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Ophelia Jensen's good witch granny Abigail revels in her paranormal powers. But Ophelia never asked for her bothersome psychic abilities -- especially since they proved worthless when the thirty-something librarian's best friend Brian was murdered by a still-unknown assailant.
Now, five years later, another friend is gone, killed in almost identical fashion. Even dear old Abby isn't safe, distracted as she is by her fight to prevent a massive, mega-polluting pig-farming operation from invading their small Iowa town. And Ophelia can't count on her snarling, scoffing nemesis, police detective Henry Comacho, to get the job done, so she'll have to take matters into her own hands. Because a common thread to the crimes -- and a possible next victim -- is suddenly becoming troublingly apparent...and it's Ophelia Jensen herself!
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The voices drifted through the open window at the library.
"Everyone needs to disperse right now. I'm sorry, but you can't block traffic."
"What traffic, Brett? I don't see no cars comin'."
I recognized the deep baritone voice of Stumpy Murdock, proud owner of Stumpy's Bar and Billiards.
"C'mon, Stumpy, you know I can't let you have a sit-in smack in the middle of the four-way stop. Take the demonstration someplace else."
"We're exercisin' the right to peaceful assembly."
"Yeah." Several voices cried out -- one of them, the voice of my sweet grandmother.
Crap. Abby was with them. I needed to get out there before poor Brett was forced to arrest all those subversive characters.
When I rounded the corner of the library, I saw the sit-in. Several of the town's senior citizens had planted themselves in the center of the four-way. How Edna Walters ever managed to make it to a sitting position in the middle of the intersection, I'll never know. But there she was, dressed in her pink nylon jogging suit and orthopedic shoes, holding a sign that said DOWN WITH FACTORY FARMS. The sun glinted on her blue-tinted hair, while her walker stood like a silent companion by her side.
"Hey, Brett. How's it going?" I called out.
Brett turned. Two blotches, one on each cheekbone and as red as fresh strawberries, stood out on his young face. Poor guy. Brand-new police officer dressed in his blue uniform, with its sharp creases, and wearing his shiny new badge being hassled by people old enough to be his grandparents. I bet the Academy never taught him how to deal with little old ladies. Definitely in over his head.
"Ophelia, maybe you can talk some sense into these folks. If they don't move, I'm going to have to arrest them for being a public nuisance."
"Oh, you wouldn't want to do that, Brett," I said and tugged on my jacket.
"That's right, young man. If you do, I'll never bring cookies to the station again," Mrs. Walters said, shaking her finger at Brett.
"Mrs. Walters, please. Get up. I'll help you." Brett reached down and offered his hand, but Mrs. Walters swatted it away, her pink jacket crackling.
"No." Her double chin trembled with indignation. "I'm staying until Ned gets here to take our picture."
The blotches on Brett's face spread. If Ned didn't hurry, the only picture he'd get would be Brett tucking Mrs. Walters, walker and all, into the back of his patrol car. I walked over to where Abby sat next to Stumpy.
She had evidently worked in her greenhouse before organizing her seditious demonstration. She still wore her work clothes -- denim jeans, a flannel work shirt, and clogs.
I took a quick look at Stumpy. Was he her coconspirator in this? He looked back at me through his thick glasses. The lenses magnified his eyes and he reminded me of a befuddled owl sitting there. But Stumpy wasn't befuddled. He was a sharp businessman and didn't tolerate any Saturday-night drunks causing trouble. If they tried, they'd find themselves staring at the business end of Stumpy's Louisville Slugger while he escorted them out the door. Shaking my head to clear the image of Stumpy as an owl, I bent down toward Abby and lowered my voice.
"You have to do something. Brett is losing his patience."
Abby stared at me, her green eyes flashing. "Edna is right. We need Ned," she said, her voice still carrying the cadence of the mountains in Appalachia where she was raised. "He's the editor and the main reporter for The Courier. He might give us the publicity we need. Who knows, The Des Moines Register could even pick up the story Ned writes? It's too good a chance to miss."
"Do you want to go to jail for trespassing and unlawful assembly?" I asked...
Charmed to DeathBy: Shirley Damsgaard