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Caught Dead in Wyoming Book 13

A mystery with Elizabeth’s name on it.

Elizabeth and friends prepare to celebrate Christmas together, with all its joys and complications. But that’s not all Elizabeth has on her plate for the holidays.

Someone’s put a wish on the Christmas Wishing Tree set up at KWMT-TV that has her name on it . . . and it’s a weird one.

Come join the gang as they celebrate, ring those sleigh bells – and find answers in this holiday novella.

Now available in audio

Just in time for your Christmas shopping! Holiday Bullets is available in audio on my Shop and at most retailers, including Audible, Amazon, iTunes, Kobo and Google Play. Narrator Betsy Moore is back to read this sweet holiday story -- with some great scenes of inspired gift-giving! -- and I melted at her voice intrepretation of a young boy getting his Christmas wish.

Holiday Bullets by Patricia McLinn Caught Dead in Wyoming cozy mystery series audio audiobook Betsy Moore narrator

Excerpt:

THREE WEEKS BEFORE CHRISTMAS
TUESDAY

Chapter One

Red, green, gold, and silver garlands festooned from ceiling-hung monitor to ceiling-hung monitor in the KWMT-TV newsroom bullpen. They danced in what Wyomingites blithely called a breeze, which gusted in whenever the main doors opened.

Even newsrooms are not immune to the holiday spirit.

That’s despite a fair percentage of the staff working part of Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day. A few unlucky — and usually recently hired — souls will work all of them.

It’s true the holidays are generally a stretch of slow news days. But viewers get cranky if news broadcasts are blank other than a Closed for the Holidays notice. They’d probably be okay without the news portion, but you better not deprive them of sports and weather.

Nor are newsrooms immune to the holiday rush.

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Staffers work nearly as much — sometimes more — to fill those slow-news-days broadcasts as they do on regular news days. Along with their holiday activities.

You’d think my holiday activities would smooth out to barely a hill, what with taking the mountain of getting married at Christmas off the agenda. That should make the season downright laid back.

Not really. Christmas has a way of filling in every nook and cranny of time.

Or maybe it felt that way because there weren’t many nooks and crannies to fill.

First, Tom and I co-opted nooks or crannies to be together. Let Mom and Tamantha push the wedding back to summer, we were starting the honeymoon now. At least an important aspect of it.

Second, KWMT-TV was searching for new hires.

Michael Paycik, as new majority owner of the station, roped me into joining him in interviewing.

The Helping Out! beat is my official job at KWMT-TV. My unofficial job spreads from murder investigations to brand new — and amorphous — consulting with Mike.

Third, current KWMT staffers kept bringing Christmas projects, goodies, and decorations to be shared.

Hey, somebody had to string those garlands from ceiling-mounted TV to ceiling-mounted TV while standing on desks in the bullpen and I was taller than most.

Leona D’Amato took on the task of getting and decorating a Christmas tree for the newsroom. Officially, she’s the station’s part-time “society” reporter. Lately she’s been our extremely reluctant full-time-and-more anchor.

That doesn’t mean she’s given up what she considers her real job.

The tree came from a charity fundraiser, as did the half-dozen table-top trees she added to the bullpen, assignment desk, and break room. The table-top versions were decorated with red and gold balls and spirals of rope in a nod to cowboy country. The main tree added something to those core decorations.

Folded over white cards stuck in the branches.

It was a Christmas Wishing tree.

“Instead of just the one, official Christmas Wishing tree, they’re trying something different this year, with trees scattered around — the museum, the sheriff’s department, the library, the feed store, and more, including here. Everybody take one — there’s lots more where these came from. And there are cookies.”

Walt, another reporter, rose from his desk in the bullpen at the siren call of cookies. Staffers who’d been in the editing bays down the hall came our way. And two camera operators materialized.

Neither of the camera wielders was my good friend — and the station’s best behind the camera — Diana Stendahl. She was away for an impromptu two-day, one-night getaway with her honey, Sheriff Russ Conrad. Where was a state secret.

It was impromptu because they’d realized the day before yesterday that with few cases on the sheriff’s department’s docket, little news among her assignments, and Mike staying at the Bunkhouse as backup/oversight for her responsible, but still teenage daughter and son in the nearby ranch house, they carved out not-quite forty hours of alone time.

So they couldn’t have gone far, which narrowed the possibilities— No. I was not trying to figure out where they went. Even if my brain did drift on its own toward solving puzzles. Absolutely not.

“Diana will take some when she comes back,” I said to shut up my puzzle-tinkering mind.

“We’ll have another crop of requests by then.” Leona held the cookies in one hand and plucked wish cards off the tree with the other, handing one to each staffer followed by a cookie.

The forms were heavy paper, trimmed to four by five-and-a-half inches, then folded in half, so when the upside-down V shape nestled in the tree’s branches, none of the information inside was visible.

“We’ve had all sorts of requests. Dolls and trains and stuffed animals and Legos, of course. Then we get a fair number of requests for a younger sibling.” Leona tipped her head. “About the same number of requests to take back an existing sibling.”

I snorted.

She didn’t miss a beat. “Along with the heart-tuggers of wanting a parent or grandparent to not be dead, parents not to divorce, a parent to come back from being deployed . . . or to come back because the so-called adult ran off.”

“Or a kid who wants a trip to outer space,” said a producer named Bruce, reading one card.

He’d worked almost exclusively with our recently departed anchor, keeping his head down and doing whatever he was told.

Too soon to tell if he’d truly become part of the new way of doing things, but he wasn’t likely to make a lot of trouble either. Going along was how he’d survived the previous regime.

Difference was, now he’d be going along with good journalism.

“How is that heart-tugging?” asked Jennifer Lawton, news aide extraordinaire, computer whiz, and soon to be departing for a special program at Northwestern University. I wished I didn’t feel a clunk in my chest every time I thought of that last one. Which was every time I looked at or thought about her.

“Sheesh.” Leona clicked her tongue, reading over Bruce’s shoulder. “Go up in a rocket? This kid needs to get adopted by one of those billionaires sending themselves into outer space.”

“Or make a couple billion himself,” Bruce said.

“Or herself,” Audrey said.

“Right. Sure,” Bruce mumbled, not believing it. But at least he was participating.

“Better put that one back, Bruce,” Leona instructed. “The charity told the kids to keep wishes realistic, but with all those bring-Daddy or Mommy-back cards, they sure didn’t listen.”

“I’ll take it,” Mike said. “I’ve got an idea.”

Leona didn’t have to be asked twice.

She reached up to take another card off the tree, read it quickly, snorted in a most unseasonable tone, and shoved it at me.

“Here, this is for you.”

Reflexively, I took hold of the card. Instead of looking at it, though, I stared at my co-worker. “What do you mean it’s for me?”

“This one has your name on it. And I don’t mean like a kid wanting to go to outer space is right up Mike’s alley.” She pointed to the card.

It was a piece of card stock, folded in half, making it nearly the same size as the official cards. On the front was written: E.M. Danniher, KWMT-TV.

It literally had my name on it.

“What does it say?” Jennifer asked.

“I don’t know.”

She huffed. “You’re not going to if you don’t look.”

“Go ahead, read it,” Leona ordered.

You were so instrumental before, I hope you can help me again.

“What does that mean?” Jennifer asked.

“I have no idea.” I turned it over. Nothing on the back. My name on the front. A puzzle in the middle.

Looking over my shoulder, Leona said, “That’s not an official card. I wondered why it didn’t have a design on the front — not to mention having your name written on it. But now I see it’s not one of ours. Not the form inside for people to fill out. Here’s your official one.”

I truly wasn’t sharp today. I let her put another card in my hand. This one without my name on it and with a Christmas tree design on the front against a line drawing that might be the top of the Cottonwood County courthouse or a birdhouse.

Inside, a kid asked for a basketball, soccer ball, and spurs. One handwritten word added: Girl.

So, now I had two requests. One for a sporting goods store. And one to help with something unknown.

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