Mind Sweeper

Mind Sweeper by Deborah O'Toole is a haunting mystery/suspense novel now available in Kindle, Kobo and Nook editions.


Newly-widowed Beth Mills accepts an outpouring of sympathy from her community after a freak mining accident takes the life of her husband, Aaron. Unbeknownst to anyone, she is secretly delighted that her cruel husband is lost to her, but never expects his vicious ghost to return and haunt her in more ways than one...

From Chapter Ten


Life in Ivytown


BETH HAD ALWAYS wanted a dog or a cat, even before she met Aaron Mills. She never had the time or occasion to have pets, either in San Francisco or now in Ivytown. She didn’t think Aaron would let her have an animal, anyway. God forbid it might detract her attention from him.


Finally, the occasion presented itself in the spring of 2002. Aaron and Beth attended a fundraising event at the Ivytown Animal Shelter, where he was at the forefront of local philanthropic efforts. Beth went along because Aaron expected it of her, and because she found the cause to be worthy: raising money to provide neutering, spaying and vaccination services for homeless dogs and cats.


The community pulled out all the stops for the fundraising event, so the animal shelter was crowded with local adults and children. Frankfurters – albeit made from chicken and pork – went for $2 a piece, and sodas for $2.50. But it was all for a good cause.


Aaron volunteered to serve the sodas, so he was kept busy and lost track of his wife’s whereabouts.


Beth walked through the kennels, looking at the mature cats and dogs needing a home. Puppies and kittens were the most popular, with children swarming around the cages to get a closer look.


She saw Gaby with her six brothers and sisters in a large dog run at the rear of the shelter. All seven puppies were chocolate-colored Labrador retrievers, but Gaby was the only one with a heart-shaped white patch of fur on her chest. Still unsteady on her puppy feet yet incredibly playful, she also seemed the liveliest of the bunch. She raced to the back and front of the dog run repeatedly, knocking over a few of her siblings in the process.


Beth asked the shelter attendant to bring Gaby to her. “I just want to get a closer look,” she said.


Gaby seemed eager for Beth’s arms, reaching out her paws and seeming to melt in her embrace. Gaby proceeded to lick Beth’s face profusely.


“I want her,” Beth said, staring at the puppy in wonder. Not only was she instantly in love with Gaby, she knew instinctively the dog would provide a secure and loving alternative to Aaron’s abuse. Just like her sewing “tower,” Gaby would be a safe refuge from the emotional and physical storm around her.


Aaron would deny her if he could, Beth knew. She had to plan carefully in order to force his agreement. The only way to do that was to plead her case in front of other people, using a sweetness of voice that created great empathy – which would be lost on Aaron, but not on normal, compassionate human beings.


Aaron saw Beth coming with Gaby in her arms. He glared at her, but she ignored his subtle warning.


“Look darling,” Beth said loudly, happily. “Look how beautiful this puppy is. Aaron, please - just look at her.”


There were more than a dozen people standing around the soda station. When Beth spoke to her husband, all of them turned to gaze at her holding Gaby.


“You know we don’t have time to take care of a dog,” Aaron said affably, almost kindly, although Beth knew by the flush on his face that he was becoming angry.


“But she’s an orphan,” Beth pleaded, coming to stand next to her husband. “If we don’t take her, she might be euthanized. Please, Aaron. I’ll take care of her – you won’t have to lift a finger. Besides, taking her – and paying for her – will be my contribution to the fundraiser.”


Aaron was at a loss for words, his eyes slowly covering the crowd. They were all waiting expectantly, hoping he would agree to his wife’s heartfelt and sincere entreaty. What else could he do?


“I don’t know, Bethany,” he demurred, playing his role to the hilt. After hemming and hawing, and then capitulating, he knew the people standing around him would find him even more admirable than they already did.


Oh please Aaron,” Beth begged expansively, her eyes watering. “Please. I’ll never ask for anything else for the rest of my life.”


A few of the local men chuckled, one of them uttering: “That’s what they all say, Mills. And then a week later they want something else more than anything in their life.”


As if on queue Gaby whined, squirming in Beth’s arms to turn and lick her face.


The crowd “oohed” and “ahhed.”


Aaron flushed slightly, which was barely discernable to anyone but Beth. It was just another sign of his anger and displeasure with her. But she didn’t care. She wanted Gaby, and was prepared to go to any lengths to get her.


Aaron smiled broadly, although the warmth did not reach his eyes. “Okay, Bethany, the dog is yours. How much is she going to cost me?”


“Just one hundred dollars,” Beth replied hugging Gaby to her. “Very much worth it, don’t you think? And for such a good cause.”


“I give up,” Aaron said, throwing his hands in the air. “She’s yours.”


The onlookers clapped simultaneously, which brought another smile to Aaron’s lips.


Surprisingly, Beth suffered no retribution that night when they went home with Gaby. Oddly, he seemed distracted and uninterested in Beth’s barely-contained happiness. However, she knew her husband and his mood swings well enough to understand he could turn on a dime, and now was not the time to lull into complacency in his presence.


Beth trained Gaby, although she had no formal guidance to help her. The puppy was a naturally loving and curious companion, who grew to be protective of Beth and mildly accepting of Aaron. For his part, Aaron occasionally gave Gaby a pat on the head, or a bloody steak bone. Beth began to relax somewhat, seeing their little family as complete, but never lost her ability to see the warning signs that usually precipitated an attack by her husband.


Beth’s favorite times were when Aaron worked the night shift at Misty Canyon Mines. She would let Gaby into the bed – where Aaron never allowed her – and they would snuggle through the night. Beth made sure to awaken an hour or so before Aaron was due to return home so she could vacuum any stray dog hairs left on the bed. She knew there would be hell to pay if Aaron ever found out Gaby slept in the bed with her when he was gone.


                So what does that say about my marriage?” Beth thought sadly. “I’d much rather sleep with Gaby than with my husband. We can rest without fear, and it’s one of the few times I feel trust and unconditional love.”



MIND SWEEPER ©2011-16 Deborah O'Toole. All rights reserved.

"Mind Sweeper" may not be reproduced in whole or in part without written permission from the author. "Mind Sweeper" is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental.