Ghost of a Chanceby Helen Chappell
Once he was her husbandand not a very good one at that. Now Sam Wescott is a ghost
On Maryland's salt-swept Eastern Shore, a woman reporter has a dilapidated old house, a dysfunctional family, and a talent for solving mysteries. How does wisecracking, love-burned Hollis Ball find out so much about other people's secrets? Just ask the ghost at her side.
Once he was her husbandand not a very good one at that. Now Sam Wescott is a ghost. And what he lacks in respect for Hollis's privacy, he makes up in his ability to talk to the dead. For Hollis, Sam's talent has never come in handier. A vintage Cadillac has been resurrected from the muddy waters beneath a highway bridge, and in it are the bones of a woman. Now a community of fishermen, crabbers, and local boys-turned-millionaires is being ripped apart by a mysterious death thirty years old. And when another body is found in Chesapeake Bay, Hollis and Sam join forces: to catch a killer who is alive and all too well....
Read an Excerpt
It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time
Being a ghost, I have discovered, gives you certain advantages.
Of course, being dead is no chicken cruise, as you, dear reader, will inevitably discover. But all in all, I, Sam Wescott, have found being a haunt much more interesting than being alive.
I wish I could say that my former wife, Hollis Ball, agrees with me about my changed position in the world. But she tends to view my living-impaired status with suspicion, sometimes even with hostility, as if I died deliberately.
Well, actually, now that I think about it, I did, but that's another story.
I suppose her lack of understanding is a female thing. Women are something no man, alive or dead, has ever been able to figure out.
Since my death I have been assigned by The Powers That Be to haunt her. Well, haunt . . . that's kind of a tough word. Say the word haunt, people think of rattling chains and tortured shrieks and things going bump in the night. Not my way of doing business at all.
My job, in payment for the way I panicked at commitment and abandoned Hollis in life, is to work off my sins as a sort of guardian angel. When she'll let me.
You see, Hollis is of the do-it-yourself school, and as stubborn and hardheaded an Eastern Shorewoman as you could find. But she's from Beddoe's Island, the Stubborn, Hardheaded Woman Capital of Chesapeake Bay. She's a reporter for a local newspaper, the Watertown Gazette, and has had little time for ghosts or any other fun stuff, at least until I reappeared in her life.
Haunting Hollis is difficult, to say the least. For one thing, she never listens to me, andshe should, oh, she really should.
Folks, I am paying, with usurious interest, for my previous bad behavior. Face it. Looking after this woman is a job of work.
Left to her own devices Hollis might have missed the story entirely. After all, she's only human, and if you ask me, more human than some. If it weren't for me she would have missed the whole adventure we had with the Ornamental Hermit. . . .
It was a terrific April morning, one of those days that comes as a blessing after the Eastern Shore winter, to which the climate of hell's north gate has been favorably compared.
Warmth turned the yellow-green buds the colors of fire, and there was just enough air to fill a sail. So did Hollis call in sick and run off to take advantage of this glorious day?
You'd better believe she did.
When I located her she was on hegira, headed toward the beach, propelling her ancient Honda Civic north toward Rehobeth, over in Delaware. When she should have been in court covering the dullest civil trial in the history of civil law, tsk, tsk! The Beach Boys blared from the tape deck, and it was clear that Holl was hell-bent on having fun fun fun till Daddy took the T-Bird away.
When I was alive there was nothing I loved more than cars--unless it was boats and women. But, of course, a really cool car is a babe magnet. I still can feel the ancient male excitement when I see a really fine Porsche or a classic MG. Just because you're dead doesn't mean your testosterone dries up.
Hollis, on the other hand, persists in driving this ancient piece of Japanese tin that has been on its last legs since the odometer turned 200,000 miles many, many road trips ago. Not just that, but it's a traveling wastebasket. The back is almost completely filled up with old newspapers, burger wrappers, discarded notebooks, promotional gimmes, and God only knows what other trash from a small-town reporter's life. I mean to say it is pretty gross. It smells like an old cigarette, even though she has valiantly been struggling with not smoking since she was trapped in that decoy fire and got her lungs filled up with more poison on top of all that nicotine.
Even as I was musing on our last outing, I saw her reach for a cigarette butt in the ashtray and decided it was time to make myself known.
"You promised," I tsked as I solidified myself in the passenger seat. "You're on the patch!"
Hollis jerked as if she had been struck with a rolled-up newspaper. She snatched her hand away from the ashtray and glared at me as we nearly ran off the two-lane blacktop into a soybean field.
"Dammit, Sam, don't startle me like that!" she yelled, righting the car. "I hate it when you just show up like that!" She pressed a hand on her heart. "Especially when I'm taking a day off from everything. Including you! Mostly you! What are you doing here?"
"A simple hello would be nice, you know," I replied, having floated down to seat level. You'd think she'd be glad to see me, wouldn't you? After all, when I show up in her life things always become much more interesting. Instead of reminding her of this fact, I got right to business. Time, after all, was of the essence.
"There's something happening up ahead at Calais Road Bridge, on the state line. A car in the water. They sent for the ambulance, and the cops from both Maryland and Delaware are there now. Sounds like a story to me, but, of course, I'm not a reporter. You may want to spend the rest of your day listening to these old farts drone on, but if I were you--"
"Are you sure, or is this one of your stupid ghost tricks?" Hollis demanded as she gathered up all the Altoids mints that had spilled out of her pocketbook. I really can't understand why she never trusts me. After all, my postmortal hearing is remarkably acute. I can hear a police scanner in the next county if I want to.
"I'm sure," I replied, doing my best to look utterly honest. "Sounds like a story to me."
Hollis frowned, thinking it over. Why won't she take my word for anything? Just because I had a small history of being ever so slightly unreliable when we were married?
I floated up, then stretched out over the trashed backseat, yawning. "I'll bet the Call has already heard the scanner and their reporter's on the way." Mentioning the Gazette's rival paper usually prods her into action. "Of course, you could cut across through Federalsburg to Georgetown and avoid the whole thing entirely. I'm sure the beach is great today. Of course, it's still a little windy and chilly, but . . ."
She bit her lip, and a very pretty lip it is too. The idea of losing a story is anathema to her. "Well, if you're sure," she muttered grudgingly, stuffing mints and reportorial odds and ends back into her pocketbook with one hand while the other was on the wheel. I wish she wouldn't do that.
I was about to say that her attempt to stop smoking, however commendable, was making her quite irritable, then I thought better of it. Who needs to fight with a recovering nicotine addict? It's so unsporting.
"Calais Bridge?" she asked me again. "Are you sure?"
"Sure as I float here," I reassured her from the back. "Can I drive?"
"No!" She turned the wheel and we headed into our next big adventure. "My insurance does not cover ghosts!"
Meet the Author
Helen Chappell is a writer whose work has appeared in The Baltimore Sun and The Washington Post. She is the author of two previous Sam Wescott and Hollis Ball mysteries, Dead Duck and Slow Dancing with the Angel of Death. She lives in Easton, Maryland.
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