In celebration of Halloween, I’ve made my paranormal mystery Dying for Redemption free until November 1. This is a book that had come out with a small press in 2002. I received the right backs, reworked a few elements of the original story, than self-published it a few years ago. Dying for Redemption features Callous Demar, a murdered PI, who helps the other recently murdered solve their cases so they can rest. This is the first book in what I’ve always planned on turning into a series. The second book had been put on hold while I worked on other series. Next year, I hope to find some time to reenter the Working Shadow, Inc world and finish Dying for Perception.
I preferred Limbo to what lay beyond, but that probably rested in the fact that my final greeter would more likely be Satan than Saint Peter. I also ran the risk of destroying my baby sister Jenny if I launched a search into the question that kept my soul rattling in the between. With over a half-century of attendance, Limbo edged out my time spent among the living.
I liked my job, sticking my nose into other people’s problems and business. I liked brushing away the dirt to set the truth free… or at least shaking up the lies to see if a semblance of fact shifted out of the muck. Invited, of course. Messing around in people’s lives—or deaths—without permission bordered on gossip. And dead men didn’t tell tales outside the pages of novels or politics.
Slow. The definition of today. Good for the living, bad for a restless spirit. No-eye-for-an-eye, tooth-for-a-tooth, haunting-for-a-murder philosophy to put into motion.
“Here are some potential clients.” My secretary, Ann, dropped a few sheets of paper onto my desk.
“You know my rules.” I pushed them away as I had every day since she floated into my office twenty-five years ago after answering the job placement ad I had posted with the Successful Dead Employment Agency for an assistant. I had explained that I needed a beautiful, leggy blonde to do filing, answer calls, and look beautiful. I later modified it to female, beautiful, leggy, and blonde, as Hallie, the owner of the agency, had a wicked sense of humor.
Ann filled all of my requirements. A reminder she repeated whenever I complained about her lack of listening and obeying skills. She said those were not listed in her job description.
She had found herself residing in Limbo after her boyfriend accidentally killed her on their first rock-climbing excursion together—something about a cable between him and her coming loose, but the one attaching him to the rock had been snugger than a bug in a rug, an excuse the court, but not Ann, bought. Revenge boiled in Ann’s soul, keeping her tied to the living world.
Fortunately, Ann cared about herself enough not to seek revenge. Dying is sometimes chosen on our behalf, but Hell is entirely up to us.
“We could expand our services into helping the newly dead have a smoother transition into the afterlife.” Ann batted her baby-blues. “You know, advertise our services.”
“We? Our?” I leaned back in the chair and ran my fingers through my still-thick dark hair as I rested my wingtips on the desk. Lack of aging was the greatest benefit of our predicament. I had stopped at thirty-five, and Ann at twenty. “Until they walk in, we don’t know if they have accepted their new phase of existence.”
“We can expand our services into helping them understand.”
I waved off her words. “Then I’d have to hire one of those shrinks.”
“You need to evolve, Calamar.” Ann rested one rounded hip on my desk.
The disadvantage in arguing with the dead was that threats didn’t work. Ann knew that I hated my given name. I swore I’d be dead before any woman ever uttered it. Calamar Louise Demar. My mother and father had fancied themselves poets. For some reason, they were never published.
She eyed me like a hungry dog would a steak on a counter—one jump and a quick snap of the teeth, prey caught, then devoured whole.
“Ann.” The shortened name oozed from her throat. Hips swaying back and forth, she strutted out the door. The show finished with a toss of her pale locks over her shoulder and the flash of a victorious smile.
I waited a few minutes to make sure she wasn’t going to throw open the door and Ah-ha me. I pulled the sheets of paper toward me to acquaint myself with the new residents. Okay, Ann knew my plan. I refused to chase down clients, but I liked knowing who entered our world. There were a few people who deserved to spend eternity pondering their undeserved afterlife in Limbo.
The third entry caught my eye—Willow Flannery, thirty-two, an independently wealthy businesswoman, married four months, died in a car accident. The dame had left a nice sum of dough in her bank account for the grieving widower. Woman. I really needed to watch my nouns. She had driven her red BMW into a tree, causing her to fly through the windshield. Ouch. Neither status nor wealth saved a person, but a seatbelt could do the job. Common sense seemed to have passed her right by… or else a certain husband knew about cars and dabbled in a little tampering.
“I found her,” Ann crowed, throwing open my day.
Ann made up her own rules to suit the season, the day, the hour, or just her mood. Since the day she arrived, I had been trying to explain the difference between boss and secretary. She looked at me as one does a child; I was here for her to see and not hear. I let it slide. The other choice didn’t suit my fancy—alone for eternity. Most ghosts didn’t want to work. They wanted leisure.
And, Ann was easy on the eyes.
“Found who?” I know darn well who.
“Willow Flannery, the millionaire businesswoman whose husband happened to inherit her business when she died. Not to mention the sizable insurance.”
“One hundred million.”
I whistled. That kind of money could make a nun kill. “Besides the moola, any reason to believe it wasn’t her forgetting to look in front of her? Maybe she was…” I wiggled my fingers in the air.
“That. Texting. Seems to be a bad habit with the living.”
“Brakes were cut.”
That raised suspicion. “Police have a hunch?”
“They believe the butler did it.”
I laughed. Ann eyeballed me again. I continued to voice my mirth. Fifty years later and police still fell for blaming the butler. I wondered how much cash exchanged bank accounts for the butler to accept the rap.
Sobering, I rested my crossed arms on my chest. “What does she know about being here?”
“She knows she died, but doesn’t understand why she’s in Limbo.”
“Heard that story before.” I let out a sigh and sat up, removing my cracked, brown leather shoes from the desk. A good detective never looked nonchalant when interviewing the recently killed. “Send her in… since she’s already in the reception area.”
Ann’s pearly whites flashed as she swung her hips, and then exited my private office. Didn’t matter the decade, women always wanted men to look, they just didn’t want men acting like they liked what they saw… unless the woman wanted that acknowledgement.
Willow Flannery glided into the room.
Take a note: Names can be deceiving.
Willow definition: graceful, tall, slender. Glide definition: move smoothly, effortlessly—think swan swimming across a pond. Of course, that was after the ugly duckling phase. Part two had to have part one in order for completion. This new entry into the afterlife proved everything had an exception.
Willow was raven-haired and well-rounded. If she was about four inches taller, she’d fill out nicely. Her hair hung straight down to her chin, the locks circling around her head like a cover for a beekeeper’s bonnet. A portion was cut out to leave her features exposed, an opening in a picture frame. Large gray eyes looked at me with no hint of wonderment, confusion, or even interest. She knew where she was and why. Confidence vibrated with every step. She was at home in her body, mind, and spirit.
And some SOB had sent her away from the living. I had to find out whom. She held her hand out to me. I stood and accepted the offering, allowing her fingers and palm to rest on top of mine.
I drew her hand toward my lips and kissed it. “Willow Flannery, I presume.”
She yanked her hand back quicker than it took a mosquito bite to itch. “You presume too much.”
Her voice was deep and raspy. Enticing, if not for the eyes that said I had treaded where I didn’t belong.
“I didn’t come to be assaulted.” Her eyes held a challenge.
“You grabbed my hand.”
“I was saying hello.”
“By placing your lips uninvited on my hand?” Her eyes turned into tiny slits on her round face. “That is sexual harassment.”
Sexual? Harassment? What was the dame talking about? That was a quick, harmless kiss of greeting. I looked toward the door and saw Ann grinning in amusement.
“Listen, Ms. Flannery, there’s some mistake here. A peck on the hand doesn’t fall under assault.”
She looked around the room. I tried to see it through her eyes. The desk was a massive piece of faux oak, like the fabric chair and marred bookcases pressed against the wall behind it. Mismatched lamps stood in strategic corners. The only type of furniture I could afford when I lived remained my style of decorating… hand-me-down chic. My only upgrade was a nice cherry wood hat rack, polished to a high shine, where my collection of beloved fedoras hung with pride.
She nodded once, sat down in a threadbare chair, and crossed her legs, one rounded knee on top of the other. “I’m either in hell or purgatory.”
“Limbo,” Ann chimed from outside my office.
I walked over to the door. Casually, I stuck out my left foot and pressed it against the wooden door. A good shove and bang—right into the frame. And if luck existed, against the tip of the nose of Ann.
I pulled two notebooks from my jacket pocket, one black and one blue. The black one was for notes on cases; the blue was to write down the special phrases and ways of the new decade coming in. Kissing without asking is considered sexual harassment.
“So, this is the afterlife. For some reason, I expected something…” She paused and scanned the office. “More.”
“It’s a mimic of the world a person lived in, without the worry of dying. Everything is pretty generic here. The buildings, the scenery. The ghosts that stick around start to see their environment take on a sense of who they are.”
Her eyebrows rose and a smirk broke out on her face. “That explains your office.”
I liked the dame. Spunk. Fighting spirit.
“Can they see us?” She leaned forward, eyes displaying fascination with her new existence. “The living?”
“Some can. Some can’t because they don’t have the ability. Some refuse to acknowledge our existence, and there’s nothing we can do to force them to see.”
“Does that work in your favor or against it, Callous?”
I fought back a grin. “You’ve heard of me already.”
She rolled her eyes. “It’s on your door.”