December 1st, 2023
Karmen York released a long, heavy sigh as she opened the door to Fictional Grounds, her bookstore and coffee house mashup. She turned around before stepping inside and saw how the town had already decorated for Christmas. The old, mahogany door looked lonely without festive evergreen branches and holly adorning its window.
She braced herself; she knew the Scrooge and Grinch comments were coming.
“You’re not decorating at all?” Miranda asked as she came bounding up the cobblestone stairs in her furry boots.
Karmen met Miranda Michaels in the seventh grade when Miranda moved to Ellicott City from the hills of West Virginia. Miranda was Karmen’s rock through all of life’s hardships.
Miranda was more than a best friend.
She was family.
She also happened to own the yoga studio across the street.
“In case you’ve forgotten, the past three Christmases have brought me nothing but sorrow, and hell, and torture, so I’d rather not tempt the fates and ask for a fourth one,” Karmen retorted.
She spun on her heel and made her best friend the breakfast order she didn’t have to ask for because Karmen already knew it.
“The third time certainly was not the charm, so I’m sure the fourth won’t be,” she handed Miranda her herbal tea and multi-grain breakfast cookie.
“I’m well aware,” Miranda replied, “but people are going to give you shit for it, and quite frankly, I’m tired of wanting to punch everyone in the face.”
Karmen laughed. “That’s not going to change whether I decorate for Christmas or not.”
The bell of the front door chimed, stealing the ladies’ attention.
“Hello?” Mrs. Waverly asked in her annoyingly fake, high-pitched voice.
“Everyone can read through her tone. She pretends to be friendly, but you know she’s here to spew her unsolicited opinion,” Karmen whispered to Miranda.
“HI, Mrs. Waverly,” Karmen replied in a purposeful, annoyingly sweet voice.
“Ms. York,” I notice your front Windows are not decorated for Christmas.
“Good eyesight.” Karmen smiled.
“You signed a contract, remember?”
“Coffee?” Karmen interjected as she poured herself a cup, ignoring the stupid question.
“No, thanks.” Mrs. Waverly walked up to the counter, placed her purse down, removed her gloves and hat, and gazed at Karmen sternly.
“That contract stated that the entire town of Old Ellicott City participates in Christmas Decorating, Ms. York.”
Karmen brought her coffee up to her lips and took a sip, never releasing eye contact with the oppressor on Poe Street.
“And if I don’t?” Karmen asked.
“Then I will have no choice but to report you to the chairman of the chamber of commerce for breaking code 4.32 of section B of the contract that specifically states any and all buildings in the historical district will have window displays,” Mrs. Waverly replied in one breath.
“Okay,” Karmen stated matter-of-factly,” “And then what? I get a hefty fine? I get kicked out of the chamber?”
“I will put you out of business, Ms. York,” Mrs. Waverly sneered. “Now, I suggest if you would like for me to not tell everyone about the Grinch on the corner of Poe Street who doesn’t believe in community involvement or charitable contributions, you’ll have a window display and a wreath on that door by the end of the day, tomorrow.
“This is your last warning. I’ve been after you since November 1st.”
“Just because I don’t want to hang up some fucking Christmas lights does not make me uncharitable, Mrs. Waverly. Don’t act like you know the first thing about me because you don’t.”
“And I don’t care to,” Mrs. Waverly retorted.
“I share that sentiment,” Karmen smiled.
“Fine,” Karmen sighed in defeat, “not to appease you or anyone else, but I don’t feel like fighting someone who would spread lies just to get her way. I’m above all that, and my peace is more important than fighting your judgment, and quite frankly, I’m tired of feeling sorry for you. “
Mrs. Waverly scoffed, “Just get it done.”
Karmen raised her coffee in response.
She turned to Miranda, “She wants a window display? I’ll give her a window display!”
“I recognize that mischievous smile,” Miranda smiled, slightly worried, “What are you up to?”
Karmen stood on the sidewalk, admiring her Christmas decorations. She walked up to the wreath and adjusted the claw.
She stepped back on the sidewalk and flashed a satisfied smile at her craftsmanship.
Mrs. Waverly approached Karmen on the sidewalk.
She smiled as she noticed the green pine and colored lights around the window, “This is more like…” she trailed off as she looked on in horror.
“Is that a snowman eating an elf?!”
“Yup,” Karmen retorted, popping the “p.”
“An evil Santa?!” Mrs. Waverly shrieked.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Karmen scoffed as she approached the window, holding her hand out to the red and black suit. “it’s clearly Krampus….”
She then pointed to the Krampus book display in the corner of the window.
“This is not acceptable!” Mrs. Waverly stomped her foot in protest.
“I checked the contract,” Karmen replied, “It didn’t say I couldn’t display a Christmas villain, and Krampus is very popular in German culture, and my ancestors are German. I’m German. You wouldn’t want to exclude me now, would you?”
“That’s a bit of a stretch, Ms. York,” Mrs. Waverly put her hands on her hips.
“Well, if you can twist people’s words to suit your theories, so can I.” Karmen stepped closer to Mrs. Waverly, a smug smile plastered on her face as she placed one black, patent leather high heel in front of the other.
Mrs. Waverly scoffed, “You’re clever; I’ll give you that much.”
“Don’t underestimate me, Mrs. Waverly. I see the disapproving looks you flash a few of my employees, and I can and will make a scene if you create another problem like you did last week, understood?”
“It was dark, Ms. York. It had nothing to do with sk..”
“Let me stop you there, Mrs. Waverly,” Karmen held up her hand before moving to walk up the stairs of her bookstore. “As I have said before, I don’t care to hear your excuses. I’m only requesting that it does not happen again. You should also know that I won’t be as nice as last time if it does.”
“Last time was nice?” Mrs. Waverly asked.
Karmen smiled widely before making her way back inside.
Detective Justin Spade was making his way to Poe Street. He was walking next to his friend, Deputy Stuart James, or simply, as his friends called him, Stu.
“I just want to make a quick stop at Fictional Grounds before lunch,” Justin stated as the bookstore came into view.
“Is Mrs. Waverly causing trouble again?” Stu asked.
“Not to my knowledge, but I just want to check in and make sure everything is going well.”
“Detectives don’t do follow-ups.” Stu chuckled, knowing exactly why his friend wanted to stop at the bookstore.
“The good ones do!” Justin retorted.
“Mmmhmm, and this would have nothing to do with the pretty brunette who owns the place?”
“Her name is Karmen, and yes, she’s been going through a really hard time, and I want to make sure she’s doing okay. The holidays can be especially gruesome for divorcees.”
Justin laughed as soon as he saw the window display.
“Did I mention she has a great sense of humor?” Justin asked, pointing over his shoulder with his thumb to the display behind him.
“Just friends, my ass,” Stu muttered.
Karmen’s smile lit up her face as she looked up at the sound of the bell and met Justin’s gaze.
“I bet Mrs. Waverly loved the window display.” Justin chuckled.
“She adored it,” Karmen played along before taking a sip of her coffee.
“What can I help you with, Detective?”
“I think we’re to the point in our acquaintanceship that you can call me Justin, Karmen,” he smiled at her.
Karmen smiled and blushed deeply, brushing a strand of hair behind her ear.
“I’m looking for a good noir, any recommendations?”
Karmen placed her coffee on the counter before stepping around it and heading to the crime-fiction section.
Justin took full advantage of the opportunity to check her out in her red and black buffalo plaid tunic, black leggings, and knee-high, high-heeled boots.
She strode up next to him and handed him a book, flashing him a sly, sexy smirk.
His fingers gently grazed hers as he took the book from her, laughing as soon as he saw the title.
“The Maltese Falcon, I get the wisecrack.” He gave her a half-smile.
“I wasn’t going to go there because I’m sure people give you a hard time about your name, Detective Spade.”
“Luckily, no one under the age of fifty,” he paused, “well, you appear to be the exception.”
“I love The Maltese Falcon. It’s my favorite noir,” she confessed.
“Mine, too.” He smiled.
“Just Friends, my ass!” Stu muttered for the second time as he watched Karmen and Justin together.
Miranda chuckled, “Is that Detective Spade?”
“The one and only.”
Miranda chuckled, “She likes it when he’s on the news.”
“He’s only on the news to give updates about serious crimes,” Stu looked concerned.
“She feels guilty about that,” Miranda chuckled. It’s kind of funny and cute in a weird way.
Stu gave her a side-eyed glance, unsure how to respond to her comment. “I’ve only ever seen him look at someone like that once, and she broke his heart.”
Miranda could sense the worry in Stu’s voice.
“I find Detective Spade sexy,” Karmen flashed him a seductive smile.
Justin found himself wanting to kiss her.
He blushed and looked down at his feet, “Which one?”
She stepped closer to him, placing a hand on his arm, “Both.”
To be continued…
When the story jumped to the arrival of Detective Spade, I immediately thought it was to investigate the untimely death of Mrs. Waverly and Karmen as prime suspect. Love the name of the bookstore/coffee house. Well-paced and intriguing. I look forward to Part Two and still hoping for the untimely death of Mrs. Waverly!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Haha! I realized in all my short stories, I never really created a villain. It pleases me to know you dislike her so much that you are looking forward to her untimely death!
Thank you! I like the name Fictional Grounds so much, I actually want to open a bookstore/coffee house with that name.
As I was editing, I saw a little bit of my business major intertwined in tge story. Who knew my brain would find a way to use Business Law creatively.
Thank you again. I’m so glad you enjoyed the first chapter!
LikeLiked by 1 person