Tuesday, November 28, 2023

November Vignette - Scorpio the Zodian

Posted by: Linda Mooney


             “Her name is Aria Whitley. She lives over on Benbow Lane. I need you to go over there and get her statement.”

            Deputy Hart Merrick gave the sheriff a quizzical look. “Why does that name ring a bell?”

            Sheriff Hennesy snickered. “That’s ‘cause most folks around here refer to her as Miss Witchley.”

            “Why Witchley?”

            “’Cause the woman has a gift. You could say she’s psychic.”

            “Is she?” Hart queried.

            His boss shrugged. “It depends on whether or not you believe that sort of crap. All I know is that when she calls us and gives us some information regarding a case we’re working on, she’s pretty much spot-on.”

            “What’s her batting average?” Hart asked, curious.

            “Oooh, I’d say…” The sheriff looked him directly in the eye. “Around ninety-nine-point-nine percent.”

            “Damn!” Hart’s exclamation got a laugh from the man. “So let me guess. She’s got information about the missing Kulp kid.”

            “Or so she says.”

            This comment got him curious. “Are you saying you’re dubious about her claim? After all you’ve just told me?”

            Placing his elbows on his blotter, Hennesy leaned over his desk. “Let’s just say no one, and I mean no one, has ever had a perfect batting average. That goes for this woman. Yeah, I’m hoping that what she has to tell you is another home run. But sooner or later she has to strike out. Know what I mean?”

            Giving the man a nod, Hart turned to head out the front door. “I’ll let you know what I find out as soon as hear. By the way, why doesn’t she come here to tell us? Why do I have to go over there?”

            “That’s the way she prefers it. She’s a very private person. Considering her track record, we’re more than happy to accommodate her if it means getting the answers we need.”

            “All right. Talk to you soon,” Hart remarked and left the station.

            It was a good fifteen-minute drive to Benbow Lane. The short stretch of road was no more than a wide dirt path that wound around the trees rimming Alverson Lake. This time of year, the poplars and maples had already shed their leaves as they awaited the first winter snow.

            He didn’t have to ask which cabin belonged to Miss Witchley. Whitley. Whitley! he chastised himself. You sure as heck better not call her by that other name.

            The little green wood frame home was the only one along that stretch. A curl of smoke came from the rock chimney and an antique Volkswagen sat inside an equally small garage.

            When he pulled up to the front, he noticed a figure sitting in the rocking chair on the porch. The frail figure was bundled up against the chill. As he climbed out of his squad car, the woman got to her feet.

            “Good afternoon, Miss Whitley. I’m Deputy—”

            “Merrick. Hart Merrick. Formerly with the Yaegerton Police Department. Thank you for coming.”

            Hart almost froze in his tracks. He’d been expecting a wizened, elderly woman. Instead, he saw a young woman in her early to mid-twenties. Jet black hair. Eye color, undeterminable. Features, undeniably captivating.

            She looked back at him from where she stood in the doorway. “Are you coming in or not? I fixed coffee.”

            Coffee? Didn’t most women fix tea?

            Dumbstruck, he hurried up the steps and walked into a living room that, again, challenged his expectations. There was no vintage overstuffed sofa with needlepoint pillows. No chintz curtains. No bric-a-brac figurines on the fireplace mantel. No sepia-colored photographs of past family members hanging in gilt frames on the walls.

            Hart stared around him at the leafy green potted plants. A brightly colored rag rug lay on the floor. The sofa was polished leather and gleamed in the firelight coming from the hearth.

            The place was cozy and comfortable, and Hart immediately took a liking to it. In fact…

            I wish I had a place like this.

            “Deputy Merrick?” The woman stood less than a yard away. She’d ditched her coat to reveal a pair of gray sweatpants and a baggy gold sweater, both of which made her appear more feminine and vulnerable even though Hart knew the opposite was more like the truth. Two mugs of steaming coffee were in her hands. She handed one to him with a smile. “One pink sweetener, no cream, correct?”

            “How’d you… Never mind.” He took a sip and immediately approved.

            The woman…Aria. For some odd reason, he couldn’t think of her as Miss Whitley…took a seat at one end of the sofa. Clearing his throat, he placed his mug—not a teacup on a saucer—on the side table with the lamp and pulled out his notepad and pen.

            “Sheriff Hennesy said you might have some information regarding the whereabouts of Lukas Kulp.”

            She took a sip of her drink. “Lukas Kulp isn’t missing. His stepfather took him over to his sister’s house in Durberville.”

            “His stepfather took him?”

            “The boy’s mother’s been abusing him. Has been ever since the boy’s father left her three years ago. The stepfather took him away from her to save the child’s life.” Aria tilted her head as she studied him. “It’s not what you expected to hear, was it?”

            “Are you sure it’s the stepfather who’s hiding the boy, and not the mother?”

            She gave him a wry grin. “I know you’re new in town, but when you report back to Sheriff Hennesy, he’ll confirm what I said about the mother.”

            “I’ve no doubt. In Durberville, you said?” He jotted the name down on his notepad. “Anything else you can give me?”

            “Not at this time.”

            Sighing, he closed the pad and shoved it back into his pocket. “Miss Whitley…”

            “You can call me Aria so you don’t accidentally call me Miss Witchley like the townspeople do,” she remarked with a warmer smile.

            He chuckled. “Busted.”

            “So what’s your question?”

            “You could’ve just as easily told us this over the phone. Why did I have to make the trip over?” He narrowed his eyes. “Did you ask for me specifically?”

            “No. I knew Hennesy would send you instead.”

            “Then why—”

Because I wanted to meet you. I hope to gleam an understanding as to why you quit the police department in a city like Yaegerton and moved here.”

            Hart crossed his arms over his chest. “I thought you were a psychic. You don’t know already?”

            She casually took another sip of her coffee. “I see events, usually after they’ve happened. What I don’t see is the reason behind them.”

            “You just told me the stepfather absconded with the Kulp kid because the mother was abusing him,” Hart reminded her. “That sounds like a pretty valid reason to me.”

            “I know where the child is and who took him there. The rest is my supposition. My reason is why, as Sheriff Hennesy told you, I’m correct only ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the time.”

            Hart knew his mouth had dropped open but he couldn’t help it. There had been no one else present at the station when the sheriff had spoken with him. “What are you?”

            “If I told you, you wouldn’t believe me.”

            “Try me. No, let me guess. You’re a witch like the people claim.”

            “No. That’s old hat anyway.”

            “But you are psychic. Did you inherit that ability?”

            “You could say I did. Actually, I’m a Scorpian.”

            Hart knitted his brows. “You’re a Scorpio. So?”

            She shook her head. “Not a Scorpio. A Scorpian. We’re known for our psychic abilities.”

            “What’s the difference?”

            “A lot, Deputy Merrick.”

            “Does Sheriff Hennesy know?”

            “I’ve told him. Of course, he also assumes I’m talking about my zodiac sign.”

            “Why are you telling me all this?”

            “I told you.” She pointed at his mug he’d set on the side table. “I wanted to get to know more about you, and I was wanting some company. Have a seat and enjoy your coffee before it gets too cold. Except I know you like iced coffee, too, so maybe it won’t matter.”

            Hart chuckled. “You’re a strange woman, Aria.”

            “I prefer it that way.”

            “Is that why you’re up here on this lake all alone? Where’s your family?”

            Lifting her mug to her lips, she smiled again at him over the rim. “Guess you’ll have to take another trip up here on your day off to find out. There’ll always be a warm fire in the fireplace and a hot cup of coffee waiting for you when you get here.”

            “Is that a promise?” he halfway teased.

            “Guess you’ll have to find out the hard way,” she responded.

            Reaching for his mug, he took several swallows. It was good, and a damn sight better than the stuff brewed at the station.

            He glanced across the room. And the fireplace. The company. The overall ambiance of this place. He wanted to ask her if she had an idea where all this would eventually lead up to, but he had a sneaking suspicion he already knew the answer.

            And he wasn’t the least bit psychic.

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