This is the first chapter from Count Your Hexes.
Mimi woke up with the sense of someone holding her tight and watching her from close up. She opened bleary eyes, wheezing in attempt to breathe. The first thing she saw was the face of her pug, and his round brown eyes with golden speckles.
“Baxter,” she croaked, realizing where the heavy sensation of being squeezed came from. “You’re sitting on my chest. Get off.”
Baxter blinked and shuffled from paw to paw.
The pug’s little tail hit the bed cover.
“Oh, okay,” Mimi mumbled. “But let’s just double check. Do you want to go out?”
The pug’s face froze.
“That’s settles it then,” Mimi concluded, letting her head fall back on the pillow. She needed a few more minutes... just a few more and she’d be fine. But instead, more paw-shuffling pressed on her chest.
“All right, Baxter,” she said reluctantly, and sat up. Baxter slid to the side, but he didn’t take his eyes off her.
“You’re not dying of hunger,” she moaned. “I’m sure you can wait a little bit.”
More staring, definitely geared to make her feel guilty. And that little tight gnaw at the back of her stomach—that was it—the guilt.
“All right already,” she said and sighed. “Sorry, I’m getting up right now.” Mimi pushed the covers away. “I had a long day yesterday, you know. My head still hurts.” She picked her pug up from the bed and put him on the floor.
“Mrs. Parsons is a lovely woman, but boy, she can be exhausting!” Mimi continued, heaving herself off the bed and shuffling her feet to the kitchen. “You should have seen her at the police station. I honestly thought we’d have to call the ambulance she was so flustered.”
Baxter gave a low growl.
Mimi glanced at him. “What? Ah, yes, you did see her. Wasn’t she just a bundle of nerves? All that hand flapping and feet shuffling, and the endless cups of water she drank. I think it was that fur making her too hot. I bet she didn’t sleep well last night, not only because of all that nervous energy, but also because of all the trips to the bathroom she’d she probably had to make,” Mimi rambled, searching the dishwasher for a bowl. She found it and put it on the floor by Baxter’s water container.
“Imagine what would have happened if Chief Thompson had arrested her. She’d have died on the spot. Death by flustering,” Mimi said and paused. “Poor Judith. And poor Daniel. I still can’t believe it. I wonder if Chief Thompson found out what happened.” Her thoughts wandered back to the policeman’s broad shoulders and deep blue eyes. He was annoyingly slow to act, but he was certainly interested to look at.
Mimi reached into the cupboard and took out a pouch.
“I just hope what Chief Thompson told her has calmed her down. She’s clearly not a suspect in the case, and all she needs to do is to stay in town until the police close the case. It’s not that hard.”
She bent over Baxter’s bowl and pulled the pouch open.
“Oh, snickerdoodle!” she moaned, jerking backward a little too late. Some soup from the pouch splashed onto her pajama top and her bare feet. “I got the wrong thing! I so need coffee.”
Mimi rushed to get a towel, as Baxter watched her from a safe distance. Mimi tried not to look at him, but felt his careful, if not slightly disapproving, gaze on her back.
“Here you go, my furry friend,” she said, finally putting a clean bowl full of dog food on the floor. “Enjoy. I need to clean myself up, too,” she added, heading for the bathroom. She’d have to wash her hair—she could see pieces of carrot on her bangs.
By the time the wrong pouch disaster was over and Mimi felt ready to face the world, it was almost too late for a walk. Mimi grabbed Baxter and, zipping her coat up with her free hand, ran downstairs. Her shop was on the ground floor, but Baxter needed walking. Plus, there was no way she could face the day without a decent cup of coffee in her system.
But when she arrived at the Wickrock Bay Café, of course it was closed. The windows were dark and the door shade was drawn. A strip of yellow tape that said ‘Police Line’ fluttered in the wind.
“Bother, Baxter,” she sighed and shivered. Daniel George was gone for good, and his unexpected death was still mysterious. “I’ll miss him and his coffee, for sure,” she whispered, hugging her coat. Baxter gave a short, sharp bark. “Fancy a longer walk? Just three blocks to that coffee shop on the corner?” she asked.
Baxter’s face took on the same frozen expression Mimi noticed earlier this morning.
“You’re a strange dog. You don’t like doggy treats or walks in the park. Crazy. Come on,” she said, tugging on the leash.
But her dog stayed stubbornly planted by a hedge separating the tiny front lawn of the café from the sidewalk, looking at something in the distance.
“Baxter, can you hear me?”
A sharp raspy ‘caw’ cut through the silence behind her. Baxter barked in response. Mimi jumped.
“What’s that?” she said, turning around. A large black crow glided off the tree and landed on the sidewalk a few steps away from them.
Baxter pulled on the leash as if trying to run forward.
“Leave the bird alone,” Mimi said, holding onto the lead firmly. “Baxter?”
But the little dog didn’t even bother looking at her, obviously too busy having a staring match with the dang bird!
The crow approached them in a few jerky hops. It cawed again.
Baxter growled. His ears moved back, and the hackles rose on his back.
The crow made a strange, low noise and tapped its beak on the concrete tile.
Baxter tapped his tail several times.
Mimi shifted her gaze between the two animals, intrigued. Were they having a conversation?
The crow gave one more screeching caw and flew away. Baxter shivered.
“Are you all right, boy?” Mimi squatted beside her pug and patted his back. Surprisingly, he let her do it without any protest. He must have really been scared.
“Don’t worry, Baxter. That bizarre encounter is over. I didn’t realize you were scared of birds.”
“Whatever.” Mimi sighed and shrugged. “It’s time to go.” She pulled the leash again, and Baxter followed reluctantly. “We’d better hurry up. Our shop is due to open in five minutes. I suppose instant coffee will have to do for now.”
She crossed the few yards leading to the main entrance to Surprises. She put the key into the keyhole and jumped at an unexpected sound.
“Hey, you, with the green hair. It’s all your fault!” A yell pierced the cool, quiet air.
Mimi’s hands flew to her ears. She hunched down.
“The police are searching every nook and cranny, and raising all kinds of commotion, and it’s all because of you,” the voice continued. “It brings bad luck, and nothing but onlookers. It’s bad for business.”
Mimi gulped and straightened her back. She didn’t have to turn around to know the source of those words. Drew Honeycomb, the owner of the bookstore on the other side of Daniel’s café. He was well known for his love of peace and quiet. He must have been really upset by the events of yesterday, and even in the best of times he’d never taken to her. Mimi ignored her tingling cheeks and suppressed the angry reply that was ready to fly from her mouth.
“It’ll all be okay, Mr. Honeycomb, just keep yourself safe,” she called back without looking at him. She quickly sneaked into the warm, comfy confines of her shop. “And keep your antisocial comments to yourself,” she muttered. “If you were a little more sociable, people would buy from you more often. Wouldn’t they, Baxter?”
Baxter, already on his way toward the green velour chair, didn’t even stop.
“Well,” Mimi said and grunted. “I’d better mind my own business, too. Where did I leave it yesterday before Judith Parsons invaded?” She looked at the shelves, half empty after her recent stocking survey and rearrangement exercise. “Over there, I believe. Moving those Irish cups and saucers around. The middle looks a bit too empty now.” She paused, staring at the shelf with the china. The cups shook gently—and moved toward the middle of the shelf.
Mimi’s heart broke into a gallop. A bead of cold sweat formed at the nape of her neck.
“At least you saw it this time, didn’t you, Baxter?” she said to her pug, her voice trembling.
Baxter tilted his head. He was surprisingly awake and definitely interested in the situation. His eyes shone brightly, and the tip of his tail was twitching.
“I’m a freak, aren’t I?” Mimi said, her voice hoarse.
Baxter shifted his weight from one side to the other and jerked his head up and down a couple of times as if inviting her to look at the shelves.
“I wish I could understand what you’re saying,” Mimi sighed, as she glanced at the shelf again. Her heart hammered in her chest. “On the other hand, if I could move objects using only the power of my mind, then no more dusty hands! A little more to the left then,” she said.
With a gentle tinkling, the cups and the saucers shifted themselves and settled into the spots Mimi imagined for them.
Mimi’s mouth dropped open.
Baxter barked again.
Was he cheering her on? Mimi gave Baxter a scrutinizing look. He tilted his head and stuck out his little pink tongue. There was a sparkle of approval in his brown eyes.
Mimi took a deep breath. Did that really happen? Did she just make something move with her mind? She quite liked the idea of having a sort of special power. Excited and somewhat in disbelief, she trotted toward an old cupboard in a corner of her back room. The shelves were covered in a layer of dust so thick that spiders got stuck in there. In fact, there were so many bits and pieces of unknown origins, suspected dead insects, and who knows what else, she’d never mustered enough courage to clean the thing.
Wouldn’t it be nice to do it without having to touch anything?
Mimi dropped the duster on her desk and looked at it.
Could she make it work just by staring at it?
The duster wobbled, but stayed put.
Mimi crossed her arms on her chest. That was a start, at least.
“Go on, mooove!” she mumbled.
Something brushed against her ankles.
“What are you doing here?” Mimi bent to pat the dog’s back. He looped between her legs much like a cat?
“Are you hungry? Need to go outside?”
Baxter sat by her right foot and stared at the desk.
Mimi opened her mouth to fire off a snarky comment about his staring not being of much use, but then the front door opened with a thud.
“Hello, is anyone there?” a deep, male voice echoed.
Mimi tensed, and stepped back into the shop.
Chief Thompson stood in the open door, his right hand at his hat, the left one behind his back.
“Hi, Miss Knotley, I wonder if you could answer a few more questions for me,” he said and smiled.
Even his smile crept onto his face slowly, as if he had to think through every step.
But, he also had a dimple in his left cheek! How sweet.
“Miss Knotley?” This time, there was a note of urgency in his voice. “Are you able to talk now?”
“It’s Mimi,” she said. “And yes, I’d be happy to help. But if it has to do with Daniel’s death, as I told you, I’ve got nothing to do with it other than the fact that he happened to die outside my door.” She crossed her arms over her chest.
Chief Thompson ran his hand over his forehead, tilting his hat back a bit.
“I’m afraid that may not be the case,” he replied, the smile slowly disappearing from his face. “Unless you have a perfectly innocent explanation for how the murder weapon ended up in Mr. George’s hands.”
Mimi glared at him, hoping it conveyed an utter dismissal of his ridiculous supposition.
“A murder weapon?” she said. “You never even told me what it was,” she added, trying to keep calm and polite. Her mouth was itching to add something about having to drag every word from him, as if it was her job to guess what he wanted to know. But she kept that to herself—she didn’t want to end up in trouble for insulting a police officer.
“Ah yes, sorry, of course,” Chief Thompson muttered and as if in slow motion, moved his left arm forward revealing... an electric lightsaber. A toy she’d bought on one of her earlier trips, sometime last spring.
Mimi’s heart dropped into her winter boots. Her jaw followed.
“Do you recognize this instrument, Miss Knotley? Mimi?” Chief Thompson asked.
Mimi ran her tongue around her mouth, which was not completely dry.
“I do, Officer,” she croaked. “Yes.”
He nodded. “We need to talk then.”
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