The WhisperBy: Carla Neggers
Beara Peninsula, Southwest Ireland—late September
Scoop Wisdom opened his daypack, got out his water bottle and took a drink. He sat on a cold, damp rock inside the remains of the isolated Irish stone cottage where the long summer had started with a beautiful woman, a tale of magic and fairies—and a killer obsessed with his own ideas of good and evil.
The autumn equinox had passed. Summer was over. Scoop told himself it was a new beginning, but he had unfinished business. It’d been gnawing at him ever since he’d regained consciousness in his Boston hospital room a month ago, after a bomb blast had almost killed him.
He was healed. It was time to go home and get back to work. Be a cop again.
He set his water bottle back in his pack and zipped up the outer compartment. A solitary ray of sunshine penetrated the tangle of vines above him where once there’d been a thatched roof. He could hear the rush of the stream just outside the ruin.
And water splashing. Scoop shifted position on the rock, listening, but there was no doubt. Someone—or something—was tramping in the stream that wound down from the rocky, barren hills above Kenmare Bay. He hadn’t seen anyone on his walk up from the cottage where he was staying on a quiet country lane.
He stood up. He could hear laughter now.
A woman’s laughter.
Irish fairies, maybe? Out here on the southwest Irish coast, on the rugged Beara Peninsula, he could easily believe fairies were hiding in the greenery that grew thick on the banks of the stream.
He stepped over fallen rocks to the opening that had served as the only entrance to what once had been someone’s home. He could feel a twinge of pain in his hip where shrapnel had cut deep when the bomb went off at the triple-decker he owned with Bob O’Reilly and Abigail Browning, two other Boston detectives. He had taken most of the blistering shards of metal and wood in the meatier parts of his back, shoulders, arms and legs, but one chunk had lodged in the base of his skull, making everyone nervous for a day or so. A millimeter this way or that, and he’d be dead instead of wondering if fairies were about to arrive at his Irish ruin for a visit.
He heard more water splashing and more female laughter.
“I know, I know.” It was a woman, her tone amused, her accent American. “Of course I’d run into a big black dog up here in these particular hills.”
In his two weeks in Ireland, Scoop had heard whispers about a large, fierce black dog occasionally turning up in the pastures above the small fishing and farming village. He’d seen only sheep and cows himself.
He peered into the gray mist. The morning sun was gone, at least for the moment. He’d learned to expect changeable weather. Brushed by the Gulf Stream, the climate of the Southwest was mild and wet, but he’d noticed on his walks that the flowers of summer were fading and the heather on the hills was turning brown.
“Ah.” The woman again, still out of sight around a sharp bend in the stream. “You’re coming with me, are you? I must be very close, then. Lead the way, my new friend.”
The ruin was easy to miss amid the dense trees and under-growth on the banks of the stream. If he hadn’t known where to look, Scoop would have gone right past it his first time out here.
A woman with wild, dark red hair ducked under the low-hanging branches of a gnarly tree. Ambling next to her in the shallow water was, indeed, a big black dog.
The woman looked straight at Scoop, and even in the gray light, he saw that she had bright blue eyes and freckles—a lot of freckles. She was slim and angular, her hair down to her shoulders, damp and tangled. She continued toward him, the dog staying close to her. She didn’t seem particularly taken aback by finding a man standing in the doorway of the remote ruin. Scoop wouldn’t blame her if she did. Even before the bomb blast, he had looked, according to friends and enemies alike, ferocious with his thick build, shaved head and general take-no-prisoners demeanor.
For sure, no one would mistake him for a leprechaun or a fairy prince.
Her left foot sank into a soft spot and almost ended up in the water. Mud stains came to the top of her wellies. “I saw footprints back there,” she said cheerfully, pointing a slender hand in the direction she’d just come. “Since I’ve never run into a cow or a sheep that wears size-twelve shoes, I figured someone else was out here. A fine day for a walk, isn’t it?”
“It is,” Scoop said.
“I don’t mind the outbreaks of rain.” She tilted her head back, letting the mist collect on her face a moment, then smiled at him. “I don’t do well in the sun.”
Scoop stepped down from the threshold and nodded to the dog, still panting at her side. “Yours?”