Excerpt: Silent Knife

Chapter 1

“Santa’s in your office and he’s hopping mad.”

Liv Montgomery looked from her assistant Ted to the closed door of her office. “He hasn’t even come to town. What seems to be the problem?”

Ted shrugged. “He wouldn’t say.”

“That doesn’t mean you don’t know.” Ted Driscoll was a handsome sixty something man, tall, thin with a shock of thick white hair. He was slightly mysterious and the fount of local gossip. Today his usual three piece suit had been replaced with a reindeer sweater.

“No, but in this case, you’d better ask him yourself. He didn’t even say hello. Just lumbered in here and demanded to talk to the town event organizer. Since that’s you, I left him in your office. Where’s my favorite dawg today?”

“Over at the Woofery. He had a run in with an overturned garbage can, and Sharise took him in on short notice.”

Ted shuddered. “Poor thing and I was hoping to get him rehearsed for the Messiah sing-along.”

“Don’t you dare.” Since Liv moved to Celebration Bay three months before to become the town’s events co-coordinator, Ted and her Westie, Whiskey, had bonded over a mutual love of singing. Both howled loudly and happily off key whenever they got together.

“Have you had lunch?”

Liv shook her head. “I’ve been at the Inn, double-checking on the Dickens' Dinner. They’re fine.”

“Told you. The Andersons have been doing a version of goose and turkey for years.”  Ted perched one hip on his desk and reached for the phone. “I’ll call Buddy’s for delivery. You go deal with Santa.”

Hank Ousterhout was “chubby and plump” and about six foot two. A thick white beard tumbled over his chest to the belt buckle of his jeans. His cheeks were rosy, but not with merriment. Santa was pissed.

“Mr. Ousterhout. How nice to see you.” Liv stuck out her hand.

The not-so-jolly giant, grumbled, but took her hand and pumped it.

Liv eased her fingers from his grip.

“Have a seat.”

Ousterhout pulled a chair up to her desk with one hand, sat down and leaned forward on his elbows. His beard spread over the desk top in front of him.

She sat behind her desk. “Ted tells me you have some concerns.”

“That woman,” he rumbled. “That—that woman.” He fairly vibrated with anger

“Which woman?” Liv asked, though she thought she knew. The manager of the newly opened Trim-a-Tree shop on the square was not doing much to instill the Christmas spirit among the townspeople or her customers.

She’d moved in over the Thanksgiving weekend and during the following two weeks, Liv had received scores of complaints by phone, mail, email, and the Celebration Bay website and Facebook page.

Liv had encountered her once and that was enough. Whatever had possessed the Newland family to sell to a franchise was beyond any of them. But they had and the small year-round holiday store had disappeared to be replaced by Made in Taiwan.

“You’re not going to let her get away with it, are you?”

“Certainly not.” Liv wondered what “it” was this time. The tasteless window display? The cheap merchandise inside?

The manager of TAT, as the store was called among the locals, had offended just about everyone. She refused to adhere to the council decorating guidelines. Had refused to contribute to the Celebration Bay Toys for Tykes Christmas Party. Was rude to her customers, and humiliated her employees in front of them. If Liv didn’t stop this now, it would be an awful few weeks until TAT closed down in January. And she couldn’t let that happen.

Mr. Ousterhout’s beefy fist slammed on the table, rattling Liv’s paper clip holder. “She hired her own Santa.”

“Ah,” Liv said. “Maybe she wasn’t aware of the one Santa rule here.” Though TAT along with every other business in town had been sent reminders of town policy.

“The heck, she ain’t. Why Roger Newland sold to that dang company is beyond me. Why he sold at all is a mystery. He didn’t tell nobody. We would'a helped him out if we knew he was having troubles.” Hank stopped to shake his massive head.

“And we don’t need no store like that Trim A Tree in Celebration Bay. And we don’t need but one Santa. I’ve been Santa here for over ten years. We only allow one Santa in town, and that’s the town Santa, since we don’t want the children getting confused with a bunch of hawkers, and jarring their belief in the real Santa.

“I won’t be party to some cheap selling gimmick. When we let a bunch of outsiders take over, the town’ll go to hell. And that’s a fact.” He wound down and took a breath that ruffled his beard.

Liv stood up. “Thanks for letting me know. I’ll get over there and explain our policy more fully. She might be getting guff from her corporate office, and if that’s the case, I’ll speak with someone who can make the change.”

“Thank-you. And you can tell her for me if she makes one more nasty remark about my um, about me, she’ll be sorry.”

Liv smiled tightly as she waited for him to work himself out of the chair. She was particularly sensitive to threats, whether meant or not. Since moving to Celebration Bay in the fall, she’d all ready been involved in a murder investigation, something that had never happened in all her years of event planning in Manhattan. Go figure.

“You just get ready for the Santa Parade. I’ll take care of the other Santa.” Liv hadn’t regretted taking this job or moving to upstate New York for a minute. But she had to admit some jobs were easier than others and locking horns with the manager of Trim a Tree was not one of them. Grace Thornsby was way down on the who’s nice list.

Liv gently steered him through the outer office to the door. “Don’t worry, Mr. Ousterhout. We’ll have this sorted out in no time.”

“Before tomorrow’s Santa Parade and tree lighting?”

“Before the parade,” Liv assured him.

“I meant what I said.” He turned on his heel nearly knocking the down the delivery boy from Buddy’s, who had just entered, carrying a large brown bag and wearing a Santa hat.