Max Paddington refuses to go into the light until he finds his killer. This presents a dilemma, since Max is even less competent as a spirit than he was as a live person. No one sees or hears him and he can’t manage to get anywhere or do anything on his own.
Joe Cavelli is a private investigator, living an ordinary life. Then one day he walks across a parking lot, gets yelled at by a ghost, and his life only gets stranger from there.
Max and Joe team up to find Max’s killer. In the process, they form an unlikely friendship and change each other’s lives in ways they never expected.
Max blinked and time did a fast forward. The ambulance was gone. His body was gone. Having no body made him happy, in an odd sort of way. He’d never liked that body, anyway. Why couldn’t he have been 6 feet 2 inches and muscular, instead of 5 feet 9 inches and stocky? And the hair on his arms, what was up with that? He’d had a damn forest growing there.
The cops were questioning the people below him. No one shed tears. Why would they? No one there had known him. Hell, even the people who did know him weren’t likely to shed any tears.
Max felt himself floating into a soft, peaceful place when he remembered the person in the ball cap. Then the word divorce echoed in his head. Rachel had wanted a divorce! And he’d been murdered! She’d done it. Rachel had killed him. Or had someone kill him. Over golf clubs? What the hell?
The crowd below him had thinned out. Two cops walked toward Chili’s. What, seeing his dead body had given them an appetite? Max shook his head. No, he’d eaten at Chili’s earlier. He remembered now. Carlos and that gleaming smile. Those cops must be going to talk to Carlos. Great. Perfect. Carlos would tell those cops that he’d left a lousy tip. He’d been grumpy and a lousy tipper. That’s what everyone would remember about his last moments on earth.
Max turned his attention back to the crowd. No one in a ball cap. Was it even a ball cap? He shrugged. A cap, sure, but what kind? Baseball? Maybe football? Could have been any kind of cap. He didn’t even know the color.
Regardless, no one in the crowd wore a hat. The person in the hat had killed him. And it was all Rachel’s fault. Would you like a divorce with your death certificate?
“Hey!” Max shouted at the cops below him. “Hey! I’m talking to you! Find the person in the cap!”
No one looked his way. They couldn’t hear him. He was dead.
A bright light flashed in his eyes and warmth flooded over him. He spun around, expecting to see more police cars with their lights blazing. Instead, a radiant white light shined down from somewhere above. Unlike spotlights, this one didn’t hurt his eyes. He felt drawn to it, like he could float right up into that light and nothing else would matter.
But Rachel had killed him. Over golf clubs! He couldn’t let her get away with it.
Max flinched. His grandfather. That was his grandfather’s voice. His very dead grandfather.
“Maxwell, take my hand.”
Max turned to see his grandfather standing on the edge of the light. His arm was outstretched, his hand turned palm up, waiting for Max to take it. “Wow,” Max muttered. “Grandpa Max. Wow.”
“It’s good to see you again, Maxwell.”
“Yeah, well, I could have waited a few more years to see you, Grandpa Max.”
His grandfather smiled. “Your time on earth is finished. Take my hand now.”
The light pulled Max in, its warmth covering him like a soft blanket. Here’s your coffee and toast and I want a divorce. Max batted the light away like a pesky insect. “No,” he said. “I can’t let her get away with it.”
“Maxwell,” his grandfather said, “you don’t understand. Take my hand and you will see. It’s time.”
“No. I’m not going.”
Max folded his arms over his chest. His grandfather had that same exasperated look he’d worn in life. He said, “Maxwell, really, this is no time for stubbornness. Come with me.”
Grandpa Max had been dead nearly ten years. Lung cancer. He’d gone from a hefty two hundred pounds to barely one hundred when he died. Now, standing there on the edge of that brilliant light, Grandpa Max looked healthier than he’d ever been in life.
Grandpa Max. His mother’s father and the man to blame for his name.
“Why did you let them name me after you?” Max sputtered.
“Maxwell. You’re confused. The transition into the hereafter can be traumatic, particularly when death is unexpected. Take my hand and all will be well.”
“Didn’t anyone think ahead to what it would be like for me to be saddled with Maxwell the rest of my life?”
Maxwell Paddington. Seriously. Who would do that to a child? His first day of junior high, the cool kids had taken extraordinary delight in putting his first and last name together and renaming him MaxiPad. Before long, he was no longer Max or even Maxwell. Everyone in the school knew him as Maxipad.
That name had followed him straight through high school. MaxiPad. One day, in ninth grade, he’d arrived at school to find a dozen Kotex pads stuck to the outside of his locker. He still flinched every time he thought about that nickname. At work, he couldn’t walk past the aisle of sanitary napkins without shuddering.
Grandpa Max’s voice broke into his thoughts. “I’m not going, Grandpa Max,” he said. “Not until I’m sure Rachel will pay for what she’s done.”
“That is not for you to decide.”
Max rolled his eyes. “Oh, please. It’s right in the Bible. An eye for an eye. I’m not coming now, Grandpa Max.”
Max turned away from his grandfather and the warm, radiant light. The light disappeared like a flashlight being switched off. Below him, only two young men and four cops remained. The rest of the crowd had gone home. Or back inside Chili’s, to finish their meals and gaze adoringly at Carlos. Max wanted to listen to their conversation. An awkward attempt at floating sent him tumbling over the tall cop with the crooked nose.
“Thanks for your help,” the cop said to the two young men. “If you think of anything else, please give me a call.”
The cop handed each of them a card and the two men sauntered off in the direction of Chili’s. The younger cop with the shaved head said, “Maybe a carjacking gone bad?”
“Could be,” the tall cop said.
“No!” Max shouted. “No one wanted my car. It was Rachel! I bought golf clubs!”
“Let’s go talk to the wife,” the tall cop said.
“I hate this part,” the bald cop said.
“Yeah, it never gets any easier, either. Notifying family is the part of the job that I’ll never get used to.”
“Will you listen to me!” Max called out. He leaned over, his mouth inches from the tall cop’s ear. “You don’t have to notify Rachel. She knows! She killed me! I know she did!”
The two cops moved toward their car, without as much as a flicker of acknowledgment. Max wanted to throw something at them. He wanted to smack them in the head to get their attention. But he couldn’t even figure out how to get his feet on the ground, much less pick something up. He leaned further toward them and found himself dangling upside down. By the time he’d righted himself, the cops were gone.
About the Author:
Darcia Helle lives in a fictional world with a husband who is sometimes real. Their house is ruled by spoiled dogs and cats and the occasional dust bunny. Suspense, random blood splatter and mismatched socks consume Darcia’s days. She writes because the characters trespassing through her mind leave her no alternative. Only then are the voices free to haunt someone else’s mind. You can find Darcia on her website, her blog, Twitter, Goodreads and Facebook.