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Authors: Casey Daniels

The Chick and the Dead

BOOK: The Chick and the Dead
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AVONBOOKS

An Imprint ofHarperCollinsPublishers

Copyright © 2007 by Connie Laux

ISBN: 978-0-06-082147-0

ISBN-10: 0-06-082147-7

First Avon Books printing: March 2007

Dedication

This book is for all the in-laws

and all the out-laws:

Peg & Tim

Jim & Cindy

Michael & Chris

Karen & George

Nancy & Art

Bill & Joann

Mick & Jim

Mick & Jim

Chapter 1

It all started with Gus Scarpetti.

More specifically, it all started when I was leading a tour at the cemetery where I work and smacked my head on the marble step of the mausoleum where Gus Scarpetti's mortal remains were resting, but not in peace.

High heels. Uneven ground. Gravity.

Not a good combination.

If I didn't know it when I woke up in the emergency room with doctors peering at me and asking me if I knew my name and what day of the week it was, I sure did after that. Because after that…

Well, after that, I started seeing dead people.

Did I say
people
? Let me correct myself. After that, I started seeing
a dead person
. Singular. As in one gone-but-not-forgotten Mafia don—the aforementioned Gus Scarpetti.

Luckily, the whole ghostly experience didn't last more than a few weeks. I did some investigating and, thanks to me, Gus's unfinished business here on earth got finished. After thirty years of his restless spirit looking for someone who could help, his murder had been solved. By me. Gus had finally gone to the Great Beyond. Or the white light. Or wherever it was that ghosts went after they served out their time here.

And like any logical person, I figured that was—as they say—that.

Except apparently it wasn't.

Because just minutes after I said my final goodbyes to Gus, I walked into my office atGardenViewCemetery and came face-to-face with a blond wearing a cardigan sweater and a poodle skirt. Saddle shoes or no saddle shoes, I knew we were not talking twenty-first century. The awareness stung like a shot of Botox, and for a couple of long seconds, all I could do was stand there and listen to my blood rush in my ears and my heart slam against my ribs. That, and stare.

At the woman perched on the edge of my desk, her legs crossed and one foot—and the saddle shoe on it—swinging. At her bobbed, wavy hair. And the pink chiffon scarf tied around her neck. At her pink cardigan, the one with the loopy D written in rhinestones over her heart. She was a ghost. I knew it as sure as I knew my own name was Pepper Martin, and realizing it made me feel, well… I'll leave out the part about being pissed, exasperated, and leery, and just settle with saying I was not a happy camper.

I backed away, but my office isn't very big and there wasn't far to go. The doorknob poked my butt.

"No. No. No. No way can I see you." I held one hand out in front of me, emphasizing my point. "No way can you be here. You're not Gus."

She snapped her gum and blew a big, pink bubble. "Don't have a cow! Of course I'm not Gus. Do I look like Gus?" The woman sat up and pulled back her shoulders, the better to emphasize a bust-line that was nearly as ample as mine. "No way Gus has a chassis this classy," she said. "Gus is the one who sent me."

"But Gus is dead." Okay, it was an understatement, but I thought I should mention it, just in case she didn't know. I looked toward the far wall. If I had a window—which I didn't—I would have been able to see across Garden View—which I couldn't—toward the mausoleum that was as flamboyant as Gus was himself. "I solved Gus's murder. This is the rest-in-peace part. For him and for me. No more ghosts."

"You think?" She grinned. "I've got news for you. That's not how it works." I didn't have to ask, I knew the
it
in question was my ability to see and talk to the dead. As far as I knew—at least until right then and there—that
dead
meant Gus and only Gus. Which meant that with Gus gone, I was officially out of the private-investigation-for-the-dearly-departed business.

Or at least I should have been.

Struggling to make some sense of it all, I ran a hand through my carrot-colored hair. "No way this is happening," I told the woman. "I hit my head on Gus's mausoleum. Not on yours. I don't even know who you are. I shouldn't be able to see you."

"But you can, right?" Her smile was perky. Have I mentioned that I hate perky? She hopped off my desk. "Thanks to that accident of yours, you have what's officially known as the Gift."

"Oh no!" I sidled along the wall until I was standing on the opposite side of the desk from where the woman stood. "Whatever this Gift thing is, I don't want it. Take it back. No Gift. Not for me. I just want my life back. My regular, old life."

"Really?" She fluffed her skirt and adjusted the knot on the gauzy scarf around her neck. "That's not what Gus says."

"In case you haven't noticed, Gus is a mobster. One of the bad guys. That means he's not exactly the most honest person in the world. Whatever world he happens to be in. And besides, when did you have time to talk to him?" I thought back to what had just happened out near Gus's mausoleum. One second he was there, the next… poof! "He just went to the big spaghetti dinner in the sky." She shrugged like it was no big deal. "Time doesn't work the same here as it does there. Gus, he told me all about you. He said he was pretty sure you'd moan and groan about how much you hated working for him but that deep down, you're really grateful that he showed up. After all, before he did, I hear your life was dullsville."

"He told you that?" So, Gus was over on the Other Side talking behind my back. You think he'd give me a little more credit. After all, I was the only one capable of seeing him. I was the only one able to hear him and talk to him, too. Without me, Gus Scarpetti would still be hanging out over in his mausoleum watching the guys in his old crew bring him fresh roses every Thursday, the day he was gunned down outside his favorite restaurant.

Of course, before Gus showed up, I was pretty much sitting on the sidelines watching life pass me by, too.

A dead-end job here in dead city.

A fiance who dumped me rather than risk hurting his social status when my dad traded his medical license and our more-than-comfortable upper-middle-class lifestyle for prison pinstripes. A mountain of unpaid bills and a social life that gave dullsville a whole new meaning. None of which made me feel any better about being bad-mouthed by the bigmouthed dead.

"What else did Gus tell you?" I asked the woman.

She grinned. Like she'd known all along that my curiosity would get the best of me. "He said that before you met him, you never had to prove yourself. And that now, you finally realize how smart you really are. He said before you met him, you thought your life was good for nothing but sitting by a swimming pool and getting a really good tan."

And that's a bad thing?

I didn't bother asking the question, mostly because I didn't really care what this throwback from the last century thought. Partly because after spending a few weeks with Gus dogging my every step, I was sensitive to the fact that ghosts might be sensitive to how they couldn't tan. Then again, I suppose I might have kept my mouth shut because there was a kernel of truth in what Gus had said.

Before I met him, I had resigned myself to my not-so-happy fate. Go-nowhere job. Go-nowhere life. Before I met Gus, I never would have dreamed that I was capable of solving any murder, much less one that gave a whole new meaning to
cold case
.

Of course, before I met Gus, I never had to deal with mobsters, dodge the FBI, or worry about hit men, either.

Ice settled in the pit of my stomach, and I dropped into the guest chair opposite my desk. I swallowed down my misgivings and eyed the woman carefully. I didn't want to hear the answer, but I had no choice. I had to ask the question. "You're telling me that I can't see just Gus, right? I can see—"

"Other ghosts. Sure." This ghost didn't seem nearly as disturbed by the news as I was. "It's cool, isn't it?"

"Yeah. Cool." My assessment of the situation was not nearly as enthusiastic as hers. "But what if I don't want to? See ghosts, I mean."

There was that shrug again. "I told you, honey. That's not the way it works. We don't get a choice about who lives, who dies, and when. If we did, do you think I'd want to be dead?" She had me there.

"So you're—"

"Didi." She answered the question before I could ask it. "You'll pardon me if I don't shake hands. You know how that works, too, right?"

I did. After all, that was precisely why Gus had needed my help in the first place. Being incorporeal, ghosts can't do anything for themselves. Not anything that has anything to do with our world. They can't touch things. They can't feel things. And the one time Gus had tried to latch on to my arm to pull me out of the path of an oncoming car… well, I found out the hard way, that didn't work, either. His hand went right through me, and the instant it did, I was left chilled to the bone for days. No way was I going to risk that again. I waved away Didi's apology and asked another question I knew I should have left unspoken. "And you're here, why?"

"Because Gus said you could help me."

"Gus is crazy."

"Some people would say you are, too."

She didn't need to remind me. I'd spent the better part of the first weeks of my relationship with Gus wondering if I'd gone off the deep end. That was right before I spent the next few weeks being ambushed, followed, and shot at. Yeah, call me crazy. No way was I going to do that again.

"Look… " I rose to my feet, the better to look commanding and in control. "I don't know what exactly Gus told you, but whatever it was, he's got it all wrong. I'm not playing detective again. Been there, done that. It may have been exciting, but it was dangerous, too, and how dare Gus, anyway?" The thought hit out of the blue and sent my temper soaring. "The nerve of that man, thinking he can send people… or spirits… or whatever you are… over here and just assume that I have to help them. You can go back to wherever you came from and tell Gus that he's not the boss of me." I sounded like I meant it, even though I did leave out one vital fact: Technically, Gus was my boss. He'd paid me nine thousand dollars from a secret stash he kept in his mausoleum back when he was still alive.

Of course, on the flip side, I'd kept my part of our bargain. I'd solved his murder. I'd unraveled a mystery even the cops couldn't figure out. I'd earned my nine thousand bucks, damn it, and I deserved a break.

My mind made up, I breezed past Didi and headed for the door. It was close enough to quitting time to justify a hasty exit, and besides, I knew how ghosts could be, dead set—pun intended—on getting their own way. I stopped at the door to deliver my parting shot.

"It's not going to happen," I told Didi. "Not now. Not ever. So you'd better face the facts. I'm not going to risk getting killed again."

Remember that part about being commanding and in control? It should have worked. After all, I was a hairbreadth away from scraping six feet, and Didi couldn't have been more than five two. Still, she wasn't the least bit intimidated. I could tell because instead of giving up and apologizing for ruining what should have been my Gus-is-finally-gone celebration, she grabbed her purse and fished out a compact and a tube of lipstick. She added a little peachy color to her lips and smacked them together. "You're the only one who can help me," she said.

"Not my problem."

It wasn't, and just to prove it, I took another step toward the door, distancing myself from the whole thing. "I'm not the one who chose this goofy Gift thing. I'm not the one who decided to help Gus, either. I wouldn't have given him the time of day if he wasn't such a pain in the ass. But that was then and this is now and Gus is right, I'm way smarter now than I used to be. Smart enough to know that I'm not going to do it again. No way! No bad guys are going to take potshots at this girl again." I poked my thumb toward my chest. "In case you're not getting the message, that means that if you want someone to solve your murder—"

My office door opened, and I jumped out of the way at the same time I gulped down the rest of my words. Instantly I felt heat rise in my cheeks. My boss, Ella Silverman, stepped into the room, and I knew there was no way she could have missed the fact that I'd been in there talking to myself. While I scrambled to come up with something that sounded even vaguely like a justification for my behavior, I watched Didi fade like a bad TV picture. She disappeared in a wisp of what looked like pink cigarette smoke.

BOOK: The Chick and the Dead
6.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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