What happened in the alley that night in Denver was not my fault. No way, no how, am I going to let anyone pin that disaster on me.
True, I did meet David Cameron in the restaurant bar, but that wasn't my idea. David called my apartment and practically begged to see me. He knew the Wynkoop Brewing Company was my favorite restaurant. He knew I wouldn't be able to resist an offer of dining and barhopping on a Friday night--and then a roll between the silk sheets of my king-sized brass bed. David was a talented lover; I have to give him credit for that. He was a jerk in some ways, but in bed he had the magic touch. It's a real crime he got killed that night behind the Wynkoop.
My own death was an even greater crime, to my way of thinking. Not that anyone has given me an ounce of sympathy about it. But I suffered in that alley. I suffered a lot. Imagine, if you will, coming out of your favorite restaurant on the arm of your currently favorite man. You're looking forward to a bit of dancing at a great club up the street, and then, pow! Everything falls apart. Some lowlife is breaking the window of your car--actually, it was David's minivan, but that's beside the point. And your man, instead of hustling you back inside where it's safe, puffs up in macho fury and takes after the crook like some hotshot hero in a police show.
That's exactly what happened. David chased the burglar into the pitch-black alley behind the Wynkoop, and I, like a fool, followed. I called David to come back, but all I heard in reply were grunts and thunks, and then a string of curses as a flashlight beam snapped onto David, who lay in a crumpled heap at the base of a big Dumpster. His head was a bloody mess, and so was the corner of the Dumpster. I shrieked. Not very brave or sensible, I'll admit, but what do you expect? The beam of light swung in my direction, blinding me, and I ran.
Footsteps pounded behind me, and that's where it all ended, just about. I barely remember the painful wrench as the crook yanked me from behind by the chin. My guess is he was trying for my mouth, which I admit was being very loud, and missed his aim. I slipped. My head twisted, and poof, everything faded to black. I didn't even get to see the scumbag who ruined my evening--not to mention my life.
But you can see that absolutely none of this was my fault. I was clearly just an innocent bystander.
Of course, there are varying degrees of innocence. I will admit to one or two mistakes. That's only fair. David was
Amy Cameron's husband, and Amy was
my best friend. She and I went to grade school together. High school, too. I made the pom-pom squad; Amy made the girl's softball team. I'll let you guess which of us got the most dates. Amy wasn't jealous, though, even when I had the football quarterback--and the star running back and tight end--all begging to go out with me.
Those were good days. Pep rallies at Littleton High. Football games with the whole stadium watching my pom-poms. Hanging out in the cafeteria and rating the boys at nearby tables while we ate our pigs-in-a-blanket and downed our lukewarm milk. At least that's what I did to get my mind off the taste of cafeteria food. Amy didn't have much of an eye for the guys. She was a bit dense when it came to what was important in life. If Littleton High had voted on such things, Amy would have been named the girl least likely to ever get a date. She wasn't ugly, mind you. More like awkward, tongue-tied with boys, shy--an all around champion wallflower if I've ever seen one.
My friendship with Amy lasted through college and beyond. We were sorority sisters at CU in Boulder. She didn't make it into the sorority our freshman year, but once I was initiated, I made sure that she got a bid the following year. I did a lot of nice things like that for Amy. We were friends, after all, and good friends are hard to come by. She did nice things for me too. If it hadn't been for Amy, I never would have passed Biology 101. Amy was a wiz in school.
She wasn't a wiz at the important stuff, though. I don't think she ever caught on that I was sleeping with David, at least not while I was alive. When my body was found with David's in that alley, she probably got a glimmer of the truth, however. He'd told her he was going to a sales meeting at his car dealership, and she would have known for sure that I didn't have anything to do with BMW sales.
Oh, well. David was a self-centered prick, and Amy's better off without him if you ask me. Not that David's wanderings from home and hearth were my fault. They weren't entirely David's fault either, to be perfectly fair about it. Amy wasn't exactly a model wife. She was into dogs--dog shows, dog classes, dog this, dog that. The smelly little creatures were always underfoot in her house, and David used to complain that the animals got more attention than he did. So it wasn't as though he didn't have reason to go out looking for a little female company.
Still, I wouldn't have hurt Amy's feelings for the world. If not for that little incident behind the Wynkoop, my affair with David would have petered out soon enough. I've never yet met a guy who could hold my interest for longer than six months. Two husbands and a pantload of lovers can attest to that.
But I digress. The point of all this is that none of what happened was my fault. I, Lydia Keane, was definitely not the villain of this story. Unfortunately, as I discovered when the grim reaper so prematurely overtook me, there were some who disagreed. Take it from one who knows: Dull as the idea seems, there is some advantage in life to paying less attention to the here and now and more attention to the hereafter.
Technically, I don't think heaven is where I landed when I died. For sure the place wasn't my idea of paradise. I don't remember much about it, to tell the truth. I was a bit groggy when I first became aware of my surroundings--having one's neck snapped does that to a person. Then, once I began to feel more myself, my attention was all on Stanley. Stanley was the person--or being, or whatever he is--who seemed convinced that what happened with David left me with something to atone for. My affair with David wasn't the only thing that stuck in his craw. He made that perfectly clear. But sleeping with my best friend's hubby was the big ticket item.
Stanley isn't God, or if he is, the pope, Michelangelo, and all those TV and radio preachers are going to be mighty disappointed. He wasn't the guy with the pitchfork either. He looks a bit like my old high school principal, Mr. Collins--short, scrawny, middle-aged, with a bad haircut and a pinched look on his face. And like Mr. Collins, Stanley didn't seem all that pleased to see me.
"Where am I?" I asked.
It was a reasonable question, I thought, but Stanley's expression became even more pinched, if possible.
"You, Lydia Keane, are in a great deal of trouble."
"Tell me something I don't know." I rubbed my throat where that fellow in the alley had grabbed me. Strangely enough, the skin didn't even feel bruised.
"You are dead," Stanley stated unsympathetically.
That bald statement came as a bit of a shock. Not that I didn't suspect the truth. I can put two and two together as well as the next person. Still, he could have been more tactful.
I looked around. "David, too?"
"I figured. He didn't look too good with his head all caved in after falling against that Dumpster."
"Don't worry about David. He is being taken care of. It's you we're here to discuss."
"I'd guess from the look on your face that I'm not on the most-favored list up here."
My dynamite smile had worked on virtually every man I'd ever met, but it didn't soften old Stan one iota. I practiced that smile in front of my bedroom mirror for days when I was in high school. It didn't seem fair that it would fail me in the final crunch.
"No, Lydia, you're not exactly on our A list. We could spend half of eternity discussing your shortcomings."
The fellow's holier-than-thou attitude was annoying. It was totally unjustified as well. I mean, really! Was I some Middle Eastern dictator who ate babies for lunch? Was I a Nazi, laughing at the miserable prisoners in some concentration camp? Was I the lowlife in Denver who had just robbed David's car, not to mention slaughtered the two innocent people who tried to stop him? Where was that
guy? I ask you. He was probably home enjoying a beer and watching The Tonight Show,
while I had to sit there in that nothing place and listen to that miserable excuse of a heavenly scorekeeper nitpick me to death.
There's no such thing as justice in the world, or in the afterworld either. Take it from one who knows.
I interrupted Stanley's recitation of transgressions. "Just wait a minute, you . . . whoever you are!"
"You may call me Stanley."
"Okay, Stan, I--"
"Stanley," he corrected from beneath a raised brow.
"Stan . . ." I drew the name out and smiled wickedly. "Why don't we cut to the chase here. Just hand me my pitchfork, or whatever, and save us both some time."
"Pitchfork?" Brows furrowed over his eyes before the light dawned. "Oh. Pitchfork. Very funny. No, Lydia. That's not the way we work. Those old folk tales of punishment for wrongdoing are colorful but sadly inaccurate."
I might mention here that Stanley has no sense of humor, or at least not a very nice one.
"My purpose is certainly not anything so petty as reprisal," he continued solemnly. "We like to think of the afterlife in a more positive vein. I'm going to grant you the opportunity to discover some truths that you've failed to learn so far. To that end, you're to make amends for the wrong you've done."
"The most recent one."
"You mean dating Amy's husband?"
"We call it adultery."
"Well, what about David? It takes two to tango, you know." There's no way I was accepting the entire blame for this.
"David will be busy elsewhere, learning lessons of his own."
The further this progressed, the less I liked it. Stan had a smirk on his face, it seemed to me. Since that first interview, I've learned the fellow does have some redeeming qualities, but right at that moment he was at his most officious.
"You're going back to Earth, Lydia. Not for your own enjoyment, but with a specific mission. You are going to find Amy Cameron a husband to replace the one who betrayed her with you."
That didn't sound too bad.
"Not just any husband," Stan continued, "but the best possible husband, a man who will give her joy enough to make up for the happiness you and David stole from her."
I began to hope. The job sounded right up my alley, and certainly it was better than shoveling brimstone with a pitchfork. No one knew men better than Lydia Keane. No one was more adept at casting out the lure and reeling the poor suckers in. It shouldn't be too much trouble to take one off the hook and toss him Amy's way. A good one, of course. A really good one. After all, Amy was my very best friend.
"I can do that with one hand tied behind my back," I assured Stan. "But just how are you going to explain me coming back to life?"
"Don't worry, Lydia. That is not a problem. Just concentrate on your mission." He smiled like a cat who has a mouse dangling by its tail. "You'll be hearing from me from time to time. I'll expect a complete progress report when we next meet."
His smile should have warned me, but I suppose I was still a bit dim from dying. So I was unpleasantly surprised when I didn't waken in a nice, clean, comfortable hospital to be hailed as one of those people who have near-death experiences and live to write books about floating around and seeing some weird light. No indeed. Instead of the clean smell of antiseptic, my nose was assaulted--and I do mean assaulted--by the odor of motor oil and garbage. I'd never smelled anything so rank! And the noise was deafening, a pounding clamor that rattled my very brain.
When I opened my eyes, I found myself in an alley, the very same alley, in fact, where I'd met my unfortunate end. It was nighttime, and the street was quiet. The thundering I heard was rain. The drops pounded the pavement with the roar of at least a dozen waterfalls.
The sensory overload should have given me a hint of the terrible trick Stan had played, but I was so concerned with trying to get up and out of that damned alley that I wasn't paying attention to much of anything else. My legs and arms were strangely uncoordinated, and the simple task of rising from the dirty pavement was daunting.
The moments that followed were the most confusing and terrifying that I've ever experienced. Being murdered had been bad, but at least that had happened fast. This went on for what seemed an eternity. I reeled, gagged, drooled, and stumbled, not understanding the nightmarish and strange feelings that tortured me until I saw my reflection in a puddle of rain that was lit by the streetlight at the alley's mouth. What looked back at me had a black nose and big ears. Ridiculous, short legs--four of them--supported a sausage-like furry body.
I was no longer Lydia Keane. Neither was I an angel, a cupid, a cherub, or any of the other fanciful forms that rotten, conniving, mean-spirited Stanley might have chosen for me.
I was a pudgy, flea-bitten, funny-looking dog.
Excerpted from Finding Mr. Right by Emily Carmichael. Copyright © 1998 by Emily Carmichael. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.