Ding Dong Dead

1

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!”

2

May Day. May 1. Instead of dancing