Monday, November 17, 2008

Cozy up with a pique at my latest cozy mystery!

A Very Merry Murder by Elizabeth Ludwig

1

Mayor Douglas Wright was an exceptionally handsome man. Hannah Clark had always thought so, right up until this moment, when she stared at his blue lips and frozen eyes and thought him grotesque.

“D-Douglas?” Her body shook, but it had nothing to do with the fluffy white snowflakes swirling around her head and everything to do with the man peering out at her from inside three gigantic snowballs.

She poked a mittened hand at the snowman’s pot belly. A chunk of ice fell away, revealing Douglas’ familiar tweed sport coat. Hannah gasped and backed up a step, her brain struggling to process how the Garland city mayor had come to be encased inside a snowman on the courthouse lawn.

Dropping the plate of muffins she’d carried over from her bakery, Hannah grappled with her parka and finally managed to extract a cell phone from her pocket.
Maxwell. She needed to call Maxwell. He’d know what to do.

Ripping the mitten from her hand with her teeth, Hannah punched in the number and waited impatiently for the phone to ring.

“Maxwell Hale.”

He sounded sleepy—which was reasonable, of course. It was barely six in the morning.

“Max, it’s Hannah.”

“Hannah?” He cleared his throat, no doubt trying to shake the vestiges of slumber.

“What’s wrong? What time is it?”

“Not quite six. Can you come to the courthouse? I. . .” she glanced at Douglas’ frozen grimace and then away, “have an emergency.”

“What kind of emergency? Don’t tell me you caught the bakery on fire again.”

A hint of panic feathered through Hannah’s stomach. If only it were that simple. “The bakery’s fine. It’s Douglas. I found him next to the statue of himself on the courthouse lawn. He’s packed up in snowman. Max. . .I think he’s dead.”

Silence.

Hannah’s gaze flew the length of the courthouse. The bright lights winking merrily from the eaves also cast long shadows that danced eerily through the bushes. Suddenly, it occurred to her that she might not be alone. She shuddered and clenched the phone tighter. “Max?”

“I heard you.”

“What should I do? He doesn’t have a pulse. At least, I don’t think so. He’s all blue, and frozen looking, and there’s a branch sticking out of his chest—” Her voice rose with each word.

“Hannah, listen to me for a second. Don’t touch him. Do you hear me? Try not to disturb a thing. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

She nodded, realized he couldn’t see it, and breathed a shaky, “Okay.”

“Have you called the police?”

“No. You were the first person I thought of.” Which, all things considered, said a lot about her feelings for the editor of the Garland Gazette.

“All right, then here’s what I want you to do. As soon as you and I hang up—”

Her heart pounded faster at the thought of being disconnected from him, even for a moment.

“—I want you to get back in your car, lock the doors, and dial 911.”

“Okay.”

“After that, you’re to stay put until I or the police arrive. Have you got that? Hannah—” His voice shook, as though he were rushing around the room in an effort to dress quickly or. . .

“I mean it, Hannah. If Douglas was murdered, the killer could still be close by. I’ll be there in ten minutes. Less.”

“The roads are slippery,” she whispered, her trembling knees threatening to give way.

“Don’t worry. I’ll be fine. Just get to your car and stay there.”

Hannah whirled and returned to the sidewalk, the crisp snow crunching beneath her boots. Within moments, she was seated inside her car. The low wind chill had already chased away the last tendrils of warmth forced out from her heater, and her breath curled around her head in wispy white puffs.

“I’m there,” she said, jabbing the power door lock button on her key chain. They snapped shut with a satisfying click. “The doors are locked.”

Max’s relieved sigh stroked her cheek. “Okay. I’m going to hang up now, but I’ll be there soon. In the meantime, you dial 911 and let the dispatch officer know what happened. Hannah,” he paused, and this time, she knew it was concern she read in his voice, “don’t open your door for anyone.”

“I w-won’t.” Her frozen lips were barely able to form the words.

“It’ll be okay, sweetheart. I promise. I’ll be there in a moment.”

The phone went dead.

Hannah pulled it from her ear. He’d called her sweetheart. Then again, Max called anything in a skirt sweetheart. It was all part of the newspaperman persona.

Shake it off. You’ve still got one more call to make.

Flipping open the phone, she drew a deep breath, took one last probing look at the darkness outside, and tapped in the number to 911.

[SB]

Maxwell Hale prided himself in his tough, newspaper editor reputation. If it weren’t for the fact that he was a Christian, he might have even taken up smoking cigars, just to enhance the image. Still, the shaking he’d heard in Hannah’s voice had almost been more than he could bear.

Jamming his arms into the sleeves of his coat, he stormed from his townhouse and scrambled to pry open the frozen doors of his late model Chevy pickup. The engine had no more than roared to life when he threw it into reverse and backed down the drive.

Hannah was right, the roads were slippery. Max let off the gas and dropped the truck into four wheel drive before hitting the street.

It took several minutes for the vehicle to warm enough to blow heat from the dashboard vents. Max rubbed his icy knuckles and strained to see through his frost-covered windshield. The courthouse was over twenty miles away. With road conditions as they were, he doubted he’d make it in the promised ten minutes, but he sure intended to try, even if it killed him.

Which it might.

He skidded to avoid two young deer loping across the highway. Once clear, he straightened out the wheels and resumed his pace.

What had Hannah said about Douglas? He wracked his brain to recall her exact words. She found him on the courthouse lawn packed into a snowman? What kind of freak killed somebody then rolled them up in a snowman?

The dangerous kind.

He sped up.

And she said something about a branch sticking out of Douglas’ chest. Okay, so Max had accused Douglas of being a blood-sucking vampire once or twice, but to stab him with a tree limb? C’mon.

He ruffled his hair with his fingers. In his rush to get to Hannah, he hadn’t bothered running a comb through it. Not that she’d mind. As frightened as she’d sounded on the phone, she’d probably be glad if he showed up bald-headed and wearing a tutu.

Now there was a picture. Just the thought of shoving his six foot four frame into a slinky pink leotard made him grimace.

You’re doing it again, Max. Avoiding what’s really worrying you.

The small voice pricked his spirit. He was avoiding the real issue, which was the idea that someone else he cared about was in danger. And he was still fifteen miles away. And helpless.

Totally helpless.

2 comments :

Ane Mulligan said...

LOVE it - now get writing so I can read the rest!! :D

Elizabeth Ludwig said...

LOL! You got it, Ane.

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