Feb 10 2011 7:00am

Wild Ride - Excerpt

Demented demons, a decaying amusement park, and a lover that's out of this world (literally) make New York Times bestselling duo Crusie and Mayer's latest romp a WILD RIDE to remember!

Mary Alice Brannigan sat on the roof of the Dreamland carousel at twenty minutes to midnight and considered her work in the light from the lamp on her yellow miner’s hat.

It was good.

FunFun, the redheaded wood clown sitting cross-legged next to her on the roof’s peak, was fully restored and authentic again. Of all the clowns in the park, including the Fun-head-topped waste cans and the eight-foot iron-clad Fun at the Dreamland entrance, this one was her favorite: exuberantly happy, one yellow-gloved hand pulling back his striped blue-green coat to show off his orange-and-gold-checked waistcoat, the other flung above his head, reaching into empty air for the gold pan pipes he’d lost long ago.


“Don’t worry, baby,” she said to him, patting her work bag between them. “I got your pipes right here.”

He grinned crookedly down at her, or at least down toward the ground as a breeze picked up, biting with the chill of the Ohio October night. Mab pulled her bulky canvas painting coat closer around her and looked out over her park. Okay, not her park, but she’d made it beautiful, even if right now it looked ugly in the godawful Halloween glow from its orange-cellophane-covered lampposts, its leafless trees like bony hands in the weird light. Months of researching, of wrangling college interns and high school help, of doing all the detail work herself had come to this: Dreamland was a jewel-box of an amusement park again.

If her mother could have seen her now, she’d have had a heart attack.

I finally made it in, Mab thought, hugging herself at the thought. It had taken her thirty-nine years, but now she was not only in the park, she’d saved it. Once I finish the Fortunetelling Machine, I will have put this place back the way it was at the very beginning. I will belong here. I rock.

And the best part was that she was surveying it all at night, beautiful, peaceful night, with no—

“You up there, Mab?” Glenda yelled up.

—people around to spoil the moment.

“Stop what you’re doing and come down here,” Glenda called, the cheer in her voice sounding as platinum bright as her hair and about as authentic. “We’ll walk you back to the Dream Cream, see you get upstairs to bed. You need your sleep, honey."

Mab gritted her teeth. This was what she got for taking a break to gloat over her work: people showed up and yelled at her.

She pulled her bag closer and took out the pipe, careful not to scratch any of the five little golden cylinders that were carved together in one block. Then she fished a tube of fast-set glue out of the bag, stood up carefully, and reached to glue the pipe back into the FunFun’s empty fingers, tilting her head back so the light from her miner’s cap shone on the hand.

A small black raven swooped down and perched on the clown’s head.

“Beat it, Frankie,” she whispered to the bird, trying to brush it away without dropping the flute or the glue or falling to her death. Frankie was undersized for a raven, but he had vicious claws and a murderous beak, so she shooed at him with healthy respect for his ability to rip her eyes out.

Frankie flapped his wings and rose above the clown and then settled down on the up-flung hand, cawing at her like a cheese-grater dragged across a fire escape.

Cinderella got bluebirds doing her hair, Mab thought. I get ravens screwing with my work.

From below, Mab heard the raspy voice of Glenda’s friend Delpha, an echo of Frankie’s: “She’s up there, Glenda. Frankie knows.”

“I know, too,” Glenda said, and then she raised her voice and said, “I’m not kidding, Mab, stop whatever you’re doing up there right now.”

Mab leaned in, holding onto the glue with one hand and the flute with the other, and looked Frankie right in the eye.

“This flute is going in that hand, bird,” she told him, serious as death. “Do not get between me and my work.”

Frankie watched her for a minute, his eyes steady and bright with intelligence, and then he cawed again, the sound going down Mab’s spine like a rasp, and flapped off.

“Okay, then.” Mab checked for the side of the flute with the broken metal rod on it, reached up and squirted a generous shot of glue into the hole in the FunFun’s palm, and slotted the broken rod into it. She held it for sixty seconds, ignoring demands to quit from down below, and then wiggled it a little to see if it had set.

The flute clicked, the sound sharp in the night, as if the metal rod had moved into place, engaged a gear or something..

What the hell? she thought.

“Okay, that’s it,” Glenda said, the brightness gone from her voice. “I’m coming up there.”

At sixty-five, Glenda was probably in better shape than Mab was at thirty-nine, but it was dark, and Glenda liked a cocktail or three after six, and while she was often annoying, Mab didn’t want her dead, so . . .

“Hold on.” Mab capped her glue and put it in her paint bag and eased her way down the turquoise and blue striped carousel roof to peer over the edge, gripping the gold scalloped trim as insurance.

Glenda stood on the flagstone below in the spotlight cast from the lamp on Mab’s hat, one hand on her capri-clad hip, the other waving a cigarette, her spiky white hair glowing over her pink angora sweater. Beside her, ancient, black-eyed little Delpha looked up from under lowered brows, her improbably black hair slicked down on both sides of her sunken face like two strokes of black paint over a skull, the rest of her swathed in a dark blue shawl that blended into the night.

Frankie flapped down to sit on Delpha’s shoulder.

Death’s parrot, Mab thought. “Glenda, I’m almost done—”

“Done?” Glenda smiled up at her, clearly tense for some reason. “But honey, you shouldn’t be doing anything up there—”

Somebody staggered out of the night and lurched into Glenda, who bumped into Delpha, who stumbled back and dislodged Frankie, who went for the staggerer, who screamed and batted at him.

Frankie flapped up to sit on the edge of the carousel roof beside Mab, and the guy looked up.

Mab saw brown hair, bleary eyes, and a dense five-o-clock shadow over an orange Bengals’ shirt: Drunk Dave, one of the beer pavilion regulars who should have been out of the park when it had closed forty-five minutes before. He’d probably stumbled off to pee in the trees that rimmed the island and gotten lost. Again.

“Whassat?” Drunk Dave squinted up at her, and Mab realized that to him, she was just a big light in the black sky.

“This is God, Dave. Go home, sober up, get a job, and never get drunk again. Or you’ll go to hell.”

Drunk Dave’s mouth dropped open, making him look even more slack-jawed than usual.

“Go home, Dave, the park’s closed,” Glenda said, tiredly, and looked back up at Mab. “I need to talk to you. Quit what you’re doing and come down now.”

Drunk Dave gaped at her. “You talkin’ to God?” He squinted up at Mab again and then light dawned in his pasty face. “That’s not God. Is that you, Red?”

“No,” Mab lied.

“Okay,” Drunk Dave said, and staggered on.

“Come down, Mab, and we’ll walk you back to the Dream Cream,” Glenda said. “It’s not safe for you to wander around alone.”

“I’ve been walking around this park alone for months, and now you tell me it’s not safe?”

“Well, there’s Dave.”

“I can take care of Drunk Dave with one hand wrapped around FunFun.”

“And there’s danger.” Glenda waved her cigarette around vaguely. “It’s . . . October.”

“Right. The dangerous month.” Mab shook her head, which made the light from the lamp on her hat swing wildly, and then she crawled back up the striped metal roof. The park people were just odd, that was all there was to it. It probably came from living on the grounds. You lived fulltime in Dreamland, you got strange.

“Mab, get down here right now!”

“I’m coming!”

She fastened the flap on her work bag, made her way back to the ladder on the opposite side of the carousel, and climbed down to the flagstones that covered most of the park. Tomorrow she’d come out in the daylight and see the carousel wood FunFun in all its finished glory, and then she’d move on to the Fortunetelling Machine—

Something hard ran into her, and she lost her hat as she went down and smacked her head on the stone. “Ouch!” she said, and grabbed her hat and put it back on so that the light on it would stun the moron who’d knocked her down. “Damn it, Dave—”

Huge turquoise eyes gleamed down under iron-hard red-orange curls. A stiff turquoise-striped coat loomed over her, metal protesting as it bent. Then the thing brought its red-orange lips together slowly and ground out “Mmmm” and then spread them apart with the sound of rending metal to say, “ab,” its smile widening and its cheeks splitting as it jerkily held out its yellow iron-gloved hand to help her up.

“FunFun?” Mab said faintly.

The thing nodded, its head moving slowly up and down with a metallic squeaking sound.

Mab screamed.

Excerpted from Wild Ride by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer.

Copyright © 2010 by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer.

Published in March 2010 by St. Martin’s Griffin.

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

This excerpt is reprinted courtesy of the She Loves Hot Reads website.

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