EXCERPT from A Crafter Quilts a Crime:
Sammy Kane clutched the navy scarf closer to her neck, hoping to rebuff the frigid air threatening to penetrate any air pocket in her winter coat. Her auburn hair had grown a few inches in the last few months and now hung in soft waves from underneath a matching hand-knit winter cap, collecting ice crystals. She didn’t allow the chill to dampen her spirits, though, as she briskly walked the snow-plowed sidewalk toward Community Craft, a retail store and gathering place she owned and managed on Main Street in Heartsford, Wisconsin. As a matter of fact, the frosty air and the snow falling and swirling in glittering patterns above her head delighted and only added to her already uplifted spirit. Mother Nature had decided to bless the town with a postcard evening, despite the bone-chilling cold. It was that kind of night—sparkling and magical. “Hey, there! Can you believe our luck?” Annabelle Larson, Sammy’s business neighbor a few doors down, popped her curly red head outside her storefront and acknowledged the falling snow with an outstretched hand. “A perfect evening for the best shopping night of the year. Wouldn’t you say?”
Sammy nodded her head in agreement toward the Yarn Barn. “I know, right? This looks like something out of a Hallmark movie.” Her eyes lifted to the indigo sky. The Fire and Ice event was the only time snow encouraged the crowds to show up in droves past Christmas, Sammy thought silently. Otherwise, folks bundled up and hibernated from January second until the last possible hint of frost, which often wasn’t until late May (if they were lucky). Years ago, specifically the year 1990, they’d had a paralyzing blizzard in May. Sammy hoped this year that would not be the case. “The weather will definitely work in our favor tonight,” Annabelle agreed, snapping her chewing gum hard. “I’ll be over in a few minutes with the knit socks. I was up until the wee hours last night knitting. My hands are raw from the wool slipping through these poor old fingers, I tell ya! This last week I picked up the needles any spare moment I had. Please tell me you’ll have time to price them and have them out on the shop floor tonight?” she asked with a hint of concern. “How many do you have?” “I only made a dozen pair. I thought maybe you could hang one as a sample display and then stock the rest. If you sell them all, we can just take orders after that. What do you think?” “I think you’re going to catch a cold if you don’t hurry back inside.” Sammy smiled. “Sure, we’ll work it out. Bring over whatever you have.” “Thanks. You’re a doll!” Annabelle retreated into the Yarn Barn as Sammy waved a glove-covered hand and hurried toward her own shop door.
The fading light of day only brought more excitement to the craft shop owner. The sight of the lampposts suddenly sparkling with twinkling white lights brought a smile to Sammy’s frozen lips. The commencement of the Fire and Ice event was only an hour away, and the town was coming alive with festive decor. It was the only night every storefront lit a direct path to its doors with intricately cut snowflake-designed luminary paper bags weighted down with sand. In addition, battery-operated flaming candles glowed in each storefront window, and glittering white lights surrounded every doorway. The Main Street stores and businesses remained open only one late night a year—until midnight—when the town’s official bonfire would light up the park square. The town’s recycled holiday trees would be burned and the townspeople would gather around with cocoa or spiked coffee (though some refused to admit it) in their mitten-covered hands, chatting happily with their neighbors. Most of the townspeople participated in the celebration, held on the second Saturday in January, as it kicked off the first official event after the new year and had quickly become an annual town tradition. The last few years, the event seemed to have grown, along with the anticipation. And the pressure to add more festivities and make the night even more memorable weighed heavily on Sammy’s petite shoulders. She wanted her store to host something special. Something unforgettable that would outdo the rest. If she was being honest, her competitive nature might be part of the problem. After all, Marilyn, the owner of Sweet Tooth Bakery, had convinced a local choral group to serenade patrons outside her shop, where she was prepared to sell her hot cocoa, cookies, and
other fine treats to passersby. Horse-drawn carriage rides through the town would be available again this year, along with free roses for all the ladies, compliments of the Blooming Petal flower shop. Douglas, the owner of Liquid Joy, the coffee shop across the street from Community Craft, was selling coffee with a “hint” of whiskey, sugar, and thick cream. Sammy thought she’d come up with the perfect idea to encourage customers to want to peruse her shop. It was the only night of the entire year that the town stayed awake with such enthusiasm and gathered together despite the frigid air. The craft store owner knew it would take something big and bold. This year Sammy had, in her mind, hit the mother lode of ideas. Her face lit in a smile. While pondering what to display in the front windows of her store for the event, her heart had fluttered with excitement. She’d asked the vendors from Community Craft to participate in a live-mannequin contest inside the storefront display window that faced Main Street. Her vendors would have the opportunity to display their own creations in real time. The winner of the contest would be chosen at eleven pm, immediately before the bonfire, and would receive a substantial gift card to use on anything in the store, perfectly timed for the one-night-only shopping event. She had hoped this would entice participants to stand inside the window of Community Craft. Well, the buzz had taken off on Facebook, and the excitement had grown to a level that had surpassed even Sammy’s wildest imagination. The coveted window spot that normally displayed the best handcrafted items for sale within her shop would now be filled with live performers on this very special night. Each participant would perform inside the display window for a twenty-minute time slot, and this would continue throughout the entire Fire and Ice event. Sammy had spent wasted energy worrying that her idea would flop and she wouldn’t be able to fill the window space, but her doubts had been unfounded. She had ended up with a wait list, in case someone should “chicken out” at the last moment and decide they couldn’t stand to be in the display due to cold feet—and not because of the below-zero temperatures. What Sammy Kane didn’t know was that filling the window on that snowy winter night would be the least of her problems.