While I kept peeking out the blinds of the camper at the blue shimmer, Richie watched a television show that seemed to revolve around shouting an inane phrase at regular intervals. Both got on my nerves.
After half an hour, Welmont pulled his squad car to a stop in front of Princess. I considered hiding Glory who was still on the stove but thought that might attract the attention of the kid.
“I think your mom’s here, Richie.”
He jumped up and ran for the door. I followed closely behind, determined not to let the cop get a look inside. I didn’t need him taking possession of the hapless hod on top of everything else.
Richie ran over to the car before Welmont could get out.
I locked the door of the camper and strolled over as the cop emerged to open the rear door so that Richie could climb in with his mother.
Bending over to get a better look, I smiled at Karen. She looked a little wan, but that might have been a result of being stuck alone with Welmont. “How are you feeling?”
“Better. Thanks for keeping an eye on Richie.” She offered a grateful smile.
“My pleasure. Tess and Ernie are getting your place ready for you.”
She chuckled. “You’d think I’d been gone for months instead of just a few hours.”
“Nightway’s still looking for his heirloom,” Welmont interjected into the conversation.
“Is he?” I asked standing up and meeting his gaze.
He frowned at me. It didn’t make him look imposing, more like he was constipated. “Don’t suppose you’d let me take a look through your place while I’m here?”
“You do know that makes you seem you guilty, don’t you? Do you really think that adding stolen property to the list of charges you’re already facing makes sense?”
I kept my breathing even, staying calm, knowing he was bluffing. “What charges?”
He jerked his thumb at Karen. “The attack on her. Keith’s death. That murder in NJ.”
“Or,” I suggested. “You could find out who’s really responsible for those things, officer.”
“Corporal,” he ground out.
I lifted one shoulder, letting him know I didn’t care. “I told Richie that I’d get him pizza tomorrow, if you’re not able to,” I told Karen. “Just let me know.”
“Thanks,” she murmured, ruffling her son’s hair. “Big day tomorrow.”
“So I heard. I’ll see you tomorrow, Richie.” I winked at him, gave one last withering look to Welmont and headed back to Princess.
Welmont gunned the engine of his car, spraying gravel, as they sped away.
“You shouldn’t have antagonized him,” Conroy lectured as I unlocked the door and climbed in the camper.
“He should do his job instead of hassling me.” I rummaged through a cabinet searching for the jar of peanut butter I knew was in there. “I’m starving.”
“What did you and Sol talk about?” the owl wanted to know.
“What a fidian is.” I wrestled the lid off the jar and shoveled out a large spoonful of nutty goodness.
“Where’d you hear that word?” Conroy asked.
Luckily, I’d licked the peanut butter, so I had an excuse not to answer immediately. If he didn’t know how I knew the word, it meant that he hadn’t heard Valentina’s accusation. He’d never heard her before, but I had assumed that was because she usually spoke only in my head, but Sol and Erich had both heard her call the magician a non-believer.
“He’s not,” the owl continued, unaware I was avoiding answering. “He’s shuval. Maybe caponem…or partially caponem, but he’s made every effort to fulfill his duty to protect you.”
I gulped my PB and it hit my stomach like a brick. “He doesn’t have a duty to protect me.”
“He is sworn to protect the primacy,” Conroy corrected. “You, as royalty, are the primacy.”
I put the spoon down, no longer hungry. “I’m not royalty.”
“Sure you are,” Glory piped up from the stove. “I mean look at you.”
I assumed she meant my shimmer, something I couldn’t see.
I closed the jar and put it back in the cabinet. “I don’t want his protection.”
“But you need it,” Conroy countered. “Especially with the Cullers—”
Three sharp raps on the camper door interrupted our conversation.
“I’ve got him,” Sol called. “I’ve got Garrett with me.”
“Just a sec,” I yelled. “I need to hide you again,” I told the pot.
“Okay,” she agreed. “At least it’s a comfortable spot.”
Picking her up, I hid her behind the bed pillow while asking Conroy, “Now what?”
“Now we see what Mildred’s plan is.”
Sol and the cat were deep in conversation as I emerged from the camper. Garrett was nearby, scurrying back and forth, the squirrel equivalent of nervous pacing.
“I’ve got to go get some supplies for the ritual,” Sol said.
“Do you need pumpkin spice coffee?” I asked. “I’ve got some of that.”
Sol tilted his head to the side like I’d spoken in an alien tongue. “Huh?”
“Pumpkin spice coffee,” I offered. I might not know much about magic, but I knew that was a secret ingredient.
“The witch who performed an exorcism for her friend Maggie Lee convinced them they needed the autumnal flavored caffeine,” Conroy explained.
“Gullible fools,” Mildred hissed.
“Well what kind of fool plans a magical ritual and doesn’t have the supplies?” I shot back at her.
A smile quirked Sol’s lips. “We’re going to need Tess there too.”
“The bonfire area. If you see her, get her there.”
“She’s up at Karen’s,” I told him. Glancing nervously at the blue shimmer in the distance, thinking it seemed to be glowing brighter, I added, “I’m sure she’ll be back soon.”
Sol nodded and tossed Erich on the ground. “It won’t be safe to go anywhere other than the office or the bonfire site.”
I nodded my understanding. Stay on cursed ground, the Cullers couldn’t attack there.
“Promise,” he ordered.
“I promise, but what about you?” I asked worriedly. “Will it be…”
Without answering, he put a foot into his hat and they both disappeared from sight.
“…safe for you?” I finished asking, concerned for the magician’s well-being.
“The shuhval is clever and resourceful,” Conroy assured me.
“Not clever enough to not be caponem,” Mildred meowed.
I considered going inside and grabbing my trusty spray bottle to use on her, but the squirrel ran up to me and perched on my foot.
“Do you really think this will work?” Garrett asked.
“I hope so,” I answered honestly. If it didn’t, I’d be haunted by my witchy mother-in-law forever.
“Of course it will work,” Mildred arrogantly informed us.
“This from the one who’s stuck as a cat,” the squirrel mocked. “Forgive me if I’m skeptical of your abilities.”
The fur on the cat’s back stood on end, but she stalked off to sulk rather than responding.
“How do you recommend I convince Tess to accompany us to the bonfire site?” I asked Garrett.
“I’ll limp there,” he replied. “She’ll want to help and will follow.”
“Tricky,” I murmured.
“Yeah well,” the squirrel said gruffly, “sometimes you gotta hurt the ones you love to save them…or in my case, save myself.”
“Wisdom,” Valentina murmured.
I listened carefully, waiting to hear if the tortoise tattoo would offer anything else, but she was silent where she rested over my heart.
“I think we should we wait at the office,” Garrett suggested. “She’ll probably go there when she’s done helping Karen.”
“Good idea. Just let me grab something and then we can go.” I let myself into the camper and took what I needed.
I stepped outside carrying it, finding some solace in its heft as I eyed the distant blue shimmer.
I’d promised Sol I wouldn’t leave cursed ground, because he believed I’d be safe on it.
I still felt better carrying the spear for protection.