A Ghostly Grave by Tonya Kappes is the second in the Ghostly Southern Mystery series about a young undertaker, Emma Lee Raines, who can see the ghosts of murdered people (available March 31, 2015).
This excerpt is reprinted by arrangement with Witness. All rights reserved.
There's a ghost on the loose—and a fox in the henhouse
Four years ago, the Eternal Slumber Funeral Home put Chicken Teater in the ground. Now undertaker Emma Lee Raines is digging him back up. The whole scene is bad for business, especially with her granny running for mayor and a big festival setting up in town. But ever since Emma Lee started seeing ghosts, Chicken's been pestering her to figure out who killed him.
With her handsome boyfriend, Sheriff Jack Henry Ross, busy getting new forensics on the old corpse, Emma Lee has time to look into her first suspect. Chicken's widow may be a former Miss Kentucky, but the love of his life was another beauty queen: Lady Cluckington, his prize-winning hen. Was Mrs. Teater the jealous type? Chicken seems to think so. Something's definitely rotten in Sleepy Hollow—and Emma Lee just prays it's not her luck.
Just think, this all started because of Santa Claus. I took a drink of my large Diet Coke Big Gulp that I had picked up from the Buy and Fly gas station on the way over to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery to watch Chicken Teater’s body being
exhumed from his eternal resting place—only he was far from restful.
Damn Santa. I sucked up a mouthful of Diet Coke and swallowed. Damn Santa.
No, I didn’t mean the real jolly guy with the belly shaking like a bowlful of jelly who leaves baby dolls and toy trucks; I meant the plastic light-up ornamental kind that people stick in their front yards during Christmas. The particular plastic Santa I was talking about was the one that had fallen off the roof of Artie’s Deli and Meat just as I happened to walk under it, knocking me flat
Santa didn’t give me anything but a bump on the head and the gift of seeing ghosts—let me be more specific—ghosts of people who have been murdered.
They called me the Betweener medium, at least that was what the psychic from
Lexington told us . . . us . . . sigh . . . I looked over at Jack Henry.
The Ray Ban sunglasses covered up his big brown eyes, which were the exact same color as a Hershey’s chocolate bar. I looked into his eyes. And as with a chocolate bar, once I stared at them, I was a goner. Lost, in fact.
Today I was positive his eyes would be watering from the stench of a casket that had been buried for four years—almost four years to the day, now
that I thought about it.
Jack Henry, my boyfriend and Sleepy Hollow sheriff, motioned for John Howard Lloyd to drop the claw that was attached to the tractor and begin digging. John Howard, my employee at Eternal Slumber Funeral Home, didn’t mind digging up the grave. He dug it four years ago, so why not? He hummed a tune, happily chewing—gumming, since he had no teeth—a piece of straw he had grabbed up off the ground before he took his post behind the tractor controls. If someone who didn’t know him came upon John Howard,
they’d think he was a serial killer, with his dirty overalls, wiry hair and gummy smile.
The buzz of a moped scooter caused me to look back at the street. There was a crowd that had gathered behind the yellow police line to see what was happening because it wasn’t every day someone’s body was plucked from its resting place.
“Zula Fae Raines Payne, get back here!” an officer scolded my granny, who didn’t pay him any attention. She waved her handkerchief in the air with one hand while she steered her moped right on through the police tape. “This is a crime scene and you aren’t allowed over there.”
Granny didn’t even wobble but held the moped steady when she snapped right through the yellow tape.
“Woo hoooo, Emma!” Granny hollered, ignoring the officer, who was getting a little too close to her. A black helmet snapped on the side covered the top of her head, giving her plenty of room to sport her large black-rimmed sunglasses. She twisted the handle to full throttle. The officer took off at a full sprint to catch up to her. He put his arm out to grab her. “I declare!” Granny jerked her head back. “I’m Zula Raines Payne, the owner of Eternal Slumber, and this is one of my clients!”
“Ma’am, I know who you are. With all due respect, because my momma and pa taught me to respect my elders—and I do respect you, Ms. Payne—I can’t let you cross that tape. You are going to have to go back behind the line!” He ran behind her and pointed to the yellow tape that she had already zipped through. “This is a crime scene. Need I remind you that you turned over operations of your business to your granddaughter? And only she has the right to be on the other side of the line.”
I curled my head back around to see what Jack Henry and John were doing and pretended the roar of the excavator was drowning out the sounds around me, including those of Granny screaming my name. Plus, I didn’t want to get into any sort of argument with Granny, since half the town came out to watch the 7-a.m. exhumation, and the Auxiliary women were the first in line—and would be the first to be at the Higher Grounds Café, eating their scones, drinking their coffee and coming up with all sorts of reasons why we had exhumed the body.
I could hear them now. Ever since Zula Fae left Emma Lee and Charlotte Rae in charge of Eternal Slumber, it’s gone downhill, or my personal favorite, I’m not going to lay my corpse at Eternal Slumber just to have that crazy Emma Lee dig me back up. Especially since she’s got a case of the Funeral Trauma.
The “Funeral Trauma.” After the whole Santa incident, I told Doc Clyde I was having some sort of hallucinations and seeing dead people. He said had been in the funeral business a little too long and seeing corpses all of my life had been traumatic.
Regardless, the officer was half right—me and my sister were in charge of Eternal Slumber. At twenty-eight, I had been an undertaker for only three years. But, I had been around the funeral home my whole life. It is the family business , one I didn’t want to do until I turned twenty-five years old and decided I better keep the business going. Some business. Currently, Granny still owned Eternal Slumber, but my sister, Charlotte Rae, and I ran the joint.
My parents completely retired and moved to Florida. Thank God for Skype or I’d never see them. I guess Granny was semi-retired. I say semi-retired because she put her two cents in when she wanted to. Today she wanted to.
Some family business.
Granny brought the moped to an abrupt stop. She hopped right off and flicked the snap of the strap and pulled the helmet off along with her sunglasses. She hung the helmet on the handlebars and the glasses dangled from the V in her
sweater exactly where she wanted it to hang—between her boobs. Doc Clyde was there and Granny had him on the hook exactly where she wanted to keep him.
Her short flaming-red hair looked like it was on fire, with the morning sun beaming down as she used her fingers to spike it up a little more than usual. After all, she knew she had to look good because she was the center of attention—next to Chicken Teater’s exhumed body.
The officer ran up and grabbed the scooter’s handle. He knew better than to touch Granny.
“I am sure your momma and paw did bring you up right, but if you don’t let me go . . .” Granny jerked the scooter toward her. She was a true Southern belle and put things in a way that no other woman could. I looked back at them and waved her over. The police officer stepped aside. Granny took her hanky out of her bra and wiped off the officer’s shoulder like she was cleaning lint or something. “It was lovely to meet you.” Granny’s voice dripped like sweet honey. She put the hanky back where she had gotten it.
I snickered. Lovely wasn’t always a compliment from a Southern gal. Like the gentleman he claimed to be, he took his hat off to Granny and smiled.
She didn’t pay him any attention as she bee-lined it toward me.
“Hi,” she said in her sweet Southern drawl, waving at everyone around us. She gave a little extra wink toward Doc Clyde. His cheeks rose to a scarlet red. Nervously, he ran his fingers through his thinning hair and pushed it to the side, defining the side part.
Everyone in town knew he had been keeping late hours just for Granny, even though she wasn’t a bit sick. God knew what they were doing and I didn’t want to know.
Granny pointed her hanky toward Pastor Brown who was there to say a little prayer when the casket was exhumed. Waking the dead wasn’t high on anyone’s priority list. Granny put the cloth over her mouth and leaning in, she whispered, “Emma Lee, you better have a good reason to be digging up Chicken Teater.”
We both looked at the large concrete chicken gravestone, which stood seven feet high. The small gold plate at the base of the stone statue displayed all of Colonel Chicken Teater’s stats with his parting words: Chicken has left the coop.
Copyright © 2015 Tonya Kappes
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Tonya Kappes is a USA Today bestselling author who's been self-publishing mystery and romance titles with unprecedented success. She is famous, not only for her quirky plotlines and characters, but marketing efforts that have earned her thousands of followers and a devoted street team of fans. A Ghostly Undertaking and A Ghostly Grave are the first two books in her hilarious and spooky Ghostly Southern series.