It was Halloween in New Orleans. A week-long, rabble rousing celebration that grew bigger, badder, and crazier every year. A time for would-be werewolves, witches, and zombies to throw on a wig, howl at the moon, and paint the town the bright red color of fake vampire blood.
Carmela Bertrand, the owner of Memory Mine Scrapbook Shop, was no exception. This year she was debating the merits of wearing a Medieval costume versus a sexy witch dress.
Because what’s a girl to do when she has dozens of party invitations and was dating one of the hottest police detectives in the Big Easy?
Carmela grinned to herself as she grabbed her jacket and latched the door behind her. Stepping out onto Governor Nicholls street, she exhaled softly. Evenings in the French Quarter never failed to impart a sweet contentment. After all, who wouldn’t love to gaze at a purple-black sky that served as a dramatic backdrop for two hundred year-old brick buildings? Or wander through courtyard gardens with pattering fountains and giant froths of jasmine and magnolias?
Pausing outside her front window, Carmela eyed her display of scrapbooks, memory boxes, and altered books. Over the past few years, she’d built Memory Mine into a thriving business, discovering along the way that she actually enjoyed being a small business owner. One of many here on Governor Nicholls Street with its plethora of gift shops, antique shops, and what have you.
What have you?
That thought caused her to pause outside the window of Oddities, the shop next door to hers. Oddities was a strange business run by the even stranger Marcus Joubert. His macabre mix of merchandise included taxidermy animals, funeral jewelry, steam punk, and bleached animal skulls. She’d once spotted an apparatus that looked suspiciously like a thumbscrew.
Tonight, Carmela noted a pair of old leather goggles, piece of scrimshaw, and a top hat and dagger.
For some reason the top hat and dagger struck her as something Jack the Ripper might have had in his possession. Might have even treasured.
Carmela was about to walk away when she heard a funny and slightly ominous series of noises emanating from inside. What might have been a muffled scream followed by a dull thump.
She stepped closer to the window, to see what was happening. No luck. Lights from the street created a nasty, kaleidoscopic glare.
Still . . . she’d heard something, right?
Carmela, who was generally practical in nature but blessed (cursed?) with a giant dollop of inquisitiveness, decided it might be smart to investigate.
What if Marcus Joubert had taken ill? What if the sounds she heard were of him staggering and falling? So . . . just a quick peek?
Turning the brass doorknob, Carmela stepped inside to total darkness. Unnatural warmth washed over her, as if a space heater had been left on. A clock ticked monotonously. Moments passed and she realized the shop wasn’t completely dark after all. Pinprick spotlights glowed from rafters like bat eyes, illuminating a suit of armor and a candelabra. A stained glass lamp cast a dim orange circle on a shelf alongside frayed leather books.
Unfortunately, none of those lights pumped out any real power. It was like walking into a dark cocktail lounge without the benefit of strong liquid refreshments.
“Marcus?” Carmela called out.
“It’s Carmela from next door. I thought I heard something . . .” She advanced a few steps.
There was another noise.
Carmela drew back. Could it have been the soft snick of the back door? Had someone just now slipped out the back?
A prickly feeling, as if being watched by unseen eyes, made Carmela crank her head sharply to the left. And she found herself staring into the grimacing face of a stuffed capuchin monkey perched precariously on a shelf, condemned forever to wear a hideous purple vest and fez.
Startled by the snarling mouth and beady eyes, Carmela whirled away, caught her toe on the Oriental carpet, and stumbled. Her arms flailed in a last ditch effort to save herself, knocking hard against a tall, wooden curio cabinet.
As her hands skittered against wooden doors, the cabinet teetered. Fearing the entire piece was about to fall, Carmela fought to steady it. But the weighty cabinet was slowly tipping forward as its two front doors creaked open.
And like a corpse spilling out of Dr. Caligari’s closet, the dead, bloody body of Marcus Joubert suddenly lurched out at her!
Carmela jumped backwards in shock. No matter, the body tumbled relentlessly toward her in horrible slow motion. There was a low moan, like the stinking sigh of a zombie, as a final air bubble released from the deep recess of his lungs. And then Joubert’s body flopped cold and bloody into Carmela’s outstretched arms!
You can read more about Carmela in Gossamer Ghost, the 12th book in the “Scrapbook” mystery series, published by Berkley Prime Crime. The first book in the series is Keepsake Crimes.
GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment by 6 p.m. eastern on October 17 for the chance to win a copy of GOSSAMER GHOST. The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only.
Meet the author
Laura Childs is the New York Times bestselling author of the Scrapbook Mysteries, Tea Shop Mysteries, and Cackleberry Club Mysteries, and a recent recipient of the Romantic Times Book Review’s Award for Best Amateur Sleuth. In her previous life, she was CEO/Creative Director of her own marketing firm and authored several screenplays. She is married to a professor of Chinese art history, loves to travel, rides horses, enjoys fund-raising for various non-profit organizations, and has two Chinese Shar-Pei dogs.