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Spirits Revived -- Alice Duncan

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A Daisy Gumm Majesty Mystery, Book 7

When a real live (or dead) spirit invades Daisy Gumm Majesty’s body as she’s conducting a séance and claims he was murdered, Daisy is shocked and afraid, but also curious. She’s a fake spiritualist, for heaven’s sake. How did a real spirit manage to speak through her? And who killed Eddie Hastings? Why did the Pasadena Police Department rule his death a suicide?

She can’t tell anyone, least of all Detective Sam Rotondo, how she received the information that Eddie Hastings was murdered. They’d all laugh at her. And Daisy’s still unsure how her relationship with Sam will develop. But Eddie’s death needs explaining.

A fun, funny, fast-paced cozy historical mystery, Spirits Revived takes Daisy and Sam farther along on their road to togetherness. And Daisy again manages to muddle herself to glory.

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reviews

...Seasoned with plenty of intriguing period details and graced with an engaging cast of characters, Duncan’s latest gently humorous Daisy Gumm Majesty caper appeals to historical mystery and historical fiction fans.”
— John Charles, Booklist

...With charm, wit, and plenty of smarts, Daisy is a winning protagonist and, backed up by equally delightful supporting characters, should be in for a long and popular run.” Publishers Weekly

excerpt

Dedication

I couldn’t have written this book without input from Mimi Riser who, not for the first time, gave me the main plot line when we were chatting on the phone one day.

And to Lynne Welch and Sue Krekeler, who very bravely offered to be beta readers for me, I offer my vast and unfettered appreciation. Covered in chocolate. This past year (2012) has been heck for me, what with three surgeries and approximately ten million jaunts from Roswell to Albuquerque (a 400-mile round trip) to visit doctors and have medical procedures, and without Lynne and Sue, I’d never have finished the darned thing. Thank you both so very, very much!

By the way, the Keiji in this story was named for my late son-in-law, Keiji Oshita, who died far too young.

Chapter One

June 15, 1923. A year to the day since my husband, Billy Majesty, was laid to rest in Morningside Cemetery in Altadena, California.

The sun shone down upon the lovely spread of green grass and majestic trees as if bestowing a benediction on the day. The weather was as perfect as it had been a year prior, and once again I felt betrayed by it. How could the sun still shine and my home town still be beautiful with my darling Billy gone? No answer came from above—or anywhere else. Again.

Today I’d come to the cemetery with Spike, Billy’s wonderful and well-loved black-and-tan dachshund. I’m pretty sure dogs aren’t allowed in the cemetery, but I drove us in our lovely self-starting Chevrolet, and nobody saw us. At least nobody stopped us. I kept Spike on the leash as I walked him to Billy’s grave.

This wasn’t the first time, by far, I’d visited my husband’s last resting place, but it was the first time I’d brought Spike and flowers both. It was also the first time I aimed to have a long chat with Billy.

Not that I can communicate with the dead, in spite of how I make my living, which is as a spiritualist medium for people with more money than brains in the Pasadena/Altadena area. There were lots of them. I don’t mean to sound cynical, and I truly liked most of the people for whom I performed séances and worked the Ouija board and read tarot cards. But really. . .

Anybody with an ounce of common sense knows better than to believe in communication from the Other Side. Whatever that is. According to our Methodist minister, the Other Side is heaven. Guess I’d find out for myself one day.

At any rate, that day I felt like talking, so talk I did, while Spike wandered close by, sniffing up a storm. I’d taken him to dog obedience classes at Brookside Park a year or so ago, and he was expertly trained. Those folks at the obedience club really knew their stuff. They trained people to train their dogs like nobody’s business, and neither Spike nor I had forgotten our lessons.

I laid the dozen red roses, purchased at a nearby florist’s shop for a fortune, on Billy’s grave near the headstone, and sat beside it. Spending the money didn’t bother me, nor did it cause a hardship. As I said, I had a large and wealthy clientele. I’d worn a simple day dress of blue-checked gingham, since I’d anticipated grass stains. Naturally, I’d made the dress myself because I am a crackerjack seamstress.

The headstone, by the way, had been installed on the site about three months after Billy’s interment. It was a lovely gray color, not tall, but with a pretty filigree pattern surrounding the words: “Sacred to the memory of William Anthony Majesty. Beloved husband of Daisy. July 12, 1897-June 10, 1922. Rest now as you could not in life. The Good Die First.” That last part is from Wordsworth. I must have spent a week and a half in the library, going through their copy of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, before I settled on it. My family didn’t like the “Rest now” part, but I insisted upon it because it was the truth. And, since I paid for both the headstone and the engraving, I got what I wanted. At the time he died, Billy didn’t have any family except me, so I only had to argue with my mother and father and aunt.

“I miss you, Billy,” I said, and instantly started crying. Stupid, emotional me. But I’d loved him practically since I could walk, so I think I deserved a good cry or fifty. After blotting my tears with my hankie, I went on.

“If you can really see what’s going on down here on earth, you probably know I went through a rough time after you left me. That was bosh you wrote in that note, by the way, about wanting to die in the summertime because it wasn’t around any major holidays, so we wouldn’t connect your death with Thanksgiving or Christmas or New Year’s Day or Easter or whatever. We missed you like fire on all those days and on every other day in the year since you left us, and we would have, no matter when you’d died.”

Billy had killed himself. I know that sounds stark and bald and probably unchristian, but you need to know that Billy was a casualty of the Great War. I know, I know. When he finally drank all the morphine syrup he’d stored up, the war had been over for five years. But Billy had been shot and gassed by the forever-cursed Germans, and had been a shell-shocked wreck of himself almost since he first set foot on European soil. He existed in constant pain, could hardly breathe, and hated living the way he lived. Everyone who knew us knew that Billy was doomed to die early. He’d just taken matters into his own hands when life got too much for him. I don’t blame him, really, but I still think it was stupid to write that we wouldn’t miss him because he’d died during the summertime. Silly Billy.

“Anyhow, that’s beside the point. If you can see what’s going on down here”—I refused to believe a just God would refuse Billy entry into heaven merely because he’d ended his own shattered life—“you know that Harold took me on a trip to Egypt last August. It was too darned hot, and we spent most of our time in Turkey, and I was sick as a dog the whole time. Well, not the whole time, but you know what I mean.”

Neither Billy nor Sam Rotondo (Billy’s best friend) cared for Harold Kincaid, son of Mrs. Pinkerton (my best client) and one of my dearest friends, because he . . . oh, bother. This is always so difficult to explain. You see, Harold Kincaid is one of those men who don’t care for the ladies. He and his friend, Delray Harrington, had been together for years. Kind of like Billy and me, only they’re two men. If you see what I mean.

“The really galling part about our trip to Egypt was that King Tutankhamen’s tomb was discovered in November, a mere three months after we left the place. Well, you already know life isn’t fair.”

I heaved a deep sigh. “I renewed your subscription to National Geographic because Pa and I like to read it. They’ve had lots of interesting articles about the discovery of the tomb lately. The pictures they’ve printed have been fascinating. I only wish they could show us the colors of the objects. I guess King Tut was a minor Pharaoh, but he’s sure interesting, and the discovery of his tomb has been a real eye-opener.”

Deciding a cheery note would not come amiss, I said, “Flossie and Johnny had a bouncing baby boy last October. They named him William, in honor of you.” I swallowed another bout of sobs and tried to sound happy. “I thought that was so sweet of them. They said if the baby had been a girl, they were going to name her Daisy, so it’s a good thing Flossie had a boy.”

Johnny Buckingham, by the way, was a captain in the Salvation Army, and Flossie was his wife. They’ve always credited me with bringing them together, and I guess they’re right. I was actually attempting to pry Flossie away from her mean-tempered bully of a mobster gentleman friend at the time. No matter how or why they met, Flossie and Johnny seemed perfect together.

As for the Daisy thing, I’d never been awfully fond of my name. That’s one of the reasons I’d selected Desdemona as the name of my spiritualist persona when I was ten years old and discovered I had a knack for spiritualistic matters. If I’d been a bit older or had been forced to read Othello when I was a mere child, I’d probably have chosen something other than the name of a world-famous murderee, but what can you expect from a ten-year-old? I was stuck with Desdemona now.

The next part of the message I wanted to convey to Billy was difficult. “Um, I heard you tell Sam to please take care of me after you were gone a couple of weeks before you did the deed, Billy. I figured you were up to something then, although I hoped I was wrong.” Another huge sigh from me made Spike turn from sniffing the trunk of a gigantic oak tree and give a soft whine.

“It’s all right, Spike. I’m fine.”

That was a lie, but Spike didn’t need to know it. “Anyway, Sam’s been as good as his word. He’s always coming over to play rummy with Pa and eat dinner with us.”

Sam Rotondo was a Pasadena police detective and, as I’ve already said, he’d been Billy’s very best friend. Sam occasionally drove me nuts, but he was a good man. It had taken me a couple of years to admit it, mainly because Sam was always blaming me for things that weren’t my fault. I mean, could I have made Stacy Kincaid, daughter of Mrs. Pinkerton, behave herself when even her mother couldn’t? Was it my fault Mrs. Pinkerton had begged me to conduct a séance in a speakeasy that managed to get itself raided the very night I did so? And could I be faulted for a couple of crooks crashing my cooking class at the Salvation Army? No, darn it. Not to mention that me teaching a cooking class was akin to having Jack the Ripper teach Sunday School. Well, maybe not quite that bad. But close. I could, literally, burn water. Very well, I hadn’t actually burned the water itself, but we’d had to throw the saucepan out because I’d left it on the stove long after the water had evaporated, and the house smelled like smoke for a week or more. But that was beside the point.

“Um . . . Sam followed us to Turkey because he thought I was too stupid to take care of myself, and he didn’t trust Harold to do it.

“But,” I added in staunch defense of my buddy Harold, “when push came to shove and Sam was kidnapped, Harold pulled through like a champ. He even shot one of the villains.” He’d fainted immediately after he’d done it, but he’d stopped the crook. Anyway, there was no reason to tell Billy about Harold fainting. If Billy really was in heaven looking down upon us mortals struggling away on this mortal coil, he’d already know it. And if there was nothing to go to after death, in spite of what my lifetime of Methodist training had taught me, it didn’t matter anyway.

There was one other thing I wanted to tell Billy, but it was difficult, so I’d been putting it off. I sucked in a deep breath. “But the important thing is that after we rescued Sam, he told me he loved me.” I said it in kind of a hurry, and my words stumbled together. “Not that he’s said a single word about his feelings since, or that we’ve done anything except eat dinner together at our house. Well, and he’s taken the whole family out to the flickers a couple of times.”

Sam’s confession had shocked me speechless. That was probably a good thing, since we’d been arguing rather fiercely at the time. But honestly, how could I have known that all his fussing and fuming about what I did and how I did it stemmed from love? In truth, I’m pretty sure it didn’t, at least at first. He was an excellent friend to Billy, but at first Sam had seen me merely as somebody who got into trouble and worked at an unsuitable job. Billy had thought so, too. He’d even gone so far as to say that what I did to put bread on the table was wicked.

Nuts to that. I made scads more money as a phony spiritualist than I would have as an elevator operator or a clerk in Nash’s Department Store or anything like that. In fact, my income went to support the entire family. My father had been unable to work since having a heart attack a few years earlier. My aunt Viola worked as Mrs. Pinkerton’s cook, and my mother worked as chief bookkeeper at the Hotel Marengo. So, all things considered, and also considering that women made considerably less than men in the world of work, our family had it pretty good. The country had been in an economic slump ever since the war ended.

It’s frightening to think that war is good for business, but I guess it is. For the manufacturing magnates, anyhow. Wars aren’t the tiniest bit good for the soldiers who fight in them. And don’t tell me the Great War was a noble conflict, either. It was a waste of time, money and life, it took my husband from me, and I’ll hate it forever.

Anyhow, I’d figured Sam to be Billy’s friend and my worst nightmare until Harold whisked me away to Egypt on a trip I didn’t want to take. Then Sam and I began corresponding, and I discovered I missed him. That came as a gigantic surprise, believe me.

“But I want you to know, Billy,” I went on, “that I’m still working as a spiritualist. I know you hated my line of work, but if you’d been honest, you’d have admitted I made more money doing that than anything else.” I didn’t say what we both had known since the war: that Billy was unable to support even the two of us because of his grievous injuries. That’s why we lived with my folks in our bungalow on South Marengo Avenue. I suspect that’s also why Billy groused about my spiritualist work. He felt bad that he couldn’t support us.

“We still walk to church every Sunday, and I still sing in the choir. And—oh! I almost forgot to tell you that Lucy Spinks is seeing a very nice man!”

Very well, so Billy probably didn’t care about that. I did, because Lucy had been soft on Sam at one time, and had been disappointed when he didn’t return her affections. I had no idea, of course, that Sam was in love with me, which was perhaps why he didn’t appreciate Lucy as she ought to be appreciated. Not that Lucy was a great beauty. In fact, she was tall and thin and kind of rabbity, but she had a gorgeous soprano voice. Besides, the truth was that so many young men had been killed or otherwise ruined by the Great War, young men were slim on the ground for single women our age, which was twenty-two. Maybe Lucy was twenty-three or -four, but still . . .

“Anyhow, a fellow named Albert Zollinger began attending First Methodist about a year ago. He’s a widower from Michigan or somewhere like that, and he and Lucy recently began stepping out.” Not that I considered Albert such a great catch, being a good deal older than Lucy, bald, not awfully handsome and a widower, but the times being what they were, I guess Lucy’d decided to take what she could get. I didn’t say that to Billy.

I was about to expound on the Lucy-Albert situation because, while it was inconsequential to Billy, it was easier than talking about Sam and me, when Spike set up his “Oh, goody, a friend is coming to visit” bark. I looked up quickly and was surprised—that’s putting it mildly—when I beheld Sam Rotondo himself standing a few feet away from me, greeting Spike.

In a jiffy, I jumped to my feet and brushed down my skirt, hoping my eyes weren’t red and swollen and I hadn’t picked up too many grass stains.

“Sam! What are you doing here?” Once the words were out, I wished I’d rephrased my question because it sounded rude.

He glanced up and rose slowly from patting the dog. Spike continued to bounce around his feet. Once, when Spike was a puppy, he’d peed on one of Sam’s shoes, and I’d been glad of it. Today I was glad to see Spike happy to see Sam. My, how times change.

“I came here to visit my wife’s grave,” he said. “And I thought I’d visit Billy’s, too. I didn’t know you’d be here, although I don’t know why, this being the fifteenth and all.”

He looked a little abashed. Sam Rotondo. Big, rugged detective, whom I’d seldom seen discomposed, much less shy. Well, except for after he’d told me he loved me, and that had only lasted a second before he got mad again. I sighed.

“I didn’t know your Margaret was buried here in Morningside, Sam.”

“Yeah. She’s over there.” He pointed over his shoulder. “Under that sycamore tree.”

“This is a beautiful place,” I said inanely. I mean, it was a cemetery. How beautiful could it be?

Actually, it was beautiful—but it contained so much grief, its beauty was marred somehow, at least for me.

“Um . . . would you like a little time alone with Billy?” I asked, still being inane.

“No, that’s all right. I’ll just . . .” He shrugged as his voice trailed off.

Hmm. All right, so neither one of us knew what to say now that we were alone together except for Spike. Ergo, I decided to take matters into my own two competent hands. “May I see Margaret’s gravesite, Sam? I’d like to see it.”

“You would?” He seemed surprised, which vaguely irked me.

Unfortunately, Sam almost always irked me. That was probably my fault. After all, I’d not treated him especially well in times past. He probably expected a tongue-lashing every time we met.

“Yes,” I said, suppressing my annoyance. “I’d like to see where she is. She’s not too far away from Billy, is she?”

“No, she’s not.” He glanced down at Spike, who had begun leaping upon his trousers.

“Spike. Down,” I said, recalling my manners and those of my dog.

Spike lay at Sam’s feet. See what I mean about that obedience class? Even in his ecstasy, Spike obeyed me. Would that people did the same.

“Well, come along then,” said Sam, as ungracious as ever.

I let his surly comment go. No use provoking the beast. Sam, I mean. Not Spike. “Thanks, Sam.”

He hooked his elbow for me to take, I placed my hand on his arm, and we set off for that sycamore tree a mere several yards from Billy’s grave.

“Spike, heel,” said I as we started off.

Spike, brilliant dog that he was—he’d placed first in his obedience class—heeled.

 

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