Rocks & Gravel (Peri Jean Mace Ghost Thrillers Book 3)

BOOK: Rocks & Gravel (Peri Jean Mace Ghost Thrillers Book 3)
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Rocks & Gravel
Catie Rhodes
Long Roads and Dark Ends Press

R
ocks and Gravel
A Peri Jean Mace Novel
Copyright © 2016 Catie Rhodes
.
All rights reserved.
Published by: Long Roads and Dark Ends Press

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without express written permission from the publisher. The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the internet or any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Cover artwork by Melinda VanLone/Book Cover Corner
Content Editing by Annetta Ribken/Word Webber Press
Copy Editing by Jennifer Wingard/The Independent Pen
Proofreading by Heather Cathrall

First Printing, 2016
Rhodes, Catie.
Rocks and Gravel/ Catie Rhodes. — 1st ed.

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www.catierhodes.com

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F
or Mamaw
. Love you to the moon.

1

I
ran
up the museum steps, breathing hard, sweat running down the back of my neck. The August humidity pushed at me like a wet, invisible wall. Every step was an effort. My heart pounded both from the strain on my cigarette-singed lungs and the shock of Hannah’s phone call.
Get here, now. I need you.
I stopped to stare at the poster mounted in the museum’s plate glass window. It featured a picture of a guy who could have been a movie star and read:

DEPUTY DEAN FOR SHERIFF

NEW BLOOD

NEW IDEAS

THE RIGHT MAN FOR THE JOB

I bet my last pair of clean undies this poster and the guy in the picture—who happened to be my boyfriend—were the problem. If someone in Hannah’s family just saw it, they probably got all butt hurt she wasn’t supporting her uncle, the incumbent sheriff. I took a deep breath and raised my hand to knock on the door. It swung open before my fist made contact.

“Peri Jean Mace, what are you doing out there? Playing with yourself? Get on in here.” Tear tracks striped Hannah’s freckled cheeks, and her wildly patterned kimono hung limp around her legs. I couldn’t believe she wasn’t even dressed yet.

She grabbed my arm and jerked me into the museum’s foyer. Then she leaned out the door and peered up and down the misty streets, empty at this early hour. Satisfied nobody was there, she closed the door and locked it. She grabbed her oversized coffee mug from the reception desk and lifted it to her lips, hand trembling so badly she almost spilled coffee on herself. She set it back down and closed her eyes.

I dug for my cigarettes but stopped when I remembered she wouldn’t let me smoke inside. The clock at the Catholic church a block away chimed seven times, reminding me I got less than three hours sleep the night before. Caring for my terminally ill grandmother was a twenty-four-hour job with no sick days. Adrenaline would keep me moving for a little while longer but not much.

“Take the poster down if they’re upset over it. Dean’ll understand.” Acknowledging how tired I felt had been a mistake. I wanted nothing more than to crash on Hannah’s couch for a half hour. If I wrapped up her problem right away, I could grab a half hour of sleep before my first job of the day started.

“Huh?” The upset drained off her face, replaced by confusion. “What are you talking about? The campaign sign? Oh, they’re mad, but they weren’t speaking to me anyway, so they can pound sand.”

“Then what on earth has you calling me over here at the ass crack of dawn?” I pushed past her, followed the scent of coffee to her office, and poured myself a cup, still holding onto the hope this problem could be solved with a few wise words. Maybe she’d figured out one of her silly, interchangeable boyfriends had a wife stowed somewhere.

“Someone broke into my safe last night and stole some…” She glanced around her office as though the thief might have left a listening device and delivered the last part of her announcement in a loud whisper. “Some really important stuff belonging to the Bruce family.”

I nearly dropped my coffee. Once I got over my surprise, the disappointment set in. There was no way I’d get a nap. Hooty’s family heirlooms getting stolen, especially while Hannah had possession of them, constituted tears, tantrums, and anything else Hannah could think of to do. I groaned and sat down in my usual chair next to the window and fought against the fatigue gumming up my brain.

“What got stolen?”

“Some old journals. A book on folk medicine.” Hannah sat behind her desk and began twisting her fingers. I wanted to tell her if she didn’t quit pulling on them they’d get as long as octopus tentacles. “Irreplaceable. There aren’t even copies.”

“Who’d care enough about those to steal them?”

“Both were connected to the Mace Treasure.”

I closed my eyes and rubbed the bridge of my nose. She didn’t need to say more. Damn it all to hell and back. I hated the Mace Treasure. I hated the people who ran around like jackasses hunting for it. I bit my lower lip, wishing I could tell Hannah I had to leave, any excuse would do.
Suck it up, Peri Jean Mace
, said my inner adult. I sat up straight, still thinking maybe there was a way I could extract myself from the craziness.

“I saw Rainey’s car in front of her law office when I passed through town. Want me to call her?” I knew Rainey Bruce would shout at me. She’d been doing it since we were in kindergarten. Her father might act nicer, but I hated to call him this early. “Hooty’s probably still at home. I didn’t see his car in front of the funeral home.”

“Hell, no. I don’t want you to call them. Do you know how this is going to look? They’re important people here in town. Everybody at Hooty’s church is going to know, and—and—and…” Hannah’s face crumpled, and she lowered her head.

I let her cry for a few seconds. “Okay. Enough boo-hooing. We have to get on top of this. Have you called in the theft? Let the sheriff’s office do their thing?”

“Uncle Joey’s not speaking to me. I can’t talk to him.” She said it with such finality I knew there had to be a long, juicy story. Another time.

“Call Dean directly. He can get the wheels rolling.” Truth was, if Dean figured out Hannah called me instead of reporting the theft, he’d be hurt and angry. Probably at both of us for not trusting his ability to do his job.

She stared at me, face long and sad, still tugging on her fingers. My Something-Is-Wrong detector went on red alert.

“I’m not sure Dean can help.” She sounded like a little girl asking an adult if she could use the restroom. “But I think you can.”

Oh, no.
If Dean couldn’t help, but I could, it could only be one thing.

Ghosts.

It was too damn early in the morning for ghosts. What’s more, I didn’t want the trouble they brought into my life. Things were stressful enough between caring for my sick memaw and my boyfriend running for sheriff. I sat back in my chair, fighting against the stress headache starting in the back of my neck.

“What haven’t you told me?”

“Maybe I’d better show you.”

Some days, hiding in a hole would be preferable to facing the world. This was turning out to be one of those days. I sucked down the last of my coffee and set my cup aside.

Hannah clicked some keys on her laptop and motioned to me. “Come over here so you can see, too.” I obeyed but not happily. She tapped a key, and a grainy picture of her empty office popped onto the screen. A shadow crossed the room, and my heart jittered. I leaned closer to the screen, not wanting to see but unable to help myself. The shadow moved to a picture on the wall and hovered there for several moments. A stack of books drifted from the wall and floated across the room.

“Holy stinking socks.” I’d never seen a ghost move items, especially substantial ones, very far. “But how did the books get in the wall behind the painting?”

“New safe. Installed last month at the insistence of the museum board. Apparently, this one isn’t secure.” Hannah gestured at the huge, cast iron safe behind her desk.

“Those clever little tricksters. Gonna tell them the theft probably wouldn’t have happened if the items had been in the iron safe?”

She shook her head and stared at me, waiting for me to say something, but I was too full of fatigue to pick up on what she wanted. “So was the shadow on the video a ghost?”

“I guess.” I stared longingly at the coffeemaker. I wanted another cup, but the acid in my stomach wouldn’t allow it.

“You don’t know? You’ve seen ghosts your whole life and don’t know?” Her voice rose with each word. “I want you to wear your black opal necklace and watch it again.”

She spun around in her chair and fiddled with the door to the cast iron safe.

“I don’t know.” I put one hand on my churning stomach. “I sort of promised Dean to keep the woo-woo stuff on the down low until the sheriff’s election ended.”

“You won’t help me?” Angry red, which matched Hannah’s hair color, bloomed on her cheekbones. “Because your boyfriend’s scared of what you can do?”

My cheeks grew warm, and I fought to keep my calm. I did not want to start the day fighting with my best friend.

Hannah glared at me across the desk. The glare itself didn’t bother me. Her hissy fits changed as often as the East Texas weather. The pure hurt behind her anger, however, chipped at my heart.
Maybe I should help.

“I’ll do it on one condition.”

“What’s the condition?”

“The black opal goes back in your cast iron safe when I’m done.”

“Agreed.” She opened the safe, took out a velvet pouch, and set it on the desk between us. The pouch’s contents formed a small lump. As we watched, the lump moved and then disappeared altogether. I felt the weight of the black opal around my neck. Hannah gasped.

“It truly does freak me out when it does that,” she said.

“Yeah. Imagine how I feel.” My nervous system felt like it was lined with ground glass. “Play the video again.”

She did. The black opal lent me a little extra ghost vision, giving the shadow a more human form. Between the lighting and the video’s low quality, I couldn’t make out much detail. Broad shoulders and narrow hips tipped me to the ghost’s sex.

“I think it’s a man, but I can’t see his face yet.” The books floated out of the safe, only this time, I could see two ghostly hands holding them. The ghost turned to leave the room and faced the camera. His face was fuzzy with dark hollows for eyes and a blur where the nose and mouth were, but I saw nothing identifying. I was ready to give up, but I heard something.

“Stop the video.”

Hannah scrambled to do what I asked.

“Do you have headphones? Loud ones?”

She dug in her desk and got out a set of bright green headphones and plugged them into the laptop. She rewound the video, and I turned up the volume as loud as it would go, wincing at the hiss bombarding my eardrums.

“Don’t want to do this,” said a garbled, tiny voice.

The hair on the back of my neck stood up. I leaned closer to the screen as though it would help me hear better.

“My friends. Can’t do this.” The books came out of the wall. The shadow turned to face the camera. “Please make it stop.”

I jerked away from the computer, knocked into Hannah, and pulled the headphones off my head. My skin stung as every nerve ending in my body tried to short circuit and burn out. I tossed the headphones into Hannah’s lap.

“What was it?”

I shook my head and took out my cigarettes, lighting one with shaking hands and turning my back on Hannah’s protests. She restarted the video and put on the headphones. When it finished she took them off and shook her head. “Your face is green. You look ready to spew puke all over my office. And you’re stinking this place up with your awful cigarettes. Please tell me what you heard.”

The pleading in the ghost’s voice bothered me, but something else did, too. Something deep in my brain where I couldn’t quite access it. I squashed out my cigarette in my empty coffee cup.

“What is it?” Hannah grabbed my arm and gave it a shake. “Please.”

“Whatever we saw on the video didn’t want to be there. It was forced. Someone, somewhere, is controlling it.”

Hannah and I stared at each other, both of us breathing hard.

“So if I find who’s controlling the ghost—”

“You find your thief.” I might have said more, but I heard running footsteps on the street outside. I got up and peered out the window. “There’s Dean on his morning run. Let’s tell him what’s happened. He can at least alert local antique dealers and pawn shops to be on the lookout. If someone stole the items to sell, you might get them back.” I tapped on the window to get his attention. My muscles tensed while I waited for him to turn around. These days, I never knew which Dean I’d get. The sweet, reasonable one or the one this election changed into a crotchety old grouch who could turn petty and mean over a popcorn fart.

Dean turned and smiled at me. I smiled back and motioned him inside. Shoulders relaxing, I went to the door and let him inside. This election couldn’t be over soon enough. Dean’s moodiness wore me out worse than a hard day’s work. I wanted us to start having fun together again.

“Hey, gorgeous.” His kiss almost made me forget the weird feeling I had about all this. “Missed you last night. Your memaw okay?”

“Sleeping when I left.” She was dying of cancer, and I was overwhelmed. Not much help for either problem. “Got something job related for you. Hannah’s had a theft.”

A few minutes later, Dean sat in Hannah’s office chair—which she’d insisted on covering with a towel so his sweat wouldn’t get on it—watching the video.

“Somebody tampered with your system, but I don’t understand how.” He restarted the video and watched with his face close to the screen. “I know an expert in Houston, but who knows how long it’ll take him or if he can figure out who did it. I’m not even completely sure Burns County can afford him.”

Hannah and I exchanged a glance. Frustration brewed in her caramel eyes, taking them from warm to hot. Dean’s reaction didn’t surprise me, either. Hannah needed to understand we were at a dead end.

“My first job of the day starts in less than ten minutes,” I said. Dean rose to kiss me but sat right back down to replay the video for the umpteenth time.

“I’ll walk you out.” Hannah followed close at my heels, not speaking until we reached my car. I opened the door, pretending I thought we’d said all we had to say to each other.

“Dean can’t help, and you know it.” She leaned into my face. “If you think I’m going to let you walk away from this because you’re afraid—”

“I’m not afraid.” I took off the black opal necklace and held it out to her. “Don’t let Dean see this, please.” She took it, dropped it into her pocket, and fixed me with a dirty look.

“Soon as I said the stolen items had to do with the Mace Treasure, you got this tightassed expression on your face and started doing the pee-pee dance. But okay. You’re not afraid.”

I opened my mouth to argue, but the sound of several loud motorcycles drowned me out. Hannah and I stopped talking to watch them come.

“What are the Six Gun Revolutionaries doing here?” Hannah yelled at me. I shrugged. She stepped back from the curb and glanced toward the museum, probably looking for Dean. I hoped he didn’t hear the ruckus but knew there was no way he could miss it.

BOOK: Rocks & Gravel (Peri Jean Mace Ghost Thrillers Book 3)
12.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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