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“Dr. Grant has been very helpful,” Kat told him.

“Sarah Vining’s body just arrived,” Dr. Grant said after the introductions. “I was showing your associate the snakebite marks when you called. We came out to escort you back—I’m afraid she’s in a freezer room with other…guests. Her autopsy is scheduled for tomorrow morning, but her body has been cleaned in prep.”

Tyler had been in many a morgue. He wanted to put a protective arm around Allison’s shoulders, but held himself in check. She was still pale, but she didn’t look as if she was about to pass out or collapse in horror. Of course, the outer offices of the medical examiner’s office were neat and orderly in appearance.

But as they entered the hallways, he thought he could detect the chemical odor that hinted of death and he kept a sharp eye on Allison.

She moved up next to him. “Do people ever think you’re mentally ill when you want to touch the dead?” she asked him in a whisper.

“We do it discreetly,” he whispered back.

A few minutes later they were staring down at Sarah Vining’s body, covered with a sheet.

Sarah looked small, skinny and gray.

“The bite mark is on the inner thigh just above the knee. She was driving when the snake panicked and struck her. I assume it had somehow gotten under the seat.”

He watched as Dr. Grant showed them the bite marks but then he looked at Allison. She was almost as gray as Sarah Vining.

She stepped forward, saying softly, “She was a friend.”

“I understand,” Dr. Grant said.

Allison touched Sarah’s hair. Tyler thought she’d step back quickly, but she didn’t. She stayed there, gently touching the dead woman and gazing down at her.

Dr. Grant spoke quietly to Kat and Tyler. “I don’t think we’ll find anything we don’t see here when the autopsy is performed,” she said. “I’ll know better what organs gave out when, but I have an educated hunch that between the bite and the trauma of the accident, her heart failed her.”

“Have you ever heard of such a thing before?” Tyler asked.

“People dying after a bite like that?” Dr. Grant shrugged. “Copperheads are dangerous and can be vicious when they’re threatened. But we do have antidotes for the bites, and these days most people survive. But elderly people, small children, those who are ill when they’re bitten—they’re in the greatest danger. The heart can fail under stress and trauma. That’s what I believe happened to Sarah. And in the midst of that massive accident, I’m sure no one expected her real problem to be a snakebite.”

“Thank you,” Tyler said, glancing from Dr. Grant to Kat.

Allison hadn’t been listening. He saw that she was staring down at Sarah Vining, her fingers still resting lightly on her hair.


She looked up at him. “I’m ready,” she said.

Kat stayed behind; there was evidently more of a medical nature that she wanted to discuss with Dr. Grant.

Tyler led Allison out. “Anything?” he asked her as they reached the car.

“Sorrow and confusion,” she told him.

“I can only imagine how you feel,” Tyler said.

She shook her head. “No. Yes, I mean, of course, my heart bleeds for both Julian and Sarah. They were murdered, their lives were stolen from them. That’s what I got from Sarah. She doesn’t know why she’s dead. She doesn’t understand. She doesn’t remember anything except for a sudden and excruciating pain—and then the air bag blowing up in her face. She remembers stumbling out and being thrown several feet while the world seemed to explode around her in horrible screeches and bangs while the other cars crashed into one another.”

“So she is there?” he asked incredulously. He grimaced. “You felt her—heard her—and neither Kat nor I did?”

Allison nodded. “I felt as if her eyes opened and she looked at me. And it was as if I could hear her.” She was quiet for a minute. “She doesn’t mind that she’s dead. She said she has incredible faith and she’s…she’s waiting to go. Oh, and she wants to be buried or entombed at the house. Do you think our friend Adam has the clout to arrange that?”

“We’ll see,” he said, climbing into the driver’s seat. “But,” he added as she joined him, “Adam does seem to have the power to make the earth move—no pun intended. I’m sure he can do something.” He put the car into reverse and turned to drive out of the lot before he spoke to her again. “You’re okay?” he murmured.

“I’m fine. I came because I’m the ‘key,’” she told him with a self-conscious shrug. “I’ll admit I’ve been frightened out of my mind. But that all started the moment I saw Julian dead in the study. It got worse when I saw him as a ghost. And then Lucy. And then the whole thing with Mr. Dixon… But I’m tired of being terrified. I want to get to the end of this, no matter what it is. I don’t want anyone else dying, and I don’t understand why Julian and Sarah are dead. And why a man who visited the house is in a coma. Whatever is going on, right now I feel like saying ‘come and do your worst’ because I’m…ready to fight back.” She turned to look at him with an awkward smile.

He nodded slowly. “It’s a terrible thing to go through life frightened.”

“I just… I don’t get it. I really didn’t believe in ghosts. I actually think I wanted to believe in ghosts, because then I’d know there was something beyond this life. But…why now?”

She twisted in her seat to face him as he drove. “What about you? Supposedly, if you’re going to have second sight, you’re born with it.”

“Not me. My first reaction was like yours.”

“How? What did you do?”

“Drank,” he said. “Like I told you before.” She gave him a frown and he laughed softly, then launched into his story about finding the younger sister of the dead heroin dealer in Texas, the woman whose ghost had appeared repeatedly to him. “After that,” he concluded, “it seemed as if a door had opened. And I worked with Logan, who’s one of those people who saw things at an early age, but he has Native American blood and I often think Native Americans have a far greater understanding that the world is more than what we see. But even Logan was always careful. Maybe this second sight or extra sense comes to people when it’s necessary. We—and by we I mean our Krewes—don’t have any real answers and we don’t pretend to. We’ve just learned that the dead may be out there—and that they have reasons for their presence and they may be able to help.”

He was surprised to see a smile curving her lips.

“What’s so amusing?”

“With my new power, maybe I can summon all the old statesmen and leaders and wives I’ve wanted to meet. Dolley Madison must have been an incredible woman. And how I’d love to meet Lincoln—and Robert E. Lee!”

“I wish it worked that way,” he told her. “Most of the time, people do move on. Good thing, or the streets would be so crowded with specters that none of us would be able to take a step.” She laughed, but he grew serious as he said, “I think that when a soul is finally at peace, it does move on.”

She seemed more comfortable with him than she’d ever been. And she seemed stronger. He knew he’d met her at a time of crisis in her life—but that she had an inner strength and real courage.

“Another favorite historical heroine of mine has always been Lucy Tarleton,” she said. “And we know she’s stayed behind. We’ve seen her on the screens, walking around the house in the middle of the night.”

“We have to coax her out,” he said.

“Why won’t she just come to us and say, Listen, here’s the way it really was?”

“We don’t have all the answers, I told you that. Certain spirits will talk to certain people. Some never learn how to be seen and heard.”

She smiled at him, then sobered. “I shouldn’t be smiling. Two colleagues are dead—and speaking to me. But the reality is they’re dead. And that fact is still devastating.”

He reached over to squeeze her hand, once again wondering, as he touched her, if she’d draw away. But she didn’t.

They returned to the Tarleton-Dandridge House. Sean had left; Logan was in his place, with Kelsey at his side.

“Anything?” Logan and Tyler said at the same time.

“I’ll answer first,” Logan said. “We found records with birth and death dates, family trees—nothing we didn’t know. But it’s good to investigate, to make sure we’re not assuming something is obvious, only to find out we’re wrong. What about the morgue?”

Tyler was surprised when Allison gave a full report on her exchange with Sarah Vining.

Logan nodded. “So she didn’t know anything at all—except that she was suddenly in pain and then staggering out in a melee of cars colliding?”

“Nothing. She doesn’t know why she’s dead. All she knows is that she is. And she’s oddly at peace with it,” Allison told him.

“Some people just are,” Logan said. “We’re on earth for only so long, and I believe that peace comes to some people when they’ve died.” He was thoughtful for a moment. “But Sarah’s still here.”

“Maybe because she’s part of this…whatever it is,” Tyler said.

“Maybe,” Logan agreed. “It’s really late, you two. There are sandwiches in the pantry, sodas, beer, some wine… Coffee, too, but I’m not suggesting that now. It’s about time to get some sleep.”

Allison turned to Tyler. “You wanted to look through papers in the attic.”

“It can wait until morning,” he said.

“I think we should go back now. We’ve gotten started. Let’s give it an hour.”