The Dollmaker's Daughters (Bo Bradley Mysteries, Book Five)

BOOK: The Dollmaker's Daughters (Bo Bradley Mysteries, Book Five)
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To my son, Brian

 

PR
OLOGU
E

 

At
first nobody noticed the d
oll. A baby doll with one eye
missing, it was swaddled in tattered black lace from which a chipped porcelain arm hung lifelessly. On Goblin Market's foggy patio the strange toy was obscur
ed by salt-
laden shadows and th
e folds of the girl's black satin dress. No one could see that the doll was chained to a leather cuff buckled to the girl's left wrist, or that another chain ran beneath the ebony beads of her blouse to a chrome-studded collar fastened about her neck. And at first nobody saw that her eyes were empty, as if she, too, had been fashioned from bisque and then cast aside before the addition of those delicate paint strokes which create the illusion of life.

Many in the crowd wore similar collars and wrist restraints, black leather corsets, jackets, and boots. As was the custom, most of the females and many of the males regarded each other courteously from eyes rimmed in dark kohl. Their lips were painted bluish red, the color of oxygen-depleted blood let from veins rather than arteries. Some displayed pairs of pointed acrylic teeth that made a clicking sound against the metal tankards in which Goblin Market served drinks and exotic coffee
s
. All wore black. They were Goths, oddities even in the late-night underworld of a generation so impossible to categorize that its elders referred to it simply as "X."

"Good evening, Fianna," a boy of eighteen in lace cuffs and a leather doublet called from the club's side doorway, "where's Bran?"

When the girl failed to answer he turned back to the interior dance floor, where a handful of black-clad people moved to chantlike music played in minor chords. Outside, the crash of surf provided a slow, hypnotic pulse which guaranteed Goblin Market enduring popularity among San Diego's Goth watering holes.

In December the beach fog moved in ghostlike wisps across the sand, creating by midnight a shifting netherworld in which the Goths could imagine themselves lost in time. By one in the morning when the club's weeknight crowd was at its peak, nothing was visible beyond the doors of Goblin Market but a shroud of mist punctuated by hazy lights from the street on its inland side. It was then that the boy in the doublet remembered the girl called Fianna and went outside to the patio looking for her. Five seconds later his scream cut through the fog like a glass knife.

She lay crumpled on a weathered bench beneath the papery dead fronds of a date palm, her eyes wide and staring at nothing. But the boy in the doublet would swear later that when he touched her shoulder, the doll moved in its blanket of lace. He would swear that its head fell back like a real infant's, and that its single eye was alive with pain.

B
o Bradley woke in a cold sweat and tentative
ly ex
tended one long leg six inche
s from its bent position. The
leg slid comfortably between layers of soft fabric she was almost certain would turn out to be flannel sheets. Forest green with an all-over pattern of tiny red-nosed reindeer. She remembered buying the sheets two days earlier in a last-minute stab at Christmas decorating. The presence of her leg between them was, she thought, a strong indication that opening her eyes would probably be safe. She was in her own beach apartment, her own bed. That other place had been a dream. Or something.

Weird dreams were nothing unusual. She'd had them since childhood, a manageable aspect of the volatile brain chemistry bequeathed her by generations of mad Irish poets, musicians, artists, and lesser eccentrics. Manic-depressive illness. But the dreams were corralled by medication now, as well as by the long experience of their forty-one-year-old dreamer. So where, she pondered shakily, had this eerie horror come from?

The view from one cautiously opened eye confirmed the assessment performed by her leg. The familiar walls and furniture were there, solid beneath a scrim of darkness. From a lambswool bed on the floor Molly, Bo's dachshund
puppy, snored softly. Everything was as expected. Except the dream.

It had been one of those Bo recognized as alien, not arising from the symbol system organized by her brain for its own amusement from the countless details of her experience. This dream, she acknowledged as she searched with her left foot on the floor for the armadillo house slippers she'd kicked off hours earlier, had come from somewhere else. It wasn't hers. Nothing about it felt familiar. Not even its near-maniacal sense of dread.

The dream had been of a cold, windowless room filled with breathy clicking sounds. Mechanical sounds. Repetitive and devoid of meaning. And the room was some kind of trap, or prison, or place of exile filled with grief and anger and a terrible sense of waiting. It felt like a long-abandoned subway station where no train has come in years, although one more is expected. And that train will be the last, and will carry nothing alive.

"In the Station of the Dead," Bo named a painting her brain was busily creating from the receding mental image. All gray angles with patches of fungus, an industrial sense, hopelessness. And across the bottom, empty tracks and a single red light feeble in shadows. She hoped she'd forget the painting by morning, when the urge to mix egg tempera might become irresistible.

In the apartment's miniature kitchen Bo shuddered at the dream-image and then focused on the coffee grinder atop a stack of catalogues on the counter. A wall of cottony vapor swirled against the window over the sink. Coffee would be good, she thought. Just the thing to take the edge off an unusually frightening psychic event that had drifted in on the fog. Except the grinder would wake Molly, and then it would

be necessary to get dressed and take the little dog outside. A potty-run in dense December fog at two-thirty in the morning.

"No way," Bo whispered to the coffee grinder. "I'm not going out in that!"

From her purse on the countertop she grabbed a cigarette lighter and held its flame aloft in the darkened kitchen. "I know ye're out there, Cally," she announced in her grandmother's brogue to a Celtic myth named Caillech Beara, the embodiment of death and madness. "It's your season we're havin', your feast that's a-comin', but here's light for me and the wee dog. It's far out you'll be stayin' now, Cally. And keepin' your dead dreams there in the fog, away!"

The ad-libbed exorcism was a compilation of facts learned from one Bridget Mairead O'Reilly, who brought satchels of peat to Cape Cod from Ireland every summer so that first one granddaughter and ten years later the next might know the meaning of light

"Old Cally'll skitter from the flame," she told a wide-eyed four-year-old Bo. "It's to keep her moanin' far outside, the fire is, and to keep the livin' safe and warm. Always remember the flame's the heart of the livin', the light of it is, and Cally won't have none of it!"

Bo held the lighter aloft in her kitchen until her thumb began to bum, then watched as a violet oval with neon green edges floated across her retinas where the flame had etched its shape. The little ritual was reassuring, but did nothing to assuage the dream's hangover. The eerie painting, Bo understood with a sigh, was no distortion flung into consciousness by aberrant brain synapses or Scots-Irish bogeys. The image was simply real. She would never know what it was or where it had come from, but it was real.

"Shit!" she exhaled as the phone's abrupt ringing made her jump.

"What in hell?" she pronounced tersely into its beige plastic receiver.

"Bradley, you're up," the familiar, booming voice of Police Detective Dar Reinert informed her. "That's good. Got a favor to ask, and you people will get the case in the morning anyway, so you'll be ahead of the game, right?"

Bo groped for a way to define the complete absence of information in whatever he'd just said. Only the word, "favor," was clear, and she owed the burly child abuse detective several of those. He'd helped her on a number of the cases which landed on her desk at San Diego County's Child Protective Services where she worked as a child abuse investigator.

"Dar, what are you talking about?" she asked, scuffing the toe of one armadillo slipper against the tile floor. "Do you know it's two-thirty in the morning?" From her bedroom the flapping of hound ears signaled that Molly was shaking herself into wakefulness. Bo pondered for the thousandth time a canine evolution which precluded the use of litter boxes. She was going to have to get dressed and escort Molly through the fog to some carefully chosen patch of grass.

"Just got a call at home from the dispatcher," he said, yawning. "A couple of uniforms are down there, but they're spooked. The kid's going to St. Mary's in an ambulance, unless St. Mary's won't take her. Guess she'll have to go to County Psychiatric then. Friend said she was fifteen. Does a children's hospital take 'em when they're that old? And when they're psycho? The uniforms don't know what to do, and the vampire crap's freakin' 'em out. Thought you could boogie on over there and save me a trip across town since this thing's going to land over in Social Services an hour from now. Okay?"

Molly had waddled into the kitchen and was wagging her tail happily at Bo.

"Dar, I have to take the dog out, so tell me a few things in this order. The uniforms are down
where
,
what
kid is going to St. Mary's or County Psychiatric,
when
will you stop using the term 'psycho' to describe everything from drug addiction to hairstyles you don't like, and since when do you believe in vampires?"

His laugh reminded Bo of logs steaming in a roaring fire. That sense of warmth and safety. "I don't," he said, "and what's happened is some kid who calls herself Fianna has gone catatonic at a club two blocks from your place. They thought she was dead. Manager called nine one one, uniforms were there in six minutes, but it's a mess. The club's called Goblin Market
.
It's a hangout for kids who think they're vampires
or
some
thing. Dispatcher says we haven't had any calls from there before this. Uniforms say it doesn't look like drugs, and a kid in a Robin Hood suit told them this girl lives in a foster home. It's going to be CPS's baby, and the damn fog's so thick it'll take me an hour to get down there. How about it?"

"I've never seen a club called Goblin Market in Ocean Beach," Bo told him, puzzled. "Are you sure it's here and not Mission Beach or Pacific Beach or La Jolla?" The list of San Diego's beach communities, each with its own civic personality, routinely confused newco
mers to the city. But Dar Rein
ert was no newcomer.

"Place is a restaurant called Delaney's, right on the beach. Delaney rents the space nights to this guy who runs the vampire club. You need to get out more at night."

"I'm going to," Bo agreed. "But only as a favor to you and the dog."

"Fax me your report from the office."

"Roger."

Five minutes later Bo tucked the wiggling dachshund under her left arm and opened the apartment door to a world made ominous by its lack of visual reference. Holding the stair rail, she edged her way down through swirling vapor to the street. Her corner. The terminus of both Naragansett Street and the continent of North America. The drama of the locale with its end-of-the-line geography had captured her imagination four years in the past, when she'd left St. Louis to take the job which continued to pay her rent. And which was about to draw her into a nest of vampires.

Grinning at the peach-colored globe of mist blooming around a streetlight, she acknowledged that she wouldn't have it any other way. Vampires would be interesting. They'd provide a diversion f
rom the strange dream
. The vampires would become allies in the daily battle with boredom her brain fought despite its harnessing medications. After a two-block stroll Molly tugged at her yellow leash, scampering toward the flashing red and blue lights of an SDPD patrol car parked in the public lot abutting the beach restaurant Bo knew only in its daylight persona. At night, she saw, it was something else entirely.

Over Delaney's sign a black plywood silhouette of castle turrets stretched toward the sky. Unlit, the prop looked real in the drifting fog. Bo crossed
the parking lot beside the now-
abandoned lifeguard station and felt Molly balk as they stepped onto the beach. The little dog had never liked sand. Bo picked her up and approached the eerily lit scene ahead with caution.

BOOK: The Dollmaker's Daughters (Bo Bradley Mysteries, Book Five)
10.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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