The eagerly anticipated followup to the Newbery honor winner and New York Times bestseller, Three Times Lucky
Mo LoBeau—one half of the (probably) world-famous Desperado Detective Agency—is back!
When Miss Lana winds up the mortified owner of an old inn with an unidentified ghost in the fine print, Mo’s itching to take the case. Plus, a historical ghost might make for some much needed Extra Credit in history. Who’s haunting the old inn? And why? Mo and Dale set out to solve their second big case—only to find the inn might not be the only thing in Tupelo Landing haunted by the past.
A laugh out loud, ghostly, Southern mystery that can be enjoyed by readers visiting Tupelo Landing for the first time, as well as those who are old friends of Mo and Dale.
"A rollicking sequel." —Wall Street Journal
"An irresistible Southern narrator—a literary descendant of Scout Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird." —Newsday on Three Times Lucky
About the Author
Sheila Turnage grew up on a farm in eastern North Carolina. A graduate of East Carolina University, she authored two nonfiction books and one picture book before she started writing about Mo LoBeau and Dale. Three Times Lucky is a Newbery Honor book, a New York Times bestseller, an Edgar Award Finalist, an E. B. White Read-Aloud Honor book, and was included on seven Best Book of the Year lists. The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing, the follow-up to Three Times Lucky, has so far garnered five starred reviews. Today Sheila lives on a farm with her husband, a smart dog, a dozen chickens, and a flock of guineas.
Read an Excerpt
Chapter 1: A Master of Disguise
Desperado Detective Agency’s second big case snuck up on Dale and me at the end of summer, dressed in the happy-go-lucky colors and excitement of an auction.
“Mystery is a master of disguise,” Miss Lana always says, and this one proved her point. It pitched a red-and-white striped tent in a meadow by the ancient Tupelo Inn, on the edge of town, and plastered the countryside with notices of its arrival:
AUCTION, Wednesday August 24—
THE OLD TUPELO INN!!
1880 inn & medicinal springs
Closed October 22, 1938
READ ALL FINE PRINT
Buddha Jackson, Auctioneer
The mystery Dale and I came face-to-face with there would wake up ghosts and shake up history.
Not that I—Miss Moses LoBeau, rising sixth grader and cofounder of Desperado Detective Agency—was thinking Mystery that Wednesday morning as I shoveled crushed ice into the café’s water glasses. I scanned the breakfast crowd and the 7UP clock on the wall. 6:45 a.m.
Where on earth was Dale? He should have been here a half hour ago.
Dale Earnhardt Johnson III, my best friend and co-sleuth, lives just outside town. Ever since his daddy went back to jail, he’s been sleeping ragged and long. So has his dog, Queen Elizabeth II.
“Order up!” the Colonel called over the café hubbub.
“Got it,” Miss Lana cried, spinning past in her pale yellow 1950s sundress and glossy Ava Gardner wig. Miss Lana, a former rising star of the Charleston community theater, adores Old Hollywood and has the wigs to prove it. “Tuck your shirttail in, sugar,” she murmured to me. “With the auction crowd blasting toward us, we’ll be standing room only within the hour. We want to look our best center stage.” She whirled away, her white sandals whispering against the tiles.
Miss Lana and the Colonel are my family of choice and I am theirs. We operate the café together. They like me to look good in a crowd.
I tucked in my shirt and grabbed some silverware for my friend Sally Amanda Jones, a fellow rising sixth grader. Salamander pushed her red Piggly Wiggly sunglasses up on top of her head. Sal’s daddy stocks shelves at the Pig and her mama sews. They aren’t money, but there’s not a sharper dresser in Tupelo Landing. “Pancakes, please. And . . . is Dale here?” she asked, her gray eyes hopeful as she peered toward the kitchen.
Sal loves Dale like midnight loves stars. So far, he hasn’t noticed.
I broke the news easy: “Dale’s in pre-arrival mode, but I’ll check his ETA for you,” I told her, and sped away.
“Batter Up on table four,” I called as I passed the kitchen door.
The Colonel peeked out at me. He keeps his gray hair military short, but his brown eyes glow warm and friendly.
“Pancakes, sir,” I explained. “New code.”
He winked and the door swished shut behind him.
I grabbed the café phone and dialed. Dale picked up on the third ring. “H’llo,” he mumbled. “Why is it?”
Why is it?
Unlike me, Dale doesn’t wake up good. “Because,” I replied. “They’re auctioning the Tupelo Inn today and if you don’t get over here, you’ll miss our ride.”
“Mo,” he replied, and hung up. Dale’s not an inline thinker.
I gave Sal a thumbs-up as a white minivan wheeled into our gravel parking lot. The Azalea Women, aka the Uptown Garden Club, tumbled out and scattered like pigeons. They chatted their way to the café door, and threaded through the crowd.
“I’ll be glad to see that old inn go,” one said as they bumped two red Formica tables together near the jukebox.
“I hear murder closed it down,” another added.
The café went quiet.
Grandmother Miss Lacy Thornton, who sat at the counter serenely nibbling her toast, whipped around to stare at the Azalea Women. The toes of her navy pumps just grazed the floor. Grandmother Miss Lacy’s short, like me. We aren’t related by blood; she took me as her honorary granddaughter in first grade. She’s the oldestnice person in Tupelo Landing. Also the richest.
“Rumor-mongering,” she murmured. “How sad.”
“Yes ma’am, it’s tragic,” I said, and waved at the Azalea Women. “Have a seat. I’ll be right with you,” I called, slipping a clue pad into my pocket.
Few people know it, but waitressing is like deep cover—with tips.
I ferried a tray of ice water to their table. “Did you mention a murder?”I asked, dealing the glasses around. “Because Desperado Detective Agency is now accepting new clients. Misdemeanors and felonies are our pleasure. Murder’s our specialty. How may we help?”
It was borderline true.
Dale and me opened Desperado Detective Agency at the beginning of the summer and solved our first murder in June. Since then we’d had just two cases, both of a Lost Pet nature. First Hannah Greene’s dog Mort, who we found running with a bad crowd at the trailer park. Then Sal’s goldfish Big Frank, who’d gone dust-to-dust behind Sal’s aquarium. Dale broke the news: “It looks like suicide,” he’d told her, his voice grim.
A second high-profile murder would be good for business.
The Azalea Women looked away from Grandmother Miss Lacy’s icy stare and studied their silverware.
I tried a different tack. “Today’s low-carb iced beverage comes to you compliments of me,” I said. I draped a paper napkin over my arm. “My name is Mo LoBeau, with the accent on the end. I’ll be taking care of you ladies today.”
“You don’t need to introduce yourself, Mo,” one of them said. “We’ve known you since the day you washed into town.”
“True,” I replied. “But I like to keep things professional to encourage tips—which, by the way, I’m saving for college. A possible orphan has to plan ahead. Today,” I continued, “we got a breakfast menagerie, which is French for sausage and egg casserole with cheese. This comes with hot biscuits au molasses for five dollars. For anyone trying to skinny down, I can substitute you a wheat toast with sugar free. What can I start you with?”
“Coffee and skinny,” they chorused.
“An excellent choice. And your murder selection?”
This time the lead Azalea Woman stared straight at Grandmother Miss Lacy. “I won’t go into details,” she sniffed, “but I hear Red Baker’s involved.”
Crud. Another Red Baker rumor. Grandmother Miss Lacy shook her head.
“Believe you me,” the Azalea Woman continued, her voice going stiletto, “whateverhappened out at that old inn—if anything did—is Red Baker’s fault. Or his people’s before him.”
I slapped my clue pad closed. A total dead end.
Red Baker, who lives outside town, mostly keeps to himself. The Colonel says he’s second generation moonshine and 100 percent trouble. Mr. Red, who visits the café once in a blue moon, has never been mean to me. But it’s a town rule that if anything goes wrong, he’s behind it. Him or else Dale’s daddy, Mr. Macon, if he’s out on bail—which, at the moment, he ain’t.
“Mark my words,” the Azalea Woman said, her eyeglasses swinging on their chain, “Red Baker’s people have always been bad news. And the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
“Mine did,” I reminded her. “I been searching for my family tree since the day I was born. All I know so far is it’s somewhere Upstream.” I headed for the kitchen. “I’ll get your order in right away.”
Minutes later, the café was hopping. “Let’s chill things down, sugar,” Miss Lana said, sashaying toward the air conditioner. Miss Lana’s built tall and slender. I’m built more like a roller derby queen, but that could change at any minute.
While Miss Lana cranked the temp down, I turned the overhead fan to a quicker swipe. The auction notice on the bulletin board fluttered in the breeze. “Miss Lana,” I said, “are we catering the auction? Because tips should be good once everybody gets whipped into a mindless frenzy, which the Colonel says is inevitable.”
She smiled. Her Hollywood-style makeup gave her eyes a smoky, mysterious look. “Catering is a lovely idea. But no, you and I will travel incognito as part of the general public today. We’ll leave after the breakfast rush,” she added. “Miss Thornton’s offered us a ride.”
Miss Lana doesn’t drive as a public courtesy.
“Batter Up,” the Colonel barked, coming in from the kitchen. I grabbed Sal’s pancakes as the café door swung open.
“Greetings, fellow citizens,” Mayor Little sang, letting the door bang shut behind him. He smoothed his ice-blue tie over his round belly and took in Miss Lana’s dark wig, sundress, and white sandals. “Ava Gardner, 1958,” he guessed. He cocked his head. “Oh my, and Frank Sinatra on the jukebox. How romantic.”
His tasseled loafers tick-tick-ticked across the tile floor. “Beautiful day for an auction,” he said, slipping onto his regular stool. “Buddha gave me the VIP tour yesterday. The entire property is deliciously dilapidated, thoroughly antiquish. Nothing’s changed since the day the inn closed. You can’t put a price on that kind of charm, my friends. Not until the bidding starts, anyway,” he added. He winked at the Azalea Women, who ignored him.
The Colonel splashed coffee in the mayor’s cup. “What idiot would buy that dump?” the Colonel growled.
“Not me,” Tinks Williams said, slapping his John Deere cap against his leg as he strolled in. “Roof leaks like a sieve last I heard.”
The mayor tucked his napkin in his collar. “I’m picturing condos, golf courses . . . My friends, Fate smiles on Tupelo Landing today.”
The Colonel snorted, did a quick about-face, and marched into the kitchen.
“Was it something I said?” Mayor Little asked, his neat eyebrows drifting up.
“Not exactly,” I said, stepping onto the Pepsi crate I keep behind the counter for extra height. “It’s just that the Colonel says Fate is bipolar and ought to be on medications. May I take your order?”
“The special,” he said as Dale rocketed into view on his faded red bike, his mongrel dog Queen Elizabeth II loping behind. He performed a flying dismount at the edge of the parking lot and slung his bike into a patch of shade.
“Hey,” he said, blasting through the door. His sandals squeaked to a halt and he ran his fingers through his blond hair. The men in Dale’s family have scandalous good hair.
Sal knocked her pancake syrup over.
“Morning, Dale,” Mayor Little said. “Solved any murders today?”
“No, sir,” he replied, waving at Sal and me. “But it’s early.”
Like I say, Dale and me solved Mr. Jesse’s murder at the beginning of the summer. We went famous for about a week until the gravity of habit pulled our lives back into regular orbit. Small towns have rules. One is, you got to stay who you are no matter how many murders you solve. That’s why I’m back to being regular Mo LoBeau—the girl Luck washed into town the day she was born. And why Dale’s back to being just plain Dale, the son of level-headed Miss Rose and the recently incarcerated Macon Johnson.
“Specials, you two?” Miss Lana offered, swishing by.
Dale vaulted onto a stool. Dale is athletic. I ain’t. “Thanks, Miss Lana,” he said. “Mama says will you please put it on her tab.” Miss Lana smiled and slid us a basket of biscuits. Her and Miss Rose are best friends. There ain’t no tab between them.
Fifteen minutes later, the café was standing room only—just as Miss Lana had predicted. Dale and me, who’d barely had time to brush the crumbs off our chins, flew around the café, carrying waters and taking orders. Miss Lana floated between phone, customers, and cash register, graceful as a dandelion seed on the wind.
I’d just cleared a table when Priscilla Retzyl, my teacher, swept in. A coffee cup shattered on the other side of the café. “No! My new shorts!” Dale cried. Even a whisper of teacher rattles him. Dale grabbed one of Miss Lana’s aprons, and hustled to take another order.
As I turned, Anna Celeste Simpson—blond hair, brown eyes, perfect smile—stiff-armed me to grab a window table.
I am to Anna Celeste as Sherlock Holmes is to Moriarty: Enemies for life.
“Hey, Attila,” I said.
“Mo-ron,” she murmured. “Mother and I will have the Garden Omelets and tomato juice. Good morning, Miss Retzyl,” she simpered, cutting her eyes toward our teacher. “I can’t wait for school to start tomorrow.”
The words thudded into my heart like dull wooden stakes.
“Make our omelets to go,” Attila’s sour-faced mother said, skinnying into the chair across from Attila. “I’m eager to scout the inn’s antiques.” She squinted at Attila. “Elbows, dear.”
Attila took her elbows off the table.
I sighed. Take-out mostly means no tips. For me, tips matter. I currently got $7.26 to my name, plus a Canada dime somebody dumped in the tip jar.
“You look tired, Mo,” Attila said, smiling to flaunt new braces. “Did your family vacation this summer? Mother and I loved Montreal.”
Montreal? In Canada? I reached in my pocket, to my Canada dime.
I hate Anna Celeste Simpson.
“You want me to put an Official Rush on this order? It only costs a dollar more per plate and that includes your tip,” I offered.
“No,” Attila said, flouncing her hair.
I scribbled her order: 2 Gardens. Take your time.
As I worked my way back to the counter, Dale stuffed a biscuit in his apron pocket and headed for Queen Elizabeth II, who lay snuffling beneath a shrub. Queen Elizabeth’s allergic to Miss Lana’s rosemary plant. Also the big-haired twins.
I slid a special to Mayor Little, who smiled at Grandmother Miss Lacy. “Miss Thornton, do you remember the old inn’s medicinal springs?”
“The springs? Goodness yes,” Grandmother Miss Lacy said. “Those springs cured hundreds of people. Not everyone who came, of course. Which reminds me: Will the old cemetery be auctioned with the inn?”
The hair on the back of my neck stood up. The old cemetery?
The café clattered to silence.
“Cemetery is such an unwelcoming word,” the mayor chided. “I prefer to think of it as a gated community for the dearly departed. Landscaping, ironwork, statuary . . .”
The screech of tires on pavement gobbled up the rest of his words.
The café whipped toward the window as a bright red sports car skidded across the parking lot, spewing an arc of sand.
“Hey,” Dale shouted, stepping in front of Queen Elizabeth. “Watch it!”
The car doors flew open. A dark-haired man and a blond woman jumped out, the woman shouting and the man jabbing his finger toward her face.
“Oh my,” Miss Lana murmured as a boy—a younger, thinner version of the man—unfolded himself from the car. He wiped his palms on his shiny black slacks, looked from the man to the woman, and then at Dale.
Dale’s flowered apron fluttered in the breeze.
The boy grabbed the man’s arm and pointed. The trio turned to Dale like a pack of jackals. Dale’s hand twitched toward the apron, but I knew he’d die before he took it off now. The man’s laugh cracked like a whip.
My temper sprang straight to my mouth. “Hey you,” I yelled, charging into the sunshine. “Crawl back in that clown car and get out of here.”
“Not real clowns,” I whispered. Dale has a terror of clowns. Also of ghosts.
The café door opened behind me, and the Colonel’s hand fell gently on my shoulder. The man studied the Colonel and whispered in the woman’s ear. The couple jumped in the car and fishtailed across the parking lot.
“Wait!” the boy shouted. He chased the car for a few awkward steps. “Stop!” His arms fell to his sides as the car disappeared around the curve.
“Despicable,” the Colonel muttered. “Never leave a comrade on the battlefield, Soldier.”
“No sir,” I said. “I won’t.”
“Me either,” Dale said.
The Colonel glanced at Dale. “You’re out of uniform, son.”
Dale ripped the apron off and held it behind his back. “New shorts,” he explained. That’s what Dale bought with his summer job money: school clothes. That and a pawnshop guitar. Dale is musical. I ain’t.
The boy from the car turned and walked toward us, barely whistling.
From a distance, I didn’t like him. Up close, I liked him less. Black hair, thin face, mole under his left eye. Scuffed black shoes, cheap clothes put together to look like money. He walked up lanky as a coyote, his thin shoulders sloping a modicum to the left.
“At ease, you two,” the Colonel said as the boy scuffled to a halt.
The boy’s eyes drifted from the Colonel, to me, to Dale. “Crenshaw,” he said, trying to make his voice low. “Harm Crenshaw.” Like he was Bond, James Bond.
Give me a break.
“The Third,” Dale replied. “Dale Earnhardt Johnson the Third. And this is LoBeau, Mo LoBeau. And . . .”
“The Colonel,” I said before Dale could get tangled up.
Crenshaw, Harm Crenshaw nodded, not quite meeting our eyes. “I need a ride to the auction,” he said, shoving his hands deep in his pockets. “Anybody going that way?”
Chapter 2: Crenshaw, Harm Crenshaw
An hour later Dale and me settled in the backseat of Grandmother Miss Lacy’s old Buick. “I don’t see why he has to ride with us,” Dale said, watching Harm Crenshaw swagger across the parking lot.
“Grandmother Miss Lacy’s generous about giving rides,” I said. “It cuts both ways.” The dark-haired boy opened Dale’s door and peered in. “Queen Elizabeth gets queasy without a window seat,” I told him. “You sit in the middle.”
Harm Crenshaw crawled over Queen Elizabeth and Dale and collapsed into the space between us, reeking of cheap aftershave. I rolled my window down. “You aren’t old enough to shave,” I said. He stared straight ahead, his knobby knees nearly bumping his chin.
Grandmother Miss Lacy slipped behind the wheel and adjusted the rearview mirror. “You look familiar, Harm,” she said as Miss Lana clambered into the front seat with her white parasol. “Have we met?”
“Nope. I’m here for the auction and then back to Greensboro fast as I can go.”
“Don’t ‘nope’ her,” Dale said, pulling Queen Elizabeth into his lap. “It ain’t polite.”
Harm shifted, his pants legs rising to reveal pale, bony ankles and no socks. “Somebody told me the inn they’re selling is haunted,” he said. “It’s got to be a lie. Who’d want to spend eternity here?”
I glared at him, but Dale gulped. “Haunted?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Grandmother Miss Lacy said. “I’ve lived here eighty years. If there were a ghost story connected to that inn, I assure you I’d know it.”
We rode in silence past the Piggly Wiggly, past the old brick school, to the sign at town’s edge: Tupelo Landing, population 148. Someone had scrawled a 7 over the 8. Harm Crenshaw raised an eyebrow. “Murder,” I explained. “Dale and me solved it.”
“Sure you did,” he muttered.
“Press kit,” Dale whispered.
I reached into my olive drab messenger bag and rummaged through the clue pads and hand-lettered business cards for our laminated newspaper clip. I passed it to him.
LOCAL KIDS HELP SOLVE MURDER
Miss Mo LoBeau and Dale Earnhardt Johnson III, rising sixth graders, have helped solve a murder, authorities say. In the process they also helped put Dale’s father behind bars and jump-started the memory of Mo’s guardian, the Colonel—a café owner who’s had total amnesia for over a decade.
“To make a long story short, I remembered I’m an attorney and that I used to be engaged to Lana,” the Colonel told this reporter. “Realizing I’m an attorney has been a blow, but Mo and Dale did a great job with their first case and I’m proud of them. Now order something or get out.”
Mo and Dale, who founded Desperado Detective Agency in June, are accepting new cases. Call the café for details.
Harm Crenshaw handed it back without a word. Jerk.
“What are you buying today, Miss Lana?” I asked, to break the silence.
“An umbrella stand,” she said. “A bit of Tupelo history.”
“Boring,” Harm Crenshaw said beneath his breath.
I elbowed him—hard.
“And I’m only here for the excitement,” Grandmother Miss Lacy said.
We crept across Fool’s Bridge, past the old store with its ancient bubble-headed gas pumps, through acres of spent tobacco and drying corn. “Here’s my old shortcut,” Grandmother Miss Lacy said, easing the Buick onto a faint path. “Father used to come this way in the Duesenberg.”
Dale jumped like Queen Elizabeth spotting a squirrel. “A Duesenberg?” He looked over at me. “Duesenbergs were super-expensive roadsters made in Germany,” he said. Dale’s people know cars.
“Made in Indiana, actually,” Harm said as we bounced into a clearing. “Jeez,” he gasped before Dale could reply. “Who lives there?”
The unpainted farm house listed on brick piers like a squared-off old woman rising on a bad knee. Queen Elizabeth jumped up, her tail wagging as she peered at a pack of bone-thin beagles in a rickety pen. “I believe that’s Red Baker’s place,” Miss Lana said as the Buick eased forward. “Why?”
Harm shouldered Queen Elizabeth aside to stare out the window. “Whose place? Does he even have electricity?” Good question. There wasn’t an electric line in sight.
“Red Baker,” I said. “The moonshiner. The Azalea Women say—”
“Mo LoBeau,” Grandmother Miss Lacy said, “I will not have you spreading rumors.” She slammed on brakes, sending Queen Elizabeth tumbling to the floor, and whipped around to stare at Harm. “Do you know Red Baker, young man?”
“Me? How would I know somebody like that?” The wind shifted and he grimaced. “Doesn’t he ever clean out that dog pen? It stinks.”
She gave him an inscrutable old-person stare as Dale hoisted a kicking Queen Elizabeth back in his lap. “Will wonders never cease,” she murmured to Miss Lana, and turned back to her driving.
“Old people,” Dale whispered. “Go figure.”
Miss Lacy eased the Buick through Red Baker’s dirt yard, into a grassy meadow of cars and trucks. Dale pointed to a red sports car as we tumbled from the Buick. “Over there,” he said.
Harm stalked off without even a good-bye.
This time I said it out loud: “Jerk.”
I did my Upstream Mother scan of the crowd—a check for possible relatives.
“See anybody that looks like you?” Dale asked.
I squinted. The grounds swarmed with strangers and townsfolk. The Azalea Women trooped toward the red-and-white auction tent. Sal, in her red sunglasses, sailed behind them. Miss Retzyl sat beneath the tent while Attila, who’d perched beside her, was chatting her so-called heart out.
I shook my head. “But there’s Lavender!” I cried, and my morning went golden.
Dale’s big brother, Lavender, stood in the shade of a maple, his tanned arms crossed, talking to one of the big-haired twins—either Crissy or Missy, I couldn’t tell which. Have I mentioned I will one day marry Lavender? Lavender, who’s nineteen, laughs whenever I ask him—which is not the same as saying no.
“Lavender,” I bellowed, rocking up on my toes and waving. A grin split his face as I sprinted toward him. “Hey,” I said, skidding to a sophisticated halt. “I see you run aground on a twin.”
“Crissy,” he said, “you remember Mo LoBeau and my little brother Dale, don’t you?”
“Sure, I remember,” she said, sipping a Diet 7UP. “I met them at the Speedway the night you wrecked your racecar. Met him too.” She nodded toward a nearby picnic table. “He was driving the car that spun you into the wall.”
“He did that?” I said, zeroing in on the driver of the red sports car.
“Flick Crenshaw,” Lavender said. “He drives the 45 car.” Flick looked about Lavender’s age. Beyond that, they were alike as yes and no.
Lavender has eyes blue as October’s sky and hair like just-mown wheat. He’s wiry and tall, and flows like a lullaby. Dark-haired Flick Crenshaw looked coiled and compact, an explosion set to happen. Flick smirked at us, scooped the blond woman close, and whispered in her ear. She barked out a laugh.
“Ignore them,” Lavender said. “Cars bump, Mo. It’s part of racing.”
“Almost killing somebody ain’t.”
He shrugged. “Flick’s one of those guys you pass in life. You steer around him if you can. If you can’t, you don’t let him slow you down more than you have to.”
“Right,” I said, making a mental note to hate Flick for eternity.
Crissy narrowed her eyes. “Wonder what Flick’s doing here,” she said. “You think he’s buying the inn?”
“Nah,” Lavender said. “If he has money he’s driving it or wearing it. But I hear Red Baker’s interested. His property backs up against this one. And he has money.”
“He got most of Daddy’s,” Dale said. “That’s what Mama says.”
“Let’s go talk to people,” Crissy said, like Dale and me weren’t people. She slipped her hand into Lavender’s, buthe didn’t budge. I followed his gaze to Harm, who elbowed through the crowd with three drinks. Flick grabbed two, handed one to the blond, and punched Harm’s shoulder. Harm swiveled with the blow, hiding a wince.
“That’s Flick’s little brother,” Lavender said, glancing at Dale. “I’d stay away from him if I was you. He’ll be trouble soon as he figures out how.” Dale nodded.
“I’d love to stay and chat with you, Crissy,” I said, “but I and Dale are here on detective business. Come on, Dale,” I said. “Let’s check out the inn.”
“Now?” Dale gulped. “After what Harm said about a ghost?”
Lavender gave him a wink. “Go on, little brother. There’s no such thing as ghosts,” he said as Crissy tugged him away from us.
“Bye, Lavender,” I called. “Good luck with those head lice.” Crissy dropped his hand. Lavender grinned at me and followed her into the crowd.
I peered at the tent where auctioneer Buddha Jackson warmed up the crowd. “Everybody got a number?” Buddha asked, whipping the microphone cord behind him like a rock star. “Bidding’s easiest with a number. We’ll auction a little furniture, then the inn with whatever’s left inside.”
“I only want an umbrella stand,” Miss Lana shouted. She’d slipped into her 1960s sunglasses—the round ones with the white rims—and closed her parasol.
Buddha pointed at her. “Yes ma’am, Miss Lana. I’ll be looking for you. Now let’s talk about what conveys. That means what goes with the inn itself. Those of you bidding on the inn, listen up. I think you’ll find this amusing.” He continued as Miss Lana and Grandmother Miss Lacy Thornton meandered toward the refreshment wagon.
I turned to Dale. “As Tupelo Landing’s most successful detectives, we really ought to scope out the inn. Investigating means bragging rights in sixth grade. And Lavender says it’s safe,” I reminded him.
To Dale, Lavender’s word is gospel. He gave a faint nod.
“Race you,” I said before he could change his mind. We sprinted for the wooded path leading to the inn, Queen Elizabeth at our heels.
“There it is,” I said as the path opened onto a ragged lawn. The ancient two-story inn may have been a beauty in her day. But today, with her windows boarded up and her front porch sagging, she looked forlorn and helpless on her knee-deep carpet of weeds. The steps listed. Rust streaked the tin roof. Shaggy cedars crowded the drive.
“Okay, we’ve seen it,” Dale said, stepping over a No Trespassing sign someone had pried from its post. “Let’s go.”
“Don’t be a baby,” I told him as a quick pop-pop-pop rolled from the thicket. My heart jumped. “Who’s there?” I demanded.
The thicket rustled. A white-haired man with a sharp fox face peered between the branches. Queen Elizabeth growled, her hackles rising, and Dale grabbed her collar.
Red Baker stepped onto the path.
Most days, Mr. Red looks like a bundle of throw-away clothes. Today he wore shoes fresh from the box, creased chinos, a blinding white shirt, and a red bow tie. “Hey,” I said, and his pale eyes flickered over me like lizard eyes over a fly.
Mr. Red looked Dale up and down. “You’re Macon Johnson’s boy,” he said, his voice splintery as just-sawn pine. “I hear he’s doing time in Raleigh for a murder he didn’t commit.”
“You almost heard right,” Dale said, very smooth. Dale’s family’s jail prone. To him, jail time is as normal as clean socks. “Daddy’s over in county lock-up on reduced charges. We’re hoping for a plea bargain or a smart attorney.”
That “we” would be Dale and Queen Elizabeth—not Dale’s mama, Miss Rose, who hocked her diamond in June. Miss Rose ain’t studying Dale’s daddy. Neither am I. Not after the things he’s done.
“You bidding today, Mr. Red?” I asked. “I hear you want to buy the inn.”
“You’re nosy,” he said. He didn’t say it mean; he said it straight out.
“Occupational hazard,” I said. “Detective,” I added, in case he hadn’t heard. He cracked his knuckles. That explained the popping sound. Nervous joints.
He licked his thin lips. “You headed for the inn? There’s nothing in there but run-down, wore out, and fell through. And it’s haunted thicker than the devil’s parlor. I’d turn around if I was you.”
“Haunted? Thicker than the . . . the devil’s parlor?” Dale stammered. “I didn’t know he had one.” He turned to me, his blue eyes worried. “Have you ever heard of that?” he whispered. “A parlor at . . . the bad place?” Dale is Baptist. He doesn’t worry about much in life, but he worries about the devil afterwards.
Mr. Red stared at him. “You two best head for folks that make footprints.” He peered up the path and cracked his knuckles again. “Who’s that?”
A boy strolled around the bend, barely whistling.
“Harm Crenshaw,” Dale said. “From Greensboro. You want to meet him? I’ve been working on my social skills. I can introduce you.” He cupped his hands around his mouth. “Hey Harm, come meet Mr. Red Baker,” he called.
Harm froze. He and Mr. Red stared at each other like wild animals. Harm spun and marched the other way as Mr. Red faded back into the forest.
“Weird,” Dale murmured.
“True. But we got enough weird in our lives without worrying about theirs. Come on. We haven’t got much time,” I said, and plowed through the weeds to the inn’s creaky steps. The wind blew, setting three splintery old rocking chairs rocking.
“And what did Mr. Red mean when he said we should head for folks that make footprints?” Dale asked as we crossed the front porch.
“He meant to scare you.”
“Right,” he said. “I’m pretty sure it worked.”
I pushed the heavy front door and it moaned open, scraping an arc across the dusty floor. I followed Queen Elizabeth into the gloom, and waited for my eyes to adjust. A tin ceiling soared high above us. A snaggletoothed mahogany staircase climbed along one cracked plaster wall. To our right, the huge dining room stood a-jumble in crippled tables and upturned chairs. Its chandelier wore a bride’s veil of spiderwebs and dust.
Queen Elizabeth darted away, her nose zigzagging across a carpet worn so thin, I could see the plank skeleton underneath. “This way,” I whispered, heading into a parlor of sheet-covered settees and chairs.
“Hey! A piano,” Dale said, relaxing. Like I said, Dale’s musical. He strained to open the keyboard. The hinges’ rusty squeal echoed around the room. Dale spread his hands over the uneven, yellowed keys and the piano’s tinny voice plinked through the dusty silence.
The front door banged against the wall behind us and we jumped.
“For heaven’s sake,” a woman said, “I don’t care what that hideous old man says, that is not a ghost playing the piano.” A pin-skinny woman minced into the room trailed by a pudgy man. She surveyed us like we came with the furniture. “See? Just kids.”
I surveyed her right back: thin face, spiky black hair, jittery eyes. Sleeveless black sweater, skinny pants, black stilettos. She crossed her bone-thin arms and jutted her hip forward like a high-fashion wharf rat. “She ain’t from around here,” Dale whispered.
Dale has a flair for the obvious.
The woman squinted at the pressed tin ceiling, clacked to a window, and peered between the boards. “At least it’s waterfront. I’ll pay two hundred ten thousand. Not a penny more. Let’s register,” she told the pudgy man. “You kids stay away from that piano. It’s mine,” she added, and headed out the door.
“Rat Face,” I muttered. I would have said more, but Miss Lana don’t allow cursing. She does allow the creative use of animal names.
“She’s buying this place? Because she’d be a terrible neighbor,” Dale said, looking nervous. “Unless she sings alto, which Mama says if you can sing alto, that means a lot to people.” Dale’s mama directs the church choir.
“Don’t worry,” I said, “she’d only buy this place to tear it down. But she would make a rotten neighbor. Miss Lana would hate her. Grandmother Miss Lacy would too.”
Upstairs, glass crashed to the floor. Queen Elizabeth yelped and darted behind me. “Who’s there?” I shouted, trying to rub the goose bumps off my arms. I caught a whiff of rosemary, and Queen Elizabeth sneezed.
A laugh floated down the stairway, secret and low. My heart jumped. So did Dale. “Steady, Dale,” I said, my voice shaking. “Don’t leap to conclusions. A good detective starts with the obvious and works toward the strange.”
“You’re making that up,” he whispered.
“It could still be true,” I said. “Somebody’s messing with us,” I added, walking to the bottom of the stairs: two solid stairs, three missing steps, eight solid stairs. “Hello?” The dust on the stairs lay thick and untouched.
Someone skipped along the upstairs hall. “That’s a definite girl,” Dale whispered. “A boy would rather die than skip like that.” He whipped around to stare at me, his blue eyes wide. “Did I say die? That’s just a figure of speech. I didn’t mean anything.”
A laugh floated down the stairs.
“Run,” Dale said.
I grabbed his arm, spinning him in a circle. “Hold your ground. If we run, it will be all over school. It’s probably Attila, trying to show us up.”
“I don’t think so,” he said, pointing to the open door. Outside, Attila sailed across the inn’s lawn, making a beeline for the auction tent.
Another laugh floated down the stairs. Queen Elizabeth threw back her head and howled wild as a wolf in moonlight. I looked down at Queen Elizabeth. She looked up at me.
We both looked at the open door.
Dale was halfway across the yard, elbows and knees pumping like the devil’s hounds were nipping at his heels.
Chapter 3: Going, Going, Gone
Moments later Dale and I skidded into our seats beneath the auction tent. “I was not scared,” Dale said again. “I just hate being late is all.”
“Stop panting and look professional,” I said, wincing at the catch in my side. Onstage, Buddha Jackson wiggled out of his shiny suit jacket and pointed to a battered desk and chair. “Lot number six,” he shouted, and launched into a wild chant. “Who will give me two hundred dollars, two two two two, who will give me two hundred dollars?” Silence. “A hundred and fifty? One fifty one fifty one fifty?” We stared at him blank as stones. “All right, Tupelo Landing. Make me an offer.”
“Twenty-five dollars,” Attila’s mother said. Attila sat beside her, calm as pond scum. It sure wasn’t her in the inn. Then who?
“I have twenty-five, who will give me thirty? There,” Buddha said, pointing to the Azalea Women. “I have thirty over here, who will give me fifty?” The flow of the chant, the pulse of the bid. The auction swept over me like a dizzy tide.
“Hey,” Dale said, breaking the spell. “There’s Thes.” I looked across the crowd. Red-headed Thessalonians and his dad, Reverend Thompson, had miraculously found seats behind the Azalea Women. “Thes!” Dale hissed, waving. “Over here!”
“I got fifty dollars over here!” Buddha shouted, pointing at Dale.
“No!” Dale clamped his hands over his mouth and his blue eyes filled with tears. “I was just saying hey,” he wailed between his fingers.
“Who will give me a hundred?” Buddha boomed.
“Please,” Dale whispered. “Somebody bid. I’ll sing in church every Sunday ’til Judgment Day.” He grabbed my arm. “Mo,” he said. “Bid.”
I jerked my arm free.
“Going once,” Buddha cried, pointing in our direction.
“Hide,” I said, and threaded my way to the Azalea Women, who sat neat as a choir on the third row. “That’s an out-of-towner bidding against you,” I said. “She says keep your money for azaleas because yours are the tackiest she’s ever seen.” The Azalea Women gasped. Three hands shot into the air.
“A hundred in the third row!” Buddha crowed as I raced for the exit.
“Come on, Dale,” I said, dragging him toward sunlight.
Dale had turned a throw-up shade of green. He leaned forward, putting his hands on his knees. “I ain’t never going into an auction tent again, not even if somebody’s life depends on it,” he panted. “Well, maybe if Mama’s life depended on it, I would,” he said. “Or Lavender’s.” He looked up at me. “They’re family. Of course, we’re best friends. That’s almost family.”
“Take deep breaths,” I told him.
I looked up. Harm Crenshaw slouched against a tree, a crooked smirk on his pale face. Of course. It must have been him in the inn. He had opportunity: We’d seen him on the path. And motive: He’s a proven jerk.
“Dale, can you stand up?” I asked. “People are staring.” Harm cradled his arms like he was rocking a baby, and kissed the air. “Come on, Dale,” I said, glaring at Harm. “Let’s get something to drink.”
Two Pepsis later, Dale’s color found his face. Buddha’s voice wafted from the tent to the refreshment cart. “Sold to number 72—Miss Lana, you got your umbrella stand!”
Miss Lana exited the tent, lugging her trophy.
We ran to her as Rat Face scuttled by. “If you ask me, they should sell all this junk in one lot,” Rat Face told Miss Lana. “But, when you go to a hick auction, this is what you get. Hicks.”
Miss Lana’s eyebrows rose unnaturally high on her forehead. Dale and me took a big step back.
“And what’s that auctioneer’s name?” Rat Face continued. “Buddha Jackson? Can you believe it?”
“If I’m not mistaken, Buddha’s a family name,” Miss Lana said in a voice shaved from ice. It was quasi-true. Bubba is a family name. Buddha’s mama is dyslexic.
Rat Face narrowed her eyes. “Nice spot for condos, though. I’ll wait,” she said, and scurried away.
“Dreadful woman,” Miss Lana said, watching her burrow back into the crowd. “Mo, would you and Dale put our umbrella stand in the Buick? Hurry, sugar. We have what we came for, but you don’t want to miss the main event.”
We made it back just in time. As we edged to the front of the tent, Dale took off his belt and handed it to me. “If I bid, strangle me,” he whispered. “Mama will understand.”
“Here we go,” Buddha Jackson said, rubbing his hands together. “The inn with the furniture that’s left, plus the medicinal springs, the pavilion, and all the fine print. Who will give me a half-million dollars?” Nobody breathed. “Four hundred thousand?” We sat still as tombstones. “Make me an offer,” he said.
Mr. Red Baker scratched his sandpaper face. “Twenty thousand dollars,” he rasped as Flick Crenshaw stepped up beside him.
“Forty thousand,” Rat Face replied, studying her fingernails.
“Who will give me fifty?” Buddha sang. Mr. Red cracked his knuckles and nodded. “Fifty thousand says Mr. Red,” Buddha said. “Now who will give me—”
“Sixty,” Rat Face said, her voice like a steel trap.
“A hundred thousand.”
The crowd murmured like pines in a breeze. “A hundred twenty,” Mr. Red said.
“One hundred fifty thousand,” Rat Face called.
“Mr. Baker?” Buddha said. “It’s up to you.” Mr. Red shook his head. “Going once,” Buddha said, pointing to Rat Face. “Going twice.”
“A hundred and sixty thousand dollars,” a familiar voice sang out from the back of the tent. The crowd swiveled. A white parasol popped open.
“No!” I tore across the tent. “Miss Lana,” I cried, grabbing her parasol and popping it closed. “We don’t have that kind of money!”
“I will not have that horrible woman for a neighbor,” she said.
“And we won’t have her replacing our history with condos,” Grandmother Miss Lacy said, seething.
“One hundred eighty thousand dollars,” Rat Face said, crisp as a poisoned apple.
Dale lurched to a stop beside me. “Stop, Miss Lana. That inn’s haunted sure as I’m breathing.”
“Pish,” she replied. She looked at Grandmother Miss Lacy, who nodded. “Don’t worry, my dears, we’ll re-sell the inn to somebody nice,” she said. The worry melted from Dale’s face, just like that. “Two hundred thousand dollars,” Miss Lana cried.
Rat Face jumped up, her thin face twitching. “Two hundred ten.”
“Miss Lana, that’s her top bid,” Dale said. “We heard her say so in the inn.” He reached in his pocket. “I got a five. It’s yours if you want it. And Mo has a life savings of seven dollars and twenty-six cents,” he said. “Plus a Canada dime.”
“My little hero,” she said, patting his face.
“We bid twelve dollars and twenty-six cents more than she does,” Miss Lana screeched, pointing at Rat Face. “Plus a Canada dime.”
“Sold to number 72,” Buddha Jackson shouted. “Miss Lana, you just bought yourself a historic inn—with a bona fide ghost in the fine print!”
What People are Saying About This
"A rollicking sequel."
Praise for The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing
• "This sequel shines." —Kirkus Reviews, starred review
• "The perspicacious Mo LoBeau is at it again!" —School Library Journal, starred review
• “Turnage's ability to create convincing characters and her colorful use of language combine to make this a fresh, droll, rewarding trip to Tupelo Landing.”—Booklist, starred review
• "The budding detective has clearly taken to heart something her foster mother always emphasizes: 'All the world's a stage, sugar, so hop on up there.'" —Publishers Weekly, starred review
• "We certainly hope there is more to come from the Desperado Detectives." — BCCB, starred review
"A rollicking sequel." —Wall Street Journal
Junior Library Guild Selection
SIBA “Okra Pick” for best Southern-flavored literature
Bookpage Most Anticipated Children’s and Teens Books of 2014