Authors: Carol A. Guy
Tags: #Christmas, #Cozy Mystery, #Holiday, #Suspense
The residents of Crescent Falls, Ohio are ready to celebrate the Christmas holiday. The beautiful falls on the outskirts of town are resplendent with multi-colored lights and other displays that attract tourists annually from around the tri-state area and beyond. Main Street is adorned with decorations reminiscent of a Currier and Ives painting.
For Adelaide McBride and her friends at the Crescent Falls United Methodist Church, the annual Christmas Bazaar is about to get underway. Good cheer is in the air, as the church members anticipate a healthy profit from the sale of the beautiful handmade items they’ve worked hard all year to create.
But also in the air is a sinister undercurrent that will rock not only the church members but every resident of the sleepy little village. Murder and scandal will mar the celebration and propel amateur sleuth Adelaide McBride into an investigation that will hit very close to home.
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Jolly Dead St. Nicholas
Copyright © 2013 Carol A. Guy
Cover art by Latrisha Waters
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Jolly Dead St. Nicholas
Carol A. Guy
“I think the worship committee did a superb job this year,” Adelaide McBride said on Thursday morning as she viewed the sanctuary of the Crescent Falls United Methodist Church.
“Well, I have to admit I was skeptical when Reverend Underwood suggested bringing in live Christmas trees, but now that I’ve smelled that wonderful aroma, I’m completely sold. The one in the social hall is every bit as lovely as this one. The children put a lot of effort into making the ornaments,” Adelaide’s best friend Ethel Henshaw observed.
“Have you put in a bid for one of the trees?” Adelaide asked.
The two live trees would be sold via silent auction once the holiday season was over.
“Carl is determined to have the one from the social hall,” Ethel said, referring to her husband of thirty-eight years.
Adelaide looked over at the rotund woman who had been her friend for so many years. Her snow-white hair was carefully styled, her cheeks as plump as those of a cherub. “I kind of favor this one,” Adelaide commented, admiring again the perfectly shaped branches of the six-foot fir tree.
With the annual Christmas Bazaar starting tomorrow, they’d arrived early to finish setting up the various tables of craft items. A year’s worth of work had gone into making crocheted afghans, unique tree ornaments, and a variety of embroidered, knitted and hand-sewn items. Other clever gifts that couldn’t be bought at local stores would also be available.
“I hope it isn’t going to put too much stress on some of our people, having this thing for two days instead of one, like we usually do,” Ethel said.
Adelaide knew some church members had opposed expanding the annual event. However, the finance committee pressed the issue. Ethel had expressed concern about overworking some of its older members, since they created most of the handmade items along with the baked goods sold during the bazaar.
Of course, people took sides, so several church board meetings erupted into heated debates. What else was new? In the end, the finance committee won out, citing that the influx of tourists that came each Christmas season to see the beautifully lit falls and accompanying holiday displays would mean more sales if the bazaar was a two-day event. Adelaide knew from past experience that many of the decisions made by the board were money-based.
“Well. since we’re holding it for two days we will realize more of a profit, which means the UMW will get a bigger cut.” Ethel said, referring to the United Methodist Women. She was president of the organization this year, a position she’d held several times through the decades.
As had been the arrangement for as long as she could remember, the UMW, whose main focus was mission work, would split the money from the annual bazaar equally with the church. Unlike some churches, the women’s group had a separate treasury, making it autonomous within the church structure. Adelaide had served on almost every church committee, also holding various positions in the UMW through the years. She knew the inner workings of the church, which made her acutely aware that personalities were bound to clash over even the smallest thing. That was why she always tried to evaluate both sides of a situation before expressing an opinion. Sometimes that worked, sometimes it didn’t. You just never knew.
Adelaide had lived in Crescent Falls her entire life. Until three years ago she’d been married to a wonderful man, Albert. He’d been her high school sweetheart. They’d married when they were twenty-one. Now, at the age of fifty-six, she was a widow. Albert had succumbed to pancreatic cancer after a grueling battle with the horrible disease.
Adelaide ran a hand through her hair, which she’d noticed just that morning seemed to be showing more touches of gray at the temples. “All we can do is hope for the best, Ethel. Our members will rise to the occasion. They always do. We have some beautiful merchandise this year, plus we’ve done some expanded advertising, so I’m looking forward to a big crowd and lots of sales.”
Not much of a pep talk, I must say, but it’s the best I can do. Many people are giving of their time to make this the most successful bazaar ever. I don’t want to see them disappointed. We have to do well, or some much needed church repairs will have to wait, to say nothing of the fact that the UMW might not be able to expand its mission program.
It hadn’t been a particularly good year for the small town of Crescent Falls. Its largest employer, L&C Precision Machine, closed its doors in August, throwing over a hundred people out of work. While some had found jobs in Crescent Falls, others found it necessary to search for work in the larger city of Marietta, ten miles away. A lucky few had found work in the adjacent town of Rosewood. A large majority, however, remained unemployed. Adelaide had a feeling things were going to get worse before they got better.
If it weren’t for the annual lighting of the magnificent falls on the east end of town, which brought tourists from all over the state to view the display for a three-week period in December, she wasn’t sure how Crescent Falls would survive. Still, the town couldn’t live all year on what they made during that short time span.
“I thought I heard some cheery voices in here!”
Adelaide turned to see Reverend Douglas Underwood striding into the sanctuary from the short hallway leading to his study.
“You’re here bright and early. It looks great, doesn’t it?” He made a sweeping gesture with one hand. In addition to the fir tree sitting just left of the altar, pine boughs hung all around and live red poinsettias lined the altar railing.
“It’s amazing,” Adelaide assured him. She observed the minister. He was quite handsome, really, with thick dark brown hair, hazel eyes and a rich, even tan. Many of the women in the congregation had huge crushes on him. She could see why. He was a very charismatic man who dressed with impeccably good taste. Today he wore a pair of gray slacks, a light blue shirt and a navy blue blazer. His shoes were shined to a high gloss.
Such a contrast to his plain, mousy wife, Fran.
Stop it Adelaide! That was unkind. Well, at least I didn’t’ say it out loud.
“…by tomorrow morning. We have a good crew coming in today. In fact they should be arriving any time now to start setting up,” Ethel was saying.
Adelaide snapped her attention back to the conversation. Both Ethel and Reverend Underwood were staring at her expectantly. “Yes, well, let’s go to the basement, Ethel. There’s no time to waste,” she said briskly. She turned on her heels, walking purposefully toward the main hallway.
As she passed the church secretary’s office she thought about popping in to say hello, but noticed she was on the phone. Continuing her brisk pace she glanced into the church parlor before descending the stairs. She could hear Ethel’s footfalls behind her trying to keep up.
The church basement contained four Sunday school classrooms, a social hall and the kitchen. The Christmas Bazaar would be held in the classrooms. One side of the social hall would be used for the bake sale. Box lunches would be available both days. Santa would be making an appearance Saturday afternoon, something the children looked forward to each year. The annual Christmas dinner was scheduled for five o’clock on Saturday evening.
Adelaide felt a pang as memories of her late husband, Albert, surfaced with unusual clarity. Christmas was always his favorite time of year. Even though they’d both been raised in Crescent Falls, he insisted they visit the lighted falls at least twice during the season.
“They add a new display every year and I know they make subtle changes to the old ones just to see if anyone notices. It takes a couple of visits to catch all of them,” he’d say every time she protested that one visit was enough. Then he’d smile that impish smile, his azure blue eyes twinkling with childlike delight.
She still missed him very much. She had occasional conversations with him, which helped soothe the loneliness. Naturally she never mentioned this to anyone, especially not to her son, Daniel. As the town’s new chief of police, he had enough to worry about without thinking his mother had gone bonkers.
Voices from the stairway signaled the arrival of the other workers. While Ethel greeted them, Adelaide did a last minute check of the classrooms. The tables were all set up, thanks to members of the United Methodist Men, many of whom had come in last night or early this morning to take care of that arduous task.
Before leaving the church, Adelaide stopped by the church office to say hello to the secretary. She liked Brenda Collier, which was a good thing, since her son Daniel was dating her.
“I was just about to come find you,” Brenda said the minute Adelaide stepped into the small, well equipped office.
The desk was on her left, a set of file cabinets to her right. Behind the desk was a long counter. Underneath the counter were cabinets. In the corner next to the cabinets sat a heavy steel safe. Adelaide knew for a fact it was circa early 1900s. It had a combination lock with a heavy L shaped handle. The workmanship, which included intricate hand carvings along the perimeter, fascinated Adelaide. She’d always viewed it as a work of art, testimony to a bygone era when individuality was admired, not admonished.
Adelaide observed Brenda briefly while the young woman sorted the mail. Today her golden hair was tied back with a silk ribbon, accentuating the oval shape of her face. Her fair complexion and blue eyes indicated that she was a natural blonde. “Is something wrong?” she finally asked Brenda.
“I hope not. Can you fill in for me on Tuesday? I have an appointment with Doctor Hawkins. They want to do some tests, so I might be gone all day.” Getting up, she walked to the stackable trays atop the file cabinet where she began distributing the mail.
Alarm shot through Adelaide.” Are you all right? You’re not sick are you?”
Or pregnant? Surely not! Hopefully Daniel has better sense. Come on, you know you want grandchildren. Of course I do, but they’ve only been seeing each other for a couple of months. Wake up, Adelaide, that’s plenty of time to…Stop borrowing trouble!
Brenda smiled. “No. It’s just my annual checkup. You know that can take a while. Afterward, my mother wants me to go shopping with her. I haven’t had a day off in a while.”
For over twenty years Adelaide had filled in for the various church secretaries when they were ill or on vacation. She suspected a few of them had feigned doctor appointments to cover up job interviews. “I’d be glad to,” Adelaide said, adding, “as long as you promise me you’re not job hunting!”
Brenda laughed out loud. “Now
I can promise you. I’m very happy with my job here.”