Dying Echo A Grim Reaper Mystery - By Judy Clemens


Thanks to all the wonderful folks who had a part in this book, including:

Jenny Baumgartner, who checked over the fight scenes and Casey’s view of life from a hapkido perspective.

Nancy Clemens, who proofread the ARC, and always cheers me on.

Lee Diller, who lets me write when business is slow.

Those awesome readers who wrote to me, asking for more Grim Reaper adventures.

The great team at Poisoned Pen Press. I so love working with you all.

And always, Steve, Tristan, and Sophia, who support me all the way.

I’ve got so many lovely people in my life. I am forever thankful.

Chapter One

One week earlier

Alicia McManus made seventeen dollars and thirty-three cents in tips on the day she died. Ten hours on her feet, four of them because Bailey, the other waitress, had called in sick, even though everybody knew she was just hung over. Alicia normally wouldn’t have minded, but lunch and dinner were both slower than a glacier, maybe because it was Thursday, maybe just because the food at the restaurant wasn’t anything to get excited about. She shoved the money into her purse, not bothering to put it in her wallet. She’d have time for that when she was home with her feet up and the TV on. Maybe Downton Abbey. Maybe that cooking show with the chef that yelled at everybody, except that was a little too close to what she’d been around all day. Or maybe she’d just find the local PBS station, with the reruns of that guy from the seventies who painted with watercolors and spoke in that quiet, soothing manner. Nothing gritty. Nothing dark. Just elevator music for the eyes.

Maybe Ricky would come over. He’d rub her feet and let her sit there with her eyes closed while he talked about his day. He would tell her stories, and she’d listen quietly until he said something so silly she had to laugh and he’d stop rubbing and scoot onto the sofa with her, and maybe they’d make out for a while until they had to decide whether or not he was staying. Most often he wouldn’t. He usually wanted to, but she was too tired from her job, from the day, from everything. But tonight…maybe she’d let him stay tonight.

She swung her bag over her shoulder, waved to the dishwasher and the cook—he wasn’t good enough to call a chef—and let herself out the back door. She stopped outside, breathing in the crisp night air, and looked up at the ski slopes, lit brightly in the heavy darkness. They were a dream from where she stood, hazy and dim, like stars behind thin clouds. Even at that time of year, without the snow, the ski resorts were a popular tourist attraction. People would pay big money to ride the lifts up the mountains and view all those changing leaves. Not something Alicia would use her pitiful paycheck to experience. Not when she and Ricky could simply walk up on the rare occasion they had the same day off.

At the base of those expensive slopes sat the real restaurants. The ones with actual customers who paid decent tips and wouldn’t slap her ass when she walked past. But those restaurants were pickier about who they hired. They’d want ID and a real Social Security Number and tax information. A few propositions and less than stellar cuisine were sacrifices she was willing to make for anonymity. It wasn’t hell to work at The Slope. Just a dull sort of limbo.

She tore her eyes from the mountains and headed toward her apartment. It was a poor excuse for a home, but it had the necessities. Room for a bed, a bathroom, and a tiny kitchen more suited to a kindergarten playroom than a grown woman’s place. The apartment had come furnished, which was the best situation for her, the only situation really, unless she was prepared to sleep on the floor and eat cold ravioli out of a can. Except then she’d have to buy a can opener. Her landlord was okay. He’d fixed the shower that one time, and replaced the outside light bulb when it had burned out. He never made her feel creepy, never spoke to her in any way other than like a dad, or a…well, a landlord. So she was content. But that would have to stop soon, her contentment. She’d been in town longer than she’d been anywhere else in the past almost twenty years. It wasn’t safe. Not for her, not for anybody. Especially