Beyond Dead, страница 1часть #1 серии A Paranormal Ghost Cozy Mystery Series
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.
All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2016 Jordaina Sydney Robinson
Edited by Sophie Playle of Liminal Pages (www.liminalpages.com)
Cover design by Design for Writers (www.designforwriters.com)
For my mum who has read every
draft of every book
… and there have been a lot!
Deader Still Excerpt – Book Two in the Bridget Sway Series
I’d always had a problem being punctual. My mum used to say I’d be late for my own funeral. Thankfully that wasn’t being held for another week or so yet, not that I was exactly sure what the etiquette would be for me attending. I’d probably still be late, though. And I mean ghost-me would be late, not dead-body-me. Dead-body-me’s punctuality was in someone else’s hands, so I was fairly certain that me would be on time.
I wasn’t even sure if I’d be able to get the time off work. Yes, you heard me right. I had a job. One that I was running late for. Though technically, being dead, I suppose I was “late” for everything now. And, in all fairness, I didn’t feel my lack of punctuality in this instance was entirely my fault. It was the fault of whoever had crammed a dead-ghost-guy into my locker.
Of course I wasn’t completely sure he was dead. Or doubly dead. I didn’t even know if ghosts could die. You see it in movies all the time, ghosts reverting back to their “death form” or whatever to scare people. It was highly possible he was waiting for me to try to get something out of my locker before springing to life and scaring me to death, if you’ll excuse the pun. An initiation of sorts. Though if that’s what it was, he had the patience of a saint because I’d been staring at him for nearly twenty minutes and he’d yet to so much as twitch.
Initiation or not, I hoped he’d not bled onto my uniform because I was pretty sure the Bureau of Ghostly Affairs would deduct it from my measly pay cheque. That was if they paid me at all. They’d been conveniently sketchy on the pay details during my very brief “Welcome to Your Afterlife” induction. In fact, they’d been sketchy on all the details. The only two things I knew for sure was that I was dead and I still had to work.
“Hey! Bridget!” Bertha strode into the ladies’ locker room, all skinny five feet of her clearly meaning business. “Move your fake-tanned ass! Get your uniform on and let’s go!” She had an annoying habit of punctuating every exclamation with a sharp clap. And my ass was not fake-tanned.
“I’d love to, Bertha. Really I would. It’s always been my dream to toil for eternity with limited rewards in the belted mauve sack you call a uniform, but, unfortunately, someone’s crammed a dead-ghost-guy into my locker, which is sadly preventing me from getting to it.” I flashed my recently bleached teeth at her. “Any suggestions?”
Bertha harrumphed, covering the space between us in a flurry of fairy strides. She glanced at the contents of my locker and paused mid-step. Frozen in place, with her knee in the air, she toppled backwards and hit the floor with a thud in a dead faint.
“I’ll take that as a ‘no’ then, shall I?”
No one would ever have described me as squeamish, but in life a dead body probably would’ve elicited more from me than a staring match with the victim. However, it seemed my shock receptors had frazzled out after the whole dying and becoming a ghost thing. I was certain I’d feel differently in the morning, though I was hoping they’d have moved him by then.
Alex, Bertha’s partner, pushed the heavy locker room door ajar and called Bertha’s name through the crack.
“She’s fainted,” I said as I stared at her prone form, feeling oddly detached. I should probably care about this. “You’d better come in.”
“Fainted?” Alex poked his head into the room. His eyes widened in worry when he saw her. As if unaccustomed to moving faster than a strut, Alex scurried awkwardly over and knelt by Bertha’s side. “Get me some water to splash on her face,” he instructed me without taking his eyes from her.
“Yes, you.” He pointed through the archway to the shower area at the far end of the room. “Go.”
I folded my arms and pursed my lips. I’d always had a bit of a problem with authority.
“What are you waiting for?” he asked when he glanced up to see me still sitting there.
“A ‘please’ would be nice.”
“What?” Alex stared blankly at me. “Fine. Whatever. Please can you please get me some water please? Was that okay?”
“It was passable.” I adjusted my white suit jacket as I stood and then headed across the murky grey linoleum. “It would’ve worked better without the attitude, though. She’s only fainted.”
I walked under the arch and into the open area beyond. It was like a school shower room flashback. A central wall divided the room. Shower cubicles lined the far left wall and toilet cubicles faced them on the central divide. A row of sinks ran along both walls to the right with individual mirrors above them. In what world did twice as many sinks as there were toilets make sense? Several sporadically arranged empty blue tumblers stood on the thin shelves above the sinks. I rinsed one before filling it and caught my reflection in the soap smeared mirror.
Thankfully I’d had my fire engine red hair coloured and trimmed a few days earlier. It usually made my sky blue eyes look electric and my skin appear sun-kissed; today I just looked haggard, tired and sallow. Death did not look good on me. Leaning closer to inspect the dark circles under my eyes, I realised my white trouser suit probably wasn’t helping my deathly complexion. I’d have to go shopping for a whole new wardrobe on my next day off. That’s if I got a day off. And where did the dead shop? I readjusted my perfectly trimmed fringe and sighed. Alive or dead, the important stuff was never in the inductions.
“What are you doing in there?” Alex snapped, interrupting my mental shopping list. I’d started to list individual things and then realised I should just change it to one word: everything.
I walked back across the floor, handed Alex the tumbler and then flopped heavily down on the wooden bench next to him. I was too tired to do anything but watch while he tended Bertha. Dying had really taken it out of me.
Alex was tall, dark and almost handsome. He ticked all the boxes on paper – muscled, square jaw, boyish dimples, perfect smile – but somehow didn’t pull it off in reality. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. A bit like Bertha. She was dainty with long auburn hair and big brown eyes like pots of melted chocolate. She had a dusting of freckles across her nose, but instead of looking petite and delicate her features seemed oddly out of proportion.
Alex moved Bertha’s head so it rested on his knees and then flicked a few drops of water onto her face. No reaction. He sprinkled a little more then dragged a rough hand through his neatly styled short hair. “What happened? What did you do?”
“Me?” My voice hitched up an indignant octave. “Nothing!”
“And why aren’t you dressed for your shift?” He sprinkled a few more drops onto Bertha’s face, to no avail. “First impressions count.”
Yeah. And my first impressions of this afterlife business so far? Not impressed. “Give me that.” I took the tumbler from his hands as he gently tapped Bertha’s cheeks. We were going to be here all day at this rate.
I stared at him blankly. “Well what?”
“Why aren’t you dressed?” he gritted out. Clearly neither he nor Bertha dealt with stress very well.
“Oh. Right.” I nodded to my locker. “Dead-ghost-guy.”
Alex’s head spun around so fast I heard his neck crack. And while he was distracted I threw the contents of the tumbler in Bertha’s face.
Something heavy slammed onto the table, waking me with a start. I sat bolt upright to find Detective Johnson was back for another round of “ask a stupid question”. The short, plump man that could’ve passed for Colombo, except for his lack of hair and downturned mouth, removed his flattened palm from the table and then settled himself in the chair opposite.
I squinted as I watched him. The fluorescent light played off the white walls and one-way mirror, stinging my tired eyes. I studiously avoided checking my reflection; florescent lighting did nothing for me.
“So, you just found him there?” Detective Johnson casually flipped through the loose sheets in his official-looking brown paper folder.
Found who? What was he talking about? Ah, that’s right, it all came rushing back in a slideshow of misery. I glanced at the clock. He’d locked me in the interview room for six hours. Six hours. I rubbed my eyes, only remembering mid rub that I wasn’t wearing waterproof mascara. I inspected the damage in the one-way mirror, I couldn’t help it. And now I could add two black eyes to my list of problems.
“Well?” He drummed each finger on his right hand on the white Formica tabletop.
“Well what?” I tore my eyes away from the disaster that was my reflection. There was no salvaging the mascara.
“You just found him there?” He wore a bland expression that matched his tone and probably his personality.
“Yes.” I sighed. I was sure I’d told him this at least a trillion times already. “I just found him there.”
“You just found him?”
“Are you a parrot or a detective? Yes, I just found him.”
“Uh-huh.” He nodded and flipped through a few more loose sheets. The minutes stretched out as he read something in silence. Finally he closed the file and stared at me. He drummed his right hand on the table again. That was going to get annoying.
“Okay. You’re right. You got me.” I held up my hands in surrender, far too tired for a battle-of-wills staring match. “I killed him and stuffed his body in my locker, hoping to deflect suspicion from myself in an extremely clever way.”
“I suppose you think that’s funny.”
I leaned towards him. “No, I think it’s frustrating. It doesn’t matter how many different ways you ask me, my answer will still be ‘I found him there’. Do you know why?”
I threw my hands up in frustration. “Because I found him there!”
“Uh-huh.” He stared at me for another long moment then returned to flicking through the folder, unruffled by my outburst. He spoke without lifting his eyes. “I’ve been unable to verify your alibi.”
“Somehow I’m not surprised by that.” I sighed again, thinking that said more about his detecting skills than my guilt.
“No one at Arrivals can vouch for your constant presence.” No expression, no intonation in his voice, no habitual tie straightening. Only that damn finger drumming.
“Right. So. You think what?” I leaned back in my chair, eyebrows raised. “That I died, somehow zipped over from Arrivals to wherever this guy was, killed him, dragged him to the ladies’ locker room, stuffed him into a locker I didn’t know I was going to be assigned, and then rode a cloud back to Arrivals to give myself an alibi?”
“So, you’d never met him before today?”
“I only died today. When could I possibly have met him?”
“You died three days ago.”
Had I spent three days in that nightmare of afterlife airport? “Well, y’know what? I’ve not been to bed since I died, so it’s still to-goddamn-day to me.”
Drum, drum, drum of his fingers on the table. “That doesn’t answer my question, Miss Sway.”
I watched the fingers on his right hand still. My left eye twitched as I waited for the next round and something occurred to me. “Is this Hell?”
“So, you’d never met him before today?” Johnson repeated, calm and unperturbed.
I folded my arms on the table, rested my head on them and tried to go back to sleep. Okay, so I might have had a slightly bigger problem with authority than I initially made out.
“Are you refusing to cooperate?”
My head shot back up. “Are you kidding me right now? What is still yesterday morning to me, I got fired, found my fiancé cheating on me and then got hit by a bus, which, since it killed me, you think would be the end of it. But noooooo. After dying, I spent hours riding the Bus of Death with Charon, who, by the way, does not observe any traffic laws. And which I personally thought was an extremely insensitive mode of transport in my particular circumstances. Then I spent the next three days, according to you, in Afterlife Arrivals, which is worse than any airport I have ever experienced. And I’ve been through Charles De Gaulle.
“Then I was sent to start my new job immediately, and FYI working in your afterlife sucks, only to find a dead dead guy in my locker, bleeding over my uniform, which you guys” – I jabbed a finger at not-Colombo as if he were personally responsible – “will probably charge me for. So, believe me when I tell you I have cooperated to the fullest extent of my current capacity.”
Detective Johnson considered me for a long moment, drumming his damn fingers on the table. If it carried on, I was going to break them. I just was. I wouldn’t be able to help myself.
“Constable?” Johnson didn’t raise his voice, but an older gentleman with a kind face and a twinkle in his eyes sidestepped through the door.
“Can you accompany Miss Sway to her GA meeting please?” Johnson watched me while speaking to the constable. I don’t know what he hoped to see on my face, maybe a flash of guilty victory. The only thing he got was confusion. Pretty much the same look I’d worn since I died.
“Yes, sir.” The constable, dressed in the same style of black suit as Johnson, stepped further into the room and held open the door. “Miss Sway?”
“You’re free to go,” Johnson said.
I glanced from him to the constable and back, almost fearing a trick. Saying nothing, I stood, straightened my suit jacket and then headed to the door with the confident stride of an innocent woman.
“For now,” Johnson added as I stepped out of the interrogation room and tripped over my own foot. I winced. Way to look guilty.
Outside of the interrogation room, the large office was open plan. It was a hive of activity with the human worker bees clad in black suits and white shirts. The only difference was the ties. Some people wore navy while the majority wore pastel blue like my constable. I even clocked a couple of lilac like Johnson. I guessed they used them to define rank instead of stripes on the shoulder.
I scanned along the neat potato waffle arrangement of desks as we walked through the office. No desk clutter anywhere. No pictures. No posters. No toys.
“Is this the homicide division?” I’d never been inside a real life police station, but I imagined they had a lot less personnel devoted to murders. A bigger homicide department meant a higher murder rate, didn't it? How ironic; I was more likely to be murdered after I died.
The constable nodded. “Yes, but this department looks afte
I followed him along one of the narrow aisles, turning in a circle to get the full effect of the room. “How much larger?”
His lips pulled into a small smile and pride shone through his voice. “About the size of Europe.”
“Huh.” I made eye contact with at least four navy ties and one pastel blue; all stared at me as if I were something they’d scrapped off their shoe. Maybe Johnson had stamped “criminal” on my forehead while I slept.
“You look like you’re chewing a wasp.” The constable smiled and pointed a thick finger at my face. “Spit it out.”
“Oh.” I pushed a loose strand of hair back in my chignon and readjusted the bobby pin. “I thought this department was huge but, if it's looking after a Europe-sized amount of people, it’s actually quite small.” Like, maybe, ineffectually small.
“You don’t grow old here. You don’t die unless it’s by another ghost’s hand, accidental or not. We, with the occasional assistance of the GBs, have a one hundred per cent case closure rate.” He met my eyes. “All murders are solved. Some just take longer than others.”
“What are GBs? And what’s a typical case closure time? And roughly how many murders are we talking per year? Wait, do we have prisons here? We must do. Are the laws the same? We have police, so there must be a justice system, right? Is the crime rate worse in certain areas? Is there a crime rate at all? There must be. There must be other crimes than murder?”
The constable laughed softly and held up his hands against the barrage of questions. “Whoa, there.”
“Sorry, I can get a bit …” I swept my fringe out of my eyes, feeling a blush warm my cheeks. At least that would help my complexion. “No one’s really told me anything.”
“I was the same when I first got here. I took a breath between questions, though.” He leaned in and lowered his voice. “The GBs, the Ghosting Busters, are our specialised police force, like the FBI or Interpol. They deal with a variety of crimes, from murder to unauthorised hauntings. The rest you don’t really need to know.”