She sees dead peopleBeautiful, smart, and chic, Pepper Martin never had to work a day in her life until her surgeon daddy was convicted of fraud, her wealthy fiancé took a powder, and the family fortune ran bone dry.Suddenly desperate, the inexperienced ex-rich girl was forced to take the only job she could get: as a tour guide in a cemetery. But a grave situation took a turn for the worse when a head-on collision with a headstone left her with an unwanted ability to communicate with the disgruntled deceased . . . and now Pepper has a whacked Mafia don demanding that she hunt down his killers and threatening to haunt her until she does.
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Don of the DeadA Pepper Martin Mystery
By Casey Daniels
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Casey Daniels
All right reserved.
I have to admit, the first time Gus Scarpetti spoke to me, I didn't pay a whole lot of attention.
After all, the guy had been dead for thirty years. How much could he possibly have to say?
"Hey, doll baby!" He called out from the back of the crowd that was gathered around me, and though I'm usually pretty quick on my feet, I was so freaked when I saw him that I was speechless.
I glanced over my shoulder at the black marble mausoleum that contained the worldly remains of Gus Scarpetti. I looked back toward where this Gus Scarpetti wound his way in and out of the clumps of tourists waiting for me to begin the day's talk: "Cleveland's Famous Dead."
Dead being the operative word.
I reminded myself of that fact while I watched Scarpetti sidestep between two blue-haired ladies. "Doll baby. Hey!" He gave me the once-over. Like I'd been hearing since I was thirteen, I was too tall for a girl. Five eleven. Just about the same height as this guy. I also happened to have a size 38C bust. Guys always noticed. Even guys who were pretending to be dead guys.
Scarpetti stared at my chest for a while and he smiled when he looked me in the eye. "You got no manners? I'm talking to you. Theleast you could do is say hello."
"Hello." I answered automatically. I was still trying to figure out who concocted a joke this lame. Whoever it was, I had to give him (or her) credit. Where they found a Gus Scarpetti who looked exactly like the Gus Scarpetti I had seen in the pictures in the cemetery's research archives was a mystery to me.
The guy was shaped like a bull, compact and big-boned, with a nose that sat on his face at an angle, a souvenir of his early years working as mob muscle. He had a football player's neck, as beefy as a porterhouse. Like the photos I'd seen, this Gus Scarpetti was dressed in a perfectly tailored dark suit, a fat tie, and a diamond ring on the pinky finger of his left hand. A white handkerchief peeked out of his breast pocket.
It was probably what he'd been buried in.
The thought sent a shiver up my spine, and I shook it away. Good thing. My too-curly carrot-colored hair was wound into a braid and it twitched against the back of my white polo shirt, snapping me back to reality.
It had taken me a solid week to get the script for this tour down pat. Now this guy shows up and throws me off my game? He deserved to be put on the spot. I made a sweeping gesture toward our guest. "Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like you all to meet Mr. Augustino Scarpetti."
You'd think it would have had a little more effect on the crowd. A little more than none, anyway.
Two dozen pairs of eyes stared at me. As empty as my checkbook. Two dozen people whose sticky tags said their names were things like Gladys and Rose and Henry, waited for me to say more.
No one at Garden View Cemetery had ever bothered to tell me how to handle a cemetery-tour heckler. I knew I had to punt.
"Mr. Augustino Scarpetti is buried here." I pointed toward the mausoleum with its Egyptian columns at the front corners and a door that had been imported all the way from Italy. It was brass with a glass insert, and according to what I'd been told by the folks who knew about these things, the door cost more than I paid in rent for an entire year. I guess that was only right since the mausoleum was bigger than my apartment.
Pretty classy digs for someone who was too dead to appreciate it.
From the other side of the door, I could see the glow of the stained-glass window at the far end of the mausoleum, the oriental rug that covered the marble floor, and the dozen red roses that were delivered every week like clockwork. Always on Thursday, the day Gus Scarpetti had been gunned down.
When I turned back around, I half expected that the Gus clone would be gone. But he was still there, looking as interested in what I had to say as everyone else in the group. Which was pretty much the reminder I needed to get my head back into the game.
"I'll bet most of you have heard stories about Gus," I said, and everybody but Gus nodded enthusiastically. "His mob nickname was the Pope, and he was the head of one of the largest crime families in -- "
"One of the largest?" Scarpetti looked me over like I was a salami hanging in a deli window. His eyes glinted. Just like the diamonds in his ring. "What idiot told you to say that? One of the largest? That's what they get for letting a girl talk about something as important as this. The Scarpetti Family was the largest. The largest family. Go ahead, you tell them that."
"I don't have to. You just did."
"Did what?" The question came from a woman named Betty in the front row. I looked her way.
"What he said," I told her.
Betty turned toward where I pointed. "He who?"
"He. Him." For a second, I wondered how the practical joker (whoever he -- or she -- was) had convinced the Heights Lutheran Senior Citizens League to go along with the gag. Just as quickly, I decided there was no way. They couldn't be bullshitting me. Not all of them. Not Lutherans.
"Gus Scarpetti. The mobster." This time I didn't just point, I stabbed, the gesture broad enough so that even Chester, the guy with the thick glasses who stood at Betty's side, could see it. "Gus Scarpetti is -- "
My stomach hit bottom, then bounced up again and lodged in my throat.
Because that's when I realized that nobody else saw the guy.
Excerpted from Don of the Dead by Casey Daniels Copyright © 2006 by Casey Daniels. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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