Chanting… Nutcrackers?

I’ve always loved Nutcrackers, but I haven’t ever had one of my own. Unless earrings count – and I don’t think they do. This Christmas, I decided to remedy the situation and get one. Or two. Or three. I did consider that the poor Nutcracker might get lonely, if I only got one, so it could only be kind to get some companions for him. That seems like good logic, at any rate.

I’ll blame Chautona that I went searching for a Nutcracker store. I didn’t know such a thing existed – let alone in Arizona – but she sent me a picture of the Nutcracker that she put in her new book, The Nutcracker Suite, and that is all I needed. Off I went on a hunt to find a store filled with Nutcrackers. My GPS led me to the wrong place three times, but I finally found it tucked away, all alone in the desert. Nifty Nutcracker’s Nook.

It really should have been Nutty Nutcracker’s Nook, if you ask me, but I get ahead of myself. The moment I stepped inside, the scents and sounds of Christmas engulfed me. Someone must have been baking cookies and brewing hot apple cider, because no candle can get those to such perfection. Music from The Nutcracker played at the perfect volume, while twinkle lights strung about the room seemed to chime with tiny bells with every sparkle. Green garlands decorated the shelves and tables, while a literal army of Nutcrackers in all shapes and sizes stood at attention. I didn’t see another human, but I can’t say that I looked for one.

Mesmerized by the Nutcrackers, I began wandering through the irregular store. Near the back, standing on a very furthest corner of an old bookshelf, decorated and filled with Nutcracker men, I saw one who I fancied looked rather shy. I reached for him and, to my horror, off dropped the poor Nutcracker’s head! I caught the heavy ball of wood, staring at those painted eyes, wondering where I’d seen them before.  

“Puu eee ack!”

I think I just stared.

“Puu eee ack!”

The head of the Nutcracker began to tremble in my hand and I wondered what in the world I had gotten into.

“Puu ee ack, oo you ‘ear? I iding!”

Why I understood the thing, I don’t know. I suppose it must be difficult to talk without your lower jaw, but I knew what he said. No, my shock came from the ball of wood talking to me. Perhaps, I should have been better prepared. I’d just read Pinocchio, after all. I shook my head.

“Put you back? You’re… hiding?”

The eyes seemed to nod. That’s when I recognized the face.

“You look exactly like Chautona’s Nutcracker!”

His eyes widened.

“You are Chautona’s Nutcracker!”

“Puu ee ack. ‘Iding.”

“Why are you hiding?”

“I ‘on’t ee ‘ear ‘ong.”

“Why won’t you be here long?”

Either he didn’t trust me or he grew tired of talking. Both are plausible.

“Put him back! Put him back!” The chant, beginning soft and low, grew in depth and volume as the army of Nutcrackers voiced their support of their broken brother. I stared far longer than I should have, before I nodded. I moved two of the tallest Nutcrackers on the bookshelf, then carefully placed the headless body well behind them. Carefully, I balanced the head on top.

“ank you. ‘ot afe. ‘Ight eak ee again.”

Before I could assure the Nutcracker that no one would be breaking him again, that I would do my best to keep him safe, I heard the store door open. All the Nutcrackers grew silent. I moved the two giants further back to better hide the poor broken fellow, and moved to examine a row standing on a tall shelf.

“Where is he!”

I couldn’t see the speaker, but he sounded human and quite angry.

“The broken Nutcracker, lady, where is he?”

I stuttered, trying to see whoever seemed to see me. Also, I despise being called “lady” in that voice.

“I know that you know and you’ll tell me!”

“I…”

“Don’t tell! Don’t tell! Don’t tell!” The Nutcracker chant began again.

I blinked.

“Where is he?” The figure started to come around the corner, large and intimidating. “If you don’t tell me-“

I bolted awake. When had I fallen asleep? I checked my phone. Of course, I ought to be asleep at 3:49 in the morning.

A message from an unknown number showed a picture of Chautona’s broken Nutcracker, demanding to know how he broke. Still fuzzy from my dream, I typed back a response, “I don’t know. I certainly didn’t break him. I only hid him. Go ask Sandra Barela.”

Not until the sun rose did it occur to me that answering unknown numbers with the names of people I knew, not only was something I never did, but also wasn’t all that bright. All the same, I’m pretty sure that Sandy can take care of herself, so she’ll be all right. I’m quite certain.

Running from Treasure Hunters…

When I set out to write The Lost Dutchman’s Secret, I had no idea the trouble it would get me into. I knew that people still searched for the mine, but I hadn’t a clue just how obsessed some of them still are. You would think, after 150 years, the hullabaloo would have died down. Apparently, it has done no such thing.

It all started the week of my book release. In the beginning, I thought someone must be pulling a prank. After all, leaving a note by the door when I got home came directly from a scene in my story. However, when I found a note on my car when I left my favorite coffee shop, I decided it might be time to take action.

WE’LL FIND THE MAP. IT’S ONLY A MATTER OF TIME.

While I still didn’t know whether or not they could be serious, I decided I had better take precautions. Before the day had ended, I’d sent a special delivery to Cathe Swanson. To be signed for.

The notes, however, didn’t stop. I had another when I headed to church the next morning. And another a week later. And then came the calls, emails, and messages. I started hearing about the notes and strange visitors that my fellow authors were receiving, as the map passed through their hands. Threats, intimidation, espionage. Men in Indiana Jones Fedoras. From what I heard from April, some of them even seemed to succumb to the greed of gold and tried to form their own branch of rogue treasure hunter, (I’ve made note to be wary of Sandy and Cathe for awhile,) while Chautona, Marji, Liz, and Denise experienced the more threatening side of gold fever.

I needed to put a stop to this and fast, before someone else got hurt.

When the weasel with his Fedora wearing backup caught up with me, I stood at the base of the Superstition Mountains, watching a group of deer meander through the rocks.

“There you are!”

The voice startled me, rough and halting. I did wonder why I thought coming alone was such a good idea. I tensed, taking a step back, slipping a hand in my pocket. I knew how to press “record” without looking.

“Did you think that we wouldn’t notice watch for you here?”

“I don’t think I thought that through, actually.” I heard the laughter of children not far off, and the conversation of a couple hiking down the trail. I took another step back.

“Where is the map?”

He really didn’t sound intimidating at all. His friends’ glares and crossed arms caused rather more trepidation than his voice. Or anything about him, really.

“We don’t want to hurt you, Miss Jones, but we will.”

“I don’t have it.”

“Because we believe you.”

I shook my head. “The Lost Dutchman’s Goldmine is lost for good reason – and it’s going to stay that way.”

The man nodded and his men uncrossed their arms.

My hands shook and I glanced around, hoping a random stranger or five would show up to help me if I needed it. “You won’t find the map. I can promise you that.”

“Because you don’t have it? We don’t believe you.”

“Because I buried it.”

The man started. “Buried… what?”

“The map.”

He looked back at his companions and then back at me. “She just admitted she has the m… Wait. Where did you bury it?”

“In the Superstition Mountains.”

“Then we want the map to the buried map.”

“I don’t have one.”

“You lost the map to the Lost Dutchman? Are you insane?

I’ll have a reader note here that I never said I lost anything. I said that I buried it and didn’t have a map. There is a rather amazing difference. However, I didn’t see any need to correct a crazy man. He and his friends stared up at the Superstition Mountains with horror. “You’re insane.”

It seemed unfair to be called insane by a man who literally seemed to embody that trait in the treasure hunting sphere, but again, I didn’t see any need to correct him.

“We could have been rich.” He paused, an evil grin forming. “We will be rich. We’ll find that map before you do.”

I only blinked at him.

He nodded to his men. “Come on. Look at her shoes. She didn’t hike far into the mountains to bury the map. It’s fairly close. We’ll find it.” He raised an eyebrow at me and pointed a menacing finger. Or what he thought was menacing. “Don’t bother trying to get it back. We’ll find it first. We’re good like that.”

I stepped back, clicking off my phone. I felt pretty confident I had the message recorded.

With a last attempt at a glare, the three started off toward the mountain base.

“Are you all right, Miss?” The young man who asked might have been twenty-two. I wasn’t sure what he saw or heard, but I nodded with a shaky smile.

“I am now, thank you. I’m just headed to my car.”

Once in the car, I shuddered, then with a glance back at the Superstitions, I smiled to myself. They were right, I hadn’t hiked far into the mountains that day. I hadn’t even started to climb.

I also never said that I buried that map today any more than I had said I lost it. It wasn’t my problem, however, if their search had been based on faulty assumptions. And until they realized their assumptions would lead to literally nothing, I had evidence to send to the local authorities. And a map – safe, sound, quite buried, but hardly lost. I’d just have to wait awhile before I paid my next visit to the mine. I didn’t want to be followed.

On the other hand, there’s another treasure that’s up for grabs (well, it’s a book but books are treasure, right? And I can call it that, even if I wrote it?) – make sure you enter the GIVEAWAY for The Lost Dutchman’s Secret!

What Time Again?

I woke up with a start. The train had pulled into the station and the conductor yelled for Chicago. Trying to avoid rubbing my eyes, I pulled on my suitcase, and stumbled onto the platform behind the rest of the vaudeville troupe.  

At least, I thought it I came behind the rest of the troupe. When I really looked up, I discovered only one other person that I recognized, Alf a fellow singer, and he turned to look at me with eyes wide with shock. I tried to ask him the problem, but a wave of dust made me cough and then, I looked around.

First of all, we were in the desert. How we got there, I had literally no idea, but nothing but the desert has that much dirt everywhere. I even saw a cactus. We were supposed to be in Chicago, getting ready to perform at the Empire. This was not Chicago.

Second… The people. The women’s dresses were worn, faded, and reworked. I saw more patches on trousers than I have ever seen in a similar group of men in my life. As for the children, they ran around barefoot in clothes I considered fit for the rag bag.

We’d followed the stream of people without much though. This tiny town absolutely could not be Chicago. Alf’s eyes couldn’t have gotten wider as we walked down the dirt streets that held the scent of farm life.

Past what must have been main street, we found fields of cotton. Near one of these fields, we came across what can only be described as a shack. I didn’t know how it stayed up when wind came. Or how what passed as a roof could have kept the rain out. More barefoot children raced around the shack, not one of the three boys wearing trousers that actually reached their ankles and as for the two girls, their dresses resembled a patchwork quilt.

Alf pulled on my arm, leading us back toward main street. A man, his hat pushed back on his head, leaned against the general store.

“Did you see the election results?”

Another man walking past him, nodded with a laugh. “Sure did. We got Roosevelt again. We’ll see if the president can fix things this term.”

I looked at Alf and he hurried toward the two men. Election? Roosevelt? President? What…

“Excuse me, but did you just mention a presidential election?” Alf’s voice sounded hollow.

“Of course! Did you miss it?” Both men laughed, but we didn’t join them.

I shook my head at Alf, as he turned to look around the town. Dust blew in the wind again and I finally noticed the motorcars. Rounded lines had replaced the sharp angles I knew. I shook my head again.

Alf turned to the men. “Just another question – what year is it and where are we?”

Two barefooted boys ran past me, chasing a chicken and shouting, so the only word of the answer that I heard was, “Arizona,” but Alf grabbed my hand and started dragging me back toward the station.

“Whatever is the matter with you? Where are we going?”

“Back onto the train. Now.”

I pulled back, making him stop. “What did they say?”

He looked back at me, eyes still wide. “Something went wrong. We have to find a way to get back to our time.”

“Our… time? What are you talking about?”

Alf shook his head. “It’s not our time. It’s not 1926. We’re lost and I don’t even know how we got that way…”

Murder at the Empire is releasing this week, but Cathe’s vaudeville troupe is scattered across the decades. Can you guess this decade? I also heard that Liz has some news regarding the troupe, so you might want to read what she has to say… Don’t forget to enter the giveaway before you go!

Café Chocolaté: Chapter XXXVI

Chapter XXXVI – Ginger Thomas

Ginger jumped as Mary hit the ground and Timothy bolted across the room. Eddie tugged on her arm.

“What happened?”

Ginger shook her head. “I don’t know.”

Timothy bent over the woman, looking for something. Probably the reason she collapsed. His frown deepened.

“I don’t see anything wrong with her, though her heart rate is elevated.” He looked up at Xavier. “If she’s been given insulin, she doesn’t have the same symptoms as Fabian and we have no way to reverse it, if that’s the case.”

Ginger swallowed so hard it hurt her. We might have less noise if she stays like that for awhile. I don’t think I’m quite cruel enough to hope that she will though.

With the sound of a shriek that could only have come from Mary Dill’s vocal chords, Ginger let any such thoughts die a swift death. She saw Fabian sag back against the table leg, while Anna closed her eyes in relief.

Mary sat up against Timothy’s protest, holding her head in her hand. He tried to speak to her, but Mary pointed a shaking finger in Renee’s direction.

“What… What did you do to me?”

Renee blinked in apparent shock or confusion.

“I couldn’t breathe.” Mary spoke with a shaking voice and held a hand to her throat. Her wide eyes locked onto Timothy. “My throat closed, I couldn’t breathe, and everything went black!” She dropped the hand from her head, grabbing onto Timothy’s shirt, prompting him to pull back. She didn’t release him. “What did she do to me?”

“We don’t know that she did anything to you.” Timothy looked vastly uncomfortable. “Even if someone did something to you, we don’t know that someone was Renee.”

“She admitted to having insulin with her! She knew I was onto her!”

Ginger saw Timothy openly roll his eyes and she almost laughed.

“Mary. Can you breathe now? With ease?”

She stared at him as if he had lost his mind. “What?” One hand still clung to her throat, the other held onto his shirt for dear life.

“Are you having any trouble breathing now?” He enunciated his words as if she might be hard of hearing.

“Wh-yes. Yes, my throat opened and I can breathe now. I’d be dead if it hadn’t!”

Ginger rolled her eyes this time.

Timothy pried the woman’s fingers from his shirt. “If you’ll excuse me then…”

Where are you going? She just tried to kill me!”

“And, if that’s true, she didn’t nearly succeed.” Timothy stood. “You, on the other hand, came much closer when you attempted to kill Eddie, so I’ll be returning to him, in case he needs me.”

He didn’t let her say whether she minded or not. He left her, staring after him in consternation. He sat next to Eddie again with a sigh.

“What do you think happened to her?” Ginger intentionally pulled her attention away from the now babbling woman.

Timothy shook his head, already frowning in Eddie’s direction. “I don’t know. I’m not an actual doctor. And she barely knows what happened apparently, much less how Renee could have caused it.”

“Renee hasn’t moved from her chair in a long time.” Ginger started to say more, but Timothy’s deepening frown distracted her. “What’s wrong.”

He didn’t answer. He barely even gave her a glance of acknowledgement.

Eddie lay with his eyes closed again. Perspiration stood out on his face, a face so devoid of color that he hardly could have looked whiter. Ginger’s heart pounded harder.

“You found the dead man’s picture in her purse! What more could you need?” Mary seemed to have recovered quite well in a short space of time.

Ginger looked up and Xavier visibly sighed.

“We don’t even know why she had the photograph.” Anna sounded more annoyed than she had yet. “She hasn’t even had a chance to explain. You just grab onto whatever circumstantial evidence occurs to you and run with it!”

Mary stared at her.

Seems to be the woman’s second most defining trait. Her first is screaming.

Xavier shook his head, picking up the photograph again from a table. “I would appreciate an explanation for this, Mrs. Allen. If you would be willing.”

Renee had said nothing since she gave permission for her purse to be searched. She seemed incapable of speech as she looked from one person to the other, but swallowing visibly, she finally shook her head.

“I can’t say. That is – I don’t know! I didn’t put it there.”

“Because that’s believable.” Mary answered first.

“Unless whoever took her insulin, put the picture in the purse at the same time.” Kimberly quirked an eyebrow.

“Would make sense, I suppose.” Anna nodded. “If the killer wanted to implicate Renee, it would be a good way to throw suspicion on her.”

“Or she could be lying.” Mary pulled herself to a standing position with difficulty, refusing Xavier’s offered help. “She could have used the insulin to try to kill Fabian and myself, then forgotten she had the picture in her purse.”

“No one gave you insulin, Miss Dill.” Xavier watched her. Even Ginger could see the slight amusement around his eyes.

“How do you know?” The woman planted both hands on her hips. “That’s what happened to Fabian!”

“We don’t know that either. It’s still conjecture at this point.” Xavier sighed again. “It’s a conjecture that seems to fit the facts, but we don’t know. You, on the other hand, show no signs of life-threatening low blood sugar. And you woke up on your own; we did nothing. As you know, Fabian wasn’t so easy.”

Mary didn’t look convinced.

“I have never seen that picture before in my life.” Renee bit her lip, then shook her head. She rubbed her rounded stomach. “I don’t even have a printer.”

“Libraries do.” Kimberly raised both eyebrows at the looks sent her way. “I didn’t say that she did print it. But you really don’t have to own a printer.”

“I didn’t print it at a library either. I’ve never seen it before!”

Ginger looked at Timothy again. The man seemed to care little about what transpired in the café, focusing entirely on Eddie. The look on his face switched Ginger’s attention fully. As he pulled back the bloody bandage from her brother’s side, Ginger winced.

“What are you doing?”

He only spared her a half a second glance. “The wound started bleeding again at some point. I don’t know when; he must have moved more than I thought.”

Ginger felt her heart drop. “You can stop it again, right?”

“I’ll try.” He shook his head. “I need more towels. These are covered.”

Ginger looked at her brother’s drawn face again, squeezed his hand, then hurried on a search for towels. They didn’t keep that many around the café; paper towels generally seemed better. Paper towels did a lousy job at drying dishes though.

When she brought what she could find to Timothy, Ginger caught her breath at the sight of the wound in Eddie’s side. Without realizing it, she sank onto her knees. Timothy turned in alarm.

“Are you all right?”

She nodded, but couldn’t speak or move. She kept staring at what she could still see of the wound.

How can he survive that? I’m going to lose him altogether.

“Are you sure?” She barely registered Timothy’s question. “Ginger, look at me.”

She made herself obey, blinking to bring her eyesight into focus.

“Are you all right? Actually, all right?”

It took her several seconds and a deep breath to answer. “Yes. Of course, I’m fine. Yes.”

He watched her for another second, but had to turn back to Eddie. “Let’s hope you are.”

She caught the unspoken implication. He didn’t believe she would tell him even if she wasn’t all right.

Which might be true. I don’t need pity.

Eddie groaned, prompting Ginger to return to her former place beside him. Either her imagination caused her to see things or he’d gone even paler than before. She took his hand, but he didn’t respond in any way. The lump that she had banished from her throat earlier, came back now.

Timothy bandaged him up as well as he could, the frown still on his face. Ginger could read nothing though in his face, beyond his concern.

Eddie’s eyes finally opened, and Ginger struggled to appear unworried. His eyes, bright with fever and clouded by pain, startled her. They showed an agony that she hadn’t been prepared to face.

He didn’t try to say anything; he seemed to be in too much pain. He tried to breathe deeply, but Ginger could see that it hurt him.

“We have to get him out of here.” She didn’t recognize her own voice when she spoke to Timothy. He didn’t respond.

She hadn’t been paying attention to the conversation in the rest of the café until Mary insisted on drawing attention again. Ginger would have glared at the mere sound of her voice, if she had the energy to spare.

“If Gary Bradshaw isn’t your husband, Renee, then who is?”  

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I Do Not Understand

The loss, the tears, the grief,

The pain that seems to grow.

The broken, bleeding hearts

That splintered by this blow.

They say You’re on the throne,

That all is in Your Hand.

Yet, God, I look around

And I don’t understand.


While sobbing fills my ears,

She trembles in my arms.

I have no words to say,

There are no cheering charms.

They say You’re still in charge,

That all is in Your Hand.

Yet, God, I look around

And I don’t understand.


I dearly want to help,

I watch him struggling.

But I can only stand

And pray You’ll comfort bring.

Oh, God, You’re on the throne,

And all is in Your Hand,

But when I look around,

I do not understand!


Prayers that seem unanswered,

The cries that seem ignored,

The pleas that fell to grief,

Is Your ear deaf, oh LORD?

If You’re still on the throne,

And all is in Your Hand,

Why, when I look around,

Do I not understand?


My own grief comes in waves,

Though stifle it, I might.

The weight I feel, the guilt,

The tears, I often fight.

I know You’re on the throne,

And all is in Your Hand,

But still I look around,

And I don’t understand.


I look into Your Word,

It clearly says You hear.

Yet, promise, it does not,

The answer will be clear.

Nor that while on Your throne,

With all things in Your Hand,

That when I look around,

I’ll ably understand.


Oh, God, increase my trust;

My faith that’s trembling now.

Please comfort those I love,

And bring us peace somehow.

I know You’re on You’re throne,

With all things in Your Hand,

And when I look around,

I will not understand.


You have not lost Your love,

E’re faithful You’ll remain.

I can not see Your plan,

The glory You will gain.

I know You’re on Your throne

With all things in Your Hand,

And one day You’ll allow,

That I will understand.


Until that day, oh LORD,

I give this grief to You.

I give You those I love,

And trust Your Word is true.

You’re always on Your throne

With all things in Your Hand

And when You look around,

You fully understand.