Sixth sample chapter from Enchanted Holidays - Valentine's Day - HAUNTED HEARTS by Kim Cox
"How do you like it?" Lucy Ann Malloy, standing at the top of the stairs, turned to the right, then to the left as she modeled the blue and green pastel dress. "I found it in the attic with some of my old things." She lingered in the doorway on the main floor. "Well?"
Lana Malloy glanced up from editing the ad for her new PI business. "Nice," she said and returned to her work.
Lucy moved to Lana's side and gazed over her shoulder. "What are you working on?"
"The ad for the newspaper and magazines. I've got to figure out how to attract some business, or I'll never make it through the first month."
A chill filled the air surrounding Lana and she shivered, pulling her sweater tightly around her.
"I have an idea and it's actually a pretty good one. I know who your first client can be."
Without even glancing away from her paper, Lana asked, "And who would that be?"
"You?" Lana looked up, her interest piqued. "What are you talking about?"
Lucy's white hair shone with blue highlights as if she'd just had it rinsed. She was very well preserved for someone who'd been dead twenty years. "Find my murderer so I can rest in peace. How about it?" Lana's great-aunt had been with her since she moved into the old beach house in Charleston, South Carolina, five years ago.
"And who would be paying for my services?" Lana smiled, pulling her reading glasses off and laying them on her desk. She loved her great-aunt, but she could be a card. Lucy had always been a rebel, always tried to be different from everyone else. "Besides, you died over twenty years ago. That's a cold trail for sure."
"I got money, smarty-a lot of money that no one has found yet." Lucy covered her mouth with both hands then removed them. "Oh, well, the cat's out of the bag now. I can't spend it anyway."
"But you died-"
"Let me finish. Shows how much you, or any of those pigs know." She glided back and forth across the room as if she were dancing at her coming-out ball.
"Get out your pen and pad and take notes."
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"Not until I'm sure what you're telling me is the truth." Lucy sometimes changed details to suit herself and the moment, but she'd never talked about her death before. Lana never questioned her because she thought it may be too painful for her aunt.
"Have I ever lied? Never mind, don't answer that." Lucy laughed as she stopped in midair, lowered herself down to the desk and hovered in a sitting position just above the surface. Then she crossed her legs. "It was Valentine's Day. The last thing I remember, I was helping Davide eat his dinner. He had been sick the last few days and I went over to visit. He didn't eat much of his potato soup and I love potato soup on a cold winter's night. You know, that kind your mother used to whip up?" Lucy licked her lips. "I miss that since I've been dead. There's no need to eat anymore...no appetite."
"Get on with your murder case."
"Oh, yeah. I tend to get sidetracked now and then." She giggled. "Anyway, I never left that room until I woke up in this house dead and looked down on my body lying on the living room floor, right in front of my sofa. The next morning, your mother came to see me and found me...I mean, my body. That's it."
"Right. You were poisoned, but your murderer was never caught," Lana mused.
"You call yourself a private investigator? Elementary, my dear Lana. Use some logic. How did I get from Davide's house to my house?"
Lana chewed the eraser on the end of her pencil. "So...you believe you were poisoned at Davide's, but someone brought you back here either before or after you died?"
"By golly, I believe she's got it."
"Are you sure you didn't just forget going home?"
"I didn't forget. I was only sixty and not senile. Someone must've moved me while I was unconscious. Can't you see that?"
Lana stood and paced the room. "It's a possibility, I guess. What did the police say?"
"They said, 'the old broad croaked. No suspects.' And they looked no further." Lucy moved up behind Lana. "Clue number two, I've been reading up on my ghostly position as well. Did you know there are specific reasons why ghosts haunt places?"
"No. What are they?"
"According to this, my reason is..." Lucy took out a book, opened it to the bookmark and started to read. "When someone is murdered and the murder goes unsolved, their spirit must wait around until the mystery is solved, usually around the anniversary of their death."
"Where did you get that book?"
"Here, in this house."
Lana sauntered into the library and fingered through the books on the shelves. "I didn't know we had all these books on ghosts." Lana smiled until she saw the look on
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Lucy's face. She was serious about this and Lana felt badly she hadn't realized it sooner. She loved the woman dearly, but often, Lucy kidded around so much it was hard to tell when her aunt was genuine.
"I found them in the attic, dusted them off and put them on the shelf last night. You believe me now?"
"I don't know. I'll read over these today and see." Lana brought a book back to her desk as Lucy followed. "What exactly did you figure out? And if you've solved it, why do you need me?"
"Not everything. Just what I need to do to get to my resting place. I was killed on Valentine's Day, 1982."
"I need to find my murderer by Valentine's Day, or I'll be stuck here until next year, same time."
"Because that's when I died." Lucy placed her hands on her hips. "Haven't you been listening? Anyway, the book says it's the only time I'll have the opportunity to claim my eternity. It's on page fifty-two."
"Do you have any suspects?" Lana flipped through the pages. "This looks interesting."
"That old buzzard I was trying to help."
"Davide? Your fiancé?" Lana glanced up.
"That's the buzzard."
"You two were going to be married in a few weeks. Why would he want you dead?"
"That, I don't know. But I think he's as good a place to start our search as any. If it wasn't him, it was someone in his family. They were against us marrying. Especially his son, Anthony."
"Our search? But you can't-"
"But I can. I read about it in that book. I can leave anytime I want. I just haven't wanted to badly enough until now. Plus, I need to attach myself to something in order to leave. That something, or rather someone, is you."
A few hours later, Lana looked from her book as Lucy drifted in with a tray of food-a tuna fish sandwich with pickles and chips.
"I thought you could use something to eat. Seafood is brain food, you know."
When Lucy floated back across the room, Lana glanced toward the window and glimpsed a terrified face in the window. It was her neighbor, Roxie Thomas, with curlers in her strawberry blonde hair and cold cream still covering her horrified face. When the dress glided toward a filing cabinet, Roxie's eyes widened and her jaw dropped. The closed window muffled her screams.
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* * * * *
"Get back! Roxie saw you. I mean, she saw your dress. I'll see if I can talk to her." But as Lana reached the door, Roxie ran away, her screeches fading as she widened the space between their houses.
"Fix this situation before I bring her back." Lana slammed the door behind her.
Lana's house sat on stilts, but the one room joining the carport sufficed as her new PI office. Trotting across the yard, she caught up with Roxie on the other side of the hedge. "Roxie, wait up." Roxie dashed for her house anyway.
"Stay away from me, you...you...you witch! I'm calling the cops." She stumbled up the steps sideways and sank slowly to her knees on her front porch.
"Don't be ridiculous! It's not what you think. Please, come back and see. Besides, how will you explain to the police that you were peeping in my window? They don't like peeping Roxies around here, you know. They've already warned you about it." Lana leaned down to help her up, but Roxie snatched her hand away.
"Don't touch me!" Her eyes glistened with unshed tears. "I know what I saw. They'll believe me this time."
"Okay, okay, now, just calm down. I only want to help you. Where's Ralph? Can I get him for you?"
"He's right inside, he is." Her voice trembled. "He'll be out here any minute, so don't you try anything. I've always known there was something weird about you...about your whole family."
"What's going on out here, Roxie?" A big-bellied man with thinning hair stood in the doorway.
"Ralph, oh, Ralph, I'm glad you're here. She's a witch. I-I saw her."
"Mr. Thomas, I just came to explain to your wife that what she saw was a new gadget I've invented to dry clothes." Lana smiled. "Your wife thinks I twitched my nose or something to make a dress float across the room."
Ralph scratched the sprigs of hair left on his balding head. "Roxie, you been snooping again? How many times-"
"I'm sure Mrs. Thomas wasn't snooping. Were you, Roxie?"
When Lana offered her a helping hand this time, Roxie accepted it. "That's right. I wasn't snooping. I went over to borrow some coffee when I saw that...that thing flying all over her office."
"See? I knew she had a good reason for being there," Lana said.
"Yeah, but she didn't have to spy on you before knocking on the door. Get in the house, Roxie, before someone calls the cops on you again."
Roxie made her way to the door, never taking her eyes off Lana.
"Wait a minute. Don't you still need that coffee?" Lana asked, innocently.
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"No. I'll just get some at the store," Roxie said in a defeated tone as she reached for the screen door handle.
"But I wanted to show you the gadget. It's nothing, really. I hate to think you're frightened of me. We're neighbors and I really want to show you that what you saw wasn't what you thought." Lana walked up the steps.
Roxie opened the door and moved behind her husband. "Don't let her hurt me, Ralph."
"Stop this nonsense right now! Go with Lana, get the coffee and see the thing that's making you act like an idiot."
Lana felt sorry for Roxie, living with a man who belittled her at every chance. No wonder the woman was a basket case half the time and Lucy acting up didn't help either. Unfortunately, Lucy enjoyed scaring Roxie. Said it served the old snoop right and just might stop her busybody ways.
But Lana suspected Roxie was just lonely-stuck in the house all day with nothing to do but wait on Ralph hand and foot without him showing her any appreciation.
"Really, come on and let me show you."
"Please. I promise you'll be relieved."
"Go on, woman." Ralph pushed Roxie out the door and shut the screen behind her.
Roxie tried to get back inside, but Ralph held the door tight and then flipped the lock so she couldn't escape back into the house. He chuckled when she pulled desperately on the door handle.
Lana's heart went out to her. She eased her way to Roxie's side and took her by the hand. "Come on. I'll bring you right back. If I don't, Ralph will come and get you. Won't you, Ralph?"
"Yeah, sure, I will." He laughed again. "Stupid bitch is afraid of her own shadow, she is."
Lana wanted to yell at him, "You ignorant ingrate, you're not helping. Can't you see your wife's had a terrible fright?" But she kept her mouth shut, knowing it wouldn't help and might only worsen the situation. Roxie's body trembled, causing the curlers on her head to jiggle.
As they entered the doorway, Lana saw the dress hung on a thin clear line and thanked heaven her aunt had known what to do. Sometimes she thought the two of them occupied one mind when it came to fixing things.
Lucy made herself visible to Lana and winked at her, then stuck her tongue out at Roxie. Lana rolled her eyes upward before speaking to Roxie. "See, the dress is hung on a line."
"But...but, how did it move from there to here and over to there."
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"See here?" Lana followed Lucy to the desk on the far side of the room. "I pull the string here and move it wherever I want." She pointed above them. "And the line runs from here to the doorway over there, going right by the file cabinets."
Roxie's face turned a bright shade of red. "I'm such a numbskull, just like Ralph says."
"No, you're not. Anyone would've been scared of what you saw. But you know, you really shouldn't peep into other people's windows like that." She glanced at Lucy, who was nodding her head and laughing as she glided by them.
"I know. I don't know why I do things like that. I just wanted to make sure you were up before intruding."
"You're never an intrusion. Feel free to visit any time." Lana crossed her fingers behind her back to counter the little white lie.
"Thank you, Lana. I'm so sorry I acted like such an old fool." Roxie shivered. "It's cold in here. How can you stand having that air conditioner on in winter? It's cold outside."
"Oh, but it's not..." Lana stopped herself, realizing why the room was chilled. "I turned it on instead of the heat by mistake and the darn thing is stuck." She tightened her already crossed fingers. "I was just getting ready to fix that after I finished hanging the clothes."
"Let me send Ralph over to fix it for you. He's pretty handy at fixin' things, you know. It's the least I can do."
Lana edged Roxie to the door. "Oh, no, that's not necessary. The button just fell off and rolled under something. I can turn it off as soon as I find the knob. Or if I don't, I'll just use some pliers to turn it off. But thank you for the offer. I appreciate it."
Lucy put her finger in her mouth and pretended to gag-something she'd learned recently and overused.
Lana pursed her lips and narrowed her brows, giving Lucy a quelling look. When they got to the door, Roxie turned around. "I almost forgot. Can I get that coffee now?"
"Yes. It completely slipped my mind, too. Follow me." Lana turned toward the kitchen.
"I'll wait here," Roxie said, backing up.
* * * * *
Lucy watched as Roxie slipped over to Lana's desk and glanced over the papers stacked there.
Oh, busybody! Lucy hated nosy people more than anything.
Roxie turned the corner of a sheet up with two fingers and tilted her head to one side so she could see what was written on the paper under it.
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Lucy noticed one drawer wasn't completely closed on the file cabinet. She flew over and pushed it with all her might. The drawer slammed shut with a bang.
Roxie jumped, her eyes wide as she looked around the room for the source of the noise. Lucy whooshed by so fast, the breeze lifted one of the curlers from Roxie's head. Then, she hurried over, opened and slammed another drawer shut.
At this, Roxie ran for the door. "Oh, God! Let me out of here," she cried and struggled with the knob.
"What in this world? Roxie! Here's your coffee."
Without a word, Roxie reached for the cup with one hand and grasped the doorknob with the other.
Lana gave Lucy another narrow-eyed look. "Here, let me help you with that."
Lucy shrugged her shoulders. Could she help it if the woman couldn't handle loud noises? It wasn't her fault. The old biddy shouldn't have been snooping.
Roxie's teeth chattered. The cream on her face now appeared dry and cracked. "What do you have here? Ghosts? Poltergeists?"
"Well, I never. Can you believe she called me a poltergeist? The nerve of that idiot woman."
Lucy clasped her hand over her mouth when she realized Lana had said her name aloud without thinking. As Roxie struggled, Lana was able to open the door only after she pried Roxie's hands off the knob.
(c) 2008 Chris Grover - Do not reproduce in any form without the permission of the author/owner.
If you like this sample chapter, you can read the rest and 5 other stories by purchasing a copy of ENCHANTED HOLIDAYS, available from Cerridwen Press http://www.cerridwenpress.com/ in both electronic and print.