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   Chapter 1 1

Brownie Oxford and the Seabridge Surprise: Brownie Book 4 By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 19153

Updated: 2019-06-11 15:05


Chapter 1

I took one of the baking potatoes out of the five pound bag and put the bag back into the metal basket on the bottom shelf of my pantry. I then took my potato of choice to the sink and picked up the small scrub brush. The handle was shaped like a small potato, albeit with a smiley face and googly eyes. Under the cold running water I scrubbed the dirt off of the potato, thinking over my latest Saturday lesson with John.

In January, John and I met at the large scale flea market built over what was once the site of the Barren Wood's Methodist Church Cemetery. After the church moved to a new location, the cemetery was moved and the land sold. Whoever was in charge of the moving, decided only to bother with the above ground accoutrements, such as headstones and stone fence surround. In what was no doubt a cost saving measure, the bodies were left where they were.

Oops.

Luckily for the dead, John died while visiting the area and was buried with them before the move happened. In life, his skills were like mine. He was able to call the spirits of the dead and converse with them. Should the need arise, the bodies of the dead could also be called with a small drop of blood. Or at least I could call them with my blood. John no longer could.

Mostly because he no longer had any blood.

Personally, I didn't see a lot of point to calling the actual bodies rather than just talking to the spirits. The skill was useful to me when I needed to look like a dog accidentally unearthed a body so it could be found, but personally I preferred my dead to be in the ground where all of their various smells could be contained.

Stinky dead is not my perfume of choice.

John being buried with the other dead meant that their spirits could rise at will, although remaining in the confines of their former cemetery, and interact with each other. The flea market being built on top of their land let them observe everyday folks and listen into conversations, even if they couldn't interact with the living. Despite the residents having been buried between the 1870s and 1970s, they were fairly up to date with the modern world, even if their appearances reflected bygone eras.

It was quite the change from many of my past conversations with the older dead.

It was nice not to have anyone scandalized by my lack of corset.

Unfortunately, they couldn't direct the course of conversations, they could only overhear what the living happened to say in their hearing. While this kept them entertained and let them speculate, they were often curious as to the details they missed, which is where I came in.

I could only join them in their speculation of some of the overheard conversations, many of them taking place well before I was born and having nothing concrete that I could investigate. Other questions related to more recent matters. It was part of the reason that I was watching more of the local and national news on a regular basis as well as taking the local newspaper. The information gleaned, help me fill in the gaps and let me feel as though I was repaying the Barren Woods for not only John's lessons, but for the residents letting me expend my energy by talking to them.

With Swift and others watching me, I couldn't go to cemeteries the way I could before my serial killer neighbors started hiding the bodies of their victims with other dead. Unfortunately, if I didn't use my abilities, I became twitchy and my abilities started calling to the dead without me directing it. As I was currently avoiding cemeteries this shouldn't have been a problem. However, located in the back parking lot of my apartment building was a small stand of trees surrounding a family plot. While the building and parking lot covered where the house once stood, the family plot remained. It turns out I didn't actually have to go to that particular cemetery. My apartment was close enough to it that they came to me.

Handy, huh?

When I went long stretches without contacting the dead, I was treated to images taken from the memories of those in the cemetery.

'Or at least one specific memory, ' I reminded myself.

I looked at the potato and realized I scrubbed hard enough that I was starting to take off some of the skin. I set my little scrub brush to the side, turned off the faucet and dried both my hands and my now clean potato.

The memory I got of the family was of their last night among the living. In the spring of 1898, the family sat down to a meal at their dinner table. While they dined, a man I knew only as pork chop man came in and killed them all. The younger daughter, Emily, was the last to die and as the image always reset after her last breath, I guessed it was her memory I was seeing in my not-quite dreams.

I set the oven on to preheat and went searching for a fork. The last time I forgot to put holes in the potato I heard a muffled thump and, when I checked the oven, found I had potato shrapnel rather than anything edible.

At the moment I was waiting until the fall to investigate any more details relating to Emily and her story. Then I would be taking a history of fashion class and my time in the library, particularly the old microfilm archives, would be more easily explained. I picked up my fork and stabbed it into the potato. The feeling was oddly satisfying and I added several more sets of fork holes to the uncooked spud.

As I repeatedly perforated my potato I realized I was more venting my temper with John than adding steam vents.

"At least I know it won't explode on me, " I said as I set my fork aside.

After I avoided the Searchers, people who were hired by families whose bloodlines contained abilities like mine, John agreed to help train me until I could get back to the Matheson family and their training. Once a week, I visited the flea market, searching the offerings at the various stalls while I conversed with the various residents. After a time, John would join me. He would then have me practice raising and lowering my inner shields, protecting myself from the calls of the dead.

The practice was making it easier to build the shields. I was becoming quicker and I was forced to admit that the headaches I usually felt after lowering them again, were fading so that now I only felt a minor twinge for a few minutes when my practice was through, rather than like a mad axman tried to split my brain in two from the inside.

'But that's as far as the lessons have gone, ' I thought scowling at my perforated potato. The oven dinged letting me know the proper temperature was reached and I moved my potato to the oven's confines and set the timer so I wouldn't forget it was baking.

I asked questions both before and after my shielding practice. I asked about the Chaldean cuff that was linked to some sort of beast, the memory of which still gave me nightmares. I asked about the symbols carved on the body that was dumped in front of my apartment building. I asked about the Searchers. I asked about the families.

John's answers were not helpful.

In fact, John's answers weren't really answers.

He told me that the Chaldean cuff was something the Searchers used to flush out those with my abilities. He said the same thing about the symbols. As both were used by Searchers trying to find me, it wasn't exactly a revelation. Any other questions about the Searchers or the families that sent them were answered with the same calm statement.

"They tested you and you were not revealed to have any abilities, " John said. "They won't bother with you again as their methods are foolproof."

As I managed to 'fool' them, I wasn't convinced someone wouldn't think of a loop hole and return to make certain it was closed. I wanted details. Unfortunately, I was only allowed to visit the cemetery because John gave me permission, and I needed the residents to expel my excess energy, so pushing him was not an option. I couldn't just demand he tell me. I was going to have to come up with a good argument if I had any hope of convincing him, and even then I was sure I'd have to tread lightly. He was adamant that all I needed to learn was to learn how to shield myself so that no one could force me to speak to the dead if I didn't want to. He also thought I was being overly paranoid.

"Gee, I wonder why, " I said to myself as I left the kitchen and went into the living room.

I clamped my lips down over further words, reminding myself to keep my words inside my head. Thus far I only managed to find one electronic bug slipped into my coat, but as both Swift, in his guise as retired federal agent Mike Johnson and my other new neighbor, cover name Steve Wallace, were both in my apartment at various times, I was willing to believe there were others I didn't find.

Admittedly, I hadn't seen much of either of them recently. Steve claimed a job at a law office and Swift, that is Mike, was working for a consulting firm. Both jobs came with more regularly set hours. They left the apartment building a little before eight in the morning and got home a little after six in the evening. This semester I had one set of early classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. If I left my apartment on time, I ended up sharing an elevator with them. Beyond that, our schedules didn't have us crossing paths much.

'Although I doubt either is spending much time in an office during the day, ' I thought as I settled myself with my French homework on the couch. 'My elevator rides are just where I see them.'

Prior to

finding the bug in my coat, I was taking the French class because there was a language requirement for my studies. I doubted my travels would take me anywhere I would actually need to use it. As a result, I put enough into it to pass, but paid it as little attention as I could get away with, concentrating on my other studies.

Once I found the bug and realized that not only would someone be listening in on my pitiful attempts at communication, but they would be possibly be recording it for later study, the embarrassment forced me to study harder. As a result, my grades improved and my required conversations were less painful.

"I'm still not certain why all foreign visitors are expected to have conversations with locals about finding the library, " I muttered to myself as I opened my textbook and took out my notebook.

Thus far in my lessons I could not only find the library, but the bathroom, my hotel, a cat and an orange. I was adding vocabulary, but those were the things I was definitely certain I could find. I began copying out the vocabulary words for my next lesson, saying them aloud as I wrote them, finding the repetition helped cement them into my brain. Perhaps soon, I would be able to find more.

'And no doubt provide scintillating audio for whoever is listening in, ' I decided, the thought making my lessons much more pleasant. I wasn't certain if there was someone sitting in either Steve or Swift's apartments or in some non-descript van down the street, as was the case in most of the police dramas I saw on television, but the thought of them following along amused me. 'At least we are all learning something. When everything is said and done we can all go to Paris together and eat oranges.'

"Ils mangent l'orange, " I said. I looked back down at the book.

"Not unless we all eat one orange, " I said.

"Ils mangent des oranges, " I corrected. "There we go, oranges for everyone."

My learning was interrupted by a knock on the door. As I wasn't expecting anyone, I set my homework aside and stalked to the door, peering through the Judas hole.

"Ricky, " I said, relieved to see my friend standing in the hall and not one of my neighbors. Relief quickly reverted to surprise as I opened the door.

"Shouldn't you be getting ready for a show?" I asked as the door swung open. Ricky, known on the club scene as Lady Destiny, rolled his eyes and sighed heavily.

"Not tonight, " he said as I stepped aside and let him in.

He was wearing street clothes, but his face held the freshly scrubbed and slightly reddened look he usually only had right after he removed his stage makeup. In his hand he held a garment bag. As the garment bag made so many trips from my apartment to his that it ought to have been listed as a form of public transport, at least for garments, it was less surprising.

"Nathan hasn't done something foolish again has he?" I asked as he swept inside.

Several months prior, Nathan, the owner of the club where Ricky worked, let his much younger boyfriend convince him that Ricky was too old to draw a crowd. The result was a complete fiasco and Ricky was asked to come back, with the added bonus of a promotion.

Ricky laughed as I closed the door. "Fear not, Bon Bon, my job is secure. The plumbing and electric, not so much. Our nearest neighbor was doing some renovation work. Apparently we were connected by more than a street address and a party wall. End result, no water or power so, extra night off for me. Nathan is keeping me posted on events as they unfold. At the moment he is nearly apoplectic at having to close."

Ricky handed me the garment bag, sprawled across my couch and glanced at my text book. "Bonnie, " Ricky scolded. "Homework on a Saturday night?"

"First of all it is a late Saturday afternoon, technically, " I told him, still unused to hearing myself referred to as Bonnie. I walked over to the kitchen table and draped the bag over one of the chairs before returning to flop down beside him.

"Second, my plans were rained out." I gestured to the steady spring rain that was currently pouring down from the sky. It began shortly after I left the flea market and John's less than informative lessons. When I reached my building's parking lot I held the bag of my most recent purchases over my head as I sprinted for the door. While I hoped I looked as though I was worried about my hair and make-up, I was more worried about the rain turning my laboriously straightened hair back to my natural curls than I was about anything else. Turning myself into Bonnie Brown and not Brownie Oxford required the straightened hair and the concealing clothes and make-up.

"What were you planning?"

"The monthly movie in the park with friends from class, " I told him. "They started up again thinking that it was now warm enough for people to sit outside without freezing half to death before the closing credits. With the weather, we all decided next month might be a better option for that particular event."

"So nothing else scheduled?" Ricky asked.

"No, " I told him. "With the lack of a plan everyone scattered. I was invited to a party, but I decided to pass."

"You need to get out and meet people, " Ricky said shaking his head at me.

"I've met everyone planning to go to this particular party, " I told him. The party invitation was passed along by a friend from class who was invited through his roommate. I learned very early any party he attended was likely to end in me driving several very drunk and often only semi-conscious people home. With my need to be very careful about what I consumed as well as what I looked like, I tended to end up as the designated driver.

"Besides, I prefer my drinking limited to a glass or two of wine or a well-mixed cocktail, " I added.

"Amen to that, " Ricky said. "Although you should still work on meeting someone. Live a little."

"I did meet someone I thought might be interesting, " I said, thinking of Tom the archival assistant. Not only was he fairly attractive, but letting Ricky think I was interested in someone might forestall any matchmaking attempts on his part.

"Details, Bon Bon, details, " Ricky said fluttering his hands in the air excitedly.

"There aren't many details to tell, " I said with a laugh. "After I did that steam punk body armor for one of my clients, I thought I might want to look into more historic-esque pieces in case I got more requests from cosplayers. Actually, at the time, we just discussed you photographing things for my potential website."

"And you were thinking ahead, " Ricky said. "Oh, that reminds me." He dug into one of his pockets and came up with a flash drive. "All of the photos I've taken are on there."

"Thanks, I really appreciate it, " I replied, taking the drive and setting it on the coffee table. As any pictures I took tended to accidentally crop important portions of the item I was photographing out, I desperately needed someone else to photograph my creations if I wanted them to be useful. "I think you have gotten all of my extra pieces. I'm finishing school work now so I won't have another one ready for a bit."

"No problem, " Ricky said. "Now, back to your cutie."

I shook my head at Ricky. "He isn't mine. I figured a good place to look at old images would be in the archives, since they have all these old magazines and newspapers and things. I could look at them and maybe sketch out some ideas that might work, whether for the reenactors or the steam punk folks. He was working in the archives."

"And…, " Ricky prompted.

"And nothing, " I told him. "I thought he was cute, that's all."

Ricky sighed heavily. "Have I taught you nothing of stalking?

"No, " I reminded him. "You haven't. Isn't that supposed to be illegal?"

Ricky waved away my comment. "Not if your heart is pure, and they don't call the cops. Have you been back to see him?"

"I was waiting until I had time to work on my own stuff to go back and look at more images."

"And flirt, " Ricky added. He frowned at me.

"And possibly flirt, " I told him.

"Good." Ricky said. "You can go Monday and report back in."

"Ricky, " I started.

"No sense putting it off. Someone else could snatch him up and start dating him."

"He might be dating someone now, " I pointed out.

"True, but you won't know until you go. And if he is, then we can scratch him off your list and find you someone else."

"Fine, I'll go Monday after class, " I told him, knowing he would not relent. "I can at least get some sketches done whether he is dating anyone or not."

'I also have an excuse to look into Emily, ' I thought. 'Getting caught scoping out the archivist would be a bit more embarrassing than using my history of fashion class as cover, but it could work.'

"I can break in my new sketch book, " I added for Ricky's benefit.

When the Searchers dropped a body on my lawn, Ricky was with me. Nicole screamed from the yard due to the Searchers trying to abduct her, and everyone ran outside, Ricky still carrying my sketch book. He hurled it at the attackers, knocking one off balance and causing the other to slip in the wet grass. It helped prevent the assault, but was forgotten until Swift brought it back to me. The wet warped its cover and pages. I tried to continue using it, but finally had to admit defeat as the warped hard backed cover skewed my lines.

"A good use for it, " Ricky declared. "So should I leave you to your homework or do you want some company?"

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