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   Chapter 4 Brownie Oxford and the Barren Woods Blunder

Brownie Oxford and the Barren Woods Blunder: Brownie Bk 3 By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 14046

Updated: 2018-03-13 10:30

Chapter 4

I looked around nervously, hoping no one noticed me talking to thin air.


Talking to people no one else sees definitely ranks higher on the craz-o-meter than singing to one's self in public. No one around me seemed to have noticed. My gaze darted towards the parking lot. Mr. Nondescript was still standing by the Honda, no doubt waiting for instructions.

I sent a prayer of thanks skyward for my time in Mayenfield, as working with Mayor Thaddeus and the other former residents helped hone my abilities. I stared at the dresser in front of me as though trying to figure out if I wanted it and took a deep breath. I turned my mind towards the spirt I could still feel next to me. He was waiting expectantly as most of the spirits I encountered did. It was as if the dead were drawn to me and truly wanted to know what they could do to help me out. Admittedly, sometimes their help was less than helpful. Many conversations with deceased gamblers taught me a number of ways to cheat at cards as well as the myriad of ways people who cheat at cards could die.

Thus far, those lessons had not proven terribly useful, but who knew when a mandatory high stakes game of Texas hold-um would come my way?

Dismissing thoughts of James the card sharp, I focused on Mr. Leisure Suit.

'Hello, ' I cast the greeting towards him as I exhaled. While the skill of speaking with my mind was one I practiced, I found it difficult to do so without moving my lips along with the words. I found that exhaling as I spoke seemed to help. Beside me the man brightened, both figuratively and literally. My power turned to him as I noticed him, making his outline a little sharper. The tightness inside me relaxed a little, the twitchiness dimming as the ability I kept bottled up for the past few months thrilled at being let loose again. On his face, Mr. Leisure Suit's smile widened to a grin.

"We haven't seen you around here before, sweet thing, I would've remembered, " he said. His eyes looked me up and down. I blushed slightly at his frank appraisal and shifted my sight to a rack of hanging garments. I used my turn to glance over my shoulder. Mr. Nondescript was getting into the gray sedan and preparing to leave the parking lot. I wondered if a replacement would be coming soon.

"Now, don't break my heart and tell me he's with you?" the spirit said seeing where my attention drifted.

'Not exactly, ' I said silently to him. 'He's following me, but now has to send for a replacement.'

"And you don't know who the replacement is?" he asked shrewdly.

'Not yet.'

"Could be problematic, " He stroked his chin in thought. "I think I might know how to help. You continue with your shopping, darling, and I'll come find you. Don't worry sweet thing, Lenny is on the case."

With those parting words, Leisure Suit Lenny strolled out of the stall and towards the parking lot. 'Well that was odd, ' I thought looking over the garments held on the rack. Usually, I went to a cemetery to speak to the dead, unless I was working with Swift, in which case Dr. Harding's morgue was the typical destination. Either way, spirits typically didn't wander far from their bodies. They usually only had the run of whatever cemetery they were buried in, even if I gave them some of my power. The power let them interact with each other, but not really go anywhere.

'That's not entirely true, ' I corrected myself. Mrs. Ellison found me in the small playground at the Riverdale Girl's Home. It was just down the hill from the cemetery, but it was outside its limits. I wasn't in control of my abilities then and once she made my acquaintance she invited me to visit her in the cemetery, where we met afterwards. I'm pretty sure it was my lack of control that brought her to me.

Well, lack of control and the bloody nose complements of the resident bully. My blood drew the dead whether I actively called them or not, at least according to the few lessons I managed to make it through in the Matheson book collection. Even though my untrained ability let them rise, the blood let Mrs. Ellison contact me.

Prior to that, I would occasionally go somewhere and see someone who didn't look quite right even if I didn't understand what I was seeing. The dead almost always appeared in black and white rather than the full color of reality. The only exceptions were the people who had my sort of skills in life. They glowed silver, which was also somewhat of a clue that they weren't average folks.

Admittedly, the ones I saw out and about were usually near their bodies. Their bodies just had yet to be discovered. I smiled and stepped away from the rack of clothing, continuing my search for items to add to my home or assorted collections.

One of my early foster homes, pre Mrs. Ellison, included a trip to the boardwalk. The couple I was living with, Mark and Elizabeth, were looking after three of us. It was one of the good homes and that was a nearly perfect day. The briny sea air blew lightly keeping the sun from being too hot as we raced from wack-a-mole booths to faux shooting galleries. The scent of funnel cakes and corn dogs mingled pleasantly with the scent of the sea. There was laughter and fun.

The only odd part was the man who seemed to follow us around, staring at me. If anyone else saw him, they weren't concerned. He didn't approach, but he watched. I tried not to think about him and enjoyed my day. The next day, I saw his face on a news cast. His body was found in one of the dumpsters that lined the backs of the buildings. I didn't find out any more details, as they were deemed too grisly for children of our age, but the face of the man in the photo was the face of the man who watched us as we played.

Soon after, Elizabeth got sick and all three of us were returned because Mark had to focus on taking care of her and they had no time for us. She promised that once she was better they would come back for us. I never saw them again. I didn't know if it was because Elizabeth never got better or because they changed their minds. I shook the thought away, returning to the present.

'Very strange, ' I thought, reminding myself of the now. If Lenny was here, then chances were good that he was buried nearby. Talking with Lenny, no matter how briefly helped and my twitchy feeling faded. If Lenny was dumped somewhere nearby, he was dumped several decades prior. At the moment it wouldn't look good for me to discover whatever was left of his remains. It wouldn't even look good if such remains were found while I was in the vicinity. Given the age of his clothing, if he hadn't been found by now, he was more than likely in a place that a casual visitor would not come across. Having someone casually stumble across him would not be an issue. If he was to be found, I would have to intervene.

'But if he is okay with remaining hidden for now, coming here each week would help me out. Then when I am no longer being wa

tched I can send someone information so they can find Lenny.'

It wasn't a bad plan. I was a little hazy on how I could send a message that wouldn't be dismissed as some sort of insane rambling. I also wasn't quite certain who I would send the message to in the first place. In the process of finding out where Lenny's body was concealed, something might occur to me though. I doubted Swift and his people would stop watching me any time soon, so I thought I probably had some time to figure that part out.

'So if Lenny is happy with the arrangement, I suppose I've found my new favorite weekly flea market.'

Visiting the flea market would be different from my visits to the cemetery, but much less noticeable. I shrugged, knowing I could adapt. 'And as a bonus, at least I know his killer is more than likely not one of my neighbors this time.'

Deciding nothing in the booth suited me, I stepped out. If anyone replaced Mr. Nondescript, I had no way of identifying him or her until I caught them following me at a later point in time. Of course as long as I remained shopping, there wouldn't be anything they could actually report as suspicious behavior. I allowed myself a small sigh. This constant worry over the perception of my behavior was getting exhausting.

Unfortunately, I didn't have much of a choice.

'They could just realize I didn't want to work for them anymore and just let me quit, ' I thought ready to be annoyed rather than freaked out. 'And if they did catch me I could just not do anything when they put a dead body in front of me. It's not like they can make me talk to the dead if I don't want to.'

Unless they decided to torture me.

Yeah, I was pretty sure I would fold completely under torture. But would Swift torture me? Or pass me to someone else who he knew would torture me? Passing me off for someone else to torture seemed like the more likely scenario, but would Swift do it? Sadly, despite spending part of nearly every day since the age of sixteen with Swift the only answer I could come up with was, maybe.

'And getting annoyed will just make me sloppy.' One of Swift's lessons floated through my head. 'Scared and angry both lead to mistakes.' I mentally repeated. At the moment, I couldn't afford to be either.

'Maybe they'll send the woman, ' I thought, trying to remain detached. 'It would make more sense.' Personally, I wondered why they didn't send the woman to follow me around in the first place since I knew they had a woman with them. Most women tended to freak out when they spotted strange men following them repeatedly. Were they waiting until I reported a stalker? Did they want me to freak out and call the police?

'Maybe they count on me not spotting them, ' I thought as I let my gaze slide over a long fainting couch. It was pretty, or it would be once reupholstered and I liked the way the long line of it sort of swooped around its curves.

'They can't want me to go to the police to file a report on them, can they?' I jumped as I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket. I pulled the phone out and checked the screen. Spotting Ricky's photo I smiled, willing to push thoughts of police reports far away for the time being.

"You're up early, " I said noting that it was barely ten o'clock in the morning. As his job at the club kept him up until the wee hours, finding him awake before noon was a bit shocking.

"And on a Saturday too, " he said sounding disgusted with himself. "What are you up to Bon Bon?"

"I'm trying to talk myself out of buying a fainting couch to practice my reupholstering skills on, " I told him.

"My darling Bon Bon, everyone should have a fainting couch, " he told me. "It makes you look elegant instead of like some poor schlub who just passed out."

"I try not to do a lot of fainting in my daily life, " I told him with a laugh. "Besides the odds of me moving a couch on my own are slim to none."

"Well, I could perhaps be persuaded to assist in a fainting couch rescue mission, " he said airily.

"Could you, " I replied knowing he wanted something. "In exchange for…"

He sighed dramatically. "You are far too suspicious, especially for this god-forsaken hour of the morning."

"I am exactly the right amount of suspicious, " I replied. "For any time of the day."

Ricky sighed. "Just feel lucky enough that it is too early for me to be coy."

"I'm sure if you were on your game, I would be devastated by your subtlety, " I assured him. I smiled and shook my head. While Ricky was many things; fun, gregarious and willing to take down a serial killer with a sewing basket to help a friend out, subtle was not among his talents.

"You have no idea, " he told me. "However, I had to get to you before Miranda."

I mentally reviewed my files. Half of the time I felt as though I was playing the old kids game 'Memory' as I tried to pair stage personas with actual clients. While many of my garments were used on stage, when people came to see me for fittings and ordering they wore everyday clothes and often went by the names on their birth certificates rather than their stage names. After a few seconds, I came up with a match, putting Miranda with Bernard and coming up with a set.

"Is Miranda looking for me?" I asked, now certain I knew who he was talking about.

"Well, you know the Gala?" he asked.

"I know it, " I said nodding. It was considered the event of the season in these parts and although I had never been, many of my creations had. I knew it involved some sort of awards ceremony, dancing and many, many ball gowns. Last year, the Gala helped pay for a chunk of my tuition payments. The entire thing seemed to be some sort of mash-up between a cotillion and the Oscars.

"Well, we were discussing it and I mentioned my ideas and how I was going to bring them to you early so there was plenty of time, " Ricky began.

"More time is always appreciated, " I told him. As he talked my eyes scanned the crowd looking for anything out of place.

"See, I think of you, " he told me. "Anyway, I think Miranda is going to try and steal my ideas." As Ricky launched into his reasoning for suspecting his frienemy's potential theft of theoretical dress designs, I noticed something odd in the crowd.

I blinked hard and tried not to look as stunned as I felt. While I was searching for both Leisure Suit Lenny and potential agents in disguise, I was not prepared for what I was seeing. At least half of the people walking around the flea market were in black and white rather than color.

'There can't be that many undiscovered bodies lying around here, ' I thought. My heart sped up, racing in my chest. Finding serial killers living in my apartment building was one thing, and, in theory, could be construed as accidental by Swift and the powers that he served. I knew if Swift found a mass grave near a place I frequented, his suspicions that I was me would be confirmed and my stint as Bonnie Brown would be over.

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