Berry the Hatchet
Cranberry Cove was in an uproar.
It was less than six hours until the opening of the town’s first Winter Walk, an event designed to bring tourists—and their wallets—to Cranberry Cove during some of the darker days of the year. The festive Christmas season was over, the spring tulips were a long way yet from blooming, and the hope was that the Winter Walk would provide an infusion of much needed capital into the local economy between the two more popular seasons.
The shops along Beach Hollow Road bustled with business all spring and summer and into the early fall months, when tourists arrived in droves for autumn color tours. Then things trailed off until the weeks before Christmas, when Cranberry Cove’s quaint shops and traditional holiday decorations drew shoppers from all over the state of Michigan and beyond. January was one of the worst months as far as business was concerned. An icy wind blew off the waters of Lake Michigan and the sky was gray and leaden more often than not. The vacancy sign swung from the pole in front of the Cranberry Cove Inn all month long, and the only busy shops were the drugstore, the hardware store and the Cranberry Cove Diner, where locals gathered for farmer- style breakfasts and strong coffee in thick white mugs.
So while other towns were taking down their Christmas decorations two weeks after the holidays, Cranberry Cove was stringing up extra garlands of small white lights, adding festive blue and silver bows to anything they could tie a ribbon around and generally gussying up the place as much as possible. Merchants would be throwing open their doors for the next several evenings and offering hot chocolate (made from the finest Dutch cocoa,of course— early settlers of the area had come from the Netherlands and a good portion of the current residents were of Dutch descent), cups of tea and even bowls of wassail for the shoppers who would hopefully soon crowd their establishments.
Sassamanash Farm had erected an outdoor stall in front of Gumdrops, the local candy shop run by the identical twin VanVelsen sisters. Monica Albertson had been baking and cooking for several weeks to ensure a healthy stock of cranberry muffins, bread, salsa and other goodies made from the farm’s fall cranberry harvest. Her half brother, Jeff, had crafted a comfortable shelter to protect her from the winds blowing off Lake Michigan barely a block away, and Monica had installed a couple of electric heaters for extra comfort. The VanVelsen sisters had been more than happy to let her run the power cords into their shop outlets.
The wind was picking up, and Monica wrestled with a cloth imprinted with bright red cranberries that she planned to use to cover the rough wooden table Jeff had made for the occasion. Her fingers were stiff with the cold, making them awkward, and the wind kept flipping the fabric up over her face as if this were some sort of playful children’s game. Finally, she gave up. She needed to get warm and needed to do it fast.
“You must be freezing, dear,” Hennie VanVelsen said when Monica pushed open the door to Gumdrops.
Gumdrops specialized in Dutch treats like hexagonal boxes of Droste pastilles, Wilhelmina peppermints, and De Heer chocolate, along with a counter full of what used to be called penny candy—like Mary Janes, root beer barrels and nonpareils, which the sisters scooped into white paper bags for their customers.
“We have a pot of nice strong tea going in the back room. I’ll get you a cup.” Hennie headed toward a beaded curtain that separated the shop from the room behind. “Gerda got us an electric teakettle for Christmas, and I must say, the thing is a marvel,” she called over her shoulder as she pushed her way through the curtain.
Moments later she reappeared with a steaming mug, which she handed to Monica. Gerda was right on her heels, wearing an identical pale blue sweater set and blue and gray pleated skirt and sporting the exact same tight gray curls as her twin.
“Hello, dear.” Gerda rubbed her hands together briskly. “You look positively frozen.”
Monica wrapped one hand around her mug of tea and brushed a tangle of auburn curls out of her eyes with the other. “I am. The wind certainly has a sharp edge to it, although the thermometer claims it’s almost thirty-five degrees.”
Gerda nodded sagely. “It’s the wind that does it, that’s for certain. A few miles inland and it probably feels positively balmy.”
Hennie quirked a smile at Gerda. “Maybe not quite balmy, love.”
Gerda made a sound deep in her throat. “You’re right,of course. Certainly not balmy.” She gave a tight smile. “But more comfortable than here on the very shore of the lake.”
Monica hid the grin that rose to her lips. The VanVelsen sisters might be inseparable, but they had their squabbles, just like any other pair of siblings. But instead of driving them apart, their genteel disagreements seemed to bring them closer together.
While Monica had resented her stepmother Gina for stealing her father away, she had adored the baby brother who had arrived barely a year later. Monica and Jeff wereas close as any siblings, although there were times, of course, when they had to agree to disagree.
Hennie glanced out the window with a furrow between her eyebrows. “We really need it to snow.” She worked her gnarled fingers into the pleats of her plaid skirt. “Miss Winter Walk is supposed to arrive on a horse-drawn sleigh. It’s the highlight of the whole event. That’s how Mayor Crowley planned it. I read all about it in the newspaper.”
Gerda frowned at the large windowpane that looked out onto Beach Hollow Road. “I don’t think we’re going to get any snow by this evening. Mayor Crowley had a wonderful idea, and of course we normally have piles of the stuff by now, but this year. . . .”
Preston Crowley, owner of the Cranberry Cove Inn, had taken over as mayor of Cranberry Cove upon the death of the former mayor, Sam Culbert.
“I’m sure it has something to do with Tempest Storm.” Hennie shuddered.
“The lack of snow?” Monica blew on her tea and took a cautious sip. “How could that be?”
Hennie fiddled with a box of Droste chocolate pastilles, turning it over and over again in her hands. “She’s planning on performing some sort of spell on the village green.” She shook the pastilles at Monica and the candies rattled inside their box. “No good is going to come of it, mark my words.”
“It isn’t a spell,” Monica explained patiently. “It’s called Imbolc, and it’s a ritual designed to hurry spring when people are fed up with the cold and ice of winter.” She glanced out the window at the gray skies. “Which most of us are, I think.” She always wished that winter would end on New Year’s Day and that spring would arrive in full force the next morning.
“I’m sure that’s why we don’t have any snow,” Hennie said.
“Sounds pagan to me,” Gerda sniffed.
“It’s Wiccan.” Monica looked at the sisters over the rim of her mug. Their faces were settled into identical creases of disapproval.
“No matter what you call it, I don’t like it,” Hennie said.
“Besides, what kind of a name is that? Tempest Storm indeed.”
“She is something of a whirlwind.” Gerda laughed and Hennie shot her a quelling look.
“Still, who names their child Tempest?”
“It’s hard to imagine her being called something plain like Jane or Martha with all those crazy clothes she wears.” Gerda pointed out.
Monica put down her now empty mug. “I’d better get back outside if I hope to have the stall ready for tonight.”
“I hate to think of you out there in the cold. You must come in to get warm from time to time,” Hennie said firmly.
Monica promised she would.
The wind had died down slightly, so Monica decided to tackle the tablecloth again. This time she was successful in getting it on the table with all the sides even. She pulled a packet of thumbtacks from one of the boxes she’d lugged with her, and tacked each of the four corners to keep the cloth from blowing away.
She glanced up to see Bart Dykema bustling across the street, headed toward his butcher shop on the other side of Book ’Em, a mystery bookstore and one of Monica’s favorite shops in town. He had a number of strands of lights looped over his arm. He waved when he saw Monica, and she waved back. She’d only been in Cranberry Cove since the summer, but she was already beginning to feel like a native. Certainly she felt more at home here than she had in Chicago, where she’d run a tiny café and coffee shop that had been put out of business by one of the big name chains with whom she couldn’t hope to compete. When Jeff had asked for her help on his cranberry farm, it had seemed the perfect time to start over.
The smell of frying food drifted down the street from the Cranberry Cove Diner. Monica’s stomach rumbled in response. She’d just get a few more things set up, she promised herself, and then she’d treat herself to a nice hot bowl of the diner’s famous chili.
The tablecloth having been nailed down, so to speak, Monica began stringing small white lights around the perimeter of the table. Mayor Crowley wanted the town to sparkle as much as possible. Monica looked at some of the other establishments. She hoped the lights wouldn’t prove to be too blinding to the customers.
“Need some help with that?”
Monica looked up to see Greg Harper, owner of Book’Em, standing in front of her cranberry-bedecked table. He had a knitted hat pulled down almost to his eyebrows and thick gloves on his hands.
“I’m just about done.”
Monica and Greg had fallen into an easy friendship soon after meeting in September. They shared a love of books in general and mysteries in particular, especially the grand dames of the Golden Age like Christie, Marsh and Sayers. The relationship was slowly taking a romantic turn. They’d both lost someone—Greg his wife and Monica her fiancé—and it took time and a certain amount of courage to move on.
“I’ve got Book ’Em done up in so many lights, people are going to need sunscreen just to go near the place.”
Monica laughed. “It does seem like overkill, doesn’t it? But if the mayor is right, and the Winter Walk does bring tourists to town, I guess we should all be grateful.”
“That’s true.” Greg looked up at the sky. “Now all we need is a dusting of snow to complete the picture.” He squinted and pointed toward the clouds. “Those look like snow clouds to me.”
Monica followed his gaze. “I think you’re right. Now if they would just release their contents at the right moment, we’ll be in business.”
Greg squeezed Monica’s shoulder. “I’ll see you later. Maybe after all this madness is over we can grab a bite to eat or something.”
“I’d like that.”
Monica was giving a final tweak to Sassamanash’s stall when her cell phone rang. She tried to dig it out of her pocket, but her bulky gloves made it nearly impossible. She pulled one off with her teeth, retrieved her cell and said, somewhat breathlessly, “Hello?
“Monica, darling, is that you?”
“Mom. Is everything okay?”
“Yes, of course, why wouldn’t it be?”
Monica tried to keep her sigh from being audible. “It’s just that you rarely call except for Sunday nights.”
“That’s because I have some news. I’m coming to Cranberry Cove.”
Monica took her phone away from her ear and stared at it as if it wasn’t working correctly. Because surely her mother hadn’t just said she was coming to Cranberry Cove?
“I’ll be there in about an hour. I assume you can find me someplace to stay?” Nancy Albertson continued. “I doubt you’re overrun with tourists at this time of year.”
Monica could hear the sound of tires swooshing and horns beeping in the background of the call.
“But why . . . what . . . ?”
The thought of her mother in the same county, let alone the same town, as Monica’s stepmother, Gina, made Monica feel slightly sick.
“I’ve been dating this wonderful man,” Nancy continued. “He comes to Chicago on business somewhat regularly. We met when he helped me hail a taxi outside of Neiman Marcus in the pouring rain. Poor man got completely soaked on my behalf.”
Monica realized she had a death grip on her cell phone and tried to loosen her stiff fingers.
“And small world and all that, it turns out he’s from Cranberry Cove. “
“Really?” Monica managed to say despite the fact that all the moisture in her mouth and throat seemed to have dried up.
“The traffic’s picking up, dear, so I’d better get off the phone. See you soon. Try to book me a room somewhere. Somewhere decent.”
There was a click and the line went dead. Monica stared at her phone in disbelief. Her mother was coming to CranberryCove. Now.
What was she going to do?