While planting a cherry tree, landscaper and pet sitter Baxley Powell digs up a skull. As she waits for the cops, she dreamwalks to identify the victim. Once her findings prove helpful, the sheriff agrees to pay her for consulting, if she closes cases.
A widow and single mom, Baxley needs this consulting gig. Her in-laws want custody of her daughter, so she has to be self-sufficient.
Complications arise when a fresh body is found on Baxley’s jobsite, planting her in the suspect pool. Concurrently, her father steps down as county dreamwalker, passing the honor to her. Some honor. People need help, and she barely knows what to do.
With a killer dogging her heels and spirits nipping at her mind, Baxley follows her dreams.
“A landscaper uses her psychic powers to solve murders old and new . . . the last thing she wants is to unearth an ancient skeleton right where she’s supposed to plant a weeping cherry tree. The unfortunate discovery brings her job to a grinding halt . . . as Baxley moves closer to taking over her father’s role as county dreamwalker, her waking life is threatened by a murderer who’d prefer not to be caught. Toussaint takes a break from her Cleopatra Jones series for a brisk plunge into the paranormal.” – Kirkus Reviews
“I adored Baxley Powell in Gone and Done it! Maybe it was because I’ve worked as a landscaper, but probably more because I really liked the dreamwalking sideline of her life. Maggie Toussaint has a unique style, and likable characters. I hope there’s another book in Baxley’s life. Wait! Let’s ask her!” – Joyce Lavene, as JJ Cook, author of The Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade mysteries
“The setting of this vivid, clever murder mystery is Coastal Georgia which just happens to be where the author lives. This lends authenticity to the novel. The main character is Baxley Powell, a woman with psychic abilities passed down to her through her father’s family. Baxley is a “dreamwalker,” an individual who is able to communicate with the spirits of the dead. Baxley is also a widow—although she is convinced that her husband, Roland, might not actually be dead. She believes he has mysteriously disappeared. Baxley runs Pets and Plants and has been hired by wealthy woman Carolina Byrd to landscape her new estate, Mallow. Baxley digs up a human skull and is forced to call Sheriff Wayne Thompson. Her E.S.P. tells her that one woman and two children were buried on the land they once lived upon hundreds of years ago, but there was no violence involved. However, soon after, Baxley finds the body of a young recently murdered woman. The Sheriff decides to hire her although he believes she might be a person of interest since the victim’s blood is found on Baxley’s trowel. He observes that Baxley is a human lie detector and therefore useful to his investigation.
There are many colorful characters in this entertaining novel. For example, Bubba Paxton, the local preacher, uses rattlesnakes in his service, several of which Baxley finds in her truck. Several good ol’ boy rednecks are also persons of interest in the murder case. Told from Baxley’s first person viewpoint, the novel has a sense of immediacy. It’s a book readers won’t want to put down until the very last word is read.” – Jacqueline Seewald, author of The Bad Wife
“This novel is wildly exciting” – Romantic Times
“The best mystery I’ve read in a long time” – MyShelf Reviews
“I really liked this story. I can’t wait until the next one comes out.” – Between the Covers
“Enjoy every page of this book it is reading time well spent” – The Reading Reviewer
“This debut paranormal mystery will capture your interest with its otherworldly elements and hold you in the grip of suspense until the killer is caught. I can’t wait to see how Baxley’s powers develop and how her role evolves as a police consultant” – Nancy J Cohen, author of Hanging by a Hair
My shovel bounced off a monster root. Tremors vibrated up my aching arms, jolting my knotted shoulders. I swore under my breath. Just my luck. The last installation for this landscaping job, and now I’d hit the mother lode of obstructions.
I leaned on the shovel and wiped my brow on my sleeve. Planting this weeping cherry should have been an easy installation. Should. What a crock. Should implied a promise, but it was an outright lie.
God, I was so tired of pretending everything was fine. Between bureaucratic red tape, enhanced sensory perceptions, and the odd jobs I worked, I felt decades older than my twenty-eight years.
Mosquitoes swarmed my neck and hands, feasting on the unexpected banquet named Baxley Powell. Sweat trickled down from the brim of my ball cap. Not a hint of a sea breeze reached this forested clearing off Misery Road. Instead, the air smelled of pine and decaying leaves, of dancing sunshine and brooding shadows.
At the rumble of an approaching diesel, the birds overhead quieted. Carolina Byrd’s builder and realtor had been troubleshooting the faulty exterior lighting at her new mansion, Mallow, which graced the other end of this winding driveway. Automatically, I checked that my mental shields were in place.
I didn’t want any psychic readings off these bozos.
“Hey, pretty lady.” Realtor Buster Glassman leaned out of the driver’s window, right overtop the blood-red Glassman Realty logo. “Whatcha up to?” Behind him, builder Duke Quigley bobbed his shiny head in greeting.
I groaned under my breath. Buster could talk the ears off a toadfish if he wanted something. I didn’t have time to waste on idle gossip.
“Digging a hole.” I jerked a thumb toward the shallow hole. “I’m all done once this weeping cherry is in.”
“Beats me why the boss would want anything that cried.” Buster grinned, laying on the charm.
Annoyed, I explained, using small words. “It doesn’t actually weep. The leaves spill down instead of reaching up. Carolina loves the pink blossoms.”
“You know that, dummy.” Duke joined the conversation and punched his pal’s shoulder. “Your mama has a weeping willow in her yard.”
Buster bolted from the truck, rubbing his bicep. “Yeouch. I was gonna dig the hole for the little lady, but you’ll do it now that you smashed my arm.”
Duke followed Buster. The men tromped up to the hole, their waffle-tread soles leaving deep impressions in the sandy soil. “Got some trouble there, don’tcha?” Buster said.
The idea of help with the root extraction gleamed like a shiny Christmas package. But there’d be a catch. There always was a catch. “Nothing I can’t handle.”
Buster studied me. “That why you leaning so heavy on that shovel?”
“You got a chainsaw in there?” Duke nodded toward my vintage truck.
I wish. “Forgot it this morning.”
His sigh was worthy of Scarlett O’Hara. “Bummer. What else you got?”
“My axe.” That should send the slackers running for leather seats, surround sound, and air conditioning.
Duke tsked. “Man, that’s old school. Too bad we don’t have a generator out here still. I could use my power tools.”
Trust a man to think that a power tool solved all problems. “Nope. It’s just me and the bugs out here. No electricity. No generator.”
“I’ll get the axe.” Duke’s chest puffed out, and he strode toward the truck.
Man, I did not want to owe Duke a favor. I stepped forward. “Really, I can do it.”
Buster tapped my arm. “Let Dairy Queen fix your problem. Besides, I wanna talk to you about something. I heard you figured out Maisie Ryals held up the liquor store. I bet you got your daddy’s woo-woo stuff going on in that pretty head of yours.”
My simmering irritation amped to a rolling boil. Buster’s good old boy nickname for Duke Quigley reinforced that I was an outsider here. Was it any wonder I was protective about the very thing that set me apart from others?
“Um.” My lips compressed, sealing in further words. I didn’t talk about my extrasensory talent with near strangers.
The thud of metal on wood filled the air. Buster steered me away from the manual labor. “I would consider it a personal favor if you could help me out with some picks.”
The hair on the nape of my neck snapped to attention. “Picks?”
He lifted one shoulder with a negligent ease. “I do a little online betting. I figure you could help me up my winning percentage.”
Even though I was shielded, there was a violent rumble in my senses. I knew trouble when I heard it. My ability to predict a person’s truthfulness was darned near one-hundred percent, except when the person believed his lie.
Buster’s voice changed timbre when he spoke about gambling. It became thinner, less resonant. He had a whiff of desperation about him, too.
Why was he lying to me?
My ponytail waggled from side to side as I shook my head. “I don’t do that.”
His fake smile ramped up a bit. “What could it hurt? I’ll show you the ropes, teach you how to place the bets, and the next time you can keep the winnings for yourself.”
I frowned. “Even if I could see the future, I wouldn’t gamble.”
His dimples faded. “Tell you what. You get back to me on this.” He pulled out a golden case from his shirt pocket and extracted a crisp business card. “Call me after you think it over. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’ve got the system down pat. You’ve got the woo-woo vision. It’s a match made in heaven.”
It was easier to take the card than to argue with him. I peeled off my leather work gloves to pocket the card. The thudding stopped. I glanced over my shoulder at Duke. He dropped the axe and hefted his battered trophy skyward. The root chunk was fatter than my thigh. I’d’ve been here for hours chopping that out. “Thanks.” I meant it.
When the men left, I sighed in relief and lowered my mental shields. The sky seemed bluer, the breeze fresher, the greenery more vibrant. Birds called to one another from the forested canopy, filling the air with lovely trills and chirps. What a beautiful January afternoon.
My energy surged.
There was no one else at Mallow, no inhabited property for a couple of miles. I could relax. I rolled my tight shoulders in large circles, easing the tension.
The landscaped beds I’d installed this past week near Mallow had been darned near effortless because Duke had bulldozed the soil near Tara South, as I’d dubbed the fake tabby mansion. A century ago, tabby buildings were layered with a lime, sand, shell, and water mixture inches at a time and were thick walled. Solid, too. Today’s tabby was a concrete block wall with a veneer of shell-spattered concrete. Nothing says classy and grand in my book like concrete block. Might as well roll in a whole fleet of rusty mobile homes, too.
I snorted at the thought.
Carolina Byrd would have a conniption if trashy trailers were located near her highbrow Mallow Plantation. She’d pointed out the place name in a local history book. A worthy name for her fancy estate with a grand entrance. She’d selected this weeping cherry for the entry because the pink blossoms complemented her sign’s blue background and fancy gold lettering.
I thought the gilded sign was tacky, ostentatious, and a dangerous lure for thieves. She might as well have put up a flashing neon sign that said “Rob me.” I hoped the crackheads and ne’er-do-wells left her and her special-needs child alone.
Not my problem.
Last month a former client had referred Carolina Byrd, of Macon, to Pets and Plants, and I’d been grateful for the work. I’d suggested native plants to Carolina and then I’d agreed to install the high-maintenance stock she wanted. The client was always right.
Dropping to my knees, I widened the bottom of the hole with a smaller spade. When the hole was large enough for the cherry tree’s root base, I’d lime the soil to neutralize the acidity to suit the cherry. Another reason I wouldn’t have chosen this plant to go in next to pine trees.
I was making good progress, opening the hole and deepening it when my shovel glanced off a hard object.
In coastal Georgia, we had few rocks. Granted, an early settler might have placed a rock here, but what were the odds of me digging it up? No rocks had been unearthed near the big house, and they’d pushed mounds of dirt around, evening up the land, filling a natural swale where Carolina wanted the house sited.
I could pry the rock out of there. But there was something about the distinctive gray color that riveted me. Something barely detectable on a sensory level. Unease rolled through my gut, weighing me down, making it hard to breathe.
Should I touch the object?
Whatever it was, the energy coming from it was minimal. Was it plant matter from the roots I’d exhumed? Possibly. But I doubted that explanation.
More likely, it was a gray rock I’d found. Rocks had found their way to the Georgia coast as ship ballast during Colonial times. This could be a ballast rock.
Despite my logic, my unease mounted. After learning the hard way to trust my instincts, I respected them. Something about this hidden object tripped all my senses.
I could call someone. But who? And what would I say? I dug up a rock and it might be important? Who would believe that I was scared to touch a rock?
Get a grip, Baxley. It’s probably just a rock. I fetched my new trowel and knelt beside the hole. I held my gloved hands about a foot over the object and concentrated, hoping that the closer proximity would give a stronger signal.
Only a faint wisp of energy.
Self-preservation wouldn’t let me dig unshielded. I fortified my senses with sturdy imagery and moved sandy soil away from the object, bit by bit. With each pass of the trowel, my nerves pinged.
The exposed shape was rounded like a summer melon. It didn’t resemble a polished rock. The smooth texture seemed bony.
I shivered. Was this the remains of something or someone? A lump formed in my throat. Let it be an animal, I wished silently. Let it be something other than human remains.
I lowered down on my belly and brushed away the remaining dirt with my gloved fingers. Stroke by stroke until the empty orbs of twin eye sockets stared back up at me.
There was no mistaking the species.
I’d found a human skull.