Meet The Author
Title: Uncharted Territory
Author: Carolyn Ridder Aspenson
Published: February 6, 2015
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
***Be sure to scroll down to the end for an excerpt from the book.
Just when psychic medium Angela Panther thinks she's got her gift figured out, the universe smacks her in the head with a curve ball.
When an unidentified fourteen-year-old boy takes a dive off an interstate overpass, Atlanta Detective Aaron Banner asks Angela to find out if it was suicide—or murder. But the young boy's spirit has other plans for her: help another lost soul and forget about him.
Fortunately, Angela's never been good at taking orders.
With the help of her dead-but-not-gone mother, Fran, and her newly single best friend, Mel, Angela sets out to discover the truth about both the jumper and the girl he wants to help.
And boy, is she out of her league.
Armed with little more than their double lattes and a tiny pink bottle of wannabe pepper spray, Angela and Mel must venture into the dark underbelly of Atlanta to solve two mysteries. Will they be able to help the dead finally rest in peace?
Meet The Author
An avid fitness buff, Carolyn writes a monthly health and fitness column for Northside Woman Magazine as well as regular weekly news articles for various Atlanta area media outlets including the Forsyth Herald, the Milton Herald, the Revue and News, and the Johns Creek Herald. Her works have also been published in Countyline Magazine and various Internet publications.
A native of Indiana, for over eighteen years Carolyn called the northwest Chicago suburbs home. She now resides in the Atlanta area with her husband, three kids, two dogs and cat.
Connect with Carolyn
Buy Link ~ Amazon
Grab your latte, your box of kleenx, and a change of panties. Carolyn Ridder Aspenson has done it again. She has delivered another 5 Star book in An Angela Panther Novel series.
Working with the police means physic medium Angela Panther is dealing with some serious, not so glamorous cases. This isn’t just passing on a message to a loved one from a ghost, this is unsolved murders and missing children. Hence, you will be needing the klneex.
On the lighter side, Mel’s divorce is almost finalized. Her new best friend “Vinnie” is there to take the edge off, but Mel needs a man and she has her eye on Detective Aaron. When Mel and Angela get together let the hilarity ensue. Add Angela’s ghost mom, Fran, and there is no stopping these ladies. From lattes at Starbucks, to breaking and entering, nothing is off limits to these gals. The Naked British Guy makes a brief appearance too. I love him! You might just pee in your pants from laughing so hard!
Lastly grab that latte cause you are going to be awhile. Once you pick this one up, you won’t be able to put it down.
Cheree's 5 Star Review
I love this book! This whole series is hysterical! And this book had me rolling! I laughed until I cried! The relationship between Angela and Fran is amazing and so is the relationship with Angela and Mel and all three of them together is fantastic! The whole idea of these books are awesome! And the things Angela experiences in this book are crazy and make you happy and sad at the same time. Not to mention Angela is like (I blame the use of this word on Emily) 137% more brave than I am! Another great addition to an amazing series! And the ending!! Oh my heart! Hope that means we have a book 4 to look forward to!
An Excerpt from Uncharted Territory
Psychic mediums don’t like hospitals. For us, hospitals are like shopping malls on Black Friday—overcrowded with people on a mission. Only in the hospital the people are dead. Since I’d grown to appreciate and accept my psychic gift I’d learned to despise hospitals. Forget the white, sterile walls, the incessant beeping of machines, or even the bland colored scrubs too big or too small on everyone who wore them, and a total fashion mistake if you asked me. None of that mattered to me because I was too focused on dodging the dead. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to help them. There were just so many one psychic medium could handle.
In recent months word about my gift made its rounds in the in-between—the place between our world and the afterlife, and I’d become a popular gal on the hospital circuit. The dead needed my help and flooded the hospital halls, vying for my attention by hovering near, and asking me questions.
“Are you her?”
“Is this Heaven?”
“The dog ate my life insurance policy two months before I died.”
“The money for my funeral is in my sock drawer, inside the brown socks with the blue whales on them. I hate those socks, tell Marge to burn them but only after she gets the money.”
“I need to get a message to my husband.”
“Tell them not to bury me in the pink dress. I always hated that damn pink dress.”
Frankly, it could be a real pain in the butt, but mostly it was just overwhelming and depressing. Yep, I hated hospitals. So when Detective Aaron Banner asked me to meet him at the front entrance to Powers Ferry Medical Center I hesitated, but since I’m a glutton for punishment and had unofficially signed on to help him when he needed me, I did it anyway.
I stood outside the front entrance, slowly pulling air in through my nose and blowing it out through my mouth. It’s what I did after a good, hard run to slow my heart rate, and it was good for calming my nerves, too. And I needed to be calm for when the sudden onslaught of spirits begging for help bombarded me on the other side of the hospital doors.
Aaron kept a watchful, detective’s eye on me as I went through the motions of my calming routine. He stayed back knowing not to interfere for fear of messing up my juju. He’d become familiar with my quirks and me over the few months we’d worked together and knew the drill well. Plus, I think it creeped him out a little, watching me imitate a woman in labor. When I finished I nodded, my signal to him that I was as calm and prepared as I could get. I wasn’t actually calm, but I wasn’t going to have an anxiety attack, either.
Brow furrowed, Aaron stood on the mat, holding the electronic door open for me. “Thanks for coming.”
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world.” I patted him on the shoulder. “Seriously, I hope I can help.”
We walked inside together, and in a flash the smell of bleach cleaner engulfed my nasal passages. I rubbed my nose, hoping to stop the scent from sticking. “Yuck.”
“I hate the bleach,” Aaron said. “It actually burns my eyes. If I could walk around with them closed, I would.”
“Me too, but for a totally different reason.”
The dead were everywhere. Hovering beside me, floating above me, and following behind me were spirits in all shapes and sizes, of all races, both genders and a plethora of ages. The hall buzzed with energy, so much so I couldn’t tell what was what. I became dizzy and stopped, leaning against the main desk to gather my composure.
“You okay?” Aaron’s face showed genuine concern.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” I bent toward his ear. “This place is full of spirits.”
His head rotated from one side to the other. “If you say so.”
I straightened my arms out in front of me and clasped my hands together, stretching out my shoulder blades. “I’m fine. Let’s get this over with.”
We continued walking toward the elevators as a spirit hovering to my left jabbered incessantly in my ear.
“She needs the keys. Tell her they’re in the basement on my workbench, under the Playboy magazine. The one with the twins in the centerfold. She’ll never forgive me if she doesn’t find the keys, and boy she’ll be mad when she sees the magazine. I’ve hidden them down there for years because she never goes down there. Please, can you tell her?”
“Where is she?”
Aaron slanted his head to the right, but didn’t speak.
The spirit pointed to a gray-haired woman sitting alone on the bench across from the entrance.
I held my index finger up to Aaron. “Gimme a sec, okay?”
The spirit and I walked over to the woman. It seemed like she was staring right through me, her eyes not focused on anything in particular. I crouched down in front of her, my eyes meeting hers. “Hi, my name is Angela. I’m supposed to tell you that…” I glanced at the spirit. “What’s your name?”
“Harvey. I’m her husband.”
I turned back to the woman. She still had the lost expression on her face. “Harvey wanted me to tell you that you’ll find the keys on his workbench in the basement, under the Playboy magazine with the twins in the centerfold.”
That got her attention. “My Harvey? What keys?”
I peered up at Harvey, who hovered upright. “What are the keys for?”
“The safe. It’s got my life insurance policy and some money in it. Tell her I’m sorry about the Playboy.”
“Harvey said the keys are to the safe and there’s money and a life insurance policy in there for you.”
The woman was dazed, and I didn’t know if what I’d said sunk in. “Are you alone? Can I call someone for you?”
“I see him, you know. That’s him, right there.” She pointed to Harvey.
I glanced at Harvey, who shrugged.
I’d never experienced anyone other than a child see a spirit with me, so I wasn’t sure what to say. “Oh, well…”
The woman’s eyes widened and her mouth opened, but before she could speak, her head dropped forward.
“Mary,” Harvey said. “Is that you?”
Harvey’s wife’s spirit hovered next to his.
“Well, crap.” I flipped around and yelled to Aaron, “I think this woman just died, get a doctor!”
A nurse at the desk heard me and ran over. Three other nurses followed and within seconds I was pushed aside while they worked on Mary.
“It’s not gonna work,” I told Aaron. “She’s already gone.”
I nodded. “She and her husband just shimmered away.”
“Jesus. You okay?”
I shook my shoulders. “I’m fine. Let’s go.”
We headed to the elevator again, followed by spirits and yet another one begged for my attention.
I grabbed Aaron’s shoulders. “Gimme a sec, and work with me on this, okay?”
He wrinkled his nose. “Are you going to do that thing you do?”
I nodded. “You ready?”
He tipped his head down. “Ready.”
I dropped my hands and focused on Aaron’s face. “Okay, here’s how this works. I’m here to help this guy.” I pointed to Aaron’s chest. “You know, the living one. All of you other people are dead, in case you didn’t already know that.”
Aaron tweaked his head to the left, and groaned. I ignored him.
“If you didn’t, well, now you do.” I pointed to the ceiling. “See that light up there?”
“What light?” a man in a hospital gown tied in the front, said. He was probably going to need some help, at least with the proper way to wear the gown because he was naked underneath it and I got a shot of something I had no desire to see.
“That’s a bright light, ain’t it?” another spirit asked. “Where’d that come from?”
A male spirit in a beat-up leather jacket and ripped jeans spoke. “That light’s got nothing for me. I’m stayin’ here.”
That one stared me straight in the eye and then shimmered away. I shuddered, thinking he might be one to stay away from.
“But I didn’t get to see the end of my show,” a little old lady in a red robe and fuzzy green slippers said. “I don’t know who killed the girl. I can’t leave until I find out who killed the girl.” She was distraught. I felt for her, and that’s why I always read the end of a book first. In case I died, at least I’d die knowing how the book ended.
“Oh, look at that,” another white-gowned man said. “That’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”
I tilted my head toward the ceiling, and Aaron’s face followed mine. I saw nothing but the ceiling and if I had to guess, I’d say that’s all Aaron saw, too. “Yeah, that’s what I’m told. If you see that light, go to it. You’ll find your family and friends there.”
The corners of his eyes crinkled and he shimmered away. At least one of them got the message.
“Will Skipper be there?” A little girl’s voice peeped out from the crowd.
I flung my body around at the sound of her precious voice. A teeny little girl in a red nightgown with Sesame Street characters on it pushed her way to the front of the group. Her hair was an adorable mess of not red, more like orange curls falling to her shoulders. She had ocean blue eyes so big that small animals could swim in them. She was such a beautiful child, but the sadness on her face and tremor in her voice made my heart hurt. “I’m scared to go there, but if Skipper is there, I could try and be brave.”
Oblivious to the living nearby, I bent down to the little girl, and put my face close to hers. She’d been crying, her eyes pools of ocean blue water. Her slightly transparent lip trembled. “Honey, is Skipper your dog? Did your dog go to Heaven?”
She shook her head. “He’s my grandpa. He went to Heaven when I was this many.” She held up three fingers.
I swallowed back the lump in my throat. “How many are you now?”
One more finger popped up. “This many.”
I placed my hand on my heart. The kids were tough. “Yes baby, Skipper will be there. I bet he’s waiting for you right now, too.” I believed in Heaven, and because I also believed in God, I figured there was a Hell, too. I just didn’t think Grandpas and Grandmas went there. Unless they were serial killers, and I was pretty sure this little girl’s Skipper wasn’t. “I promise you, if you go to that light, you will be happy and safe and nothing will ever hurt you again.”
Her lips trembled harder. “You promise?”
I crossed my heart with my finger. “I promise.”
“Okay.” The little girl lifted her eyes upward and said, “You’re nice,” and then she shimmered away.
Not one single ghost had a dry transparent eye after that. I swiped the tears from my eyes too, and pushed myself up from my knees and groaned at the effort. “Okay.” I clasped my palms together. “The rest of you are gonna have to wait.” I pointed to Aaron. “Because I’ve gotta help this guy.”
His mouth dropped open. “Jesus.”
“You already said that.”
He dropped his head, shook it, and walked.
We took the elevator to the basement, which housed both the pathology department and the morgue. I crossed my arms and latched my palms to my elbows. The morgue was the worst place for a psychic medium. Some ghosts didn’t quite get that they were dead and stayed close to their bodies. They wandered the halls, asking hospital staff for help, never quite understanding why no one answered. I knew they saw their bodies, but they couldn’t connect the dots. It took some convincing sometimes, but eventually I would cross them over. The last time Aaron and I met at the hospital, I stayed and helped the lost souls, and then exhausted, I went home and slept for twenty-nine hours straight. After the emotional intensity I’d just had with the little girl, I pushed back my shoulders and prepared myself to just pretend they weren’t there. I needed to keep my strength and my emotional composure for whatever Aaron needed me to do.
“No biggie.” I rubbed my nose. “Whadda ya got?”
We got on the elevator. “Jumper. It’s messy and I know how much you hate that, but we don’t have any witnesses and he didn’t have an ID, so I need you to do your thing and see if you get a hit.”
By do your thing, Aaron meant talk to the deceased, and hope they’d give me the scoop. That wasn’t as easy as it sounded. If the spirit wasn’t there, usually they had a reason, and more often than not, it meant they’d crossed over and we were out of luck. A few were just shy or out doing whatever it is ghosts do and not available for a chat. Those that were there were, like I said, confused or wanted me to get a message to someone they loved. They didn’t want to talk about their passing or just didn’t know what happened. Sometimes they gave me clues though, and I gave them to Aaron. Well, sometimes being one time out of the three times in the three months we’d worked together.
“I prefer to meet dead bodies that look like they’re just sleeping, not broken and damaged. Makes it easier to eat later, you know?”
“Been there, done that. I’ll work on it, but I can’t make any promises.”
“Typical man.” Truth be told, Aaron wasn’t all that typical, at least when it came to the stereotypical cop. He wasn’t jaded, wasn’t at the bar every night after work pounding brewskies with his cop buddies, had an impressive sense of humor, and kept his physique in prime condition. Most cops carried a little extra weight in the middle, had a little less hair than the average man—probably from stress, but not Aaron. Aaron was what my best friend Mel called a looker--definitely easy on the eyes. He reminded me a little of Gerard Butler with his brown hair, always just a little on the messy side—like he wore it that way on purpose—sky blue eyes, and the way he talked out of the side of his mouth. I figured women fell at his feet, but luckily for me my husband Jake was more my type, or I’d probably have spent my time working with Aaron drooling instead of communicating with the dead.
We walked up to the pathology department door and Aaron tapped it twice with his fist. If I didn’t know the door actually led to the pathology department, I wouldn’t have known where we were. There was no sign identifying the space, just the letter and numbers B-001 glued onto the door.
The door opened and Deana, the pathology department assistant, let us in. “Hey, Detective.” She flashed her pearly whites at me. “Hey, Angela, nice to see you again.”
“Hey, Deana. I hear this is a tough one.”
Deana handled the day-to-day happenings of the dead, though I didn’t quite know what that meant, seeing as they were dead and all, but I figured she had it covered. She was young and smart, with the annoyingly incredible body of a supermodel, slender and delicate and of course tall, and curved in all the right places. I’d hate her, but she was sweet as could be, plus she had an endless supply of petite Hershey Bars in a jar on her desk and gave me handfuls all of the time. Free chocolate always chumped her annoyingly amazing figure.
Her shoulders sank and she released a slow breath. “Kids are always rough.”
I shot Aaron a glare, and he tilted his head. He hadn’t mentioned the kid part. My stomach twisted and flipped, but not in the fun, butterflies fluttering, kind of way. It was more of a bounce up my esophagus and come soaring out of my mouth, crashing to the floor with a messy splat, kind of flip. Dead kids were tough. “How old?” I asked Aaron.
“Best guess? Around fifteen, but we can’t be sure. Ambulance brought him in a few hours ago. DOA. I’m hoping you can help us figure out who he was, and if he did this to himself.”
The lump in my throat swelled and pulsed, coming back to life. My son Josh was a few years younger. “So in other words, you’re hoping for a miracle?”
He tipped his head. “Pretty much.”
“Great. So far we’re zero for two in the miracle department so don’t get your hopes up.”
“Anything you can get will be appreciated, as always.”
Deana walked us into the morgue cooler, closing the door behind us. The temperature was at least twenty degrees colder there, and I rubbed my biceps for warmth. The hairs on the back of my neck stood, a sign that we weren’t alone. I scanned the room and saw the last part of a black blur slip through the wall. Whoever it was wasn’t interested in chatting, which was fine by me.
Deana pulled a cart from the wall. A white sheet covered a layer of plastic that rested on top of a body. “Want me to pull it down?” she asked.
I shook my head. “That’s okay. Can I have a minute with him?” I asked, and then turned to Aaron and flicked my hand to shoo him out of the room. “You too, please.”
Aaron’s eyes darted to the body and a hint of sadness flashed in them. He shifted them back to me, and nodded, and then they both left.
I pulled up a chair and sat next to the body. The hairs on the back of my neck stood at attention again. I tried to wait it out, thinking maybe it was the boy, and he was just a little shy, but since patience wasn’t a virtue I possessed, the wait was short, and I took the bull by the horns. “Well, kid.” I pulled the sheet down, and did my best to hide the shock from showing on my face. What was once a young man was now a mangled mess of broken bones and torn skin. He had to have a family, especially a mother, who missed him. I replaced the sheet over his head. “It’s just you and me now.” I counted four spaces on the wall, with carts inside. “Well, you and me and those four, but you know what I mean. I hope.”
I waited, but got no response. “So anyhoo.” I sat on my hands to keep them from flailing around me as I spoke. “I’m here if you wanna talk or something. I’m a psychic medium. I talk to people like you—people who aren’t among the living anymore. So if you wanna chat, go for it.” I sat back in the chair and waited some more, keeping my hands under my butt.
Five minutes later, the spirit of the boy under the sheet was still a no-show, and my patience had completely disappeared, so I tried another angle. “Well kiddo, here’s the thing. It looks like you jumped off of a big bridge, and now all of the people who love you will have to spend the rest of their lives without you. They’re going to need closure. They’re going to want to know what happened, to know you’re gone, instead of thinking maybe you just took off and deserted them, you know? So if you’re around and can help out, now’s your chance. Capiche?”
Still nothing. I waited another five minutes, picked some lint off of my linen shorts, checked and rechecked their hem, and pulled my feet out of my shoes to check my pedicure. It was definitely time for a new one. “All righty then.” I got up. “I came. I tried. I failed. Same story, different day. If you change your mind, ask around. The dead know where to find me.” I made the sign of the cross, even though I wasn’t Catholic, and prayed a silent prayer for his soul. I stood and turned to leave, but smacked face first into an ice-cold blast of air that pushed into me, froze my insides, and then rushed out again. At the same time my insides froze, an electrical current crashed into my chest, spreading throughout my body like I’d touched a live cord with a wet hand. I jumped, hoping the tingling sensation and vibration would disappear. When it did, I shook uncontrollably, my hands flailing like I’d just walked through a spider web. I wouldn’t have minded that so much, but I knew it wasn’t a spider web I’d walked through. It was a ghost. How’d I know? Because I was smart, and when I turned around, she was hovering behind me. “Didn’t you see me coming?” I yelped, my body still shaking off the heebie-jeebies.
The ghost, a teenage girl with long blond hair, draped in a white gown far too big for her, just stared blankly at me. I didn’t notice then, but the gown wasn’t the standard hospital issued kind. We stared at each other for a second and then her mouth opened, and her eyes widened. I thought she was going to scream, but nothing came out, and then her body jerked and flopped, and then she disappeared. She didn’t shimmer away. One minute she was there and the next, she wasn’t.
I flung my hands in the air, and huffed. “Figures.”
I heard a triple tap on the cooler door. “You okay in there?” Aaron asked.
I pulled open the door, still involuntarily shaking. “I’m fine. I hate hospitals. They’re full of dead people, and it creeps me out.”
Aaron rubbed his chin. “Uh?”
“Forget it. And no, I didn’t get anything. Poor kid either moved on, or isn’t interested in chatting. The girl in the white night gown though? I think she had something to say, but took off before I got a chance to ask.”
“What girl?” Deana asked.
“The dead one you’ve got back in the cooler.”
“We don’t have a girl in the cooler.”
“Don’t ask me. All I know is I walked right through her, and I hate that.” A quiver ran up my spine again and I shuddered.
They both raised their eyebrows.
“Stop staring at me like that.”
Deana laughed. “You’re a trip.”
Aaron shook his head. “I’m not sure you’ll ever make sense to me. I’ll never figure out how this thing works.”
“You’re not the only one.”
We said goodbye to Deana, and headed toward the elevator. I did the ignore the spirits thing again, staring straight ahead and hoping none appeared in front of me. I didn’t want to walk through another one. As the elevator doors shut, an old man with disheveled gray hair and a ragged beard floated through them. He hovered in front of me, a massive grin plastered onto his face. All of his teeth were missing. “False teeth?” I asked him.
“Again?” Aaron asked.
I shushed him and directed my attention back to the spirit.
“How’d you know?” he asked.
“They don’t transfer to the spirit world. Your mouth is empty.”
He held his hand to his face, but instead of feeling around, it just swiped right through him. “Drats. Those things were expensive.”
I nodded. “So were my mother’s. Whatcha need?” I asked.
“Oh, nothing. I’m just waiting for Margaret, my wife. She should be coming any minute now, and then we’ll head on up to that light.” He pointed to the ceiling of the elevator.
“Is she here?”
Aaron’s mouth hung open like a boy who’d just seen his first Playboy centerfold. I held my finger up to him.
“She is,” the spirit said. “Heart attack. I’m looking forward to being with her again. She saw me at the end of her gurney when she arrived, and I told her it would be soon. She’d been talking to me for years, but never heard a word I said. When we’re finally together again I’m going to get a serious scolding for ignoring her.”
I nodded. “Well, I’m sure she’ll be happy to see you, too.” I pressed my lips together. “So you’re good? Nothing I can do for you?”
He shook his partially transparent head. “No, ma’am. Just wanted to say hello to someone who could say it back, is all.”
I hated how they all just knew what I could do. “Well, thanks for the chat. I wish you the best.”
“You too.” He tipped his head toward me and shimmered away.
I smirked at Aaron. “All done.”
He closed his mouth and shook his head. “That’s messed up.”
“Welcome to my life.” I leaned against the wall of the elevator. “I’m sorry I couldn’t help you.”
Aaron’s eyes were heavy and red with fatigue. He blinked to push it away. “No worries. I don’t expect this to work most of the time anyway, but I appreciate the effort.”
Several other ghosts vied for my attention as we left the hospital, but I didn’t stop to help. I felt bad, but had been working on balancing my gift with the rest of my life because I was no good to anyone if I was always exhausted.
Aaron walked me to my car, and we said our goodbyes. As he walked away, I plopped onto my seat and leaned my head onto the steering wheel, pressing my thumbs into my temples, warding off the headache I felt coming.
I snapped my head toward the passenger seat, and there, hovering just above it, was the spirit of the boy in the morgue.
I leaned my head back on the seat. “Geesh, you scared the bejesus outta me, kid.”
“That girl needs you. I don’t need no help. I got this.”
“Okay, but I need you to—”
I didn’t get a chance to finish my sentence because he shimmered away.
I raised my hands to the ceiling and yelled, “I hate when ya’ll do that!”
I didn’t always see spirit, but when my mom Fran Richter died of lung cancer, knowing I’d had the gift as a child, but neglected to ever tell me, she decided to test the waters and make a return visit. After I realized I wasn’t crazy, I was okay with seeing her. I didn’t care much for seeing other ghosts, but didn’t really have a say in the matter. My father died almost a year later, and not to discount the death of my mom, but his death hit me like a brick. Losing one parent was tough enough, but becoming an orphan as an adult was brutal. When my father died, my gift went on hiatus. It took a lot of time and soul-searching to get back, and I no longer looked that gift horse in the mouth. No pun intended.
I started working for the police department, off the record and without pay, three months ago, when a five-year-old boy from the other side chose me to right the wrong concerning his death. The police thought little Matthew Clough wandered off in the woods and fell, hitting his head on a rock, but actually, his babysitter killed him by smashing a rock into his head. My gift came back in bits and pieces, and Matthew and I eventually figured out a way to communicate. He told me what happened, and I told his family, who then told Aaron. Once Aaron verified I wasn’t lying, he decided having my help might not stink. Three months later Aaron still wasn’t sure he fully understood, let alone believed in my gift, but heck, it’d been a few years for me and I still didn’t get it. We’d become friends though, and that friendship allowed him to accept my gift without a clear understanding, and it was emotionally satisfying for me to help.
“So you’re saying the junior John Doe appeared in your car and told you to forget about him, and focus on the girl who you saw in the morgue? The one Deana said wasn’t there?” Aaron asked when I called him just minutes after pulling out of the hospital parking lot.
“Yup. Pretty much.” I flipped through the channels on my satellite radio and stopped at the eighties station. “The Breakup Song” by the Greg Kihn Band sang through my car speakers. I tapped my finger on the steering wheel to the beat. Eighties music was my favorite.
“So what the hell does that mean?” The annoyance in his voice was obvious.
“How should I know? You’re the detective. You figure it out.”
“A detective that deals with dead bodies and the living, not ghosts. That’s your area of expertise, Panther.”
“So you think I’m an expert? That’s so sweet, Aaron.” My lips curled upward. “It’s about time someone considered me an expert at something.”
“You’re funny. Did the kid, er…uh, ghost…spirit, oh hell…did you get any indication of who he was? Maybe he…hell, I don’t know. Did he say anything else?”
“Aaron, do I need to have your grandmother come down and give you a what for? They’re spirits, dear. Remember?” I tried not to giggle, but it happened anyway.
He grumbled something that sounded like fine, but I wasn’t sure.
“Can you repeat that, please? It wasn’t clear.”
“I said fine, Panther. Jesus. I’ll never get this crap.” His voice a pinch higher than usual, and I knew he was irritated.
“Your buttons are so easy to push. You know how long it’s taken me to get used to my gift? Trust me, I’m completely fine with your issues.” I paused to check traffic at a stop sign. “And no, he didn’t give me any indication about who he was, or the girl for that matter. I’m sorry.”
“It’s all good. Keep trying. You know, do whatever it is you do, maybe a séance or something.” He paused. “Do you do those?”
“I’ve got a Ouija Board. We can try contacting him through that if you’d like.”
“Hell no,” he said. “The last time I did that was in junior high and it scared the shit outta me.”
That seemed to be a trend with people I knew. My best friend Mel had the same experience. “Geesh, I’m surrounded by a bunch of wimps, but fine. I’ll keep my eyes and ears open. What about the girl?”
“What girl?” he asked. “There is no girl, or at least no body to speak of. As far as I’m concerned, unless you can tell me specifics that relate to an open or cold case, she’s not in my jurisdiction.” He chuckled. “Huh, that was funny.”
I hadn’t yet figured out cop humor. “You’re hilarious,” I said. “Fine. If she comes back, I’ll try and get her name, too. Maybe she’s someone who’s not been found yet or something.” I cringed at the thought, but it was a possibility to consider.
“Could be. Thanks for coming and giving it a try. I’ll call you if something else comes up, and let me know if you hear from the kid, or whatever he is.”
I chuckled. “Great. I’m happy to help with whatever they are.”
“Angela,” he said, releasing a long breath. “I may not understand what you do, but I can’t discount it either, and I appreciate what you did for me a few months ago. I owe you for that.”
“Stop thanking me, Aaron. I didn’t do anything but relay a message from your grandmother.” I waved my hand in the air, even though he wasn’t there. “Ain’t no big thing. Talk to you soon,” I said, and clicked the end button on my phone.
I fumbled with the radio, turning up the volume and singing along. When the song ended and Steve Perry belted out “Oh Sherry,”I turned the radio up even louder and sang at the top of my lungs.
“Ah Madone, my ears!” My mother appeared next to me, in the same blue nightgown she died in a few years before.
“What? You don’t like my singing? I’m an excellent singer.” To make my point, I kicked up my voice a notch. “Oh Sherry, our love, ho-olds on. Ho-olds on.”
Her face contorted like she had a potty emergency. “My ears. Make it stop.”
“Hey, I didn’t call you, you just showed up, so quit complaining. If you don’t wanna hear me sing,” I pointed to the ceiling of the car, “there’s your exit. Float on out.”
“I don’t call that singing, and all of Heaven can hear you. Angels are dropping like flies from that noise.”
I stopped the bad singing. “Seriously? They can hear me up there?”
Ma threw her arms up and bellowed louder than Steve Perry sang. She laughed so hard she couldn’t speak, which would have been fine if she was laughing at someone else.
She bobbed her transparent head up and down. “Ah, you should see your face. If only I had a camera. That’s a classic face—almost as good as the time when you were six and got humped by the neighbor’s dog.” She laughed harder again.
I furrowed my brow. “I can sing just fine,” I lied. “And thanks for reminding me of the dog incident. I’d worked years to block that from my memory.”
She shrugged. “It’s my job to tell you the truth, and the truth is you can’t sing for crap. And the dog humping you? Funniest thing I’d seen in years. I told everyone you’d be poppin’ out puppies for months after that.”
I was surprised I didn’t have bigger psychological issues than I did. “Did you need something?”
“Nope. Just wanted to spare the angels’ ears is all,” she said. “And I gotta scoot. It’s bowling night, and I don’t wanna be late.”
“Are we talking celestial bowling or are you planning to haunt a bowling alley?”
“I ain’t sayin’ ’cause you’ll get snooty and lecture me, and I don’t got time for that.”
I shook my head. “That’s never a good sign.” I swiveled toward her. “And I do not lecture you, Mother.”
That time, she snorted. “Yeah, and I got some ocean front property for ya in Arizona, too.”
“I love George Strait,” I said, referencing Ma’s comment, the title of the county singer’s popular song.
“Me, too. Can’t wait till he kicks the bucket so he can sing with Johnny. He’s getting bored with his regular group. Told me the other day he’s ready for some fresh voices.”
“Johnny. Johnny Cash. The country music singer?”
“You know Johnny Cash?” I asked.
“Heck yah, I know ‘em all now. We’re tight. Me and his wife, June? We’re besties. Like you and Mel, only better.”
No words. I had no words. I rolled my eyes at her.
“What? You don’t believe me? There’s no celebrity upstairs, ya know. We’re all equal, and me and June, we’re like two peas in a pod.”
“All righty then. Now that we’ve got that covered, have fun bowling.” I waved. “Buh-bye.”
“Catch ya on the flip side,” she said.
“Ma, wait,” I said, but she’d already shimmered away.
Damn, I hated when she did that.
I met Mel at Starbucks, and we sat at our regular table, outside.
“Check this out,” she said, and handed me her phone.
A photo of a nearly bald man with a bad comb over, about fifty years old and wearing black-framed glasses stared back at me. “Oy. Who’s this?” I set her phone down and slid it across the table. “He’s a little creepy.”
“You have no idea. He’s the first guy to contact me on Match.com.”
“Uh huh. And I’m cancelling my account. I’d rather be alone the rest of my life than end up with Creepy Stalker Harold.” She glanced down at the photo again and shivered. “I feel like I need to shower all over again.”
“He’s not that bad,” I lied.
“You did not just say that.”
“I’m trying to stay positive.”
“I’m fine with staying positive, but outright lying is a little much.”
“Don’t delete your account. I’m sure there are other men worthy of the greatness we call Mel.”
She pushed her shoulders back, jutting out her tiny chest. “I don’t think so. I mean, this is a whole lotta greatness right here. Might be too much for the average man to handle.”
“There is that. Lemme have a look.” I grabbed her phone and swiped the screen.
“Oh Lord. This won’t be pretty.”
I wasn’t familiar with dating sites, but since millions of people were on it, I thought I could navigate it easily. “Here’s one,” I said, holding back a laugh. “Snuggybear.” I held the phone up for Mel, but pulled it away before she got a good look. “Snuggybear likes to cook authentic Latin food, but likes it more when the woman cooks for him. He’s interested in someone that’s subtle, I think. He spelled it s-u-t-t-l-e. And he wants her to be sort of strong, but not over the top—with a capital T. Apparently Snuggybear didn’t get a good edumacation, or, based on his Neanderthal size, got hit one too many times in the head playing football.”
“I hate you.”
“Hold on, let’s see if there’s another one that’s more your type.” I clicked on the next person in the today’s matches section. “Oh, winner winner chicken dinner. This is a good one.” I flipped the phone in her direction. “Gatorguy—must be a Florida fan—is the tallest Latino you’ll ever meet, and oh, he likes midgets.” I couldn’t contain the laughter any longer.
She grabbed the phone. “What? He did not write that.”
“Kinda. He said he wants a woman that’s three feet to eight feet and eleven inches tall. So midget size and up, but not nine feet because apparently that’s too tall for the tallest Latino you’ll ever meet.” I laughed so hard tears dripped down my cheeks. “Oh my God. I’m so joining Match when I get home. I could entertain myself for days with this stuff.”
“I really hate you.”
“Wait, I gotta see the next one.” I scrolled to the next match of the day. “Lifelover wants someone who will love him for who he is and accept him for who he is not.” I made a face. “What the hell does that mean?”
“I’m becoming a nun,” she said, grabbing the phone from my hand. “Seriously.”
“I think Gatorguy is the one for you. You like ‘em tall and he’s the tallest Latino you’ll ever see.” More tears fell from my eyes. “You’re not a little person though, so you might not be his type, but it’s worth a shot.”
Mel gave in and laughed, too. She tapped on her phone screen. “Oh wow. Nope, Gatorguy is out. Here’s my guy. Caveman.” She showed me his picture.
“I know, right? And he’s perfect for me. Five feet five inches tall and wants a woman who likes adventure like hisself.” She scrunched her eyebrows together. “Is that even a word?”
“How would I know? You tell me. You’re the writer.”
“It doesn’t matter. Look at him.” She showed me his picture.
“Wow, he’s really rockin’ that mullet.” I squinted, trying to read the words on his shirt. “Does his shirt say eat more pussy?”
She flipped the phone back. “Oh my gawd, it does. I’m so marrying this man.” She dropped her phone on the table and stared at me.
We played the stare-down game until I couldn’t stand it anymore and busted out laughing. “Wow.”
“Welcome to my world.”
“At least you get to see photos before you make a decision.”
“Is that all you could come up with? ‘Cause I could use something a little more encouraging.”
“Sorry. That’s all I got.”
“Wow. That’s sad.”
“Gimme time. This dating thing is new to me,” I said.
“Uh, hello. I’m the one doing the dating, not you.”
“Well at least you’re dealing with people who still have a heartbeat. I spend a good portion of my time hanging out with dead people.” I filled her in on my trip to the hospital.
“So you have no clue who the ghosts are?”
I sipped my cup of caffeinated bliss and flung my head to the side. “Nope. I got nothing but two dead kids. The jumper who doesn’t seem to care about himself, but thinks I ought to help the one who doesn’t seem to want to speak for herself. And that one’s a little freaky, too.” I leaned back in the chair and took off my sunglasses. “The sun feels so good. I’m so tired of the rain.” I dragged out the “o” in so to make my point.
It had rained for over a week. Not storms or a light drizzle, but a steady stream of water, like a powerful showerhead, falling from a gray, clouded sky. Rain made me tired and lazy, and that Angela was annoying, even to me.
“Careful there. Your pastiness is already turning red,” Mel said.
I lifted my head and furrowed my brow at my best friend. “June wouldn’t talk like that to Fran, ya know.”
“Huh?” Mel gave me a one-brow-up stare, and that one brow went two-thirds of the way up her tiny forehead. It was impressive.
“You have no forehead when you do that.”
She stood up, leaned over the table, and pressed the back of her hand to my forehead. “You don’t feel feverish.”
“I’m not,” I said, pushing her hand from my face. “Why’d you think I was?”
“You’re not making any sense. You’ve changed the conversation direction three times in thirty seconds. And who the hell is June? Old cousin or something?” She sat back down and took a sip of her drink.
“June Cash. She’s Ma’s new bestie. They’re two peas in a pod.”
She tilted her head to the side like my dog, Gracie does when I spell the word walk. “June Cash? Did she live with your mom at that assisted living place?”
My lips opened and out came an uncontrollable, unexpected laugh. “Oh my gawd, you’re lucky you’re pretty ’cause wow, that’s pathetic.”
“I am not pretty,” she said, and then shook her head. “You know what I mean.”
“June Cash is the late Johnny Cash’s wife.” I took another sip from my cup.
Mel said, “Johnny Cash?” And then face-palmed her forehead. “The country singer, duh.” She leaned back in her chair, and then forwards again, her hands squeezing the arms of the chair. “Wait a minute. Fran said she’s besties with June Cash? Johnny Cash, the country singer’s wife?”
I squinted at the top of her head. “I don’t see the light bulb, but it obviously turned on.”
“Whatever. So you’re telling me your mother is best friends with Johnny Cash’s wife?”
I crossed my fingers and held them up for Mel to see. “Like two peas in a pod.”
“Is June dead, too?”
I put my cup down and banged my head against the table, twice. “Pretty, pretty, pretty,” I said, and laughed.
She straightened her shoulders. “Well, she could be alive and be able to talk to ghosts like a certain person I know. And how would I know anyway? I’m not a country music fan, or a music trivia savant like you.”
“It’s not just music trivia, and it’s mostly eighties stuff anyway. But yes, she’s dead.”
“So Fran’s hanging out with Johnny Cash’s wife? And they’re besties?” she repeated. “That’s freaking awesome.” She swirled her drink in her cup, then stopped and stared at me with her Asian eyes wide. “Has she seen Johnny, too?”
I nodded. “Said she’s excited for George Strait to kick the bucket so he can sing with Johnny because Johnny’s gettin’ tired of his regular group.” I sipped my drink. “And apparently my mother is, too.”
“Ah.” She leaned back again and smiled, all teeth and pink lipstick. “Holy mother of God. When I’m dead, I’m so hanging out with Paul Walker.”
“That’s the guy from those fast car movies, right? Furiously Fast or something like that?”
“Fast & Furious, and yes.”
I rolled my eyes.
“Oh come on. You know you’ll be all over Andy Garcia when the time comes,” she said, the grin creeping further up her cheeks.
“Nope.” I reached behind me and cupped the back of my head in my hands. “I’ll be with Jake. Or waiting to be with him, at least.”
“Well, I don’t have a Jake. I had a Nick but he’s with the floozy so I get to pick who I want, and I want Paul Walker.” She nodded, more to herself than to me. “Besides, he died tragically and young, so when I get there he’ll look like he did when he died, which was freaking hot.” She smirked, obviously satisfied with her thought process.
“Yeah, but odds are you’ll die old, all wrinkly and leathery, and I doubt that’s his type.” Picturing Mel old and leathery made me snort.
If looks could kill…
“I’ll have you know studies show that Asians age gracefully, especially compared to mutts like you.”
“It’s a proven fact.”
“Oh yeah? Name one.” I crossed my arms over my chest. “Betcha can’t.”
Her eyes formed straight, thin lines, forming into what I liked to call her Asian face, and it didn’t scare me. Too much. “Well?” I said.
She huffed. “Why does my mind always go blank when I’m trying to make a point?”
“Oh please. I’m not the peri-menopausal one at the table, and we both know that.” She high-fived herself. “Oh yeah.”
“Glad someone here thinks you’re funny.”
“I’m glad you do,” she teased. “So what happens next with the boy at the hospital?” She took a sip of her drink. “June and Johnny Cash. Freaking amazing.”
“I told Aaron I’d try and contact the boy.” I leaned into the table and whispered. “I told him we’d try using the Ouija Board today, you and me. Whadda ya think?”
Mel’s face paled and then a bright shade of red crept up her neck and flushed her cheeks. “When pigs freaking fly.”
To say Mel was scared to death of a Ouija Board was putting it mildly. If she’d had it her way, the demon-producers disguised as toys would be banned from the universe for the rest of time.
“Keep your panties on. I’m kidding. Geesh. I’m just gonna try and talk to him. You know, that thing I do when I look like I’m talking to myself? And see what happens, I guess. If he comes, he comes. If he doesn’t, not much I can do about it.”
“That’s what she said.” She pretended to bang on a drum. “Ba da bump.”
“So what if you can’t get him? What about your mom? Can’t she help?”
“Maybe, but her social calendar seems to be pretty full these days. She’s bowling at the moment.”
Mel was sipping her drink when I said that, and her laughter made it shoot out her nose and splatter all over the small table.
“Yuck.” I wiped my arm. “You just nailed my arm with a snot shot.”
“Whoops.” She wiped her nose with a napkin. “Here, lemme get that.” She used the same napkin to wipe my arm.
I jerked my arm away. “Oh my God, gross. Don’t touch me with that.”
Mel laughed too hard to speak.
“You’re such a snot. No pun intended.”
That made her laugh more.
“Lemme know when you’re finished.”
She held a finger up, signaling me to hold on, so I did.
“Okay, I’m done.” Her voice crackled with a giggle. “Okay, I’m done now.” She inhaled and blew the air out. “Okay, I’m really done now.” She tilted her head like my dog again. “Wait. Fran’s bowling? Like in Heaven?”
“Well, when she’s done, you gonna ask her to help? I mean, she is the super sleuth spirit and all.”
“Yes, I’m gonna talk to her later. I figure I’ll give her a few hours and then call her.” The realization of what I’d just said made me giggle. “Wow, that’d be one super expensive long-distance phone call, wouldn’t it?”
“Probably cheaper to Skype her.”
I rolled my eyes. “I wonder if anyone else thinks we’re as hilarious as we think we are?”
“If not, they’re stupid.”
“There is that.”
“So what do you think the boy meant when he said you need to help the girl?” she asked.
“Probably that I need to help the girl.” I pulled my phone from my purse to check the time. “Crap, I gotta go. Josh has lacrosse in an hour, and I’m driving him.” I tossed my phone back in my purse, and guzzled the last swig of my latte. “Don’t forget to email Gatorguy.”
“Shut it, Panther.”