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The Trouble With WitchesAn Ophelia and Abby Mystery
By Shirley Damsgaard
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Shirley Damsgaard
All right reserved.
A big black spider sat on Mr. Carroll's shoulder, while a vein in his forehead throbbed as he yelled at me. He wasn't happy about the library's latest book order. He was sick and tired of all the smut. Each word was underscored by a constant jangling in the background.
Where was the sound coming from? My eyes left Mr. Carroll's face, searching for the sound, until the pounding of his skeletal fist caught my attention again.
My eyes traveled from his face down his body. The tendons in his skinny neck stood out as he screamed at me, and I could see his bony chest wheeze in and out. His ancient ribs, covered by thin, dry, almost translucent skin, expanded like a bellows with each breath. As my eyes traveled past his chest, I shuddered and said a silent thank-you that the counter prevented me from seeing the rest of his naked, eighty-year-old body.
Whoa--wait a second. What was Mr. Carroll doing in the library nude? And what was making that jangling noise?
My eyes shot open and I found myself staring at the darkened ceiling of my bedroom. Thank God, I was dreaming. But why was I dreaming about Mr. Carroll naked in the library? And why hadn't the jangling stopped when I woke up?
The phone, the jangling was the phone. My hand shot out to grab it, and in the process I knocked my alarm clock off the nightstand with a loud clatter. Queenie, my cat, who had also been sleeping soundly on the pillow next to me, gave me an indignant look and stalked off the bed. Lady, my dog, startled by the loud noise, gave a short bark.
I shoved a handful of dark brown hair out of my face and stared at the ringing phone as if it were a snake.
"What?" My tone sounded grumpy, but I didn't care. I didn't appreciate phone calls in the middle of the night, even though they did rescue me from an awful dream featuring a naked Mr. Carroll.
"Hey, know where I can find a good witch?" asked the voice coming from the receiver.
I stared dumbly at the phone. I'd recognize that voice anywhere--Rick Delaney, award-winning investigative reporter with the Minneapolis Sun, and a guy who'd almost gotten me killed last fall when he pulled me into his undercover investigation of a drug ring operating in our small town of Summerset, Iowa.
Closing my eyes, I pictured Rick in my mind. Dark brown hair, brown eyes to die for, and a crooked grin that turned most women to mush. I wasn't one of those women. At least, most of the time I wasn't.
"What do you want?" I asked suspiciously.
A chuckle rumbled over the phone lines. "Nice to hear your voice, too, Ophelia."
My eyes narrowed in the dark. "Oh yeah? If it's so nice, then--"
"I know. I'm sorry," Rick said, interrupting me. "I should've called, but I've been really busy. I heard you've been busy, too. Heard you helped catch Brian's killer."
I gripped the receiver in my hand. "How did you know about that?" "I've still got contacts in Iowa. I heard the killer, Charles Thornton, came after you."
My grip on the phone tightened. Rick was right. Charles Thornton, the man who'd killed my best friend, Brian, five years ago in Iowa City, had found me in Summerset, where I'd moved after Brian's death.
Charles, a descendant of a judge who had served at the Salem witch trials, saw himself as a modern day witch hunter. And Abby and I were the ones he hunted. He convinced himself that we needed to die. His plan had been to kill me at the abandoned hog confinement facility and make it look like a suicide. After I was disposed of, he'd then go after Abby. I ruined Plan A when I got away from him, so he switched to Plan B--kill me and dump my body in the sewage pit. Luckily, after a struggle, it was Charles who wound up swimming in the hog manure, not me. The whole incident ended with Henry and company rescuing Charles and hauling him off to jail, where he was now awaiting trial.
"You didn't answer my question. What do you want?" I asked.
"I need your help."
My snort slipped out before he could continue. "Yeah? The last time I helped you, I got shot."
"I told you to stay out of it, but you had to go off on your own and go snooping around Adam Hoffman's machine shed."
"And you're lucky I did," I argued. "If I hadn't been there, you'd have been alone with Adam and his henchmen, Benny and Jake, trussed up like a turkey and tied to a pole. And remember, I was the one who got us out of there."
"Umm, yeah, I guess you're right . . ." Rick paused. "Except I still don't understand how you managed to do it."
"Never mind." I had no intention of trying to explain to Rick how I'd used the energy throbbing deep in the earth below the machine shed to distract Adam, Benny, and Jake long enough for us to escape. "So again--what do you want?"
"A young woman's disappeared and I need your help to find her," Rick said, getting right to the point. "She's eighteen and the only child of some good friends of mine."
I remembered my failure to help Henry find his missing man. "Rick, I don't think I can."
"Why not? You're psychic. And so's Abby."
"Look, I've tried to explain to you before, the gift doesn't always work. The images can be blurred and hard to figure out. I--"
"Before you make up your mind, hear me out," Rick interjected. "About four years ago, Brandi--that's the girl's name--Brandi Peters--seemed to change. It was right after her grandmother died . . ."
Those words struck a sympathetic response in my heart. My grandfather's death . . .
Excerpted from The Trouble With Witches by Shirley Damsgaard Copyright © 2006 by Shirley Damsgaard. Excerpted by permission.
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