Grave Secret


Chapter One

"ALL right," said the straw-haired woman in the denim jacket. "Do your thing." Her accent made the words sound more like "Dew yore thang." Her hawklike face was eager, the anticipatory look of someone who is ready to taste an unknown food.

We were standing on a windswept field some miles south of the interstate that runs between Texarkana and Dallas. A car zoomed by on the narrow two-lane blacktop. It was the only other car I'd seen since I'd followed Lizzie Joyce's gleaming black Chevy Kodiak pickup out to the Pioneer Rest Cemetery, which lay outside the tiny town of Clear Creek.

When our little handful of people fell silent, the whistle of the wind scouring the rolling hill was the only sound in the landscape.

There wasn't a fence around the little cemetery. It had been cleared, but not recently. This was an old cemetery, as Texas cemeteries go, established when the live oak in the middle of the graveyard had been only a small tree. A flock of birds was cackling in the oak's branches. Since we were in north Texas, there was grass, but in February it wasn't green. Though the temperature was in the fifties today, the wind was colder than I'd counted on. I zipped up my jacket. I noticed that Lizzie Joyce wasn't wearing one.

The people who lived hereabouts were tough and pragmatic, including the thirtyish blonde who'd invited me here. She was lean and muscular, and she must have tugged up her jeans by greasing her legs. I couldn't imagine how she mounted a horse. But her boots were well-worn, and so was her hat, and if I'd read her belt buckle correctly, she was the previous year's countywide barrel-riding champion. Lizzie Joyce was the real deal.

She also had more money in her bank account than I would ever earn in my life. The diamonds on her hand flashed in the bright sunlight as she waved toward the piece of ground dedicated to the dead. Ms. Joyce wanted me to get the show on the road.

I prepared to dew mah thang. Since Lizzie was paying me big bucks for this, she wanted to get the most out of it. She'd invited her little entourage, which consisted of her boyfriend, her younger sister, and her brother, who looked as though he'd rather be anywhere else but in Pioneer Rest Cemetery.

My brother was leaning against our car, and he wasn't going to stir. Until I'd done my job, Tolliver wouldn't pay attention to anything but me.

I still thought of him as my brother, though I was trying to catch myself when I called him that out loud. We had a much different relationship, now.

We'd met the Joyces that morning for the first time. We'd driven down the long, winding driveway leading between wide, fenced-in fields, following the excellent directions Lizzie had sent to our laptop.

The house at the end of the driveway was very large and very beautiful, but it wasn't pretentious. It was a house for people who worked hard. The Latina who'd answered the door had been wearing nice pants and a blouse, not any kind of uniform, and she'd referred to her boss as "Lizzie," not "Ms. Joyce." Since every day on a ranch or farm is a working day, I hadn't been surprised to see that the big house felt pretty empty, and the only glimpses I caught of other people had been distant ones. As the housekeeper led us through the house, I'd seen a Jeep coming up one of the tracks that ran between the huge fields at the rear of the house.

Lizzie Joyce and her sister, Kate, had been waiting in the gun room. I was sure they called it the den or the family room, or something else to indicate it was where they gathered to watch television and play board games, or whatever really rich people did with their evenings when they lived way the hell out in the sticks. But to me, it was the gun room. There were weapons and animal heads all over, and the décor was supposed to imply this was a rustic hunting lodge. Since the house had been built by the Joyce grandfather, it reflected his taste, I guessed, but they could have changed it if they'd objected. He'd been dead for a while.

Lizzie Joyce looked like the pictures I'd seen of her, but the impression was strictly practical. She was a working woman. Her sister, Kate, called Katie, was a