As I keep working on The Key of Solomon, the sequel to Salome’s Charger, due for release at Christmas, I’m eager to share it with you. Here’s a snippet to give you a chance to see a little bit of what it’s about:
A cold northern wind had picked up and the light rain that had fallen the day before had turned to sleet, which wasn’t that unusual for December in Texas. Connie and Marita followed Ezra out to Jimmy’s Ford Fiesta and crammed into the little car.
“You sure you guys want to ride with me?” Ezra said. “I mean, climbing into a suitcase would probably be more comfortable.”
“Hey, we’re poor college students, remember? We get around on bicycles and metro buses. This is luxury.” Connie let Marita have the front seat, and Connie folded herself into the small seat in back that also had Ezra’s luggage.
“You know cars like this usually have a trunk,” Connie said. “That’s where people are supposed to put their luggage.”
“Yeah, well, the guy I borrowed this car from broke a key off in the trunk and can’t get it open. If we ever have a flat, I’m out of luck.” Ezra started the car and backed out of his space. “Which direction?”
“Head south on Congress, ’til you get to the river,” Connie said. “Cross the river and go west. What’s the deal, anyway? Why are you driving someone else’s car? And why are you here in Austin? I thought you were stuck up there in a desk job.”
“Long story,” Ezra said. “I’m doing an article that I’m not supposed to be covering. So I have to make it look like I’m still in the office.” He shrugged. “It sounds underhanded, I know.”
“Underhanded?” Connie said. “You’re so much cooler than I thought you were!”
“Which reminds me,” he said. “I have five stories to write before I get to bed tonight, so we can’t be out that late.”
“Where are you staying?” Connie asked.
“At a Motel 6 on I-35 just north of the airport exit.”
Connie shook her head. “It’ll take you forever to get there tonight. Let me see if my people will let you stay with them.”
“Tell me about these people,” Ezra said. He turned to Marita. “And let’s hear from your friend. You do speak, don’t you?”
Marita smiled. “On occasion. But Connie yaks so much, I usually just let her do all the talking for the both of us.”
“Hey!” Connie protested from the back seat, and Ezra and Marita chuckled.
“Officially they are called the Association of Mystical Inquirers,” Marita said. “They’ve been around for forever. The house they meet in supposedly was built about the time that Austin was founded.”
“Wait a minute,” Ezra said. “If the house they are in is south of the river, and it was built when Austin was founded, then it was built on Comanche soil.”
Connie piped up from the back seat. “That’s part of the tradition. The founders of the association had a special arrangement with the Comanches. They were the only ones allowed to build on that side of the river.”
“So what kind of association is this?” Ezra asked. He got to the bridge that crossed the Colorado River and turned right to head west.
“Well, like I said, they are mystical inquirers,” Marita said. “Jasmine is the one who introduced us to them. We were having one of our usual late-night philosophical discussions, you know; the meaning of life, the size of the universe, that sort of thing, and Jasmine told us about these people who challenged everything you had ever been taught. So we went to one of their meetings, and we were hooked.”
“So, what, do they discuss philosophy?” Ezra asked.
“Not really,” Marita said. “Well maybe, a little. But they teach you things about the natural world. How to bend physics. How to do stuff.”
“I don’t follow,” Ezra said. The sleet was falling heavier now, and Ezra tried to focus on what they were saying, while paying attention to the slick road in front of him.
“Magic!” Connie blurted. “We’re talking about magic!”
Marita gasped and Ezra almost lost his grip on the steering wheel. He decided to pull over before he actually did. There was a long, empty parking space along a green strip that followed the river, and he pulled over. He turned off the key and turned around to face Connie.
“When you say magic, you’re talking about sleight-of-hand, hocus-pocus, card tricks. Right?”
Connie and Marita looked at each other, then shook their heads slowly.
“Show him,” Connie said to Marita. Marita sighed, then nodded.
“Show me what?” he asked.
Turned toward the other two, Marita closed her eyes, then rubbed her hands together. She rubbed them vigorously at first, then slowly. Sitting in the darkness of the car, Ezra slowly saw sparks begin to form between the two hands, then as she slowly pulled her hands apart, the sparks jumped from hand to hand, until blue sparks jumped an inch between hands. They watched for a full minute, then Marita closed her hands, opened her eyes, and smiled.
“How did you do that?” Ezra said, then asked. “Did it hurt?”
Marita shook her head. “Not even a little bit. But that’s nothing compared to what Connie can do.”
Ezra turned to Connie, who was already shaking her head.
“No, it’s nasty outside,” she protested.
“Come on, Connie,” Marita said. “I did it. Now it’s your turn.”
“Connie,” Ezra said quietly. “Maybe you can just tell me what you can do.”
Connie stared at him, then shook her head.
“No, she’s right. You wouldn’t believe me unless you see it.”
Ezra pursed his lips. “Okay then, I guess it’s decided.” He opened his car door and stepped out. “It’s time for the Connie show.”
“Ohh,” Connie protested. “I don’t know if I can do it.”
“You won’t know unless you try,” Ezra said. “Come on, get your coats. It’s cold out here.”
It was cold. The sleet had turned to snow, and the ground was white around them. The falling snow deadened the sound of their voices, and the two girls ran across the grass to a small hill overlooking the river.
“Here’s a good spot,” Connie said. “Okay, here goes nothing.” She looked at Ezra, then at Marita for moral support, who nodded her agreement. Then she stood on the knoll, arms and legs spread, head thrown back, and closed her eyes.
Ezra watched her, not sure what to expect, but seeing something vaguely familiar in what she was doing. After a long moment, he saw a quiver come over her body, and then he saw her arms and legs stiffen. And then he saw something that he almost couldn’t believe he was seeing. It was as if an invisible hand picked her up and lifted her two inches off the ground. Connie’s tennis shoes rose from the snow-covered grass as Marita and he watched. Her whole body was suspended for about thirty seconds before she slowly descended to the ground, with Connie dropping to her knees as she came down.
“She’s always a little wasted after she does that,” Marita said.
Ezra was speechless, but he knew that he would have to say something.
“This is what you learned from this association?” he stammered finally.
Marita nodded. As she spoke, Ezra’s phone buzzed that a text message had arrived.
IT’S TIME TO PRAY FOR MADDIE, the text message read.
Ezra was already numb from what he had just seen. Now he had something else to worry about.
“Tell him the rest,” Connie said, looking at Marita. “It’s time to use the dreaded W word.”
She looked at Ezra.
“Marita and I are witches.”