Something in the pot’s scared tone sent a shiver down my spine. I swallowed nervously before asking, “In danger from what?”
“They want a change of power,” Glory said.
“The Cullers. They want to install Sylu as the leader of the magic class.”
“Oh, that’s not good,” Conroy piped up. “Not good at all. What about–?”
Garret, the tailless one, the love of Tess’s life, interrupted the conversation by jumping on top of the pot. “Sol says you’re looking for me.”
I nodded slowly, wondering if the magician had told the surly squirrel that my objective was to trap him and use him in some sort of magical ritual.
“He says that bitch Bloodworth wants to turn me human.”
I nodded again.
He rubbed his tiny paws together in anticipation. “Let’s get started.”
I blinked, taken aback by his enthusiasm. “You’re going to trust Mildred?”
“Sweetheart I’ll try anything if it means not having to forage for acorns anymore.”
“It could be dangerous,” I warned, thinking about what had almost happened to my friend Maggie’s lizard.
“Dangerous?” Garrett boomed. “Do you have any idea how dangerous it is to cross the road when you’re a squirrel? They ask, Why did the chicken cross the road? You know why? Because squirrels can’t do it. They get run over every time. I mean think about that. I’m dumber than a chicken.”
“You’re going to attract attention, RV,” Conroy warned. “You’re standing here talking to a squirrel, who’s sitting on a stolen pot, that’s supposed to be some kind of family heirloom.”
“I ama family heirloom,” Glory muttered sullenly. “I may not look my best right now but watch the right YouTube tutorial and I could look ah-may-zing.”
I closed my eyes and took a steadying breath, trying to think logically. I dug in my pockets, needing Linc’s guidance, but couldn’t find him. That’s when I remembered that Sol had him last. “Do I leave her here or take her with me?” I asked aloud.
“Take me!” Glory called excitedly.
“Leave her,” Conroy declared dourly.
“Leave who?” Garrett asked, confused.
I walked in a circle around the pot, trying to make up my mind. If Glory was right and the Cullers wanted to wreak some kind of havoc, something Conroy himself had said was a bad thing, and Nightway wanted her badly enough that he’d involved the human law; it would seem that the right thing to do, would be to keep the pot from falling into his hands. But Nightway had involved Welmont and I had no doubt that if the cop caught me with the cookware, he’d declare it my motive for killing Keith and toss me in a cell.
“What to do? What to do?” I muttered to myself.
“You can’t stay out here exposed like this,” Conroy lectured.
“I don’t know what to do,” I grumbled.
“Hide the pot.” Valentina’s voice, deep and true, filled my head.
I didn’t need further convincing. I bent over, picked up the pot, which was less like a cauldron and more like a dinged and dented stock pot, and headed toward the pink Princess.
“Are we going to do it now?” Garrett asked running beside me.
“She said something about the moon,” I told him. “I think we have to wait for that.”
Garrett let out a disappointed sign. “So close and yet so far.”
I wanted to caution him not to get his hopes up. There was no guarantee any of this would work. After all, it would seem that Mildred wasn’t all that adept at witchcraft, otherwise she and I would not be…what was the word Sol had used? Mingled.
Before I could warn him, Conroy said, “Ask the squirrel if he knows how Glory got there.”
I slowed my pace, not wanting Mildred to hear me asking the squirrel questions. “Garret, do you know how this pot got into the field?”
He wriggled his whiskers at me. “What do I look like? The leader of the litter patrol?”
“So that’s a no?” I countered, not in the mood for the big attitude from the little rodent. Even if he was cursed, he didn’t have the right to be a jerk. I mean look at me. Itrynot to be obnoxious.
“No. I have no idea how that decrepit old pot got there.”
“I’m not decrepit,” Glory countered, even though the squirrel couldn’t hear her. “I’m vintage.”
“Is that like shabby chic?” Conroy asked.
I’d just reached Princess when I heard a voice calling, “Smoosher Lady? Hey, Smoosher Lady.”
I quickly placed Glory against the side of the camper van and leaned backwards into her to hide the pilfered pot. Karen, Richie’s mother, hurried toward me.
“Hey,” I said, trying to sound casual as I imagined the approaching woman testifying against me during Keith’s murder trial. “How’s it going?”
“I wanted to apologize,” Karen said awkwardly. “I mean, I know I treated you badly. Before. I treated you poorly before. I was all judgy and nasty.”
“It’s no problem,” I told her, feeling like keeping both the pot, and my fake smile in their respective places was a physical challenge.
“It’s just hard, you know?” She shook her head as though her difficulties were insurmountable. “Being a single mom is hard.”
“I’m sure it is,” I said sympathetically, trying not to wince from the pain of the pot’s rim digging into my back.
“I’m always broke and I’m always tired and he’s alwaysgetting into trouble,” she confided.
“His dad’s not in the picture at all?”
She shook her head. “I gotta find him.”
I remained silent. I’ve found oftentimes that silence can elicit more answers than questions.
“But first I’ve got to ditch, you know who,” she whispered.
I raised my eyebrows and tilted my head indicating that I had no idea who “you know who” was.
She didn’t take the hint and didn’t fill in the knowledge gap. Instead she continued on with her tale of woe. “Keith was supposedto help me with that, but I guess that ain’t happening now.”
“I guess not,” I murmured, wondering if You Know Who had killed Keith to keep her from leaving him. Jealousy is a motive for murder…or so I’ve heard.
“Anyway, I just wanted to say sorry,” Karen concluded.
“Don’t worry about it,” I said, feeling like my cheeks were cracking under the strain of the fake smile. “I’d already forgotten about it.”
That part was true. Since my encounter with her, I’d been told I was mingled, I’d run a man down, and I’d discovered a magical talking pot. Her earlier outburst was pretty low on my important events of the day list.
“Thanks,” she said with a grateful grin, some part of her hearing the truth behind my words. “For the record, I don’t think you did it.”
“I didn’t steal the pot,” I said defensively even as said contraband was bruising my back.
Karen waved her hand. “I meant I don’t think you killed Keith.”
“I didn’t,” I told her emphatically. “He was dead before I even got here.”
She nodded. “That’s what I told Norma.”
“Norma, the campground drunk,” Kare elaborated. “She’s going around telling everyone you killed Keith.”
“What would she do that?” I asked, hearing a hint of a whine in my voice. “I don’t even know her.”
Richie’s mom shrugged. “Some people like making trouble.” She lifted her hand in a wave and began to move away. “Thanks for looking out for my boy.”
“Anytime,” I replied distractedly, trying to figure out why Norma would have it in for me.
Once Karen was out of sight, I leaned forward slightly and caught Glory as she slid toward the ground.
“Why didn’t you just use a spell to hide me?” she pouted.
“I hate magic.” I unlocked the door to the camper van.
“Then how the hell are you going to help me?” Garrett asked.
I glanced down at him, having forgotten he was still around.
“You don’t need this Norma woman making trouble,” Conroy said, stating the obvious.
“I don’t need trouble,” I said opening the door and motioning for Garrett to scramble in. “But somehow it always finds me.”