Read Charmed to death: an Ophelia and Abby mystery Online

Authors: Shirley Damsgaard

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Charmed to death: an Ophelia and Abby mystery

BOOK: Charmed to death: an Ophelia and Abby mystery
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Charmed To Death

 

An Ophelia & Abby Mystery: Book Two

 

 

 

 

By Shirley Damsgaard

Prologue

While I stood in the clearing, the soft wind ruffled the strands of my hair that peeked out from beneath my hood. Overhead the branches swayed gently to the rhythm of the wind. The fennel seeds I held tightly in one hand stuck to my palm. In the other hand, I held a small polished tiger-eye crystal.

"You know, Abby, this is dumb. I don't know why we couldn't have done this at home, inside. What if somebody comes by?"

"Nobody's out this time of night. Be quiet, Ophelia, and concentrate," Abby said.

"But it's cold out here."

"Shh. Quit whining."

I turned to look at Abby. A thin sliver of light from the waning moon marked where she stood. I could make out the shadowy shape of her figure—head down, the cowl of her long white robe covering her silver hair, a robe like the one I wore. If someone had told me six months ago I would be standing in the woods in the dead of the night with my seventy-four year-old grandmother, dressed in something out of Witches "
51"
Us, I'd have told them they were crazy. The snort escaped before I could stop it.

"I heard that. Quit snorting and quit resisting. It's three days before the dark planting moon and a powerful time. A time for sowing the seeds of growth. And trust me, you need to grow. The time is at hand when it will be necessary to draw on all your powers."

Closing my eyes, I shook my head in frustration. "Ahh, jeez, Abby. Not more of 'the evil is coming and circles to be closed' crap. We went through all of that last fall."

"Yes, and I was right, wasn't I?"

I felt the weight of her stare in the darkness. She did have a point. She'd been right about the evil in the small town of Summerset, the drugs and the murder. Abby's magick had saved me. And Rick Delaney.

"Quit thinking about Rick," she scolded.

Whoops. One of the dangers of having a grandmother who's psychic.

"I wasn't really 'thinking' about him. He sort of popped into my mind."

"He pops in way too often if you ask me. You can't let thoughts of that young man distract you. You knew he wasn't the one when you two first met. It wasn't your time." Abby stood straight and tipped her head back, letting the cowl fall away from her head. "Now, let's get down to business."

"Yes, ma'am." I stood like Abby, head back, arms hanging loosely at my side.

"Hold the tiger-eye firmly in your palm. Empty your mind of all except the energy of the stone. Do you feel it?"

Closing my eyes, I banished rogue thoughts of Rick Delaney and concentrated on the smooth cool stone I

held. While I stroked its glassy surface with my thumb, I felt the stone grow warm. Its heat vibrated through my thumb, up my wrist, along my arm. And with the vibration came a deep sense of calm. The turmoil I felt over Rick, over who and what I was, dissipated and was replaced by peace. My breathing slowed to a whisper while the wind sighed around me.

"Think of what you wish. Say it over and over in your mind," Abby said quietly.

What did I wish? For Rick to come back to Summerset? For the path I walked to be easy? My breath caught in my lungs. No, I wished to become the person I was meant to be. To accept all my gifts and talents and use them to the best of my ability. In my mind, I repeated the same words over and over:
Give me the strength to face my destiny
.

With each thought, my breath came faster and the wind grew in intensity. I heard the sound of it whip through the tall weeds in the clearing, rustling them till they rattled. The strong gusts lifted my hair and tossed it about my shoulders. It made the hem of my robe dance around my ankles. My thoughts filled my soul and I felt as if I could burst.

"Quickly, throw the fennel seeds," Abby urged.

I opened my palm and cast the seeds to the wind. I couldn't see the wind scattering them, but I knew it did. My palm was empty, but my soul wasn't. The peace I felt remained. I stood silently and let it flow through me. Finally, lowering my head, I noticed a soft breeze once again rustling the weeds.

Opening my eyes, I watched Abby close the circle. She moved to the north, the east, the south, and, finally, the west. Walking clockwise around the clearing, she drew in the remaining energy. I felt it fade, like air slowly escaping from a balloon. When she finished, she took my hand and we started the long walk home through the woods.

"Abby, I understand the energy of the tiger-eye is for clarity and to help with my psychic abilities, but why the fennel seeds?"

In the darkness I sensed Abby's frown.

"For protection, my dear. You're going to need quite a bit this time."

Chapter One

The voices drifted through the open window at the library.

"Everyone needs to disperse right now. I'm sorry, but you can't block traffic."

"What traffic, Brett? I don't see no cars comin'."

I recognized the deep baritone voice of Stumpy Murdock, proud owner of Stumpy's Bar and Billiards.

"C'mon, Stumpy, you know I can't let you have a sit-in smack in the middle of the four-way stop. Take the demonstration someplace else."

"We're exercisin' the right to peaceful assembly."

"Yeah." Several voices cried out—one of them, the voice of my sweet grandmother.

Crap. Abby was with them. I needed to get out there before poor Brett was forced to arrest all those subversive characters.

When I rounded the corner of the library, I saw the sit-in. Several of the town's senior citizens had planted themselves in the center of the four-way. How Edna Walters ever managed to make it to a sitting position in the middle of the intersection, I'll never know. But there she was, dressed in her pink nylon jogging suit and orthopedic shoes, holding a sign that said down with factory farms. The sun glinted on her blue-tinted hair, while her walker stood like a silent companion by her side.

Oh Lord.

"Hey, Brett. How's it going?" I called out.

Brett turned. Two blotches, one on each cheekbone and as red as fresh strawberries, stood out on his young face. Poor guy. Brand-new police officer dressed in his blue uniform, with its sharp creases, and wearing his shiny new badge being hassled by people old enough to be his grandparents. I bet the Academy never taught him how to deal with little old ladies. Definitely in over his head.

"Ophelia, maybe you can talk some sense into these folks. If they don't move, I'm going to have to arrest them for being a public nuisance."

"Oh, you wouldn't want to do that, Brett," I said and tugged on my jacket.

"That's right, young man. If you do, I'll never bring cookies to the station again," Mrs. Walters said, shaking her finger at Brett.

"Mrs. Walters, please. Get up. I'll help you." Brett reached down and offered his hand, but Mrs. Walters swatted it away, her pink jacket crackling.

"No." Her double chin trembled with indignation. "I'm staying until Ned gets here to take our picture."

The blotches on Brett's face spread. If Ned didn't hurry, the only picture he'd get would be Brett tucking Mrs. Walters, walker and all, into the back of his patrol car. I walked over to where Abby sat next to Stumpy.

She had evidently worked in her greenhouse before organizing her seditious demonstration. She still wore her work clothes—denim jeans, a flannel work shirt, and clogs.

I took a quick look at Stumpy. Was he her coconspirator in this? He looked back at me through his thick glasses. The lenses magnified his eyes and he reminded me of a befuddled owl sitting there. But Stumpy wasn't befuddled. He was a sharp businessman and didn't tolerate any Saturday-night drunks causing trouble. If they tried, they'd find themselves staring at the business end of Stumpy's Louisville Slugger while he escorted them out the door. Shaking my head to clear the image of Stumpy as an owl, I bent down toward Abby and lowered my voice.

"You have to do something. Brett is losing his patience."

Abby stared at me, her green eyes flashing. "Edna is right. We need Ned," she said, her voice still carrying the cadence of the mountains in Appalachia where she was raised. "He's the editor and the main reporter for
The Courier
. He might give us the publicity we need. Who knows,
The Des Moines Register
could even pick up the story Ned writes? It's too good a chance to miss."

"Do you want to go to jail for trespassing and unlawful assembly?" I asked through clenched teeth.

"Maybe," she said, cocking her head to one side. "It would make a good story."

"Abby—"

A sudden cheer stopped me. Ned Thomas had appeared down the street. He walked confidently down the wide sidewalk of the business section, past the limestone buildings that had held local entrepreneurs since the turn of the century. His camera swung from the strap around his neck and a notebook stuck out of his shirt pocket.

Relieved, I watched while Ned approached the group. He stopped at the corner and started shooting pictures. The happy group waved their signs at him in response.

I stepped back to get out of the shot. Didn't need my picture on the front page of
The Courier
.

I walked over to where Brett stood, watching Ned.

"Gosh, I'm glad he finally showed up. Last thing I wanted to do was arrest all of them," Brett said.

Feeling his distress float around him, I patted his shoulder. "Don't worry. Everyone knows you're trying to do your job."

"Yeah, but I never thought it would include arresting senior citizens." Brett shook his head. "This hog confinement thing, it's not good. People are sure steamed up about it."

I tugged at my lip. "I know. It was bad enough eight years ago when they built the farrowing site across the county line. But now they're trying to expand into this county. No one wants a facility housing eight thousand hogs built next to their place. Abby says the amount of manure they'll produce will be monumental."

Brett nodded. "We were thinking about buying a house here in Summerset, what with the new job and all, but now I don't know. My wife doesn't care for the idea of living close to a place like that. Even if it is ten miles from town, she's afraid we'll be able to smell the stink."

The waste from eight thousand hogs and a humid summer's day in Iowa was not a good combination. The stench would drift for miles on the hot breezes. And Abby's farm was only two miles from the proposed site.

"Maybe this coalition will be able to stop it," I said, waving my hand toward the group in the middle of the street.

"I don't know. From what I've read in
The Courier
, there's a lot of money behind that corporation, PP International. And the head of it, Dudley Kyle, is a smart man. A real smooth operator. It's going to be hard for a small group like this to fight something that big. Plus, the politicians aren't much help. They want the campaign contributions the corporation gives them."

"Well, knowing Abby, the group will go down fighting."

"That's what I'm afraid of. I'm worried some hotheads will take matters into their own hands. Things might get violent. It's happened before, in other towns."

I looked at Mrs. Walters, sitting by her walker, a happy smile on her face, while Ned snapped her picture. Mrs. Walters, violent? No way. The worst she could do would be to put someone in a sugar coma by feeding them too many cookies.

My eyes moved to Abby. She had other tools at her disposal. Much more effective tools than a pan full of brownies. Would she use them? No. I had never known Abby to use her magick against anyone. She was too ethical to manipulate people against their will.
Wasn't she
? She did have definite opinions about the factory farm concept. Maybe Abby and I should have a talk.

Ned finished taking his pictures and walked over to where we stood.

"Hi, Brett, Ophelia. Brett, care to make a comment on today's little demonstration?"

"I don't think so, Ned," Brett answered, watching the group as they began to struggle to their feet. "I'd better go help. Looks like some of them are having trouble getting up."

"Do you have a comment, Ophelia?" Ned asked, stepping closer to me.

"Nope," I replied and held my ground.

Ned grinned. "Okay, how about dinner tonight instead?"

I returned his grin. "We had dinner two nights ago. And I'm leaving in a couple of days for the librarians' convention in Iowa City, so I'm having dinner with Abby. But thanks for asking."

"That's right. I forgot. Darci's going with you, isn't she?"

"Yeah. It should be an interesting trip." I thought of my assistant, Darci—big hair, tight sweaters—at the librarians' convention. It would be like a peacock loose among a bunch of chickens. I chuckled.

"Think Darci will have a good time?" Ned asked.

I snorted. "Are you kidding? Darci always has a good time. She's already been asking about the nightlife."

"Oh yeah," Ned said, snapping his fingers. "I remember. You lived in Iowa City, didn't you? Got any special places to show her?"

Memories of my life five years ago crowded my mind and the smile slipped from my face. The library at the university where I'd spent my days surrounded by the smell of old books and young bodies. Picnics at CoralvilleLake. The way my friend Brian had laughed and joked around at those picnics. Always the life of the party.

I shut my eyes against the sudden jab of pain in my heart when the last memory of Brian rocked before my eyes—Brian lying dead in a Dumpster, placed there by the killer who'd butchered him.

"No. No, there aren't any special places," I replied, my steps heavy as I walked away. "Not any more."

I saw the windows of Abby's farmhouse glowing warmly in the spring twilight while I drove up her winding driveway. As I parked the car and got out, I stopped, pulling my lightweight jacket around me, and stared at the house.

White with dark green shutters, a wide porch wrapped around three sides and I knew the third board near the door would creak when I stepped on it. Near the porch stood the old maple where Grandpa had hung my tire swing for me as a child. Inside, Abby's kitchen would be warm with the heat from Abby's old-fashioned cook-stove and the light from the kerosene lamps would be reflected on the steam-covered windows. Though the rest of the house had modern conveniences, Abby preferred keeping her kitchen similar to the one in the cabin she'd lived in growing up.

Abby really believed in old ways, I thought, smiling to myself—and not only when it came to the style of her kitchen.

While I stood there, a sense of peace settled over me. Abby would be in the kitchen now, mashing the potatoes and making the gravy. The food for tonight's dinner would be my favorites. It was a ritual. When I was a child, I spent my summers with her and Grandpa. And on the last night before I went home she would make a special dinner for me. We'd sit around her big kitchen table, eating and laughing at Grandpa's gentle teasing. The love I knew they shared surrounded us.

BOOK: Charmed to death: an Ophelia and Abby mystery
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