I have never met a more delightful woman than Guilia Falcone Driscoll. She’s a take charge, take no prisoners, no nonsense kind of woman, who is married to Detective Frank Driscoll, a member of our local police department. They used to run Driscoll Investigations together, but when Frank decided to go back to work with the police department, Guilia assumed full ownership of the company, and business is booming. In fact, business is so good, they have expanded, taking on cases of the supernatural kind.
I met Guilia several years ago, shortly after she decided to give up her life as a nun, much to the horror of her Catholic family. Having known her so long, it was hard to put the picture of the woman in the veil next to the woman sitting before me at Common Grounds, the coffee shop downstairs from her place of business. She looked tired, a little frazzled, yet very happy and content. I assumed it probably had something to do with the gurgling, wiggling bundle of joy she was holding in her arms.
“Aw, your baby is so adorable!” I gasped, resisting the urge to take him out of her arms and snuggle with him myself. “What’s his name and how old is he?”
“He is the most adorable thing that’s ever happened to me,” Guilia sighed. “His name is Finn, and he’s nine weeks old.”
“Looks like you’ll have to turn in your Nunmobile for a Nunminvan,” I laughed.
She looked shocked at the idea. “Noooo! The Nunmobile was my very first car and I love it, probably much more than I should.”
“How do you feel about going back to work and leaving this cutie pie with Sidney’s mom?”
“It’s killing me,” Guilia admitted, taking a drink of coffee. Finn looked up at her and smiled. My heart melted a little. “I want to call and check up on him every ten minutes. Sidney’s mom is a wonderful caregiver, and I know he’s getting terrific care, but he’s miiiine.” She paused for a moment. “I’m wailing, aren’t I?”
“Just a little,” I chuckled. “Are you concerned that your new ability to see and talk to ghosts will somehow affect little Finn?”
She thought about her answer for a moment. “Babies are adaptable. A grandmother ghost who haunts Sidney’s mother’s house tried to pinch his cheeks, and Finn giggled. Besides, I’ll protect him. The ghosts have already spread the word. They don’t want to see my Mama Bear side.”
“We’ve discussed this a little bit, but how do you feel about branching out into what is uncharted territory for you?”
“Honestly, it’s keeping me off-balance, and I don’t like it. The off-balance part, I mean. It took me a bit to absorb the reality of ghosts, but I’m getting more used to it. They like to surprise me, but I won’t let them see me jump. It’s all about keeping the upper hand, whether or not the hand is physical.”
Finn got fussy just then, and while Guilia tended to him, I went to get myself some coffee. When I sat back down, I said, “Tell me about your latest case.”
Guilia adjusted the blanket over her shoulder, which discreetly covered Finn while he had something to eat. “There’s this local family, the Jevenses, who think their recently deceased patriarch hid piles of money in his house, and they’ll stab each other in the back to get at it. At the same time, eleven-year-old Kanning, Junior thinks he’s captured a ghost in his science fair experiment. That little Kanning is precocious and engaging. I don’t mind helping him to keep him from doing something stupid. They’re all coming together at a big Mardi Gras charity gala. I have a headache just thinking about it.”
“I’ve had some dealings with Ken Kanning. So how does it feel to be working with him? His snake oil ways are beneath contempt, and he needs a good punch in the face…once a day, if possible.”
“I don’t know what sin I committed to be saddled with Kanning as a client,” she sighed, “but I hope it was a good one. Every sentence out of The Scoop’s mouth is like nails on a chalkboard. He’s classless, conscienceless, and lacks even a hint of a moral compass. If I have to be around him much longer, my commitment to nonviolence will be tested. Just between you and me, I do know how to throw a good right hook.”
“So you’re in cahoots with Kanning because of his son, Kord. Tell me about this Whiteboard he’s invented.”
A little burp came from under the blanket, and I waited while Guilia buttoned her shirt back up before placing a spit-up towel over her shoulder. She placed Finn against her shoulder and patted his back until a huge belch erupted. Every head in Common Grounds turned and looked at us. Guilia grinned sheepishly. “Frank thinks it’s the funniest thing in the world that Finn belches so loud. He records it and sends it to his brothers, some sort of bragging rights.” She shook her head. “Young Kord…well, you can learn how to do anything from YouTube. So far, Kord has recreated a classic childhood drawing toy – the one with the knobs – and named it after himself.”
“Wow,” I replied. “The Kanning ego lives in the next generation.”
“It’s definitely genetic,” Guilia agreed. “Kord’s Whiteboard as a science fair project is one thing, but Kord’s babysitter claims her father’s ghost has taken up residence in it and will answer questions written on it. Now Kord is attending the Mardi Gras gala and will have the ghost answer questions for a donation to charity. Please don’t say ‘What could possibly go wrong?’.”
“Fair enough,” I laughed. “What about Sidney and Zane, your employees? How do they feel about all this ghostly business?”
“Zane is all for it. Sidney needs longer to adjust. Zane is enjoying more time in the field, as it were. I had to get used to a massive paradigm shift after Florence the Gibson girl ghost, so I’m helping Sidney ease into it. She doesn’t know about the ghostly grandmother in her mother’s house. Don’t tell her.”
“I’ve had a few dealings over the years with Vernon Jevens, but never the rest of his kooky family. What is it like dealing with them?”
“I’m still deciding whether they’re my personal cross to bear or my personal reality show,” she admitted. “Part of me wants to bring out popcorn whenever they barge into the office. Still, I don’t trust any of them. I almost want to check my wallet after they leave. They worship money, which makes me suspect even their reasons for hiring us. If I could predict the total amount of their bill and force them to pay in advance, I would.”
“How does Frank feel about the new aspect of your business?”
“Frank is giving me agita,” she snorted. “Half the time he looks at me like I’m making it all up, and the other half he’s fascinated by it. I’m starting to think about asking a ghost to trade part of its fee for a prime time appearance to Frank. Maybe that would convince him.”
“Are you nervous about the Mardi Gras gala at the Jevens house?” I asked her. “Are you prepared for every actuality?”
“The gala is actually the most comfortable part of this craziness. We have a detailed plan. We have coverage. We’ve established a communication system. We’re coordinating with the off-duty police guarding the roulette and bar money. As for other contingencies, Frank’s brother, the priest, keeps me supplied with holy water. This event is keeping me away from my baby, and any ghost who prolongs our time apart is not going to be happy.”
“You’ve handled a lot of cases the past few years. Out of all of your cases, which is your favorite, or least favorite, whichever is easier to answer?”
She took another drink of her coffee before answering. “Hands down, the worst cases happened several years ago when I had to go undercover at my old convent. Putting on the habit and getting sucked into the cult again gave me nightmares for weeks. Never again, even if a convent offers me a boatload of money.”
“What’s next for Driscoll Investigations?”
“Well, Zane wants to start a whole new branch for ghosts only, but I don’t want Sidney’s head to explode. For now, we’ll keep things seventy/thirty in favor of living clients, as long as the clients aren’t named Kanning.”
We laughed together, but stopped when a horrific odor wafted over us. “Uh-oh,” Guilia said, “someone needs to be changed.”
“One last question and I’ll let you go. Any siblings for Finn soon? Don’t forgot, all kids need a puppy.”
“Does a chameleon count?” Guilia laughed. “Gosh, let me get some sleep first. Yes, we have plans for more Driscolls. When that happens, the Nunmobile might have to get swapped out for a NunSUV.”
I helped Guilia gather her things, gave adorable little Finn a kiss on the forehead, and was rewarded with a smile, although Guilia said that it might be gas, too. To confirm what his mother said, Finn let another another huge belch as they walked out the door. I smiled as I watched them leave. I can’t wait to see what’s in store next for one of my favorite people.
Baker of brownies and tormenter of characters, Alice Loweecey recently celebrated her thirtieth year outside the convent. She grew up watching Hammer horror films and Scooby-Doo mysteries, which explains a whole lot. When she’s not creating trouble for her sleuth Giulia Driscoll or inspiring nightmares as her alter-ego Kate Morgan, she can be found growing her own vegetables (in summer) and cooking with them (the rest of the year). Better Than Nun is the sixth book in her Guilia Driscoll series.