(This snippet is from the rough draft of Light Magic. There may be — and probably are — misspellings, grammar issues and more that will be corrected in the editing phase. You can find Snippet 1 here, Snippet 2 here and Snippet 3 here. Of course, the usual disclaimers apply. Also, on the current events front, you can find my post about the shooting of Deputy U.S. Marshall Christopher Hill here.)
Mom and her letters. She had never really taken to using email, no matter how hard I tried to convince her it was easier and more convenient than relying on the U. S. Postal Service. Any time the topic came up, she’d smile and say I was right. Then she’d tell me a handwritten letter was more personal. I’d never really understood that before now. But, with her letter to me carefully tucked into a folder in the saddlebags on my Harley, I knew what she meant. That letter, no matter what it said, was the last of her I had. Or so I thought. Now there was another letter, one I had yet to see.
Standing there on the sidewalk in front of the café, I closed my eyes and inhaled. For a moment, I focused inward, finding my center. The morning had gone nothing like I’d expected and I felt off-balance. Nothing new, of course, at least not since learning of Mom’s death. But this was different. I felt as if I had stepped into an alternate universe, one where I didn’t know the players or the rules and I did not like that one bit.
Part of me wanted to go straight to Miss Serena’s to see what Mom’s letter said. Another part, the logical part – all right, the suspicious and paranoid part – told me I needed to do my homework first. Judge Caldwell had been right about one thing. I needed to see what, if any, legal documents concerning my mother might exist and Annie’s office was as good of a place to start as any. From there, I could head over the courthouse. Then, hopefully, I’d know what my next step should be.
Be honest, Meg, you aren’t ready to face the lady with more power than you and your mother combined.
That much was true. On one level, Miss Serena scared the crap out of me. I’d thought Mom to be powerful. She’d been the closest thing to a “witch” I’d ever known. She had been able to do things I only dreamed about. But her power paled compared to what I felt from Serena Duchamp. That was enough to warn me to be on my guard with her until I knew more about what was going on. Still, everyone in the café seemed to hold her not only in great respect but great affection as well. I needed to remember that and not jump to conclusions.
Right. Me not jumping to conclusions. I could almost hear Mom laughing at that.
I opened my eyes and blew out the breath I’d been holding. Nothing was going to get done if I just stood there.
I knelt next to the Harley. Anyone looking on would see nothing out of the ordinary. I was simply a biker removing her saddlebags from the back of her bike. Which, in a way, was the truth. But I was also checking the spells Mom had woven around the bike and saddlebags when I first bought them. They were as strong now as they had been that day a year ago and they confirmed what I hoped. No one had touched the saddlebag, much less tried to open it. Of course, if they’d been foolish enough to do so, they would have received a nasty shock and I’d have a trace of them to use to hunt them down.
With the saddlebags tossed over my right shoulder, I stood and started down the street in the direction of Annie’s office. The sidewalks were more crowded than they’d been when I first arrived at the café. Most of those I passed nodded or greeted me with a smile even as they wished me a good morning. Only once or twice did I catch anyone giving me a sideways glance, a hint of disapproval in their expressions as they took in my riding leathers. I made a point of smiling and wishing them a good day, something I knew wouldn’t go with the stereotype they’d already accepted because of the way I was dressed. Not that I cared. I had no intention of staying in town any longer than necessary to find out why my mother wanted me to come here.
The walk from the café to Annie’s office took less than five minutes and much of that was spent looking in the windows of the shops along the way. I’d never been one for small towns. Maxon’s Mill cured me of that before I was out of my teens. Wichita hadn’t been much better, but it was large enough that I didn’t have to worry about everyone in town knowing what I did before I actually did it. Mossy Creek felt different. There was a charm to it that called to me. Not that I had any intention of listening, much less responding, to it.
A bronze plaque next to the glass door confirmed I was at the right place. Metzger & Grissom, Attorneys-At-Law. I knew who the Grissom was, I thought, and wondered about the Metzger. I’d possibly get an answer before long. As it was, all I really hoped for was an appointment sometime that day to see Annie and find out what, if anything, she could tell me about my mother.
Stepping inside the office was like stepping back in time to another decade, one where professionals knew a waiting room was supposed to put clients at ease. No TV blaring the latest news. No oh-so-modern and equally uncomfortable chairs. Instead, comfortable chairs and even a small sofa lined the walls. On the coffee table in front of them rested the morning paper and a selection of magazines. Soft music played over well-hidden speakers. A single desk, wooden and vintage like the rest of the furniture, sat to the right of a door in the far wall.
The door behind me had no more closed when the door next to the desk opened. A woman I guessed to be around my age appeared. Her dark hair fell around her shoulders and her hazel eyes widened briefly in surprise. Then she smiled and closed the door behind her.
“Good morning.” She had a slight drawl, nothing new for this part of Texas. Or at least not for Mossy Creek. “May I help you?”
“Thank you. I was wondering if Mrs. Caldwell would have a few minutes sometime today to meet with me.” As I spoke, the woman slid onto the chair behind the desk and booted up the laptop resting on the desktop.
“She has a full schedule today. I’m sorry. I could get you in tomorrow at ten,” she said a few moments later.
I caught my lower lip between my teeth, a bad habit I’d never been able to break myself of, and thought. I really didn’t want to wait that long. But could I play the card that the judge and Annie herself suggested I come see her? I had a feeling the woman might not be convinced.
Before I could decide, the inner door opened once again. This time Annie herself stepped into the reception area. Seeing me, she smiled and hurried forward. As she did, I wondered yet again how she managed to walk in her heels, much less do so pregnant.
“Beth, this is Meg Sheridan,” she said as she grasped my hand before turning back to the woman behind the desk. “Meg, this is Beth Soukis, my assistant.”
“Pleased to meet you.”
“And you,” Beth responded before turning her attention to Annie. “I was just about to make her an appointment for tomorrow morning.”
“No need.” Annie waved away any objections Beth might have had. “I’ve been expecting her.”
Beth’s eyes narrowed, not that I blamed her. I knew first-hand how law offices ran and a drop-in like this could, and usually did, throw the entire day’s schedule off. “Annie, Mr. Contreras will be here in less than twenty minutes.”
“That’s plenty of time for what Meg and I need to discuss.” She motioned for me to come with her. Then, before we stepped into the inner part of the office, she paused next to Beth. “I promise not to mess the morning schedule up, but this is important. As soon as Missy arrives, join us in my office.”
With that, Annie led me through the door and into the private part of the office. Like the reception area, this part had been furnished for comfort although there were concessions that would make her life as an attorney much easier. Computers and displays all look new. A large flat screen TV, muted, played the news in the work area. The smell of coffee brewing filled the air. The same music playing in the reception area played back here as well.
We passed three desks on our way to Annie’s office. Two had the sort of clutter I’d come to associate with full-time employees. The third was so neat I assumed it was used for any part-time employees the firm might have. Two doors on the right were closed and I wondered if one of them belonged to the Grissom on the front sign.
“Here we are. Have a seat.” Annie motioned to one of the leather high-backed chairs in front of her desk.
“Thanks.” I waited for her to take her place behind her desk. “I could have waited to see you, Annie. I don’t want to mess up your schedule for the day.”
“Don’t worry about it, really. Beth will keep me on track. If she doesn’t, her mother will when she gets in.”
“Is she the Metzger on the sign outside?”
Annie laughed and shook her head. Then she sobered. “No, that was my grandfather. Miss Olivia, Beth’s mother, was his office admin and she’s been helping out here since I returned and hung up my shingle.”
“Returned from law school?” Even as I asked, I had a feeling the answer would be “no”.
Annie gave another shake of her head. “No, not law school. I left town after high school and didn’t come back until last year. Granddad died several years before that. But he’d left instructions not to sell the building, as well as a few other instructions, none of which I knew about until I returned. Before then, I’d been a prosecutor down in Austin.”
“What brought you back?”
And why was I asking?
“Early one morning, I got a call from my grandmother. Long story short, my mother had been arrested. She’d been found standing over the dead body of her lover, someone we all thought was her worst enemy, murder weapon in hand. Mama might be a trial at the best of times but she’s no murderer. For one thing, she’d never risk getting her clothes, or her hands, dirty. My boss didn’t take kindly to me coming home to deal with Mama and her problems.”
“He fired you?”
“He did. I figured I’d clear Mama and then I planned on getting as far from Mossy Creek as I could. But fate had other ideas.” She smiled again, this time patting her swollen belly. “Anyway, it’s just Beth and me now, with her mother keeping us in line.”
“You so can’t just leave it at that, Annie.” I chuckled. I couldn’t help it. “Your mother was found standing over the body of a man everyone thought was her worst enemy and who was, in fact, her lover. Worse, she had the murder weapon in hand. I’m assuming because you’re smiling that she didn’t do it. But there has to be more to the story than that.”
“Oh, there is,” Beth said as she entered the office. She carried a mug of coffee in one hand and a glass of orange juice in the other. After handing Annie the juice, she gave me the coffee. “It’s not as good as what you’ll get at the café but it is coffee.”
“As for her mother, what Annie apparently didn’t tell you is that Catherine Eugenia Metzger Grissom Dinsmore Carlisle, her mother, was caught in her nightie and was more worried about her ex-husband, the one who ran the local paper, publishing a picture of her in that state of undress than she was about the charges against her.”
I didn’t know whether to laugh or feel pity for Annie. Then, seeing the amusement in her eyes, I chuckled again. She might have her hands full with her mother, something I did not doubt for one minute, but Annie loved her and that reminded me why I’d come that morning. My mother.
Who knows, maybe when this was all over, Annie and I could sit down and commiserate together. I had a feeling we could be friends, not that I intended on hanging around Mossy Creek one day longer than absolutely necessary.
Light Magic, a novel set in the Eerie Side of the Tracks universe will be available for purchase Feb. 6th.