As Tara and Flynn are closing in on Dee Dee Broyles' killer, a deadly new ghost begins to threaten them. It's just another day in Tara's lunatic life. . .
All during the day at school, Tara kept picturing the moment when she and Nate would find DeeDee's grave. Even the classes she had with Flynn, who made everything fun, never seemed to end. By the time the last bell rang, she was fired up like a roman candle on the Fourth of July. She bolted from her seat, made a quick stop at her locker, and slipped out a side door instead of taking the front, knowing full well she was going to miss seeing Flynn. She didn't have time to delay or explain, and she had a feeling he wouldn't be all that thrilled in what she was doing. He was pretty cool about her psychic stuff, but digging for bodies fell way out of the realm of normal-even for her.
Sharon Sala is the bestselling author of romance, suspense and historical novels for adults, and now, of the popular Lunatic Life mysteries for young adults. She's hard at work on her next Lunatic Life novel. Visit her atwww.SharonSalaBooks.com
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November 01, 2011
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Excerpt from Lunatic Detective by Sharon Sala
Worms crawled between the eye sockets and over what had once been the bridge of her nose. The lower jaw had come loose from the joint and was drooping toward the breastbone, as if in eternal shock for the circumstance. The finger bones were curled as if she'd died in the middle of trying to dig her way out.
Tara stood above the newly opened grave, staring down in horror.
"Is that you, DeeDee?"
But DeeDee couldn't answer. There was the problem with her jaw.
All of a sudden, someone pushed Tara forward and she felt herself falling... falling... into the open grave... on top of what was left of poor DeeDee Broyles.
That was when she screamed.
Tara Luna sat straight up in bed, the sheet clutched beneath her chin as she stared wild-eyed around her bedroom, her heart pounding against her ribcage like a drum. All of a sudden, the loud roar of an engine swept past her window.
She flinched, then relaxed when she saw the familiar silhouette of her uncle, Patrick Carmichael. She glanced at the clock and groaned in disbelief as the roar of a lawn mower passed beneath her bedroom window again. It was just after eight a.m.--on a Saturday! Couldn't he have waited a little longer before starting that thing up?
I think you'd look great as a red-head.
Tara rolled her eyes. Millicent! She'd just had the worst dream ever and was not in the mood for any input on hairstyles from the female ghost with whom she shared her life.
"I am not dying my hair." She swung her legs over the side of the bed and stood up.
I was once a red-head... and a blonde... and a brunette.
Tara arched an eyebrow, but resisted commenting. She'd always suspected Millicent had been quite a swinger in her day because she was still way too focused on men.
"I'm going to shower," Tara announced, and headed for the bathroom across the hall. She opened the door just as Henry, the other ghost who shared her world, came floating by. Before she could stop herself, she'd walked through him.
She swiped at her face. "Eww! Henry! I hate when that happens!"
Henry didn't appear too pleased with her either, and vaporized himself in a huff.
He doesn't like to be displaced.
"Yeah, well I don't like to be slapped in the face with frozen spider webs, and that's what that feels like."
Interesting. I remember once when I was in France--
"Millicent. Please? I just woke up here."
A pinkish tinge suddenly flashed across Tara's line of vision, then she heard a very faint pop before Millicent's voice disappeared. "Oh great. Now she's ticked, too."
Still, finally glad to be alone, Tara closed the bathroom door behind her. Just because Henry and Millicent were no longer alive in the strict sense of the word, didn't mean she wanted them as company while she showered.
A short while later, she emerged, wide-awake and starving. She dashed across the hall to her room, and dressed quickly in a pair of sweats and a new white tee from Stillwater, Oklahoma's world famous burger joint, Eskimo Joe's.
As she entered the kitchen, it was obvious from the dirty dishes in the sink that Uncle Pat had already cooked breakfast. She began poking around, hoping he'd left some for her, and hoping it was regular food and not one of his experiments.
Her uncle had a tendency to mix things that didn't necessarily go together. It was, he claimed, his way of 'going green' by not wasting perfectly good food. If she could only convince him to quit stirring everything into one big pot to heat it up, she would be happy. She didn't mind leftovers. She just wanted to know what it used to be before she put it in her mouth.
As she passed by the sink, she saw a shot glass sitting inside a cereal bowl and stopped. This wasn't good. If Uncle Pat had already started drinking this early in the morning, the day was bound to go to hell before dark. Still, after she found a plate of food in the microwave that actually looked good, her mood lightened a little. She could smell sausage and potatoes, which went well together. She just hoped the yellow stuff on the side was scrambled eggs. He'd been known to try and pass off mashed squash on her before, claiming eggs and squash were both yellow and fluffy, so he failed to see her issue. She poked her finger into the food. It had the consistency of eggs. She licked her finger, then grinned. Eggs!
"Bingo! Lucked out on this one." She popped it in the microwave to heat and poured herself a glass of juice.
With the first couple of months of her senior year at a new school behind her, she was beginning to feel like she belonged. She'd gotten off on the wrong foot with one of the cheerleaders, which had resulted in some pretty hateful gossip and hazing. When that had started, Millicent had felt an obligation to retaliate on Tara's behalf. Flying dishes and ink pens had then shifted the gossip about Tara at Stillwater High to an all-out accusation that Tara Luna was not just a lunatic, but also a witch. She could handle being both a psychic and a medium, but a witch? How lame was that?
As she dug into her breakfast, she couldn't help thinking about the one-eighty her life had taken after she'd used her psychic powers to figure out who had kidnapped Bethany Fanning, the head cheerleader of Stillwater High School. With the help of her new boyfriend, Flynn, and Bethany's boyfriend, Davis, they had managed to rescue Bethany just before she became fish food in Boomer Lake.
Just thinking about Flynn O'Mara made her shiver. He was one smooth hottie.
All in all, it had been an eventful two months.
She was still eating when she sensed she was no longer alone. Since the sound of the mower was still going strong, it couldn't be Uncle Pat. She could also sense that whoever was here wasn't mortal. She looked over her shoulder. When she saw the sad little ghost who'd come with the house they were renting, she sighed and pointed to a chair on the opposite side of the table.
"Hey, DeeDee. Have a seat. I had a dream about you last night. I've been waiting for you to come back. We need to talk."
DeeDee drifted past the chair Tara had indicated, choosing instead to hover near the doorway.
"Okay, here's the deal," Tara said, as she chewed. "Millicent explained your situation to me. I know you used to live in this house. I know you were also murdered here. I also know there was never an investigation into your murder because no one reported you missing... which leads me to the question, why not?"
DeeDee didn't have an answer. With a ghost, that usually meant she didn't know it. Spirits were often confused after they died. Sometimes they didn't understand what had happened to them, or where they were supposed to be. Tara knew that after the traditional 'passing into the light' they could come back and forth if they wished. But she suspected DeeDee had never crossed over. Ever. Which she found really sad.
"I'm really sorry that I don't have any answers for you, yet. But you already know I'm having problems with your brother, Emmit."
When DeeDee suddenly went from passive to a dark, angry shadow, Tara flinched. Talk about being in a mood. DeeDee was certainly in one now.
"So, what do you suggest?" Tara asked.
The dark shadow swirled to the ceiling and then down to the floor, like a puppet dancing on a string.
"That is not a helpful answer," Tara muttered, and scooped another bite into her mouth, her eyes narrowing thoughtfully as she chewed. "Here's the deal. I've already done a lot of legwork on this mystery. I found out you and Emmit once owned this house together, although he totally denies he ever had a sister."
At that news, the dark shadow bounced from one end of the kitchen to the other, rattling dishes in the cabinets.
"Easy," Tara cautioned. "No breaking dishes, please. I also found out where he lives now. You know I went to see him, which opened up this huge can of worms. Something I said to him set him off in a big way because now he's stalking me."
The dark shadow shifted back to DeeDee's ghost again, drifting about a foot above the floor like dandelion puffs floating in the wind.
"But you already knew that, too, so don't play dumb," Tara muttered. "And, thank you again for scaring him off before he found me here the other day." She frowned. "However, I still can't figure out how he got a key to this house. There's no way the lock on the front door is still the one from back when you guys owned the house. Your freaky brother either picked the lock, or had some kind of master key. Either way, he scared the you-know-what out of me... digging through all our closets and stuff. I don't even want to think about what he would have done to me if he'd found me hiding in the back of Uncle Pat's closet. Like I said before, I owe you for scaring him off like that. But!" She pointed her fork at DeeDee. "Did you know he's stalking me outside of the house, too?"
Tara felt the little ghost's empathy as if she'd been hugged. "Yes, well, I'm sorry, too. Thanks to you and Millicent, I've managed to get away from him both times, but my luck can't hold forever. If only you could tell me where your body is buried, it would open an investigation, and the guilty party, whom I suspect is your brother Emmit, would be caught."
Like before, an image of upturned earth and a pile of leaves flashed through Tara's mind.
"Okay. I get that the killer dug a hole, and that it was probably in the fall, because there were leaves all over the ground. But where? No. Wait. I know you were buried in the back yard." Then she grimaced. "Imagine my joy in learning that. What I meant was, I don't know where in the back yard."
Another image of the backyard flashed in Tara's mind. It was like looking at a postcard someone had sent her. In this instance, the postcard had come from DeeDee.
"I already know it's in our backyard. But it's huge. I can't just start digging holes. I don't know how deep the hole was where you were buried, or where to start looking."
Sadness swept through Tara so fast that she was crying before she knew it.
"Oh, DeeDee," Tara whispered, as she swiped at the tears on her cheeks. "I'm not giving up. I'm just talking out loud."
Within the space of a heartbeat, she found herself alone.
"Bummer," Tara muttered. "What a way to start the weekend."
She glanced down at her plate. The food was not only cold, but after the interlude with DeeDee, Tara had lost her appetite. She carried her plate to the sink, ran the leftovers through the garbage disposal, and put her plate and the rest of the dirty dishes into the dishwasher. Then she waved at her uncle, who was passing by the window again. After that, she turned, put her hands on her hips and frowned.
"Time to get down to business. There's laundry to do. The floors need sweeping and I need to make a grocery list."
Tara didn't feel sorry for herself. Her life was her life. She didn't remember anything else. She had no memory of her parents, who'd died in a car wreck before her first birthday. Her family consisted of her and Patrick Carmichael, her mother's brother--a fifty-something bachelor with an itchy foot and a gypsy soul. They'd lived in so many different states during the seventeen years of Tara's life that she'd lost count. Except for his tendency to drink too much, too often, he was a good man and good to her.
They moved to Stillwater just before the beginning of school, and if Tara had anything to do with it, they would still be here when she graduated high school next year, and still here for the ensuing four or five years it would take for her to graduate college. Oklahoma State University was one of the best universities in the state, and it just happened to be right here in town.
The possibility they might not move again so soon was better than usual because her Uncle Pat had gone sweet on a waitress at Eskimo Joe's. The waitress just happened to be her boyfriend's mother, Mona, which was a little creepy, but there was nothing Tara could do about that.
The morning passed quickly as Tara finished cleaning house. Her uncle came inside at mid-morning and helped with the laundry. They'd done it together so many times that they had their own routine.
The last load of laundry was drying and Tara was mopping the last strip of floor when Pat came back into the kitchen.
"If you make out a grocery list, I'll do the shopping," he offered.
"Yay!" Tara said. She hated grocery shopping. "Give me a couple of minutes to finish up here and I'll get right to it."
"I'll be outside," Pat said. "I need to clean out the trunk of the car anyway."
"Okay," Tara said, as she put up the mop.
She went back to the counter and picked up the list that they'd started earlier in the week and began sorting through the pantry and the refrigerator, making notes of the things that needed to be replaced while absently dancing to a little Katy Perry playing on her iPod.
The front door had barely shut behind her uncle before Millicent popped up.
You're out of shampoo.
Tara looked up from the list and frowned. "And you know this because?"
There was a small accident in the bathtub.
Tara dropped the list onto the kitchen table. "Dang it, Millicent. Have you been making bubbles again?" She stomped off to the bathroom, muttering under her breath as she went. "I don't know why you persist in this when you know good and well you can't do bubble baths anymore."
Tara squealed as she ran into the bathroom, turned off the water running into the tub, then pulled the plug to let it run out. Of course, it was too late to stop what had already overflowed.
"Look at the mess you've made!" she shrieked. "You explain all this to Uncle Pat, will you? This stuff costs money, and we're not rolling in it, in case you've noticed."
Money? Isn't that what you got for finding that blonde bimbo?
Tara ignored the remark regarding the reward she'd gotten for finding Bethany Fanning, because that was going to be her ticket to four years of college. She sighed as she surveyed the partially flooded bathroom floor.
"I hope you're happy. I had just mopped this."
Sarcasm does not become you.
Tara knew her little ghost was gone, even before the sound of Millicent's voice disappeared.
"Henry! Why didn't you warn me?" Tara wailed, as she went to get the mop and bucket again.
Henry manifested long enough to blow her a kiss, then vaporized.
Tara wasn't amused. It seemed everyone had a place to be but her. She finished cleaning up the bathroom--again--and ran back to get the list before her uncle came back. She didn't want to explain why she was mopping the bathroom twice. Even though he'd finally accepted the fact that she was as psychic as the other women in his family had been, he didn't like to dwell on it.
She added a couple of other items to the list and hurried outside, only to find him engrossed in a conversation on his cell phone. From the laughter in his voice and the little she could hear, she guessed he was talking to Mona. When he saw Tara, he quickly said goodbye and stood.
"Got the list?" he asked.
Tara slipped it in his hand. "Are you going out with Mona tonight?"
He blushed. "I don't know... I might. Is there a problem?"
Tara sighed. "Flynn and I are going bowling."
"That's great," he said.
Tara shrugged. "You don't think it's weird? I mean, I'm going out with Flynn and you're dating his Mom?"
Pat frowned. "I fail to see the problem. I'm just taking a woman to dinner. We're not getting married. Flynn's not going to turn into your step-brother overnight."
"Ew! Ew! I hope not!" Tara cried. "How wrong would that be? All of us living under the same roof?"
Pat hugged her. "Honey, that is so far down the road of ever happening that you need to calm down. Dinner and a movie is not forever after, okay?"
Tara sighed. "Yeah, okay."
"So, I'll be back in a couple of hours. Kick back and take a good rest. I've got the back yard all cleaned up, but I've been thinking about putting in a small mum garden. You know... they're colorful and hardy and good to plant this time of year. Why don't you poke around and figure out a good place for us to plant them?"
Tara immediately thought of DeeDee. "Great idea, Uncle Pat. I'll do that."
He tweaked the end of her nose, then winked. "Okay. I'm leaving now. Later gator."
Tara rolled her eyes as he got in the car and drove away. Uncle Pat was a hoot with his funny old-time sayings.
Where are you planning to dig first?
Tara rolled her eyes. "Here's the deal, Millicent. It's not like you can just start digging holes. Our landlord would toss us out for tearing stuff up."
Tara went back into the house and locked the door firmly behind her as Millicent continued.
Then how are you going to find DeeDee?
"I don't know, okay? I'm going outside now, and if I'm real lucky, DeeDee will pop up, point her little ghostly finger and say 'X marks the spot.'"
As I have stated before, sarcasm does not become you.
Tara sighed. Great start to her Saturday. She'd displaced some of Henry's molecules, ticked Millicent off, and made DeeDee sad. And that was only the ghost side of her troubles. Uncle Pat had a date with Flynn's mom. What if there was hugging and kissing involved? What if they actually hooked up?
Her feet were dragging as she headed out the back door, then paused on the bottom porch step with her hands on her hips.
"Okay. If I wanted to hide a body out here, where would it be?"
A picture popped into her head and she realized it was another 'postcard' from DeeDee. Just as she started to dismiss it, she realized what she was seeing wasn't what the back yard looked like now. It was different. Decidedly different. The back yard fence wasn't chain link, it was wood, and roses were climbing up the trellises against it. There was a circle of irises around a birdhouse on a pole, and a vegetable garden in the far north end. And there were morning glory vines all over the side of a shed that was no longer here.
OMG. DeeDee was showing her what the back yard used to look like.
"Okay, DeeDee! I get it. Keep it coming. I see it. Trees. There were big shade trees. And before you showed me a pile of leaves. I remember. I remember."
Tara leaped off the step and started out across the yard, following the old stone path that wound through the yard. Now the path even made sense. It had led to different parts of the garden.
As she walked, she couldn't imagine the depths of depravity it would take to kill someone, let alone a member of your family. And even though she didn't know who had killed DeeDee Broyles, her brother seemed the obvious culprit. He had denied ever having a sister, then broke into Tara's house and was still stalking her. It wasn't looking good for Emmit.
She wondered what the prison system did with old men like him. Was there a senior citizens wing in the penitentiary? Did they still draw Social Security and get retirement checks? How weird was that?
Tara was lost in thought as she followed the path, trying to figure out where someone could dig a hole big enough to hide a body and make sure no one found it when she realized she'd been looking at the answer all the time.
The fence. It used to be tall. Wood. All around the yard. No one could see over. No one could see through.
OMG. You could dig holes all over and no one would know it. You'd have all the time in the world to plant bushes or shrubs, or anything you wanted to hide the fact that earth had been overturned.
She stopped, put her hands on her hips and turned around, looking back toward the house. Uncle Pat wanted her to find a place to plant some mums. She wanted to find a body. Both required digging holes. Piece of cake.
Henry suddenly popped up in front of her, waving his hands.
Tara frowned. "What's up? Don't tell me Millicent is making bubbles in the bathtub again? No? Uncle Pat? Something happened to Uncle Pat?"
I think he's trying to tell you someone's coming down the alley.
Millicent's explanation wasn't warning enough. Tara pivoted just in time to see a car coming down the alley between the houses. No one was supposed to drive through there except maybe city employees. Then she realized she'd seen that car before--and the man driving it.
It was Emmit Broyles.
Oh crap! He was doing it again. He was still stalking her.
She started to run toward the house, when she realized it would give away the fact that she was scared of him. So far, Emmit didn't know she was on to him. She remembered reading once that the best defense was an offense so she lifted her hand and started waving as she moved toward the alley.
"Hi, Mr. Broyles," she cried, and jogged toward the fence, as if expecting him to stop.
The look on his face was priceless. His bushy white eyebrows shot upward as if someone had tied strings to them and given them a yank. He must have tried to stomp on the accelerator, but he was obviously distracted enough that he missed and stomped the brake instead.
All of a sudden he was flying forward. His chin hit the steering wheel and the hat he'd been wearing shot off his head and landed on the dash.
"Are you all right?" Tara yelled, as she neared the fence.
Even though all the windows were up, she could tell he was cursing at the top of his voice. He grabbed his hat, shoved it back on his head. Ignoring the blood dripping from his chin, he finally found the accelerator and roared off down the alley.
I think that went well.
Tara's smile widened. "Yeah, it did, didn't it?"
She turned around to go back to the house only to realize DeeDee was standing right beside her.
"Oh. Man. You did it again, didn't you?" Tara asked.
"So, obviously we're not discussing this."
How would you feel if your brother was the one who ended your life?
Tara's smile died. "I never thought about that."
Because you never had a brother?
"No. Because I didn't think how DeeDee would take the news. I guess I just assumed they didn't get along."
You know what they say about assume. It makes an--
"Yes, yes, I know. An ass out of u and me. Very funny."
Tara heard the phone ring and sprinted toward the house. She was slightly out of breath when she answered.
"Hey, Moon girl, I must be getting better by the minute. The mere sound of my voice has left you breathless."
Tara laughed out loud. "You are too funny," she said. "I was in the back yard looking for... uh... I was in the back yard."
"So, are we still on for tonight?" Flynn asked.
"Absolutely," Tara said. "We're going bowling, right?"
"Yeah, unless you'd rather do something else?"
"No. No. I love to bowl. I'm not very good, but it's fun."
"Good. How about some Hideaway pizza before we go?"
"Oh, yum! I've heard they make the best."
"Oh, yeah," Flynn said. "So I'll pick you up about six, okay?"
Tara started to hang up, then thought of his mom and her uncle. "Hey, Flynn?"
"Did you know your mom and Uncle Pat have a date tonight, too?"
There was a moment of silence. Then a chuckle. "No, but I'm cool with it. Aren't you?"
"Oh, it's not that. It's just... kind of weird."
"You think too much, Moon girl. Let the old folks have their fun."
Tara laughed. "See you at six."