New Winslow S5E50
It was busy at the shop. Iris couldn’t remember the last time there had been this many customers. Maybe they’d been referred here by a news article or something. But she wasn’t going to complain, not when it was money coming in.
She was at the register, checking customers out as the line remained at least three people deep at all times for an hour. She hadn’t expected a lingering post-Christmas crowd and was very grateful that Andrew was here. He was currently on the other side of the shop, explaining the difference between two different types of pendulums as a young woman watched, rapt.
She really hoped none of these people got stuck today.
As the crowd began to thin, Iris glanced at the clock. Nearly six. She planned to close at eight, then go upstairs and try to contact Rosalind again. Andrew wasn’t going to be happy, but she needed to keep trying for those answers.
Iris looked up and was surprised and alarmed to see Alicia Perez standing in line. She wasn’t holding any merchandise and she looked nervous as she glanced around them. “When do you close tonight?” she asked, her lips barely moving.
“Come over to the archives after.”
“Not here. Just meet us there.”
“Can I bring Andrew?”
Iris motioned toward where Andrew was straightening up the mess on the shelves. Alicia glanced over. “You trust him?”
“Yeah. Don’t tell anyone else. And come around the back.”
Shit, this was serious. Alicia wasn’t prone to theatrics, and her wife, Judith, hated Iris. So if they were sneaking her into the archive after closing, they found something. With a glance at the line growing behind Alicia, Iris nodded. “I’ll be there,” she said, keeping her voice just as quiet.
Alicia nodded, then walked away, moving through the group of people clustered by the door. In seconds, she was gone. Iris glanced over at Andrew, who was now talking to another young woman with a handful of small crystals in her hand. He clearly hadn’t seen what just happened. But before she could go pull him aside, she needed to handle the line in front of her.
She worked mechanically, her mind a million miles away as she sold books and tools. She smiled and laughed with customers, but as soon as they walked away, the conversations were forgotten. What could possibly have happened over at the archives? She was so tempted to just close up the shop now and go over. But they’d agreed on eight and she was going to respect that.
Besides, she badly needed a few good sales days to get her accounts in order.
About an hour later, the rush finally ebbed. Eventually, she and Andrew were the only people left in the shop. He walked over to her with a bottle of water in his hand. “Wow,” he said with a laugh.
“Someone must have said something,” she said. “That was more people than I’ve seen in years.”
“A lot of newcomers,” Andrew said, leaning against the counter. “I had a number of people asking me for very basic things. And they were all young.”
Ah, college students. That happened sometimes. The thrill of going into the cursed town (for those who actually believed it) to go to the magic shop was like catnip for a certain type of college student. So every so often, the story would get out and there would be a rush on the store. Iris had never seen anyone actually get stuck after one of those trips, which made her even more curious about how the curse worked. It didn’t seem like it discriminated when it selected victims. In fact, Iris was pretty sure there was no thought involved in it at all. It was random and wild. Yet somehow connected with the town.
“Are you free after work?” she asked Andrew, who was checking his phone.
“Come to the archives with me. At the Historical Society.”
Andrew looked at her. “Aren’t you banned from the Historical Society?”
She glanced at the door, but nobody was anywhere near the shop right now. “Alicia was here earlier,” Iris said, keeping her voice low regardless. “She said to meet her and Judith at the archives after work. And if I trusted you, I could bring you along.”
“And you don’t reckon this is a trap?”
Shit, she hadn’t thought of that. “No,” she said after a second. “I don’t. Alicia was the one who warned me that Baxter was after my library record. And she hates me. So I’m going to trust her.”
She saw Andrew considering this answer for a moment. Then he nodded. “Alright,” he said. “I’ll be there.”
As soon as they had closed the shop for the night, Andrew and Iris made their way to the New Winslow Historical Society. It wasn’t far away, but the temperature was bitterly cold, so Iris drove them there. They were quiet as she drove through the empty streets. As they pulled up, Andrew looked at her. “You’re sure about this?”
They drove around the back of the building, into a tiny driveway beside a dumpster. The lots beside the Historical Society were both heavily wooded, but Iris wasn’t taking any chances, so she drove as close to the dumpster as possible. As she got out, Andrew followed. They walked up to the door and Iris was still wondering what they should do when it opened and Alicia poked her head out.
“Quick,” she hissed.
Andrew and Iris slipped inside, and Alicia closed and locked the door. “Alicia, what’s going on?” Iris asked, voice still low despite the fact that they were clearly out of earshot of anyone outside.
“Two things,” Alicia said. “First, your records were compromised. I wasn’t there, but Baxter waited until I wasn’t, then asked Ruby to do it for him. She didn’t know.”
Iris knew that already, but hearing it from Alicia made it that much more real. Baxter had her search records. He knew exactly what she’d found. “I know,” Iris said. “He threatened me on Christmas Eve.”
Alicia looked at her. “Excuse me?”
“He told me to stop searching. That I could get hurt.”
“Jesus Christ, I’m so sorry.”
“Was that what you wanted me to come here for?”
“No,” Alicia said. “Judith has more. Follow me.”
Then she silently led them down the warmly lit hallway and into Judith’s office. Iris’s last visit here loomed large in her mind and as Judith Perez looked over at her from behind her desk, she knew she wasn’t the only one.
“Thanks for coming,” Judith said. “And sorry for the secrecy, but it was necessary.”
“What’s going on?” Andrew asked.
Judith and Alicia looked at each other. “So, I was doing a little digging,” Judith started. “And it turns out that there actually was information in our archives about the curse. I found an inventory sheet crushed at the bottom of a box, easily the ninth one I’d looked in. And it mentioned Evelyn Harbinger’s books specifically.”
Iris tried not to feel the disappointment that was setting up shop inside her. “Yeah,” she started. “I’m sorry. I should have said something. But I know there’s a second Harbinger. The Countess has a copy over in Petersham. There’s nothing in it.”
“Of course there is,” Judith said, and Iris was surprised by the dismissive tone from the usually shy Judith. “I’ve been in touch with the owners over the years. But what none of us realized was that there’s a Volume Three. And based on how hard it was for me to find, I think we weren’t ever supposed to know.”