By: Arcey Dear

Two Weeks before Christmas…

Finding a red weave pocketbook, containing a passport bathed in a creepy glowing plasma, in a Goodwill and being followed around by the murdered woman to whom it belonged is just another day in the life of Theresa Lillian Lewis. The plucky war widow and mother of a twelve-year-old is all too used to the weird.

Theresa communicates with ghosts—they mostly want her to find lost items—but after she buys the red pocketbook, things get complicated fast. She collides with a hot cop named Andy, gets shot, finds out that the devil has a serious bone to pick with her because of something she did as a four-year-old, and gets to meet Santa and a mischievous nymph named Barney. Now, all Theresa has to do is to resolve some mysteries about her childhood and her parents, learn what she has to do to put the world back in order, and escape from the devil in hell…

TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Goodwill by Arcey Dear, Theresa sees dead people. When she goes to the Goodwill to do some Christmas shopping, she sees a dead woman standing by a rack of handbags. A sucker for a deal, Theresa grabs a handbag of the rack with the price tags still on it. But there’s a spectral green goo inside, along with the passport and birth certificate of the dead woman standing beside her. Concerned, Theresa decides to do the right thing. She heads for the parking lot, where there’s a police cruiser parked, and tries to give the documents to the cops. And that’s where things start to go wrong. It’s bad enough there are two teenage spirits in the back seat of the police car, but when a van full of nymphs start shooting at them all, Theresa wonders if her good deed will turn out to be her last.

Cute, clever, and zany, the story is full of fascinating characters, a number of plot twists and turns, and an intriguing mystery. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Goodwill by Arcey Dear is the story of Theresa Lewis, who is still in mourning for her husband Paulo, killed in Afghanistan two years ago. Now, as a single parent of a twelve-year-old daughter, Theresa lives with her husband’s extended family. They’re Greek. And she isn’t. They’re all gorgeous, confident, gregarious. And she isn’t. But when she finds a red handbag at the local Goodwill while doing some Christmas shopping, her world is turned upside down. First she finds a passport and birth certificate inside the purse, which would be bad enough, but these belonged to a dead woman, one who is standing right next to her. Theresa is not surprised to see a dead person, she sees them all the time. Usually, she just finds lost items for them and returns them to the deceased’s family. But something tells her that this time is different. Maybe it’s the green plasma slime covering the passport, or the fact that the two cops she tries to give it to have two dead people in the back of their car—not the bodies, just the spirits. Or could it be the nymphs who attack them in the parking lot? Whatever it is, Theresa is about to get more than she bargained for—a lot more.

While the story is fast-paced, tense, and exciting, it’s also fun, witty, and intriguing. Combining mystery, suspense, humor, and a hint of sweet romance, Goodwill is truly a delightful read.

Chapter 1

Present Day:

You’re probably wondering what a short, stout woman—okay, chunky, maybe veering toward the better half of fat, but I’m on the Fast Diet, though I am not losing the weight so fast, no pun intended—where was I? Right. What am I doing crouching behind a police cruiser as someone is shooting at me? I don’t want to sound too full of myself, but they are taking pot shots at the two police officers by my side as well, and maybe they are slightly interested in the bright red pocketbook that still has its original tags attached, but they can’t have that. I paid for it already.

It all started earlier today. It’s two weeks before Christmas, and I just got myself to start my shopping. I am not overly fond of Christmas lately. In fact, anything to do with the holiday downright depresses me. So there I was at the Goodwill. I am not cheap, just a bit strapped for money. Widows have to stay on a budget, you know. Okay, so I am a little cheap.

I should have paid attention this time and seen this situation as it came toward me. The hairs on my neck started to rise when I spotted the fire-engine-red, weaved bag with—did I mention, the original store tags were on it? Did I tell you the price? Two dollars! It was a yellow tag day. Half price! The original price was forty-nine dollars. Who’d buy it for that? Not that the bag was scary—it was what stood next to it that made me want to run out the door. I tried to ignore her. Still, a two-hundred-plus-pound woman with blood dripping down the right side of her face, wearing a purple knit dress way too small for her bulk—I envied her courage, though—slightly ripped near the neckline, was very hard to ignore. I do have to say her makeup was perfect. Don’t you just hate women who can put on liquid eye-liner straight? Her chocolate brown skin was unwrinkled. Man, I would like to know the moisturizer she uses—er—used.

I could see she was as interested as I was in this particular pocketbook. Okay, so I walked away from it—twice—but, as was usually the case with these things, I just had to go back. Each time I did, she was still standing there, waiting, so, finally, I took it off the metal rack—crammed and practically tipping over with the load of all those handbags just waiting for someone to own them.

As I examined it, I could tell the red weave was synthetic and I instantly regretted taking it. I was looking for new stuff, with tags, for my Christmas presents this year, but it was red, and my late husband’s family is Greek. If you don’t understand, then you are not married into a Greek family.

Did I mention that the woman in purple was dead? I have a habit of forgetting to mention that little detail. Anyhoo, she was standing very close to the bag now in my hand, and I noticed that there was weight to it—the bag, I mean—so I did what any good Goodwill shopper would do: I peeked inside. The lining was red silk and looked wonderful, but it was empty. There was, however, a little pocket on the side that had a zipper. When I put my fingers on it, I noticed it was hard. Yes, my heart did that racing thing that hidden treasure does to a person.

I tried unzipping it, but the zipper was stuck, and, much to my horror, it ripped. The edges of a blue leather wallet seemed to be peeking out. I figured I’d already done the damage, so I went full blast ahead and ripped it out from what was left of the pocket. I am a bit impulsive. In my hand was a navy blue leather folder the size of a wallet. What shocked me most was that it was stamped with my initials on it in gold—TLL—Theresa Lilian Lewis. That’s my given name. I opened it a crack and noted a darker blue little booklet contained within. When I further inspected it, I found out it was a passport. Tucked right under the part with her picture was something even more shocking, a birth certificate. To be clear, there was something wrong with this birth certificate. It shimmered a bit. Not the ordinary glow—you know, something decorative that you might see—but the type that is…well, frankly put…downright eerie. I’d even go as far as to say it was a moldy green plasma color. I tucked it back into the slot where I found it, not wanting to contaminate myself with it. I do have to say it did improve the dreary-colored walls of the place, as the color bounced off the light gray cinder blocks. I have a question. Why do most Goodwills insist on looking like a prison ward? Why not yellow with butterflies?

I looked at the voluminous woman dressed in blood, next to me, and then at the picture in the passport. You already guessed they were one and the same, right? I hadn’t expected anything different. Terry Laila Lewis, close enough to my own. Already I was feeling a connection to her. The shredded handbag and I went up to the front of the store. I do admit to stopping a few times to eye some potential great buys. I mean, what could I do? The woman was already dead. What was a few more minutes? If I rushed, what would I be gaining for her? I see the dead; I don’t bring them back to life.

So with an Avon makeup kit, slightly used; last year’s computer keyboard—with a mouse, I might add; a twisted metal basket; a ripped pocketbook; and a dead woman, I paid at the counter. Then I exited, passport in hand, into the dark parking lot. I don’t know how most of you feel about walking into deserted parking lots with dead people following you, but it really doesn’t faze me at all.

I suspect it doesn’t affect you either since they follow you all the time, and you don’t see them. However, for some reason, I was particularly unnerved this evening. Maybe it was the green glow that I noticed emanating from the shopping bag, the heaviness in the air, or just panic that I hadn’t gotten any Christmas presents yet. As I held my loot tightly, protecting it from any unseen used-clothing freak, I ventured to my car in the darkest corner of the lot. What? You thought I’d choose a well-lighted spot? This was the nearest one I could get so close to Christmas. Well, I am not that upset, as I have to put in gym time for this diet, and why can’t a girl combine exercise with a little fun?

To my great joy, there was a police cruiser just sitting beside my car, along with two officers, who seemed to be waiting for little ole me. The lady who was accompanying me seemed pleased as well. I even sensed she knew them, and we smiled at one another. Maybe my luck was changing. We both headed toward the police car. One of the officers was an older gentleman—his white hair, the nest of wrinkles around his eyes, and his air of confidence defining him as the more experienced of the pair. I chose to approach him first.

I might add there was a little extra attraction. The cruiser, which to me seemed to be old, was illuminated. I could tell there was no actual light bulb on in there, so suffice it to say, they had a couple of passengers that seemed to have not quite passed into the light yet, but that would be a whole other story. Like I said, I see dead people, and they see me.

The older officer looked up just as I approached the window on his side. The other, much younger, police officer—alive, I might add—who sat in the passenger seat seemed engrossed in his cell phone. I proceeded to introduce myself to the driver.

“I found this pocketbook with original vendor’s tags on it.”

He eyed me as if I had leprosy, his water-logged blue eyes boring right through my skull.

“In it was a passport booklet.” I produced the little blue item and held it out to him.

He peered at it as if it was a spoiled tuna fish sandwich, dripping juices.

“Aren’t you going to look at it?” I asked.

Maybe it was leaking something, but I didn’t think he could see it, or maybe he did see the spectral mold.

“Where did you find it?” he finally asked, his voice just barely audible so I had to lean in to hear him.

I pointed to the large brick building. “In the store.”

“Uh huh.”

Still making no physical contact with the item, the other police officer finally looked up, looked at me, and then I caught him glancing past my shoulder. I briefly looked behind me, but the only person there was the deceased. He saw her. I knew the expression that crossed someone’s face when they saw a dead person, especially if they were one of those who denied their ability. The look on his face said he had distinctly spotted her and her wounds. Then he turned to stare at me.

The younger man clenched his teeth at the older officer. “Let’s go, Ned.”

“Wait a second—this is a lost passport. Her birth certificate is in here too.” I pulled it out and tried to shove it at them.

Ned shifted his whole body away from it, ramming into the younger man beside him. Strangely, the green glow dripped onto the seat near where he was sitting. We both stared at it.

“What is that stuff?” I said, a bit too loud.

He stared at it too and paled. To be perfectly frank, it did kind of blend in with the polyester seat cover. I think old Ned turned the same color. He looked grimly at it. “It’s Death.”

“Ned, call it in and let’s scram. You can’t handle this tonight.” The younger man then growled at him and pushed him back toward me, on top of the goop.

Ned held onto the wheel and lifted his rump up, making the most pained face I had ever seen on a living person.

As I looked at him, I realized he wasn’t even seeing me. I tried another tack—let’s say, I had a hunch. “They’re in the back, you know,” I whispered to him.

Ned looked at me then at the seat behind him where two Hispanic teenagers, a boy and a girl, were sitting. All most people would see was black seat belts, hanging loose, and empty maroon leather seats. By the way, these looked nothing like the front ones, which had coverings and almost seemed festive in comparison.

“Those young kids don’t look like they are going anywhere very fast, sir.”

Okay, so it wasn’t nice, and I had no idea if they were or were not going anywhere fast, but, hey, I had a stolen passport in my hand to return. Well, not quite return, but he could at least look at it. The front door of the cab opened. He took the passport from me, still not cracking it open to take a peek.

“Show me where.” Ned led the way. Fast!

On the back of his pants was a florescent green stain. He was speedy, and it seemed he was more interested in distancing himself from the car than in investigating what was being tightly gripped in his hand.

I heard the other police officer call after him. “Don’t touch it!”

Then the car door slammed hard. Too late. Ned had it in his grip.

“Where did you f—find it, m—miss?” he stuttered, trying to sound calm, but not succeeding.

I pointed to the closed doors of the Goodwill. “On a rack in there where the handbags are.”

“Maybe the lady who gave it to Goodwill will realize it’s gone and will come back for it,” he said, not really believing it himself.

I looked behind me. She already had returned and had come back for it.

“Perhaps you should put it back?”

Was that a very hopeful note in his voice, like let’s put it back and go for coffee…doughnuts, anyone?

Was this guy serious? Was he even a real cop? What exactly did the stain on the back of his pants mean? Why was I even looking there?

I sighed. “It expired in 2010, and the bag I found it in still had the tags from the original store. Besides, she’s dead—you know—like your passengers?”

He looked at me as if I was speaking Latin. I shook my head, exasperated, so I tried another tactic. “Look, no self-respecting woman is going to stuff her handbag with a passport plus birth certificate and then do a night on the town with the tags sticking out.”

He had stopped at the doors of the store, pretending to inspect them, when understanding hit him, and he smiled. He finally cracked the passport open. The smile disappeared, and his long face turned gray. In fact, he looked stricken. “Terry?”


They knew each other!

“Do you know if the Goodwill catalogs their items?” he asked me. His whole attitude had changed. He was all cop now.

“No, sir.”

“Did you tell the employees about it?”

Which part? The dead woman or the lost passport? I only said no. I really didn’t know who was working there, and I was worried that it might get into the wrong hands—identity theft and all that. Yes, that is another little quirk I have. I can kind of read places too. It’s not that I’m biased against Goodwill workers or anything, but I had a distinctly fishy feeling about this particular store. Maybe it was because the tattooed kid manning the register had the words Life sucks and sew do U inked on his face. Would you trust a guy who’d let someone who can’t spell mark him for life?

The deceased lady behind me hadn’t done much to improve my outlook on the place either, but, then again, she couldn’t help her situation. When I mentioned my hesitation about the employees, he glanced at the boy and nodded.

We paraded into the store: me, a uniformed cop, a dead lady, and a red handbag. We came to the purse rack, and I instantly saw a DKNY black bag I had somehow missed in all the excitement of the bloody murder victim. I was seriously considering taking it off the rack and checking it out when I realized he was talking to me again.

“…this is where it was?”

He pointed to the very pocketbook I wanted. Was this a tease, or what?

He scratched his scalp. I nodded. He peered at the silver rack, laden with purses of different varieties, as if it was going to tell him everything he needed to know. When he came to the conclusion that nothing was forthcoming from this piece of equipment, he turned and headed toward the aisle.

I noticed that he was awful careful not to touch anything. Goodwill got mostly donated items, and not all of it was given because the owner wanted to part with their stuff. I assumed some was there because people were moving, some because of divorce, some because of other life changes, and a good deal because of death. A few items might be stolen too. How they got in there was anyone’s guess, but Ned, the police officer, didn’t want to find out—or so it seemed. He was avoiding anything that might even remotely be heading his way, but as luck would have it, probably a little of my own bad luck, something that he couldn’t avoid slammed into him.

Two cheery, bright-eyed little kids had rammed a cart laden with different items that a homely, overwhelmed, redheaded mother—I didn’t actually see her face, but thought I noticed facial hair under her kerchief. Really, that’s why the Lord created the epi, lady—had carefully collected. It turned over and tipped right onto the now prostrate cop, covering him from head to toe with an odd assortment of merchandise. His face turned several shades of pink. He began gasping for air and hyperventilating, trying to swim out from under it.

I reached down to give him my hand, but he scooted away from that too. He popped his head up just as his partner came over to him and yanked him roughly out of the pile.

“One day—that is all you had!” Ned’s partner stormed at him.

The first thing that struck me about this guy was that he was very tall. Of course, since I was only slightly over five feet, most people looked tall.

“Come on, let’s get this over with.” The partner turned toward me, looking ready to eat me. “Give me the passport and the birth certificate.”

At first, I wasn’t sure I understood. Was he yelling at me? Wasn’t it my civic duty to turn in lost items to the police? Especially a passport? His hand was sticking out, impatiently waiting. I looked at my hands. To my shock, the birth certificate was missing. Ned was looking for the passport he had taken from me and couldn’t now find. The mother and the two little critters who had knocked over poor Ned were gone.

“I don’t have it anymore. It must have dropped into the pile.” I pointed down at the massive hill of junk at our feet. Then I looked at the end of the aisle and saw our dead friend pointing at the closing doors. “Or it is now in the parking lot with that lady and her two—”

He was off after them. Ned looked at me and shot upright as if he were on steroids. He charged after the other police officer. “Andy, no!”

Ned was running full force. In the heat of the moment, I followed him, not really knowing why. We all ended up in the parking lot. The officer named Andy was by the patrol car with the radio mike in hand. I presumed—from probably way too many police TV shows—that he was calling for backup. Just as he finished and tossed the black microphone back in the car, a large green sedan came from nowhere, slammed into the police cruiser, pushing it backward, and caused Andy to fall. As the massive thing was pulling out, Ned got out his gun and began shooting at it. It instantly skidded and gunned back out to make another attempt at the cruiser. The older policeman quickly got himself to his partner’s side, helping him up. The younger man now had a cut on his head.

I was an expert on skinned knees, split lips, and vomiting. Gashes on the head weren’t really my specialty, since I was the single parent of a twelve-year-old girl who never climbed trees, but I reached into my own beat-up purse and took out a wad of tissues, quickly applying pressure to the gushing wound. He looked at me and smiled weakly.

I tried my best nurse voice. “I am just applying pressure.”

He relaxed his hunky body in my arms. He sure was good looking up close. “Thanks, Mom.”

Great—here was this stud muffin in my grip and he thought I was his mother. Just my luck.

“Are you hurt anywhere else?” I asked, trying to assure my hurt ego that even Florence Nightingale got called “Mom” at times.

“Did you count how many were in there, Andy? Are the kids in there, too?” Ned’s voice was filled with anxiety. Every so often, he scratched his legs and his arms as if they were covered in hives. Andy looked at him and then seemed to realize he was lying prostrate in my arms. He sat up and took my hand with him.

“No, it was dark, but if they have kids, it is safe to assume they aren’t too bright—”

Several shots seem to punctuate his words. Both men cowered.

“You.” Andy pointed his finger at me like a weapon. “Don’t move from here,” he growled at me, pulling out his own gun and inching his way toward his partner.

They looked at each other as another round came our way.

“If there are kids in there…” Ned trailed off and stared down at his own gun.

“Ned, just aim for the tires, will you? No kids are gonna get it today.” Andy looked around and, for a moment, peered into the cruiser’s window where the teens looked back at him. They nodded, and the girl waved at him shyly.

I followed his line of sight and noticed that the teenagers were probably much younger than I thought at first, maybe twelve or thirteen. Wide-eyed, the girl pressed her face flat against the window. The boy, who was squeezing next to her, looked straight at me. His dark brown eyes were imploring me to help them. I turned away. There was nothing I could do right now—or any time. My talent was returning things, not crossing the dead over. That’s right. I found something and returned it, not usually something belonging to a murder victim, but, hey, my life wasn’t exactly normal, and there was always a first time, right?

Another shot hit the car. Ned’s body jerked backward and slammed onto the black, tarred lot. The “thunk” I heard was sickening, but loud and clear. I watched in horror as blood spurted from his body and pooled on the already darkened concrete. I went to him, against orders, and put my hand on his wounds. My hand was already covered in Andy’s blood, and I sure hoped he didn’t have AIDS because I was definitely mixing it with Ned’s now.

In the next moment, I saw it didn’t matter what I did. Ned’s essence exited his body. I lifted my reddened hand and stared at him. A bright light shone down, and the newly dead policeman looked at it for a moment and then back at the cruiser. The faces of the teens in the back were aglow, looking longingly at the beam, but they didn’t come out and join him. He shook his head and withdrew from the light as the arching tentacles reached toward him. The stream vanished. Ned just stood there and sighed. There was a gaping wound in the middle of his chest.

“Put your hand back on it!” A commanding voice, along with a rough push, shoved my hands to where they were before, on the warm, open wound. His partner looked desperate.

“You see him—he’s gone. Let him go.”

Andy didn’t want to hear it. “Now!” He put his gun down and put his own hands there. “Put them on here, will you?”

Tears were streaming down his face and, simply out of compassion for him, I complied.

Ned sat on the ground next to me. He didn’t say anything, but we both watched as Andy yelled for an ambulance in the radio mike. “Officer down” was something I had heard on television many times, but had never expected to hear in person. Another gunshot split the air. Andy edged toward the end of the car, but then he came back to me. He was now sobbing as he crawled over to me and picked up Ned’s head. He held him, rocking back and forth, the gun inactive at his feet.

“One more day. One lousy day—that’s all you had to hold out, Ned.”

I didn’t understand this, but I watched and held my position on his wound halfheartedly, until two strong able hands removed them and took over.

I hadn’t even heard the ambulance approach and reluctantly withdrew from my duty. I was pushed aside by another medic and realized this wasn’t the regular paramedics unit, but a Jewish unit called Hatzalah. I looked curiously at the medic in his skullcap. The bearded man smiled at me and asked if I had any injuries.

“We were the closest unit available, so the dispatcher called us first.” His soft voice consoled me. He looked back at his partner, who was attending to Ned. Each one worked in silence, only calling in the injuries to an unseen ear device, I supposed, was connected to a hospital. Another had the stretcher ready, and a fourth one that had just screeched into the lot jumped out of the black Landover he was driving. I wasn’t sure it even stopped.

He was tall and had the sideburns the Hassidim wear. His yellow vest with his unit’s number on it was fluorescent. He went to help load Ned’s body. There was a sense of urgency in all their movements as if they knew they had to move fast, but I knew it was useless. Ned looked at his body as it was getting ready to go.

“He is dead, you know,” I said numbly.

The rosy-cheeked, round-faced man looked at me with what I realized was compassion.

“It is up to the one up above and not man to decide that. He will intervene if he chooses to,” he said with utter belief.

“No, there is no hope. He is dead.” I looked at him with great sadness, just beginning to realize that it probably wasn’t my own emotions I was feeling. I had the ability to feel the emotions of others on occasion. Even worse, I could feel events that had already happened and the feelings of those involved—or no longer involved, if you know what I mean. No, I wasn’t a psychic, exactly. I was just kind of talented that way. But maybe this time it was because I was going into shock.

“There is always hope,” he said gently, but I didn’t argue with him as darkness had begun to engulf me.

© 2017 by Arcey Dear

Pepper O’Neal:

“I laughed until I cried, and then I chuckled all the next day, even after I finished. It was so much fun, I couldn’t put it down. Marvelous.” Pepper O’Neal, author of the award-winning Black Ops Chronicles series.