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Off The Record

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Sabrina Spellman hummed to herself as she spooned freshly ground coffee beans into the coffee maker’s filter. She was in an especially good mood, and determined to remain in a place of high vibrations and positivity. There had been enough days of sipping her morning coffee through puffy red eyes after crying herself to sleep.

“What has you so singsong-like this morning?”

Her cousin Ambrose breezed into the kitchen with an air of confidence. She crinkled her nose a bit. He was always a bit prouder, stood a bit taller, when he was in his uniform, but she couldn’t help but think of him as the slightly older cousin that chased her with toads and gave her popsicles to keep her from telling when he was up to no good.

“I’ve decided today is going to be a good day,” she said matter-of-factly. “I woke up in a good mood and I intend to stay in said mood.”

“By all means, you make this day your bitch.” Ambrose helped himself to a store bought muffin and held the container out to Sabrina. She plucked a blueberry one from its resting place. “It’s good to see you happier. You were the definition of a cry for help for a while there.”

“My best friend slept with my boyfriend,” Sabrina reminded him. “I was allowed to wallow in self-pity and eat my feelings.”

“I knew you were on the up and up when you started sharing the ice cream again.” Sabrina broke off a piece of muffin and threw it at him. He dodged it, laughing. “Is the coffee ready?”

“Should be.” She opened the cabinet that housed the mugs. “Staying or going this morning?”

“Going. I need to be in early. I have a new detective starting today. A hotshot from New York.”

“Oh?”

Sabrina poured herself a mug of coffee and a travel mug for Ambrose. She added sugar to hers while Ambrose poured cream into his. In a practiced motion, they swapped containers.

“Nicholas Scratch is his name,” Ambrose said as he added his sugar. “He interviewed a bit rough, but I’ve got a good feeling about him.”

“Nicholas Scratch,” Sabrina repeated. “Quite the detective-like name.”

“Should be good fodder for your articles. ‘According to Detective Scratch…’ ‘We nabbed the perpetrator using DNA analysis, said Detective Scratch…’”

“As though anything that interesting ever happens in Greendale,” Sabrina replied. “Why do you say he interviewed rough?”

“Always the journalist…”

“I’m merely curious.”

Ambrose rolled his eyes and took a sip of coffee.

“He’s hiding something. Nothing criminal, I don’t think. But he’s hiding something. Or running from something. He comes with glowing recommendations from his superiors, but there's a past there.”

“Fascinating,” Sabrina quipped, already uninterested.

“What’s fascinating?”

Their aunt, Hilda, bustled into the kitchen, her overdone makeup already on, her clothing as eccentric as ever.

“I was telling Sabrina about my new detective.”

“Ah, Mr. Scratch, yes.” Hilda helped herself to coffee. “I met him briefly, while at the station filing a report a few weeks ago. So you hired him, did you?”

“Filing a report on what?” Sabrina interjected, perking up at the whiff of a story.

“Oh, just the usual schoolchildren trying to sneak into the mortuary to see what they can see,” Hilda dismissed. “Happens every few months or so. I usually let them go with a stern warning, but this time one of them snagged a wedding band that belonged to dear old Mr. Hammerstein on a dare. I needed it returned before his burial and I knew the little bugger who took it. The Greendale PD was kind enough to pop over to his house. I dropped any charges the moment it was back in my possession, though I think the poor dear is grounded for months. Serves him right, I suppose.”

“As though my men didn’t have something more important to do than chase down a petty barely teenage thief,” Ambrose said.

“They didn’t,” Sabrina stated, causing Ambrose roll his eyes again.

“I should be going,” he said. “Scratch is due into the office in less than thirty minutes.”

“Detective Scratch,” Hilda said as she settled at the table with the last muffin and her coffee. “I quite like how that sounds.”

“You and Sabrina both,” Ambrose said dryly. “Try to behave yourself today. Sabrina, I don’t want to see you snooping around at the station.”

“I’m a reporter,” she reminded him. “Snooping is my job.”

“You’re nosy,” Ambrose corrected. “I’ll call you if anything exciting happens.”

“It won’t,” Sabrina retorted. “Greendale isn’t exactly high on crime.”

“You’ll be the first to know if that changes.” He dropped his wallet into his pocket and clipped his phone to his tactical belt. “Don’t expect me home tonight. I’m going to Prudence’s after my shift.”

Sabrina made a face. He dutifully ignored it.

“Be safe,” Hilda told him, the same as she did every morning. “We’ll see you tomorrow, then.”

Ambrose waved a goodbye and shut the front door behind him.

“I don’t know what he sees in Prudence,” Sabrina declared, joining her aunt at the table. “She’s cold and vile and Ambrose could do so much better.”

“You just don’t like her because she beat you for homecoming queen in high school,” Hilda said conversationally. “Really, Sabrina, you’re coming up on your ten year reunion. Surely you should be over it by now.”

“Homecoming queen is only one item on a very long list of reasons I don’t like – and have never liked – Prudence Night.”

“I’ve heard this all before and have no desire to hear it again now,” Hilda dismissed. “What are your plans for the day?”

“I have a noon deadline on a story about the Greendale fall festival,” Sabrina replied. “And then I’ll turn my attention to writing any obituaries that may need penning…”

“Oh, yes! You’ll have a new one! Mrs. Allan passed last night. Remember her? Baked those excellent apple and raisin pies for the fall festival every year, and made those mini key lime pies for summer solstice… Old age. Went in her sleep. Bless her soul.”

“Pies and old ages, the beginnings of any good obituary,” Sabrina quipped, not for the first time wondering, even if just in the back of her mind, how she ended up working for her hometown newspaper when she thought her life would turn out so entirely different. “And I’ve decided I’m going to have a good day today. No more moping around or stewing on the past.”

“That’s the ticket,” Hilda nodded approvingly. “Set your intentions and seize the day ahead of you.” She took a sip of her coffee. “You’re going down to the station today, aren’t you?”

“Of course.” Sabrina popped the last bite of her muffin into her mouth. “It’s Monday. I haven’t been there since Thursday. There’s a chance something interesting happened over the weekend. A tiny chance, but a chance all the same.”

“Well, if nothing else, you’ll likely run into that Scratch character. He’s devilishly handsome. He’ll give you something to look at.”

“Pretty sure I’m done with men in uniform,” she stated, pushing back from the table. “Unlike Ambrose, I’ll see you at dinner.”

“Lovely. It’ll be us and Aunt Zelda. I’m making pork roast and vegetables.”

“Sounds delicious.”

She told her aunt goodbye and headed to her office, no more than a small house converted to a newsroom and printing press. She wrote her article on the fall festival in under an hour, and proofread another piece before typing up Mrs. Allan’s obituary, pies and all.

After lunch at Dr. Cerberus, she ventured over to the police station. The secretary merely nodded and smiled her blessing to pass through to the heart of the station, used to Sabrina’s coming and going by now – and aware that she couldn’t stop her if she tried. Sabrina stood with her hands on her hips, surveying the space before her. She wasn’t surprised to find the activity level minimal, the officers on duty either out idling around the quiet streets of Greendale writing parking tickets or else sitting at their desks, pretending to push around paperwork. She took a few steps in the direction of Ambrose’s office.

“Can I help you?”

She spun at the sound of the unfamiliar voice. She recognized him all the same.

Detective Nicholas Scratch was as handsome as Aunt Hilda said he was. He wasn’t especially tall, but he was muscular, his dark hair coifed, his brown eyes deep. When he quirked one side of his lips upward in a friendly smile and lifted an eyebrow in question, he was Hilda’s ‘devilish’ description personified.

“Detective Scratch,” Sabrina stated. “Welcome to Greendale.”

“My reputation precedes me, it seems.” He full on smiled then. “But unfortunately, yours does not.”

“I’m Sabrina Spellman.” She held out her hand. “Reporter and associate editor, Greendale Gazette.”

“Ah,” he nodded as he took her hand. She noted his rough hands, his sure grip. “Looking for a scoop?”

“Just doing my job,” she replied as he released her hand.

“Unfortunately, I believe you’re going to leave empty handed.”

“Shocking.” He chuckled. “I suppose that makes for a quiet first day on the job.”

“In this line of work, quiet is always a good thing.”

“You sound like my cousin,” she muttered.

“Cousin. Captain Spellman, I assume?”

“One in the same,” Sabrina confirmed. “Is he around? Not that I’m especially excited to see him. He’s not a big fan of my hanging around here, hunting for stories..”

“It’s an unwritten rule of the police force. We dislike reporters because you get in our way. There is typically much bigger things going on than answering questions like ‘have you identified the victim yet?’ and ‘do you know the cause of death’?”

“Around here, everyone will know the victim and their next-of-kin will be notified before the ambulance pulls away,” Sabrina informed him. “As for the cause of death, my aunt is the medical examiner. I have an ‘in’ on that sort of thing.”

“Police captain’s cousin, medical examiner’s niece. That’s a dream family tree for a reporter.” He smiled at her again. Sabrina found herself smiling back.

“My Aunt Zelda is the mayor, and I live with them at the mortuary. It really is quite convenient.” He chuckled at her wit.

“Well, lucky for you, your cousin isn’t in his office at the moment. He’s in court. Traffic violations, you see. Serious stuff.”

“Ah yes, Father Blackwood was caught speeding last month. It was quite the town gossip.” He chuckled again and opened his mouth to respond.

“Brina?”

They both turned at the voice. Sabrina took a deep breath and squared her shoulders.

“Officer Kinkle.” Her tone was different, colder. Detective Scratch raised his eyebrow once more. “I was just checking in, seeing if anything newsworthy happened over the last few days. Detective Scratch informed me that my suspicions of no news were correct.”

“I’m Officer Kinkle now?” he asked, clearly hurt. “Sabrina…”

“That’s your title,” she informed him. “I’ll be on my way. Detective Scratch, it was nice to meet you. Welcome to Greendale.” She turned to walk away. A hand on her arm stopped her.

“Sabrina, can I talk to you? Please? The break room is empty…”

She noted Detective Scratch step forward, ready to intervene if needed.

“I have nothing to say to you,” she informed him. “I’m on my way out.”

“Brina, you can’t keep avoiding me…”

“Except I can.” She made to leave again. Again, a hand stopped her.

“Officer Kinkle, I believe she said she was leaving.” Detective Scratch’s tone left no room for argument The men glared at one another for a moment before Officer Kinkle’s hand fell away from Sabrina.

“Of course,” he nodded. “Sabrina, I’ll talk to you soon. Have a good rest of the day.” He walked away. Sabrina made to leave, but it was Detective Scratch that stopped her this time by holding out a hand to block her path. He didn’t look at her, but kept his eyes on the retreating back of Officer Kinkle. She waited, her curiosity peeked.

“You’re okay?” he asked, once Officer Kinkle disappeared.

“I’m fine.” Sabrina shook her head. “Ex-boyfriend, and all.”

“He’s not a threat?” Detective Scratch continued.

“He’s a cop…”

“Wouldn’t be the first cop ex-boyfriend to take a turn.”

Sabrina shook her head again.

“He’s not a threat,” she assured him. “An annoyance, to be sure, but a threat? Absolutely not. Harvey is a good cop and ultimately a good person. Even if I hate his guts.” Detective Scratch raised an eyebrow once more, but didn’t comment. “I’m sure I’ll see you around, Detective Scratch.”

“I’m certain you will, Sabrina Spellman.”

She felt his eyes on her as she walked out of the station.