Home > Lake Silence (The Others #6)

Lake Silence (The Others #6)
Author: Anne Bishop

CHAPTER 1

Vicki

Moonsday, Juin 12

I wouldn’t have known about the dead man if I hadn’t walked into the kitchen at the exact moment my one and only lodger was about to warm up an eyeball in the wave-cooker.

Until that moment, I hadn’t known I had a scream that could crack glass; I hadn’t wondered if an eyeball would puff up and explode in a wave-cooker like those animal-shaped marshmallows; and I hadn’t realized my lodger—Agatha “call me Aggie” Crowe—was that kind of Crow.

She seemed so normal, if you overlooked her timely payment of the rent each week and the fact that she had taken up residence in The Jumble three weeks ago and seemed to be enjoying herself.

“You can’t eat that!” I tried to sound firm, like a responsible human and business owner should. In truth, I sounded a wee bit hysterical, and I wished with all sincerity that I had walked into the kitchen five minutes later.

Then again, since the kitchen was one of the common rooms in the main building, I could have walked in when Aggie was halfway through her lunch, which I’m sure would have been more distressing for at least one of us.

“Why can’t I eat it?” She looked at the eyeball rolling around in the small bowl that was now sitting on the counter. “Nobody else wants it. It’s starting to get squooshy. And the dead man doesn’t need it.”

The words got me past the physical evidence. “What dead man?”

“The one who doesn’t need the eyeball.” Little black feathers suddenly sprouted at her hairline, confirming the nature of my lodger. I was going to have to rework the rental agreement so that there was a space for unimportant bits of information like . . . oh, say . . . species.

“Where did you find the dead man?”

“On the farm track that runs alongside Crabby Man’s place.”

I should have pointed out that Mr. Milford wasn’t usually crabby, but he did get exercised when someone took one bite out of all the ripe strawberries or pinched fruit from his trees, since he and his wife needed the income they made from selling fresh fruit and homemade preserves. But there were other priorities.

“Show me.” I held up a hand. “Wait. And don’t nibble.”

“But . . .”

“You can’t eat it. It could be evidence.”

Her dark eyes filled with reproach. “If I hadn’t wanted to warm it up because it was squooshy, you wouldn’t have known about the dead man and I could have had eyeball for lunch.”

I couldn’t refute that statement, so I backed up until I reached the wall phone in the kitchen, and then I dialed the emergency number for the Bristol Police Station. Bristol was a human town located at the southern end of Crystal Lake. Sproing, the only human village near Lake Silence, was currently without its own police force, so Bristol had drawn the short straw and had to respond to any of our calls for help.

“Bristol Police Station. What is your emergency?”

“This is Victoria DeVine at The Jumble in Sproing. One of my lodgers found a dead man.” Okay, Aggie was my only lodger, but there was no reason to advertise that. Right?

I started counting and reached seven before the dispatcher said, “Did you see the body?”

“No, but my lodger did.”

“How do you know the body is dead?”

“I’m looking at an eyeball that used to be attached to the body.”

This time I counted to eight.

“We’ll send someone.” The words were slow in coming, but at least they were said and would be officially noted somewhere.

I didn’t blame the dispatcher for hesitating to send someone to Sproing—after all, the police officer we’d had before last year’s Great Predation had been eaten, and a couple of officers who had answered calls since then had provoked something in the wild country and never made it back to their station—but I resented that I could feel her blaming me for whatever the police were going to find. On the other hand, I did withhold one tiny bit of information.

Just wait until the responding officer realized he had to interview one of the terra indigene.

* * *

• • •

A bit of useful information. My name is Victoria “call me Vicki” DeVine. I used to be Mrs. Yorick Dane, but giving up my married name was one of the conditions of my receiving valuable property—aka The Jumble—as part of the divorce settlement. Apparently the second official Mrs. Dane didn’t like the idea that someone else had had the name first. Fortunately, she didn’t seem as possessive about Yorick’s Vigorous Appendage. I could have told her that a couple dozen other women had had it before she took possession. But it wasn’t likely that she would keep solo possession of the appendage for long, so let her figure things out the hard way like I did. Of course, if she had been one of those indulgences, then she already knew the signs and might be able to nip them in the bud. Maybe that’s why, before I had moved away from Hubb NE, I had seen her in the garden center buying long-handled loppers—the kind used to prune branches—when I’d heard her loudly proclaiming the previous week that gardening was a hobby for women who couldn’t do anything else and so not of interest to her.

Anyway, I was married to Yorick Dane, an entrepreneur—aka wheeler-dealer—although I never understood what sort of deals were wheeled. He said I didn’t have a head for business. I finally said I didn’t have a head for cheating of any kind. Suddenly, after a decade of marriage, he said I wasn’t living up to the promises that were implied by my name, meaning I wasn’t hot or in any way sexy. The fact that it took him a decade to realize I was five foot four and plump instead of a five-foot-ten pole dancer with big tits was confusing. But once he made that discovery, he decided that he needed someone who would stand by him, and that would not be me.

So that’s how I came to be the owner of The Jumble. According to the story that was muttered by Yorick’s family once they’d had a little too much to drink, The Jumble was conceived and built by Yorick’s great-great-aunt, Honoria Dane, a woman who was equal parts visionary and eccentric. She and her brothers were given equal shares in their father’s fortune, the shares being dispersed upon the child’s twenty-fifth birthday. Great-great (I never heard anyone refer to her by her given name) had sunk her part of the fortune into building The Jumble. It was supposed to be a self-sufficient and self-supporting community. It began its genteel decline almost from the moment Great-great finished building it.

The Jumble consisted of the sprawling two-story main house, which had a small but fully equipped apartment for the owner as well as two suites with private bathrooms for guests. It also had a big communal kitchen, a dining room, a library, a social room, an office for the owner, several empty rooms whose use I couldn’t identify, and a large shower area off the kitchen that could accommodate up to four people at a time as long as they weren’t shy. Besides the main house, there were four sets of cabins—three connected cabins to a set—within easy walking distance from the main building. Each cabin was similar to an efficiency apartment with an open floor plan—no walls or doors for anything but the bathroom. Well, the three lakeside cabins that were closest to the main building had en suite bathrooms. The other nine cabins were a bit more primitive and an ongoing project.

There were acres of land that could be used by the . . . beings . . . in residence—plenty of room for growing food or raising a goat or two for whatever reason one keeps goats. There was even a chicken coop, sans chickens. It was probably sans a few other things, but if the chickens couldn’t pay rent, I couldn’t afford to update their lodgings. But The Jumble had one thing the village of Sproing did not—it included easy access to Lake Silence, which was an afterthought body of water compared to the other Finger Lakes. There was a public beach at the southern end of the lake, but I thought The Jumble’s private beach and dock were a lot nicer.

Whoever negotiated the original lease agreement for the use of the land knew every devious loophole a person might try to use to rezone/repurpose/re-something the land. But the terms were brutally simple: it was The Jumble, with its set number of buildings of a particular size and so many acres of cultivated land (being a modest percentage of the overall acreage), or nothing. The Dane inheritance was actually the buildings and their contents. The land could be used only within the terms of the lease.

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