Saturday, October 26, 2013

Excerpt from A HALLOWEEN CLOSE CALL...


A Halloween Close Call

A Kiki Lowenstein Novella

By Joanna Campbell Slan
 
The entire novella will be free from Oct. 29 through Oct. 31 (Tuesday through Thursday). On those days ONLY, you'll be able to "purchase" the novella at no cost. You can get your copy FREE on those days only by going to http://tinyurl.com/HalloweenCC

 

Author's Note: In the timeline of Kiki Lowenstein's life, this comes after Group, Photo, Grave (Book #8) and immediately before Killer, Paper, Cut (Book #9).

 

Chapter 1

Two and a half weeks before Halloween…

A suburb of St. Louis MO

 

"If it’s spooky or scary, count me out," I said, shaking my head no for emphasis.

Detective Chad Detweiler grinned at me before planting a quick kiss on my lips. "Even if I’m there to hold your hand?"

My honey and I were meeting with our friends, Clancy Whitehead and Johnny Chambers, to discuss how we would celebrate Halloween.

"But I thought Halloween was your favorite holiday!" Clancy shook her head at me. She's one of my favorite people, my co-worker at Time in a Bottle, the scrapbook and craft store that I now own.

"It is my fave holiday. I love the colors. Orange. Purple. Neon green. Black. And all the darling images."

"And the candy," said Detweiler, laughingly.
"There's that, too," I admitted. "But the scary stuff? Not so much."

What an interesting picture we must have made. All four of us were very different. Leaning against the doorsill in my office was the oh-so-classic Clancy, a dead-ringer for Jackie Kennedy, right down to the dark auburn bob. Sitting on the corner of my big desk was Johnny, who has Bad Boy written all over him, with that sort of Cool Hand Luke. And then there was my wonderful Knight in Shining Armor, Detective Chad Detweiler, with his long legs and amazing green-gold eyes. And me? Well, I look like a demented beach ball because I'm seven months pregnant with a head full of curly, dishwater blond hair. I was sitting at my desk in the big black leather chair, and Detweiler was standing next to me.

To underscore how adamant I was, I crossed my arms. Or tried to. I couldn't exactly fit my arms over my baby bump. Right now, Alfred Hitchcock and I were sharing a profile. "I love Halloween, but I draw the line at being frightened out of my mind. I get enough crummy surprises in my daily life, thank you."

No matter how hard I try—even when issuing a warning about scary stuff—I can’t look stern for long. Especially not when I'm around my friends.

"Wooo, tough talk from the little lady." Johnny winked at me, and I giggled

"Kiki, when you draw a line, it's usually to start a new craft project," said Clancy, with a chuckle. "How about if I give you a giant eraser and you start over? Don't be so negative, girlfriend. It wouldn't be Halloween if we didn't do something at least mildly woo-woo."

"She's right, Kiki. Clancy and I want to have a little fun this Halloween," added Johnny. "And we'd like to do something fun with the two of you."

"How about we sit at home and carve pumpkins?" I asked. “I need to get my jack-o-lanterns done.”

"That's so…you." Detweiler took my hand and kissed my fingers. I turned and stared into those amazing Heineken bottle green eyes of his.

My name is Kiki Lowenstein, and I’m the original Mrs. Nice Guy. I like butterflies and rainbows, puppies and kittens, sugar and spice, sweet smelling flowers, chocolate, and paper. Lots and lots of paper.

Vitamin C, otherwise known as “cute,” is a life enhancing supplement. All of us need our daily quota. You can never have too much “cute” in your life.

Well, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

"So the woman who stared down a murderer is a great big ‘fraidy cat." Johnny smirked at me.

"Ah, but remember, dear friend, cats have nine lives," I said. "There's a reason for that, Johnny. Cats know when to run away and when to fight another day."

"No fighting," said Detweiler. "Just loving. Come here, you."

He pulled me to my feet and hugged me. Safe in the shelter of his arms, I relaxed by listening to the soft lub-lub-lub of his heart. All was well in our world.

Our baby was due on January 15th. My daughter Anya was thirteen going on thirty and so excited about Halloween she couldn't talk about anything else. And our family had been enlarged by the addition of Erik, a child from Detweiler's first marriage (sort of), and Brawny, the nanny who came along with the boy. (It's a long story. Trust me!)

Life was good. Really good, as life always is when you're surrounded by family and friends.

"Tell me," said Johnny. "What's got your tail feathers in such a twist, little birdie?"

"It's that crop," said Clancy, shaking her head. "That's all Kiki's been thinking about."

"What's so special about this one? You do one of them, crop-thingies, two times a week, don't you? It's like a quilting party, but y'all work on your scrapbooks, right?" Johnny scratched his head.

"Sort of," I said. "But this one's a really big deal. It's a special pre-Halloween crop to raise money for diabetes."

"That's good," said Johnny. "Really good. What a purely awful disease."

"Right," said Detweiler, "but she's driving herself crazy working and working too hard. That's why I suggested that we do something fun."

I nodded. “But I'm not interested in being jumped at, touched, or grabbed in the dark by people I didn’t know. Especially if they’re dressed like Frankenstein or the Mummy or even Count Dracula. Ugh."

"But dressing in a costume has a certain appeal," said Clancy.

"Some," I admitted.

"Just think," said Johnny. "You could dress up like Annie Oakley. Especially since you're such an expert with a gun."

I don’t like being teased, especially about the fact that I shot my husband's murderer in the head. It hadn't been pretty. It hadn't been empowering. I didn’t get a rush like I did when I heard Dirty Harry say, "Make my day." No, all I felt was sad.

To get through the experience, I reminded myself that it had been necessary. Otherwise Johnny and I wouldn’t be standing here today. I didn't like thinking about it, and Johnny was getting on my nerves.

Detweiler sensed this and put one hand on my shoulder in solidarity.

"I did what I had to do so we could survive," I said, trying to keep the irritation out of my voice. "This is different. You all are talking about getting your wits scared out of you as a form of recreation. If that’s your idea of a good time, have at it, go ahead, love you to bits, but I’m taking a pass."

"Down girl! Don't get all het up," said Johnny.

"It's the stress talking," said Clancy. "She's been working like a fiend on that charity crop."

"True," I said.

"All the more reason to plan something fun," said Johnny.

"Also true."

"As much as I hate to cut this short, I also need to get to work," said Detweiler. "Kiki, if you don’t want to visit a haunted house, we’ll find another way to have enjoy the holiday. No problem, babe."

Yeah, but it would be a problem. I was being a real party pooper, and I knew it.

 

Chapter 2

 

Clancy was right. The Halloween Crafting Spook-tacular, our charity crop for diabetes, was driving me nuts.

With off-site crops, there were a lot of moving parts that have to align for us to have a good time. Since this was a fundraiser, the moving parts had to thought out carefully. We couldn’t afford to waste a cent. The event had to make a splash, or people wouldn't shell out their coins to come. It had to appeal to scrapbookers, cardmarkers, and papercrafters of all ilk. The location had to be a "wow." The entertainment doubly so. The "make and take" portion—the actual crafts we'd be teaching our guests—had to be unique, simple to do, but cool enough that they wouldn't bore our regular store clientele to tears. And last, but definitely not least…we had to have food. Really, really good food.

After considering all our options, there was really only one place worthy of kicking off our big event, and that was the Lemp Mansion. The mansion has a history of misery second to none.

          In 1876, beer baron William J. Lemp and his wife Julia moved in, turning the thirty-three room house into a showplace. Lemp also decided to use his home as his office, taking advantage of a tunnel extending from the house to the caves under St. Louis. These naturally occurring storage shelters provided the refrigeration so vitally important to the brewing process.

Thanks to a series of shrewd business decisions made by William, the Falstaff brand expanded from a local brew to a label enjoyed around the world. Although the Lemps were thriving financially, unbeknownst to William and Julia, their fourth son, Frederick, had significant health problems. When Frederick died from complications, William shot himself in despair.

William J. Lemp, Jr. ("Billy") took over the family business. He and his wife Lillian, nicknamed the "Lavender Lady," moved into the Lemp Mansion. An acrimonious divorce followed. Billy was granted only visitation rights to see his son, William III. Two years later, Prohibition dealt a harsh blow to the business, and Billy was forced to sell first the trademark name, and then the brewery.

Meanwhile, after suffering her own marital problems, Billy's sister shot herself. Two years later, Billy shot himself in his office inside the mansion. And two decades later, the last Lemp to live in the mansion, Charles, shot his dog and then himself in the head.

In 1980, Life magazine named the Lemp Mansion one of the nine most haunted houses in the country. Since then both the Discovery and the Travel Channel have given the Lemp Mansion a nod for being terrifying.

Since I'm such a Chicken Little, I decided that we'd visit the Lemp Mansion while it was still daylight, walk one block to The Old Social Hall, an event space that had once been exactly as its name implied. There we would have an actress, Faye Edorra, pose as the Lavender Lady herself and entertain us with ghost stories.

          You can't have a crop without food. It's simply not done. Although my dear friend Cara Mia Delgatto had moved to Florida, I still relied on her family restaurant for most of our catering needs. Recently a young woman named Angela Orsini had been promoted to the post of catering manager. Angela and I had worked up a fun menu for the charity crop. The Old Social Hall had a kitchen, so we were good to go. We would crop in one room and then adjourn to a second room to eat. That would keep food and drink away from paper products, preventing the predictable problems of spillage.

          Once those details were in place, I turned my attention to the crafting portion of our crop. Here at Time in a Bottle, we've garnered a bit of a reputation for coming up with unique, totally superb "make-and-take" sessions. The name evolved from the idea that you could "make" something and "take" it home with you after the event. But we took the concept one step further. All of our make-and-take sessions also taught our customers a new skill or technique. And all of them were original. After attending one of our crops, people actually talked about our sessions for weeks, making them one of our best marketing tools.

After our impromptu "how do you solve a problem like Halloween?" meeting broke up, and I went back to planning the creative portion of the event.

In fact, I was hunched over a project at my worktable when a finger tapped me on the shoulder. The gesture so startled me so much that I nearly fell off my stool.

"A little jumpy? Good thing I didn't yell, 'Boo!'" Laurel Wilkins, another co-worker and friend, pulled up a stool so she could join me. "Are you doing anything special for Halloween? Besides our Halloween Crafting Spook-tacular? Something that involves costumes?"

"Um, we were just talking about that earlier," I said. "Why?"

"Well," she looked down at the tabletop and drew a circle with the tip of her finger. "I actually have a guy I've been wanting all of you to meet."

This was big news. Usually Laurel is very quiet about her personal life. In fact, Clancy and I have discussed the fact that we know very little about her. I mean, she's sweet and wonderful, and she looks like a movie star, but Laurel never talks about her history or what she does outside of work.

I glanced around and saw Clancy standing by a display unit taking inventory. A slight tilt of her head told me that she was listening in to our conversation. This was an opportunity not to be missed to know Laurel better.

"We talked about visiting a haunted house. There are so many of them popping up." Now that Laurel wanted to join us, I had to agree to do something. Anything! So I floated the idea, although I suggested it reluctantly.

"Who's we?" Laurel's ears perked up.

"Detweiler, Clancy, Johnny, and me. But I have to be honest. I hate being scared half out of my wits. Besides, I'd like to do something that would include Anya and Erik," I said. "Although since he’s only five, I'm not sure how he'd feel about something so spooky. I suppose I could leave him home with Brawny, but that doesn't seem right."

Bronwyn Macavity is the nanny who came to us with Erik. Her salary is taken care of by Erik's aunt. She's been a real godsend because she drives the kids around and cooks for us, as well as serving as a 24/7 babysitter. But she's also part of the family. At least, that's the way Detweiler and I see it. We like to include her as much as possible.

Laurel nodded. "I wouldn’t want to exclude Erik or Brawny. So it has to be something sort of family oriented. I know you are trying hard to make Erik feel comfortable. He’s been through so much already."

"Look, I don’t want to be a party pooper. You all could go to a haunted house. Take Anya along with. I’ll stay home with Erik and Brawny."

Of course, I didn’t mean a word of that. I would hate to be left out, but it did seem like giving everyone else permission to go without me was the gracious thing to do.

"I understand how you feel, Kiki," said Laurel, patting me on the shoulder. "I like costumes, but I don't like things that are too gruesome. Don’t worry. We’ll think of something fun to do. I just hate to let the holiday go by without having a little Halloween-type get together."

Clancy came over from her spot by the display unit. "Look, Kiki, we wouldn’t enjoy ourselves if you didn’t come with us. We've all been working hard. Too hard. We’ll make another plan. I’ve never been overly fond of haunted houses either. Some of them are okay, but I was in one where this hand reached out and grabbed—"
 
A Halloween Close Call: A Kiki Lowenstein Novella © 2010 by Joanna Campbell Slan. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever, including Internet usage, without written permission from the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s vivid imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
 
 

1 comment:

Sandie Herron said...

Thanks for the great story! I'm busy manning the door on Halloween but will try and read as the stream of kids slows down. Sandie Herron