Circle of Stone

by Bob Nailor

An un-edited, first pass written for NaNoWriMo 2009.

Chapter 1: Beth

Brian's Burgers and Beers - Home of the Shillelagh Burger. Leo Ozkaya shook his head then ran his right hand from temple, over the top of his ear and finally to the center back of his head. His strong fingers glided through the thick, dark russet colored hair, until the very end when he nervously clutched a handful of hair before letting it go and patting it into place.

'Is this the best you can do?' he thought looking about the bar which thinly disguised itself as a restaurant; a family restaurant, no less. "Your mother dies and you eat at a greasy spoon?" Leo paused for a second. "At least I get to see Beth."

He sat there, absently spinning the heavy beer mug, watching the handle come back around. The empty, red plastic burger basket with its waxed paper liner was near the edge of the table, a few greasy fries remained along with the droppings of relish, mustard, catsup and onion chunks. The burger was the only redeeming value of Brian's Burgers and Beers; it was damn tasty and worth every penny. Leo looked up at the blackboard menu over the kitchen order window. Again, he was intrigued by the house specialty, the Shillelagh Burger with its one third pound of hamburger layered with Irish bacon, boiled cabbage, a thin red onion slice and Dubliner (cheddar-like) cheese, served between two slices of freshly baked Irish soda bread with a side of dark Irish mustard optional. 'Maybe, just maybe I should have gotten that,' he thought. 'Next time, for sure.' Just beyond he saw the Leprechaun's Special made up of a Shillelagh Burger and Irish mashers.

He sat there, staring, his mind shooting lasers of aimless thoughts and images. Mom was dead but she had lived a full life. She sat in her easy chair. Him, an only child, alone in a town that he had tried to forget. Mom never mentioned any illness during the obligatory phone calls. She wasn't totally alone, Beth was around. Sell the house and furniture. Suddenly his mother's words – "You don't need to worry about me, Leo, dear. I'll be fine." 'Maybe I should have worried.'

"Finished with this Leo?" Beth asked breaking into his thoughts. She had appeared at the booth's edge and was grabbing the basket and its final remains.

"Sure, Beth," he mumbled. "It was good." He smiled at her.

She stood there, watching him, analyzing the situation. Finally Beth sat down in the booth facing him, placing the basket back on the table from where she'd taken it. "Look, Leo, I really meant it earlier when I said I was sorry about your mom. I do understand how difficult this can be for you. Well, sort of. My dad was in the hospital a couple of months ago and we thought he was going to die." She grabbed his hands in hers and held them tightly. "I know that you feel the world has left you hanging but, trust me, things will become clearer as you find out more."

'Find out more?' He looked up at her, his dark Mediterranean eyes searching her face then glanced down at their hands; hers so alabaster white and his, a light olive complexion. She had been like a sister to him while growing up. They'd been in the same classes most of the time and rode the same bus. They had lived just north of Monroe, Michigan in a small rural area called Newport. It had been a simpler time, a simpler life. He shrugged.

She shrugged. "I know, I know. Not the same. Is there anything I can do to help? I mean, Althea was nicer to me than my own mother."

"You've always seemed like one of the family, Beth," Leo said and squeezed her hands gently. "With me living in Washington, D.C., I know mom was alone most of the time. You became like a daughter to her and I truly appreciate that. At least I know she wasn't friendless at the end."

"You really didn't know your mother, did you?"

Leo reared back in his seat, jerking his hands away and leaning against the black and white plastic backing of the booth. He narrowed his dark eyes at her.

"I loved my mother," he snapped.

"That's not what I meant, Leo. I know you loved her, but did you know I traveled with her when she took those so-called holidays? And by the way, she had lots of friends. She didn't just sit in her chair waiting around for you to decide to call." Beth shook her head disgustedly, the hairnet stuffed with her long, blonde-white hair, wobbled atop her head.

Leo frowned. He had never questioned his mother's trips, it had become a way of life for him. When he was younger, she'd leave for a business trip as she called it and he stayed with a sitter, or maybe a friend's place, until she returned. When he was older, he just stayed at home, went to school and was the perfect son. There always seemed to be somebody around but he had never thought of them as real friends, especially to his mother. They were just people coming in and going out.

"So you two traveled the world together," Leo said snidely. He glanced about the dive again and wondered how she was able to have the kind of money that traveling with mom would entail. His mind started to churn.

"I can tell already you're trying to figure out how a simple waitress at a loser bar could afford the trip?" She took one of his hands and held it tightly in hers. "She paid my way, dear Leo," she whispered.

He again pulled away from her and nervously ran his hands across my scalp, pushing his hair back. Leo yawned and his mind raced to absorb this new knowledge. 'Maybe I didn't know my mother as well as I thought. She'd been alone since I was five when my father left. Mom never said a word about him, even when I asked. So, I quit asking.' His dark eyes narrowed.

"Are you saying that my mother was a–" I left the word unspoken.

"Please, Leo," Beth said easing back against the booth. "I was like a daughter to her. She taught me. Althea showed me..." she hesitated. "She showed me insights to this world that I never would have realized." She suddenly looked about nervously. "And not the way you're thinking, either. We were friends, teacher and student, not lovers. Althea introduced me to powers." Beth lowered her voice. "For good and for bad. I was her understudy."

"Whatever are you talking about?"

"It's a lot to discuss. What are your plans, Leo? I mean, with the house and all?"

"Tomorrow's the funeral." Leo fidgeted nervously in the booth. "The house? I'll probably sell it, or maybe just have an auction and get rid of everything."

"I'm not trying to tell you want to do, Leo, but you may want to consider going through what your mother has collected over the years. In other words, hold off selling or auctioning. With my help, maybe you'll see what your mother really was."

Leo slugged down the last of the beer. It was warm. "I don't know."

"Tell you what. I get off at eight tonight," Beth said conspiratorially. "Pick me up and we'll go somewhere where we can talk." Again she glanced about the room, noting the customers. "I mean, talk safely and in private. You need to know some facts."

"Beth!" the kitchen cook screamed coming through the swinging doors. "Get off your scrawny ass and start serving this food." He stomped back between the doors which hadn't stopped swinging and disappeared into the kitchen.

"See you at eight," Beth whispered. "Okay?"

"Fine," Leo mumbled and glanced at his watch. 6:32 p.m. 'A mere hour and a half and I'll be learning secrets about my mother and why I shouldn't sell the house,' he thought.

Leo scanned the area again. Two trucker types sat at a booth across the room, they were packing down what might be double cheeseburgers and fries... or were they Shillelagh burgers? It appeared the one had an order of mashed potatoes with a cheese melted on top; perhaps the Leprechaun Special. A man and a woman sat in another booth eating burgers of some sort. Two younger men sat at the bar drinking and talking, while at the far end, a lone woman sat on a bar stool. She sipped her drink, her long legs crossed, and she was watching Leo. She smiled demurely. Leo nodded, smiled back then hung his head and stared at the empty glass in front of him. Time passed and he finally heaved a sigh. It was a moment of decision, another beer or leave?

"Aren't you the lucky stud tonight?" Beth said putting a full beer down in front of him.

"I'm not sure I want another drink."

"Before you even start, it's not a free on-the-house from me." She nodded to the far end of the bar. "The lady at the bar sent it; she says you have a nice smile. Here." She placed a couple of napkins in front of him.

Leo took the drink, turned to face his benefactress and hefted the drink into the air to thank and acknowledge her. He smiled again then took a couple of gulps. Looking down, Leo noticed the printing on the napkins and frowned at what he read.

Beware. The non-Runes speak truths.

Seek The Elders, the True Thirteen

He fingered the napkins for a couple of seconds, analyzing what it said. 'That is one hell of a come-on. What are non-runes? The Elders? Thirteen what? Was this woman some sort of holy-roller wanting to save my soul? She certainly didn't appear that way.' He stuck the napkin into his shirt pocket. 'Maybe just stay clear of her.'

"Hi, my name is Lydia. Lydia Dolomaine. May I join you, Leo?"

Startled, Leo looked up at the owner of the voice. It was her. "How'd you know my name?"

She smiled. "I asked the waitress. It was apparent she knows you. I mean, how many waitresses join the customer at a booth?"

"Please, sit down," Leo said and motioned for her to join him. "Beth is like a sister to me and well, my mother just passed away."

"Oh, please, I'm sorry. Accept my sympathy. Perhaps I shouldn't bother you."

"Please, a little company would be pleasant," Leo said.

She eased into the booth with a lithe movement and smiled at him. Lydia's dark hair flounced as she scooted to the center of the booth. Her eyes were pools of purest aquamarine; Leo figured they had to be contacts. Her actions, dress and mannerisms clearly stated that she was not a local resident; at least, not a Monroe, Michigan resident. She was a city slicker, a big city slicker. Lydia appeared to Leo that she would be more comfortable shopping on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills or Fifth Avenue in New York City. Brian's Burgers and Beers on the north end of Monroe was not where you would expect to find Lydia.

They talked, a little about this, a dabble of that. Nothing of any importance was spoken but yet they continued to make conversation. Never once did she allude to the napkin.

"That was a very unusual pick-up line on the napkin," Leo said finally breaking the ice and hoping to get an answer.

"Being coy works," Lydia said.

"I didn't think the words 'beware' and 'The Elders' were that coy."

Lydia frowned and was silent. Beth appeared from nowhere and suddenly a full beer was flooding down the front of Lydia's dress.

"Oh, my god!" Beth exclaimed. "I am so sorry. Here, let me help clean it up."

In a flurry of action, napkins appeared from thin air to start soaking up the spilled beer.

"Oh, you stupid bitch," Lydia snapped, all the while bouncing to the end of the booth's cushion to stand up. "Get out of my way! This is a silk dress." She stood there momentarily stomping her stilettoes then threw her hands into the air. "Where the hell is the powder room?"

Leo was out of the booth, standing, awkwardly looking about.

"It's that way," Beth said and pointed near where Lydia had sat at the bar.

Suddenly Beth was at Leo's side pushing him back down into the booth.

"What's the deal, Beth?" he asked.

"What did you do with that note?"

He pulled the napkin from my shirt pocket. "Here. What gives?"

"You fool," Beth said. "I wrote that to you. I was trying to warn you against her. She isn't who you think. I remember her when I traveled with your mother on the last trip."

Suddenly a gun shot blasted loudly in the room and Beth slumped toward Leo. He's confused by the action then hears Lydia screaming. Hanging onto Beth, he glances to Lydia, she is wearing a black slip and holding her dress in her hand, and hysterically screaming at the door to the ladies' room that a man with a gun is in there.

Beth moaned and Leo grabbed and eased her from the booth to the floor. His hands, arms and the front of his shirt have blood on them.

"This is not an accident," Beth whispered. "Beware of The Watchers, the Druids, Leo. Find The Elders, the True Thirteen."

"Shh," he said. "Just be calm, save your energy."

"I called 9-1-1," the cook said. "The ambulance should be here any minute."

Leo can hear the sirens then remembers seeing the EMS station just down the road. He pushes the cook away.

"Beth, I–"

"Leo," she said and put a finger to his lips. "Find them. For your mother. She left you a note where you cry. All the answers are there. The necklace is–"

She slumped in my arms.

"Beth?" Leo whispered and he gently shook her.

She was gone.

"I'm sorry she died," Lydia snarled. "But the stupid bitch ruined my dress."

"Why don't you grab your dress, high heels, shitty attitude and take a flying leap?" Leo screamed. "Beth was like a sister to me. You have no right to say anything."

He could feel the tears welling up. He had held them back when he heard about his mother and even while making the arrangements he'd kept a stiff upper lip. Now? Leo wasn't holding back any longer.

"Get the hell away from us," he yelled and lashed out at those closest. "Leave us alone."

"Buddy, I need to see what I can do," a man whispered. "I'm with EMS."

Gentle, yet strong hands were on Leo's shoulders, pulling him away, helping him to stand up. He allowed himself to be guided.

"I'm Officer Taylor," a uniformed man said. "Can you tell me what happened? What did you see? First, let's start with your name?"

Leo looked at him through watery eyes; the officer was pulling a notepad from his pocket. Just beyond Taylor, Leo could see Lydia holding her dress in front of her. She was talking with another officer; a female officer. The two truckers still sat at their booth, they were waiting. Leo didn't see the young men from the bar or the couple that had been in a booth earlier.

Glancing down, he could see the EMS crew lift Beth onto a gurney. One of them spread out the sheet and covered her. They raised the gurney up and rolled her away.

Leo slumped back into the booth, buried his face in his hands and he wept.


Copyright 2009.
All Rights Reserved.