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Authors: Carolyn Hart

Ghost Times Two

BOOK: Ghost Times Two
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Berkley Prime Crime titles by Carolyn Hart

LETTER FROM HOME

WHAT THE CAT SAW

CRY IN THE NIGHT

Death on Demand Mysteries

DEATH COMES SILENTLY

DEAD, WHITE, AND BLUE

DEATH AT THE DOOR

DON'T GO HOME

Bailey Ruth Ghost Mysteries

GHOST GONE WILD

GHOST WANTED

GHOST TO THE RESCUE

GHOST TIMES TWO

BERKLEY PRIME CRIME

Published by Berkley

An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

Copyright © 2016 by Carolyn Hart

Penguin Random House supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin Random House to continue to publish books for every reader.

BERKLEY is a registered trademark and BERKLEY PRIME CRIME and the B colophon are trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Hart, Carolyn G., author.

Title: Ghost times two / Carolyn Hart.

Description: First edition. | New York : Berkley Prime Crime, 2016. | Series:

A Bailey Ruth ghost novel ; 4

Identifiers: LCCN 2016017638 (print) | LCCN 2016024238 (ebook) | ISBN

9780425283738 (hardcover) | ISBN 9780698411531 (ebook)

Subjects: LCSH: Women detectives—Fiction. | Mediums—Fiction. |

Spirits—Fiction. | Murder—Investigation—Fiction. | BISAC: FICTION /

Mystery & Detective / Women Sleuths. | GSAFD: Mystery fiction. | Ghost stories.

Classification: LCC PS3558.A676 G525 2016 (print) | LCC PS3558.A676 (ebook) |

DDC 813/.54—dc23

LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2016017638

First Edition: October 2016

Cover art by Emily Osborne

Cover design by Jason Gill

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.

Version_1

To Jim and Susan Warram with great
affection

Chapter 1

A
bright yellow sheet, eight inches wide, six and one-half inches deep, sprouted in my right hand. Excitement propelled me from a hammock strung between two thirty-foot-tall palms. I luxuriated in the warmth of soft white sand beneath my bare feet. Out in tranquil translucent water Bobby Mac completed a cast from the deck of the
Serendipity
, our cabin cruiser. Perfect beauty on a perfect day.

If that sounds idyllic, Heaven provides every pleasure. Whatever vista we most enjoy, there we are. Steep slopes with fresh snow, a bustling visit to a Heavenly Harrods (oh my, that royal blue body-sculpted sleeveless knit dress), reverie in dappled shade beneath live oak trees. Or perhaps it is conversation you enjoy; Dorothy Parker's wit is always pointed and poignant, Abigail Adams's pithy comments intrigue, Socrates provides gentle queries.

Eagerly I scanned the telegram:
Come soonest. Spectral scandal brewing. Wiggins

I waggled the telegram to catch my husband's attention. Braced against the pull of a fish, Bobby Mac shouted, “Wiggins? Good for you. Have fun.”

A summons from Wiggins. What could be more Heavenly?

Telegram in the age of digital connections? Heavenly? Dorothy Parker? Abigail Adams? Socrates? Wiggins? Perhaps I should explain. If we haven't met before, I am Bailey Ruth Raeburn, late of Adelaide, Oklahoma. Late as in
deceased
. Late as in
dearly departed
. Late ever since Bobby Mac and I went down to the depths when a storm struck the Gulf and sank the
Serendipity
. If contemplating spirits and Heaven makes you uneasy, it isn't my intention to distress you. Unequivocally real are a pump jack's rhythmic chug as it pulls oil to the surface, a moose on a hillside, bacteria in a petri dish. Equally real are gossamer thoughts, the caress of a breeze, the memory of a kiss. From there, the imaginative understand there are dimensions beyond the material world.

That's where I come in. Or from. I am pleased to inform you that I have the honor to serve as an emissary from Heaven's Department of Good Intentions, returning to earth to help someone in trouble.

Do I sense amusement? A dismissal of the possibility of Heaven? Pause, please. Recall an instant when joy suffused you. Perhaps you heard a haunting melody or someone you loved stepped into the room or dawn splashed the sky with red and orange. You've experienced moments of transcendent glory that can never be described or explained. For a quivering, unforgettable instant, you knew beauty in your soul. Well, my dears, that is Heaven.

As for the Department of Good Intentions, come with me.

Travel in Heaven is as quick as the thought. I wished to be at
the Department of Good Intentions. I was there. I walked up a wide path toward a small redbrick country train station, circa 1910. Wiggins, who runs the department, was a stationmaster in life and chose a train station to dispatch Heavenly emissaries to earth.

A gentle breeze stirred my red curls. I knew my freckle-spattered face was alight with happiness. I looked my best in a brightly patterned sarong blouse and white Bermuda shorts. My pace slowed. Wiggins is a fine man, but rather formal. I learned his first name in my most recent visit to earth, but I would never presume to address him as Paul. Wiggins he is and Wiggins he remains, a man of his time in a high-collared white shirt, heavy gray flannel trousers supported by both suspenders and a wide black belt, sturdy black leather shoes. Arm garters puff his shirtsleeves between shoulder and elbow. He wears a stiff dark cap unless seated at his desk, where he dons a green eyeshade. Wiggins is always warm and welcoming, but he has a somewhat unrealistic view—at least to me—of the qualities he expects from the agents he dispatches. He envisions emissaries who excel in decorum and restraint and, of course, modesty in dress.

I do not excel in decorum, restraint, or modesty in dress. Oh fudge. To be absolutely honest—a Heavenly requisite—I have been known to belt out “Come On-a My House” in a loud soprano while tap-dancing in a décolleté spangle-spattered midthigh red chiffon cocktail dress. Heaven encourages us to be the best we ever were, and I am partial to a rollicking twenty-seven, which was a very good year for me. I'm a flaming redhead, narrow face with curious green eyes, freckles, and a willingness to smile.

I looked at my reflection in a crystal column. Were the cerise and crimson in my sarong blouse too much? Wiggins doesn't
understand how the right outfit makes a woman feel on top of the world, which can be quite an aid in a tough situation on earth. I like dramatic colors. I adore short skirts. (Who doesn't have good legs at twenty-seven?) Shoes can be a glorious adventure. I looked down at red leather sandals adorned with delicate white shells.

. . . decorum, modesty, restraint . . .

With a sigh, I watched my image transform in the crystal. As with traveling from one point to another, a change in appearance occurs immediately. Instead of the brightly patterned sarong blouse and Annapolis white shorts (who's cuter than a sailor in bell-bottom whites?), a long, bilious green dress drooped over dull green moccasins. I shuddered. There was a limit. Modest white sandals replaced the moccasins.

I clutched the long skirt, held it aloft, couldn't resist a ruffled white petticoat, and rushed up the path and the steps to the station. I hurried through the waiting room. Travelers of all descriptions occupied the wooden benches: a bearded monk with a staff; a young woman in a WWI Red Cross nurse uniform; a Roman matron; a cowboy in a Stetson, white shirt, black vest, stiff denim trousers, and boots; a flapper in a beaded dress; a farmer in a heavy flannel shirt, coveralls, and earth-stained work boots; a broad-faced, heavyset financier in a Savile Row suit and homburg, hands folded atop a malacca cane.

I passed through the door marked
Station Agent
. Wiggins sat at a sturdy golden oak desk that faced the platform. Through a broad window, he could see shining tracks that wound into the sky. A telegraph sounder rested to the left of a heavy manila folder.

At the sound of my steps, Wiggins swung around in his swivel chair, came to his feet. “Bailey Ruth.” He removed his green
eyeshade. He strode toward me, reddish hair thick and unruly, walrus mustache magnificent, broad face smiling, hands outstretched. “You came at once.”

“Of course.” I resisted the impulse to stand stiffly and salute. There is something about Wiggins . . .

He stopped and looked down at me.

I saw the usual register of emotions he displayed upon my arrival, whether responding to a summons or volunteering my assistance, affection mixed with apprehension, admiration diluted by wariness.

He cleared his throat. “Harrumph.”

Honestly, that's what Wiggins often says,
harrumph
.

I resisted the impulse to serenade him with “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky.” Wiggins takes great pride in the Rescue Express and abhors the term
ghost
. Wiggins insists that those he dispatches are Heavenly emissaries. That's all very well and good, but I know a cabbage when I see a cabbage, a love song when the violins play, and cashmere when I touch it. A spirit returning to earth, even if well intentioned, is a ghost.

“Ghost,” he blurted.

Startled, I blurted in return, “Ghost?” Was he reading my mind? That simply isn't done in Heaven. Private thoughts, though hopefully sacred and not profane, are private thoughts.

He began to pace, broad face furrowed in frustration. “Not acceptable. Irresponsible.” A rueful smile tugged at his generous mouth. “I can't say I don't understand.” He swung toward me. “That's why I sent for you.”

This did not sound promising.

“True love,” he said, his voice gentle, “never ends.” A huge sigh. “You know how I feel about Precept Two.”

I didn't see a connection between true love and Precept Two, but I certainly was well aware of his feelings about Precept Two. I hastened to reassure him, my voice earnest, one hand squarely above my heart. “Far be it from me to ever willingly”—strong emphasis on
willingly
—“consort with another departed spirit.” I saw the modifier as my escape hatch. Of course, I wouldn't willingly collaborate with a departed spirit, but circumstances had been known to alter cases. In effect, a ghost will do what a ghost has to do. To underscore my total dedication to the Precepts, the rules for emissaries on a mission to earth, I stood straight and tall, recited the Precepts in my husky, carrying voice:

P
RECEPTS
FOR
E
ARTHLY
V
ISITATION

  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.

I hoped my dramatic rendition and stalwart posture evoked an image of that hardy horseman galloping from Ghent to Aix. In the spirit of things, I swirled from the dull green dress to a cream turtleneck, tan jodhpurs, and glistening leather riding boots. What a relief.

Wiggins's mustache drooped. “I'm afraid”—his voice sounded as though it emanated from a deep well—“the Precepts—”

I could scarcely hear him.

His eyes stared as if into a gray distance. “—do not apply here. It grieves me to realize that my Precepts, so thoughtfully fashioned, so attuned to every temptation, are to no avail in this instance.” Another heavy sigh. “That's why I summoned you.”

I feared his admission was not a compliment. I decided to look on the bright side. Wiggins needed me. Yee-hah! “Wiggins”—I tried to keep the eagerness out of my voice—“I will do whatever the department commands.”

He jammed a fist into the opposite palm. “That's the spirit.”

For an instant, I was almost sure there was a twinkle in his spaniel brown eyes.

He strode decisively to the slotted rack on the wall near the ticket window, snatched a red ticket, gave it a stamp, and hurried toward me.

A clang of wheels against steel and a throaty whistle of a proud coal-puffing engine announced the imminent arrival of the Rescue Express, thundering down the line.

“Quick.” He thrust the ticket at me. “Do what you can. He's an irrepressible young scamp. He simply must face up to Heaven. No matter how much—”

The scent of coal smoke. Whoo-whoo. I turned and dashed for the platform, thronged now with travelers.

Wiggins's voice carried over the rumbles and roars.

“—he loves her.”

Once I'd asked Wiggins why he didn't send me to Paris. He'd inquired,
How's your French?
I haven't given up hope that someday he may dispatch me to Greenwich Village (I've read about it and I can quote Dorothy Parker) or Vancouver (Bobby Mac and I holidayed there once) or even Tumbulgum (Wiggins left me blessedly unsupervised while dealing with a crisis in that tiny remote outpost in Australia). Until then, between us, I adore returning to Adelaide, where I grew up, fell in love, married, raised a family (daughter, Dil, and son, Rob), worked (English teacher until I flunked a football player and became secretary to the Chamber and oh, what I knew about everyone in town), and lived happily until our last voyage in the
Serendipity
. Adelaide is more prosperous than during my time, but it is still Adelaide, a beautiful small town in the rolling hills of south central Oklahoma. I know Adelaide inside and out and upside and down. I blinked against a glare from lake water as I swung off the caboose. A late-afternoon sun was bright as new copper in the western sky. I know the hot heavy heat of Oklahoma summers. The wise hunker down in air-conditioned offices, homes, or cars. They do not choose to stand in boiling heat on the old wooden pier in Adelaide's White Deer Park.

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