Read Casket Case Online

Authors: Fran Rizer

Casket Case

Table of Contents
 
 
Momentarily transported . . .
“I really just want to get in bed and cry,” Mrs. Dawkins said, “but I think I should wait with Mel until you take him to the funeral home.” She pulled the short robe closer around her slender frame and headed out the door. I’d bet that she was commando under that cover-up. I was trailing behind her when a woman’s scream cut through the night like a surgeon’s scalpel through flesh.
What now?
I thought.
If this were one of the mysteries I read, someone would have stolen Melvin’s body.
No time to speculate. I dashed out, almost expecting the body to have disappeared, but Dr. Melvin still floated in the hot tub. The screaming came from Mrs. Dawkins, and she wasn’t yelling about her husband. Near the split-rail fence at the edge of the yard stood a very good-looking dude.
Ex-cuuze me. I was on a pickup call for the funeral home to transport a man I’d known and liked my whole life. What was I doing thinking about how handsome this stranger was?
PRAISE FOR
A Tisket, a Tasket, a Fancy Stolen Casket
“Colorful characters, corpses, and stolen caskets—this mystery has them all.”
—Maggie Sefton, author of
Fleece Navidad
Berkley Prime Crime titles by Fran Rizer
A TISKET, A TASKET, A FANCY STOLEN CASKET
HEY DIDDLE DIDDLE, THE CORPSE AND THE FIDDLE
CASKET CASE
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
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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. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
 
CASKET CASE
 
A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author
 
PRINTING HISTORY
Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / October 2008
 
Copyright © 2008 by Fran Rizer.
 
All rights reserved.
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eISBN : 978-0-425-22428-1
 
BERKLEY® PRIME CRIME
Berkley Prime Crime Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group,
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http://us.penguingroup.com

This one is for my friend Nynaeve and for all the Callie Parrish fans I’ve met through e-mail and at book signings, readings, and presentations. It’s also for the wonderful people who keep readers and writers happy—booksellers and librarians!
Acknowledgments
More special thanks to special people—Jeff Gerecke, agent, and all the people at Berkley Prime Crime who are involved with Callie’s books, especially my marvelous new editor Michelle Vega and my super copy-editor Sheila Moody.
 
I also appreciate the advice, encouragement, and information from Calhoun Goodwin, Gwen and Rod Hunter, Leonard Jolley, and Ray Wade.
Chapter One
Melvin
Dawkins floated facedown in the steamy, bubbling water of the hot tub. As I looked down at him, I noticed that the bodice of my black dress lay flat against my chest.
Dalmation!
I’d dressed so quickly when the call came in the middle of the night that I’d forgotten my bra, and my inflatable underwear
is
my bosom. I directed my attention back to Dr. Melvin.
Nekkid as a jaybird. Not that blue jays are any more nude—or is it nuder?—than other birds, but Daddy used that expression all the time when I was growing up, and it was the first thing that popped into my mind that night out in Dr. Melvin’s backyard.
Next thing I thought, I said aloud. “Where’s the coroner?”
“What do you mean?” asked the slender, red-haired lady standing on the wooden deck surrounding the tub. She pulled her eyelet cover-up tighter across her middle and retied the sash. “If you can’t get him out by yourself,” she continued, “I’ll help you. I never figured Middleton’s Mortuary would send a
girl
out by herself to pick up the body.”
Girl? Puh-leeze. I’m almost thirty-three years old, and thanks to my inflatable bra, I’m way more than thirty-three in the bust. At least when I don’t get waked up in the middle of the night and forget to put it on. I’m not a girl; I’m a woman. A lady trained by the Middleton twins to always be polite and patient with customers, even if some woman younger than I am just called me a
girl
.
“I mean that someone has to pronounce a person dead before we can transport the deceased to the funeral home.” I used my best, most comforting, Funeralese tone. “And by the way, where
is
Mrs. Dawkins? I’d like to speak to the person who called.”
The woman sniffed. Not a tearful sniffle, a sniff of disdain. “I
am
Mrs. Dawkins, and I called Middleton’s Mortuary,” she said. “The person who answered the phone didn’t say one word about contacting someone else. I called and told her to come get Mel as soon as I found him. I gave her pacific directions.” She pointed toward the hot tub. “You work for the funeral home and you can’t tell he’s not alive? I’ve never seen a corpse out of a casket before and I
know
he’s dead!”
I was busy trying to determine what pacific directions she could give me on the South Carolina coast of the Atlantic Ocean. She must have meant “specific.”
“Was Dr. Melvin under Hospice care?” I said. “If he was, his Hospice nurse can take care of the paperwork.”
She shook her head no and asked, “Why do you call him ‘doctor’? Melvin was a pharmacist, not a doctor.”
“You must not have grown up around here,” I said. “All of us kids in St. Mary called him ‘Doctor’ Melvin when we were growing up. I don’t really know why. That’s just what my daddy told me to call him. Anyway, if Dr. Melvin wasn’t under Hospice care, the coroner has to come.”
“Then why did you suggest that nurse?”
“Doesn’t matter.” In the Low Country of South Carolina, terminally ill patients who’ve been under Hospice care can be pronounced dead by the Hospice nurse. A few months back, I’d heard that Dr. Melvin had retired from the St. Mary Pharmacy. I didn’t know if he left because of illness, but if the shoe doesn’t fit, no need to try to wear it.
I fumbled in my purse for my cell phone before realizing I’d forgotten it again. “May I use your telephone?” I reached toward the redhead.
“Don’t have one out here. I called you from the kitchen. Come on, we’ll go in the house.” She looked at Dr. Melvin again. His silver hair swirled around on the bubbly waves like a child’s finger painting. “Do you think we should pull him out before we go in?”
“No, ma’am. We have to leave him where he is.”
There I was. In trouble again for not following instructions. I knew better, I promise I knew better than to go for a body pickup alone during the middle of the night. Well, actually in the wee hours of the morning.
My bosses, Otis and Odell Middleton, had left me in charge of Middleton’s Mortuary for three days while they went to Atlanta for an undertakers’ seminar. They’d be back before we opened the next day. Otis had told me I could transfer the phone to my apartment each night, but I was supposed to call Jake, one of our part-time drivers, if we had a pickup call.
Instead, I’d chosen to take the funeral coach, Funeralese for hearse, myself, thinking I could prove my abilities. Never crossed my mind to question what authorities would be at the Dawkins home. Now Sheriff Harmon would know I’d goofed, and he’d tell the Middletons.
Mrs. Dawkins pushed her damp hair away from her forehead and sighed. A long, loud sigh. I couldn’t tell if the sound was to bring my attention from my thoughts back to the situation or to express her feelings. She turned and walked up the inlaid stone path to the back door of the house.

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