Sheila Connolly

Let's Play Dead

The second book in the Museum Mysteries series

Copyright © 2011 by Sheila Connolly.


The setting for this book was inspired by Philadelphia’s outstanding children’s museum, Please Touch, where I worked several years ago. The core philosophy that kids should be free to enjoy the whole museum experience, which means being able to touch and even climb on the exhibits, was and is wonderful. While the physical setting in this book bears no resemblance to the real museum, and none of the characters are based on anyone there, past or present, I did borrow the hands-on spirit.

There is no Harriet the Hedgehog series (although maybe there should be!), and most children’s book writers I’ve met have been delightful people, not prima donnas.

Thanks as always to my perceptive editor, Shannon Jamieson Vazquez, who keeps forcing me to plug those pesky holes in my plot, and to my agent, Jessica Faust of BookEnds, who made this series possible. Thanks also to Carol Kersbergen, who keeps me up to date about goings-on in Philadelphia, and to former colleague Sherrill Joyner, from whom I’ve shamelessly borrowed a character I’m sure she’ll recognize. Paul Garbarczyk provided valuable information on how to electrocute someone (and if there are any errors, they’re mine), and thanks to Julie Hyzy for putting me in touch with him. And as always, Sisters in Crime and the Guppies chapter have been there from the beginning to cheer me on.


I wanted to lay my head down on my desk and weep. Or pound my head on it. Neither was appropriate treatment for the lovely eighteenth-century mahogany desk that I had inherited from my recently departed predecessor. Somehow I had ended up with his position, a turn of events that I was still trying to figure out more than two months after it had happened. In a moment of dazzled weakness, I had said yes when the board had asked me to take over as president of the Pennsylvania Antiquarian Society. Why they had asked me was another matter altogether. That had been before Thanksgiving, and ever since I had accepted their offer, I’d been running around like a headless chicken trying to keep the Society on course. Luckily nobody had paid much attention during the holidays, but now it was January, a whole new year, and it was time to get things done.

So here I was, trying to wrap my hands and my head around running a historical institution with a creaking hundred-plus-year-old building in Center City Philadelphia, filled with literally millions of priceless objects relating to Pennsylvania history. I’m Nell Pratt, former fundraiser, currently crazy.

My most immediate problem was filling some conspicuously empty staff positions. The president slot was already filled, thanks to me. But that meant I had to find someone to fill my old position, since we couldn’t afford to let the pace of fundraising slow if we wanted to keep the lights on, and pay staff salaries, and beef up our security systems, and… the list kept going. At least I knew the right questions to ask of applicants for my former job. I was less well prepared to interview applicants for the position of registrar, the person who kept track of what we had and where it was-or was supposed to be, which was not always the same thing. The last registrar had been extremely efficient and meticulous in his record keeping, and finding someone to step into his shoes was not going to be easy, especially since we had difficulty paying competitive salaries at the moment.

And then there was the position of assistant to the president-in other words, the person who was supposed to be handling all the pesky details like scheduling appointments for me.

So, three important jobs to fill. And possibly more to come, if I didn’t manage to stabilize operations and convince my long-suffering staff that things were looking up. I wasn’t sure they were, but I had to believe that, didn’t I?

It was four o’clock in the afternoon. I had conducted six (at least, I think it was six) interviews during the day, and by now I was having trouble remembering my own name, much less what the applicants’ names were. I hoped I hadn’t insulted anyone, or worse, scared them away by giving them the impression they would end up working for a crazy lady who had no idea what she was doing. That would be me.

I compromised by laying my head on my folded arms, on the desk. No tears: I couldn’t afford to mar the original, highly polished finish on the piece. My respite was shortlived, interrupted by a knock at the door. Could I pretend to be asleep? Unlikely, and that would set a very poor example. For the life of me I couldn’t remember if I had any more scheduled appointments that day, but I wouldn’t put it past me to forget. Yet another reason why I was in desperate need of an assistant.

Reluctantly I sat up and regarded my latest visitor. Female, fiftyish, well put together. Blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail that should have looked dated but worked on her. A smile that was sympathetic rather than smarmy. And most important, she was carrying two large cups from the place around the corner that made dynamite coffee.

“You look like you were rode hard and put away wet,” she drawled, a hint of the South in her voice.

“That sounds about right.” I smiled. “Do I dare hope that one of those cups is for me?”

“I took a wild guess that you could use some caffeine about now. I brought milk and sugar, too. Can I come in?”

“Of course.” At the moment, I would have let in just about anyone who was carrying that large cup of coffee. “Please, sit down. There must be a coaster around here somewhere…” I rummaged in my desk drawers, which contained… nothing. Apparently my predecessor had existed on air alone.

“Way ahead of you.” With a flourish, my guest whipped out some paper napkins.

I was impressed. I took the coffee and inhaled about half of it before I could resume normal functioning. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Now, let’s start over. Do we have an appointment?”

“Actually, we do. At least, I made one with your human resources person, Melanie…?”

“Right, Melanie Wilson. She probably told me, but I’ve had so many interviews lately it’s hard to keep straight. Your name is?”

“Shelby Carver. You don’t have my resume handy, do you?”

I looked at the snowdrifts of paper on my desk. “Uh, maybe.”

“Well, I’d be happy to make up some good stuff.”

I looked dubiously at Shelby, trying to figure out if she was serious. “Why don’t you tell me what you think I need to know? Oh, no, wait a sec.” With the infusion of caffeine, my brain seemed to be working again. “How did you get up here?” I knew we had security problems at the Society, but letting a stranger just waltz up to the administrative floor was a bit much by any standard.

“You mean, up to this floor? Don’t you worry. That nice man at the front desk-Bob, was it?-stopped me, and when I told him I was here for an interview, he called upstairs and talked to Melanie. But she was kind of busy, so she told Bob to just send me right up. He escorted me to the elevator, and I guess he had to use his key to get me up here?”

I groaned inwardly. I didn’t want to count the number of things wrong with what Shelby had just told me. One, no outsider should roam unescorted within our building. Melanie should have gone down to the front desk and taken Shelby in hand personally. Two, because Melanie hadn’t, Bob had had to leave his post, which left the front door

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