Murder Under the Mistletoe, p.1Janice L. Davis
Murder Under the Mistletoe
Published by Janice L. Davis
Copyright 2012 Janice L. Davis
This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.
Dedicated to the memory of my grandfather, Raleigh S. Burroughs, who was a talented writer, editor and author, but most of all he was a loving grandparent whom I called “Grampy.”
No author, who researches every detail, can pen a book without the help of many people throughout the writing journey. I would be remiss if I didn’t thank those who were kind enough to give me their time and expertise.
A special thanks goes to Dr. Dorothy C. Hardy, who has been giving her time free of charge to teach creative writing in her community. I am one who has had the honor of having been in her class for five years, and without it this book would not have been written.
I am thankful to Dr. Stephen Boudrau, director of the Forensics/Medical Examiner Office in Montgomery, AL for his information on the effects of cyanide poison.
So many folks in Bayfield, Wisconsin were kind enough to answer my many questions about the area, including Robert Nelson, local author.
To my husband, Roy Davis, thank you for all of the support you have always given to me in every one of my endeavors. You are the best, and I love you dearly.
My sons, James and Jonathan, and my daughter-in-law, Talissa—thank you for your encouragement that made me push myself.
A very special thanks to Leah Daniels, editor of The Shoals Woman, for your willingness to help me by editing. I appreciate you for taking your valuable time to do this for me.
So many others answered my questions and guided me along the way, including my dear friend, Ann Evans, and my writing friend, Cheryl Morris.
And finally, the most important thank you of all goes to my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, without whom I would have no breath.
Sunday evening, December 22, 1946
“Hark the herald angels sing….glory to the new born King...peace on earth…”
A shadow of a figure crept up the back steps of the mayor’s house while most of the town attended the Sand River Lutheran Church Christmas program. Since unlocked back doors were common in the small northwest Wisconsin town of Elkton, it simplified matters for the intruder to enter the home.
“Joy to the world, the Lord has come….
A careful search throughout the residence that included the office, in-between mattresses, throughout the kitchen cupboards, and everywhere else proved to be hopeless. What proof did the mayor claim to possess? He must have a safe deposit box at the bank, and if so, it will be impossible to get in there. But no matter what, the blackmail has to cease. Mayor Maximilian Mueller will find out on Christmas Eve at the tree lighting ceremony he will not be getting any more money no matter what he says he will do.
“Away in the manger, no crib for His bed, the little Lord Jesus lay down His sweet head…”
Frustrated, the would-be-thief left the house, assuming nothing had been left out of place in the residence. Even the footsteps in the snow, originally made by the mayor and his wife, were easily traced.
“Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright…”
During the last song of the Christmas program, a second intruder broke into another building. The invader seized the needed item, left quickly, and swished the snow in front of the building, covering the tracks. In just two days the blackmail will end. The mayor will get what he deserves.
“Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.”
Monday Morning, December 23, 1946
The sweet aroma of baked goods wafted throughout the Sand River Bake Shop beckoning it’s patrons to sample each delectable pastry. Retired teacher, Agatha Larsen and her daughter-in-law, Erica stood at the counter attempting to limit their selections to no more than one donut each, while Mayor Maximilian Mueller placed an order for a dozen glazed donuts.
“Hey, you ladies did a great job last night in the Christmas program, ey! I especially like it when you play that dulcimer—that what you call it—Mrs. Larsen? Didn’t Victor Hall bring that to you when we were kids?” Max said in his usual overly syrupy voice.
“Thank you, Maximilian. Yes, Victor’s family had gone to Kentucky for a vacation, and they brought me back the Appalachian Mountain dulcimer. I played it in class for years after that,” Agatha replied.
They said their good-byes, the mayor nodded to the bank president, Theodore Olsen and his wife, Selma who were amongst the other customers in line, and left with the donuts in tote.
“Mornin’ Elizabeth,” Agatha said to the bakery owner. “I think I’ll have one with custard filling and a cup of tea. Do you know what you want, Erica?”
“Yes, I’ll have an éclair with a cup of tea as well. Say, Elizabeth we loved the cookies you provided for the fellowship after the program last night.”
Elizabeth Smith, the shy young widow, with short, straight, mousy brown hair, barely made eye contact from behind her horned-rim glasses as she took the pastries out of the case, and prepared the tea. In a soft-spoken voice she said, “Thank you.” She had arrived in town about a year and a half ago, and had purchased the then-flailing bakery situated in the prime location of the town square. She had felt a need for a new start in her life after her husband had been killed in the war, so she left Helena, Montana where she had grown up, and headed east. The success of the bakery had proved to be a good decision for the quiet woman, who kept mostly to herself.
After greeting Theodore and Selma, Agatha and Erica took a seat at a small table in the quaint bakery. In spite of Elizabeth’s lack of personal style, she possessed a flair for fine decorating skills. The six round tables that stood on a black and white checkered floor were adorned with table cloths in pastel hues of pink, yellow, blue, green, peach, and aqua. Floor lamps adorned with shades in beige tones lit the room casting a warm glow, and photos of the original bake shop graced the walls.
Agatha, with her short salt and pepper naturally curly hair, and wire rim glasses was still an attractive older woman. Due to her high energy level, she found it difficult to sit still for too long of a period of time. She had taught at the Elkton School for forty-two years, and this, her first year of retirement, offered some challenges on how she planned to spend her time. A mystery enthusiast, she loved Agatha Christie novels, and adored listening to the Ellery Queen Mystery radio program every Sunday night, often with her two grown granddaughters, Mazie and Samara, while the three tried to solve the crimes.
Erica, a former student of Agatha’s, taught second grade at the same Elkton School where she had once been a pupil. Slender and very attractive, she wore her chestnut brown hair in a page boy. The daughter-in-law of Agatha Larsen presented herself as a perfect lady, soft-spoken, and kind, with a personality that blended well with those around her.
“The Christmas program really turned out well, don’t you know?” Agatha said to her daughter-in-law before taking a bite of the scrumptious pastry.
“Yes, it was great, but I’m glad it’s over. Now we can concentrate on this Christmas carnival. By the way, did you notice our esteemed mayor last night? He looked like the cat that swallowed the canary. And he still looks that way this morning.”
“Oh, this custard filling is delicious. Yes, Maximilian has often had that look, but it did seem more pronounced than usual. Even when I taught him in the fourth grade, he had that over-politeness about him, constantly the conniver, always full of himself just like he is today. I think h
“I have to agree. I had forgotten that Victor gave you the dulcimer. You’ve had it for so long. So sad how he died—terrible tragedy. I still can’t believe he accidently shot himself while on that hunting trip. What’s it been, ten years ago?”
“Yes, it’s been that long. To tell you the truth, Erica, I’ve always wondered about that. It never made sense to me. Victor had always been quite good with guns, and made it a practice to be safe with them. That’s why I find it so odd,” Agatha said taking a sip of her tea.
Theodore and Selma sat a table next to Agatha and her daughter-in-law where the two sat quietly eating their pastries while he listened intently to the conversation of his former teacher.
“You don’t think he deliberately killed himself, do you?”
“No dear, but I’ve had my suspicions that it may have been something else,” she whispered.
“Not murder?” Erica whispered back. “But who? Not anyone around here, surely not!”
“I don’t know. But I can’t for the life of me figure out what possible reason someone would have to want to kill him. Max and Theodore were on that hunting trip with him, and were more than devastated for years afterwards. They swore it was an accident, that they didn’t see anyone else around. So we must go with that,” she spoke softer than her normal whisper.
“Well, I suppose it remains a mystery, even though it was officially ruled as an accident. But we’ve got to get going on this carnival. Elizabeth is going to help Oswald and Anna Benson decorate the gazebo tomorrow morning. He amazes me with his horticultural skills—a former tug builder with such a talent with flowers. The utility people are putting the lights on the tree today, and the shelters for the snow sculpture contest are almost completed. So far it looks like the weather will be cooperating. Samara is all set with what she thinks is going to be the winning sculpture. ”
“Oh, that granddaughter of mine is such a talented artist, and that other one of mine can sing and dance better than the best of them. I can’t believe they are grown women already. Mazie is going to sing at the Snow Ball isn’t she?” Agatha took one last bite of her pastry following it with the last drop of her tea.
“She is. It’s going to be beautiful. We’ll start working on the decorations for the dance this morning, but it will take several days to get it all done. What are your plans for the rest of the day, Mother?”
“I’m meeting Maggie May at the Superior Lake Cafe for lunch today.”
Theodore and Selma got up to leave and nodded goodbye to the two women.
“Boy, he sure seems angrier than usual, don’t you know,” Agatha said as she stood to put on her thick woolen coat.
“He is a grump most of the time, isn’t he? Was he that way when you taught him?”
“Theodore was a conniver much like Maximilian, but in a more subtle way. He always got what he wanted by using methods that weren’t always pure, but not quite illegal, shall we say. Well, let’s get going dear. You’ve got a lot to do. If you need any more help, let me know. I’ll be happy to give you a hand.”
“I think we’ve got enough, but I’ll call you if we get into a bind,” Erica said while slipping on her gloves.
The two hugged, left the bake shop, stomachs and taste buds satisfied, and went on about their day.
11:45 A.M., December 23, 1946
The pounding of nails, and the sounds of saws cutting through wood, accompanied with whistling, yelling, and conversations echoed throughout the air broadcasting that the Twenty-first Annual Christmas Carnival was just around the corner. Floats for the Snow Parade were being built, and areas had already been set aside in the school yard for the snowman contest where children ages six to twelve would be vying for blue ribbons. Shelters for the snow sculpture competition were just about finished on the Elk Street sidewalk that ran east to west on the south side of the square in front of the Sand River Lutheran Church. Games, lots of hot chocolate, ice hockey, dog sled races, ice skating, the annual Snow Ball dance, and much more made for plenty of winter fun during the Christmas holiday. Everyone had a part in some form or other, and the folks of Elkton looked forward to the carnival that would commence with the Snow Parade on Christmas morning.
While the utility company placed the lights on the tree that stood tall next to the gazebo located on the north end of the town square, Maggie May Schultz directed her imaginary orchestra in front of it, as she often did. Adorned in her brilliant orange hand-crocheted hat, her vivid purple coat with matching wool slacks, and yellow scarf she had knitted herself, Maggie May could not be missed in a crowd. Even her white hair had hints of yellow strands streaked throughout the frizzy curls.
To say that Maggie May wore the title of the town eccentric would be an understatement. She waltzed around the town square often dancing and singing her original poems that made no sense to those around her, but Maggie had been through so many difficulties in her life. At the age of sixteen, she lost her father when he fell from a tree, dying instantly. Her husband perished while fighting in WWI, her four-year-old son died from leukemia, and her mother, who couldn’t take the pain of losing a grandson, died two days later of a massive heart attack. All of this sent Maggie into another world, but the Elkonites treated her with love and respect, especially her best friend from childhood and next door neighbor, Agatha Larsen.
Today, Maggie looked forward to having lunch with her dear friend, but for this moment she found enjoyment directing her illusory orchestra while singing one of her strange poems.
“The mayor and the masquerader were meeting on the street
And then the masquerader stomped off on icy feet.
Fish, fish, fish, fish, there’s more than meets the eye
The fish aren’t the only things that people want to buy.
The past is the past, but it isn’t always gone
Especially for those involved—it keeps on going on.”
Those who were preparing for the Christmas Carnival just ignored her singing, waved to Maggie May and continued with their work at hand. As she glanced at her watch she realized the time had come to meet Agatha at the Superior Lake Café to eat the best pasties (pronounced like “last”) to be found Up North, and headed to the eatery located on the square.
7:45 P.M., December 24, 1946
The Elkton High School band members stood close together in perfect formation on the deck of the gazebo as they played “Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly,” “Jingle Bells,” and a whole array of Christmas carols while folks continued to gather in the center of the town square. The lighting of the tree marked the eve of the annual Christmas Carnival that always brought a thrill for all of the Elkton residents. Everyone acted as though they hadn’t seen each other in years, and with their thermoses full of steaming hot coffee, cocoa or hot tea, the aromas melded together and floated throughout the brisk, cold air. The chattering, laughter, hugs and kisses revealed a caring community that shared a love for one another.
Maggie May danced around with the children, who mimicked her steps and poems.
“Hey, Agatha, come join us, hey!” she hollered across to her friend.
Agatha and her granddaughters, Mazie and Samara, grabbed the hands of the children who had formed a circle with Maggie May, and they danced and giggled to their hearts content while some of the crowd clapped in unison.
All throughout the town square clusters of teens, elders, and the middle-aged communed, chatting about their common interests, or what they hoped Santa had in his sack for them in the middle of the night.
Erica and Alexander Larsen provided blankets for some of the older folks, and assisted them to seats near the front, closest to the gazebo.
“Hey, Sandra!” Erica called to Sandra Becker. “You and your husband ready for your first Christmas carnival
“Oh yes, we’re both looking forward to all of the events. Sebastian said every time someone comes into the bank, it’s all they can talk about. And, of course, I’ve been busy working in the bakery. So much to get done, but we’re loving every minute of it.”
“Do you ever miss Sacramento?” Erica asked the redhead, whose hair color had a little help from a bottle.
“Maybe the weather, but we are so glad to be living closer to my parents in Bayfield. Of course Sebastian loves that we are right next to the Sand River, and so close to Lake Superior since he finds fishing so irresistible. Being able to walk just about everywhere has it perks, that’s for sure. It’s so much easier now, and I love working in the bakery.”
“It’s a great bakery since Elizabeth took it over. We waited a long time for someone to come along with the passion she has for baking. So glad you have arrived too. You were a much needed assistant for her,” Erica took a sip of hot chocolate from her thermos. “Well, stay warm. I’ve got to help my husband with these blankets for the elders. See ya later.”
Erica waltzed across the snow-covered lawn to where her husband was looking for some more folks who might need the blankets and seats in the front.
“Hey, this should be starting in a bit. Do you see anybody else who needs some extra warmth?” her husband asked, whose greying temples, mustache and black framed glasses provided the appearance of the distinguished lawyer he was.
“Yes, I see old Mrs. Potter over there. I’ll take care of her. Your mother is her usual playful self so we don’t have to worry about her getting too cold.”
“You got that right, don’t you know,” Alex replied while watching his mother and his two daughters dance with Maggie May and the children. It brought warmth to his heart to see the love his mother always generated toward her lifelong friend. He glanced around at all the people who were enjoying the moment that blended them together as a family. Alex Larsen felt a sense of pride because he lived in such a close-knit neighborhood. Even some of the more grumpy folks like Theodore Olsen and the shy Elizabeth appeared to be enjoying themselves. He spotted his old school chum, Bayfield Police Officer Paul Miller, and walked over to speak to him.
Murder Under the Mistletoe by Janice L. Davis / Mystery & Detective have rating 4.1 out of 5 / Based on37 votes