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Authors: Cate Culpepper

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A Question of Ghosts

BOOK: A Question of Ghosts
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Becca Healy always believed she understood the shameful circumstances of her mother’s death—until the night her mother’s spirit whispers a simple message out of the static of a radio: “Not true.” Becca turns to the terse Dr. Joanne Call, an expert in Electronic Voice Phenomenon—ghost voices—to unravel the mystery of this decades-old tragedy. Joanne can coax messages out of the silence of the grave, but coping with this feisty, emotional Healy person might be completely beyond her. Together, Becca and Jo must tackle childhood grief, a serial killer, Xena withdrawal, and a growing attraction between the two most mismatched women in Seattle.

A Question of Ghosts

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A Question of Ghosts

© 2012 By Cate Culpepper. All Rights Reserved.

ISBN 13: 978-1-60282-713-4

This Electronic Book is published by

Bold Strokes Books, Inc.

P.O. Box 249

Valley Falls, New York 12185

First Edition: July 2012

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.


Editor: Cindy Cresap

Production Design: Susan Ramundo

Cover Design By Sheri ([email protected])

Cover Photo by Jay Csokmay

By the Author


The Tristaine Series:

Tristaine: The Clinic

Battle for Tristaine

Tristaine Rises

Queens of Tristaine


River Walker

A Question of Ghosts



As always, warm appreciation to my Bold Strokes Books editor, Cindy Cresap. I also thank Cindy for forbidding my use of the term
in the
do not exist outside of a certain television series

My faithful long-time betas, Connie Ward and Gill McKnight, gave me their usual insightful feedback and personal support, and crucial kick-ass reminders to just cowboy up and type.

A smack to the bicep of my beta and sister scribe, Jove Belle, who nailed Jo’s diagnosis at first reading of Chapter One. I’m also grateful for the keen legal advice of that talented writer and attorney, Carsen Taite. Sheri did a wonderful job realizing the ghostly themes of this story in her cover design. Warm thanks to Julie Lundquist at Lakeview Cemetery, and to Lynn Brawley-Birkwist and her kin for allowing an image of the statue that graces their family plot to appear on this cover.

I freely acknowledge that in the writing of this story, I took liberties with the nature of Electronic Voice Phenomenon, the function of the Spiricom, the geography of Seattle, the topography of Lake View Cemetery, the layouts of Swedish Hospital Hospice and Western State Hospital, and the exact position of entire mountain ranges. Please cowboy up and read.



For John William Voakes, with thanks for lending me a name worthy of a serial killer, and for our good amiga Terri Mervenne, who would fit in beautifully in Tristaine.

Also for William Spillsbury Hayes, who still owes me a dance I’ll collect someday.

“Psychoanalysis has taught that the dead—a dead parent, for example—can be more alive for us, more powerful, more scary, than the living. It is the question of ghosts.”

—Jacques Derrida





The voice from the radio’s small speaker was tinny and faint.

Becca’s finger stilled on the circular dial. Bette Midler warbled briefly about the wind beneath her wings and the music faded again into static. Becca nudged the dial one notch, and “The Living Years” trickled from the speaker. She turned the dial back to the static.


A damp chill worked up Becca’s back and she hunched closer over the small blue box. “Is this a birthday present?” she whispered. “Hello?”

She turned sixteen today, and she hadn’t heard this voice in eleven years.

Not true
,” the voice whispered and fell silent.

Becca closed her eyes and listened. Nothing but soft, crackling static for a full minute, two.

After five minutes, she sat up and looked around, dazed. Her bedroom hadn’t changed. Weak light still played through the butt-ugly frilly curtains she would never have picked out. A faint aroma of chocolate reached her from the birthday cake her aunt was baking downstairs. Becca realized she was trembling.

She crossed her legs on the worn bedspread and clawed her fingers through her hair. Her belly bulged a bit between the waist of her denim shorts and her cutoff T-shirt. Only one piece of cake tonight, she resolved, a small one. A faint yelp of laughter escaped her, but it sounded like a sob. Her dead mother had just spoken to her, and she was thinking of her

The voice was unmistakable. Becca had last heard it when she was five years old, a knobby-kneed, doll-clutching kindergartener, but it could be no one else. There was a faint, familiar bell of music in a mother’s voice when she spoke her child’s name, and Becca had recognized that private chime in those few words.

It occurred to her that no emotion had really hit her yet, unless astonishment was an emotion. Which was probably odd. She should be feeling something. She realized the walls of her room looked fuzzy because of the tears in her eyes.

Her mother had died the night Becca turned five. This loss had for so long been the dominant historical fact of her life, its resonance had begun to fade. She didn’t really remember her mother’s face anymore. She no longer prayed to her as if she were an angel, as she had for years. No one forced her into counseling these days, as her uncle and aunt had for months after it happened.

“Becca?” her aunt called her from the foot of the stairs. “I’m going to need your help cleaning this place up. The board meeting’s at eight, but I’ll get as much done as I can before I take off. That was Marty on the phone. She and Khadijah will be here in half an hour, so you…”

Becca tuned her out. She listened to the static still issuing from the small radio’s speaker, as empty and meaningless now as the winter fog over Puget Sound. She bent down and wormed her hand under the mattress, then drew out the small baggie holding the syringe.

“Happy birthday to me,” she said. “I guess.”

Not true.

Chapter One


Twenty-three years later


“Jeezis God, the Hill has changed.” Marty crammed more gum in her mouth and weaved around another black-jacketed teenager with multiple face piercings. “Doesn’t anyone smile around here anymore? Zero eye contact from anyone, zero, in the last six blocks.”

Becca nudged her friend. “You’re perimenopausal, pal. The Hill doesn’t change.”

With her usual theatrical timing, Marty stepped onto a small mound of dog poop. She rested her elbow on Khadijah’s plump shoulder and scraped the heel of her sandal against the sidewalk. “Damn mutts.”

“Damn mutt owners,” Khadijah corrected her, steadying her. “And the girl’s right. The Hill doesn’t change.”

“How can you say that?” Marty stared at her partner of fifteen years with umbrage. “Are neither of you seeing the same Broadway I’m seeing? Have you not noticed the new condos crowding out the gay bookstores, the chain outlets swallowing the little independent businesses, the—”

“This street saw twenty years of Gay Pride marches, darlin’.” Khadijah nudged them on down the narrow sidewalk. “Hot auras don’t go away after that long. They sink in.”

“Well, they get harsher, then,” Marty said.

Becca saw her point. Broadway thronged with people this balmy June evening. The storied avenue on Capitol Hill, Mecca for Seattle’s gay community, had always skewed fairly young. Becca, Marty, and Khadijah had strolled often among these charged crowds in their own high school and college years. It was true that the energy in the neighborhood was different now—edgier, a bit darker. There were more hard-core homeless kids on the street. Since the cops clamped down on the University District, more of the city’s young addicts and mentally ill sought refuge on the Hill.

But for Becca, Broadway was still and always the sculpture of Jimi Hendrix kneeling on the sidewalk with his guitar, one arm outflung, often with a cigarette or even a joint stuck between his fingers by affectionate passersby. It was the bronze art footprints embedded in the sidewalk below their feet, marking out the steps to a tango. Her queer kindred walked hand-in-hand all around them on this street. Becca hadn’t lived on Capitol Hill since she was five years old, but Broadway was still her spiritual home.

BOOK: A Question of Ghosts
9.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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