Read Ding Dong Dead Online

Authors: Deb Baker

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths, #Large Type Books, #Mystery Fiction, #Murder, #Crime, #Investigation, #Murder - Investigation, #Birch; Gretchen (Fictitious Character), #Dolls, #Dolls - Collectors and Collecting, #Collectors and Collecting

Ding Dong Dead (6 page)

BOOK: Ding Dong Dead
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Matt comes back into the room with two cups of coffee. He’s nothing at all like his chatty mother, Bonnie. He’s secretive and cautious.
The detective sits across from her at the scarred table in the shabby room with tired furniture and bad lighting. A manila file folder lies between them.
“How did she die?” Caroline asks, the word tumbling out beyond her control.
Matt doesn’t answer her question. “You don’t have to do this, you know?” he says, but she can tell that he’s eager for anything that might assist him in his search.
They have the same strong sense of justice.
“What if I’m right?” she says. “You need to know as quickly as possible to catch whoever did this.”
“What if you’re wrong? Either way, it isn’t necessary that you be the one to identify her. Give me a name and I’ll track down the family. It will be easy to find out if it’s the woman you think it is. Just give me a name.”
Caroline shakes her head. “I don’t want to be responsible for an incorrect identification. I don’t want to intrude on the wrong family’s life. Please, it’s important to me to make sure.” She glances up at the mirror. “I’ve never done this before, identified someone.”
“It takes some getting used to.”
“Will we go into the morgue?”
Matt grins, but not with his eyes. “No. I have pictures.”
She wants to take a sip of her coffee from the foam cup he has placed in front of her, but she knows that her hand will shake. That’s the tip-off. She might look calm on the outside, but the way she handles a coffee cup will reveal the opposite. Hers would slosh back and forth. She’d spill it.
“I need to know how she died,” Caroline says again, her eyes flicking to a file lying on the table between them, wondering why the cause of death is so important to her.
After all, dead is dead.
“Blows to the back of the head,” Matt says. “With a blunt instrument.”
Visions of a raised hammer, a clenched fist, the descent.
Why did I even ask?
He opens the file, withdraws what is obviously a stack of photographs, holds them so she can see only the back side, like a folded hand of cards in a poker game.
“I’d like to see the doll again,” Caroline says, stalling for time. She sees Matt shudder and says quickly, “A picture, I meant. You must have one.”
Not much gets through this tough detective’s steely coat of manly armor, but Caroline knows Matt’s embarrassing secret: he suffers from a condition known as pediophobia. In layman’s terms, he is afraid of dolls. Caroline has witnessed the panic attacks, seen him work up an unnatural sweat, watched him struggle to breathe normally whenever he came into viewing range of any kind of doll.
He sorts through the file and hands a photo to her.
Caroline stares at the fairy doll, even more sure of her suspicions.
Matt busies himself by placing another picture on the table, facedown. Selects another. He returns the others to the file folder and picks up the remaining ones. “Ready?” he says.
Caroline doesn’t answer immediately.
Then she nods.
9
“A ghost?” Bonnie said, sitting on the edge of the stage and fussing with her handlebar mustache. “What that woman won’t think of next.”
“She’s off to the historical society to go through records,” Gretchen said. “She’s hoping something will turn up in the history of the house to explain its ghostly activity.”
April, surrounded by yards of billowing pink material, paused in the act of threading a needle. She glanced over the top of her reading glasses. “She wants all of us to stay away from the museum.”
“That’s not going to happen.” Gretchen watched the amateur seamstress sew a ball gown for the six-foot Barbie mannequin. April spent more time ripping out and redoing than moving forward.
“Hope Nina’s close encounter doesn’t come back to ‘haunt’ us,” April said, giggling.
Bonnie put on the man’s wig over her own red one. “Nina should hire a ghost hunter to track it down and eliminate it,” she said.
Gretchen’s cell phone rang.
Finally!
“I’m out of jail,” Daisy said from the other end of the line. “They got around to questioning me early this morning. I’m free, but I need a place to stay tonight. They won’t release my things to me yet.”
The homeless woman could live without shelter, but take her shopping cart filled with junk and she didn’t know what to do.
“Of course, you’re always welcome at our house.” More than she knew. One of these days, Gretchen hoped to permanently convert the homeless woman. So far, though, Daisy hadn’t stayed more than a night or two. Then she’d vanished, only to reappear back on the street. Maybe this would be the time she stayed and turned her life around. “Where’s Nacho?” Gretchen asked.
“I haven’t seen him or any of the other men yet, but he’ll come around sooner or later. I’m not worried about him.” Daisy, usually in a delusional state, sounded amazingly lucid.
“What happened in the cemetery, Daisy?”
“We don’t get involved. You know that. All I can say is that we’d have been long gone if we suspected that kind of trouble.”
“You didn’t see anything? Hear anything?”
“I don’t get involved,” the homeless woman insisted. “Catch you later.”
And Daisy disconnected.
“Five minutes,” Gretchen called out to the cast. “And we’ll take it from the top.”
“Get the pistol,” she heard Bonnie say. “We’re going to do us some shooting.”
Gretchen worked with the cast all afternoon, going over the second act, the act when Doris was about to find out that all the women in the room had dallied with her husband. Bonnie flubbed one line after another. Julie ran interference, displaying a level of peacekeeping skills that Gretchen wished she had.
In the corner of the room, April busied herself with her sewing project. The rat-a-tat of the sewing machine caused a brief flare-up among the doll club members that was extinguished when April agreed to wait until rehearsal was over to run it again. Instead, she fitted her creation on the enormous doll, sticking pins here and there. Gretchen noticed that one sleeve was much shorter than the other.
Halfway through the second act, Gretchen remembered an important detail. “When is Karen coming to work on the lighting? Isn’t she the one who offered?”
“She
was
going to do it,” April said through a mouthful of pins, “but she’s babysitting for her granddaughter the weekend of the performance. She can’t help.”
“When were you going to tell me?”
“I forgot.”
“Can you work them?” Gretchen didn’t have much choice. She’d take anybody she could get.
“I’m way too busy with the museum and my sewing project.”
“But you have to.”
“I don’t know anything about lights, and I refuse to be bullied into it.”
From the look on April’s face, she wasn’t going to budge from her position behind the sewing machine.
One more thing for Gretchen to take care of.
The afternoon went quickly, not exactly without hitches, but at least Julie fired the murder weapon at the right moment and Bonnie’s mustache stayed attached to her face when she hit the floor. It was a statement about the cast that Gretchen was thankful for such small things. At four o’clock Nina hustled in, led by Tutu, who pranced along on her pink leash.
“Find out anything about the ghost?” Gretchen asked.
“I’m pointed in the right direction. Where is he?”
“Uh . . . where’s who?”
“Brandon’s picking me up here. I absolutely love that man, hair the color of wheat and green brooding eyes that speak of depth and danger.”
“Oh, brother,” April said.
Nina had been casually dating a Scottsdale detective, Brandon Kline, who was a good friend of Matt’s. Brandon and Nina were made from the same cloth. He encouraged her when she went off on one of her New Age tangents.
“I haven’t seen him,” Gretchen said.
“I’ll help you direct until he arrives.” Nina swept toward the stage. The cast members saw her charging and were more nimble than usual in their race for the break room.
Gretchen had to think of a distraction quickly to keep Nina busy until her man arrived. “What’s the story with the ghost? You didn’t tell me what you found out.”
April tee-heed.
“Are you smirking?” Nina confronted April.
“Nope,” said April, bending over the sewing machine, making it roar to life.
Nina took a seat in Gretchen’s director’s chair. “I found a picture of the family that lived in the house in the early 1920s. Spanish Colonial Revival architecture dates back to around that time, so the family must have built the home. The owner’s name was John Swilling, and, get this, he had a daughter.”
April stopped the machine. “Well, that’s it then,” she said. “Either John or his daughter is the ghost.”
Gretchen couldn’t tell whether April was seriously considering the problem or subtly mocking the idea. Nina suspected hidden sarcasm and scowled at her.
“Go on,” Gretchen said.
“Flora was the girl’s name,” Nina continued. “I found a sepia photograph of her. Flora must have been about ten years old at the time the picture was taken—it shows her holding a doll in her arms. And there’s more.”
“Do tell,” April said.
Another scowl before Nina addressed Gretchen, completely ignoring April. “That doll’s travel trunk is in the picture. I could even see some of the travel stickers.”
She waited for a response.
“Is that important?” Gretchen asked, suspecting full well that it was. She couldn’t put her finger on the reason, but something about the trunk intrigued her. She’d like to get another look at it.
“Don’t you see?” Nina said, impatient with her. “Flora Swilling is our ghost! Something happened to her inside the house, and I’m going to find out what it was. And I suspect that it’s equally crucial to locate the doll she’s holding in the photograph.”
“Why would we have to find the doll?”
“Flora could be haunting the house because she can’t find it. Once the doll is reunited with the travel trunk, she might be able to rest in peace.”
“The doll will rest in peace?” April asked.
“No! Flora.”
“What does the doll look like?” Gretchen asked.
Nina slapped her head. “I forgot the copy of the picture. I stopped home and changed purses. I left it in the other one.”
Gretchen mentally pictured the pile of repair work and play notes on her desk and wished she could help with the ghost hunting or arrange displays at the museum instead. She had been coerced into taking the most detailed and frustrating job. “Nina,” she said, “I don’t have time to help you with your search. In a few weeks, after the show, I’ll be available, if you can wait that long. Right now I have to focus on the rehearsals.”
“And you should.” Nina gave her a look of compassion. “I’m going to take some of that responsibility so you don’t have to take it on alone. You’re absolutely right; the ghost has been haunting the house for over one hundred years. A few more weeks won’t matter.”
Oh, no. Nina was back. “I didn’t mean
you
should stop,” Gretchen stammered, trying to rectify her mistake. “Bonnie thinks you should hire a ghost buster, and I agree completely.”
“Really? She thinks that, does she?” Nina raised an eyebrow and straightened her shoulders. “If Bonnie and the rest of the cast would ever get done with their snack break, I’d tell her that I’m going to make a great ghost hunter. This job,” she said, “I can handle myself.”
With a great show of dignity, Nina sauntered toward the doorway to meet her date.
Nina,
Gretchen thought with a sense of accomplishment,
will be gone for the duration of the rehearsals
.
10
“Where were you all day?” Gretchen asked her mother from a lounge chair near the pool. After spending hours on her feet, it felt good to get off them. She appreciated all the months of the year they could sit outside as they were now. Arizona living had its advantages. Nimrod slept on her lap after a busy day of socializing at doggy day care.
Caroline sat down beside her. “I ran errands and dropped off completed projects. The business still needs some attention, if we don’t want to lose customers. Work is piling up. I’ll be glad when this project is over, and we can get back to our usual routine.”
Her mother looked tired, pale, and anxious. With everything she had going—her work as an author, touring and promotion, the doll repair business, and now the museum restoration—no wonder she looked exhausted.
Wobbles purred next to Gretchen while staring intensely at the sleeping Nimrod, always on the alert for unwanted attention. He never let down his guard. The teacup poodle loved Wobbles, but the sentiment wasn’t returned, although Wobbles did tolerate the energetic puppy. Tutu was another story altogether. Wobbles and Tutu defined the phrase
fighting like cats and dogs
.
“Daisy’s staying with us tonight,” Gretchen said. “She’s freshening up in the spare bedroom.”
“Wonderful. I’ve missed her company.”
“She said she has important news but wanted to wait until we were both together before announcing it. Something special, she says, and she’s very excited.”
“My ears were ringing.” Daisy came outside, all radiant and scrubbed, wearing a terry robe from the closet. Gretchen had gone out of her way to stock the spare room with luxuries to lure their occasional guest. “Hey, doggie.” She scooped up Nimrod.
The homeless woman had an affinity with animals. Even Tutu loved her.
“Sit down and tell us your news,” Caroline said.
“First tell me about the museum. How is it coming along? When will it open?”
“We’ve only begun,” Caroline said. “But I’m thrilled with the results so far.”
“I wish I could say the same about the fundraiser,” Gretchen added. “Today I learned that we don’t have anyone to handle lights. But I’ll figure out something.” She patted the seat of the lounge chair next to her. “Sit down and tell all.”
BOOK: Ding Dong Dead
3.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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