Haunted Hijinks, An Agnes Barton Paranormal Mystery, is now available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo for $0.99 for two days for my most dedicated of readers.
Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Haunted-Hijinks-Barton-Paranormal-Mystery-ebook/dp/B00MNM3CPS/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1407866720&sr=8-1&keywords=Haunted+Hijinks
Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/haunted-hijinks-cheryl-cicalo/1120134510?ean=2940150333857
Ever since Agnes’ car accident, things have changed drastically for her. When she wakes up in the hospital, not only is her son Stuart there, who she hasn’t seen in years, but a ghostly apparition!
Instead of getting ready for the loony bin, Agnes and Eleanor help ready the Butler Mansion for a grand opening as a bed and breakfast on Halloween, except they find the body of Katherine Clark. It’s game on, as usual, for Agnes, except she now has a new partner, one who has remained silent and is—well—a ghost.
Eleanor and I gathered our purses, rushing out the door. When we were settled in the car, Eleanor gushed, “I’m so excited. I can’t believe the Butler Mansion will be turned into a bed and breakfast and that we were chosen to oversee preparations.”
I massaged my brow thoughtfully. “You do know that we’ll be working, right?”
“Yes, but it’s not like we’ll be pushing a broom.” Eleanor gave me a concerned look. “Are you okay, Agnes? Maybe it’s too soon for you to be out and about. I mean, since the accident you’ve not been yourself.”
I cranked the engine over and tore off down US 23. I tried not to think about that day a few months back when I was sideswiped by an SUV as I was trying to avoid hitting a tourist who crossed on the green. They never even looked in my direction. Well, let’s just say that the driver was as surprised as I was when my Mustang slid across his vehicle. We even locked eyes for a fraction of a second—that was before his side mirror flew off and grazed the side of my head through my open window. I was knocked out cold and didn’t wake up for three whole days. And when I did come to, a muscular man with a full beard was sitting at my bedside at the hospital, among others. It took some prompting from my daughter, Martha before I remembered I even had a son. I guess that’s what happens when you have a concussion. I can’t remember exactly when the last time I’d seen Stuart was.
My fiancé, Andrew, was there, too, and my ever-faithful friend, Eleanor Mason. They told me my granddaughter, Sophia, had just left with my great-granddaughter, Andrea. All of this made sense to me. I had everyone around who loved me, but what I didn’t understand was the ghostly apparition of a woman that also was there, and totally unseen by everyone else. At the time, I chocked it up to taking too many medications, but when everyone left and the gray shadowy figure remained, I hid under my covers for a while. Luckily, the next morning she was gone … that was, until she showed up later that day. She kinda has a habit of appearing and disappearing, which is hard to get used to. Not that
I could ever get used to seeing a ghost. My heart jumps a little every time and I can’t help but wonder if I was injured more severely than Dr. Thomas had told me. I’ve pondered the how and why of the ghost’s absences and wonder if she had ghostly business to take care of, because sure enough, she reappeared when I was released from the hospital later that week.
The glaring sunlight jarred me out of my deep thoughts and I stared in my rearview mirror, and sure enough, El and I had the same ghostly passenger parked in the backseat, one that only I could see. At least, Eleanor had never admitted to me that she’d seen a ghost. Eleanor’s the type of person who would be scared to death at the prospect of seeing one. The ghost was quite slim and wore a quite-transparent green dress. Her bob-cut hairstyle was glowing about her head. As of yet, she hadn’t spoken a word to me, which I’m eternally grateful for since I was already halfway ready for the loony bin, or so I had convinced myself.
I’m Agnes Barton, and I have been solving mysteries with my best friend, Eleanor, for quite some time in and around East Tawas, Michigan, much to the chagrin of ole Sheriff Peterson.
Eleanor cleared her throat, bringing me out of my thoughts. “I asked if you’re okay, Agnes?”
I stared straight ahead on the road and turned into the drive of the notorious Butler Mansion. It’s been the scene of more than one murder through the years, and Eleanor and I almost bought the big one ourselves in the mansion, but luckily, with our quick wits and a warning from the Butler descendants from beyond the grave, we managed to see the light of day. I didn’t see a ghost that day, but we sure heard a warning just in time. We thoroughly believe that the ghosts of days gone by at the mansion didn’t want us to die that day. Why, we’ll never know.
I braked hard, and Eleanor and I, along with the ghostly apparition, left the confines of the car, striding toward the door. I rang the doorbell and waited for it to be answered, but after a few minutes, Eleanor slapped a hand against the door, impatiently knocking.
I stared curiously over at a blue Impala parked in the drive. “Someone has to be home.”
The ghostly figure left the porch, walked toward the back yard and I followed suit. Perhaps it knew more than El or me.
“Let’s check the back door,” I called over to Eleanor who left the porch to follow me.
In the rear of the house, there were newly added French doors on the patio deck. The ghostly apparition didn’t wait for us and glided through the door. Then, with a whoosh of air, the door magically opened a crack, enough for us to be able to push it open and enter the mansion.
“Maybe we shouldn’t just go in,” Eleanor said.
I whirled and gave her one of my looks, asking, “And why not?”
Eleanor fidgeted with a button on her shirt. “Well, every time we just up and waltz into a place we weren’t let into, something dreadful happens, like the cops showing up.”
I smiled. “Well, you’re right about that, Eleanor, but we were expected,” I said as I led the way inside.
Eleanor stopped right inside the door. “Maybe nobody is here yet to receive us.”
“There’s a car outside,” I pointed out.
Eleanor shuddered as she gasped, “It’s freezing in here. I just know this place is haunted.”
I stared at the ghost, who seemed to be having a fit of the giggles, although soundless. “There’s no such thing as ghosts.” I said this so that Eleanor wouldn’t run screaming from the mansion since we had promised to oversee preparations.
“Humph. What about that time in the attic when we heard a warning from a ghost?”
The ghost shrugged and I insisted, “There’s no proof that it came from a ghost.”
“But nothing,” I interjected. “Let’s check out the place and see if someone might actually be here.
There might be a legitimate reason why that door wasn’t answered, and I fully intend to find out what it is.”
With the ghost’s arms folded across her chest, she nodded in agreement. I was quite positive by now that I had really lost it. Seeing a ghost can’t be normal. I promised myself that I’d check with the doctor about the medication I was on, and soon.
The walnut walls smelled freshly cleaned with the fragrance of lemon oil that wafted in the air. As I neared the staircase, I saw the body of a woman crumpled at the foot of the stairs. I shook my head. We’d done it again—found yet another body. The strangest thing was it didn’t nearly rattle me like it used to, since El and I routinely managed to find a body or two. But, I never looked forward to the questioning we’d be sure to get when the cops showed up.
Before I had a chance to spit out much of anything, Eleanor sputtered, “What did I tell you, Aggie? I told you we shouldn’t have come inside. I told you it was a bad idea and now we’re in a fix. We should call the sheriff from the car so we don’t get into any trouble.”
I narrowed my eyes. “What’s the point? We already came inside, and it’s from here we’ll make our call.”
Eleanor crossed her arms and sighed. “Oh, great. We’ll be hauled off to jail for sure now.”
“Eleanor, why would the sheriff do that when we’ve only just arrived?”
“Beats me, but you know how he feels about us getting involved in murder cases.”
“Don’t jump to any conclusions just yet. We don’t even know how the woman might have died.”
I dialed 911 and reported we’d found a body at the Butler Mansion, and then ended the call. I stepped closer to the body to get a better look. “Do you notice anything odd about her, Eleanor?”
“Not much besides that it’s a body of a dead woman.”
“How do you think she died?”
“Fell down the stairs.”
I shook my head. “Wrong. Do you see any blood? Because I don’t! If she had fallen down the stairs, she’d have wacked her head on the way down, or at least on the marble floor here.”
“Sounds about right. Then how do you think she died?”
“Not sure, but it might not have happened here.”
“So you think that—”
Eleanor never got a chance to finish what she was going to say when sirens sounded in close proximity, and flashers were visible through the sheer curtains of the drawing room from where they stood near the staircase.
I hurried over and let Trooper Sales inside. He was one of the Michigan State Police’s finest, and married to my granddaughter, Sophia.
Sheriff Peterson entered next, yanking up his trousers, and instead of reading us the riot act, he simply asked, “Where’s the body?”
Surprised but relieved, I led the way. “We just arrived. We were supposed to oversee the preparations of the mansion opening as a bed and breakfast,” I explained.
“Sophia told me,” Sales said. “Was the door open when you arrived?”
I froze as the ghost stood close by and pointed toward the French doors.
“Nobody came to the door when I knocked and when we came around back, the door somehow opened.”
“Yes,” Eleanor said. “Like a ghost opened it.”
“Perhaps the latch is simply broken,” I suggested, not willing to believe the ghost I kept seeing was real.
Sales checked for a pulse and asked, “And this is how you found the body?”
“Of course. I know better than to move it. I also couldn’t help but notice that there’s no blood, like you’d expect to see if she fell down the stairs.”
“Oh, and what do you make of that?” Peterson asked.
“That her body was moved—that she might have been killed elsewhere.”
“Good observation, but we don’t know how she died just yet. We’ll have to wait for the coroner’s report,” Peterson said.
“Her neck might be broken,” Eleanor said. “But what are those marks on her neck? They look bite marks of some sort, like a vampire bit her or something.”
I rushed over there to take a look, and sure enough, there were two puncture marks on her neck. “How odd, but I doubt that it’s the work of a vampire, El, since they don’t really exist.”
“Says who? People told us Bigfoot wasn’t real and look how that turned out.”
“I’d rather forget, if you don’t mind. Besides, Bigfoot hasn’t been seen in quite some time.”
“Do you know who this is, Agnes?” Peterson asked.
I rummaged through my purse, came back with a piece of paper, and read off the name, “Katherine Clark was the name of the woman we were supposed to meet here. I’m not certain it’s her, but it most likely is.”
“What do you know, if anything, about Katherine?” asked Peterson.
“Nothing at all. I was just told that she would be running the place. It looks like someone didn’t want her to.”
“And you’ve never had any contact with her before?”
Peterson turned in Eleanor’s direction. “How about you, Eleanor?”
“I’ve spoken to her a few times on the phone. She had the nicest phone voice.”
“When was the last time you spoke with her?”
Eleanor pressed a finger against her head. “Let me think. Yesterday afternoon. She wanted to make sure that Agnes and I showed up today to help her ready the mansion for their grand opening on Halloween.”
“I see. Was that it?”
“Yup. That’s about all of it.”
“What do you mean about it?”
“Well, I was kinda excited. I drove past a few times and I couldn’t help but notice a black sedan heading up the drive to the mansion.”
Peterson took a step toward the body. “What do you make of that, Agnes?”
“I’ll have to call Andrew and see if he can get ahold of the owner. I believe the actress, Sara Knoxville, owns the Butler Mansion. It might have been her at the mansion in the sedan.”
I made my call and after I informed Andrew what we had found out at the mansion, he told us to stay put until he could get there. I then informed Sales and Peterson that Andrew would be along presently, just as the meat wagon pulled up outside the mansion. One of the deputies let a portly man in the front door and he stumbled his way toward the body. The new medical examiner was an odd fellow who wore a Colombo-type raincoat that he always wore come rain or shine. Walter Smitty was his name.
Sales shook his head. “So we have a body that was positioned near the stairs that has suspicious markings on the neck.”
“Very curious indeed,” I said, ignoring the ghost who shook her head sadly.
Walter checked for Katherine’s pulse and snapped the gum he chomped on. “Yup, she’s dead alright, and boy am I hungry,” he said as if we had a sandwich available to give to him.
“That sure ain’t brain surgery,” Eleanor said. “I could have said that for nothing.”
“You could, but you’re hardly qualified to, dear lady.”
I positioned myself between Walter and Eleanor just in case she flew off the handle. “Yup. You’re right. I sure hope you can get that autopsy done soon so we can figure out what happened here.”
“The coroner will be doing it tomorrow, most likely. All I do is pronounce.”
“Most medical examiners are public officials like the sheriff, and since he does a top notch job of investigating crimes in this county, I thought he could do that job,” I said.
Peterson chuckled at that. “Thanks, but I could use all the help I can get since Halloween is right around the corner.”
“Yup. It will soon be Halloween and we have a vampire on the loose,” Eleanor said.
“In that case, you might want to start wearing garlic around your neck,” Walter suggested. “Luckily, though, most of the vampires are only on television, not in a sleepy community such as Tawas, but what makes you think this is the work of a vampire anyway?”
I tried not to put too much significance to the ‘vampire’ part. “Well, there appear to be puncture marks on the victim’s neck.”
Walter took another look at the body. “Hardly the work of a vampire. It looks like fingernail marks to me.”
“Perhaps we should search the mansion. You know, just in case the perp is hiding out here,” I suggested to Peterson.
Trooper Sales sprinted up the stairs with an out-of-breath Sheriff Peterson behind him, while El and I cooled our heels downstairs. For the moment, my ghostly partner in crime seemed to be absent; that is, if she was even there at all. Instead of feeling relieved, I sort of missed having her around, even though I knew how nuts that sounded.
So lost in thought was I, that I jumped at the sound of a knock at the door. The ghostly figure appeared out of the ceiling, waiting patiently as I opened the door to Andrew, giving him a quick hug as he came in.
“What happened?” Andrew asked.
Before I was able to really give him the rundown, Walter Smitty piped up and said, “They found the yet-unidentified body of a woman at the bottom of the steps and called us in to deal with it.” He paused for a moment before continuing. “I don’t know why Sheriff Peterson doesn’t just appoint these two as honorary deputies. From the word around town, they won’t butt out of the sheriff’s cases.”
“Please don’t encourage them,” Andrew said as he massaged the back of his neck. “I’ve been trying to tell Agnes to mind her own business for quite a while now, but even I have to admit that she and
Eleanor are quite good at putting clues together.”
“That’s always a good thing, but I need to get this corpse back to the morgue so the coroner can do an autopsy to determine the cause of death.”
“You must have some kind of idea how the victim died,” Andrew said, with the ghost nodding behind him.
“Not sure just yet, but her neck might be broken. There’s no sign of blunt force trauma.”
I was intent on staring at the ghost until Eleanor asked, “Why on earth are you looking at the wall like that, Aggie? Blood splatter?”
I whirled around really quick, or as quick as a woman of seventy-two can whirl. “Nope. Ever since my accident I haven’t been quite right.”
“I’d say way before that, but I understand, dear.” El puffed up her chest. “I really thought I had lost you that time.”
“I’m sorry. I’ve been in such a weird mood of late and I really need to make a doctor’s appointment soon. My head feels so foggy lately.”
“It’s to be expected, Aggie,” Andrew said. “I had another case in Detroit, but I’m having an associate handle it. I’m just not ready to leave you so soon since the accident. Plus, I don’t think your son likes me all that much. It might be a good idea to get to know Stuart.”
“That makes two of us. If truth be known … I don’t know my son all that well these days, either.”
“When was the last time you saw him?”
“Not since he graduated from college, but that was ten years ago. It seems that both of my children have all sorts of reasons to stay away.”
“That’s not true,” Eleanor said. “Martha is a free spirit and went on a ‘finding herself road trip’, but she eventually came to town looking for you.”
“Yup. When she was out of money, that is.”
“You, too?” Walter asked. “Children have a way of doing that, but with the economy like it is, I can’t say I blame them. It’s not like you can find high paying jobs these days. All of the factories have closed or sold out. I remember a time when US 23 had many businesses, but now, most of them have closed down.”
“Walter, I had no idea that you have lived in Tawas that long,” El said.
“I haven’t, but it’s been a great vacation spot for my wife and the family.”
Sheriff Peterson and Trooper Sales came back down the stairs, and Peterson announced, “The upper floors are clear. We’ll be checking the first floor and cellar.”
“Cellar?” I asked. “I had no idea there was a cellar here.”
“Oh, and how well do you think you know the Butler Mansion? Have you inspected every square inch during earlier cases?”
I clammed up when the ghost shook her head. “Nope. Knock yourself out. Can we leave now? I don’t expect that you’ll allow us to inspect the mansion ourselves, so we’ll do it at a later date.”
“We plan to put up police tape. It’s a crime scene.”
“Yup, sure is. Too many to count, but don’t forget that the actress, Sara Knoxville owns this place and is opening a bed and breakfast soon and we were hired to oversee things.”
Peterson laughed. “Well, in that case it seems like you’re off to a good start.”
I chose to ignore that barb sent my way. We moved to leave and I snickered as the ghost made a motion like it was giving Peterson a swift kick in the pants. Once we were outside, Andrew convinced us to ride with him since I had already admitted that my head was a bit fuzzy. Instead of arguing with him as I had a wont to do, I let it drop since it made all the sense in the world.
Once we were settled in Andrew’s SUV, with Eleanor in the front seat as it allowed for more room for her, and the ghost sitting next to me, off we went. On the journey to Eleanor’s place, I called Doctor Thomas, who agreed to meet me in an hour. He was the sort of doctor who made house calls, but since he lived a few doors down from Eleanor’s cottage on Lake Huron, it was hardly an imposition.