BY: SANDRA GARDNER
When Marabella Vinegar finds her psychotherapist’s bloody corpse, she becomes the NYPD’s perp of choice. Her recently deceased mother—the bane of her existence in life—comes back as a ghost to help get her out of trouble and find the real killer. Things get even worse when, thanks to Marabella and her mother’s sleuthing, someone tries to kill her. Then another body is found and Marabella is thrown in jail, awaiting trial for two murders. Can she and her mother-the-ghost-detective find the killer before Marabella becomes corpse number three?
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Dead Shrinks Don’t Talk by Sandra Gardner, Marabella Vinegar is shocked and dismayed when her mother, who has been dead for a week, shows up on Marabella’s couch as a ghost, hinting that Marabella is in trouble. Marabella doesn’t think she is in any trouble, and she hurries off to see her shrink, as she is late for her appointment. But when she gets there, she discovers that the shrink has been murdered, and the trouble her mother warned her of is her being the prime suspect. Since the police are convinced they have the murderer, Marabella and her mother start investigating, trying to find the real killer. But when they get too close to the truth, Marabella discovers that she is about to become a corpse herself.
Well written, clever, and fun, the story combines mystery, suspense, and humor for a highly entertaining read. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Dead Shrinks Don’t Talk by Sandra Gardner is the story of a young woman with serious problems. Marabella Vinegar has been seeing a shrink for eight years, struggling to work out her issues with her mother. When her mother dies, Marabella is both devastated and relieved. And feeling guilty, of course. Then suddenly, a week later, her mother is back as a ghost, claiming that she has come back to help Marabella in her time of trouble. Marabella doesn’t know what trouble her mother could be talking about, and she isn’t sure how to deal with her mother’s presence. So she heads off to her appointment with her psychiatrist, Dr. Ditstein, dying to hear her take on this latest issue with her mother. But to her dismay, Dr. Ditstein has been murdered, the police suspect Marabella, and the real killer wants her dead to keep her finding out the truth. Marabella’s in trouble, all right, but how is a ghost going to help her out of this mess?
Dead Shrinks Don’t Talk is cute, clever, fast paced, and intriguing. With marvelous characters, a solid plot, and plenty of surprises, it is one you will want to keep on your shelf to read again and again, just for the sheer enjoyment.
My mother had only been dead a week when she appeared on my sofa. She shoved me off onto the floor, as a matter of fact. I had just settled down for a quick nap between my crazy-making job and a late-evening rendezvous with my shrink.
“A lady doesn’t sit on the floor, Marabella,” my mother scolded.
She pursed lips that still had traces of her favorite Revlon shade, Rose-of-Sharon, and peered at me from under her shaggy mud-brown hair. Her hair really needed cutting—shaping too, come to think of it.
“What are you doing here?” I tried to muster as much dignity as someone in my position could manage, plopped on the floor as I was. And being berated by a…my mother, who was dead! Wasn’t she? “Aren’t you…” My tongue tripped on the words, “Didn’t you…”
Of all the crazy stunts my mother had ever pulled, this one took the cake. But I shouldn’t be all that surprised, since she’d always been capable of just about anything. So why not this?
“Yes, and no.” She leaned back against the sofa pillows, smoothing down the bottom of her dress, the white satin-and-lace number she’d been buried in. “You think it’s that easy? Has anything in my life…”
Oh, no, I thought, I have to keep listening to this stuff even after she’s dead?
She clapped a hand over her mouth. “No, nope, I’m not going to do it, I promised.” She glared at the ceiling. “And I couldn’t help it about the sofa, either. I haven’t sat down in a week.”
I got up off the floor, dusting off my behind. “Why are you here?”
“Why am I here? Very shortly, you’re going to need me, sweetheart,” she said, with a self-satisfied smile.
This was more than I could take, her thinking that I should need her help from beyond the grave. “They sent you back here? Like, on an assignment?” Like I still needed a mother’s watchful eye, at the age of (gulp) thirty-nine? Granted, I occasionally had a little difficulty making decisions—okay, a lot of difficulty. And I knew I was too dependent on my therapist, Dr. Ditstein. We’d spent many cathartic hours together, much of it dealing with my relationship with my mother. And now here she was, again.
“I put in a special request,” my mother said. “Because where else should a mother be when her daughter’s going to be in trouble?”
“What kind of trouble?”
“You’ll see,” she said.
Okay, whatever it was, she wasn’t going to tell me. See if I cared. I took a new tack. “How did you get here? Did you fly or what? Considering that you’ve always hated airplanes—were even afraid of high buildings—how the heck did you learn to fly at the age of seventy?”
“It’s just something that comes naturally, sweetheart,” she said. “You don’t even have to think about it.” She yawned. “I’m a little tired out right now.”
“Tired? You sleep? You need sleep?” I was beginning to feel dizzy.
She gave me a baleful look. “You’d be tired, too, if you’d traveled as far as I did. Remember, I volunteered for this job. For you.” And she closed her eyes and stretched out full-length on the sofa.
I studied her. Something was different. She was thinner. No, not exactly thinner. There seemed to be less of her. And she was so pale.
Okay, maybe being under the ground, in the casket? I shivered, not exactly wanting to relive that scene.
The funeral had been pretty traumatic, because my mother’s family’s behavior at anyone’s funeral was to screech, sob, and tear at their bosoms, and since bosoms in my family generally came in the large-economy size, that made for quite a bit of tearing.
Biting my cuticles—a habit I’d been trying to break ever since I had cuticles—I stared at her. What was I going to do now? Thank goodness, I had an appointment with Dr. Ditstein tonight.
I had to think. I tiptoed to my bedroom, so as not to wake her up, popped a Xanax, and crawled into my four-poster bed. It barely fit in the room, but it was heavenly to sleep in.
I pulled one of the lumpy afghans my mother had made over my head. She’d crocheted these for me so I’d have lovely hand-made keepsakes to remember herby, she told me.
The question was: Why had I kept them? According to Dr. Ditstein, it was because of my ambivalent relationship with my mother. Which, in turn, seemed to be part of the reason why I had trouble making decisions and moving on with my life?
Maybe I’ve finally gone over the edge, I thought, which my best friend Toniann Di Lorenzo warns me will be my fate if I keep working at Chelsea College. Maybe I’m dreaming this—I mean, I’ve been working really hard—so, okay, let’s say I kind of went into some kind of dream-state and conjured my mother up.
But why would I do that to myself? That much of a masochist I didn’t think I was, especially now that I’d just completed my eighth year of therapy, including two years in group.
I had to hurry to get to my appointment. But before I left, I was going to find out whether or not I had hallucinated my mother.
Jumping off the bed, I went into the bathroom and splashed cold water on my face, ran a comb through my tangled hair, and shoved my bangs out of my eyes.
Now I was ready to confront my resident…whatever.
I marched back into the living room. There she was. Sound asleep. Snoring loudly. They actually snore? She was obviously in a state of complete exhaustion.
Didn’t I realize the poor thing needed her rest, especially after what she’d just gone through? She also needed some new clothes, which I’d have to lend her, since that dress wasn’t exactly meant for lounging around in. I went to the closet to retrieve another afghan.
I crept over to the sofa and covered her. A delicious smile appeared on her face—sort of beatific, come to think of it—and she snuggled down into the afghan, mumbling, “There’s a good girl.”
I beamed. Then I gasped. What was I doing? What was she doing?
I grabbed my denim jacket and oversized leather pocketbook and headed out the door.
I hoped Dr. Ditstein might have some answers. But this could be too much for even her magical talents.
Since Dr. Ditstein’s place was on the East Side of Manhattan and mine was on the West Side, I was afraid I might be late. I figured a cab would be faster than the subway. I was wrong. By the time we pulled up to Dr. Ditstein’s, I was definitely late.
There were at least forty-five apartments-cum-offices in her building. It was overrun with shrinks for all disorders: sex, animals, eating, phobic, as well as those like Dr. Ditstein, who serviced run-of-the-mill neurotics. So you could usually find representatives of any type of weirdness roaming the corridors. But the building was quiet. Everyone was already fifteen minutes into their fifty-minute hours. I caught the next up elevator and pushed the button for the sixth floor.
When I got out, I heard a click from the apartment across from the elevator bay and felt eyes peering at me through the oversized peephole. Dr. Shokum, I presume? I had to stifle the urge to press myself up against his door and go eyeball-to-eyeball with him through the peephole. Somebody told me that Dr. Shokum was so terrified of people, he only did telephone therapy. All I ever saw was his eye. I wondered if his patients would stop going to him if they knew about his phobia. Probably not. I also heard that he gave great phone.
Other than Dr. Shokum’s breathing, not a creature was stirring. I hurried along to Dr. Ditstein’s apartment, knocked on her door, not timidly, since timid would indicate that I was reverting to a childish state and expecting punishment from a parent-figure. Nothing happened. I knocked again and bit a cuticle. Maybe she was trying to punish me. Okay, mea culpa and all that jazz, let’s go, Charmaine. I called her by her first name in my mind but not to her face, unlike Ron in group. The clock was ticking, and an incarnation of my mother was snoring away on my couch.
Still nothing. This was getting silly, and I was getting annoyed. I banged harder on the door, and it swung open.
Definitely weird. My hand flew to my mouth. What if she’d been mugged? What if the mugger was still there? I rocked back and forth on the threshold.
Indecision, thy name is Marabella.
The apartment was silent. Taking a deep breath, I walked into the foyer and stopped when I reached the living room.
Dr. Ditstein lay face down, sprawled on the wall-to-wall blue-and-gold Oriental. A pool of blood had spread from the back of her head.
Oh, my God, oh, my God! My breath was coming in gasps, and I was shaking all over. Was she shot? Stabbed? Did she fall and hit her head?
What was I going to do without Dr. Ditstein? Why did this have to happen? What kind of person would do this? Oh, God, oh, God. Maybe the person was still there. Maybe if I pretended to faint, they wouldn’t think I saw anything. I made myself fall on the floor in a heap. And landed next to the body. Aarrggh.
I jumped up. This wasn’t going to fool anybody, especially a killer. A killer. Just saying the word in my head made me shudder. Poor Dr. Ditstein. Poor me, with no Dr. Ditstein.
Should I call an ambulance? No, I better call the cops. I picked up my Droid, but my hands were shaking so hard, I dropped it on the floor. Breathe, Marabella. In and out. The way Dr. Ditstein taught us. Breathe. Okay, now try again. This time, I was able to make the call.
“I don’t know what to do. I think there’s a—dead—woman on the floor of her apartment,” I stuttered, and gave them the address.
Then I bent down and made myself lift her wrist and take her pulse, just in case, even though I knew she was probably dead. Her wrist was still warm. It occurred to me that meant the murderer must have just left. And I may have just missed being his second victim. A tiny key fell out of her hand. I picked it up without thinking and shoved it into my jacket pocket.
I probably wouldn’t have noticed if there was anything out of place, since I was not exactly the noticing type. I was more like the type who walked into walls. And the only thing I could focus on was all that blood, so much blood.
I didn’t want to believe she was dead, my poor harmless holistic shrink, who didn’t have an enemy in the world! Correction: she seemed to have had at least one. Who’d just killed the most important person in my life.
I didn’t want to leave poor Dr. Ditstein alone, so I sat down in the nearest chair and waited for the cops. And tried not to look at the second dead person in my life in a week.
The guilt wheels began whirring in my brain. If I hadn’t been late for my appointment, my shrink might not be dead.
Or we could both be dead.
I heard footsteps, and the door flew open. Several beefy, blue-coated men stood in the entrance. Another one, tall and lean, with a sour expression, was wearing a beat-up blue jacket and brown pants.
“Detective Eddie Rivera,” the wardrobe-challenged cop said, walking over to me. “Who are you? What are you doing in this apartment?”
I pulled out my driver’s license with the candid shot of a Bedlam-inmate that the DMV had substituted for the real me.
He squinted at the picture and handed it back with a yawn. “I asked you what you were doing in the apartment.”
I told him about being late for my appointment with Dr. Ditstein. And what I found when I got there. “Since I was the one who called you, you know I didn’t do anything. Can I leave now, please?” I said.
Ignoring my request, he asked, “Did you see anything? Hear anything?” When I shook my head, he said, “How about outside, on your way in, on the elevator, on the stairs?”
“Did you touch anything in the apartment?”
“Um, I touched her wrist. When I took her pulse. She didn’t have one. A pulse, I mean,” I babbled. I decided not to tell him about the key. “And, um, I touched my phone when I called the police station. Of course.”
He looked at me strangely, maybe because I was acting like a gibbering idiot. “Okay, is that it? That’s all?” he asked. When I nodded, he said, “One of my men will take you home. But since you’re a witness, I’ll need to talk to you again soon.” He asked for my address and phone number and ushered me out of the apartment. One of the blue-coated gentlemen escorted me into the elevator, down to the lobby, and outside into a police car.
On the way home, I began to shake in earnest. What was I going to do without Dr. Ditstein? Who could I depend on? Who could help me make decisions, now that my go-to person was dead?
© 2013 by Sandra Gardner