“Why is your garden gnome in a cage?” I frowned as a plump middle-aged woman deposited a stone statue locked in what looked like a large ‘live trap’ steel mesh box.
“Because this thing ate my cat,” the woman declared. “And I want rid of it before it goes after the dog, too.”
We see all kinds of things at Trifles and Folly, but even for us, this was a first.
“Are you sure about the cat?” I asked, warily eyeing the gnome. It looked much older than the brightly-painted resin figures on sale at the big national-chain garden supply stores. The statue was weathered, with some bits of lichen stuck to its body, and I wondered if it had been custom-made. Now that she mentioned it, the gnome did look a little creepy. The features looked sly instead of welcoming, and the set of the mouth seemed to hide sharp teeth behind the carved stone lips.
“I’m sure,” the woman said, slapping her palm against the wooden counter. “Fuddles never did like the statue. Always hissed at it when he walked by it. I should have taken that as a sign.”
“Where did it come from?” I asked, looking away from the creepy gnome and returning my attention to the lady who had brought in the caged decoration.
“My mother said she bought it from one of those architectural salvage places,” the woman replied.
“Have you had other problems with it, before the… um… cat incident?” I’m sure she was embarrassed and believed I was secretly laughing at her, but I had seen much stranger things.
I’m Cassidy Kincaide, and I own Trifles and Folly, an antique and curio shop in historic, haunted Charleston, SC that is a lot more than it seems. The store has been in my family for over three hundred years, and we’ve got a secret. While we’re a great place to find beautiful old heirlooms and estate jewelry, our real job is getting dangerous magical and supernatural items off the market and keeping them out of the wrong hands. That means we see more than our share of cursed, unlucky, or possessed objects, so I was taking my hapless customer’s tale seriously. Her murderous gnome sounded exactly like the kind of problem we deal with every day.
She pushed a lock of bottle-blonde hair off of her perspiring forehead. “When it started moving around, I should have known. I wish I’d have gotten rid of it sooner.”
I raised an eyebrow. “The garden gnome moved by itself?”
The woman hesitated, then nodded. “I thought someone was funnin’ with me, at first,” she said. Her bright pink lipstick made the rush of blood to her cheeks all the more noticeable. “And it’s not as if it moves across the yard. Just a bit, but it doesn’t stay put, and the man who does the yard says he hasn’t touched it.” She glared at the statue. “In fact, I don’t think he even likes to go near it. It doesn’t look like he weeds or trims close to the statue, now that I think about it.”
“Do you know if your mother ever witnessed anything unusual about the statue?” I asked, taking a closer look, though I kept well back from the cage itself. I was glad it came with a handle on the top. There was no way I would stick my fingers through that wire mesh.
The blonde belle shook her head. “No. Mama never said a word about it, and she used to spend a lot of time out in the garden. Always loved to watch the birds and the squirrels, but now that I think about it, I haven’t seen any of them in the yard since I came back to settle up her house.”
“Your mother passed away?” I asked gently.
She swallowed hard, blinked back tears, and nodded. “Yes. A month ago. So I came back from Richmond to see that everything was closed up properly, and start taking care of her estate.” She extended her hand. “I’m sorry. I haven’t introduced myself. I’m Beverly Callahan, but my friends call me Binky.”
I recognized the last name. Binky’s parents had been movers and shakers in Charleston society until their deaths. I was pretty sure their names were on every museum and historical association’s donor lists, plus the patron listings for the hospitals, the Junior League, and the university. That made it doubly odd that someone like Binky would risk ridicule with a story like this if the gnome hadn’t seriously weirded her out. And to my eye, Binky looked scared right out of her Lilly Pulitzer pink pants.
I nodded. “Binky. Of course we’re happy to buy the statue from you. But out of curiosity, is there anything else you can tell me about the gnome’s… behavior? Was there anything that seemed to trigger it becoming dangerous?”
Binky looked at me as if she was trying to decide whether or not I was mocking her, then finally realized I was taking her seriously. She reached out and grabbed my hand. “Oh, thank heavens. You believe me, don’t you? I have been scared out of my ever-lovin’ wits since Fuddles disappeared. I mean, if it can eat a cat, who knows whether or not it could get into the house when I’m sleeping?”
Across the store, Teag Logan, my assistant store manager, was keeping his head down, studiously polishing the estate silverware for the front case. I knew he would take Binky’s dilemma seriously, but I also knew her delivery, which was dead-on Paula Deen-esque, was making it hard for him to keep a straight face. “I can completely understand your concern,” I replied.
Binky smoothed her hair. “Thank you,” she said, lifting her chin as she regained her composure. “As for what mama saw, I’m not sure. She said some strange things near the end, but I chalked it all up to the Alzheimer’s. Now, I wonder.”
“So the gnome was a relatively recent addition to the garden?” I probed. I kept an eye on the caged statue. It gave me the willies. And since my gift is psychometry—the ability to read the history or emotional memories or magic—of an object by touch, I decided someone else could take the cage into the back room. That’s where we keep the potentially dangerous acquisitions until my business partner, Sorren, figures out how to dispose of them.
Binky shook her head. “That’s just it. He’d been there for a little while, I’m sure of it. Mama was always picking up odds and ends from one of those restoration places, or antique stores, or yard sales—you get the idea.” I did. Many older people filled their time shopping for cast-off treasures, and when they passed on, their harried children often brought in those impulse purchases by the truckload to shops like ours.
“And there wasn’t anything that might have happened—anything at all—that might have ‘activated’ the gnome?” I pressed. There was just no way to ask someone like Binky if her mother had suddenly taken up practicing black magic or had someone put a root on her.
Again a shake of the head. “No. Mama spent most of her time going on garden tours and helping out at the Historical Archive or the Shady Ladies’ Garden Club. She knew every garden in this city, and all about the old gardens that aren’t around anymore, too.”
It was pretty clear that Binky couldn’t tell me more about the cat-eating gnome, so I paid her a fair price for the ‘acquisition’ and waited until she glanced around our front showroom and departed before I looked to Teag.
“If you’re wondering, it’s a ‘hell no’ about me carrying this to the back,” I said drily.