Dangerous Paws

Chapter 1

Ember skidded through the grass, staining her palms green and releasing a fragrant scent. She wondered if the smell of grass would forever be associated with tragedy.

Ember lifted her gaze, mouth agape with horror as the painted ceramic urn flipped through the humid Louisiana air. Her husband’s memories lay inside, sealed by a magic spell. When the urn shattered, the memories would be released to the ether—lost forever.

Cedric stood too far away to stop the flying urn. Ash mouthed the words to a spell, a valiant effort Ember knew doomed to fail. No one could cast swiftly enough to stop the urn from shattering on the ground.

A golden-furred flash sped past Ember and dove under the urn. Kali! Her familiar darted under the urn just as it was to hit the ground. Ember cringed when Kali cried out in pain. The urn fell over onto the grass, unbroken—for now. Kali walked a few paces away, shook her back leg vigorously, and then stood protectively over the urn.

Cedric pulled his service pistol and aimed at the man responsible for knocking Ember off her feet—Jimmy Hoffa, recently returned from a long exile in another dimension. His mouth gaped open, and the point of his barrel drifted toward the ground.

Ember turned to look at Hoffa and her mouth gaped open in horror. Gone was the middle-aged man she’d exposed as a murderer in Driftwood. In his place stood a being so aged its flesh seemed to melt off its bent, bowed bones. Jimmy Hoffa’s eyes had taken on a rheumy cast, his suit draped over his skeletal form like a tent.

“What’s happening to him?” Ember asked in horror.

“Ha! He’s aging all those decades in a matter of minutes,” Munkilok said, using April’s mouth. “Looks good on ya, sucker!”

Ember knew Hoffa was not a good man. He was a killer, a fact she had uncovered personally. Yet, she couldn’t stand to see him suffer. She looked away until Hoffa collapsed face first, his internal organs failing in rapid succession.

“Well, that solves the mystery of Jimmy Hoffa,” Cedric said with a chuckle. “Too bad we can’t tell anyone.”

“No one would believe us anyway.” Ember looked over to Ash. “I suppose we should give him a proper burial?”

“Let him rot in the sun,” Munkilok said eagerly.

“How long has it been since April has been in control of her own body, Imp?” Ash glared at April.

“Hey, there was dimensional travel, and a guy aging into a mummy. It’s a bit much for a first grader, so I took the wheel. If you humans were better at taking care of your younglings, she wouldn’t need me in the first place you know.”
“I’m doing the best I can,” Ember snapped. “You’re not helping. You’re hindering.”

“You just don’t like me, witch.”

Ember sneered. “You’re right about that much. I guess we agree on one thing.”

“Touché.” April bowed and then ran into the house. Ember wasn’t sure who was in control of her body at that moment. It was just another one of her mounting problems.

Ember turned to Ash and nodded. They stepped on either side of Hoffa’s body and linked hands over him. They chanted a spell in the witch tongue, asking the earth to take Hoffa’s body back to nature.

Tendrils of root shot up and wrapped around the skeletal corpse. The earth seemed amorphous as a sponge, bubbling up around his body as if it were sinking. Bit by bit, Hoffa disappeared into the ground.

A purple flower sprang up in the middle of his new grave. Ember and Ash parted. Ember stared down at flower and sighed.

“May he find a better path in his next life.”

“Here’s hoping.” Ash picked up the urn carefully and cocked an eyebrow at Ember. “First things first. I say we load this puppy up with spells to keep it safe.”

“Like a barrier spell so it won’t break?”

“To start, sure. We should also ward against incorporeal entities, oh, and use a dimensional anchor charm to keep anyone from teleporting it away from us.”

Ember nodded. “A tracking spell, too.”

Cedric looked between the two of them and then rubbed the bridge of his nose. “We just got back from a magical dimension with flying dragons and lightning storms. Can we give the magic a rest for a bit, please? I could use some normalcy.”

“Speaking of normalcy,” Ash said. “Shouldn’t we be opening the Pub soon?”

Ember looked at the time and cursed. Her hand flew in front of her mouth and Cedric chuckled.

“Been hanging out with sailors?”

Ember turned to Ash. “We’ll put a few wards on the urn, then head in to the pub. We can snag a couple of grimoires to read if it slows down after lunch.”

“Sounds good to me.” Ash turned to Cedric. “Can you drop April off at school while we take care of the Pub? We’re running late.”

“Certainly.” Cedric looked at Ember for a long moment, then suddenly came forward and embraced her. 

“Cedric?” Ember patted his arm, unsure of what to do. It felt good to feel her amnesiac husband’s arms around her again after so long, but his manner upset her. “What’s wrong?”

“You have a habit of putting yourself in peril,” he said, holding her tight. “I just what you to…just be careful, okay?”
Cedric released her, and turned to trot toward the house. “April, or Munkilok, whoever is in there, get your book bag. Time for school.”
Ash carried the urn toward the house, Ember falling behind. She took one last look at the purple flower waving in the morning breeze, and then put the case of D.B. Cooper’s murder behind her for good—figuratively and literally.

Chapter 2

Ember and Ash hustled to keep up with the flow of customers coming into the Broken Broom Pub. It seemed her elevated bar food favorites had been greatly missed during the days she took off to settle in April.

The town’s Doctor, Dennis Dalton, sat at a table with his wife Sharon and son Mark. They smiled happily as Ember stopped by their table bearing a heavily laden tray.

“Who had the T-bone and eggs?”

“That would be me, Miss Ember,” Mark said.

“Look at you, Mark. It seems like not that long ago you were just a little thing, now you’re taller than your father.” Ember laid the plate in front of him while his mother frowned.

“Mark, dear, she’s a married woman. You no longer call her Miss. It’s Mrs. Jamison now.”

“Actually, it’s Ember McNair-Jamison,” Ember replied with a smile “but Mark can call me Ember if he wants. I don’t mind.”

“Stop fussing, Sharon, can’t you see Ember’s busy?” Dalton gestured oat his plate. “I had the oatmeal and grapefruit with a side of hash brown.”

“Oats and grapefruit and hash,” Ember said, laying his plate down. “And you must have had the BLT?”

“Yes, thank you.” 

As Ember rushed away from their table to help Ash in the kitchen, she heard something that made her cringe. Doctor Dalton called one of his friends and told said;

“The Pub’s open again. Yes, it’s even Ember cooking today. Oh, it’s not that busy.”

Ember rushed into the kitchen and turned off a deep fryer, pulling onion rings out of the grease. She gave the baskets a good shake and trotted to Ash’s side to help her plate biscuits and gravy.

“It’s crazy busy this morning,” Ash blinked sweat out of her eyes and glanced over at Ember. “Is it a holiday or something?”
“Not that I know of. It’s about to get worse, too. Doc Dalton just invited all his golf buddies over for brunch.”

“At least they’re good tippers. This is murder, Ember. If we weren’t using magic we’d never keep up with this crowd.”
“I know. My small-town Pub has become all too popular of late. Maybe I should sell it?”

“Sell it?” Ash was aghast. “Sell the Broom? Are you even being serious right now?”

Ember sighed. “I don’t know. I used to love the Broom, but now it seems like a burden. I don’t know. Let’s just survive this breakfast rush and prepare for the inevitable lunch deluge.”

The bell rang at the entrance and Ember hurried back to the lobby, arms laden with three orders of biscuits and gravy. She smiled at the new entrant, glad to see it was only one customer. 

“Hello, Hanky-Bob,” she said to the tall, shaggy, bearded man in grease-stained overalls standing in the doorway.

“Morning, Ember. You open for business, right?”
“Sure am,” she said with a smile. “Come on in.”

Hanky-Bob pushed the door open fully and called over his shoulder. “You were right, she is open. C’mon.”

Ember felt her heart sink when about six men filed in after Hanky-Bob. She and Ash had their work cut out for them today.

Gradually the breakfast rush slowed, allowing Ember and Ash to catch up. Ember paused by a prep table where Kali lay stretched out, eyes barely open.

“Are you all right, Kali/”
“I’m fine. Just a little sore where the Urn hit me.”

Ember frowned. She felt Kali’s back and discovered a tender bump. “You poor thing. Let me put some healing unguent on you.”

“That stuff smells! My prey will scent me coming a mile away.”
“You know I don’t like you killing so many birds anyway, Kali. Hold still and let me put it on you.”

The obstinate cat endured, making a great pathetic show of herself. Ember darted back out into the lobby, wiping her hands on a stained rag as she went.

She paused, face dropping into a frown. Most of the patrons remaining in her lobby clustered around Hanky-Bob’s table. The shaggy mechanic held court with a story that held everyone’s rapt attention.

“Well, that’s what I heard, anyway,” Hanky-Bob said to Doctor Dalton.

“Incredible. I wonder what this means for the community?” Dalton shook his head.

“What’s going on?” Ember asked.

“It’s Mayor Stubbs.”

“Oh no, is he ill?” Ember asked.

“No, but he is retiring,” Hanky-Bob said.

“Oh my.” Ember pursed her lips. “He’s been Mayor for a long time. Almost as long as I can remember.”

“Yeah, nobody’s bothered to run against him in at least four elections running now. If he’s retiring, that leaves the field wide open.”

“Who’s going to be our next mayor?” Mark asked.

“Maybe you should run, dear,” Sharon said to Doctor Dalton.

“Are you kidding? Who wants to do a bunch of tedious paperwork on top of what I already do with my practice, not to mention I’m already the town’s medical examiner. It would be conflict of interest.”

“Oh, poo, you could do both.”

“Hey,” said a red-bearded man sitting with Hanky-Bob’s party. “You know who would make a great mayor? Ron Olberman.”

Most of the lobby rolled their eyes, cried out in dismay, or started cursing.

“Are you kidding? That jerk has been trying to buy the town out from under us for years, and you want to hand him the keys to the city?” Hanky-Bob scowled at the red-bearded man. “How can you even support a con man like him?”

“Hey, I think he could make Caucherie great again,” the red-bearded man snapped back. “You’re just jealous because you’re not smart enough to be a billionaire like him. If he ran this town like one of his businesses, we’d all be better off.”

“You’re talking out your behind, Ramsey,” Hanky-Bob said.

“Why don’t you try looking at it from somewhere besides your point of view?” Ramsey taunted.

“Why don’t you try shutting the hell up?”

“Why don’t you make me?”

Hanky-Bob rose from his chair, knocking it flat behind him. Ember stepped between the two would be combatants and pushed them back.

“Hey, not in my bar. You want to roll around like a couple of high school pubescents, do it outside.”

Hanky-Bob looked abashed, his face flushing red. “I’m sorry, Ember.”

He picked up his chair while Ramsey stood up and threw money on the table.

“You just wait and see. Olberman will turn Caucherie around. The swamp could use a little draining around here.”

Ember sighed as she watched him leave. Ron Olberman as mayor?
She hoped Stubbs’ retirement was just a rumor, or more trouble would be visiting the sleepy Louisiana town soon.


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