NOTE: Please read Ravine Parts 1-5 before reading Part Six.
The car’s headlights lit up the cedar trees that surrounded the house. It was well after dark, but the drive took Hunter a full day to reach his destination. Now here, he could feel the chill reach his skin as he cursed his inability to choose the right jacket. Exiting the car, his warm breath echoed through the dim lights that sat on either side of the home’s beautiful front doors. The house was a flat-roof contemporary ranch, with walls as dark as obsidian. It was nestled in the woods, embraced by the forest, giving a sense of both mystery and calm.
As he approached the front door, the chill strengthened its grasp as he looked beyond the house towards the moonlit trees. He knew something lurked in those woods that would provide answers. How he knew was still a mystery. But he knew.
Just before his hand could knock on the door, the door swung open startling him. Standing before him was a man with a smile both welcoming and suspicious. Suspicious in the sense it was clear by the look on his face, the man knew that he was coming.
“Hi, sorry to bother you. I know it’s late. My name is Hunter O’Connell. I am looking for a Doctor Vassar?”
Hunter’s hands shook as the man stood still staring deep into his eyes. For a moment, he felt like running, or laughing. He wasn’t quite sure which one would serve him better. Instead, the man answered with a question.
“This is regarding?” he asked.
“I got this address from the art gallery near my town.” Hunter continued “This is about a painting by a woman named Rebecca. It’s of a little girl on a playground with a woman standing behind her. Are you the owner of this painting?”
The man’s smile deepened as he swung the door wider allowing Hunter to enter.
“Yes, I’m Dr. Vassar. But you can call me Eli. Come on in.”
An Old Friend
“So.” Dr Vassar said, as he poured fresh tea into two cups and handed one to Hunter. “What brings you here?”
As Hunter took the warm tea, he thought hard on his next words. It was such as strange situation to be sharing this with another person. But it was a situation that needed answers and he was grateful for the company.
“Would you like me to start from the beginning?” he asked.
“Of course.” Dr. Vassar answered, sitting deep within his chair. “Let’s hear it all.”
Hunter took the next several minutes explaining his experience at the art gallery when he was a child. How he was mesmerized by the painting of the little girl in the field and, how he knew the noon aide was there to tell her that her father had passed. He then shared how he met the artist who created the painting that very same day. An artist tortured by her past, but given a rare opportunity to do something beautiful with it. He then shared the amazing twist of fate that brought him to the second painting, the mirror image of the first, when he was moving Rebecca’s estate for Goodwill.
“When I first saw it, I didn’t remember the one from the gallery. I mean, it’s an exact duplicate, although backwards, of the one I saw as a child, but I didn’t recognize it.”
“When did you make the connection between the two paintings?” Dr. Vassar asked.
Hunter gripped his tea with both hands, his forehead twisting, fighting for the words to come. He then shared an answer that not only proved his honesty, but also that he was the next to carry on a legacy started by Dr. Vassar’s very own Grandfather.
“It happened again.” he said, his hands beginning to shake. “I knew what the woman behind the girl in the second painting was going to tell her. And, it wasn’t that her father had passed. It was something else, something much more profound.”
Hunter’s gaze met the ground as Dr. Vassar watched his mind roll over piecing together the history of his story.
“So, what happened next?” Dr. Vassar said, interrupting Hunter’s daydream.
“I knew I needed to know where she was, or what happened to her. So I looked up who owned the painting and found you.”
Dr. Vassar set his tea on the table next to his chair and stood up.
“Hunter, do you have the painting?” he asked.
“Yes.,” he replied. “it’s in my car.”
“Good.” Dr. Vassar replied.
He then walked over towards Hunter and placed his hand on his shoulder.
“Why don’t you go get it. It’s time you got some answers.”
“So let me get this straight Melanie,” Sergeant Petrey said, as he pushed his chair away from his desk. “this guy O’Connell steals a painting which, from your description, never left the art gallery? Sounds like a bad movie plot to me.”
Detective Giles had no control over the twitching that was now dancing across her left eyebrow. It was something she developed as a child whenever frustration would set in. What made it worse, was that others who knew her intimately, noticed it right away. There was no hiding it. Just like the time she was accused of stealing the last piece of birthday cake on her mother’s fortieth birthday. She knew it was the dog who snuck his nose under the saran wrap and stole the last piece. But her father never believed her because of that damn twitch. As if being caught in a lie, he tanned her behind with the back of his hand instead of trusting her innocence.
This was different though. It wasn’t that Sergeant Petrey was scolding her, he was simply pointing out the massive hole in her case against Hunter O’Connell. This left her no choice but to go over the facts and consider the possibility that there was no case against him.
“Yeah.” she said, nodding her head in agreement. “We looked up the records from the gallery after researching the painting. And sure enough, the painting was at the gallery hanging in the same place it had been for the better part of twenty years.”
“So then Melanie tell me. How does Mr. O’Connell steal a painting in a house, when it’s hanging in a gallery all the way across town? Is this Tony guy making the whole thing up? Or, is there something else you’re missing?”
“I don’t know.” Melanie responded. “But it was strange when Carlos and I went to see Mrs. O’Connell. I mean, she was compliant, but I felt she was hiding something. On top of that, no one has seen Mr. O’Connell for the last forty eight hours.”
“Well, you must have better things to do then chase a ghost, a rogue mover, and a painting that was never stolen. Am I correct or am I correct?”
Melanie only answered with a smile as she nervously tapped the threshold to Petrey’s office door. She then gave him a half-smile, turned around, and walked out.
The rest her evening was uneventful. Something gratefully embraced in contrast to her work. But she couldn’t shake the feeling that something else was going on. She had superb instincts, which is why she was so good at what she did in the first place. That’s why she knew Hunter’s moving partner Tony, was no liar. Why would he put himself in the position of ratting out Hunter if it would cost him his job? She had been on countless cases before, most ended up with someone found guilty, put in jail, or worse. But never before was she searching for someone who committed a crime that never happened.
With the scenario fresh in her mind, she did her best to shake it off before bed. She had other things to worry about. It was clear to her Hunter was one of the lucky ones who got away or, the more obvious answer, he never took the painting in the first place.
She pulled her slippers off, tucked her feat under the blankets, then reached over towards her nightstand to turn off the light. As her hand touched the switch, something caught the corner of her eye that forced a stabbing breath from her lungs. It was the same thing she witnessed at the O’Connell residence as she was leaving. Almost falling out of bed, she rushed towards the bedroom hallway and flipped on the lights.
There, in plain site, was her cat Abigale. Her dead cat Abigale.
As she cautiously approached her beloved pet, the small tabby scurried down the hallway as she had done a thousand times before. As she reached the end, she walked right through the last hallway door as if it wasn’t even there. Melanie hurried towards the door and reached for the knob. As if struck by lightning, something stopped her in her tracks. Standing frozen, she began to see a fog of letters dance across the door’s surface. They twisted, and circled, until a single word revealed itself, jolting a surge of energy up her arm, and deep into her spine.
She quickly released her grip on the knob and took a step back. While doing so, the word faded back into the door and disappeared. She then fell to her knees losing control of her emotions, as her hands covered her mouth in a desperate attempt to stop the scream that resonated from her throat.