Strange things are happening in Lily Ivory's San Francisco. First, she finds a vintage mermaid costume which dates from the 1939 San Francisco's Treasure Island World's Fair – and which gives off distinctly peculiar vibrations. Next, she stumbles upon a dead man in the office of her predecessor, and as the community's new leader, she feels compelled to track down the culprit. Just when Lily thinks things can't get any stranger, a man appears claiming to be her half-brother, spouting ideas about the mystical prophecy involving San Francisco and their family...
When the dead man is linked to the mysterious mermaid costume, and then yet another victim is found on Treasure Island, Lily uncovers ties between the long-ago World’s fair and the current murders, and begins to wonder whether the killer might be hiding in plain sight. But unless Lily can figure everything out in time, there may be yet another body floating in San Francisco Bay.
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"I'm worried about Oscar," I said, twisting in my seat as I tried to get settled. The San Francisco-bound flight was still loading passengers, and the newest arrivals were doing that crablike shuffle down the narrow center aisle that was unique to modern air travel.
The aisle seat to my right was occupied by a polite Parisian woman whose headphones discouraged conversation, at least with this chatty Texan. Fortunately for me, sitting on my left, by the window, was a sexy psychic named Sailor.
Even though we in economy class were jammed elbow-to-elbow into cramped spaces with inadequate leg room, I didn't mind. I would have happily rested in Sailor's lap all the way from Paris, so enamored was I with my new husband.
Husband. I still found that hard to believe.
"And exactly why are you worried about Oscar?" Sailor asked with the strained patience of a private school headmaster. I gave him credit for refraining from rolling his dark, beautiful eyes.
Sailor had been less than enthusiastic that Oscar, a shapeshifting pig and my ersatz witch's familiar, had accompanied us on our honeymoon. There was a reason I had invited Oscar along, of course: I had promised to help him search for his mother, who suffered under a curse that had turned her into a stone gargoyle. It's a long story, but the upshot was that I spent my honeymoon traipsing around Europe, checking out gargoyles adorning castles and cathedrals and manors, and mediating between the two most important fellas in my life-who had a habit of vying for my attention.
"How is he going to get home?" I asked.
"I would imagine the same way he got to Barcelona, to Paris, and to Budapest, as well as every other destination on our mind-bogglingly complicated honeymoon itinerary." Sailor intertwined his long, graceful fingers with mine, and I took a moment to gaze at our interlocked hands. The crystals in my antique druzy engagement ring sparkled, and our matching wedding bands-wrought of tiny intertwined vines of silver-gleamed in the overhead lights.
"Hey, wife," Sailor said in a low, grumbly voice. "Remember Prague?"
"Prague," I breathed, closing my eyes.
"And the turret room?"
"The turret room," I repeated, blushing at the memory of the beautiful, round room at the top of the medieval castle, with its ancient stone walls, plush window seat, and tall windows looking out across the red-tiled roofs of Prague. Not to mention what all had gone on beneath the down comforter in the turret's king-sized canopy bed.
"Not easy cleaning up all those rose petals you manifested." Sailor gave me a barely-there smile and a smoldering look, and for a moment I forgot all about Oscar and the hustle and bustle of the boarding airplane. He continued, "Or that tapas bar in the market in Barcelona our first night?"
"What about last night in Paris, in that little bistro with the carousel on the corner . . .?" I sighed. "I loved everything we saw, and ate . . ."
"And ate, and ate . . ."
I laughed. Having spent several weeks touring Europe, I truly understood the phrase "the honeymoon period." It had been a glorious, romantic, blissful adventure to start our new life as a married couple. We weren't technically married, at least as far as the law was concerned, because my friend Bronwyn had not been able to get licensed in time to officiate, and Sailor's several-years-in-the-making divorce had not yet been finalized. But our handfasting, held in a redwood fairy circle, had been witnessed by our closest friends and family and sanctified by the woods-folk. We would legalize our union at city hall eventually, but regardless, ours was a true marriage in my witchy book.
"It was a great honeymoon," I said.
"It was. Would have been better without our porcine companion, but otherwise . . ."
Sailor let out a soft "oof" as I poked him in the ribs.
He chuckled. "All I'm saying is that it would have been nice not having to explain the presence of our 'pet pig' everywhere we went. I thought that poor bellboy at the Parador in Spain was going to run right off the parapet."
The Parador was a tenth-century Moorish fortress turned castle turned hotel, perched atop a hill overlooking the city of Tortosa and the Ebro River. We stayed at a number of wonderful old castles in our travels, and the experience never lost its charm. Each and every one had made me feel like a princess. Except for the annoyance of lingering ghosts haunting those stone walls, but that was par for the course for me. My paranormal skill set does not include the ability to communicate with spirits, but they tend to sense my presence and often reach out. It's disconcerting for me, and I can only imagine how frustrating it must be for them.
"It's hard to believe we're heading back to real life," I said. "I guess this means the honeymoon's over. Shall I start to nag you now?"
"I think it's required. And I'll start scratching and making weird bodily noises."
"I won't if you won't."
We kissed and sealed the deal.
"I wonder how Calypso has handled things in my absence . . ." I said. "I sure hope Aidan is doing better."
My last encounter with Aidan Rhodes, the head of the San Francisco Bay Area's magical community, had been horrifying: He had been covered in blood from terrible injuries sustained in a fight with a demon, wounds that required the kind of treatment modern medicine could not provide. I forced myself to take a deep breath and concentrate on the positives: Aidan was now under the care of my grandmother's skilled colleagues near Michoac‡n, Mexico, his recuperation aided by drawing upon the energy of the salt caves. Or at least I hoped so. Aidan and I did not always see eye to eye on things, but he understood my complicated past in a way few could, and had become a true friend.
"Your grandmother told us last week that he's healing well, so it shouldn't be too much longer," said Sailor. Unlike me, Sailor carried a cell phone, which had made it possible for us to enjoy the occasional FaceTime with friends and colleagues while we were in Europe. "And just think: In the meantime you get to fulfill your egomaniacal ambition to be the Grand Poobah of Bay Area witches."
"I have no such ambition," I scoffed.
He raised one eyebrow.
"I'm serious. I have no desire, none at all, to be a Grand whatever-you-said. I have no interest in being in charge. Really." I could hear that I protesteth a mite too much and added: "I do think I might handle certain things better than Aidan, but that's not the same thing as wanting to take over."
"Sure about that?" Sailor looked amused.
"Positive." I paused. "It's just that . . . running the San Francisco Bay Area magical community seems like a job for a woman."
Sailor raised his eyebrow again. "Resorting to sexist arguments now, are we?"
"No. But there's a reason the vast majority of witches are women," I said. "It's an energy thing. I simply think a woman should be in charge, that's all."
"Well, that's good, because it seems you've inherited the job."
"Temporarily inherited the job. I'm just filling in, remember." I sighed. "The worst part is there's always a lot of bureaucratic paperwork, and people wanting me to fix things all the time."
"Repeat after me: 'I'll see what I can do.' Works every time."
I laughed. "I'll keep that in mind."
"And just for the record: When you do become the Bay Area's Grand Poobah, I'll be happy to fulfill my obligations as First Gentleman. I imagine there will be a lot of cocktail parties involved. I'm quite partial to a lovely platter of canapßs."
I ignored that. "Anyway, I can't wait to see Selena, and Bronwyn, and Maya, and Conrad, and all the others. . . . I wonder how business has been."
"Didn't Bronwyn say your grandmother's coven has been helping out at the shop?"
"She did, and that's what worries me," I said with a smile. "What do you want to bet there's not a sparkly garment left on the racks? Those old women are a flock of magical magpies."
Most of the passengers had finally finished stowing their luggage and taken their seats, and the flight attendants began one last sweep through the cabins, shutting the overhead bin doors and soothing nervous fliers. I was reaching for the in-flight magazine in the seat pocket in front of me when the medicine bag I always wore around my waist started to hum.
I looked up to see a late arrival burst onto the airplane. He was of average height and weight, with an olive complexion, dark eyes, and longish near-black hair, approximately my age. He wore a gleaming gold earring in his left ear, but otherwise there was nothing especially remarkable about him, certainly nothing to explain the sudden conviction that I knew him from somewhere. I wondered whether I might have met him years ago in Germany when I visited my father-a visit I could still only vaguely recall. If this fellow were somehow connected to my father, he might very well spell trouble.
Our eyes locked as he proceeded down the aisle. He was some form of magical practitioner, I would bet my boots on it.
My heart started to pound, the tingling at my waist still issuing its warning. Not that it was all that unusual for me to encounter another witch; after all, there were a lot more of my ilk walking around than most cowans-nonmagical folk-realized. But there was something about this mystery man that put me on edge.
He averted his intense gaze as he passed our row. I craned my neck to follow his progress down the aisle, but there was nothing more of note: he proceeded to the rear of the plane, stowed his bag in an overhead compartment, and took a seat, disappearing from view.
"Everything okay?" Sailor asked, following my gaze. He didn't miss much.
"Sure," I said, and shook my head as if to clear my thoughts. By now the aircraft door had been shut, the flight attendants were in the aisle doing a choreographed dance demonstrating the use of seatbelts and flotation devices ("in the unlikely event of a water landing"), and the pilots behind the cockpit door were spinning up the engines as they prepared the airplane for departure.
"Why do flight attendants always demonstrate how to put on a seatbelt?" I asked. "Is there a person alive who doesn't know how to operate a seatbelt?"
"Hard to imagine, but once it's a rule, I guess they're compelled to tell us." Sailor glanced at me. "Feeling antsy?"
"A bit. As anxious as I am to get back, it will be hard to return to real life."
"We have a lot to do," agreed Sailor. "But we're very fortunate, all things considered."
"Oh, I agree," I said. "Still. It's much more fun to travel and be waited on in restaurants and sleep in castles than to go to work and do laundry and pay bills."
"Can't argue with you there. Among other things, we need to address the living situation, you and I."
"And Oscar," Sailor agreed in a weary voice.
"Poor guy still hasn't found his mother, despite all those gargoyles we saw. I wonder if he'll ever stop looking."
"All in good time, as your grandmother Graciela would say."
"She also says: 'Just 'cause you put your boots in the oven don't make 'em biscuits.' I never figured out what that meant, either."
He chuckled, and as the plane taxied into position on the runway I tried, without luck, to catch another glimpse of the mystery man. So I gazed instead at Sailor's hand, intertwined with mine, and wondered what our return to "real life" in San Francisco might hold, and how Sailor and I, as a couple, would transition from our glorious, carefree honeymoon back to real life, with all its cares and responsibilities.
The plane's engines roared as we started down the runway and picked up speed, the rumbling of the wheels suddenly going silent as we lifted off of European soil.
"What is that?" I asked eleven hours later as we circled San Francisco, preparing to land.
"That shape, down there," I said, pointing at a brightly lit rectangle in the dark expanse of the bay waters below us. Sailor and I had exchanged seats halfway through the flight, so now he had to lean over me to look out the small window.
"Must be a cargo ship of some kind," he said.
"It's too big to be a cargo ship-look at it in comparison to the others. It looks more like an island, but which could it be?"
"It's not Alcatraz, that's for sure," said Sailor, and our eyes met. Not long ago we had survived a series of harrowing encounters within the walls of the old federal penitentiary on the island. Both of us preferred not to be reminded of those experiences.
I knew there were other islands in San Francisco Bay: Angel Island, Yerba Buena Island, Station Island, Belvedere, Alameda, plus a few lesser-known rocks poking out of the water. But none of them resembled what I was looking at.
"Besides," I said. "Why would a cargo ship be lit up like a Christmas tree?"
"All good questions," said Sailor, wrapping an arm around me and giving me a hug. "Perhaps you could look it up on the Internet, if you ever learn how to use the computer. So, how does it feel to come back to the City by the Bay?"
"Truthfully? Like coming home."
"Even though it's not Europe?"
"Do I sound silly?"
"Not at all," Sailor continued. "It sounds like you love where you live, and your friends and community. I'd say you're very lucky."
"We're very lucky." I laid my head on his shoulder and gazed out the window as we flew past the city, skirted the bay, and finally set down on the soil of my adopted state.
I was coming home to good friends and family. To my Haight Street vintage clothing shop, Aunt Cora's Closet, and to the temporary (I hoped) role as the head of the San Francisco Bay Area magical community. I was returning with scads of gifts for everyone, a few spellcasting items and souvenirs for myself, and one disappointed familiar. As well as a mysterious fellow passenger, a dozen rows behind us, who might just spell trouble.
My medicine bag had continued to hum throughout the flight. The man with one gold earring might be out of sight, but he was most definitely not out of mind.