The Ghost and the Stolen Tears
Haunted Bookshop Mystery
Mass Market Paperback Oct. 4, 2022
Geez, Jack cracked. I can see why your panties are bunched.
“My panties are just fine! Not that my unmentionables are any of your business.”
Okay then, if it’s not these creepy trees that have you rattled, what is it? You got ants in your pants about something.
“Stop talking about my underthings.”
The ghost did. Then he stopped talking altogether.
With resignation, I sighed and admitted the truth. “All right, Jack, you’re not wrong. I mean, I am-for lack of a better word-antsy.”
What’s the headache?
“I hate doing things I don’t want to do, and right now I have to ask someone to do me a huge favor.”
Okey-doke. Who do you want sprawled on a cold marble slab and how do you want it done?
“Stop teasing. Nobody’s getting whacked. I’m heading to the Finch Inn to offer a woman a job, that’s all.”
And she’s doing you a “huge favor” by accepting? The world sure has flipped its wig. In my day, a job offer was followed by a tip of the fedora and a hearty thank-you.
“Under normal circumstances that would be true, but not in this case.”
What makes this dame so special?
“She’s not a dame. She’s a nomad.”
“Norma has no permanent address. She lives in a van and travels around the country for most of the year.”
She’s a hobo, then? A bum?
“We don’t use those words anymore. Norma is a vagabond. They call it living the van life. It’s a cultural trend. They’ve even got a hashtag for it.”
Hash what? Oh, you mean they’re hopheads? Hooked on hashish?
“No, not hashish! Hashtag. It’s a social media category, a trend so popular, thousands use its label to brand their lifestyle. Norma lives the #vanlife.”
I don’t follow.
“I’ll break it down for you. Norma moves around the country, taking different jobs during different seasons. For the last two years, she’s spent her autumns in New England, doing housekeeping work at the Finch Inn. In exchange for her help from Labor Day to the New Year, Fiona pays Norma a weekly wage and provides a room for her, too.”
So, you’re trying to snatch her away from the competition?
“Not at all. Norma works part-time at a few places, including Buy the Book. Aunt Sadie hired her six weeks ago to work in the store on Sundays, so I could spend more time with my son-and help him with his big science fair project.”
You mean the one that’s got your little tyke fingerprinting everyone in sight and leaving ink stains in the sink?
“Yes. Spencer has decided to be a forensic investigator when he grows up. Of course, in a few months he’ll likely change his mind, but I’ll always encourage his interests, and one day he’ll find his true calling. Anyway, that’s not the point.”
Then what is?
“The numbers. I added them up, and there is no disputing them.”
I never played the numbers. That’s penny ante stuff. I bet the house on the nags, though, hundreds of times.
“I’m not talking about gambling, Jack. The numbers that concern me are the unit sales in my ledger. You see, not long ago, Sadie and I debated whether to close Buy the Book on Sundays because business slowed considerably that day. But since Norma started working, sales have increased, week over week. This past Sunday we made double what we grossed on that same weekend a year ago, and it’s all because of Norma.”
She must be a natural pusher, then, a real huckster-
“No, Norma doesn’t hard sell anyone.”
Horse pellets. Trust me, Penny. Good hustlers are so slick at the fast hand, you never see that three-card monte swindle coming.
“Goodness, Jack, this is Quindicott, Rhode Island, not the New York Bowery! And Norma isn’t a hustler.”
Call me skeptical.
“You shouldn’t be. You inhabit my shop, don’t you? Haven’t you noticed what’s been going on there?”
Piles of paper, small-town small talk, and the dull daily comings and goings of mortals don’t interest me, baby. You do. And you haven’t needed me lately-till now. Which makes sense. I can see you’re in trouble. You been taken in by a lady hobo running some kind of confidence game.
“You’re way off the mark.”
Really? Convince me, then. Tell me why I shouldn’t scare your Norma into next week.
“Don’t you dare. I like her. And the store needs her.”
I’ll be the judge of that.
“Look, the best way to explain Norma’s selling ability is . . . well, she’s got a special kind of empathy. She’s brilliant at understanding customers. She reads them like a book page. Aunt Sadie calls her ‘the Book Whisperer.'”
Whispering to books? Sounds like a looney tune.
“And what do you think the general public would call me for talking to you?”
Hmm. Point taken.
“I’ll put it another way. Norma loves books and takes great joy in connecting every customer with just the right author or title. She seems able to sense which souls are especially sad or lonely or troubled. She’ll go right up to them, even in a crowd, and draw them out. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. It’s like . . . book medicine and she’s the doctor.”
I need more, doll. Gimme a concrete-as-brick example.
“All right. Then listen to what happened one Sunday after Norma came to work for us. I was about to drive Spencer to Newport to get him registered for the regional science fair. I went downstairs to grab my jacket from behind the counter when I heard a raucous uproar coming from the main floor.”
A drunken brawl?
“In a family bookshop? No, Jack, the uproar came from a group of women laughing-”
Like cackling hens?
“Don’t embellish. Just listen . . .”
Excerpted from The Ghost and the Stolen Tears by Cleo Coyle Copyright © 2022 by Cleo Coyle. Excerpted by permission of Berkley. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.