Joanna Campbell Slan has moved, searching new blog...

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Excerpt from Cara Mia Delgatto and the Thanksgiving Gift

Cara Mia Delgatto and the Thanksgiving Gift

Chapter 1

The first day of November

The Treasure Chest in Downtown Stuart, Florida


"Another beautiful fall day here in southeast Florida," said MJ Austin, my friend and full-time employee. She poured herself a fresh cup of coffee, the fragrances of vanilla and cinnamon mingled in the air. When I gestured with my empty cup, she poured me a warm-up.

While she had the pot in her hand, MJ cocked her head at Skye's cup. "Want some?"

"No, thanks. I'm drinking Yerba Mate," Skye said.
Cara Mia Delgatto and the Thanksgiving Gift

"Sorry I asked," said MJ. "That stuff is just plain nasty."

They are such a study in contrasts. While Skye's curls tumble down around her shoulders, MJ wears her hair pulled off of her face. They are both gorgeous women, both blonde, and very different from each other. I've been blessed to welcome them into my life. Doubly-blessed that they're my co-workers at the store.

"Granted, Yerba Mate isn't as tasty as coffee, but I like it," said Skye. "It gives me extra energy. I need it when I'm working an extra shift over at Pumpernickel's Deli."

"I hope you aren't racing over to the deli right away," I said. "We need to discuss the upcoming holiday. Specifically, how we can leverage Thanksgiving as a way to boost our sales."

The Treasure Chest is a décor and more shop, specializing in upcycled, recycled, and repurposed items. Most of our items have a sort of beach vibe to them.

There are two stumbling blocks on the road to our success.

One, we need to keep finding ways to turn trash into treasure. I don't have a lot of money to spend with vendors. I also don't have the time to wait for them to check my credit and process my order. That means we have to be come up with our own merchandise—and that takes a lot of creativity.

Two, we need to get people through the door. Once they see what we're offering, they're sure to make a purchase. That purchase will become one of many, if we do our job right.

"My shift doesn't start for another half an hour, so we're cool."

"I'm all ears," said MJ.

"Good. I made up an agenda." From the pocket of my Lilly Pulitzer skirt, I pulled out a list I'd printed neatly on a sheet from a legal pad of paper. "Item #1, thank you for coming."

That set my pals to snickering. We were sitting in the back room of my little store, The Treasure Chest, around a table that had become our natural gathering spot. Even though I'd officially called a meeting, the chances had been high Skye and MJ would have shown up anyway. Skye lives upstairs, on the second floor, in the apartment right next to mine. Effortlessly, our schedules have become synchronized. Most morning, we bump into each other on our way down the stairs.

MJ has a bungalow on the other side of town. I haven't seen it, but my fingers are crossed that one day she'll issue an invitation. She seems to have a sixth sense about when to show up at the store. Even on the days that she isn't scheduled, she often manages to pop in and see what's up.

"Please note that our response to Item #1 was we're happy to attend your meeting. We want this place to succeed almost as much as you do," said MJ.

"I couldn't have said it better." Skye gave MJ a high five.

"Then, let's move right along to Item #2. How are we going to keep this ship afloat over the holidays? Specifically, how are we going to fill our shelves—and what can we offer that's unique for Thanksgiving?"


Chapter 2


            The expectant faces now turned solemn.

"Unique for Thanksgiving?" Skye parroted my question. "You mean what can we offer that's just for the holiday? A one-time product?"

"Not exactly. I'm thinking we need merchandise that we can point to as being the perfect gift for a Thanksgiving hostess. Or something unique to put on the Thanksgiving table. Otherwise, we don't have anything new to promote. Seems to me that we have to keep changing up what we offer so we keep capturing the buying public's attention. We need to give them a reason to walk through our front door."

Right then, my rescue pup Jack started whining. I opened his crate and cuddled him under one arm. Jack and I met as a man threw the Chihuahua out of a moving truck. The dog has come a long way since then, growing in confidence even as his broken leg healed up. But once in a while, when he hears stress in my voice, he whimpers. I can't blame him.

"You're right," said MJ. "Back when XXX owned The Treasure Chest, she'd put a new display in the window and surround it with pumpkins and Indian corn. It wasn't much, but it always brought more foot traffic. The idea is to lure the customers in. They change the menu over at the deli, don't they?"

Skye nodded. "We're serving pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie, cider, bratwursts, butternut squash casserole, and other seasonal dishes. Cara, you're right. Folks love the new selections at the deli. It's a change of pace, I guess. That's all. But it's enough to give us servers something to brag about. A talking point, is what our boss called it."

"So what do we have to offer?"

Everyone was stumped. MJ played with one of her fake diamond earrings, twirling it around and around in her ear. Skye stared off into space while she rubbed the fabric of her black pants between her thumb and forefinger.

            "Don't everyone chime in at once," I said.

            They didn't.

            The silence went longer than I expected.

"Anyone? Anyone?" I tried channeling Ben Stein as the teacher in Ferris Buehler's Day Off, but I didn't get a response.

"Give us a day to think about it," said MJ. "Rome wasn't built in a day. You're springing this on us, and I need time to process."

She sounded a bit testy, but I knew why. MJ is supposed to be my retail guru, because she's worked in retail her whole life. But this slipped past her. Her lack of diligence disappointed me, and she knew it. In addition to twirling her earrings, she began tapping her toe on the floor impatiently. Like a fox that gets startled by an approaching dog, she wanted to run and hide in her burrow.

"Right," I said, as I folded the paper and put it back into my pocket. "That makes sense. Is twenty-four hours long enough?"

"Sure," said Skye.

"I guess," said MJ.


Chapter 3


            I needed to change the mood. No way did I want my friends going out and greeting the public with frowns on their faces. "Tell me everybody, what are you doing for Thanksgiving? Any special plans?"

            My voice sounded light and cheery because I felt happy about the upcoming holiday. My son Tommy is down the highway, attending University of Miami. He'd promised to come to Stuart for the weekend break.

            "I like it here, but it's not home," he'd complained. "I miss St. Louis. The leaves, Mom! Remember how cool they were? All the colors?"

            When my friends didn't volunteer their plans, I told them about Tommy's upcoming visit and then I added what he'd said about the leaves.

            "The drive to Kansas City had this dip, and you could see colors like a painter had mixed on his palette. Bittersweet, orange, fiery red, maroon, brown, gold. Tommy and I would make the drive just to get to that spot. It made our hearts sing. The maple in our front yard started turning first. He and I would rake up leaves and jump in them. When we were tired, we'd go inside and drink apple cider." I brushed a tear from my face. The memories cheered me and saddened me. That was my old life. Things had changed. Was it wrong of me to miss the sweet parts even as I enjoyed my new home?

            "We do have trees that change here," said Skye. "Sugar maples, sweet gum, and live oak, to name a few, but most of those are north of here."

            "But nothing changes here! You can't tell one season from another!" I said.

            "That's not true, Cara." Skye's voice was gentle but firm. "There are a lot of seasonal changes. You just don't know what to look for. Not yet at least."

"What would you do back home?" asked MJ. "What would make your son feel less homesick for St. Louis?"

"I always decorated our front yard for the holidays. I'd buy a bale of hay and spread it around in the front yard. I'd add cornstalks. Maybe even a scarecrow. Tommy used to make fun of me for doing it, but maybe it mattered more than I realized."

"What did you do for Thanksgiving day proper?" asked Skye. "I know you had a restaurant. Did you have to work all day?"

"Not always. We had a lottery system. Employees and staff would toss their names in a hat. Dad would draw the slips of paper out in front of everyone so it was totally above board. A couple of holidays, we were able to eat together as a family."

MJ stared at me. Her emotions were unreadable. She's like that. I've never met a woman who can project so much sensuality and then turn so cold and inscrutable. "How did you celebrate when you were all together?"

"Well," I thought back, "our last Thanksgiving, I made dinner for my family. Turkey, stuffing, and all the trimmings. We kept the same menu every year. I've got it in my cell phone. We decided that if everyone couldn't come, we'd have the same meal the next day and pretend it was Thanksgiving as if it didn't happen the day before. Kind of silly, but we loved it."

"The same food every year," repeated Skye.

"Absolutely. The menu never changed. A couple of years, Poppy flew up to join us. He looked at the spread on the table and said how happy he was that we kept with tradition. So I couldn't change the menu, even if I wanted to. See, Dad was in charge of the menu at the restaurant, but at home, Mom used to—" My voice cracked. I choked back tears. I'd been so busy at the store that I'd forgotten that this would be my first Thanksgiving without my parents.

My eyes filled with tears, but through the blurry lens I could see MJ and Skye exchange glances. Skye hopped up from her chair and poured a glass of water. She slid it in front of me with the practiced movement of a woman who'd been waiting tables for years.

"So we'll finally get to meet your son?" MJ sounded pleased. "I bet he's gorgeous."

Skye's voice sparkled with delight as she said, "That will be so nice. I know you've missed him. He'll have tons to tell you about his roommate, his classes, and—"

"His love life," said MJ.

I frowned at her. "My son just turned eighteen. I'm hoping he hasn't had much experience in the love life department."

"And at eighteen, you were…?" MJ's eyes pinned me down.

"Pregnant with him. That's exactly why I hope he's being smarter than I was. Don't get me wrong. I love my kid to pieces, and I'm glad I had him, but eighteen is awfully young to be a parent." I wanted to change the subject, so I asked, "What are you doing for Thanksgiving, MJ?"

"Opening cans of turkey Fancy Feast for all my cats." Her expression was unreadable.

"You can't do that. Come eat with us. Tommy and Poppy and I would love to have you. You can't eat alone at Thanksgiving!"

Some days I worried about MJ. She'd come from a family that didn't believe in celebrating holidays. While she was honest, loyal, and in possession of a kind heart, she could be a bit prickly now and again. I attributed that to her being lonely. The very idea of her being all alone on Thanksgiving—except for the fur babies—made me sick.

"Kidding," she said, almost too quickly. "Just joking around with you, Cara. Actually an old boyfriend invited me to join him at the Biltmore in Coral Gables for their Thanksgiving buffet. It's to die for. Elegant tables with white damask clothes, silver serving dishes, a carving station, Champagne, and music, in a room with dark wood paneling, tropical palms, and Spanish mosaics. I can hardly wait."

Now that sounded more like it. I turned my attention to Skye. "What are your plans?"

Her smile flickered like a bad florescent bulb. On, off, on, off, and on. "I always work Thanksgiving Day at Pumpernickels. The tips are fantastic."

"But when do you eat your Thanksgiving meal? Surely they schedule servers in shifts," I said.

She hesitated. "I usually work a double. But don't worry. The boss sets out turkey and trimmings for the servers. Okay, one year I didn't get any because we were so busy, but usually I load up a plate. I've even been known to take home leftovers."

She rubbed her tummy appreciatively.

"What time do you get off?" I asked. "We can adjust the time of our meal so you can join us."

"That's very kind of you, but no, please don't," she said, shaking her head. "I actually prefer eating with the other servers. It's a sort of bonding experience. I wouldn't miss it for the world."

Right. My gut told me that both my friends were lying.
< > < > < >
Are Cara Mia's friends telling the truth about how they'll spend Thanksgiving? Will the holidays of Cara's remembrance over-shadow the present day? Or will Cara adjust to her new home and make this Thanksgiving a day of thanks?
Or go to
This short story includes four recipes for Thanksgiving!

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.
< > < > < >
Pre-order your copy today! Go to for a December 15, 2014 release.