Read an Excerpt
A Match Made in Hell
"Too many freaks, not enough circuses."
The fat old man in sandals and socks didn't seem to care if I heard his rude comment. The old woman with him craned her neck to check out the pink streaks in my hair, widening her eyes at my heavy eyeliner and Midnight Blue lipstick.
Okay, so maybe the lipstick was a bit much, but I'd been feeling funkier than usual this morning. A little outrageousness never hurt anybody.
Besides, in Little Five Points, Georgia, I fit right in.
I gave the old man and the old woman a cheerful smile as I finished unlocking the door to my shop, Handbags and Gladrags. There was nothing freakish about my outfit?white vintage ruffled blouse with a vee neck, worn with jeans, cute sandals, and some clunky jewelry.
Let the old couple eat fashion cake.
I stood for a moment on Moreland Street, taking in the laid-back scents and sounds that defined Little Five Points. Tourist trap by day, party place by night, surrounded by picket fence neighborhoods full of quaint old homes. The smell of coffee drifted out the open door of Moonbeans...most of their sidewalk tables were already filled. Dreadlocked rastas chatted in the sun with tattooed punks, while freaks and stoners rubbed elbows with pudgy tourists in socks and sandals.
It was all good.
Unlocking the front door to the shop, I propped it open to the street, then flipped on the overhead lights with my usual thrill of pride.
Every item in the store had been handpicked, of course. My friend and business partner Evan and I love nothing more than finding timeless fashion gems among the dross of thrift stores andestate sales, cleaning them up and sharing them with those cool enough to appreciate them. The gorgeous gowns of the thirties and forties, the sparkling jewelry of the forties and fifties, the funky jeans and tie-dyed T-shirts of the sixties and seventies...Handbags and Gladrags stocked them all.
Five minutes later I had the register open and coffee brewing. I was busy giving the display cases a quick wipe-down, when I glanced up to see the second "looky-loo" of the day; a middle-aged woman was staring at me through the front window.
I gave her a friendly smile and went back to my counter polishing; we'd had a gaggle of teenage girls come in yesterday and they were all over the glass of the jewelry section. When I looked up again, the woman had entered the store."Good morning." It never hurt to be friendly with the customers. "Let me know if you need any help."
She didn't answer, and she was still staring.
Whatever. I turned away to stash the cleaning supplies and find my favorite coffee mug, certain the pot was ready by now. When I turned back, she was standing on the other side of the counter, two feet away. Late forties maybe, unnaturally black hair, carefully styled and hair-sprayed into place. Her pink sequined blouse was a bit gaudy, but to each her own.
"Can I help you?" The way she was looking at me was starting to creep me out.
She finally spoke. "You can see me?"
My heart sank.
"You can, can't you?" The woman smiled in relief, pressing a hand to her chest. Her nails were long, painted bright red. "You can see me. Thank goodness."Oh, I could see her. I could hear her, too. She had a broad Southern accent?the word "can" was stretched into two syllables. I could even smell the scent she used . . . a mixture of fruit and flowers, like peaches.
"I've been at my wit's end," the woman said, with a flutter of fingers. "I didn't know what to do, but the good Lord hasn't abandoned me, after all. I need your help."
"Oh, crap," I muttered, flattening my hands on the counter.It was déjÃ vu all over again; I'd been here before, and it always started the same way.
I need your help, Nicki.
The old man on the sidewalk had been right...I was a freak, because I knew something most people didn't; despite the red fingernails, the pink sequins, and the smell of peach body lotion, the woman on the other side of the counter was not a living, breathing human being.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, Nicki.Double crap. My unexpected trip to the Light may have been canceled, but here I was, still paying the cost of the return ticket. And yet . . . being allowed to survive heart failure was no small favor, even if survival came with strings attached.
As if reading my mind, the woman blurted, "In spite of everything I've done, the Lord has put you here to help me. You're a good person. I just know it."
I had no idea what she'd done, and I could hardly argue with her about what kind of person I was, but I wished I had her certainty. Having had run-ins with at least four spirits in the past month, all with varying degrees of intensity, the only thing I knew for certain about seeing the dead was that it sucked.
The only question left was whether this lost soul was going to go gently into the Light, or be an undead pain in the ass.
"My daughter is hurt." The woman's statement took me by surprise. "But I don't know where she is."
I eyed her narrowly, hoping against hope she was just a crazy person. Of course I'd do my best to help a troubled spirit move on, but I'd much rather let the cops handle the loonies.
"We were in an accident," she said. "The car went off the road and down a hill . . . "
Yep. Dead. She was dead." . . . I could hear my daughter screaming and glass breaking . . . "
Goose bumps rose on my arms, and my guilt level rose along with them. Why did I always have to be such a smartass, even to myself?
" . . . and when I woke up I was wandering the streets." The woman gestured toward the front window. "I've tried to talk to people, to get help for my daughter, but everybody acts like I'm invisible."
Damn. My perfect morning had been perfectly ruined, but this lady had an even bigger problem than she thought she did.
She didn't know she was dead.
How was I supposed to tell her?
I sighed, feeling sorry for her and sorry for me at the same time.
One of the hardest parts about dealing with spirits was that there were no manuals for this type of stuff. I had to dance on the head of a pin, every time.
Hard enough for an angel, and I was no angel.
"Um . . . maybe we should call the police." I was stalling, of course. The local police would never buy the "I see dead people" routine. "What's your name?"
"Lila," she answered. "Lila Boudreaux."
I picked up the phone. "Where should I tell them to look for your daughter?"Lila made an impatient noise. "I don't know! That's the problem! I've never been here before . . . I'm not even sure where I am!" She was clasping her hands now, long nails crossing and uncrossing. She wore a big opal on her right index finger, a pinky ring with a dangle on the left.
"You're in Little Five Points, near downtown Atlanta."A Match Made in Hell
. Copyright © by Terri Garey. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.