Jessica walked down the road in a darkness so pure and complete that she could not see her own feet. The drizzle made the going even slower. Her only guide to the road was the white stripe on either side, along with the compass app on her phone, which she was reluctant to use. It seemed to put a spotlight on her. According to the GPS, she would be coming up on the parcel in a few minutes.
She passed a drive every so often, a gravel lane that snaked back into the woods.
When she came to the rear entrance to the Briarcliff Cemetery she saw that it was unmarked. Instead there were two fieldstone pillars, connected by a chain with a padlock on it. On one of the pillars was a rusted sign warning that trespassers would be prosecuted. Jessica clicked on her Maglite, aimed it at the ground, and headed into the cemetery.
The only good thing about walking through the woods was that she was now somewhat sheltered from the rain. Before long she came up to the southern end of the graveyard. She couldn't see far, but she did see lights in the distance. There appeared to be three large houses, perhaps a quarter-mile apart. She continued down the access road, passing crypts, monuments, row after row of manicured graves and expensive headstones. This was a world apart from the Mount Olive cemetery.
At eleven-thirty she reached the far end of the cemetery, the area that abutted the rear of Christa-Marie Schönburg's house.
Just as she was about to cross the field, to the rear of the property, her Maglite found a headstone bearing the legend:
DR. GABRIEL THORNE
HEALER AND FRIEND
The grave had recently been dug up.
As Jessica got closer she was overwhelmed by the size of the house. It was a three-story Tudor, half-timbered, with cross gables and a steeply pitched roof. Two massive chimneys rose at either end, both topped with chimney pots. A large deck jutted out over the backyard.
She could hear nothing but the rain.
Jessica studied the windows in the back of the house. There were faint lights in three of them. She watched for movement, for shadows. She saw none.
Jessica put her two-way handset on silent, crossed the backyard, and stepped onto the rear deck.
The sliding glass door was locked. Jessica walked down the steps, rounded the house to the east wing. She tried to lift the windows. All were shut tight.
She had no choice. She found a fist-sized rock in the garden, stood atop the air-conditioning unit, broke out the window in the first-floor bathroom.
Once inside, she ran a towel through her hair, wiped her face. She opened the bathroom door. Straight ahead was a long hallway, leading to a large foyer and the front door. She left the bathroom, walked slowly down the hallway. To the left was the entrance to a small pantry, beyond that the kitchen.
Soft music played somewhere in the house.
Jessica saw that most of the rooms were lit by candles, dozens of them casting a pallid yellow light in the cavernous spaces.
She made her way cautiously down the hallway, watched by the eyes of dead ancestors peering down from huge oil paintings overhead. In the dim candlelight, objects waxed and waned - the occasional sideboard, end table, armoire. Each held danger. Jessica drew her weapon, held it at her side.
She approached a room, its door ajar. There was only darkness within. She edged up to the room, slowly inched the door open with her foot.
In borrowed candlelight she saw shapes in the room. A pair of bookcases, a sewing machine, a chair. There were two other doors. She could not clear them. There was no time. She had to take the chance.
She moved deliberately, right shoulder to the wall, sweat trickling from her shoulders, down her back.
Before she turned the corner, into what she was certain was the main hall, she stopped, tuned her ears to every sound. The music continued: a string quartet. Beneath it she heard a woman's voice, humming the melody.
Jessica took a deep breath, rolled the corner, her weapon held low.
Someone stood at the foot of the grand staircase, not fifteen feet away from her. It took Jessica a moment to adjust her eyes.
He was at the base of the steps, splendid in a dark suit, white shirt and deep burgundy tie. Above him was an enormous crystal chandelier. Jessica looked at Byrne's hands. He held a single white rose.
Before she could speak, Jessica looked up to see Christa-Marie at the top of the stairs. She wore a long black dress and a simple strand of pearls. Her hair was soft and luminous, a brilliant silver. She was radiant. She descended slowly, her slight hand on the railing, never once taking her stare from the man at the foot of the staircase.
When she reached the final step Christa-Marie paused.
Kevin Byrne handed her the white rose.