We stood there, looking in all directions, but the cloud-muffled light of early evening revealed no sign of the small horse we had dubbed Mystery, nor the snow devils that had bolted from the garden shed with her.
“It’ll be dark soon.” I heaved a huge sigh. “There’s no sense in trying to track her now. The snow’s been trampled down here. In this light, I can’t even see if any of these tracks are fresh.”
My husband and I helped a group of my characters gather the equipment my magic users had been utilizing that afternoon in their examination of Mystery.
“I fear all our efforts were for naught.” Dragon shimmered as she shape-shifted into her customary guise of an elf maiden, then picked up some of her grimoires. “Not only did we fail to determine if Mystery is real or merely an illusion, we lost her to the snow devils.”
“I would hypothesize she is real, else why would the snow devils have taken her?” Cleric lifted an eyebrow at Dragon.
“You should have allowed me to stomp them.” My Foreman frowned as he and the lads picked up the folding tables.
“I agree.” Sorceress pursed her lips as she gathered her vials, potions, and herbs. “No telling what those demons will do to that little horse.”
I furrowed my brow. “I’m still not convinced the snow devils are evil, or that they meant any harm to Mystery.”
My Gypsy scoffed. “They took her, did they not?”
I shook my head. “No, they didn’t. She bolted out of the shed after them. She wanted to be with them.”
“You are right, Mistress.” Cleric’s eyes widened as she recalled the scene. “She did act as if she feared being separated from them.”
My characters gave that some thought as we walked back to the house.
As we put everything away in the conference room, I saw several of my characters yawning widely and rubbing their eyes.
“Everyone looks as tired as I feel. Let’s have a quick dinner, then hit the hay early tonight. We can look for Mystery in the morning.”
* * *
I did not sleep well, and I awoke with a horrible pounding in my head. I soon realized the pounding was not in my head, but on the bedroom door.
The pounding woke Miles, too. “What the devil’s going on?” My usually cheery husband sat up in bed and glared at the door.
“Mistress? Master Miles? Come quickly.”
I recognized the panic in Cleric’s voice, and jumped out of bed. “What is it?” But she was already gone.
Miles and I dressed in record time, and sprinted down the hallway toward the living room. Cleric waited for us at the top of the stairs leading to the front door. She pointed, and we stopped dead. There, in the foyer below, my Old Dwarf was brandishing his battleaxe at two uniformed figures.
“Ye be waitin’ right here until tha lass and ’er mate be comin’ down ta be receivin’ ye. Ye do na be disturbin’ their bedchamber!”
“For the last time, sir, we don’t want to hurt you, but you need to put down that axe!” The speaker had her hand on the holster of her service revolver, and a big frown on her face.
“Wait!” I scrambled down the steps as fast as I could, with Miles right on my heels. “Wait! He’s harmless! The axe isn’t even real! It’s part of his Cosplay costume!”
The woman’s hand didn’t move from her holster.
I turned and faced my Old Dwarf. “It’s okay! Just lower the axe and go upstairs.”
“Be ye sure, lass? I kin be stayin’ iffin ye be needin’ me.” He looked past me and glared at the two officers.
“I’m sure!” I gave the old reprobate a shove toward the stairs.
Miles and I turned to the two uniformed figures. Their eyes never left my Old Dwarf as he trudged up the steps. Once he was out of sight, both officers visibly relaxed.
“Sorry about that!” This is all I need. How do I explain him to these officers? I’m surprised they didn’t tackle him and arrest him!
“He needs locking up!” The burly man made the statement in a voice that brooked no disagreement, but neither officer made a move to apprehend my Old Dwarf.
I grunted, raised my eyebrows, and lifted my hands, palms up, in a gesture meant to convey my thoughts: What can I do?
The woman stepped forward, still frowning. “Are you two the owners of this property?”
Miles and I both nodded. “I’m Marge, and this is my husband, Miles.” I forced a big smile as I made the introductions.
The woman nodded curtly as she took a small notebook from her pocket and jotted down our names before introducing herself. “Deputy Melody Whitewash.” She nodded toward the other figure, a barrel-chested man in sunglasses. “My partner, Deputy Dustin Dawg.”
Before we could snicker at Deputy Dawg’s moniker, the man spoke up. His gravelly voice was both commanding and accusatory. “We’re in the neighborhood this morning investigating reports of a loose horse rampaging through the yards last night, terrorizing the residents of this community.”
Terrorizing? I scoffed.
Deputy Whitewash pounced. In a flash, she was standing almost nose-to-nose with me. “What do you know about this horse?”
“Er, nothing.” I stared at her and her partner, hoping they would interpret my wide-eyed look as innocence.
They glared at me for a moment, then turned to Miles. He swallowed hard. “We don’t know anything. We didn’t see or hear any horse.”
Deputy Dawg drew himself up, hooking his thumbs into his belt. “That’s not what your neighbors said.”
I tilted my head and furrowed my brow. “Our neighbors? None of our neighbors were with us last night, Deputy, so I don’t know how they could know what we did or did not see or hear.”
I wish he’d take his sunglasses off. It’s hard to tell what he’s thinking when I can’t even see his eyes.
Deputy Whitewash glanced at her notebook. “Your neighbors down the street, Mace and Gloria, informed us that last night’s incident was not the first time a horse was spotted running loose around here.”
I might have known those two were behind this interrogation. Mace did warn us that they’d be watching our property.
Deputy Dawg nodded. “They believe you have direct knowledge of said horse, and that you may be harboring this animal in your shed.”
Before I could open my mouth, Dragon ascended the steps from the area of the conference room and joined us in the foyer. She was, to my great relief, in her customary guise of an elf maiden.
“Hello! I did not realize we had visitors.”
I glared at her. You liar! You can hear a pin drop three houses away! You knew we had visitors. You’ve heard every word!
Dragon smiled sweetly. “I am Missy’s cousin. Missy and her husband are hosting a family get-together this week.”
“Missy?” Deputy Dawg glanced over his partner’s shoulder at the notebook in her hand. “I thought you gave your name as Marge.”
“Oh, Missy is just the family’s pet name for her.” Dragon grinned and squeezed my arm.
That’s right. Keep it up. I’ll take care of you later, just see if I don’t!
Deputy Dawg just glared at us. At least I think he did. Behind the sunglasses, it was hard to see his expression. He turned back to face Dragon. “Deputies Dawg and Whitewash, ma’am. We’re in the neighborhood this morning investigating reports of a loose horse rampaging through the yards last night, terrorizing the residents of this community.”
He sounds like a broken record! Did he memorize those lines? They’re the exact same words he used to explain the purpose of his visit to Miles and me.
“Were you here last night, ma’am?” Deputy Whitewash opened her notebook to a fresh page.
“Oh, yes, we all were. We were all tired, so we went to bed early. We are just now rising for breakfast. Would you care to join us?”
I could feel the color draining from my face. Oh, great, that’s all I need! Two law enforcement officers sharing breakfast with me and Miles and nine medieval characters that have fallen out of my fantasy novel manuscript! How, exactly, do I explain them to the deputies?
“No time, ma’am.” Thank you, Deputy Dawg! “We need to apprehend this wild animal before it does any damage or causes injury to one of the residents of this neighborhood.”
Wild animal? He can’t mean Mystery! I could barely keep from doubling over, laughing, as I pictured the calm little horse.
“Did you see or hear anything last night, ma’am?” Deputy Whitewash had her pencil poised over her little notebook.
“Why, no, nothing at all. As I said, we all went to bed early, and are just getting up now. I am a very heavy sleeper. The horse you speak of could have galloped right through my bedchamber, and I never would have woken.” Dragon simpered at the two deputies.
Deputy Dawg turned back to Miles and me. “Folks, we need to inspect your shed. Your neighbors allege that you’ve been hiding the horse in there for several days.”
“They also said you had transported hay to this location in the trunk of your car.” Deputy Whitewash checked her notes again.
Good grief! She makes it sound as if we were transporting a dead body! “Yes, we did have hay in the car.” I sighed. “As I explained to Gloria and Mace, we had purchased the hay for a friend, for her rabbits.”
“Yes, she said that was your contention.” Deputy Dawg didn’t sound as if he believed that any more than Mace and Gloria had.
“Can we see the shed, ma’am?” Deputy Dawg started to open the front door, apparently confident that we would never refuse his request.
“Can we see your search warrant?” I stopped the deputy in his tracks.
“Oh, pooh! These nice deputies do not need a warrant.” Dragon attached herself to Deputy Dawg’s arm and batted her eyelashes at the man. “We can go look at the shed right now.”
I am going to kill Dragon. I am! I am really going to kill her!
Left with no other choice, Miles and I grabbed our jackets and followed Dragon and the two deputies out the door.
Walking around the side of the house, I spotted my Foreman and the two lads in the doorway of the barn, across the yard from the shed. Mystery was with them. Great galloping gophers! Don’t let her get loose! Don’t let the deputies see her here!
Dragon led us to the shed. “Here we are, deputies.” She couldn’t have sounded sweeter if she tried.
Miles started to reach for the door, but Deputy Dawg pushed him aside. The two deputies stood on either side of the shed door, drew their weapons, and prepared to breach the shed.
“Wait a minute!” I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. “Are you looking for a horse, or a desperate gunman?”
“Procedure, ma’am.” Deputy Dawg glared at me. At least I think he did. He was still wearing those sunglasses.
Deputy Whitewash did glare at me. “There might be more of your relatives in there. We can’t take a chance on confronting any more armed and dangerous people.”
Armed and dangerous? I guess she didn’t believe me when I said my Old Dwarf’s axe wasn’t real. Good grief!
As soon as the deputies opened the shed door, I saw my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter. Oh, someone please shoot me. Shoot me now!
The two of them rushed past the deputies, who seemed oblivious to their presence. Thank goodness for Dragon’s spell of concealment! She must have extended it to include these two clowns! Maybe I won’t kill her after all.
My Arrogant One confronted me and immediately started protesting our presence. He drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, and grasped his robes in both hands. “Is not a person to be granted any privacy at all?” Can you say deja vu?
The elf was screeching in his typical glass-shattering tone. I winced, but the deputies seemed not to hear a thing.
My Bounty Hunter glared at the deputies, then turned to me. “Are you giving another tour?”
Miles tried to shush my characters, and shoo them off in the direction of the house. Deputy Dawg looked at him suspiciously. “Did you say something?”
“Nope. Just making some noise in case any critters got in here. I wouldn’t want to surprise a sleeping raccoon.” Oh, thank heaven Miles remembered what I said to Mace and Gloria when the same thing happened with them!
The two deputies slowly entered the cluttered shed, and warily looked around. They nosed into every corner and peered into every shadow. After a few minutes, they returned to the doorway.
“Well, did you find anything?”
Deputy Whitewash shook her head at me, but Deputy Dawg walked over to the ladder that led up to the loft. “What’s up there?”
“Piles of old junk.” I glared at him. “Don’t tell me you think the horse might have climbed up there?” Please don’t go up there and find the old horse equipment Gloria found. If you see all that stuff, you’ll never believe we don’t have a horse here!
“Of course not.” Deputy Dawg sounded indignant.
“Well, I guess your neighbors were wrong.” Deputy Whitewash sounded disappointed.
Dragon, Miles and I walked the deputies back to their car. Before he slid behind the steering wheel, Deputy Dawg issued a warning. “We may not have found the horse here today, but don’t think we won’t be keeping a close eye on this place in the future.”
Deputy Whitewash agreed. “If even half of what your neighbors told us about the goings-on here is true, you’ll probably be seeing a lot of us in the future!”
Oh, goody! I can hardly wait!
Dragon, Miles and I stood there, big smiles pasted on our faces, waving at the deputies until their vehicle was out of sight. Then we raced back to the barn.
“Mystery!” I petted the little horse, and reached into my jacket pocket for an apple. She took it gently from my hand and heaved a contented sigh.
“Mistress, Master Miles, you had better come into the barn.” My Gypsy led Mystery into the illusory building, and we followed, with Dragon bringing up the rear.
Inside the barn were a half dozen miniature snow devils, whirling around up in the rafters.
Oh, gee, things just keep getting better and better!
Be sure to come back next week, as we continue the adventure of Mystery and the Snow Devils. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.