Max Paddington refuses to go into the light until he finds his killer. This presents a dilemma, since Max is even less competent as a spirit than he was as a live person. No one sees or hears him and he can’t manage to get anywhere or do anything on his own.
Joe Cavelli is a private investigator, living an ordinary life. Then one day he walks across a parking lot, gets yelled at by a ghost, and his life only gets stranger from there.
Max and Joe team up to find Max’s killer. In the process, they form an unlikely friendship and change each other’s lives in ways they never expected.
Divorce. She slid the word across the table like it was part of his breakfast. Here’s your toast and coffee and I want a divorce.
Max Paddington stared into his wife’s clear brown eyes and said the only thing that came to mind. “What?”
“I want a divorce,” Rachel repeated.
At least she’d left out the toast and coffee bit. Divorce hadn’t been a side order, after all. “Are you still mad about the golf clubs?” he asked. “I’ll take them back if it’s that big of a deal.”
Rachel said his name as if it left a sour taste on her tongue. Max swiped a hand through his damp hair. He’d been awake less than a half hour and already his day had turned to shit. Rachel, his wife of fourteen years—no, it was fifteen now—stood in front of him with her arms folded over her breasts. She wore a black camisole, pantyhose, and three-inch heels. And he was supposed to take her seriously?
“Rach,” he said. “You want to get divorced over golf clubs?”
“It’s not the golf clubs, Max.”
“Well, what the hell?”
“I need to finish getting dressed or I’ll be late for work.”
“So be late! You can’t tell me you want a divorce, like you’re telling me the weather for the day, then walk out the door.”
“I can’t be late today.”
“Or what? The world will implode because you don’t serve your boss’s coffee on time?”
Rachel glared. “I do not serve my boss coffee. I only did that for you and I won’t be doing it anymore.”
“I’m sorry, okay?” Max pushed his coffee mug aside, the object having suddenly become an obstacle between them. “I didn’t mean that. It’s just that you dumped this bombshell on me and you won’t even talk to me about it.”
“I don’t understand why you’re so surprised.”
“What? I should have been expecting a divorce with my breakfast?”
“Think about it, Max.”
With that, she turned and strode from the room. He watched her ass, naked beneath the pantyhose. Divorce. What the hell?
~ ~ ~
Max took his miserable attitude to work at the local Publix, where he’d been assistant manager for nearly five years. Before that, he’d been the assistant manager at Winn-Dixie. Always the assistant. Never the boss. And now his wife wanted a divorce because he’d bought expensive golf clubs. How had he managed to earn such a low rank in life?
He took his misery out on the new stock boy, a skinny sixteen-year-old with pockmarked skin and the grace of a five-thousand-pound elephant. The kid was close to tears by the time Dan, the manager, caught wind of the bad karma in the air. Max muttered an apology to his boss, said he was having a bad day, and wandered out to the stockroom. While sorting through overstock, he knocked an open case of olives onto the floor. The green ones in the glass jars. Four of the jars shattered. Little green eyeballs rolled in a puddle around his feet. One of the stockers helped him clean the mess with only a minimal of razzing.
Max hid his embarrassment behind a gruff attitude, then ducked into his office. He poured himself a cup of coffee and promptly spilled some on his tie. Next, he slipped on a newly waxed section of floor and did a fancy skid that landed him on his ass in the middle of the aisle. After that, he gave up on even pretending to work and managed to steer clear of everyone until quitting time.
He cursed his Honda Civic for not being a Mercedes, then cursed the traffic for getting in his way. His house mocked him with its dark silence. The coffeemaker mocked him from its place on the counter. Would you like a divorce with your morning coffee? A sweep of his arm sent the machine and its glass carafe sailing across the room. Leftover coffee exploded with the glass.
Was Rachel even coming home? Max watched the coffee form a river between the floor tiles. He cursed at the mess on the floor and the mess that was his life. Think about it, she’d told him. As if he could think about anything else!
He grabbed his keys and slammed out the door. Stupid to sit around sulking on the off chance that Rachel would come home soon. She was probably humping her boss on his fancy desk in his cavernous office. Damn lawyers. If the guy wasn’t overweight and bald, that thought would bother him a lot more.
Max brought his attitude to Chili’s, where he ate a burger and drank two large Cokes. Rather than one of the cute waitresses, he got stuck with a twenty-something waiter with a hundred-watt smile and perfect hair. The kind of guy who got threesomes on a regular basis. The kid’s name was Carlos and Max hated him on sight.
The noise level in the place had Max chewing on the edge of his glass. An entire building full of couples and families, all talking to each other, smiling and happy. He sat alone, being waited on by the pinup boy for Playgirl, looking like the true loser he’d become.
Would you like a divorce with your order?
Max left Carlos what was likely the worst tip the kid had ever received and stomped back out to his car. He’d been forced to park in the bank’s lot next door. That should have been a sign for him to stay out of the place. The food, liquor, noise and Carlos’s perfect white teeth only managed to further sour his mood.
Maybe Rachel would be home by now and be willing to talk. As he yanked his door open, it occurred to him that he should have gotten her some food. What if she hadn’t been avoiding him and had only worked late? What if she was waiting for him now, in their kitchen with the glass and the coffee river?
He spotted someone standing in the shadows, twenty feet from his car. A thin man, maybe a woman. Couldn’t tell with that stupid ball cap pulled low, half hidden behind the palm trees where no lights fell. Why the hell was the guy standing there in the dark? That was the thought Max had when the bullet ripped through his left eye, tore through his brain, and exploded out the back of his skull.
Excerpt from Into the Light by Darcia Helle. Copyright © 2019 by Darcia Helle. Reproduced with permission from Darcia Helle. All rights reserved.
Darcia Helle is a Massachusetts native, who escaped the New England winters to write in the Florida sunshine. She lives with her husband in a home full of spoiled rescue animals and an occasional stray lizard. She writes because the characters trespassing through her mind leave her no alternative.