In anticipation of the 2nd Scottish Bookshop Mystery by Paige Shelton, Of Books and Bagpipes (Available April 4, 2017), and, of course, in celebration of the upcoming holiday season, we're thrilled to offer you a sneak peek of “A Christmas Tartan,” where an old, weathered copy of A Christmas Carol leads Delaney on the search for a missing girl. You can buy the full short story for only $1.99 below!
Christmastime has come to Scotland, and Delaney and all her coworkers at the Cracked Spine, the quirky bookshop in the heart of Edinburgh, are all in the holiday spirit. Between mugs of hot chocolate and nibbles of gingerbread, Delaney has been given the task of tracking down the provenance of a mysterious box of objects that her boss, Edwin, has recently acquired. In it are various trinkets, but what really catches Delaney's eye is a worn copy of A Christmas Carol, where she also finds an old photo tucked inside. On the back is a name, which leads her to a woman whose granddaughter has gone missing. When it becomes clear that the box might be connected to the missing girl, Delaney is pulled into the intrigue, and takes it upon herself to figure out what really happened—and why.
I had a holiday dinner this evening and presents to wrap, but something else had suddenly become more important.
December 22—the shortest day of the year in Scotland—had started off dark, was filled in in the middle with a little cloud-diffused light coming though the high warehouse windows, and then fell into darkness again around three thirty in the afternoon.
I’d been in the warehouse all day, alone except for a brief late-afternoon visit from my boss, Edwin MacAlister.
“Delaney, lass, I’ve acquired some items, and I’d appreciate it if you could give them a look. I’m off tae my cousin’s in the country for the holiday, but I’ll have my mobile available. I . . . well, the box was left by my front door and I’ve some suspicion the items inside were stolen. Perhaps you could look at them and make some determination,” he had said.
“Shouldn’t we call the police?” I said, since I had no idea how I would determine if these items were stolen or not on my own.
Edwin raised one eyebrow.
“Right. Maybe we should leave the police out of this one,” I responded. “At least for now.”
“Excellent idea,” Edwin said before he left me alone.
The warehouse had been Edwin’s office, a secret room on the other side of a wall of his bookshop. It was where he gathered not only books, but a wide array of old items that he had deemed interesting at least, valuable at most. I’d just finished cataloging a collection of old mousetraps; most of them were brutal machines but were of some importance to at least one collector I’d found in Paris.
Edwin had hired me, a onetime museum archivist from Kansas, to help with all of his collections, and I’d only begun to scratch the surface. But the warehouse had become my space almost as much as it was his, as if our levels of dominion seemed to be meeting in the middle. I wondered if the room would ever become more mine than his. I doubted it.
Throughout the day I heard the bell jingle on the other side of the wall as customers moved in and out the bookshop and my coworkers’ voices as they greeted and assisted them. Rosie, Hamlet, Edwin, and I had been busy this season.
Intermittently, I caught the scents of cinnamon and chocolate, and I knew Rosie was making tea and hot chocolate and spreading good cheer. She loved this holiday.
“Makes everyone sae cadgy,” she’d said.
“Cadgy?” I asked.
“Happy, friendly, in good spirits,” Hamlet translated.
I had few difficulties with the range of accents by now, but when Scots was spoken, I still needed some assistance. Rosie and my landlords, Elias and Aggie, all spoke with thick accents. I’d caught myself using a Scots word a couple of times, and Hamlet said that every now and then a wee bit of an accent snuck into my words.
My time in Scotland, though full of some crazy and even murderous adventures, was working out very well.
I turned my attention to the box. Inside were a stainless serving spoon (nothing fancy but seemingly old); a dusty, slightly frayed woolen tartan (a scarf, this one decorated with a plaid green and red pattern that made me think “Christmas”); a tarnished silver platter etched with what I thought were Christmas trees (I was pretty sure they were Scottish pine trees which were, naturally, the Scottish Christmas tree of choice); a brown button, and an old copy of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Edwin and I had immediately determined it wasn’t a valuable edition, and had probably been printed in the 1950s or 1960s. The book’s brown cover was faded and worn so much that it was almost unreadable. No matter that it was in bad condition and not an extremely rare copy, Edwin and I both had due respect for the book. In over a hundred and fifty years, A Christmas Carol had never been out of print—a rare feat in the book world.
I sensed that the items in the box were connected, though that might simply have been because they were in the same box together. Well, it was also something I really sensed. They felt like they belonged together.
I lifted the cover of the book carefully and looked at the first few pages; maybe there was an inscription that might give me a clue. But there was no writing on any of the pages other than what had been printed by the press. I thumbed through all the pages, once quickly and then again slowly. Nothing. No scribble, no bookmark, no leftover recipe card (the thing I most found in old books).
I closed the cover and ran my knuckle gently over it as my eyebrows came together. How was I supposed to figure this out other than to call the police and see if someone had reported the items stolen or missing?
And then it came to me. Edwin wanted me tolisten to the book. He probably meant for me to ask it where the box had come from, and then wait patiently for an answer.
I’d told him about my quirk, about how books “talked” to me. In fact, my quirk was simply my intuition guiding me, using my strange ability to memorize words, particularly ones I’d read that had been spoken by characters in books, and then listen to them as they told me things, guided me.
Though sometimes an answer was uncannily specific, I couldn’t ask a question that I somehow didn’t already, deep inside, in that place where my intuition and subconscious hung out, know the answer to.
Luckily, I had read A Christmas Carol, as well as lots of mysteries and detective novels. There had to be a way to figure this out. There were plenty of books in the shop and many still on a shelf here in the warehouse. Surely, there was a detective in one of them who could guide me. Maybe Ebenezer Scrooge or Bob Cratchit could even offer some assistance.
I listened hard for my bookish voices.
And got nothing. Only the sounds and smells of holiday cheer floated in from beyond the warehouse’s enormous red door.
I sighed and pushed my chair back. Maybe if I walked over to the shelves of books and looked at them while I listened. Maybe that would help. It couldn’t hurt.
I’d moved a couple of the old mousetraps to a shelf above and behind my desk. I was careful with everything I researched and catalogued, sometimes too careful, but I must not have put the biggest, most horrifying trap—wire snaps and cages on a wooden frame almost the size of a shoebox—back far enough on the shelf. In my frustration I’d pushed my chair back a bit too far and, as I went to stand, I hit my head on the trap’s splintered wood corner.
Copyright © 2016 Paige Shelton.
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Paige Shelton is the New York Times Bestselling author of the Farmers' Market, Country Cooking School, Dangerous Type, and Scottish Bookshop mysteries. She's lived lots of places but currently resides in Arizona. Find out more at www.paigeshelton.com.