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Brian Freeman

The Burying Place

Jonathan Stride -5

'O, are you come, Iago? you have done well, That men must lay their murders on your neck.'

Othello

Prologue

Kasey Kennedy drove through a rain of dead leaves.

With each gust of wind, paper bullets swarmed out of the fog and slapped against her windshield, rat-a-tat- tat. Kasey flinched as they struck. She clutched the steering wheel and peered into the mist, but her headlights illuminated barely twenty feet of wet pavement. When she clicked on her high beams, it was worse, like shining a light into a mirror and having it bounce back in her eyes. The world was nothing hut a sheet of gauze wrapped around her car. No street lights. No signs. No yellow lines on the highway. Nothing to guide her. She was blind and lost.

'Where the hell are we?' Kasey worried aloud.

She knew she wasn't where she needed to be. Highway 43 zigzagged left and right as it cut through the farmlands north of Duluth, Minnesota, and somewhere she had made a wrong turn. Then, trying to correct her error, she had turned several times more. All she had accomplished was to lose her sense of direction entirely. She couldn't he far from home, but a mile felt like a hundred miles in the fog.

Her eyes flicked to the rear-view mirror, where she caught a glimpse of her own nervous face. Her shock-red curls draped limply on her forehead, moistened by sweat and rain. Her blue eyes were wide and glassy with tears. Her freckled cheekbones were flushed, the way a little girl gets when she's guilty and afraid. She tried to muster a smile, hut she couldn't pretend. She had made a terrible mistake. She had wandered off the face of the earth and had no idea how to get back.

Her cell phone was at home. She didn't own a GPS navigator. The only thing that made her feel better was the gun on the seat beside her.

These days, women who lived in the north farmlands slept, ate, and took showers with a gun nearby.

Kasey carried a gun every day, but she'd never had to unholster it on the job. She worked for the Duluth Police, but she wasn't the kind of cop who dealt with drug dealers or armed robberies. Jonathan Stride and Maggie Bei, who led the Detective Bureau that handled the city's major crimes, probably didn't know who she was. She busted kids for breaking windows; she cooled down the hotheads at the bars in Lakeside; she checked out reports of cars parked in the woods and usually found teenagers making out. That was her beat.

Cops weren't supposed to get scared, but Kasey was terrified. It had been days since she'd had a good night's sleep. She was running on adrenaline and caffeine. Her shredded nerves had been on edge throughout the two-hour drive, and now her anxiety spiraled out of control, leaving her dizzy with confusion and panic.

She glanced in the mirror again. 'What do I do?'

The spitting drizzle outside grew heavier. Some of the fallen leaves began to stick to the glass, where they resembled disembodied handprints with outstretched fingers trying to get inside. The swirling threads of fog played tricks on her mind. She saw deer leaping across the narrow road and silhouettes of young children frozen in front of her. The hallucinations became so real that when she saw a car dead ahead, she swung the wheel hard to veer out of the way and pushed the accelerator to give her old Cutlass a burst of speed.

It was another mistake.

A mistake that would change everything.

The asphalt road vanished under her tires and became dirt. Tree branches grasped out from the shoulders and scraped her doors. The car lurched into uneven ruts, making the chassis shiver. She wasn't on a highway anymore, but on a trail leading deeper into the forest.

Kasey stopped. Rain leaked on to the windshield. She put her bony fingers over the lower half of her face, and her breathing was ragged and loud. She closed her eyes and prayed that the fog would lift, but when she opened them again, she was still marooned in a cloud.

She knew she couldn't stay here. She had to figure out where she was and find her way home.

Kasey switched off the engine, shut down her headlights, and opened the driver's door. The bitter November air blew into the car with a thick cent of pine. She climbed out and eased the door shut behind her with it quiet click. Her boots landed in mud. Evergreen trees swayed like drunks above her. She pushed past the trees into the dark, and as her ryes adjusted to the night, she found herself on the edge of the stripped ruins of a corn field that hadn't been plowed in years. Short, knobby stalks pushed out of the dirt. It looked like a desolate moonscape.

People told her how much they loved fall in Minnesota, but Kasey hated it. She knew that the long death of winter was coming. The trees were already shrugging off their leaves and becoming frozen skeletons. This would be Kasey's fourth winter in Minnesota, and she was glad that they would be gone before it was over. She couldn't wait to escape with her husband and child to the desert of Nevada, baking in the heat, closing her eyes against the bright sunshine.

But that was far away. This was here and now.

Kasey realized what she'd done. In her panic, she had turned off the highway into the unpaved driveway of a Duluth farm home. She could make out its peaked roof and dark windows, and when she wrinkled her nose, she smelled a remnant of fireplace smoke. Beside the house, she saw the foundation of a steel tower, and as the fog ebbed and flowed, she glimpsed the soaring triple wings of a windmill overhead, turning with slow grace. She retraced her steps quickly. She couldn't afford to stray far from her car.

Kasey clambered inside her Cutlass and cursed when her key ring slipped through her fingers. She banged her head on the steering wheel as she hunched over to hunt for the keys on the floor of the car.

Then something thumped. Pounded. Right next to her.

Kasey reared up and screamed. Like a garish painted scarecrow, a woman's face popped into her line of sight. They were no more than six inches apart. Kasey saw frenzied green eyes, raven hair pasted in wet, messy strands across her face, and two hands pressed in supplication against the window. The woman's slim neck was ringed with what looked like a red necklace, but was really a deep and violent abrasion, dripping pearls of blood.

'Help me, oh Lord, help me!'

Kasey froze. The woman hammered her fists on the glass. She wore a flannel nightgown, one sleeve ripped off, jagged tears in the chest flapping over her exposed left breast.

'Let me in! Please!'

The woman didn't wait. She flung open the rear door of the Cutlass and piled into the back seat. Kasey smelled her fear and the sick odor of urine and feces where she had soiled herself. The woman dug her nails into Kasey's shoulders and shook her like a doll.

'Drive! Go! Don't you understand? He's coming for us.'

Kasey grabbed her gun off the passenger seat and wheeled around to confront her. 'What's going on? Who are you?'

The woman shrank into the back seat and cowered with her hands in front of her face. 'Oh, my God, you're with him? You're part of this? Please, please, for God's sake. I'm a mother too. Don't kill me, just let me go.' She kicked open the rear door to escape, and Kasey leaped halfway over the seat and grabbed her arm to stop her.

'I'm a cop!' Kasey shouted. 'Stay right there.'

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