Deb Baker

Ding Dong Dead

The fourth book in the Dolls to Die For series, 2008


Doll museums can be found in the most unlikely places. Doll shop owners know how to locate the museums that aren’t publicly advertised. Shops tend to be family affairs. Grandma might have been a serious collector who had a private collection on display for friends and family. You never know when a door will open and you will have the opportunity to view a rare and valuable museum-quality collection.

– From World of Dolls by Caroline Birch

Gretchen Birch looked down at the ten-card spread, wishing her aunt had chosen a different preoccupation. Nina wore a head scarf for dramatic effect. “You drew all bardo cards!” she whispered in her husky voice. “Out of a deck of seventy-eight tarot cards, only thirteen of them are negative. How could this happen?”

Nina stared at the cards, worry creased on her forehead.

Gretchen glanced over at the contemporary doll reference book she had been using to research a one-of-a-kind Shirley Temple. That was before Nina had burst into her workshop with her tiny diva dog, Tutu, and distracted Gretchen from her real work. She was a doll restoration artist and needed to restyle a unique Shirley Temple doll’s hair exactly as it had been in the 1930s. The customer expected the doll back today.

Nina cleared her voice. “You are in imminent danger unless you overcome external influences. The cards show despair and futility!”

Despair. Futility.

Gretchen glanced sharply across the table at her aunt. Old-fashioned words coming from the New Age queen.

“Your unconscious mind picked the cards,” Aunt Nina said. “You can’t blame me.”

The tarot deck illustrated full scenes, complete with figures and symbols. Gretchen’s ten cards, all faceup, depicted steely swords and women wearing blindfolds, their arms pinned to their sides with bindings. Had Gretchen believed in this stuff, she would have been concerned. She pointed at one of the cards. “Three swords slicing through a red heart. What does that mean?”

“Sorrow and strife. It’s your final outcome card, the results of the other influences, and your destiny, if you don’t change your path.”

Wobbles, Gretchen’s companion cat, stretched out on the sofa, watching the two women. The black tomcat was missing a back leg, consequences of a hit-and-run car accident, but he had adapted well to his disability. He stared at Gretchen without blinking.

“Aren’t you supposed to give me positive guidance?” Gretchen asked. “This is all doom and gloom.”

“I’m only the interpreter. I can’t help it that you selected negative cards.”

“Can we reshuffle?”

Nina shook her head. “No. See this?” She held up a card. “The nine of wands. This card means you have a hidden enemy. My advice is to quit your present path.”

“How do I do that?”

“Don’t do the museum project, or at least turn it over to someone else.”

“I can’t do that.” The Phoenix Dollers Club was hard at work on a luncheon and play presentation to benefit a house that they were converting into a museum, an unexpected opportunity they couldn’t pass up. “We’ve started rehearsals,” Gretchen said. “The play must go on.”

“I can’t force you, of course. You’ve always been willful. But I’m warning you, Gretchen. Don’t take a passive approach to your life. You can change your future.”

Aunt Nina had come a long way with her readings. Last month she’d still been using an instruction booklet. She didn’t need it any longer. “After the information presented in these cards, I’ll have to stay close by and protect you from yourself.”

“I’m a big girl, Nina.”

“Even big girls make mistakes.” She held up one of the other cards on the table.

“The nine of swords,” Gretchen’s aunt said. “Misfortune! Ruin! Pain!”


May Day. May 1. Instead of dancing around a maypole with multicolored ribbons streaming behind her, Gretchen was crouched on the rough ground, surrounded by desert shrubs and cacti. Yet in spite of her surroundings, Gretchen felt like the May Queen.

“There,” Matt said, squatting on the ground next to her. The wonderful and familiar aroma of his Chrome cologne wafted through the air. “That’s the spot.” She heard excitement in his voice. She was right there with him, feeling it, too.

She could think of worse things than spending the final hour right before dusk on the hard earth of Phoenix’s Camelback Mountain beside the man she’d been lusting after. Not that she would ever admit to lusting. But she was.

In fact, she was lusting this very minute. Three months into their relationship and they still were performing the opening act of the mating ritual, as they had agreed. First-base kid stuff. Both of them were recovering from bad relationships; Gretchen from discovering that her longtime lover had a fidelity problem, Matt from a marriage to an unfaithful wife that had ended in a messy divorce. They had agreed to take it slowly, not rush into anything too intimate.

Slow was okay with Gretchen, but according to Nina this was getting ridiculous. “You’re adults,” she’d said. “Not teenagers. Lose the clothes.” At the moment, lying prone next to Matt on a secluded ridge on the mountain, Gretchen agreed with her aunt.

She should be savoring every moment of the romance, all the richness and wonderfully complex emotions that go with it. Instead, the sexual tension was growing between them every day. Matt had to be feeling it, too, but it wasn’t a subject she felt comfortable discussing with him.

They had taken to crawling around on mountains, observing the mating habits of other species. Not exactly the best solution to built-up frustration.

“Right there,” Matt said.

Gretchen looked in the direction he indicated, getting her bearings before leveling the binoculars. She gasped involuntarily as she trained the lenses on a mesquite bush and found it. Yes. Another bird to add to her growing life list.

A male phainopepla-shiny black with a long tail and a tall crest, just like the picture in her bird book.

“Wheeda-lay,” it called.

The female flew in and landed next to her partner.

A couple, like Matt and Gretchen. A pair. After the final heart-wrenching discoveries before her fiance became her ex, she was staying cautiously optimistic.

Gretchen could see the female phainopepla’s signature red eyes. “How do you pronounce the name again?” She was a better climber than Matt, but he knew his birds and their calls.

“Fay-no-PEP-la. Do you see both of them?”

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