An early, deep snow has gifted Fishers’ Harbor, Wisconsin, with a perfect setting for the holiday celebration. Unfortunately removing snow from Main Street for the parade reveals the dead tax assessor with a knife in him–containing Grandpa Gil’s fingerprints.
It’s clearly a setup and one that keeps Ava and Grandpa Gil under the watchful eyes of Sheriff Tollefson. Who wants Grandpa to miss playing Santa Claus in the Christmas parade and why? Who’s being naughty instead of nice?
Grandpa doesn’t help his case with talk of leaving town for good–words that chill Ava worse than the weather. She can’t imagine life without Grandpa’s warm hugs and laughter.
When vandals strike the historic shop and someone leaves Ava and fiancé Dillon Rivers for dead in the snow, Ava wonders if she may need the magical help of Santa’s elves to solve the holiday folly.
Genre: Cozy Mystery ISBN: 978-1-922548-46-7 ISBN PRINT D2D: ASIN: B0CLN7YLKC Word Count: 83, 744
|Amazon||Apple Books||Google Play||Barnes and Noble||Kobo||Scribd||Smashwords||Angus & Robertson Print|
(ebooks are available from all sites, and print is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and some from Angus and Robertson)
5.0 out of 5 stars Fudge, History and Mystery
The story unfolds in the picturesque village of Fishers’ Harbor where the scent of fudge wafts through the air, blending seamlessly with the rich history of Door County, Wisconsin. Ava Oosterling is preparing her Blue Heron Inn for Christmas guests and the upcoming wedding of her best friend. When a murder shakes the tranquil village to its core, eight residents, each with their own secrets and motives, become the focal point of the investigation. Among them is Ava’s grandfather, adding a personal touch to the suspense. DeSmet’s story is filled with intricate relationships, suspicions, and hidden agendas, leaving readers guessing until the very end. This latest addition to the Fudge Shop Cozy Mystery Series is a delightful blend of history, mystery, and mouthwatering fudge. With its well-drawn characters, intricate plot twists, and a setting that comes alive on the page, this book is a must-read for fans of the genre. Be prepared for a journey through Door County that will have you craving fudge and another book from DeSmet’s captivating series. A great holiday gift for lovers of the genre and Door County.
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining Holiday Cozy Mystery
I was an early ARC reader for Christine DeSmet’s newest book, "Holly Jolly Fudge Folly"—the sixth book in her Fudge Shop Cozy Mystery Series. Ava Oosterling is preparing her Blue Heron Inn for guests and stocking her shared-with-her-grandfather Oosterling’s Live Bait, Bobbers, Belgium Fudge, and Beer Shop for the upcoming Saint Nicholas Festival in Fishers’ Harbor, Door County, Wisconsin. The busy Christmas holidays are quickly approaching as Ava makes batches of holiday fudge for her shop and prepares to be the maid of honor for her best friend, Pauline—with her authentic Victorian wedding—as well as deepening her rekindled relationship with her ex-husband, Dillon, and their new engagement. But when the county’s tax assessor is found stabbed to death in his car, buried under a pile of fresh snow packed in from the plow driver—who happened to be her grandfather during an angry rage to get back at the real plow driver for smashing his mailbox—the festive holidays are tarnished with not only the sheriff’s investigation into the assessor's death but also Ava’s determination to find the killer and clear her grandfather of any wrong-doings despite the evidence stacked against him. DeSmet’s description of Door County is wonderful. She gives her readers a true sense of place in the story, with accurate historical details in the landscape, area harbor towns, and the settling families in the area of Scandinavian, Icelandic, and Belgian decent. Her cast of characters are deeply individual and believable. But what DeSmet does best is cast doubt on who committed the murder and why. Eight village people head up the list of possible suspects, including Ava’s grandfather, but when someone is considered the culprit, more motives are revealed, creating doubt with the previous suspects and implicating new ones. Readers will turn pages until almost the end before discovering “who done it.” Cozy mysteries are not a genre I normally read. However, I think DeSmet’s fans as well as new readers of the Fudge Shop Mystery Series will enjoy "Holly Jolly Fudge Folly." DeSmet even includes a recipe for Holly Jolly Folly Fudge at the back of the book for readers to make and enjoy. Overall, I thought it was an entertaining story—I found myself needing to read on to see who actually committed the murder. The novel would make a great holiday gift for those who love a good cozy mystery, especially one set in Door County, Wisconsin.
Continue the Series:
“A truly engaging read with vibrant characters and just the right amount of Christmas magic. Christine DeSmet’s Holly Jolly Fudge Folly is chock full of fun, including eccentric Midwesterner’s defending hearth and home, suspects galore and of course fudge o’plenty. Cuddle up with some hot chocolate, this best of the best cozy is a 5-star read.”
~Ann Garvin, USA Today best-selling author of I Thought You Said This Would Work
“Here comes Ava Oosterling’s latest escapade, dashing through the snow in time for the holiday season! Mystery, murder, secrets and delicious fudge are wrapped up for readers in this delight for the senses in Door County’s winter wonderland.”
~Joy Ann Ribar, author of the Deep Lakes Cozy Mystery Series
Make your holidays merry and bright with Christine DeSmet’s latest fudge shop page-turner.
Holly Jolly Fudge Folly begins with a cold surprise when a dead tax assessor is discovered under a mound of fresh-plowed snow in the Door County village of Fishers’ Harbor. A blizzard of suspects pile up, including Ava’s beloved gruff Grandpa Gil, who threatens to move out of town. Ava’s holiday tinsel is tangled for certain when she receives daily gifts from a secret visitor, agrees to house a mysterious woman with a baby at the inn, and frantically undertakes her best friend’s Victorian-themed holiday wedding. It might take an entire workshop of helpers to set everything in order again in time for the holiday festivities.
~Joy Ann Ribar, author of the Deep Lakes Cozy Mystery Series
“I’m a fan of Christine DeSmet, so I snapped up Holly Jolly Fudge Folly. There’s a lot of baking and eating going on while murders need solving, a wedding needs planning, a lost sister needs finding, and hordes of tourists need hordes of fudge. In addition to learning sweet folktales from Belgian and other northern countries, I learned for the first time in my life that chocolate pairs well with cheese. Who knew? I almost had to stop reading to try it, but first, I needed to find out what happened in the end!”
~ G.P. Gottleib, author, Charred/A Whipped and Sipped Mystery Series
Who was leaving the small gifts at my doors during the night?
The items–trinkets and jewelry crafted from natural materials–had been surprising me every morning since the unofficial start of the Christmas season. That’s the day after Thanksgiving here in Door County, Wisconsin. Shoppers had streamed in and out of Oosterlings’ Live Bait, Bobbers, Belgian Fudge and Beer. By now, a week later on Thursday, December first, I’d totaled six mystery gifts.
Was somebody trying to spook me? Signal something? Say something?
I couldn’t afford to lose sleep over this mystery. Ava Oosterling–me!–had fudge and candies to make and then sell and ship.
My apartment is on the first floor and at the back of the Blue Heron Inn. I was glad I didn’t have guests. I kept popping awake to run to my window overlooking the back yard and concrete steps to the kitchen. At night I’d also taken to creeping through the dark first floor, stubbing a toe now and then on a table leg, in order to peek out the front windows.
Even mounting cameras outside didn’t work. Mysteriously, blank spots appeared in the recordings. The computer screen showed only each gift box nestled at either door.
My first guess was Grandpa. A scoundrel of the highest form, Grandpa Gil Oosterling loved to play tricks. Especially on his only grandchild. Even if she were in her early thirties and no longer five or ten years old.
Grandpa guffawed at my guess. “Ava, the Christmas elves are doing it. Though maybe the Belgian skritek are helping. Those gnomes are tricksters when in a jolly holly mood. It’s the snow, you know. Mischief comes when there’s early snow. Elves and skritek gnomes like to help people smile once the days grow darker and snow falls.”
Deep snow–a good foot–had blanketed Fishers’ Harbor last night. Our village nestled north of the canal zone in our peninsular county that jutted into Lake Michigan like a thumb of a mitten. We were officially “Up North”.
After fitful sleep, I woke at four-thirty to a pleasant hush and frosty, filigreed patterns in the window glass. I flicked on a light and flung up the window sash. Icy air whooshed about my nightshirt, causing a shiver. A story below, and sheltered by the roof overhang, a green box with a red ribbon sat snug against the kitchen door and only inches from a snowdrift. Snowflakes eddied about, sparkling in the glow from the bedroom’s light.
I shut the window and got dressed.
The gifts weren’t from guests. The 1800s blue-and-cream, two-story inn perched atop the steep hill at the south end of Main Street was empty at the moment. My next guests would arrive for the upcoming weekend Saint Nicholas festival. More would then arrive for my best friend Pauline’s wedding the following Saturday. The inn would be the setting for her Victorian-style wedding luncheon following the traditional Belgian matrimonial parade in a carriage drawn by horses down Main Street. If we could find horses. That was another problem. Wineries and other businesses offered sleigh rides and hayrides in winter, so there wasn’t a dobbin for rent anywhere it seemed.
I’d adorned the six upstairs rooms in the past week with extra Christmas trimmings and Victorian-inspired bedspreads for guests staying for the wedding. Pauline loved satin and tassels. Another friend of ours created holiday soaps made from the goats’ milk on her farm. Each bar of soap was folded within a souvenir handkerchief embroidered in one corner with tiny green holly and red berries and “P and J” for Pauline and John. Pauline’s mother had made the kerchiefs.
Three guest rooms overlooked the harbor to the north and the neighborhood below a cliff where my grandparents lived on Duck Marsh Street. The other rooms upstairs faced the woodland south of the inn. My first-floor apartment window framed the quiet southwest view of the inn’s backyard with its gazebo and woodland beyond.
Grandpa said that gnomes and elves lived in the trunks of the maples and oaks. Of course, when the snow got this deep, the elves were known to come inside houses and gnomes favored sheds and barns to look after animals.
Shaking my head, I donned a red sweatshirt over the white blouse worn while making fudge. With holly-themed slippers of red and green on my feet, I set off through the parlor with its blue loveseats, the foyer with its grand chandelier, the dining room with its long table and Belgian lace cloth, and then I finally headed through the swinging door into the kitchen.
After bringing the most recent gift box inside, I sat at the kitchen’s white marble island. A small batch of an unnamed holiday fruitcake-inspired fudge waited for cutting and taste-testing. I ripped off the gift box’s red ribbon, my heart fluttering.
I had eliminated several suspects: grandparents, my best friends Pauline and Laura, my soap-making friend Fontana, and my fiancé.
Elves? Grandpa had said days ago at our shop, “Leave milk and sugar out at night for those faery folk as a way to contact them.”
“Why would I want to contact an elf or a gnome?”
“To appease them, to avoid tricks being played on you. It’s that time of year when a mouse might actually be an elf, and what you think is a raccoon scurrying through the back yard is really just a gnome in a fur coat.”
And so I had dutifully set out milk and fudge each night at the back door. For Grandpa’s sake I did the same at the shop. The libations disappeared each time. Not a surprise, what with our wildlife in our rural county. We had a total population of twenty-eight thousand people. That left plenty of room for fox, coyotes, rabbits, squirrels, owls–anything coveting milk and fudge.
To my shock, this morning’s gift appeared to be a hand-pounded gold birch leaf.
It made me sit back. All of the gifts thus far had been trinkets of nature, braided straw bracelets, polished agates and such. This was precious metal. Expensive-looking. About the size of a quarter, it was affixed with a loop for stringing onto a necklace or an earring post. White-barked birch trees peppered our county, their leaves turning vibrant gold in autumn.
I took the gold leaf and box to the dining room where I set it on a shelf among the other items I’d received. Hoping some visitor might be guilted into confessing, I had moved my grandmother’s collection of yellow rose-patterned antique porcelain dessert plates and Belgian chocolate sipping cups to the kitchen.
The inn creaked in the wind, protesting the cold leaking into its old wooden bones. Immigrants–lumberjacks and fishermen–from Scandinavian countries and Belgium had built the inn as well as the shop on the harbor in the mid-1800s.
Before I could head down the steep hill to my shop, I had to shovel myself out. Well after five in the morning now, it remained black outdoors save for the pool of light shed by the lamp above the back door. The fluffy snow flew like feathers off the shovel.
Soon, I tackled the front verandah and its steps.
A lone street lamp below my hill split apart Main Street’s wintery darkness. The street appeared to have zigzagging, serpentine paths amid the snow, as if our snowplow driver had been nipping at a bottle of brandy. I thought I heard the plow grinding in the distance.
By the time I finished shoveling, it was after six o’clock–an hour after the time my grandfather usually made his way to Oosterlings’ Live Bait, Bobbers, Belgian Fudge & Beer. Grandpa likes to say to every customer coming in, “Everything goes better with beer. Even fudge.” Customers usually laughed.
Lately, Grandpa hadn’t always been in the shop at his usual five o’clock, or “Smelt” on his handcrafted fish clock. When he came in later, he seemed obsessed about the newspaper. A pencil in his hand scratched notations he wouldn’t let me see. If only his skriteks would tell me what he was up to, they would set my mind at ease. Grandpa and I loved sharing secrets, but not this time. That worried me.
As I set the snow shovel aside in the inn’s front entry hall and removed my coat, my phone buzzed. The number belonged to my best friend, Pauline Mertens.
“Pauline, it’s early. What’s wrong?”
She was breathing hard. “Just finished shoveling. Nothing’s wrong, Ava. In fact, this is a perfect day to work on your dress for my wedding.”
The last thing I wanted to think about on a cold, blizzard-like winter’s morning was that ridiculous dress. “Don’t you go into virtual teaching mode today? Aren’t snow days a thing of the past?”
Pauline taught kindergarten. She had ten students this year, a smaller group than usual. They were going to be in the wedding, too–all dressed like either Victorian Christmas angels or elves tossing flower petals on the church aisle.
Pauline said, “A communication tower is iced up and power lines are down somewhere, too, so no Internet for a lot of kids today. And did you forget I’m officially not teaching as of today?”
“Brecht and Bethany are great subs.”
“Neither has a teaching license. I still don’t understand how they got hired.” I wanted to keep her talking so she’d forget about the dress.
Her subs were Brecht Rousseau–our friend Laura’s husband who’d left the Army with PTSD, and Bethany Bjorklund, the on-and-off girlfriend of my shop helper, Cody Fjelstad.
“Ava, listen to the newscasts. Our state is short of teachers. The school district got an okay for each. Anyway, instead of waiting until Sunday to work on your maid-of-honor dress I thought I could come over to your grandmother’s house this morning. A snowy morning is perfect to work on a dress.”
“How are you going to get over here? This snow is deep and Main Street is a mess.”
Pauline lived with her mother several blocks away in our village of a few hundred residents. Backstreets were the last plowed, sometimes taking until the next day–after the crew cleared Highways 42 and 57–the only arteries in and out of the county.
Pauline said, “I’ve got tall boots and snow pants like everybody else. I’ll trek over. I’m dying to see how this lace I bought looks on your dress.”
Ugh. I had lost this battle because I loved my friend. Lace was winning. Pauline’s wedding was a week from this coming Saturday. For her Victorian-themed wedding I was supposed to wear an elaborate cherry-red velveteen gown with puffy sleeves and a low-cut bodice and a skirt the size of which would hide a bear.
“Pauline, I’m really in a hurry to make–”
“Fudge. Yeah, yeah. You sound cranky. I bet you still haven’t come up with your new Christmastime fairy tale fudge flavor or its name, have you? You’re behind on everything as usual.”
She knew me too well. A new recipe sat on my kitchen counter without a name. My mind was on the mysterious boxes.
Pauline said, “I bought the extra lace yesterday down in Sturgeon Bay for the trim on your bonnet, too. I’m dying to show you.”
“What bonnet? I agreed to the dress, but not a bonnet.” Chills overwhelmed me as I stepped again outside the front door.
“Women in Victorian times wore bonnets and hats. It’ll have white lace trim that will match the white lace on your muffler and reticule. With your dark auburn hair, you’ll be stunning.”
“I assume by a muffler you’re not talking about a car.”
“And I’m not about to carry a reticule and be ridiculed.”
Pauline had shown me endless pictures of Victorian gear for women, including the reticule–a dainty drawstring purse. I disliked purses. The muffler was a thick scarf for my neck. I did like mufflers–noisy ones on fast cars.
She laughed. “The lace on the bonnet and muffler will match the lace trim atop your button-up slippers.”
“Can’t I just wear my work shoes under that skirt? Or boots? Who’s going to know?”
“Ava Mathilde Oosterling! You are going to lose your status as my best friend if you continue in this vein. What time is good for me to meet you at your grandparent’s house?”
Grandma considered Pauline a grandchild, too. Grandma had leaped at the chance to be the seamstress for this Victorian Christmastime wedding.
“I’ll have to call Grandma and get back to you.”
Pauline hissed. She did that a lot but I always ignored it, which made her hiss more. “Why don’t I help at the shop so we can head over to your grandmother’s house by mid-morning?”
I agreed. She’d be at the shop by seven. If I hurried, that would give me a few minutes yet to talk to Grandpa and get more fudge made and packaged for mailing.
At the bottom of my hill I turned left as usual onto Duck Marsh Street where my grandparents and my fiancé Dillon Rivers lived. After only a couple of steps in the deep snow I halted to stare at a big mess.
The plow had left a zigzag trail down the middle of Duck Marsh Street. Thigh-high snow piles blocked driveways.
The driver had to be drunk. Or were they ill? Concern swept over me. The plow drivers in our village–Al Kvalheim or Mercy Fogg–were in their sixties or so, prime age for a heart attack statistics showed. I monitored such things because Grandpa was in his seventies and always teasing death with his misadventures.
In the chilly stillness came the echoes of shovels scraping somewhere across the village.
The plow driver had snapped off my grandparents’ mailbox. Again. Grandpa growled about fixing it because usually his arch-enemy–Mercy–drove the plow when that happened.
Across the street from my grandparents’ cottage sat the cabin belonging to my fiancé and the curly brown hunting dog that shared us–an American Water Spaniel–called Lucky Harbor.
I still wasn’t used to “fiancé”. Or “beau” or “intended” and “engaged” and other terms people used for Dillon Rivers. The trouble was, he and I had been married once before long-ago but never engaged. We’d eloped. Then divorced. A long story. Now we were engaged. After a trip to Belgium last fall. Another long story.
Light glowed from inside the cabin but I had no time to slow down. Pauline would be on her way.
Snow coming off tree limbs spattered my face as I forged ahead. The choppy water of the nearby harbor slapped in the near distance against the harbor’s concrete wall on the other side of the fudge shop. The harbor and bay wouldn’t freeze over until sometime in January. Our shop would get busy again selling ice-fishing equipment.
As I pushed through the deep snow, my head turned to worries. Pauline’s long-missing and younger sister had not shown up yet in our attempts at finding her. Lucie was doing social work, we thought, in a foreign country. Lucie traveled at will, not always staying in touch. On purpose. She’d given up mostly on the Mertens family because of the miscreant, abusive, drunken father. He had abandoned them long ago but Pauline feared he might hear about the wedding and attend, causing chaos and heartache. We thought Lucie might be avoiding the whole event. I wasn’t ashamed to hope the man was still in prison. What if he’d contacted Lucie? Was that why we hadn’t heard from her?
The chill coming over me hurried me through the snow topping my boots.
Humid air caressed my cheeks as I burst through the shop’s back door. I flipped on the lights. Savory perfumes of yesterday’s cooking with chocolate and vanilla and peanut butter and cherries and sugar assailed me.
No response. I didn’t smell his coffee. Grandpa couldn’t work without strong coffee laced with real bits of imported Belgian chocolate.
After hanging up my coat, stocking cap, and gloves in the hallway, I peeked in the storage room to the right and kitchen to the left. No grandfather.
In the front shop, the wood floor creaked under me.
The fish clock above the front door indicated almost seven o’clock–Muskellunge or “Muskie” time, well past Grandpa’s usual arrival time. A strip of pink showed in the sky to the east.
I turned on the switch that lit the bulbs on six Christmas trees Dillon and I had set up along the harbor docks at the posts. The evergreen branches sagged under dollops of snow, but pleasant orbs of red, blue, green, and yellow glowed.
The parking lot had one trail plowed through it but would need a lot more work.
The weekend’s snow sculptors would welcome the snow. The Main Street businesses–the backs of which were across the harbor from me–had put out several trash barrels for collecting snow. The snow artists would pack down the snow within the barrels, then dump the barrels upside down along Main Street and start carving as early as tomorrow.
The sweet aroma in the shop from the candies in the glass cases created the proverbial sugarplums dancing in my head. Making Christmas Elf Fudge today was in order.
Elves. I was still thinking about the gold they’d brought to my back door. Grandpa said that elves or nisse could spin gold from wheat.
We had a significant Scandinavian population in Door County. Stories about the Christmas nisse abounded in the storybooks I sold on my shelves. Sharing a storybook while eating fudge or chocolate treats was a perfect way for an adult and child to spend Saint Nicholas Day (coming up Tuesday!) or Christmas. I encouraged the Christmas Eve tradition of gifting every child in the family with a book and letting them open it so it could be read before bedtime. Of course, a gift of fudge with that book made sugarplums dance in a child’s head even more.
I called my grandfather’s number but got no answer, so I called Grandma.
“Ava, he left the house by five o’clock. Didn’t even wait for my first batch of snickerdoodles to come out of the oven. He was supposed to take those to your shop.”
“The mailbox is broken again, but I didn’t see him around. You don’t think he’s hunting down the driver?”
“I hope not. Maybe he took the dog out for Dillon. He might have lost his phone again and that’s why you’re not getting an answer.”
Losing phones often happened to Grandpa and me. It seemed hereditary. I’d seen the lights on at Dillon’s cabin, so I felt better knowing Grandpa was likely fine.
Within a short time I had made a fresh batch of peanut butter fudge and set it in a big pan on my register counter to cool. I also whipped up Belgian cookies called speculoos. The kitchen air swirled with cozy warmth and mouth-watering scents of cinnamon and almonds.
As I removed the last tray of speculoos from the oven the cowbell on the front door clanked several times. Yelling and choice words erupted. To mimic the familiar Christmas poem, there arose such a clatter that I ran out into the shop to see what was the matter.
There stood Grandpa in his coat, snow pants, and stocking cap–with the sheriff next to him with a hand clutching Grandpa’s coat sleeve. The sheriff’s face was red, as if extremely cold or this situation had caused him to steam.
“Grandpa? Jordy? What’s going on?”
With twinkling eyes, Grandpa hesitated, never a good sign.
Sheriff Jordy Tollefson, a man only a couple of years older than my thirty-two years, let go of Grandpa with his fist but his steely gaze remained. “This man related to you stole the village’s snowplow.”
“Nothin’ doin’.” Grandpa snorted, snapping off the stocking cap. His thick, shaggy silver hair stuck up in all directions by about three inches with static electricity. “I was merely helping out.”
Now I understood why I’d seen the crazy plowing patterns in the streets. “Why would you steal the snowplow?”
“Because darn Mercy Fogg doesn’t know how to plow out my street. I need to teach her a thing or two.”
I took Grandpa’s stocking cap and coat. “Old grudges aren’t attractive on you, Grandpa.”
When Mercy was village president she had tried to gain support for razing our shop and the homes on Duck Marsh Street in order to put up expensive condos. They would reap more tax money for the village than 1800s sheds and cabins turned into cottages like the ones in which Grandpa and Grandma and Dillon lived.
I laid Grandpa’s things across his register counter a few feet away from mine and on his fishing-tackle side of the shop.
Sheriff Tollefson pulled out a ticket folder from a back pocket.
“Hold on, Jordy,” I said. “You can’t write a ticket for, uh, what? Is the snowplow in one piece?”
Jordy grimaced. “It’s in one piece but Main Street is not. He drove erratically, leaving piles of snow across sidewalks and little access for cars to get through.”
“But your squad must have made it. I see it parked outside.” I raised my eyebrows.
Jordy’s face grew redder, about to blow. “My vehicle barely navigated the winding trail. And there’s a car buried on Main Street because of Gilsen.”
Grandpa Gil darted to his side of the shop where he kept his beloved coffeemaker on a wall shelf. “You’ll feel better, Sheriff, after some of my coffee.” He grabbed the glass carafe and took off for the kitchen in back.
“Bribes won’t work!” Jordy yelled. “And if you go out the back door, Gil, the next door you’ll go through will be a jail cell door.”
Jordy wrote the ticket as grumbling Grandpa returned with the water for the coffeemaker.
While Grandpa created his special chocolate-laced strong coffee I pleaded with Jordy. “No need for a ticket. Everything is fine, you said. He didn’t crash the plow.”
Grandpa turned to us. “It’s not fine, Ava honey. That Mercy only takes one swipe down our street instead of two. She expects us to shovel out mounds of snow. What’s more, she always plows over my mailbox.”
I offered, “In reality, Mercy does her best with that narrow street and Dillon has dug out your walkway and mailbox every snowfall with his big snow blower.”
“That’s because you and Dillon think I’m not capable of anything. You think I’m old!”
Jordy blinked at the outburst. So did I.
I went over to Grandpa, laying a hand on an arm. “You’re not old, but there’s nothing wrong with accepting help at any age.”
“Accepting help?! That sounds like I’m nearly dead.” He banged shut the coffeemaker lid. “Everybody thinks I’m good for nothing but trouble. And old.”
My heart felt like a puppy that had been admonished for chewing up a slipper. The sheriff grimaced, waiting.
Grandpa grabbed his ceramic cup and I thought he might throw it at the sheriff.
I relieved him of the cup. “Who is ‘everybody’ who says you’re old?”
“Al and all the guys at Erik’s bar. My card group has become like a ‘babysit the old guys’ club, too.”
“It sounds like you lost money at cards recently.”
“Hmmpf.” He began fussing with straightening a shelf filled with fishing bobbers, reels, and fishing line.
“Al and everybody in that group are around your age.”
Grandpa turned to me with hiked fuzzy eyebrows. “Yes, but they’re always bragging about this hobby or that. I don’t want to be relegated to building birdhouses.”
The sheriff stood in the middle of the shop waiting with arms crossed. After a sheepish grimace, I went back to Grandpa.
The coffee had dripped through its filter, so I filled Grandpa’s cup and took it to him. “Now you’re dissing Dillon. His birdhouses are a work of art. His birdhouses that look like Santa’s North Pole chalet are selling out constantly at the Christmas shop in Ephraim.” It was a shoreline village just five minutes north of us. “Dillon could use your help.”
Grandpa slurped his coffee while I offered a cup to the sheriff.
Jordy put down his ticket pad on my register counter next to the pan of cooling peanut butter fudge.
The front door banged open then. In a rush of cold air and swirls of snow Mercy stomped into the middle of the shop. She was a stout woman encased in a blaze-orange coverall and matching stocking cap. “Where the heck is my snowplow?”
Grandpa plopped his cup on his register counter, grabbed his coat and then ran for the back hallway. The back door slammed.
The sheriff sighed but didn’t go after Grandpa. He was staring at Mercy, as if waiting to hear more.
Mercy pulled off her stocking cap, leaving behind a matted mop of blond curls. “What the heck was he thinking stealing my snowplow?!”
I shoved a cup of hot coffee at her along with a piece of fudge, hoping to keep her from chasing after Grandpa. “How could he do that, Mercy? Weren’t you inside the snowplow cab?”
She stuffed the peanut butter fudge in her mouth, then slurped coffee. “I’ve been plowing since three a.m. and with a lot of coffee. I got around this neighborhood a bit later and had to get out of the cab to find a toilet. We women can’t just find a tree, you know. I was on Duck Marsh Street and saw Dillon’s lights on. So I hopped out, knocked on the door. He let me use his toilet. I came back outside after doing my business and the snowplow was gone!”
Sheriff Tollefson shifted his weight. “The snowplow appears to be okay. It’s parked on the other end of Main Street, past Erik’s bar and in the lot by the beach. Here are the keys.” He took the key out of his front chest pocket and handed it to Mercy.
I said, “Okay. All solved. Everything is just fine.”
The sheriff said, “Not quite.”
He walked back to my counter, put down his coffee next to the fudge, ripped the ticket off the notebook, and then handed it to me. “Somebody has to dig out the car your grandfather buried with snow on the other end of town, across from Erik’s. I’ll want to take a look later to see if there’s any damage that Gil has to pay for.”
Mercy said, “I’ll dig out the car for a price.”
After my pointed sigh at her, I said to Jordy, “I’ll grab Dillon and snow shovels and we’ll rectify it. I’ll call you once we’ve uncovered it. You can inspect it.”
Jordy handed me the ticket, which made me gasp. I said, “Certainly my grandpa shouldn’t have to pay this much?”
Mercy interjected, “Snowplows are expensive to replace. He stole it, and who knows what damage he may have done to the engine or the blade or the tires. And if he changed my radio station, he’s in for more trouble. Gilsen can’t get off with just a slap on the wrist this time.”
She walked over to my register counter, put down her cup, scooped with her fingers into the middle of the peanut butter fudge pan, and then headed for the door with a smile. “Have a nice day. Thanks, Sheriff.”
As soon as the cowbell clanged behind her, I waved the ticket at Jordy. “This is an insane amount.”
“Gilsen can choose to contest it before a judge.” Jordy enjoyed his coffee, looking around, as if stalling for some reason.
“What is it, Jordy?”
His next breath expanded his uniformed chest. “I’d give anything to sit here and drink coffee and munch on whatever you have in that kitchen. I smell cinnamon. Speculoos?”
I nodded. “Fresh-baked.”
“Yum. You make the best Belgian speculoos. Sweet with light spice.”
A crooked smile bloomed, punctuated by a twinkle in his eyes. We’d known each other since our childhood, and it was well-known that Jordy wouldn’t mind spending more time with me, but mostly he was harmless. I stepped behind my register counter. “Would you like to take fudge back to your office? No charge, of course.” I picked up a white bag, ready to fill it.
“Sounds like a bribe.” He winked at me.
I turned to filling the bag. “It’ll be a variety pack of fudge for your whole crew.”
“Thanks.” As I bustled about, he added, “You and Dillon set a date yet?”
“None of your business.”
“I thought with Pauline’s wedding coming up that you’d get in the mood.”
“None of your business.” I handed him the sack with a smile.
A glint lurked in his dark eyes. “Thanks. A perfect way to start my day.” He grabbed up the ticket for Grandpa. “I’ll catch up with your grandpa.”
“I wish you wouldn’t.”
He winked. “Bye, Ava.”
Around eight o’clock Dillon picked me up in the harbor parking lot in his construction pickup truck with its blade on the front. He had cleared the area. Pleasant smoky perfume from village fireplace chimneys softened the razor-sharp effect of the icy air.
After Dillon turned left onto Main Street we spotted Pauline trudging up the middle amid the serpentine path left behind by Grandpa’s snowplow escapade. She carried a backpack–likely filled with the dreaded lace for my maid-of-honor torture. With snowflakes glistening on her cheeks and eyelashes, Pauline climbed into the back.
I updated her about Grandpa while Dillon wove north on Main Street.
She said, “Was Gil nipping at hot toddies when he did this mischief?”
A “hot toddy” was a hot winter drink laced with whiskey, bourbon or brandy.
I said, “You know how he is in winter before ice fishing starts.”
Dillon offered, “Bored as a bobcat with no rabbits to chase. He just keeps tracking and sniffing for trouble.”
We laughed as we headed toward the edge of the downtown.
Our downtown was short–only five blocks. Shops opened at ten o’clock. Giant, plastic snowflakes and red-striped candy canes hung from canopies sagging with snow. At the inn’s end of the street, the bookstore’s windows sported holiday picture books and the mercantile’s windows displayed toys, holiday hats and gloves, and ornaments. At the other end of the street was the Troubled Trout, a historic stucco-and-pine log building, popular bar and restaurant.
There were no cars on the street save the one Grandpa had buried with snow up over the windows on the driver’s side. The dark gray sedan sat across from the Troubled Trout.
Dillon had shovels, so I cleared the back bumper while he took the driver’s side. Pauline used a windshield scraper to work on the back window.
Dillon startled us by calling out, “Ava! Pauline! Come here!”
We slogged through the snow. Dillon knocked on the foggy driver’s window. “Hey! Hey, Mister!”
A man sat in the car, head tipped with chin resting on his chest.
“Is he asleep?” I asked, stomach queasy already.
Pauline mewled. “I don’t think so.”
Dillon said, “Neither do I.”
He pulled the door latch. The door popped opened.
A black knife handle stuck out from the man’s belly. Copious amounts of blood had spilled onto tan slacks.
A second look at the man’s face startled me. “I know him. And this won’t be good for Grandpa.”