Home > The Curse of Tenth Grave (Charley Davidson #10)(7)

The Curse of Tenth Grave (Charley Davidson #10)(7)
Darynda Jones

“You’ll just have to see for yourself.”

I took the phone, leaning in for a quick hug in the process. She kissed my cheek and curled me into her long arms for a solid five seconds. She’d been doing that since D-Day, the day I got back. She hadn’t been allowed to go to New York to babysit my pathetic ass. Or to try to knock some sense into my amnesiaced brain. Whichever way one wished to look at it. And the moment we got off the escalator at baggage claim, she ran past her mother and tackle-hugged me. All the way to the ground.

She hadn’t seen her mother in a month, but she’d been talking to her every day. Me, she’d had no contact with for a month, and her exuberance was proof that she liked me. Her tears were proof that she really liked me.

Which was kind of wonderful. I really liked her, too.

“Okay,” she said, pulling away. “Take a look. You’re going to die!” She clapped her hands over her mouth excitedly.

Cookie seemed to grow a little paler.

Reyes shifted for a better look, and I couldn’t help but notice where Amber’s eyes landed: at the waistband of his pajama bottoms. The waistband that hung low enough to show an inkling of the dip between hip and abdomen. That sweet spot that turned women to jelly.

It didn’t concern me that Amber was only thirteen. What concerned me was that she was thirteen and I was pretty sure her sweetheart, Quentin, had a similar dip. Hopefully she didn’t know that. Yet.

I lifted the phone, angled it so Reyes could see, and pressed PLAY.


Okay. A bit dramatic, but who was I to criticize?

Then a young African girl materialized onto the screen. A girl I recognized from my time in the Peace Corps. The shot was a close-up of her face with a night-vision camera. Her skin was covered in scratches. Her lips, cracked and bleeding, pulled tight over gnashing teeth. Her eyes solid white. Drool slid from the corners of her mouth as the camera pulled back to reveal her neck arched. Head thrown back. Chest heaving in furious pants.

She lay on a pallet on a dirt floor, her wrists and ankles bound by a very concerned, very loving father. Faraji. He’d been helping us dig a well for his village, and when I’d first met him he was distant. Wary of us newcomers. It was not unusual. Many villagers on our journey had welcomed us in an almost celebratory manner. But others, mostly men, were not so keen on having us invade their territory, Peace Corps or not. Faraji had been one of them.

I’d taken note of him instantly, not because of his standoffish behavior, but because of the deep sorrow that emanated out of him.

No, not sorrow. Fear.

Terror, actually. So much so that I found it hard to breathe around him, and digging a well without the ability to fill one’s lungs was not an easy way to dig a well.

We’d been in the village about three days when I finally followed him home one night. Or at least, I thought I was following him home. I found out later it was an abandoned hut, and he and his family had been in hiding. I felt the reason long before I got to the ramshackle hut. Like needles on my skin. Like acid in my mouth.

I’d never felt anything like it. And when I stepped inside unannounced, I’d never seen anything like it, either. His twelve-year-old daughter, Emem, lay in the throes of a heated battle with whatever had taken up residence inside her. Nkiru, Faraji’s wife, sat beside their daughter. Pressed a cool cloth to the girl’s head. Rocked back and forth in prayer.

She looked up when I stepped under the eaves of their hut that amounted to little more than a well-fortified lean-to.

“Faraji,” she said, her voice shrill and harsh. Eyes like saucers, she glared at her husband. “Get her out.” She spoke in her native language, believing I wouldn’t understand. “The elders will take our daughter.” She tightened her grip on the child’s forearm. “The elders will kill her.”

Faraji had turned and was staring at me in horror, unable to believe that I’d followed him. Or that I’d been able to follow him without being detected.

I’d wondered how long the situation had been going on. The girl looked skeletal. Dehydrated to the point of emaciation, except for her beautiful, scar-covered face. From various markings on the floor, I got the feeling they had been consulting a shaman-type healer. And why wouldn’t they? This was no medical condition. Whatever was in her burned my lungs and seared my eyes.

I crept forward, but Faraji stepped in my path. I felt the turmoil rise within him. He had a choice to make.

At first, I thought he was weighing the pros and cons of allowing me to try to help him. He wasn’t. I soon realized he was trying to decide if he should let me go and risk the village finding out about his daughter or kill me. I got the feeling he was leaning toward the latter. Mostly because he’d tightened his grip on the machete he’d been carrying. Steeling himself to do what had to be done.

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