Every year I wait to hear from our dear Dee that Phoebe has written another Mudflat book. This one is as good if not better than the last three. Dare I say I think we should contract screenplays beginning with book one... This set of stories doesn't just entertain, they involve you! Reviewed by Nancy Eriksen, ParanormalRomance.org
Complete review is at end of Chapter excerpt.
Complete review is at end of Chapter excerpt.
Spice and Sorcery
Tarvik has a new used car, Jeremy has a new used bike, and I have the same old headache. Somebody is trying to off me and gotta tell ya, that's a bore. Happened again tonight when I was walking home from evening tutoring at the Mudflat Neighborhood Center. I have a couple of teenage dropouts who are so poor in math I swear I am going to make them take off their shoes and count their toes so that we can at least get past ten and move on to twenty. In another three years, they will both be twenty, and I think anybody ought to be able to count as high as their age.
Using astrology to teach math isn't much going to help with these guys. Horoscope math requires equations. Okay, what can I do that will at least make it possible for them to count change?
Set the bar low, that's my motto. After our tutoring session, they followed me outside. We were a mutually scruffy group but at least my tee shirt and jeans were clean and had no rips in them.
“See ya next week,” they said. “Same time tomorrow,” I said. “Aw, Claire. We've got a game tomorrow.”
“You're playing on a team?”
“Sorta. Sometimes. Anyhow, we need to be there.”
The neighborhood kids play soccer at various parks around the city. These aren't organized matches. More, they are drop-in games where the guys team up with friends and end up someplace for illegal beer. Okay, beer is legal, but these kids aren't legal age. That's a cop problem, way out of my jurisdiction. All I try to do is teach enough math to someday get them through their GEDs because none of them are ever actually going back to school.
“Okay, see ya someday,” I said.
Pushing my purse strap up on my shoulder, I waved them goodbye and headed home. I live in walking distance, and it was almost ten o'clock, but ten at night in mid-June in Seattle is a shade before total darkness hits. I sniffed the clean air and tilted my head back to peer up past treetops at the dark gray sky, looking for planets. Wasn't thinking about stalkers. And why should I? Me and the Decko boys have this kind of truce on our feuds, and they're about the only people who actually come after me at night.
My other enemies are old and worn out. Avery Calus, bad-tempered laundry owner and council member, obviously gets home in time for supper and overeats, if his weight is any clue. Mr. Salt, the bank manager, isn't the violent type.
So I've picked up a new stalker who isn't a Decko, is a nighttime stalker, and oh yeah, definitely violent. At least, I consider people who try to run me down with a car to be violent.
When I heard the tires squeal, I had my usual slow reaction. I heard the sound and ignored it. A few blocks away, a siren wailed. Closer, a car horn honked and someone yelled. Another car went by with its radio booming. Doors slammed.
And then I woke up. Those squealing tires weren't in the next block or even down the street. They were nearby. That's when I saw the dark shape of a car come hurtling around the corner. No headlights. It skidded under the overhang of the berm trees. Should have been lights arcing through the tree trunks and making moving shadows. For a second I kind of froze.
It wasn't possible, I mean, why would the driver be aiming the car straight for me? Hey, I don't go out at night wearing diamond pinkie rings that scream “Rob me!” That's Darryl Decko, who occasionally tries to run me down, but he drives a BMW, and I know its purr like I know my cat's purr.
This was some generic car, lights off, with the windshield reflecting the street lights and that's what I saw. And no, it did not purr. Somebody gunned the motor. Metallic thunder. Maybe it wasn't really that loud, but it got my attention. Stupid Claire, I stood flatfooted in my sneakers on the edge of the curb, didn't step into the street because obviously this was not a safe time to cross. Have I mentioned that this had been a very long day and I hadn't had supper and I was dead tired? My exhausted brain assumed that staying on the curb was safe.
You'd think, as often as I've been the target of trouble, that I would be smarter. Guess I'm a slow learner, just like my students, except I am book smart and they are street smart. Maybe I need to get them to trade me lessons.
The car bumped up over the curb at about the same time my brain kicked in. I jumped back, meant to turn and leap to the side and duck behind a tree. That would have required having quick-brown-fox reactions. I heard the engine roar, and oh yeah, I heard the tires hit the curb and bounce, squeal followed by a thud. I even felt the heat of the engine under the hood like some kind of dragon breathing fire at me.
First I threw up my hands. Like, hey, I'm Wonder Woman, I can stop the thing with bare hands.
Then I got real, woke up to what was happening and tried to get away. Sidestepping so fast that my ankle turned under me, I leaned into a run. Way too late. Pain flared from the wrench. I almost screamed but fought to concentrate on getting out of the way.The flat side of a front fender caught me and brushed past me. I felt like somebody'd swung a baseball bat and hit me right on the hipbone.
Now I heard myself screaming as I flew across the narrow stretch of grass and skidded down the cement sidewalk. Hit the walk with my hands, arms, elbows, knees. I fought to keep my head from smashing down. With my hands out to break the fall, I managed a good job of scraping skin off my palms. The car backed away and for a second I expected the driver to hit the gas and aim at me again. There was that pause, enough time to shift from reverse to drive.
With no chance to get my feet under me to stand and run, I didn't stop to try to guess what he'd do. Didn't even have time to get on all fours and crawl. I just pushed off and went rolling on across the walk. A hedge on the far side stopped me, and oh yes, exactly what I needed, branches scratching any place that wasn't already bleeding. I curled up in a ball and automatically pulled my arms up to cover my head. I expected the car to follow, crush me under its wheels and then go crashing on through the hedge.
Instead, it bumped in reverse off the curb, did a sharp K-turn back onto the street and raced away. For a few seconds, I lay perfectly still. Holding my breath. Not believing what had happened. The numbness that comes with shock started to fade. Every inch of torn skin started to burn. Muscles ached. Did I have any broken bones? Should I try to stand or would I collapse? Gotta tell ya, it hurt to move, hurt to think, hurt to breathe. And then the usual female reaction flared, the don't lose your purse syndrome.
Scrambling on hands and knees, I grabbed it as it slid away from me, which was stupid. Nothing there but comb and bus money and notebook and other worthless stuff. My wallet was in the pocket of my jeans. With a whole lot of moaning and sniffling, I got to my feet. The car was long gone. Had that stupid car hit me on purpose? Why? I didn't even know a generic dark car. Why would it want to hit me? And would it try again?
Wake up! I swung around and stared in all directions, didn't see another sign of a car anywhere. More important, I didn't hear one either. I half expected to hear brakes screech as the car U-turned and came back to finish the job. What I did hear was myself whimpering because, damn, it hurt to take a step. My hip ached, and my hands and one elbow burned. When I turned my arm, I couldn't see anything in the dusk. When I touched my elbow, I could feel warm wet sticky. Yuck.
That's when I heard footsteps hurrying toward me. “Dear Miss Claire! Are you all right?”
I started to raise my arms to shield myself because I'd just been targeted by a car. What next?
Not half a block away, the Center loomed large against the sky. It is a big old ugly attempt to copy a medieval castle, three stories high, complete with crenellated edging around the flat roof.
Between me and the building, loping down the sidewalk toward me was a dark silhouette. Tall, clumsy, menacing, sort of, until I stopped hyperventilating and took a good look at him. Kind of ragged, both man and clothing, yeah, I recognized Brother Gaynor. He wore an ill-fitting suit that was worn to shine in spots. When he stopped in front of me on the walk, his eyes glittered in the fading light, bright flashes under heavy eyebrows. The rest of his face was pretty much covered with a mustache that flowed into a ragged beard. Beneath a hat brim, dark hair hung in wisps to his shoulders.
Brother Gaynor is a newcomer to the neighborhood, an ever-optimistic missionary type. Nobody's figured out what he believes in except that he believes he can convert us to his beliefs. The problem is that he's figured out that there is magic floating around in the neighborhood. Don't know how he knows. If anyone asked, that would be like telling him he's right. So instead, everyone ignores his comments about magic.
Mostly what he says is this. He believes magic dooms our souls, and so he wants to save us. Huh, that's like saying that having siblings dooms people's souls. May be true, but there's no acceptable solution, is there?
Brother Gaynor held out his hand to me. “Do you need assistance?”
“Uh, no. I sort of, uh, did you see what happened?”
“I saw you fall, Miss Claire. I'm sorry. I was too far from you to catch you. Did you trip on something?”
“You didn't see anyone else around?”
“No.” He leaned closer to peer at me. His voice rose to a nervous squeak. “Are you saying someone pushed you? No, there was no one else here!”
“Yeah, okay, right, I tripped,” I said. The only reason I asked was that I hoped he'd seen the car and could identify it. “Thanks, I'm fine now.”
He shook his head. “My dear lady, you will not be fine until we find a way to free your soul. Even now, the magic attracts it.”
“Brother Gaynor,” I said, doing the little lecture by rote, “you imagine magic. You need to forget it. You'll say that to the wrong person and they'll think you're crazy.”
“I saw you fall. You flew across the walk as though something picked you up and threw you. That's the work of the devil, Miss Claire. He sees the magic in you.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. And he wants my soul. Okay, you pray for me,” I told him.
“Of course I will.”
And I'll go home and hit the wine bottle, I thought but didn't say.
“I believe I should walk with you.”
His hand touched my elbow, and I let out a howl. For a minute there I thought he'd pass out. He stumbled away from me, and he looked terrified. And rightly so. He'd hit the scrape on my elbow. Any other time if Brother Gaynor touched me, I'd have pasted on my pleasant face. Figured he was muttering some prayer under his breath and hoping to transfer it to me. The old “laying on of hands” thing. This time he was lucky that I was able to hang onto my last shred of control because what I really wanted to do was deck him.
“Skinned my elbow,” I muttered.
“Oh my dear! I am so sorry. So sorry! Here, I will hold out my arm, and you can lean on me.” He wasn't going to change his mind. Heard that, yeah, and I could either stand around arguing, or I could let him walk me home.
By now clouds were moving in to block out what little light was left in the sky. Dark night. Damaged me. “I can walk okay,” I said. “If it makes you feel better, come along and see me home.”
So I am part coward. He walked me to my corner and then said he'd wait there until I got to my front door. I looked on this as my good deed, building ego in a nut case. When I said goodbye to him, I added, “Take care. There's crazy drivers out there.”
Hobbling on down the block toward home, I kept listening. If a car came screeching around a corner, I'd be up on the nearest porch before it reached me. But if I could avoid running, that was my choice, because my knee ached with every step.