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“You’ve seen him watching it?”

Vargas gave a brittle laugh. “Hell, yeah. Of course, I watched it before I went in. I watched him watching it. I had to wait until I knew he wasn’t watching it before I went in with Gary!”

“You’re telling me that you think that Jonas Weston did in Gary White—over the Merlin house?” Liam demanded.

Vargas shrugged. “What? You think Gary walked there to drop dead? No, I’ve seen that guy staring at the place, like he coveted it or something. And not just him. Oh, man. There’s the lawyer.”

“Richter? Joe Richter?” Liam asked.

Vargas nodded grimly. “He’s always hanging around. Driving out… I mean, before old man Merlin died, that guy was always driving out to kind of case the place, too, you know?”

“No, I don’t know. Not really.”

“Ask him. Ask Richter if he’s seen Gary White,” Vargas said. Tears welled into his eyes. “Gary. Gary’s dead. Maybe there is a curse on that house.”

“You believe in curses, Vargas? You don’t seem the type,” Liam told him.

“There’s one more person you should find out about,” Vargas said.

“Oh? And who is that?” Liam asked.

“That fellow—your friend. Your friend Ted, the guy who is such a genius and such an expert on old stuff. Yeah, you ought to be talking to him,” Vargas said.

“But shouldn’t I be talking to you?” Liam asked. “You were with Gary—the two of you broke into the house together.”

Vargas shook his head. “That’s the ticket, sir. That’s the ticket. Gary and I were in that house together. You need to check out all these people that you didn’t catch in it. I’m giving you three men I’ve seen staring at that place, dying to get their hands on the things that are in it. Mr. Joseph Richter, fine attorney, Mr. Jonas Weston—and Ted and his girl, Jaden. They’re the ones you ought to be grilling, Officer! Oh, yeah. Those folks.” He paused, shaking his head. Tears welled in his eyes again. “Gary. Oh, Lord, poor, poor Gary.”

He shivered ferociously.

“That house! That wretched Merlin house. There’s something that goes on there. Something in the brick, the concrete, the wood.” He looked up at Liam. “Don’t you understand? There’s something about it. It’s the house. The house is evil. Merlin was up to something. Devil worship, had to be. And because of what he did…something is there. Something that has lived there. Something malignant. Something that is… I’m telling you, something that is pure evil.”


It was five o’clock when they finally left O’Hara’s. Kelsey felt exceptionally brave due to Avery’s presence and several pints of Guinness. When Katie expressed concern and said that she and David and their immediate group would happily return to the house with her, she told Katie that she was going to be fine.

“There’s crime-scene tape all over your property,” Katie reminded her.

“Ah, but I don’t plan to go home and play in the mangrove swamp,” Kelsey assured her. She kissed her friend, who looked exhausted as well, and assured them all she was just going to take a nap, and she’d see everyone the following day. Clarinda needed to get to work, Jonas had to act as host at his B and B, and Jaden admitted she was eager to get back to the little box and the research she was doing. David, Sean and Vanessa had their own work to return to as well. Kelsey really was fine—and tired. Tomorrow, with Cutter now restfully buried, she would start reading the book he had been holding, In Defense from Dark Magick.

It was still daylight when Kelsey and Avery returned to her house.

They walked back to the funeral-home parking lot where Avery had left his rental car and drove the few blocks down Front Street to the little road that led out to the house.

The driveway and the house were free of crime scene tape. It still stretched from the far left of the house to the end of the land, encompassing all but the immediate front and back yards of the house and the house itself.

“Creepy,” Avery announced.

“It’s not creepy—it’s a house. Cutter was a collector, that’s all,” Kelsey said.

“Creepy. I’m sorry, Kelsey, unless you’re a born-again vampire or something, the place is damned creepy,” Avery told her. “Seriously! Look at it. Peeling gray paint. Those windows that look like eyes.” He shuddered. “And a dead body to boot!”

She turned to him. “Avery, are you afraid of staying here? Jonas Weston owns the place right across the water. He turned his family home into a bed-and-breakfast. I can get you a room over there if you’d prefer.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. I’m not a coward,” Avery said. “I was just pointing out that the house is—creepy.”

“Okay. Fine. It’s creepy,” she said.

She exited the passenger side of the car. She was feeling a little tipsy. The “celebration of life,” or reception, or whatever they had hosted at O’Hara’s, had lasted all day. It had included a few too many beers. Luckily, Avery had been determined not to have more than one or two drinks, and then switched to diet soda and coffee. She was feeling a little unbalanced—and a little defensive and belligerent, as well.

“I suppose that ‘creepy’ is good for the artist’s soul,” Avery said.

“Yes, and it’s really a beautiful house, and Cutter was a fascinating man. He wanted to preserve artifacts and cultures. He always said that it was both good and bad that the world was homogenizing, and that it was incredibly important that we recognize cultures and beliefs.” She headed for the house, dug in her purse and finally found her keys. By then, Avery had taken his suitcase from the car and joined her on the porch.

“Need help?” he asked.

“Funny, funny,” she said.

“No, I’m being serious. Think you can get that key in the door?”

She twisted the key in the lock, staring at him.

“Hey, I think you should be a little inebriated. You found a body on your property this morning, and you buried your grandfather. Drink yourself into oblivion, if that will help.”

“I don’t want to be oblivious.”

“Then we should make some coffee,” Avery said.

Kelsey didn’t want coffee; it seemed like a nap would be in order. She slipped her arms around Avery and hugged him tightly. “Luckily, you got here after the cleaning. I have to dig some sheets out of a closet to get you a bedroom going, and then I’d like to lie down for an hour or so? Will you forgive me?”

“Only because we were ahead enough on work so that I’m not going to go down because of you,” Avery said, his voice gruff. He smiled. “You know, you’re the stickler, always wanting to be a month up on everything.”

“It works, huh?” she asked.

He shrugged. “I’m still on California time. Flew into Miami yesterday and took a puddle jumper down this morning. Body clock is still adjusting. Take your nap. I’ll find a room, and sheets. I prefer taking care of myself, which I will do, and then grab a bit of a snooze myself.”

“I would never be so rude—”

“Hey, you know me. I remake beds in hotel rooms. I’ll be fine,” he told her.

She kissed his cheek. “Explore my childhood, then. Enjoy,” she told him, waving an arm to encompass the house. “It is truly entertaining. Mummy is by the fireplace. What else? Coffin is over there, gargoyles… Well, knock yourself out. Sheets are actually in bedroom closets.”

“I’m already taking in the animal heads,” Avery assured her. “And I’ll find my way around just fine. Maybe I’ll go out and see the sunset.”

“No!” Kelsey cried. “No, no, no. Promise me you’ll stay right in this house. I don’t want you out on the property alone. Please, Avery—a body was discovered this morning.”

“Hush, my darling, fine. I’m not going anywhere for a while. I’ll see the famous Key West sunset on another night, all right?”


“I promise.”

Upstairs, in her room, she crashed down on her bed. She just needed an hour or so of sleep.

She had almost drifted off when she found herself jerking up again. She had to lock the door to her room.

Avery was in the house, she told herself.

But it didn’t matter.

Even when Liam was actually sleeping with her, she had to lock the door to her room. It was paranoia, she told herself. Dangerous.

No. She wanted to be in the house.

She just wanted her door locked at all times. She wasn’t sure why, but she feared sleeping to wake up and find that someone was there.

Someone staring down at her as she slept.

It was getting late in the day, but when he left Chris Vargas on the street, Liam called Franklin Valaski to see if he was still at the morgue.

He was.

Valaski, like many a Key West old timer, had taken the morning hours to attend the funeral of Cutter Merlin.

“Come on in, Liam. Come on in. I have Mr. Gary White on steel right now, and I can give you my initial findings,” Valaski told him.

As he drove toward the medical examiner’s office, Liam reflected on the events of the last several hours—finding Gary White’s corpse, and Cutter Merlin’s funeral. As long as he lived, he would never forget the look in the man’s eyes.

Had Gary had that same look? They’d never know. Gary had no eyes left in his skull.

The corpse didn’t look much better when he saw it stretched out on the gurney. Some of the skin had dried out from the sun, and was now stretched out taut, ripped in places over bleached white bone. Some of it looked like…soupy goo.

Gary White had been given the customary autopsy cuts and sewn back together.

The face was best described as gruesome. The mouth was open, contorted, as if it had frozen in a scream. A great deal of soft tissue had been eaten away by the sun, sea, salt and creatures of the mangroves.