CHRISTMAS, CRIMINALS, & CAMPERS

CHAPTER ONE

“The way Nadine carefully wove the tapestry of the small town really did make it feel like its own character,” Abby Fawn said with a deep sigh of happiness. She spoke so fondly of the book she had picked for The Laundry Club’s monthly book club meeting.

It was no secret that Abby Fawn was Nadine White’s biggest fan. Many times, Abby used her position as a librarian to get advance reading copies of Nadine’s books before they were published.

“No matter what we say about the book, Abby is going to defend it until she convinces us to feel the same way.” Dottie Swaggert curled her nose as though she smelled dirty laundry a tourist was throwing into the closest washing machine.

The Laundry Club was a full-service laundromat in downtown Normal, Kentucky. It wasn’t just a place to do your laundry; it was like nothing you’ve ever seen. It was upscale, and Betts Hager had done a fabulous job making it feel like the comforts of home for the customers.

Since Normal was located smack dab in the middle of Daniel Boone National Park, it was a tourist destination for campers and hikers who needed a laundry facility. Betts wanted her customers to be as comfortable doing laundry at The Laundry Club as they were in their homes. She set up a coffee and drink bar and offered snacks. She had a sitting area complete with a television and couches. The customers loved to hang around the puzzle area where there was always a jigsaw puzzle to solve. The little library area, where we held our monthly book clubs, had shelves stocked with books from Abby that the library could no longer use or were too damaged to put on the shelf as well as a computer.

It was the first place I’d come to do my laundry when I drove into Normal in my camper. And here is where I’d met these ladies that I now could rely on for anything I ever needed. We’d truly become what the name was – The Laundry Club.

“Do you have something to say about Cozy Romance in Christmas?” Abby directed her question to Dottie.

“Nope.” Dottie sat back, crossing her arms in front of her. “I thought it could’ve used a little more oomph if you know what I mean.”

“This is a very popular women’s fiction book. It was my pick and I wanted to pick something that gave us a good and happy feeling inside that we can hold onto during the Christmas season since our next book club won’t be until the new year.” Abby jerked her head towards me. Her brown-haired ponytail whipped around her. “Mae? What are your thoughts on the town being its own character?”

“Well.” I hesitated by taking a moment to look at the front of the book to get the author’s name.

We all knew that Dottie liked her novels a little steamier and Queenie French liked her cowboy romances, but honestly, I preferred a good cozy mystery. Over the past few months I’d even used some tricks I’d learned from my favorite cozy mystery authors to help the local sheriff’s department bring a few criminals to justice.

“Um. . . Nadine White does make you feel like you are in the town on the cover.” I held the book up with the cover facing outwards. “I love how the snow is falling in front of the yarn shop. It’s also cute how the cat is in the display window.”

“But what about the friendships Nadine wrote about in the novel?” Abby asked.

“If y’all treated me with kid gloves and all the rah-rah we are sisters stuff, I’d think you’d lost your ever-lovin’ mind.” Dottie didn’t waste any time giving her opinion.

“I think it was very nice.” Betts Hager was opening The Laundry Club’s mail. “No matter what you think, Dottie, our little group has become a much-needed girls’ group for me just like Nadine created in the book. There were some people with flaws, but it’s fiction.” She ripped open an envelope and pulled out a letter. “What about you, Queenie?” Betts asked another member of our book club, pushing back a strand of her wavy shoulder length hair and brushing her bangs to the side as she read the letter to herself.

“I’m not saying it was the worst book we’ve read, but I’m certainly not going to continue with the series.” Queenie adjusted the Jazzercise logo headband up over her forehead. Her short blonde hair was sticking straight up like a bunch of matchsticks. She did look great for being in her sixties, but her colorful wardrobe choices could use a little improvement. “There’s like twenty books in the series.”

Abby Fawn’s brows drew down.

“Abby, we all liked it, but just not as much as you.” I reached over to give her comfort.

“Guys,” Betts Hager put her hands in her lap, gripping the letter. “We all better really like it because Nadine White is coming to our book club.”

“What?” Dottie’s face pinched.

Abby reached across our circle of chairs and snatched the letter out of Betts’s hands.

“I always invite the authors we pick to The Laundry Club book club meetings, never figuring one would show up.”

“Oh my Gawd!” Abby shook with excitement. “She’s getting ready to write her next novel over the winter and will be in Normal for Christmas. When she looked up Normal on the internet, she noticed all of my social media posts and hashtags. She decided that she’s going to check out Happy Trails Campground and rent a camper for the entire winter season to work on her next novel.”

“Happy Trails?” That got my attention right away since I was the owner of the tourist destination of choice deep in the Daniel Boone National Park.

Long story short, my now-dead ex-husband had gone to jail for a Ponzi scheme after swindling millions of dollars from people all over the country, including all the women in the book club. When he went to jail, I had no idea he’d named me the owner of a rundown campground while everything else was seized by the government.

Going from the high life in Manhattan to a campground in Normal wasn’t my idea of fun or the way I had wanted to spend my life. I’d spent the better part of my teenage years getting out of the Kentucky foster care system after my own family had been killed in a housefire.

It had taken me a few months to get the campground up and running on top of doing many odd jobs around the quaint town of Normal, but I’d made it a success. In doing so, not only did I gain the trust of the citizens that my husband had abused, but I had also brought the tourists back to the sleepy town by offering luxurious camper-style arrangements that were better than any hotel in Daniel Boone National Park.

Over the past couple of seasons, Happy Trails Campground had been used for family reunions, honeymoons, and family outings. I was proud of what I had done and its impact on our small town, and Abby Fawn had worked alongside me by doing her fabulous social media marketing in addition to being the town’s librarian.

“I ain’t never gotten no call about a Nadine White.” Dottie Swaggert reached out to get the letter from Abby. She would know. She and I both lived at the campground. She was the manager and took all the reservations.

“Can I have that letter to keep?” Abby gushed with delight and took her phone out of her pocket. “Hashtag Nadine White is going to join the hashtag The Laundry Club hashtag book club to talk about her hashtag women’s fiction hashtag novel hashtag Cozy Romance in Christmas.”

“Abby!” Betts called out her name when she realized Abby was plastering Nadine White’s visit all over social media.

“What was that?” I looked around when the lights in the laundromat flickered.

“The snow.” Betts waved it off. “We have overhead powerlines out back that feed the electric and the heavy snow will sit on the line, wreaking havoc with the electricity.” She pointed to the television that showed a snowy picture instead of the Weather Channel we had been watching on because there was a snowstorm headed our way. “The electricity rarely goes out, but the internet and cable do. Abby,” she got Abby to look up from her phone. “You can’t put it on social media. In her letter, she specifically states that it’s a getaway and no one but her agent will know where she is.”

“Oh, no.” Abby clicked and swiped away on her phone. “I don’t have service.”

“You better get service fast because she’s coming today.” Dottie shoved the letter in my face.

“Today?” My jaw dropped. “I didn’t have her reservation.”

“Not under her name, but under Valerie Young.” Dottie poked at the paper with her finger. “That’s her agent.”

“Valerie Young is the one who requested a Christmas tree and some fun lights around the rental camper.” I had just finished putting up the Christmas tree last night in anticipation of her arrival.

“You’ve got to do more than that,” Abby’s voice rose with each word as the joy and anticipation over her favorite author’s arrival bubbled up within her. “You’ve got to go all out and decorate the outside too.”

“I did see Buck put some new decorations in the display window of the Tough Nickel Thrift Shop.” Queenie unzipped the fanny pack that was clasped around her waist and took out an emery board to file a hangnail.

“You’ve got to do it. Can’t you tell how much that Nadine loves Christmas from this book?” Abby begged. “I can help. I’ve read all of her books and there’s a few Christmas ones. She loves tree all decorated in colored bulbs and she loves those snowmen blow ups. Loves them,” she emphasized with her hands along with wide open eyes. “I’ve got to invite her to the library to do a reading.” Abby jumped up and started to pace.  She’d stop, hold her phone up in the air, look at it, shake it, and do it all over again in an effort to get some cell service. “It’s perfect. A Christmas present for Normal.”

“I’m not so sure she wants anyone to know she’s here.” Betts sighed. We all stared at Abby in amazement. She was so giddy and childlike. Granted, she was in her early twenties and the youngest of the group, but it was an author, not some big Hollywood actress.

“No.” I put my hand out. That was the last thing she needed to be involved in. I’d never seen Abby this excited, not even since she’d started dating Ty Randal, one of Normal’s most eligible bachelors and kinda a suitor of mine when I first moved to Normal. “You’ve got a lot on your mind and I’m crunched for time to get the camper ready.”

“It’s her own fault if she didn’t tell you to get more decorations ups.” Dottie tugged her cigarette case out of her front pocket. “Come on, I’ll go with ya.”

“So it’s set.” Abby gathered in the middle of us before we all went our separate ways. “If I can get Nadine White to do a book reading at the library, you’re all coming, right?”

“Can I tell her that her book is no good?” Dottie took out a cigarette, sticking it in the corner of her mouth and letting it bounce as she talked. “She needs to be told that she needs more substance than a romantic fling and hoping to find love again.”

“Dottie, I promise. You are going to love her. She’s amazing.” Abby’s smile was brighter than the North Star on the night Jesus was birthed. Well, at least brighter than how I pictured it. “I have to go! I’ve got to get to some internet and take down that tweet about her being here.”

The rest of us stood there watching Abby bolt out the door into the falling snow, leaving her coat on the back of her chair.

“Poor girl.” Queenie tsked, clasped her hands, and bended forward to the ground. “I guess I better get to the church. I’ve got a Jazzercise class to teach and that undercroft gets really cold if they haven’t put the heat on.”

Queenie gave hugs all around.

“We’ve got the heat on.” Betts moved the chairs from the circle back to where they belonged. “I made sure Lester knew.” Lester was Betts’s husband and preacher of the Normal Baptist Church.

“The three of you aren’t getting no younger, so you better come join me for some good cardio exercise.” Queenie wiggled her fingers into jazz hands before she slipped her hot pink gloves over them.

“Here.” Betts had run over to the coffee bar and made to-go cups of coffee. “Take a cup with you. It’s cold out there.”

Betts was a woman who wore many hats. She not only did everything she could to be a wonderful wife and mother, she ran The Laundry Club, which was doing great, cleaned houses on the side, and was involved with various clubs around town.

Dottie and I said our goodbyes to Betts and put our coats on.

“I sure hope Abby doesn’t get her hopes up.” Dottie stood on the sidewalk and lit her cigarette.

“I’m worried about that too. She’s built her up in her mind to be this wonderful woman. I just hope Nadine White doesn’t disappoint her number one fan.” I wrapped my hand around the crook of Dottie’s arm. “Let’s walk on over to the thrift shop and see what decorationsBuck’s got over there for Nadine’s camper.””Welcome to Normal, Kentucky where NOTHING is normal!”

#Christmas Campers, & Criminals
A Camper and Criminals Cozy Mystery
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#sleuthers #Mystery