wind looked bored, simply kicking them across the frozen roads. Everything from the lawns to the houses, to the faces of those that hurried along the sidewalk and the clouds swelling overhead, was the same bland shade of gray.

He had seen cases like this one a hundred times before. Sure, the details were always different—for the most part anyway—but this one had something that made it relatively unique.

He had turned off of the highway and onto the faded, pink-paved road. Heading back into the foothills, the road narrowed with every passing mile until it was barely wide enough for one car, let alone a second traveling from the opposite direction. Dense pine groves packed in against the road, broken intermittently by the small meadows that drew the deer from the forests for their luscious grasses and small bushes loaded with berries. What had once been a straightaway, had begun to wind and meander through the gently swelling hills, the snow finally beginning to stick to the road.

The encroaching foliage to either side of the road loomed overhead, blocking out much of the daylight that filtered through the increasingly dark clouds, shielding the car from the vicious wind that he could hear howling through the hills all around him. But still the snow fell through; the flakes increasing in size to the point that they almost looked like the corn flakes they used for movie snow in the days of black and white cinema.

It was a tranquil area, far from the scorched plains to the east from which new houses and apartment complexes sprung as if from the dirt itself. There was a sound there that reminded him of his days back home in the mountains. It was the sound of silence: the audible humming of the wind through the needles of the evergreens, the rustling of the thatch, and the tips of long blades of grass bouncing off one another. All of it muffled by the layer of fresh powder that gently piled atop it.

The road opened up into a large field, the wind freeing itself from the trees and buffeting the right side of the car, threatening to press it from the road into the white field. The heavy flakes hammered the side of his car, sounding like gravel in a windstorm. Steering into the wind, Harry slowed a little as he passed a small white house in the field to his left. Large, barren trees loomed in a ring around it, their branches seeming to grow straight into the shingled roof atop it. Bright red curtains were drawn tightly in each of the windows, and the wood beneath the chipping paint was beginning to show through. There was a small wooden placard in front of the house on the road.

“The Cavenaugh house,” he could remember saying aloud as he passed the small dwelling in the middle of the pasture before heading back into the mass of trees once again.

The road grew steep, and traction became much more treacherous. He wound in a tight spiral higher into the hills, the woods to either side growing darker and darker as the branches became so thick that no snow settled atop the festering, detritus-covered dirt beneath.

Ahead, just above the tops of the snow-dusted canopy, he could see the tall brick towers of the convent. Not only was the building old, but it looked old, like the castles of Europe. As he drew closer he could see that it appeared to be stained, like someone had poured a large cup of coffee over the dark rust colored bricks, allowing it to dry to a faded dark brown. The ambitious undergrowth had crept up the sides of the castle, crawling onto windowsills before covering the lower story glass and stopping about halfway up to the second story windows. Small round windows adorned the third floor just below the gabled roof, peering from behind the brick like small, darkened eyes.

He bent with the road to the right, opening into a dirt parking lot before disappearing back into the woods and heading into the mountains. There had been one other car in the lot, and it had been so buried beneath the snow that he had no clue as to the make and model. If it had moved any time in recent memory there should have been ridges in the snow-covered lot, but there were none. Killing the engine, he stuffed the envelope beneath his left arm and zipped his blue down jacket all the way up to his chin, covering his brown suit and red tie. Flipping up the collar, he threw open the door and stepped out into the snow.

The powder covered the tops of his shoes, the frozen slush beneath crunching under his footfalls. Quickening his pace, he headed for the front door, the stinging wind ripping at his already bright red nose and cheeks, his breath dampening the raised collar of his jacket and the zipper.

A row of evergreen hedges rimmed the front courtyard in a half circle, yellowing patches showing through in parts where the foliage had either been sheared too close or had just plain died. Within, large red slabs of rock were lined side by side; small, sharp weeds protruding through the gaps between them. The entire area was shielded beneath a black iron canopy that allowed the sun through in the summer, but was able to support the weight of the snow in the winter with its grated surface. Rose bushes lined the walk; the buds having long since vanished for the season. A long wooden bench ran the course of the right side of the area, all the way up to the large, solid oak double doors.

Harry grabbed the iron doorknocker and let it drop to the mahogany. He could hear it echo hollowly inside as he scanned the courtyard for any signs of life, but there wasn’t even a single window within his line of vision. He could hear the loud thud of the deadbolt being drawn back against the door, and the knob turning as the door opened inward.

A pleasant woman wearing the black and white habit of a nun stood in the entranceway, a puzzled look on her face. She forced a smile.

“May I help you?” she asked, her brow furrowing.

“Um, yes,” Harry said, unzipping his jacket and pulling out the manila envelope. “My name is Harry Denton. I’m with the state. As is our customary procedure, I’ve been sent out here to check on the group of children that were recently taken into your care.”

“Ah, yes,” she said, looking only slightly relieved. “Please come in.”

“Thank you,” Harry said, tapping the snow from his shoes on the side of the building before stepping inside.

The foyer was enormous. The ceiling had to have been nearly twenty feet high and arched right in the middle. Highly polished granite slabs formed the flooring, fit together intricately like pieces of a puzzle. Each footstep resonated through the castle as though he had slammed a door. A long hallway stretched to his right, tall wooden doors surrounded by hand crafted woodwork lining it as far as he could see. Portraits covered the stucco walls; gold-framed depictions of various visions of Christ. Chandeliers crafted to look like large candelabras hung from the ceiling every twenty feet, the lone bulb set in the middle casting a dim yellow light in a small circle on the floor beneath the low hanging lamps. The faint light and intriguing shadows gave the whole place a medieval look, as though he had just stepped back in time into sixteenth-century England.

“I’m Sister Catherine,” the woman said, offering a firm handshake, the tendons in her wrists bulging as she squeezed. “If you will please follow me, I will happily take you to the children.”

“Thank you.”

“I think you’ll find that all of their needs are being met satisfactorily,” the Sister stated dryly, as she led him down the hall. The look on her face betrayed her discomfort with the situation.

“I’m sure. It’s not that the state has any doubts as to the standards of care that you are able to provide. We’re just trying to attempt to make sure that no children, here or otherwise, fall through the cracks.”

She glanced back over her shoulder and nodded sullenly.

“This is quite a piece of real estate you have here,” Harry said, trying to fill the stagnant silence lingering in the heavy air.

“It was originally built in the late nineteenth century by William Ashton Cavenaugh, who grew up as a boy in the small house you passed on your way up here. He made his fortune in coal mined from these very hills. After his daughter fell ill from tuberculosis, he built this castle so that she could be closer to her treatment than the house they had built in downtown Colorado Springs.”

“Her treatment?”

“Of course, as I’m sure you know, doctor…”

“How did you know I was a doctor?” he interrupted.

“Who else would be qualified to inspect the well being of the children?” she said, stopping at the end of the long hall and smiling momentarily, before ascending the polished wooden stairs to the second level.

“You were saying?” Harry offered apologetically.

“Their treatment? In those days, the natural springs of this area were thought to have healing powers. People traveled from all parts of the world for the opportunity to soak their dying loved ones in the springs.”

“So where are the springs around here? I’m familiar with the ones down in Manitou, but I didn’t know that

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