Maggie Dove's Detective Agency, page 12
To her relief, he got off at exit 5. Maggie was on familiar territory here. She followed him past the bowling alley, which was surprisingly expensive. Maggie once had a birthday party there for Juliet and was stunned when the final bill came to $300. Some little friend had insisted on ordering French fries for everyone, which had added $100 to the total. It was a great party though. Now that she thought about it, she might still have trophies from that party. Then past the County Center and into White Plains proper and past the sign for the DMV, and then she followed Dr. Winfrey to a small parking lot tucked into one of the side streets.
He got out of his car. He was a tall man, with graying hair, and he bent forward slightly as though pushing a weight. Fortunately, he didn’t turn around. Maggie waited a beat for him to move on ahead. She wasn’t concerned. This was a place she knew.
There was a bookstore right near here where she used to buy Sunday School supplies. She hadn’t been there in a long time. Just ordered it all online now, but she’d spent many happy hours in that store, looking for presents for Sunday School teachers and treats for kids. So many stickers! She followed Dr. Winfrey through the passageway, walked out onto Mamaroneck Avenue, and he was gone. She saw lots of people, but no Dr. Winfrey. He had to be here! There had to be a reason he’d driven to this spot.
There was the Sam Ash store, where her daughter had bought a guitar a long time ago. A Mexican restaurant. A bar, another bar. Maggie kept walking. It was getting chilly. The sky was darkening. It was past 5:00 and the sun was starting to set. The end of Daylight Savings Time was only a few days away; one of the most depressing times of year, as far as Maggie was concerned. She felt tired. A day that began with interviewing Lucifer Raines and hunting for a tarantula and ended with following a stranger was a long day. But she kept walking, hoping to see him. Once she started a task, she liked to finish it. She walked past the bookstore and was surprised to see it had changed its name. Now it was called Celestial Delights. It was a pagan bookstore.
She paused for a moment to look in the window. There were all sorts of books laid out dealing with witchcraft. There were shimmering wind chimes and a little black cat that peered out at her. And as she looked more closely she noticed Dr. Winfrey, talking to the clerk. They both turned toward her, and then away. Maggie took a deep breath and went inside.
The store smelled of incense. The door slammed shut behind her, the bell jingling loudly. The clerk and Winfrey both nodded at her, and Maggie made her way to the back, which wasn’t far, as the store wasn’t that big. She figured Winfrey would walk back there and she could talk to him then. A perfect location for a brief interview.
There were more candles than she’d ever seen in her life. Narrow candles with strange words on them. She picked up one that showed an angry face. “Orisha,” it read. “Enforces divine justice.” The next one was yellow and red. “Burn for fertility,” it read. Maggie looked at the rows and rows of other candles, and then turned to the books, which felt like more of her natural habitat, though even these seemed unfamiliar: A Witches’ Bible, The Coven: Making Magick Together, The Meaning of Witchcraft.
She picked the last one up and opened it, pausing to look at the face of its writer, Gerald Gardner. It was a frightening face. Perhaps it was the black-and-white photo, but he looked carved out of stone. He had a beard that came to a tip and hooded eyes that gazed right into her own. His white hair shot up from his head, and perhaps it was a trick of the lighting, but it looked like he had fangs. She put the book back on the shelf and heard the door chime. Dr. Winfrey had left.
Maggie sensed it would do no good to chase after him. He’d already noticed her. Following him would create alarm and would be a waste of time. Perhaps she would do better with the clerk. She might know Domino. She might be able to give Maggie information about covens, but when Maggie made her way over to the counter, the girl looked frightened. She stared at the cross Maggie wore around her neck. In retrospect she should probably have tucked it under her blouse, though she hated to do that. One could only go undercover so much.
“My name is Maggie Dove,” she said, figuring this was no time for aliases. Beth Hawke would have to wait. “What’s your name,” she asked, as gently as she could.
“Lily,” the young woman muttered.
She had tattoos up and down her arms, on her hands and around her neck. She had long brown hair, and she wore a heavy chained necklace with a purple stone at the end. Behind her was a crocheted sign that read: An’ It Harm None, Do What Thou Wilt.
“I like your tattoos,” Maggie said. “What do they mean?”
The girl looked at her alarmed. Maggie noticed her necklace said Lily. She tried again. “I’ve always liked the idea of tattoos. It’s like putting stories on your body, isn’t it?”
The girl’s lips curled just a little bit. A sneer. But she was listening. That was something. There was no one else in the store. Maggie figured she’d just plant herself by the counter until she broke through.
“I’m here to learn,” Maggie said, which was true enough. “What does that sign mean?”
Maggie had pointed to the crocheted sign, but the girl didn’t turn her head. Maggie suspected she was afraid to turn her attention away from Maggie. It was a very strange feeling to inspire fear. She didn’t like it. She knew it was her faith that was causing this young woman consternation. “It doesn’t seem to be in English,” Maggie pressed.
“An’ it harm none, do what thou wilt,” Lily mumbled. She had long bangs that made it impossible to see her eyes. “It’s the Wiccan Rede, the main law of our faith. Do what you will, but do not do anything that will harm another.”
She remembered what she had read, that there were white witches and black witches. That there were people who wanted to impose their will on others, and people who felt that was wrong. It made sense, Maggie supposed. There was no community of people that existed without disagreement.
“So, then this is a store that follows white magic,” she tried.
The girl began gnawing at her lips, and just then the cat jumped onto the counter. Her face softened a bit. Maggie stroked the cat, relieved it didn’t scratch her.
“What’s his name?”
“Issbia,” she answered, elongating the word as she spoke, so that it came out more of a soft hiss.
“I have a cat too. His name is Kosi. Not as friendly as this one though.”
“Is he a familiar?” Lily asked, peeping up at Maggie, curious.
“What’s a familiar?”
Lily looked taken aback. She brushed her hair out of her eyes.
“You don’t know?”
Another customer walked in, nodded at Lily and went over to a corner table to look around. Lily seemed emboldened by his presence, spoke a little louder.
“It’s a spirit that takes the form of an animal. Issbia was given to me by my grandmother after she died. She gives me advice. She helps me when I’m in trouble. She’s always with me.”
“How could I tell if my cat is a familiar? As opposed to just a cat?”
“Does he assist you with your work? Does he speak to you in your dreams? Is he there when you need him?”
“No,” Maggie said. “Quite the reverse. He’s more of a hindrance, I’m afraid. I don’t think he likes me.”
“Someone may have sent him to spy on you, then. Do you have an enemy?”
Maggie puzzled about that. Did she have an enemy? She’d had an enemy last year, when a man had tried to kill her, but he was in jail. She would have considered Marcus Bender her enemy, but he was dead. She supposed Domino was her enemy. It was hard to say. She’d felt hatred coming off of Domino but wasn’t sure it was directed at her. Was it reasonable to suppose that Domino had inhabited the cat’s consciousness? The thing was that the cat was miserable long before Domino entered the scene.
“I can show you a candle that will get rid of an evil spell,” Lily said.
“That would be great,” Maggie said.
“We have several that might help you.”
More animated than she had seemed yet, Lily walked over to the shelves and picked out one. She walked like a dancer, Maggie thought.
“Do they actually work?” Maggie asked.
“Oh yes, people use them all the time. For luck, for fertility.”
It was so at variance with what Maggie believed. She prayed to a loving God. She asked for His help, or Her help, but not in the form of tricks and potions and magic. All of this made her uncomfortable, and yet Maggie couldn’t deny the power in it. She could feel it, and it frightened her. It brought her back to the cellar with Domino.
Meanwhile Lily scanned the assortment, lifting up one and looking at it, then putting it back, the cat following them over and watching them. Maggie didn’t know if it was a familiar, but it certainly seemed like a pleasant cat.
“I’m trying to find just the right one.”
“What’s that one?” Maggie asked, pointing to a green and black one toward the top of the shelf.
Lily looked at it. “Ogun,” she said. “God of war, iron and labor. He controls life and death.”
“That sounds serious.”
“Oh yes,” Lily said. “Some of these are quite serious.” She lifted another one. “This is for fertility,” she said, “and this is for prosperity.”
She began chewing her lip. Suddenly Maggie saw how young she was. She remembered when her daughter got a job at a bakery. She was only about 14, so excited to be hired, but she really wasn’t that good. She kept dropping eggs and spilling sugar. This was just a girl, Maggie realized. Important to keep in mind. Important not to let her fears get the best of her. Quietly she withdrew her phone from her pocket book. She’d take pictures and look at them more carefully at home.
“Oh,” Lily said. “A spell bag. That’s what we need.”
She moved Maggie over to a different section of the store. Here there was a small round table covered with stacks of plastic bags, each one full of different-colored dried flowers and leaves. “A spell bag,” Lily said. “I know you don’t know what to do, but it comes with instructions.”
She plucked one from the pile and held it out to Maggie.
“ ‘How to keep peace in the home.’ This one should work. It’s $15. Is that okay?”
“It’s fine,” Maggie said. She noticed the other customer had moved toward a curtained area in the back section of the store. Maggie caught him staring at Lily, nodding slightly, and then he slipped behind the curtain. Something more was going on. Something sinister, but did it relate to Domino? Did it relate to her? Maggie knew she had to press this girl, though the idea didn’t come easy. She didn’t like to force people to do what they didn’t want to. She favored more of a slow and steady approach, though that generally took about fifteen years. She’d have to be more assertive.
“What if I wanted to do a different type of spell?” Maggie asked. “For example, what if I wanted someone to do something, and she didn’t want to. Would there be a way to get her to change her mind?” She thought of Racine’s transformation. How friendly and happy she’d been for a brief period of time. Was it possible to scatter some leaves and make someone’s personality change?
“There’s one on How to Solve Difficult Problems,” Lily said, looking dubious. She began to scratch one of her tattoos.
“I’m thinking about one that costs more than $15,” Maggie said. “Maybe something involving more serious magic. Maybe one made to order.”
She nodded at a sign over the spells that read that exact thing: Special Spells Made to Order.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Lily said. She began biting her lip. In fact, she began to evince all the actions Detective Grudge had enumerated as signs that a person’s lying. She blinked, she rocked back and forth, she seemed to be sweating. “We don’t do anything like that. It would violate the Wiccan Rede.”
“No exceptions?” Maggie tried. “Not even for someone powerful in the community?”
Just then the man came out of the curtained area and stared at Maggie. His face was like the one she’d just seen on the book. It was a strong face, a scary face and Maggie thought she would not want to come across him in the dark. He said something to Lily in a guttural language and her face seemed to go slack. She began moving back to the cash register. Maggie heard the door jangle. He’d left.
Maggie figured there wasn’t much more she could do, but as she made her way forward, she noticed on one of the bookshelves the exact candle she’d seen at Domino’s. She recognized the lettering, though she didn’t understand the word. It looked like hieroglyphics. She saw crosses and flags.
Maggie scooped it up.
“I’ll take this one,” she said.
“No,” Lily spat out, grabbing the candle from her hand. Maggie almost fell over from the force of the girl’s strength. “That one’s not for sale. I don’t know how it got there.”
“But that’s not fair.” Maggie said. “It was out there on the shelves.”
“Please leave now,” Lily said. “It’s closing time.”
She turned off the lights, leaving Maggie in the shadows. This was ridiculous, Maggie thought. She couldn’t just stand there in the dark, but as she left she patted her phone. Good thing she’d thought to put it in her pocket instead of her bag. Good thing she’d managed to take a picture of that candle before Lily whisked it away.
So now Maggie had a secret picture of a witch’s candle. What to do? One thing Maggie knew was that she did not want to track down any more witches today. All this darkness was making her jittery. She wanted light and laughter and someone congenial. She decided to call Helen. Perhaps she could stop by and show Helen the picture. Helen spoke several languages. Perhaps she’d see patterns in these letters. If nothing else, she’d listen to Maggie’s story.
It was past dinner hour, and dark outside, but Maggie suspected Helen would not be bothered if she called. And in fact, the minute Helen answered the phone, she said, “Maggie, I’ve just been thinking about you. Why don’t you come over for dinner?”
“Now? Don’t you need time to prepare?” She couldn’t help herself. Sometimes she sounded like her mother. “I mean,” she added, “I always need to psyche myself up before a party.”
“It’s not a party, Maggie. It’s you. Just come on over.”
“Of course,” she said. Strange new world where people were impromptu. The times really were a-changin’.
“I’m making fajitas,” Helen said.
Even better, Maggie thought as she turned in the direction of Helen’s house. Helen was a surprisingly good cook. She didn’t have a huge repertoire, but the things she made were always tasty and unique. She’d toss in an unusual ingredient that you’d never think to use. Cinnamon in beef stew, or chili peppers in a meatloaf. One small change made a huge difference. Another life lesson, which reminded Maggie, as she drove over to Helen’s, that she needed to talk to her about what had happened at the apple orchard. She’d been trying to find the right moment, but there was always a commotion. Plus, it was not an easy conversation, asking a person who the father of her child was, especially when the person so clearly didn’t want to say.
Helen lived in a small gatehouse on a big estate. It was a sliver of a house, made of stone. In fact, Maggie thought, as she pulled into the driveway, the stone could have been cast off from the granite used on Stern Manor. Maybe the original owner had given it to some of her workers. That didn’t exactly fit with what Maggie knew of her character, but people were complicated. The cruelest were capable of great kindness, and the other way around. The odd thing was that although both homes were made of the same material, the vibe was completely different. Stern Manor was cold and imposing; Helen’s house, warm and inviting.
She kept electric candles in her windows and they glowed all the time. She had a wreath up on the door with sprigs of heather in it. She still had her Halloween pumpkins out. Somehow she’d managed to stop Edga
Maggie had to pause for a moment to admire the house and to say thanks that this was a place to which she was invited. I’m loved by her, she said to herself, and to Juliet, who she always imagined listening along. Whether the thought was true or not, it was a comfort. No sooner had she said her prayer than Edgar came blasting out of the house.
“Maggie Dove. Maggie Dove. I’m working on a LEGO spaceship. Will you help?”
“Of course she’ll help you,” Helen said, coming out to kiss her hello. “Maggie Dove is always there to help a desperate mother.”
She wore her trademark black sweater and jeans and she had a kerchief around her hair. But Edgar must have put his hand in the flour as Helen made dinner, because she had two white handprints on her shirt. “He’s up to step 133,” she explained. “But there are 600 more to go.”
“I would love to,” Maggie said, because she did truly love LEGOs. “But first I have to tell you about what I’ve done.”
She told Helen everything, about how she’d followed Grant Winfrey to the pagan bookstore and then talked to Lily and then took the picture of the candle. Maggie grew more and more impressed with herself as she kept talking, and Helen’s response was everything Maggie could have hoped it’d be.
“Oh, Maggie Dove,” she cried out when Maggie got to the part about taking the picture. “You are invincible.”
“I know,” Maggie said, sipping some of the wine Helen handed her. “I feel ridiculously proud of myself. Never could I imagine doing such a thing.”