“Seems like the grave robbers around here are all misogynists.”

After seeing Dylan to bed, Kane joined Arika in the kitchen.

“It’s like he’s been hypnotised, like you said. He’s imagining all kinds of things.”

Arika was typing into her tablet. Her jacket was hanging off the back of her chair and she’d helped herself to another of his beers. “I’m seeing if there’s anything that resembles what your brother described.”

“I’ve seen those TV shows where the people act like idiots. I get hypnotism. But switching bodies? That smacks of paranoid delusions.”

“Don’t jump to conclusions, Kane. We need evidence.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s having a nervous breakdown. He’s been through so much since … since Oliver died and he was packed off to Briarwood. Our mother was clinically depressed; old Bert got dementia; Dylan was out there feeling responsible for Oliver, feeling abandoned … blamed. Then Bert. Christ.” He sat down. “Or drugs. It could be drugs.”

Arika moved her face closer to the screen. “There’s plenty of stories here about spells that can switch bodies and minds. This one’s from the late nineties. But no one’s ever proven it can be done. No credible witnesses. Hmm, demon possession – erk, sounds like a scene from The Exorcist. There’s some experiments about out-of-body experiences; but that’s more illusion. It’s not about living in someone else’s body, walking around in it … driving a car in it …”

Kane was only half listening. His mind had fixed on the positive, on the fact that Dylan had escaped the clutches of the psychopathic Wilfred Waite. “At least he’s home,” he said. “And he’s seen that – that nutcase for what he is. He won’t be heading back to the farm in a hurry.”

Arika breathed in sharply. With a huff, she reached for her beer. “Nah, that doesn’t make sense. Another fairy tale.”

“We need to get out of here … now.”

“Multiple personality disorder …”

“If I had my way,” Kane said, “I’d go out there and burn the place down.”

That one caught Arika’s attention. She stopped with the beer bottle pressed against her mouth.

He smiled sheepishly. “Forget that last bit.”

Upstairs, Dylan was dozing. He was aware of the room around him, the dead insects in the ceiling light, the smell of his dirty socks, a crow squawking in the tree outside his window, his brother downstairs with a woman he’d never seen before – but he was also dreaming his mother was in the room across the hall. He could see her clear as day, folding up washing. Her routine was to take the basket of clean clothes upstairs to her bedroom, fold each item, place them in stacks on the bed (shirts on shirts, jeans on jeans, socks in piles according to their colour) then make the rounds of the rooms to deposit each stack in its appointed place. Dylan found a warm comfort in the dream. Even though he knew it wasn’t real, he tried to press that knowledge deep down into the mattress so he could maintain the illusion for longer. Wilfred had taught him the impossible can become possible if you have enough belief; so who’s to say, if he concentrated hard enough, his mother wouldn’t come breezing into the room humming a show tune, chide him for sleeping in the middle of the afternoon, then hand him his shirts in a neat pile?

The illusion was drowned out by a wave of dizziness. His eyes sprang open, the ceiling went in and out of focus, his stomach flip-flopped and spurted acid into his throat. Coughing, he sat up and threw off the sheets. Everything went dark.

Nausea swelled inside him. He pressed his palms against his eyes.

“Nooo!” he cried. “No way! It’s not possible!”

Something was poking around in his head.

“Get out!” he cried. “Leave me alone!”

But the intruder was insistent. The walls bulged, the furniture dissolved into a blur of colours and shapes … and then the bedroom melted away and Dylan found himself in a dark sitting room. He was slumped in a lumpy armchair facing maroon velvet drapes. Something smelt rotten – the kind of decades-old rotten that infiltrates the walls and carpet and furniture.

“Kane,” he whined.

He tried to move, but his muscles wouldn’t respond. There was a throbbing pain in his fingers, a feeling of pins and needles in his legs, but apart from that it was like he was paralysed. Panic swept over him. With an effort of will he found and flexed his biceps, and then sensation began returning to the rest of his body. He was relieved when at last he felt his heart beating weakly in his chest.

“Kane?” he murmured, pushing himself out of the chair. He stood for a moment on wobbly legs, then, stepping jerkily, made his way towards an oval, gilt-framed mirror.

Wilfred Waite stared back at him.

“Kane!”

“Try body snatching.”

Arika shook her head. “That’ll just come up with movie references.” She stared hard at the ceiling. “Oh well, can’t hurt.”

She typed in the words and pressed Enter. “On no, look. Hmm, a lot about grave robbers. Nothing about stealing a living body.”

“Let me see.”

Kane spun the tablet towards him. Arika’s mention of grave robbers reminded him of the day his parents were murdered, the afternoon he and his father moved the sideboard into the house. Dylan had been watching the news: a story about a stolen corpse. Kane hadn’t thought much of it at the time, but now it seemed an unlikely coincidence that people were ransacking graves at the same time Waite was playing around with dead things.

He typed in ‘grave robber’ and ‘news’. They both watched as the screen filled with stories.

“Wow,” he breathed, “will you look at that.”

Arika took the tablet back. “A two-hundred-year-old sailor,” she read. “He would have been dust. There’s a recent one” – she pointed at the screen – “only three months old.” She read more. “They’re all over the place. Strangely enough, they were all men. Seems like the grave robbers around here are all misogynists.”

“Are what?”

She smiled to herself and kept going through the stories. “Oh look: there’s a woman. Tatiana Aspidov. Defector from the KGB. Died in the fifties. Wow, she was reportedly almost six foot four. Died in suspicious circumstances … poisoned umbrella would be my guess.” She sat back. “In most of these cases the perpetrators tried to hide what they did, so they probably weren’t just vandals.”

“Not hard to guess who it was,” Kane muttered.

“That’s a helluva lot of bodies.”

“He must have accomplices. A decrepit old man couldn’t dig up all those coffins.” A thought hit him. “Please don’t tell me Dylan helped him dig up those dudes. No,” he reminded himself: “Dylan didn’t know him back then. And he probably has punier muscles than old man Waite.”

“There’s a couple that were stolen from mausoleums,” said Arika. “And some from pretty public areas. It looks like he’s being selective.”

“But why? These are people who’ve been buried for months. Or years. Decades even. It’s not like Waite’s resurrecting long-dead girlfriends and going out dancing with them.”

“Or long-lost boyfriends, noting they were almost all men. We should ask Dylan when he wakes up. The more we know, the better prepared we’ll be.”

“Prepared? There’s no preparation needed. We’re staying the hell away from that psycho. This house is getting sold and we’re leaving town as quick as it takes to pack.”

Arika seemed about to argue with him, then thought better of it. She scrolled down the screen and clicked on another story.

A stair creaked. Kane’s head flew up. “Dylan!” he called out. “That you?”

Footsteps sounded and Dylan appeared in the doorway. He squinted against the light.

“How you feeling?” asked Kane.

“Good,” he replied, clasping his hands in front of him. He glanced at Arika. “Apologies for my behaviour earlier. It was totally out of character. I blame nervous exhaustion from long hours at the store.”

Kane frowned at him.

“Mr Waite and I have been working like dogs, cataloguing a shipment of valuable antiques destined for important clients. We really must pace ourselves from now on.”

Kane stood up. “Why are you talking like that?”

Dylan gave him an icy stare, then broke into a smile and said, “No rest for the wicked, I’m afraid. Those antiques are not about to catalogue themselves.” He turned away.

Kane went after him. “Dylan,” he said, “you’re not going anywhere. You need rest.”

“Rest is for children and old men.”

He grabbed his arm. “And sick brothers.”

“Get your dirty hands off me!” Dylan’s eyes blazed with rage; but a moment later a cloud passed over them and he said affably, “I mean, please – go rejoin your friend. Don’t make a fuss on my account.”

He left the house.

“Dylan, wait!” called Kane, chasing him down the steps.

Throwing open the car door, he jumped inside and locked it.

Kane rapped on the window. “Get out of there, Dylan. Have something to eat or something.”

Dylan started the car and reversed, almost running over Kane’s foot.

“Hey!” he cried, jumping back. He ran after him, and when the car came to a halt on the road, placed both hands on the bonnet. The car reversed further, stopped, then drove around him. He watched with fists on hips as it cruised around the corner.

Turning back to house, he saw Arika standing on the porch. She held up her car keys and jangled them.

“Car chase, anyone?”

“Don’t get too close,” Kane warned as they tailed the Honda through the streets of Quorn.

“If we go any slower, we’ll be going backwards. I take it your brother doesn’t normally drive like a pensioner?”

“You read my mind.” He checked his phone for messages. There were none. Shoving the phone back in his pocket, he squinted at Dylan’s car and said, “We can’t let him see us.”

“He won’t.”

“If we can see him, he can see us.”

“He doesn’t know what my car looks like.”

“It was parked outside the house.”

“You’re fussing like my Great Aunt Celia. Relax, Kane. I’m a dab hand at this.”

He looked at her. “You don’t get fazed by much; I’ll give you that.”

“My father’s a private detective. I learnt cool from him.”

“For real?”

“He taught me everything I know.”

“Wow,” said Kane. “Impressive. And here I was, thinking you were just a brainiac.”

She glanced at him. “I could show you a thing or two in the ring.”

“Is that a promise?”

She didn’t bother to respond.

Placing his hands in his lap, he asked, “Was your dad always a PI?”

“When I was a kid, he was navy. We travelled a lot.”

“I suppose being a PI is safer than the navy.”

“The opposite, actually.”

“I thought PIs made their living chasing cheating husbands, sitting outside sleazy motel rooms –”

“My dad is more like a security consultant. If a company – or a government – has a problem and isn’t getting anywhere with the regular avenues, he comes in with his special skills.”

“Special skills. Sounds interesting. Is that what he taught you?”

Arika smiled at the road ahead. Kane already knew she was a girl of many talents, and now he was getting an inkling where those talents came from.

“If I can’t convince Dylan to come back, maybe I can hire your dad to rough up Waite.” He leaned towards her, ghost-bumping her shoulder. “Or maybe you could do it. Rough him up, I mean.”

“I don’t know where he is.”

He looked at her. Her face was like stone.

“My dad’s missing.”

Kane watched her watching the Honda. “What happened to him?” he asked, then quickly added, “Sorry. That’s none of my business. You don’t have to tell me.”

“No,” Arika rushed to reassure him. “You told me your story; it’s only fair I tell you mine.” When the Honda turned right, she flicked the indicator and followed it around the corner. “He took on a job with Simon – Professor Orwell – tracking down a man he thinks lived around here at the beginning of last century. Last time we spoke he said he found a lead, and then he just vanished. Into thin air.”

“You’ve no idea where he went?”

“He never told me what he found. He was pretty confident he was onto something, though. He could be anywhere.”

“Did you say he was looking for a guy who lived around here?”

“Yeah – his house, not him of course. He’d be long dead. Simon’s research shows this guy travelled all over the world, so my dad could have gone to the North Pole for all I know.”

“That’s too bad.” Kane was thinking: Waite did it; he killed him – but Arika seemed to hold out hope her father would turn up alive some day and he didn’t know her well enough to undermine her fantasy.

“After he went missing, Simon offered me the job as his research assistant.”

“That was nice of him.”

“It was good to get a paid job.” She glanced at him. “I was doing my PhD under the professor … before he met my dad, this was. Simon’s an amazing historian. When he told me about the legend of this lost library, I thought if anyone could find it my dad could. I was probably more desperate than Simon to find those books. Some of them may be the only copy in existence, lost for centuries. Simon never thought of hiring a private detective until I told him what my dad did.”

Kane watched her as she stroked the steering wheel with both thumbs. She was probably feeling responsible for hooking her father up with the professor: the precursor to his disappearance. On his part, he couldn’t help but be excited by their shared experience of loss – it was the first real connection between them beyond their mutual interest in his brother and the mad sorcerer.

“Every time there’s a knock at the door I think it’s him. It drives me crazy.”

“Yeah, that knock on the door … I know all about that.” He leaned forward. “There. I knew it. He’s on his way to that damn farmhouse.”

“Want me to catch up?”

“No point.”

“I could drive up alongside and run him off the road.”

“You’ve almost got me thinking you’re serious.”

Her silence told him she probably was.

“Let him go. Can you turn the car around?”

Arika seemed disappointed. “We’re not going out there?”

“We’re going out there. But not right now.”

She turned off the road and slowed to a stop. Staring after Dylan’s car, she said, “What’s the plan?”

Kane bit his thumb, trying to think. He’d already settled on his goal: put as much distance between Dylan and Waite as possible, even if that meant kidnapping his brother and driving non-stop to Cornwall. But he hadn’t yet been able to work backwards from there to where they were now.

“Kane?”

“No plan. Not yet.” He smiled at her. “How are you with animals?”

Read Chapter 21: The body snatcher

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