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Charmed, I'm Sure

Jez Patterson is a teacher and writer currently alternating between the UK and Madrid. Links to other things with his name at the end can be found at: jezpatterson.wordpress.com.

It wasn't just Al Capone and every flower shop the world over that looked to Valentine's Day to make a killing.
Nadira ignored the body of Lady Charming--and the love tokens hanging from Lady's skirt, jacket, scarves and multiple belts--and glanced up and down the street.
"What are you looking for, Captain?"
"Lady Charming was mganga," Nadira told her sergeant. "At one time or another she's sold a charm to every married person in this city."
"Business was good for her. You suspect someone will now benefit from claiming that business?"
But that wasn't what Nadira was searching for.
It started soon, because arguments flared between married couples like the two people were made of flint and had to get past each other in a gas-filled room. Reported domestic incidents ranged from desertions, to beatings, to outright murder. For once, female perpetrators were equal to male.
Lady Charming was gone, and the magic had gone with her.
Nadira avoided going home. Salehe hadn't answered his phone, which he only did when he was hurt and sulking. Since Lady Charming had sold her the shells, Nadira had been coming home to a warm, happy house.
The strain was showing on all the married officers' faces.
"Who would benefit from this?" Chief Juma asked her. "The divorce lawyers, the whores, the priests, the mistresses?"
Plenty on the force had more supernatural suspects in mind. There was also her sergeant's suggestion of a competitor who might now step in to supply Lady Charming's customers. Lady might have had enemies: How much did they even know about the witch-woman?
The answer was: Nothing.
They knew nothing of the woman who'd heard their complaints, supplied kind words and a charm to dangle or secrete about their person. Lady had lived alone--her home austere rather than modest--and had never married or had children, and despite her own situation, had had to maintain a demeanor of healthy happiness because who bought a cure from a sick doctor?
They'd all been seeing mganga, but not the woman who wore that title.
Throughout the city, misery was still running its course without Lady's magic to keep them all together. Salehe hadn't asked for a divorce but just "time to think." Nadira knew it was a delaying tactic, that he couldn't help but come to the same conclusion as her.
"It's not "suicide," Chief Juma said angrily. "That woman killed this entire city!"
But there was no crime Lady could be charged with, and her death certificate showed she had taken her own life with an off-prescription overdose. There were new charms about the station: beads, shells, embroidered sections of cloth, even crosses and other religious paraphernalia.
But you couldn't buy love, not really. You could only give it--and Lady Charming had given all hers to them in tiny bundles and resealed shells, freeing them from making the same sacrifice themselves.
Nadira looked at the phone: pride, anger, resentment holding back her hand so it shook, inches from the receiver. She looked around, and it was the impotent rage and frustration of those around her that forced her to pick it up, dial his number.
"Salehe," she said. "I'm sorry you're not happy. Please. I'm listening--"
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

Author Comments

I had the opening scene of this story very clear in my mind and was fully expecting it to be a murder mystery--the first, in fact, in a series for Nadira to investigate and solve. Although fiction lends itself to resolving its conflicts via the characters doing something extraordinarily clever or magical, I like it when they also do something within the abilities of us mere mortals--even if overcoming our resistance to doing it may require almost superhuman effort.

- jez patterson
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