The Curse of the Shepherdess
by Bob Brill
|part 2 of 3|
The little figurine was by no means done with her travels. She continued to pass from hand to hand until one day she showed up in Oakland, California.
Laura Battaglia was buffing her nails, for want of a more productive activity, when her business phone played the first few bars of Merrily We Roll Along. Ah, she thought, let that be a client. She was an aging beauty in her mid-fifties and a highly gifted psychic.
It was her friend and fellow psychic, Felicia Stowe. They had met two years before at the National Psychics Convention in Anaheim. They were both reaching for the same string of beads on the sale table, when they smiled at each other and struck up a conversation. This led to the discovery of much common ground and they became friends.
“Laura,” said Felicia, “I’ve got a client here with a problem. I could use your help with this.”
“Tell me about it, Felicia.”
“Here’s a woman with a ten-year-old daughter. The girl was given a little figurine as a party favor at a birthday luncheon. The child is deathly afraid of it. The mother can’t figure out why. Neither can I. The thing looks like a harmless piece of kitsch, but I think I can feel unwholesome emanations from it. But then I’m so empathic and suggestive, I might be unduly influenced by the child’s fear. I’d like you to evaluate this situation.”
“I’d be glad to, Felicia. When can you bring them over?”
“Are you free this afternoon? We could be there in an hour.”
“I’m just sitting around buffing my nails, I’m so bored. Come on over.”
An hour later the doorbell played the opening notes of Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life. Laura admitted her guests. Felicia said, “This is Mrs. Filbert and her daughter, Tessie.”
Mrs. Filbert was dressed from head to toe in mauve, a color that was wildly popular in the mid-19th Century and has since been rarely seen. She gave Laura the impression of being perplexed, as though she had just stepped out of the Mauve Decades and had not yet figured out where she was.
The daughter was definitely 21st Century, with darting eyes that took in everything at once, while she affected nonchalance and stood with one hip jutting out and chewed gum. Laura’s attention was immediately drawn to Tessie’s aura, which rippled with the vibrant red of fear and a deep indigo that revealed psychic talent.
Felicia asked Mrs. Filbert to show Laura the figurine that was causing the problem. The lady reached into her purse and with a somewhat apologetic air produced the little shepherdess and handed it to Laura. Laura’s eyes went wide and she quickly placed the statuette on the mantelpiece.
She addressed Tessie. “You have every reason to fear this object. Powerful waves of malevolent energy are coming from it. You are clearly endowed with psychic gifts far beyond the ordinary.”
“There’s nothing special about me,” the girl replied.
“Oh, yes there is. I can see it in your aura.”
The girl glared at Laura and repeated her denial. A plate leaped off the table and smashed on the floor. Merrily We Roll Along and Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life both began to play at once, and Laura’s private phone chimed in with Take Me Out to the Ballgame.
Laura caught a movement out of the corner of her eye and saw the little shepherdess spinning and rising off the mantel. She ran over and grabbed it out of the air just as it stopped spinning and started to fall. “That was an extremely dangerous thing to do, young lady.”
“I didn’t do anything.” The phones and the doorbell fell silent.
“If that thing had broken... I hate to think about it.”
“Don’t look at me like that. I had nothing to do with it.”
“You have a huge talent, Tessie, but you don’t know what you’re dealing with. When you’re ready to stop denying it, I might consider teaching you how to channel your gifts and put them to good use. In the meantime you are a danger to yourself and others. You and your mother will have to leave now. The figurine stays with me.”
“What happened?” asked the lady in mauve.
“Felicia, will you please escort these people to their car?”
“I brought them in my car.”
“I’m sorry, Felicia. You’ll have to take them back. Mrs. Filbert, who gave this figurine to your daughter?”
“It was a kind of grab bag thing. All the toys were in a bag and each child reached in and took one.”
“I want to know who contributed this item to the party. I need to trace this thing to its source. I hope you will cooperate with me and get me this information. This is extremely important. I will talk to you more about Tessie another time.”
She opened the door to indicate that it was time for everyone to leave. As soon as she was alone, Laura set the shepherdess back on the mantel. She looked at the hand with which she had held it. The blood had drained from her fingers and her hand was cold and white. When she had poured herself some tea and sat curled up in her most comfortable chair with her legs tucked under her, she held the mug with both hands till the warmth returned to her fingers.
* * *
Nancy and Jack Farley reviewed their options. None were appealing. They could tell Nancy’s Aunt Penelope the truth, that they had foisted the ugly and unwelcome gift off on someone else. They could approach the newlywed Toller couple and ask for the return of their gift. They could claim to Aunt Penelope that it was lost, stolen or destroyed.
The first alternative had the moral advantage of being truthful, but Nancy raised the objection which had put them in this dilemma in the first place, that she wished to spare her aunt’s feelings. As they delved deeper into their motives, they admitted an element of self-interest, in that they entertained the hope that they would benefit from the old lady’s will.
The second option, trying to retrieve the gift, was simply too embarrassing to contemplate.
The last option was deceitful but only continued the deceit they had already been practicing: of pretending to enjoy the gifts bestowed upon them. This option would continue to serve their self-interest, and as long as the lie went undetected, lying didn’t seem so bad.
“I’m sorry to have to tell you, Aunt Penelope,” said Nancy on the phone, “that there was an accident. The charming little statuette you sent us got knocked off the table by the dog and smashed on the floor.”
“You’re lying!” cried the old woman.
Nancy sucked in her breath. She wanted to say, “What makes you think that?” But instead she said in a meek voice, “How did you know?”
“It’s not so fragile as you think. And if it had broken, you would have been overwhelmed by the result. What really happened?”
“The truth is...”
Jack gave her a piercing look that was both inquisitive and warning.
“The truth is we gave it away... to a young couple... as a wedding gift.”
“You must get it back. I can’t emphasize enough how important that is. Whatever it takes, you must get it back and bring it to me.”
“I don’t see how...”
“Just do it. Let me talk to your husband.”
“Jack, take the phone. She wants to talk to you.” The look she gave him showed just how unsettled she was. All their analysis, their strategic deliberations, all undermined.
“Penelope, this is Jack.”
“Jack Farley, you’ve got to be strong now. I’m afraid that Nancy will not have the determination to do what needs to be done, so I’m counting on you, Jack, to see that the statuette is recovered and delivered to me as soon as possible. More depends on this than you know.”
“But why? What’s so important about it?”
“If I had known what I know now, I would never have given it to you. It’s dangerous. That’s all I’m going to tell you. Just get it and don’t let it break. And Jack, don’t waste any time. Do it right away.”
“Don’t argue. And Jack, there are lies and there are lies. Little white lies to spare an old lady’s feelings are not so wicked. But lies that have deep consequences can lead to great evil. From now on you have to tell me the truth.”
“And one more thing, Jack. I know you and Nancy are hoping to be my heirs. And you will be, provided you bring me that statuette. If you fail, you will be cut from my will. Goodnight, Jack.”
She hung up.
* * *
Both Laura and Felicia telephoned Mrs. Filbert several times to find out which child had brought the shepherdess to the party. The woman in mauve kept putting it off. Finally when pressed, she claimed that none of the children would admit to being the donor.
Felicia was able to convince Mrs. Filbert to provide her with the name and phone number of the mother who hosted the party. This woman was more cooperative and gave Felicia the names and phone numbers of the parents whose children had come to the party. Laura called each one. She found the child who brought the figurine, but when asked where she had gotten it, the girl said she found it. Where? In an empty lot. No amount of interrogation convinced the child to change her story. Laura suspected that the girl was lying, but there was nothing to be done about it. This line of inquiry had come to a dead end.
“So, we must resort to the tools of the trade,” Laura told Felicia as she brought out her Ouija board. Laura darkened her living room, placed a translucent red cloth over the one remaining lamp, lit some incense, and placed the figurine on the table by the Ouija board. Laura and Felicia sat at the table and laid their hands on the pointer.
“O spirit world,” Laura intoned. “Hear us now. We seek a spirit to guide us. Is anyone listening?”
After a few moments the pointer trembled and glided slowly over to YES.
“The little statuette on this table contains a powerful malevolent spirit. To exorcise it we need to trace this figurine back to its source. Can you help us to find the origin of the shepherdess statuette?”
“Thank you. We go now. Felicia, get your coat. We’re going to Ralston’s Bookstore.”
Just inside the front door of Ralston’s they saw a display table piled with copies of the new Peggy Plimpton mystery, The Curse of the Shepherdess. There on the cover was the little shepherdess clutched in the hand of the murder victim.
“Bingo,” said Laura.
* * *
“Listen to this,” said Brad Toller to his wife, Shari. “I just got an email from the Farleys.”
“Who are they?”
“They’re the ones who sent us that hideous statue that we slipped into your Uncle Tobias’ suitcase.”
“Oh my God. That was so tacky.”
“Wait till you hear this. Here’s what they wrote.”
Dear Brad and Shari,
This is so embarrassing as to be almost unbearable, but circumstances have placed us in an awkward position, and there’s nothing to do but bite the bullet and write you this note. We sent you a wedding gift of a little figurine of a shepherdess holding a crook. Admittedly, it was not much of a gift. Actually it was more of a gag than a gift. It was given to us by Nancy’s aunt and we palmed it off on you, for which we deeply apologize. Now the old lady is asking, nay demanding, to have it back. She won’t explain her reason for this, but she is adamant in requiring us to bring it to her. She claims to be dying and that this is a kind of dying last request that cannot be denied.
So now we don’t know what to do but ask you to return it to us. Today we bought you a real wedding gift, belated to be sure, but something of real value, which we hope you will find useful in your new home. You should be receiving it in a few days. We hope this gesture will help in some small way to make amends for the joke we played on you.
Please return the figurine to us at the following address, etc., etc.
Jack and Nancy Farley
“They must be desperate,” said Shari, “to write such a letter.”
“Then think how desperate they’ll be when they read the reply I sent.”
“What did you tell them?”
“I’ll read it to you.”
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Farley,
We got a big chuckle out of your gift and to share the fun we passed it on to Shari’s Uncle Tobias, who told us he laughed over it for a whole day. He can be reached at etc., etc.
We hope your new gift is an upgrade, ’cause if it isn’t, it’s out of here.
Sincerely up yours,
Brad and Shari Toller
* * *
Copyright © 2010 by Bob Brill