"The breathtaking barrier island of Melbourne Beach, Florida, is every tourist’s fantasy—until murder washes ashore . . .
Trading the urban sprawl of Manhattan for the tranquility and exotic beauty of a Florida barrier island was the best decision author Liz Holt ever made. What could be more ideal for relaxing, regrouping, and getting a writer’s creative juices flowing than observing life at the unconventional hotel that has been in Liz’s family for generations? But it’s death that grips the island when a body sweeps in on the tide . . .
The victim was a member of a fishing crew lost at sea who may or may not have drowned. Despite the corpse in their crosshairs, the staff of the Indialantic by the Sea Hotel and Emporium continues its plans for its first annual Pirates’ Weekend. But things go further awry when both a hurricane and a killer leave a trail of destruction. Liz and her new boyfriend must figure out who’s behind the carnage before they also end up in Davy Jones’ locker . . .
Praise for Kathleen Bridge
“A delightful sneak peek into life in the Hamptons, with intricate plotting and a likeable, down-to-earth protagonist. A promising start to a promising series.”
—Suspense Magazine on Better Homes and Corpses
“The descriptions of furniture and other antiques, as well as juicy tidbits on the Hamptons, make for entertaining reading for those who enjoy both antiques and lifestyles of the rich and famous.”
—Booklist on Better Homes and Corpses
“An excellent read.”
—RT Book Reviews on Hearse and Gardens
“Ghostal Living is a marvelously entertaining tale of revenge, murder, quirky characters—and disappearing books! With a clever protagonist, wonderful details of life in the Hamptons, and plot twists on top of plot twists, Kathleen Bridge will have mystery readers clamoring for more.”
—Kate Carlisle, New York Times bestselling author
About the Author
Lauren Ezzo is a Chicago-based audiobook narrator and commercial voice talent. A Michigan native and Hope College alumna, she has recorded over 100 titles and garnered several AudioFile Earphones Awards for her narrations.
Read an Excerpt
Liz pushed against the revolving door and entered the hotel, glancing around the vintage-chic lobby, as her great-aunt called it. The word "shabby" wasn't allowed when describing the once-grand resort that had opened in 1926.
"It's the Bat! He's out to kill us!" a voice screeched from next to the hotel's check-in counter.
"Relax. Decorum! For mercy's sake."
The statements were spoken with different intonations but originated from the same source. Barnacle Bob wasn't schizophrenic, just used to hearing the lines repeated over and over again — as was Liz. The parrot was reciting dialogue from a play Aunt Amelia was in at the Melbourne Beach Theatre Company's production of Mary Roberts Rinehart's The Bat.
"You nailed it, BB. Where's Auntie?" Liz asked.
The parrot ignored her.
"What's wrong? Cat got your tongue?"
Barnacle Bob twirled around in his ornate brass cage. A ruby-red tailfeather floated up and landed on his bald head. BB didn't get along with the Indialantic's felines, Carolyn Keene (aka Caro), Bronte, and Venus. Unlike Barnacle Bob, Killer, the only canine at the hotel, was a cat lover and currently in a relationship with Caro. Whenever Killer entered the same room as Barnacle Bob, the parrot would make meowing sounds, saving him from becoming the Great Dane's tasty treat.
"Adios, amigo. Hasta luego," Liz said to BB, before stepping away from his cage.
"'Ay, yi, yi, yi! I am the Frito Bandito,'" he crooned.
Greta Kimball, the hotel's housekeeper, walked into the lobby carrying Barnacle Bob's breakfast. Venus followed closely at her heels. Greta was tall and thin, in her late seventies, with long white hair she wore in a French braid. When Liz had first met her in an assisted living residence in Melbourne, she'd looked fifteen years older than the woman who stood before her now.
Greta put her face near Barnacle Bob's cage and picked up where the parrot left off. "'I like Frito's corn chips, I like them I do. I like Frito's corn chips, I'll take them from you.'" Then she let out a full-bodied laugh when BB added an "'Olé!'" and rang the bell hanging from the side of his cage.
The new housekeeper had been welcomed into the Indialantic's eclectic family with open arms. Five months ago, she'd been rescued from a subpar retirement home by Aunt Amelia — the great rescuer — and received free room and board, along with a small salary, in exchange for her housekeeping duties.
"Good morning, Greta. Don't fall for BB's cutesy act," Liz said. "As soon as you give him his food, he'll go back to the dark side and drag you along with him."
"Oh, I'm not frightened of this little angel."
BB stood a little taller, taking a piece of kiwi from Greta's hand in a restrained manner. Liz still had a red mark on her finger from the last time she'd fed him.
"Well, I'll leave you to it," Liz said as she went through the Spanish-arched doorway in search of her great-aunt.
Ahead, voices filtered out from Aunt Amelia's screening room. Two distinct voices. Aunt Amelia's and her "frenemy" Susannah Shay's. Liz continued down the tiled hall toward them. When she came to the screening room's open doorway, she noiselessly stepped inside.
The room had eight rows of seating and a huge stage with an old-school, theater-size projection screen. At the back of the room was a screening booth with a projector and DVD player. The mini-theater was in shadow, but three spotlights were positioned on the stage.
Until the Melbourne Beach Theatre Company's new renovations were completed, Aunt Amelia's screening room was the temporary site of rehearsals for The Bat.
Liz continued down the aisle toward the front of the theater, her elbow knocking a framed photo off the wall. It clattered to the floor with a thud. She bent to pick it up, happy the glass hadn't shattered. A mustachioed Buddy Ebsen, aka Jed Clampett from the 1960s television show The Beverly Hillbillies, smiled back at her. His arm was draped over the shoulders of a pigtailed Aunt Amelia. Liz replaced the photo on the wall, where it hung next to a black-and-white autographed shot of Gene Barry as Bat Masterson, gambler and Wild West lawman. He was wearing a derby hat and pointing his cane at a young Amelia Eden Holt. Her hands were up in mock surrender, her head thrown back in laughter. The entire north wall of the room had been plastered with '60s memorabilia — a shrine to her great-aunt's television career.
So as not to disturb the rehearsing, Liz slunk into a seat and looked toward the stage at the two elderly but vibrant women.
"I prefer the play's ending in NBC's 1960 Dow Hour of Great Mysteries adaptation of The Bat. The one starring Helen Hayes, Margaret Hamilton, and Jason Robards," Susannah's verbose but at the same time calm voice said. "The actors weren't given the identity of the Bat until the final rehearsals — even they didn't know whodunit until the last minute. We should do the same." Susannah, who'd won the lead role in the play as Cornelia Van Gorder, was in her late seventies and professed to be the third cousin once removed of Madame Etiquette herself, Amy Vanderbilt. Prim and proper was an understatement when it came to Susannah Shay. She stood tall with erect posture. Her Cornelia Van Gorder costume entailed a white wig with a bun that hit the nape of her neck; a high-necked, white lace–trimmed blouse with a cameo pinned to the collar; a navy ankle-length skirt, and black-laced shoes straight out of a 1940s Sears catalog. Liz always felt slightly diminished in Susannah's presence, afraid to talk, always on her best behavior, like a seen-but-not-heard child from the Victorian era.
"Margaret Hamilton and I couldn't be more opposite in appearance," Aunt Amelia answered in a high-pitched squeak. Liz's great-aunt had won the role of spinster Cornelia Van Gorder's squeamish, elderly maid. Accustomed to top billing, Liz's great-aunt hadn't been too pleased that her thespian friend got the role she coveted. Susannah had been Aunt Amelia's roommate in Burbank when they worked as television character actresses in the 1960s. Susannah was staying at the Indialantic until her "snowbird" home in a nearby gated community was completed.
"And one more thing," Susannah said. "For clarity's sake, Amelia. I think your character's name should be Lizzie Arlen, like in the Broadway version of The Bat, not Liddie Allen, like in The Circular Staircase, the novel Mary Roberts Rinehart based the play on."
"If I use the name Lizzie, it will confuse my great-niece." Aunt Amelia winked in Liz's direction. "Also, if we decide to follow the plot in the 1959 televised version of The Bat, the one with Agnes Moorehead, Vincent Price, and Lenita Lane, I won't need to worry that the audience will confuse Margaret Hamilton's version of the maid with mine."
"Amelia," Susannah said, adding an exaggerated exhalation. "How many people will remember either teleplay version of The Bat? More than half of America didn't even own a television back them." She took Aunt Amelia's hand in hers, then continued in a patronizing tone. "And I doubt that anyone will recall that the elderly actress who played my — I mean Cornelia's —'maidservant' in the Dow Hour of Great Mysteries teleplay, was the Wicked Witch of the West. They might remember, however, that you played the maidservant on Dark Shadows."
Uh-oh. Liz saw Aunt Amelia's cheeks redden under her bubblegum-pink blush. Unlike Susannah, Aunt Amelia wasn't wearing her maid's costume for her role as Cornelia Van Gorder's scaredy-cat, scatterbrained servant. Amelia Eden Holt had been a beauty in her day and was still a handsome figure, with her bright red hair coifed on top of her head in large soup-can curls, baby-blue pearlescent eye shadow, and black liner that winged outward from the corner of her luminous emerald eyes. She usually dressed in one of her flowing caftans in hues of violet, green, or aqua, and today was no exception.
Susannah didn't seem to notice she'd upset her friend. "I was merely stating that we should leave who will play the Bat a secret until the final weeks of rehearsal. That way, the actor can't ham it up and throw us off our game."
"I suppose that's not a bad idea," Aunt Amelia said. "But I insist on having the name Liddie for my role. What's your opinion, Lizzie?"
Liz knew it wasn't about a name; it was more about her great-aunt's friend winning the starring role in the play. She didn't want to get in the middle of the pair's theatrical histrionics, even if she did think Aunt Amelia would make a great Cornelia Van Gorder. However, in the straight-backed, blue-blooded vein, Susannah Shay fit the bill — as in playbill. From experience, it was certain Aunt Amelia would steal the show — no matter if she had the lead or played the part of the maid. No one put Amelia Eden Holt in a corner, not even the queen of etiquette, Susannah Shay.
"Ladies, ladies, let's not argue," a male voice said.
Sitting in the shadows on the other side of the room was Tom Grayson, the director of the play. Recently, Aunt Amelia had rented him a vacated emporium space for his new business, Treasure Tours by the Sea, thinking it might net her the leading role in the play. Unfortunately, that hadn't happened.
"Let's table this discussion for later," he said. "There's plenty of time for me to decide who'll play the Bat."
Susannah and Aunt Amelia turned toward Tom. They'd both opened their mouths the moment he'd said, "for me to decide."
"We've just begun rehearsals," Tom said. "And I still haven't cast anyone to play the parts of Brooks the gardener, Richard Fleming, and the Unknown Man. Auditions will resume next week."
Gregory Grayson, who seemingly owned half of all the businesses and real estate in Melbourne Beach, was the owner of the Melbourne Beach Theatre Company. Gregory had picked his half brother Tom to be the director of the play, thereby keeping it all in the family. Something the rest of the actors weren't too happy about.
Tom said, "Let's call it a day. It looks like Erica is going to be a no show, along with Victor — they're probably off somewhere together."
Erica Grayson, Tom's ex-sister-in-law and Gregory's ex-wife, would be playing the part of Cornelia Van Gorder's niece, Dale. Victor Normand had the role of Dr. Wells.
"Tom," Susannah said, "I think you need to make a decision on which version of The Bat we'll be following, along with the name you prefer to use for Amelia. Lizzie or Liddie? I can't be expected to stay in character under these circumstances!"
After an eye roll and a glance in Liz's direction, Aunt Amelia said, "Gracious me."
"Gracious me," was her great-aunt's prearranged code phrase for "get me away from Susannah Shay."
"Auntie, can I please have a word with you?" Liz called from the aisle.
"Of course you can, my dear." She swished past Susannah and met Liz at the door leading out of the screening room. The scent of L'Air du Temps arrived before she did.
They moved into the hallway, and Aunt Amelia closed the door before she spoke. "Thanks for saving me, my love. It all comes rushing back. Susannah and I were usually up for the same parts, even on Dark Shadows. However, I scored the recurring role of the Collinses' maid, and she a single- day's performance as one of Barnabas's victims, who was staked to death in the very same episode. Now that I think of it, I'll embrace the role of Cornelia Van Gorder's maid with bells on." She tossed one end of her iridescent peacock-colored scarf over her right shoulder.
"That's the spirit," Liz said. "And I'm sure they'll remember you for your role on Dark Shadows, instead of confusing you with the actress who played the Wicked Witch of the West."
"That was a little catty of me, wasn't it? Margaret Hamilton may not have been much in the looks department, but she was undoubtedly the most iconic villain of all time."
Liz laughed. "True. The first time I saw The Wizard of Oz she scared me half to death. Her and her flying monkeys, in their not-so-adorable blue and red fez hats."
"I have old pictures of employees wearing similar hats. They were part of the Indialantic's bellhop and elevator operator uniforms in the thirties. Speaking of uniforms, I'm going to have Francie whip me up an exquisite maid's uniform when she returns home. That'll show Susannah."
"Auntie, it's not like you to be so snarky."
"You're right. I've got it!" she said, slapping her hand on the doorframe. "I know what I'll do. I'll have Francie copy the French maid's costume from the movie Clue. Most likely, Susannah would rather I wear what actress Shirley Booth wore as TV's favorite maid, Hazel." Aunt Amelia noticed the blank look on Liz's face and explained, "Hazel was a sitcom from the early 1960s about a family named the Baxters and their maid and housekeeper, who had the perfect answer for any situation. The series was based on a comic strip from The Saturday Evening Post. Kind of like Father Knows Best. Only Hazel knew best. Hazel wore a dowdy uniform with a little white hat above her plain-Jane face. Don't get me wrong; Shirley was a consummate actress, but her Hazel was a stereotypical portrayal at best. I need to add a little spice to my part as Liddie."
"I'm sure when Francie gets back, she'll make you the perfect maid's costume, Auntie." Francie was a renowned seamstress who made her own patterns based on vintage clothing, which she adjusted to fit today's woman, then sold in shops around the United States. She and her partner, Minna, rented the emporium shop Home Arts by the Sea. Liz couldn't wait to see what Francie came up with.
Aunt Amelia's face lit up and Liz saw her great-aunt's wheels turning on how to change the maid's role into something much more. Much, much more.
"I think we're all set for Pirates' Weekend by the Sea," Liz said. "All we have to do is pray the weather holds and the hurricane decides to visit the east coast instead of the west. The emporium shops are ready to go."
The weekend's festivities were Aunt Amelia's brainchild. It had taken Liz everything she had to rein in a few of her great-aunt's wacky ideas for the event, including a contest for the most articulate macaw. Aunt Amelia's feathered friend Barnacle Bob might be great at repeating 1960s television commercial jingles, but when it came to the rest of the parrot's vocabulary, which included enough curse words to make a stand-up comedian blush, Liz knew she had to steer her great-aunt in a more wholesome direction. Finally, Liz had persuaded Aunt Amelia to focus on the treasure hunt instead of BB's so-called talents.
In 1945, a mysterious fire had destroyed a section of the Indialantic by the Sea Hotel. Recently, Aunt Amelia, with the financial aid of her nephew, had refurbished the northern section of the hotel and turned it into the Indialantic by the Sea Emporium. Saturday would entail a day of bargains and treasures at the emporium. The vendors from the shops were also donating prizes for Sunday's treasure hunt: bottles of wine from Deli-casies by the Sea, sterling silver and turquoise jewelry from Sirens by the Sea, antique books and vintage treasure-themed trinkets from Books and Browsery by the Sea, mixed-media art and knitting lessons from Home Arts by the Sea, and a gift certificate from the new shop, Treasure Tours by the Sea. Aunt Amelia was donating a weekend getaway at the hotel in the newly refurbished Oceana Suite.
Sunday there would a pirates' luncheon and scavenger hunt on the Indialantic's grounds. Pierre, the hotel's octogenarian live-in chef, was still unclear about what a pirates' luncheon entailed. And so was Liz.
"Auntie, have you settled on the menu for the pirates' picnic? I'd love to take a look." Between her great-aunt's grandiose plans for the weekend and Pierre's willingness to agree to whatever his employer and friend requested, Liz needed to be the middleman, for everyone's sake.
"I've discussed it with Greta. Judging by the way she reacted, I'm sure I'm on to a fantastic menu. After I handed her a glass of water, she said she wanted to talk to you first before going over the menu with Pierre."
Oh boy. That didn't sound good.
Aunt Amelia squared her shoulders and stuck out her chin. "Well, I've counted to ten and I'm ready to face Susannah. Better get back inside before she talks Tom into deleting the role of Cornelia's maid from the play. I'm so happy Tom has chosen Katie to play the part of Detective Anderson. I need an ally against Susannah."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Killing by the Sea"
Copyright © 2018 Kathleen Bridge.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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