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Monday, November 10, 2014

Excerpt from Handmade, Holiday, Homicide

Book #10 in the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series
by Joanna Campbell Slan

People think that being pregnant is all about your growing belly, but the truth is, it also messes with your head. It's like for every inch my waistband expands, I lose ten points of my IQ. Maybe it's because I don't get much sleep anymore. My skin itches, the baby pokes me with his feet, and the indigestion causes a burning in my throat. Don't even get me started on the hormones. Whatever the scientific reason for my brain fog, I'm just not as sharp as usual.

My fiancé Detective Chad Detweiler and I were lying in bed talking one night a couple of weeks before Christmas, when he said, "I've been thinking about baby names."

"Oh, you have?"

"Yes, in fact, I've been giving it a lot of thought. I think we ought to name our son Helmut Detweiler."

Thank goodness it was dark. I could feel my mouth flop open. I couldn't believe what he was saying. "Name our son what?"

"Helmut Englebert Detweiler. That's a good, strong German name."

I couldn't even respond; I was that stunned.

Detweiler continued, "We could call him Mutt for short."

I gasped.

"Mutt Detweiler. It has a certain ring to it," he said.

The bed started shaking.

Detweiler was laughing.

"You!" I pummeled him with my fists. "You had me going."

"Yeah," he said, chuckling. "You believed me!"

I sighed. "Wow. For a minute there, I was really worried."

Detweiler rolled over and raised himself on his elbows so he could stare down at me. "You shouldn't have been. You know I can't name our kid without your approval."

"And you guessed I wouldn't be in favor of Mutt."

"Yeah, I guessed."

I raised my head to meet his lips and kissed him. "Well, you guessed right."

Chapter 2

Wednesday, December 1


"My fingers are crossed," I whispered, holding up my right hand, while Ester grabbed my left. I leaned over my friend to tell her granddaughter, "Good luck, Caitlyn!"

All eyes watched the front of the room, as the representative from the St. Louis Art Museum stepped to the podium.

"Now the moment we've all been waiting for. I'm pleased to announce the winner of this year's Demski Award, including a four-year scholarship to Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana," he said, smoothing his red and navy silk tie nervously. A volunteer handed him an envelope, and I sneaked another peek at Caitlyn. Like her grandmother, Ester Field, she has a round face and vivid blue eyes. Caitlyn was biting her lower lip in anticipation, and I couldn't blame her. This scholarship meant the world to her. It also meant a pile of money, as it would trade the winner's piece of art for a four year, all expenses paid scholarship.

Caitlyn had inherited her grandmother's love of crafting. In fact, it was Ester who started the Crafting Cuties twenty years ago, two years before Caitlyn was born. Since then the number of members had dwindled to four regulars, but even so, the CC enjoyed themselves. They got together once a month to work on projects and to share craft ideas. Okay, some of their end products were corny, but many were very nice. The women offered each other a great support network. Caitlyn had grown up at her grandmother's knee, trying her hand at all sorts of crafts.

Eventually, she'd settled on sculpting.

To the left of us was Caitlyn's entry for the Demski Award, the highest honor you could achieve as an art student in the metro-St. Louis area. On a three-foot high plinth sat the sculpture of a girl walking beside a lion as her one hand rested on its mane. How Caitlyn had pulled off such a remarkable piece was beyond all my imaginings. Ester told me that her granddaughter had spent day after day at the St. Louis Zoo watching the lions, studying them, and sketching them as they moved around their enclosure. I wouldn't doubt it. A lot of student work is derivative, and frankly, it looks second generation, but Caitlyn's "Girl with a Lion" fairly vibrated with life. She had managed to capture both the majesty of the king of beasts, and the innocence of the young woman.

Rising above us on its column, the statue was truly breath-taking.  Since I'm short, I found myself staring up into the jaws of the lion, admiring the sharp teeth and the curl of his tongue. The details impressed me, from the furled edges of his lips as they bordered his mouth to the way his heels hovered over the platform. Lions are digitigrades or toewalkers, so the backs of their feet never touch the ground. Caitlyn had taken such care with his mane and the tuft of his tail that you could make out the individual strands of hair. Unthinkingly, I leaned in, trying to see her work more closely.

"Please stand back, ma'am," said a guard wearing a navy blue uniform.

"Sorry." I stepped away from the artwork and turned my full attention to the presentation. The small meeting room was packed with people, all waiting to hear who had won the scholarship. The work of six students was represented, but Caitlyn's was the only three-dimensional piece of art. That alone made it a winner in my book, but honestly, I couldn't imagine that the judges weren't impressed by her effort.

 The presenter jammed his finger under the flap of the envelope. No one made a sound. Even Eudora, Ester's sister, was quiet for once. That's really saying something, because Eudora needs to be the center of attention. When I tried to teach the Crafting Cuties about Zentangle, Eudora had refused to shut up. I had to talk over her to give my instructions.

But that had been the least of the problems that Eudora had caused. When I asked her to be careful and move away from the display table, Eudora laughed. Two seconds later, she dumped a large plastic cup of cola all over my work, carelessly pouring her favorite beverage over my pen and ink drawings.

I glanced over to see what Eudora was up to. She sat perfectly still in her motorized scooter on the outskirts of the crowd. When the gentleman stepped to the podium, the group had taken two steps forward, closer to the front of the room. Everyone wanted to hear what he had to say, and even with a microphone in front of them, sometimes people forget to talk into it.

I studied Eudora for a minute and noted the surly tilt of her chin. Given how nasty she was, it was hard to believe that Ester and Caitlyn were part of the same family. Like her sister and her grand-niece, Eudora had a round face, but her eyes were a cross between green and blue. But none of Eudora's features could be thought of as kind, because as far as I could tell, she didn't have a kind bone in her body. Thinking back, I couldn't remember hearing her say one kind word to anybody.

Fortunately, Eudora seemed to have realized this was Caitlyn's time to shine, because for once, her lips were sealed. She sat there pouting on the padded seat of her motorized scooter and stared straight ahead.

The ripping of paper took my attention back to the man on the podium. He'd jammed his finger under the flap of the envelope. Now he extracted a notecard and scanned the message. Clearing his throat, the presenter said, "I'm pleased to announce that this year's Demski Art Scholarship goes to—"

I squeezed Ester's hand.

"Caitlyn Robinson!"

"Oh! Oh! Oh!" Caitlyn threw her hand over her mouth. Tears sprang from her eyes as she turned to Ester. "Bubbie, can you believe it? Thank you, thank you for encouraging me. I would have never tried for this without you!"

The two women, old and young, grabbed each other in a happy embrace.

Over the hubbub of the crowd, I heard a motor rev.

What idiot chose to vacuum the carpet? I wondered.

"Congratulations, Caitlyn," said another young artist, a young woman coming up from behind to give Caitlyn a hug.

The motor revved again. This time louder.

"Way to go, Caitlyn!" said a spotty-faced boy as he clapped the winner on the back.

Caitlyn blushed a deep crimson. "Thanks, Eitan."

"Stop it, ma'am," said a deep voice behind us.

I didn't care to turn around and look at the mischief maker. Instead, all my energy was focused on Caitlyn as she graciously accepted one congratulations after another. To my joy, the losers all seemed happy for the girl. Most of them even admitted that she was by far the most worthy candidate for the Demski.

"Can you believe it?" Ester wiped her eyes with a shaking hand. "My grandbaby's work will be here in the art museum for everyone to see and enjoy. Best of all, she'll be able to go away to college. She's been wanting to go to U of I ever since I took her down to Brown County to see all the artists. I hate to have her so far away, but she'll get a good education there. Maybe even be able to make a living doing what she loves."

"It's unbelievable," I agreed, thinking back and remembering the beautiful album Ester had made of the trip she and her granddaughter had taken together. "That statue is fantastic. I took a few good photos of it. I can't wait to show my fri—"

But my sentence was interrupted by a loud crash.

All of us turned toward the noise.

"Ahh!" screamed a woman.

The crowd parted.

On the floor, in a million pieces, was Caitlyn's statue.

Right beside the mess sat Eudora Field. She had both hands on the steering wheel of her scooter, and she wore a great big grin on her face.
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Pre-order your copy today! Go to for a December 15, 2014 release.


Mary Kennedy said...

This was just a tease. I love it so far. I already pre-ordered it and definitely can't wait to read it.

Pat Karp Davis said...

I'm so excited about your latest book!!! I pre-ordered it the first day!