Storytelling Time: Death Takes a Detour – Chapter 1 Part II
Genre: Urban Fantasy Mystery
Book: Death Takes a Detour
These are questions Abigail Grimshaw wrestles with this night.
Read the excerpt below to find out how this Emergency Medical Technician, who is recovering from her own recent trauma, responds during an unexpected emergency situation during a rare visit to a favorite graveyard.
Genre: Urban Fantasy Mystery
(c) Shereen Vedam
Chapter 1, Part II
He had on a long dark coat, patterned waistcoat, a cravat, and a top hat! As if he’d exited a Jane Austen fair. As a child, Abbie had loved attending those re-enactments.
Up close, she put him in his late twenties. Most young men of her acquaintance did not have a child who had passed away two centuries ago.
Could the engraver have made a mistake? Meant to scribe the century as 20, not 18? Except, in all the years Abbie had frequented St. Michael’s, no one had been brought here for burial. She carefully observed him, questioning her every perception. Were the goosebumps forming on her arms simply a sign of a cool night? Or was this the meeting she was to avoid tonight?
“You should not be here,” he said as if echoing her mother’s concern.
Abbie’s father was an atheist who scoffed at any suggestion of hauntings. Since Abbie adored him, she had grabbed every opportunity to emulate his behavior. Now, her judgment of such matters lay quietly in a London cemetery beside her friends, while her curiosity prowled among St. Michael’s gravestones and prodded her with an impossible question. Could this man be a ghost?
Her heart beat violently. “Name first, please.”
He blinked twice as if startled. Then in a haughty tone said, “I am unaccustomed to young ladies introducing themselves.”
“First time for everything,” she said. Her father’s logical teachings reared, telling her to be sensible. He must be a stray from a Georgian re-enactment. Would explain his ancient clothing. Some folks took such hobbies seriously.
He released a heavy sigh and then gave a curt bow. “Robert.” He looked started as if he hadn’t meant to say that name. Then he gathered himself and said, “Matthew Robert Livingston. Earl of Ashford, at your service.”
Ashford? She stepped back. That was a lie. Her foot struck Elizabeth Livingston’s headstone, tipping Abbie off balance. He instantly steadied her. His touch was strong and reassuringly real.
“Thank you,” she said, regaining her balance, both mentally and emotionally. “Jolly good try about your title. Unfortunately for both of us, I’ve been introduced to his frugal lordship and you are nothing like him. He owns this churchyard. One of his many properties. I’ll call you Robert, shall I? I’m Abigail Grimshaw. You may call me Abbie.”
“Why are you here, Miss Grimshaw?” His fake lordship asked, releasing his hold on her and tucking his right arm behind him.
The way he spoke her name in his deep voice was both old-fashioned and super sexy, but by his straight face, she doubted he realized how alluring he came across. He was brusque and no-nonsense. While Abbie disliked lying, she heartily approved of plain speaking. She liked this stranger. Odd, since lately she’d been reserved with people. A sliver of her old cheerful self peeking out? Her psychologist would approve.
“I was searching for answers,” she said, with sincerity and warmth. “You, too?”
He nodded as if conceding a point.
“That was my only job, to keep her safe.”
“I’m sorry about your daughter.” Turning, she shone her light to either side of the little girl’s grave. The child’s mother, a Pauline Livingston, rested beside Elizabeth, but not her father. That spot had no gravestone. Strange to see a spare space in this packed graveyard.
“I should have saved her,” he whispered, moving closer, bringing a sense of melancholy and loneliness. “That was my only job, to keep her safe.” His words vibrated with deep heartache as if he had lost someone, even if not this particular child.
“It’s never easy saying goodbye,” she offered and then shuddered. She missed them so much: Lila, Alan, and Mark. Her teammates. Impulsively, she leaned sideways, arm extended to offer a hug but he hastily retreated, limping, and looked aghast.
Not a touchy person. Noted. And that walking stick – it wasn’t for show. He moved his stiff left leg awkwardly. “How did she pass away?”
“Choked,” he said, sounding a little obstructed himself.
“Oh,” she said, at a loss for words. At his continued silence, she couldn’t help herself. “Food or drowning?”
It was Abbie’s turn to take a startled step back. “How did she die then?” she asked, hoping he’d say, not by my hand.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I intend to find out.”
Good enough. She breathed a sigh of relief. “Did you call the police?”
He gave her an angry glance that suggested if he had, the conversation had gone badly. “They were useless.”
“Oh. Have you considered hiring a private detective?”
Now it was her turn to stare askance. Who on earth didn’t know that term? Her next question was interrupted by a child’s scream, followed by a cry of 999…999…999. Then all went eerily silent.
Abbie’s ears took that inopportune moment to begin ringing. Her torch dropped from nerveless fingers and, with a groan of pain, she covered her ears and shut her eyes. Blessed silence was her reward but then her head began to pound. This drumming had been her constant companion for weeks after the blast. When they stopped, she had thought she was well enough to return to work. Her mother put a spoke in that wheel by suggesting to Colin Grimshaw that his sister should take one more month for recovery. At home in Chipstead.
“They’re in trouble.” Robert’s voice sounded far away and breathless. “The children.”
She snapped open her eyes in time to spot him racing toward the church. How could he possibly know there was more than one child involved? Retrieving her torch, she, too, ran, but while he had chosen the direct route, she veered right along corridors formed by lines of gravestones. There were a hundred tripping hazards between here and the car park. How did he stay on his feet and move so fast? Why hadn’t his limp slowed him? Was it an affectation?
She rounded the corner of the church and came up to the car park. Instead of going up the church’s front steps, Abbie made a bee-line for her car. She always carried a fully stocked first-aid kit.
A quick check confirmed there were no other cars but hers in the car park. Not even Robert’s. Troubling.
Unlocking Rosie, she grabbed her mobile and dialed 999. Rushing toward the boot, she held her torch under her arm and pulled out the red bag with its distinctive white cross.
As soon as someone answered, Abbie relayed that she’d heard a child’s scream at St. Michael’s and gave the address, requesting that a unit be sent to investigate a possible child-in-danger situation.
Tucking her mobile into her jeans’ back pocket, Abbie raced up the church’s steps. The front door was ajar. It hadn’t been that way when she drove up, had it? About to stride in, her feet froze in place as a wave of dread swept through her. Every hair on her body stood to attention. Abbie began to shake, her torch light weaving like a drunken priest.
What was up with her? Yes, it was dark. Yes, she could only see a scant area of this church hall. Still, someone had screamed, possibly a child. Her job was to save lives. Her insides trembled, her skin was icy as if she stood within a locked freezer, and her feet refused to obey her order to enter a church she had once adored.
Before B-Day, Abbie would have rushed into this building to search for anyone who was hurt. Still, getting herself killed wouldn’t help her save anyone else. And something deep within Abbie was screaming as loudly as that child had that stepping into that church hall would be the end of her.
Is this how a premonition felt or was it simply Abbie’s self-preservation kicking in?
Did her mother react this way whenever her daughter was in danger? If so, she was developing great sympathy for her possibly psychic mother.
Take charge. That was her father’s voice in her head. Taking those words to heart, she hefted her torch in her dominant left hand and pictured swinging it with force.
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