Authors: Susan Lynn Solomon
Back in the Hunt
y kitchen is white. Cabinets, canisters, floor tiles,
refrigerator, stove, all white. Even my microwave and coffee pot are white. I’m nothing if not consistent. To satisfy Mom, who had a penchant for cooking but didn’t want to be shut away from us, my father broke down some walls and enlarged the kitchen. After that, Mom’s workspace was separated from the living room and front hall only by a counter. When Dad died and Mom moved to Florida, I resurfaced the counter with white Formica.
Roger sat patiently at my dinette table, while, hands shaking, I struggled to scoop coffee into the filter on top of the pot. Bless him for his patience. He hadn’t missed my eyes go wide when I saw the open French doors, so he knew I had something to tell him. More, because I knew how upset he was over his partner’s murder, he might have suspected my reaction had something to do with that. As I’ve said, Roger Frey is a good detective: he sees things, and the relationship between those things, others don’t. He’s able to do this
he’s patient. Patience, he’s often told me, is the most important skill a good cop must learn.
I carried the pot and two mugs to the table. As soon as I sat, I began to blurt out what Kevin told me.
“Whoa, slow down, Trigger,” Roger said. “I just got here, remember? Start from the beginning so I can catch up.
“That was Kevin’s pickup outside. He knows who killed Jimmy,” I began, only to be stopped by his raised hand.
“Who did it?” He slid to the edge of his seat. It was as if he intended to run from my house as soon as he knew who to chase after.
“I don’t know. Kevin left before he told me.”
Again I was stopped by a raised hand. His cell phone pulled from his jacket pocket, Roger moved quickly from the kitchen, and yanked open my front door. “Truck’s gone,” he said while punching numbers into his phone. Leaning out the door, he spoke so softly I couldn’t hear what he said.
Now he was back in the kitchen. With a sigh, he slid onto the chair opposite me. “Okay, maybe we’d better do this a different way,” he said.
“What different way? You’ve got to stop that slimy bastard before he disappears!”
Frustrated, I forgot I held a mug of hot coffee. So, when I gestured toward the door, the amber liquid slopped over the brim and burned my hand. I yelped.
Roger jumped from the table and pulled a bar of butter from the refrigerator. While he rubbed it on the burned spot, he said, “Calm down. I just called the precinct, told them what Kevin said. They’re sending a unit to look for his pickup.”
He put down the butter and took my hand. “Now, pretend you’re a witness and I’m a detective asking you questions.”
Because a police bulletin had gone out to find my ex, I was finally able to relax. In fact, I was relaxed enough to enjoy the way Roger fussed over my burn. I smiled at him. “You
a detective, so this isn’t make-believe.”
“Good. Now you’ve got it. Okay, one question at a time: you were out tonight—”
Before he could finish, I jumped back in. “I went to visit Marge Osborn—brought her a casserole. It’s nice to do things like that. She shouldn’t have to worry about dinner so soon after—”
Barely able to hold back the deep laugh I liked so much, Roger again raised his hand. The gesture stopped me as I was about to confess to having made a fool of myself by all but accusing Jimmy of being a dirty cop.
“What did you talk about?” he asked.
My face must have turned as red as the burn on my
hand when I recalled what wasn’t one of my finest moments. I could only hope Margaret Osborn wouldn’t stop
talking to me.
“Oh, this and that,” I hedged. “It has nothing to do with what Kevin told me.” Nothing would be gained by admitting my stupidity.
Clearly, Roger noted I held something back. When he tried to press me, I winced.
He frowned. “Okay, we’ll come back to that. So, then you came home”
“What time did you get here?”
“About nine-thirty, I guess.” I usually have a fair idea of what time it is. But, I felt so guilty about accusing an old friend, I’d lost track of time.
“Can you be a bit more precise?” he asked.
I twisted my wrist to consult my watch, as if it might provide the answer. “Uh, let me see. I left Marge’s house shortly after nine and drove around a bit. So, I guess it could have been ten or later by the time I got home.”
“Good,” Roger said. He sounded pleased to have gotten me into the rhythm. “And when you arrived, you thought someone might be waiting for you?”
I sipped at my coffee. “I saw his four-by-four when I came around the bend—just past the gas station.”
“A stranger might have been waiting outside your house, and you opened the door when he knocked?”
Roger’s face took on the same expression as the cat had when she all but told me I was crazy to do that.
As if to say
I told you so,
Elvira sauntered in from the living room, parked her butt next to Roger’s chair, and stared up at me. I expected any moment she would stick out her tongue.
“He wasn’t a stranger,” I said.
Roger’s face grew stern. “But, did you know it was Kevin before you opened the door?”
“I, uh…” I peered through the pass-through from the kitchen to the French doors.
“Well?” He leaned closer.
“I…saw his face outside the door,” I said, and stared at Elvira, daring her to call me a liar. She might have done just that had she been able to speak. As it was, she let out a low hiss, which had the same effect.
“You looked through the door, did you?” Roger said.
Caught (hoisted on my own petard, my mother would have said), I tightened my lips and nodded.
Roger lifted my chin, and looked into my eyes. “You pulled open the blind and looked close enough for a stranger to see you and break in?”
“But…it was Kevin,” I said.
Elvira lifted a paw, and smacked Roger’s ankle. It looked as though she wanted him to say letting my ex in was worse than if it had been a stranger. If the stupid cat had been a female dog—well, I’m glad I stopped before I called her that.
“Hmmm,” Roger said.
Was his reaction jealousy? I didn’t have time to consider what his jealousy might imply. There was another knock on my front door.
“Central Station, come right in,” I called as I rose from the table.
When I opened the door, I saw Harry Woodward on my stoop. Hatless on the cold night, his long face was drawn, and he had dark rings under his eyes. A workaholic, the man seemed extremely tired. Pressures of his job, lack of sleep? I was sure he’d have looked the same way when he was colonel, and lost one of his marines in Iraq.
“Good evening, Emlyn.” He brushed past me. “Mind if I come in?”
“Not at all,” I said to his back. “Make yourself at home.”
As he entered the kitchen, in his stiffest tone, Woody demanded, “Detective Frey, I thought we agreed you wouldn’t work the Osborn case.”
Roger crossed his legs and replied evenly, “What makes you think I intend to work the case? My shift ended. I stopped to have coffee with my friend.”
“Please, Detective, give me credit for knowing my team. You spent the day nosing around to learn what we’ve got, and the next thing I know you call in an APB.”
A small smile crossed Roger’s lips. “I didn’t know this had anything to do with Jimmy until I got here and Emlyn told me her ex broke in. Tell the Chief what Reinhart told you.”
Woody turned to me with his lips pinched. It was as if he asked whether Roger’s alibi was too much of a sieve to hold water.
I looked him squarely in the eyes. In a curt tone, I said, “That’s right. I was frightened by a man in my yard. When I let him in, he said—”’
“You opened the door to someone who scared you?” Chief Woodward said.
I gulped. I’m a poor liar, always have been. As a result, I usually don’t even try to do it. But, this wasn’t a lie. Why was my face growing warm?
As if he were assessing my truthfulness, Chief Woodward’s eyes rested on me for a minute. At last, he said, “All right, then, do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”
He settled between Roger and me at the dinette table and pulled a pad from his coat pocket. It was clear he would interview me whether or not I minded.
Over the next half hour I told him in detail what happened when I drove up to my house—leaving out the part where initially I was certain Jack the Ripper or maybe a vampire was waiting in lurk for me. Each time I paused, Woody looked up from his pad and asked another question. By the time we were done, I felt as though I’d been run over by the four-by-four I’d seen outside.
When he rose from the table, the Chief turned to Roger. “Are you staying?” he asked.
His eyes fixed on his boss’s face, my friend answered, “I am.”
Woody tried to pinion him with a stare. “You’re staying with a friend, then, not with a witness. Am I being clear?”
“Yes, sir,” Roger said.
I waited for him to jump to attention and give his boss a sarcastic salute. That’s what I would have done. Thank goodness Roger had more sense than I.
“As long as you understand my letting you sit in on this interview wasn’t an invitation to get into the Osborn case,” Woody said as he walked out the door.
I carried my mug to the sink and began to wash the coffee pot.
“He’s a good cop,” Roger said when we heard the Chief’s car drive off.
I turned from the sink with a dishtowel and the wet pot in my hands. “Are you going to listen to him?” I said rather harshly.
He smiled at me.
“Are you going to, Roger? If not, I can call Woody back.”
He sipped coffee that by now must have been cold. “You know I can’t. Forget Jimmy was my best friend, he was my partner. I can’t walk away from this.”
I stood, thinking. “Okay, then,” I said after a minute. “If you’re going after his killer, I’m gonna help.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” he said, “You’re a—”
“A what? A woman?” I snapped at him. How dare he!
“You know that’s not what I mean. But…yeah, you’re a woman who I don’t want to see get hurt. You heard what your husband said—”
“He’s not my husband. Not anymore. Not for a long time.”
As if to say he wasn’t playing, Roger gave me a pinched smile. “Good. Glad to hear it. Still, you heard what Reinhart said. These are dangerous people I’m going after. Best guess is, it has something to do with drugs—that’s what Woody thinks.”
“What do you think?” I asked.
As if it were an Indy car, suspicion raced back into my mind. I told Roger about the Corvette in the Osborns’ driveway; reminded him of the expensive wedding, and Marge’s new fur coat. I set the coffee pot down, and carefully folded the towel. “You…you don’t think Jimmy was involved in drug trafficking?” I asked, not at all certain I wanted an answer.
Roger rubbed his chin. “I’m not sure…maybe. But see, that’s why I’ve got to keep you out of this. Drug pushers, they don’t play by any rules.”
“I can take care of myself,” I insisted.
“Yeah, I can tell. Just look how you trembled at the thought someone was stalking you. Get involved in this, stalking will be the least of your worries.”
I slid onto the chair across from him. “I was frightened because I didn’t know what was out there. Now I know. I can handle this.”
“How?” he asked. “You don’t even own a gun.”
Book of Shadows
rose in my mind. With a glance at Elvira, I said, “I’ve got something better.” I crossed my fingers and hoped it really was. As I said before, I’m new to this witchcraft thing.
Roger looked at me through narrowed eyes. “What are you talking about?”
I tightened my jaw.
“Stay out of this, Emlyn,” he said. “You hear me?”
I looked again at Elvira. Whether or not cats have the facial muscles to do it, I know she was smiling.
oger didn’t intend to obey his boss’s direct order, but he expected me to obey
? Not a chance!
As soon as he left, I double-locked my door, fastened the chain, and ran to my computer desk. I had placed Sarah Goode’s
Book of Shadows
in the top drawer.
Elvira only remained in the kitchen long enough to lap some milk from her bowl. Then she chased after me. On her haunches by my desk chair, she raised her face as if to say,
Come on already—what are you waiting for?
I laughed at her eagerness and leaned over to wipe away her milk mustache. Don’t ask how I saw it on her white fur—we’d been together long enough for me to know she had one.
“Sloppy, sloppy,” I said, as if she were a child. “I really need to teach you table manners.”
She licked her lips.
Satisfied I’d done my duty as a parent…uh, or whatever
I was to her, I opened the drawer. My stomach fluttering with enough butterflies to fill a field with a colorful cloud, I placed Sarah’s book in front of me. I switched on my desk lamp so I’d be able to read the faded script. Careful not to crack the brittle pages, I turned sheet after sheet. About a quarter of the way in, I found something.
Elvira’s mewing told me it might be important.
I scanned the page, then the next. What I read was as much a diary entry as an instruction manual. Sarah’s heart seemed to be laid open on the vellum.
18 May, in the year of our Lord, 1692,
Minister Burrows has fled this Salem town, accused by girls he taught of stealing their affection through witchcraft. Their love was not
stolen by George. It is mine that was, and no craft was needed to secure it for himself. Will I ever again walk with him through Salem’s fields? I fear not.
Last night while all slept, I stole away into the barn, bringing with me three tapers of beeswax. In the candle flames, I sought to find where this precious minister of my heart lays his gentle head this night, and knowing where he is, perchance fly to join him. Alone in the dark I placed my candles in the sterling holders my mother sent as a gift when I wed Dan Poole. Around them I sprinkled leaves of rosemary, thyme, and bay laurel—one offering for each candle. Then I turned to the north, east, south, and west, praying to the earth, air, fire, and water. As I did, I said this prayer:
Winds of the north rushing and mighty, bring me the sight of my love. Winds of the east, chased by the sun, show me my heart. Winds of the south, aglow with warmth, carry my sight to where he lays his head. Winds of the west, gentle and tender, show me the journey I must take to be with him.
Alas, my rite did not end well. While indeed I saw dear George in a small room, too soon the candles sputtered and sparks flew skyward. Such a flight of sparks is an evil omen. I fear where I will end.
The passage was difficult to read:
s looked like
s were placed where
s should be;
s were planted
needlessly at the end of some words and missing from
others. After I struggled through the old fashioned and faded handwriting to the last word of Sarah Goode’s entry, I leaned back and rubbed my eyes.
“Seems our friend Rebecca might have been right,” I said to Elvira. “It was love that brought my grandmother’s, grandmother’s, grandmother to Gallows Hill.
When I glanced down, I half expected the cat to congratulate me for correctly interpreting the true cause of Sarah’s demise. She didn’t. Her twisted lips told me to stop wasting time on such drivel. There was work I had to do.
“Oh, that thing with the candles,” I said. “Right. Light three candles and I’ll see who shot Jimmy.” I nearly tripped over Elvira in my rush to leave my desk.
As she jumped away, her expression said,
Now you’ve got it!
My unheated basement, with its dirt floor and cinderblock walls, was colder than frigid. No way to avoid going down there, I wrapped my sweater tight around me and flipped the light switch. A single bare bulb came to life. The raw wood steps creaked as I descended. The ritual materials Rebecca Nurse had told me to purchase were stored down here in a locked closet.
If she were here now, Sarah would hold her ceremony in the basement,
I thought as I scooted, quickly as I could, across the cement floor. After all, winter or summer, Sarah had worked her magic in a drafty old barn. I didn’t know whether the barn to which Sarah retreated had been drafty or old, but that’s the way I imagined it.
Feeling the cold from my ankles to my nose, I
mumbled to Elvira, “The original Goode had far more stamina than I.”
The cat wasn’t at my feet. She hadn’t followed me down to the cold cellar. I turned back to the stairs. She stared at me from the doorway with her back arched and her hair raised, shivering.
“Big sissy,” I called up to her. Apparently, Sarah also had more stamina than a well-padded albino cat.
Alone, then, I unlocked the closet. From the top shelf, I took candles and the double-bladed ceremonial knife with which I would bless my herbs. I couldn’t use a stainless steel knife from my kitchen. I prepared meals with those. Rebecca had told me the spell would be spoiled if my ritual knife were used for anything else.
The supplies I’d need in hand, I returned to the
kitchen. Rebecca hadn’t told me not to use the herbs I cook with, so I took dried rosemary, thyme, and a couple of bay leaves from my spice cabinet, and crushed them in a stone mortar.
Again in my living room, I set down on the coffee table everything Sarah said I would need. I was ready for my first solo flight, so to speak.
With Elvira parked at my feet, I arranged three candlesticks in a triangle, placed the yellow tapers in them, and sprinkled a generous mixture of the herbs. I stepped back to examine my preparations. Everything was as Sarah Goode had described. I turned off the electric lights. Why does it seem as though magic only works in the dark?
The box of kitchen matches held over my head, I struck one with a flourish.
Panicked, I threw the lit match into an ashtray and patted my hair, certain I’d set myself on fire. This clearly wouldn’t be as easy as Sarah’s book made it sound.
Satisfied I hadn’t lit me instead of the candles, I tried again. This time I got the match lit without mishap. I cupped the match in my palms, and touched it to each of
the candlewicks. Once the flames grew strong, I turned slowly, and repeated the words Sarah had written. Of
course, I changed the business about her love, to a request for information about who killed Jim Osborn.
My prayer completed, as if I were a medium who’d invoked a spirit, I raised my hands above the candles and waited.
Nothing happened. No image magically formed in the room or even in my mind.
I stared at the candles. “Come on, show me something,” I whispered.
Still no image formed. No second sight. Not even a
“What’s going on here?” I asked the cat.
She snorted and walked away. If she could speak, I’m certain Elvira would have muttered,
as she disappeared into the kitchen.
With my head hung in defeat, I followed her. “If you’re so smart,” I said, “tell me what I did wrong.”
She raised her head from her bowl and licked the milk from her face.
“Just like Kevin,” I said. “Full of criticism, but no ideas for how I can do it right.”
She rolled her eyes. I didn’t know cats could do that.
The sun streaked through the window blinds in my bedroom the next morning. Rays of light crawled along the carpeted floor, up the walls, and onto my closed eyelids. Even more annoying, fur was in my mouth, and tickled my nose. I rolled over. The fur followed me. It was again on my nose and in my mouth.
I rubbed my eyes and opened them.
Two very pale pink eyes stared down at me.
“Go away, cat,” I mumbled, and rolled over.
The sunlight pried my eyes open.
“What time is it?” I asked, as if a cat could answer.
She did—though it was only a long
“I don’t want to get up,” I said. “I don’t have to. Got nowhere to go today.”
She licked my face leaving slime on my cheek. Yuck!
I glanced at the clock. It was almost eleven. I never sleep past nine. Still weary, again I rubbed my eyes. What time had I gone to bed last night? I got home from Marge’s just before ten, and Kevin knocked on the French doors. Then Roger knocked on my front door, then Chief Woodward. By the time they left, it was past midnight. What had I done after that?
I sprang up, all at once remembering the ceremony I’d tried to perform. Had I left the candles burning?
I tumbled from my bed and stumbled down the stairs with Elvira close behind.
The ashes from last night were still on the coffee table in the living room. As I gazed at the candlesticks and the stubs of the tapers, a queer feeling rose from my stomach—a feeling there was something I should remember, but couldn’t quite grasp.
it’ll come to me eventually.
My slippers flopping, I cleaned the mess, and braved the cold basement to put my tools away (I had decided if I called these things tools, I wouldn’t let slip what I was up to).
My house back in good order, I put up a pot of coffee and reached for the telephone.
“What trouble did you get into this time?” Rebecca said as soon as she heard my voice.
“None,” I said too quickly. Feeling my face flush, I added, “Well, other than nearly lighting my hair like a candlewick.”
After a long sigh, she said, “Tell me.”
This time she didn’t scold me for trying a spell which was beyond my experience. When I said I couldn’t figure
out what I had done wrong, she asked a question that caught me by surprise.
“What were the flames doing?” she said.
“On the candles?” I asked, unsure if she meant on
those or on my hair.
It sounded as though she drank something while I spoke. I wondered if she might have poured a shot of whisky to settle her nerves—she couldn’t have found me
easy to deal with. I didn’t have to wonder long.
“Ouch,” Rebecca said. “Sorry, my coffee’s hot.”
Reminded my mug was empty, I tucked the phone under my chin, and poured some more. Finally I began to feel as though I were awake. The elixir of life steaming in my mug, I parked on a stool by the kitchen counter. “What did you ask?” I said.
“The candles. What were the flames doing?”
Again her question stopped me. My coffee mug was near my lips. I put it down. Early in my marriage, I would light candles on my table when I wanted to have a romantic dinner and signal to Kevin I wanted something else afterward. I’d never thought to notice the way the flames moved.
After I struggled for a minute or two to pull the image from where it hid among weeds in my short-term memory, I said, “Circles. I think the flames moved in circles.”
There was silence on Rebecca’s end of the line.
“Are you still there?” I asked. Had I said something I shouldn’t?
I heard her take a breath. “Be careful, Emlyn,” she said at last.
I didn’t like the stretched-out words and the low timbre of her voice. Her tone frightened me more than her words. “What do you…? Why?”
“During a divination ritual, flames only move in circles if someone’s blocking you.”
I caught my breath. “Another witch?” I stammered.
I glanced toward the étagère in my dining room. I kept liquor in the cabinet below the glass doors. A shot of Irish whisky in my coffee might calm my nerves that now buzzed like an electric current had shot through them. I’m brave enough with things I can touch and hear. But this magic stuff—oh, it was okay when I tossed a spell at Kevin. The SOB deserved it after what he’d done to me. The relatives of Cotton Mather also deserved it—the Bible says sins of the father travel through the generations. But the idea of someone at a distance fixing a curse on me was more than I could handle on just a cup of black coffee. I gulped down what I’d put in my mug, and poured myself a third cup.
“It’s not necessarily a witch,” Rebecca said. “It might just be someone with a secret to keep. If that person knows you’re getting close—”
She didn’t need to finish the sentence. I gulped my coffee to the dregs.
“Get a grip,” Rebecca said when I gasped. “Remember, a cop lives next door to you, so you don’t
have to worry much about anything physical.