Deck the mall with boughs of holly - until shots ring out.
Attempts to get Stacie in the holiday spirit fall flat when Santa’s elf finds herself in a shooter’s crosshairs. As Stacie and friends help the elf and deal with the potential witnesses, a man in the crowd stands out, the lapels of an old wool coat obscuring his face. Ignoring police demands, he disappears into the crowd only to reappear at strategic times. Initial theories go up in smoke and the search is on for the true motive. Faced with relationship turmoil and a killer on the loose, Stacie embraces her ‘bah humbug’ perspective as she seeks to identify the culprit.
Let this cozy holiday mystery novella with Stacie and her friends get you in the holiday spirit.
y choice, I avoid shopping at the mall, or anywhere else, the weekend after Thanksgiving. In high school and college, I worked retail at the holidays, so I know. People are outright nasty and aggressive about getting their Black Friday bargains. I’d spent the morning, like most Saturdays at Cornerstone Community Women’s Shelter providing trauma counseling as a volunteer. That probably didn’t help my mood.
To be honest, I was feeling pretty “bah humbug.” With my dad’s remarriage last winter, he and his wife were spending the holidays on a cruise ship and my brother, Vince, was deployed. It didn’t help, being from New England, I associated the holidays with cold weather and snow. We’d only had one frost and mostly mild weather. It didn’t feel like Christmas. To top it off, the man in my life, Kevin? We were in limbo.
My two cheery friends, Jillian and Trina, dragged me to the Beckman Springs Mall with hopes of putting me in the holiday mood and making a dent in holiday shopping. Friends for a long time, and knowing me well, they had started in before Thanksgiving and kept needling me when they picked me up. Trina was the worse of the two.
“Where’s your holiday spirit, Stacie?”
“Hey, I have a wreath and some decorations at my house.” Too busy to search out last year’s decorations, I’d gone to Target the day before Thanksgiving after they nagged me last weekend.
“You need to get in the spirit, Stacie. This could be the best Christmas ever.”
Trina bounced as she delivered her pep talk. Always dressed colorfully, Trina had on red leggings, an oversized green tunic with red swirls, and a black belt and boots. Coordinated with her outfit, she had streaks of red and green in her reddish brown hair.
“Besides, shopping is fun. Think of all the great things we could find.” Jillian added. I did like to shop, just not in crowds.
The Beckman Springs Mall wasn’t the largest around. It was the closest though, with Macy’s, Dillards, the usual mall chains, and a boutique store or two. Unlike other times of the year, the parking lot was packed. As we approached the mall, the Salvation Army person with the big red kettle rang his bell.
Inside the mall entrance, I was surprised to hear voices in song. A group of eight in Dickens era clothes were singing carols. We joined in and applauded when Jingle Bells was over. Live music was much better than the constant piped in carols in many stores since mid-October. The mall was more crowded than usual, yet not packed. Not as bad as I expected.
“Look.” I pointed to a placard indicating a special holiday event at each of the three entrances and the times. The blue entrance hosted the Dickens era singers, the yellow entrance was the place for a high school string ensemble, and the red entrance featured an elementary school chorale group. The different legs of the mall were color coded to help people remember where they parked their car.
“That’s one way to entice people to check out every store in the mall.” Jillian nodded her approval of the ploy. “Okay, let’s go to Dillards men. I know what I want to get Wade for Christmas.” Wade was Jillian’s husband. Like Jillian, he was tall with an athletic build. He worked for Global Security.
As we walked in that direction, I glanced at the stores we passed. Not unlike many other malls, one store reminded me of a chameleon, changing with the season.
“Look. Last week the displays were all Thanksgiving. They must have worked all night changing to Christmas so quickly.”
“We’ll stop there on the way out. They have cute stuff. I want to get something for Bill’s place. He has almost as much holiday spirit as you and Scrooge,” Trina groused.
“Do you have ideas for what to get Bill?” Jillian turned to me and added, “Kevin?”
“I don’t have any idea what to get Kevin or if we are even exchanging gifts. From what he told me last week, he’s not sure he will get home for Christmas.”
“Don’t stress over this, Stacie. You’re invited to dinner at Bill’s on Christmas Eve. Along with half the Beckman Springs police, of course. Everyone is bringing something. You can be in charge of making sure there’s plenty of rocky road ice cream. If Kevin’s around, he’s invited.”
Bill and Trina were an unlikely couple. He was very quiet, reserved, and a policeman in Beckman Springs. In contrast, she was wild, impulsive, exuberant, and full of energy. He wasn’t particularly social and I figured the party was more Trina than him.
“Oh, Trina, that’s so nice of you and Bill.”
I gave her a hug, which she barely tolerated.
“His place is boring, all grays. That’s why we have to find some stuff to spruce up Bill’s place.”
“He’s not into the decoration thing?” Jillian asked.
Trina snorted. “He says I am all the decoration he needs.”
We laughed. “That is very sweet. And you do dress the part.”
“I want to get Bill something wild. Do they make ugly holiday sweaters for men?” Trina smiled and emitted a wicked laugh.
Jillian and I chuckled.
“I’m going to check out the housewares section. I have an idea for my dad and Deanna.”
“We’ll find you there, then. Wade needs some new shirts and a sweater. Check out the decorations over there, too, Stacie.”
We all went in separate directions. After an hour of shopping, Dillards got a chunk of our change. Trina didn’t find an ugly sweater, but did find the mixer her mother wanted. I picked up a holiday platter for my dad. Jillian had two bags, all shirts, and Wade had the start of a new wardrobe.
“What’s with all the shirts, Jillian?” Trina asked.
“With the security company expanding, he needs to do the ‘meet and greet’ with new customers, something he rarely does. He needs to look the part, whether he likes it or not.”
“No pants? Only shirts?” It seemed odd to me unless the ‘meet and greet’ was virtual.
“The look will be pressed jeans with more formal shirts. A compromise.” She shrugged and we headed in the direction of Macy’s, the anchor on the red leg. We spotted the sign for Santa up ahead in the mall center.
“Think we can get our picture with Santa? Maybe all three of us. Really make his day.” Trina joked.
“Trina, what would you ask Santa for?”Jillian laughed as Trina turned away, not answering her question. We were joking and laughing when a shot rang out and people started screaming and running for the exit. Then another shot.
Excerpt from Holidays, Hijinks & Murder. Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved.
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