A Strange Shadow
"Are you kidding? I couldn't sleep after a morning like that!" Bill Welby, the policeman who had been with the Lancasters that morning, told them after having answered the door of his much smaller house in the suburb of Irondale. He looked at his hands, which he'd clenched and stretched several times. Debtra could feel the distress emanating from him in waves.
"How well did you know the Lancasters?" asked Homily.
"Fairly well. They've been volunteering at the park for years. I've been on that beat for a decade." He shook his head. "I'm just afraid that something I did killed the guy. Like what if he had dust in his throat, and I forced it in and suffocated him? Or had a shard of metal in his chest, and I shoved it into his heart during chest compressions?"
"I doubt it," said the Professor.
"That's what I worry about, that I shoulda done something differently."
Debtra sat nearest to him on the other end of the microfiber couch. She touched his shoulder and projected soothing energy, but only at him, not Thom. It wouldn't do for the young detective to fall asleep in the middle of the interview. "You did the best you could. The widow thinks so."
"Really?" His shoulders slumped. "That's a relief. I was afraid she blamed me."
"So tell us what happened?" asked Homily.
"It was our usual routine," the cop said. "We walked into the park just after dawn. Mike went to the left toward the General's statue. It was his great-grandfather or something. Merrie and I went to the right, where the benches are. I go with her to make sure no vagrants bother her. She was in the grass picking up trash, and I felt the sidewalk shake under my feet. At first I thought it was an earthquake, y'know? But then it got real hot, then cold again, like I sweated ice, and for a second I felt like I was about to get the sinus. Then it was over, and she yelled for him, and he didn't answer."
"Did you see anyone else in the park?"
Bill narrowed his eyes. "Whaddaya mean?"
"Someone running away, maybe?"
Debtra and Thom looked at Homily. That was a new question.
"No." But he looked away.
"Did you see anything unusual at all?" the Professor persisted. "Any clouds or smoke?"
"No smoke, but, God, don't lock me up or anything."
"It's off the record," Thom said and put his notebook away.
"No smoke, but it seemed like the shadow moved funny. Mike's shadow. But Merrie knelt by him, covering it with hers."
"Ah." Thurston nodded. "You're not crazy. Whatever did that to the statue disturbed the fields nearby including the light fields. You're actually very perceptive to have noticed."
The big man smiled, and Debtra felt his need for approval, even after all these years. Not that he had a freaking clue what Homily had just said.
"Energy field?" she asked when they got out to the car. Thom had been silent. He looked shell-shocked, and she wondered if maybe she should've directed a little psychic comfort his way. She could imagine why he felt so bewildered: the Professor had that effect on people, his mind moved so much faster than theirs.
Homily nodded, and for a moment, he actually looked gray and ancient. "I am starting to suspect what happened in the park this morning may have been the work of an old adversary. I am still not myself after our last encounter, and that was back in the nineteenth century."
Debtra imagined that her shocked expression mirrored Thom's. Had Homily actually admitted to weakness? That was totally unlike him, but then, this world with its gas-powered vehicles was completely foreign to her, although she enjoyed the cool air that came from the vents when Thom started the quiet motor. Strange settings made for strange revelations, she recalled from her previous lives.
"Who was he? Or is he?"
"I imagine he's still around," Homily said. "He's one of the Minders."
Debtra's dropped jaw joined her raised eyebrows. "A Minder?" she whispered. "You came away from a confrontation with one of them alive?"
"Half alive. It took me a long time to recover. But he's the one who came up with the barbaric punishment of monumenting." He smiled, but not with happiness. Debtra had never seen such a vindictive expression on her mentor's face.
"Monumenting." The reason for their visit – the real reason – hit her like a bucket of ice water. She'd shoved it to the back of her mind, the apparent murder being much less disturbing.
"And this has been the first time someone escaped. I imagine he must be a bit disturbed right now."
"Wait… What?" Thom turned to look at the two of them like he may have to drop them off at the sanatorium on his way home. "What's a Minder? And what the heck is monumenting? I thought you were here to solve a murder and a prison break."
Homily fiddled with a knob on his door handle, and the window lowered with a gentle whirr, then went back up. "Let's get to that safe place I asked you to find, and I'll explain."
Author's Note: I consider myself to be a connoisseur of irony, and the past week has been particularly delectable. I signed my lease for my new office on Monday, and then proceeded to have my busiest week ever, leaving me no time for the other nuts and bolts of my office move.
But, in more exciting news, I've been published in an anthology! More details to come.
No, the apple pie pictured below isn't chocolate, but since it's a national holiday, I thought it worked. Yes, that's a homemade crust. Have I mentioned that I bake when stressed? My husband is more than okay with it -- his favorite dessert is pie.
I hope everyone enjoyed their long weekend!
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