CHRISTMAS CLOCHES AND CORPSES
Bodies are dropping like gumdrops off a gingerbread house!
Max's nephew, Dwight, is in a nursing home; but instead of the holiday season being a time of goodwill, several of Dwight's friends have died under mysterious circumstances. Is the facility merely suffering a run of bad luck, or is there something sinister going on?
Either way, Max, the Ghostly Fashionista, is determined not to let her beloved nephew be the next victim and enlists Amanda to help keep an eye on him. But someone drugs the cake that Amanda gives Dwight, and Amanda is banned from visiting him again. It's going to take a Christmas miracle for Amanda to clear her name and stay out of the killer's line of fire...
Read An Unedited Excerpt Below
I couldn’t have been in a more embarrassing predicament if I’d planned it out. There I stood in my workroom—atelier, if you prefer—with my arms up over my head and a black lace dress hanging from my nose to mid-thigh. The dress was stuck.
Jasmine, my cat, apparently found the situation amusing. She stood on her hind legs and tried to swipe at the hem.
“Jazzy, no! Stop it!” If she got her claws into the lace and tore this dress, I’d never get it fixed in time for my client to pick it up this afternoon.
At that moment, my best friend Max popped in to see what was going on. “Good thing you’ve got great gams since you’re showing them off like that.”
“It’s not my intention to show off anything,” I said. “I’m trying to get this dress back off.”
“Let me see if I can help.” Max got closer to me and began to flap her arms like a giant bird in a mauve flapper dress.
“What are you doing?”
“I thought I’d see if I could create a breeze.” She continued flapping.
Since Max was a ghost, she couldn’t physically help me remove the dress. At least, she was providing an interesting distraction for Jazzy.
“Could you please use my phone to text Connie and ask her to come in here?”
While Max couldn’t touch things, she was a whiz with electronics.
Connie’s shop, Delightful Home, was just across the hall from mine. Shops on Main also housed Everything Paper, Antiquated Editions, and Jason Logan’s photography studio. There was another space, but it was currently vacant.
“Yes. I’ll text Connie.” She giggled. “You kinda look like Mata Hari. Are you sure you wouldn’t rather have me text Jason instead?”
Jason was my boyfriend. He was the last person I’d want to see me looking this stupid, and Max knew it.
“Please hurry,” I said.
“He’s on his way.”
“Good try. He’s taking holiday portraits of a family at their home in Bristol today.”
I’d barely gotten the words out of my mouth when Connie came into the workroom. “Oh, my goodness! You are in a fix! How did you even manage to text me?”
“It wasn’t easy,” I said.
“So, we’re taking the dress off, right?” she asked.
“Yes. The material is so delicate, I can’t get the dress back over my head without risking a tear.”
Jazzy’s interest in the dress had been rekindled upon Connie’s arrival. I turned a pleading gaze on Max.
“Oh, right, darling. Sorry.” She moved over to where Jazzy could see her and then walked over to the other side of the room. Jazzy followed on her heels, as Max spoke to her affectionately.
Although Connie couldn’t see or hear Max, Jazzy could; and she adored the ghostly fashionista.
Connie helped me ease the dress over my head. I was glad I’d worn a decent bra and panties today, even though it didn’t help alleviate my embarrassment much. Still, Connie was terrific—she turned away and waited for me to slip back into my fifties-style A-line blue dress.
“Thank you,” I told her. “You’re a lifesaver.”
“No problem.” She smiled. “I might need you to get me out of an odd predicament one of these days.”
“I doubt anything this weird would happen to you.”
“You never know,” she said. “You didn’t put that dress on thinking you’d get stuck in it, did you?”
“Not in my wildest dreams,” I said. “My client and I are very close in size, and I wanted to make sure the hem was hanging properly. She’s picking the dress up this afternoon, and I need to finish it up. I figured I’d slip it on, see whether I needed to fix the hem, and then take it right back off.”
Chuckling, Connie said, “Well, I’m glad I could help. I’d better get back to work. By the way, I have a sale on essential oils going on.”
“I’ll come over and check them out before I leave today,” I said.
Connie left, and Max sidled up to me to sing, A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody.
As she sang, Zoe Flannagan came into Designs on You. Zoe, a high school student who was related to Max, could see and hear her. She began to dance with me to the song.
“What are you doing here in the middle of the day on a Friday?” I asked.
“We had early dismissal. Mom dropped me off. Can you take me home after work?”
“Cool.” Zoe texted her mother to tell her she had a ride home. “What’s been going on here today?”
“Our little Amanda got a dress stuck between her eyeballs and her thighs and had to run around like a flibberty jibbet until I texted Connie to come get her out of it,” Max said.
Zoe laughed. “Are you serious?” She looked at me. “Is she serious?”
“A flibberty jibbet. That’s a new one. Still, Aunt Max, you shouldn’t use so many of your old flapper terms,” Zoe said. “When I slip up and use one of them at school, everybody looks at me like I’m a total freak.”
“Oh, ho, ho! Don’t hang that hat on my coatrack, darling. I’ll wager they thought you were screwy long before you met me.” Max winks. “How’s my precious nephew?”
Her smile fading, Zoe asked, “Could the three of us video chat with him later? He’s bummed because one of his friends died.”
“Aw, I’m sorry,” I said.
“Of course,” Max said.
Max’s nephew, Dwight, was Zoe’s grandfather. We found Zoe and Dwight several weeks ago when I was doing costuming for Winter Garden High School’s production of Beauty and the Beast. Zoe was the stage manager. At the same time I was working on the play, Max asked me to try to discover what had become of her sister, Dorothy. I learned that Dot had given birth to two children—one of whom was a girl she named Maxine, after her sister. The other was a boy named Dwight.
Maxine had died young, but Dwight was living in a nursing home in Winter Garden. Like Zoe, he could see and hear Max. Other than me and Grandpa Dave—who also have a connection to Max—they’re the only people we know of who can. So far, at least.
Zoe worked at the shop on Saturdays. I picked her up in the morning on my way to work, took her for food afterward—unless she and I decided to eat here and hang out with Max for a while first—and then drove her home. She often came by at other times during the week when she could get her mother to drive her. Her mom was a widower and worked two jobs. When Zoe couldn’t be here, we often did video chats.
At the moment, she and Max were scrolling through Max’s tablet to find something good to read. I’d opened up a whole new world to Max when I’d introduced her to electronic books, streaming shows, and social media.
After a perfunctory knock at the door, Ruby Mills entered the shop. Ruby had been one of my first clients—I’d made a dress for her granddaughter’s wedding—and she’d quickly become one of my favorites.
I rose and gave her a brief hug. “Ruby, hi! How are you?”
“I’m well, but I need a knockout coat and hat. I thought I’d drop by here and see what you can fashion for me.”
“Well, come on in and have a seat.” After pulling one of the navy wingback chairs over for Ruby, I sat at the desk facing the door in the reception area. “Zoe, would you like to give us a hand?”
I introduced the two of them and explained to Ruby that Zoe helped out in the shop on occasion.
“I’d like to learn to make clothes like Amanda does,” Zoe said.
“Well, you’ll be learning from the best.” Ruby smiled. “Are you two ready to design me something gorgeous?”
“Absolutely.” I got my sketchbook and pencils. “What have you got in mind?”
“I want a white wool coat with a faux fur collar—also white. And a hat too. One of those like the gals in the 1920s wore.”
“A cloche?” Max asked.
“A cloche?” I echoed.
“Probably. You’d know better than I would.”
I searched for cloche hats on my laptop and then turned the screen around so Ruby could see the image results. “Is this what you’re looking for?”
“Yes!” She clasped her hands together. “I want to look stunning when our church goes caroling.”
“It’s going to take a good two weeks to make,” I warned her. “Does that give us enough time?”
“Yes. We’re not going caroling until the night before Christmas Eve,” Ruby said. “I have all the faith in the world in you.”
When Ruby left, I blew out a breath. “I wish I had as much faith in my abilities as Ruby does.”
“Zoe and I do,” Max said. “And we’ll help.” She shrugged one slim shoulder. “Well, Zoe will. I’ll supervise.”
“That hat doesn’t look like it would be all that hard to do.” Zoe looked from the laptop screen to me. “Do you think I could make one?”
“I think you could.” I leaned back in the chair. “I’ll tell you what. I’ll teach you how using Ruby’s hat. Then, if you’d like to make some to sell in the shop, I’ll give you the proceeds from them.”
Her eyes lit up. “Really?”
“That’d be awesome! When can we start?” she asked.
“As soon as I figure out how to make a cloche hat.”
“It’s almost closing time,” Max said. “Do you think it would be all right if we call Dwight now?”
“Let’s do it.” I nodded at Zoe, and she opened a new tab on the laptop.
After logging into her social media, she called Dwight. “Hi, Papaw. Is this a good time for you to talk?”
Dwight shook his head. “No, honey, not right now. I’m about to lie down.”
“What’s wrong?” She sat up straighter. “Are you sick?”
“No. Not yet anyway.” He sighed. “Another one of my friends died, Zo. I think these people are killing them. And I’m afraid I’ll be next.”