I'm just trying to
change the world, one sequin at a time. ―Lady Gaga
Last night, I
bedazzled a hard hat. Crystals, and sequins, and bling—Oh my.
What else to wear
to a roof-raising with black tuxedo-cut Hilfiger overalls, a tux
shirt, and a pair of black velvet Belgian loafers? I mean, my
Vintage Magic dress shop is now a construction zone. I have to be
practical and fashion conscious.
Of course the
unseasonably mild February weather, even for so short a jaunt
outdoors, called for a mohair scarf from the English Lake district,
and kid gloves, both in maize and neutral.
family legend, I’ve been a fashionista since they cut the cord,
anointed me in sweet baby oil, and wrapped me in pink to match the
bow in my hair. Then I grew up and became . . . well . . . a
fashionista, the designing kind. Take that any way you like. I do.
I sell designer
vintage classics, preferably haute couture, and personally design
fashion forward one-of-a-kind originals. Designing also applies to
the way I deal with the charming legacy bequeathed to me by my late
mother, a discovery with—witch—I try daily to make a certain peace.
That gift is not limited to “listening” to whatever vintage fashions
“speak to me” and using those visions to help solve crimes, often as
antique as my sources.
My name is Madeira
Cutler, but I prefer Mad or Maddie. Only my dad, Harry Cutler,
Lit-quoting UConn Professor, uses my full name, whether I want him
to or not.
I expected Dad to
join me any minute on the Bank Street sidewalk, across from my
corner shop. Meanwhile on Main Street, crowded with tourists and
locals, I noticed an odd duck whose Armani suit might as well be
made of flashing neon. He so did not fit in.
Figuring he had a
right to be there, I leaned against Mystic Pizza’s dove grey
clapboards, sipping hot coffee, while my building took on the
brightening glow of dawn’s early light.
Eve Meyers, my
pixie-cut strawberry-blonde BFF, a Steampunk Goth computer genius
snapped pictures of the roof raising with a tech-forward camera that
could do everything but pipe a seam.
booties and a black corseted Jodhpur jumpsuit, of my design, Eve had
an eye for two things: photography and men in hard hats.
Unfortunately, the crew kept their eyes on her, too. She’d nearly
been banned from the site twice now. The workers had the injuries to
My former morgue
cum funeral-chapel carriage house, a study in lavender and sage
would look positively poetic, except for the swarm of construction
workers crawling over it like ants at a cupcake picnic.
Judging from the
salty funk in the air, low tide and dawn arrived at the same time
“Wish I could live
in one of your new apartments,” Eve said.
My third floor
would accommodate three. I raised a brow, and she shrugged.
Her parents came
from the old country. In their perfect world, Eve would leave after
a traditional wedding and move into her husband’s house. Not gonna
happen, given Eve’s allergic reaction to convention.
Not that she
couldn’t catch a man; she often stood corset-deep in them. She
simply liked the challenge of changing them as often as her hair
Me, I needed to
move on, and not just because Dad had moved in with Fiona, the
second love of his life and my second mom after my own mom passed
away when I was a kid. It was practically a proposal, and my dad was
selling our historic old tavern house to my brother Alex so he and
his wife Trish could raise their kids there. No more traveling. Alex
had transferred to a specialized FBI field installation in our area
and now came home every night.
I refused to move
in with either couple, though I’d been invited. Fiona, better known
as Aunt Fee is not my biological aunt. She was my mother’s college
BFF, her sister witch, and later, a ‘mom in a storm’ for four
motherless Cutler kids. Still is—twenty years after my mother’s
passing. She and my dad fought for most of those years—it was the
witch thing—but over time, the fighting took a three-sixty. Fiona,
well, she’s loved Dad since before he met my mother. Nuff said.
As a result, I was
building three third floor apartments above my shop. I’d live in one
and rent the other two for the income.
The gathered crowd
gasped bringing me back to my new digs while Eve’s camera snapped a
soothing soundtrack. The misplaced executive-type watching, like an
ad for five-grand suits, stood so intensely focused on my roof, I
had to wonder what he thought he’d see.
Could he be one of
Eve’s latest? He sure didn’t seem the type to dance at the end of
one of her man-strings, though she’d brought home worse and scarier.
traffic-stopping stunt, my roof rose above my building, held aloft
by long-armed orange whirligigs, while a prefab third floor outer
wall got slipped beneath it to meet my attic floor.
Eve whispered, as if she might jinx it by speaking too loud.
Dad and Aunt Fiona
joined me, with my little Chakra in her cat carrier for safety’s
sake. Fiona came up behind me and slipped a black velvet cape over
my shoulders. My father hooked it beneath the scarf at my chin.
Aunt Fee beamed.
“I told you, Harry, that she’d need it.”
“It was your
mother’s, Mad,” my father said, knuckling my cheek. “Fee’s been
keeping it for you. I agree. It’s time for you to have it.”
Whoa. I stroked
the full length cape, one surely worn for Wiccan rituals, and I
pulled it tight around me. “It’s like Mom’s hugging me, Daddy.”
He pulled me into
his arms, and I inhaled the comforting scent of cherry pipe tobacco.
“Stop!” Isaac, the
construction boss, shouted, getting our attention in a big way.
assortment of foremen echoed, one after the other.
the way,” Isaac shouted.
And didn’t the
exec across the street jump like the boogeyman just said “Boo!” then
he stopped breathing and moving . . . frozen, like somebody stabbed
him in the back with an ice pick?
gazes locked—mine and Odd Duck’s, and looking stricken, he
disappeared into the crowd.
breathing, myself, for two reasons. The man spooked me, royally, and
my roof raising had come to a dead halt. “Inches away and they can’t
make it work?” I snapped, stepping off the curb to cross the street.
Dad caught my arm.
“Wait,” he said. “’Fools rush in and all that. Hear what Isaac has
to say first. It’s dangerous over there.”
lip-biting silent, and stepped back onto the curb, while a hard-hat
cast of thousands jostled a fragile puzzle consisting of heavy
equipment and assorted building parts.
One mistake and
they could wipe out my savings account, like forever.
At the Main and
Bank Street corner of my attic, Isaac knelt, looked my way, and
raised a wait-a-minute finger.
While my heart
beat like an Olympic runner, I saluted my response. Never let them
see you sweat.
Eve kept snapping
pictures, the reliable cadence of clicks combined with the lullaby
of mom’s cape flapping around my legs, having a reassuring effect on
something from the corner rafters, his shout one of success, and
with both hands, he held up a package. The crew cheered, as did the
watching crowd. Even strangers took pictures, reminding me that once
again, I’d changed the face of Main Street. I’d already turned a
derelict eyesore into a vintage beauty that graced brochures. And
now I was giving it stature.
pumped their arms out car windows, horns blaring. In the distance,
boat whistles seemed to respond, adding to the overall whoosh of
Amtrak’s Acela rushing, as if on cue, non-stop through Mystic.
with his second in command and disappeared from the top of the mark.
When he stepped
out my front door, he grinned and cupped a hand around his mouth.
“Hey Mad, bit of buried treasure for ‘ya.” He could make himself
heard, that man, and people listened. That’s why I hired him. That
and he worked cheap in winter, because after he walled the third
floor, he’d only show up when he had no other work. For that, I got
a great price and a great contractor.
I was so focused
on the “treasure,” I didn’t realize I missed the rush of getting a
third floor, until half the town of Mystic applauded. I looked at
Eve in shock, but she raised her camera with pride, and I knew the
moment wasn’t lost to me, after all.
I hitched up my
gloves and closed my cape against the wind. Traffic had picked up
speed, but the cars turning onto Bank stopped so we could cross to
my parking lot.
I thanked Isaac as
he shoved the package into my hands, while Chakra swiped her bare
claws out the window of her carrier, to claim, or annihilate, the
Fiona pulled my
butterscotch striped baby away, but I hadn’t named her Chakra for
nothing. That cat knew when I was scared, or should be, I suppose.
And now, because of her reaction, I had that solar plexus tremble
that only she could soothe, and evidently instigate.
I held what
appeared to be a wrapped box tight, rather than drop it, and risk
breaking whatever might be inside. The last unexpected find in this
building gave me nightmares still, and I didn’t have hope for better
with this. So I wouldn’t speculate on the contents nor reveal them
Eve took pictures
of the find at varied angles. She said she had enough memory to take
thousands. I presume she meant the camera did, though I’d learned
never to sell Eve short.
looked like a pale, square brick of moiré-a-pois silk appliquéd in a
faded peach and white single-vee chevron motif, applied with tiny,
perfect hand stitching, reminiscent of Haute Couture. Odd to find a
Parisian piece used as wrapping paper when newspaper would have done
I pulled back on
the suspicious fabric with my gloved hand—glad it was gloved—to
reveal a vintage brass box, high quality, topped by a raised and
engraved plate, and when I did, the wind whipped the fabric up to
swipe it across my face.
Scrap! It touched
pictures of the box from several angles, then the fabric alone, then
the bare box and the engraving. “Mystick by the Sea Country Club,
Established 1923,” she read, and whistled.
A rush of ice had
already run up my neck and by the time my knees weakened, I was
pretty sure that the fabric might once have been a piece of vintage
“Oh, oh,” Aunt
Fiona said. “Harry, grab her.”
“Not again!” Eve
fought me for the box, while I had no control over my hands, in
something of a death grip, as if rigor had set in.
“I bet that’s part
of a dress or something!” Eve said. “I hate when this happens!” Her
panic tickled me as I slipped from the reality of this plane to
another, though I always left my body behind.
shouted. “Where did you go this time?”
“Eve,” my father
groused. “She’s right here!”
My father doesn’t know about my psychometric gift or my mother’s.
Not his thing, Mom used to say.
Right now, all
that mattered was everyone swirling away from me. Or, rather, their
voices doing so, as I, in my own psychic way, swirled away from
them, and found myself . . . where?
A hovel, cold,
dark and dank, barely warmed by the labored breaths of the specters
gathered, their features shadowed like spirits in the belly of a
whale. I saw only the whites of their eyes, my gag reflex triggered
by the overpowering stench of fish, fear . . . and guilt.