Sleepy Hollow isn't so sleepy anymore
One night, New York FBI agent Aiden Mahoney receives a visitor in a dreaman old friend named Richard Highsmith. The very next day he's sent to Sleepy Hollow because Richard's gone missing there.
MaureenMoDeauville now lives in the historic town and works with her dog, Rollo, to search for missing people. She's actually the one to find Richard or more precisely his head, stuck on a statue of the legendary Headless Horseman.
Mo and Aiden, a new member of the Krewe of Hunters, the FBI's unit of paranormal investigators, explore both past and present events to figure out who betrayed Richard, who killed him and now wants to kill them, too. As they work together, they discover that they share an unusual traitthe ability to communicate with the dead. They also share an attraction that's as intense as it is unexpected if they live long enough to enjoy it!
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It was a horrific sight.
And, bizarrely enough, one that might be missed, at least in Sleepy Hollow. Here, and in the surrounding villages and towns, images and effigies of headless horsemen were common.
A pole had been stuck into a man's likeness created from wood and stuffing and plaster and cottona likeness that ended at the neckline. Right where the Revolutionaryera jacket and shirt left off.
And Richard Highsmith's severed head had been stuck onto the pole.
It was bloody, and the midlength, salt-and-pepper hair was matted and dark. The face might once have held character and dignity.
Maureen Deauville stood with her enormous wolfhound, Rollo, and stared at it. For a moment, she felt as if she'd been teleported back to medieval times. The breeze rustled through the trees and the sounds of traffic from the road seemed to fade. She might have been standing in distant woods, viewing the results of a gruesome execution carried out by some long-ago government.
In reality, she was on the street that bordered a cemetery to the west. There were houses heresome very old, some not so oldand a few businesses, including Tommy Jensen's Headless Horseman Hideaway Restaurant and Bar. His effigy of the headless horseman, a good seven or so feet high, lurked on the roadside to attract clientele.
And it had been used to display the head.
The parking lot was filled with cars, mainly cop cars. It was barely 7:00 a.m. At least seven uniformed officers were there, ready to handle crowd control and keep the few cars on the street moving along. A crime scene unit van had just arrived and jerked to a halt, followed seconds later by the ambulance from the morgue.
They'd begun the search for the missing man that morning, just half an hour earlier.
"You've done it. You and Rollo have done your jobs," Lieutenant Purbeck said with a sigh. "Not what we expected to find, or hoped to find, but " He paused. "But that's part of Richard Highsmith, anyway."
The blood was congealing. It had dripped over the crisp collar and seeped onto the shoulders of the white cotton shirt and blue jacket on the should-have-been-headless mannequin. The eyes were open in death, and crows and blackbirds lurked, waiting to attack. Even as Maureen stared up at the atrocity before her, a crow zeroed in, aiming for the soft tissue.
"We've got to get that down!" One of the cops, a young man, new to the forceBobby Magill, Maureen thoughtgroaned, sounding ill.
"Anyone who's going to puke, get the hell away from the crime scene! Let's get it covered!" Lieutenant Purbeck shouted.
At Maureen's side, Rollo gave one of his deep, bone-jarring barks. Maureen quickly soothed the large wolfhound. "Good job, Rollo," she murmured. Men scrambled, as Lieutenant Purbeck said, "I want a step a block something. We need an investigator up there. And crowd control! Someone arrange detours until we've got all this out of here. And I sure as hell don't want anyone around gaping and snapping shots for Twitter and Facebook!"
Gina Mason, head of the forensics unit, stepped forward and yelled at them. "Get the birds away! And then get some kind of screening set up. We have to preserve the scene! Can we get rigging and tarps around thethe Around it! Everyone will be breathing down my neck for trace evidence and I'll have to say we were defeated by a crow!"
Dr. Aaron Mortenson from the coroner's office had arrived, as well. He got out of his car and walked over to Gina.
"Let the photographer up there first, and then I'll take a quick look. I won't disturb anything until you've had a chance to get what you need," he told her.
Mortenson was middle-aged, trim in appearance and always reserved. He saw Mo and Rollo. To her surprise, he nodded to her with something that was almost a smile. A silent acknowledgment that said, Work well done. He sighed loudly. "Since it's so early, thankfully no four-year-old saw this and realized the head was real. God knows Halloween. It might well have taken hours even in broad daylight before anyone saw that it wasn't just part of some grisly display."
She nodded solemnly back at him.
Lieutenant Purbeck came to stand near Mo, allowing the technicians and the medical examiner the space they needed.
He set a hand on her shoulder.
"I'm okay," she assured him.
Then she turned away, grasping Rollo's collar and taking him with her. He'd done his job well. Too well. This was one search she wished she could've sat out. Sooner or later, someone would have really looked at the headless horseman that stood outside the entrance to Tommy's place. The police hadn't really needed her services. She actually wished that they hadn't called her; this one was a little too close to home.
"Why my horseman?" Mo heard. She turned.
Tommy Jensen, an old friendand owner of the Headless Horseman Hideaway Restaurant and Barhad been allowed through. The restaurant didn't open until eleven; his staff didn't even arrive until nine or nine-thirty. But, she realized, looking at his grim face as he stared at the scene, it was his horseman and his parking lot. She figured he'd been called in.
He looked at her bleakly and tried to smile. "Of all the horsemen in all the world "
Mo touched his arm. He was her senior by a few years; she'd known him since she was ten or so. She recalled that the older girls had often teased him because he'd been a big, awkward kid. He still liked to moan about his dating life. But now that they were all older and presumably more mature, the group she'd hung out with growing up now frequented his restaurant. It was her favorite hangout when friends met up at night for dinner, coffee or drinks. He always took care of them.
He'd been born and bred in the area and was a true lover of the Hudson Valley. He'd owned the restaurant for about two years and it was charming, offering pool tables, dart boards and an "enchanted forest" for young children when their families came for lunch.
Purbeck turned to him. "What time did you leave last night, Tommy?"
Tommy was startledas if he'd just realized he might be a suspect. "About 2:30 a.m. And I didn't leave alone. I left with Abby Cole. We cleaned up, locked the place and were together the whole time. I drove her home."
"And you didn't see anything? Anything at all unusual?" Purbeck demanded.
Tommy shook his head. "Sir, I'm telling you, we were worn-out. Halloween's coming, you know? We're busy. We had to announce last call and practically shove people out of their chairs. When we finally took off, my car was the only one in the lot and."
"I didn't even glance at the horseman, to be honest. But, like I said, we'd been busy. We had a lot of visitors and people were talking at their cars before leaving. They'd been to the attractions, the haunted houses, the storytelling, all that. So.I'm not a cop, but I don't see how this could have been done until the wee hours of the morning."
Purbeck released a sigh. "Call your people. We're going to have this area closed off for the next five hours or so."
"The poor guy! I feel really bad about this." Tommy frowned. "But why did it have to be in front of my place? Oh, Lord, will anyone ever come here again?" he asked, his tone dismayed.
"They'll flock into see where the head of Richard Highsmith was found," Purbeck said dryly. "You can open, but not until dinner." He paused, glancing at the scene. "I'm giving my crime scene techs a good five hours. Until then, the crime scene tape stays up. Oh, and, make sure I can get hold of you."
Tommy looked at Mo. "Don't leave town, huh?" he said. Then he looked back at Purbeck. "I don't leave town often, sir, so no worries there. Can I go home?"
"For now. Tell Abby we'll be talking to her and the staff," Purbeck added.
Tommy waved as he turned to leave. Then he stopped. "Mo, can you come by later? He could be right about business being okayor people could be so creeped out, they won't come anymore."
"I'll come by, Tommy," Mo promised. "I'm sure you'll be okay."
She wished she believed her own words. But talking to him, encouraging him, was at least keeping him from seeing the head spiked on his effigy of the headless horseman.
Lieutenant Robert Purbeck walked over to her. "Mo, you can go, if you like. We'll take it from here." He sounded gruff and uncomfortable. "You and Rollo were dead-on, as usual." He paused, rolling his eyes at his unfortunate choice of words. "That came out wrong, but this whole thing is just bad. Very bad. Are you all right?"
Was she all right?
No one there was all right. But she wasn't a cop or a forensic expert; she was Rollo's owner. She was an "expert consultant." And, sadly, she'd seen the very bad before.
Sometimes, more often than not, she and Rollo found those who were still living. She could proudly say that many a time they had helped save lives. Not today.
"Yes, I'm fine," she assured Purbeck. "But it's not a picture I'll forget."
"None of us will," he murmured.
She squared her shoulders and patted Rollo's massive head. "We've found terrible and tragic things before, Lieutenant. And we've survived them."
Purbeck was a tall, muscled man in his late fifties. He could be a tough cop, but he was also a sort of father figure to her, and his expression was one of parental concern. "We just discovered a head on a pole, Maureen. Here. In Sleepy Hollow. That's damned scary and disturbing."
All she could do was agree. "I'm worried about you," he said next. "You live alone."
"I have Rollo."
Rollo was huge. Standing on his hind legs, he was nearly six feet tall and dwarfed most men. He was one of the largest of his breed she had ever seen.
"Rollo, yes. He might well scare the common car thief," Purbeck said. "And, yeah, he's great at what he does. He's not a bloodhound, not even a scent hound, he's a sight hound, but he's always right on the money. I guess dogs have it over us." He shrugged. "And he's one hell of a companion. But, Mo, whoever did this is sick. Really sick. I'm no expert on nutcasesand I don't think I have to be. This is" He paused, searching for a better word. Apparently, he didn't find one. "Sick," he repeated.
Maureen nodded again. "I I would hope that someone suffering from a serious mental problem, an illness, would be the only person who could do something so horrible," she said. She gestured around her. "Most people come here because of Washington Irving and his short story 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.' They're intrigued by it, they love historyand, well, they just want to see the place. But with this Someone's turning it into an obscene joke."
"Yeah. Some whacked bastard out there has taken the work of the first American man of letters and twisted it into something tragic. I'm going to stop it. I refuse to let any more of this happen in our town. I'm going to track down whoever committed such a such a dreadful crime, such a travesty" Purbeck broke off. "I will get this bastard!" he vowed.
Maureen placed one hand on his arm. People here were extremely proud of Washington Irving, and of course the tourist trade that sustained many businesses in the village of Sleepy Hollow and in Tarrytown was due to Irving's time-tested stories. She knew that herself. Like many who found their way to Sleepy Hollow, her parents were Irish New Yorkers who had fallen in love with the Hudson Valley. They hadn't purchased property in the area, though. Instead, they'd rented every time they'd come for the summer or other holidays. She'd been the one to set down permanent roots here, buying a cottage down the Hudson from Irving's Sunnyside. It had belonged to an older couple, friends of her parents, who'd gone to Arizona because of the husband's severe asthma; they and Maureen had made a deal that was amenable to both parties, and she'd become a full-time resident. Her parents, too, had decided to retire to Scottsdale, joking that they'd never again have to shovel snow.
While she still loved the citythere was, truly, nothing like New York in the worldshe'd needed to get away from the nonstop energy, the frequent chaos. And while she loved many places around the country, she'd never seen anything quite as beautiful as the Hudson Valley. Yes, areas off a few of the main roads seemed remote and very dark. But she'd bought what she considered the perfect home in Sleepy Hollow.
"And Richard Highsmith," Purbeck said. "Lord, why?"
Neither of them had an answer for that.
Mo was hardly an expert on politics, but she'd admired Highsmith. He was that rare politician willing to stand and fight alone. He hadn't adhered to any political party; he was an independent. He seemed to have taken the best policies and beliefs from everyone else out there. People loved him. He had plans for fiscal responsibility and he also had plans that focused on making equality part of the fabric of America.
Yes, he was loved.
But he was also hated.
Hated this much?
"Was someone after Mr. Highsmith specifically?" Mo murmured. "Or."
As she'd told Lieutenant Purbeck, she had to hope that only someone truly ill could have done this. Even worseif such a thing was possiblewas the chance that Richard's murder had been random, that he'd just been taken and that.
If that were true, there could be more heads on top of horsemen who should have remained headless.
She knew Purbeck was thinking along the same lines.
"While this is going on, you might want to stay with a friend or move into a hotel," Purbeck said to her.
"Lieutenant, we have no idea what's going on yet," Mo reminded him. "Highsmith was a politician. He was very likely to be voted in as New York's next mayor. He was an independent, which means that most people loved him but that he also had enemies in the major political camps. I knowI followed him and his politics. He also had plans to run for governor at some point in the future, and a lot of people here still have homes in the city and use the Valley for escape. So it makes sense that he was speaking here."
Purbeck nodded. "Yep. He was special and he was different. But getting back to you You're in a remote area. I don't know if Rollo, big as he is, can protect you from this kind of insanity."
"His size scares people all the time," Mo commented.
"Normal people," Purbeck agreed. He stood awkwardly for a moment, watching his officers and the crime scene technicians working. "But if you actually know the dog, he's one friendly guy."
"Don't kid yourself, LieutenantRollo can be fierce!" Maureen bent down to hug the dog. He didn't exactly prove her point when he rewarded her with a sloppy kiss. One of her mom's best friends had bred Irish wolfhounds; the dogs had been special to her from the first time she'd seen them. She and Rollo were family.