CHAPTER ONE

In First War Austro-Hungarian army needed gasoline

The Czinkota Village constable remembered something

Before the war a man had stored some large metal drums

It was a bright and sunny June day and Brighton was bathed in a golden light. On a high hill, overlooking the city was Cherry House. The home of one Dr Adrian Posner, leader of The Cherry Group. At the moment, the house was almost empty. Things had been quiet on the paranormal front so Dr Posner had allowed his team to go their separate ways for a few weeks. He remained in the house with only Dextra Barlow for company; they sometimes met in the evening for dinner but usually kept to themselves.

Dex was currently holed up in the huge library and working her way through the classics section. Dr Posner encouraged all his team to read everything they could but Dex seemed to be the only one taking him up on it. She had just finished Pride and Prejudice and was just replacing it on the shelf when she noticed the next book in line, she raised an eyebrow and her lips quivered in a rare grin. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? Dex slid the book from the shelf and walked back across the short space to the comfy chair she had just vacated. Before she could sit, Dex heard a car crunch over the gravel driveway outside. She dropped the book onto the chair and strolled across the room to the window.

Dr Posner was in such a rush to get out of his car he almost fell, Dex snorted with laughter and shook her head. Dr Posner was sixty seven but he looked good on it. He was practically a paranormal encyclopaedia and, given the work that they did, this was probably a good thing. Posner was tall and seemed a little thinner than usual, his white hair flew about his head and there were dark circles around his bright green eyes. Dex pressed her face against the glass and frowned, Dr Posner was usually very smartly turned out but not today. His black trousers were creased and his black shirt was rumpled so much that it made strange lumps in his maroon waistcoat; even from that distance she could see a spot of something on his white tie.

"Ah well, it was nice while it lasted" muttered Dex. She put the book back on the shelf and left the library, she climbed the twirling staircase and went to her room. If Dr Posner was in a state then they would no doubt be leaving again on some wild adventure soon. She pulled off her pyjamas and climbed into the shower, the hot water felt good and she suddenly realized how tense she had been. Dex wasn't used to being with other people and she often felt more comfortable alone but when the others weren't home, she worried about them and where the next phone call would take them. But now she knew something was happening, she could relax and let it happen.

Twenty minutes later, Dex stepped out of the shower and wrapped a towel around her before walking to the wardrobe. She dried herself off and flung the towel into the hamper. Dex pulled on flared blue jeans and a yellow, long sleeve top before stepping into white boots and pulling her now purple dread-locks into a high ponytail. Satisfied that she looked a little more than half human, Dex put a pair of pink lensed glasses on her nose and headed down to the kitchen. She wanted to try and get some food before it all kicked off.

Dr Posner was already in the kitchen and Dex paused in the doorway to breathe in the smell of eggs and bacon. Posner glanced at Dex as she entered, he motioned to a chair and she flopped into it. He placed a pile of eggs, bacon, hash browns and toast infront her. Dex poured two cups of tea and set to with gusto, neither spoke but Dex knew the boss would talk when he was ready. They both pushed their plates away simultaneously, their eyes met and Dex smiled.

"The others will be back today" said Posner. Dex raised her eyebrows and paused with the tea cup half way to her lips.

"I thought they had another couple of weeks?" she asked. Posner shifted in his chair and sighed, obviously worried.

"They did but Dawn called me early this morning. She's been having awful nightmares, she thinks it may be time to get the group back here." Dex froze as a chill waltzed down her spine, she'd been having nightmares too. Although her particular uncanny ability was totally different from Dawn's, Dex wouldn't have been surprised if something had leaked through. She tried to speak but nothing came out, just a dry little croak. Dex cleared her throat and tried to sound casual.

"What is she dreaming about?" The casual question fell flat as Posner glanced up, her face was painfully pale and there was an obvious tremor in her voice. Dex swallowed but refused to drop her gaze, Posner took the hint and cleared his throat.

"She saw women being strangled, definitely more than one and then they are shoved into what she thinks is oil drums. Dawn's dreams are never wrong so I called the rest of the team and told them to get back as soon as they can." Posner put the dishes into the sink and smiled a little at her before leaving the room. Dex stared into her empty mug of tea and fought back the tears that threatened to fall, dreams were never her thing so this was starting to freak her out. Her dreams were, obviously, different from Dawn's but no less frightening.

Dex was about three years old in her dream, she was sitting in what she thought was a bathtub with another girl that looked just like her. They were both covered in blood and screaming their heads off but then a figure moves through the fog of the dream, scoops the other girl up and carries her away. Dex always feels empty and alone when the girl is gone, like a part of her soul is carried away with her sister.

Dex jumped in her seat and the cup slipped from her grasp to smash on the floor. Sister? Where had that come from? Maybe now would be a good time to take Hale up on his mind walk thing. But first, she had things to do before the others got back. She cleared up the remains of the cup and dropped it in the bin before hurrying back to the library and the computer. Dex locked the door and put her limited hacking skills to use to break into the records of the children's home she had lived in. She found her own file quickly and frowned, it was empty and it shouldn't be.

"What the Hell?" she muttered. Dex leaned back in her chair and frowned, she'd lived there for many years so they should at least have had medical records. Maybe it was time for the direct approach. Dex crossed to the other side of the room and picked up the phone, she dialled the number for the home and waited until the familiar voice of the House Matron answered.

"Hello Mrs Luxmore, its Dextra Barlow. I've just started a new job and I need my records for them. Even just the medical ones would be useful" she said. Dex was very aware of the overly long pause that followed this request and of the anxious throat clearing a few seconds later.

"We've been trying to contact you but you didn't leave us an address or phone number, dear. We had a new computer system put in and some of the records were accidently wiped about two weeks ago." Dex leaned back in her chair and wondered why Mrs Luxmore was lying to her. If they had had a new system put in then Dex wouldn't have been able to get into it. Time for plan B.

"Oh that's a shame. Do you have the hard copies? Paper would be fine" said Dex. There was another pause and another throat clearing and Dex wondered what the lie would be this time.

"I'm afraid that's not possible either dear. A large section of our building was destroyed by fire just a few days ago, all but a few of the files were totally destroyed." Dex slammed the receiver back into the cradle and snarled in annoyance. Something was going on and she hated being in the dark but at least now she had people she could ask for help. Dex smiled as another car crunched over the gravel outside, she darted to the window and smiled as Dr Posner appeared and gathered Flynn Walters up in what looked like a bear hug.

Flynn was looking well but then again he was probably the only one in The Cherry Group that had a supportive family. His grandmother and grandfather had bought up Flynn and his sister since they were children and they had a strong bond that Dex would happily admit that she was jealous of. Flynn had suffered a head injury during the first case that Dex had joined them on and he hadn't been quite right since. The usual sunny disposition was often displaced with dark shadows and random bursts of temper but a trip home usually calmed him and, Dex had to admit, he looked well.

Flynn was short and slight and looked a lot younger than his almost thirty years, his red hair was brushed forward around his face and his brown eyes were wide as he listened to Dr Posner. He wore the usual baggy blue jeans with a lime green long sleeve tee and white trainers. Dex watched as they vanished into the house. She dashed across the room and unlocked the door before poking her head into the corridor. Flynn raised a hand to her before hurrying away to his own room. Dex leaned on the doorjamb and sighed, here we go again.