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.
Joe fumbled with the lock on his door. Once inside, he flipped the deadbolt and headed straight for his bedroom. He didn’t bother with lights, didn’t undress. He sprawled face down on the rumpled sheets and exhaled a long sigh.
Mysterious voices and dead people. This night could not get any crazier. Lydia must have spiked his drink with some sort of hallucinogenic. Maybe she thought he’d enjoy the trip. Or maybe she was crazy. He should call Chris, make sure he was okay.
“Not a bad place, Joe. You live alone?”
Joe shuddered, a tiny shriek escaping his lips. He sounded like a scared girl. Jesus. “Don’t do that!” he shouted.
“Sorry,” Max said. “I forgot that you can’t see me. I’m still here. Ain’t that cool? I wasn’t sure. Thought I might get stuck in your car, like I was stuck in that awful parking lot. But I blinked and here I am, in your place.”
“So have you thought about it? Will you help me?”
“Help you what? You’re not even real!”
“I am real. Well, like we discussed before, I’m as real as any dead person could be.”
“I can’t. I mean, even if I wanted to, I don’t know how. I can’t figure this ghost thing out.”
“There is no dead guy in my house.”
“Hey, you must have a computer, right?” Max said. “Everyone has a computer these days. Look it up. Even us nobodies have to make the news when we get murdered. You’ll see. I’m real!”
Joe flipped over and stared into the darkness. Nothing there. Not even a tiny blip. No weird shadows, no floating orbs. So much for what they claimed on all those ghost-hunter programs.
Before he could give it much thought, Joe found himself grabbing his laptop from the top of his dresser. He sat on the edge of his bed, waiting for it to boot up, and thinking about how crazy this all was. He hadn’t watched the news last night or at any time today. Someone could have been murdered in that parking lot yesterday.
But a ghost, following him home? Crazy.
As he opened a browser page, that nasally, disembodied voice said, “Max. Max Paddington. I was at Chili’s. Then I got shot in that bank parking lot.”
Joe typed the name into a Google search. He found the story on TBO.com. He scanned the article, not sure whether he should be happy or mortified. A man named Maxwell Paddington had been murdered in that parking lot last night. Shot in the head by an unknown assailant. The police had no leads, though they believed it might have been a carjacking gone bad.
“Carjacking,” Max sputtered. “How ridiculous is that? It wasn’t about my car! That person shot me. Just shot me!”
“What person?” Joe heard himself ask.
“I don’t know! Someone in a ball cap. Or a cap, anyway. I don’t know if it was a ball cap or some other kind of cap.”
“Someone wearing a hat shot you.”
“Yes! Because of my wife. She was mad about those golf clubs.”
Joe dropped his head into his hands. “No. Stop talking.”
The room fell silent. Joe waited a moment, then did what he always did when he was in trouble. He dug his cell phone from his pocket and called his big brother.
“Jimmy,” he said when his brother picked up. “Did I wake you?”
“No,” Jimmy said. “What’s up?”
“I think I might have lost my mind.”
Jimmy chuckled. “That’s not news. You lost that years ago.”
“I’m serious, Jimmy. I’m hearing voices.”
“Voices? What kind of voices?”
“Well, not really voices. A voice. One voice.”
“One voice? What the hell are you talking about?”
Joe quickly filled his brother in on Max. He heard the desperation in his own voice and forced himself to slow down. This was crazy. He was crazy. That was the only explanation.
After a brief silence, Jimmy said, “A ghost named Max followed you home? That’s what you’re telling me?”
“Yeah. I don’t feel crazy, Jimmy. I swear. But crazy people don’t ever really know they’re crazy, do they?”
“You’re not crazy, Joe.”
“The guy is real. Not real, like I can see him. But he was alive yesterday and now he’s dead. How the hell can this be happening?”
“Do you remember having invisible playmates when you were a kid?”
“This is not an invisible playmate!”
“I know that.” Jimmy paused, cleared his throat. “You heard voices when you were a kid. All the time. I’d walk into the room and you’d be holding a conversation with someone I couldn’t see or hear. At first, you’d do it only at home. Mom and Dad thought you had an invisible playmate, like a lot of kids do.”
“I remember that,” Joe said. “Vaguely. Felt real to me then.”
“Maybe because it was.”
“Pretty soon you didn’t just do it at home. We’d be out at a store or a restaurant and you’d start talking to invisible people. Tell us their stories. Freaked Mom out. Dad thought you were schizophrenic. Made Mom take you to a shrink.”
“Jesus. I don’t remember that.”
“You were young. Maybe four.”
As Joe listened to Jimmy talk about the ghosts from his childhood, fragments of memories surfaced. All those voices talking to him. He’d thought it was normal, that everyone could hear them. Soon he’d realized how wrong he was, and he’d tried to keep them secret. His father, then the psychiatrist, had insisted there were no spirits talking to him. All of it was his imagination. His father had demanded he stop pretending and acting like a baby. The psychiatrist had scared him with his constant questions and disapproving eyes. Not long afterward, the voices had faded away.
“You’re saying I really heard the voices of dead people?” Joe said.
“That’s what Mom always thought.”
“She told you that?”
“Not directly. I heard her talking to Aunt Jeannie a few times.”
Joe sat with the phone pressed against his ear. He could find no words. Which was worse, being crazy or having real conversations with dead people?
“You should call Mom,” Jimmy said.
“She’s in Vegas. Left this morning with a bunch of her friends.”
“You want me to fly down there? I could take a few personal days.”
“No. Thanks. I’m okay.”
“This ghost, what’s he saying to you?”
Joe gave a humorless laugh. “He says his wife killed him over some golf clubs.”
“Well, there you go.”
“He needs Joe Cavelli, Super Sleuth, to solve his murder.”
Excerpt from Into the Light by Darcia Helle. Copyright © 2019 by Darcia Helle. Reproduced with permission from Darcia Helle. All rights reserved.
Darcia Helle is a Massachusetts native, who escaped the New England winters to write in the Florida sunshine. She lives with her husband in a home full of spoiled rescue animals and an occasional stray lizard. She writes because the characters trespassing through her mind leave her no alternative.
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