Gnome Alone Excerpt!


I've been experimenting with ways to post excerpts. Downloadable PDF? One of those online magazine things? I decided to try just old-school blogging it. If you have a preference, please let me know in the comments. And now...


GNOME ALONE

By

Kirsten Weiss


About Gnome Alone

Christmas is coming… and so is murder…

It’s holiday season in small-town Doyle, and the town is pivoting from UFO tourism to Bigfoot Days. For Susan Witsend, the owner of Doyle’s only UFO-themed B&B, presents a branding conundrum.

But when Bigfoot is blamed for a mass garden gnome theft, control-freak Susan is drafted to track down the kidnapped gnomes. And then the holiday season hits another sour note with the murder of a member of her caroling group. Are Susan’s organization skills up to juggling missing gnomes and tracking down a killer in time to ring in the festivities?

Because as Susan unwraps motives and alibis, she finds herself adding more names to the naughty list. She may have to face some hard truths about her own limits and about just how far a not-so-jolly killer will go…

Gnome Alone is book five in the laugh-out-loud Wits’ End mystery series. A fast-paced and funny cozy mystery, packed with quirky characters, pets, and murder! It’s perfect for fans of Jana DeLeon, Janet Evanovich, and Donna Andrews. Beam up this hilarious cozy mystery and start reading today.

Susan’s Bigfoot Investigation Protocol at the back of the book!



Chapter One


“Bigfoot's been messing with our garden gnomes.” Mr. Gomez’s brows drew down in a glower.

I studied the three elderly men, bundled in parkas and fur-lined boots. Bracing one mittened hand on Mr. Gomez’s mudroom wall, I knocked more snow off my boots. “Ah... I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do with that.”

Mr. Gomez’s frown deepened, his round face crinkling above his red scarf. His snowy hair stuck up in fierce licks, like an incoming mountain blizzard. “You're a detective, Susan, aren't you?”

“No, I'm really just nosy.” Okay. I was being modest. I was a crack amateur detective, and I'd helped our local sheriff solve several murders. But I don’t like to brag.

Though news about my prowess as an investigator had clearly spread through small-town Doyle. After so many successes, it was bound to happen. And we were going to be late for caroling practice if we didn’t move soon.

“Garden gnomes should be no problem for a bright young thing like you,” Mr. Gomez said. “This is serious. What if Bigfoot was the one who broke into that house last month on Sequoia Street? That's only six blocks away.”

I pinched the bridge of my nose. Bigfoot. Of course. In a fit of madness, our small town had decided that decorating for the holidays wasn't enough. We had to layer something called Bigfoot Days on top of the season. If I saw another Bigfoot Santa hat, I thought I might scream.

“He took Norbert,” Mr. Bolinsky chimed in, his triple chins wobbling. He was short and round, and had a high-pitched wheeze for a voice. Tucked between his thick blue scarf and knit hat, a scowl marred his usually jolly appearance.

“Norbert?” I said.

“He's my gnome from Norway,” Mr. Bolinsky squeaked, his voice muffled by the scarf. “Hand carved.”

The third man of the group, Mr. St. John, jerked a bony thumb at Mr. Bolinsky. “Terrence got him on a Baltic cruise.” Mr. St. John was tall and hale. He was also so elegant I often caught myself imagining he spoke with a British accent.

“Hand carved!” Bolinsky repeated.

“Very valuable.” Mr. Gomez nodded.

“And you think... Bigfoot took him?” I may run a UFO-themed B&B, but I drew the line at Bigfoot. One had to draw the line somewhere.

“Bigfoot took all of them,” Mr. Gomez said. “We each had a gnome.”

Mr. St. John and Mr. Bolinsky had moved into Mr. Gomez's house six months ago. They said it saved on retirement villages.

“Gnomeo and Gerome. That's Gerome with a G,” Mr. St. John added helpfully. “Are you going to write that down?”

Hastily, I pulled my day planner from my ginormous blue purse.

“We had to get them.” Mr. Gomez's eyes twinkled. “We didn't want Norbert to be lonely.”

“Gnomes do seem to thrive more in groups,” I agreed solemnly and jotted a note.

Mr. St. John cleared his throat. “Actually, the preferred collective noun for garden gnomes is a lawn. A murder of crows, a lawn of garden gnomes.”

Really? I shrugged and wrote that down too. “Could it have been kids who stole your gnomes?”

“Only if there’s a kid from Doyle seven feet tall and covered in fur,” Mr. Gomez said. “I saw him, right outside, carrying away our gnomes.”

I blinked. “You saw… Bigfoot?”

“Seven feet tall,” Mr. Gomez repeated.

“With long, shaggy brown fur.” Mr. Bolinsky tapped the page in my open planner. “You should write that down too.”

I did, but more to make them happy than because I thought this was going anywhere. Still. Bigfoot? “Did you, er, call the police?”

“The sheriff's too busy to mess with missing garden gnomes,” Mr. Gomez said. “She's got bigger things on her plate.”

But the three senior citizens assumed I didn't. Gotcha.

In fairness, I really didn't. I’d been so worried the holidays would get away from me, I’d organized them into brutal submission. The biggest thing on my plate was tonight’s caroling practice. “Why don't you tell me more about it in the car?”

I waited on the stoop while Mr. Gomez locked the door. Snow fell thickly on the quiet residential street. “I nearly slipped on the ice when I came here,” I lied casually. “Would one or two of you mind taking my arm?”

The snow was fresh enough not to be too slippery. But Mr. Gomez and Mr. Bolinsky were wobbly under the best of circumstances.

“Sure,” Mr. Gomez said, looping his arm through mine.

“Don't mind if I do,” Mr. Bolinsky said, taking my other arm, and I adjusted my purse.

Behind their backs, Mr. St. John winked.

We shuffled to my Crosstrek. Mr. Gomez was the only one of them with a snow-appropriate vehicle. His newish Jeep was currently covered in six inches of snow and sitting in his driveway. But he didn't like to drive in the dark.

With more groaning and complaining than necessary, the men clambered into my SUV. The snow fell thicker, collecting on the edges of my windshield.

I adjusted the rearview mirror, catching a flash of my blue eyes and blond hair. Backing carefully down the drive, I pulled into the winding lane. We drove past lit windows and pine trees decorated with holiday lights.

“So how's it working out,” I asked, “being roommates?”

“Fine.” Mr. Gomez double checked his seatbelt and pulled his crimson hat lower over his ears. “Now, what are you going to do about our stolen gnomes?”

Oh, brother. But the gnomes mattered to them, and the men mattered to me. It seemed I was on a gnome hunt. I leaned closer to the windshield, my headlights illuminating narrow white circles of road. “When did the theft happen?”

“An hour ago.”

“We should have taken photos of the footprints then,” Mr. Bolinsky said in his reedy voice. “Now they'll be buried in snow.”

I stifled a sigh.

Mr. St. John patted my shoulder. “Have faith, Susan.”

“I'll look into your missing gnomes.” Because what else could I do? Most likely, the theft was part of the old traveling gnome gag. Soon, the men would receive photos of their gnomes in exotic places. “Have you received, any, er, photos?”

“You mean proof of life?” Mr. St. John leaned forward, his beaky nose extending over the seat.

“I don't think this is your usual gnomenapping,” Mr. Bolinsky chirped from the back seat.

“What do you think Bigfoot would want with garden gnomes?” Mr. St. John asked.

“Maybe he's lonely,” Mr. Bolinsky said, and my heart squeezed. Maybe the three widowers were lonely.

“Or he wants to spruce up his garden,” Mr. Gomez said from the seat beside me.

“Gnomes do brighten up a yard,” Mr. St. John said. “I'm not sure about this Bigfoot fellow though. He was all right when he was just wandering around in the forest. But thievery? That's something else.”

I adjusted my grip on the wheel, the fabric of my mittens rustling. “Yes, it is strange that Bigfoot didn't appear until someone decided we should have Bigfoot Days,” I said significantly.

The older men fell silent. I rounded a steep bend and slowed, bumping through a drainage gully. The Crosstrek’s wheels hit ice, and the back of the car slid sideways.

My hands spasmed on the wheel. I let off the accelerator, and the wheels grabbed the road. Exhaling, I continued driving forward.

“Think Bigfoot knows about the Bigfoot Days?” Mr. Bolinsky said breathily.

“He must know,” Mr. Gomez said. “There are banners all over town. And on the highways.”

My mouth pressed into a line. I hated those banners. They should have been holiday banners. Or at least feature UFOs.

“You know what this means,” Mr. St. John said in my ear.

“Intelligence,” Mr. Bolinsky said. “Bigfoot can read.”

“I told them the banners were a mistake,” Mr. Gomez grumped. “But no listens to me anymore.”

I cleared my throat. “You said you spotted Bigfoot an hour ago?”

“It was five thirty-two,” Mr. Gomez said. “I checked my watch. There he was, bold as brass, stomping through the front yard with our gnomes. I recognized Norbert right away.”

“Hand carved!” Mr. Bolinsky chirped.

“And then it started to snow,” Mr. Gomez said.

“So all the tracks were obliterated.” I shook my head. More importantly, it would be fairly dark at five-thirty in December. Who knew what Mr. Gomez had actually seen?

“Well,” Mr. St. John said, “that's the way of the supernatural, isn't it? If paranormal phenomena went around leaving evidence, it wouldn't be paranormal. It'd be normal.”

“You need a mite of faith,” Mr. Bolinsky said.

“But not too much,” Mr. Gomez said. “Then you get taken advantage of by telemarketers.”

“Damn scammers,” St. John growled. “I got an email from my nephew last month saying all his money had been stolen in Mexico. The crazy thing was, Roland was in Mexico. But something seemed off, so I called him. Turned out, the whole thing was a scam.”

“Trust but verify,” Mr. Gomez said. “That's my motto.”

“I hope he didn't use Norbert for firewood,” Mr. Bolinsky said.

“Nah,” Mr. Gomez said. “With all that fur, he doesn't need a fire, even in this weather.”

We turned onto Doyle’s Main Street. Christmas lights gleamed in the shop windows and from the trees along the sidewalks. Snow rimmed the false fronts of the Gold Rush town. Red and green banners fluttered from iron lampposts proclaiming:


BIGFOOT DAYS IN DOYLE!


I frowned. Wasn’t it enough that the town was UFO central? Bigfoot just muddled the brand.

We made it to my B&B, Wits' End, without any further slipping. I pulled into my private spot on the gravel drive. Cheerful light streamed through the Victorian's windows.

I waited for the men, grunting and grumbling, to extricate themselves from my SUV. We walked to the porch, its railings swagged with pine boughs.

WHOMP.

Heart seizing, I stepped backward and looked up at the faux UFO crashed into the mansard roof. The UFO’s shiny metal was bare of snow. A pile of white covered the rose bush beneath the flying saucer.

My muscles relaxed. I sent a silent prayer of thanks to my Gran, who’d been wise enough not to position the UFO over the front door. Its slick sides never held the snow for long.

I followed the three men, stamping their feet and blowing into their mittens, into the high-ceilinged foyer.

Bailey, the elderly beagle I'd inherited from my Gran, looked up from his dog bed beside the reception desk. He yawned and shook his head, collar jingling. The dog settled back onto his forest-green cushion.

More pine boughs looped through the white stair banister leading to the second floor. A wooden Santa stood guard on the scarred, wooden desk. Electric candles flickered in the stained-glass transom above the front door.

My Gran’s vintage nutcracker should have been on the desk, but I hadn’t been able to find it this year. It was really irritating.

Taking their turns patting the dog’s head, the three men told Bailey he was a good boy and loosened their scarves. Mr. Gomez pulled a baggie from the pocket of his khakis and fed the beagle a treat.

I unwound my blue scarf and admired the Christmas tree. My cousin and I had decorated it with flying saucer ornaments. More ornaments lined the shelves set into the stairs beside the reception desk. I'd been doing a brisk sale in them to guests over the holidays. They were doing even better than the alien bobble heads.

Surprisingly, the holidays were a bang-up time for UFO sightings. Maybe it was the clarity of the winter air. Or maybe St. Nick was confused with UFOs, because a lot of sightings happened on Christmas Day.

Hey, it could happen.

A shadow fell across my face, and I looked up into a sprig of mistletoe.

“I think there's some tradition about mistletoe.” My boyfriend, Arsen, screwed up his handsome face in mock thoughtfulness. “I'm not sure what it is though.” Lights from the tree near the front door reflected red, green and gold off his whiskey-colored hair.

“Oh, kiss the girl,” Mr. Gomez bellowed.

Arsen grinned and gave me a chaste kiss on the lips.

“Is that it?” Mr. St. John sneered. “In my day, mistletoe meant something.”

Arsen pulled me into his arms and bent me backwards like a hero on a romance-novel cover. We kissed more deeply, my heart banging against my ribs. He pulled me to standing, and I laughed.

“Now that's more like it,” Mr. Gomez said.

“You shouldn't tease the young people,” Mr. Bolinsky said to his friends.

“I kept all the food warm in the kitchen,” Arsen said, releasing me. “But two carolers have already arrived, so I brought out the hot chocolate.”

“Perfect.” I removed my mittens. “Thank you.”

“And now I'm going to go shovel out the rest of your driveway,” he said.

“Thanks,” I said, “but don't you want to practice with the other carolers?”

Arsen's hazel eyes turned shifty. “Um, no. Shoveling's more critical right now. You know me, safety first.” He grabbed his jacket off a hook behind the reception desk and strode out the door.

“Isn’t he more a safety last kind of guy?” Mr. Gomez asked.

“He's a little self-conscious about his voice,” I whispered to the three elderly carolers.

“I don't see why,” Mr. Bolinsky said. “He's got a fine baritone.”

Mr. St. John bent his bony elbow, jabbing him sharply in the side. “Leave it.”

I left the men to find their own way to the practice room, AKA the B&B's breakfast room. Slithering out of my parka, I hustled into the kitchen. I dropped scarf and parka on a wooden chair beside the small, round table and arranged the snacks on platters.

I was particularly proud of the mini quiches. But my sugar cookies decorated in space themes and holiday colors also looked as good as they tasted.

Platters stacked in both hands, I pushed open the swinging kitchen door with one hip. I walked through the foyer to the octagonal breakfast room. It was one of my favorite spaces, with blue toile wallpaper and tall windows overlooking the front yard.

I’d decorated the room like Gran had when she’d been alive. Gold tinsel wove through the brass hanging lamp over the table. Wreaths hung in every window.

Nora Snelson, a lovely brunette in her forties, stood beside the blue-curtained windows. She crossed her arms over her low, v-necked plum sweater, her lips pinched.

My smile hardened. Nora had been the genius behind Bigfoot Days. Not that I was one to hold a grudge. And at least she wasn't scowling at me tonight.

She frowned at the three old men. They sang a rousing version of Walking in My Winter Underwear. It was not on the approved caroling song list. It was also nearly impossible to get out of your head once you heard it.

I set the cookies on the oval table and turned to Redford Bright, a sparse, gray-haired man with a Gary Cooper demeanor. He wore a charcoal blazer and a soft-looking red scarf that brought out the twinkle in his gentle brown eyes.

“Would you like a mini quiche?” I glanced around. Parkas had been piled on a dining chair, propped in one corner.

“Don't mind if I do. Thanks, Susan.” Redford plucked a quiche off the tray and popped it into his mouth.

“Where’s Tansy?” I asked him. Redford and his wife seemed inseparable.

“She’s coming straight from her pottery shop to meet us here,” he said.

“Are those sugar cookies?” Mr. Gomez asked and grabbed two.

Nora checked her watch. “Is this it?”

“There's a lot of snow on the roads,” I said. “I’m sure that’s why people are late.” Normally, tardiness annoyed me. But I’d planned on people being late tonight.

Nora's elegant eyebrows drew together. “I told you we should have canceled.”

“I thought we agreed that anyone who wanted to practice could come?” I said. I was sure I’d made a note of it in my planner, and I almost looked around for it to check.

“We're missing our soloist.” Nora motioned abruptly to the empty space beside Redford.

He swallowed, wiping his fingers on a red paper napkin. “I tried calling Tansy, but it went to voicemail. She was probably delayed with a customer, but she’ll be here soon. You know how my wife loves these rehearsals.”

The older men launched into a rude version of Jingle Bells.

“I can stand in for Tansy,” I said.

“No,” Nora said. “You can't. You’re an alto. She’s soprano. I'll take Tansy's part if it comes to that. We'll give it five more minutes, and then we're starting.”

Redford grimaced. “I should have picked her up when I was coming back from Angel’s Camp. But then her car would have been left behind at her pottery shop. It seemed easier for us to take two cars.”

“We should have canceled due to snow,” Nora repeated.

I smothered a sigh. The Christmas spirit seemed in short supply tonight.

The phone rang in the pocket of Redford’s blazer. “That must be Tansy.” He pulled his cellphone free, glanced at its screen, and frowned, clapping it to his ear. “Hello...? Yes, what can I...?”

Redford’s face sagged. “What…? But… No.” He staggered and clutched the back of a wooden chair. “Yes... Yes... I'll be right there.” His hand dropped to his side.

“Redford?” Nora asked. “Is something wrong?”

“That was the sheriff,” he whispered. “It's Tansy. She's... dead.”


Chapter Two


“I… I have to go home.” Redford rushed unsteadily from the room.

Nora and I shared horrified looks. I jogged after Redford, diverting to grab my parka from the kitchen before zipping back into the foyer.

In his dog bed, Bailey raised his tawny head inquiringly.

“Stay.” I walked onto the porch.

Through the falling snow, the headlights flared on Redford's b