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Annette Blair, NY Times & USA Today Bestseller

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 Tulle Death do us Part

by Annette Blair

Excerpt

Vintage Magic Mystery Six

July 2nd, 2013

 

Chapter One

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.

According to 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.

Wearing Blahnik 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 prove it.

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 this morning.

“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 color.

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.

In a 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.

“Almost there,” 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.

“Stop!” an assortment of foremen echoed, one after the other.

“Something’s in 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?

Unexpectedly, our gazes locked—mine and Odd Duck’s, and looking stricken, he disappeared into the crowd.

I stopped 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.”

I nodded, 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 me.

Isaac tugged 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.

Rubberneckers 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.

Isaac conferred 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 find.

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 in public.

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.

The treasure 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 as well.

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 me.

Eve snapped 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 clothing.

“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.

“Mad?” she shouted. “Where did you go this time?”

“Eve,” my father groused. “She’s right here!”

Confession time: 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.

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