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The Dead Don't Die Chapter 1: The Dead Return - Page 2
Their rambling old place was only a few minute's walk away, and in no time Captain Friday was standing at the Ruizes' front door. Much of the house was dark, and he wondered if anyone was at home. Lifting the tarnished brass clanger, he knocked several times briskly. After a few moments, he heard stirrings from within, and presently the door opened to reveal the swarthy figure of Andreas Ruiz.
"Captain Friday!" he greeted his visitor warmly, true affection ringing through his thick Spanish accent.
"Andreas. Good to finally see you again."
"Please, come inside." The Spaniard eagerly ushered into the tastefully decorated foyer of the great house. "Carmel will be so pleased to see you. What brings you back to Holman?"
Captain Friday stopped dead in his tracks.
"Wait a minute, Andreas. Didn't you and your cousin send me an invitation to come here this weekend?"
"No," his friend answered genially, "But we're just as happy that you are here."
"You don't understand," Friday interrupted his host. "I received a written invitation in the mail a few days ago practically imploring me to pay you a visit."
Andreas looked puzzled. "Perhaps Carmel sent it and forgot to mention it to me. She's in town right now, but she will..."
"No," Friday said emphatically, "The signature on the letter was yours. Look. I have it right here."
From his coat, he produced an envelope made of a fine bond paper. But when he opened it, both men gasped in surprise. In very thick, black, elegant characters the message read, "Captain Friday, you are cordially invited to Holman -- TO DIE!"
"Captain, what does it mean?"
"I'm not sure," Friday replied grimly, "but I don't like it. Either someone has a very sick sense of humor, or something's terribly wrong. Do you realize it was exactly one year ago tonight when all the chaos broke loose in Holman?"
"Surely that must be a coincidence," Andreas insisted, his accent thickening in his agitation. "That is all over with now."
"Don't be so certain," Friday warned. "There's something strange about this whole affair. At first, I thought I was imagining things, but now I'm worried. On my way over here, I was almost run down by a horse and wagon. Andreas, I'd swear to you Peter Hartley was driving that wagon!"
Andreas' eyes narrowed and hardened.
"No, Captain. It cannot be." He hissed, "You know that I killed him. God forgive me!"
"Yes, my friend, and yet I know what I saw." Friday shook his head in disblief. "And now this threat..."
"Have you or Carmel had any trouble since I left Holman?"
"None," the Spaniard answered. "Carmel and I have grown to love it here since we inherited this house. Gail and Martin Stanley have been restoring the old Walter's place across the way, and everyone in the community has been very kind to us since we moved in."
"So the Stanleys are here, too," Friday muttered thoughtfully.
"Andreas, this isn't starting out..."
Captain Friday's statement was cut short as a shrill scream split the silence of the night.
"That was close by," Andreas spouted. "The cemetery, perhaps."
Friday was out the door before Andreas could finish his sentence.
"Wait here," he called back to his host. "I'll yell if I need help."
The cemetery was only a short distance away. Relatively small and simple, it was a dignified resting place for Holman's departed. Between the ancient and weathered headstones, Friday dashed, until, in the dim light, he almost tumbled into an open grave. Beside the hole was a mound of fresh earth, and, to Friday's shock, atop the mound was a body.
He knelt down for a closer look, and was horrified to realize he had discovered the inert form of Carmel Ruiz! Even now, lying there in the dirt, her dark hair cascading off her shoulders into the very edge of the grave, she was beautiful. Captain Friday was frozen with shock.
"Move away from the girl."
The voice, stern and commanding, brought Friday back to his senses.
He turned to find three men watching him carefully. One was tall and lean, possessed of an air of British dignity, but also of a devil-may-care twinkle in his eyes. The second was slightly older, and more broad in his frame. His disposition might have been comical, if Friday hadn't the feeling the stranger was sizing him up, ready at any moment to pounce. The third, owner of the stern voice, was a youngish man who looked a bit like Captain Friday, himself. Dark-haired and powerful, he strode forward and asked, "What happened to her?"
"I'm not sure," Friday said, regaining his voice.
A low moan came from the sprawled form of Carmel.
"Lookee, Jack; she's still alive!" the broader man exclaimed.
With a nod, their leader joined Friday beside the girl.
"I have some medical training," he explained, as he gave Carmel a cursory examination.
"Fainted," he concluded presently. "She'll be around in a minute."
"Thank God," Captain Friday breathed a sigh of relief, and then faced the stranger.
"Who are you?"
"Jack Packard," the gentleman said tersely. "My associates, Doc Long..."