Excerpt: South of Salem

Book 2: An Allegra Fairweather Paranormal Mystery

Excerpt: South of Salem

“Thank God you’re here.” Mom charged across the airport, ash-blond hair flying every which way, and hugged me in a death-grip that threatened to cut off my circulation. This was highly unusual behavior from a woman who prided herself on behaving with decorum at all times.

Clutching me to her breast like the desperate heroine of a soap opera, she whispered, “Steven seems to be—” She stopped abruptly as a group of tourists milled around us giving me time to reflect on the Steven in question.

My stepfather, Steven Richard Hampton, the thirty-second of that name, was a politician and pillar of the community. I tried and failed to imagine what he had done to send Mom rushing through the airport tossing aside her treasured principles of decorum and immaculate grooming like so many how-to-vote pamphlets after polling day.

When the tourist group had been herded away by their harassed leader, I asked, “What has Steven done?”

“Sshh—keep your voice down.” Her mascara was smudged and lipstick had bled into the tiny lines near her mouth. “Steven hasn’t done anything. He is p-o-s-s-e-s-s-e-d.”

If spelling possessed was her way of keeping his condition secret, she needed some serious lessons in secrecy. “Mom, I think the other people in the airport can spell.”

“Well of course they can, but I can’t bring myself to say the word. It’s obscene that Steven should be p-o-s-s—”

“Yeah, I get it.”

“Can you help him?” Her bloodshot eyes pleaded with me.

“Hey, I’m a paranormal investigator. It’s what I do.”

“Keep your voice down. We don’t want everyone to know your profession. Now we won’t mention the P word again until we’re in the car.”

I asked innocently, “Which P word is that? Paranormal, possessed or profession?”

“All of them,” she snapped and strode off toward the parking lot. When she realized I was lagging behind, she called over her shoulder, “Keep up, Allegra. What’s wrong with you?” She’s a petite woman like my sister, and she knew my long legs could out-stride her even when she was scurrying. I hurried to catch up. Soon we were in the car and she was telling me everything, speaking so fast I only caught half of what she said. “…he’s p-o-s-s-e-s-s-e-d…become a…different person…hasn’t washed…changed underwear…for days.”

“It can’t be that bad,” I said.

Steven was the best-dressed man I knew. He was voted Sexiest Politician of the Decade. Okay, he didn’t have much competition, but still.

Mom revved the car hard. “You’ll see,” she said darkly, and sped out of the lot. It was a miracle she didn’t get a ticket on the way home.

After screeching down Mayflower Avenue and into her driveway, she risked a hernia pulling my suitcase out of the trunk. When I offered to carry it—let’s face it, I’m bigger and stronger—she said, “No, I want you to assess Steven’s condition immediately. I’ll put this in your old room.”