ReGina Welling

Yay! It's Friday!!! Hope yours is going well. I'm here to offer you a sneak peek of the first chapter of Haunting Season, the upcoming book in my Haunted Everly After series (to be released sometime in July). Poor Everly is having another bad day. One of her best friends just got arrested for a murder she didn't commit, and worse, now there are two ghosts vying for her attention.

Ready? Here we go.

A furious buzz of gossip replaced the silence that had fallen over Cappy’s Tavern while Ernie Polk marched Patrea Evergreen out the door in handcuffs.

“What the hell just happened?” Jacy pitched her voice loud enough to be heard over the crowd.

“Call Chris. I have to get to the station.” I rose to leave, but when I grabbed my purse,  pain flared in my wrist and I remembered that because of my injury, I hadn’t driven to the bar.

“Go!” Neena waved a dismissive hand. “I’ll take care of the bill and meet you there.”

“Um, you both rode with me, remember? Nobody’s leaving until I do.” Jacy scanned the bar for signs of our server and motioned for Miranda to bring the check. “We’ll settle up first, and then we’ll go. A few extra minutes won’t make Patrea any less arrested.”

Patrea arrested. It just didn’t add up. While we waited for the bill, I called her husband who could not have picked a worse time to deliver potted pines to a big customer in New Jersey.

“I heard,” he answered without a hello. “I’m packing up and heading back now. Tell her I’ll be there in eight hours or less.” He hung up. 

I tucked my phone back in my purse and pulled out my debit card to pay for dinner. “Chris knows, and she wouldn’t have had time to call him yet, so the gossip mill’s running at warp speed.” Which shouldn’t have come as a surprise given the sea of speculative faces turned our way.

Conversation hushed along our path, but picked right up behind us as we passed through on our way toward the door. This was not one of those wind in the hair moments where a group walks confidently into battle, but I did stare down a couple of the more gleeful looks on my way by.

“She didn’t do it.” Jacy took defiance a step further. “So you can stop talking crap about Patrea. Right now,” she raised her voice, her tone going harsh with annoyance, and sounding overly loud in the sudden lull when the song on the jukebox ended. “Get a life, people.”

 Several people had the grace to look chagrined, others shrugged off the admonishment and continued to stare, but one man did neither. Face red, he rose and shouted, “I say give the girl a medal because she did the world a favor. Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”

“Sit down, you old coot, and shut up.” His table companion, a woman I didn’t recognize from the back, grabbed his arm, and when he didn’t immediately sit, gave it a yank. “Nobody asked for your opinion.” I didn’t recognize her voice, either. The outburst served to change the tide of popular opinion a bit. More people called for him to hush up.

Some guy near the bar yelled, “You’ve got one hell of a nerve judging anyone else.” Such undisguised anger colored the statement, I craned my head around to see who spoke, but I couldn’t see tell.

A roar of agreement rose from the crowd. The instigator of chaos responded by going even redder in the face. “Don’t you even talk to me,” he said, his voice shaking. “I know all your dirty little secrets.” He leveled a shanking hand, pointed toward the bar, and to other spots around the room. “Cheat, adulterer, liar, thief.”

I wasn’t the only one glancing around me to see if we could figure out who he was talking about. Small towns run on gossip and Mooselick River was no exception to the rule, especially when Friday-night regulars made up the majority of the crowd.

Darcy and Nelson Campbell sat at their usual table, and for once, they didn’t seem to be in some stage of a fight. Probably because they’d been joined by the unlikely couple of Thea Lombardi, Jacy’s replacement when she’d left the diner, and Jason Todd, the chef and chief bottle-washer at The Marlow Inn.

Why hadn’t any of us noticed that before? It would have made for an interesting dinner conversation trying to figure out what those two might have in common. Jason was a nice man with some miles on him while Thea tended to be quite surly most of the time. I lost track of the excitement for a moment trying to figure out if they were there on a date or not. If they were, they’d take the prize for weirdest couple of the night.

When one of the bouncers glanced at the bartender and tilted his head toward the furious man’s table, Milo answered with a head shake, rounded the bar, and went to the table instead. With a great deal more restraint than I would have used, he spoke to the upset man, got him to settle back into his seat, then looked deliberately at those still buzzing until things went quiet again.

“That’s enough,” was all he said. Then he stalked over, dropped coins in the jukebox, and punched the buttons decisively until a popular song began to play. “Eat, enjoy the music, and keep your opinions of others to yourself.” With that, he went back to take a slew of new drink orders while Adam, the cook who had come out to check on things went back to the kitchen.

“Who was that guy?” I asked when we’d cleared the door. I didn’t recognize him, but Jacy would know.

“Jober?” Jacy gave the name a Downeast spin so it came out sounding like Joe-bah. “Jober Peavey. People call him Oddjob, though.”

I frowned. “Why?”

“Because he does odd jobs, naturally,” Neena said. “I know he helped Mrs. Willowby with her flower beds sometimes, but Hudson wouldn’t hire him.”

“How did I not know about this guy when I was crawling through cobwebs to thaw pipes last winter? Seems like someone could have given me his number.”

But Jacy was shaking her head. “Leo wouldn’t have let you hire him. They have beef. Or they did a couple of years ago. Got into in the diner one day over something to do with Mabel. I didn’t hear the whole thing because it happened before Leo came out of his shell, so it was the quietest fight ever, if you know what I mean.”

I did because when I took a job managing properties for the soft-spoken and mild-mannered Leo Hansen, he’d been too shy to yell for help if his butt caught fire. But one day, he had what you might call an epiphany. After crushing on Mabel for years, he decided it was time to let her know—got himself a makeover, went down to the diner, and sacrificed his dignity on the altar of love by singing her a song.

 Jacy shrugged. “Other than that, all I know is Jober moved here from somewhere down-state right after you took off for the big city. He’s a picky eater and a crappy tipper.” She gave me the salient points as she saw them based on her former position as a server at the Blue Moon diner.

In the car, we put the whole Oddjob incident behind us, and refocused on the major drama of the night when Neena echoed Jacy’s earlier sentiment. “Patrea didn’t do it.”

Since the not-nearly-departed-enough dead psychic Patrea supposedly had murdered hadn’t moved on, and now hovered over the seat next to Neena, I tended to agree. “Patrea isn’t a killer, but I assume Ernie found her fingerprints on the necklace that was used to strangle Davina. I wonder how that happened since she never mentioned an interest in books of the….esoteric variety.”

Davina quirked a brow at my choice of words, which I’d hoped would be a prompt for her to say something useful for a change.

“We had private business That’s all I can say without breaking psychic/client confidentiality.”

Not useful. Shocking.

Jacy hit the gas hard, spun up a spray of gravel, and rocketed out of the parking lot in her pink bullet of a mini-van. I grabbed for something to hold onto, and so did Neena. Davina merely chuckled, but I happened to get a glance back at her as the van jigged sideways and the ghost spent a moment half inside the car and half out of it.

Not so funny now, eh?

Her hand gripping the door handle, Neena made a dry comment. “I didn’t think these things had the giddy-up to spin the tires like that.”

Glancing in the rear-view, Jacy grinned. “I had my father-in-law give her a few tweaks to get a little more power out of her.  He changed out the standard for a cat-back exhaust, installed K&N filters. Air induction…” She trailed off when she noticed Neena’s eyes had glazed over.

“You realize you’re speaking some sort of car geekinese, right?” Neena brought the conversation back to the more important topic. “Maybe Patrea visited Davina for professional reasons. We don’t know her all that well. Maybe there’s someone missing from her past, or else she could have been doing some legal work.”

“Her brother,” I said as the memory flooded back and the pieces fell into place. “His name is Justin, and he ran away from home as a teen.” Using Neena as an excuse, I spun in my seat so I could see Davina’s face as well. “I bet she asked for help in finding him.”

Davina nodded.

“Doesn’t explain her fingerprints being on the murder weapon,” Jacy mused. “If that’s even what happened.”

Neena flipped a curl of chestnut behind her shoulder, her dark eyes troubled. “You don’t think she could have done it, do you? I know everyone has their breaking point, but I can’t see Patrea getting riled up enough to commit cold-blooded murder. She’s too…” Neena hesitated, then chose, “controlled.”

Since I knew the whole story, but didn’t want to share anything told to me in confidence, I said, “She wouldn’t kill over anything to do with her brother, but if she did, it would have happened a long time ago, and to the person she feels responsible for the situation.” Namely, my ex-husband, Paul. “I can’t see her going after Davina for not being able to find him after all these years.”

Davina shrugged and cut her gaze away from mine. Next opportunity that presented itself, she would be answering some questions about her history with Patrea.

“I spoke to Chris. He’s already on the road, but he won’t make it back until mid-morning.” I said two hours later when Ernie finally buzzed us into the inner workings of the station where Patrea, looking miserable in orange, huddled on a bench in the single jail cell.

“Did you bring my purse?” Was not the first thing I expected to come out of her mouth.

And, of course, I hadn’t thought to grab it when we left the bar. None of us had. 

“I’ll call the tavern and check if they found it,” Jacy went out to make the call in private while I pulled out my checkbook.

“How much to cover your bail?” To my embarrassment, I had plenty.

Patrea lifted a brow, rose to come to the bars, and would have grasped my hand through them if Ernie hadn’t growled. What color her face had regained washed right back out leaving her pale.

“That’s not how it works, but I appreciate the offer.” She went back to her seat, sat with shoulders rounded. “There has to be a bail hearing first, which won’t happen over the weekend.”

Don’t blame me. I hadn’t exactly had a lot of experience with jail or bail etiquette.

“Then what can I do?”

“We,” Neena corrected me, rose to let Jacy back in, ignoring Ernie’s beetled brow. “What do you need?”

Patrea allowed a ghost of her normal grin. “What I need is less important than what Ernie needs, and that’s a reality check.” She raised her voice slightly, “I didn’t kill Davina Benet.”

“Of course, you didn’t.” Jacy shot Ernie a glare. Neena and I followed suit. “Anyone who thinks you did is wicked stupid.”

Ernie stood stalwart under the insult unique to Mainers, directed his gaze to each of us in turn, then confirmed my earlier theory. “Only someone wicked stupid would ignore the evidence. Her fingerprints were on the murder weapon.”

“How?” I turned back to Patrea hoping for an explanation, but she shook her head. Probably best if she exercised her right to remain silent until her attorney showed up. “Never mind. I don’t need to know because I’m not wicked stupid.”

All the good feelings and respect I’d had for Ernie Polk evaporated as, I suspected, did his for me. The man didn’t appreciate being called stupid but I didn’t care. If the dunce cap fit…he was welcome to wear it.

“Lay off the poor man.” Surprisingly, Patrea defended Ernie. “He’s just doing his job.”

“Fine.” But Jacy crossed her arms and glared in his direction anyway. “He’s not doing it very well,” she muttered under her breath.

“Put your checkbook away.” Patrea leaned forward on the uncomfortable bench, rested her elbows on her knees. “Bail won’t be set and the bonds office won’t open until Monday at least, so unless you can pull the actual murderer out of your butt in two days, I won’t be going anywhere until then.”

 “There has to be something we can do.” Being powerless to help didn’t sit well with me. “Anything.”

Patrea’s head came up, swiveled toward Ernie. “Well, there’s one thing, but it depends on how much of a…”

“Jackass?” Jacy supplied while Patrea searched for a more diplomatic term.

“Stickler Ernie wants to be,” Patrea flashed Jacy a quick smirk. “In my purse, there’s a roller bottle of essential oil. Leandra gave it to me to help with my monthly cramping issues.”

Confronted with three identical expressions of surprise, Patrea flushed. “What can I say? I’ve been assimilated into Momma Wade’s flock, but the stuff actually works, and I don’t mind smelling like spice and flowers one week a month.”

Ernie’s face reddened but being duty-bound, he couldn’t leave the room until we did. According to the clock on the wall above his head, we’d already missed the chance to get back to Cappy’s before closing time.

“If we leave now, we might make it before Milo locks up for the night,” Jacy said. “Are you sure that’s all you need?”

Patrea nodded, and I didn’t think I’d ever seen her look so alone. “I’ll be okay.”

If I had anything to say about it, she would. I’d found killers before. I could do it again. Probably not before the bail hearing, but what else could I do but try?

Thanks for reading!

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