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A Sticks Hetrick Mystery

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Chapter 1

Saturday

            It was a serene and quiet evening and might have remained so were it not for Mrs. Taylor’s cat.

            A still summer night; hushed, not even a breeze disturbing the silence, and the people, rocking or swinging on front porches all along Main Street, wielding fans against the humidity hanging like a veil over the town, too lethargic for conversation. Nothing intruded on the quiet. For once, even the children who normally engaged in noisy play up and down the street were silent.

            Birds refrained from their protean song, no animal rustled in the underbrush and fireflies flickered mutely, without the accompaniment of the cicadas in the elms or crickets hidden in damp wall crevices of the black-looming homes along the street.

            Mrs. Taylor sat still as a stone in the bosom of this ocean of calm until eleven o’clock when she went inside to watch the late news on Channel 26. It was habit, and not an interest in the doings of others, that took her into the stuffy parlor. It had been a nightly ritual to watch the news with her husband before going to bed and, though he usually slept through most of the report, it was a practice from which they seldom wavered and which became ingrained in their nature with long years of repetition. Though he was dead now for nearly ten years, Mrs. Taylor continued to abide by the routine. Despite the panorama of violence, corruption and useless information, sports that didn’t interest her and inaccurate weather reports flickering across the screen, the process of watching—when she didn’t dose off like her late spouse—somehow provided a cathartic which made it easier for her to retreat to her lonely bed afterwards.

            After turning on the TV and tuning in the channel, Mrs. Taylor got an ice-cold can of Budweiser from the refrigerator and returned to plop down in her favorite recliner opposite the hypnotic screen which, except for the cat, had become her sole companion most evenings. It was sticky in the room despite the two broad and open windows fronting on the street. Annoyed with the heat, she switched off the table lamp, rose again and angled a rotating fan so that it wafted more air in the direction of her chair.

            She’d barely sat down, opened the beer, taken a refreshing sip from the can and lit her sixth and final cigarette of the day when the cat, which had been purring around her legs, began yowling to be let out. With a sigh, she dropped her cigarette into an ashtray and pulled herself up from the chair. “You’re such a pest, Tom-Tom,” she told him. “If I didn’t love you so much I’d get rid of you.”

            Mrs. Taylor didn’t see it when she opened the door for the cat. The animal, more perceptive than the drowsy woman, reacted with a horrible screech, flinging itself back and raking her legs with its sharp claws. Startled, the woman kicked at the cat which scuttled into a corner behind the door, back arched, hackles raised.

            The cat’s fright quenched her anger and Mrs. Taylor bent, reaching out to stroke the cowering beast, speaking to it in soft tones. “There, Tom. Easy, dear. Mommy didn’t mean it. Good Tom.” She did love the cat and regretted having responded abusively. “Are those mean dogs out there again? Is that what scared you?”

            It was when she switched on the porch light and peered out the doorway that she saw it.

            Glowing obscenely in a yellow pool of light, it sat on the top porch step, oozing a dark track of blood crawling slowly toward her. It was the severed head of a young woman; short, blond hair disheveled and sticky with mud and wet grass, blind eyes meeting Mrs. Taylor’s shocked gaze, lips pulled back from glistening white and even teeth in a burlesque and mocking smile.

            A sour surge rose from Mrs. Taylor’s stomach and caught in her throat. Cupping one hand over her own lips, she stumbled back, quivering, leaning against the door jamb for support, closing her eyes to the horrible apparition. Gradually, as the wave of nausea subsided, she opened her eyes and forced herself to look again.

            Then, Mrs. Taylor screamed, a pathetic and hysterical shriek shattering the serenity of the night.

SOMETHING IN COMMON was published in June 2006 by Whiskey Creek Press as an enovel, ISBN: 1-59374-500-1, and as a paperback, ISBN: 1-59374-499-4. To purchase the novel go to www.whiskeycreekpress.com