“Are you going to be here on Wednesday?”
Emmeline turned away from the book invoice she was checking, and looked at Ophelia over the top of her reading glasses.
“Of course I am.” Something about the set of her cousin’s shoulders set off alarms for Emmeline. “Why?”
The dust motes made visible by the late afternoon sun burning through the tall windows gave Ophelia a surreal look. When you added in the spiked silver hair, the pale face and the slightly extravagant eye makeup you felt that you were looking at a pair of blue eyes staring out of a cloud.
“I need a few things for the website so I thought I might run up to Atlanta. No big deal.”
Emmeline turned to face her, big round eyes squinted in suspicion. “We just restocked two weeks ago. What could we possibly need?”
Ophelia mumbled an answer but Emmeline’s sharp ears caught the words.
“Why on earth do we need more graveyard dirt? Ophelia have you been advising people on revenge spells again? I’m not going to stand for that one red hot minute. There are consequences for doing crap like that and you know it!” Emmeline rose to her full height of almost five feet and assumed her queen mother stance. “What are you thinking? If word gets out that we have a spell-casting website we’ll be run out of town on a rail. Nobody could even imagine that we know about things like that. We are respectable, slightly eccentric bookstore owners. And that’s the way it needs to stay.”
“Sweetie, if you ever touched a computer you would know that we are making a small fortune off that graveyard dirt. If folks want to order it from the website they have to take responsibility for their actions, not me.”
“Pooh! We have to live here. It’s a small southern town. And, you know I wouldn’t touch a computer on a bet!” She drew a deep breath and opened her mouth to continue but Ophelia cut her off.
“Emmeline, I have a database on the computer that contains all the information on sales, orders, everything for my website, the store’s website and the store, yet you insist on keeping all those figures in all those spiral bound notebooks written by hand.” Her voice trailed off.
Emmeline decided she would catch more flies with sugar than vinegar. She took a more gentle approach to her cousin’s unreasonable attitude by using the childhood nickname that Ophelia’s mother had used.
“Fe, everybody knows that computers crash. I need to know that we won’t get caught out. What if the IRS decides to audit, what if somebody breaks in and steals the computer? Fe, are you listening to me?”
Ophelia had gotten up out of the chair and was slowly walking to the front of the store, wrinkling her forehead and staring out the front door.
“No. I’m not listening to you. I’m watching half the town heading for the other side of the Square.”
Emmeline started to step down from the platform that housed the cash register and other office equipment.
“Grab the keys and the cell phone. I’m going to see what’s going on,” Fe said, as she pushed through the front door.
Emmeline was puffing just a little as she caught up with Ophelia at the edge of a growing crowd. She grabbed her cousin’s arm.
“Fe, there’s Lucius.” She didn’t have to say it twice. Ophelia was already edging up to the most mysterious person in the town of Portal.
He was an odd little man. Nobody could remember a time when he wasn’t around somewhere. His clothes weren’t filthy but they weren’t exactly clean either. The trousers appeared to be denim, but there were so many clumsy repairs that it was hard to tell. He always wore a ragged, long-sleeved, plaid flannel shirt, no matter what the weather, and a faded and worn ball cap pulled down so low that one could only assume he had eyes because he never bumped into anything. If there was anything at all going on in town, Lucius would know. And he would tell, too, if he liked you and if you were good at translating muttering and riddles.
“Mornin’ Missus,” he growled at Ophelia. The little stooped man didn’t have the rapport with Emmeline that he had with Ophelia. He just touched the bill of his cap in the general direction of Fe’s cousin.
“What seems to be going on?” Ophelia asked. She watched him to see how the game was going to be played this morning.
He rubbed the gnarled hand over his mouth. “Looks like the sheriff has got hisself a problem.”
Fe and Emmeline waited, not saying a word.
“You know that patch of woods up north of town?” The cousins nodded. Patience was usually required when dealing with Lucius.
“That doctor from up around Atlanta bought it from old lady Turnipseed’s estate and decided to built him a big ol’ house. Away from the rat race he says.”
Fe and Emmeline looked at each other with raised eyebrows and at the same time gave almost imperceptible shakes of their heads. They hadn’t heard about a doctor or a house or even that the land had been sold. They turned their attention back to the old man.
“We hadn’t heard about that, Lucius. When did all this happen?”
He rubbed his hand over his chin and mouth again. “Let’s see . . . started talkin’ about it pretty near two months ago. Got it all done last Tuesday. I guess that doctor feller don’t let no grass grow under his feet.”
Fe groaned silently. It was like pulling teeth to get information out of the old man but it was usually worth the wait. Lucius wasn’t a gossip. He always got his facts straight. Ophelia stood there looking at the old man. The only sign of impatience was the slight pursing of her lips. Emmeline, not being favored by Lucius, stood still and quiet. Her impatience and irritation with his verbal games was shown by the clenching of her hands.
Ophelia leaned in closer. “Lucius, what happened?” she said quietly.
He turned and very briefly glanced in Ophelia’s direction, an unusual move on his part. Ophelia gasped. She had never seen Lucius look at any body when he was talking. He turned away from the cousins and said flatly, “They done found a dead woman up there in them woods.”