From Lucky Thirteen
Morning arrived all too soon. Ray made breakfast, but neither he nor Larkin had much appetite. They set about making the place as desolate as it had been when Larkin had arrived. With the small amenities Raif had added gone, the room was barren. In the light from the three lit candles, the slate-colored baked dirt walls glistened with moisture from both the humidity and being below sea level. Cobwebs draped the rough wooden beams above them. The ceiling hung low; Ray could touch it with his fingertips if he stood on his toes. The original blankets on the bed were devoid of color and threadbare. Their feet left prints in the hard dirt floor. Ray shuffled around to hide the fact there had been more than two sets of prints and got Larkin to walk back and forth to the restroom.
Ray looked around and in disgust blurted, “God! How desperate Raif must’ve been to think bringing you here could be anything but utter evil!”
“Don’t blame him.” Larkin defended the man who had become her friend.
“Oh, I don’t,” he assured her. “Raif’s my brother. He has a problem and was manipulated in a weakened state.” His jaws clenched. She could almost hear the grinding of his teeth. “That psychotic wench is gonna pay for Raif, for you, and for twenty-four dead people.”
“Ray, channel the anger.”
“This isn’t anger, Angel. This is righteous indignation.”
“So? Now you get to dispense the wrath of God?”
“Absolutely,” he responded with a laugh. “Seriously, I’m ready for this day to be over. I’m ready for Latrice to be behind bars. I wanna take a sixty-minute shower, get a haircut, shave, and sleep in my own bed.”
“You’ll be all alone.”
Ray grinned mischievously. “I have Cyclops. I’ll hold him for ransom so that you have to come and get him.”
“You have my cat? You didn’t tell me that before.” Larkin remembered her dream of Cyclops with the blue eyes. Here, again, is a sign Ray is the man in my dreams—the man of my dreams. “Chris just said he was being cared for. I guess I assumed Dr. Fairchild took him.”
“He put a paw down and wouldn’t take no for an answer. He even insisted on riding along to lockup while I questioned Dupree.”
She laughed at the thought, then said, “About Dupree.”
“Just what I’ve been waiting for. Don’t tell me. Let me guess.” He raised his index finger. “Here goes your indulgence. You wanna give him another chance.”
“Yes, I do.”
“We’ll talk about that when all this is over.”
“Ray, I’m very stubborn. It would be the perfect word for the S in Sloan.” Her voice firm and even, she shook her auburn head for emphasis. “Don’t even try to tell me what I should or should not do.”
“Whoa! Trick or treat. Snap on me.” Thumb and middle finger added sound effects.
The fiery redhead couldn’t help but laugh. “Well, I really do want to return to my students. I think Dupree was as duped as Raif.”
“All right. I see your point.” He nodded his head reluctantly. “Maybe the kid deserves a break.” He held his hand up in a blocking motion. “But”—The word was edged with objection— “He also needs major counseling.”
“I won’t disagree with that.”
“Whew!” Ray wiped his brow. “Middle ground. But now, I want to check out ‘hallowed ground’ again.” He used his fingers to make quote marks around hallowed ground. “Let’s get this over with.”
He held Larkin’s hand as they navigated the dark stairwells. Just outside the sanctuary, Ray put his finger to his lips as they heard humming within the auditorium. Inch by inch he cracked the door, hoping it would not squeak. His blood froze when he saw Latrice arranging candles, a chalice, and a wicked, curved dagger on the altar. With great caution, he closed the door and motioned Larkin down the stairs. Back in the uncertain safety of the wine cellar, Ray said with a heavy sigh, “That’s not a trick I expected. She said ten.”
“It’s lunch time. Maybe she came over on her lunch break,” Larkin rationalized.
“Maybe,” he agreed in an attempt to comfort her. “Come here.”
Frightened, Larkin slid into his embrace. He kissed the top of her head and said, “We have to prepare just in case.”
Ray retrieved the handcuffs from his backpack. Nodding understanding, she sat on the bed. He cuffed her wrist to the long chain attached to the headboard, hastily changed into the grimy clothes from before, and stuffed his under the bed. He strapped his gun to his back beneath the baggy sweat shirt and his spare to his ankle, finally calling Chris to get over there.
“Don’t fret.” He took Larkin’s free hand. “Maybe you’re right. And if she comes down here, I’ll play dumb and say I thought she meant ten at night. I’m sure she meant night. I can’t imagine she would attempt anything so heinous and gruesome in broad daylight.” He kissed her fingertips. “Or, Angel, we can call this off right now. I’ll wait alone here for her to come.”
“No. We have to do this.” She smiled. “God told me I’d be the one to stop this. I’m not schizophrenic,” she added to his questioning look.
“Okay. We stick to the plan.”
Ray’s phone vibrated. “Yeah?” he answered.
It was Chris. “I’m outside. Everybody else is on their way. I had to bring Raif. He’s as stubborn as you.” She cut Ray’s twin a look. He stared back and bared his teeth in a mock snarl. “But I guess for those still in the dark, he had to pretend to be you a little longer. You’re a bad influence rubbing off on him.”
“It’ll be fine,” assured Ray. “Stay alert. If I call you before nightfall, don’t even answer. Just get in here.”
For what seemed an eternity, Ray paced until Larkin said, “You’ve made a believer out of me.”
“Well, you do appear a little insane right now. What time is it?”
Ray looked at his phone because he had stashed his watch in the pocket of his jeans. “Half past three.”
“You’ve been pacing without a word for almost three hours. I don’t think she’s coming down here right now.” She jerked her head upward. “Go check.”
“How could Chris and the stakeout and the tail by the FBI have missed her?”
“I don’t know. Maybe there’s a secret passage. It would explain how she could get to the cemetery undetected.”
“Now that’s scary,” Ray said, arching his brow. “Shit. You think?”
Larkin pointed. “Check.”
Ray sneaked back to the sanctuary. He eased the door open. No one was there.
At seven, Ray’s phone vibrated. “We’re setting up,” Chris said.
“Thanks,” he replied and closed his phone.
He turned to Larkin. “Come on, Angel. Let’s get as ready as we can.”
Larkin bathed and allowed herself to be re-shackled. They settled in to wait. She talked for a while about her annual haunted house. “How disappointed the kids will be.”
Ray’s dimples etched his face. “You like Halloween?”
“It’s my favorite holiday. It fuels the imagination. I hope the substitute Dr. Fairchild secured for my classes followed my lesson plans. Yesterday and today the students should be reading their original horror stories and sharing treats.” She sighed. “I would be doing a haunted house tonight. I usually have at least fifty kids show up.” She asked, “Ray, do you know why we have the Halloween traditions we have?”
“No, why?” If teaching me keeps her calm, I’d lie even if I knew every detail—which I don’t. This could be interesting. “Tell me,” he encouraged.
“Well, it’s called Samhain.”
She laughed lightly. “Saw-wen. I promise it looks nothing like it sounds.”
“Okay. Go on.”
“It’s the celebration of the Celtic New Year. Long ago before Christianity came to Ireland and Scotland, the Druids were the religious leaders—they understood the balance of Nature and conducted religious rites. They were healers, judges, teachers.” She grinned, “Like me.”
“So, it’s a religious holiday of sorts?”
“Yes. The Celts believed this is the day when the barrier between the spirit world and Earth is at its thinnest.”
“Yeah, Journey mentioned that for Wiccan beliefs.”
Larkin nodded. “The people believed that on Samhain the spirits of those that had died the year before came back to look for a new body to inhabit. So, in an attempt to scare away the spirits, they would disguise themselves and carve gourds with faces with a candle inside, and bonfires were built. That’s why we wear costumes and have jack-o-lanterns today.” She smiled. “I have many happy memories of Halloween.
“Many Christians deplore the holiday and consider it satanic,” she went on. “Ironically, October 31st, is the day the Protestant Reformation began. On that day in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Many Reformed denominations celebrate Reformation Day in place of Halloween.”
She tilted her head to the side. “For Catholics isn’t ‘All Hallows’ Eve’ the day before All Saints’ Day?” she asked.
“Yeah, it is, but I’m not a very good Catholic these days. How do you know all this stuff?”
“I read, Ray,” she said with a little exasperation in her voice.
He sat beside her and put his arm around her. “It’s fascinating. Tell me more.”
Before they could continue their conversation, the chamber door rattled. The detective jumped to his feet and checked his phone for the time before stashing it in the pocket of the grungy old clothes. He nodded toward Larkin and mouthed, “On the dot.”
Promptly at ten o’clock, Latrice, wearing a long, black, hooded robe, entered the dungeon. Larkin did know her menace, and her insides quivered. “You!” Larkin said with a start. “I know you! You worked in Dr. Sullivan’s office.
God, I told her things about myself. I thought she was a nurse.
If you want more--