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Mac has been friends forever with Jerry Fairweather. Jerry claims to be psychic and is, unlike his two brothers, somewhat screwy. And he refuses to claim a share in ...
Mac has been friends forever with Jerry Fairweather. Jerry claims to be psychic and is, unlike his two brothers, somewhat screwy. And he refuses to claim a share in the Fairweather fortune. But he shares some good news with Mac -- his Uncle Val has died and left him a house. The two friends drive out to Celosia, a half hour away, where they discover a local beauty pageant in trouble and a house just perfect for setting up shop. A Psychic Shop. The arrival of lawyer Olivia, Jerry's shark-like girlfriend, rouses both Mac's interest in the mystery at the pageant and the one in her own heart. And then comes the first murder.
A Case of Imagination is Jane Tesh's playful first mystery, the start of a series by an author who admires Terry Pratchett, Martha Grimes, Carl Hiaasen, and P.G. Wodehouse.
My lack of clients wouldn't have been so bad except I could hear all kinds of activity from Reid Kent's office next door and knew he was doing a brisk business without me. Around noon, he had the nerve to poke his head in my door and ask me about lunch.
"No, thanks." Why give him more opportunity to gloat? "It's Tuesday. I'm meeting Jerry."
Reid's grin widened and he made what I'm sure he thought were spooky noises. "Will he see success in your future?"
This wasn't worth a reply. It was worth a dirty look, though, a dirty look that didn't faze him. He parked his rear on my desk and gave his dark, carefully groomed hair a few pats as ifwalking all the way from next door had disturbed his coiffure.
"You know, Madeline, if this isn't working out for you, you can always come back to Kent and Ross."
"Think of this as a learning experience. Why struggle with your own agency when you can be a welcome addition to mine?"
"I tried that, Reid, and I prefer to be on my own."
"But you've had, what, two clients?"
"Three. And all three were very satisfied."
He gave me a pitying look. "Face it, Madeline. Nobody's going to hire a former Miss Parkland. I don't care if you've cut your hair short and don't wear any makeup. You're still too much of a distraction."
"I'm supposed to take that as a compliment?"
He leaned forward. "If you want to."
"Go away, Reid."
He laughed and hopped off the desk. "Oh, excuse me. I can see you've got way too much work to do."
I heard him laughing all the way back to his office. Damn it, Reid Kent was not going to spoil my day. He'd spoiled too many of my days already. That Miss Parkland crack was what passed for witty banter with Reid. Despite his doubts and the doubts of several of my friends, I was not going to believe that my looks had anything to do with my ability. Yes, I'd had a successful pageant career. I was determined to be just as successful as an investigator.
I slung my pocketbook over my shoulder and went out, pausing to lock my door. Even though I had nothing of value, I didn't want Reid or any of his toadies snooping in my office. A short elevator ride took me to the foyer of the Pressler Building. From there, it's a short walk to my favorite hangout, Baxter's Barbecue, one of the best little restaurants in this part of Parkland. Baxter's is very plain, with wooden tables covered with plastic red and white checkered cloths, plastic forks and spoons, and cheap paper napkins. But the food is terrific: barbecue that melts in your mouth, tangy slaw, and crunchy hush puppies. I waved to Ellis and Betsy Stone, the owners, and slid into my favorite booth in the corner. I went ahead and ordered my lunch. Jerry would be late. He's always late.
Jeremyn Nicholas Fairweather. Sounds like the hero of one of those Regency romances, doesn't it? One of those tall, dark, dashing Lord Byron types, the kind of impeccably dressed man who can ride, fence, gamble, and dance, all with equal grace.
Jerry's not that. He's a slim, youthful-looking man of medium height with light brown hair and gray eyes. You'd never believe he belongs to one of the richest families in Parkland. His older brother, Des, is a world-class concert pianist. His younger brother, Tucker, grows prize-winning roses on the family estate. Harriet, the eldest, is haughty and distant. Jerry, however, is, well, different. He doesn't have a regular job. Right now, he was bunking with Buddy, one of his scruffy friends. And he's given up all claims to his share of the Fairweather fortune. I've yet to figure out why. I can only guess it has something to do with his so-called psychic ability, which he uses for all the wrong reasons.
He arrived ten minutes late, managing to look wind-blown even on a calm day, his hair in his eyes, his tie crooked. He tossed his jacket into a chair and sat down across from me. Jerry likes to wear suits, but has unfortunate taste in ties. The tie of the day was brown, with neon-yellow pineapples.
"Sorry I'm late. I was doing a reading for Constance Shawn."
"Again?" Constance Shawn is one of several rich old ladies who like to have their palms read. I'm sure the fact that Jerry, even at the grand old age of twenty-nine, looks young and cute has something to do with their insistence. "Isn't that the third time this week?"
"She asked me."
"You're such a pushover. What else are you doing today?"
He loosened his tie. "I have a séance at four."
I started to tell him what I thought about that when he reached into the folds of his jacket and brought out an envelope. "I also have a house."
He took out a letter. "My Uncle Val left me a house."
"I thought you didn't care about worldly goods."
"I don't, but this sounds interesting." He handed the letter to me.
"Who's Uncle Val?"
"My mother's brother. I think he only visited one time when I was little. He didn't like the idea of my mother marrying my dad, so he wasn't very welcome."
I scanned the letter. "This says he died two weeks ago and left you a house and some land in Celosia."
"I borrowed Buddy's VW. Let's go look at it."
"Sure. You're not doing anything, are you?" His expression changed. "Oh, sorry, Mac. That didn't come out the way I meant it."
"No, you're right," I said. "I don't have a case. I don't even have the hint of a case-unless you see something."
He paused, letting his large gray eyes focus on a point somewhere behind me. Then he crossed his eyes. "Nope. Sorry."
"I can't believe anybody buys your act."
He grinned. "What act?"
Betsy brought two large barbecue sandwiches, two orders of fries, and two large iced teas, plus a plastic basket loaded with fat hush puppies. She set everything on the table and wiped her hands on her apron. "You know, Jerry, I was wondering if you'd check on my grandma's knee. She seems to think there's some kind of demon interference that's keeping it from healing."
He avoided my skeptical expression. "Be glad to."
"She should be here in a little while. I'd really appreciate it."
Betsy moved on to the next table. I reached for the ketchup and poured it over my fries. "So now you're healing people. That's nice."
"Just a little laying on of hands."
"Good lord, Jerry, some day somebody's going to smack the hell out of you."
His look was pure innocence. "But if they believe, they get well. I'm saving them lots of doctor's fees."
"If you keep playing around like you're psychic, some day you're going to pay."
"Did you check with the Psychic Patrol on that? I haven't heard that rule."
"Shut up and eat."
The lush fat content of Baxter's barbecue calmed me down. I was all set to give Jerry a few more words of advice when he looked at me with his calm gray gaze and said, "What's the trouble?"
"If you were really psychic, you'd know."
He put his hand to his forehead and closed his eyes. "Give me a moment to get in touch with the cosmos. Hmm. Ahh. Wait a second. It's coming in clear. It's a donkey's behind. No, no. It's Reid Kent."
"I am so amazed and astounded. How do you do that?"
He opened his eyes. "Reid Kent's an idiot. Is he going on about your beauty queen days? Your looks are an asset. They always have been."
"I just want people to take me seriously."
"They will. They do. Just because your mother dragged you to every Little Miss in the south, there's no need to panic."
Jerry knew the story, of course. As a kid, I had been my mother's perfect little angel. I endured endless hours of practicing the correct way to walk and stand, the stiff ruffled dresses and overly teased hair, the ribbons, the nail polish, the curled eyelashes. At age thirteen, a "lucky growth spurt" shot me to my present height of five eleven (a good two inches taller than Jerry, as I often like to remind him) and saved me from Runway Hell. Mother was crushed that her baby doll was gone, and horrified by my taste for basketball and running track. Then, when I was nineteen and needed the money, I entered the Miss Parkland Pageant-my decision, not my mother's. I won. Mother was thrilled, and ready for the new campaign. When I refused to go on to Miss North Carolina, she practically disowned me. We've hardly spoken in the eight years since.
I took a sip of tea. "Mother never got over my defection to a normal life."
"Well, you don't have to take it out on everyone else."
"And you don't have to be a side-show act."
He pointed a French fry at me. "Touché."
I took another bite of barbecue, savoring the taste. "What does this house of yours look like?"
"The letter doesn't say. Probably the community eyesore. I could always sell it, I suppose."
"Let's go see. "
"Are you serious?"
"As you said, I'm not doing anything right now."
He looked crestfallen. "Mac, I really didn't mean to say that."
I leaned over the table to give his arm a friendly punch. "I know that, you idiot. Haven't we been friends long enough?"
He smiled. "You're going to be a success. I sense it in the deepest core of my psychic being."
"If you're going to talk like that, I won't go with you."
He laughed. "Okay, okay. I'll try to keep it under control."
I'd been trying to keep something under control, too, trying to ignore the feelings I almost couldn't believe. Sitting here in Baxter's, surrounded by the comforting smells of fries and hush puppies, and looking at my best friend's smile, I knew in the deepest core of my being that I would go anywhere in the world with Jeremyn Nicholas Fairweather.
This was crazy. Jerry and I had been friends since we met in college almost ten years ago. It was just that friendly feeling, wasn't it? Lately, though, my heart had given a bizarre little jump every time he grinned at me. I found myself wondering what it would be like to brush his wayward hair out of his eyes, or take off that absurd tie-along with everything else he had on.
I was on the rebound from Bill. That had to be it. Even though my ex-husband was a lout who cared only for himself, I missed having him around the house. I missed the house, too. Maybe I was having separation anxiety. No Bill, no house, and certainly no career, the way things were going lately. Anyway, it wouldn't do to declare my feelings to Jerry, since the only thing he was interested in right now was his lunch. He'd wonder what had gotten into his old college buddy. I wondered, too.
After casting the demon out of Betsy's grandma, Jerry and I drove to Celosia, a small town about a half-hour's drive from Parkland. I'd been there a few times, mainly to check out the bookstore. As we crossed the town line, the scenery wasn't inspiring: pastures with drooping cows, little grocery stores, abandoned gas stations. Jerry's uncle's house was probably a shack with a washing machine on the front porch and scrawny chickens running in the yard. Closer in the houses were larger and nicer. We passed a modern apartment complex, banks, shops, even a small mall.
"Is this Main Street?" Jerry asked. "We need to find the offices of Mason and Freer so I can pick up the keys to the house."
"I think this is Main," I said. "I don't see any signs. I don't see much of anything. That could be Amelia Earhart over there, I'm not really sure."
We drove past the Baker Auditorium, the Wayfarer Motel, the public library, and a small park with swings, slides, and a band shell. At the band shell, a large group of people stood in clumps. I saw band members in uniforms, horses, convertibles, and clowns.
"Parade time," I said. "What's the occasion, I wonder? Annual Hayseed Festival?"
Jerry turned at the next corner and pulled into the gas station. He got out, unhooked the handle, and pumped some gas. Several men were standing around, so he asked them about the law office.
A lanky man in faded jeans and John Deere cap spoke around the wad of tobacco tucked in one cheek. "Down two stoplights and turn right. It's a big brick building."
I leaned out my window. "What's with the parade?"
"Beauty pageant this weekend. All the girls are riding in the parade."
I groaned. "Is there no escape?"
Jerry grinned. "I love beauty pageants. We'll have to hurry and check out the house."
"You got relatives here?" the man said.
"My uncle, Val Eberlin."
He almost choked on his tobacco. "Eberlin? Sheesh, he was a nut!" His face turned red. "Oh, sorry. No offense. Sorry."
"It's okay," Jerry said. "I didn't really know him. I'm here to see about the house." He handed the man the money for the gas.
The man gave him his change. "Not planning to live in it, are you?"
"Yeah, well, sorry about the crack. He was a nice old guy, really, just, you know, weird. Had a great old car, though, a 1957 Chevy. Thing ran like a dream."
Another car rolled in, and the man went to speak with the driver.
Jerry got in the car. "Did you see how he reacted?"
"Yes, this is just peachy," I said. "A pageant and a nutty uncle."
By the time Jerry found the law office and parked in the small lot under a tree, people were gathering along both sides of the street.
"We might get to see the parade," he said.
"I can't think of anything more exciting."
I waited by the car while he went inside to sign some papers and get the key to the house. The crowd was an odd combination. There were grubby-looking families: skinny, untidy dads in overalls and caps, overweight, stringy-haired moms in stained sweat clothes, and pale, skinny, barefooted children. Then there were young upscale families: dads in expensive khakis and golf shirts, moms in designer jeans and gold jewelry, and children in name-brand tee shirts and sneakers. I know lots of people live in Celosia and commute to Parkland, so there's plenty of money in this little town. From the size of these families, Celosia was obviously a good place to raise children. This thought was even more depressing than the droopy cows. Bill and I had fought about children practically our whole marriage.
Jerry came out, holding up a large key. We were getting in the car when the strangled sounds of a high-school band made us stop, and to Jerry's delight the parade came staggering up the street.
"I've got to see this, Mac."
We found a spot and watched. Clowns tried handstands and cartwheels. Horses snorted and shook their heads. A group of young women in sparkly gowns rode by in convertibles. The signs on the cars read: "Miss Tri-County," "Miss Little Acres," and "Miss Peace Haven." A bright red Corvette drove by, carrying a stunning brunette in white. The handmade sign on the side of the Corvette read "Miss Celosia High." She was slender and regal with dark eyes set in a heart-shaped face.
The nearest native was a stout man in overalls and a cap with a picture of a fish. Jerry asked him about the brunette.
"Juliet Lovelace," the man answered. "Pretty little thing, ain't she?"
"Outstanding." Jerry watched admiringly as she rearranged the folds of her sparkly gown and shook back her long dark hair. "When's the pageant?"
The man eyed him, and then let his gaze travel up to my face. "New in town, ain't ya. The pageant's run by Evan James. Runs it every year, and every year, it's the first Saturday night in July, Baker Auditorium."
Juliet Lovelace smiled an especially big smile at Jerry.
"Whew," he said. "Do you think she's more than eighteen?"
I shook my head. "Dream on, junior. 'Miss Celosia High,' as in high school."
"She is gorgeous."
I pulled Jerry away. "I don't think you need to be ogling the teenaged girls, Mr. New in Town and Likely to Be Run Out on a Rail."
"No harm in looking, is there?"
"What about Olivia?"
"Oh." He grimaced. "That's over."
I couldn't believe the feeling of relief that swept over me. "Why? I thought you two were an item."
"An item on the marked-down sales table. She's after me to get my money back. That's all she talks about."
Excerpted from A Case of Imagination by Jane Tesh Copyright © 2006 by Jane Tesh. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted December 9, 2008
In Parkland, North Carolina, her former employer and the person she leases her office from, Reid Kent blithely informs Madeline Maclin that no one would hire a former Miss Parkland as an investigator, but she plans to make Madeline Maclin Investigations a success though she has no clients. Her friend psychic Jeremyn Fairweather asks her to accompany him to inspect his new inheritance a home in nearby Celosia that he obtained from his late Uncle Val Eberlin, who the locals classified as a nut. Mac agrees while thinking Jerry looks sexy, but fears a rebound love following the debacle of a marriage to her former husband selfish Bill.----- In Celosia Jerry thinks of converting his new house into a psychic shop. Meanwhile beauty pageant director Evan James tells them he is having problems with protestors and ghosts so naturally Jerry and Mac become involved he on the spiritual plane while she on the mundane realm. While his acrimonious girlfriend Olivia hates seeing Jerry and Mac together, they investigate allegedly otherworldly interference though the homicide seems more human spawned than supernatural.----- This is a charming regional who-done-it filled with eccentric characters including if one believes Jerry a ghost or two. The relationship between Jerry and Mac is terrific as fans will expect romance to blossom, but both also carry baggage, hers being her former husband and his being a dark secret. Once the audience meets the key players enough to understand much of their respective motivations the Celosia mystery takes charge of the story line leading the reader to wonder if there are spirits at play and will the two stars become a romantic entry or not. This is a first-class Carolina caper.----- Harriet Klausner
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