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A Halloween Homicide

Part of the Holiday Cozy Mystery

If y’all love holidays, small towns, undying relationships, southern food, animals, and a smidgen of homicide, THIS cozy mystery series is for you.

CELEBRATE GOOD CRIMES

It’s spooky season in Holiday Junction and Halloweenie Festival is a hauntingly great time.

Holiday Junction really knows how to throw holiday festivals, and it goes all out for Halloween.

The weeklong celebration includes a ghost walk of haunting tales, a hay ride, carnival games, pumpkin carvings and costume party.

Violet Rhinehammer has the perfect assignment—represent the Junction Journal by attending all the fun festive activities and reporting on them.

When Violet reluctantly goes on the ghost walk, she realizes the body that fell out of the fake casket is a real one and not a prop. She knows trouble is brewing. She puts on a sleuthing costume after someone she loves becomes Chief Strickland’s number one suspect in order to catch the real monster.

A Halloween Homicide

Part of the Holiday Cozy Mystery

A Halloween Homicide

Excerpt

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Chapter One

 

Boo! All you ghosts and goblins get ready for a month full of fun, since Halloweenie is set to open this weekend. Don’t miss the Lighthouse Glow kickoff on Friday night followed by a party by the sea to kick off Halloweenie. It looks like the Merry Maker hasn’t set a place for the final Halloweenie night of celebration, but we do know the weather has turned in our favor. The last few weeks have been rainy, but the forecast for the next week is unseasonably cool but dry.

Grab your pillowcase and look for hauntingly delicious treats. They will be served at events like pumpkin painting, pumpkin carving, the parents’ night out, the haunted hayride, the haunted ghost walk, and the Great Jack-O’-Lantern Blaze. These events, vendors, and games will all be at Holiday Park.

Be sure to hit the events calendar at the top of the page to download your Halloweenie schedule. You won’t want to miss out on this ghostly good time.

Who will take home this year’s top prize at the costume contest? Emily’s Treasures has a new stock of disguises for every age. Be sure to let her know you saw it in the Junction Journal and get ten percent off your total purchase.

This article wasn’t the best I’d ever written, and I knew it. It was the best article that would go out, though, since my heart wasn’t into this month-long celebration of Halloween, my least favorite holiday.

Before I could publish the article for tomorrow’s online version of Junction Journal, at which I was currently the only editor and journalist, I needed to go to the library and find some archived photos of last year’s festival.

I looked out at the sea from the window of the Junction Journal building and watched as the waves curled over one another before they spread out along the beach. By their appearance and the shining sun, it would appear to be a gorgeous day for a good ocean swim, but that wasn’t the case. The water, like the temperature, was cold. From what I’d gathered during this, my first time in Holiday Junction for the fall season, this was normal for the time of the year.

I loved a good chilly autumn night, and I thought of sitting on the beach in front of some sort of campfire while wrapped up in a blanket. That was much more appealing than sitting on the beach this Friday night with hundreds of people who were so excited to see Darren Strickland kick off the month-long chain of haunted events. He did that by changing the lighthouse bulb to orange.

From what I’d heard around town, tourists would be invading our little village, which was truly a paradise, except for this month.

Holiday Junction was a cozy village nestled in between the sea and mountains. It was literally the best of both worlds if you liked to escape into the woods or listen to the ocean. Holiday Junction had celebrated every single holiday since it became a town. Tourists came from all over the world to visit during the current holiday. No holiday was too big or too small.

There was absolutely no way that I, the newest citizen, was going to tell anyone my major dislike for October thirty-first. I feared being flogged by the village folks, who celebrated anything that could be celebrated.

For two very good reasons, I’d kept a forced smile on my face this entire month: it was Halloween season, which I had to write on, and I was the Merry Maker.

Now, my mama, Millie Kay Rhinehammer, was a whole different story. She loved Halloween, and since she, too, lived in Holiday Junction, she was already planning the decorations for our new house, just in time for us to move in this week.

My mama would tell you how cute I was when she dressed me up all those years, and she would follow up with how I begged to eat each piece of candy along the trick-or-treat route. She was right. I did love me some candy—not so much the itchy, scary costumes, wigs, and loads of fake makeup on my face.

Thinking about Friday’s event, which would involve sitting in the dark with the sound of the ocean in front of us and the shrieks of the animals in the woods behind us, chilled me to the bone and took me right out of my thoughts.

I clicked open my email to procrastinate and noticed an email headed “Ghost Walk,” which had been sitting in my inbox for a good part of three weeks. I hadn’t opened or responded to it, but now the time to at least look at it was upon me.

It appeared to be from the Holiday Junction Planning Committee, which was the mother of all the committees in Holiday Junction. They had a committee for every holiday, but this one was the main one, and everyone wanted a seat at the table there.

Including Mama.

The email started out very formally with “Dear Ms. Rhinehammer.” I continued to read it.

The Holiday Junction Planning Committee is excited about this year’s Ghost Walk. The walk will take place nightly, starting at the fountain in Holiday Park with tales of Holiday Junction’s ghostly past. This walk will take the south path along the wooded trail leading down to the ocean and end at the steps of the lighthouse. We are excited to offer you an exclusive private walk with our hosts, Hershal and Hazelynn Hudson, owners of Brewing Beans, the sponsor of the walk. We are requesting a write-up in the Junction Journal to help promote the walk and raise money for the Holiday Junction Planning Committee.

Sincerely,

Peter Hill, President

I closed the email, intending to claim I’d never gotten it or say it went to my spam folder. “No thank you, Mr. President.”

I groaned.

Ghost Walk.

Since when did Holiday Junction become a ghost town? In all the research I’d done about the small town, I’d never come across any stories of it being haunted. Trust me, it would’ve caught my eye.

“Something real.” I glanced at the office phone when it rang. “Junction Journal, Violet Rhinehammer speaking.”

“Good morning, Violet.” I recognized Hershal Hudson’s deep voice. Every morning, I stopped by Brewing Beans to grab a hot cup of black coffee before I boarded the trolley to ride to the office. “I see you’ve read the email about the Ghost Walk. I was beginning to think you didn’t like Halloween.”

I growled to myself, realizing they had that email notification turned on that alerted you when someone opened an email you’d sent.

“It’s something all the tourists expect when they come to visit for Halloween,” Hershal Hudson said. “And we are thrilled you’re here because you’ve covered all the holidays so much better than they have been in the past. Since we are close to opening night, I have time tonight to take you on the walk.”

“Tonight?” I flipped the notebook in front of me with a deliberate whip of my wrist to make it sound like I was checking my calendar. “I can’t tonight. Other obligations for the festival.”

Surely that would satisfy him.

Wrong.

“What about tomorrow night or the next night? Heck, any night this week before Friday is a good time for Hazelynn and me.” He wasn’t going to stop.

“You know, I do have this afternoon open.” The thought of a ghost walk in the daylight didn’t seem so… scary.

“Afternoon?” he asked. “Who has ever done a ghost walk in the afternoon?”

“We will if you’d like me to write up an article about it for tomorrow’s paper.” I knew the faster I could get it in the paper, the more open he’d be to whatever time I was available. Seeing how I wasn’t a big fan of ghosts and darkness, daylight was when I was open.

“We will see you around lunchtime at the fountain. Gotta go. Busy crowd this morning. Everyone is wanting a coffee with Hazelynn’s famous Halloween latte art.” The line went dead.

“Coffee art?” I shook my head thinking about all the people walking around downtown Holiday Junction with a cup of coffee that had a ghost, pumpkin, or spiderweb design floating on top. I clicked back on the email to reread what exactly I’d just gotten myself into.

The bell over the office door jingled.

“I’m in here!” I hollered out of the office into the hall.

“Why can’t you just stay home?” Mama walked in, wearing a black sweater with big orange spiders on it and a pair of orange capri jeans. She also sported dangling spider earrings and an enamel spider bracelet. “I told you I don’t want to be bothered right now. Can’t you give me some peace?”

“I can’t even look at you with that on,” I whispered and put my hand over my eyes.

“Noah, I won’t hear of it. You stay in Normal until the holidays are over. Then we can talk.” Mama was talking to my daddy.

“Mama, talk to him.” I tried to encourage her to hear him out. He’d been driving me crazy since Mama showed up on my doorstep with a few suitcases containing her most valuable possessions.

She’d brought news that she and Daddy were getting divorced after all those years of marriage. I couldn’t turn her away, and when he started to call me, I couldn’t turn him away either.

“Don’t you quit your job.” Mama’s lips puckered, and the lines deepened around them as she threatened him. “Do you hear me, Noah? Don’t you dare quit your job. No, sir.” She continued to fuss.

I got up from my desk to leave the office, where Mama had planted herself in a chair while arguing with Daddy on the phone, and walked down the hall to where the small kitchen had recently been remodeled.

The office was basically an old, dilapidated sea cottage owned by Rhett Strickland. Since his family owned the Junction Journal and pretty much most of Holiday Junction, I’d talked them into converting the old cottage into the office, where I could come and work anytime.

The office was in their home, if that told you anything about the flailing paper that barely had a heartbeat when I’d moved here. My idea turned out to be somewhat good. The numbers of people checking the paper online for the daily updates had gone up, and so had the sales of the paper version we printed once a week.

As long as the profit margin’s trajectory went up, I felt I had some job security. Plus, I’d added the weekly column from the Merry Maker. Marge and Louise, the Junction Journal owners, were beyond pleased I’d scored such an exclusive. Little did they know I was the Merry Maker.

“Of all times for your father to call,” Mama said, a hint of annoyance in her southern drawl as it projected down the hall. “I told him I’d call him after Halloween.” The tone of her voice held so much glee that I wondered if she was taking some enjoyment in her little cat-and-mouse game.

“Mama.” I addressed her when she walked into the kitchen. She looked like the holiday display for the Emily’s Treasures clothing boutique. “Are you playing with Daddy?”

“Playing?” Mama pressed her lips together. She gave me one hard stare before she shimmied over to the coffeepot and filled up one of my mugs. “I don’t know what you are talking about, Violet. Your daddy won’t give me my space like I told him to.”

“If you don’t call several states away from him space, I’m not sure how you define it, Mama.” It was rare for me to talk to her like that, and I’d had it up to here with them both dragging me into their web.

“That’s not for your pretty little head to worry with.” Mama shrugged and passed by me. “Now, what is this about a ghost walk?”

“How did you know about it?” I asked and followed her down with a mug of freshened up coffee.

“I read it on your computer while your daddy was saying something about holiday season and whatever. He just has to look in the attic and find the boxes with the holiday written on them to find any decorations.” She rambled on about whatever it was she and Daddy had been fussing over. “Anyways, aren’t you excited about the ghost walk?”

“That’s the problem,” I groaned and sat down at the desk, where the invitation to the ghost walk was staring me in the face. Taunting me.

“It’ll be fun. And…” She moseyed over, leaned in really close as if someone was around to hear, and whispered, “We can figure out where the holiday will end because you’re the you-know-what.”

“Shhh.” My finger flew up to my mouth.

“What?” She took a couple of steps back. “It’s not like anyone is here, and no one would ever suspect you’re the Merry Maker.”

Not by choice but by chance and obligation I’d been named the Merry Maker. The responsibility and feeling should have gone with the suggested name, but at the moment, I wasn’t feeling too merry. Halloween made me feel quite the opposite, which boosted my gumption to sneak out of the Jubilee Inn at night, tiptoe through the streets, and try to find my way through the woods to Vern McKenna’s shed. There, he painted up a large piece of wood in the shape of and with the face of a big jolly jack-o’-lantern.

“We can’t talk about that.” I refused to tell Mama anything about the Merry Maker, even though she’d found out I was the secret jolly cheer spreader by accident.

I’d come to the village by emergency airplane landing and never left. Mama came to town because I was here. That was when she dropped the bomb about her and my dad getting divorced then decided she was staying here with me. When she’d gotten herself into a little pickle the night I’d picked up the painted sign, I’d had to come to her rescue, and she’d put two and two together.

One problem. She and I weren’t alone. Darren Strickland, my boss’s son and the local sheriff, was also with me. Though he didn’t want any part of the Merry Maker position and had to wonder how the two-hundred-year-old tradition had been passed to someone who’d lived in the town for only a few months, he was now my fellow Merry Maker.

There weren’t clear rules about the Merry Maker. The only rules were these: no one could know, and there had to be a person-sized sign in the shape of the holiday planted in the area where the Merry Maker wanted the holiday’s last hurrah to take place. No one had ever known if co-Merry Makers existed, but I decided on that rule when Darren caused Mama to find out about my secret identity.

Playing the part had been fun up until Halloween, which brought me right back to where we were now.

Hours away from a private screening of the ghost walk. I was already feeling faint.

“Oh look! It’s Darren.” Mama hurried out of the office and back to the front door. “I’m so glad you’re here,” Mama said to Darren.  “You’ve got to talk some sense into her,” I heard her tell him before they turned to walk into the office.

“I can’t help it if I can’t stand Halloween.” I tried not to stare too much at Darren. We’d had a few of what I called “moments” since I’d moved here, and those were outside of the co-Merry Maker gig I forced him to take part in.

It was almost difficult for me to avoid getting lost in his dimples when he flashed his charming smile, or in the dark eyes against his olive skin. Something about a dark-haired man sent my heart into orbit.

Regardless, no matter how good the man looked, I still wasn’t going to let him talk me into liking Halloween.

“How on earth do you not like Halloween? You can dress up and be anyone you want for the night. No one would even know it’s you.” He had a point. “It makes it easy to be the Merry Maker.”

“Co.” I gestured between Darren and Mama. “And if memory serves me right, it’s your turn to figure out where the end of the holiday party will be.”

“I had a thought,” Mama chimed in. “What about somewhere on the ghost walk?”

“That’s a perfect idea.” Darren smacked his hands together and rubbed them against each other vigorously. He had a very contagious grin. His dark eyes and brows danced with joy at my uneasiness.

“Wait. Have you two forgotten I don’t like Halloween, including ghost walks?” My cheeks puffed out and filled with frustrated air, which I let seep out of my mouth in one long, steady, nerve-racking stream. “Why on earth would I want the holiday to end where there could be potential ghosts we’d have to deal with for the entire evening?”

“Fine.” Darren looked out the window and at the sea. He wore a long-sleeved plaid shirt rolled up at the cuffs; a pair of baggy, wrinkled khakis; and a pair of tennis shoes. “What if I call Hershal and Hazelynn and tell them I’m going to come with you and Millie Kay on behalf of my mom? You know, part of the journal to make sure she’d agree to such a piece.”

“Deal.” Mama wasn’t going to pass up any sort of possible new adventures. “This is going to be fun.”

Mama’s numerous Halloween baubles on her armful of bracelets jingled together as she rubbed her own hands together.

She leaned in a little closer. Out of the side of her mouth, she whispered, “He’s got that new-car smell.” I jerked around and gave her the side-eye.

In her oh-so-Southern way, she was letting me know Darren seemed to be available, and it was exciting when you smelled that new-car scent. Everyone knew what that smell was, and it was an exciting one.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t hear you. What did you say?” Darren asked Mama.

“She said let’s go.” I stood there looking at my mama, who I didn’t recognize, and Darren, who I recognized all too well.

end of excerpt

A Halloween Homicide

is available in the following formats:

Tonya Kappes Books

Oct 6, 2022

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