This short story falls nowhere in the current timeline of the Marnie Reilly Mysteries series. It is simply a short story that popped into my head while I was falling asleep a few nights ago. Sometimes you just have to write what is handed to you in your dreams. I hope you enjoy it.
Marnie rolled to her side and stared out the window at the sun rising over the paper birches and hemlock spruces on the ridge. Her thoughts took her to a conversation she had with one of her clients yesterday.
“If I tell you I am planning to hurt someone, you are required by law to tell the police, aren’t you?”
Jonathan LaRoche steepled his long, chunky fingers on his broad chest as he lay on the couch in Marnie’s consulting room. His shoulder-length black hair was in need of a wash—his clothes were grubby and he smelled of must, perspiration, and Axe body spray, and his beard was a matted mess of gray and black whiskers with flecks of food creased into the corners of his unwashed mouth.
Marnie worked hard to maintain her composure, her hand over her nose and mouth to keep from gagging at the odor. “Yes, that’s right. If you plan to break the law, I have a duty of care to inform the proper authorities. Is that why you wanted to see me today? Are you planning to harm someone?” Her tone even—her eyes watering from the man’s stench.
“I see. Client confidentiality only goes so far, then.” He craned his neck to see her reaction.
Moving her hand away from her face, she studied him. “Why would you want to harm someone, Mr. LaRoche?”
“Hypothetically, I would harm someone if they were to say, divulge my innermost thoughts. You know, things that I have discussed with them in confidence.” He waved his hand, and quickly sat up, hammering his size 16 shoes into the floor.
Marnie flinched and internally scolded herself for allowing him to startle her. “Mr. LaRoche, we have this conversation once a week. Why don’t you tell me what’s really on your mind.” She sat forward—eyebrows raised.
He pointed an accusing finger at her. “You don’t like me. How can you be my psychologist if you don’t like me?”
“Why do you think that I don’t like you?” She cocked her head, gripping her pen tightly.
“You judge me, Ms. Reilly!” He got to his feet and paced in front of the couch.
Marnie pushed her chair back while he wasn’t looking—shortening the distance between her and the door.
“Do I? I don’t believe that I judge anyone, Mr. LaRoche. I certainly listen to everything that you tell me and make a professional assessment. Is that what you consider judging?”
Whirling around, he lunged forward, placing his hands on the arms of her chair. His face inches from hers, he snarled, “You! It’s you I intend to harm!” Shoving her chair back into the wall with a jolting thunk, he turned his back and sang, “Pop Goes the Weasel.” Wheeling back around, he took a step toward her. She leapt to her feet as her consulting room door flew open.
Carl stood in the doorway, jaw and fists clenched. “Your session is over, Mr. LaRoche.”
A blue jay squawked by her screened window, jerking her from her thoughts. Glancing down at her smartwatch, a wave of nausea washed over her.
“Argh! It’s Friday the 13th!” She rolled to the other side of her bed. Tater sat at the edge, peering into her face. Dickens glanced up from his bed in the corner where he had been licking his foot. His ears perked up when Marnie looked at him.
“You two don’t know what Friday the thirteenth means, do you?” Her aquamarine eyes filling with tears, she ruffled a hand through Tater’s thick coat and kissed him on top of his head.
The Border Collies, ears up, cocked their heads and mumbled. Dickens stood, stretched out his front legs—rump in the air—then trotted to the side of the bed. Marnie scratched him under the chin, leaned over and wrapped her arms around both of the dogs.
“It means that we stay close to home, keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best.” She sat up and swung her legs off the bed. As her feet hit the floor, she saw a shadow move down the hallway outside of her bedroom. Pressing a finger to her lips, she shook her head at Tater, who stared at the figure disappearing around the corner.
Ryan’s Diner buzzed with caffeine-induced energy as Danny and Tom tucked into their breakfasts.
“Your grandmother makes the best scrambled eggs in Creekwood.” Tom gulped his coffee while scooping up a forkful of home fries.
“Yes, she does. The bacon is cooked perfectly too.” Danny’s blue eyes sparkled as he picked up a crispy strip with his fingers and popped it into his mouth.
“It’s strange to have a day off. I’m lookin’ forward to fishin’—away from Creekwood. I haven’t been up north to fish in a long time.” Tom pushed away his plate and puffed out his cheeks. “I am stuffed. You ready to go?” He put his hand in his pocket, pulling out a twenty-dollar bill for the tip jar.
“Yeah. Let’s hit the road.” Danny slid out to the booth and took his wallet out of his back pocket, pulling a twenty out. “C’mon! Let’s go before Gram catches us.”
Tossing their twenties into the jar on the counter, they made a beeline for the door.
“Where are you two off to in such a hurry?” Gram appeared in front of them, an order pad in her hand.
The detectives glanced at one another.
“Uh. We’re going fishing,” Danny said.
Tom nodded in agreement.
“What about Marnie?” She studied them closely.
Both men shrugged.
“She’s home—she had stuff to do.” Danny fiddled with his phone.
Tom fished his phone from his pocket and glanced down at the screen. Looking up at the ceiling, he sighed. “We’re not goin’ fishin’ today. We’re goin’ to the ranch.”
His partner scrunched up his face. “Why not? We’ve been waiting all week for this trip.”
“It’s Friday the thirteenth.”
“Yeah. Okay. Are you tellin’ me that Madame Séance is superstitious?” Danny pulled a face, laughed, and glanced down at his grandmother with a grin.
Tom pursed his lips, anger flashing in his violet eyes. “Marnie’s parents both died on a Friday the thirteenth. We gotta go to the ranch.” He dropped his head to his chest, exhaling loudly. Looking up, he shook his head at his partner. “How can you not know that?”
“She never told me! If I had known…”
“Yeah. Well, you know now. Let’s go.” Tom pulled open the diner door and stalked out.
Danny glanced up at the little bell ringing violently over the door, and then back down at Gram. “I didn’t know.”
She looked up at her grandson—her blue eyes stormy. ”I knew, and I’m not a detective. You need to communicate better, Daniel. Marnie Reilly is an open book to those interested in readin’ her. I hear her ask you about your day all of the time. When was the last time you asked her how she’s doin’?”
He rolled his eyes. “She’ll just say fine.”
“No. That’s what your late wife always said. Marnie will tell the truth. She always does, whether it’s what you want to hear or not. Perhaps that’s why you don’t ask her.” Gram nudged him toward the door. “Go. Make sure she’s okay—‘cause believe it or not, sometimes she’s not.”
Marnie crept into the hallway, the timber floors cool beneath her bare feet. Tater and Dickens walked in step on either side of her—ears and scruffs up. The old pine floorboards creaked—she held her breath and paused, listening. Tater glanced up at her, waiting for a command. She gently tugged his ear, a signal that everything would be fine. Holding up her hand, she made eye contact with both of the dogs.
“Sit. Stay,” she whispered. Both dogs sat motionless, awaiting her next direction.
As Marnie took another step forward, they all heard a shuffling in one of the guestrooms. The dogs tipped their heads, and Marnie tiptoed slowly toward the door, which was slightly ajar. As she pushed the door open, a flurry of darkness flew into her face. She screeched, lifted her arms to protect herself, and shouted the command, “Scootchem!”
Tater bounded forward with a high-bitched bark, chasing the shadow away from his mistress. He stopped short when the intruder slammed into the bedroom window with a dull thud. The dog lay down on the floor, resting his head next to a wounded crow. Marnie joined him near the window and knelt down.
“Ah, geez! The poor thing. You remind me of a pet crow my father used to have.” Reaching behind her, she removed a pillowcase from one of the pillows, and gently scooped up the bird. Cradling the bird in her arms, she ran her finger lightly over the bird’s wings, its head, and tail feathers. Tater stood and peered into the cloth bundle at the bird. “He doesn’t seem to have broken anything, and his neck doesn’t appear to be broken. Let’s take him out onto the veranda in case he wakes up. I don’t want him to fly into the window again.”
Marnie stood, and she and Tater went out into the hallway where Dickens still sat. Waving her hand, she said, “Free!” Dickens stood and walked calmly down the stairs behind his mistress and Tater.
At the bottom of the stairs, Marnie paused and glanced down at her dogs. “How did the crow get into the house?”
“Why are you so pissed off at me? I had no idea Marnie’s parents both died on Friday the thirteenth. How should I have known that?” Danny ran a hand through his hair and frowned at his partner.
Tom turned his attention away from the road for a moment to scowl at him. “How can you not know that? You know, she’s been goin’ through a rough time lately. She’s got a new home; a new direction for her practice; and she has a new court-appointed client who is giving her a hard time. When was the last time you asked her how her day was?”
Danny cocked an eyebrow. “Are you and Gram in cahoots? She asked me the same question.”
Tom slammed his hand onto his steering wheel. “No! We are not in cahoots. We notice things. We actually do ask Marnie how she’s doin’ and she tells us. Are you gonna ask me about the client who’s givin’ her a hard time?”
“She told me she’s got a painful client, but that’s all she said.”
“Did you push her? She probably would have told you more if you had.”
“No. She gets mad when I do.”
Danny’s phone rang. He answered it. “Hi, Carl.” He listened for several minutes, his jaw clenching tighter with every moment that passed. “We’re on our way there now. Yeah, he’s with me. We’ll see you there.”
“What’s wrong?” Tom turned on the signal light to turn onto the highway.
“You better get your grill lights on and floor it. Carl just filled me in on Marnie’s court-appointed client. The guy threatened her yesterday. She made him swear not to tell us, but he got worried. He tried to call her a few minutes ago and she didn’t answer the home phone or her mobile.”
Tom turned on the grill lights and pressed his foot down on the gas pedal. The big tires of the truck kicked up rocks, and the backend fishtailed before correcting.
Scowling at his partner, he growled, “Call her again, and keep calling until she answers.”
Marnie’s mobile phone vibrated and fell to the floor from her bedside table. Tater and Dickens woofed at the thump from above but continued following their mistress through the downstairs of their house.
Stepping into the library, she flipped on the overhead light, went to her desk, laid the wounded crow on the blotter, and pulled open a large file drawer. Taking a lockbox from the drawer, she punched in a code and it sprang open. The dog’s growls alerted her that they were not alone. Glancing up, she put her hand to her mouth, stifling a scream. The hulking mass of John LaRoche’s malodorous frame stood in the open doorway leading out to the veranda.
Her eyes never leaving the grotesque madman in her doorway, Marnie whispered, “Shush, Tater. Shush, Dickens. Sit. Stay.” The Border Collies sat, their intense and intelligent eyes trained on the trespasser.
LaRoche pointed a gun at the dogs. “Remove the mongrels, Ms. Reilly, or I will kill them.”
She turned to her dogs, making eye contact with Tater, and made a twisting motion with her hand. He tipped his head and put a paw on her knee. Pointing to the door, she gave the command, “Tater. Dickens. Out. Kitchen.” Both dogs obeyed, walking quietly out of the library. Marnie’s heart rose up into her throat as the click of their toenails disappeared down the hall. Turning back to the lunatic in her library, she lifted her chin and narrowed her eyes.
“Why are you here, Mr. LaRoche?”
Taking a step into the room, he ran his hand across the back of a leather chair. His mouth formed a grotesque grin—the gun in his hand now pointed at Marnie. “I told you my intentions yesterday.”
She kept her eyes on him as she reached out her hand to the lockbox.
“Ah! Ah! Ah! I wouldn’t do that. I will shoot you in the heart before you can retrieve your weapon.”
Dropping her hand to her side, she glanced down at her desk. One of the crow’s eyes opened and a wing ruffled ever so lightly. Inhaling deeply through her mouth, she lifted her gaze and saw the depth of the man’s hatred for her. His soulless black eyes judged her and his mouth moved peculiarly, as if he were reciting a spell. Narrowing her eyes, she studied the man’s face—there was something familiar.
“It’s you who is judging me, Mr. LaRoche. I can see it in your eyes. Why do you hate me? What is it about you that makes you hate someone you don’t even know?”
“Oh, I know you, Ms. Reilly. I know you too well. You play with people’s minds and then send them to mental hospitals to wither away and die. That’s what you were planning to recommend to the court, wasn’t it? You were going to tell them to lock me up for an eternity.”
Shrugging, she didn’t hide a smirk. “That is exactly what I did recommend—yesterday in fact. As soon as you left my office, I wrote a report to the court. I told them that you are a sick, twisted, maniacal creature. I told them that you are in bad need of soap, a shower, a razor, toothpaste, and a toothbrush. You disgust me, Mr. LaRoche. As a psychologist, I would probably not say that to a client, but you trespassed. You are standing here, in my home, uninvited and unwashed. You are a foul human being! I personally delivered the report to Judge Lawrence last night. And that is that. No matter what you do to me, your sentence has already been sealed.” Her aquamarine eyes wide, she laughed at him. “Now, you should be on your way. Detectives Keller and Gregg will be here soon for breakfast. We have plans.”
As he took a step toward her, Marnie weaved to the bookcase behind her desk. Picking up a marble statue of St. Francis of Assisi, she heaved it toward him, and sidestepped toward the door. The statue missed and fell to the seat of the leather couch. She crouched as the gun went off and she crab-crawled to the door as a loud shriek and the flurry of ruffling feathers attacked LaRoche. Throwing his hands in the air to protect himself, he dropped the gun.
Tater and Dickens appeared at the veranda door, as Marnie scrambled to her feet and raced out of the library—her dogs ran past LaRoche, knocking him down. Sprinting to the kitchen, she smiled when she saw the kitchen door standing open. “Good boy, Tater! Smart boy! Let’s go! We need to get to the barn!”
Snatching up her Wellingtons, Marnie hopped awkwardly, pulling on the boots as they ran out the backdoor. Too terrified to look back, she focused on getting to safety–the big red barn would most certainly provide that.
Carl Parkins kicked a flat tire on his blue, Chevy pickup truck. “I have never had a flat tire in my life. Why? Today of all days!” Scowling up the road, he threw up his hands in frustration. “Yes!” He waved down the approaching truck with flashing grill lights.
Tom stopped the truck and Danny rolled down his window. “Jump in!”
Carl reached into his truck for his briefcase, pulled open the back door of Tom’s truck, and climbed inside. “Crap! Am I glad to see you guys. I got a flat tire.”
Tom glanced into the rearview mirror. “Did you bring your gun?”
Carl gave a curt nod.
Marnie and her dogs raced up the steps to the loft. Dropping the hatch door, she rolled two bales of hay on top of it. Her stomach lurched when she remembered that LaRoche had a gun. He could easily shoot up through the floorboards, harming her dogs and her. Peering through the wall of the barn, she spotted LaRoche running across the pasture. She looked around the hayloft, noting a pitchfork, a tall cabinet, a large chain with a hook, and work gloves.
“What can I do with these?” She raised an eyebrow and walked to the cabinet. The door of the cupboard was locked with an old padlock. Retrieving the pitchfork, she stuck one of the tines through the hasp and yanked. The hasp broke off, the door swung open to reveal two shotguns, and a shelf above the guns held boxes of birdshot. She turned to her dogs—both stared up—they were panting—not smiling. “What do you say we have a bit of target practice?” She loaded five shells into one of the guns, pushed back the sliding door of the loft, and took aim. Boom! The ground in front of LaRoche exploded. He veered left but continued running toward them. She took aim again. Boom! She hit an old fence post, sending splinters into the air. Peering out, she couldn’t see him. He had vanished from sight. Below them, she heard whistling. It was a familiar tune from childhood—one she had heard last night.
Round and round the cobbler’s bench
The monkey chased the weasel
The monkey thought it was all in fun
A bullet flew up through the floorboards, and the dogs leapt sideways as another bullet splintered the old boards, scattering loose hay. Marnie muffled a scream, and motioned with her hand for her dogs to come to her as the whistling began again. As the dogs ran to her side, she rolled a spent shell casing away from them.
Round and round the cobbler’s bench
The monkey chased the weasel
The monkey thought it was all in fun
Another round pierced through the floor at the other end of the barn. Marnie tiptoed to the cabinet and took out a full box of shells. She rolled three together to the center of the loft. This time, the madman sang:
Round and round the cobbler’th bench
The monkey chathed the weathel
The monkey thought it wath all in fun
Pop goeth the weathel!
A chill ran up her spine and she swallowed her fear. She stood stock-still waiting—for what, she wasn’t sure. Grabbing hold of her dog’s collars, she pulled them as close to the eaves as she could get them. “Okay, guys. We’re going to need some help. It’s time for a bit of divine intervention.” Marnie closed her eyes and whispered.
Danny turned in his seat. “Okay, Captain Crystals, give us the lowdown.”
Carl rolled his eyes as he dug into his satchel for a file. He resigned himself to the fact that the nickname wasn’t going away any time soon. “His name is Jonathan LaRoche. He is a 58-year-old Creekwood native. He’s 6 feet 10 inches tall, weighs 280 pounds, and he threatened Marnie with bodily harm yesterday—which is why I can tell you everything I have about the ogre. Judge Lawrence referred him to us—well, actually, one of her clerks did. Ah, a Miss Annabelle LaRock.”
Tom glanced up into the mirror. “Did you say Jonathan LaRoche?”
Carl looked down at the file and nodded. “Yeah. It says here that he was recently charged with harassment and assault. He shoved a woman in the QuickMart when she reached for the last bottle of Canada Dry ginger ale. His excuse was that he wasn’t feeling well, and needed the soda. Uh… The woman sustained a minor injury—a contusion to her left shoulder. The lady pressed charges. LaRoche was ordered to see a court-appointed psychologist for anger management. It looks like Judge Lawrence’s clerk sent the asshole our way. Maybe she thought he would land on my desk.”
Clicking his tongue, Tom thought. “Hey, is there any history on the guy? Employment? Time served? Anything?”
“Yep. He was a kindergarten teacher here in Creekwood. Hmm… Probably back when you and Marnie were kids. Do you remember him?” He looked up, meeting Tom’s eyes.
“Yeah. I remember him. I’m surprised Marnie didn’t.”
Danny turned to his partner. “Why’s that?”
“Back then he was Mr. LaRock. He was our kindergarten teacher, and he was horrible. He picked on Marnie because she had a lisp and a slight stutter. He used to make her sing some stupid song over and over again, trying to get her to stop lisping. He was cruel, and he got fired for his behavior. Marnie’s parents took exception to a teacher bullying their daughter.” Tom glanced into the mirror, meeting Carl’s eyes.
“What was the song?” Carl asked.
“Pop Goes the Weasel.”
Putting his head into his hands, Carl groaned. Meeting the detective’s eyes again, he replied, “He said that to her yesterday when he shoved her chair across the room.”
Marnie, eyes closed, called out to her parents for help. “I’m breaking my own rule. Sorry to bother you, but I really need your help today. Do you remember Mr. LaRock? He’s trying to kill me. Do you think you could give me a hand?”
A slight breeze rose up in the hayloft, whirling chaff and dust into the air. Tater and Dickens whimpered, tilted their heads, and smiled at the figures in the center of the room. Tater leaned on his mistress’s leg and tapped her knee with his paw. Opening her eyes, Marnie watched as Jonathan LaRoche climbed up a rope and reached through the door at the other end of the loft. Pulling himself into the barn, he pulled his pistol from his pocket, aiming it at her. Glancing at her parents with fear in her eyes, she saw love in theirs as they looked back at her. Colin Reilly raised up his arms to the sky, and shouted, “Osiris!”
Tom pulled up the truck outside of Marnie’s home, and the men rushed into the house, calling her name.
Danny raced through the kitchen to the stairs, running up the steps three at a time.
“Marn!” Tom called out, sprinting into the library.
Carl walked into the living room, glanced around the room, and went to the library to find Tom, who was standing beside the couch holding the statue of the patron saint of animals—a gift he had given her from Tater and Dickens on Mother’s Day.
Danny called out from upstairs. “She’s in the barn! I saw her move in front of the hayloft door! She’s upstairs!” He jumped down the stairs, twisting his ankle at the bottom. “Árgh!”
Tom and Carl met him at the kitchen door. Together, they ran across the pasture to the big red barn.
“Marn!” Tom called up, but Marnie waved him off. “We’re coming, Marn! We’ll be right there!”
Danny limped up the stairs and pushed up on the door. It wouldn’t move.
“Come help me,” he shouted.
Tom and Carl ran up the steps, and the three of them pushed with all of their might.
“There’s a rope around the other side of the barn. We can climb up it.” Danny limped to the back of the barn to the far door. His partner and Carl followed.
Tom glanced up, and then pointed to a wall of tools. “I’ll climb up. You two see if you can get the loft door open with that pry bar over there.”
Danny nodded. “Good plan.”
“Osiris!” Colin Reilly called again, a caw came back in reply.
Gun still aimed at Marnie’s chest, Jonathan LaRoche took another step toward her. As sunlight streamed through the open loft door, a shadow broke through the sunbeams. The crow swooped over Marnie’s head, forcing her and her dogs to dive to the floorboards as a bullet flew over her. Osiris flew into the face of the madman, throwing him off balance and out the door of the hayloft with a fear-filled scream, followed by the sickening, dull thud of death.
Marnie got to her feet and turned to her parents. “How can that be Osiris? How can he still be alive?”
Her mother and father grinned. “He’s not, but neither are we,” said her mother.
“We have to go now. We’ll see you soon,” said her father.
Marnie looked at him with horror. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Her mother giggled. “Geez, Colin, don’t scare the girl.” Turning to her daughter, she smiled. “Don’t worry, darling. We’ll come to see you. You won’t be coming to us for a very long time.”
Marnie exhaled loudly. “Well, that’s good to know.” Her eyes filled with tears, and as she opened her mouth to speak again, her parents were gone.
“Marnie! Are you okay? We can’t get through the door!” Danny called up from below.
She rolled the hay bales off the door and lifted it up. “I’m fine. Nothing a bit of divine intervention can’t handle.” She reached out her hand to Danny and pulled him into a hug when he reached the top step.
He pulled a face. “You’re fine. Really? You’re fine? We just heard a gunshot, and you’re telling me you’re fine.”
“Okay. No, I’m not fine. I’m a mess.” She leaned into him and hugged him. Wrapping his arms around her, he hugged her tighter, and kissed the top of her head.
Tater and Dickens trotted over to them and leaned on Danny’s leg.
Carl stepped into the loft and looked around. “Where’s Tom?”
“Hey, Marn!” Tom called out from the opposite end of the loft, where he was swinging through the door from the rope. Pointing out the window, he said, “You know that you’ve got a dead guy down there, right?”
Fun fact: Osiris was the Egyptian god of the afterlife, the underworld and the dead.
A huge thanks to FGT for your kind support and input. You are an absolute treasure.