Authors: Jessica Estevao
Whispers Beyond the Veil
“Exciting and engrossing, this book captures you from the first page and doesn't let go until the end. Jessica Estevao has given us a great read with a delightful heroine and a wonderful setting.”
New York Times
bestselling author of the Victorian Mysteries
“You'll love the not-so-innocent heroine of this delightful new series where no one and nothing is quite what it seems. Intriguing Ruby Proulx pretends to be a medium, but is she really pretending? And whom can she trust among the many new people she meets? Jessica Estevao will keep you guessing until the very last page!”
âVictoria Thompson, national bestselling author of
Murder in Morningside
BERKLEY PRIME CRIME
Published by Berkley
An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014
Copyright Â© 2016 by Jessie Crockett
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Estevao, Jessica, author.
Title: Whispers beyond the veil / Jessica Estevao.
Description: First edition. | New York : Berkley Prime Crime, 2016. |
Series: A change of fortune mystery ; 1
Identifiers: LCCN 2016011313 (print) | LCCN 2016027976 (ebook) |
ISBN 9780425281604 (paperback) | ISBN 9780698197152 (ebook)
Subjects: LCSH: Women psychicsâFiction. | Old Orchard Beach (Me.)âFiction.
| MaineâHistoryâ19th centuryâFiction. | BISAC: FICTION / Mystery &
Detective / Historical. | FICTION / Mystery & Detective / Women Sleuths. |
GSAFD: Mystery fiction.
Classification: LCC PS3603.R63535 W48 2016 (print) | LCC PS3603.R63535 (ebook) |
LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2016011313
Â© Lee Avison/Arcangel Images;
Old Orchard Beach Pier
Â© Don Seymour/Getty Images
Cover design by Katie Anderson
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.
For my sisters,
Larissa Crockett and Barb Shaffer,
who believe in listening to the
I owe a great deal of thanks for help with this book to a number of people. My thanks go out to my editor, Michelle Vega, who likes stories involving paranormal possibilities at least as much as I do. I'd also like to thank copyeditor Randie Lipkin for her eagle eye for detail and an extraordinary ability to keep track of loose threads.
I'd like to thank a few people from Old Orchard Beach, Maine. I truly appreciate local historian Daniel Blaney for enthusiastically sharing his time, knowledge, and resources. Jeanne Guerin, curator of the Harmon Historical Museum in Old Orchard Beach, patiently answered a barrage of my questions and pointed me toward many useful source materials. Michael Roberge graciously lent me books and unearthed photographs that fueled my understanding of life in Old Orchard during the Gilded Age.
I'd like to mention my appreciation for Noreen McDonald and the way she generously provided me with guidance concerning the world of spirit. I am grateful to Sue Yarmey for willingly sharing her knowledge of the tarot and mediumship. Mechelle Kelsey provided me with an invaluable supply of books on the subject of Spiritualism for which I am extremely grateful.
My blog mates, the Wicked Cozy Authors, have been an extraordinary source of encouragement and support. Thanks to Sherry Harris, Julie Hennrikus, Edith Maxwell, Liz Mugavero, and Barb Ross for being a part of the journey!
I also thank my children, Will, Max, Theo, and Ari for their patience. And thanks to my husband, Elias Estevao, who loves the beach as much as I do.
here stood my father, up on the makeshift stage. Lantern light glinted down on the brown glass bottle held outstretched in his hand. A hot wind pressed and flapped the canvas stretched above his head. Scents of sweat and hay and dusting powder melded in the unseasonably hot air. But Father appeared cool as a slice of iced melon at a picnic. He strutted and strode and worked the already-heated crowd to a fever pitch by calling out all the cures and wonderments Running Bear's Miracle Elixir would provide if only his listeners would part with a dollar.
Johnny and two other Maliseet men sat in a semicircle around the edge of the stage chanting in low tones, lending a bit of credence to the notion that the cures Father stood hawking were passed on to him by an Indian medicine man.
“Be amongst those who discover the secrets to lifelong health the red men have guarded for generations. Baldness, wasting diseases, lack of moral fiber? All these and more are banished with no more than a few doses of this potent remedy.”
By the time he'd gotten a testimonial wrung out of the well-paid shills in the audience, I knew we'd sell out and I'd need to
mix up another batch of what Father referred to as “Bank in a Bottle.”
“I can't promise we have enough for everyone, so this is a decision you mustn't delay,” Father called above the noise of the crowd. All through the tent people scrambled to their feet. Swishing skirts and stomping boots raced past me at the exit. From sleeplessness to lethargy to breathing difficulties, they chattered to each other how they hoped this nostrum would cure them all. Fortunately for Father's wallet we'd be long gone before the rubes realized the bottles' main ingredients were empty promises.
When the tent cleared, Father came up behind me and whispered in my ear, “Not a bad evening's work, wouldn't you say?” He gave me a wink, then strode toward the line to greet and encourage the customers. I watched a moment longer, then decided I wouldn't be missed if I conducted a bit of business of my own.
â¢Â Â Â â¢Â Â Â â¢
hurried back to the tent I shared with Father. Aided by a small bit of mirror Father used for shaving, I rubbed a burnt matchstick I saved for just such a purpose along my upper eyelashes and beneath my lower ones. I licked my lips and pressed them against a limp scrap of scarlet crepe paper and completed my costume by unpinning my dark hair and draping my lace shawl over my head.
I was always astonished at how empowering it was to transform my appearance from that of a medicine man's daughter to a fortune-telling gypsy. In my everyday attire no one would've given a second thought to a thing I said, let alone believed me to know the future. But enfold me in the guise of a foreigner and suddenly I was imbued with magical powers and otherworldly attributes.
The crowds from the show had made their purchases and were looking for other entertainments when I arrived back at the midway. I took up my usual post at a wooden folding table next to the popular magic lantern show. With a practiced hand I shuffled and cut my well-thumbed deck of divination cards and before long attracted a steady stream of customers.
I delivered rosy prognostications in a false accent for hopeful young girls and haggard old men. Years of reading the crowds had given me a feeling for what the customer really wanted to know instead of what they had asked. Subtle shifts in posture, tiny tightenings of the muscles around the mouth, widening and narrowing of the eyes all gave away what the stranger across from me held most dear.
I would have felt guilty taking their money if they went away unhappy, so I made a practice of slanting my predictions to match what they desired. People tend to get what they expect out of life. It alleviated my conscience, at least in part, to help them to expect the best.
After a couple of hours I was tired and well pleased with my earnings. Just as I had determined to pack up my cards and return to my tent, Johnny slid into the chair opposite me.
“I hoped I'd find you here.” The table was a small one and I felt his leg press up against the layers of fabric covering my knee. I pulled away quickly, as any right-thinking girl would, but not before I noticed his company was not altogether unpleasant.
“You can't be here for another reading. I just did one for you yesterday.” Johnny was my best customer. I had sometimes wondered if he knew how often his extra pennies were the ones that kept my belly from rumbling. Father was shockingly inept at managing money, and I had begun my card readings in the first
place to stave off starvation when he had frittered away what little we had on one baseless scheme after another.
“Yesterday you didn't tell me what I wanted to hear.” Johnny leaned across the table.
“Maybe you should try reading them for yourself for a change,” I said, sliding the deck toward him. “You've seen it done enough times. You must know what all the cards mean by now.” Johnny's eyebrows lifted as he took the deck from me. He shuffled the cards like the avid faro player he was and carefully cut the deck into three stacks. I held my breath as he turned over the top card on the first stack.
“I should have tried this myself long ago.” Johnny tapped the Wheel of Fortune card. “There's hope for me yet.”
“Remember it's a wheel. What comes around goes around. The wheel represents changing fortunes, not necessarily good luck or bad.”
“It looks like adventure to me.” He turned over a second card. “See, definitely an adventure.” He placed his long finger on a card with a young man carrying a bundle on a stick.
“The Fool appears for new beginnings and youthful enthusiasm,” I said. “Maybe a new life is coming your way.”
“This last one is the clincher. If I'm lucky it will be a card promising a certain young lady would like to adventure with me.” He turned over the last card, and I heard his quick intake of breath. His reaction was a common one, and I couldn't blame him for his apprehension.
“The Death card is not exactly what it appears,” I said, hoping to ease his mind. “It doesn't usually signal the death of the body.”
“What is it, then? The death of hopes and dreams?” Johnny gave me a halfhearted smile.
“It more often means a total change in your customary way of living. It gives you the opportunity to reinvent your life. For most, it's a very positive card. Taken with the other two, I'd say your life is about to undergo a radical change.”
“You always manage to make everything sound like it will be just fine. I wish there was a way I could make everything turn out fine for you,” Johnny said.
“Everything is fine, Johnny.” I swept my hand at the shrinking crowds fading away from the ratty tents. “What more could I want than all this?”
“Ruby, don't jest. You know I'd give anything to be able to take you away from here.”
“I appreciate the sentiment but you know my place is here with my father. Which reminds me, I should go. I need to replenish our supply of elixir before tomorrow's show.” I gathered up the cards and slipped them back into my reticule.
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had hurried needlessly. It was long past dark when Father returned to our tent that night. He whistled just under his breath and there was a jauntiness to his step that filled me with dread. If it were just the jaunty step my only worry would be the whiskey I could be sure was fueling his mood. Father almost always celebrated a well-received performance with a celebratory bottle or even two. He called it his own version of a miracle in a bottle. Overindulgence generally turned him sentimental and willing to share stories about my mother, a thing he never did whilst sober.
It was the whistling that worried me. Whistling signaled an idea was foaming and churning just under the surface and he was about to burst forth with it. Whistling was the vanguard of
his next grand plan, a thing I learned to fear in the course of my twenty years.
“Ruby, my love, stop bottling the hooch. We're about to move into a whole new realm of commerce.” He reached for my hands and twirled me until my dress billowed and my stomach lurched. Father's good moods were not contagious.
“Father, I wish you'd stop that. You're making me dizzy.”
“If wishes were horses, my dear. If only they were horses.” But stop he did. “From now on we'll have no need for wishes. We'll be staying in the finest hotels instead of hunkering down in a tent hawking bottles for pennies a piece.”
“What would we know about fine hotels?” I asked, hoping to delay him in sharing whatever news had brought such a glow to his cheeks.
“You'd be surprised at the things I know. I roamed the world for a good many years before you were born, you know. Fine hotels were once one of my specialties.”
“You are a man of mystery, Father.” It wouldn't do to tell him how often he had regaled me with stories of how he had swept my mother off her feet in the grand ballroom of a fine hotel. He had only done so when he was so far into his cups he could barely peek over the rim.
“I hope you are prepared to be rich beyond your wildest imaginings.” I didn't bother to mention my wildest imaginings included a home of our own with a garden, roses scrambling along the foundation, and a wide porch overlooking the sea. I took a strengthening breath and played my expected part.
“How do you propose to make us such a fortune, Father?”
“I thought you'd never ask. Close your eyes and wait right here while I fetch it.” Without another word, Father ducked back out
through the tent flap. I did as I was bid, and a moment later I heard him reenter the tent. “Ta-da!” I opened my eyes and blinked.
“What is that contraption?” Father held a wooden box fitted with shiny bits of copper and black rubber tubes. Sticking out of the side was a handle that appeared to be made for cranking.
“It is nothing less than the latest in medical miracles.” He dashed to the camp table and set the box upon it.
“Father, I'm not one of the rubes. There's no need to convince me it works.” And he didn't. One of the things I liked best about my father was his honesty with me concerning his dishonesty with others.
“Of course, my dear. Sometimes I forget myself. This is the Invigorizer. It uses an electric current generated by cranking the handle located on the side of the box.”
“But what does it purport to do?” I didn't want to encourage him, but Father exhibited a childish inclination to pout if I didn't share his unbridled enthusiasm for one of his new schemes. When I was very young I thought he truly was a miracle man and believed in him no matter how ill conceived his plans. In the past few years the realization of his fallibility had been more difficult to bear than all of the hunger, cold, or near brushes with the law added together. More and more often I was calling on my own powers of showmanship in order to keep the peace.
“It stimulates all systems of the body. It revitalizes the mind, purifies the blood, and eliminates melancholia.”
“And you want to start hawking this thing along with the Running Bear's Miracle Elixir?”
“No, my dear. Instead of selling bottles of spirits flavored with turpentine for pennies apiece, we will be selling these devices for upwards of twenty dollars each. Or for the budget-minded
consumer we can offer single treatments for a mere dollar. I see an entire empire building before my very eyes.”
Sometimes Father forgets to turn off his showman side and he manages to con even himself into believing his pitch. It's times like these when I worry. He was going to need to be reined in quickly or we'd be without a penny to our names. It had happened more than once. Unless it was already too late.
“Is it safe?”
“Nothing could be more so. You simply place the helmet on the patient's head and then tighten the torso straps across his chest, snugging them down firmly over the heart. You then flip the toggle and a healthful current flows through the patient's body and into the ground.”
“Where did you get this?”
“I purchased them from a reputable gentleman from Chicago who just happened to be in the area selling them to local doctors.”
“How do you know he's reputable?”
“He had the bearing and speech of a gentleman and he produced an entire list of testimonials from satisfied patients and doctors on both sides of the border.” Father's voice took on a strident note and he crossed his own arms. This would never do.
“Do you remember the Ludlow's Luxuriant Locks debacle in Toronto?”
“Please, my dear, this is nothing like that. We can't lose with this opportunity.”
“By the time we were run out of town all the customers were bald.”
“Never mind all that. This is our opportunity to make a mint. If all goes well, eventually I intend to settle down in one place and operate an order by mail business instead of rambling the roads.
Wouldn't you like that?” He flashed me one of the smiles that worked so well on the customers, and I felt my resistance fading. Until I remembered something.