Dracula. A huge, gilded first edition. I pulled it from the shelf, feeling a little guilty as the rest of the books on the crowded shelf slumped together. I flipped the book open and the pages crackled. It fell naturally open to somewhere just before the middle of the novel, and there I found a piece of paper neatly tucked between two pages. My heart clenched as I pulled it free, gently closing the book and replacing it in its spot on the shelf.
I unfolded the page, the sound of the paper almost deafening against the constant patter of rain outside.
I’m sorry that I have to do this, the note said, written in a long, elegant script. The pen had been blurred in spots and I lifted it closer to my face. Some kind of moisture. Rain?
I know there are a lot of things you still don’t understand, and me putting you out was probably one of them. I just wanted you to know that I never stopped loving you. I have to go, and so you had to go. I couldn’t let you find me. Don’t think I didn’t notice you hanging around, even after we parted ways.
If you ever think of me, I want you to think of the river where we used to go. Do you remember that? When we first met? I had no idea where to meet a man. I knew we couldn’t do it anywhere public. So I told you to meet me at the river once the sun had set. It was perfect. Far enough away from my house that we could pretend we were in the wilderness, but close enough that we could come back afterwards.
I folded the note and sighed. I pushed it into a pocket inside my coat. I couldn’t decide whether or not I’d give it to Dey. I’d decide after I went to the river and saw what I thought I would find there. Ezra didn’t want Dey to find his body, but he’d left more clues in that note than I thought he’d intended to.
Walking back out into the rain, I replaced my hat atop my head and pulled my collar up. I pulled a pair of gloves out of one of the coat’s deeper pockets and pulled them on. After that, I walked out into the woods, picking a direction at random and only walking a few feet out.
Maybe it would be better, to stick with insipid cases like catching errant husbands, or tracking employees who were swiping a little money from the register. I felt a familiar twinge of dread. These cases, where I knew the outcome but my heart didn’t want to accept it—they lodged in my stomach and stayed there. I stopped walking and went completely silent, stopping even my breath for a moment in order to listen.
Sure enough, I heard rushing water. With the recent rain, even if the river Ezra had described more resembled a stream, it would be flowing fast and audible. So I listened until I thought I could confidently walk in the direction it lay in, and then I walked. He’d described it perfectly—a straight shot out from the house, close enough that I felt I could still make it back to the house without getting lost. Far enough away that the noises of the woods filled in the holes between the sounds of the rain.
It smelled like rot and rain. I walked to the bank of the river, the mud sucking at my shoes. I turned and followed the river in the direction of its flow. It took me quite some time to reach the point where the river divided. I followed the branch where the flow lessened, where the banks grew shallower, where the rocks began to jut from beneath the water. The stream slowed, and it narrowed. It became a trickle, and then the water began to take on a green tinge, algae forming where the water was still enough.
It smelled powerfully of rot, now.
I leaned against a tree at the edge of the pool where the stream ended, and I looked at Ezra Leorn’s body.