Table of Contents
The Ghost . . .
When Jack had been alive . . . the very blood in his veins pulsed to the beat of the city streets (when he’d
blood—and veins, that is).
Why couldn’t he have spent eternity in a place like that?
Instead he got eternity in cornpone alley.
Now the only excitement Jack ever had was scaring the crap out of small-town operators . . .
and Mrs. McClure
Her name was Penelope Thornton-McClure. And he had to admit she showed more moxie than a lot of grown men he’d pranked in the past fifty years.
Certainly, she was the first living entity he’d even considered shifting himself toward since he’d crossed over, which was hilarious because, if he’d read her thoughts right, she didn’t even believe in ghosts.
Well, he hadn’t believed in them either . . .
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.
THE GHOST AND MRS. MCCLURE
A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with
Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / February 2004
Copyright © 2004 by The Berkley Publishing Group.
All rights reserved.
This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced
in any form without permission.
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or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal
and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic
editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of
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For information address: The Berkley Publishing Group,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
eISBN : 978-1-101-00779-2
Berkley Prime Crime Books are published
by The Berkley Publishing Group,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
The name BERKLEY PRIME CRIME and the
BERKLEY PRIME CRIME design
are trademarks belonging to Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
The author wishes to thank
Senior Editor Kimberly Lionetti
and literary agent John Talbot
for their valued support in giving this distinct
physical incarnation to
what began as the ghost of an idea.
very special thanks to
Major John J. Leyden, Jr.
Field Operations Officer, Rhode Island State Police
for his helpful answers to procedural questions.
Although real places and institutions are mentioned in this book, they are used in the service of fiction. No character in this book is based on any person, living or dead, and the world presented is completely fictitious.
“You mean there is a hell?” asked Lucy. “Some people might call it so,” said the captain. “There’s a dimension that some spirits have to wait in till they realize and admit the truth about themselves.”
—R. A. Dick,The Ghost and Mrs. Muir
My life is my own, and the opinions of others don’t interest me . . .
Quindicott, Rhode Island 1949
—Carroll John Daly, “Three Gun Terry,”Black Mask
, May 1923 (cited as the first published appearance of a hard-boiled detective)
Cranberry. What kind of a cornball name was that for a street?
Jack Shepard hauled his powerful frame out of the black Packard and slammed the heavy door, sending a violent shudder through the mass of metal.
Five hours. He’d just spent five dusty hours behind the wheel of this boiler, hunched up like some luckless clipster trying to crack a bag man’s safe.
With easy fingers, Jack buttoned-closed his double-breasted jacket. The suit was gunmetal gray, rising in a V from his narrow waist to his acre of shoulders. Closing his eyes, he imagined a pretty set of hands working over the kinks and knots. Tonight, thought Jack. After the drive back to Manhattan’s crowded dirty noise, he’d find a willing pair in some suds club, like he always did.
Casing the scene, Jack scanned the two- and three-story buildings that lined this lane—a kiddie version of the towering steel and glass where he usually ranged. “Town,” he muttered. That’s what two farmers had called it about ten miles back, out by the cow pasture and old mill, where he’d asked for directions. The “Welcome to Quindicott” sign came next. Farmland after, more of the monotonous rolling green he’d driven through on the way up. Then came the gradual density of houses. Trees and lawns and hedges trimmed by do-right guys. Barking dogs and chubby-cheeked kids. You had your “quaint” town square, your manicured lawn, and your white bandshell with red trim. The whole thing looked so doggone cheery, Jack expected to see a Norman Rockwell signature in the sidewalk.
The “townsfolk” in this homespun little picture looked cheery enough, too, soaking up the last hours of the orange sun’s late-summer juice. Young men in flannel. Old men with clay pipes. Farmers’ wives in gingham, and shop girls with bare legs.
These people were off the cob, all right, Jack thought, starting a casual stroll. Corny as they came. Some rocked on porches, some gabbed on benches, some ambled along the cobblestone lane—and all eyes were on him—
“Who are ya, fella?”
“Ya don’t belong.”
Jack lit a butt from his deck of Luckies, then used a single finger to push back his fedora.
You people want a look at my mug? Go on then, look.
Jack’s face wasn’t pretty, but no dame ever complained. His forehead was broad with thick sandy brows; his cheeks were sunken, and his nose like a boxer’s—slightly crooked with a broken-a-few-times bump. His jaw was iron, his chin flat and square—with a one-inch scar in the shape of a dagger slashing across it—and his eyes were sharper than a skiv. Freddie once told him they were the color of granite and just about as hard.
Maybe he was hard, thought Jack. But baby, this was one hick town. No painted dolls or groghounds here. No nickel rats, cheap grifters, or diamond-dripping dames looking to have their husbands set up. Just clean air, families with kids, potluck socials, and farm-fresh moo juice.
A town for settling down. That’s what this place was, thought Jack. A few of those bare-legged, unpainted country dolls passed him, gave him the shy version of the “what’s-
thought Jack, eyeballing them right back. Shapely gams. Milky skin. Curves the way he liked them—bountiful. Jack took a long, slow drag from his Lucky and turned away. A man like him had to be careful in a place like this. Say the right thing to the wrong broad and he’d make her about a thousand times more miserable than he was.
With a slight limp, Jack continued his slow stroll—casual, easy, hands in pockets, the ache in his shin an unwanted souvenir from that underpaid job he’d done for Uncle Sam over in Germany. Jack ignored it. Continued to case the scene.
Ahead of him, a row of shops beckoned. Bakery, grocery, dress joint, beauty parlor. There it was: one twenty-two. A little more class than the other places. Probably did business with that fancy Newport set not far away. Wide plate-glass window. Words etched in: We Buy and Sell Books.
Yeah. But did they have the book he was looking for? The one
were looking for? The one they killed Freddie for?
The sun was sinking like a popped balloon now. The day was done, the lights nearly out, and just around the corner, a shadow stained the sidewalk, a city-suited figure, waiting.
Jack cursed low. Thought he’d shaken that tail.
He turned the brass handle, pushed. The shop’s bell tinkled like a bad girl’s giggle. A chill up his spine like a foot on his grave.
The shadow moved closer.
Jack’s hand rose, dipped into his suitcoat, caressed his rod’s handle, smooth from wear. He got a bad feeling, but Jack had gotten them before. And when he started a thing, he never turned back.
Besides, this job was for Freddie, and Jack promised his dead friend he’d ride this train out. All the way to the end of the line.
I stake my everlasting life on it.
When the shadow receded, Jack refocused his attention on the job at hand. Investigation and interrogation were things he’d polished as a private eye, but he’d learned as a cop—back before he’d joined up. In the service, he’d learned a lot more: About men and the things they’d do and say under pressure. About the enemy: how and why they’d lie, and, more importantly, what methods would pry the truth out of them.
The moment of truth came today.
For Jack it came sharp and hard and quick, landing at the back of his skull. But the blow didn’t kill him. The gunshots did. To the head, to the face, to the heart. Enough to make sure Jack Shepard’s everlasting promise to his friend began today . . . along with his everlasting life.
The Big Ending
Murder doesn’t round out anybody’s life, except the murdered and sometimes the murderer’s.
Quindicott, Rhode Island Today
—Nick Charles to Nora Charles inThe Thin Man
by Dashiell Hammett, 1933
“We killed him!”
I was beside myself. In a frantic state of hand-wringing and head-shaking, I paced the length of the bookshop’s aisle from Christie to Grafton and back again.
“Calm down, dear,” said my aunt, her slight frame tipping the Shaker rocker back and forth with about as much anxiety as a retiree on a Palm Beach sundeck.
can I calm down?” I asked. “We killed a best-selling author on the first night of his book tour!”
“Well, the milk’s gone and spilled now. No use crying over it. If you need help calming down, why don’t you have a belt?”
I was not surprised by this rather unladylike suggestion from my aunt. Sadie may have been seventy-two, and barely four feet eleven, but for an aging bantamweight she had a big mouth and a good right hook. The Quindicott Business Owners’ Association never forgot the day she’d spotted a shoplifter at ten yards (putting a Hammett first edition down his pants). She’d taken him out with one sharp Patricia Cornwell to the head.