Karen Vaughan is a wonderful mystery writer. Her stories are interspersed with humor. Over Her Dead Body is Vaughan’s third mystery novel. Dead On Arrival and Dead Comic Standing are number 1 & 2. I’ve read & reviewed Dead Comic Standing (review below) and can’t wait to read the other two!
For your enjoyment, here is an excerpt from Over Her Dead Body.
Two voices were in conversation in the back of a seedy bar.
“I want this done, like yesterday!” a female whiskey infused voice spoke up.
The other voice, male replied “It’ll get done, but let me do it my way, time and day. I may need help working this job.”
“Help? For Pete’s sake man, you’re just taking out an old broad. How hard can that be? Just get it done.”
An envelope and an address slid across the table. The man checked out the contents of the envelope. “There’s only half here. I asked for half a mill!”
“You’ll get the rest when the bitch is dead, quit complaining or you get squat.”
“Try it and the porn videos hit YouTube, and hubby gets the tape delivered by express mail;then, I dare say your divorce settlement won’t be worth a frickin’ penny.”
Knowing he had her in a awkward position, she agreed the balance would be forthcoming when he could prove the job was done.
“I really hate you, but I need this woman out of my way once and for all.”
“I’m not crazy about you either, but your dad scares the shit out of me, and I value my life. I can guarantee that the job will be done. I’ll call you when it’s finished.”
“Good, and remember we never had this conversation, the woman got up and left.
I lay in bed, hopelessly trying to peel my eyelids from my eyeballs. I gazed at the clock, barely seven. Rolling to my back, I nearly choked on my own spit as a blood curdling shriek split the morning air, forcing me bolt upright in the bed. I nudged my fiancé Gerry, who hogged the blankets next to me.
The shriek sounded from the apartment directly above in Ethel Peterson’s place Poor old soul probably found a mouse and got scared to death.
I turned to my significant other. “Can you go up stairs and see if you can grab the poor rodent before Mrs. Peterson slaughters it, or hurts herself trying?”
We had just celebrated Thanksgiving dinner with my family the night before and once again; it was Monday morning; Thanksgiving Day to be exact. The October air was crisp and the trees were changing. However before the day was through there would be very little to be thankful for.
Gerry grumbled and got out of bed, swearing under his breath that I owed him huge sexual favors later on and a cup of coffee. He was thankfully clothed so no one would be offended. My part in coming to Mrs. Peterson’s aid over with, I lay back down and tried to get some sleep.
However, it wasn’t long before I heard Gerry’s exclamation of holy shit through the floor.
Beside the bed, the phone rang. I answered it.
“Call the meat wagon!, This was Gerry speak for “something is dead.”
“What?” I said, still sleepy, “that must have been some mouse.”
“Laura, sweetie you’re a bit dim in the morning, it was more than a mouse. Just 9-1-1 and come up here”. He clicked off.
I did as he instructed, summoning help, and got my cute little ass dressed and up the stairs A-SAP. What could have happened now? I wondered. I decided I really didn’t want to know as I took the stairs. Like it or not there I was, rushing into another emergency.
The source of the entire frazzle was in Mrs. Peterson’s apartment directly above us. It seems Mrs. Flannery, one of Ethel’s neighbors, had wandered past her unit on the way back from taking the garbage to the Shute down the hall. Mrs. Peterson’s door was open a crack and when Mrs. Flannery peeped through the door to check on her neighbor she found Mrs. Peterson was facedown in her Shreddies. I could see by the looks of things that no rodents had been involved.
“Holy sheep shit, what the hell happened?” I was standing beside Mrs. Flannery, who was trembling in her slippers. “Is- she dead dear?” Mrs.Flannery inquired of Gerry.
Gerry had felt for a pulse. Finding none, he nodded. “Oh I would have to say she is truly beyond this realm Mrs. F.,” he told her.
With that, Mrs. Flannery fainted. I managed to catch her, before she hit the hardwood. At the same time, I was trying to compose myself and keep calm. That is, I squelched the urge to hurl before I took care of the woman in question. It was the second time in six months that I’d seen a dead body in the building. There was a lot more blood at this scene though. Last May somebody had been kind enough to deliver the remains of a former co-worker to my apartment. What I saw now was different though, and somewhat more heinous. Someone had taken violent liberties and left an innocent octogenarian with the back of her head bashed in and swimming in cereal. I was becoming a seasoned witness to death whether I liked it or not.
I stayed with Mrs. Flannery, who was coming around. Once she was capable, I escorted her from Mrs. Peterson’s unit; Mrs. Peterson was still soaking in her milk. I would have done something to remedy that but I knew from watching the multitude of police shows I enjoyed, disturbing the scene was a major no-no. Let the Crime scene unit handle it. I had to get the older woman away from the scene.
Flora Flannery lived two doors down and across the hall from Ethel Peterson. She was a creature of habit who took out the trash everyday at the same time. After the brief walk down the hall, she usually knocked on Ethel’s door for a tea and a good ole fashioned chinwag. More like a hen cluck party as Mr. Scanlon would say. Mr. Scanlon had come out of his unit to see what the excitement was about. There was not much in that gone on in the building that Harry Scanlon didn’t know. “Go back to your apartment Harry.” I said with my arm around Flora’s shoulder.
We got into her apartment and I escorted her to the sofa. Flora sat down; I got her some juice, and sat beside her. I asked her what she had seen. Was there anything strange about Mrs. Peterson’s door being open at that time? – I knew the police would ask her the same questions because I had been through a similar situation last May.
I heard the sirens and soon, bedlam was in full swing with firefighters, EMTs and the police all over the building noting that there was no fire, the engines left first followed by the EMTs. The Coroner’s wagon was called in to collect Mrs. Peterson.
Gerry peeked inside Flora’s apartment, and motioned me out in the hall. I followed.
“What’s going on?” I asked him.
“Well,” said Gerry, “from what I heard in the room, Mrs. Peterson had a little help checking out.”
“Apparently so, seems someone took liberties with a bat. The weapon of choice is missing but the crime scene crew did find a sliver in her hair. They are assuming it’s a bat but it could be a two by four.”
“It’s amazing what I can hear from the hall while doing traffic control in the hallway”, he said, “I was trying to hold back the rubberneckers. Gibbons has been called”
Inspector Gibbons had been the Chief Homicide officer on the Hodges case and we had become friends; chiefly because he brought Timmy’s and we had built up a good rapport over many a takeout coffee. Seriously, Gibbons was a good person. He treated people fairly and was not common to profile according to certain factors. If there was enough evidence to nail a perp, Gibbons would do the right thing.
With that, Gibbons showed up. He greeted us. “I should have known it was chaos central, given the address,” he said coolly. Gibbons had developed a black sense of humor when it came to our ‘domicile of death’. Given that, he had spent quite a few hours here investigating Hodge’s death, and fishing our butts out of the fire. The inspector was prepared for anything when visiting.
Gibbons began taking down the particulars about Ethel, next of kin and all that. I asked Flora if Mrs. Peterson had any family. Flora was able to recall a niece from her late sister; Adriana was her name. No children though, Ethel and Howard had never been blessed with kids of their own. Flora also remarked that Howard had been gone for ten years or so. I went in to the office to retrieve Ethel’s rental information to find any telephone numbers for Adriana.
There was one, and I gave it to Gibbons. He hated having to contact family about a death, especially where homicide was concerned. I offered to make the call, but Gibbons said under the circumstances, he had to do the deed. Gibbons also needed to ask Flora some questions and wondered if she was up to it.
“I suppose I can” Said Flora, “though I don’t know much accept the fact that I found her with her face in her breakfast. I thought she had just passed out. I had no clue she was a goner ‘til I got close up. When I saw the blood that’s when I screamed. Who would do that? She was so nice; she’d never hurt a flea.
“When you were taking your trash out you didn’t notice anything odd, like a stranger in the hall?” Gibbons was taking notes.
Flora shook her head, and replied that Harry Scanlon was standing in his doorway when she was leaving her apartment. He didn’t say much about seeing anyone weird. Gibbons added this to his notes and said he would ask Harry himself. Gibbons also added that he could supply the services of a grief counselor if people needed closure around Ethel’s passing.
I said I thought folks might appreciate that. Gibbons went back into Ethel’s apartment to talk to the forensic team and his partner Matt Rush. Ethel Peterson was well liked, and would be missed. The coroner had taken her away, and quite a few of the tenants seemed distraught over her sudden and violent demise. One particular resident was ready to have the sorry S.O.B. castrated for killing such a kind soul. Gerry assured him that the Police would seek the appropriate justice.
“Police my ass! Look what Laura had to go through last spring when that midget held her and the woman cop hostage… She had to have the little feller hog-tied before the coppers got here. I have no faith in the police.”
“Sam,” I told him, “I took a big risk in doing what I did, and besides Janice was very good in that situation.”
I took the time to go door to door to explain that a grief counselor was at our services to help deal with that morning’s tragedy. After that like, it or not I had to return to my regular duties within the complex. Gerry and I added the cleaning of Mrs. Peterson’s unit to our list, as soon as the police gave permission to proceed. Gibbons had called Adriana regarding her great aunt’s death. He informed her that the crime scene unit was almost done with the apartment and she and her spouse Michael would have to come to see what needed to be moved out
Adriana and Michael showed up. They quickly perused the contents and matter-of-factly assessed what needed to be dispensed with. She appeared very cold and distant and I found it a bit discomfiting to see a relative be so detached about her aunts’ death and her belongings. Adriana didn’t seem to want anything of Ethel’s and stated that a truck would be by to move the stuff as soon as could be arranged and would call us about the time and day,
As noon approached in what was turning out to be a very long day, Gerry and I were cleaning one of the empty units. I couldn’t concentrate on what I was doing though. On the other hand, I wasn’t sure how to mention what was on my mind. Gerry decided the issue for me.
“Okay Laura, speak up.”
I looked at Gerry. He always seemed to know when something was bothering me. “Okay you got me,” I admitted.
“Ethel’s death bugging you?” he asked me.
“Well duh, yeah,” I said, “it’s bugging me the way it’s bugging everyone. However, it’s more than that. When Adriana was here, she was so cold, not the way a bereaved relative should act. If she was my aunt I would have been a little more sorrowful.”
“So, your point is what?”
I stopped what I was doing and looked over at Gerry. “I got the impression from Adriana’s demeanor that the two weren’t close. I remember her referring to Ethel as the “old lady” and her things as “this junk”.”
“Yeah,” Gerry chewed his lip. “That is cold.”
“What takes the cake is she immediately went routing through Ethel’s stuff looking for a Will, and asked me if I knew who her lawyer was. Then she got on her cell phone to a moving company to get a truck here to get the junk out post-haste.”
The mere thought of a relative going through my things so coldly and dispassionately made me so sad that I started to cry. Finally, the events of the day had gotten to me.
Gerry came over and hugged me. “It’s been a long day Hon,” he said gently brushing my tears, “why don’t you go downstairs and take a break”. I knew I needed to keep busy but Gerry was right, I needed a break.
“I’m going to go to the store and get some groceries,” I decided. “Are you okay?” I asked him. I wanted him to know I hadn’t forgotten I wasn’t the only person having a rough day.
Gerry nodded tiredly. “I will be,”
I kissed him and said I’d be back in awhile.
Dead Comic Standing – by Karen Vaughan
Someone’s lost his sense of humor and it’s gonna be murder! A serial killer is stalking the comedians of Edmonton, seeming to choose his victims based on the fact he doesn’t share their sense of humor.
Dave Feener, the first comic to die, is at the top of his game, but when he’s stabbed, the killer tells him, “You just ain’t funny!” Nothing like a little constructive criticism!
Comedienne Shelly has a comeback for everything. When a customer heckles her, she gives back as good as she gets. She’s got a great routine, her comic star is rising. As the death count mounts, she begins to wonder what’s wrong with the guy. Nervous, but not terrified, she continues working on her routines for Comic F/X. Soon, she finds herself falling for her boss, Jeff.
Jeff used to be a standup comic, but gave it up in lieu of starting his own club. He and his counterpart at the other comedy club, Laff Attack, have a friendly rivalry to see who can get the biggest crowd and the best comics.
Unfortunately, both of them are losing their people as the serial killer continues.
Constables Lissa Cassway and Mike Borneo are investigating the murders. Despite their best efforts, the comic killer manages to kill again and again, making them wonder how he’s managing to stay ahead of them. Will the tide turn in their favor? Or will the killer continue his deadly spree?
Karen Vaughan’s novel, “Dead Comic Standing”, is a wonderful look into the world of stand-up comedy. She mixes in funny comedic routines with the serious business of police work. Her characters sparkle, the story moves at a good pace as she builds to the climax of her tale.
I highly recommend “Dead Comic Standing” for anyone who likes a good mystery—or even a good joke.
Five Golden Acorns