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the ironhorse sanctuary: chapter 9
There was a crowd, which included Sheriff Anson, gathered around The Saloon when Blaire and Declan drove into Rusted Hill the next morning. Blaire would have missed it if not for Declan. Never a morning person, she’d been leaning against the window, wishing that the ride was smooth enough for her to fall back asleep, when Declan pulled over. She looked up with annoyed curiosity, just in time to see Sheriff Anson start pulling a body bag out of the trunk of his car.
“Never a good sign,” she commented, unbuckling her seatbelt.
“Huh. I was about to say that’s the best way to start the morning,” Declan said blithely.
“You would think that.”
They got out and walked over to join the gawkers.
“Hey, Corey, what’s going on?” Declan asked a boy from their class who was already there.
“Drew Felton and Bobby Sherwood are dead,” Corey said, looking shaken. “They were both drowned in the water trough.”
“What?” Declan looked startled and sickened.
“How the hell does that happen?” Blaire wanted to know.
“I don’t know,” Corey said. “No one does.”
“That’s horrible,” Declan said, like he meant it. Then he started shouldering his way through the crowd to get a look at the bodies. Blaire hung back and tried not to draw too much attention to herself. It was true that she spent half her life now feeling like an idiot whenever Declan was around, but she was smart enough to know that if she were to catch peoples’ eyes here it wouldn’t be in a good way. She knew what they’d start thinking. She was an outsider in the Rusted Hill community, and the only goth for at least a hundred miles. The last thing she wanted was someone thinking she was too interested, or overly suspicious looking. Even though she had nothing to do with this, that wouldn’t necessarily stop people from talking, and Blaire was well aware how miserable people talking could make someone. To her shame, she’d been on the other side of that equation far too many times, back before the fae turned her life upside down.
After a few minutes, Declan came back and motioned Blaire toward the Jeep. She almost got into the driver’s seat, since she was the faster driver, and they were clearly heading straight back to the sanctuary to fill Thomas and Beatrice in, but her unspoken agreement with Declan stopped her. She didn’t know if he would put up a fight about his right to drive in the morning being usurped, and didn’t want to risk him making a scene.
To her surprise, though, Declan didn’t turn the Jeep around and start heading out of town. Instead, he started driving toward the schoolhouse.
“What are you doing?” she demanded.
“Driving to school.”
“After what we just heard? After what you just saw?” Blaire scowled at him. “Don’t even try to tell me those guys were killed by a human! Not when there’s a kelpie on the loose who we already know drowned someone!”
“I wasn’t going to try to tell you they were killed by a human,” Declan said, looking far too amused. “They were definitely killed by the kelpie. But where else other than school do you think we should be going?”
“Home,” Blaire said. “Back to the sanctuary, to let Thomas and Beatrice know.”
“And once they know, then what?” Declan asked.
“Then we go out and kill the ugly mother.”
“No, that’s what we would have done back when Luther was in charge. That’s what we would have done last night if I was in charge. But that’s not what Beatrice is going to have us do,” Declan said.
“Then what?!” Blaire demanded. “Sit back and pretend like nothing happened?”
“Exactly,” Declan said. “At least around Beatrice. And Thomas. He’ll rat us out to Beatrice out of a misguided sense of loyalty to her position. If we want this dealt with quickly, there’s only one thing for it.”
“To do it ourselves.”
“I was wondering how much longer it would take you to come to that realization.”
* * *
The school day passed even slower than usual. If she could have, Blaire would have ditched. She actually considered it during lunch, but when she stood and crossed the room to look out the window at the parking lot, Declan caught her eye. He shook his head warningly, though there was definite amusement in his expression. Blaire sent a rude gesture his way and returned to her seat, wondering, not for the first time, if he could read minds.
Finally, their classes ended, and Blaire was pleased to see Declan heading immediately toward the door. He didn’t make it all the way there without being waylaid by his admirers, but Blaire heard him making his excuses to the girls who were practically hanging onto him. She went to wait in the Jeep for him, but when he arrived a few minutes later, he motioned for her to get out.
“What’s up?” she asked, wary, but trusting that this had something to do with their hunt.
“I want to check some place out. Come with me,” Declan ordered.
Blaire sighed but obeyed. “Where are we going?”
“The football field.”
“Why?” Blaire asked as she fell in step beside him.
“Try and guess,” Declan said with an infuriating smirk.
“Couldn’t you just tell me?”
“I could, but then you’d never learn to figure it out for yourself,” Declan told her.
“As long as you’re around I don’t need to be able to figure it out myself,” Blaire said irritably.
“If you want to do this – want to start hunting for real, and not just whenever Beatrice lets you off the leash – then you need to start thinking like a hunter,” Declan said, “and that means thinking for yourself. So tell me, why do you think we’re going to the football field?”
“Does it have something to do with the hunt?” Blaire asked.
“Do you think that I’d be bothering with it now if it didn’t?”
“No,” Blaire answered. “So it has something to do with this hunt?”
“So . . . You think Kelpie might be hiding near the football field?”
Blaire furrowed her brow until she realized what she was doing, and stopped. She could almost hear her mother chastising her about how she was going to get wrinkles if she didn’t stop. Blaire hardly cared about being beautiful anymore, but old habits died hard.
“You think that Kelpie will attack someone near the football field next?” she asked after a moment of thought.
“Yes,” Declan said. “Now tell me why.”
“Because . . . because she probably won’t strike in the same place twice? And because at the edge of the football field is one of the few places in this town you can find someone out after dark?”
“Good,” Declan said. “And why else?”
“I don’t know! Why don’t you just tell me?”
“Because then you’d never learn to figure it out for yourself,” Declan huffed. “Okay, look at it this way. What did both attacks have in common?”
Blaire would have rather slapped him than answered, but with Declan it was often easier just to give in and do what he wanted than to resist. She thought for a moment before it came to her. “There were horses nearby both times! Maybe the kelpie was drawn to them because she’s a waterhorse or something!”
Declan had the most amused expression on his face. “Maybe,” he said in a dismissive tone, “but you’re missing the obvious connection.”
“What could be more obvious than horses?”
“How did the victims in both attacks die?” Declan asked.
Then Blaire saw it. “They were all drowned!”
“Exactly. And so . . . ?”
“Assuming that the kelpie keeps the same MO –”
“Method of operation. Assuming the kelpie follows its pattern, how does that narrow our search for the site of the next attack down?”
“We need to look for places that have water. So why here?” They’d arrived at the football field. The only water in sight was a mud puddle, which Blaire knew from gym class was no more than two inches deep. The kelpie would be hard pressed to drown anyone in that.
“Look around you, Blaire,” Declan said wearily.
“I just did. There’s no way anyone could drown in that mud puddle.”
“Agreed, but since I brought you here, I’ve obviously thought of another source of water. So tell me, what is it?”
Blaire looked around again, not bothering to hide her frustration. “I don’t know! Just tell me already!”
Declan finally seemed to decide that enough was enough. “Fine. Look at the scoreboard.”
Blaire obeyed. The scoreboard, like most everything that the Rusted Hill schoolhouse owned, was a low tech piece of crap. It was a big piece of plywood with hooks for number cards that had to be changed manually every time a team scored, hung on the front of an old water tower.
“The water tower,” Blaire realized. “But is there even any water in there? That thing’s ancient. I don’t think they use it anymore.”
“Officially, they don’t, but like a lot of old things around here, they did a halfway job of putting it out to pasture – as evidenced by the scoreboard stapled to the front of it. They may have drained it when they decided to retire it, but they didn’t drill holes in the bottom to keep it from holding water, and the top has had holes eaten straight through it by rust. It’s at least three quarters full. Probably more.”
“So this is where you think the kelpie will attack next?”
“It’s a distinct possibility.”
“What about the other water tower?”
“It’s not an open source, and even the Eldritch have trouble busting through sealed metal containers built to withstand lots and lots of pressure,” Declan said. “Kelpies are instinctively drawn toward open sources of water, as you’d know if you bothered doing any research of your own. She might have already come by here and passed this site by if there were no targets.”
“I’ve heard that kids come here to party sometimes on the weekends. You think she’ll wait until then to strike again?”
“Not if there’s another target here tonight,” Declan said.
It took Blaire a moment to catch his meaning, but when she did, she smiled. “Indeed.”