Ghosts, Private Eyes & Dead Guys

Ghosts, Private Eyes & Dead Guys

Gianna Mancini Mysteries, Book 6


Gemma Halliday Publishing (October 12, 2021)
ISBN-13: 9798486989247 • ISBN-10: B09HFS957H

From USA Today bestselling author Jennifer Fischetto comes a spook-tacular new Gianna Mancini!

Ghost whisperer, Gianna Mancini, is thrilled to accompany her PI boyfriend, Julian, to the annual Halloween costume party hosted by the law firm he works with. She’s even more delighted when he tosses a sheet over his head and goes as her ghost, as a nod to her supernatural gift. How adorable is he? However, things quickly go from sweet to sour when one of the lawyers at the party is killed… by someone wearing Julian’s costume.

Gianna fully believes Julian when he tells her someone must have borrowed the disguise when he briefly took it off at the party. But she’s about the only one who does believe him, and when Julian is arrested, it’s up to her to prove his innocence.

With help from a couple of the departed from the other side and two new potential gal-pals, Gianna vows to do everything and anything she can to save the man she loves from a life sentence. Unfortunately the real killer vows to make sure that doesn’t happen… even if that means getting Gianna out of the way permanently.

Read an Excerpt


Julian turns off the narrow road and drives just past the open wrought-iron gates, onto an estate thats the grandest Ive ever witnessed. Living on Long Island most of my life, Ive seen my share of wealth. The houses in Garden City are a dream, and the Hamptons can leave a girl breathless, but this… Just wow.

The three-story stone structure, with floor-to-ceiling arched windows and its very own turret, looks like royalty lives there. It sits back on the land with an expansive front yard, featuring a concrete path that leads to the far left corner where there is a four-car garage, as well as looping around to the double front doors.

According to Julian, it lies uninhabited and is rented out for functions. Tonights event is a Halloween costume party, and the decorators went all out on the exterior. I can only imagine how great the interior will be.

Julian stops the car so that we can admire the graveyard scene on the mound of grass between the gate and the front doors. Purple and white fairy lights drape from the branches of a small tree and along tombstones scattered around the area. From this distance the gravestones almost look real, but I cant imagine theyre a permanent feature. Especially not the one thats marked Judy Lives Here. A couple of skeletons hang from the tree, and stuffed ghosts fill up the spaces in between.

I giggle in delight. Even though its not an official holiday, Halloween is my favorite day of the year. Dressing up, being spooky, and horror movies are up there with my other favorites—chocolate, rainstorms, and sandwiches.

The windows must be heavily draped because theres little light streaming out, but I get a few flashes of what looks like strobe lights coming from the room closest to the garage. Theres a purple hue slightly visible on the second floor, and even with the cars windows shut, I can hear the soft pulsations of music.

This is gorgeous, I say as he continues driving around the scene to the valets standing by the front doors. Ive a feeling this is definitely going to be a night to remember.

Everyone says Mr. Carters parties are epic. Looks like they werent exaggerating, he says.

Julian works for the law firm Carter, Hamilton & Levine as a private investigator and a fixer, which means he helps fix things for his bosss clients—like assisting a passed out call girl from a hotel room registered to a married politician or something equally or even more repulsive. Ive been trying hard to not judge his line of work. For some reason, he enjoys it, it pays exceptionally well, and hes good at it.

Hes been with this firm since following me from Connecticut to my hometown, South Shore Beach. While there have been other parties thrown over the past twelve months, this is the first one he accepted the invitation to, and Im thrilled Im tagging along.

Julian shifts the black Porsche he rented for the evening into neutral, and one of the valets opens my door. I didnt bother asking why his SUV isnt good enough for the occasion. I figure it has something to do with his masculinity. Ill never understand because what someone drives isnt important to me. But now that were at the estate, I realize that hes around big money all the time at work. You dont hire a fixer on a blue-collar paycheck.

I unhook my seat belt, hope my purple and black striped tights are straight, and reach for the valets extended hand. They are all wearing black tuxedos, but each of them wears a different half mask that covers the top portion of their faces, leaving their mouths and chins exposed, like those worn at masquerade balls. Theres a scary, white-faced clown, with yellow and blue diamonds painted around his eyes, a red nose, and puffs of matching hair above his ears, alongside a green Frankenstein with silver plastic bolts and staples, and the one helping me out of the car is a pasty vampire with fangs.

Thank you, I say, and he grins.

Youre the first friendly vampire Ive met, I say.

He first glances at the black pointy hat Id affixed to my dark curls with a trillion bobby pins. Then his gaze travels to my black mini dress with the slightly plunging sweetheart neckline, bell sleeves, and a matching belt that cinches my waist as much as I can stand. He leans closer and says, Perhaps youve put a spell on me.

Im caught off-guard and chuckle ridiculously loudly, which only makes his

smile bigger.

Have a great night, he says before walking to the car that pulls in behind us.

Julian meets me and checks out the vampire. Were you two flirting?

The emergence of his dimple tells me hes not upset.

I only have eyes for you. I frown at what looks like a white sheet draped over his arm.

Hes dressed as if were going to the mall, in a pair of dark jeans, a beige T-shirt, and brandnew, bright white sneakers. When he picked me up, he said he couldnt drive in his costume. I assumed it included a full mask. When I pressed him on who he was going as, he said it was a surprise. Now Im concerned that the man is going to be sorely underdressed.

Do I get to know who you are now? I ask.

He shakes out the white sheet and throws it onto his head. With a few adjustments so that his eyes and mouth are aligned with premade holes, he turns to me and holds out his arms perpendicular to his sides. The sheet is large enough that, in that position, I dont see his fingertips or any skin. I can barely spot the tips of his sneakers, which blend in with the sheet and are less blinding now.

This is your costume? Its not the most inventive Ive seen.

He steps closer and says, Youre a ghost whisperer. Im your ghost.

Its the cutest thing hes said this week, and it makes me feel all mushy

inside. Its also great to see how easily hes accepted my abilities. I was eight when I fell in my familys delis freezer, hit my head, died for a minute, and came back to life with the ability to see and communicate with the dead. Julian only learned about it a year ago, which was almost a year after we met and started dating. I dont blurt it out, dont want many people to know, but hes been great with it all.

We walk up five concrete steps to the massive, dark wooden doors. A tuxedo-wearing red demon with white horns opens one of the doors and gives a curt nod as we pass and step into a foyer so elegant that I cant help but gasp.

Even with the fake spiders and webs and the many Jack-o-lanterns, its easy to see that the nine-light chandelier and wooden ceiling beams add an elegance to the stunning architecture. I cant even imagine how much it costs to rent this place, let alone everything else it took to throw this event together. I worked as a party planner for a few months, and this wouldve been a dream job, and Im only two feet from the front door. What else is there?

The pulsating beat of hip hop and techno music emanates from the left. A set of shut double doors absorb most of the volume. Another set stands to our right. They are open, and it appears people are mingling. A full-curved staircase is directly ahead, and theres a narrow hall that must lead to the back of the mansion.

A vampire walks over to us from a small group of people by the staircase. He, unlike the man outside, is in full garb. A black cape with red velvet lining over

his black tuxedo, slicked back black hair, white face paint, several drops of fake blood at the corners of his mouth, and a pair of shiny black Oxford shoes. I only know the kind because Pop and my brother, Enzo, have the same ones that are worn for special holidays and funerals.

Well, hello, the man says, displaying a set of upper and lower fangs. And who may you be?

Julian holds out his arm, the sheet extending over his fingers. Carter, its me, Julian Reed.

The vampire, Mr. Carter, chuckles and shakes the sheet. Very original.

His sarcasm makes me smile.

This is my girlfriend, Gianna, Julian says.

Mr. Carter takes my hand and kisses my knuckles. Very nice to meet you, Gianna. You are the prettiest witch Ive seen tonight.

Ive a feeling hes said that to each witch hes seen so far, but I dont mind the compliment.

Welcome to my lair, Carter says with what is probably a well-rehearsed spooky chuckle. To the left is dancing, to the right is the bar, and beyond that is plenty of food. Theres a restroom down that hall, and upstairs, on the second floor, is the haunted house. Enter at your own peril.

With another laugh, he walks off to the group he had abandoned to greet us.

Haunted house? That sounds like a lot of fun.

I saw your eyes light up when he mentioned the second floor. Drink first? Julian asks.

Lead the way. A little liquid courage sounds like the right plan, although I doubt itll be hair-raising scary. Mr. Carter wouldnt want to make his guests run out screaming into the night.

We step into what must normally be a long living room. There are a couple of sofas and armchairs by the front windows and a massive lit fireplace and then some folding chairs and stools by the bar on the opposite side of the room. An archway beyond that leads to a room with a buffet-style setup of what appears to be serving pans of food.

My stomach immediately grumbles. I havent eaten anything since a turkey and provolone sandwich for lunch, and its already seven p.m.

We walk to the bar, and another tuxedoed person, this time a woman with long brown hair and light blue eyes, wearing a green witch half mask, asks us what wed like to drink. The special is a Vampires Kiss Martini, she says.

I nod, and Julian tells her well take two. Ive no idea what it is, but it sounds interesting and looks even more so when she slides two bloodred drinks in red sugar rimmed martini glasses our way. We clink, and Julian just stares at his. Then he leans toward the bartender and asks, Do you have some type of straw?

I cant hold back my laughter. The sheets mouth hole isnt big enough to hold a glass to his lips without staining and possibly saturating the material. Did

he not think about that when he took a pair of scissors to the sheet?

The bartender holds up a glass of plastic, red stirrers, and he takes one.

Watching him maneuver under that sheet is going to make for a hilarious night.

His peripheral vision is clearly shot because he almost steps on the foot of a woman dressed as a bumblebee with a yellow and black striped dress, black tights and boots, yellow wings, and a headband with antennas.

I reach out and grab his arm, jutting my chin toward her, before he flattens her.

He spots her and steps to the side. Im sorry.

Her smile is tight. Its fine.

Shes about to turn away when Julian says, Melissa, its me, Julian.

Her eyes widen, and her smile grows. Oh my gosh. I didnt recognize you.

Thats an understatement. No one can.

He introduces me and says, Melissa works for the law firm as Mr. Flynns administrative assistant.

From my recollection, Mr. Flynn is one of the non-partner lawyers at the firm.

Nice to meet you. I shake her hand.

A roaring laugh sounds from behind us, and I turn to see Julians boss, Mr. Hamilton, dressed as Sherlock Holmes. He has an unlit pipe in one hand and a

tumbler with an amber liquid inside in the other. Hes talking to another man dressed as a firefighter.

The few times Ive seen Mr. Hamilton, hes been professional and quite reserved. Now he seems…loose.

* * *

Julian mingles with co-workers, introducing me to Sean, Martha, Frank, Jim, Lisa, George, and a slew of others. Its too many to keep track of, so I just nod, smile, and shake hands. We finish our drinks and then head upstairs.

Were halfway up the curved staircase when he asks, Are you sure you dont want to grab a bite first?

I glance over my shoulder and grin. Are you nervous?

I mean, I love to eat, but a haunted house is way more fun. The food will be there when were done.

His chuckle is light but not as carefree as usual. It sounds forced. No, but I think I saw shrimp. Its one of your favorites.

Crustaceans are delicious, but this is not a common event. Come on. Ill hold your hand. I cant help but chuckle. My ghost is scared, and hes adorable.

We reach the top landing, which has more of the decor from the foyer—pumpkins, fake spider webs, and theyve added a ginormous cauldron filled with a neon green liquid.

There are three ways to go, and each is marked by a hanging arrow

beneath a description. The path to the left is labeled Eerie. To the right is Haunted, and straight ahead is Disturbing. While the landing is brightly lit from its own chandelier, each of the hallways appears dimmer. All the doors are shut, and my excitement doubles.

Which way first? I ask and start bouncing on the balls of my feet. This is going to be so much fun.

Julian grunts and shrugs, causing his sheet to shift. I wish I could see his face to catch a glimpse of what hes feeling.

Youre really not looking forward to this, are you? I ask. Its a little comical that the tall, broad-shouldered fixer is afraid of a haunted house.

He doesnt reply or make any movements that are noticeable.

How are we a couple, and A. I dont know you dislike haunted houses, and B. youre dating a girl who loves all things spooky? What about when my family is scaring one another? Does that bother you? I ask.

My two siblings and I, and even our parents, love jumping out of closets, hiding under beds and grabbing ankles, and simply causing one anothers heart rates to accelerate. I cant exactly explain why, other than its how we were raised, with Ma doing it with her sisters. Plus, its super fun. Its not real. Its not dark and disturbing. But how has Julian managed for the past year?

This time its obvious when he shrugs. Ive never been there when you guys are scaring one another. Youve only told me about it.

Hes right. Hes never been around.

A door down the left hallway opens, and the sound of a mechanical scream rushes toward me. I laugh and wonder if Julian is cringing.

Do you want to go back downstairs? I ask, but Im not fully giving him my attention. I watch the people who left the room enter the one next door. No audible sounds escape that doorway though.

I dont want to take away from your fun, Julian says.

I turn to him and grin. Aww, the sweet fool. Does he really think Im going to miss this? Despite my absolute love for creepy, I cant recall the last time I visited a haunted house. Maybe during college.

I have no intention of sitting this out, but I can go through it alone if youre uncomfortable, I say. I really wont mind if hes not up for it. Im excited enough for the two of us.

He takes a moment, and then the head of his sheet moves left to right. No, Im fine. Lets do this.

Okay, if youre sure. I point to the left. Eerie first?

He doesnt respond but starts walking in that direction.

The hallway holds five doors, but not all of them open. Three are locked, and the ones that arent have signs on them. Instead of being disappointed that there arent more rooms designed to scare me, I turn the knob on the one marked What Do You See? and laugh at the mechanical screams.

With a glance back to Julian, I grab his hand and walk inside.

The room is almost pitch black with only two tracks of dim LED lights, one

near the ceiling and the other at the floor. As I step closer to them, I realize theyre surrounding mirrors. One after another.

Its a funhouse, I say.

Julian sighs. This isnt so bad.

We walk along, checking out our twisted images, from taller and shorter, wider and narrower, all while the mechanical scream goes off every minute or so. Its fun but not too thrilling. At least not for me. When we leave the room and head to the next, Julian sighs again. I cant tell if its from relief or fear.

The next room, titled Coven, is bathed in a purple glow. We first pass another cauldron, but this one has a witch standing behind it. She stirs the pot with a super long handled wooden spoon and is dressed in typical green-faced, wart, and pointy hat witch garb.

She cackles as we pass and head farther into the room. Im not sure what were headed for when a skeleton falls from the ceiling, directly in our path.

I scream, and I think Julian does the same but not nearly as loud. I laugh and continue on. Theres a small group of witches near the back of the room. They are standing in a circle and reciting something that sounds like Latin. Theres a painted full moon on the wall, and they pretend we dont exist. Im wondering if we should continue on or wait for something to happen, when one of them turns, looks at us, and starts chanting even faster. She takes one step toward us, and I gasp, nervously laugh, and step back. Ive a feeling shes meant to stay with her fellow coven members, but the idea of her following us while

continuing that creepy chanting makes me slightly nervous. In a good way.

The last attraction is a mannequin dressed in a pilgrim style gown and a brown wig under a bonnet. She stands on a platform, and theres a noose hanging directly before her. The painted backdrop has trees and a couple of pilgrim men without facial details behind her.

Poor woman, I say. She probably wasnt even a witch.

As I step an inch closer to the scene, a chorus of voices shout, Burn the witch.

There must be a device in the flooring because the voices go off when I step back and then on again as I move forward.

Enjoying yourself? Julian asks with a laugh.

I laugh in reply, and we head back outside and go to the second hallway. The one marked Disturbing.

Before we get to the first room, we spot a man up ahead. His back is to us. Hes wearing a white lab coat, and when he turns, his brown hair is crazy looking, twisted up on top. Theres a red substance at the corners of his mouth, probably meant to look like blood, and thats when I notice hes holding an axe. Its flush with his leg, but as he takes a step toward us, it drags on the floor, creating a scraping sound.

I squeal and run to the room marked Asylum.

It is brightly lit, and I blink and squint until my eyes adjust. The walls are fully padded, and there are seven inmates in straitjackets. They bump into each

other and the walls, and when we get close to them, they turn and scream in our faces. Julian visibly flinches five times. I count.

I peek my head out the door to see where the axeman is located. Id prefer not bumping into him. Fake or not, hes totally creepy. A small group of people had entered the hallway, and hes down there tormenting them.

Nervous? Julian asks with a chuckle.

Lets go. I open the door wider and run across to the next room.

It is titled Morgue, and thats exactly what we find when we enter. Not just a room with dead bodies though. Its as if a massacre has taken place. Theres a metal slab with fake body parts on it—a torso and head and one leg. Theres a hand and an arm on the floor.

A madman scientist stands to the side of the table. He flings something at the floor. It splatters and makes a wet thwack sound.

I flinch, stare at what looks like raw ground beef, and turn around. I press my face into Julians ghost shoulder and feel his body shake.

Then I hear his chuckle. I thought you loved scary.

I step around him and back into the hallway. I dont even care if axeman gets in my face.

Creepy, scary, yes. Gory, not at all, I say.

We make it out of this hallway and back to the top landing while the axeman deals with new guests. The final hallway only has one room available to us, and its titled Seance.

This sounds like its perfect for us.

The room is much bigger than the previous ones. In the center is a large round table covered with a dark cloth. A woman sits at it, and there are several other chairs. She is wearing a dark-colored dress with off-the-shoulder, ruffled sleeves and a scarf wrapped around her head. The couple that I saw earlier are standing behind the seats, as if they just rose. They smile at us as they pass and leave the room. Perfect timing to be in here alone.

The back wall of the room is set up with tables of lit candles, making the room fairly lit but still quite dim.

The woman holds out a hand to the empty chairs and says, Please sit.

We do as told, and the door opens. Two more people enter and sit with us. One is dressed in a white bunny costume, with a full, on-your-head type mask, and the other is a man in overalls holding a pitchfork. Julian doesnt introduce us, so Im not sure if he knows them or if this isnt the best time for proper greetings.

The medium tells us to join hands, and when we do, she shuts her eyes. Are there any spirits with us today?

She opens one eye, glances at Julian, and says, Besides the one at the table.

All of us chuckle lightly, and Julian squeezes my hand.

I can feel you, the woman says. Can you give a sign that youre here?

The table shakes. The bunny giggles, and I smile. I dont care how fake this is. I love this stuff.

The medium flings her head back and softly growls. Then she quickly snaps back up, opens her eyes, and stares at me.

Im not expecting it, so I flinch.

She lets go of Julians hand. Im almost certain he doesnt mind. She points at me and shrieks, Watch out! Theres danger ahead. Always follow your intuition.

Everyone else laughs, but Im not feeling as joyous as I probably should. Its an innocent enough expression, and Id be laughing if she pointed to someone else, but I cant help but feel anxious, as if shes speaking the truth and something is about to happen. I know thats silly.

When we step into the hallway, we allow the other couple to pass us on our way back to the second-floor landing.

So how was it for you? I ask.

Its nice to see you enjoy it, Julian says.

I laugh and head downstairs. Youre a good sport.

Back in the foyer, Julian says, Is it food time?


As we head into the bar area, I hear someone shout, No!

I turn and spot Carter standing in the narrow hall. His back is to me, and I cant tell if hes yelling at someone, talking on the phone, or what. Maybe hes mad at a caterer or employee.

Im not listening to this now, Carter says with a sharp edge to his tone.

Curiosity gets the better of me, and I take several steps toward him.

I expect to see some poor sap in a tuxedo wearing a half mask, but instead, I spot Sherlock Holmes.

* * *

The song changes in beat, and I stop moving. The room is full of swaying bodies, and while its large, its also jam-packed, and the heat level is high. I wipe moisture off my forehead with the back of my hand and motion to Julian that Im sitting out this next song. Weve been dancing for a solid half hour. It felt great when we started, but now I simply want some air and another drink.

He follows me into the hall, and I realize hes panting. I know hes in better shape than I am. He enjoys that thing called exercise.

I glance over my shoulder. You okay? Youre breathing kinda heavy there.

Its this sheet. Im sweating under here. His voice is muffled by the material, and I burst out laughing.

He grabs my hand and pulls me in real close. Oh, you think this is funny.

I tamper down my hysterics but dont fully stop. I cant help it. Youre cute. Didnt you consider how hot it would be, not to mention how difficult it is to see and move around?

Hed stepped on so many unexpecting toes while dancing that Id moved

us over to the far wall by a panel of draperies.

The sheet around his shoulders goes up and down. It didnt matter because I wanted to be your ghost.

Hes definitely adorable. I press myself to him, reach up on tippy-toes, and give his ghostly hole for a mouth a smooch. Thankfully, my lipstick wore off while we were stuffing our faces with cocktail shrimp, bacon-wrapped Brussels sprouts, caramelized onion and goat cheese puffs, and eyeball cookies, and I havent left a lip print on the sheet. Although that would be comical too.

Another Vampires Kiss? I ask as we walk to the bar.

No, Im switching to water. I want to be sober when we leave. Hes enjoying himself as much as I am. The haunted house may have given him pause, but he was back to his usual fun attitude now. I didnt mention seeing Mr. Carter yelling at Julians boss, Mr. Hamilton. I scampered away as soon as I spotted Sherlock Holmes. I dont know what their situation is about, and its none of my business. Its probably none of Julians either, so I skipped it.

When I agreed to come tonight, I thought thered be a room of attorneys and their staff talking about torts and telling lame lawyer jokes. This has been amazing. So lively and unencumbered. Everything Id want in a Halloween party. Wait until I tell my sister, Izzie. Shes been home most days with my brand-new nephew. Shes going to lap up every word and description trying to picture herself here.

We place our order at the bar. I get another special because Im feeling

good and dont have to drive.

Julian twists off the top of his water bottle, glances at the bar, and then widens the mouth hole in the sheet, tearing it slightly at the corners. I try to not laugh, but Im pretty sure hes disgusted with the costume by now. I would be. After he guzzles half the bottle, he says something about a bathroom and leaves the room.

Melissa, the bumblebee, is standing a couple of feet away. Julians height and broad chest had shielded her from me. I only remember her name, as opposed to anyone elses, because her costume isnt easy to forget. A handful of vampires and witches blend into one another. Shes texting on her phone, and her lips are pinched together. She must be mumbling under her breath, because her lips move but I hear nothing. Not that I would, unless she was shouting over the volume of chatter around us.

She sets her phone down on the bar and glances around. When our eyes lock, I offer a smile and step closer.

Are you okay? I glance at her phone and see the name Beau at the top of her screen.

She rolls her eyes and then shoves her phone into a pocket in her dress. Nice. I wish my outfit had a pocket. I had to resort to bringing a small purse with a long strap that I draped diagonally across my torso. I dont know many witches with purses.

Melissa nods. Yeah, just a bit disappointed. My boyfriend was going to try

to make it tonight, but apparently, he couldnt.

Im sorry. I hope everything is okay, I say.

Oh, yeah, hes fine. He has a friend whos going through a breakup, so he decided to hang with his buddy.

Thats a sweet gesture, especially when he could be with her at this party.

Its okay. Really. Just a moment of sulking and I feel better already. She smiles and then looks around the room again. Have you seen Mr. Carter? I need to ask him something.

I shake my head. I havent seen him since before we ate.

Someone near the fireplace calls Melissas name.

She nods to them and then says to me, If you see him, tell him to find me.

Sure thing.

She walks off, and Im left alone at the bar. Id go mingle, but Im not one to slide up into strangers conversations and be all whats up?

Mr. Hamilton walks over and asks the bartender for water. He does a double take at me and settles into a not completely relaxed but not super professional grin. Ms. Mancini, are you enjoying yourself?

Very much so. This party is great.

He takes the water, stuffs a twenty-dollar bill into the tip glass, and nods at the bartender. Yes, its the event of the year. Although the Christmas ones are usually bigger.

Wow, I cant imagine.

Im sure youll love it, he says and chugs half the bottle. Im heading out. Have a good night, dear.

I will. You too.

I watch him step out of the room and head in the doors direction. I sip my drink and decide to look for Julian. I could use the little girls room too.

Back in the foyer, I notice a long line of people up against the wall. I approach a mummy, wonder how long theyre going to take to unwrap themselves to use the facilities, and ask, Is this for the bathroom?

He or she nods.

I dont notice Julian in line. Maybe hes already inside. Lucky him.

The mermaid in front of the mummy glances back and says, There are several other ones upstairs if you can find them.

I laugh at the idea of hunting down a toilet and unexpectedly opening a closet with a skeleton jumping out or facing the axeman again.

Theres also one past the kitchen. That way. She points up ahead. I hear that line is double this one though.

Great. But maybe I can find Julian there. Im almost certain he didnt venture upstairs.

Thanks, I say and head off.

Past the kitchen? How many rooms are back here?

Thats a silly question. Its a mansion. There are probably hidden stairwells

as well as rooms, a dumbwaiter, and who knows what other treasures in a place this size.

I turn a corner and see a line of people way down at the end, along the right wall. Wow, the mermaid wasnt joking. There are definitely more people here. From the looks of it, it leads down to the very back of the house. Maybe there are other rooms down there, but its dimly lit, and I cant tell. At the halfway mark of the line, theres another small cluster of doors, two actually, in a small nook to the left. The door facing me is ajar, and suddenly it swings open, and Julian runs out.

I assume its Julian because of the sheet, and I have seen no one else dressed in that exact costume all night. But at the same time, I dont think its him. Ive never seen him move so awkwardly or fast. What could he be running to? Does he need to use the bathroom that badly and plans on cutting the line?

He doesnt glance my way as he dashes toward the back of the house. Everyone in line stares at him as he flies by. There must be more rooms down there because he moves past the first person waiting and keeps running.

I open my mouth to shout his name, but hes too far to hear me. Where on earth is he going?

I continue ahead and stop at the door Julian fled from. Its open wide now, and when I glance inside, I see a vampire staggering. Its Mr. Carter. Oh, is he drunk? Maybe Julian went to find a bucket.

I enter the room, which looks like it would be a grand study, with two walls

of empty, built-in bookshelves, from the ceiling to the floor. There are two boxy, black leather love seats facing each other, and Mr. Carter has a hand on the arm of one.

Hes almost doubled over, and I hope hes not going to throw up as I get close. These are my favorite boots.

But as I get closer, I realize hes not sick but in pain. Hes groaning and holding his left side.

Are you okay? I ask.

He looks up, and his face is flushed. Spittle is in the corners of his mouth, and a thick sheen of sweat covers his forehead.

I hurry forward. How can I help you?

He says nothing but reaches out to me with the hand covering his side.

Thats when I see the red spots on the hardwood floors. His hand is bloody, and more of the dark substance is oozing out of his side.

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