ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST - NOVEMBER 2014
When I’d encountered Amanda Lee for the first time a month and a half ago, I’d already been dead meat for about thirty years. Supposedly, I’d only gone missing but...nope. It was more like murdered in the early 80s after a party up in Elfin Forest in North County, my killer unknown, my body never found.
But now, as Amanda Lee stood next to this Heidi girl, giving me the basics about why an unexpected visitor was in my casita, Amanda Lee was the one who came off like the dearly departed, garbed in a dark ruffled skirt and boots, with a matching blouse hanging limply from her tall frame. Her usually perfect red hair with the white streaks framing her face was even as drab as a black-and-white B-horror movie.
And why not, when the woman was as haunted as anyone I’d ever met?
I could tell Heidi wasn’t sensitive enough to see me, because she kept peering around the room, her eyes wide. The only humans I knew who could get a lock on me were Amanda Lee and Wendy Edgett. It’s not like I would’ve made any kind of awesome impression on Heidi, anyway—I’d died in tennis shoes, jeans, and a pale blue button down rolled up to my elbows with a white tank underneath. Just your average twenty-three-year-old American girl with my strawberry blond hair, green eyes, and freckles. A Tom Petty song in the flesh...or not.
By this point, I had a few questions for Amanda Lee. And, by the way, it’s pronounced “A MANdaley” with a Southern flair she’d brought with her from Virginia when she was young. Quirky as hell.
“So Wendy’s been talking to this girl?” I asked. Obviously, I’d mostly been concentrating on the Wendy parts of the story I’d just been told.
“Yes. They’ve exchanged emails.”
“I noticed that she does spend a lot of time on her computer.” I’d been watching over Wendy and her older brother Gavin, who I’d nearly driven insane while trying to decide whether he was guilty of killing Elizabeth Dalton. That’s mainly why Wendy was pissed off at me, and I didn’t know if she was ever going to forgive me. Even so, it was my duty to see that the two of them were okay, that the dark spirit Amanda Lee had summoned during that asinine fake séance was leaving them alone.
I wasn’t all that sure it would stay away from them since I had a bad feeling that Amanda Lee had accidentally released their very deceased craphead father from wherever naughty people went after they died. Being a ghost, you’d think I’d know exactly where that was, but no. No matter who I asked, no one ever had a good answer.
Boo World wasn’t exactly a place where every question you’d had as a mortal was answered.
Speaking of sketchy things Amanda Lee had done, I should mention that she’d also lied about why she’d resurrected me from the residual haunting phase I’d been in for nearly three decades—a time loop where I’d been living my death over and over again because I’d been so traumatized by it. She’d wanted me to haunt the truth out of the man she’d suspected of murdering her lover, Elizabeth Dalton. See, Amanda Lee had told me she didn’t know Elizabeth, that she was only seeking justice for a friend. None of that turned out to be true, because Amanda Lee had been very close to the victim, indeed; she’d only been manipulating me the entire time to make me do her bidding.
Needless to say, trust wasn’t exactly high on my Amanda Lee To Do list.
I float-walked closer to the newcomer, Heidi, and she crossed her arms over her chest, warming herself.
“I meant to ask before,” she said to Amanda Lee. “Exactly how much do you charge to help people?”
“Charge?” Amanda Lee and I asked at the same time.
“Yes, I want to hire you.”
I had no need of money, and Amanda Lee’s spine straightened at the very mention of it because she was what was known as “affluent.”
“There’ll be no charge,” she said.
“Oh. Okay. I only thought...”
“No charge,” Amanda Lee repeated, and she said it with such dignity that I knew the topic was as dead as disco.
While Amanda Lee was bristling, something caught my attention at the window. Movement, outside. And when I saw an old man’s grayish,bearded, ghostly face peering in, I flew over and waved bye-bye.
Dammit, there’d been ghosts swirling around here a lot lately, drawn by all the rumors of what Amanda Lee and I had done with the Edgetts. Apparently, we were high entertainment for the bored denizens of Boo World.
The old man stuck out his tongue and zoomed away. In the meantime, the curtains were stirring with the wind I’d caused. Heidi looked ready to do a Major Tom and shoot into space, fueled by fear.
I have to say that her fear did charge me up a tad.
Amanda Lee strode toward the window. She probably hadn’t seen the old man—I was the only ghost she’d ever fully connected with—but she’d noticed my reaction to him, so she could make an educated guess.
She shut those curtains. “That was only Jensen brushing by the window, dear. Don’t mind her.”
Heidi’s voice shook as she continued, but the kid was brave to stay, I’d give her that.
“It’s all good, Ms. Minter.”
Excellent. Then the girl wouldn’t mind a little of this.
I turned on the computer by manipulating the electricity in the atmosphere. Ghosts were pure energy, after all.
Heidi made a surprised sound.
With a lowered glance at me, Amanda Lee took the hint, sitting down in front of the computer. “Getting a little pranky, are we, Jensen?”
“Me?” Hmph. I wasn’t the pranky type—that was for the ghosts who’d already gotten bored with their existence, looking for stimulation from the responses pranks got from humans.
I wasn’t bored. Or maybe I was. After the Edgett situation, I’d been, well, dying to move out of the casita, just to put some space between me and Amanda Lee. But all the annoying ghosts and the threat of the dark spirit had kept me here to watch over her as much as I could.
I’d leave soon, though, I kept telling myself. Someday I’d find an abandoned house that was just right for me.
“What is your friend’s name?” Amanda Lee asked Heidi, her fingers poised over the keyboard.
“And her boyfriend?”
“Tim. Tim Knudson.”
Heidi rattled off a place in Pacific Beach, and Amanda Lee typed it all in. The search engine came up with several links, and she clicked on one of them.
My energy was humming, mostly because I was feeling the growing apprehension in Heidi. “Why does she think he’s going to kill Nichelle?” I asked Amanda Lee.
After she translated for Heidi, the girl answered, “It’s just...a hunch. I read a book once, and they called this kind of intuition the gift of fear. And that’s why I can’t go to anyone else, because all I have are creepy suspicions about this guy. He and Nichelle have been with each other for a couple months now. They live together. At first, he was fascinating for Nichelle. She hasn’t had a lot of boyfriends, and Tim rides a beat up motorcycle and has a blue collar thing going on, so he’s edgy and kind of ‘wow’ for her. And he had a steady new job in a department store warehouse, working the swing shift. I found out a week after they were dating that he has a spotty work history, though. When I told her, she asked him about it, and he said that the past didn’t matter—he was going to make himself better for her.”
Amanda Lee had brought up a profile on that Facebook thingie. Frankly, I couldn’t stand the site. It was the type of distraction I would’ve hated when I was alive, too. I had true, close, dear friends that I used to go out and toke with and drink with every once in a while, face to freaking face. That, and my waitressing gig at Roundtable Pizza, had been enough of a social life for me.
Anyway, Tim’s picture showed a handsome guy in his twenties with buzzed sandy hair and a Tom Cruise smile. He was a smaller man. I could tell because he was posing near a bar, and it provided some scale as he toasted the camera with a draft beer.
Amanda Lee said, “He looks harmless enough, but that’s always the problem. We know better than anyone that bad people are good at hiding who they really are.”
“Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt right now,” I said. We didn’t know Heidi very well, and I was eager to get an empathy reading off of her to see if she was on the up and up with us. Besides, I didn’t need to remind Amanda Lee about Gavin Edgett and how we’d rushed to judgment with him when she’d suspected him of killing Elizabeth.
Just at the thought of Gavin my ghost-heart sank, beating with a longing that was invisible, but real just the same. Regret, attraction, fascination... I hadn’t expected to feel any of it, being a dead girl and all…
From Another One Bites the Dust, Jensen Murphy, Ghost for Hire, Book Two
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