Susan Griffin’s heart fluttered with excitement. The big
day had finally arrived. Costumes of every possible description
hung from garment racks, lined the walls, and filled the
shelving units of the newly opened costume shop. Feather boas
danced beneath ceiling fans, and hula skirts swished as if worn
by invisible maidens.
“This is it,” she said.
“The grand opening of the Purple Pickle!”
With no space left to hang another outfit, Susan’s partner
and best friend, A. K., pushed an unopened box of costumes
beneath a display table. “Awesome, isn’t it? Our bank account is
scraping bottom, but we’re ready. You name it. We’ve got it.”
A whiff of sizing and the scent of freshly painted props
all but shouted, “I’m new! Pick me!” Everywhere you looked, the
shop exploded with color.
“It’s like standing in the middle of a kaleidoscope,”
Susan said as she continued to soak in the surroundings, quite a
contrast compared to her Bawdy Boutique located next door.
There, old brick, shuttered windows, and a courtyard entrance
suggested an elegant yet somewhat clandestine setting. The
Purple Pickle, on the other hand, all but screamed to passersby.
Sculptured masks adorned the outside walls, topped by a giant
purple pickle with long eyelashes and a sweeping grin. Only A.
K. could come up with such an outlandish name and logo.
Susan sure hoped this venture would be a success, that
they were doing the right thing in expanding. At least they had
the Bawdy Boutique to fall back on if the costume shop turned
out to be a bust. That hadn’t been the case when she’d opened
the boutique. Susan had put all her money into the shop. Had it
not been a success, she would have had to swallow her pride and
beg back her job from the big boys of the fashion world.
The sound of customers gathering at the front door
disrupted Susan’s thoughts. “A. K., we’d better get in costume.
Seems we’re not the only ones anxious to get things underway.”
Susan unfurled a long, black cloak and draped it around
her shoulders, but instead of feeling warm beneath the wrap, an
eerie cold rippled across her skin. When she fastened the robe
and slipped on a skeleton mask, it triggered a memory, one she
wished she could forget.
It was two weeks ago when she’d treated her employees and
their dates to a fun day of fishing on a party barge. Everyone
had a line in the water, even if someone else had to cast it for
them. All were hoping to win the prize for the biggest fish. But
Susan’s carefree mood had turned solemn when she’d experienced a
brief vision, a vision she had kept to herself. From beneath the
murky water, eyes filled with terror had looked up at her. It
had been the face of
Susan thought back to when she’d arrived at the landing
that day with Wesley as her date. Before boarding the party
barge, they’d stopped by the Rusty Nail to register for the
fishing contest. To her surprise, she’d spotted Myrtle Thigpen.
A bar was the last place she’d ever expected to see this pillar
of the church. But there she was, approaching one customer after
the other, asking if anyone had seen her sister.
Myrtle had seemed especially happy to see Wesley. She’d
rushed up to him, frantic, explaining that her sister had
planned to meet someone for drinks at the bar and hadn’t come
home. Myrtle had even pointed to Lorraine’s silver Lexus
in the parking lot and said, “That can’t be a good sign.”
As a courtesy, Wesley had made a brief inspection of the
vehicle, careful not to touch anything. Since nothing seemed out
of order, he had suggested that
and her companion might have made other plans.
Myrtle had disagreed. While she didn’t approve of her
sister’s past lifestyle, she wanted to believe that Lorraine had changed since returning home.
had not been missing more than twenty-four hours, Wesley had
explained that the police couldn’t declare her a missing person.
He’d suggested Myrtle contact nearby hospitals to see if her
sister had been in an accident, and if Lorraine hadn’t shown up
by the time he returned from his outing, he had promised Myrtle
he’d look into it as a favor to her. Although he mostly worked
homicide, Palmetto’s sheriff department was small, and they
often shared duties. Besides, he had worked missing persons in
That had not been what Myrtle had wanted to hear. Hiking
her nose in the air, she’d left in a huff.
Lorraine’s face in the murky water,
Susan had reeled in a scarf, one Myrtle had bought at the
boutique for her sister. That had convinced Susan that finding
Lorraine would not bring
Susan cringed, forcing the memory of that day from her
mind. Now’s not the time. You have a lot riding on this
opening. Pulling the cloak’s hood over her head, she turned
to A. K. “What do you think?”
“Wow! Terrific, if you’re into creepy.” A. K., who had
decided her real name of Anna Katherine was way too long, picked
up an item from the counter and tossed it to Susan. “Here,
you'll need this. What's the Grim Reaper without a scythe?” A.
K. let go a creepy laugh. “Okay, my turn.” She twirled around,
jangling the multitude of bracelets on both wrists. A green,
midriff blouse, tied between her breasts, matched an
ankle-length, off-the-hip full skirt. The material billowed as
she continued to dance in circles. “So, how do I look?”
“Like a real gypsy. You might hide from others behind that
latex mask and wig, but you could never fool me…not with
those…well, you’d never fool me.”
A. K. hiked her thirty-eight double D’s even higher.
If the woman had any bigger boobs, she’d fall on her face,
Turning sideways, A. K. glanced in a mirror, obviously
admiring her girls. “You know you can pick your size nowadays.”
“No, thanks. I’ll stick with what the Lord gave me. About
your costume, aren’t you missing something?”
“Nope.” A. K. picked up a prop from a side table and
rubbed her hand across the top. In her best Transylvanian
accent, she said, “Gaze into my crystal ball.” Even beneath the
mask, her green eyes flashed with laughter. “I’ve always wanted
to say that.” Cocking her head to one side, she tucked the glass
globe under her arm and gave Susan a more studied look. “Man,
your outfit gives me the heebie-jeebies. Do me a favor. In case
you have some mojo working, don’t stand too close.”
Susan grinned but knew A. K. wasn’t joking, not after what
they’d been through. “Did you remember to put a sign on the
“Sure did. It tells everyone the shop is closed for the
grand opening of the Purple Pickle, and if they join us next
door, they’ll receive a coupon for ten percent off on their next
purchase from the Bawdy Boutique.”
“Works for me.” Susan called to her employees, Debbie,
Sheila, and Melanie, who were parading their costumes at the
front door. “Okay, ladies, let ’em in.”
A crescendo of
the store as customers hustled down the aisles. They snatched up
one costume after another and rushed to one of the many mirrors.
Shouts erupted. Really?
“Looks like we’re off to a good start,” A. K. whispered to
Susan. “Hmm, I see a customer who could use a little help.” She
sidled over to a senior citizen who had several costumes draped
over her arm. “That one,” A. K. said. “The crystal ball never
To Susan’s delight, customers continued to arrive, far
exceeding the number at the opening of the Bawdy Boutique. That
the Bawdy Boutique even survived was another story. It had
gotten off to a rough start, thanks in part to one particular
citizen who had been offended by some of the suggestive
merchandise. To Myrtle Thigpen, the boutique had no place in the
sleepy, little town of
Palmetto, and she’d sworn she’d shut it
Gathering a band of followers, Myrtle had picketed the
shop on a daily basis. Customers had to weave their way through
signs to gain entry. They were glad they did. Once inside,
they’d discovered the store offered more than scanty lingerie.
Word had spread about the line of designer clothing, along with
jewelry and other accessories. Before long, the shop had drawn
the curious and the trendy. Clientele had come from surrounding
towns, and sales had skyrocketed.
It took some doing, but Myrtle had finally given up trying
to shut her down. Eventually, they had even become friends. Now,
since the boutique’s bank account was in the black, Susan had
decided to take A. K.’s suggestion and open a costume shop on
the other side of the parking lot. With A. K.’s marketing skills
and flamboyant personality, and a small but dedicated sales
force, how could she go wrong?
Susan smiled as she watched her two youngest employees,
Debbie and Sheila. Only a year out of high school, they exuded
energy and optimism. They had chosen to dress as Twiddle Dee and
Twiddle Dum and were bouncing from customer to customer,
obviously enjoying every minute of the opening. On the other
hand, Melanie, who was in her thirties and closer in age to
Susan and A. K., came dressed as Elvira. With her good looks,
she caught the eye of every man who walked through the door,
most of whom got an elbow to the ribs from a jealous partner.
But Melanie’s easygoing personality quickly won over even the
most envious women.
Customers came from neighboring towns and many from
New Orleans, all to check
out the bargains. Business was non-stop, and by closing time,
the store looked as if a hurricane had passed through. Most of
the shelves were bare, the garment racks empty, and the painted
props were barely standing. Best of all, the cash register was
full. When the last of the customers headed for the parking lot,
Susan gave a satisfied and exhausted sigh. She removed her hood
and mask then shook out her long, blonde hair. A. K. followed
suit and peeled off her latex mask. Her short, red hair lay
plastered to her skull.
“Come here.” Susan fluffed her friend’s curls. “Much
better. Hey, great job, everyone. Looks like our hard work paid
off. What do you say we shut it down?”
“Don’t you want us to help straighten up before we leave?”
“Nah, A. K. and I can handle it.”
“Thanks, boss.” Debbie cut her eyes at Melanie. “Next time
we dress in costume, I’m coming as Elvira. You got hit on so
many times you have to be black and blue. I should be so lucky.”
Melanie blushed. “I never knew work could be such fun.”
Susan was glad to see Melanie enjoying herself. Not long
ago, her husband had been killed while serving an arrest
warrant. Every time Susan thought about that night, her gut
wrenched. Left with two children to support, Melanie was forced
to find employment, and Susan was eager to do all she could to
The employees gathered up their purses and headed for the
“See y’all tomorrow,” A. K. called after them.
Susan locked the door behind them and flipped the closed
sign to face outward. “This shouldn’t take long,” she said,
picking up a few costumes that had fallen to the floor. While
re-hanging a hula skirt, she paused to smooth the raffia grass.
It was then that Susan’s mind drifted again to that day on the
She had kept quiet, hoping that what she’d seen had been
just her imagination, but the nightmares wouldn’t stop. The
woman who owned the scarf kept crying out to her, and she could
no longer keep her fears to herself. She had to tell someone, or
she’d go crazy. She crossed the store, stopped in front of A.
K., and waited until her friend looked up.
A frown creased A. K.’s brow. “If you’re trying to scare
me, you’re succeeding. I had a feeling you shouldn’t have worn
“The disguise has nothing to do with it.”
A. K.’s shoulders slumped. “You didn’t hit your head
again, did you?”
Several months earlier, Susan had suffered a fall,
resulting in a hematoma and surgery. While sedated, she’d found
herself at the local funeral home, where she’d met Jack Evans,
the victim of a pending murder. Later, she’d awakened in the
hospital with only days to save him. She’d had a hard time
convincing people about the vision, but eventually, both A. K.
and Wesley realized she had been telling the truth and the
would-be killer was caught before Jack was murdered. Now it
seemed she was destined to get caught up in another
investigation, whether she wanted to or not.
Taking the scythe from Susan’s hand, A. K. laid it on a
table. “After what happened with Jack, I was hoping you had lost
your ability to see things. I’d hate to go through something
like that again—knowing a killer was out there, not knowing who,
and suspecting everyone. My knees grow weak every time I think
about it. Even so, I owe you big time for bringing him into my
life. He’s…well, I’ve waited a long time for someone like Jack.”
Susan massaged her temples. “I’d give anything for things
to be normal again, but I don’t have control over my visions.
You can’t imagine how terrifying they can be. Last night, I
found myself alone in the river, and something was pulling me
down. I woke up gasping for air. You wouldn’t believe how real
it felt. I actually checked the bed for water. How do you get
something like that out of your mind?”
A. K. slipped her bracelets into a plastic box. “Do me a
favor. Keep me out of your visions.”
Susan tucked a long strand of hair behind an ear. “It
doesn’t work that way.”
A. K. returned the crystal ball to its box then locked
eyes with Susan. “Okay, what exactly did you see that makes you
think Lorraine is dead?”
“Would you believe her face beneath the water?” Susan
scrunched her face in disgust. “Later, when I reeled in the
scarf, I knew something terrible had happened to her. I can
still feel that slimy, wet material.” She shivered at the
thought. “I don’t know if I can ever handle cashmere again.
After Wesley slipped the scarf into a plastic bag, I couldn’t
bring myself to look at it. My stomach wrenched, and I thought I
was going to throw up.”
“Hey, maybe you got the wrong impression. Maybe
Lorraine’s not in trouble
at all. She likes to party. Could be her scarf just blew off. I
wouldn’t put it past her to be living it up on someone’s boat.”
“I don’t think so. From what I saw, she was in trouble.
Her face was twisted in pain, and her mouth opened like she was
calling for help.”
“Ooh, that doesn’t sound good. Did you tell Wesley?”
Just the mention of the detective’s name helped to calm
Susan’s anxiety. Along with wanting to own a boutique, Wesley
was the reason she had left New York for her hometown. They once
had something special, but over time, had drifted apart. She was
hoping there was still a chance for them. With that in mind,
she’d learned all she could about merchandizing and had saved as
much money as possible. She’d been eager to escape the turmoil
of the big city for the laid-back atmosphere of Palmetto, but
Palmetto had turned out to be anything but. Not long after her
homecoming, she’d found herself in the middle of the
investigation where Jack Evan’s life had hung in the balance.
Through it all, Wesley had stood by her.
“I know he would believe me, but I doubt his boss would.
Sheriff Smith is a Jack Webb type of guy—just the facts, ma’am.
And I’m pretty sure Wesley would prefer I not go public with my
visions. People might think I’m nuts, and then my business would
go to pot. Besides, Wesley’s on top of things, and the flotilla
is dragging the river.”
“Fat chance they’ll find anything. The current is so swift
Lorraine’s body could be in the Gulf by now.”
A. K. drew her lips together and shook her head. “I know
what you’re thinking, but do me a favor—don’t get involved this
time. Whatever has happened, it’s not your fault, and you’re not
obligated to solve Lorraine’s
Susan gave a forlorn sigh. “That’s not my intention.
Between the Bawdy Boutique and the costume shop, I have enough
to worry about. But I had to tell someone, and besides Wesley
and Jack, you’re the only one who wouldn’t think I was crazy.”
“I should be so lucky.” A. K.’s voice dripped with
“We’ve done enough here,” Susan said, glancing around the
shop. “What say we call it a night and finish up tomorrow?” Not
wanting to dwell further on the subject, Susan slipped an arm
around A. K.’s shoulders. “I have to say you were spot on about
opening a costume shop. We’re going to do great. There’s only
one thing that bothers me.”
“I don’t know if I’ll ever warm up to the name—Purple
A. K. laughed. “You will when the money starts rolling
There was a knock followed by a familiar voice. “Is it
okay to come in?”
“Of course,” Susan said, crossing the shop and unlocking
the door. Wesley and his partner, Dylan Powell, shuffled past.
Seeing Wesley brought a smile to her lips. “I didn’t hear you
“We parked next door. Since the lights were on in the
costume shop, I figured that’s where I’d find you.”
Wesley had worked all day at the landing, interviewing
everyone. From the look on his face, things weren’t going so
well. His hazel eyes lacked their usual sparkle, and the corners
of his mouth tugged at his smile.
In the shadows of her mind, Susan heard a bell toll. “They
found her, didn’t they?”
Wisps of sandy hair fell across Wesley’s brow as he
nodded. “The flotilla recovered what we believe to be Lorraine’s remains, but we’ll have to wait
for dental confirmation.”
A. K. gave Susan a quick glance. When she opened her mouth
to say something, Susan shook her head, hoping A. K. wouldn’t
mention her vision. Her friend apparently got the message. She
said nothing and eased down onto a crate.
“It doesn’t seem right,” Susan said. “After years apart,
Myrtle’s sister finally comes home, and a week later, she’s
“Not just dead, murdered. I imagine Myrtle will think
about her sister being pulled from that river for a long time,”
Susan’s eyes widened. “Does she know? Is anyone with her?”
Wesley held up his hand as if to slow Susan’s barrage of
questions. “We just left Myrtle’s place. The chief delayed
talking to the press at the landing so I could tell her before
the media blasted the news over the radio and TV. You wouldn’t
believe the number of reporters at the landing. We couldn’t turn
around without one of them in our faces. Until we know for sure
the body is Lorraine’s, all I could tell Myrtle was that the
victim was a female, and she should be prepared for the worst. I
was glad a few of her friends were with her.”
Wesley didn’t speculate as to a cause of death, and it
wasn’t like him to avoid eye contact.
“What are you not telling us?” Susan asked.
His voice lowered, almost to a mumble. “I don’t know how
hope she didn’t suffer. We…we only recovered a head.”
A. K. sprang to her feet and clutched her arms. “Ew!
Sounds like something out of a horror movie.”
“You got that right,” Dylan said. “I’ve seen a lot of
gruesome sights, and this ranks right up there.” He rubbed the
sides of his neck with both hands. “We’re looking at a real
“This is Palmetto. Nothing like that is supposed to happen
here,” A. K. said.
“But it did,” Wesley said. “Things have changed,
especially after Katrina. The
Shore has seen a great
influx of people.” He stared at A.K, but it seemed his mind was
elsewhere. “Since we found the remains downstream from where
Susan hooked the scarf, my guess is
met her fate aboard the killer’s boat and under cover of
darkness. I doubt anyone saw or heard anything on the river, so
I’m going to concentrate on the Rusty Nail. Maybe someone will
remember seeing her, and if she was with anyone. Even better if
they can put them on a boat.”
“It’s hard to believe,” Susan said. “Lorraine must not have suspected anything.
She seemed so happy to be home. I can see her now with her light
brown hair and amber eyes. More than anything, she so loved that
scarf Myrtle bought her.” Susan paused. “How could anyone
butcher another person?” The thought chilled her to the bone. “I
hope she was dead long before…before…” She didn’t finish her
sentence. Her lips quivered as she stared at Wesley. “You have
to catch whoever did this.”
“I’d like nothing better.” Muscles around his mouth
twitched as he steeled his face in defiance. “With so many
people in and out of the landing, someone must have seen her.
Nothing goes unnoticed in Palmetto.”
“That’s for sure,” A. K. said.
“I just hope my witness hasn’t left town.”
Wesley’s voice brought Susan back to the present. “What
car?” she asked. “Is it still at the landing?”
“It’s been impounded, and so far, the crime lab hasn’t
turned up anything.”
Susan unhooked her robe and laid it across the counter.
All she could think about was Myrtle and how devastated she must
be. “I should go see Myrtle. Maybe there’s something I can do.”
“I was hoping you would,” Wesley said. “It’s always
difficult to interview anyone after such a tragedy, but it’s
important that we do. I got nowhere with her. Since you two have
become friends, you might put her more at ease. She and
must have talked about things. Maybe Myrtle will recall
something that’ll help us. We’re going to need all the leads we
A. K. cleared her throat and frowned at Susan. “I thought
you weren’t going to get involved.”
“I’m not, but Myrtle needs support…and answers. It’s the
least I can do.”
A. K. sighed.
Susan didn’t have to be psychic to read A. K.’s thoughts—Here
we go again.