Set in small-town Oregon, the latest in the witty, charming Witch Way Librarian series from acclaimed author bestselling Amazon Angela M. Sanders features a spellbinding heroine, a clever cat familiar, colorful locals—and of course, murder. The perfect read for fans of Bailey Cates, Adele Abbott, Juliet Blackwell, and all cozy mystery lovers with a taste for the supernatural.
When human bones are discovered beneath an old outhouse covered in blackberry vines, no one knows who they once belonged to. But elderly Helen Garlington wants Sam the sheriff to test the remains, suspecting they may solve the mystery of her long-vanished husband. It’s not a match, and Helen takes it hard, drowning her disappointment in sherry at the tavern—where she sees a contestant on a game show who she swears is her missing spouse, Martin. To ease the woman’s mind, Josie contacts the show to track down the look-alike guest, who kindly agrees to travel to Wilfred—and is then found dead the next morning.
Horrified by this fatal turn of events, Josie asks the spellbound books for help, seeking the aid of Sherlock Holmes. But strange things continue to happen—frightening images flash on the screen of a long-abandoned movie theater and flocks of crows seem to appear wherever she goes. Is Josie about to meet her own Moriarty? It will take all her courage to untangle the twisted vines of this mystery before this chapter in the colorful story of Wilfred claims another life . . .
Praise for Witch and Famous
“Red herrings galore compete with witchy library lore in an often-humorous mystery.” —Kirkus Reviews
Release date: February 20, 2024
Publisher: Kensington Books
Print pages: 304
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Gone with the Witch
Angela M. Sanders
“Whoever he was,” added Desmond, also in black work clothes.
I tilted my umbrella against the drizzle shifting in the breeze. The spring afternoon thickened with foreboding, and I couldn’t help but feel we were being watched. A crow landed nearby and shook rain from its wings.
Duke’s shovel crunched clay-burdened soil, scooping and showering each load into the open pit. We weren’t in the cemetery, which we glimpsed in the churchyard through the wooden fence. Furthermore, the grave held no casket. In fact, it didn’t contain a body at all, just a pile of splintered planks topped with a toilet seat.
This was the funeral for an outhouse. When Duke and Desmond had cleared their new property a month earlier, they’d been surprised to discover a decrepit outhouse under a thicket of blackberry bushes. Their surprise deepened when they found long-decayed human remains inside. The bones were now the state’s responsibility and rested in an evidence locker at the county seat. However, they’d been found on Duke and Desmond’s property, and Duke and Desmond liked to do things right. They’d insisted on a proper burial, even without the body.
When I worked for the Library of Congress, before I’d come into my magic, interring an outhouse would have earned someone a bed in a mental institution. Here in Wilfred, Oregon, it felt somehow right. Respectful, even.
Besides Duke and Desmond, Lindy Everhardt and her grown son and daughter stood at the head of the grave. Mrs. Everhardt had sold the property to Duke and Desmond earlier in the year. She’d owned it for decades, presumably including when the “poor devil” had met his fate. As a librarian, the nearest thing Wilfred had to clergy, I was here to deliver the eulogy.
“Rest in peace, Reginald Doe,” Desmond said. He’d declared that the stranger deserved something more distinguished than “John.” Duke had agreed, pointing out that in this case “John” was a little too on the nose.
A layer of mud now covered the demolished outhouse. Duke’s tractor would finish the job later. We raised our heads in acknowledgement of a job well done, and Lindy Everhardt, leaning on her walker, tossed a branch of lilacs into the grave.
Duke rubbed his palms together to warm them. “So that’s that. What do you say we repair to the café for a slice of pie? My treat.”
The crow cawed from the churchyard fence. It stared right at me.
The warm bustle of Darla’s Café was a welcome change from Duke and Desmond’s damp, cold yard. Even after the lunch rush, half of its tables were full of Wilfredians dawdling over coffee and steaming the windows with speculation about the upcoming summer’s berry harvest and the vendors in Patty’s new antiques mall.
“I still can’t figure out who those bones belong to,” Lindy Everhardt said. She stood back, purse clutched against her belly, as Duke and Desmond moved two tables together to accommodate the crowd. “To think of them, rotting away on our land all those years.”
“We used to play right next to them,” Kaydee said, an eye on her phone. She’d carved out an hour for the burial from her schedule as a nurse at the hospital and mom of tweens, and I didn’t expect she’d stay long.
Duke took a seat and launched into the story he’d been telling around town all month. “I had a funny feeling about that hill the whole time. Didn’t I say so, Desmond?”
“I says to Desi, are you sure we should bulldoze that mound? Does the new garage really need to go there, all the way at the back of the property?”
“I told him, ‘Why not? Give us a little separation from work.’ ”
“So I took a run at it with the Caterpillar and hit a structure. I got out to see what it was.”
“An outhouse,” Desmond supplied, as if we didn’t know. “Complete with a half-moon cut out above the door. We’d thought that mound was just an extension of the root cellar behind it.”
“There, sticking up in the planks, was a leg bone.” He paused for effect. “And it wasn’t the only one. Two hours later, we had a complete skeleton. Who could it be?”
Wilfredians had thoroughly pondered this question since. When the bones were found, the state troopers’ office ran through a database of missing persons and came up dry. At Mrs. Garlington’s urging, they even tested the bones’ DNA. Her husband had disappeared nearly fifty years earlier. However, the comparison of the DNA to that of her son showed no relation.
“I see it like this.” Duke leaned back in his chair, raising its front legs precipitously. “Some fellow was wandering through town—”
“On foot?” Desmond asked. For such a taciturn man, he’d fit into Wilfred remarkably quickly. His friendship with Duke had really opened him up.
Lindy Everhardt nodded. Even now, at eighty-plus years, her profile was crisp and jaw strong. She must have been a looker in her day. “We never found a car. It’s not like we ever used the outhouse, either.”
“The stranger may have had a reason to travel below the radar.” Desmond looked at us with meaning. No one talked about it, but it was common knowledge Desmond had done a stretch in prison, making him a superior source of knowledge in certain areas.
“As I was saying,” Duke continued, “He was wandering through town and found he had to take a leak. Providence provided an outhouse.”
“Then what?” Lindy’s son asked. Travis was a big man with a trim reddish beard and hands that looked made for physical labor. He was a baker in Gaston, the town next door, and supplied the café with the bread that went into its sandwiches and French toast. “Someone popped up from the toilet seat and stabbed him?”
“We don’t know if he was stabbed,” Kaydee pointed out.
“No one knows how he died,” I said.
The bones were old—the medical examiner had told us that much—but since they didn’t match any missing persons report, the state police had shelved the remains and promised to investigate “later.” In the meantime, it would be up to Wilfred’s vigorous grapevine to reconstruct the story.
Kaydee slipped her phone into her bag. “Mom and I are going to have to miss the pie. Julia needs to be at cheerleading practice by three.” She helped Lindy rise. For health reasons, Lindy Everhardt had recently moved in with her daughter, thus freeing up her longtime home for Duke and Desmond. The sale had been friendly, and they’d even exchanged recipes and dahlia tubers.
As Darla arrived to take our orders, I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was Orson, the bartender on the café’s tavern side. “Josie, can I talk to you a moment?”
This was interesting. Up until now, the only personal conversations I’d had with Orson were about keeping beer out of the library’s kitchen, one of the town’s unofficial meeting places. He drew me to the open doorway connecting the diner to the tavern.
“What is it?” I asked.
He nodded toward the tavern. “It’s Helen.” Mrs. Garlington. “I don’t know what to do about her. She goes on and on about her husband, and she’s drinking me out of our sherry. I’ve never seen her so upset. Could you talk to her?”
As Wilfred’s librarian, my duties apparently included addressing the full gamut of problems, not just writing eulogies for bulldozed outhouses. I glanced back at the table I’d just left, now deep in speculation about the bones as Darla distributed plates of pie. They’d never miss me. “Take me to her.”
Helen Garlington sat at the bar, murky brown dregs in the small glass in front of her. Her lavender-tinted hair was disheveled from its usually pristine bouffant, and her eyes red and watery. This was not the Mrs. Garlington I knew who sipped tea, played rousing Bach cantatas on the library’s organ, and wrote poetry to commemorate the town’s doings.
I took the stool next to hers. The bar was dark after the café’s cheerful light, and instead of coffee and BLTs, it smelled vaguely of stale beer and pine cleanser. “Mrs. Garlington?” Above her, the TV droned a basketball game.
She shifted her glazed focus to me but didn’t reply.
I laid a hand on the sleeve of her cardigan. “Mrs. Garlington, are you all right?”
She lifted her empty glass and unsteadily returned it to the bar. “Martin.”
Of course. Helen Garlington was grieving—perhaps the only genuinely sad Wilfredian that afternoon. However, she wasn’t mourning the dead stranger, she mourned her long-vanished spouse.
“I’m so sorry,” I said. “You must feel awful. To have thought maybe it was your husband they’d found, then to be disappointed.” I’d only been dating Sam a few months, but the idea of losing him was a pitchfork to my heart. How must she feel? Martin Garlington’s disappearance had been hard enough, but she’d lionized him in the decades since. I searched my mind for something to comfort her. “Could I bring you a pad and pen? Maybe you’d like to write a sonnet about it?”
Pity in her eyes, she smiled at my efforts. “No, honey. I’m all right. This is something I have to endure alone. You go back and join the others.” Her gaze slipped from me to the television above my head as she pushed her glass across the bar. “Orson, another sherry, if you please.”
“We’re all out, Helen. There’s a bottle in the kitchen, but Darla keeps it for the chicken liver special. Maybe you’d like to switch to something else? I could make you a pot of tea.”
“Is there anything I can do for you?” If I were at the library, the books would murmur suggestions for soothing reads. Here, the bartender’s reference guide under the counter whispered something about a pink lady cocktail. I ignored it. Without books to fuel my magic, all I could do was make a mental note to set aside some BBC historical dramas for her.
Mrs. Garlington sighed in reply, but that was all.
If she didn’t want to talk, I wouldn’t force her. I shrugged at Orson, who was pretending to wipe down the other end of the bar.
“Mrs. Garlington, I’m going back to the café. Please let me know if you change your mind.” Sympathy coursed through my body. Before I could tamp it down, it erupted into a flash of energy. This happened sometimes, and I was still learning to control it. Strong emotion could spark an electrical surge, usually flickering lights. This time, the television above me abruptly changed channels. I froze, but no one seemed to notice the electrical freak-out.
Half-listening, Mrs. Garlington nodded and lifted the empty sherry glass to her lips. I rose and she grabbed my sleeve. She gasped and pointed at the television. “Look!”
The channel had changed to a game show. The screen showed two men, both at lecterns reading Tick Tock Cash in moving lights. Each lectern was equipped with a gigantic lever mimicking that of a slot machine and labeled Wham Bam Pow in flashing letters. The man on the left, an older gent with glasses and wavy white hair, pulled his lever. Confetti rained from the ceiling.
“Yes?” I said. What could she want with this?
Mrs. Garlington’s features, slack only seconds ago, tightened to attention. “That’s him!” Eyes wide, she inhaled sharply. “That’s my Martin!”
It was the craziest thing,” I told Sam that night. “One minute she was crying into her sherry, and the next she was jumping around the tavern shouting, ‘Martin! He’s alive!’ ”
Sam leaned forward on the couch. “Was it him?”
Sam was still in his sheriff’s uniform, but he’d left his boots and belt in the kitchen and unfastened the top few buttons of his shirt. Before we dated, we spent a few evenings a week talking through his cases. Now it was nearly daily, and Sam often made dinner. Tonight, homemade minestrone soup warmed on the stove and Rigoletto played in the background, with Joan Sutherland as Gilda. I knew this because the liner notes whispered an ongoing commentary only my ears could hear. Sam’s son Nicky occupied himself with a toy fire truck. Nicky was slow to talk, except for his favorite word, “no.” At fourteen months old he was a champ at working his way around the house in a drunk man’s swagger, so Sam had placed baby gates at the room’s entrances. My black cat Rodney, his tail switching, watched from under the coffee table.
“His nameplate said ‘Bruno Gates.’ I pointed that out to Mrs. Garlington, but she wouldn’t hear me. She kept saying, ‘You think I don’t know my own husband?’ ” I remembered the undiluted happiness in her eyes, and my heart fell. “She’d had a few to drink. The body Duke and Desmond found—it really messed her up when she discovered it wasn’t Martin’s. Darla took her home. I bet she’ll feel awful in the morning.” I shook my head. “Down-market sherry’s got to deliver a wicked hangover.”
Sam listened with a blank face but intensity in his gaze. His lips turned down to a vague frown. My heart warmed. Sam frowned when he was happy, a habit that confused others but thrilled me. Of course, everything Sam did now—a mere four months into our relationship—thrilled me.
“It’s been a while since her husband left, hasn’t it?” I asked.
“At least forty years. Maybe fifty.” He rose and offered a hand to pull me up next to him.
I took the opportunity to lean into him and breathe his skin’s salty scent before following him to the kitchen. How did I get so lucky?
He stirred the soup and I placed bowls on one end of the long kitchen table. “You don’t remember Martin Garlington, then. Did the police investigate his disappearance?”
“I don’t know. It would have been up to Helen to file a missing person’s report.” He turned from the stove and frowned. Happy. “You want to know what happened to Martin, don’t you?”
“Aren’t you curious?” Wouldn’t anyone be? People don’t transform into vapor and blow away.
“It’s a very cold case, but if you’d like, after dinner we can look through my parents’ photo albums. Maybe we’ll find a few pictures of him.”
An hour later, we sat on the couch with an album and two shoeboxes of photos on the coffee table. Nicky sat surrounded by wooden blocks on the rug. He clumsily built stacks and demolished them with squeals of “No!”
I pulled the photo album nearer. “Why haven’t you shown me these sooner?”
Sam looked at me in astonishment. “You’re interested?”
“Of course I am.” At the library, I’d seen a few photographs of Wilfred in its heyday, when the timber mill was busy night and day and the main drag boasted a soda fountain, drugstore, and general grocery. Today, the former post office housed a grocery store, and besides Darla’s Café and her sister Patty’s This-N-That across the street, Wilfred was quiet. Some of the old mill workers still lived here, but boarded-up houses dotted its streets. However, the new retreat center was on track to change all that. Already the town was stirring to life again, with talk of bed-and-breakfasts and new shops.
“Wilfred had a movie theater.” I pointed to a photo of a neon sign reading Empress in green letters. “Isn’t that the storefront two down from Patty’s?” Without a marquee and movie posters, the building might have once been anything from a shoe repair to a butcher’s shop.
“Closed sometime in the 1970s. Mack Jubell—Orson’s dad—owned it. Old-timers still complain they have to drive all the way to Forest Grove for a movie.”
I turned the page. More than getting to know Wilfred’s history, I wanted to see Sam as a baby. Right away, I was rewarded with a photo of a toddler with his hand on a German shepherd’s back. It wasn’t the baby’s features that assured me this was Sam, but his riveting gaze.
“That’s you,” I said. Rodney hopped into my lap and popped his head over the pages.
“Me and Rover.” At my raised eyebrows, he added, “My parents weren’t very imaginative.”
“And a black cat.” Rodney’s double sat on the broad railing encircling Big House’s front porch, where the photo had been taken. Rodney’s origins were mysterious. According to locals, he’d appeared at the library a few days before I arrived. There was no way the cat in the photo could be him—or could it?
“Aunt Marilyn’s cat. She loved black cats.”
I flipped the page. My interest in Martin Garlington faded as I scanned photos. Sam moved to the cushion next to mine and sneezed at Rodney. He was allergic cats, but tolerated Rodney since he had essentially saved Sam’s life—with magical assistance from me, although Sam didn’t know it—after I’d first taken the job as Wilfred’s librarian.
Sam studied the pages, too. “We look like a normal family, don’t we?”
I glanced at him in surprise. “Sure. Mom, Dad, you, family dog. Why?”
He rested a finger on a photo of him and his father. Sam was just a kid—maybe in first grade—and his smile showed a gap in his front teeth. The family stood in front of the old Wilfred mill, steam billowing from its chimneys. Men worked in the background and one had stopped, staring. He didn’t look friendly.
Sam tapped the bystander. “We weren’t popular.”
“Your dad was the boss. It’s a longtime custom to rag on the boss. You couldn’t help it that the mill shut down.”
Sam’s expression told me he wasn’t convinced. I knew he’d always felt like an outsider. Although he’d never talked about it, I had a hunch that returning to Wilfred was an attempt to achieve the normal life that had always eluded him. The town had eventually welcomed him back, and Nicky had made it all the easier. Seeing Sam’s vulnerability despite his wicked intelligence melted what remained of my already-in-a-puddle heart.
He craved a regular life. I didn’t want to know how he’d react if he knew he was dating a witch.
I looped my arm in his and turned the page. “Who’s that?” Sam’s father posed with a couple that could have been on the cover of a magazine for healthy living. The broad-shouldered man draped his arm around the shoulder of his doe-eyed wife. She wore a peasant blouse and embroidered jeans, and her chestnut brown hair was braided and wrapped around her head.
“The Holloways. Frank and Lindy. They were the Holloways then, that is, before Lindy remarried. My parents used to talk about them. I bet this photo was taken at Timber Days. See the booths in the background?”
Even in a photograph, I could feel the beauty of a Wilfred summer—cool mornings, pine-scented afternoons, and sky as blue as delphinium petals.
“What happened to Frank Holloway?”
“Don’t know. He was gone long before I was born.”
I pointed at a figure in the background. “Isn’t that Mrs. Garlington?”
“It is. And her husband. Look.”
Mrs. Garlington couldn’t have been much older than I was now—in her late twenties. She wore the same slightly bouffant hair that she did today, but instead of a lavender rinse, it shone blond. She gazed with love at a gawky-looking man in glasses. He was tall, like the man in the game show, and had a similarly thick mop of hair. Printed on the photo’s white border was Kodak and 1974.
“That had to be just before he disappeared,” Sam said.
“Mrs. Garlington looks the same, except younger,” I noted. “I think I’ve even seen her in that blouse.” Grief must have frozen her in time. These days, women in their seventies t. . .
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