Ravens Cove, An Iconoclast Thriller (Book 1)
The Spiritual Battle for a Small Alaska Town
By Mary Ann Poll
America’s Lady of Supernatural Thrillers
A TENUOUS TRUCE
Kat opened her eyes to find herself staring into black glittering ones, catching a red glow. She screamed, and then covered her mouth.
BC placed a velvet black paw on her cheek, as if to comfort her, then turned two fluid circles and melted as only a cat can, into a furry ball, weight against her chest, and began to purr.
Kat’s dreams were bad before, but never like this one. She felt, but couldn’t see, someone in her bedroom, ready to hurt her. She shivered and cuddled Black Cat, her greatest consolation when the terrors of the night came. And, yes, they did come.
An owl, close, hooted.
The ancient omen of death.
“Stop it!” Kat told herself. “It is dark, and the bird is on the hunt.”
Kat shivered again, and dragged her old, tattered quilt to her neck, just as she had done at 12, after watching the Bela Lugosi version of Dracula.
For many dark nights, she believed Dracula would kill her. The quilt comforted her then, just as it did now. It had been a gift of love from Grandmamma Tovslosky. And, though she’d tell no one, she still believed it protected her.
She drifted into a much-needed sleep, smiling in memory of those wonderful days which ended all too soon with the passing of Gran.
Her cell phone played Pachelbel’s Canon in D. She hated ringing phones—classical music, even in the tinny-tone played by a cell phone, was better than the horrid ring.
“’O,” Kat croaked.
BC, awakened by the noise, jumped in disgust from the bed, the warm indent still where he comforted Kat to sleep.
“Kat, thank God, you’re okay!”
“Why wouldn’t I be? The closest thing to danger is the phone waking me up with the start I just had!” she stated irritably.
“There’s been another one.”
“Another what—” The import of Bart’s words connected. The fog in her brain shot away. “Another murder? Please tell me there hasn’t been another murder.”
Bart’s confident baritone seemed strangely shaky. “Another murder.”
“Top of Ravens Ravine, same as the other. This time it’s one of our own, more or less.”
“I believe it’s Miguel Salisto, or what’s left of him.” Bart still considered Miggie—never known for being an involved town member—a part of Ravens Cove and under his protection.
The safekeeping of this town and its people is my primary duty. And I have failed. Just like I failed the Pantino family. . .
Bart thought back five years ago when he took the job. Although young, he spent a couple of years with the Alaska Troopers and felt ready to take on the challenge of being the lone police officer in a small town.
Until the phone call. A day burned into his memory.
Richard Pantino called to report his wife, Dana, and children missing. The whole town went out to search; the Alaska State Troopers were called in. No sign of them.
Bart spent every day looking for clues to find the family. He prayed to God to bring them back—alive. It’s the last time I asked God for anything.
Two weeks later, the Troopers found the family in shallow graves ten miles south of Ravens Cove. The children assaulted; the mother, too. Bart still saw the decaying bodies full of maggots and flies.
Richard Pantino grew hateful and locked himself away. When he ventured out, he never missed an opportunity to remind Bart they died because Bart did not find them in time.
A year later, Richard Pantino blew his head off with a sawed-off shot gun.
I failed him, too. . .
“Miggie? Are you sure?” Kat asked.
Kat’s question brought Bart back to the present. “Yes.”
“Wow. I didn’t think his business, or his lifestyle were dangerous. I never understood how Miggie stayed in business. In fact, I never understood why the Congregational Alliance made Miggie a member in good standing. Even in my limited knowledge of Christianity, I
always thought it weird. Still, dangerous?”
“I’m not sure his business is connected to his demise,” Bart answered.
“Maybe not. What can I do?”
“I need you to be at the office today. The feathers are going to hit the fan when this gets out, and you know it will. Can you be ready in an hour? I’ll come get you.”
Kat didn’t argue. She did not want to cross paths with the killer and be victim number three.
“I’ll be ready. PLEASE bring coffee. No food. I don’t think my stomach can handle it.”
“Will do.” Bart hung up.
The wheels of the old, faded, red pickup crunched the gravel, announcing Bart’s arrival.
Kat hopped off the porch and met him halfway.
The rich aroma of dark chocolate and coffee struck her nose when she opened the passenger door.
“A mocha! Yum!” Kat rewarded Bart with a thankful smile.
They traveled the short distance to town without saying a word. They pulled up in front of the sheriff ’s office—an empty Main Street greeted them.
Kat breathed a sigh of relief. “Guess no one has heard.”
“Probably won’t last, but I’ll take the quiet for now.” Bart rounded the truck and opened the passenger door.
Kat jumped down.
She unlocked the stationhouse door and threw her coat and keys on the desk. “Who found him?”
“Again?” Kat said in disbelief.
“Yep. I’m going to have to bring Amos in for questioning. I’m not convinced he has anything to do with the murders. All the same, I can’t let my feelings run this investigation—would you track him down?”
Kat glanced at her watch. “He’s fishing by now.”
“Don’t know why he thinks he can fish at this time of year, but just like the sun, Amos rises every morning and goes out for the big one,” Bart answered.
“See what you can do to find him, just the same?”
“I’ll call his brother. Get him to track down Amos and bring him to the station.”
“Thanks. I’m going to the ravine to take a look at Miggie before he’s shipped to Anchorage. Man, the FBI guy will be much harder to get rid of after this.”
Shaking his head, Bart turned on his left foot, and strode to his office to grab his hat. He breezed past Kat, out into a grey, gloomy day. The mountains hid behind a blanket of low-lying, moisture-filled clouds.
Any forensic evidence will be destroyed if it snows, or worse rains, on Miggie’s corpse before I can get there. Bart pushed the old red truck’s accelerator to the floor.
Yesterday’s crime scene tape greeted him. Miggie occupied the exact spot and lay in the exact same position as John Doe.
“You sicko,” Bart said to the unknown perpetrator. “I’ll get you, whoever you are.”
Something rustled from the direction of the path.
Bart drew his gun, pointing it down the ravine. “You hiding in there, show yourself right now!”
Bart jumped a few inches to his left, swung around and pointed the gun at Ken Melbourne.
Unshaken, Ken crouched down and studied the path leading to the dark opening of the ravine. “Full daylight, gloomy day though it is, and not an ounce of light shining into the chasm?” Ken shot a questioning look at Bart.
Ignoring the implied request for information, Bart lowered his gun, holstering it with a snap. “What on earth are you doing here, Melbourne?”
“I came up to look at yesterday’s crime scene. Odd to see a corpse. I’m sure yesterday’s is under autopsy in Anchorage.”
Bart’s shoulders sagged under the shame he felt from the inability to protect the people of Ravens Cove. “This would be one of ours. Same place, same position, same everything.”
“May I take a look?”
Bart gestured with his head towards Miggie Salisto’s corpse.
Ken walked over, looking as he went, ensuring he didn’t contaminate any potential evidence.
The lurch in his stomach shocked him. He saw all types of murders in his career. Both at the crime scene and in pictures. Human teeth marks so perfect and so deep in flesh, they could cast a mold and arrest the perpetrator once caught. He witnessed firsthand his share of the horror men could do to each other. The scene in front of him surpassed all of them.
The stench reminded him of a monthlong, decomposed drowning victim. The skinless corpse’s muscle liquified at a rapid rate, dropping a thick, pungent fluid onto the ground. As quickly as the red, stinking globules hit the ground, the land absorbed it, leaving the area stained but dry.
Ken leaned closer. “There are no eyes!”
The sockets drained a black and purple fluid. In fact, most of the stench came from the eye sockets.
Ken straightened and turned a wan face toward the sheriff. “In all my time, I’ve never seen any chemical or poison to cause this.”
Bart shot a surprised look to Ken. He never heard a suit guy admit not knowing everything. If they didn’t know, they tried to sound like they did.
“I’ve already ascertained as much. So, then, is there any reason for you to be here, Agent Melbourne?”
“Sometimes, Sheriff, it takes two to make sense of something. I believe we should combine our knowledge and get moving on solving this before there’s another victim. Serial killers have patterns, and this pattern is frightening.”
Ken turned back to look at the body. He tilted his head up in Bart’s direction. “I’d expect another murder tonight. There won’t be much left of this town, in very short order, if we don’t stop the perp soon.”
Bart pondered this. Whether he liked it or not, this suit made a good point.
“Tell you what, Melbourne, you can follow along. But if you try to take over, if you even think about giving orders to anyone, you’ll be out of here.”
Small victory, but victory just the same, Ken thought.
“Agreed.” He held out his hand.
This time the Sheriff took it.
Bart and Ken scoured the area, hoping to find even a tiny shred of a clue. No luck.
The medical team arrived to take Miggie Salisto’s remains to the funeral home, the closest thing to a morgue in Ravens Cove, to await dispatch to the medical examiner in Anchorage.