The only rule bookshop owner and widow Penelope Thornton-McClure has given ghostly hard boiled P.I. Jack Shepard is to not haunt the customers. But when hot, young author Angel Stark arrives at the store to promote her latest, a true crime novel, Jack can hardly contain himself. After all, this is his specialty!
Angel’s book is an unsolved mystery about a debutante found strangled to death. And it’s filled with juicy details that point a finger at a number of people in the deb’s high society circle. But when the author winds up dead too—in precisely the same way—Pen is fast on the case...which means Jack is too. After all, a ghost detective never rests in peace.
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Table of Contents
CHAPTER 1 - The Princess Ball
CHAPTER 2 - Dying for Applause
CHAPTER 3 - Accuse Me?
CHAPTER 4 - Guilty Pleasure
CHAPTER 5 - Hit and Run
CHAPTER 6 - In Jack’s Case
CHAPTER 7 - Morning News
CHAPTER 8 - Miss Placed
CHAPTER 9 - And Then There Were Three
CHAPTER 10 - No Clue
CHAPTER 11 - Grisly Discovery
CHAPTER 12 - Fall Guy or Felon?
CHAPTER 13 - Lady in the Lake
CHAPTER 14 - The Little Sister
CHAPTER 15 - Guesswork
CHAPTER 16 - Mystery Man
CHAPTER 17 - Kangaroo Court
CHAPTER 18 - And the Verdict Is . . .
CHAPTER 19 - Dark Discovery
CHAPTER 20 - The Getaway
CHAPTER 21 - P.I. School
CHAPTER 22 - Casing the Joint
CHAPTER 23 - Angels and Demons
CHAPTER 24 - Judgment Day
Don’t Miss the Next Haunted Bookshop Mystery
Praise for Alice Kimberly’s first Haunted Bookshop Mystery
The Ghost and Mrs. McClure
“Part cozy and part hard-boiled detective novel with traces of the supernatural, The Ghost and Mrs. McClure is just a lot of fun.”—The Mystery Reader
“[The] enigmatic townspeople come alive in this quirky mystery, and readers will eagerly anticipate future installments—and the continuing easy banter and romantic tension between Jack and Penelope.”—Romantic Times
“A charming, funny and quirky mystery starring a suppressed widow and a stimulating ghost who is attracted to her even though they can only meet in her dreams. He is hard-boiled in the tradition of Phillip Marlowe, and she is a genteel Miss Marple; yet the two opposites make an explosive combination. Alice Kimberly definitely has a hit series if the first book is anything to go by.”
—Midwest Book Review
“A deliciously charming mystery with a haunting twist!”
—Laura Childs, author of The English Breakfast Murder
“This is such a well-written cozy . . . a fabulous first mystery. I highly recommend this book! You won’t want to put it down.”—I Love a Mystery
“Ms. Kimberly has penned a unique premise and cast of characters to hook us on her first of a series.”
“What a delightful new mystery series! I was hooked from the start. . . . I adored the ghost of Jack. . . . Pairing him with the disbelieving Penelope is a brilliant touch.”
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
THE GHOST AND THE DEAD DEB
A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author
PRINTING HISTORY Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / September 2005
All rights reserved.
eISBN : 978-1-101-01046-4
BERKLEY® PRIME CRIME Berkley Prime Crime Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group,
Sincerest thanks to literary agent John Talbot and Senior Editor Christine Zika for their valued support—
Thanks also to Kimberly Lionetti for the all-important start.
And very special thanks to Major John J. Leyden, Jr. (Ret.),
Although real places and institutions are mentioned in this book, they are used in the service of fiction.
I did not lead a very wise life myself, but it was a full one, and a grown-up one. You come of age very often through shipwreck and disaster, and at the heart of the whirlpool some men find God.
I’m licensed as a private detective. . . . The police don’t like me. The crooks don’t like me. . . . My ethics are my own . . . and I’ll shoot it out with any gun in the city—any time, any place.
—Race Williams in The Snarl of the Beast by Carroll John Daly, 1927 (cited as the first hard-boiled private detective novel)
New York City July 19, 1946
“PACKED AND STACKED,” muttered Jack Shepard, gazing down at the sweltering Manhattan rush hour. Cars, trucks, taxis, and people—swarms of them. Pouring out of buildings, spilling down avenues, racing back to Cracker-jack apartments and cramped rowhouses, smoky bar cars, and roomy Victorians in the suburban north, land of do-right guys and fair-play Janes, chubby-cheeked kids, and manicured shrubbery.
“Excuse me, but are you Jack Shepard?”
The perfume reached him before the words. Not cheap and obvious, like his gum-chewing secretary’s, but subtle, delicate, and dripping with pedigree.
“Look at ’em,” said Jack, still staring out the window. “Most of ’em hungry and tired and crazy to get out of the summer heat. All of them, from this height, small enough to swat like flies.”
“One of them did get swatted,” said the dame. “That’s why I’m here.”
Without turning, Jack rubbed his neck. Beneath his thin dress shirt, shoulder muscles rippled. His sweat box of an office was no place for a jacket. He’d tossed it hours ago, loosened his tie, rolled up white sleeves. His rod stayed where it was, strapped in a holster, just under his arm.
Checking his watch, he turned to his desk, slid open a drawer. Like an old friend, the liquid gold greeted him. He pulled out one glass, poured two fingers.
“Quitting time,” he said, flat as a pancake. The week had been a long one. He’d done the job he’d been hired to do, but he hadn’t liked it. Or himself for doing it.
“Does that mean you want me to return on Monday?”
Slowly, Jack glanced up. When the world went bad, a man had two means of escape. A bottle. Or a dame. The sight of this one matched her sound and smell—cultured and subtle in a pink polkadot halter and white gloves, her golden locks upswept beneath a wide-brimmed hat. She looked to be in her late twenties, had a long white neck, and smooth, firm shoulders.
“Stay awhile,” said Jack, nudging the glass. It slid a few inches across the battered wood.
She stepped forward, slowly took off her gloves—a blue-blood striptease. She picked up the glass. Jack reached in the drawer for another.
Her big brown ones studied his muscular forearm as he poured his own, then her long, blonde lashes slowly lifted and she took in the V of his torso, the narrow waist and broad shoulders, the dagger-shaped scar across the flat, square chin, and the gunmetal gray eyes, staring down her own with sharp interest.
She swallowed nervously, put the shot glass to her glossy pink pout, and tentatively sipped. A delicate eyebrow rose in surprise—no doubt at the high quality of the hooch. It made no sense with his battered wooden desk, davenport of cracked brown leather, and old metal file cabinets. But Jack wasn’t cheap where it counted.
“Thanks,” she said softly. Her teeth were right and straight, white and perfect.
Jack knocked back his own in one gulp and pointed to a wooden chair across from his desk. “Take a load off.”
She did. Pulling up her skirt, she crossed million-dollar gams in strappy sandals, giving him a happy glimpse of bare skin. One long limb swung nervously.
With a sigh, Jack moved to his worn leather chair and sat down, putting a mile of desk between them. This rich, blonde honey may have flowed easily through his door, but honey wasn’t always sweet. Sometimes when you reached for a taste, you got stung.
“You look as though you’re having a bad day,” said the dame from across the wide, brown desert of his desktop.
“What are you? My bartender?” Jack’s lips gave a wry little twitch. His eyebrow arched a fraction. “I’m the one pouring.”
The dame studied Jack’s face, took another genteel sip. “I don’t believe men really tell bartenders anything.”
“Because men don’t like to reveal their weaknesses to other men. In my experience, men are more likely to tell women what’s vexing them.”
“Vexing. Now there’s a two-dollar word. Barnard? Or Sarah Lawrence?”
“That was number three on my list.”
“Come now, Mr. Shepard, I’m sure my higher education is not what’s vexing you.” This time it was her eyebrow arching, her own wry smile teasing.
“Tracked down a clipster running a con on a suit,” Jack found himself confessing. “Only the con turned out to be minor, fifty bucks even on a check-bouncing grift—and the clipster just a little old guy down on his luck after losing a legit job. The suit hires me. Easy for him, ’cause he’s sitting on wads of dough, but he got his ego bruised, you know, the kind who’s mortified to be smarted out of one dollar, let alone fifty—so he pulled some strings with his judicial buddies after I bring the old man in. Now gramps is gonna do hard time.”
“But this con man person was guilty of a crime, no?”
“The old guy was so scared he pulled a gut-ripper on me. Pathetic little switchblade. I had to rough him up to keep him from running. I didn’t like it.”
The dame took another long look at Jack’s acre of shoulders, his boxer’s nose, his muscular forearms. “It was your job, no?”
“Frail old guy. Did his bit in the first war. Gave up the con racket a decade ago—till his legit job let him down. Hard time in Sing-Sing. It’ll be the end for him.”
“That’s not your business, though. You did your job. You should be proud.”
“Yeah. Sure.” Jack poured another one, knocked it back. “So who’s your fly, honey? The one that got swatted?”
“My sister. And if you don’t help me, Mr. Shepard, the next fly that gets swatted will be me.”
The Princess Ball
The girls I know do not like real life. When it roars in for a landing in their backyards, threatening to fly them from dance class to dorm room, beach chair to office, bar stool to altar, they race for the underground, looking for shelter. After all, why be neurotic when you can be numb?
—Angel Stark, Comfortably Numb
Quindicott, Rhode Island Today
“ALL THE PLAYERS were in place. The lights were up, the stage was set for a tragedy worthy of the bard . . .”
Crisp paper rustled through the warm July air of Buy the Book’s Community Events room, a space so packed with people, the store’s modest air-conditioning unit had been rendered irrelevant. At the carved-oak podium, a slender young woman with long copper hair and triple-pierced ears had paused from her reading to slowly pour water into a glass. The audience, packed elbow to elbow, waited with reverent patience for the young author to sip her drink.
I, Mrs. Penelope Thornton-McClure, thirty-something widow, single mother, and co-owner of Buy the Book, leaned forward in my folding chair, joining my customers in their anticipation—an atmosphere of breathless expectation as artfully created as I’d ever seen.
After swallowing deliberately, Angel Stark gave a little smile. The daring, corset-laced bodice of her green and pink Betsy Johnson sundress alone could have held the room’s attention. But she’d come to my small Rhode Island town for a reading, not a fashion show, so she cleared her throat and finally returned her attention to the open book.
“No, perhaps good William is not the appropriate model for our tawdry little tale,” she read. “Perhaps the story of Bethany Banks’s final moments more mirrored one of those lurid Jacobean tragedies by John Webster, where the adulteress is punished by cruel torture and horrible death for her carnality. Of course, every tragedy, even a tawdry one, is unique. This tragedy, my tragedy, unfolded in a gilded beux arts mansion by the sea, under glittering lights that twinkled from high crystal chandeliers like a billion beckoning stars of the northeast. The Newport players were coifed and manicured young women and affluent and mannered young men. Like the cast of an A&E movie, they smiled and chatted as they waited in regal finery for the uncrowned, yet silently acknowledged, queen of our courtly crew to arrive.
“Before something could happen, really happen, Bethany Banks had to put in an appearance. That’s the way things worked—at the annual parties, the sorority, those weekends in the Hamptons or Cap Antilles. Bethany was our diva and our queen, our Simon Says . . .”
From the folding chair beside me, I heard a familiar tsktsk of disapproval. I frowned at the pale, slender man in tailored slacks, a crisp, white short-sleeve button-down, and bow tie.
“Simon Says?” he whispered when he saw my raised eyebrow. He shook his head in dismay. “Good lord.”
I sighed, not entirely surprised at Brainert’s critical reaction to Angel Stark’s prose. J. Brainert Parker (the J was for Jarvis, a first name to which he’d refused to answer since the age of six) was an assistant professor of English at nearby St. Francis College. In his thirties, well-read, acerbic, and gay, Brainert was one of Buy the Books’ most loyal customers—and one of my oldest friends. He never missed an opportunity to voice his opinions about the books I stocked or the authors I brought in for readings. In Angel Stark’s case, he’d dismissed her work the very day her publicist had phoned to accept my invitation to appear at Buy the Book.
I myself had been delighted that the author of the acclaimed best-selling memoirs of her years of depression, addictions, and therapy—and now a controversial true crime tale—would come to our quiet little town, and I immediately rolled out the welcome mat. But when Brainert Parker had heard the news, he’d been less than impressed.
“Angel Stark!” he’d cried. “You mean that silly girl who wrote Comfortably Numb. Every angst-ridden teenager in America had to have a copy, which made her the darling of the New York literary set for two afternoons in a row.”
“Lighten up, Professor,” I’d replied, feeling that as a bookstore owner I should stand up for the honor of any and all authors.
“Forgive me, but I’m speaking as an educator,” Brainert had informed me with a sigh. “It’s a genre now, you know, ‘Prozac-Girl-Interrupted-in-a-Bell-Jar,’ and I found nothing redeeming in her contribution to it or the influence of any of it on my impressionable, if not downright gullible, students. She has a lazy, self-indulgent style, glorifies antidepressant cocktails, and, in my opinion, the most disturbing ‘affliction’ she displayed in her story was her addiction to the letter ‘I.’ Whatever possessed you to ask her to appear at a mystery bookstore?”
There’d been no need for me to answer. My seventy-three-year-old aunt Sadie, and my partner in Buy the Book, had been locked and loaded.
“The subject of Ms. Stark’s new book is true crime,” Sadie had sharply informed Brainert as she polished the glasses that dangled on a chain around her neck. “It’s all about the Bethany Banks murder. Angel Stark was there, and apparently knew the victim quite well. I hear the book is a real tell-all. So why don’t you listen to my niece—and lighten up already on Ms. Stark.”
Excerpted from "The Ghost and the Dead Deb"
Copyright © 2005 Alice Kimberly.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
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