"Highly original and great fun. A triumph of imagination with twists and turns to delight readers." Carolyn Hart, New York Times bestselling author
A killer takes a spin through Salem . . .
Lee Barrett has agreed to attend a storage auction with Aunt Ibby—even though she suspects the forgotten rooms will yield more junk than treasure. Her skepticism vanishes once the two win a bid on an overlooked locker and uncover a trove of beautiful curiosities, including a stunning wooden carousel horse with gentle eyes and fading paint. But just before Lee leaves the fairground relic at a local repair shop, the sight of a silver samovar awakens her psychic abilities and conjures visions of murder.
Lee prays the intrusive ESP episode was just a glimpse into the past—until her policeman boyfriend reports a dead man outside the repair shop. Apparently, the unknown victim had been hot on Lee’s trail since the auction. And with the horse found dismantled, it looks like he was up to no good. What’s the story behind the antique equine, and could a strange bubblegum-chewing woman with fiery hair have something to do with the crime? Guided by her gift and O’Ryan, her wise tabby cat, Lee’s set on catching the murderer . . . before she’s sent on the darkest ride of her life.
Praise for The Witch City Mysteries
“Perfectly relaxing and readable.”– Kirkus Reviews
“This rewarding paranormal cozy series debut will have Victoria Laurie fans lining up to follow.” —Library Journal
“[A]n entertaining story that keeps readers guessing until the very twisted and eerie end.” —RT Book Reviews
Read an Excerpt
Murder Go Round
By Carol J. Perry
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Carol J. Perry
All rights reserved.
Late-August days in Salem, Massachusetts, can be quite lovely. Most of the visiting vacationers have left, so driving, parking, walking and shopping is a lot easier for those of us lucky enough to live here year-round. On just such a day, bright with sunshine and with the tiniest hint of fall in the air, my aunt Ibby and I made plans to spend some easy, leisurely, quality time together.
Of course things don't always go exactly as planned.
I'm Lee Barrett — maiden name, Maralee Kowolski — thirty-two, red-haired, Salem-born, orphaned early, married once and widowed young. My sixty-something ball-of-energy aunt, Isobel Russell, and I, along with our cat, O'Ryan, share the comfortable, old family home on Winter Street, where she'd raised me after my parents died.
I sat at Aunt Ibby's round oak kitchen table, enjoying my second cup of morning coffee, while O'Ryan, his big yellow-striped paws on the windowsill, watched a pair of orioles in the garden. My aunt studied the Salem News, looking for something "different and interesting" for us to do. "It has to be outdoors," she said. "Winter will be here soon enough."
"Sounds good to me. Anything special in mind?"
She tapped the open page of the newspaper with a neatly manicured fingertip. "Look at this, Maralee. I've always wanted to go to one of these."
I put my cup down and peered at the quarter-page advertisement.
Today Only! Public Auction of Unclaimed Storage Units. The Public Is Invited to Participate In a "Storage War Auction"! Each Unit Sells to the Highest Bidder.
"How does it work?" I asked.
"Well," she said, "if it works like the TV show, you can bid on a locker and you get everything in it if you make the highest bid."
I knew that Aunt Ibby was fond of watching a cable television program on the subject. She'd often told me about people who'd found amazing bargains by bidding on the contents of abandoned lockers.
"So it's just like a regular auction?"
"Not exactly. You get to peek in the door of the locker. You can't go inside, touch anything or open any boxes. Oh, and it's cash only."
"You pay cash and you don't know what you're buying?" I'd worked in the television industry, both in front of and behind the cameras, most of my adult life. I was currently working during the school year as an instructor of TV production at a local academy. Even so, I'd never watched that particular show and the pig-in-a-poke concept seemed strange to me.
She shrugged. "Sometimes you can see a lot of the stuff. It's not always in boxes. People come away with wonderful furniture all the time. Antiques. Vintage. Come with me. You'll love it."
She knew she'd hit on my weakness. Aunt Ibby had converted the third floor of the old house into an apartment for me, and I was slowly furnishing it — mostly with antiques and vintage things. "You know me too well," I said. "Where's the auction? What time?"
"It starts at ten," she said, "over near Gallows Hill. If we hurry, we can stop at the bank, get some cash and be there in time."
"Should we put a cap on how much we'll spend?"
"How about we limit ourselves to five hundred dollars?" she said. "Two-fifty apiece?"
My semiretired aunt is nicely set financially, thanks to a combination of old family money, New England frugality, sound investment advice and decades of work as head reference librarian in Salem's main library. A generous inheritance from my parents' estate and the insurance settlement from my race-car driver husband Johnny Barrett's death two years ago, along with my own earnings as an instructor at Salem's newest school, provide nicely for me. We can each afford to take an occasional fling, like the proposed foray into the world of storage wars.
A quick change of clothes — khaki cargo pants and Tampa Bay Lightning T-shirt for me, navy capris and a neat white shirt for my still-slim-and-fit aunt, and we headed for the garage behind the house. O'Ryan peeked from the window — maybe watching us, maybe focused on a lone blue jay. We never know what O'Ryan is thinking. He used to be the pet of a witch named Ariel Constellation. Some say he was her "familiar." In Salem, a witch's familiar is to be respected — and sometimes feared. Unfortunately, I was the one who'd discovered Ariel's drowned body floating in Salem Harbor. Happily for us, my aunt and I were given custody of the quite remarkable, large and beautiful yellow-striped cat.
We decided to drive Aunt Ibby's big, sturdy Buick to the sale, leaving my less practical, but definitely gorgeous, Laguna Blue Stingray Corvette convertible behind. That old Buick's wide backseat and roomy trunk could hold a lot of stuff.
"If we buy anything too huge," I said, "I'll call Pete. He's working nights this week, so I know he'll have time, and he can probably borrow his brother-in-law's truck." Police detective Pete Mondello had become the main man in my life. I knew he'd agree to help out even though he finds my admittedly eclectic taste in home furnishings a little odd.
The parking lot, next to the long, boxlike white building, was more than half filled when we arrived, and Aunt Ibby neatly maneuvered the car into a vacant space next to a chain-link fence. "Looks like the dealers are here," she said, pointing to a row of trucks and vans parked close to the building, a few of them marked with the names of local thrift and vintage stores. "Maybe five hundred dollars won't be enough."
"I think it will be plenty," I said, "and even if we don't buy a locker, it'll be an interesting way to spend a couple of hours."
"I guess you're right. Anyway, sometimes on the TV show somebody wins a really good locker for just a couple of hundred dollars." Her expression brightened. "Besides, I'm sure they have an ATM."
I laughed. "You're incorrigible!" We approached the main gate, joining about thirty people gathered there. Although during my growing-up years my aunt had regularly cautioned me about never speaking to strangers, she'd always avoided following that rule herself. This day was no exception.
"Excuse me," she said, addressing a man wearing a red T-shirt emblazoned with the word Lucky in big white letters. "Have you been to one of these sales before?"
"Sure thing," he said. "There's a sale somewhere just about every week. I get e-mails from the auctioneers or see ads in the paper."
"This is our first time," Aunt Ibby confided. "Are most of these folks what you might call 'regulars'?"
He glanced around. "I'd say about half and half. The people with secondhand stores show up all the time. Then there's the ones who come once in a while, just looking for big-screen TVs or old jukeboxes — specialty stuff. There's a few ... like her." He pointed to a heavy woman, with bright orange hair, wearing a shapeless multicolored dress and blowing a huge pink bubblegum bubble. "And him"— he indicated a youngish man, in black turtleneck jersey and black jeans, who stood apart from the rest of the group. I remembered seeing the woman around Salem before. That orange hair was hard to miss. Lucky dropped his voice. "They come to a lot of sales and never buy a damn thing. Just watch the rest of us. Kind of creeps me out."
A woman beside him volunteered, "Oh, Lucky, don't be silly. There's a lot of times you don't buy anything. Me too. Sometimes it's just a pile of junk, like, you know, old mattresses, bags of dirty clothes." She made a face. "But sometimes you can really score big-time, huh?"
"You bet. I do okay. Sell most of what I buy on eBay or Craigslist."
The woman wasn't through. "'Course there was that one guy who found a corpse in a barrel." The two laughed.
"Oh, good heavens!" My aunt pressed two fingers to her mouth.
"Is that true?" I asked. "Really?"
"Yep. Man killed his wife. Stuck her body in a barrel. Got away with it too, until his second wife stopped paying the locker rent."
Aunt Ibby interrupted the macabre reminiscence. "Look. There's the auctioneer." She pointed to a blond man wearing jeans and a plaid shirt. He raised his hand and the hum of conversation around us stilled.
"Is everybody ready?"
A chorus of "Yes" rang out.
"Okay then. Listen up. We have seven lockers today. Here's the rules. When we cut the lock, you get five minutes to look around. You can't go into the locker. You can't open any boxes. And whoever has the most money wins it. Let's get started!"
The gate swung open and the crowd pressed forward. My aunt somehow maneuvered us into the front row as a bolt cutter sliced through a padlock and the door rolled upward with a bang and a cloud of dust. It was one of the smaller lockers, just five-by-five, packed with a hodgepodge of mismatched furniture and boxes of varying sizes. Most of the boxes were sealed with tape and lettered on their sides with black marker: TOYS, GAMES, DRESSES. A long one, partially opened, with a discolored and bent aluminum handle sticking out from its side, said POTS & PANS. An oversized, dusty Mickey Mouse plush toy peeked from one side. A few of the larger cartons near the bottom of the pile bore words in a foreign language, with symbols among the letters.
Some of the boxes on that lower tier had popped open at the seams and appeared to contain kitchenware, mostly of the plastic variety. A man behind me stage-whispered, "Doesn't look like much. Dollar store stuff. Chinese. Beat-up crappy furniture. I'll pass on this one."
I heard a bid of ten dollars. A ripple of laughter. Twenty. Thirty. With plenty of jovial encouragement from the auctioneer, the bidding, mostly between the thrift store dealers, slowly went up to 230 dollars. My aunt had scooched down, looking closely at the bottom row. She stood and tugged at my elbow. The bid went to two-forty.
"We're bidding on this one," she said.
"Why? No one seems to think much of it."
"See that kind of tall, scraggly-looking brown box down there? The one with the little tear in its side?"
I peered at the tattered carton she'd described. "With the foreign words on it?"
"Uh-huh. We want it." She spoke so softly I could barely hear, glancing over her shoulder as though she was afraid that someone might be listening.
I laughed aloud. "Okay, but why all the mystery?"
"Shhh." She shushed me and whispered. "You don't understand how these things work. If you act like you see something good, they start running up the bid."
I whispered back. "You're acting exactly like you see something good. What is it?"
Ignoring me, she raised her hand. "Two hundred and fifty dollars."
"Aunt Ibby," I said, "this is the first locker of the day. The ad said there are seven. Maybe one of the others is better than this."
"Two-sixty," came a voice from behind us.
The auctioneer repeated the bids in that amazing, fast-talking, singsongy way they do. "Two-sixty, two-sixty, two-sixty. Do I hear two-seventy?"
"Two sixty-five," said my aunt, using her firm, head-librarian voice intended to discourage all further conversation.
It worked. There were no more bids. For just about half of our budget, we had a five-by-five room packed full of ... what?
The crowd moved on, some looking back at us with what might have been pitying glances reserved for newbies in the storage wars game. My smiling aunt stood, hands on her hips, surveying the open locker door. "Looks like it'll take us a while to unload all this. We'll start at the top and work our way down to the box I was bidding on."
"Don't you even want to see what's in the other six lockers?"
"Not now. I'm too excited about this one."
"Okay." I know better than to argue with her. Like me, she's a stubborn redhead.
A gray-haired man, pushing a very large four-wheeled dolly and carrying a small stepladder, approached from behind the building. "Looks like you girls might need a little help getting this stuff to your vehicle, eh?" He gave the locker's contents an appraising look. "She's packed pretty tight. I'm Jim. How's twenty bucks sound for moving it out?"
We agreed to the offer and Jim climbed onto his stepladder and began pulling items from the top and handing them down to me. My aunt knelt once more, peering into the torn carton. "Yes," she said, standing and brushing dust from her pants, "I'm absolutely sure now. I can hardly wait to get it home and polish it up."
"Stop teasing," I said. "What is it?"
She looked around, dropping her voice again, as our helper piled boxes onto the dolly, many of them unsealed, and most containing mismatched dishes, plastic-flower arrangements, dingy, wrinkled clothes and the like. Jim topped the load off with a bright green kitchen chair with broken rungs, a scarred maple coffee table and the forlorn Mickey Mouse. "I don't want to open it here," she whispered. "I'll show you later. Want to call Pete now? Looks like we'll be needing that truck. Can't possibly fit all this into the car."
"Couldn't we just take the things you want, and put all the other stuff into that Dumpster over there?" I pointed to a huge green bin. "Doesn't look as though most of this is worth anything."
That comment met with a horrified intake of breath from both my aunt and Jim. "We have to take it all. It's the rules," Aunt Ibby said.
"The rules!" echoed Jim. "And after it's all cleared out, you have to sweep the floor and take the sweepin's with you too. Them's the rules. And," he added, "you only got today to get it all done."
"And drive it all straight to the city dump," I muttered, shaking my head as I called Pete's private number on my cell. Jim balanced a musty-smelling burgundy velour ottoman and the box of pots and pans onto the dolly, thus exposing part of the bottom row. My aunt lifted the mysterious tall box, clutching it to her chest with both arms.
"Where's your curiosity, your sense of adventure, Maralee? Come on, Jim. Let's grab a couple of those little lamps and start loading the car. My niece will stay here and guard the rest."
The two headed for the Buick — Jim pulling the precariously balanced load with one hand and carrying a shadeless pink ceramic lamp with the other; my aunt walking alongside, one arm hugging her precious box, the other hand steadying the awkward heap.
Fine. Leave me here all alone, protecting a smelly pile of junk. Pacing back and forth in front of the damned locker like a Buckingham Palace guard, I waited for Pete to answer.
"Hi, Lee. What's up?" Just hearing his voice made my mood improve.
"I need to ask a favor, Pete," I began. "Do you think you can borrow Donnie's truck for a couple of hours?"
"I'm sure I can. Why? Have you finally decided to move in with me?" I could hear the smile in his voice.
"Not today," I said, knowing there was a smile in my voice too. "Aunt Ibby and I are at a storage locker auction and we need to transport some ..." I looked behind me at the open locker, searching for a word. "Some merchandise," I said.
"Okay. Where are you?"
"Thanks, Pete." I gave him the name of the place and he promised to be there with his brother-in-law's truck in twenty minutes.
We loaded the dolly once more, and Aunt Ibby pronounced the Buick filled to capacity. Jim had found an old corn broom among the leftover items, so I began the floor-sweeping process while Jim began piling the remaining artifacts outside the locker. My aunt went in search of plastic bags to hold the sweepings.
"Wonder what's in this one." I leaned the broom against a good-sized wooden crate propped against the rear wall of the nearly empty space. Some of the slats on the top and sides were broken and a few were missing altogether.
"Dunno," said Jim. "Want to give me a hand moving it outside?"
"Sure," I said, pushing the broom out of the way and moving to one end of the thing while Jim positioned himself at the other.
"Okay, miss," he said. "One-two-three, lift!"
The crate was more awkward than heavy, and as we moved together, crablike, toward the entrance, one of the broken slats was exactly at my eye level. As soon as we stepped out into the sunlight, I let go of my end with a muffled scream.
Looking straight at me from inside that crate was another eye.CHAPTER 2
Jim lowered his end of the crate to the ground — a lot more gently than I had. "What's wrong, miss?" There was real concern in his voice. "Are you okay?"
I couldn't answer right away. I was busy processing what I'd just seen. Or what I thought I'd just seen. That corpse-in-a-barrel story flashed through my brain.
"Jim," I said, surprised that my voice sounded so normal, "I'm fine, but do me a favor?"
"Sure, miss. Anything you say."
"Take a look into the crate, will you? Right there. Where there's a slat gone on the side."
Excerpted from Murder Go Round by Carol J. Perry. Copyright © 2017 Carol J. Perry. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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