Dean Kahn started our story Sept. 12 with an unmarked grave in Bayview Cemetery being disturbed. Last week author Melody Hitchner wrote that Rex Hunter learned that, although the city police say nothing is amiss at the cemetery, someone has a great interest in old graves. As Rex digs into the past, he disturbs the present.
CHAPTER 3: 'EYES LIKE WILD KITES'
"I can read you like a map, Rex. Something's wrong."
Never miss a local story.
Ali's voice drifted out of the dark. Rex turned his head on the pillow to see the landscape of his wife's skin zebra-striped by the light filtering through the blinds.
"Didn't realize you were awake," he said, feigning a yawn. "Nothing's wrong."
She sighed. "We've been married almost 20 years. I can tell."
"Just ... trouble sleeping."
A ghost of a smile passed over her lips.
"Is it this cemetery stuff?"
He laid in the silence looking at her eyes, which were reduced in the dim light to two faint pools, pools he'd lost a better part of his youth wading in, pools full of green beauty, warmth.
He knew those pools well enough, even in the dark, to sense the concern in her stare ... and maybe something else. Worry? Fear?
That reminded him of what he'd seen that cold, misty morning.
• • •
Rex had stood in the pre-dawn gloom at Bayview Cemetery, meditating on the map fluttering in the breeze like a giant butterfly struggling in its final throes. He shot one last look in the direction of the fleeing man he'd seen and decided it was time to head home. He grabbed the map he'd found trapped against some dying memorial flowers and stuffed it unceremoniously in his pocket before giving Louie and Chip a tug in the other direction.
The dogs dutifully led the way back up the hillside, past rows of shadowy headstones and along the tree-lined lane leading back to Lakeway Drive.
The dogs knew the way home back toward Whatcom Falls Park. Rex had occasionally joked that he could drop dead of a heart attack and the dogs could drag his body home, a comment Ali never found quite as amusing as he did.
Farther ahead, he could see the white arch at the southeast entrance of the cemetery, barely visible even as slashes of dark purple began climbing into the sky, slowly revealing the trees to the east. The moment he saw the arch, came a realization.
He was being watched.
Rex gave the dogs an urgent tug and they stopped, both of them whining, turning anxious circles in place. It almost seemed as if they were begging Rex not to stop, but to keep going, to ignore whatever it was.
Rex looked toward the trees and peered into the shady network of limbs and branches. In the distance he saw a lonely figure lurking in the shadows.
A spider's nest of tingles scattered across his back. He lost his breath. The dank air stuck in his throat. His heart pounded maniac rhythms as if trying to burst through his chest. Suddenly, that dumb joke about being dragged home by the dogs took on a prophetic tone.
Rex calmed himself and caught his breath. When he looked again, the figure was gone. Rex dropped the dogs' leashes and darted into the trees, leaving the nervous dogs behind to whine in protest.
The tree limbs slapped at him as he ran, leaving behind streaks of dew that looked like wounds. His breath shot in and out of his lungs. He stopped to get his bearings near a batch of dying birch trees, their white branches reaching upward like bony hands.
That's when he saw it again.
He could barely see the figure in the dark. As his eyes adjusted, he could see the visitor was wearing a dark gown, tightly buttoned down the front, with small tasteful ruffles along the sleeves. A hat was pulled low. A knit scarf wrapped the neck and face. Only the green eyes, shadowed in the dark, were visible.
"Who are you?" Rex asked.
For a moment Rex flashed on his visit to Zuanich Point Park a few days earlier. The weather had been foul and the wind had picked up. He'd stood by the fishermen's monument, watching the few kites overhead cutting large, angry circles through the air like captured birds trying to escape.
That's what the person's eyes were like: feral glints, dangerous, trapped.
A closed fist raised as if to give him something.
Some primitive part of his mind that living in the modern world had taught him to ignore was now screaming at him to go no closer, to run away.
But he pushed his way through the fear and extended a shaking hand. Something dropped into his hand.
It was a ring. An antique, from the look of it.
Rex could still see the extended arm from the corner of his eye and he reached up to grab it, to stop the person from fleeing. Instead, he found himself holding the pale branch of a birch tree.
• • •
"Did I lose you?" Ali asked.
Rex started in the dark. "Huh?"
"You're spacing off," she said. "What's on your mind?"
He sighed. "You're right. It's the cemetery."
She touched his shoulder. "You need to stop obsessing. Let's go to Birch Bay tomorrow, wade in the tide pools. And hey, maybe later, you'll treat your beautiful wife to dinner at The Cliff House."
He laughed and turned to her. Her green eyes hovered, full of concern. As beautiful as they were, it brought to mind the kites again, wild and trapped.
He thought he saw those things in Ali's eyes. And in that moment, he knew, with a kind of undeniable clarity, that she was hiding something from him.
• • •
He had to hide them, couldn't show Ali just yet.
While the dogs scampered through the house, happy to be free of their leashes, Rex opened the top drawer of his desk. He quietly slipped the map and the ring into the back of the drawer, then closed it.
Turning away, he caught a glimpse of himself, a phantom framed in the window pane against the morning sky. His eyes flashed back at him, scared and tired, and wild.
COMING NEXT SUNDAY: What is the map's secret? And check back Sunday, Oct. 3, when Isabelle Dills continues our story.
Rick Anderson moved to Bellingham in 1993 with his wife, Deanne, and has since felt more at home here than in Aberdeen, where he was born and raised. He attended Grays Harbor Community College and Western Washington University, and has worked at The Bellingham Herald since 1995 in variety of jobs, including ad designer, web developer and IT administration. An unfashionably literate technology geek, he writes both computer code and prose in his spare time.