Brock rolled away from his easel, well satisfied with the progress he made. He captured on canvas the way Jon’s huge hands cradled a mug of chai. Smiling, he remembered the suspicious way the detective sniffed it before tasting. Already he had several drawings in charcoal, but Brock knew that this pair of hands would be added to his oil collection.
His mother’s hands holding her favorite mortar and pestle, Gran’s aged hands almost hidden in the thick fur of her familiar, Uncle Matt’s around a sword hilt, his father’s folded neatly on a gleaming tabletop numbered among his most treasured. He had several of Bee’s: one caressing the keys of her piano and, in his favorite, wrapped around the butt of her service automatic.
He kept others; one of an old service buddy opening a letter from home and more of his coven mates doing various tasks. Brock painted them on small canvases, just a bit bigger than life sized, and not for sale. People claimed that the window to one’s soul was through the eyes, Brock believed it was in the hands.
He stared at his canvas and wondered again what it would feel like to have Jon touching him. Queenie mewing from the doorway, managing to sound both pitiful and imperious, broke his musings.
His own stomach growling alerted Brock to the reason for the silver tabby’s visit. That, and the imitation of a starving feline performed by her, once she realized she had his attention.
“You know the rules, Queenie. I need to clean up first.”
He gathered his brushes and palette and carried them to the gardener’s sink in the corner. The pungent scent of the expensive oils he used filled his nose. He carefully washed them, leaving them on the drain board rack next to the basin to dry.
Next, Brock took the stiff brush and removed the colorful splatters adorning his hands and forearms. After rinsing his hands clean he dried them and then stretched, working the kinks from his long frame. The setting sun filled his studio, the rays spilling in from the skylight and two walls of windows. One wall faced the building next to him, devoid of a view but useful for the precious light the long windows provided. The back windows overlooked his garden and he strode over and looked down over the peaceful visage as he unbraided his hair. On the other two walls his canvases covered the pale oak paneling, a colorful collage stretching to the ceiling. More canvases leaned against the walls, scattered around the large room. Queenie twining around his ankles reminded him that he had starving pets.
Slipping silently down the stairs in sheepskin moccasins, Brock left his upper studio to reach the living level. There, two more pair of anxious feline eyes watched as he warmed their food. Most of their dinners were made by him using fresh ingredients and they appreciated his cooking very vocally.
Jon would have a huge appetite, Brock reflected.
He shook his head, amazed at how completely his sister’s new partner commanded his attention. After he fed the cats he returned upstairs to change from his paint splattered tee-shirt and pajama pants back to the clothes he wore earlier. Brock added a brown leather bomber jacket and scooped up his keys. He stopped in the kitchen to grab the plate of brownies he made before beginning to paint. He knew better than to show up without a bribe.
Climbing into Pearl he carefully placed the plate on the passenger seat and fastened his seat belt. Pearl purred to life when he turned the key and he pulled out into light traffic. The Ford Escape hybrid ate up the miles. He loved his vehicle and felt no shame in naming her. Well, the pirate movies populated by cute actors helped. The color, Black Pearl slate metallic, made her name easy- Johnny Depp just helped.
Not that he ever admitted it to his sister, after all the razzing he gave her on naming the Prius.
The drive to the Gary homestead seemed short despite the impending confrontation. Originally part of a larger farm, on what was once the outskirts of the city, now twenty acres remained. The land had not been sliced up and sold to developers; instead coven families built houses and clustered around the Gary home. A regular little magic commune hid in Madison suburbia.
He grew up there; his mother chose to stay in the family home and let Gran and Uncle Matt help raise him and Belinda. Uncle Matt was actually his Great Uncle Matthias, Gran’s twin. He wouldn’t be there tonight, normally choosing to avoid quilting night in favor of his pub.
The long driveway wound through trees and hedges, kept up by various members of the coven’s bevy of children and teenagers. Two of their herd of horses stood in the pasture to the left of the gravel roadway; he recognized Thunder from the white streak on his face. The big bay, his black mane and tail silky and the burnished red of his body glowing, whinnied as he drove by, hopeful for treats. Brock couldn’t quite see who stood with him, but guessed Thunder’s partner in crime, Ladybug. Technically, Ladybug wasn’t a horse, but a Pony of the Americas pony. She stood a full fourteen and a half hands tall though, and gave Thunder a run for his money. The big gelding tried to dominate her, but she knew what Thunder didn’t, that he wasn’t a full male anymore.
Not for lack of trying, Brock noted to himself with a smirk.
Brock smiled as the white farmhouse with green shutters came into view. Two storeys tall but with an attic and basement with attached cellar, the house had been built in a time when families grew large and needed lots of space. Unlike modern houses with their spacious rooms and closet space, this monster house had plenty of small rooms and a huge ‘great room’ on the main floor that could hold all the covens for parties and gatherings.
He’d have to repaint soon. They painted every five or six years, Madison winters being what they were. A salesman appeared every so often to propose aluminum siding, but Gran wouldn’t hear of it. None of the Garys would. Painting involved re-warding the house and remained a beloved ritual, complete with a full day of cooking and night of partying after the hard work got done. A spacious wrap-around porch extended the house on all four sides, more of a veranda. In back they’d enclosed it, to create a mud-porch for winter, but in summer they used the veranda for an extension of the party space. Three handmade bench-swings, built by Great-Uncle Matthias and decorated by cushions and quilts made by Gran and her circle of crones, lined the front porch. The right side, Brock knew by memory, held the children’s toys and two sturdy romp-around enclosures for infants. Adirondack furniture, built by Matthias and Brock as a training exercise, populated the rest of the porch. The older ones they replaced, made by a previous Gary years ago, now squatted in the garden.
The gravel driveway circled the house to the right. The left of the house backed up on the kitchen garden and chicken coop. Rather than entering through the front door, painted a deep green to match the shutters, he pulled around back to park with the vehicles of his grandmother’s friends. A clear space remained for parking between the vegetable and herb gardens. Brock balanced the plate of brownies as he closed his car door. His boots quiet, he crept across the wraparound porch and slipped into the kitchen. He tried to sneak up on one of his Gran’s friends that stood at the counter, Edith Booker. The steak knife she used to spread peanut butter flashed to his throat.
“Don’t try that on me, boy!”
“Sorry, Edith, but I hadda try.”
He slipped a brownie from under the clear wrap and handed it over as a peace offering. At her raised eyebrow he added another and put it on her plate next to her open sandwich. Brock grinned at Edith as she wolfed one down. In her younger days they called her ‘Fast Eddie’ for the speed she possessed with her blades. To the coven’s enemies she earned the title ‘the Beheader.’
She rolled her eyes and hugged him, her hands tugging at his sweater hem afterwards. The forest green chenille refused to do her bidding and lengthen, creeping up again when she released it.
“I didn’t get it right, again, did I?”
“It’s one of my favorites and I love it,” Brock assured her.
She slapped together her sandwich. “I’ll try again.”
Brock kept silent his instinctive protest. Edith’s skills excelled at teaching weaponry, not knitting. But, he wouldn’t dream of hurting her feelings.
The spacious kitchen, built, like the rest of the house, at a time when families grew large and people didn’t eat out often, spread along the entire side of the first floor. A polished light oak table that sat ten stood at the back, jackets draped over the chairs and purses and other bags strewn across its surface. A tray in the center held the salt, pepper, and numerous condiments used by the Gary family and guests to season their food. A heavy red vase of gladiolus, Gran’s favorite flower, held court in the center. The spotless white walls reflected the light warmly and set off the pink of the flowers.
To the right of the door stood the heavy six-burner stove. A wide counter to its left held the fixings for dinner, where Edith worked. Along the perpendicular wall the sink and dishwasher lived, and then the huge fridge. The deep freeze in the basement held extra provisions, and a second fridge down there held extra drinks and food for parties. A spacious double-panel of cabinets lined the wall next to that, built by Uncle Matthias to double the space in the kitchen.
He strode to the crock pot warming on the counter next to the stove. An odd orangey substance bubbled and gurgled up at him as he lifted the lid.
“Pumpkin stew,” Edith informed him as she left with her sandwich. “Good luck.”
He wondered if she referred to the concoction or his upcoming conversation with his grandmother. Spooning up a small bowl, Brock followed her. In his other hand he carried the offering of soft squares of chocolate. As long as he could remember the dining room was never used for eating. Instead, it served as a craft room and here the other women gathered.
He spied that they were just starting a new quilt, squares and triangles of colors scattered around and scissors flashing as they cut. The dark walnut wood of the heavy, carved table disappeared under the colorful fabric. With the leaves in, the table could seat sixteen, but now just had chairs for ten. The women looked up as he entered. Eddie took her chair near the open archway. Brock wondered if the others noticed she still placed herself between them and potential danger.
Zoey Thomas also stationed herself near the doorway, ready to hop up in case her beeper sounded. As an obstetrician, her patients had the habit of delivering at odd times. She wielded the scissors with a surgeon’s skill. Her short, wiry black hair belied her Irish heritage, but her clear blue eyes regarded him with penetrating intelligence. She wore her favorite color, a bright cobalt blue, this time in a long dress with brown calf-boots with a two-inch heel.
“Hey Dr. Z.” With both hands full he bent his head and she patted it.
“You’re such a good boy,” she replied, slipping a square from under the plastic.
“You call him a scamp when he hasn’t been baking for us,” Edith reminded her.
“That’s because I can’t bake. It confuses me,” Zoey added, at the other woman’s look.
“I’m sure that inspires confidence in your patients.”
Brock hid his grin as he continued to the table, remaining quiet. He saved his smart-assed remarks for his sister, knowing better than to take on the coven’s crones.
The other two women that helped raised him argued over colors.
“I like the pinks,” Ginger snapped. She brandished a fat quarter of magenta, rose, and rich berry.
“It’s too girly,” Lydia disagreed. “We need earth tones, like a tree. Browns and sables. Green. Definitely green.”
“It’s a quilt, not a maple,” Ginger shot back.
Since Ginger Hopkins reigned in the city council room and Lydia Dziedzinski in her boardroom, the debate raged fast and intense. Because he knew their friendship spanned decades, Brock understood that the heat was more habit then seriousness. He also knew they could argue for hours. Brock waved the plate of brownies to distract them. Ginger’s fading strawberry blonde curls and Lydia’s sleek salt and pepper bob swiveled to track the chocolate treats.
He placed the brownies on the table between the two women and leaned over and hugged each of them. Unfortunately, he could not escape the very thing he strove to avoid.
“What do you think, Brock?” Ginger asked.
He shoved a spoonful of pumpkin stew in his mouth instead of answering. It tasted…interesting.
“Ginger thinks there too many browns, makes it too dark, but I think they’re necessary for its owner,” Lydia said.
“You don’t even know who it’s for, yet,” Ginger scoffed.
Lydia glared. “Lots of times we’ve a quilt not knowing who it’s for. I know I’ve never met him.”
Brock silently agreed with the ‘him’ part. The colors definitely radiated ‘masculine’. So far only forest green deviated from the palette of browns in the fabric near Lydia. He picked up a chocolate brown triangle, one that reminded him of Jon’s eyes. The forest green shade matched the hue of his sweater, Brock noticed. He had a feeling of who the quilt’s owner would be. He also wondered if his presence would precede or follow it being on the detective’s bed.
The women looked at him, waiting, and Brock hoped a blush wouldn’t give him away. He slipped the chocolate brown fabric scrap in his pocket and reached for a darker one.
“Replace this with a russet one and add some cream that you have left over from the quilt for Dr. Z’s daughter,” Brock advised.
Ginger clapped her hands in delight. “Perfect!”
Lydia gave him an approving look that also had a good measure of consideration in it. His grandmother entering the room gave him an excuse to glance away. Her familiar, a large silver tabby, preceded her. Victoria trotted over to twine around his legs, mewing a greeting. He put his bowl on the table so he could lean down and pet the feline.
After a moment he straightened to hug his grandmother. She already sat at the head of the table like a little queen. He went to her and planted a kiss in her silvering blonde curls. She seemed even tinier sitting. Gran barely reached 5’2”. Brock, at 6’5”, and Uncle Matt, at 6’2”, always towered over her.
What she lacked in height she made up for in force of personality.
“I know you didn’t come to quilt. What do you want?”
Brock hid his smile. Gran and Belinda were too much alike. It probably fueled their many conflicts.
“I received an official visit from the Madison Police Department this morning.”
Gran snorted. “What did Belinda have to say?”
“The daggers are finally being gathered up.”
Gnarled, but still nimble fingers stilled as the coven’s crones absorbed his news.
“They’re not being bought, but instead homes are being broken into. Already Wilfrieda and Gilberto have lost theirs.”
Gran’s eyes narrowed. “Gilberto had one?”
“Well, isn’t it fortuitous that one is safe here?” Her tone firmly stated it as a rhetorical question.
“Frieda never mentioned a break-in!” Ginger seemed surprised at the news.
“Oh, you’re talking to her again?” replied Lydia, dryly.
“Frieda and I are friends; we just don’t have a lot in common.”
“Except for Gilberto. I bet you’re more upset that he never showed you the dagger.”
“Gilberto’s just a friend.”
“You thought he liked you. Gilberto paying attention to Frieda put your nose out of joint,” Lydia stated flatly.
Ginger’s face reddened. Brock remained silent. He would never have guessed that Ol’ Gil was such a ladies man.
“Enough,” Edith overrode Ginger’s response. Her hand slapped palm down on the table.
A startled silence fell, and both Ginger and Lydia stared at Edith.
“You’re interrupting Brock,” Edith told them calmly, taking another bite of sandwich.
Gran eyed them, and turned back to Brock with her eyebrow raised.
Brock ignored it. “We need to at least tell Bee about it. Better yet, give it to the station for safe-keeping. They can keep it in their evidence locker. It’ll be hard to steal surrounded by cops.” At her look he added, “A temporary loan, you know Sandillo will give it back.”
“Unfortunately neither Sandillo, nor I for that matter, have complete control of the Police Department. Who knows if we’d ever see it again if it left our hands?”
Brock sighed and sat down at the table. He picked up a pair of scissors; a long evening of arguing waited ahead of him.