Solving crime is never easy…even when you’re a ghost.
I found the premise for Dick Wybrow’s Painter Mann series to be utterly unique and intriguing. Painter is recently deceased and stuck in the InBetween, helping those with unexplained deaths solve the riddle of how they were murdered so they can move on to other realms.
In this podcast episode, Dick reads to us from the first book in the series, The InBetween, and in the interview we discuss building the world he’s created for his sleuth, letting the characters tell him what’s next, and how Dick himself doesn’t necessarily believe in ghosts.
This week’s mystery author
Dick Wybrow is a Canadian author. His novels are mainly set in the United States, where he grew up. A former stand-up comedian, Wybrow is a humor writer who crafts thrillers that incorporate elements of suspense, horror, mystery, science fiction and fantasy.
His stuff has been heard on the radio by millions, seen on the TV in 213 countries.
To learn more about Dick and his books visit DickWybrow.wixsite.com
Press play (above) to listen to the show, or read the transcript below. Remember you can also subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts. And listen on Stitcher, Android, Google Podcasts, TuneIn, and Spotify.
Excerpt from The InBetween
[Language warning: There are a few naughty words in the excerpt Dick reads.]
The living don’t realize how easy they’ve got it.
These days, you can’t get lost anymore, what with GPS telling you where to go. And even if that didn’t work, your map software is likely on your phone. You can just call someone and tell them you got your dumb ass lost.
Hell, you might even come up on that person’s phone as My Dumb Ass Friend Who Calls Me When He’s Lost (mobile).
The dead don’t have the luxury.
It’s not like you’ve got a compass to tell you you’re going north. You can see on the big rest stop map that you’ve got to take County Road 34 to 63, which’ll take you to Interstate 70, then onto 35, but you’d be surprised how fast all them numbers jumble up in your head because you can’t carry a notebook and a pen to write shit down.
Now, there is a bit of a fallback you can half rely on if you get lost: if you just keep going, eventually, you’ll find yourself back home. We are the energy beings of the ether, so we are drawn back to the familiar.
It’s almost like a faint scent that you can’t name. Something vaguely familiar; you just can’t put your finger on it.
After reassuring Bernard the mailman I would loop back to Madison and help him out, it took me less than a half hour to hit Chicago. Now, that city is goddamn chock full of spooks, but thankfully most had been around long enough to know to keep out of each other’s way. If there was any spook Blind Spot in Chicago, I’d never stumbled into it.
I never thought Minneapolis would be more dangerous than Chicago. Never sounded terribly dangerous. The city’s name always sounded a bit like what you might name a lapdog that pisses itself when the doorbell rings.
I skated 90 heading into Chicago, and my eyes fell closed. My arms spread wide as I flew past car after truck after motorcycle. I cracked my eyes open just slightly and caught sight of the big city’s lights. I’m a bit of a romantic, sure, but I’m not quite sure why a light-dappled city skyline does it for me.
Using the sounds of the vehicles around me as a guide, I let my eyes fall closed again and cast my arms even wider as I picked up speed, trusting that faint pull home would guide me where I needed to go.
Soon, I would bank north and head up the Great Lake, where I could go almost as fast as I wanted, then make the turn west and be back home in no time.
Taking a deep breath—or really, more like what I remembered a deep breath felt like—I was almost in a Zen-like trance, pleasantly in tune with the ghost world that blanketed the real one.
I should have known better.
I’d crossed somewhere near Lincoln Park when I hit something or, of course, someone on one of the overpasses.
The burst of ripped-off energy coursed through me as I rolled end over end over end, finally using a bit of the new juice to slow myself down, coming to a stop near the bank of the North Branch Chicago River.
Standing back up, I looked toward the city, so close to where I was going to make my turn north. But I knew I’d just smashed the hell out of someone—twice in one night. But as Rule Number One says, Don’ want no douchey, don’ be no douchey, so I headed back to see what I could do to help. Again.
I found her spinning in a small circle on the overpass, a big bush of blond hair trailing behind her feet as she went around and around.
She tensed, not saying a word.
I tried again. “Sorry, I mean, I didn’t see you. Why were you hanging out there anyhow? Major roadway arteries ain’t good places to chill when you’re dead”—she was now up on all fours, sliding, then trying to crawl, but, of course, having no effect on the direction she was moving—“but they’re not terribly good when you’re alive either.”
She still wouldn’t look toward me.
I added, “Which, maybe, is what got you here?”
Finally, her face lifted to show her mascara had run. That is, it had been running just before she died, so that’s how she now looked in the InBetween.
She arched her back and tried to stand but didn’t have the energy. “Motherfucker!”
I nodded. “Yep, I got that coming. You feel weak right now because—”
“I know why!” she shouted, getting to her feet, all wobbly. “That’s why I left the goddamn city. Hell, I thought it was bad guys taking swipes at me before. Now, it can damn near kill you.”
“Well, uh, it won’t kill you, of course, because—”
“I know that, motherfucker,” she said, and I moved closer to stop her from sliding. She gave me a look that told me she still had enough energy to do me some real damage. I put both hands out like you might do with an approaching tiger, pushing them down repeatedly to indicate that I wasn’t going to hurt her.
I reached for her and slowed her slide.
The pretty, makeup-stained spook, new to the InBetween, trapped in what must be such a strange and frightening world, hauled back and clocked me across the face.
I went down hard. Really hard.
Thankfully, I’d taken a big swig of her juice moments before (not to mention the mailman I’d T-boned earlier), so I had energy to spare.
Back to my feet, I nodded, and my jaw actually felt like it ached. “I deserved that,” I said. “I mean, I wasn’t trying to hit you, you know, with you floating around the interstate like that, but yeah, it’s probably good you got a bit of your juice back.”
“What?” she said and turned her face toward me. “My what?”
Ignoring the question because I didn’t feel in the teaching mood, I asked her, “How long have you been here?”
“Man,” she said and raised her arms. “I don’t even know where here is.”
“Well, you’re dead,” I said and waited for her to panic again. “You know, FYI.”
“I got that part,” she said. “But what is… all this?”
“When did you, you know, get killed?”
She looked over at a jogger’s armband and tapped it a couple times. “I dunno. My phone hasn’t worked since being wherever this is.”
“Not sure if it has a real name,” I said. “But everybody just calls it the InBetween.”
“Right,” she said. “As in… in between life and…?”
Smiling, I shrugged. “Dunno,” I said. “We’ll find out when we move on.”
One of my weaknesses is people in need, I think. Especially when they’re kinda cute, that helps. So I gave her my InBetween Introductory Speech (Abridged), including how she could also move on to the Next Place.
When I’d introduced myself with my very unique job title, I suppose some part of me was bragging, trying to impress her a little with my vocational ingenuity.
She said, “That’s ridiculous.”
“No, it’s not. I help people.”
Shaking her head, she slid, stumbled, skittered farther from the roadway toward a bus-stop bench. She nearly sat down but then caught herself.
“Damn,” she said. “I already miss just, you know, sitting down.”
“You’ll get used to it.”
“I don’t want to get used to it,” she yelled, her damp curls swishing around her neckline. “You said you could help me get out of here.”
“What? No, I didn’t,” I said, doing a quick review of the conversation up to that point. “I never said that. Did I?”
“You said you help people. And I don’t suppose there’s any way to go back and pick up where I left off.”
“No.” She’d been just in her twenties. Way too young.
“Fuck, and I was on the verge of really breaking through,” she said, closing her eyes. With the rivers of mascara streaming down her face, it looked like she was permanently crying. “Within a year, I’d have picked up a real beat. A real reporter.”
“You were on TV?”
“No, shithead! Real reporting!” she said and then scowled. “Sorry. I’m sorry. I’ve been in a pretty bad mood the last four hours or so.”
“Huh. You’ve been here only for a few hours?”
She sniffed. “Yeah, I think so. Thereabouts.”
I looked toward the city and envisioned its reflection in the water. Had to get back to Mags. And after what I’d seen with Bernie the mailman, my long-overdue catch up with the Professor was now, uh, longer overdue.
But if the young reporter had just been murdered, I had a shot at an easy case.
Four hours? There might still be an energy residue. One that, if you know what you’re doing, you can sometimes follow.
“I don’t have much time,” I said.
“Far as I understand it, you got all the time in the world, dead P.I. guy.”
“No, I mean people are waiting for me back home.”
“Oh.” Her face slightly darkened. She was thinking about her own family or a husband or a dog or friends. The people she’d left behind.
“Um, listen,” I said softly. “You’re probably thinking about going and seeing your folks or friends or something.”
She looked up at me with wide eyes.
“It’s not a great idea. It just really bums you out, and they will never know you’re there.”
“How do you know what I’m thinking? Is that a thing here?” Her eyes grew to nearly the size of vinyl albums. “Can everybody read everybody else’s thoughts? Oh Jesus, all that stuff about my cousin, second cousin, it was a long, lon—”
“NO, no!” I said, raising my hands. “We can’t read minds, but I’ve been here a while.” Using up a bit of juice, I sat down on the bench. “I know my way around a bit.”
She looked at me, walked over to the bench to sit down by my side, then slipped right through and fell on the ground, feet up in the air.
“As I said, it takes a little getting used to.”
I stood up and helped her to her feet again.
“Okay, we’re going to do a quick start for your case. Clock’s ticking,” I said flatly, all professional. “Did you see the face of the person who killed you?”
It took a moment. Then, “Yes. He’d been on the elevator.”
“So if you saw him right now, you’d recognize him.”
She nodded. “Just over six foot, short-cropped blond hair. He was in pretty good shape.” She pursed her lips. “He might have been gay?”
“Really,” I said. “How do you know that?”
“Because he had a cock sticking out of his mouth.”
Even though I was long dead and body free, I may have blushed. “I… uh… wha—”
“No, no,” she said and laughed. “I’m kidding. He just had, I dunno, a slight feminine quality about him. The way he moved, the rhythm of how he spoke. Dude was probably gay.”
“Not sure if that helps.”
“Probably helps other dudes a whole hell of a lot,” she said. It seemed the joking was keeping her from falling apart.
I walked in a circle, bouncing my fist slightly off my forehead. My big thinkin’ pose. “Knowing his face is a big help. That way you can recognize him, and if we can get a name, you’re fwoop! home free.”
She looked at me a little confused, and I explained her ticket out via a short online entry.
“Huh,” she said. “That’s a bit like in the movies, then.”
“Even a broken clock is right twice a day.”
“What? No, it’s not. The display is dead. Doesn’t say anything. Just a big hunk of wrong-clock is what you got.”
“Uh huh,” I said. “How’d he do it… uh… damn, I don’t even know your name.”
“That’s a very reporter name, Brenda Matthews,” I said, trying to keep the mood light, but it had the opposite effect, reminding the young woman she’d lost the most precious things of all. Life. And time. And love.
Yeah, I kinda suck at cheering people up.
“Coming down the elevator, the doors opened up onto a dark floor, and the asshole shoved me onto it,” she said and combed her fingers through her thick hair. “It was dark except for the emergency lights above the exit doors.”
“Did you see how—?”
“Yeah, it was like a screwdriver or something. Right to the skull,” she said, then added, like she was trying the words out again to see if they fit right, “Right to my skull.”
Hand weapons were easier to hide—knives, files, iron pipes—but that kind of close-up kill is often personal. Maybe someone who had a grudge. A jealous coworker? Someone she’d written about in a column?
“Do you have any enemies?” I said, but the words left a bad taste in my mouth. Sounded like an eighties TV detective. “Or, better, do you know anyone who had a beef with you at all? Something a bit recent.”
She tugged at her shirt, trying to adjust it. She’d eventually find out that here, that just wasn’t a thing anymore.
“Well, I am a journalist,” she said. “So my bosses don’t like me, the public doesn’t trust me, elected officials hate me, and everyone who runs a company, coffee shop, or nail salon wants me fired.” She smiled at that thought, then added, “My momma loves me, though.”
“Cool,” I said. “We’ll cross one name off the list, then.”
I asked her to give me anything else she could remember about what had happened four hours earlier.
“That’s pretty much it,” she said. “I remember lying there, more scared than I’d ever been. For a moment, I held out, thinking I’d get outta there. Soon after that…” Her lip quivered for a moment. She wiped her mouth and said, “You know, I remember which exact breath was my last one. Is that fucked up? It was shallow and thin, didn’t get much air. If I’d known it would be my last taste of life, I’d have filled both lungs until they burst. And just held on.”
I looked down at my feet. “I’m sorry.”
“This guy, he got off on it like nothing I’ve seen before. Just stood over me, as if he were breathing me in, flexing his arms. Just ecstasy, right? I think he actually sparkled.”
Bells went off in my head, but I kept my gaze down, listening.
“Then, final insult, the prick took off the St. Christopher’s cross my mother gave me. And two of my rings,” she said, eyes staring off somewhere far away. “Actually, I remember that now. That guy had rings on every finger. More than one on each.”
“Right,” I said, trying to get my head around it. “Right. Like Liberace.”
“Did you know he was a Wisconsin boy?”
“No, Liberace,” I said and earned another blank stare.
For the first time in my dead P.I. career, I was on the trail of a serial killer. And if I moved quickly, I had a solid chance of finding him.
“If you wear that cross, those rings, every day, you’ve still got a connection to them. At least for a while. That’s something you can feel, something we can follow. And it could lead us right to this guy.”
“Yes!” Brenda shouted, and it was the first time I saw her really smile. “And I can get justice for my death!”
“Or,” I said and grabbed her hand, pulling her along and picking up speed toward the city, “at the very least, a succinct Wikipedia entry.”