Read All the Blue-Eyed Angels Online

Authors: Jen Blood

Tags: #Mystery, #Suspense, #Contemporary, #Thriller

All the Blue-Eyed Angels (4 page)

BOOK: All the Blue-Eyed Angels
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I whistled for Einstein, who’d decided it was a great time to tour the grounds. We were at the top of the island. In the valley below, I could just make out the remains of the burned-out Payson Church. That would have to come later, though—for now, I focused on the massive old boarding house that I had once called home. I had to start somewhere.

The original boarding house was a simple three-story saltbox design, with a one-story ell that members of the Church had added on the north side. The windows were boarded with sheets of weathered plywood, and the white house paint had long since peeled away, leaving bare clapboards gone gray with age.

Before we set foot inside, Diggs and I teamed up to remove the plywood from the downstairs windows. He photographed the perimeter. I tossed a stick for Einstein. Eventually, we ran out of reasons not to go inside.

I fished the key the lawyer had presented to me three months earlier from my backpack and went to the side of the ell, leading the way to the kitchen entrance. The granite step leading up was split down the center from too many seasons of extremes, slick with moss and rain. I stood to the side and jammed the key in the old, rusted lock, jiggling it back and forth until it finally clicked.

I glanced at Diggs before I stepped past the threshold. “You want to go first?”

“I could.” There wasn’t a lot of confidence behind that statement.

“Forget it. Just be prepared to get out of the way if any hobgoblins jump out at us.”

“If any hobgoblins jump out at us, you won’t have to worry about me getting out of the way. Trust me.”

I gave him a shaky smile, wet my lips, and gave the thick, oak door a final push.

I’d never spent much time in the kitchen as a kid, too busy in the garden with my father. Now, almost twenty-five years later, I remembered little about this part of the house. Despite having removed plywood from the large window over the kitchen sink, dirt and dust ensured that little light made its way through. Diggs and I stood in the entryway squinting as our eyes adjusted to the dim room. Faded linoleum flooring had curled up at the edges, the vintage 1970s pattern obscured by layers of grime.

“Brady Bunch meets Amityville Horror,” Diggs said. “Nice.”

“Payson redid the kitchen in ’76, when he first started the church,” I told him, recalling another of the litany of random facts I’d learned about the Paysons over the years. “What you’re seeing was
haute couture
during the Carter administration.”

We were whispering. Einstein had taken off yet again, but I could hear him barking in the distance—which meant in all likelihood he was tormenting the island squirrels. I kept the door open for him to come and go as he pleased and walked deeper into the kitchen. There were rodent droppings and a fossilized mouse in the double sink, and the sideboard looked like it could crawl away of its own free will. I moved on, past the kitchen and through a narrow corridor with a steep staircase off to one side.

The cold settled somewhere deeper than my bones, but the chill I felt had nothing to do with the weather. I stood at the grand arch that opened into the Payson meeting room. This was where it all began, and two and a half decades hadn’t done much to brighten the bizarre living area at the heart of the Payson boarding home.

A shaft of light cut through the dirt on two picture windows, a door centered between them. I snapped a couple of pictures, and then Diggs went over to pry one of the windows open and get some air flowing. Six picnic tables dominated the expansive room, placed in pairs end to end. An antique hutch against one wall had fallen victim to dry rot, its shelves buckled and its contents—mismatched dishes of all shape and size—scattered on the floor.

“You think this is really how they left it?” I asked.

Diggs looked over his shoulder at me. He had one foot up on the windowsill for leverage, trying to drag the swollen old pane up.

“I don’t know. If anyone has been here in the past twenty years, they sure as hell were lacking in the housekeeping department.”

“Malcolm Payson’s lawyer said he didn’t let anyone in,” I said. “Once the investigation was closed, he hired my father to watch the place. I doubt Dad ever came here after everybody was gone, though.”

“What about after your father died? Who watched the place once Adam was gone?”

He finally got the window up with a screech of wood against wood that made me jump.

“Malcolm paid some of the local fishermen to keep an eye out—paid them well, too, from what I understand. Deadly force was not discouraged,” I said.

“So, no keggers, make-out parties, or Ouija fests on the hallowed grounds?”

I looked around. No beer bottles, cigarette butts, used condoms. Not so much as a stray Little Debbie wrapper.

“Doesn’t look that way.”

Diggs abandoned the window and came to stand beside me, surveying the room. “How long did you live here, again?”

“Nine years.” It felt stranger than I’d expected being back, trying to reconcile everything I’d known with the reality of what it was now. “I would’ve been here a lot longer if my mother hadn’t come out and dragged me back to civilization.”

“That’s one way of looking at it.”

I looked up when I realized he was staring at me. “And what’s the other way of looking at it?”

“That your mother got you out of here before the shit hit the fan. If she hadn’t, you and your father would have died along with everybody else.”

I didn’t have a response for that. I thought back to those years on the island with my father—the best years of my childhood, in most ways. Diggs wouldn’t understand that, though. Hell,
I
didn’t understand that. Before he started psychoanalyzing my early years, I went off in another direction.

“There are cabins here, too—half a dozen or so, I think, on the other side of the island. The families in the church stayed there. Isaac shared the top floor of this house with his wife and kids.” I went through the house in my mind, trying to remember the layout. “My father was the only man who lived here at the house, besides Isaac. The rest of the bedrooms were for the single women and their children.”

Diggs nodded. I knew what he was thinking: Isaac had set it up so he’d have ready access to any of the women or children he wanted, on any given night. I didn’t say anything. I wondered what kind of salacious hell he thought I’d lived through out here, before my mother swooped in and took me to the mainland.

While I went through the meeting room, Diggs excused himself to take a tour of the grounds. He said it was to get a look at the place, but I knew he was just giving me time to adjust to my haunted homestead. Either way, I appreciated the gesture. Without Diggs and Einstein on my heels, I continued exploring.

Isaac and his wife had been responsible for the interior decorating, though they could have used some pointers from the good folks at HGTV. There was the standard, Western ideal of Christ with lamb in his arms, brown eyes soft and forgiving, and another of the same Christ, a halo just visible through flecks of mold and mildew. A two-foot-tall, moth-eaten satin cross embroidered in gold with the words “Jesus Saves” hung by the door. Then, there were Isaac’s personal touches: oil paintings done by the preacher himself, mounted in handmade frames throughout the house.

The painting above the fireplace was five feet across and maybe three feet high. I could remember standing in this spot when I was a kid, mesmerized by the scene Isaac had created: an ethereal Christ on the cross, a Mona Lisa smile on his wasted face, while in the background a thousand warriors burned. Their bodies were twisted and bloody, their eyes black with agony. The frame was partially rotted away, and the painting itself was stained in places and barely visible in others. It didn’t matter, though—I still remembered every grotesque detail. Long before the fire, it had been the centerpiece in more than one childhood nightmare.

Isaac’s twisted artistic sensibilities had also been the inspiration for the Church’s primary source of income. There were examples of these in the meeting room as well, though I wasn’t nearly as tickled at sight of the marionettes as I’d once been. The adults in the church worked together to make the handcrafted angels, then sold them on the mainland at local shops and craft fairs.

One of the angels lay on the ground just a few feet from the fireplace. It was all but dust, the strings disintegrated, clothing and wings eaten away. Now, just a naked wooden body and a head with faded but strangely mesmerizing blue eyes were all that remained.

Before I could stash the doll from hell somewhere where the blue eyes would quit following me, there was a commotion outside. I knew something was up because Einstein was barking like a rabid banshee—the desperate, high-pitched bark usually reserved for creepy neighbors or suspicious-looking postal workers. I narrowly missed colliding with Diggs on my way out the door.

“I found something. Bring your camera.”

He looked a little green around the gills, so I did as I was told, following him to the edge of the tree line behind the house. He’d tied a very unhappy Einstein to a birch nearby. At sight of me, my mutt howled in protest, nearly strangling himself to get free.

A moment later, I understood why Diggs had needed him out of the way.

The smell hit first—damp and sickly sweet, like meat long past its expiration date. I followed my nose to a mid-sized wooden box that definitely hadn’t been there when we’d walked the grounds just half an hour before. The top had been removed. I peered inside, where a bloody mass swarming with flies was nestled in newspaper. I nudged the box with my foot. Once the flies had cleared and I wrapped my brain around what it was, my stomach turned.

“I think it’s a lamb,” Diggs said.

“A lamb’s head, actually,” I said. I looked around, but saw neither hide nor hair of the rest of the carcass. “Young, by the look of it—maybe newborn. Where the hell did it come from? Einstein ran the grounds up and down when we first got here—he would have caught the scent the second we passed the gate.”

“It certainly begs the question, doesn’t it?”

I knelt, the wet ground soaking through my denim-clad knees. Diggs stood with his head turned away, his arms crossed over his chest. Since he was being no help, I told him to go set Einstein loose before the mutt had a complete breakdown.

“There’s something in its mouth,” I called after him.

After my mother took me away from Payson Isle, she settled in Littlehope as the county physician. I was her not-so-eager assistant on more than one midnight call to patch up drunken fishermen or their wayward wives. A lamb’s head, regardless of the shape it was in, didn’t hold a candle to some of the things I’d seen by the time I was thirteen.

“How can you touch that thing?” Diggs called to me with a grimace.

“I’m not touching it. I’m just poking it a little.”

Einstein raced to my side as soon as he was free. Diggs looked mildly annoyed, but I just gave the one order Stein knows by heart.

“Leave it.”

The dog’s tail dropped. His grin vanished. Dejected, he turned around, walked a few paces, and sat down. Despite everything, I could tell Diggs was impressed. I couldn’t really take the credit, since Michael was the one who trained him.

Diggs went to stand beside Einstein as I continued my exam.

“Its neck was cut straight through—this is a clean cut, no ragged edges. No hesitation with the kerf marks.”

“And you know this because…?”

“Research for a story I did a while back. I guess it’s safe to assume this wasn’t a natural death.”

I turned the head over with a nearby stick. Underneath, maggots squirmed rice-white bodies along the exposed bone and viscera.

“Einstein was barking when we were inside,” I recalled. “Someone must’ve left it here then.”

Diggs finally ventured closer. “That’s the only theory I could come up with. Which means whoever it was is probably still here. Or they haven’t gone far.” He hesitated. “I could go after them.”

“And do what, exactly? Skewer them with your rapier wit?”

He shrugged, conceding the point easily.

“Anyway, it’s probably just some local idiot playing a prank,” I said. It was a fairly disgusting one, even by Littlehope standards. I wasn’t ready to consider the alternative, though. “If you go after them, it could escalate—let’s just let it be for now.”

I returned my attention to the box at my feet. The lamb’s eyes were open, with a milky film over them. I prodded at the tiny teeth with my trusty stick in an attempt to dislodge whatever was stuffed in the mouth.

“I think it’s the heart.”

“Christ,” Diggs said. “You sure?”

“I wasn’t exactly an all-star in biology at Wellesley, but I can see the chambers. It looks about the right size, too.”

Diggs had gone quiet again, but finally he cleared his throat. I looked up to find him staring at me, his jaw set.

“What?”

“What the hell’s going on?”

I didn’t like his tone, but I couldn’t necessarily blame him for it. “What do you mean?”

“I mean,
What the hell is going on
? You lost a baby not three months ago, your marriage just fell apart, and now you’re on an island where thirty-four people burned to death and your father hanged himself over a bed of tulips. And now I find out that the story we’ve been given for twenty years about the fire that killed them was all lies, and you frankly don’t seem all surprised. And there’s a fucking
lamb’s head
,” his voice rose, “that’s obviously been left by someone who’s not completely in their right mind. So, I’ll ask one more time before I turn around and go back to the mainland without you… What the hell is going on, Erin?”

He’d come closer during his tirade. Einstein growled. The temperature was cooling as shadows grew longer and the day got later. I stared at the ground, thinking about everything he’d said. Bit my index fingernail, until I remembered that I’d stopped biting my nails years ago.

“My father wasn’t with me that morning.”

Diggs looked confused. “What morning?”

“The morning of the fire,” I said. Impatience tinged my words. “When the Payson Church burned to the ground and thirty-four people burned with it. We spent the night before at a hotel…”

BOOK: All the Blue-Eyed Angels
3.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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