Ellie is in the community room, confined to a makeshift bed, which will need to be washed later. As cool as “library cat” sounds, it’s unfair to patrons with allergies. The only alternative is a hairless feline, and I’ve told Jonathan I can deliver that with a decent electric razor but apparently, that would be “wrong.”
Ellie and Connolly introduce themselves, which means glancing briefly at each other before settling into mutual ignoring. I get the same treatment from Ellie. Yes, she might have acted as if she didn’t need my goodbye earlier, but now she’s giving me the cold shoulder, mingled with generous doses of side-eye.
“You could cuddle on my lap,” I say as I take a seat.
Her eyes narrow.
“Just a suggestion.”
Jonathan picks up the bed and moves it to a chair between mine and Ani’s.
“I don’t think she wants that,” I say.
“Oh, believe me, she does.” He pats Ellie’s head. “Better, right?”
The cat settles in and glares at me.
“Great,” I say. “Constant stink-eye. Definitely better.”
He chuckles. “That’s her way of saying ‘I love you, please don’t ever leave me.’”
“Or ‘Are you still here? I thought I ditched you for the nice guy.’” I turn away from her accusing stare. “Moving right along. It’s story time, in a very appropriate setting. Jonathan, don’t forget to do the voices and actions. I know you can.”
“You go first,” he says.
I don’t need to do much to bring Jonathan up to speed. He’d been texting with Ani as cellular service resumed in Unstable. All I have to do is fill in the gaps.
Then Jonathan updates us on his morning. With Miss Clara on the desk and cell service restored, he’s been able to pop in and out, investigating.
In Boston, unless we had proof of kidnapping, the police would be telling us to wait twenty-four hours before considering Hope a missing person. Here, they’d have opened a case right away. However, they’ll also not open a case if we ask to handle it ourselves.
The police chief is Mrs. Salazar’s niece, and if there’s a queen bee in our psychic community, Mrs. Salazar is it. The family has been here as long as ours. Do they have any actual psychic abilities? They believe so, and we don’t argue. Even privately, we don’t discount the possibility. That would be rude.
Several of the Salazars work in the paranormal trade. Most, though, have shifted into commerce and government, and locals especially appreciate the latter. Where else can you tell the police chief that your sister has been kidnapped by someone who wants her curse-weaving powers, but you’re on top of it and don’t need their help?
Why tell the police at all then? Professional and personal courtesy. The chief would be less than thrilled if she discovered we’d been asking questions about an unreported crime. This way, she’s informed, and Jonathan can go about his investigating, which he has.
He’s compiled a list of clues. Strangers seen in Unstable last night. Unrecognized cars spotted on Bishop Street after dark. Also, black butterflies seen in our front garden, corpse candles spotted over the marsh and one psychic who dreamed of Hope wandering a dark wood, lost and alone, wearing a blue jacket.
All of these go onto the list with equal solemnity. Sure, we’ll ignore everything after “unknown people and vehicles” but again, it’d be rude to leave the rest off. And even the sightings likely have nothing to do with Ani and Hope’s kidnapping. It might be midweek and not quite tourist season, but strangers still pass through, even late at night.
We have Ani and Hope’s car back, too. That was found just outside town, abandoned on what the kidnappers likely presumed was an abandoned road but is actually the favorite local dog-walking route. For now, we’re leaving the car there, in case we need evidence from it.
The other potential avenue of investigation is the woman who tried to hire my sisters. Connolly didn’t recognize the description Ani provided. We’re guessing she’s with the kidnappers. Her cursed object had, conveniently, been a car. To show it in action, Ani or Hope would have needed to go for a ride. Instant kidnapping. Instead, the woman had managed to get inside our house—she’d asked to use the washroom, and then they’d talked indoors—which let her scout the premises. We’ll need to ask around and see who saw her that morning. It’s a guarantee someone did.
In the end, though, none of us are certain how much we’ll need any of this information, even the pieces that could lead us to Hope.
Are we going to search for her? While it seems obvious—my sister has been kidnapped—even Chief Salazar said that if we know what these people want, and we can give it to them, it might be wise to simply complete the transaction. No one wants to pay off kidnappers, but if the price is reasonable, that may be the victim’s safest bet.
Is the price reasonable?
Hell, yeah. Connolly just needs to drop out of the auction. Yes, we’re concerned that Hope might not be able to unweave this curse, but I can suggest to her captors that all three Bennett sisters take a look and do their combined best.
“Have I been misled, then?” Connolly says when I suggest this. “I was under the impression that a failed unweaving is as dangerous as the curse itself, perhaps more so.”
“It is,” Ani says. “If we fail, we take possession of the object, which means the curse is on us, and sometimes, it’s permanent. That’s why we evaluate the curse first and weigh it against our skill level. Even Kennedy doesn’t take chances.”
“Even Kennedy,” I say. “Wow. Thanks.”
She glances over. “Shall we talk about why you don’t take chances? Once burned, twice shy?”
“Literally burned,” Jonathan murmurs. “I remember that.”
“Hard to forget when it was your car she set on fire.”
“Cursed car,” I say. “He bought a cursed car.”
“It was cheap,” Jonathan says.
“Please tell me it was insured,” Connolly says.
“Of course. In the end, I came out ahead. The car was worth more than I paid.”
“Because it was cursed,” I say. “A lesson to both of us. I don’t unweave spells above my skill level. You don’t buy things suspiciously cheap.”
“No, I just don’t buy them before checking with you guys.” Jonathan looks at Connolly. “I’ll also say, in Kennedy’s defense, that it was my first car. She was just a kid, and it was a really tough jinx. She’d have no problem with it now.”
“Thank you,” I say. “Back to the point, though, yes, we don’t attempt overly complex curses. And your point was that this is likely to be a tough one. Possibly beyond all our skill levels. That’s why I’d suggest to Hope’s captor that Ani and I get a look at it first. If it’s too complex, we can warn him before he buys it.”
“That’s . . . not going to work,” Connolly says.
“Because the seller won’t let us see it? I’m sure we can find a way around that.”
“I’m sure we can. Then if it is too complex, you’re just going to tell this man that none of you can do it, so he should release Hope, which naturally he’ll do, because you said so.”
I peer at him. “Was that sarcasm? I think so, but it’s hard to tell with you.”
Before he can answer, I say, “Yes, you have a point. So let me turn that one over to you. What’s our escape hatch there? It’s the most famous curse in history. If it could be easily uncursed, a weaver would have done it by now.”
“Actually, I wouldn’t bet on that,” Jonathan says. “Don’t forget it’s been with regular humans for generations.”
Connolly nods slowly. “I would agree. However, the necklace itself is thousands of years old. Surely back when people believed in curses, weavers would have attempted it.”
“On a limited scale,” Jonathan says. “No internet, no telephones, no newspapers . . .”
Connolly frowns and then says, “Ah, right. Lacking easy methods of communication, it would have been much harder to find true curse weavers.”
“Which doesn’t mean weavers haven’t taken a shot at it,” Jonathan says. “It’s definitely not going to be a run-of-the-mill curse.”
I turn to Connolly. “So what’s your suggestion for a backup plan?”
Ani snorts. “Isn’t that obvious? He doesn’t have one. He’s pointing out that our plan isn’t foolproof and therefore we should let him buy the necklace and find another way to free Hope.”
Connolly turns a cool gaze on her. “I was not going to say that. I raised a valid point that applies regardless of who gets the necklace. If Kennedy can’t uncurse it for me, that hardly solves my problem.”
“What is your problem?” I ask. “We’re going to need to understand why this necklace is so important to you.”
He doesn’t answer.
Ani shoves back her chair, marches to the door and throws it open. “Go,” she says to Connolly. “This conversation no longer involves you.”
“I think it does,” he says.
“Not if we say it doesn’t. I’m not sure why you think we need you, Aiden. All Kennedy has to do is admit you were listening in to the call, and so there’s no way in hell you’re backing out of the auction now.”
“I would ask you not to do that. In fact, I’d ask it very strongly.”
“Is that a threat?” Ani says.
“No, it isn’t.”
I cut in. “He means there’s more than one way to keep him from bidding. This is the easy way. The other ones?”
Jonathan swears under his breath.
Ani looks from him to me. “I don’t understand.”
“Whoever kidnapped Hope wants Aiden out of the picture,” I say. “The easy way is for me to thwart his efforts. The hard way . . .”
I slice across my throat. Connolly gives me a hard look.
“What?” I say.
“You have definitely read too many crime novels,” he says. “While we’re here, we’ll grab you lighter reading material. Fantasy. Or science fiction.”
“Hey, plenty of killers in those, too. Assassins everywhere. It’s awesome.” I sober. “Unless you’re on their hit list. Sorry.”
Connolly shakes his head. “I am not on anyone’s hit list. I’m not powerful enough for that.”
“Don’t worry. You’ll get there.”
“It’s a goal.” He looks at Jonathan and Ani. “While I doubt my actual life is in danger, whoever kidnapped Hope isn’t going to shrug and say ‘Oh, well,’ if Kennedy can’t trick me out of the auction. He will take stronger measures to remove me. As strong as necessary, short of actual murder, and even that . . .”
Connolly drums his fingers on the table, notices what he’s doing and pulls his hand back.
“My family is powerful,” he says. “They have enemies. I don’t think anyone would kill me but . . .” A throat clearing. “I’d rather not find out what they will do. Consider that a confession. One I don’t make easily. I’m at your mercy here, and it seems dangerous to pretend otherwise. I would ask you—very strongly—not to tell this man that I know he wants me out of the auction.”
Ani looks at me, and Connolly tenses, as if we’re silently debating his fate. We aren’t. What we’re asking each other is whether we believe he’s in danger. The answer, I think, is that we don’t know for sure, but yes, anyone capable of kidnapping isn’t going to give up that easily.
“Let’s take a break,” I say. I nod at Ani and Jonathan. “You two talk. Plot. Check out our place and see if there are any clues inside. Connolly? Ever had frozen custard?”
“Frozen . . .?”
“No . . . But I’m not really hungry right now.”
“Too bad. I am, and I need my first custard of the season. Coming or staying?”
He pushes back his chair and follows me from the room. As we go, Ani mouths “We need answers.”
We do. And I’m really hoping—with a frozen treat and a bit of privacy—I can get them.