Black & White Croakies

Enchanting Inquiries Book 9

Good parenting advice: Only allow your small frog, cat, and hobgoblin limited and supervised television time, or risk stunting their mental and physical growth.

Yeah, it might already be too late for that…

It seemed like good, innocent fun. A trip back to a simpler time, a fun jaunt to the “good old days”. It turned out to be anything but harmless. The “kids” loved the old, black and white shows. But, per usual at Croakies, things devolved quickly, transforming “quiet” time into a heart-pounding adventure.

And of course, as you’d expect, the frog, the cat, and the hobgoblin are right in the middle of it all.

I’m a total derf at this whole parenting thing.

And my “children” are brats.

Holy flippin’ frog flatulence. So much for the good old days…

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November 17, 2020

Praise for Black & White Croakies

Jen- Booksprout Reviewer

"I love Black and White Croakies! Sam Cheever has an incredible detailed and descriptive way of writing that brings the pages alive. The characters are witty and humorous. The book is incredibly engaging and fun. It is exciting and full of adventure. Your attention is captured right from the beginning through constant adventure to the exciting dramatic end. The plot and characters are unique and interesting. I love this series and always look forward to the next book!"

Jan - Amazon Reviewer

"In this story, the group gets sucked into a 1960s black and white TV show. That story premise is just a hoot, as is the way the author pulls it off. As always, it is a fast-moving adventure with plenty of smiles and laughs to break up the tension. I just love this series."

Read an Excerpt

“They’re staring at that old TV again,” Sebille informed me as she came into the bookstore from the artifact library.

I shrugged, tucking a curly strand of long brown hair behind my ear. I was secretly happy the terrible threesome wasn’t flinging flour around the bookstore or creating more of those bunny-butted songbirds that had all but overrun Croakies. I’d had to hide the Plex hand vac from Hobs, my resident hobgoblin, because every time he used it to suck up dirt, the thing made more songbirds. They were currently lined two deep along the tops of my bookshelves, pooping all over the pretty new wood shelves beneath their feathered boohinds.

I had so many of the annoyingly happy critters in the store that I’d had to create a birdseed column in my monthly expenses.

“It’s not hurting them,” I said, the goddess of rationalization. “And it keeps them out of trouble.”

Sebille glared over at me, her bright green gaze narrowed. “They need to turn it off and go use their imaginations or something,” said the cranky sprite, whose parenting instincts had heretofore been inspired mostly by the pithy little sayings in the fortune cookies she so loved.

The tiny amalgamate dragon perched on Sebille’s shoulder chittered happily, lifting her wings and flying across the room to visit with her friends the songbirds. The birds broke into happy song at the dragon’s arrival. Little Sadie lifted her tiny head and joined them. Sebille and I winced. The dragon’s “song” sounded more like screeching banshees than music.

Luckily, there were so many birds they mostly overwhelmed the dragon’s voice.

Silver lining.

A whistling theme song rose above the bird’s clatter, as if Hobs was trying to drown out the happy noise by turning up the volume on the elderly TV. I recognized the song from a very old sitcom, which involved a country sheriff and his bumbling deputy dealing with a lot of silly problems.

Since I’d recently been lost in a dimensional wrinkle; had almost been killed by monsters, wizards, and demons more than once; and have had to continually deal with a naughty hobgoblin, a magical cat, and a snarky talking frog; I’d give almost anything to have problems as mundane as who was going to tell Aunt Bee her new rhubarb pie tasted like butt.

I’m just sayin’.

The door to my recently updated store opened, and a small elderly woman came inside, her eyes going wide as she took in the renovations. “Oh my! It looks lovely, dear.”

I embraced Mrs. Foxladle, my favorite human customer. At just a little over five feet tall, she seemed diminutive next to my five feet nine inches. “Thank you, Mrs. F! It’s so nice to see you. It’s been a while.”

Behind me, the dividing door closed softly. “Hello, Mrs. F,” Sebille said, waving as she headed toward the tea counter. “Can I make you some tea?”

“No, thank you, Sebille dear. I won’t be but a minute.” She squeezed my hand. “I’ve been a bit under the weather.”

“Oh, no. Nothing serious, I hope?”

“Just a cold, dear. No worries. And then the store was closed for a couple of weeks.” She looked around. “I barely recognize the place.” Despite her kind words, her expression was dubious.

“I know it’s shocking. But this old place was long overdue for a facelift.” Especially after being trashed by an epic battle against monsters from the abyss, I thought. But, of course, I wouldn’t tell Mrs. F that.

“I kind of liked its old, saggy face.” She chuckled, reassuring me that her statement wasn’t a criticism so much as a statement of fact. “When you get older like me, you find comfort in timeworn, familiar things. Do you know I’ve been coming to this wonderful store for twenty years?”

My blue eyes went wide. “Seriously?”

“Seriously.” She gave me a mischievous look. “I’m glad you didn’t replace that old sign outside. It always makes me smile.”

I barely kept from rolling my eyes. I’d tried several times to update that stupid sign when I’d taken over Croakies. The scratched and tattered wooden sign with its ugly spotted frog was apparently under a magical grandfathering clause. Every time I’d tried to put a new sign in its place, or even change the name of the store, the sign had magically reappeared, and the paperwork had mysteriously reverted back to the old name.

I’d given up after several tries, finally deciding that I would try to like the quirky original placard since it seemed I had no choice. “What can I help you with today?” I asked Mrs. Foxladle.

Her gaze skimmed away from mine as if she wasn’t sure how her response would be received. “My visit isn’t about books, dear. I know you occasionally take in…antiques.”

Mrs. Foxladle had seen me handling artifacts a time or two. I hadn’t realized she’d noticed them or made a connection about my having them in my possession. The woman might be well into her seventies, but she was still sharp as a tack.

I shrugged, giving her a response that I hoped was suitably vague. “Occasionally, I help friends move things around.”

“A friend of mine has been searching for a specific television set. An old black and white one. He collects antique entertainment media. I believe he has an old record player and a VHS player too.” She shook her head. “Anyway, my friend Gladys walked by Croakies a couple of days ago and mentioned she’d seen you carrying one inside. I wondered if it was for sale?”

Black and white bat boogers! I suddenly felt like a bug under glass. Apparently, the whole city of Enchanted had been watching my every move.

I shook my head. “I’m sorry. That television belongs to a friend of mine. I’m just storing it for her until she moves into her new place.” I really hated to lie to my favorite human, but I couldn’t very well tell her the television was a magical artifact. The man we’d taken it from had been human and had apparently gotten it from my favorite giant.

Theopolis Gargantu owned Enchanted Collateral, Enchanted’s only pawn shop, and he’d evidently had the TV for a few months, lost in the mess of his overstuffed home artifact.

What is a home artifact, you ask? It’s pretty much as it sounds. A giant’s residence is a living, breathing entity. A magical artifact. As such, it has a life of its own and you never know what to expect when you walk into one. A giant’s home artifact is generally benign. However, like the giants who live in them, the artifacts crave clutter and the accumulation of stuff. And that clutter always seemed to be moving around.

It would be easy for Theo to lose stuff in the clutter. In fact, he often did. The only miracle was that he ever managed to find anything in it.

When Theo’s customer had come looking for the old relic, Theo had reluctantly decided to sell it to him. Only because the man had offered Theo several items in exchange for the TV. Apparently, as soon as he’d sold the ancient television, Theo’d had second thoughts, probably because he’d suspected the man was human.

Selling magical artifacts to humans was a dangerous practice. Against the laws of the magic governing body, the Société of Dire Magic. And if the Société found out that Theo had sold the artifact, he’d be in a lot of trouble. He might even lose Enchanted Collateral.

Which would all but kill him.

Anyway, when Theo realized the error of his ways, he’d come to me. He’d given me the man’s address and had reluctantly handed me an envelope filled with enough cash to buy it back. Sebille and I had gone to retrieve the television and found the man’s door unlocked. The television artifact in the living room had been turned on and showed only black and white snow on its small screen. There’d been no sign of the man. Asking around the neighborhood, we’d gotten assurances that he hadn’t been seen for a couple of days. So we’d taken the television from his living room and left the envelope in its place.

On the way back to Croakies, I’d called Detective Wise Grym to request that he check into the man’s disappearance. Which reminded me, I needed to check in with my favorite detective.

You know, just to find out if he’d located Mrs. F’s missing friend.

What other reason could I possibly have for calling him?

Shush now!

“What’s your friend’s name?” Sebille asked, carrying over a steaming cup of tea and settling it on the brand-new table in the center of the open area at the front of the shop. Like most everything else, the previous table had been turned into so much kindling during the monster battle.

“Dugan McDonald,” Mrs. Foxladle said, smiling shyly. “He’s Irish.”

Alarm tightened in my chest. I glanced at Sebille and found her widened gaze. That was the name of the man we’d confiscated the television from. “When was the last time you spoke to Mr. McDonald?” I asked Mrs. Foxladle.

She shrugged. “Last Sunday, I think. He goes to my church.” She tugged her wool coat close around her throat as if she were cold. I realized when she spoke again that it signified embarrassment. She clearly liked the man a lot and was disconcerted to show it. “He has such a pleasant accent. So lilting. I believe there’s romance in accents, don’t you, dear?”

“Definitely. Are you sure you wouldn’t like to stay for some tea?” I asked, hoping she’d take that as her cue to go. I needed to talk to Sebille about the new information and contact Grym.

“No. But thank you. I need to be going. Are we still on for book club tonight?”

I wanted to say no, but I didn’t have the heart to disappoint her. I’d had to cancel her book club meeting for the last several weeks due to my busy schedule and then the renovations. I didn’t want to let her down again.

“We’re on for seven as planned. I might have to run out for a bit this afternoon, but I should be back in plenty of time.”

She inclined her head. “Good. I’m really looking forward to it. Detective Grym has agreed to join us.” Her smile was sly. I got the distinct impression the elderly woman had decided it was her job to fix me up with Wise Grym.

I had no intention of being the victim of her matchmaking. There was only so far I’d go to make a customer happy. Even one I liked as much as Mrs. Foxladle. “I’ll see you tonight then.”

I opened the door for her and found myself staring at the lean, rock-hewn form of a man whose hand was formed as if to grasp the door handle.

It was the devil himself. Or, if you preferred, Detective Grym.

Potato potahto.

Mrs. Foxladle beamed up at him. “There you are young man. We were just talking about you.”

Grym took the hand she offered him and smiled down at the tiny woman. “No wonder my ears were ringing,” he told her.

She laughed gaily. “We will see you tonight, won’t we?”

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

Watching him treat the elderly woman with such gentle kindness burned away another chunk of the anger I was still holding against the detective for outing me to the Société of Dire Magic. My brain knew that he’d only been doing his job when he’d reported some of my missteps as Keeper to the supervising body. But my heart kept telling me that he should have had my back.

Still, he’d stepped in to help me when I’d recently had a monster problem, and he’d gone to bat for me with the Société when he probably shouldn’t have.

He was slowly but surely worming his way back into my good graces.

Grym watched Mrs. Foxladle walk away down the street and then turned to me, the pleasant expression on his handsome face sliding away. “We need to talk.”

I pointed to the table where Sebille had been. It was empty but for Sebille’s still steaming teacup. “Sit. Do you want tea?”

The sprite was already walking back to the table with two more cups. “I’ve got it.”

Grym took his with a grateful smile and drank half of it in one gulp. I grimaced, wondering if his tongue was made of rock. That tea was hot. “Thanks, Sebille,” he said. “What a morning.”

I bit back the urge to laugh. “Worse than fighting a bunch of monsters that were escaping through a tear in the abyss?”

He smiled, shaking his head as he sipped his tea. “Not quite, but close.” Grym set his cup down on the table and gave me an earnest look. “That television you picked up?”

I sipped, nodding for him to go on.

“You need to put it into the toxic magic vault ASAP.”

Slug slobbers! I felt my eyes go wide. “Why?”

The detective scrubbed a big hand over his face, his expression spooked. After everything he’d seen and done as a supernormal cop in a city that was filled with things like witches, dragons, wizards, and giant snake monsters, I wondered what could put that look in his dark-caramel eyes.

He met my gaze. Held it. “What did the living room of that house look like when you picked up the TV?”

Sebille and I shared a look. “Just like any other living room. A bit overcrowded and cluttered.”

The sprite nodded. “It smelled like soup.”

I wrinkled my nose. It had smelled like cabbage soup. Not my favorite smell.

“It wasn’t…” Grym looked down at his tea. I wondered at his clear reluctance to tell us what he’d seen. His hesitation was making me really nervous. My gaze slid to the dividing door, and I thought of that theme song that had suddenly blared from the back.

“Everything wasn’t black and white?” Grym asked, his face flushing. “Like an old TV show?”

I shook my head. Sebille and I shared a look. “No.”

Leeching color from a house was concerning, I thought. But it didn’t explain the haunted expression on Grym’s handsome face.

“The color leeching was spreading as I stood there,” he went on. “I tried to stay away from it, but it caught the tip of my shoe before I noticed.”

He held his foot up so we could see the perfect line that separated the warm brown leather of his shoe from the flat, gray color of the toe.

“Badger boogers!” I exclaimed. “That’s not good.”

Grym shook his head. “That’s not what’s got me worried, though. I think that TV did something to McDonald.” His haunted gaze lifted to mine. “I think it grabbed him.”

That took a beat to soak in. I sat there, blinking at him.

Then horror hit, turning my spine to ice.

I surged from my chair at the same time the sprite did. I ran toward the dividing door and flung it open, surging through before I thought about what might be waiting for us.

The whistling theme song smacked us in the face like a fist. The sound was loud enough to lance my eardrums and make my head pulse. As we came into the room, it sliced off, leaving behind only a heavy silence.

I jolted to a stop, Sebille slamming into my back with a grunt. I swung my gaze around the room, panic flaring to tighten my chest. The center of the giantnormous room was totally devoid of color. Everything within a growing circle of space was black, white, and gray. At the very center of the circle was the retrieved television artifact. But no ancient television show played across its screen. It was just snow. Black, white, and gray spots dancing behind the curved glass face.

Just as it had been when we’d seen it at Dugan McDonald’s place.

The floor in front of the television was empty except for the half-eaten remains of a frosted brownie.

Smeared along the edge of the old artifact, as if the person who’d been eating the brownie had tried to hold onto the frame to keep from being pulled inside, were several long streaks of frosting.

Like chocolate claw marks that screamed of fear and desperation.

Grym came up behind me as my knees buckled, my head shaking in denial. “No, no, no, no, no…”

He caught me, holding me upright with a densely muscled arm around my waist. “Naida?”

Tears burned their way down my cheeks. “They’re gone,” I said, the words emerging thick and rough through my tear-clogged throat.

Without a word, Sebille reached over and clasped my hand in hers. “We’ll get them back, Naida.”

I just stood there shaking my head. Hobs, Wicked, and Slimy were gone. Probably sucked into that stupid artifact. And it was all my fault.

I was a terrible parent.

“I should have made them go outside to play,” I murmured, feeling as if my world had just crashed and burned beneath my feet. “I should have made them turn it off. I should have…”

I sagged downward. Grym’s arm tightened around my middle, and it was the only thing holding me off the floor.

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