Home > Grave Surprise (Harper Connelly #2)(8)

Grave Surprise (Harper Connelly #2)(8)
Author: Charlaine Harris

Tolliver wasn't in the mood to discuss the degeneration of American society as exemplified by the emergence of the serial killer as common occurrence. He just nodded.

"He's different," I said. "Seth Koenig."

"Define."

I shook my head. "He's pretty intense, pretty deep. Not your regular law enforcement type."

"You hot for him?"

I laughed. "Nah. He's too old for me."

"How old?"

"Probably in his early forties."

"But in good shape, you said."

There are times when I just don't appreciate Tolliver's teasing. "I'm not talking about his body. I'm talking about his head."

"Can you pin that down a little?"

"I think..." I hesitated for a long moment, uneasy about putting my idea into words. "I think he's more than professionally interested. Maybe obsessed."

"With you," Tolliver said, very levelly.

"No, with Tabitha. Not her personally." I struggled to express what I felt. "He's obsessed with the puzzle of it. You know, how some people spend a large part of their lives rehashing the Lizzie Borden case? How futile that is, because all the people involved are dead and gone? But there are still books appearing all the time about it. I think that's how Seth Koenig is about Tabitha Morgenstern. Look at his work record. He hasn't done anything newsworthy since he worked her case. And here he is, Johnny-on-the-spot, when she's found. Not because of Tabitha as a person, or because of Joel and Diane, but because of the mystery of it. Like some of the law enforcement people in Colorado are about that little girl who was killed in her own home."

"The little beauty queen. You think Seth is as fascinated with Tabitha as some people are with her?"

"Yes, I think that's possible. And I think it's dangerous," I said.

I sat beside him on the end of his bed and found myself looking at the picture he'd stuck in the mirror frame, a picture he carried with him on the road. It was a snapshot of Cameron, Mark, Tolliver, and me. We're all smiling, but not genuinely. Mark's looking down a little, his stout build and round face distinguishing him from the rest of us. Cameron's to my left, in profile, looking away. Her light hair is pulled up in a ponytail. Tolliver and I are in the center, and his arm is around my shoulders. At first glance, you might assume that Tolliver and I were the brother and sister; we're both dark-headed and pale and slim. But if you spend any time with us, you notice that my face is longer and narrower than Tolliver's, which is practically square. And his eyes are a rich dark brown. Mine, though also dark and often mistaken for brown (since people see what they expect to see), are actually gray. Tolliver's mouth is thin and fine-lipped; mine is full. Tolliver had acne as a teen that went untreated, and he has scars on his cheeks as a result. My skin is smooth and fine. Tolliver has a lot of attraction for the opposite sex, and I don't seem to have much of that.

"You just scare them," Tolliver said quietly.

"Was I talking out loud?"

"No, I could just follow what you were thinking," he said. "You're the only psychic in this family." He put his arm around me and gave me a hug.

"You know I don't like to be called psychic," I said, but I wasn't really angry.

"I know, but what else would you call it?"

We'd had this discussion before. "I am a corpse-finder," I said, with mock hauteur. "I'm the Human Geiger-Counter."

"You need a superhero outfit. You'd look good in gray and red," Tolliver said. "Tights and a cape, maybe some red gloves, high red boots?" I smiled at the picture. "After this media hoopla is over, we can go to the apartment for about a week," Tolliver said. "We can catch up on our laundry and our sleep."

The apartment in St. Louis wasn't great, but it beat living in a hotel, no matter how fancy. We could open our mail (what little we got), wash our clothes, cook a little.

The constant travel was getting increasingly old. We'd been at it for five years now, at first making almost nothing; in fact, we'd gone into debt. But the past three years, as the word spread, business had started becoming regular, and we'd even turned down a job or two. We'd paid back what we owed, and we'd saved a lot.

Someday, we wanted to buy a house, maybe in Texas, so we wouldn't be too far from our little sisters--though the chances were slim that we'd get to visit with them much, thanks to my aunt Iona and her husband. But we would be on hand when we were needed, and maybe seeing us from time to time would waken better memories for Mariella and Gracie.

When we had a house, we would buy a lawn mower, and I would mow every week. I would have a big planter, one of those that looked like a truncated barrel, and I'd fill it with flowers. Butterflies would perch on them, and bees would lumber in and out. I wanted one of those big Rubbermaid mailboxes, too. You could get them at Wal-Mart.

"Harper?"

"What?"

"You had that dazed look again. What's up?"

"Thinking about a house," I admitted.

"Well, maybe next year," Tolliver said.

"Really?"

"Yeah, our bank account is healthy. If we don't have any catastrophes..."

I sobered immediately. Of course, health insurance is hard to get for people like us, since we don't have what you'd call regular jobs, and the lightning strike was always classified as a pre-existing condition. That meant I couldn't claim coverage for anything that the insurance people could classify as resulting from the lightning strike. We had to pay an outrageous amount for the most basic policy. It made me angry every time I thought about it. I did everything I could to keep healthy.

"Okay, we won't wreck the car or break a bone or get sued," I said. We did a lot of doctoring on each other for the everyday sprains and cuts, and we'd spent a week in a motel in Montana when Tolliver had had the flu. But the only persistent health issues facing us were my continuing problems from the lightning strike.

You'd think after you'd recovered from the initial effects, that would be it. Most doctors believe that, too. But that's not the truth. I talk to other strike survivors on the Internet. Memory loss, severe headaches, depression, burning sensations in the feet, ringing in the ears, loss of mobility, and a host of other effects can manifest in the years afterward. Whether these are a result of the neuroses of the victims--which is what most doctors say--or a result of the mysterious reaction of the body to an almost unimaginable jolt of electricity... well, opinions vary.

I have my own set of problems, and luckily for me they're pretty consistent.

As far as I know, there is no other strike survivor who has become able to find dead people.

I'd had plenty of time to shower and dress and wonder what we were going to do with our day, when that problem was solved for us. The police came by again, to ask more questions.

Detective Lacey had a chaperone this time, another detective named Brittany Young. Detective Young was in her thirties, and she was a narrow-faced woman with short tousled brown hair and glasses. She had a huge handbag and comfortable shoes, clothes that were no higher-end than Sears, and a gold band on her left hand. She looked around the hotel room curiously, and then she examined me with even more curiosity.

"Do you always travel in this kind of style?" she asked, while Detective Lacey was talking to Tolliver. I sensed they had a plan. Why, gee, what could it be?

"Not hardly," I said. "We're more Holiday Inn or Motel 6 people. But we had to have the security."

She nodded, as if she really understood that and didn't think we were pretentious. Detective Brittany Young was establishing a rapport with me. She grinned at me. I grinned back. I'd done this dance before with other partners.

"We really need all the information you can give us," she said earnestly, still with the smile. "It's very important to our investigation to figure out how the body got here and how you came to find it."

No shit. I tried not to look like I thought she was an idiot. I said, "Well, I'll be glad to tell you everything I know. But I believe I covered it all yesterday." I added more sincerely, "I'm really sorry for the Morgensterns."

"Would you consider, say, that you and your brother are religious?"

Now she had actually surprised me. "That's a very personal question, and one I can't answer for my brother," I said.

"But you would describe yourself as Christians?"

"We were raised Christian." Cameron and I had been, at least; I didn't know what kind of faith education had taken place in the Lang household. Certainly by the time Tolliver 's dad had married my mother, religious training for their children had not been a high priority. In fact, toward the end of our life as a family, my mother hardly knew when it was Sunday. While we'd thought of taking Gracie and Mariella to Sunday school--though they were very young--the thought of what the sharp-eyed church ladies might be able to tell about our home life had stopped us.

We tried so hard to stay together. It had all been for nothing.

"Did your parents have some reason to be prejudiced against Jews?"

"What?" Where had that come from?

"Some Christians don't like Jews," Brittany Young said, as if that would be news to me. But she was making a huge effort to keep her voice neutral. She didn't want to scare me off from offering her my true opinion, just in case I was a closet anti-Semite.

"I'm aware of that," I said, as mildly as I could. "But I really don't care what people are." Then everything clicked. "So the Morgensterns are Jewish?" I said, genuinely surprised. I just hadn't thought about it, but now I recalled seeing one of those special candleholders in their home in Nashville. I might have missed a lot more symbols and signs. I don't know much about Judaism. The few Jewish kids I'd known in high school hadn't been interested in parading their differences in a Bible-belt area.

Detective Young gave me a look that was full of so much skepticism it almost stood and walked by itself.

"Yes," she said, as if I was funning with her. "As you know, the Morgensterns are Jewish."

"I guess I was too busy wondering where their child was to think about their religion," I said. "Probably I had my values backward."

Okay, maybe I'd overdone the sarcasm, or I was coming off as self-righteous. Detective Young eyed me with scorn. Or, that was the pose she was adopting, to see if it got a rise out of me.

I glanced around for Tolliver, and found that Detective Lacey had maneuvered him over to the other side of the room.

"Hey, Tolliver," I said. "Detective Young says the Morgensterns are Jewish! Did you know that?"

"I figured they were," he said, drifting over to us. "One of the men I met at their house in Nashville--I'm not sure you met him, you were talking to Joel--I think his name was Feldman... anyway, Feldman introduced himself as the Morgensterns' rabbi. So I knew they must be Jewish."

"I don't remember him." I really didn't. I still didn't get the relevance of the Morgensterns' faith. Then the lightbulb in my brain clicked on. "Oh," I said, "does that make it worse? That she was buried in a Christian cemetery? The St. Margaret's cemetery was Catholic or Episcopal, right?" All I knew about Jewish burial customs was that Jews were supposed to be buried quicker than Christians traditionally were interred. I didn't know why.

Both the officers looked startled, as if their original baseline for questioning had been completely misinterpreted.

"I would think," Tolliver said, "that the fact that it really was Tabitha would kind of overwhelm the religious consideration, but maybe not." He shrugged. "That's more important to some people than others. Are the Morgensterns really religious? Because I've got to say, they've never mentioned anything about Judaism to us. Have they, Harper? Said anything to you?"

"No. All they said to me was, 'Please find my child.' They never said, 'Please find my Jewish child.' "

Tolliver sat by me on the love seat, and we presented a united front to Young and Lacey.

"Our lawyer is right next door," I remarked. "Do you think we should call Art in here, Tolliver?"

"Do you feel you need protection?" Detective Lacey asked quickly. "Have you received any unusual messages or phone calls? Do you feel threatened?"

I raised my eyebrows, looked at my brother. "You scared, Tolliver?"

"I don't think I am," he said, as if he were surprised by the discovery. "Seriously," he said to Detective Young, as if we'd just been playing up till then, "Has there been any kind of anti-Semitic demonstration against the Morgensterns? I guess I kind of thought society was past that. I love the South, don't get me wrong; but it does lag behind the times in social developments. I'm sure I could be mistaken." We waited for her to answer, but she just looked at us, an all-too-familiar expression of deep skepticism on her narrow face. Lacey looked more disgusted than anything else.

"Detectives," I said, getting tired of the dance, "let me point some things out." We were on the love seat the Morgensterns had used yesterday, and the two detectives were in the wing chairs we'd occupied. Though Brittany Young was at least ten years younger than Lacey, and a woman, at the moment her expression was identical to his. I took a deep breath. "The Morgensterns hired me after their daughter had been missing for several weeks. Though I'd read the newspaper stories about Tabitha, I'd never met Diane or Joel or any other member of the family. I had no idea they'd call me to work for them. I couldn't have had anything to do with her disappearance, it stands to reason."

   
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