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Sneak Peek of Deadly Divination!

Chapter 1

“So what does it do?” On the landing, I studied the intricately carved dark-wood bowl.

A gazelle stared resentfully from a wall the color of a dried savannah. I suspected it was peeved at being so near to its nemesis, the lion head mounted above two crossed spears.

I wasn’t thrilled about the lion either. I’ve always found taxidermy unnerving—delightfully so in my museum, but not the sort of thing I’d want in my house. But this wasn’t my house. It belonged to my wannabe donor.

I stepped to the right on the soft carpet to get a better view of the artifact. At least two feet in diameter and nearly as high, it was beautiful, covered in intricate carvings of people and animals. Though with its domed lid, it looked more like a misshapen ball than a bowl.

According to my donor, Walter, the divination bowl was at least a century old. I couldn’t debate its antiquity. I was a specialist in paranormal objects, not in Yoruban art or culture.

“What does it do?” Walter asked shrilly. “It doesn’t do anything.” The chubby man swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbing above the collar of his white dress shirt. “Sorry, Ms. Kosloski.”

“You can call me Maddie,” I said for the third time. I jammed my hands into the pockets of my navy, paranormal museum hoodie.

I’d say I was dressed casually in anticipation of carrying off a large, expensive object. But I practically lived in jeans. They were my go-to fashion, just like the ponytail I kept my boring brown hair in.

One of the benefits of running a paranormal museum is no one expects you to turn up in a business suit and heels. I hate heels.

“Madelyn,” he said, and I repressed a sigh. “I just want it out of the house. I’ve been told it’s a museum piece. I got an excellent offer on it after my cousin Monty died.”

Then why didn’t you take it?

I’d done some light internet research on divination bowls after he’d called with the offer. His was indeed museum-piece quality—nothing I could afford for my small-town paranormal museum. So the donation was a suspiciously amazing stroke of luck.

Not that I was feeling suspicious at the time. I was too blinded by the heady elation of scoring a paranormal object d’art. The bowl was a big step up from the creepy dolls and photos of murderers that were my usual museum fare.

“Here. You can take this as well.” He lifted a glass-covered rectangular box off the wall.

The narrow scroll inside, its ends rolled, displayed a cheerful red demon-like figure. Squiggles of language I didn’t understand surrounded the creature.

“It’s a magic scroll from Ethiopia,” he continued.

Believe it or not, I already had one. But I took the framed scroll. Now I had a matched set. “Thanks, but—”

“And the thunder stone from a Ghana vodou market.” He thrust a pinkish, tire-shaped stone the size of my palm into my hand. “Take them all,” he said, seeming to misread my astonishment for hesitation. “It’s for the community.”

I doubted civic duty was his true motivation. But I wanted that bowl.

“I’m happy to take them,” I said before he could offer me one of the animal heads. With three new paranormal objects from the African continent, I could put together a reasonable display. “Thrilled, actually. Is there anything else you can tell me about the bowl?”

“My cousin picked it up on one of his safaris.” He glanced down the stairs at an eland head, mounted on the wall. I’m sure I imagined the look of thwarted determination in its brandy-colored glass eyes, its horns aimed to impale us.

“I believe he said the priest’s tools were kept inside it,” he continued. “Monty once told me this bowl was big magic, if it helps.”

It didn’t, and I grimaced. My online research had turned up only vague explanations about the bowls. The articles had focused more on the priests and the Yoruba religion than a bowl’s actual use.

Walter tugged on the collar of his button-up shirt. “It... changes.” He cocked his head as if listening.

I tore my gaze from the carved wooden bowl. “Changes?”

“Changes inside. You know how there are patterns in wood grain?”

I nodded. I’d spent my youth staring at the ceiling above my bed and imagining demonic faces scowling down.

He gulped again. “The patterns change. There’s a dark—knothole, I guess. It seems to be, er, growing. Take a look.” He nodded toward the bowl.

I jammed the salmon-colored stone into the pocket of my hoodie and set the framed scroll on the sand-colored carpet. Carefully, I lifted the bowl’s carved lid. The interior was pale and unfinished, in contrast to its dark exterior.

“There.” Walter pointed at an oblong knot in the wood grain. “It wasn’t there before. And it’s growing.”

I lifted a brow. “Before…?”

“Before my cousin’s accident.” He glanced at the stairs behind us and nodded. “Do you hear something dripping?”

“What?” I asked, baffled by the change of topic.

“Excuse me. I just need to check if the water...” He hurried down the upstairs hallway and through a door.

I returned to my perusal of the bowl. Dr. Montgomery Haselton had died six months ago from a fall down these very stairs. His cousin, Walter Glasgow, had inherited everything, including the house.

Unless Walter had been a trophy hunter too, which I doubted, it looked like he hadn’t changed much since moving in. I returned the lid to the bowl. It slid a little sideways, and I adjusted it.

Walter returned, blotting his round face with a hand towel. “Well?”

“Is everything all right?”

“Yes, I thought I might have left the tap on, but it’s off. So? Will you accept the donation? I’d rather not have to sell it. Monty wouldn’t have wanted that.”

There’d never been any real question of me not taking it. I should have remembered that saying about gift horses. But I was gripped by a fever of paranormal acquisitiveness.

My interest in the paranormal had not come naturally. I’d had a perfectly respectable and lucrative international career. Until I’d blown the whistle on company corruption and gotten canned.

Returning to my California farm-country hometown to lick my wounds had led me down this twisted path. I hadn’t planned on taking over the local paranormal museum. Though lately, I wasn’t sure if I owned the museum, or if the museum owned me.

“I’ll take them all, of course.” I hesitated. Since I now was a paranormal museum owner, maybe a little skeptical inquiry was in order. “I’m surprised you looked inside the bowl often enough to have noticed a change to the wood grain.”

“It’s the lid,” he said impatiently.

“The lid?”

Briefly, he closed his eyes. “I have a touch of OCD.”

That explained his paranoia about drippy faucets.

“That’s obsessive-compulsive disorder,” he continued. “The lid is supposed to turn into place and stop where it belongs, but it doesn’t. It doesn’t fit properly. I keep turning it and turning it and then checking to see if I’ve missed something—some groove or wooden lock. But there’s nothing. Anyway, I began to notice the, er, knot. But the bowl is still in excellent condition. I don’t believe the fit of the lid diminishes its value in any way.”

Since it was a donation, it didn’t really matter. Unless he wanted a tax deduction. Which I couldn’t provide since we were a for-profit museum. “Did you want a form for the Infernal Revenue Service?” I asked, rubbing my palms on my jeans.

“No, no. I just want it gone. Now,” he added pointedly, ignoring my joke.

Taking the hint, I picked up the lid and carried it down to my waiting pickup. The pickup was vintage, red, and had belonged to my father, and a dull gray mass clouded my heart.

I knew all about inheritances and the emotional baggage attached. Maybe Walter had a private reason to get rid of the bowl. It wasn’t my business to question it.

I eased the lid onto the seat then returned inside for the bottom of the bowl.

Walter, carrying the magic scroll beneath one arm, followed me to the truck. He watched me wrap the bowl in a green blanket and set it on the passenger-side floor. Walter handed me the scroll, and I laid it atop the wrapped bowl.

I closed the passenger door. “If you find your cousin’s original receipts for the objects, I’d love to have them. I like to keep track of the provenance of the objects in the museum. A receipt might tell me more about the history of these donations.”

“My cousin was a terrible record keeper, but I’ll look.” Walter hesitated. “If you want more information, you might try Colyn Bestwick. He runs an African Art Gallery in Sacramento. He was... acquainted with my cousin’s collection.”

Sacramento? It was too much to hope the gallery would be closer to poky little San Benedetto. Still, Sacramento beat San Francisco, two hours away. When the freeway was clear, I could make Sacramento in forty minutes.

This being modern California, the freeway was rarely clear.

I shut the passenger door. “Thanks. I’ll do that.”

Walter hurried inside the two-story house, and I climbed into my pickup. My cell phone rang, and I checked the screen. My mother.


“Madelyn, this is your mother. How did it go? Did he give you the bowl?”

My gaze flicked to the old pickup’s red roof. I hadn’t told my mother about the donation. But she was co-president of Ladies Aid, our local underappreciated non-profit. The ladies there did everything and knew everything, whether anyone liked it or not. “Yes. He even—”

“Did he throw in that magic scroll?”

Augh. How had she known about that? “Yes, he did. And a thunder stone,” I blurted before she could steal my thunder (ha) on that score as well.

“A what?”

“It’s from Ghana,” I hedged. Not only was I not an expert on the Yoruba tribe, I was also not an expert on pretty much any aspect of African culture. So shame on me. I’d need to research the stone.

“Oh,” she said. “Well I’m glad you got the scroll too. It would be silly to break up the set.”

“The set? The scroll’s from Ethiopia and the bowl’s from Nigeria.”

“But Dr. Haselton kept them together because of the supernatural theme.”

Sheesh. Everyone was getting in on the paranormal collecting act. “How well did you know the doctor?”

“Well enough.” Ice crept into her tone.

“Was he... not a good person?” I started the pickup.

She exhaled heavily. “He kept practicing after he shouldn’t, and he made a mistake that… Well. It took that to get him to retire. I’m sure he felt terrible about it,” she said doubtfully. “Anyway, I’m glad you got the bowl. Whoops. I need to go.” She disconnected.

I started the pickup. It was a March Monday in Central California. The afternoon was a balmy sixty-eight degrees. The museum was closed, and the cat, GD, had already been fed.

So I did not drive straight to the museum. Instead, I drove past greening vineyards and bumped over the railroad tracks to the outskirts of San Benedetto, a flat wash of fields and random industrial buildings. I pulled into a business park of concrete and corrugated metal and stopped in front of a wooden door.

My paranormal collector, Herb Linden, kept a warehouse here. There was a fifty-fifty chance he’d be in it, and I’d take those odds. But I hesitated in the cab, my truck’s metal ticking as it cooled.

My goal was twofold. First, to pick his brain about the bowl. Second, to flatter him shamelessly. He’d be furious I’d collected three paranormal objects on my own. Herb could get as territorial as an African lion when it came to the paranormal.

Finally, I stepped from my truck and walked to the building. I knocked on the door and glanced into the camera angled above it.

After a minute or two, there was the sound of locks clicking. The door opened. Herb peered out, his coke-bottle glasses glinting in the sun. “What?”

“I need your expertise.”

The little man looked warily around the lot. A breeze tossed his thinning hair. He straightened his bow tie. “Were you followed?”

I managed not to roll my eyes. Herb had an overblown idea of the interest the police and paranormal collectors took in his activities. “No.”

He glanced around again. “Then come in. Quickly.”

“Just a minute.” While Herb fidgeted in the doorway, I returned to my truck and put the lid on the bowl.

I carried it inside the office, stacked with labeled boxes. Tagged objects sat upon rows of shelves built into the walls. More security cameras gazed down from the corners of the room. I set the bowl on the metal desk.

Herb adjusted his glasses. “A Yoruba divination bowl. Circa 1920, is my guess. An excellent example of its kind. One doesn’t normally find carvings that elaborate. Where’d you get it?”

I narrowed my eyes. Herb was reacting better than I’d expected. After all, I’d stepped on the toes of his patent leather shoes by acquiring my own paranormal objects.

“Walter Glasgow donated it to the museum,” I said slowly. “It belonged to his cousin.”

He frowned.

Uh, oh. Here it comes. “Walter called me,” I said rapidly. “I didn’t solicit the donation.”

Herb waved his hand dismissively. “Yes, yes.”

Yes, yes? I lowered my head and studied him. This was way too easy. “His cousin said it was big magic.”

Herb snorted. “There’s no magic on it. But there is something...” He opened a desk drawer and snapped on a pair of latex gloves.


“Something… dark.” He lifted the lid and sucked in his breath.

“Walter said the wood grain patterns change,” I said helpfully, pointing at the knothole. “The knothole has been growing. Do you think it’s cursed?” Museum visitors loved cursed objects, particularly when there was a spooky story attached.

Herb paled. “That’s not a knothole.” He stepped away from the bowl and bumped into the metal shelf behind him.

Atop it, a mechanical monkey with bulging eyes jerked to life. It clapped its cymbals, its polka dot hat trembling.

Herb pointed with a shaking hand. “That’s… blood.”


Paranormal museum owner Maddie is no stranger to the bizarre. But when she receives a donated Yoruba divination bowl, she can’t shake the feeling there’s something deeply wrong. And when her investigation into the bowl leads her to a mysterious death and a cold case, the situation becomes more sinister than she could have imagined.

With the help of her quirky family and friends, Maddie must untangle the truth from the lies. But can she get to the bottom of this cold case before a crooked killer gets to her?

Deadly Divination is a short read and book 7 in the Perfectly Proper Paranormal Museum series of mysteries. You’ll love this whodunit because it’s a twisty light paranormal mystery with heart.

The ebook launches June 27th, but it's not too late to pre-order it for only .99 cents!

Book cover: Deadly Divination. GD Cat sitting beside a Yoruba divination bowl inside the paranormal museum.


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