Authors: Chris Redding
A paramedic who can talk to dead people to solve their murders will lose her power on her rapidly approaching 30th birthday. She has one more murder to solve before that can happen.
The Corpse Whisperer
The corpse grabbed her arm with cool fingers.
Grace Harmony took a deep breath, the antiseptic hospital smell filling her nostrils. “What?”
The lifeless woman’s eyes flipped open. “Help.” Her voice came out as hollow and raspy, a lone word uttered in a subway underpass. Grace cringed as the chill moved along her skeleton, settling in the marrow.
She glanced at the door. No one would come to save her.
“Let me guess. You’ve been murdered.”
“Yes,” the corpse said, the last part sounding like a snake.
The noise sent a shudder through Grace’s body, but only briefly. Talking to dead bodies had ceased to scare her.
Dragging in a ragged breath, Grace braced herself for the time slip, the trek down the dark tunnel. “What’s your name?”
Colors danced and flashed before Grace’s eyes as if they were a precursor to a migraine. Numbness deadened her limbs. She catapulted down a black shaft; only the passing of lights indicated movement. Her breath caught in her throat as her nose filled with a burning electrical scent. A sneeze that would have relieved her didn’t come.
Something squeezed her body, but not for long. Then she slammed into a wall and she was back in time.
Grace’s skin warmed, her eyes tearing from the bright sun, the tunnel gone. Blinded for a moment she looked around for any clues to her location, the day and date.
Sunny day. Driveway of some house. Maybe a week or so before Dolores died she estimated. That had been the last time the rain hadn’t fallen.
She’d been down this street, twice. The first time looking for an address in her pursuit of a new apartment. Something had distracted her and she’d never made contact with the landlady.
Was that where she was now?
She’d been here during the fire that supposedly killed Dolores.
Grace turned to the voice and found the dead woman, very much alive. There was no evidence of the fatal fire that had charred her skin and taken the breath from her lungs. Grace schooled her face not to show surprise. Usually she didn’t come face to face with the victim as soon as she rewound.
Coughing, Grace wiped her eyes. “Sorry, got something in my eye and I missed what you just said.”
“You pay rent and utilities. My ex-husband can fix most things so I’ll give you his number, if anything goes wrong. Shouldn’t, I just put new appliances in there.”
“Can I call you Dolores?”
The woman cocked her head and a lock of auburn hair fell into her face. Her brown eyes narrowed, and one hand found her hip. “That’s my name, but I don’t remember telling you.”
Grace smiled, which put most people at ease. “You introduced yourself right off.”
Dolores nodded. “I guess I did.” She patted her flat stomach. “I’m pregnant so I think I’m losing my memory already.”
She’d said ex-husband, but mentioned nothing about her current husband. No one at the fire scene had told Grace about Dolores’ pregnancy. Maybe the neighbors hadn’t realized.
“Rent and utilities. I can handle that.”
“You got a job?” Dolores asked.
“Yes, I do. I’m a paramedic for Centre Community Hospital.”
“You new in town?”
Tension stabbed her muscles.
She stole a glance at her watch which sported the date and time in five countries. Grace only needed to know about this moment, standing in Glen Hills, New Jersey. “I’ve been here a month. When can I move in?”
“I’d like to get some references first, but.” Dolores eyed her then swept her gaze up and down the short length of Grace. “You look like a trustworthy sort. I need two months’ rent for security. You can move in when you get me that check.”
“I can write it now.”
“Yeah? No hitting up the parents for money?” Dolores cackled, but the sound didn’t annoy Grace.
She laughed with her. “No, I’ve been on my own for quite some time, now.”
Dolores stopped laughing. “Yeah? You older than I think?”
“Yes, I look younger than I really am. Still get carded.”
“I don’t party. I do work odd hours so I will be in and out at strange times.”
Dolores looked at a bird lazily circling in the sky. “I was married to a cop. Might as well still be married to him, so your car in and out of the driveway will not disturb me.”
She rubbed her hands down her worn jean shorts then held one out for Grace. “Sorry about the mess, I’ve been gardening.”
Her green T-shirt sported many dirt spots and flower pots littered the sidewalk.
Grace looked over at the colorful plants. The warmth of the sun sneaked into her bones. She could do this, one more time. Her shoulders shifted back. “Yes, I see that. Your flowers look lovely.”
“Thank you. So you’re Grace Harmony. That’s quite a moniker to go through life with.”
Grace chuckled. “My parents had a sense of humor,” she said over her shoulder. “Let me get you that check.”
Zach Holten pulled into the driveway of his ex-wife as a red two-door sports car pulled away. He glanced at the license plate out of habit, having it memorized before the car drove out of sight.
Not that he could track down the owner as easily as he once did. The bitterness of his forced career change swirled bile into his mouth.
Dolores, clothed in messy shorts and a T-shirt, knelt over a box of flowers. She didn’t look up when he disembarked. Good, he didn’t want her thinking this was a social call. She’d thought of excuses daily for him to be here. This time she sounded serious so he used his lunch break to pay her a visit.
Lunch break. He stifled a chuckle. Now that he ran his own private investigating business he could lunch whenever he wanted. He possessed no radio. His phone had an answering machine so he could leave his office anytime.
He took a deep breath as he walked across the lawn that needed a mow. “Hey,” he said.
She smiled up at him, but didn’t touch him, to his surprise. “Hey yourself. Beautiful day.”
“You seem to be taking full advantage of it.”
“Like the flowers?” she asked pointing to some red and blue things.
He didn’t know anything about flowers except that women loved them. He could only pick out roses; the rest were a mystery to him. “Nice.”
Dolores continued digging and humming.
He knelt down, careful not to get his work pants dirty. “Lors, I’d offer to help, but . . .” He indicated his outfit.
“No problem. I never liked how you planted flowers.”
He smiled. “That was honest.”
She eyed him. “Yes, it’s my new policy. Especially where you’re concerned. I’m going to tell you what I think.”
“That’s good. Then I don’t have to guess.”
She laughed, putting her gloved hand on his. “You can read suspects, but not me.”
His gaze took in her hand. She’d left a smudge of dirt that he wiped off. “Guess it’s tough when the printing is too close to your face.”
“You want some lunch?” she asked.
“If you have some. If not I can pick some up on the way back to the office.”
She pulled off her flowered gloves then stood. “I’m hungry, too. Starved in fact.”
“You have a tape worm?”
He followed her into her house. His house since he still made the mortgage payments. His residence until he’d walked out three years ago.
Her hips swayed as she walked in front of him. Once her movements made him hot; now her attempts at seduction annoyed him. There’d been that one night, but he’d made the situation clear to Dolores.
“Sit,” she commanded before she crossed to the refrigerator.
“I’m sure I can find stuff.”
She shook her head. “It’ll give me something to do while I think of how I tell you my news.”
Her being nice meant she wanted something. His defenses slammed closed, his teeth clenched. She wasn’t getting anything from him.
He sat at the scarred Formica table on a chair with ripped upholstery. She hadn’t replaced it yet and he had some hot memories from this piece of furniture. “What news?”
Would she get to it already?
Shrugging out of his suit jacket, he slid it onto the isHback of what had been his chair. The same cat clock’s tail twitched the seconds. The place even smelled the same, a mixture of grease and cologne.
She stopped in the middle of making a sandwich. Her tired gaze came to him. “I’m pregnant.”
Zach blinked. Holy shit. One night. “A baby?”
Dolores eyed him as if he would tell her the answer to a philosophical question.
When she didn’t deny it he said, “Oh?” His tongue couldn’t move properly.
She had always wanted children. He hadn’t and Dolores didn’t tell him her desire until after they married. Another example of how she manipulated him. He hoped she wasn’t doing it again.
“Thanks.” She whirled back to her lunch-making. “It’s yours.”
He glanced out the window then back to Dolores’ back. “Okay.”
A small child could have decked him at that moment.
“I know you didn’t want children, but I’m keeping this baby.”
Zach stood and bridged the distance between them. She didn’t shy away. He didn’t touch her, but she put her arms around him.
“Do you think it’s a good idea? Bringing this baby into an already broken home? Not even a home anymore.”
She shoved him away from her. “This is regardless of what contribution you planned to make.”
He swallowed hard. “Are you really prepared to take care of a baby? Financially and emotionally?”
Her gaze went through him. “Yes.”
He knew how to take responsibility. “I need to time to wrap my brain around this.”
He walked away from her, back to the chair. He paused, then sat down.
“Fine. I don’t want to talk about it anymore,” she said.
She dropped a plate with a sandwich in front of him.
He shook his head, but the idea of a baby lingered on in the outskirts of his consciousness. He could go with a subject change if she could. “So tell me about the car that pulled away,” Zach said.
Her butt landed in the chair across from him. “I’m renting out the apartment above the garage.”
He paused with the sandwich halfway to his mouth. The apartment was livable, but not luxurious. They’d planned on using it as a guest suite, but the marriage had fallen apart. “Why?”
“I need the money.”
“I’ll give you more if that’s what you need.”
She smiled. “That’s generous, but I know how much you make. And now you have a new business.”
“I could find something else to do.” Not.
The next best thing to being a cop was being a private investigator in his mind. That’s what he told himself each morning when he didn’t want to get out of bed.
She laughed. “Oh, Zach, you wouldn’t want to do anything else. It’s as if dead people call to you.”
Knowing she was correct, he blew out a breath. “Well, then at least let me have her checked out.”
Dolores ran a hand through her auburn hair.
Passive aggressive alert.
“Maybe. If you really want to, but I think she’s okay.”
“Let me find out for sure.”
She picked at her sandwich. “Her name’s Grace Harmony. She’s new in town.”
He reached across and took her hand. As always he said, “I’ll take care of everything.”
A background check of Grace Harmony topped Zach’s To-Do list.
But instead of coming back to an empty store front office on Main Street of Glen Hills, someone paced on the sidewalk in front. Why was she out front? She lived upstairs.
Dressed in a caftan in more colors than he could name, Celia Johnson looked worried and determined. He didn’t know why she felt the need to dress the part of a kook. When she’d come to the police station, out of deference to him, she’d looked respectable in a navy suit and sensible pumps. Now she looked like a circus clown on acid.
Zach groaned, then unlocked his front door as if the cause of his downfall with the Centre County Prosecutor’s office didn’t exist.
Her shrill voice rattled his bones and sent a chill down his spine on such a warm day. His hand paused on the doorknob. “Yes, Celia.”
She stood with her tangled, from-a-bottle red hair rioting around her face while her bearing remained straight and true. “We need to speak.”
“I don’t think so. You’ve done plenty of damage and I’d hoped I’d seen the last of you.”