Authors: Ava Collins
Tags: #Thriller, #Romance, #Cozy, #Witch, #Mystery, #Paranormal
“And the necklace,” he snarled, like I was trying to cheat him out of it.
I didn’t even think of the necklace as being jewelry. It was an extension of myself. It was something my father had given me for my ninth birthday. A sterling silver pentacle cradled within a decorative crescent moon. He told me the pentacle represented the four elements—earth, air, water, fire, and the spirit. The moon symbolized purity and strength. It was the only thing I had to remember him by.
I reached behind my neck and unclasped the pendant. I held it out to the blockhead, dangling from my fist. The pentacle swung back and forth, like a pendulum. The blockhead’s eyes were transfixed, following the motion of the pentacle.
The other goons circled around me. If all they wanted was my money and my jewelry, I’d consider myself lucky.
I WAS SOMEWHERE between abject terror and utter despair. The five thugs lorded over me, like towers of doom. I thought for an instant that I might be able to mesmerize the savage brutes. But that proved to be wishful thinking. Though, it never hurts to wish.
The blockhead’s gaze was fixed on the pentacle for only a moment. Then he broke free of it’s magic. I lacked the power to keep him mesmerized, much less four other hoodlums. But something became clear—the pentacle, in itself, held an immense amount of power. I just needed to learn how to focus it.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t going to happen in the time frame at hand. The blockhead snatched the necklace from my grasp. The five thugs closed in. It was claustrophobic.
“Is this all you have?” one of the thugs said, rummaging through my purse. He wasn’t happy with my lack of funds.
The goon snarled. “You made me run all that way just for this?”
The alleyway reeked from the stench of the overflowing dumpsters. Paper and trash scraped across the concrete with the cool breeze. I heard a dog barking in the distance. Was this going to be the setting of my death?
The blockhead cranked his arm back, ready to punch me again. Another goon grabbed the blockhead’s wrist before he could spring his fist into action.
“Don’t ugly her up just yet,” the goon said. His ferocious eyes had a despicable glint in them. This was it. I was going to be beaten and left for dead in this alley—if I was lucky.
The night air was suddenly shattered with the thunderous blast of a shotgun. The muzzle flair flashed an amber glow across the slimy brick walls. The goons scattered quickly. At the mouth of the alley stood the man with the shotgun. He looked like a superhero, his muscular silhouette drenched in shadow. He marched toward me and extended his hand.
I clasped his hand and he pulled me from the ground. The details of his face became clear. It was the cab driver.
“I told you this was a bad neighborhood,” he said.
“I’m a little stubborn, sometimes,” I said. “I thought you weren’t coming back?”
“Well, it’s against my better judgement. But I seem to have a soft spot for wayward witches.”
My eyes widened. “How did you know?”
“Your pendant gave off a lot of energy.”
I clasped my neck where my pendant once was. My face tightened with fret. I was lucky to be alive, but I sure didn’t want to lose that pendant. Besides it’s power, it held a lot of sentimental value. I scanned the ground, frantically. Much to my surprise, I found my purse, my rings, and my pentacle necklace. The goons dropped everything and ran when they heard the shotgun blast.
I snatched up my belongings and sighed with relief.
“We should get out of here,” the cabbie said. “Those thugs will be back, and with guns of their own.”
Bancroft and I climbed into the cab, and we drove off into the night.
“I should thank you for saving my life.”
“What were you doing out here anyway?” the cabbie asked.
I told him about the murder, the stolen merchandise, and the location spell. He thought about this for a moment. “Did you use a mirror for your location spell?”
“Yes. How did you know?”
He shook his head. “Rookie mistake. Don’t you have a mentor or anything?”
I shook my head. “I’m kind of on my own.”
“That’s dangerous. Magic isn’t something to dabble with lightly.”
“I don’t think you do,” he said. “It’s against the rules to practice magic without going through an apprenticeship.”
“Rules? What rules?”
“THE rules,” he said.
“Who makes these rules?”
“The League of Sorcery. How do you not know this?”
I shrugged. “My grandmother was a witch. But she passed away before she could really teach me anything. Besides, my mom wouldn’t let her.”
“The League of Sorcery is the governing body of witchcraft.”
“Why does witchcraft need a governing body?”
He looked at me, surprised that I was unaware. “Not everyone uses their talents for the greater good. Without the League of Sorcery, the world would be run amuck with black magic.”
“So, they are like the witch police?”
“In a manner of speaking.” The cabbie frowned. “It’s best not to run afoul of the League. They have a penchant for making problems disappear.”
“You mean, they make witches disappear?”
My heart jumped. I thought about all of the ill advised magic I had attempted in the past. It’s a wonder I didn’t break any of the rules. In fact, I probably did. But I had no idea what the rules of magic were.
I began to wonder about my father. I never believed that he would have abandoned us. But I always chalked that optimism up to me being young and naive. Not wanting to admit that he just didn’t love us anymore. Mom didn’t talk about it much, but the implication was that he left for another woman. But maybe he never left us at all? Maybe he was taken? Maybe the League of Sorcery made him disappear? But why?
“And how do you know all of this?” I asked.
“Let’s just say, I know my way around a spell or two.”
“So, you’re a wizard?”
“Retired, so to speak.”
“Aren’t you a little young to be retired,” I said.
“Politics,” he sighed. “The League started with good intentions. Over the years, they’ve become more corrupt. Focused on maintaining control and power.”
“So, they forced you to quit?”
“In a roundabout way.” He frowned. “Like I said, it’s best not to get crossways with them. One might end up in the Dark Nether.”
“What’s the Dark Nether?”
“You really don’t know anything, do you?”
“I know enough,” I said, defiantly.
“Then tell me why your location spell didn’t work?”
I wracked my brain for a moment, then shrugged.
“It did work,” he said. “You just didn’t know how to interpret what the mirror was showing to you.”
“Care to elaborate?”
He shook his head. “I’m afraid that part of my life is all behind me.”
“So, if you are a,” I started. Then corrected myself. “If you
a wizard. Can you see my friend Bancroft?”
“He’s with us right now,” I said. “He’s dead.”
“I don’t like to think of myself as dead,” Bancroft said. “I prefer the phrase
on another plain of existence
“Excuse me, on another plain of existence,” I said.
“You can see the dead?” asked the cabbie.
Bancroft rolled his eyes.
“Only Bancroft,” I said.
“Unusual,” the cabbie murmured.
“Is that not normal?” I asked.
“Nothing about magic is normal. But I’ve never met anyone who could actually see spirits.” The cabbie scratched his head, a bit confounded by my gift. “Only the most powerful witches can communicate with the dead. And usually only in a very limited sense. A word or a phrase. And only with extreme focus and energy.”
He looked at me, conflicted. I saw the concern in his eyes, but also the fear. He didn’t want to get involved. “You need to be very careful. Magic comes with a price. And if you keep stumbling around like you have been, you’re going to attract some unwanted attention.”
THE CABBIE’S NAME was Porter. “I think I know where the stolen items are,” he said.
We talked over coffee in a slightly better neighborhood. It was an eclectic little shop that never closed. The air was filled with the clacking sound of laptop keyboards. The scent of pure Arabica coffee beans perfumed the cozy little shop. Lofty discussions on art, photography, and film swirled about from young hipster types.
“Really? Where?” I asked. I raised my voice to carry over the intermittent sound of the grinder and the whirr of the espresso machine.
Porter’s mesmerizing eyes enthralled me. He was a little rough around the edges, but I kind of liked that. My stomach fluttered with his gaze, and my skin felt tingly. It could have just been the caffeine, though. Still, every time he took a sip of his coffee, I couldn’t help but watch his arm flex and his tattoos dance.
Bancroft huffed and looked extremely bored. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he was jealous.
“Big Slim,” Porter said. “He’s the guy who can move merchandise. If somebody stole something, odds are they are moving it through Big Slim.”
“How do you know?”
“You drive a cab, you learn the city inside and out.”
“You don’t really seem like the type to drive a cab,” I said.
“It keeps me on the move. Safer that way,” Porter said. “I don’t like to stay in any one place for too long.”
“Because of the League of Sorcery?”
Porter eyed me, not wanting to answer.
“You didn’t dabble in black magic, did you?” I asked.
“No, of course not. Starting down that path can be all consuming.”
“Where can I find Big Slim?”
“He’s not the kind of guy who likes to be found. You show up nosing around and you’re likely to end up on his bad side,” Porter said. “And his bad side is someplace you don’t want to be.”
“By now you’ve figured out that I’m pretty stubborn.”
“Yes, I’ve gathered that. I guess that means you’re not going to let it go, are you?”
“No,” I said.
“Why? What’s in it for you?”
“I don’t give up on my friends. I’m the only chance Jake has.”
“Fair enough,” Porter said. “One thing you need to learn about mirrors is that they enjoy deception.”
“I thought mirrors didn’t lie,” I said.
“They show reflections of the truth.”
I thought about this for a moment. “But the image I saw in the mirror wasn’t a reflection. It matched the location perfectly, except for the fact that the building was missing.”
“That building exists,” Porter said. “But not at that location.”
“Now I’m thoroughly confused.”
“How did you find the street address?”
“I read the street signs at the corner:
Porter smiled. “Ah, now you need to think like a mirror.”
“I didn’t know mirrors had thoughts,” I said.
“Rest assured, they do. They are powerful gatekeepers, and have quite a sense of humor.”
Then it dawned on me. I had been so stupid. “It’s at 23
and Vermont, isn’t it?”
“Now you’re thinking like a mirror.” Porter smiled. He had a nice smile.
I was lost in his grin for a moment. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Zoe Alexander at the register, ordering.
“Will you excuse me for a moment,” I said. Then I dashed over to Zoe. “Funny seeing you here.”
She looked startled. “Hannah, so nice to see you.” Zoe wasn’t happy to see me, at all.
“I’ve been meaning to ask you, the night of the murder—“
“—Darling, I couldn’t have possibly killed Mrs. DuMond,” Zoe said, cutting me off. “As much as she may have deserved it,” she added. “You saw me, I was three sheets to the wind.”
“I wasn’t going to suggest that you killed her,” I said.
“Well, you know how the tenants at the DuMond love to gossip. I’d like to stop any rumors before they start.”
“I spoke with Mrs. Abbot. She said you two were together at the time of the murder.”
“Yes, that’s correct,” Zoe stammered. She was lying.
“I didn’t realize you two were that close.”
“Oh, yes. She’s like a second mother to me.”
she was lying. Mrs. Abbott was always the first one to complain about Zoe’s loud and frequent parties.
The barista served up her espresso, and she paid the bill. “Well, it was so nice speaking with you. I’ve got to get back to my date,” Zoe said. She dashed over to a secluded table in the corner. She sat opposite a handsome, dark-haired man in his mid-40s.