Kailyn Wilde enjoys running her shop, Abracadabra, in the quaint New York hamlet of New Camel, where she lives with her six cats. Her family’s been here for centuries, and she’d like to keep up the tradition. But the place may never be the same if a big hotel gets built, so she does her civic duty and attends a town meeting along with her aunt Tilly . . . and Merlin. Yes, that Merlin—though he gets introduced to folks as her “distant English cousin.” The wizard is pretty grumpy about being transported here, but there are things about the modern world he doesn’t mind—like pizza.
Kailyn was prepared for a heated debate about the hotel, but she wasn’t expecting murder. When Tilly finds the body of a board member outside the schoolhouse, Kailyn doesn’t want any suspicion cast on the wrong person. She plans to crack this case, even if she has to talk to every living soul in town—plus a few departed ones . . .
“Pape has a sure‑handed balance of humor and action.” —Julie Hyzy, New York Times bestselling author
Related collections and offers
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
"Every living soul in this town must be here tonight," my aunt Tilly remarked as I pulled into the last parking spot at the New Camel Elementary School. It was the school I attended as a child, the school my aunt, my mother, and my grandmother had attended, as well as generations of Wildes before them. It had started out as a one-room schoolhouse and had been expanded over the years to accommodate fourteen classrooms, kindergarten through sixth grade. It still sat on the crest of Johnson's Hill at the eastern end of town. I loved the tradition and continuity it represented, the warmth of hometown I felt whenever I passed by.
"I'm not surprised," I said, turning off the engine. "Everyone I talk to has an opinion on the matter, a very definite opinion."
"We'd better hustle our bustles and get in there before all the seats are taken."
Tilly took off her seat belt, opened the car door, and nearly slid right out courtesy of her silk muumuu-clad bottom. I reached for her arm to stop her, but I still had my seat belt on, and she was too far away. At the last moment, she grabbed the doorjamb to stop herself.
"Whoops," she said with a gasp and a giggle. "That was like a carnival ride. I need to stop wearing such slippery fabrics, or you'll be scooping me off the pavement one day."
Merlin emerged from the back seat, grousing. "I cannot fathom why I am being compelled to attend a meeting, in which I have neither interest nor purpose. I am not a citizen of this town or, for that matter, of this state, this country, or this particular period in time."
My aunt and I let him grumble on without comment. It wasn't the first time he'd serenaded us with that particular tune. We joined the stream of people entering the school and heading down the hallway to the gymnasium. People were calling out hellos or stopping to share quick hugs, which caused everyone else to detour around them like water around a jetty. As a result, the normally short walk to the gym was taking far longer than it should have, but I had no right to complain. I was as guilty as everyone else. That's what happens when the residents of a small town congregate in one place. Merlin, on the other hand, griped enough for both of us. He knew only a few people, and he regarded the traffic snarl as a plot to keep him from his TV shows.
In spite of all the open windows, the building had a stale, musty odor from being closed most of the summer, and the late August heat wave was making matters worse. At least there was some decent cross ventilation going when we reached the gym. Rusty Higgins, the sum total of the school's custodial staff, had propped open the two large emergency exit doors in the back.
The gym had always been big enough to host the town board meetings, but tonight it was overcrowded, the walls bulging with people. The air vibrated with tension, and the loud droning of all their voices made me feel like I was walking into a massive beehive. In hindsight, not the best place to have brought Merlin, who was twitchy and out of his element under the best of circumstances. Tilly and I had debated for days about whether to take him. Despite the jeans and shirt we bullied him into wearing, his raging white hair and beard set him apart from the local population. There was no way around it. He was already drawing blatant stares of curiosity. On the other hand, leaving him home alone, where the deadly combination of boredom and magick might lead him astray again, wasn't a comfortable option either. In the end, keeping an eye on him had won handily.
"Let the gawkers gawk," I said. If anyone asked nosy questions, they'd get our now standard reply. Merlin was a distant English cousin from the eccentric side of the family, here on an extended visit. "Extended" barely covered it. He'd be staying until I figured out how to send him back to his own time and place. Although he'd been with us for two months, I was no closer to reaching that goal than I had been the day he crash-landed in the storeroom of my magick shop.
Apparently no one had told Rusty to expect a larger than usual turnout because there were fewer than two dozen folding chairs set up facing the mobile podium. By the time we arrived, they were all taken. I spied a few empty spots in the bleachers, but I knew my aunt would have trouble reaching them. I had visions of her stepping on the hem of her silk muumuu and either pitching forward onto her face or tumbling backward to the floor, taking others with her like a human avalanche. The safer option was to remain standing in the empty area behind the chairs with everyone else who found themselves seatless. There were plenty of disgruntled comments about the situation, but I didn't see one person leave.
This was my first town board meeting. According to Tilly, neither she nor my late mother nor my grandmother had ever attended one. But she knew that the town's charter, which had originally called for monthly meetings, had been changed to quarterly meetings decades before I was born, once it became clear that there was nothing the board needed to address that couldn't wait a few months — until now. Our mayor, Lester Tompkins, had called this meeting as a special session.
At precisely seven o'clock, three of the five board members, including the mayor, trooped into the gym from the adjoining supply room and stepped onto the podium. They took their seats behind a cafeteria table, grandly draped with the town's insignia, a camel on a verdant field.
"A camel," Merlin muttered when he noticed it. "And yet I am not permitted to tell these people the true name of their town. I should think they would welcome the knowledge."
"Some people don't deal well with change," I explained for the twentieth time. "We have to wait for the right moment." I didn't harbor much hope it would happen anytime soon.
"I disagree. This is the perfect time, given that the whole town is here."
"Everyone is too divided over the hotel. I can't imagine a worse time to throw another change at them."
He glowered at me but stopped arguing.
"I'm surprised the board members aren't down here, glad-handing the crowd, banking votes for the next election," Tilly whispered loudly enough for people within twenty feet of us to hear. As if on cue, Beverly Ruppert, the newest member of the board, swept into the gym with the aplomb of a Broadway star making her grand entrance. She was dressed for the part in a sleeveless beige sheath that was strained across her hips and stiletto heels that caused her to walk like a novice on stilts. Tilly rolled her eyes at me as Beverly threaded her way through the crowd, stopping to greet everyone with a handshake or an air kiss. It looked like she would miss us on her current trajectory to the podium, but at the last moment she spied us and changed direction. Tilly groaned.
"Well, look who's here." Beverly flashed her broadest political smile for us. "We finally got you two to attend a meeting."
Since she'd been on the town board for all of four months, I was tempted to ask how many meetings she'd attended before discovering her political calling. But I held my tongue. We needed Beverly on our side, at least until the Waverly proposal was decided. She was against it as much as Tilly and I were.
"Hi, Bev," I said.
Tilly gave her a nod of acknowledgment.
Beverly homed in on her. "I guess there's no point in asking you which way the vote will go tonight, is there, Tilly, dear?" she said with syrupy condescension. "Everyone knows your track record has been abysmal lately."
I felt Tilly's anger flare and wished that telepathy was one of my stronger suits. Then I could have talked her down and urged her not to take the bait.
"My aunt is too ethical to try to influence the outcome with a prediction," I said before my ethical aunt could come up with a more caustic response. As I spoke those words, I realized it wasn't Tilly's reaction I should have been worried about. Merlin was glaring at Beverly, mumbling something unintelligible, his lips grim and all but hidden in the bird's nest of his beard. He was too far away for me to stop him with a discreet jab to the ribs, and Tilly, who stood between us, seemed content to allow him free rein for the moment.
"Don't they need you up there so they can start the meeting?" I asked Beverly in a last-ditch effort to get her away from Merlin. She'd still be within reach of his powers on the other side of the gym, but if I could break his concentration on her, it might buy me the few seconds I needed to talk some sense into him.
Beverly gave me a dismissive wave of her hand. "Amanda's not here yet any —"
Her voice cracked and was gone. When she opened her mouth, no sound emerged — not a croak, not a rasp, not a whine. Her hand flew to her throat, and her eyes widened with dismay and bewilderment. The harder she tried to speak, the more frustrated she became. She was opening and closing her mouth like the goldfish I'd had as a child. I turned to Merlin. He was wearing a beatific smile, as if all was right with the world. Tilly didn't seem troubled by Beverly's predicament either or by the fact that the wizard had gone rogue right under our noses. Of course, as apt punishments go, I had to admit that Merlin nailed it.
Panic was rising in Beverly's eyes, the corded muscles in her neck standing out with the prolonged strain of trying to make her vocal cords work.
I had to do something before she had a stroke or a heart attack. I slipped behind Tilly, grabbed Merlin's arm and squeezed. "Stop it!" I yelled into his ear to be sure he heard me. I threw in the worst threat I could imagine. "Or no pizza for a month."
In a matter of seconds, a blood-curdling scream rocked the gym. It ricocheted off the walls, the floor, the ceiling, and the wooden bleachers. Conversations stopped dead. All eyes turned to Beverly. Merlin had released her from the spell once he understood his pizza would be forfeit, but he'd timed it to coincide with her effort to force sound through her vocal cords. Even she seemed stunned by the horrific noise she produced. Her cheeks turned crimson.
"Sorry, sorry — everything's okay," she called out, scowling at the three of us as if she suspected we were to blame for the fiasco. Muttering that she needed fresh air, she turned on her wobbly heels and stalked out of the gym with far less composure than when she had arrived. I locked eyes with Merlin. If steam had been shooting out of my ears it wouldn't have surprised me.
"Yes, I know," he said, preempting me in the sullen, world-weary tone of a teenager. "We need to talk — again."
"Well, we do," I said, my thunder stolen. We'd been letting him watch way too much TV. More important, although we made it clear that he must not go about randomly casting spells, he'd done just that. He was an old man with the abilities of a master sorcerer and the attitude of a teenage rebel. Disaster was always on the agenda.
Tilly pulled a tissue from her purse and dabbed at her forehead and upper lip. "It's sweltering in here. I'm going outside to cool off." When she caught the hitch of my eyebrow, she added, "Don't worry, I'm not chasing after Beverly to give her my two cents, even if she deserves it and more. I'll go out the back way. I won't be long."
I watched her shuffle through the crowd and disappear through the emergency doors. She couldn't have been gone more than a minute or two when another scream pierced the air. I knew that scream. It was Tilly's. But it sounded like part of a duet, or how I imagined a duet of screams would sound. Grabbing Merlin's hand, I ran for the rear doors. Having been closer to the gym's entrance, we were among the last to make it outside. By then, sirens were blaring in the distance
Once we made it outside, all I could see were people's backs. I elbowed my way through the crowd, pulling Merlin along with me and excusing ourselves as we charged ahead. I fielded a lot of dirty looks, but that wasn't going to stop me. Tilly had screamed, and the situation was serious enough to bring the local emergency squad. I had to find out why.
Merlin and I broke through the ring of onlookers and found ourselves directly across from Tilly. Her eyes were wide, her face bleached white. Beverly, who was standing a few feet away, didn't look much better. They were both focused on a woman's body lying prone on the grass between us. So many people were standing and kneeling around her that I couldn't venture a guess about her identity. Dr. Bronson, Tilly's rheumatologist, was at her side, along with an off-duty EMT and a nurse who looked familiar. They must have all been in the gym when the screaming erupted.
Dusk was already descending, courtesy of the mountains to the west. It was becoming harder to see by the minute. The interior lights in the school didn't reach around to this side of the school grounds. People were calling for flashlights; two men ran to find Rusty. Although it seemed like forever, it couldn't have been more than a couple minutes before the exterior floodlights flashed on, instantly turning twilight back into day.
With the help of the EMT, Bronson turned the woman over. Wasn't he supposed to wait for the ambulance to bring a spine board? I wondered. As they lay her on her back, the answer was easy to see. There was no need to stabilize her. Her neck had been slashed from ear to ear. She was probably dead before anyone got to her. Gasps and cries rose as those in the front passed this information to those behind them. The victim was Amanda Boswell, the missing board member.
The ambulance left quietly. No lights, no sirens. No need for haste. Paul Curtis, who'd arrived in his patrol car at the same time as the emergency vehicle, remained. I hadn't seen him since Jim Harkens's murder was solved in the early days of the summer. Curtis was wearing his official business face as he escorted the EMTs with their gurney, but when he spotted me, he broke into a hi-how-you-doin' smile for a second. I was pretty sure he had what my grandmother Bronwen used to call "a sweet tooth" for me. I gave him a half-hearted smile in return. Although I didn't really know Amanda, it felt wrong to flirt or smile with her body still there. Besides, I didn't want to encourage him when I was in limbo about my relationship with Travis Anderson.
After the ambulance took Amanda away, Curtis secured the area where she died with stakes and crime scene tape. Merlin and I gave it a wide berth as we made our way over to stand with Tilly. We each put an arm around her, though she was no longer unsteady on her feet. To be honest, I was finding the contact comforting. Maybe Merlin did too. Beverly was nearby, telling anyone who would listen about the horror of discovering "poor Amanda." With each retelling, the story became more dramatic and her relationship with Amanda more intimate.
"Give her another ten minutes, and she'll be Amanda's long-lost sister," Tilly said with dry distaste.
"Are we waiting for a polite time to leave?" Merlin wanted to know. "I find so many of your social conventions vexing." I tried to explain it was actually a matter of the law. "The police will want to speak to Tilly, because she was one of the people who found the body."
"I don't like being grilled," she mumbled.
I gave her shoulder a squeeze. "Come on now. It's not like they dragged you down to the police station and browbeat you under the glare of a naked light bulb the last time."
"It was very unpleasant all the same."
I wasn't looking forward to another round of interviews by Detective Duggan either, but I didn't want to stoke her distress. "We made it through then and we'll make it through now," I said. "Let's leave the theatrics to Beverly."
You have to know your audience. Comparisons to her nemesis enough to shore up her courage, Tilly squared her shoulders and lifted her chin. I was glad my friend Elise hadn't been able to attend the meeting. She had wanted to come, but with Jim gone, she was a single parent, and no one was available to keep an eye on her boys. The last thing she needed was to be party to another homicide. Two short months ago, she had been arrested for killing her husband. She had been placed in a squad car and taken away. Her children, already traumatized by the loss of their father, had watched it all from their front porch. It's not the kind of experience you can simply shrug off, when the police let you go with an "oops, our bad" apology. Her kids were still waking up with nightmares.
Excerpted from "That Olde White Magick"
Copyright © 2017 Sharon Pape.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.