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Table of Contents
Mystic Moon Dreaming Pillows
A Shocking Sign
Though he’d already started mending it, the fence showed definite signs of damage. None of the wires had been cut, but instead had been bent, as if some large weight leaned against it until it was low enough to crawl over.
I looked for any sign of cloth or fur stuck to the wires but came up empty. Finally, I reached out to grab the fence where it had been mangled the most. As I touched the wire, a jolt raced through my fingers and I yanked my hand away. A thin red line rose where my palm had touched the barbed wire. “Damn it, why didn’t you tell me there’s juice running through this?”
Jimbo gave me a quizzical look. “What are you talking about?”
With Murray peeking over my shoulder, I showed him my hand. “This is what I’m talking about. The minute I touched the fence, I got shocked.”
“O’Brien, this fence ain’t electrified. I don’t have the bucks for that.” His eyes flashed and I thought I detected a hint of worry behind that gruff exterior.
Murray turned to examine the fence. “He’s right, no juice. Em, did you feel anything else?”
I closed my eyes, trying to remember what had been running through my mind, but the only thing that stood out was the blinding flash of pain as it registered on my nerves. “No. I have no idea what happened, but I don’t like it. . . .”
Praise for Ghost of a Chance
“This paranormal mystery has enough romance in it to keep readers of three genres very happy . . . The audience will adore Emerald, a bright, shining and caring soul who wants to do right by everybody and use her powers to make the world a better place.” —Midwest Book Review
“Charming ... Emerald O’Brien is a worthy addition to the ranks of amateur sleuths and the Northwest setting makes it the perfect book to curl up with.” —The Mystery Reader
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Murder Under a Mystic Moon
A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author
Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / January 2005
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions. For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
eISBN : 978-1-101-01047-1
Berkley Prime Crime Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
The name BERKLEY PRIME CRIME and the
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are trademarks belonging to Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
My love, thanks, and gratitude to my husband, Samwise, who remains one of the greatest sources of inspiration and support I could ever hope for. No matter what anyone else claims, he’s truly my #1 fan—and I’m his. And to my furbles, Luna, Pakhit, Tara, and Meerclar—for keeping me sane and for being my little fuzzy children.
Again, many thanks to Carolyn Agosta, my critique partner. Also to Meredith Bernstein—my agent, and Christine Zika—my editor, for helping me make this series a reality, and a fun one at that.
I have to offer my gratitude and love to the wonderful members of Writers Will Be Warped: Alexandra, Amy, Annie, Barb, Carol, Carolyn, Chris, Deanne, Deborah, Ellen (I miss you, Ellen), Glenski, Jenny, Judy, Linda, Margie, Mark, Paddy, Paula, Rebecca, Red, Robert, Shemah, Sue, Veryl. All of you understand the isolating life of a writer, and together, we keep each other sane. You are my family in so many ways. Cheers for community, be it cyber or “real life”!
And as always, thank you to all of my readers, both old and new. Welcome to the pages of a new adventure and I truly hope you enjoy the book. I love writing these stories, and am happy if they sweep you away, even if only for an afternoon. If you want to contact me, you may do so through my website: Galenorn En/Visions: www.galenorn.com
To forestall speculation: the Klakatat Monster is a figment of my imagination, born on the legends of Sasquatch—in whose existence I do believe. The Warriors of the Mountain are also fictional, though based on several legends from several lands. Strange beasties and energies inhabit these beautiful Cascade Mountains. I know, I’ve felt them.
Bright Blessings and thank you!
the Painted Panther
This book is dedicated to:
All who promote and work toward the preservation of the wild and wondrous places that form the backbone of our world. Those working to keep alive the incredible beauty of the Cascade Range, the Olympic National Park, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, and so many other wonders borne from our Mother.
May we never face the day where nature is devoid of mystery, and where the wild woods no longer stand sentinel on the face of this Earth.
“All birds, even those of the same species, are not alike, and it is the same with animals and with human beings. The reason WakanTanka does not make two birds, or animals, or human beings exactly alike is because each is placed here by WakanTanka to be an independent individuality and to rely upon itself.”
THE PHONE JARRED me out of my pre-caffeine stupor as I was eating breakfast. I’d woken to find the kids already up and halfway through their chores, hustling to make it down to the Chiqetaw Recreation Center before the swimming pool got too crowded. I grabbed the receiver on the third ring, trying to maneuver my tongue around a mouthful of jelly doughnut.
“O’Brien?” Jimbo Warren’s voice came booming over the line. A biker and self-proclaimed mountain man, Jimbo and I had started out as adversaries and ended up as friends. Not only had he helped me save my son from kidnappers, but he’d insisted on paying me back every penny that he’d cost me and my insurance company for throwing a brick through my living-room window. Now that we’d put the past to rest, we actually got along pretty good.
“I need your help,” he said. “My buddy Scar’s gone missing. I want you to find out if he’s dead.”
Dead? Did he say dead? I glanced at the clock. Yep, it was eight in the morning, all right. Jimbo didn’t sound like he was joking. Didn’t sound drunk, either, so that eliminated any practical jokes he might come up with after a long night at Reubens. I squinted at the phone. Maybe I’d missed something along the way. I’d barely started on my espresso; the caffeine hadn’t had time to hit my system yet and there was a good chance I was still running at half-speed.
I licked my fingers. “Say what? Who’s Scar, and why do you think—?”
“I’m not kidding, O’Brien,” Jimbo interrupted. “I need your help. Scar’s my best buddy. He lives in the biker enclave out in Klickavail Valley, and he’s been missing for a week. I think he’s dead, and if he is, I was thinking that you might be able to contact his spirit. You owe me one.”
He had me there, but did he have to pick this way to collect? Things had been going so well for a change. Nobody had died on me in months. I was thoroughly enjoying a break from the astral brigade that seemed to have set up camp on my doorstep over the past year and I had no intention of courting any more trouble. Events promised to be shaping up for a crisp, calm autumn. I wanted them to stay that way.
I grabbed a paper towel and tried to wipe the residue of raspberry jelly off my face, succeeding only in getting the paper stuck to my fingers. Exasperated, I told him to hold on for a minute and dampened the towel. Once my face and hands were reasonably clean, I said, “I’m back. So your friend’s disappeared. Are you sure he’s not just hiding out somewhere?”
Jimbo let out a sigh. “Do I have to beg? Okay then, please help me find out what happened to Scar. You know the cops aren’t going to do anything about a missing biker, and his old lady’s really upset. She’s pregnant. Scar wouldn’t up and leave her. I really have a bad feeling about this.”
I straightened up. Jimbo never begged anybody for anything. For him to say “please” meant that he was dead serious. I glanced at the clock, gauging my list of errands for the morning before I headed down to my shop. “This morning’s booked, but if you come down to the shop around noon, I’ll buy you lunch and you can tell me what’s going on.”
“Thanks. And . . . O’Brien, you know I wouldn’t bug you about this if I had any other choice.” He hung up and I stared at the receiver, listening to the dial tone. Somewhere, out there in the universe, the cosmic scales teetered and I could feel all the balance and order I’d managed to regain over the past few months list to the side as it went crashing to the floor in a heap. I glanced out the window. The sky stretched out cloudless and sunny, but I had the feeling I’d better lash the mast and batten down the hatches. A storm was making its way to shore.
MY NAME IS Emerald O’Brien, and I own the Chintz ‘n China Tea Room. My daughter recently suggested that I change the name to the Chintz ‘n China Tea Room & Tarot Emporium, since I read the cards for so many of my customers, but I told her that sounded like a carnival sideshow. I preferred to maintain what little dignity I’d managed to scrape together over the years.
You see, I hold the dubious honor of being Chiqetaw’s one and only “town witch.” It wasn’t my idea to dub myself that, but people say it with a smile, so I good-naturedly accept the teasing that goes along with the role. In some ways, the nickname fits, though I don’t match any of the stereotypes people automatically think of when they hear the “W” word. I’ve never visited Stonehenge, I’m not an angst-ridden Goth girl, I don’t wear a long black cape, and I’m only flaky when I haven’t had my caffeine.
What I am is a thirty-six-year-old divorced mother of two wonderful children—Miranda, my star-struck daughter, and Kipling, who just happens to have been born with a strong dose of second sight. Granted, some folks think I’m a little wacko, but I don’t care as long as I’ve got my family and friends. Over the years I’ve met more than my fair share of ghosties and ghoulies, both good and bad, and I know how to handle them thanks to my grandmother. Nanna taught me to work folk magic the same way that her grandmother taught her. I miss Nanna, but her spirit still pops in from time to time to give me a little advice or a helping hand when I really need her.
And even though I seem to be a beacon for the entire spirit world—the blue-light-special of the “other side” so to speak—I really didn’t sign up to be Buffy the Vampire Slayer or one of the Ghostbusters. I honestly have no idea where the universe got the notion that my idea of a good time consists of hunting down astral spooks and mortal murderers. But when destiny knocks, you don’t slam the door in its face.
So when the bad guys come calling, I take it for granted that I’m going to end up with bruised knees, nasty welts, torn clothing, exploding cars, virtual visions, astral journeys, the occasional haunting, and all sorts of delightful jaunts into the netherworlds. Score one for the karma police, zero for me.
In the meantime, I just try to keep my children safe, make a success of my business, and enjoy life as much as I can.
As I gathered my keys and purse, my mind lingered over Jimbo’s call. In the pit of my stomach, I knew that my temporary reprieve from adventure was over. I took a deep breath, opened the door, and plunged back into the maelstrom.
CHIQETAW’S ANNUAL EARLY Autumn Breeze Celebration ran from Friday through Sunday during the second weekend in August. Designed to attract shoppers eager for end-of-the-summer bargains, the street fair encompassed most of the downtown businesses. When I opened the Chintz ‘n China Tea Room a couple of years back, I happily joined in the fun.
Since western Washington had the well-deserved reputation for being the rain capital of the Northwest, there was a definite benefit to luring customers downtown while we still had shirt-sleeve weather. In a little over a month, the rainy season would start and the sky would be overcast again for months on end.
I studied the layout of miniature gift baskets, glancing at the clock. Five minutes to ten. Almost time to open the doors. Friday mornings usually were a little slow, but with the advertised sales going on along Main Street, I expected business to pick up as the day wore on. I adjusted one of the baskets, admiring my handiwork. Brimming with honey and crackers and packets of orange spice tea, they looked so inviting that I thought I should make up a few to take to my parent’s anniversary party next month. My sister Rose had roped me into helping her plan a huge affair that I knew my folks wouldn’t like, but Rose was a force in her own right, and with Grandma McGrady on her side, even the devil himself wouldn’t stand in her way.
Satisfied with the display, I surveyed the entire shop. The windows blossomed with color, sporting arrangements of Indian corn, giant sunflowers in tall urns, and baskets overflowing with poly-resin mushrooms, silk autumn leaves, and bottleneck gourds. The faint essence of cinnamon lingered in the air from the incense I’d burned earlier, a subtle but perfect invitation to stock up on harvest supplies. A lot of the town matrons canned their own fruit and put up preserves at this time of year; they’d be in the mood to pick up a box of spiced tea or a pumpkin-shaped teapot.
Like most small stores, half my yearly revenue came from holiday shoppers. I hadn’t resorted to putting up a Christmas tree the day after Halloween, but I had caved in to some of the retail traditions, subliminal suggestion being the best of them. And, of course, I supplemented my business savvy with a few little charms for abundance that I’d tucked away in the nooks and crannies. They were the icing on the cake, adding to the general ambience of the Chintz ‘n China, and to my family’s prosperity.
“Are you ready?” I asked Cinnamon, grateful I’d been able to extend her hours to fulltime. She was a good worker, and she needed the job.
Cinnamon finished arranging the last of the china plates and cups on the sideboard, then fished out a box of Irish mints and fanned them onto a silver salver, setting it on the counter. “Almost. What should I call today’s menu?” She picked up the chalk, poised to write up the menu on the new floral motif board that my friend Murray had made for me.
“Let’s see, what do we have? Petit fours and pound cake and raspberry tea and lemonade? Hmm . . . why not ‘August Garden Party’?” I gave the shop one more look-see, unlocked the front door, and propped it open to let the morning breeze drift in.
“Are the kids coming down today?” Cinnamon asked, as she finished writing up the menu. “Or is Kip waiting until Lana gets here?” My nine-year-old son had a crush on our part-time clerk that had been going on for months. Lana took it in stride, and I was grateful for her patience with him when he followed her around like a puppy dog.
I shook my head. “They went swimming this morning, and this afternoon, Kip has computer class and Miranda volunteered to clean the shed.” My daughter’s birthday was coming up and I knew she was trying to win me over for some new astronomical gadget. In July, she’d received the treat of her young lifetime—a long-coveted trip to Space Camp. The week-long experience had only intensified her focus on becoming an astronaut. Not quite fourteen, Randa was already studying up on colleges, intent on finding the best astronomy department in the nation.
The bells over the screen door tinkled and Margaret Files bustled in. My boyfriend’s aunt, she was the only family he had around these parts. She had retired from her job as a file clerk several years ago, and had been coming for tea almost every day since I opened the shop. Like clockwork, she scheduled a tarot reading during the last weekend of each month.
“Emerald! You’re looking so pretty today. That sun-dress matches the green of your eyes perfectly.” She gave me a big hug and planted a petunia-pink kiss on my cheek. I discreetly wiped off the lipstick, grateful for her support. She never made any mention of the fact that Joe was ten years younger than I, and seemed genuinely happy that I was involved with her nephew. “The store looks absolutely lovely, like a painting.”
I escorted her to the tearoom. “Have you heard from Joe?” It had been a long week. Joe was at a conference for EMT’s in Portland, Oregon. Though he’d called before bed every night since he’d been gone, I missed the scent of his woodsy aftershave and the feel of his arms curling around me as we fell asleep.
Margaret sighed. “Of course I have. He’s a good boy, Emerald, but sometimes I wish he’d cut the apron strings. He phoned last night right when I had the hand of a lifetime. I told him to call back later. It isn’t every week that I get a chance to shoot the moon, and Leticia and Iris were hopping mad.” She rested her hand on my arm. “You should join us, dear. Sometimes Iris isn’t feeling up to snuff; she has angina, you know. The girls wouldn’t mind if you sat in for her.”
I knew all too well about Margaret Files and her pinochle club. On the surface, they seemed like a nice, genteel group of older women who got together every week for cards. In reality, they played cutthroat pinochle for higher stakes than I could afford, and they played to win. Since no men were invited, and tea was served instead of beer, they had decided that what they were doing wasn’t gambling, but when push came to shove, their strategy made cockfighting look tame. I didn’t have the stamina to keep up with them and I knew it.
“Margaret, you know I’d be outgunned in an instant. I’m about as good at gambling as I am at keeping out of trouble.” I gave her a wink and she giggled.
“So tell me when my nephew is due home?” She zeroed in on the platters of cookies and cakes, then lifted a lid on one of the soup vats to give it a good sniff. Today we were serving gazpacho and chicken noodle, as well as a selection of turkey and cream cheese sandwiches.
“Sunday night. I miss him.” I straightened the stack of napkins, then rearranged a platter of cookies, trying to squelch a sudden flood of longing. Joe had wormed his way into my heart, all right, and his being gone left me lonelier than I wanted to admit.
She kissed me on the cheek, then settled at a table with her food and a book. “I don’t know if you realize just how sweet he is on you, my dear. He always talks about you. Now go on back to your other customers; you don’t have to fuss over me. I’ve got my petit fours and my tea and my latest Danielle Steel novel to keep me busy. I love the juicy parts, don’t you?”
I winked at her. “A woman after my own heart. Okay then, if you’re comfortable, I’ll talk to you in awhile.”