Authors: Adele Abbott
“Hit and run? That’s terrible. I’m sorry.”
“She died before she could change her Will, and I’m absolutely sure that it was one of her damn kids who ran her down.”
“That’s a very serious accusation. Do you have any proof?”
“Not a thing, but I’m a good judge of character, and that son of hers—Hector—total waste of space. And from what I hear, her daughter isn’t much better.”
“What do the police say?”
“They’re trying to trace the driver. Not trying hard enough for my liking. That’s why I want you on the job. I saw the article in the Bugle, so I know you share my disillusionment with the local plod.”
“That article, I didn’t actually—”
“This is extremely important to me. Edna was a very dear friend. It isn’t just about the money. I want to see her killer brought to justice.”
“What about my fees? Can the charity afford—?”
“The charity won’t be paying, I will. What do you say, young lady? Will you help a frail old man?”
Colonel Briggs was many things, but frail wasn’t one of them. He still looked as though he could handle himself if the going got tough.
“It would be an honour.”
I could hear Grandma’s voice when I was only halfway up the stairs to my office. I seriously considered turning around and making a run for it, but if I knew Grandma, she’d already know I was there, and I’d be in big trouble. Grandma was the head of my birth family with whom I’d only recently been reunited. I was now in regular contact with an aunt: Aunt Lucy, two cousins: Amber and Pearl, and the aforementioned Grandma. She was the only witch I’d met so far who actually looked how I’d always imagined a witch would look—warty nose and all. On a scale of one to scary, she was an eleven. And to make matters worse, she’d decided that she should be the one to oversee my education in all things witchy.
Grandma had been to my office before. On that occasion, she and Mrs V had been on a night out together, and they’d both got very drunk. Boomerangs and boxer shorts had been involved.
“Grandma!” I forced my best smile. “What a pleasant surprise.”
She gave me her ‘look’, turned to Mrs V, and said, “See how my own granddaughter lies to me.” She looked back at me. “You’re late.”
“It’s five past nine.”
business,” I managed, weakly.
“That’s no excuse. The sign on the door says nine am to six pm. So, you’re late.”
“Sorry.” Why was I apologising? That was the kind of effect she had on me. “What are you doing here?”
“Aren’t I allowed to visit my granddaughter?”
“Of course. I just wasn’t expecting to see you.”
“I was just telling Annabel—”
Mrs V coughed. I kept forgetting Annabel was her first name. She’d always be Mrs V to me.
“Mrs V, of course.”
“As I was saying.” Grandma fixed me with her gaze. “I’ve been telling Annabel about my new venture.”
“Aren’t you going to ask me what it is?”
“Sorry. What’s your new venture?”
“I’m glad you asked. I’ve done my research, and discovered there’s a shortage of yarn outlets in this area.”
“That’s true.” Mrs V nodded.
“A gap in the market, you might say.” Grandma grinned—not a pretty sight. “I plan to fill that gap.”
It took a few seconds for her words to sink in. Surely she couldn’t mean what I thought she meant.
“So? What do you think?” she asked.
“Well. That sounds—I mean it’s obviously—”
“Come on, girl. Spit it out. What do you think?”
“Does that mean—?” Please no—anything but this. “Does that mean you’re planning to open a shop in Washbridge?”
“A wool shop?”
“I can see why you’re a private investigator. Nothing gets past you, does it?”
“Do you have the time to run a shop? I mean—err—I know how busy you are already.”
“Haven’t you heard the saying: ‘If you want something doing ask a busy man’?”
“Didn’t Benjamin Franklin say that?”
“No, I did, just now. Didn’t you hear me?” She turned towards the outer door. “Now come on.”
“Where are we going?”
“I’ve set up a number of viewings. You can come along and give me a second opinion.”
“Viewings? Of shops?”
“No, of camels. Of course, of shops. Now, are you coming or what?”
The young man who showed us around the various properties had a lot to say—too much if Grandma’s expression was anything to go by.
“This property has only recently come onto the market. It is ideally situated—”
I’d been daydreaming, but was suddenly snapped back to earth.
“That’s better,” Grandma said.
“What have you done to him?”
The man was frozen like a statue—his mouth open mid-sentence.
“He was giving me a headache,” Grandma said.
“Will he be alright?”
“Of course. It’s not permanent. The ‘freeze’ spell will only last for a few minutes. We’ll be gone before he comes around.”
I’d completed my level one witch training, and was about to embark on the next level. I was looking forward to it, but not to the lessons with Grandma. There were six levels in all. My cousins, Amber and Pearl, were on level two, and they’d been in training since they were born, so I guessed I was doing okay. I had a long way to go to catch up with Grandma though. As a level six witch, she was as powerful as they come.
“Are you coming or not?” Grandma was waiting by the door.
I glanced back at the frozen man, and then followed her outside.
“So? Which one do you think?” she asked.
“I think this one is the best we’ve seen.”
“So do I. It’s just the right size. Now, all I have to do is come up with a name. How about ‘Yarnstorming’? Or ‘Ever a Wool Moment’? What do you think?”
“What about ‘Stitch Slapped’?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Are you absolutely sure you want to do this?” I said. “You aren’t getting any—” Whoa! What was I saying? Did I have some kind of death wish?
“You were saying?” Grandma’s gaze burned into me.
“I was just—I mean—nothing. This one is the right size, and it’s in a good location on a busy street. There’s only one thing—”
“The bus stop?”
“Yeah.” The bus stop was located right outside the shop. While we’d been looking around, the queue of people at the stop had blocked the window. “It’s a pity because everything else is fine.”
“I can sort that out.” Grandma turned back to face the bus stop, and before I could ask what she was going to do, she did it.
The bus stop slid along the pavement until it was in front of the bookmaker’s, two doors down from the future wool emporium.
“That’s better,” she declared, happy with her work.
I glanced around to see if anyone had noticed, but everyone seemed to be going about their business as if it was the most natural thing in the world to see a bus stop relocate itself. I must have looked puzzled because Grandma said, “I cast the ‘move’ spell together with the ‘mask’ spell. Both are level four. The second spell is used to hide another spell. That’s why no one noticed the bus stop moving.”
The more I learned about magic, the more intrigued I became. I couldn’t help but wonder what level I might have been on if I’d started on my studies when I was a kid.
The ‘mask’ spell had obviously worn off because I noticed an old lady do a double-take when she realised that the bus stop was now fifteen yards further down the road.
Peter had taken the kids to a birthday party—there seemed to be one almost every week. Kathy had invited me over for a takeaway. She had curry; I had burger and chips. I told her that Grandma was about to open a shop on the high street.
“How old is she?” Kathy said, through a mouthful of rice.
“I don’t actually know. She can’t possibly be as old as she looks.”
“Shouldn’t she have retired by now, and anyway how is she going to get here every day? Does she drive?”
Only a broomstick. “I’m not sure. By bus, I guess.”
“Do you think she might find me a part-time job? For while the kids are at school.”
This was going from bad to worse. The thought of those two working together didn’t bear thinking about. “I doubt she’ll be able to afford anyone at first.”
“Ask her to keep me in mind, would you?”
“Sure.” Not a chance.
“Have you heard from Jacky Boy?” Kathy asked.
“If you mean Maxwell, then no. Thank goodness.”
“If you and he don’t get together soon, I’ll be forced to set you up on another blind date.”
Kathy’s track record at hooking me up on blind dates was less than stellar. If I told you that the guy who had spent all evening with his finger up his nose had been the ‘pick’ of the bunch, you’d probably get the picture.
“If you do, I’ll kill you.”
“I’m looking forward to my birthday blast. It’s ages since I got off my face.”
“Me too. I can’t wait,” I lied. Normally, I would have been looking forward to it, but I had the small matter of having to juggle that, and the wedding on the same day.
“Auntie Jill!” Mikey came rushing in.
“Auntie Jill.” Lizzie was two steps behind him.
“Hi guys. How was the birthday party?”
“It was fantastic,” Mikey said.
Lizzie nodded in agreement.
“There was a magician. He did magic tricks. It was fantastic. Can I have a magic set, Mum? Please?”
“You’ll have to wait until Christmas. Money doesn’t grow on trees you know.”
“If I had a magic set, I could make it grow on trees.” Mikey laughed. “Do you like magic, Auntie Jill?”
“I do.” More than you’ll ever know.
“You used to hate magic when we were kids,” Kathy said. “You used to say it was fake.”
Mikey looked horrified.
“I never said that,” I protested.
“You did. Can’t you remember that time when we were watching a magician at the seaside somewhere, and you stood up and shouted, ‘It’s in your hand’?”
“I never did that.” The memories came flooding back. El Mystero, the so-called magician, had palmed a ball in one hand while pretending to make it vanish into thin air in the other. Such an amateur! “Anyway, I like magic now.”
Mikey’s smile returned. “Do you think magic is real, Auntie Jill?”
“Magic? Yes, I’m sure it is.”
Peter hadn’t spoken a word, which wasn’t like him at all. Kathy must have noticed too because she sent the kids to play in their rooms.
“What’s up?” Kathy said.
“The holiday money has gone.”
“Gone? What do you mean, gone?”
“Norman Reeves has vanished, and taken the money with him.”
“Where’s he gone?” Kathy said.
“If I knew that, he wouldn’t have vanished, would he?”
“No need to get ratty with me.”
“Sorry. I just don’t know how I’m going to tell the kids. They’ll be devastated.”
“Who’s Norman Reeves?” I asked.
“He’s the trip coordinator. Quiet guy. Works at the local housing office. I can’t say I know him all that well. If I’m honest, he comes across as a little weird.”
“Why would you trust him to be treasurer then?”
“He’d done it for the last two years. There’s never been a problem before.”
“If it helps, I could lend you the money,” I said.
“Thanks, but it wouldn’t do any good,” Peter slumped down in the armchair. “Everyone’s money has gone, so the whole thing will have to be called off.”
Kathy put her head in her hands. “What are we going to tell them?” She gestured towards the kids’ bedrooms.
Peter shook his head. “Let’s give it a couple of days to see if anything turns up.”
“I can’t believe Norman would do something like that,” Kathy said. “When was the last time anyone heard from him?”
“Two days ago, I think. He went to Antonio’s for a meal with his girlfriend. Since then, nothing.”
“Do you want me to see if I can come up with anything?” I offered.
“Do you think you can find him?” Peter looked hopeful.
“I don’t know, but I’ll give it my best shot.”
“You have to find him, Jill.” Kathy took my hand. “The kids will be devastated if the holiday is cancelled.”
No pressure then.
I was becoming more sensitive to the presence of ghosts, and could usually tell now when my mother was close by.
“Mum?” I glanced around the living room of my flat. “Mum?”
“It’s me,” a male voice said.
I turned around to see Alberto. “What are you doing here? Is Mum alright?” Weird question, I know. She’s dead—how much less alright could she be?
“Your mother is fine. Well, maybe a little upset.”
“Why what’s wrong?”
“You have to promise not to let her know I told you.”
“Told me what?”
“I promise I won’t tell her. What’s wrong?”
“On her death bed, your great-grandmother gave your mother her wedding ring. Your mother wore it on a necklace all of the time. She’d always planned to take it as her own wedding ring if she ever married again, but now she can’t.”
“Why not? What happened to it?”
“It’s disappeared. She was wearing it when she went into the nursing home, but since she—” He couldn’t bring himself to say the words.
“Died and came back as a ghost?”
He nodded. “It wasn’t on her finger. I told her she should ask you to investigate, but she doesn’t want to add to your workload.”
“Leave it with me. I’m on it.”
“Thank you, Jill. I knew you’d want to help. I won’t say anything to your mother just in case you draw a blank. I don’t want to get her hopes up.”