Storytelling Time: Death Smells Disaster - Chapter 1 Part II
Genre: Urban Fantasy Mystery
(c) Shereen Vedam
Chapter 1, Part II
“How do you know it’s the right spot?” Robert asked, glancing at her GPS which was blinking as if confused.
“The paper invite Granny Chan sent offering to watch the kids had a fiddlehead imprint. Also, didn’t you feel that zing as we entered? Likely a ward warning her we’ve arrived.”
The long curvy drive brought them closer to the house.
“Stay inside the car,” she warned her kids and parked. After receiving firm nods, she and Robert exited.
“Something’s burning,” Nica called out the back window.
Abbie nodded. She, too, smelled an astringent scent irritating her throat. Tasted like burnt food. Granny Chan was an exceptional cook. Abbie was more likely to burn a dish than her.
She ran up the steps and knocked on the front door. “Granny Chan, it’s Abigail Grimshaw. Is everything okay?”
Comet zoomed up to them from around the house, spitting sparks.
Jimi stuck his head out the window on his side and shouted, “She can’t find Granny Chan. The kitchen’s a mess. There’s a dirty rumpled quilt in the back garden. She’s searched every room and the old witch is gone. Gone. Gone!”
Abbie raised her left hand, palm aimed at Jimi. “Got it. Calm yourselves.”
His shouting stopped, but not Comet’s zipping.
Robert ducked when she flew too close.
Abbie caught the broom handle with her right hand. “Calm down, Comet. Please.”
She invoked the Grimm cord within that arm. It came awake with a tingle and transmitted to Abbie the broom’s frantic search for her mistress.
“Help me find her!” Comet cried inside Abbie’s head, as clear as if she’d spoken aloud.
Before Abbie could say that’s why she was here, the broom flew straight up.
Abbie went up with her. She screamed in surprise and then bit her lip while trying to contain her panic. She glanced around to see if any of Granny Chan’s neighbors had heard.
From this towering perspective, neighboring properties appeared miniature, nestled within colorful greenery. Abbie wasn’t afraid of heights, but if she didn’t get something solid under her feet soon, she could develop a phobia.
Cars continued down the road without screeching to a stop and no one looked up. They must not notice the witch’s broom dragging Abbie through the air. Now she was clutching the broom, she must be invisible to norms.
Directly below, her kids were out of Rosie—against her express orders—and shouting and waving at her in excitement.
Abbie grabbed the broom with her other hand, too, and pulled herself up, wrapping her legs around the handle. “Comet, put me down!”
Instead, Comet flew her over the house toward the back. Finally, the broom stopped and said, “Look.”
Abbie straddled the broom above neatly trimmed hedges that separated nearby homes.
“See that quilt below? Could Granny Chan be under it?
It wasn’t there when I left earlier. I’ve looked everywhere except under there. Will you please look, Abbie?”
“Put me down and I’ll see what I can do,” she promised, worried about the lumpy-looking patchwork quilt. As they shot downward, Abbie quickly added, “Gently!”
In a blink, they were closer to the stained, rumpled quilt. The patchwork material, which told a mythic Chinese tale in vibrant colors, was utterly beautiful but for an ugly stain on one side. Worse, the shape suggested it hid a curled-up body.
Comet stopped well above the grassy ground and then slowly set Abbie on her feet.
She released the broom handle. Her hands were white-knuckled, cold, and cramping from gripping for dear life. Her shaky legs gave way then, and her knees hit the ground. She was glad to be touching solid land but was not looking forward to lifting that quilt to see what it hid.
Abbie tentatively lifted one end as her mind whispered, Don’t be Granny, don’t be Granny, don’t be Granny.
It wasn’t. Her breath came out in a whoosh of both relief and sorrow. Whoever this was, it was too late to help him.
Robert and her kids came out the back door and Comet flew over to them and then back to Abbie.
“Keep them inside,” Abbie warned, hoping whoever had created this havoc out here hadn’t gained entry into the witch’s house, “but don’t touch anything.”
He shooed the kids who had followed him back into the house and then, with his head sticking out the door, he asked, “What have you found?”
“Not Granny Chan,” Abbie said, a profound sense of relief as that information sank in.
Comet stopped flying about and settled on the ground, spreading her bristles to balance herself as if also relieved by that news.
Ignoring the broom, Abbie checked for breath or a pulse, though from the poor old fellow’s wide-open, unmoving gaze and the dagger sticking out of his chest, her professional instincts said she would find neither. Yup, he was good and gone, though a doctor would have to pronounce him officially dead.
She gently dropped the quilt back over the body. The victim lay curled on his side. She met Robert’s inquiring gaze and shook her head. “How did you all get inside?”
“I walked through the wall and then opened the door.”
Despite the broom’s assertion that she’d searched every room and not located her mistress, Abbie wanted to hear that reassurance from Robert. She rose, picturing the old woman lying inside as bloody as this poor elderly man lay out here.
“No sign of her in the reception rooms or the kitchen,” Robert said. “I did not check upstairs before I spotted you out here. This is definitely a witch’s house.”
“Why do you say that?” Abbie asked, curious, and reached for her mobile.
“You’ll see when you get inside,” Robert said.
Abbie nodded and tried Judith, but it went straight to voicemail. With a resigned sigh, she dialed 999 and gave info about her find to the operator. The fellow warned her not to touch anything and to remain until a police unit arrived. She promised to do so and hung up. He wouldn’t be aware that this wasn’t her first crime scene.
Abbie put away her phone and followed Robert into the house. The smoky kitchen stung her eyes, making her blink. Wrinkling her nose, she said, “Please open a window, Robert.”
Before he could, the kitchen windows flew open, allowing in fresh air.
“Ah,” Abbie said. “I see what you mean about this being a witch’s house.”
She shut off the oven next and used a mitt to remove a tray of burnt biscuits that smelled vaguely chocolaty. The moment she set the smoking tray on the hob, the stove fan turned on as if it magically sensed the need to air the room.
“Nice,” she murmured in envy. She could use this type of service at home.
Soon, the smoke cleared.
Her kids were on the kitchen island’s far side, covering their noses and mouths. This wasn’t these two little ones’ first crime scene, either. They’d experienced way too many deaths in their brief lives.
She went over and knelt, opening her arms to offer comfort. Both ran into her hold, bringing their unique scent of jam and soap, which compensated a little for the burning stench.
“I was so scared when the broom pulled you up into the sky,” Nica said, snuggling close.
“It was cool!” Jimi said, gaze trained over her shoulder.
Abbie glanced that way and spotted Comet by the open doorway. The kids’ minds being on the broom rather than the corpse in the garden was good. She studied their faces, relieved to note no triggered memories of their mother’s passing. She stood and looked around the room.
“Any idea who the misfortunate soul out there might be?” Robert inquired.
“No, but I can think of someone who might know.” She strode over and took hold of Comet. “Did Granny Chan know an elderly gent, white, balding? He would have been tall and slender. About your height. With wrinkles on his forehead and freckles across his throat.”
“That sounds like Mr. Oliver Brown, a neighbor,” Comet replied.
Robert and the kids turned to them as if they followed the broom’s response. Her cord must be transmitting.
“Granny Chan used to refer to him as ‘that Kentish Man,’” Comet continued, “and he called her a ‘Salop’ because she hailed from Shropshire. They liked to insult each other. Yesterday, she threatened to turn him into a newt if he slithered onto her property again. Too bad he didn’t stay away.” Comet paused and then asked softly, “Is Granny Chan missing because she killed him?”
Robert met Abbie’s troubled gaze. Comet’s question was the one the police would raise first. Never good to have a history of quarreling with a man found dead on your property.
“Can I fly on her?” Jimi asked, his focus never wavering from the magical broom.
“Later.” Abbie released the broom. Never, was her true answer after being towed by the broom.
Comet went horizontal, in an obvious invitation for the boy to hop on.
“Comet says, Yes.” Jimi was at Comet’s side in an instant.
“But I said, No,” Abbie said in a firm voice, holding his gaze until Jimi reluctantly stepped away from the broom.
“With a murderer on the loose,” Robert said, “the kids might be safer inside Rosie.”
“Comet says she looked everywhere,” Jimi said. “No one’s in here except us.”
Abbie nodded in agreement. The car might be the best place for her kids, as it would prevent them from leaving fingerprints in here. If the police believed Abbie and her kids had come inside the house, there would be awkward questions about how they had entered a locked home. Still, Abbie wasn’t ready to leave this house. Not yet.
For Judith’s sake. She had to figure out what had happened to Granny Chan and the clues she needed were in here. She was certain of it.
While she was happy to allow the police to carry out this murder investigation without her help, she wanted to check around to see what could have happened to Granny Chan. One moment she was baking treats for Abbie’s kids, the next she had vanished. Where had she gone? Why didn’t she shut off the oven before leaving?
Sending the kids to the car might be the best idea, but she wanted Robert with her to share his insights as she examined the room. Her speculative glance slid toward Comet and Jimi, who had moved closer to each other again.
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