Authors: Carolyn Hart
Berkley Prime Crime titles by Carolyn Hart
LETTER FROM HOME
WHAT THE CAT SAW
Death on Demand Mysteries
DEATH COMES SILENTLY
DEAD, WHITE, AND BLUE
Bailey Ruth Ghost Mysteries
GHOST GONE WILD
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA)
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA
USA | Canada | UK | Ireland | Australia | New Zealand | India | South Africa | China Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England For more information about the Penguin Group, visit penguin.com.
This book is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.
Copyright © 2013 by Carolyn Hart.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
Berkley Prime Crime Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group.
PRIME CRIME and the PRIME CRIME logo are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA).
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Hart, Carolyn G.
Ghost gone wild / Carolyn Hart.
pages cm.—(A Bailey Ruth Ghost novel)
ISBN 978-0-425-26075-3 (hardback)
1. Murder—Investigation—Fiction. 2. Spirits—Fiction. 3. Oklahoma—Fiction. I. Title.
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. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
To Kay and Clark Musser, fun companions and dear friends.
passed Julia Child’s kitchen and breathed deeply. The aromas were Heavenly. Julia still loves butter. I was in a rambling mood on another golden day in paradise. As my thoughts flitted, so did my presence. Heaven makes joyful pursuits quite easy. If I envision a place or activity, I am there, everything from white-water rafting to a romantic tango in the moonlight. When I murmur, “Come dance with me,” to Bobby Mac, we move in unison to the pulsing music, his hand warm against my back. I savor the beat and Bobby Mac and my filmy dress of sea green chiffon. Bobby Mac is gorgeous in a white Guayabera shirt and black trousers, quite a change from his usual cream polo and khaki shorts when fishing from
or his blue work shirt and Levi’s when out on an oil rig. As we say in Adelaide, he cleans up real nice.
Do I sense bewilderment? Heaven? Julia Child’s kitchen? A tango in the moonlight? Adelaide? Oh yes, all of that and more. If we haven’t met before, I’ll introduce myself. I am Bailey Ruth Raeburn, late of Adelaide, Oklahoma. Bobby Mac and I arrived in Heaven when our cabin cruiser, the faithful
, sank during a storm in the Gulf. Bobby Mac has been my man ever since high school, when he was a darkly handsome senior and I was a redheaded sophomore. We lived a happy life, which has only been better since arriving in Heaven.
Heaven is, I assure you, quite Heavenly. Everything good, everything honorable, everything beautiful is here. Earth, as we all know, is beset with sin and strife, which is why I sometimes yearn to return.
Not that I wish to dabble in sin.
Heaven forbid. Instead, I like to lend a helping hand to those in trouble. I remember well that I received boosts, some surprising, some unaccountable, that got me past rough patches in my life. That’s why, delightful as Heaven is, I revel in returning to earth as a special emissary from the Department of Good Intentions.
I’ve been honored to serve as an emissary three times. However, eager as I was to serve once again, my steps slowed.
Just around the curve of a golden-hued cloud, a small train station nestled against a green hill. The station served as the headquarters of the department under the kindly direction of Wiggins, who had been a stationmaster on earth.
I sighed and stopped. I didn’t quite have the courage to swing around the cloud and see the small redbrick station with silver rails that ran into the sky.
I studied the intervening cloud, made glorious by incandescent streaks of gold and rose. Have I ever described the majestic puffs of cloud that delineate a change from one destination to another? I’m not talking about cool, damp particles of mist. Heaven’s clouds are silky soft, as luxurious to touch as fluff from a cottonwood. I’ve always loved cottonwoods, and they are everywhere in Oklahoma. . . .
I reined in my thoughts. Cottonwoods were all well and good—and I’m sure it is of interest to realize there is nothing chilling and wet should you plunge into a glorious white column—but there was a time and place for memories of cottonwoods. I was pondering clouds to avoid an approach to the department, even though Wiggins would welcome me warmly. Wiggins has a smile as reassuring as the dancing flames in a winter fireplace, but he is rather a stickler for following rules. His emissaries have a list of strict dos and don’ts. Truth to tell—and Heaven always expects truth—I’m not awfully good at rules. Some might say I am a bit impetuous. Oh, all right. I think fast, move fast, and sometimes I leave rules in my dust.
Perhaps the format of Wiggins’s rules best reveals his precise nature. The list, printed in gold letters on glorious parchment, is entitled:
PRECEPTS FOR EARTHLY VISITATION
I like to sing. I quickly donned tap shoes and belted out the list to an eight-count bebop tune.
• • •
My impromptu dance ended. What would Wiggins think? I laughed aloud. He would appreciate my accurate, though musical, rendition of the Precepts. Slowly, my smile slipped away. In my previous jaunts to earth, how many Precepts had I broken?
I clicked a tap; actually, eight taps. Okay. All of the Precepts.
Possibly fairly often.
All right. Insist upon truth. Precepts flouted morning, noon, and night.
I glanced at a bright shaft of crystal opposite the column of cloud and saw myself at twenty-seven, coppery red hair in springy curls, curious green eyes, a spatter of freckles on a narrow face. Five foot five on a tall day. Slender, ready to move, dance, climb, run, play. Twenty-seven had been a very good year for me on earth, and how I looked then was how I chose to appear in Heaven. Everyone in Heaven was the best they’d ever been.
My reflection grinned back.
I should have been ruing each and every transgression of the Precepts, but, despite what might have been perceived (I think uncharitably) as a wholesale flouting of the rules, I believed I’d done the department proud in my three previous adven—
I wanted to go back. I loved the challenge of doing my best for a troubled creature.
Okay, more truth.
Lending a helping hand is Heavenly, but protecting the innocent makes me a very happy ghost. There are also side benefits. I had dearly loved my hometown of Adelaide: rasping cicadas in summer, fall leaves that rivaled flame, majestic eagles in a winter sky, the scent of dark, rich dirt in a spring furrow.
I squared my shoulders. Onward to the department. Wiggins’s telegram had been enigmatic:
Possible assignment. If you qualify.
I was puzzled. The message didn’t sound quite like Wiggins. What qualification was needed? I glanced again at my reflection. Hmm. Perhaps the azure blouse was a little too flattering. There. More of a gray tone. Gray is such a steady color. Boring, but steady. I changed the bright floral print of my sateen slacks to a subdued houndstooth check. Instead of tap shoes, blue sandals. I refused to wear gray shoes. There was a limit to my sartorial sacrifices. Besides, men don’t notice shoes. Except for Jimmy Choo.
In the distance, I heard the deep-throated woo-woo of the Rescue Express, the marvelous silver train that carried emissaries to earth. If I hurried . . . But I didn’t yet have a mission. I had to face reality. Wiggins had thought of me, but he wasn’t sure. Well, I would have to convince him that I was perfect for the task, whatever it might be.
Galloping hooves sounded. The ground quivered beneath my blue-sandaled feet. An ebony horse thundered around the pillar of cloud, pawed to a stop scant feet away. The slender rider sat straight in the saddle, impeccably attired from her black hat and navy coat to her tan breeches and black boots. The horse was all black except for a white crescent on his forehead.
Her face, once seen, was not to be forgotten—high forehead, arctic blue eyes, narrow nose, pointed cheekbones, a decisive mouth, cleft chin. She gazed down imperiously, gestured with her crop. “There’s just time to catch the Rescue Express. I have your ticket. You are Bailey Ruth Raeburn, aren’t you?” Her tone was impatient.
“Oh, yes. Who—?”
“Are you game or not?” She flung the words in a challenge as sharp as a whip crack.
No one ever said I wouldn’t take a dare. There was the time Billy Snodgrass shouted, “Bet you a box of Dubble Bubble you won’t jump off the dock.” The dock in question was in the nature preserve next to St. Mildred’s. Of course I jumped, even though it was January and there was a skim of ice across the lake. I’d arrived home drenched, blue from cold, and only alive because a bundled-up fisherman angling for striper waded out far enough that I could catch the end of his rod. “Bailey Ruth, honey,” Mama had sighed, “look before you leap.”
Truly, I always intend to do that very thing, but the horse stamped a hoof, the rider reached out for my hand. “I’ll get you there.”
Perhaps this was the qualification I was supposed meet, a willingness to dare. Of course I would. I swung up and settled behind the saddle and clung to her waist.
The horse rose through the air and we sped from Heaven’s golden light into a star-spangled night and there, not far ahead, was the plunging Express.
Words streamed to me. “. . . he’s always been such a fool . . . but there are those who love him . . . try to save him from himself . . .”
“Who?” I shouted, but the cry was lost in the rush of space.
With a mighty stride, the horse gained on the whooshing Express, came level for an instant with the caboose.
The rider twisted, thrust a small scrap of cardboard into my hand. “Here’s your ticket.” A strong arm gripped my elbow, and I was swept out into emptiness.
I grasped the railing and pulled myself aboard the Rescue Express.
The stallion and rider were gone. The immensity of space held me in thrall as billions of stars in shining galaxies dwarfed the Express, made the line of cars seem as small as a miniature train amid swirling flakes in a paperweight.
The door swung open. “Wot’s this ’ere?” A conductor in a dark blue uniform and a braided cap peered out. “Wot’s ’appening ’ere?”
I was enthralled by his cockney accent. I wanted to know his story, who he had been and when he’d come to Heaven and whether he’d ever worked on the
. One time Bobby Mac and I . . . But that’s another story.
Sandy eyebrows drew down in disapproval. “’ighly irregular, that’s wot it is.”
“Everything’s fine.” I always look on the bright side, though I was a little unsettled. Dramatic departures aren’t unusual from Wiggins’s station—an earthling in dire straits can necessitate haste—but we always chatted about my upcoming visit and reviewed my occasional trespasses of the Precepts.
Honestly, do we have to be so insistent upon accuracy? Cross out
. Substitute, I regret to say,
. But this time would be different. I hadn’t had a chance to reassure Wiggins. I felt flattered. Wiggins hadn’t considered it necessary to brief me, though I would have thought that his assistant—and I wondered who she was and how long she’d been on his staff—would have given me some idea of who I was expected to assist and why.
The conductor shook his head. “It will run us late, but I’ll ’ave to pull the emergency stop.” He pulled open the door and stood halfway inside the car, reaching out to his right. “No travelers permitted without proper papers—”
“Here.” I thrust the ticket at him.
He took the ticket, poked out his jaw, his face settling in pugnacious lines.
I had my first misgiving.
I recalled with clarity my previous tickets to Adelaide, soft white with the destination stamped in bright red.
The conductor held between thumb and forefinger a jade green ticket with yellow letters. He peered nearsightedly. “This ’ere’s torn, so how can we know where to stop? Ponta Delgada? Pontefract? Pontevedra? Pontiac?” He rattled names fast as a 1940s typist in a secretarial pool, took a deep breath. “Pontine Marshes. Po—”
I interrupted. “Pontotoc.” I spoke with authority.
He glowered. “There’s no such stop.”
“It isn’t a city, it’s a county. Pontotoc.” I tried for charm. “I always go home to Adelaide, Oklahoma. That’s in Pontotoc County.” I forbore mentioning Pontotoc County, Mississippi. After all, Wiggins knew my stomping ground.
The conductor held the torn ticket close to his face, laboriously spelled, “P-O-N-T . . . Could be.” He was grudging. “Well, ’tis
a proper ticket. We can give it a try.” He lowered his arm. He stood straight, his eyes gleaming. “If there’s a spot of trouble down there, the Rescue Express will ’one in sharp as a magnetic needle. She’s a gallant old girl, the Rescue Express.” His pride in the trusty train was evident.
“Oh, there’s trouble, all right.” The rider astride the horse had been clear enough. Some fellow who has “always been such a fool” needed to be saved. I slid inside the car and gazed about in admiration. As Mama always said, “Praise a man’s prized possession and he’ll treat you like a queen.” “Such splendid furnishings.” I pointed at red velvet cushions in comfortably curved wicker chairs. “Everything is perfect. And I know”—my gaze up at him radiated soulful conviction—“that you’ll get all of us to our destinations in good order.” Most of the seats were taken. My fellow passengers looked up to smile a welcome. Dress ranged from a Roman toga to colonial breeches to a French Foreign Legion uniform to a late-nineteenth-century gray fawn gown.
A pink flush touched the conductor’s sallow cheeks. “Nice of you to say so, and ’ere”—he gestured toward a chair—“you’ll be comfortable.” He gave me a conspiratorial nod. “I’ll pop up to the engineer, add your destination.”
I almost called after him. Pontotoc County covered a lot of ground. Then I shrugged. The conductor promised to drop me at a spot of trouble. I’d have to find my way from there.
• • •
The moon hung cool and remote, spilling a creamy sheen across a neighborhood of mostly frame houses. Within the city limits, Adelaide has pockets of homes built in the 1930s that are semi-rural with spacious lots. Though the air was nippy, tree branches were thick with leaves. Probably it was early to mid-October. Directly below me a house blazed with lights. Most of the other homes were dark with only an occasional gleam in a window. Rumbling thumps came from the lighted house.
I felt a little chilly, so I changed to a crisp rose blouse, charcoal gray worsted wool slacks, and a wine-colored cardigan. Fashion was such a pleasure. As soon as I pictured the clothes, my costume changed. I added matching rose-colored leather flats.