Welcome to FROST HARROW Book 3. (No previous reading required.) Please support my work via Patreon at www.PaySteve.com. Enjoy!
ELEVEN – PUT TO REST
“Oh, Grant, I’m so glad I caught you,” Nancy said as Grant stepped out his front door.
“Nancy,” Grant replied, “I’m surprised to see you here.” He looked at her and frowned slightly. Though Nancy’s outfit was impeccable today, as usual, her wardrobe—a powder-blue ensemble today, almost matching her eyes—still seemed ill-suited to the time of year. Grant noted that it did, however, show off her figure quite nicely. Still, he didn’t expect to find her on his doorstep first thing in the morning.
“I know that I shouldn’t have dropped by without calling,” she explained breathlessly. “But I wanted to ask how we should handle this new development.”
“What new development?”
“The skeleton, of course. I guess I just missed the excitement. If I’d stuck around a few moments longer…. I did try to call you numerous times last night after I found out, but your phone was busy. I suppose you must have taken it off the hook.”
“Yes. I did. Nancy, I don’t think there’s anything to ‘handle’ here. We just need to stay out of the way and let the cops do their job.”
“You don’t think the corpse has anything to do with the project, then?”
Grant scoffed. “Of course not. How could it?”
Nancy shrugged and smiled. “I don’t know. It’s just, this is Frosthaven, and strange things happen here sometimes.”
Grant smiled back. “Not around me, they don’t. I’m as normal as they come.”
“For a young millionaire—and the most eligible man in the county.”
“Look, Nancy, I’ve got a meeting at the office I need to get to,” Grant said, feeling a bit embarrassed about the label she’d just laid on him.
“Do you want me to tag along?”
“No. It’s just an employee thing. Figuring out strategies while the police poke around the construction site. No publicity or advertising needed. Thanks.”
“Well, if you do need me—if you need anything—just give me a call,” said Nancy. She turned and practically skipped down the walkway, her high heels clicking on the bricks, her hips describing graceful curves as she went.
Grant shook his head. He had a feeling Nancy was trying to tell him something. Perhaps Ivy had been right about her. He pushed the thought from his mind and went to the garage to fetch his Honda.
The crowd fell silent as Grant entered the downtown offices of Winslow Construction. Kay had gathered the project workers in the company’s warehouse. Despite the free coffee and pastries, the group looked grim.
Randolph Byrd stood at the head of the crew, his arms folded over his chest. He looked like a scowling stone statue. Kay flitted around like a nervous bird, checking and double checking papers, refreshments, and anything else that needed looking after.
The rest of the crew perched themselves on pallets, boxes, and stacks of lumber, waiting for Grant to begin speaking.
“First of all,” Grant said, walking to the center of the room and looking at the face of each worker as he spoke, “I want to thank you all for coming.”
The crowd mumbled nervously.
“I just got off the phone with the police,” he continued. “They say that they should have the site checked out within a day or two—assuming they don’t find any new bodies or evidence.
“Since that part of Winslow Hills has never, to my knowledge, been a burial ground, I think it’s safe to say we should be back in business by the beginning of next week.
“So, I want all of you to take tomorrow off—at company expense—and enjoy a long weekend.”
The crowd sighed audibly. Some began to laugh and pat each other on the back.
“I will, however, be asking for one or two volunteers to look after our interests at the site,” Grant continued. “Just a couple of people to watch over things, and make sure nobody but the FHPD pokes around the place—or walks off with anything they shouldn’t.
“You know how curious people and the media can be about this kind of thing. I’d prefer to use one or two of our own folks rather than hiring private security. You know what Green Hills is about, after all, and what’s important to us.”
Randolph Byrd spoke up. “What if the cops ain’t out by Monday? What are we gonna do then?”
“I expect they will be,” said Grant. “But if they’re not, I’ll break you up into two teams. Team one will retrofit the warehouse and main offices with new, energy-efficient lighting and insulation. Team two will work with the local Habitat for Humanity chapter.”
“And we’ll be paid for this?” asked Phil Cosczinski.
Grant chuckled. “Of course. Don’t worry. I think my inheritance can handle it.
“Now, if none of you have any other questions, I’d like to wish you all a good weekend. See you here, bright and early Monday morning. Come talk to me if you’re interested in the security job.”
The crowd broke up and headed for the doors. They spoke quietly to each other in relieved tones as they went. Some paused briefly to scarf up the last of the refreshments before leaving.
Joe Rathburn, donut in hand, walked over to Grant.
“Hey, boss,” he said, “think maybe I could get that job looking after the site? Me and the wife could use the extra money.”
“Sure,” said Grant. “Think you can handle a dusk to dawn shift?”
“As long as the coffee’s hot, no problem.”
“Okay. I’ll talk to the police about it then. Hopefully, it’ll only be for this weekend, but we’ll see.”
“Just so long as I don’t have to put in my day hours if it keeps going past Sunday.”
Grant shook his head. “Don’t worry about it. If the cops don’t open the site by Monday, I’ll transfer you to night duty until the investigation’s done. Regular pay, plus the usual overtime for hours over 40. If it gets to be too much, we’ll bring someone else in to help you.”
Joe nodded. “Fine by me. Thanks, boss.” He turned and headed for the warehouse door.
Grant watched Rathburn go, hoping he’d made the right decision. Joe’d had some personal troubles, including a bout with alcoholism in the not-too-distant past. Grant knew he was trying hard to keep himself clean, and he seemed to be doing a good job.
Every man deserves a chance, thought Grant. He made a mental note to drive out one night and look in on Joe, maybe bring some coffee, just in case.
Kay Bailey caught her boss by the elbow as Grant headed through the door connecting the warehouse with the main offices.
“Mr. Winslow, what do you want me to do?” she asked, looking around nervously.
Grant smiled at her. “If you have work you need to do, stick around. Otherwise, go home. Enjoy yourself.”
She looked up at him, hazel eyes watery, her bottom lip trembling slightly. “I guess I have some paperwork I could catch up on…”
“Kay, is something wrong?”
She shook her head. “No. Nothing. I just like to keep busy, that’s all.”
“No crime in that,” he replied. “Do whatever you feel needs doing and then head out. I trust you. I’ll see you bright and early Monday morning.”
“Grant, Kay. Grant. I may be your boss, but I’m too young to be Mr. Winslow yet.”
She blushed and turned her head down. “I know. You’ve told me before. It just seems so odd after working for your uncle. Anyway, Grant… Thank you.”
“For the holiday? Don’t mention it.”
“No,” said Kay, “not for the day off. For not being like your uncle.”
Grant smiled. “My pleasure.”
“I tell you, this is bullshit,” Randolph Byrd griped as he walked down the steps of Winslow Construction with a handful of his co-workers. “I didn’t hire on to this project to be a remodeler or a choir boy. I’m a construction foreman, dammit!”
“Jesus, Byrd,” said Bobbi. “You’d think no one had ever given you a day off before.”
“We should quit this place. Start our own business,” Byrd said.
“Your brother decide to give you that loan after all?” asked Farrah.
Byrd scowled in reply.
“Guess not,” said Vince.
“Look,” said Phil, “maybe a lot of us ain’t used to the way Grant’s running this place, but me, I got no problem with a paid vacation.”
“And if we end up doing charity work, so what?” asked Rob Keiser. “If that’s the way Winslow wants to spend his money…. We get paid good enough either way, so what’s your beef?”
“It ain’t work for real men,” opined Byrd.
Bobbi snorted. “And I suppose you’re the judge of what is.”
“Hope there’s a place for Bobbi and me in this macho world of yours, Randy,” Farrah said.
Her unexpected sarcasm caught Byrd off guard. He’d always kind of liked Farrah. He didn’t want to alienate her or her brother. He might need them on his side. “Well, you anyway,” he said to her.
“Fuck you, Byrd,” said Bobbi, climbing into her aging Ford and slamming the door.
Tyrone looked at Byrd as Bobbi squealed her tires and drove away. “You sure know how to make friends,” he noted.
Byrd sneered. “Like I need her for a friend.”
Four hours later, Grant pulled his Honda up to the gate of the old Frosthaven cemetery and turned inside. Finding Ivy’s blue Saturn parked near the entrance, he pulled up behind her, switched off the vehicle’s converted electric motor, and hopped out.
“We have to stop meeting like this,” he said, smiling.
“We can,” Ivy said a bit grimly. “Uncle Dan knows.”
Grant’s face fell. “Oh. How’d he find out? I gather you didn’t tell him.”
“He saw us together on the news report about the skeleton at Green Hills.”
“Is that a problem?”
She hugged him and smiled just a little. “No. Not really. He was going to find out sooner or later anyway. I kinda wish I’d told him myself, but I guess this just means we don’t have to sneak around anymore.”
“Great. I never was very good at sneaking anyway. How’s he taking it?”
“About as well as you’d expect.”
“So, how much plaster did he knock off the ceiling?”
Ivy giggled. “Not enough to call for renovations.”
He put his arm around her hip and the two of them began to meander through the tombstones.
“Good. I wouldn’t want to cause the Fall of the House of Frost. Think he’ll call Winslow Construction to repair the damage?”
“I wouldn’t count on it.”
“Maybe he’ll get used to me in time.”
“He better. I don’t plan on giving you up.”
Grant smiled and kissed the top of her head. “Well, since we’re here anyway, where to first, your parents or mine?”
“Mine, I think, we visited yours first last time.”
They picked a route and set off across the cemetery, heading for the plot where Ivy’s parents were buried.
“Ivy,” Grant said as they walked, “do you think it’s odd for two people to meet in a cemetery?”
“You mean us? It’ll be odd if we keep doing it now that we’ve been ‘outed.’ But I think it’s good for friends to share a sense of history and family together.”
“Our families have a history, that’s for sure,” he said, smiling.
As they walked together, hand in hand, they noticed an unusual amount of activity in the cemetery. People bustled to and fro, far more folks than one usually saw in the ancient graveyard on a weekday. A number of workers tidied up graves, while others seemed to be righting headstones. At the bottom of a hill, a tiny group of mourners had gathered for a funeral as well.
Ivy and Grant kept a discreet distance from the activities.
“Lot of traffic today,” said Ivy.
Grant nodded. “Mmm. Wonder what’s going on?”
“Hey,” said Ivy, pointing, “there’s McCoy. Let’s ask.”
They found the cemetery’s ancient caretaker bent over a flower bed, pulling out the brown remains of last year’s blooms. He put down his spade as they approached.
McCoy was short and gnarled, like many of the trees that lined the old graveyard’s borders. He wore a black suit, worn thin by time, and a tweed driving cap. Little remained of the white hair on his head, and most of his teeth had gone as well. Dark fingerless gloves protected his knotty hands from the worst of the elements. Dirt from his long years at work seemed to have been permanently embedded under his nails.
“Mr. McCoy,” said Grant, “there’s a lot going on here today. What’s up?”
McCoy peered at Grant from behind thick glasses. “Ah, young Winslow and Miss Frost. A bit early this week, aren’t you?”
Ivy smiled at the old man. “We both had some free time—and it’s usually so peaceful out here.”
“Not peaceful today,” said McCoy. “Cursed vandals. Had to hire some new men in just to clean up the mess.”
Grant cocked his head. “Vandals? What have they done?”
“Stirred up some graves and knocked over some headstones, that’s what. Been a rash of it lately. Never seen the like before in all the years I’ve worked here. Even messed with the grave of that preacher we put in the ground last week. These young people today! No respect, if you ask me. The police should arrest the lot of them.”
“They know who’s doing it, then?” said Ivy.
“Nope. Nobody’s seen ’em, not so you could recognize anyway. I seen somebody—or some bodies—lurking around at night the last few weeks, though. Never could get a good look at ’em.” His watery eyes blinked behind his glasses. He pulled the spectacles off and rubbed his eyes with a dirty fist.
“Do you feel safe out here all alone at night?” asked Ivy.
“Never met a child I was afeared of. They’re the ones who ought to be afraid if they had any sense. The dead don’t like to be stirred up. This goes on, there’ll be hell to pay—I guarantee it.”
“Did they dig up anyone?” asked Grant. “I thought I saw a funeral when I came in. There weren’t many mourners, though. Was it a re-burial?”
“Not exactly. That’s the Kaber grave. Got more messed up than most. The lady’s pastor and some social worker or something came out to see things settled. Didn’t have many more folk at her funeral, though. Miss Tammy wasn’t much liked, I’m afraid. Her husband passed a couple of months ago, too. I expect you’ll remember it.”
Grant nodded, as did Ivy. Their lives had been pretty chaotic at the time, but the spectacular double murder/suicide was hard to forget. Grant’s friend on the police force, Rick Christopher, had worked the case.
“Anyway, she did herself in a couple of days back, poor thing. Now they’ve laid her beside her philandering husband. I hope he brings her more comfort in death than he did in life. Then some thug comes along and stirs thing up for the poor soul. Sometimes it’s like there ain’t no justice in the world.”
“No problems with either of our families’ plots, I hope,” said Grant.
McCoy shook his head. “It’d take a lot more foolishness than most youngsters got in ’em than to mess with a Winslow or Frost burial plot. And it’d take a tank to break into that fortress your uncle calls a tomb, Master Winslow—or the Frost mausoleum, for that matter. I expect your kin are safe from everything but worms.”
Ivy suppressed a shudder. “Well, thank you, Mr. McCoy. We’ll keep our eyes out for prowlers for you.”
McCoy tipped his battered hat to her. “Thank you, Miss Ivy. I’d be obliged if you did.” He tapped the lens of his thick glasses with one bony finger. “These eyes ain’t as keen as they used to be.” He picked up his spade and trudged off toward his office, a small stone building atop a nearby rise.
“What do you make of that?” Grant asked as he and Ivy resumed walking.
“Who knows?” she said, shrugging. “He told me once a couple of years back that he’d seen ghosts flitting through the graveyard in the moonlight.
“I guess someone must have upset the graves, but whether he actually saw anyone… Well, your guess is as good as mine.”
Grant nodded. They stopped briefly at the graves of Ivy’s parents, each laying a stone on her mother’s plain plaque and her father’s upright marker, as was Jewish tradition.
Then they went to visit Grant’s folks, near the cemetery’s southeastern edge. Steven and Karen Winslow had been laid to rest side by side beneath a single gravestone. It bore the legend, “Beloved Husband & Wife.”
Grant knelt, removed a white carnation from inside his jacket, and laid it on the grave.
“You know,” he said quietly, “sometimes I think I should get them a new marker. The words on it don’t seem adequate, really. My uncle never did have much imagination.”
Ivy nodded. “He didn’t even put on any reference to you.”
Grant looked up at her and sighed. “Yeah. ‘Beloved Parents’ would have been a nice touch—even if we didn’t part on the best of terms.
“You know,” he continued, “that’s the only thing I really regret about leaving home, not getting to make up with my folks. Not getting to say, ‘I love you, no matter what we went through.’”
Ivy put her hand on his shoulder. “I’m sure they know,” she said.
He looked up at the sky. “I hope so. Somehow, though, I don’t think Uncle Abner filled their days with undying praise for his prodigal nephew.”
“Your uncle always gave me the creeps,” said Ivy. “I didn’t see him much after I moved back here—because of the thing between our families and all. But, when I did, I always got the feeling he was leering at me.”
Grant shook his head. “Uncle always did have an eye for pretty girls. I guess that extended even to his blood enemies.”
“Too bad he didn’t go before your parents. Then maybe….”
“I’m just glad he’s gone now,” said Grant. “There’s enough avarice and hate in the world without Abner Winslow adding his considerable share.”
Ivy started to nod, but then her eyes grew wide with fright. She stopped mid-motion and her mouth dropped open.
“What is it?” Grant started to say, but as he turned, he saw what had frozen her.
Dashing toward them, from out of the woods, came the hoary figure of a man.
His grey hair was long and matted, his black clothes dirty and unpressed. Madness shown from his bright blue eyes. He shrieked as he ran at them.
“Doom! Doom! Your house has brought evil upon itself. You have sown the wind and now you will reap the whirlwind!”
He stopped about a dozen yards away, leaned on one of the old tombstones, and continued yelling.
“The sins of the father shall be visited upon the sons! The dead shall rise up and smite the living! I have seen it! I know! Only the righteous shall escape!”
Grant could see now that the man wore the white “dog collar” of a priest or minister. Ivy stepped close to Grant and put her arm around him.
“A house cannot stand if its foundation is built upon sand!” the mad preacher continued. “Fornicators! Adulterers! All shall reap their rewards in Hell!”
It suddenly occurred to Grant that this man could be responsible for desecrating the cemetery’s graves. Grant’s eyes narrowed and he took a step forward, not really certain of what he intended to do.
But before Grant could go any further, the madman turned and fled back into the forest from whence he’d come.
“I’ve warned you!” he called back over his shoulder. “I’ve warned you! The devil is on your heels! Beware!” Then he vanished into the tangled thicket.
Ivy shot a puzzled look at Grant and asked: “Now what the hell do you suppose that was about?”