The Witch of Cheyne Heath
Book 3 of 4
A mad scientist, a spiteful two-headed dragon, and a parliament of sorcerers intent on wiping out witchcraft.
The things a modern witch has to put up with to get the job done!
Gosha Armitage never thought she’d turn down a person in need, but some jobs are more trouble than they’re worth. When a firm of sorcerers asks her to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a famous painter, her first instinct is to turn her back and walk away, but with mounting bills and an ex-husband intent on ruining her, she reluctantly takes the case. As the investigation leads her deep into the nightlife of Cheyne Heath and the shocking persecution of gay men by the police for no other reason than daring to be themselves, she uncovers a dark conspiracy that threatens the safety of every living soul in London. Can Gosha evade the Machiavellian sorcerous elite of Britain long enough to find the missing painter and foil the hidden power intent on spreading deadly corruption through the city?
Spellshock is the third installment in The Witch of Cheyne Heath supernatural mystery series from author W. V. Fitz-Simon. If you like drag queens and queer magic, mayhem and intrigue, and witches who refuse to take no for an answer, you’ll love this arch and cozy spellpunk adventure. Order Spellshock and step into the fabulous, treacherous world of Cheyne Heath today!
PRAISE FOR THE SERIES
READ AN EXCERPT
“DO COME IN,” SAID THE woman, her long face obscured by a large and bizarre pair of glasses: two thick pink circles joined by a white squiggly line, and a bright blue fleck in the corner of each eye that suggested an upturned eyelash. “I’ll put the kettle on and you can tell me all about it.”
That’s my line, thought Gosha, taken aback.
Małgorzata Mierzejewska Armitage had dreaded the prospect that this woman might be another witch, an inconvenience that would have created no end of problems, but she was in luck. The iridescent ropey vines of Influence, the magical force emanating from all human beings, that swirled around the woman’s pink, red, and blue colorblock cocktail dress in Gosha’s second sight told her this was an oath-bearer, most likely an acolyte of Abundance.
The acolyte’s house was in the only truly posh part of Cheyne Heath, right at the edge where the King’s Road cut across the borough on its path from Chelsea to Fulham. From where she stood, Gosha could see the street that marked the border wall of the wards that held her husband, George, at bay. Half a mile away on the other side of the boundary was World’s End and her favorite boutique that she hadn’t visited in four years, not since George had murdered his father and she’d been forced to embrace her heritage and become a witch.
Alfie squeezed her hand, bringing her back to the present.
“How is dear Bessie Walpole?” said the acolyte as she led them into the house.
“Remember.” Gosha leaned in to whisper in Alfie’s ear. “Newlyweds trying to find the money to buy a new house.”
He pecked her on the lips and waggled his eyebrows, a mischievous dimple creasing his cheek. His smile caused her heart to beat faster and somewhere further south to tingle. He knew about Craft and Influence, and had proved sturdy enough to take the secret world of the spheres in his stride, but she’d never enlisted his help on behalf of a client before. She hoped his experience working as a bouncer in the nightclubs of Cheyne Heath had trained him to think on his feet.
“She’s doing very well, Mrs. Ogilvy.” Gosha lied in response to the acolyte’s question. Bessie Walpole was a writhing bundle of regret for falling prey to the pitch of this sorcerous con woman. “She has such wonderful things to say about your techniques.”
That much was true. No matter how much Gosha and Belinda, Bessie’s daughter, tried to convince Bessie that her sudden inability to pay her electricity bill was the fault of this fraudulent spiritual advisor and not her own inability to manifest prosperity by force of will alone, Bessie refused to say a bad word about her.
“Ah,” said the acolyte. “Bless.”
As they stepped across the threshold, Gosha shuddered. Most of her work as a witch was mundane stuff. She spent her days preparing potions and poultices, blending teas and crafting candles, with the occasional augury thrown in to make the passage of days more interesting. She had yet to master the art of fortune-telling, her telling deck still only half done, but most of a reading was telling the querent what they didn’t know or refused to see about the present, and her skill in clairvoyance was more than proficient enough to satisfy any client who visited her kitchen. Once in a while, resolving a visitor’s problem required direct intervention of a more physical nature, for which she was grateful to have Alfie.
The switchblade he had given her and taught her to use weighed comfortingly in the pocket of her red felt bolero jacket, a steal of a find in Morel Market that only cost her a charm against erectile dysfunction and a cure for migraines.
Most man-made threats to the health and wellbeing of her visitors could be taken care of with a flash of steel, an occasional Doc Martens boot to the groin, and a well-placed spell of intimidation. Only twice before had she been forced to deal with oath-bearers. Both times had been near-catastrophic, with the lives of hundreds of innocents threatened, the trouble only averted by the skin of her teeth. In the aftermath, her life had been transformed for the worse.
A dense and cloying scent of potpourri wafted at her from somewhere within the living room and made her sneeze.
“Sit, sit,” said the acolyte gesturing to two sofas and an armchair arranged at crisp right angles around a long coffee table. “Make yourself comfortable.”
That will be a challenge, thought Gosha.
The color scheme of the living room was an eye-watering visual cacophony of bright and contrasting color. Blue, peach, pink, yellow, green, and red furniture pieces fought for dominance against a background of stark white walls. The furniture was all hard lines and nonsensical asymmetrical shapes with crisp flat surfaces better designed for looking at than sitting on. The overall effect was of a children’s playhouse designed by a demented architect.
Memphis design, thought Gosha, the style-obsessed part of her brain salivating even as her senses reeled from the avant garde absurdity of it all. Not cheap.
“Not there, you gorgeous creature,” said the acolyte with a flirtatious widening of the eyes as Alfie made for the armchair. Alfie was an effortlessly handsome charmer that men and women of all orientations warmed to quickly, but few of his admirers acted as brazen as this woman. “That’s my chair. You may sit here.”
She patted the space at the end of one sofa by the armchair. Gosha had introduced Alfie and herself as husband and wife, but realized neither was wearing a ring. Her own wedding ring sat on a shelf in her studio, out of sight but not forgotten, no matter how hard she tried. She kicked herself for overlooking such a simple detail. Details were important when you were putting on a show.
“I’ll get the tea,” said the acolyte and disappeared into the back of the house.
With the second sight gifted her by the touch of her talisman of power, a treasured tube of lipstick that nestled against her breast in the folds of her bra, she could see thick currents of Influence sweeping through the room, much denser than what normally flowed through the world. It swirled around the armchair at the head of the coffee table.
“So,” whispered Alfie. “Is she a witch?”
“Thank god, no,” said Gosha as she wandered around the room inspecting the furniture. “But she is an oath-bearer. Keep her talking, but be careful. You saw what she did to Bessie Walpole.”
Photographs in irregular geometric designs and primary colors lined all the display surfaces in the room. As Alfie slid into the sofa and crossed a long leg over a shapely thigh, she tore her eyes away from him and turned to the nearest collection of shots. To her surprise, there was no sign of the acolyte herself in any of the pictures. All featured a middle-aged woman in a variety of over-designed business suits with massive shoulder pads, pencil skirts, and far too many ruffles. At first, Gosha thought they were production stills of Joan Collins from that show, ‘Dynasty,’ on the telly, but closer inspection revealed much less attractive features beaten into shape by a serious application of cosmetics. Flawless on camera, Gosha suspected in person she would look like an over-made-up clown.
“Do you recognize the woman in all these pictures?” she asked Alfie.
He leaned over to pick up a picture frame from the coffee table.
“Never seen her before.” He shrugged.
“That,” said the acolyte, returning far too quickly for the tea to have been made conventionally, “is Portia Twill-Quimby herself.”
She placed the tea set on the coffee table in front of her armchair. At the center of the red lacquer tray was a jumble of cylinders, balls, and tubes that must have been the teapot. Her mother and Elsie would have recoiled from it in horror, but it was an object of such strong and radical design that it made Gosha breathless with desire. She’d been stuck making potions in her kitchen for so long without even a glossy magazine to keep her company, she’d fallen completely behind the times. The world had moved on without her.
A sly smirk fluttered across the corner of the acolyte’s lips when she saw the expression of unbridled lust on Gosha’s face. Gosha began to rearrange her features back to a less naked expression, but decided she could make it work for her and sat on the sofa next to Alfie, hugging his arm and openly admiring the tea set as the acolyte poured.
“Who is Portia Twill-Quimby?” asked Alfie, cheerfully playing along.
“A truly great woman,” said the acolyte. “She’s an award-winning entrepreneur and philanthropist and, I’m proud to say, she is my mentor. Many of the techniques I use to help my clients come from her. She’s a national treasure.”
Must be the saint, thought Gosha as she eyed the teacups, three blue-gray inverted pyramids with giant pink circular handles. I must ask the ladies if they know anything about her.
Gosha froze the muscles of her face to stop the expression of disgust that threatened to consume it as the hot tea poured out of the black tubular spout. Translucent tentacles of Influence coiled around the liquid, pulsing and questing from the surface of the cup. The acolyte handed it to Alfie with an inviting smile.
Gosha snapped her hand out and gently wrapped her long fingers around Alfie’s wrist before he touched the saucer. Even accepting the cup from the acolyte might bind him to her in some unknown way.
“Oh, no tea, darling,” she said. “Remember the diet.”
He looked at her, eyebrows raised in a question. Understanding flickered behind those pretty blue eyes, and his gaze flickered to the offered cup in alarm.
“Oh yes, the diet,” he said and pulled his hand back. He sat on his hands with a sheepish grin and looked like a schoolboy caught with his fingers in the cookie jar.
A scowl rippled across the acolyte’s face for the briefest instant as she replaced the cup on the tray. Gosha noticed she didn’t partake of the tea herself.
“What diet is that?” she said with an inquiring smile. Gosha would have loved to play poker with this woman. Her inner monologue was as clear on her face as if written in thick black marker.
“No tea, no chocolate,” said Gosha. More tentacles of Influence sprouted from the pile of cookies on a lime green square plate on the tray. “No biscuits or sweet things. Basically nothing brown, yellow, or orange. Only green and red foods. It’s called the Huddersfield Diet.”
She pursed her lips shut and inwardly rolled her eyes. She was babbling.
“The Huddersfield Diet,” repeated the acolyte. “I’ve never heard of it.”
“It’s the latest thing.” Gosha couldn’t help herself. After decades of lying to everyone around her about coming from a long line of witches, now that she’d accepted the truth, she could lie about as effectively as her two boys. “From America. I read about it in a magazine.”
“Is it good?” said the acolyte, her face an oval of curiosity.
“Amazing,” said Gosha. “We’ve never been better. It completely changed the way I feel about Communist China and Top of the Pops.”
Oh my god, thought Gosha, watching herself yammer as if from a great distance. Make it stop.
Alfie cleared his throat loudly and shot her a worried glance.
“Bessie Walpole said you might be able to help us,” he cut in, to Gosha’s relief. “We’re trying to buy a house. I work in the city and my wife is an amazing fashion designer.” He put a hand on her back, helping her steady her nerves. “We want to start a business together, but we’re having trouble raising the capital.”
Not bad, thought Gosha. Not what we planned, but not bad at all.
The acolyte nodded. “Did Bessie tell you what I do?”
“She said you were a spiritual advisor,” said Gosha. “She said you helped her manifest wealth and prosperity.”
The acolyte sat back in her chair and steepled her fingers in a mockery of wise counsel.
“Portia Twill-Quimby has taught us that the human mind is like a magnet of desire. Every thought, every hope, every wish you put out into the world draws toward you its like. If you think thoughts of beauty and prosperity, beauty and prosperity will be brought back to you a thousand fold. If you are unable to raise the capital you need, it must be because you are sending signals to the universe that you are unworthy of it.”
She spread her hands in the gesture of a magician at the completion of an impressive trick, as if her point were proved beyond a doubt.
“What I will help you do is cleanse your aura at the quantum level and seed your consciousness with affirmations and visualizations that will guarantee you the success you desire.”
“That sounds brilliant. Doesn’t it darling,” said Alfie, turning toward her.
If she didn’t know him well, she would have thought he had completely fallen for all the acolyte’s drivel, but she’d seen that same look on his face at work, humoring chatty drunks away from the bar and into a taxi, a job at which he was very good.
Gosha would have happily wiped the smug look off the acolyte’s face with the back of her hand. Bessie Walpole, Midge Beadon, Tessa Chapman, and heavens knew how many others had all drained their savings and spent their pensions attempting to fulfill this Ogilvy woman’s outlandish requirements. She couldn’t sit here and listen to the idiot woman blather on. Alfie seemed like he had the situation under control.
“I’m terribly sorry, but do you mind if I use your loo?” she asked.
“Yes, of course.” The acolyte dismissed her with a wave, her focus entirely on Alfie. “Go back out to the foyer.” She said it with a pretentious French accent. “It’s the second door on the left.”
Alfie watched her as she rose. She winked back at him on her way out the door.
The rest of the house was decorated in the same avant-garde playhouse style as the living room, everything new and nothing distracting from the complete look.
It must have cost her a fortune, thought Gosha, knowing full well where the money came from.
She found the loo, opened the door and looked inside a tiny cubicle that contained a toilet, a sink, and a red and tangerine linens cabinet with squiggly legs ripped from a demented Disney cartoon. Were it Gosha’s, she would have displayed it in pride of place in her studio between her shelves of equipment and the cabinets filled with her archive of photos which now served no other purpose than to be a storehouse for dust.
She closed the door without going in, shutting it from the outside with a confident click just shy of a slam.
“Rorgatisk,” she said, and the door locked from the inside.
“Pezhvatek,” she said, and the vibrant colors around her dimmed to gray as the sound of voices from the living room muted. Anyone who looked at her would see nothing other than the room around her. As long as she didn’t interact with the environment, she was effectively invisible.
She looked up and down the hall. The stairs were to her right. She needed to get a move on if she was going to find Bessie Walpole’s heirlooms before the acolyte realized something was up.
SHE CLIMBED THE STAIRS SLOWLY, unsure if putting weight on a creaky step would break the spell of concealment, but she made it to the second floor without giving herself away.
A long corridor stretched the length of the house. The only open door was at the end, leading to another bathroom. She stood outside the nearest and pressed her ear against the wood, hoping to make out if there was anyone on the other side, but the spell of concealment muted her senses. Four closed doors on this floor and likely the same upstairs. She would have to risk exposing herself to cast a finding spell.
From an inner pocket of her bolero jacket, its four outer and two inner pockets a rarity in a woman’s garment, and another reason she was happy to indulge in something so frivolous, she withdrew a large leather wallet. Clicking open the silver clasp, she folded it open and rummaged through its contents: fifteen buttons, five silk, five taffeta, and five canvas; four small glass vials of various potions; three twigs harvested in the dark of the moon from a copse of trees at the center of the heath; seven or eight swatches of different kinds of cloth; a piece of card holding five dressmaker’s pins; a small envelope containing talcum powder, and a feather from a wild duck. Each item had been processed to act as a carrier of Influence to be used in spells, charms, and potions. Buttons were always useful. She fished them out of the wallet and dropped them in one of the outer pockets in her jacket just in case, but what she really needed was the feather.
From the rear pocket of her black jeans, she took a photo of Bessie Walpole in her younger years, when her husband was still alive. Dressed up for some important occasion, she wore the ring, necklace, and bracelet Gosha was here to retrieve, poor Bessie’s only real possessions of value.
She held the feather in one hand and the picture in the other and spoke one of the first spell words her mother had given her.
The spell of concealment popped like a bubble, the careful shroud of Influence masking her from the world around her dissipating as the finding spell created a twisting opening within her. Influence flowed from her talisman pressing against her skin through the opening of the spell to be shaped into a drifting, winding twist of power that plucked the feather from her fingers and wafted it past her up the stairs to the top floor.
“Pezhvatek,” she said, and the spell of concealment enveloped her once again in its shroud of security.
She rounded the stairwell to climb the next flight in pursuit of the lazily drifting feather as it bobbed toward the last of two doors on the right and stopped.
Got you, thought Gosha.
Still concealed, with one hand on the doorknob, she pressed her ear against the door as hard as she could. She was almost certain no sound came from the other side, even through the muting of the concealment spell. With a wince of anticipation, she turned the doorknob as quietly as she could and eased the door open to let the enchanted feather through. Her shroud of Influence dissipated.
Once inside the empty bedroom, she breathed a sigh of relief and clicked the door shut. The feather flitted across to a giant wardrobe made of irregular boxes, each of a different shade of red or orange with giant black globes for door knobs, bumped against it and stopped. Gosha opened the doors and stood back, surprised by what she found within.
Inside the wardrobe was what she could only describe as an altar. A large oil painting of Portia Twill-Quimby dressed in another frilly power suit with mammoth shoulder pads stared down beatifically at her. Five large porcelain bowls stood beneath, each filled to the lip with a magpie’s trove of jewelry: bracelets, necklaces, rings of every kind of precious metal and gem glittered in the afternoon light that flooded through the bedroom window. In Gosha’s second sight, thick vines of translucent blue-tinged Influence grew from the bowls to twine and weave around each other in an ethereal thicket that grew up and around the painting. The portrait itself glowed with the blue of Influence, and the image of Portia Twill-Quimby was crowned in a coronet of ghostly blue vines to her inner eye.
“What the hell,” she whispered.
The enchanted feather hovered over the bowls, buffeted by the rising Influence. Gosha peered into the cupboard at the hoard of treasure, loathe to get too close to the vines for fear of what they might do. If Bessie’s jewels were in there, she would have to dig to find them.
She took out her field kit and selected one of the vials. Fathom’s bane. It had taken months for Iron Jenny, her supplier of magical paraphernalia in Morel Market, to procure this tiny sample. A powerful dampener of Influence, the substance was created from the blood of someone who had been celibate for a year, drawn by a silver dagger within a stone circle under the full moon, the blood to be seasoned for another year in a specially Crafted chestnut box. She kept her sample with her at all times, but thankfully had never needed to use it before today. It would be a devil to replace.
She popped the cap and squirted two short sprays at the altar. The effect was immediate, the vines freezing. She reached out to pluck the feather back and wrapped it delicately in her hand to protect it, and opened the bedroom window with the other.
A sudden and violent gust of wind blew through the room disintegrating the vines and clearing the air of all ambient Influence. She pushed the window shut and released the feather which bobbed happily over to one of the bowls and spun above it.
“Who in unholy hell are you?” said a voice behind her.
In the door stood a lanky middle-aged man dressed for a long hike in the country in his white oxford, green jumper, and a pair of corduroys. His aura was a gentle glow around him, no vines. He wasn’t an oath-bearer.
“Denise asked me to come up and get something for her,” she stammered.
“No she didn’t,” said the man. “DENISE!” He shouted down the corridor. “Get up here! One of your cretins is in the…”
Gosha leaped across the four feet between them to put a hand on his shoulder.
“Falethta,” she said, and the man’s eyelids fluttered as he crumpled to the floor, asleep.
It was too late. Gosha could hear the sound of feet clattering up the stairs. She turned back to the altar and brushed the feather aside. She rummaged through the contents of the bowl and found Bessie Walpole’s jewelry.
“Sebastian!” shrieked the acolyte from the corridor, Alfie behind her. “Back.” She pointed a manicured finger at Alfie who was yanked away by an invisible force. She stepped over her sleeping companion into the room and saw, with horror, the altar.
“What have you done?”
She pointed a finger at Gosha and her tentacular aura whipped out at her, driving Gosha back against the wall. Gosha struggled against the ethereal tentacles that held her in place, but couldn’t break free.
“You ruined it.” The acolyte wrung her hands as she hovered over the altar. “You ruined it.”
She turned on Gosha and began to move her hands in the air as if sliding beads on a giant abacus. Her aura intensified, the tentacles writhing tight against her.
“Gyerzhat,” said Gosha, her mother’s favorite all-purpose hex, doled out liberally on those ordinary people who offended her in the market.
The word created within her a tight and chaotic opening that spun knotted Influence out at the acolyte. Ogilvy’s companion mumbled and shifted in his sleep, tangling his legs between the acolyte’s feet, knocking her off balance to tumble to the lurid green carpet. The vines of Influence holding Gosha in place disappeared. She pushed away from the wall, jewelry in hand, and made a dash for it, stepping over the jumble of limbs spreadeagled across the floor. The acolyte grabbed at her boot, but Gosha’s Doc Martens were large and slick. A good tug and Gosha was out in the corridor and down the stairs as Alfie picked himself up off the landing.
“Go, go, go,” she shouted, grabbing his hand as she ran, pulling him down with her to the front door.
As she reached to turn the deadbolt, the entire house lurched like a boat in a sudden gale throwing her and Alfie to one side. They hit the wall hard enough to knock the breath out of their lungs and leave them writhing, winded on the floor.
Ogilvy and Sebastian ran down the stairs. Denise raised her palm toward them, tentacle vines writhing around her, and the world went dark.