MEET ALICE DUNCAN
Award-winning author Alice Duncan lives with a herd of wild dachshunds (enriched from time to time with fosterees from New Mexico Dachshund Rescue) in Roswell, New Mexico. She’s not a UFO enthusiast; she’s in Roswell because her mother’s family settled there fifty years before the aliens crashed (and living in Roswell, NM, is cheaper than living in Pasadena, CA, unfortunately). Alice would love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org . And be sure to visit her Web site at http://www.aliceduncan.net and her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/alice.duncan.925
Book #1 in my Daisy Gumm Majesty series
|Original paperback cover|
Welcome to sunny Pasadena, California, just a stone’s throw from Hollywood. The twenties are in full roar, Prohibition isn’t stopping anybody . . . And Daisy Gumm Majesty is getting by the best way she knows how–catering to the rich and famous as a medium who put the “con” in conjuror . . .
It all started with my aunt Viola's Ouija Board. It was an old one, and sort of shabby. I guess Mrs. Kincaid had been using it ever since she bought it in '03 when they first came out, but she claimed it still worked.
Whether it worked or not, Mrs. Kincaid gave it to Aunt Vi after her own custom-made one with a large emerald in the center arrived from overseas. Mrs. Kincaid declared it had been made by a Gypsy woman in Rumania but I had my doubts then, and I have my doubts now. After all, Mrs. Kincaid was rich, and we all know how gullible some rich people are. I suppose I should amend that to read that I know how gullible some rich people are. Lord knows, I've had plenty of experience in gulling them.
On the other hand, my aunt Viola Gumm, like the rest of my Gumm kin, wasn't at all gullible. Or rich. In fact, Aunt Vi worked as a cook at Mrs. Kincaid's mansion on Orange Grove Boulevard in Pasadena, which is how she came to be involved with the Ouija Board to begin with.
Aunt Vi claimed to be a little scared of the thing, but I think she was only teasing. Everybody knew Ouija Boards were just pieces of wood some smart guy painted and patented to swindle people with money out of it—money, that is to say. You didn't have to look any farther than Mrs. Kincaid if you doubted it.
So that's what started it. What kept it going was Aunt Vi taking the thing out on Christmas Eve to show the relations. Everybody laughed at it, but nobody wanted to touch it. I thought that was strange, since if Ouija Boards weren't truly conduits to a Great Beyond somewhere past death, what harm were they?
I decided to take a crack at it. Why not? I had no morals to speak of, being only ten years old at the time. Back then my main concern was in not making the adults in my life so mad they'd spank me. Since they seemed crazy for this silly board, I decided to have some fun on my own.
You could have heard a pin drop when I sat down across from my cousin Eula and we settled our fingers lightly on a triangular shaped piece of wood Aunt Vi told me was a planchette which, I assumed, was a French word for a triangular piece of wood. Eula, who was sixteen and showing it in every detail, wanted to know if there would be any beaux in her future. I didn't much like Eula, since she wouldn't let me beautify myself with her new eyelash curler, so I made the planchette tell her she'd have three boyfriends, turn Catholic, and enter a nunnery.
Needless to say, my spelling wasn't great, but I invented a spirit control named Rolly, who'd lived in 1055, and who'd never been to school. Therefore, since nobody expected Rolly to spell well, it worked out all right.
I was quite proud of Rolly. I'd listened hard when Aunt Vi explained the Ouija Board to Ma. She'd said that people conjured up some sort of spirit control from the Other Side, whatever that was, with which they communicated through the Ouija Board. That's how I came up with Rolly when I felt a need to explain my rotten spelling. Nobody else in the family could spell worth beans anyhow, so I probably could have dispensed with the control altogether, but Rolly added a touch of panache to an otherwise childish exercise.
To my utter astonishment and her absolute horror, Eula believed me. Everyone joined in communicating with the Ouija Board and Rolly through me after that, except Uncle Ernie, who'd already drunk most of the punch and had taken to snoring in his big easy chair. Uncle Ernie, Aunt Vi's husband and my father's younger brother, snored through most of our family get-togethers.
Every time I thought about doing a séance, I had to fight hysteria. For some reason I envisioned those poor dead people rising from their graves, still swaddled in their burial finery, dripping dirt, and looking skeletal, except for who were still in the process of rotting. Especially when it came to the soldiers who'd lost their lives overseas, the visions were hideous and bloody and made me feel sick to my stomach. They were unpleasant mental images, but I couldn't help it that they invaded my mind's eye any more than I could help Billy.
"I don't know why you can't get a normal job." Billy let go of my hand and hunched in his wheelchair. He could walk a few steps at a time, but his lungs were so bad from the mustard gas, and his legs were so badly damaged from grapeshot, that he couldn't walk like he used to walk: forever and ever without even thinking about it. Or run. When we were kids, we used to run everywhere. He'd pretend to find me annoying because I liked to follow him around, but I didn't believe him then. I believed him now. Nevertheless, his tone of voice riled me. Still, I tried to keep my anger from showing.
"A normal job wouldn't pay as well as this one." I'd pointed out this trenchant fact before, but Billy didn't buy it. Or maybe he did and just didn't want to admit it. Sometimes I felt as if I didn't know anything for certain any longer.
"Money's not the only thing that's important in this world, you know," Billy said in the strange, querulous voice that seemed to belong to someone other than the Billy Majesty I'd known all my life.
"Maybe not, but money keeps food on the table and clothes on our backs." Every now and then, when I remembered how his rich laugh and deep baritone voice used to thrill me when I was a starry-eyed bride, I wanted to cry. At the moment, I wanted to shove his wheelchair down the front porch steps and save us both more pain and grief.
"It's sinful, what you do."
"What?" It was too much. I snatched up my handbag and whirled around, my fists planted on my hips, and glared down at my poor, destroyed husband. "What I do is not sinful, Billy Majesty. What I do is called work. I can't help it if you don't like it. It's all I know how to do, and it pays a lot of money." I hated that I had to pass the back of my hand under my eyes to catch tears. "Besides, it helps people, whether you want to believe it or not."
"Hunh. You're only fooling yourself, Daisy. It's wicked."
"It's not wicked! What I do gives comfort to bereaved people." That there wasn't a darned thing I could do to comfort Billy was a fact that seemed to shimmer in the air between us. I wanted to stamp my foot and scream.
His bitter expression didn't alter appreciably, even in the face of my fury and well-reasoned arguments. He ignored my impassioned speech. Sometimes I thought he ignored all of my impassioned speeches because he knew it was the best way to hurt my feelings. I knew I was being unfair to both of us.
"Who's going to be there?"
I turned around, slammed my handbag on the dresser since I hadn't meant to pick it up in the first place—these arguments always rattled me—and picked up my elegant black cloche. I tried to keep my hands from shaking as I settled the hat over my knot-in-a-pouf hair-do. The style was a little old-fashioned, but I was afraid I'd look like Irene Castle if I got my hair bobbed. I'd have liked to get a bob. It would have been so free and easy and simple, especially since my hair was thick would have taken to the "do" with relative simplicity. But then, nothing in my whole life was free and easy any longer.
As you can probably tell, every once in a while I'd get to feeling sorry for myself no matter how much I tried not to.
"How should I know who's going to be there? I'll probably see Edie." Edwina "Edie" Marsh was one of my friends from high school. She worked as a housemaid for the Kincaids, and we always had a good time trading gossip when I conducted séances the mansion. "And I'm sure there will be some of Mrs. Kincaid's rich friends there. Oh, and her sister, Mrs. Lilley, I guess, since it's her son we're trying to reach."
"That's horrible," Billy said in a low voice.
It was, kind of. I'd never say so. "Maybe, but it pays the milk man and the grocer."
Without another word, Billy pushed his chair around and rolled out of the room. I turned and watched him go, my heart aching. Thanks to my work, we'd managed to get him one of those newfangled chairs with wheels big enough so that Billy could maneuver himself around without help. That was some kind of blessing, I guess, because he felt helpless enough without having to have an attendant push him every time he wanted to, say, go to the kitchen or, worse, the bathroom.
Not for the first time, I was glad America had climbed aboard the water wagon. I could envision poor Billy, bitter and incurable, turning to the bottle for escape. Life was hard enough for us already. We didn't need the Demon Rum living with us, too. I worried a little about the morphine the doctor prescribed for him, but without the drug his pain was too great to bear. In other words, there wasn't any happy solution to the Billy problem.
The books in this series are soon to be given new covers and will be re-released by ePublishing Works. The first two books, Strong Spirits and Fine Spirits will also be available in print form as print-on-demand books. More information to follow when I know what the heck is going on.
All the Daisy books are available on Kindle. The seventh in the series, Spirits Revived, will be published in March of 2014 by Five Star/Cengage Publishing.