A Spirited Tail
Hampered by the persistent ghost who insists on keeping secrets from her, Willa navigates a sea of confusing clues as she struggles to uncover the connection between the recent murder and two murders fifty years ago.
Is the answer contained in the secret she found in the library? Or the unusual bequest left by the long-dead owner of the house? Or maybe it has something to do with the mysterious journal that everyone seems to be after.
Once again, Willa's cat Pandora has to help her figure out the clues, while she and the other cats of Mystic Notch try to keep vital mystical knowledge from getting into the wrong hands.
Can Willa discover the identity of the killer in time or will she end up being the fourth victim?
Release date: July 31, 2014
Print pages: 348
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
A Spirited Tail
One of my favorite things about living in the White Mountains of New Hampshire is the fresh, clean smell after a summer rain shower. Up until this morning, I didn't think there was anything that could ruin that smell. But now I knew better. There was one thing … the stench of a dead body.
I covered my nose with my hand and tried to tear my eyes away from the body, which was difficult given the unusual graffiti on its forehead. There were actually two bodies lying in the grass, but thankfully, only one of them was dead. The other was real estate agent Ophelia Withington, whose eyes had rolled up into their sockets shortly before she fainted after her brain came to grips with the fact that there was a dead body in the backyard of the old, abandoned mansion she was about to list for sale.
"Ophelia!" I squatted down, feeling a slight sting in my left leg—a reminder of the near-fatal accident over a year ago that was one of the catalysts for my move back to my home town of Mystic Notch. The accident had left me with a slight limp, a bunch of scars and a few odd side effects I didn’t like to dwell on.
Pushing away the wet blades of grass that tickled my nose, I roughly shook Ophelia’s shoulder.
She moaned, then rolled her head and squinted one blue eye up at me. "What happened?"
She scrunched her perfectly made-up face, then her eyes went wide. She covered her nose and swiveled her head toward the body. "Is he …?"
She scrambled up and away from the body. Her face took on a greenish tinge as she turned away, then bent over to serenade me with loud retching noises.
I pinched my nose closed and tried to focus on controlling my own gag reflex. A whining sound tugged my attention away from Ophelia and I looked across the body at the Golden Retriever who sat patiently beside it.
My heart tugged when my gaze met the wounded, brown eyes of the dog, which obviously belonged to the dead guy. The Golden's mournful whining had caused us to investigate the side area of the house in the first place. If it hadn’t been for him, Ophelia and I would have simply gone about our business inside the dilapidated mansion, never knowing someone was lying dead outside.
Glancing at the bent-over real estate agent, I felt a twinge of regret at offering to help her appraise the book collection inside the house.
I wasn’t actually sure why I had offered to help. The collection had been locked away in the house for fifty years and was reputed to include many rare volumes. I guess my love of books had been the reason rather than any kind of friendship I had with Ophelia. Because I wouldn’t actually categorize us as ‘friends’.
In fact, I hadn’t even liked the overzealous real estate agent much at all when I'd first moved back to Mystic Notch to live in the large antique Victorian home I’d inherited from my grandmother. Ophelia seemed hell-bent on persuading me to sell it—through her real estate agency, of course—and she was annoyingly aggressive about it.
Much to her dismay, I had no intention of selling Gram’s house, and up until this past spring our relationship could best be described as adversarial. She’d been mean, shrewd, and money-hungry back then, but I had to admit she’d changed a lot since being the prime suspect in the death of our town librarian—whose body I’d also discovered.
I wouldn’t say we were best buddies now, but she had done a few things to redeem herself in my eyes and I found her to be more tolerable than before.
And now here we were, discovering a dead body together.
Another whine pulled my attention back to the situation at hand. I stood and walked closer to the dog, holding my hand out for him to sniff. "Hey, buddy. Are you friendly?"
The dog glanced down at the body and then up at me, as if realizing his old master had departed and was sizing me up as a replacement. I guess I didn’t pass muster because he didn’t move a muscle.
"Okay, suit yourself."
I brushed off my jeans and waded through the overgrown grass toward Ophelia. The extra exertion of trying to navigate through the grass made my limp more pronounced. Ophelia was no longer retching. She stood before me, her usually perfectly coiffed blonde hair sticking up from the top of her head like the crest of a bird. I bit back a laugh. I didn’t think she was going to be too happy the next time she looked in the mirror.
She nodded. "Who is that?"
"I was hoping you knew."
She shook her head, then gestured toward the body. "And what’s wrong with his forehead?"
It was bad enough to stumble across a dead body first thing in the morning, but this one had a strange mark on his forehead. It looked like a triangle with a dot in the middle and it almost seemed to be glowing in the early morning sunlight.
Why would someone do that?
"Do you think it’s some kind of cult?" Ophelia’s eyes darted wildly toward the woods.
"I don’t know. Do we have any cults around here?"
Ophelia shrugged, and I turned her away from the body and toward the front of the house, glancing backwards at the dog who didn’t seem to be in any hurry to leave his post.
"Let’s go out front and call Gus," I said, referring to my sister, Augusta, the town Sheriff.
I led the way to the front of the house, eager to escape the stench emanating from the body and the buzz of flies that had already discovered it. It had stopped raining and the sun had made an appearance, but my legs were soaked from brushing against the tall, wet grass.
The front yard was mostly dirt and weeds, a sharp contrast to the field that had taken over the side and back of the house. I perched on the granite step that led to the porch and went through the motions of inspecting my legs for ticks, congratulating myself for having the good sense to wear long jeans and tuck them into my socks before venturing into the grass.
Even though I’d been a city dweller down in Massachusetts for most of my adult life, I’d grown up here in the White Mountains, and my eyes were still trained to pick out those small brown pests, so it didn’t take long for me to give myself the once-over.
"What are you doing?" Ophelia eyed my gyrations as I twisted around to get a look at the back of my legs.
"Looking for ticks. The grass is probably loaded with them."
Ophelia made a strangled squeak and I glanced over to see a horrified look on her face as she darted her eyes around her beige linen suit and stabbed her fingers into her hair. I grimaced, remembering how she’d been lying on the ground. No one wanted ticks in their hair.
"Do I have any on me?" Her lip quivered, her face turned pale and I was afraid she’d pass out again.
"I’ll check for you while I call Gus." I dug the cell phone out of my pocket and checked for a signal. Reception could be spotty up here in the mountains, but I was in luck. I punched in Gus’s number and started my inspection.
"Don’t mess up my hair," Ophelia commanded as I listened to the phone ringing. I didn’t want to tell her it was already pretty messed up.
"Wilhelmina? This had better be an emergency." Gus’s voice bellowed over the phone. I cringed at the use of the long version of my first name. She always used that when she was mad. Normally, she just called me ‘Willa’ like everyone else had for the past forty-eight years.
"Well, it’s not exactly an emergency anymore …" I plucked a tick off the hem of Ophelia’s skirt.
"There’s a dead guy up at the Van Dorn house."
"You found another one?" I could practically hear Gus rolling her eyes. Earlier in the summer, I’d stumbled across the body of the town librarian murdered in the library, and Gus hadn’t been pleased. I wasn’t sure why she got so upset with me; it wasn’t like I found these bodies on purpose.
"Who is it?"
"I’m not sure. It’s hard to tell because he’s been … umm … defaced."
"Yeah, he has a symbol on his forehead. Not sure how to explain it—you kind of have to see it for yourself."
"Oh, for crying out loud, we’ll be right there." Gus’s voice turned stern, like our mother’s when we were kids. "Don’t leave and don’t touch anything."
She snapped the phone shut without even saying good-bye.
I had to laugh at her warning. I knew enough not to touch anything, but Gus was probably thinking I’d be snooping around, trying to get involved in the case. I could hardly blame her, though. I did have a habit of getting involved in solving crimes. I supposed it had to do with my previous career as a crime reporter. Sometimes I just couldn’t help but get involved … and sometimes I didn’t have much choice.
"You’re all set." I gestured at Ophelia’s outfit.
"You didn’t find any on me?"
"Nope," I lied. I’d found four, but since they were just crawling around and not feasting, I’d simply flicked them off. I figured she was better off not knowing that.
"I suppose we need to wait outside." Ophelia glanced at the weather-beaten door and worn wooden floor of the front porch.
I nodded, knowing that Gus wouldn’t take kindly to us venturing inside until she’d been able to check things out herself.
Ophelia shrugged, brushed off a spot on the top step and sat down. Feeling worried about the dog, I strolled over to the side of the house and peeked out back. My heart squeezed at the sight of him, still sitting in the same spot, guarding his master.
"I hope there won’t be a problem with the dog when the police come," I said as I eyed the porch. Years of neglect had taken their toll and the once-grand area now boasted rotting boards, loose railings and missing columns.
I brushed at a section of the top step carefully, so as not to jab my hand with the splintering wood, and plopped down beside Ophelia, wincing at the pain in my left leg.
"Me, too," Ophelia said. "I’m sure they have ways of handling it."
"Maybe." I wasn’t so sure they did and I was already feeling responsible for the dog.
"I hope this won’t impede the selling of the house." Ophelia brushed some dirt off her skirt. It was just like her to be thinking about her bottom line instead of about the dead guy in the back.
"So, what’s the deal with this house, anyway?" I asked. I could see it was probably a hundred years old, but I knew it had been abandoned for decades. I had vague memories of rumors of it being haunted when I was a kid, but couldn’t remember exactly why.
"Oh, it was the victim of a family squabble, I guess. The owner died a long time ago and didn’t have any heirs. Left the house to his two brothers, who couldn’t agree on selling terms. So, it sat all this time. I guess the last brother finally died and the house passed to the nephew. He contacted me to see if I could sell the house and its contents. Honestly, it’s in pretty bad shape from the looks of things out here. I don’t know if it’s worth trying to find a buyer." Ophelia waved her hand at it dismissively.
I glanced back at the house with its crooked, paint-peeling shutters and weather-beaten wood door. A few bricks were missing here and there, but otherwise, the brick facing was in good condition. Many of the windows had been boarded up and the old, wavy glass on the ones that hadn’t been were caked with dirt. You could barely see inside … except for one window at the end of the porch where a frantic movement caught my eye.
My stomach tightened.
I hope that isn’t what I think it is.
"What is it?" Ophelia looked at me curiously.
I jerked my head to face forward. "Oh, nothing."
But I couldn’t help myself. A few seconds later, I was looking at the window again out of the corner of my eye. I saw the same misty, swirly motion I had before. I squinted, alarm spreading in my chest as I realized what was in there.
It was as I had feared—there was a ghost in the house and it wanted to talk to me.
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...