An Ice cold Grave


Chapter 1

THE eastern seaboard is crammed with dead people. When work brings me to that part of America, the whole time I'm there it's like wings of a huge flock of birds are fluttering inside my brain, never coming to rest. That gets old pretty quick.

But I had some jobs in the East, so here I was, driving through South Carolina with my sort-of brother Tolliver in the passenger seat. He was sleeping now, and I glanced over at him, smiling because he couldn't see me and it was okay to smile at him. Tolliver has hair as dark as mine, and if we didn't run and spend quite a bit of time outdoors, we'd both be pale; and we're both on the thin side. Other than that, we're quite different. Tolliver's dad never took him to a skin doctor when Tolliver was a teen, and his cheeks are scarred from acne; his eyes are darker than my murky gray ones, and his cheekbones are high.

When my mother married his dad, it was a case of two yuppies joining together in the hurtling path down the drain. My mother was dead now, and Tolliver's father was somewhere, who knew where? He'd gotten out of jail the previous year. My dad was still in for embezzling and a few other white-collar crimes. We never talked about them.

If you have to be in South Carolina, it's beautiful in the late spring and the early summer. Unfortunately, we were nearly at the end of an especially nasty January. The ground was cold and gray and slushy from the melt of the previous snow, and there was more predicted in a few days. I was driving very carefully because traffic was heavy and the road was not clear. We'd come up from mild and sunny Charleston. A couple there had decided their house was uninhabitable due to ghost activity, and they'd called me in to find out if there were any bodies in the walls or flooring.

The answer was clear: no. But there were bodies in the narrow back yard. There were three of them, all babies. I didn't know what that meant. They'd died so soon after birth that they hadn't had much consciousness for me to tap into, so I hadn't been able to name the cause of death, which is usually quite clear. But the Charleston homeowners had been thrilled with the results, especially after an archaeologist dug up the meager remains of the tiny bodies. They would dine out on the dead babies for the next decade. They'd handed me a check without hesitation.

That's not always the case.

Tolliver said, "Where you want to stop to eat?"

I glanced over. He wasn't fully awake. He reached over to pat my shoulder. "You tired?" he asked.

"I'm okay. We're about thirty miles outside Spartanburg. Too far?"

"Sounds good. Cracker Barrel?"

"You must want some vegetables."

"Yeah. You know what I look forward to, if we really do buy that house we talk about? Cooking for ourselves."

"We do okay when we're at home," I agreed. We had bought a few cookbooks at secondhand bookstores. We picked very simple recipes.

Our apartment in St. Louis was hanging in the balance right now. We spent so much time on the road that it was very nearly a waste of money. But we needed a home base, somewhere to collect our mail, a place to call home when we weren't driving around the United States. We'd been saving up to buy a house, probably somewhere in the Dallas area so we'd be close to our aunt and her husband. They had custody of our two little sisters.

We spotted the restaurant sign we'd been looking for after about twenty miles, and I pulled off the interstate. Though it was about two o'clock in the afternoon, the parking lot was crowded. I tried not to grimace. Tolliver just loved Cracker Barrel. He didn't mind wading through all the kitsch in the store part of the building. So after we parked (about a half mile away) we slogged through the slush past the rocking chairs on the porch, stamping our feet on the mat so we wouldn't track the icy mess inside.

The restrooms were clean, and the place was warm. We were seated almost immediately, and the waitress, a very young woman with hair as straight as a horse's tail, was delighted to serve us. Well, Tolliver. Waitresses, barmaids, maids in hotels: serving women love Tolliver. We ordered, and while I was simply enjoying not