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Paula Bouton sighed as she flipped her daily calendar page over to March. It was just three weeks until the first day of spring. Already there were reports of the annual arrival of redwing blackbirds up in the marshy area of Half Moon Lake, and Andy Cooper had seen a Canada goose swimming in one of the quiet curves of the river.
The birds were early but still a sure sign of the change to come.
Even though she’d never tell anyone, Paula also checked the phase of the moon. It had been a relatively easy winter but the combination of a full moon with the imminent arrival of spring often made for interesting outbreaks of cabin fever around town, and she liked to be prepared.
She reached for the morning police report, usually a good indication of how her day was going to go. It was pretty light. The pesky goat named Houdini owned by the Tennysons had been found wandering the green with his harem in tow. A couple of high schoolers had had to have their car pulled from the mud in one of the town’s more popular makeout spots.
“Happens every year,” Paula said, shaking her head.
And Horace McQueeth had made his annual in-drag-stroll down Meetinghouse Road at midnight meaning that the owner of the Carding Inn had made his annual complaint about McQueeth’s indecent behavior.
Paula sat down with a smile. “I wonder what Horace wore this year,” she thought.
Just then, a sharp rap on her door made her head snap up. “Come in.”
Her smile faded as her guest stepped over the threshold. “Miss Bouton, I know you’re not busy,” Warren Eaton said.
“What can I do for you, Warren?” she asked.
“I want to reserve the community meeting room for this Saturday,” the stocky man said. Somehow, Warren always reminded her of a boxing promoter with a questionable reputation.
“What’s the meeting about?” Paula asked as she pulled up the community room’s scheduling spreadsheet on her computer. Warren Eaton nodded to himself. He had known she was going to say that.
“It’s for the King of Cups Society,” he said, his voice radiating with importance.
Paula stared at him in silence. As Carding’s town manager, she’d been on the receiving end of a number of strange requests but this one was…well…strange even for Warren Eaton.
She smiled. “Um, Mr. Eaton, I think I need you to tell me a bit more about this society of yours,” she said.
Ever since Paula took on the job of administering her hometown’s business affairs, Warren Eaton had been a constant thorn in her side. Every year at town meeting, he stood up to represent “the hundreds of oppressed taxpayers in Carding,” and propose enormous cuts to the town budget. And every year, he was the only one who voted in favor of them.
Last summer, he’d formed a group to protest mowing the grass in the town’s seven cemeteries on the grounds that the dead didn’t know any better so why waste the money. The five members of the group sprawled among the graves for hours until the sun set, and the damp soaked through their clothes.
He regularly brought lists of books he wanted banned to the local librarian, and his outrageous opinions concerning alien life forms had become such a nuisance in the Crow Town Bakery, Stephen and Diana Bennett forbid him to come back.
“Oh, it’s not my society,” Warren said. “The King of Cups Society is international in scope. It’s important, you know, very important.”
Over Warren’s shoulder, Paula spotted librarian Jane Twitchell walking down the hall, and silently begged her to look into her office. At first, Jane slid right by but Paula’s prayer must have hit the right deity’s desk because in the next moment, one of Jane’s bright eyes peeped around the corner.
“You still have not answered my question, Mr. Eaton,” Paula said, raising her voice just a wee bit. “What is this meeting for?” Jane nodded, and her head disappeared.
“Do you think she’s going to call the police?” Warren asked.
“Pardon me?” Paula said.
“Oh come on,” Warren said. “I know that Jane Twitchell just spotted me in here then scurried off. Last time, she called the police to have me removed. There’s no need for alarm, you know.” He dug a rather grubby brochure from one of his jacket pockets, turned it over to the back, and began to read aloud.
“The King of Cups Society is dedicated to unmasking the false practitioners of psychometry, telepathy (especially in communication with the deceased), clairvoyance, and clairsentience,” he said. Then Warren refolded the brochure with a look of satisfaction, and put it back i n his pocket.
“Clairsentience?” Paula asked.
“Yes, that is the psychic reading of emotional states,” Warren said. Then his body stiffened, and he held out a hand toward Paula, its fingers spread wide apart like a raptor’s claw. “Ah, ah,” he growled with his eyes closed. “I see that you don’t believe me.”
Paula laughed silently, imagining how this story would grow in the retelling. “Mr. Eaton, I think one look at my face with your eyes open would tell you what my emotional state is,” she said. “Now, are you going to tell me what this is all about so that I can get on with the rest of my day?”
Warren drew himself up, his mouth pinched in disapproval, his eyebrows making a square knot in the center of his forehead. “For your information, we have invited a renowned author to visit us here in Carding. We’ll be in the news, and I hope, for your sake, that the media will look favorably on you,” he said.
“Yeah, who’s the author?”
“Arianna Terra,” Warren said, drawing out the syllables with a flourish. He pulled a worn book from his jacket pocket, and held it up for Paula to see. “Miss Terra is the author of Discover Your Psychic Intuition, as I am sure you know, the most important book on the subject ever written. She’s on Amazon. She’s famous.”
Paula tilted her head back to study the plaster on her office ceiling. It did seem a bit yellow to her. Maybe a paint job would be in order for the whole community center. She’d have to look into that.
“Warren, if you represent an organization that doesn’t believe in psychic anything, why would you invite an author who does to one of your meetings?” she asked. “Isn’t that a little like inviting an evangelist to an atheists’ picnic?”
Warren stepped back as if slapped. “It is no such thing,” he huffed. “We have simply invited her here to disprove what she says because that is what we do.”
“Does she know that?” Paula asked. Then she slapped her forehead with her open hand. “Oh, of course she does. She’s a psychic, right?”
Just then, Jane Twitchell appeared in the open doorway with one of Carding’s police officers by her side. “Hi, Mr. Eaton,” he said.
Warren flinched a little but did not move from his spot. “So, how about it? Do we get the meeting room for this Saturday?”
Paula raised an eyebrow. “How many people are you expecting?” she asked, her hands poised over the keyboard.
“Well, I…uh…don’t know exactly,” Warren said.
“Is it free and open to the public?” Paula asked. “If it isn’t, I’ll have to charge you for using the space. But you knew that, didn’t you?”
Warren deflated, and pushed the book back into its hiding place. Then he looked at Jane and the smiling police officer. “Arianna will be so disappointed,” he said as he turned to go.
“But she knew that,” Paula whispered as she leaned back in her chair with a sigh.
The next Carding Chronicle will be published on March 11. If you are enjoying these stories (they’re a great break from politics, eh?) please encourage your friends to subscribe.