Ghostwriters & Gravediggers
A Small-Town Cozy Mystery
Chapter 1 - Premature Burial
“I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity.” – Edgar Allan Poe
Thunder rumbled in the distance, and a breeze threatened to steal my baseball cap. I lifted the bill and stared into the dark, starless sky. “I thought you checked the weather report.”
“Multiple times.” My identical twin sister, Samantha Brown, tested her flashlight and then mine. “Don’t you trust me?”
“I’m no meteorologist, but thunder and thick black clouds hint at a storm.”
“According to the Doppler, the system is supposed to pass us by.”
“I sure hope so; rain puts a major crimp in an outdoor stakeout.”
“Tuesday has a chance for tornadoes.”
“Oh, joy.” I twisted my head to the side. “I guess that means we have two days to wrap this case. No pressure.”
“This mystery isn’t exactly life and death, Lizzie.” Samantha grinned at her witty line.
“Because this is a cemetery, and we’re investigating who is digging up graves.”
“Yeah, I cracked that code.” I rolled my eyes. “You ruined the joke by overexplaining.”
The wind swept the corner of the quilt, and I dove to prevent it from blowing away. Our dalmatian, Whodunit, took the move as an invitation to wrestle. Her paws stepped on my back, and her head rubbed across my neck. “Okay, stop, you’re tickling me. I give. Uncle!”
“A little louder, so we make sure to announce our presence to the gravedigger.”
I straightened my cap. “Blame Whodunit. She knows I’m ticklish. You probably taught her how to attack me.”
Samantha fed the pup a treat, practically confirming my suspicions. “Tell me about the case.”
“Miss Photographic Memory didn’t commit every detail to her elephant brain?”
“I only memorize important things.” She shrugged. “Digging holes doesn’t qualify.”
“Are you kidding? This mystery is totally perplexing. Three graves were unearthed in the last week. Stuff like this doesn’t happen in Lake Falls.”
“But nothing was taken, so what’s the point?”
“Exactly.” I snapped my fingers. “Why is someone bothering to dig up a cemetery if they aren’t graverobbers?”
“Possibly a prank or a dare. Our investigation would be better served to interview classmates or the students at the local college.”
I wagged my finger. “Never underestimate the power of a stakeout.”
“It doesn’t make sense why anyone would bother with this. Hours of work for no reward.”
“How long does it take to dig a grave anyhow?” I asked.
My sister knew all sorts of useless facts, perfect to win Trivial Pursuit or Jeopardy.
“It varies based on a number of factors such as soil and depth of the hole but in ideal conditions, six hours.”
My jaw popped open. “That long?”
“On average, for a professional gravedigger, by hand.”
“Gee whiz, no wonder this guy is only digging one hole per night. I suppose the culprit may be using a machine.”
“Like a backhoe?” Samantha asked. “That would cut the time to an hour, but it’s quite noisy.”
“No go. The authorized gravedigger/caretaker, Mr. Abaddon lives across the street, so if anything were amiss during the night, he would know.”
“The gravedigger lives across the street?”
I nodded. “Creepy, right?”
“No, it sounds rather convenient for his commute.”
I sighed. “Anywho, refilling the graves every morning is irritating enough for him to hire detectives. It’s up to us to find the culprit and bring them to justice.”
“But he hired Dr. Watkins, not us.”
“Technically, if you want to split hairs.” In my mission to join the FBI after college, I picked up hours working as an intern for the local private investigator. Most of my assignments involved recordkeeping, so I quite enjoyed it when he sent me into the field.
“I’m surprised Dr. Watkins agreed to work with us after the incident over Christmas break.”
“We got our guy; that’s what is important.”
“And we nearly burned down the bookstore in the process.” Samantha opened her backpack and retrieved night vision goggles.
“Why must you always focus on the negative?” I motioned to her new toy. “Where did those come from?”
“I ordered them online.”
“Do you see anything?”
She scanned the nearby forest. “An opossum, barn owl, and a raccoon.” She rubbed Whodunit’s head. “You’re not much of a hunter, are you girl?”
I wrapped her leash around my hand, just in case. “How about something less critter-y and more related to our mystery?”
“Would you like me to fabricate a clue, so you aren’t disappointed for wasting our time?”
I crossed my arms. “Why so grouchy tonight? Usually, you love hanging out in graveyards. They’re quiet and secluded, and the chance of running into any people is slim to none.”
“You make a decent point.” Her head twisted to the side. “Perhaps Mr. Abaddon has the right idea.”
A rustling in the bushes made me lurch from the picnic blanket. “Is your raccoon on the move?”
Samantha slid her night vision goggles into place. “Someone is headed this way.”
“They’re wearing a toboggan.” She frowned. “Whoever it is, they’re tiny.”
“Like a kid?” I arched a brow. “You might be on to something with your dare theory.”
“The person is carrying something.”
“A shovel?” I lifted my arm as Whodunit circled and hid behind me. “Way to be brave, Scooby-Doo.”
“No, a tray…” Samantha laughed and discarded the goggles. “False alarm.”
Becky Robinson, one of our closest friends, hunched through the bushes. “Hey y’all, sorry I’m late. But I brought treats.” She extended the platter of Dairy Queen Blizzards.
I snagged the Oreo. “Yum, thanks.”
She removed her ski cap and fluffed her chameleon-colored curls. “The ice cream machine at work exploded again, and guess who had to clean it up?”
“It what?” I froze, spoon midway to my mouth. “And this batch came from…?”
“After we cleaned up. Don’t worry, it isn’t leftover floor ice cream or something.”
Samantha returned her attention to the cemetery. “Is this a stakeout or a picnic?”
“So, you don’t want your Blizzard?” Becky asked.
“I’ll take it!”
Samantha dropped her binoculars. “I didn’t say I didn’t want it. I just would prefer everyone stay on task and not act as if this were an ice cream social.”
“Five minutes ago, you called this a waste of time.”
She glared at me. “But if I’m going to do a job, I want to do it well.”
I scootched and switched my attention to Becky. “How did you find our hiding spot?”
“I followed the bickering. Didn’t anyone teach y’all to use your indoor voices?” She fed Whodunit a dollop of whipped cream. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the bad guys heard you and skedaddled.”
“I texted her our location,” Samantha said. “Though I’m shocked she agreed to come to a cemetery at night.”
“My dad is testing out a new invention at home, so it was either sleep in a potentially haunted mausoleum or risk an automatic vacuum cleaner catching fire and waking up to singed eyebrows.”
Samantha checked the time. “If the graverobber doesn’t show soon, he won’t have enough time before sunrise.”
“Is there a connection between the previously dug graves?” Becky asked. “Are they from the same family? Resting in the same aisle? Born under a certain astrological sign?”
I opened my notebook and reviewed the facts. “They are in the same general area but on different rows. Two men and one woman. And none of the people are related. Pattern appears random.”
“I suppose a link would be too much to ask.” She scrunched her nose. “What about their ages or birthdays? Or maybe a symbol on the headstones?”
Samantha’s head jerked. “That’s an interesting thought.”
“Really?” Becky perked up. “Which one?”
“Lizzie, can I see the photos of the gravesites?”
“Um, well…” My head drooped. “No one took any pictures of the crime scene.”
“So, we don’t even have proof a crime was committed?” Samantha huffed. “Give me the names, and I’ll find the stones myself.”
“What about the gravedigger? We’re supposed to lie low and catch him in the act,” I said.
“After three nights this week, he probably took a vacation day.” Samantha flicked on her flashlight. “If we’re going to close this case, we should be more proactive.”
“Nothing will solve it faster than catching the guy in the act.” I snagged her arm. “Besides, this is my case, and I call the shots.”
“You’re always so bossy,” Samantha said. “You’re in for a rude awakening at the FBI.”
“What is that supposed to mean? I’m going to make an awesome agent.”
“Not unless you overcome your issues with authority.”
I balled my fist and attempted to diffuse my anger. No one pushed your buttons like a twin sister. “You make me sound like a delinquent.”
Becky and Whodunit buried their faces. Neither one liked conflict.
“Not my intention,” Samantha said. “You like to be in charge and give the orders. When someone tells you to do something, you debate the issue instead of putting your head down and getting to work. It stems from a need to be in control.”
“Thank you for the analysis, Dr. Freud.”
“Actually, I’m using the Myers-Briggs Personality Test to assess you. Meaning you should direct your thanks to Katharine Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, who developed the original questionnaire.”
I made a snoring noise. “Oops, sorry I fell asleep for a second there.”
“I think you both would be killer FBI agents.” Becky’s face contorted. “That didn’t come out right. I meant to say you would excel in the Bureau.”
“At least someone thinks so.” I motioned to my sister. “But don’t give her any bright ideas. We spend enough time together.”
Samantha shushed us. “Someone’s coming.”
“Did you invite any of our other friends?”
An intense spotlight borrowed from a nightshift road crew flickered and illuminated the graveyard. I hit the deck. Even the cover of bushes couldn’t help us now.
Becky splattered ice cream all over her Dairy Queen uniform as she dove to the ground. “What now?”
“Be still,” Samantha whispered.
I peered through the bush, hoping for a peek at the suspect. A shovel stabbed into the earth and then another. Two pairs of boots meant two graverobbers. That probably cut the dig time in half.
I shifted for a better view of their faces, and panic raced through my body. The man looked like death warmed over in a black suit with long tails. The more I stared, the more convinced I became of his identity. But why would Edgar Allan Poe be digging up graves in Texas… in the twenty-first century?
“We should call the police,” Becky whispered. “This is our proof.”
“And when we tell them the author of The Raven is exhuming people at the cemetery, they’ll hang up on us.”
“That’s why he looked familiar.” Becky shuddered. “And why the rubber mask looks so creepy.”
“What about the woman in the bonnet and dress?” Samantha asked. “Not exactly the proper attire for this activity.”
I turned my attention to the female gravedigger. Oddly enough, she resembled another famous writer.
“Uh-oh.” Becky waved a hand in front of her face.
Sensing the pending sneeze, I pinched her nose. Instead of a quiet ahchoo, she released a blow that sounded like a balloon stuffed in a tuba.
We froze in place. No way the gravediggers thought the noise came from an owl. We weren’t that lucky.
The light bent to the bushes. “Someone there?” Poe asked.
The shovel clattered to the ground, and the writers took off running in opposite directions. We sprang from our hiding spot in hot pursuit.
I hurdled a tombstone and raced after the master of the macabre. He ran with stiff limbs and an upright posture but was quite spry for a guy over 200 years old.
He peered over his shoulder at me and missed the angel statue blocking his path. Archangel Michael popped Poe right in the kisser, knocking him to his backside. Whodunit sped around me and grabbed the gravedigger by the tail of his suit.
“Get off me,” the man yelled.
I slid across the wet lawn like a skater braking on the ice. “Don’t move. The police are on their way.”
He rolled to his feet and swung a crowbar at my legs. I fell backward, and my head hit the grass with a smack. My vision blurred, and everything spun as I tried to stand.
My sneakers splashed in a puddle as the chase continued into the street. But my recovery came too late. A pickup squealed to a stop just long enough for Poe to dive into the bed.
I stood at the curb, amazed at what had transpired. “Edgar Allan Poe is the graverobber.”
Whodunit twisted her spotted head.
“I know, right?” I arched an eyebrow. "Believe nothing you hear and only one half that you see."
She dropped a piece of paper at my feet.
“Good girl.” I rubbed behind her ears. “At least one of us didn’t fail miserably tonight.”
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