Read an Excerpt
Phantom of the Bathtub
By Eugenia Riley
Copyright © 2006
All right reserved.
Arriving before her in a cloud of mingled sweat and pomade, he
extended a plump hand. "Welcome to Savannah, Miss Viveca."
She briefly shook his damp, fleshy hand and found herself
staring into a round face with a thin black mustache and
strangely shifty dark eyes. Although disquieted, she murmured
back, "Thank you, Mr. Cornelius."
He mopped his brow with a handkerchief. "I regret my
tardiness, but unhappily, dear Mother had another sinking
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear of it." Viveca inclined her head
toward Emmett. "My man, Emmett Taylor."
With a cursory nod toward Emmett, Cornelius inquired, "Have
you met your neighbor, Maxwell Beecher, as yet?"
Viveca glanced toward the west, where their brooding neighbor
still stood watching them. "Oh, you mean the scowling man on
the veranda? No, we only just arrived."
Cornelius chuckled. "Well, I don't doubt Max is a bit peeved
at the moment, as he wanted to buy this place himself."
"Indeed?" Viveca smiled triumphantly at Emmett.
Cornelius grimly shook his head. "Yes, Max wanted to steal it
out from under me for a pittance, then raze the entire
property. Can you imagine?"
Emmett raised an eyebrow at his mistress in a clear, I told
"Why he even had the gall to call the place a damnable
eyesore," Cornelius continued.
Viveca watched a frayed curtain flap at a broken windowpane.
"Did he? Whyever would he say that?"
At Viveca's acerbic tone, Cornelius quickly stumbled on.
"At-er-any rate, I knew old Miss Grace wouldn't want me to
sell Hangman's House to just anyone-but to a lovely lady such
as yourself who will better appreciate this property's
"Hangman's House?" Viveca repeated, wide-eyed; she had stopped
hearing him as soon as he'd uttered her home's "cozy" pet
name. "You never told me my home is called Hangman's House.
Did a hangman live here?"
"Only briefly," he assured her cavalierly. "I believe there
used to be an old jail annex at the back of your property."
"A jail, as well?"
"Actually, more like a death house."
"You know, where the condemned await their fate."
Viveca's mouth fell open.
Visibly discomfited, Cornelius cupped a hand around his mouth
and pivoted toward the house next door. "Oh, Maxwell!" he
bellowed. "Care to come meet your new neighbor?"
Maxwell Beecher stared a moment longer, then turned and
reentered his house, slamming the French doors.
"Why, I never!" Viveca gasped. "What a rude, contemptible
Cornelius sighed. "Max is quite proud, but then he hails from
noble lineage. The Beecher Shipping Agency is quite an
institution in Savannah, not to mention, the half dozen or so
banks Max's family owns here in the Low Country. Max's
forebears built one of our original warehouses along Factor's
Walk. And actually, as the sole heir to an impressive
enterprise, he's considered quite a catch," he added
"Well, I wouldn't catch him in a snake trap," Viveca asserted.
Emmett grinned, and Cornelius guffawed nervously. "At any
rate, Max cannot stand being bested, and you definitely beat
the pants off him with this deal, miss."
"I beg your pardon?" Viveca inquired archly.
Cornelius flushed deeply at his own faux pas. "Figuratively
speaking, of course."
"Well, I should hope so," replied Viveca primly.
"Besides, your offer was so much better than his."
"You mean you fleeced Miss Viveca like a lamb to the
slaughter," Emmett drawled.
Cornelius sucked in an outraged breath. "I must say, miss,
that your manservant here doesn't seem to know his place.
Such an uppity attitude won't go over well in this town."
Now Viveca stared daggers at Cornelius. "Yes, Emmett doesn't
know his place-and that's precisely how I like him. As for
the community, I'm quite confident the backwater of Savannah
Clearly chastised, Cornelius cleared his throat. "Well, isn't
she a beaut?" he asked with a sweeping gesture toward the
"I suppose beauty is in the eye of the beholder."
Cornelius kicked a discarded tin can out of their pathway.
"Shall we have a look?"
Viveca dreaded taking her next step. Indeed, she moved
forward only to cringe at the sight of a scrawny black cat
scurrying out of a basement window and skittering across their
path, surely a less-than-fortuitous portent of their future
here. "Heavenly days!" she declared, her hand flying to her
Emmett crossed himself.
"You aren't superstitious, are you?" Cornelius inquired.
"Well, Mrs. Fulton, the previous owner, was. Some even claim
Grace died of fright."
Viveca's hand crept to the tight, high collar of her blouse.
"You don't mean the house is-"
"Haunted? Just silly rumors, of course."
"Oh, yes, of course, whyever would the house be haunted?"
Viveca mocked back. "Only a hangman's house, next to the
Hanging Oak on Hangman's Square, with an enormous cemetery and
the specter of an old jail both conveniently adjacent. No
reason to shudder in the least."
Cornelius stared at Viveca as if she'd lost her mind.
"All we need now are a few black spiders and cobwebs," she
Indeed, Viveca batted at those pesky cobwebs as they climbed
the squeaky steps to the main story. Staring at the front
door with its chipped paint and crazed, oval glass panel, the
rocker with its seemingly perpetual source of motion, she felt
even more uneasy, as if some unbidden force were warning her
not to proceed.
Unbidden? Hadn't she just seen a black cat?
Nonetheless, Viveca bucked up her courage and marched forward.
Next to the door, she firmly stilled the creaking porch
rocker with the tip of her leather slipper. But the instant
she let up, the rocker began to slide to and fro again ...
"My kingdom," Viveca managed.
Standing on a moth-eaten Persian runner in the wide,
dilapidated central hallway of her new "home," she glanced
aghast from the parlor on her left, with its frayed furniture
and tattered wallpaper, to the dining room on her right, with
its scarred Queen Anne table and rickety side chairs. The
pungent odors of rot and mildew permeated the air, and dust
motes hung in slanted beams of sunshine.
Cornelius cleared his throat. "The place could use a bit of
spit and polish, eh, Miss Stanhope?"
"Spit and polish?" she repeated in amazement.
"Looks like you could spit it down in a good breeze," Emmett
Cornelius glowered at Emmett. "The house does come fully
furnished, including linens."
"How lovely." Near the front door, Viveca examined a length
of moth-eaten lace curtain, sending a spiral of dust showering
down upon herself. "Just lovely," she repeated, between
Cornelius squirmed from foot to foot, then harkened visibly as
a skinny black woman, dressed in a blue cottonade blouse and a
matching skirt, skidded into the hallway. Of medium height,
with her fuzzy hair bound with a red silk bandu, she appeared
to be about thirty years old. She grinned at Viveca in a
flash of a gold front tooth.
"Mistress Stanhope?" she asked excitedly, in a Jamaican
accented voice. "You be Mistress Stanhope? I be Winnie, your
At first Viveca was too astounded to reply, staring at the
bizarre creature with her sharp features, strongly arched
brows, and dark eyes gleaming as if with some hidden
fanaticism. Thankfully, Emmett intervened, saying stoutly,
"Miss Stanhope already has a man, thank you."
She waved off Emmett with a cackle. "Ah, what good is a mon,
eh, mistress? Dey just gobbles food likky-likky, drink de rum
and smoke ganja. You need a female to attend you, nuh true?"
Perturbed by the woman's presumptuous attitude and heavy
Jamaican patois, Viveca turned to Cornelius. "Who is this
His gaze shifted away from her. "Er-Winnie was Mrs. Fulton's
housekeeper. After Grace died, I paid her and-er-the others-"
"Er-a small stipend to keep the place running."
"They runnin' it straight to ruin, all right," pronounced
"Oh, hush, you useless mon!" Winnie scolded him. Turning to
Viveca, she simpered, "You see, ma'am, after Mistress Grace
died, we got no place to go, me and Miguel and Ruvi-"
"You and Miguel and-"
"Dey only be t'ree of us," Winnie pleaded, as if she were
being eminently reasonable.
"Three!" Viveca turned to Cornelius. "Mr. Cornelius, I was
barely able to purchase this, er-this-"
"Pigsty?" Emmett supplied for her.
Viveca shot Emmett a withering look. "And I cannot possibly
afford to engage additional servants."
With a glance at Winnie's stricken face, Cornelius replied,
"Well, perhaps you and the others can work something out."
"But there's nothing to work out. I-"
Cornelius pulled out a document from his breast pocket.
"Here's your deed, Miss Viveca, signed, sealed and delivered.
Hangman's House is yours."
Hangman's House, indeed! Taking the document, Viveca
restrained a shiver. "Mr. Cornelius, I wish you had warned me
about this place, and its condition, which is so much worse
than I was led to expect."
Cornelius blinked rapidly. "Madam, I hate to contradict you,
but the truth is, you got a steal. Now I must be going. As I
mentioned, Mother was sinking when I left her."
"Yes, we wouldn't want you to develop a reputation for
abandoning sinking vessels," Viveca shot back.
As Emmett snorted, Cornelius frowned. "Besides, this house
may be graying and dilapidated, but it's structurally sound.
Good day, miss."
With as much dignity as he could summon, Cornelius turned and
strode for the door, only to yelp as a floorboard buckled
beneath him. He launched into an undignified little sidestep,
then half his leg crashed through the floorboards into the
Winnie gasped; Viveca crossed her arms over her chest. "Just
what were you saying about this house being structurally
Cornelius glanced back at her in helpless embarrassment;
Emmett stepped forward, grimly offering the trapped man his
hand. With Emmett's help and amid much grunting and groaning,
Cornelius managed to retrieve himself from the floorboards.
After brushing off his trousers, he plopped on his hat in a
vain attempt to hide a red face.
"Perhaps only a termite or two," he muttered, then fled out
the front door.
Excerpted from Phantom of the Bathtub
by Eugenia Riley
Copyright © 2006 by Eugenia Riley .
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.