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The bad thing about being a virago wasn’t the mysterious whirling tattoo, my hard-as-nails trainer Flo, or even that I regularly put my life in danger to keep Nightshade safe.
All of those things I could handle, but what I couldn’t handle was arguing with my parents for the thousandth time about why I couldn’t watch my little sisters.
My best friend, Eva, had no sympathy. "Why not tell them the truth?" she asked when I called her to complain about their unreasonable attitudes.
"You have met my parents, right?" I responded. I couldn’t think of two people less likely to believe that werewolves, vampires, and witches lived in Nightshade, or that it was my sworn duty to protect them. Or fight them. It depended upon the day of the week.
A few years ago, my big brother Sean went all furry and my parents didn’t even notice.
My mom didn’t even blink when Sean started shoveling two-pound slabs of rare meat down his gullet for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
She just mumbled something about growing boys and then asked me to do the laundry.
Eva had been talking, but I’d missed half of it, probably because I was still thinking about my parents. Or maybe because her pet raven, Poe, was croaking "Nevermore!" in the background.
"Say that last part again," I said.
"I knew mentioning Dominic would get your attention," she replied.
I didn’t even bother to deny it. "What about him?"
"I asked if you and Dominic wanted to go out with Evan and me this weekend. There’s a VP triple feature."
VP stood for Vincent Price. Eva was a serious horror movie fan.
"I’ll ask," I said.
"Your parents or your boyfriend?"
"He’s not my boyfriend," I insisted. Dominic Gray was the lead singer of Side Effects May Vary—all six foot three, blond, blue eyes, and high cheekbones of him.
We’d gone out a few times, but calling him my boyfriend was definitely premature. Especially since I had the distinct impression he’d been avoiding me lately.
Eva lost interest in the subject of my pathetic love life and hung up a few minutes later.
I stayed by the phone and brooded. Dominic and I had grown closer since we had saved Eva from becoming a brain-munching zombie, but I still sensed some reserve in him.
Maybe it was because I was high-risk as a potential girlfriend. As a virago—a woman warrior—I got hit a lot, and sometimes nasty things wanted to eat me. I’d had a run-in with a hungry chupacabra a few months ago, but it had been quiet in Nightshade since then. Almost too quiet.
When my parents came home and let me off the hook, I headed for the library. I had a new assignment from my guitar teacher. My favorite librarian, Ms. Johns, was working at the reference desk.
"Jessica, I haven’t seen you around lately," she greeted me. Ms. Johns had a mass of curly brown hair and a smile that practically made you smile back.
"Hi, Ms. Johns. I was hoping you could help me. Does the library have any sheet music? My guitar teacher wants me to learn a new song and she’s letting me choose it."
She pointed me in the right direction, and I spent time thumbing through the selections. Nothing seemed right, though. I hated to part with my precious allowance money, but it looked like I might have to.
Ms. Johns came up as I was leaving. "No luck?" she asked.
"Not really," I said. "I’m looking for something really different."
"I know of an estate sale on Saturday," she said. "Mr. Lindquist played several instruments for years, but he’s moving to Florida and is selling almost everything. Maybe you can find something there." She wrote down the address on a piece of paper and handed it to me.
"Thanks for the tip," I said. "See you later."
I liked the idea of performing something unusual, maybe even something my teacher, Ms. Minerva, had never heard before.
Saturday morning, it was foggy and rainy, which didn’t make Eva happy.
"Remind me why we had to get up at the crack of dawn?" Eva complained as my mom dropped us off at the estate sale.
I gestured to the dozens of cars already parked in the street in front of the house. "This is why," I told her. "Mr. Lindquist is a serious collector. Musicians from all over California are coming to this sale."
As if to prove my point, a pasty-looking guy in leather pants and a vest without a shirt stepped out of a black town car. He groaned and fumbled for his sunglasses.
I nudged Eva. "He’s clearly not used to getting up this early either."
The house was a typical-looking tract home on the outside, with a two-car garage, beige paint, and a manicured lawn. Music notes had been painted on the front door and one of the hedges was in the shape of a saxophone.
A baby grand piano stood in a position of honor in the living room, near a big bay window. Teddie Myles, the owner of the all-ages club the Black Opal, sat at the piano and touched the keys softly. Today, the purple highlights in her hair had been replaced with hot pink and lime green streaks.
On the opposite wall, above a leather couch, hung three guitars. Three amazing guitars. I went to get a closer look.
"Dominic would love this!" I exclaimed, pointing to a Rickenbacker guitar.
"What would I love?" a familiar voice asked.
I whirled around. "I didn’t know you were coming."
"Neither did I, until about an hour ago," he replied. "Aunt Katrina wanted to check it out." Dominic and his aunt were both in the band Side Effects May Vary.
Eva said, "I’m going to look for"—long pause while she figured out what to say—"something over there."
After she left, Dominic and I pretended to admire the guitars.
"I called you," I finally said, "about that triple feature tonight."
"I’ve been meaning to call you back," he said. Another long pause.
"It’s okay," I said, even though it wasn’t. "I already told Eva no."
"Jessica, I wanted to talk to you about something."
"You have a strange way of showing it."
Harmony and Selena approached before Dominic could tell me whatever it was he wanted to say. Noel and Connor were trailing behind them. The guys were best friends, and I was pretty sure Noel and Harmony were dating. Connor and I had gone out a couple of times, but I broke things off and he’d avoided me ever since.
That apparently hadn’t changed because he took one look at me and nudged Noel. "Let’s check out the albums in the next room."
"What are you two talking about so intently?" Selena asked.
"Nothing," Dominic said.
"This guitar," I added. I pointed to the purple Fender Stratocaster on the wall.
"Are you going to buy it, Jessica?" Selena asked. "Because if not, it would go perfectly with this outfit I just bought."
Selena didn’t even play guitar. She was just being petty. She probably would buy it, just because she knew I wanted it.
I glanced at the price tag and nearly gasped out loud. "It’s out of my price range," I said, trying to sound cheerful about it. "Excuse me, I think I’ll go look for some sheet music." I told myself it wasn’t practical anyway. I usually played acoustic guitar, although I had played electric guitar a few times. Ms. Minerva expected us to be well-rounded musically.
I didn’t look back at Dominic. He knew where to find me if he really wanted to talk to me.
I found Eva in a room lined with bookcases, full of books, magazines, and even old albums. There were three shelves crammed with nothing but sheet music. I pulled out a stack of music to examine.
A hand-carved flute sat on a stand in the corner.
"Jessica, isn’t this cool?" she asked. She pointed to the flute.
"It’s beautiful." I picked it up carefully to look for a price tag, but there wasn’t one.
"That’s not for sale." A small man stepped out of the shadows, leaning on a cane.
I put the flute back on the stand slowly. "I’ve never seen anything like it," I replied.
"It’s made of boxwood with an ivory inlay," he said. "I’m Mr. Lindquist, the owner."
He picked up the flute and took it over to the only chair in the room. He brought the instrument to his lips and played.
There was silence when he finished and then Eva and I broke into spontaneous applause.
"What’s all the noise about?" Selena asked from the doorway.
Mr. Lindquist put the flute back in its place. "Just a little practice," he said pleasantly. "Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’d better see how the sale is going."
After he left, I gave Selena a dirty look and then returned to the stack of sheet music. I sat down on the floor to go through it. Harmony took a spot near me and started rummaging through another stack.
"I’m starting a band," she said importantly. "We’re calling it Magic and Moonlight. I’m going to be the lead singer, of course."
"That’s nice," I commented mildly. Harmony’s mom was the Nightshade High chorus director, but Harmony couldn’t sing a note.
I’d almost made my way through the entire stack when I found something intriguing. It was a handwritten song, the paper browned by age and frayed at the edges. Just as I reached for it, Harmony snatched it away.
"Hey!" I said. "I was looking at that."
"Finders keepers," Harmony told me. She bounced up and ran over to Selena. "Look," she said. "This will be perfect for our band."
"Whatever," I muttered, and returned to my stack.
Eva and I ignored them until they finally left.
"What’s with Selena lately?" Eva asked.
I shrugged. "She’s been hanging out with Harmony a lot, ever since she and Dominic broke up."
"I wouldn’t exactly call it a breakup," Eva replied. "You can’t count it as a relationship if you had to use magic to get the guy to like you in the first place."
I didn’t want to talk about Dominic anymore. Eva seemed to sense my reluctance and changed the subject. "Let’s find you some sheet music," she said.
I found a couple of great song possibilities and put them in my to-buy stack.
"Did you see anything else you like?" Eva asked me. She was being a good sport about following me around. Eva wasn’t a huge music person, like me—she was into horror movies and her boyfriend Evan, in that order, but Evan didn’t seem to mind. He was almost as much of a horror buff as Eva was.
"That purple guitar," I said. "But it’s completely out of my price range. Selena probably bought it already anyway."
"My mom says that at estate sales, price is negotiable," Eva said. "Let’s go negotiate."
I got to my feet. "It’s worth a try."
But when we went back to look for it, all three of the guitars were gone. "It was too expensive anyway."
Eva gave me a knowing look. "But you still wanted it."
I nodded. "More than you know." We spent a few more minutes wandering around, but I didn’t find anything else I wanted and could afford. Maybe babysitting my little sisters wasn’t such a bad idea after all. It definitely paid better than being a virago.
"Did you find anything?" I asked Eva.
"Some cool seventies band posters," she said. "I thought I might use them in my horror film." Eva had been talking about filming her own horror movie, and her closet was filled with all sorts of props.
We were standing in line to pay when Selena and Harmony left with Harmony’s mom. They carried a couple of huge packages. One was shaped like a guitar.
"They got the sheet music and a guitar," I pointed out to Eva.
"But not the talent," Eva replied. Her dimples flashed as she giggled.
We heard gasps behind us and turned around to see Mr. Lindquist staggering, clutching his head. "My priceless flute has been stolen. Don’t let anybody leave!"
His face was pasty and gray. I grabbed a folding chair and led him to it. "Somebody get him some water."
He put his face in his hands. "Gone," he moaned. "It’s gone."
"What happened?" I asked.
"I heard the most beautiful music," he said dreamily. "A guitar, I think. And then I must have fallen asleep. When I woke up, the flute was gone."
The police arrived and Chief Wells started barking orders. The chief was new in town. She’d been hired to replace Chief Mendez, even though everyone knew it couldn’t be done. At least not in the way that counted.
Eva nudged me and whispered, "Didn’t you sense danger? Your swirly tattoo?"
"It’s a whirlwind," I answered, "not a burglar alarm. It only warns me of serious danger to the city of Nightshade." Every virago had a whirlwind tattoo like mine.
The police searched the entire house and every single person at the estate sale, but they didn’t find the flute.
"You’re free to leave," Officer Denton told us. I remembered the sheet music I still had in my hand and went to pay.
"Poor Mr. Lindquist," I said.
"Poor? Even without that flute, he’s worth a fortune," the cashier told me. She handed me my change. "It’s a shame about that flute, though. It’s a one of a kind from Germany." She leaned in closer to make sure no one could hear her. "In fact, some people even say that it belonged to the Pied Piper of Hamelin."
"You mean the creepy guy who lured all those kids away with music? No way. That’s just a myth."
"I’m serious," she replied.
"Mr. Lindquist played the flute today," I said. "And not a thing happened to us."
She shrugged. "I’m only telling you what I heard."
On the way home, Eva and I talked about the theft and the cashier’s strange comment.
"I don’t believe it for a minute," I said. "She was just trying to scare us."
"I don’t know," Eva said. "This is Nightshade."
She had a point.