Authors: Christine Husom
Death imitates art . . .
He appeared to be sleeping, with his head bent over and his hands resting palms up on his thighs. His ball cap hid his face. A cloud moved across the moon, and since the streetlamp was behind him, I couldn’t see well at all. “Hello? Are you all right? Just to let you know, you can’t sleep in the park. The cops in this town are pretty strict about that.”
Still no response. The cloud moved and the moon’s light came through the trees, shining down on us. “Oh, my God,” I whispered. It was the scene from the new psycho snow globe in my shop. I pinched myself to be sure I was really awake and not in the middle of a nightmare. I squeezed enough to make it hurt. Ouch.
I was afraid the man might be drunk and vulnerable to . . . whatever. I braved a step closer and then another. My pounding heart threatened to break through my chest. “Sir.” I didn’t want to touch him, so I picked up a stick lying by my foot and gently touched his shoulder. Instead of lifting his head, he fell forward and toppled onto the ground, landing facedown. I jumped back and then screamed.
The handle of a knife was sticking out of his back . . .
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
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SNOW WAY OUT
A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author Copyright © 2015 by Christine Husom.
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Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / January 2015
Cover illustration by Julia Green.
Cover design by Lesley Worrell.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
To my husband, Dan, who supports me in my endeavors with understanding and love.
And to everyone who enjoys picking up a snow globe, giving it a shake, and watching the snow settle over the scene.
Thank you to my agent, John Talbot, for his vision; to Michelle Vega, senior editor at The Berkley Publishing Group, for graciously taking on this new series; to her assistant, Bethany Blair; Stacy Edwards, production editor; Sheila Moody, copyeditor; and all the talented and knowledgeable people at Penguin Random House who put this book together. It was a team effort, and I appreciate and commend each one of you.
Snow Globe–Making Project and Tips
y friend Pinky Nelson pushed open my Curio Finds shop door with uncustomary gusto. “Jerrell Powers is back in town. I just saw him.” The color on her cheeks was as rosy as her nickname, and the brown curls on her head were bouncing.
“I can’t believe you sometimes, Cami. The guy who broke into Erin’s house a couple of years ago and stole her grandmother’s antique clock collection. He was—”
“The guy who gave me nightmares for months. Literally.” Erin joined us from the coffee shop area that adjoined my shop.
Pinky waved at her. “Erin, sorry. I didn’t know you were here.”
I met Erin in the brick archway that divided the shops and gave her shoulder a little squeeze. “And I’m sorry I blanked out his name for a minute. You always referred to him as—”
Erin inclined her head to the right and raised her eyebrows, alerting Pinky and me that there was someone else in the coffee shop.
I had to think fast. “—‘Mr. No-Goodnik.’”
The older man standing by the former soda fountain, which now served as the coffee shop counter, lowered his cup and swallowed. “I’ve had a few nightmares of my own since ’Nam, and I’da come up with a better name than ‘no-goodnik’ for him.” Archie Newberry was what some called eccentric, and others called one can short of a six-pack. I had known him since I was a child, when he moved to Brooks Landing and went to work for the city parks division. The town population thirty years before was around three thousand, and at that time everyone knew—or knew of—almost everyone else.
Especially so if there was something a little different about a person. Like Archie. He mowed the grass in the parks, cut dead branches from the trees, and talked most of the time he worked, whether there were people near enough to hear what he was saying or not. Word was Archie had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, and I figured talking was his way of releasing some of that stress.
Not that I’m a psychologist. If I were, I could have set up a quiet practice somewhere. I would not have taken the job as legislative affairs director in Senator Ramona Zimmer’s office, and I would not have eventually become part of an embarrassing scandal in Washington, D.C. A scandal that necessitated a hasty return to my hometown. But I did my best to limit the amount of time and energy I spent dwelling on that. And thankfully my friends and family believed and supported me and never brought it up. The truth was the truth and bygones were bygones, as far as they were concerned.
Instead, I told myself again and again that my aunt—my adoptive mother—needed me to step in and take over her business while she went through some cancer recovery treatments. And my uncle—and adoptive father—liked having me nearby. He was a basket case over Mom’s illness and stayed by her side almost every waking and sleeping moment. Fifty-some years of togetherness did that to a couple.
“Well, I’m not worried about Jerrell Powers anymore.” Erin raised her hands in what she called the “ready position.” “My self-defense training has given me a whole new outlook and I’m prepared to take him on.”
Erin was not much bigger than a minute. She had been born in Vietnam and adopted as a baby by the Vickermans. They were both medical doctors and unable to have children. Dr. Craig Vickerman was in the army reserves, and when the Vietnam War broke out, his unit was deployed to Da Nang, where he served as a surgeon at a military hospital for two years.
Shortly before he was discharged, he visited an orphanage and fell in love with a three-month-old half-Vietnamese, half-American baby girl named Han. He phoned his wife, who was over the moon with the prospect of becoming a mother. He pulled a lot of strings to get Erin to America, but having an American father meant she would not have been fully accepted in her country of birth. The Vickermans changed her first name, but kept Han as her middle name: Erin Han Vickerman.
“Holy moly, Erin, when you do that you make me feel like I need to defend myself,” Pinky complained as she stepped back with her right foot, lifted her left arm as a shield, and raised her right hand like she was about to deliver a karate chop. At five foot ten, she was nearly a foot taller than Erin.
It struck me again how different the three of us looked from one another. If we stood in a lineup according to height, I would be placed in the middle of my two friends.
Pinky’s facial features were on the sharp side, mostly because she was rail thin. Her cheekbones were prominent, her nose was narrow and straight, and her chin was a bit pointy. Her round, hazel eyes conveyed a sense of mischief most of the time; in my opinion, they were her best feature. And I admired her full head of unruly curls, which she kept fairly short.
Erin had more classic beauty. She had a high forehead; almond-shaped eyes; smooth, nearly flawless skin; full lips; and straight white teeth. I wondered what her father had looked like, because her Vietnamese side dominated her looks.
I made a T with my hands in a time-out gesture. “Stop it, you two. What if another customer—or someone taking the class—walked in about now? We’d scare them off for sure.”
“You’re right, Cam. When is the teacher supposed to be here, anyway?” Erin said and relaxed her stance.
I looked up at the pink Betty Boop (“Boop-Oop-a-Doop”) clock hanging on the wall behind the coffee shop counter. “Any minute now, I’m sure. She stopped by about an hour ago to get the supplies ready then left to run some errands.” I pointed at the three square tables with gray Formica tops and metal pedestal bases in the back of the room that were decked out in snow globe–making supplies.
“I’da never thought there was such a thing as classes for teachin’ a guy how to make snow globes,” Archie said.
“There are classes for every kind of craft. When that woman May Gregors stopped in the shop last month and introduced herself, she told me she taught those kind of classes. I thought it would be kind of unique, since Curio Finds has about a million snow globes for sale,” Pinky said.
“You’ve never had a class like this here before, that’s for sure,” Erin said.
“We’ve never had a class of any kind before, but it’s time we start. I mean, we’re all set up for it.” Pinky waved in the general direction of the back tables. “We have the space, and a few extra dollars will help the business.”
“In theory, anyway. By the time we pay the teacher, we’ll be lucky to break even,” I said.
Pinky shrugged. “You can’t expect to make money the first go-around.”
I glanced around the room, once again admiring how Pinky had given the 1950s-era café new life. The name, Brew Ha-Ha, reflected the fun side of her personality more than it fit the shop theme. But it worked anyhow.
My adoptive parents had purchased the café, a business that had closed a few years before. The two shops shared an interior wall and they’d had a section of it removed to create an archway between the spaces. They had planned to expand their own retail space, but when push came to shove, they felt the old soda fountain was better suited for food and drinks than to display snow globes and other collectible items. They’d talked Pinky—who was working at the local bakery at the time—into running the coffee shop instead.
The black-and-white tile floor was in good condition and gave Pinky the inspiration to use retro furniture and integrate her favorite color in the accent pieces. But she wanted men as well as women to be comfortable in the shop, so she didn’t overdo the pink. Half the gray metal chairs had black vinyl padded seats, and the other half had pink. She’d even used that combination on the six counter stools. It was my observation that men didn’t seem to care whether they took a black seat or a pink seat. They didn’t even appear to notice. And everyone enjoyed the Lucy and Ethel character pictures and the other memorabilia from the fifties.
Pinky ordered a wide variety of coffee beans in ten, twenty, and thirty-pound bags, and the first hour of the day was devoted to grinding three or four kinds. Brew Ha-Ha featured a daily special. My personal favorite was Kona mocha latte. Mmm.
Her muffins and scones were proudly displayed on the back counter in a lighted, glass-enclosed, three-tier case that revolved when it was turned on. My parents had found it for her on one of their antique shopping excursions.
The connecting shops turned out to be a win-win situation for both sides. People flocked in for Pinky’s freshly ground coffee and prizewinning muffins and scones. Many of her customers would wander into the curio side to admire the enviable collection of snow globes my parents had acquired. Although people bought them year-round, they were particularly popular at Christmas. And our curio shoppers rarely resisted stepping next door for a cup of java. The inviting aromas, wafting through to our side, had become part of the shopping experience. I smelled like a coffee bean within my first fifteen minutes of work, but I didn’t care. It was better than perfume, in my opinion.
The coffee shop door swung open and Officer Mark Weston came in. Pinky, Erin, Mark, and I had been in the same class from our elementary school days through the junior and senior high school years. Mark and Erin had dated briefly, and it seemed Mark had not lost his crush on her all these years later.
Mark’s eyes fixed on Erin. “I thought you should know, Jerrell Powers is back in town.”
Erin nodded. “Thanks, Mark. I only hope the entire town doesn’t feel the need to track me down to tell me that.”
“Just remember, I got your back. I’ll keep an eye on him for you. Make sure he stays in line.”
Erin rolled her eyes, but kept her tongue in check.
“Mark, I saw Jerrell Powers, too, and almost didn’t recognize him for a minute. He looks . . . different,” Pinky said.
“Yeah, he did to me, too. He’s skinnier, so his cheekbones stick out more. And his head is shaved,” Mark told us.
“He’ll probably want to grow his hair out with the nip of fall in the air. It’s right around the corner, you know,” Archie chimed in.
“It’s here. It’s almost the middle of October,” Erin corrected him.
“With daytime temperatures in the high sixties, it feels more like September,” Archie said.
“True enough, and it can stay that way for another month or two as far as I’m concerned,” Pinky said.
May Gregors, the teacher for the evening, came through the door looking like she’d seen a ghost. She clutched her hands to her chest and opened her mouth, but no words came out.
Officer Mark took a step toward her. Maybe he thought she was having a heart attack. I know the thought crossed my mind. “Ma’am, can you speak?”
“She’s not a dog,” Erin mumbled quietly.
“Are you able to talk?” Mark asked again when May remained mute.
Finally, she nodded. “I just had a bit of a shock. I ran into my good-for-nothing ex-husband at your post office when I went to mail some letters. The last I’d heard anything about him was when he sent our daughter a letter from a halfway house about two years ago. He said he would be on probation for five years. I didn’t expect to see him back around here.”
Erin frowned. “You’re not talking about Jerrell Powers, by any chance, are you?”
“You know Jerrell?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“They had a close encounter of the criminal kind,” Mark explained.
May’s right eyebrow lifted. “Oh. So you’re the one whose house—”
Erin nodded. “I’m Erin Vickerman.”
“Gosh, I was out of state staying at my cousin’s place the year that happened, and never asked for the details. Jerrell told our daughter someone had slipped a drug into his drink and that he broke into a house when he was under its influence.”
Mark stuck his thumbs into his duty belt. “That would be the defendant’s version. He’d had a few minor run-ins with the law. A kleptomaniac, if you ask me. Erin came home to find him taking a load of clocks out of her house. His third load of stuff, as it turned out.”
Erin put her hands on her tiny hips. “Let’s not go through all the sordid details. I ran back to my car, locked myself in, and called nine-one-one. Officer Weston here and Assistant Chief Clinton Lonsbury were there in minutes.”
Mark nodded. “We found the entire stash in a wagon behind the house. And with enough coaxing, Jerrell confessed to other unsolved thefts around town. Lucky for him he hadn’t gotten around to selling anything, so he got off easy.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know. Jerrell moved here after our divorce. He had a friend here, but I don’t know his name. It could even be a ‘her,’ as far as that goes.” May shrugged.
“It is a ‘her.’ Pamela Hemley is the name,” Mark said.
May frowned slightly. “I’m surprised she’d take him back after all that.”
Erin gave a quick wave. “Whatever. I can’t worry about the life and times of Jerrell Powers. You guys have a class to get ready for and I have to do a couple of things at home, but I’ll be back for the class.” She left before any of us responded.
“She’s not going to hunt down Jerrell, is she?” Pinky asked.
I chuckled. “Erin is spunky, but I think she’s smarter than that.”
Mark looked at his watch. “I better get out there to finish my shift. But I’m kind of interested in how you make snow globes, so I might stop back later to observe.”