the Arctic. We are fascinated by their tales. And we embrace our famous-for-fifteen-minutes serial killer cannibals with even greater curiosity.”

Another deep breath, exhaled slowly.

“I can't explain it, don't condone it. Prentice made everything sound exotic. We were naughty boys sharing an interest in a wicked topic.”

“Fay ce que voudras.”

I recited the words carved above the entrance to the basement tunnel. During my convalescence, I'd learned that the Rabelais quote in sixteenth-century French also graced the archway and fireplaces at Medmenham Abbey.

“‘Do what you like,’” Midkiff translated, then laughed mirthlessly. “It's ironic. The Hell Fires used the quote to sanction their licentious indulgence, but Rabelais actually credits the words to Saint Augustine. “‘Love God and do what you like. For if with the spirit of wisdom a man loves God, then, always striving to fulfil the divine will, what he wishes should be the right thing.’”

“When did Prentice Dashwood die?”

“Nineteen sixty-nine.”

“Was someone killed?” We had found only eight victims.

“There could be no replacement for Prentice. Following his death no one was elevated to the inner circle. The number dropped to six and remained there.”

“Why wasn't Dashwood on the fax you sent me?”

“I wrote down what I could recollect. The list was far from complete. I know almost nothing about those who joined after I left. As for Prentice, I just couldn't—” He glanced away. “It was so long ago.”

For a long moment, neither of us spoke.

“You really didn't know what was going on?”

“I put it together after Mary Francis Rafferty died in 1972. That's when I withdrew.”

“But said nothing.”

“No. I give no excuse.”

“Why did you tip Sheriff Crowe about Ralph Stover?”

“Stover joined the club after I dropped out. That's why he moved to Swain County. I've always known he was unstable.”

I remembered my most recent question.

“Was it Stover who tried to run me down in Cherokee?”

“I heard it was a black Volvo. Stover has a black Volvo. That incident convinced me that he really was dangerous.”

I gestured at the boxes.

“You're digging here, aren't you, Simon?”


“Without permission from Raleigh.”

“The site is crucial to the lithic assemblage sequence I'm constructing.”

“That's why you lied to me about working for the Department of Cultural Resources.”

He nodded.

I set down my cup and stood.

“I'm sorry things haven't turned out as you'd hoped.” I was sorry, but couldn't forgive what he had known and not reported.

“When the book is published people will recognize the value of my work.”

Outside, the day was still clear and cool, with no haze in the valleys or along the ridges.

Twelve-thirty. I had to hurry.

THE TURNOUT FOR EDNA FARRELL'S FUNERAL WAS LARGER THAN I expected, given that she'd been dead more than half a century. In addition to members of her family, much of Bryson City, and many from the police and sheriff 's departments had gathered to lay the old woman to rest. Lucy Crowe came, and so did Byron McMahon.

Stories of the Hell Fire Club now eclipsed accounts of the Air TransSouth crash, and reporters were there from across the Southeast. Eight seniors butchered and buried in the basement of a mountain lodge, the lieutenant governor discredited, and more than a dozen prominent citizens jailed. The media were calling them the Cannibal Murders, and I was forgotten like last year's sex scandal. While I was sorry that I could not shield Mrs. Veckhoff and her daughter from the publicity and public humiliation, I was relieved to be out of the spotlight.

I hung back during the graveside service, thinking of the many exits our departing lives can take. Edna Farrell didn't die in her bed but departed through a much more melancholy door. So did Tucker Adams, at rest under the weathered plaque at my feet. I felt great sadness for these people, so long dead. But I felt comfort in the knowledge that I had helped bring their bodies to this hill. And satisfaction that the killings were at last at an

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