Harry Hogan Series


10. Harry Hogan - Circle of Stones

Harry looked up as Bertie breezed in and quickly shut the door behind her. "Getting chilly out there," she said.

"Well, it is early December so I guess it isn't unusual," he said, sniffing as he detected a faint aroma in the air. "Is that molasses-raisin buns I smell?"

Bertie laughed. "Nose like a bloodhound," she said. "Janet caught me as I was leaving. Fresh out of the oven." She laid the bag on his desk.

"What did you get?"

"Multi-grain bread, of course."

"Of course. Are you all ready for moving this Saturday?"

Bertie nodded. "Almost, and I never thought I'd be excited about moving. Just a few more days... and Janet said that her husband, Tom, will be on hand to help with the loading and unloading." She hung her jacket on the back of her chair.

"Extra hands are always welcome," Harry replied.

"That's exactly what I thought. By the way," she added as he reached for the bag of buns, "Janet said you are to limit yourself to no more than two of those per day. Bad for your blood sugar. And too many could lead to extra pounds around the waist, which also isn't good for you."

"Cripes," Harry grumbled, glancing down at his waist. "She doesn't mince words, does she?" Still, he thought grudgingly, it might not be a bad idea to get back into some kind of exercise routine again.

Bertie laughed. "Good business practice to look out for her customers, I suppose."

The sound of the doorknob turning caught their attention and they both looked up. The door opened and a slight, rather tall man peered in. Harry told him to come in and he did. Closing the door behind him, he sat down in a chair facing Harry's desk. He removed his knitted hat, revealing a haircut so short that at first glance Bertie thought he was bald.

"Can we help you with something?" Harry asked

"I hope so," the man answered. "My name is Stanley Royal. I was scouting out some rabbit runs, getting ready to set a few snares and I came across something that has me puzzled."

"Okay, what did you see?"

"A stone circle." The man twisted his hat in his hands. "It didn't look like a natural formation. It looked man-made... at least that was my impression."

"Could be kids playing house and marked their 'house' with a stone wall," Bertie suggested, handing him a clipboard with a form. "Just basic information," she explained, "so we'll know how to contact you."

Stanley filled in the form and passed it back to her. "I don't think it was young kids, ma'am. They're fairly large stones and I doubt if kids young enough to be playing house would be able to move them."

"Are these stones out in the open somewhere, like on a trail or something?" Harry asked.

"No, they're just off the trail, sort of hidden in a small clearing among some very tall old trees. It's fairly level but it doesn't look like it's been grubbed off or anything."

"Any sign of a campfire, inside or outside the circle?"

"I walked around the outside of the circle but I didn't see anything out of place... except the stones... they just don't look as if they belong there."

"Could it be something old or was it done recently?"

"My instinct tells me it's recent."

"So it's not something from... say, a hundred years ago?"

Stanley shook his head. "They're not sunk into the ground, no moss around them, nothing to indicate they've been there a long time. I hope I'm wrong but it looks to me like a meeting place for some sort of ritual meetings... maybe a group of tree huggers, or some such thing."

"Or a place for young drug users to gather," Harry added. "They could avoid detection for a long time in a place like that."

"But would they bother to erect a circle with large stones?"

Harry shrugged. "With drug users it's hard to tell. Maybe they sit on the stones, especially if the ground is wet."

"Most of the stones are kind of flat on top," Stanley said thoughtfully.

Harry stood up and shrugged into his jacket. "Show me where this is and if I think it's a police matter I'll contact them. I'll follow you." He glanced at Bertie and raised his eyebrows.

She shook her head. "I'll just finish the report I was doing and head out. Janet and I are going furniture shopping. I'll inform the store that you'll be picking it up on Saturday morning. I'll catch up with you again tomorrow."

Getting into his truck, Harry followed Stanley's little car. When they arrived at the scene, it was just as Stanley had said.

"So what do you think?" Stanley asked as Harry slowly walked around the exterior of the circle, examining the area.

"Definitely man-made and quite recently I'd say," Harry replied. "You were right about the stones being too big for young kids to move. I don't see any evidence of drug use and it's been my experience that people doing drugs aren't all that interested in cleaning up after themselves. Offhand, I'm not sure what to think."

"So what do you think we should do about it?"

Harry rubbed his chin. "Leave it with me for now. I'll watch the area frequently over the next few days. If nothing turns up by Monday I'll stop by the station and get their opinion."

"Sounds good to me. I won't set any snares in this area... at least not for a while."

"Good idea. I'll be in touch." Stanley left and Harry studied the area, looking for a good place to keep an eye on things without being seen. When he found a spot that he was satisfied with, he went back to the truck and sat for a while, thinking.

If anyone was currently using this place - they hadn't left any clues behind. Which could mean one of two things: one, they were up to no good and were careful not to leave anything that would expose their purpose; two, they were a very environmentally aware group and took great care to clean up after themselves. He was still thinking about it as he drove home.

During the next 12 hours Harry made three trips out to the location of the stone circle, staying about an hour each time. The first time was during sunset, then at midnight, and finally at sunrise the next morning... but nothing happened.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Bertie arrived the next morning with two large Tim Horton's coffees, one of which she placed on Harry's desk. "Did you find anything out there in the woods?"

"Trees."

"Oh, funny. Had something sharp for breakfast, did you?"

"It's the truth," he replied, with a chuckle. "Actually it was just as Royal described it. Definitely not young kids, the stones are too big. And it doesn't look like drug users either, too clean."

"Hmm, teens sneaking off to party with drugs or alcohol usually leave some trace of their activities."

"Exactly," he agreed. "Nothing was out of place there, except for the stones which had obviously been brought there... probably from someplace close by."

"So what's your next move?"

He sighed. "I went out there three times last night, sunset, midnight and sunrise. Nothing."

Bertie's eyes narrowed. "When did you sleep?"

"Naps in between... felt kind of like old times. I'll go back today at noon, the boring part of any investigation. What are your plans for the day?"

She screwed up her face. "More painting... not my favourite task by any stretch of the imagination."

Harry laughed. "But it has to be done and it's easier to do it before you move in."

"I guess. How many nights do you plan to do this?"

"A couple more nights and if I see nothing, I'll run it by the guys at the station on Monday and see what they think." He took a good long drink of his coffee. "Do you have some pickups lined up for us on Saturday?"

"Oh yes." She laughed. "Living room and bedroom sets, table and chairs... that will do for now. I'll pick up smaller things as I need them and the current appliances are good for a while."

"I'll make sure Bruce hasn't forgotten about it."

"Okay. If you need my help with anything, let me know."

"Will do."

As planned, Harry returned to the site again just before noon, stayed for just over an hour, but saw nothing. It was possible that the place wasn't being used for anything, he thought as he drove home. Or maybe it was so recently done that whoever did it hadn't started using it yet. That night he made another three trips and was beginning to think he was watching for nothing.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Bertie called the next morning, just as Harry opened the office door. "You could have given me time to get in the door," he said with a chuckle. He knew she was a morning person.

"No time to waste," she replied. "The paint can is calling my name... unless you need me for anything..."

"I'm fine," he told her. "Nothing to report yet. Go do your painting."

"Are you going out again tonight?"

"I haven't decided yet. I'm starting to think the place might have been abandoned. Or perhaps it's just been set up."

"That's possible, I guess. Call me if you learn anything. I'm curious."

Harry laughed. "I know you are. I'll keep you informed." He disconnected the call and booted up the computer. Maybe some research would give him an idea...

An hour later he was sitting back in his chair, hands clasped behind his head, eyes closed and picturing that stone circle. At this time of year the sun should be nearly directly over that spot in early afternoon, say around one o'clock. Then he began to wonder. The trees around that area were very tall and close together there. Could someone be out there when the sun was directly overhead, to take advantage of the extra light for some reason?

Locking the office door, Harry went to the house. He had time for a nap before heading out again so he lay down on the sofa and set the alarm for twelve-thirty. As soon as the alarm went off Harry was awake and on his feet, then out the door and in the truck without delay. He stopped at the deli, picked up a roast beef sandwich and ate it on the way.

He parked in his usual spot and walked back towards his little viewing place. As he drew near, he heard something, almost like whispers. Moving very cautiously, he crept down the trail until he could see part of the stone circle. The place was occupied by a group of people sitting on yoga mats inside the circle. They had blankets over their shoulders... their eyes were closed and they were chanting in very low tones. No, it wasn't like chanting exactly... where had he heard that sound before?

A pot of something on a small camp stove in the centre seemed to be boiling but he didn't recognize the scent. It was time to find out what was going on here. He stepped out where they could see him.

"Good afternoon, ladies."

Startled, all twelve turned towards him, several getting to their feet, looking as if they were ready to run, uncertain who he was and what he wanted. They were all women.

"May I ask what you are doing out here? And what's in the pot?"

One of the women came towards him, smiling. "I'm Martha Marks and I know who you are Mr. Hogan. We come here most Fridays, weather permitting, to meditate, or at least we will until the snow comes. Afterwards we share a cup of herbal tea, Chamomile today."

Meditation! Something clicked in Harry's mind. That was the sound they were making. "And you can't do this at home?"

She laughed lightly. "We can and we do, several times a week. We get together in our homes. But it's nice to get outside like this, surrounded by nature, breathing the fresh air... it's rejuvenating, Mr. Hogan."

"Sometimes we sit and listen to the birds or the wind in the trees while we drink our tea," said another.

"It's such a beautiful spot, so natural and unspoiled," someone else added.

"We do have Miss Pinkerton's permission to be here, Mr. Hogan," Martha said.

Harry frowned. "This is Miss Pinkerton's land?" He knew they were in the area but hadn't known it was actually on her land. Then again, he had no idea where the boundaries of her land were.

Martha nodded. "It is, and in return for her generosity, we help maintain this section of the trail."

"In that case I'll leave you to enjoy your... outing. Carry on, ladies." Harry declined an invitation to join them for tea. He'd stick out like a sore thumb among a dozen women dressed in skin-tight clothing. Besides, herbal tea wasn't his thing.

Harry returned to his truck and drove to Miss Pinkerton's house. The housekeeper opened the door. "Mr. Hogan! Nice to see you. Nothing wrong, I hope."

"Not that I know of, Glory. Just checking up on something. Is Miss Pinkerton in?"

Glory stepped back, holding the door open. "That she is, sir, and I know she'll be pleased to see you. Follow me." She stopped in the living room doorway with Harry beside her. "You have a visitor, Ma'am."

The old lady looked up, then rose and came to greet him. "Mr. Hogan. A pleasure. Please sit down." She turned to her housekeeper. "Glory, would you bring coffee for Mr. Hogan, please? And tea for us girls." Harry glanced at his watch. "Is it tea time?"

Miss Pinkerton waved her hand in dismissal. "It's always tea time somewhere."

Glory returned and laid a tray on the coffee table. Harry's coffee was in a sturdy mug while their tea was in fine china mugs. "I brought some custard tea buns, too," Glory said.

"Thank you, Glory. Sit down and join us. Is there a specific reason for your visit, Mr. Hogan?"

Harry told her about the women and the stone circle in the forest. "Did you really give them permission to meet out there?"

"Yes, I did," she said, nodding her head. "It's nice to know that others are enjoying those woods. But tell me how things are going with you. Still keeping busy?"

"I am," he said. "There's someone needing a problem solved." A few minutes later, Harry laid down his mug, preparing to leave.

"I see you haven't used that restaurant voucher yet."

Harry chuckled. "Nope, haven't got around to it yet."

"Don't let it go to waste," she said, "and take my advice... don't dine alone. We all need friends, Mr. Hogan."

Glory saw him out and Harry was still smiling as he pulled the truck out onto the street. He knew she meant well but she was cunning too.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Harry and Bruce were joined by Janet's husband, Tom the next morning. With Harry's truck and Tom's van they managed to get the furniture in one trip. However, there was some assembly required when they carried it in Bertie's house. But Tom was more than prepared, with more tools in his van than Harry thought possible. "Tools of the trade," Tom said.

"You're a carpenter?" Harry asked.

"Construction," Tom replied, "but you never know what you'll need when you're on a job site. It pays to be prepared."

While Tom and Bruce took care of the assembly, Harry helped put things where Bertie wanted them. During the process, Harry managed to tell Bertie the purpose of the stone circle. "I've heard of that group," she said.

Janet arrived just before noon with soup and sandwiches for lunch and they sat around Bertie's new table. They all left shortly after lunch, promising to return for the Housewarming party which the Library Board had organized for that evening.

The housewarming was a great success. Bertie was showered with gifts for her new home and there was enough food to feed an army. She was astonished at such a large turnout.

Things were starting to wind down when Harry told Bertie he was ready to call it a night. "It's been a great evening."

"I can't believe this is real," Bertie said. "Tomorrow I'm not going to do anything, just relax and enjoy the quiet... I finally have a home of my own... and I actually own it... I'm a home owner, Hogan, and... it's a bit scary."

Harry placed one finger under her chin, forcing her to look up at him. "Tears? This isn't like you. Is something wrong?"

"Not at all." She smiled through the tears. "I'm just so overwhelmed by so much kindness. People I didn't even know, parents of kids I helped at the library, brought gifts. People have been in and out all week, helping clean, painting, unpacking... I feel so... so... humble. I didn't know so many people cared."

"Bertie, how many times did you go above and beyond your job description to help some kid in a jam with a school project? Point them in the right direction when doing research? Maybe even proofread a few written assignments? Or stay after hours so a kid could finish something due the next day? Some of those parents might have been working long hours. Others might not have had the skills needed to guide a child in a particular assignment. The education system changes from one generation to the next. But they knew what you did and tonight they had a chance to repay you. So yes, they care."

"Wow!" she breathed. "When did you become so philosophical?"

He chuckled. "I'm not, but I was impressed at what I saw here tonight. It reminded me that there is still good in most people. And now I'm going home. It's getting close to my bedtime."

"Pleasant dreams, Hogan. I'm going to spend the rest of the weekend relaxing and just letting it all sink in, enjoying the fact that this house is really my home. I'll see you Monday."

He turned towards the door, stopped, and turned around. "We could go out for dinner tomorrow so you won't even have to bother with cooking or cleaning up."

She looked at him, hesitating... "You already gave me a Microwave. I can't..." She fell silent when she saw him shaking his head.

"Remember that voucher Miss Pinkerton sent? I never got around to using it, which she reminded me of yesterday. And she did suggest that I share it with Miss 'Blackstone'."

"She never could get my name right." Bertie laughed. "Monk's, right? Okay, I'll meet you there at seven."

"Now you won't even have to cook tomorrow."

Bertie looked around her. "With all the leftovers, I probably won't have to cook for at least a week."

"Speaking of leftovers... I could take any leftover molasses-raisin buns off your hands," he suggested with a grin.

"Go on, get out of here, Hogan," she said, shaking her head. "If there are any, I'll bring them over on Monday."

He was still grinning as he started the truck. He was pretty sure that at least one tray had gone unnoticed... on the back corner of the counter... sitting underneath a loaf of bread... hiding behind several boxes of crackers...

© Fay Herridge
Published in Story Quilt, January 2021

Harry Hogan Series

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