Carolyn G. Hart Ghost Wanted

ISBN 13: 9780553545319

Ghost Wanted

 
9780553545319: Ghost Wanted
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Ghostly gumshoe Bailey Ruth Raeburn of Heaven’s Department of Good Intentions is checking out a troubling disturbance in Adelaide, Oklahoma. But what seems at first like simple vandalism won’t be an open-and-shut case...
 
Bailey Ruth’s supervisor, Wiggins, is worried about a dear old friend. The ghost of elegant Lorraine Marlow haunts Adelaide’s college library. Known as the Lady of the Roses, she plays matchmaker, using the fragrant flowers to pair up students. But someone’s making mischief after hours, leaving roses strewn about the library, destroying a gargoyle, and stealing a valuable book. Concerned with Lorraine’s reputation among the living, Wiggins dispatches the irrepressible redhead Bailey Ruth to investigate.
 
Soon after her arrival, trouble begins to stack up. A campus security guard is shot by an intruder, and Bailey Ruth uncovers a catalog of evidence blaming a student for the crimes. As a ghost, she may not be all there, but even Bailey Ruth can decipher that something isn’t adding up. So with police preparing to make an arrest, the spirited detective must race against the clock to find the real culprit, because when justice is overdue, it takes more than death to stop Bailey Ruth Raeburn...

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About the Author:

An accomplished master of mystery, Carolyn Hart is the New York Times bestselling author of more than fifty novels of mystery and suspense, including the Death on Demand Mysteries. Her books have won multiple Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards. She’s also been honored with the Amelia Award for significant contributions to the traditional mystery from Malice Domestic and was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America. One of the founders of Sisters in Crime, Hart lives in Oklahoma City, where she enjoys mysteries, walking in the park, and cats. She and her husband, Phil, serve as staff—cat owners will understand—to brother and sister brown tabbies.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1

Bobby Mac and I don’t spend every moment aboard our cabin cruiser, Serendipity, on jade green waters reminiscent of the Gulf. Heaven knows that where you wish to go, there you are. It might surprise you that a rough-and-tumble oilman like Bobby Mac knew his way around art museums on earth. His tastes—and mine—were eclectic, from Gustav Vigeland’s sculptures to Mary Cassatt’s Breakfast in Bed. It was Heavenly now to see one of our favorite artists at work. Sunlight-dappled water lilies in the pond. Bobby Mac and I stretched on a blanket, quiet as stone cherubs, watching Claude at work on a new painting.

A telegram sprouted in my hand. My eyes widened. I will admit to a thrill of excitement. I waggled the stiff yellow sheet at Bobby Mac. He gave me a thumbs-up, as he always does. What a guy. We met in high school when he was a dark-haired, muscular senior and I was a skinny redheaded sophomore. We’ve been having fun ever since.

I blew Bobby Mac a kiss and went at once to the Department of Good Intentions, arriving immediately. That’s the beauty of Heaven—here can immediately be there. It’s all in the spirit.

Oh dear, you are already puzzled. Bobby Mac? Sunlight-dappled pond? Do I mean Giverny? Claude? Telegram? From there to here in a heartbeat?

Perhaps I should begin with me. I am Bailey Ruth Raeburn, late of Adelaide, Oklahoma. Yes, late. As in dear departed. Dear departed has a lovely ring, though I’d be the first to agree that not everyone in Adelaide had adored me. There was the high school principal who hadn’t been pleased when I flunked the coach’s son. All endings lead to new beginnings, and I loved my years as the secretary at the Chamber of Commerce, which provided a front-row center seat for both public and private shenanigans. There was the time . . . Oh, sorry. I am easily distracted.

Back to my departing . . . Bobby Mac Raeburn, the captain of my heart and of the Serendipity, steered us out into the Gulf of Mexico seeking a recalcitrant tarpon despite lowering clouds and a whipping wind on what would be a fateful day. For us. Suffice to say, after a valiant battle with the elements, the Serendipity was lost in the Gulf and Bobby Mac and I arrived in Heaven. Now the Serendipity, as bright and fresh as on the day she was launched, rocks in a tranquil Heavenly sea and provides a haven for me and Bobby Mac.

Those who dismiss the idea of Heaven as balderdash will flee from my narrative. Isn’t balderdash a lovely word?

I am in good company—of course, given my current location, that surely goes without saying—in choosing balderdash. No less than Thomas Babington Macaulay, the great nineteenth-century historian, once said, “I am almost ashamed to quote such nauseous balderdash.”

Heaven is no more balderdash than I. However, to convince the skeptic is not my task at the moment. I remain confident that there is, however feeble, a spark of yearning within each earthly soul for all that is holy.

Don’t be put off by a mention of holiness. Heaven isn’t solemn. You enjoy laughter? Holiness does not preclude humor. Saint Teresa of Ávila combined a deep sense of ineffability with a laughing heart. As she once said, “Lord, if this is the way you treat your friends, it’s no wonder that you have so few!” Laughter is always to be found. Just the other star-spangled night, Bobby Mac and I loved every minute of Danny Thomas’s new special, and Saint Jude was in the first row, cheering him on.

Claude Monet? He remains a genial fellow and doesn’t mind at all when admirers gather to watch the progress of another masterpiece.

As for the telegram from Wiggins—more about Wiggins in a moment—the dear fellow remains a man of his times, the early nineteen hundreds. I’m sure if I were associated with an up-to-date department, there would be e-mails and texts galore, but my heart belongs to Wiggins’s delightful Department of Good Intentions, which is housed in an old-fashioned train station, a replica of Wiggins’s earthly train station, where he served as stationmaster.

As for my swift arrival upon receipt of the telegram: There are no barriers in Heaven. From there to here is as quick as a thought. Have a yen for a swoop down a snowy mountain? Even better than Vail and no smashups. Or perhaps your taste runs to bird-watching. All God’s creatures have their place. Yes, all those companions we cherished through the years, tabby cats and Labs for us, are here, as loving as the day they departed earth. Sometimes, if you feel that you have a glimpse of Heaven when you see an eagle on the wing or the ineffable grace of a prowling panther or a swirl of monarch butterflies, you are quite right. All the beauty on earth that makes your breath catch and eyes mist is only a foretaste of Heavenly extravagance with color and motion and being. Just this morning I saw an Eastern Rosella, gloriously red and white and gold with touches of green and blue. Look them up the next time you’re in Australia.

I paused to admire Wiggins’s redbrick country station with its wooden platform. Shining silver tracks stretched into the sky. Immediately I was eager to swing aboard the Rescue Express, the train Wiggins dispatches to earth with emissaries to help those in trouble.

I paused near a crystal arch outside the station to gather my thoughts and consider my appearance. The telegram—I fished it from my pocket—seemed somewhat overwrought for steady, resolute Wiggins. I read it again: Bailey Ruth, Dastardly deeds in Adelaide. Come at once. Posthaste. Wiggins urged quiet, behind-the-scenes action by the department’s emissaries. After returning from my last jaunt to earth, he had said rather plaintively, “Becoming visible always leads to complications.” Yet surely my summons meant he appreciated my willingness to assess a situation and do what needed to be done, even if I broke a few rules along the way.

Wiggins is devoted to rules, i.e., the Precepts for Earthly Visitation. I know them now by heart and have no need to carry with me a roll of yellowed parchment with elegant inscriptions. I can recite the Precepts quickly if asked.

I cleared my throat, took a deep breath. I spoke clearly. With resonance. Any former English teacher can always be heard from the last row.

PRECEPTS FOR EARTHLY VISITATION

1. Avoid public notice.

2. Do not consort with other departed spirits.

3. Work behind the scenes without making your presence known.

4. Become visible only when absolutely necessary.

5. Do not succumb to the temptation to confound those who appear to oppose you.

6. Make every effort not to alarm earthly creatures.

7. Information about Heaven is not yours to impart. Simply smile and say, “Time will tell.”

8. Remember always that you are on the earth, not of the earth.

A prefect rendition, if I did think so myself. If I had a moment, I would no doubt delight Wiggins by enunciating each and every Precept. The Precepts were now ingrained in my inner being. That is possibly an exaggeration. Truth to tell, and that is a Heavenly requirement, I often fail to adhere to the Precepts, which makes Wiggins doubt that I am qualified to be a Heavenly emissary. I know Wiggins never questions my intentions. As he’s often told me, “Bailey Ruth, you mean well, but . . .”

I hoped he understood that I not only had the best of intentions, I was admirably serious and devout.

Scratch the last.

I can’t claim saintliness.

Didn’t that better equip me to help those still on earth? Level playing field and all that, one imperfect being aiding another. Though of course, once in Heaven . . . Ah, but I mustn’t violate Precept Seven. I offer my fragmentary descriptions of Heaven only to establish my identity.

In a moment of self-appraisal, I also scratched serious. Unless we were speaking of having a seriously good time. All right, I couldn’t present myself as serious or devout, but I could always cling to good intentions. With that reassurance, I was ready to pop inside the station; then I paused.

Wiggins was not au courant with fashion. I considered my attire, a fetching white linen suit with faint narrow charcoal pinstripes. White is always flattering to redheads. Had I mentioned that I have flaming red hair, curious green eyes, and a spattering of freckles on my face? My age? Well, let’s say I was on the shady side of fifty when the Serendipity went down, but in Heaven you are what you want to be. Twenty-seven was a very happy year for me, so that’s the Bailey Ruth you see. However, perhaps my white suit and white strap sandals were too stylish. I wasn’t as fine as an Eastern Rosella but satisfactory, assuredly satisfactory.

I glanced at my reflection in the crystal.

Flamboyant?

I do not, Heaven forbid, spend time dwelling on how I look.

Well, not much time.

Perhaps I should appear a trifle dowdy when I met with Wiggins, as a counterbalance to shiny flyaway red curls and bright green eyes and bubbly effervescence. I can be restrained. Yes, I can. As for my costume, I’m afraid Wiggins sees pleasure in gorgeous clothing as evidence of intrinsic frivolity. What is life without an appreciation of beauty?

This was not the moment to reinforce his view of me as well-meaning but prone to flouting regulations with wholesale abandon, not with a telegram clutched in my hand. I sighed as my reflection in the crystal swirled from loose red tresses—think Maureen O’Hara—and crisp linen suit to hair drawn back severely in a knot, an undistinguished tan blouse, and, painful though it was, brown twill trousers. I gritted my teeth, added brown ankle boots. I was suffused with a sense of nobility at my sacrifice for the cause.

I hurried toward the station steps, remembering my shy arrival when I’d first come to the Department of Good Intentions to volunteer. At least now I knew I was welcome. A tiny doubt flowered. Wiggins was a welcoming man, but that last adventure—well, surely he knew I’d done the best I could despite huge challenges. It wasn’t my fault that I appeared, and there I was, unable to disappear. But that’s another story.

I was reassured when Wiggins burst through the open doorway. The lack of doors is another lovely aspect of Heaven. All may enter and depart without hindrance.

I beamed at him. “Wiggins, I came at once.”

Wiggins looked just as I’d seen him on my initial visit to the Department of Good Intentions—thick, curly reddish brown hair; genial, broad face beneath a green eyeshade; robust walrus mustache; stiffly starched white shirt with sleeves puffed from black arm garters; heavy black woolen trousers held up by wide suspenders in addition to a broad leather belt; high-top black leather shoes buffed to a gleaming shine.

His first words destroyed any illusion of Wiggins as usual. “Bailey Ruth”—his voice was near despair, his spaniel-sweet brown eyes beseeching—“you’re living proof that appearances can be deceiving.”

I stared in surprise. Had my brown wren ensemble shocked him? Did he instead prefer the more au naturel Bailey Ruth, red curls bouncy, new fashions on display? Happily, I swirled back into my white linen suit with the faint charcoal gray stripes that added cosmopolitan flair and the cunning white sandals. I fluffed my liberated hair.

He stared in return, but I realized he didn’t see me. His eyes looked through me. There was anguish in their brown depths.

I came nearer, touched his arm. My fingers traced through the ethereal Wiggins, yet I sensed a spirit tensed against pain. “Tell me, Wiggins.”

“I shall. I must.” He inclined his head, then, ever the gentleman, stood aside for me to precede him. I led the way to his office. I waited until he settled behind his golden oak desk in a bay window that afforded an excellent view of the waiting room and the station platform and silver tracks winding away into the sky.

He clasped his strong hands together. Words came in disjointed bursts. “. . . disgracing her name . . . can’t abide this . . . although I shouldn’t intervene . . . her choice not to come yet . . . thought she wanted to stay near Charles . . . but he’s here now. . . .” He looked perplexed, then said firmly, “Of course, there’s no time in Heaven. Passage of earthly time is of no importance. Except, of course”—his tone was kind—“to those on earth. I understood she wasn’t ready to come for some reason.” He tugged at one side of his walrus mustache. “She’s brought much happiness these past years. To see the legend of the Rose Lady forever linked to ugliness would break my heart. I know no one can—or should—believe her spirit is behind the occurrences this week, but there is a deliberate effort to connect Lorraine’s roses with vandalism and theft. Yet how can I justify a mission to protect her reputation when there are many people in truly dire straits?” He was clearly in misery.

To say I was bewildered put it mildly, though clearly Wiggins was despondent because someone he cared about was in a pickle. I grappled with the fact that time seemed paramount to him. “No time in Heaven. Certainly not, Wiggins.” I made a huge effort to appear comfortably knowledgeable. Of course there was no time in Heaven. Everyone knew that. Right, and maybe everyone but me understood the concept. In my defense, I never understood how those little pictures got in our TV set when I was on earth. I turned on the TV and there was Lucy. Click a switch and the lightbulb burned. These things happened. Did I need to understand the physics of the phenomena? I am similarly ill equipped to explain the relationship between Heaven and Time. However, the matter seemed of great import to Wiggins. I made soothing noises. “Certainly, Wiggins. Absolutely understandable. No time in Heaven. Absolutely not.”

His glance was pathetically grateful. “You grasp the point. There are those who are drawn to remain and do good. But now . . .” His golden brown eyes filled with dismay. His mustache quivered. “Surely she will see that she must finally depart earth. I can’t approach her directly. I wish I could.” The yearning in his voice touched me. “To speak with her . . . But that would never do. What I need is tact. Empathy. Behind-the-scenes”—sharp emphasis—“exploration to discover the miscreant, bring an end to this dreadful exploitation of her good name.”

Behind the scenes. I was hearty, as if there could be no doubt that I, of all emissaries, would remain behind the scenes. Wiggins has a horror of his emissaries appearing on earth. Regrettably, in the past, I sometimes felt forced to appear. “You can count on me. Behind the scenes.” I admired my resolute tone.

It would be nice to say my words reassured him. Nice, but inaccurate. In fact, he sighed.

“Wiggins, I always try to do the right thing.” I might have sounded a little defensive.

He looked stressed. “If it weren’t Adelaide, I wouldn’t have summoned you.”

Adelaide was my home when I was alive, a lovely small town in the rolling hill country of...

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Other Popular Editions of the Same Title

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ISBN 10:  0425266168 ISBN 13:  9780425266168
Publisher: Berkley, 2015
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