Authors: Tonya Kappes
ust think, this all started because of Santa Claus.
I took a drink of my large Diet Coke Big Gulp that I had picked up from the Buy and Fly gas station on the way over to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery to watch Chicken Teater's body being exhumed from his eternal resting placeâÂonly he was far from restful.
. I sucked up a mouthful of Diet Coke and swallowed.
No, I didn't mean the real jolly guy with the belly shaking like a bowlful of jelly who leaves baby dolls and toy trucks; I meant the plastic light-Âup ornamental kind that people stick in their front yards during Christmas. The particular plastic Santa I was talking about was the one that had fallen off the roof of Artie's Deli and Meat just as I happened to walk under it, knocking me flat out cold.
Santa didn't give me anything but a bump on the head and the gift of seeing ghostsâÂlet me be more specificâÂghosts of people who have been murdered. They called me the Betweener medium, at least that was what the psychic from Lexington told us .Â .Â .
.Â .Â .
.Â .Â . I looked over at Jack Henry.
The Ray Ban sunglasses covered up his big brown eyes, which were the exact same color as a Hershey's chocolate bar. I looked into his eyes. And as with a chocolate bar, once I stared at them, I was a goner. Lost, in fact.
Today I was positive his eyes would be watering from the stench of a casket that had been buried for four yearsâÂalmost four years to the day, now that I thought about it.
Jack Henry, my boyfriend and Sleepy Hollow sheriff, motioned for John Howard Lloyd to drop the claw that was attached to the tractor and begin digging. John Howard, my employee at Eternal Slumber Funeral Home, didn't mind digging up the grave. He dug it four years ago, so why not? He hummed a tune, happily chewingâÂgumming, since he had no teethâÂa piece of straw he had grabbed up off the ground before he took his post behind the tractor controls. If someone who didn't know him came upon John Howard, they'd think he was a serial killer, with his dirty overalls, wiry hair and gummy smile.
The buzz of a moped scooter caused me to look back at the street. There was a crowd that had gathered behind the yellow police line to see what was happening because it wasn't every day someone's body was plucked from its resting place.
“Zula Fae Raines Payne, get back here!” an officer scolded my granny, who didn't pay him any attention. She waved her handkerchief in the air with one hand while she steered her moped right on through the police tape. “This is a crime scene and you aren't allowed over there.”
Granny didn't even wobble but held the moped steady when she snapped right through the yellow tape.
“Woo hoooo, Emma!” Granny hollered, ignoring the officer, who was getting a little too close to her. A black helmet snapped on the side covered the top of her head, giving her plenty of room to sport her large black-Ârimmed sunglasses. She twisted the handle to full throttle. The officer took off at a full sprint to catch up to her. He put his arm out to grab her. “I declare!” Granny jerked her head back. “I'm Zula Raines Payne, the owner of Eternal Slumber, and this is one of my clients!”
“Ma'am, I know who you are. With all due respect, because my momma and pa taught me to respect my eldersâÂand I do respect you, Ms. PayneâÂI can't let you cross that tape. You are going to have to go back behind the line!” He ran behind her and pointed to the yellow tape that she had already zipped through. “This is a crime scene. Need I remind you that you turned over operations of your business to your granddaughter? And only
has the right to be on the other side of the line.”
I curled my head back around to see what Jack Henry and John were doing and pretended the roar of the excavator was drowning out the sounds around me, including those of Granny screaming my name. Plus, I didn't want to get into any sort of argument with Granny, since half the town came out to watch the 7-Â
exhumation, and the Auxiliary women were the first in lineâÂand would be the first to be at the Higher Grounds CafÃ©, eating their scones, drinking their coffee and coming up with all sorts of reasons why we had exhumed the body.
I could hear them now.
Ever since Zula Fae left Emma Lee and Charlotte Rae in charge of Eternal Slumber, it
's gone downhill
, or my personal favorite,
I'm not going to lay my corpse at Eternal Slumber just to have that crazy Emma Lee dig me back up. Especially since she's got a case of the Funeral Trauma.
The “Funeral Trauma.” After the whole Santa incident, I told Doc Clyde I was having some sort of hallucinations and seeing dead people. He said I had been in the funeral business a little too long and seeing corpses all of my life had been traumatic.
Regardless, the officer was half rightâÂme and my sister were in charge of Eternal Slumber. At twenty-Âeight, I had been an undertaker for only three years. But, I had been around the funeral home my whole life. It is the family business, one I didn't want to do until I turned twenty-Âfive years old and decided I better keep the business going.
. Currently, Granny still owned Eternal Slumber, but my sister, Charlotte Rae, and I ran the joint.
My parents completely retired and moved to Florida. Thank God for Skype or I'd never see them. I guess Granny was semi-Âretired. I say semi-Âretired because she put her two cents in when she wanted to. Today she wanted to.
Some family business.
Granny brought the moped to an abrupt stop. She hopped right off and flicked the snap of the strap and pulled the helmet off along with her sunglasses. She hung the helmet on the handlebars and the glasses dangled from the
in her sweater exactly where she wanted it to hangâÂbetween her boobs. Doc Clyde was there and Granny had him on the hook exactly where she wanted to keep him.
Her short flaming-Âred hair looked like it was on fire, with the morning sun beaming down as she used her fingers to spike it up a little more than usual. After all, she knew she had to look good because she was the center of attentionâÂnext to Chicken Teater's exhumed body.
The officer ran up and grabbed the scooter's handle. He knew better than to touch Granny.
“I am sure your momma and pa did bring you up right, but if you don't let me go .Â .Â .” Granny jerked the scooter toward her. She was a true Southern belle and put things in a way that no other woman could. I looked back at them and waved her over. The police officer stepped aside. Granny took her hanky out of her bra and wiped off the officer's shoulder like she was cleaning lint or something. “It was
to meet you.” Granny's voice dripped like sweet honey. She put the hanky back where she had gotten it.
wasn't always a compliment from a Southern gal. Like the gentleman he claimed to be, he took his hat off to Granny and smiled.
She didn't pay him any attention as she bee-Âlined it toward me.
“Hi,” she said in her sweet Southern drawl, waving at everyone around us. She gave a little extra wink toward Doc Clyde. His cheeks rose to a scarlet red. Nervously, he ran his fingers through his thinning hair and pushed it to the side, defining the side part.
Everyone in town knew he had been keeping late hours just for Granny, even though she wasn't a bit sick. God knew what they were doing and I didn't want to know.
Granny pointed her hanky toward Pastor Brown who was there to say a little prayer when the casket was exhumed. Waking the dead wasn't high on anyone's priority list. Granny put the cloth over her mouth and leaning in, she whispered, “Emma Lee, you better have a good reason to be digging up Chicken Teater.”
We both looked at the large concrete chicken gravestone. The small gold plate at the base of the stone statue displayed all of Colonel Chicken Teater's stats with his parting words:
Chicken has left the coop.
“Why don't you go worry about the Inn.” I suggested for her to leave and glanced over at John Howard. He had to be getting close to reaching the casket vault.
Granny gave me the stink eye.
“It was only a suggestion.” I put my hands up in the air as a truce sign.
Granny owned, operated and lived at the only bed-Âand-Âbreakfast in town, the Sleepy Hollow Inn, known as “the Inn” around here. Everyone loved staying at the large mansion, which sat at the foothills of the caverns and caves that made Sleepy Hollow a main attraction in Kentucky .Â .Â . besides horses and University of Kentucky basketball.
Sleepy Hollow was a small tourist town that was low on crime, and that was the way we liked it.
. Whimpers were coming from underneath the large black floppy hat.
Granny and I looked over at Marla Maria Teater, Chicken's wife. She had come dressed to the nines with her black V-Âneck dress hitting her curves in all the right places. The hat covered up the eyes she was dabbing.
Of course, when the police notified her that they had good reason to believe that Chicken didn't die of a serious bout of pneumonia but was murdered, Marla took to her bed as any mourning widower would. She insisted on being here for the exhumation. Jack Henry had warned Marla Maria to keep quiet about why the police were opening up the files on Chicken's death. If there was a murderer on the loose and it got around, it could possibly hurt the economy, and this was Sleepy Hollow's busiest time of the year.
Granny put her arm around Marla and winked at me over Marla's shoulder.
“Now, now. I know it's hard, honey, I've buried a few myself. Granted, I've never had any dug up though.” Granny wasn't lying. She has been twice widowed and I was hoping she'd stay away from marriage a third time. Poor Doc Clyde, you'd have thought he would stay away from her since her track record was .Â .Â . well .Â .Â . deadly. “That's a first in this town.” Granny gave Marla Maria the elbow along with a wink and a click of her tongue.
Maybe the third time was the charm.
“Who is buried here?” Granny let go of Marla and stepped over to the smaller tombstone next to Chicken's.
“Stop!” Jack Henry screamed, waving his hands in the air. “Zula, move!”
Granny looked up and ducked just as John Howard came back for another bite of ground with the claw.
I would hate to have to bury Granny anytime soon.
“Lady Cluckington,” Marla whispered, tilting her head to the side. Using her finger, she dabbed the driest eyes I had ever seen. “Our prize chicken. Well, she isn't dead
I glanced over at her. Her tone caused a little suspicion to stir in my gut.
“She's not a chicken. She's a Spangled Russian Orloff Hen!” Chicken Teater appeared next to his grave. His stone looked small next to his six-Âfoot-Âtwo frame. He ran his hand over the tombstone Granny had asked about. There was a date of birth, but no date of death. “You couldn't stand having another beauty queen in my life!”
“Oh no,” I groaned and took another gulp of my Diet Coke. HeâÂhis ghostâÂwas the last thing that I needed to see this morning.
“Is that sweet tea?” Chicken licked his lips. “I'd give anything to have a big ole sip of sweet tea.” He towered over me. His hair was neatly combed to the right; his red plaid shirt was tucked into his carpenter jeans.
This was the third time I had seen Chicken Teater since his death. It was a shock to the community to hear of a man passing from pneumonia in his early sixties. But that was what the doctors in Lexington said he died of, no questions asked, and his funeral was held at Eternal Slumber.
The first time I had seen Chicken Teater's ghost was after my perilous run-Âin with Santa. I too thought I was a goner, gone to the great beyond .Â .Â . but no .Â .Â . Chicken Teater and Ruthie Sue PayneâÂtheir ghosts anywayâÂstood right next to my hospital bed, eyeballing me. Giving me the onceover as if he was trying to figure out if I was dead or alive. Lucky for him I was alive and seeing him.
Ruthie Sue Payne was a client at Eternal Slumber who couldn't cross over until someone helped her solve her murder. That someone was me. The Betweener.
Since I could see her, talk to her, feel her and hear her, I was the one. Thanks to me, Ruthie's murder was solved and she was now resting peacefully on the other side. Chicken was a different story.
Apparently, Ruthie was as big of a gossip in the afterlife as she was in her earthly life. That was how Chicken Teater knew about me being a Betweener. Evidently, Ruthie was telling everyone about my special gift.
Chicken Teater wouldn't leave me alone until I agreed to investigate his death because he knew he didn't die from pneumonia. He claimed he was poisoned. But who would want to kill a chicken farmer?
Regardless, it took several months of me trying to convince Jack Henry there might be a possibility Chicken Teater was murdered. After some questionable evidence, provided by Chicken Teater, the case was reopened. I didn't understand all the red tape and legal yip-Âyap, but here we stood today.
Now it was time for me to get Chicken Teater to the other side.
“It's not dead yet?” Granny's eyebrows rose in amazement after Marla Maria confirmed there was an empty grave. Granny couldn't get past the fact there was a gravestone for something that wasn't dead.
I was still stuck on “prize chicken.” What was a prize chicken?
A loud thud echoed when John Howard sent the claw down. There was an audible gasp from the crowd. The air was thick with anticipation. What did they think they were going to see?
Suddenly my nerves took a downward dive. What if the coffin opened? Coffin makers guaranteed they lock for eternity after they are sealed, but still, it wouldn't be a good thing for John Howard to pull the coffin up and have Chicken take a tumble next to Lady Cluckington's stone.