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Cemetery Lake

A standard exhumation becomes anything but for private investigator Theodore Tate when bodies being bubbling to the surface of the cemetery lake. Tate knows he has to let his former colleagues in the police deal with it. But when the coffin is opened and it's occupant is not the old supposed to be inside, Tate knows he cannot walk away. But nor can he let the police keep digging because they are getting dangerously close to digging up the real truth: the truth about him.

With the evidence mounting, Tate must use his skills to stay ahead of the police and out of jail in order to find a killer. A killer on a mission - a person who will turn Tate into the very man he despises.



Chapter One

Blue fingernails.

They're what have me out here, standing in the cold wind, shivering. The blue fingernails aren't mine but attached to somebody else. Some dead guy I've never met before. The Christchurch sun that'd been burning my skin earlier has gone. It's hidden behind black clouds rumoring rain. It's the sort of inconsistent weather I'm used to. An hour ago I was sweating. An hour ago I wanted to take the day off and head down to the beach. Now I'm glad I didn't. My own fingernails are probably turning blue, but I don't dare look.

I stifle a yawn. It's a struggle to keep my eyes open. A struggle to keep my mind from wandering. I'm here because of a dead guy. Not the one in the ground ahead of me, but one still down at the morgue. He's acting as casual as a guy can who's body has been snipped open and stitched back together like a rag doll. Casual for a guy who died from arsenic poisoning.

I tighten my coat but it doesn't help against the cold wind. I should have worn more clothing. Should have looked at the bright sun this morning and figured where the day was heading. The long cemetery lawn bends outwards from me in each direction like ripples, as though I'm the epicenter of this arriving storm. The nearby trees are thick oaks that creak loudly and drop acorns around the gravestones. They hit the cement markers, sounding like bones of the dead tapping out an SOS for help. The air is cold and clammy like that of a morgue.

I see the first drops of rain on the windscreen of the digger before I feel them on my face. I turn my eyes to the distant horizon where gravestones covered in mold roll into the distance towards the city, death tallying up and heading into town. The wind picks up, the leaves of the oaks rustle as the branches let go of more acorns, and I flinch as one hits me in the neck. I reach up and grab it from my collar.

The digger engine revs loudly as the driver moves into place. The guy behind the wheel is pushing and pulling at an assortment of levers, some long, some short, his face rigid with concentration. His gloves are stained with dirt and grease. The engine hiccups as he positions the digger next to the gravesite, then shudders as the scoop bites into the hardened earth. It changes position, coming up and under and filling with dirt. The cabin of the digger rotates and the dirt is piled onto a tarpaulin next to the cemetery caretaker. The caretaker has his head cocked downwards as he tries to light a cigarette against the strengthening wind, his hands shaking almost as much as his shoulders. The digger drops two more piles of dirt before he tucks the cigarettes back into his pocket, giving up. He gives me a look I can't quite identify. I'm hoping he doesn't come over to complain some more about evicting somebody from their internment, but he doesn't, just goes back to staring at the hallow ground that is becoming hollow only a few meters away from him.
The vibrations of the digger force their way through my feet and into my body, making my legs tingle. The tree behind me can feel them too, because it fires more acorns into my neck. I step out of the shade and into the drizzle, nearly twisting my ankle on a few of the thick roots from the oak that have pushed through the ground.

There is a small lake only about fifteen meters away about the size of an Olympic swimming pool. It's completely enclosed by the cemetery grounds, fed by an underground stream. It makes this cemetery a popular spot for death, but not for recreation. Some of the gravesites are close to it, and I wonder if the coffins are affected by moisture. I hope we're not about to dig up a box full of water.

The driver pauses to wipe a gloved hand across his forehead, as if operating all of those levers is hot work in these cold conditions. He looks out at the oak trees and lush lawn, the still moving lake, and he's probably planning on being buried out here one day. Everybody thinks that when they see this spot. Nice place to be buried. Nice and scenic. Restful. Like it makes a difference. Like you're going to know if somebody comes along and chops down all the trees. Still, I guess if you have to be buried somewhere, this place beats out a lot of others I've seen.

A second flatbed truck sweeps its way between the gravestones. It pulls up next to the gravesite. The pile of dirt is growing higher and higher. Clumps of it are rolling down the side of the small mountain from the vibrations. I can see the raindrops plinking into the lake, making tiny droplets jump towards the heavens. I make my way over to it. Anything is better than watching the digger doing its job. I can still feel the vibrations. Small pieces of dirt are rolling down the bank of the lake and splashing into the water.

I turn back to the digger when I hear the scoop scrape across the coffin lid. The caretaker is shaking pretty hard now. He looks cold and pissed off. Until the moment the digger arrived, I thought he was going to chain himself to the gravestone to prevent the uprooting of one of his tenants. He had plenty to say about the moral implications of what we were doing. He acted as though we were digging up the coffin to put him inside.

The digger operator and the driver of the flatbed truck, along with a third guy, all pull on face masks that cover their noses and mouths before dropping into the grave, disappearing from my view, as if they have found a hidden entrance into another world. Maybe it's Hades. Down there with the entire crew of demons and ghouls. But they're hunched down, figuring out the mechanics to get the chain attached between the coffin and digger, Dante and his Inferno perhaps the furthermost things from their minds. When the chain is secure the driver climbs back into place. He wipes his gloved hand back over his forehead. Raising the dead is sweaty work.

The engine lurches and shudders as it takes the weight of the coffin. The flatbed truck starts up and backs a little closer. With the two machines vibrating loudly, more dirt spills from the bank and slides into the water. About five meters away some bubbles start rising to the surface, then a patch of mud appears.

But there is something else there too. Something dark that looks like an oil patch raising to the surface. There is a thud as the coffin is lowered onto the back of the truck. I can hear the three men talking quickly among themselves, having to nearly shout to be heard over the engines. The caretaker has disappeared.

The dark patch rising beneath the water breaks the surface. It looks like a giant black balloon. I've seen these giant black balloons before. You hope they're one thing, but they're always another. The rain is getting heavier.

'Hey, Tate, you might want to take a look at this,' one of the men calls out.

But I'm too busy looking at something else.

'Hey? You listening?' The voice is closer now. 'We've got something here you need to look at.'

Maybe he ought to take a look at what I'm looking at. For a moment I think that maybe they've opened the coffin and it's empty, but of course that won't happen here, and it certainly won't be done by these men. There are footsteps next to me.

'What the hell is that?' he asks, looking where I'm looking.

The black bubble isn't really a bubble, but the back of a jacket. It hangs in the water, and connected to it is a soccer ball sized object. It has hair. The body has been released from the depths of the lake by the vibrations of the heavy machinery.

And before I can answer another shape bubbles to the surface, then another, and another, as the lake releases its hold on the past.