your query, what did you use for search parameters?”

“The standard stuff for child murders. RSOs in the area were scanned first for print matches. Then we narrowed to Caucasian males. Single or divorced. Typical serial killer profile.”

“Maybe the perpetrator doesn’t fit the standard child murderer or abductor profiles.” Alderson gestured with his pen. “Have one of your techs run the prints again, this time with a general search. No parameters.”

“That could take a day. Maybe more.”

“I’m not asking here.” Alderson took a few steps toward the Marshall boy’s corpse. “So is this all you found? Any features nearby I need to know about?” His eyes were riveted to the ground next to his left shoe as he spoke. “Derelict buildings or vehicles? Potential kill-sites? Anything of interest?”

“The power company identified a few abandoned houses in the residential area. We had the unies check those spots first. There are some dirt roads back there.” Townsend gestured behind her head. “And an old plantation house pretty far off. We gave it a once-over. Must’ve burned down over a century ago. Teenagers and other delinquents have been partying up there for sure. Typical signs of vandalism. Graffiti tags, cigarette butts, broken beer bottles. Anyway, it’s just a pile of scorched brick now and everything’s overgrown. That’s it. There’s nothing else really.”

Alderson raised a curious brow. “You don’t sound so certain.”

Townsend swallowed hard and chuckled to herself. “Believe it or not, there’s an old walk-in mausoleum on the grounds. Eight crypts, four to each wall. Brick construction with oxidized brass fixtures inside and rusted cast iron doors—one of which was unsealed and hanging by a hinge. The second door must’ve fallen off. But there wasn’t anything suspicious about it.”

“Anything else?” Alderson asked.

“No,” she confirmed. “It was just like the plantation house, only not gutted. Broken glass in and around it. Storm debris. Graffiti tags. Except for one, the brass nameplates are all broken—and the crypt spaces are empty. No sign of any coffins. Morbid fucking kids must’ve run off with them.”

“Christ,” McCain muttered.

“Did you notice anything unusual in there?” Alderson asked. “Any signs of struggle? Blood?”

“If you’re asking me if I think that’s where the Marshall boy was murdered, the answer is no,”

“How ’bout fast food bags or wrappings?” Alderson persisted. “A flashlight? Sleeping bag or blanket? Signs anyone might’ve been squatting in there recently?”

“No. Nothing. There’s nothing in there but dead leaves and spiderwebs. If there was, I certainly would’ve told you.”

“Understood.”

She sighed. “Right. Well, if it’s all the same to you, I’ve got a job to do here.” She nodded at the crime scene. “I’m only one person and Wright’s the only assistant field tech the department could spare this morning. So if you wanna go take a look at those ruins, be my guest.”

Alderson remained unfazed by the senior forensic technician’s defensiveness. “Did you inspect these roads for tire tracks?”

“Of course I did.” Townsend crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes. “There weren’t any.”

“Footprints?”

“Look, we ran a cursory check on the dirt roads closest to the crime scene. We stopped just beyond a small clearing where four of the roads intersect. There were no footprints. There were no tire tracks. Again, since there were only two of us working this morning, we could only do a quick sweep along the edge of the crossroads.”

“Crossroads?” McCain pursed his lips. “Ain’t there some superstitious mumbo-jumbo about crossroads? Some kinda occult thing?”

“If it were 1986, and we were still in the midst of Satanic Panic, I might be inclined to agree with you,” Alderson replied. “But we’ve learned a lot since then. Besides, if D’Amato even hints that there’s any occult significance to this crime, the press is gonna go apeshit.” Alderson shook his head. “Don’t even suggest it, Frank. WPD’ll be dragging in every long-haired kid with a Slayer shirt for questioning, while the real killer’s still out there.”

“Alright already,” McCain sneered. “I get it.”

“You ever hear of the West Memphis Three?”

“Of course I have! But this is—”

“The last thing we need is a procedural fuck-up like that in Williamsport,” Alderson warned.

“OK, fine. Cult or no cult, this shit’s still weird.” McCain cast his glance away from the Marshall boy’s remains. He pinched the end of his cigarette and pocketed the butt so as not to sully the crime scene. “Whoever did this to that kid ain’t right in the head, Nate. So what the hell do you make of the loss of blood? Any ideas in regard to a motive?”

“We really have no idea what—or who—we’re dealing with here.” Alderson adjusted his coat. “Not yet.”

“I’m telling you,” McCain responded. “It’s the same guy that attacked the college girl. Maybe he travels around, and stopped back in Williamsport for a fresh kill.”

“And I’m telling you that serial killers usually hunt within a certain age range, gender, and socioeconomic background. They don’t just choose victims at random,” Alderson said.

“What about the Beltway Snipers?”

“Great, Frank. Pick an outlier.”

“Fine. Richard Ramirez. The Night Stalker. He killed women, men, kids. And his victims were all different ages.”

Before Alderson could counter, Ash Townsend cleared her throat to interject. “Seriously, if you two gentlemen are done, I still have a job to do.”

McCain shifted his weight on a patch of mossy ground. Alderson glared at Townsend before pointing to Tyler Marshall’s body with his pen. “We need to get those remains to a lab for a formal autopsy.” Alderson dusted off his trouser legs. “In the meantime, we’ll question the boy’s mother again. You up for that, Frank?”

“If I have to.” He sighed and shoved his hands in his coat pockets. “D’Amato’s not gonna like us draggin’ her in as a suspect, for Christ’s sake.”

“Then he can fire me.” Alderson glanced at the waiting forensics technician. “Townsend, wrap up here and run those prints again. I want this body on the slab and out of the elements by noon.”

She beckoned to her assistant, who was taking photographs of clustered handprints on the ground. Townsend drew a plastic sheet over the body of Tyler Marshall. “We’ll be back to remove the remains as soon as Wright starts the query.”

Hearing his name, Townsend’s assistant stood up, and the two forensic technicians began trudging back to the mobile unit beyond the vast tree line. McCain eyed Alderson.

“These are some pretty big assumptions, Nate. You spend ten minutes on the scene and think you got answers?”

“I don’t think anything. I’m going by what I see. And a bit of a hunch. What I do know is Forensics dropped the ball on this from the get go.”

“How? Because they don’t believe the killer tore this kid’s throat open and drank his blood like Count fuckin’ Dracula? Shit, I don’t believe that! And I’m pretty goddamn sure you don’t either. None of this makes any sense.”

“Why does it have to make sense?” Alderson shrugged. “We may never fully understand this crime, or the killer’s motive. You’ve been on the force longer than I have. You shouldn’t be asking these kinda questions anymore.”

McCain paused and stared down the younger detective.

“You sure you’re ready to be out in the field again? Maybe it’s too soon—”

“Frank, as a friend and colleague, do me a favor. Go take the boy’s mother in for questioning. I don’t think she did it, but we need to get her on record. Ask her why she took a seven-year-old to the playground that late in the day, when it was already getting cold and dark. It’s odd to me.”     

“OK. And what’re you gonna do?”

“I’ll stay on the scene until the techs move the body. I want to walk around a bit. Then, when I get back to the station, I’m re-opening Rudy Pettit’s cold case.”

Frank McCain gave an uneasy grin. “So you do think this is connected to the Stroud attack?”

“It’s a starting point.” Alderson met his fellow detective’s gaze. “Don’t read any more into it than that.”

“Hell, I’m just thrilled to the fuckin’ gills that you’re listenin’ to me for a change.” McCain ducked under the yellow tape between the trees. The older detective began navigating the path out of the woods. “I’ll catch up with you later. Call my cell if you need me.”

Alderson stood alone by the corpse of Tyler Marshall. When he was satisfied his partner had put a considerable distance between himself and the crime scene, Nathan reached into his coat pocket and removed a plastic evidence bag. He thumbed it open and bent down to the ground.

With his pen, he lifted a torn scrap of black cloth from the wet leaves. He could tell it wasn’t fabricated with modern materials—nor was it made of the usual synthetic fibers he had handled in previous investigations. Dried blood and soil encrusted its tattered edge. He slipped it into his evidence bag, sealed it, and placed the bagged scrap into his coat pocket. Forensics hadn’t numbered it, so they hadn’t seen it.

Alderson slipped under the crime scene tape and maneuvered around the trees. His eyes assayed the ground in search of additional clues that may have been overlooked by Townsend and Wright. After several minutes, he turned his attention back to the trail, where he noticed Sergeant Fernanda Perez was still standing guard over the crime scene. Alderson hadn’t interacted with her much since her promotion to Sergeant, but she had always been good police. After glancing at his wristwatch, he ducked under the barricade tape and approached her.

“Would you mind—” He faltered, looking back at the outline of Tyler Marshall’s shrouded corpse. “Can you wait here until Forensics comes back to collect the body?”

“Sure, no problem.”

“Thank you. I wanna take a look at the plantation house Townsend mentioned earlier.”

“Right. Did she tell you there’s also some kind of tomb up there?”

“She did.”

Perez nodded and pointed toward the path. “It’s up that way a bit. Look for the chimneys.”

“Great, thank you. I shouldn’t be long but ping me on the rover if you need anything.”

As Alderson turned to make his way through the underbrush, Sergeant Perez called after him. “Detective, I never got a chance to tell you how sorry I am for the loss of your son.”

Nathan froze with his back to the uniformed officer. He turned to face her with an unreadable expression.

“I’ve prayed to Saint Felicity for Cody.” She paused to swallow, choosing her words carefully. “And for you and Kelly.”

Alderson looked at the ground, unsure of what to say. A few tense seconds passed before he thanked her, then abruptly changed the subject.

“I should only be a few minutes.”

Perez blushed and shrugged her shoulders. “I’ll be here ’til you get back.”

Alderson started up the trail, hoping it would lead him to the dirt roads Townsend had mentioned. After walking for several minutes, he emerged from the dense forest into a wide clearing. In the distance, over another grove of river birches, the detective saw the chimneys of the demolished plantation house.

Eyes forward and with laboring breath, he hurried through the overgrown crossroads at the center of the clearing. The trees began to thin out and he spied what remained of the plantation house. With a determined gait, he strode across the field, forging his way through weeds and yellow grass. The steady swish of dead leaves beneath his feet was loud and constant.

The large Georgian house was in ruins. The rectangular foundation remained intact, but the grimy rust-brick walls had crumbled into haphazard piles. More weeds shot up from between the debris while small saplings had taken root and forced their way up from the rubble. Hollow squares—formerly windows—still characterized a portion of the left side of the house, but the right side had completely fallen inward. Only the pair of chimneys pierced the skyline, yet both seemed poised to topple to the ground.

Alderson scanned the perimeter of the building, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Brown shards of smashed glass and a crumpled box of Swisher Sweets lay at his feet. A faded pentagram had been spray painted in black on the outside wall. He approached the open portal that had once been the front door. A quick glance revealed a veritable jungle of brush, vines, and wildflowers within the interior. The ground cover would have obscured any recent footprints, but the undisturbed nature of the weeds suggested no one had forged a path in or out of the ruin for several months.

As he peered through the doorway, Alderson could see the open field directly behind the house. With nothing obstructing his view, he crept forward and slowly made his way toward the corresponding entryway at the rear of the house. Careful to scan the ground as he walked, his suspicion that neither Tyler Marshall nor his killer had been inside the house was confirmed.

When he emerged behind the plantation, Alderson saw the mausoleum to his left. Its position at the edge of the property left the sides and rear of the building entirely obscured by trees. As he crossed the clearing, he reached under his coat and thumbed open the latch on his holster.

Like the plantation, the four-sided structure was also made of red brick. Enveloped in dry twisting vines, the weathered exterior appeared to be stable despite its apparent age. Just as Townsend said, one of the rusted iron doors hung askew from the topmost hinge. As Alderson inched closer, he could see the second door had fallen to the side of the entrance. It had lain on the ground so long it was almost entirely covered by weeds and had sunk into the earth.

Despite the light of the morning, the interior of the tomb was unusually dark. He fished a pen light from his pocket and poked his head inside. The thin beam danced along the walls of the mausoleum’s interior.

After checking the corners, Alderson stepped inside to examine the vaults. Everything was as Townsend had described. The stone floor was littered with dead leaves. Scrawls of indecipherable graffiti tags marred the mildewed walls. The top two vaults at eye-level were empty. He aimed his flashlight downward to illuminate a plaque adorning the crypt in the lower-left corner.

 The panel sported a green patina from years of exposure and had become heavily oxidized. Alderson began to pick away at the corrosion until he could read the name on the placard. In plain block letters, it read WILLIAM BRENNEN, BELOVED SON, 1851–1854.

He moved to check the next vault to the right. It was empty, save for thick cobwebs and a few tarnished coffin handles.

Alderson rose and turned on his heel to inspect the other side of the mausoleum. Glass crunched beneath his feet. He glanced at the stone floor but there were no footprints or bloodstains. Lifting his pen light, he scanned the pair of vaults on the upper tier. A few splinters of rotten wood lay near the back wall of the narrow crypt. A strong musty stench wafted from the second vault, which displayed signs of water-damage.

He squatted down to shine the thin beam of his pen light into the bottom left slot. Squinting his eyes, Alderson suddenly cried out and scrabbled backward.

“Fuck!”

The light swept across a pair of gleaming eyes. Instinctually, his free hand went for his pistol, but he steadied himself when he realized it was only a river rat nestled in the corner. The matted rodent scurried out of the vault, dragging its tail along the dirty floor as it sought to escape the intruder.

Calm the fuck down.

Now on his knees, he inspected the last vault in the lower right corner. Satisfied that it too was empty, he rose, dusted off his pants, and lingered at the center of the low-ceilinged room. He glanced up, shining the light at the roof. Through a series of holes, he could see pinpricks of gray sky.

Stepping out from the closeness of the tomb, Alderson inhaled the brisk autumn air. From where he stood, he had a partial view of the James River beyond the dense tree line ahead. He remained fixed for a moment, gazing at the slow-moving waters. He removed the safety gloves from each of his hands with a snap and stuffed them into the pockets of his coat.

As with the ruins of the main house, there was no evidence that the tomb had been recently occupied by any squatters. More importantly, it hadn’t served as Tyler Marshall’s kill site.

So, if not here, then where? None of this makes any sense. Who was waiting in these woods? Where did they go? And why Tyler Marshall? What’s the connection?

The detective’s musings were interrupted by his handheld radio and the crackling sound of the lead dispatcher’s voice.

“Code-3. All units be advised. Vehicle fleeing scene of accident on Seventh and Main.”

Alderson began to make his way back to the crime scene. Once again, his eyes were directed to the looming chimneys of the old plantation house. He paused and turned his back momentarily to look at the mausoleum. The detective reached into his coat pocket and withdrew his pen and tablet. Beneath the notes he made earlier that morning, he quickly scrawled the name he had read from the placard and underlined it twice for emphasis.

BRENNEN.



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