It’s Halloween once again and Zoe is on the trail of the killer responsible for the death of a long time friend. Check out this preview of the annual Halloween installment of the Zoe Donovan Cozy Mystery Series.
Monday, October 23
“I think I first realized I was in trouble when the marshmallow ghost decided to lead an attack against the Milky Way king. I remember grabbing my candy corn shield as I prepared for what was to come, but when the Raisinets began to rain down on the entire candy kingdom, I knew a shield made of candy corn wasn’t going to be nearly enough.”
“Sounds terrifying,” my best friend, Ellie Denton, replied as she tossed a bag of Snickers into her basket. We were shopping at the Halloween store in preparation for the upcoming holiday.
“It really was,” I confirmed, my heart still racing at the memory of the dream I’d had the previous night.
Ellie handed her six-month-old son, Eli, one of the small stuffed pumpkins she’d picked up from a nearby bin. “So what did you do once you realized the entire world was about to be covered in Raisinets?”
“The only thing I could. I dove into the chocolate sea and swam for my life. What do you think it means?”
Ellie turned toward me with a smile. “I think it means Catherine wants you to lay off the Chinese takeout so close to bedtime.”
I put my hand on the small bump under my loose-fitting T-shirt. “You think?”
Ellie laughed and grabbed my hand in hers. “I do. I have to hand it to you, Zoe Donovan-Zimmerman; you’ve been experiencing the most entertaining pregnancy symptoms of anyone I’ve ever met.”
“Lucky me.” I groaned as I pressed my hands into the small of my back.
“Is your back still hurting?” Ellie asked with genuine sympathy in her voice.
“It has been. I guess I knew back pain would be part of the pregnancy package, but I’m only a couple of weeks into my third trimester. If my back hurts this badly so early in the game I can’t imagine what it’s going to feel like when I reach my ninth month.”
“Have you talked to your doctor?”
I nodded. “He told me to slow down a bit. Like I can even consider doing such a thing. Haunted Hamlet is next weekend and I don’t have nearly enough volunteers lined up for the kiddie events, the Halloween dance at Zimmerman Academy is on Friday and I still need to get Alex a dress, and Scooter’s soccer team entered a tournament that starts on Wednesday.” I referred to Scooter Sherwood and Alex Bremmerton, the two thirteen-year-olds who lived with my husband Zak and me.
“You do have a lot on your plate,” Ellie admitted.
“If that was all I had to worry about I might be fine, but to top it all off, the guy from the county is coming this week to do his final inspection on the remodel at the Zoo,” I said, referring to the wild and domestic animal rescue and rehabilitation shelter I owned. “I know Jeremy is on top of things, but still, I worry. We have two additional bear cubs coming in two weeks to winter with us and we’re already at capacity. I don’t know what we’ll do if we can’t open the new wing.”
“It’ll be fine,” Ellie assured me. “Jeremy is a fantastic manager and he knows what he’s doing.”
I did agree that Jeremy Fisher had matured quite a lot from the nineteen-year-old I originally hired five years ago when I still worked for the county.
“Do you think these leaves will look good around the front window of the boathouse?” Ellie asked.
I looked at the garland of red, yellow, and orange leaves. “I think they’ll look really nice. You might want to put some around the door as well.”
“Yeah, that’s a good idea.” Ellie tossed the leaves in her basket and then continued on to the costumes. Now that the remodel on the boathouse was complete, this was going to be her first Halloween in her new home and Ellie was going all out, it seemed.
“Zak is in the midst of his usual decorating crazies. The exterior of the house looks like a haunted wonderland, but there’s still a lot to do on the inside. Personally, I hope he scales back a bit. I’m exhausted just watching him do his magic and we’ve barely entered the holiday season.”
“Zak does tend to go all out with the decorating,” Ellie said. “Of course, he goes all out in everything he does. Now, I want to concentrate the rest of my energy on a costume. I think I might dress up as Elvira this year. Last year I needed to cover up my figure, but this year I think I’ll show it off. Carrying Eli around has done wonderful things to my arms.”
“That’ll look nice,” I said enviously. I had no idea what I was going to dress up as this year. I was pretty much to the point in my pregnancy where I simply looked fat, which wasn’t a good look on my small frame, so I supposed I’d go as a ghost or some other figure-forgiving costume.
I watched as Ellie picked up a fuzzy costume and held it up in front of her adorable offspring. “You aren’t going to dress Eli as Elmo, are you?”
Ellie looked down at the costume. “I was thinking about it. Is there a problem with Elmo?”
“He’s just so red.”
“And that’s bad because…?”
I let out a long sigh. “Red is just a darker shade of pink.”
“Are you still duking it out with Mother Zimmerman about the color of the nursery?”
“The woman is definitely a paint swatch away from sending me over the edge,” I grumbled.
Ellie returned the Elmo costume to the rack and picked up a Cookie Monster one. “How do you feel about blue?”
“Blue is fine. I’ve always liked blue and I used to like red. I’m actually fairly outraged that Mother Zimmerman ruined red for me.”
“And how did that happen exactly?” Ellie placed a black wig on her head and studied herself in the mirror.
“She designed a nursery decorated entirely in pink and white and then surprised me with an interior designer who just showed up on our doorstep with a van full of paint, wallpaper, bedding, and furniture. You know how I feel about pink?”
“I do. Pink is the devil. I thought Zak talked to his mom and explained the whole pink-is-evil thing.”
“He did. I thought it was taken care of until the designer showed up with all the same items, only in a deep rose shade. Mother Zimmerman insists it’s red, but I know dark pink when I see it. There’s no way my daughter is going to spend the first months of her life in a prissy pink room.”
Ellie placed her hand over her mouth. She pretended to cough, but I could see she was suppressing a chuckle.
“It’s not funny,” I insisted.
“Actually, it kinda is.”
“What am I going to do? The woman is driving me crazy and she hasn’t even shown up yet for her live reign of terror.”
“When is she coming?”
I let out a long breath. “I don’t know exactly. She keeps moving it up. First it was going to be after Christmas, and then she decided that as long as she was making the trip she may as well be in Ashton Falls for the holiday. The last I heard she was planning on arriving in mid-December, but I won’t be surprised if she’s in town by Thanksgiving. I don’t know how I’m going to deal with her once she does arrive. I know she’s Zak’s mother, and I know I need to find a way to make peace with her, but she’s just so dang nosy and bossy. No matter how hard I try to keep my cool she turns me into a crazy woman. Combine that with the pregnancy hormones and I actually think I might be capable of committing murder.”
“You might not want to say that quite so loudly, but I do agree that she seems to have a way of pushing your buttons.”
“Catherine is my daughter. I want to design the nursery. With Zak’s input, of course. This should be a fun project we can work on together, but instead the whole thing is giving me indigestion.”
Ellie replaced the wig and continued to the aisle with orange lights and rubber spiders. “Have you talked to Zak about your desire to decorate the nursery on your own?”
“And he said he’ll handle his mom.”
“Is there any reason you don’t believe him?”
I picked up a large rubber bat and tossed it into my own basket. “No.” I sighed. “He told me to choose any color I want and he would make sure nothing other than that color touched the nursery walls.”
“It sounds like your wonderful, thoughtful husband has it handled, so I really don’t see the problem.”
I started to cry.
“You have a counterpoint?”
“I don’t know what color to choose,” I sobbed. At that moment it really hit me hard that Zoe Donovan-Zimmerman had officially given in to the baby bump blues.
“Better?” Ellie asked me a short while later after she’d ushered me out of the Halloween store and led me down the street to Rosie’s, where she ordered us each a cup of soup and a loaf of warm bread to share.
I glanced at Eli, who was sleeping in his stroller. “I’m better, but I’m pretty sure your baby is a felon.”
Ellie frowned until I pointed to the fuzzy pumpkin Eli still clung to but Ellie hadn’t waited to pay for. “Oops. I guess I’ll need to go back when we’re done here.”
I took a sip of my soup, sat back in the booth, and felt myself relax. It was nice to be out with my best friend on a weekday evening with nothing more to do than look at the fantastic decorations the town had put out. “I have the strangest feeling of déjà vu, only last year it was you having the meltdown in the Halloween store and me ushering you out the door and down the street to Rosie’s.”
“I guess we have come full circle,” Ellie said. “Let’s just hope we don’t receive a cryptic message leading to a murder mystery this year.”
“Yeah. I could do with a murder-free holiday for once. I don’t know why I’m letting everything get to me. I love Halloween. I should just sit back and enjoy the season.”
“I agree, you should. Catherine needs you to relax a bit.”
“That’s exactly what my doctor said, and Zak has been worried that I’m so on edge all the time. I think if I can make a decision on the nursery once and for all I’ll feel a bit more settled.”
“Okay, so let’s talk about it.” Ellie buttered a piece of the bread and popped a corner of it into her mouth. “I know pink is evil and you’ve lost your fondness for red, but there are a lot of other very nice colors.”
“Yeah, but which one?”
“Maybe you should start with a theme.”
I considered that. “That might be a good idea. Maybe something with animals. I think a room filled with soft, fluffy stuffed animals would be fun. Maybe Noah’s Ark or the zoo. Or maybe an enchanted forest with cute baby animals.”
“I love that idea.” Ellie smiled. “You can have a mural painted on one wall. There could even be fairies hidden among the trees. That would give it a girly feel without suffering a pink explosion, and maybe the other walls could be a neutral color that would complement the forest scene, like pale blue or pale green. And Mother Zimmerman already bought white furniture, which would look very nice, and it wouldn’t clash with the animal theme.”
I smiled. “While I find myself resisting using Mother Zimmerman’s crib, it really is very nice, and it has a matching dresser, changing table, bookshelf, and rocking chair. I love your suggestion for the mural, and using her furniture would help to smooth things over with her.”
“It would be fun to shop for cute bedding for the crib. I can even make something if you can’t find exactly what you want.”
I grinned. “Okay. It looks like we have a plan. Thank you. Suddenly, I feel much better. In fact, I think I’m going to splurge on dessert. Order me a piece of pumpkin pie. I need to run to the ladies’ room.”
“Of course,” I answered as I slipped out of the booth.
Spending the evening with Ellie was exactly what I’d needed. She knew me well enough that she always said exactly what would make me feel better. Not only did I finally have a vision for the nursery that I loved, but I felt more relaxed than I had in weeks. When Zak and I had decided to try for a baby I’d promised myself that I wouldn’t be one of those weepy, emotional women who stressed out over every little thing, but so far that was exactly what I’d been. But that ended today, I decided, as I walked down the hallway to find a line at the bathroom door.
“I hope you aren’t in a hurry,” the woman I fell into line behind commented. “There are two teenage girls in there and despite our frequent knocks on the door they seem to be taking their own sweet time.”
“Are you sure they’re okay?” I asked.
“They’re fine. Every now and then I can hear giggling.”
There were two women in front of the woman in front of me. I didn’t want to wait around for the girls to finish and the three women in line to have their turn. After a moment of indecision, I decided to sneak out the back through the door leading from the kitchen to the alley, and then head next door to Bears and Beavers, where I knew store owner Gilda Reynolds would let me use her ladies’ room.
I stepped out of the kitchen door and into the alley, where I almost tripped over something laying just beyond the threshold. I bent down to take a closer look at the item, which appeared to be a blanket with something wrapped inside, when I noticed a human foot peeking out the other end. I slowly lifted the edge of the blanket closest to where I knelt, before taking my phone out of my pocket and calling Sheriff Salinger. It looked like a murder-free holiday wasn’t going to be in my future after all.
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