Hello everyone! As part of Short Story Saturday, I have posted another short story, this one entitled Melody Wiles. To me, this feels more like the first chapter of something bigger than a full story so maybe something bigger will be made from this in the future. Regardless, Please enjoy.
In all my years, in all my experience, I have never quite met anyone like Melody Wiles. Her bright eyes, wide smile with cute dimples and innocent face coupled with her sweet voice belied her true nature.
Contrary to popular thought, the fortune-telling and mind-reading enterprise doesn’t lend itself to a lot of strange clientele. Most of the strange ones are the ones doing the readings, though I’d like to think of myself as one of the more normal ones. I’ll leave it to others to determine the veracity of that statement.
Clients are typically like the young man that I did a reading for before I met Melody. He was quiet and unassuming. All he wanted to know was a potential relationship with a girl would pan out. My prediction was vague enough that it was uncommitted, but at the same time, I provided what he wanted to hear.
Melody stood at the doorway as the young man left. He apologized after he nearly bumped into her. She responded with a scornful look.
The young woman sauntered in and plopped down into the chair in front of me. She slouched as she fingered the crystal balls and other fortune telling paraphernalia on my desk. Her head faced the ground.
Somehow I could tell that her heart wasn’t into this reading. Call it a psychic premonition.
“May I help you?” I asked.
“Just do the reading.”
“What’s your name?”
“The sign outside says you do mind-reading and fortune-telling. Why don’t you tell me?”
“I could but it’s more polite to ask and it builds rapport.”
“Fine. It’s Melody. Melody Wiles. I’m sure now you’ll say you knew that all along.”
I rubbed my temples. “I sense that you are troubled.”
“People don’t come to psychics because life’s treating them well.”
“I see that you have difficulty with relationships.”
“Everybody does. I haven’t met anyone who said relationships are easy, even happily married couples.”
I rubbed my temples further. “I see you are unimpressed with my abilities.”
“Maybe you missed your calling as a detective.”
“What if I were to tell you that I was able to accurately read that the previous young man was a logger who worked at the Northwest Logging Company and bowled multiple times during the week?”
“The guy probably walked in with muddy boots and had sap on his jeans or something like that. Maybe he forgot he was wearing his company’s hat. As far as figuring out which company? He’s probably not driving a hundred miles to see a fortune teller so it’s safe to assume he lives in the Puget Sound Area. The nearest logging companies are the American Forest Lands and the Northwest Logging Company. You went with the one in Tacoma.”
“And the bowling?”
“Probably the way he grabbed his right arm or maybe he moved it around awkwardly. At his age and this time of year, you really have two options, softball or bowling. I’m sure he got excited when he heard you say bowling which gave it away.”
I smiled. “It sounds like you have this entire racket figured out, then. So why have you come here today?”
“Because I want in.”
I stared incredulously. “Why? It’s not like I make a whole lot of money doing this.”
“That’s because you think too small. I have an idea that could get you a whole lot of cash.”
I leaned back and rubbed my chin. “I must admit that I’m intrigued. What do you have in mind?”
Her eyes seemed to sparkle. “Well, first I need to be the one giving the readings.”
“People tend to trust psychics more when they are female.”
“Why do you need me?”
“I can’t afford a place like this on a barista’s salary.”
“Why should I help you?”
“Don’t you want to make more money? I’m talking like ten times more. Besides, you wouldn’t want word getting around that you’re scamming people, would you?”
I shrugged. “I can’t have you spreading rumors.”
We shook hands and entered a partnership.
She went by the name “Madame Melody” and start every session by doing cold readings and rainbow ruses to gain the client’s trust.
Meanwhile, I hid in a fake wall and took notes. Often, I’d also do some rudimentary research into the client’s social media account with my cell phone.
A small peephole almost imperceptible to the naked eye allowed me to witness the proceedings. I insisted on in spite of Melody’s protests. I had to make sure she was safe. Eventually, she relented, and it became an integral part of the act.
At some point, she’d give me a signal, a gesture with the fingers or a certain placement of an object, whatever we agreed to before the reading began. When she did, I would finish my notes and push the notebook through a hidden slot out the side to a nearby shelf.
Melody would retrieve it. She’d make up some lie that it was there the entire and would claim that she made the notes and drew the doodles the night before when she was connected to the supernatural realm. All that was written and doodled foretold everything that had been told to her that day, or at least she would claim. I’m sure I do not have to elaborate on the dubious nature of that statement.
Additional information was found through the client’s social media page. I’d text her what I discovered which she retrieved via a smartwatch that taped to the bottom of the table. She’d surreptitiously take a peek at it while the client was distracted and then “read the client’s mind” by regurgitating the message.
Melody got the idea from YouTube clips of a television show where British people performed scams ostensibly to teach people how to avoid them. Gleaning information from a client’s social media pages and texting it to her smartwatch were her additions to the scheme.
She relied on the show’s relative lack of popularity worldwide, as two to three hundred thousand views per video certainly sounds like a lot but compared to the population of the world or even the United States, this was hardly a drop in the bucket, optimism bias on part of the client, and, as the gentleman said in the video, the client not expecting a “magic trick” so they will be less on guard toward the reading being a ruse, to fool people. In other words, she thought since clients want to believe so they will. To her credit, she was correct.
You will not find me arguing against the idea that I am a conman, unless you are a police officer or one of my marks, in which case I will vehemently deny such a claim with the fury of a thousand burning suns. Yet, as self-deluded as this notion might be, I like to consider myself one of the “good ones” in that even I limit how much I’m willing to fleece an innocent person.
As such, one of my conditions to helping Melody was that we would limit the amount of damage we’d inflict on a client. No more than one hundred dollars a session and no more than one visit per week.
She was not happy with these demands but at the same time, she needed my office. Melody reluctantly acquiesced to my terms.
For the next few weeks, we made plenty of money, and as loathe as I am to admit it, much more than when I was working alone. “Madame Melody” had difficulty acquiring clientele at first but when word got around that a fortune teller who had direct access to the spirit realm could accurately read one’s thoughts and was a cute and tall blonde woman to boot, people, especially men, started visiting in droves.
The fact that she dressed more as a harem girl than a traditional fortune teller certainly helped in that regard. As long as she looks foreign and exotic, right?
Some of my previous customers did wonder where I had disappeared. Melody made up some tale about me moving to eastern Washington to take care of a sick relative. We lost a couple of the customers because of my sudden disappearance which I appreciated. It was a great compliment. The majority, though, decided to stay with the comely lass. From there, the business continued to blossom.
It nearly got to the point that we’d have to start taking appointments to accommodate our clientele. Had we continued our business, we definitively would have had to.
A night in late August changed all of that.
As cliché as it is to say, it was a night not unlike any other. It was cool as summer was nearing an end but still nice and pleasant. We neared closing time but a late arrival whom we never met before gave Melody the chance to do one last reading for the night.
“Good evening. The spirits foretold you’d arrive.” I involuntarily rolled my eyes as I hid behind the fake wall. Melody always said that to a new client. It had grown old. I peered through the peephole to get a better look at the next victim.
Something was askance.
I sensed that there was something wrong with the man. It wasn’t his large and wide man build with a rather large gut. It wasn’t his trucker’s hat, large black coat that had the name of his company written on the back, blue jeans, and black boots. It wasn’t his scraggly beard that appeared unwashed. It wasn’t even his odd stench as if he had not bathed in days.
He was in pain. Great pain. There was a desire to be forgiven.
Melody continued her routine oblivious to the man’s emotional state. “Please take a seat, Mister-”
“Joe,” the man said as he sat in front of her, “Joe Robinson.”
Melody sat and leaned back in the seat. She placed her hand atop her head. “Ah, yes, of course. My ability to read is sometimes anemic when I first meet someone but like relationships, it grows stronger the more time spent together with the person.”
“Oh, right, of course.” Joe’s darted everywhere but the woman in front of him.
“I sense there is pain in your life, Joe, either with you or someone you love or know very well.”
“Oh yeah, you could say that. You can definitely say that. A truer statement has never been said, that’s for sure, that’s for sure.”
I tried to communicate with Melody telepathically to leave Joe alone. “Come on, Melody, don’t do this to the man.”
“I see a woman with blackness in the chest.” Melody unsurprisingly did not hear my thoughts.
Joe rose suddenly and slammed his fists upon the table which caused the young woman to reflexively jump.
With wide eyes and mouth agape, Melody listened to the man scream as tears streamed down his face.
“Her name was Angel! She’s dead! She’s dead because of me!” He reached inside his coat and pulled out a pistol, which elicited a shriek for help from my flaxen-haired companion.
“I should have protected her. I should have been there for her. I should have been with her tonight, instead, instead of-” His voice drifted as he inched closer to Melody.
The young woman shouted. “For the love of God, help me already! This maniac’s going to kill me!”
I opened the door of the fake wall fiercely. Several items fell from the shelf and crashed to the floor.
Joe turned and pointed his gun at me. The look in his eyes and the way his right hand shook told me it was done out of surprise. He had no desire to shoot.
“No, he won’t, Melody. The last thing on his mind is taking a life other than his own.”
Melody glared. “What are you talking about? You heard what the maniac said!” She pointed at the man with her palm. “He killed his wife!”
“He didn’t kill his wife, Melody.” I looked in Joe’s eyes. “You mustn’t blame yourself, Joe. Her death wasn’t your fault.”
Joe paused. “I took a life tonight.”
“You made a mistake but you aren’t a bad man. You aren’t a violent man. In spite of the guilt that you’re feeling right now, you’re not a murderer. You’re still a good man.”
Joe’s hand trembled more violently as I said these words. His lips quivered and his tears flowed in even greater waves swiftly down his cheeks.
Suddenly, the gun slipped from his hand. Melody ducked under the table while I crouched and covered my head, though looking back on it now I’m not sure what I thought that would accomplish.
It landed with several loud thumps against the floor. No shots were fired from the collision.
Melody nervously peaked from underneath the table such that only her eyes were exposed while I picked up the weapon and examined it carefully. Not only was the safety still on but the weapon was empty. Joe had removed the ammunition before he arrived.
The man stared at me for a moment and then at Melody. She was only just beginning to show more of her head. I stumbled to find the right words to say.
Joe did not want to stick around. With a swift turn on the heels of his boots, more deftly than I figured a man his size would be able to muster, he fled out the door.
Melody plopped into her chair and threw off her veil. She let out a heavy sigh. “I’m glad that’s over.”
“Come on!” I urged with a hand motion. “We have to go after him.”
“What?” the young woman screamed. “Are you serious?”
I did not respond and started running which caused Melody to utter, “You’re crazier than he is.” She sighed but dashed from her chair which enough force to cause it to collide with the back wall and followed closely behind.
We rushed outside in time to see Joe’s blue pickup recklessly turn down a nearby crossroad. I rushed to my green four-door sedan parked right outside our office.
“Are you coming?” I asked my dumbfounded companion.
“What’s the point?” she asked. “Haven’t we lost the trail?”
“I know where he’s headed.”
She put her hands on her hips. “How on earth could you possibly know that?”
I shook my head. “I can’t explain it. You’re just going to have to trust me. Are you with me or aren’t you?”
Melody looked toward the sky as if she was hoping for divine guidance. Her eyes narrowed and focused on me. “All right. I’ll go with you but you have some explaining to do.”
I nodded and told her that we were headed to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.
Melody played with her phone on the way there as she peppered me with questions. “How do you know where he’s going? How do you know he didn’t kill his wife?”
I thought for a moment. “I saw it all on his social media page.”
Melody shoved her phone in my face. “I knew you were going to say that so I looked him up.”
I brusquely shoved her hand aside. “Don’t do that! I’m trying to drive!”
She scowled. “Rude! His social media page makes no mention of killing his wife or anything like that. In fact, his last post was over six months ago.”
“Are you sure you have the right Joe Robinson? It’s a fairly common name.”
“Do you think I’m an idiot or something? Don’t answer. I know there are like fifty thousand Joe Robinsons but this is the only one I could find with that stupid scraggly beard of his, see?”
She shoved the phone under my nose once again which elicited another shove. “Stop doing that!”
“Stop pushing my hand! I just wanted to show you I have the right Joe Robinson and you can only see that if you look at the picture!”
Melody tried to show me once more.
“All right, all right, I believe you have the right one, so what’s your point?”
“My point is that you couldn’t have found it on his social media page because he didn’t mention it, so I’ll ask again. How did you know everything?”
I fumbled for an answer. “He and I are friends.”
“Oh, are you? You’re not on his ‘friends’ list.”
“I don’t use social media. Considering what we do for a living, I think it’s obvious why.”
“Okay, fair enough. He sure didn’t seem to know you though.”
She interrupted. “But even if the two of you really are best buddies I got the impression all of this happened recently, like really recently. You were at the office all night. How did you find out any of this?”
“I didn’t. I was just making statements that generally sided with the man because of his emotional state. When a madman brandishes a gun, I tend to think that the best course of action is to take his side. I just happened upon some words that resonated with him.”
“If that’s the case, why did you lie to me about being friends? It makes it seem like you’re hiding something.”
“I apologize. Things are a little crazy right now. My heart and mind are both racing. I didn’t want to admit, with your life on the line, I made some assumptions and wild guesses as opposed to thinking things through logically and making rational decisions.”
She leaned her head against the window. “If you say so. So is heading to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge another wild guess?”
I shook my head. “No. I know for sure where he’s headed. I only hope we can reach him in time.”
Melody’s head perked with my answer but she remained silent.
We arrived at the bridge. I parked my car on some dirt adjacent to the bridge’s entrance. Not exactly a legal parking spot but considering the circumstances it was hardly a concern.
“Look.” Melody pointed at Joe’s blue pickup truck that was parked nearby not more than a dozen feet away from my vehicle. “I guess you were right though I still don’t know how in the hell you guess right.”
“Come on.” I bade my ally to follow me as I ran across the pedestrian path of the bridge. She hesitated but decided to follow once more.
Almost halfway across when we reached him. Melody gasped at the sight.
He was on the other side of the handrail which he clutched tightly with both hands. He leaned toward the water. His intentions were obvious.
We moved carefully toward him. Our arms and hands were extended. Before we could reach him, he spoke. His voice compelled the two of us to pause.
“I don’t know why you people care.”
“Are you familiar with Borden Deal’s short-story ‘You Can’t Just Walk on By’?”
Joe looked at me perplexed. “Who?”
“Yeah, who?” Melody echoed.
“Never mind, it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters now is you, Joe. I know what you’re thinking and I don’t want you to go through with it.”
“What do you think I’m planning on doing? Perhaps I’m just getting a good view.” He mockingly looked around.
“If that’s the case, why not take a look from the other side of the handrail? It’s much safer here.” I took a step toward him.
He snapped. “Don’t take another step toward me or I’ll do it!”
Melody yelped. I paused immediately. “Okay, no problem. You can look from wherever you like. I know you’re going through a lot right now. I understand.”
“How?” he demanded. “How could you possibly know what I’m going through right now? How can you possibly understand? Do you know anything about me? Anything at all? How could you? You just met me.”
I cautiously took another step forward. My palms extended in a conciliatory fashion. “I know a lot more than you think. You’re a trucker. You were married to your wife Angel for three years and those were the happiest years of your life. The two of you were thinking about having kids though neither of you were quite ready to make that commitment.”
“Do I know you?”
“No, Joe, but I know you. You are a man of faith but at the same time, you’ve always believed in the paranormal, the supernatural. You know that the Bible condemns that line of thinking, considers mind-reading and the like as sinful if such things are even possible, but you’ve had a fascination with the subject matter ever since you were a child. You’d never truly admit that to anyone, though. Yet, it’s impossible for you to completely shake that belief.”
His eyes grew wide. I could see nothing but their whites. “How on earth do-?”
I continued. “That doesn’t matter right now. You came to ‘Madame Melody’ because you were searching for peace, for comfort, for confirmation that you still had a future. You didn’t want to go to the church because you didn’t want platitudes or life advice. You wanted a solid answer and having your fortune told was as close to a solid answer that you could get.”
Tears formed in his eyes. “Do I have a future still?”
I hesitated. “I don’t know.”
Melody screamed, “What?”
Joe was equally incredulous. “You don’t know?”
“At least lie to the man,” Melody scolded.
I pointed at my companion. “Joe, I cannot read the future and neither can she.”
“Hey, now, come on, man, don’t let the cat out of the bag” Melody softly rebuked.
“I don’t know what waits for you in the future in this life or the next. Anyone who otherwise is a liar. I do know one thing, though. Even if I’ve learned nothing else in life, I know for certain one thing.”
“As long as you’re alive, there’s hope.”
Joe studied my face carefully. I could only speculate the thoughts that raced through his head.
We stared wordlessly at each other for what felt like hours but I’m sure it was only a few seconds.
Then, all of a sudden, without warning, he did something completely unexpected that sent a shiver up my spine if only because of sheer surprise.
It was loud, nasally, and almost manic, but it was a laugh and it was the first time I saw the man smile.
“You two must be the worst fortune tellers in the world,” he quipped. “I mean, I don’t know how you know so much about me. I admit that it is one helluva trick but ‘you don’t know’ my future? What kind of fortune teller admits that?”
“Hey now,” Melody protested, “He’s the one that’s telling you he can’t see the future. I never made such a claim.”
“But can you see the future? Be honest, now.”
Melody crossed her arms and moved her head to the side. “No.”
Joe guffawed. “At least you’re honest, though. Both of you. I appreciate that.”
He climbed over the railing. Joe was now safe.
I flashed a relieved smile. “Does this mean you aren’t going to jump?”
He patted me on the shoulder. “Of course not. I couldn’t do that to you kind folk when you’ve come all the way out here to stop me especially when you’re clearly over your heads.”
“Hey, he’s the one who dominated the conversation. Had he given me a chance to speak, I’m sure I could have done a better job. He always does this to me.”
“How long have the two of you been married?”
“Whoa now, hey! What the hell, man? First, the two of us aren’t married. We aren’t dating. We aren’t even friends. We’re nothing but business partners, okay? Second, I have standards and he doesn’t mean any of them. Third, ew.”
“Oh, I didn’t realize. Sorry.”
“It’s all right,” I said. “She’s very temperamental.”
“See what I mean?”
Relieved that the ordeal was over, the two of us walked him back to his truck. It was surreal as only moments ago we were trying to talk him off the ledge and now we were conversing like old friends. Deep down, though, I knew it wasn’t over. When we reached the vehicle, it was time for the small talk and pleasantries to end.
“Are you going to be all right, Joe?” I asked.
He leaned on the car and looked toward the horizon solemnly. “Like you said, who knows what the future holds?”
“That doesn’t sound very reassuring at all, Joe,” I confessed.
“I know, but it’s the truth. I’m going to need some time to think.” He opened his truck and sat inside. His door remained open as he started the vehicle.
“So what are you going to do?”
“What do you mean?”
“You know an awful lot about me so I assume you know what happened tonight. Are you going to call the police?”
I shook my head. “No, they wouldn’t believe me anyway. Besides, as far as I’m concerned, it was self-defense or at least justifiable homicide. You shouldn’t be punished for that.”
“At least one of us thinks so.”
“You have my number, right?”
He nodded to confirm.
“Please text me anyway, just to make sure.” He did as I asked. “Call me whenever you need someone to talk to.”
He promised he would and then waved goodbye to the two of us and closed the door.
Before he left, I knocked on the window.
“Remember, Joe. Don’t blame yourself. What happened wasn’t your fault.”
He nodded though I’m not sure my words truly penetrated. Joe then drove off and was gone.
A dainty hand with ruby red nails tapped my shoulder. I turned and met Melody’s heavily mascaraed eyes. “What exactly did happen, tonight?”
I scratched the back of my head. For a moment I considered not answering or feigning ignorance but decided to take the better option. “A drug-addict broke into his house. Angel, Joe’s wife, caught him in the act. The addict panicked and stabbed her through the heart killing her near instantly.”
Melody covered her face with both hands. “Oh my God! How awful! But why did he say he killed his wife?”
“He didn’t. He blames himself. He just returned from a long stint on the road and decided to help himself to some drinks with some friends instead of going directly home. He didn’t stay with his buddies long, an hour at most. She was killed literally only a few minutes before he arrived.”
“Wait a second, though. He said he took a life. So the person he killed was-”
“Yep. The drug addict. He drew his gun and fired before he had a chance to think.”
“Well, I mean, I can’t really blame him for that. I guess I also understand why you let him go and didn’t want him to kill himself.”
“The poor man blames himself for everything though none of it was his fault.”
“Should we call the cops of something?”
“I don’t think that’s necessary. I’m sure they know by now and will catch up with him soon enough. Even if they don’t, I have a feeling Joe will eventually go to the police himself and tell them everything. What happens from there, though, your guess is as good as mine.”
“Okay, if you say so.”
Melody paused for a moment.
“I’m still confused, though.”
“What do you mean?”
“What do you mean, ‘what do I mean?’ How the hell do you know any of this?”
I didn’t have an answer. “Mud on his boots and sap on his hands?”
“Wow, that’s so funny. Anyway, I mean, everything was so damn specific. You knew how long he was married, how he wanted kids, his faith, his belief in the supernatural, what happened tonight, how he wasn’t really a murderer even though he practically told me he was, I mean, you knew everything. How the hell would you know any of this unless-”
Her voice trailed and she stammered. “Unless, unless, unless-”
She gasped and pointed at me with one hand and covered her mouth with the other. “You really can read minds! You’re a real-life, god damn psychic!”
“No, I’m not.”
“Then tell me how you knew everything about Joe Robinson.”
My mind raced with hundreds of potential lies but none of them made any sense. After my mind nearly exploded thinking about what to say, I chose the easiest option.
“Yes,” I answered quite exasperated, “I can read minds. I am a true psychic.”
“So why did you lie to me about it, then?”
“I don’t believe I did. I never told you I couldn’t read minds.”
“I’m sure you did at some point, but it doesn’t matter. How do your abilities work?”
“I’m not sure. I could read minds ever since I was a child. I have to want to read thoughts for my powers to work so it’s not like I have thousands of voices echoing in my head at once. Conscious thoughts are a lot easier to get than the subconscious ones though I can get either one if I concentrate long enough. It doesn’t take long for me to read either. Sometimes I didn’t even have to use the social media page as I had everything you needed from a simple glance of the client.”
“You told me you were a conman, though. Was that the con? Was it some sort of meta thing, like telling me you were a conman was the con?”
“I am a conman because I told people I could read their futures. I cannot. I only provided people what they wanted to hear based on how they were feeling. People need comfort so I like to think that I provided them with at least some modicum of it.”
“Why did you agree to my plan, then, if you can actually read minds?”
I smiled. “You seemed like you needed a job and had some big ideas. Who am I to deny a young lady her dreams?”
She sneered. “Yeah right, I know why. You act innocent but I know your ulterior motives, what you were really after. You can’t fool me.”
I stuttered. “I don’t know what you could possibly mean.”
“Yeah right, whatever.”
Her scornful expression then turned into exhilaration. She pumped her fists into the air. “Still, dude, that’s amazing! You really can read minds!”
She hooked her arm around mine and led me to the car. “I have so many big plans. We’re gonna be so rich!”
“Aren’t you the least bit afraid that I can read everything you are thinking?”
“Not really, I say whatever’s on my mind anyway so it’s not like I care what people know about me. I mean, want to know about my sex life? I’m willing to tell you if-”
“Please don’t. Don’t even think it. I’d really rather not know.”
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