Author’s note: Deadly Spirits: A Mac McClellan Mystery (#4) will be released by Coffeetown/Camel Press on January 15. The following is an excerpt from Chapter 1. Please pardon the ungainly formatting–it does not resemble the finished book.
I felt like a complete idiot following my girlfriend, Kate
Bell, up the narrow dusty stairs to the attic above the third
floor. I wiped another cobweb out of my face and beard as Kate
turned the antique glass knob. The door creaked open. She
shined the small flashlight around the room before stepping
inside. At five-eight in addition to her new jogging shoes, she
barely cleared the top of the doorway.
“Well, are you coming?” she asked as I hesitated by the open
“I don’t know. There might be a ghooost in there!”
She fought back a smile. “Very funny, Mac. Get your butt in
here, you big, bad, hunky Marine.”
What a man won’t do for love. To avoid a crack on the
forehead, I ducked and followed Kate inside the cluttered old
room. Dust rose and floorboards groaned with every step.
“We sure as hell aren’t going to sneak up on any spooks in this
place,” I said.
Kate huffed. “They are not spooks, they’re ghosts, or spirits.
How about showing a little respect for the dead?”
“Pardon me. My apologies to the dearly departed.”
For the last month Kate had been driving me nuts bugging
me to join the Palmetto Paranormal Society. To keep the peace,
I’d finally relented. The old Navarro Hotel on the northern
outskirts of Parkersville was my first paranormal investigation,
although I’ve been a licensed private investigator for about a
year now. I’d been living comfortably on my monthly military
retirement check until a long-dead boyfriend from Kate’s
past showed up alive. You could say I’d been “drafted” into
working for Hightower Investigations, a PI business owned
and operated by Frank Hightower. Headquarters is in Destin,
Florida, Kate’s hometown. Frank’s on the backside of sixty, and
a lifelong friend of the Bell family. He’s “Uncle Frank” to Kate.
When I retired from the Marine Corps two plus years ago
after a twenty-four year career, I put down roots in St. George,
a coastal village in the eastern Florida Panhandle. Meeting
Kate, who worked at Gillman’s Marina, played a big part in
my decision to stay. Her good looks, knockout figure, and
feistiness grabbed me from the beginning. I had no clue then
that I’d soon be working as a private eye. But that’s another
There was a light turnout for tonight’s investigation. Maybe
the rest of the members were out drinking margaritas in
celebration of Cinco de Mayo. That sure beat chasing after ghosts
in this ramshackle building. Kate and I were covering the third
floor and attic of the dilapidated hotel, which dated back to the
early twentieth century. Len and Marsha Cavanaugh, a retired
couple in their late sixties, were snooping around the second
floor. The first floor was the responsibility of Dr. Ernest Bagwell,
our fearless leader and professor of psychology at Parkersville
University. The prof was accompanied by his secretary and
current squeeze, Stella Crawford, a pixyish redhead with an
“Check the room for cold spots,” Kate said as she placed
some sort of ghost meter in the middle of the floor.
“Aye aye, ma’am.” I aimed the pistol-shaped infrared
thermometer around the room, watching the red dot dancing
on the walls.
“Well?” Kate said after a minute.
“Negative on the cold spots. Too bad, it’s hot as hell up here.”
Kate snorted and said, “All you’ve done is complain since we
“Well, the Braves are playing the Nationals tonight. They’re
tied for first.”
Kate ignored my remark. “Let’s try an EVP session. You sit
on the chest over by that wall.” She pointed across the room
with her flashlight. “I’ll sit here. And make sure your recorder
is turned on.”
“Ma’am, yes ma’am.” I creaked across the attic floor to the old
chest and used my salty Braves cap to knock off layers of dust.
“What’s that mean, again?”
Kate sighed. “Electronic voice phenomena. I see you’ve
really been studying the book I gave you.”
“Oh yeah, this is where we get to talk to the spooks hanging
out up here.”
Kate shined the beam in my face. “Why don’t you just go
home and watch your stupid game?”
Oops. She was getting pissed. “I’m sorry. I know this stuff’s
important to you. I’ll behave.”
“Thank you. Now, is your recorder turned on?”
“Okay. Remember to talk as if you’re having a normal
conversation,” Kate said. “I’ll go first. Is there anybody with us
“We mean you no harm. We’d just like to communicate with
I struggled to keep from laughing.
“Did you die in this hotel? Are you trapped here?”
Silence for a moment, and then Kate pressed a finger to her
lips. “Shh …. Did you hear that?”
“It sounded like a thump. Didn’t you hear it?”
Kate looked disappointed. “Why don’t you ask a question, Mac.
Maybe they’ll respond to a man’s voice.”
Some people never learn, but I couldn’t resist. I mustered up
the most serious voice I could manage. “Whoooo’s winning the
Kate bounced out of the old chair. “Dang it, Mac, can’t
A blood-curdling scream from below cut her off.
Michael Helms grew up along the coast of the Florida panhandle, the setting for the Mac McClellan Mystery series. He now lives in the Upstate region of South Carolina in the foothills of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains where he continues to take dictation from Mac, Kate, and other recurring characters who refuse to leave him alone. Visit his website for further info: