Excerpt: Mischief in Mudbug

Excerpt: Mischief in Mudbug

Book 2: Ghost-in-Law Mysteries

Chapter One

Sabine LeVeche placed her hands over her crystal ball and looked across the table at Thelma Jenkins. It didn’t take psychic ability to know that Thelma’s problem was her husband, Earl, same as always, which was a good thing, since Sabine didn’t have an ounce of paranormal gift in her body. But today, she would have given anything for the ability to know where Earl had squirreled away his secret stash, if the money even existed.

“Can you see the money?” Thelma asked.

Sabine held in a sigh. On any other day, she would have pretended to see the money in a suitcase or a box or under a bush, something that would send Thelma off happily on a witch hunt to buy Sabine two weeks of peace and quiet. After all, Thelma didn’t need the money. She just couldn’t stand the idea of Earl keeping something from her and was convinced he’d been skimming off their gas station profits all fifty years of their marriage.

At least that’s how Thelma presented it.

The reality was, Alzheimer’s was fast taking Earl away from this earth, and Thelma was desperately looking for something to distract her and fill her time. Looking for the mythical treasure of Earl fit the bill nicely.

Sabine focused on the crystal ball and tried to remember all the tales she’d told Thelma before and come up with something different. “I see the money…no, wait, he’s taking the money into a jewelry store. He’s exchanging it for diamonds…a bag of uncut diamonds.”

Thelma sucked in a breath, the prospect of hunting for diamonds obviously even more exciting than a box of dirty money. “When did he do that?”

Sabine shook her head. “I can’t tell for sure, but he placed the diamonds in a red shoe box and put it in the attic.” She squinted at the ball. “The image is fading.” She held her hands over the ball another couple of seconds, then looked up at Thelma. “It’s gone.”

Thelma stared at her, her brow wrinkled in concentration. “The attic, huh? Was it the attic in our house?”

“I couldn’t tell for sure, and remember, Thelma, there’s no way of knowing if the diamonds are still there. Earl could have moved the diamonds or even sold them sometime after the vision I saw. But my guess is he hid them where he had easy access, so that would limit it to your house.” God forbid Thelma got arrested for breaking into every house in Mudbug, Louisiana, and digging through their attics.

“What a load of bullshit!” The voice came from out of nowhere, and Sabine felt her spine stiffen. She stared at Thelma, but the blue-haired woman just stared back at her.

“Did you hear that?” Sabine asked as she glanced around her shop, Read ’em and Reap, hoping that someone was hiding behind one of the many shelves of candles, tarot cards, and other paranormal paraphernalia. But as she peered in between the shelves, she didn’t see a thing.

“Hear what?” Thelma asked, glancing around the shop. “There wasn’t anyone here when I came in, and no one’s come in since.”

Sabine nodded. That’s what she’d thought, but then where had that voice come from? Her imagination was great, but it usually didn’t talk out loud.

“You didn’t leave the back door open, did you?” Thelma asked.

“No. In fact, it’s broken. I keep calling the landlord about getting it fixed, but he says everything has to go through the owner’s estate attorney, and he never hurries. Right now, I couldn’t open it without a crowbar.”

Thelma reached across the table and patted her hand. “You’ve been under a lot of stress lately, dear, what with people trying to kill Maryse and all. You probably need a vacation.”

“You’re probably right,” Sabine agreed.

“Give it a rest.” The voice sounded again and Sabine jumped up from her chair. “That asshole Earl has been teasing Thelma for years over that money.”

“Who’s there?” Sabine looked frantically around her shop.

Thelma stared, her eyes wide with shock. “I didn’t hear anything,” she whispered. “Do you think it’s the spirits?”

No, Sabine didn’t think it was spirits. Obviously someone was having a bit of fun with her. The voice sounded familiar but made Sabine’s nose crinkle like she’d encountered something unpleasant.

“So tell me where the money is,” Sabine said loudly, figuring if she played along with the charade, she’d eventually expose the trickster. “You seem to know more about it than I do.”

“She doesn’t need the damn money,” the voice answered. “She already has more money than Bill Gates and still won’t pay for a decent hairdo. Why give her more?”

Sabine sucked in a breath. She looked over at Thelma, whose eyes were wide with either fear or excitement. “Is the spirit still talking?” Thelma whispered.

“Oh, yeah,” Sabine said, wondering momentarily if Thelma was going deaf. How could she not hear that? Sabine walked across the room to look between the shelves. Finding them empty, she strode to the front of the store and peered behind the counter. Empty. “They’re still talking. They said you don’t need the money and you have a bad hairdo.”

Thelma gasped and put one hand on her puffy blue hair. “Why, that’s just downright rude. I didn’t think spirits were rude once they crossed over.”

“You’d be surprised,” Sabine muttered, thinking about Helena Henry. Her best friend, Maryse, had gotten more than a handful when her dead mother-in-law turned up as a ghost even harder to get along with than Helena had been as a living, breathing human.

“Oh, for Christ’s sake,” the voice boomed again. “Tell her the money is in her mattress. She’s been sleeping on it for years.”

Sabine sucked in a breath. No, it couldn’t be. God wouldn’t play that unfair. “The money’s in your mattress,” Sabine said as she rushed over to the table and pulled Thelma out of her chair.

“My mattress?” Thelma repeated as she allowed herself to be hustled to the door. “No wonder Earl never wanted to get rid of that lumpy piece of crap.”

Sabine nodded and opened the front door to the shop, pushing a confused but excited Thelma out the door. “I’m sorry, Thelma,” Sabine said, “but something’s come up that I have to take care of. I’ll call you tomorrow.”

Thelma shook her head. “You young people are always rushing around to something. Slow down, Sabine, all you’ve got in this world is time and when it’s done, it’s done.”

Sabine slammed the door shut, locked it, and flipped the “Closed” sign around in the window. When it’s done, it’s done. Like hell. Her heart pounding, she turned slowly around and faced her empty shop.

“I know you’re there, Helena,” Sabine said, then felt a wave of nausea sweep over her at her own words.

“Well, I’ll be damned! You did hear me,” Helena said. “For a minute there, I thought you’d actually gone psychic.”

Sabine’s gaze swept from side to side, casing every square inch of her tiny store. “I can hear you, but I can’t see you. Where are you exactly?”

“I’m standing next to your table. See?”

Sabine looked at her table but didn’t see anything out of the ordinary—until her crystal ball began to rise from its stand and hover a good two feet above the table. “I see the ball, but I can’t see you.”

“Hmm. That’s weird, right? I mean, is that supposed to happen?”

“How am I supposed to know? You’re the ghost.”

“Sure, sure, always trying to make me responsible for everything. Hell, all this paranormal stuff is your bag. I didn’t ask to stick around after I died, and no one handed me an instruction manual when I crawled out of my coffin.”

Sabine yanked her cell phone from her pocket, punched in a text message, then slipped her phone back into her pocket. She stared at the ball, still suspended in midair, not even sure what to say, what to do. Aside from drinking, nothing else really came to mind. She was saved from reaching for the bottle by a knock on the door.

Sabine hurried to unlock the door and allowed Maryse to enter. “That was fast,” Sabine said. Thank God.

“Luc and I were having a late breakfast across the street at the café,” her friend said, the worry on her face clear as day. “What’s wrong? Your text message seemed a bit panicked.”

Sabine pointed to the hovering ball. “I sorta have an issue here.”

Maryse looked over at the table and frowned. “Helena, what in the world are you trying to do—give people heart attacks? That’s not funny.”

“Oh, admit it, Maryse, it’s a little funny,” Helena said. “You shoulda seen the look on Sabine’s face.”

Maryse shook her head. “I don’t need to see that look. I’ve worn it for weeks now. Would you stop freaking people out and find something to do?” Maryse turned to Sabine. “Please tell me she did not do that in front of a customer.”

Sabine shook her head, squinting at the area surrounding the hovering ball, trying to make out a body or form or outline or anything, but she saw absolutely nothing.

“I have plenty to do,” Helena argued, “and I was doing some of it. I was helping that fool Thelma find Earl’s money. She’s been bitching about that money for forty years. Everyone down at the beauty shop is tired of hearing about it.”

Maryse sighed. “And how were you planning on helping—hitting Thelma on the head with that ball? It’s not like you could whisper it in her ear. No one can hear you but me.”

Helena laughed and Sabine cleared her throat. “Actually, Maryse,” Sabine said, “that’s the issue. I can hear her. I just can’t see her.”

Maryse stared at Sabine, her jaw slightly open. “You can hear her?”

Sabine nodded. “Loud and clear, unfortunately.”

“Oh my God,” Maryse said and sank into a chair. “That can’t possibly be good.”

“Hey,” Helena said, “no use being rude about it. I’m not doing anything to Sabine.”

Maryse glared at the ghost. “Yeah, you weren’t doing anything to me either, but not long after you appeared, people started trying to kill me.”

Sabine sucked in a breath and stared at Maryse. “Oh my God! You don’t think…I mean…”

Maryse cast a worried look from the hovering ball to Sabine. “There’s no way of knowing for sure, and God knows, this is one of those times I wish I was a decent liar. But it’s like you told me before, if it involves Helena, it couldn’t possibly be good.”

Sabine sank into the chair next to Maryse, her head beginning to swim. If Helena was appearing now…or doing a voice-over, however you wanted to look at it, Sabine knew it couldn’t possibly be a coincidence. She rubbed her fingers on her temples and silently willed her head to stop throbbing.

Maryse laid her hand on Sabine’s arm. “What is it? What are you not telling me?”

Sabine stared at her friend, hoping her voice wouldn’t sound as shaky as she felt. “I have an appointment with Dr. Breaux in an hour to discuss my biopsy results.”

***

Maryse reached for Sabine’s hand and gave it a squeeze. Sabine closed her eyes and focused on breathing. Any moment, Dr. Breaux would walk through his office door, sit down at the desk across from them, and give her the news. After Helena’s appearance at her shop, Sabine hoped she was ready for what Dr. Breaux would say.

When the abnormalities had appeared four times before, Dr. Breaux had always called her with the good news. The fact that he’d asked her to see him in person coupled with her new ability to hear Helena Henry had the acid in her stomach working overtime. If more people could see or hear the shameless specter, antacid company profits—or alcohol sales, depending on preference—would shoot through the roof.

Sabine hadn’t even thought about Helena being the Angel of Death, until Maryse had pointed out the timing of Helena’s appearance and Maryse’s run for her life. Even though Sabine had always wanted to have a paranormal experience, if Helena Henry was the only option, she’d just pass altogether. A nice, boring job at the bank posting deposits and counting pennies would be preferable.

“It’s going to be fine,” Maryse said, and Sabine knew her friend was trying as hard to convince herself as she was Sabine.

“Uh huh.” Sabine opened her eyes and took a deep breath, not at all convinced. “And what about the Helena factor?”

“It’s just a coincidence…a fluke. Luc hasn’t been able to see or hear her since that night she sent him to save me.”

“Really? I didn’t know that.”

“We didn’t know it, either, until she showed up at the café this morning while we were having breakfast and Luc never noticed her, not even when I pointed her out. Probably you’ll never hear her again, much less ever see her.”

“And if I do?”

Maryse sighed. “I’ll pray for you. I mean really pray…down on my knees, begging for mercy sort of praying. I’ll even do it in church and wear a dress.”

Sabine smiled. She would almost pay to see the very skeptical and comfort-loving Maryse begging God for relief, wearing a dress and heels—if it didn’t require Helena Henry appearing to prompt the action.

“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that,” Sabine said.

Maryse was about to reply when Dr. Breaux walked into the office. He gave both of them a nod and took a seat behind his desk. “I wanted this meeting with you to discuss the results of your latest tests.” He looked at Maryse, then back at Sabine. “I’m afraid the news is not good.”

Sabine sucked in a breath, unable to ask the question that raced through her mind.

“I’m so sorry to tell you, Sabine…you have acute myeloid leukemia. Now, as far as leukemia goes, this is the best one to have. Seventy percent or more of patients go into remission after treatment, and unless the leukemia returns, they go on to have long, productive lives.”

Sabine blew out the breath she’d been holding, and her eyes blurred as she was overcome with dizziness. This can’t be happening. She leaned all the way forward, trying to breathe, as the room began to spin. She felt Maryse’s hand on her back, but somehow the touch seemed surreal, as if in a dream. It’s astral projection. I don’t have a paranormal ounce of blood in my veins and yet today I’ve heard a ghost and projected my spirit out of my body. She dragged in a deep breath and tried to focus. You’re losing it, Sabine.

“Sabine,” Maryse’s voice cut into her labored breathing. “Do you need me to get you something…a cup of water…?”

Sabine lifted back up to a reasonable position, her head still spinning. “No, I’ll be fine. At least, I think I will.”

“Of course you will!” Maryse’s hand tightened on hers and her friend leaned forward in her chair, an intent look on her face. “Do we know what caused this?”

Dr. Breaux shook his head. “I don’t have any way of knowing for sure. It could be a result of the chemical dumping you discovered going on in the bayou, or it could be completely unrelated.”

Unbelievable. Sabine wanted to scream with the injustice of it all. All her life, she’d been so careful—no coffee, no substitute sweeteners, no diet sodas, no smoking…all the things that might cause cancer. Aside from her occasional glass of wine, she didn’t have any vices to speak of. And now there was a chance she’d contracted the horrible disease from picking flowers on the bayou.

Sabine looked over at Maryse and saw the fright on her friend’s face, plain as day. Oh, she was trying to hide it, but Sabine knew better. Inside, Maryse was on the verge of a heart attack. Sabine drew in a deep breath and looked at Dr. Breaux. “And the treatment?”

Dr. Breaux sat back in his chair and sighed. “Begins with chemotherapy. If we don’t achieve the desired effect, we add radiation therapy to prevent the disease from moving into the brain and central nervous system.”

“That sounds harsh,” Sabine said.

“You’re only twenty-eight and in good health. I’m not saying the treatments will be easy, but you are in the best of possible shape to handle them.”

Sabine swallowed. “And if that doesn’t work?”

“A bone marrow transplant is always an option,” Dr. Breaux said and gave them a pained look. “Unfortunately, the most successful match for a treatment like this is a close relative.”

Sabine clutched the arms of her chair until her fingers ached. A relative? Could this situation get any worse? Sabine’s parents had died in a car accident when she was just an infant. A distant great-aunt on her mother’s side of the family had raised her, but no amount of searching, either through earthly channels or paranormal, had yielded any information at all about Sabine’s father or any other relatives of Sabine’s mother. She might as well be searching for the fountain of youth.

Dr. Breaux cleared his throat. “I know your greataunt is dead, Sabine, but I looked into things, hoping to find another relative—at least on your mom’s side.”

Sabine shook her head. “I’ve already looked, Dr. Breaux. You know I’ve exhausted every channel.”

Dr. Breaux nodded. “I know you’ve exhausted all of your available channels, but sometimes if one is, um, creative, one might find information by matching medical records.”

Sabine stared at Dr. Breaux. “So did you find someone?”

“Yes,” Dr. Breaux said. “Your aunt had a nephew.”

Sabine straightened in her chair. “A nephew? How is that possible? I asked, over and over again, and she always denied having any family at all.”

Dr. Breaux looked down at his desk for a moment, then back up at Sabine. “My guess is she didn’t want people to know.”

“Who is it?” Sabine asked, almost afraid to hear the answer.

Dr. Breaux sighed. “Harold Henry.”

“Jesus H. Christ!” Maryse jumped up from her chair. “Harold Henry? Are you kidding me?”

“I’m afraid not,” Dr. Breaux replied.

“I’m related to Harold Henry?” Sabine asked in dismay.

Maryse slumped back into her chair. “Not that it matters. Harold won’t work. Even if he wasn’t in jail and he agreed to do it—which would never happen—he’s old and has fifty million things wrong with him. High blood pressure, heart problems, and God knows what else.”

“I agree,” Dr. Breaux said. “Harold wouldn’t be a very good choice, even if he was a match.” He hesitated for a moment, obviously not wanting to say the next thing on his mind. “But Hank might be. You’re the same blood type, anyway, so that’s a start.”

Maryse groaned and covered her head with her hands. Harold and Helena’s son, Hank Henry, her ex-and always-disappearing husband, made professional illusionists look like amateurs with his ability to vanish into thin air.

“And there’s no other way?” Sabine asked, starting to feel more than a little desperate. “Can’t we look for another match, outside of my family?”

“Of course we can look,” Dr. Breaux said. “I’ve already started the process, but I don’t have to tell you the odds of finding a perfect match outside of a family member or the odds of success with anything less than a perfect match. I want the best possible odds.”

Sabine nodded. “I understand. So what do we need to do now?”

Dr. Breaux picked up her file. “We’ll start the chemo right away. There’s an opening next week if you can arrange it. If there’s any chance you can locate another family member…just in case…”

Sabine sighed. “I’ve been searching for my family since I was old enough to read, Dr. Breaux. Unless there’s a miracle, I don’t see it happening now when it hasn’t all these years.”

Dr. Breaux gave her a sad nod. “I understand, Sabine.”

“But we’ll be happy to try again,” Maryse said. “Hank can’t hide forever, and maybe it’s time to try less traditional methods.” Maryse stared at Sabine, obviously trying to communicate more than her words. “Who knows, something might appear now that didn’t before.”

Helena! Well, it was certainly a less than traditional route, and God help them both—it was the best idea Sabine had heard in years.

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