A Purrfect Murder
“Look at you!” Zoe gushed, smiling as she watched her sister slide plates of food to the waiting customers. “You’re a natural at this. I should just give you the shop and let you run the whole thing.”
“Don’t let my unbelievable talent for waitressing fool you,” Lissie replied, wiping her forehead with the back of her hand. “My feet are killing me. I’d rather be at home in a nice bubble bath.”
Zoe playfully frowned. “I’m not your first choice? My heart is breaking.”
“Yeah, well, I’m surrounded by all of this food and I’m not allowed to get any. My heart is breaking, too.”
Zoe and Lissie managed to survive lunch hour in Sweets and Treats, sending orders out with little room for error. With the customers fed and satisfied, they finally got some time to lean back on the counter and relax. Their cheeks were flushed and their uniforms were discolored by various food stains.
“I can’t wait for Chloe’s wedding,” Lissie said, pouring herself a glass of water. “I’ve been talking to her about it. She wants it to happen before the baby is born.”
“Do you think we’ll be able to find our mother by that time?” Zoe asked, earning her a brow raise from Lissie. “I think it would be nice to have her around for the occasion, in case everything goes well.”
“Didn’t she say she didn’t want anything to do with her, though? It’s gonna be hard to convince Chloe to let her come. And since it’s her wedding, she’s gonna have the final say.”
Zoe sighed, smoothing out the wrinkles in her clothes. “You’re right. But that’s something we can worry about for another day. Right now, I’ve gotta start preparing recipes for the St. Patrick’s Day celebration. The mayor already sent me a heads-up.”
“Sheesh,” Lissie mumbled, raising the glass to her lips. “We’ve got like three weeks until then. You’re already stressing out over it?”
“I’m not stressing out at all,” she said, rolling her eyes. Taking her rag, Zoe began cleaning the counter. “It’s good to prepare in advance, that’s all. Diana’s putting a bit of pressure on all of us shop owners.”
Lissie scoffed. “When is she not doing that?”
“Apparently, she’s trying to make a good impression this time around. Tourism into Sweetwater Falls has been ‘negatively impacted’ and she’s trying to show the entire region that there’s nothing to be afraid of.”
Lissie let out a muffled chuckle as she finished her water. She placed her hand over her mouth, hiding her grin.
“I think she’s scared that the competition is finally heating up. I heard that the next town over threw an amazing Valentine’s Day parade that lasted almost the whole day. No wonder she’s trying to amp up the efforts.”
“The recent murder cases probably have something to do with it, too,” Zoe pointed out. “If I was a tourist and found out that the town I wanted to visit was in the midst of an ongoing murder case, I’d probably stay away.”
“No, you’d probably run straight into the town and try to help out,” Lissie quipped. “I already know how you are.”
“I’m talking about the average person, Liss. Most don’t want to get caught up in stuff like this.”
“I guess you’re right,” she conceded, wiping the grogginess from her eyes. Her blonde hair was still disheveled from the rushed lunch service. “I’m sure you’ll figure out something great. Who knows? Maybe the celebration will be good for the town. Boost its reputation or something.”
A gentle laugh came from somewhere behind them. Turning around, they spotted Millie Tisdale sipping on a cup of coffee and furiously jotting down notes. Various documents were strewn upon the table in front of her. She tapped her pen, lifting her gaze to meet Zoe’s.
“It’s gonna take much more than a celebration to fix Sweetwater Falls’ reputation,” Millie said, accompanied with a huff. “Seems like everyday the situation in this town gets worse and worse.”
“What are you talking about, Millie?” Zoe asked, somewhat concerned by the reporter’s pessimistic outlook. “What happened?”
“You look like you haven’t slept,” Lissie commented, leaning over the counter to fetch the coffee pot.
She walked over and refilled Millie’s cup. The reporter gave her an appreciative nod, before downing the drink in almost a few gulps. The dark circles under her eyes were prominent.
“Someone was found murdered last night,” Millie informed them. “A young woman by the name of Emilia Davidson. It’s a real shame that this happened. Even worse with the timing of the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day event.”
“Another murder…?” Zoe breathed out in disbelief, sharing a wide-eyed look with Lissie. “How did this happen?”
“I’m still recovering from what just happened,” Lissie mumbled, subtly tilting her head towards the wardrobe. “Now we’ve got a new case to deal with?”
“She was found in one of the alleyways near town hall. Seems like she was walking home when the murder took place,” Millie said, skimming through her notes. “I’ll be covering this story for the paper. The mayor has already tried to get me to postpone the release of the story, but that goes against my work obligations.”
Zoe grimaced. “She’s really trying to keep this under wraps, huh?”
“It seems like it,” the reporter replied, doing her best to organize the untidy tablespace in front of her. “And I’m doing my best to keep things unbiased, but… I don’t know…” Millie wet her lips, with her reluctance almost causing her to withhold her next words. “I can’t help but wonder if there’s any magic involved in this case.”
Lissie’s eyes widened. “Do you think so?”
“I’m not trying to assume anything,” Millie said, raising her hands up in defense. “But I was talking to Detective Sean Peabody about the case and he wondered the same thing. According to him, there were some objects found at the scene that are commonly owned by witches. However, they were all Emilia’s items.”
A pit opened up in Zoe’s stomach. She couldn’t understand why this was happening in Sweetwater Falls, of all places. The supposed haven for witches, warlocks, and other magical users.
Eventually, Millie shook her head. “I’m not sure. Sean didn’t seem too convinced, either. If I were you, I’d talk to him about this.”
Customers slowly trickled out of Sweets and Treats, giving Lissie and Zoe the opportunity to fully invest their attention on Millie. They sat across from her, careful in not disturbing her notes and documents.
“What else did you manage to find out?” Zoe asked, scooting her seat closer. “If you already talked to Sean, he probably mentioned what the crime scene looked like… Right?”
Millie’s eyes fluttered closed. She nodded.
“How come most of the town doesn’t know about this?” Lissie questioned out of curiosity. “I mean, no one’s even mentioned it today. At least, not to my knowledge. None of the customers we served talked about it.”
“Most of the investigation is being kept lowkey at the request of the mayor. If the news were to prematurely spread to other towns, Diana would throw a fit about it. Sean is doing a good job at keeping things under control. I’m one of the few people who know a more detailed account of what’s happening.”
Zoe clasped her hands together on the tabletop. “So… this Emilia girl.” Her gaze flickered towards Lissie momentarily. “Do you think she’s one of us?”
“I reckon so, but I can’t tell for sure,” Millie said, setting down her pen. “Sean will probably have a better answer than I do.”
“What kind of things were found at the crime scene?” Lissie asked, narrowing her eyes. “You mentioned… witch items?”
“Ah, yes,” Millie whispered, rummaging through her papers and pulling out a particular set of notes. “Sean mentioned that they found a few interesting things among the victim’s belongings. Candles, gemstones, and vials of unknown liquids were some examples.”
Zoe’s fists tightened underneath the table. To her, that sounded like an indicator that Emilia was a magical user to some extent. Her heart sank at the realization. Just like that, another witch had been killed.
“I’m still not completely certain,” Millie said, setting the paper to the side. “Seems like a bunch of collectible items to me.”
“Those are some odd things to be carrying around with you everywhere you go…” Lissie muttered, averting her gaze and fiddling with her bracelet.
“He didn’t want to share too much about anything else in case the information got leaked to the general public,” Millie explained, staring at Zoe. “I figure you’re gonna go talk to him right now about this?”
Pressing her lips into a tight line, Zoe nodded. She tugged at Lissie’s sleeve, catching her sister’s attention.
“You mind watching the shop for me? I’m gonna head to the police station right now to see what’s going on.”
Lissie glanced around Sweets and Treats, noting the few customers and calm ambience. She relaxed into her seat, giving Zoe the go-ahead.
“I’m sure I’ll be fine,” she said. “But if customers suddenly start pouring in and I get overwhelmed, you’ll owe me one.”
Zoe did her best to look somewhat presentable as she made her way into the police station. As she passed by the detectives and officers, she smiled and mumbled greetings. When she finally arrived at his office, entering and closing the door with her back, she was somewhat out of breath.
Sean, not looking up from his paperwork, chuckled inwardly to himself. “I had a feeling you were gonna show up sooner or later. You’re attracted to these investigations like moths are to light.”
“And can you blame me?” she countered, plopping herself down onto the nearest chair. “I like helping you out whenever I can. We make a good team.” As her mind drifted back towards the case, her tone became more somber. “She was a witch, wasn’t she? Emilia?”
“That’s what I was thinking,” Sean said, straightening his back. “The things I found in her bag point to that conclusion. Seems like she was gonna perform a ritual of some kind.”
Zoe leaned on the armrest, mulling over the fragmented details. Noticing the familiar glaze in her eyes, Sean cleared his throat and pulled her back into reality.
“I think there was some sort of struggle that happened when she was killed,” he said, opening his cabinet and grabbing a manila folder. “She had some bruises on her arms and neck. I’m pretty sure a mortal could have done this.”
“What makes you so sure?”
“There were some wooden shards found around her body. It was kinda weird and I almost didn’t notice them at first, but there were a lot of them. We collected some samples. I think someone attacked Emilia with a wooden bat.”
Zoe let out a noise, covering most of her face with a hand. That would have been a horrible death for Emilia. Her heart went out to the poor girl.
“That would explain the bruises on her body, huh?” Zoe managed out eventually, watching him through her fingers.
“I think so. Seems like the most plausible option, if I’m being honest.”
At that moment, the door to his office swung open. Ian strolled in, but he stopped in his tracks once he noticed Zoe. His eyes flickered between the two of them.
“I hope I’m not interrupting something.”
“No, not at all,” Sean said, beckoning Ian to hand him the folder he brought along. “What did you manage to find out?” When Ian nodded towards Zoe, Sean waved him off. “Don’t worry, she knows about the case. She’ll help us out.”
Ian shrugged. “Whatever you say, man. Anyways, I was asking around, trying to figure out the people the victim had in her inner circle. Turns out, she had an ex-boyfriend that had it out for her ever since they broke up. I think he’s someone worth paying attention to.”
“Do you know anything about him?” Sean asked, glancing at Ian from under his brows.
“He lives closer to the suburbs. He looks like a bit of a nerd and–” Ian held up a finger, “–according to some sources, he’s a vindictive type. Tons of red flags with this dude.”
Zoe laughed under her breath. Sean marked the documents within the folder before handing it back to Ian.
“Make sure to keep an eye out on this guy, then,” Sean said. Ian responded with an enthusiastic nod. “And try to find out if he has a baseball bat lying around somewhere. If he’s vengeful, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was the one who killed her.”