Castaway Corpse

It was supposed to be a 3-hour tour ...

The next book in the Lucy McGuffin, Psychic Amateur Detective series is coming winter, 2022!

CHAPTER ONE

There are two kinds of people in this world. Muffin people. And everybody else. The everybody else consists of the usual suspects—the cookie people, the cupcake people, and of course, the donut people.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against any of them personally, but my people are the muffin people. They’re the ones who frequent The Bistro by the Beach, the café I co-own with my friend Sarah Powers here in Whispering Bay, Florida. The muffin people totally get me. They also help keep me in business, so when one of my “people” asks for a favor it’s hard to say no.

Victor Marino, a retired postal worker and a regular here at the café, stands across the counter looking at me with pleading eyes and a story I’m finding hard to resist because it’s just so deliciously out there. “Let me get this straight,” I say to Victor and his shifty seventy-something-year-old sidekick, Phoebe Van Cleave. “You want Paco to help you find the ghost of some dead pirate?”

Phoebe and Victor belong to the Sunshine Ghost Society, a local group that likes to commune with the dead. A year ago, I would have laughed in their faces. But a lot has happened in the past twelve months that makes it impossible for me to remain skeptical.

Paco, who likes to hang out with me behind the counter while I’m working, gives me a look that lets me know he’s just as intrigued by this dead pirate as I am. He’s a tan colored Chihuahua-terrier mix that I rescued after I solved a local murder. Since then, Paco and I have gone on to solve numerous crimes.

The majority of our sleepy little north Florida community attributes our sleuthing success to luck. But luck has nothing to do with it. Paco, you see, is a ghost-whisperer, and I have the gift of knowing when someone is lying or telling the truth. Together, we’re quite the dynamic duo.

Most people are aware of Paco’s ghost-whispering abilities—he even has his own Facebook page that was set up by a former owner. But only family and a handful of my close friends know about my special gift. On top of all that, Paco and I can now communicate with one another. It took me a while to figure it out, but he understands human language. I can also sense what he’s thinking. Don’t ask me how it works. It just does. At least, for now.

A few months back, I had the opportunity to meet Jenny, Paco’s original owner. She called him Darwin, which is a perfectly lovely name, but I think Paco suits him so much better. Anyway, she used to be like me—a human lie detector—until she fell in love and got married, causing her to mysteriously lose her gift. She implied that the same thing could happen to me.

My boyfriend Travis and I exchanged the L word a couple of months back, but so far, it hasn’t done anything to alter my abilities. Interestingly enough, Travis is the one person on the planet who I can’t catch in a lie. Other than that, my lie-detecting barometer is still as sharp as ever. Maybe it’s the marriage part that changes things up …

“Lucy,” Victor says, interrupting my thoughts, “it’s not just any dead pirate. It’s Lazy Eye Louie!”

I can’t help but snort. “Is that name for real?”

Phoebe sighs heavily. “Lazy Eye Louie was the nickname given to Jean Louis Marquette. Don’t you know anything about pirate history?”

I grit my teeth before I say something I’ll regret. Phoebe Van Cleave has been a thorn in my side for as long as I’ve known her, but as president of the Sunshine Ghost Society, she could easily hold their weekly breakfast meetings at another café. Like Heidi’s Bakery. Which is okay if you’re into great pancakes and even better donuts. But if you want the best muffins in the world (not that I’d say my muffins were the best in the world, but others have, and who am I to contradict them?) then The Bistro by the Beach is your spot.

The café sits on prime real estate overlooking the crystal-clear blue water of the Gulf of Mexico. The walls are painted with murals of dolphins and other sea life, the floors are a polished light wood, and Jimmy Buffet can always be heard on the overhead speaker.

“Jean Louis Marquette.” I roll the name off my tongue. “Never heard of him.”

“He was rumored to have stolen a fortune in doubloons from another pirate before taking off on a ship that eventually crashed during a storm,” says Victor. “His body, as well any treasure he might have stolen, was never recovered.” His eyes go shiny with excitement. “Here’s the good part. The pirate he stole the treasure from was none other than Jose Gaspar.”

Most people in Florida know the legend of Jose Gaspar, an early nineteenth-century pirate who raided up and down the Florida west coast and hid out in the Tampa Bay. Heck, there’s even a festival named after him. Every winter, the streets of Tampa go wild on Gasparilla weekend where basically the whole town turns into one big pirate fest. There’s a boat flotilla, a parade, fireworks, and lots of drunken shenanigans. My one and only Gasparilla experience ended with me getting hit right between the eyes by a bead missile, so I’ve avoided it ever since.

“I thought Jose Gaspar wasn’t real. I mean, isn’t he just an excuse for people to behave badly?”

Phoebe raises a brow. “It’s true. No historian has been able to verify his existence. Until now,” she adds dramatically. “With Paco’s help, we could make one of the most important discoveries in recent history.”

Paco barks. Tell me more.

Betty Jean Collins, who works part-time at the café, pops her head out the cutaway window connecting the kitchen to the dining area. Betty Jean is eighty but has the soul of a frustrated teenager in the throes of puberty. She’s also a member of the Sunshine Ghost Society and almost as nosy as Phoebe. “Well?” she asks Victor and Phoebe like I’m not standing three feet from her face. “Is Lucy on board?”

“She’s still thinking about it,” says Victor.

Sarah pokes her head around Betty Jean to see what’s going on. She’s a few years older than me, blonde, blue-eyed, and beautiful. She’s a terrific friend, a great business partner, and makes the best macaroni and cheese you’ve ever tasted. “What’s up?” she asks, her gaze curious.

“Phoebe and Victor want Lucy’s permission to use Paco during a séance to conjure up the ghost of Lazy Eye Louie,” Betty Jean explains like it’s all perfectly normal.

Sarah makes a face. “Sorry I asked,” she mutters.

I glance around the near-empty dining room. It’s ten till two, which means it’s almost closing time. “Let’s sit down to talk about this. Betty Jean can man the counter in case someone comes in.”

Betty Jean scurries to take my place leaving Paco and I free to follow Victor and Phoebe to a table in the corner of the café. “Okay, start from the beginning.”

Victor nods eagerly. “I got a call this morning from Professor Mortimer Drake. Have you heard of him?”

“Sorry. It doesn’t ring a bell.”

“He’s written a book chronicling the history of piracy in Florida. Fascinating stuff. He’s spent most of his adult life trying to prove the existence of Jose Gaspar.”

Against my better judgment, I motion for him to continue.

“Last year, he stumbled across the diary of a bootlegger—a man by the name of Rogelio Sanchez, a Spanish soldier stationed down in Cuba during the early nineteenth century who went AWOL. He stole a boat and sailed it to Florida. Landed somewhere near what’s now Fort Myers. It’s there that he claims he met Jean Marquette. According to Sanchez’s diary, he sold liquor to Marquette who was procuring it for a crew working for Gaspar.”

Paco nudges my leg with the tip of his cold nose. I hope you’re getting all this.

Oh, brother. Who knew my dog had a pirate fetish?

Victor continues his story. “In the diary, Sanchez mentions that Gaspar and Marquette had a falling out. Marquette or Lazy Eye Louie as he was called, stole some doubloons from Gaspar and disappeared, never to be heard from again. It was assumed that his boat sunk during a storm and he, along with the treasure, are somewhere at the bottom of the Gulf. Historians knew that Marquette fled with another pirate’s booty, but up until the discovery of the diary, they didn’t know that the pirate in question was Gaspar.”

“And how exactly does Paco work into this scenario?”

“A few weeks ago, a fishing boat discovered an unexplored island approximately twenty miles off the coast of Whispering Bay. They found some old debris that was consistent with a boat crash. Drake has hired a crew to take him out to the island so he can explore. It’s a long shot, but if the debris belonged to the boat that Lazy Eye Louie was fleeing in, then there’s a chance that his remains are somewhere on that island.”

“And you want to do a séance? After all these years you’d think Louie would have moved on.”

Phoebe rolls her eyes at me. “Lucy McGuffin, how many times do I have to explain the spirit tends to linger near the earthly body?”

“Yeah, yeah.” I take it all in. “Let’s say, as improbable as this sounds, Lazy Eye Louie’s body is on that island and Paco is able to communicate with him. Then what?”

Victor leans in eagerly. “Then maybe he’ll tell us the truth about Jose Gaspar. Can you imagine, Lucy, if we were the ones who could provide hard evidence on the man’s existence? The Sunshine Ghost Society would be famous! They’ll write articles about us in all the journals. We might even be on TV.”

Phoebe sniffs. “Don’t forget. It’s not just us, Victor. All of Professor Drake’s hard work would finally be recognized.”

The hair on the back of my neck tingles. It’s the physical reaction I get whenever someone lies to me. The bigger the reaction, the bigger the lie. Only, this tingling sensation is so subtle that I barely noticed it. Nothing in Phoebe’s statement feels like a lie, but if it caused my Spidey sense to go off even the tiniest bit, then I have to think that something about her statement was disingenuous. Despite my better judgment, I’m intrigued.

“When are you going out on the boat?” I ask.

“Saturday,” Victor says. “We’re leaving the marina at 8 am sharp.”

“That’s tomorrow,” I croak.

“I know,” Victor says apologetically. “But we only just discovered all this today. Professor Drake reached out to our society to see if we could be of some help. Naturally, Phoebe and I immediately thought of Paco.”

“I couldn’t let him go out on a boat without me. And I’m working. Saturdays are always busy.”

“Sarah and Betty Jean will be here, won’t they?” Phoebe persists. “And there’s that other person who helps out from time to time. What’s her name again?”

“Jill!” Betty Jean yells from across the room. Boy, talk about mad skills. Betty Jean is either a master eavesdropper or she’s got the best hearing aid in town.

“The Sunshine Ghost Society would be willing to pay Jill’s wages if that would help.” Phoebe’s beady eyes narrow. “You wouldn’t want to rob Paco of this opportunity, would you?”

Paco looks up at me with his big brown Chihuahua eyes. Yes, yes, yes. I want to talk to a dead pirate.

I feel like that parent who can’t say no to her child even when they know they should. I’ve let the Sunshine Ghost Society use Paco as a medium before, and the results were almost disastrous. The society accidentally conjured up the ghost of a woman who’d kidnapped Paco and it nearly cost me my precious little dog. I’m not sure I’m willing to take that risk again.

Victor hands me a slip of paper. “Here’s all the information you’ll need regarding the boat and departure time.” He spears me with a look almost as pathetic as Paco’s. “Please, Lucy. It would mean the world to us.”

“Let me think about it,” I say cautiously.

Paco barks happily. Oh goody. That means yes.

 

 

 

Books in This Series

Book 1
Book 2
Book 3
Book 4
Book 5
Book 6
Book 7
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