Giving up the Ghost: A Sam and Hollis Mystery

Overview

Elvis lives! Until someone starts killing off his impersonators, one by one...

As a reporter for a local newspaper on Maryland's Eastern Shore, Hollis Ball sees more of life than most. As an amateur sleuth, she also sees more of death...especially since her partner is a ghost.

Sam Wescott, Hollis's living-impaired ex-husband, is prone to materialize at awkward moments--like...
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Overview

Elvis lives! Until someone starts killing off his impersonators, one by one...

As a reporter for a local newspaper on Maryland's Eastern Shore, Hollis Ball sees more of life than most. As an amateur sleuth, she also sees more of death...especially since her partner is a ghost.

Sam Wescott, Hollis's living-impaired ex-husband, is prone to materialize at awkward moments--like when Hollis is out on a date. But he's indispensable at a crime scene. And when an Elvis impersonator, in town for a gala contest, is murdered at a sleazy motel, Hollis needs Sam's divine intervention. Her ne'er-do-well godfather, Albie Lydekker, flew in from Vegas just to emcee the Elvis competition...and he made an unwitting Hollis one of the judges. Now, surrounded by sequined singers, Hollis is wondering if she is also a patsy...as an unpopular gambling referendum, a missing mobster, and an old memory set her up to shake, rattle, and die.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Crime reporter Hollis Ball forecasts trouble when her long-lost godfather, Albie Lydekker, a washed-up ballplayer, reappears in town to organize an Elvis impersonator contest. When one of the many competing Elvises who have converged on the seamy Lock and Load Motor Inn turns up dead, Lydekker, who's know for his gambling debts and ties to a minor crime family, becomes a prime suspect. As the King killings mount and Ball is forced to protect her godfather from jail, Chappell's (Ghost of a Chance) talent for comical characterizations, sarcastic dialogue and absurd fiascoes comes to the fore. Particularly amusing are a drug-addicted prostitute with dreams of becoming a rock star named Snow White, and Ball's co-worker, who has a penchant for peach potpourri and Precious Moments figurines. Ball begrudgingly initiates an illegal investigation of her own under the guidance of her ex-husband's cantankerous ghost, putting herself in imminent danger. Chappell is in fine form here and her characters don't disappoint. (June) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780440225751
  • Publisher: Dell Publishing
  • Publication date: 6/8/1999
  • Series: Sam and Hollis Mystery Series
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 246
  • Product dimensions: 4.15 (w) x 6.92 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Helen Chappell lives on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and covers the waterfront in fiction and nonfiction. The author of three previous Sam Wescott and Hollis Ball mystery novels, Ghost of a Chance, Dead Duck, and Slow Dancing with the Angel of Death, she has been awarded the Manderly Prize and the Jane Austen Society of Maryland Award. She has also received grants from the Maryland State Arts Council and the Sumner T. McKnight Foundation. Helen Chappell has also written for The Baltimore Sun and The Washington Post, and her journalistic credits include a Maryland-Delaware Press Association Award and the E. A. Emmart Prize.
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Read an Excerpt

Viva Las Vegas


I have no idea what my parents were thinking when they asked Albie Lydekker to be my godfather. Of course, thirty-six years ago Albie was on his way up. He'd just been sent up to the Baltimore Orioles after a promising career in the triple A's, and it looked like the world was his oyster.

On the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where baseball is second only to Methodism as the state religion, Albie must have looked like a good deal at the time. He's my father's cousin, and the Lydekkers have been on Beddoe's Island since the first one fell off a Baltimore dredge boat and washed up on the bay shore a hundred years ago. And as my mother, Miss Doll, says, "Most of the Lydekkers are very nice people."

I guess they figured they'd made a mistake almost right away, because my brother told me that Albie showed up drunk at my christening and dropped me into the baptismal font. Headfirst, Robbie says, which accounts for me being the way I am. I think he's just jealous, since his godfather is a pillar of the V.F.D. and the church and a very dull and respectable gentleman indeed, but then again, so is Robbie.

One thing about having Albie as my godfather is that it has never been dull. He lasted a season with the O's before the wine, women, and betting on professional sports teams got him banned from baseball forever, or at least that's his story.

Boog Powell, who played with him for the O's, once told me that Albie's stats off the field were quite impressive, but a man with a hangover and a thousand dollars riding on the Colts makes a lousy pitcher.

Mr. Powell finally, reluctantly, told me that thereal  reason Albie was bounced from Major League Baseball was that he--Albie--had told Branch Rickey to kiss his ass. I guess the sheer intoxication of being at the show went to his head.

Sometimes, when you're a reporter, you don't know when to stop digging for answers, but for an iconoclast like me, something like that just burnished Albie's image as a rebel who lives by his own rules.

Alas, ever since my godfather was banned, it's been a slippery slope. For a few years he was a greeter at the Silver Spangle, a strip club over to the Block in Baltimore. Last time I'd seen him, at our cousin Boink Ball's wedding, he'd borrowed a hundred dollars from me to put on a horse at Pimlico. The horse never made it over the finish line and I never saw that hard-earned hundred again, but I did get a lovely postcard of Death Valley, because something happened in Baltimore around that time and Albie suddenly found pressing business in Las Vegas.

And evidently, pressing business had kept him there for several years of complete and total silence. Which I could understand: At Boink's wedding reception over to the Oysterback fire hall, there was some business with Albie, Junior Redmond, and Hudson Swann about a stolen cow, a '63 pink Cadillac, a hole in the Oysterback post office door, and some alleged beings from the planet Uranus who weren't. After that incident it seemed like a good idea for Albie not to come around the Eastern Shore for a long time. So I guess Vegas looked like a good option.

Even though I have few if any illusions left about Albie, I love him and was thrilled to know he was back in town. When I was growing up, Albie's erratic and infrequent appearances in my life were always like a surprise birthday-Christmas all rolled into one. No matter how his life was going, Albie always had a present for me and an unshakable belief in my ability to become a writer. A belief that was shared by no one else, including my English teachers.

It was Albie who bought me my first typewriter, a tiny Olivetti manual, and Albie whose great glamour as a sort-of-famous ballplayer gave me what little social cachet I had in high school.

As a girl growing up down on the island, Albie Lydekker represented a larger, more glamorous world outside the provincial Eastern Shore. A world that I thought beckoned to me, until I got out there into it and found out what real life is really like. So in a way I owe Albie, but I still have to take him with a large chunk of salt.

Even knowing all that, when I met Albie at the Horny Mallard Pub that afternoon after posting his bond, some of that old starry magic was still there. And I was ready for some magic.

After the holidays are over and the Christmas lights have been taken down, January looms ahead of us like a big dead white hole, a month to be crawled through like a long tunnel. A tunnel that will open into spring, but not until you suffer through the winter. Albie's sudden appearance was just what I needed to lose my post-holiday blues and slog through one of the longest, most bitter cold spells we'd had in a long time.

But even I could sense that Albie's latest get-rich-quick scheme had a series of holes so large you could have driven a Volkswagen through them.

"The Chesapeake Chapter of the Elvis Tribute Artist Society?" I heard myself repeating. I looked at the story below the fold on the front page of today's Gazette, hot off the presses. Since I'd booked out of the newsroom to rescue Albie as soon as I went off deadline, this was all news to me.

ELVIS CONTEST TO COME TO WATERTOWN
Local Impersonators to Pay Tribute to King


Jolene, the Gazette's community editor, had her byline on it, so of course I had to read it three times before I understood the gist of the story. I was still puzzling through lines like Shore King tribute artists will personally impersonate Elvis in order to pay tribute to the King, who is much beloved among local Elvis fans at the Waterside Theater who remember local native Albie Lydekker as a famous Baltimore Oriole Bird of the mid-sixties who is in charge of the contest. . . .

The fact that the lovely and talented Jolene is office snitch and matresse-en-titre to Rig Riggle, the Gazette's editor from hell, gives her more job security than the rest of us hardworking newsroom rats, many of whom can write a story you can actually read. My lips moved and a slight headache began to form as I plowed through Jolene's tormented syntax. My own name leapt out of the newsprint at me like a trap-door spider. "Wait a minute!" I barked. "Albie, what's this mean? "Among the prominent local judges selected to select the Chesapeake Elvis Tribute Artist will be Hollis Ball, award-winning Gazette reporter and Judge Frank Carroll, Circuit Court for Santimoke County'--Albie, what the pluperfect hell--" I howled.

"I knew you wouldn't mind! It can't miss, Holly!" Albie promised me as he gobbled down his cheese steak. "I'm on my way back up again! I'll even cut you in on a piece of the action!"

If I had a nickel for every time Albie has blown into town and told me he was on his way back up, I could quit my crummy reporter job and lie on the couch all day reading cheap novels, eating Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, and watching old movies on AMC. That I am still slogging the cops-and-courts beat for the Watertown Gazette  (motto: Thou Shalt Not Offend the Advertisers) says a lot about Albie's luck.

"You could have at least asked me first! And Frank! Albie, you know Frank isn't going to go for the foolishness of looking at a lot of watermen in cheap spangled jumpsuits and bad black wigs! He's a dignified man, for God's sake! He's a sitting judge! We just finished a high-profile, capital homicide trial last night, and I'll make a bet that he's in a mood this morning! He's going to nail your ass to the wall when he sees this!"

Albie perked up considerably when he heard the word bet, but I don't think anything else I said even penetrated. I studied him. The years had not been kind to my godfather. He was easily on the long side of fifty, and his red hair looked as if it came from a bottle these days, but he was still as tall and gangly as the heron, to whom he bore a remarkable likeness. He must have been nearly six-five and weighed about one fifty-five, a carrot-haired scarecrow of a man.

I watched as Donna, the bartender, added some figures to my tab. Albie, as usual, was dead broke. After yesterday's altercation at Toby's and his night in the tank, there was reddish-gray stubble on his jaw, and his plaid sports coat and aqua silk shirt didn't look quite as snappy as they might have, but he still sported his Rolex watch and his hideous ruby ring, which he considered his good-luck charms. Like a lot of ballplayers, Albie is incredibly superstitious.

"This is the deal. When I got back from my, uh, stay in Vegas, I, uh, ran into Vera and Lucca Devine, who, uh, saw my potential and got me on the ground floor of the Elvis Impressionist Society. It's got to be legit, Holly, it's incorporated in Delaware!"

Albie blinked at me. "Lucca "Bang Bang' Devine, the capo of the Devines?" I asked. The Devines, a very minor crime family, used to own the action in the Baltimore-Washington corridor until Carlo "The Crab" Devine was found floating in Inner Harbor attached to the transmission of an '89 Cavalier. As far as crime families went, the Devines were where the gene pool met the cement pond. My friends on the Baltimore Sun tell me it's the crack crews you want to worry about now.

Baltimore and Washington, just across Chesapeake Bay, are Sodom and Gomorrah to a true Eastern Shore person, which is what I am.

"Aw, that was just some ugly rumors," Albie said dismissively as he shoved some cottage fries into his mouth. "Bang Bang's in the entertainment industry now. Completely legit."

"Let me see if I have this straight," I said carefully. "You are gainfully employed by Bang Bang Devine to set up and organize an Elvis impersonator contest on the Eastern Shore. Then the winner goes to the Maryland finals, and the winner of that goes to the national contest, in Vegas."

"That's right." Albie grinned. "Viva Las Vegas!"

"And these Baltimore sleazes--I mean, people--sent you to organize it," I mused. "An Elvis impersonator contest."

"We call them interpreters. Elvis interpreters, or Elvis tribute artists," Albie replied with vast dignity. He leaned toward me. "Listen, Elvis is like a religion to a lot of people. I mean, he's the King. The fine folks who pay tribute to him by impersonating--I mean, interpreting--the King are doing the world a favor!"

"Elvis? The God of Excess?" I asked nastily. "The man who furnished a whole house in wall-to-wall gold-lamé leopard-print shag rug and OD'd on the toilet?"

"And I want you to be one of the judges," Albie said, just as if he hadn't heard me, which was so typical of him.

"Oh, I don't think so!" I replied. "Albie, I don't volunteer for anything! Besides, I know nothing about Elvis. Or I know enough to know I don't want to know any more--"

"This is a sure thing, Holly. We're going to hold the contest at the old cocktail lounge at the Lock and Load Motor Inn. I know, I know, the lounge has been closed down for years, since they lost their liquor license, but we're gonna fix it up with a coat a paint, and the tribute artists are going to rehearse there! It'll be a class production, I promise. There'll be about fifty interpreters competing! It's gonna draw a huge crowd, you wait and see! And the great thing is, first prize is a pair of blue suede shoes worn by the King himself!"

Stars glittered in Albie's eyes. When I saw that his gaze was directed at Donna's lissome behind, I sighed. Albie loves women, and for some reason they love him right back. The problem is that Albie always ends up in trouble himself, because the women he attracts always seem to have a boyfriend or a husband or a large masculine girlfriend in the background they forgot to mention.

"Oh, it's gonna be great! The Night of the Elvii!" Albie continued.

"Elvii?"

"Plural Elvis, honey. Anyway, I know you'll want to come on board!"

"What about Frank Carroll? Frank swore if he ever saw you again he'd direct to indict after that incident with the fake Martian landing--"

"Uranians. Uranians!" Albie swept that incident away with a wave of his hand. "Don't worry about Frank! Frankie Carroll and I used to play ball together back on the old Delmarva Farmers! We was literally a farm team, you bet!"

"Oh, my God." I sighed. As I was reaching for a handful of boiled peanuts, I watched Donna taping a big blue and silver poster to the back bar mirror. BE ELVIS, it said above a big picture of the King in full Vegas drag with a blue and silver full body halo emanating from his glittering body. PROCEEDS TO EASTERN SHORE CHILDREN'S CANCER FUND, it said along the bottom, but it was almost lost in the splashy aura radiating from a canonized King.

"It's gonna be great, I promise! Look, the Devines said if I do this right, they'll sign me on permanently! I could be like Bert Parks! This is gonna be bigger than Miss America!"

"I dunno. I don't think I want to see an Elvis swimsuit contest," I muttered dubiously.

Albie patted my hand. "Come on, Holly. What can go wrong?" He leaned over and grinned at me. "Besides, I'm into Bang Bang for ten big ones, and he says he'll cancel the debt if I can do this."

"Ten big what?" I yelped. "Albie, what've you done now?"

"So, I had a run of bad luck at blackjack." Albie shrugged. "It's not like he's gonna break my legs or anything. At least, I don't think so." He grinned at me sheepishly.

"Holl! Beware!" a voice cried in my ear. I looked around and saw no one there. A tingly little feeling, like small, cold fingers tapping on the back of my neck, warned me of what was coming, so I wasn't too terribly surprised when the ghost of Sam Wescott, my late and ex-husband, appeared on the barstool behind Albie's.

Oh, great. Just what I needed, I thought.

"Who let him in?" Sam asked, glowering at Albie. But, of course, only I heard, and I was trying to ignore him.

Sam haunts me, but it's a long story. Of course, only a few others can see or hear him, which makes it even more interesting. For him anyway. For me he's a general pest who seems to appear in my life at the least opportune moments.

"Don't do it," Sam pleaded, glowing like a nuclear reactor in his angst. "Please, Hollis, don't do this. You know what Albie's like!"

I gave Sam a dirty look, then smiled weakly at my hapless godfather. "The idea of some mob guy breaking your legs is too much for me to handle," I sighed.

"I'd like to break his legs," Sam growled, staring furiously at the back of Albie's head. "Someone from the island would do it for a case of beer; why go to foreigners for the same service?" he muttered. He leaned over and sort of inhaled at Albie's drink, which is how a ghost gloms up food and drink. They suck up the essence of it. So next time something tastes flat, consider that a ghost may have gotten there first.

"Sign me up," I beamed with a nasty look at my own personal ghost.

"Oh, shit." Sam put his translucent head in his translucent arms. "Here we go again."

"Shut up, Jiminy Cricket," I hissed at Sam, who shook his head and discorporated, leaving behind a nasty smile that hung in the smoky bar air for just a second.

"Huh?" Albie said, looking behind him. But, of course, he saw nothing.

"I said, "Oh, Jiminy Cricket! What fun this will be!'" It sounded weak, even to me, but sometimes Sam provokes me so much I have to say something to him, even though it makes me look nuts. More nuts, some people would say.

He took a sip of his drink and frowned. "This tastes like the ginger ale went flat all of a sudden," he complained. But Albie was oblivious. He was already eyeing something on the counter. "Look, Hollis, see those two droplets of water running down the bar top? I'll bet you the tab that the one on the right hits my glass before the one on the left."

"I don't take sucker bets, Albie," I cut in quickly. "Look, about this Elvis thing--"

Across the street, the courthouse clock chimed twelve times. "Frank!" I exclaimed, looking at my watch. "This is why he wanted me to meet him in his chambers at noon!" Hastily, I began to gather up my stuff. "This is all your fault, Albie. If Frank kills me I'm holding you responsible."

"You're meeting up with Frank right now?" I could see the lights going off in his head. Maybe it was just misfiring synapses, I hoped.

"None better," I muttered, grabbing up a handful of Goldfish crackers. It wouldn't be my first bar lunch or my last.

"Well, I'll just mosey on across the street with you," Albie said. "Then we'll get this settled up right away. I got a whole lotta publicity to do today, places to go, people to see!"

"Albie, after that incident with the cows, the screen door, and those Ukrainians at Boink's wedding, I don't think you should pull Frank's chain too hard--"

"Uranians. They was from the planet Uranus. Aw, Frank's a good ole boy." Albie brushed away my concerns with one hand. "Le's go talk to him."

I wished I'd remembered to pack my Kevlar vest this morning. I had a feeling I was going to need it.
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