I shot Sol a nervous look as the squad car drew nearer. His expression was unreadable. And I still didn’t know whether Karen had run afoul of magic.
I flipped Link into the air, silently asking, “Should I run?”
The penny landed tails up in my palm. I scowled. I’d have much rather preferred taking off than facing whatever was coming next.
Tess returned from the office, Ernie in tow, just as the police car pulled to a stop nearby.
I glanced up at the window of the camper and saw that Richie, nose pressed to the glass, was watching. I offered him a reassuring smile.
Corporal Welmont hitched up his pants as he got out of his car and surveyed the scene. “What happened? I heard the call for an ambulance.”
“Well you can see Karen is lying there,” Ernie mocked, pointing at her with his walking stick. “What do you think happened?”
The cop ignored him and walked over to get a better look at Karen. “What happened to her?”
“She was like this when I found her,” Sol said.
“Oh, and you just happened to find her?” Welmont crossed his arms over his chest, making it clear he didn’t believe the story. He turned his attention to me. “And what are you doing here?”
“Richie came and got me.” I pointed toward the child observing us from the window. My heart squeezed as I took in his worried expression.
The little boy waved back hesitantly.
“Is she hurt?” Welmont asked.
Sol shrugged. “I didn’t think it was a good idea to move her.”
“Leave that to the professionals,” Ernie urged from the sideline.
“A most excellent idea,” Marco chimed in. “You could paralyze her or worse.”
“Karen?” Welmont called, like he wasn’t practically standing on top of her. “Karen, can you hear me?”
He got no reaction from her.
“She’s unconscious, you ninny,” Tess complained, crouching down beside the other woman’s still body. “She’s in no shape to be answering you.”
With Tess hovering over the fallen woman, Sol got to his feet and slowly backed away.
“Did anyone see what happened to her?” Welmont asked.
We all shook our heads.
“What about the kid?” the cop said, moving toward the door of the camper. “I need to question him.”
Without thinking, I jumped between him and the door to the camper. “You are not going to interrogate him. Can’t you see he’s upset?”
Welmont didn’t like my opposition. His hand immediately went to his service weapon.
I gulped nervously. I knew I could take him in a fight, but I didn’t want to have to deal with the extra attention assaulting a member of law enforcement would garner. Without taking my eyes off him, I reached back and knocked on the door. “Hey, Richie,” I yelled. “Corporal Welmont wants to talk to you.”
A moment later it swung open and Richie stepped out.
The cop dropped his hand away from the butt of his gun and offered the kid a smile. “Hi there, Richie.”
Richie grabbed my hand with both of his.
“Do you know what happened to your mom?” Welmont asked.
Richie shook his head.
To his credit, the cop put his hands on his knees so that he was closer to eye level with the boy. “Can you tell me about finding her?”
“I was dragon hunting,” Richie explained earnestly. “And then I came home, but she wouldn’t wake up, so I went and got Smoosher lady.”
“Smoosher lady?” Welmont asked, obviously unaware of my moniker.
I raised a hand. “That’s what he calls me.”
“Cuz she smooshed Keith,” Richie filled in helpfully.
Welmont’s gaze glimmered with amusement as he tried to tamp down the grin tugging at his lips. “Was there anyone else around?”
Richie shook his head. “Just Garrett.”
Welmont stood up. “Who’s Garrett?” He looked around, scanning for an unfamiliar face.
“Hush,” Conroy ordered as I opened my mouth.
Realizing the owl around my neck was right, I pressed my lips together, glad that non-magical people can’t understand him.
“Garrett’s a squirrel,” Tess supplied. “Richie helps me feed him sometimes.”
“He likes peanuts,” Richie added. “And cheese. He really likes cheese, which is kinda weird.”
“Who doesn’t like cheese?” I teased.
“I bet dragons don’t.” He stuck his tongue out at me.
“Where the hell’s the errand boy?” Welmont bellowed.
Startled, Richie jumped behind me.
I looked around and like the cop realized that Sol was nowhere in sight.
“Where is he?” Welmont demanded of me.
I shrugged helplessly. “I have no idea.”
“Always sneaking around that one,” the cop muttered.
“You didn’t tell anyone they couldn’t leave,” Tess piped up.
“Well I would have thought it was pretty obvious I’m conducting an investigation on the attack on Karen.”
“For all you know, she could have passed out from low blood sugar,” Tess snapped back.
I admired the way she defended Sol. I wasn’t feeling that generously toward him. It was suspicious that he’d disappeared, especially considering he’d been alone when whatever had befallen Karen had occurred.
“Hark!” Marco announced. “I hear another siren.”
“Hark?” Ernie rolled his eyes. “Let me guess, you’ve spent time in a Shakespeare troupe.”
“Why yes, as a matter of fact I have,” Marco replied proudly. “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.” He finished with a flourishing bow.
“Isn’t it time for you to exit?” Ernie griped, leaning heavily on his walking stick.
“You sir have no sense of culture,” Marco sniped back.
Welmont waved dismissively at them. “Make way for the ambulance. Can’t you see this is a medical emergency?”
Tess caught my gaze and rolled her eyes, shaking her head.
“You too,” Welmont told her, seeing the look she was giving me.
“Are they taking her away?” Richie whispered from behind me.
Spinning around, I knelt down and grabbed his shoulders. “Maybe,” I told him, seeing no reason to lie to the kid. “But if that happens, there are plenty of other people here who will take care of you until she feels better and comes back.”
“If she comes back,” Conroy muttered. “For all you know, she could be dying.”
I wanted to tell the owl to shut up, but didn’t dare.
“I want you to take care of me, Smoosher,” Richie said, tears welling up in his eyes.
“We’ll see,” I promised him.
He threw himself into my arms, almost knocking me off balance. He clung to my neck as desperately as a reality tv star clings to their fifteen minutes of fame.
Sighing, I wrapped my arms around him and stood up just as the ambulance pulled to stop a yard away from Welmont, who was holding up a hand to stop the vehicle.
A pair of EMT’s, an older male and a female who didn’t look old enough to drive, jumped out.
“Took you long enough,” Welmont complained.
“We’re volunteers, remember,” the woman threw back. “We don’t spend all our time sitting around on the side of our road plucking our nose hairs.”
Welmont self-consciously raised his hand to his face.
“Can you two cut it out so we can assess the victim?” the older EMT requested tiredly making his way over to Karen.
“She’s unconscious,” Welmont told him.
“Brilliant deduction, Sherlock,” the woman mocked.
I was really starting to like her.
“Did anyone witness her lose consciousness?” she asked.
We all shook our heads.
“Who found her first?”
“That sneaky Sol,” Welmont huffed. “But he’s disappeared instead of staying around to help.”
“He had the good sense to go down to the office to direct us which exact path to find you,” the older emergency worker said drily. “Something you should have done, Welmont.”
I felt a twinge of guilt for being suspicious of Sol’s departure. He’d actually been doing the logical, responsible thing.
“Find her wallet,” Conroy instructed. “You don’t want her waking up in the hospital without having her important information available.”
Like I had.
For a moment I flashed back to coming to in a hospital bed…the cold, the smell of antiseptic, the confusion, the fear. Goosebumps raised on my arms at the memory.
Carrying Richie inside the camper, I put him on the nearest seat. “Do you know where your mom’s wallet is?”
He shook his head.
I climbed into the front seat and checked the glove compartment since that was where I kept mine. I found it on top of a pile of fast food napkins and a tattered map.
“Found it,” I said aloud, more for Conroy’s benefit than Richie’s.
“Pack her a change of clothes,” the owl suggested. “Nothing worse than having nothing clean to wear home.”
Again I flashed back to the hospital. My husband Orville “Buddy” Bloodworth had brought me a bright red body-skimming mini-dress to wear home. I’d hated it, even though he’d claimed it was my favorite.
It felt strange rummaging through a stranger’s clothing, but I threw what hoped would be a comfortable outfit into an empty grocery bag.
By the time we reemerged from Karen’s RV, they were loading Karen into the back of the ambulance. Richie ran toward them and I chased after him.
“I didn’t kiss her,” he complained to the EMT’s.
“Well climb in and do that, son,” the man offered kindly.
I boosted Richie in and then turned to the woman, offering her the bag. “I packed a change of clothes for her and put her wallet in here.”
“Good thinking,” the female EMT said with a smile.
“We’ve got to go and have the doctors make your mommy better,” her partner told the little boy.
“Come here, Richie.” I held out my arms.
He pressed one more kiss to Karen’s cheek and leapt into my arms.
“We’ll call Tess with her condition,” the woman promised as she pulled the ambulance door closed.
I nodded. “We’ll go wait by the office.”
I needed to find Sol and determine whether Karen’s state had been caused by magic.