Thursday Sampler: Read an excerpt from Tarot Terrors

The man ignored his question. “It means the difference between life and death for me and others who know too much.”

BILL WHISTLED SOFTLY to himself as he walked away from Lillian. He smelled coffee and stopped. Across the street, a sign for the Plaza Café told Bill his sense of smell was still good for a sixty-eight-year-old man. Bill removed the windbreaker he had worn in the cool, early morning hours. The sun’s rays provided enough warmth to make Bill want an iced mocha latte to sip on his walk to the Railyard.

He decided to take Lillian’s purchases to their SUV first. Unlocking the driver’s door, he placed the box containing the earrings in the console where it would be out of sight. Bill moved to the back of the vehicle, opened the hatch, took off his windbreaker, and tossed it and the rug in the vehicle. He made sure he locked the vehicle and stepped up onto the sidewalk. Bill heard fast-paced footsteps. With each pounce on the pavement, they sounded closer and closer to him. The sudden onset of goose bumps on his arm caused Bill to pivot and scan his surroundings. A jogger, wearing a University of Texas baseball cap and dark glasses, changed course when he neared Bill. He ran across the street and around the corner of the intersection facing the Plaza.

Hearing voices above him, Bill looked up and waved at a couple leaning over a balcony wall. They waved back and turned away from the street to continue their conversation. The thought occurred to Bill that someday he and Lillian would want to downsize. A loft apartment in a picturesque town like Santa Fe could be a great place to retire.

Linda Pirtle

Walking away from the SUV back toward the café, he recalled their recent exploits while camping at Caddo Lake. He had read some of his wife’s emails and discovered she had completed all the course work necessary to obtain a private investigator’s license. The discovery solidified his opinion of his wife. She would never be ready for the “rocking chair,” her term for retirement. Foolishly, he had made the biggest mistake of his married life: He ordered her to forget about it. He chuckled, thinking that to tell Lillian not to do something was akin to waving a red flag in front of a bull. After some fifty plus years, he should have known better.

Bill regretted his mistake, especially when Lillian confronted him with his laptop which she found beneath the driver’s seat. Her accusation that he would never quit blogging or reviewing books while on vacation was accurate. They were indeed two of a kind. Bill shook his head and smiled. “Miss Curiosity,” his nickname for Lillian, would retire from her private investigative work only when the undertaker lowered her ashes into the small plot of land in the Danville Cemetery situated in deep East Texas where all of her family lay in repose.

Bill’s thoughts about his wife drifted out of his mind when he arrived at the Plaza Café. Goose bumps again. He stopped and glanced around. Not seeing anyone he recognized, he opened the door and stepped inside. The café, filled with locals as well as tourists, bustled with activity. A young, dark-haired girl with the bluest eyes Bill had ever seen stood behind a counter just inside the door. She greeted regular patrons by name, grabbed the appropriate number of menus, and led them to tables where she signaled for a waiter. The wait staff moved quickly to take orders. Bill admired the smooth efficiency of the operation.

Smiling, the girl approached Bill. “Welcome, Señor. Is this your first visit to Santa Fe?”

He read the name tag attached to the lapel of her white blouse and said, “Yes, Maria, it is.”

“I hope you have found it to be a pleasant visit.”

“So far, it has been an enjoyable one. My wife is having a ball shopping around the Plaza.”

Maria chose two menus. “She will be joining you?”

“No. May I get a mocha latte to go?”

“Si, Señor, I’ll have it for you in a moment.” She motioned for him to sit on a bench near the door. Three minutes later, she returned with his drink.

Bill paid, adding a generous tip, and joined the other tourists walking down the sidewalk. One block later, he stood at the street corner, waiting for the pedestrian light to change from the halt signal.

A man accidentally bumped into Bill. “Don’t look at me. Here, take this,” the man whispered and handed Bill a small, rectangular box.

“I’d recognize that voice anywhere.”

“Again, I say, ‘don’t look at me.’ Let’s walk. I talk. You listen. I don’t have much time.”

Without turning his head, Bill whispered, “What are you doing in Santa Fe?”

“Working, but that’s not a need to know for you.”

“I disagree. What did you just put in my hand?”

The man ignored his question. “It means the difference between life and death for me and others who know too much.”

“Life or death?” Bill’s voice rose. “My Lord, what are you getting me into?”

“Calm down. Don’t act as though we’re having a conversation. Don’t let anyone know you have the box, especially Lillian.”

“Don’t worry. She can find trouble all by herself.”

“We’re almost at the next intersection. When the light changes, walk across the intersection. Keep going. Don’t stop for anyone.”

“What’s this all about?” Bill hissed.

“Put that box in your pocket. You’re a tourist who just bought his wife a gift.”

Bill’s hand went immediately to his pocket with the object. Reaching the other side of the intersection, he stopped and said, “Now listen to me.” He spoke softly. Realizing he was alone, Bill shrugged, knowing he would hear from his old friend again but could not fathom why the man would want to involve him in one of his escapades.

Moments later, pain seared through Bill. Thinking he was having a heart attack, he grabbed his chest. He removed his hand and looked at it. Blood. It was covered in blood. He heard screams from fellow tourists. He fell, face down, then felt rough hands flip him over. With his vision dimming, Bill saw the silhouette of a man wearing a black, mock turtle neck sweater remove the box from his pocket.

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