Polterheist: An Esther Diamond Novel

BOOK: Polterheist: An Esther Diamond Novel
9.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Raves for the Esther Diamond series:

“Gleeful, clever. . . Sexy interludes raise the tension between Lopez and Esther as she juggles magical assailants, her perennially distracted agent, her meddling mother, and wiseguys both friendly and threatening in a well-crafted, rollicking mystery.”


Publishers Weekly

“Fans of Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series will appreciate this series’ lively heroine and the appealing combination of humor, mystery, and romance.”


Library Journal

“Seasoned by a good measure of humor, this fantasy mystery is a genuine treat for readers of any genre.”


SF Chronicle

“With a wry, tongue-in-cheek style reminiscent of Janet Evanovich, this entertaining tale pokes fun at the deadly serious urban fantasy subgenre while drawing the reader into a fairly well-plotted mystery. The larger-than-life characters are apropos to the theatrical setting, and Esther’s charming, self-deprecating voice makes her an appealingly quirky heroine. The chemistry between Esther and Lopez sizzles, while scenes of slapstick comedy will have the reader laughing out loud and eager for further tales of Esther’s adventures.”


Romantic Times

“Plenty of fun for readers.”

—Locus

“A delightful mélange of amateur sleuth mystery, romance, and urban fantasy.”


The Barnes and Noble Review

“A paranormal screwball comedy adventure. Light, happy, fantastically funny!”

—Jennifer Crusie,
New York Times
bestselling author

Also by Laura Resnick:

DISAPPEARING NIGHTLY

DOPPELGANGSTER

UNSYMPATHETIC MAGIC

VAMPARAZZI

POLTERHEIST

THE MISFORTUNE COOKIE*

*Coming soon from DAW Books

LAURA RESNICK

An Esther Diamond Novel

Copyright © 2012 by Laura Resnick.

All Rights Reserved.

Cover art by Daniel Dos Santos.

Cover design by G-Force Design.

DAW Book Collectors No. 1606.

DAW Books are distributed by Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.

If you purchase this book without a cover you should be aware that this book may have been stolen property and reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher. In such case neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”

The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal, and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage the electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

Nearly all the designs and trade names in this book are registered trademarks. All that are still in commercial use are protected by United States and international trademark law.

ISBN 978-1-101-59737-8

Contents

Praise

Also by Laura Resnick

Title Page

Copyright Page

Dedication

 

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

 

Author’s Note

This book is dedicated to

the memory of my friend

Dick Spelman

1

I
became convinced that something strange was going on at Fenster & Co. when a singing tree tried to strangle me.

Prior to that, I’d had my suspicions, of course. But my attention really got
focused
on the subject when the mechanical arm of a fake tree suddenly twined around me and squeezed like a determined python—while several of the thing’s other limbs violently knocked away anyone who tried to interfere. The real clincher was when the tree’s animated eyes glowed red with demonic fire while it growled in a low, gravelly voice, “Kill . . .
kill . . .
I want flesh! And
blood.”

Okay,
that
was more than just a mechanical malfunction, and no one was going to convince me otherwise—though NYPD’s Detective Lopez, as was his wont, certainly tried.

My name is Esther Diamond, and how I came to be dressed as an elf who never feels the cold, performing musical duets with an animated tree (much
too
animated) in retail hell, is a fairly standard tale of woe in my profession. I was in an Off-Broadway play that closed right before Thanksgiving, and although I’d had several auditions that autumn, I hadn’t been cast in anything.

Meanwhile, Bella Stella, the notorious restaurant in Little Italy where I usually worked as a singing waitress when I was “resting,” was temporarily overstaffed with musical theater students who were home from college for the holidays. So Stella, the owner (and bereaved mistress of Handsome Joey Gambello, who got whacked right there in the restaurant a few years ago), could only offer me a handful of shifts until they all went back to school. Although the wiseguys who ate at Stella’s tipped well, the income from a few scattered shifts wasn’t covering my rent. So when the opportunity arose to work at Fenster’s through Christmas Eve (I use the word “opportunity” in its most abstract sense), I took the job.

Fenster & Co. was a well-known landmark in the competitive retail world of midtown Manhattan. Shopping at this upscale, family-owned department store had long been a tradition for New Yorkers and tourists, and Fenster’s famously extravagant Christmas displays had made the place a mainstay of the season for decades. Generations of kids had visited Santa Claus at Fenster’s. Indeed, generations of them seemed to be present on the day I was homicidally assaulted by a caroling tree.

I was hired late in the season, weeks after jobs like this were usually filled, because my predecessor had stopped coming to work. Actually, a
number
of seasonal staffers and benighted performers had stopped showing up for their shifts. By the end of
my
first shift at Fenster’s, I found the employee exodus easy to understand. The dense crowds shoving and stepping on me, the discomfort of my skimpy costume as December winds whipped through the store via the busy entrances and exits, the long hours on my feet, the fascistic management policies and humorless floor managers, and the seasonal hysteria of holiday shoppers and their overtired children were enough to make
any
sane person stop showing up to work here. But I gritted my teeth and stuck it out because I needed the money. Pluck and dreams don’t pay the rent—especially not in New York City.

On the day of my arboreal asphyxiation, I was industriously working my way through the various duties of my twelve-hour shift (the attrition rate among the seasonal staff ensured that I was able to sign up for quite a few overtime hours).

I started my shift by assisting Santa Claus, who spent every day enthroned on the fourth floor from opening until closing. With thousands of kids per day coming to see him (not all of the children hygienic or calm, and not all of the parents well-behaved), portraying Father Christmas was such a stressful job that we always had two Santas in the store, so they could swap out regularly with each other throughout the shift. Only one Santa at a time was allowed on the floor—out in the public area of the store where people could see him. The “relief” Santa relaxed in the break room while the “floor” Santa listened to Christmas wish lists and posed for photos. Elves kept things running smoothly by ensuring that the relief Santa was ready to start working the moment his counterpart stepped off the floor.

The two-Santa system was also designed to ensure we never had a day like
today
.

The store opened at ten o’clock in the morning, by which time I had donned my costume, left the ladies’ locker room, and was pacing in front of Santa’s empty throne, which was placed prudently near the fire exit and at the very back of Solsticeland—Fenster’s immersive multi-cultural extravaganza, which was erected every year to celebrate (and profit from) the holiday season. It was a true test of stamina for parents to get all the way to this spot, since it involved wending their way, with kids in tow, through a marathon maze of elaborate exhibits and retail displays stocked with every conceivable toy, gadget, and trinket that money could buy. The delights of these items were demonstrated by elves whose job was to convince young children to go tell Santa, loudly and within their parents’ hearing, that
this
was what they wanted for Christmas.

Sure, seeing Santa was free, but there was plenty of
cost
involved.

As usual, despite the considerable distance from Fenster’s main-floor entrances to this section of the fourth floor, and notwithstanding the dense seasonal obstacle course which separated the store’s escalators from the spot where I was standing, eager children and cranky parents descended on me like the Golden Horde only minutes after the store opened for business that day.

First in line was a wide-eyed, pink-cheeked, little blond boy who clung shyly to his mother’s hand. At her nudging, he politely bade me good morning, then asked, “Where’s Santa?”

Good question
, I thought, glancing at the empty throne. Another reason we had a couple of Santas working every shift was so that
this
would never happen. With two dozen children already lining up at the throne within minutes of the store opening, we were currently Santaless.

I gave a meaningful look to Candycane, the other elf assigned here this morning. She nodded and went in search of a Santa.

Assuming that she would be back with one in tow within minutes, I smiled perkily and explained to the gathering throng, using suitably melodramatic tone and gestures, “There was a
big
snowstorm in the North Pole last night. Santa woke up to find his sleigh
buried
in snow! So he’s going to be a little late getting here today. He said to tell everyone he’s very sorry about this. But he’s on his way here right now!”

As more parents and children piled into the area, a father said snappishly, “Santa’s late? He’s
late?
What do you
mean
by ‘late’?”

Ignoring him (I had learned quickly that, whenever possible, this was the best strategy with irate parents at Fenster’s), I asked the little blond boy who’d been the first to arrive, “What’s your name?”

“Jonathan.”

I gasped. “
You’re
Jonathan? Really?” When he nodded, looking startled by my excited reaction, I said, “Oh, Santa especially wants to meet
you.
He told us so when he phoned in to say he’d be late.”

“Santa has a phone?” a little girl asked with interest.

“A smart phone,” I confirmed. “He just loves it.” Then I bent over to tell Jonathan, “Santa said he’d heard you were coming today. He said, ‘Tell everyone I’m sorry I’ll be late—and, please, especially tell Jonathan not to leave before I get there. I really want to meet him!’”

Jonathan’ pink cheeks went bright red with delight. Then, overcome with emotion, he buried his face against his mother’s coat. She patted his back as she smiled at me and said that, in that case, they would certainly wait for Santa.


How
late?” the same irate father demanded. “Five minutes?
Ten?”

“Look! There’s Rudolfo!” I cried out. No, I had no idea why
our
red-nosed reindeer was Italian. He just
was.
“And Twinkle is with him! Yay! We can have a song while we wait for Santa!”

Rudolfo, played by a pudgy middle-aged actor with roving hands, was sort of a giant, fuzzy-brown sock puppet with massive felt antlers. Twinkle, dressed in a traditional red and green elf costume, was an accordion-playing college kid who defied management policy by wearing his glasses when in costume on the floor. He insisted he couldn’t see without them. Judging by their bottle-bottom thickness, I believed him.

My cry of delight had startled the pair as they were passing us on their way to their assigned post elsewhere in the fourth floor’s seasonal wonderland.

“Please, Twinkle and Rudolfo,” I called merrily. “Give us a song while we wait for Santa to arrive! Santa is
late
today due to a snowstorm in the North Pole.”


How
late is he gonna be?” demanded the fuming father. “I don’t have all day for this.”

Rudolfo recognized my problem and shifted course to start working the crowd that was lined up at Santa’s throne. He shook hands, patted cheeks, and posed for pictures while Twinkle, fiddling with his accordion, came over to join me beside the elaborate empty chair.

“Santa’s not here?” Twinkle muttered, peering at me through his thick lenses. “He’ll catch H-E-double-hockey-sticks for this. Whose shift is it, anyhow?”

“Moody Santa, I think,” I said.

This being a short-term job, and all of us in costume for it, we mostly knew each other by our floor names: Twinkle, Candycane, Rudolfo, and so on. To differentiate between the half-dozen Santas on staff, we used descriptive monikers: Moody Santa was a morose new graduate of the Yale School of Drama who hadn’t expected
this
to be his first professional job as an actor; Wheezy Santa suffered from allergies; Diversity Santa was my friend (and, years earlier, had been my boyfriend), an African-American actor named Jeff Clark who’d been hired recently to replace Giggly Santa after he stopped coming to work.

“Who else is scheduled for this morning?” asked Twinkle. “Where’s the back-up Santa?”

“I don’t know.”

With two Santas assigned to the shift, why wasn’t one of them here? Why hadn’t Candycane come back yet—either with a Santa or with an explanation? I figured Santa was at least ten minutes late now (this was a guess, since elves didn’t wear wristwatches). Fenster’s was inflexible about its punctuality rules for employees. And with a growing crowd of excited children and restless parents around me, I feared that Santa’s tardiness could prove to be life-threatening for an innocent elf who was just trying to earn some honest overtime wages.

The bell on the end of Twinkle’s red stocking cap jingled noisily as he said to me, while bobbing his head emphatically, “You
know
they’ll dock Moody Santa’s pay for this. He won’t like that
.
Really needs the money. Student loans, dontcha know. Yale Drama ain’t cheap.” He snickered.

“Yeah, whereas you and I dress like elves for love alone,” I said. “Come on, play something, Twinkle.”

When he started playing Handel’s “Messiah,” I gave him a sharp enough nudge to unbalance him, which halted the music on an off-key wail of accordion chords.

“Something the kids can join in singing,” I clarified. “How about ‘Deck the Halls’?”

Twinkle rolled his eyes but complied. I started singing, and Rudolfo joined me in leading the children in several verses. Then we sang “Jingle Bells” (I accompanied the accordion by rhythmically shaking the bells on my festive boots), “Frosty the Snowman,” and—of course—“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” During this rendition of his signature tune, our fuzzy companion mimed and hammed it up shamelessly. It kept the kids entertained, so I was in favor of it—until Rudolfo used the song as an excuse to embrace me from behind, his reindeer-clad hands clasped over my breasts. Under the guise of doing a little two-step dance, I stomped hard on Rudolfo’s hoof and kept on singing as he staggered away.

As soon as the song ended, I could hear a toddler crying, a child whining about wanting to see Santa
right now,
and a couple of mothers complaining about the wait.

“Where’s Santa?” a child demanded.

“Yeah, where
is
Santa?”

“How about another song?” I said brightly.

“No! I want Santa!”

“Where’s Santa?” a high-pitched voice shrieked somewhere at the back of the still-growing line.
“You said Santa was here!”

Jonathan, still clinging to his mother’s hand, piped up, “Santa is coming! He’ll be here soon. He’s coming to see
me.”

That kid deserved to get every single thing on his Christmas list this year.

“Jonathan is absolutely right,” I assured the seething throng. “Santa will be here any minute. He’s so excited about meeting all of you! Especially Jonathan, who Santa heard has been a very good—and very
patient
—boy this year.”

“I’ve got shopping to do!”

“I want my money back!”


What
money?” said another parent. “This is free.”

“And it damn well
should
be, since there’s no Santa!”

“I want Santa!”

“Where is Santa?”

“I WANT SANTA!”

Under my costume, a drop of cold sweat trickled down my back. I recalled the advice imparted during my training:
Never let them sense fear. These Christmas crowds will descend like a pack of ravening wolves if you reveal any weakness.

I took a steadying breath and glanced at Twinkle. His forehead was shiny with sweat now as he stared glassy-eyed at the restless masses Rudolfo was trying to humor and soothe. I nudged the elf, who flinched violently in startled reaction, making his pointy ears bobble.

“Another song,” I urged.

“No, it’ll never work,” he said, his voice cracking with fear. “We’ve got to retreat.
Now.”

“No!” I said. “We hold the line.”

“But what if—”

“We hold the line,” I repeated firmly. “Now play a jolly song, damn you!”

By the time we finished “Good King Wenceslas,” it was clear we were on the verge of disaster. More children were crying and whining, parents were bickering shrilly, and even young Jonathan was starting to look unhappy.

BOOK: Polterheist: An Esther Diamond Novel
9.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Destiny's Embrace by Beverly Jenkins
Archangel of Sedona by Tony Peluso
Leftovers by Stella Newman
Being Emily by Gold, Rachel
A Real Pickle by Jessica Beck
Ahead of the Darkness by Simone Nicole
I Run to You by Eve Asbury
The Sword of Fate by Dennis Wheatley