Claus of Death by Gayle Trent

Claus of Death by Gayle Trent

“I really enjoyed ‘Between a Clutch and a Hard Place.’ Myrtle is a great character and the story is refreshing. I like how Gayle Trent avoids being overly sweet and ‘cozy’ yet isn’t ‘hard-boiled’ either. The second book ‘When Good Bras Go Bad’ is just as fun to read. I look forward to more books about Myrtle!” – AlphaGirl, Vine Voice


Chapter One

I was all snuggled up in my recliner with a blanket over my legs and Matlock beside me when the doorbell rang. I’d been watching my show—The Young and The Restless—and they were right in the middle of something dramatic. It was Friday, and they always do something overly dramatic and then leave you hangin’ over the weekend.

I heaved a big sigh, which made Matlock heave a big sigh—he wasn’t one to go barking every time somebody came to the door—as I put down the footrest and got up to peek out the window and see who was there. You remember Matlock, don’t you? He’s the chocolate Labrador retriever I got at the animal shelter a few months ago. He’s my buddy—that’s for sure. When I first got him, I thought I’d lost my mind. Now I don’t know how I ever got along without him.

Anyway, back to who was at the door. I looked out the window, and there stood Tansie and her sister Melvia. I know you remember Tansie—she’s my big, mouthy neighbor that throws money around like it was confetti. Melvia is also my neighbor, but she’s nice. She can’t help who her sister is. And, like myself, Melvia is on a fixed income.

I turned off the television before I opened the door. I didn’t want Tansie and Melvia to think I just sit around watching soap operas all day because I don’t. I watch one, and that’s only because I’ve watched it for years. And me and Matlock enjoy some of them old shows they have on sometimes like I Love Lucy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Big Valley…that kind of thing. And we watch talk shows sometimes. We have to keep up on what’s going on in the world, you know. But we don’t spend all day in front of the television. We have things to do.

“It’s about time,” Tansie said, when I opened the door. She brushed past me. “I thought you were going to let us stand out there in the cold all day.”

“Well, no,” I said. “I hadn’t planned on it, Miss Impatient.  Hi, Melvia.”

“Hello, Myrtle,” Melvia said.

“Here. Give me your coats, and I’ll hang ‘em up,” I said.

Tansie wriggled out of her long wool coat and handed it to me. Melvia said she believed she’d leave her jacket on.

“I took a chill when we were at the mall, and I’ve not got over it yet,” she said.

“Is it that cold out?” I asked. It hadn’t snowed or anything, but I knew it was in the low thirties or the high twenties…about right for early December in southwest Virginia.

“It’s not so much the cold as what happened at the mall,” Tansie said.

“Can I get ya’ll some coffee?” I asked.

“I’d like a cup,” Melvia said.

We all went into the kitchen, Matlock included. He was as eager as I was to find out what happened at the mall that had given poor little old Melvia a chill.

I poured Melvia a cup of coffee and handed her the sugar bowl, the creamer, and a spoon as she sat down at the table.

“How long has that coffee been settin’ there?” Tansie asked.

“Not long. I made a fresh pot at lunchtime. But if you don’t want any, it won’t hurt my feelings.” I poured myself a cup as Tansie said she believed she’d pass. Hateful thing. Like her coffee don’t taste as thick and strong as motor oil no matter when it’s made.

I took my coffee and sat down at the table with Melvia.

Tansie sat down across from Melvia. “You gonna tell her, or do you want me to?”

Melvia shook her head. “I don’t want to. You tell her.”

“Well, I wish somebody would,” I said. This was getting worse than one of them soap opera cliff hangers. I put sugar and creamer into my coffee and stirred it up. I didn’t have all day.

“Melvia and I went to the mall to do a little Christmas shopping. I needed to finish up.” She looked down her nose at her sister. “Had you even started before this morning?”

Melvia shook her head. “I told you. I had to wait on my Social Security check to get here.”

I told you Tansie was hateful. She didn’t have to bring that up in front of me or anybody else. She just wanted me to know—and Melvia to be reminded—that she didn’t have to wait for money to come in. She could go shopping whenever she wanted.

“I do mine a little bit along,” I said to Melvia. In fact, I had mine pert near done, but I didn’t say so. No sense in making Melvia feel even worse.

“Will ya’ll please stop interrupting?” Tansie huffed. “Melvia and I were going through the mall. Belk had their pantsuits on sale, and we were headed down there to look at them when we saw a commotion at Santa Land.”

She was waiting for me to ask what happened, but I didn’t say a word. She’d just told us to stop interrupting, so I’d be dogged if I was going to now.

Since neither me nor Melvia said a word, Tansie just blurted the rest of it out.

“Jackson Barnard, who was playing Santa Claus, killed himself.”

“And he was on the throne when he did it,” Melvia said softly. “Oh, I don’t mean in the bathroom. He was on his Santa Land throne.”

“He killed himself?” I asked. “With what? A gun?”

“No. It was poison. He’d put it in his coffee,” Tansie said.

Melvia looked down at hers like it might have poison in it, so I took a sip of mine to reassure her.

“Are you sure?” I frowned. “Maybe he just had a heart attack or something. No self-respecting mall Santa would kill himself right there in Santa Land in front of all those little kids.”

“It wasn’t too bad crowded today,” Melvia said. “I reckon most of the young ‘uns were in school.”

“Still, what makes y’all so sure it was a suicide?” I asked.

“Because we heard the police talking about it with the woman who works at the Bagel Barn,” Tansie said. “She saw the whole thing. She said he was fine as frog hair, said ‘good morning’ to her as he passed by, went over to Santa Land and sat down on his throne, took a drink of his coffee, and five minutes later he was dead.”

“But why do you think it was suicide?” I wasn’t letting this go without some hard evidence.

“We know because one of the police officers said there were signs of poison,” Melvia said.

“Then how do you know it was suicide and not murder?” I asked.

Tansie rolled her eyes like I was stupid. “Because people get depressed this time of year. Besides, who’s gonna kill Santa?”

 * * *

 When my granddaughter Sunny (y’all know I don’t call my little Sunshine by Crimson, that hippie name her Mama hung on her) got home from school, she called me.

“Hey, Mimi,” she said. “What can I get Matlock for Christmas?”

“I reckon he’d like a visit from you more than anything,” I said.

“Yeah, but I want to get him something and wrap it up.”

“All right.” I looked down at Matlock. “He likes them little dog bones and those treats that look like beef jerky.”

Matlock raised his big head off his paws and looked up at me.

“He knows we’re talking about him,” I told Sunny.

She giggled. “What’ve y’all been doin’ today?”

“We had a surprise visit from Tansie and Melvia,” I said. “They were going on about Santa droppin’ dead at the mall today.”

“I heard about that,” she said. “Monica Krenshaw had been to the orthodontist, and her mama took her to the mall to get her some chicken strips from the food court, and she said the police were there and that they’d roped off Santa Land. It’s closed for the time being.”

“For how long?” I asked. “That’s awful for Santa Land to be closed three weeks before Christmas.”

“I know. But then, who’d want to take their kids there knowing some guy died there?”

“Melvia said he died right there on the throne,” I said. “Did the young ‘un with the braces say anything about what happened to the guy?”

“She didn’t know. She said the only thing the people at the Chicken Coop knew was that he fell over dead and that he had definitely not had anything to eat from the Chicken Coop,” said Sunny.

“Tansie and Melvia heard he was poisoned…but keep that to yourself for now,” I said. “I don’t know any of the details yet.”

“That might be why the people at the Chicken Coop were doing damage control,” she said. “If I ran the Chicken Coop and somebody got poisoned, I wouldn’t want people to think my chicken made them sick.”

“Me either.” My little Sunshine has a good business head on her shoulders, don’t you think? “Still, I can’t figure out why the people at the mall would automatically assume he killed himself if he was poisoned. You’d think it was either accidental or that he was killed. How many people kill themselves with poison?”

“I don’t know, Mimi. Want me to look it up?”

“Yeah. If you don’t care and have time,” I said.

“I’ve got my laptop right here. Hold on a sec.”

After a sec, she came back to tell me that she couldn’t find any exact statistics.

“Poisoning oneself is listed as a way of committing suicide,” Sunny said. “It’s listed right there with vehicular collisions, jumping off bridges, firearms, and hanging.”

“Well, eww…. I wish you hadn’t looked that up now,” I said. “I don’t want you going around with that kinda stuff on your mind.”

“Puh-leeze, Mimi. I’m almost fifteen. And I watch Supernatural. I’m not going to let something a little icky creep me out.”

Supernatural is a good show, but it’s full of haints, boogers, spooks, and monsters. Me and Matlock started watching it to see what Sunny was going on about. I believe she watches it because she thinks them boys on there are handsome. But she’s right. If she can watch that and not be scared as all get out, looking up an article on suicide methods shouldn’t bother her. And them boys are awfully nice looking.

Still, I told her I’d prefer that she didn’t mention what I’d had her look up to her mama. Faye don’t like for me to get Sunny involved with my investigations. In fact, Faye don’t like me getting’ involved with my investigations. And I reckoned that’s what this was now. I was probably going to have to go undercover to find out whether or not Jolly Old Saint Nick committed Hari Kari. Hey, I guess that’d make me Mata Hari Kari.

I’m having dinner with Sheriff Cooper Norville this evening. We got to know each other when I was investigating Flora Adams’ disappearance. I’ll see what he knows about the Santa suicide…the Santa situation…the Santa Land takedown…. If I ever decide to write books about my investigations, I’m going to have to get better at coming up with catchy names for my cases.

# # #

CLAUS OF DEATH will be out this fall, but I don’t have a release date yet. Still, you can get to know Myrtle through her first two books, BETWEEN A CLUTCH AND A HARD PLACE and WHEN GOOD BRAS GO BAD. Both are available on Kindle.