“And where have you been hiding?”
I swallowed. Hard. “Hello, Callum.”
In the dim light of the entryway to Beulah’s apartment, I had run into him. The bane of my existence. The scourge of my life’s blood. His long, mushroom brown hair looked muddy in the light, and his face was gaunt, his cheekbones hitting like perfect points to accentuate his lips. A faint goatee outlined his mouth and chin. To be honest, I used to find his features sexy, but not anymore.
I wanted a sword so that I could run him through.
Instead, I smiled politely and tried to skirt around him and into the apartment. He held up a hand to stop me. “Where are you headed to?”
“Don’t have time for a little catch-up?”
“Nope. I really don’t.”
“Oh c’mon, Tali.”
I glared at him. “You don’t get to call me that anymore.”
“No.” I shoved his hand away and pushed past him, scurrying up the steps into the apartment doorway. I let it slam behind me and ran up the steps inside to get around the other people who had gathered in Beulah’s place on the second floor. As soon as I was surrounded, I stopped and sucked in a breath. I must have been a sight because I felt a hand on my shoulder and whipped around to find Beulah staring at me with concern in her eyes.
“I didn’t invite him.”
“Oh good goddess, I know that sweetie. Who the hells would?”
“Are you alright?”
“It’s nothing that a shot wouldn’t fix.”
“Whiskey or rum?”
“Oh whiskey. Gimme the good stuff.”
“Coming right up.”
Beulah left me and headed towards a makeshift bar on the other side of the living room. My nerves were shot. I found a seat against the wall and gazed around at the numerous people who had decided to make her apartment the liveliest place this side of Mardi Gras. Everyone always had a good time in her presence. She had an unassuming way about her that drew people in, encouraged them to be themselves and let loose a little. Admittedly, I loved that about her. She was someone that made you want to be better than you were.
Returning with a whiskey in hand, Beulah handed it over and sat beside me as I downed it. The burn felt like a great relief to the cold chill that Callum had set into my bones. Holding the glass tightly in my right hand, I looked over at her.
“How does he always manage to do that?”
“Show up at the most inopportune times like that. I’m learning to hate him.”
“Hate is a strong word, Tali…”
“But it’s what I’m feeling.” I narrowed my eyes and pursed my lips. “And he tried to use my name like that. It makes me so mad!”
“Yes. I hate hearing it come out of his mouth. Makes me feel gross.”
“I bet. But just remember that karma is going to have a field day with him. You need to let go of the hate, the anger.”
“But it’s fuel. I’ve done a lot just by being spurred on by it.”
Beulah put her long, slender fingers on my forearm. “That may be, but what is it doing to your mind? To your soul?”
“Exactly.” Beulah released a beautimous smile at me, and I couldn’t help but return one in kind. She had that power, that ability. I wanted to be a better version of myself around her.
“Thank you.” I sighed. “I’m sorry I was being so bitter.”
She patted me on the shoulder. “Don’t mention it.”
I glanced around the room. “Hey, have you seen Alec?”
I nearly missed her stiffening. “Alec? He was coming?”
“Of course!” I narrowed my eyes at her. “Why do you seem so surprised?”
“Surprised? No! I thought he had something else he needed to do this evening.”
“Mmm hmm…” I gave her a once over. “Me thinks you’re keeping something from me…”
Beulah laughed, and it was melodious. Before she could speak, a boisterous laugh came from around the corner, and Sally stepped into view.
“It’s alright – I’m here! You can quit worrying now!” Sally resumed laughing, and it filled the room, rising above the din.
“Who ever worries about you!” I called out playfully.
Sally spied us and came over immediately, grabbing us both in a big hug, wrapping her arms around our shoulders. When she pulled back, an impervious smile was adorning her face. I grinned back.
“What took you so long?” I asked. “You missed the excitement.”
Sally’s face instantly took on a look of disapproval. “That bastard. He was here?”
“Yeah. He tried to talk to me outside, but I wasn’t having it.”
Sally nodded. “Good. You should definitely avoid him. Don’t engage with him at all.”
“Oh I wasn’t planning on it. Beulah confirmed he wasn’t invited, so he’s just stirring the pot.”
“Damn cauldron stirrer.”
Beulah smiled. “Sometimes you have to stir the cauldron, though.”
I laughed. “We mean the kind that would stir it and tip it over.”
Her face scrunched up. “Oh yeah, that’s definitely the bad kind.”
Sally and I laughed and the three of us continued laughing and enjoying the evening. Every now and then, I looked around for Alec. It still surprised me that he would miss a good shindig. He was a known night owl and purveyor of good times. What could have gotten his attention over a party?
* * *
The early morning sun was just making its first hints over the horizon, and that was muffled by the trees lining the border of the grounds. The sky was still sleepy, waking from its evening slumber, and the lavender hues of the west were being touched with peachy pink from the east. The air was cool, a slight breeze playing through it, and a light layer of dew was draped across the ground.
The faire grounds were swarmed with police cars. Blue and red lights melded into purple across the field and illuminated the white tents in dancing bright colors. Officers were walking here and there, with K-9 units sniffing and whining as they utilized their work energy to detect the evidence of a crime.
I had just parked my Jeep, anxious to get to the tent and get a personal reading in before the customers would start to arrive. I was stopped in my tracks by the sight of the telltale lights and vehicles decorating the field. My quick steps faltered and I found myself stopping and surveying the grounds for signs of the obvious problem.
Then I saw something hanging from a tree limb down towards my section of tents. It was too far away to tell what it was, but it was large and awkward. I crept closer until I reached the line of officers who told me to stop and stay back. I made eye contact with one of them, who seemed to be interested in why I was so curious.
“Don’t come any closer, ma’am.”
“I work here,” I said, gesturing towards the tents. “What’s happened?”
His eyes were hidden by the visor of his uniform cap. “Just stay back ma’am. There’s been a murder.”
Shocked, I felt my eyes widen and my mouth open slightly. We hadn’t had anything like this happen in our neck of the woods in ages. I couldn’t believe it.
But then I felt it: a stark chill descended down my spine and the hair on the back of my neck stood up. I excused myself and went back to my Jeep. I whipped out my personal deck of assorted tarot cards and shuffled. Closing my eyes, I shuffled repeatedly and kept my question in my mind. I stopped shuffling and the first card I pulled was the Hanged Man. A man hung from a tree limb by one ankle, his other leg bent at the knee and crossing over his tied leg. I gasped, realizing this is what I had seen hanging from the tree. I pulled the next card.
The Three of Cups. It was a friend.
Oh my goddess… Alec!
I threw my cards down and ran back to the police line. “Officer! Officer!”
“I already told you to–”
“I need to know if that’s Alec Ronan!”
The officer tensed put his hand to his gun holster. “How do you know that?”
Stunned, I froze. “It… It’s him? You’re telling me it’s him?”
The officer leaned forward towards me. “How do you know Alec Ronan?” He looked at another officer and gestured for them to come over. They began to make their way to where I stood, moving slowly like I was a wild horse.
“Sweet goddess… It’s Alec, it’s Alec…” I began to cry, softly, then harder still. I sank to the ground, falling to my knees as I realized my best friend was gone. Someone had killed my friend, hung him up like the Hanged Man card in the tarot.
“Ma’am, I’m going to need you to come down to the station, so we can sort this out.”
“Oh… Okay…” I mumbled, unsure what else to say. One officer took me by my upper right arm and began leading me towards a police car. I let them put me in the back, the musty smell assaulting my nostrils but failing to shake me out of my delirium.
My best friend was dead.
As I sat there, waiting for them to drive us away, a truck pulled up, and I realized I was seeing Jack Soroka. I watched him climb out and approach the police line. Just like me, the officer kept Jack from getting closer, holding up a hand and having to gently push Jack back and away from the line. He seemed frustrated, turning and looking around in discontentedness. Then he saw me watching him. His eyes held shock, sadness, and a touch of confusion. What did he know?
He began to walk over right as the other police officer climbed in and turned the engine on. Before he could reach us, the officer was reversing and then shifted to drive away. I watched him, watching me with glowing green eyes, and I felt empty inside as I rode in the back, heading towards the police station.