Finishing my required third cup of coffee, I surveyed my kitchen. During the last big case I worked for our township police department, the kitchen was shot to pieces by a drug dealing teenager. He, along with a friend of his, was mixed up with a nasty South American mob family by the name of Mendoza. Lucky for him the cops nabbed him before the mobsters got their hands on the little jerk. He made the mistake of bragging to his friend, within earshot of others, about shooting me in the shoulder.
Our kitchen needed a facelift, but I would’ve rather had time to plan the remodel instead of rushing through the process under those circumstances. I did enjoy our new, updated refrigerator and oven, so I was secretly glad I was finally pushed into making the changes. I was known for dragging my feet when any type of change was involved.
My husband, Andy, and I live in a small township northwest of Akron, Ohio. Once the ‘Tire Capital of the World’ due to both Firestone and Goodyear Tire Companies being located downtown, Akron is the largest city near us. Cleveland is about thirty-five miles north, and it sits on the southern shore of Lake Erie, one of the Great Lakes. It is home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the famous Cleveland Clinic. I know the city has a couple of sports teams, but I never bothered to pay attention to them.
Bath, our township, has been around since the late 1700s and at one time, it was home to wildlife and Indians. Some of those same Indians now reside in the woods at the back of our property—my life is complicated.
Our nearest neighbor, Amy Branch, is a retired high school science teacher. Together, we are consultants for the Bath Police Department. Most cases we work are simple and quick to solve. There have been a few that have been problematic, dangerous, and a pain in the butt. Amy uses logic to help with our work, while I usually depend on gut instinct. Deciding which method is more productive is a toss-up. We have agreed the combination of the two techniques is the reason for our impressive success rate. So far, we’ve batted one hundred percent, but I refuse to become cocky—it only takes one stinker of a case to ruin a perfect batting average.
Our immediate boss is the chief of police, Jack Monroe. The past few cases added gray to his hair and inches to his waistline. He tends to eat pie when the stress level climbs—I should buy stock in pie companies. He and his wife, Lori, along with Andy and I, sweated together through our kids’ school years, but now we were safely on the other side of parenting. Andy and I have four boys who live scattered throughout the country. Our oldest, Adam, recently became engaged, and I was still hard at work accepting the fact I would soon become a mother-in-law. I try not to think about it … much.
“Hey Peg! How’s your morning?” Bob asked happily.
Bob ... is ... um … a dead guy we work with while solving cases. He was actually the first case I worked for the police. He and his horrible wife, Elaine, were murdered in their bed. Turned out the culprit was on the police force, and Jack came close to having a meltdown once the guy was discovered—it wasn’t pretty.
A few months ago, for some strange reason—which I blame on menopause—I suddenly acquired the ability to communicate with dead people. My Nana was the first to arrive, followed by Bob and Elaine. Bob, by now, was well aware of my three cup, morning coffee rule and followed it to the best of his ability. While he is irritating as all get out, I have a soft spot for him, but I make sure he remains clueless to the fact.
“Fine. What brings you around so early? Haven’t seen you for a few weeks.”
“I wanted to see how the kitchen turned out.” He inspected the new appliances, nodding. “Looks pretty good. The oven sure is nicer than the old clunker you had.” Bob usually looked like he just crawled out of bed. His dark hair was always in need of a haircut, he was disheveled, and wrinkled from head to toe. He’d been working on his appearance lately. My dad had given him a few pointers, which he obviously ignored today.
I narrowed my eyes. “There was nothing wrong with the other oven. A little outdated … maybe, but it worked fine.”
“Yeah, yeah … you hate change, but even you have to admit the kitchen looks tons better.” Bob doesn’t necessarily understand the concept of ‘tact’.
“What have you been doing lately?” I asked mostly out of curiosity. Deadsville was still a mystery to us, and the little bits of information we picked up during cases was fascinating, especially to Andy. He loved hearing tidbits about the other side of life—I was usually irritated by what I heard.
“I joined a few clubs. I’m so excited to finally have a social life,” Bob beamed. “Elaine wouldn’t allow much socializing even when we were alive. Dead? No way!”
When we learned there were clubs, gatherings, parties, meetings, and jobs to do in the afterlife, I wasn’t a happy camper. I wanted peace, quiet, and gold streets. Andy was intrigued and loved to learn as much as possible. I decided the less I knew, the better. I don’t want to work or go to meetings over there ... I want rest.
The phone rang catching my attention.
Bob smiled smugly. “It’s Amy.”
His abilities have increased amazingly since we first met. I couldn’t decide if it was a good thing or not. He was proud of the fact, and he loved showing me how many new skills he had acquired—some were a tad creepy.
Amy’s voice came on the line when I picked up. “Peg? I’m thinking of going to an extra class today. Want to come with me?”
I hesitated, caught off guard by her question. Was she out of her mind? “Um, no ... thanks.”
“Now Peg, you know the more we practice the better we’ll become.”
A few months back, Amy decided we needed self-defense classes. I hated them; she loved them. I still couldn’t figure out how an eighty-something-year-old woman could beat the snot out of me each and every class. It took me a while to get comfortable with actually fighting back for fear of hurting her, even though I was the one bruised from head to toe. Even after I started defending myself against her, I lost battles and found myself on the ground staring at the ceiling more often than not. The guys who own the studio, where we take classes, enjoy watching the two of us spar. They get a kick out of Amy while I get kicked by Amy.
I glanced at Bob. “I have company.”
“Oh … I’m sorry … it’s so early for you.”
“No problem. Maybe next time.” I decided to ignore her ‘early’ comment. This time of the morning would be early for anyone.
She quickly changed the subject. “Bob was by earlier. I think he’s a bit bored. I wouldn’t be surprised if he shows up at your house soon.”
I felt an eyebrow rise as I looked at Bob. “Thanks for the warning. Enjoy your class.” I hung up the phone as I continued watching Bob. “You’ve already been to Amy’s this morning? Jeez, Bob … it’s a little early don’t you think?”
He waved a hand. “Amy gets up with the birds. Plus, she doesn’t have a coffee rule.”
My three-cup rule was known by everyone associated with me. It literally takes three full cups of hot coffee to wake up all my pieces and parts—aging sucks.
I shook my head as I rinsed my cup out and put it on the drainer to dry. Andy tried to talk me into a dishwasher while we were updating the kitchen, but I refused. I’d been washing dishes by hand since we moved into this house, and I saw no reason not to continue the practice. There was only the two of us, and it seemed like such a waste of money to install a dishwasher at this stage of our life.
The phone rang again, and I looked at Bob, but his attention was on the woods out back.
“Have you checked on your Indian pals?” Jack’s voice boomed at me.
I threw my head back and sighed. “Why?”
“We have trouble.”
The group of Indians who resided in my woods had been dead and gone for a long time. They were part of my protection team, so if I could detect them, we were in trouble. Depending on their level of agitation, I could gauge how bad the situation had become. I took a deep breath and turned toward the window. I gritted my teeth when I saw them milling around as they looked at the house—not good.
I turned my attention back to Jack. “What’s the problem?”
Jack hesitated before speaking. “So you can see the guys?”
“Yep. They’re not too upset, but they’re definitely irritated for some reason.”
“Damn. I’m coming over.”
“Jack! I’m not even dressed yet. Can’t this wait?”
He sighed heavily. “I’ll give you half an hour to get dressed. Do you have any pie?”
I rolled my eyes … jeez. “You’re gaining weight and don’t need pie!” I snapped.
“I’ve lost a pound on the diet Lori stuck me on, and I’m starving.” He actually managed to sound hurt.
I sighed. “Fine. I’ll see you in a few minutes but give me the entire half hour.” I hung up the phone and looked at Bob. “You have any idea what’s going on?”
His face creased with worry, but he shook his head. “Nope. I really only came by for a visit. What’d Jack say?”
“Nothing actually. He’ll be here soon, so I need to get dressed.” I turned and headed for the bedroom.
“I’ll keep an eye out,” Bob called after me.
Once I was dressed, with teeth brushed and all, I ran my fingers through my stick straight hair, deciding I might need a cut soon. While Amy’s gray hair was wildly curly, mine was the opposite. I quickly slapped a little mascara on my lashes, and decided it was enough—a full face of makeup was not needed for a morning meeting with Jack. I stepped back from the mirror and surveyed my image. I stand an inch over five feet tall in stocking feet. I dye my hair because I can’t stand the mousy brown it turned years ago. I also have to acknowledge the extra inches around my waistline—four pregnancies didn’t help my girlish figure much. I sighed as I gave up the inspection and returned to Bob.
Bob looked over at me as soon as I entered the kitchen. “Do you think I should tell Logan?”
Logan was a dead Indian who happened to be Bob’s boss. He lived a long time ago, but since he wouldn’t give any information about his life on earth, no one had any idea when or where he lived while he was here. Through the hierarchy on the heavenly side, Logan was given the task of keeping evil at bay on both sides of life. He gave out very little information; usually, only when circumstances became dire and my life was in danger. He played his cards tight to his chest, if he played them at all.
I shook my head. “Let’s see what Jack has to say first.”
Bob nodded, a look of worry still on his face.
“It’s probably local crime and has nothing to do with Logan’s ‘big picture’.” I tried to reassure him, but I wasn’t sure how much good it would do.
Logan loved the big picture, and I wanted to scream every time he started lecturing about it. Good versus evil was an old story, but Logan had been fighting the good fight for centuries. Amy chewed his butt during our last big case, and I hoped she taught him a thing or two. He hated divulging any type of knowledge for fear of giving the dark side a speck of material to hold over our heads. Logan could be a real pain in the butt.
Jack knocked on the back door before I had a chance to grab the pie out of the fridge. I used to hide the pie, thinking the refrigerator was the perfect spot, but Jack sniffed it out during our first case. I decided it wasn’t worth the bother to find a new spot to stash the darn things.
I opened the door. “What’s up?” I didn’t like his expression, but I kept my thoughts to myself.
“Break-ins … all over the damn township.” He plopped his butt at the kitchen table and shook his head. “I usually wouldn’t be upset, but the amount of homes being broken into is making me nervous.”
I frowned. “Could it be kids? School started a few weeks ago, but I’m sure teenagers can make time for mischief.”
He shook his head again. “That’s exactly what I thought when it all started. We’ve been staking out various areas where we think they may strike next, but no luck. A couple of my officers have kept their eyes on the usual troublemakers, but nothing came of it.”
I jerked my thumb toward the woods. “Something has the guys upset. Are you sure it’s the break-ins?”
Jack shrugged, his frustration evident. “Have you talked to Logan lately?”
“Nope. I haven’t seen him since the Mendoza mess was cleaned up.”
Jack stared at me in shock. “You’re kidding!”
I frowned. “No. Logan doesn’t make social calls.” I glanced at Bob who had the grace to blush.
Jack turned his attention to Bob. “Have you heard anything at all?” A couple months back, Jack was given the ability to see my dead folks. He was glad to be included in the small circle of people with the capability.
Bob shook his head. “Sorry, Jack … I dropped by to see the new kitchen.”
Jack looked around and nodded. “Looking good.” He focused on the flooring. “I didn’t know you were replacing the floor.”
“Andy decided we might as well take care of the floor while we were moving the heavy appliances. I have to admit the old linoleum had seen better days.”
Bob snorted. “That’s an understatement.”
I shot him a glance but kept my mouth shut. It was too early in the morning to start an argument with someone who could fade away if the discussion became too heated.
Jack’s eyes strayed in the direction of the fridge, and I laughed. “Don’t you think it’s a little early for pie?”
He turned his attention back to me. “I haven’t had time to eat breakfast, so pie sounds pretty good about now.”
Grinning, I grabbed a plate, then retrieved the pie from the refrigerator.
“Make it a good size,” Jack instructed. “Last time, you cut a skinny piece.”
“Make sure Lori doesn’t blame me for the fact that you’re cheating to high heaven on your diet.”
“Are you kidding? I’m not about to tell her I had pie for breakfast … she’d skin me alive.”
I shook my head in amusement as I placed the pie in front of him. “I’ll make you some coffee.”
One of my cherished small appliances was my one-cup-at-a-time coffee brewer. The little pod thingies could get expensive, but it was worth having a fresh brewed cup each time I wanted my favorite beverage.
After placing the cup next to Jack, I found myself peering toward the woods again. The Indians who lived there guarded the property for Logan and alerted him if there were problems. We had a few mistakes along the way, until Logan made sure they understood any intruders inside or outside were cause to contact him immediately. The arrangement worked pretty well, and I felt more secure knowing they prowled the woods between Amy’s and our property.
Jack noticed the direction of my gaze. “Increased activity?”
I shook my head. “I’d feel a lot better if I couldn’t see them at all.”
Amy saw them all the time; I only saw them when trouble was brewing. Watching them mill around was disconcerting. I decided to take the advice I was given during the last case, so I headed toward the door.
Jack’s eyes widened with concern as he swallowed a mouthful of pie. “Whoa! Where are you going?”
“I’ll be right back.” I made my way across the yard, irritated I forgot to change into sneakers. The morning dew was soaking my feet through my comfy slippers as I approached the small tribe. “What’s up guys?”
Startled by my appearance and question, they looked at one another not quite sure what to do.
“I can see you, which tells me there’s a problem. Trouble is ... I have no idea what’s going on, but maybe you do.” My foot started patting the ground as I felt my anxiety growing.
One of the men took a step forward. “You have never approached us before.”
“Nope. Decided it was time to take the bull by the horns and discover information for myself.”
He looked back at his friends nervously. Maybe they had orders never to talk with me. I might be breaking some sort of code of honor or trust Logan had in them, but I didn’t care. If Logan wasn’t going to show up and explain why I could see them, then I had every right to question them myself.
The man in front of me hesitated before he made up his mind. “There is a problem in the township. Many structures are being vandalized and items are being stolen.”
I nodded. “Jack told me. It doesn’t explain why you guys ...” I waved my arm in the direction of the woods. “… are so upset.”
He glanced back at his friends, then looked back at me. “There must be a reason we are so unsettled. I believe the problem to be the people who are robbing structures.” He paused as he thought a moment. “Whoever is involved is not local.”
My eyes widened. “They’re not kids from around here?”
He shook his head. “No.”
“Where are they from?” I pressed—Jack would be interested to hear this bit of news.
The Indian shook his head. “Someone is behind the activity.” He frowned. “We cannot see who … it is hazy.”
“Hazy? What’s hazy?” The conversation was becoming confusing to me.
He sighed. “I am sure Logan has explained we do not know everything.”
I nodded. I was aware my dead friends didn’t have all the facts, but that didn’t mean I had to like it.
“There are many times the truth is hidden from our view. Even we did not know your police friend would try to harm you.”
Owen had been on the police force and was even the town hero in many aspects. Too bad it turned out he was a sociopath who was murdering people throughout northeast Ohio for over a decade. I learned the truth at the last moment, and I came darn close to being slit open by his knife in my own backyard.
I shook my head, trying to clear it. “Thanks anyway.”
The Indian nodded and turned to join his friends.
I trudged back to the house. Bob was nervously pacing back and forth on the back porch.
Jack had joined him, and they were watching my encounter with the Indians.
“Well? Do they know anything?” Jack demanded.
I shook my head. “Nope. Other than the fact that it isn’t kids breaking into houses, they have no idea who the culprit is. He said something about it being hazy.”
Jack frowned. “Hazy?”
“Yeah. I bet whoever is behind this has some connection to the afterlife.”
A look of annoyance flashed across Jack’s face. “Shit … another damn case where the bad guys have as much access to the dead as we do.”
“Not necessarily. Remember Mom told me the criminals had no idea the dead were helping them,” I reminded him. My mom should know since she was one of the culprits when it came to helping out bad guys.
He ran his hand through his graying hair, then turned to Bob. “How hard would it be for you to nose around and see if you can spot the jerks robbing houses?”
Bob rubbed his chin, deep in thought. “Not sure, but I could give it a go.” He glanced at Jack. “You can’t tell Logan though. Last time, there was a real stink when I helped you.”
Jack held up a hand. “Promise … I won’t let it slip this time.”
During our last case, Jack ‘borrowed’ Bob to do a little spying for him without notifying Logan. Since Bob basically works for Logan, the situation caused some friction between the two men.
I sighed. “Why don’t you just tell Logan. He’d understand.”
Jack scowled. “Ha! He likes being in charge.”
I shook my head as I made my way inside. I didn’t want to be a part of their schemes. I knew a headache was just around the corner.