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Whispers at Dusk
Author: Heather Graham



   For Della Hamilton, it began with the old cemetery.

   And with Jose Garcia, her friend all through grade school, middle school and high school.

   They lived on the same block. It was never romantic, just a true friendship that had been strengthened by years of shared local experiences and talks about everything: family, heartthrobs, and more. They shared everything that went into growing up.

   And Jose was just a good guy. She didn’t know anyone who didn’t like Jose.

   What killed him was a bizarre accident. Truly bizarre and tragic for all concerned. Another kid in high school would have the guilt of Jose’s death on him for all the years of his life to come.

   Della found out about it when she was at cheerleading practice during her senior year of high school. The blood bank called.

   She gave blood with her parents’ blessing several times a year. Gave. They weren’t rich, but she wasn’t selling her blood. Her health and the coagulating wonder of her blood was a gift from a higher power, however one chose to see God. It was an amazing thing to give the gift of her blood to others. So she did.

   Della was joking with the girls when the call came, and they were all laughing and calling her a vampire. She reminded them vampires drank blood; they didn’t give it to others.

   It wasn’t until she arrived at the hospital and saw her parents and Jose’s parents that she heard what had happened. She wished she could open a vein and pour her blood straight into her friend’s heart.

   It had been...ridiculous. A couple of the high schools in the area had friendly rivalries going. Usually friendly. Occasionally something might get a little physical, but it was broken up most of the time by an authority figure, or it simply petered out with the rivals laughing.

   But this time...

   Jose and some friends had been at a popular South Miami restaurant. “Rivals” had been at another table. They’d been playing around, throwing napkins, then someone had picked up something heavier, a mug. It had struck Jose in the head and cracked open his skull and...

   Now, they were praying for his life. If not for the mug, the day probably would have ended with laughter and with the groups picking up all the napkins together. The rivalries weren’t between the junkies and the thieves and the crew of kids headed for criminal behavior. These teens were on the sports teams, the debate team, into music, movies, and theater.

   But the mug had flown.

   They took Della’s blood.

   But neither her blood nor blood from any other donor nor any help from the medical community could save Jose.

   He died that night.

   Her parents had taken her home. Jose’s mom and dad had stayed with him to the last minute.

   She heard later his mother wouldn’t let the funeral home take his body.

   And at the funeral, the poor woman had tried to drag him from his coffin. If she could not do so, she wanted to be buried in it with him. Her husband kept her from doing either one.

   Della wished there was something she could do to help. But there wasn’t. The woman had lost her only son.

   It was about ten days later, and Della had just left the pool where she worked part-time as a lifeguard after school until dusk. She was heading toward the cemetery where Jose was buried. She knew the area well. Her friend’s father was the caretaker, and their home was on the cemetery property. They’d often had sleepovers and spent the nights trying to scare each other and outdo each other with ghost stories. The cemetery had never scared Della. She had felt something strange; oddly, it had been a sense of warmth and comfort. It was considered historic for their area, being over a hundred years old. There were only a few little family mausoleums in the cemetery, but there were stunning memorial statues, standing stones, and flat memorials surrounded by beautiful and lush trees. She loved the cemetery. But then, she loved old churches and cemeteries—truly old ones Winchester Cathedral in London, Westminster Abbey, Notre Dame, and so many in Rome and London. They’d visited so many. Her dad had said leaving donations was much cheaper than many things they might do on a European vacation.

   Della had her radio playing as she drove home from work. Yet that day as she reached the southern end of the cemetery, she suddenly had nothing but dead air.

   In the silence, she frowned and changed the station, but nothing happened.

   She pulled off the road by the little coral wall that surrounded the place and looked in the cemetery. Jose wasn’t buried far from the wall. She found herself tempted to jump over the two and a half feet of coral that comprised the barrier. But she didn’t. She should bring flowers to Jose’s grave, and do it by daylight when people were supposed to visit. Della had discovered the music stopped playing on her radio every time she passed by the little coral wall, a reminder that led to her stopping sometimes at night. The city lights from the street afforded her all the illumination she needed to reach Jose’s grave.

   Della decided to bring flowers that weekend. And it felt good to go and tell her friend she missed him, and to almost feel as if he were there with her.

   She was back home for the summer after her first year of college when the killer they called the Canal Carnivore arrived in South Florida. The man had eluded police in the west, the northeast, and had struck in Biloxi, Mississippi, before heading farther to the southeast. Right before Della had returned home to take up her job as a lifeguard for the summer, he had attacked and killed a young woman in the Brickell area, a divorcee living alone in a condominium and working for a local bank. His signature was the removal of a patch of skin from his victims, usually a two-by-two square that contained the belly button. The one witness who discovered the victim near the old church cemetery in New York by Wall Street had seen a disappearing hooded figure chewing on something bloody as he’d hurried toward the Hudson River.

   Thus, he’d been labeled the carnivore. He didn’t bite the flesh out—that would leave marks for a dental impression. He didn’t leave fingerprints or footprints anywhere. He didn’t sexually assault his victims or torture them. He slit their throats and cut out his inches of flesh. He left no clues and had only been seen once calmly walking away from what would prove to be his victim. The “Canal” part of his moniker came from the fact that several victims had been found near water, though Biscayne Bay was hardly a canal and the Hudson River was, well, a river.

   Naturally, Della’s parents had been concerned. But she had assured them she went to work and came straight home. They were always there when she returned, along with her mother’s giant sheepdog that looked like a mop but could be as fierce as any pit bull or rottweiler if he saw a member of the family threatened. They also lived in a friendly neighborhood and had automatic lights if she came home in the dark, along with a surprisingly modern alarm system. She was almost nineteen—an adult—and studying criminology! She knew how to be safe and smart. They had been studying serial killers just before the break. If anyone knew how to be careful, it was her.

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