The Magazine of the Bethlehem Writers Group
Issue No. 46, November/December 2016


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Announcing our newest anthology:
  • ISBN-13: 978-0989265034 - $18.95
Illustrated by Agy Wilson

Whether you want to slide down a rainbow, take tea with a teddy bear, or unleash your inner pirate, Once Upon a Time is a readable treat that’s strange, funny, and sweet. Featuring the work of the Bethlehem Writers Group, this collection of twenty-plus children’s stories is the perfect book to snuggle up with before bedtime or share over milk and cookies. So, come, turn these pages, recommended for bookworms of all ages! Make friends with the monster under your bed, meet the princess who’d rather rescue herself, and follow the mishaps of a lost puppy looking for his forever home. These and many other tales are sure to delight both the youngsters and the young at heart.
A. E. Decker, author of Moonfall Mayhem, the highly praised young adult fantasy series.


The 2017 Bethlehem Writers Roundtable Short Story Award competition 
will open to submissions starting January 1, 2017. See our announcement and submission information.













Editor's Note:

Jerome W. McFadden, Co-editor

November and December can be tough months for writers. The holidays, travel, family, parties, shopping, plus actives you haven’t even counted on, and possibly even the weather. All of these cam take time and attention away from your writing efforts and your writing routines. Which might add the stress of guilt about not doing the writing that you had planned or hoped to do.

But you shouldn’t approach the holiday season that way. Rather you should see and embrace it as life flowing around and into your writing. This life that flows around you (and maybe over you) is what makes you a good writer. This is what writing is all about.

So back off your imposed writing routine if need be, then fill in with a writing activity when and where you can. Have a spare moment? Work on the outline of your stories or your book. Sitting at an airport? Scribble notes to describe the people sitting at the tables around you or walking past you. Going to a new region? Listen for and note new accents or expressions that people do not use at home. You’re at a holiday party and a family fight breaks out? Remember it and understand it so that you put it into one of your stories later on. You have 15 minutes or a half hour to yourself? Write. Just put something on paper. Then come back to it later, when your routine is back to normal to see if it is applicable to one of your stories.

Your writing routine may be broken up, but your love of writing should not be. Your writing muscles will be taking an enforced rest, but if you keep doing these little things, snatching writing time when available to you, your writing will come back stronger than ever. Trust it.

One of my favorite philosophies has always been - “Life is what happens to you while you were busy planning.” The holiday season is just that - life happening to you. Embrace it, pack it into your memories, and then write about it, one way or the other, when you get “back home.”

In this issue: For our Roundtable holiday season, our featured author for our November/ December issue is the talented and prolific Carol L. Wright. As you will see from the bio that accompanies her story, she has a fascinating background and a devotion to writing. Her specialty is “Cozy Mysteries,” i.e., murder mysteries that happen in gentle surroundings to gentle people, which are then investigated by nice people. A great way to gently read your way through the holidays. And the &More stories are a nice basket of holiday discoveries. And you should never, ever, miss Betty’s Tips - they are great way to explore different depths of writing that you may not have thought of before.

Above all, from all of us on our Roundtable staff: Happy Holidays!





Announcing the

2017

Bethlehem 

Writers 

Roundtable

 
Short

 Story 

Award 

competition 
opens

January 1, 2017


Start the new year with a chance to win cash and print publication.
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of the
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Our Mission is to encourage the art of writing and to present the work of established and emerging writers. Feel free to post your comments on the Featured Story by using Submissions/Contact form at the tab above.





Note:

This is our last 
bi-monthly issue. Beginning in 2017, we will move to a quarterly 
publication
schedule.

With this change, we also become a paying publication. 

Our payment rate to authors for published material is:

Featured author: $20
&More story: 
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Poems: 
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Our Featured Author              
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Carol L. Wright is a former lawyer, book editor, and academic who has traded writing on law-related topics for writing fiction. She has published several short stories in a variety of genres. She is a life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America and Sisters in Crime, a member of SinC Guppies, and a founding member of the Bethlehem Writers Group. She is married to her college sweetheart, and lives in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania. You can visit Carol’s website or follow her on Facebook.


You Better Watch Out. . .

Carol L. Wright

“Great party, Joy,” Wendell Owens said, taking a snowball cookie from the tray. “It just wouldn’t be the Christmas season without your open house.”

“Thanks, Wendell.” Joy smiled at her guest. “For a while there, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to put an open house together this year. I’ve been so busy at work.”

“That would have been our loss,” Wendell said. “Where would we all go after lighting the town Christmas tree?”

Wendell was a jovial man, who, when suited up in red fur and supplied with a white beard, made a very convincing Santa Claus for the town tree lighting every first Friday of December. As a long-time resident, and publisher and editor of the New England village’s weekly newspaper, he knew every child in town by name. When he handed out gifts at the town celebration, he always had a comment or two that made each child wonder how Santa really knew whether they had been bad or good that year.

“Well, I am glad to help keep the town’s disreputable characters off the streets!” Joy laughed as she looked around at the members of the Board of Selectmen, the minister from the Congregational Church, the town’s only doctor, and several of Joy’s colleagues from her law practice who filled her living room. The church organist regaled the group with variations of songs of the season on Joy’s permanently out-of-tune upright piano.

The doorbell rang, barely audible over the laughter and music.

Joy shook her head. “Don’t they know it’s an open house?” she said and handed her tray to her teenage daughter, Noelle. “Take care of this for me, will you, sweetie?”

By the time Joy reached the front door, her husband, Nick was already opening it. She could see the blue and black of the police officer’s uniform and the reflection of the porch light on his leather holster.

“What’s happened?” she asked, before Nick or the officer could utter a word.

“Accident,” Officer Dan Davis said. “Dr. Barnes here?”

“Is someone hurt?”

“I got a call. Jimmy Corcoran fell off his roof a few blocks down. He’s in a bad way. His sister called for an ambulance. Figured since I was nearby I’d get Dr. Barnes if he’s here.”

“I’ll get him,” Joy said, turning toward her guests. She had no trouble picking out Dr. Barnes. He was tall and thin, about forty, with a pock-marked face that looked like it never held a smile. He had just moved to town from Springfield to open a small practice and to take a job as a part-time county medical examiner. People were glad to finally have a doctor in the community, but his permanently dour expression held friendly overtures at bay. Joy approached him, but had to call his name before he noticed her.

“Dr. Barnes, there is a police officer at the door.”

The doctor flinched. “Why tell me?”

“They need you immediately. There’s been an accident.”

“Dead people aren’t usually in much of a hurry,” Dr. Barnes said with a scowl, “so this one must still be alive.”

“Yes, and in need of medical attention. Please hurry.” Joy took Barnes by the arm and led him to the door. “Do you have your medical bag?”

“In my car,” Barnes said as Nick handed him his coat and he left with the officer.

“Oh dear,” Joy said to Nick as he closed the door. “I hope everything is all right. I feel like going to see if there’s anything I can do to help.”

“You can’t help the doctor, Joy. And, you don’t want to appear to be an ambulance chaser,” Nick said with a wink.

Joy grimaced. “I guess you’re right.”

“Thanks for a wonderful time,” Wendell said as he rushed past Joy and Nick to follow the police, putting his coat on as he went. The life of a newspaperman was always subject to interruption.

“Now he’s an ambulance chaser!” Joy said with a laugh after closing the door.

***

Once the party was over and the dishes done, Joy’s thoughts turned to Jimmy Corcoran. He was a life-long resident of the small town, and had run a local auto repair shop for several years before selling it and retiring. Since then he kept busy as a handyman. Joy guessed he must be in his late seventies. He lived in the modest house where he grew up, with his sister, Margaret, who, like Jimmy, had never married. He was one of those local institutions whom everyone recognized and thought well of, but who never seemed to be part of any of the goings-on in town. An independent New Englander. Joy hoped his independent spirit would help him recover from his fall.

It was after one in the morning, but Joy couldn’t sleep. Nick snored in the bed next to her, but she got up and walked into the hallway. She crept past Noelle’s room, across the hall to the spare bedroom that they used as a library to look for a book to help her get to sleep. Once there, she decided to call the police department non-emergency number to see if she could get an update on Jimmy Corcoran’s condition.

“Well, you didn’t hear it from me,” the dispatcher told Joy, “but I hear he has some broken bones and he’s in a coma.”

“Do they know why he was on the roof?” Joy asked.

“His sister said he was trying to fix a skylight before that snow moves in tonight.”

“In the dark? That doesn’t seem like a very good idea, does it?”

“Turned out not to be.”

New England understatement.

***

By morning, the ground was covered with eight inches of new snow. Shortly after dawn, Nick was outside clearing their driveway and the sidewalk in front of their century-old, four-square house. Joy started the coffee maker and prepared milk and eggs so she could make French toast as soon as he came inside. She didn’t expect to see Noelle up for at least a while.

Joy settled down with the morning’s Springfield Republican. There was a story about a man from Longmeadow who went to court to keep from having to tear down his stone wall, one about a Connecticut teen who robbed an old woman and was tracked all the way to Amherst, and a report on Christmas illustrations at the Norman Rockwell museum in Stockbridge. Nothing, of course, about Jimmy Corcoran. She knew that Wendell Owens would cover the story in the Town Monitor, but it wasn’t due out for another five days. She thought about calling the police station again to find out what was going on. Instead, she started heating the griddle and set the kettle to boil for a cup of tea.

Before the teakettle whistled, Nick came onto the covered porch by the kitchen door, stomping snow off of his boots. Joy poured a cup of coffee, and handed it to him as soon as he had his coat off.

“Thanks, Hon.” Nick smiled, removing his fogged-over sunglasses. “It’s a nice packing snow out there.” Nick’s cheeks were bright red, and Joy could see a sparkle in his hazel eyes. It wasn’t the first snow of the season, but so far it was the biggest. It seemed to have put Nick in the holiday mood.

“Maybe I can get Noelle to build a snowman with me after she gets up.” Nick’s grin showed off his dimples. They always made Joy smile.

“I have two kids!” Joy said, ruffling Nick’s hair.

After breakfast was cleared away, something about the sun reflecting on the new snow drew Joy outside.

“I think I’ll take a walk, Nick,” she called upstairs to him.

“Sure thing. Hey, if you’re in town, could you pick up some bread? It looks like the French toast nearly wiped us out.”

“Sure.” Joy bundled up for the six-block walk. While some of the sidewalks were not yet cleared, the roads were cleaned down to wet pavement. An occasional car spit slush up along the curb, but Joy was quick enough to avoid being splashed.

Turning a corner, she saw the proud blue spruce that always served as the town Christmas tree, glistening with new-fallen snow. Joy thought about the legend of Martin Luther seeing a snow-covered evergreen during an evening walk in the woods. It glowed in the moonlight, and left the religious reformer so awestruck that he brought a tree home and lit it with candles to share it with his family. Joy could understand his wonder when nature decorates itself so well.

She ducked into the local grocer’s and picked up a loaf of bread. Walking along the town green, Joy smiled at the sound of children’s voices, shouting at each other from behind snow forts. Then, she glanced into the windows of the various merchants, each with a new holiday display. When she came to the office of the Town Monitor, she peered in the front window, hoping to see Wendell inside. The office was dark.

“Casing the joint?”

Joy jumped at the voice behind her. Turning, she saw Wendell, carrying a box of doughnuts and a tall paper cup of coffee.

“Wendell! No—I was just wondering if you were inside.”

“Nope, but if you’ll wait a second, I will be.” He pulled out his key and opened the door. Joy followed. The office smelled of stale coffee, dust, and old paper. He put the box of doughnuts down, and lifted the lid to offer one to Joy. She surveyed the array, all frosted and decorated with holiday sprinkles.

“Uh, no thanks.”

“So,” Wendell said, taking a bite of a chocolate frosted, “what brings you to my office?”

“I was just wondering what happened last night with Jimmy Corcoran.”

“Oh. Tough old buzzard, Jimmy. We got there before the ambulance. Dr. Barnes looked at him, and then the EMTs arrived and took him off to county hospital. I got some pictures for this week’s paper.” Wendell pulled a digital camera out of a desk drawer and turned it on. “Here’s where last night’s pictures start.”

Joy looked at the camera’s display and saw a photo of Jimmy Corcoran, lying on the ground, his face contorted in pain.

“He was conscious when you got there?” Joy asked.

“Yeah. He was mumbling something, but I couldn’t make it out. Poor old guy.”

Joy pushed a button, and the picture dissolved, revealing another.

“What is Dr. Barnes doing?” Joy showed the newspaperman a photo of Dr. Barnes with his face turned to the side hovering over the injured man’s head.

“Don’t know. Listening for a heartbeat?”

Joy shook her head. “That’s not his chest. Maybe trying to see if he’s breathing?”

“That doesn’t make sense. He was conscious.”

“True. What did Dr. Barnes do for him?” Joy asked, handing the camera back to Wendell.

“Nothing much. The EMTs were there a moment after we got to the scene. They took over, and Barnes didn’t even go in the ambulance. I guess the cops didn’t need him after all. It worked out for me, though. I don’t know how long it would have been before I heard about this if they hadn’t come by your house to collect Dr. Barnes. And, I wouldn’t have gotten these pictures.”

“What do you hear from the hospital?”

“Nothing. The hospital won’t answer questions from the press due to HIPAA patient privacy laws, and his sister isn’t answering the phone. You know these old New Englanders. Their business is their business—not yours.”

“Well, it’s Saturday. Here’s hoping that by Thursday, you have some good news to report in the paper.”

“It’ll have to come by Tuesday at four. That’s when I have to send the paper to press.”

“I hope he’ll have come around by then.” Something about the accident had put a damper on Joy’s holiday spirit that even the splendor of the town Christmas tree could not repair. Perhaps it was the way it interrupted her holiday open house; maybe it was just because Jimmy Corcoran was such a town institution. She shook her head as she walked home, the loaf of bread swinging at her side.

When she got home, a small snowman stood in the front yard. Inside, she found Nick in the library grading papers. He taught history at the county community college, and as the end of the semester approached, the term papers flowed in.

“I don’t know why you assign so much work for your students,” Joy teased him. “If you didn’t assign it, you wouldn’t have to grade it.”

“And, they would know no more at the end of the class than they did at the beginning,” Nick grimaced and removed his reading glasses. “Although, from the look of these papers, I am not sure how much they have learned.”

“Poor baby,” Joy cooed, rubbing Nick’s shoulders. “That’s a cute snowman outside. Where is Noelle?”

“She went over to Bethany’s house to work on some project for school.”

“Great. How about I make us some lunch?”

***

After lunch, Nick took his iPod and returned to his grading. Joy settled down at the dining room table with her address book and a couple of boxes of Christmas cards. It was the first weekend of December, but Joy knew that getting their cards out was a long process. She always tried to write a personal note in each one, and she had a feeling that it would be hard for her to do so this year. To help put her in the Christmas spirit, she put on some Christmas music, lit a fire in the living room fireplace, and made herself a cup of holiday blend tea. Before long, she was humming along with “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” and admiring her growing stack of completed cards.

That close to the winter solstice, the sun set early. By five o’clock it was fully dark outside, and Noelle still had not returned from her friend’s house. Joy texted her daughter’s cell with a message that dinner would be at six. Then, she went to work preparing the meal.

With water running and pans rattling, Joy didn’t notice any noises coming from outside. She flipped on the backyard light and smiled through the kitchen window at the bird tracks in the snow under the birdfeeder. Nick kept it filled all winter long. Just then, a load of snow fell from the roof, dropping past the window. Joy was surprised that there was enough melting after dark to loosen the snow. Maybe they needed more attic insulation.

A pot of spaghetti sauce simmered on the stove as Joy prepared cutlets for chicken parmesan. The windows steamed up as she boiled pasta, and Joy’s face was flushed. Cooking usually put Joy in a good mood, but thinking about poor Jimmy Corcoran, she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was not right about the whole incident.

Just as she was about to drain the pasta pot, she sensed a presence behind her. She dropped the pot into the sink, and whirled around to find Nick leaning in for a hug.

“You scared me half to death.”

“What? I was just coming in to see if I could help with dinner.”

“I could have scalded us both. Never sneak up on a woman cooking pasta.”

“I’ll make a note of that. So, do you want me to make the salad?”

“Sure. I’ll see what I can do to salvage the spaghetti. Is Noelle home yet?”

“Haven’t seen her; I’ve been upstairs grading.”

“What could be taking her so long? Perhaps we should call Bethany’s house and see if she has left yet.”


“Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh!”


At the sound of a scream outside, Joy and Nick raced to the front door. Nick pulled it open to see Noelle standing halfway up the front walk, clearly panicked, but apparently uninjured.

“What happened? Are you okay?” Nick yelled as he ran to his daughter.

“Ohmigod, Dad! Are you okay? I thought I just saw you fall off of our roof!”

Joy followed Noelle’s frightened gaze. Outlined on the snow was the figure of a man dressed in red fur with white trim.

“Nick, call 9-1-1,” Joy said, dashing over to the prone figure. “Wendell? Wendell! Are you all right? We’re calling an ambulance. You’re going to be fine.” She touched the man’s neck and felt for a pulse. She could not find any. She lifted the man’s shoulder and tried to turn him onto his back so that she could start CPR.

“Uh, Mom, that’s not Mr. Owens,” Noelle said, coming up behind her.

“What?” Joy asked, looking for the first time at the man’s face. “Who is it?”

“I guess it’s Santa.”

***

Once the EMTs arrived, Joy took Noelle inside to warm her up, and make sure she was no worse off for the shock she had received. Next, she called Wendell. She knew it was not he who had fallen on her lawn, but she needed to hear his voice to reassure herself that he was all right.

“Weekly Monitor,” Wendell answered the phone on the first ring.

“Wendell. It’s Joy. There’s been another accident, only this time it was at our house.”

“Your house? Is anyone hurt? What happened?”

Joy took the phone to the window and watched as the EMTs brought out a body bag.

“We’re okay, but someone is …” she had trouble saying the word. “I think someone is dead.”

“I’ll be right over.”

***

The next morning, the doorbell rang as Joy, Nick, and Noelle were getting ready for church. Nick opened the door to Officer Dan Davis.

“Dan. Come in. Don’t you even get Sundays off?”

“Not when there’s been an unexplained death in town. And, right after Jimmy Corcoran’s accident, too.” He shook his head. “Why do people think it’s a good idea to be up on a roof in the middle of winter?”

“Do you have any information on who that guy was, or why he was here?” Joy asked, joining the men in the living room.

“Yeah. I thought you folks would like to know. He didn’t have any ID on him, but we ran his prints. He has a lot of aliases, but the name he uses most is Harry Watts. Does that ring a bell with either of you?”

Nick and Joy looked at each other, and shook their heads.

“He’s a second-story man with a long rap sheet. I guess he decided to bring his business to town. Too bad he picked the night after a big snowstorm. You can see on your roof how he slid on the snow. Half of your roof is wiped bare.”

Joy remembered seeing snow fall past the kitchen window.

“A burglar? Here?” Nick said. “We haven’t had any real crime in town as long as I have lived here. That’s one of the reasons we like it here. It’s far enough away from the city to avoid their problems.”

“Well, this guy’s last known address was in Springfield. But, city folk have cars, too. No one is safe these days. I wish I could convince more people to lock their doors around here.”

“He came an awfully long way to die.” Joy shuddered. “Do you have any idea why he was dressed as Santa Claus?”

“No real theories on that. And, we can’t ask him.”

Nick shook his head. “Is there anything else we can help you with, Dan?”

“Nope. I think I got everything I needed last night. Let me know, though, if you think of anything, or remember ever running into this guy Watts. There will be an autopsy, of course, but I think we’ll find that he died of overconfidence.”

***

Joy usually found that being at work pushed personal problems to the back of her mind, but the next day she found it hard to concentrate. It’s not every day that a man dies in your yard. She couldn’t get the image of him lying in the snow out of her mind. What was he doing there? Why did he come all the way from Springfield to burglarize their house? And, why was he dressed as Santa?

On her lunch break, she went over to the newspaper office, to see if Wendell had any more information on either of the two falls in town over the weekend.

“From what I’ve been able to gather, there’s no change in Jimmy’s condition. The doctors don’t know if he’ll ever wake up,” Wendell told Joy.

“How’s his sister holding up?” Joy asked.

“Tough old bird. She’s okay, and even if she weren’t she wouldn’t let anybody know it.”

“What a terrible Christmas season this is. Do you know any more about this Harry Watts character?”

“My sources in Springfield confirm that he was in and out of jail most of his life. His last stint was for robbing the houses of the recently deceased, while their families were out burying them.”

“I’ve heard of that happening. How awful to add such an injury to people who are already burdened with sorrow.”

“I don’t think that mattered much to him.”

“But that really doesn’t explain what happened here. Why would he come all the way from Springfield? And why would he dress as Santa?”

“No idea.”

“And, Nick and I were home. Is it likely he would change his MO so dramatically without a reason?”

“Maybe his reason was that he got caught with the old one.”

Joy considered this, but it didn’t seem to be a sufficient explanation. “No. It has to be something more. Something had to bring him here. And, I can assure you it was not our collection of paperback books and refrigerator art. Maybe he has a connection with someone in town. Do you know anyone with connections in Springfield?”

“Well, let’s see. Most of the businesses in town probably have contacts there. It’s a decent-sized city, after all. Some wholesalers there. I think the bank’s regional corporate office is there. Not sure what else.”

“I don’t think that’s it. It has to be more, I don’t know. More personal, I guess.”

“Oh, you mean like family in Springfield? Sure. Some folks probably have relatives there, or went to school there, or something like that. Hey, I think the Carlton’s kid goes to college in Springfield.”

Something had been nagging at the back of Joy’s brain, but she couldn’t bring it into focus. Then, she remembered.

“I’ve got it. Dr. Barnes is from Springfield.”

“True. But, a lot of people are from Springfield, Joy. That doesn’t mean anything. Just because he’s an unpleasant SOB doesn’t mean he’s in cahoots with a burglar.”

“But, don’t you see how it fits? Dr. Barnes is a medical examiner. Medical examiners know about who has died. He and Watts could have been working together all this time. So, when Barnes’ job moved, so did Watts’.”

“But no one died at your house, Joy. In fact, no one has died in town all month. This would be a lousy place for him to take up his old habits.”

Joy could not come up with a response. She really felt that she was onto something, but the pieces didn’t fit. Or, perhaps some of the pieces were still missing.

When she got home, she tried her theory on Nick. “Maybe,” she said, “he was casing our house during the party, and that’s why Watts came here.”

“If he were casing our house, it wouldn’t take him long to figure out we don’t have much of any value here,” Nick said. “Don’t let your imagination run away with you, Joy. Sometimes it’s better to just let it go and be glad that Watts didn’t harm anyone other than himself.”

It always annoyed Joy when Nick accused her of having an over-active imagination, but she had to admit he had a point.

***

On Wednesday morning, Joy heard the good news. Wendell called her office to tell her that Jimmy Corcoran had regained consciousness. He was still groggy, and did not remember the fall, but the prognosis was good. The news lifted Joy’s spirits.

***

As expected, the Thursday Town Monitor had both falls on the front page. “Nightmares on Elm Street” read the somewhat hyperbolic headline. Joy was glad that at least one nightmare appeared to be nearing its end.

Wendell had abutting columns devoted to the two accidents. They ran down the center of page one past the fold, each accompanied by a photo of the victim. Jimmy’s photo looked like it was taken about thirty years ago. Wendell probably got it from his sister, thought Joy. In the left column, with a subhead reading “Local injured on West Elm,” was an account of Jimmy Corcoran’s fall, and interviews of people who knew him. Former customers of his garage said he was always honest. Those for whom he had worked as a handyman thought his workmanship was first class. There was even a quotation from someone he had known since high school that talked about his impish sense of humor. Reading it, Joy wished she had known him better.

Of more interest to Joy, however, was the other column, with a subhead reading “Suspect dies in fall on East Elm.” The picture seemed to be an old mug shot of Harry Watts. She looked at the photo, trying to see if she could discern anything familiar, but had no success. She scanned the article, mostly drawn, it appeared, from the archives of the Springfield Republican, with information on his last crime from Officer Dan Davis. Joy had not thought until that moment how nice it was that Wendell had not sought a quotation from her, or worse from Noelle, about the incident. Nothing in the article, though, gave her a clue as to why the man chose her yard in which to die.

Wendell had made good use of his photos, but readers had to open to page three to see them. The photo array included several of Jimmy Corcoran, lying on the ground, one of him on a stretcher, and one of him being loaded in an ambulance. The ones of Watts were less graphic, perhaps out of respect for the dead or for the readers. They included one of the ambulance, a photo of Officer Davis giving an interview, and one of Watts’ home in Springfield.

While it seemed to Joy that the articles were complete and well-written, they yielded little new information. Joy sighed. What more could she expect from a local weekly?

Looking through the rest of the news, Joy saw that the high school holiday pageant would be performed Friday night, the choral society concert was set for Saturday, and the children’s Christmas parade would be held downtown on Sunday afternoon at two. The last of these events usually brought out most of the town, and was followed by vigorous holiday shopping at the downtown merchants. For most of a week the dark cloud of the two accidents had hung over her small town. Perhaps now their holiday celebrations could proceed unfettered.

***

The weather on Sunday was perfect for the children’s parade. Noelle declared she was too old to participate in such things. Nick and Joy convinced her to come and watch anyway, with the promise of an ice cream soda at the drug store after the parade was over.

As usual, most of the town was in attendance. Wendell was there with his camera taking photos of the crowd, and awaiting the first group of marchers to come around from behind the town hall and begin the route around the town green.

Joy looked at the crowd, and noticed most of her guests from the open house were there. The Selectmen huddled together near the Town Hall, and several of her coworkers stood with cameras at the ready to take pictures of their children. Even Jimmy Corcoran’s sister was there, surrounded by other women, all wearing red hats. Joy searched the sea of faces. Where was Dr. Barnes? She could not silence her lingering suspicions about the man. Then she looked again at Margaret Corcoran.

“I’ve got it!” Joy said, grabbing Nick’s arm. “I know what happened!”

“Hunh?” he said, looking toward the town hall.

“Where’s Dan Davis? I need him.”

She found Officer Davis working crowd control, ducked under the yellow tape, and ran out into the street.

“I’m sorry, Joy, but you’ll have to stay behind the tape. The parade will be starting any minute,” Officer Davis told her.

The clock in the town hall’s tower struck two, and Joy could hear the drums of the high school band start their rhythm.

“I know, Dan,” Joy insisted, “but you need to come with me. I figured it out! I know what happened last weekend, and what is probably happening right now! We have to get over to 509 West Elm Street. Now!”

She turned and looked up the street. The parade was just coming around the corner of the town hall. Wendell had his tripod set up, ready to take pictures.

“Wendell,” she called, “Bring your camera and come with us!”

Wendell turned and looked at her as if she were crazy.

“Believe me, Wendell. This is one exclusive you will not want to miss!”

Officer Davis led her to his police car, and with Wendell in the back seat, they sped along Elm Street. Along the way, Joy explained their errand.

“I would never have figured it out without your headline on Thursday, Wendell. The answer is in the two Elm streets.”

“What was the question?” Officer Davis asked.

“The question is why Watts picked our house to burglarize. And, the answer is he thought it was the Corcoran’s. They live at 509 West Elm, and we live at 509 East Elm. He was an out-of-towner, so he didn’t realize there was more than one 509 Elm Street.”

“Why would he want to go to the Corcoran’s?” Wendell asked as they pulled up to the address.

“Let’s ask him,” Joy said, pointing to a Santa on the roof who was trying to open the skylight.

Davis got out of the car, and using the door as a shield, he drew his gun. “Put your hands in the air and freeze!” he shouted, pointing his gun at Santa.

Wendell started snapping pictures out the window. “Joy, I can’t get out of here. Open the door for me. I’m missing the best angle.”

“Stay inside,” Davis barked.

Joy opened her door and released Wendell from the back seat.

“Don’t shoot,” Santa yelled. “I’m unarmed. I don’t mean anyone any harm.”

“Dr. Barnes?” Wendell said, snapping more pictures. “Is that you?”

Davis called for back-up, and approached the house. “How did you get up there?”

“I have a ladder in the back,” Barnes said.

“Okay, then let’s walk toward the back, and you come down the ladder, nice and slow.”

Officer Davis read him his rights, and by the time the back-up arrived, Barnes was in handcuffs, sitting in the back seat of the cruiser, spilling his guts while Wendell took down every word.

“When I got to Corcoran’s house the night of the accident, the old man thought he was a goner. He told me that while he ran his garage, he saved every old coin that came through his till. He said he had a collection worth over $100,000 under a loose floorboard in the attic, and no one knew about it—not even his sister. From the look of him, I thought he probably wouldn’t make it, so I called my old buddy, Harry Watts. We’d, uh, done some work together in the past.”

Joy gave Wendell a smug look.

“Anyway, Watts was a screw-up. He went to the wrong house, and he died for his trouble. There isn’t even a skylight at that other house.”

Joy nodded. “Never has been.”

“So you came back today to get the coins?” Wendell asked.

“I tried to get them out of my mind. But, I figured that after the coma, Corcoran might not remember telling me about them. Heck, he might not remember that he even had them. So, I figured it was worth a try.”

“And you picked today, because everyone would be at the parade?” said Joy.

“Yeah. I hate parades, but it seemed like such a big deal in this town, that I figured none of the neighbors would be home to see me here. And, I dressed as Santa because Watts said that if he did that and moved like a robot, if anyone saw him they would think he was just a mechanical Christmas decoration. It sounded like a good idea to me.”

Joy rolled her eyes. “We may be small town, but we’re not idiots.”

“You didn’t have to go to all that trouble,” Davis said. “Like too many people in this town, the Corcorans never lock their front door. You could have just gone right inside.”

***

The following Thursday, the Town Monitor sold every copy. “Caught Red-Suited” read another of Wendell’s classic headlines. But the story of Dr. Barnes’ criminal ways did not end in their small town. The Springfield police came up to talk to him while he sat in county jail. It looked like Dr. Barnes would not be celebrating Christmas without bars on his window for a very long time.

“Now, what was that you were saying about me having an over-active imagination?” Joy said, handing the paper to Nick.

“I guess it turned out to be a good thing that you do,” Nick said with a wink.

“Uh, guys,” Noelle said. “You still owe me an ice cream soda.”

The Top Ten . . .  Books to Read With (or without) Children Over the Holidays

Carol L. Wright


With the publication of the new BWG anthology of children's stories, ONCE UPON A TIME: SWEET, FUNNY, AND STRANGE TALES FOR ALL AGES, I couldn't help but think about which stories I most enjoy sharing with the kids in my family this time of year. The holidays can be so busy--for adults and for kids--that it's even more important to take some time to slow down, sit together, and share a story--or a few. 

Some of my favorites for this time of year help to relax the pace and remind us of times when life moved just a bit more slowly. It's the mood I tried to create in my story, "A Visit From Belsnickel" in the new anthology. (I hope you'll read and enjoy it!)

Just as we did with ONCE UPON A TIME, I've arranged my list below with those for the youngest children first--moving on to those for older children.

So turn off your tablet, silence your cell phone, and enjoy these stories together with the kids in your family--no matter their ages. 

1. THE MITTEN--Jan Brett
Jan Brett is an exquisite illustrator who has published many books, including several specifically for Christmas. But I love this winter tale the best. While the simple story unfolds, illustrations allow kids to predict what is to come on the next page--including the humorous ending. 

2. THE SNOWMAN--Raymond Briggs
This wordless story allows a child's imagination to soar along with the snowman and the boy. This was animated in an Oscar-nominated short film with an intro by David Bowie and a wonderful, evocative soundtrack. Briggs sequel, THE SNOWMAN AND THE SNOWDOG  continues this tradition, but with words simple enough for early readers.

This classic poem has been beautifully illustrated by Susan Jeffers, and tells of a man who takes time to enjoy watching "woods fill up with snow." It reminds me to slow down to enjoy the beauty of the holidays. (I've found that if you point out the harness bells to your kids, you might be treated to a youthful rendition of "Jingle Bells!")

4. THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS--Clement Clarke Moore 
This poem, originally entitled "A Visit From St. Nicholas," was first published anonymously. Some now speculate that it was actually written by Henry Livingston, Jr. despite Moore having taken credit for writing it several years after Livingston's death. Regardless of its authorship, however, it is perhaps the best known American poem yet written, and is the source of much of what we associate with Santa Claus. It's a tradition in our family to read this classic before the kids go to bed on Christmas Eve. Lately, we've added one of the many parodies. Our favorite is the PENNSYLVANIA DUTCH NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS by Chet Williamson, illustrated by James Rice.

While there are TV and movie versions of this, the book is still my favorite way to experience how the warmth and joy of the holidays can make even the Grinchiest heart grow three sizes.

6. THE POLAR EXPRESS--Chris Van Allsburg
Can you hear the ringing of Santa's silver bell? This story of magic and belief has become a holiday classic.

7. THE VELVETEEN RABBIT--Margery Williams
While this is not a holiday story, it embodies the magic we associate with the season: the magic of love. Note, though--this is not a quick bedtime story. It takes about half an hour to read it aloud, but it is well worth the time to share this story in one sitting. Our favorite edition includes William Nicholson's beloved illustrations.

8. A LITTLE HOUSE CHRISTMAS TREASURY--Laura Ingalls Wilder
This assembles several holiday stories from the "Little House" series of books about a 19th century American pioneer family settling the Great Plains. They can be read all at once or on successive nights as Christmas approaches. Enhanced with illustrations from Garth Williams, this makes a heart-warming read.
 
9. A CHRISTMAS CAROL--Charles Dickens
This classic is retold in so many variations that there is sure to be an appropriate version for nearly any age. The original, though, is still the best.

Four children stumble into a land where it's always winter, but never Christmas. For me, the well-loved Chronicles of Narnia begin with this book. I'd recommend reading them in the order in which they were first published. It makes THE MAGICIAN'S NEPHEW much more fun when you read it next-to-last. And you can give a child the next book in the series as a holiday gift to start off the new year with another great adventure. (For a discussion of the order in which to read the Chronicles of Narnia, see: http://www.narniaweb.com/resources-links/in-what-order-should-the-narnia-books-be-read/

I could list many more, but this list is limited to only ten. Add your own family favorites for a season of happy reading. And, whichever of the many holidays you celebrate this time of year, I hope they are happy ones!