Tombs of Endearment
"That's one of the really wonderful things about working in a cemetery. You get to do things that are not only interesting and educational, but fun. Imagine, spending an entire day researching the immigration records at the County Archives! Could anything be more exciting than that?"
Needless to say, I am not the one who spoke these words. They came from Ella Silverman, the community relations manager at Garden View Cemetery and—not incidentally—my boss. Nobody but Ella could possibly get so hopped up about the prospect of spending the day poking through dusty old books full of equally dry information.
When I didn't respond with the enthusiasm Ella expected, she tried to manufacture some. She beamed a smile at me across my desk and patted the notepad she'd brought with her into my office. It contained a list—a long list—of the Garden View residents (Ella's word for the folks buried there) whose files she wanted to beef up with a little more information. "Well, Pepper, really! You should be excited. Think of all you'll learn!"
I was thinking about it. And it practically put me to sleep. But hey, if the months I'd worked as Garden View's only tour guide had taught me anything, it was to prevaricate like a pro.
Then again, in addition to my gig at the cemetery, I was also the world's one and only private investigator to the dead, and—at least as far as I knew—the only person around unlucky enough to not only see dead people, but talk to them, too. They always wanted something from me, those dead folks, and whatever it was (and take my word for it when Isay it usually involved getting threatened, beaten up, and/or shot at), it always conflicted with what I was supposed to be doing in my real life. Was it any wonder I could tell a lie with a smile on my lips and a song in my heart?
"Of course I'm excited." To prove my statement to Ella and maybe convince myself, too, I sat up straight in an eager-beaver sort of way. "But are you sure you can spare me for the whole day? I mean, you said it yourself in the staff meeting yesterday. With the holidays right around the corner—"
Ella nodded sagely. "You mean because of the ghost hunters. The ones who show up every year at this time, right before Halloween."
Halloween wasn't the holiday I'd been referring to. It wasn't even something I wanted to think about. Believe me, when it came to things that went bump in the night, I'd had my fill. As far as I was concerned, the dearly departed could stay right where they belonged. Which was, in case there's any question, as far away from me as it was possible to get.
I'd done my part. Hand in hand (figuratively speaking, of course) with the dead but regretfully not departed, I'd solved two murders with a paranormal twist, one the past spring and another right after. So far—knock on wood—I'd managed to get through the balance of the summer and most of the fall without another close encounter of the woo-woo kind.
It was my goal in life to keep it that way.
"Actually, I meant the Christmas choral concert you mentioned yesterday," I told Ella. Better to show her I'd been paying attention at the meeting than to entertain even a smidgen of a thought about how working for the dead had a way of always putting me in danger of becoming one of them. "And the tree-trimming ceremony, the Hanukkah festivities, and the community Kwanzaa celebration the cemetery hosts. That's going to take a lot of planning."
"It does. But we do it every year. Honestly, I could do the groundwork in my sleep. The ghost hunters . . . well, of course, that's another story."
As the saying goes, any port in a storm. Right about then, the impending storm was research, and if talking about ghosts (in a purely theoretical way, of course) was going to change the direction of the conversation and keep me away from the County Archives, I was game. Reluctant, but game.
In a gesture designed to assure her we were two bodies but one mind, my nod mirrored Ella's. "Ghost hunters. Exactly. Obviously, I should stick around. In case you need any help. They're practically overrunning the place."
"Happens every year." She didn't look happy about it.
"And we can't keep them out?"
Ella's shrug said it all. "It's a public place. There's nothing we can do to make people stay away. As long as they're not doing any damage or causing any disruption and they're not getting in anyone's way doing what they do."
"And they do . . . what?"
"Look for ghosts, of course." Her smile was sympathetic.
It didn't fool me. "You think they're wasting their time."
"I think if there were really such things as ghosts, one of us would have seen them by now, don't you?"
Little white lies were one thing. Whoppers were another. I sidestepped the question and got back to the matter at hand. Which was, as far as I could remember, how to keep myself from being condemned to a day in research hell.
"No way you can keep those ghostbusters in line by yourself," I told Ella. "You'll need me to stay here and help."
"Oh, I doubt it." She sloughed off my concerns. "They're an odd bunch, but they're really harmless."
"I'm sure they are, but if we've got funerals scheduled—"
"That's what Security is for."
"And visitors coming through—"
"There isn't another tour scheduled until the end of the week. You remember, the one you're leading for that fourth grade class that's doing a project on the freed slaves who are buried here."
I remembered, all right, and remembering, I shivered in my Jimmy Choo kidskin ankle boots. Not that I didn't think the lives of freed slaves were fascinating. But, honestly, fourth graders? It was almost enough to make the County Archives sound like a walk in the park. Tombs of Endearment
. Copyright © by Casey Daniels. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.