Helens-of-Troy, p.1Janine McCaw
Copyright © 2012 Janine McCaw
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WHAT READERS HAVE SAID ABOUT
"My daughter said this rocks which, presumably, is a good thing." - Jim Darcy
"Awesome! Girls who kick ass and not a sparkle in sight."- Joanna
"Thank God! Real by-golly power-chicks fighting the supernatural fight, instead of the usual "fake" ones serving as props for pretty boys. Thanks for this and your brilliant dialogue. This one I'll keep coming back to."-Mephisgirl
"How witty and modern!" -Elizabeth Wolfe
“You know, we've been thinking about your work and wondered why you never used the phrase "KILLmore Girls"? - @necropology - The Madore Brothers.
For my Mom, Delphine — who made me bacon on a bun every morning before school. The fine-dining establishment in Troy is named for her.
This book is also written for my friends, who keep pushing me for another.
The big thanks go to:
Paul Busch, for his encouragement, love and understanding,
Shelley Grainger for her endless reading,
Melva McLean, for her endless knowledge,
Cosmic Debris and Karen Powell for a couple of great lines,
Randy Eustace-Walden, for finding the house,
Nick Orchard, for letting me use his house,
Tom McCaw, for the book cover,
Debbie Walker at Translucent Publicity.
This book is a work of fiction. All characters are figments of my imagination. Sometimes they can’t type, or spell or form proper grammatical sentences. Go figure.
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VAMPIRE CENTRAL LIBRARY
Helena LaRose dragged the body out of the house and rolled it up and across the canopied swing on her front porch. First went the feet, then the torso. By the time she got to its flailing head, the rules of motion took over, and the corpse moved itself. Its weight caused the creaky three-seater bench with the weathered cushions to rock, hitting Helena straight in the kneecaps as it swung forward.
“Easy there, Sport,” she said, reaching forward and slowing the swing to a halt. “There will be no swingers on the porch tonight. I’ve got a reputation to maintain.” If the corpse was trying to get one more kick at her, it would have to do better than that.
Taking a step back to observe her handiwork, Helena knew that something wasn’t quite right in Deadville. “I should have thought more about this,” she said to herself, struggling to prop the body upright. “He’s just not a looker.” His lifeless arms flopped around her, hitting her in the head. “Son of a bitch,” she sighed.
She brushed back a strand of dark hair that had fallen in front of her eyes, and put her hands on her hips in exasperation. Moving cadavers around had certainly been a lot easier when she was younger.
“Do you need some help there, Helena?” asked the old man who had been silently viewing the entire scene from the sidewalk. “I don’t think he’s obeying the laws of physics. I’m pretty sure dead weight isn’t supposed to move around.”
She jumped. There was nothing worse than being caught in the act. She had hoped to keep things undercover a little longer. Timing never had been her thing.
She turned and gave her neighbor a wary smile. “I’m afraid you’re going to have to sit in the rocker today, Mr. Wagner. I know you’d prefer to stretch out on the swing for a bit of a rest on your afternoon walk, but it’s occupied at the moment.”
“So I see,” Mr. Wagner said, taking it all in stride. He sat down in the pine rocking chair next to his usual spot. “I guess I could break from my routine just for today.”
“Thank you,” Helena replied.
Mr. Wagner glanced at the body and pouted. “You’ve covered him with my blanket. The one you always give me to use. Do you think you can get me another one? I’d take it from him, but there’s just something unsettling about using a blanket that has covered a dead guy.”
“I’ve got another blanket ready for you, Mr. Wagner. It’s in the front hall. Cotton. I know wool makes you itch. The newspaper is there, too. I’ll get them both for you.”
“Don’t get old, Helena,” he sighed. “It’s a bitch. Stay young and beautiful like you are.”
Helena laughed. At fifty-eight, she was hardly young, but there was some kind of ageless beauty about her that was hard to dismiss.
“Young is a relative thing, but thanks, Mr. Wagner. How about I put the kettle on for us while I’m inside?”
“Can I have regular orange pekoe today?” he pleaded. “None of that herbal stuff?”
“Do you really think you should, Mr. Wagner? The anti-oxidant level is so much higher in the rooibos I blended for you.”
“Helena, stop being the naturopath that you are and give an old man a decent cup of tea. I’ll sign a waiver if you like. I rely on a little caffeine to keep my eighty-three year old heart pumping. I like coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon and a stiff shot of scotch at night. Write that down in case your doctor books don’t cover the real secret to a long life.”
“That won’t be necessary, Mr. Wagner,” she laughed. “Just don’t let it get around. It’s bad for my business. I spend a lot of time telling my clients that peppermint tea is the elixir of life. You’re right though, peppermint schnapps may be closer to the truth.”
“Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder,” he winked wryly, smirking at his pun. There was nothing wrong with Mr. Wagner’s mind. He was sharp as a tack.
Helena watched him stretch his age-spotted finger in the direction of the body.
“Your man there, he’s got a problem,” he announced. “His leg has slid down to the floor. They’re the first things to go, you know. Legs. For me it was the knees. Do you want me to make him sit up so the kids don’t trip over him later tonight?”
Helena didn’t hear him. She was staring towards the house, her mind evidently elsewhere.
“Hello? Earth to HEL-EY-NAH...” he said slowly, emphasizing each syllable of her name. “I SAID, do you want me to fix him? Are you going deaf? Do I have to shake you senseless? That’s what people do to me when I have my hearing aid turned down too low.”
He tugged at her skirt. A very short skirt that showed off her magnificently toned legs. He knew that would get her attention. It certainly got his. He might be an octogenarian, but certain things still worked. As much as that thought may have bothered some women—hell, it might have downright creeped them out—he often flirted with Helena and she didn’t seem to mind it in the least.
Helena turned her head back towards him. “I’m so sorry, Mr. Wagner. Honestly, I don’t know where my head is today. I had all this running around to do this morning, even before I got s
“I like the cobwebs you put up. You didn’t have to buy them though, I have plenty at home I could have lent you.”
Expecting a witty comeback from her, Mr. Wagner was concerned when he didn’t get one. “Is everything okay, Helena?”
She cocked her head slightly and took a slow look around her front property. “Yes, although the hairs on the back of my neck seem to be a little over-active today. I can’t put my finger on why that is. It must just be the occasion. I love Halloween, don’t you, Mr. Wagner?”
“It’s a lot more fun since you moved onto the street,” he admitted.
“The house is really going to look spooky this year. I’ve rented some strobe lights and a fog machine from a special-fx place in the city. You’ll have to come by and see it tonight. I think it will be quite something.”
“I’m sure it will be. I’m a big fan of your Halloween house, you know that,” Mr. Wagner said. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
“Thanks, Mr. Wagner. I’m just a little worried. Most of the neighborhood kids are getting older now. They’re harder to impress.” She looked at her watch. “I thought I’d be done setting up by now, but Mr. Death-warmed-over, he’s just not co-operating.”
“Dead men are like that,” Mr. Wagner said.
“It’s not just the dead men,” Helena laughed.
“That’s better. I thought for a moment you were losing your sense of humor. If there’s anything else I can do to help, besides fixing his leg, you just let me know. I’m not totally feeble. I can still tape up a decoration or two.”
He stood up and walked over to the body. The rubber mask that Helena had stuffed for the head was pretty realistic. Under the shadow of night it was going to be more so. He noticed the male clothing that she had stuffed to make the body. It seemed somehow familiar. A twinge of jealousy ran through his veins. He didn’t like to think about Helena having a boyfriend.
“Thank you so much, Mr. Wagner,” Helena sighed. “I don’t know what I’d do without you. See if you can prop him up a bit while you’re at it. Maybe you can make it look like he’s watching the kids coming up the stairs. That would be kind of scary, don’t you think?”
“Oh, I’m sure it will be very scary tonight,” he agreed.
“I think so too. Now, if you don’t mind,” she said, walking towards the front door, “I’ve got to go upstairs and get the rooms ready for my girls. Oh, I haven’t told you, have I? My daughter and granddaughter are coming tonight to stay with me for a while. They called late last night and told me. That’s probably why I’m in such a tizzy. It’s all so sudden. I haven’t even gotten around to making up their beds yet. Aren’t I terrible? But don’t worry, I’ll bring you out some sweets in a few minutes, I promise. You just make yourself at home.”
“The blanket and the paper?” he reminded her, shaking his head. “I’d actually prefer that to sweets if you have too many things to remember today.” He started to move the body on the swing. “I think it looks better lying down,” he said. “But I’m going to turn him around like you said, so he can watch the kids coming up the walkway.”
“You are now officially in charge of the dead guy, Mr. Wagner. That’s one less thing for me to worry about today. I will entrust you to make it look real.”
“When you’re in your eighties, you get to be a bit of an expert on dead guys,” he shrugged. “It’s nice that you’re going to be having some company. I don’t want you to be lonely.”
“How can I be lonely with you around, Mr. Wagner?” She sensed a note of sorrow in his voice. “You’re like family to me. Telling me all the who’s who and what’s what when I first moved here, to Troy. I never would have guessed that Burt McGee was the preacher’s illegitimate son. Not in a million years.”
“Well, I still don’t know how you figured out that Liz Delaney and Stacey Freeman were two sisters who were separated at birth. They don’t even look alike. One’s a redhead and one’s a blonde. That might be close enough to call, I suppose, but one is a lot uglier than the other.”
“Call it woman’s intuition,” Helena laughed.
“You’ve got more than your fair share of that, girlie,” Mr. Wagner winked. “I sometimes wonder whether you’ve got that E.S.P. thing going on. I really hope you don’t, because if you really could read my mind, we probably wouldn’t be friends.”
“I’m afraid I’m not very good at reading people’s minds, Mr. Wagner. Although I know a few people who can.” She paused for a moment, her lips coming together tightly in a grimace. “You’d think they’d be happy with that gift, but no. Me, I’d love to be able to do it.”
Mr. Wagner looked at her, unconvinced.
“Rest assured, your deep dark secrets are safe from me,” she admitted.
A look of relief crossed the old man’s face.
“But,” Helena said, leaning in to him so close that he could smell her sandalwood perfume, “if you swear to take it to your grave, or at least lie and say you saw them both on the beach, I’ll tell you how I figured it out. The sisters have the same birthmark on their left shoulder. Identical. Shaped like a pineapple. I put two and two together when they came to my practice complaining about shoulder tension. That’s where we women carry our stress.”
“If you say so,” he said, still intoxicated by her presence. She was wearing a tight, striped sweater that was cut low both in the back, and in the front. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. She had a magnificent set of ta-tas.
“It’s true, Mr. Wagner. You take a look at them next summer.”
He coughed, and she realized where his gaze was aimed.
“The sisters, Mr. Wagner. They both spend hours in the sun and they’ve got the leathered skin to prove it. I’ve got them on a vitamin E regimen.”
“If you say that’s how you figured it out, I’ll pretend I believe it,” he winked. “But I still think there’s more to you than the lovely picture you present to the world.”
“You’re always great for my ego, Mr. Wagner. I guess I do have a way with people. Well, with men anyway. Women can be a little standoffish.”
“They’re just jealous. You just ignore what Betty. Lachey is saying.”
“Why? What is Mrs. Lachey saying?”
Mr. Wagner changed the subject. “Tell you what, I won’t visit for the next little while. I’ll let you enjoy your company all by yourself. You won’t need an old man hanging around your house.”
Helena put her arm around her friend. “Nonsense. I’m sure my granddaughter Ellie will love to hear your gossip just as much as I do. She’s quite the talker herself, our Ellie. She loves Halloween, as I recall. You’ll be able to laugh about all the kids who were afraid to come up the steps. I’m sure you’ll both find that amusing.”
“Children aren’t much for stories from old folks these days,” he lamented.
“Well, Ellie’s not exactly a child. I haven’t seen her myself for a few years. She was eleven then and she’s fifteen now. I suspect she’s grown up quite a bit. I don’t know how much she remembers about me. I wouldn’t be surprised if she makes a little strange in the beginning, although I hope that it’s not strained for long. I don’t know if I remember how to talk to a teenager. It’s been a while.”
“That’s what happens,” he said sadly. “They grow up and they have no time for you.”
“Well, they do get busy,” Helena replied, knowing in her heart that the old man was right. Her only daughter Helen rarely even phoned her. Just a card on her birthday and a cheese tray at Christmas.
“That’s probably why the hairs on my neck are standing up,” she thought to herself. “Why did Helen call and ask if she and Ellie could come and stay for a while? Why now?”
Her relationship with Helen was awkward at best. It had been that way since Helen was a teenager. That’s why the
“Don’t be upset if my daughter Helen doesn’t seem friendly,” Helena explained to Mr. Wagner. “She’s like that with everybody. I don’t know where she gets it from. I’ve lost track of how many languages she can speak—French, Spanish, Italian—but try and communicate on a human level? Well, that is a whole other ballgame with her. I dare you to ask her wazzup!”
“A little uptight is she? Okay, I won’t take it personally. Thanks for letting me know.” He looked at the dead man and sighed. The legs had fallen down again. “Are you sure this stubborn old coot isn’t supposed to be me? I’m starting to see a resemblance.”
“Take it easy, Mr. Wagner. Don’t let him give you a fight. I can always ask one of the Lachey boys to help me with him later.”
“Never you mind,” Mr. Wagner said. “You put me in charge of him, and come hell or high water, in charge I will be. Mr. Corpse here would frighten the bejeezies out of young Stanley. I know he just had his eighth birthday, but he’s still a bit of a baby if you ask me. You just go about your business. I’ll tend to our friend here. I’ll be fine. It takes me a while longer to do things, but I have no plans for the rest of the afternoon. Especially since it looks like I won’t be doing any newspaper reading anytime soon.”
“Maybe I didn’t make the legs right,” Helena said, oblivious to his remark. “Anatomy wasn’t my strong subject. I probably spent too much time on the head. Did you notice the wound I made?”
“You mean the slit eyeball?”
“I spent a lot of time getting the blood on it just right.”
“I can see that. Wonderful job. Brian De Palma would be proud. Now go and make the beds or do whatever you need to do. Leave him to the master. I’ll set those legs straight. I’ll make the man look like rigor mortis has set in.”
Helena laughed. “Oh Mr. Wagner, you kill me. Well, not really, but you know what I mean. You’ve got quite the funny bone. Tell you what, I’ll take you up on that offer and leave you to it. I’ll be back in just a bit. If you need anything, just holler.”
“Maybe there’s another blanket up there in one of the bedrooms?” Mr. Wagner asked hopefully, but Helena had already turned away, leaving him alone on the porch.
“I might as well join you on the swing,” he said to the body, “for all the attention I’m getting around here today.”
Helena walked into the house and headed straight for the family-sized kitchen. She quickly filled the tea kettle with water, placed it on the stove burner and turned it on. The water would take a few minutes to boil, allowing her time to rush upstairs and check the bedrooms.
She ran up the staircase faster than she had ever done before. It winded her slightly, and she made a mental note to bring the exercise bicycle out of storage for the winter.
Standing inside the converted attic bedroom on what was the third floor of the old house, she took a look around the normally unused room. It was a good size, with plenty of closet space that could be used for a teenager’s endless wardrobe. As an added feature, there was a door opening to a little balcony above the second floor. Helena knew Helen would be envious, but she wanted Ellie to have this room. It would offer the teenaged girl the privacy Helena knew Ellie would covet at that age. It would also put a floor between Ellie and her mother, and that was probably also a good thing at this point in all their lives. But it needed a good dusting before nightfall.
“So much to do, so little time,” Helena sighed. She closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath. She could hear the swing creaking on the porch, but soon tuned it out. She was listening for non-earthly sounds. “You’re not fooling me,” she said aloud. “I can feel it. The winds of change are blowing around me, and I can tell they are not fair weather winds. So help me, if you mess with my family, I will kick your ass.”
Her green eyes opened slowly and she looked around the room. There was no sign that anyone else was there, or that anyone else had heard her. “I need to get this room ready for Ellie,” she said, not convinced. “So don’t even start.”
Shaking off the shiver that was running down her spine, she walked over to the old oak mirror hanging on the wall. She was overwhelmed with the need to look over her own shoulder. “Not that you’d show up anyway,” she acknowledged, gazing into the reflection. “At least not during the day.”
She paused as if she were waiting for an answer. The room offered her none. “I hope I’ve made myself perfectly clear.”
Taking some sheets from the closet, Helena made up the bed. Ellie’s bed. That thrilled her. Never in a million years did she think her granddaughter would ever be under her roof.
She spread out a handmade quilt that some Amish friends had painstakingly made for her years ago. The design was constructed from several pieces of patterned fabric laid out like stained-glass windows, all on an off-white background. It wasn’t the most modern of bedspreads, but it would be warm. The room at the top of the stairs got quite chilly at night. Besides, if Ellie didn’t like the bedspread, they could always take a trip together into the city for a bed-in-a-bag. She wouldn’t take it personally. It was a teenager’s prerogative to hate things. In the meantime, the covert religious symbolism might not be such a bad thing ― the crosses in the pattern covering her granddaughter at night. It most likely wouldn’t mean anything to Ellie, but it would make Helena sleep better, given the foreboding sensations of doom she was having.
Helen, though…Helen would be another story. Helen was smart. She’d figure out the symbolism of the bed covering in about thirty seconds and there would be hell to pay. Hell that would go on forever. “Not good,” Helena said, deciding to roll back the bedspread to the foot of the bed. “What Helen doesn’t know won’t hurt her. At least for now,” she said, opening the balcony door to let some fresh air into Ellie’s room.
Leaving the door open behind her, Helena went down the flight of stairs to the second floor and headed for the room at the back of the house that would become Helen’s.
That decision would have its own problems. Having her daughter sleeping down the hall meant Helena was going to have to behave herself. But other than banishing her daughter to the cottage in the backyard— the space she used as her medical office—where was Helen to sleep? She laughed. There were only three bedrooms in the house. The room with the gaudy peony-covered wallpaper that had been left by the previous owner really was the only answer. Her daughter Helen would hate it. That thought made Helena laugh a little harder.
“I’ll be nice when she gets here,” Helena promised herself. “Okay, at least I’ll try to be nice.”
She gave the room a once-over. She regularly vacuumed the entire second floor, so there were no cob-webs in the corners of the windows, or dust bunnies under the bed. She knew Helen would check.
Satisfied, she went down the hall and peeked in to her own bedroom, the master. It was tidy enough for company. She looked around for telltale signs of her personal life. Everything that needed to be hidden was.
Low whistles from somewhere outside the room interrupted her train of thought and made her feel afraid. “No,” she whispered, turning at the noise. “Not now. The girls are coming.”
She listened intently for more telltale sounds. Then she remembered—the tea! She gave her head a shake. A sense of relief warmed her veins. The sound was coming from the kitchen. She had completely forgotten about the orange pekoe. Poor Mr. Wagner!
She ran downstairs and threw a couple of teabags directly into the whistling kettle. There wasn’t much point trying to be fancy. She hoped he would forgive her. “Tea, paper, blanket,” she said as she gathered everything up and headed outside to the front porch.
It was too late. Mr. Wagner had left.
Helena put the tea down on the seat of the now empty rocking chair. Across from it was a perfectly positioned stuffed dead body lying across the swing. Apparently the corpse had won that battle and remained supine despite Mr. Wagner’s best intentions. The blanket had thoughtfully been placed over it so the neighborhood kids wouldn’t see it too early.
“Nice job, Mr. Wagner,” she sighed. “I guess I’ll see you later.”
Helens-of-Troy by Janine McCaw / Fantasy have rating 2.7 out of 5 / Based on40 votes