Episode 22: The Glass Cat

The cedar jewelry box sat open on the cashier’s counter between Kerry and Sly. Sly was back on the cashier’s side, as she had been when Kerry came in, only now she was digging through the drawers of the dresser behind her, looking for fine tools they could use to poke and prod at the jewelry box.

Kerry, meanwhile, very gently felt around the exterior edges of the box, especially focusing her attention on the base. The interior evergreen velvet could be concealing a hidden bottom, too, but Kerry had tried a simple sweep of her finger around the seams already, and she hadn’t felt any sort of loop or latch she could pull up.

She traced the engraved initials: FMP. She prodded the woodcarver’s mark, too.

“It almost feels like the woodcarver carved this box out of a whole block of wood instead of, like, using panels to make the sides and the base and nailing them together,” Kerry noted. “It’s seamless. I don’t even see any break in the wood grain pattern.”

“If it’s not an external compartment, it’s got to be an internal false bottom,” Sly said. “And if it’s a functional false bottom, we shouldn’t have to tear up the velvet to get to it. There should be some kind of latch or something inside that will make the false bottom pop open.”

“Unless it’s magic.” The playful joke came easily, just the sort of thing Kerry would have kidded about on an investigation for her whole life. But then she tilted her head to one side, considering that point. If it was true that Florence Paxwood was into occult stuff, she could have been into real magic. What if the false bottom was sealed by some kind of old magic locking spell?

“Funny,” Sly said wryly, though. She shook her head. “Given the kind of stuff Florence was into, if it were magic, it’d probably be the blood sacrifice kind. Let’s rule out normal hidden latches before we start to prick our fingers and draw pentagrams, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Kerry concurred. She couldn’t quite get a read on whether Sly was serious about drawing blood pentagrams or joking, as well, so she shrugged it off for now.

Sly turned the box toward her and started to explore the topmost edge of it with her finger. “Sometimes the trigger is hidden up at the top edge of the box. Maybe spring-loaded.”

“Even on a box made in the early 1900s?” Kerry asked.

“Puzzle boxes and hidden compartments have been around for ages and ages.” Sly shrugged. “It’s one of the things it pays to know a little about when you work at an antique shop. Especially during the off season, when you inevitably get bored and start hoping that one of these dusty old things contains a secret treasure map that’ll make you a billionaire who never has to work another day in her life.”

Sly pulled her fingers back and sighed, though, shaking her head. Then she picked up the magnet bar that she’d pulled out of the drawer.

“Another option is a magnet lock. Those were a lot less common. But, it’s worth a shot. Want to do the honors?”

“Oh, sure.” Kerry accepted the magnet in hand. “What… do I do?”

“Run it over the box and see if you feel any magnetic snag. If you do, wiggle it around slowly in each direction until you feel the magnet pulling something with it.”

Kerry started to move the magnet bar slowly against the front of the box first, then around one side. It was when she started to drag the magnet along the back of the box that she felt a very, very faint reaction. A weak resistance, like the magnet wasn’t entirely sure whether it wanted to hold on or let go. She looked over at Sly and nodded.

“Here,” she said.

“Okay, try to pull it around. See what happens.”

Kerry moved the magnet still more slowly. When she felt the resistance slip away, she shook her head, then placed the magnet where the hold felt strongest and tried again. To the left? No. To the right? No. Up? No. Down? No. She imagined a map compass in her mind and smiled, just faintly.

“The Paxwoods moved from the East,” Kerry said, placing the magnet just a little bit further, where her imaginary map compass would be pointing east. “To the northwest.” She dragged the magnet diagonally up toward where that northwest arrow tip might have been on a map compass.

With a click, the base of the jewelry box popped upward.

“Clever,” Sly complimented. 

They both leaned in and reached to remove the base at the same time. Kerry pulled her hand back.

“I did the magnet, you do the honors?” she suggested, even as much as she wanted to do this herself.

“Sure.” Sly reached back in and pulled the base panel upward slowly.

Inside the surprisingly deep internal compartment, there was a glass cat, crystal clear, with a red heart in its chest. It laid there curled up in a sleeping crescent, fine crystalline tail twirled around it.

“Oh, beautiful,” Kerry said, eyes widening.

“Did you get to the part in Luella’s journal where she complains about how much her oldest sister Marjorie loves the Oz books, and how silly they are?” Sly asked.

It seemed entirely out of left field. Kerry nodded, though. “Yeah, I read that part.”

“The Glass Cat. Bungle,” Sly said.

Kerry raised an eyebrow.

“And you struck me as the kind of person who’d love reading a whole series about a bunch of girls who get transported into a magical world.” Sly laughed. “All right, so, in one of the books, there’s this magician with a powder that makes things come to life. He has this pretty glass cat with a ruby heart and emerald eyes and decides, hey, that cat could probably help keep the mice out of my house, but after he brings it to life, it decides it’s much too fancy to chase mice. I mean, it’s made out of glass, so can you blame it?”

“Okay, I remember the Powder of Life from the Return to Oz, where they use it to make the weird sofa creature fly,” Kerry said.

“You watched the movies, but you haven’t read the books?” Sly gave her a judgmental look.

Kerry shrugged. “Look, there’s only so much time in a day, and I got too terrified by the weird skating monsters in Return to Oz to give the books a chance. I was, like, six.”

Sly laughed then. “Fair.”

“So, is this Bungle the Glass Cat, a trinket modeled after a character from the Oz books, which Florence’s daughter Marjorie loved,” Kerry said, bringing it all together. “Do you think it has the emerald eyes and everything?”

“Only one way to find out.” Sly reached into the box and scooped the glass cat out, the same way that she would scoop out any object someone would expect to be solid but somewhat fragile, carefully between her two hands.

The thing was, when she took her hands out of the box, the little glass cat figurine’s tail draped down over the edge of one of her hands.

Sly yelped, but somehow she refrained from hurling the figurine from her hands as it uncurled itself and yawned a surprisingly loud, very cat-sounding yawn. It blinked emerald green eyes up at Sly, then leapt from Sly’s hand to the countertop and started to stroll along like it was the most natural thing in the world for a glass figure to move about. As it moved, the light caught and shimmered on the little ruby heart trapped inside the clear glass body.

“It’s… walking,” Sly said. She looked over at Kerry. “How is it walking?”

Kerry felt the oddest sense of bewilderment as she met Sly’s gaze and said what Rowen had said to her only a day before: “So, magic is real.”

Episode 22: The Glass Cat

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