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Praise for the Abby Cooper, Psychic Eye mysteries
“Victoria Laurie has crafted a fantastic tale in this latest Psychic Eye Mystery. There are few things in life that upset Abby Cooper, but ghosts and her parents feature high on her list ... giving the reader a few real frights and a lot of laughs.”—Fresh Fiction
“Fabulous.... Fans will highly praise this fine ghostly murder mystery.”—The Best Reviews
“A great new series . . . plenty of action.”
—Midwest Book Review
“An invigorating entry into the cozy mystery realm. . . . I cannot wait for the next book.”—Roundtable Reviews
“The characters are all realistically drawn and the situations go from interesting, to amusing, to laugh-out-loud funny. The best thing a person can do to while away the cold winter is to cuddle up in front of a fire with this wonderful book.”—The Best Reviews
“A fun, light read, and a promising beginning to an original series.”—The Romance Reader’s Connection
“A fresh, exciting addition to the amateur sleuth genre.”
—J. A. Konrath, author of Rusty Nail
“Worth reading over and over again.”—Bookviews
SIGNET Published by New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street,
Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices:
First published by Signet, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
First Printing, April 2007
Copyright © Victoria Laurie, 2007
All rights reserved
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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.
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eISBN : 978-1-101-00764-8
This book is lovingly dedicated to two women of profound beauty and intellect:
Adell Chase, my southern bell of truth and the wisest woman on earth;
Here’s a news flash—writers are selfish people. Truth is, creative types like me are driven by one impulse—to make up a world in which we get to control everything and everyone. We decide who enters and who exits, what the weather will be, who will hook up with whom, who will win and who will lose. It makes us feel powerful and, in all honesty, has relatively little to do with thinking about what will make anyone else happy.
Which is why, at the end of pounding out three-hundred-plus pages, we are often surprised by how many of our friends, colleagues, fans, and family have generously helped us perfect our creations. And I suppose that’s what tempers us a bit, to know that while we may love to play God, we still need some angels to help us get it right. It’s these angels that I’d like to humbly thank right now:
First and foremost, my incredible editor, Molly Boyle, who takes my overly wordy, addicted-to-adjectives manuscripts and turns them into what I meant to write. Molly, you’re so good at what you do that you have not just impressed me—you’ve blown me away. I’m unbelievably grateful for all your patience (didn’t know you’d need so much of that with me, did you?), your hard work, and your fantastic instincts. You and I shall make one helluva team, girlfriend—thank you, thank you, thank you!
Next, my astounding and amazing agent, Jim McCarthy. What can I say that I haven’t said before? (No, seriously, help me out here, cuz every time I mention you, I gush and gush and I’m runnin’ out of gushy things to say!) LOL . . . Truly, Jim, I think you must be some sort of cosmic gift from the Big Guy upstairs who either took great pity on me or got me mixed up with some other far more deserving schmuck when he sent you my way. And just to be clear . . . if there was a screwup? I’m not giving you back . . . ever! So plan on stickin’ around, sugar; we gots a looooong way to go just yet.
Adell Chase and Karen Ditmars, to whom this book is dedicated: Ladies, I’ve been so lucky in my life. Everywhere I go, I meet the best of humanity, and a few of them, like you, I am blessed to call friends. You two leave me breathless with your wisdom, your courage, and your will to be strong, independent, smart, and capable women. When I grow up, I swear I want to be just like you two!
My sister Sandy Upham and my brother and sister-in-law Jon and Naoko Upham—you guys have no idea how much I love you and how very much your support means to me. I’m so proud of you three fantastic human beings that I’m lucky enough to be related to. Huge hugs and kisses comin’ your way!
Also, a relative newcomer to my troupe of favorite people on earth, Michael Torres, aka The Boy. Thank you so much for the incredible way you inspire me, cheer me on, and never have an unkind word. You’re such a beautiful man, M.T., both inside and out, and I’m beyond thrilled that you’ve come into my life. That morning phone call to cheer me on when I’m in my writing slump is such a gift; please know that I appreciate and adore you for that and so much more.
Dr. Stephen Pap, who gave me the inspiration for Dr. Delicious, thank you first and foremost for fixing my hand— which is all healed now, thank God—and also for being so generous with your boyhood stories and background. I told you that you’d make a great character—I wasn’t wrong.
And last but certainly not least, please let me thank all my incredible friends who have never wavered in their support, love, and encouragement: Kristy Schiller, Nora Brosseau, Silas Hudson, Laurie Comnes, Pipa Terry, Betty Stocking, Jaa Nawtaisong, and Leanne Tierney. You guys rock, and I’m so grateful. ☺
“Good morning, Miss Holliday,” the real estate agent cheerfully greeted me outside 84 Dartmouth Street.
“Hi, there. You must be Cassandra,” I said, shaking her hand. “Please call me M.J.”
“You’re younger and prettier than I thought you’d be,” she commented as she nervously twisted the pearls at her neck.
“Thank you,” I said, then quickly got down to business. “I know we talked a little on the phone, but what can you tell me about this house?”
Cassandra paled slightly and looked up at the three-story brownstone, a turn-of-the-century gem that was right at home in Boston’s opulent Back Bay neighborhood. “I’ve had the listing for almost a year, which, as you can imagine, is unheard-of here in the Back Bay. Brownstones like this one sell around here in a matter of weeks, not months.”
“Sticker shock?” I asked.
“No, nothing like that. At one million it’s an absolute steal! And we’ve had a lot of interest in it, despite its history. But every time we get close to making a deal, the buyer backs out. They all say the same thing: The place just has bad energy.”
“You said someone was killed inside?”
Cassandra nodded. “Yes, the daughter of the current owners was raped and murdered a little over a year ago.”
“That’s awful,” I said, looking back toward the brownstone. “Did they catch the killer?”
“He was shot by police as he tried to make a getaway out the back. Unfortunately, they arrived too late to save the girl.”
“So, really, two people died in the house.”
“Yes, I suppose so,” she said.
“And what’s been happening since then?”
“Well,” she said, her hand going back to twist the pearls, “every time I show the house I get the feeling I’m being watched. And more than that, sometimes I feel like I’m being followed. People come in and don’t seem to want to stay. Most folks just take a tour of one or two rooms; then they leave like they’re being chased out.”
“I see,” I said, but I had a feeling there was more. “Is that all?”
“No,” she said after a moment. “The other day I was showing the house to this couple who really seemed to be okay with the history of the place. They considered it a good trade-off for such a bargain. But just as we were getting ready to leave, we all heard a woman’s scream from one of the bedrooms upstairs. I thought someone had come in while I was showing the couple around, so I ran up there and looked all over but no one was there. Then, just as I was coming back downstairs, I felt . . .” She paused.
“I felt someone touch me.”
“Like a hand on your shoulder or something?”
“No,” she whispered, her eyes large and frightened. “Like someone touched me inappropriately.”
“Ah,” I said with a nod. Now I knew who the aggressor was. “Okay, if you’ll unlock the door I’ll get to work.”
“Can you really help us, M.J.?”
“That’s what I do, Cassandra,” I said. “I’m a ghostbuster. Give me a few hours and let me see what I can do.”
Cassandra followed me up the six steps to the front door and unlocked it for me. “You’ll be all right in there by yourself?” she asked, her face suddenly worried.
“I’ll be fine,” I said confidently. I’d faced scarier stuff than this before. Pausing as the door swung shut behind me, I moved into the foyer and, looked around, setting my duffel bag down in the corner by the staircase. I wanted to get the lay of things before reaching into my bag of tricks.
I let my eyes travel around the room, getting a feel for the brownstone’s configuration. The front foyer had several doorways leading to the rest of the house. To my right a corridor led to the kitchen. The living room was directly in front of me, and off to my left was what looked like a study. From my back pocket I pulled out my electrostatic meter, a small gadget that measures variances in electrostatic energy. I held my arm out and waved it in a circle around the foyer, noting the thick, luxurious carpet, high ceilings, crown molding, and expensive wall covering. The digs were definitely opulent, and even without furniture you could tell this place oozed money. And, according to my electrostatic meter, the place oozed something else, too.
With an eye on the needle bouncing back and forth across the gauge, I moved ahead through the foyer and into the living room. The needle gave a jolt as I edged over to the French doors that swung out onto the terrace. The needle bounced again. I put the little gadget in the back pocket of my jeans and closed my eyes for a moment and got myself centered.
Before I was a ghostbuster, I was a professional medium, which has proven to be the most beneficial skill for my success rate as a top-notch buster. In other words, I can sense energies that both have crossed over to the other side successfully, and those that have become stuck, or “grounded,” as we like to call it. In 84 Dartmouth I had immediately picked up the energies of two grounded spirits, one female and one male. I decided to focus on the female first.
Moving away from the French doors, I followed the small tug in my solar plexus, heading through the hallway and up the stairs. As I closed in on the female energy, something slightly disturbing happened. I felt the male energy, which was thick with ill will, begin to follow me. “Back off a little, pal,” I said quietly to him. “I’ll deal with you in a moment.”
The male energy didn’t want to listen, but continued to shadow me up to the second floor, where I paused on the landing before continuing up to the third floor. There, at the end of the hallway, I saw a dark shadow dart into one of the bedrooms. “It’s okay,” I said to the shadow. “I’m not going to hurt you.” I walked down the hall and into the bedroom, and noticed an immediate dip in temperature. I crossed my arms and shivered slightly, feeling the icy coolness penetrate my clothing and my skin, seeping into my bones. I’d never gotten used to the deep chill that comes with rubbing up against spectral activity, but I pushed my discomfort aside and focused hard on the task at hand. “What’s your name, sweetheart?” I asked the empty bedroom softly.
There was no response, but I could feel the fear emanating from the woman’s spirit. I sensed her in the corner of the room, and sure enough, my mind’s eye flashed an image of a young woman in her early twenties, crouched and cowering by the window. I moved over to that area and felt the temperature dip even lower. I knelt down and closed my eyes to concentrate. I said aloud, “I’m here to help you. He can’t hurt you anymore, honey. And I’ll make sure he doesn’t get away with what he’s done. Please talk to me. Tell me your name.”
With relief I felt the name Carolyn float into my mind. I smiled sadly. The poor thing—not only had she been raped and killed by the beast behind me, but now she was stuck in a confusing state of limbo. Where are my parents? she asked me desperately.
“They’re safe, but they’re very worried about you, Carolyn. They’ve asked me to help you. Will you allow me to?”
I opened my eyes and stared at the blank space in front of me. I couldn’t see Carolyn, but I could definitely feel and hear her. She didn’t answer me right away, so I continued to try to win her over. “I promise to keep you safe, but you’ve got to trust me. I will guide you home, but I can’t do that if you’re unwilling. Will you trust me?”
“He promised what, honey?” I knew she was talking about her attacker.
He promised not to hurt me if I cooperated!
I sighed heavily. The rat bastard. I was going to enjoy dealing with him. “I know, my friend, I know,” I said gravely. “He lied. But that’s in the past. He cannot hurt you again. I absolutely forbid it.”
Where are my parents? This plea was even more urgent in my head than the first time she’d asked me. Carolyn was coming close to panicking, and if she did I’d lose contact with her. She would no doubt seek the comfort of the limbo plane that hovered just beyond the one we existed on. This was where lost spirits typically hung out, coming into our reality only when they were strong enough to deal with what had happened to them.
“Carolyn, you must listen to me,” I said sternly, hoping the command would snap her out of her desire to run. “You have to stay with me. I can get you out of here, but only if you do exactly as I say. I will guide you to safety, but we need to be quick—”
He’s here! she interrupted me. Hide! We’ve got to hide!
“Damn it,” I muttered as I turned around. Sure enough, an ominous dark shadow hung in the doorway, floating back and forth in the opening. If I didn’t do something quickly, I’d lose Carolyn. “Stay right here, Carolyn,” I said as I stood up. “I’m going to get rid of him if you hide right here until I return. I promise I’ll help you find your way. Will you wait for me?”
A feeling that I can only describe as a nod touched my mind. “Good girl,” I said, walking toward the black shape. As I got close I could see my breath as I exhaled, and my teeth wanted to chatter. I resisted the urge to shiver and walked purposefully at the black shape.
I stopped when the shadow disappeared in front of me. To my right came a loud thumping noise. I snapped my head to where the noise had come from, but only the wall stared back at me. “So that’s how we’re going to play it, huh?” I whispered, then gathered my anger and shouted, “Listen, you miserable slug of human compost! You coward! You evil, vile excuse for a man! I think you’re afraid of me, and I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts that you won’t follow me if I leave this room, because you don’t have the guts!” With that I dashed out of the room, and immediately felt the dark male energy give chase.
I tore down the hallway and grabbed the banister, turning the corner to jump down several stairs in one leap. The dark energy behind me seemed to thrum with excitement as my adrenaline surged. I could feel him trying to gather his strength. In a moment he would try something dirty, and I made sure to keep one hand on the railing for balance. It was a good thing I did, because in the next moment I felt a hard thud in the center of my back, and a microsecond later a strong tug on my right breast. “You son of a bitch!” I swore at him as I shook it off and continued down the stairs. “I’ll get you for that!” I said as I reached the first floor and dashed to my duffel bag. I scanned the living room, looking for what I knew had to be there, and feeling the slow, prickly sensation of something snaking around my neck.
I scowled and moved forward into the living room, searching the walls intently. “Eureka,” I said after a moment. “Gotcha, you rat bastard!” I moved closer to study the small black hole that I’d spotted in the atmosphere just above the wall. The hole was nothing more than a small one-foot-by-one-foot section of air right next to the wall that to the naked eye looked vaporous and was tinted a light gray. I could sense the energy behind me shift from hungry to nervous. “You didn’t think I knew about this little doorway of yours, did you?” I said over my shoulder as I set the duffel down and squatted to pull out my drill. “Let’s see how much of a bully you are after we close up this bad boy, shall we?”
I dug out three spikes made of magnetized metal, and a hammer to help drive them home. The force behind me thudded into my back with all his might, and I pitched forward as my head hit the wall. “You ass!” I said, turning to face him. In front of me I saw the dark shadow again, and in my mind’s eye conjured a face that was mean and full of rage.
Stop! he shouted at me.
I laughed and held my drill up to him. “Time to shut the portal,” I said, and turned back to the wall. My drill was battery operated, which prevented the likes of him from screwing around too much with it, and allowed me to begin the drilling.
No! he screamed again, and to my right there was an incredibly loud bang!
I laughed at his futile efforts, and after I’d completed three holes I turned around. “Not so tough now, are you?”
The black shadow hovered in front of me, and I could sense that his attention was quite focused on the three spikes at my feet. “This is your little gateway, isn’t it?” I said, pointing to the area where I’d drilled the holes. “Well, let me tell you something, pal. I’m not going to stand for it. You have ten seconds to make a choice. If you stay here I will help you cross over to the other side, where you’ll have to face what you’ve done and be held accountable. Or you can head through here now, and be locked in down there until you’re ready to face your own demons and go home on your own.”
The energy in front of me wavered for a moment, and for a split second I thought I’d convinced him to let me help him. But I was sorely disappointed when the miserable scum grabbed my boob again! I growled low in my throat and whirled around, snatching the magnetic stakes and inserting the first into the hole. Behind me there was an audible male scream as I lifted my hand with the hammer, preparing to drive it home on the head of the spike. “Do-or-die time, buddy!” I yelled, and brought the hammer down. A split second before I made contact with the spike I felt the ghost behind me dash into the portal I was preparing to close. “Coward!” I roared at him as his energy dissipated into the wall.
I finished pounding in that stake, then moved on to the other two. After I’d finished I stood back a little, eyeing my handiwork. The wall was a mess, with plaster and bits of drywall on the floor, but at least the portal was gone, never to return—that is, as long as the stakes were in place.
I tucked the drill and hammer into my duffel, then quickly went back upstairs. To my immense relief I could sense that Carolyn was still hovering in the corner. “Hey, there, girl,” I said gently as I eased into the room. “I’m sure you heard everything. He’s gone, Carolyn. The man who hurt you is gone for good.”
I’m afraid, I felt her say.
“I know you are, but trust me: I can help you with that. First, show me what happened.”
I don’t want to. . . .
“I know, I know. But sweetheart, I need to see it. We both need to see it. Take me to the end of it, if the beginning and the middle were too painful. Take me to that time right before you found yourself confused and lost.”
There was a pulling sensation to my right, and I looked over to the far corner of the room. I saw a struggle taking place. Carolyn was naked and bleeding from her nose. Her attacker was standing over her and had her gripped by the throat. She was clawing at him, her eyes wild with terror. My own insides tightened as I watched the scene unfold. This was the worst part of the job. Seeing what really happened to innocent people in those final terrifying moments was an awful thing to experience.
“That’s good, Carolyn,” I said, hating that I was putting her through this, but knowing it was absolutely necessary. “Now go a little bit further, honey. Go beyond that moment where you’re fighting for your breath.”
The scene changed, and I saw Carolyn’s murderer drop her limp body on the floor. His head then snapped up as I heard the faint sound of a siren. In the next instant the killer dashed out of the room, leaving Carolyn lying where she was.
“Good, honey,” I said when his image had left the room. “That’s terrific. Now, I need you to focus on your body for a moment. Can you see that?”
I need to get up! she said. I need to run away!
“But you can’t, can you?” I said. “You can’t, Carolyn, because you’re not breathing. See?” I said, pointing to the lifeless image of her. “Your body has died, my friend. It’s time for you to accept that.”
I had a sudden, almost overwhelming sensation of deep sadness in my chest, and I knew that Carolyn had finally registered that she was dead.
I said, “Carolyn, listen to me. Even though your body has stopped functioning, your soul needs to move forward. I can help you do that, but you’ll need to do exactly as I say. Pay close attention to my words and follow my directions and I’ll get you out of here, okay?”
With relief, I felt that mental nod come into my mind. “Good girl. Now, above you I want you to sense a great bright light coming down from the heavens, through the ceiling, and descending onto your head. Can you sense this, Carolyn?”
There was a pause, and then, Yes.
“Wonderful! You’re doing great!” I praised. “Now, as this light envelops you, I want you to feel its warmth, its goodness, its purity, and its love. Can you feel all of those things, Carolyn?”
Another pause, then an excited, Yes!
“Awesome! Now, in front of you there should be a path. It may look a bit like a tunnel; sometimes it’s different depending on the person. Can you see this path?”
“Great. I need you to be very brave and take a step onto it. It leads to more of the light, more of that love that you’re sensing right now. It’s a good path to follow, and while you’re on it you will never be hurt again.”
I held my breath, waiting for Carolyn to make that next oh, so critical move. If she blanched, I’d have to come back and try to coax her over another time. If she went for it, she’d find her way to the other side without worry. Finally I sensed something like acceptance from her, and right before I felt her move forward, I clearly heard her say, Tell my parents I love them. Tell them I’ll look after Midnight and I’ll be all right now.
I smiled brightly. “I promise I’ll get the message to them, girl. You take care—okay?” But she was already gone. In the next instant I became aware of the silence. I opened my eyes and looked around. The room was empty; there was no energy in it besides myself. As I sent out my intuitive feelers, the room felt warm and clean and happy. I smiled and stood up, and, glancing at my watch, I realized I needed to get a move on. My next client was meeting me at my office in about a half hour.
I made my way back down the stairs, retrieved my duffel, and headed out the door. Cassandra’s car was parked in front of the brownstone. I met her at the bottom of the steps and she said, “Well? How’d it go?”
Excerpted from "What's a Ghoul to Do?"
Copyright © 2007 Victoria Laurie.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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