Tuesday, December 6, 2016

25 Days of Christmas - Slay Bells and Satchels by Dorothy Howell Excerpt



The Summer Santa Sale at Holt’s Department Store becomes a Christmas nightmare when sales clerk Haley Randolph finds a murdered elf in the store’s giant toy bag. Haley, a crazed fashionista obsessed with designer handbags, could find herself “bagged” if she doesn’t untangle this mystery quicker than Saint Nick can slide down a chimney. But Haley has another problem: Can working with hot private detective Jack Bishop put her on Santa’s “naughty” list?


    Jeanette gestured to the front of the store.  Near the entrance on a little platform sat a full-sized, heavy cardboard fireplace, complete with stockings.  A decorated Christmas tree sat next to it, alongside a big green hopper.  The display was surrounded by red velvet ropes held up by huge candy canes.
    Where did that come from?
    “Be sure there’s always an elf standing there to greet the customers and have them fill out an entry form,” Jeanette said.  “A winner has to be drawn every hour, on the hour, so make sure one of the elves is in place.  The rest of them will circulate through the store asking for donations for the children’s charity.”
    Jeanette didn’t wait for me to say anything—which was probably wise on her part.  She turned to leave, but stopped immediately.
    “Thank goodness,” she mumbled.  “Here they come.”
    Down the aisle came a bunch of young, pretty girls, all of them decked out in elf costumes.  I guessed they were all in their early twenties, differing in heights, but not a size larger than a six among them.  They wore green shorts and vests over red and white striped tights and long-sleeved tops, and green, pointed-toed elf shoes.  Everyone had on a Santa hat, bright red lipstick, and big circles of pink blush on their cheeks.
    “Good, we’re all set,” Jeanette said, taking one last look around.  “When the customers come in—”
    She stopped abruptly and her gaze drilled into me.
    “Where’s the giant toy bag?” she demanded.
    The giant—what?
    “The giant toy bag is supposed to be right next to the fireplace,” Jeanette declared.  “It must still be in the stockroom.  Get it, Haley.  It has to be in place when the customers come in.”
    I headed for the rear of the store, pausing only long enough to ditch my Santa hat behind a display of T-shirts.  The entrance to the stockroom—one of them, anyway—was located beside the customer service booth near the hallway that led to the employee break room, the training room, and the store managers’ offices.
    I went through the swinging door into the stockroom.  It was as quiet as an evening snowfall back here.  Unless the truck team was on duty unloading a big rig filled with new merchandise, nobody came in here often.  The rear door by the loading dock was propped open for the janitor.  The store’s music track played “Jingle Bells.”
    I spotted a red toy bag right away.  It was a giant, all right, just as Jeanette had said.  It sat on the floor in front of the huge shelving unit that held the store’s entire inventory of Christmas decorations.
    Half the contents of one of the shelves was scattered on the floor, which was weird, but I didn’t have time to clean it up.  I’d come back and do it later—not that I was all that concerned about maintaining a neat, orderly stockroom, but I never passed up a chance to escape the sales floor.
    I grabbed the bag.  Yikes!  It wouldn’t budge.
    I pulled it again using two hands.  It moved maybe a couple of inches.
    Jeez, this thing weighed a ton.
    No way could I carry it to the front of the store, and dragging it would take forever.  Even loading it onto one of the long, thin U-boat carts we used to transport merchandise wouldn’t be easy.
    There was nothing to do but take out some of the toys.
    I pulled open the draw string closure at the top of the bag and—
    Oh my God.  Oh my God.
    There was an elf inside.

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